I was beginning to feel like Spring was never going to properly arrive. It’s been a right wee tease this year with some days of warm sunshine and blue skies immediately followed by the return of chilly, damp air and grey skies and flat light. At last, however, it seems as if Spring has finally and fully-fledged arrived. Not a moment too soon either as I was beginning to feel like a hermit and really felt a need – not just a want but a need – to get out and wander around in nature for a good chunk of time.
The kids were vehemently opposed to a long car journey so we stayed local and went for a wander in one of our usual haunts. It felt good to be among the trees and see the sunshine beating through the leaves, plants beginning to bud, and insects buzzing around.
We played Pooh sticks – increasingly competitively and with a little bit of cheating here and there – and the boys climbed trees and clambered across fallen logs. We saw wildlife too. I only managed to capture a turtle on camera but we also saw birds galore, lots of insects, and a running groundhog – which was one of the cutest things I have seen in a while.
The boys were able to get manky and be freely feral and I was able to complete relax allowing them to do so.
Some weeks my creative mojo is sorely lacking. There can be many contributing factors, of course, but there are short periods of time where whatever I put my hand to is mediocre at best. Last week was one such week. I do remember the many times I experience success with my art and I also value the calming, restorative, recharging effect of having worked on art even when the outcome isn’t what I would hope for. Nevertheless, last week was one of those weeks where nothing I did in terms of art was pulling together. The pieces never emerged from the ugly phase. They just got uglier.
The first piece was produced in response to a Life Book lesson taken by Jodi Ohl. It was all about adding typography to a colourful, layered background. Layering has long been one of my art nemeses so I knew it was going to be a challenge. Sometimes I rise to the challenge but not this time. The palette of bright colours I added worked with each other for maybe two layers and then they started to fight with each other and then they somehow lost their vibrancy and looked not so much like mud but like sludge. I tried to knock back areas by negative painting in thinned gesso and that only served to make everything look more dull and grey. In a last ditch effort, I added some Neocolor II inside the feather shapes, trying to obliterate the underlying layers. That pop of colour rescued the piece from going into the trash but I still found the whole piece to be unsatisfactory. Having used gritty gesso, I decided not to waste the nib of any pens on this piece and instead stamped out lines from the famous Emily Dickinson poem around the feather shapes. I was glad to see the back of this piece and move on to something else.
Alas, the thing I moved onto was a page in my art journal, a response to the Art Journal Adventure prompt for the week. The idea was to use curvy and round elements. I had not used my gelli plate for a while and the youngest kids were up for having a play with it too so I decided that that would be my tool and technique for this week’s page. I have not experimented much with printing directly into my art journal from the gelli plate so that was my personal challenge. I chose to push the journal down onto the plate. Perhaps things would have worked out better had I flopped the plate onto the paper instead but I doubt it. I cut out some circles and curvy arch shapes from shipping envelopes to use as masks in different layers. The first couple of layers looked pretty good but there was not enough interest for me to quit while I was ahead. I pushed on with a further layer and obliterated what had been a nice little area on the page. That was annoying but I pushed on hoping that subsequent layers would lead to some other interesting shapes and textures and contrasts emerging. Unfortunately, that was not what happened. I think I need more regular practice with gelli printing in order to develop some skill with it, some idea of how to achieve different looks rather than my haphazard, slapdash way of doing things. I got to the point where I was sick of the sight of the page so decided that was a good reason to stop. I finished it all off by gluing down some of the circle masks I had been using.
It was not a good week for art, therefore, but I am choosing to focus on the positive of the flaws and failings being learning opportunities. I have, as stated above, learned that I need to actually plan out what I am doing with the gelli plate rather than just shoving elements together and hoping for the best. The solution is more practice. I have a small gelli plate so perhaps I will keep that to hand and have a play with it more frequently to see if I can develop some sort of process that works for me. I have also learned that layering remains something that I struggle with and I should probably just conclude that it is not my thing and stick to techniques that do work for me. Investing time and energy into approaches that result in pleasing outcomes is ultimately going to be more fulfilling than trying to learn a technique that eludes me. It is OK for me to hone the skills I possess instead of chasing after the ones I don’t. My mojo will return.
A couple of weekends ago, my two youngest children got to experience sleeping on board the USS New Jersey. It wasn’t that I had tired of their antics and decided to ship them out to learn some military discipline; it was an event with their Scout troop. I did not actually go with them. I happily and wholeheartedly volunteered to stay home with the older two boys. In the past, I have spent the night in a historic prison and an abandoned farming township but this time I felt that Mr Pict should have the sleepover experience. This was not just because I wanted to stay home cosy in my jammies but also because I would have been the only mother on the trip and – quite frankly – because I did not fancy trying to sleep in a situation where I felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic.
