Thursday, April 30, 2009

Creating between Cereal on the Stove and Writing a Cover Letter

I've been having a lot of fun stealing a few minutes whenever I can to make backgrounds. In this background, I doodled while on the phone, I pasted a layer while the rice was cooking for dinner, another while my morning coffee was brewing, and as 5-10 minute rewards for finishing another cover letter for job hunting. Having an art space set up and ready to go sure does help.

I'm interested in the creative process--my own and others. What moves things forward, what gets in the way, how does creativity evolve, what disciplines support the process, and when does a discipline lose its usefulness?

Syko revealed the evolution of her creative process a few days ago as she expressed her frustration of "copying" on the Internet. The copying discussion is important, and I'm even more interested to hear about her process of slowly breaking out of patterns to find her own creative vision.

Right now, I'm doing patterns. V is constantly supplying me with books and magazines. She lent me Davies' Collage Journeys, which has a multitude of projects/patterns. This background in the pic above is taken right out of her book. It's not original working with sewing patterns, and I've noticed that I really enjoy the medium. I sewed with my grandmother and made my last piece of clothing--a peach linen suit for a wedding--when I was in my early 20s. Working with sewing patterns takes me back those days and reminds me of sitting side-by-side with my grandma, feeling her gentle guidance, and sewing on her Singer in her music/sewing room.

V also lent me cloth paper scissors. Liz Berg has a project in the March/April 2009 issue that uses magazine pages and acrylics as the medium for customizing paper. She's the person who says, "How many papers you make will depend upon how much room you have to dry the papers."

Because I'm a nut, I took this advice literally and lined up about 35 magazine papers all over the kitchen and dining room and proceeded to prep them (1st layer: matte medium; second layer: titan buff acrylic paint mixed with mixed medium).

During one layer, I rocked out to cranked-up ACDC like I was back in high school. When I got to the second layer, I used up an entire tube of the titan buff and had enough to cover only 27 of 35 the pages, which cracked me up. "Jeez," I thought, "I might not even like the result, what do I need with 35 pages of stuff I don't like. How about something more moderate like 10 pages?"

The third layer calls for more acrylic paint mixed with matte medium and then doing whatever you want to texturize it. I need more paint. Meanwhile, I may save some of these pages for our next pARTy and let friends experiment making the papers if they want (they're prepped and ready to go.)

The process of working this way is very satisfying. I like the flow of moving from the business of life to dropping in for five minutes or so to add the next layer. It's a good thing to do between washing the dishes and doing the laundry.

At bedtime, I've been picking up the Davies book again and again. I discover that as I do a project, I understand more and more stuff that I missed on the first, second, and third pass. A gel transfer is in my future.

I'm also reading Nina Leland's The New Creative Artist, which for now, is serving more as inspiration than practicing technique. Thanks, Late B(l)oomer. Here's one of my favorite, obvious, yet profound lines from her book:

Your first priority is to take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat properly, exercise, and attend to your spiritual needs."

I'm curious to hear from readers about how your creative process has evolved--whatever the medium. Tell us some of your story or something about your process.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Striped Baby Beanie

I wanted to use up some Rowan cotton wool yarn and knit this baby beanie to go with the sweater Cousin Aidan inherited last weekend. Virtually all the baby hat patterns I have call for yarn with No 7 or 8 needles. Rowan cotton wool needs No 5 or 6 needles. I followed One Girls' baby beanie pattern and added a topper for fun.

The bottom rib came out quite loose, unlike One Girls'. I'm not sure it will stay on the kid's head. If I redo it, I'll use a smaller needle for the rib. The other problem is it looks like it's sized for a preemie. (5" high; 16" round)

After knitting this I can see why most patterns call for yarns using a No 7 or 8 needle. This hat feels flimsy.

On this little project, I learned how to knit in ends with this video. It's a technique well worth learning.

Collage pARTy & Art Room

Sunday, we gathered for our first official monthly pARTy.

In this group, delicious stretches of time pass where words become superfluous and being and creating together becomes its own form of connection.

On the left is my collage in the early stages.

V did some interesting things with mixed media and blending oil pastels. (Notice her new rock.)

I got my collage to this stage. It feels busy, but it also feels like it's starting to take a direction. For my third mixed-media collage, I'm pleased.

