Friday, June 29, 2012

Here's the first stage of a sketch based on a vintage photograph. Somewhere along the line, I either purchased a stack of these, or found them...don't remember. But they make great subjects for drawings.
I think that the bones are in proportion and that the start is OK. I have an awful tendency to think I'm done at this stage, but my plan is to spritz on a little fixative, and then go to town with the shading. Her skirt and jacket are actually quite dark, and that's why the lace holes read as dark. Maybe before the fixative, I ought to revisit the lace on the right side of the collar, though, it seems kind of out of proportion.
I'm not a lace advocate. One of my earliest memories is of freaking out when Mom got me into a dress with a lot of lace. That stuff's Itchy!
And...what's that scepter all about? Offspring XX Costumer can help out, but she's working at the Chapman Historical Museum today.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Gathering is the opposite of Scattering. I have finished one or two things today, after all!

Here's the wood stove surround, trim all nice and painted, settled for the summer months. Guess I could clean the glass. But that's an easy one.

I've also mowed the lawn, walked the dog, scrubbed the kitchen floor and done some work at the library, and finished reading the very end of a book--Paris in Love, by Eloisa James. It's her account of the year she and her husband moved the family to Paris. Oh, boy, DO I want to do THAT!

Now for a little relaxation before Jacobs Pillow. That's a dance venue with a weird name. Tonight, I believe, Morphoses, some kind of ballet event.

Raise a glass (or right now, a cup of coffee) to getting things done: to Gathering the Scatters.

BIG To-Do List: I'm Scattering

Scattering=jumping from one project or essential task to another, and another, and another, before completing the first. 
Yes. I have filled a page with To Dos and skipped around them, beginning to paint the bare wood trim along the edges of our wood stove surround...
Tile, wood, and nifty corrugated aluminum. 
My take on a "restoration hardware" stove surround

 ...and then taking a break from THAT to go over to the gym and exercise. And then coming home to make some pudding* and then cleaning up, showering, dealing with the vestiges of yesterday's medical procedure**, sorting the recycling, looking at the stove surround, and deciding to spend a few minutes at the computer. I really do plan to glue my butt to the computer chair this week (later!) to get done with the final edit on The Way Back, my next enormously-fun-to-read novel (still haven't downloaded Kismet to your computer or Kindle? Get going! You'll like it!) but as I started to say, I am Scattering right now. In fact, I have to get to the library and do some book sorting. 

Maybe I'll finish the painting first.
ADHD? ------which brings me to-------Medical Procedure Day.

**Sjogren's Syndrome, my particular autoimmune illness, does lots of things to my body, inside and out. But lately, I've developed a bright red circle of dryness on my forehead. Already the world's largest forehead (excepting for bald people, I guess,) and ugly to look at on a clear skin day, this 3" diameter circle of crimson really doesn't help my self-esteem any. So I went to the doctor, expecting it was a manifestation of SjS. She sent me to the dermatologist, who I assumed would look at it and say, "You have developed dry skin because you are aging. Put some Oil of Olay on it." But no. This required a biopsy. She took a "punch" of skin and sewed me up with two stitches. Right in the middle of my giant forehead. Or, I should say, my giant forehead with the big red circle, that I am forced to look at in the mirror that I habitually steer clear of, because I have to schmear on some Neosporin and a bandaid. Yes. A bandaid in the middle of my bright red, gigantic forehead. 

*Another SjS problem involves my troubles swallowing food. No saliva, plus some other problems in the throat area, and I am completely unable to swallow without a liquid chaser. Some of my old favorite foods just don't work anymore. My batch of gluten-free muffins: too dry. So I cooked up a batch of white chocolate egg custard and poured it over a sliced muffin to make a little trifle. YUM!

