Monthly Archives: May 2014

Timeout for Art: Subverting the Calendar



The grid and themes involving the calendar work well together.

Whether monthly, weekly or even moon-phase, the calendar brings time into order.

I use the calendar to bring order to my life: there is the daily “to-do” list; appointments and obligations; lists of short-term and long-term goals; books I’ve read; books I want to read; birthdays and special days; meal plans; Christmas gift list…and on and on.

It’s all mostly make-believe.

I can’t really “order” time.

Sometimes things happen that make that crystal clear.

Three years ago, when my mother received her diagnosis – terminal pancreatic cancer – time took on a whole other dimension.

There was the time I had wasted, when I could have been listening better, loving more, extending more kindness and genuine gratitude.

There was the time we had left…not enough, by a mile, but more precious for its scarcity.

There was the time we would never have.

Always, there was the clock, ticking down.

In the middle of all that, my little sister Sheila died in her sleep, without warning.


And yet, there we were, my brothers and sisters, together in the house we had all grown up in, together mourning our sister and helping our Mom to her good passing. There were children and grandchildren, assorted nieces and nephews and friends from far away. We were linked by our family ties, our history, our love and our loss.

It wasn’t all bad.

If I were to consider the traditional calendar, I would have to say it was a very dark time.

That, however, would be denying the joy, the sharing, the moments of honest hilarity that also filled that time.

That is why, in this series, I started subverting the calendar. It seemed too much, to look at a whole day, too painful, sometimes to deal with even an hour. I fractured the calendar so that each moment could be considered, for the feelings that came with it.

The first paintings in this series dealt specifically with two weeks: the time period from my sister’s death, the next ten days with my mother until her death, and then the days of arrangements and final good-byes. The paintings were mostly black and white: old drawings cut up and collaged onto large panels. There were elements of texture, though, and pops of unexpected color. Paint was added last: thin, dark washes were allowed to drip over the fractured grid, linking one element to another. Completed last Spring, they are some of my strongest work.

I’m revisiting the idea, with a brighter outlook this year.

It’s still a good idea: the moments are what count, in a whole life, and moments don’t fit a set pattern.

These images are details of the large (32″ x 48″) panel I’m working on. It still has quite a way to go, but I like some of the things that are happening.

Title: “Spring Marches In”








Catching Up



Wasn’t it less than two weeks ago that I mentioned we were getting more snow?

I know it was only last week that I woke up to icy frost covering everything.

Working outside today, it’s hard to believe we so recently left winter weather behind!

 In the woods, the Spring Beauties, Trout Lilies and Trillium are glorious. Ramps are ready to be harvested; morel mushrooms are out there, though I haven’t found any yet. In my flower beds, hyacinth, narcissus and tulips are blooming. Asparagus is poking out of the ground, rhubarb is nearly ready to pull and I made a meal the other day with some kale that made it through the winter under all of that snow.

The birds are singing.  Shrubs and trees are budding. Snakes are sunning themselves on the path. Two big flies are buzzing in my window, for heaven’s sake!

Spring has finally caught up with the calendar!

I’m working at getting caught up, too.

This winter was terribly hard on my house, and on my budget. The cost of heat alone was through the roof, with the combination of a long winter and extreme temperatures. Snow plowing was another major necessary expense. On top of that, I’ve had roof troubles, electrical problems and water issues that are just now getting ironed out.

Because the cold weather kept people away, and inside their warm homes, businesses were struggling, as well. My work hours were cut back or cut out. Even with six jobs, I wasn’t putting in forty hours a week.

When the first of May came around, I had annual car insurance, plus a mortgage payment and one credit card payment due. Telephone, propane and electricity bills were all over due. In addition, I had a bill from the hospital for lab work, from the Medical Center for a blood draw, and from the pharmacy for prescriptions. I had a winter property tax bill that was due on Valentine’s Day.

I had less than three hundred dollars in my bank account.

