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 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

Thank you!

I had quite a nice surprise this week. Many thanks to Liz over at Food for Fun/ Food Communication Services for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award. My recent post, Eat Local, caught her eye and she was kind enough to pass this award on to me. Congratulations to Liz for winning this award as well. Head on over to her blog for some witty food writing and wonderful recipes (including a gorgeous summertime peach cake!)

One of the best things about blogging is the opportunity to connect with so many interesting people, both fellow bloggers and readers. Thank you very much to everyone who has come along with me on this adventure, or just popped in along the way. I would also like to thank my family for supporting me through the emotional ups and downs of this project and the intense amount of “me time” I have taken in my studio to complete my collage-a-week and pursue my creative goals this year.  Believe me folks, it has not always been easy, but staying committed has been so rewarding.

My Studio with 28 Weeks of Collages

In keeping with the traditions of the Versatile Blogger Award, I am passing the nomination onto 15 blogs that I enjoy. Each of these inspire me in different ways, and present a unique point of view. Here are the winners, should they choose to accept the nomination!

I would also like to mention two of my very favorite blogs who already won this award recently, or I would have included them too!

My last task as a Versatile Blogger nominee is to reveal 7 tidbits about myself:

  1. The most suburban thing about me is that I relish watching my kid play team sports.
  2. I would love to one day travel to Australia and New Zealand.
  3. My dream is to launch my own business in surface pattern design and illustration.
  4. I have been making art since I could hold a crayon.
  5. My artwork is still heavily influenced by the gardens and landscapes of my childhood.
  6. I love to read and always have an over-flowing stack of books by my bed, a habit I learned from my Dad.
  7. I love to cook, but my amazing husband has been doing all the cooking lately to help me have more time for my creative work. And his food is beautiful and delicious!

Versatile Blogger Award – Rules for Winners

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to their blog. 
2. Choose fifteen blogs to nominate and let them know by leaving a comment.
3. Request that the chosen blogs pass on the award to their favorite fifteen.
4. Copy and paste the award on your blog post.
5. List seven things about yourself.

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

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 25: Happy Birthday to Me

The birthday collage in process

I made myself a birthday cake. There is no egg, flour, or sugary frosting… just paper, ink, and some fluffy white paint. I painted the basic form of my cake directly onto the panel, then began playing with paper collage elements for all the decorations. I drew forty-one candles, and carefully tore out each one, adding some color with a liner brush and India inks. I searched back through my piles of drawings from previous collages and pulled out some of my favorite images for decorating: roses, dogwood blossoms, garden seedlings, olive branches, a mockingbird or two.  I also re-used some of the most personal motifs from past collages such as my little white cardigan that I wrote about in Ode to My Mother.  A Secret Doorway makes another appearance, as does the Dream Boat and Lego Spaceship.  Since it is my birthday cake, I allowed it to be as self-indulgent as I dared, getting into all the nooks and crannies of my life. It became a celebration of not only my birthday, but the world of imagery and meaning that has evolved over the past six months of this project. The final cake holds many contradictions, but makes perfect sense to me. Can a birthday cake be both silly and sincere, light-hearted and full of striving, as unreal as a dream and as concrete as the cul-de-sac of My Suburban Life?

Birthday Cake, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Birthday Cake detail

Birthday cake detail

Birthday Cake detail

Birthday cake detail

Birthday cake detail

Birthday cake detail

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 20: The Blue Egg

Robin’s nest in the cherry tree, moments after Mother Bird flew away.

This collage is about hope and possibility– inspired by the robins nesting in my neighborhood, but driven by my feelings about home, motherhood and personal aspirations. I look at the tiny blue egg and it holds all the dreams and possibilities for my own child. My son is my only egg. He hatched into a wonderful boy. Ten more years before he leaves the nest. My task is to love and appreciate every detail of every age, be there for him in every moment, while letting go a little more each year as it passes.

I look at the egg again and it holds all the dreams and possibilities for me and my creative work. Can I hatch my plan to build a full-time creative career? The egg is so fragile. Can I tend to my nest like the mother robin: weaving a miracle out of twigs, lovingly guarding my most precious possession, hatching a dream, pushing it out of the nest, having the faith that it will fly?

Wave Pattern

I began this collage with paper eggs. I decided to use a wave pattern that I designed about a year ago. The wave motif has been an important theme in my paintings for several years, suggesting creative momentum. The meditative quality of the ocean’s powerful and continuous rhythm became a metaphor for creative flow and the practice of art-making.  (Take a look at the Momentum Series on my website to see more of this work.) It felt appropriate to use this pattern for the egg, adding two different layers of meaning. First, it seems to fit the spirit of my young boy- joyful, dynamic, and immersed in the flow of childhood. Secondly, it is a remnant of my early efforts to transition from drawing and painting to learning Illustrator and digital pattern design, as I began to find a new rhythm in my work, and formulate my goal to build a creative career. I saw this collage as an opportunity for me to bring together drawing, painting and pattern in one piece. Ultimately, that is the goal in the life of my work: to integrate my different modes of art and design in a way that can support me financially and fulfill me creatively.

