Author Archives: cindyricksgers

About cindyricksgers

I am an artist. I live on an island in northern Lake Michigan, USA. I have two grown daughters, four strong, smart and handsome grandsons and one beautiful, intelligent and charming granddaughter. I live with two spoiled dogs. I love walking in the woods around my home, reading, writing and playing in my studio.

Timeout for Art: Hatching Lines

Standard

Hatching lines are lines drawn close together to create areas of shadow in a drawing. They are especially necessary when the drawing medium is hard pencil, marker or ink, where smudging to create shadows and variations in tone is not possible. The process of creating depth and shadow in this way is also called “cross-hatching.”

Hatching lines are usually diagonal to the picture plane and can be sets of parallel lines all going in one direction or sets of lines in opposite directions, laid on top of each other. Curved lines, particularly if they follow the shape of the object being rendered, can be useful in describing mass.

My Favorite Day

Standard

Sundays have lately become my favorite day of the week. I don’t work on Sundays, and since I also have Monday and Tuesday off, there is no urgency to get things done. I have plans, of course, but I approach them slowly. The most important thing on my Sunday agenda is relaxation.

I don’t set the alarm for Sunday. My morning routine stays intact, but it begins when I wake up naturally. I take my time with it, too. Journal-writing can get a little more expansive on a Sunday morning; I put additional time and effort into my drawings. I may spend a few extra minutes in meditation practice, or increase the time spent exercising.

When I open my book to study, I don’t have to watch the clock. On a work day, I may only get through two or three pages, reading and taking notes. Sunday mornings, I can finish a chapter, or complete a topic. I can continue until I’m tired of it.

On days when I have to be at work by eight o’clock, the dogs don’t usually get a morning walk. They often sleep in, and wake up slowly. One by one, they go outside, and come back in. I take all three of them out for a quick turn around the yard before I leave for the day. Most of their exercise happens after I get home in the afternoon. Sunday mornings, though, we set out early.

I bring my little tablet to take pictures, and to listen to whatever book I currently have downloaded. Right now, that is Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. Often, the book I’m studying, the one I’m listening to on Audible, and the one on my nightstand for reading before bed are widely disparate. At this time, they are all quite similar in topic and energy. In the morning, I’m taking notes and doing exercises from Meditation & Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte is what I turn to before I switch off the light at night.

When we’re back from our walk, the dogs are ready for a nap; I’m ready to turn on the news. Because the programs I like are available on my computer, I’m not tied to their programming schedule. I enjoy CBS Sunday Morning. It’s the news, but more inclusive of personal interest, arts and entertainment as well as the usual headlines. Then I watch Face the Nation, which gives me an in-depth look at the current happenings.

After that, I plot out my day. My blog had moved to Friday, when that was my only day off. Now, I think, it’s better planned for Sunday, when I have the whole day to fit it in. In addition to that, I have a few choices. The weather is cool, but the sun is shining; I could start the mower and finish giving the yard one last good trim. The raspberries need to be pruned before winter, and I’d like to transplant the roses this fall.

I brought movies home from the library yesterday, to entertain me while I worked in the studio. That’s another good possibility; there’s plenty to do there. I also picked up a book review, and haven’t read it yet. I got a new catalog in the mail yesterday, and a magazine the day before that. No need to rush to any decisions. I have this entire wonderful Sunday ahead!

Timeout for Art: Graphite

Standard

Graphite, of course, is what we think of when we think of pencil drawing. The raw material is actually a crystalline form of carbon, and is compressed with fine clay to make the “lead” in pencils. Graphite has long been used for writing and drawing, and is in common use for all types of sketching.

That hasn’t always been the case. Many beautiful old drawings, by artists like Titian, da Vinci and Michelangelo, appear to have red or sepia-toned lines. These were done as preliminary sketches for paintings or sculpture, at a time when drawing was not considered an art form for its own sake. The drawing tool was a soft silver or copper wire, and the image revealed itself only as the material oxidized, causing the reddish hue.

