Taking the Long View

Enough

I do a lot of reading, and there is little I like more than coming across a simple idea which makes me pause, think, then make a change for the better.

That is what happened when I read THIS ARTICLE by the scholar, writer, and literary critic, Alan Jacobs, who also happens to be a distinguished professor of the humanities in the Honors Program of Baylor University.

In just a few paragraphs Jacobs makes a strong argument against the minute-by-minute way most of us currently get our news, primarily because of the emotional toll it takes. My favorite segment:

“…the Twitter cycle is far, far too short. People regularly get freaked out by stories that turn out to be false, and by the time the facts are known a good deal of damage (not least to personal relationships) has often already been done – plus, the disappearance of the cause of an emotion doesn’t automatically eliminate the emotion itself. In fact, it often leaves that emotion in search of new justifications for its existence.”

As a result, he has decided to “get into a longer news frequency,” acquiring his information in ways that take him out of the unnerving state of being on “high alarm all the time.” As a bit of news junkie myself, I like that he is not giving up on staying informed, just changing the methods by which he becomes informed.

I had already been attempting to limit the number of times I check the news each day. It was a decision I made based on the following:

1)   I was reading a lot of material which didn’t really interest me, simply because I was lured in by the headlines;

2)   I was reading much of the same material over and over again, because the headlines would change, even if the story did not;

3)   Doing this took time away from things in which I really am interested.

While I had been focusing on the loss of time, Jacobs article also made me realize how much anxiety my habit had been causing. This gave me the extra incentive to stick to my plan, even when I had a few spare minutes to look.  Though it has only been a couple of weeks, I am already feeling less stressed. 

Making Faces - Part II

Making Faces II final

I hope you had some fun making faces of your own this past week, but the best part is yet to come. It's time to wake them up and hear what they have to say! 

Last time we left off with a very two-dimensional face, and a promise to show you how to add color and shading. This will make your faces speak to you, and everyone else. You can use just about anything you have on hand to accomplish this: paint, pens, even just a good old number 2 pencil.

Here, I am going to show you my favorite way: using water soluble crayons and water soluble colored pencils (see below for the brands I like and where to purchase them). I find these really nice to work with because they are easily controlled, portable, and very forgiving. If you choose to go a different route, that’s ok too. The same basic rules apply. All it entails is adding in some lights, some darks and blending everything together. If you have drawn your face on something thin, like a napkin, or piece of regular copy paper, and want to try using water-soluble media, I suggest photocopying your face onto a slightly heavier paper. 32 lb usually works well, and most copying centers will allow you to buy it by the sheet.

I start by choosing three coordinating colors: one light, one dark, and one somewhere in the middle. In this case the person I am drawing is a Caucasian woman and I have chosen artist’s crayons in White, Salmon, and Ochre.  For darker skin tones you may want to use Flesh/Brown/Van Dyke Brown, but the possible combos are endless. It’s all up to you.

Step 1: Add the highlights using the lightest of the three crayons.  They go on the parts of the face that stand out the furthest. See the picture below for guidance (note: I used a gray color here to be better visible in the example, but am using white for the actual finished image).

Making faces II highlight

Step 2: Add the darks using the darkest of the three crayons. They go on the parts of the face that recede or are in shadow. See below.

Making Faces-Areas to Darken.jpg

Step 3: Use the middle color to lightly go over the entire image, with the exception of the whites and irises of the eyes. We’ll get to those in a few minutes.

Making Faces II middle color

Step 4: Blend it all together. See video, below. You can use a paintbrush dipped in water for this, but I like to use a medium sized water brush because it is portable, and because I am lazy. You do not have to keep dipping this in water (you just give it a little squeeze to release more when needed), and even better, you don’t have to wash it when you are done. Just squeeze again to release a bit of water, and wipe it on a towel or piece of scrap paper to clean. Info on water brush below.

Step 5: use one of the water-soluble pencils to color the iris. Here's a trick to make this work: only outline the iris with the pencil, do not fill it in. Then, use the water brush to moisten the color and drag it a little towards the center. The combination of dark around the outside, and light on the inside will give the illusion of roundness. Here, I used a Derwent Intense Pencil in Iron Blue.

making faces II color the irises

Step 6: Darken the lips. The upper lip tilts downward, so it will almost always be darker than the lower lip, which tends to tilt upward towards a light source. You can show this by filling in the entire upper lip with color, but just outlining the bottom lip and drawing some of the color upwards, similar to what we did with the eye in the last step. Here I used a combination of Caran d’Ache Supracolor II in Browish Orange, and Derwent Graphitint in Autumn Brown, allowing the first to dry completely before adding the second.. Remember to leave the middle of the bottom lip lighter than the rest (you can add a bit more of the white crayon, if necessary after the lips dry).

And

Step 7: This is my favorite part! Once everything is dry, use the water-soluble colored pencils to start adding color and detail. The skin is a living organ, and it reflects light, as well as the colors around it, so anything goes. I usually reach for a combo of greens, purples, blues, and grays and add them primarily to the areas I darkened in Step 2. You can use these dry (or just use regular colored pencils), but if you decide to use them with water, make sure to let each color dry before moving on to the next, so you don’t end up with a muddy mess. Continue to layer and blend, even add more of the crayon if you wish, until you get a look you like.

Making faces II color on face

Step 8: Finally, use a black marker to make the pupil, leaving a small spot uncolored on each to indicate the reflection of light. 

Making faces II final

You don't have to choose just one. If you make an image you like, photo copy it several times and experiment. Here's the same image done in pencil:

Making faces II same pencil

and in acrylic paint (with a little bit of water soluble pencil on top) to give you an idea of some of your options.

making faces II same in paint

Have fun!

