Friday, September 12, 2014

A work in progress

I've been brooding over this sketch for, I think, about two years.

I sat down yesterday and plotted out a design I feel really good about. 

I got a lot more done today (sorry, no photos). After I get the design completely figured out, I'm going to transfer it to Arches hot-pressed watercolor paper and finish it in colored pencil and watercolor.

The Flylady is making it all possible. As I follow her instructions day by day, space is opening up in my home and in my time. If you struggle with disorganization and feel overwhelmed with your life, check out her website and follow her babysteps exactly. (I do mean exactly. I've tried to just do it my own way and it didn't work well for very long.) Since I committed, out of desperation, to following her directions as carefully as I could, I feel that I am entering a completely new phase in my life.

Friday, August 29, 2014

For Labor Day: Luke Kelly and Winslow Homer

I love songs about work--about old fashioned, dangerous, beautiful, strenuous toil using skills refined and passed down through generations. The late Irish singer Luke Kelly delivers one of my favorites unsurpassably, I think.

And Winslow Homer's "The Herring Net."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Should I be flattered?

Well, I suppose I am flattered, but I am also greatly displeased. It was such a weird feeling to suddenly, accidentally come upon a cheap knockoff of my design in a China based Etsy store called AccessoriesMarket. The design is a few years old, originally made for Bookthongs and sold in bookstores on their bookmarks or keychains. I am now selling it in my shop.

Here is the knockoff.

And here is the real thing. I can comfort myself with the fact that the original is prettier--has more grace and three dimensional movement. It's also made in America from good quality materials.

I have written to AccessoriesMarket and kindly asked them to remove the knockoff. We'll see what happens. I suppose if they don't I'll need to let Etsy know. I have heard this is an all too common problem with China-based Etsy shops, though the problem probably has more to do with the factories supplying the shops than with the shop owners.

I wonder where else this little tree might be found. I don't think I mind the knockoff being sold in China, but I do mind it coming back to the United States.
Update: The shop owner was very cooperative and said she would no longer sell that item. She said that she bought it to resell not knowing where it came from.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Old leaves and new

In a short story called The Boundary, Wendell Berry describes the thoughts of an old farmer walking in woods he has worked in all his life:

 "Such a little piece of the world as he has before him now would be worth a man's long life, watching and listening. And then he could go two hundred feet and live again another life, listening and watching, and his eyes would never be satisfied with seeing, nor his ears filled with hearing. Whatever he saw could be seen only by looking away from something else equally worth seeing. For a second he feels and then loses some urging of delight in a mind that could see and comprehend it all, all at once. 'I could stay here a long time,' he thinks. 'I could stay here a long time.'"

Today I sat on the lawn reading Berry's rich story. The sun shone through trees, dappling the pages. My four year old brought me speckled yellow leaves one by one.

"Is this one beautiful? Do you love it?" she asked.

"Yes. It's beautiful. I love it."

"Is this one beautiful? Do you love this one?"

"Yes. It's beautiful."

She found a lacy, brown leaf skeleton.

"Do you love the fragile ones?"


"Do you love all leaves? Do you think all leaves are beautiful?"  she asked me earnestly.

"Yes. I think all leaves are beautiful."

"I will get you some green leaves now," she said, tense, wide-eyed, on a mission. And she brought me some leaves of a weeping willow tree and the inside of a pussy willow bud. The gray catkin was tiny, exquisitely silvery and sleek like a newborn kitten. It appeared to be fully formed, waiting, I assume, to emerge next spring. My lap was a nest of leaves.

I finished reading the story and another, and we went inside while the leaves scattered on the ground. I had just been in two sunlit, leafy places at once--Wendell Berry's farmland with its fine old farmers and the front yard with my dramatic little girl. I felt effervescent with words, sunlight, and the thought of numberless wonders. I decided to go back outside and choose a wonder to draw.

The composition isn't any good, so we'll just call it some studies of leaves.

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is "journey". The leaves made a journey to the ground, I made a journey into a story world where an old man took several kinds of journeys at once, and my daughter made many little journeys to bring me leaves, so I decided this would do for Illustration Friday.
 Update: Lucy informs me that the pussy willow here blooms in the fall as well as the spring, so the catkin was in readiness for the fall.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Childe Hassam, Elizabeth Goudge, and the Flylady

Lately I am developing healthy housekeeping habits so my family and I can have happier, more creative, less cluttered lives. I am carefully following the Flylady's kindly instructions. In the past I have used the Flylady website to get inspired and then jump into revamping my whole life in an intense, unsustainable and self-destructive way antithetical to the Flylady's wise principles of slow, steady, non-perfectionistic habit forming. Now I am simply doing what the Flylady says to do when she says to do it, and order is emerging without a lot of fuss and bother or discouragement and self-recrimination.  

I'm a stay-at-home mom with stay-at-home kids, but as I implement the Flylady's principles day after day I'm realizing that in some ways I've never been home-oriented. Two childhood fantasies were living in a library to explore books to my heart's uninterrupted content and not having a real bedroom but a fully supplied art studio instead. I didn't want a home, just a place to accommodate my head, my hands, and later, my spirit, when monastic life seemed appealing. I see this now as a deficiency in my ability to receive nurture and to take care of myself as a fully embodied person, a human. That is not what I want to pass on to my children.  

