This week’s post takes us out of the studio for an impromptu hike along the Mystic River. It was 70 degrees F in Massachusetts yesterday – not entirely reassuring re climate change – and I took advantage of it to stroll the river walk from Assembly Row to the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse here in Somerville to refresh my lungs and my spirit and refill my creative reserves .
It was a red-letter day for water fowl. I saw hundreds of herring and black-backed gulls, at least 80 by my count mute swans, the same or more of Canada geese, and the flocks of bufflehead and mallard ducks, and red-breasted mergansers. The real stars of the day were the swans, who were everywhere one looked. These are the inspirations for my Mystic River Project, of which the Estuary Birds are part.
I thought I’d share a glimpse into my creative process today.
I did some monotype practice, making black and white dendritic prints. Those are the ones where you squish paint or ink between two panes of glass or sheets of metal – two impermeable flat surfaces – then pry them apart, leaving a pattern of branching forms on each surface made by the physics of fluids. You then pick up the patterns on your paper, producing two mirrored images.
There are a lot of tutorials on Youtube, so I’m not going to teach you how to do it. Just go squish some paint and see what you get.
No, I want to talk about the process of designing a collage. The thing with dendritic prints, similar to inkblots, is you will see in them whatever your mind creates. I typically see landscapes, so go psychoanalyze that. The point is images emerge, and the artist will build upon them.
So I focused on this print and thought, “It’s a forest. A deep, dark forest. Who will I meet there? What action will I witness?”
Scenes began to coalesce in my imagination, and I hit my clippings files to find figures and objects to play the parts.
Unfortunately, all the images that would work are also black and white and tend to disappear on this background. Adding color masks didn’t work.
I need an image in color or which can be colored. Something in the right mood. I have this one image from a Victorian Christmas decoration. It’s about two inches high, a little girl holding a miniature Christmas tree that would be perfect for what’s in my head.
This kid has been haunting my studio for nearly ten years. Clipped ages ago but never quite fitting into a scene, she’s constantly fluttering about, in the way, falling out of every stack of papers I pick up.
Wouldn’t you know, today I can’t find her.
Obviously, I went first to where I thought I’d last seen her.
Then I checked a succession of places she could likely be.
Then I went back into the files on the off chance I had inadvertently put her away where she belongs.
By that point, I was pretty well cursing her, her damned tree, and the entire Victorian era straight to the Devil, and considering stopping everything to completely reorganize all my collage clippings. Maybe my whole studio into the bargain.
Then I got called for tea, and I realized it will soon be dinner time, and I have other things to do.
Still haven’t found the papery little pest. The cat better have eaten her, that’s all I can say.
This is the life of a creative. The prints came out well, though.
Hello, all! This week’s – (checks calendar) – er, I mean this fortnight’s artwork comes from my walks under the urban canopy of Somerville, Massachusetts. I made these specimen collages from just a few of the many tree leaves that have found their way amongst the pages of my books. I have a deep fondness for leaves as objects – their colors, textures, intricate inner structures, varied shapes. So I present them just as they are in a vaguely scientific context, for contemplation and exploration.
I am also working on 2020 updates for the website, and wouldn’t you know it, this month, every government in the world decides to announce new laws affecting online content to be implemented as of next month. So now I get to learn more things. Life is chaos. I believe some physicists say that, don’t they? If not, they should because it is. In any event, be on the lookout for a working contact function (finally!), new pages and reorganized categories, and yes, it’s really happening, a way to buy stuff. I know, right? Miraculous.
Bird-Nerd Update: A recent walk along the Mystic estuary was highlighted by some rather nice afternoon lighting and bird sightings. Between bad weather and ill health, I’ve fallen behind on my birding, but last week, I got buzzed by a small flock of Canada geese as they swooped in to graze the ball field – always a little thrill – and I observed some Bufflehead ducks bobbing and diving in the river, one male and two females. Unfortunately, the light by then was fading, and Buffleheads are quite small. This blurry shot of one of the females is the best I could do, but she can be known by the distinctive white strip on her cheek, and the white spot on her wing. The male, by comparison, is a striking black and white with iridescence on his head, but he was too far from the dock for me to get a good shot of him as the sun set. Buffleheads winter in Massachusetts. I hope these stick around so I can get better pics and add them to the Estuary Birds series.
Female Bufflehead in shadow
Canada geese grazing
Tobin bridge, tug boat, and the Pier 4 barge
An ironic view of the Everett side in really gorgeous light
Well, the holiday season is officially upon us, and in the midst of life’s battles, I have to admit I have a lot to be thankful for. We have our health at my house (knock wood). I enjoy my work, my town, my friends. There are birds outside my window and cats sleeping on my bed. What more can anyone want?
