Category Archives: community

Make + Listen: Watercolor Painting

I’m joining up with Dawn one day late for her weekly Make and Listen Along posts, but I can be excused for tardiness because we’re on Day 7 of a 9-day business trip over here! Yesterday (Day 6), we set up for a watercolor painting session.

painting session at

Tuesday morning, the playground at the park was littered with gorgeous, vibrantly colored maple leaves, and we took some home. My 4yo and I went downstairs to try and capture the colors with paint. By the time I snapped the photo above, she had moved on to painting a still life, a collection of objects she gathered from upstairs. You can see she’s working on the rainbow.

When we sat down with our leaves, paper, and pencils to make a sketch before painting, she had the idea to trace the leave’s outline. I thought that was an excellent idea, and I did the same, loosely, and then added in some more detail freehand. We were mostly concentrating, after all, on trying to capture the colors. Here is her finished leaf, with a mix of reds and orange.

4yo's fall leaf watercolor painting

And here is mine. This was built up with many layers of paint, as we’re learning to do in the watercolor class I’ve been taking on Saturday afternoons.

autumn maple leaf, watercolor painting

While we painted, I simply had Pandora playing through the nifty wireless speaker I received for Mother’s Day this year. I’ve been playing it in the morning, too, because I find having some music on helps keep me moving forward with all the morning tasks when there’s not another adult here to interact with. This morning the first song it played for me was Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.” This song was on a mix CD my husband gave me for my first Mother’s Day, when I was pregnant with our first child but not quite pregnant enough to announce it yet, and the song can still tear me up.

I love the Louie Armstrong version of “What a Wonderful World” as well, and used to sing it to my first baby as a lullaby, all those many nights when we paced the dark living room because he had colic. Now that baby is almost twelve years old, old enough to help his mama get out for a run when his dad’s away on another business trip (something for which I’m extremely grateful). Twelve years in an eyeblink, I tell you.

An Early Autumn Nature Walk

Last week my 9yo, 4yo, and I went to Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge–a favorite spot of ours, and close to home–for an early Autumn nature walk. Our visit is highlighted today at Mud Puddles to Meteors as part of their Hitting the Trail series. It was fun for me to walk around with camera in hand, looking for things to share with the wider world. We really love where we live and it’s always a treat to talk about a favorite local spot. Go check out the post, and stay a bit to explore everything else this new nature site has to offer! You can also find all the photos in my Trustom Pond Flickr set.

Making + Listening

I’m joining up with Dawn again this week with perhaps my most unusual making + listening post yet…

Saturday afternoon I had the first of five watercolor classes at a local art association. The class is very, er, loose, in that the instructor seems most comfortable just sort of imparting information as it comes to her. So we were given a demonstration and then more or less set loose on a still life. There are some things I like about this painting, and lots I don’t like. That yellow pear, for instance, went all, well, pear-shaped on me. But maybe it really was that odd shape. I don’t know.

Also, turns out I should have gotten different, better paper, but the materials list wasn’t terribly specific about that. And my tape was the wrong color (yes, there’s a right color–I have it now). I just mention this because signing up for an art class can be really intimidating to some folks! This, I know. And I remember how overwhelming it was the first time I walked into an art supply store with a materials list in hand. But see–even people who have taken art classes before need specifics! Don’t feel intimidated. If you do end up with the wrong stuff, one, it’s not the end of the world, and two, (cough) instructors should be really specific on their materials list if they expect something in particular. Also, ask questions. Whatever you do, if you want to take the class, don’t let a lack of confidence stop you. Sign up for it anyway!

While we were painting, music was playing. This is pretty much the norm in most art studio classes…but there was no discussion about it; the instructor chose the music. The first disc was a live Frank Sinatra performance. Meh, he’s okay. Not my favorite. But one of the songs was a bit jaw-dropping. I had to Google to find out exactly what it was. Turns out it’s “Soliloquy,” and you can hear it here or just go read the lyrics here. I was pretty much “ohmygosh” through the entire song. And then when the Sinatra album was over she put on some 70s easy-listening stuff that was so bad I don’t even remember the one song I recognized at the time–I’ve blocked it out. It’s not exactly the type of music I typically create to! I’m curious to see if that’ll be the playlist every Saturday or if eventually we’ll hit on something I can stand listening to…

How about you? Any interesting or unexpected making/listening going on lately?!

