History of Art #5 – Albrecht Durer

From the Italian Renaissance to the German Renaissance, next up in our summer project on the History of Art was Albrecht Durer.  My aim with this project is to give the children an understanding of different eras and movements in art, developments, expose them to different styles and different media, different modes of visual expression.  Therefore, while we did look at Durer’s paintings – especially his striking self-portraits – we mainly focused on his print-making.  The boys were especially impressed with Durer’s rhinoceros woodcut given that he had never even seen an actual rhino.

Then it was time to get printing.  I enjoy lino block printing – though I never seem to get adequate free time in which to develop my skills – so the kids had seen me carving lino before and were, therefore, keen to have a go themselves.  I use unmoounted linoleum for block printing but I had some small pieces of soft carve material that I thought would be perfect for the boys to experiment with.  Although the photos don’t make it clear, they were using a guard to protect their hands from the carving tools.  The boys all found the carving to be harder than they anticipated but they stuck with it and showed improvement.  It was interesting watching them figure out the positive and negative elements within the carving.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - AB

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - AR

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - E

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - O

My 9 year old decided to keep the design simple and just concentrate on learning the carving so he produced a smiley face.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Smile - O

My 6 year old wanted to create a zombie wandering through the darkness.  Cleverly this meant that all he had to do was carve out the stickman zombie figure.  He insisted on printing it on dark green paper so we used origami paper.  I think it is quite effective.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Zombie - AR

My 12 year old is all about Minecraft (you might have noticed) so he carved a creeper face and printed on bright green origami paper.  He enjoyed working on the whole print, from concept to lifting the print, independently.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Creeper - AB

My 8 year old carved a minion so he was determined to use yellow ink.  The yellow ink is much thinner and more challenging to work with than other colours but we finally got a good print by using our fingers instead of the baren.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Minion - E

Meanwhile, I took my inspiration from Durer’s rhinoceros and decided to carve a rhino myself using a small block of lino.  I borrowed my composition from an ink drawing I had done of a rhino some years ago.  I needed to work the baren across the paper for longer, to press firmer, in order to get a more solid background but otherwise I am pretty chuffed with how this print turned out.

5 Durer - Block Printing - Cutting - Laura

5 Durer - Block Printing - Rhino - Laura

A rhino was consequently the subject of my 82nd Crazy Critter.

New Art Challenge – Into the Woods

I have finally made a decision about my next art challenge.  It is going to be “Into the Woods”.  That theme allows me enough scope to work in different media and cover a wide range of subjects.  Since my last art challenge involved a lot of time pressure, I am not going to impose a timetable or deadline onto it.  I will just create whenever my artistic mojo strikes but I will – mostly – create in response to this theme.

My first work on this theme was a lino block print I have titled “Worried Bunny”.  You can read more about it here.

Worried Bunny - Red and Blue Block Prints - Phase 2

I will be sharing the art I produce in response to this theme on my art blog, Pict Ink, so make sure you visit there if you want to see more.


Whale and Caged Bird Lino Block Prints

I have been trying to grab a little bit of time each week for creativity.  I find that focusing on something artistic for even a short period of time is calming and acts to decompress me.  Art is something I enjoy, love and am passionate about but I am also realising that I find it to also be therapeutic.  In Scotland, I went to my Art Club’s Life Drawing class which meant that at least once a week I was spending time doing something creative just for myself.  I have not found a life class here, unfortunately, but art journalling and participating in the Documented Life Project means that at least once a week I am taking some time out from all of the hustle and bustle of family life to devote to something creative.

I am enjoying mixed media work far more than I expected to and I am enjoying the stimulus of learning new techniques and working with unfamiliar materials or even familiar materials but deployed in a new way.  Nevertheless I am finding that I still revert to drawing and ink work.  I guess that is my comfort zone.  Just before leaving Scotland, I was starting to get back into lino block printing which I had not done since my teens.  That, therefore, is something I am trying to develop again so I am trying to make time to develop designs for block prints and ever so often I even find time to carve a block and print.  I have not discovered a local source of lino blocks yet so I have been working on smaller pieces of lino than I am used to but actually I am enjoying the challenge of that restriction and the smaller scale also makes it easier for me to start and finish a piece within the time I have set aside.

My first two efforts at this smaller scale (15cmx10cm) were of a whale and a bird in a cage.   If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might recognise the bird design from a page I did for the Documented Life Project but I have not shared the whale print on the blog before.  I might experiment with creating a monoprint background for printing the whale onto at some point.  I happen to like the texture that results from the imperfections from my cutting which is why I don’t cut away until every single positive is gone from the negative spaces.  I re-print and re-cut until I get a result that I am happy with.  Perhaps it is because I tend to be very precise with my drawing and ink work that I enjoy the imperfections of the block prints.  In the case of the whale print below, I clearly didn’t use the baren at a consistent enough pressure when pressing the print so there is a patchiness to the ink.  If I was creating that print with a view to selling it then I would print it again but since this print was just for me I actually quite liked the effect as it made me think of the scarred and barnacled surface of a whale’s body.  In any case, I am pretty pleased with how they both turned out.



In Search of a House to call our Home

As you may have ascertained from previous blog entries, the biggest stressor in this whole relocation for me and the aspect that has upset my equilibrium the most has been our limbo situation of waiting for our house in Scotland to sell before we can find a permanent home here in Pennsylvania.

