Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A New Series of Print-based Collages

These are my new collages, all made using printed papers from Gelli plate monoprints.
To tell you the truth, I stumbled on this way of using my Gelli prints because I did not much like them as individual pieces. So I have reclycled bits and pieces of them into collages.

I need to come up with a name for this new series. I see sky, earth and water shapes in the abstractions. I am hoping my subconscious kicks in with just the right term soon. Also, I'd like to take this series to one of the Monday night critique sessions offered by the Visual Arts Alliance. I have been a member for two years, but somehow just never get around to attending one of their monthly critique session.

Putting these together is fun, kind of like a puzzle. These collages are my first new works of the year. I hope to do lots more Gelli printing in the months to come.
Thank you for taking a look!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Favorite Books, 2015

An analysis of my favorite reads this year proves I was almost as equally into memoirs as novels. As usual, I tended to read books written by women more than men. And Knopf seems to be my favorite publisher, no surprise since they are known for their roster of literary giants. Seven of the ten titles below were published this year and three are older. And so here they are:
Coming Into the End Zone by Doris Grumbach (Norton, 1991). Wrestling with her 70th birthday, Grumbach takes readers deep into her mind and soul, often quoting fellow writer friends. I felt a fine kinship with her love of the written word, solitude and the ocean.
11 Stories by Chris Cander (Rubber Tree, 2013). This unusual novel features a 9-fingered Chicago super named Roscoe Jones. One night while playing his trumpet on the roof of his building, he falls. We fall with him in exquisite slow motion, reading tales about his tenants, his life and regrets as each story of the building passes by. Tender, quiet, soulful.
Hausfrau by Jill A. Essbaum (Random House, 2015). As the secret and adulterous nature of her life escalates, a German "hausfrau" marooned in Switzerland experiences much turmoil. A stunning novel that bears comparison to Madame Bovary by Flaubert.
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (Knopf, 2015). Imagine three tragic plane crashes in your neighborhood in the span of a year or so. Judy Blume grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the early 1950s, and yes, those plane crashes really happened. Blume's characters struggle with fear, anger, love and loss in a way that I found exceptionally real. Dive into this if you are in the mood for a long, emotionally moving novel you can really settle into.
Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig (Riverhead, 2015). Wondrous storyteller Doig left this awesome novel behind when he passed away this year. It is a Great American Road novel featuring eleven year-old Donal Cameron. Some of his stops are planned, others totally spontaneous. Donal's summer on the road, riding buses, fearing a future that may include an orphanage or poor house, is chock full of toil and trouble, newfound friends and much adventure. Truly a classic!
M Train by Patti Smith (Knopf, 2015). There is a strong theme of pilgrimage to musician/poet Patti Smith's latest memoir. She proves herself to be a star at following her own obsessions, be they Frida Kahlo, Genet, a good cup of coffee or  totemic objects. Though there is much travel described, there is also a sense of coming home when she buys a rundown house in Rockaway Beach, New Jersey --  no matter that hurricane Sandy tears through it shortly after her momentous purchase. Little remembrances of her late husband Fred Smith are among the most intimate moments shared.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (Knopf, 2015). In my life, a new novel by Haruf has always been a cause for celebration; reading this one was bittersweet in many ways since it was his last (he died in 2014). In Our Souls at Night, we meet a widow and widower who venture into a friendship that turns into a romance. We witness some healing of loneliness, yet also sense there will be no happily-ever-after. Melancholy, spare, eloquent.
Split: a Memoir of Divorce by Suzanne Finnamore (NAL, 2009). A soul-splitting, gut-wrenching memoir of divorce, telling it like it was before, during and after the author's husband walked out the door. Surely the legions of women who have been through divorce dramas would appreciate this book; I know I did.
Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (Knopf, 2015). Blue is my favorite color and Anne Tyler my favorite author, so I am biased. Yes, here we have yet another Baltimore family in all its beloved messiness. The house that generations of the Whitshank family lives in is unthinkably up for sale by book's end, but in between, oh how I enjoyed bustling around with all of these classic Tyler characters. I did not want the book to end and hope for a sequel.
Unforgettable: A Mother and Son's Final Two Days -- and the Lessons that Last a Lifetime by Scott Simon (Flatiron, 2015). This book is a tribute to Simon's mother, Patricia: to her spunk, courage, humor and sheer loveliness. NPR broadcaster Simon (whose voice is familiar to me from decades of listening to NPR) slept on the floor next to his mother when she was in the hospital dying. What fine times they had! They shared memories and many laughs. I envy him the closure he found during his last days with her. Poignant and substantial.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Get Thee to the (Art) Marketplace!

