Sunday, August 28, 2011

retreat with a hurricane

Molly's red house is down under the hill in a valley that leads directly to the bay side beach. 
I have had the most wonderful two weeks full of fun creative and colorful experiences. My pal Molly Ruppert and her big family have a few homes out in a community called Fairhaven Cliffs, Maryland very close to Washington DC on the Chesapeake bay. She asked me late last spring if I wanted to come have a few weeks artist retreat in one of the houses that is normally a rental that was vacant this summer. I responded that I would like nothing better! When and what were the conditions. She wrote and said I could have a house with three bedrooms and all we might have to do in return was to mow the grass once and I could bring whom ever I liked to my retreat.We choose the last three weeks of August since Keith was out of town much of July and was very busy in June. August suited me too because this time of year in the city is typically very hot and muggy and mosquitoes are king. The garden is tired and dry grass is brown and dusty but I also have my annual birthday and what better way to celebrate than a retreat to make art at the beautiful bay.
 We packed up two Sundays ago and took food, pillows, sheets, art supplies and all sorts of exciting ideas to the bay house. I even took mom's feather weight Singer sewing machine to see if I might have space to make some fabric art. I also bound a special book for my daily sketches at the bay of large pages from the spare papers I have been saving for years for other projects that have accumulated in the folios in our studio. It was a perfect beginning. We ate a big dinner at Molly's the first night after we got keys and settled into our Red house. The folks in Fairhaven call the houses by their colors not addresses. The Rupperts call them by the family member's name that owns them. 
So we had the red house the place is an old beach house that was just perfect for us to make art and not worry about messing anything up. It is more space than I think I have ever had to work for more than a few hours at a time. I had a whole bunch of rooms to live in and a yard and the bay .... it was ideal. Nature is all around the house the hills behind are covered in a vine called Kudzu which is kind of creepy but also sort of magical in that it makes everything very green like topiary trees of mysterious shapes. 
from the end of the pier looking back at the cliffs and the beach and in the distance the red house.
looking at the house and the yard and bay beyond from the roadside above. 
Kudzu grows right up to the roadside and covers everything including dead tree trunks...
at dawn the sun showed me a kudzu bear and elephant at the edge of our yard!
 first Wed. afternoon a regatta of sailboats appeared on the bay
the first crab skeleton I found on the beach 

Our resident spider named Charlotte, naturally worked on her web daily. 
Keith worked every day on amazing arrangements with materials he collected right there in Fairhaven. Gardener neighbor Juanita Foust was very supportive and offered us anything we wanted from her garden and several other yards of vacant homes up for sale. 
butterflies were abundant and posed for my camera nicely. 

