Destiny

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Fate seemed to play a part, when I met my big dog, Darla. She is a boxer, pit-bull mix, which is the same mixture that my sweet, recently-deceased Clover was. I was told that she was good with people, including small children, cats and other dogs. That was important because of potential visits from grandchildren and others, and because of my little dog at home. She was six years old, which was the same age as Rosa Parks, my lonely chihuahua who I felt would benefit from a companion. Her name was Darla, which is also the name of one of my sisters, beloved and remembered though she died in infancy.

Along with my friend, Linda, who I was visiting, I stopped to see Darla several times at the no-kill shelter where she’d spent most of her life. Finally, I signed the papers to make her a part of my family. With the big dog beside me in the passenger seat, we drove across the state toward home. With several stops along the way for short walks and nature calls, and one shared fast-food meal, we got to know each other. Through the long drive and the short, noisy plane ride, I assured Darla that she was coming home. By the time we got to my house on Beaver Island, she almost seemed to be wearing a smile.

There were a few complications when Darla and Rosa Parks met. It turns out, each of them would have preferred being an “only dog.” Still, they both loved walks down the country roads, rides in the car, and trips to the water at nearby Fox Lake. They both loved me, tolerated each other, and learned to be friends. Later, when Blackie Chan, a long-separated litter-mate of Rosa Parks, was added to our family, there were a few more challenges. Again, we worked through them.

As I’ve worked to negotiate a “pecking order” to keep the peace in this multi-dog household, Darla’s good nature has been a blessing. Because she is the fastest eater, I always put her food dish down last. Because she’s too large to share my twin-sized bed with me, Darla has to be removed to her own nearby bed when I’m ready for sleep. The two small dogs sleep with me. Though Darla has her own large comfortable bed between the heater and my desk, the small dogs often take that space to be near me when I’m working at the computer. Darla doesn’t argue, but moves to the armchair, or a rug, or the now-vacant bed.

Both little dogs have rugs that mark their eating spot; Darla has a raised stool that I put her food dish on, to make her meal time more comfortable. Still, she seems to notice the discrepancy, and I’ll often find her big body curled up on a tiny rug, beside a small dog’s food dish. I see her looking enviously at a little dog taking up space in my bed, or in her bed, or in my lap. I imagine her thinking about what it would be like to be the only dog. Still, she kindly puts up with the little ones, watches out for them, and indulges them with the utmost patience and good humor.

Last week, without a single thought to Darla, I brought home a new rug for the kitchen. I got it to replace the tiny, unraveling and threadbare one that had been in front of the sink. The new one is beautiful, thick and cushion-y, and large. It stretches across the length of the floor in front of the entire double sink, right beside the stool where Darla eats her dinner. I love it!

Someone else does, too! Darla believes I brought it home just for her. It’s right next to her food dish, after all, and exactly where she loves to lay – underfoot – while I am preparing dinner. It is perfectly sized for her. She claimed it immediately, with a big smile. “Finally,” I imagine her thinking, “I am the favored one. THIS is my DESTINY!!!”

Timeout for Art: Sketching

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Sketching has become a regular and significant part of my life. I draw every morning, at my dining room table. I draw when I’m sitting in a waiting room. I draw when I’m on the telephone, or watching a movie, or sitting on the bank at Fox Lake while the dogs have a swim, or when I’m trying to work through an idea. No drawing takes more than a few minutes of my time, but the benefits stretch on.

The sketchbook I use is fairly mundane. The paper is of reasonable quality, but not overly precious. It has a hard cover, which is helpful if I’m away from a desk or table, and is bound together with a thick wire spiral, making it easy to open flat. I keep a dark sepia-toned extra fine point artist pen in the sketchbook’s spiral binding. Always ready. The pen limits my methods of shading, and eliminates the possibility of erasing. My sketchbook is marked off into variously-sized small squares, rectangles and – occasionally – a triangle. So, I don’t even have to commit to a full-page drawing. This is the least intimidating method I could think of to start and maintain a drawing habit, and it worked. I draw every day.

This is not fine art. Some sketches work much better than others; the images on some pages relate with each other better than on others. This work is not meant to be framed, or even shown. Though I sometimes work on shading techniques, composition, or, for instance, how best to illustrate glass in black and white, it’s not about art.

