Category Archives: painting

Making + Listening::7/2014

It feels like I haven’t accomplished much this past week or so–I came down with a head and chest cold, and I thought I was on the upswing on Saturday, then boom! Sunday I woke up with a horrible sore throat, too. So it feels like I’ve been sick for nearly two weeks now. Energy levels have been pretty low.

However, in that brief bit of fake-feeling-better, I worked on this painting.

"stronger than my rock," original painting, at amyhoodarts.com

Mmm, this composition could be stronger in places. (That tree in the lower right-hand corner, by the way, is cut from a security envelope.) Let me explain about the phrase, though. It’s an important one.

In the Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus philosophizes on the absurdity of life and whether the realization of that absurdity requires suicide. I didn’t pick up Camus from out of nowhere, mind you. I sought it out after reading Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It (including, Camus, who argued against suicide). One of her quotes from Camus particularly resonated with me, and I wanted to read the original. I didn’t manage to read the entire book, but I did read the last chapter, “The Myth of Sisyphus.” Camus presents Sisyphus as the ultimate example of life’s futility. He is condemned to repeat the same action–rolling that damn rock up that damn hill–over and over but, Camus argues, Sisyphus is stronger than his rock.

Yes. Yesyesyes. We all have a rock. I am stronger than my rock.

After that explanation, I have no good segue into the listening portion, so here goes: Griffin House and Landon Pigg. Also, Cosmos, which I’ve been watching weekly with the kids on Tuesdays, once it shows up On Demand. Somewhere I have an old, beat-up copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. He was one of the first science authors I read who wrote in an engaging way for “ordinary” people. (Another was Stephen Jay Gould. I wanted to be him.) It’s fantastic to watch with my kids and see their delight–and find out they already know some things I had no idea they knew! Science for the people. It makes me very happy.

Linking up with Dawn again this week, who is settling into her new home after her cross-continent drive. Go visit and say Welcome Home!

Hello, 2014

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

–Counting Crows, “A Long December”

Sometime during the summer I heard this song on the radio and thought, I can’t wait until I’m slamming the door on 2013. I pictured kicking it in the ribs a few times on the way out. (I had some anger. Exercise helped.) I reflected on the past year just a few months ago in my birthday post, and I don’t have much more to add, except this: It turns out I’m not angry at 2013 after all. I’m grateful.

Just to be clear: I wouldn’t want to relive this year. Absolutely not, even though it contained some wonderful moments and experiences. But I’m grateful to have lived it. I wouldn’t have requested the situation to occur, the one that triggered such severe PTSD symptoms. When I picture the worst of the PTSD this past spring, when I try to remember, I see myself curled up, knees to chest, at the bottom of a narrow, deep hole. There’s light way at the top of it, but I’m stuck down in a close, dark place. Life is going along normally for the people at the surface–I can glimpse them going by–but down in my hole, clumps of dirt keep falling into my hair and I’m running out of air. It was like that. I don’t want to go through that again. But for most of my life I was having flashes of symptoms that I didn’t understand, blaming myself for overreacting to things, or not having gotten over whatever-it-was, guilty for feeling the wrong way. If it took that situation, this year, to trigger PTSD so severely that it had to be brought to the attention of someone who would recognize it (I will love her forever) so I could learn to understand what was going on and learn how to manage it–how can I not be grateful for that? Profoundly grateful.

Oh, 2013 was a terrible and beautiful year, all at once. I am wiser and more self-aware than I was a year ago. I like myself better. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. There was no way to get here, I’m convinced, without living through the terrible parts.

I didn’t choose a word for 2013 so much as a guidance. I hoped to remember to always choose kindness first. (The last half of 2012, it wasn’t so smooth either.) I thought if I could remember to start from a place of kindness, I’d be on the right path more often than not. I know I didn’t keep to this ideal in all situations, but it’s a good ideal, and one I will keep aspiring to. As the year wound down, I made myself a reminder. It hangs off the window that faces my kitchen sink. In other words, I will see this reminder quite a bit.

 be kind at amyhoodarts.com

I did decide to ponder a guiding word or ideal for 2014. I’ve been working on being okay with uncertainty–no small task for a control-freak Virgo who additionally thought for a long, long time that if I could just keep track of all the details, hold onto all the ropes, nothing bad would happen. (False.) I think I’ve made huge progress, but it’s going to be a lifelong practice, I believe, to embrace uncertainty. However, I didn’t want to choose “uncertainty” as a guiding word for the year. I wanted to flip it around, turn it inside out, and find a more positive-sounding word. This is what I decided upon.

serenity at amyhoodarts.com

I want to settle towards serenity in the face of whatever-may-come. Serenity, the state of being serene, that is, calm, unruffled, steady. That is my practice.

Happy New Year to you all. May it be full of good things, and remember, sometimes those good things require difficult times first.