I have clearly gone on way, way too long about my problems. Back to the immediate "problem" of working through that To Do List!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Revisiting the Salvaged Shutter

When I look at an old piece of architectural salvage and its surface resembles a tossed-on coating of brightly colored potato chips, it seems like it would be a fun job to scrape away the old paint. But then in reality, when those first big, peely chips are off, more and more peely edges curl up, and it takes more and more elbow grease to get to the point where the piece is ready for new paint. I had initially though that this shutter had enough paint on it that it would look "distressed" to the perfect degree when I'd just taken off those first, curly paint pieces. After scraping off everything that became loose, there wasn't much paint left on, at all. It would need to be repainted for my headboard plans.
Actual paint color MUCH lighter than in this photo
So I stopped in at a hardware store for some paint. I didn't want a whole gallon; what did they have in a smaller size? Rustoleum. Made for metal, and oil-based. I knew it would be stupid to settle for it, but I did, in my eagerness to get painting!
I bought the darker of the two shades of grey. Mistake! It didn't cover well, it was mega-streaky, and the dark grey turned out to be pretty light. At least, not the color of my repurposed-shutter dreams.
Actual paint color MUCH darker than in this photo
 So I went to another hardware store and did the whole paint-chip-custom-mix route, and got a quart of the color, finish and latex base that I wanted. And then I used approximately one-one hundredth of the can to paint the whole shutter. I should have just bought one of those little bottles they sell for people to test out a patch on the wall.
Live and learn.
Without actually mounting the shutter above the bed the way I originally intended (hanging from chains which would serve as "visual bedposts",) I propped it here so I could think through the mounting process. 
Now I can't decide if this shutter-headboard thing is a good idea, or rather ridiculous.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The local Wise Shopper newspaper hit the mailbox yesterday, and inside: a small press release announcing someone's effort to launch a local Jane Austen Society of North America Chapter! Cassidy and I are intrigued. This, off their website, lists some of the possible activities.

"Members at a local JASNA meeting may discuss an Austen novel, hear a lecture about Austen or the Regency era, or enjoy a tea or Box Hill picnic.  JASNA regions celebrate Jane Austen’s birthday, December 16, with a luncheon, tea, or speaker.  Other activities may include museum and garden tours, English country dancing, and Regency fashion shows.  Regions often host special events, such as scholarly conferences and galas, some of which are open to the public."

This may not strike you as fun, but we've been wishing to find a historical re-enactment group that is not primarily focused on a war. Austen novels and tea parties! Box Hill picnics! (Box Hill?) 

I've got to get started on a Regency outfit.
Photograph from the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection

Ew. I guess it will call for a corset.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Title 9-and-a-half

Lest anyone get the idea that I only pester one of the kids to pose for me, here's an experimental sketch of Cassidy.
Experimental, because I sketched her as she sat in front of the computer, reading and typing, and the glow from the small desk light created a backlighting situation. The curly hair depiction is also kind of experimental. I had to tone down what initially looked like white leeches or maggots (Sorry, Honey!) intermingling with her hair, which in reality, is quite lovely.

So yes, I am an equal opportunity "sit still for a minute so I can sketch you" type of mom. Watch out, the rest of you!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Move on, my Wonky Son opposed to "Carry on, my..."  Nevermind.

A week or so ago, I was tearing my hair out to make a more refined drawing of my son, based on a quick, live sketch. The results were less than extraordinary. See.

I went back to work on it, today, first, using the valuable and helpful suggestion of looking at the two works upside down. That showed me right away that Sketch 2 had a completely different face shape than Sketch 1, and so I did some plastic (as in eraser) surgery to his right cheek. It helped a lot. I've also done some more work on Owen, and here is the result. Kind of...alien.

Certainly lacking the spark of life, and still not right, but at this point, I really would rather start from scratch. Now if only I could get that kid young man to sit for me again.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Unrelated Linguistic Issue

AHH! Big Library Book Sale is over--for a bit, anyway, until I get back down there and clean up. Cleaning up involves a lot of packing of undesirable books in boxes for recycling. But shhh on that. People don't like to hear about books form and consistency.

The Big Library Book Sale took place in our village library's underground space, also known as the cellar, also known as the BASEMENT, and herein lies the gist of my diatribe. And my question.

Is anyone else familiar with another use of the word BASEMENT?

Background story digression. 

I was educated in a smallish school district in Upstate New York. When I was 5, there were two elementary schools in the district, which funneled students into one high school. One elementary was on the campus with the high school, in the suburban section of the district; this was my local elementary school. Most dads in this elementary's range were engineers and such at either IBM or Singer-Link. 

