Business Trip

I’m leaving for a business trip tomorrow morning. I will be attending a trade show with my day-job colleagues, showcasing our company’s products, and will be gone til the middle of next week. My trip will involve non-stop meetings with wholesale customers and prospective buyers, followed by working social events each evening entertaining clients or attending vendor-hosted cocktail parties. This trip will be both fun and exhausting, and unfortunately totally eclipse my usual studio time this weekend.

So what about this week’s collage? I’m up to Week 24 (almost half way there!) and have not yet missed a week. Will I attempt to draw in the margins of my notepad while making product notes, or perhaps do some art in my hotel room? Or will I do a double panel next week with all the doodles when I am back in the studio? The one thing I am sure of is that making myself crazy to get it done is contrary to the spirit of the project. The whole point is to be in the moment, appreciate wherever you are now, and pull inspiration from that reality, rather than fighting against the way things are.  The collages reflect the authentic variable patterns of a creative life…. and, well, sometimes there is just less time than others!  This week was truly a busy one– preparing for the show at work, four evenings of my son’s summer lacrosse clinic, a much anticipated 2 day visit from some dear friends from out-of-town, beginning exercises on a new e-course on surface pattern design, plus other un-planned priorities (a box of gifted perennials that needed planting, and an earnest request from my son, “Mom, will you please play Monopoly with me?”) All artists experience periods when our creative time is curtailed. The goal is to not let those obstacles derail you, but rather to enjoy life and find inventive ways to remain committed, one small step at a time.

This whole dilemma got me thinking about how I will manage a collage when we take our 10 day summer vacation to California in August. We have a pretty busy itinerary visiting friends and family, and hitting the museums and sights in the San Francisco Bay area. Am I going to miss out on family fun and hang back at times during our vacation to work on my collage? No way! There is a time and a place for everything. I will keep my sketchbook with me wherever we go, and then use the drawings to make a multi-panel collage about our trip when I get home!

I haven’t talked much about my day-job yet on the blog…. I work for a specialty food distributor and represent a wide portfolio of fantastic edibles. We sell products to gourmet retail stores, natural food stores, caterers and restaurants. Plenty of inspiration here with artisan cheeses, charcuterie, olive oils, antipasti items and chocolate!  I have a secret mission this year to notice product and packaging design, as well as logos and artwork on labels and signage. I have a scrapbook full of cheese labels that I have been collecting over the 15 years that I have worked in the food biz. There are some wonderful whimsical illustrations to be found in this treasure trove that have definitely influenced my work, plus some excellent graphic design. Here’s a mini collage of a handful of my favorite cheese label graphics.

Favorite Specimens from my Cheese Label Collection

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

Vegetable Garden

We planted the vegetable garden! On the south side of the house, we have a gentle slope with curved retaining walls that create a series of three raised beds.  After several years of gardening trial and error, and lots of compost, we are hoping for a bountiful garden this summer! Four varieties of my favorite tomatoes went in: the cherry-sized bright orange ‘Sungold’, the reliable ‘Celebrity’, the compact and delicate ‘Silver Fir Tree’, and the best-tasting ‘Brandywine.’ I also put in three new ones to try: the promising ‘Golden Jubilee’, a squat little ‘Husky Cherry Red’ (the name says it all) and a gangly specimen of ‘Cherokee Purple.’ The tomatoes are joined by three different sweet peppers: ‘Red Beauty’, ‘Golden Summer’, and ‘Carmen’.  The front half of the lower bed is the home of Zucchini ‘Cocozelle’ and a bush cucumber. They look pretty puny all by themselves in that big bed, but these guys require a lot of room to grow and can spill over the bottom wall by mid-summer.  One of my favorite things to grow is beans- I can eat them raw right out of the garden, unless the deer get to them first. We have two trellises of ‘Kentucky Wonder’ pole beans, and a little patch of ‘Sugar Ann’ Snap Peas. The whimsical names of these garden plants makes them seem like a motley crew of endearing family members that I can’t help but want to nurture.

My father generously contributed a carload of additional plants to tuck in among our vegetables after spending a fruitful day at the Herb Festival: Sweet Basil, African Blue Basil, Red Rubin Basil, Lemon Basil, Pineapple Sage, Italian Parsley, Lemon Balm, and Lemon Verbena.  We already have a flourishing patch of perennial herbs including rosemary, tarragon, various thymes, purple and green sage, Greek oregano, Orange Mint, Chocolate Mint, and Pineapple Mint. It’s a menagerie of flavors! We finished it off with an edging of French Marigolds, a splash of Orange Cosmos, Sunflowers against the wall between the trellises, and a row of lavender (also from Dad) along the stairs: French lavender ‘Provence’, Spanish ‘Otto Quast,’ and the English varieties, ‘Munstead’ and ‘Ellagance Sky.’ (That is the actual name, not a misspelling of elegance!)

