Week 49: Balloon Ride

I surprised my husband with a hot air balloon ride for his 40th Birthday. The wind was perfect that day. While we rose out of a field in the middle of town amongst strip malls and subdivisions, we floated across the highway to the Northwest, and soon found ourselves hovering above woods, farmland, and the Rivanna River, with the Blue Ridge Mountains anchoring the Western horizon. The colorful autumn leaves had fallen, but the winter landscape had a magic all its own. The bare deciduous branches appeared white and lacy from above, transparent screens that revealed layers of fields and forest floor. The dense stands of evergreens framed the open spaces of pasture, and the river carved its way through the landscape, reflecting a clear blue sky.

The balloon ride felt like a big adventure when we first took off, but once air-born, the adrenalin subsided and there was simply peace, quiet, beauty, and the love between two people. The whoosh of the gas flame was the only sound. The world appeared as a miniature train garden, every piece arranged just so. I loved the winter palette of ochres, blue-grays, and deep greens, displayed in so many different textures. When I began working on the collage, I was enthralled with the task of drawing the tiny details I observed in the landscape, while at the same time trying to capture the whole experience of floating above the panorama. I combined small drawings of trees and farms with broader painted areas of river and landscape. Drawing and painting, line and color, detail and whole, all come together here with wonder and joy.

Balloon Ride, acrylic collage, 12 x 12 in.

Balloon Ride, acrylic collage, 12 x 12 in.

Detail, Balloon Ride

Detail, Balloon Ride

Detail, Balloon Ride

Detail, Balloon Ride

Detail, Balloon Ride

Detail, Balloon Ride

Detail, Balloon Ride

Detail, Balloon Ride

Detail, Balloon Ride

Detail, Balloon Ride


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

Hot Air Balloons

We often see hot air balloons drifting over our neighborhood. Sometimes we can hear the faint whoosh of the burner flame when they are flying low. One morning a balloon unexpectedly landed in the middle of our street. We all rushed out of our houses to see the amazing spectacle. It was much larger up close than I imagined. This was quite a sight, as the basket touched down and the rainbow of colors deflated into a puddle on the road. Even though the hot air balloon sightings have become commonplace around here, they never seem to lose their exoticism. For me, the balloons are a reminder that even here in our ordinary suburban neighborhood, there is the possibility of strange, wonderful and even magical events taking place, perhaps at this very moment. Spiders spin their intricate webs, a perfect blue egg sits in a nest, flowers turn their heads to the sun and open into dazzling colors. Behind each familiar facade of our peaceful street, we perform our own small miracles: leaps of faith, daring deeds, resurrected dreams, and acts of kindness, courage and forgiveness.

Week 9: Mom’s Treasure Box

Mom dances the lead in Snow White, May 1959

This week’s collage is in honor of my mother, who passed away 20 years ago. Her birthday is today, March 4th.  In preparing for this work, I found myself returning to my childhood, searching for visual metaphors that could embody my memory of her. I began drawing bits and pieces of experiences we shared, toys she gave me, and anything that reminded me of her. She was a ballet dancer in her youth, and I was always fascinated by the graceful pictures of her performing.  This image of her persisted through my childhood and I always thought of her as a ballerina. I once had a jewelry box with a little toy dancer inside who would twirl to tinkling music when you opened the box. I imagined finding this box again, and opening it up to find a treasure trove of my memories of Mom. This idea became the basis for the collage.

As I began creating the work, I looked to my five-year-old self, reconnecting with the sense of security, play and discovery that I used to feel around my mother as a small child. I unearthed some imagery that surprised me.  I remember being more of a tomboy growing up, a Daddy’s girl, climbing trees and fishing, but there was a side of the younger me that strongly identified with ballerinas, Bambi, and the color pink. For me, there is something both appallingly sentimental and triumphantly courageous about putting these sugary little morsels in my painting. My grown-up analytical self tells me the work will be trite and ridiculous. My artist self tells me to listen to the naive (or fearlessly creative?) five-year-old inside and just go with it.

