Thursday, January 30, 2014

Am I Blue, Am I Blue?

I have an idea for the "What's Blue to You?" theme quilt. I am into it. I have been working feverishly. Part of it involves cutting many blue triangles. Today I cut triangles. All. Day.

After I wrote my blog post about being stuck for an idea I got lots of great ideas from comments on the blog and on Facebook and though I did not choose any of those, they got me thinking. My sister posted a link to a podcast about blue that was absolutely fascinating. It is a podcast of the Radiolab radio show, which I love. I had missed that episode, called "Why isn't the sky blue?" I listened to it at the gym yesterday, which made my 30 minutes on the treadmill fly by. I'm not going to tell you about the whole thing, but I will say it opened my mind to the color blue in a whole new way. From the web site description: "...a book of German philosophy from the late 19th Century helps reveal a pattern: across all cultures, words for colors appear in stages. And blue always comes last..." Intrigued? You can go hear the whole thing here:

One of the things mentioned in the story is that blue is very rare in the natural world. Hmmm. I never thought of that. There is no blue food. (Yeah, blueberries—but to me they are actually purple) They said that most of the flowers, that we see as blue, have been hybridized, over many, many years to get that color. Blue flowers are not really natural. There are some blue minerals, but they are rare as well. No blue dyes existed in the ancient world, until indigo was discovered as a dye. Ancient people really did not know the color blue. But the sky! The sky! That's the paradox of the story. The sky has always been there, but may not have been recognized as being the color blue. Don't argue. Just go listen to the podcast if you don't believe me. Anyway, all the way home from the gym I was searching the landscape for blue and the only blue I saw were cars and people's clothes and bicycles and signs. Man-made stuff. Not even the sky was blue today. So I came back to my studio and began pulling out lengths and lengths of blue fabrics and, honestly, they seemed like a miracle.

So, I will reveal what I am doing with blue when it gets a little further along, but I will tell you, it is all about a memory of blue. Something good that was blue. Blue, the color, not blue the feeling.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Digital Drawing Day - Two Household Items

Week two of our digital drawing exchange. I think we are both showing growth, even in such a short time! Well, we are enjoying it anyway. This week's theme, suggested by June, was two household items of any size or mode that "talk" to one another. Anything from tchotchkes (knicknacks) to pianos; "talk" in the visual sense.

Without further ado—

Panama Hat and Ceramic Orb
Is a hat a household item? I hope so! Both are souvenirs of Ecuador and nearly identical in color. I wanted to try using some of the pattern brushes and I must say I was pretty pleased, especially with the way the multiple line brush approximated the woven texture of the hat.  I also used a "speckle" brush on the orb which softened the surface nicely. Those pattern brushes might not be as hokey as I first thought.

 I have to confess that I started with a photo and used it to trace the outlines of the two objects, then cleared the photo layer and worked from the setup for the rest.

 IPad, Sketch Club app, New Trent Arcadia stylus

Crow Calculus
Back when I made a lot of art using crows as a subject, Del Thomas sent me a little crow desk ornament. Made of something very hard and heavy, the crow has watched me with interest for years. Its head is tipped to one side inquisitively, and the detail  on the statuette is
compelling. It sits on my printer stand, beside the calculator that is solar powered.

The details on the statue made it possible for me to copy the wing patterns nicely. I didn't quite capture the tipped head, but liked the way it looked at the calculator. Hence, Crow Calculus.

Background photo, layered with sketched crow and calculator, Art Rage for PC, Wacom tablet and stylus.

Next week's assignment: plant matter, dead or alive

What next?

Boy, it has been hard to get back to work after our trip to Ecuador, Christmas, New Years, trip to San Francisco and getting caught up with everything. Really, I'm still not caught up. I feel the need for some direction, though.

I am between projects. I have finished a couple large pieces that will be submitted for shows. I can't show them until I know if they have been accepted. High Fiber Diet has a show coming up called "What's Blue to You?" I need to get started soon if I am to have something to submit for that. What's blue to me? Good question. Blue is not a favorite color, but it has its place and connections in my mind. I just need to let my mind wander a bit. I thought I had an idea and tried a small piece, but it didn't excite me, so I am waiting for a better inspiration. Blue. Feeling blue, maybe. For the past couple days I have puttered around the studio. I made my valentine for this year. You will see it in a couple weeks. I have cleaned up and folded fabric and put things away. I have lost my enthusiasm for the small beaded work I was doing. There is an artist who seems to think I am copying her work with those little pieces. That makes me blue. She has told people I am copying her. I wouldn't—didn't, but now I feel scrutinized and paranoid and the satisfaction has gone out of that work.

I plan to continue with the shirting fabric work somehow. Over the past year I have "harvested" so many old shirts for their fabric. I saved all the labels and buttons in a cup. That is a year's worth above. Maybe someday I will make something using all those labels and buttons.