According to John D. Barrow, “the modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. The magic material that was so appropriate for the purpose was the form of pure carbon that we call graphite. It was first discovered in Europe, in Bavaria at the start of the fifteenth century; although the Aztecs had used it as a marker several hundred years earlier. Initially it was believed to be a form of lead and was called ‘plumbago’ or black lead (hence the ‘plumbers’ who mend our lead water-carrying pipes), a misnomer that still echoes in our talk of pencil ‘leads’. It was called graphite only in 1789, using the Greek word ‘graphein’ meaning ‘to write’. Pencil is an older word, derived from the Latin ‘pencillus’, meaning ‘little tail’, to describe the small ink brushes used for writing in the Middle Ages.”

Pencils come in various degrees of hardness, and are chosen for their intended use. The range goes from 9H to 12B. H stands for hardness; B indicates blackness. The most commonly used pencil is the #2, found in classrooms around the world. The graphite is soft enough to flow smoothly from the pencil when forming letters or numbers; it can be erased without difficulty, with the proper tool. It is hard enough so it will not brush off, or easily smear across the page.

Harder pencils are chosen for technical drawing: architectural rendering, and medical and scientific illustrations. Left-handers sometimes choose harder leads, as they are less likely to smear.

Softer pencils are often selected for artist’s drawing, for their ability to convey many different tones without getting shiny, or embossing the page. The line a soft pencil makes can change from thin to thick quickly, based on a change in pressure. This can help to convey energy, or weight, or movement in a drawing.

Art History can cite drawings that go back 30,000 years, to the earliest images found in caves. Sketching has always been utilized for preliminary studies. It’s only within the last one hundred years that drawing has been widely recognized as an art form by itself. As it’s gained in popularity, the materials used to create drawing have expanded, too, to include various chalks, crayons, markers and charcoal. Of them all, the graphite pencil is still the most favored.

This Girl…

Standard
Tina

My niece, Tina, was born when my sister, Nita, was still in high school Nita’s friends would come over, and they’d all go upstairs to “play with the baby.” Tina had more ruffled dresses, frilly bonnets and darling pajamas than there were days in a month. Before she had time to grow from one size into the next, another entire wardrobe would show up, one outfit at a time, gifts from doting teen-aged girls. By the time she took her first steps, Tina had been the subject of hundreds of professional and amateur photographs.

In spite of the many high-school girls that adored her, several young aunts that dearly loved her, and her firm position as my mother’s favorite granddaughter, Tina was not a spoiled child. She had piercing, dark eyes and a toothy grin that gave her a look that combined thoughtful intelligence with clownish good humor. It suited her. She was a bright child, a fast learner, and an exceptional student. She never seemed to take herself, or the world, too seriously. She was quick to smile, and her giggle was contagious.

Because she was close in age to my daughter, Kate, they paired up as cousin-friends whenever the family gathered. Tina came to my house for birthday parties and overnight stays. As an adult, she often mentioned how kind I had been to her when she slept at my house, even though she wet the bed. Having been a bed-wetter myself until I was past eight years old, I always treated those occurrences like the accidents they were, no matter who the child was. Though I was glad she remembered that I was nice about it, I honestly have no memory of the incident.

Once, while drinking, my sister Nita was going on about how beautiful my daughters were. With Tina sitting beside her, I said, “Nita, all of us have beautiful children!” Nita waved her hand dismissively in her daughter’s direction, and said, “No, but your daughters…” I know what she meant: she was trying to give me a compliment about my girls; it wasn’t about all children, and it wasn’t about her daughter. Plus, she was tipsy.

Still, I saw Tina’s face fall. I wondered if I had ever inadvertently broken the hearts of my own daughters like that, without realizing it. Then, Tina waved her hand right back in her mother’s direction, shrugged her shoulders, and mouthed, “She’s drunk.” Then she grinned.

As the years went by, our family grew up and stretched out in all directions. The years – a distant memory – when we all got together for Sunday dinner gave way to years where many miles and many states separated us. We gathered, then, infrequently, and too often for funerals. Social media and occasional telephone calls helped us keep in touch.

In recent years, Tina had moved around the country, and then settled in Texas. She came back to Michigan for a visit when my Mom was ill, and then to stay when her own Mom was dying. Clearly, extensive alcohol and drug use had taken a toll. Even more evident was her rejection of any lifestyle other than the one she had chosen, or fallen into. She declined all offers of help.

