Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Problem with My Art - A Realization

I've come to realize something about my art, something important. However, I am not at all sure that it will make much or any difference.

I've come to realize that I am never fully satisfied with my own art. And I am not sure that I will ever be completely satisfied.

One day recently I was standing at the desk in the art room, staring at the the pen and ink portrait that I made of Ethan recently. I had planned to add color to it. I had planned to do a better job. Ellie walked by and said casually, "That is a nice drawing, but it does not look like Ethan. I wish I could draw like that." I realized that she was could see it differently than I was seeing it. Ellie could quickly and easily identify what was off (it turns out that it was his eyebrow, mostly). Also, she does not have the image in her head that I have in mind. There is no ruler to measure it against. I've had that same exchange with her in a few different ways. I am still working on a landscape painting. It is such a struggle for me. I trust Ellie's artistic eye, so I called her in and asked her about it. She declares that she likes it and that she would consider it done. I took the little sketches of buildings and trees that I drew on post-it notes. I placed them on the painting as a means of auditioning my idea. This helped her get a better idea of what I had in my mind. We talked about it for a few minutes and I charted a course of action to finish the painting. I added them in and then called her in again. She declared it good, but I still feel like it is unfinished. I am going to add in birds next.

The thing is, I realize that I have this same reaction, this same response to everything I create. Take the painting above of the church and the sheep. I am still not sure that it is done, but I stopped because I also know that I often go too far, add too much and then I cannot take any of it back. This means that I tend to gather piles of things in my art room that I don't put up or give away. The pieces that are hung up are only on the wall because Ellie put them there. It made me feel good. It made me feel like she approved of what I had created.

I think part of the problem comes from the fact that I am trying to challenge or shift my natural style. I gather images from from some of the artists I admire and consider them closely. What is it that I am so drawn to? Is it the colors, the texture, the composition? I start out with a plan to follow them closely, but I always veer from the plan. It is like I cannot help it. Sometimes, when I do art around other people, I tend to not have this problem as much. Perhaps I am simply distracted.

I was recently at the Denver Art Museum. As I walked through the Western Art wing, I was captivated, as I always am, by many of the paintings. I love most of them, but it always make me wonder how the painters knew when to quit. I walk by some that are lovely from afar, but if they had been my paintings, I would have kept going, adding more detail.

In the end, I find that I am both frustrated and content, at the same time. I am frustrated that I don't know when to quit and that I feel so stuck in my own style, my own vision. On the other hand, I am content because I think this might be how it is for many other artistic people. It might be the very thing that keeps pushing us forward, causing us to continue creating.

I also have a tendency to forget what a therapeutic response I have to doing art. It helps recenter me when I feel off. I am feeling very off center, very frustrated and ineffectual right now so I have decided to work on pages for our 2012 family photo album. While I do not consider these pages in the same way that I consider my paintings or drawings, I do have similar struggles. I have at least come to be more at peace with my current style. In my earlier books you can see a tug of war going on between the photos and the embellishments. It is possible that the pages below are perhaps too basic, but at least the photos are what's on center stage.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Quiet Beauty of Winter

The beauty of this month always takes me by me by surprise. I don't know why. This is the first scrapbook page that I have created for our 2012 family album.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pen & Ink Renderings and My Tipping Point

I've been pretty stressed lately. That meant that I needed to do a little art. I decided that I would like to try to create some sort of portraits of my family members each year. This year I am doing them in pen and ink.
I had planned to do something more unusual than this, but I am not sure I am going to. With this in mind I had prepped a canvas by covering it with Golden's light molding paste. It is one of my favorite painting surfaces. However, now that I have the rendering close to finished, I don't think I want to risk ruining it with color.

I don't think that my drawing is actually done. Ethan's eyebrow is not right and I did not manage to capture his dimple properly. Ellie tells me that it is a good drawing, but it does not really look that much like Ethan. I will endeavor to fix it.

This is the photo that I used as inspiration.

Ellie has been enjoying the new ink, too. I appreciate many qualities of her designs, such as the steady, even lines, the way that she can replicate the same curve many times (and without the aid of a tool), her design itself, etc.

I needed to do this art in part because I have reached my tipping point - I am maxed out and stressed. I am crazy busy at work teaching six classes, with four different preps. We also just finished giving the ACCESS test which is a four part standardized English language proficiency test. (This meant that all of the time that I was not in front of kids was spent testing or prepping for giving the test.Additionally, it meant that all of the stuff I usually do during my planning, such as planning, grading, communicating with parents, etc. happened after school was through for the day. I am usually done around 4:00 pm, but during that week the janitor had to make me leave the building more than a few times.) Ethan was out on a field job suffering through snowy, cold, difficult conditions while sick with that 4-6 week flu that is so prevalent here right now. Don is doing well, but still in the hospital. There is a lot to worry about. Doing art temporarily distracts me and relieves some of my stress.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Don Update, The Finer Points of Indian Ink Viscosity and Home Spa Recipes

Don - well, perhaps we should call him Indomitable Don. Despite the fact that he has developed a blood clot, he is doing so well. He has been moved to the brand new Saint Anthony's Hospital. They've been around for over 100 years, and they moved into their new building this past summer. Don is in the rehab. center on the 7th floor. He was so pleased when he was checked in by the man who recognized him from the last time he needed physical therapy. That made him feel good. Don is excelling in therapy.