Since I was going so far out on a limb with the imagery, I decided to try some new acrylic techniques as well.  Rather than collage bits of drawings on paper, I created acrylic transfers of my drawings. The result is a transparent element that can be integrated into the painting in a new way.  After some experimentation, I settled on the best method of doing this.  Use waterproof archival ink for the drawings– my favorite is Sakura Pigma Micron pens. The best paper is a slippery vellum or heavy tracing paper. Allow the ink to completely dry, then paint over the image with Golden Clear Tar Gel in a thin layer. Allow to dry for at least 30 minutes until the gel forms a transparent skin. Then submerge the paper in water for a few seconds, and the acrylic skin will easily lift off the paper, taking the image with it.  You can then trim the shapes, paint color on the backside of the images, and adhere to the painting with soft gel medium. They are somewhat like plastic decals.

Acrylic Transfers with Tar Gel

I felt compelled to include Bambi because that was one of the first movies I remember my mother taking me to, and it really made an impression on me. During the most dramatic scene, when Bambi was frantically looking for his mother in the forest after hearing gun shots, a kid in the audience screamed out, “She’s dead, Bambi! She’s dead!” This little outburst certainly added some impact to the cinematic experience. After my own mother died, 15 years later, I actually flashed back to that moment in the theater, except this time I was the one looking for my mother.  I was a 20-year-old college student and a frightened baby deer all in the same moment, facing the unthinkable truth. Bambi eventually became a comforting symbol for me, both an innocent and a survivor.

Here is a close up of some transfers after they have been trimmed and colored. Their shiny plastic appearance seems appropriate to the content– each one a precious jewel-like object. Five-year-olds of course have plastic jewelry, but it is no less special to them.

Acrylic Transfers, Painted

The previous post, Ode to My Mother, explains much of the imagery used here, including the hot air balloons from Up, Up and Away, the castle entrance from the Enchanted Forest amusement park, and the central ballerina inspired by Degas’ sculpture, Little Dancer, which Mom took me to see many times in the Baltimore Museum of Art.  I added some turtles because my mother collected them, and often wore pins and jewelry with turtle motifs. The hyacinths are a reference to the garden from my childhood home, where my mother planted Spring bulbs. The fragrance of hyacinths always reminds me of her.  I also shifted the color palette to more Spring-like hues, inspired as much by the subject matter as the changing season here in Virginia.  Here is the final piece, and a close up of the central motifs.

Treasure Box, acrylic collage on panel, 12 x 12

Detail, Treasure Box, acrylic collage on panel, 12 x 12

Ode to My Mother

Me with Mom in the late 70’s

My mother’s birthday is coming up on March 4th. She has been gone for 20 years.  I was a college student and she was only 50 when cancer took her from us. After her death, it was easier for me to worry about my Dad and my sister than to face my own grief. I spent years denying my anger and sadness over this loss, feeling alternately foolish and brave. It took years of slowly rolling back the curtain on myself to feel those feelings and realize they would not break me.  My mom would not let that happen. The one thing that saved me was the knowledge that my mother would want me to find peace and happiness again, however impossible that seemed in her absence. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I was finally able to approach understanding how much she loved me, and how much I loved her. Eventually I learned how to feel that love again when I remember my Mom, and allow it to lead the way past the sadness.

As a ballerina and beauty queen in her youth, she was a hard act to follow.  My Grandmother relished pulling out the scrapbooks and recounting her achievements: Homecoming Queen, Harvest Bowl Princess, May Queen, Miss Roanoke College, and Sweetheart of Sigma Chi… My Mom was always quick to modestly remark that her popularity was simply a result of her having many friends, in many different groups, and her belief in the importance of being nice to everyone and taking an interest in all kinds of people. (Sub title: Not just the beautiful and popular ones.) My mother was a very humble, kind and sincere person, and it was these qualities that I aspired to more than the superficial standards I could never live up to.  A beautiful and joyful woman, my mother was known for her distinctive laugh that could be heard ringing through our home at any moment.  While I did not wind up with the Grace Kelly looks, I did inherit that laugh, whether genetic or learned, and it is one way I can remember her every day.