When I was to start 3rd grade, there was a change in the way the district did things, and those of us from the "suburban" elementary were bused to the "rural-agrarian" elementary outpost, which became the district's single 3-6 elementary. The school building I'd attended for K-2 became the district's one and only K-2. So. Half of my fellow 3rd grade students were strangers, and I was in a strange land, where there were some strange euphemisms, but one outstandingly strange one: 

When students from the formerly rural-agrarian elementary raised their hands in the middle of class, they would ask to "go to the basement." 

"Huh?" went our little, suburban brains. "Why do they want to go there? Is there something we should know about in the cellar?"

It soon became clear that these new friends asked to "go to the basement" when they wanted to "go to the bathroom." (In retrospect, neither euphemism makes less sense than the other, because there were and are no bath tubs in the school bathrooms.)

Forty some years have passed, and although I never did switch my lingo and start "going to the basement," when I hear the word "basement," I still think "toilet."

Weird, huh?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Or Maybe He's Just Wonky-Looking

For me, this week's all about the semi-annual Library Book Sale, and LOTS of my time's been spent seeing to finer details. Lots of my time's also been spent seeing to the macro details--hauling box after box of donations, many of them...less than salable...up and down and around the library. Sale starts tomorrow. Yeah! My twice-a-year retail management experience. I hope that we make the library a boatload of money.

That said, I haven't been working on any long-term projects this week, but rather, working on things that I can pick up and put down and revisit at will. Like sketching. Here's a quick ebony pencil sketch of Offspring XY Physicist, from life.
I have kept these small, to protect your eyes from bleeding.
This sketch was done quickly, because dinner was almost out of the oven, and because OXYP thinks he has things to do and places to go. Many wonky features, particularly, his right eye. But it does resemble my son. Or maybe his father. ANYWAY...

Later, I attempted to redraw his portrait, taking a little more time and using more delicacy in the drawing, and make a better, more finished piece.
Problem is, this one doesn't look like him--or his father. Or anyone else I know. 

Lesson learned: Draw from Life, Whenever Possible. (Oh. And practice more! LOTS more.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Journey After Gurney

Dinotopia creator James Gurney writes a blog that I make sure to read every day. And several times a week, he shares his sketchbook drawings, which are very often watercolor pencil sketches of animals.  Knowing that I'd have a little time "off" at the farm this weekend, since only the one tractor is outfitted with the mower, I brought along my watercolor pencils and my sketchbook. I've had the pencils for a good, long time, but colored pencils are not one of my top favorites. And I have tried them as they are meant to be used--along with water--maybe...once.

But, inspired by James Gurney's animal sketches, I dragged a plastic lawn chair over to the chicken coop and had fun. Here are some results.  

Chicken on the left is as drawn in pencil, and left alone. Rooster on the right was pencil-drawn and then revisited with water and a brush. This demonstrates why I didn't get interested enough in my colored pencils to use them more: without the water, they don't make for a very bold sketch. I can't wait to play with this system some more! 

While I'm sort of on the subject of James Gurney and his blog and his Dinotopia, I have to add that I just bought his "Imaginitive Realism", for my nephew. My nephew draws all the time, and I thought he'd like it. I LIKE IT, TOO. I thought I'd scan through it before I wrapped it, and I ended up reading it, cover-to-cover, over the course of a whole afternoon, and I think I'm going to order one up for myself, now. Great reference material. Great inspiration. Great instruction. Gurney generously shares his insights and methods and knowledge in this book. Every artist ought to have it on their bookshelf. Or...left out and propped open and handy! 

Thanks, James Gurney.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Silence of the Westies

The Thundershirt arrived yesterday; I set it aside.

Then today, a beautiful day, I hung a clothesline full of laundry, and the sky immediately turned to grey. And then darker grey. A storm was approaching!

Very few instructions accompanied the Thundershirt, but there was the intriguing suggestion: "Before putting Thundershirt on your dog for the first time, offer a small food treat...using the folded Thundershirt as a 'plate.'" So after Riley inhaled a few snacks from the Thundershirt, he found himself sealed into his 'plate.' There was a LOT of Velcro involved.

He watched for the storm, which seemed imminent. He was completely silent, which is NEVER the case when he's staring out the front door. (People walking by probably want to come into the house and murder and rob us, for goodness sake! He's just keeping us safe, and alerting us to danger!)

