Sketchbook Skool So Far

in the style of Sendak at amyhoodarts.com

Sketching from Where the Wild Things Are to try on different styles.

We’re in Week Four (already!) of Sketchbook Skool. I signed up with the goal of using my sketchbook more and getting more out of it, and I think I am. My experiences with the instructors have been variable, but that’s to be expected, I think; different people have different styles and philosophies. I’m also at a different place in life than the instructors so far. They talk of how a sketchbook practice is easy to fit into a day, just 45 minutes to an hour! I’ve noticed that none of them are trying to draw while tending to the needs of a few kids. (To be fair, an hour of drawing would have been difficult on days I waitressed 12-hour shifts, too. These challenges aren’t confined to parents and I don’t mean to imply they are.) But as always, I work around my responsibilities and use the parts of the class that I can, as I can.

flowers sketchbook page at amyhoodarts.com

Remembering special days via the sketchbook.

The first two instructors, Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene, both suggested starting off with pen, not pencil. I completely understand that philosophy–pencil can cause you to draw small and tight, over-focused on the perfect line, erasing as you go. But I don’t like starting with pen, and I don’t draw small and tight with pencil. I’m looser, putting down multiple lines, zeroing in on the one I want. I often leave those other lines in the drawing, liking the way they add energy to it. I did my homework using only the pen, but it didn’t change my mind much. However, because of Danny’s class, I’m adding a bit more text to some of my drawings.

sneakers sketchbook page at amyhoodarts.com

Adding text to my drawing.

(An aside: One of his demonstrations was drawing breakfast before eating it. This really highlighted the different-place-in-life thing. I’ve gotten used to eating soggy cereal because morning is such a difficult time of day to sit for ten minutes straight to eat even that much. Imagine taking the time to draw your food before eating it! I’d end up with neither breakfast nor a drawing.)

fruit sketchbook page at amyhoodarts.com

Jane LaFazio’s homework assignment involved using a grid.

This week’s instructor, Jane LaFazio, uses pencil to start with. Hurrah! I really like her style. It resonates quite a bit–she also carves stamps and uses textiles and embroiders and paints. It’s probably no surprise that I enjoy her work.

sea shell study at amyhoodarts.com

I liked the homework so much I did it again with seashells.

I don’t get into the sketchbook every day, but I’m definitely having fun with it. Last night I spent several hours with those seashells, in between other tasks. We have two more weeks of Sketchbook Skool…I’m looking forward to seeing what the last two instructors have to offer.

I’m adding my sketchbook pages to a Flickr set, if you want to see more as I go on.

Fairy House Festival

You may recall that 5yo G has an interest in fairies. Yesterday we visited the Botanical Gardens at Roger Williams Park in Providence, on the last day of their “fairy house garden days.” This was something that came across my computer screen via a local homeschool email group, so it’s not a field trip planned by G (which is really how PBL field trips should go). I’m the one who heard about it, but G was in charge of the experience. We left the boys at home and went for a mama-daughter date with fairy gardens.

I didn’t tell G that the website invited visitors to dress as fairies–who needs to tell a 5yo to wear wings? She independently chose her outfit. Obviously one visits a fairy house garden wearing wings, a flower barrette, a poufy skirt, and sparkly shoes. Once there, she asked if she could take photos of her favorite houses. YES. I handed over the camera, and she took more than 70 pictures.

documenting fairy houses (PBL) at amyhoodarts.com

We weren’t just viewing, you see. This is also research, because she plans to continue building her own fairy houses (more on that in a minute). All the photos of fairy houses in this post were taken by G. This was one of her favorites, a seaside getaway for fairies who need a vacation.

seaside fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

She wanted to take a photo of this twisty ladder because it “looks like DNA, Mama!!”

fairy house ladder at amyhoodarts.com

Part of a fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

A scavenger hunt had been set up, and while usually I’m not a fan of those at museums because they tend to cause visitors to focus just on the items on the list, that wasn’t the outcome here. It was quite well done–some fairy house displays had explanatory signs, which were clever or interesting, along with an item to look for in the display. G was looking very closely at all the displays anyway, whether it was a scavenger hunt stop or not. So this particular activity added to the experience. She took this photo at the display of hanging fairy house spheres because she was asked to find a bench and she did! (I didn’t spot it at all.)

hanging fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

Part of a fairy house display at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

Part of the special activities for Sunday was making a fairy house. She picked up a bag of collected nature items and some dirt.

fairy house-making supplies at amyhoodarts.com

However, she was having a hard time figuring out how to construct walls, so I asked if she’d like to bring the items home and use them to build a house in the yard–where we have trees and rocks and shells to add to the materials. She said yes. On the way out, we were asked if we’d like to take another bag (they must have had extras), so she picked out more supplies. There are wonderful things in there, things we wouldn’t necessarily be able to easily collect on their own. The URI Master Gardeners were a big part of this event, and the Master Gardeners themselves all collected items (legally and carefully, I’ve no doubt, as the back of the scavenger hunt list had cautions on being careful collectors). I suspect that most of the effort to create this event was by volunteers.

