Thursday, February 22, 2018

In My Alternate World of Digital Collage

I am about 140 collages into my 500 digital collage experiment. When I first started learning GIMP, I gave myself that 500 image goal to encourage myself to keep experimenting. I have trashed some of the initial tries. The ones seen here today are among my recent favorites. 

The small astronomical circle in the upper left hand corner is a realia scan -- I picked up the painted metal disc in an Austin junk shop years ago. I love being able to flip my images, as I did with the female figure. I also used the posterize application at certain points in this collage.

This collage combines two of my favorite "symbols" -- that of horses and ferris wheels, both rather magical to me. The horses were found on an old postcard and reminded me of Belmont Racetrack, which was practically in my backyard as I grew up on Long Island. Some of my monoprinted papers which I scanned into my picture library also came into use here.

 Guess I could call this one "the Butterfly Effect"..... Most of the imagery came from my collection of Dover clip art.

Both the mushroom and Hello Kitty erasers were photographed with collage in mind. Our world has gotten so divided and conflicted lately, the kitties are hearing the call of "Beam me up" (and that's about as close to political commentary I ever get).

I get so busy at times that I don't sit down to do the digital collage often enough. Life has a habit of interfering with art... I feel a bit frustrated at the learning curve in that I seem to be using the same few applications over and over. I need to go online more often and see how other GIMPers do things. 

Collage is like a hall of mirrors. Every direction you look, you see something different and visually stimulating. - Nita Leland, artist and author

Monday, January 29, 2018

Playing Around with Black and White Photography

Perhaps you heard of the Black and White Photography Challenge? It was going around Facebook and I enjoyed seeing people's daily photos. Then a dear friend asked me to do it and I was elated. The shot above was my favorite, showing the shadow of a potted plant on our patio. You were not supposed to say anything about your photos on Facebook, something I did not realize until I was almost done with the Challenge -- oh well. I found that taking photos with an eye to black and white and choosing seven to share was an enriching experience.

Yes, doing the Challenge made me re-appreciate black and white photography, even though today no film is used and we all have an array of apps and effects we can play around with on our phones and elsewhere. For me, looking at black and white images is calming, meditative, rich and soothing. I took many more shots than I could use for the Challenge. This one is a favorite, taken years ago, showing rain drops on the inlaid stone surface of the Labyrinth at the University of St. Thomas.

I took this shot of cowboy hats for sale at the Fiesta grocery store and it struck me as a very Texan image. I did use it for one of my Challenge uploads.

 Here are some collage scraps in my desk drawer. My art room is full of scrap boxes. I have to stay organized or I'd go crazy. I should do a whole series of Collage scrap photos! Though perhaps color photos would be more interesting...

I have quite the collection of black and white rocks. My love for them goes back to my upstate NY college days, when I began finding them on the shore of Lake Champlain. I knew I had to shoot my rocks for the Black and White Challenge!

Here is a shot I could not use for the Challenge, as there was a stipulation you could not photograph people. It shows my shadow with our Havanese dog Dylan early one morning this past fall. Sadly, we lost the dog at the end of November. He was quite rambunctious and managed to get away from my husband one Sunday and ran into traffic. He was immediately struck and killed. We only had him 6 months. He was a joy and loved everyone he met. He was a very happy dog. I am glad he did not suffer a lingering death. Bless his sweet soul. This photo now looks to me like the closing image to a chapter in the book of our lives with Dylan. And because of the time of day, it truly was a black and white photo. This month we adopted a rescue dog we are calling Riley. I will post his photo another time...

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Favorite Reads, 2017

As I looked back at Goodreads and my reviews on to choose which books to list here, I noticed that my reading year was very much about fiction and to be more specific, about character-based fiction. The plots didn't matter much if the human beings appeared real to me. I hardly read any nonfiction worth mentioning. Could it be that the crazy world of 2017 (particularly in Washington, DC) was just too unreal and I fled to fiction even more than usual? Maybe so. I've always had a predilection for character-based fiction. I have to care about the characters to get into a novel. And so, here is my roundup of fictional favorites...

