Big Blue Bear

Today was my last teaching day of the school year.  I am working at my preschool’s summer camp for the next fortnight but summer break is in reach.  I am looking forward to a summer spent hanging out with my kids, relaxing, travelling, spending time on hobbies and interests, and generally having a much more flexible schedule.  This week, however, was completely hectic and crazy in the way that the final weeks of the school year always are so this week’s art journal effort is still sloppy and rushed.  That’s OK, however, because I needed those 20 minutes of art time as a brief escape pod from my ridiculous schedule.  I used this week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt – the letter B – so I created a watercolour illustration of a Big Blue Bear.

22 - Big Blue Bear - Art Journal Page

Skeleton Bear

There were two lessons last week for Life Book, one taken by Whitney Freya and one by Samie Harding.  There was absolutely no way I was going to find time to tackle two different lessons.  I thought I would choose to work on the one that appealed most to me but, in actual fact, neither really chimed with me enough to stand out.  One was abstract and one was very “art therapy” in its approach and neither of those things really inspires my creativity.  I almost decided not to work on Life Book for the second week in a row but then I had an idea: I could combine the lessons.  I could use some of the approaches from the abstract lesson to create a background and could use the concept of a totem animal from the other lesson as a jumping off point for the subject matter.  Of course, being me, I had to put my own twist on things and – as such – I turned my bear into a silhouette contain a skeleton.  You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but I did have a quick google to have a photo reference for the bear’s skull.  I actually had a lot of fun creating this painting so I am glad I found the mojo and the time to actually work on Life Book after all.

30 - Skeleton Bear

Pants, Pyjamas, Laundry and Hibernation

This week’s Documented Life Project challenge prompt had me scratching my head for inspiration.  Incorporating fabric onto the journal page seems simple enough but I don’t ever create with fabric (unless you count the occasional sock monkey or sock monster) so not only do I not have much in the way of fabric crafting skills but I do not have a stash of fabric of any kind.  Not even any old socks since those have been turned into sock monsters.  Being a tomboy mother of four boys, I don’t even have any ribbon or bows or anything.  It was suggested that I could utilise a scrap from some old clothing but we emigrated with very few clothes as it is so there was nothing that was not being worn for me to cannibalise.  One of my sons has ripped a pair of jeans but they are his favourites so he would not part with them and I also was not keen on the sewing challenge of trying to work with denim.  I kill my thumbs enough trying to hem denim jeans.  I was not about to put myself through that for fun.  My mind was wandering to ways in which I could loosely interpret the prompt and I was all set to produce a watercolour sketch of some crumpled fabrics when my husband announced that he had identified some old clothes that I could chop up and use: his underpants.

Yes.  Underpants.

At the risk of having my Green Card revoked, I am really not a fan of American washing machines.  Since moving here, I have had two top-loading washing machines – one at the rental house and one that came with our new home – and both have been awfully hard on our clothing.  Because they spin around a central axis point, it creates a sort of centrifuge (or does it?  Because I know even less about physics than I do about sewing) and all the wet garments just stick to the sides of the drum, becoming a tangled mess, straining and pulling against each other.  In all my years of doing laundry, I have become accustomed to using a front loading machine whereby the clothes spin around in the drum but also tumble because of the effect of gravity: whatever clothes are at the top of the drum fall down and rejoin the fray, so they are being constantly separated from each other.  The problem with the top-loading system is that the clothes pulling against each other leads to misshaping and tears.  A button or zip catches against a jumper and gets pulled to such an extent that a hole appears.  I have had more holes appear in laundry in the past year than I have had over the previous decades of my laundering experience.  Washing machine design is one of the few small differences between my domestic life in Scotland and America that really irks me.  When it comes time to replace our washing machine, I am hoping we can do so with a front loader.

Rant over and out but that explains why my husband was able to donate his under garments to my creative project: the blasted washing machine had created a hole in them.  So underpants it was.

It took me some pondering time to decide how I could use them on my page.  Some ideas were just too ambitious for my sewing skill level and some would have involved creating too much in the way of three dimensions which would make my art journal too difficult to work in.  Finally, last night, as I snuggled down to watch some TV while wearing my jammies and clutching a mug of hot tea, I had my inspiration: hibernation.

So this is the page that resulted from a combination of undies and hibernation.  Many days in winter I wish I could hibernate and just hole up somewhere cosy with jammies, a hot water bottle, endless supplies of tea and some favourite movies.  The undies were in a soft jersey fabric so I adhered it to some thin card stock and then used some embroidery floss to add details to the pyjamas.  The bear was painted in watercolour and then outlined in ink.  I used gel pen for the lettering and narrowed the size of my page to eliminate some of the white by using strips of colourful, patterned washi tape.  I have defaulted to my everyday illustrative style of drawing in order to create my DLP page again this week but using that fabric in a creative way was ample challenge.  It is always good to be shoved out of one’s comfort zone and try something new but quite honestly I don’t think I will be in any rush to repeat the experiment of incorporating fabric into my art.

2014-11-09 14.12.58

*PS The colours are not as washed out in real life.  That’s just my camera phone not capturing the colours accurately enough once again*

I’m no Davy Crockett

I regularly find myself relaxing with a steaming hot mug of tea and looking out of the window as various birds, especially blue jays and cardinals, flit around in the garden.  I am no twitcher (my bird identification skills are too lacking) but I am thoroughly enjoying observing birds in the garden and it is quite exciting when a woodpecker comes to visit.  It is also a joy to watch the squirrels playing around in the garden, their curvaceous bushy tails wiggling after them as they dart around.  Now that Spring has completely sprung, they have been joined by rabbits.  Thankfully these bunnies must keep their burrows elsewhere and are not digging holes all over the garden.  As such, I can just sit back and smile as I watch them bobbing around.

