Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A good day's work

I am carving a new cross design. It is a little more than an inch long and suggests the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Counselor and Comforter who came after Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father. Here are the original drawing and the drawing reduced by half,  affixed to a piece of carving wax.  

I roughly carved the basic shapes today, and I hope to finish it tomorrow.  

I haven't worked this small for awhile. It's stressful. I have to take care not to snap the piece as I carve (I did that twice) because I hate repairing it. And the wax is such a tricky combination of shiny and translucent, it's not so easy to to see what's going on.

But there were many moments of peace and pleasure as I worked, and when I paused, I watched the snow sift steadily down the air.  Watching snow fall on windless days profoundly quiets me. The delicate substantialness of each flake touching the ground, becoming weighty all together, gives me a feeling of blessedness, as with the laying on of quiet hands.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap, 
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
 But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a Crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down. 

by G.K. Chesterton

Madonna and child, by Marianne Stokes. Tempera on wood panel, 1907-1908.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Crosses on Etsy

We received five silver crosses from the caster yesterday.  It was a rush to see my design reproduced in a handful of shiny silver.

My husband applied medieval sounding chemicals to darken them. Doesn't "liver of sulfur" sound like something an alchemist would use?

Then he used steel wool to bring out highlights.

We posted them on my newly opened Etsy shop last night. We are offering them  for the extremely low price of $80.00 until the twelfth day of Christmas--January 6, 2014. After that we will be selling them for the still very low price of $125. (This price is low compared to standard prices of silver jewelry of a comparable weight.) There are over nineteen grams of  silver in each cross, so they feel nicely heavy in the hand. I hope this piece will aid in focusing on the love and sacrifice of Jesus, and remind of his complete engagement with our broken, suffering world--nothing held back.

There is a hidden bail in the back to slip a chain through.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


The other night I dreamed I was at a friend's house helping him choose a therapist from among a crowd of therapists, who were sharing psychological insight and making toast. We weeded out those who made toast with hard crust. I really liked one named Skye Blue, though he hadn't made toast yet. "He made sense to me," I said, "and if he had made toast I'm sure it would not have been hard." I thought Skye Blue should be my therapist some day, so I memorized his name by picturing a little man in blue nestled in my paint tin. Then I heard the theme song from Sesame Street. My husband had set his phone alarm to remind him to go to dinner at 6:15, but he had set it for AM. How thick and heavy my eyelids felt, how warm and deep the bed. I laughed about Sesame Street and crusty toast. I did not get out of bed.

And here is a colored pencil drawing that feels like something from a dream, maybe a dream of Tolkien or George MacDonald: twin trees growing from a pearl of light in a gazing pool. I did it awhile ago when I was obsessed with trees and flowers growing in circles of water or sky. The stones are from Lucy's collection of Lake Michigan beach pebbles.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving turkey...not to eat!

Posted by Lucy 
Yesterday (Thanksgiving), I made this little guy. So seasonal. I gave him a tour of the house, and we had a blast...   
...until he saw the calendar.   
"Come out," I said, "I would never eat you. You'd only make a mouthful anyway."

"But what about your little sister's dolls, or your little brothers' GI Joes? I'd make a nice feast for them!"

I finally convinced him that he was in no danger of being eaten, but he was awfully nervous for the rest of the day.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thoughts on thankfulness

If I am thankful for the good in my life, the good truly benefits me. I have the joy of it. I embrace it to myself and it defines me. The more I am thankful for, the more I see to be thankful for, and my joy and contentment grow, even in the presence of sorrow and difficulty.

If  I don't take note of the good with thankfulness, I stand away from that good. It should be mine, but I don't really have it. I am defined instead by the lack which is all I am taking note of.  I don't receive the good until I step toward it with open arms of gratitude.

Without thankfulness, I starve in the midst of plenty, because I am not partaking of the feast God is always setting.

We can never know how rich we are until we say thank you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Smaller wax bishop's cross

I'm finally done this wax model, maybe mostly. I took days longer than I expected. I thought it would be easy, having carved this design before in a larger size. But when I reduced the size I blithely changed some of the side-view proportions, which opened up some new expressive possibilities, which led to lots of rethinking. I'm not good at leaving well-enough alone. 

This wax is tricky stuff for me to photograph, because it's shiny and irregularly translucent. The different colors are different consistencies of wax. The blue is flexible and hard to break. I carved the basic shape out of blue wax. I then made some corrections with molten green wax, which flows better than the blue when melted. I put in final details with a purple wax that flows beautifully and takes details easily, but is also easy to break.

From here we go to the silversmith, who will create multiple castings.

