I have accidentally established a tradition in my Rainbow Art Journal whereby each colour section contains an illustration of some kind of sprite-like creature. For the blue section, I was thinking of water. I drew a figure who is drenched in water (or, as I would say in Scots, “drookit”), her body morphing into a puddle on the floor, her hair dripping across her face.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “4” with an additional challenge to use three or more media in the creation of the page. The obvious subject was the Four Elements and initially I resisted because it was so glaringly obvious. However, having just depicted a Flame Sprite in my Rainbow Art Journal, I liked the idea of creating an image of other elemental sprites so I decided to go with my first thought and see what developed on the page. I used micron pens, watercolour, and Inktense pencils in creating the illustration so I fulfilled the side challenge too. Time and other life limitations meant this page was a much quicker and simpler illustration than the Flame Sprite and the figures are simplified as a result. However, there is a germ of something in each of them that I might return to and nurture into a more detailed illustration at a later date.
On the seventh day of our vacation, we decided to drive south from Flagstaff and visit Sedona. We had an incredibly stressful drive there as we ended up on a road that was barely moving. It turned out the traffic jam was caused by a blasting zone on the road meaning the workers kept having to halt traffic in both directions. Even when the cars were moving, they were doing so incredibly slowly because a convoy system was in place. This was because there had been a landslip or massive rockfall. The road was virtually impassible at that point and was near impossible to drive for its entire length. The surface was appallingly uneven. At one point, a ridge of rubble caught the underside of our rental car which caused me peak stress for the rest of the journey. The powers that be really ought to have closed the road entirely because it was downright dangerous.
Mr Pict and I were, therefore, super glad when we reached our first destination for the day and could finally get out of the car. We were at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon. While Mr Pict and I had been to Sedona before, we had never visited this state park so all six of us were experiencing something for the first time. We were lucky to arrive as early as we did as the car park was filling up fast. Indeed, when we left, there was a queue of cars all along the road waiting to enter. We found where all the hundreds of people were when we reached the creek. The place was absolutely heaving with people. The lure of the water on such a baking hot day was understandable and Slide Rock turned out to be a fantastic spot for cooling down in the water. It was the landlocked equivalent of a beach and I probably loved it even more for not having sand.
We found a spot to set down our stuff and then straight away my four boys were wading out into the water. The air temperature may have been extremely hot but the water was ice cold. Since I was merely paddling, I rather enjoyed the fact my feet turned to glaciers as it cooled the rest of me down. Being entirely immersed in such frigid water, however, was a whole other challenge. The kids were moving tentatively through the water until, one by one, they slipped and fell with a splash into the water. That was one method of acclimating to the temperatures I suppose. Once they had been drenched, it was much easier for them to just let loose and play.
This area is where the creek gradually descends down bumps and through shallow crevices across the smooth surface of sandstone. There are, therefore, areas for very shallow paddling with sudden (but visually obvious) deep pools of water, there are shallow gorges through which the water crashes at speed, there are wide, deep pools for swimming, and the steep rocks on either side create opportunities for diving in. It was like a natural swimming pool full of flumes and diving platforms. Everyone had an absolute blast playing in the water. Mr Pict and the older boys had several turns at leaping from the rocks and splashing into the pool below. They also experienced the rush of coursing down the water filled chutes. The littlest Pict meanwhile was delighted to befriend a group of butterflies who were resting on the silt between the hot red rocks and the chilly water.
After a morning of exercise, we were ready for some lunch. We headed into Sedona, parked up, and immediately found a charming Mexican restaurant called Oaxaca. We welcomed the shade but even more so we welcomed the hearty, flavourful food. Once more, I opted for a salad that turned out to be so immense I could not finish it. Mr Pict and the kids all had more traditional Mexican fare, enchiladas and burritos, and declared that they were delicious. They then shared some desserts as an extra treat. After that tasty pit stop, we had a brief wander around that end of Sedona. There were lots of interesting shops to explore if shopping is your thing. Shopping is not my thing and it decidedly is not my thing when I have four kids in tow. We, therefore, didn’t spend long in Sedona. Besides which, we had somewhere else to go onto that day.