Making these little observational sketches feels more like meditation than art work. It is simply looking closely, and recording what I see. It has caused me to be a better observer; it constantly reminds me to be honest to my vision. At the same time, the practice of doing it, of taking time to observe and render what I see, reinforces the idea that I am an artist. Sketching is a small and simple practice, but it has become an important part of my life.

Despair

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Last week, I looked at the next topic to write about, from the list I compiled from the table of contents of David Whyte’s book, Consolations: Despair. Oh, dear. What to say about despair? How could I relate to that?

Of course, I know what the word means. I have probably experienced it at one time or another, in my long life. I recall times of great upheaval, others of tremendous sadness and loss. Despair, though, was different somehow. Though it seemed like something I had a personal understanding of, I didn’t quite recall the feeling. I couldn’t get a handle on how to write about it.

Instead, I added another topic. “Deliriously Happy” was still roughly following the alphabetical order of the list, and was easier to expound on. It wasn’t the first time I’ve altered the format, and I’m still very close to the beginning of the alphabet! I wrote two essays on the topic of “Besieged.” I added “Christmas Past” and “Cancer” that were not a part of the subjects Whyte listed, and then I wrote two essays on “Crisis.” So, not feeling in the mood to write about despair, I did it again. It’s my blog and my list (complements of David Whyte), so I guess I can adjust it when the mood strikes.

It is easy to write about being happy, when happiness is all around, and I’m feeling it in my bones. I didn’t know exactly where it had come from; I noted several small and unrelated events that led up to it. I compared it to a great astronomical event, caused by all the stars and planets quietly and slowly converging into just the right formation. Well.

A few days later, I woke up at two o’clock in the morning. I noted the little dogs, snuggled in on either side of me, as usual. I looked out over the room, dimly illuminated by the moon. Nothing was out of the ordinary; nothing was wrong. And yet, like a damp and musty, heavy woolen blanket, a great feeling of sadness and isolation washed over me. Ah, yes. Despair.

I was smart enough to analyze, right then, how the feeling differed from sadness. In my life, even extraordinary sadness brought on by immeasurable loss was tempered by the knowledge that I was not alone in my misery. When my sister died unexpectedly just a week before my mother died of cancer, and less than two years after my little brother died, I had other siblings around me, sharing my grief. We shored each other up, and helped each other through. In despair, I think, you are all alone. Or, at least, you feel all alone.

Sometimes, circumstances or feelings of depression conspire to make you believe you’re isolated, whether that is actually true or not. I often feel like my frustrations are my own fault. Sharing them seems like a sign of weakness, and/or a cry for help. I’m rarely looking for help. It is keeping things to myself, though, that leads to feelings of despair.

So, what went wrong? How did I fall from “deliriously happy” to “despair?” I don’t know, really. Nothing big, certainly. Minor annoyances, small disappointments, little vexations. Much can likely be attributed to normal fluctuations in mood. When I’m laughing hysterically one day, I kind of know I’ll be crying uncontrollably before long.

How to fix it? First, I got out of bed and wrote a long rant. We won’t have a dentist here until spring. At least until spring. My tooth, that I’ve been trying to get repaired for almost two years, continues to crumble, leaving sharp edges that scratch the inside of my cheek. Getting it fixed before spring means an airplane trip to the mainland and the use of a car there, all adding to the cost of the necessary crown.

The new manager at the hardware store is young enough to be my granddaughter. She doesn’t have any idea how much I know, and she’s a little bossy. Beyond that, there’s the owner, who I’ve worked for for over 18 years, who should know my capabilities, who put her in the position of being my boss without a word to me beforehand.

The window estimate from the contractor came back high. Or, much higher than expected, anyway. Do I want new windows…or tooth repair? And on and on, in that fashion, about every little rotten thing.

Next, I went for a long walk. The dogs don’t care if it’s a good mood or a bad mood to credit for my desire to get out in the fresh air, they always enjoy a good energetic walk. Later, I made a couple phone calls. I spoke to my friend, Linda, and my sister, Brenda. They are both good and sympathetic listeners. Slowly, the feelings of despair faded. Luckily, not before I’d gleaned enough information to write this post!