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 amyhoodarts.com

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.

More Watercolor Practice

This past week, the watercolor instructor set up a still life of bottles. Glass, edges, shadows, reflections, transparency, things showing behind other things…it was a tangled morass both to draw and to paint. The method of instruction sort of feels like teaching someone to swim by throwing them into the deep end, but whatever. The four of us–there are only four students–sat there and figured it out and did our best. This is what I managed in a couple of hours. This is not considered finished, but I’ll be honest; I don’t have much enthusiasm for doing anything else with it right now.

But I will say I’m enjoying the class, because the chance to sit and draw and paint uninterrupted for a couple of hours…well, that just doesn’t happen normally in my life. So it’s a pleasure even sitting there frowning and squinting at bottles, if I have a pencil or paintbrush in my hand.

Apparently we were supposed to keep working on our apples and bring them back in to show her, so I am probably supposed to add more layers to those bottles. Instead, I fell in love with a red kuri squash in the supermarket over the weekend and took it home with the goal of painting it. Wednesday afternoon was so gorgeous, I took it outside and set it on a stump.

My attempt doesn’t really do it justice–especially the stump part. Phew. This is why I’m taking a class. I want to get better.

I’m going to keep trying to paint this squash–until it rots, I guess. It’s just so pretty, and it’s really redder than it looks, or at least I thought it was, until I started trying to mix colors to match, and then all these orange tones butted in too. This is the best reason to draw and paint, I think–because it helps you really see what you’re looking at. Anyway–I spent an hour or so outside in my yard Wednesday afternoon, on a gorgeous summer-like day in early October, painting. Pretty good use of time right there.

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?!

Setting Up An Outdoors Painting Area

My kids and I are trying out activities from the first Art Together e-zine issue, which I plan to have available for you next month. Today was not too hot or humid, so I decided to set us up to paint outside, and I wanted to share with you how easy this can be.

We have some basic plastic deck furniture–nothing too fancy or precious. The brown boards are masonite boards from Home Depot, cut to size–the same thing drawing boards are made from, but much cheaper. I’ve brought out our paints, brushes, glass rinsing jars, and a pitcher of water–this way, it’s easy to refill the rinsing jars without running back and forth into the house. My kitchen is on the opposite side of that wall, so it’s not that hard to refill the pitcher, either, when necessary.

That’s it! It’s that easy. Fresh air on a not-too-hot day and painting. Two good things together.

{Art Together} Choosing Projects

(Apologies for posting a day late with this series this week. The events in Boston, a favorite city of ours and one that is so close to home, left me shaken.)

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

“Crafts have a value, of course…But such activities shouldn’t be called ‘art’ and shouldn’t substitute for an art program…I make my own distinction between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ by asking how much participation by an adult is needed once I have presented materials.” –Bev Bos, don’t move the muffin tins

Choosing to focus on art as a process, rather than on a finished product, can feel uncomfortable. We are surrounded by images of adorable kid-made crafts: in magazines, in blogs, all over Pinterest. Part of us maybe wants to show what our kids can do too. Or maybe we want an activity that seems to have a beginning, middle, and end. Or perhaps—and this isn’t uncommon in my house—we see something that we think one of our kids would really like to make. How can we embark on an activity with a product outcome yet still emphasize the process?

Firstly, I admit, I don’t look to Pinterest for many ideas, and this is mainly because if we’re going to do something more directed, I’d rather it be directed by my children’s desires, not my own. We often look to books (I am working on a book list to share). We all can look through books and if something catches our eye, we’ll do it. The other benefit to books is that I’m mostly the one choosing the books to bring into the house, so I can control whether they are more product-oriented or process-oriented.

I like art books that offer direction for a technique and some inspiration, but serve mainly as a starting point without dictating the end point. This goes for adult art and craft books, too. I don’t want to follow step-by-step instructions to re-create someone else’s vision; I want to be given the tools to create my OWN vision. What I want for myself, I want for my kids. And just like we share all the materials, we share the books too. Some of our best activities and process-based explorations have been prompted by books aimed for an adult audience.

Sometimes, though, in my internet travels, I come across an idea, or am reminded of a resource we already have, and I think it might be a fun activity for us. In that case, I ask the kids. “Hey, look at this, do you want to try something like this?” I’m careful about trying not to show them finished products. If we embark on activities that result in a finished “thing,” it’s going to be an activity that has room for everybody’s finished thing to look different. This week, to try to show you how this works for us, I’m sharing our accordion books with you.

Volume Twelve of Alphabet Glue features an accordion book project, and Dawn blogged about it. When I saw it, I thought, Hmm, that looks like fun. While I have a copy of Alphabet Glue, I also have Esther K. Smith’s How to Make Books. (I highly recommend it.)  I showed the directions in the book to the kids and asked if they were interested. We decided to buy big watercolor paper—18×24”—and make good-sized books.