Paper Eggs with Wave Pattern

In the final piece, I chose to include just one egg, centered in a scribbly nest, balanced in the crook of a tree branch, sheltered by leaves. Here is the final work with some close-up images of the details.

Nest, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Nest Detail

Nest Detail

Nest, Detail with Bird

Week 19: Mockingbirds in the Pear Tree

Assembling the drawings and collage elements

This week’s collage is inspired by the birds of our neighborhood. Once I made a conscious effort to be aware of their presence, I began to notice more and more interesting details about their habits. Each day as I strolled around our yard or walked my dog through the neighborhood, I watched and listened for the birds instead of getting lost in my thoughts. Tiny hummingbirds buzz around the flowers on our deck. Robins nest in the cherry trees along the sidewalks. Mockingbirds chastise the cat from the pear tree. A variety of small songbirds twitter to each other on the rooftops, while hawks glide and circle high above it all.

I decided to focus on the mockingbird, one of whom has become somewhat of an overlord of our front yard, perching in the pear tree and announcing its presence with an admonishing “Chuh Chuh Chuh!”  My son named this bird “Chuh” and he became loosely regarded as an extended family member- not quite a pet, but a part of our local clan. Intrigued by this bird, I have enjoyed observing its antics and listening to its rich and varied song. In reading up on the mockingbird, I learned that they tend to be either solitary or in a small family unit, but in my collage I filled the pear tree with a whole chorus of mockingbirds. Maybe this is a picture of many mockingbirds, or maybe it is the same mockingbird, seemingly everywhere at once, which is true to its insistent nature.

After assembling all my drawings of the birds, I scanned the originals and re-sized them in Illustrator. This digital step has become an important part of my process. It allows me to scale down or enlarge the images, flip their orientation, and make multiples. I can also use the digital images later in patterns or illustrations.  I printed this collection of birds onto natural fiber collage paper, tearing out each bird to create a soft-edged shape.  I also used some drawings of the rose bushes from last week to complete the scene of the front yard. (A great example of the advantage of having digital copies of all my drawings saved to print out again later.)

Here is the final piece: a pear tree full of mockingbirds. Olivia, the cat, hides under the rose bush, while Holly, the dog, wags her tail in the front yard. The perspective is a topsy-turvy view from above, perhaps how the mockingbird would see the scene, swooping down from the sky.

Mockingbirds in the Pear Tree, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail

Detail

Detail

Week 18: The Path of Roses

Roses drawings, scanned and re-scaled on the Mac

Inspired by the blooming roses along my front walkway, my creative process for this piece began with simple ink drawings done from life. Drawing is not just a means to an end, but an activity that opens up opportunities for new understanding through careful observation. I noticed that the blooms on some shrubs have three rows of petals while others have five. I saw exactly how the petals are shaped, and how they whorl together in a spiral. The fuller flowers are more lush and visually exciting, but have almost no fragrance, while the simpler flowers have a gorgeous scent. This was an interesting discovery, considering how often I have walked down the path to my own front door, and just now really noticed these differences. Maybe I did notice all these things when I first planted them, but had since forgotten… Drawing gladly brought it all back to me. The fragrance seems to hang in the air along the passage way between the tall shrubs, so that stopping to sniff an individual flower has become almost unnecessary, especially when one is hurrying along to the next task. One of the goals of this project was to allow my art-making to lead to a more intimate knowledge and appreciation of the simple things around me in my daily life. I have been reminded to stop and smell the roses.

Beginning the collage with ink drawings

After completing a small group of ink drawings, I scanned and vectorized the images in Illustrator using the Live Trace function. I could then re-size each element, scaling them up and down to create a variety of forms for the collage. The re-sized drawings were then printed on Gampi, my favorite natural fiber collage paper.  Here is a photo that shows an original drawing (colored with india ink after scanning), collage pieces printed on Gampi paper and torn into individual shapes, and the collage in process with paper elements and acrylic paint.

Palette for Roses

I mixed up a palette of rich magentas, reds, and purples, complimented by deep earthy greens. I wanted to both capture the intense color of the roses, while also allowing the ink drawings to express the exquisite detail of the flowers in black and white. The color adds the weight of atmosphere and light, while the black ink line tells the story of intimate observation or unfettered imagination. The imagery evolved beyond a literal depiction of my front walk, and became an expanded glimpse of my personal experience in this place. Something magical happens along this path. Everyday reality converges with imaginative leaps: I walk my dog calmly across the street while a riotous rose bush bursts forth, like a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk. A cat crouches in the shadows. I follow a garden path that ends at a front door. But to where does that door lead?  (For insight into the meaning of the secret doorway, please check out my post, The Woods with Secret Doorways.) Here is the finished work with details of my favorite passages:

The Path of Roses, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail of collage in process: Ink drawings with acrylic paint.

Detail with crouching cat.

Detail with Secret Doorway

Detail with the Dog Walker (that’s me and Holly!)