Timeout for Art: Reading

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Reading, you might say, has very little to do with art. Art is “making.” Art is “creating.” Art is “showing up and doing it.” Yes, true. But for me, reading is a huge contributor to my art. Books offer reference, reminders, instruction and inspiration. They serve as a gateway into the studio when I’ve been away from it too long. They introduce me to new techniques, or remind me of others that I haven’t used in a while. Books offer fresh viewpoints and expand my vision beyond the walls of my own small studio. I find them invaluable.

Some of my favorites:

For a push to get going:

  • Making Room for Making Art by Sally Warner
  • The classic The Artist’s Way, of course, but any books by Julia Cameron outline and reinforce her solid principles
  • The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
  • Any of the several books on creativity and “flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

For inspiration:

  • Lucy Lippard has several good books detailing various art movements. I find them accessible and always eye-opening. Overlay, Mixed Blessings, Eva Hesse, and From the Center are ones that I refer to again and again
  • No More Secondhand Art by Peter London
  • Deep Play by Diane Ackerman
  • The Reenchantment of Art by Suzi Gablik
  • This Way Day Break Comes: Women’s Values and the Future By Anne Cheatham and Mary Clare Powell
  • Clear Seeing Place by Brian Rutenberg is currently providing me with a new desire to get things going in the studio. He also has several wonderful short videos on YouTube

Books on process and technique can serve as inspiration as well. I have many, but most often turn to these:

  • If I’m planning an art class, I first turn to Learning By Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit by Corita Kent and Jan Steward
  • For papermaking, or to explain papermaking, I go to the book that I first learned the process from: The Complete Book of Handcrafted Paper by Marna Elyea Kern
  • For drawing, I turn to Drawing: A Contemporary Approach by Claudia Betti and Teel Sale
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is also helpful
  • Finding One’s Way With Clay by Paulus Berensohn has influenced my thoughts on how I approach clay, and all other media

Beyond these standard go-to books, I have others dealing with specific artists, art movements and art history, as well as instructional books for specific painting and printmaking techniques. For me, reading makes an important contribution to my art-making.

Deliriously Happy

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I’m a pretty cheerful person. I work at it. Each morning, I write a page of things – small, ordinary things – that I am grateful for. I have a list of “the happiest words in the English language” and I make an effort to use them in conversation, and when writing letters. I have read Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, and try to incorporate her “10 daily practices for a happier life” into my days. I’m in the process of reading Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee, which is providing insight about ordinary things – polka-dots, for instance – that tend to increase feelings of happiness.

I am known for my smile. I joke that it is an unavoidable side effect of working for forty years in customer service. I note that it helps to hide my sagging jowls. It also helps to smooth the rough edges of a conversation. The fact is, though, that I appreciate the friendly openness of a smiling face. It makes me feel good when someone smiles at me, so I make a point of smiling at others. It’s not hard, because it’s genuine. I like people, and I’m usually pretty happy.

There are times, though, when a smile doesn’t seem like enough. Now and then, I find myself to be outrageously happy. A broad grin stretches across my face, The dogs look at me strangely as I joyously laugh out loud in our normally quiet household. I can’t explain it. The events that might lead up to it are often scattered, minor, and unrelated. Not really anything that would be associated with wild joy. Still. Just like when the stars or planets quietly converge to create a major astrological event, small things work together to alter my mood.

Last week, it started with an appointment. One of the contractors and I had arranged to meet at a set day and time at my house. He was going to measure my kitchen and dining room windows, to give me a price on replacing them. That, alone, was reason to celebrate. The windows were already old, being taken out of someone else’s house for more up-to-date versions, when I bought them for my house. They’ve been in service here for more than twenty years.

The wood frames are rickety; the windows have always been difficult to open and close. Two (or maybe three) summers ago, I accidentally broke one of the panes out of the east-facing kitchen window. For every winter since then. a sheet of plexiglas (triple wrapped in bubble wrap and with the edges sealed with duct tape) has been the only thing keeping the cold outside. Doing a fair job, at best.

