Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Effy Wild. Her lesson had a more art therapy approach to it than most Life Book lessons but, as always, it was easy to focus simply on the creative techniques and adapt it to be less personal and emotional. I also had to be pragmatic about time so whereas the lesson demonstrated two layers, a flap that moved across a lower layer, I conflated the two layers into one. I like putting my own spin on lessons so I experienced no dilemma in adapting the lesson to such a great extent. The idea had been to have a lower layer that included a lot of handwriting and a concept represented visually by a skeleton and the flap that covered this would be a painting of a fully human figure, the flesh over the bones. In conflating the two layers, my figure became a mixture of human and skeleton. I, therefore, coincidentally worked on two skull faces in one week.
I decided to try out a red and turquoise colour scheme with a bit of grungy magenta over the black background and some metallic blue in the circle. I rather like the combination so can see me deploying that palette again in future.
My first post of 2016 is about our final Pict family outing of 2015 when we went for an exploration of Ridley Creek State Park. Located near Media, the park comprises over 2000 acres of land but we confined this first visit to one particular trail. We had visited the adjacent Tyler Arboretum in April and I must admit that I was bracing myself for similar levels of moodiness from the four boys. However, the opportunity to roam free, climb trees, battle with sticks, and generally be their feral little selves meant they were stunningly well behaved and agreeable throughout the trek.
We parked up by the Jefford Mansion, a beautiful stone built building from the early twentieth century which now serves as the park offices, and the kids immediately scurried off into what was a cross between an artificial grove and a portico of trees surrounding a formal fish pond. They soon had it turned into an imaginative playground where heroes were doing battle with mythological monsters, twigs brandished, roaring, and racing around.
From there, we ventured into the woods. The ground was still sodden and boggy from the previous night’s deluge of rain but we all squelched along quite happily. There were lots of good climbing trees which the boys were soon scaling and even better were lots of felled trunks that they could shimmy along. It soon became a competition to see who could complete an obstacle course of tree trunk running in the quickest time. The smallest Pict is nimble, fleet of foot, and quite frankly impulsive and reckless so he easily won each and every time.
It was because of the 6 year old’s intrepid ways that we stumbled across the highlight of the trip. We were veering off the demarcated path anyway in order to run along logs but the wee one plunged off into the woods even further and, in doing so, chanced upon the skeletal remains of an adult white tail deer. Well, you would think my boys had just discovered pirate treasure! They have inherited my macabre fascination for decay and mortality so the fault / credit is almost entirely my own but it seems my children are rarely happier on an outdoor adventure than when they stumble across a corpse. The body parts were spread across the clearing so they had fun trying to find all the different parts, like a slightly gross jigsaw puzzle. The skull was the easiest fine after the spine and rib cage but the two middle boys literally jumped up and down with glee when they found the two parts of the mandible. Each hoof was located and identified at which point my youngest son declared that the deer must be a lady because it had high heels.
Animal autopsy over, we kept on with the looping track. We found interesting fungi, including a lump of gelatinous brown slime, like a tree hugging sea anemone, but we did not spot any more wildlife, either live or dead. Wandering through the woods with four loud children never presents the best opportunity for spotting critters but perhaps there was not much to encounter at this time of year anyway. I will just tell myself that. It is a lovely park so we will have to return in the Spring when the flora and fauna are bursting with new life once more and perhaps we can explore another trail.
My sons all receive monthly or every-other-monthly geeky subscription crates. They love getting parcels in the post, love the surprise of the contents, and love to indulge in collecting geeky items. A few months ago, my oldest son received a blank vinyl “munny” figure in his Loot Crate. The idea of these blanks is that people can customise them. There are some absolutely fantastic creations out there. I know because I had not a clue about these things so I had to conduct a google. There are some most impressive, talented people out there. My oldest had a vague idea about what sort of design he wanted to create on the munny but was too intimidated by the thought of errors to make a start. He, therefore, “commissioned” me to do it for him. I have never worked with a vinyl surface before so that was a challenge. I read about all the possible media I could use to design the munny but most involved all sorts of primers and other things I don’t own in my stockpile of art materials. Good old Sharpies were a possibility though so my son and I decided that we would keep it simple and just work with those markers. The Sharpies worked like a charm but it was tricky working on such a contoured surface.
So here, without further preamble, is the result of my first ever creating on a vinyl figure. My sons love my zombie drawings with all their lines and doodles so that type of mark making and style was the brief. Initially we were going to work with a colour in addition to black but, once I had the black pen work done, we decided to keep it monochromatic. I am not convinced I will repeat this type of project any time soon but it was quite fun.
