Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Four-Footed and Winged Friends

My sister-in-law delighted me the other day by sending this wonderful photo of her newest four-footed adoptee, one of a long, long line of rescued animals lucky enough to become part of her family.  I took two liberties: posting the photo without asking for permission and cropping the photo to get a closer look at this face.  Everything about this dog from his alert demeanor to his soft brown eyes says come on and sit with me!  I hope she won't mind that I'm sharing this with you, but since I'm not naming names (his name is perfect!) to protect the obviously innocent, I hope she'll let it go this once.

The winged friends arrived suddenly this afternoon while I was in my studio.  I felt as though I waere surrounded by this extremely large flock of robins as they swooped from the trees in the front yard to our neighbor's trees next door to the trees in our back yard.  It seemed for a while as though they were taking turns landing and taking off.  The crab apple in the front was one of their favorite perches.  I consider myself lucky that I got several shots of birds in flight.  Trust me, it was just luck!

Here you can see a few through the oak trees.  Surprisingly enough, they didn't seem to be taking time to eat any of the tiny crab apples (robins are adapting to eat more than just earth worms) but just wanted to hang out for a while.

 Finally a picture of the many more way up in the maple next door.

What a treat!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

More Hay

Recently, there seems to be a pattern to my days.  Either I do chores or I do errands in the morning, and then, my afternoons are spent on painting or sewing.

Today was another day of work on Hay Raking.  I won't show you what I did because there aren't any photographs, yet.  Suffice it to say that I spent my time "lifting" as much of the foreground as I could.  That simply means that I removed as much of the paint in that area as I could.  Then, while I waited for that to dry, the line of trees just beyond the field got my attention.  When the paper was dry enough, the field was up for an overhaul.  I think I have improved those two areas, or at least I like them better. 

 And I think I have figured out why I like the way this painting looks for the most part.  It has the feel of a book illustration to me, and once upon a time, that was what I thought I would do with my life.  This was during the first year of college when I was an art major (sculpture).  Even then I knew I would never be able to make a living with my art; I'm just not that good.  However, I thought maybe that I could illustrate children's books and support myself enough in between sculpting.  What did I know?  Not much, that's for sure.  But maybe that quality that I see in this painting is the reason I have a fondness for it.

Next I must tackle the lake.

Then I'll work on Raking the Hay 2 and see if I can apply what I have learned in during the first pass.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Daily Chores

After running errands, we returned home in time for lunch.  That meant that my self-appointed tasks for the day started about 4 hours later than planned.  So as you have already realized, they lasted all afternoon.

On the plus side, I did finish clearing the way for workmen to add another duct in the basement.  And that meant that a few more things made it into the "throw away" pile and some other things actually found themselves neatly organized upstairs.  However, there are still those items which were merely moved from point A to point B because my intention for them is that they will remain in the basement!

Also, my half of another closet was tidied.  That means that there are only closets left (three more) the cleaning and sorting of which will require D's help.  Almost there!  There remain a few cabinets in the family room for D to clear out before I can deal with one of the three closets (the board games must be moved from the wardrobe to either Good Will or a yet-to-be-sorted-through cabinet). 

While I wait for him to find the time (he's been very busy visiting schools and bonsai club responsibilities as well as his own list of chores) to help with the above items, I can move on to bureaus/chests of drawers.

I hope that while I do those, I'll be able to come up with a good plan of where to store everything that lives in the kitchen pantry, cabinets, wire shelving unit, etc. while I clean those storage areas and throw away a lot of post-dated foodstuff and give/throw away items that are no longer used.  

Not very exciting to read about, is it.  It isn't very exciting to do, either!  But I do have such a good feeling when I look at what I have done.  After all the turmoil of the construction this past summer, I really needed to get the house back into shape - clean and organized.  

E reminded that this and the need to make use of 10-minute bits of time probably hark back to that old Protestant work ethic.  Thought I had avoided that gene!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

New Tea Pot

D and I have a new ritual.  In the evening after dinner, we have taken to having some hot tea.  Tea drinking isn't new to us as we both drink quite a bit of iced tea every day, but drinking it hot on a regular basis is, as I said, new.

