Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Favorite Reads, 2018

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler (Knopf, 2018). A woman who has been pining for grandchildren suddenly finds herself in a variation of that role. Classic Tyler!

The Ensemble by Aja Gabel. (Riverhead, 2018). This novel digs deep into the dynamics of a classical music quartet. Physical, mental and musical intimacy make for many complications.

Girl on the Leeside by Kathleen A. Kenney (Anchor, 2018). Siobhan, a shy orphan who loves myths and legends, grows up behind the bar at her uncle's pub in western Ireland. Well into her twenties, she begins to emerge from her shell due to surprising interactions with two visitors.

Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen (MIRA, 2018). A widower quits the Forest Service to go live in an enchanted treehouse. Second chances are the big theme here. One of my favorite characters was an elderly librarian whose library is falling into decrepitude.

Heartland: a Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh (Scribner, 2018). Smarsh gives poverty in America a complete examination, using economic, historical and sociological lenses. Stark and unrelenting, ripping off the scabs from the wounds of poverty the author's family has endured, Heartland begs for group discussions.

Miss You by Kate Eberlen (Macmillan, 2016). Tess and Gus meet in Florence the summer they are both eighteen. Readers then follow them through their young adult years in separate chapters, wondering if or how they might meet again. A suspenseful, saga-like novel which I dearly missed once it ended.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002). Imagine that your bother commits murder trying to protect your family. Then he breaks out of jail. Would you try to find him? That's what the Land family must do, setting off on a quest through the Dakota Badlands. Miracles and revelations follow. I hope this books stays in print forever; it reads like a classic.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (Viking, 2011). A love triangle pulls apart the lives of those involved, very much testing the concept of soulmates. Set in Manhattan during 1939, this novel was tense, colorful and hard to put down. Towles really knows how to spin a tale!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2018). Survival, love, loss, art, ecology and the redemptive powers of nature all tangle together in this tale of a girl named Kya who just about raises herself deep in the marshlands of coastal North Carolina. Oh, and it's also a murder mystery of sorts. Everyone I know who has read this book absolutely raves about it.

The Which Way Tree by Elizabeth Crook (Little, Brown and Company, 2018). When a boy in post-Civil War Texas is called upon by a judge to write letters of testimony about an accused murderer, he proves himself to be quite the colorful storyteller, detailing a madcap journey of revenge and adventure surrounding the hunt for the giant wild panther who killed his mother.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Pros and Cons of Being an Artist

I often find myself weighing the pros and cons of being an artist. I can't imagine not making art! But it gets so obsessive and sometimes takes over my life. That sounds like a con, doesn't it? But the obsession often saves me. I suffer from sciatica and neuropathy in my legs and feet. When I am making art, I hardly notice what's going on down there.

Here are a few more pros: Working with mixed media means there is lots to learn. I never met an art supply I don't want to play with, especially color tools and papers. I especially enjoy learning techniques from videos posted by Jane Davies. I have an endless compulsion to study books on making art. I hope all of this is good for my aging brain.

Here's another wonderful outcome of becoming an artist during these, my retirement years: I have become a volunteer at a summer art camp and get to connect with kids making art. I love seeing their creations. I also have a niece who I've been sharing arts and crafts with for several years. And now we have a granddaughter who will hopefully join me at the art table in a few years. 

One of the biggest rewards of making art is when people actually want to own the things I make. I started down that path as a college student. I sold the ceramics and silver jewelry I made as an art major, not to mention many crocheted bags and hats. I have to sneak in a con here: it is hard to sell these days. Many sale events charge big fees I can hardly afford. And there are so many artists online that the competition is steep. I am on the Saatchi Art website, but have only sold a couple of pieces there. Maybe someday I will sign up for my own website. But instead my attention goes towards making the art. I also donate artwork to various nonprofit groups.

As I write this, I realize there are many more pros than cons to my situation. I have loved doing arts and crafts all my life, but in retirement these last 9 years, I have really been able to focus on it. What a joy! I do have to mention one more con: making art means chaos takes over mid-project and beyond. I can barely clear my desk, and the supplies threaten to climb ceiling high on shelves and in boxes. At times I can't find stuff. I am organized, but since I am constantly moving supplies around, they have a way of going into hiding. And don't get me started on getting paint on my hands and clothing. Since I am getting more and more into mixed media painting and printmaking, the paint gets everywhere.

The habit and discipline of working at something followed me from the library to my art room when I retired. I did not know it would be like that, but it is and so I am grateful for having had such a positive work experience at Harris County Public Library. Now if only I could catch up on the chores and errands put aside in favor of making art...

"How do I work?" said Albert Einstein. "I grope." The same is true making art. 

"What I could not give to life, I gave to words," said Daniel Berrigan. I feel that way about art.

"The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel," said Piet Mondrian.

This piece, a collage made with my mono-printed and painted papers, will be in the ANIMALS show at the Art Car Museum, opening December. 8, 2018 and running through February 24, 2019. This is the first time I have shown work there and look forward to Opening Night.

