Still Unsettled

I am still floating out there with my fish. Touch of snow still clinging. I thought it would be gone today. When you get older never read too far into the weather forecast on your Iphone. I thought it was going to be in the 50s today….that is tomorrow. So still cold. Still cloudy. Still waiting for hoses to thaw.

And still waiting for inspiration on something to keep me occupied artistically until company comes for the holidays.

I finished the eight small pieces. I tried to not do them all at once, but never mind. I just kept going. All finished, framed and on the wall with the other pieces, all made for an April exhibit.

Here is one.

All in black specimen type frames.

I think I added a touch of something to this one after I photographed it. Funny how something comes to you after you think it is finished.

Anyway, those are on the wall. And then to something else that these prompted. Going back to drawing some of the bits of Nature in the studio.

I found a lovely moleskine type sketchbook that Inga Hunter from Australia gave me a while back. Then I blocked out a section and picked out three things that would fit. My first thought was that I would do watercolors in light layers to build up color. But once I got the new Graph Gear mechanical pencil with a .3 graphite lead, it became all about the drawing, the shading, the building up. It felt good to get out my drawing tools.

The new pencil.

The other tools because .3 is not going to give a whole lot of darks.

A private student had the Graph Gear pencil and this lovely mechanical eraser. I bought them both together on Amazon…my store of choice and necessity anymore. Rummaging through my pencil box is always fun. I like the sound of those graphite sticks bumping into each other. And this Australian pencil box bought at an airport on my way out of the country is wonderful to slide open to find other treasures. I bought this large soft brush somewhere because I just liked the look of it. But it is indispensable in brushing away eraser crumbs instead of using an already graphite-covered edge of my hand. And those gummy erasers that make nasty dark dirty marks simply disappear somewhere in their bellies, never to be seen again. Magic. And a great tension reliever.

So here is how that drawing ended up. I tried to take my time. But less than two hours later what more can I do?

I have three more things that I will arrange and draw next. Killing time. Trying to stay focused. Waiting for someone to visit. Thinking way too much about things that I probably shouldn’t be thinking about.  Sending letters and faxes to selfish, incompetent Congress members who seem totally focused on lining their donors’ pockets as well as their own. When did we get so politically pathetic? November 9th, 2016 is probably the correct answer to that. We just need a November, 2018 to start getting it right again.


I have one more week before company comes. I could easily fill Inga’s book by then. I just ordered more graphite leads for my new pencil. To make the order worthwhile, I tossed in a few colored inks for intaglios. After the holidays I will get back to the press and try to work with color. It seems most of what I like doing has very little color….earth tones at best. And it is not my gloomy mood or the gloomy weather. I just like dull colors and bright people.

Til next week.

Trying to Focus

I used to look out the window here in western North Carolina, see this, and think “lovely”.  Not so much now. It is cold. It brings electric outages. It limits access to an internet that all too many times I have become dependent on. It prohibits driving anywhere until it all melts off a sloped, curved asphalt driveway.

When did I not want to put on some mittens and go out to make a snowman? When did I start seeing only the icy patches where it would be easy to slip and fall?

So I stay in. Happy to have a gas stove to cook a lovely chowder on. Happy to have a generator that keeps the main necessities running. Happy I have an art practice to get back to when I can settle down and not let the weather control my mood. It should all be gone tomorrow. Good. Hopefully this was our winter and spring is just around the corner.

But the last few days I did ricochet off the walls looking for something to hold my interest long enough to see it through.

Like the chowder, it takes putting your hands on the ingredients. Then getting the right mix and your senses begin to stir and lift. How can you not smile when frying bacon bits, onions, celery, carrots, yellow peppers?  And then seasonings like smoked paprika, thyme, savory, sage added with cut red potatoes, corn and chicken stock. Finished off with a bit of flour paste and half and half and whatever cheeses can be rescued from the refrigerator. Just the right amount of everything can come together to pick a person up out of the doldrums. A single malt scotch late in the afternoon can also help. Especially when there is a sympathetic soul on the end of the line who understands your moods.

Things do get better. The holidays are coming. The gifts are wrapped. My cards are all made and sent out. Friends and family will be here for Christmas dinner. Some will replenish the scotch. And the sun is shining.

But all that aside, I worked in the studio yesterday on small framed pieces using bits and pieces that I love handling. Like the chowder, this handling of ingredients has been very uplifting.

it is the blending of tiny pieces of cloth, specimens in bottles, leaves, prints and stitches. Remember how we used to buy specimens of butterflies or large bugs in deep black frames? That is what these new small works remind me of. Each item placed just so to become a collection of evocative thought. Of course an isolated phrase from that old cut up romance novel is there to act as an identification of sorts. I offers a direction for the mind to go when viewing the small bits mounted and encased. As I hang them on the wall, I carefully move from one to the other and wonder what in the world I will do after all eight are finished. What can I do with all those bits and pieces left over?

One of my favorite things is the loosely woven cloth that was just a scrap dyed in a vat with other botanical contact prints made in Australia.

It is only about four inches wide and eighteen inches long and I love every square inch of it. Tiny bits get cut away and frayed and stitched into place. Or in one of the new pieces I put a tiny, very tiny, scrap into a very small cork stopped glass bottle.

I will work on more today. With the power back on it is also laundry day. There was no trip to the diner this morning due to the possibility of ice on roads. But there is always tomorrow for that. Folding laundry, ironing, putting everything away and having the last of that scrumptious chowder is on next.

Then back to the studio and finding just the right phrase in that browned and tattered romance novel. Making it relevant to the scattered bits of other things from different times and places.

Til later.

New Works from Old Ideas

This assemblage is in a 16″ x 20″ frame and has hung in the guest rooms of our homes since shortly after we moved here. I probably put it together in 1994 or 1995 after walking the property and finding this irresistible piece of bark with tracking marks on the inner side. I wondered if it could be a language and perhaps a message for something.

It is a pitiful photo as I just took it through the glass from several feet away. But I remember thinking that the message could have been for moths. Maybe they were to get in formation and go somewhere together. I stitched fancy stitches as paths with my sewing machine using gold thread and twined together grasses and sticks with fine brass wire. All of it was mounted on a heavy tapa cloth paper sheet and attached to a larger lokta paper on board.

I loved this piece and I think I still do. The moths came from a printed tissue paper used for wrapping gifts. I bought a couple sheets of it because I really liked the colors and soft details of the moths. I carefully cut out one of each, and then some, to position around the bark message. Then I added the other bits because it seemed like a good idea.

It is more than twenty years later and I am still drawn to things in the natural world. While working yesterday on new pieces for an exhibition next spring I remembered this piece and thought of the similarities. Here is a photo of one of the new pieces…..and it actually is in the same size frame.

Even the palette is similar. In this “new” work I am using actual bits and pieces from Nature that have been altered in some way, contact prints from gathered plants and etchings or wood engravings of other gathered plants done on my press in the studio. I like fitting the things together, arranging them on a fixed size surface. The ones I have completed so far remind me of pieced quilts. The sewing machine has been used in the attaching of one piece to another.

The first two of these are heavily influenced by the Australian Travel piece from a few weeks ago. It takes so much cutting and piecing that even the bits cut off might be just the right thing for the next one, or the one after that.

I don’t think I ever stopped doing this…fitting bits together. Here is one of the HomeWorks done for John C Cambpell Craft Shop a few years ago.

And these were influenced by the Curiosity Cabinet series.

And all of these had old collographs I did in undergraduate school as background “wall papers”. There is only one left that I keep with the Expedition of Elsewhere: the Evidence as part of my artist statement. And that whole exhibition was based on discoveries in the natural world.

And more recently these that sold through the Craft Shop as well after being framed in shadow boxes and “landscaped”.

Back in the eighties at Arrowmont a friend and I thought we should try exchanging materials. She used colored plastic covered telephone wires and I used lots of gathered plant materials. We did not last an hour before trading back. Each of us totally incapable of working with such foreign materials. Once in our hands the other’s material was seen as limiting our access to whatever we wanted to say. It didn’t work. I ended up twining a small basket in bright colors with buttons of all things on the ends of the spokes. I made her work with her materials. She just soaked my sticks and grasses, got offended by the smell and feel of them and gave them back.

I am not sure we can escape from what our hands want to touch.

Anywhere that is where I am now. I am going off to lunch, then back to these little fellows that should benefit Planned Parenthood in a time of angry, ignorant men making choices for women’s rights.


Using the XCut XPress With New Bed and Botanicals

While in Asheville I purchased a cutting board at a kitchen shop for $11.99. It measured 13″ by 19 3/4″ and I had Lee cut it down to 8 1/2″ by 18″ because there was a cut out handle near one end. I had already cut a mylar piece for keeping the surface easy to clean and although it was 8 1/2″ by 20″, it was easy to chop off the two inches. I use my board shear to cut the mylar but tape both sides where the cut will be so as not to shatter the plastic.

Next I took the still damp leaves from doing contact prints on the scarves and placed them into the press between various sheets of papers. Here is the first using Stonehenge printmaking papers.

I like the softness of this and plan to use them as they are in pieces for new work like the Australian Travel panel I finished week before last. Here is a reminder of that piece. New works for the exhibit at River Gallery in Chattanooga next April will be similar to it and the small Messages from the Driveway series.

After trying the leaves on printmaking papers, I decided to just use copy or office papers that are about 24 lb.

I am taking advantage of the new longer length bed we made. I must say the bed is not as thick as the one that came with the XCut XPress but only by 1/8 inch or so, and it was easy to pack in the difference and increase the pressure.

I will use these softer prints to try some of my dry point etchings over. Especially since I have so many etchings of Eucalyptus trees, leaves, and pods.

The embossings are nice and not so easy to see in these images. But they invited me to try another tack with them.

Drawing in with pencil, after trying and failing to get silver point to adhere to the surface. If I gesso the surface before imprinting leaves, silver point would have worked. Next time. So I softly used a graphite pencil to emphasize the natural leaf marks. And, of course, water colored the leaf. This was fun and they will be used as well in the new works with prints on cloth and other dry point images.

My final play for the day yesterday was using my iron water on the papers and then placing leaves and blooms in between. Rolling through twice was not such a good idea as the smaller leaf created its own shadow. But these I will stitch into and disguise that….I think.

What I learned is that it is messy bringing those wet smelly leaves into the studio. Trying to sort out the ones that were flat and trying to not get too much dampness on the papers was a challenge. I have already stained my new longer cut felts. I will cut new ones from felt that I bought to make those despicable little pin cushions in the likeness of a despicable little fingered man….but that is another story.

Today I will do some more drawing and printing into and over the papers I amassed yesterday. And I will get out my local and Australian earth pigments to do some coloring into the botanical contact prints.  I must say the hard part is picking out which side of the printed papers to use. The easy answer is to turn them into a book so both sides of the paper can be seen….but isn’t everybody doing that already with their contact prints?

More stitching and coloring is the try for today….next week maybe some gessoed papers to do silver point on after printing.

Til then I am cleaning out all those dead leaves and giving them a toss. There happens to be bunches of fresh ones in the foyer waiting til I want to work with Eucalyptus again. And then there are all those ones that I used my burning tool on that will find their way into this new work. Remember these?

And my new frames came yesterday so I can cut the museum board the right size to start planning on the layouts. I just have this next week to play before I have private students taking over my thinking (which is a good thing) and my studio the following week.

So I had better get to it.