Miraculously, I managed to complete this week’s Life Book lesson before the weekend. It was one of Tamara Laporte’s lessons on illustrations and whimsical characters, in this case an animal character. I had to improvise with the media used and opted for watercolour and collage. I went a bit too crazy with the background but I think I just about get away with it. My chosen animal was a pig simply because I really like pigs. It isn’t totemic, some sort of spirit animal, but just because I think pigs are smart and adorable. I added wings for an additional touch of whimsy.
This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to use a hand on the page. Well pants! I used my hand shapes a few weeks ago in a different journal page. My challenge, therefore, was to come up with a quick, easy, simple idea that neither duplicated or echoed the page I had created before – or any other journal pages where I had used my hand as inspiration. Since the previous page had started with my hand shape and built up from there – using masses of colourful dots – I had the idea of doing the reverse and starting with the hand silhouette and peeling away a layer. Skeleton hand! I have a bit of a thing for (not anatomically correct) skeleton drawings at the moment so I was enthused by the idea.
I had to create a background for my page. Wanting a bit of a macabre feel for the skeleton hand, I opted for a red and green colour scheme, connotations of flesh, blood, putrefaction, and decay. Having so recently had such a sucky result from using my gelli plate, I decided to give it another whirl and see if I could get a better result. This time I used my miniature gelli-plate in the hopes it would provide me with a bit more control over the placement, slow me down a bit, and make me think. I used it to build up a patchwork of red and green rectangles. The red and green looked a bit bogging together but that was, after all, part of the point and the feel I was aiming for.
When it came to the hand, I drew around my own hand and filled it in with black acrylic paint. I used Dylusions paint as I find that black gives a really rich black, smooth, velvety finish which is ideal for drawing on top of. Once that was dry, it was just a case of using a white paint pen to draw in the bones. I had a quick glance at a photo of a skeletal hand but clearly did not make my drawing anatomically correct.
This week’s Art Journal Adventure offered a prompt that simultaneously served as a suggestion for overcoming the intimidation of a blank page and that was to use text pages as a starting point, a first layer. Fear of the blank page is not something I find to be a struggle; my challenge is always finding the time for art and adequate time to develop something to completion, even in my art journal. I have, therefore, been trying to follow the advice of Sue Clancy and her method of working in short bursts. I usually try to find a block of 15-20 minutes minimum in which to have a short burst of art time but some weeks I have to work in even shorter gobbets of time. What I am finding is that even micro bursts are effective in keeping creativity flowing and stopping the art muscles seizing up from rust.
This art journal page, therefore, was built up over three very short bursts. In the first, I quickly adhered some dictionary pages to the page in my journal. That took somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes – however long it took for a pot of pasta to boil. The second burst was under 5 minutes and that was drawing myself as a Book Worm. The final burst was probably ten minutes in which I added the colour using a variety of media. The resulting page is simple but I think it is fun. Had I decided that I needed 25 minutes to create this journal page, I never would have found the time last week; however, by finding small pockets of free time here and there throughout the week, I was able to gradually build the page up so long as I kept it simple.
As indicated, this is a self-portrait of myself as a book worm. I have always loved books. Some of my happiest childhood memories are of poring through books in the library and making my selections. I once ended up in hospital with a concussion because of reading: I was walking in Edinburgh with my nose in a book when I walked at full speed into a concrete lamppost. I was always a voracious reader who could gobble up a several books in a week. Even when I was teaching High School and was incredibly busy with little free time, I could read a book a week. In the past decade, however, the rate at which I can consume books has tapered off. I still read daily but not for the duration I was once able to. Nevertheless, since reading remains one of my favourite pastimes, I still think I qualify as a Book Worm.
When we emigrated to America in 2013, one of the things I was excited about regarding our new location was the access to the theatre. We were in the suburbs of Philadelphia which gets lots of touring productions of big shows in addition to its in-house theatrical companies and we are an easy day trip away from New York city. Ultimately, however, we have not been able to take advantage to all of these theatrical opportunities. The thing that has thwarted us is the cost. Even for the touring productions, the ticket prices are too far out of our budget – especially since, of course, we need six tickets. Some day I hope we can go as a family to take in a Broadway show but for now, pity though it may be, that is out of reach.
We, therefore, have been looking at local, regional theatre. When we saw that the Bristol Riverside Theatre had a production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, we leaped at the chance to take the kids to see it. Mr Pict and I both love musicals and, though I am not generally a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work, I have loved ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ since I was a child and would borrow the vinyl album from the library. Mr Pict and I can both sing all of the lyrics of the rock opera from beginning to end, we know it so well. In addition to wanting the kids to experience a musical they know well live on stage, it felt like a very relevant musical to take the kids to see given that one of its most prominent themes is political activism and fighting for an agenda you believe in in adverse, hostile circumstances.
We arrived early to pick up the tickets from the box office and that was ideal as it then afforded the kids the opportunity to burn off energy just outside the theatre before we took our seats.
We were blown away by the production. From the instant the actor playing Judas starting singing the first song, we knew it was going to be a great experience. Every single actor was fantastic, giving dynamic, emotional performances and belting out songs with really strong voices. As with the other productions of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ that I have seen live, the staging was minimalist but very effective. Costuming was contemporary, with Jesus something of a hipster being followed by trendy believers with selfie sticks. There were sly but not overbearing or disruptive allusions to current affairs to drive the thematic relevance of the musical. For instance, Pilate was dressed in a business suit and was ready to play golf during his meeting with Jesus, a follower was wielding a “Make Jerusalem Great Again” placard, and Mary Magdalene removed her wig of straight, ombre hair to reveal her natural curls beneath. It may not have been Broadway and may have been on stage in a local theatre but it was the by far the best production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ that I have ever seen – including a production in London’s West End. Further, I would say it is among the strongest productions of any musical I have seen on stage and I have seen a good few.