In fact, he didn't make a peep the whole time he was wearing the Thundershirt. It might have been the "security" that the Thundershirt is supposed to provide, or it might have been bafflement, or it might have been embarrassment.

I'm thinking embarrassment, because he would not, would not, look me in the eye while wearing it.

  Riley, sans Thundershirt, in a painting from last summer at the farm.

HOWEVER, the verdict is still out on the Thundershirt, because soon after dressing him in it, and right after I took all of the clothes off the line, the dark clouds blew away and it was sunny again.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Challenge Myself & Grow: Boot Camp or No?

Even though it scares me like mad, I am sorely tempted to sign up for Illustration Boot Camp at the Norman Rockwell Museum. "Boot Camp" implies some kind of torturous hazing, being yelled at, being pushed beyond sane limits, with the prospect of coming out bettered, right? And bettered is good.

It's quite a drive--a little over an hour from home--not far enough away to stay at a hotel (and frankly, if I had to pay for a hotel and restaurant meals for the week, it would be way more out of my price range than it already is.) but too close to home not to take under serious consideration. And the price seems a downright bargain, given that it's five whole days of instruction.

One reason I'm hesitant: I don't draw all that well. Would it behoove me to forget about Boot Camp and instruction, and just keep working on drawing from life, and boot camp it in the future?

But head snaps the other's not like I'm planning to be an illustrator who gets editorial work. I just want to improve my skills, and a challenge like this would be valuable. 

Oh, to be decisive.

I certainly can't argue with the instructor (Lynn Pauley)'s mission statement. This might actually be the factor that tips the scales, because since Mass MoCA, I've been finding artists' statements just too painful to read. They've been leaving me I've just subjected myself to multitudinous paper cuts. "I am fascinated by the juxtaposition of light and [insert whatever]...." Argh! "To make authentic, compelling pictures that matter" is succinct and beautiful. I could learn from Lynn Pauley.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Architectural Salvage

I didn't have to go very far to find my new piece of architectural salvage. Didn't have to risk a tour through a condemned building; I didn't have to go to an antiques fair-flea market, like I did for this piece, which I wrote about a while ago. 

I stumbled upon this old shutter when I was hauling an armload of pruned forsythia switches to the back yard twiggy compost pile (as opposed to the gooshy compost pile at the other side of the back yard.) On my return, I glanced at our firewood stacks. My usual angle of view for the firewood is from the house, and most of that view is blocked by our shed--which is a good thing, because it's not a beautiful sight. Some stacks, some strewn-around unstackable scraps and stumps, some "melting" sheets of particle board on top of the tippy stacks, and then there are the other things that Handsome sort of likes to hide. Like his fishing boat. His 5 gallon bucket stack. Parts for his portable sawmill. His "special" wood, which looks like weathered pieces of slabwood and bark but will someday be...something.

Yet there were two old, wooden shutters out there amongst the firewood and specialwood! When and where did Handsome find them?

I have several ideas for the old shutters. I can see building a simple support on legs, and using one shutter as the under-glass surface of a sofa table. With a lot less work, I could keep it in its original, vertical position, and use it as a sort of a bulletin board, folding over the tops of the papers that I want to display and hanging them off the louvers. If both shutters were in better condition, this would be especially nice to do by hinge-ing the two together: they would support each other in a way akin to a room divider screen. However, one of them is missing half of its louvers.

So...I think I'll focus on the intact shutter, scrape off the loose paint (using safety precautions--there's likely some lead in that old paint,) re-evaluate to determine whether or not to paint it anew, and then mount it on the wall above our bed, as sort of a headboard that's not a headboard. Maybe suspended from the picture rail by two narrow chains?

I will definitely post photos when this project is complete.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Way Back: an Excerpt

