Cartwheels

I recall, as a child, having no doubt that I could successfully perform a cartwheel. I didn’t analyze the chances or consider all possible scenarios. Nor did I fret about potential injuries. I just ran and did a cartwheel. When I landed, it took a moment for a tiny dizziness to pass; to get my bearings (oh, I said “bear”-ings). Thinking about it, I’m suddenly flooded with other memories about the cartwheel. I was with other people. Other children. We were all doing cartwheels and laughing. It was summer and the air smelled of fresh cut grass, made even more fragrant by the sunshine. I can almost hear all the birds watching from the branches of the maple tree down by the sidewalk, having a whole twittery kind of conversation about the craziness going on in the yard below. My sense of touch is remembering the feel of the blades of grass and the softness of clover, the dampness of the soil beneath, my sun-warmed hair, and the feel of a drop of sweat trickling down my face.

Its a good memory; a sweet memory.

Dance then wherever you may be

Don’t wait for this or that to be finished. Don’t wait until all your chores are done or all your ducks are in a row. Just in case more ducks get out of the row or more chores replace the old ones…dance now. Dance wherever you may be and whatever may be happening in your life. And…to be even more courageous, dance in spite of everything. Dance when you are in the midst of terrible tribulations. Dance your heart out! Lets dance together. Ready? One and a two and a…(whispers) dance.

I Made Pudding…reposted from my old website “Travels With Einstein”

Grey Nomad

I’ve been a nomad for the past three years; a grey nomad. Traveling the country in a travel trailer and then a motorhome. It was a glorious time and it was shared by Einstein, my Golden Retriever. The words that follow are from my travel blog. I’m not a nomad right now, but who knows. I have wanderlust and it remains to be seen whether or not I can be content with life on firm foundation.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

By Dylan Thomas

Keeping in touch through social media

I read on Facebook about the special moments my children are experiencing with their children…memories they are living right now and that they will cherish always. As I read I remember my own times like that. There were achievements, performances, events where I witnessed them coming into their own, shaping themselves, living in the moment. I guess I long to have that all back…but it is gone and done. If I had lived just a generation earlier, I would be retired from a job, collecting a small pension, and sitting on the front porch waiting for something…I don’t know what. Life would belong to the young.

But I made pudding today..

I’ve asked no one to take this journey with me. In fact, I’ve intentionally needed to take it alone. I have needed quiet time to sit and reflect on what came before and what might come after. I want to think about how all the things I’ve done and experienced fit into what’s left of my time on the earth. When I drive along in the RV, miles of road before me, I want to see that road with my own eyes and feelings and impressions.

Whether I am able to muster up the courage to speak to a stranger, ask questions, ask advise, find out how their own path has gone out here on the road or behind the cash register or that counter…I want it to be because I wanted it. Right now I don’t want to consider anyone else’s opinion. I want to fit it all together by myself. When I come to an intersection, even if I had a plan at the start of the day, I want the freedom to change my mind and go left instead of right.

I’m ever mindful of the lessening of days in my life. Little aches and pains niggle at my mind and body, never letting me forget. This is my time and I’m letting it fall upon me quietly or loudly.

So today, on this Tuesday, I made pudding…because I wanted to.

Art (and life) – The Point Where Trust Comes In

When I begin, with my mind I see a masterpiece, but with my heart I see a dose of fear. No matter how many pieces of art I create, when it comes right down to it, I’m afraid this time I’ll fail. There have been small pockets of time when I’ve had art in galleries or perhaps in a competition. For the most part, however, I’ve been a quiet artist; keeping it to myself. Art is a language that I’m still learning to speak. I believe in my art and never feel I’ve learned all there is to know about it. Perhaps the reason I haven’t mastered it is because I keep interrupting myself, getting off track, or giving up because its too hard. I want it badly so I can never turn away from it for very long.

Because I never create two identical pieces of art, each one is ground breaking. Each one is yet another learning experience. If my reason for creating it isn’t firmly set, I’ll never complete the piece. I won’t have the discipline to set out on the journey of creating something out of nothing, of sticking with it even when I doubt myself or the message I’m trying to express.

