Monday, December 28, 2009

Tomatoes for Christmas!

At least that’s the way it started. Amid all the cookie baking, present wrapping and packing last week I got a phone call from a new patron who wanted a tomato piece for a Christmas gift. This is a bad news/good news scenario. I sold the ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’ piece I made, and last time the piece required 68 needle-felted tomatoes. That’s the bad news part. The good news was that I’d had some holiday wine and I love a challenge. I pulled out some felted wool balls I’d made and my red fleece and set to work. The first challenge is to create the tomato shape and get the ‘shoulders’ right. Then I start blending the reds to match my memory of September tomatoes. I love the fact that each fruit is a little different, not just among varieties but even on the same vine. Each one has its own special little lumps and bumps, a lot like people. The different varieties remind me of families, too. You’ve always got a few green ones that you know are good inside but haven’t quite made it in life.

Tomato construction didn’t stop as we drove to see the Grandparents for Christmas. My sweet husband drove for most of the trip and I poked tomatoes while the boys listened to books on tape. The seven hours seems a lot shorter when you’ve got a good book. I got a nice digital camera for a present and I’m looking forward to some higher quality images. It was just a lovely time with lots of hugs, food and cookies. Kathey and Ben Gibson hosted a Christmas dinner this year and everyone had a good time next door. There was enough snow for a few boogie-board runs down the hill, and some new records for distance were set. The major disappointment was that Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Squeakwel, was sold out when we wanted to see it. Some among the group were more disappointed than others (hee hee hee). The drive back was slightly more interesting, with snow falling and lots of cars off the road. A jackknifed semi blocked traffic around Muncie for a while, but we pulled off for dinner and the whole thing only slowed us down a little. It was still a long day.

Now that I’m back in the art studio I’m going to re-launch into a project I started last week for the Trashionista fashion show. The challenge, and I do love a challenge, is to make something that’s elegant and formal out of things you’d normally throw away. I’ve put together a skirt made from old shirts, scraps of animal print fabric and the lining from an old leather skirt. I’m going to embellish the piece with gold pulltabs from my collection and bits from a black lace bra. Some things you just have less use for after ten years of marriage and two kids. Plus, I can thank my kids for the torso part of my creation, which will likely be the top of a black bathing suit whose bottom was worn thin on the rough bottom of the Limestone Lagoon at Bryan Park Pool. I’m pleased that I have my display mannequin for the whole process because I’m really making up the whole thing as I go along. Kind of like the rest of my life!

Until next week…

Sunday, December 20, 2009

… And the goose is getting fat!

Christmas is approaching, and that means family traditions are in full swing. St. Nicholas has already visited and filled stockings, Jezisek is on track, Santa is approaching, and the Cookie Fairies have been working feverishly to satisfy family and friends. The Cookie Patrol team members are keen to start deliveries on Monday. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The holiday fury really begins after Jim’s birthday on the 11th. The family makes a candy house, which is really a gingerbread house v2.0. Our neighbor Emily persuaded us that gingerbread is over-rated—it’s too stale to eat by the time the holidays are over. Now we both make a cardboard house and cover it with royal icing and transform it into a magical candy house. It’s a little less than romantic on the inside but looks colorful and cool on the outside. We gather all the decadent delectables we can find, including leftover Halloween candy and yellow dye #5-free candy from Bloomingfoods, and put everything in wooden bowls. Each family member picks a side of the house, where the two prime locations include both a side and a roof. The real trick as the project coordinator is to minimize munching on the construction materials—I guess we’re a little like the Fraggles eating the Doozer constructions. After Christmas we rip off whatever hasn’t frozen into the icing over a window of a few days.

Yesterday was supposed to be blog day, but it turned into cookie baking day. The annual cookie fest is Tommie’s favorite part of the holidays, since he’s a big baking fan. Yesterday we made five different kinds of cookies: Zebra cookies, even better than the Scholar’s Inn (and smaller); Vanilkove rohliky (you probably know them as Russian tea cakes, but we Czechs don’t); a thin sandwich cookie with cherry plum filling and rum and almond icing (they’re delicious!); chocolate sugar cookies that we iced and decorated; and my traditional favorite, medvedovy tlapky (bear paws). We mixed and rolled and baked and iced and decorated like crazy all day long. I also made marzipan from scratch and marinated some fruit to put into the Stollen we’ll bake today, plus we’re planning to make some date pinwheels and thumbprint cookies today. Eleven tins are filled and placed out of reach in the pantry.

