Flowers and Freedom

On Saturday, I went with a friend to the Philadelphia Flower Show.  On my own.  Child-free.  No clock-watching or pressure of time.  It was an absolute luxury.  I really know very little about flowers and gardening.  My friend knows a bit more than I do but is no expert.  I think it is safe to say, therefore, that attending the Flower Show was an opportunity to just be grown ups together and enjoy each other’s company more than it was about indulging any horticultural interest or ability.

This was also my first time attending an event in the Convention Centre.  My husband and two of my children have attended Philly Comic Con annually since we emigrated to America so they are veterans of the Convention Centre but I have had no reason to go before.  The Flower Show is run by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society and is apparently America’s longest running and oldest flower show, dating as it does from 1829.  I imagine that people attend in order to be inspired by new plant varieties, by landscape design, to participate in competitions, and to meet with other flower enthusiasts.  Aside from the opportunity for a day of unfettered freedom, the appeal for me lay in seeing a riot of colour and vibrant life given how much I have been loathing Winter and craving Spring.

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Given my degree of ignorance, this will not be a long blog post.  I did, however, enjoy wandering among the displays and showcases.  Most impressive was a tropical jungle built around scaffolding poles that had been painted to mimic bamboo and which were festooned with stunning flowers in bold colours, including cascades of orchids and swirling leaves, and incorporating various water features including a series of waterfalls and the occasional shower of rain.  I was also very taken with a desert area filled with an incredible variety of cacti and succulents.  My friend and I became a tad obsessed with one colloquially named “dinosaur back” because of all of its folds and ridges.  Had one been available for purchase, I might have brought that home with me.  I am not very good at keeping houseplants alive but cacti do somehow manage to survive in my care despite my negligence and evil eye.

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The theme of the flower show was apparently water.  That seemed like a very easy challenge to me since almost all plants require water for sustenance and many garden designs incorporate water.  Still, I do enjoy a good water feature so I liked seeing the variety of ways in which water had been built into the landscaping.  Aside from the water, we noticed some other repetitions of design: glass orbs and copper.  We congratulated ourselves on spotting what might be a gardening “trend”.  There was. for instance, a visually appealing display involving a mirrored table (imagine keeping that clean of smears and finger smudges?) with glass orbs hanging above it like a chandelier, each orb containing a plant.  I thought it would make for a pretty wedding table whereas in my home it would make for megatons of stress and fingers being cut on shards of smashed glass.  On the subject of weddings, I did love an outdoor wedding table, all wood and soft moss, including what looked like a tiered cake made from slices of log.  I could imagine Oberon and Titania dining in just such a setting.

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The competition areas were befuddling to me.  My lack of expertise meant that I could not possibly figure out why one plant or arrangement had been awarded first place while another was an honorable mention.  It was another opportunity to see a diverse selection of plants I had never encountered before.  There was a miniature citrus tree with blossoms and fruit, venus fly traps and pitcher plants inside humid terrariums, arrangements inside tea cups (I liked those a lot!), lots of breathtaking orchids, and blooms in every shape and colour.  I was drawn to the weirdo plants, the non-conformists, and the ones that looked like me if I was a plant.  I got more excited than a grown woman ought to when I spotted some chubby tuberous plants that looked just like mandrakes from ‘Harry Potter’.

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In truth, I cannot say I learned much after a day at the Flower Show and any sense of inspiration was tempered by the reality of my green-finger skills (which are brown-thumbed to be honest).  I did, however, very much enjoy a pleasant day out without the responsibility of keeping children engaged.

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Autumn Wreath

Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Tamara Laporte and was all about Autumn.  Autumn (or Fall as it is called here) is my favourite season.  I like the quality of light, the colours of the trees, the justification for getting into my pyjamas earlier in the evening and snuggling on the sofa under a warm blanket, the holidays, and the cosy foods.  I was, therefore, eager to carve out some time to work on this particular lesson.  I had actually been working with Autumn leaves all week at preschool, getting my little students to make collages with them, make Fall leaf prints, and play in piles of actual leaves outdoors so it felt entirely appropriate to spend my evenings at the end of the week painting Autumn foliage, albeit whimsical, stylised leaves and plants rather than anything even approaching botanical realism.

