Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent roses

Today is the first day of Advent, a four week season of waiting and preparation, a season for hoping and for growing in the virtue of hope. We remember Mary waiting for the birth of her Son and we wait for the return of her Son to judge and heal this wounded world. The usual Advent color is purple, but blue has also been used in the historical church, because of its association with Mary and with hopeful expectation.

Last year my husband and a friend made a plain blue advent stole for the priest of our little country church (not the church I attended until recently and describe here). A stole is like a beautiful scarf that hangs in two long panels down the front of the priest's robe. I have been wanting to beautify this stole since it was made, to tell a story on it.

So last week I began an embroidery project. I used gold thread to outline a budding rose stem on the bottom of both sides of the stole, which you see partly done in the photo. Each week of Advent a new rose will grow higher on the stole, each one opening wider than the one below it, until a fifth and final rose, a Christmas rose, fully opens. I'll show you again at Christmas when it is all done. This year it will be a simple design, just an outline of gold. Next year I will fill in details week by week.

I suppose I got the idea from the German Christmas carol, "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming." (Go here to listen to a performance by John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers or here for Sufjan Stevens.)

As I have been mulling over the design, thinking on roses and their perfume, on living petals fresh and cool like a baby's cheek and leathery dried petals dark red in bowls, scented with a sleepy, nostalgic, indoor sweetness, lines by T.S. Eliot have been rattling around my head:

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed 
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and lifegiving
Worried reposeful
The single rose
Is now the garden...

(from Ash Wednesday)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tree of life drawing

I finished my little tree of life drawing. I'm not sure how I feel about all the black. Next time I want to try something with deep indigo blue. 

Below are some pictures that I used for inspiration and reference. I hesitated posting them just now because they are amazing and I feared my work might suffer by contrast, but I really wanted to share them too, so I decided to just get over myself.

The tree design below is by English Arts and Crafts designer C.F.A. Voysey. I found it at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The next is by Maud and Miska Petersham, illustrators from the last century whom I really, really love. I wish I knew what book it's from. I found the image on The Lop Shop, which is devoted to all things lop-eared bunny (yes, its true).

This bracelet is by Art Nouveau designer Henry Vever, and can be seen on World's Luxury Guide

The Illustration Friday prompt this week was "slow."  I thought I had at least a little justification for posting this picture there. For one thing, it has a turtle in it. I also though it could be a symbol of the slowly maturing fruitfulness that can happen when we mindfully slow down. Not that I thought about that while I was doing it or feel like that is its essential meaning.

Happy Thanksgiving

This exquisitely decorated painting of a turkey was made in the early 1600s by court artist Ustad Mansur for the Mughal emperor Jahangir. Jahangir had commissioned Mansur to paint all kinds of exotic plants and animals being discovered by Europeans at that time. 

The Mughal empire covered most of modern day India and Pakistan.

I discovered this painting browsing the watercolor collections of  the Victoria and Albert Museum. I would so love to go there for real someday.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A rainy day

It's not too cold and a steady rain is falling. I love rain. I love the sound and the faint, sweet smell of it. It gives me a sense of release, of relaxation and relief, as I feel the pleasure of the ground taking in the wet. I began to love rain during a drought the year I graduated from high school. It hurt to see all the green turn dry and tan. Tree leaves withered and fell before their time. After that, every good rainfall has given me relief that there will be no drought. Even when more rain falls than we need, more than the earth can hold, I secretly enjoy it, partly because I like the sensations of it, and partly because of a hoarding instinct, a feeling that we might need it later and it's good to bring that water table up.

One of my favorite children's books is a wordless book by Peter Spier called Rain. It's a story in many pictures of two children (they look like me and my brother when we were kids) on a rainy day. Of course you can get it on Amazon, though maybe you could also find it at an independent bookstore near you. I'm waiting for it to turn up at a thrift store, because I don't know what happened to my copy.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Coming along with a little tree of life

Every time I look at the ribbon on my banner, I want to make something else with a dark background, so now I am having obsessive fun with this little tree of life drawing. The black has no intentional symbolism. I just love the way color shows up against it.

I am also loving this hare.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"...and all the flowers looked up at Him, and all the stars looked down." (G.K. Chesterton)

It's cold outside and quiet this morning. It's not bitterly cold, but crisply cold with a sweet, clean smell. The sky is overcast and the wind is gentle with occasional gusts, stirring the dry brown leaves in a faint clatter on the ground. I know because I just put my head out the window. But now I am sitting on the floor with my back to the radiator, colored pencils around me, looking with mixed feelings at my Madonna and Child.

I have a wise friend, an artist and a teacher, who says that when a piece of art is finished but you wish you could change it, that just means you are still an artist. You have more ideas and you are not done making things. As I look at my little picture, improving it (or maybe just changing it) in my mind, I take those words to heart.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A new-to-me illustrator, Julie Paschkis

I am in love. I am high on an illustrator I just discovered today. Her name is Julie Paschkis. She's been around awhile doing children's books and other work, but I've been too busy enjoying the various golden ages of illustration to notice. What other wonders have I been missing?

Here is a link to her blog and another to her website. I recommend that you click on that blog link for a delightful post about why she doesn't use the computer to modify her work. In case you don't take my excellent advice, I am going to copy a poem that she included in her post so you can read it here. I am high from the poem too.

Lastly, here is a link to a video interview. She talks about her process and shows lots of wonderful images. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The beginning of a Madonna and Child

I restarted a drawing I've been thinking about for over a year.

 Last fall the image flashed into my mind as I thought about G, K. Chesterton's pretty poem, "A Christmas Carol," especially the last stanza:

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.

(I posted the whole poem last Christmas Eve.)

I looked at lots of Madonnas last year and made a lot of sketches, but I never felt like I got a handle on what I wanted. Now I'm just going for it. I thought through the composition then went right to good paper so I wouldn't be overwhelmed with possibilities. There are a few things I'm not sure about--what kind of border to make and whether or not to hand-letter lines from the poem. (Hand lettering scares me.) I also don't think the Child's face is quite right, but I'm going to start adding color where I know what I'm doing.

As I was looking at Madonna and Child pictures I found this by Cicely Mary Barker, who is best known for her flower fairies. (I found it on Pinterest but it was linked back to Encore Editions where I couldn't actually find it.)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Contentment and discontentment and a finished drawing

With my littlest kids getting kind of big--seven and almost five, I take a lot more showers than I did for awhile. I always felt on call, always felt like someone was going to need me any minute, so taking a slow shower when I didn't really really "need" one, just to gently refresh myself, contemplate life and design things in the steam on the door didn't happen much. I was taking that kind of shower a few days ago, when my seven-year-old boy yelled outside the bathroom door "Mama, does disc----" He paused. I thought he was going to say something about a DVD, but he went on "--contentment cause trouble?"

"Yes." I said. I was surprised and amused, proud of my insightful little boy.

"Yesssss!!!!" he shouted and pounded back to the kitchen.

I was no longer so proud.  I realized he was probably using my "yes" to bolster his side of an argument with his feisty little sister. He had probably been lecturing her and meeting resistance.  I finished up quickly, expecting yelling and accusations to invade my sanctuary, but it didn't happen. They were painting watercolors, and I suppose they were enjoying their work enough to drop the argument.

Here's a picture of the contented pair that Lucy took last month. 

I've been thinking some about contentment since then. "Godliness with contentment is great gain," said St. Paul, and "In every situation I have learned how to be content." Yet, ungodliness with contentment is not gain, and neither is the lazy acceptance of bad stuff you can make better. One thing I am not content with is my energy level, which is affected by sensitivities to all the pretty smelling stuff people use to get clean and beautiful. Careful eating has made a big difference, but I spend a lot of time cooking, and I don't have much of an energy margin. Going to a party with lots of clean and shiny people or making a big grocery shopping trip takes a toll on my energy, which cuts right into my art time which makes me sad. I once overheard my four year old singing a little jingle she made up: "She was mad and sad because her aeroplane was running out of gas." My little creativity aeroplane often sits wistfully in the runway, while I sadly watch all the gas going into the cooking-healthy-all-from-scratch-meals-for-picky-people-with-special-dietary-needs and going-to-the-grocery-store jumbo-jet. And I'm not really content with that if I can do anything about it.

This week one solution has been to do art in the morning before kids are up. Instead of jumping quickly into housekeeping stuff to get it over with but wearing out early in the day, I wake up more slowly and take advantage of that dreamy, nighttime kind of intelligence before it dissipates in the morning light. I am excited about how well this schedule is working for me and have high hopes for increased artistic productivity.

I was able to finish this piece in a few days. I still want to do an all new design on bigger paper with powerful rolling waves that feel like much more than a border and (maybe) trees that curve into each other's space, but I'm glad I didn't just drop this version. Though I'm not in love with it, I learned and got good ideas from going on. Maybe some day I'll like it or have more ideas to improve it. Thank you Margaret, Janice and Linda for encouraging me to finish in your comments on my last post.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

My "work in progress" goes kaput

There will be no more work on this piece. The problem with taking an idea to good paper--expensive, beautiful paper--is that it's really hard to admit that you have a made a foundational mistake. I kept seeing that the water and the trees were out of scale, but I kept hoping that I could fix it with color, which is embarrassingly stupid. I was deceiving myself, almost. I actually knew it wasn't working before I got onto the good paper, but I didn't want to admit it. I think I need to grow in courage to face the pain of letting go of something irretrievably flawed and to persevere until the problem is solved. This seems very different from being a perfectionist.

The border of waves needs to be about twice as big as it is, so I'll try it again on some really big Stonehenge paper I have--not as good as Arches, but plenty fine.

Does anyone else make these kinds of mistakes?