Week 47: Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

As the days get colder, we are pulling the winter coats out of the closet, and lighting the fireplace in the family room. We put on extra layers, make tea or hot chocolate, grab a good book (or the iPad), and warm our feet on the hearth. In the mornings, the dew has turned to ice, and the front lawn sparkles with frost. Holly and I postpone our long walk to later in the day when the sun has taken the chill from the landscape. The cold weather brings a reminder of gratitude for the warmth and shelter we easily take for granted out here in the cozy suburbs.

The leaves have all fallen now, and we see the bare branches of the trees, dotted with leafy bundles of squirrels’ nests. I look out the back windows to the woods behind our house, and with the absence of foliage, I can see deep into the open forest. As the trees and thickets become thinner and more transparent, where are the animals taking shelter? I imagine the bears move back towards the mountains and find their caves, while the rabbits and foxes retreat below ground. The deer move deeper into the woods, seeking wind break and cover from evergreens. The squirrels busily gather acorns, stuffing their cheeks. It’s time to prepare for Winter.

Preparing for Winter, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Preparing for Winter, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Detail, Preparing for Winter

Week 46: Thanksgiving

I normally steer clear of symbolic images from popular culture, preferring instead to stay safely wrapped in my own obscure personal iconography. I like my comfortable world of diminutive landscapes, little trees, tiny animals, and falling leaves. I like making small-scale pictures with places to wander and stories to tell. But there is a time and place for creating a bolder, singular statement. I genuinely love holiday traditions, so I decided to take on the challenge of the iconic Thanksgiving turkey. (Christmas Trees, you are next!) I could hear the groans of my inner critic, screaming “Don’t do it! It will be trite! It will be a cliché! It is impossible to pull off!” Smiling to myself, I continued on. Using a combination of collage papers, charcoal, ink pen, colored India Inks, and acrylic paint, I reveled in the rich textures and colors of turkey feathers. I enjoyed each sweep of the charcoal, every small stroke of the pen, the fervent flow of colorful ink, and the tactile release of each blob of paint. I felt gratitude for the opportunity to sit here in my studio and create, choosing curiosity over fear. When I was almost finished decorating every feather, I discovered that my turkey had a message for me. It came first in a whisper, and then in a loud, warbling, joyful voice. So I scribbled this message on a piece of paper and glued it right onto the collage: “Be thankful for your Colorful Life.”

Thanksgiving, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Thanksgiving

Detail, Thanksgiving

Detail, Thanksgiving

Week 42: Out-of-Town Visitors

We recently had some out-of-town visitors in the neighborhood. They mostly kept to themselves, but the over-turned garbage cans and toppled bird feeders betrayed their presence. I personally have not been a witness to their pre-dawn activities, although the dense woods behind my house may have been playing host. The Neighborhood Association emailed us all some common sense instructions: “Remove food sources and the bears will leave the area.” Some residents worriedly inquired, “Do bears attack people?” and “Should they be trapped and removed?” One morning, my dog picked up a half-eaten piece of pizza that had tumbled from an over-turned garbage can, a food source apparently rejected by our discerning guests. They must have been disappointed by all the Dominoes boxes and convenience foods. Maybe bears don’t really like the suburbs. We think they have moved on.

Out-of-town Visitors, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Out-of-Town Visitors

Detail, Out-of-Town Visitors

Detail, Out-of-Town Visitors

Detail, Out-of-Town Visitors

Week 38: Holly’s Escape

Our corner of suburbia is perched on a high hill overlooking woods, farmland, grassy expanses, and a distant sliver of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On my daily walk with our dog, Holly, we enjoy this view from the safe confines of our quiet cul-de-sacs and “no-thru” streets. Despite the fact that we are only five minutes away from Target, Wal-Mart, and Lowes, the drive home might leave one with a pleasant, if perhaps fleeting, feeling of a pastoral escape. The half mile section of country road that connects our neighborhood to the main highway may present a deer crossing, a glimpse of the Rivanna River through the woods, or an open field with a pond. I experience these things from inside a moving car, and depending on the day, they may quickly bounce off my consciousness like a commercial on the television, or slowly seep in like a long, beautiful poem.