Ellie, my clever and artistic girl, made a really cool box. I love her eye for art and the graphic quality of what she creates.

It is a gift for Grandpa Don.

In making the box, Ellie discovered that she was nearly out of her favorite ink - Rotring Artists Color. Unfortunately, Rotring was bought out and I cannot find it any more. Thus, I trotted down to Meininger's, my favorite art store, to find a suitable replacement. We needed a waterproof ink that is solidly black and not too watery. I know from reading comments online that Magic Color bought part of Rotring, but no one in town sells their ink, so none of that was to be had as quickly as I would like. The art store was sort of slow and so one of the clerks and I spent a part of the afternoon testing out various inks. It was a ton of fun, the kind of fun I don't usually get to have. In the end I opted for Sennelier. It is smooth, thick and completely black. The next contender was Dr. Martin's Bombay black. It is solidly black, too, but not as thick as I was looking for. I had expected to pick a Sumi ink, but it turned up to be pretty gritty, all things considered.

Earlier in the day we tried out some homemade spa treatments. I got a bee in my bonnet to try my hand at making some of the treatments after reading, "A Spa Day - Without Leaving Home." It is about Mathilde Thomas who owns a string of impressive spas. Here are the recipes we tried out:

Hair Masque

Mix the following in a blender:
2 Egg Yolks
5 TB Rum
1/2 Avocado

Massage into your dry hair. Wrap your hair in plastic wrap (from your kitchen) and then wrap that in a towel. Leave it on for 30-60 minutes. Shampoo as you normally would.

(Ellie left the house when her hair ws still wet, so I don't know how it came out. I do know that he head smells slightly of rum.)

Face Mask

1/2 cup Oat, steel cut or instant
3 TB Greek Yogurt, Plain
1/2 cup Orange Juice
2 TB Honey
(2 tea. Orange Peel, dried and ground - I did not have this so I made the mask without it.)

Soak until the oats are soft Apply and wait for it to dry (about 15 minutes.)


We've been eating a lot at the hospital, so I thought it would be nice to have a simple dinner. I made a spiced up version of the filling for Kraut burgers.

Ground Beef with Cabbage, Carrots, Onions and Spices

3 TB Olive Oil
1 Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, Minced
1- 1 1/2 cup Carrot, shredded
1 Cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup Water
3 TB Worcester Sauce
2-3 TB Thai Chili Sauce
Ground Pepper to taste
1 # Ground Beef, cooked

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Once they are soft, add in the carrot. Saute for 5 more minutes.

Add in the shredded cabbage, water, Worcester sauce and Thai Chili Sauce (you can use sweet chili sauce in place of this.) Cook all of this until the cabbage is soft. If you want the pepper to add in a bite, instead of a mellow flavor, add it in the end.

Add in the ground beef, mix well and serve. I offered hot sauce and Sriacha sauce so that people could add more heat to the flavor, if desired.

This could make a nice sandwich or be made into Kraut burgers by rolling out small balls of dough and making them.

(This was inspired by the recipe found over and Jo and Sue.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Birthday Miracle and A New Adventure For The Boy

Oh what a difference a few days make. Things are so very different than they were just a bit ago.

On Thursday my father-in-law, Don, was admitted to the ICU for a torn esophagus. He had been puking up blood for hours. The doctors sedated him, gave him an exam and then clipped or stapled the 5mm opening shut. (It is amazing to me that they can do that!) Next, they put him on a breathing tube and let him rest for a few days. Part of the issue was the danger of Don coughing roughly and tearing out the staples/clips, which would cause the bleeding to resume. One doctor said that Don would likely die. Another said that Don might live, but that if he had any hints of dementia, it would likely develop much faster and that Don might be bed ridden the rest of his life. One of them said that there was a very slim chance that he might be okay, but weak.

On Sunday the doctors took Don off of the medicine that was keeping him sedated. We were all anxious to find out what Don would be like after he woke back up. Waking up took a long time. Amazingly, he was responding to questions even before he appeared to be fully awake. He would nod his head or grip your hand when you asked him a question. Once he was fully conscious his health numbers were good. Then the breathing tube came out. I imagine that all of the sons held their breaths to see what would happen. Don simply breathed on his own. A bit later he was even attempting to tell a joke or two. He will stay in the ICU for a few more days, just to be sure that he can eat and breath on his own without ripping out the staples/clips. Then he will be moved to another wing in the hospital or into a care facility for a while. We all determined that his speedy return was a birthday miracle. After all, Sunday was his actual birthday.