Any lesson on Edvard Munch was bound to be dominated by The Scream: not only is it Munch’s most famous painting but it has become iconic, the subject of many pastiches and homages. It has also been stolen a few times so clearly it appeals to people both honest and dishonest. The kids and I, therefore, spent some time discussing why we thought the painting captured people’s interest and imagination to the extent it has. We also discussed Expressionism and the ways in which The Scream conveyed emotions. We then looked at a few of Munch’s other works but it was clear to me that the boys were likely to work on drawings inspired by The Scream.
My 12 year old of course had to Minecraftify his version of The Scream. I think the focal figure is an Enderman. It is interesting to me the way he has flattened the perspective when it comes to the depiction of the fence. He would benefit from looking at how to work with angles to create an accurate perspective.
My 8 year old turned The Scream around and used its visual structure as the basis of a drawing depicting joy instead of anguish. Because horses make him happy, his figure is strolling along a path past a horse. I think he dashed this drawing off in under five minutes.
My youngest son focused on the concept of conveying emotion. Having not long since seen the Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’, he liked the idea of characters representing different emotions so he drew some quick, simple figures. The blue one is sadness – as his writing explains – and I suspect the yellow one is joy, as in the movie. I am not clear about what the triangular one is.
My 9 year old decided to fuse two different Munch works – The Scream and the Self-Portrait with a Skeleton Arm – for his drawing. His, therefore, is a screaming skeleton. I think the drawing is quite effective, including the frenetic mark making in the background which I think was unintentional and is just a symptom of him rushing but which actually works within the context of the drawing.
Like my second son, I took my inspiration from Self-Portrait with a Skeleton Arm. I was originally going to create a version of his lithograph titled The Brooch but then I decided I should challenge myself to draw a self-portrait. It’s an ink and wash drawing using India ink. The proportions are out of wack – the arm being too close to the head – but otherwise I am pretty happy with the drawing.
When I was teaching High School English, I found that my lessons would often involve some discussion of a tangent, sometimes a tangent so tenuously linked to the core of the lesson that the discussion would conclude with much head-scratching about how we had ever wandered onto the topic. It was all good, of course, because the students were still learning something plus it was often the memory of the tangent that would trigger them to remember a key detail about the actual lesson. I am connected to many of my former students on Facebook and I find it amusing and interesting to learn what information from my lessons they still remember vividly all of these years on. I have found the same to be true of travel also. The most memorable episodes from our road trips and city wanderings tend not to be the things we planned in advance but the random encounters and the stumbled upon places. I argue, therefore, that tangents have merit, that tangents are worth exploring.
And all of the above is preamble rather than a tangent because it was a tangential thought that led to the creation of this week’s art journal page.
The prompts for the Documented Life Project this week were “cover up good stuff” and “going undercover” as part of the continuing theme of layering. I think the intention was that the group members should take an appealing base layer, something appealing, something effort had been invested in, and that layer would act as inspiration to be built upon through further layers until the original piece was either completely or almost all covered up. I can see that it would be an effective technique and could build a very dynamic page with a lot of depth. However, I am finding that extensive layering is not really my thing and the idea of using art resources for some “good stuff” and then using more resources to cover that up was somewhat anathema to me. That gave me something to ponder…
My mind was wandering along a tangent. The muse of contrariness was singing to me. I had my lightbulb moment. I decided I was going to create a page about animal anatomy involving layers of the body and layers of paper by constructing flaps.
I divided my page into three, cut along the top edge on two of those thirds and folded the left and right sides inwards so as to create three layers. On the top layer, I painted a bunny. A dead bunny. I seem to default to bunnies a lot. I produce a lot of zombie bunnies, whether in a horde of bunnies or among other woodland creatures, and then there was the worried bunny in the woods and the countless bunnies who appear here and there in my art journal, in ATCs, doodles and sketches. I seem to have bunnies on the brain. I was born in the Chinese zodiac year of the rabbit so perhaps the rabbit is my totem animal, to mix cultural traditions. Lifting the dead bunny flap, I drew an exact replica of the dead bunny’s silhouette since I had cut out a template from a scrap of cardboard. I drew internal organs onto the torso of the bunny. This was the muscle and organ layer. Vets and anyone with a grasp of animal biology may be bewildered and disturbed by my knowledge of rabbit anatomy. I did nothing to correct my ignorance, not even a quick google, and instead just shoved some human style organs and a daft love shaped heart into the abdomen. That layer painted, it was time for the final layer. This one was the skeleton layer and again I just drew whatever bones I thought would work for the drawing rather than actually investigating what a rabbit’s skeleton looks like. Daft bunny in all three layers. The final layer was, of course, flanked by the reverse of the other two flaps. I did not like them staying as blank spaces so I wrote “Anatomy of a Bunny” on one side and glued my ticket to the exhibition on the other side so as to document our family day out for the weekend and record an element of my inspiration for the page.
I hope my art journal page has made you smile on this very chilly weekend.