(Finally) Making + Listening (Too)

I hit the ground running when I got home from Montana…homeschooling, karate two nights per week plus Saturdays (for the boys), soccer practice and games (for the girl), launching a new venture, and I updated my Etsy shop, restocking pockets with trees, among other items. All of that meant I didn’t pick up my knitting (which came with me to and from Montana) again until last night.

This is a second Azami–you can see my first on Ravelry. It fits better now than it did when I modeled it for those pics, and I really like it. But I hated working with the called-for yarn, which was slippery and splitty, and I fear it won’t wear well. So I decided to make a second one using my favorite work-horse wool, Cascade 220.

This project will be competing for my attention, though, in the rare bits of free time I have lately. I have a stamp or two I want to carve, denim panels I want to embroider for a pouch, and more embroidery ideas in my head. However, when the air gets crisp, the knitting tends to win out.

As for listening, I think I listened to about three R.E.M. albums in a row while driving in the car this week. Today I landed on Florence & the Machine, which perfectly fit my mood. (Even the songs with possibly sad lyrics sound empowering to me, thanks to the music itself.) The day began with a heartwarming review of the Art Together zine by Jen (she’s got a giveaway going on, too). This afternoon I picked up my bib and race packet for another 5K, a big one (close to 5,000 runners) in downtown Providence on Sunday. Exciting! Good, good things.

I’m linking up with Dawn for the first time in a while. She also debuted something big this week–a wonderful nature site in partnership with Annie. Creativity abounds on these here Internets. And you? Any making going on? What’s been on your playlist?

Processing Montana

The pond at the ranch at sunrise, before I went for a run.

I’m back from my time at the Haven Writing Retreat. I’m sure I’ll be digesting this experience for a long while. I ended up there on pure instinct. It’s been years since I called myself a writer, at least the sort of writer who goes on writing retreats. I imagine those sorts of writers to be working towards publication, or at least working on a specific project. I’m doing neither. I chanced across the description online, registered the location and that all levels of writers were welcome, and felt I needed to go. I had many reasons not to–distance, expense, timing, and a nagging feeling that I was being selfish. We’re all familiar with those excuses, I think. But I listened to my instinct. I kept in touch with that voice, which had no supporting arguments but was insistent. It just said, GO.

Haven was transformative, and much needed at this particular time in my life. I knit out in Montana nature, I hiked, I ran through the misty sunrise, I spent time with women of all ages, and yes, I wrote. On the first night, we were asked to share our intention for coming on the retreat. This was mine:

My intention is to be far from home and everyone I know and see what comes out, given space, time, and distance.

Some amazing words came out.

While there, I also took advantage of a couple of optional activities, a guided hike and a session with horses. We weren’t riding; it was all ground work with the horses–and grounding work for the humans. In other words, equine therapy. Before getting back to the focus of this site–art, creativity, and projects–I want to share something I wrote after my time with the horses. The riding crop is used to define our personal space to the horse, and “B” was our guide with the horses.

I step out into the ring, riding crop in hand. I face the closest horse and move my arm from side to side. I hear B say, “I’m going to help you.”

“Why?” I want to do it myself. I keep my eyes on the horse but feel her come up behind me. She presses close, her right hand on mine, holding the crop, her left on my waist.

“Breathe in and relax. Let go.” I soften. The horse notices. B moves my hand from side to side with firm motions and then steps back as I carry on myself. The horse moves back. I move forward, arm still swinging. The horse turns and moves faster. I stride toward the next horse.

“You too,” I say. “Move.” The horse moves. I feel the power in me, the force of my intention, pouring out through my swinging arm. Back and forth with the crop as I broadcast: This is my space. This is my boundary. As I stride forward purposefully, the horses respond, always staying beyond my boundary. Soon all five horses are trotting in a circle around the arena before me. It’s fluid. I feel the grin on my face. It radiates through every surface of my body–my entire self smiles. I am in control of these horses.

After I’ve circled the arena a few times, B tells me to stop in the middle, take a deep breath, and lower the crop. The horses continue to move around me, powerful, but their power still under command of my intention. I stand at the calm center, still grinning, observing what my firm intention has produced: five thousand pounds of powerful equine flesh moving in controlled rhythm because of me, as I stand fearless in the middle, loose and happy.