The north-facing dining room windows, that face a shady area under large maple trees, used to offer a lovely cool breeze in the summertime. It was well-worth the effort it took to wrestle them open, and prop them up. Unfortunately, when a crew came in to weatherize my house several years ago, the only way they saw to prevent the inevitable winter drafts, was to permanently seal them closed. So, they can no longer be opened in the warm weather. Spiders, however, have managed to get in to the space where I cannot, and have built elaborate webs between the panes of glass, spoiling my view.

I was thrilled to be, finally, moving toward a solution to the window problem. A visitor to my home, though, is a rare thing, and even more unusual during these Covid-conscious times. The last “company” I had was when my heat stove malfunctioned and needed repair. Without anyone to complain or judge, my home often reflects my lackadaisical attitude toward housework. With a contractor scheduled, things needed to improve!

The south-facing counter in the kitchen had a generous collection of junk mail, stuffed into empty cereal and pasta boxes, waiting to be burned. Beside it was a large bag filled with plastic, and another holding tin, aluminum, glass and other items for recycling. In front of all that was a single narrow strip of formica that had – weeks ago – come off the face of the counter, waiting to be fixed back in place. The stainless steel compost bin was nearly full, and had not been polished since I last had a visitor, I’m sure.

In the short hall that houses my laundry, along with the big trash can and one small laundry basket, there was a cardboard box filled with corrugated cardboard, also waiting to be recycled at our Transfer Station. The dryer had a collection of miscellaneous socks, scarves and rags on it, mixed with coins, pens and paper clips rescued from pockets, and all coated with a heavy layer of dust. The coat hooks were over-loaded with several fall sweaters and light jackets bulging out from underneath the winter coat I wear every day.

Suddenly, I was seeing everything – usually so easy to overlook – through someone else’s eyes. So, I whipped through the house, taking care of things I’d neglected for too long along with the regular weekly cleaning and tidying. Then, in the following days, I put a little polish on things: added a candle, cleaned out a drawer, shined a surface, until I felt like I was living in a brand new space.

Early afternoon, on a sunny winter day, the young man came, as planned. He measured windows, talked a little about timing, pricing and methods, and was gone. I still had the much-improved space, though. And the sunshine. And hope for new windows in the spring. Just like that, I was deliriously happy!

Denial

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Denial takes many forms; I think I’m pretty good at most of them.

When I’m feeling sick, I tell myself and others, “I’m fine.” At other times, when there is nothing wrong with me, I am just as likely to deny my good health. I focus on and magnify any little ache or irregularity, until I’ve convinced myself that I’m mortally ill. Until someone asks; then I’ll say, “No, I’m fine.”

I almost always deny being “mad” when asked. “I’m not mad, I’m hurt,” was my usual response to my husband’s question. To that, he’d often wink at our young daughters and say, “Ooooh, Mommy’s really mad!” I will admit to being hurt, confused, upset, frustrated, embarrassed or discouraged, but deny being mad. Even though all of those other feelings generally manifest in feeling…exactly…MAD.

Sometimes…no, often…denial is just contrariness. When someone complains about the weather, I find it impossible to not present an opposing point of view. “Oh, but we really needed this rain,” I’ll say. Or, “But isn’t the snow so beautiful?” On the other side of this issue, when I am talking to my sister Brenda, who always looks for the blessings in any event, no matter how devastating or disastrous, I fight the urge to expound on just exactly how horrible it really is. When my friend Chris assures me, as she always does, that “it’s all going to work out just fine,” I always want to deny it. I imagine taking her by the shoulders, shaking her slightly, looking into her eyes and asking, “When, WHEN have things EVER worked out just fine??”

Today, though, I’m thinking more of self-denial. I’m not very good at it. As I set up my calendar for this year, and reviewed past years, it was clear that I’ve been a big failure at losing the twenty pounds that has been on my list of goals for at least the last five years. That’s because I am not very good at denying myself.

Low-carb? I can think of a hundred reasons why I can’t do a low-carb diet. It’s expensive! It takes too much planning! It eliminates all comfort and joy from every meal! And, no matter how weak my logic, clearly I have never succeeded in following through with a low-carb diet plan.