Friday, November 15, 2013

November is beautiful sometimes

I've been indoors much too much this fall, but as I sat down to be an artist this sunny, not too cold afternoon, all I could think of was going for a walk. So I walked. The sky was perfectly bright blue, but the light and air were soft. The oak leaves smelled like tea and were loud, almost clattering, beneath my feet.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Another cross

I am carving a new crucifix smaller than the bishop's cross but with a similar design. (The little bird ornaments I showed  a bit ago are on hold.) It won't be a one of a kind piece this time. Multiple copies will be made--I hope in time for Christmas.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wisdom for artists

I recently re-read the book Plain and Simple: a Woman's  Journey to the Amish by Sue Bender, an artist who sought among the Amish wisdom and groundedness she lacked. I love this conversation she had with a non-Amish friend:

"'What counts, Sue, is not the results," said Tino, my dear friend from Sardinia, a sculptor, a poet, a wise man. "Final products are never satisfactory because the potentialities of a person are never realized.'

'Then what is satisfying?'

'It is the enjoyment of every step of the process of doing: everything, not only the isolated piece we label art. If accomplishing is the only goal, all that it takes to reach that goal is too slow, too fatiguing--an obstacle to what you want to achieve. If you want to rush to the accomplishment, it is an inevitable disappointment. Then you rush to something else. The disappointment is reaped over and over again. But if every step is pleasant, then the accomplishment becomes even more, because it is nourished by what is going on.'

I needed to hear his words.

'All the stages of one's work have a poetic nature," he continued. 'No-one gets paid for keeping his own tools cleaned. It is an act of real art; otherwise you don't have a rapport with the tool; then it becomes a rebellious servant, not respected, not properly handled. If you don't appreciate its weight and be aware of the balance, one day or another it is going to hit your finger.'"  (pages 84 and 85)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Birds in progress

Birds hand carved from pink foam with my super sharp wood carving knife on the left. I'm bummed about the photo quality. Not sure what happened.

Foam birds covered with drying Paperclay, with wire rings securely embedded for hanging.  Think of Paperclay as very refined paper mache.

Glittery, girly hand-painted birds for your Christmas tree. In the background is vintage, thrifted cotton seam binding, which I am using to hang the pink birds.  More birds in other colors coming your way soon.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In silver

Here is the ring I designed for our new bishop, on his hand. I carved it in jeweler's wax, and it was cast in silver by a silversmith.

The signet area shows a communion chalice surrounded by the flame of the Holy Spirit. A sword symbolizing the Word of God is wrapped around the band. In this picture you only see the handle of the sword. The three symbols were chosen by the bishop to represent the core of his ministry, and it was my job to pull them together into some kind of design.

I did not want this piece to communicate worldly power or opulence, but there were moments during its making when it was moving in that direction. I tried to keep it from looking like a rich man's ring by giving it an irregular, handmade, time softened look inspired by this ancient ring.

The crucifix was a scary thing to make. I felt inadequate, unprepared in every way.

The bishop-to-be wanted the piece to communicate not only the suffering and labor of Jesus on the cross, but His victory. My initial ideas for communicating that victory, such as a sunburst radiating from the cross, looked more decorative than specifically symbolic. I feared that I would not be able to come up with anything I felt good about, but one day as I was in my car running errands, pondering and praying for insight, I knew that the cross itself should burst into life like Aaron's rod (Numbers 17:8). My first mental image was of tiny branches budding and blooming all over the cross, but the visual statement was weak and confusing at that scale, so I settled on a simpler design, with a root at the bottom, a stem running the length of the cross, and a few leaves at the top--"a shoot from the stump of Jesse." (Isaiah 11:1)

The hardest work was carving the figure of Jesus. I didn't try to create a harshly realistic image of crucifixion, but a truth-telling symbol that expresses both suffering and love.  I would like to have had a year to study anatomy and crucifixes through the centuries, but instead I took a few weeks to look at a lot of crucifixes and crucifixion paintings online and make a lot of practice pieces in clay. The artistic director of this project was a sculptor with amazing knowledge of anatomy. His input was invaluable.

I don't much like this photograph, partly because I designed this piece to be seen from the front, and the side views or three quarters views are distorted or compressed to make the piece work as jewelry. When I get better pictures I'll update this post. I wish I had taken pictures of the finished wax crucifix, which now sadly is no more, having been melted away in the casting process. We were super busy with a bunch of stuff during that time and missed the chance.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Commissioned work

I had the privilege this summer of designing and carving jeweler's wax models for a silver ring and crucifix for the rector (priest and pastor) of our church who was elected bishop of our diocese (regional group of churches.) It was good to do some wax carving, which I used to do a lot of before Borders went out of business.  (I carved tiny wax sculptures of  things like angels, birds, cats, fairies, etc., which were mass produced in metal and hung on the end of Book Thongs book marks. Borders was Book Thongs' way biggest customer.)

Below are a few pictures of the wax model of the ring in process. The ring has been cast in silver and the green wax no longer exists, because it melts away in the casting process, but I don't want to show the finished piece until the bishop's consecration, which is this weekend. We sadly did not get pictures of  the crucifix in process, but I'll show it in silver some time next week with the ring.

I started with a block of jewelers carving wax. I chose this green wax because although it is hard and brittle and can be more difficult to carve than some other jewelers wax it  makes a beautifully crisp, clean design. It's great for perfectionists!

