Sunday, December 26, 2010

There Will Be Hippos!

So what's with the hippos, you ask? And maybe you are thinking: strange obsession. And yes, interesting ones (hippos, not obsessions) are hard to come by, and it takes a lot of looking and travel to acquire them. You mostly see plush toys for babies, or tacky, mass produced resin sculptures. I have had to gently cull the collection over the years of some that came as well meaning gifts, but weren't quite up to par. Others that were truly wonderful were too large or too costly to have. They live in every room of my house, in just about every form and material you can think of, and yet, if you weren't looking, you might not notice them. (What's that saying about the elephant in the room? Well these aren't elephants.)

I rarely meet other hippo lovers in person, although I am aware there is a hippo society so large they hold yearly conventions all over the U.S., and yes, there is that one new friend who professes hippo love, too. But simply: we don't know why we fall in love, do we? And if we all fell for the same things, it would be a mighty dull world. For some reason a purple and white floral stuffed guy (who was sent packing when the giver eventually went) started the obsession way back in my Penn State days, and I've been on the continuing hunt for thirty-eight years now.

This year's hippo story is entwined quite neatly with this year's road to self discovery. It all started with my desire to make a journal of a different sort. For a number of years, the International Quilt Festival had showcased a category of quilts that were the size of letter paper, and recorded the maker's year long exploration of themes and techniques. By the time I found the courage to participate in the project, the rules and format had changed, and I decided I didn't really need to enter a contest to do the good work.

I wrote a proposal for my Designing Women that we should each adopt a theme close to our hearts (mine, a given), and that each month the group exploration of surface design techniques would be made into these small wall art pieces. More quilts, less time and stress, more learning. The first month of the project was based on improving our nascent machine felting skills. This is that quilt (based on a nature photo) and I was quite happy with the results.

Silk and tulle on hand painted cotton, secured with needle punching

Layers of roving being added like paint

Fully fleshed out with wool and silk roving; machine quilted and bound.

But overall I had a growing discontent with technique driven design. I was feeling scattered and uninspired after so many years with no real foundation in drawing and design principles. It all felt empty and a bit fraudulent. And so I backed out of the very project I had created for the group, to pursue the idea of learning to draw as an honest basis for my future design work. And of course that has led me here, on the cusp of the New Year, to sketching classes and journal projects both personal and universal.

And so, among my many goals and plans for 2011 are these:

1. Be a participant in the Sketchbook Challenge. If you aren't yet aware of it, check it out right now, it begins the first of the year and you want to be there.

2. Take Jane LaFazio's next level sketch and watercolor for journaling, which starts in late January on the Joggles website. Check it out here.

3. Work each week on a watercolor journal of Hippo Friends, so that I can begin to document my fun and meaningful collection, and perhaps get some insight into my attraction.

4. And just perhaps, when I have drawn enough hippos, (and other things of interest in my life,) I will be ready to return to the quilt journal project, and continue exploring wonderful techniques in textile surface design. My guild's next show is in 2012. I could be ready for that.

Hmmm. Twelve months of hippos. Sounds like a calender in the making.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bright Lights, Big City: Part II

In a crazy unpredictable world, sometimes luck finds you for a moment, brings in the presents to unwrap, and then decides you've had your share and heads out to find someone else to gift. Last weekend was all about luck and gifts and this one was more about real life. Yesterday became a wildly shaken snow globe that almost lost my husband on familiar streets ten minutes from home (yea for the GPS!), and shut down major roads, schools, libraries, and dental offices (actually not a bad thing.) But last week was still that more gentle winter that just makes life in the city a bit more festive.

After our Fabulous Friday adventures we were ready for a simpler day on Saturday before the big dinner/dance. The weekend coincided with a great shopping experience that I love for two reasons. The One of a Kind Show and Sale, Chicago, gives shoppers the chance to visit with hundreds of artists selling predominantly wearable art and home decor, along with a smattering of fine art and specialty foods. It is a feast for the senses, can rob you blind, help make new friends and contacts in the art world, and give an artist serious affirmation or consternation about her abilities and marketing savvy. But the second and equally impressive opportunity is the chance to visit the magnificent Merchandise Mart with its wonderful home decor showrooms that will confirm the fact that, yes, there are still many REALLY wealthy folks left who can built kitchens and baths most of us will only ever see in magazines or our dreams.

