Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thoughts For 2016

Each day I try to take time for study.  In the morning it's a great way to jump-start the day and always gives me something to focus on as I drive to work.  If I can't take time in the a.m., I try to get it done before I sleep.  It matters.  As I was reading this morning, I came across something that caught my attention and thought I'd share it with you-

 "T.S. Eliot once lamented the fact that vast accumulations of knowledge in his day had been responsible for creating “an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known,” he worried, “it becomes increasingly difficult to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.” 

Powerful words, particularly when we compare the even greater amount of information we have to process each day in our time to his.  If this was true in his day, it's even more so now.  I think in large part, we (including me) are part of an emotion-driven society.  Our politics are an example of this, as are the ways we deal with the poor among us or how we shop to seek ease for some hole in our lives. We are busy busy busy and have little time for introspection.  It has to be purposefully sought after. 

Whether driving or walking in the wild places of the world, I find the knots that tangle up inside of my spirit start to unwind and I can think and listen for inspiration.
After reading Eliot's quote, I have to ask myself if I'm living my life deliberately. Am I carefully making choices or allowing myself to be led around by societal trends that appeal to emotion instead of my reason? I think it's easy to get so busy that one can just skim along on the surface of life without taking time to stop and check the purposes for doing what we do.

On a trip earlier this week, the beauty of the day and place lifted my heart up to where it needed to be. 
As creative people we are particularly susceptible to this.  Our emotions are a large part of our creativity and expression.  However, just because what we create is partly a product of emotion, how we live should be driven by reason.  We need to find balance as we work, balance to help us keep an eye on what we are making, how we are making it and most importantly, why.  I believe self-awareness is  crucial to the quality of what we create and how we live.  Knowing where our motivation is coming from can help us determine whether we are on a path we really want to be on. I love the saying, "Don't let what you want right now get in the way of what you really want."  It's a great measuring stick in my life.

I finally had to stop the car and walk around awhile. I found myself relaxing and stress simply slipping off of my shoulders.

It's a good time of the year to re-assess and take time to think about where I am and where it will take me.  I need to simplify and check priorities and then set goals. And I'm looking forward to the process.  I need it.  This season belongs to soul searching.  Be safe and Happy New Year, friends!
I love New Mexico.  I love the amazing country and views.  The skies and light are ever inspiring to me, but only if I take the time to get out and allow it.  There has to be time in life for introspection if there is to be balance.  

Thanks for stopping by- Alice

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Brown Paper Book Block

Last week I started binding a new sketchbook. Today I finally had time to work on it again.  Starting a new project during the holidays isn't the best recipe for getting something finished in a timely manner.

The book block marked and ready to be pierced for the stitching holes
While sewing signatures together I've been thinking on how to make the cover.  Being made of grocery sacks, the book isn't exactly heirloom quality, but I keep thinking what a fun contrast it would make to bind it with a leather spine and a classy paper of some kind.

Laying the book block over a board helps hold the signatures together so the holes will be exact
On the other hand, binding the book with a recycled material would be a nice finish for this project as well.  Old maps or book pages with their text at an interesting angle would give it a 'shabby chic' sort of feeling.

The board I use to hold the signatures for piercing 
The possibilities are fun to think about.  Kind of like looking forward to a special treat at the end of a long day. Thinking it all over is as fun as doing the work.

The first signature laying against the linen supports which are taped to the edge of my table. Each signature will be sewn to the supports and the growing book block
With 72 pages in the book I'll have plenty of space for experiments on the brown paper.  I've been playing around with white, silver and gold gel pens on the scraps, along with calligraphy pens and Micron Pigma pens.  Charcoal or pastel pencils would be fun on the tone of the paper, too.
About half-way done sewing signatures together

The printing from the outsides of the paper bags covers some of the pages entirely.  I think I might put gesso on one or two of them to see how that works out.  Collage comes to mind as well...

The book block all sewn and ready to be bound into its cover. The linen supports will hold the pages firmly in the cover.
As you can tell, I am enjoying this little project.  It's not even finished yet and it's already a joyful thing.  I'll tuck it into the book press till I get the cover figured out.  In the meantime, I have no shortage of projects to work on.  Ideas are flowing in my head so fast this week that they are getting tangled up.  Amazing what a little break from work can do!

Thanks for stopping by- Alice

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Pencil by 53

Oh boy!  I got home from visiting family to find my new Pencil by 53 waiting for me in the mailbox. More exciting than finding the Chex party mix I had made- and forgot to take along on the trip- lying on the kitchen counter.  Pencil is in the charger getting ready for a late night and I'm sitting out in my studio trying to be patient while it happens.  Eating party mix. I can unpack tomorrow, right?
A little sketch of an old ladder-backed chair done with the Pencil, very smooth to use and feels right in the hand.