Art supplies used in this post:

You can find these at most well-stocked art supply stores, but if you are ordering on-line, I recommend DickBlick.com, as they sell them individually and you can get just a few to try, rather than buying an entire set.

Water Soluble Crayons:

Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Watersoluble Wax Pastels (also known as Artist’s Crayons). Find them Here.

Water Soluble Colored Pencils:

Caran d’Ache Supracolor II Soft (also known as Aquarell Pencils). Find them Here.

Derwent Inktense Ink Pencils.  Find them Here.

Derwent Graphitint Pencils. Find them Here. (For whatever reason, these are not often sold separately.)

Water Brush:

Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush. Find them Here

Making Faces - Part I

making faces I-16

I often draw in a local bakery or coffee shop. Besides getting me out of the house and around people, I find the background noise perfect for concentrating.  Over the years I have looked up many times to find someone staring down at my paper. A conversation usually ensues (one of the best parts of working in public) and the person will almost always say something like, “I wish I could do that, but I can’t draw.” I find drawing to be one of the most enjoyable activities there is, so it always breaks my heart a tiny bit to hear this.

While it is true some people are born with a natural talent for drawing, for the majority of us, getting a pencil to do what we want must be learned. Like many other skills, a little practice makes it possible. Unlike many other skills, a little practice also makes it highly probable. No matter how much I practice, the odds are quite low I will ever be able to dunk a basketball, do a split, or sing opera to my liking, but I have seen many people who think they cannot draw learn to make something that pleases them with just a little perseverance.

Past experience tells me, no matter how often I say this; many of you will still not believe it, so I thought I would show you instead. If you haven’t drawn since you were a kid, your first several drawings probably won’t be masterpieces. That’s good. It will be that much more satisfying when you get the hang of it.

Don’t stress over this. Grab any pencil and almost any piece of paper (the margin of a newspaper, a napkin, probably NOT your birth certificate), and try for yourself. It my look like a lot of steps, but each is quick (and gets faster as you practice). Ready? Here we go:

making faces I-1

Step 1: Draw an oval and divide it in half equally both vertically and horizontally. Please note: I recommend drawing lightly until the end of this exercise, so you can easily erase anything you don’t want, or need, later.

Making faces I-2

Step 2: On the vertical line make a small mark halfway between the horizontal line and the bottom of the oval, then another small mark halfway between the first small mark and the bottom of the oval.

Making Faces I-3

Step 3: On the horizontal line, draw two curved lines. These will become the eyes, and should be the same length as one another. The space between them should be the same length as well, because the space between the eyes is equal to the width of one eye. (In other words, it will be like drawing three connected eyes of the same size, except the center one will be invisible).

Making Faces I-4

Step 4: Draw two more curved lines to indicate the bottom of the eye. These should come up a little short of the inner corners to allow room for the little thingies that hold your tear ducts.

Making Faces I-5

Step 5: Draw the iris of the eye, keeping in mind the iris is a perfect circle, the top of which is hidden under the upper eye-lid. Speaking of eyelids, throw some of them on there while you are at it.

Making Faces I-6

Step 6: Draw a circle with its bottom ever so slightly lower than the little mark you make earlier. This will become the ball of the nose. 

Making Faces I-7

Step 7: Add small ovals extending out from both sides of the circle, near the bottom. connect the ovals to one another with a line that follows the bottom of the circle, but dips down a little further in the center. Add a little padding around the ovals and viola, you have nostrils!

Making Faces I-8

Step 8: Draw a teardrop shape under the bottom of the circle. This is the philtrum (otherwise known as that little divot under your nose).

Making Faces I-9

Step 9: Using the circle as a rough guide, draw two lines from above the nostrils, and then up towards the inner corner of the eyes.

Making Faces I-10

Step 10: Now it is time for the eyebrows. Many people slap these on as an afterthought, but please don’t underestimate the power of the brow! The lines you draw here can make your drawing look angry, surprised, etc., so experiment and have a little fun. The inner portion of the eyebrow should start above the inner corner of the eye. Keep in mind, the head is round and the eyebrows wrap around it. You can give this impression of roundness by curving the outer ends of the brows downwards a little, starting roughly at the outer corner of the iris.

Making Faces I-11

Step 11: Add an upper lip by drawing a shape that looks similar to the way many little kids might draw a seagull. Using the philtrum (see step 8) as a guide, start by drawing an upward curving line just below it, then a little downward sloping hill on either side. Pretend there is a line extending down from the middle of each iris. Your hills should end close to that line. The bottom of the upper lip should sit roughly on the last little mark you made in step 2.

Making Faces I-12

Step 12: Add the lower lip by drawing a line that looks a little like a "W" that has been sat on. Avoid extending the lower lip all the way up to the top lip, which can make your drawing look a little flat and cartoonish.

Making faces I-13

Step 13: Fine tune the shape of the face by adding a little curve to the cheek bones, narrowing the jawline, and squaring or rounding the chin if you like.

Making Faces I-14

Step 14: Don't forget the ears. They generally start around eye level, and end around the same height as the bottom of the nose.

Making Faces I-15

Step 15: Add a neck, the width of which should be roughly equal to the widest part of the jaw.

Making Faces I-16 copy

Step 16: Make any further adjustments you like. When you are satisfied, darken your lines with your pencil, a pen, or a marker, and erase anything unnecessary.  I like to use a waterproof pen or marker for this part, in preparation for adding color later.  

Oh my goodness! Look at that! You can draw!!!

Do you like what you see? Is it better, or worse, than you thought?

Extra credit: Keep practicing changing things like the angle of the eyebrows, the width of the nose and the thickness of the lips. Make the eyelids larger or smaller and the cheeks fuller or thinner. Staying with faces that look at you straight on for now, use photographs, or pictures in magazines as guides, purposely choosing a diverse selection of appearances. 

