Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Abstract Workshop #2: Pebbles

Pebbles                              by j. c. phillipps                                 Jan 2012

Hello.  It's week 2 of my practice into abstract painting.  I have to confess that I did a really, really ugly painting last week.  It was so ugly that I scrapped it.  I'm hoping to be able to use the other side of the paper.  I blocked the whole thing out in rectangles and then just started filling in the colors.  The problem I have had in the past was a wack-a-doodle color scheme, so I tried to remedy that by choosing a famous painting and using that scheme.  Nope.  Still stunk.  Maybe I'm not meant to paint rectangles like that.  It was gross.

So I returned to the formula that worked for me the first time: I found a photograph that sparked.

It was actually a sky.  The gradation from blue to lights in cloudy wisps was what got me going.  There was even a little yellow in it.  And one black bird.

So I did the gradation.  And the wisps.  But I wasn't trying to recreate the photograph - only to use it as a starting point.  So no bird.  Instead I made a blue/green shape.  It was that big one kinda in the middle.  Then I made a few more.  Just shapes.  Then, when I had five shapes it started talking to me.

We're pebbles on the shore, they said.

Oh.  Fantastic.  I mean, I didn't then aim to make a realistic pebble painting, but it gave me a bit of a path to follow.

There was a moment when I was weaving the black through that I thought I'd botched it completely, but some wet ochre mellowed it out.  Actually, it was vertical too - but when it was finished I kinda liked it horizontal.

So there you have it.  Abstract #2.  Pebbles.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sunday Art Class: Wax Resist Hieroglyphics

Last week Curly expressed interest in hieroglyphics.  (I think he might be studying them in school.) So I pulled out some old mat board, crayons, printed up some hieroglyphic samples, and we did some wax resist.

The first step was to have the kiddos sketch their designs on the matboard in pencil.  I printed up some alphabets in case anyone wanted to write their names, but no.  They stuck with the designs.  Magoo chose a low cup/bowl.  Curly did a falcon.  Mo chose a scarab beetle.

One of the challenges in this project is getting the kids to leave blank space.  Ideally, you leave areas of board untouched and that's where the ink/paint holds.  But that requires thinking about negative space, so I had to go over it with the boys a couple times.

Here's Magoo applying his paint.

I used black tube watercolor for the ink.

And here's Curly.  You can see the paint form into drops over the white crayon.  TIP: the harder you apply the crayon the better.

When the ink was dry, I let the boys do some detail work with gold markers.

Great job boys!

Happy Monday everyone!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Remembering Snow

The snow has melted away.  Once again, the ground is brown.  So I'm sharing some snowy shots that I took the last couple weekends.

(Above.) Woodstock, VT.  This is the view from Charlie's condo.  Not too shabby, eh?  I love the long shadows falling across the hill.

This is also Vermont.  This little stream is right outside the ski resort Suicide Six.  As Mike drove around there were lots of beautiful little streams and such, but it's hard to get a good shot inside a car.  I was happy to be walking right past this scene.

(Below) Back home.  Last weekend we finally got some snow.  We did some shoveling, then we hit the slopes.

I had bought a toboggan at a summer tag sale, so I was happy to finally try it out.  It even has a padded seat!!!

And it's pretty quick too.

Magoo and Curly work on a ramp for the sleds to fly over.

Magoo has such long eyelashes that they often catch snowflakes falling down.

We let the boys stay out as long as they wanted.  It's such a wonky winter I didn't know how long the snow would last - and it was a good thing, too, because it didn't last long.  We got two days of sledding and by Wednesday it was gone.  Booooo.

Let's all do a Connecticut snow dance and bring it back!

Until then, hope you all have a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yarn Along: Sweater

It's Wednesday - so it's time to join Ginny's Yarn Along.

The sweater is coming along nicely.  Since my yarn isn't quite as thick as the yarn they suggested, I had to add a couple rows in before I tied off the arms.  Don't want the arms too high or too tight.  Fortunately I have a dress form in the basement which is basically my size - so I just whipped it on her and made some measurements.  I've worked through the decreases in the torso and now it's time to make some mild increases to create a bit of a bell shape before I do a seed stitch finish.  Then there are the sleeves and the cowl - so there's still a ways to go.  But I have to admit that I'm psyched for having gotten this far in a week!

The yarn I'm using is Nashua Handknits: Julia in color: Squash.  It's lovely.