It’s been a good art week too! Most importantly, I finished my Autumn Aspens commission piece. It has more variation in depth and I’m pleased with how it has turned out. I spent an afternoon with in the Creek-Love Classroom, aka the multiage schoolroom that is the home to my second grader Jacob. This week we worked on a wet felting project using Merino noils. The coveted fibers from combing are the long fibers, or top, and the shorter fibers are called noils. They’re not useful for needle felting, but it turns out they’re great for wet felting. I got these from my friends Nancy and Pat at Sheep Street in Morgantown, where I’ll return later today for more goodies. The kids have been making felt balls that we’re going to use to embellish gourds in a project we’ll do when the weather warms up a little. The kids love to do projects like this, and they enjoy teaching their friends how to do it. It’s cool to them because it’s new, even though a couple of them are from sheep-raising families, and they’ve seen me working on felted ornaments in class. Even some of the parents in the classroom wanted to make one.

But now I have to run! There are presents to wrap, cookies to bake, plans to make and kids to keep half an eye on. If you have kids you know why this season is so full of energy and special. I hope you all have a terrific holiday season!

Until next week…

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Keeping warm…

What a cold snap we had this week! If you have kids, you know that winter signals a whole new level of complexity in life. You’ve got to break out the warm boots and get them to take their shoes in their backpack for gym class. Or, as we did on Thursday, you have to drop the shoes off at the office to the ever-friendly Binford secretary. Pairs of gloves become singles with maddening frequency, and the cycle of drying them is constant. But the most maddening thing for us is…drum roll please…we have another raccoon in the attic! We thought we had pounded down every entry point, but this guest broke through a different soffit. We know it’s a chunker, because we can hear how hard he has to work to squeeze in. And with the cold weather, this fellow has been up all night, every cold night, rearranging the insulation. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Arrrrgggghhhh! Must. get. more. sleep!

On the brighter side of things, my mannequin arrived this week. I want this for shows, but I also need to document my scarves with high quality pictures before they’re all sold. Just as I was opening the box, my photographer Tom Bertolacini called. I had just finished making two more commissioned scarves and the buyer was coming that afternoon to pick them up, so I asked if Tom was coming into town. He was, so I raced out to my local venues and picked up a selection of scarves to photograph. I stopped in at the Bloomington Bagel Company first, then off to the Wandering Turtle, where I also borrowed my latest turtle piece (Among the Ferns). Tom came with his fancy lights, stands and his camera (mine stayed in its case and whimpered). He makes everything ‘just so’, AND he brought me two dozen eggs. The chickens, either oblivious to the cold snap or lacking anything better to do, have been laying eggs like crazy. Maybe the raccoons just stopped bothering them. Tom also is also a wood worker and builds all the frames for my weavings. His latest venture is making wooden weaving equipment—shuttles, batons and maybe even looms. It will be nice to have them made locally, although I don’t mind shipping a little cash to Canada, the vast and beautiful country of my youth. They know about cold snaps.

The real highlight of the week, though, was our trip to Cirque Dreams: Illuminations at the IU auditorium. The day was hectic enough as it was, since it was my loving spouse’s birthday. That meant baking birthday pizza and making a chocolate cake. Men named ‘Jim’ are so easy to please (yes, he had a beer, too). I must say that the rich butter cream frosting that flowed in thick glaciers down the sides was the best part. I even got cake and espresso for breakfast this morning—wow, can my life get any better! Back to the Cirque—you can’t really call it theatre, ballet, or comedy, but it was all of those together. It’s the creative combination of constant movement and color on the stage that really brings a whole new perspective on the acrobatic techniques. In my own work I try to combine techniques to come up with something new, and at art fairs I get a lot of comments like: ‘what do you call those things you make’? It’s weaving, but a whole lot more. Anyway, we saw things like an amazing trapeze piece where the artist was repeatedly lowered into a large wooden tube of water. As he was lifted out into his gyrations, water flew everywhere. It was like a dance in the air where the light reflected off the arcs of water flying and curling through the air. In the background, people in colorful costumes walked by with umbrellas. The overall effect was just magic. At the end, the trapeze artist was handed an umbrella with the panels removed, which somehow seemed to fit. The show was a dramatic climax to a great, if very cold, week.

