Friday, July 31, 2015

Clouds of Hydrangeas

Clouds of hydrangeas are sitting in three large vases on the dining room table at H and D's, fresh cut from F's fabulous garden, ready for us to use tomorrow to decorate for the wedding!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Drawings That Impose Their Own Will and Offer Revelations

Today I went back to the thread from a few weeks ago of practicing drawing on a block with no preliminary sketch or drawing or transferred image.  First I used a rubber eraser block for a quick sketch of Jesse sleeping.  I decided to do simple contour line drawings/carvings with no chiaroscuro or texturing.  There are several tricky aspects:  first of all, this is really BLIND contour drawing because the printed image is the reverse of the carved (drawn) image.  Second, the carved channels in the rubber don't really show up very much, so it's not possible to gauge accuracy.  (I could paint the rubber surface with India ink or something first, but I am choosing to give up control here.)  I need to give up attachment to what comes easy for me: accuracy.

All the carvings beyond Jesse are of the little German ceramic doctor's diagnostic doll that I found in New Hampshire.  I was trying to pare down to the something essential in the figure that makes it compelling to me.  I let myself recarve lines that seemed wrong;  I experimented with varying the thickness of lines;  I used basic measuring and estimating and comparing of one part to the others-- dropping plumb lines, shooting lasers across, I let  mistakes stand.  By the fourth carving I felt like I was drawing.
 Then I switched to wood, which I enjoy using much more than rubber.  I carved the print on the right in a small (3 x 3") scrap of wood very quickly and enjoyed the feel of wood under my tool much more than the slightly bouncy feel of rubber.  And when I printed the woodcut, I saw right away the connection between these figures and a ceramic bead that I've had for a long time (5293).  The bead is an interpretation of the c 25,000 B.C.E. Venus of Willendorf from what is now Austria, a 4 1/8" statue that is considered to be a votive figure representing fertility.  Well, the doctor doll could almost be considered an anti-Venus of W. figure, since she lacks breasts and a big belly and more attention is paid to her face than to her body, which lacks all reference to fertility but looks more like a slightly pudgy child's body.   Woman as powerful creator and nourisher of life vs woman who can't nurture and whose face is valued more than her body.  Reading too much into it, probably, but the repeated carving and scratching, the dialogue with the block while searching for the essential in the doctor doll woman opened the way to this comparison. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Entire Kale Crop Plus An Astonishing Natural Phenomenon!

My kale crop this summer was decimated by little caterpillars who merrily ate up about half of every leaf while we were out of town having fun.  Hence the entire crop fit nicely into this one medium-sized bowl, and I made a good kale salad out of it.

The three drawings on the right are memory drawings made from astonishing things that P and I saw on the Jones Mountain Rhododendron Ridge Trail late this morning:  a lovely little pink thistle, a hornets' nest being constructed around a ripe apple that is still attached to the apple tree by its stem;  and this year's first Indian pipe!  P wins the prize for spotting the Indian pipe, which was growing in the shade of a fallen tree in a nest of dry leaves and very hard to see.  Personally, I think the apple cum hornet's nest is a more valuable find in terms of rareness and unlikeliness;  but when I googled it I found that hornet's love apples and other sweet fruit and will sometimes actually burrow inside an apple and gorge on the flesh, and too bad for the poor person who bites into that apple!  And, although not often, hornets do sometimes build their nests around an apple or pear that is still hanging on the tree.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Those Weirdly Interesting Diagnostic Dolls--

I did some very detailed looking at my little diagnostic doll and have concluded it's made of lead dipped in black paint.  From the little information that I have found, it seems that the doll was actually a part of a doctor's kit and not something that women took with them to the doctor.  I never dreamed such strange little creatures exited.  The Chinese also used them.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Last Outing for a While

 J and I have been going on almost- weekly outings since he was a few months old;  now he's getting ready to leave for a year in Switzerland as an exchange student.  Today was what we think will be our last outing together for a long time.  It was roaring hot and fiercely humid, but we trekked out to a strange little wasteland place near the Nature Center where the river passes through and hundreds of black-eyed Susans bloom on the banks.