I sit down, take up my tools and begin to sketch something out. A portrait needs to resemble the subject and capture their essence; their character. The sketch itself needs to lay down the bones of the project. Filling them in won’t lead to a very good likeness if those lines weren’t laid down just so in the first place. Each and every project I do is a very first time to do that particular project. I can’t look up how I did it last time. There is no last time. Maybe this, I tell myself, will be the one I don’t get right. Maybe it will be the one that makes me give up.

I’m currently reading a book called Bird By Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. She says pretty much the same thing about writing. In a writing project, we bring with us high expectations and aspirations. We give up when we see its going to be harder or take more time than we ever dreamed. Her book, so far, is about how to keep going…and why.

Colored Pencil – who would have guessed it could tell the story so well?

I’ve done a few colored pencil pieces over the years, but each one stretches my ability. The first few were for a children’s book, but the author lost interest, so the book was put aside. I did those first pieces on a paper called “mi tiente’s”, made by Canson. Working on black paper means a whole new way of working with colored pencil.

To get fine detail, you have to keep your pencil as sharp as it can possibly be. The tip needs to get down into those pits of the paper. Paper might look smooth, but it has tiny pockets that are just big enough for a very sharp pencil point. A microscopic view of anything at all reveals miniscule pockets and textures on pretty much everything in the world. Even marble under a microscope has craters in it’s surface.

Small light-pressured circles

I work in very small circles with my pencil, keeping the pressure as light as I can. My dad taught me to do that when I was a child. If you use back and forth lines the overlap of the pencil will show.

The square on the left was done with quick strokes, though with consistent pressure. You can see where each section overlaps the previous one. You can see where the colored pencil didn’t go with quick side to side strokes with a light touch.

The middle square was done with more pressure, a frequently sharpened pencil, but still back and forth strokes. The overlaps are still visible, but perhaps not as much. The holes of texture are there, but the increased pressure of the pencil filled some of them in. You applied so much pressure that it will be more difficult to add more layers, such as a different color. These pencils are wax based. The more layers you apply, the harder you press, the shinier the surface and then future layers will just not stick. Your pencil will slide across this shiny surface like a skater on ice.

Keeping a sharp point using one of these

The third example on the paper is a small circle. I wanted to move on, so only did enough to make my point. I sharpened the pencil to a needle sharp point. I held the pencil as upright as I could so the point would go into the pits in the paper. I then made very tiny circles with a light and even pressure. It filled more of the pits, is consistent looking, and there are no overlapping lines. I am in complete control. The added benefit is that its so light that I can add several more layers before reaching a stopping point. Don’t lose heart. There are ways to get around not being able to add more pigment.

Sketch the piece and then begin adding a base layer

For this project I started with an overall light layering of color. Next I’ll begin to work in other color areas, smoothing them together. In the piece above, I started with an almost white pencil, which was the lightest color in her face. I got impatient and began adding warm colors where they were needed. It didn’t ruin the piece, but I realized the lightest color was too light, making her look ghost-like.

If you look very closely at a colored pencil drawing, you can see the little pockets. The black line down the right side is the edge of another piece of black paper. It protects the project from the oils that are naturally in my skin. I can rest my hand on the extra piece of paper..

The lumpy spots you see in the image are tiny bits of the waxy material the pencil is made of. When you step away from the image, it appears all is well and its lovely. Shining a bright light on the work emphasizes the shininess and it will appear like a whole different work.

Fixatives, Knives, Erasers, and Pencil Sharpeners to Keep the Project Moving

You can spray a workable fixative that allows you to add more layers to the project.

Following the directions on the can, I was able to continue working on the Blue Crab.

I’ve learned to use the very tip of the blade to gently scrape at tiny sections. It removes the waxy buildup of the pencil. You must only do this in small areas. If you’re not careful, you can ruin the paper AND the project.