Next week I will show you how to add color/shading to make your face drawings “come alive.” 

3 Hot Alternatives

The Thirsty Artist

The Thirsty Artist

Every fall I develop a drinking problem. Specifically, I don’t drink enough water, and the results are not pretty: frizzy hair (think Albert Einstein without even the slightest aptitude for theoretical physics), brittle nails and flaky, reptile-like skin. Even worse, being in a constant state of dehydration makes me sleepy. And cranky. Very, very cranky.

You may be wondering why I don’t just drink more water, especially if I know not doing so has such negative effects? It is a logical question for which I have a pitiful answer: I get cold easily. As soon as the temperature drops all I want to do is stay warm, and instead of reaching for a cool, hydrating glass of H2O, I reach for a strong and steaming cup of tea.

Tea, of course, can be good for you, so this shouldn’t be a problem, but I REALLY like tea, and I end up drinking entirely too much and getting all hopped up on caffeine. I know, I know, there are decaffeinated and herbal varieties, but they don’t appeal to me, so I don’t drink them, and instead have spent my winters primarily as:

a)    the aforementioned frizzy, brittle, flaky, reptilian, sleepy, cranky (very, very cranky) mess, OR;

b)   an extremely wide-awake, hopped up, jittery disaster who is too antsy and impatient to get much done. 

Certainly not ideal, but until recently I viewed this as a purely personal problem. I wasn’t happy about it, but would muddle through until spring, all the while oblivious to any potential ripple effects I might be causing. Then, “the incident” happened.

I was in my office (aka, a local coffee shop) at the moment in question, and had gone up to the counter for the third time in about 20 minutes to ask for a refill. The very young, very sweet woman working there filled my cup, then turned and said loudly enough to make everyone stop and look, “I can’t believe how fast you drink this stuff. It’s crazy!” I felt my cheeks redden. I wasn’t embarrassed by what she said, so much as by what I almost said back to her in my tired, cranky, jittery state! While I managed to hold my tongue, I couldn’t get the interaction out of my head, which is always a signal for me that I need to do something differently.

I eventually realized the world doesn’t need another a) or b), especially now, during this divisive post-election time in our country. I thought too, of last January 1st, when I set out for a walk alone. I was deep in thought when a man I had never seen before rode by on his bicycle and shouted, “Happy New Year!” It put me in such a good mood that I yelled the same to the next person who entered my path. He stopped walking, looked right at me with one of the most serious faces I ever saw, and said, “Hey, I really appreciate that. Happy New Year to you too.” One sentence from a stranger over a year ago and I still remember how good it made me feel for the rest of the day.

I have always believed in the ability of small actions to make big impacts, so I have faith in what might seem to some, an insignificant change. Although I still drink almost as much tea, I have added a few warm, non-caffeinated libations to the mix as well. They help keep me hydrated, a tiny bit more zen, and more suitable to interactions with others! I am happy to share them with you here in case you too have a cold-weather drinking problem:

  • If you like to keep things simple: Try hot water with lemon. It sounds so obvious, but while most of us have squeezed a slice of lemon into cold water too many times to count, we may not have thought to do the same with hot water. As an extra bonus, the peak season for citrus fruits is actually winter, so lemons are not only fresher, but also cheaper this time of year. The same is true for oranges and limes, which are other great options for this very basic, warming drink. For extra motivation, click HERE for some of the benefits of drinking lemon water.
  • If you are feeling exotic: Try turmeric and ginger “tea.” Both of these aromatic spices are popular in alternative medicine circles and there is some evidence to suggest they work as anti-inflammatories in the body. Just sprinkle a tiny amount of each (you can find both in the spice section of most supermarkets) into a mug, add boiling water and stir. If you are feeling extra ambitious, you can peel and slice some fresh ginger root instead. This is an especially comforting drink if you have a cold, and adding a tiny pinch of cayenne to the mix can help to clear a stuffy head. Pour through a fine mesh tea strainer if you like, before drinking.
  • If you want to connect to your primal side: Try bone broth. I first learned to make this years ago from the amazing Andrea Beaman, who you may have seen featured on Top Chef, Emeril Live, or Martha Stewart Whole Living, but forgot all about it until my friend Laura (health coach and home cook extraordinaire) served me a delicious hot mug of it one day at her home. Now it is sold in supermarkets and cafes for exorbitant prices, and there are many recipe books devoted solely to the subject. Devotees claim drinking bone broth can cure almost anything that ails you. I am not sure about that, but I do know it is very easy and economical to make at home, tastes great and I love that it is part of a long tradition of nourishing foods. For a quick and easy recipe from Andrea, click HERE and if you are ever in New York with a little time to spare, I highly recommend taking one of her classes. She is as funny and warm as she is informative). If you are in need of someone to gently guide you into healthier eating patterns over time, Laura specializes in doing that reasonably, kindly, and without judgment. She can be contacted by email LauraHSullivan@gmail.com.

Bottoms up!

