Antietam

Last weekend was Memorial Weekend here in the United States.  Memorial Day commemorates members of the country’s armed forces who have died in service.  As such, it seemed apt that we spent Memorial Weekend touring Civil War sites.  Our first stop was Antietam, in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Confederate General Robert E Lee moved his army from Virginia towards the north and into Union territory.  Around the same time, Union General George McClellan moved the Army of the Potomac into Frederick, Maryland.  On 17 September 1862, these two forces collided on the Antietam Creek in what would be the bloodiest single day battle of the Civil War – and indeed the bloodiest day in American military history.  Of the approximately 100,000 soldiers involved in the battle, there were 23,000 casualties.  Ultimately Lee was repulsed back into Virginia and the Union held the area.

We started our tour at the Visitor’s Center where we chanced upon a small reenactment group marching and firing guns.  The Visitor Center itself offered a useful synopsis of the battle as there was a short movie to watch and some exhibits.  I found both to be particularly handy since – as I have explained before – I am not all that keen on military history.  The documentary fixed the broad stroke events of the day in my head while the exhibits in the small museum helped me engage with the subject through seeing things like medical field kits, uniforms, and drums.  What I learned (or relearned since Mr Pict has told me this several times) is that Antietam was a pivotal battle in the Civil War and not just because of the Union victory.  It was also significant because it led to Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and prevented Britain and France from getting involved in the conflict.

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Mr Pict decided to lead us around the site according to the chronology of the battle.  We, therefore, started at what was once woods and cornfields.  I look at the landscape of a battlefield and really cannot engage with it.  It’s just landscape to me.  I need features and clear narratives.  I need the human side of things rather than tactics.  I, therefore, left Mr Pict and the kids to wander around the fields while I headed into the Dunker Church.  The Church, belonging to a pacifist German sect, had been on site for just ten years before it became a focal point of the bloody battle.  Being inside I was reminded of what I had read of the townspeople.  They hid in basements and caves during the battle and emerged to find their properties destroyed (one deliberately) and scenes of horrific slaughter.  While there was not a civilian casualty in the battle, the soldiers malingered in town long enough to spread disease to the civilian population.  Always finding the social history angle on the military history.

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Our next stop was the dramatically named “Bloody Lane”.  This was a sunken road that cut through the farmland.  The Confederates were using the built up land around the road as a parapet and were able to fire down upon the Union soldiers who were moving across the farmland and were funneled into the narrow sunken road.  The result was absolute carnage as illustrated by the photographs of Alexander Gardner.  Knowing those photographs as I do, I found it quite haunting to be walking along Bloody Lane.  I could actually visualise the horror of the scene.  We emerged from the sunken road at an observation tower.  As much as I appreciate a good view, I took one look at the narrow and open iron staircase inside and decided against ascending.  Instead, I waved from the bottom at my husband and children at the top.

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I would have loved to have moved on to the National Cemetery because I love cemeteries.  However, it started to rain hard.  We were wearing our raincoats so were largely protected from the rain but the grass was slippy under foot and it was muggy and sticky which feels gross when wearing waterproof layers.  And everyone was protesting about visiting a cemetery so there was that too.  We, therefore, hoofed it back to the car and drove to the next destination and battle point: the lower bridge, also known as Burnside Bridge.  Once there, 50% of our troops refused to trek down to the bridge so Mr Pict, the 10 year old and I plodded on with our reduced numbers.  On the day of the battle, the bridge was being held by Confederate troops (from Georgia if I am remembering the video accurately) who were able to pick off the approaching Union soldiers with ease from their position on the bluff overlooking the bridge and the road approaching it.  After being in the sunken road, it would appear that the theme of the day had been carnage in narrow spaces.

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The highlight of my 10 year old’s trip to Antietam was “befriending” a millipede.  At least, unlike his brothers, he actually saw all three key sites.  I have decided that one day they will look back and appreciate that their father and I dragged them on all of these trips to historic places.

