Sunday, February 16, 2014

It Is A Long, Cold Winter

Yes, it's been a while since I've blogged.

Here's an update on what has been going on:

I have spent lots of time creating art and learning new mixed media techniques.



It's interesting and fun. It's color play.  It's wild.  And I love it.

I've experimented with acrylic paint, watercolors, pan pastels, tissue papers and lace, gel medium, spray inks and stencils. And more often than not, the background layers are the most exciting part of the whole process for me.


I've collaged background layers with handmade papers and bits of old book papers.


I've learned that overlapping shapes unify the overall design.


Sometimes the background layers are so truly amazing, I'm stumped as to where to go next....
(This is a much darker color scheme than I'm used to. I'm still waiting to be inspired about the main focal image on this canvas.)


A bit of this, a scrap of that, a swipe of the brightest color I can find


So,....... what's next?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Summer..... ah, summer

It was a long, hot summer.

It was full.  Full of painting and creating, keeping the garden watered and trying to keep a 7-year-old entertained when he wasn't in summer camp and I wasn't working.

The first sunflower bloomed in the garden in July.


These golden beauties were the inspiration of a lot of my canvases this summer. 

Meanwhile the garden has been a handful (as always), bursting forth with cucumbers and zucchini.... and -- anyone know what this is?


I'm venturing a guess that it will maybe turn yellow and it's the spaghetti squash I planted. But nothing surprises me out there. I have other mystery squash that have created their own breed and scare me a little. They are orange and bumpy. I'm not gutsy enough yet to cut them open, so I'm leaving them until I need something for a fall table decoration that doubles as a conversation piece. There are also green peppers (the best plants I've grown of that type. Ever.) And the tomatoes are slow to turn this summer.  Unless they are ripening, and my little chipmunk* inhabitants are scurrying away with them.  

*They will be relocated.  Soon.


My paintbrushes have fashioned all types of flowers this summer.  From very realistic to folksy to representational abstracts.  I had the opportunity to explain this during my very first painting class I taught on a Friday night in August.  It was a "Girls Night Out" BYOB concept and fun as hell!  And the time flew by... I'm looking forward to doing more.

I received a book as a gift on multi-media background techniques, which I have started to experiment with.  This technique is called "Scribing."


You expose parts of an underlying color by scratching the surface paint away.  (That's a smashed metal button in the center of the flower, surrounded by a remnant of sheer ribbon.)  When I start out, I never know where I'll end up, but usually I like the end product.

Another high point of my summer was having some much needed landscaping done on the old flower bed outside my back door.  The whole thing had started to erode into the driveway and it was just an eyesore. But no longer! It has been filled in now with the most lovely hydrangea bushes... but before that: on a very hot day, after playing in the sprinkler outside, my son decided to put his mark on the new landscaping stones.


Ever feel the need to leave an impression, even if it's with sidewalk chalk?


 He left me 52 smileys in all (and one heart).


You never know what that boy will do with sidewalk chalk.  Usually it's forming racetracks or maps to new galaxies.

And who doesn't love to turn to Pinterest for inspiration?

I have spent countless hours learning about new art techniques and crafts and DIYing and luscious food (gawd, it makes me hungry!) So I decided to artsy up a couple plain t-shirts using a bleach pen and permanent markers faded with rubbing alcohol.  You know the pins I'm talking about?  Yep.



Glad I got that out of my system.  Moving on....

Hope you are finding lots to keep you inspired and things that make your soul smile!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Caught You Bloomin'!

Spring-into-summer was a flurry of activity this year.  There was the usual rush to get the garden planted (my target is Memorial Day -- it rained so there was about a week delay while we waited for our ability to rototill).  Since we had such warm weather early in the spring, my perennial blooming favorites I usually see around the second week of June made an appearance early this year.

Wait!

STOP!!

Don't come and go while I'm looking the other direction!

Nanny's old fashioned roses.... one of the most delicate, recognizable scents on earth.
It all happened too fast.  Instead of having a few weeks to be surprised and delighted by the colors and textures, it was sort of a mash-up as the poor bloomers gave a confused performance.

While nature was busy on the outside, I was also bursting on the inside with ideas for new art canvases.  There were itty bitty canvases and 3"x5"s and 8"x10"s.  There were layers and layers of colors and brush strokes.  Sunflowers and wildflowers and zinnias and daisies with a few things to say.

"Be" itty bitty blooming canvas.
You know what happens when you water the flowers?

The same thing happens when you feed creativity, it seems.  Breeds more creativity, and yearning.  And decisions.  I could sleep..... or paint.  I could read a book, or watch an online video about learning a new mixed media technique I haven't tried yet.

Somewhere, sometime I will learn about balance.

The unabashed tiger lily.
Meanwhile, nature is so good.  I'm grateful for its reminders.  I was not going to plant pots this year because of my time crunch, but ......... nothing beats the shot of color that annuals provide.  They're so dang cheerful!  So I did it.  I caved in, blithely.