The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot

Is there anything better than finding out a guilty pleasure is actually good for you? Dark chocolate, daydreaming, a glass of red wine, and now…

Wait, I’ll bet you can guess what it is, because it is likely you do it already. Here are some clues:

  •  It is something you were probably encouraged to do as a young child, but may have been scolded for doing (by a teacher, boss or parent) as you got older;
  •  It is usually done alone, but when done as a group activity can be a great means of collaboration, connection and mutual understanding;
  •  If done while listening to something complicated, hard to understand, or otherwise difficult to pay attention to (ahem, boring) it enhances the ability to retain, recall, and comprehend the information. This is because it encourages our brains to linger in the sweet spot between thinking too much and thinking too little;
  • It can be a way to enter the much sought after, but often elusive, “state of flow,” a term popularized by the positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi (pronounced Me-high Chick-sent-me-high) to describe what happens when a person is fully immersed in an activity resulting in increased focus, energy, and enjoyment, aka “in the zone”;
  • Famous practitioners include many past US presidents (JFK, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, George Washington, and more), creative powerhouses such as Lynda Barry, John Lennon, John Keats, Sylvia Plath, and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as people famous for their intellect such as Marie Curie, Leonardo Da Vinci (Leonardo Da Vinci!!!), and Steve Jobs;
  • It is a stress buster and promotes relaxation of the body and mind; 
  • It can be done almost anywhere (you could do it in a boat and with a goat, maybe not in the rain or in the dark, but on a train, and in a tree, it is so good, so good you see!), and no special materials are needed;
  •  It can be used as a method of visualization to reach goals, remain positive in difficult situations, and stay motivated (our crazy and amazing brains react to things we imagine happening, and things which are actually happening in much the same way, so this activity can be used to train the brain to see more possibilities and solutions);

Figured it out yet? Need a few more hints?

  • If you consider yourself an artist, this is a way to keep the creative juices flowing when you are feeling stuck (and can also be an art form of it’s own);
  • If you don’t consider yourself an artist, this is a way to experience the joys of creativity even if you think you “can’t draw” (you can, by the way, but that’s another post);
  • It’s very enjoyable, so it’s worth your time even if you don’t care about any of the reasons above.

The answer is: Doodling. Congratulations if you got it, but it’s understandable if you didn’t, because doodling isn’t usually associated with the many accolades listed above, or any accolades at all! This is probably due to its history. For a long time the word “doodle” meant simpleton or fool (e.g., “Yankee doodle came to town…”), then it was used as a verb meaning to make a fool of, or to swindle. It’s also been used as a descriptor for a corrupt politician (this is not the time, nor the place….). My sister even uses it to refer to her dog going to the bathroom, as in “Come on Archie, it’s time to go outside and make a doodle!” Despite the fact that Archie is tiny and adorable, this has done nothing to improve the reputation of the doodle, or the doodler. In fact, the practice is still commonly associated with wasting time, not paying attention, or just being lazy. That’s what makes recent evidence showing doodling as a way to focus and think all the more delicious. Doodling is not an insignificant act at all, but a creative and intellectual tool, useful in many ways. So doodle away my friends, proudly, in the open, and preferably while eating a piece of dark chocolate!

If you would like to know a little more, or enjoy viewing the doodling adventures of others:

The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown delves further into the topics of cognitive potential and social change. She shows how doodling can be used as a tool for immersive learning and to improve job performance, team building, and peace of mind in general. Sunni is the founder of a creative consultancy and works with major companies to promote visual literacy. www.SunniBrown.com

Creative Doodling & Beyond: Inspiring Exercises, Prompts, and Projects for Turning Simple Doodles into Beautiful Works of Art by the artist Stephanie Corfee focuses on the fun and whimsical appeal of doodling and is filled with prompts and suggestions for getting started.

Doodler’s Anonymous www.DoodlersAnonymous.com describes itself as: “A permanent home for spontaneous art, Doodlers Anonymous is a modern art blog featuring a vast archive of creative inspiration, hand-drawn interviews by contemporary artists, doodle challenges and prompts, giveaways, and a catalog of art-based goods. Since its creation, Doodlers Anonymous has given exposure to thousands of up-and-coming artists and illustrators and has become an international community of like-minded creatives and art aficionados who share a love of hand drawing.” I literally spent hours and hours happily scrolling through this site when I first found it, and still return to it often for inspiration.

Doodle Arts Magazine www.DoodleArtsMagazine.com From their website: “We promote the doodle art movement and we are the voice of creative reasoning for doodle artists. For them, doodling is an artistic choice and a currency in a life lived well—a way to promote freedom of creative expression. Doodling is not something you do. It is something you live.” I have just discovered this site myself, and am really looking forward to spending some time here.

For more information on my heavily doodled image above, click HERE.

 


$22 Side Table Make-Over

Our two side tables, the one on the left before the make-over, and the one on the right, after.

Our two side tables, the one on the left before the make-over, and the one on the right, after.

Is one of your New Year's Resolutions to spend less money? To be more creative? To make your living space a place you really love? Me too. This may help with all three...

Close to two decades ago, my husband Paul and I bought our first furniture together. Up until then we had been living with hand-me downs, garage sale finds, and the occasional piece that was technically "unused", but had been acquired at a deeply discounted rate due to one issue or another (like a big gash on the arm of our sofa that had to be strategically hidden behind a pillow).

When we finally saved up enough to purchase something new of our own we chose a mission style set for our living room. It included two side tables, a coffee table, sofa table, and small glass front cabinet. We felt like such grown-ups!

Those pieces have lasted through many parties, family get-togethers and the raising of two creative children, but after 19 years, they no longer fit our style. And, quite honestly, we were getting a little tired of looking at them.

What I really wanted was something a little more current that would work well with the house and lifestyle we have now. Something in rich taupe-y browns and warm grays, the colors of driftwood, to remind me of growing up near the Jersey shore. I was dragging my feet on making such a big purchase though, as there was nothing actually wrong with the items we had.

Then one day while walking through the Home Depot, I spotted some really pretty wood samples. They had been stained using semi-transparent colors, which allowed the grain to show through. I have always been crazy for makeovers and DIY projects, so on a whim I bought two of the stains and a couple of foam brushes.  About three hours (and a quick trip to Lowe’s for some new drawer pulls) later, we had two beautiful, “new” side tables. Here are the details:

Side of table after the make-over.