I finished The Night Circus and I LOVED IT!  I did a review of it on Goodreads.  If you're a member of Goodreads I think you can view it here.  (I think.)  If not, let's just say, if you like magic, romance, mystery, and you're alright with time jumps - you'll probably like The Night Circus.

Right now I am reading Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Prince.  I'm literally not even through the first chapter yet, so I can't say much one way or another.  But I loved the first in the series: Clockwork Angel.

I've also been delving into abstract art, so I've been checking out Painting Abstract by Rolina van Vliet.  I should sit down and read it, but what I usually do is look through the pictures, get a tip or two, and start painting.

Happy Wednesday everyone!  (Oh, I tried to add a Yarn Along button but Blogger wasn't being cooperative.  I'll try again later when I'm not trying to feed a boy breakfast and usher him off to school.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Abstract Workshop #1: Dirty Sunlight

Dirty Sunlight        j.c.phillipps       Jan. 2012        

You know how last year was The Year of the Bird and I spent the year working on watercolor and collage birds?  Well, this year is The Year of the Abstract.

I am drawn to abstract art but I've never been good at it.  I've always felt I needed to have a concrete path, such as: I am painting a fish.  And when the painting looked like the fish I wanted it to look like, then I was happy.  I slapped my name on it and said, This is a good painting.

That's much more difficult for me to do with abstract, because I don't know how to map out a path.  Or judge my work when it's done.  And, quite frankly, it's kept me kind of crippled when approaching abstracts.

Still, I really like abstract art.

So I decided to take a different approach.  I'll start just like I would start any other painting, with a spark of inspiration.  I'll see something in nature or in a photograph that will spark something in my watercolor brain, such as this photograph by Kat Sloma.  And that will be my starting point.

Photo by Kat Sloma

I was attracted to the color stains on the wall and the bold rectangle in the middle of an otherwise loose composition.

I reproduced the basics on my paper, let them dry, then I ditched the photo and simply let the painting tell me what to do next.  I think the trick is to accept that it may suck.  In fact, it did suck, so I added something to it.  That caused me to add something else to balance it out.  Then I started scrubbing rectangles away.  At one point I blotted out some loose paint with a paper towel and that left a paper-towel pattern behind which I quite liked.  And so on and so on.

All I'm working with is my own sense of composition, really.  And I don't sit there for hours either.  I just leave the painting out, work on something else, and tinker with it between other projects.  That way I keep coming back to it with fresh eyes.

Finally, it's to the point where I think (think) it's done.  It feels balanced to me and I'm happy with it.  I can always come back to it later if I have a watercolor epiphany, but for now it is the first in my abstract series.

If you're interested in doing a little abstract workshop of your own, check out these books:
Water, Paper, Paint by Heather Smith Jones
Painting Abstracts by Rolina van Vliet

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sunday Morning Art Class: Figure Drawing

It was around this time last year when I started teaching Magoo and the B Boys (Curly and Mo) art on Sunday mornings.  It went really well, so we decided to do it again.

We started off with figure drawing.  Well, actually, we started off with some symmetry warm-ups (which they did OK with), then we moved on to figure drawing. 

Drawing is such a strong fundamental skill, that I like to teach it off and on all through the "semester."  But these are high-energy boys and I want them to have fun too, so we jump from project to project: clay, watercolor, T-shirt design, comics...

Anyhoo, back to the task at hand.

The first thing we did was break down the body into part; ovals, circles, and rectangles.  Then I gave them all copies with three bodies already drawn out and we broke down the parts on those bodies: head, neck, shoulders, etc.  I really want them to understand what's in the body, where it goes, and how it bends.  When they get that, they can draw anything.

Then we drew "activities" from a bowl to sketch out.

This is Curly's "Tripping."  Curly was very good at capturing the motion of the physical activity.  Can't you see this guy really falling forward?

Here's Mo working on "Climbing."  Mo's climbing guy is getting up on a chair.   I love the tongue sticking out in concentration. 

Magoo's climbing guy is working his way up a precarious branch.  From the proximity of those clouds, it looks like he got pretty high!

(I like the T-shirt that says I am right 94% [of the time.]  I want to make a shirt like that.)

