Friday, May 19, 2017

PIECING IT TOGETHER

Quilt-making is intensive, often community-building, and a labor of love. Quilts can be complicated like this quilt made by the moms at Nishimachi International School in Japan or simple. Each one is made to provide a hug and warmth. Joan Stevenson, a fellow Wednesday Writer, contributed this quilt-making story today. I hope you enjoy her tale.




Piecing It Together
by Joan Stevenson

More than fifty years ago, I accepted a month-long position in a dental office with the intent that the paycheck I received would be enough to purchase the sewing machine in the window at the mall that I had my eye on. I cashed the check right after work and went directly to the mall, cash in hand. The store had closed early and there was a metal gate across the opening. Not to be deterred, I rattled the bars like a prisoner until I had the manager's attention. My tears moved him to re-open the store and sell me the Singer sewing machine in the window.

It was a workhorse, completing little girls' outfits and mine, hems, curtains, coats, Christmas gifts, and more than a few outfits for weddings. When I went back to work full time, the machine sat idle for many years. Recently, I had a new project in mind and took the machine in for a tune-up.

At the repair shop, I was told that Singer doesn't make replacement parts for this model anymore. I walked out the door with a new sewing machine. I brought it home, delighted that it was very light to carry. I practiced threading and filling the bobbin. I quickly learned that thread should have a "used-by-date" because my decades-old thread shredded. I purchased all new thread and I was ready to begin my new project.

My plan involved being a participant in our church quilt project. Each year I have looked forward to "Quilt Sunday" at Our Savior's Lutheran Church. The sanctuary overflows with a riot of color. Every pew, altar, lectern, organ, and piano is covered with a quilt -- 162 of them. I wanted to be a part of the creation. The quilts begin with the scraps of fabric that are contributed from the tailings of a Halloween costume, the end of a Christmas project, a discontinued dress or simply cloth that caught someone's eye but never went on to a life of its own. Scraps. Nothing but scraps.

The process of making the quilt is divided into steps. The first team cuts the fabric into twelve-inch squares. That task, cutting the squares, is critical. The cuts must be accurate in order for the corners to come together. Let's see,, that is 7,776 squares cut by hand.




The next team lays out the design for each row. The rows are numbered, pinned together and placed in bags. As one of the sewers, I was the next step in the process. I picked up my first bag from the cupboard at church with the contents to make two quilt covers. I opened my bag and found red, pink and blue fabrics pinned together.  My new machine hummed along with Row 1. I was careful to make the seams the prescribed 3/8 inch. The afternoon flew by and I beamed when I realized I had completed six rows. Now I had the challenge of sewing the long rows together and to make sure that my corners came together cleanly.

With both of my covers finished, I returned them to the bag they came in and placed the bag back in the church cupboard ready for the next set of hands to attach the batting and backing to the quilt. Now the final touch, the ties in each corner of each square. Here a few seasoned men added their efforts to the team. The quilt, once tied, is then ready for show time: Quilt Sunday.

As I came into the church, I felt an air of closeness in the room and a sense of purpose. Each quilt has a small white envelope pinned on it to fund the cost of mailing. For a donation of $2.25, each quilt is sent to Lutheran Social Services.We shared a tender moment when we placed our hands on the quilts and prayed them on their way.

The quilts are distributed to first responders and to people in need. They provide a hug in times of crisis and shield someone against the cold and rain. Their versatility makes these quilts useful as simple tents, bedding, floor coverings, or as a wrap to hold a baby on a mother's back. In addition, each graduating senior in our church family receives a quilt with their name embroidered on it.

One more volunteer carts the rolled, packed quilts to the post office. I wondered who would receive them and where they would go -- Africa or Oakland? I can't quite let go of the kinship I felt for my quilt covers. Will a baby be cuddled in the soft pink one? Might the red one be the ground cover for a woman selling her wares at market? Or perhaps one of them will cover an old woman at a shelter. I hope they will know that my stitches come with love and hope.


Friday, May 12, 2017

THE RIGHT SPOT




photos by Bill Slavin


Bill and I perched on stools at the bar at the Rite Spot Cafe in San Francisco. We were hungry, but the cafe wasn't open. The old bar and cafe in the industrial part of the City was closed for a fundraiser. Ear plugs came with our entry at the door. We munched on potato chips and drank beer while we waited eagerly for our son's band The Brankas to perform. The rest of the room filled up with young kids from a rock band school and their parents who came to raise money to send several of their bands to a band competition in Idaho.





