Sunday, April 27, 2014

Spring beauties

When I was in high school my art teacher loaned me a large book about the art of Andrew Wyeth. It was love at first sight for his drybrush and egg tempera paintings, with their dull, restrained colors, tight brush strokes, and sharp details. I loved how the images were realistic and believable but charged with dreamlike, mysterious significance. They evoked a feeling of longing in me for I didn't know what. I haven't looked at Andrew Wyeth much lately, but the spring beauties blooming in the woods nearby put me in mind of this 1943 drybrush painting, Spring Beauty.

Andrew Wyeth once said, "The great danger of the Pyle school is picture making." (His father and only teacher, the great illustrator N.C. Wyeth, was taught by illustrator Howard Pyle. Many great illustrators were taught by Howard Pyle.)  I'm not sure I know what he meant, but I wonder if this painting might count as a "picture,"  an exquisitely observed picture of tree roots, a spring beauty blossom and a maroon and green-streaked skunk cabbage blossom.  To me it does not have the charged, abstract power of his later works. Not that I miss it in this piece. Picture or not, I like this painting very much.

The younger kids and I went into the woods this afternoon. They played in a sandy spot where the sun was warm while I did very quick sketches of them, of violets, and of spring beauties, shown here.

They're not much to look at, but that's not the point. I wasn't working on making art but on making an artist. I haven't been doing enough of that lately, so I'm trying to squeeze short bouts of sketching into odd moments when I can't do much else anyway. 

That bit of wisdom from Danny Gregory is crucially important to remember if you are prone to discouragement as an artist.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Illustration Friday: Natural

We slept with windows open last night, and the air was cool and sweet, easy to breathe. The spring peepers were out--little tree frogs that make a soothing, trilling sound at night. I seem to remember them being louder in past springs. Though they can survive freezing to a certain extent, our bitter winter must have killed off a lot of them during their hibernation.

I sketched these fawn lilies in the woods last spring. Lucy found some blooming yesterday and more today, but I have not been out to look at them yet. Another, uglier name for them is dogtooth violet. (Why ever?) Their bulbs were a food of the native peoples of this region, and I've heard that in very early spring they taste sweet like corn on the cob. I've wanted to harvest some bulbs ever since I learned about them, but I never think of it at the right time, which is very early in spring before their leaves come out.

I used graphite and white Prismacolor on kraft paper, which got wet and wrinkly at some point. For me, unfortunately, that sort of thing comes naturally.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Illustration Friday: Zodiac

"And God said, 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.'" Genesis 1:14

I made this with colored pencil and watercolor. I drew the stars with white pencil before I put down any color. I'm pleased with how well they resisted the paint (I did wipe a little paint off of them), but it's tricky drawing with a white pencil onto white paper. I had to hold it at an angle that made the white pencil reflect light before I could see what I was doing at all. And then I did something wrong when I stretched the paper and it came out all warped anyway. We'll try again another time.

This week's prompt reminded me of a story of a fascinating lady named Agnes Sanford. In the 1930s she was lifted out of suicidal depression through the prayers of an Episcopal priest. She decided she needed to learn how to pray too so she could help other people. She did learn, and she helped many. Once a woman came to her in great distress, because her husband was near death, and she didn't think it would help to pray because they had visited a fortune teller (I don't remember if it was an astrologer or a palm reader) who predicted his illness and death. Agnes told her not to worry, that they should pray anyway because God was stronger than fate. Agnes did pray and the man got well.

I think this anecdote is from her autobiography, Sealed Orders, or possibly The Healing Light.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Designs by Louis Comfort Tiffany

These Louis Comfort Tiffany designs from The Metropolitan Museum of Art were means, not ends. I love how their geometric precision and the exquisite, glowing details resonate with a bit of messiness, of carelessness in their presentation. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Illustration Friday: Survival

I have always been a messy person. I've always had trouble organizing and managing things outside of my head. When I was a little kid in school, my desk, bookbag, cubbyhole were always the messiest of the girls' in my class of thirty, though there were always boys who were worse than me. I would lose crayons, pencils and erasers and have to scrounge supplies from I don't remember where. I just remember the motley stuff I ended up with--random broken crayons, pencils disgustingly full of someone else's tooth marks. My nice cap erasers would be long gone, so I would bite the metal ring around the worn down pencil eraser to make it stick out enough to erase a little. I would look at other kids' tidy, full boxes of supplies and wonder how they managed to keep them so nice, how they managed to keep them at all.