I find deadlines and art challenges to be invigorating. At the same time, I have learned not to overdo the adrenaline rush. Last year I about did myself in by developing double vision when I took on a big volunteer art project read that post here). For the last few years I have enjoyed participating in a friend's Holiday sale and it is upcoming again next weekend (see invite at end of post). So for the last few weeks I have flitted between making collage magnets, cards and a few 5 x 7" paper and cloth sewn collages. This is the first year I have tried using quotes on the magnets. I love to collect quotations and turned to my commonplace notebooks to see which ones fit on the tiny magnets. I repurpose laminate samples as the substrata, thanks to my cabinetmaker husband.

It was easier to sell arts and crafts back in the 1970s when I was an art student. Rarely were there any fees charged for participating in a street fair or farmer's market. I sold pottery, silver jewelry and crocheted items during my SUNY-Plattsburgh college years. Nowadays, I do sell some art online or by consignment in local shops, but I need to make more of an effort to get my art out there into the world. I may try Etsy next year, plus I should hunt down more opportunities locally. The competition is fierce. And I sure like making the stuff more than figuring out how to sell it. One bonus of being a "maker" -- I have gifts for friends and family readily available.

Here is one of the sewn collages featuring a lovely Indian water bearer.

And here is a Mexican Loteria card collage featuring La Sirena.

Come one, come all to our sale in the Meyerland area of Houston!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gelli Prints, Mixed Media, Sewn Collage, etc.

Art-wise, I've been enjoying a change of pace and much exploration of monotype Gelli printing, abstract compositions, sewing on paper, the use of watercolor and acrylic paints in collage as well as watercolor pencils. My head spins sometimes as I go off onto tangents, experimenting, researching techniques, tools and processes. In any case, I am having fun.
Joyscape 3: This one started as a Gelli print, then went into collage territory and then yesterday I sewed onto it. I have ruined a few collages on the sewing machine, but this one seems to have come through and I think I about finished with it.

 Joyscape 2: Acrylic paints, tissue paper... Not much sewing on this one and I may do more. 

  Joyscape 1: Various papers including some I bought in Chinatown, sequins, hand and machine sewing.

Untitled (07/2015): I loved doing this one, though some of the colors ran later on when I top-coated it with clear medium. Most of the papers in this one were Gelli printed by a friend who most generously shared a stack of her inspiring handiwork with me.
Output of a Gelli printing session last week. These are not at all finished... After a printing session, I pick out a few favorites that seem to have the most potential for development, and the others go into artistic limbo.
A few favorite Gelli prints I will work with soon. I love nature printing and have become quite the leaf thief. I don't think my neighbors mind. As I walk or ride my bike, I pluck leaves from low hanging tree branches. The leaves are easiest to print with when they are still somewhat green. If the leaves are too dry, they crumble.
I have to be in a certain mood to get out all the Gelli printing tools and materials. There is always a huge mess to clean up afterwards. I have two Gelli plates. One is 8 x 10" and the other is 6 x 6". I am liking the smaller one better, perhaps because it is square. Anyway, the process demands quick action because the paints dry fast. Golden Open Paints are the best and dry slower. I have been busy cutting out stencils and masks. They say that Gelli printing becomes addictive. I can see that  now, though the first time I tried it, I was a bit disappointed. I think I wanted the prints to be works of art the minute I pulled them, but as time has gone on, I've learned to play with my output more and turn some of them into finished pieces.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig

In a "Note to Readers" on the website for writer Ivan Doig, the author mildly rails against being pigeonholed as a "Western" writer. "If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it’d be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life."
For me, Doig has always been one of the great American storytellers. I was saddened to learn that he passed away during April of this year. But he left behind a wonderful novel that does him totally proud: The Last Bus to Wisdom (Riverhead, 2015). Doig came from humble beginnings in Montana. His parents were sharecroppers, his grandmother a ranch cook. In a You Tube "Authors Road" interview with Doig, I learned of these and other similarities between the author and his Last Bus to Wisdom protagonist, Donal Cameron. Both had red hair and loved comic books. Both spent time on Indian reservations. Both had an affinity for language. And yes, The Last Bus to Wisdom found its start in Doig's memories of a cross country bus trip he took in 1951.

