Monday, July 28, 2014

Blog Hop: My Creative Process

So many of us love to see each other's creative processes.  It's inspirational and instructive, isn't it?  There's a blog hop going to share creative process details, and my friend Helen Conway tagged me to answer the following questions. (You can see her post here.)  You can follow the links at the end to to see others who've shared their creative processes too.  

What am I working on?

Well, as usual, I have a bunch of different projects going.  I tend to think of the concept of "working on" something as a fairly loose one, so it includes projects that I'm actively spending time on plus a few extra that are percolating in my mind.

I've not had a lot of quilt projects on the front burner lately.  I finished this art quilt recently, after it sat in my closet for literally years.  But at some point I realized how to solve the problem that had stumped me -- how to make the roses for this rose bush-- so it was fun and satisfying to actually get it finished.

I have a more traditional quilt in progress, too ... Well, if you consider  "sandwiched and sitting on the sewing machine ready to be quilted" as "in progress" which I do.  I can't tell you how many days over the past few weeks I've planned to get to quilting on it as soon as I finish the morning's chores... And then the day gets away from me, and there it still sits.  Ah well, it won't fly away.
(Har har har, see that is a flying geese quilt?!  Hilarious, aren't I?)

I've actually been spending more time working on sketching than quilting in recent months.  I'm enjoying the process of developing my drawing skills and learning new things all the time, and I continue to amaze myself at how just DOING it helps me get better.  I've been on a recent kick drawing bits of plants from my garden. I have to say that one of the things I love about sitting down to sketch something is that it's done pretty immediately.  It's great for immediate gratification purposes, especially compared to the process of making a quilt.

and more... 

and more.

I've written here about how the process of learning to sketch has taught me a lot of interesting and surprising things about myself -- not the least of which is I CAN LEARN THIS!  (I thought it was a matter of either having the talent, or not.  But no.  It's a learnable skill.  Brenda Swenson, an artist I admire tremendously, recently said something that really struck me:  The talent you need to have is the willingness to learn and persistence.  It's so true.  But one thing I've learned is that I love drawing buildings.... trying to figure out the perspective, drawing the little details....I love it.  Who knew?! 
Another project on the "in process" pile is an exploration into crossing the sketching over into quilting.  I had this sketch printed on fabric via, and I'm going to try quilting it as a whole cloth quilt and see how it turns out. 

Funnily enough, I've recently returned to making books -- something I did a lot of almost 20 years ago.  I used to teach making book, in fact.  But then I got burned out after a lot of teaching, and I went through a "but what are they FOR" crisis with the artist books I was making and exhibiting, and I veered off into quilting.  But sketching seems to inevitably lead to the search for the perfect sketchbook, which got me into messing about with making my own sketchbooks and some very fun collagey books I call Jumbly Journals. 

One of the things I'm enjoying about making these is that they combine a whole lot of things I love:  books, sewing, paper, collage, journaling, and I even incorporate sketches on some pages, too.
Here's a glimpse of some pages from a trip I took a few months back to Poulsbo, Washington.  I journalled on the back of that big postcard and that funny photo.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That may be the sort of question others would be better answering -- it's sort of like trying to describe one's own style.  It's more easily visible to others, I suppose.  But I have learned to relax and not worry about what sets my work apart from anyone else's, because I figure it'll become apparent because the work is MINE.  One interesting aspect about sketching is that I have become a lot more comfortable with just drawing the way I do, and embracing the resulting wonkiness as part of my own voice right now.  The sketches, or the quilts, or whatever else I produce, shows my tastes and choices and skills ... and even if it's quirky and not perfect, it's mine, and that's a good thing.

Why do I write/create what I do?

If you're a creative person, you've probably had someone say to you, "But how do you find the time?" And if you're like me, the answer has something to do with the fact that creativity is just essential.  It's kind of like oxygen.  I can't NOT do creative things because it's too important to me.  

And another part of the answer to this is that I'm all about the fun.  I am lucky that I can earn money in other ways and don't have to make my art about generating income.  That means that I'm doing this just for me.  And mostly, I'm making art -- whether through quilts or sketches or books -- to relax and have fun and play with colors and fabrics and papers and paints.  When I find myself feeling like I'm doing something because I HAVE to, whether because of a deadline, or some external factor, I look hard at how and why I put myself in that position.   

So, I don't make quilts about political messages or sketch scenes that I don't find attractive.  I admire that others do that and can use their art to communicate difficult messages.  I deal with those subjects in my work and through other avenues.  But the creative part is for my enjoyment, so Me, I'm just in it for fun.

How does your writing/creative process work?

