Gesso and Beginnings

The two prompts for the second week of the Documented Life Project were to use gesso and a quotation from Mary Shelley: “The beginning is always today.”  I decided to combine the two prompts into one page just to save time.  What was immense fun this week was that my 7 year old and I worked on our pages side by side using the same techniques.

We decided to use the gesso to create a background layer.  Instead of just using it as a primer, we mixed the gesso with two or three colours of acrylic paint which created a really textural background. Once that layer was dry, we used acrylic paint in contrasting colours dabbed through stencils to create another layer.  I then added some circles and dots to my page by stamping objects into white acrylic.  My son opted not to do so and I think his was the right choice as my background ended up a bit too busy.  We then collaged using origami paper: I constructed birds and my son made bats, which turned out really cute.  Although ‘Frankenstein’ is one of my favourite novels, I decided against using the quotation from Mary Shelley.  Instead I used one by George Bernard Shaw that I liked because it seemed apt given that I am at the beginning of a year of trying new creative things: “Imagination is the beginning of creation.”  I stamped the words on.  My 7 year old decided to stamp too but instead of a quotation about beginnings he chose to stamp what he thought about his bats.

Week 2 - Gesso & Beginnings

Week 2 - Gesso & Beginnings - ETDP

Didn’t my 7 year old do a fantastic job?  I far prefer his page to my own and so do his brothers.  His chosen colour scheme turned out to be far more harmonious and pleasing than mine and his bats are just adorable.

Goals for 2015

This year, as well as continuing with the Documented Life Project (DLP) in its new format, I am embarking on Life Book 2015.  That will be my first ever online art course and actually only my second ever online course – the first being about writing my family history – and it is quite a commitment since it runs all year.  I am looking forward to honing my skills with mixed media techniques, learning new approaches, trying new materials and media and just trying new creative things.

For both the DLP and LB, the initial pieces for the year focused on goals, ambitions and intentions for 2015.  I have never been one to set New Year resolutions but I do set myself goals, things to strive for in the year ahead.  I set myself 9 goals last year and actually managed to achieve most of them.  Writing up my family history was, with hindsight, far too ambitious.  I did, however, write up the history of one of my genealogical lines.  My other family history goal – to reorganise my family history photos into a bigger album – was also ridiculous given that my photo albums were in storage boxes until a couple of months ago.  However, all things considered, I did pretty well with my goals for 2014.  Hopefully I will achieve similar success with my 2015 goals.

There were two DLP prompts for the first week.  The prompt was to “be your own goal keeper” and the challenge was “book paper”.  I considered combining the two but I had actually created a background a few weeks ago when I was at my Art Journal MeetUp group and I thought it would work well for recording my goals for 2015.  I wrote the individual goals inside the geometric shapes but I also decided to set myself a word for the year and incorporated that in the central circle.  My word for the year is “balance”.  After two years of relocation, change, transition and adaptation, I am ready to try and reestablish some balance back into my life and in every area of my life.  Hopefully the goals I have set will help me achieve and restore that balance.

Week 1 - Goals

Despite my best intentions and my anal retentiveness regarding punctuality, despite my decision to strive for balance this year, I have started the year already trying to play catch up with my creative commitments, including DLP and Life Book (LB).  I decided, therefore, to do a very quick page with the book paper prompt.  Someone happened to inform me that 2015 is the year of the sheep.  That was all the inspiration I needed.  I cut a fat, puffy, cloud shape from a dictionary page – choosing the page that had the word “sheep” on it which I then cut out and added to the page.  A quick scribble with black and white gel pens later and that shape had become a silly sheep.  I used stamps to write the word “balance”, which was an ironic reminder of my key word given I was hastily putting together my page while simultaneously making dinner and doing laundry.

Week 1 - Book Paper

The warm-up exercise for my first ever LB lesson was – by coincidence – also about setting a key word for the year.  The lesson was about teaching a layering technique in mixed media.  I chose to work in purples, blues and magenta which in retrospect might have been a mistake because, once I had applied the gesso layer which knocked back the colours, I didn’t particularly like the pastel shades that emerged.  They reminded me of hydrangeas which I have never been a fan of because I associate them with decay for some reason.  I enjoyed the layering technique, however, and can see it is an approach I will take again but this time using bolder colours for the first pass and then bringing them back stronger in the layer on top of the gesso.  See!  I learned something already.  The envelope on the front contains my goals for the year, closed up with washi tape, and I stamped on some butterflies for visual interest.  I then used stamps and sharpie to write the key phrase: find balance.

Week 1 - Warm Up - Word for Year

Now I don’t even know if I will recognise balance if I find it.  I don’t actually know if I can thrive and flourish in a balanced state.  My husband thinks I function best when I have a bit of a palaver going on.  I think he is probably right.  Still worth striving for though and certainly I could benefit from being more balanced, calm and settled than I have been these past two years.  Let’s see if it comes to pass.

My Kids doodled in my Art Journal

Being new to art journaling, I decided to join in a project that would provide me with prompts, tips and inspiration.  As such I am participating in the Documented Life Project.  This week’s challenge was to have someone else draw in your journal and then finish the page.  

