Category Archives: Art

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.

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.

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

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!

Timeout for Art: Papermaking III

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Oh, my! I’m still working on this looong, extended papermaking blog. And I totally missed posting a “Timeout for Art” last week, and the week before. What’s going on?

Well, the news, for one thing. With all that has happened in the last two weeks, I’ve had a hard time turning away from the news. Not for meals, not for sleep, and not to finish this papermaking lesson!

On top of that big distraction, this has turned out to be hard! When I teach papermaking, I am normally in person, talking and demonstrating. Though I have long pages of notes, I have never tried to write out the entire process as a lesson, until now. It is a longer, more complicated explanation than I expected. I planned to give it one post, and it has now gone to three! I’m hoping to be able to wrap it up today!

In the last post, when talking about materials needed, I neglected to mention pitchers. You’ll need at least one; two or three will save steps and time. Each will need to hold at least 8 cups of liquid. You’ll also need a few good sponges.

Set Up

To one side of the sink (or vat or tub), set up an area for dealing with your sheets of paper after they are formed. Cover that surface with a good layer of towels and absorbent materials; have the sponges nearby. Stack the couching cloths and felts within reach, but in a place where they will stay dry. Add water to the sink to a depth of two or three inches.

Set up another area for stacking your sheets of paper, after they are removed from the molds, and sandwiched between couching cloth and felt. If you have secured a couple patio blocks to help press the moisture out of the paper sheets, have them in this area.

Set up your blender, and get the pulp ready. If you’ve stored your balls of pulp in the freezer, it will need to be thawed enough to pull apart and use, so plan at least a couple hours ahead. If you have additions for your paper sheets (see the last papermaking post for ideas), have them close by, too. Have your pitcher handy.

Blending

Take a portion – about one tablespoon – of boiled pulp from its storage bag, and place it in the blender. Add two to three cups of water. Do not fill the appliance completely, or it will likely overflow when processing. Do not attempt to blend larger amounts of pulp, or your blender will have a very short life. Set the blender to Liquify, or the highest setting. Blend for 15 to 30 seconds. Watch for signs of overheating: a burning smell or whining noise. If any of these overload symptoms occur, cut back on the amount of pulp, or blend in shorter spurts. After the pulp is thoroughly blended, you can add small amounts of flower petals or other additions, and blend for a short spurt, just to incorporate the ingredients.

Forming the Paper

There are two methods for making paper: the pouring method. and the vat method. The vat method is most like the way the very first papers were formed. It’s simple, so I usually demonstrate this method first. It is easy to do when working alone, and the one I’m going to describe today.

For the vat method, add your blended pulp to the water in the sink or tub. No, in fact, when you’re using the vat method, use a basin or tub that you can lift up and pour out when you’re finished. You don’t want leftover particles of paper pulp going down your drain. Repeat the blending process, adding each to the sink. Three to five blender loads of pulp should be sufficient. You can make a simple sheet of paper using only the mold, or you can add the deckle for a thicker sheet of paper with a more regular edge.

In either case, swirl the liquid in the tub so that the pulp is well distributed through the water. Holding the mold (or mold and deckle together) in both hands, start at one end of the tub and (as I describe the process when teaching), “dive the mold down to the bottom of the tub, slide it across the bottom until it is level, then lift it straight up out of the water bath.” You’ll feel the suction as the pulp is drawn down onto the screen. If using a deckle, lift it off and set it aside. Tip the mold slightly, so that excess water can drip away, then set it on the towels you’ve set up for this purpose.

Congratulations! You have made a sheet of paper! If you have more than one mold, you can jump right in and make another, and another, blending more pulp and adding it to the tub as necessary. If you have just the one mold, it’s time to learn how to remove the paper from the screen.

Couching

Couching (pronounced kooshing) was developed in France, where, because they ha invented a printing press, they had a need to speed up the papermaking process. The French word, couche’ means to tuck in between covers, and that is basically what we’re going to do.