Smaller portions? I hate limiting portions. It reminds me of being poor. It puts me in a constant state of depravation and dissatisfaction. As a skinny kid growing up in a big family on a farm, there was plenty of food, but also lots of hungry people around the table. I never had a problem with weight, and could eat whatever I wanted, as long as no one else got to it first. Now, without competition, and having lost the ability to eat whatever I want without gaining weight, portion size is a problem. Still, I hate the idea.

No sugar? I thought cutting out sugar would be an easy form of self-denial. I prefer savory to sweet. I don’t sweeten my coffee or drink soda. I could pass on desserts. Possible. Until I started implementing that diet plan into my life…and started reading labels. If you’re avoiding sugar, labels are a big, shocking eye-opener. And, a piece of chocolate takes on the status of air…or water. I don’t remember how or why this particular plan failed, but I’m sure self-denial was at the root of it.

This year, I’m trying something new. Intermittent Fasting promises to regulate insulin, which offers many other benefits, including weight loss. On the program I’m on, I can eat every day, but only for an eight-hour window out of every 24-hour period. I fast, except for noon to eight PM. Knowing my spoiled self as I do, this one ticks a lot of boxes. During the “eating window,” I can eat what I want. No need to cut out potatoes or pasta, count calories, or eliminate dessert. Within reason, the quantity of food is not restricted. I was never a big “breakfast person” anyway.

The problem, and I knew I’d find a problem, is that during the fasting period I can only have black coffee, plain tea, or water. Which made me realize how very much I love love LOVE cream in my coffee. Which underlined the fact that morning coffee is a big, important and cherished part of my life. The other problem is this: intermittent fasting is not a “diet,” but rather a lifestyle change, So, that means this is long term. Forever. That took a little getting-used-to. I had to work up to it.

I toyed with giving up coffee altogether. No! I didn’t want to do that! I told myself I could never get used to black coffee. I experimented with it one day, then went back to morning coffee with cream. I chastised myself for being so self indulgent that I couldn’t make any sacrifices at all. Finally, I just dove in.

Today, day four of my new lifestyle, I can report that, for the most part, I don’t feel deprived. On the first day, I felt hungry at noon, so I made lunch. On the following days, a piece of fruit mid-afternoon was all I wanted until suppertime. I feel good. I don’t feel like I’m starving myself; I don’t feel that I’m over-eating at dinner to make up for meals lost. I have plenty of energy. I don’t wake up hungry. I’m hoping to, as time goes by, be able to report on more good outcomes of this lifestyle.

Meanwhile, I am sipping on a cup of black coffee. No delicious creamy flavor; a little bitter. Don’t worry. I’m FINE!

Timeout for Art: Quitting

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It may surprise anyone who knows what a big part of my life art is, and always has been, that I often think about quitting. Not only do I think about it, I do it. I close the drapes that hang at the bottom of the stairs, keeping the heat down in my living spaces. Sometimes they stay that way for days. I give my attention to my outside job, and to other things that interest me. I think about issues of health and fitness; I read; I spend extra time with the dogs; I write. Now and then, I make popcorn, and over-indulge in Netflix offerings.

I think about what life would be like if I gave up on art. What would I be, if I were not an artist? I’d still be a mother, grandmother, sister and friend. I’d still be a walker, a reader, a writer, a gardener, a baker, a cook, a good worker and an exceptional employee. I might come home from work without even thinking about how to fit studio time into my evening, around other duties and obligations. Maybe I’d keep a tidier house. And finish the dozens of household projects that wait for me.

Art fills my life. It takes up every spare bit of time, and mental and physical space. It rarely shows a profit; art supplies are expensive. The matting and framing necessary for display further adds to the cost. The business end of being an artist is not something I like, and I’m not good at it. So, my art career creeps along slowly and steadily. It will never make me rich; it will never make me famous.

Possibly, if I quit, I’d finally reupholster the green vinyl and duct tape footstool (ugly, yes, but attached to so many memories) that came to me from the old family farmhouse. Maybe I’d spend my evenings just sitting in the armchair, my feet propped up on the footstool, a little dog beside me, a book open in my lap. I could entertain again, invite friends over, play games. Maybe I could clear out the studio, and turn it into a guest room. Then, I’d have space as well as time for company. What a life!

the landing at the top of the stairs

Eventually, though, I pull open the curtains, loop them up to either side, and let the heat go up to the small rooms above. Before long, I climb the stairs. I wander in to the studio. First, just to look around, then to organize a little bit, maybe to sit and spend some time. Finally, I start shuffling collage materials around, playing with colors and shapes. I pull out papers, and paints and trays of other materials. And then I’m committed: dipping in to polymers with my bare hands, pulling out colors, dropping one brush after another into the jar of mud-colored water.

