Road Trip 2018 #1 – Say Cheese!

Brace yourself for lots of posts about this year’s Pict Family Road Trip.  Long time readers of this blog may recall that in 2016 we took two weeks and drove from Pennsylvania as far west as Chicago before pivoting back and returning to PA.  Reaching Chicago in a week felt ambitious then.  What then do you think about the fact that this year we had to drive as far as Chicago by the end of our first day?  Yup.  What we took a week to do two years ago we did in a single day this year.  It’s not just because we are utterly crazy – though there is that – but because we needed to reposition ourselves in order to make the rest of our plans work.  It was a loooooooong day of driving and it really felt long but the kids were absolute troopers and didn’t rage or rebel once.

We spent the night in Munster, Indiana, our bellies full of deep dish pizza.  The first proper, official day of our vacation, therefore, found us in Gary, Indiana.  My 11 year old is a Michael Jackson fan so we, of course, were compelled to visit his childhood home.  The house is privately owned so can only be viewed from the street but it was worth a brief detour to see it just to appreciate how modest Jackson’s beginnings were.  I have lots of siblings and grew up in a somewhat over-crowded house but the Jackson household must have been bursting at the seams.  It is quite fascinating to reconcile the flashy, lavish-living man Jackson would become to how humbly his life started out and to ponder over the relationship between his alpha and omega states of being.

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After departing Indiana and whizzing through a corner of Illinois, we were in Wisconsin.  This was my first time in Wisconsin and meant I could claim* it as my 31st state.  When I think of Wisconsin, I think ‘Laverne & Shirley’, beer, and cheese.  The latter was our chosen theme for the day.  I am both a cheeseaholic and lactose intolerant – not the best combination but it means I am also a tad obsessed with cheese.

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We headed to Monroe and the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which proved to be a much smaller scale than we anticipated.  The museum was tiny and centered around the mid-19th Century Imobersteg cheese factory.  It proved to be the most perfect welcome not just to Wisconsin but also a lovely, gentle start to our road trip.  When we stepped inside the museum, we were greeted by an ensemble of chipper elderly women.  One of these, Joanne, was assigned to be our guide and she was wonderfully warm and welcoming and also a trove of information about cheesemaking past and present.  We enjoyed our time spent in her company.

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We learned about the Imobersteg family, immigrants from Switzerland, who determined to make their traditional cheese in their new surroundings.  Inside their tiny factory, we were led through their process involving copper kettles, a special metal jacket to keep it at the perfect stable temperature, a harp to break up curds, presses, brine baths, and hot and cold storage.  Joanne got the boys to act out various parts of the process, such as swinging the copper kettle on its arm.  My favourite thing in the tiny factory was the funny little window hatch through which local farmers would pour their milk.

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Inside the museum, we watched a video showing a modern cheesemaker replicating the Imobersteg’s process and creating an absolutely massive limburger cheese.  We also saw various artefacts and Joanne informed us about the arduous process of becoming a master cheesemaker, farmers operating as cooperatives, and the cheese quality grading system.  One of my favourite items in the museum was a one legged milking stool, the design of which was to permit balancing on steep slopes.

Obviously after learning about cheese we absolutely had to go and get some cheese so we drove a little further into Monroe and stopped off at an outlet and deli selling all manner of cheese and associated munchies.  They had lots of samples available which the boys fell upon as if they were wolves after a lean winter.  For the sake of my digestive system, I exercised maximum self-control, though I would be lying if that didn’t mean I still nibbled a few pieces of cheese.  We bought cheese and crackers enough that lasted us days of on-the-road lunches.

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We thought we should go and have a squizz at Monroe’s city centre and were pleasantly surprised to find a lovely town square.  It was neat and shiny as a pin and was filled with independent stores, boutiques, and eateries.  They also had a series of wooden sculptures placed around the square that were on an outer space and sci fi theme.  The younger boys had fun running from one to the other which kept them moving in the afternoon sun.

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We took a series of winding country roads past beautifully maintained farms and interesting dilapidated properties I would have loved to stop and photograph.  We noted that even the grounds of the run down properties were well maintained. So much green! So much corn!  The problem with being in a rural area, however, was phone reception.  I did not own a smartphone until we emigrated to the US but I have assimilated and become dependent on it for navigation in unfamiliar places.  It was, therefore, weird to be back to using traditional maps to plot our course to Dodgeville, our abode for the night.  The problem, of course, is that traditional maps can only get one so far.  When it comes to locating things at street level, a map book is no use.  We, therefore, took a while to find our hotel even though Dodgeville is far from a sprawling metropolis.  The kids loved the hotel pool and the fact that they could walk to get dinner and explore instead of getting back in the car – at least until the next morning.