Begin by laying one of the couching cloths gently over your sheet of newly formed paper. It will absorb water from the sheet, and stick to the surface. That will allow you to pick up the mold, keeping the couching cloth over the paper, and turn it upside down onto the towels. Take a sponge, and blot the back of the screen, squeezing out the water and repeating as necessary. Be careful to blot, not rub, as we don’t want to draw the paper through the screen, but just remove the water.

After a few moments, you’ll be able to pick up a corner of the mold, to peek. Sometimes the sheet of paper will easily drop off the screen on its own; other times it takes a little more sponging, a little encouragement by starting a corner of the sheet with a fingernail. Eventually, the paper, still attached to the couching cloth, will come away from the screen. Cover the sheet, then, with one of the squares of felt. You now have one sheet of paper, sandwiched between one couching cloth and one felt. You can pick this up by diagonal corners, and move it to your drying area.

As you make more sheets of paper, couch them in the same way. You can stack them up, one paper, couching cloth and felt “sandwich” on top of another. If you have a couple patio blocks, You can use one as a base for your stack, and put the other on top, to help push the moisture out, and to keep the sheets flat.

I wish this was the very end of this papermaking saga but, alas, there is still more. Next week (barring another assault on the Capitol or some other wild news) I’ll describe the pouring method of forming sheets of paper, give you a few ideas for embellishing your sheets, and explain how to dry them.

Timeout for Art: Papermaking II

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Happy New Year!

Last week, I talked a little about the history of papermaking. This week I’ll try to explain how you can prepare to try this at home. Materials are cheap, and the results can be stunning. Besides that, it can be a lot of fun. It does, however, have quite a few disparate steps and specific things to have on hand. It’s better to prepare in advance, so that you don’t have to go scrambling for just the right thing once the process is underway.

Equipment

Most of the equipment you’ll need can be found around the house. For processing the paper pulp, a big kettle, like ones used for canning, a large colander or sieve, and a good quality blender. Once I’ve used “kitchen” equipment for papermaking, I retire it from food-preparation duties, so I look at garage sales and re-sale shops for these items.

For forming the sheets of paper, You’ll need a mold and deckle. A mold is basically a frame, in whatever size you want your paper to be, with screen stretched over the top surface. A deckle is exactly the same, only without the screen. An embroidery hoop with screen rather than fabric fastened into it, makes a very simple mold that will produce round papers. Stretcher strips, designed for supporting canvas for paintings, can be purchased to size, with corners already mitered, and ready to snap together. With minimal woodworking skills, lengths of 1″ x 2″ lumber can be cut, glued and tacked together to form a rectangle. Whatever method and size you decide on, make two. One will be topped with screen to form the mold, the other will be left open, the deckle, and used to keep the paper pulp from running off the edges of the mold, when it’s lifted from the water bath. Honestly, this sounds more complicated than it is.

It’s possible to use your bathtub, a utility tub, or your kitchen sink for making paper. If you can find them in the right size, meaning a size that your mold and deckle will fit into while you’re holding on to it, and plastic wash tub will work. Over the years, I’ve invested in several bus tubs, purchased through a restaurant supply store, and find them very helpful.

For draining the formed sheets of paper, and removing them from the screen, you’ll need a good quantity of absorbent towels, couching cloths, and felts. I like towels in the bath towel size. I buy them used, at thrift stores, and run them through the laundry before I use them. Couching cloths are just squares of fabric. Cotton, or mostly cotton, works best. I make mine by cutting or tearing rectangles to size out of old sheets. Felt can be purchased by the yard, and cut to size, or purchased in ready-to-use rectangles at most craft or fabric stores. White is best.

Though not absolutely necessary, a couple patio blocks can be very handy for pushing the moisture out of your papers, and helping them to dry flat. A household iron is useful in drying the sheets of paper.

Enhancements and Additions

Any cellulose fiber, which is almost anything that grows, can be used to make paper, Though I’m describing a process that forms papers of mainly of recycled paper pulp, sheets can be beautified and enhanced with other materials. I save flower petals from my blossoms, autumn leaves, banana peels, grape skins, onion skins and many other odds and ends from the kitchen and garden. When I launder new clothes or linens, I save the dryer lint. I save bits of yarn, thread and embroidery floss. Paper confetti small amounts of glitter can add interest to paper sheets. I collect these items throughout the year, and store them separately in snack sized plastic bags. Any natural materials should be stored in the freezer.