When I finally emerge, it will take a half hour just to get my hands clean. The dogs will let me know they resent the lack of attention. I may be late in starting dinner, or in cleaning up the kitchen. I might have to rush right out the door, in order to get a walk in before dark. It might be so late, it will be impossible get a full night’s sleep. No matter. I’ll be feeling energized, satisfied and fulfilled. Because, you see, art fills my life.

“A journalist once asked me, “With the onslaught of bad news and endless needs — how do you not quit?” I said: “Oh, I do quit! Quitting is my favorite. Every day I quit. Every single day.” I wake up and I care the most amount. And then — at some point — I put it all away and melt into my people and my couch and food and nothingness. And I care not at all. I forget it all. Then I go to sleep and wake up and begin again. Begin and quit every day! Only way to survive. Embrace quitting as a spiritual practice, loves.” ~G. Doyle

my studio door

Days to Remember

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I took my dogs for a walk down the Fox Lake Road the other day. Just as I do every single day. It was different, though; I’ve been puzzling over the reasons why.

First, the sun was shining. That in itself is a reason to celebrate. On this small island, when the temperature drops and the big lake still holds open water, we have many gray days. I know it has something to do with the variance between water temperature and air temperature, but I couldn’t begin to explain the science. It doesn’t take an expert to notice, though, how rare a day of sunshine is. Not that it isn’t beautiful here anyway; it is. Not that there isn’t plenty to appreciate, whether the sun is out or not; of course there is. But, when the sun is shining in the middle of the winter on Beaver Island, we do take notice, and appreciate it, and get outside to enjoy it whenever we can.

Second, in a winter that has so far been wavering in its production of either lasting cold or snow pack, we got a few inches of fresh snow. Thus, all of my driveway and most of the Fox Lake Road, that had been a slippery, frozen mess of ruts and ridges, was now easy to walk on. I could stride along without worrying that my next step would send me off sideways, or down. Beyond that, snow converts the regular scenery into a magical place. No matter what winter means, with its offerings of cold and mess and discomfort, it’s hard to deny that there’s a great deal of beauty in a snow-covered landscape.

Third, we were all feeling pretty spry that day. I’d had a not-too-tiring day at work that had been just stressful enough that I was looking especially forward to getting outside in the fresh air. Though I have the normal aches, pains and complaining joints that seem to come with age, I was feeling strong and capable. My three dogs, too, were up for the exercise. They are each nine years old, and have their own health issues, but they all still relish their walk.

On that day, Rosa Parks ran ahead, full speed, just like she used to when she was a puppy. Then she’d make a wide loop, and run just as quickly back to me, with bright eyes and a wide grin, to get a treat before she charged off again. Blackie Chan picked up on the excitement, and charged off, too. If Rosa Parks slowed down or stopped, which happened a couple times, Blackie Chan, nearly blind, ran right in to her. It didn’t faze either of them for long, and they continued on with their game. Darla was, meanwhile, loping steadily beside me, except when she was following scents along the sides of the road.

I smiled the whole distance down the road and back. Except when I was singing, to help Blackie Chan find his way. Or when I was laughing out loud at the antics of my three companions. It was one of those rare days that I recognized, in the moment, how unique and precious and special it was. I told myself, “Remember this, when the days are gray or the road becomes a muddy path. Remember this…when the dogs are older, or more infirm, or gone. Remember this…when I am not so strong, or so capable as I feel right now. Remember this, remember this…one more perfect day.” And the fact is, there was nothing so much more special about any of it; it was just a slightly-above-average, ordinary day. Except that I took notice of it!

Timeout for Art: Papermaking IV

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Here we are again, still with the papermaking. This has been a long process of explaining what is actually a pretty simple procedure. I hope that I haven’t made it seem harder or more complicated than it actually is. And I hope I’ve been clear enough in my descriptions that someone, reading this, could learn to make their own paper. I have often been asked for written instructions for the process as I teach it. From now on, I’ll direct people to these pages!

