Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

    This week my husband, daughter and I took a road trip to Chicago. It just so happened that our day of travel was the same day as a devastating storm came through the Chicago area! It was a normal December cold when we started north, but as we drove we noticed the trees were more and more getting covered with frosty ice. It would have been a glistening wonderland had it been sunny. Our daughter, visiting from Orlando Florida, was delighted to see snow and frost. At the time she was making plans to come here, the weather was unseasonably warm and there was no hint of snow or ice. 

        We became concerned with the possibility of getting stranded in Chicago. According to what we discovered on our smart phones, hundreds of flights in the Chicago area had gotten cancelled or postponed, and traffic was gridlocked in the city. We pulled off the road at about the halfway point and discussed whether we should turn around and go home. Once we decided to "proceed to the route", as Siri would say, it became a great adventure. 

Actually, the worst of the storm had passed through by the time we arrived. We spent a delightful afternoon in the Adler Planetarium.  This is what we saw when we looked out at Lake Michigan from the planetarium coffee shop.


Funny, when we got back home late Tuesday night, we saw that the front page of US News had a similar picture of breaking waves from the Shedd Auditorium, which is right next to the Adler.
For us, it turned out to be the perfect time to be in Chicago. Cold, cloudy, and windy with piles of slush on the curbs. Tons of people everywhere, bundled up and happy. Wouldn't want it any other way. 

One of the best moments for me was opening the curtain in our 6th floor historic hotel room and seeing this. Since I'm all about harmonious blends and other musings, I thought is was the perfect view. 

The coming year for me will be one of finding new harmonious blends in my art as well as my life. I look forward to the great adventure of a new year with anticipation and excitement!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cats and the Cabin

      One night in the late fall David and I decided to go out in the woods and choose some trees that we would later transplant. Actually it was early spring or late winter, too soon for the leaves to be on the trees, which meant it was too early to identify the species of tree.  But we set out with boots and jackets on into the woods. 

On this one day that we came out to pick trees, our cats followed us out into the woods. I don’t think they’d ever ventured out this far, but being the faithful pups that they are, they must’ve felt obligated to come with us. So we’re out in the woods with our cats looking at little beginnings of trees and guessing what species they are, when we realize we are not alone. Our neighbor’s big German Shepherd was out there too; he probably came out there all the time, but we never did, so he was a little concerned by the intrusion. The cats reacted to the stranger quite differently. One of them (the tree climbing one) went straight up the closest, tallest tree she could find in two seconds flat. The other one, the princess Bella, stood her ground and attempted to back off the dog with fierce growling. The dog was merely curious and kept trying to get closer, which only made Bella more adamant and vocal. 
  I was concerned whether it was safe to be out there with the dog, so called Becky, the dog’s owner. She immediately came out and called him home. Eventually Billie got herself down, and we finished our tree-picking project and returned home. 
Fast forward a year or so. David and I had been making trips back and forth into the woods to work on the cabin. Both cats see us coming and going and become very concerned. They would (or at least she, meaning Bella,) cry loudly, as we walked the path from the studio to the cabin. It was like a desperate plea for us to not endanger our lives. There is, after all, a huge German Shepherd on the loose out there! Of course,  we are not going to let the concerns of our cats dictate our lives, so we continued coming out to the cabin. 
By the fourth day of the cabin project, David and I were finishing details of our transformed rustic guest room in the woods. Toward evening we decided to build a fire in the fire pit and initiate our official opening of the cabin with a bottle of wine. It was then I heard the familiar and desperate wail, but now it was getting closer. Until that moment the cats would only sit on the edge of the path, safely far from the woods, where unknown beasts abide. But somehow in their little feline hearts something clicked that made it okay to venture out where their beloved people had gone. So, even though they were crying all the way, they came out. 

    When I heard the meows, I shined my light toward the sounds and, sure enough, saw the glowing reflective cat eyes coming our way! Neither Bella or Billie or I could contain our excitement at their arrival through the dark of night into this dangerous land. Or course, they were happy to join us around the camp fire, something more familiar to them, and be petted and praised for their bravery and courage. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's black and white

        Recently we went to Shipshewana for a getaway weekend. That is Amish country in northern Indiana. I walked into a fabric store and within a few minutes was mesmerized. It wasn't the type of fabrics that was a big deal, because all they had was cotton and cotton blends. Quilt making is huge in this part of the country; hence, there are bolts and bolts of cotton fabric. 

     What got me intrigued, awakened my imagination, won me over and made me not want to leave,  was the great variety of patterns in black and white. In my mind I designed an entire room done in black and white, complete with upholstered furniture, pillows, cushions, framed art, draperies and accessories all in black and white. Okay, maybe with just a touch of blue or red. 

