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!)


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

Week 15: My Neighbor’s Garden

This week’s collage was inspired by my neighbor’s garden, a special place that I pass by regularly on my daily walks with my dog, Holly. After several years of admiring this yard from the sidewalk in front of the house, I was lucky enough to get a close-up tour from its generous creator.  I wanted to capture the distinct sense of place this garden has achieved, mediating between the wooded natural landscape around it and the careful orchestration of plants by human hands. There is an emphasis on structure over flowers and frills: evergreens, handsome shrubs and small trees of many colors and textures define the garden. At the same time, there are exquisite blooms thoughtfully placed at specific moments: the clematis “Josephine” entwined on the lattice by the mailbox, and the unusual grafted lilac that displays its fragrant purple flowers in the form of a small ornamental tree, centered in the front yard.

I began this piece by first painting a varied ground onto my panel, allowing the free flow of colors to guide the composition. I then gathered my drawings done earlier in the week, copied them onto translucent Gampi paper with an inkjet printer, and began placing them in the collage. I also brought back some drawings of small dogwood trees from Week 14, since my neighbor uses dogwoods to great effect on the edge of the woods.  One advantage of scanning and copying my drawings is the ability to use them again in new ways, either in hand-made collages or in digital illustrations or patterns.  In addition to using ink drawings as collage elements, I also drew directly on the panel with archival ink pens. More paint was worked in around the drawings to develop the atmosphere and bring out details like the deep pink blooming cherry trees on our street.

I combined aerial map-like views, traditional landscape vistas, and close-ups of interesting details to create an experiential montage of the garden. My layered experience of this place is a combination of all these perspectives. The garden has different meanings for me in different contexts. It has a place in the physical neighborhood as well as in my own memory and imagination. My love for this garden merges with my love for all the gardens of my past, present and future.  Each tree merges with all the trees that grew up through my history: the towering tulip poplars from my childhood home, my grandmother’s elegant red maples, the golden fringed Japanese maple we got as a wedding gift, the weeping cherry we planted when we bought our first house, the patio peach tree from the summer when I was pregnant, and the young Black Gum with its promising horizontal branches that will one day hold a swing for our backyard.  This collage is as much about all these moments as it is about my neighbor’s garden. I am grateful for them all.

Here is the finished work:

My Neighbor's Garden, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Week 14: Cascading Spring

Palette of Spring Greens

I was inspired this week by the flowering dogwood, a symbol of our community that is now in bloom all over town. I was also interested in capturing the range of beautiful Spring greens emerging in the landscape, from lawns and fields to fresh young foliage in the trees. First I mixed up some acrylic paint to lay out the color scheme for this week’s collage. I actually started this piece by jumping right in with the color, without first thinking about the composition or how I would incorporate the collaged paper pieces. I like to switch up my process whenever I feel I have been over-thinking things, to gain a fresh perspective and avoid being too formulaic. I painted a very loose background using the fresh greens and sky blue, then returned to my ink drawings of the dogwood trees and flowers done earlier in the week. Next I copied my drawings onto Japanese Gampi paper, using an ink jet printer.  This allowed me to use the same elements multiple times, in keeping with my interest in pattern and repeating motifs. Gampi is a beautiful lightweight and translucent paper, with natural fibers running through it. I prefer to tear the motifs out rather than using scissors to create a softer edge to the forms. Here is the work in its early stages, with the background painted and collage elements beginning to be placed:

As I worked on the collage, a landscape of cascading dogwoods began to come together. I was interested in creating a layered structure to the work that reflects both the branching pattern of the individual trees as well as the overlapping groupings of trees typically seen in the landscape. As I arranged the paper elements, I added more paint to help merge the trees into the background. I was not aiming to create a realistic scene, but rather a kind of dream-like homage to one of my favorite trees and this special time of year.

Dogwoods, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Dogwoods, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Week 13: Pattern

This week my goal was to integrate my fine art and fledgling design work by creating related patterns in both hand-made and digital media. Using the beautiful blooming cherry trees in our neighborhood for inspiration, I first worked with ink on paper to draw the trees and flowers. The motifs were then scanned into my Mac to color and manipulate in Illustrator later. I created a hand-made collage to play around with the placement of forms and experiment with color, texture, and materials. I then went back to the computer to make a more polished digital design that was put into repeat for fabric applications.