Mildly famous people sometimes exhibit at the OOAK show.  People like the amazing bead artist and bead historian, Valerie Hector, whose jewelry designs ought to be in museums, and such minor celebs as recent Project Runway contestant, Ping Wu, demonstrating her "transformable multifunctional hand knit accessories".

After several hours of serious sensory overload, hubby and I finally decided to choose a selection of wonderfully worn and textured salvaged tin ceiling tiles, which are converted into wall plaques, to use as inspiration for a bit of living room redo this winter.

Salvaged tiles from Olde Good Things

The annual dinner dance was slightly more satisfying than usual. Food was edible, band played and sang well and got me on the dance floor for passable rendition of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance".  Not only didn't I fall off my heels, but I got a thumbs up from a much younger co-worker from Brazil, where surely they know a thing about moving it.

Sunday brought the start of the windy and colder, so we did what we needed to do to wrap up the good times before overplaying our hand. One must always see a festive department store bulging with good cheer and good merchandise. Macy's, State Street, was shining with baubles from floor to skylight. I made a brief stop in the children's book department and read President Obama's delightfully inspirational book that began in life as a letter to Sasha and Malia about all the wonderful things he saw in them and hoped for them, and the many famous figures, current and historical, who may serve as role models for young women today.

A final jaunt in the streets to photograph the wonderful lines and details that will serve as drawing inspiration, and to capture the energy of people walking with purpose.

I am a sucker for the raw beauty of cities, beyond the glam. I took this shot showcasing the energy of  human endeavor and edited it three different way.  I can see something like this as a series of quilts...Intense...



The beautiful clock across from our hotel is begging for some historical research and to be drawn, painted, shared.

The corncob lines of Marina City's famous condos hold views and dreams

The energy of a train rounding a city corner

Trump's shimmering blue tower adds a bit of magic to the skyline.  Even  when viewed from the street directly below it, it appears to be painted on the sky.

The Hotel Monaco's lobby invites with a bowl of oranges and a soft glow.

My life, too, feels like it has purpose now. So much more than just a few months ago. Defining it, directing it...that will be the job of the new year. Right now, I'm just basking in its warmth.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bright Lights, Big City: Part I

For much of my life I have had the grave misfortune of living in my parents' American dream: the clean tidy life of the the suburb. In high school I vowed to never return to the "little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky." (This a folk song of the 60's I used to play on my folky wannabe guitar.) Unfortunately life played me a dirty trick, and that's exactly where I have been for the majority of my years. (But we'll rant on that another day.)

My point here is that whenever I get the chance, I reenergize with a trip to one extreme or the other--pristine country or the lights and crazy energy of the big city. I happen to live on the edge of farm country Indiana, but only an hour door to door with downtown Chicago, and that is where my siggy, Dave, and I spent a fine holiday weekend sucking in so much city energy we can live off the power of it for the rest of the month.

Our long weekend was based on a yearly work-related party that gives us an excuse to have to be in the heart of Mich Ave the first weekend of December. But the real fun has nothing to do with a stuffy dinner dance in a crazy commercial hotel. Really it's all about reconnecting with art and architecture, shopping beyond the mall, and bundling up and walking everywhere until we can't walk another step.

Nothing like a mug of hot wine to cozy up the out of doors

Fortunately our time in town coincided with some wonderful events. Arriving late morning on Friday, we checked in to our boutique hotel, a place that affords some personal attention and lovely extras (like a complementary wine hour), and headed off to stop No.1, the Christkindlemart. This is an open air German market (run by native Germans) where the main activity, if you are not buying carved wood tsotchkes and glass ornaments, is a lunch like this: hot melting chocolate soft pretzel for appetizer, steaming potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream, washed down with mugs of hot spiced wine. Barely noon, and all of Daley Plaza filled with calorie sated, tipsy international and American tourists, and workers on their lunch breaks (hopefully not drinking).