J picked a flower and plugged the end of the stem into the sand beneath the shallow water.  He took several shots with his phone, which has a waterproof case.  Tadpoles swam nearby and the sun beat down.
And then we found the sweet spot:  the remains of an old dam under the automobile bridge that leads into the park.  We found a sort-of trail that led us behind the dam to some ancient bits of the dam structure.  This circular opening was about ten feet in diameter and had a heavy  metal guillotine-like door above it.  Shallow water formed a puddle in front of the opening.  J took lots of good shots of the dam, and soon we will post a collaboration involving the dam.

(On the right is a leftover sketch that I made in the taxi that we took to the airport last week.  The cabby was a good driver but didn't stop complaining-  about the traffic, the weather,  the way cabs are run in NJ, the traffic again, the airport, etc-- for the whole ride.  We secretly referred to him as Mr. Cab-Half-Empty.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Wreath Making with Non-Poisonous Flowers

My old French grandmother could always be counted on to whip out a flower wreath for me on the numerous occasions when wreathes were required in the 1950s Catholic church.  Above is a shot of my first communion class, with the girls on the left, each wearing a white wreath.  (If you have exceptionally good microscopic vision you can see my wreath all the way on the right in the first row of girls who are kneeling at the communion rail.  I was the shortest girls in the class and therefore the first in line.  This is all making good sense, right?)  Memere would send some child across the street to cut white oleander flowers from the big bush that grew outside the racetrack fence.  Oleanders made beautiful wreaths, and it was only years later that I found out the blossoms are poisonous.  No one ever got sick from wearing the wreaths as far as I know, and Memere obviously didn't chew on the flowers while she twisted the stems around floral wire.
I have never made a wreath other than the occasional informal clover ring;  but Maya needs a flower girl wreath for her Dad's upcoming wedding, and she asked me to make it for her.  Following Maya's example, I spent a lot of time looking at YouTubes about flower girl wreath making, and I think I have gleaned the best ideas for this wreath.  Above you can see the ingredients spread out for my practice wreath:  two floral-tape wrapped pieces of floral wire;  a long piece of satin ribbon;  a stem of lizard's tail; a couple of stems of oregano blooms;  and the roll of floral tape (which I learned must be stretched out and tugged at in order to activate the adhesive).

I made notes from the YouTubes and wrote/sketched the process I want to follow.  Right now I have a pretty good practice wreath sitting in the fridge under damp paper towels so I can judge whether or not I can make the wreath on Friday or if it needs to be done at the very last minute.  My other wedding-related job is to be the animal handler for Maya's two guinea pig boys who will watch the ceremony from inside a basket of grass clippings.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Lots of Portraits, and Victorian Ladies' Doctor Dolls: All Caught Up

