Week 35: Small Wonders

The Amazing Spider Web

We have been observing some interesting happenings in the neighborhood. Spider webs the size of tractor tires are strung up between trees and lamp posts, with threads that sometimes stretch all the way across the driveway. In the morning, tiny beads of dew cling and shimmer on their silky nets. Large white-capped mushrooms spring up in the lawn overnight. The flower beds continually re-seed themselves, and not always where you might expect. Weeds sprout after every rain, as the damp late summer slips into cooler evenings and shorter days. Reinvention and change is all around us, every day. This collage is about nature’s big and little surprises, reminding me that anything can happen. Yes, I know there are scientific explanations, but let’s allow a little wonder in our lives.

The process for this piece was very loose and intuitive. I wasn’t even sure what it was about until half way through. This was a departure since I normally verbalize a clear theme to myself before beginning. I was pressed for time, and I had a kind of brain-freeze of ideas. First there was panic, then I just started making something. I let go of words, and allowed the images to pop up like mushrooms on the page. Then I remembered the actual mushrooms in the lawn, then the spider webs, and soon the seeds of creativity became unstuck, growing like weeds. I’m interested in how words can limit or expand the creative process. Do words pre-empt the unconscious mind that deals best with images? Are words best used after the artwork is finished or underway? But what about illustration, where words are needed to define the purpose of the image? Does the image have the power to take us beyond the words, to deeper understanding? What do you think?

Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders

Detail, Small Wonders


Week 34: Flashlight Tag

Flashlight tag is one of the great joys of summer for the neighborhood kids. Just last weekend, my son hosted a sleep-over with six of his buddies. As soon as the sun went down, flashlight tag was the game of choice! This week I had fun creating a collage that aims to capture the thrill of being a kid let loose on a warm summer evening, sneaking around in the dark, running and hiding, laughing and hollering. The result has a bit of a madcap Scooby-Doo-mystery vibe that I find very amusing.

Flashlight Tag, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Flashlight Tag

Detail, Flashlight Tag

Detail, Flashlight Tag

Detail, Flashlight Tag

Detail, Flashlight Tag

Week 33: California Trip Part IV

Up a long winding mountain road above Santa Cruz, and into the forest of redwoods and manzanita, there is a special gathering place for our family: Grandma’s House. Set into a hillside that slopes down to the ancient forest, the house feels inseparable from the land, welcoming the filtered sunlight, fresh air, and quiet presence of the towering trees. Multi-level decks and garden terraces look out into the woods, where some mornings you can watch the fog soften the peaks of the evergreens and roll its billowy blanket across the landscape. There is a blueberry bush loaded with fruit, and beds overflowing with rosemary, thyme, and roses. I delighted in the cool and peaceful mornings here, when we would take our hot coffee mugs outside to the terraces, pick some blueberries for breakfast (with a pinch of rosemary!) and enjoy the view and conversation with a house full of loved ones.

Our time at Grandma’s house was bittersweet on this visit, as we were not sure when we would return to this special place. Grandma is renting the house and moving to Virginia to be with us! We are so excited about this wonderful change for her and our family. We will miss our California retreat, but we hope to one day spend time together there again. In the meantime, we await Grandma’s move in a couple of weeks!

In creating the collage, it was most important for me to capture the atmosphere and sense of place that I feel here.  I chose to leave figures out of the composition, instead suggesting a human presence with the coffee mugs, chairs, and bowl of just-picked blueberries. In this way, the viewer is freer to project oneself into the picture and imagine the special places that they too may share with their families. The foreground plants are cut paper drawings made with pencil, charcoal, India Inks and acrylic paint. The roses are paper cut-outs from one of my digital pattern designs. The trees in the background are painted with acrylics, then collaged over with a wispy transparent paper to create the effect of drifting fog.

Grandma’s House, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Blueberry Bush

Detail, Blueberries for Breakfast

Detail, Garden Path

Detail, Forest and Fog

Week 32: California Trip Part III

Climbing the Drum Bridge

I could not resist doing a collage about the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. It is a magical place with the potential to explore all the themes that I am continually drawn to in my artwork: imaginary landscapes, rich layers and textures, story-telling and narrative, journey and discovery, and the intersection of human artifice with the natural world. As you wander the garden, a series of carefully composed vignettes open before you. Sometimes a view through the trees offers a glimpse of what lies ahead. Other times you reach an elevation and are invited to look back over where you have come. A myriad of visual surprises draws you along the stone paths: sculpted evergreens contrast with feathery maples left to their natural habit, and colorful koi dart through the shimmering ponds while lily pads float serenely on the surface. Fanciful bridges and brightly painted buildings punctuate the natural landscape, while birds and butterflies accompany visitors on their journey.

