A Couple of Scenes for You

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Can’t see the Trees, c 2000, collage and mixed media on muslin

I don’t often talk about writing on this blog. I have nothing to tell you about writing and the process of writing that others don’t do better. I have a certain sense of confidence in regards to my visual art, confidence that generally eludes me in writing.

Nevertheless, I’m going to offer you a scene from The Chronos Project today. The Chronos Project is a time travel story. Young Ethics Enforcer, Anna Wasser shifts into 1940 Germany to apprehended a suspected cross-time art thief. When Anna first shifts into 1940 Berlin she is aided by Christoph Mueller, a troubled writer.

This is Christoph’s first scene. The tone is important to me in setting the scene and developing character.

***

Berlin, Germany, 1940, Christoph Mueller

Light came reluctantly through the grimy pane of the door at street level and picked out the edges of each step, all six of them, to the floor of the room Christoph called home. It laid a pallid patch on the rag rug at the bottom where his boots stood, side-by-side, their tops listing toward each other. If Christoph had not set them so carefully on the mat, if he had tossed them carelessly or just let them fall as they will, the holes in the soles would have been evident along with the cracks and breaks in the much-polished leather tops.

As though the struggle had already been too much the daylight petered out, not offering more of Christoph’s dwelling to the eye. It didn’t matter much. There wasn’t much more to see: a narrow iron bed in one corner, and a dresser he’d bought for a few Gröschen from a man standing ready with a sledgehammer to knock it into kindling. It slanted badly to the right and the drawers stuck until Christoph found a small block of wood to stand it on a more even keel.

Beside the dresser was his table. It held his pens, his notebook and a battered Stoewar typewriter, its ribbon so old it made ghosts of his words. He needed to buy a new ribbon. He’d meant to last week, but the editor had shorted him on a story because he’d submitted it handwritten.

Christoph sat on the edge of his bed and pulled his blanket tight around his shoulders. The recent spate of cold weather enjoyed his damp little cellar. He took his cane from the end of his bed, rose and took the few steps to the table, where he fumbled for his box of matches and lit the tiny paraffin stove, next to it. Only an inch of paraffin remained in its reservoir. So, what would it be, paraffin or a new typewriter ribbon? He sighed. It would have to be paraffin. His lame leg could not bear the cold and he could not give up his morning cup of tea.

He shook his kettle—there was water enough—and set it onto the stove then pushed on to the small water closet at the other side of the stairs.

The mirror, inexplicably, was fastened to the wall over the toilet and Christoph stared at his shadowed face as he released his bladder. A shock of over-long hair fell over his forehead obscuring one worry smudge eye. He shook himself dry, took the half step to the basin, filled it with the frigid water that came reluctantly from the spigot, gritted his teeth and splashed handfuls of the icy stuff over his face and hair. Blind, he groped for the thin towel hanging on a hook beside the sink and rubbed his face and head. When he looked again into the mirror a fresh colour disguised the pallor of his skin and livened his eyes.

He set his tea to steep, limped over to the door, picked up his shoes, made his way back to his bed and before sitting heavily on its edge, pulled his trouser from beneath the mattress and pulled them on. Christoph lifted his weak leg and swung it over his good knee, pulled on yesterdays socks and reached for his boot. He’d have to replace the paper in the sole tonight. It would be worn through by the end of the day, especially if it rained again. Foot encased in his shoe he reached for the steel and leather brace hanging at the foot of his bed. He placed the metal bit under the arch of his shoe and fastened the first set of leather straps at his ankle. A steel shaft came up on either side of his leg, hinging at the knee and extended to mid-thigh. Christoph stood, and buckled another set of straps just below the knee, and pull his trouser leg high, buckled the last at the thigh. Not bothering with his other boot, he walked in a short jerky motion to the table and poured a cup of tea.

He drank it while he continued to dress. He dunned his worn coat, tied a woollen muffler at his throat and put on the elegant leather gloves he’d been delighted to find among Frau Casal’s second-hand goods. Finally, he picked up the large envelope lying near the typewriter, opened it, perused the first few lines on the page, shook his head and pushed the papers back into the envelope. There was no time to rewrite and he doubted he could make it any better. With the envelope under his arm and cane in hand, he climbed the six steps to the door at street level.

The sun still shone, though it had abandoned his small window and moved on to accommodate other, more promising ones. Christoph sniffed. There was sunshine now, but there would be rain before days end.