Continuing our History of Art project with the Post-Impressionists, we turned to Cezanne. I particularly drew the boys’ attention towards his non-naturalistic use of colour, his use of bold outlining of figures and objects and his approach to still life. I was particularly keen that the kids have a go at drawing a still life but we also looked at The Bathers and The Card Players. In the end, two plumped for still life and the other two chose to take their cue from the latter paintings. And I am still losing my battle with getting them to explore different media, especially wet media.
I think largely because he was looking for something he could transform into Minecraft, my oldest chose to work from The Card Players. He used coloured pencil. Yet again. But at least his insistence on replicating a painting meant that he was paying close attention to all the detail. I need to encourage him to work bigger, however, as this was a very small drawing.
My 8 year old was in a “minimal application” frame of mind. He was like a grizzly bear. I, therefore, decided not to push his buttons and try to persuade him to try adding colour when he drew a line drawing of various sea creatures. Apparently inspired by The Bathers, it looked more like a casting call for Adventure Time. The hashtag is a family in joke because my youngest brother’s nickname is Octopus and we all take photos of any octopus things we find to tag him as on Facebook.
My 9 year old and 6 year old did decide to take me up on the idea of a still life. They scurried off to collect objects to organise so they could draw them as a group. The youngest chose a handful of his Gogo toys and the 9 year old chose an Iron Man mask, his Iron Man Disney Infinity figure and a rubber spider. Despite rushing, the 9 year old did a pretty good job of producing a still life sketch. The 6 year old, however, found it a real struggle and was not happy with his outcome so asked me not to share his drawing.
I decided not to work in a Cezanne style and instead to take my cue from the subject matter of The Bathers. I need practice with rendering water with watercolour paint so I decided to draw a female figure floating on the surface of a pool. I had a hard time getting the paint to look remotely like water but finally, after many glazes of watercolour and after almost chucking the whole thing, I finally got an effect I could be content with.
You can, as always, see my Cezanne inspired Crazy Critter over on my other blog.
Hokusai was the next artist we studied in our History of Art summer project. We looked at his woodblock prints, especially his series The Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. The boys and I all loved a number of the prints but were all drawn to The Great Wave off Kanagawa and declared it to be our favourite. We then discussed why that particular print is not only Hokusai’s most celebrated work but also why it has become so iconic. We personally liked the fact that the print is almost monochrome and that the curving shapes of the waves lead the eye through the image while also framing Mount Fuji. I also like the fact that the wave dominates the image while the tiny figures, clinging to their boats, are almost lost in the composition, suggesting the power of nature versus the powerlessness of humanity. Unsurprisingly, we all chose to create version of the Great Wave in the creative part of the lesson.
You will have noted that it is either Minecraft or penguins with my oldest son so I was not in the least bit surprised when he decided to depict penguins in his drawing. The penguins are surfing and the sun has become some sort of monster. He did manage to include Mount Fuji in his drawing. He had noted Hokusai’s calligraphy in a box within the print so he researched how to write “penguin” in Japanese characters and added that to his drawing. At least, he tells me it says “penguin”.
My 8 year old also went with the surfing idea. I think the figures are either superheroes or ninjas but one is riding a surfboard and one is riding a sea serpent. I like the fact he has turned Mount Fuji into a character.
My 9 year old went a bit mythological with his drawing. He depicted Neptune commanding the waves so that a figure in the foreground can surf.
My 6 year old and I decided to do something a bit different and got out the gelli plate so we could produce some prints. We used paper to create our own wave shaped masks and stencils with mixed results: they worked very effectively at first but soon ripped when they became soggy with paint. My 6 year old achieved some really lovely textures with his print and some pleasing sweeping curves with his wave shapes.