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2017). For those who enjoyed My Name is Lucy Barton (2016), here she is again: younger, vulnerable, easily affected and disaffected by her family and the folks surrounding her in small town Illinois. Strout's pared-down writing delves into the deepest soul of human matters.

Child Finder by Rene Denfeld (Harper, 2017). We follow private investigator Naomi around the Oregon woods as she looks for young Madison Culver, missing now for three years. Soon we know Madison is alive but held captive. And here's the clencher: Naomi was a missing child herself and has not yet resolved the missing pieces of her past. A taut and rather literary suspense novel.

Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan (Crown, 2017). WWII is raging and most of the men are gone. In a British village, a group of women band together to form a choir, a shocking move for the times. Chin up! Get ready to giggle and cry reading this cozy, engaging tale.

A Fugitive in Walden Woods by Norman Lock (Bellevue Literary Press, 2017). When Ralph Waldo Emerson gets involved in the Underground Railroad, he places runaway slave Samuel Long in a cabin near that of Henry Thoreau's on Walden Pond. Thrown into the company of the erudite, high-minded Transcendentalists, Samuel is in for quite the education. I was humbled by his point of view and learned a lot about the history of those times.

Gifted by John Daniel (Counterpoint, 2017). Henry Fielder is orphaned by the age of 16. Violence has come into his life and often he runs away to the woods. Animals come to him and they "share spirit." This is a rich, dark read (probably not for everyone) about a boy who seemed to me to be an old soul.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, 2017). When an offbeat artist and her daughter rent an apartment in a cookie cutter suburban town in Ohio, their landlord's large family is in for trouble. The title is both literal and metaphorical. I raced from character to character and worried about them all.

My Mrs. Brown by William Norwich (Simon & Schuster, 2017). Mrs. Brown, a quiet woman of a certain age, gets it into her head that she must own an Oscar de la Renta dress. Her unlikely quest is such a hoot! Read this novel if you are in the mood to feel that good manners still exist and that the human race is a decent one.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (Atria Books, 2013).  Though the string of murders that occurred in the summer of 1961 in small town Minnesota seemed a bit unlikely, it mattered not for I was swept into the world of two brothers whose sleuthing, bungling and lying were well swept into the plot. 
This book had the feel of a beloved classic.

Saints for All Occasions by Courtney Sullivan (Knopf, 2017). Two sisters from Ireland make their way in America, but end up not speaking to each other for decades. One becomes a wife and mother, the other a nun. Between them lies a whopping secret. I always fall for stories of Irish America and this one was a doozy.

Two Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman (St. Martin's Press, 2016). In 1947, two friends marry very different Jewish brothers who own a box factory. The two couples share a two family house in Brooklyn. If this living arrangement sounds like trouble, you are right. Read it to share in their joys and sorrows.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Dear Eleanor Oliphant,
Listen — you say you’re completely fine, but give me a break. On the third page of your book,  you tell us you hadn’t invited another human being, voluntarily, across the threshold of your Glasgow flat for all the years you’ve lived there. The meter reader doesn’t count.
At age 30, you’re “a self-contained entity.”  You drink way too much vodka every solitary weekend. Oh my, and you believe almost everyone you meet is rude or have “woefully inadequate” social skills. My dear, it’s easy to see that you’re the one with a huge deficit in the area of interpersonal relations.
But I did give you points for being a reliable office worker. And then there are the scars. When I learned one side of you face is disfigured, I began to feel some sympathy, knowing there was some history there we readers needed to learn in order to figure you out.
Well, it took some investment of time. But I’m glad I kept turning the pages.
Along came various chinks in your armor! First of all, you came down with a ridiculous and humongous crush on a rock star and start beautifying yourself. Then, along with a coworker named Raymond, you happen to come across an old gent who has fallen in the street, and together the two of you end up rescuing him. Later, you’re goaded into visiting him in the hospital.
Sweet, bumbling Raymond starts asking you out to lunch — and for the first time in what seems like forever, you realize you have a true friend. Slowly the story of your life with the most horrid mother on earth, a house fire she set, and your subsequent placement into foster care are revealed.
And that is where I’ll stop, as I do not want to totally expose your secrets. So even though at first, I didn’t take to your story, by mid-book, I was rooting for you. All the way.
Things that had been long roiling in your subconscious come to light and are even shared with other human beings. Congrats on meeting many challenges and telling us of your struggles. I closed the book feeling quite impressed with its author — you, as channeled by Scottish author Gail Honeyman.
Take care now and maybe later on, let us know more of how you are getting on in life.
Yours truly,
A most delighted reader
PS  Have you read the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend? There were droll, darkly comic bits of your tale that reminded me of Adrian Mole, high praise indeed!

