Flaming June

June started with a bang.  We had a few days of raging storms.  My kids enjoyed it when it was at the torrential rain stage.  They love summer rain storms because it is warm and they can run around and get soaked without it being uncomfortable.  The rain was soon joined by thunder and lightning and high winds.  Trees came down all over our neighbourhood and wiped out power lines with them.  Amazingly, given our past luck with such things, we didn’t lose power, suffered no damage, and didn’t experience any flooding.  We were very grateful.

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How is everyone faring with wearing masks?  Back in March, I never thought I would get used to it.  I have a more robust one with filters that I use for when I go grocery shopping and am in a confined space and I must admit I am still pretty wimpy with that one.  It still makes me feel a bit claustrophobic – and gives me even more admiration for those on the front lines wearing PPE all day every day.  If we are out walking, we use lightweight neck gaiters as we usually don’t have to come within even 10 feet of other people but it gives us the option of quickly pulling it up if we have to pass someone on a narrower trail path.  I am otherwise getting used to wearing masks.  I read some time ago that it takes 6 weeks to develop a habit and I guess that holds true for this experience.  We also now treat them as accessories.  I got the boys some masks in fun fabrics and I even bought myself one with thistle fabric on it.  Thistles are my national flower, of course, so it seemed apt.

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Our county moved from red phase into yellow phase in early June which gave us more freedom for getting out and about.  We remain cautious so don’t want to be around people as much as possible.  We, therefore, went for a trek around Gettysburg since the National Park covers such an expanse of land and we were familiar enough with it to be able to predict which areas might be busier.  As you will know, Mr Pict is a Civil War nerd so he likes to visit Gettysburg every couple of years at least.  We have some places that we always return to but he tries to introduce us to a new area of the battlefield each time we return.

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This time, the new area for exploration was Pickett’s Charge.  That is, of course, the famous culminating action of the Battle of Gettysburg when an infantry assault by the Confederates ended in defeat.  We have actually seen Pickett’s grave because we are history nerds and I like cemeteries.  We were led to the Copse of Trees which I thought was just a copse of trees without the capitalization.  Turns out the Copse is of such historical importance that they are protected by a fence.  From what I can recall from Mr Pict’s lecture, as a distinct landscape feature, the copse was a focal point for the charge and also ended up marking the high water mark of the confederacy in this battle.  There is a monument to commemorate this fact at the spot.

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We then walked the field to gain a sense of the distance of the charge.  Or at least we attempted to cover the expanse.  We gave up about half way and turned back because we were getting covered with ticks.  Between the six of us, we picked off over a dozen ticks just while walking in that field.  We would have been exceedingly wimpy Civil War soldiers since we could not even handle parasitic insects.  Retreating from the field, we had a moment of rest and shade at the Pennsylvania Monument.

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As I mentioned before, there are areas of Gettysburg that we always head to: Little Round Top and Devil’s Den.  As we had suspected would be the case, Little Round Top was far too busy for our liking.  There were far fewer people than we have ever encountered there before but, of course, those previous visits were not during a pandemic.  We managed to maintain an adequate distance from everyone but it was too stressful an experience since some folks were not observing social distancing guidance and were also not wearing face coverings.  Devil’s Den was less busy but we were having to pass people at too close quarters for comfort so we didn’t stay long.

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June also meant we arrived at the end of the school year.  It has definitely been a memorable and challenging school year.  I absolutely commend my sons’ teachers for doing the absolute best they could with the resources they had and all at short notice.  However, distance learning was a bit of an ordeal to say the least and I am certainly relieved to have at least a break from it.  Goodness knows what school will look like in September.  I have to trust that the school district will strike an appropriate balance and shore up the resources for whatever option they decide to pursue.  Anyway, two of my children completed their final grades in their present schools and are moving on to pasture’s new in September – whether physically, virtually, or a hybrid.  Instead of the usual festivities, celebratory trips, and promotion ceremonies, they had car parades and virtual ceremonies.  I confess I think I actually prefer the car parades to the usual ceremony where we bake in the heat.

