Drawing and Drinking Stories

I am this far with the first scroll to put in a bottle and set free. Just about eighteen inches to go. Then I am thinking about doing some writing for a bottle. What about a short story? Wouldn’t it be fun to break open a bottle and find a story!

There is no shortage of wine bottles or paper here. And I can imagine that whoever receives these bits of me will be happy they found it. So much better having that thought in my head than someone giving a work to someone who really wished they hadn’t. This way I can continue to make up my own narrative.

But on the subject of wine and other spirits, I don’t think I have ever properly talked about my ever increasing set of books of collected labels and memories of those I shared drinks with.

I just finished putting together the fourteenth book, all ready for labels to be pasted in with comments. On the book shelf they look pretty innocuous.

I started in 2000 by peeling off the label from a bottle containing something alcoholic. Once stuck in I would write something about the drink and company I drank it in. There were to be no repeats of labels but repeats of companions was of course just fine.

Each book had to have the cover made using the bag that alcohol bottles are put into at the shops, or wineries, or distilleries, or….

So here are some of the first ones.

Liquor Control Board Ontario….nice bags. A bag from a winery visited in New Zealand. And Hanging Rock Winery in Victoria, Australia…..just across the road from the famous site and story of Miranda and her fellow boarding school girls that go missing.

And some others from Australia ( LiquorLand….love that shop name). Buffalo Trace right from the distillery in Kentucky. And the Sticks winery in the Yarra Valley that has since fallen a bit short of its hay day. The black one from YarraWood is the latest book filled with more blank pages than I think I can fill…..but maybe not. The first one is placed with the story yet to be added from dinner out the other night with a good friend who came down to spend a couple days with Lee and me.

That Pinot Noir was nothing less than stunning.  Thank you, David from the Copper Door for suggesting it.

And here are some other pages from the other books.

Seems I drink more in Australia or maybe they just have more new labels to collect.

A wine from two former workshop students who came here. Lin is now gone and I like how she is often remembered by me in the studio and when I peruse these books.

Others who have passed have their funeral papers kept in the book with the wine they chose for our last dinner together. John here got a page of remembrance in The Spirits Bar book as well. Some people you just like having a drink with.

And more pages.

And I can hear some of you more discriminating connoisseurs saying, “Why would she drink that swill?” Well actually I will drink almost anything in good company and it all needs recording.

I even cut apart a thin aluminum can to get it pasted in the book.

And favorite scotches….one because it is the one my friend, Moe, always brings down and the other because it is my own personal favorite single malt.

I can not tell you how many times I have sat in restaurants refusing to let the waiter take the bottle away until I have worked off the label. Or stuffed it into a purse to soak later. One time while teaching in Australia, I forgot that I left it soaking in the sink in a shared bath and flooded the whole place. No one suspected because I used everyone’s towels to soak it all up. And the label was easy to remove.

And when you are traveling, you must have tissues or napkins or scraps of paper to stick the label onto. When home they must be removed and given a place in the book, along with the story. I still find some stuck to papers that have been lodged into safe places and I have no idea who I shared the drink with….but I am sure it was good and so was the company.

It is an obsession to have this physical evidence of a shared conversation, a shared meal, a shared laugh.

Here is a couple of tips for removing labels….removing friends is not so easy.

Beer bottles invariably need to be soaked…it is a paste that is not the clingy plastic type and needs be be soaked for quite some time. You are forgiven if you just let the memory go into the trash with the bottle. Beer bottles can be tedious and so can the company for that matter, so just let it go if you do not have the patience.

Wine bottles need only to have their glass heated either for 20 seconds in the microwave, (remember not to put any metal parts in there and that includes those fancier labels with gold leaf on them). If not heated in the microwave then fill it with very hot water and take your razor edge to the side of the label and slowly peel away. I keep an old razor blade paint scraper in the kitchen for this purpose only.

Spirits bottles can have anything as an adhesive. If it won’t peel off when the inside of the bottle is heated with water, then start the soak. I personally find the soaking well worth the time on spirits bottles because I am quite sure that the company was worth the wait.

And I realize that because of iphones it might be tempting to just photograph the bottle and stick a copy of the image in a book. This is not the same! Your companions are worth more than this. The flavor of the drink and its linger on the tongue and in the mind are worth more than this.

If and when you make a book to house all this good time memory, remember to put in spacers to accommodate the addition of the thickness of labels.