(Finally) Some Making

I’ve been slow to get my making groove back, but finally this week I feel I can join in with Dawn for her Making + Listening series again. I’ve had a panel of trees waiting for French knots for quite a while, so I finally got to it.

I have a stack of fabric cut and a list of ideas. I need to get a move-on.

Also this week I re-ordered some postcards from Moo, with updated website/shop information on the back. I want to include a little free something with orders, and I thought, at least for now, these postcards are just the thing.

As for listening, there isn’t anything new on my music list. Mostly I’ve been listening to my younger two kids bicker. We’ve been a bit house-bound…my 9yo is being treated for Lyme Disease. He had several days with no energy at all, which, combined with his aches and fluctuating fever was enough to send us to the hospital walk-in on Saturday, where the doctor mentioned Lyme before my husband even brought it up. We’ve been limited to short excursions–the library, the karate studio–and a lot of time at home. I thought we could finally manage the grocery store today, but my oldest was sick in the middle of the night, which reminded me to be grateful for both my washing machine and the fact that this is not a solo-parenting week, because my husband handled the rug.

Oh, back to listening… I am looking forward to listening to this, as soon as it arrives. Has anyone read or listened to her work? She’s new to me.

Any making going on in your world this week? Anything new on your playlist?

In Kindred and On Process



The contributor list for the third issue of Kindred was announced today, so now I can share that I am included! I decided several years ago to stop submitting writing for publication, so it’s a bit of a surprise that I ended up dong just that. Amanda made the process so inviting and simple, though, and I’m delighted to be included in her gorgeous publication. (It really is. You can pre-order issue three here.)

Revision is a big part of my writing process. I’m not sentimental about my words; if they’re not doing the work I need them to do, they’re gone, replaced with something better or just tossed aside. When writing something other than a blog post, I write, let it sit, read, and revise, and I go through that sequence many times. (Blog posts are often written and revised in my head several times.) With this piece, when I thought I was close, I sent it to Michelle. I first met Michelle via an online writer’s group almost seven (!) years ago. Her feedback helped me clarify my beginning. I usually find my beginnings a couple of paragraphs in, by the way. That’s one of the things I’ve learned about myself as a writer. I’d already found it, but she helped make it better.

Once it was submitted, Amanda’s edits made the piece better again. I struggle with endings, even after all this time. I find it hard to wrap things up neatly. (As in writing as in life, hmm?) I really enjoyed working with an editor who, well, edited–who made suggestions and strengthened my words. How wonderful.

I never stopped thinking of myself as a writer while I wasn’t pursuing anything beyond internet pieces. I process through words; oftentimes I’m not even sure what I think until I sit down at a keyboard and let my brain empty out through my fingertips. (One reason I think art-making is so vital to my well-being: it gets me out of the verbal for a bit.) At this moment, I’m a writer looking forward to seeing my words included in a gorgeous journal, surrounded by others’ words and photographs, curated, collected, and distributed; at this moment, I’m thinking about what I might like to write and submit next.

ICAD 2013

I am rather quietly joining in with Tammy’s Index-Card-A-Day Challenge, for as long as I keep it up, I suppose. I don’t have a theme. I’m not trying to do daily collages or prints or drawings; I’m just trying to look at an index card–3″x5″ for now because that’s what I had downstairs–and put something on it, using whatever mark-making tool I feel like at the time. On Day One, I decided to try to get more comfortable with my watercolor pencils by drawing one of the irises currently blooming in my yard.

The next day–evening, really–I grabbed a jar of Sharpies and doodled.

Although “challenge” is right in the name here, I’m not looking to challenge myself, not really. I’m looking to provide myself with 20 minutes or so (maybe more, maybe less) to just play in this small space. I’m not thinking about it too much. It is, I suppose, a little bit of art therapy. I won’t post them all here, but I’ll try to add them all to my ICAD Flickr set.