My youngest son’s gelli plate print was actually far more effective than mine. My composition was not as effective and, while I had some areas of lovely texture, there was not enough definition between areas of colour. I decided, therefore, to embellish my print. Oddly this is not something I had done with gelli prints before. I normally use the gelli plate to produce papers for collaging with rather than to produce compositions. I used various shades of blue and white acrylic paint to make the wave shapes more distinctive. I love using dots in my art work so I used different sizes of dots to create a visual echo of surf and white horses capping the waves. I used a metallic blue paint for the dots which, along with a pearlescent blue used in the gelli print, created a nice shimmer to the finished piece.
If you would like to see my Great Wave inspired Crazy Bunny over on my art blog, please click here.
A change of month means a change of theme for the Documented Life Project. Whereas March was all about Doodles, April is all about “Colour Safari”, which apparently means exploring use of paints and inks. This week group members were instructed to use watercolour and the prompt phrase was “It’s water under the bridge”.
Watercolour is a medium I am comfortable with. I would not claim to be a proficient watercolourist as I do have a tendecy to just treat it as more transparent ink but I am certainly capable enough with watercolour, more so than other media. I, therefore, wanted to stretch myself with the subject matter for this week’s DLP journal page. I wanted to respond to the specific prompt but the bridge element was not speaking to me in any way so I focused in on the water instead. Given my recent episode of painting a monstrous mermaid and her not-all-that-much-better colleague, I decided that my personal challenge would be to paint a mermaid. A decent mermaid.
I decided to keep the page monochrome so I stuck to a blue colour scheme. After sketching in the mermaid, I started with background washes of watercolour and allowed them to overlap onto the figure so that the figure would look immersed in the water. Then, using the finest of my waterbrushes, I began to fill in the figure. I allowed the tail to become quite watery and blotchy, dripping stronger pigment into liquid areas and allowing it to spread to create the impression of a tail shimmering with scales and reflecting the water. I took several washes in directional brush strokes to layer the mermaid’s hair. After colouring the face, torso and arms, I spattered the page with a few shades of blue watercolour paint making sure I covered the face and kept it splotch-free. I like splattering anyway but I thought it would add to the idea of splashing water and surf.
I was pretty pleased with how the mermaid turned out. Certainly she was a better effort than my attempts with acrylic. I resisted the temptation to outline her in ink (as I had done with my Drawing challenge Siren) to try and take a small step away from my default illustrative style. It was also an opportunity to rub some rust off my face-drawing skills.
I believe I have mentioned before that my ability to draw convincing, expressive faces has deteriorated since I emigrated no doubt as a result of no longer attending a life drawing class. I confess that in my decade of life drawing it was rare for me to produce a portrait that looked like the sitter but I was able to draw an accurate face with character and expression. Over the past eighteen months, my skills have atrophied to the point of being rusted. I am trying, therefore, to practice faces whenever possible to try and grease up my artistic joints and get my skills limber again.
Therefore, when this week’s Documented Life Project prompt was revealed, I instantly thought to draw faces as another opportunity to practice. The suggestion was to doodle and mark make as a layering element and the prompt was “surviving the elements”. This past month has been excruciatingly cold and icy and a dumping of heavy snow last week led to two consecutive snow days for my boys so I could easily have taken the weather route with the prompt. However, with my mind on faces, I decided to personify the four elements: earth, air, water and fire.
The four faces I drew in response to the art journal prompt still lack personality but I am getting better at proportions and eyes with each face I draw. I bought some Prismacolor pencils on sale earlier in the year so I decided to crack the tin open and have a whirl at using them. I don’t normally work with coloured pencils at all so that was a minor challenge. I then doodled and marked in coloured gel pen to fulfil the other prompt for this week. Not a great success but not a disaster either.
That is not the hide of a pink elephant or a peeled rhino. That is my hand. Dry, cracked and ugly like the desert in dry season.
Here’s a curious thing about the Scots: for hardy folk, we don’t half have wussy skin. We are such a ferocious people that we chased the Romans back over Hadrian’s Wall, halting the expansion of their empire just be virtue of being really rage-filled and feisty. Young women go for nights out on the town in the dead of Winter wearing nothing but a pelmet and a boob tube as if impenetrable to the cold. Tough as boots we may be but our skin is more silk than leather. Thanks to the soft water we have in Scotland, beautiful, clean, soft water, we are blessed with piglet soft skin.
