Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pages and Paint - Week Two

So we're cruising right along in the Pages and Paint class.  It's been fun and inspiring to see the work of the other students and to watch Sarah's videos and learn about her process.  I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was having trouble keeping up with the pace of the class.  Two weeks ago was week two and we worked on larger spreads in our sketch books and started collage-ing things into them as well.  It is really a fun process and I am fairly happy with what I came up with.

She sent us prompts for one of the exercises.  My prompts were: "bubblegum pink, lines and dots, seaside and joy."  What a nice collection of things, right?  And what I generated from those prompts is something that I'm relatively happy with.  The only thing that is missing is a photograph that lives in an album at my parents house.

Growing up in Illinois, our "seaside" was the sandy creek that ran through the farm.  We spent hours there splashing in the water, building sand castles and collecting tiny fossils and what we referred to as "jellybean rocks" ... super smooth in pastel colors. We used to fill Noni's (my grandmother) flower garden with them. Here is my sketchbook spread:

Full page sketchbook spread.
And the photo that I would have added to the sketchbook, had I been able to get my hands on it prior to posting my photo for the class was this one:

Summer Sunday afternoon - 1985

It was taken in the summer of 1985, on a Sunday afternoon.  One of those days that Mom piled all the girls from Sunday school into the car and we headed home to enjoy a quick lunch and an afternoon spent playing in the creek.  The creek at the crossing was (and is still) wide and sandy. And the spring-fed creek was always clean and clear and full of minnows and water bugs.  We weren't squeamish girls growing up.

It must have been a rainy spring for all those trees and logs to have been deposited in our "beach".  It's funny that I notice that now.  I'm sure I didn't think a thing of it at the time.  We were probably just glad for the bridge and the jumping platform.  That's me in the purple suit, probably planning to join my sister in the plunge.  She's the one in mid jump holding her nose, in preparation for a depth of surely no more than two feet or so.  I laugh at this now.  Those were some really good times and made some really nice memories.

And it's a nice surprise to find that this online art workshop helped me dig this up.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Re-reading: My Antonia

Last week some friends of mine were circulating book recommendations via email and I happened to be sifting through some of my favorite books for memorable passages for the pages and paint class. I wrote to them about my favorite book after I dusted it off to find the excerpt I was looking for. I thought I would share it here too.

Books become favorites for a myriad number of reasons: different tastes, life experiences and moods. So I'll preface my recommendation by saying I think that this book and author are my favorite because Willa Cather writes about the lives of pioneering plains people.  Her stories take place in wide open spaces; they are honest, unvarnished tales of those people: their celebrations and losses, and the friendships that span those events.  The  backdrop to this story is an agricultural one.  The underlying themes of planting, harvesting and honest labor – the kind that leaves dirt under your fingernails and guarantees restful sleep – feels familiar to me. 

The book is My Antonia, by Willa Cather. I loved it the first time I read it, about 15 years ago. And then read everything else written by her that I could find a copy of. I think it's the parallels between my upbringing and the backdrop to this story that make it feel like home. I grew up in the flat land of southern Illinois in a community of farming and mining families who were richer in friendship and life experiences than in material things.

The whole book is amazing. But the last two chapters get me every time. The thing that resonates most is the strength of character of Antonia and that she creates an indelible impression on, and bond with the people who have the opportunity to know her. I'm in love with the idea that the passage of time and loss of people doesn't necessarily diminish their presence in your life.

Below is my favorite excerpt from the book; it is a description of Antonia as told by her childhood friend – reacquainted after twenty years absence.
    “She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true.  I had not been mistaken.  She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions.
     It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight.  She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.”
-                                                                                                                                                                                                               -Willa Cather, My Antonia

You should run out and read this book.  I'm sure your library has a copy.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Friday, July 20, 2012

February Baby Sweater Ensemble

It's a finished project!  And in time for the baby shower. This little sweater was the third February baby sweater that I've knit.  My niece, my girlie and now my cousin's daughter will all have versions of this sweater.  I also just learned that a first cousin's baby is a first cousin once removed - thanks Kate! (Oh, and by the way, I think she's going to be a Kate too - funny coincidence.)