Are you joining in with ICAD? Or maybe something else? Are you looking to challenge yourself, or comfort? And hmm, can both be accomplished at the same time? Things I am pondering…

Week’s Work (Making + Listening)

I began this week determined to get some things done. And I have. I’ve been making lists, making plans, and making embroidery transfers from drawings. I’ve cut fabric in the half-hour increments I’ve created during the day. I’ve carved stamps and printed.

stamping fabric

I’ve made brown.

mixing screenprinting ink

My set of screen printing ink has the primaries, white, and black. You can make a good brown with red and a smidge of black.

I sneak downstairs, plug in my phone, and play Pandora–listening to something keeps me moving. I have a variety of stations and I always put it on shuffle, but I’ve noticed after 7 pm it plays me more blues than anything else. That seems about right for the evening hours.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve made this week is time. Without deliberately putting it into the schedule, it doesn’t happen. After lunch today I told my two younger kids, “Give me a half hour to cut fabric, then we can go outside for the rest of the afternoon.” They did, I cut with a purpose–having made a list so I could make the best use of my time–and then we went outside.

What have you made this week?

Joining up with Dawn once again…

Tips for Art-Making With Various Ages

Making art together, January 2012 (ages 3, 7, and 10)

Making art together, January 2012 (ages 3, 7, and 10)

In the comments to the last Art Together post, Sunny said she faces challenges trying to do art with all of her kids given their age range of 4 through 9. I can relate; my kids are 4, 8, and 11, and we began really making a habit of art time together when the youngest was 2. I wanted to share some things that have worked for me in trying to juggle the different needs of three kids, and I’m hoping others will share their experiences and what has worked for them as well.

When we’re in the studio all together, we have several choices:

Same activity, same materials: This choice is pretty straightforward. If we’re using materials everybody can use and doing an activity that works at all levels, we don’t really need to do anything differently. This doesn’t mean everybody is working at the same level. When we’re creating observational drawings or paintings, there may be a huge difference in skill level, but as long as the atmosphere is supportive of this, it shouldn’t be a problem. If younger kids are feeling less confident next to older ones, or older ones are feeling competitive, this doesn’t work well. In that case, I’d step back and set expectations beforehand, both for one’s own artwork and how to talk about each other’s artwork. (Is anyone interested in a post about talking about artwork, both to and amongst kids?)

Same activity, different  materials: You could choose to give a younger child different materials than an older child; for instance, tempera paint instead of acrylic, or oil pastels instead of chalk pastels, but you’re all heading in the same direction as far as the activity goes. Sometimes, my kids choose different materials anyway, because they’ve spent time exploring them and often know what they’d like to work with or experiment with to get a desired result.

Same materials, different activity: Perhaps a younger child is still at the point of exploring a material, while an older child wants to use it for a more directed purpose. If you can tolerate the messiness that is bound to accompany a toddler or preschooler’s exploration, this can work out well. My daughter began using charcoal at age two; she got a bit dusty. My middle child still most loves charcoal for the way he can smear it all over the paper with his hands. It does wash off skin, so this doesn’t bother me too much.

Different activities, different materials: This, of course, is the most difficult set-up for the facilitator (that’s us, the adults!). Sometimes we just all want to be in the studio together but we’re doing different things. My daughter might need paint, my son is using watercolor pencils, my other son is drawing with Pitt pens, and I have paint out, too, but different paint. Or I present a bunch of ideas and they each pick something different (as described in this post). We’re still all together, but I’m hopping a bit more to make sure they all have what they need.

Same activity, tweaked for age level: As much as possible, I try to adjust the activity so all the kids can participate at whatever level they’re currently at.  So, when we tried our hand at a Matisse-inspired collage (an activity chosen from a book), the youngest joined in by cutting and gluing.  When we carved stamps, the boys used the carving tools with my supervision, but my daughter, who was a bit past three at the time, made her stamp using craft foam and scissors. It definitely takes some creative forethought to tweak activities, but I have found that most open-ended art activities can be adjusted for various ages and stages. It’s simply going back to the idea of starting where you are.

Have a helper: If I’ve planned something more complex, it helps to have another adult around. The first time we printed with scratch foam, my husband was around to assist as well. Having an extra set of hands during a more intensive activity makes it so much easier to help anyone who needs it.

So it really depends upon the specific activity—but flexibility is key to facilitating art-making as a family activity with multiple ages. If anyone else has tips to share, please leave them in the comments! It will be helpful to us all.