Side of table after the make-over.

Materials and Costs:

Newspaper or drop cloth - had on hand

Paper towels or rags - had on hand

Wood putty (optional)-had on hand

Behr Premium Exterior Wood Stains and Finishes, Semi-Transparent stain in Stonehedge and Slate ($3.86 each for two 7.25 oz. sample sizes = $7.72)

2 two-inch foam brushes ($.99 each = $1.98)

2 three-inch drawer pulls in satin nickel finish ($6.00 each = $12.00)

Total: $21.70

Top of table after the make-over.

Top of table after the make-over.

 

Directions:

Place items to be stained on some newspaper, or a drop cloth in a well ventilated area.

Remove drawer pulls.

I recommend using drawer pulls that match the existing holes if at all possible, but if you will be using a differently sized drawer pulls, drill holes for new hardware and fill holes left from old hardware with wood putty. Let dry before staining.

Wipe furniture down with a damp rag or paper towel to remove dust*.  Let dry.

Shake can of stain to mix, and use a foam brush (I dipped mine directly into the can) to apply a very thin coat of the Stonehedge stain to all surfaces. When dry, use a new foam brush to apply a very thin coat of the Slate stain over the Stonehedge.  When dry, go back and add a bit more Stonehedge to areas you want lighter, or Slate , to areas you want darker, until you achieve the look you desire.

Let dry thoroughly. Even though the furniture will likely feel dry after a few hours, we didn’t place anything on our side tables for 3-4 days, to allow them to “cure” completely.

Attach drawer pulls.

Tips and Notes:

Experiment on the back to find a look you like, before staining the entire piece. If you keep some damp paper towels nearby, you can quickly wipe away anything you don’t like before it sets.

You can also use a paper towel to quickly wipe some of the stain away from any areas where you have applied too much.

Keep whatever brush you are not using in a zip lock bag. This will keep it moist and soft, so you don’t need to wash it between coats.

For reference, each of our side tables (I stained two) measures 26”Hx18.5”Dx21”W. I used about half of each sample-sized can.

It’s been several weeks since the tables were finished. Any residual stickiness has gone away, and they look beautiful. No chips, stains, etc. and we are very happy with them.

*Behr recommends prepping the wood with stripper and/or wood cleaner before starting. I skipped this step because 1) I wasn't overly concerned about the outcome, and 2) I never use furniture polish or sprays on our furniture. I just wipe it down with a damp rag when it gets dusty. If you have a lot of furniture polish buildup on your furniture, or if your furniture is very shiny, you may want to be a little more thorough than me before starting, or at the very least, test a spot on the back of the piece before committing to staining the entire thing.

I liked the look of this stain so much, I used it again on our kitchen table. The table had been coated with polyurethane in the past, so we sanded it down to bare wood before starting. Oddly enough, I found it to be less durable afterwards (a few scratches already) than the side tables (which I did not prep). It is so pretty though, I am going to touch up the scratches and seal it with a clear polyurethane. I will update this post then, to show you!


The Problem With Precious

Three Head Are Better Than One

Three Head Are Better Than One

This story about a young woman’s experience in art school may make you cringe:

As I recall, her class was given a difficult assignment. Each had to produce a painting, which would take a great deal of time and effort to achieve.

On the day the paintings were due, she and her fellow students arrived in class eager to show off their work, unaware that in order to complete their projects a final task was required. In what surely must have seemed like a joke, they were instructed to destroy the artwork on which they had just worked so hard. The instructor was quite serious. Destroy it. Or fail.

What kind of teacher would require such a thing? A very caring one it turns out, because those “poor” students were actually being taught, in a very real and memorable way, a crucial skill. They were learning to let go of their work. It is something many artists have trouble doing, but is absolutely necessary in the professional arena. Simply put, if what you make becomes so precious to you that you are unable to part with it, you are going to find it extremely difficult to make a living in a creative field.

If I had been in that class, I very well may have been one of the students who failed because “precious” and I have long had our own issues. For me, the difficulty centers mainly on a certain scenario in which I have found myself a thousand times. It typically plays out like this:

I am working on a drawing, painting, etc., and it is turning out well. Maybe even a little better than I had anticipated. I am starting to really like it, and have an idea I think will make it even better. As I am about to put my plan into action a thought suddenly pops into my head, causing me to stop: “What if I ruin it?”

This is, of course, a valid consideration, as I HAVE ruined things in the past, and therein lies my dilemma. If I am making something I feel is “pretty good,” is it better to stop and end up with something I like? Or, take a chance and possibly create something I love, knowing however, there is the potential to completely wreck it in the process?

I was pondering this very question, paintbrush hovering uncertainly over a collage in progress, when I realized something interesting. Almost all of the artwork I was tempted to change, but didn’t (out of fear) was sitting in the closet, or at the bottom of a drawer. I liked it enough to save, but not enough to want to see it, because in my mind, it wasn’t really finished. So much for preciousness.

So what happened when I dug up some of my old work and made the changes I had been too scared to make before?  Well, there were a lot of disasters! But it also resulted in several pieces with which I am finally and truly happy. The image above is one of these pieces. It started out looking like this:

lone figure

and then sat in a drawer for over a year before did what I wanted to do all along. While this is an example of non-preciousness working to my advantage, this one didn't turn out to be quite the "stained glass" masterpiece I envisioned, but I am still working on it!:

%22Stained Glass%22.jpg

Published!