The USS New Jersey is a battleship with a long and interesting history – well, interesting if you like military history which I don’t but which Mr Pict does (another reason why he was just the parent for the job). It was launched in 1942 and not completely decommissioned until the early 1990s so it saw action in World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. I really cannot accurately relate any of its detailed history, however, as I was not on the tour and – though I did listen to my husband’s report – I did not absorb and retain the information. That’s what Wikipedia is for.
The USS New Jersey became a museum ship in 2001 and is permanently docked in Camden, New Jersey. It can be visited during the day by members of the public but getting to stay overnight was only possible because of the kids being Scouts. Soon after they arrived, the troop was taken on a guided tour by knowledgeable volunteers. They got to see a wide variety of spaces on board the ship and learn about the different eras of its history. Our youngest son even got to sit in the Captain’s chair, a position he apparently rather enjoyed. After the tour, the group dined in the mess area. My kids are cheese snobs so were not impressed by the box mac’n’cheese on offer but having to eat food you don’t necessarily love probably added to the whole naval experience. They were lucky they didn’t get hard tack. Their bunks for the night were the exact same bunks the navy personnel would have slept on when the battleship was active. The photos of the kids slotted into the narrow beds made me feel queasy so I was very glad that we had made the choice to have Mr Pict act as chaperone.
After breakfast the next morning, they got to have a daylight wander around the ship, look at the Philadelphia skyline from the vantage point of the deck, and then it was time to head home. As lukewarm as I a about military history, I think it’s a pretty cool thing for them to be able to say that the slept overnight on a battleship.
The Art Journal Adventure prompt for last week was to use horizontal and vertical elements. Perhaps it was because I had recently been reading Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘Fern Hill’ to my 11 year old son but the idea of horizontal and vertical lines automatically made me think of fields in a verdant green landscape and a little house nestled beneath a hill. The idea seemed simple enough but it literally took me a full week to take the page from inception to completion. Each colour of acrylic in the patchwork landscape represents a quick burst of art action in my daily schedule. Worked on in such short bursts here and there throughout the week, it took an awfully long time for the page to fill with colour. Thankfully, once all the painting was done and dry, the finishing touches were completed quickly. That was just the case of doodling with paint pens while watching the news and drinking a cup of tea one morning. It was those little details that pulled the page together and made it a coherent, stitched together quilt of a landscape rather than a chaotic mish-mash.
I love the combination of red and turquoise. I love turquoise generally but there is just something about the combination of those two colours that really makes both sing, perhaps because it is an unexpected palette that works surprisingly well. It’s a palette I have used quite a few times in my art work so when it came to the red pages in my Rainbow Art Journal I knew that turquoise would put in a guest appearance. This piece turned out to be reminiscent of my Resting Acrobat from a few months ago. I think that previous piece is more successful overall but the face is better in this piece since I managed to keep it closer to my original sketch and not let the proportions wander.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “Home”. That can be interpreted in many different ways, physical, emotional, geographical, and it is a theme that has cropped up a few times in my art journal since I started keeping one a few years ago. This time, however, I decided to keep it super easy and just draw a house, just a quick and simple illustration without putting too much thought into it. Partly this was so that it would be a challenge to me to work more intuitively and not get so trapped into my head trying to get an idea in my mind’s eye to appear on paper; partly it was because I was so short on time and so this drawing was done, from start to finish, in a mere twenty minutes courtesy of two pre-inked fountain pens (the inks being Noodler’s Bulletproof and Lamy Pacific Blue in case you are interested). Since I knew I could not even attempt precision, I thought I would accentuate the inevitable weird angles and wobbly lines and produce an entirely wonky house.
Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Annie Hamman. I really love Hamman’s paintings and enjoy watching her process but it is a style and methodology I can never get to work for me as I am neither painterly or loose enough in the way I handle paint. I have, therefore, really enjoyed the previous Annie Hamman lessons I have worked on but I always end up with something much more rigid and controlled than the anticipated outcome. This lesson was no exception.
I enjoyed all of the techniques deployed in the lesson, such as painting over collage and painting negative space, but I was neither intuitive or loose enough in my mark making. That’s OK though. That way of creating just isn’t me. What was disappointing was that my choice to use blue for underpainting and layering up the shadows of the face didn’t dissipate enough in subsequent layers and the flesh tones ended up sallow and sickly looking as a result. (Incidentally, the phone photo makes the colours much paler than they are in real life because the light levels have just been so dreary here lately.) I am, however, happy with the negative painting around the antlers, the pushing back of and forward from the collage layer, and the gold of the halo. I think this is another one of those lessons I will attempt again, perhaps in my art journal, as I liked the approach and have hopefully learned something from the underpainting oops.