And within its pages, I found a similarity between myself and eleven year-old Donal. We both loved our grade school autograph books. Bussed to Manitowac, Wisconsin for a summer while his grandmother has major surgery, Donal loves to pass that autograph book around and collect witticisms. In fact, he wants to collect so many that his astonishing collection might hopefully become a Ripley's Believe It or Not! newspaper story. Donal is not shy about offering the book to a wide assortment of people he meets on the Greyhound bus and other places his summer of adventure takes him: waitresses, hoboes, rodeo stars and -- believe it or not -- even Jack Kerouac, pictured here as a manic midnight bus rider (closing his signature with: "On the road somewhere south of the moon and north of Hell...").

When Donal gets to Wisconsin, he quickly sours on the company of his bossy, mean-spirited Aunt Kate. Luckily, he rather enjoys the company of his German-speaking Uncle Herman. But moping around their home, Donal fears for his future. If his grandmother dies, he might end up in an orphanage or poorhouse. Beyond this point in the novel, wherein Aunt Kate has a meltdown and puts Donal back on the bus, things really heat up. No need for me to spill the beans about what happens, but trust me -- thus forth, readers are in Great American Road Story country. Okay, one hint: Uncle Herman goes along for the ride and before two long both of them become true desperadoes. This unlikely pair face toil and trouble with much wit and imagination.

I count this as one of the best books I've read this year. The Last Bus To Wisdom reads like a classic, in the vein of Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Doig typed this and all his other books on a typewriter! For me, it is bittersweet that his last book has that very word "last" in its title. At first I found the title a bit odd because I was taking it too literally. There actually is a census-designated place called Wisdom, Montana (2010 Census data population:115), now forever immortalized in Doig's old-fashioned, yet fresh and frisky novel.

PS: Here is my beloved autograph book and one of the silly sayings on its pages. I recently enjoyed getting together with three childhood girlfriends, and oh, how we howled reading through its (mostly silly) pages.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Reviews by Us & For Us on Goodreads and Amazon

Book reviews used to be my primary selection tool for finding books I wanted to read. I don't read as many reviews as I used to, especially because I am no longer a working librarian ordering books. I still enjoy reading the New York Times Book Review. Guess I am a dyed-in-the-wool book nerd -- it's actually the first section of the Sunday paper I reach for! I also enjoy BookPage, a giveaway book review magazine I pick up monthly at my public library. NPR does some great book reviews and I often jot down titles listening to their author interviews. I also browse through book stores and libraries. Last but not least, interesting books come to me via word of mouth: friends at yoga or church telling me about what they are reading.
Yet in this age of the Internet, I tend to read reviews more after I read a book than before. Call it the age of the informal electronic book club... On both Goodreads and Amazon, there is a wealth of opinion and reading those reviews often feels to me like I am putting my ear to the ground to learn what people really think. I do appreciate professional reviews, but to get a consensus of opinion, there is nothing like reviews by the people, for the people. Yes, I am aware that Amazon fights a problem of bogus reviews. I prefer browsing the reviews on Goodreads.
After I read a book, I often feel like comparing my reaction with others. So I usually do that on Goodreads after first setting my own rating or writing a review. The longer I've stayed on Goodreads, the less I want to write negative reviews. I usually only take the time to write a review when I really like a book. But it amazes me to see how often books garner both good and bad reviews, proving how widely reading tastes can differ.
I especially have problems giving authors one or two stars out of five on Goodreads, though it does happen... Sometimes a book is just not my cup of tea, however well-written. I know how much work and devotion goes into writing books. Unless I want to throw a book across the room or stomp on it, I tend to err on the side of generosity. For example, I just could not give Ms. Harper Lee anything less than 3 stars for Go Set a Watchman, although honestly, I found it a bit less than compelling, especially compared to her beloved first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Opinions are all over the place for Go Set a Watchman. I didn't want to join the crowd either way on that book and so kept silent. Oftentimes on Goodreads, you will see that a book has thousands of ratings but a much smaller percentage of reviews. Some readers are just not writers.
Yet I am of the opinion that all these electronic opportunities for us commoners to publish our thoughts about books we read has to be improving not only our critical skills, but also our writing skills. Who knew so many people cared or could write so well? I love to click on "like" for good reviews or chime in with a comment. This is democracy in action, being able to say what we think, publish what we think, taking for granted such free speech. And to able to do it instantaneously online is quite wonderful. Thanks for reading these humble opinions of mine. To see what books I've enjoyed lately, click on over to my very own Goodreads page.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Easier to Begin Than Finish: a Concept I Have Often Noticed in Both Arts and Crafts

