Week 45: Homework

Max concentrates on his Math homework.

Max started fourth grade this Fall. A regular part of our nightly ritual is sitting down at the kitchen table together to check over his homework, which hopefully has been completed before dinner. I love listening to him explain his thinking, or thoughtfully articulate a question. I remember the satisfying sensation of simple math, the security of knowing that this type of question has an answer that is either correct or incorrect. No gray areas, no lingering doubts, just the pleasure of watching the solution come to light.

A dramatic discovery is made.

And then there are other types of questions that require words and lengthy explanations. It is fun to participate in this spirit of open curiosity: What causes thunder and lightning? What is a hurricane? Where does rain come from? One evening I pointed out the beautiful moon, and was surprised to hear Max reply, “Mom, that is a waxing crescent.” He went on to explain the relationships between the sun, the earth, and the moon. Recently we studied the Geographical Regions of Virginia, the Weather, and how to write a mathematical equation from a “Number Story” or word problem. With each revelation, I remember when I was nine, and the world was new.

For this collage, I took a new approach, combining my drawings with Max’s drawings. I used fragments from his actual homework papers, including his writing, pictures, and the teacher’s grading notations in red pen. The collage became a nostalgic homage to childhood and school days in the Fall: We learn about the weather as the wind blows and leaves swirl in the front yard. The wild geese fly overhead. A football spirals through the air. The weathervane spins. A sailboat waits to take us away on a life-long adventure in learning, with the sun and the wind and the rain as our companions.

Homework, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Homework

Detail, Homework

Detail, Homework

Detail, Homework

Detail, Homework


Week 40: Wild Geese

Every Autumn I hear the musical honking of the wild geese, as they pass through Virginia on their way south for the winter. The sound always stirs something in me, like the changing golden light of shorter days and the burnt orange and red of falling leaves in October. The call of the geese weaves itself seamlessly into the fabric of Fall, my favorite time of year. The sound brings back memories from my childhood, when my father taught me to observe and listen to the natural world. We teased apart the honks and warbles of waterfowl and shore birds, and looked for the identifying white patch on the face of the Canada Goose. Our family liked to visit a nature preserve on the eastern shore of Maryland, Blackwater Refuge, where we climbed the observation tower to look out over the ochre landscape of cattails and marsh grasses, the wild geese calling to each other, flying in their characteristic “V” formation. My young mind thrilled at this sight. “How do they choose the leader? How do they know which direction to fly? How far is their journey?”

Thirty something years later, I hear the sound of the geese flying overhead, and remember that feeling of wonder and curiosity. Our neighborhood sits up high on a ridge, a small network of quiet tree-lined streets, cul-de-sacs, and well-tended lawns.  There is a spot where the entry road climbs the steep hill to our houses, cutting open a clearing that reveals a long view to a wilder place. There are layers of open field, farm, and woodland, the Rivanna River winding its way in between. As the leaves fall, we can see a widening band of the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. The Canada Geese congregate in the field at the bottom of our hill. Sometimes I see their tiny black shapes rising up in a graceful “V” through the clearing, other times they fly directly over our rooftops, calling loudly. I think of my son, who is inside playing on his iPad, and I remind myself, “Teach him to listen for the wild geese. Don’t forget.”

Wild Geese, acrylic collage 12 x 12

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Father and Son in the Garden

Father and Son

This Spring my husband has been teaching my son how to garden. My husband and I have been actively landscaping together for many years and now it is great fun to get our son involved. For us, landscaping is like painting in 3D: it is an opportunity to create a new and imagined world, making creative decisions about the colors, textures, forms and the flow of space in our own way. We put a lot of love into our little patch of suburbia. This of course is one of the big draws of suburban life: the ability to have space around you that you can mold as you wish and call your own.

Junior Gardener

I love to watch father and son working together as my husband patiently teaches our boy how to add compost to the hole, loosen the root ball of the plant, make sure it is centered and upright, and carefully tamp the soil around it. Our son gets paid $5 an hour for gardening, which certainly helped spark his interest in this activity. (There are requests for shopping outings to the toy section of Target almost immediately after job completion.) But even so, he gardens with enthusiasm, great care, and no complaining. I am glad we are teaching him to respect, nurture and care for living things and the environment around him. And as he grows, his garden will grow with him, evolving and expanding over time. Gardening is a lot about patience and delayed gratification, a concept that is sometimes challenging for children, but a skill that will serve him well in suburbia and beyond.

