Saturday, August 29, 2009

Peach Pie on the Banks of the Blue River

This was a week of completion. With the Fourth Street Festival coming up next weekend I wanted to finish my ‘Blue River’ piece. I built up the background, which I wove a few weeks ago, and I set out to add detail and form to the water elements. I pulled out my luscious watery-blue yarns and shimmery silvers. I needle felted the yarns I wanted onto the background to create the swirl in the waters and the glisteny reflections of the blue sky. I just kept introducing new yarn elements until I was happy with the details. I then retrieved some deep coffee-brown wool I bought at Yarns Unlimited some time ago. I knew I’d need it someday. The wool was shaped and needle felted into the tree trunk and branches that stand out in the foreground. I created the tree foliage in the background by embroidering with three green yarns I mixed. To get the texture I wanted I mixed chenille, wool and cotton fibers and fed them through the eye of a darn large darning needle. Not the kind that flies over the pond in the summer, but the kind you’d use to poke a giant if you wanted his attention. Next I delved into my collection of ‘rocks with holes’ that I collect from local creek beds. The sedimentary rocks of southern Indiana, especially those with imperfections, get worn smooth by the water and sometimes have a hole eroded straight through them. They’re perfect to capture the local creek bed feel and they’re easy to stitch on where I want them. I don’t get to use my drill press, but hey, no project is perfect. I then found my bag of green crocheted leaf clumps I created on a long drive to Michigan. These became the leaf clumps in the foreground. Last, I created a new element for my ‘tree’ pieces by needle felting a small stand of mid-ground trees. I think it makes the tree in the foreground stand out even more and provides a focal point that places the green background still further in the distance. Early this morning I added the final touches by stitching it into the frame and voila! I have a new piece ready to debut at the Fourth Street show. Stop by and say hello.

I do need to confess one small self-serving act from this week. Last Saturday the HoA (Husband of Artist) and eSoA (elder Son of Artist) went off on a weekend fishing trip. That’s what they do. What the HoA didn’t know was that I went to the farmer’s market and bought a huge basket of peach ‘seconds’—the tasty ripe peaches that are bruised and usually less than pretty. The kind that my kids just won’t eat unless you cut them up and remove the brown parts—yuck! The HoA came home and concluded—who knew—that we should make a peach pie. Did I tell you that I love pies? So Monday night I got a beautiful fresh peach pie, and every morning since I’ve had a slice with a little whipped cream on it for breakfast. And a nice cup of tea or coffee, again made the HoA. Luckily, he’s on a diet so I was forced to eat a fair bit of the pie. I must have cashed in some karma points from some good deed I did last week! Now I’m wondering how I can get him to bake a blueberry pie from the bags in the freezer? Hmmmm.

Until next week…

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Children’s Booth at the Fourth Street Festival…

Labor day weekend is fast approaching—two weeks to go and counting down fast. For last year’s fair I organized a community tree project that now stands in city hall. I cut hundreds of wooden leaves that were painted and decorated by (mostly) kids and (a few) adults using paints, markers, glue, glitter and small objects that I’d collected throughout the year. Amy Brier sculpted a beautiful limestone trunk for the project and I fashioned tree branches to support the leaves. Each leaf had a small hole drilled in it for attachment to the branches, and hundreds of leaves were decorated during the fair. I didn’t get to see most of the process, but all the reports from volunteers, friends and family confirmed that everyone had a good time. Of course nothing creates high expectations like success, so this week has been devoted to bringing this year’s project to fruition. A while back I had a vision for how to create a community mosaic built upon the BEAD (Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District) logo and now is the time when things have to be built, painted, and organized.

My inner child would like me to translate that last sentence for you. Arrrgggghhhh! WHAT WAS I THINKING? Like last year, this has turned into a HUGE project. With everything else going on to get ready for the show (and just be Mom) I’m going crazy! The good news is that much came together this week. The basic plan was to create four 3x3’ panels, each one painted one of the four BEAD colors with black paint on the reverse side. The back has a hidden box made out of pine, kind of like a shadow box you can’t see (it’s in the shadows), that will float the display off the wall. I bought a bunch of hardware to assemble it and painted the back. I do like to paint, so that’s good, but it’s monochromatic, so that’s less good. The panels I purchased from Lowe’s as ¼ inch plywood. I was delighted to learn that they’ll cut the plywood I’m about to buy as many times as I want. That’s great! The helpful fellow who likes saws almost as much as I do cut the panels for me. Sadly, he wouldn’t make diagonal cuts, so my trusty jigsaw was called upon to lop off the corners. Rrrrmmmm. I love the sound of power tools! Finding small samples of the BEAD colors for the front of the panels was easy, thanks to Lowe’s, who sell sample paints in half pint containers. The treasures that will form the mosaic are largely collected and organized, with lots of help from other people. The Creek/Love classroom at Roger’s elementary, current educational home of my younger son, helped sort a ton of beads into the colors I need for each panel. I’ve visited Opportunity House and the Recycle Center to top off the glue-able toys and knick-knacks I’ve been collecting all year. Cathy Ruesink at Opp House generously let me scavenge through and buy many small objects of appropriate colors that I needed. I now have three-gallon bags for each of the four panels. A quick stop at Big Lots netted forty bottles of white glue for the project, to supplement the 30 partially filled bottles from last year. I can almost hear my inner child: it’s coming together! It’s going to work! I hope she’s right!