So I am humbly obeying the Flylady. My sink is empty and shined every night, even if dishes are stacked on the counter (which they are less and less). In the morning I take care of my own grooming before I jump into meeting everyone else's urgent needs (Before, I had felt, accurately, that their urgent needs were basically my fault because they resulted from my lack of organization and sensible preparation, but my response only perpetuated the cycle). I spend fifteen minutes a day getting rid of stuff that I don't want but for some reason have felt obligated to keep. So now when I go into the kitchen in the morning, all neatly dressed and washed and brushed and see the nice clean sink and more space on the counter and in the cupboards, I feel energized and ready for the next step. As I take time to treat myself right, I feel more lovable, more loved and more loving. The funny thing is, habitually taking the moments to shape my home and to care properly for my whole human self, actually makes head, hands and spirit time more available and more satisfying.

These cozy images of homes by American Impressionist Childe Hassam (1859-1935) fit my mood right now, as does this extended quote from Elizabeth Goudge's lovely book, Pilgrim's Inn:

"But they were talking about the deplorable state of the world, about that terrible bomb, about famine and inflation and chaos and death, and her mind shied away from their talk like a terrified horse. She couldn't do anything about now, at eighty-six, except pray, and in between her prayers, now that the war was over, she wished they would let her forget sometimes that things had not turned out as well as one had hoped, and enjoy the things that were left: the spring sunshine slanting into the quiet room and lighting up the flowers, the lovely ripe corn color of Pooh-Bah's coat, the hot tea, the log fire burning on the hearth, whispering and fragrant, the feel of dear old Bastard's chin resting on her shoe, the sound of the sea coming in the pauses of their talk.

" 'Don't,' she cried to them suddenly. "It's this that matters--this!'

" 'What, Mother,' asked Margaret, who never could follow the working of another's mind unless it was explained to her very carefully and at great length.

" 'Beauty is truth?' asked Hilary, coming a little nearer.

"But Nadine, without words, stretched out a hand and gently touched her mother-in-law's. They had both been married and borne children. Lucilla knew always, and Nadine knew in her more domesticated moments, that it was homemaking that mattered. Every home was a brick in the great wall of decent living that men erected over and over again as a bulwark against the perpetual flooding in of evil. But women made the bricks, and the durableness of each civilization depended upon their quality, and it was no good weakening oneself for the brickmaking by thinking too much about the flood."

This painting of a farmhouse lit without by moonlight and within by lamplight is my favorite.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Some pretties by Walter Crane (1845-1915)

G.K. Chesterton said "It may be that when we present Walter Crane's illustrations in a nursery book, we are acting like a person who should put a very abstruse selection from Wagner into a baby's musical box." Maybe, maybe not. I do know that I had a book of fairy tales with Walter Crane's earlier illustrations when I was a child--past nursery years, though. I remember curling up with it on a saggy couch in our dim, cool, unfinished basement, along with other brittle-paged collections of myths and folklore. The pictures both interested and repelled me. I did not like the faces, which did not fit my concept of the beautiful (formed by Walt Disney and the models in the Sears catalog), or the heavy black outlines. I still can't say that I really like those fairy tale illustrations. Here is one I remember from that book.

But this later illustration I would have loved. I found it at Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

The next two picture's are some of Cranes original, slightly sketchy designs for the book The Baby's Bouquet.

No doubt I would have been ecstatic over this beautiful champagne ad. I love how, like autumn, it's glowing and warm with a cool undertone.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has dozens of wallpaper and border designs by Crane. (The three pictures above are also from the Victoria and Albert.) Here are some of my favorites.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Will I now have this pleasure?"

Sarah, the wife of Abraham was an old, old lady. She longed to bear a child, but it had become too late to hope. When the angel of the Lord promised that in a year she would give birth, she laughed and asked "will I now have this pleasure?" (Genesis 18:12)

I have creative friends who write, who make pictures, who make music. Some have gone through long periods of neglecting their abilities and desire to create. Some have given up hope of ever having this pleasure and have buried their talent under doubts and busyness--urgent, important or trivial depending on the day. For awhile instead of making art I baked, whipping up the perfect fluffy batter for the perfectly light and tender cake, kneading bread dough long and hard so it would rise high and stretchy with nice big holes. Baking for some is a life-giving creative act, but for me it was a fun but not quite satisfying place holder for something that felt harder and scarier. When I was single I sometimes wasted time shopping the clearance racks, not really having a good time or finding much I liked. Not so deep down, I knew I should be spending that time making something, bringing my artistic dreams into reality, but I feared the strains of that process.

I also questioned the value of my art. I was easily discouraged and I would interpret my discouragement as a sign that I was moving in the wrong direction, that what I was doing wasn't valuable. I believed that art was valuable and I loved art, but for some reason felt that I wasn't really an artist so my work wasn't really valuable, wasn't actually art. I feel a little embarrassed sharing this--it sounds so wrongheaded, but I really felt like that, really thought those thoughts, and it feels like a miracle to me that I don't believe them anymore. And I am grateful, because I didn't get rid of that junk by myself. Wise leaders, shepherds in my church, helped me sift through the lies with God's help and leave them behind. God is extravagantly creative for no use but love, and he made me creative too.

But here I am again, not getting any younger, having lost traction again, neglecting the gift that is within me, for reasons seemingly different, but essentially the same. And like Sarah, I begin to feel discouraged. I wonder "will I have this pleasure?"  I feel I've wasted so much time I could have spent developing my craft, my skills; I've fallen behind in the race. It's getting too late. But as I sit here typing, looking hard at these thoughts, they seem flimsy, a film of grime, and something better rises
inside me: peace, love, a sense of humor, thankfulness for the specific abilities and delights God has given me, and thankfulness for the time that I still have, time that participates in the eternal. What is ahead is so much greater than what is behind, and in this moment I am feeling that. Each step in the right direction is an investment in the eternal.

My last post was a baby-step. Writing this one was a bigger step. Taking pictures of some pewter charms I carved awhile ago and getting them onto my Etsy store is another.