The yeasty smell of freshly baked bread wafted across the street from Mme. Lemieux’s Boulangerie. His stomach growled and his mouth watered. Coffee and a fresh baked roll, what heaven that would be. He gave himself a shake. Not now. Maybe later, if there was anything left from his pay for this essay on the artistic merits of the new film by Liebeneiner.

He pulled up his collar and headed toward the city centre. It would take him almost an hour to walk there. By that time the offices of the Berliner Morgenpost would be open. Maybe he could talk that miserable editor, Kost, to read his essay right away. He entertained himself with the thought of having so much money that there would be enough for sausage to go with the roll. He would not order coffee. The tea was better. Food, paraffin and a new typewriter ribbon! What riches. So immersed was he in his daydream that he didn’t notice the group of brown-shirted youth crossing the street toward him.

“Out of the way cripple!”

Christoph lifted his head and froze in place.

 

 

Introverting and Extroverting.

Peasant girl in Interior
Girl in Interior, 2019, digital

I feel as though I’ve talked about this before, but I took a quick browse through my previous post titles and didn’t come up with anything. So…

On the Big Five personality test, I show up as a strong introvert. I didn’t need a test to tell me that. I can spend massive amounts of time alone, and enjoy it, and I get very antsy in crowds.

But people are born to community. In times past it was a matter of survival—still is! We all need other people whether we’re introverted or extroverted.

In the past, I could get my extroverting done at my day job, and I guarded my alone time with a jealousy that may not have been entirely healthy.

Here’s the thing: When I spend a large amount of time with other people I lose myself. Yes, I know how weird that sounds, but truly, when I’m alone again, I can’t figure out who I am and where I left off. I can’t get back into the groove. I feel as though there are bits of me scattered all over the place, and I can’t gather enough of the pieces to make a coherent me.

I come to the studio, or to my writing desk, and I sit, and sit, and don’t know what I’m doing or how to begin. It’s similar to ‘page fright’—a fear of the blank canvas or a blank sheet of paper—but it’s not the same. In page fright, you’re afraid of messing up. I’m not afraid of messing up the page, I just don’t know what to do with the page, or canvas, or brush or pen.

In early March I went to Ottawa, Ontario to visit family. I had a wonderful time, but though I’ve been home for ten days now, and itching to get back to my work, it wasn’t until this weekend that I was finally able to put enough of the pieces of me together to do some creative work.

There are rhythms and reasons for everything. This is part of a creative rhythm for me and usually it’s best just to go with the flow.

 

Happy Birthday to Me!

With Grace
With Grace, 2005, encaustic on panel, about 18″ x 32″

Yes, that happened this weekend, and lo, the birthday came with an excellent realization.

A year ago, in January, I retired from my day job. I think I may have mentioned this before, and also that it was my—umm third retirement. I kept trying, but it just wouldn’t stick. I wanted to spend all my time writing and painting, but when push came to shove, I always took another job. Part of this is because I like feeling useful, and part of it was that I enjoyed the indications from my employers that I was good at what I did. You can work long and hard in the creative fields, and often you don’t know if you’re doing good work or not, especially when you aren’t noticed by the movers and shakers in the field.

I’ve been a whole year without a day job, now. I thought after all that time I was prepared but a new thing hit me hard. I had a very strong sense that I was irrelevant as an artist and a writer. Older people are often overlooked. Not complaining, but it’s true…well maybe I’m complaining a little.

At one time my cohort expected me to make some sort of bang in the art world. I, expected to make a bang in the art world. Now it all seemed to be too late.

This realization hit me hard and I spent the whole year feeling as though I didn’t matter anymore. This sense left me feeling down at times, but it also had a positive results. I stopped worrying so much about making the “right” kind of art. Instead, I’m making the kind of art that interests me. What a lovely gift that is!

In this year, I also made a new friend with whom I can discuss writing. You have no idea how good that is. And all through this year, below the surface, something else grew. I began to see possibilities again. Retirement isn’t the end after all. There are things I can still achieve! Whoo Hoo!

This new realization, this new belief is the most wonderful gift I received this birthday. The material gifts, dinner out, and birthday cake were sweet too!