Anything Can Happen

Anything Can Happen

When we first moved to California four years ago, I was anxious to find a place to belong. I had been part of a wonderfully inspiring collage group on the east coast, so I decided to search for something similar near my new home. After checking the internet, local adult schools, and every art related venue within a reasonable distance, I eventually learned of a class, led by the talented artist and photographer Lisa Rigge, which meets monthly to practice something called “Dream Collage.”  Lisa first leads a discussion based on a predetermined topic related to dreaming (animals in our dreams, or water, for example), then participants create a collage based on their own experiences with that week’s subject matter. While it wasn’t exactly what I had been looking for, collage was involved, so I decided to give it a try.

This is probably a good time to tell you, I don’t remember my dreams. Well, not much of them anyway. There are one or two I can recall in their entirety from childhood, but as far as dreaming in adulthood is concerned, I have only been able to elicit a few fleeting snippets. This made attending Lisa’s class a bit like being a vegetarian at a pig roast, but that’s not to say I didn’t get anything out of it. Lisa is so knowledgeable about the subject matter, she could easily teach a college level course comparing the dream theories of Sigmund Freud to Carl Jung, while making it both interesting and completely understandable. And the other attendees made it worthwhile as well, as they were kind and welcoming at a time when kind and welcoming was exactly what I needed. I found the discussions lively and interesting, and everyone’s willingness to share, refreshing. Ultimately my inability to conjure up any recent unconscious activity, as well as the timing of the class, caused me to stop attending, but Lisa and I keep in touch, sharing collage techniques from time to time, and occasionally sending information we think the other might find useful.

Hold that thought, while I tell you about Laura…

Laura and I met on a train bound for New York City and became fast friends when we realized we were both traveling to the same class.  Having similar interests, and both being stay at home moms, we spent a great deal of time drinking tea together and contemplating everything from the best way to get our kids to eat vegetables, to our roles in the universe.  We were both curious about blogging, so about a year ago we set up a weekly writing exchange to explore the idea further. Each Friday we sent one another a prospective blog post, followed a few days later by constructive criticism (by the way, this is an UNBELIEVABLLY good way to determine if you enjoy writing regularly, can meet a deadline, and are comfortable sharing personal information).  I had just received feedback from Laura on an essay about a recurring dream I had as a child (which I may not have remembered at all had I not attended a few Dream Collage sessions), when…

I received an email from Lisa telling me of an open call for submissions to The Rose in The World, a publication to which she subscribes. I sent my essay in the next day and it was chosen for publication!

Getting a piece of writing published was a goal of mine, so I am not only honored, but thrilled. Naturally I have been thinking a lot about how it happened (so I can attempt to make it happen again).

Was it lucky timing? Synchronicity? While I do believe in such things, I think something much more controllable was at play. I almost left Lisa’s class before getting to know her, because it wasn’t really what I was looking for. I almost gave up on the exchange with Laura, because as an inexperienced writer, each essay took a crazy amount of time to compose. In both instances though, I chose to keep going. Why? Because the women and the activities fit into my larger goal: to Create, Connect, and Evolve. I am only now beginning to fully appreciate how most anything can happen if I stay true to those three things. I feel like I am heading in the right direction.

You can find out more about Lisa, and see some of her work at: LisaRigge.com

You can find out more about The Rose in the World at: TheRoseInTheWorld.com 

"Small" Gifts

To Mini "Grinch" Trees

To Mini "Grinch" Trees

What are you wishing for this holiday season?

We celebrate Christmas, and since it is right around the corner much of my thinking is currently directed towards figuring out what to get everyone. Money, of course, is a factor (our son has an $800 virtual reality headset on his list this year...I give him points for trying!), but so time. How is it that all the other months last between 28-31 days, but December seems to come and go in the span of a week? Inevitably, I find myself short a gift or two, and end up running around at the last second grabbing at anything left on the shelves. This was exactly the state I was in a few days ago as I swung over to Trader Joe’s to pick up a small Christmas present for Debbie, the owner of a local salon. I had an appointment with her that day and it was the last time I would see her this year. As she and her staff always go the extra mile, I wanted to bring something (anything!) to show my appreciation. I was due in her chair in a little less than two hours, and the dog had yet to be walked, so admittedly “meaningful and personal” was less of a criteria than “quick and easy” as I navigated through the parking lot and into the store. My intention was only to grab a box of the peppermint bark I know she likes, and be quickly on my way. BUT THEN I SAW THESE (see photo above)!  

I have always loved the work of Dr. Seuss, and these little beauties reminded me so much of his drawings my heart swelled up as big as little Cindy Lou Who’s!  That surge of emotion must have shaken a few sentimental memories loose, because a few minutes later I was driving home not only with my tiny tree purchase, but also an idea to make it more personal, prompted by one of my favorite gifts ever.

Last year for Christmas, my sister Laura gave me a simple black picture frame that was matted to hold two photos. In the first opening she had placed a sweet picture of our children when they were about 4 and 5 years old, sitting on the floor of her kitchen and happily toasting each other with little glasses of juice. In the second she placed a photo similar to the first, but with one very noticeable difference. While it too showed our children sitting in the same place on her floor, wearing similar clothes, cups raised in the air and smiles on their faces, they were now teenagers, aged 14 and 15. She had secretly worked with our kids to recreate the scene ten years later, and seeing the two images side by side was so touching, I can barely tell you about it now without getting verklempt!  All it took was two photographs to change her offering from something nice, to something extremely meaningful.

Could a few photos transform my quick and easy little tree into something more meaningful and personal too? This is what I did when I got home:

The staff of Beautiful From Head 2 Toe

The staff of Beautiful From Head 2 Toe

When all was said and done, it cost me $7.99, and about an hour of my time. I had a blast doing it (directions below), but more importantly, Debbie and her staff knew it was done especially for them, and seemed to really like the results.