I don't have any one process. But probably the common denominator is that something visual will inspire me.  Sometimes it's color.  Sometimes it's a piece of fabric.  Sometimes it will be an idea in my head that leads me to pull out fabrics or start thinking about colors... But I think it starts with the visual concept first.  

I don't really have one type of quilt methodology because I tend to make all sorts of types of things.  So sometimes I start with a photo that I want to translate into fabric.  Sometimes I start with fabric and start pinning it up onto my design wall to see what happens.  

With sketching, I've been known to sit myself somewhere -- where ever there's a bench or a cafe table, say -- and the look around for something to sketch that interests me or presents a challenge.  

I used to get myself worried that I must not be an Artist because I didn't have ONE method or style that defined my work, or ONE medium I was obsessed with mastering, or ONE coherent body of work that looked like it went together.  I thought I had to find my ONE magical, perfect process and then that's what I'd do to produce beautiful work and I'd be happy for the rest of my life.  But I think I've determine that it's not going to work like that, for me at least.  So I'm quite happy just trying different things and going as the mood strikes me.  In "artist-speak" I guess you'd call that "intuitive."  But I just call it doing what I feel like when I feel like it.  

I'd love to see your comments about how you approach your process, and whether you battle with perfectionism, or the belief that you had to do things a certain way, or develop a certain style...  

For more great blogging on the creative process, check out my friend Terry Grant's blog next Monday -- she'll be posting about her creative process!  And here are some links to other artists who have described their processes, too:

Rayna Gillman
Gerrie Congdon
Susan Lenz
Jeannine at Distilled from Stars

Sunday, July 20, 2014

So Long, James Garner

Last night, I was in the mood to watch a good movie, and after casting about among the popular movies available through my pay-per-view cable provider, I switched over to Netflix to find an older movie that would suit my mood. Shopping through the weird array of current movies made me crave reliable, good acting, a plot with some depth maybe.  And almost immediately I settled on a "Twilight," a 1998 movie starring Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene and Hackman.

Somehow I'd missed this back when it came out.  (Let's see. Miss C was 2.  We were moving from New England to California in 1998.  That explains it -- not a lot of movie-watching going on back then.)

It was a terrific movie, better than the 2 stars Roger Ebert gave it in the review I linked above.  Maybe it just suited my mood -- a slow pace, a delicious film noir sensibility, the scenes of LA and the Sarandon/Hackman celebrity couple with Reese Witherspoon as their spoiled, cynical daughter, Paul Newman as a comfortably jaded retired PI.  It felt like a trip to another era -- you know, when movies were really good and actors really acted.  (Goodness, I'm sounding old and cranky.  I've just not seen a really great current movie in a while.  Recommendations welcome below!)

At any rate, when I started the movie I'd focused on Newman and Sarandon and Hackman.  So when James Garner ambled onto the screen (and he has just a perfect amble, doesn't he?) I was surprised. I'd not realized he was in the movie.  And I felt such a rush of pleasure, like having an old friend appear at the door after a long absence.  I've always loved him -- and he's so likable.  As Paul Newman's long-time private eye buddy, he was perfect.

And then this morning, I woke to the news that James Garner died last night. Weirdly synchronistic, and terribly sad... but I was glad I'd spent last night with him, in a manner of speaking.

So I've been thinking about how I've enjoyed James Garner in so many films and shows over the year.  I feel a James Garner movie marathon coming on to re-watch some of my favorites:

Move Over, Darling (movie, with Doris Day)
The Thrill of it All (another with Doris Day)
The Americanization of Emily (oh, a wonderful, wonderful movie with Julie Andrews)
The Rockford Files
Murphy's Romance (with Sally Field)

Scanning James Garner's filmography on IMDB, I see there are quite a few movies of his that I've not seen.  Looks like I've got my movie watching taken care of for a while.

*** Oh dear.  It has just occurred to me that I may have cause for serious concern. This past week, I took delivery of an amazing comfortable LaZBoy recliner.  Am I destined to sit in it, trolling for old movies and fussing that "they don't make 'em like that any more?"  I'd better find some good current movies, fast.    Which begs another question: who is current film equivalent of actors like Paul Newman and James Garner and Jimmy Stewart?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How well do you know the trees in your backyard?

When I moved into the house I'm living in now, it was brand new and the backyard was a huge expanse of bare dirt.  It was a few years before we could afford to put anything back there, and when it finally came time to landscape, I researched and worked with my landscape guy and chose trees that suited the clay soil and the warm California climate.  Some the professionals planted, and some I bought as tiny babies and planted myself.  Now, some 12 years later, most of the trees are very big and it all looks lush and green and the yard is well- screened and shaded.  I feel such a connection to the trees out there, as if they are children I've been watching and nurturing.  We have a bond.

