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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Renewal in the Garden

It's been a productive week for working on my books - both writing and illustrating - and today I finished my little painting for the weekend. But this time, instead of writing about any of that, I'm writing about the wonderful feeling of renewal that working in my garden gives me.

After working a few hours a day for the past three weeks, the garden is successfully 'tucked in.' 

The roses are pruned, the clippings are in the compost pile, the dead leaves are raked up and removed, and, best of all, they all have a new layer of about 3" of compost. Actually, it would be more accurate to say 'well-rotted horse manure' - the work of my sister's horse Merlin, the heat, cold, and rain, and all the worms and little microbes who've been so busy over the past year.

It's funny, but I get really enthusiastic shoveling that horse manure from the pile into the wheelbarrow, then out of the wheelbarrow and around the roses. The texture is perfect! And it feels like I'm putting a warm blanket around the bushes. 'Good night, little roses! Sleep tight and renew your strength for a spring, summer, and fall of beautiful blooms.

My next task with them will be to add epsom salts to the base of each bush when the new growth is about 2" long.

The chrysanthemums and dahlias are tucked into a deep layer of oak leaves. The dahlias are sleeping peacefully, but the mums just won't quit! When I cut them back in November and December, the new growth had already started. That's just the way the are! As you can see, the ducks and chicken (the black bird further back) approve.

Meanwhile, Merlin, whose area abuts the garden, is ignoring me. This would be quite different if the garden were green and I were pruning. In that case, he's have his nose pressed against the fence hoping for a treat. Rose blossoms are his favorite!

But I was going to write about renewal. Well, as I've mentioned, the plants are resting and renewing. But for me, every time I work in the garden is a renewal. There's always something different, even if only minutely so. Always work to do. Always the promise of things to come. It's soothing, and also inspiring to witness the strength of life.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Just Going For It

This is the third of my weekly just-for-fun paintings. They're acrylic, 8" x 10". My goal is to not think about it very much and not make a separate drawing first - to just go for it. And that's what I did with this one.

I looked through my old swipe file of magazine clippings collected over the years and found this little great horned owlet. The lighting really appealed to me. I decided to use black rather than white gesso, then lightly drew the owl with white charcoal pencil.

It had been a while since I last used my stencils so I got the file out, looked through it, and chose two. By the way, I made these stencils by drawing the black and white designs then creating the stencils on my Cricut machine - a handy little treasure that connects to your computer and maps the design into a cutting pattern, and, voila - a stencil!

There was not 'logical' reason for using the stencil - just wanted to. I used acrylics in two blue shades and one lavender and varied the color by pouncing my brush into the different colors before cleaning the brush. Also, working wet-in-wet blends the colors. If I were looking for a 'reason' for the stencil background, I guess I'd say the owl is against the backdrop of the tapestry of the night sky. The light blue dots could be interpreted as stars.

Here's the first layer. I included this photo because I wanted you to see how far I got with the initial painting session. And also to share a discovery. At this point, I needed to do a bit more drawing and picked up the white charcoal pencil. I liked the effect of the charcoal pencil over the paint! So I got out my pastel pencils and added quite a bit of detail. My plan was to spray the pastel pencil layer with workable fixatif. But when I did so, much of the pastel pencil detail was lost - perhaps dissolved. But it still showed some and I felt it was worthwhile.

From here, I added painted details, then dark blue washes around the edges of the background.

The finishing touch was a narrow 'frame' of glass bead gel over the entire edge, except not over where the owl touches the edge. I put the gel on with my fingertip. When the gel dried, it left the little glass bumps of the beads which I ran my finger - dipped in silver paint - over the tops of for a little sparkle.

This was definitely a for fun painting!

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A Frog's Take on Mindfulness

I'm working on the first draft of my sequel to Tales of Love and Courage from Milkweed Manor. It's called Dark Days at Milkweed Manor.

The frogs at Three Frogs Hollow are giving a pond party, and this excerpt is from conversation between the frogs and a party guest. I'm not sure what inspired this, but perhaps all the current references to 'mindfulness' had something to do with it. Enjoy!

The party was in full swing. The guests clumped in small groups enjoying the delicacies piled on their buffet plates as well as lively conversation. As Lucy, the younger muskrat, approached Burt and Buzz, two of the frog hosts, she realized they were earnestly discussing the benefits of mindlessness.

“Mindlessness? Don’t you mean ‘mindfulness?’” she queried.

“Oh, no, dear! It’s mindlessness that we find so beneficial,” Buzz asserted.

Lucy looked puzzled. “Well, what do you think mindlessness means? Perhaps I’m misinformed!” Lucy doubted she was confused, but it seemed a polite response.

“A state of mindlessness means that one minds less about things. That, of course, makes life more enjoyable!” answered Buzz, barely suppressing a roll of his bulging eyes.

“And what about ‘mindfulness?’”

Burt broke in. “Not good. When one’s mind is full there isn’t room left to think things through properly.”

“Good to know!.” Lucy graciously bowed her head slightly. “Oh, I see my friend has just arrived. Excuse me!”

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Logo - Maybe

I watched a video workshop by Kay Fabella on branding. I've never been clear on the concept, and now I'm less unclear!