This is always an exciting time of year, with so much anticipation and high hopes for a successful growing season. I have to remind myself to just enjoy the process, without being too attached to the outcome. The deer will munch, the squash bugs will nibble, and the tomatoes will topple their cages by August. (Every year I tell myself to invest in taller, sturdier ones!)  Maybe this year I will finally thwart the squash vine borer. Maybe this year I will convince my boy to start eating and enjoying some new vegetables. Neither is likely, but it will be fun trying.

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.

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

Birds

Neighborhood resident perched in a tree

There are layers of secret sub-cultures in our neighborhood that will reveal themselves to the patient observer. Deer roam the forests behind our houses and sneak up into our yards at night to nibble the shrubs and flowers. A red fox flashes across the ravine at the edge of the woods. Squirrels chatter away, chasing each other through the tree tops and then disappear into a small round hole in an old birch tree. Worms and slugs do what they do in the low-down unseen realms of grasses, mulch and mud. Whole societies coexist side by side on every block, as we come and go, largely oblivious.

Hatched Robin’s egg found on the ground.

And then there are the birds! They are harder to miss. If only I could know all their secrets. I have been listening to their songs and observing them closely this Spring. I found a tiny blue egg-shell on the ground, discarded by its inhabitant, hopefully in birth and not death. (My cat, Olivia, slinks under the rose bush, avoiding my eye.) After I found the egg, I began noticing that robins are building lots of small nests in the cherry trees along the sidewalks. One day I was lucky enough to have my camera with me when I saw a Mother Robin sitting in her nest. I snapped a quick picture before startling her into flight.  Guiltily, I stood on tiptoe, raised my camera above my head, leaned into the branches and took a blind shot of the nest from above. The photo revealed one perfect blue egg.

Mother Robin in her nest

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

“Chuh” surveys his kingdom from a rooftop.

We have a favorite grey bird that we often see around our yard, one of whom entertained us once by swooping down from the pear tree and dive bombing our menacing cat.  My son nicknamed the bird “Chuh.” Not the most charming moniker, but this is the sound that it makes, “Chuh! Chuh! Chuh!” as if furiously admonishing someone. Then, in sudden forgiveness, it breaks into more varied and lyrical cries, as if it had so much more to say. One early morning I saw Chuh perched in my neighbor’s birch tree. I crept in very close, til I was only a few feet away. He didn’t move, but began to sing. I was astounded by the variety of beautiful sounds that he could make. What does it mean? I stood very still, watching and listening for a long time, until he finished his soliloquy and flew away.

I decided I had to identify Chuh. After some online research, I discovered the fantastic website, WhatBird.com.  It has a search database that allows you to plug in different characteristics to identify your bird. It turns out that Chuh is a Northern Mockingbird. I had to laugh when the description said, “The Northern Mockingbird voraciously defends its territory, attacking intruders including house pets and even people.” So homeownership in suburbia does not preclude other creatures from making their own claims.  Look out, Olivia!

Olivia and the Mockingbird

Mockingbird Sketches

Roses

Shrub Roses in May bloom

My roses are in bloom!  I planted these hearty shrub roses along our front walk about four years ago. They require almost no special care, and provide months of enjoyment, blooming throughout the Spring and Summer and even into the Fall.  At the height of the summer heat, the blooms take a break, then come back again in a fiery flush when the weather cools a bit. In milder years we have had flowers up until Thanksgiving. They require no pruning to flourish, although they grow so vigorously I need to cut them back several times throughout the season to prevent them from closing off the path to the front door! It has been warm and a bit humid the last couple days, which tends to amplify their lovely fragrance. When I come home from a walk, I like to just pause on the path before entering the house, inhale the perfumed air, and look closely at the intricate magenta petals. In these moments, there are no deadlines, no pressing tasks. There are no past regrets, or doubts about the future. Just the blaze of the roses and me. This is the elusive place I sometimes reach when I am drawing or painting, centered in the spacious awareness of the present moment. Sometimes the distractions and anxieties of life seem to barricade me from this place, but then I remember to just open my eyes. Wherever I may be, it is as close as my own front door.

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