Ink drawings for scanning and collaging

This exercise allowed me to explore different sides of myself and my work, and consider how they might influence and play into each other. I no longer feel the need to choose a side or focus on just one thing.  I will always love the messiness of paint and the unique character of the hand-made object. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the tools that digital technology brings to art, and am eager to embrace them. I don’t quite fit the stereo-type of the free-spirited fine artist. While I may be creative and expressive, I am also detail oriented, careful and precise. I love structuring forms and organizing information. Working both by hand and on the computer allows me to be all these things.  Here are images of both the hand-made collage and the digital designs that came after:

Cherry Trees Pattern, acrylic collage, 12 x 12





Week 12: Be Here Now

We had a hard rain last night.  This morning I anxiously walked up the street to see the cherry trees again and knew what I would find: all the petals had fallen. And so it ends, at least until next year.  My father once told me that the one thing you can always count on in life is change. Time rolls onward, and there is always something slipping away, while something else takes its place.  I only had one week to enjoy the cherry blossoms, but I walked under them twice a day, photographed them, drew the clustered trees and the individual flowers, scanned the drawings into my Mac to create a floral pattern design, and finally painted them today.  This year I did more than notice them in passing. So now I will let them go, knowing there are Dogwoods to look forward to…

This week I really wanted to paint, so I mixed up some juicy pinks, reds and oranges. I was also inspired by the fresh Spring green that is coming out everywhere in the neighborhood, on lawns and in the new leaves. I did a simple landscape painting of the cherry tree-lined street, then added collage elements into the blooming canopy.  I was most interested in the billowing texture of the flowery boughs, and how the shapes of the trees frame the pieces of street and lawn behind them.  While the trees are painted thickly with heavy gel medium, the background is painted very thinly, collapsing the distance into flat shapes that fit in and around the trees like a jigsaw puzzle.

Cherry Trees, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

I also took on the Rainbow Challenge from my last post. I wrote, “Why is it that the representation of a rainbow has become such a cliché, synonymous with Care Bears, unicorns and everything trite?  When seen in real life, there is nothing more grand, more magical, more intensely pure.  Would it even be possible to put a rainbow in my artwork without being either ironic, sarcastic, comical, or naive? I might try that.”

Since I did, in fact, see a real rainbow in the neighborhood this week, I felt I had full rights to include it in the painting. Does it look silly or trite, or ruin the whole piece? I am smiling and thinking to myself, “Does it matter?”  All things are transient: the cherry blossoms, the rainbow, this painting, my life. Rather than worry about embarrassment, or anticipate the end, let me just be here now.

Week 11: A Time for Everything

I collected some bits of inspiration while we were cleaning up the yard this week. While raking out the beds, I picked out some interesting shapes of Fall leaves, then saved a few of the long dry curling reeds from trimming the ornamental grasses. I noticed some cute little pods when pruning the crape myrtles. While snipping away at the wild branches of butterfly bush, I saw the silvery new growth mingling with last year’s dried flowers, browned and crumbling, but still with a hint of purple.  As I hauled away the bags of the crinkling crunchy dead leaves and trimmings, new growth was bursting out all around: blooming Cherries, Camelia, Bradford Pear, and Daffodils. I puts bits of all these things, the old and the new, on the same plate, and took it down to the studio to draw and observe.  The beautiful fresh Camelia blossom nestles with the dry old oak leaf.  Each has its place in its own time.

This week I challenged myself to clear out some old ideas along with the old leaves. One of my most limiting old beliefs is “There is not enough time for all my creative projects.” It’s true that I am attempting a lot. Along with writing this blog and making my weekly collage, I am also designing patterns and illustrations on my Mac in a serious effort to launch a second career in surface design. Sometimes it all seems a little crazy, as I struggle to balance my creative ambitions with work, family time and the everyday necessities of life. There are days when it all seems impossible. But I am trying out a new belief: “There is always enough time and a time for everything.” I decide what I am going to work on, and stop worrying about all the other stuff while I am focusing on the current task. Then I take a break and work on something else, allowing myself to be fully present for the next activity. I managed to have a pretty great weekend using this approach. I enjoyed working outside in the yard.  I devoted a lot of time to my design project since I had some new ideas I was excited about. I spent a long time drawing and less time painting this week. I made pancakes for my family Sunday morning and lingered around the table instead of rushing down to the studio first thing in the morning. It is 9:30 pm Sunday night, but I finished my collage.  I’m not entirely happy with the colors, but I’ll put it aside for now and look at it again tomorrow. I’m starting to see there is a way to live a full life while not feeling frantic all the time. Let go of the drama and let it unfold.