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Create Something Every Day

It took me a full week of working in short bursts to complete last week’s Life Book lesson.  I know I frequently mention how busy my schedule is but last week was truly, utterly, completely ridiculous.  I needed teleportation or cloning skills to make it work.  Since I don’t possess superpowers or ethically questionable advanced science skills, what I did instead was rush around, stress myself out, and try to reconcile myself with the fact that I would have to drop some really very important commitments.  It really ought to have been a week when I accepted that there was zero time for art but I decided that I might risk imploding if I did not have some small gobbets of art time to aid me in decompressing throughout the week.  Across seven days, therefore, I gradually added to the piece, little by little, in the tiny rations of available free time I had.  The quality of my work may have suffered as a result but it may just have prevented me from spontaneously combusting from stress.

The lesson was taken by Vicky Papaioannou and involved created a whimsical sort-of self-portrait that conveyed a message about creative ideas, energy, mojo flowing from the creative person.  My sort-of self-portrait ended up being a much younger, slimmer, more attractive me but I think there is enough of my features and proportions in there for it still to be a “selfie”.  What is artistic license for if you can’t make yourself much more bonnie?  My creative flow is represented by the hair – also a fudge of reality since my hair is not that long and is salt-and-pepper rather than black.  I added a pen, pencil, and paintbrush to the hair by way of illustrating my creativity and stamped the phrase “create something every day” onto the figure’s torso – going horribly wrong with the stamping since I smudged the lettering.  Never mind.  I think the phrase was quite apt given my context.

21 Create Something Every Day

 

Monkey Trio

This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to use a brayer or similar tool to apply paint to the page.  I already had an idea for a page I wanted to create so I grabbed colours I thought would work well – grey, back, and pink – and scraped them across the page.  I then added some white spatter largely because I love spatter but also because I thought it might suggest snowfall.

I had been reading National Geographic magazine and spotted a trio of portraits of Japanese macaques.  Their little faces really pulled me in so I knew I wanted to use them in an art journal page.  I stacked them up like a totem and glued them down.

20a Three Monkeys Art Journal Page - Base Layer

My personal challenge with this page was to try and disguise the edges of the magazine paper, make it look less “collaged” once I painted over it.  I, therefore, applied some thick matte medium over the top of the collaged photographs.  Painting over the photo portraits, I wanted to make the colours more stark so I made the fur white and the faces brighter pink.  I think I managed to maintain the personality of the monkeys’ faces and I also succeeded in my personal challenge to conceal the edges of the collage.

I have decided that these macaques are queuing up waiting for their turn to bathe in the hot water as the snow falls down.  I have always thought that looked to be wonderfully cosy and appealing.

20b Three Monkeys Art Journal Page

Blackbird

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “music”.  I love music and as a family we listen to music a lot.  I listen to music when I am doing household chores as a distraction from the boredom and monotony and I also listen to music when I am sitting at my art table creating.  The struggle, therefore, was trying to condense such a wide ranging theme into an art journal page.  Some weeks I want for inspiration and other weeks I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head that I simply cannot focus and determine which would be worth distilling into a visual page.  I decided, therefore, that I would base my art journal page on the very next piece of music I heard.  That so happened to be my two youngest sons singing ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles.

‘Blackbird’ was the perfect selection because there was automatically an obvious and strong visual element for the page – the blackbird itself.  I created a neutral, muted background by scraping paint across the page using an old hotel key card.  Then I painted the black body of the bird.  Then my week got massively busy and I did not add to the page for almost an entire week.  Happily, on Sunday I had my monthly meet up with some other local art journallers.  That then gave me a block of time on which to work on this page (and another) but it also meant I was limited to using portable art materials.  The rest of the page, therefore, was created using Posca paint pens.  I wish I had used a ruler to organise the text on the page.  How many years now have I stated that I will work on my typography?  Some day.

19 Blackbird -Beatles - Music

Mother’s Day in Batsto

 

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Trigger Warning: This post contains a single photo of a spider.