Paper Pulp

This is the material that will form the basis of your sheets of paper. For good quality papers for note cards, stationery or collage, start saving junk mail. Eliminate any papers made of cardboard or newsprint. These are made of recycled trash, and will not form good, long-lasting sheets of paper. Most bills, form letters and bank statements are printed on quality paper that works well for this project. Envelopes are ideal, as they have little writing on them. Be sure to remove any stamps, stickers, and plastic or cellophane windows. Shiny pages with lots of printing, like magazines and catalogues, will produce fine-textured, soft, pale gray sheets of paper. Be sure to remove any staples, binding, or stickers.

I sort my junk mail into colors, especially at holiday time when I receive large quantities of brightly colored envelopes. Any colors will fade somewhat, in the preparation process, but it’s good to keep the red, yellow and oranges away from the bright blues and greens, or you will always end up with beige papers. I also keep a separate selection of papers that are white, with very little printing. Again, shiny catalogue or magazine pages will always produce a pale gray, no matter what colors are printed on them.

When you have a good mound of paper collected, tear it into pieces no larger than two inches in any direction. The smaller you shred your papers, the easier it will be to break down. It is okay to use a paper shredder for this process, but torn edges take less time to break down, and produce a finer end result. Place your shredded paper in the kettle, cover it with water, and put it on the stove. Add about a tablespoon of bleach. Bring the water to a boil, and let it simmer for about an hour. This process removes any sizing from the paper, and begins the process of breaking it down into pulp. Drain the mixture in a colander, and rinse the paper with cool water. Scoop the paper pulp up into your hands, squeeze out excess water, and shape it into balls, about the size of a baseball. These balls of pulp can be stored, in sealed bags in your freezer, until you’re ready to make paper. That’s what we’ll do next week.

Timeout for Art: Papermaking

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My methods for making paper are not the same as those who make fine art papers. Though I envy people who have the money and space for a Hollander beater, and who can then mash up organic cotton linters for fine sheets of artist quality paper, my methods and materials are much more basic. The up-side is that the way I make paper is open to anyone. Equipment is easy to come by; materials are free.

I taught myself the process that I use to make paper many years ago, from instructions in a small book I found on the sale table at Young & Welshan’s book store in Flint. I decided my blender, which I’d purchased to be able to impress my family with Brandy Alexanders during our Christmas holiday, was better suited for pulverizing paper pulp. I pulled embroidery hoops out of my craft basket to serve as papermaking molds. Always interested in turning scraps into something wonderful, I was enamored with the results.

As often happens in my world, I soon had a half-dozen books on papermaking. I learned various techniques for special effects. I studied the history of paper. My old friend, Bill, a fine craftsman and boat-builder, guided me through the cutting and joinery involved, and I made two dozen paper-making molds, and several deckles. Then, I started teaching the process.

I have taught papermaking to adults and children of all ages. The youngest was a group of 30 three-and-four-year-olds, my grandson’s “Head Start” class. My teaching methods vary only slightly based on the age and dexterity of the students.

I begin with a little history of the development of writing; I explain how there was a need for something like paper long before we had it. The main purpose of many ancient monuments was to act as a message board, telling of momentous victories or extolling great rulers. Roman soldiers going into battle often engraved their last will and testament onto the metal scabbards of their swords. Students wrote on clay tablets or slabs of slate.

Native Americans wrote on birch bark; silk scrolls were used in the Orient; and papyrus was developed in Egypt from a plant that grew along the Nile. Important documents were written on parchment, made of animal skin, or vellum, which was a finer product made of calf, goat or sheepskin. Though it was a lengthy process to prepare and cure the skin, it was in use through the Renaissance. One copy of the Gutenburg Bible required the skins of 300 sheep! To this day, we often refer to a diploma as a “sheepskin.”

Paper was invented in China, in 105 A.D., by Ts’ai Lun. He watched fishermen dragging their nets up from a river that had much debris floating in it from overhanging trees. As the nets dried out on the riverbank, the debris would come off in sheets. From this, Ts’ai Lun developed the process of papermaking. The first papers were made of old rags, tree bark, hemp, leaves and fish nets. The sheets were crude, but cheaper and easier to mass-produce than anything else to that point. For his efforts, Ts’ai Lun was awarded the title of “Master” by the emperor.