 

Big, Bigger

When we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) we were fortunate to see an exhibition by German modernist painters. It was a delight to see the work of a particular favourite,  Anselm Kiefer. These paintings are BIG. “Big paintings” are a particular hallmark of modernist art. I’m talking about physically big paintings, and not the quality of the work, though in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, those two things were often conflated.

Seeing these paintings kicked off a desire to make large paintings ,again. When I was a student in the 1980s I created some very large paintings. Big Red, below, is 8 feet tall by 4 feet wide. The piece was created entirely of bits of paper and spills of acrylic paint. These paintings had no backing and you can imagine what a nightmare they were to hang.

Big Red
Big Red, 1987, collage construction, 8′ x 4′

When I began to paint in encaustic, my work became smaller in size. In Progress,  2013, encaustic on panel is about 40 x 30 inches.

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In Progress, 2013, encaustic on panel, 30″ x 40″

This week I finished this egg tempera painting. It is bigger than the sketchbook, and alterbook works I’ve been showing you, but nowhere near as large as In Progress.

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Pointless, Iterations series, egg tempera on panel, 20 x 16 inches

 

One more thing. A loyal reader, Regine, commented that the altered book paintings I posted  last week made her think of quilting. I don’t quilt, but I’ve long recognized that my work has an affinity with quilting. Here are two collage paintings from the 1990s that show a strong link to piecing quilts.

BouquetZokalo

You know what’s funny? Size doesn’t matter with digital work at all, at least not in the three dimensional way.  If you have enough pixels you can see the work any size you want. Think of an iMax screen and your cellphone screen.

After Holiday Energy

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I had a lovely holiday. Central California was cooler than normal but a whole lot warmer than the -30 C we’ve had in Saskatchewan for weeks and weeks. There are mutterings that this has been the coldest winter, here, in 80 years. Maybe it is, but it always feels that way in February.

After getting over some initial travel exhaustion I was excited to get back to my work. I started with a few more altered book pages. And today, I got back to revising my time travel novel, The Chronos Project.

While I was away, we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I was delighted to see some brilliant work. It made me want to paint large again. Will I? We’ll see. For the next week, I suspect I’ll continue with my sketchbook work.

Large paintings make a big impact, especially on huge white gallery walls, but there’s a lot to like about small paintings. They create a feeling of intimacy I like. I suspect that small works are considered ‘Women’s’ work, and that’s okay. It’s well past time to look at women’s work more carefully.

Making Poetry When You Havent a Clue

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I’m sorry to leave you with so little today, but I’m about to leave the frozen north and I have very little time to write.

I want to you know that I haven’t a clue how to write poetry, but I do know that a certain ambiguity and wonderful words are part of it. This week I created another altered book page, and I “Austin Kleon’d” it. Austin Kleon is a young writer who, among other things, writes poetry by redacting newspaper or magazine articles. Look him up. He’s a very wise young man.

Lord Johnnie, the adventure novel I’m altering was published in 1949. The language is florid in comparison to our current tastes, and somehow I ended up with this rather dark bit of writing. Since the images I’ve made have taken on a dark tone, I decided to go with it.

A Monday Sort of Girl

Raven Girl2
Raven Girl, 2019 ink, digital print on altered book.

It’s c-c-c-old! It’s ‘extreme temperature’ warnings cold. When I start the car this morning, every warning light cames on: check engine, brakes warning (!), others… My away mission is necessarily cancelled. I should mind. I don’t. Did I mention it’s cold?

In truth, I’m being a baby. It is cold, but I’ve lived in the middle of Canada my whole life and it’s been colder. This is an area of temperature extremes. It can be +40 Celsius in summer and -40 Celsius in the winter. Today, it’s only -28 C. Could be worse.

Above are another two pages from my altered book. I drew the picture of the little girl and the ravens from a photo reference. Do you know the covers of Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children? They’re amazing, and just a little bit creepy. I wanted that kind of feel.

This is a digital drawing. (I use an opensource software called Krita (which is amazing) and a Huion display drawing tablet.(also amazing)), I then printed the drawing on mat photo paper.

To prepare the book page I used a mixture of Higgens sepia ink and Liquitex permanent black ink to cover the print part of the book. Then with glue, more ink, and a terrific Jelly Roll gel pen, in gold, I put it all together. Some things came out as expected. Some didn’t, but the accidents were happy ones. When I put glue on the back of my digital print, it dampened the front of the image enough to turn the sepia tone green. It works. I’ll take it.