Beautiful paper lanterns help warm the spirit

Next stop, art supply heaven (for a girl from the land of Michael's), Blicks in person: ruling pen, black Procion dye, absorbent ground, jewelry pliers, a water brush with a tiny tip. Happy Hanukkah to me! The Chicago Architecture Foundation, which runs some fine boat tours in season, has a fabulous gift shop of all things architecture. Kept us busy looking for quite a while, but left with wallet unscathed, and just a coloring book of the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The famous lions of The Art Institute don't need funny hats to stay warm

Ahhh, the Art Institute, a formidable presence. You could spend days there exploring all the nooks and crannies, special exhibits and activities, but as a member, I feel no need to do more than say "Hi" to my faves: the Thorne miniature rooms decorated for the holidays, the magnificently restored and reinstalled Chagall's America Windows. We'd yet to see the new Modern Wing, and while less than impressed with the gallery offerings, sat upstairs in the lounge as the sun descended, soaking in caffeine and modern lines.

The Chicago faces of Millenium Park face off. These are actually a pair of   water spitting fountains in  the summer, which delight the children who play in the catch basin.

Cloud Gate (know as "The Bean") reflects the Michigan Avenue skyline
Heading North along Michigan Avenue just after sunset.

My handsome man overlooking the ice rink.

The walk back to the hotel necessarily deserved a detour through Millennium Park, which we rarely see in its nighttime glory.  For dinner, we finally crossed the river to eat at Bin 36, a lovely wine centric restaurant nestled behind the famous condo towers of Marina City, the House of Blues and the Hotel Sax. We sampled wine flights (Chianti and Beyond), shared some heavenly bison fillet on polenta, and finished with a cheese flight (Cows Through the Ages.)

The final scene, well that would be me in the hotel window seat, and my skyline sketch.  A perfect end to an amazing Day I.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pssst! I Wanna Show You Something

As usual I had a story to tell this week. I'd have liked for it to have the beginning, middle, and end it deserves. I'd prefer there be a bit of a philosophical bend and some humor to make it enjoyable. But just now I want to share a little part of the tale, even if it is out of order and not so slickly conceived. The story is this...

I am excited about this art thing. I have finished a first drawing/painting class with some good work and the confidence that I can continue to grow, and I have made a promise to myself (and you) that I will continue this journey...and I am! I have joined the Yahoo group EverydayMatters (EDM) which is an offshoot of Danny Gregory's book by that name. I have taken my "ink only" sketchbook on a weekend out of town, and drawn...twice! And today I have taken my first EDM weekly challenge subject and painted a page in my Moleskine sketchbook which has been waiting patiently for my return since August. I am on a roll. 

I am the first to admit that my sketches are pretty rough and that the journal page made use of media I am unskilled in or that didn't work as well on the paper as I would have liked.  Even so, I am thrilled to have done these things. I am sharing them with you to prove that I am doing this drawing thing for the experience of seeing my world in a new light, and not because I expect to be a critically acclaimed talent from day one. 

Comfortably ensconced in the window seat of my hotel room on the eleventh floor overlooking some excellent downtown Chicago views

The Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower)
is central to this particular view.

The sketch: making the best of a very complex subject and done in a very short time.

The magic window seat is inside those curtains. 

I drew this view the following morning when the robe was on the chair. The heavy curtains are partly opened with a view to the window seat through the dotted sheers.

As members of the "frequent users club" at Kimpton hotels, we usually receive a little gift. This last trip we could "raid" the mini bar for $10 worth of goods (up to two items). This tiny stuffed goldfish represents the Monaco pet friendly policy. Since we don't travel with a pet, we always ask for a goldfish for our room. We call her Fiona, since that was the name of our fish in Portland's Monaco the first time we stayed there. (The Chicago hotel has never named our fish so we just carry on the tradition on our own.)

The EDM challenge this week was to draw something "cute".
The seal is a simplified version of the Monaco symbol.
So there you go. This is me unsupervised, but still connected. Hoping to hear from some of the EDM bunch. Hoping those of you who haven't yet signed up to follow this blog will do so. Please leave comments if you care to, even on the older entries. I enjoy hearing what you have to say, and knowing that doing this is meaningful to someone beside myself. (Although I'd happily write it even if no one was else was reading.)

Next time, the tale of a fun weekend in a winter wonderland.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Quality of Light

It starts in late August every year. I notice the golden glow on trees and lawns and houses, then gradually through the fall that beautiful, soft, clean aura becomes an all day filter over everything, making life seem like it's stage lit and special.

Lines For Melly

I had been stressing over the line challenge until I looked at these photos and realized how interesting lines are everywhere.

She greets you at my front door; soft lines and cold
texture warmed by the golden light.

Lines: straight, curved, diagonal for me to draw.