Another thing I do from is to use a small eraser pencil to remove a small area of pigment. After that I can usually rework that area to my liking. I use the eraser on the right for larger areas.

Oh no! Am I losing control of the project?

As I work, adding colors and getting my values correct, I take chances. A choice might look horrible, even gruesome. Sometimes I erase the risky color. However, I find that if I step away from the piece, I may feel differently about it later on. I might take a nap (I love naps!), a break to run an errand or do something entirely different. When I return, I see it with fresh eyes. There may be obvious things to correct, but some things I hadn’t liked earlier, I now like.

Yet another option is to keep going. Perhaps its the color or one eye could be shaped wrong or too large. Maybe it’s in the wrong place or slanted incorrectly. Maybe the lips are all wrong in the way I rendered them.

Art is about using your eyes to really see the thing you’re trying to work from. If you’re working on the eye and it just doesn’t seem right, you may be doing something I call “prejudice”. You look at the subject and say to yourself, “Oh, I know how to draw an eye, because all eyes alike (not so, but you’re brain is trying to mess with you, get you off the hook). You immediately begin drawing without really looking at the subject. Every eye IS different and the left eye might be slightly different than the right eye. You can’t assume they all look the same. Look. Really look. Look at the slant of the lid, the shadows and highlights, etc. Make the eye THAT person’s eye and not some generic eye. also remember that faces are not usually symmetrical. One ear may be lower than the other or an eye lower or less open. Again, look at the subject. Observe. Learn to really “see”.

Its time to begin trusting

I do spot checks on the dimensions and sizes. Everything seems drawn correctly. I just keep going. I’ve learned that this is where I have to trust…to have faith in the project and in my skills.

This piece is far from over. I wish I could sit and work on it far longer. I grow tired when I work with colored pencil. It takes a lot of concentration. I’m making tiny circles with such light pressure I’m not always sure my pencil is even touching the paper. Covering a small area with that first coat can take several hours. You might begin to wonder why you took on this project. Don’t give up. Projects done using colored pencil will be around for a very long time. Maybe for centuries. They may likely outlast the most famous oil paintings. The surface of a painting will eventually dry as it ages and tiny cracks will appear. Surfaces done in colored pencil do not dry out and crack..

Taking risks and trying what seem like an unlikely color combinations can drain my energy a bit as well. Its as if I’m holding my breath when I experiment with colors. Yet color can add so much life to the subject. I have a large selection of colored pencils are various “flesh” colors. Yet, the shadows in a face or a hand aren’t only those flesh colors. The shadow side of a face can have a bit of violet or blue in it. Colored pencils don’t come in an infinite number of colors. With watercolor, I can simply combine colors to make exactly what I want. Colored pencil doesn’t work that way.

Mending the Sales – Watercolor

Yet look at all the colors I used in the shadows of this painting. I feel it brings life to the work; to those shadows, to the subject.

Why am I using wax-based colored pencils here?

Before choosing what medium to use for these projects, I tested wax based pencils, oil based pencils, and pastel pencils. I thought the oil based pencils would be my choice. They have a softer look and, by dipping the tip into mineral spirits you can blend the pigments. I thought pastel pencils might be good for applying color to large areas. Some of my choices are based on the surface I’m using. If I were using white paper, I could have laid down a layer of watercolor to get my base coat. I’m using a Canson Black Art Board and watercolor as the first layer didn’t seem practical against the black surface.

I admit that I went into this project thinking it would be small and completed quickly. I envisioned it taking eight hours or less to complete. The one project below took eight hours of work. However, that piece ended up being maybe only three inches high and two inches wide. The piece above is 8 x 10.5 inches. Capturing the likeness of two people is different from capturing the likeness of a pet.

Maybe it was just the pressure of meeting my client’s expectations. When they send me a photo to work from, its usually a photo that was taken a while ago. When they see the finished art, they’re thinking of what the person is like right now. The dog below looked basically the same at one year as he did at ten years.