Shortly after her mother’s funeral, Tina packed up her belongings and headed south, to New Orleans. From a distance, we watched her roller-coaster life from sporadic posts to social media. Photos often showed her with lidded eyes and a vague smile, dressed in one goofy costume after another. She got an apartment…but then the place was flooded during a hurricane. She sobered up, from time to time, but it was hard. And definitely “not fun.”

Tina sometimes put out vague requests for money, or complained that she got no help. Once, I sent her a private message, scolding her for saying she had no support, when she deliberately moved far away from people that loved her, and that could help her. “Sorry, Aunt Cindy,” she answered, “I didn’t mean to post that…still trying to figure out my phone.”

Often her posts were pleas for affection, and her aunts and cousins and friends would jump in to reassure her, “hang in there, Tina,” and “we love you!” Tina and Kate had long, rambling text-message conversations that would go on for days. “Wow, you got old,” Tina told her once, in response to Kate having to either go to work, or get some sleep.

Last weekend, while out walking, Tina was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Suddenly, I live in a world without Tina in it. And even though she was far away, not a big presence in my life, and often aggravated me, this feels like a big loss. Maybe greater because she was so far away from all of my memories of her. Maybe because she died alone.

Tina, I hope you knew that your aunts and cousins and long-distance friends kept track of you as well as we could, that we missed you, and worried about you, and cheered your progress. I hope you knew that you were beautiful. I hope you always felt loved. Good-bye, sweet girl.

Timeout for Art: Feminist Art

Standard

“Women’s Art,” for good or not, has often been differentiated from “Art,” which by default is art by men.

Mary Cassatt, though clearly of the Impressionist school, spurred the broad landscapes favored by her male counterparts. She focused on more intimate, interior spaces, often with images of women and children. Just like many female artists through history, much has been made of that being a result of her feminine point of view.

Other female artists, like sculptors Rosa Bonheur and Anne Whitney, gained attention in their lives for opposite reasons. Their work was noted for being indistinguishable from that of their male counterparts, when judged by style, subject matter, size, and mastery of materials.

There have been women who, like many female authors, presented their work under gender-neutral or male pseudonyms to avoid being judged by their sex. And, there has always been a huge discrepancy between opportunities for male and female artists.

The modern feminist art movement rose up from the political and social upheavals of the 1960s. Linda Nochlin’s essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” was published in the January 1971 issue of ArtNews magazine, and helped to solidify the movement. The essay, as well as the entire movement, continue to be controversial to this day.

Do woman need a separate movement to be recognized as legitimate artists? Is that not, in itself, a form of division? Do we want – or need – special criteria for judging our art? These are all valid and on-going questions. They may never be answered to universal satisfaction. In the meantime, art historians have had time to observe and analyze work that has resulted from – or since – the movement began.

Feminist art is body conscious. The human figure has reemerged, with imagery of the female body from a woman’s point of view. These are not gentle, fawning ladies; depictions of women appear strong, forward-moving, even angry. Feminine trappings are treated with tongue-in-cheek humor or extravagance.

Feminist art is personal. It is message-laden. It addresses individual stories as universal themes, through performance, story, and imagery. Often, the viewer is invited to become a participant, either by entering the scene or by adding to it.

Feminist art harkens back to craft. It has been noted that women have always made art, but that the work made by women was considered lesser. Thus, the many forms of stitchery, weaving and arranging that fell to women were titled “craft.” Judy Chicago turned that idea on its head with “The Dinner Party,” a massive art installation that combined needlework, embroidery and ceramics as well as an impressive history of women through the ages.

Faith Ringgold incorporates paint and brocade in large story quilts. In a sculpture series called Family of Women, she uses ceramics, sewing and basket-making techniques to create large standing figures. Ringgold uses satire and a loving eye to address the struggles of women as well as the civil rights movement in her work. Which brings up another important aspect of feminist art: it is often political.

Like many art movements, feminist art has many facets, but is impossible to stereotype. According to Linda Nochlin:

“Not all women artists are feminists; not all feminist artists wish to incorporate their feminist identity into their art works, and certainly, even if some of them do, none of them will do it in the same way.”

