A Bunny Timeline of European History

This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was Time which was ironic because it took me the entire week to find the time to even sit down at my art table.  I was, however, thinking about the prompt all week and had all sorts of ideas running around in my head.  I initially thought of time travel and HG Wells.  My 9 year old Steampunk fan was very keen on that idea but just the thought of drawing all sorts of cogs and gizmos made me feel stressed.  After that, I had all sorts of different ideas.  It was, however, a chat with a friend about our shared love of ‘Blackadder’ that led to what finally appeared on my journal page.  The idea of taking a character and plonking them in different periods of history combined with my habit of drawing funny bunnies.  I decided to limit myself to eight drawings and to European history so that it did not become a crazily big project.  Once I had the idea and some time at my art table, I was able to whip through the illustrations really quickly as they are just ink and watercolour.  I chose to depict a bunny as a neanderthal, Roman, Viking, in a Medieval costume complete with codpiece, as an Elizabethan with a large ruff, as a Regency dandy, as a Victorian gent, and as a World War One Tommy.

7a Bunny European History Timeline

7b Bunny European History Timeline

7c Bunny European History Timeline

7d Bunny European History Timeline

 

Oscar Nominees – Art Journal Page

This Sunday the 89th Academy Awards Ceremony will be held in Hollywood.  As a movie nerd, the Oscars are a big deal to me.  I rarely manage to catch any of the other movie awards ceremonies but I do my level best to watch the Oscars each year and now my movie nerd kids are old enough to stay up for at least part of the ceremony too.  Of course, by virtue of having kids and only making it to the cinema once or twice a year without them, these days I have rarely seen any of the movies in contention prior to awards season but I still enjoy the whole thing nevertheless.

A few weeks ago I had a lot of fun with an art journal page filled with illustrations of vintage mug shots.  I was keen to repeat that experiment and thought the Oscars posed the perfect opportunity to try out the not-quite-blind-contour approach once more.  Obviously once I had the basic outline and interior shapes mapped out in pencil through sideways glances, I refined and modified the sketches but only a little because I wanted to retain the looseness of my initital mark making.  The results were entirely mixed when the outcome is considered – and the likenesses are actually woeful – but I had a whole lot of fun drawing these and that is actually what is more important.  These were also relaxing to draw because I could work on them, using pencil and fountain pens, while tucked up on the sofa watching a movie.

Initially I was intending to work through all the nominees in all the major awards categories.  However, I realised I was over-extending myself so I limited myself to the four acting categories only.  The text accompanying each portrait indicates who the portraits depict – or who they are supposed to depict since the likenesses are not exactly accurate.  Some are better than others, of course, but some bear no resemblance whatsoever to the actual person.  I don’t think Natalie Portman or Denzel Washington are about to sue me for insulting their faces and I am not a portraitist so that’s OK .

Oscars - Best Supporting Actress

Oscars - Best Supporting Actor

Oscars - Best Actress

Oscars - Best Actor

 

 

 

Robots and British Nosh

Having used the Franklin Institute as an indoor playground for a couple of years, last year we took a break from our membership so that we could return with renewed enthusiasm.  In retrospect, President’s Day was not the smartest choice for becoming members again and reintroducing the kids to the joys of science museums.  The place was absolutely jam-packed and every gallery and area was heaving with people. I do not do well in crowds at all – it’s like an instant recipe for stress and anxiety – but I also feel harassed by the behaviour of other people when places are so busy.  For example, there were way too many children pushing and shoving there way into taking turns with interactive exhibits.  My kids have a tendency to hang back and are too polite to challenge others who queue jump but they still get irked and frazzled by the rudeness of others and, of course, we then get the pleasure of dealing with our annoyed kids.  While the parents of the pushy-shovey kids seemed to be nowhere in the vicinity whenever their kids were misbehaving, conversely there were other parents who were attached like limpets to their kids which also made it nigh impossible to manoeuvre in some areas.  Imagine experiencing epic levels of irritation while trying to cheerfully engage children in science even though you are completely an Arts and Humanities person.  That was the experience I had in the Franklin Institute on Monday.