This is the aisle that got me:

  Okay so let's be straight on this: I am not a quilter. I have no desire to quilt (sorry, I know it's a beautiful art form, but just not for me). Furthermore, I don't presently have a room that I can redecorate in black and white. It's just that the whole black and white theme is so inviting and alluring. It speaks as loudly to the inner me as black words on a white page. 

So I had to do something with this awakening! 

When I got back to work in my studio, it was time to get the black and white theme going. 

I ordered some black and white jasper beads, painted some wooden beads, and made a fresh batch  of black and white paper beads. 

I then made several sheets of textured paper and painted and glazed them with black and white. 

Then I started putting it all together: 

By the way, Lolly's Fabrics is worth the drive and I highly recommend a visit there. Even if, like me, you are not a quilter, you may just find it inspiring. 

     A lot of my studio time, is spent in preparation. Whether its ordering new gemstone beads, making paper beads, texturing and painting paper, designing new pieces, peeling paint from palettes, or organizing color combinations, it is all necessary steps to the assemblage of wearable art. I have found that the more time I spend on the preparatory steps, the more resources I have to work with and the better my finished pieces become. I also have learned that the steps can take as much energy, inspiration and imagination as the finished art. The preparation is the work behind the art, the madness of my method. And of course, 

it's pretty black and white.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The value of values

      "Light is everything in the visual arts. Without it these arts could not exist. The artist controls light intensity with values, changes its color with pigments, and thereby creates his effects. 
   Like all animals, we are extremely sensitive to light, and any change in its intensity affects us strongly. Sunlight stimulates, twilight calms and makes pensive, and darkness depresses with fear and mystery. These are universal reactions to light and are as ancient as Adam."   

               Maitland Graves, The Art of Color and Design, 1951

"The artist is born to pick, and choose, and group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful- as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he bring forth from chaos glorious harmony"    
                                                                                                                     James A McNeill Whistler

      When my youngest son Jesse was in high school, I offered a summer painting class in our studio. Jesse was one of my students, which thrilled my heart. Also in the class was one of his team mates from the swim team.
      I taught a method of painting where you do a value study using one color only. Start by applying a thin wash of color to the canvas. This is your medium value. Now "erase" everywhere the values are lightest. Just take a damp rag and go in while the paint is still wet. Next go in with a darker, but still transparent, value and establish the darks. It is a discipline to make yourself see the lightness or darkness of a color without adding color. You have to keep asking yourself "how dark is this area compared to this area?" It is a great exercise in seeing what is there without the distraction of color. 
Once the values are established, you add color. Keep the paint translucent so the values show through. The painting will have a beautiful depth and richness to it because you have first recorded the values. 

So my other student listened nonchalantly but then went straight ahead with his painting without any reference to value. It didn't really matter what I taught, he was going to do his painting.

Without first establishing the values, all the colors have the same flatness, and the overall effect is bland. 

Here's Jesse's first finished painting.

This is Jesse's second painting, which earned him first place in the Latin Club art exhibit. He used the same technique of establishing values first, then adding color. The values show through the color, giving the painting a richness and interest.

So there is the value of values!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

One of my best teachers

     I thought I couldn't wait to get in that painting class.           I used to stand outside the door and look in and dream of the day I could be a student in that class, with those old oak easels and leaded glass windows on the third floor of the old art building. Not to mention that wonderful fragrance of linseed oil, always present in the painting studio.
Now I was there, and it felt hopeless. My professor, the venerable Dr. Murphy, would take great interest in the work of a few of her students. The ones who knew what they were doing. But with me, she would come up behind,  watch me paint for a moment, and say the same thing every time.

 "Well, finish this one and go on to the next one."

Intimidating. Frustrating. Even embarrassing. Truth is I didn't know what I was doing, and I needed someone to teach me.

But I slogged on, moving from one amateur looking painting to the next, hoping to improve, hoping to one day hear something more from my teacher.

Then it happened.

I was in a smaller studio space, still on the third floor, next to a big window that looked out onto the wooded art terrace. I was painting a brown tree trunk, concentrating on the patterns made by the light coming through leaves. Again, she watched for a few moments, then said, "See that tree out the window?' I want you to go downstairs and go outside and take a good look at the bark of that tree. Then come back up here and tell me what colors you see."

I did what she told me to do. Lo and behold, I did not see brown! I saw reds, blues, greens, beautiful grey violets, ruddy oranges and earthy yellows. Tints and shades of every hue, each one variegated and blending into the next.

     I went back upstairs with a fresh perspective and a new respect for color. First thing I did was put away the tube of brown paint. I used the three primary colors in new ways, daring and coaxing them to become tree bark. 

It's been 38 years since I sat in Dr. Murphy's painting class and learned to paint. Her well-worn advice to "finish this one and start the next one", is some of the best advice I ever heard when it comes to painting. You have to paint and paint and paint to learn how to paint. You have to observe, sketch, plan, design, yes, all that. But mostly you have to paint.