I don’t know if I will ever get to a place where I manage to make every holiday gift personal (my guess is no), but the experience reminded me I don’t have spend a lot, or do a lot, to give something meaningful. Small gestures, go a long way, and are often the ones I enjoy the most as the giver, and as the receiver. Perhaps giving more gifts during the year is the answer? I think I will give it a try.

Directions:

You can use any photos or images you like, but this is how I made the mini ornaments using photos from a website:

1.     I opened the salon website and located photos of each member of the team.

2.     I opened a blank Word document.

3.     I right clicked on a website photo, chose “copy image”, then right clicked on the Word document and chose “paste’. I repeated this process until all the images I wanted were in the Word document.

4.     In the Word document, I left clicked on a photo so the sizing box would appear around it. Then, I right clicked on a corner of the sizing box, and held and dragged each photo to the size I wanted.

5.     I printed the Word document on a piece of photo paper.

6.     I used a circle template to trace a circle around each face, but anything small and round, such as a nickel, could work.

7.     I cut out all the circles.

8.     I threaded a small needle with red thread, and poked it through the side of one of the cutout circles, close to the edge. I tied the thread, leaving a loop for hanging, then repeated with all the remaining circles.

Two Grinch Trees on Red

Combining Images and Words

As Time Becomes Obsolete / 10" x 14" in Leda Sketchbook

As Time Becomes Obsolete / 10" x 14" in Leda Sketchbook

I began combining my artwork and my writing about a year ago. The visual part usually comes to me first, even if I don’t recognize it right away. Many times a poem, a story, or even a just a thought I want to remember pops into my head.  As I am writing it down I’ll say to myself, “I should make an image to go with this.” Then I realize I already have an image that fits the words very well.

It surprised me the first few times it occurred, but made perfect sense after I thought it through. I am sure it happens because of the way I work. When I sit down to draw or collage, I almost always begin without any preconceived notion of what the finished product will be. I just start doodling, gluing, or putting down a color that I happen to be attracted to that day. Over the course of a few minutes, or a few days, a picture will start to emerge and I just go with it. Because I am not trying to force anything, my mind has plenty of space to wander. Whatever is floating around in my subconscious finds its way out, first as an image (I suppose because I am a very visual person), and then as words (because the time I have spent making the art has allowed me to organize my thoughts).

When I was making this particular collage, I was thinking quite a bit about my family history. I was trying to locate some information about a relative that died many years before I was born, and thinking how nice it would be to have that knowledge to share with my dad (it was his mother), and also my children.

Here are the words, in case you are having trouble reading them:

 

As she paused to take in her surroundings

She could not help but wonder:

How many had stood in the exact same place before,

And how many would come after.

 

She felt strangely akin to both past and future.

A quiet observer. A humble connector,

An amenable gate through which the mighty universe may pass.

She considers the possibility of all existence converging in a single moment

And marvels as time becomes obsolete.


The Bloody Mary Cure

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

The Bloody Mary Cure

Every Thanksgiving morning for the past 20+ years we have gathered with friends in the Boston area to share a Bloody Mary (or two) before going our separate ways for dinner.  This tradition started when we were all young, single, childless and very likely to have been out late the night before. In other words, there was definitely a bit of “the hair of the dog” going on. It’s been a long time since I have needed our happy holiday get-together to provide a cure for anything, but this year is different. I am still feeling unsettled after such a divisive election, and find I am looking forward to our Thanksgiving rituals, and time with old friends, even more than usual. In fact, my husband and I were talking about it so much we decided to double down and start a similar tradition right here in northern California.  Last weekend we hosted a small group of friends for our “First-Annual, Pre-Thanksgiving, Bloody Mary Brunch” (catchy, right?). 

As parties go, it was a snap to put together. The only things that took even a minimal amount of time to prepare were the salad, and the ham and egg cups (super easy-peasy 30 minute start to finish recipe for them HERE). Everything else was store bought and just placed in bowls or on plates. We had a lot of fun, and I thought I would share the simple menu with you in case you are interested in doing something similar. Enjoy your friends.

 

Menu

Ham and egg cups (recipe here)

Bagels, cream cheese and lox

Granola, yogurt, berries

Muffins

Chicken salad

Rolls

Green salad

Charcuterie plate (two cheeses, two salamis, two nuts)

Crackers

 

Bloody Mary Table

Bloody Mary Mix

Vodka (we infused one bottle with fresh rosemary)

Old bay seasoning on a plate (rub rim of cup with lemon and dip into seasoning)

Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, Horseradish for mixing

Celery stalks, limes, olives and cocktail onions for garnishes

Ice

 

Other Beverages

Orange Juice

Champagne*

Pitcher of water with lemon slices

Pitcher of water with orange slices and sprigs of mint

 

Dessert

Store-bought pie and cake, chocolates

 

* Friends brought fresh pomegranate seeds from their garden, and people were putting them into glasses of champagne. It looked absolutely beautiful, and is something I will be keeping in mind for the future. 

 

PS - I don’t suggest having this much food right before a Thanksgiving feast, unless you are looking to pick a fight with the cook. You may want to pick and choose for Thanksgiving morning, and save the greater variety for a separate breakfast or brunch. 

How I Ended up Celebrating my 50th Birthday in a Convent

Connection: 8x11 mixed media on old calendar page

Connection: 8x11 mixed media on old calendar page

Several weeks before my birthday this year my husband asked me how I wanted to celebrate.  Was there a new restaurant I was dying to try? What about a party? I had been thinking about it for some time and had my answer ready.

A party was a definite “no”.  I lean a little towards introversion and that side usually wins out as far as celebrations are concerned, at least those in which I am to be the guest of honor. I still haven’t fully recovered from the large bridal shower held for me 20 years ago, and am convinced my body went into labor three weeks early to avoid a similar situation as the birth of our first child, and a similarly sized baby shower, approached. Celebrating five decades on this planet was something I was looking forward to and I was determined to recognize it in a way that was fully in my comfort zone.