Eighty percent of the process was pure pleasure; twenty percent was frustration. The moments of frustration came when I wanted to move it in a certain direction, but felt stuck. A suggestion from V gave me some needed help to take it to the next level.

Later that night I reread projects in Jane Davies collage book and started to understand what I had missed the first time: I need backgrounds. Backgrounds are the support for collage, and creating them is a totally different process than creating a collage. In fact, Davies suggests churning out a bunch of backgrounds almost like an assembly line and using these pieces as a springboard. I'm ready.

The side table I added for supplies was the finishing piece I needed to for my work space.

It still feels serene and comfortable as my yoga/meditation room.

And it's functional as an art space with an clean, open work table.

Art space remodel costs: $0. Every item was a found object. Sort of like a collage.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Visiting the Tall Texan in Vacaville

Photo credit: City of Davis

We're headed to Vacaville this afternoon to visit my Uncle Wayne and attend a hospice benefit at the Northbay Wine & Food Jubilee. Family and friends have made generous donations in the name of my late Aunt Helen and several cousins will be coming into town for the event.

My cousin, Cynthia, has been sending out reports on how her dad, my Uncle Wayne, is coping with losing a beloved partner after 64 years. She wrote last week:

"As Dad tries to deal with living alone, he has set a routine for himself to go out every day to the store, usually timing it around the deliver of the mail. So imagine 2 p.m. in the afternoon, Dad pulls up in his car next to the mailbox, gingerly gets out of the car and retrieves his mail from the box. He quickly assesses if it's all junk mail and can spot the real mail, i.e. cards and post cards right away. I can see on his face how much that means to him to get real mail.

Clothing catalogs addressed to Mom are tough for him. Dad has called the companies and asked for her name to be deleted. He has had to do that lot. And usually, he gets a kind voice on the other end who extends condolences and assures him that his request will be processed.

One of the toughest tasks he did back in January was to go by Mom's beauty shop to pick up a elevated toilet sheet she left there for her use. The ladies didn't know, and Dad had to tell them. I thought I was going to pick it up for him. But he beat me to the punch. And it was probably just as well. Dad has been very brave in dealing with the day in and day out of letting people know Mom has passed away."

On this visit, we'll stay overnight (courtesy of donated hotel rooms because of the benefit) and take the opportunity to ride our bikes through Davis and explore the town as a possible next place to live. Our exploration is a tiny step forward on my hard-won battle to move out of our house. Jeff has decided to embrace my desires and added "out of the country" as one of the many possibilities. Today, we start with Davis.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"What had they been doing all those years?"

This was our 180 degree view at Bodega Bay for our girls' weekend earlier this month.

Notice the lack of fog.

We timed the wildflowers perfectly. That's Point Reyes at the far left point.

Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

"The rest of them said, no, they didn't play. People began recounting stories of a couple of lessons or the lessons of their children. It seem to Gen (and he included himself in this assessment) that never had a more uncultured group of men been taken hostage. What had they been doing all these years that no one had bothered with such an important instrument? They all wished they could play, if not before then, certainly now."

There was no piano playing in Bodega and very little longing for anything more than being.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

On my way home from the grocery store this weekend, I saw a pile of stuff curbside waiting for the trash and this table caught my eye. I thought it would be perfect as an extra table for my art/craft room, but it needed some repair. I dragged my repairman/husband down to take a look. He thought I should just go buy one from Ikea or Target. But these days $50 adds up and I'm definitely more conscious of our landfills and my part in perpetuating our throw-away culture. After some prodding, he agreed to fix it, hauled it home, and now I have a new table.

As a teenager, I was constantly irritated by my grandparents depression-era ways. They reused plastic bottles, containers and bags, wore down vests in a chilly living room to save heat, and bought new things as only a last resort. I pleaded with my grandfather to get with the times and spend money. This was the 80s after all! But the only place he'd spend freely was to indulge me with a new school wardrobe every fall and, of course, a college education.

I wish he were here today, so I could hear him say, "I was ahead of my time."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Our Ordinary World Away

Sometimes I'm in awe that it only takes a 12 to 15-minute drive to escape the concrete and chaos of the city to enjoy the refreshment of these hills.

Throughout the year, hiking here is a regular part of our weekday. When I'm not taking it for granted, I often regret not carrying a camera.