A couple of days before Easter, G decided it was time to build a fairy house in the yard. She’d been waiting patiently all winter for spring. Easter was in two days; we were into the second part of April. Surely it was time, never mind that the temperature was in the 30s. Spring may be wavery about committing, but G was not.

5yo's fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

5yo’s G first fairy house in our backyard.

The table! Set with acorn cap bowls! With her 70-odd photos of inspiration, and her memories of all we looked at and talked about, G has lots of ideas for building more fairy houses. (She also has a new fairy wand. It goes fetchingly with the wings and sparkly shoes.)

It’s in the Details {Shop Update}

I’ve added some new pencil pockets and basic pockets to the shop, some of what I’ve been working on the past couple of months, here and there. For instance, when I bought some manic-fish fabric for my 9yo’s jammie pants, I bought an extra yard to play with. I decided to use it as embellishment, like so:

The lining is the same fish fabric. That’s one of the details I like to pay attention to–the fabric I use to line the pockets. I want it to match, to complement the outside, to be inviting in its own right. Lining this denim pocket with the fish was an obvious choice, but even when the choice isn’t obvious, I take my time with it. This green batik fabric goes nicely, I think, with this embroidered tree.

Many years ago, before I began sewing, I ordered a custom-made project bag using adorable elephant fabric. (I love elephants.) The seller never mentioned lining fabric, and I didn’t know to ask. When the bag arrived, the lining was a floral that I didn’t like at all, and it didn’t even match the outside. I have never used that bag–I just don’t like unzipping it and seeing a pattern I don’t like. All my shop photos show the lining. If you buy a bag, maybe you’ll be the only one to see the lining, but you need to like it. You should unzip your bag and smile.

In the photo above you can also see the top-stitching next to the zipper. That keeps the fabric where it belongs, instead of catching in the zipper. This is something I learned from making pockets for myself. I love a good top-stitch. Such an important detail.

I also hand-sew the opening in the lining. When I machine-stitch the bag together the right sides are facing each other, and I have to leave an opening so I can turn it right-side out. I could machine-stitch that closed, too, but it leaves a little bit of a fold line. It’s obviously different. And yes, it’s on the inside, and you won’t notice it unless you know to look, but I think it looks nicer to hand-sew it.

sewing by hand

The stitching is impossible to find when it’s complete. It’s a small, invisible detail, but it looks nicer to the only person who’s ever going to see the inside, and that’s the person using it.

My sales are still small. I have the time, while I’m creating, to think about the eventual (hoped-for) owners of what I make. Because I’m crafting by hand, it feels like creating a gift. The same care goes into it. Why? Because I think we all deserve it.

superstar at amyhoodarts.com

Because you’re a superstar (yes you are): Superstar basic pocket at amyhoodarts.etsy.com

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day, part of National Poetry Month, and I have a couple of poetry-related things to share with you. Firstly, we visited the Carle Museum earlier this week, and their art studio activity was, fittingly enough, illustrating a favorite poem using watercolors. This is one of my 9yo’s paintings:

butter butter butter butter at amyhoodarts.com

9yo’s illustration of Karla Kuskin‘s poem.

I love the looseness of his butter here. It’s a great illustration of butter! It’s also a favorite poem of ours and one we recite quite often, because…butter.

As for the poem I’d like to share with you…I recently finished reading E. E. Cummings: A Life, by Susan Cheever, so here is a really lovely stanza from his poem my father moved through dooms of love–but I hope you also click through to read the entire poem:

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day, everyone.

Sewn Embroidered Wrist Cuff

I have several sewn and embroidered wrist cuffs that I made a few years ago.

sewn embroidered wrist cuffs at amyhoodarts.com

They’re a fun alternative to bracelets and fairly quick to make, which is why it’s hard to explain why it’s been so long since I made one. So I finally sewed up another one this past weekend.

"this day" wrist cuff at amyhoodarts.com

My favorite part of these is how they are little canvases, ready to be embellished any way I want. For this one, I embroidered text–”this day.” This is a sort of mindfulness mantra for me. When I was feeling the worst of PTSD I was simultaneously spun around by fears from the past and anxiety for the future. I tried to learn to focus on the day I was in. Now I often check in with myself: Was this day a good one? Did I laugh? Did I spend time with people I love? Did I create something?