There is Always Enough Time and a Time for Everything

Making Room for New Growth

Last year's cone flowers

Today my husband and I spent the day clearing out the garden beds, cutting back shrubs, and tidying up the yard. If we wait any longer the new shoots will start tangling up with the dry old stems from last year and the job will become much harder.  As I yanked and clipped away at the old growth, I had some time to think about making room for the new: new ideas, new possibilities. Sometimes clearing out the old beliefs is a necessary step before the new ones can take root.  If you asked me just six months ago what I thought was possible for me and my creative work, I would have a very different and more limited answer. I wonder what I might tell you six months from now?  The most limiting old belief I needed to rip out was, “There is not enough time for all my creative projects.”

Fennel- Old and New

I’m starting to understand that this belief is really an illusion. I have lots of time and need only to make choices about how to spend it. Yes, there are givens like my 30 hours of day job, preparing meals, walking the dog, sleeping, etc. Spending time with my family is important to me, so I choose to do that. But there are still an amazing number of small moments leftover that keep adding up, moments that I didn’t even realize I had, until I believed that I had them.  Sometimes you just need to ask for more time.  When I told my wonderful husband how important my studio work had become to me, he started helping out more around the house, shopping for groceries and making dinner.  When I committed to doing this project, my whole orientation with time shifted. Activities that I used to view as stealing away my art time (like yard work) now become opportunities for inspiration.  I am more appreciative of all the things I need to spend time on. When my time for art arrives, I am ready.

Patio Pots: Before

Patio Pots: After

Once the shrubs are cut back and the pots are emptied, everything looks so bare. The pruned butterfly bushes look so bony and awkward in this stage, just waiting to once again shoot out their arcs of silvery leaves and purple flowers.  The beds are a blank page, just waiting to be filled with color.  After accomplishing so much clean-up, suddenly there is so much more to do!  Filling the pots with annuals, adding more perennials, working in compost, mulching, planting the vegetable garden. (Do I even have time to garden this year, with all the art projects I have going on??) But this is how it always goes. No matter how much you do, there is always more to do.  In fact, the more productive I am, the more I want to do, the wider my possibilities become. As these ideas grow, they threaten to overwhelm me. I have learned that the best thing to do after defining my larger goals is to just focus on the next step in front of me. Change does not happen in the past or the future, but in the continually unfolding present moment.

There is always enough time and a time for everything. I am learning to ease into this new belief. I work hard and I stay committed, but when life pulls me away from my artwork, I am allowing myself to realize that maybe this other thing, whatever it may be, is an important experience. Can I give up control and have the spacious awareness to let life unfold?

There is Always Enough Time and a Time for Everything

Here are some more things I discovered unfolding in my yard today, each in their own time:

The Pear Tree in the front yard, ready to bloom

Camelia under my studio window

The Oregon Grape Holly blooms for the first time!

Week 10: The Cherry Trees

Spring Palette

This week I felt inspired to make a significant change to my color palette. The shift really began last week with the softer pinks and purples in “Mom’s Treasure Box.” I took it a bit further this week with brighter, clearer colors. When I get involved with a color in my work, I find myself drawn to it everywhere else in my life. This weekend I couldn’t resist buying a new spring sweater in that pinky purple color!

For this week’s collage I wanted to capture that moment of anticipation when I walked up the street to see the first blooming trees of the season in our neighborhood. This experience was so much about being carried away by the color and intricacy of the trees. I chose to use fewer collage elements and really enjoy the freedom of painting to capture the light and atmosphere of the day. While the experience is one of being absorbed in nature, I made reference to civilization with small paper collage pieces that depict mailboxes, reminding us that we are still in the man-made construct of suburbia.  I included a small collaged drawing of my camera in the grass, as a nod back to the experience I had of impatiently struggling to get the perfect photo of the trees. I then remembered to put the camera aside and just be still, look, listen and appreciate the delicate forms and colors in the present moment.