The process of papermaking is virtually unchanged in two thousand years: Fiber is macerated, mixed with water, and lifted from the water on a fine-mesh screen. The lifting motion draws the fibrous pulp onto the screen, forming a sheet of paper. It’s that process that differentiates sheets of paper from other things, like egg cartons, that are molded of pulp rather than drawn up onto a screen.

Papermaking companies have large machines that do the work of breaking down fibers into pulp, and equipment that will turn out a perfectly smooth, even sheet, but the process is still the same. Though commercial operations often use wood fiber to make pulp, any cellulose fiber will work to make paper.

In my classes, I show samples of papers I’ve made from banana peels, flower petals, grass, vegetable parings and grape skins. It becomes obvious that things with long, stringy fibers make the sturdiest sheets of paper. Though we use these items and many other things to add interest to our sheets of paper, for at-home or classroom papermaking, the basic pulp is made with recycled paper. Next week, I’ll go into the equipment and materials needed, and how to prepare for making your own papers at home.

Timeout for Art: Old Work

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Kate, 1988

Last week, late, I posted “New Work.” This week, the topic is “Old Work,” which should, in comparison, have been a piece of cake. Yet here I am, late again.

This morning, at last, I took time away from making new work, to dig out some older pieces. Then, I sorted through them to eliminate those that I had posted recently under topics like “Drawing” or “Line.” Next, I pulled out those that were poor images of myself or others. After all, just because a drawing is accurate does not ensure that it is flattering. Finally, I took photos.

Jen, 1988
Jerry, 1986
Jen, 1985
Self-portrait, 1992
Self-portrait, 1990

Besieged II

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A week ago, I had to look up the word “besieged” to make sure I had the correct meaning for it in my mind. Now, I feel like so much of an expert on it, I’m giving it another entire post!

Sometimes, the entire universe seems to conspire to weigh a body down. It feels like an attack somehow, coming at me from all angles. I feel besieged.

In addition to normal bills that come due regularly, new things crop up. A medical procedure that should have been covered by my insurance turned from “screening” to “diagnostic.” Which makes it necessary to come up with the “deductible” that I have to pay before the insurance kicks in.

A simple call to have the pilot light on my propane furnace lit for the season turned into a major, unexpected problem. I needed at least one new, expensive part to get it going. Since my only other heat source is an electric space heater, and electrical outages can be common here on Beaver Island, it could not be put off.

At the hardware store, in addition to the regular weekly freight, that can be pretty overwhelming all on its own, we received a whole pallet of new Christmas stuff. That, in addition to the 12-foot, floor-to-ceiling section of Christmas stuff in the basement, stored from last year, waiting to be brought upstairs.

The process involved first moving displays of heaters and humidifiers from the front shelves, coolers from the side shelves, T-shirts and sweatshirts from the front shelves in Housewares, and the life-jackets from where they hang near the door to the Gift Shop. All of those items had to either be stored in the basement, or displayed elsewhere. It involved a lot of moving and rearranging.

Then, every Christmas box and tote, old and new, had to be opened, as we started to formulate a plan to make sense of it all. Some shelves are adjustable, some not, so the size of items often determines their location. Of course, we try to keep tree-trimming items together, yard decorations in a group, gift ideas and “stocking-stuffers” close by.

As soon as that job is done, it’s on to help finish up with getting the regular freight put away, so that the next order can be prepared. The last ferry boat of the year runs in December. After that, any shipments have to come over by airplane. It not only increases the cost of freight, but whole pallets cannot be loaded onto the small planes. There’s a lot more handling and moving of everything to get it from the warehouse truck, across Lake Michigan, to our store on the island. We try very hard to plan ahead, and order supplies to last us until the boat runs again in the spring. It’s a great deal of pressure.

