Whale – or Arting with Cats

This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “water”.  I do enjoy prompts that are as vague and open as that as it allows my mind to dance among many possibilities until I find the one that sparks with me.  I decided to paint an illustration of a whale using watercolour.  I love whales and often draw whales, even as doodles on pieces of scrap paper or the bottom of shopping lists.  My challenge for this whale was to work really loosely (well, by my standards anyway) with the watercolour and to have the bare minimum of a guideline sketch.  I sprinkled on some salt hoping to create a sort of barnacle effect.  The white space was just too boring around the whale so I added some spatter.  And that was when things really went wrong.

The alternative title to this blog post is ‘Arting with Cats’.  My art table is set up in a corner of the kitchen that has large windows on two sides.  It is flooded with light which makes it perfect as an art space but it means it also attracts the cats who, being cats, like to bask in the warmth of the sun and who share my interest in watching the birds visit the feeder outside the window.  As such, the cats commandeered my art table.  We reached a compromise whereby they now have just under half of the table – their cat bed indicating which is their territory – and I have the rest of it.  I stick to my side of the bargain.  Do they?  Of course not.  They are cats.  Many is the time that they have padded across my art work or have knocked – deliberately! – boxes of pencils or paint sets off the table.  When annoyed that I have not fed him earlier than usual, Satchi sits on my art table and picks up my paintbrushes in his mouth, one by one, and drops them onto the floor.  On this occassion, I had just gotten up from the table to clean my brushes when Satchi plonked himself right in front of my art journal and swished his huge, fluffy tail right across the page.  He thankfully did not manage to do much damage to the whale itself, as it was almost bone dry, but the spatter dots smeared and smudged.  Ugh.  Had it been anything other than my art journal, I would have been very annoyed and frustrated.  However, my art journal is for experiments, some of which go wrong.  This page, therefore, becomes another record of what goes wrong when one attempts arting with cats.

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Flying Whale

Last week’s Colour Me Positive prompt was “Just Do It”.  While I support the Carpe Diem sentiment, I am not an impulsive person.  I am a control freak and need to  research, to plan and consider all the possibilities and adjudicate and then arrive at a decision.  Generally it is only then do I “just do it”.  Except when emigrating.  Oddly enough, despite that being a massive decision, we did decide to pursue it on not quite a whim but certainly not my normal degree of investigation.  Therefore, when I saw the prompt, nothing particularly popped into my head.  I have, however, had this idea of an illustration of a flying whale for a while since drawing a boy holding a balloon whale so I thought that could represent the idea of  being liberated enough to embrace seizing the moment.

27 - Do It - Flying Whale - Art Journal Page

Shadow and Light

This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Jessica Swift.  The idea was to explore visual contrasts and dualities through having “shadow and light” pages that mirrored each other.  The creative element was the instruction for us to carve our own stamps and to use these in our piece.  I had kept some decent sized chunks of lino from block printing and also had some circular discs of soft carve so I set about carving a few stamps.  This is something I have been meaning to do for a while now so it was great to have this lesson give me the impetus to crack on with it.  I carved a circular pattern into the disc and fashioned a shape that could be a leaf or feather out of one lino scrap.  I had two smaller lino scraps that I turned into a trio of curved shapes and a trio of triangles.

In the video tutorial, Swift had used the stamps to create a border for each of her pages – using contrasting inks – and had then written in the centre of each page.  I am not big into writing in my art, not even in my art journal, so I decided to try using a lino block of a whale I had carved last year as if it was a stamp.  I chose my colour palette based simply on the colours of block printing ink I had available that would provide good contrast.  I could have gone black and white with the ink but I decided to go with blue and white so shades of blue acrylic paint then became the palette for my background page.  I was short on time this week (I seem to write that phrase a lot) so I decided to actually work on one page split in half rather than on two pages, the smaller scale making it manageable.

Week 19 - Light & Dark

Treating the whale block print like a stamp did not quite work.  Although I applied pressure to it, I placed it down on the paper rather than vice versa as I would when block printing and I did not, therefore, use my baren.  Clearly the pressure was uneven since the print quality is patchy – especially with the white version.  The smaller stamps I carved worked a lot better presumably because I could apply more even pressure to them.  I am not convinced this page turned out so well but carving my own stamps was fun and is something I shall try to do more of.

 

Massachusetts and Long Island Vacation Smash Book Style

This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was to “add receipts, labels, business cards – smash book style!”  Since taking up art journaling as a creative hobby and especially since joining the DLP, the term “smash book” is something I had read in passing but I had not discerned the definition.  So the first step of the challenge was to figure out what the challenge actually required.  It turned out to be a pretty simple concept: recording events by adding scraps from your life to a page.

Having just returned from our five day vacation in Massachusetts and Long Island, there were pockets in my backpack stuffed with leaflets, cards and even napkins.  I, therefore, had my materials and it also felt like it would make sense to document with found scraps from a week when I had actually done some interesting things and for my journal to contain a page that documented our trip and experiences.