First Cherry Trees, acrylic collage on panel, 12 x 12

The glowy deep blue I used for the asphalt of the cul-de-sac almost wants to become a body of water, like a lake edged with trees. I used the acrylic transfer technique with Golden Tar Gel to create tiny transparent flowers with which to decorate the tree.  (See previous post to get a full description of this process.)  While I was at first most interested in the overall color and movement of the trees, I soon discovered my fascination with the intricate form of each individual flower. Combining the loose painting of the trees with the precise ink drawings of the individual flowers allowed me to capture the whole experience.

Detail with acrylic transfer flowers

Detail, Collaged paper mail box

Detail, collaged paper camera

Waiting for Spring

It is early March. The daffodils and crocus are blooming along with the early pink cherry trees.  Warm days surface in between the cooler ones. There is that certain freshness in the air. I notice neighbors clearing out their flower beds and think about tidying the garden at our house: cutting back the dry stems and swaying seed heads on last year’s cone flowers, pulling off the blanket of fallen leaves to find the green and pliable new shoots underneath. My mind races ahead to putting away the winter coats and buying new sandals. I dream of a rainbow of baby beets, carrots and swiss chard in my vegetable garden. It seems like Spring has arrived. Then we wake up Monday morning to falling snow! School is closed and my son runs outside to play, bundled up in snow pants and winter gear, having just worn shorts a few days ago. Nature reminds us to be patient, to expect the unexpected, to have faith and let things happen in their own time. The Spring will come, just as it does every year, but each year it arrives a little bit differently.

These are things I need to keep in mind. I am patient with my child, with other children in the neighborhood, patient with a new account at work, patient with friends, patient with strangers, but entirely inpatient with myself.  I am hardworking and disciplined, I commit to doing things in specified time slots. I am organized and ambitious. I want things to get done on a deadline. And too often I expect my creative work to conform to these parameters in order to be successful.  Yes, art requires discipline and commitment, but it also requires patience. What I really require is open-ended time to think, dream, experiment and muddle along– activities that seem suspiciously like doing nothing. I work at this every day, trying to balance these two sides of myself, both controlling and improvising, pressing forward with all my will and my intellect, while trying to remain open and receptive to different rhythms and unplanned ideas.

I sit down to write or to paint. I look at the clock. I tell myself I will finish this post and paint this painting within a certain time block, then I will complete that spreadsheet for work, do the laundry, run that errand, and be home in time when my son gets off the bus so that I can help him with his school project, do some design work on my Mac when he goes out to play, then make dinner and relax into a family evening. Things rarely go as planned. Sometimes the writing does not flow, jerking along while I procrastinate by reading other people’s blogs. Sometimes the painting flows so much that I lose track of time. Hours pass while I cut out tiny shapes with an X-acto blade and layer color over color over color. Maybe it works, or maybe it doesn’t and I will have to paint over the entire thing. My schedule is now way off. There is no time to run that errand. The spreadsheet will have to wait. Tomorrow I will have to carve out time for the design project.  I will make time for my son now. His company softens me and makes me laugh. We talk about our day and my rigid To Do List fades. Maybe his dinner comes out of a mac and cheese box tonight. (I get away with this only because my husband is working tonight.) But I do steam him some fresh broccoli. There’s just enough time to snuggle on the sofa and watch our favorite show, Cupcake Wars, then it’s up to bed for story time and sleep. I think about staying up late to work in the studio, but I am exhausted. Tomorrow is another day.

This morning I took my dog, Holly, out for a walk, intent on photographing those blooming cherry trees in the neighborhood.  As I excitedly approached and steadied the camera, zooming in on those gorgeous blossoms, Holly yanked my arm that was holding the leash, a gust of wind blew the branches wildly about, and the sun went behind a cloud.  This went on for several minutes as I became more and more frustrated. Then I had to laugh at myself. These pictures are about patience.  I took a deep breath, waiting for the sun, the wind, the dog, and my mind to be still. I stopped looking through the camera lens for a moment and observed the intricacy of the flowers, the nuance of pinks. I heard the soft exhale of the breeze in the branches. This is what I really came here for.