 Chickens are a big presence around M and A's house in NH.  These three were picking around their yard where one chicken had been recently killed and then abandoned by a predator.  M was doing an experiment to see if the chickens would bury the dead hen.
On the right you can see the desiccated remains of the hen after a couple of days of insects doing their thing and hens picking off the insect larvae and at the same time burying the hen in a dust bowl. Interesting little food cycle there, the kind of thing I try to not think about I guess, but nevertheless a part of nature.  On the top left is Bill, the family bearded dragon.  I like the little hen at the bottom who is seeking some shade under the chicken house.  M gave in and buried the hen in a deep grave after three days.  But by then the hen was dry and small and nearly buried anyway.  Interesting.
One afternoon we went over to a friend's house so the kids could go swimming.  Her yard was so beautiful.  She had a little pasture for a small donkey and another horse;  and on the other side of the yard was a walking trail that had been mowed into a wild flower field and that had a grass-covered, velvety smooth surface to walk on.  We paced it off and found it to be exactly a tenth of a mile;  so we decided to run around it ten times.  Meanwhile B collected goldenrod ball galls and afterward his dad explained the whole ball gall process while we dissected a gall and found a small larvae.
M took all the kids down to a small lake at the end of the road, and they all clambered down the rocks and swam around while I drew the lake.  That night T and I organized a Wide Game and coerced everyone into playing.  As it grew very dark, all eight of us ran around the field behind the house we were staying in (next door).  So much fun!  We all enjoyed playing so much that we did it again the next night too.
Here's a map of the neighborhood and also the rules we worked out for our Wide Games.
Saturday afternoon we went to the Montshire Museum, a favorite excursion.  Unusual for this trip, I was actually able to draw some fish at the museum.
Before we went to the museum, T wanted us to go to some yard sales.  I hit gold at the second one.  It was held in the carriage house of a bed and breakfast where we used to stay before the house next door became available.  The woman who owns it was selling off her husband's collection of stuff.  I found in a box of random objects these very small (shown life-size here) dolls that were labeled "Victorian Ladies' Doctor Dolls", and the owner told me these were used by women when they had to go to a doctor.  Doctors weren't allowed to disrobe women patients, and women couldn't bring themselves to talk about their bodies;  so they would point (with some kind of stylus probably) to the afflicted body part and the doc would then prescribe whatever drug was in favor.  The larger doll is from Germany and is made of clay, but was used for the same purpose.  These remind me of the Charlottes, and I was so excited to find them.
I drew T while he was playing the piano for me.  He plays wonderfully.
T's hands at top left, and B on the right playing one of his own compositions,  eerie,  in a minor key.
L has played guitar for several years, and it took me three drawings to begin to draw him because I was mainly just listening to him play.  He has great concentration and tone.
Back to Maplewood after a great week.  Nate was waiting for us and ready for another assault on Manhattan.
This time we kept it simple, just the Museum of Natural History.  One of N's favorite exhibits was this house made of mammoth bones.  We also saw a 3D film about undersea life.  On the train on the way home I drew the contents of Nate's man bag:  the wooden stick from some space candy that Maya bought for him;  two straws from Auntie Annie's in Penn Station that he used in his bottles of water;  four brochures from the museum;  a NJT timetable;  his notebook, and a crayon.
And to finish up, airport people at EWR.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Catch-Up #2: The Adventure Continues!

Abby not only wants drawings of herself;  she also wants me to draw Nate.  But just as I'm racing to finish his, she's telling me "draw more Abby!"

The next morning is a karate lesson for Nate.  Picture twenty or so 4 and 5 years olds practicing karate.  Lots of wandering off to check out a corner of the room, of being pulled back into the group by the very patient teacher, of little kids doing something in their heads.  "Don't use your karate skills, these special tools, to hit other kids, or your brothers and sisters..." admonishes the teacher.  "Or your mother" adds the woman sitting on the floor next to me, sotto voce.

Minutes after we arrive, the ancient clothes dryer curls up and dies.  Of course there is already a load of wash finished washing;  so we bring it out to the pool area and drape it over furniture and bushes to dry.  I enjoy the colors and unusual shapes above the placid blue water and the pretty tiles.
 On Sunday we all go for a hike at a nature reserve near Maplewood.  Nate walks the whole two miles, and we all pick wild raspberries to eat as we go.  It's cool and dry and perfect.  At one point E , with Abby on his back, crawls under a fallen tree that spans the trail.  We pass a reservoir, a wonderful garden trellis with a gate in it that connects the trail with someone's back garden,  a chipmunk-filled woods, a George Washington memorial lookout at the top, a sign incised on the back of a bench telling us that "WAR IS BAD."
After the hike some of us drive to Trader Joe's.  I wait in the car and draw this tree at the edge of the parking lot.  In the afternoon we hike downtown to the park for the Maplewoodstock festival.  I am intrigued by an African booth, where I find a little leather envelope-style bag that slides in and out of a larger leather cover.
On Monday Maya, Nate, P and I troop down to the train station and head into the city.  Nate is a fan of trains, and lucky us get to sit in the emergency seat!  N asks me "What would happen if I pulled  that handle?"  We all make up an elaborate story about a child emergency handle-puller ejector, and N insists on a diagram.  After I finish it he tells me to write "not Nate" and "not real" in icons.
Maya watches for Penn Station.
Our destination today is the Metropolitan Museum, where Nate wants to see a mummy in bandages and Maya wants to see the original painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware, which she has learned about in her fifth grade social studies class.  Amazingly, and after a l-o-n-g search and many questions asked to guards, we succeed in finding a mummy inside a case wearing linen bandages.  You can just glimpse it under the decorated mummy case, just like it was exhibited.  Nate draws designs on my drawing.