All we need now is a 6-12 month sized babe.
I knit this in Louet Gems fingering weight wool. If I had to estimate I would guess that the final sweater is a smallish 6-12 month size. The pattern directions and garment construction are really efficient.  There is nothing fussy about it. The sweater is knit from the neck down and the only seaming are the arm seams. It's also a great way to get started with lace if you are interested in that kind of thing. The lace pattern is a four row repeat and you purl across rows two and four = easy to memorize. It's raveled here.

The only oops on this project was using the remnants from one ball of yarn before adding the full skein of what I thought was the same dye lot. It turns out that it isn’t the same and, the color shift is noticeable if you know where to look.  After blocking and hanging over the patterned blouse it seems to be less noticeable.  I don't have enough yarn to fix the whole thing, so it is what it is.

Love, love, love covered buttons.

The blouse is a pattern by Liesl Gibson of Oliver + S called the Class Picnic Blouse blouse.  I'm crazy about this pattern.  The Small Fry has several versions of this blouse, it's so simple and pretty.  And I love that it doesn't require any buttons or zippers.

A little note about Oliver + S patterns: I am by no means an accomplished seamstress.  The basics, I can handle, but beyond that I'm out of my depth.  Liesl's patterns are beautifully written, and the quality of the patterns themselves is fantastic.  There is no newsprint or flimsy, filmy pattern paper.  The Oliver + S patterns are quality.  The attention to detail in the garment construction is really high also.  The neckline seam allowances are sewn down to facings, hems are carefully measured and sewn and the finished products really reflect that attention to detail. 

I completed the gift by purchasing a tiny pair of Gap jeans and an equally tiny pair of pink ballet flats.  The shoes for a baby are completely ridiculous, and I know that.  But even knowing full well that the likelihood that these will stay on or even be worn is terrible, I couldn't stop myself.  I'm a sucker for clothing in miniature... what can I say? Cheers friends, I hope you have great weekends!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pages and Paint – Week One

This post was really meant to tell you about my Pages and Paint week one, but it morphed into something more meandering...

Over the weekend, Sarah asked us each to carve out a little time - an hour or so - to do something inspiring, bring the sketchbook along and capture what we could.  Most of my weekend consisted of the normal catching up... laundry, grocery shopping and the like; but I did make some time with the sketchbook.  

The weekend creativity was centered around the Small Fry, not surprisingly.  It seems that her doll, the one she refers to as Naked Baby needed some clothing.  She's a favorite for taking on strolls around the neighborhood, and I'm getting a vibe from Belle, the super sitter, that it might be nice if Naked Baby had some clothes. Mind you, Naked Baby came with clothes but the Small Fry isn't fond of those clothes.  So we sketched a little pattern, dug up some fabric and Naked Baby is now sporting a skirt and shirt.  For the record, designing sleeves for a body with a 4-inch inseam and 10-inch waist holds no romance for me... so, sleeveless it was.

The sketch and my muses
The subject of my Pages and Paint assignment ended up being all about the time spent with the Small Fry and Naked Baby.  It involved the creation of a very simplistic pattern, some minor embroidery, an intermission (or two) for coloring and an audience of playmobil "guys". 

The sketching was really enjoyable, for both of us. It seems that my love for fresh sketchpads and uber sharp pencils has not waned since childhood. The Small Fry got her very own page and uber sharp pencil (requiring some supervision to prevent stabbing of inanimate objects or herself) and I sketched away for an hour or so. I unearthed an old Koh-i-noor Rapidomatic mechanical pencil that was loaded with 0.3 mm lead (be still my beating heart).  It is the sharpest and finest pencil ever, and it makes me want to draw miles of fine lines.