May Queen of 1962, Roanoke College

My Mom had a way of showing a complete and total interest in me as a developing person. Having worked as an elementary school teacher before I was born, she had a natural way with children and an ability to inspire learning. There was that indescribable motherly love that seemed to emanate from her effortlessly, but there was also a conscious mission to her mothering. She was devoted to showing me a wide variety of delightful things in the world, and then was right there to share and listen to my every response. We reflected back each other’s joy and enthusiasm, like two shiny mirrors, laughing the same laugh.

Mom with Baby Me, Easter 1972

As a very small child, I remember her taking my sister and I to the Enchanted Forest, a storybook and nursery rhyme themed amusement park where you could climb into a whale’s mouth, visit the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, or ride in a pumpkin to Cinderella’s Castle. She loved reading to me, so it was especially fun to visit the Enchanted Forest where those same stories and poems would come to life. Sometimes she liked to surprise us with a mystery outing. We wouldn’t know where we were going until we got there. I soon learned to anticipate a trip to the movie theater if she brought along my cardigan on a warm day.  She didn’t want me to get chilly in the theater while watching Bambi or Fantasia, and I can still feel her leaning in to pull the sweater around me and button the top button.

Me at my sister’s birthday party

She cared for me with so many of those loving details, whether it was a special event or a regular day. For our birthdays, my sister and I would always get a homespun outdoor celebration.  Mom would set the patio picnic table with a red and blue checkered tablecloth and a homemade birthday cake. We would invite our friends and gather around in our party dresses for games and scavenger hunts in the shade of the poplar trees, surrounded by blooming azaleas and rhododendrons.  Home cooked family dinners each night were a part of our normal routine. From upstairs I could smell the pork chops browning in the pan, served with my favorite applesauce on the side. Mom always made a salad in a wooden bowl to accompany our meal, and placed the thinly sliced radishes that my father liked so much on a separate small plate so I wouldn’t have to pick them out.  She knew how to make everyone happy.

Mom with Me and Sis, Hawaii 1979

She took me regularly to the Baltimore Museum of Art where we marveled together at Degas’ dancers, the Impressionist paintings bursting with color, and Rodin’s larger than life sculpture, The Thinker.  We drove downtown to the Walter’s Art Gallery and explored the hushed rooms of medieval tapestries and suits of armor. At the Cylburn Arboretum we wandered the gardens and studied the pressed leaves and startling stuffed squirrels in the Nature Museum. As I grew up and began focusing on my own interests, she would encourage me in every way she knew how. Anything I was interested in, she would learn about and be interested in too.  She sent me to the best places for art lessons, violin lessons, music camp, field hockey and lacrosse camps…she never pushed me to do too much, just supported me in however much I wanted to take on. When I came home with straight A’s every semester throughout high school, she told me it would be OK if I got a B sometimes.  It was an amazing balancing act as a mother– to cheer me on as fast and as far as I could go, while at the same time letting me know it was OK to stop and rest, keeping me secure in the fact that I would always be loved for who I was and not what I achieved.

Mom as I remember her.

As a moody teenager, I remember the solid background of her support that I knew was always there behind my emotional zigzags.  In high school, I told her I wanted to be an artist… an unconventional choice for someone in our family.  I remember trying to explain to her that this was more than a hobby to me, that it was my life’s work, what I needed to do, what I had to do. She took in my words with so much love and patience, seeing through my teen angst into the core of my fragile young being. She did not dismiss my melodramatic rant, or hope it was a passing phase. Mom just listened, and incredibly, she believed me and understood.

When I was small, I used to love it when she would put on her Andy Williams record, and we would listen to Up, Up and Away. We would take the kitchen stools, turn them upside down, climb inside them, and pretend we were in hot air balloon baskets, flying up, up and away. I can still hear the lyrics of the song in my head:

If you’ll hold my hand we’ll chase your dream across the sky
For we can fly, we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon

Mom, I’m still chasing my dreams across the sky. Thank you for showing me the way.

Remembering being a child with Mom