So these memories have come back vividly to me, since I have started my painting series from the cabin in the woods. All those tree bark colors, grayed down and subtle yet rich and inviting, are silently reminding me of my first attempts at painting. 
So, here are a few detail shots from my painting series, which is otherwise off the radar until further notice. 

Notice all the color in the tree bark?!

Every color but brown!

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments, but I can't unless you leave them here. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ten things I love about living in the country

   Here they are, in honor of David Letterman (who, like me, graduated from nearby Ball State University): the top ten reasons I love living in the country. 

10. I love the eggs that our neighbor brings from her chickens. I open the carton and the eggs range in color from brown to light green to creamy white. And unlike the ones from the store, they usually have specks of grass on them! Now that's legit! 
And the taste- oh so full of flavor. 

9. I love my drive to work. I use to live on the north side of Orlando and drove across town to go to work. It took over an hour and traffic was nuts. Now the only traffic jam I get in is if I'm behind a tractor on the road. 

8.  I love the view out my kitchen window. Recently my husband removed the old fashioned shutters that have been on the kitchen window for at least the last 40 years. The view that had been covered up for all those years is breathtaking. The shutters will not be going back up. 

6. I love that we have on our property a log cabin. No plumbing or electricity, just a one room cabin in the woods. Can't see it from the street. Perfect little getaway. This year we made into a guest room.


5. I love watching our cats be their feline selves. They hunt, roam, frolic, preen, eat and repeat. Sometimes they even model for photo ops. Never a dull day for cats. 

4. I love how the trees and fields are alive with lightening bugs on summer nights.

3. I love not being in a neighborhood association and getting a warning in the mail if our trash can is visible from the road (it's not) 

2. I love how our address is coordinates on a grid, instead of a president's name or a tree. 

1. And the number one reason I love living in the country: 
Our country art studio: Wallker Art Dept!!

Our plan for Walker Art Dept is to enlarge our studio space to include living areas and a classroom. We are eventually going to offer workshops and classes here. We want to offer weekend packages for people who wish to come to the country for a weekend of good food, wine and art making.  

Want to come? 

I would love to read your thoughts,  but I can't unless you share them with me! 

I made this for you before I met you

    This year I decided to come up with some new show pieces so I could have exciting, attention grabbing jury images. With this goal in mind I sketched, designed, tweeked and re-drew on paper till I was sure I had a strong look. 

Then I assembled the pieces using my chosen materials:  dried paint films, leather, jasper, epoxy clay, handmade papers and canvas. One of the pieces I came up with was this one.

      At work in my studio, I squirrel away for hours on end and come up with a plethora of crazy jewelry pieces. Sometimes at the end of the day I look at what I have made and think to myself "OMG who would wear that?! What was I thinking? Am I crazy?" 

(I am, after all, an artist with an on-going internal dialogue and at times I need to tell it to shut up!)

The funny thing is, when I go to a show, and put those pieces out, someone comes along that is the perfect fit for the piece. It's like I made it just for her before we ever met.

        So at my last show, the Butchertown Art Festival in Kentucky, I put this piece in my display case. And lo and behold, along comes this beautiful woman with her husband, looking for a truly unique neck piece. She sees it and there is an immediate connection. We look at several other pieces and also find the right earrings to harmonize the look. Then, after spending about 30 minutes in my booth, considering several options but still going back to the first one, they do the unthinkable.  They walk off, empty-handed,  into the crowd!

        I could go on about how many times per show I hear "I'll be back", or "I'll think about it" and then you don't see them for dust. Well, the next day they came back! They had walked the entire show, of which there was a good selection of jewelry artists, and decided to come back to me. She tried it on and yes, it was a perfect fit. 

  So one thing I love about doing shows is how I get to meet the customer. Like this woman, who I obviously, yet unknowingly, had in mind when I made the piece. It is hugely gratifying to me when this serendipitous connection is made. It inspires and motivates me to keep squirreling away in my studio on the rest of my new ideas and designs. 

Would you like to see my other jewelry pieces? My shop can be found right here .

Or you can come to my next show and actually see, touch and try on pieces. That is July 25th and 26th at the Art Affair on Main in Belleville, Michigan. 

I would love to read your thoughts,  but I can't unless you share them with me! 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Plan vs. Serendipity

  What is it that makes art happen? Does it happen because the preliminary sketch has every painstaking detail? Or does it just flow out of the fingertips of the artist? Or is it somewhere in between?

Serendipity: noun. 
1. An aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. 
2. Good fortune; luck.

Plan: noun.
1. a scheme or method of acting, doing, proceeding making, etc, developed in advance: battle plans.

Like I always say, there is a balance in there somewhere.