The raven girl is pretty stoic looking in her strangeness. Me too, pretty stoic. It doesn’t stop me thinking of plants and gardens though. So I finished the weekend off with this:

Garden
Garden, 2019, ink on paper. Sketchbook art

 

 

Out of Control

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Pestilant Sun, 1990, collage and acrylic on canvas, 65″ x 18″

 

It’s not yet the end of January, and I’m already feeling a little behind. Yes, that’s right, we’ve barely begun the year and I’m out of control.

I write this in all seriousness, and then I think for a bit and laugh. When is a creative ever in control? Creative people scale high in the trait for openness. Everything is always negotiable until the painting is hung or the poem published, or the music played, and even then, we think: “What if we’d done this, maybe this, and…”

Now, add to that bit, the usual January goal setting. Yes, I know, I told you that I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions and I didn’t, but for me, there are two times in each year—January and September—when I can’t help thinking, “New beginning.” And with that thought, I’m flooded with delight at all the possibilities. Soooo many possibilities, so many things I could make.

Three weeks later, I’m overwhelmed and out of control.

What to do?

You can make lists, calendar plans, take webinars on how to better manage your time, and so on, but the single best thing I do is to take a big breath and hear the word STOP in my head. Then I let my shoulders fall. It’s amazing how relieved I feel.

For creatives, out of control is who you are, embrace it, take the day as it comes knowing you’ve been here before and you did okay.

 

 

(I’m not sure why I named this painting as I did. I’m a big fan of the sun.)

The Effort

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Last week I talked about looking, seeing and inspiration. I offered you a video on the art of Anne Bachelier. If you watched the video, you’ll hear her talk about her interest in illuminated manuscripts and she shows us a book that she has ‘illuminated’.

I find all her art fascinating. Her facility with oil paint is astonishing, but the part that inspired me most were the grittier works in the book she made.

I don’t know what sort of book Anne used. But my instinct was take an old book from my book shelves. My husband’s Grandfather used to buy boxes  of stuff at farm auctions that held all the things the auctioneer expected no one wanted. Often these boxes held books and the books were passed on to us. We both have a hard time throwing out books.

Lord Johnnie by Leslie T. White was published in 1949. The paper is pulp and fairly thin. I have no idea what the story is about. The cover has an embossed sword on it. Here’s a bit from its pages:

“I fear, sir, there is some mistake,” she said fridgidly. “I recall no cousin who–“

Abruptly her yes widened. She opened her mouth to scream, then stifled the outburst with her fan.

“Control yourself, madame! warned Johnnie. “A scene will be fatal!”

I’ve since found that painting in already published books is not my own invention. It’s a thing. If you Google Altered Books you’ll find images and how tos.

I learned some excellent things in creating art in someone else’s book.

  1. Because the paper isn’t pristine, it’s easier to make your first marks and be less precious about the drawing.
  2. Because text covers much of the page, you end up using the whole page for your composition.
  3. Though I haven’t read any more of the story in than what you see above, I found my images seemed to imply a narrative.

I suppose, if I had planned better, I could have chosen a theme and made the narrative clearer. I’m glad I didn’t, because as you can see from the work on this blog I liked to change things up.

The mediums I used were Golden Heavy Body Gel (as my glue), Golden Acrylic Gesso, various inks, pencil crayon, tissue paper and other collage elements, and gel pens. The figure with the wings was drawn digitally, printed and painted with coloured pencil and watercolour.

I needed a poem about ravens, and couldn’t find one that felt right, so I wrote my own.

Fledge

Above,

hunched in our tattered funeral array, we watch.

Soon,

the itch in her wings will lift her up.

Below,

scuttles her prey.

 

Looking, Seeing and Inspiration

Anne Bachelier: Artist from Erin Faith Allen on Vimeo.

Seeing things through another artist’s eye can inspire like nothing else.

In 2018, I joined Debra Eve in her The Artist’s Way Book Club .

I’d read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way a long time ago. It’s what turned me on to writing Morning Pages, a practice I continue to this day. Morning pages are three pages of long hand, stream of consciousness writing. The reasons for doing these are many, including an aid to building a creative habit.

Debra Eve, who is the writer behind the website Later Bloomers, posed thought provoking questions, and offered encouraging words, images and video to aid our rejuvenation as artists. One such video is this one created by Erin Faith Allen with the artist Anne Bachelier. Great Video! Enjoy!