That is it for today. Art Group was postponed again today, so I am stuck with the wine and no memory to go with it.

Til later.


What’s Next?

My art is narrative, a story retold with paints, pencil, collage and collections. Each work is a personal expression of time, place and thought. It is what I call “evidence of experience” garnered from my writings, sketchbooks and the things I gather that have meaning beyond their intended purpose.

Those words wrapped around the walls of David’s Fine Art Gallery several years ago when I had a solo show there. The gallery was long and narrow and just the other side of these arches. In fact the arches as indentations in the wall gave places to delineate bodies of work.

Now it has doubled in size by incorporating the bakery next door and become a lovely place to have something to eat. It was a surprise to sit in a booth, look over and realize where I was and what once happened there.

And now I wonder what to do next. What is a person who always made things based on content supposed to do when there is often times little interest in working on something that matters? The politics of our country and for that matter the world, are ripe for art works. But as I have said before, few of my artist friends choose to address this. It is exhausting enough just to follow the news on a daily basis, so the studio beckons to just come down and make something.

“Just make something” seems a bit like wading in shallow waters. I could keep myself busy, amused but certainly not that interested, that compelled to start something let alone finish it. I am at a cross road.

What’s next?

I do not want to make things just to pile them up. The time and energy for doing that would be better spent cleaning house, throwing things out, not adding more.

But I have thought of something. Words. Words on paper. Small papers.

Write another small book and not even bother to think about editioning it. But start by taking an image of a favorite piece of artwork done by my hands from before. Something that had content, had meaning and had to be completed in a visual form of expression.

Then reacting verbally to that image whether the words are about the intention of the work or completely unrelated except by what it may trigger now. How does it make me feel now? What does the color, the line, the form make me see. And how do I respond to that in words.

So this week after a private student has come and gone, I will start thinking and writing. Some of it I will share here in the almost only place I have to talk about art and how it matters.

Here are a few images of old work that has the capacity to provoke further thought.

These seem a good place to start. It is only a beginning.

I will leave with this for now……written at another time when I needed to just listen.


The Sigh

I like the quiet of myself.

There are no unnecessary noises.

Just the scratch

of pen on paper.


And of course the occasional sigh.


Is it fatigue or exasperation?

More often I think it is a longing.

But for what I do not know.


The sigh is a noise the heart makes.

A cry in a way that says,

“I am here….

 and I want something.”


And all I want is quiet

So I can figure out


What is mattering to the heart today.


Sandy Webster

Keeping At It

This morning on our walk at the dam. I love how the mist stays low and hugs the ground as the sky tries to pull it up.

And here is last night outside the dining room window.

The light is at a nice angle as we approach fall and things in the yard just get more interesting.

I wanted another large leaved plant for the bog garden below the kitchen window. Where I usually shop for plants in the Asheville area I was told this one would be interesting with its white marks. So I bought it. It is no where near the size of the purplish/green one from the past few years. It took its sweet time showing the “white” and hardly grew much larger than when I bought it. But I do like the watercolorish look of the color panels through the center.

Two days ago at least six fawns showed up with their mothers. Here are four of them outside the dining room window.  Another sign of fall is the changing color of the deer….back to a taupe tone.

This week I carved a small linoleum block. A magpie, gum nuts and leaves. I wanted to try color on them. First the watercolors made from Australian soils, then other watercolors and then gauche. It was very hard to get any even-ness to the color washes.

But then I decided to just go with fewer colors and like it better. It seems my way of working is pile it on, then take it off. Why can’t I just see the obvious in the first place?! I go through a lot of erasers.

I made nine usable prints on plain white printmaking paper. The non-usable became the test prints for adding color, but still ended up in the waste bin.

Then something I have been wanting to do….print the image on pages from a book. Here they are printed on pages from the Australian book, Songlines. The book is frankly a tedious read. Lots of conversation and not so much the description of landscape that one would expect from its reputation. But an interesting backdrop for the image….and an interesting title for the series.

I have two more linoleum blocks this size to use up. The next will be the head of an emu with a banksia pod and leaves. And the other a sulfur crested cockatoo with a pink gum blossom.  I will show you those when I get them designed and printed.