Working down the line of a new border bed.

I remember my early exposure to garden work as a child, while visiting my Great-Aunt Ruby in Georgia. She and my uncle had an ambitious plot of summer vegetables, fig trees, pecans and peaches. I was fascinated by the long rows of corn that had grown above my head, the prickly looking okra plants, and the pungent smell of wet earth and tomato plants in the hot summer sun. I felt as if I had been let in on a wonderful secret that only grown-ups knew: that potatoes actually grow under the ground and corn is encased in silky husks; that food is not born in freezer bags and it does not spontaneously spring up in supermarkets.  I look forward to putting in our vegetable garden this year with our son’s help, and sharing more of these revelations. Today he was pulling weeds to prepare the vegetable plot and was surprised to pull up some carrots and beets that must have self-seeded from last year’s crop!  Fresh baby carrots for Max tonight! Maybe he will even try the beets…

Max in the Garden, ink on paper and collage

Week 16: Lacrosse Kids

Sketches: Scanned, manipulated and printed on collage paper

This week I had a lot of fun sketching my 8-year-old son and his teammates at lacrosse practice. To provide some more versatility, I scanned the drawings and vectorized them in Illustrator. I could then scale them up and down, flip or reflect the images, and move them around to fill the page.  When I had a good variety of figures in different sizes, I printed them out onto various natural fiber collage papers.  I saved the digital file to be manipulated later for pattern design applications.

Beginning the collage with a painted ground

Next I prepared a painted ground for the collage, using colors inspired by the playing fields: the bright spring greens and yellows of new grass, the red-brown of the Virginia clay, and the deep green of the established turf.  I let the color push and pull the space around to create a place for the figures to play. I used fluid acrylics and kept it loose and playful. Observing kids is always a great reminder to just have fun and be in the moment, no matter what you are doing.

Playing with the placement of paper figures

Once the ground was dry, I began playing with the placement of figures. I like to tear the collage elements rather than using scissors, to create more organic and interesting shapes. I also chose to use two different colored papers this time. This brilliant orange paper is similar to the color I always use as an underpainting on the panels. Often you will see this orange underpainting showing through the paint layers as a warm glow.

In the final composition, I added jersey numbers. To keep the piece more personal, I actually went up to my son’s closet and pulled out all his old jerseys from the last three seasons of football and lacrosse (First through Third Grade), and used the numbers he had actually worn. I could still hear myself cheering for him, “Go Number 9!”

Lacrosse Kids, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Here is a detail that shows the loosely painted surface with its drips and smears, the ragged edges of the torn paper, sketches of players and numbers, plus the diagram of the playing field articulated by ink lines drawn right onto the panel.

Detail, Lacrosse Kids, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

After working through the handmade collage, I switched gears and got back on the computer. In Illustrator, I cleaned up the sketchy figures just slightly to make them a bit more legible and simplified, while still retaining the hand-drawn feel.  I then added some red jerseys, more numbers, and played with the size and scale of the motifs. If I were to develop this further (which I plan to do!), I might experiment with a wider color palette and more depth and layers to the background. Here is the start of a pattern design that might be great for bedding in my kid’s room or maybe boy’s pajamas!

A first draft for Lacrosse Kids pattern design

I am Not a Soccer Mom

I am not a Soccer Mom. I am a Football, Basketball, and Lacrosse Mom. Different sports, but same Mom concept. This is not a role I ever imagined I would take on. When I was in college I had a fellow art student friend who had to suffer the humiliation of driving his mother’s white sedan around with a vanity license plate that said something like “SOC R MOM.” Not cool.

First Grade, First Season of Flag Football. The joy on his face says it all to me: "You will become a Sports Mom!"

Then years later I delivered a little boy into the world. Physically robust from birth, his constant motion gave me the feeling I would eventually be embracing team sports. I watched in awe when he crawled early, walked early, fearlessly climbed the jungle gym, and could throw a football with a decent spiral when he was five.  In first grade he played his first season of flag football.  I admit that I am not even entirely clear on the rules of football, and have trouble following it on TV… but that Fall I saw my child take that little pigskin and run and swerve and block and then break out the spin-moves like he was born to play this game. Even to my untrained eye, it was pretty clear that he was good at this. My heart pounded the first time I saw him take the hand-off, fly past all his opponents and run it into the end zone. Shivering on the sidelines in the early morning chill, my heart warmed with the thought that my boy had found “his thing.” It was then that I knew I would become a Sports Mom. He is now eight and there is no sign of losing interest. I think we’re in it for the long haul.