So we may not be able to access Broadway shows for now but we will definitely continue to explore what is available for us to see as a family through regional theatres and we won’t feel short-changed in doing so.
Frequent readers of this blog will know that I really do enjoy a bit of spatter in my art work so I was very happy to learn that spatter was the basis of this week’s Life Book lesson. The lesson was taken by Mandy Van Goeije and was about starting loose and abstract and then finding some form within that abstraction to turn into an illustration, generating text to support that illustration, and layering watercolour and other media on top of a splattery, puddly watercolour background.
I decided to use the primary colours for my spatter because it was what was demonstrated in the tutorial and because I recognised that it was a palette that I don’t often use. I often add spatter at some stage in my art work but it was a twist on things to actually use the spatter as the starting point. I am not someone who tends to get creatively blocked because of having a blank page but I imagine this is a good way to get past that problem.
Once I had the spattery layer, I had to look for shapes and forms within it that suggested the starting point for an illustration. It is human nature to see facial features in inanimate objects (a quick google told me it is called “pareidolia”) and it is something I certainly do. When looking at my spattery layer, however, the form I saw emerge was a human figure – a tilted head surrounded by red hair and, in the negative space – upraised arms and hands. I think my brain determining I would see a human figure is probably an extension of the same phenomenon that has people seeing faces. When coming up with the story element of my art work and the text, I decided my figure should be the Muse of Spatter and wrote “The Muse of Spatter dances wherever she pleases and creates from chaos” as I felt that basically encapsulated the theme of the lesson and what I created as a result of it.
On the day of my oldest son’s 14th Birthday, we decided to visit Hershey Park. After the previous day’s hike, we thought that he and his brothers would prefer a busy day at a theme park by way of a birthday celebration rather than further explorations of Pennsylvania state parks. His birthday happened to coincide with the first day that Hershey Park was open for the 2017 season. This meant that tickets were half-price (since not all areas of the park and rides were open) but also meant that it was thronging with people.
Theme parks are not my thing at all. As I have had cause to state several times on this blog, I have a terrible fear of heights. I also dislike things that move too quickly in a way that makes me feel out of control. So, yes, theme parks are not the place for the likes of me. Happily, Mr Pict, while not an adrenalin junkie, is quite happy to accompany our kids on any and all rides they might wish to go on. I, therefore, get to sit back and watch them without any pressure to participate in any rides that make me freak out.
I expected there to be more of a chocolate or candy theme to the park but, while present on and off, for the most part the park was like a gigantic fairground stuffed full of thrill rides and traditional rides. We were there before the park opened so were among the first people in and, for the first couple of hours, it was not overly crowded and the queues were not unbearable. It also helped that the morning was a little overcast and the temperatures not too hot. That meant that the kids were able to get onto a good few rides they were really keen on doing without much hassle.
After noon, temperatures steadily grew and so did the crowds and – with that combination – so did fractiousness and frustrations. The lines started to get insufferably long for the kids. For them, there has to be an acceptable correspondence between the length of time waiting to get on a ride and the duration of the ride itself. They felt that every ride they did was super fun and worth doing but not necessarily worth the time and energy spent queuing. Standing still can be more tiring than walking. They started to get frazzled.
There were a couple of rides left that at least some of the kids were keen to do. However, when they saw the length of the queues, they decided it wasn’t worth the wait. Mr Pict and I have been parents for 14 years now but have only recently become veterans enough to recognise when to call it quits, taking our lead from the kids’ moods, rather than push things to the point that it risks undermining the success of the whole day. So we quit while the going was good but not before feeling as if we had got our money’s worth from our day at Hershey Park.
The Pict family had two birthdays to celebrate within six days of each other. My oldest son turned 14 and my 9 year old entered double digits. Since both birthdays occurred during Spring break, we decided to take a couple of days off to travel and explore a little further afield.
Our first destination was the Pole Steeple Trail. The trail is in Pine Grove State Park and abuts on to the Michaux State Forest and all not too far from the Appalachian Trail (which we really should have a wee wander on some day). The trail is pretty steep and, with the sun blazing, I realised fairly quickly that I have gotten a bit too mushy over Winter with my lack of outdoorsy rambles. It was pretty exhausting ascending by clambering over rocks. At least, it was pretty exhausting for Mr Pict and I; the kids were sprinting ahead without much difficulty and were even burning up extra energy by jumping from rocks and climbing up trees.
It did not take too long, however, before we reached Pole Steeple This is a dramatic rocky outcrop that dangles over the landscape. I had been very much looking forward to the view from the summit. The view was supposed to be my reward for huffing and puffing my way up the trail. Unfortunately, I was way too scared and anxious to get close enough to the edge of the slanting rocks to take in the view and appreciate it*. Sometimes my fear of heights is very limiting. Of course, as soon as my kids realised that I was having palpitations moving around on the rocks that were not even near the edge, they decided it would be funny to jump around, run, scale up and down different gulches, and at least make it look as if they were teetering on the edge and might fall at any instant. They had a whale of a time. I think the area would be beautiful once there are more leaves on the trees, especially so during Autumn.
Once everyone had finished leaping around like mountain goats and flooding me with cortisol, we headed downhill again. Downhill was so much easier and quicker than uphill. On our descent, we stopped not to catch our breaths but to have a “sasquatch off”, a contest to see who could best replicate the famous Bigfoot pose. Sadly there were no random strangers around who could adjudicate and it made all the squirrels run away.
* As a result of my wimpiness, some of the photos in this blog post were taken by Mr Pict and our kids.