Ideally, in my opinion, feminist art will one day be relegated to history. It will be noted as an archaic but necessary step to achieving an all-inclusive art world.

Here is Fall

Standard

“Time is a storm in which we are all lost.”

~ William Carlos Williams

Finally, here is fall.

Not that I’ve been trying to rush the season. No…summer, could have stayed awhile. I am not yet tired of long, warm and sunshiny days. I could stand several more weeks of it, without complaint.

Still, this year more than others in recent memory, fall started announcing its pending arrival early. Chilly nights brought out the blankets, and warned that cold weather was coming. First, it was acknowledged as a relief:

“Great sleeping weather!”

“I’m loving these cool nights!”

Warm days at the beach followed by nights nestled under heavy quilts is how I remember August on childhood vacations on Beaver Island. Wonderful! “Chilly,” though, gave way to downright cold this year. Almost a month ago, I went around and closed every window, stored the box fan in the attic, and carried the portable heater downstairs.

For weeks, conversations have turned toward all the signs that warn of a hard winter coming. The days, which lengthen by such slow increments in the spring, seem to shorten rapidly this time of year. “Dark, already,” I observe with surprise day after day. The activity of deer and squirrels; the gathering of birds; the behavior of small rodents are all signals to watch.

The mice are unquestionably moving inside. At the hardware store, the section of the store that holds rodent-control products is depleted weekly. I’ve heard many stories of mice showing up in homes and in places where they’ve never been seen before. Too many apples? Too few coyotes? We can only speculate on the reasons.

“Are the leaves changing yet?” The questions come from other locations, from people who would happily travel north for the glory of fall colors. We watch closely, as that is another signal that fall is coming. First it’s just one branch showing red, on a whole tree of green leaves. Or one single golden leaf. Then, just overnight, it seems, the King’s highway is ablaze with color!

The cold weather continued, through August and into September. Cool night temperatures dipped to cold, and stretched into the daylight hours. We compared the readings on indoor and outdoor thermometers. We asked each other, “how cold did it get?” The farther you live from the Lake Michigan, the more vulnerable you are to early frost. When Doug Tilley reported he’d had to scrape ice from his windshield, I knew my garden was on borrowed time.

On the last day of summer, I filled one basket with spinach leaves, and another with kale. I pulled up the basil, and plucked every precious green leaf off the stems. I picked all of the tomatoes. I was merciless in discarding those with blemishes and bruises. I threw away the ones that were too immature to hold any hope of ripening, and filled one bowl with perfect green tomatoes. The red ones, I lined up on the counter near the sink.

I stacked and stored the metal tomato cages, then filled the wheelbarrow with the vines. I pulled up the cucumber plants, harvesting four that were hiding in the greenery. Squash was next. I saved every blossom. I tossed two tiny butternut squash that had no hope of ripening. The zucchini and other summer squash, which has produced spottily all summer long, served up more than a dozen new fruit, no bigger than my index finger.

I dug the shovel into the ground where my potato plants had been, then pushed my hands into the loosened soil. I was rewarded with a half dozen fist-sized potatoes. I pulled up all the bush beans plants, then yanked out the branches that formed the pole bean teepees. The tall vines yielded a handful of overripe beans that I’d missed when I last gathered them. Everything harvested at this late date seems dear: the last the garden has to offer.

On the last day of summer, I simmered peppers, basil and tomatoes with salt, pepper, and a dash of balsamic vinegar to make a fresh sauce that seemed to capture the essence of the season. I spooned it over diced and roasted potatoes for dinner. Before I went to bed, I put a handful each of dried black beans and great northern beans in a pot. I carefully peeled back the pods of my own pole beans, and added each bean seed to the mix, then added water to let them soak.

On the first day of fall, I made end-of-summer soup. I put the teakettle on to boil, then sliced an X into the top of each ripe tomato, and set them into the sink. When the water boiled, I poured it over the tomatoes to loosen their skins. I drained the soaking water from the bean pot and set it on the stove. As I peeled and rough chopped the tomatoes, I added them to the softened beans, and brought them to a simmer.

