Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Colors of Winter

As winter proceeds step by step toward spring I find I am not truly tired of it yet. After all, the days are lengthening, the occasional smell of thawed earth is on the breeze, and I still have so much yet to do without the constant call of the garden. It is now when I start to long for the colors of spring, that I truly notice how wonderful are the colors of winter. There is something so grand about the washed out skies and the starkness of black branches and clean spaces, that serve as a clean palette and draw the eye to everything special that the low light provides. There is warmth in the cold, and there is elegance in the simplicity. I woke with the thought today that in winter it is all about the noticing. You must be vigilant and look around yourself for the special gifts offered up each day. They may only last a few minutes and if you aren't careful to notice, they will disappear without a trace.

The special gift of sunrise and sunset is something I like to look for and record. This is the view from my bedroom window on a recent morning. How could a day not proceed with passion after seeing that? The golden light is also reflected on a quilt hanging on the opposite wall. It commends me to the work of my hands and makes me thankful for being able to express myself in warm and comforting ways.

Simple things draw my eye throughout the morning. The shimmer of the metal faucets, the bubbling of the water's stream, its double shadow on the cup. I have to stop to capture the image of something I might normally not see. But today I am noticing things.

On this day I notice the temperature is the lowest of the winter so far, that this is the first and only time recently it has fallen below zero. I take the photo, to remember, and also to send a silly joke to a Facebook friend in Australia, something corny about "down under".

In the midst of all the "giraffing", I try to find time to continue my class on "Capturing the Essence" of animals. I don't get too far, but I thoroughly enjoy recording the personalities of these ducks and an old goose. I am using oil pastels and enjoying their rough drawn texture which becomes creamy when smeared with a finger. The sheeps' backs below feel lovely and intimate, and such a simple sketch draws pride in my growing knack for looking, and many favorable comments from friends who notice the composition and light touch with line and color. 

The animal sketches are a prelude to beginning to develop a personal arsenal of symbols. The assignment here, to remember how I felt at the death of a beloved pet, was both difficult to begin, but easy once I got moving. The serious nature of trying to express deep feeling in an abstract manner in mixed media (and to try next time to do this without words), left me a bit drawn and needing to distance and return at a later date. I am very in love with this first attempt. I have no doubt I can learn to improve on it greatly, but I know we must all start somewhere, and I finally did.

The month of January involved drawing the giraffe as much as possible (or as desired). I did draw as much as I could find time and energy for, but not nearly as much as I wanted. I will try to continue to return to it throughout the creative year of many assignments since drawing is the thing that makes me look and learn about the nature of the beast.

I decided that amidst all the many ways that people were doing creative interpretations of the form, I really needed to do at least one "photo" accurate portrayal to study the proportions and details of what makes a giraffe "so". I only succeeded partially, as you can see I was still having a lot of trouble getting the length of the legs and neck as improbably long as they are in real life. My husband says it is because I am working on a short page, and he is probably somewhat right. I was trying to make it fit and still have a sizable presence. I didn't work with a grid or formal measures, but tried to look and see. I was pretty happy with the layering of three hardness's of graphite, plus a terra cotta pencil. It took about four sessions to complete. 

Some winter days arise with a blank color palette, mist shrouded. The birds twittered in a nearby tree; an occasional red flash when the cardinals alighted by the window. I hadn't touched my fabric stash since last summer and I felt the need for an infusion of bright color.

Even Lucca was a bit down and subdued by the mist. I decided to pull fabrics and get back to making the pages for new months of embroidery samplers.

You may recall that last year I began a challenge project called "Take a Stitch Tuesday" from embroidery maven, Sharon Boggon. I only completed three and a half months of the twelve, and intended to return to it when time allowed. I am making my sampler in the style of a fabric book that works it way around the color wheel. I began the first stitches in January of 2012, with a red page and at this point I was up to constructing the summer pages.

After visually falling into the pile of happy yellow green through blue green quilt fabrics, I composed three 2-page entries which will hold four to five stitches each. The challenge project is ongoing with new stitches this year, but anyone can access last year's as well, and begin whenever they like. It is a wonderful way to take a free and fun course in modern embroidery. Sharon showcases the work of many talented participants throughout the world. If you'd like to see what I've finished to date, you can check out this "TAST" flick set.

While I spend a lot of time noticing sunrise and sunset, almost better in the way of lifting the spirits is to see, on a day of overcast and gloom, the sun break through the clouds late in the day and set the landscape alight. The contrast of steel blue-gray with golden bare limbs of my elm tree always brings a smile to my face.

In February, the giraffe assignment is to explore, fearlessly, the use of mixed media. I was quite excited to begin, but first I had to do a little drawing warm up. I was quite thrilled to capture some giraffe personality in this threesome drawn from a photo reference. This was the first time I had used a water soluble graphite, and just that bit of water brush smear added a wonderful softness to the sketch.

I needed something with structure to begin, and for a long time now I had admired the lesson by Carla Sonheim in drawing animals to mimic the style of painted wood figurines from Oaxaca, Mexico. My "Oaxacan Giraffe" began with a series of one-liner drawings from which I chose my favorite stylized design, then built up the lines with Sharpie markers, then colored with layers of Copic markers, colored pencil, white gel pen, watercolor pencils and markers, and other fine point colored markers.

The final beast has the colorful patterns and white dots of the namesake carvings.

I am always looking for reasons to capture the glorious sunset view from my front window. When Flickr Friday, a special weekly contest for themed photos, announced that the first week of February was all about "beyond the horizon", I knew what I had to shoot. Because all submitted photos must be taken between Friday and Sunday of that week, participants have a limited window to find inspiration. It was fun to participate and see my photo next to amazing shots from around the world. If you like a photography challenge, check it out each Friday. No qualifications, no obligations. Free to join.

Last weekend, some of my fellow giraffers were talking about a fun mixed media technique using a rather unusual medium, nail polish, to create marbled designs on watercolor paper. I thought I'd try it, and I can see how I might make use of these in a collage. Now to figure out a more giraffe like result.
The info for the tutorials can be found on Carla's blog, here.

The funny thing about creative inspiration is that you can never guess where it will be hiding next. While I was having a fun hour of play with the polish, I really wasn't totally invested in what I was doing or whether I would actually use any of the pieces I made. What did captivate me was a pile of scrap paper from the cut out circles sitting on the nearby counter. For some crazy reason, I couldn't wait to finish what I was doing so I could photograph that silly pile of shadow-throwing bits that might just as easily have ended in the trash instead.

What I got for my efforts was a thoroughly satisfying series of intimate photos of  accidental form and shape, "real" and created by light. Something I then went on to play with in simple photo editing to expand the vision. I am inspired to try more of this in time. In short, I am inspired.

Whether it's the soft blank canvas of grey sky and snowy ground, or the color of things lit by sun breaking though in late afternoon, the colors of winter are captivating if you will just take time to notice them.


  1. What a fabulous and interesting post!! Thanks for sharing all the variety of work and thought.

  2. Interesting indeed! Love the sketches

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed your post. Although my computer is acting strange as all of the pictures did not show up. However, I am so impressed with the quilt hanging on the wall.So many inspirational points!