Of course, I guess I should start out by defining "tea".  D is quite sensitive to caffeine, and I have difficulty with it after the noon hour.  Of course, I could accustom myself to afternoon caffeine, but I prefer not to.  I've tried many "herbal" teas over the years but very few appealed.  Recently I realized that many of those herbal teas contain hibiscus, and it is that that I do not care for.  So - no caffeine, almost no herbal teas in this house.  What's left?  Well, I'm sure many of you have figured it out: roiibus. The following is from Wikipedia:

Rooibos is becoming more popular in Western countries, particularly among health-conscious consumers, due to its high level of antioxidants such as aspalathin[2] and nothofagin, its lack of caffeine, and its low tannin levels compared to fully oxidized black tea or unoxidized green tea leaves.[3] Rooibos also contains a number of phenolic compounds, including flavanols, flavones, flavanones, and dihydrochalcones.[4]
Rooibos is purported to assist with nervous tension, allergies and digestive problems.

Granted, that is probably far more than you wish to know, but if you have a sensitivity to caffeine and are looking for something warming to drink, this may be your answer.

All this simply to talk about our evening pot of tea.  And it isn't even the tea about which I wished to talk; it's the tea pot!  We were looking for a larger pot than the two we have, and in our travels we fell in love with an old pot that holds a little more than the one we were using.  It could have been exactly the same, and I would have bought it anyway.

Side one (from the perspective of a right-handed pourer):

Side two (left handed pourer side)

Close ups which show that while charming, the painting is not top drawer.  Charmingly primitive - an Asian folk art look.

And we know nothing about the year made or the maker as there is only a red rectangle on the bottom.  What may seem to be a "chop" with writing is only where the red paint seeped into the crazing (cracked-looking lines in the glaze).

The pottery itself is thicker than it would be in fine china, but that keeps the tea warm without using a tea cozy.  I could make one for the pot, but I don't want to cover it up.

And this ritual makes an excuse for a weekly indulgence in homemade biscotti.  Sounds reasonable to me!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Raking Hay (1) - More Work

It's Monday night, and I am going to share the painting I have done since last Tuesday.   In other words, this is an exhibit of work pre-class critique - gasp!

First, a re-view of last week's work:

The lake needed additional work as did the foreground.  Here it is now.

I think the tractor needs to be "grounded" as it appears to be floating.  I really wanted the foreground "hay field" to be more yellow.  I thought I had it but then I toned it down too much.  This painting reminds me of the "Four Little Peppers and How They Grew" in style.  It lacks that free-floating sense that many watercolors have - fluidity.  This seems more heavily worked to my eye.  Over-worked?

I'll have to wait and listen carefully to tomorrow's critique.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Idle" Time

Sometimes one has only a moment or two to indulge in a favorite pastime, and sometimes knowing that one has just that brief fraction of time is enough to discourage one from taking advantage of it.  Recently I have realized that I am one of those people.  Whenever I have, oh, say, fifteen minutes before I have to leave home for an appointment, I would think, "There's not enough time to do anything.  I'll just sit down and read."  Then I'd plop myself down and do just that.  There are times that the 15 minutes might stretch to 45 minutes because of unforeseen delays.  You can do a lot in 45 minutes.  Or not.

Having recognized this wrinkle in my personal makeup I thought that in the spirit of self-improvement, I should correct this flaw.  What you see above are log cabin blocks that are the result of making the most of my snatches of free time.  I would cut strips, or lay out color combinations, or cut individual blocks, or sew a block, or iron one in the fallow 10 minutes that I used to allow to drift past.

It doesn't work quite so well with painting as it takes longer to set up and demands more attention that 10 minutes worth.  But some household chores fit in nicely.  Sorting laundry, for example.  Has to be done.  Doesn't take long.  Peeling something (preferably vegetables) for dinner.  You get the idea.

Yet, is any time truly idle?  Will I continue with this self-righteous approach to filling my aimless moments with good deeds?  Probably not.  BUT.  I have identified the issue.  I now know that I can find things to do in snatches of time.  I understand that I have a choice.

And one of those choices is to pick up a book and sit down and read.  For that, too, is a wonderful way to spend "idle" time!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Painting (Raking Hay 1) and Practice (Raking Hay 2)

Drawing is a good thing to practice, but what I really need to do is practice with watercolors.  It's so very different from oil paints that I find that something that I seem to have a grip on one week slips away from me the next.  And I had resolved to practice.

So I did.

Here is the first wash on another version of Raking Hay.  This is where I have difficulty - the notion of making a wet surface and then just dropping in color . . . I want to have control; I want to manipulate the washes and guide where the color goes.  As you can see, I did that here.  This is an example of wet in wet. I brushed the surface of the paper with a large wet paint brush (called a "mop" appropriately enough).  Then I used different brushes, though still wet with water and still largish, dipped in paint diluted with water.  So the paper was wet and the paint was too.  