More decisions followed: Do you want to paint the paper before we fold it? Do you want to fold it and paint it before cutting? After cutting? What sort of paint? Everybody’s answers were different, because each of us has different ideas. My daughter didn’t want to paint at all. She had me make the book for her (the watercolor paper at that size is fairly thick and hard for small hands to fold) and then she sat and wrote letters on each page.

She thinks maybe she’ll add crayon decorations around the edges later.

My older son folded his, I cut it (with the x-acto knife), and then he began painting. He chose liquid watercolors and various techniques, including tape resist and salt, to add interest. He has these techniques in his mental catalog of ideas because we’ve played with them in the past.

My younger son had me fold but not cut his, and he added color to all the blocks before cutting. He also chose liquid watercolors and eventually decided to add some salt as well. The colors of the liquid watercolors are so vibrant.

I decided to fold but not cut and filled in all my blocks on both sides using tempera cake paint. I plan to doodle with a black Sharpie on my pages. I’m not sure what the boys will do in theirs. This project occupied my kids for more than two hours. They were all working at the same table, making their own decisions, sharing materials, and thoroughly engaged in their work. This is how we approach anything that seems more directed: by giving ownership to the individual.

Further Resources

I’ve written about the importance of process-based art here, here, and here.

If you just can’t keep away from Pinterest for ideas, try checking out Lori Pickert’s authentic art board.

Take it Further

Some other posts in which we’ve attempted to balance product and process:
Patterned Paper Bag Heart Banner
Painted Jar Jack-o-Lanterns
Process to Product: Bookmarks for Teacher Gifts

Share Your Work

Reminder, if you have any photos of art-making going on at your house that you’d like to share, feel free to join the Flickr group.

{Art Together} Make A Simple Color Wheel

Make A Simple Color Wheel

Materials: Paint (our samples include gouache, watercolor, and acrylic), heavy paper, brushes; compass and protractor (optional)

This isn’t an open-ended activity, but a color wheel can be a useful tool to have hanging on the wall of your art area, and making one is much more fun (and instructive) than buying one or printing one out. Any sort of paint can be used for this, but it’ll be more useful if you mix the colors yourself.

My 4yo and I used watercolor; this is simplest for the youngest artists because you can mix the colors right on the paper. My 8yo chose to use gouache, and my 11yo used acrylics; they both began with the primaries and mixed the secondary colors on their palettes.

Pan watercolors (back), acrylics (standing up), and gouache (small tubes).

Pan watercolors (back), acrylics (standing up), and gouache (small tubes).

The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. You can’t mix these yourself; that’s why they’re primary. From them, you can mix the secondary colors: orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue), and purple (red + blue). We’ll talk a little more about the colors when we have them in a wheel.

My 11yo decided he wanted to make a color wheel with wedges like a pie, so he used a compass to draw a circle and a protractor to divide it into six equal slices.

11yo's color wheel in progress.

11yo’s color wheel in progress.

The rest of us used simple dots arranged in a circle. (If it helps, you can draw the circle, or draw three lines intersecting in the center and place a dot of color at the end of each line.)

Regard your circle as a clock and place a dot of red at the 12-o’clock position, yellow at the 4-o’clock position, and blue at the 8-o’clock position. If you are mixing your secondary colors on a palette, put your dot of orange at 2-o’clock, green at 6-o’clock, and purple at 10-o’clock.

If you’re mixing right on the paper with watercolors, you’ll mix your red and yellow to get orange; your blue and yellow to get green; and red and blue to make purple. My daughter and I did this by putting two circles of each color together and then going back to overlap.

Watercolor color wheel in progress

Note, though, that purple can be really hard to mix. Most likely you’ll feel your purple is a little too red or a little too blue. Try to be okay with this; I’ve had a professional artist/teacher in a class advise me to buy purple rather than try to mix it myself. (But I’m cheap, so I mixed it myself anyway.) Start with just a little red and a little blue and mix gradually and don’t get hung up on perfection.

Watercolor color wheel in progress

Once you have your complete color wheel, take a closer look at it.

Acrylic color wheel

Colors that are opposite each other are known as complementary colors. See how red is opposite green? Green is made from the two primary colors other than red (ie, blue and yellow). That’s why they are complements—they complete each other. (That’s how I remember it, anyway!) Yellow and purple are complements, and blue and orange as well. Complementary colors are said to “pop” when used together. Try it out and see what you think.

My 8yo decided to take his color wheel one step farther and tried to include tertiary colors, which are secondary colors mixed with a bit more of the primary color next to it (ie, yellow-green, yellow-orange, etc; you can see a labeled one here).

