August 2016

I am very happy today. I woke up this morning from a dream in which I was auctioning off toast for charity.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what would be my dream job if this book-writing thing is over for me, and I think Charitable Toast Auctioneer just might be it. Thank You, Universe!

And Thank You, July/August issue of the magazine of The American Horticultural Society for your nice words for Gardens of Awe and Folly:

The American Gardener

Linda Larson, the Traveling Gardener, wrote that review — Thank you, Linda! — and she called some of the illustrations in the book collages. I think she means the multiple-exposure kinds of things I do  . . .


Or maybe she knows my secret about the rescues I perform:





But as for actual collages, I have a story for you today:

I’m the kind of person who has always had hobbies. The hobbies change — from making things, to sewing things, to collecting things, to collecting different things, to painting things, on and on — but whilst I’m in the throes of a passionate new interest I go all out. (That is one reason why it pains me to not have any hot hobby/obsessive avocation/calling at this moment in my life, not counting the exciting new career option of selling crisp warm breadstuffs on behalf of widows and orphans.)

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, I suddenly became preoccupied with collage.

Is this too cute or what: I began my collage-making hobby by making Triscuit-sized collages! This one (below) I called, Inspiration:


I was going through my Dada phase when I called this one, The Angel of Death Says, That’s All, Folks:


I eventually embiggened my vision to post card-sized assemblages:


Yeah, that one (above) is called Gulf, Sea, Ocean.

And then I began to make 3-D collages, which I mounted inside of 8″ x 10 ” shadow boxes. This one is called Electron Ascending a Staircase:


Quoting William Butler Yeats, I named this one The Pilgrim Soul:


This is a crap photograph of how I made a sunken doorway there of the far right side of the Pilgrim Soul piece:


Heading back to the William Butler Yeats well again, I quote from his poem Towards Break of Day: Nothing That We Love Overmuch Is Ponderable To Our Touch:


I hope you can grok the 3-D-ness:


Hey! I just realized! William Butler Yeats has solved the age-old problem: is it “toward” or “towards”? It’s towards!

This next piece got its title from some bit of popular science I was reading at the time — it’s called If The Atom Were a Cathedral (note use of the subjunctive tense — very classy):


I was very meticulous in the papering of this “cathedral”:


As it happened during this year of collage-thinking, I came across an item in a local newspaper that in upstate New York State there was such a thing as the annual Schoharie County Small Works of Art juried show, held in August. It was open to works of art in any medium, but the catch was that it could not exceed 18 inches in height or width. Perfect!

I submitted some slides of my collages and one piece was accepted, a flat, postcard-sized piece that I called Let’s Distinguish Paradox From Contradiction:


Out of 589 entries from 22 states, only 50 pieces were accepted. Since this is the only “competitive” juried show I have ever entered, I really don’t know if these stats make acceptance to the Schoharie County Small Works of Art juried show  a Yale or a New Haven Community College kind of thing. But there you are.

I didn’t win anything. So I quit fine art.

But I’m still very fond of these little works on paper — through several epic purges of clutter and bad ideas and outgrown identities, I have held on to my little mementos of Self, c. 1996.

I have read that having a hobby is not popular these days (people are too busy, and on-line too much), but I don’t understand how people can get through life without one.  Hobbies are about being a doer, a thinker, a creator. A Hobby (in the most catholic sense of the term) is a framework of being, a scaffold that supports a particularly clarifying and comforting theory of how the world works. To collect  (watches, 1980s punk records, camembert labels, etc.), makes the universe a more linear and comprehensible place to be. To make (birdhouses, pies, ships in a bottle, books), life is about constructing useful or playful objects out of the void. Hobbies give you something to think about instead of death. Hobbies make people happy, or at least less lonely in the great void.

When I was making my collages, I felt very engaged with the Universe. As a Capricorn, I tend to prefer hobbies that require tangibility, so making collages was vastly more therapeutic than, say, praying; or meditating, which are pastimes that are far too abstract for me.

Because so few people have hobbies these days, I think that’s why coloring books for adults are so popular: they give people who only consume their entertainment on TV or the internet something to do.

Thoughts, my Dear Readers?

On a completely unrelated note: It’s August! My favorite month of the year! And I need a vacation! So I will be taking the next two weeks off from blogging. I’ll be saty-cationing and hunting for feather treasures etc. and reading and responding to your wonderful Comments, but I won’t be posting anything until Sept. 2.

Keep collecting Blue Jay feathers! Keep watching sun sets! Keep the champagne flowing! Keep toasting yourself!

And meet me here in 2 weeks when I tell you all about my latest wanderings, findings, and paintings.


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I woke up last Monday morning and it was AUGUST. My favorite month of the year! In addition, last week’s Commentors gave me two votes for getting a DoG. Last week’s Commentors also taught me the word ensorcelled — thanks, Thea! — and informed me that a wheelbarrow will only fit one wombat  at a time  — thank you, Megan! — so I’ve had a lot to process this past week.