As for going out to dinner? I am introverted not irrational, so that was a great big “yes”. Having someone cook for me, then sharing that meal with people I love, is exactly the type of intimate and personal observance I enjoy. But still, there was something lacking. This was a milestone birthday after all, and I wanted to mark it in a way that was a little more meaningful than a nicely cooked prime rib. To figure out what that might be, I had been asking myself the same question over and over as the big day drew near:

What is something I really love but haven’t had enough of in my life lately?

I am not going to lie. A great leather moto jacket crossed my mind, as did booking myself a massage (or two), but there was something that loomed larger than anything else. I wasn’t spending enough time in the presence of like-minded women, and it was starting to take its toll.

The problem began a few years ago when we moved cross-country for my husband’s job and had to essentially start from scratch in terms of forging new relationships. I quickly discovered that finding friends at this stage of life did not come as easily as when my children were younger and I was conveniently thrown together on a regular basis with women whom I had a lot in common. Living in suburbia, a decent car ride from most things I find interesting, wasn’t helping either. I’m not saying it’s been all bad. I have met some great women in the last few years, a couple of whom I even consider good friends, but it hasn’t been enough. Jobs, schedules and family obligations simply do not allow us to spend sufficient time together to fully satisfy my need for quality female companionship. What I wanted for my birthday, what I needed for my sanity, was to feel a greater, more sustained sense of connection.

That realization, painful as it was to admit out loud, helped me determine what my ideal gift would be: going away for a few days with a small group of women to share laughter, stories and thoughts. I was pretty proud of myself for figuring that out, until I remembered I am currently living 3000 miles away from all my closest girlfriends. For various reasons, I couldn’t justify flying east at the time and felt uncomfortable asking them to make a costly and time-consuming trip to me, especially so close to the holidays. A trip also seemed a lot to ask of my relatively new California friends, with whom I am still in the “getting to know you” phase. Yet I knew I was on the right track, and didn’t want to let go of the idea.

My solution arrived in the form of a promotional email advertising a three-day writing retreat within driving distance from our home. Excited, I signed up without looking too closely at the details, and that is how I, a married, liberal, non-religious mother of two, found myself arriving alone at a convent in northern California the weekend following my 50th birthday. To be accurate it was actually a former convent, but one that held to many of its old ways out of respect for its spiritual roots and former residents. There were, for example, many places set aside for prayer and self-reflection beneath the gaze of saintly statues and devotional artwork. The guest rooms were clean and private but devoid of any luxury. Twin beds with crisp sheets and well-worn blankets shared space with small and simple wooden desks. There was but one item of adornment on the walls of my room: a painting of the baby Jesus being held by the Virgin Mary, who stared at me through sad, foreboding eyes.  

Santa Sabina Mary. 7 1/2 x 10 1/2 mixed media on manilla envelope

Santa Sabina Mary. 7 1/2 x 10 1/2 mixed media on manilla envelope

 

The sparseness of the accommodations was equally matched by a scarcity of noise, as there was a strict requirement of silence in place. Talking of any kind was restricted to the room we met in as a group, the dining space, and a few common areas. You want to talk on your phone? Feel free to indulge, but please, only in the parking lot.

If you think this austere experience sounds like an odd fix to my problem, believe me, I hear you, but desperate times sometimes call for unexpected remedies! Anyway, going there was not quite as bold as it appears. I hadn’t received that timely email purely by chance. I received it because I had attended a class led by the same amazing teacher the year before. So while I had no idea who the other participants at this particular event would be, and whether this experience would be as wonderful as the last, I felt strongly that whatever drew me towards this woman and her methods in the first place would attract others looking for similar things. It was a slight gamble for sure, but one I felt was necessary.  At any rate, it wouldn’t take long to discover if my bet had paid off, and my car was parked right outside if it hadn’t.

Within an hour of arriving I happily found myself in the presence of two women I had met in the previous class I attended, as well as seven others whose stories I was looking forward to hearing. But it wasn’t until our teacher Linda arrived, gave me a hug and told me how glad she was to see me again that I felt myself finally begin to relax. Taking a deep breath I made the decision to jump wholeheartedly into what I hoped would be a rewarding weekend of sisterly alliance.  

Any lingering apprehension I felt melted quickly away as we gathered together, wrote, and then read our thoughts aloud. Conversation flowed easily over the delicious meals we were served, as did our laughter, despite the fact that our talk often turned to weighty issues, and most of us had met only hours before. Perhaps our ability to be so open and forthright with one another had something to do with our anonymity, but I think the more likely scenario is we felt safe in one another’s presence. Linda had set a tone that united us, and through our sharing and willingness to be vulnerable we had, in a sense, walked in one another’s shoes, and seen things through each other’s eyes.

While I don’t think it is possible to gain in three days the depth of closeness and trust that develops naturally over a long and meaningful friendship, I did find what I was looking for that weekend. By the time I got into my car to return home I felt not only connected and grateful to the other women there, but also more comfortable in my own skin. In short, very similar to how I feel after spending time with close girlfriends.  I know through experience, not all attempts at connection have such satisfying results. Some may even set us back a bit. Still, I think it is worth the effort to keep trying, as finding even a little connection can infuse us with the energy and encouragement needed to be who we really are, keep plowing ahead, and draw closer to our full potential. That, and it feels really good.

 

Note: The retreat I attended was a Proprioceptive Writing Immersion, led by Linda Trichter Melcalf (find more info HERE) at the Santa Sabina Spiritual Center in San Raphael, CA (find more info HERE). Both the class and the Center are highly recommended.