As the day progressed, the dry beans softened and took on the flavor of the tomatoes they were stewing in. I cut up the spinach, kale and squash blossoms, and added them to the pot. I chopped up a green pepper, a half head of cauliflower, two stalks of celery and three carrots that were in the vegetable compartment of my refrigerator. I diced an onion, and the last of the potatoes. I washed and sliced each tiny, seedless zucchini, letting their fluted edges dress up the mixture. To finish, I tossed in a slight handful of barley, and sprinkled some salt and pepper.

When it was done, I filled a bowl with soup. I carried it outside into a day – the first day in more than a week – that felt like summer. Warm enough to sit outside without a sweater. Warm enough to think, if it weren’t for the calendar, and the fall colors, and the now barren garden spot, that summer was still with us.

We all mark the changing seasons in ways large and small. In my house, warm soup made from the last of the garden’s offerings is a good way to welcome the beginning of fall.

Timeout for Art: Edges

Standard
Touch Point

Throughout the history of art, the way that the edges of two dimensional works are treated has varied wildly.

Often, edges are used to further the illusion of realistic painting. The scene depicted runs right up to the borders, as if the frame is enclosing a window rather than a canvas. As if the view is real, not simply a painting.

Early Christian painting held a different attitude. Images were centered within the surface, similar to low-relief carvings, which they were modelled after.

In my own abstract work, I like to be aware of the parameters. Sometimes I use pattern and color to draw the eye to the edge, then back in, to the center. Other times, I place an object in the center, and frame it in. Sometimes the border is negated by lines zipping off the surface, as if the image continues off the picture plane; other times the border is emphasized. In every case, the treatment of edges is important to the overall feeling.

Open Loops

Standard

“Each man should frame life

so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.”

~ Victor Hugo

In my on-going, continual effort to (1) organize my life, time, space and daily activities and (2) make actual change to foster personal and creative growth, I came upon the “Open Loops” concept.

According to the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen, “open loops” are any tasks, projects and commitments you’ve started and not finished. “Started” can even mean “had a random thought about doing.” Open loops are not regular tasks that you do automatically. They are not “favorite things.” They are not chores.

Open loops are things that you’ve invited into your brain by starting them, or by acknowledging that you want to start them, or that you should start them. They are physical things, these thoughts and ideas that represent a task or project to be completed. They take up space.

Our brains can only hold so much information in active memory. If you’re holding everything you want or need to do in active memory, you are inviting anxiety. You’ll feel overwhelmed at the number of tasks vying for your attention, and anxious that you’ll forget something.

Open loops foster procrastination, by constantly presenting several optional activities to any job-at-hand. They all feel pressing. They are like promises to yourself. Promises feel urgent, so they end up taking precedence over dreams. No matter how insignificant the open loops. No matter how important the dreams.

Allen’s advice for dealing with open loops? Write them down! Listing all of the onerous little “to-do”s will prevent them from sabotaging legitimate efforts toward progress. Once they are on paper, they no longer need to play constantly at the edges of your thoughts. No need to worry that they’ll be overlooked or forgotten. They have a place.

Now that they are all written down, it becomes obvious that some are trivial, and that others are truly important. Amazing, that they all seemed to carry equal weight when pulling at your attention! You can rank them, now, in order of urgency or significance. There may be some that can simply be crossed off the list. Some can be easily knocked-off by a letter or a phone call. Others will need to be planned for, and scheduled in. On paper, dealing with open loops becomes a real but not insurmountable goal.

My own list, which easily covered two full journal pages, included “thank-you”s and other letters owed, subscriptions to cancel, and phone calls to make. It also had several big projects (move the snowball bush; re-hang the bookshelves), and a few dreaded activities (last year’s taxes, for one). I was able to check many items off in the first week. Others, I continue to plug away at.

Unfortunately, I continue to come across new or forgotten items to add to my list. I may never have a blank page! Still, I find it is helpful to have all of my open loops down on paper, rather than playing constantly around the edges of my mind.

Timeout for Art: Daily Drawing

Standard

One of the accomplishments I am proudest of this year is starting and maintaining the habit of drawing every day.