The other big news from last week has the same themes of art, kids and crazy times. My son Jacob had his seventh birthday party in the backyard with 11 friends and an alien theme. Preparation for that event involved attaching an upright plywood sheet to an old drawer as a base, cutting round holes in the plywood and painting the whole thing black. A few numbers were added to the front for scoring, some bags were filled with rice for tossing and voila—we had a game. The boys and I also painted planets and stars on a big sheet of cardboard for ‘pin the tail on the alien’ and we created a big paper mache alien to fill with candy and smash open with an alien blaster. We raced around the backyard with alien eggs on spoons (no one seemed to concerned when they broke). We even filled up a big bucket with water balloons and attacked our stalwart oak tree in the back, which had the misfortune to be covered with paper bearing pictures of attacking alien ships that the boys drew. The tree seemed to enjoy getting all the attention and water, but the hosta leaves were covered in colorful balloon debris. Add cake, ice cream and screaming kids and you’ve got a party!

Until next week…

Saturday, August 15, 2009

At the Corner of Fourth and Beet Street…

Ahh, the joys of late summer harvest. The refrigerator fills up with all the veggies we don’t eat quickly, waiting for the right recipe to come along. Despite my best efforts we reached the crisis point this week. That led to my pulling out the food processor and feeding it all the beets I’ve been collecting from the CSA. I washed and shredded them into fine purple strips, then I boiled them in anticipation of repeating last year’s glorious success with beet dyeing. The kitchen took on an unfamiliar odor that led my younger son to enter only with his nose firmly clamped shut. The next day I strained out the beet shards and popped in my washed wool roving and warmed it up. I had visions of the beautiful deep tint of red that emerged last year and found its way into so many of the ornaments I made. Sadly, out came an unremarkable beige/yellow blob of roving. What went wrong? Beets me!

The Fourth Street Festival of the Arts is also approaching. I serve as the vice president of the group that runs the show and things get hectic as Labor Day weekend approaches. This year the show will expand its footprint, with artists on Fourth Street all the way from the fire station to the campus. Both Grant and Dunn will close adjacent to the show this year, with all the arts-related organizations and music still set up on Grant. The additional space let us design a Fair that will be easier for everyone to navigate, with spaces between every third or fourth booth to allow access to the sidewalks and restaurants. Of course the new layout needs to be put into place and not just drawn on paper, since one always seems to encounter unexpected space glitches in practice. So David Goodrum, our inestimable president, Kyle Spears and I spent Friday morning marking out the show on the road. It’s going to work! I’m excited about the new layout and I think you will be too if we cross paths at the fair this year.

The last big news of the week relates to my schedule—it really opened up! The boys started back at school at Rogers (Jacob) and Binford (Tommie). We rode bikes or scootered in every day this week, which we all like to do. My focus has shifted back to making art and getting ready for Fourth Street. I also got to have lunch out twice this week, once on Fourth Street business and once with a friend from Indianapolis (Hi Erin!). I’ve even started to notice the garden again. The deer have munched down a lot of the HoA’s flowers, including his prized dahlias, and some critter had the audacity to chomp on the first of my ripe cherry tomatoes! The princess is not amused. The flowers, however, were not defeated. One of the sunflowers that was beheaded earlier in the year released apical dominance and set out an axial flower bud. It’s a little yellow flower full of character and determination, even if it isn’t a classic sunflower. It’s most welcome in our garden.

Until next week…

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Treasures from Michigan...

Last week was a vacation week for the family. For me too, I guess, but I can take my work anywhere and so I ended up crocheting maple leaf clumps during the 8-hour drive to Michigan. The trip was more peaceful than normal, which let me focus on crocheting while the HoA (Husband of Artist) drove. This was because the crew went to the library and picked up some books on CD prior to the trip. We heard some great stories (Matilda by Roald Dahl and the first two Araminta Spooky books), but we also had to listen to many repetitions of tracks from ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ and ‘Run DMC’ that became, shall we say, distracting. Everyone arrived safe, happy and ready for fun at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

The two highlights of the trip were adventures with my father-in-law (aka Grandpa). One trip, along with the HoA and elder son, was on a fishing charter out of Ludington. We met the captain of the Hattrick at 5 a.m. at the dock, which is before any sane artist without an art fair deadline would crawl out of bed. It was a stunning trip to glide out of the harbor and leave the port lights behind and head to the pinpricks that reveal the secret fishing spots of the fishing fleet. After a while the harbor lights faded and the other fishing boats came into view. As we cruised across calm seas we watched the full moon sink slowly into the lake as the sun came up over the horizon. The gathering light brought the deep blues up from the lake. Later the dunes along Lake Michigan came into focus, as did the ferry arriving from Wisconsin and the lighthouse north of the harbor. Who needs fish? The answer, it turns out, is the rest of the crew. I caught the first fish, a big Chinook salmon, to show them how it was done. My father-in-law landed a nice steelhead later in the day, but overall it was a slow day. The captain and first mate unpacked and washed every lure they had but nothing seemed to appeal to the fish. The fish made for a wonderful meal with the family, with plenty left over for a few dinners in Bloomington.