Later, I’ll rant about all the things that are off the rails, going wrong, just plain nuts, and utterly intolerable, but that’s not what this weekend is for. Today, it’s about feasting and merriment, football, parades, and King Kong. You know, the traditions.
I finished rebuilding my blue sketchbook into an autumn book for sketching, journaling, and collecting field specimens, all the leaves, twigs, feathers, etc., I tend to pick up. I was inspired by the “junk journal” phenomenon, which is a great way to find beauty and function out of detritus. Even these gussied-up pocket inserts are part of my sketchbook practice, as I used them to work out experiments in paper building and collaging with natural botanicals. The binding is my favorite tetsuyoso style. Superficially, it resembles Coptic stitch, but this is in fact a very old binding from Japan. It lacks the external knots of Coptic, maintains neater tension with less fuss, and is flexible and resilient. Traditionally, the covers would be pasted on, but I adapted the Coptic method of sewing the covers on for a totally adhesive-free binding.
It might seem a little odd to make such a fancy thing just to sketch and brainstorm in, but kind of the point of being an artist is to get our thoughts outside of our heads, to make everything be an expression of how we see the world, to unify the inside and outside realities. So I think the book where I work out the kinks in my creativity should be a product of my creativity. This is what I came up with.
And I made the pie this year. It came out fancy, too. 😉
Happy holiday, all. Enjoy. Relax. Express yourself.
As mentioned in my last entry, I was sick through much of October and had just over one week to try to complete four weeks of projects. I did better than I thought I would, and I’ve decided to cheat slightly by extending the spooky season to the end of this weekend, to finish a few things and tie off those loose ends.
Completed in October proper, two zine-type books:
– “Masquerade,” featured last week, a book about masks, disguises, and false fronts. The hand-typed text is taken from dictionary clippings and famous quotes, and the illustrations are paper collage.
– “On the Emergence of Ghosts,” a mini collection of monotype prints. These are some of my favorites from a recent printmaking session. I first made the Rorschach-like blot prints with ultramarine blue acrylic paint on sketch paper. Then, before the paint was fully dry, I took a ghost print from the blot by laying over another piece of paper and folding and pressing it again.
Still progress from October:
– “Cemetery Dance,” a zine on a memento mori theme with quotes from Shakespeare.
– Mini mask cards, just some small toys.
– Die Fledermaus Crown, a piece of wearable art. This was my big project for the month, and I’m amazed I was able to get it about 80% done in a week. I wanted something wearable for Halloween, but I’ve been a little off masks; I need to think about them some more. Then the words “bat” and “crown” popped into my head. The first-draft idea was Dracula-esque, then it evolved into a kind of naturalist ode to bats, but you know what? It’s a bat crown. It’s neither possible nor appropriate for such a thing to be dark or quiet or serious. So it ended up inspired by the frilly, fizzy, champagne-popping operetta Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss, the Viennese Waltz King. I figure it will be just as appropriate for New Year, which is when most opera companies perform Die Fledermaus. Maybe I’ll do a series of opera crowns. The Magic Flute is starting to suggest itself.
In any event, the crown still needs a little construction. The stars, moon, and moths need to be added. And it needs color because, yes, it’s going to be in color. But I decided it looks mad enough to share.
If I can finish these by end of Sunday, I will call October a technical success and take a few days off.
Die Fledermaus Crown in progress
On the Emergence of Ghosts
Milkweed pods from the garden
A stormy day over the Tobin Bridge, with cormorant in foreground
Sunlight through a maple leaf
The same sunlight on a little black cat, Junior Studio Assistant, Scipio
We at the home attached to the studio have been sick as dogs since the middle of September, which is why I fell off the planet for a few weeks. But we are on the mend at last, and I’m racing to complete as many of my October projects as I can in these last few days of the month while still having fun.
First thing done: A zine titled “Masquerade.” It’s a little book of collages on the theme of disguise and falseness, social status and self-deception. It was inspired by Halloween, but of course, I took it in a weird, cynical, critical direction because that’s what I do. 😉 Soon, I’ll post information about hand-bound facsimile prints of this book, so please keep an eye out for that. Send a message via the Contact form or this site’s new Facebook page if you’d like to be notified when it is available.