I already had a page in my journal that I had smeared with squelches of blue and red paint.  It was going to be the basis of a different page but then I changed my mind and that page was abandoned.  Now I could finally use it as the base for all my sticking.  The next stage in my planless-plan was to cut out little bits and pieces from the things I had collected over the course of the vacation: a photo of Montauk lighthouse and of a humpback whale breaching, a ticket from the New London to Long Island ferry, a scrap of a napkin from the hot dog stand on Coney Island and a business card from Friendly’s, and various logos and titles from leaflets of places we had visited.  I glued those down haphazardly, trying to “go with the flow” but actually making quite a mess in the process.  I rather think I should have put more thought and planning into the placement and composition.  That done the page was looking decidedly blah.  I decided that the fragmented elements needed to be unified and tied together somehow.  I tried adding some decorative tape to fill blank spaces.  That filled the gaps but did nothing to unify the page.  Think again.  So I got out my cheap tempera paints, which I actually rather like because they are globby and translucent, and stamped on some red, blue and white using the end of a cork, a milk bottle lid and the end of a wooden pencil.  Then – since one of the key things we had done was whale watching – I used a little whale stamp to shove a pod of inky blank whales across the page.  The whale stamp is actually one I have owned since I was at school (I used to use it to indicate which books belonged to me) so I was quite glad of the opportunity to use it once more.

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I am not sure “smash style” is really very me and certainly I don’t think I am very good at it.  I have seen lots of wonderfully creative responses to this week’s prompt but I personally felt my creativity was curbed by using found scraps.  I just couldn’t envisage the end point of my page, what it might look for, and without having something to aim for I was lost in how to approach the page.  The end result was, therefore, not very successful but nevertheless it is always good to try something new and at least now I have a page in my art journal that contains a visual record of our vacation.

Whale Watching

One of the most memorable and incredible things I have ever experienced on my travels around America is whale watching.  On a road trip around New York, New England and South-eastern Canada back in the summer of 2001, we encountered whales just off-shore and even heard whale song from a cliff top.  Then, when we arrived in Gloucester, Massachusetts, we went on a whale watching trip where we saw two dozen humpback whales, including some breaching, and minke whales.  It was simply spectacular.  I was, therefore, keen for my children and parents to experience something similar and as such we had booked to go on a whale watching trip with Captain John’s tours out of Plymouth Harbour.

The area we headed out to is called Stellwagen Bank, a National Marine Sanctuary.  It is a plateau at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay that forms a rich and biodiverse ecosystem.  Due to the wealth of food in the area, Stellwagen Bank attracts marine mammals, including whales, and that is what makes whale sightings so likely.  Everyone was excited and buzzing with the frisson of expectation as the boat left Plymouth behind and forged out to sea.  We passed Duxbury Point lighthouse, which used to be manned but is now automated through solar power.  It stands near the point where the naturally occuring deep water ends and that means that it is very probably the place where ‘The Mayflower’ anchored for the pilgrims to decant from the ship into the shallop in order to make landfall.  We also passed Plymouth Lighthouse, which stands on a peninsula known as the Gurnet, and was the first to ever have a female lighthouse keeper, a lady named Hannah Thomas who took over duties when her husband went off to fight in the Revolutionary War.  Legend has it that it was the only lighthouse to ever be hit by canon during the War of Independence.

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Our guides for the day were two naturalists who explained what we were seeing and experiencing over a tannoy.  There was an intern named Sam and an experienced naturalist named Krill.  Krill was her nickname, of course, but I am not sure it is a good omen to be out at sea with someone named for whale food.  Furthermore, there was a chap on board wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Call me Ishmael”.  All we needed was an Ahab, Jonah and Gipetto on board and we would surely all be destined for Davy Jones’ locker.  The naturalists were very knowledgeable  and described the differences between the different whale species we might see on our trip and indeed the fundamental differences between tooth whales and baleen whales.  The kids even got to touch some baleen and a tooth, which they all loved.  It didn’t take too long, however, before Krill pointed out a pair of Finback whales in the distance.  Finbacks are the second largest creature to ever live on the planet, the biggest obviously being the blue whale.  I had never seen a Finback whale and didn’t get to see one on our trip either as they were too far away for me to spot by the time I got to the correct side of the boat.  Never mind.  That was a mere aperitif for what was to come.

Our first close encounter was with three Humpbacks – two adults and a calf – who were logging not far from the boat.  Logging is like napping while part of your brain is still active.  Oh how I wish I could do logging!  I could achieve so much and still feel rested.  Why have humans never thought to evolve this ability?  We were obviously hesitant to stay around the resting trio for too long so the boat scooted off a little further and that was when we encountered our first active whale, a Humpback named Dyad.  We saw her surfacing, her thick, dark back and fin slick and glistening with water, and then dive, including some deep dives which resulted in her presenting her fluke (tail).  All the passengers rushed from one side of the boat to the other in order to spot Dyad, scanning the surface for the green bubbly water or a dark shape breaking from the water.  Back and forth we rushed, as if intent on recreating ‘The Poseidon Adventure’.  We all gasped and oohed in unison each time Dyad appeared.  She never came too close to the boat but was close enough for us to observe her behaviour and see the detail in her fluke, marks as unique as a fingerprint which assist the naturalists in identifying individual whales.  We all thought this was as good as it was going to get and were pretty pleased with the experience.