It was Mother’s Day last Sunday and, as my Mother’s Day treat, I wanted to go and explore somewhere new.  This Spring has been totally drecih –  a good Scots word for dreary.  It has been chilly, grey, and wet, and not very conducive to getting out and about.  Between the weather and a too busy schedule, I felt like I was getting cabin fever from not getting out and about and exploring.  So Mother’s Day was the perfect day for going for a wander somewhere new.  We chose to go to Batsto, an abandoned town in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.  I learned about the existence of Batsto from Richard Lewis’ wonderful photography blog.  Rich was actually kind enough to let me pick his brains about things to do and places to explore in the Pine Barrens.  My boys are good walkers with great stamina but we have learned from experience that they enjoy themselves a lot more and whine a lot less if we provide some sort of focus to our hikes, rambles, and wanderings.  I felt that exploring Batsto Village as a prelude to hiking a trail would be a great day out.

Our first port of call was the Visitor’s Center.  This was primarily so we could use the restroom after our drive from the Philly ‘burbs but it also provided a useful introduction to the history of the town.  Interpretative boards and exhibits informed us that Batsto was founded in the mid-18th Century – though the Lenni Lenape lived in the area before.  It was a chap named Charles Read who set up the first ironworks there, using the bog ore found in the area and trees from the woodland for the smelting furnaces.  That Batsto Iron Works changed hands a few times and had a boom period during the Revolutionary War as it provided a range of products, including munitions, to the Continental Army.  Then, in the mid-19th Century, as the iron works declined, Batsto became a glassworking area, particularly renowned for its production of window glass.  The village came under state ownership in the 1950s and the last resident left in the 1980s.

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A little bit of history absorbed, we ventured outdoors to begin our explorations.  We saw a pile of bog ore and the remains of a wooden ore boat, used to transport the raw ore from the lake.  We also saw the ice house where food provisions could be stored.  Huge chunks of ice would be cut from the lake and packed with saw dust inside the ice house so that the food could be stored there without it spoiling.  I am old enough to remember some people still having cold cupboards in their houses rather than refrigerators but it was a good opportunity to explain to my kids how things were done before electricity and the advent of domestic appliances.  Another outbuilding contained carriages, some of which looked like carcasses picked clean by carrion.  Other barns would have housed different farm animals.  In the wheelwright and blacksmith workshops, the many and various tools of the trade were on display.  I could almost imagine the blacksmith and wheelwright wandering in, picking up the equipment, and setting to work.

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The younger boys enjoyed playing inside the mule barn.  Unfortunately, rather than taking inspiration from the actual setting and playing a game of old-timey farmers, they decided to turn it into a horror game in which they had to stay steps ahead of some malevolent ghosts who were tracking them down.  There were some genuine shrieks when they found themselves squeezed into thickly webbed corners with spiders.  Thankfully no other visitors were within earshot at the time.  While they spooked each other, I took my time studying the Corn Crib.  I had never seen such an agricultural structure before and its strange shape really appealed to me.  It was as if a wonky pentagon shaped barn had had a tunnel bored through its centre.  This was where corn was stored and shucked.  The machinery that did so was powered by a water turbine attached to the adjacent Gristmill.  This was another building the boys enjoyed exploring because there were multiple accessible levels within it.  The basement layer was also thick with dusty grit which enabled them to scrawl spooky messages to each other – and any visitors who followed after us.

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In the middle of all of these agricultural and industrial buildings were a mansion and a general store.  I absolutely loved the architectural design of the mansion because it was so utterly crazy.  There were a variety of shapes and angles on every facet of the house.  There were also windows of every shape and style.  Maybe I liked it because it was quirky.  Maybe it was because it was the type of house I might end up drawing with no symmetry or organised pattern to the design.  I would love to take a tour of its interior some time.  We could go inside the general store which was fun.  The interior contained a display much like customers would have encountered upon entering the store.  I am a sucker for things being stored in little drawers and little pigeonholes.  I have fond memories of selecting penny sweeties (candy) from wooden drawers when I was wee which might be part of it.  I, therefore, particularly liked seeing the drawers of spices.  Mr Pict liked the veranda outside the general store.  It put him in mind of westerns.  I think he could imagine sitting in a rocking chair watching the world go by from that veranda.