Annuals in pots, because I can't escape the color and like to move the pots around at whim.

The flowers are doing well under the care of my faithful waterers.  My helpers are generous with their time and eager participants, even in 104 degree weather and a drought that hit the midwest these past few weeks.

Dahlia:  fuchsia and purple on a turquoise backdrop.
I have turned my attention to a bit of artistic growth of my own this summer.  My challenge:  to paint larger canvases than I typically find comfortable.  There's a 12"x16" and a 10"x20" staring at me as I write this.  Blink.  Blink.

Just be patient.  I'm working up the nerve.
 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Be the best FOR the world"

I want to kick ass.  Doesn't everyone?  So this post caught my eye.  It attributes Facebook, and well, who doesn't love Facebook, but I think there are seeds of WON-DER-ful ideas here to get amped up and inspire your bad-ass self.

Click here to read "How to Kick Ass"

There are 11 points listed.  I would add, simply, "Approach everyone and everything with kindness."

How about you?  Anything to add?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

When You Absolutely, Positively, Need a Chocolate Birthday Cake by Tomorrow

Last Sunday evening, I set out to make a chocolate birthday cake.

Not just any chocolate cake.  It was a recipe for the signature three layer chocolate cake from Gibson's Restaurant.  It was published in a magazine in which my dear friend had several articles published in the same issue.  So I thought, "Wouldn't it be THE chocolate cake to brag about at his birthday?"

I studied the recipe, and the only part that worried me slightly was the last two phrases, which said, "pan and bake at 350 for about 25-30 minutes.  Frost with chocolate butter cream and serve."  The magazine did not include a recipe for chocolate butter cream.  But I have a kick-ass Hershey's frosting recipe, so that would do.  But there was the "pan and bake" part.  The photo clearly showed three luscious layers, so I used three 8-inch cake pans.  (I only have two 9-inch pans, so....  I improvised).

My son loves to act as my sous chef, and he knows his way around my KitchenAid mixer.  One pound of butter, five eggs, a whole heap of cocoa powder and cake flour later, I realized this recipe was probably meant for a restaurant kitchen with an industrial-sized mixer -- not a home kitchen like mine.  When adding the wet ingredients alternately with the dry ingredients, let's just say..... spatterage happens.  My son ducked and ran for cover.

The pans, admittedly, were filled a little more than I would normally feel comfortable with, but I was in the mood to just go for it.  I put the three layers in the oven and placed cookie sheets strategically on the rack underneath the layers, just in case there would be drips.

I watched periodically through the oven door.

The cake layers puffed up high on the sides like souffles, at first.  I was alright with this.  What happened next I was not prepared for.  I witnessed the mostly-crusted, cooked side of one of the layers break away under a flow of cake batter that took it over the side.  It flowed like lava pouring out of a volcano.  It kept going, and going, and going.  I watched in dismay as this process continued with the second, then the third cake pan.  It must have been 10 minutes or longer that I watched my science experiment unfold.  My son, who was passing by the kitchen, asked, "Mom, how long are you going to sit there and look through the oven door?"

"I've just never seen anything like this happen before," I replied.  (Please note that I am not what I consider to be a baking novice.)

The cake batter created stalagmites on the "drip pans" I had placed under them.  But the first drops had now started to burn -- and smoke -- so I had to switch them out before my smoke alarm was alerted.  All I could do now was hope the lava mudslide would end, and the layers could continue cooking through without the bottoms burning and becoming one with the pans.

What if the chocolate cake tasted horrid?

I cut a chunk off one of the stalagmites and offered it to my son.  He has watched too many cooking shows on TV, by the way.  As he tasted the sample, he said, "Chewy,.... sugary,....... tastes good."  I exhaled.  Then he said, "It's just not as..... TALL as I thought."  He was referring to the three layer, towering cake in the photo along with the recipe.

The layers eventually cooked to what I thought was the right consistency.  After some cooling time, I began the process of prying the cake layers out of the pans.  The first two were manageable with only a slight amount of damage that could be rescued by frosting.  The third layer didn't bake all the way through and about a third of it stuck to the pan.


My kitchen looked destroyed.  It looked like I somehow shredded the cake.  There were crumbs all over just about every surface.

The next morning I put together the surviving layers and produced what I think was a pretty darn good chocolate cake.



My plans for the remaining layer was a recipe from my Southern Living at Home days.  I used to make this Brownie Trifle for "death by chocolate" parties.  It involved soaking a pan of brownies in Kahlua, then crumbling them for a layer in the trifle.  Since I already had a chocolate cake layer in shambles, what did I have to lose?


Don't you just want to dive into those pillowy layers of pudding, whipped topping, and toffee bits?  Yep, I almost did.  For breakfast.

