Friday, January 29, 2010

The Happy Book Week Two

In this second week of staying alert to the things that make me happy, I'm paying attention to the different kinds of "Happy" that come my way. And I play in my head how I'd depict them if this were my week to have the book in my hands.

This would not have been the week I'd have pulled out sparkles *. For the most part the delights and surprises were quieter. Children provided the best laughs. Mother nature gets the Oohs and Aahhs. I've been feeling a little impatient as far as my creative work is concerned - have had so many interruptions as well as having undertaken a very necessary culling project. I haven't had time to actually paint or collage. But there's an upside to this, too, as you'll see in my list. So here goes, in no particular order:

1. I was doing a demonstration at my art guild shop last weekend when little girl of about 7 came to watch me. After a while she asked me how long I'd been painting. I told her about 8 years. She then asked "How old ARE you?" To which I replied 64. Then she said, "Wow. I don't think anyone has ever really told me their age before. Very old people don't like to tell you." It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud, but I was able to respond with "And sometimes very young people like to tell you that they're older than they are. So what is the age that you think people most often like to admit their real age?" My husband and I have laughed about that conversation all week.

2. A roof leak that started in the heavy rains earlier this week and the subsequent hole my husband accidentally put in the ceiling trying to get to it were fixed so quickly by this fabulous guy, George, whom we met this fall when we hired him to paint our house. It is a huge relief to find someone like this who is nice, responsive, and handy at everything.

3. I came home from my very chilly walk this morning and my husband had the most delicious veggie burger sandwich waiting for me for breakfast!

*4. Yesterday we had the most perfect snowman snow - which my grandson and I took full advantage of . And we lay on the ground watching clouds scurrying overhead as we made snow angels, laughing as we saw what we'd made. I could use some sparkles here, if I were drawing it!

5. Listening to Canticle of Brother Sun from Paul Winter's Earth Mass - I could just dance around my studio when it's playing.

So those are some of my highlights. And you? Have you had some special or ordinary moments this week that brought you joy? I hope so!

To read about what others have experienced in their weeks you can go to Jamie's blog . And you can join in these conversations. Happiness is contagious.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Happy Book Week One

I've joined another of Jamie Ridler's online book clubs - and just got in at the last minute. These groups are becoming so popular that almost as soon as she'd announced the opening, it was full. Because of the overwhelming interest, she opened up another couple of groups so more people could get in. But different from some of the past groups, this one doesn't require you to buy your own book. In this one she is sending around books that we will write in! And it's called The Happy Book by Meg Kempster and Rachel Leder. There are four books travelling around the world! It's so exciting! Each participant has a week with the book; to write, draw, paint, doodle the things that make them happy.

Even if you won't be getting the books, you're welcome to join in on the fun by coming to the blog and posting your own delights, or just reading along. Happiness is so often contagious, don't you think? My favorite part of the last book club I participated in was reading everyone else's responses and sharing comments back and forth. It's fascinating to watch how different people react to the same chapter - and sometimes the insights made something I'd overlooked come alive.

For this week what has made me most happy has been:

1. My trip into NY to see a few art exhibits - I've been wanting to get in more often and my husband totally surprised me by giving me a membership to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for Christmas! He is just such a sweetie!

2. My husband - he loves to come up with good surprises for people. And he's so patient that they really come as a surprise.

3. My almost 5 yo grandson suddenly starting a routine from the Little Rascals while we were eating lunch. It cracks me up how early kids pick up humor - even our 1 and 1/2 yo grandson can joke a little.

4.Working on collage (a new art form for me) via Kathryn Antyr's class; I become so immersed in it - it feels like it's opening spaces in me, and makes me very happy

5. A fabulous spinach dish at a Turkish restaurant we went to after the museums - made my taste buds jump for joy!

6. My yoga instructor pointing out something I could do pretty well - cause most of it I am not so hot.

What has made you happy this week? Post it here or to go to Jamie's blog click on this link:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Beginnings of an Icon, Part 2

In the last post I talked about the important process of preparing the board. The next step is developing the image. The novice iconographer will almost always use traditional icons for the pattern, carefully resizing it to fit the board, then drawing it on tracing paper so that it can be transferred to the gessoed surface.
Next, we use a bole made of powdered red clay mixed with fish glue to paint the edges of the icon and the areas where gold will be laid down. The bole under the gold has to be absolutely smooth, sanded carefully when it's dried, or the gold will show up the little pits and bumps. I ran into a woman who used to do gilding for a framer - she said she loved this work. I'm always a little nervous when I do it - it's so easy to botch it up. When you're ready to apply the gold leaf, you breathe deeply and then exhale over the bole so that it takes up a little of the moisture. Then you carefully lay down the gold. When I hear someone doing this, it reminds me that they are introducing spirit into the icon.

Once the gold is on, we may need to fix some of the lines that have gotten sanded away, and then mix paints to go over the outlines, using pigments that will blend with the later colors to be laid down. This becomes the skeleton of the painting. For people like me who are not great at technical detail, it is a real discipline to make sure that this step is given adequate attention. Taking shortcuts in these early stages will make it hard to get the beautiful effects you are working toward as you go through the layering of pigments.