Week 46 - Autumn Wreath

Twilight Garden

Last week’s Let’s Face It lesson was with Regina Lord.  The current focus is on incorporating hands into paintings of faces and figures and this particular lesson was an approach to painting a figure in acrylic.  I find drawing hands to be difficult so I knew painting a hand in acrylic was going to prove challenging for me.

I really liked the dreamscape quality of Lord’s tutorial exemplar so I tried to emulate that in my painting.  I think I ended up with something that has a sort of naive or folksy quality to it.  That is most definitely the best element of this painting.  I feel like I am not making much progress with learning to use acrylic paint.  I am definitely better at drawing and at using ink and watercolour for illustration type art than I am at using acrylic and attempting a more painterly approach.  I am still enjoying exploring something that for me is still fairly new but I definitely am not making progress at a rate I would have hoped for.  I do find trying new things and challenging myself to be stimulating, however, so I will keep beavering away and trying my best.

Week 34 Twilight Garden

Seeds of Love

This week’s Life Book lesson was entitled Seeds of Love and was taken by the course organiser, Tamara Laporte.  I am particularly enjoying her lessons because she goes into such depth explaining the concepts and techniques being demonstrated.  This particular lesson focused on value contrast, layering and whimsical versions of botanical, organic shapes.

This was definitely a piece that required both patience and faith.  There were so many steps involved in the process that patience was required to let each layer fully dry and set before progressing.  Happily that works for my schedule anyway as I do my arty stuff in bursts between other chores and commitments.  Faith was required because my version of this piece went through a definite ugly stage before it all pulled together into something coherent.  I had a better experience with the neocolors this time though I could have done a more skillful job of blending them.  It was really only when the black and white paint pens were added to reinforce the lines and shapes and create little details with the doodles that the ugly mess I was creating finally looked pleasing.  As per the lesson, I added a few words.  I chose words that connected to the botanical theme but which also could function as metaphors.

In many ways, the finished piece is reminiscent of the zombie animals I draw with ink.  It makes me think about creating a mixed media version of my zombie bunnies.

Week 6 - Seeds of Love

Please excuse the wonky angle in the photo.

Monoprinting with Nature

It has emerged that my two youngest sons love to print.  As eager as they are to try block printing, at 5 and 7 they are too young to handle the tools plus those materials are expensive.  We have, however, been experimenting together with the gelli plate and making oodles of monoprints.  I love this because I thoroughly enjoy creating with them.  I like to think that I will inspire them to continue being creative throughout their lives, that they will derive pleasure and satisfaction and a sense of calm from the act of creating something, anything, as I do.  I also love creating with them because, frankly, it gives me a much-needed opportunity to do something creative myself.  Especially during this lengthy school break, time for myself is in very short supply so working with them, all taking turns, affords me the chance to invest in myself with a little bit of art.  Finally, I also love creating with them because they inspire me: they don’t worry about end results, technical hitches or over-think things; they just get stuck in and have a go.  I need to be more like that.  Definitely.

Recently, the three of us decided to get the gelli plate out and make some more monoprints and the two boys hit upon the idea of using leaves from the garden as masks.  I remembered seeing a post on Debbie Osborn’s blog where she used plant materials to create charming monoprints so I knew their idea was feasible.  Out into the garden we went, gathering our materials.  Despite it having been their idea, the boys soon gave up on using plants and used stencils and their fingers to create their prints instead.  I, however, persevered.  Initially, my prints were truly mediocre as I forgot entirely that the leaves would act as complete masks and leave white paper beneath and that, therefore, a bit of layering was required.  Ultimately, I think my post successful prints were actually the ghost prints made when I used paper to pull the marks that were left behind on the plate by the initial print.  None of my results were stellar but experimentation is part of the learning process and I certainly enjoyed myself.

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