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Now that we don’t have distance learning to create structure and routine and keep everyone occupied, we have a long summer stretching ahead of us.  My boys are all at such a wide spans of ages, stages, and areas of interest that I can no longer impose unified summer projects on them as had been the case in summers past.  Instead, each kid has had to pick a project they are working on over the summer.  The three older boys are actually continuing with distance learning – taking courses on coding, cinema history, and Latin – and my youngest is going to work through a number of different projects, some with me and some solo.  Meanwhile, I have written myself a lengthy To Do list of domestic projects to tackle, some larger than others, and I always have my ongoing hobbies.  Most of our activities won’t be worth blogging about but our intention is to keep busy, productive, and stimulated during this socially isolated summer.

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June marked the 45th anniversary of the cinema release of my favourite movie of all time – Jaws.  I have written before about my fanatacism about this movie, including when I drew an illustration of the protagonists.  My 13 year old has inherited my love of the movie and an obsession with sharks.  You might recall that we took a trip last summer to visit the sites of the 1916 shark attacks that inspired the novel that was the basis of the movie. I have several Jaws items around the house, a Jaws board game, and a Jaws tea mug.  We, therefore, had to mark the occasion with a family watch of the movie on the anniversary.

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Also, am I the only person who is still doing a ridiculous amount of baking during this pandemic?  I am a really pretty good cook but I am no great shakes as a baker.  When it comes to the former, I use my experience to eyeball a lot of ingredients and I treat recipes as mere suggestions and make up meals from scratch.  The latter requires precision in measuring and actually following a recipe step by step.  It is too much like science for my Arts and Humanities brain.  I can bake things like cookies, brownies, banana bread, and basic cakes, but I am not great at anything more complex.  But for some reason I have been baking non-stop during this past few months and even more so since the kids’ distance learning wrapped up.  Like Pavlov’s Dogs, my kids now pretty much expect a freshly baked sweet treat.  This is not a good state of affairs.  I am gaining pandemic pounds for sure.  My youngest son is helping me with baking.  We recently made brownies topped with cookie dough.  We need an intervention.

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I have created a long list of home improvement type things I want to accomplish over the summer break.  It didn’t look like much on paper but already I think I might have been over-ambitious.  Our house ended up rather chaotic after the basement flood, then we switched rooms around with having created a new bedroom in the basement and my husband having to work from home for however many months.  Multiple rooms in the house, therefore, have to be reorganised and – quite frankly – ruthlessly purged.  I started with my youngest son’s bedroom.  I thought I would get it done in a day, maybe two.  Nope.  A week.  It took an entire week just to clean, sort, and organize his bedroom.  It generated five bags of trash and two large boxes of items to be donated.  Now my To Do list that once looked like a sprint now looks like a marathon.

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Delaware Beach Getaway

We had really big travel plans for this Summer but, of course, the Covid 19 pandemic means that all of our plans were cancelled.  As a family, we are taking the risks very seriously and are being super cautious with what we do.  My youngest brother contracted Covid and had a really gruelling time getting through what is considered a mild case.  That only served to underscore how important it was to stick to our strict way of operating.  However, for various reasons too personal to get into, we did decide to get away for a few days.  We found a beach house in Delaware where we could maintain our isolated ways and that had a robust, Covid specific cleaning regimen to put our anxiety at ease.  We were also the first guests to stay in the house for several months.  Our oldest son opted to stay home with the cats.

We obviously spent a lot of time at the beach.  The property we rented was a two mile walk from the closest public access point and parking lot so it was exceptionally quiet and we never had to get remotely close to any other beach users.  In addition to paddling and swimming, the boys loved collecting horseshoe crab moults (or horseshoe husks as the kids dubbed them).  They gathered husks of various sizes over a few days and then my 14 year old had the idea to turn them into a sculpture.  What my youngest loved doing was finding these peculiar little burrowing sea critters at the shore line.  I think they are a type of isopod but I am not completely confident in even that vague identification.  He enjoyed scooping them out of the wet sand and then watching them quickly burrowing back down.  The beach was also home to a type of crab that ran at comically high speed and scurried from hole to hole.  My 14 year old also found a hermit crab.

