Preserving a Butterfly

This summer I ran an Art & Nature Journaling workshop at the arboretum here in town. One (of the many!) highlights involved preserving a butterfly that one of the girls had found on the ground in a parking lot. It’s wings were stiff and closed up, so we put it between wet paper towels until it softened, then very gently spread it’s wings. We used tracing paper to hold the wings down and then secured them in place by pinning around them. We let it dry overnight. The next day when we unpinned it, the butterfly held it’s position - wings open. Beautiful. We lay it in a flat box to later be glued into for display.

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A LOOK BACK: Leaf Print Mandalas

After college I lived in NYC for almost 10 years. Making these prints had helped me bring nature into my daily practice. I’d take walks to collect fallen leaves from the sidewalk, then bring them back to my apartment. After pressing the leaves so they’d lie flat, I rolled them up with ink and printed them on the paper. Creating compositions with radial symmetry was calming, meditative, peaceful. I recently made more leaf print mandalas from cuttings I took in my own backyard and will post them at some point soon…

Botanical Line Drawing

Earlier this year, just for fun, I took a botanical drawing class at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The instructor, Laura Vogel, was very methodical and thorough in her teaching style. She covered all aspects of line and how to use it to describe form, suggest both light source and depth of field, all while portraying the subject with accuracy. Here are some of my drawings from the class.

 A branch from the Magnolia tree in my backyard.

A branch from the Magnolia tree in my backyard.

Although I studied art in college, there was a lot I picked up in this class. It was a great refresher, and I loved having an excuse to walk to gardens every week!

Sketch Book Fungi and Lichen

Botanical Art Show

Saw a show of Botanical art at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Below are my favorites.

Mixed Media

With the first two paintings below, I began to add some collage elements to the acrylic painting. I had bought myself a bunch of new colors and needed to test them out... this third painting is of all the new colors, labeled by name.

Rhododendron Painting

Began with a charcoal sketch on the canvas, blocked in the background, and got as far as you see below, close to finished.

Recent Paintings

Cut Paper Florals

For this series of drawings, I first glued down areas of color using tissue paper and cut origami paper shapes overlaid with white gel pen. 

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Inspired by Peruvian pottery.

 

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Also inspired by Peruvian pottery!

 

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One of my many Jade plants alongside a 'love rock', given to me by my daughter.

 

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This beetle specimen has made it's way into my drawings and paintings several times over the years.

 

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Two 'chicks' rooting in small glass jars alongside rock pile. The chicks had fallen off the mama 'hen' while being transplanted into the garden.

 

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Imagined plants surrounding "Mr. Bluepants", my daughter's pet Beta.

 

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More plant cuttings rooting in jars of water.

Nature Studies in Ink

White Line Woodcut

 
 My first white line print - in progress.

My first white line print - in progress.

 

Just returned from our annual week-long vacation in Truro, MA, where I'd been thrilled to find a class in "White Line Woodcuts" being taught at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum during our stay. I immediately registered and I'm glad I did. The class was taught by artist Sally Brophy whose work includes white line woodcuts inspired by nature. You can see more of her prints here - my favorite is the one with mermaids, which coincidentally, I had purchased (in the form of a notecard at the Pilgrim Monument gift shop) several years previous to enrolling in her class. 

Highlights of the workshop included:

Learning the white line woodcut technique.

Seeing original white line prints from the PAAM collection by artist Blanche Lazelle and others.

Visiting the Bakker Gallery to see more prints, including an origianal Sally Brophy!

Watching the documentary "Packed in a Trunk" - which uncovers the story of artist Edith Lake Wilkinson (one of the originators of the white line technique), who was "committed to an asylum in 1924 and never heard from again". 

Working alongside classmates and seeing their work in progress.

All in all, a great experience.

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Above left is the white pine wood cut to about an 8" square. Above right is the finished print.

A BRIEF WHITE LINE HOW-TO

Here's how I made this print - first, I transferred my drawing to the wood using transfer paper. Then I used an x-acto knife to cut along the lines of the drawing. Using thumbtacks, I pinned my paper to the right side border (this kept the paper out of my way when I was painting since I'm a lefty). To print, I painted watercolor onto a section of the wood up to the edges of the carved lines, then lowered the paper onto the surface of the block. To transfer the color to the paper, I rubbed the backside of the paper (in the general area where I'd just applied paint) with a spoon. I continued painting and printing until I was finished. 

A LOOK BACK: Abstract Watercolors

I worked on this series while living down by the Jersey shore one winter. The focus here was on abstract shapes, line and movement. When I look these over, I still like (and use in my current work), the bold shapes and repetitive lines. Also, I'm drawn towards the pieces with a limited color palette - 2, 3 or at most 4 colors. Over the years I've limited my palette even more, and find that one single color (along with the negative space it creates) has the most impact.

Medium: watercolor

Size: about 5"x7"

Date: mid to late 90's

A LOOK BACK: Nature Studies

Drawing and painting from nature is one of my favorite things to do. I get so wrapped up in observing the details of the object, that the usual static in my head completely subsides. It's my personal form of meditation. 

These nature studies are from different times in my life. I painted the first (above) with india ink on rice paper while taking an art class at the Brooklyn Botanic gardens. The second is india ink as well, and the third a seedpod drawn with charcoal. Seaweed from a Cape Cod summer, india ink, and lastly, a budding branch in watercolor.