dawn on the bay was spectacular as the half moon hung over head and the sun came up red as fire
Not only did I enjoy making photos and drawing and painting each day but I also undertook a big quilt project inspired by the bay windows and the many colors and patterns of the experience of being in this great place for two weeks. I saw exciting patterns and colors and went right in and added them to make up a bay window inspired work. I worked almost every day a few hours if not longer on the sewing in a room that was intended for guests none of whom ever came. I used the empty single beds as my work tables and sewed on mom's machine until it gave out. Had to drive it to the sewing machine doctor this past Monday and there I found another one older but more valued by collectors. Who collects sewing machines I wonder? Anyway I could not resist using my birthday gift money to buy the sleek 1935 Singer featherweight sewing machine to get right back to the bay and work on the project that I was so deep into by the beginning of the second week. Now I have my own and I can leave mom's at her house for projects out there... it's perfect.
my birthday gift the singer sewing machine in perfect working condition. 
for my birthday I also got these beautiful antique plates like one I had to eat on as a child. The chocolate raspberry butter cream with brown sugar whipped cream was also a real treat but tasted even better on the depression era crackle plates. 
Then Tuesday morning while eating a delicious breakfast one of my teeth broke off! It didn't hurt but I was concerned it would so I called for a dentist appointment and had to drive back to the city very early Wednesday for a walk in visit. Then later Tuesday you all know that we had a 5.8 earthquake that shook up the east coast. It didn't stop us for long but we were really scared when the oil tank alarm went off in our red house. We found it and turned it off and rushed to the land line phone to call Molly but neighbor Juanita saw us and asked us if we were OK before we got the call dialed and explained that the shaking was an earthquake not an oil tank about to explode! What a relief it was to learn that our house and this wonderful vacation was not going to blow up all our fun. I got my tooth fixed and got back to work on my bay windows project soon as I got home and settled but we had to start getting ready for the weeks next disaster headed our way. Irene a hurricane was on the way. We decided to stay as long as we could to see what it was like if the neighbors were safe we figured we could be too. We shopped for supplies, cooked frozen meats and made ice to keep things cool... filled up big bottles of water for when the power went out and we had no well water to flush toilets. It was kind of exciting but not nearly as alarming as watching the news broadcasts full of doom and gloom about the terrors approaching the east coast would be had we been able to see them. We took all needed precautions and worked to use our last hours of power before the storm.
Irene arrived on the Atlantic coast miles from the bay about eight and the winds were strong, the rain fell in sheets all afternoon and into the night. We tried to ignore the sounds but the crash of a branch through a window and the flickering lights were alarming. We fixed the broken window with a little duct tape and a black plastic bag and one of those old fashioned window screen devices that held it in place. The lights went out right after we got the glass swept up from our broken window. The next part was sitting next to the open windows listening to the wind blow the trees soggy leaves and crashing branches falling & splitting. I suggested we read by our hurricane lantern in the bay room and we did for a few hours then about 10:30 we went to bed. It was black outside so we couldn't see anything and it wasn't safe to go out to look to see what those crashing sounds were. As long as they didn't land on us we were good. We woke to lighter rain and softer winds a tree had fallen and a few branches were broken. Fallen leaves were everywhere the car was waiting and the roads were soon open. We took a last walk on the beach then a tour of the little community of houses and checked on our neighbors. Then packed up our studio and the food and headed home. The trouble is there won't be power back for days if not weeks. No water, no power and only charcoal to cook with is too much of a hardship to give us time to be creative. We had a great two weeks with some really high drama moments but many more fun hours of simple walks on the beach or visiting with Rupperts and each other. I spoke to Molly this afternoon when we got home and she says we can come back when the power is restored for the third week she promised us. I said Hooray, that is just what I was hoping we could do because a retreat this much fun is very hard to give up for any reason. So hurricane Irene wasn't so bad to us after all.

the night before the storm arrived a beautiful view of the bay. 

cliffs before the storm at low tide. 

the tree that fell by the red house covered in ivy is barely visible but the root ball shows in the mud at it's base.
Keith standing in front of the fallen tree this morning 
 cliffs at the end of the beach after the storm 
 bay after the storm
at the base of the clay cliffs leaves and balls of various colors of clay rolled in balls upon the sandy shore
across from Molly's house a real broken maple tree 
sail boat that washed up on the big beach across from Molly's house

Thursday, August 11, 2011

watercolor suggestion

August 10th rocks and melon sketch 

Rocks and melon sketch pen & in with watercolors

garden studio: with journal, sketchbook, pens, water-brush, round watercolor palette and coffee
Yesterday I got up late and went outside to write in my journal. I wasn't inspired to try to draw any of the flowers. I walked around looking for a subject, I bent down to turn the mysterious fruit that has been slowly growing in the banana tree pot all summer and it came loose from the dying vine in my hand. I had been thinking about drawing my big river rocks which I use on my table to prop up my books when I write. I thought to myself "how about adding in this colorful melon or squash in with the rocks?" Done, decision made,  I sat and drew it with the same sepia ink I use every morning to draw the flowers. I added colors from my limited round palette box, made the photos and rushed inside to go get them downloaded and put on the Internet. This is part of my daily routine this summer. Only change was the subject from flowers to rocks and fruits of the garden.