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We also experienced some lovely sunrises and terrific sunsets on the beach.  The boys also liked being out on the beach in the pitch dark.  Mr Pict is into astronomy so he enjoyed using his binoculars to pick out details in the clear night sky.

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I can only tolerate sand for so long so I liked having some other outdoor spaces to use.  There was a raised deck at the house where I could sit and read, draw, and paint while being able to see the rest of the family larking about on the beach.  Beneath that raised deck, there was a space enclosed with screens that was perfect for outdoor eating.

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On the subject of eating, we mostly ate food at the house whipped up from ingredients we brought with us.  One evening, however, we decided to have a treat because Mr Pict had spotted a place selling British style fish and chips.  As Brits, how could we not go sample some grub there?  They were doing roadside pickup so we placed our order and then parked up to eat it while it was all still steaming hot.  It really was all pretty authentic and passed muster with our British tastebuds.  The one exception was the brown sauce which was far too good quality for proper chippy sauce.  Just the aroma of clouds of malt vinegar wafting off of hot chips transported me home. It was a delicious treat.

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We did take a couple of excursions.  We thought about exploring historic Lewes but it was far too busy and most people we saw were not wearing masks so we promptly nixed that idea.  What we did instead was head to Cape Henlopen for a wander around Fort Miles.  We have been there before, in 2017, and we planned on also exploring new areas of the coast, but every other spot was just too busy for comfort.

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We went on two woodland walks.  The first of these was at Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge.  We had to pass a few people at the head of the trail but otherwise we seemingly had the whole place to ourselves and we ended up covering the entire network of trails partly intentionally and partly because we got ourselves a bit lost and looped certain trails twice.  We definitely got our steps in that day!  We encountered lots of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and also lots of frogs or toads – I cannot confidently identify the species so please let me know if you can.  My 11 year old also found a complete shed snakeskin but unfortunately we did not meet any snakes.

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Our final trip was to Redden State Forest but that was a much shorter trek and we were literally the only people there.  It was a very humid day, however, and we were being constantly bitten by insects.  I have a severe reaction to insect bites so my left hand ballooned up.  We, therefore, moved around the trail paths swiftly and skedaddled back to the car.

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It was definitely restorative to get away for a few days and be hermits in a different space.  It is not the Summer vacation we had planned for but it were definitely grateful for a simple getaway.

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Rainbow Art Journal – Skeleton Leaves

I actually completed this page in my Rainbow Art Journal ages ago.  I started drafting this blog post, must have been interrupted, saved it to drafts, and then my brain did a combination of forgetting about it and misremembering by thinking I had actually published the post.  My mixed media art journals have been very neglected lately while I have been focused on my Star Wars illustration challenge so finding this blog post is a useful reminder to me to crack open the supplies and get experimenting again.

I wanted to experiment with green and pink but I honestly have no idea what was in my head when I sketched out the subject matter.  I guess I do have female figures with herma type torsos and skeletal elements in my “go to”  list of art motifs so it is not completely out of left field.  The exposed rib cage then made me think of the exposed veins of skeletal leaves and so I had my idea for the whole composition.  I took this photo when the light was dull and flat which is making the pink photograph as being a little too purple but in reality it is a sort of bubblegum pink.

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Our May in Lockdown

I mentioned in a previous post that our 14 year old was busy manufacturing everyone’s Christmas gifts.  Well, it turned out that he both didn’t have the patience and couldn’t contain his excitement long enough to wait for December so instead, on May the 4th (ie Star Wars Day), he presented us with the gifts he had made for each member of the family.  He had crafted recycled cardboard, hot glue, and paint in order to make us each our very own custom lightsaber.  He thought about our personalities and designed lightsabers that symbolised aspects of us.  He even inserted a kyber crystal into each hilt.  He wanted his 13 year old brother to have a lightsaber that came apart so he had niftily connected the parts with magnets so it could separate and click back together again.  And now he is coming up with ideas for Christmas gifts!