This morning in the shower I was thinking about where I might go from here and the view through my shower door didn't give me any concrete ideas, but the color sure was beautiful and made me remember that inspiration is all around if we just pay attention!

Tomorrow I will be posting this week's digital drawing from June and from me. I had a good time and made some good discoveries with this one, so I'm looking forward to sharing it. Vicki Miller played along with us last week and posted her digital drawings of her coffee mug on her blog. The other day someone said to me, " So, I see you are switching to digital art now..."  No, no, no. I am experimenting for my own enjoyment and as a new approach to my drawing practice, which is all in the interest of making me better in all that I do. I can't imagine abandoning my fabrics and sewing machines.

Right now I need to figure out what's blue to me... Ideas?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Digital Drawing Day

You know, if you've been reading this blog, that I have been playing around with drawing/painting apps for my iPad. My friend, June Underwood, is also interested in digital art and has been experimenting on her PC and her Android tablet. Last week we went to San Francisco to see the David Hockney exhibit at the deYoung Museum and we were both pretty fascinated with Hockney's digital paintings. We decided we would challenge one another to do at least one digital painting each week and we would exchange them on Sunday. Today was the first exchange. I suggested that the first one be something simple—a coffee mug. June will suggest some common factor for our next drawings. With June's permission, I will post the results here on my blog. Ready? Here are our first digital drawings!


This is an image of a cup. I thought I'd identify it, just in case. The writing says "La Grenouille" meaning "The Frog." The cup has a frog on it. It is not my favorite cup, because I have often painted my favorite cup and thought I'd challenge myself. I did so. This is an image of a cup.

All done on the desktop PC. Art Rage and Photoshop, the latter because at least I know the menu possibilities. Sigh.


I could have used the same red mug I painted last week, but I, too, wanted to challenge myself, so I used a mug handmade by Susan Gallacher Turner, one of the artists in the Open Studios group. The shape was challenging, as well as depicting all the decorative elements on it. My background consists of the things already laying on my diningroom table—some yellow fabrics sent to me by my friend Del and the San Francisco guidebook I took with me last week.

Done on iPad, using Sketch Club app.

Are you experimenting with digital drawing apps? Play along with us if you like! Post your drawings on your blog and send me a link, or send me your drawing and I will post it here.

Next week's challenge from June: two household items of any size or mode that "talk" to one another. Anything from tchotchkes (knicknacks) to pianos; "talk" in the visual sense.

Thanks for the comments on the last digital drawings I posted. I am really enjoying this process of trying out all the possibilities of these apps to see what I like. A couple people said I was being "hard on myself" in my dislike of the first drawing. Actually I was being hard on the tool and expressing my dissatisfaction with the results it yielded. I really focus on line in all of my artwork and the quality of the line is what I am looking at. A weak, tentative line is not a beautiful line, in my opinion.

I wish I knew who the other Terry was who commented, "They do look like "tablet" digital art work but that's a good thing. It's a new media!" Oh, how I loved that comment. My sentiments exactly. And I can always count on Kristin to get what I am talking about. The "character" in the line is what I found lacking as well.

I found a simple solution to the problem of not being able to rest my hand on the tablet as I draw.

 Yes, that is a sock. It slides around under my hand and keeps it from contacting the screen and creating odd marks on the drawing. I might see if I have a small piece of fleece, which would be a little more elegant, but the sock works great for now!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The ultimate art date

My friend, June, and I have been on a lot of "art dates" over the years. We usually meet at the Portland Art Museum or at a Portland gallery and spend several lovely hours looking at and discussing art. June is very fun to discuss art with. She is a former fiber artist turned oil painter and has designed and implemented her own art education. That means, because June is June, she has read volumes and volumes about art and spends long hours pondering and thinking and puzzling out the hows and whys of it. So she keeps me on my toes. We once took a day trip on the train to view art in Tacoma, but this time she had a grander scheme in mind. "Let's go to San Francisco for three days and see the David Hockney exhibit at the deYoung Museum."

Three days because June wanted to see it three times. Don't ask. June likes to really examine things thoroughly.

It was a grand three days. We found San Francisco experiencing unseasonably warm and sunny weather, which made our travels about the city a joy.

We figured out the bus route to Golden Gate Park where the museum is. Here is June waiting for our bus. The bus route included a stop at the visitors center for the Golden Gate Bridge, so we were treated to this beautiful view on each trip. The bus was never crowded and we visited with nice people. 