Final stages and different lighting conditions for the photographs

When I took the photographs below, the lighting varied, changing the look of the art noticeably. I’m happy to say that the in-life version far exceeded my expectations. I was proud to sign my name and put it in the mail to my client. I learned a lot from this project and future projects will now include a bit less doubt on my part.

Trust?

The trust comes in where I try a color (perhaps a shadow) or leave out the background. I think its looking like a disaster; that I need to throw it out and start all over again. If I just keep going, taking breaks from it, not giving up, I suddenly find that I’ve crossed a threshold. I’ve gotten to the other side of “NO! This isn’t working!” to “Hey! Its looking really good!” Don’t give up. The beginning is always the hard part. You’re not into the project yet. Keep going. You’ll find yourself owning it and looking forward to continuing. You’ll look forward to more projects using the same techniques you just developed. So please…don’t give up!

Merry Christmas!

A Buffet of Christmases

I recall those, when as a child, no matter how much or how little was under the tree, it was wondrous. I often knew that my gifts were second hand things that had perhaps belonged to a neighbor child. I didn’t care. It was a fine gift. Even though we had a coal furnace, like many others in our small town, it didn’t bother me at all. The snow being on the ground the entire winter, only marked by thin layers of black soot between the different snowfalls was just a fact of life in Marlboro. Winter was cold. Everyone knew that who lived there. We had snow. We wore gloves and boots and we built an occasional snowman. We visited friends on Christmas day and they visited us. We enjoyed seeing the coloring books and crayons, dolls, games, tea sets or dump trucks that everyone had displayed under the tree. They remained there until New Year’s Day, when at last they were incorporated into each person’s collection. It was fun to lay on the floor by the tree when the presents were still unopened; to imagine what each colorful package concealed. Once they were open, it was fun to lay and look and at our treasures, picking out which one to play with next.

There was one Christmas where we had our first artificial tree. It was given to us by a co-worker of my mom. It was white and sat on a turn-table. As the tree slowly turned, a multicolored film rotated over a light bulb, casting various colors on the white of the tree, making it look magical. There were no presents under the tree that year and by New Year’s day my family had been evicted and we were homeless. It was a hard time. I don’t know how my parents felt, but I cried quite a bit. I didn’t know what was going to become of us.

Other Christmases brought very good memories and much promise of a bright year to follow. On Christmas mornings, I knew that my own children were each in their bed, tearing into the little wrapped presents in their stockings, which appeared at the foot of their beds sometime in the wee hours of the morning. It gave them something to do until it was time to go out and see the tree. To this day I don’t know if my children ever snuck out to see the tree before morning. That’s okay. I loved watching my children open their presents. It was among the very best of all memories in my life, recalling their faces and their glowing cheeks. I tucked every moment in my heart.

Other Christmas mornings have been spent with grandchildren, who glow with delight, just as much as their parents did as children.

This Christmas is different yet again. Its just around the corner. Over the past two years I’ve made some small ornaments to hang on a very small tree. Last Christmas they hung on the tree at my friend Reen’s house when I was there to house sit for the winter The year before they were on a very tiny little tree in my Winnebago motorhome.

I think these are my favorite ornaments. When I was a child we had the beautiful glass ornaments. Each year when we put up the tree, I got to hang my favorite ornament, which was the smallest one of them all. It was mostly a gentle blue and matte gold. I think it had tiny flecks of glitter on parts of it. The ornaments that I made over the past two winters have been fun to make and I’ve left at least one with each person I visited. I hope to make at least one this year. I’m trying to finish up some portraits. There are nine people in the three portraits and I’ve been working on them since October. I need to finish two of them before Christmas and it has been time-consuming. I’m a perfectionist about portraits. At this final stage of each I’m restless. I know I need to give my eyes a break and it helps to step away for a while. When I do that, I return and always see some small thing that needs changing. I don’t see it if I stare and stare. Anyways, I’m determined to finish them both in the next two days, so I’ve not been working on anything else. Once I’m finished, I can make some ornaments.