I was very proud of the boys.  They only needed one reminder of how they are expected to behave during art class, and then they were great.  I think it's most difficult for Magoo to make the transition from kid-in-his-own-house to art-student.  And when I'm teaching them, I'm pretty no-nonsense for an hour.  There was one point when Magoo was feeling down and wrote I hate art class on his paper, especially for me to see.  :)   I just gave him a tissue (he had a few tears) and told him (in a nice voice) that he needed to work through it, and after a while he was back on task and having a good time.

In other news:  It was a crafty Sunday.  Magoo and I also made a car from cardboard and rubberbands from this book: Amazing Rubber Band Cars.

In addition to having a fun toys, we learned about axels and friction.  And Magoo learned how to use the hot glue gun, cautiously.

Also - We FINALLY have some snow!   It was a two-day sledding extravaganza!!!  Pics tomorrow.

Happy Monday!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Almost Finished

It amuses me how messy my desk can get after a single illustration.  I suppose it makes sense.  Any given illustration usually requires; pencil, eraser, ruler, scissors, a multitude of papers, hole punches, Xacto blade, liquid glue, glue stick, and sometimes watercolors.  Oh, and a little pen work too.

I'm also using some wire and thread in this book.


Today I will finish the last full illustration in the book.

Of course, I'm not done done.

I still have to fix some things here and there, glue it all down, design the cover, make the cover, maybe make endpages (I don't know) and other little detail work.

Still - it feels good.

In other news:  It snowed!  Finally!  I'm hoping to get some sledding in this weekend and we may start up the Sunday morning art lessons this week as well!

Have a a great Friday!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Yarn Along: Road Trip Mitts

It's Wednesday, so I'm joining Ginny's Yarn Along.

I finished the mitts.  I got a ton of knitting done in the car on the ways to and from Vermont, so I'm calling these Road Trip Mitts.  The pattern is called Optimistic Mitts and its a free download off of Ravelry.  The yarn is Malabrigo Twist in Burgandy.

Now onto the new projects.  The moss will be for a Honey Cowl (off of Ravelry.  What would I do without Ravelry?)  And the squash is for (drumroll) my very first sweater!!!!  I'm going to attempt the Francis Revisted Sweater on Ravelry.  (Right now I'm just making a gauge swatch.)

I'm still reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and loving it.  It's dense, like a thick chocolate cheesecake.  The chapters are short, so I only read one or two and then I set it down and digest them.  It's also unclear as to where the story is going - but in a good way.  It's more like a puzzle than a normal novel.  You get pieces of sky and pieces of mountain and pieces of a tree, etc.  And slowly, slowly you put chunks together here and there, but you don't 100% know how they're all going to fit together as a whole.  I can imagine that might be an issue for some people.  I have such faith in the writing, though, that I know it's going to be a wonderful surprise!  (At least, I hope so.)  I'm half way through and I think it's fantastic so far!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Photography: Windows

I read this blog post about photographing windows and it got me thinking about the window photos in my repertoire.

This shot was taken in the courtyard of the Eric Carle Museum.  It was a gorgeous day and the the big door/window had the a fabulous reflection that I thought looked cool against the simple white walls.

What cat doesn't loving basking in the sunlight?  One of Java's favorite spots is peering out the big picture window.  I have a few different photographs of her in similar poses, but I like this one the best because the light is so bright it has drown out all the details of the window and is threatening to smother her in its glow.

One Thanksgiving morning, several years ago, it snowed.  This was a first snow of the season and Magoo was little enough that he probably didn't remember the previous year's snow all that well, so this was like magic to him.  Delight through a window pane.

Just this last weekend I snapped this shot of the hall window in Charlie's Vermont house.  I was attracted by the sun coming in the windows both upstairs and downstairs and all the lights and darks created by that.

Since reading that post, I know I'll be looking for other window opportunities when snapping shots, but it seems I was already drawn to windows as photographic inspiration.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ski Saturday

This weekend, we drove up North to hang out with family and hit the slopes.  Mike's uncle has a place in Woodstock, Vermont and Suicide Six (above) is just minutes away.

Here's Magoo all ready to go.

This is only Magoo's second time skiing (and Mike's too, for that matter) but he was doing pretty well last year so we decided not to get lessons and just take him down the bunny hill a few times.  Well ... that didn't work out so well.