Closeup of my embroidery sketch

My sketch is too tight, I think.  Somehow I reverted back to near-technical illustration; I'm sure that pencil had some influence.  But this is my first attempt at drawing in years, and I'm kind of stymied by the idea of it. I'm hoping to loosen up over time.  Sarah's work is so sunny and ethereal, I'm not sure what she's going to think of me... but I'm hoping she won't give up entirely.

It was fun to get those creative juices flowing.  And although sketches of doll clothes and playmobil toys aren't likely to go down in the annals of history, we don't care.  We had a good time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The normal pace...

Things here in our corner of the world are moving along at the normal pace.  And it feels really good; this routine of ours.  I've got a good rhythm going at my job, my better half has hit a nice stride with his career, our babysitter, who began working with us at the beginning of summer has been nothing short of wonderful, and the small fry is a healthy, happy and funny toddler.  

I'm enjoying a few little luxuries this summer. The most recent is enrollment in a summer workshop – hosted by the lovely Squam team – called Pages and Paint, taught by Sarah Ahearn Bellemare.  It's all online (I've linked to the site here).  Sarah publishes to a  website every week day for five weeks and we (the students) all shoot off on our own parallel exercises.  It seems that we've got a class of over 100 people, and the experience levels, backgrounds and home locations are widely varied.  It should be really fun to see what people create.  I'll make a point to share my work here.

This is week one of the five week course, so I haven't actually made anything yet. We're starting with a sketchbook, some acrylic paint, and a collection of collage supplies.  I'm not much of a painter... so even if I only succeed in creating some sort of canvas bound mud pie (which is what I'm sort of anticipating), I'm going to try to relax and enjoy the project and the collective efforts of my classmates. This is my first foray into online classes, creative or otherwise... has anyone else ever tried something similar?

In the interim, I've been working up a few other little things.  I took a three day work trip to Arizona this week and managed to make some progress on a knitted sock.  Airport and hotel down-time is good for that.  It's nothing fancy, just ribbed cuff, flap heel and my favorite toe.  The yarn is my first opportunity to knit with Socks that Rock, and they do indeed.  The yarn is beautiful, colors aren't doing any super weird or distracting pooling, and the twist is tight and springy.  

Socks that Rock - Lissa Colorway

The weather has been pretty unforgiving here lately, so I haven't spent too much time making glass.  I did manage to assemble a few hand-made buttons; they were just waiting for backs to be added and that can be performed in the air-conditioned house.  Now they are all photographed and ready to go.  The best part of the use of ivory and turquoise glass together is this black outline or halo that is created when the two are combined. It makes it look like I have ultra fine motor skills to outline each detail, but it's all the glass doing the work.

Buttons – details here
Hope you're enjoying you're routine too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

February in July

It has been so hot here that we've been breaking record high temperatures. I only wish we could have a day or two of February weather... or at least an average of that and this. The only good way to enjoy the outdoors is to do so early in the morning or involve water somehow (and preferably not just the humidity-variety.) We cooled it at the pool on Independence Day, we run our errands en route to or from work and we've been watering the yard and garden like crazy in an effort to keep things alive, at least.

The advantage of all this indoor-ness is a spike in my creative productivity. I'm working on an Elizabeth Zimmerman February baby sweater. This is actually the third one I have knit; I love the pattern and finished product so much. The construction is simple and elegant. The lace pattern is easy to remember after the first few repeats and the finished garment is just darling. I think my favorite feature is the garter stitch yoke, button bands, cuffs and hem. It's the perfect compliment to the lace and adds just the right amount of heft to the garment to keep it from being fussy. This version is knit with Louet Gems fingering weight. The color is called Goldilocks; and it's been in my yarn stash forever. (Points for me for not using this as justification for buying more yarn...)

Baby Sweater on Two Needles

I had on hand a yard of floral print cotton that is pretty and reminds me, in a way, of a Liberty print. It does go perfectly with the yarn and I hope to make a dress to go with this little sweater. So in lieu of buying buttons and in anticipation of sewing a dress to match, I've covered buttons in that fabric.