The foothills on these hikes are filled with majestic oaks. To think so many of were cut down to build track homes in the valley pains me.

I used to think my grandmother was silly the way she'd fall in love with tree after tree on any ordinary trip to the butcher or the mall. "Ohh!" she'd say, "Look at that tree!" Longingly with a bit of a slump, she'd say, "Wouldn't I love to have a tree like that."

When I young and before I knew about her longing for trees, I remember she bought a huge tree that she had spotted an empty lot. She had it moved on a semi-size flat bed and planted it in front of her house. But soon that spot was empty again. The tree didn't survive.

We took our Brazilian friends on this hike on Saturday. We were having a leisure visit instead of a vigorous hike, so there was a lot more time to take pictures and see our ordinary places with fresh eyes.

This weekend was particularly special. Wildflowers in full bloom.


I was inspired by this woman's words in a story the Mercury News did on her being named a Rhodes scholar.

Noelle Lopez, photo by Maria J. Avila--Mercury News

What she enjoys about running:
"A lot is in the details. The smell of certain trails, the feeling of putting on running shoes or spikes, the rhythm of the act itself."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bargain Cashmere Yarn = Socks

The price of cashmere yarn is astounding. So when I found this cashmere yarn at the bottom on the clearance bin and it happened to be in my favorite red, I had to have it. I've never understood the knitting socks phenomena. It seems like an awful lot of work for a pair of socks. But cashmere socks. That's another story. Look at those tiny double-pointed needles. (Yarn: 50% cashmere/50% mohair.)

So far so good:

I've done a lot of ripping out to get this far.

The spiral part of this pattern takes a bit of concentration. Jeff was channel surfing the other night and stopped on a gender bending show on Taboo. My confusion spun out of control. The person talking looks like a woman, but she's really a man and she's getting a sex change. Wait, that's a purl instead of a knit. And her boyfriend is a man. Or is he/she a woman? Wait, that's knit 3 then purl 1. And he's not sure whether he wants to be a man or a woman? Oh, jeez, I'm missing a stitch.

There's much less ripping out when I stick to mindless guilty-pleasure shows like Jon & Kate Plus Eight and Supernanny.

The Baby Sweater with Baggage

Here's a baby sweater I finally completed. I've been meaning to finish it for five years. I started it for my half brother's baby before Jeff and I were married. But when my grandfather died a few months later and my half brothers were not included in his will, all hell broke loose and the family split up. (Too bad they missed out on this adorable sweater.)

Three years later, enough time had passed and I decided to finish the sweater. But like a lot of knitters, I abhor the finishing process. Seeking a little help, I got it to this stage. But without a baby as a deadline, I let it sit unfinished.

Two years later, on February 20, 2009, Cousin Aidan was born. I pulled out the sweater to take a look. What I saw was a mess with the collar in the picture below.

Oy! I put it down thinking I'd have to rip it out and redo it, but would probably need help again.

Last weekend while I was at the knit shop for V's bowls, I took this albatross of a project to get some help. I showed it to the woman to ask a question. On a side note, I told her the pattern was meant to have button holes, but I didn't make them and wasn't planning to add buttons. She took a closer look and said, "You made button holes." Really? Take a look at that "messy" knitting above. Apparently, those are button holes. I came home thinking "what am I going to do myself!" Then I declared to Jeff that I was finishing this damn sweater even if it killed me.

The woman at the knit store also mentioned that she loves finishing. So while I worked on weaving in ends and assembling, I paid a lot of attention to my body process wondering if it might be possible for me to enjoy the process. While it was pleasant to be very conscious, the entire time (over 2-3 sitting sessions) I felt anxious. I have decided I need to learn a few more techniques, but I'm also not sure I'll ever enjoy this part of the process. Knitting is relaxing to me. I like the rhythm; it calms me. It also quells my guilt for "wasting" precious time watching mindless TV with my husband. But finishing is a much different process. It lacks flow, and I don't do it often enough for it to feel like second nature.

Meanwhile six weeks later, Cousin Aidan has grown up enough that he'll be able to wear this sweater for about 30 seconds. I sent an email to another pregnant cousin, and thank goodness, she's having a boy in June.

Never mind that this cousin lives in the desert and her baby will have no need for a sweater in the summer. I cannot be distracted by such details. This sweater needs a home.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

First Felt: Nesting bowls

V insisted I make her something for her birthday. So in honor of her birthday, I learned all about felting.