For starters, there are some basic concepts to skiing that Magoo doesn't quite get, like when you've fallen and you need to get up DON'T point your skis down the mountain.  Stuff like that.  So in addition to me shouting things like "Pizza!"  "French fries!" to get him to put his skis in certain positions, I was also trying to talk him through getting up which can be complicated.  "Now move your ski forward.  Not that ski, the other ski.  No, honey, forward, so your tips are pointing to the trees.  Now move your body..." and so on.  And because I'm on skis and Mike's on skis it's hard to reach down and help him.

Magoo was getting pretty frustrated and I was starting to get tense, which causes Magoo to tense and so on and so on...

Then the grumpy clouds cleared and  a choir of angels sang as NICEST MAN IN THE WORLD stopped by.  His name was Terry and he offered to help out and give Magoo some pointers.  He took Magoo down the bunny hill three times, showing him how to stand with his legs apart, how to bend his knees, how to position his body to put his weight forward.  The fourth time down the hill, Magoo made it down without falling once!

(FYI Terry was not a teacher there.  He was just a man who was there with his own kids who had been skiing all his life.  Sooooooo nice!)

Then Magoo started having fun and I started to relax.  After a few more runs, Magoo said he wanted to try one of the bigger trails.

So when Mike and Larry came back from their ski adventure on the other side of the mountain we all went over to the EASY MILE.

All went well - at first.  The trouble was, the EASY MILE is a mile.  It's looooong, and it's more challenging than the bunny hill.  After three falls, Magoo started to tense up again.  And when he gets tense, I get tense and so on and so on and so on.  Eventually, we agreed that he would ski down with me, between my skis, and we made it down the rest of the mountain that way.  It was tough on my thighs, but easier on my nerves.

Larry offered to take Magoo into the lodge for a snack while Mike and I hit the EASY MILE solo.

That was my only run that day sans Magoo.  I was exhausted.

We would have gone back Sunday (and we would have paid for some ski lessons for Magoo) but it was C.O.L.D.  I mean -8 degrees, baby.  No thank you.

In the end, Magoo said he had a good time.  I think he just needs more lessons and he needs them to be from a professional and not his mother.  Then he can get a solid foundation and I can have some fun going down the hills not in full Mama Bird mode.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Author Visit: Center School

On Tuesday I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Ms. Donlon's fifth grade class at Center School in Simsbury.

Ms. Donlon (a.k.a. Heather, to those of you who know me) is a very good friend of mine and she wondered if I'd be interested in coming in and talking about my revision process with the kids.

I LOVE going into the classroom any chance I get.  It's such good experience for me.  So I talked with Heather about the kinds of things that they teach in 5th grade, and I made my presentation trying to highlight the aspects of revision that we share.

Of course, I could probably talk for a couple hours on plot alone - so it's somewhat tricky to discuss plot, character, dialogue, verb tense, strong verbs, etc. in one hour without being overwhelming.  But I tried to touch on a lot of different things, include examples, and places where the kids could solve problems and do rewrites.

It went pretty well.

When I'm on my game doing school visit after school visit, I can usually run a group like this pretty smoothly.  But I hadn't done a presentation since last Spring and I'm not used to fifth graders, so I have to admit I maybe had a little too much fun.  Fifth graders are funny!

Here's what I learned about my presentation:

I need to ask specific questions.  I put a chunk from the first draft of Wink on the board and asked them what was wrong with it.  The answer was the verb tense switched from present to past.  But they were saying all sorts of things!  They weren't right about what they were saying, but clearly it was too vague a question.  I need to tweak that and ask, "Which verb is in the wrong tense?"

Be careful with nicknames.  I can't always remember everyone's name.  I'm pretty good, but some escape me.  What I usually do in this situation is call the child by his/her shirt.  So if there's a girl in a Hello Kitty shirt - I call her Hello Kitty.  Simple enough.  Well, there were two boys named Kevin.*
One had kind of wild hair and the other had glasses.  So I called them Kevin Hair and Kevin Glasses.  Everything seemed to go smoothly, but I found out later that Kevin Glasses is not in love with his glasses.  Heather couldn't tell if he liked the nickname or not, but most likely, he did not.  Of course, I am mortified.  What I'll try to remember is kids usually have some control in picking their clothes - so if they wear it, they like it.  But kids don't have control over their glasses, freckles, braces, etc.  So I'll try to remember not to make mention of any of those things.  (I hope he wasn't upset.  Sorry Kevin.)