For the second adventure I traveled alone with Grandpa. He knows the location of two top-secret supply stores. I’m sworn to secrecy on location so other artists don’t figure it out and take all the good stuff. They don’t even call themselves ‘art’ supply stores but I know it’s all a front operation. They’re so secret that we had to drive for hours through rolling Michigan landscape, through endless stands of birches, aspens and pines. Much of the land was covered with fern monocultures, which got me thinking more about a new fern piece. At one store I found the essential ingredient for stiff fern leaflets—copper flashing! I just love working with copper sheets. They’re strong and flexible, they hold their shape, and they yield to the mighty power of my Fiskars, courtesy of Big Lots. I’ve been cutting leaflets and wrapping with the beautiful green yarns I dyed a few weeks ago. The 15 shades of green come in handy all the time! I’m picturing a piece for Jaime Sweany at the Wandering Turtle that has ferns growing in front of a rock wall with a turtle resting in the shade.

Harvesting treasures in Michigan does have its down side. When you travel in a small car with lots of luggage it fills up fast. It was full coming up but I needed to pack in my treasures, including many pounds of fish, cheese from Wilson’s in Pinconning, and Kluski noodles from Kryziak’s in Bay City. Mmmmm. Luckily necessity is a playground for the creative mind, so I ended up packing stuff around and under the spare tire and other secret places. The HoA drove like crazy to make it back for the Gallery Walk, since I needed to be present at the reception held at the By Hand Gallery that was showing my work. We made it to the square at 5:01 and I ‘tucked and rolled’ with my gallery outfit and leapt into action. I’m grateful to Ruth Conway for hanging the show while I was traveling—the work stands out well at the front of the store. As usual, I had a wonderful time chatting with people about my work. I met one kindred spirit who hates the taste of beets but likes most everything else about them. I’ve discovered that the greens work well in soups and the beets themselves are good for dyeing. Everything has its place, and today I’m back in my art studio.

Until next week…

Monday, August 3, 2009

In they go!

My elder has a joke this week that goes: “Do you know what I do when I’m feeling blue?” The answer is: “I stop holding my breath!” My plan for turning blue was to connect with Mary Pendergrass in Nashville last week. Mary was running a workshop on indigo dyeing from Thursday through Saturday that I really wanted to attend. So of course on Friday evening I was thinking there was something I should be doing but I couldn’t think what. Arrghhh! Indigo dyeing! So I called up Mary to ask what was happening on Saturday. It turned out to be a ‘mini workshop’ for anyone who wanted to come. She told me I could bring all the skeins I wanted and to show up at 9:30. I didn’t need to be told twice and I was there with bright eyes and bells on. I also had lots of white fleece, wool skeins and a blank pad of paper. Was it ever worth it! I was the only person who turned up, and Mary was an incredibly good teacher and very helpful. I got to ask all the questions I wanted (which means a lot). Mary was very generous with her time, advice and materials, and we talked about colors, techniques and sources. Armed with new materials and ideas I’m already plotting uses for my new indigo materials in holiday ornaments and other projects.

The first thing I learned was that indigo dyeing is a little stinky. On came the long gloves, in went the yarn and I learned that rapid immersion is crucial to the process. It’s important to exclude air from the process, so you don’t want to froth around in the pot as the yarn goes in. In the dye pot the color is an exquisite deep teal color—I’d like to be able to capture that color! Once in the pot you work the yarns to get the dye throughout the skein, under any ties and deep into the fabric. When the yarn comes out of the pot the color transforms into the deep indigo hue characteristic of the process. The whole thing is really cool to watch, and now I’m excited to try this at home. Thanks Mary! The process was punctuated by periodic calls from Mary’s husband. He was watching the weather on radar, and he’d call us with warnings about heavy rain on the way and sent us inside on a couple of occasions in anticipation of impending doom. I guess Mary has an HoA (husband of artist) kind of like mine!

The rest of the week was hectic as I prepared for a new show at the By Hand gallery. I’ll be on hand for the reception from 5-7 this Friday so be sure to stop in when you’re on the Gallery Walk. Later in the week I put together a weaving and a stack of cards to mail to a gallery in Madison, Wisconsin. The owner saw my work during the Madison Art Fair and asked if she could hang some pieces in her gallery. Hmmmm, let me see. OK, YES! That was very flattering, and my web check of the place shows that my work will have a good home. That’s good to know. Last, my personal achievement of the week was when I got green beans on Wednesday from the CSA and had to slip them past my green-bean-hating-HoA. Well, I did it! I have a special dish I make where the beans are chopped up fine, lightly cooked and carefully disguised in a flavorful sauce that is put over rice. And…he liked it!

Until next week,