Later in the day I got a great comment from my pal Tom Palmer who saw the sketch on face book. He suggested " wonder how this would look if you just drew light pencil lines, then erased them. Probably like a watercolor!" I thought about it and realized that in the morning I move very much on rote routines. I always use the same materials and same books and usually draw the same places and subjects. Clearly it was time to think about a change. I have a full watercolor palette and I have been thinking about using it more but it is much larger than the portable round palette I normally use and a little less convenient to tote down to the garden. Today I switched back to the big palette and the subject of river rocks. I have been collecting daily on my walks. I started collecting them for our flower garden's wet spot by the drain spouts. I often leave the rocks washed up just sitting around the house and garden before I install them in the garden spot by the downspout.  I collect them for a solid mulch that won't wash away in a heavy downpour. I enjoy touching these rocks and looking at them carefully and thinking about how they can be arranged. Today river rocks feels like a new drawing series theme that might be a good transition to more abstracted simple paintings.

I tried the real watercolors and the small rocks I had on the table inside. My sketch paper isn't very friendly to real watercolors which are much wetter than what I normally use. Pencil lines from my drafting mechanical pencil are very fine and precise. Don't show up in the finished product even without erasing the they are faint. Thanks to Tom I took a step outside of my routine. I am happy and I noticed that my partner's flower arrangement today also features rocks! He likes collecting them too. Check out his arrangement today 8-11-2011 to see how he uses rocks with flowers and on the 10th a mystery fruit. Keith Stanley's 365 days of ikebana arrangements

set up on the table inside studio
Here is my set up today. Inside the porch studio which is delightfully cool this morning, with coffee and a fan to help blow the wet watercolor dry as I worked.
 round river rocks Aug. 11th 2011

river rocks Aug. 11th 2011 

Monday, August 8, 2011

August begins

It's already the 8th and I feel like it just started. This is such a hot summer it kind of makes me feel like winter when it's too severe to enjoy the weather but we manage to get out in spite of the high heat. I have been going out mornings to draw. Keith is doing his flower arrangements and I my sketches and other routines. I had an exciting experience this past week. Since I post my photos of my work on the folks from around the world can look and comment or just mark a photo as a favorite with a red star. One person who's profile moniker is "Life Under Quilts" starred on of my photos of a quilt block so I went to see what she does and was delighted by her work. She had a block I really liked and thought I remembered my friend Steven Stichter making while he was at Penland School of Crafts on a quilting intensive for two months years ago. It was one that caught my attention then and again on life under quilts many quilt photos. I took her name for it "ribbon block" and searched on Google to see if I could find out more about it or a pattern. Nothing like that block showed up. So I was telling Keith about it and he suggested I write and ask her how she did it directly which led to a very exciting response the next day.
She had done those blocks as a tutorial and had photos stored away that she had not used but since I asked she would post the whole thing on her blog the following day. See the post here: Life Under Quilts Blog Sure enough, she did and I was in business.
Cut, pin, sew, press, rotate...

cut, pin, sew, press, rotate...

cut, pin, sew, press, rotate... and in a couple hours I had one of my own. I finished it up and I felt so good. I have it on my big embroidery hoop right now doing simple hand stitch quilting on the first pieced pater block I ever made. It's kind of larger than I expected but I used wide ribbons since she didn't say what size to use.  I think I doubled the width of what she used. Next time I will try it thinner and maybe at angles instead of squared up. I like the sort of spiral thing that happens and the depth that can be seen in the space it creates. This is the block before it is quilted.

In the mean time one of the artists I met on the last International Sketch Crawl at Union Station asked me to make her a vellum and print paper sketch book in my Coptic stitch style. I went up to Pyramid Atlantic to cut the paper and some boards on Friday. Gretchen was not there but I saw that Jose the director was back from his summer vacation and Jake Muirhead the intaglio print studio director was getting prints cut before he takes off on his annual summer family vacation. He looked at my July garden sketch book and suggested that they would be nice intaglio prints and I told him I was thinking about that but the color was driving me this summer. Maybe you could hand color them he says, even though he doesn't like hand colored prints personally. Then right after he left there was an intern sitting with a stack of intaglio color prints done with line etching and aquatints. They were yellow and red ink and beautiful dahlias. She explained how they were done ant that they were part of the "print exchange" that one of the other leaders at Pyramid Atlantic was running. I have missed out on that but I have been busy in the garden and with my sketch crawl buddies and my own quilting extravaganza at home.
The book for artist Angela Newman is going to be very difficult to sew. These vellums are hard to handle because they slip and slide when you stack them. I got the covers ready and the paper/vellum. Now I just need a cool day's weather on the back porch to take up the challenge of wrestling them into the binding. I love her drawing style and she has a nice blog she posts on regularly her work while she is in DC before she takes off to Italy later this year to serve in the US Air Force! This is a link to her post from Union Station where she used Vellum as an overlay to make a drawing with extra depth. Very impressive take a look?
I will not make boring art