Becoming a Sports Mom, First Grade Lacrosse Season

Every Mom wants their child to find some activity that they enjoy and that they can excel at. But not all Moms enjoy team sports. I was somewhat surprised to read about the passionate dislike that many parents have for organized sports. (If you are unaware, please refer to Scary Mommy’s post entitled, Organized Sports Suck.) To be fair, I only have one child, so I can’t complain about shuttling a minivan full of kids to multiple sporting events and practices. I get carpool help from coaches and neighbors when practices conflict with my work schedule, and my kid only plays one sport at a time, with one practice and one game a week at this age level. (Yes, eventually this schedule will undoubtedly intensify.) My kid loves to practice and rarely complains about going. Even if he gets a ride to practice with someone else, I go early to pick him up so I can watch. I will never get bored with seeing that joy on his face.

First Grade Lacrosse

My boy can’t wait for the game each weekend and we all enjoy going together as a family. My husband throws the football with him on Saturdays (one of the greatest joys in life for both my husband and my son), or occasionally they shoot some hoops together at the gym. Sometimes I break out my old lacrosse stick and throw the ball around with him in the front yard. I do need to be sure to write the constantly changing game times on the calendar, remember to wash the jerseys, avoid losing the mouthguard, and bring the snack or drinks on the weekend I signed up for, but I wouldn’t say these added burdens push me over the edge. Sure, I am a bit relieved when a season ends and we get a few weeks off to relax or catch up on other activities before the next sport begins. But there is always a new season to look forward to.

Flag Football, Second Grade

We love the YMCA programs in our area.  The coaches have been great, and emphasize sportsmanship and good attitudes along with skills and strategy. The other parents are fun and laid back (some are our friends from the neighborhood) and I haven’t encountered the dreaded hyper-competitiveness that many people find objectionable for younger kids. Organized sports have been an overwhelmingly positive experience for my son. He has learned to be both confident and humble about his abilities. He has learned how to accept both praise and constructive criticism graciously. He has enjoyed the camaraderie of teamwork and the responsibility of individual effort. We never have to tell him to try harder or to focus more. From the time he was a toddler, he just had that instinct. Even when he was in first grade, when attention spans are typically short, I would watch his little face concentrating, listening intently to the coach and processing his instructions. I could almost see the synapses firing in his brain, and became convinced that sports would be an enhancement to, and not a distraction from, his emotional and intellectual development.  I’m not saying organized sports are great for all kids, and we certainly witnessed some kids having less fun than others. I sincerely hope that those kids will have the opportunity, with their parents’ support, to try lots of other activities and find the ones that fit.

Max being Himself, First day of Third Grade

So maybe I never saw myself as a Sports Mom, but the truth is that I did in fact play sports as a kid. In high school I played field hockey in the Fall, ran Indoor Track in the Winter, and played lacrosse in the Spring. My father played football and lacrosse for Johns Hopkins, and growing up in Baltimore, I continued to follow and enjoy sports with my family. I remember starting with lacrosse clinics and camps in middle school and awkwardly fumbling with the stick, fearful of embarrassing both myself and my Dad. Then one summer at camp, something just clicked. The stick suddenly made sense and moved like an extension of my arms. I was throwing, catching, and scoring goals!  I remember this summer as a turning point for me. Maybe I was 12 or 13? That awkward in-betweeness started to subside as I became comfortable in my body and realized I might be good at something other than art, violin, writing, and the more bookish pursuits that I enjoyed. Sports were part of the process for me of feeling my own strength and becoming my own person. I didn’t have to wear black or look artsy to be an artist. I could be an artist and also play lacrosse. There was no need to pigeon-hole myself into one of the high school types from The Breakfast Club. I hope my son will feel the same way when he realizes that he doesn’t fit the jock stereo-type portrayed in movies and can just be himself: a bright and funny kid who loves reading, music, science and building things, and also happens to be very good at sports.