Drawing is not a skill anyone is born with. Some people seem to have more of a knack for it, however, fostering the false belief that you’re either born with the ability, or you’re not. Untrue!

Drawing is a motor skill that involves coordinating the eyes and the hand. Like juggling. Or driving. And, like any motor skill, it must be learned, and maintained. With practice, ability will improve; without it, the skill will decline.

I’ve watched my drawing skills slide, over years of neglect. I’ve felt the struggle to get the shadows, or a line down correctly, when I wanted to capture an image. What once was easy for me, became difficult for lack of practice. Over the years, I gathered quite a collection of nearly-empty sketchbooks, and a good stack of ambitious but unfinished drawings.

This year, I decided that was going to change. I added drawing to my list of early morning self-improvement activities, along with meditation, gratitude practice, journal-writing, yoga and studying. Because I have a long list, and morning time is limited, nothing gets more than a half-hour.

I find the sketchbook page is much less intimidating if there are borders. Often, I break a page up into small rectangles, but even pages reserved for one larger drawing are framed in. I use a fine-point, sepia-tone marker. That eliminates the possibility of erasing, and forces me to make – and stick with – decisions regarding placement and subject matter.

I capture mundane objects…

…and sleeping dogs.

When my sisters and I went to Florida in February, I packed my sketchbook right along with my journal, camera, and bathing suit.

When I was in Hawaii this spring, there was always something delightful and challenging to focus on, from unusual plants to coral and rock samples, and it was one more way to document a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

When I got home, it was a great way to pass time in quarantine.

Now, finally, daily drawing has become a regular and valued part of my day.

Loose Ends

Standard

I’m a pretty careful writer, but I’m especially good, if I take the time, at editing. I don’t always do it, though. Sometimes it’s a friend that points out that I’ve used the same descriptive word (often something like “large” or “extremely,” mundane and uninteresting enough if used only once) thirteen times in a single essay. Sometimes I notice a problem (that “friend” showed up as “fried” when I missed the N, for instance) weeks after publishing, leaving me wanting to send each reader an amended copy, with an apology.

In re-reading the story I wrote last week, about being lost in the woods, I came upon a few problems. In one of the first paragraphs, I noted that this incident happened more than twenty years ago, that I worked, then, as the morning server at the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant, and that I did not have dogs at that time. None of these bits of information had anything to do with the story as I wrote it. Why did I even put them in?

Well, actually, I should have also mentioned that my Aunt Katie was still alive, and living here on Beaver Island, and that my walking routine rarely varied at all. Two more loose ends to be sewn up!

The dogs deserved a mention because in the years since then, when I’ve gotten turned around or momentarily disoriented while out berry-picking or searching for morels, the dogs are quite good at finding their way. If I’d had dogs with me, I certainly would not have traversed that wide, watery bog. Thinking of the burs they’d pick up in their fur, I likely would have turned back as soon as the trail narrowed. And maybe they could have led me out when I couldn’t find my way. That’s why I brought up the dogs; I just forgot to bring them to any conclusion.

I mentioned my job at the Shamrock, and my morning coffee drinkers because, as I was wandering through the woods in the middle of the night, I was thinking, “No one knows I’m out here. No one will miss me.” Until, of course, I wasn’t at the restaurant to serve coffee in the morning. Then the coffee drinking group would wonder. They might call my house. Maybe, they’d send out a search party to see if my car was broken down on the side of the road. If they made it all the way to my house, they’d see the dirty dishes I’d left in the sink. Dread!

Finally, they would call my Aunt Katie, to see what was going on. “Her car is in the driveway,” they’d tell her. They’d speculate, together, about various possibilities. Maybe they’d make a call or two, to make sure I wasn’t asleep on the sofa at Emma Jean’s, or out on a boodle with Diane. If they wondered that I got turned around while on a walk, my aunt would be quick to assure them, “Cindy always walks along the road.” So, there would be no way to know that I was back in the trees and bog behind Fox Lake, lost in the woods.

As I wandered that night, and in the years since this happened, these considerations have all seemed an important part of the story. I just presented them, then left them hanging there. It took another entire essay just to sew up the loose ends!