Kay strongly advised creating a tag line, a logo, and selecting fonts and a color palette to use consistently.

To come up with the tag line I thought about the book I spent the better part of last year writing and illustrating, Tales of Love and Courage from Milkweed Manor. It's a collection of stories about a group of animals living in the forest behind an old English manor house. The characters aren't doing, saying, or thinking anything that people wouldn't do, say, or think, yet for me, they absolutely have to be animals. I wouldn't have been interested in writing the same book with people as the characters. Once I realized that, I needed to understand why.

Well, my main message is that animals are not different from (and certainly not less than) people in that we're all sentient beings with emotions, thoughts, aspirations, and connections with others. Hence the tag line, "A Wider Love - we're not alone."

Then I turned my attention to the logo. This image came to me pretty quickly - the heart, the woodland creatures, and the natural color palette. And, of course, the tag line. It was really fun to do and I'm especially happy with the job I did on the animals. But it seems pretty complex. And pretty large.

So now the question remains: What do I do with it?

One other thing I should pass on from Kay's video is her emphasis on consistency. The value of it is people know what to expect from me, and can recognize my work.

All in all, the video was valuable, and I'm sure I'll find something to do with my logo!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Fantasy Writer's Conundrum

As a visual artist as well as an author, I have a very difficult time writing a blog post without including at least one image. So here's one of the 34 illustrations I did for my book Tales of Love and Courage from Milkweed Manor. And it actually ties in to what I'm going to write about today, which is a conundrum in writing fantasy.

You can clearly tell I write fantasy by the apron on the hare as well as the cat and rat having a calm conversation.

Last year my sister bought me a wonderful book, Writing for Animals, an anthology of essays about writing in the voice or, and to advance the cause of animals. One of the essays (so sorry I can't remember which one it was and therefore the author) advised for writers of fantasy to add as many realistic details as possible so as to avoid stretching the reader's credulity too far.

I've been writing the sequel to my Milkweed book, Dark Days at Milkweed Manor, and last night I was working on the opening scenes of one of the stories. A hare and two rats are sitting on the fringe of a work site where large machines are scraping, digging, and gouging the earth. Tragically, the ground they're destroying was the home of these three animals as well as many others who have been killed or displaced.

When I woke up this morning, one of the first thoughts that came to mind was realizing hares don't live in burrows - they live in grass nests! So, surely, living in grass nests, the hares would have had plenty of time to escape. Oh, no! What to do?

If I left my writing as is, then I'd be in error about the way hares live. Even if most readers wouldn't catch the error, some would and I would always know it was there. On the other hand, if I write about the hares living in above-ground grass nests, the story as I've written it won't make sense. 

After some cogitation I decided to be as unspecific as I can while still leaving an impressions that the hares were in a position to be caught unawares. This may seem to be a small problem, but I'm glad I caught it!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

What Makes it All Worthwhile

Back in 2008 I put blood, sweat, and tears (figuratively, of course) into my third art instruction book, Drawing Birds with Colored Pencils. But it was really worth it. Not just because it did quite well on Amazon and, 12 years later, still is! But mostly because writing, illustrating, and finishing it was such a feeling of accomplishment.

And on the way, I learned quite a bit about birds. One of the things that amazes me most about them is how much they can express with body language even though:
they have rigid beaks so can't smile
they can't control individual wing or tail feathers so they can't use their 'arms' expressively
and their spines are fused from shoulder to hip, so no striking asymmetric poses!

But what I really want to tell you is an amazing thing that happened today. Let me preface by saying that although I have an Instagram account I haven't used it in close to a year. Today I was waiting in the truck for my sister to emerge from the grocery store and for lack of anything better to do, checked out Instagram. And there was an amazing post from a junior high school art teacher. She posted photos of the work of four of her students and explained they had been drawing birds from my book! Made me so happy!

I wish I could include the photos here, but I can't copy them off Facebook or Instagram. However, here is a photo I found on Google of someone's work with my book underneath. Sorry but I don't know the name of this artist.

And here are two of my drawing from the book. If you're interested, you can find the book on Amazon by clicking on the link to the right - the book cover illustration with the rat, hare, and crow.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Needle Felted Guinea Pig - Part 2

The last time I worked on this little guinea pig I had spent quite a bit of time building the form with core wool. So when I picked her up again I didn't have a whole lot more to do before I could start with the final colors.

Here's the finished product. Adding the colored wool increased the body size somewhat. I spent most of my time, though, on the head and face. The ears are wool felt. I cut the shapes then tacked them to the head with a large needle and thick (like carpet thread) thread. The final coat of wool also helps hold them in place.

The eyes are 6mm black glass beads. I really like using beads because the run the thread through one bead, through the head, through the other bead, back through the head, then tie the thread tight. This pull the eyes towards each other for a more realistic look. I thread each of the thread ends back onto the needle, run the needle through the head again, and clip the thread close to hide the thread ends.

I used chalk cakes and a small brush to add a bit of blush to her cheeks and a dark brown edge to her ears.

It's hard for me to resist adding something more, so I found two lengths of pretty organza ribbon and gave her a nice bow. For the final tough, I dabbed dots of glitter glue here and there on the ribbon.

This little one doesn't have a name yet. That will be up to my sister when I give this to her for her birthday!