I decided to felt bowls and was inspired by painted fish studio who was inspired by design sponge diy.

I learned about all the details of felting through lots of people's blogs (gathering the details about how to do it was the hardest part), so thought I'd contribute to the blogosphere with a bit of detail on my process.

I did buy the book, One Skein, where you can find the pattern, but as with most knitting patterns, I'm challenged to find a yarn I like that also fits the pattern. The pattern called for bulky/chunky weight yarn, and, of course, I couldn't find any in the colors I wanted in a bulky knit. Instead I doubled a worsted wool weight yarn, and it worked great.

Lots of people talked about having problems getting their 100% wool to felt, so I tried a swatch. This started as a 4 x 3 rectangle and felted at 2 x 3 1/4. I put it in my front-load washing machine with a pair of jeans and had no problem. Of course, all the instructions for checking your piece every five minutes in the washing machine are useless for a front load. For me, it worked to just throw it in and forget about it. Here's the swatch:

Here's what they looked like before I felted them: Medium bowl: CO 45 sts, knit for 5 1/2 inches and decrease.

That's Jeff watching the Master's and that's Ray Parker on the big screen at his last hole of his golf career. (I learned way more than a non-golfer should ever know about golf this weekend.)

One Skein has a pattern for only two bowls, so I guestimated my third small orange ball. CO 35 sts and knit for 3 1/2 inches.

For the big bowl, I used Lamb's Pride Wool, but unfortunately, by doubling the yarn, I needed more than one skein. CO 55 sts, knit for 9 3/4 inches and decrease.

Here's how a bowl came out of the washing machine before I shaped it. Btw, all the bowls went through the cycle including spin, and despite what Ms. One Skein says in her book, they were fine. It was easy to shape the bowls with my hands, and I found it unnecessary to use bowls as a mold.

Thanks to V, I have a renewed interest in knitting and look forward to doing some more felting. Feling is great for grunge knitting, and it's a nice change from another scarf, hat, or baby something.

Notes on felting:
--No superwash wool
--Only 100% wool will felt.
--You can mix non-felting yarns with felting yarns for fun.
--People recommend washing your knitted item with a shoe, a tennis ball, or a pair of jeans. Some people say it's unnecessary.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Domesticated Ducks

Look what landed in our pool yesterday afternoon.

In the nearly 20 years Jeff has owned this house, he's never seen it happen. They hung out for awhile until we sent them away.

Maybe our rivers and lakes are so polluted that ducks can't tell the difference between a clorinated pool and a lake anymore.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Grizzly Collage

Here's Jeff looking natty in his Mad Men costume for a dinner party we had a few weeks ago.

My recent collage project from Jane Davies' book was a bust. I was making backgrounds and did a few layers of collage and then I covered it with gesso. The idea was to peel the gesso off and make interesting shapes. Instead it peeled down to the paper support.

I brought a ton of collage materials to Bodega Bay for our girls weekend, but the weather was so incredibly gorgeous and we were so relaxed that we never broke out any art projects.

My foray into collage so far has done more to inform my morning newspaper reading than cranking out the art projects. Yesterday, there was a little article in the Times about our governor reaching into his own pocket to buy a bronze grizzly bear sculpture to put outside his office. The end of the article ended this way:

>>Real grizzly bears have not been seen in California since the early 1920s. Chris Serveheen, a grizzly bear expert with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said he liked the idea of a bronze version in the Capitol, "particularly since the state put bears on the state flag and proceeded to eliminate them all.">>

Last week there was an article about the disappearing salmon problem and there was a similar quote about how many fish have disappeared from the Pacific ocean along California's coast.

These are the kinds of statements that would normally go right over my head if I hadn't stumbled upon that fabulous 1933 Visual Geography of California book? There are dozens of maps about all kinds of stuff like this: how many mountain lions, bears, etc have been killed. Here's an excerpt:

"Suppose that we were to tell you that more than 6 thousand mountain lions (cougars) had been killed in California during the past 20 years? This statement seems hard to believe but it really is a fact. The state pays from 20 to 30 dollars for each lion caught." (I love the writing style.)

Soon I will get a flat scanner to share the pics from this book and successful and not so successful collage projects.