As I grew older I would go on cleaning binges, resolving that I would never be messy again. I loved the sensation of peace and clarity that came with a clean bookbag, a clean room, but I could never maintain it. I didn't know why. As a grownup, a mother of four no less, I continue to struggle, sometimes sinking beneath a deluge of mess, sometimes feeling more in control. Sometimes I have maintained a consistently ordered home by giving it my undivided emotional and mental attention, while squelching or derailing dominant aspects of my personality--dreaminess, prayerful contemplation, making pretty things with my hands. I now consider such complete attentiveness to maintaining outward order dangerous and self-destructive for me, so usually I clumsily juggle my responsibilities and aspirations, trying not to neglect either my inner or outer world too much but not doing anything as well as I want to.

Until the last few weeks. Perhaps I speak too soon, but I feel that I am finally figuring out how to maintain a consistently ordered outward life that does not suppress but enhances the inner life and creativity that is core to my identity. It's very simple, so simple it's a little embarrassing. Several times a day, I set a timer for ten minutes and work nice and fast on a category of mess. When the timer goes off, I set it again and work on something else. With the time limit, I don't get swallowed up in a single cleaning project that I complete but don't maintain. I have put boundaries around the cleaning and ordering part of my day, to make sure it doesn't overtake the creating part of my day, and I am happy to say I am getting more time in the studio without feeling so burdened by outer chaos, and I'm getting some parts of my life in order without the frustration and sadness I feel when I neglect my art.

From my kraft paper sketchbook:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday finds

I was struck this week by two pieces by new-to-me artists. I looked at other works by the same artists but I didn't find anything else that spoke to me in the same way, so I decided just to share these.

The first is a gouache painting by English illustrator Harold Jones (1904-1992). I want to visit the outside and inside of this doorway--both spaces tantalize.  I love the composition framed by the doorway, I love the glossy black paint, I love the little flock of birds, I love the stick propping the door to let in air on a fine spring day (or maybe winter day--our winter was so snowy this year, that bare greenish lawn connotes spring to me.)

I found it at the Tate Gallery.

This is a lithograph (I think) by German artist Horst Janssen (1929-1995). I found it on a A Polar Bear's Tale. I love the creases and bumps, the blue-black exteriors and warm-toned insides. To me these shoes express energy and resolve.  

This last engraving didn't exactly "strike" me, but I do like it. It reminds me of my kids who like to "explore" a lot in the the early spring before tall, tall grass grows up in the wild places around here.

The artist is Frederick Walker (1840-1875). You can find this piece and other illustrations by him at The Tate Gallery.

Friday, April 4, 2014

More felt brooches

Posted by Lucy

Sorry no garland this week or last week. Spring has been poky and uncooperative. Recently Disney came out with a movie called Frozen. Right now I'd prefer a movie called Thawed. So instead of making garlands, here's what I've been creating:

All these things will be available in our Etsy shop very soon.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Illustration Friday: Sizzle

I have an idea for a story about a rambunctious monkey brother and sister loosely modelled on my younger two children. (But we won't tell them that....)  Here they are not rambunctious at all, because looking into a camp-fire is hypnotically soothing. I heard somewhere that looking at fire or running water is soothing but never boring because the steady movement combined with infinite variation doesn't weary our brains. Maybe so.

No doubt these two will be hyper soon from staying up too late and eating all those marshmallows.

I did most of this as fast as I could before my kids got up yesterday morning. I used two very soft pencils so I wouldn't be tempted to take time I can't afford to build up thin layers of gray with a very hard pencil, which is how I like to do graphite nowadays. But I ended up fussing over it, taking too much time, and overworking parts of it anyway. A jeweler's-wax carving teacher I read said that if you feel something is wrong with a piece you're working on and you don't know what the problem is, pay attention to where your eyes get stuck. That's probably what needs to change. My eyes get stuck on the girl monkey's face, mostly, and if I had time I would do her again with closer set, more monkey-like eyes. Instead of just doing it over early on, or just quitting for awhile to give my subconscious mind time to solve the problem, I kept trying to fix it without figuring out exactly what was bothering me. It's hard for me to start something over, but I have learned that I get a lot farther making ten five-minute drawings than I do working for three hours trying to save one drawing that has gone astray.