Until next week…

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The end of one season...

As soon as I finished writing the blog last week I started zipping around town, with art, to see all my local gallery-world friends. I stopped in at the Wandering Turtle to see Jamie and left some scarves with her. They are featured in her cool web feature called, fittingly, ‘New Stuff’. I’m so honored! My friend Amy Brier has some really interesting new work there too. I think of her as an excellent ‘big piece’ limestone carver and artist, but she has some new relief bowls at the Turtle. She also has elaborate carved limestone balls that leave impressions in sand when you roll them. Or in soft chocolate, as my husband suggests. I next popped in at the John Waldron with more scarves and cards for the season, but it’s always fun to chitty-chatty with the folks there and see the latest art. Marcy Neiditz, a local potter, has some really interesting bowls on display. She used to work primarily in black and white, but now she’s introducing some color and they look great. It’s not like Dorothy entering Oz, but it really captures your eye. My next stop was the By Hand Gallery, which is now the last bastion of ‘Shhh… the trees are sleeping’ pieces in Indiana. I’ve stopped making these and they’re slowly finding homes. My last stop was at Bloomingfoods with my holiday cards. I got to see my friend Tom, one of many Toms in my life. He used to be the manager at Pygmalions until he moved to Elletsville. He’s a wonderful artist and a really good person and it made my day. Tom is the one who persuaded me to order a lifetime supply of alligator clips (and I’m glad I did). He was a supporter and advice-giver as I got started in the art world a few years back.

And then on to the Holiday Art Fair at the Unitarian Universalist Church! Thursday night was set-up, which went smoothly, and Friday and Saturday were relaxing days at the show. I really like the ‘UU’ show for a lot of reasons. It’s slower paced than most with smaller crowds, which makes it more comfortable for the artists. The UU organizers go out of their way to make it comfortable for the artists. It’s hard to keep artists nailed in their booths, and I got the chance to walk around and see what else was going on. I also really like my spot, since I get bathed in sunlight from the big windows, and the sun passes through my friend Jacques’ glass art from across the aisle. Cappi and Bud Phillips were kind enough to loan me their mannequin to display my scarves, which really made a big difference for displaying the 3D shape of my newest scarves. But the best part was getting to have Bonnie Gordon-Lucas in the booth next door. She’s a sweet person with a mischievous streak—one minute she’s patiently explaining how to set up my booth, and the next minute she’s armed with an elastic that she’s about to shoot at someone across the building! I think all artists have a crazy streak in there somewhere. Bonnie did give me some excellent ideas about mixing colors, though, which I really appreciated. She pointed out something that I’d heard before but didn’t fully appreciate, which is never to use jet black in an art piece, since it ends up looking flat. Her trick is to use an undercoat of blue and paint the black thinly on top to give depth. She also recommends layering red under gold and blue under silver. I’m definitely going to try some experiments with those ideas in my next round of scarves by layering wool colors.

I guess I should write about the show too. The big thing for me was a red and black scarf with undulating edges. I sold it before the show even started to a local artist whose identity I’ll protect, but she’s a really classy person so I knew I’d done well. She let me leave it on display and I ended up with commissions to make several more like it! I had visualized a red center with a color gradient out to black edges, connected by a squiggly runged pattern arranged randomly. After a couple of rolls in the felting process I pulled on the outside edges, and that created a wonderful ruffled edge texture. I just love the dimensionality of the piece—imagine that! When the dust cleared I’d had another great show and got home in time for a cool but not cold Pilsner Urquel with my sandwich and salty chips for dinner. It couldn’t match the tasty Imam Bayildi my husband brought me for dinner from Anatolia’s on Friday night, but was good. Tonight we celebrate another successful art fair just the way families all over America celebrate, with vegetarian hot dogs roasted over the fire in the living room fireplace, followed by freshly baked blueberry pie. Only a little bit bubbled out of the pie during the baking process and burned in the oven, but the pie itself looks beautiful. And, did I say, my loving husband baked it just for me?

Until next week…