You can see an area in the lower third on the left that was left dry and untouched.  Old habits die hard; I could have and should have used a light wash there also, but it's where the farmer on his tractor with the hay rake will go.  Oil paint habits led me to leave this area pristine.  I may go back in an put down a pale wash to see how that does or does not affect the farmer.  It will also be a truer use of this technique.  Guess I've talked myself into it!

The next step is wet (brush is wet, dipped into paint diluted with water) on a dry surface.  It will be another layer of washes going over this undercoat and will be loose and without detail.  That will come later and will be dry on dry.  Damp brush into wet (but not diluted) watercolor paint is considered "dry".

Here are the two versions side by side (remember, the one on the left is not finished).  You'll notice that I've changed the proportions in the second one.  The foreground area is bigger as it is the focal point of my composition.  Not only do I have to make sure the hills in the distance and the trees on the other side of the hay field are less demanding of attention than they are now, I also have to draw the viewer's notice with larger, more dramatic details in the foreground.

My plan is to work on both before Tuesday, but the weekend is going to be busy.  We'll see what I accomplish.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


I made myself a list of things to accomplish today, and I actually did everything on my list!

So why don't I have any photos to show for it?

And even less to say about it?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Raking Hay

All right, after another day of work on it, I think I can share "Raking Hay".  This is the painting about which I was so disappointed last week.  You will see that it is not yet finished, but I feel I have overcome some of the difficulties I had.

Many thanks to Sharon my teacher, J classmate and cheering section, and Winslow Homer!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Inspiration in Unlikely Places

Just a brief note to share with you today.  I was working on cleaning and sorting through the contents of the sideboard in the dining room today, when I got distracted.  

You see, there were some odd bits of silverware in the drawers, and I thought I really should do a little research to find out more about them.  Then I could write that information down as well as where those bits came from, and then put both information and bits tidily away.  You can imagine how far I got with that job extension!

Anyway, as I was happily puttering my way through my self-appointed task, I was also thinking about tomorrow afternoon's meeting of the Crazy Quilt class.  I had already decided what I would work on and even had drawn part of the pattern on my fabric.  As I was focusing my camera (and not very well as you will see) on a piece of silverware, those two activities combined in my head - silverware and crazy quilts, that is.  Or more clearly put, patterns (where to find them) and embroidery (what to embroider).

Here is very simple, quite elegant pattern, but look at it closely.  It consists of a double line.  So?  Look what that line does!  First of all it is a double line whose interior space (width of the handle) changes.  At the end of the stem, that line breaks up into angles yet they are gentle angles with hints of curve.  Now follow that line down into the bowl of the ladle.  Double line meets double line.  Instead of an abrupt ending to that sinuous curve of line where the handle ends, it folds back into itself in almost a heart shape (mimicking the angled end). Then the double line motif is picked up again in curve that clearly binds the flowering of the bowl with the stem of the handle.  Line is a very useful element in embroidery, this is such a good example of ways to use it!

Here is a pair of fruit scissors/snips - used especially to remove a small cluster of grapes from the larger bunch.  Here there are elements galore!  While you might not be able to see them clearly, there are three distinct patterns.  The very end of the scissors near the finger loops, the middle of the handles, and the roundel where the blades meet.  Each pattern is unique but works together to form a whole, and that's what I hope you can see.  Look at how the line around the handles creates a border for the design space, but the individual designs are allowed to lap over the borders (middle of the handle).  That flower design reaches up into the negative space between it and the end of the handles.   Then at the end, the border is a part of the shell-like motif.  In this example the flow of the line/border is allowed to be interrupted with curlicues.  Finally, the designer has cleverly shaped the pivot point of handles and blades to form the broken borders of the last design element which just happens to be a bunch of grapes with a leaf.  Here, you can see how breaking a line works wonders.

Wow!  One could use the design ideas or the designs themselves just about anywhere in embroidery.  On top of that, these designs are 3-D.  Texture is some times overlooked when planning creative stitchery.  I'm going to be taking a closer look at the odds and ends in my silverware drawer!  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lily's Temper Tantrum

It was a busy weekend getting ready for a sewing class.  I had 40 strips of 40 different fabrics each of which was 2.5"  x  ± 40".  The job was to lay out the strip, than lay an equally sized strip of batting on top of the fabric, fold the two layers in half length-wise, and iron it.  Then one had to tuck the outer edges in towards the middle so the raw ends were inside, pin the entire strip, and sew it shut.  This resulted in a puffy tentacle-like piece.  

The next step is where I encountered technical difficulties.  My big at-home sewing machine (her name is Lily) decided she was having no part of sewing the tentacles together with a zig-zag stitch.  She moaned, and whined, and wheezed.  When I didn't stop making this odd demand of her, she coughed, rattled, and threw a hair-ball at me.  After which she shut herself down with an error message and that was that.

