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.