When I was a kid, making my own art with left-over paint-by-number paints, it took a long time to get a painting done. Not only because I didn’t know what I was doing (I didn’t) but also because the things I painted were detailed and required a lot of work. I wish I could find one of those paintings for you. I know that somewhere there is a painting of a deer leaping through water, fear in its eyes. On a cliff above lurked a mountain lion. Only the mountain lion was beyond my abilities so I didn’t paint it in. I was working from a photo from one of my father’s Field and Stream magazines. It was slow work.
Fast forward to my thirties, I went off to study studio art-painting at university. The Canadian prairies had a whole lot of art envy going on and we were particularly smitten with the Abstract Expressionism coming out of New York City. Most of our professors studied in America and the university had an off-campus camp at Emma Lake where guest artists came to lecture. Artists like Barnett Newman, Stanley Boxer, Kenneth Noland and Donald Judd along with critics like Clement Greenberg.
The focus was on abstraction and if you were going to paint something recognizable it would be best if it was in an expressionistic style.
Expressionistic work was all about quick lines, by its nature quick and you didn’t labour over an abstraction for weeks either. In fact, we didn’t labour over any one painting. Part of that was the school schedule was heavy and no student had the time for work that took weeks or months to complete.
I loved all of it, the quick, quick of expressionistic work, the pouring and splashing of paint. But the need to go slow found me. I began to make large paintings made up of small bits of paper. The process took time. First the gluing of paper, and then the pouring of paint and more gluing of paper.
I think my recent fascination with making highly detailed paintings of flora have some of that same process and quality my paper constructions had. The abstract underpinnings are still there.
Flora #2 isn’t quite done, but you know, slowly, slowly.
I also managed to find time to write the last half of a short story I was stuck on. It’s still in first draft, so who knows what flaws are lurking in it, but fixing them is working for another day.
Some time ago, someone gave me sheets and sheets of fabulous d’Arches watercolour paper. This is seriously expensive paper: deckled edges, cold pressed texture, and thick. It has to be at least a 250-pound paper. Bond paper, the kind you use in your printer, weighs about five pounds per ream (500 sheets). This paper is 56 x 72 centimetres. If paper weight is measured is the same with all papers, 500 sheets of this paper would weight 250 pounds or more. The paper does not buckle or wrinkle when you get it wet.
And did I mention, that it is very expensive?
The thing is, I don’t like it. I don’t like how it takes water mediums. And I don’t like its rough texture. It’s been kicking around for ages. I’ve moved it from one studio to another and used very little of it. It occurred to me, recently, that if I gave it a good coat of gesso I could practice oil painting on it.
Years ago I painted in oils—when I was a kid really—and I didn’t have much of a clue on how to use oils. It seemed like a good time to learn.
The gessoed paper works well for this purpose.
I’m continuing with a foliage motif in my egg-tempera paintings, but on this paper, I decided to do portraits of old women. Above you have portraits of two colourful ladies whose photos I found on Pinterest.
I’ve been spending some time working on my altered book, as well as writing and painting. Gardening has temporarily been put on hold because the weather has turned cool. There is a promise of snow every now and than, but so far we’ve missed it. It’s dry, dry, dry. We could use some rain. I’d even take the snow if it meant a bit of moisture.
Above are some of the Altered Book pages I’ve been working on. I made a digitial drawing of the ravens a while ago, and then I read Book Two, Child of Dragon’s in the Leather Tales series by Regine Haensel. In this book, Regine features two ravens name Thought, Memory. I love that, and though my ravens don’t have names, it’s nice to think about thought and memory and where they intersect and change each other.
The leafed garland is a scan of an engraving by Maria Sibylla Merian, a 17th Century naturalist, entomologist and artist. She did some amazing work.
You can find Regine’s books here, and read about Maria Sibylla Merian here and here.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been making changes. Changes in my environment. No, I’m not moving house. I’ll leave the rooms where they are, but anything inside those rooms is in danger of being gone, or in another room entirely.
A few weeks ago I painted the walls in the little room I call an office most of the time, my study when I’m being pretentious. The walls are now a lovely deep grey.
Then in the middle of last week, I noticed that the hardwood floors in the living-room were taking a beating from my dog, Caro’s, nails. Down I went on my hands and knees and scrubbed the whole floor, moving each piece of the furniture at least once, so I could get every corner. I then used a renewing product to make the floor look better.
But the dog’s nails will abrade the hardwood all over again if I leave it as is. No problem. I moved the area rug from the family room downstairs, gave it a shampoo, and carried the 10′ x 12′ carpet upstairs to roll out on the living-room floor. More moving of furniture.
So why did I do all that? Does my little office look so much better after I shifted all the furniture again this morning?
The simple answer, my gloating answer is, because I can.
Yes, because I’m old, and I can. If you’re under fifty, you probably don’t get that, but believe me, carrying a slightly damp 10′ x 12′ carpet up twelve steps to unroll in another room isn’t so easy when you’re almost seventy.
This will sound like a digression, but there is a link. Here goes.
I’m all about good news and I was delighted to read that bias against race and sexual difference are on the wane. But as I continued to read I saw that while people may more tolerant toward others of differing race and sexuality, they have become more biased against the old. Well yuck!
I had already noticed bias against the old. Heck, I do it myself, often barely restraining a heavy sigh when some elderly person ahead of me at the grocery store counts out their coins for a loaf of bread and three bananas.
Now I’m the old one, working hard to prove that I’m still relevant.
You see how complicated things get?
If you’re lucky you’ll get old, and even if you have always been in the right group, the admired group, a time will come when you’re not.
The above painting is in it’s beginning stage. I’ll continue by adding darker and lighter greys. Colour might happen and I think I might call it: “It’s Complicated.”
I’ve been thinking for a while now, that I’d like to cut back on blogging. I sincerely appreciated each and every one of you who followed me and liked my work, but making things takes time. I’m going to steal some time by blogging less.
If I was a wise woman, I’d write a number of blog posts ahead of time and have them all cued up and ready to go every Monday morning. But nope, every Monday morning I wonder what I can show you from this week or what thing of interest I might tell you. And the answer is, not much.
Many wonderful bloggers have immense stores of sure knowledge and wisdom. That isn’t me. I am and no doubt will always be a searcher. Sometimes the characters in my stories have something of import to say, but their words aren’t mine. If someday I do publish they will have their say.
In the meantime, I want to wish you a lovely spring. Let the sun shine on you, breathe in the outside air, let your shoulders drop. You can do this. Onward. I’ll write again, but perhaps at a more uneven pace.
This painting is from my student days in the eighties. I thought it was pretty good at the time, and I’m surprise to find, that it’s still pretty good.
I wonder where it is. Over time paintings have been given away, sold, and stored in every available space in my home. It’s hard to keep track of it all. A few weeks ago I photographed one box of paperwork. There were over 260 drawings in that one box. You can image that years of work can pile up.
Every once in a while a long lost piece pops up, and it was pretty good when you made and it’s still pretty good. That’s a nice feeling.
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.
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.
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!