Third Grade, Playing at Half Time at the VA vs Duke Game, photo by Terry Anglin

Recently my son had the exciting opportunity to scrimmage at the half time of the UVA vs Duke Men’s Lacrosse Game. Seeing him out on the turf in the big college stadium, I couldn’t help but allow my mind to wander towards the desire to see him play at the college level…and the possibility of athletic scholarships… then I remembered he is only 8 and reined myself in. Later I had a little talk with my son. I told him that I was really proud of him, and that if he continued to work hard and stay focused, athletics could open the doors to some great opportunities in the future. Then I was careful to add, “If at anytime sports are no longer fun for you, and you decide to stop, that is OK.” He looked me square in the eye and said, “OK Mom. But we both know that’s not going to happen.”

Sketchbook Page by an Artist Sports Mom, Lacrosse Practice, 4/17/12

Week 7: Bedtime Story- The Voyage of the Argo

Detail, Bedtime Story

This week’s collage is inspired by the joys of reading to my son at bedtime.  I wanted to visually capture the experience we share of being swept away by the story, allowing the dim light of the room to blend the real and imagined. We pile into the bed with the cat and the stuffed animals, open the big book and begin our adventure. We have been reading D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, with its heroic deeds and enchanting illustrations. The tale of Jason and the Argonauts was one of our favorite stories.  The great ship Argo, filled with heroes, sets sail on a quest for the Golden Fleece. As the sheets and blankets melt into a vast ocean, we find ourselves heading out to sea, charting a new course.

Detail, Bedtime Story

The sailing ship has been an ongoing motif in my work, a kind of avatar for the Self, forging ahead through rough waters, sailing out to the horizon in search of adventure, or returning home to be anchored in the safe harbor.  My red boat has the capacity to explore many different ways of being in the world, navigating between solitude and community, surrender and ambition, safety and risk.  In both making art and reading books, we allow for the opportunity to explore the world outside our own experience.  The collage I made this week is a strange mix: it seeks to both replicate a very real, intimate experience in my every day life, while folding it into the fantastical unknown. I was intent on capturing the specific details of my son’s favorite toys, grounding the scene in reality, while at the same time juxtaposing these familiar characters with the romance of the book illustrations and the possibility of an imaginary adventure all our own.  As a final addition, I collaged a tiny secret doorway in the upper right hand corner.  Maybe it is simply the bedroom door, the door back to reality. Or maybe it is a door that leads to yet another imaginary world.  I whisper to my son, “Be open to all possibilities.”

Bedtime Story, 12 x 12, acrylic collage

Bedtime Stories

Our Story Time Audience

While I admit there are some evenings when our 8-year-old son and I fall into an exhausted sleep on the couch in front of the TV, most nights we prepare for our special ritual of Story Time.  We “jammy up,” brush our teeth, and climb the ladder up into our boy’s cozy loft bed.  Stuffed animals surround us on all sides, and Olivia, our cat, disappears among the audience of fury friends.  We turn on the reading lamp, snuggle down into the waves of Pirate sheets or polar bear themed flannel, wrap ourselves up in the warm blankets, and settle in for Story Time.  This ritual has been a part of our routine since my son was a baby. We worked our way through board books and picture books, from Elmer to Dr. Seuss. Then we moved on to beginning readers and chapter books, from The Magic Treehouse to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  My husband also enthusiastically participates, having unearthed favorites from his own childhood, like the incredible Phantom Tollbooth.  I am so grateful to have passed on the love of reading to my son, who now greedily devours a 350 page Percy Jackson book within a week or two.  But even though he regularly reads novels silently to himself, there is still a wonderful enjoyment in sharing a story read aloud, preferably one with fantastic pictures.

We are currently making our way through D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.  I am particularly thrilled that my son has enjoyed this book so much since it was one of my dearest favorites from my own childhood. I didn’t own the book, but would check it out of the public library again and again. I love both the stories and the illustrations, which include detailed maps, dynamic adventure scenes, and family trees of the Greek Gods and Heroes.  As we continue through the stories, I am remembering long forgotten favorite episodes, (“Spring comes when Persephone returns from Hades!”) while my son recognizes monsters from the contemporary Percy Jackson books (“I know this one! Percy fought the Calydonian Boar!”)  We just finished the dramatic tale of Jason and the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece.  As the Sand Man creeps into the room and sleep overtakes us, I imagine boarding the great ship Argo with its magnificent sail and setting off on our own adventures…

Setting Sail on the Argo