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I also got crafty in that I created a Flat Miss Laura for each of my preschool students.  I had been contemplating a way to create a digital version but I am a numpty when it comes to a lot of technology and my kids protested they were too busy to help me so I had to go for the low tech option.  I simply drew and painted a simplified self-portrait, scanned it as a PDF, and emailed it out to my students.  I had included supplies for making stick puppets in the packets I sent home with my students and some of them decided to make puppets of classmates and act out scenes from the classroom using Flat Miss Laura.  It was cute.  And, of course, I have also been working diligently on my challenge to draw 180 Star Wars characters.  My routine is to get the drawing part done while supervising my youngest son working on Math and then I paint when he is working on Reading.  I cannot get anything else done when he is working on subjects like Science but it seems to be a good system.

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Meanwhile the hard slog of distance learning continues.  Weirdly, my 14 year old is actually thriving in this system where he has more flexibility over his schedule and the order in which he works on different subjects.  While the teachers are all doing their absolute best with this unexpected challenge, my 17 and 13 year olds both feel they are not being adequately taught the subject content and are, therefore, largely self-teaching.  My 17 year old has also been taking AP exams online which presented us with a challenge since our electricity and WiFi kept cutting out (too many people all on devices at once in a house with 1970s electrics).  Thankfully we made it work and he has now completed most of the exams without any technical glitches.  As for the youngest, distance learning continues to be a challenge.  Since has has both ADD and ASD, there are some advantages in that he is not in a classroom full of distractions and sources of sensory overload.  However, as a student with an IEP, it is challenging for me as a non-specialist to figure out the best way to differentiate the work being set.  In addition to overseeing his academic instruction, I also have to deliver his social skills development work (which is kind of laughable in a context in which he cannot practice with anyone outside the nuclear family) and deliver his Speech Therapy work.  I would be lying if I said I was not counting down the days until school officially ends – except I am also trepidatious about how to create structure and routine during a very different summer break.

We have had some creative teaching going on, however.  My oldest son had to make tacos one Tuesday for his Spanish class and he made guacamole to go with it.  My 14 year old had to create a musical instrument that demonstrated different sound frequencies and opacities for science class.  I didn’t understand the lesson objectives either but he did his best and fulfilled the brief.  And my youngest has been doing all sorts of bonkers gym activities, including a Rubik’s puzzle inspired running activity and basketball with a balloon.

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We have also continued to contribute to any neighbourhood activities for the youngest members of our community when they are out on a stroll.  Our favourite was setting up a Zoo using stuffed animals displayed alongside random facts about each animal.  We have also been doing things like making signs expressing gratitude for essential workers.

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We also had two causes for excitement and celebration last month.  Firstly, our 14 year old submitted a short film to his school’s first ever movie festival.  He press-ganged his brothers into acting and cinematography roles and got very creative with our limited location and props.  We had to laugh while watching the festival because our kid’s film was so much darker in its themes than all of the other submissions.  He was inspired by filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Eggers and it was creepy, had zero dialogue, and was filmed in monochrome.  All of the students involved did a great job but we were thrilled when it was announced that our son was the winner of the festival.  He worked really hard on his submission and studying movies is a passion of his so we were really proud of his achievement and what it means for him in terms of encouraging his creativity and rewarding his film literacy.

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But the really big celebration we had this month was my youngest’s 11th birthday.  This is our fourth lockdown birthday.  We don’t have another birthday in our household until October.  Only time will tell what the context for that birthday will be.  The theme was cats because he is completely and utterly obsessed with cats.  Now that he is 11, our youngest child is now older than our oldest child was when we emigrated here.  What’s more, he is the last of our children in Elementary School and will be transitioning into Middle School in September – whatever school looks like then.  This birthday, therefore, feels like a big milestone for us as parents too.

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We went for a nature ramble with the specific aim of seeing some local wildlife.  We encountered several frogs, including a chubby bullfrog tadpole, turtles, and a snake basking on a log.  The latter was my first snake encounter of the summer.  I think it’s a Northern Water Snake.  We often have garter snakes on our property but I have not seen any so far.  We do, however, have some fox cubs who trot around our yard and recently there has even been a coyote in the neighbourhood – though I have not seen it with my own eyes.