“I’ve been waiting for you, over at the flagpole, over there, for quite some time!”
"Pa! What time…I…I guess I lost track of time. Did you spot Colleen?"
"No I didn't, but I did hear from some more people that talked to someone fitting her description, and they talked to her yesterday,” said Daniel. “She’s here—I can feel it. Have you had any luck?"
"Well, I’ve been talking with Mr., ah—” It only then occurred to him that he had been talking to the man for quite a while; he knew all about the man’s painting techniques and why he chose them, but he didn’t know the man’s name.
The artist finished Andrew's sentence. "Alfred Manning, sirs," he said, in a clipped British accent, without missing a beat in his brush-to-palette-to-canvas sequence.
"Mr. Manning was painting here, and I thought he might have noticed if Colleen had been painting, too,” Andrew stammered, embarrassed.
"It's all right, son. I understand you being drawn to watching Mr. Manning. Even I have to admit it's pretty interesting. Do I take it you haven't actually seen or heard anything of Colleen, then?"
"No, Pa,” said Andrew. “I haven't seen anyone even remotely resembling her. If it's only half past four, we ought to spend the next hour or so looking, I guess, before dinner.” Andrew turned to the painter. “Thank you for putting up with me, Mr. Manning."
"Wait a minute," started Daniel, who had begun to step away and then had an idea. "I was wondering, Mr. Manning—where do you purchase your painting supplies?"
The man paused for this, and he looked at Daniel like he was surprised, like he hadn’t taken him for a fellow artist. He looked like he was scrutinizing Daniel’s figure from the top of his head right to the ground, and making certain judgments about him. "Why, I bring them with me,” he said. “One can't utilize just any random canvas, any cheap brush, you know. Are you a painter?"
Daniel answered the Englishman. "Actually, no. But there is a woman we are in search of—you may have gathered from our conversation?”
"Ah, the woman you are in search of would like to purchase some painting materials?"
Daniel and Andrew looked at each other, their nearly identical smiles mirroring one another. "It's very possible; probable I would say, that she would, or has, need of painting supplies," said Daniel, in a fast tumble of confused words. "But knowing where she might go to purchase her things is hardly going to help us out, now, is it? Unless we're going to wait until she runs out of paint, and stake out the shops, we're not likely to find her that way."
As they stood there, a steady stream of people started to flow out of the grandstand and onto the grassy grounds, and the two of them craned their necks to see as many people as they possibly could. Daniel was about to suggest that he force his way through the crowd to stand on the other side, so that the two of them would ultimately have a chance of seeing more people, when he stopped in his tracks.
He was staring at Alfred Manning' horse and jockey painting.
"Andrew, look at this."
"Look at what?" asked Andrew.
"I didn't notice this when I was looking right at the painting, but on a quick glance, doesn't that person right there—” He pointed toward the busy crowd scene in the background of the painting, "—look like Colleen?" Before Andrew could answer, Daniel squinted at the painting and moved his face closer. "Or maybe not. When I was standing farther away I thought I saw her, but now that I'm closer, all I can see is just this bunch of dots and smudges—no offense, Mr. Manning."
"No offense taken, sir," said Manning, smiling beneath his large bushy moustache.
Andrew spoke up. "Pa, Mr. Manning is of the Impressionist School. He uses bright little touches of color to record his impression of the way the light hits on people and things—he doesn't blend the colors beforehand, and he doesn't record all the little details, either."
"Quite so," said Manning.
"Whatever,” said Daniel. He found the explanation somewhat ridiculous. Art instruction wasn’t the reason they’d come to town. “Anyway, stand back here, Andrew, and tell me what you see in the crowd—what I think is the crowd—in the background."
They both took two steps back, and Andrew' saw it, too. "You're right! That surely does look like Colleen! Mr. Manning, how long have you been set up here?"
"Oh, I've only been here for about an hour and a half, today," he replied.
"Then Colleen must be right here,” said Andrew.
Mr. Manning interrupted, "But the background people were painted when I was set up here yesterday afternoon." The men's shoulders drooped. "The angle of the sun changes so, you know, from one hour to another, that I can only work on a painting for a little over an hour at a time, and then I must come back the next day. At the same time."
At the same time.
"So we can be fairly sure that she was here yesterday, and maybe she was here today," said Andrew. "And we can pinpoint the time, too." The sounds of the people and even his son’s voice had been drowned out by the sound of the blood pounding in Daniel’s head. He was still looking at the painting, and a bolt of fear shot through him, seizing all movement, even his breathing. "Pa!" Andrew cried as he grabbed his arm and stood between him and the half-finished painting. "Pa, what is it?"
Daniel closed his eyes and took in a deep breath through his nose. He hoped that it would not be there when he opened his eyes again. He opened them, and there it was. The painted Colleen seemed to be looking at a specific painted man. And that man was dressed as a colonial soldier. And he was looking back at her.