Our son has performed in bands since sixth grade. First, in Japan, then Paris, through high school and college at home. Sitting in this small bar brought back memories of spending late nights at Blake's in Berkeley, in dark bars in Alameda and San Jose, and at rock band competitions at the Metro in Oakland and the Red House in Walnut Creek, where we came to watch Theo's various bands perform. We usually were the only ones over 40 in a room filled with rock fans. We dressed in black to fade into the background. Bill took photos while I sat sipping a drink during the shows.

In high school, Theo attended several rock band camps during summer vacations and performed in front of large, appreciative audiences. Now, as a working adult, his two-man band plays locally on weekends and travels occasionally around California to play at other venues.




After the first band finished, the Brankas came on stage. Theo grabbed the microphone and welcomed the crowd, encouraged the young musicians to work hard, and thanked the parents for their support of their kids. He said to a round of applause, "I'm glad to see you here to support your kids in following their dreams. In fact, over there at the bar, my parents are here to support me too." He waved a hand, "A shout-out to them: thanks for coming today. I really appreciate your being here." The Brankas began to play and the crowd erupted with wild enthusiasm for their music.





As Mother's Day approaches, memories like these come back to remind me what an incredible experience parenthood can be. We never imagined that Theo would be in a rock band. When he asked to join the school rock band in Tokyo, the instructor wanted to know what instrument he played. He told him, "I don't play an instrument. I want to sing." Later he learned to play the guitar and work guitar pedals. His music has sustained him through much of the ups and downs of his teenage years and into adulthood. We are proud of him and glad that we have been able to share these moments with him. 

What better place to be than an old, crowded bar on a sunny Sunday afternoon?

Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms! 
As Theo once said, "We should celebrate Mother's Day every day."





Friday, May 5, 2017

MORE POSTCARDS IN THE MAIL

Torrential rain all winter, a week or two of glorious spring weather, and this past week, hot days in the 90's. Weather. Something we don't always notice in California. But an early heat wave reminded me of summer and postcards.

Last weekend I sat next to a woman on the plane who laughed when I pulled out my stack of postcards. She said, "I haven't sent postcards in years." I thought of the numerous postcards I've mailed since January, which has allowed me to let go of the stress of watching someone with the stroke of a pen negate much of what I believe. I continue to write postcards.

Recently I've reaped some beautiful postcards from other artists who participate in postcard exchanges with me. I wanted to share their work with you.


Julia Jacques makes collages from small scraps
and then reproduces them as postcards. 
Lovely shades of blue!

Julia Jacques

Paula Bogdan loves to photograph old, neglected things.  
She quotes Elliot Erwitt, 
"Photography is an art of observation. 
It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."

Paula Bogdan   http://littlescrapsofmagic.typepad.com
 Kat Sloma is the sponsor of Liberate Your Art Swap each year. She makes digital paintings and photography. She encourages everyone to experiment, play and create.

Kat Sloma  http://kateyestudio.com

Lisa Murphy creates mixed media pieces. Her card used a quote from Maya Angelou. 
"This is a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before."

Lisa Murphy https://lisamurphyart.wordpress.com

 Lynda Fishbourne is a prolific artist with many thoughtful, inspiring pieces to share. On this card, she said, "It's time to begin. Let the mystery unfold. Listen carefully. Breathe deeply. Notice the little things. Live your dream. Share your passion. Sending sunshine and stardust."


Lynda Fishbourne  http://www.lyndafishbourne.com/About.html

Lynda Fishbourne

Lynda Fishbourne



 Send some postcards. 
Your friends will love receiving something in the mail from you!



My Sketchbook Project sketchbook that I sent to the Brooklyn Art Library has now been digitized and can be seen with many other fantastic sketchbooks at this link!

https://www.sketchbookproject.com/library/18173

Friday, April 28, 2017

MAKE MOM PROUD




As I bag up the week's collection of plastic bags, I think about the recent Earth Day March to celebrate the work of scientists and the environmental movements. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with trying to find ways to use every last piece of paper, every piece of plastic, or any other object that otherwise will land in the trash. I try to do the best I can to recycle and reuse, but I know there is still a lot more that I could do.

I loved the signs displayed at the Earth Day March:

We Are With Her (a drawing of The Earth)

Got Polio? No? Thank Science

Science is in Our DNA

I'm Here for Pi

I think so many of us feel the same way that I do and want to make sure that we continue to lessen our environmental impact.




 I've never met an artist yet who doesn't pick up something and say, "I could use this somewhere someday." We often incorporate recycled materials in artwork, but we also have been contaminating our environment with toxic chemicals for a long time (aerosol sprays and permanent markers, for example). A new generation of artists have become more aware of the footprint they leave as artists and choose to reuse and repurpose as much as possible.

Connie McDowell makes art exchange cards that are about 2" tall.
What a great way to use up the smallest of scraps.


Until the 20th Century, many artists -- perhaps our first scientists -- made their own paints using natural materials, which were not always harmless (cadmium, arsenic, and lead were key ingredients). They also used toxic materials to clean up after use. Since my school days, new products such as terpenoid and soy-based inks have replaced old harmful products. At the Art and Soul Retreat that I attended recently, each classroom had dirty water buckets so that classes wouldn't overwhelm the pipes with acrylic residue.

I gave up oil paints a long time ago because of the solvents needed to clean the paint off my skin. An alternative, acrylic paint is toxic too. Though water-based, acrylics are made from acrylic polymer, which becomes a solid mass when dry. The residue from brushes or from the cleaning jars can create havoc with plumbing and our water supply. Cleaning with care takes extra effort, but keeping acrylics out of our water supply is important to me.


I often use the paint splattered paper towels left over
from another painting session in a new piece.


With the advent of Earth Day in 1970, many people, including artists, became much more aware of the need to be environmentally friendly. We depend on the research of scientists to developed better formulas for products that aren't as polluting as previous ones. Artists have returned to old ways such as eco-printing, which uses natural dyes from plants to create interesting designs. We need to tend to our Mother Earth. There is no Planet B!


The paper catches the dyes from the plants, which make ghost prints on the paper.


To get more ideas about reuse and recycling, check out the magazine, Uppercase. The latest issue #33 highlights the efforts of artists to be green.

http://uppercasemagazine.com/issue33


Agora Gallery offers good advice about green practices for artists.
http://www.agora-gallery.com/advice/blog/2015/04/22/going-green-environmentally-friendly-studio-practices-artists/

Another site with good information about art supplies:

http://www.hazwastehelp.org/health/artsupplies.aspx

Read Kate Moore's new book, The Radium Girls, about the young women who painted radium on watch dials in the early part of the 20th century.




Friday, April 21, 2017

SPRING IN MANY COLORS



Spring is everywhere, isn't it? This time of year always reminds me of our time in Tokyo. Unlike California where many types of flowers bloom at once, Japan's plantings appear a little bit at a time. First, the plum blossoms, then the cherry blossoms fill the air with their faint perfume. People organize cherry blossom viewing parties and make a point to go to temples, shrines, and parks during March and April. After the trees cast off their blooms, the tulips come up followed by wisteria, roses, hydrangea, and then iris in June.

Some shrines and temples are known for growing particular types of flowers. Kameido Shrine in Tokyo is a great place to view wisteria while Meigetsuin Temple in Kamakura blooms with hydrangeas.  In June you can walk next to the iris-filled streams in Meiji Shrine in Toyko. You might also get a chance to see young women in their Spring kimono walking the grounds.








Do you have a favorite garden that you go to in the Spring?

With the wet weather we had in the Bay Area this winter, public gardens here in the Bay Area are filled with flowers at their peak.

Easly Spring at Filoli


The tulips at Filoli in bloom

Filoli and the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto both have large plantings that you can wander through.
Hakone Gardens in Saratoga provides another chance to see a Japanese style garden.The Blake Garden in Kensington is a research garden, part of UC Berkeley, with surprising views of the Bay Area. Even at Ruth Bancroft's Succulent Garden in Walnut Creek, you can spot flowers on the succulents and cacti that she planted there.



Though the flowers are already gone from this cactus, the fruit left behind is beautiful too.

Have you seen your first iris, bird-of-paradise or a Swallowtail butterfly of the year? Are you counting the bees in your area? If you are, send your data to the Great Sunflower Project.





Let me know if you have a public garden near you.


Check out these websites for more information about public gardens in the Northern California and Japan:

http://www.gotokyo.org/en/kanko/koto/event/fujimatsuri.html

https://uncoveringjapan.com/2012/06/15/spotlight-meigetsu-in-temple-kamakura/

http://www.filoli.org/flower-show/  Palo Alto, CA

https://www.gamblegarden.org   Palo Alto, CA

http://www.alliedartsguild.org/index.html  Menlo Park, CA

http://www.hakone.com  Saratoga, CA

http://blakegarden.ced.berkeley.edu  Kensington, CA

https://www.greatsunflower.org



Friday, April 14, 2017

FULL OF CREATIVITY



It's not always easy to do art. Sometimes in a class, I can hear that inner critic jump in. I watched last weekend as another woman lamented, her inner critic in high gear, "I've never done this before. I really don't like what I did. The colors are all wrong. The texture under the watercolors is too black.This looks like junk." All the other people in the class rushed to reassure her, but she didn't believe in herself and continued to let that inner critic win.