So my skin, therefore, is not adjusting well to living in an area of harder water than it is used to. Perhaps it is not just the natural sediments in the water but is also because of chemicals added to the water. Whatever the cause, my skin is not coping with the water here. My hands are rough and scratchy and cracked and sore. They look like old woman hands. They are hands a witch would be proud of. My only consolation is that they are not quite as bad as Madonna’s old woman hands. Yet. Remember the Fairy Liquid advert with the jingle “Hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face …”? Well my face is currently the texture of an alligator’s knee.
Not coincidentally, our dishwasher is not working. Dishwashers are the Pandora’s Box of appliances: once you have one you can’t go back. For most of my life I have lived without one and hand washed dishes without complaint but since having a dishwasher any time I have had to go without using one it has felt like Cinderella torture. So I have been washing everything by hand which, of course, just makes my skin get worse. Consequently they are now more cracked and gnarly than ever before. Limescale is aggravating the dishwasher and my skin. I am using almost industrial levels of moisturiser but that doesn’t help when my hands are constantly submerged in water. Why yes I am bitter about the dishwasher being bust.
If this continues much longer, I will have no choice but to conceal my skin with woad.
We had another dumping on snow over the weekend and we also had four young boys who needed to burn off some surplus energy. Badly. So Mr Pict had a brainwave and researched indoor fun swimming pools in the area. He took “in the area” to include New Jersey and so it was that we found ourselves crossing the frozen Delaware and arriving in New Jersey to visit the Coco Keys Water Resort.
The word “resort” and the fact it is housed in a hotel complex had created the impression that the water park would be large enough to keep the kids occupied for a long time and have a variety of activities to keep them entertained. The only ticketing option was a Day Pass so that too had given us the distinct idea that we would all be kept very busy there. As we descended the stairs, however, and caught a glimpse of the “resort” Mr Pict and I were already disappointed. Instead of the large space we had envisaged, the whole water area was approximately the same size as your average town fun pool.
The town we moved here from in Scotland had a community swimming pool, a fantastic resource given that the population was only a little over 2000 people. It was just a swimming pool with no flumes or rapids or wave machine but it was a great facility and was an affordable indoor leisure activity. Both my parents and my in-laws, however, lived near fun pools – the type that have slides, flumes, rapids and wave machines – which we could go to when visiting them. Although a little more pricey than our local pool, these places always provided great value for money as the kids would stay long enough to be thoroughly pruned and worn out from swimming and sliding. So, based on these past experiences, we had high expectations of a place that categorised itself as a “resort”. It did not meet our expectations. And some.
First off, even with $5 shaved off each ticket by booking online in advance, this was not a cheap day out. I, therefore, very much resented having to pay an additional non-refundable $5 for a tiny locker in which to store our valuables. The rest of our items – clothes, shoes and towels – had to just be left sitting on one of the chairs that edged the “resort”. The changing rooms were also bizarre in that there were only four cubicles in each of the male and female changing rooms and the privacy of each cubicle was provided only by a diaphanous gauze curtain. This instantly gave me flashbacks to the anxiety and horror of swimming lessons at the municipal pool in the town where I grew up, where curtains that were too narrow for the cubicle would be whipped aside by cruel bullies. As a family, we have become accustomed to co-ed changing rooms (something that is pretty critical when you are a family containing both genders) with proper doors with proper locks. This was like a throwback to a bygone era. Furthermore, the changing rooms were pretty clean and tidy when we were getting ready to enter the pool area but were in a disgusting state when we went back to get dried and dressed with towels borrowed from the hotel complex dumped all over the floor and all manner of grotty run off working its way along the grouting of the tiled floor. I don’t expect to pay so much to be made to feel as if I am contracting a bacterial disease by being there.