This review also appears on! Thanks to Molly Lundquist for a few finishing touches.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fall Fever Strikes

Though Fall officially arrived last month, in Houston it still felt like high summer. When a few days of more tolerable weather arrived this past week, I came down with fall fever. Three days in a row, I was able to get out in the yard and do some gardening. I also did some flagstone maintenance. It felt great to comingle with nature in my own backyard.
Here is one corner of the yard where a gremlin keeps watch on things. He had gotten overgrown with ruella, but now his view is clear again. Some species of ruella are now considered invasive in Texas, but I find them to be a pretty sturdy and reliable flowering plant.

This area got freshly mulched after I turned the soil to get rid of weeds.

 The southern side of the yard was crowded with a motley assortment of plants, but I wanted to highlight the lemon tree and be able to walk around it, so I did some digging and mulching, resulting in a cleaner look. Rewarding!


Buddha continues to sit under the fig tree and has gained an angel companion (actually part of a broken bird bath a friend gave me when she moved away). 

Here is one weed, some kind of shamrock, that I let grow in some areas of the yard.
It reminds me of Ireland!
I love agave plants and usually have several growing. This one started out tiny and has outgrown successive pots. It seems happy in this tin washbasin where it gets a lot of sun. A few volunteer flowers showed up alongside the agave over the summer.
Keeping the yard alive through out long hot summers is always a challenge. These last few years, I have been simplifying the foliage so that I won't resent my yard chores. To some extent, I have succeeded, but I am susceptible to impulse buying in nurseries come spring. There are always new flowers and herbs to try. One change that will help me going forward is that when out lawn mower broke, Tom and I hired a great yard guy to do the mowing and trimming. There are still lots of other chores to do in the yard and I appreciate some of that work as good exercise.
I am looking forward to the Herb Society's Annual Herb Fair on November 4th. It will be held at the Judson Robinson Community Center, 2020 Hermann Drive, Houston, 77004. I do have some room for more herbs, and the ones they sell are always healthy and affordable. Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Adroit Shenanigans

"Going gold" is the expression or title I kept thinking I would use for this month's post. But that sounded rather braggadocious, especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey when so many people are relatively homeless here in Houston. How so -- going gold? Not my credit card status... Not the app-modified golden photo of my cat Molly above.... Instead, it is related to collage...