Our favorite element in the garden is the Drum Bridge. When seen from a distance, its dramatic arch is pleasingly picturesque. As you approach, the scale of it comes into focus, and you see that this is not a bridge for strolling over. It must be climbed– more like a ladder than a bridge! We all had fun scrambling up the steep incline to the top of the arch, where we were rewarded with a fantastic view, looking back over the gardens. Maybe I can try to approach other obstacles in life just like the Drum Bridge: welcoming challenges with an attitude of play, humor, and curiosity.

Japanese Tea Garden, 12 x 12, acrylic collage

Detail, Tea Garden with stone path

Detail, Tea Garden with koi pond

Detail, Tea Garden with pond

Detail, Tea Garden with Buddha

Detail, Tea Garden with Drum Bridge

Detail, Tea Garden with bird

Week 31: California Trip Part II

California Coast near Big Sur

One of the highlights of our trip was the day we drove down Highway 1 from Santa Cruz to Big Sur. After miles of gleaming green lettuce and artichoke fields, we stopped in the little town of Carmel by the Sea. It was a cool day with a light misty fog. We warmed ourselves with a mid-morning treat of hot coffee and chocolate-dipped biscotti, then strolled the quaint town, admiring the stone walls, unique bungalows, and enchanting cottage gardens. When we got to the beach, we kicked off our shoes, rolled up our pants, and waded into the surf. This was only the second day of our vacation, and we were just so happy to be together- me, my husband, and our boy- with no distractions, just time to play, explore, and focus on each other. It was a bit too chilly for swimming, but that didn’t stop us from tempting the waves, wading in as far as we dared, then running and laughing back up the beach with the ocean splashing at our heels.

We continued down the winding coast to Big Sur, mountains rising up to our left, and rocky cliffs crashing down to the ocean on our right. The landscape is magical, decorated by creeping succulents in green, yellow, and red. The plants seem so beautifully alien and mysterious compared to the familiar flora back East. Cypress trees stand at the edge of the cliffs, leaning inland like gesturing figures, shaped by the wind. We stopped for an excellent lunch at Nepenthe and some shopping at the eclectic gift shop, The Phoenix. It was great fun and a little surreal to be making this trip again with our almost-nine-year-old boy. The first time Ken and I drove down to Big Sur together was in December of 1999, long before Max was born, on the trip when we got engaged. So much has happened in our lives since then. We still have the lyrical wind chime that we bought at The Phoenix all those years ago, and decided to purchase another one, with a new set of tones. On the way home, we stopped along the road to look out over the strange meadows, the ever-changing shapes of tidal pools, the craggy cliffs and jagged rocks, and the infinite blue of the Pacific. We are 3000 miles from our suburbia, yet we are here together, and so we are home.

Big Sur Road Trip, 12 x 12, acrylic collage

Detail, Succulent Meadow

Detail, Map

Detail, Highway 1

Detail, Cliffs along Highway 1, Big Sur

Detail, Cliff House

Week 30: California Trip Part I

We’re back from California and I have been working on a series of new collages about our trip. I’ll be catching up on posts this week and sharing some of our adventures along with my work. California is a special place for my family. My husband grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and while I am an East Coaster by origin, I have grown to love the West Coast. Ever since my husband proposed to me on a beach near Santa Cruz, we have had many memorable experiences together on our trips back to California. On this vacation we returned to some of our favorite places, discovered new ones, and enjoyed wonderful visits with dear family members and friends.

On the first weekend of our trip, our boy Max turned 9. I wanted to make a montage of all the fun things we did on his birthday, as well as his favorite activities of the trip. But beyond creating a record of places or events, I wanted to capture the essence of this moment in time with our son. What does it feel like to turn nine and have the run of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, go fishing off a pier, wade in the surf, ride a rollercoaster, or see your first Major League baseball game? What does it feel like to be a parent or grandparent whose love for this child swells bigger than a baseball stadium, bigger than the San Francisco Bay, bigger than the Pacific Ocean? This is what I want to remember.

When a Boy Turns Nine, 12 x 12, acrylic collage

Detail, Max turns 9

Detail, Santa Cruz Fishing Pier

Detail, The Big Dipper, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Detail, Cake and Icecream

Detail, SF Giants Stadium

Week 29: Vacation!

In a few days we will be departing suburbia! We’re flying to California for a much needed vacation visiting family and friends. I’ll get my big city fix in San Francisco, plus family time in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz. My husband and I even planned a few days of grown-up time in L.A. while our boy, Max, has an adventure with the Grandpas in Yosemite. Max will turn 9 during the vacation, so we have something special planned for him too. Everybody wins!