Forming the Paper: The Pouring Method

The pouring method of making paper gives you more control over the thickness of your sheets, and allows you to make several sheets of uniform size and thickness. If you have plans to make sets of matching notecards, or a few hundred wedding invitations (as I have done more than once), this is the process for you.

Through a bit of experimentation, you can determine the amount of pulp it will take to form a sheet of paper, in the size and thickness that you want. One generous tablespoon of pulp – measured prior to blending – with result in an 8″ x 11″ sheet of paper thin and manageable enough to fold easily. I used almost that same amount of pulp for making postcard-sized wedding invitations, as I wanted them to be heavier, more like card stock.

Once you have the amount of pulp figured out, blend it as usual (one tablespoon of pulp combined with two to three cups of water, on the highest setting, for about 30 seconds), and pour it into a pitcher. Place the deckle frame on top of the mold frame, with the screen of the mold on the top side. Forgive my crude little sketches; I feel like I can’t make it clear with words alone.

Now, if you have a helper, this is where a second pair of hands will really be beneficial. There are a lot of things to manage all at once. Still, I’ve been making paper all by myself for years, and it is certainly possible.

Hold the mold and deckle tightly together, so that the deckle will prevent the water/pulp solution from escaping over the edge of the mold. Partially submerge it in the sink or tub, so that the screen is covered by an inch or so of water, and the deckle sides create a kind of “bathtub.” Pour the pulp mixture into this area; the water in the deckle box will help it to spread out over the screen. When the pulp seems evenly dispersed in the water, lift the mold and deckle out of the tub, using both hands and keeping the unit level. You’ll feel quite a bit of suction.

Lift the deckle box off, and set it to the side. Hold the mold at a slight angle to let some of the water drain away. Avoid the urge to bounce or shake the mold. Finally, move the mold over to the couching area, and proceed to couch and dry the paper, as before.

Drying Papers

Earliest papers were simply set out to dry in the sun. The sheets would lift easily off the screens when dry. That is still possible, but it slows the entire process down. The papers, stacked between layers of couching cloths and felts, especially if pressed between weights, will dry in a few days time. The stack can be placed near a register or other non-flammable heat source, to speed things up. Left to dry this way, the papers should be rearranged in the stack regularly, so that all of the sheets will dry at the same rate, and to avoid any issues with mold.

The drying process can be sped up by using a regular household iron, on the cotton setting. Do not touch the iron to the paper, but rather press the couching cloth, then flip it over, and press the felt. If your felts are made of synthetic materials (test them first!), cover the felt with another couching cloth before ironing. There will be a lot of steam! I never iron clothes, but have spent quite a few evenings ironing papers while watching a movie.

Special Effects

There are dozens of ways to make your papers unique. I’ll share some of my favorites:

  • When boiling your papers to make pulp, add part of a package of clothing dye to the water. This is especially effective when your papers are various shades. The dye will color all of the paper, but you’ll still see variations in tone.
  • After blending the pulp, add a pinch of other materials to the blender, and swirl it just enough to incorporate the additions. Some ideas (mentioned in a previous post) are dried grasses or leaves, flower petals, onion skins, dryer lint, bits of thread or yarn, and feathers. Keep in mind that a small amount goes a long way.
  • When using the pouring method of papermaking, after the pulp is dispersed in the deckle box and before lifting it out of the water, lay pressed, dried flowers or leaves onto the surface. As you draw the paper out of the water, the suction will draw the items onto the surface of the paper.
  • Old lace tablecloths and doilies can be laid onto the surface of a newly formed sheet of paper, before adding the couching cloth. As the paper is pressed to dry, the texture will be embedded in the surface.

These are just a few suggestions. As you become familiar with the process, I’m sure you’ll come up with ideas on your own.

I hope this is helpful, and that you find papermaking as enjoyable as I do!

Crisis II

Standard

I have three good dogs. They are wonderful companions, a good source of comfort and laughter. They each believe they are my favorite, best dog. They are each correct.