On top of all that, I had no drainage. When the washing machine emptied, it filled the bathtub; one sink backed up into another; the toilet overflowed. For over a month – waiting for the frost to go out of the ground and the snow-melt that was saturating the field to dry up and the plumbers and septic workers to find time – I’ve been taking military showers, washing clothes at my aunt’s house, doing dishes in a bucket (that had to be then emptied outside)and allowing myself one flush per day.

But the weather is changing.

People are coming out of their homes and looking at Spring projects. Visitors are coming to Beaver Island. Business is picking up. With it, my hours at work are increasing.

Friday evening, money in the bank, I sat down to sort and prioritize bills. I couldn’t catch everything up, but it felt good to make progress.

Yesterday, water issues resolved, I spent the evening doing laundry, housework and dishes, relishing my ability to actually put water down the drain. I took a long, hot shower.

This morning, I took time to read. I truly enjoy all the blogs that I follow, and care about the people that write them. I like to know what’s going on with them, just as I do with family and other friends. With work picking up…and other issues to deal with…I’ve been sorely behind. My comments – when I have stolen the time to read and taken the time to comment – have been speedily composed and extremely brief. I have been very lax in acknowledging comments made to my own blogs. Today, I spent a lovely morning turning that around.

Finally, it seems like I am catching up!

Timeout for Art: the Grid



I have always liked working with the grid, for its inherent stability.

It removes composition from the plan, which leaves only the wonders of surface: color, pattern, texture, sheen…and how all of these elements play against one  another.

Which gives me plenty to think about, thank you!


These images are details from two mid-sized (2′ x2′) collage-paintings I’m working on.

They are part of my continual exploration of how we view time; these fall into the very loose sub-category of “What If We Marked Our Days With Our Most Glorious Feelings Rather Than Numbers And Words?”, which is a bit of a mouthful, but a good thing to ponder.

They also fall into my determined effort to use up all the paper bits and lovelies I have saved for years and years (and that seem to multiply in the bins!) to make way for the fresh and new.


I don’t feel that these are complete, yet, but I’m at a point where I need to stop.

I have to take time to recognize what is working, and what will resolve the work.

Sometimes, that involves putting a piece away for a week or longer, so that when I pull it back out, I can see it with “fresh eyes.”

This time, what I’ve done is move these works downstairs where I can live with them for a bit…see them in the changing light and in a living space away from the studio.

We’re just all co-existing here – without judgment – for a while.



Purple Loosestrife


Yet another…

Beaver Island Phragmites Control


Some of these invasive plants can certainly be deceptive.

Unlike Phragmites, whose sharp, grassy stalks form an impenetrable wall, many herbaceous perennials are actually quite attractive. They seem quite soft and fluffy; often producing striking flowers.

Purple Loosestrife is another one.

First introduced to this country in the 1830’s Purple Loosestrife came here as a contaminant of ship’s ballast. It was also brought here as a medicinal herb, for treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, bleeding, wounds, ulcers and sores. It was welcomed in gardens for its beautiful flowers; beekeepers appreciated the nectar it provided for their hives (though it did not result in a flavorful honey).


Let us not be deceived.


Like all invasive species, this plant does not “play well with others.” It does not co-exist with our native plants. It wants to take over.


Purple Loosestrife is an herbaceous,wetland perennial that can thrive in a wide range of habitats…

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Timeout for Art: Choices



There are many things I like about printmaking. I like the history, the traditions and the rules. I enjoy the many stages of the process. I love the “reveal” when a print is pulled: layers of heavy felt blankets are turned back; protective newsprint is moved away; finally the paper can be lifted to show the result. It is always Christmas morning magical to me!

Collagraph printing is my favorite method. I like it for its lack of history, traditions and rules. Developed in the 1950’s, this is a brand new technique in the art world. It’s so new that there is no set technique. We are making the rules as we go.

I’ve described the process I use; others are pushing the limits of printmaking in every imaginable direction.