At home, there are my three dogs, each nine-years-old, and each with their own health issues. Each morning, I grind up their medicines, mix the individual tonics in with a bit of soft food, and dispense them. Last month, Blackie Chan was lame; next, severe allergies kept Rosa Parks (and I!) from sleeping. Darla’s health is okay, but she’s been showing a predatory interest, lately, in my neighbor’s chickens. It’s always something.

I have an art show planned for next October, in my home town of Lapeer. It’s a long way off…but, for me, that’s a dangerous way of thinking. A lifetime procrastinator, I am well-acquainted with the hazards of putting things off! So, I’m trying to stay on top of it. I’m trying to limit the days I have to work outside of my house; I’m blogging just two days a week; and I’ve forced myself into a regular routine.

Then, someone has family visiting for the holiday, could I work? Someone else has a funeral to attend, could I fill in? Someone needs to go to the mainland…yes, I can work. Then Dennis, who is always so kind, and who, along with Kevin, helps to turn my simple blogs into an “Island Reflections” radio program, wrote to let me know that “we’ve been in re-runs for several weeks now.”

That does it! I spend a sleepless night worrying. I get a little snippy with the people at work. I shoot off a letter to Dennis. I feel overwhelmed.

Besieged.

Buried.

Then…

I get a message from my friend, Audrey, offering the wonderful treat of a take-out meal from a Greek restaurant on the mainland, ordered, paid for, and socially-distanced delivered to my home!

I receive a check in the mail – larger than I expected – from my friend Lois, for the artwork I sold in her gallery this summer.

I get a letter from Dennis…and then one from Kevin…both assuring me that I have nothing to worry about; they have plenty of material for the radio.

Finally, my first Christmas card of the season, from my friend, Bob. As always, it’s the hand-drawn invitation to his annual Pine & Pasta Party. This year would be the 41st and, though it, too, has been cancelled due to the current pandemic, he still sent out the invitation.

And here I am…once again…besieged with the kindness and goodwill of others!

Timeout for Art: New Work

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New work. That title created the problem. Working my way through the alphabet with my “Timeout for Art” blogs, I’ve had to struggle, sometimes, to find a subject to coordinate with the weekly letter. And, though I planned to mainly showcase my own work, there have been days where my work simply didn’t apply to the topic.

N was “new work,” though. That, I planned from the start. The title would serve as impetus to get me into the studio to create work to show. Except I didn’t. Summer turned to fall, and now it’s almost winter, and though I’ve had the very best intentions, I’ve spent little actual quality time in the studio.

Yet here it is, time for the letter N, to taunt me with my lack of new work. What to do? Change the title? Art topics by alphabetical designation was not the very best idea I’ve ever had to begin with. Even though I have found my once misplaced Dictionary of Art Terms, as well as the original list I drew up, it’s not that easy. N offers “naturalism’ and many “neo” options, from neo-classicism to neo-dada, but it would be a push to make any of them applicable to my own work.

I have pulled out old work and passed it off as new before, when under pressure. That seems to miss the point. Plus, dishonest. Last week, feeling a bit under the weather anyway, I just skipped over my “Timeout for Art” blog. One rule I try, try, try to enforce in my life, when it comes to commitments I’ve made to myself, is “don’t miss twice.”

So, yesterday, I opened the curtains at the foot of the stairs, so heat could get up to the studio. I dressed in my old, torn and paint-covered sweats. I poured coffee into the covered and insulated cup my sister gave me, that will keep it warm for hours. I headed up the stairs. If I could manage to actually get some work done, wonderful. If not, I would plan, organize, read and tidy, but I was determined to spend the day in the studio.

I started by pulling out a stack of papers that I’d cut to size and painted as bases for collages. Some were re-purposed old work, and the remnants of charcoal drawings under the paint added a layer of interest. Next, I pulled out a few trays of collage materials, and started sorting by color and shape. Finally, I scooped out some heavy gel polymer medium, and began placing elements on the surface.

I usually work on more than one piece at a time. Whether painting, printing or collage, if I can step away from one thing to focus on another, it’s easier to remain objective about what each piece needs. I had space for four collages on my drafting table at once, encircled by stacks and trays of scrap papers, so I worked on four at a time. Before the day was done, I had several good beginnings. Finally, new work!