"Art? You just do it," said Martin Ritt. Yes, indeed!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Good Luck With That by Kristan Higgins

Is there any American woman alive who does not have an issue or two about her weight? You get points if you still manage to feel good about yourself at least some of the time, right?
In GOOD LUCK WITH THAT by Kristan Higgins, we meet 3 women who meet as teens attending a weight-loss camp. As the years fly by, best friends Georgia and Marley share a duplex in a small city an hour north of Manhattan. The other gal, Emerson, has been living in Delaware. Tragically, she has become morbidly obese and in the second chapter we learn she has died.
Emerson leaves behind a slim envelope to be opened after her funeral. In it are her wishes for Georgia and Marley. Actually it is a list entitled “Things We’ll Do When We’re Skinny” that the three friends made years ago at camp. Among the poignant entries: eating dessert in public, going running in tight clothes and a sports bra, holding hands with a cute guy in public, etc.
At first, Georgia and Marley balk at the very idea of the list made so many years ago. But because Emerson never got to do most of the things skinny people take for granted, the two remaining grownup campers do their best to take on the challenge.
In alternating chapters, we grow familiar with the lives of personal chef Marley and lawyer turned-nursery school teacher Georgia. Each has different attitudes towards cultural norms about relative fatness. Occasionally we are also privy to a diary poor Emerson left behind in which she addresses her thoughts to “Other Emerson,” the thinner person she wished she could be.
A friend gave me this book to take along on a long flight home from our annual girlfriend reunion, and at first glance, I wasn’t sure it would be a novel I would enjoy. I prejudged it as somewhat fluffy.
But it was well worthy of my reading time. One rule of librarianship I learned long ago is that no one should have to apologize for their reading tastes! If my friend loved the book, I was going to give it a try.
Anyway, I full-out fell for this novel.
It brought up so many issues women have with their bodies. Also brimming with themes related to family, romance, work, and friendship, it quickly became a compulsive read. Even with all I already know about how women feel about body weight, the book was an eye opener, a sort of fictional Fat-Like-Me expose.
The Readers Guide is readymade for book clubs and weight loss groups. I can imagine some really lively and empathetic discussions taking place around this (ultimately) heartwarming book. Try it – you might like it!

(This review was first written for LitLovers.com!)

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Lost in Connecticut and Other Digital Collages

My interest in digital collage waxes and wanes. Too much time on the computer is not good for my posture, plus my mouse finger gets numb. Most likely I will always be more of a paper collage person, but then who knows -- older age may eventually limit my ability to hoard paper for collage, ha-ha. Meanwhile, both are more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Both have stumbling blocks at times, especially when I can't find what I need to complete a project. And in digital collage, I keep running into the limits of my mostly self-taught knowledge. Only recently have I gotten more of a handle on layers in GIMP, the alternative-to-Photoshop free software I use. The artist friend who gave me a couple of lessons in GIMP showed me layers early on, but I guess I made other features more of a priority and let the layer concepts slide. Now finally I am catching on. As with many things, you learn by doing, and bit by bit, familiarity and skills increase.

This vintage postcard plus a Tarot card figure plus use of GIMP's "posterize" application made for a simple but satisfying image. Poor gal -- she is lost in Connecticut (but help is on the way -- see the tiny boat out in the water).

I took a photo of a window in the Houston Heights decades ago. I painted the image a bit and added the cat, one of ours who is no longer with us.

This one is based on some iPhone photos taken in our neighborhood.

I love Retro imagery and cut and pasted to my heart's content with some of that here. The cowboy is bringing  home flowers to his gal.

More iPhone imagery herein... I love taking photos of puddles, hard to do well while walking the dog, but that's where some of this imagery came from.

I have done about 200 digital collages so far. My initial intention was to do 500 as a rite of passage into digital collage. I started in June or July of 2017. So maybe by 2020, I'll consider myself more of a Pro. I study techniques on YouTube though there is a lot of pecking around to find top quality videos. Learning GIMP is a challenge, but I think from all I have read about aging, learning a new skill like this is good for my brain. May it be so!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Collage News

 I entitled this one "Knowledge Foretold" -- the substrata is a cigar box lid painted black. It will be in a Collage show at the Texas Art Asylum this weekend. Method: fusion collage.

Though I had another larger, newer piece I hoped would get into the 10th Annual Juried show at Archway Gallery, this one, "Mirage Foreordained," made the cut. In any case, it was of course an honor to receive this acceptance. This piece was completed in the fall of 2015, when I was obsessed with using hexagons in my collages.

Every year I enjoy entering the National Collage Society's Small Format show, a non-juried show for members. I called this post card "Ah, the Magic Act of Collage," kind of a silly title but I thought it might have appeal. Adding the snippets of cut paper was fun. This year it was held at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. I did not get to go to the show and had pretty much forgotten about it when a large envelope appeared in my mail with a cash award and lovely certificate. Now that was the best thing to happen in my art life this year!

Here is another post card I considered entering, called "Looking Up," but as things turned out, it was better to have chosen the one with hands cutting paper.

I have two large fusion collages which I worked on for weeks at a time this spring and summer, but can not post them here as I have sent those images into the annual juried show sponsored by the National Collage Society. Last year I was lucky to become a Signature member when I entered a tiny 4 x 4" collage (link goes to my blog post showing the piece) originally made for a Texas Art Asylum show. I never dreamed it would be the piece of artwork that would catapult me into a Signature membership.