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And then Samara appeared.

When Samara first joined Dyad, we were able to hear some trumpeting sounds.  Apparently this indicates excitement but I don’t think the whales could be anywhere near as excited as we were.  Samara proved to be a very inquisitive, sociable and perhaps somewhat reckless and impulsive Humpback.  For quite some time, she swam around the boat, coming so close that my Mum and seven year old got sprayed by the air emerging from her blowhole.  She swam under the boat and we all ran from port to starboard and back several times trying to be the first to glimpse her as she reappeared, looking for that bubble-filled green water or a flash of white fin.  It was an experience beyond our most hopeful and optimistic expectations to see a whale so close.  Samara’s proximity also served to emphasise the whale’s vast scale and yet she was graceful and gentle despite being so massive and powerful.  Breath-taking.  Krill explained that Samara is just six years old and that, through their observations, they believe that Humpbacks live to be anywhere between 60 and 80 years of age so perhaps Samara was just a playful child and that was one of the reasons she was delighting in playing around the boat.  Krill also told us that the most famous whale in this region is named Salt.  She was first observed in 1975 and is probably in her mid-40s.  Salt is the mother of 13 calves since whales typically produce offspring every two to three years, losing 40% of their body fat through nursing each baby, hence the need for recovery gaps.

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It was an utterly incredible experience.  We were all awe-struck.  We may not have witnessed the spectacular breaching displays that Mr Pict and I had seen back in 2001 but back then only one whale ever came close to the boat, albeit so close that an extra foot on my arms would have allowed me to stroke its head.  This time, however, we got to see more whales closer to the boat and to see Samara so close and for such an extended period was so utterly exciting.  I guess we got very lucky on both our whale watching trips.  My parents, who had expected to just see a few whales bobbing on the horizon, were gob-smacked and my animal-daft 7 year old was so over-excited his voice was a high-speed helium squeak.  Indeed, it made such an impression on him that he has been setting up his cuddly toys to go on whale watching tours ever since.

If, dear reader, you have never been on a whale watching tour I urge you to consider doing so.  I am sure you will not regret it.  I know I am just hoping that I don’t have to wait another 13 years before my next expedition.

 

PS  If you want to read the blog entry about our particular trip, written by the on-board naturalist, you can do so here.

 

Whale and Caged Bird Lino Block Prints

I have been trying to grab a little bit of time each week for creativity.  I find that focusing on something artistic for even a short period of time is calming and acts to decompress me.  Art is something I enjoy, love and am passionate about but I am also realising that I find it to also be therapeutic.  In Scotland, I went to my Art Club’s Life Drawing class which meant that at least once a week I was spending time doing something creative just for myself.  I have not found a life class here, unfortunately, but art journalling and participating in the Documented Life Project means that at least once a week I am taking some time out from all of the hustle and bustle of family life to devote to something creative.

I am enjoying mixed media work far more than I expected to and I am enjoying the stimulus of learning new techniques and working with unfamiliar materials or even familiar materials but deployed in a new way.  Nevertheless I am finding that I still revert to drawing and ink work.  I guess that is my comfort zone.  Just before leaving Scotland, I was starting to get back into lino block printing which I had not done since my teens.  That, therefore, is something I am trying to develop again so I am trying to make time to develop designs for block prints and ever so often I even find time to carve a block and print.  I have not discovered a local source of lino blocks yet so I have been working on smaller pieces of lino than I am used to but actually I am enjoying the challenge of that restriction and the smaller scale also makes it easier for me to start and finish a piece within the time I have set aside.

My first two efforts at this smaller scale (15cmx10cm) were of a whale and a bird in a cage.   If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might recognise the bird design from a page I did for the Documented Life Project but I have not shared the whale print on the blog before.  I might experiment with creating a monoprint background for printing the whale onto at some point.  I happen to like the texture that results from the imperfections from my cutting which is why I don’t cut away until every single positive is gone from the negative spaces.  I re-print and re-cut until I get a result that I am happy with.  Perhaps it is because I tend to be very precise with my drawing and ink work that I enjoy the imperfections of the block prints.  In the case of the whale print below, I clearly didn’t use the baren at a consistent enough pressure when pressing the print so there is a patchiness to the ink.  If I was creating that print with a view to selling it then I would print it again but since this print was just for me I actually quite liked the effect as it made me think of the scarred and barnacled surface of a whale’s body.  In any case, I am pretty pleased with how they both turned out.

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