Angela's book covers ready to assemble and one section of the vellum folded

the finished covers ready to go in the press to dry
Soon Keith and I will be spending some time at the beautiful Chesapeake Bay in a little cottage. We are both trying to figure out how to take our work on the road, keep up our diet--exercise routines and manage doctor appointments while watering our garden from  out of town. Anyone want to babysit some bonsai and potted plants?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

July come and gone

I was busy drawing and watering the garden and quilting new small squares in July. I filled every day with creativity beginning first thing in the mornings. One sketch a day, mostly garden drawings with watercolor over my water based ink sketches. They seemed to get better as the mornings progressed. What was really fun about the challenge was posting the pictures on face book every day and hearing lots of positive feedback and seeing the other artists posts too. I also belong to the international group of artists who do sketch crawls and there was one such event on July 23rd when it was 101ºF in DC and no one wanted to be outside to do anything. We decided the best and safest place to draw that Saturday was at Union Station the historic train station of the capitol. It has fantastic air conditioning so we never felt the heat until we were outside and there were lots of different foods to choose from and coffees and bathrooms. Perfect place to hang out for hours doing drawings. Lots of people, architecture, sculpture and shops. I also met a few delightful new artists who came for the first time. I think we all had a famously good time sharing our day drawing and talking and showing our drawings. My best was of a hat stand. I saw a hat I wanted two weeks earlier and did not buy it because I was so sweaty from a long exercise walk on the national mall. That day I didn't want to try it on with a dripping wet head and then decide it wasn't right for my head. It was sold when I returned with the sketch-crawlers but I asked if there would be more. "Maybe next month" was the answer... so I sat and drew the whole stand to focus my memory on the spot and I do plan to return.
4 of the artists who came to international Wash. DC group sketchcrawl #32

first sketch was a sculpture up high over head in the station

Quickly some kids waiting on something with luggage and the "texter" with his mobile
 We took a nice lunch break and shared a big table in the food court. Everyone ate what ever they wanted and then we shared some stories and our sketches. After lunch we went off for some more drawing hour and a half upstairs in the train station.
the amazing hat stand! 
 On my way home I kept sketching and got this tall woman tucked up in a metro seat by the window waiting for the train to pull out on our way north. Tourists from Indiana spoke up loudly next to me to point out to me that I was drawing and offered the news that they were the children of a professional artist in her 80s!
The girl with Express bag on Metro Red line train.

I worked on lots of sketches in our flower garden. A few were done in Manassas while I was out visiting my mother on her birthday and a couple towards the end of the month were of other subjects just to add some last minute variety. I was running out of pretty flowers to work from by the end of July the hottest July on record for DC. 

one of my favorites! Orange of course...

done in a rush before the Saturday all day sketch crawl 

Dan Vera gave me that great turquoise as a sample when I visited to share my sketches with him the day before! 

This daylily has an orange-yellow that has outfoxed me for a couple years in photos and watercolor. I think I finally have it right but the photo doesn't do it justice. 

Manassas has some nice day lilies in pots 

Mom's birthday roses were begging to be in the sketch book

Still life in mother's kitchen ready made. 

August I continue to draw each morning. I am still posting on facebook and my if You want to follow along on the daily journey. Keith has begun a year long flower arrangement challenge on his website. He is making an ikebana arrangement each day and photographing it to show on his website. Keith Stanley dot com Amazing stuff he is doing! I am so excited to see him get busy and make his creations without so much stress and worry about getting it all perfect, it is anyway quite perfect but the point is he is sharing his work liberally this  year!