Pict Pandemic Spring

I’m back! I finally have enough free time that I feel able to resume blogging – though it may continue to be very sporadic for a while because, like many people, I don’t have a lot of interest going on in my life given the whole pandemic context.

I thought I would write a bit of a catch-up post containing some of the things we have been up to this Spring. Most importantly, we have celebrated three birthdays. These are all, of course, the second birthdays being celebrated in this weird lockdown context. Yes, I appreciate we are technically no longer in strict lockdown but as a family we have chosen to behave largely as if we still are, taking mitigation efforts seriously. Mr Pict’s birthday last year was literally two days into lockdown so there was a lot of improvisation involved but we made it work. This year was much less stressful because we knew we were going to have to keep everything lowkey and also because the supermarket shelves weren’t empty like they were last year.

Two of the boys have also had their second pandemic birthdays. My third son turned 14. He is a massive Roman history nerd – he seriously knows more about Ancient Rome than anyone I know and I know a lot of Roman history nerds – and is also passionate about Soviet cinema, especially of the 1970s. Those themes, therefore, informed his gifts, one of which was a photo of his favourite Emperor, Trajan, which had even been signed. I am assuming Trajan won’t sue me for forgery.

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And our oldest son turned 18. I know! We cannot believe it either. He is now technically an adult. That is somewhat nerve-wracking to think about and makes me feel even more ancient than usual but I am very excited to see what this next phase of his life has in store for him. He is off to the Rochester Institute of Technology in the Autumn to study computer science.

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We have chosen to keep our sons learning virtually for the entire school year for a variety of reasons. They have adapted well to learning online and are enjoying having more free time and flexibility in their schedule. My 15 year old, for instance, has been using his extra free time to make lots of short movies. His brothers and father have all been press-ganged into acting parts and as cinematographers while I sometimes provide help with costumes, props and make up so it is a bit of a family affair.

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Having the boys home proved very useful this Winter as I very much appreciated their extra digging power with all of the snow we got. Even with all of us digging, it took us over 3 hours to dig out after one particular storm. We then had weeks of vicious looking icicles falling from the house. We built up quite the collection in our azalea bushes.

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We have been on a few walks and excursions since I last blogged but we have tended to return to familiar places. A couple of weekends ago, however, we finally ventured to Ringing Rocks County Park. It is not even that far from home so it is kind of bonkers that we have not ventured out there in the previous seven years. We took the loop trail which took us to the boulder field first. We had a hammer with us (as the website instructs you to do so, we felt OK about the geologic vandalism) and set about glancing it off of various boulders to make them ring. We found that they all emitted a noise that was not just the normal smack-thud you would expect from a hammer whacking a rock but that some boulders really made the ringing sound. Our 11 year old in particular really enjoyed the experience. I guess having spent his entire life being told to respect nature and leave things as we found them he must have been relishing the opportunity to bash those rocks.

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The male Picts all bounded from rock to rock like mountain goats in search of the best rings. That is not something I am comfortable doing primarily because of my malingering SPD problems and also because I am a lifelong wuss so I went off into the woods in search of salamanders. Alas, I did not find a single one. Meeting up again, we headed further along the loop trail to see the waterfall. I was anticipating a bit more drama and oomph out of a signposted waterfall but it was a nice spot to stop and spend some time before we completed the loop. It was a nice, easy walk and one we would definitely do again.

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Finally, and most excitingly, those of us who are eligible are finally receiving our Covid-19 vaccines. As a teacher, I became eligible first but I still had such a massive problem finding and scheduling an appointment that it still took until mid-April for me to be fully vaccinated. Meanwhile Mr Pict and our oldest son have both received their first shots. We plan to keep playing it safe and following mitigation efforts, not least because we still have three members of the family who are unvaccinated and not old enough to be eligible, but it is definitely a weight off my mind – especially as someone who has been teaching in-person since September – that I have that layer of protection. I am so grateful to the scientists and everyone involved in the distribution and delivery of the vaccine.

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PS Here are some photos of our cats, Satchi and Peanut. They have adapted to having us home all the time and think they get to participate in all of the video conferences and frequently appear in my sons’ online classrooms.

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Spring

Have I mentioned (more than a zillion times?) that I am over Winter and yearning for Spring?  A couple of weeks ago, I saw a rabbit bound across my yard and I thought that was a sure sign.  Turns out that bunny was just a dimwit who needed to stay in his burrow a bit longer.  I also noted that our daffodils were sprouting out of the dirt.  That was another hopeful sign.  Then the shoots got buried under a foot of snow.  Spring has to be soon though.  It has to.

My latest art journal page was, therefore, inspired by thoughts of Spring.  The Art Journal Adventure prompt was S which fitted perfectly with my intention of creating a Spring themed art journal page.  The idea is a personification of Spring waking from a slumber and starting to bloom.  I must confess that this was a far better idea in my head than translated on the page.  I had to work in a whole load of small rations of time which certainly did not help in terms of cohesion and the fact that I rushed through some of the elements is very visible.  I like the idea, however, and might return to it when I have more time to accomplish a better execution.  I will state that my art work is perfectly straight – it is my iphone photography that is squint.

10 - Spring - Art Journal Page

 

Spring into Nature (at last!)

I was beginning to feel like Spring was never going to properly arrive.  It’s been a right wee tease this year with some days of warm sunshine and blue skies immediately followed by the return of chilly, damp air and grey skies and flat light.  At last, however, it seems as if Spring has finally and fully-fledged arrived.  Not a moment too soon either as I was beginning to feel like a hermit and really felt a need – not just a want but a need – to get out and wander around in nature for a good chunk of time.