I can't spell dialogue.  Kinda.  Here's what happened.  I presented a visual slide where narrative was balanced with dialog on a teeter-totter.  And that's just how I spelled it.  Dialog.  One girl raised her hand to correct me.  I asked how you spelled it and she pulled out her dictionary and spelled d-i-a-l-o-g-u-e.  OH, WAS SHE PLEASED WITH HERSELF!  And that's totally cool.  I wasn't embarrassed.  I explained that I made a mistake and thanked the girl for pointing it out.  Only guess what?  I wasn't wrong.  I looked it up.  Both are correct.  Dialogue is Old English.  Dialog is a more modern but still accepted way of spelling it.  In your face, Girl!  I'm totally kidding.  I'm glad she felt proud of herself.  But I'm also glad I don't have to change the slide.  :)

THANKS SO MUCH to Ms. Donlon's class.  I had so much fun!  You kids were FABULOUS!

*Kevin is not actually the name of the boys.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Knit Along: Mitts

You know what's nice about Wednesdays?  I know exactly what to blog about because I'm usually knitting something and I can just join in Ginny's Yarn Along on Small Things.

What I'm working on now:  A certain friend is having a birthday soon and I thought a charming pair of fingerless mitts might tickle her fancy.

Besides - I still really love mine.  I'm using a worsted Malabrigo (Twist) in color: Burgundy.

So far so good.  I just put in the opening for the thumb.  I'm sure I'll have at least one done by next week.

I just started reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and it's gooooood.  I had to abandon lasts week's book, Star Crossed, b/c the celestial world building kept getting in the way of the story.  It was making me nuts.  I mean, it was a fine book.  It's wasn't horrible or anything.  And I LOVED that author's last book, A Curse Dark as Gold.  But Star Crossed wasn't doing it for me and if I'm not invested in the story by page 70 or so, then I just take it back to the library.  I want to read things that excite me.

Since I only just started The Night Circus - I can't speak on it too much.  But it's mysterious and a little sinister.  Julie like!

What I finished:  my Casu Cowl.  YAY!

I kid you not, I had about 6 inches of yarn left over when I was done.  I learned how to cast-on in a way that keeps the stitches live (I didn't love that process) and I learned the Kitchener stitch (which I didn't have a problem with.)

New cowl!  New cowl!  I love a new cowl!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Knit Along

It's Wednesday, so I'm joining Ginny at Small Things for her Yarn Along.

I have two things on the needles now.  (Well, three things really, but I'm stalled out on the socks and thin-thin sock yarn!)

I am well into my Casu Cowl which I knit up with a skein of Malabrigo that I had sitting in my stash for awhile.  It has some lovely emerald greens in it.  I really like the diagonal trim on this.  I think it's going to look super spiffy when I'm done - well, I hope so, at least.  It knits up flat, then I join it with a kitchener stitch.  (Eeek - new stitch!)  Considering my pace, I probably have another week to go on it.

I also started another pair of Optimistic Mitts in red Malabrigo for a friend.  I don't think she reads the blog - but you never know - so I'm going to keep my lips sealed.  They shouldn't take too long, but they require tiny needles (I'm using a 9" circular Size 5.  I have dpns and avoid then whenever I can.) and my hands can only tolerate tiny needles for so long.

I'm reading Star Crossed by Elizabeth Bunce.  I LOVED her novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, which was a retelling of the Rumplestiltskin story.  It was gorgeous.  I'm having a harder time with this one b/c the world building keeps getting in my way.  I like the heroine.  I get her dilemma.  But then there are talks of the seven moons and the different warring politics and everyone has weird names and it can get a bit much at 10pm.  I have no doubt that when I get through all the muck of the politics that the plot will take off, but right now I'm wading through the murky bits.

Hope you're all having a great week!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back in the Saddle

Busy.  Busy.  Busy.

I have much to do this month in 2012.

I've completed two-thirds of Monkey Ho Ho illustrations but still have a chunk to do.

I have a new picture book text and dummy ready to show my editor but I'm also preparing a graphic novel proposal and that should take another couple days.

I have to prep for a school visit next week.  I'm talking revisions with fifth graders.

I may or may not be teaching a class on Picture Books at the West Hartford Art League depending on if I get enough students.  So I have to have at least the first class ready to go.

And then there's just the every day stuff.  What am I having for dinner tonight?  I dunno!

Magoo has to get a tooth pulled today. I'll have to yank him out of school for that in another hour.

So I'd better get back to work!

Happy New Year everyone!!!