The ones without the Songlines background text I will turn into sets of cards to take down under in March. With the original prints and cards I should be able to pick up some spending money for my time there. I canceled my first teaching venue as it is on the east coast and few if any sign ups this early. I did it because I know the other classes are filled or likely to be and I really want to control more of my time and who I spend it with while in Australia this time. I am cutting down on any stress whatsoever and going for pure enjoyment.

It is tempting to just say “yes” when asked to teach a workshop. The pay is fun to spend in the country while finding interesting things to bring back to the studio to use or just buy gifts that can only come from there. I love buying from fellow artists/craftsmen and at the airport shops where just one more silly souvenir is irresistible.  And whatever I buy as a gift is so appreciated by those who will only know Australia from those wonderful travel images of outback and empty endless beaches.

On another subject altogether. A friend told me about a woman who is making books in black and white photography to jog memories and conversations with those having forms of dementia. In my vast amount of saved pictures I am collecting images that should be familiar to Lee. Adjusting them to black and white and resizing them for a picture book, I will make a book for Lee to have. Or more likely those visiting him can show to him and perhaps start a conversation or a smile to cross his face. We are no where near that now, but I know it is coming.

Some days it is like the tangling of these small trees on another walk we take closer to home so we can get back here before the cleaning lady shows up at eight am.

I like this image and how dense the growth is. I think Lee’s mind must get like this as he struggles to find the word and often gives up. I know him well enough to just fill in. But for others that haven’t spent over fifty years listening to what matters to him, it can be hard to understand what he is trying to say. The best of them will just fill in a blank or change the subject. Just saying, “A lovely bird went by the window”, or “How’s your sandwich?” is such an easy way to distract his anxiety.

Now he is out using his new battery operated weed eater and leaf blower. The ones that took gas and a hard pull to start have been removed from sight. The batteries only last an hour or so and then he has to quit and come in and rest….a good thing.

I think this will be the cover for the book I am making him. Inside will be pictures of house construction, his cats, deer, rabbits, trees, birds, gardens, food…..lots of things that are in there somewhere.

Til next time.

Something With Pictures

I saw one of these on someone else’s blog. They are made from Lake Michigan rocks and encased in vellum. How could I not want to buy the last two available from Shanna Leino. She is an extraordinary book artist and tool maker. Now my responsibility is to keep them clean. Do not sit them onto painted, smeary, muddy, gluey surfaces. They are between 3.5 and 4.5 inches and quite heavy. Perfect for holding things in place….clean things.

This week in the studio I painted 192 small 2″ x 4″ sheets of kozo paper with 153 watercolors made from the soils of Australia.

When they were dry I sealed the color in on both sides. Sorting them according to colors so that they move through the country by color was a bit of a challenge. I am fairly satisfied now.

Even the very pale sheets have some color clinging to their edges. Here you can see that they go from the greys to creams to light terre vertes to pale yellows and then on to more intense colors. Deeper yellow ochres through the browns to reds and finishing with a nice caput mortuum…deep brownish red….old blood.

My intention with these is to stitch on each sheet before it is folded into a folio and then coptic stitched to the next one in line. I want the long book to flow like the endless landscape of Australia. I want to roll it back and forth between my hands. At least that is the plan.

The thread will be something I bought over there. A cream or beige or Eucalyptus leaf green. Not sure about that yet. Maybe all three?

I have been dipping into these watercolors for several projects.

This one now housed in the South Australia Museum.

This one now in Australia’s National Library.

The Lake Mungo book housed in Queensland State Library.

There were many, many hand pulled prints colored with these same watercolors.

Another thing I did this week was take all of my pop up book collection to Western Carolina University where I received my BFA in 1997. There were over ninety titles. So many were gifts and so many more I just found irresistible. Many came from museum gift shops and were extremely complex in their movements.  They were very happy to receive this collection and told me that the artist book collection I gave them late last year is now housed in their museum. I like that students can have access to these books. Much better than having them in boxes here.

Here is the only pop up book I kept, the one I made myself….Art History Pops Up.

This one was so much fun to make. Ten iconic art images throughout history. We do not have access to the shiny slick papers that make pop ups work so well. It is tedious and very wearing on the movable parts to make one. At least that was my experience so far. I have been asked to work on another with someone knowledgeable on the history of the book. I hope I can live up to his expectations. More on that project later in the year.

Meanwhile that is it for now. But one more thing, the novella, Kind Gestures, is now on my website, offered in spaced out chapters.

Til next week.