This year I’m going through a divorce or rather I’m being divorced. Everyone in my life has their own “people” and I haven’t met anyone here in York…my new hometown. I’m in my first apartment and I can’t explain how wonderful that is. I’m grateful for the people who have given me a place to stay over the past year, but its really nice to have my own place now. I don’t have a television, but I did watch “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye last night. I saw that it has been playing at the Apella Center a couple blocks from here. I think it was playing three evenings a week and the cost was $10. I got kind of excited about the chance to see it on the big screen. I took a picture of the poster with my cell phone when I was out for a walk. I wanted to look it up online and see if there were any showings that weren’t sold out. When I’d walked by on that particular day, there was a sign on the ticket booth window saying that evening’s show was sold out. When I looked it up online, there was a message stating that due to the increased COVID-19 cases of late, all remaining shows were cancelled by order of the governor of Pennsylvania. It made me sad…that COVID would take even that away. I do understand though. So I made some popcorn and watched it on my laptop.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to have a Christmas tree this year. One reason is because I’m not sure where I’ll be for future Christmases. It might be here, but it might be in an apartment somewhere else. It also might be in a travel trailer. If its a travel trailer, then I’ve already got too many belongings. I had it down to a couple of suitcases and about six small boxes of belongings. I won’t need a Christmas tree that’s more than about eighteen inches high in a travel trailer…if that’s the route I take. Also, because of COVID no one can come to visit, so no one would even see it but me. No one will be able to share a meal with me. Restaurants will be closed. No one will sing carols with me and I’m not bold enough to walk the halls of my apartment building singing “Silent Night, Holy Night”. I’ve gotten bolder, but I’m not that bold…yet. I’m not going to make a Christmas dinner. I made a Thanksgiving dinner, though an abbreviated version, and had leftovers for far too long. I’m going to try and come up with something else to do; make new traditions for my new life. Maybe I’ll make fudge instead of turkey or ham. After all I have my candy thermometer now. I might even have the ingredients for it. I have the stuff to make Toll House cookies, too. I’d like to go for a walk on Christmas day. I’m one block from the historic district. Everything will be closed, but it would still be nice.

One new tradition is the concert that I heard earlier today. At noon, for thirty minutes, the train whistle outside my apartment (see there’s good about living right next to a train track!) played Christmas carols. I can only imagine how difficult that was to do. Here is “The First Noel” performed at noon today, outside my window, set to some of my favorite pictures.

I took the pictures at the top of the post with my cell phone and an app that imitates an old photo booth. Some days, I’m so giddy about having a place of my own and freedoms that I’ve never had before that I am just fine with making funny faces. I am bold enough for that.

Merry Christmas to you all. May these last days of 2020 be the very last days of the fear it brought us…and the precursor of a year of great joy as we reach out to shake hands with someone…anyone.

Place Holder!

…for my ramblings about a couple of things. I wrote all the serious, griping parts down. Now to make up some interesting illustrations to go with the words. I haven’t time right now, so I’ll let this be a place holder.

The Usefulness of Color Swatches

Art Application

A tube of watercolor can last me for years. Even if the tube seems completely dried up or I can’t get the lid off…its still useful. I just cut open the tube and I can dump the chunks of paint onto a spot on my pallet. Dab it with some water and its as good as new. The paints on my pallet stay there for a long time and become hardened. Same thing though. Dab with water and good as new. If you’ve done watercolor, you know this. But if you’re thinking about doing watercolor, this is a pro. Paints are expensive, but they never need to be tossed out.

I’ve made a video about color swatches. When my instructors taught me to make them, I had no idea why I was doing it. Now I know. Watch and see.

Life Application

I honestly can’t come up with one. I do like seeing the papers with the swatches. I suppose I could frame them or have them laying somewhere. They look cheerful. I’ll have to give this some thought.

Using Masking Fluid/Frisket

Art Application

This is a video I made quite a while ago, but the technique remains the same. Its ten minutes and twenty-three seconds long. I also address how to rinse your brushes and how to clean them.