This 4 x 4" collage on wood entitled Adroit Shenanigans is the piece of art that catapulted me into the Gold Signature membership status with the National Collage Society. Let me explain... I joined the NCS in 2010 and was extremely pleased to learn on of my collages had been accepted for that year's juried exhibit. Every year I entered these annual competitions and had success again in 2013. This year, because my collage above was accepted for the 33rd Annual Juried Exhibit and was my third such acceptance, I became eligible for "Gold Signature" status. This denotation gives me the privilege of including the NCS insignia on any collage I sign. It is a pat on the back I really appreciate and may come in handy in the future, especially should I start applying for solo shows. The show is being held at the Union Street Gallery in Chicago Heights, IL from September 27 - October 28, 2017 and will also be online at NCS soon.
The fact that this teeny-tiny piece of art was accepted and therefore was the road to "Gold" delights me. So may people in the art world tell aspiring artists to work BIG. I've only gotten as big as 16 x 20" thus far and most of my pieces are 8 x 8" or 9 x 12". I love working small. For one thing, my scanner is your typical desktop size and taking larger art to be scanned or professionally photographed is cost prohibitive. Most art shows today depend on digital entries, so the ability to scan my art is important. Secondly, because I often use Dover clip art books, I have to work within the smaller scale of my found images. My art has also appeared in Cloth, Paper Scissors magazine and their Reader Challenge size requirements run small.  I have also learned that many collectors have run out of wall space and are turning to smaller art. Think tiny houses and the trend towards simplicity! Many baby boomers are scaling down, so small art makes sense.
As for Horrible Harvey, the rainfall was quite scary. We sandbagged the front door and watched our street turn into a lake. The photo above shows our flooded street (no curb in sight and the water level risen to halfway up the Stop sign pole). And though the rain continued for days, our house never flooded. Several of my friends suffered major or minor flood damage. Heaps of hurricane debris still litter the front lawns of many homes nearby. We dodged the bullet, and in the days after the storm, helped others as best we could.

I took a long-planned girlfriend getaway trip to Sedona, AZ in early September. Hobby Airport was still affected by the hurricane, so I had to fly from Austin and back. Sedona was marvelous. Every day the scenery blew our minds. That said, I am more of a water person. I like to roam around ocean or lake shores. I am not a mountain climber, and so felt a bit removed from all the Sedona beauty, merely an observer, not a participant. Best tourist experience: visiting the Amitabha Stupa Peace Park, a place I believe almost anyone would experience as sacred.

Monday, August 14, 2017

GIMPing Towards Digital Collage Skills

GIMP is a (free!!!) Graphic Image Manipulation Program that I am currently studying. People tell me it is much like PhotoShop. I figure maybe I will have to do about 500 creations before I am anywhere near proficient. I am fortunate to have an artist friend who knows her way around GIMP and so I was able to take two classes with her at the start. I own one book about GIMP which I am very slowly reading. There is also good help online, thank goodness, because the mysteries of GIMP are many. But mostly I just play with the software and try out different tools. Here are a few of my experiments:
I loved learning how to use the bucket tool to pour paint onto this black and white postcard image of a ferris wheel. Then I added Da Vinci's Vitruvian man to finish the collage. A lot of my imagery comes from Dover Publications. I have been buying their books for years and using their images for collage.  Some of the books came with CDs, which I am now also putting into use.
This landscape-like collage experiment is made using scans of my Gelli prints. I have spent many hours scanning these prints into my PC. That way, I can create with them digitally even after they are cut up and pasted down into a "real world" collage.

These flowers were made learning how to use the Fuzzy Select and Color Select tools. The original flowers were photos I took in our backyard. I am by no means saying this is a finished piece of art! But who knows, maybe I will use a few of the flowers again later in a GIMP piece.

Star Babies, anyone? I used the Brush and Pencil tools to play with these black and white images. Starting out in GIMP, choosing black and white imagery against a white background almost feels like cheating since no one can see your clumsy cut lines! Herein I also learned to use the Rotate and Scale tools.
This image started out as a bunch of GIMP scribbles. I then turned to my Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI software to make a kaleidoscopic/mandala-like image from the scribbles, always a fun experiment.
Finally, here is an oddball constellation of mandalas, all of them made with some combination of GIMP and Paint Shop software. Playing herein, I had to do a lot of rotating and scaling to get the circle forms to work together. With this image, I am about 70 experiments into GIMP. I've got a long way to go (at least 500 experiments I should think...), but am determined not to put pressure on myself about it, not to overdo GIMPing to the point where I get a sore mouse finger or carpal tunnel syndrome, but rather to play and explore without giving up my printmaking and "offline" collage practices.
This month, I feel lucky to have two pieces of art in a Visual Arts Alliance show at the Silos on Sawyer here in Houston. I won't put the images up today since this is a GIMP-related post, but look for them in the future.
As printed on one of my favorite t-shirts: Make Art, Not War!