It goes deeper than that, though, in a way I’m not sure I can explain. Part of what I’ve had to work on learning is identifying where my feelings and reactions are coming from. Am I feeling fear or anxiety from a situation going on right now? Or is something in the present reminding me of something from the past, bringing up feelings and reactions that aren’t actually related to the present situation? This is hard. I need to remind myself to bring myself back to this day.

Add to this the fact that I am very grateful for this day, all of them strung together the way they are to make my life. I’ve been consciously practicing gratitude since I was in college twenty years ago; when things felt dark, I made a habit of writing down three things every day that make me happy. This practice of noting really does help. So this bracelet has layers of meaning–a reminder of gratitude and mindfulness, to come back to the present, to be aware of this day I’m in. Not in the past, not worrying over what may happen in the future, just here right now, in this day.

modeled wrist cuff at amyhoodarts.com

Do you have a short phrase that brings you back to center or is meaningful to you in some way?

Sketchbook Satchel

A couple of months ago, I bought a yard of Japanese cotton on sale and decided it would become a bag for me. And finally, it has–one that could hold anything, but right now, I’m considering it a bag for my sketchbook, pens/pencils, and paints.

sketchbook satchel at amyhoodarts.com

I didn’t use a pattern for this, just my knowledge of how bags go together and an idea of the size and pockets that I wanted. I knew I wanted a drawing pad up to 9×12″ to fit into it, I wanted a pocket on the outside for pencils, etc, I wanted it lined, and I wanted the strap to be long enough to go across my body.

sketchbook satchel at amyhoodarts.com

The strap is actually a little longer than I need, so I knotted it. I decided to err on the side of too long, which is easier to adjust than too short.

sketchbook satchel at amyhoodarts.com

Yes that stray blue thread on the left annoys me. It was just a hitchhiker but I didn’t notice it before snapping the photo!

For the lining, I used a discarded button-down shirt of my husband’s. (Both the lining and the Japanese cotton were a bit wiggly to work with.) It’s been hanging in my closet waiting for repurposing for quite a while now, and it immediately came to mind as a good pairing for this cotton’s pattern.

I cut the lining pieces from the back of the shirt, but I carefully removed the pocket from the front of it and sewed it onto one of my lining pieces.

sketchbook satchel at amyhoodarts.com

It’s just the place to slip my cell phone.

I love this bag and I love that I made this bag. It’s a bit of a rush to have an idea in my head and use my sewing machine to turn it into reality. Pieces of flat fabric and a zipper, turned into a bag I can fill with art-making supplies, sling across my chest, and be on my way. Exactly what I wanted, because I designed it. So happy-making.

Halted

My sketchbook school assignment was to document my days. I didn't get far.

My sketchbook school assignment was to document my days. I didn’t get far.

While my husband was in Singapore we got something like five inches of rain in less than 24 hours. I worked to drain the pond in the driveway and keep the water away from the basement. When the French drains were overwhelmed, I set up a siphon with the garden hose to drain the water away from the foundation in that spot under the stairs where it collects. (I feel there should be some sort of merit badge for that.) We had some seepage but nothing more. The next day at school, my 12yo dropped a table on his foot. X-rays at urgent care showed a fracture; off to the orthopedist we all went, where my stomach turned as he pointed out the multiple fracture lines in my kid’s big toe. My husband came home for the weekend, and we were all so happy to see him, and then I came down with the flu, and then he left again, and that’s when everything really ground to a halt here.

Some trips are like that.

I’d meant to get quite a bit done while he was gone this past week. Sewing in the evenings, working on my Sketchbook Skool assignments and blogging about them, working on the next issue of Art Together. I am behind on everything. My world compressed to the couch, with brief forays off of it for the basic minimum, mainly, making sure my kids were fed. Here is what I know: I am glad my kids are older. It makes things much easier. They are all self-sufficient enough to get by when dad is traveling and mom has the flu. The first night, they got their own dinner–bagels mostly, I think, with the oldest making food for the youngest–while I napped on the couch. The next morning, the oldest got his younger sister breakfast before catching the bus. I did manage to slither off the couch and wait for the bus with him, sitting on a chair with a view out the garage door. (I like to see him get on the bus every morning.) The younger two played together with LEGO. The boys took turns reading bedtime stories to their sister. Gradually the bits of wakefulness between naps increased. We got through.

My house is a bit of a wreck (although dishes and laundry were dealt with). My to-do list, well, I can’t look directly at it. It’s more of a side-eye thing. I get winded walking up and down stairs; I’m not quite ready to tackle a to-do list full on. I might need a nap just to recover from writing this blog post. It’s always a bit of a miracle, though, emerging from that stripped-down survivalist mode, blinking into the light of day, newly grateful for lungs and energy and self-sufficient kids.