I've been looking up information about it and came across a couple of sites that already do a great job of unboxing and showing off the features it claims, so I'll save us both from going through all of that here.
The floor plan of a teeny little old house we looked at this weekend done on Paper with Pencil

2.5 hours later: Here's a little tip in case you decide you need this stylus for yourself: You can insert it into the charger upside-down.  I waited around quite awhile fretting that I'd gotten a faulty pencil and waiting for the little light to turn on.  Ahem, it turns out that right-side-up the pencil charges great.  It's me that might be faulty...  
Worked over with modifications added.  So easy to add and take away ideas as we think about  how to make a little house work for our needs.  Great app, fun tool.  53 has a couple of winners in Paper and Pencil.

The Pencil is fun to draw with and fun to use to take notes and works great to draw out little house plans, too.  Who can resist a new toy?  Certainly not me.  The mailman is the hero of the day again! 

Thanks for stopping by- Alice

Friday, December 25, 2015

More on Paper by 53

Merry Christmas!  I hope your day has been a sweet one. We are enjoying playing with our little people and visiting family. There has also been time to continue messing around with Paper on my iPad. I like this app enough to keep it around and use. Tossing my iPad mini and a stylus in my purse is certainly easier than carrying my travel art bag everywhere. 

One thing the app eliminates from doing watercolors away from home is- well, water!  The watercolor feature is remarkably similar to real paint. While I won't replace using my travel set with this, I'm seeing that it does have its useful applications. Airplane trips come to mind, as well as sitting in meetings. 

Pros of using Paper are- 
One drawing surface and one tool
Can mix my own colors
Images of my work can be stored and easily shared
If I don't like a section, it can be edited out
Can import photos to enhance a project- versatility

Cons are-
Learning to use a fat-ended stylus 
Tiny details are difficult to make (but not impossible)
Still seems to have a 'digital' look when I'm done

One useful cheat I've found is putting a photo on the page. Using the pen tool within the app, trace the shapes in the photo. I did this with a picture of our littlest person. 
After the picture was traced, I removed the photo and began to add color with the brush tool, mixing colors as I wanted them. One use for this feature that appeals to me is those times when I'm having trouble working out a drawing. Being able to take a picture of the problem shapes and trace over them could help me see where my mistakes are coming from. While I wouldn't want to use it as a crutch for drawing, there have been subjects in the past when this could have been a big help. 

To me, painting is just fun, digitally or with the real deal. Learning a new skill over my break has been relaxing, too. Hooray for relaxation!  Goodness knows I needed it. 

Thanks for stopping by- Alice

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Plain Brown Paper

Lately I've been wishing for a plain brown paper sketch book.  You can buy them, but from what I can tell, the paper is thin and won't hold up to a lot of working over.  What I want is a sketchbook made from the sort of brown paper I get at the grocery store.  Heavy, wrinkled, creased and rustic.
Charcoal on brown paper, a very satisfying combination

While in Tucson last week I went to Arizona Art Supply to look for one.  I was disappointed in the selection and quality of the paper in what books they had.  I guess there's not much demand for that sort of thing.  When we artist types are on the prowl for new supplies, if we are anything like me, we tend to look for new, crisp, shiny and exciting toys, not shabby worn out ones.  Of course, that's just my theory..
After being cut apart, the paper is still trying to hold the shape it had back when it was a grocery bag.

It occurred to me, as I was standing there- as if looking hard and long enough the perfect book would be there- that I could make the perfect book.  Duh.  I just wanted it now.  Not later.  A concept I have been trying to tame for over 50 years now.  With sad results, I might add.

After being ironed on the highest setting, the creases are still visible, but the paper is laying flat
So, I came home and dug out the brown paper sacks I hoard.  When I want to try out an idea, sometimes brown paper is just the vehicle for that process.  I have a thing for it.  At the grocery store I never take my own bags, I ask for paper ones instead-  fully aware that the cashier is looking at me like a tree-hating monster.  I don't care, it's great art paper and there is nowhere else to get it.

I cut each opened up bag into quarter, getting four sheets.  Each sheet will be folded in half, so I got 8 book pages per bag. 
The book binding process isn't a fast one.  It's a meditative one though, and I enjoy it.  When I have time for it, which hasn't been for the past 4 years.  The steps are coming back to me a bit at a time and I'm excited for the book to be finished.