On the right is a quick diagrammatic sketch of the enormous Washington Crossing the Delaware.  Maya spots it in the 19th century painting area.  Very very exciting for her to see the real painting after seeing only tiny reproductions.  We spend another couple of hours in the museum, after which Nate tells me "I love the Met."
After the Met, we grab a taxi to Central Park Zoo, where we are lucky enough to see the elusive snow leopard as well as a great penguin exhibit, a bat exhibit, large bears, and the tropical rain forest center. Another taxi takes us down to the station, and we finally slid into seats on the train.  In our rush to get the train, we get on an express train by accident and end up a stop further than Maplewood.  I sketch this street scene in Summit as we wait for E to come pick us up.
On the left is Nate's stuffed penguin that he bought with his savings at the zoo gift shop.  And on the right, some chickens for New Hampshire.  Tomorrow:  New Hampshire, back to Manhattan, and home.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Some Edges: Catching Up #1

The first edge of this adventure was the ragged tree line at the edge of the runway at the Asheville airport.  I almost always draw it as soon as I arrive at the gate, sort of a calming-of-airport-jitters thing.  And then, as we were leveling off after takeoff, I was showing Maya how to draw the slowly-moving landscape beneath us, an edge we rarely get to see as it grows smaller and less distinct and finally dissolves into patterns and foggy colors.
My seat mate was engrossed in doing something on her phone, and I got to draw her while she was preoccupied.  She crunched on chips while she flipped thru an impressive number of emails.  The first morning of our visit we went into Manhattan to meet with some friends.  At the Maplewood station waiting for New Jersey Transit I noticed that every single person was plugged into a digital thing.  I rarely take a commuter train,  and riding with M made it into an adventure since it was a rare occasion for her too.
More commuters, and then some guards at Grand Central, where we went to meet up with the rest of our friends who were coming in from different directions.  When we saw similar guards a few days later in Penn Station with 5 year old Nate, he was very interested in their outfits.  He has lego guys that wear outfits and carry cases something like this, and his enthusiasm made me interested in really seeing what a guard carries.
It's hard to explain why we draw what we draw.  I've been reading John Berger's book about sketching and Bento Spinoza.  Berger talks about drawing what wants to be seen, or what our eyes want to notice.  I would agree, but I still can't explain why of all the people I saw on the streets of Manhattan that day the most interesting to me was a woman with a cross around her neck and a kind of priest's robe walking briskly out of that little church down near Wall Street.  I actually saw her twice, once coming out of Trinity Church and once out of St. John's.  I was only able to grab a sketch of the back of her as she flew by.  To her left and NOT a part of the same drawing was this exploration of the Dubuffet sculpture in Rockefeller Plaza.  On the right, Maya in her new teal blue Keds that she had just bought from TJ Max next door to the stock exchange.
M on NJT heading home after a long day.
 Above are some planning sketches for a garden arch that M and I are planning to decorate for a wedding next week.  We made a little model of it while in NJ, and then I made a drawing of our ideas.