Rosa Parks knows that she has seniority over the other two dogs. She expects first place, and usually gets it. I put her food dish down first, only seconds before Blackie Chan’s and then Darla’s. She usually holds the prime position, closest to my pillow, next to my heart, in bed at night. Usually, though, she doesn’t take advantage of her exalted position. She lets Darla take the lead, and most of the credit, in their bird-chasing, barking-at-the-road-truck home-protection antics. When Blackie Chan decides he wants to sleep exactly where Rosa Parks is sleeping, he climbs right on top of her. Magnanimously, with a look on her face that says “Oh, brother…” Rosa Parks just rolls her eyes.

Darla is the biggest dog in my house, and she has the biggest heart. She watches over and worries over the other dogs. If Blackie Chan wanders down the neighbor’s driveway, Darla paces with furrowed brow at the road, waiting. If Rosa Parks falls behind on our walk, Darla circles back to see what the hold-up is. She waits patiently while the little dogs dance in place, excited to get their dinner, until I put her own dish down. Usually, the biggest danger Darla presents happens when I’m on the floor giving pats and scratches. For a good belly rub, the big dog would, without a second thought, crush any chihuahua that stood in her way!

Blackie Chan makes my heart ache with the earnest, intentional way he approaches life. A walk is serious business. I can almost hear his mind working, as he runs through the checklist: “I must walk straight and tall; keep a little smile on my face; keep my tail in the air, gently wagging; I must pee on every single clump of grass and pile of leaves.” Blackie Chan has a mild, imploring little whine that he directs at me when he wants his dinner, or some attention. His voice changes in an instant – like a scene from The Exorcist – from the humble mewling tone to a tooth-baring snarl if Rosa Parks gets involved.

Still, most of the time, my dogs get along. Until the rare instance when they don’t. Then, it’s a crisis! It all started when I gave Darla a beef bone. It had quite a bit of meat and gristle still on it. The small dogs were outside. I was right there to watch that she didn’t chomp down and splinter the bone. I took it away from her as soon as she’d cleaned the meat from it.

I thought nothing of it. Darla will, if I forget to put it up out of her reach, go through the garbage. She’ll gnaw on old dog food cans that were rinsed and flattened, for any slight flavor she night be able to still get out of them. She will lap up old hamburger grease and chew up the tin foil it was wrapped in. She has chewed into bits the styrofoam containers that once held sausage or chicken. Amazingly, it doesn’t make her sick.

That beef bone, though, did not sit well with Darla. For an entire day, she ate grass whenever she was outside. She declined treats when I offered them. When I got home from work, she had vomited a big mound of grass onto the entry rug. She rushed out the door, and dug right in to eating more grass. Clearly, Darla had an upset stomach!

By the time we got back from our walk, though, Darla seemed better. I fed the dogs on time, as usual. Darla was still working slowly through her meal when the other dogs finished. I gave each of them a “Greenie” that is their after dinner treat. I dropped Darla’s into her food dish. I turned back to the stove to finish preparing my own meal.

Suddenly, the room erupted in chaos! All three dogs were barking; Darla and Rosa Parks were tangled up in battle. Both were yelping and snarling, Darla on top of Rosa Parks, who was on her back on the floor. “No,” I shouted, as I slapped Darla (not hard!) on the flank. Immediately, the fight broke up.

Rosa Parks righted herself, and scurried to her “safe spot” under my desk. Blackie Chan, still anxiously trying to figure out what was going on, poked his head under the desk. Rosa Parks snapped at him, and he backed away, as if beaten, to cower on his corner pillow. Darla had gone, right away, to the rug in front of the kitchen door, where she huddled, ears down, tail between her legs, so miserable.

In a flash, my happy household was in crisis! It seems Darla had abandoned her food dish, with a few bits of kibble and one whole Greenie still in it. Rosa Parks had decided to take advantage of the situation. Darla wasn’t having it. Blackie Chan was just trying to understand. By the time it was over, my heart was pounding, and I had three sad dogs.

I gave them each some individual love and attention, in their own areas. I made sure Rosa Parks wasn’t hurt, let Darla know she wasn’t bad (and that I was sorry I’d smacked her), and explained the situation – as well as I could – to Blackie Chan, while rubbing his ears. By the time I sat down to my own dinner, the crisis was forgotten and all were forgiven.