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And, of course, I have to include some photos of the other members of our household: Satchi and Peanut.

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Woman in Cloak

This illustration is what I came up with using just the contents of my May Art Snacks box.  There were brush markers, a coloured pencil, an India ink marker, and a copic fineliner.  I appreciated that all of the items were portable art supplies (when combined with a water brush) because I was able to knock this drawing out while supervising my youngest doing his distance learning lessons for the day.  I have been doing the drawing part of my Star Wars illustrations while supervising the boys’ education each morning (and then painting them in the afternoons) so I took a break and knocked this out instead.  Messing about with the shapes in the cloak was a welcome distraction from 5th Grade algebra.

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Kids and Cats in Quarantine

Since we obviously have not been on any family day trips or outings, I am not generating much blog fodder.  I thought, therefore, I would just share some of the things we have been up to at home in these last 6 weeks.

Distance learning has become a big part of our weekdays.  The homeschool day does not last as long as the actual school day but it is still pretty demanding and somewhat intense.  This is especially the case with adapting to all of the technology and software.  The older three boys are more used to using their chromebooks for school work but it has been a complete switch in modes of learning for our youngest son and he and I have been on a steep learning curve.  My oldest son has to rescue us at least once per day, usually more.  We are gradually settling into a routine and rhythm, however, and everyone has found their preferred space for working.

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My 14 year old is definitely the Pict family member who is making the most of lockdown.  He has almost finished making everyone’s Christmas presents already, he created some Mad Max inspired cars, and he made a large batch of beef jerky that should have lasted him and his brothers a lot longer than it did.

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We’ve been doing some goofy stuff, like messing around with the google animal photos feature, but we have also participated in some fun neighbourhood activities aimed at entertaining the youngest members of the community when they are on their daily walks.  We had love hearts for them to spot, an Easter/Spring themed hunt, set out teddy bears for “Going on a Bear Hunt”, and several other themes so far.

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I had to process the fact that my year with my preschool students had come to an abrupt end.  Then I set about making them “learning at home” packets and my oldest son helped me make videos of storybook readings.

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The cats seem to be enjoying having us all home 24/7.  Peanut, the ginger cat, is very much a people person and lap cat (or anywhere on your body cat) so he is in his element being permanently attached to someone.  Satchi, the fluffy, grey, three-legged cat, still picks and chooses when he wants to interact with us but he seems to be enjoying having more options throughout the day.  As you can see, he loves to squeeze himself into tiny boxes.

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We’ve played lots of board games, eaten a lot of home baking, the older boys have been indulging in movie marathons, and we are generally just keeping ourselves busy and balancing out time apart with time together.  We certainly haven’t grasped this as an opportunity for self-improvement (not so far anyway) but we are muddling along just fine.  Life is weird and strange right now, certainly somewhat unsettling, but life is also good and it is useful to stop and reflect on that now and again.

Birthdays in Lockdown

Two thirds of the Pict family birthdays are in Spring – two of them within the same week.  It’s a busy time of year.  Usually birthdays involve a treat meal at a restaurant and a family excursion somewhere.  However, given we are all in lockdown as part of the containment measures during the Covid 19 pandemic, the celebrations have been a bit different so far this year.

Mr Pict’s birthday was first up.  It fell within the first 48 hours of the lockdown so we had already made plans we had to abandon and I quickly had to come up with an alternative plan.  I like to be organized because I get angsty about chaos undermining the joy of any celebration.  There were no eggs in stores at that point so I bought a premade cake from the supermarket bakery.  Mr Pict had no complaints about that and happily we managed to pull the rest of the festivities off and his birthday was a success.