That's all for now. It is Houston's hot, hot, hot season. Except for swimming, yard work and walking the dog, I am very much indoors. The bonus to that restriction is it gives me more time for making art. I am also striving to play, experiment and learn new techniques for mixed media, printmaking, collage and quilting. But still, it often seems no day is long enough. Onward through the heat and humidity!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

When I think of Anne Tyler, I think of Baltimore, Maryland. That’s where so many of her books are set, and it’s also the city Tyler calls home. Clock Dance, however, begins in Lark City, Pennsylvania, where we meet Willa Drake at the age of eleven. Later the story will segue to Baltimore, but for now it is 1967, and Willa’s mother, Alice, who has a history of extreme moods, has disappeared. Return to her family Alice does, but Willa feels hurt and confused by her mother’s nonchalance over the incident.
Quickly the novel moves ahead to 1977. Willa is a junior in college and brings home her boyfriend Derek over the Easter weekend. He wants Willa to marry him, but she’s not sure she wants to just yet. The visit does not go well due to Alice’s tempestuousness and next we see Willa fleeing her family vowing to marry Derek.
Suddenly we turn the page and it is 1997. Willa did marry Derek and has two nearly grown sons. She has tried to be a reliable, predictable mother, the exact opposite of Alice. But soon her family’s world is turned upside down when Derek dies in a car crash.
Hop, skip and a jump: this time the novel has come all the way forward to 2017. Now we find Willa living in a golf community outside of Tucson Arizona, married to a lawyer named Peter. One day when Willa is busy organizing her headbands (not having much else to do), she gets a confusing phone call that sends her to Baltimore. Her son Sean lives there. His ex-girlfriend, a single mother named Denise, has been shot in the leg and hospitalized. Who will watch her daughter, nine year-old Cheryl?
Somehow there has been a mix-up and the neighbor who has called Willa thinks she is reaching Cheryl’s grandmother. Willa feels compelled to answer the call and go help out. For me, this is where the novel really picked up.
Willa has actually been pining for grandchildren, and thrust into the role by these zany circumstances, she takes to the situation like a duck to water. Though her husband Peter accompanies her to Baltimore, he has no patience for the absurdity of their visit. Eventually he returns to Arizona. Denise can barely hobble as her leg is in a full cast, nor can she drive, and Willa feels much needed.
Round about now, I thought of Delia Grinstead, the woman who walked away from her family at the beach one day in Tyler’s novel, Ladder of Years  (1995). Willa gets so involved with Denise and Cheryl and their eccentric neighbors it is as if she has unwittingly run away from Arizona, perhaps for good.
Her impromptu life in funky Baltimore is much cozier and homier than the sterility of her existence with uptight Peter. Yet some of the situations Willa must deal with as a temporary grandmother test her mettle. Read Clock Dance to see how it all turns out. As a lifetime fan of Anne Tyler, I was glad to be back in her beloved Baltimore, hanging out with characters whose strengths and flaws were made so endearingly apparent.
This review also appears on LitLovers (a great site for book clubs!): http://www.litlovers.com/reviews/2018/07/25/clock-dance/

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Winter Sisters by Robin Olveira

Though this historical suspense novel is set in 1879, in many ways it seems relevant to today’s #Me Too movement. I was dumbfounded to learn that the age of consent for females in New York State was ten years old at that time. Also eye-opening was how poorly the medical establishment treated Dr. Mary Stipp—a female surgeon and one of the novel’s main characters—by taking away her hospital privileges. Her “crime”? She dared to treat prostitutes.

Set in Albany, New York, WINTER SISTERS (Viking, 2018) opens with a colossal blizzard that brings the city to its knees. Right before the snow begins to fall, Claire and Emma O’Donnell, ages seven and ten, are delivered to school by their loving parents as usual. But days later, it seems the two sisters have disappeared. And their parents have died in the blizzard.

Dr. Stipp and her husband, close family friends of the O’Donnells, begin their search for the orphaned girls. Checking hospitals, morgues, churches and orphanages to no avail, finally one of Dr. Stipp’s patients suggests she check the brothels. No, that’s not the exact answer, but the idea that many men, even those among Albany’s wealthiest, have an appetite for young girls becomes central to the story.

Sensational headlines in the local papers label the missing girls as the “Winter Sisters.” Robin Oliveira does a fine job of bringing Claire and Emily to life, as well as a bevy of Stipp family household members who care deeply for the girls. Weather continues to be a factor when melting snows bring flooding to Albany.

And that’s about all I want to say about the plot, for it would be too easy get into spoiler territory. Figuring out what exactly happened to the girls is a long process, taking readers into the lives of the city’s finest and worst citizens.

For some reason, books about missing children always grab my interest. The author’s flair for historical detail and local color deepened my involvement with that basic plot premise. I dare anyone to read Winter Sisters and not want to discuss women’s rights with others—both how far we’ve come and yet, how much further we still have to go.

The text of this review first appeared on LitLovers.com.