Since I only wanted to see the exhibit once, on the other two days I just hung around the museum—wandering through the gift shop and sitting in the sun outside the museum. The sun on my shoulders, the sound of birds and children playing across the lawn, were like springtime in January. Such a contrast to Portland's damp, gray cold. I could hear someone playing old jazz standards on a saxophone somewhere nearby and it was a bit like being in a movie with a lovely soundtrack. On our last day we met up with fellow "twelve" Karen Rips and her husband and a friend for lunch at the museum. They came up from the Los Angeles area to see the exhibit. What luck! Such good people. 

One day we walked along a trail from Fort Mason to Fisherman's Wharf amidst cyclers and hikers and swooping gulls, window shopping along the touristy area, then trekking up the steep streets of San Francisco toward the neighborhood where we were staying. Near our hotel we had found a street of charming shops and restaurants. We ate well; we drank wine in the afternoon; we looked at art and we talked and laughed a lot. We declared ourselves the last living gluten-eaters in America and savored our good bread and pasta and snickerdoodles. 

The exhibit was, indeed, a BIGGER exhibition with something like 400 pieces. A lot to take in, but a thoroughly rich and satisfying experience. Many of the paintings were huge.  The one below (a favorite) is painted on 9 large panels and fills a wall. It would be impossible to try to describe the exhibit, except to say that it included paintings of landscapes and portraits, mind-bending videos, digital drawings using iPhone and iPad, charcoal drawings and water colors. A great diversity of work, yet there was a distinctive common thread running through it all. June decided it was all about the relationship between time and space and I have to agree. 

If you have a chance to see the show before it closes in a couple days I recommend it. Go with a friend. Walk. Talk. Eat. Ride the bus. Drink wine. You will love it. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Two ways

I am continuing to report on my progress drawing and painting using the iPad. Last week at our STASH meeting I did a little demo and discussion because Gale was interested in using her iPad for drawing and planning projects. She was asking about whether one could load a photo into a drawing program and trace it. This is quite possible, so I have been playing around with ways of working with a photo. Pat said she was hoping to see some of the many Ecuadorean buildings I photographed on our trip, so that seemed like a good starting point.

Here is the first—a church in Ibarra, Ecuador. I brought in the photo and started by drawing the black line drawing on a layer in front of the photo. Once the line drawing was done, I opened a new layer between the photo and the line drawing and started painting the church. Because I was painting on a different layer I could see where the paint would go and it flowed in under the line drawing.

Here is the second—a flower shop that was around the corner from the church in Ibarra. I took a different approach to this one.

For this one I also started with the photo on the bottom layer and then I made a black line drawing on top. However, this time I drew thicker black lines. Then the painted layer went in front of the black line drawing. I painted the blocks of color so they slightly overlapped the black lines this time, not taking a lot of care about keeping the lines straight and uniform.

In both cases I deleted the photo layer before saving the painting.

So, here is what I learned. Making lovely, precise line drawings using the stylus on the iPad is difficult. (I think, in part, because you can't lay a part of your hand down on the iPad to steady it as you would do using paper) In the first piece I feel the drawing is weak. The quality of the line is not good and it has an awkward look. I wasn't very happy with this result. The second one has its own problems, but overall I like the crispness and energy of it much better than the first one. Interestingly, I realized at some point, that this technique is very much like my fabric art technique, where I fuse fabrics onto a dark background and allow the lines to be created simply by leaving space between the applied fabrics. I think the first painting of the church has a tight, busy feel that is common when working directly from a photo. If I were not showing you this as a bad example I would not want anyone to see it! I think the second piece is much less tied to the photo and has more life of its own.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Old dog, new tricks

I have never believed that old dogs can't learn new tricks. Lifelong learning is what keeps our brains nimble—at least that's a nice thought. I got a new iPad awhile back and decided I would really love to learn to make art with it. I researched quite a few drawing/painting apps and downloaded several and tried them out. Well. They were really clumsy to use and slow and not at all user friendly in my opinion. I decided that paper and pencil was far superior and to heck with this new-fangled, smarty-pants digital stuff! (Do I sound like an old dog?  "You kids get off my LAWN!!") Anyway, I set the whole idea aside.

A few months went by and I started noticing Pat Gaignat's blog with all her iPad drawings. They are quite wonderful! So I started noticing what it was she was using to make these. The most common app was called Artrage and she was using a New Trent Arcadia stylus. I immediately obtained both and decided it was time to try again. I really liked Artrage. It produces very paint-like results. Here was my first try (after doodling around figuring out what everything did).

I was pretty pumped by this! You can really see paint texture. Then, because it was Christmas, I tried out some of the other effects and the layers feature on this:

So many choices and features—my head was spinning! I did learn that Artrage uses a lot of memory and bogs down and becomes slow after awhile, especially since I was discarding and erasing about 80 percent of what I was drawing.

One day I was in Starbucks and noticed their free giveaway that week was an app called Sketch Club, so I took it and loaded it on the pad. It was equally user-friendly, but a simpler program than Artrage and not so much a memory hog. I will want to get back to Artrage one of these days, but in the meantime Sketch Club is perfect for learning the ins and outs of digital drawing and painting. Here's my favorite drawing, so far, using it.