Now, about the DoG thing:


Mac here (above) is, of course, a Scottish Terrier, a breed that is, as they say, an acquired taste, much like Scottish people themselves. And like your typical  Hatfield or McCoy, Scottie DoGs are proud and stubborn and manically loyal, usually to one and only one person at a time. But this Scottie here is a very rare Scottie of bifurcated doggedness having met, one day, a DoGless lady of his one person’s acquaintance and, sussing that this DoGless lady was sadly lacking a Scottie in her life, took it upon himself to make her his plus one. Some guardian angels have tiny little legs and extremely strong personalities instead of wings.

I imported this portrait of the noble Mac Scottie in the snow to my iPhoto file and brightened the contrast so I could differentiate his various hues and textures. Why?

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Because we’re going to have some DoG fun today! We’re going to paint Monsieur Mac!


Grumbacher paints in the round, Winsor Newton in the square.


I confess that I traced his outline from a print out of his photo, to get the proportions exact. Then I researched the woof and tweeter of Scotties’ fur, which is very particular. Plus, painting a nearly monotone black dog is very tricky — I have to take my time and think and plan ahead how I am going to use artistic license to not paint a big black puddle of black and call it “Mac”. Do I detect hints of blue and brown in M. Mac’s coat?


I start with eye — if I don’t get the eye right I will have to throw out the whole shebang and start over, so I might as well do the most crucial bit first. It’s time saving, really, to start with the most diffy bit first.

Mac has very soulful eyes. And I think he looks very pensive in his photograph. I hope to get all that.

I start with a pale blue:


Over which I wash a very watery brown:


Still working wet-in-wet, I dab in deep black around the edge . . .


I let that dry and I paint in a semi-circular pupil with a dot of white acrylic:


I like this eye. I make a note to self to be very very very careful what I paint around this eye so that I don’t loose the oomph.

Next, I’m going to paint in the far-away shoulder area — I’ve never done this kind of painting before, so this is where I will “practice”. I’ve already decided that I can’t use a pure black color, for puddle reasons; I will mix in blue for the “shine” of this black coat. I’m also using two kinds of black paint, the powdery Grunbacher and the vivid Winsor Newtons — more about that later. So I swab in a blue outline and blend in a very watery WN black:


I also used G[rumbacher] brown for the front ruff (barely visible int his pic below).

I have, beforehand, plotted out the areas that I am going to paint, one by one, in sequence (you can’t paint the whole DoG at once!). This is a step that I didn’t use to take when I was a beginner: the THINKING AHEAD part. But it makes life so much easier if you have a strategy.

So I proceed to the next bit, a blue/black wash on his little head:


You’ll notice that I let the water and the paint mix itself and dry — I like the effect. I don’t mind that this watercolor portrait will look like a watercolor. And I am intentionally lightening up this part of his face to avoid the puddle thing.

Now I have to do the ears . . .


Dang. I slopped a little drop of black paint on the paper where it doesn’t belong. I have to let it dry so I can white-out that drop when I finish the picture (I’ll use acrylic white paint). I hope you can see that I still “outline” Mac in blue. This is pure artistic license. Even if only a hair’s width of this blue remains when the ear is finished, I think its presence will add to the complexity of the black that I am layering:


And now I begin Mac’s eyebrows:


Note the two tones of black: Here is where you can see the difference between the paler, powdery Grunbacher black paint and the saturated Winsor Newton black paint. Using them both here adds to the complexity of “black”, don’t you think?

The closer that I get to the eye, the more nervous I get. One slip of the brush and poof! All is lost!

I’m showing you this photo (below) because you can see how I am layering in some brown on Mac’s nose, and also you can see that I got his foreground eyebrow wrong:


So I erased half of it, by dabbing a brush soaked in clean water over the area:


I am careful to leave the tiniest line of unpainted paper surface around Mac’s eye in order to make it the visual center point of this portrait. I’m painting his nose a mix of G blue and G black:

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Now for the fun bit! I love mixing brown and black!


I have to work quickly here and it’s nerve-wracking — I have to work wet-in-wet with G black and WN brown and black, and make the brush strokes go in the right (whiskery) direction.

For this portrait, I have turned Mac’s body sideways to paint him in profile (he’s actually photographed in 3/4 mode), so this is all hypothetical to me! And can’t over-do this face; it has to look effortless, assured, and correct — which means that I can’t get away with erasing anything here. I t has to be right the first time:


I forgot to photo my day’s work here, because I then put it away. I like to sleep on such an important painting. So the next day I came back and made a few tweaks and then the Noble Monsieur Mac was finished:


You might notice that on Day Two I corrected his eyebrows so that they would be all lined up, neat and trim as in his photo. I also changed his eye, from this:


To this:



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My first (and probably only) Scottie DoG portrait (for Beth):

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If I had thought of it earlier I would have Googled watercolor scottie dogs, to see what I could steal. Now that it’s too late for me to pilfer from the professionals, I trolled the inter webs  anyway and found a U.K. watercolor artist by the name of Patch Wheatley, who paints quite a lot of Scottie DoGs and it is interesting to me to compare:





See? I thought I was ever so clever in mixing blue and brown in my two black paints. Ha! We don’t ever think of anything new on our own, do  we? No, we just bump our heads against the good ideas that hang in the ether forever.

Have a terrier weekend, my Wonder Ones!

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