 Sunset from my front porch.  I am a lucky person to live
with this beauty.
I know people wax morbid over the dying of the light and the year, but I quite like the late autumn when the leaves have fallen, been gathered and carted off for composting. There's an elegance to the landscape, not stark, but simplified and modern. I like driving West on these days (even just a trip to the mall), the bleached blue of the sky, the bare branches in silhouette, shaved cornrows of the fields surrounding me, while the low sun catches my eye with a wink and a crooked finger of light as if beckoning me somewhere I should be going.

There is something about this time of quiet color and stripped down scenery that makes me feel calm and clean inside, like I can see my life more clearly too. For me it's a time of renewal, of making way for new plans, new adventures. The holidays will go by in a blur. The older I get the less important the individual traditions become. What matters lately is the realization that the years of my life will only accommodate just so many adventures: I mean to have the ones I really want.

I just finished my first serious trip back to my artist self. I found that the talent for seeing with the artist's eye, and the desire to interpret with my own vision are still intact. I'm primed to move forward. Now it will be a matter of keeping high the enthusiasm without my daily cheering section online; about making goals and keeping them, and not getting lost in someone else's vision of my life again.
First continuous contour drawing in ink.
No Pencil, no erase.

Machine Made Objects make for travel memories.

My first flower has to be my favorite one.

We decided against putting up a tree this year. Normally this is the central symbol of our merry December celebrations, even though it is a thoroughly non-religious one for us. But with no plans for at home entertainment, it just seemed like one more burdensome activity, and how easy it was to cross it off the list. Instead we are making plans for quality time in the windy city. Literally, windy. It always rains, snows, blows or numbs, but still we love December in Chicago. We are getting ready for a dinner dance with other "steel guys" and their partners. My recent inspirational drive ending at the local mall resulted in some purchases of festive attire, where the store seemed to be paying me to take the merchandise off their hands. I did my part in relieving them of inventory, but I'm not sure how I helped with the bottom line. I found some girly clothes that makes me feel special, and if I somehow do damage during the revelry, I won't feel bad about it.

My new week brings a new focus on the needle and the cloth. I am taking Jude Hill's C2C3 (Cloth to Cloth, No.3) workshop online, wherein she will share a bit of the techniques behind her poetic needle arts. In the midst of my sketching and line challenge projects last week, I had made two possible woven bases for the workshop, but they are much too safe, too predictable for this work. I will need to turn a more artistic eye to making something worthy this week. We'll see if I can find inspiration in the golden light of late autumn.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Case of the Creative Overachiever

Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. I know you hear me. You're probably one of us: all the A-type artists out there. You have yet to meet a creative outlet or medium you can live without. That 40% off coupon for Hobby Lobby or Michael's, you need it every week. Always some collection of art or textile supplies that needs a little filling out. And don't get me going on joining up. It was bad enough when classes came in the form of adult ed at the local high school or community center, maybe the yearly convention of your preferred art form --quilters, beaders, painters, multimedia dabblers--come to town, and there goes a week and a week's pay!

But nowadays, what's a starving artist to do, when the computer that faces you down every morning starts whispering your name: "'s a pattern for that thing you always wanted, here's a challenge that's been designed just for you, here's a class by that renowned teacher (and there might never be another!), a book you must read, ten new blogs to follow...heck, Cheryl, the world is waiting for you to write a blog!"

I started this current endeavor just a few weeks ago with a schedule and all good intentions, and already I'm falling behind. So sue me! I'm drawing and painting and sewing so fast and furiously, I don't have time to write about it. Even on my one day off last week from the relentless schedule I've created, I started a new project in yet another of my favorite past times, bead weaving. (And even now I can hear the sound of those tiny glass voices calling me!)

Thousands of tiny glass beads will some day be a bracelet.

These large glass rhinestones are called rivolis. I'm sewing
them into bezels of tiny glass beads.

So it's any given day...And Wow!...all the picture taking and scanning and uploading; naming and tagging and commenting and replying to comments. I can hear my blood pressure rising. I can feel my left brain taking over my right brain, and.. Ouch!...squeezing the creative joy right out of me. Must breath! Must slow down! Must update my Etsy Store. After all, the holiday shopping rush has begun this week and there are unlisted items to be added.