I think part of what I love about iconography is the involvement of so many senses: the woody smell of a fresh board. the pungent smell of the bole, the pudding feel of gesso, the satin texture after it's dried and sanded, the sounds of sanding and deep inbreaths, and always the gorgeous images and colors.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beginnings of an Icon

For the past four years I've been studying with a local iconographer, Olga Poloukhine. Olga is an accomplished artist whose preferred medium is egg tempera, but she has a strong background in etching and drawing - especially useful skills that I don't have. She had been creating art long before she started studying iconography. But she's been "writing" icons for churches and individuals for probably 20 years or more.

I love working in her studio. It feels like there's a such a strong connection to faith communities and art history around the world, through copying images that are hundreds of years old, using techniques and materials, many of which are similar to what those predecessors would have used.

The preparation is particularly time consuming. We start with a board cut to the desired size. Birch and poplar are the most common choices, but plywood is often used now, too. The board is routed out. She often makes her own. I buy mine, not having access to or skill with power tools.

Then we mix up gelatin to use as glue and cover the board with a thin piece of cotton or linen fabric that has been soaked in the gelatin. While that is drying, we add calcium carbonate to the gelatin to create the gesso. And when the fabric is ready we begin smoothing thin layers of the gesso on the board, building up the layers till we have about 8. One man in my class always puts on 12 layers in honor of the 12 apostles. Once everything is thoroughly dry we sand the board carefully to create as smooth a surface as possible. Egg tempera is considered a watery medium so surface imperfections will show up in the final product.

I've learned that now is the best time to clean up the back of the board, too: trimming off any excess fabric, sanding away any smeared gesso, perhaps even staining and varnishing the back of the board so it doesn't have to be turned over with the image on it. Once the paintin has begun it will be fairly susceptible to scratching until it is sealed at the end - and then it's tacky for quite a while.

Next time I'll address choosing and applying the image.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Introduction to Egg Tempera

My painting career started late. In 2002 I was down at the Hudson River skipping rocks with my grandson Alex when I picked up a rock that reminded me of a bird's head. We started to look for some other stones that reminded us of particular things and brought them home to paint. Something about that activity was very relaxing, almost meditative, and I found myself coming back to it.

Initially my attempts were pretty primitive; I had no art background. Little by little I attempted more precise painting and gradually gravitated toward doing small saints - pieces that I called pocket icons. I gave many away and began to sell some of them.

Then a friend invited me to lead a workshop at church. During the morning an iconographer from out of town was coming to tell us about the use and process of painting icons. I was to follow in the afternoon with an experiential workshop where people could paint stones for themselves. One of the women in my session asked if I'd ever done iconography, and told me there was a local woman who taught classes. I was fascinated. And I was a little intimidated. I worried that using the word "icon" for my small stones might offend someone. And I felt that I didn't have enough skills to try to do something as complicated and beautiful as what we'd seen in the morning. I was told the instructor was away for the winter - so I didn't pursue it and gradually forgot about it.

Six months later I went to an opening at a local gallery and was struck by the most gorgeous paintings - not icons, but done in egg tempera and with themes and style that stirred up strong emotions. As I was reading the biographical information about the artist, I realized this was the iconographer I'd heard about. I went straight home and before I could talk myself out of it, I called and made an appointment to begin classes with her.

I thought I'd just go through the process of painting (writing) one icon. I'd learn the techniques so I would be more knowledgeable but suspected I would find it to be too difficult or disciplined to continue.

Here I am, four years later, totally captivated by iconography, icons, egg tempera. I still do a lot of my small work with acrylics. But I study with Olga weekly, and I've started using some of the techniques in my own way. My blogs will include more of the story and some tutorials. Hope you'll come back if this journey is of interest to you!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Year Beckons

So how are you entering this new year? With relief? Fearfully? With excitement? Feeling challenged? Behind already?

I spent much of my day yesterday cleaning one desk in my studio. I hadn't seen the surface in months. Even the chair in front of it was piled with magazines, papers, sketches, things I'd been missing. By suppertime I was down to bare wood! Hallelujah! Chorus, please!

After dinner I began reading a book I'd mentioned to my husband as a possible Christmas gift - Anne Paris' Standing at Water's Edge, discovering "the power of creative immersion". It felt like a good way to begin the year. Last week I was reviewing some of my accomplishments from 2009 and was surprised by how much I'd gotten done. So often I'm feeling frustrated by how little there is to show for my time - but when I counted things up, I was pleasantly surprised. And I'm enthusiastic to focus a bit more - to take advantage of the past successes and move forward. You know how people choose a word for the year - I think mine may be "focus".

I've signed up for an online collage course later this month with Kathryn Antyr and am really looking forward to this exploration. Kathryn sent an email last week offering a downloadable calendar of some of her work - such a generous gift! Today I did that - and though she meant for it to be used as a small desk calendar that could be displayed in a CD case, I saw the expanse of paper and decided that I wanted to write on it - to use it as the frontispieces for pages of my journal, to piggyback on her energy and generosity, to let that good feeling color my own expressions, whatever they may be. And I got such a surge of possiblity when I spread out the pages on my newly cleaned up desk! What will these pages be saying as I move into this year. I'm so excited!

So, thank you, Kathryn! And if any of my readers find such a journey of interest, I encourage you to check out her blog and jump in.

Here's to a new year of living your art!