A LOOK BACK: Garden Collage Series

I made these little collages from my old nursery catalogs. I totally enjoyed making them - they combine my love of quilting and gardening. I like that they were quick to make (took about an hour) so I could complete them in one sitting. While making them I was thinking about color and rhythm. In two of them I'd combined contrasting colors and was aiming for a quick, energetic pace. In the other two I used many shades of green combined with repetitive strips for a slower, more relaxed feeling.

Here's my takeaway: I've got to do more of these quick studies! Normally, before starting a project, I do a bunch of pencil sketches to compose the design, but rarely do I play with the color. Using old catalogs to make collage somehow makes it easier for me to make color choices. So next time, rather than mixing a specific color on my palette, I'll reach for something to cut up... catalogs, magazines, paper scraps and even fabric. 

Medium: collage

Size: 4"x6"

Date: Around 2010

A LOOK BACK: Watercolor Landscape Series (approx. 2000)

This is the first post in my new series, "A Look Back".  In this series, I take 'a look back' at an artwork or series of artworks I made in the past.  I include a brief backstory, and attempt to isolate what I like (if anything) about the piece / pieces. Whatever it is I like about the work I consider 'my takeaway', these are the elements I'd like to incorporate into and move forward with in my current work. 

 

After getting married, my husband Bob and I backpacked through Asia for 8 and a half months.  Back then, before kids, we'd sit and enjoy a beautiful place for hours, him with his little travel guitar and me with my sketchbook. Today I'm taking a look back at some watercolor landscapes I made at that time.

I almost always bring my watercolors with me when I travel. It's a great way for me to relax and enjoy the new environment. Each of these paintings were made outdoors from observation. They most likely took about an hour to complete. Today, if I'm traveling, it's rare that I have an hour to paint without interruption (that's motherhood!) so it's been a while since I've attempted to paint the landscape. With the changing light, it's something I prefer to finish in one sitting so I'm not returning to a subject thats gone and changed on me. 

My favorite thing about this series is the peaceful feeling that they give me when I look at them.  Is it the actual image that does this for me? (Soothing blues and greens and natural subject matter), or am I sensing the serenity I felt while painting them? Not sure, but in either case...

Here's my takeaway: If my aim is to create peace-inducing artworks, these paintings contain a palette I can refer back to. Also, watercolor landscapes are a great way to relax, but stylistically, there's nothing here that I'd necessarily choose to fold back into my current work.

I'm going to hang onto these paintings. Once I get around to framing them, I'd like to hang them in our bedroom. They'll help create the relaxing atmosphere I'm going for in that space, and remind my husband and I of our amazing journey through Asia.

Medium: watercolor, pencil

Size: approximately 8" x 10"

Date: 1999-2000

New Series: A LOOK BACK

Throughout the years, I've enjoyed working in many different mediums and modes of expression. Printmaking, oil painting, watercolor, collage, stained glass, comix, and quilting to name a few. Always branching out, enjoying certain aspects of some and disliking certain aspects of others, I loved exploring all areas of the visual arts.  Each new technique or process I worked in eventually led me someplace new, at which point I'd embark on another journey of exploration. Through this process, I've learned a lot and created even more.

Needless to say, after 26 years of creating, I've amassed piles of artworks which have been difficult to store and even more of a challenge to organize.  I've given many pieces to friends and family, sold some and trashed others, all of which has reduced the mass considerably. Luckily, I now live in a house which is large enough to contain what's left.  The flat pieces live in my studio, the textiles are in various rooms around the house, and the bulkier items such as canvases and product samples are stored in my attic.  At this point, storage is not so much of an issue as is organizing. 

Although all of my work is in orderly piles, tucked away in closets, and packed neatly in boxes, it still feels like a weight on my psyche. It's a part of me that remains unprocessed, like thoughts that need to be recorded in a journal before they can be fully understood. 

Here's another example; I recently finished the huge project of sorting through my old photographs.  I had about 30 shoeboxes filled to the brim, which dated back to my years in elementary school.  I decided which photos to keep, which to give away, and which to trash, a process which was extremely satisfying to me. Not only was I able to condense them down to about 10 boxes, they now take up less space in my home. Most importantly, they take up less space psychically, leaving me with a clearer mind and a lighter soul (if that makes sense). Taking a visual tour of my entire life over a period of about a week allowed me to gain perspective, to see the big picture.  I was able to notice patterns and recurring themes I'd never picked up on before and make connections between seemingly unrelated events.  Looking back on my life through my photographs has led me to insights which I would not have had otherwise.

Besides the need to organize my artwork, there's an additional reason I have for wanting to look back on it... what I haven't touched on until now is what I feel is the downside of having explored different modes of expression throughout the years.  The downside is that it's prevented me from delving deep into any one area. What I'm left with is a scattering, rather than a cohesive body of work.  

What I'd like to do with my loads of artwork, as you may have guessed, is look back at it all as a whole as I did with my photos. By examining these works from the past, I hope to gain insights which will focus and guide future works. In addition to deciding what to keep, give away or discard, I'll take note of some basic info (such as the who, what, why, where, when and how) and attempt to tease out what I like about each piece or series.  After sifting through the piles and pinpointing what still resonates with me aesthetically, I'll continue to move forward with my current work, and begin to fold these new elements back into the mix.

So, that's the plan. I'm going to call these entries "A Look Back".  Next time you visit my blog you may see some of these posts, and now you'll understand the thought process behind it.

Question: Is your artwork piling up around you? If so, would love to hear how you deal with it. Also, might be fun to do a trade... if you see anything of mine that you like, just show me some pieces of your artwork that you'd be willing to part with and perhaps we can make an exchange. Looking forward to it!