Collage Book

I think I’ve finally broken through my difficulty with “art journaling.”

cover of collage book at amyhoodarts.com

Cover of a book-in-progress.

Part of my problem was trying to work in store-bought journals. So many pages! So. Many. Blank. Pages. I had two small pieces of really thick watercolor paper, so I sliced them both in half length-ways, painted them, folded them, and stitched them together. Now I have a 16-page book. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but I knew I wanted to start with collages. So I did.

The pictures I chose began to turn into prompts for writing. I’ve been trying to work with memoir-specific writing prompts this month (from both Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg and Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart). But it can often be hard for me to remember things (part of the problem I’m trying to work on with the memoir prompts). What I found when I began playing with the images I had at my disposal and just choosing what I liked is that they brought certain things to mind.

spread from collage book at amyhoodarts.com

A completed spread.

I liked the fish, so I glued the fish down. The fish made me think of Lenten Fridays during childhood, so I glued the pic of me on my First Communion day on the same page. (All the pics in this book are color photocopies of the originals.) And then I began writing. The images from a pattern envelope of course led me to write about my mother sewing me clothes.

I have some pages ready for writing and doodling…

collage book pages ready for writing at amyhoodarts.com

And lots of pages that have neither images nor words yet.

collage book blank pages at amyhoodarts.com

So this can be a project for quite a while. I…I’m really loving it.

**

Since today is the first day of one of my favorite months, National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a bit of poetry, too. (Look for that all month long.) This is an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s “Black Oaks,” found in the book Blue Iris:

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight
from one boot to another–why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists
of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,
I don’t even want to come out of the rain.

G the Kid Scientist

I’ve been watching Cosmos with the kids every Tuesday because it’s on past bedtimes on Sundays and we can all watch it together after school using the “on demand” replay. They all look forward to it and it leads to some great discussion. After the first show, G, age 5, declared she wanted to be a “kid scientist.” During our next trip to the library, she picked out books on space and the human body, but really, space is winning out. She told me she wanted to do experiments, so on the next trip to the library, we took out Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work, by Janice VanCleave. Now I will admit I think many of the experiments are a stretch, and many aren’t even experiments in the true sense of the word, BUT G picked out a few to try and she is pleased about feeling like a kid scientist.

experimenting

Here she is seeing how water affects the weight of a rock…which is supposed to relate to the moon’s gravity versus earth’s…which is kind of a stretch. But what’s more interesting is what the kid scientist did next. She told me she had her own “experiment” to do, and she requested a piece of black paper and two balloons. I blew up the balloons and she covered one with brown marks representing craters. Then she made silver marks all over the piece of black poster board I found. Then she set it all up.

earth moon sun model

The sun is in the center, obviously. She had me walk the globe pillow (representing earth, of course) around the sun, while she walked with me, moving her moon balloon (the one with the craters–impossible to see in this action shot) around the earth.

And this is why I love tagging along behind kids following their own interests. If I’d decided it was time to do an “astronomy unit” and had her create a model of the solar system, really, I’d have no idea if she was getting it. But a child who asks for materials to complete a vision in her head that demonstrates the motion of the earth around the sun, and the moon around the earth? That kid understands what she’s doing. It’s so darn cool, every single time.

Making + Listening::8/2014

Much making going on this week, but not as much as I’d like. I am in a mood of really, really wanting to hole myself up in the studio and create, but of course, that’s not how it works. And this morning my husband left for Singapore; he’ll be back for a quick layover next weekend before leaving again for another few days. So the next couple of weeks will have little spare time, but I have a feeling I will really need to work to get in the making, because it will help.

First up, a pile of finished pockets. I began sewing these a while ago, got as far as sewing the green zippers halfway in, then one thing and another…anyway, I got them all done this past weekend.

finished zip pouches at amyhoodarts.com

None of these are in the shop yet… but I also cut a bunch more pieces this week, mainly for pencil pockets.

pile of cut fabric at amyhoodarts.com

I also watercolored a package of ATCs and stamped them all with hand-carved stamps. I’m offering a stamp-carving class locally and these are to help promote it at an event there this weekend.

stamped ATCs at amyhoodarts.com

As for the listening, I downloaded Spotify and am taking advantage of being able to listen to entire albums. The other day I listened to Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Fear, which I don’t own digitally, just on cassette. I wore that thing out. I’m not sure listening to it was actually a good idea, as it whooshed me straight back to my college dorm room, with the closet door on which I chalked the lyrics to “Walk on the Ocean.” (I just admitted that publicly!) Let’s just say you couldn’t pay me to go back to 1992.

Linking up with Dawn again this week! Do share–what are you making? Listening to anything good?