Life Application

Sometimes I wish I could apply masking fluid to a situation in my life, paint over it, remove the mask, and see that the situation was not as bad as it had first appeared. Frisket/mask does not erase anything. It just keeps a spot from taking on color, taking on change you don’t want. It sort of preserves what is underneath so you have a fresh chance to do what you need to do.

What kinds of things can you do in your life to keep a situation from permanently changing your life? A good night’s sleep? A cup of hot tea? A walk? Talking with a friend? What other things could you do?

Bears At Play

The Desk and the Bear

The little bear is me. Its me before I turned left when I should have gone right. The one who wrote stories about Barbie and Ken in books I made with folded sheets of notebook paper. I can see myself sitting at the desk in my room; that wonderful desk that could be a playhouse with a blanket thrown over top, a place to escape into writing and drawing. I don’t know how long that desk was there or why it was there, but it changed me for all time and remains a lifeline that links me to that best of who I was. The desk is long gone, though I think that if I search long enough I might find something like it. I have seen one like it on the internet, but it is now worth over a thousand dollars.

When you pull out the drawer, it has a lid; a writing surface. It can be folded up away, revealing a storage area underneath. Somehow, I believed that what was stored in that compartment under the writing surface was hidden from everyone. A secret place. I’m sure it wasn’t, but I believed it; wanted it to be. On the rear side of that writing surface were slots for pencils to lay and a round hole for an ink well. Can you imagine. It was like a magical desk. To me, the desk was huge.

So!

The bears are the me that was, but she’s coming back to life. In my journey to create myself anew, I’m not discarding all that I was. I’m keeping the best parts. The bear parts, I guess. Some parts of me are still a child, filled with wonder, dreams, and much hope.

I am Ren. Pleased to meet you.

Potato Picker 1 – watercolor on Bainbridge Alpharag Board

I came across this painting tonight. Its in my leather portfolio case. It was framed and hung on my studio wall in a previous location. It hung there for years and years. The frame was a metal frame, the color of her apron. During all the many moves in my life, the frame got scratched. It was a custom size and would be expensive to replace. It wasn’t in inches. It was in centimeters. When we were stationed in Germany, I found the photo of two women, potato pickers, from right there in my village. I wrote to the photographer and got his permission to paint from the photo. I decided I would put each of the two women in their own painting.

The painting above is, by far, my favorite. I can’t part with it. It isn’t just a painting. Its an experience. The board I painted it on had a thin coat of something (sizing, I imagine) on it that caused the pigment to lay on the surface and dry, looking rich and alive. It was an experiment and something told me it would be amazing. I took photos of each step of the way. Painting it was almost a sensual experience. The brush laid the paint down as if it couldn’t help it; as if compelled to create a masterpiece. I’d say it was even as if the painting was already done and the board and brush and paint knew what it was to become and they performed a symphony of color, shadow, and light. Every brush stroke went down as if it was already there and the brush was just painting water over it to bring it to life. I’ve never experienced anything like it again. It was my only piece of board like that. I don’t know if its even made anymore.

mi teintes paper

I say all this because I have found an art board made by mi teintes. I have used papers by the same company. The example is one I did on a gray mi teintes paper. When I went to the store to purchase some black art board, I saw the white art board that is made to take watercolor. I’m excited to try it. One piece was approximately $6 and when the cashier handled it, I was so afraid she’d get oils from her fingers on it. She didn’t realize the significance of that. Do you?

I long to try it out. Not yet, however. I have three commissions to finish before Christmas. If I were to sit down and just get them done, it wouldn’t take long. They happen to be quite difficult. Three pieces, each containing numerous people. The pressure is on. I find myself working for a few minutes on the faces and needing to leap up from my chair and pace. I suddenly feel the urge to wash dishes or sweep the floor. Anything. I long to do anything at all, except work on that face.

Something to look forward to

When the three commissions are completed, I’ll get out the white watercolor board and see what I can come up with. Maybe by then I’ll have some idea what the subject needs to be. Is it like a carving, where the whole process is just releasing the thing trapped within the wood? Or like the painting of the the woman picking potatoes? I don’t know.