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While we stopped by our favourite sections and did what activities we could, we also visited a special exhibition called Robot Revolution.  It was, strangely enough, all about how modern robotic engineering is being applied to different aspects of life.  For instance, there was a large surgical apparatus and the woman standing next to me explained that her father had actually been operated on recently by just such a machine.  There were also robotic prosthetic limbs and robots designed to assess dangers in conflict zones.  There were, however, also robots playing soccer and one that could unicycle.  A big hit with my youngest son was a robotic seal pup, designed to provide therapeutic comfort to people who can’t interact with real animals.  They also enjoyed an area where they got to clip together various cubes, each of which served a different function, in order to construct their own robots.

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We did not stay at the Franklin Institute for an extended period simply because the crowds were unbearable.  It was good to be back after our year long break, however, and we were reminded about all it has to offer.  We look forward to more trips there this coming year but hopefully with much smaller numbers of people crammed into the space.

We decided to treat ourselves to a little luxury by dining out in the city.  Mr Pict selected The Dandelion, which he has eaten in several times with colleagues.  We were actually supposed to go there for my birthday celebration but there was a stuff up with the booking so it did not happen.  I think, therefore, that it was my Unbirthday dinner.  The Dandelion serves British cuisine.  For many decades, people scoffed at the idea of British cuisine, regarding it was an oxymoron, but British food can actually be really very good.  The restaurant is housed in what looked to have been a residential building and was decorated in a very eclectic way, a sort of ramshackle chic.  It reminded me of a mixture of junk shops and cafes from my childhood.  Of course, we loved the tastebud nostalgia of the whole experience too.  Our children immediately ordered glasses of Ribena – a blackcurrant squash from the UK – and I had a Pimm’s Cup.  There were several things I could have ordered but I plumped for the fish and chips as I was eager to see if they could make chips the way they do in Britain, crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle, and I am happy to report that they were a very tasty success, as was the beer battered fish.  I usually only manage one course of food but I pushed my limits because there was Sticky Toffee Pudding on the menu.  I have not had a Sticky Toffee Pudding since we emigrated (I really ought to make it but never do) so I just could not resist the temptation.  Not only was the cake delicious and light and deliciously treacly, but it was also served with date ice cream.  Mr Pict and the Pictlings all loved every morsel of their two courses of food too.  Indeed, Mr Pict declared that the short rib was the best he had ever consumed.  The luxury of delectable food in a pleasant setting with great service went a long way to mitigate against the stress of an overcrowded museum and ensured that our President’s Day trip to Philly was a success.

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Wild in Cape May

In the Summer months, it seems like the entire of Philly and its suburbs decamps to the Jersey Shore.  I actually know plenty of people who also head to the coast at regular periods throughout the year.  It appears that the Jersey Shore is the destination of choice for most of our neighbours.  We, however, have only been a couple of times.  This is partly because I don’t like sand and partly because we are contrary besoms.  However, it is mostly because none of us find we can relax in crowded settings.  This is even more so in beach settings because of the experience of losing our youngest child on a crowded beach several years ago.  All of which preamble is to explain why it is, over three years since moving to America, we have only been to the Jersey Shore a couple of times.  Since we had an unseasonably nice day for February last weekend, we decided we should expand our explorations of New Jersey’s coastline and head to Cape May.

Suspecting the beach would still be chilly, we made the focus of our trip the Cape May County Zoo.  The zoo is free which appeals to my thrifty nature but had me concerned about the welfare standards.  Thankfully I was wrong to be cynical as the enclosures actually seemed well designed and considered.

We headed first to the reptile and amphibian house.  The kids and I always spend a lot of time in these areas at zoos so we wanted to prioritise having enough time there.  We were pleased that so many of the snakes, lizards, and frogs were on display in their tanks as quite often they are tucked away in little hollows and can barely be seen.  There were snakes large and small from places near and far; a variety of turtles, including one who was very crinkly and spiky looking; a large alligator; brightly coloured frogs and a chubby frog squashed in the corner of its tank; axolotls and newts; and an iguana riding on a tortoise’s back.

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With the exception of the tiger, which refused to put in an appearance, the mammals too were all out and about and easy for us to see.  My 9 year old was eager to see marsupials for some reason so was delighted to see wallabies lazing around in the sun, looking like they were watching Netflix on the sofa.  We also got to see a brace of black bears.  Aside from the baby black bear that ran across the road in front of us in West Virginia last summer, it was the closest any of us had been to a black bear since one of them was walking right along the fence line.  Its companion, meanwhile, was lying on its back with one leg up in the air against a fence.  In addition to seeing the lions, we heard the male roar.  It was an incredible sound, only the second time my kids have heard a real life lion roar, though the sight of the lions lolling around like large moggies was a bit less awe-inspiring.  There were also leopards – traditional and snow varieties – and a red panda, zebra, giraffes, ostriches, lemurs, and bison.