Then I roughed out a basic signet ring shape. 

I don't know what I'd do without my flex shaft machine. It's kind of like a dentist's drill that I use to carve and file. And yes, I am kind of a perfectionist about what I make, but I am a messy worker, getting wax particles everywhere.

The blank signet area is just about ready to be carved.

The finished wax, pictured against my pencil drawings, is ready to go to the caster. 

Next week, I'll share pictures of the silver pieces and talk about their symbolism and my personal experience in making it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Super salad

So we make this great salad that the kids call super salad. It's mostly lots of lettuce, arugula, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes--whatever fresh veggies are around. But what makes it super are avocado chunks, crispy-chewy bacon and a homemade olive oil and vinegar dressing with bacon grease added. There are never leftovers.

Here it is in process. Those blue flowers are borage blossoms. They taste like cucumber, but mostly they are there to look pretty.

A friend brought her nice camera to our house yesterday and took this picture. She also took pictures of some of my painted ornaments, so I can get them onto my Etsy store.  I'll be posting those soon. But the main reason she came was to take care of our kids so my husband and I could have a date. What fun.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wedding invitation design

This is a wedding invitation, sans words, that I designed for a friend. I've known her all her life, and she is marrying a wonderful man this fall. I'm very happy for her.

I had planned to combine watercolor and colored pencil in this piece, so I drew it on Arches hot-pressed watercolor paper, but I ended up only using pencil. I had never used this pricey paper for colored pencil before, and I like it more than any other paper I have tried. It just figures I'd love the expensive stuff.

I'm fairly happy with this piece, though of course there are always things I wish I had done better. I think it communicates the feeling of a warm, slightly hazy fall day, a jewel-like day that is extra precious because so few are left before winter.

Friday, July 19, 2013

"Why should your heart not dance?"

I went out to my garden this morning to pick a few tomatoes to put in scrambled eggs. The sun was already hot, so I took a few minutes to water the lettuce. I want to keep it going as long as I can before the heat makes it go to seed. The hay-covered path felt warm and smooth under my bare feet, and the sunlight went right down inside me. The air was sweet with the smell of mint, hay mulch, tomato plants, and that summer-time smell of green things growing fast. The cool water leaking onto my hands felt good, just as the hot sun felt good on the rest of me and in my eyes. My pole beans were a lacy wall of leaf and blossom, the chamomile was tall and crowned with daisy flowers and the borage was spreading blue stars all over. It's always hard for me to leave my garden once I'm there.

Then I had an annoying little thought: what if the economy crashes right down to the ground? This garden wouldn't be enough to feed us. And here I am taking my pleasure. What about all the evil and corruption in high and secret places? What about all the suffering in the world? A warped piece of my conscience acted as if dismal thoughts would bring peace and prosperity, when the opposite is closer to the truth, and I knew that piece of my conscience was wrong.

So I took pleasure again in the water freshening my lettuce, and I thought about Jesus, who said "Don't worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Rejecting delight in a sunlit garden because bad things might happen is like going to a feast and not eating because tomorrow you might not have food. Take joy whenever and wherever there is joy. It will make your soul strong and healthy, and you'll be in better condition to face the troubles of today and tomorrow. You'll have more love to share with those who need it.

I also thought about a line from C.S. Lewis' novel, Till We Have Faces. At one point the main character, who has suffered a devastating loss, is returning to the scene of the loss. When her heart is uplifted by unexpected beauty on the way, she feels guilty, duty bound to maintain her grief. Then she hears in her mind the words, "Why should your heart not dance?"

Why not indeed? Why should evil and trouble get to extinguish your joy and pleasure in good things? Why should evil get that too?

  Bees love borage flowers.  An old time name for it was bee bread.
Borage and arugula flowers. The arugula leaves are still tasty in salads even though it has bolted.
 Carrots, mainly. This is the first year I've had any success with carrots. I wish I had planted more. Eggplants are in the background, conspicuously lacking in fruit. Actually, there are teeny little eggplants which just might get ready before frost so we can make ratatouille. Eggplants like a nice warm, long summer. These plants suffered in the many cool days we've had this year.
  Chamomile. I need to harvest those blossoms for tea before they turn to seed.
 Tomato blossoms, Jericho romaine lettuce, and pole beans, looking slightly chewed by Japanese beetles. I love the lettuce. It's a kind that was bred in Israel to be tolerant of heat and dryness, so it lasts a long time into summer, especially when I keep it moist.
 Little baby cucumber with young bush beans, zucchini  and assorted weeds.
Yes, we've got ducks. The idea is that someday they'll lay eggs and maybe even reproduce so we can have home grown, free range duck to eat. So far they just walk around and look cute, and I can't foresee a day when my kids will knowingly eat a duck. I think the real reason we have ducks is because they always look cheerful and have a funny waddle. 

My husband took these pictures for me with his phone. Aren't they nice?