Whoa, horsey! What we need is balance here. The opportunities are so great to learn and interact and practice our skills, but the payback is the loss of uninterrupted time for real creativity to flourish. Real art is not just another task accomplished, or is it? Maybe being too leisurely all these years didn't help either, didn't encourage me to gain the necessary skills that having nose to the grindstone seems to produce. I have gotten the impression from my recent reading of Danny Gregory's "An Illustrated Life" that talent is only a small part of the equation; that putting in the daily work is what brings about the confidence to get the goods out from the creative place and into existence. Six weeks ago I didn't have a flikr account, and now I have a "photostream" of some thirty-six items, some of them even good, all of them a step closer to real art.

Week two of sketching class: leaves

Week four of sketching class: flowers

Week five of sketching class: shoes

This is the final week of my sketching class with Jane. Time to pull out the Moleskine sketchbook I bought for Melly's class last August and used only that one time. Time to take a deep breath, set aside the frenzy, and accept my artistic destiny. I'm going to draw and paint! And maybe do a little beading as well. Or start a new sweater? What about the quilt in the closet...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Can You Say "Synchronicity"?

Just a week ago, I brought up the concept that opening oneself to the possibilities that life offers may result in a surprising number of offers from life. Last Thursday, Melanie Testa, one of my favorite artists, teachers, and all-around artist boosters, blogged about a challenge she had set for herself for the next month or so, and invited us all to join her. The object, as I see it, is to have an open heart to the possibilities of what may come from drawing lines on fabric on a daily basis.

Here was a relatively quick and easy opportunity to continue my drawing practice and relate it to textiles in a direct manner. The supplies needed: fabric, a permanent marking medium such as paint or dye, and a  means of making the marks, a particular sort of pen nib called a ruling pen.

Since I had done some preliminary explorations in early autumn with screen printing, I had on hand leftover soda soaked cotton, and a number of bottles of thickened procion dye. Perfect! Only problem was, I live nowhere near a good art supply store and was not likely to find this "esoteric" tip at the craft chains. What to do? Meanwhile busy with the arrival of out-of-town guests, I put the thought on hold.

The next morning saw us off to Michigan City for sightseeing, a chance for photography of our gorgeous Indiana Dunes and maybe a few dollars lost at the local casino. An outrageously balmy day found us wending our way down rural Hwy 12 through woods and National Park land and past unseen communities tucked away in the dunes. Suddenly, out of the "Myst", rose a mysterious, unassuming structure tucked at the side of the road, promising ART SUPPLIES! We doubled back, thinking, "not likely, but what the heck?" Inside, a rabbit warren of crowded aisles overflowing with wonderful enticing art stuff. A slightly eccentric-seeming clerk knew of what I inquired and dove in to try to locate one. Alas, all that was available was the compass set, that I figured was more than I wanted and not quite right.  I thanked him and went on with my company to enjoy the day.

Looking Northwest form Mt. Baldy toward the Chicago
skyline shrouded in the "Myst".

It may look like November, but it felt like September.
It's usually quite windy atop this five story sand dune, but this day
it was totally calm.

Looking East to the Michigan City's coal fired power plant.

The wonders of nature: who'd think that trees could grow in sand atop a windy hill.

The boating season over, their summer home all empty and quiet.

The lighthouse, a symbol of Michigan City.

Many hours filled with beautiful sights, a great Reuben sandwich, and a terribly rare event for me: I actually walked out of a casino with new money in hand! (Hey, no fortune, but $25 on a half hour of penny slots isn't so bad.) Again, a sort of omen: I had to go back for that ruling pen, even if it meant getting a compass I didn't need. But it was now ten 'till five, and surely they would be closing shop. But no, lights still on, and the manager in his easygoing helpful manner, saying no to the compass, pulling out catalogues to show me what I needed, and then...finding a lone replacement tip to sell me for...just four dollars! Use it as is, or attach it to a handle of something else, he suggested. Sold! 

As I stood at the register to pay with my winnings, what should my eyes fall upon sitting in a pile directly in front of me, but a packet of sepia tone pens I had been craving after just seeing them used that week by a journaling classmate.  A bit scary and magical the way the universe has reached out to get me what I wanted and needed, and for free, too!

The simple tools for the line challenge, ready to roll!

Here is my first line study. Thanks Melly for the challenge; thanks universe for stepping up to assist!

Five and a half inches square. Black procion dye on white cotton.

The means and the booty. And the change!
Note the lighthouse on the store logo.
By the way, the nib fit nicely into the handle of an old foam paintbrush.