Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Playing (Not) In the Mud

Although I did a lot of gardening in upstate NY following my college years, after I moved to Houston, I did not stick a shovel into the (so-called) soil until I had lived here about 15 years. Total shock. The shovel would barely go in, and lifting it was quite the feat because there was no dirt as I knew it, only clay. Now I have been here some 36 years and I am still grumbling about such digs.
 
 
Here is some sticky clay I dug up yesterday. We are re-landscaping the yard around our brand new garage. The builders were here January through March. Since then, we have had the building painted and bit by bit, are fixing up the yard.
 
 
First of all, we had to remove a lot of construction rubble. Trying to flatten the dirt is torture. There are bits of concrete and occasional chunks of sandy clay, as well as the dark brown oh-so-sticky clay. I find myself wondering if anyone has ever processed the Houston clay into the real thing one could use to make pottery. Don't know.... In college I learned how to throw pots and have a vague memory of my Ceramics teacher, William Klock,  taking us on a clay dig field trip. I have never returned to ceramic-making, but oh, how I loved working on the potter's wheel. Perhaps one day I'll get back to it, but I have been saying that for way too many decades.... 
 


I finally planted some azaleas in one area alongside the garage. I dug two of the biggest holes I have ever dug and supplemented the soil with sand, mushroom compost and bagged soil. Honestly, what with the heat and the intermittent heavy rains, it felt like that small project took a few weeks. There is lots more work to do around the hose area and I need to redo some flagstones. I can only take the heat for an hour or two at a time, plus there is always a massive cleanup of shoes and tools. Grumble, grumble....

 
Here is another shot of the garage. We put in a border of egg stones around two sides of the building out to the drip line, hopefully thus avoiding nicking the paint with the lawn trimmer. Before putting down the rocks, there was lots more digging in the clay. As you can see, some of the garage is painted white, the rest a shade of aquamarine. Weird, I know, but we love that color and those three bright walls are only visible from the yard. (We also have the back of the house painted aquamarine, so there is some continuity there. Flowers growing behind the house look great against the vibrant paint color.)
  
 
And meanwhile, in the far eastern corner of the yard, the figs thrive! Hopefully we will get at least a few before the birds attack them. When the remaining landscape work is done, I plan never to dig into the clay again. From now on, container gardening is the way to go!


Monday, April 18, 2016

The Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin






I was up, down and all around reading The Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin. Milo Andret is the genius mathematician/topologist at the heart of the novel. He is a man who hurts, ignores and confuses most everyone, including his wife, son and daughter. Milo's greatest achievement, as far as I was concerned, was carving a large chain out of a single piece of wood when he was a boy most at home in his native Michigan woods. Later he wins a prestigious mathematics prize, but it does not bring him happiness. Professor Milo becomes very much an alcoholic and is thrown out of Princeton. To me, it seemed he presented many characteristics of what is now called Asperger's Syndrome. Also, his forays with LSD during college seem to have lifelong hallucinatory effects.

Thank goodness about halfway through the book, the point of view changes to that of Milo's son, Hans Andret. Hans has much mathematical ability as well, and I had high hopes he would not crash and burn like his father. Let me just say he eventually does better. But as a teenager and during some part of his adulthood, he becomes very much a drug abuser , though he eventually seeks rehabilitation. Hans is a much better father than Milo ever was, and the scenes with his children really come alive.

I appreciated the wives of these two men, but found I wanted to know them better than Canin allowed. Their inborn kindness and nurturing ways often save the day. Least developed is Paulie, Milo's daughter. By book's end, I did see a bit more into Milo's soul. And ultimately Hans won my respect. At times the book was a bit repetitive, especially concerning Milo's brutish patterns exacerbated by alcoholism. I am amazed I was able to stay with a novel concerning so much higher math, since I am totally lacking in aptitude or interest in the subject, but Canin's writing is so accomplished, I could not give up on the Andret geniuses despite their mathematical follies and fancies. Genius in any form is always fascinating to me. Yes, I wanted to ditch the book some of the time, but I persevered and found my way to its last scene, a moving one that brought the story to its natural end.       

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Gelli Printing Can Be Addictive

As my adventures in gelli printing continue, so does my enthrallment. And mind you, there are lots of unsatisfying results, but there are also always a few marvelous surprises. Lately I am enjoying printing on colored paper. The next few images show collage papers I have printed in the last few weeks. I do not consider them as finished pieces, but rather as papers I will use to make collages. Some may serve as backgrounds; others will be cut up or sewn on. 
 
 
This one is rather psychedelic. It started out as a yellow sheet of paper. I don't always remember just how I get certain effects, as is the case here, but I think the bottom of a shot glass was involved.

 
I found the tie dyed effect here rather pleasing. I had rolled out stripes of color and pulled one print. Then I spritzed the remaining paint on the gelli plate with a little water and pulled this ghost print.

 
Bright green paper with purple and teal paint are also pleasing to me in a painterly way. I already cut some of this print up for collage.

 
This effect comes from rolling a somewhat cylindrical piece of dried cholla cactus wood on the plate.


And here is one stitched 8 x 10 collage made from gelli-printed papers, as well as papers I tossed paint onto. I am getting more and more into sewing on paper. I have been apprenticing myself to collage these last 6 or 7 years since I retired. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours to gain mastery in a field. Not counting my sporadic periods of making collages before I retired, I guess I have some 6,000 or 7,000 hours of practice under my belt at this point. So I still consider myself an apprentice. There is always more to learn! I have enjoyed watching the short how-to videos on the Gelli Arts website and find them to be much more enlightening than most of the YouTube presentations by amateurs. Gathering supplies for gelli printing is never-ending at this point. I find things in dollar stores, on the street and in my own backyard. Plastic packaging is often interesting. The only problem is the growing amount of storage space needed, ah well....
 
Sleep, Eat, Make Art, Repeat! 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout


I found My Name is Lucy Barton to be a spare and eloquent book. The manner in which Elizabeth Strout presents her protagonist Lucy feels truly intimate. Manhattanite Lucy Barton is laid up in the hospital for weeks with a strange infection. She misses her young daughters. Having made her way out of a deprived childhood via a college education, Lucy has not been in the company of her own mother for many years.

It is indeed a gift when her mother appears at her bedside, uncharacteristically travelling so far from small town Illinois. We begin to hear more about Lucy's strange, impoverished childhood not so much from the mother and daughter conversations as from Lucy's recollections as her mother dozes in a bedside chair. And so what is left out of their conversations is often more important than what is said. But oh, how Lucy cherishes the sound of her mother's voice. Her visit is indeed a gift.

Another interesting factor is that Lucy dreams of becoming a writer. We see that she has the knack of being an inquisitive and thoughtful people watcher. She loves many people in her life deeply, including the devoted doctor attending her. Lucy lets us know that she will never write about her marriage and also that there may be some lack therein. Much lies in suspension as Lucy stays hospital-prone. I read the novel in one day and found it to be a character-rich literary masterpiece.

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!