For the plate alone, there are many ideas in play. Plates can be made of metal, wood, plastic, masonite, binder’s board or paper. These could start off smooth, or with a texture. Sometimes a finished print is the result of several plates, inked and printed one image over another

The collage elements add another layer of possibility. I have seen  metal plates hammered, sanded and scraped to achieve texture, sometimes with soldered additions like coins, wire and crushed cans. Knives and other tools can be used to cut into the plate; fabric, foils and various papers offer unlimited choices for additions.

Color can be added or not. Many collagraph images make striking black and white prints. If color is added, there are many more options.

Plates can be cut apart like a puzzle, so that each section can be inked separately and with a different color, then assembled on the press bed just before printing. The color can be incorporated into the printmaking process, or added between runs through the press – as I most often do – or as the last step in the process.

Other variables are type and viscosity of ink, pressure settings on the press, type, quality and dampness of the paper…and on and on.

Once, in graduate school, a friend and I chose to work with identical images: a simple triangle on a square plate. Beyond that, we let our imaginations run wild. In critique, we had to point out to the instructor and the class what we’d done, as it was impossible to tell from the finished work, they were so vastly different!



Wild Parsnip


And yet another invasive plant!

Beaver Island Phragmites Control


Wild Parsnip, like many of our invasive plants, looks harmless enough.

It is an herbaceous (not woody) plant that grows about four feet tall in the full sun of fields and road-sides.

Wild Parsnip is a member of the carrot family, and has a long, thick and edible taproot.

The thick, ribbed stems look a bit like celery.

The compound leaves (many leaflets on a stalk) give it an airy, ferny aspect.

Yellow flowers, produced in July and August, grow in an umbel (think umbrella-shaped),and are similar in appearance to Dill, or Queen Anne’s Lace.

Quite pretty,actually.

Wild Parsnip is also a little bit famous.

It is listed, in some states, as a Prohibited Noxious Weed.

It was featured, last year, on a CBS News broadcast titled, Poisonous Plants Like Wild Parsnip Could Spoil Your Summer.

Not only does wild parsnip have all of the usual oh-so-annoying features of an…

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The Grandmother I’ve Become



This has nothing to do with the grandmother I am.

I’ve been a grandmother for more than twenty-one years.

As evident in this photograph of myself with my daughters and my first grandchild, Michael, I was a young grandmother, just as I had been a young mother.

Not only young, but modern in thought and actions.

When preparing for my first daughter’s arrival, I painted her bassinet bright orange. No mind-numbing pastels for my child!

I was the mother who was also bohemian, defender of good causes, feminist, forward-thinker, hippie, raising children like no others…do you see how young I was??

As a grandmother, I was the woods-walker, snake catcher, story-teller, beach-lover, dune-climber who offered all the wonders of Beaver Island to my grandchildren.

When Mikey was a baby,  I kept chickens. One glorious morning, with baby on my hip, we found our first two eggs in the chicken house. By the time his mother woke up, Michael and I had composed an entire bluesy song about it! When he and Brandon were youngsters, I’d pack a book, fruit and snacks and a thermos in the morning, and we’d go to the beach. I’d read and drink coffee while they built amazing structures in the sand. Madeline, Tommy and Patrick have had their share, too, of exploring the woods and fields and sand dunes.

For evenings, there were other activities. I hold firm to the idea that children like foods they help to make, so mealtime has always been a joint project. Like my own Grandma Florence, I taught them how to play “King’s in the Corner.” As a nod to my father-in-law, Jack, I taught them how to play poker (complete with his wonderful repartee: “pair of deuces…pair of tens…pair – a – goric”). I kept an art case, for entertainment on rainy days, just as my mother always had.

The “grandmother” I’m referring to is the stereotypical grandmother…you know, the one “I would never become.”


I’m referring to the grandmother who has rows of holy cards (from funerals, no less!) lining a mirror…


who  has too many little vignettes featuring photos of children and grandchildren…


and doilies…


religious icons…


little collections of succulents…


and a fat little dog, sleeping wherever she chooses on a loud-patterned piece of furniture (should I say davenport?).