Tertiary color wheel attempt

But if you’ve never made a color wheel before, a simple one with the primary and secondary colors is plenty enough to start. Hang it near your art area to remind yourself which colors contrast strongly. Are there any colors you avoid? When I was in kindergarten my purple crayon stayed sharp all year because I refused to use it. For some reason I thought purple was a scary color when I was five! Try using just a little bit of that color that overwhelms you with its complement and see what happens.

Further Resources

The MoMA Color Play Coloring Book is a large-format book designed to be painted in, with prompts for color mixing. We own it; we haven’t used it yet. But it might be just the thing if you’re a little wary of delving into color mixing without some guidelines.

You might want to also explore color through story books with a younger child. Apartment Therapy has a nice list of 20 Kids’ Books About Color. I say “also” because listening to a book or watching a show about color mixing can be a nice addition, but it doesn’t replace the actual experience of creating and observing the magic in real life. When a child has a chance to discover and experience color mixing while being in charge of it, the knowledge is real and theirs. It’s magical.

Take it Further

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity using colored water

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity using tempera paint

Consider adding a color wheel to your sketchbook using whatever materials you might take with you on a sketching excursion. For this, you wouldn’t necessarily be mixing; use the colors that come with your watercolor pencil or colored pencil set and draw yourself a color wheel to use as reference.

Share Your Work

A reminder that a Flickr group is available if you’d like to share photos! Just click the request to join.

Preschool Color-Mixing Activity (II)

DSC02778My first preschool color-mixing activity post continues to be well read, and no wonder: color mixing is so much fun, and preschoolers love it. I’m facilitating a process-oriented preschool art class at our homeschool co-op this session, and when the kids said they’d like to do some more painting, I once again turned to Ann Pelo’s book The Language of Art for inspiration.

This time I chose her “tempera paints” activity in the “Exploring Color” section as my guide. It has all the ingredients sure to please preschoolers: tempera paint in squeeze bottles, mixing colors, “seeing what happens,” and, of course, painting.

Materials: Red, yellow, blue, and white tempera paint in condiment-style squeeze bottles (I pick up the condiment bottles when I see them during cookout season); mixing cups (I used yogurt cups; Pelo suggests glass jars with lids so you can save the colors); craft sticks for mixing; paper and paintbrushes–enough brushes for each color

DSC02773

I began by explaining to the kids that we would be mixing our own colors today before painting with them. I held up the containers of blue, red, and yellow paint and explained that these colors are the primary colors, and with them, we can mix any other color we want. I demonstrated by mixing some colors, taking the kids’ suggestions. I showed how to squeeze the paint out of the bottle into the cup, add another color, and mix it up with the stick. I told the kids they were going to be scientists AND artists–and then they got to work mixing colors. I didn’t impose many rules here, but I did try to reflect their process back to them.

DSC02769

My daughter, squeezing some blue paint into her mixing cup.

For instance, when I observed a child mixing up a color, I might say, “That’s a really bright pink. What did you mix to get that color?” This naturally led to the kids telling me what they were doing and what they’d concocted. I had four kids in class this day, and they shared the bottles extremely well, asking for what they needed and passing it along to each other. At one point, one child asked if he could use another child’s paint color. She didn’t agree, but she did agree to tell him how she’d made it so he could make himself a batch.

Showing a painting to a classmate.

Showing a painting to a classmate.

When kids were done mixing colors, they were ready to paint. This didn’t happen at the same time for everybody. Two girls were most interested in the squeezing and mixing and kept with that part for more than half the class. In the photo above, one child is showing another the painting he created of two dinosaurs. In the photo below, a child has decided to experiment with the mixing stick as a paint-application tool.

DSC02780

The clean-up was very easy, as well. I had a shallow bucket in which to put paintbrushes to soak, and I covered the tables with shower curtain liners, found at the dollar store. Any paint spills wipe right off while we’re working (so it doesn’t get on sleeves and such), and I don’t have to worry about the tables in the co-op classroom getting too messy for easy clean-up.

Anytime squeeze bottles can be incorporated into an activity for this age, it is guaranteed to be a success. Add in mixing and experimenting…and it’s just a fabulous time!

Painted for Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, which makes my heart happy (although I’m feeling so wide-open vulnerable this year that poetry is almost too much, if you know what I mean). Instead of posting a poem a day, as I’ve done in the past, I’m sharing links to poems on Twitter and G+. But poetry is bound to show up in this space this month, too. Like today, for instance.

DSC02764

A while ago I painted a quote from a favorite T. S. Eliot poem, and I decided to do that again with this quote that jumped out at me from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry. I’m not sure where it will hang yet; the Eliot quote is currently hanging in my dining room. I don’t think poetry should be shut up in books, obviously. I think it needs to live with me, intimately. How about you? Where do your favorite quotes end up?

***

(Incidentally, Annie, who introduced me to this poem during a poetry discussion on Twitter one night, is having a give-away of five Cynthia Rylant books to celebrate Volume Twelve of Alphabet Glue. Go check it out.)