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We didn’t see all of the animals that inhabit the zoo (there are apparently over 250 species) but because admission was free we didn’t feel like we had to push things and see every last creature.  I would have kept going but the kids were rapidly escalating their hunger levels from peckish to rampagingly hangry so we decided to leave while the going was good and go in search of food.

After a very tasty sojourn in a Mediterranean diner, we headed for the actual shore.  It would have been cruel and unusual of us parents to take the kids to the Jersey Shore for the day and not actually let them anywhere near the beach.  The coast was decidedly chiller than even a short jaunt inland and the sky was darkening quickly but the kids were still determined to have fun.  We forget sometimes that these kids were used to playing on beaches year round on the west coast of Scotland and are pretty hardy and determined as a result.  They all kicked off their shoes within minutes and, while two of them did a sort of Chariots of Fire run along the sand, two of them lifted up their trouser legs to have a bit of a paddle in the Atlantic.  A bit of a paddle, however, turned into a wade and – before we could even issue a warning they would no doubt have ignored anyway – two of them ended up soaked.  Their answer was to just peel off their sodden trousers and continue playing in the surf.  Our youngest child was, therefore, frolicking in the sea with bare legs and a winter coat.  He looked hysterically ridiculous but he was having an absolute whale of a time.  Sometimes the boys just really need to be feral in the great outdoors.

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I couldn’t come to the coast and not see a lighthouse so our final destination for the day, as day slipped into night, was the Cape May Lighthouse.   The current lighthouse was built in 1859 and is the third incarnation of a lighthouse at that spot.  I guess third time was the charm.  I arrived too late to enter the lighthouse so I just had to content myself with looking at it.  Maybe some day I will return and force myself up the claustrophobic spiral staircase in order to see the view.

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All You Need Is Love

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to use text as the initial layer in an art journal spread.  I am not the greatest at layering so it was useful to have the nudge at having another attempt at it.  It happened to be valentine’s week last week so I took “love” as my theme.  My valentine’s week was actually themed around stress – two valentine’s parties to organise and run at work, three class parties to attend that afternoon for three of my kids, and cooking a dinner the kids complained about, and we don’t even celebrate Valentine’s Day – but I decided my art journal page should focus on “love” regardless.

Layer one was my handwriting in ink covering the page, running in multiple directions, overlapping, until it became completely illegible, and all I wrote were whatever love song lyrics happened to drift into my head.  Once that layer was complete, I decided to scrape some acrylic paint over it.  Annoyingly, this all but concealed the handwritten layer.  Ugh.  I just cannot get this layering thing right.  Ploughing on, I decided to reintroduce text again so I used negative space painting with white gesso to carve out the word “love”.  It was all still a bit meh and blah so I picked up a paint pen and scrawled “all you need” across the bottom of the page.  I am going to be happy that I was intuitive about adding an element but I rather suspect it was a wrong move.  The whole page, therefore, is very ho hum.  But that’s OK because, in a crazy busy week, each layer was a moment of calm in a day.

6 Layering with Writing

Rainbow Art Journal – The Girl with Words in her Hair

Thanks to a weekend that for once was not crammed with activities or commitments, I found time to work in my colour themed art journal.  I am still in the black/monochrome pages and this time I wanted to play around with using the black and white of printed text.  Readers who follow both my blogs might recognise the model for this page as being a drawing – titled Aubrey because of Aubrey Beardsley – from my series of 100 Faces.  I thought it would be interesting to see if I could recreate a face I had illustrated in ink and watercolour using acrylic paint and collage.  There is definitely more precision in the ink drawn version but I am not displeased with the way this mixed media piece turned out.  I do like the hair made of book pages so that was a worthwhile experiment.

5 Girl with Words in her Hair

Cup of Tea

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to use a subtle colour palette.  I like limited colour palettes so I thought it would be fun to try one that was muted and subdued.  I had some free time on Saturday afternoon which was a cold and dull day, the sort of day when I drink copious mugs of hot tea, and that became my inspiration for the art journal page – a figure holding a cup of steaming tea and a background the same colour as milky black tea.  I worked on it in stages during the course of the afternoon and it was really pretty simple and straightforward.

5 Cup of Tea - subtle-muted palette