Back in Scotland I would have asked one of my many artist friends to collaborate on the challenge with me but here I had three options: ask Mr Pict to draw something; ask one of my kids to draw something; ask all of my kids to draw something.  I plumped for the last option.  Since one of the ideas behind the project is to – as it says on the tin – document your life, I decided that the prompt for my children should be a reflection on the things they have enjoyed about living in America so far.  This was what they came up with:


My four year old drew a minion because he is obsessed with minions and was excited to meet one when we were in Times Square; my six year old drew the Empire State Building because visiting it fulfilled one of his ambitions – and he even included King Kong on it; my eight year old drew Abraham Lincoln because he has been enjoying learning all about Presidents; and my ten year old drew a hot dog because he is enjoying eating lots of new foods.

I determined that I did not want to alter their drawings too much as I wanted to preserve this moment of reflection on their experiences of their new home five months into our relocation.  So I just added some detail to the drawings using red and blue ink, added some words generated during a chat with them about the things they were enjoying about life here so far and then added some stars because that seemed to work well with the colour theme.


Finding Focus and Direction in Goals

I have been a bit rudderless since I relocated to America.  So much of 2013 was driven by the whole immigration process that all of my other hobbies, interests and bits and pieces that contribute towards that messy thing that is my identity had to be pushed to the peripheries and have consequently fallen by the wayside.  I need to get my bit of my life back on track and, as such, decided to set myself some achievable goals for 2014.  I don’t do Resolutions so these goals are not about change but are about things to aim for in order to give me a bit of focus and as a means to ensuring that I do actually devote a bit more time to myself this year.  Since I am also trying to learn a new skill in my new environment, I thought I might as well have a bash at setting my goals out in my art journal.


Immigration Art Journal Page

I decided to attempt an Art Journal page today since I had some spare time.  I have not used collage at all for decades and I never use words in my art work so I decided to do both.  In the spirit of the “journal” element of the activity, I decided to utilise words relating to my experience of immigration.



It’s not great, not great at all, but it’s a start and now that I’ve given art journaling a proper attempt maybe I can build on it to get better, more creative, less rigid in my approach.

Moon Pies

On 27 December 2002 I ate my one and only Moon Pie.

I can provide the specific date because I kept travel journals for all my US road trips (and some other holidays).  Heavily pregnant with my oldest son, we were travelling through the Southern States.  Therefore, if I didn’t stop the car frequently to pee, I was stopping to snack on something.  So it was that we found ourselves in a small town in Western Alabama.  This was how I recorded the experience:

“[The town] contained a Dollar Store that was having a clearance sale but no option for eating so we went into a Piggly Wiggly supermarket, the first supermarket chain in the world, that was set amid grotty, run down shacks, some leaning over so far that they looked tipsy.  I would like to claim that I bought something sensible to eat but, in reality, there was not much of nutritional value on sale and I did not want to pass up the opportunity to tick off another one of the ambitions [for this trip] on my list, which was to eat a Moon Pie.  I had heard that this was a real southern snack and that it was the vision of a travelling salesman who gave the idea to a Chattanooga baker all the way back in 1919.  Plus it’s made of marshmallow, cookie and chocolate and, therefore, sounded pretty delectable to me.  I was, however, disappointed by my Moon Pie.  It looked like a fat ‘Wagon Wheel’ biscuit but tasted like a dry, claggy, stale cake.  When I looked at the list of ingredients, “and / or” was repeated several times, as if to suggest that the factory in Chattanooga that manufactures them uses whatever ingredients come to mind or hand and whatever was probably cheapest, such as hog fat and raccoon paws.”

Having failed to read my archived journal before supermarket shopping yesterday, however, I chanced upon some Moon Pies reduced to just a few cents so I frisbeed four of them into my trolley so that my kids could also experience a Moon Pie for the first time.



My children declared the Moon Pies to be “really, really good” and “yummy” and “delicious”.  Either I got a really bad Moon Pie back in a corner of Alabama eleven years ago or my kids have palates that lack discernment and will, as such, eat anything that gives them a chocolate and sugar kick.

Next experiment: the Twinky!

Who am I and why am I here?

The title is not an indication that this first post (or blog indeed) will be full of existential angst.  Quite literally I thought I ought to explain who I am and why I am here.

So the title of my blog is “A Pict in PA”.  The latter part is easy to explain: I live in Pennsylvania – PA for short.  I have done for precisely a week.  Indeed, I have lived in America for precisely one week.  That segues me into the Pict part which is a little tricker to explain.  Partly I opted for Pict because I love alliteration.  I actually alliterate without thinking about it because it is a compulsive thing for me.  I am, however, from Fife in Scotland – the Pictish Kingdom of Fife.  And I am pretty confident that, short of a DNA test to prove it, I have Pict blood coursing through my veins: I am short, dark and hairy and very feisty.  So I am a Pict in PA.  Simple really.

And why am I in PA?  Well what do you do when your husband of many years, the father of your four children, starts a late night conversation with the phrase, “What would you think about us moving to America?”  Option one is to smother him with a pillow but I happen to love my husband so I heard him out and actually a lot of what he said made sense.  That in itself was kind of remarkable.  So my husband, who is a dual US/UK national who had not lived in the US for 20 years, set to researching and investigating how we could possibly relocate our family to the US.  It’s impossible to precis the saga that followed so to cut that epic short – just over a year on from that initial conversation, after a lot of immigration hooha at the London Embassy, a great deal of soul-searching and very difficult goodbyes, and a period of the kids and I living apart from my husband – our family of six took up residence in Pennsylvania.

So the purpose of this blog is to record my experience, as an immigrant mother, relocating family life from one side of the Atlantic to the other.  The intention is for it to be a journal of sorts, help me process my responses to new experiences and opportunities by typing it out and perhaps even provide family and friends with some insight into what we are doing as a family hundreds of miles away.