The resort is organised into different areas. My little’uns liked the Parrot Perch which was a large climbing frame with slides set in a shallow paddling pool. As they clambered around it, jets of water would go off and a bucket of water would tip and drench everyone waiting their turn for the slides. Our four year old in particular had a blast since he was able to go up and down independently and hurtle down both the open slide and the enclosed twisty tube slide. I am glad he was willing and able to go up and down the climbing frame himself because it was torture on my feet. Three words: wet scramble nets. Now I don’t know about you but I never did train as an eighteenth century sailor so my feet are not conditioned to cope well with the texture of rough, wet rope. Smaller feet supporting a smaller weight did not seem to mind it. The smallest Pict might have a career as a Powder Monkey to fall back on.
Mr Pict and the older boys went on the large flumes which they declared to be “awesome”. They came down them in either single or double inflatable tubes – shaped like an O or shaped like an 8 depending on whether you were fluming solo or with a chum – and had a choice of a dark tube slide or one with light. The first few times they did it were no hassle at all but towards the end of our time there, mid-afternoon, people seemed to be getting very pushy and impatient. My ten year old and six year old were queuing for ages for a double tube while adults just pushed past them and snatched tubes from their grasp. Yes, adults. It was only resolved by me pushing into the queue to help them out. Members of staff were meanwhile happy to blow whistles at anyone whose feet touched a step into the exit pool for tube exchange but were completely uninterested in maintaining order. They then experienced yet more queue jumping while waiting their turn to come down a flume.
The three older boys had fun on the lillypad area, a pool containing floating green platforms that they had to negotiate in order to get from one side to the other without falling in aided by a rope net above their heads for balance. My 8 year old decided that was his favourite activity.
The area we spent most time in was the Coconut Grove Lazy River, essentially a loop of gently moving water that pushed you along while you float in a large inflatable ring. The reason we spent most of our time in that area was two-fold: a) there was deep enough water that you could actually start to feel warm and b) queuing for a ring took an age. I am sure the idea had been that people would do a circuit, maybe even two, and then they would pass their tube on to the person who was next in the line. That is not, however, how it was working this weekend. Instead it was a free for all as people scrambled for rings as they became available. Strangely enough small kids didn’t stand a chance in this melee while muscle-bound brutes always seemed to be up front and centre when it came to grabbing a turn. I actually witnessed one skirmish in which an adult man literally plopped a child out of a ring because he reckoned he was next in line. It was like a human soup of moral turpitude at times.
Then there was the general discomfort of being in a building where the water was tepid at best and the water wicked off our skin in frigid air temperatures. As there were no swimming pools and most of the water was very shallow, we found ourselves trying to get warm by sitting in some of the shallow water just to be moved on by cross lifeguards who informed us we had to either be “queuing or doing”. I also saw lifeguards telling parents off for letting their toddlers play with the jets of water that were shooting up from the floor. What other purpose were those jets there to serve than to entertain small people? Two areas that did have a decent depth of water were the jacuzzi and the Slam Dunk area. The latter was a small pool set aside for playing hoop shooting games and had been comandeered by competitive young adults; the former was designated for adult use only and, even had I been able to briefly nip away from the kids, I was not sure it was sensible to go and get properly warm in the jacuzzi just to re-emerge into the chill air again.
So the upshot was that we spent nearly three hours there and the kids had a fun time, though they did lament the lack of pools to just swim and splash around in. Our kids, however, do not have the comprehension required to make value for money judgements whereas Mr Pict and I do and deemed the whole thing to have been a bit of a rip-off and certainly not a trip we would repeat not just any time soon but ever.
Much better value for money was the late lunch that followed at a nearby Bob Evans. Mr Pict has a nostalgic fondness for Bob Evans. I have actually only eaten in one once: my first ever restaurant breakfast in America was in a Bob Evans in Frederick, Maryland, in the Summer of 1995 as we travelled to Gettysburg and the meal was so vast I did not have to eat for another 24 hours. The children had never eaten in a Bob Evans at all, of course, so Mr Pict decided to introduce them to it. The food was good, the kids portions were generous, especially given how cheap they were, and the service was very good. A much better experience all round then being jostled for an inflatable ring.