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 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 26: Made in the Shade

Drawing with ink, oil pastel, and charcoal

Seeking relief from the 100 degree temperatures outside, I made a collage this week about shady places around the yard.  Our sun-soaked patio is hot enough to burn your feet, but there are small pools of shade to be found beneath the trees and tall shrubs. The arching stems of the red twigged dogwoods create a shady cave-like retreat, where we discovered a turtle had taken up residence. My aim was to contrast these areas of light and shadow and capture the sense of place of our backyard in the heat of the summer.

Detail of foliage: pencil, charcoal, and india inks

I decided to shake up my process a bit this week and experiment with some different materials. I embellished my usual ink pen drawings with colored india inks as well as oil pastels. I allowed the drawings to remain open, loose and sketchier than usual, just right for a lazy summer afternoon. I also worked out the shady shrubbery with pencil and charcoal, adding watered-down india inks on top for color. I enjoyed the broader strokes and messier outcome of the charcoal drawings, which seemed to work well for this type of subject matter.

Placing torn charcoal and ink drawings onto the panel

Next I tore out sections of the drawings and began placing them on the 12 x 12 panel, which had been prepared with a background of acrylic paints. As I built the collage, additional layers of paper and paint were added, including tiny portraits of my dog Holly and the turtle. The perspective changes across the panel from a bird’s-eye view at the top, to a more intimate view inside the turtle home at the bottom. The final piece depicts our small corner of the world, in the hot sun and the cool shade.

Made in the Shade, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Sun-drenched Patio

Detail, Holly rests in the shade of the maple tree.

Detail, foliage

Detail, Turtle

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.

Gardens are Meant to be Shared

Shrub Envy

There is one yard on our street that is my favorite. I always admire it when I walk past with my dog, trying to suppress my shrub-envy. It belongs to a nice retired couple who brought many of their mature trees and shrubs along with them from their farm when they moved here five years ago. As a result, their property has the look of a much more established garden, unusual in our newer neighborhood. There are lush Japanese maples with an amazing variety of fringed textures and colors. A huge thriving Japanese Andromeda blooms by the front door, a plant that is notoriously finicky but richly rewarding with its long spires of white flowers framed in red and green glossy foliage. A very rare weeping juniper anchors the front corner of the house, draping itself in deep green swags. There are raised beds along the side of the house for vegetables and cut flowers, and a handsome Hawthorn that is decorated with red berries in the late Fall. Centered in the front bed is a novel new lilac, grafted onto a standard like a small ornamental tree.

View of My Neighbor's Garden

Recently I happened to be walking by when the older gentleman who created this showplace was out front with some new azalea bushes. I stopped to say hello and took the opportunity to exclaim over his shrubs and let him know how much I enjoyed watching his garden throughout the year. While we had often exchanged greetings and short conversations in passing over the four years we have lived here, I had never really gotten to know him. As soon as I showed an interest in his garden, his face lit up and he began telling me stories about each plant. Fascinated, I learned about his wife’s favorite flower, the climbing Clematis vine “Josephine”, that she purchased at the Somerset Garden Show in England. It’s tendrils were weaving their way through a lattice against the mailbox post, heavy with buds, preparing to display their unusually ruffly double flowers, much showier, he told me, than the regular flat-petaled single varieties.

After we had covered the front yard, I felt bold enough to ask for a full garden tour of his place, something I had wanted to do since we moved here. Without hesitation, he took me all around the house, pointing out his favorite new additions as well as the special trees he had moved from his former property.  He pointed out a pair of enormous evergreens in the backyard that had required heavy machinery to dig five foot holes to accommodate each root ball! Behind the house was a lovely broad patio, a koi pond, and a spectacular blooming vine of yellow jasmine climbing up a lattice against the deck.  The woods out back had been carefully cleared of scrappy underbrush and planted with native understory trees and shrubs: azaleas, rhododendrons, redbud, and dogwoods that blended seamlessly into the natural patterns of the forest beyond.

After the tour, I thanked my host and told him I would keep an eye on the clematis “Josephine” by the mailbox and be sure to enjoy its bloom time. His reply was, “Gardens are meant to be shared. Blow a kiss to it when you walk by– that will help it to grow.”

Gardens are Meant to be Shared, ink on paper