One day the front door was left ajar as children ran in and out of the house, and Holly escaped. This is normally no cause for alarm. She will sprint a few laps around the adjacent yards, then come running back to me as soon as I can say, “Come get your treat!” But on this day, Holly had bigger plans. Maybe it was the band of six little boys chasing her down the street and over the hill. Or maybe she just kept running and running and it felt so good she didn’t want to stop. She ran past the last house on the cul-de-sac, through their big back yard, all the way down the high hill to the road, crossed a treacherous stretch of traffic, scooted under a fence, and burst onto the open field and out to the pond. Our boy ran home crying to me, “Holly crossed the big road!” In a moment of panic, my husband and I grabbed the leash, jumped into the car, and drove down the hill, crossed the road, and pulled up along the fence in front of the field. There she was, sniffing around the pond, happy and free.  I was so glad to see her alive, I forgot how mad I was. Part of me even envied her a bit… what was it like to run beyond the familiar boundaries of your world, and feel the exhilaration of escape?

Holly’s Escape, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Holly sleeping

Detail, Map of the Suburbs

Detail, Holly’s Escape

Detail, Holly’s Escape

Week 26: Made in the Shade

Drawing with ink, oil pastel, and charcoal

Seeking relief from the 100 degree temperatures outside, I made a collage this week about shady places around the yard.  Our sun-soaked patio is hot enough to burn your feet, but there are small pools of shade to be found beneath the trees and tall shrubs. The arching stems of the red twigged dogwoods create a shady cave-like retreat, where we discovered a turtle had taken up residence. My aim was to contrast these areas of light and shadow and capture the sense of place of our backyard in the heat of the summer.

Detail of foliage: pencil, charcoal, and india inks

I decided to shake up my process a bit this week and experiment with some different materials. I embellished my usual ink pen drawings with colored india inks as well as oil pastels. I allowed the drawings to remain open, loose and sketchier than usual, just right for a lazy summer afternoon. I also worked out the shady shrubbery with pencil and charcoal, adding watered-down india inks on top for color. I enjoyed the broader strokes and messier outcome of the charcoal drawings, which seemed to work well for this type of subject matter.

Placing torn charcoal and ink drawings onto the panel

Next I tore out sections of the drawings and began placing them on the 12 x 12 panel, which had been prepared with a background of acrylic paints. As I built the collage, additional layers of paper and paint were added, including tiny portraits of my dog Holly and the turtle. The perspective changes across the panel from a bird’s-eye view at the top, to a more intimate view inside the turtle home at the bottom. The final piece depicts our small corner of the world, in the hot sun and the cool shade.

Made in the Shade, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Sun-drenched Patio

Detail, Holly rests in the shade of the maple tree.

Detail, foliage

Detail, Turtle

Heat Wave

Patio on a Very Hot Day

It’s hot here in the Virginia suburbs. Crazy hot. Temperatures have been close to 100 degrees all week. Add to that our characteristic sticky humidity and you get some pretty unpleasant outdoor conditions. Not wanting to be stuck inside all day, Holly and I get up early to do a long morning walk in the coolest part of the day. Even at 7 am, the air is muggy and you can feel the heat pressing down, beginning its upward momentum. In the afternoon, when we are thoroughly chilled down by the air conditioning, we take a short walk around the yard, checking on the parched plants and looking for shady spots to pause. The sun feels nice on my shoulders for a few minutes at a time, but not for long.

Holly finds a shady spot.

The yard is quiet in the heat of the day. The patio is too hot for bare feet, and the container plants are thirsty. Even the sun-loving lizards who like to bask on the stones are nowhere to be found. The birds that were so active this morning have retreated to the treetops. The only movement is the soft whirr of the bees and butterflies over the drying flower heads. There is no breeze. But the maple tree casts a wide shadow on the grass, and the red twig dogwoods create a cool cave beneath their arching branches. We peeked under there once and found a content little box turtle. A ribbon of deep shade runs along the edge of the woods, widening as the day goes on.