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Next up was our third son turning 13.  He will certainly never forget the birthday that marked his official entry into teenagehood.  I obviously had prior warning that this was going to be an entirely domestic celebration so it all went much smoother.  Like his father, our 13 year old is obsessed with Ancient Rome.  His favourite Emperor is Trajan so his main gift was a map showing the Roman empire during Trajan’s reign and he also got a hoodie of Trajan’s World Tour.  This established the theme for the cake.  I used food colouring to paint the outline of a bust of Trajan.  If I thought drawing in ink without pencil guidelines was challenging, that was nothing compared to painting with food colouring on top of a cake.  Some edible gold added a bit of razzle dazzle and distracted from the wonkiness of Trajan’s face.

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Six days later, it was the turn of our oldest son to celebrate his birthday.  He is 17.  That seems crazy to me.  17 is how old I was when I permanently left home.  Our oldest son is addicted to pepper sauce and hot sauce and super spicy salsas.  He and his 14 year old brother actually eat ghost pepper salsa, scream from the pain, and then eat more.  He, of course, received some hot sauces he had never tried before as one of his gifts but that also gave me the theme for his cake.  Tabasco is his everyday hot sauce – and I do mean everyday because he adds it to everything – so I made him a Tabasco cake – though I assure you pepper sauce was not one of the ingredients.

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The next Pict family birthday is at the end of May.  It is likely to be another lockdown birthday.  Then we have two birthdays in the Autumn.  Goodness knows what life will be like by then.  We’ll just keep rolling with it, taking things day by day, and reminding ourselves of all the things for which we are grateful, including family and birthdays and cake.

Zombie Cats & Zombie Bunnies

These illustrations were created with the contents of my April Art Snacks box.  It has been a while since I completed a proper illustration of my zombie critters, as opposed to a doodle.  I have drawn zombie bunnies in any number of compositions and colours but I think this is the first time I have drawn a tower or stack of zombie cats.  I used the warm colours (two watercolour pencils and a water based marker) for the zombie cats and coloured the zombie bunnies in shades of blue using different dilutions of ink from the blue marker.  The darkest blue right at the top of the illustration is the colour straight from the nib.  These were fun to draw.  I hope they are also fun to look at.

Zombie Cats & Zombie Bunnies

Rainbow Art Journal – Thrive & Survive

This page was another one where I had lobbed down scrapings of leftover paint and scraps of collage material.  As with the majority of the pages in the green section of my Rainbow Art Journal, my brain wandered to plants.  Because I was thinking about all of the weird bits of rejected odds and sods that made up the substrate of the page, I thought about weeds and that idea that weeds are just plants growing where someone doesn’t want them.  The plant doesn’t know it’s a weed; the plant thinks it is a flower with as much merit as the one a human is caring for in a garden.  So then I thought about the fortitude of weeds and their feisty attitude.  I pretty much started identifying with weeds.  So that was the theme and idea for this journal page.

I used a negative space painting approach to pick out the shape of a weed growing across the page.  I then stamped “survive” and “thrive” on to some green paint chip cards I had.  Unfortunately, I was distracted when gluing them onto the page and transposed the words.  Oops.  It didn’t bother me enough to either remove them or cover them up, however.  Anyway, survival and being determined to thrive no matter what seem like good messages for these pandemic times we find ourselves in.

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Rainbow Art Journal – Sea Glass

This page was one of those messy pages crammed full of pieces of collage, odds and ends of washi tape, and surplus gesso and paint.  It was, therefore, very textured and incredibly visually busy.  It has been in my Rainbow Art Journal for months waiting for me to finish it.  I focused on on the wine label that reads “seaglass” and used that as my colour palette inspiration.  I used to collect sea glass as a child.  I had different jars for the different colours.  I found some really cool pieces.  I have a vase filled with sea glass from Scotland in my home now.  I collected it when I went back home to Fife in 2015 so it’s a visual reminder to my childhood.

I struggled to pull this page together partly because the lumpy, scratchy texture made it hard to work with and partly because I was so sick of looking at this unfinished page for so long.  The page was just annoying me and I wanted to get it finished so that I could move on and forget about it.

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PS There is a weird colour caste in my photo of this piece, a sort of pinkish glow.  When I try to adjust it, it just throws the greens and aquas out too much.  The background colour is white gesso so that should give you some indication of the actual colours.