You can see it doesn't have the same luscious paint quality as Artrage.

I am really excited to be going to San Francisco this coming week to see the David Hockney exhibit at the deYoung museum. Hockney has been doing a lot of work on the iPad and I am told there are some great videos of how he does it in the exhibit. He's even older than I! Maybe he will inspire me to greater heights. At any rate, I am loving the challenge of this.

As a contributor to the Sketchbook Challenge blog I needed to write something for this month's theme, "Sketching and Collage" so I made a simple digital painting/collage and posted a mini tutorial about how I did it here. I don't claim to be an expert, just an old dog learning a few new tricks.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Flavorful memories

I brought a bag of the roasted corn, in the bowl above, home with me from Ecuador. It is called tostado and is something I haven't eaten anywhere else. We had some with a drink tonight before dinner. I am hoarding them, eating a few at a time to make them last. They are very tasty. You may think they look like "corn nuts"—those rock-hard nuggets that we used to have with beer in college, but oh no. Tostado is roasted corn, but it is crispy, not hard, and has a lovely delicate roasted corn flavor. Most meals in Ecuador include a bowl of salted tostado on the table, which are eaten as snacks or sprinkled in one's soup.

This is the Ecuadorean corn from which the tostado is made. They call this corn choclo and it is one of the main staples of Ecuadorean cooking. The kernels are quite large, chewy and flavorful and boiled choclo is served at many meals. The etiquette for eating it, unlike here where we gnaw the corn off the cob, is to pick the kernels off the cob with your fingers and pop them into your mouth, or drop them into your soup. The big mid-day meal nearly always includes soup. Choclo is also made into mote (mo-tay) which is like hominy. The kernels are boiled in water with lime (the mineral, not the fruit) which boils the skin off and changes the texture and flavor. Mote pillo is mote scrambled with eggs and is delicious—a major Ecuadorean comfort food.

I bought my bag of tostado from this lady in the Cuenca market. It's in the white bowl in the back. The big basket on the left in the front is mote, the lime-treated corn.

Did you know that potatoes originated in the Andes? You find many, many varieties in the markets and the most favorite soup is locro de papas—potato soup. We love it. It is a simple, creamy potato soup that is a beautiful golden color from the addition of the annatto spice. Ecuadoreans tell me that annatto has a flavor, but it escapes me. I think it is used mostly for the color! The soup is served with slices of avocado and a generous chunk of queso fresco (fresh cheese).

You can toss in tostado or choclo as well. The bowl below, from a different restaurant, has grated cheese and chocho beans added. Every restaurant claims their version of locro de papas is the best in Ecuador.

The chochos are very unusual. They are crunchy little beans with a nice mild, nutty flavor. I found this article about them, which says they are "super food"!

Most of my friends are surprised to learn that Ecuadorean food is nothing like Mexican or Caribbean food, and not at all spicy in itself. But on every table is a bowl of aji, a hot sauce with a fruity basis. It adds the spice and is both hot and sweet.

They eat a lot of meat, especially pork and sausages are popular. At the market you can buy "hornado" which is roasted whole pig. The woman will cut off whatever parts you want and wrap it up in paper to take home. It is tender and succulent, once you get past the scary dead pig experience!

A very traditional Ecuadorean meat delicacy is cuy, which is what we know as guinea pig. We have eaten it on a previous trip, but not this trip. Not as horrifying as one might expect, but not a big favorite for me!

The variety of fruit grown in Ecuador is astonishing, and, for me, just one delicious experience after another. There are many fruits I have never seen or heard of before. This is a pitahaya, eaten with a spoon. It is very sweet and and has a divine flavor. This was Andy's favorite thing to eat when his dental work was in progress. No chewing required, though I really liked biting the little seeds, which are edible and have a nice pop when you bite into them. A bit like kiwi fruit, but softer and sweeter.

As usual we ate our way through Ecuador and enjoyed most everything! Food is such a great adventure when you travel. One meal stands out, however, and it was not even traditional Ecuadorean food. The day we flew to Cuenca to visit the family of our son-in-law happened to be Thanksgiving day in the United States. Of course Thanksgiving is unknown in Ecuador so we knew we were missing it this year. We spent the day vicariously enjoying our friends' turkeys and pies as posted on Facebook. When we arrived, that night, in Cuenca at the Molina home we were greeted with a table laden with a full Thanksgiving dinner—turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy and more. All researched online and prepared by the family for us.

Never before has a Thanksgiving dinner made me feel more grateful, humble and blessed. Food for the body and food for the soul.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

My annual look back at last year

Music: Leo Kottke, Standing in my Shoes