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We took the path past the lake and a weir roaring with water.  This brought us to the area where the iron furnaces once stood and the site where the glassworks would have been.  Little or no trace remains of either.  The sawmill was still standing, however, and we could see how the trees from the surrounding woodland would have been turned into lumber products, including shingles for the exterior of houses.

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Just a little way off from the sawmill were all the remaining village houses.  These were houses, built in the early 19th Century, that occupied by the village workers.  A few of them were open so that we could go in and see the rooms and some mock ups of how they would have been furnished.  I always like to imagine how people would have lived in the past, being much more interested in social history than industrial history.

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Our intention had been to take one of the nature trails that leads off from Batsto.  However, the children were getting hungry which makes them grizzlier than bears.  We knew that setting out on a trek was inviting disaster that would start with grumbles and escalate to snarls.  We, therefore, determined that we would walk through the woods to the church that once served the people of Batsto and is still in service today for the local community.  Half way down the trail, however, we discovered that the path ahead was flooded with no obvious way around.  It had rained hard all day the previous day so this was not all together surprising but it was disappointing.  Mr Pict and I decided not to push our luck with the kids and their stomachs so, with a sigh, we turned around and headed back through the woods, through the village, and back to the car.

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Rich had recommended a few places to eat in the area so we headed to one of these.  I love to eat out for Mother’s Day as it means I don’t have to cook or clean.  I love it even more if the food is especially delicious.  The Vincetown Diner did not disappoint.  It had the relaxing, laid back atmosphere and spaciousness of a diner but the food was a step up from regular diner food (though I am actually a fan of diner food).  I had crab cakes with garlic mash and lemon aoli which was packed with flavour and stuffed me to the gunnels.  My eyes were bigger than my belly and had scanned the dessert case on the way to our seats so I still went ahead and ordered the chocolate volcano cake.  I was only able to eat one mouthful of it so I boxed it up and had it the next day.  Still scrumptious.

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We had a superb day out exploring the Pine Barrens.  We will likely return to Batsto again, maybe in a different season, and we would also like to explore more of the surrounding area and trek along some of the trails.  I also hope the dreary weather has ended now so that this can be the first of many weekend wanderings.  We have been cooped up for too long.

Self-Portrait using Non-Dominant Hand

What a difference from one week to the next – last week was an art time famine and this week I have managed to squeeze in three different doses of art time.  This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt to use colours outside your comfort zone.  Since I had enjoyed the abstract lesson from Life Book so much this week and had found it so quick and easy, I decided to take a similar approach with my art journal page.  I again chose to use my non-dominant hand and used a wooden skewer dipped in ink.  I could tell just by glancing at my set of watercolours which colours I used least because they had barely been touched: green and orange.  I decided to throw in some yellow for a third colour and to connect the green and orange.  Not wanting to create another abstract and not knowing what else to draw, I settled on a self-portrait.  I really enjoyed working in this way.  It was quick, easy, and relaxing.  I will be squirreling away this approach so I can use it again in future.

18 Non-Dominant Hand Self-Portrait

Minimalist Abstracts

I was so happy when I viewed this week’s Life Book lesson because I knew I could actually get my response completed within the week and that, in turn, motivated me to find the free time required.  The lesson was taken by Melissa Dinwiddie and her ethos was all about being playful and getting the creative juices flowing by working on quick, minimalist pieces.  Further, the media used were ink and watercolour which are comfortably within my wheelhouse.  The lesson still presented a challenge to me, however, in that I don’t find I have an instinct for abstraction generally.  I, therefore, decided to work with my non-dominant hand in order to ensure that my mark making was loose.  It was a whole lot of fun and very relaxing so in the end I created four pieces, each measuring 4.5 by 6 inches.

19 Ink and Watercolour Abstract 1

19 Ink and Watercolour Abstract 2

19 Ink and Watercolour Abstract 3

19 Ink and Watercolour Abstract 4