        Once I was at an art show which was not very well attended and I had time on my hands. I was showing mixed media collage. It was a beautiful venue in Florida and the weather was spectacular. I don't know where the customers were, but dang it, I needed something to do. I found some white typing paper and a ballpoint pen and starting sketching the palm tree across from my booth. I sketched in a very stylized, doodling kind of way. And since I had nothing else to do and still no customers in my booth, I sketched some water lilies and a flamingo. Here it is, loosely stuck in my sketch book years later:

        So several weeks later I am in my studio and came across the sketches. By that time I was looking for new material for collage and needed a point of reference. Inspiration hit when I realized how the palm tree design could become a striking collage on a large canvas. I enlarged the sketch, made a pattern, and transferred it to canvas. I collaged the palm fronds from textured  painted paper against a simple but intense blue sky. 

  Point here? I  did not have a plan that day sitting in my booth, but out of boredom and not being good at sitting around, came up with what later became a plan. I developed several collages from this one page of doodling sketches, and was able to find buyers for most of them.

Many times the sketch is the plan. It is the backbone, the blueprint. It is what comes first, what allows the art to then "flow out of the fingertips." Without the backbone there simply is no standing up, no structure. The sketch gets revised and changed, upgraded and altered, yes, but it is still there, providing the plan.

I know, I know. You don't NEED a sketch to create your amazing artwork. Why waste your time?  You don't need a backbone either unless you plan to stand!

    See, now I have a plan. I can change my plan. Make a big collage with corrugated cardboard and burlap on canvas. Or watercolor paper and tissue paper on wood. I could use this design for stationary or pillowcases or coffee cups or a room divider. Weave it on a loom. Silkscreen it on fabric. Combine it with words. Let the hard lines fade or blur or become invisible. Do a stained glass window. Scratch it into clay and bake it. Or just stuff it back in my sketch book and maybe my grand kids (which I don't have) will find it someday and do something with it, (or not.)

And that's okay, get over it. Artists should have pages and pages of sketches, whole sketchbooks in fact, that never make it into the limelight. It's okay. Because sketching is the backbone of the work, whether the sketch is ever seen or not. Just the fact that you sketched means that it is not only in your sketchbook, it's in your brain. And once it's in your brain it can come "flowing out from your fingertips." 

With my artwork, I start with a loose plan and a color scheme. I have a solid idea where I'm going with the materials at hand. But once I start working, it becomes more like a conversation with the materials. The paint gets peeled up from the palette, then it wants to be embellished. Old bits of retired drop cloths want to be included, as do scraps of leather, beads, and handmade paper. I have to let them speak, so to speak. If I say but but but this is the plan, it might say, well have you considered this option or this color or this layer of stuff? Then I have to listen. And that's the serendipity part.

So you start with a plan, but stay flexible, tuned in to the possibilities. That's how art happens, again and again, new every time. 

I would love to read your thoughts,  but I can't unless you share them with me! 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What's the deal with harmony?

So what's the deal with harmony?  

     Harmony lies between he two extremes of monotony and discord. It combines the character of both. 
      The dictionary defines it as  "A consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity."

    Here's one of my family treasures. 

         My dad acquired this sign and hung it in his Sigma Chi frat house when he was going to Butler University in the forties. He met my mom on campus at the library and the rest is history. She told me recently that the sign was hung in their first house, as well as every house they lived in during their 20 year marriage. 

I remember it hanging in the basement where my dad had his office. When mom and dad split up the sign went with her. (So much for marital harmony!) Years later when my mom remarried the sign appeared over the back door in the garage. A few years ago my brother spoke up and said he would love to have the sign, and it traveled with him to California. This year my brother moved to Cebu City in the Philippines. He sent me some boxes of his personal momentos for safe keeping, and guess what was in one of the boxes? 

Now it proudly hangs over my work space, where I endeavour daily to visually harmonize my artwork. 

You don't always know beforehand how to harmonize. You gotta take what is at hand and make it work. I think about how on the show "chopped" they are given three totally incongruous food ingredients, and expected to come up with gourmet dishes that excel in presentation and taste in like 20 minutes. That's how it is in visual design as well. The artist works with totally unrelated colors, shapes, line, form and texture and has to make it harmonize. 

Aesthetic design depends on striking the balance between monotony and discord. An art piece can be harmonized by the use of similar colors and shapes. Somewhere there is a balance between too much and too little, too loud and too quiet, too big and too small. There are many ways to achieve that balance; and the artist chooses the way that he or she sees fit.

Here is one of my show pieces for 2015:

Here are some jewelry pieces by Alexander Calder.

Add caption

I love how each piece is a harmonious blend of colors, shapes, line, and form. Even though there is repetition of elements, the overall effect is far from monotonous. 

So what's the deal with harmony? 

I would love to read your thoughts,  but I can't unless you share them with me!