Folded in half, ready to be stacked in signatures and cut to the right size
Just having it done to this point is giving me little thrills of anticipation.  I will most likely sleep with it a few nights, carry it around with me and savor it before the drawings begin to form in my mind.  That's all part of the fun!

The printing from the outside of the bag is part of what I like.  There will be pages with logos on them that I'll have to plan to incorporate or work around.  I like that.
This book isn't for a grade or to be looked at in my living room. (which wouldn't work anyway; I have 200-ish grandkids) It's for me.  Now there's a concept.  What fun!  A bonus of not worrying about getting famous so I can make a living from my art.

The signatures, trimmed and ready to be sewn together- calling my name!
Hopefully this book can get finished right after Christmas and all the festivities with our family are done.  In the meantime, there are kids to hug and food to be cooked and gifts to wrap.  I hope things are happy at your house.

Thanks for stopping by! Alice

Monday, December 21, 2015

Paper by 53

A whole week has gone by since I posted??  I swear, it felt like 6 months.  This week, I got through my first finals as a teacher, posting 315 student grades and the extreme excitement that goes through school the last few weeks before a break.  Without harming myself or anyone else.  It's a Christmas miracle.  Today is the first official day of break; the day I woke up and thought, "I don't have to go to work today!"  Who knew teaching school would suck the life right out of me?  Well, I guess teachers all over the earth could have told me that..

First try with it.  Wonky, but this app has great possibilities
However, while sitting in the recliner with my iPad, I began to play with a new app, Paper, by 53.  Awhile back I downloaded a few creative apps and played around with them. (see here for a post about digital sketching) While they were fun to dink around with, I didn't really get into the spirit of it for long.  Too many other things to do.  I've meant to get back to learning this but haven't had the time till this morning.

Thought I'd see what a zentangle would be like on Paper.  The tools made this quite enjoyable!  
This app is different than the others I played with, Sketchbook Express and Bamboo Paper.  It is very minimalistic, making the important part the project I'm working on, not the tools.  The watercolor brush tool and color mixing tool are easy to figure out, while the marks by the pencil tool look just like the mark a "real" pencil would make.  I enjoyed playing around with this one and have their cool new stylus, Pencil by 53 coming along from Amazon.  (Thank you, favorite daughter) I'll post more about it as I learn, but have to give this app and technique a tentative thumbs up.  If you have played around with it, or try it after reading this, I'd love to hear about your thoughts.

Thanks for stopping by! Alice

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hidden Treasures.. Sort of

When I come across articles about taking time to finish projects from days gone by I usually get a smug "I don't have any of those, thank goodness" feeling and turn the page.  Well, lo and behold, I do have any of them.  Three, to be exact:  Today I got all the way to the back of the cupboard I have been dreading. Everything I've ever woven and didn't know what to do with was there, along with my long-missing quilt frame clamps and a tiny vise I use when I'm in jewelry mode.  In the very back, folded and carefully tucked away were three projects I had completely forgotten.

My husband is a builder of houses and this thought from the Book of Job has always been a favorite with him.  
The first is a wall hanging I started to help me learn how to use acrylic inks on fabric.  I had fun plans for how to finish it. Before I could do that, we moved.  So, I folded it up and tucked it into the back of the cupboard so I would know where it was when I got my sewing machine set up.  Then promptly began a heavy semester of school and forgot all about it.

Now that I've found this, I'm going to have to finish it.  
The second is a quilt top I made for our bed.  It's lovely and bright and going to be so warm to sleep under- when we are 90- if I keep on it at this rate.  If I remember right, I couldn't decide whether to tie it or quilt it and set it aside while I decided.  I must still be deciding, because I had no idea that I even owned a quilt top.  Might be a good idea to see if I can hire someone to finish it and be done. I can tell myself I'll do it over my Christmas break, but I suspect I'd be lying.

Son number 4 and his wife are expecting their first baby this next year. Maybe this will be for them! 
The third is a baby quilt I started as a surprise when our first grandchild was announced.  After I was nearly done with it, our daughter mentioned she really hated heart designs and I quietly folded it up and put it away.  No matter that we've gotten 6 more granddaughters since then- the quilt has never been bound and used.  Why?  I have no idea.  My dog ate my momentum?

I had such a good time making this, how could I have forgotten all about it?  
So, now I have a trashed studio and three projects to give me guilt.  Isn't that nice?  I'd better get back to work and get this place finished.  So, dear readers, if you are avoiding something like this, take my advice and keep avoiding it!!  

