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.

White Line Printmaking December Class

This morning I finished teaching seven students how to make white line prints. It was only a total of two and one half days but they accomplished quite a bit. Here is some of it on the show and tell table.

Andy’s work above. And some details from the class.

Amy’s work. I think I have a convert here and we really loved her designs.

Carol’s little carved bird was a sweet image. Jill borrowed the pattern for her own carvings.

Pam’s first landscape. And below her candle cards and trees.

And then snow added to her trees in the woods. Lovely!

Pamela’s holly leaves.

Susan’s poinsettia block and print. She made several of this beauty.

And then her lovely still life.

I tried to get more of my Christmas cards pulled from the block. And now am working on a tiny scene of a pine in the snow with a small present and bow. More of that later. In the meantime I came home from class to find a happy face in the foyer.

Til later.

That Time of Year

Starting now the bucks are staying close to the house and corn. They nudge the little ones out of the way and follow the girls into the bushes. We have one old matriarch who has raised several fawns over the years. She does not hesitate to push back and run these big boys off if they get bothersome. Males can be a bother to some of us older females.

We are finishing up the Thanksgiving weekend with projects around the house. Our son comes down this time of year and helps out. He is making wine glasses out of the tops of the wine bottles that his dad cut to make drinks glasses from the bottoms. He spent several hours making the turned bases from scraps of wood for the bases. Lee and I now have a set he made for us. We will test them out in a couple of hours.

This one was made with a bit of charred wormy chestnut left over from Lee’s large dining room table he made several years ago. Most of our guests enjoyed drinking from these as well as learning how Patrick made them.

Besides the wine selection there is always the Thanksgiving feast of turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry relish, green beans (haricot verts). Followed up with a wonderful pumpkin ginger cheese cake and pumpkin pie with additional wines.

All these Thanksgiving meals look the same. Someone missed the gravy on this one. Lots of filling our plates and stomachs and then groaning about it afterwards. More of the tradition. There is always such good conversations going on. Mostly politics and art. Politics because we have no guests that can possibly ignore the abominable situation our country finds itself in this past year, and art because we all love it. Below is what sits on the chest by the new Christmas tree this year. My sculptures based on Robert Hughes’ book titled, Fatal Shore, about the convict settlement of Australia.

Last year Patrick and I decided that we would do a 19 Crimes themed tree. All I needed to do was save nineteen empty bottles of the wine with the convicts pictured on the labels and presenting corks depicting one of those crimes that got them deported down under. The wine is good and fairly inexpensive. Lately the nineteenth crime was released and I found mine just in time to make the deadline for an opportunity to go to a party in Alcatraz. Not my idea of a night out but I have collected an embarrassingly amount of corks, visited their distributor in Melbourne and feel I need to carry through with whatever is offered by the makers of such good stuff.

Recently they came out with an app for the Iphone that makes the character on the label come to life to give you three short statements about their plight. Their heads turn, eyes blink, mouth moves….all terribly clever. All making sure that you have a complete selection to show your guests how amazing it all is. The company deserves having a themed Christmas tree for all their efforts and added amusements in my life. So here it is. Using the same large beams that we assemble each year and configure to fit our theme.  Remember the Cow Story from two years ago?

Very un-Christmas-like and then last years Oil Can Collection tree?

Well here we are now!

There are all nineteen crimes represented on nineteen bottles that include the warden. Wine red ribbons flow from upturned bottles into wine glasses down below. The grape clusters are made from stained corks grouped together. My friend, Moe, gave me iron rats a few years ago and they scurry in and out of the stashed bottles. The Amazon-ordered grape leaves arrived just in time. We arranged the beams to give us the maximum of “serving” areas. When it gets darker and we open another bottle, I will photograph it with all the remote controlled lights glowing. We love it.

Here are some details.

The two cab savs sit side by side here. The one on the left was the convict whose descendants objected to his being put on the label and his replacement on the right. The quality stayed the same.


And the Hard Chard lady convict who carried the nineteenth crime to me. I particularly like her sad tale.


At the top of the tree perched on a barrel are the first and latest reds.  The newest one (laying down) is called “the uprising” and has been aged for thirty days in rum barrels. His label has scorched edges and seems the only one with a sense of humor.

And more details of spilling wine and cork grape clusters. I will get back to this later….the sun is about to set and I need to find the cork screw.

Okay, it is darker and here are some more with the lighted candles.

Finishing with the warden. This was great fun. Boggles the mind what Patrick and I will do next year to top this one!

Til later….

Alone in the Studio

Sadie is looking for the students we had in the studio last week. All she could find was the local turkey family. It is just a week before the Thanksgiving holiday and the leaves are leaving rather quickly.

I am busy in the studio working on pieces for the exhibit next April when I return from Australia. Here is one of the work tables with all the pieces (actually just about half) needed to make decisions on placement, arrangement and commitment. I am combining papers, prints, cloth and bits of Nature onto boards.

I like lining up lines that relate to the overall “landscape” of the piece.

And I am just showing the detail shots of some of the four finished pieces.

Some like the one above include a wood engraving I did a few years back on a paper purchased in China.

Some are a bit narrative using several cropped wood block relief prints about my yard and fish pond.

Here is one that I thought was finished but decided to add just a bit of an etching done in Australia.

These details are feeding into plans for extra small and more intimate pieces.

While in Japan we would walk very early in the mornings, often in the mist. I carved a wood engraving of the small stacked rice stems in the fields along the road just the other side of small bamboo fences. The “outtakes” of these prints are coming in handy now for the new work.

This afternoon I will take all the built spacers that have to fit in between the glass and the collage and cover them with black paper before the tedious job of fitting them into the frame.  I should just buy black foam core material for this, but hate to waste the scraps of museum board so cut and layer up the thicknesses I need. If I paid for professional framing, the cost would be so much more and I rather like the challenge of doing it.

Last night we went over to a neighbors for a bit of refreshment. This is what greeted us in the front yard.

Isn’t that lit tree sweet? It just sits there in the woods as a reminder that more than Thanksgiving is coming. I am not all that ready for any of it. The year went too fast. And I was reminded last night by another neighbor that I used to be more social with taking turns hosting gatherings of neighbors and their friends. Then, he reminded me, I declared that I no longer wanted to do it, so take me off the list. It did not take very long before it was more strangers than friends that gathered around the table….but even some of the “friends” I realized I did not care to spend an evening with, much less feed them.

Once you become part of a community there are expectations of performance.  And I am simply too much beyond having the willingness to participate. It was a lovely evening with good food and very good company. Lots of catching up with some of the neighbors I do enjoy and we could come home not feeling we had to host the next one. I think there can be rewards for being just a touch ornery. Age with a sense of limited time can do that to a person.

Now I should be thinking about the menu for Thanksgiving….something to feed nine people I very much look forward to feeding and spending time with. I can already hear the conversations of art and politics…..opinions on both are easy to share over good food and wine.

Hopefully some of them will compose a letter for the Trump bowl made by one of the students last week to be mailed to the White House soon.

*And if any of you want to contribute to the bowl, I will send you the address to have your letter added.

And just for fun here is some of the art that showed up at Art Group last Sunday. I am proud to contribute dryer lint to my fellow artist so he can add to the mystique of these pieces. The one in the foreground is a “Fake News Detector.”

We could not get it to work in my house….too much National Public Radio.

Til the holiday next week is over.