Deciding that Lily deserved some babying, I took some of her parts out, gently dusted her innards, gave her a new needle, a new bobbin, and a kind word.  By that time (this was Saturday late afternoon), dinner was ready.  Figuring that giving her a rest would be good for her temper, I left Lily alone fully intending to return and finish the task.

Well, that didn't happen.  I felt that I was too tired to attempt to do any further sewing without damaging either or both my project and Lily.

Sadly, I went to class today with my homework only half done, but it turned out I wasn't the only one with a recalcitrant machine!  Another member of the class had tried using all three of her machines and none of them would cooperate!  Luckily both of us were able to get the machines we had with us (I took my smaller, lighter-weight machine, Baby Ruth) up and running on this project with little problem.

And here's what I accomplished!

I know.  You're looking at that wondering what on earth I've made now.  Well, this is what I was supposed to have had ready for class, and if I had, I might have had a recognizable, nearly finished project by now.  But I didn't so I don't!

Fortunately, our instructor has agreed to hold another class for those of us who need special attention.  Sandra, you're a peach!  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Practice: Drawing

Well, I did practice though not water colors.  Other things ate up my time today, but I am determined that I will do some artwork at least 3 times a week (remember? resolutions have to be specific and attainable).  Having lost sight of the time, I chose simple pencil drawing as my practice medium today.  

Recently I have been tearing photographs out of magazines and newspaper for practice subjects.  And I have found that many of the photos that attract my attention are those of people.  I've never had much instruction with figure drawing although I did have one semester in an art school class with nude models quite some time ago.  I don't remember actually being taught anything about the human anatomy at that time - things like ratios weren't covered.  Anyway, I have been intrigued with sports and dance photos since they show bodies in motion.

Here's today's photo from the Times Union Preview section in an article about Jacob's Pillow.  What I would like you to see are the negative spaces, the empty spaces, in this picture: between the two arms, between the left arm and left leg, and between the left leg and the right leg.

Now look at those same three spaces in my drawing.  See the differences?

In my need to adapt the subject to my paper after I had set the figure incorrectly (I should have begun the drawing with the figure all the way to the left side in order to have enough room), I lowered the left arm without even realizing I had done so.  Then, by looking at the second negative space you can really see how the lack of careful planning through off the beauty of the dancer's line.  Then because that was incorrect the third negative space is off, too.

Note to self, take time to see, time to think, and even time to use register marks if necessary before drawing again. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Painting Issues

Although yesterday was the day of my studio class, I didn't write about it nor did I post any photos.  I wasn't ready to.  When my work really doesn't go well, I sometimes have to step away from it and just let it be.  That means that I don't go back and mess around on the canvas, fabric, clay, whatever; I let my hands stay idle.  And if possible, I don't even think about it.  I know from experience that in a relatively short time, my brain will come to terms with my disappointment, inability, or whatever combination of things caused my lack of success.

Notice, I have learned not to say "failure".  That's huge.  

As you know, I have been working with water color paints and felt I had gotten to a point where I had a nodding acquaintance with them and how to achieve a passable painting.  Passable.  Yesterday I might as well have held my brush in my left hand.  What I did, as Sharon said, was try to push the paint around the surface instead of letting it flow.  I was back to oil painting technique with water color paints.

All right.  What has my brain come up with since then?

It's simple.  Practice.  In between classes I have let myself get pulled into all the other activities that I either need to or want to do.  Now I know practice is key, and as I have discovered, I need to practice.  While I am truly convinced that therein lies my answer, I now have to want it badly enough to set aside the time and keep it sacrosanct.

Of course, learning to accept the fact that I am not perfect at something after 6 months would help, too.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Candle Light

After removing all the quilting-related piles, boxes containing items related to quilting, ironing board, lamps, extension cords from the dining room table (and sideboard and chairs and floor), I spent some time cleaning the room itself.  That included going through two cabinets that actually held china and glassware.  Some was packed away as being the wrong season, some was given away, and some is now under dire interdict, "If it isn't used some time between December 2013 and December 2014, it's gone.  Out of the room, out of the house, and out of any extraneous storage possibilities.

Hmmm.  I still like some of my collections.  I still really like some of my collections, but I have to stick to my rule.  Hmmm.

I have a collection of old glass goblets.   Here they are on the long shelf in the family room serving as candle holders for the holidays.

There are also several real candle holders interspersed among the goblets.  What can I say?  I like candle light.

I also have a collection of old glass measuring cups (of which you can see only one in the photo above - the others also on this shelf have lit candles, too).