E's square foot garden has beautiful broccoli just beginning to flower.  And on the right are some plan drawings of details of his garden.
On the left sugar snap peas also from one of the square foot gardens;  and on the right is two year old Abby who wanted me to draw her--
and draw her and draw her and draw Rosie, her cat.  I like 5167 best for looking most like her but 5168 shows her fierce determination.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Night Games/Wide

Tonight's drawing isn't a drawing but the finished print that I've been working on and that has grown out of all the charlotte drawings and prints. The charlottes in their dark place remind me of playing delicious slightly scary wide games after dark in my New Orleans childhood neighborhood far from the grownups and deep into the night in the happy days before safety and excess supervision and adult intervention in the jungle of childhood. Each in our own little world, brushing up against each other in the dark, whispering, holding onto secrets, trying to figure out our places.

 I printed 21 copies of the edition of 40, 12 for a portfolio exchange, and the rest to have, to trade, to give away, to sell, to keep in an overstuffed flat file--  Anyway, my intention was to post this from my phone, impossible.  Tomorrow we leave for two weeks in the New York area and in New Hampshire.  I'll be drawing but probably not posting, unless I can figure out a way to do this blog from my phone.  So far no luck.  But look for a giant catch-up post in a couple of weeks!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Memory Drawing with a Knife

 I was walking at a nearby park that has two ponds separated by a land bridge.  The sun was setting, and the pond reeds were silhouetted.  There were too many mosquitoes to comfortably stop walking and stand there drawing, so I traced the scene with my eyes and sent it to memory.  I noticed that if I could concentrate on the shapes of the light areas I could cut those away with a carving tool instead of drawing the darks.
When I got home,  instead of drawing what I remembered with a pen, I grabbed a veiner and carved away the lights as I remembered them.  I carved two little blocks and then tried printing them superimposed, slightly off register, overlapping---  Below is the second of the blocks, after some modification,  printed alone. 
I am trying to teach myself how to carve without sketching guide lines or transferring an image to reproduce.  Direct carving takes different kinds of observation than drawing because drawing with a knife pulls out lights instead of putting down darks.  As if it weren't mind-bending enough to work backwards!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Blooming Where They Are Planted

 Remember the slogan 'Bloom where you are planted' that showed up on bumper stickers and posters and greeting cards a bunch of years ago, like in the 70s?  Today's first drawing is an embodiment of that cliche, and it puts an interesting twist on the idea.  About two weeks ago a woman gave me a jam jar full of flowers from her yard, after I taught a class for a group that she runs.  It was a really hot day, and I was parked a long way from the studio where I had taught.  I dumped the water out and stuffed the jar with a wet paper towel since I also had to drive this vase of flowers home after walking the mile or so to the car.  I almost gave the flowers away to some people who passed me on the street and said they liked my flowers.  By the time I got home the flowers were drooping and limp, another point when I nearly tossed them.  But I gave them fresh water, and, to my surprise, by evening the flowers looked great.
One was a stem of daylilies, and the two blooms closed that first night.  I almost picked out that stem, but they looked kind of nice in the vase with the still-blooming flowers, so I left them.  Eventually I threw out just the dead daylily blooms, and one by one pulled out the other flowers as they died.  Today I noticed that one of the remaining daylily buds had bloomed!  It's a kind of eccentric blossom.  The petals are a little bit crumpled, but the colors are gorgeous, and as I got into drawing it, I noticed how lovely the forms are.  I then drew the remaining dead blooms and the two buds that still might open.  Jesse slept the whole time.  We were out on the porch at the table while soft rain fell outside.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Ovaries Already!

Even this early in the summer next fall's nuts and seeds are getting started.  Ovaries are swelling as the blossoms drop.  After this week's rain the trails are covered with dropped blossoms from rhododendrons.  I leaned in close to get a look at the elaborate ovary bouquet on a rhododendron blossom stem.  Amazing!  It could be a model for an amusement park ride!