We see deer a lot around here  – though not in the garden – but I have not yet seen a raccoon or an opposum.  I have actually never seen an opposum in the wild ever and have only once seen a wild raccoon.  My husband thought it was a hunchbacked dog.  The kids are absolutely longing to see a raccoon.  It’s almost tempting to leave a bin bag full of edible goodies out just to tempt one but, of course, I am too responsible to do so.  The youngest Pict and I did, however, see a small groundhog today.  Out of the corner of my eye, I thought it was a plump squirrel but when  look properly it was clearly a small, perhaps juvenile, groundhog snuffling around in a neighbour’s shrubbery.  That was fun.

Another wild critter encounter my kids really want to have is with a bear.  Yes, a bear.  As in apex predator.  They completely understand and appreciate that bears are dangerous.  Indeed, when my youngest two set up a cuddly toy zoo in their bedroom, the littlest one reassured us that the bear would “just” eat our heads.  Nevertheless, they want to see a bear in the wild.  Recently a young bear actually wandered along a street that is just a little distance from here.  It was tranquilised and removed before it could meet my four boys.  They were actually disappointed. 250lbs of presumably frustrated, stressed black bear wandering down residential streets and they actually would have been happy to come across it.  We clearly need to have that wildlife conversation again.  Scotland’s apex land predator is probably a fox or badger.  This is a potentially life-saving learning curve for this pack of immigrants.

This reminded me – yet again – that I still have not researched what the current advice is regarding how to react to a bear encounter.  I remember that at one stage the wisdom was to do nothing but flop around and play dead so that the bear did not feel threatened and ultimately became bored and wandered off.  Because if I was a bear I would get probably get bored with something I had mauled to shreds too.  Climbing a tree is also ridiculous advice because I am pretty sure bears have evolved to climb trees in a way that humans have not.  There is no way that even pumped full of adrenalin I would scale a tree quicker than even a decrepit bear.

I have now diligently (as in half an hour of googling) researched what I should do if I happen to encounter a bear in the wild – or a bear encounter me.  There is lots of advice about not panicking.  I expect I might instinctively ignore that advice.  My kids might be overcome with excitement but I am pretty sure I will experience panic on at least some level.  There is also mention of standing your ground on several sites.  That should not be a problem since the aforementioned panic will have rooted me to the spot.  Apparently it is advisable to avoid eye contact with a bear.  How in the heck do I manage that?  I’ve just seen a bear amble towards me and I am supposed to react as if I’ve seen nothing?  I need to look at it to make sure it is not walking with intent towards me while licking its chops.  How on earth do I assess the situation while avoiding making eye contact?  I also have to apparently walk away slowly if the bear is not approaching but the only way to determine the bear’s trajectory is if I look at it.  So look but without making eye contact?  Tricky.  It’s like some weird etiquette guide.  No yelling is not problematic since I am sure my voice will be a frozen, solid lump in my throat but apparently speaking in a monotone voice is best.  I assume several studies have been conducted to come to this conclusion.  So no shrill Miss Piggy shrieking if I encounter a bear.  I get it.  Could be quite challenging if that previously referenced panic strikes.  Flap hands to indicate status as a human.  Oh.  Kay.  I just have to trust that a bear will know the difference between a flapping human and a giant bird.

Some sites do advise climbing trees.  But only if you can get higher than 33 feet before the bear reaches you.  And you have to back away slowly in order to reach the climbable tree.  Hmmmm.

So if all of these strategies fail, it is necessary to follow further helpful instructions such as deploying pepper spray.  Maybe this is un-American of me, who knows, but I don’t carry pepper spray on me.  I actually don’t own any.  So actually the first piece of advice any of the articles about bear encounters should have mentioned was purchasing and packing pepper spray.  The pepper spray should be discarded once discharged because bizarrely the pepper can lure bears.  So walk into bear territory carrying pepper spray as a strangely alluring deterrent?  Mixed message.  If the pepper spray does not dissuade the bear – and let’s face it the pepper spray may just make it extra angry and determined to shred and pulp – then it is advised that the attacked human drops to the ground and rolls up in a ball on their side or face down on their stomach.  Presumably this is to make it more difficult for evisceration to occur.  I am all for keeping my guts inside my body so that’s some great advice right there.  Of course, I would rather not have a chewed head, nibbled limbs or shredded buttocks either.  But the lesson has sunk in: protect the organs at all costs.  But this is advice pertinent to Grizzlies.  If Black Bears attack then you should fight back.  Apparently this is because black bears are more timid than their grizzly cousins.  But I bet they are not more timid than a Scottish woman who is trying to identify what type of bear she has just met while conversely trying not to make eye contact with it and while backing away slowly and figuring out which backwards direction qualifies as downwind.  Then, once the attack is over, one is told to check the bear has left the vicinity  – all while face down, curled in a ball and absolutely not making eye contact – and then go and seek help as rapidly as your munched legs can carry you.

All of this research just leads to the conclusion that my kids can hope for a wild bear encounter as much as they like but I am countering their vibes with ones that involve never meeting a bear.  Ever.

I am sticking with squirrels and birds, thanks.