Since these photos were taken, I have removed all the green tea lights and put them away until March.  I've left the red ones out because - well, it will be February soon!

What a good use for these lovely old goblets (but boy, was my thumb sore after lighting all those candles with the "flame thrower")!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Birds at the Feeder

Yesterday I showed you some views from my studio, and you may have noticed the bird feeders in our back yard.  Actually, I think you've seen them more than once before!  Today I'm posting photographs of some of the many birds that visit the seed, suet, and peanuts.

The first one was a special delight; it always is when there is a surprise in a photograph.  Can you find what I didn't realize I'd caught "on film"?  There are six birds in the picture; can you find them all?

In the next one, you'll see one of the woodpeckers that visit us.  They love peanuts!  Wonder if they're related?

And the juncos - almost as delightful to watch as the chickadees.

Now there are two woodpeckers.  They look so much alike it's hard to tell them apart. 

 I cropped the next photo so you could see the two of them more closely.  It's still hard to see a difference, isn't it?  Okay, there is a clear size difference.  The one on the left is the Downy woodpecker (6") which is the size of a sparrow and on the right is the Hairy woodpecker (9") "robin-sized".  But size doesn't necessarily help if you see only one of them at a time (though eventually you'll be able to tell if its the little one or the big one).  

The Downy has a shorter, thicker looking bill (if you're close enough to see it or are using binoculars at just the right time) than the Hairy.  My bird book tells me that the Hairy has an unspotted white back, but I've never been able to pick up on that.

If you've learned a good way to identify these woodpeckers, please let me know!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

View from Above

Well, since the last time I wrote, the weather has certainly had its way with us, hasn't it!  It has been a long time since I can remember it being so cold or the snow so light-weight (for the number of inches we had, it was remarkably easy to shovel).  Believe me, I am not complaining.  I've said it before, and I'll probably say it many times again; once I retired, snow no longer held my spirit in captivity.  It just isn't the threat it was when I had to go out.  And cold?  I merely add another layer if I need to.

Anyway, these past few days while working in my studio with all its windows, I was treated to a visual feast.  The first picture was taken in the morning out my back window. 

The next was merely a shot of the tops of the trees against the sky.

Then there is the stunning afternoon light and the shadows it creates.

And the last one of the featuring the beech tree and more shadows.

Had I put my camera against the window (as I did for the sky photo) you wouldn't see the muntins in the window, but I rather like that as it emphasizes the fact that I am inside and the winter is outside.

It was a good place to be!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014 and Resolutions

Do you make resolutions for the New Year?  Normally I don't because I've never had much luck keeping them.  However, after reading several articles about why people don't do well with their resolutions, I've decided to try again.

According to the experts, one of the reasons I may not have gotten very far before is I have not been specific enough in wording.  Okay, here goes:
  1. I resolve to complete 3 Blocks of the Month projects.  At this point, I think I should also specify which three I will work on, but since most of my things are still packed away, I will define only 2 BOM projects: Keepsake Quilting's "Downtown" and the local "Words to Live By" (that may not be the exact title but it's close).  The third one is unspecified but I resolve it should be one that has been kicking around for far too long.
  2. (The next possible issue with resolutions is that one tends to make them unrealistic.  So here's the second one.)  I resolve to lose 11 pounds.  Should I lose more weight?  Yes, but if I say I resolve to lose 50 lbs, I'm probably defeated before I start.  Eleven pounds is achievable.  Another part of this statement is something I learned whle teaching.  Some numbers are used so much that they have no meaning, and the most overused numbers are multiples of five.  So instead of saying that I will lose 10 lbs, I made it 11.  It's more than 10 which makes it important, and it's an unusual number and will therefore stick in my head and not on my body! 
  3. I resolve to make quilts of my own design this year.  And I further specify that one must be one for the Girlfriend's Challenge and another one my anniversary quilt design.
And that's it.  I'm going to stop at three resolutions because if the list is too long, I will be overwhelmed, will curl up in my corner of the sofa, and eat bon-bons.

And to prove to myself that I can finish somethings, here is the completed top of my grandson's quilt.  It's spread out on the bed in our guest room to see if it is as long as my daughter wants it to be, and oh joy, oh rapture, it is!

This is the center medallion with some fish, more seaweed, a seashell, and a starfish added since you saw it last.  There are three more fish and one sea turtle appliqued on the quilt that you can't see well in these photos.

Tomorrow I will piece the backing.  Even though I purchased extra wide backing fabric for this quilt, I have so many blocks left over that I will put them to use on the back and which will help use up my stash.

Oh dear, is that another resolution??????????