Thanks for stopping by- Alice

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Even though the first prints I made were dark and wobbly, I am still interested in putting lino prints and watercolor together.  The idea fascinates me.  This evening I sat down with the print I made before and started to add color.  
Even though it's an even bigger mess after I re-activated the ink, I can see I'm going to love this look
First lesson of adding watercolor to a print: use waterproof ink!  As I began to lay in a wash, the ink picked right up, making any color I wanted to add a nice, dark grey.  I took a look at the tube with my glasses on and yep, it's marked "water soluble."  Genius.  
Idyllwild, linocut with watercolor, 12" x 12", 2015 by Matthew Wattlaufer

Artist Matthew Wattlaufer does some terrific work with prints and watercolor that I've been admiring.  I'll insert a link in case you'd like to look at more of his images. They're worth studying.  I have so much to learn about all of this.  For me, the most effective learning strategy is to roll up my sleeves and wade in.  Hopefully this learning technique will eventually get me where I want to be and not just all wet.   

Thanks for stopping by! Alice

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

An Artist is Resourceful

Well, I just got home from town, an hour and a half drive, with a car full of groceries to unload and put away, a long day of work behind me and a fresh(ish) Christmas tree to deal with.  With no idea where to find the tree stand and needles falling off right and left I got creative.

This is what we artistic types do, we think fast on our feet.  We may not be great at algebra, or in my case geography either, but we can think outside the box.  My tree is as happy as can be sitting there slurping up a cool drink while I put the groceries away, go to bed and maybe even to work tomorrow.  Poor thing doesn't seem to know the difference and I'm not going to tell it.

Carry on, you wonderful, creative people!

Thanks for stopping by- Alice

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lessons From a Mug of Chocolate

Now and then I manage to hit on a project for the kids at school that grabs their imaginations and looks terrific.  This past week the third graders have been working on large mugs of hot chocolate with oil pastels that are turning out so well.

Each piece is 12" x 18" 
The pictures give me a chance to teach about background and foreground and shape and color theory all in one go.  As I have been hanging them in the hall, it has been very fun to watch the staff stopping to look at them and hear their admiring comments.  The kids have done a job to be proud of.

Hanging all together in the hall as a 'collection', each piece sets off the one next to it, making a treat for the eyes.  They remind me of a color drawing class I took in Santa Fe a few years ago.  There were 6 of us in the class who really enjoyed working together.  We each had a distinctive style and when we'd come to the critique portion of each assignment, it was easy to know who had done which drawing just by their styles.  All very different, the works as a whole would always be very eye catching.  I loved that group and learned a lot from the association.

I have to admit, these pictures make me want to draw one, too.  The shapes, gorgeous color and all of the possibilities for patterns are tempting.  This looks like fun!

As I've been watching these develop, my thoughts have been going over how different each of us is and how unique our styles are as well.  There's not a wrong or right way to create, there is just mine or your way.  So often the art world seems to be at odds, fussing over things like realistic work vs. abstract or even what constitutes real art.  How silly it all is- who needs art police, anyway?  As individual as we each are, there is room for all who want to be here

 Thanks for stopping by! Alice


Monday, December 7, 2015


My husband and I have been talking about a smaller house.  A considerably smaller house.  We discuss the benefits of living in a small space, owning less and paying less for living expenses.  We've been talking floor plans and looking at clever space-saving ideas.  I'm all for it.  I look around the house and think of all the things we don't really use anymore since we aren't raising kids.  We could be comfortable with much less.  Let's do it!
I have made piles on my piles. I hate un-stacking piles of junk.  

Well... I say that till I walk out to the studio and look around.  I open the cabinet doors, slide out the drawers of my flat file and walk past the pile of paperwork needing filed on my desk and turn right back around and head inside.  How in the world will I reduce my studio from a separate and dedicated space to being part of a guest bedroom?  How badly do I want to simplify? Can I live without all this stuff?

The goal is to see if I can fit all that I need into one closet.  So far, the answer is 'no' but where there's a will, there's a way!
Last Saturday I came out to the studio with trash bags, a broom and the determination to sort through what I have out here and see if I really need all of this, um, treasure.  Of course, now the room looks like a bomb went off - I made a much larger mess than I intended to.  Since it's this bad already, I have no other choice than to do a complete sorting/cleaning.  Yuck.  I'd rather have my fingernails yanked out with pliers.