 

*My rules for claiming a state are that I have to accomplish two out of three things while within its borders: sleep, eat, or pee.  Therefore, while I have been in both New Mexico and New Hampshire, I am not permitted to claim and count them because I only did one of the three things in each.  I am as strict with applying my rules as I am obsessed with visiting all 50 states.

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Ladybug Woman

If you happen to follow me on Instagram, you will have seen this illustration as my response to this month’s Art Snacks challenge.  I received two red products in the box this month and that immediately inspired me to draw a Ladybug Woman.  I drew it on a sample pack of watercolour paper, also in the box, which means it is in that narrow format that I used recently for my Frankenstein’s Monster.  I am enjoying working in this restrictive space as it really forces me to be creative with my composition.

Ladybug Woman - July 2018

Rainbow Art Journal – Peaches and Cream

This page is another example of me cannibalising my own work and seeing if I can regurgitate it in a different way or using a different media.  The basis for this page is an ink and watercolour illustration I produced as part of a challenge to produce 100 faces.  I decided to attempt reproducing the face but using mixed media.  The orange background has photographed a little brighter than it actually is.  In reality it is closer to an apricot hue, hence me titling this page “peaches and cream” for the contrast between that orange shade and the white disc that frames the head.  I also kept the skin tones quite pale which means she could be said to have a peaches and cream complexion.

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Rainbow Art Journal – Fantastic Mr Fox

Roald Dahl’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ was one of the first chapter books I ever read to myself and I absolutely loved it.  I would often return to it, as an old friend, when I was mooching around for something to read.  I thought it would be apt, therefore, for Mr Fox to appear in the orange section of my Rainbow Art Journal.  I started with a layer of “newsprint” deli paper, partly as a nod to Mr Fox’s textual origins but mostly to cover up some messy ink mess that had bled through from the other side of the page.  The painting of Mr Fox took me no time at all, probably 20 minutes in total, broken down into painting as base layer and then another small dollop of time in which to add some shading and detail.    Having been executed in a bit of a rush, he’s not my best effort but he’ll do.

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Clone Children

This weekend, I grabbed some small parcels of time and used them to create an illustration in my art journal.  I used last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt, which was to use an element and repeat it at least three times, and combined it with a prompt I had missed that involved the number 5.  The idea of repetition made me think of clones and that made me think of the pod people from the movie ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and then that segued in my brain to thinking of the book ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ and thus I arrived at a decision to draw five clone children with expressionless faces and soulless eyes.  I did the grey and black inkwork first and had intended to leave the hair white as a nod to the movie adaptation ‘Village of the Damned’ but, on a whim, I decided to add a splash of colour with red ink.  I am undecided as to whether that was a smart move or not and my children – who I use to judge my art work – are split 50/50.  What do you think?

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Frankenstein’s Monster

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to use black and white with one colour.  By coincidence, my Art Snacks box had just arrived and it contained a black fineline pen and a green alcohol marker.  I, therefore, decided I could combine the challenges while giving myself the additional challenge of working on a narrow piece of paper.  A childhood spent watching classic monster movies means I have a Pavlovian response to black and green.  The combination always makes me think of Frankenstein’s Monster.  I, therefore, set about drawing the Karloff version of the Creature in the narrow space of the paper.  I was very happy with the ink illustration but then worried I would wreck it when adding the green.  I have never been much good at “colouring in” plus I have never used an alcohol based marker before.  I rubbed some of the marker on a piece of wax paper so that I could dilute it with water and brush it on as a light wash first.  That then gave me the confidence to go in directly with the marker to create darker green areas.  I am pretty pleased with how the illustration turned out.  I had envisaged using it as a tip-in for my art journal but two of my kids want it as a bookmark so I guess that’s its destiny.

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Rainbow Art Journal – Orange Ink

I had not done much in my Rainbow Art Journal since March so I decided to use some free time to start and finish a page in one sitting.  I turned to a blank page in the orange sector, got out some orange drawing ink and some black India ink, a pot of water, and got to work.  My intention had been to keep things loose because that is something I find to be challenging.  I started out well and it is possible to detect the areas where I let the ink puddle and run and dribble.  I struggle with abstraction because I don’t know how to balance the elements and create focus so I decided I would carve a figure out of the ink.  Of course, inevitably, I ended up with a too tight illustration as a result.  Fail!  Ugh.  Maybe I should just give up trying to work in a loose, uninhibited, less intentional way.

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