Under the Red Twig Dogwoods- a nice spot for a turtle.

My drawings this week are about heat and cool, sun and shade. I like observing the changing light and the shifting shadows around the garden. I like discovering the secret shady places around the yard where animals might find a respite from the heat. We have our wide-brimmed hats and sunbrellas while they have their own leafy canopies and cool enclosures. I feel a solidarity with the turtle, as he finds his shade and I find mine.

Week 22: In the Vegetable Garden

Assembling the collage materials

This week I created a collage about our newly planted vegetable garden. I didn’t want it to just be a pretty view of the garden, but rather depict the more intimate experience of being in the garden- digging in the dirt, closely observing the plants, or hiding under a squash leaf (if you are a bug or a bunny.)  I began the process with lots of little drawings of all the plants in the garden: tomatoes, peppers, herbs, peas and beans, zucchini squash, marigolds, and sprouting seeds. I scanned the drawings and printed them on Gampi paper, making several copies to yield more plants. Then I tore each drawing out by hand and laid them all out. The panel was prepared with a nice rusty clay dirt color.

Drawings torn from Gampi paper

I painted a few rows of stones that divide the terraces into curving beds, in the spirit of my actual vegetable garden. Then I began laying in the plants. I was interested in playing with scale, so that the foreground plants loom large, and sprouting seeds are sometimes ridiculously gigantic, while other plants settle into the piece with more realistic relationships. I did this to express the garden from different points of view, whether human or critter. The really fun part was to then draw the critters and tuck them in amongst the rows. All the creatures were drawn with ink on thicker paper than the plants, so as to create little pops of visual surprise. Here is the final collage with favorite details:

In the Vegetable Garden, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail: Bunny, sprouts and marigold

Detail: Olivia the Cat

Detail: The Mocking Bird

Detail: Turtle and pea shoots

Week 21: Neighborhood Pets

Collage papers and drawings

This week’s collage is a playful exploration of the neighborhood pets and their relationships. As I walk my dog, Holly, around the cul-de-sac and up and down our quiet streets, we often encounter other animals, sometimes from a distance, and sometimes nose to nose.  As short barks or sniffs are exchanged, I wonder about their communications and understanding of one another.  Through many small drawings, I tried to capture the personalities of actual pets in the neighborhood, as well as drawing new characters of my own invention. My approach allowed for simple cartoon-like animals, as well as more realized renderings. I borrowed leftover paper elements from previous collages and combined them with new drawings. The process was fun, light-hearted and maybe a little bit silly at moments. Welcoming this attitude in my work felt great. Here is the final collage, followed by favorite details.

Neighborhood Pets, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- The Nest, Olivia and the Mocking Bird

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- Holly and the Mocking Bird

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- A cat crosses the cul-de-sac

Detail, Neighborhood Pets- This is their neighborhood too!

Pets

A good sniffing spot

Holly walks beside me, the dangling leash a mere formality between us. We make our way along the usual route, occasionally stopping to watch a bird, finding comfort in our synchronized daily habit.  Suddenly the leash goes taut. Holly jerks me out of my daydream. A white-tailed rabbit hip-hops in a zig-zag pattern across the neighbor’s lawn.  An orange cat pounces after it. A little white dog lets out an affirmative yap and joins the parade.  Muffled barks come from the house down the street, as a wet nose presses against the glass pane beside the front door.  Holly and I observe the commotion. She looks at me as if to ask if she can join in the fun. But the leash stays on and we continue our walk. She stops to sniff a patch of grass with great interest. I remember reading once that for dogs, smells are like messages written in invisible ink. They may understand who left the message and how long ago, judging time and distances in way that is alien to us humans. But what does it say? She continues rifling nose first through the grass, inhaling the information, much like the way I approach the New Yorker when it comes in the mail. Wordless smells, tell me all your secrets…

Holly surveys the neighborhood from the hilltop, a galaxy of smells.