All a work in progress

All of this is done in preparation for a new cousin. (The child of a first cousin is a second cousin right?) I can't wait to meet her... her parents are lovely and I think she will be given my grandmother's name, given those two things, I'm confident that she'll be nothing less than amazing. Until I have photos of both the dress and sweater, I'll leave you with some work in progress shots. If you're interested in the previous two EZ February baby sweaters, they are raveled here and here. Stay cool!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How and where to begin?

It's funny, this beginning a blog thing...  I've been avoiding this first post forever because I didn't know how to start.  The last few years, I have read a number of really beautiful, entertaining and creative blogs; and reading and getting to know those authors/people (in the virtual sense) has been fun and inspiring.  I've thought for awhile about starting my own.

My initial idea was to create a journal of sorts about the assortment of ongoing projects I always seem to be working on, but I wasn't sure if it was necessary to share that with the wilds of the Internet... and so I waited.

Then this summer, I had the good fortune to attend Squam Art Workshops in New Hampshire.  I had read about people's Squam experiences for  the last couple years, and was really intrigued.  So in January when registration opened, I did it. I sent off my application and got in. Squam was scheduled for June, and it felt like years away.  But before I knew it, it was time to fly to New Hampshire.

I was full of nervous excitement, and not just a little bit of uncertainty. I had never taken a solo vacation or been to a creative retreat, both of which felt really self indulgent. So off I went – alone – to this unfamiliar place, to attend creative workshops with people, who I was sure, would squash me in a creativity show down (although, that is not at all what Squam is about).  I had no luck finding any online presence for my room mate and had only brief encounters with some of my cabin mates via Ravelry.  In my head, I was a little afraid that my Midwestern self would be a square peg in the round hole of artsy-New-England-creative-retreat-culture. 

As it turned out, I wasn't, or maybe they were all square pegs too. Either way, it was amazing.  It was a fantastically beautiful place. We all had the opportunity to take classes with phenomenally talented teachers, to break from the regular pace and responsibilities of our normal routines and to make wonderful new friends.  I'll repeat that last one, I made some wonderful new friends. My room mate and cabin mates were perfect. The kind of people who seem familiar at first meeting, who you are almost instantly comfortable with.  And the common interests that brought us there accelerated the normal binding-together-of-people process into overdrive. Those friends and that experience kind of filled a gap that I didn't even realize that I had.  

The whole experience was grand; in the creative, campy,
laughter- and wine-filled-evenings sense.
And so back at home, when talking to my better-half about how to write my first blog post, he said "write about Squam, that's the most natural starting point."  And he's right. Going to Squam helped me realize that the process of making things is only part of the fun; that sharing those experiences makes it all that much better.  (I think he also hopes that this creative outlet/blog will relieve him of having to listen to all the gory details of my projects... but that's another issue.)  

I'm inspired by my new friends, and I hope this online space helps me keep the lines of communication open with those new friends and anyone else who's interested. 
So in the spirit of beginning as I intend to continue, below are photos of two of the projects I have ongoing.  

The first is an embroidery sampler I purchased from the talented and ever-smiling Rebecca Ringquist.  I didn't take her class, unfortunately.  Namely because I'm not much of an embroider-er-er-er, but I was drawn to her beautiful and eclectic booth at the art fair, and once home, could not stop working on it.  I love it, and my mind is swimming with ideas about trying to turn my own sketches in to something to embroider.

Paisley DIY Sampler

The second work in progress is a necklace I've just finished.  I had some time at the torch prior to our 100° heat wave (thankfully) and was successful in creating a good number of hollow glass beads.  I've paired them with a handmade "ribbon" and have put it up for sale here.  I've got a clutch of yellow beads done too, just begging for a similar treatment, but haven't found the right accompanying fabric... stay tuned.
double strand of handmade hollow glass beads 
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday!