Friday, July 25, 2014

Simple Pleasures

 Summer: the time for simple pleasures?

My dad and his friends in the 1920s.

 The joys of just having fun in summer.

My husband splashing in  Lake George in New York.

Me, covered with sand at Huntington Beach, California

 Theo and some of his friends at Lake Florida in Minnesota.

 Do you remember summers traveling across the country? 

Oh,  flat tires!


Learning to swim? Going to camp? The simple pleasures that make up summer.

Don't we all need a moment to play in the sand, splash in the water, and dig up treasures?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer's Sweet Corn

When I think of my favorite summer food—sweet corn—I think of my dad’s mother, Clara.

Grandma told me, “You have to be careful about buying corn.  People will try to sell you field corn.  
That’s for cows.  What you want is sweet white corn with small kernels and brown strings on the husk.  
Those are the good ones.”

We sat together at my aunt Myrtle’s kitchen table, a wooden one made by my uncle and covered with a red gingham oilcloth. This was the first time I had ever been alone with Grandma. She had never talked much to me. My Dad had six brothers and sisters, and I had sixteen cousins, so there was always a crowd around when we were visiting from California. Besides I was eight and intimidated by Grandma’s somberness.

Grandma sipped from a small glass of elderberry wine as she talked with her lilting Minnesota accent. I sat with my glass of water and a freshly made donut from the plate on the table.  Her cheeks developed two red circles as she talked.  “The best corn comes right from the field. Stick it in a pot of boiling water, no salt, with a little sugar added and cook just for seven minutes. Pull it out and you don’t need to butter it at all.  Uffdah, that’s good.”

Grandma always wore a dress and shoes with ties. She had antimacassars on all her chair backs, crocheted tablecloths on her big dinner table, and some kind of crochet project along with a box of cherry-filled chocolates next to her favorite chair in the living room. She had been a widow for many years when I knew her and took in boarders to help maintain the house where she and Grandpa had raised seven children. We ate big meals at her house when we visited. Grandma made everything from scratch; including the lefse—thin potato pancakes spread with butter and jam—she served us as a treat. We were not encouraged to have snacks or bother her when she was busy, but she loved her sweets.  She stopped canning, cleaning and ironing at three o’clock and had a cup of coffee and a homemade cookie, maybe a sandbakle or a pepparkaker, with my family. She smiled at me that day in Myrtle's kitchen when she talked about the corn, and I grew a little fonder of her as she relaxed in her chair. 

Next to the window sat a Norwegian Tomten that Myrtle had made. The doll was about two feet high—just about the right size for a Tomten—with a tan corduroy body, embroidered eyes and eyebrows, a long nose, a red sleeping cap, a long white beard, slippers, and a green coat. In the Tomten’s hand was a small bag filled with candy. The outside said, “Free Sample from First Federal,” a typical thrifty reuse by my Aunt Myrtle. Grandma told me the story of the Tomtens, who were little people like gnomes, who lived in the barns in Norway.  They protected the farm, but would get cranky and play tricks if they were not well taken care of by the family.

Until that afternoon around the small table, I didn’t know her very well.  While we sat, I noticed that she had the same twinkling blue eyes as my dad.  I began to understand where our family’s dry wit came from as she told good tales just like her sons and daughters did.. The stories she passed on to me that summer day i have stayed with me just as much as the taste of tender sweet corn.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Can you find the spot I work on?

One look at my studio worktable and you can see what I have been doing for the last few weeks. 

This wonderful table started out as a clean 4’ X 6’ space to do both writing and artwork on.  I can’t seem to leave an empty space well enough alone so my worktable is now filled with writing books and files of my writing on one side.  The other side holds most of my art supplies.  Like sewing materials and books, I can’t seem to get enough art supplies – well, not enough to last my own perceived infinite lifetime!

On the table, you can see the dried leaves I’ve used as models a series of watercolor sketches while I’ve been working through this artist’s block of mine. I’ve also been delving into my watercolor books to look at examples done by others.

  When I realize something isn’t working, I can use a black marker, red paint, or collage materials to salvage a piece that seems to be overworked or dull.



Perhaps this abstract leaf will be my final piece or the next one:

                                   Some very sage person said that blocks are really periods of growth. I know as an artist I am rarely satisfied with an end result. But the fun of doing artwork comes from continuing on with other pieces, using some of the insight gained from a mistake or mistakes. What I am hoping for are pieces that come in a splash of driven creativity and are “whole."  My artist block jumps in and says, "What do you think you are doing?"  instead of "That's the best I can do for now."

Friday, July 4, 2014

Are you as stubborn as I am?

For my last assignment of my online watercolor class ( I need to do my own painting. "Easy-peasy," I thought.

 First, I had to find a subject. Everywhere I looked, I looked with too critical of an eye. Nothing suited. Finally, I went through all my nature photos and found a frog. I decided to try painting that, but I left my first attempt unfinished. (I didn’t even take a photo.)

I found myself in a full-bore artist’s block, struggling with my own perceived lack of ability.

Instead of giving up entirely, I sat down and started drawing with paper and pencil: an easy, relaxing activity for me. As a practicing artist, I knew getting away from the block would help me get over it.

 This week, I tried painting again.  First, I reworked the frog.  Still not very satisfactory, but the process got me going – not overthinking so much, just letting the process work itself through.


Then I painted a dried, curled-up leaf.  Better:


I’m still not at the final painting yet, but that will come sometime soon. What has all this to do with stubbornness?  What I know about myself as an artist, doesn’t always translate into my other life situations.  Sometimes, I get stuck, like all of us do, and it becomes hard to move on or to see beyond the momentary place I am in. I can’t fathom what I could do to accept or change my situation. I need to remember what I do with artwork: take a rest, try something else, tell myself, “This is the best I can do right now,” come back.    Another tip as an artist:  splatters and dribbles help!

What do you do to move away from being stuck?