Here's what I found out in my trashing-the-studio-blitz:

  • I don't need stacks of cardboard sheets and boxes just in case someone wants me to mail them a painting.  Although the centipedes will be disappointed when that pile of cardboard burns, I may dance around it to celebrate their demise.  Who knew they had taken up residence there?
  • The odd sizes of picture frames I bought 7 years ago at Hobby Lobby clearance have not been needed yet, not even once.  If I haven't found them useful so far, chances are I won't.  Sigh...
  • The plethora of bags stuffed in the cupboard (which I wrote about a few days ago) are cool, but not something I need to cherish till my poor children inherit them and have to figure out where to stash them.  
  • Oil paints, brushes and primed boards are worth hanging onto; empty half-pint jars with odorless mineral spirits and sludge on their bottoms are not.  
I know I am not the only artist who can't seem to throw things away, but why do we do it?  The containers my mushrooms have come in for the past year are not treasures.  I haven't needed those suckers yet.  I think we hang on to junk just in case we will need it, forget we have it and then work around the piles of it because it becomes invisible to us.  How embarrassing.  I'm becoming an art supply hoarder.  The next thing you know I'll have 20 cats and hallways into the studio between neat stacks of empty cardboard boxes.  So, the answer is, yes.  Yes I can live without most of this stuff.  In fact, I will probably feel better with the piles all gone.  Hate this or no, it's time to buck up and do this thing.  Dang it.  

Thanks for stopping by! Alice

Friday, December 4, 2015

Gifts From Kids

If I had a nickel for every drawing a child has made for me in my life, I'd be a wealthy lady.  Raising kids, running a public library, becoming a grandmother and now teaching children at school I have received my share of art from children.  I usually kept it hanging around awhile till the giver forgot, then quietly tucked them into the 'round file.'  In my elementary classroom are dozens of pictures and notes expressing love for me- one of my favorites is addressed to 'misswedd.' They are hung on every spare surface-  I don't toss them lightly anymore.
A tarantula/scorpion, just for me!  

Over the years, I have come to believe when a child gives a gift, usually a rock, picture, feather or some other thing they have found or made, it's should be received with joy!  It's a compliment from a wide open heart.  A gift freely given with the intent to show love, the best kind of all.  I'm so lucky to be able to be the art teacher to the little people at my school.

Thanks for stopping by- Alice

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The First Print

A few weeks ago I began to cut into a piece of linoleum in hopes of learning printmaking enough to teach it at school.  You can see the start here.  Notice in the comment section mention of Alison's blog and after you've read this, go  see her images.  They are mostly paper cuts, but look like linoleum prints.  They inspired me.  You should check them out if this process interests you.

The linoleum all cut (to heck) and ready to begin inking
Of course I chose a difficult subject to begin with.  What else would I do?  The next one will be simple till I figure out how to handle the knives and 'see' in negative as I cut.

Instead of an old adobe building, I have a haunted house!! LOL
The idea that intrigues me the most is adding color to a print with watercolor after it dries.  That and using a (good) print I've made for a book cover or theme.   Boy do I have a lot to learn.  This medium is more difficult than it looks on Youtube, (duh) but is fascinating.  Must start again. Must start again...

Thanks for stopping by!  Alice

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Little Obsession

My daughter, artist Katie Kellogg, has a passion for all things tiny.  Even more so if she can make them. Obsessively.  She sent these photos to me so I could see how much fun she is having with teeny, tiny, little books.  Last week she couldn't sleep till she got her mini-spouse finished.  This week, it's books.  I guess it could be worse, she could be obsessed with petty larceny or psychedelic mushrooms!
Mini Spouse, having a nice afternoon with his new book

Honestly, I don't know where she gets this obsessive tendency.  Must be from her dad.  Really.

Cloth covers. Perfection
When the kids drop where they stand because somebody forgot to make them go to bed, there might be a focus issue!  The children, however, love it because they can get in on the creative action and by the time the fog clears there are mountains of cool new creations around the art room.  And kitchen and living room and.... well, you get the picture.
They need filled with teeny, tiny sketches...
In my art you don't see my sense of humor much.  I take it all too seriously.  In Katie's, though, there is a sense of whimsy.  A fun touch of irony.  Always there if you look for it.

"The Littles" comes to mind..
Of course, now I need one.  I hope she is reading this.  Why do tiny things give us so much pleasure? There is something charming about a book so little that you can't really use it for a practical purpose.

The end papers are as delicious as the covers
Whatever it is, these little art pieces make me smile.  There is a sense of joy in them.  So, on we go, making things, painting things, writing things and getting happiness in the process.  I hope you are doing the same.
With a quarter for perspective.  Love it.

Thanks for stopping by!