So in the Sketchbookery class I'm doing with Mary Ann  Moss (which is a whole lot of fun, let me tell you), when she suggested doing a plant field study this week, I knew immediately I'd do a page about the trees in the yard.  This morning at 7am I was outside in my bathrobe clipping a leaf or two off of each tree, and I sketched and painted while I sipped my morning coffee.  I knew the names of the trees but had to look up the latin names ... and learned, along the way, that the Gingko tree is reputed to be one of oldest trees (if not THE oldest tree) on earth.  Isn't that amazing and surprising? I would have guessed something more piney.  

Anyway, I had a lovely hour of painting and a special bit of time getting acquainted again with my trees.  

Maybe next I'll take a look at the shrubs out there... they quietly do their little background job and I should give them some recognition, too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Four-Legged Sort of Sunday

It's been a long time since I've spent all day at a horse show. But yesterday was one of those days -- a long, hot, dusty day, but loads of fun nonetheless.  I went with Miss C and her riding buddies from the local barn where she rides to a schooling show in the area.  Schooling shows are designed for novice riders and horses so everything is very flexible and forgiving and the judges act more like coaches who want to see every rider succeed.  I had a great time playing the role of Team Red Photographer -- here's how the day looked:

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Monday, July 07, 2014

We're all just looking for water

The other day, I scanned a page from my notebook to send to my friend Helen.  I was about to crop the scan down to the part with just the sketches, when I noticed the little specks  on the white page opposite my sketches.  Huh?  

I looked at the sketchbook.  The page was pristine. Could I have gotten ink or other marks on the scanner? I opened to look.

ACK!  Those weren't marks. They were ANTS!  ACK!

We're having quite the drought here in northern California, and on top of that the last few days have been very hot.  It's not that unusual to get the occasional ant invasion during hot summer weather -- after all, they're just looking for water, too.  


So I did what anyone would do.  I got out the ant spray and the ant stakes and I sprayed and cleaned and then, just to be sure, wiped it all down with a bleach solution (yes, even the inside of the scanner). 

A few hours later, I found an intrepid line of ants venturing across the backsplash in the kitchen, heading determinedly toward the bowl of peaches on the counter.  DOUBLE ACK!

More ant traps, more bleach.  And more bleach.  Because, you know, I cook food there.   
 And then I memorialized it with a quick sketch in my sketchbook.  Isn't that what you would do?

Friday, July 04, 2014

Working Smoothly So Far

You know how every once in a while you can be surprised at how very well something works?  Well, that's what I'm experiencing these days.

I've always liked having fruit smoothies for breakfast in the summertime, as does Miss C.  Our blender is rather erratic, so I started researching juicers and smoothie makers and was getting a bit overwhelmed by the options and price ranges (those Vitamix things look good but it hardly seems worth $400 to me.)  And while I was in that research mode, I happened upon an infomercial for the NutriBullet "Superfood Nutrition Extractor"!!!  (Those exclamation points are so that you hear the voice of the infomercial announcer loudly exclaiming the wonder of this thing.)

I'm very good at resisting informercials.  I don't even watch them and if I stumble upon them, I click over to something else.  But I paused, because this was the very thing I was researching.  I watched.  Then got online and compared and researched.  This Nutribullet item seemed like it would do everything I wanted it to do, and the price was reasonable, and the reviews from users were very positive.  So there came a moment where I said "what the heck, let's just try it" and I sent off my order.

It came about a week ago.  And since then, I've made a smoothie a day for me and Miss C, and I am loving this thing.  The photo up top is the smoothie I made this morning.  It has spinach, fresh pineapple, strawberries, blackberries, and vanilla yogurt.  And its delicious.  The benefit of this (over some others or over a regular blender) is that it is supposed to blend some of the bits you'd normally leave out -- the seeds in grapes, or certain peels.  It claims to grind up healthy nuts and seeds so you can incorporate those, too.  Me, I'm starting with baby steps and basic fruits.  But I can report that it chewed up the blackberries completely and there aren't any of those teeny berry seeds that can ruin a silky, creamy texture.  It also handled the core of the fresh pineapple without any problem.

I consider myself rather brave for throwing in the spinach.  I actually love the taste of spinach, but I'm wary of drinks that look like brown sludge.  I'm thinking that I need to get an opaque cup so that if I do create a brown sludge, I won't mind so much.

So I'm rather pleased with myself.  I found just what I was looking for and it's working as advertised.  I'm waiting for the magic energy they claim will follow from drinking a smoothie a day, but hey, it could kick in at any minute.   Meanwhile, I'm liking these midmorning drinks.  Here's to a smooth summer!

* By the way, in case you think I've been sounding like I'm one big advertisement because I've been reviewing stuff, rest assured that I'm  just trying to get back to blogging more regularly and so I'm starting with talking about stuff that's on my mind and I want to share.  So yep, I'll get back to what I'm making and doing but I thought I'd talk about the good things I've been discovering, too. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Urban Watercolor Sketching

Recently, I was sent a copy of Felix Scheinberger's new book "Urban Watercolor Sketching" and asked if I'd review it.  I'll happily read any book on sketching and watercolor painting, so I readily agreed.  I figured it'd be another in the line of books featuring sketches by someone and I'd love looking at the pictures and I'd be inspired.

But when I sat down with this book, I discovered immediately that I was wrong.  This book is SO MUCH MORE than that.  Really.

The first thing I noticed was the quirky style of Scheinberger's sketches.  I wasn't familiar with his work and the idiosyncratic style is not one that I'm drawn to, at least on first blush.  But I liked that every page featured his sketches, even the technical pages were illustrated by his sketches of pens, paints, etc.  It makes for a book that feels visually exciting and fun and even surprising.  And the more I looked at his sketches, the more I fell in love with his variable line, with a style that expresses his unique view of the world, and his use of watercolor -- oh, it's fabulous.  Such gorgeous color and such splashy, confident work with paint.  It's remarkable and very inspirational.  I have come away feeling that I'll learn a lot by studying his sketches, if just for the placement of color, how he leaves white, how he lets the color splash outside of inked lines. 

And then I started reading, and I was equally surprised and impressed.  I've read a lot of bookds on sketching and painting, and most of them -- while wonderful books -- tend to follow a fairly basic formula.  This book is different.

It talks about what's in paint, and it gives a bit of history of basic color pigments.  It was full of interesting facts.  (Did you know that yellow is said to have originated from camels that were fed a diet of mango leaves, and then their urine was boiled and reduced to a pure pigment? That most mammals can hardly see red?)  He talks about the different aspects of color -- local color, iconographic color, how light affects color.  He talks about how to use color to portray distance.  He talks about leaving white, and even shows a page of sketches, with the same one in black and white and then again with color, to illustrate that neither is better, but that they are excitingly different.

And there's a lot more here.  Finding your own style.  Selecting the most important part of what you want to sketch, and accentuating it.  Using the negative space.  He talks about the tools -- the choices for paint, how to choose paint brushes, how to stretch watercolor paper, and he gives tips for sketching outdoors.  I loved his page on how to illustrate air, smoke, and fog with paint.

And for all of the content, none of it is dry.  It's written pretty conversationally, as if Scheinberger is talking to you and urging you on and giving you is sketching tips and philosophy.  

So here's my conclusion:  if you think, as I did, that this is just another one  of those books that show some artist's sketches, think again.  There's a ton of valuable information here, presented clearly with great illustrations.

The only thing I was wishing for as I read this -- and really, it was the ONLY thing -- was more information about Felix Scheinberger himself.  I like knowing how someone came to sketching and what it means to them, and especially because Scheinberger's sketching style is so individualized, I really wanted to know more about him.  The back cover reveals that he lives in Germany and that he's an illustrator, artist, and designer who has illustrated quite a few children's books.  I remembered that his art is featured in Danny Gregory's book "An Illustrated Journey," and there is more about him and his sketching background there.  I also found this video in which Danny interviews Felix.  So I'm going to go watch that now.  But really, do buy this book.  It's amazing.

*  I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.  But I would have written this exact same thing if I'd bought it myself.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book Review: The Mermaid of Brooklyn

I read a lot of novels, but a lot of time can pass before I find myself engrossed in a novel that I just love.  And to my surprise and delight, "The Mermaid of Brooklyn" by Amy Shearn was one of those books.

First, I have to say that the title is so intriguing and perfect.  Just that made me want to read this book.  The first line was a real grabber, too.  But what really got me about this book when I started reading it was the narrator's voice.  Jenny, the young, stay-at-home mom of a toddler and a new baby, is wry and honest and snarky and funny and depressed.  She's struggling with two kids, the constant feeling that she's never good enough, and trying to figure out how she got where she is.  And, with all of that, her husband leaves the apartment to buy cigarettes one night and doesn't come back.

This isn't a mystery.  But a complex story unfolds as Jenny is left, angry and sad and overwhelmed, to carry on mothering and trying to keep things going.  Then a mermaid enters her life -- and by enters, I mean, starts inhabiting her and bucking her up and challenging her and prodding her forward.

There was so much in this novel that rang true, about child-rearing and marriage and friendship and competition and being a grown up.  So many women, especially moms, will relate to this.  And with all of this, it stays light while covering deep, important life themes.

I loved it. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

An Art Play Day in San Francisco

           Yesterday, I woke early to a gorgeous, sunny, blue-sky day, and decided that instead of staying home and doing the household chores I'd been thinking about, I'd head to San Francisco to give myself an art date.  I packed up my art supplies and off I went.

     My first stop was the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco's Presidio.  It's a wonderful place, all about Walt Disney's life and career and contributions to animation and film-making.  But my reason for going yesterday was that I've been wanting to see the special exhibit about Mary Blair, the artist who did so much work for Disney from 1940 to the mid-1960's.  She's probably most well-known for designing the look for It's a Small World, but she did a lot of other modern abstract/stylized stuff and was influential in art directing the look of various Disney productions such as Alice in Wonderland and Song of the South. You can find out more about her and see more of her art here.

   I loved seeing the exhibit, but what surprised me was how much I enjoyed seeing her sketchbooks.  They had the originals (one was a moleskine!) under glass, but they had digitized all of the pages and put them on an Ipad so you could page through them, one by one.  I was especially fascinated by the sketches she made on a trip with Walt Disney and other artists to South America, which they made for the purpose of researching and collecting imagery and designs to inspire future projects.  It was kind of reassuring to see that even though Mary Blair was a classically trained artist, her sketches -- especially the ones of people -- looked, well, SKETCHY.   Not perfect.  Weird faces, strange proportions.  Sort of like what I might do!  That was sort of eye-opening.


   While at the museum, I did a quick sketch of the case holding some of Disney's Oscars -- the special award he won for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is quite eye-catching and I wanted to do that.  I sketched fast and then used watercolor pencils to add color, with some water from a waterbrush quickly over that.  I enjoyed sitting there and doing it (and listening to all of the conversational bits as people flowed by) more than the result, but for me that's the joy of sketching.  Seeing this will always bring me back to the memory of being there.

     By then, I was hungry so I went exploring around the Presidio to find lunch.  (The cafe at the Disney Museum looks surprisingly dire, with very unappealing looking plastic wrapped food.)  I found the Transit Cafe, where I sat outside in the sunshine and enjoyed a great caesar salad and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Perfect.

    The Presidio is part of the Golden Gate National Park system, but was a long-time army base.  The buildings are beautiful and the grounds and views are stunning -- expanses of green lawn bordered by white clapboard buildings, views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, groves of eucalyptus and cyprus trees.  I spent a while walking all around and exploring, and then settled myself in front of a former officer's house to sketch.

      Many of the homes are available to lease and are occupied and lovingly cared for.  It'd be a fabulous place to live, I'm guessing, if you could afford the very steep rent.  But I love these little Queen Anne style houses -- they date back to the 1840s. 

      By then, I was in need of a pick-me-up, so I headed over to another favorite spot in the area, the Warming Hut at Crissy Field.  It's also part of the national park and is a little hut/shop/cafe almost under the Golden Gate Bridge. I got a coffee and sat outside, enjoying the sea breeze and the crystal clear view of the city skyline and the great people watching. 

    Sitting there, I realized that heading home just then would put me in the thick of rush hour traffic heading out of the city across the bridge.  What to do?  I decided to spend a bit more time sketching before I headed north.  So I hopped back in the car and went over to the Palace of Fine Arts, another amazing, gorgeous San Francisco landmark.  

I love this place.  It was built for the  1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, and is the only structure still existing on its original site.  It looks pretty in this photo, but it's hard to convey how huge and grand it is when you're standing next to those columns.  And, I might add, it is quite the sketching challenge. 

I kind of lost control of the perspective and proportion, but I had a good old time, and I had some nice conversations with tourists who stopped as they passed by. 

All in all, it was a lovely day.  Sometimes going to San Francisco feels like a big trek from where I live (it's a bit over an hour into the city, more depending on traffic) but going on the spur of the moment was just the thing. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pucker Up!

The good news: I think I've sorted out how to combine images and lettering to design quilt labels.

And I have a good handle on transferring the design to the machine so it's ready to embroider.


The bad news: I really have to improve the pucker situation.  I now know that all of these required tension adjustments that I didn't make (most likely, loading the bobbin a bit differently) , and probably should have been hooped a bit differently too.

But  it's progress, and frankly getting these done felt like such an ordeal that I'm not ready to do them over again.  But perhaps in a day or two I'll be ready to take it on again. 

There is definitely a learning curve to this machine embroidery.