Across the years, dabbling in ceramics, jewelry making, crochet, sewing and collage, this is what I have learned is a common conundrum: it is much easier to begin making something than to finish. Ask any knitter, quilter or crocheter about their unfinished projects and most often they want to run and hide. We all have too many half-finished projects stuck away. Often in the excitement of picking out new materials, we get excited about a new design and jump into that project. Yes, sometimes it all goes smoothly from start to finish. But often the finishing details are the bugaboo. And the more time you spend on a project, the more important it becomes to finish it successfully. The project shown above is a collage I put aside for months before I felt brave enough to add paint to the canvas.
Here is a Texas map I began making in response to a recent Cloth, Paper Scissors magazine Readers' Challenge. The rules were that it had to be no more than 8 x 8", and use a mix of cloth and paper. See above the start of my Texas map. At this stage, I am just playing.

After I completed my paper map, I cut out a blue cloth outline of sorts. Future steps will include sewing the various elements. And this is where it really got tricky for me, as I was not at all used to sewing on paper. It really could have ended badly.

But ultimately, things did work out. I had an easy time of sewing on the map itself. Sewing on the darker blue fabric was truly a mess and I thought I had ruined it. I tried all different kinds of stitches using red thread. Somehow I got away with it and I am glad to say that in this case, the efforts were worth the time and this image was just published in the July/August 2015 Cloth Paper Scissors issue. I even got a whole page -- page 88, to be specific! (I can not link to it since the magazine comes only by subscription. It is available in bookstores right now.)

In traditional paper collage, getting such works ready to enter art shows can be challenging. I can not always afford to have work matted and framed by professionals. Lately, I've been doing a lot of work on wood panels. The tricky part there is the finish, often varnish or other clear mediums. I spent hours getting the wood ready for collage on a piece recently. It was a small slab of found wood with layers of peeling paint colors. After I did a lot of sanding and smoothed out the area with wood filler where I needed to mount the collage, it was time to clear coat the thing. No wait, before that, I painstakingly glued green velvet ribbon around its sides, finishing the upholstered look with brass nails (sorry, you can't see that effect in the photo below). Then I used several layers of semi-gloss matte medium, fighting a few little bubbles and buckles. Hurray! It was finally ready to enter in a show.

And here is the outcome on that: my piece, called "Dreamwaltzer," was not accepted for the intended show. Oh well, win some, lose some -- that is part of the creativity game. Before that piece, I completely ruined a decent collage I had worked on for days by attempting to sew on it.
There is no way around such investments of time and technique. It is all a part of the process. You learn as you go along. I have gotten used to the inevitable failures. At times it feels very healthy to abandon or destroy a piece. In college, I took a lot of ceramics courses. You might love the pot at every stage and then hate it when it came out of the kiln with a lackluster glaze. In collage, most of the time, I have three or four pieces going at once. Things need to dry or flatten, etc., so I work on an alternate piece. Often I reach a sticking point towards the end of a collage when I find myself backed into a corner, unable to devise or find the last few pieces needed. At that point, I need to set it aside for a day or longer and come back to it fresh. Sometimes that works like magic and I am able to solve the problem easily enough. Yet I do have a file full of iffy unfinished work. One of the great things about collage and mixed media is that you can always cut up whatever it is and use it in some new way, or cover up what you don't like with new materials.
Anyway, when I am feeling weary of complicated projects, I turn to simpler creations, be they small stuffed toys for donation to charity or quick postcard collages. Or I get compulsive about organizing my art supplies, always a fun process. Inevitably I find things I can't wait to work with. And I love having an orderly work place. Both my parents were neatniks, so I've got plenty of those genes. Being organized helps keep me on center. This year has flown by with plenty of days or weeks when my attention was turned towards home and garden projects. Now that it is so hot, I am spending more time inside making art. No day is long enough! I love the creative life.
This small collage, "Cityscape 3," was a fun piece that came together quickly.
This piece, "Femme Undulata," took a little bit more effort and actually contains part of an etching I did in college, as well as a suminagashi experimental scrap. I have a lot of fun experimenting with different materials.
Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts and looking at my images!
"Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium."
- Henri Matisse