Mr Pict and I have owned property since we were 21 so even switching to being tenants in a rental property once more – something we have not experienced since we were students – has required some adjustment.  However, the most difficult aspect of being in a rental property has been not having a place to call home.  We have the house that we live in but we are all too aware that it is not our home.  We have personalised it to the extent that it is possible, such as by hanging our own art work, but we are always aware that it is someone else’s house that we are living in and that our stay there will be short term.  We do feel very lucky to have found this property and we have loved living here – and the boys love living next door to their school – but we very much need to start putting down established roots here and investing in our future in bricks and mortar.

Of course, we could not start looking to buy until our house in Scotland had sold so that the equity was released.  We loved our house.  We had it built for us so it was very much “our” house.  When we left the maternity hospital with each successive baby, they came back to that home.  It is where all of their childhood memories were based, birthdays, celebrations, achievements, fun, the occasional episode of melodrama or minor catastrophe.  We also had superb neighbours – the best neighbours we had ever had indeed – and were in the middle of a lovely community with a beautiful view down the loch to boot.  In the months running up to leaving that house, knowing it was definitely happening, I had to start mentally and emotionally detaching myself from the house.  I had to keep reminding myself that home is wherever my husband and the kids are, that home is not bricks and mortar but is instead all of the emotional stuff, the joy and the chaos of family life.  It remained a challenge, however, because of course the house reverberated with the memories of all of that emotional stuff.

And then at some stage that house, which we had loved so much and which had so many connotations for us, became an albatross around our necks.

A small community with a tiny population makes for a slow housing market.  Like tortoise sloooooooooooooow.  We had a feeling that our house would either be snapped up quickly or would sit empty for quite a while.  Unfortunately it was the latter.  The house went up for sale when we left our home for the last time in early September and just this last week we finally, finally, after some false starts and false hope, had a formal offer lodged with our lawyer.  If it all goes to plan then the sale will be completed in late June.  We will be so incredibly relieved when it does.  

Meanwhile, since I arrived in America in October, I have been viewing houses online.  I signed up for email alerts so that any new property that has at least four bedrooms and is sited in our school district pings right into my inbox.  It was a knowledge gathering exercise so that I could be as informed as possible when the time came to actually embark on looking for a permanent home.  What I soon realised was that the catchment area for the boys’ elementary school is really rather small and there are not many four bedroom houses within that small geographical area and some houses that are large enough to accommodate a family of six were out of our budget.  So as the months have rolled on, I have become increasingly despondent about our Scottish house still being unsold and increasingly anxious about the prospect of finding the right house to buy and increasingly fretful about our timeline because we really want to avoid getting into another lease period.  We very much want to cease paying both a mortgage and rent because that is a whole other stressor.

Anyway, once the offer on our Scottish house was formally lodged, we decided it might be smart to start properly looking at houses.  I knew there were four on the market that were feasible for us so we contacted a realtor to set up viewings for us.  In the time it took for the realtor to phone the selling agents, two of the houses had sold.  I had noted, through my obsessive real estate stalking, that houses here sold quickly but the pace has clearly picked up since we got into Spring.  I assume everyone wants to move before the next school year commences.  Mr Pict and I quickly realised that there was going to be no being casual about this, viewing houses and pondering and contemplating as such.  We needed to be decisive.  Luckily, we have had to make rapid, immediate and instinctive decisions before when buying property so we have the required skill set if not the nerves for such an undertaking.  I drew up a list, in table form – as I am wont to do – of criteria for our house hunt.  There were things that were essential – such as being in the catchment area of the elementary and having a minimum of four bedrooms – and things that were preferable – such as being within walking distance of school and having a finished basement – and things we really did not want – like a swimming pool or being sited on a busy road.  Being armed with that checklist would keep our heads in the right place and then we could rely on gut feelings about places and a vision for how we could make each place function as our home.

On Friday, therefore, Mr Pict and I went to view two houses.  The first was beautifully presented but was just too small for us and was especially lacking in storage space.  The second, however, ticked all of the boxes – literally all of the boxes on my checklist – and just felt right for us.  We could instantly imagine ourselves living there and could envision how we would transform it into the Pict family home.  To cut an already long story short, we were decisive and lodged an offer and it has been accepted.  Squeal.  The next hurdle is the survey of the house – which I think is called a home inspection here in America – but if nothing untoward is discovered then we should be able to progress with the purchase.  It’s nerve-wracking but for the first time in months the nervous energy is exciting rather than coming from a place of panic and dread.

So keep your fingers crossed, join me in touching wood, send out positive vibes into the cosmos and wish us luck.

With all of these property developments this week, that was what was on my mind when the latest Documented Life Project challenge was posted.  Because I was thinking about what home actually means, that became the theme of the page.  The challenge this week was to incorporate embroidery or embroidery floss onto the page.  I have sewing skills limited to taking up hems, replacing buttons and making sock monkeys and sock monsters.  Embroidery is beyond me.  I, therefore, kept that element of the challenge to a minimum and just ran a tacking stitch around the text.  I created a background using watercolour paint and ink.  One of the creative things I do is carve lino blocks and I had a small one of a bird inside a cage so I utilised that as a stamp and stamped onto a brown paper bag which I then stuck onto the page.  I picked out some of the detail in the printed image with red and white ink.  Although I wish I had used deeper, darker colours for the background, I am quite pleased with how this page turned out.