I also attempted my first-ever video of a flip-through of the zine. Yes, it’s true, I have never tried to video anything before. I don’t know why. The video came out well, but the audio has an annoying buzz. Quick research suggests it’s probably something called a “ground loop,” having to do with the power adapter. I’ll have to solve that somehow without buying new equipment, such as a microphone like everyone else in the world uses.
Next, I’m cranking through to try to finish a wearable art object. It has bats on it! I don’t usually do wearable stuff, but sometimes you just have put on a bat. We love bats. This is Bat Week, though my wearable thing will be finished late because I didn’t know until this morning that this is Bat Week, and it’s already Friday.
I might not have time to finish the magic and reality essay book, but I’ll give it the old college try. Same with a zine about ghosts and an October-themed journal I’d very much like to make just for love. And I’ve been marbling and aging paper like a mad thing. All of this was supposed to be done over four weeks, but due to the aforementioned sick-as-a-dog-ness, I’ve had about one week of actual work so far.
In other areas of life, I have resurrected my vintage Olympia manual typewriter. Poor old girl needs a spa day, but I am so happy to be able to clack away noisily with her again. Most of the text in the “Masquerade” zine was made with her, and I can now print my fifty-word stories the way I want them to look.
The gardening season is winding down, but the raspberries aren’t quite done, and the sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds are nowhere near done. Bees and butterflies are still visiting so I won’t be clearing out anything for a bit yet.
Oh, and as mentioned above, I created a Facebook page for this site. Yes, it is the Evil Empire, and I have a dysfunctional relationship with social media, ranging from none to hostile. But needs must, and this is the 21st century, and if you can’t beat them, join them, and you can’t sabotage – um, I mean win – the game if you don’t play, so I have a page. If you Facebook, please join, follow, like, whatever it is people do, and drop me a message or a comment, ask a question, whatever you wish. I check the page just about every day, and will gladly respond in a reasonable time frame – health, work, and fate permitting. Click the button below to visit.
Work continues on selected projects, including some treats for Halloween, as well as coordinating the illustrated essay on magic, using a writing tool I’ll talk about more in a future post.
But the grand theme of the start of autumn has been the garden. Ten-foot sunflowers (brown Autumn Beauty and light yellow-dark brown Lemon Queen), pink cosmos, and 60’s-mod zinnias are off the hook, and the bees and butterflies are feasting to their hearts’ content. I’ve been basking in the glory of these final days of growing and getting ready to dive into the darkness of winter.
Working on the words aspects of a couple of projects, which is not very visual as processes go, so I thought this week I’d share a glimpse into my sketchbook.
I’m training myself to do more drawing. My poor book – I made it at New Year’s, for encouragement, using a variation on the Japanese tetsuyoso binding – and now it’s being filled with mad randomness. I think I have too much on my mind.
I must admit to a failure of time management when, surfacing happy from deep immersion in work, I find the entire summer has slipped by without a word from me to the wider world. Oops. Let’s say I’ve been on a summer artist’s retreat. Yeah, that works.
So, I’m back from my summer artist’s retreat, during which quite a lot of things have happened, haven’t they? (Looks at wider world; considers returning to the retreat.) Anyway…
I built a boat. And a cloth doll. My first of each. This was a commission for toys illustrating a children’s story. I blew my labor budget experimenting with materials and techniques, but it was worth it. The client is happy, and it spawned a gaggle of project bunnies along the way.
I enrolled in a dollhouse workshop taught by Laetitia Miéral, a paper artist in France. Her work is beautiful, and she’s an excellent teacher. You must check her out at Merveilles en Papier. I heartily recommend her workshops for both beginners and more advanced artists. She offers both big and small projects, great techniques, and is outstanding at getting her students (or at least me) past perfectionism and commitment phobias.
Appropriately, I worked on dollhouses, too. I either solved a problem with the novel or created a new one – not sure yet. I wrote an essay on magic and reality – release date TBD. I hand-bound sketchbooks and journals, observed wildlife, gardened like a maniac, and did a lot of thinking.
Spring starts this Wednesday, March 20! The trees are budding. The first green shoots are showing through winter’s litter. The birds and animals are setting up house. The sun is higher and warmer, and everything seems full of energy and movement.
I celebrated by making my annual mistake of cleaning my rooms. I learned that I don’t need any more clothes or hair ties, my cats don’t need any more toys, and the only things that are ever truly lost are the ones that are a big pain to replace. I didn’t even do the Kondo method, and I’m overwhelmed – but motivated afresh.
Experiments with monoprint continue, and I’ve started a small set of collages on paper using natural botanical bits. This first one is a tribute to the season and our city rabbits down by the Mystic estuary. It belongs to my ongoing series about walks around town.