Last week I jumped at the chance to spend time with other creatives interested in learning new techniques. We all attended the Art and Soul Mixed Media Retreat in Portland, Oregon. I knew  that working around others can be great fun, but can also be challenging. Looking over someone shoulder can interrupt your confidence and undermine your creativity. I know that, and I go to classes telling myself, "This is practice. This is just practice."




Art and Soul runs for a week and offers diverse classes from how to use encaustic wax to jewelry making, from quilting to watercolors, and lots more. I chose just three days of three different classes. Outside our hotel, the Spring storms raged, but we didn't notice as we delved into projects that captured our imaginations.




I spent my first day with Roxanne Evans Stout in her Nature's Gathering, Exploring Stenciling class, where we experimented with pan pastels, acrylics, stencils and ephemera to create an accordion book filled with layers, words, and textures.


I started by covering the watercolor paper with pan pastel markings.
One side of my finished piece

Catherine Anderson's class, The Secret Life of Trees, involved using old photos that we wet and scrubbed with sandpaper to achieve beautiful, sturdy background paper. We rubbed on pan pastels to add color. We applied paper napkins, used tea bags, textures, torn paper, string, and photos and drawings of trees.

A duplicate of an old photo

After scrapping with sandpaper and rubbing with pan pastels



 By the end of the day, we had pages filled with intriguing images. I used the poem, Advice from a Tree by Ilan Shamir, throughout my pages.









On Saturday Helen Shafer Garcia taught monoprinting using easy tools including a printing brayer, acrylic paint, aluminum foil, a sheet of hot press watercolor paper, and a pencil or ballpoint pen.

To start, Helen crumbled the foil and then spread it out on the inking surface. She applied a small amount of dark acrylic paint to the foil with the brayer. She placed the inked foil, ink side down, on top of the watercolor paper and drew freeform shapes on the foil with her pencil. She lifted the foil off to reveal a textured paper. The foil could be printed again to make a 'ghost print.'






A ghost print just needing some shapes drawn with crayon

I followed her instructions for making the monoprint. Once the paint was dry, I drew more freeform shapes directly on the watercolor paper with crayons. I painted around the crayon shapes with watercolor. I did the same thing with some of the dark printed shapes. I used white gouache to cover up parts that I didn't like or to bring out a design that I wanted to create on top of the first layers.




During those three days at Art and Soul, I worked side by side with other people who explored and pushed their own abilities. Sometimes with new techniques, the learning process can be discouraging; other times a sense of joy pervades the room as people make new discoveries about themselves and their own abilities.





Check out these websites for more information about retreats and instructors:

Art and Soul Mixed Media Retreats:  https://www.artandsoulretreat.com/index.php

Roxanne Evans Stout:  http://roxanneevansstout.com

Catherine Anderson:  http://www.catherineandersonstudio.com

Helen Garcia:  http://www.helenshafergarcia.com

Friday, April 7, 2017

I SIT WITH HOPE

Do you remember middle school? Most of us do with a twinge of pain. Those were the days when we looked in the mirror and saw 'gawky and clumsy,' wanting to be a grown-up one minute and hanging on to childhood the next, heard our voices changing, and our bodies growing in uncertain, mysterious ways.

I sit in a classroom with the students I work with as a Writer Coach and see something different. I think, "I'm sitting next to hope." I work with two eighth grade boys, Larry and Tommy, on assignments about John Steinbeck's novel, Of Mice and Men. The story is difficult, but the students in the class have seen the movie, read articles about the Depression and the Dust Bowl, which sent many people to California searching for new lives.

Both students are grappling with the relationship between two itinerant workers, George and Lenny: are they friends or more like father-son figures? The students are being asked some tough questions about loyalty and friendship, the dream of owning a piece of land, and loneliness and companionship. Listening to the students speak about the themes in the book gives me hope.  They see parallels to today's world of immigrant workers, people with special needs, and the security of a strong friendship. Larry brings up some of his own family's experiences while Tommy uses his math logic to puzzle out the relationships.

As I sit with them, I am filled with hope. I know that middle school is a time of great change, a time when students begin to define themselves and their beliefs, and to question what they have learned. These students already have a better grasp of how the world works than I did when I was their age. I'm glad to see schools such as this one take on the task of developing critical thinking in their students. I sit with hope.