All is well that ends well.  For me, chocolate cake is good when it's moist, pure, and has just the right amount of crumb.  I like it to be firm, but not dry.  I have to say that the Gibson's recipe taught me several new lessons in baking.  But I'd say the recipe is a keeper.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Just CREATE

Last Saturday on a sheer whim, I registered myself for a workshop at CREATE Mixed Media Retreat in Lisle. Never been. Always wanted to go. One workshop intrigued me. It was on enameling. I got to make an art jewelry pendant: a ruffly little disk with a nest and eggs in the middle. I managed to get through the three hour class without sticking wire through my fingers, or spilling anything, or burning myself on the kiln, or setting the hotel on fire with the blow torch.

The instructor, Jean Van Brederode, was a natural teacher and appreciator of art. This came through in her comments and observations during the evening. I learned that one of the beauties of enameling is the process of creating a shiny piece out of dust (glass particles, really) that can surprise and delight you as it cools. What you see isn't always what you get. But the end result could tickle your soul. And, as many students found, if you don't quite like it, you may recolor it and fire it again.


I chose a cobalt blue for the background color, but sprinkled in a little pink to see if I would achieve a sort of violet hue. Jean explained that since the particles are glass dust, they don't "mix" together in the kiln. Still, I wanted a little visual texture so I went for it.

The wire bird's nest started out to be a lighter brown. After the first firing, although Jean commented on how I achieved the robin's egg blue color very well on the little eggs, I couldn't just LEAVE IT ALONE..... I had to add a little more color. The second firing affected the brown in the nest, though, and it looks almost gray now. Well. All I can say is..... sometimes more is more. But sometimes it's better to just be happy with whatcha got.

After buffing some bumps out of the enamel pendant, adding a copper jump ring for hanging, and wiring on a little bird, the final step is the wire wrapping. We melted the end of the copper wire using a blow torch, which created a teardrop and a cool oxidation on the shiny copper finish. (I'm not sure that's the word, oxidation, so I hope you get the idea).



The workshop was just what I needed to kick me in the butt creatively. I was inspired by the new ideas and the stick-to-itiveness of my classmates to achieve the desired colors they wanted. Jean was very complimentary of everyone's work and marveled at the final products. Immediately I had the desire to play with more color combinations and copper sizes, and the wheels started turning in my brain..... "How can I do this without actually purchasing a kiln?" "If I went this direction, what kind of crazy cool flowers could I make?" "Maybe there's a co-op of artists in my area who get together and fire enamel, and I could join them?!"

For now, I'll just start a meager list for Santa Claus. If I finished the cluster of projects I already have started, I'd feel better about launching into enameling jewelry. Or, maybe the desire will overwhelm me and I'll be doing blog posts about firing a new color.

Meanwhile, click over to Jean's shop on Etsy, "Charmed I'm Sure," and take a gander.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Summertime

During the summer, my garden takes up lots of my spare time (hence, the delay since my last post). But home grown tomatoes are a necessity of life, and so it goes.

It was a crazy summer of weather, with a storm in July that knocked out power to much of our county for DAYS. After all the rain, which came in bursts, the weeds arrived in full vengeance. Turn my back for a week, maybe 10 days, and... HOLY @#(&%^&#!!!!! The buggers have taken over!

I am thankful for the help with watering the garden in between bursts of torrential rain. (My watering buddy is mostly my son, who likes to water but gets most of it on himself rather than the tomato plants). And now, it's harvest time.



...and there are more coming.........



I have a little rabbit who has been a visitor since the spring. I'm thinking he is the one who has sampled many tomatoes but decides each time it's not for his palate. He (if he is indeed the culprit) takes one big bite out of the ripest tomato and leaves it hanging there, forlorn.

I also have "volunteers" in the garden. These are stray seeds that managed to flourish from being rototilled into the soil and sprung forth, encouraged by the hot midday sun. I'm usually so curious to see what will be produced on the vine that I don't pull them like those darn weed invaders. This year I have some weird cross-pollination between a gourd and what I think is a yellow crookneck squash.



Could be that the yellow squash, if left alone, gets a hard exterior and BECOMES an ornamental gourd..... or it's just completely a mutant. Most of them have become a blazing orange color with a hard and bumpy exterior. They will be fun guests in Halloween and Thanksgiving décor. I also have mini pumpkins and the usual dill weed that came back this year.

But back to the tomatoes. After a few days of being preoccupied with other things, I surveyed the garden to see that there was about a half bushel of ripe tomatoes. Not just ripe, but bursting with juice and hanging there like overfilled water balloons. Some had even let loose and dropped to the earth before I could pick them.



An abundance of tomatoes leads to 27 versions of tomato salad, tomato pie, marinara sauce, BLTs, etc., etc., etc. One of the simplest ways to present tomatoes to the dinner table, right out of the garden, is layered with fresh buffalo mozzarella, drizzled with a good olive oil, and sprinkled with fresh basil, salt and pepper. (Sometimes I also use balsamic vinaigrette, but not this time.)

And then there are the low maintenance, lovely-to-see-you sunflowers.



So unassuming.

So cheerful.

So tall and stately.

I imagine they have little gossipy conversations about me behind my back.