This, alas, is the grandmother I’ve become.

Timeout for Art: Process



Sometimes – we’ve all experienced it – good art just happens.

Out of the midst of the struggle – to find the value, to correct the perspective, to get the color right – with artwork-in-progress that occupies hours and hours over the span of many weeks…comes a piece that seems to be birthed fully grown, without angst or worry or even much forethought.

It seems almost unbelievable, like magic…or a miracle.

I love when it happens, but I don’t trust it.

Could it really be as wonderful as it seems, when it comes that easily?

Can I really take credit?

I like the struggle.

I like layers built up over time, things I have to wait for, things that have many steps to completion.


Printmaking suits me very well, for the process it entails.

First the plate.



In Collagraph  Printmaking, the plate is a collage built up on masonite or binder’s board. Edges will hold ink and define shapes. Textures are important. On the far extremes, sandpaper will hold onto the ink and produce a dark hue while the slick surface of photo paper won’t hold the ink at all, so produces a bright area. There are a hundred possible in-between shades. Cuts and scrapes into the surface add line; drizzles of glue add a fluid texture.


When the collage is complete, the plate must be sealed. I  use a clear satin spray polyurethane for this step, in three light coats.

There are further stages of preparing the press and the papers.

The plate is inked in a sometimes hour-long process of scraping and wiping with wads of starched cheesecloth, called tarlatan.

The inking process is repeated before every single print.

The prints are dried between layers of soft paper weighted with boards.

Color is added – usually transparent and opaque watercolors – before the final inking and printing.

The plates are fragile,and won’t stand for many runs though the press. Thirty prints from one plate is my record. Because of that, and the hand-coloring process, every one is unique.

The plates themselves become quite beautiful, I think, taking on a sheen from the ink and a patina from the process. These images are examples of some of them.

I enjoy every stage of printmaking. When finished, I feel justified in calling this work my own.

The “miracles” are lovely, but I trust the process.


Garlic Mustard


Another invasive species (sigh!)

Beaver Island Phragmites Control


Compared to some of the other invasive species here on Beaver Island, garlic mustard looks pretty benign.

It’s an edible herb, for heaven’s sake!

Well, if any of you have ever seen how quickly a mint plant can spread to take over the herb garden – or the lawn, for that matter – you know that some herbs can be terribly aggressive. Garlic mustard is one of them.

Add to that the fact that it grows in moist shade – like our woodland areas – and the damage it can do becomes evident.

“Garlic mustard poses a severe threat to native plants and animals in forest communities,” according to the Plant Conservation Alliance:

Many native widlflowers that complete their life cycles in the springtime (e.g., spring beauty, wild ginger, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, hepatica, toothworts, and trilliums) occur in the same habitat as garlic mustard. Once introduced to an area, garlic…

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Timeout for Art: Stages



There is a special joy in sitting down to sketch that – from selecting a subject to finished image – it all happens together.

That is rare, in art.

The “percolating” stage comes first. Ideas lead to sketches and variations and planning and trials. Sometimes months or even years go by from the time the first kernel of an idea develops until it becomes something tangible.

Execution is next: the gathering of materials and digging in to the selected medium. Whether paint or printer’s ink or clay, the process is long. There is always waiting…thinking…stages leading to completion.

Anticipation is a big part of the process.

I’ve been working on several large paintings that dominate my studio space and make any other activities impossible. With the finish in sight, I’m anxious to be able to access my printing press again. Last week I cleared my drafting table and started adding color to several collagraph images, to make them ready for their final printing.

These were first printed last winter, and were just black-ink outlines with texture. The addition of watercolor is a simple process – most of the excitement comes from selecting the colors – similar, I think, to a child’s coloring book activity. I’m showing them now so that you’ll share in the surprise later.

The thrill will come when these are next run though the press. The plate will be prepared with printing ink – for these I’ll mix a dark blue-black – and these papers will be dampened to prepare them for printing. There are technical aspects: registration and tension and viscosity of the ink.

Mostly, though, it is MAGIC.