On my walks, I often come across Lost Things. Each one of them has a story of how they became separated from someone. In the top right hand corner is a line of items that someone else found and moved to a sidewalk. In an other photo, there is a shoe caught in the flotsam of the water around a pier. Children's things slip away easily, but how about that boot?


Friday, March 31, 2017

HAWKS AND DOVES

Photos by Bill Slavin
Find more at  https://www.instagram.com/slavinbill/

Spring and we hear the cry of a hawk in our neighborhood again. A hawk used to nest in the tree in our front yard, but crows chased that hawk away. Now the strong, high-pitched shriek of this new hawk thrills us as we spot him in the branches of the trees.

One morning we watched two doves lay down twigs and leaves in the roof gutter near our dining room window. Last year they successfully produced eggs, sat attentively on the nest till the eggs hatched, fed the babies repeatedly, helped the babies learn to fly and to feed themselves until, the parents' work done, the fledglings flew away. We watched the complete cycle for the first time. In previous years, because the nest is completely exposed, a hawk had gotten everything -- parents and eggs.




Now when we hear the scree of the hawk, we wince and hope the doves will be secure once more. On the one hand, we glory in the beauty and strength of the hawk; but on the other, we watch with kindness as the two doves build a nest and a hoped-for future.




The hawks and dove made me think how often we are faced with challenges that are not black and white. We may have reasons for favoring part of one side and the other. In one of my online classes several years ago, the instructor gave us a list of words and asked the question, "What is valuable to you?" I cut the list of words out and rearranged them in the order of importance to me. I tried the list among friends and discovered surprising differences and similarities in our lists.

Here is the list. Make a copy, cut the words out and place them in the order that is important to you. Cutting them out and re-assembling them in your order is an important part of the process. You may find yourself reorganizing the list after your first try. What would your friends choose? What would someone who doesn't agree with you choose?


Beauty and Creativity                                          Love and Compassion

Joy and Laughter                                                 Health and Well-Being

Respect for the Environment                               Knowledge and Truth

Appreciation and Contentment                            Justice and Morality


One step further:  would you agree with this list of basic American values?  What would you add? What order would you put these words in?

Freedom                                Individualism                    Pragmatism

Volunteerism                         Mobility                            Patriotism

Progress                                American Dream               Efficiency

Equality                                Achievement                      National Security


I found the American values list along with a detailed posting about what these values mean at GoldenLine, the LinkedIn website for Poland. Everyone in the world wants to understand us, don't they?



Friday, March 24, 2017

FOOLED BY TIME


Cover for my sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library's Sketchbook Project

Daylight savings time, no matter how lovely that extra time in the evening is, fools me every night. I look up at the clock, am startled to discover that it is 6 P.M., which throws me into a panic. I think, "So little time left and I'm just getting started." People ask me how I begin writing. What is hard for me is to stop. Once ideas bubble to the surface, many follow.

A few pages from the sketchbook

One of my favorite parts about writing is the research. This week I've looked up the origin of margarine, which was developed in 1969 by Hippolyte Mege-Mouries (that name goes right into my list of names that I collect) in France as a substitute for butter for the armed forces. I've read about regulations against collecting birds' nests (in California we have a regulation, but the Fish and Game Department decided not to enforce it) and I hunted for the differences between jackrabbits and cottontails (we have a jack in our backyard). I've delved into the debate between private and public prisons (part of a teacher assignment at the middle school where I volunteer as a Writer Coach). I searched for Freya, the Nordic god of love, sex, and fertility after my sister sent me a quiz about "Which Nordic God Are You?"




I listened to a radio interview with someone whose two creative sons developed schizophrenia. I couldn't resist finding out more. Studies show that creative people and people who develop schizophrenia or bipolar disease often share a common gene, neuregulin I.* Think of Van Gogh or mathematician John Nash of A Beautiful Mind. For some people that gene increases their creative abilities or their ability to think divergently. They filter out less information than most and use that ability to formulate new ideas. For others, they may develop mental illness because their brains become overwhelmed in processing all of those details.**





I haven't come up with any new connections between margarine, rabbits, birds' nests, schizophrenia, prisons, and Norse gods. If you do, let me know. You are a creative person indeed.





These bits of information that I garner, along with all that I collect while talking with friends, walking through neighborhoods, gardening and de-cluttering our house become gems that could be turned into essays about life. With all those possibilities, when Daylight Savings Time comes around again, I'm gob-smacked when 6 P.M. shows up on the clock and it is time for dinner. I've been fooled by time again.







  You can find more information about the Sketchbook Project here:    https://www.sketchbookproject.com/about