The kids were vehemently opposed to a long car journey so we stayed local and went for a wander in one of our usual haunts.  It felt good to be among the trees and see the sunshine beating through the leaves, plants beginning to bud, and insects buzzing around.

We played Pooh sticks – increasingly competitively and with a little bit of cheating here and there – and the boys climbed trees and clambered across fallen logs.  We saw wildlife too.  I only managed to capture a turtle on camera but we also saw birds galore, lots of insects, and a running groundhog – which was one of the cutest things I have seen in a while.

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The boys were able to get manky and be freely feral and I was able to complete relax allowing them to do so.

Spring is freedom.

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Spring Girl

This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Misty Mawn.  Misty Mawn is a mixed media artist I had heard a lot about so it was fun to experience a lesson with her and learn what her approach to art is.  Hers is a much looser, much more painterly, much more intuitive style than I know I am capable of so the lesson really dragged me out of my comfort zone.

This is one of those pieces I regret not taking progress shots of because at no stage did it ever resemble or even predict what it was going to end up looking like.  My initial sketch was actually a self-portrait (without glasses) and actually a rather good one so I wish I had thought to take a picture of that.  It was, however, never my intention for the final painting to resemble me.  Instead I was using my face as scaffolding to underpin the other layers.  As soon as I started applying paint, with a large brush, the quality of the drawing disappeared and it became a mess.  I was not happy with either my mixing of flesh tones nor my mark making with the brush.  It was a complete and utter mess and I seriously doubted in my ability to refine that layer enough to make it worth persevering with and progressing.  I managed to refine it a little more by switching to a medium brush and by improving the flesh tones but it was definitely in the “ugly stage” by then.  I admit that it was then that I threw in the towel.  I could not get the painting to emerge as anything worthy of escaping the trash bin using a painterly, loose approach and acrylic paint.  What I decided to do, therefore, was use other media and revert to my drawing skills to pull out the facial details and make the painting cohere.  That saved the day and saved the piece from going in the bin.

As an aside, the green and pink colour scheme definitely speaks to my longing for Spring.  I am so done with Winter and its bleak, grey, dull days.

3 Spring Girl

Seasonal Faces

Despite being a mini lesson, it still took me all week to get around to completing last week’s Let’s Face It lesson.  The tutorial was taken by Angela Kennedy and the focus was on drawing and painting a variety of hair styles.  This is something I have been pondering myself lately as I have noticed I tend to draw and paint hair the same two or three ways over and over.  Therefore, with my 100 Faces series over on my other blog I have been trying to illustrate a wider variety of hair styles.  Following advice from one of my kids, who knows I know nothing about hair or style, I have been eyeball stalking people’s hairdos for inspiration.

Kennedy’s demonstration was in simple ink pen and watercolour.  This was very welcome since I was super short on time.  I decided to challenge myself to work small so cut four 3X4.5″ pieces of watercolour paper.  Having four little oblongs of paper in front of me made me think of either the four elements or the four seasons and so I plumped for using the latter as a theme.  I used the hair of each face as a practice for a particular watercolour technique.  Spring, therefore, has a wash of one colour with more concentrated areas of the same colour added in wet on wet; Summer has a concentrated wash of one colour and then I dropped water in to dilute and puddle the paint in some areas; Autumn has a wash of one base colour and then I painted two further colours on top of that base; and Winter was a wash of watercolour with table salt sprinkled into the wet paint.  I was rather rushed and impatient when it came to painting the faces and experienced some bleed between colours by not ensuring one was dry before adding the next colour.  It was a risk I knew I was taking yet still hoped to avoid.  Working small and in a rush was perhaps not the best circumstance.  Having blank space beneath the heads, I took that as an opportunity to practice my watercolour lettering again.

Week 33 - Spring

Week 33 - Summer

Week 33 - Autumn

Week 33 - Winter

PS  I had not removed all of the salt from the Winter piece before I photographed it as I found some patches were still a bit too damp.

 

Primavera – or control freak painting

Last week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Tamara Laporte.  The aims of the lesson were to paint a 3/4 portrait, use black and white against bolder colour and use contrasting shapes within the piece.  Another aim of the lesson was to paint intuitively, to go with the flow and do whatever comes instinctively with the media you have to hand.

I enjoyed the practice of drawing the 3/4 portrait, getting the angles right, practicing blending some skin tones again.  My style of drawing people still leans towards the illustrative but that is OK.  That is clearly just my style.  I wish I had made the hair a bit fuller and more fluid, more Pre-Raphaelite rather than the straggly hair I have painted.  I think I found all that stark black too intimidating and tried to keep it to a minimum but I should have just gone with it and been bold.  I do like the use of the white circle around the head and then the contrasting zig zag of triangles at the edge of the paper to tie the two sides of the composition together.

In terms of intuitive painting, I failed big time.  The one intuitive element for me was really the colour choice.  My mind is clearly on Spring as I went with shades of green and then pops of bright pink in a floral design using the dots that I enjoy doing so much.  However, you can see just by looking at the finished painting that I have been far too rigid.  My mark making is too crisp.  This – in short – is what it looks like when a total control freak attempts to paint intuitively.  I think I may well add this to the list of lessons to come back to towards the end of the year long course to see if I have progressed, in this specific case to see if I have become freer and looser.  Happily this week’s lesson is all about very quick, intuitive painting which sounds like just the lesson I need.

Week 15 - Black and White - Contrasting Shapes - Angled Profile