This was a fun collage, depicting the airplane flying over our little suburban world and the Virginia landscape, with San Francisco peeking up from the horizon across the great expanse. The pets will stay behind with our house-sitter, so I included Holly and Olivia watching our departure. See you in two weeks! I’ll have lots of drawings from our trip to share!

Departing Suburbia, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Departing Suburbia

Detail, Departing Suburbia

Detail, Departing Suburbia

Detail, Departing Suburbia

Detail, Departing Suburbia

Detail, Departing Suburbia

Week 28: Eat Local

Paper elements ready for collaging.

This week’s collage is inspired by our local farmers market. We spent a delightful Saturday morning there browsing the stalls and feasting our eyes on all the different colored tomatoes that are now in season. My father taught me to love tomatoes, and I have great memories of the big juicy specimens we would buy at a roadside stand on the way to our beach house in the summertimes of my childhood. We always enjoyed them simply prepared, just sliced out on a platter with salt, pepper, a sprinkle of fresh herbs and maybe a drizzle of olive oil. My family had such reverence for peak season tomatoes that they could almost be considered the main course, but were usually accompanied by corn on the cob, zucchini and onions, and the fish or crabs that we had caught that day on the Little Choptank River. The taste of a good tomato will always remind me of those happy summer days.

Farmers Market drawings

My process for this collage involved some new ideas and inverted techniques. Normally I draw by hand with ink pens on paper, then scan the drawings into my Mac, and manipulate them in Illustrator. I may re-size the drawings, and multiply the images. The drawings are then printed out onto collage papers with an ink jet printer, torn by hand, and collaged onto a panel in combination with acrylic paint and additional hand-drawn pieces.  This week I scanned only one drawing (the cluster of cherry tomatoes.)  The rest of the tomatoes and the market stalls were all drawn directly into the Mac using my Wacom pen tablet.  It is a little odd to say these are not “hand-drawn,” as I drew them with my hand, while holding a pen… the only difference being that the drawing first shows up on a computer screen instead of on a piece of paper.  I also colored the tomatoes using the pen tablet and digital tools in Illustrator.  The images were then printed out, torn by hand, and collaged onto a panel with acrylic paint. If you looks closely at the market stall drawings, you will see that there are only a few unique drawings. The rest are simply re-sized or reversed versions. When collaged together on the panel and individually colored, you get the impression of a large and varied market scene.

Farmers Market, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Farmers Market

Detail, Farmers Market

Detail, Farmers Market

Detail, Farmers Market

Farmers Market

Local Produce

This morning my family enjoyed an outing to the City Market, our local downtown farmers market. It was drizzling and unseasonably cool, but so enjoyable nonetheless. I love wandering down the aisles, browsing the bounty of the Shenandoah Valley. There are free range meats and organic eggs, tempting baked goods, fresh coffee, lemonade, local cheeses, jams and preserves, arts and crafts, and of course a rainbow of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. We brought home a taste of summer: golden tomatoes, slender Japanese eggplants and round yellow squash. I find creative inspiration in their colors and shapes as well as their anticipated flavors.

Here is a sketch inspired by the Farmers Market that combines both hand-drawn elements and digital images created using the “brushes” in Illustrator.  I pulled a color palette from the photograph above to apply color to the sketch.  Some motifs were created by hand using traditional materials, then scanned and digitized. Others were created entirely with digital tools. This was a fun experiment for me. Can you tell which parts of the picture where done by hand and which parts were created in Illustrator? Tomorrow I will print out the sketch onto collage paper, tear it apart, and recombine it with other drawings to create a hand-made collage. I love this kind of mash-up, allowing my work to flow through multiple channels.

Local Tomato Sketch

Week 27: Balloon Landing

Panel with under-painting of the balloon.

In this week’s collage I tried to capture the odd occurrence of a hot air balloon landing in our neighborhood. This was an actual real life event, although the collage depicts an imaginative version of it. The balloon landing has become a part of my own personal mythology, serving as some sort of proof that strange, wonderful, and even magical happenings can enter our reality.  The balloon holds all of my dreams, and I know that it is real, even when it is drifting high above and out of reach.

Paper elements ready for collaging.

I decorated the balloon with collaged paper torn from patterns that I designed in Illustrator, as well as leftover motifs from previous collages. Many of the digital patterns are based on scanned drawings that were originally created for my collage projects, so there is a closed loop of recycled and adapted imagery that propels both my fine art and design work. Using elements from my patterns seemed appropriate, as so many of my dreams right now are wound up in launching my fabric designs. As the balloon makes its descent, the little houses look on with varying expressions of shock and delight. The balloon is landing!

Hot Air Balloon, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Hot Air Balloon Detail

Hot Air Balloon Detail

Hot Air Balloon Detail

Hot Air Balloon Detail