Sunday was a big day for Ethan as well. On Wednesday he received a call from a company that he had been hoping to work for. They called to say that they would put him on a crew to do geological field work for a few weeks. The owner told him that his attitude was good and that if it was still that way after the trail project, that there might be a future for him with the company.

They sent him the employee packet. He gathered what he needed and headed off to the airport very early on Sunday morning. Today he met with the folks in the office and then was sent off to the crew. He is very excited for this opportunity. I am proud of and glad for him. However, I will miss him as he will be living in a hotel for the next few weeks.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Waiting and Changes

Every year around Halloween I mean to pot a bunch of Paper-whites and Amaryllis bulbs to give as gifts and to have something wonderful blooming at Christmas time.

(The colors here are a bit funky. Right now I am extra busy at work. It is dark when I leave in the morning and dark when I return home. Thus, I could not take this picture with natural light. Also, Moxy decided to check out things with me and his tail kept covering the sensor on the camera, which means that the colors are really funky. They don't actually look like that in real life.)

Sometime I managed it. For the last few years I have missed the mark. Sometimes my father-in-law would give me a kit in early December. Sometimes I would walk by the clearance display at Target and see the green shoots poking forlornly and hopefully out of the boxed Amaryllis kits. And of course I have to peek in the box to confirm that the plants have such a desire to live that they try to make a go of it even in the absence of everything they need: sunshine, water and soil. And of course I have the urge to scoop them up, take them home and care for them as if they were little children. I a bad like that. Then I have to get real and figure out how many I can actually give homes to. I have not gone by that display yet this year. I am sure they will be there, waiting.

However, I do have two lovely plants growing and blooming right now. (One of them is technically my mother's, it just never made it to her house.) I decided last year that is was okay to be late in getting them going, or is helping those late bloomers fulfill their desire to bloom. Their cheery blooms are more cherished than if they were just one more thing in my lovely display of Christmas decorations. They get to be on center stage, if you will, instead of the support crew.

My mother requested a pair of mittens. I originally thought that I would make gnome mittens, as she loves gnomes, the repeated rows of them did not suit her fancy. As we looked at the patterns available, it became clear that she really preferred the Scandinavian look much better. In the end she opted for the Rainbow Mittens from DROPS Design. The pattern is from She would be happy with just about any color combination that I would pick. I, however, am fussy and stubborn when it comes to color. I wanted to have a varigated yarn. I had a hard time picking one that had the green my mother requested. I almost purchased yarn with a longer flow in the colorways, but opted out with the worry that the mitten would not have enough variegation. I picked this other yarn that my mother really likes. I wish that the colorway were longer. It is actually designed for self-stripping socks and so the colors change quickly. She is delighted with how it is coming out. So is my sweet daughter. I had hoped that the flowers in the pattern would be more pronounced, but I do think they are pretty.

On another front, my son will begin a new job next week. He will be out doing field work. He is very excited. He loves to be outside. I am proud of him and thankful that he has been given this opportunity to prove himself.

Last night my 88 year old father-in-law was not feeling well and began to try to make himself puke. He dry heaved instead, which resulted in his tearing his esophagus. He has been puking up blood and is in the hospital. He is a fighter, so I am hoping and expecting that he will get well. Any illness is a worry when the person is 88. Doug, the middle brother, is in town. We are going to take turns taking shifts at the hospital.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A Little Alice

It was back to work and school for us all on Monday. I had much to do and did not get it all done. I had planned to come home, feed the family and set back to work. However, my girl, who felt fine when she left for school in the morning, was sickly, feverish and limp this evening. She simply wanted to have a back rub with her mama's warm hands and a nice bit of being read to. How could I resist. I am thankful that there is still a place for my mothering in her teenage world. Work will wait.

I plied her with cranberry juice and buttered toast in an effort to get something settled in her stomach. She noshed on those while dozing in and out as I read the first few chapters of Alice in Wonderland to her. I like reading out loud and most kids seem to enjoy listening. I add emotion to the dialogue and stop briefly from time to time to take a sip of my orange and cinnamon spice tea that has a generous addition of honey added it. The aroma is just as nice as the flavor. Reading Alice out loud was both pleasurable and a bit challenging once in a while as the story is really kind of weird and wild from passage to passage. Once I got into the rhythm of Lewis' writing style, it went swimmingly. She had arranged herself nicely on the couch with several blankets and a heating pad for her neck. The addition of a kitty to snuggle with her would have been wonderful, but neither one would have it.

Ethan called the mine where he is hoping to work. Though they have been accepting applications for a while, they do not actually anticipate hiring anyone for about 6-8 months from now. He'll have to move onto a new plan. Thankfully, he does not seem put off by it.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

An Awesome Day Sledding on Berthoud Pass (+ Chicken Tenders, Gluten Free Recipe)

Today was the last day of winter break and I wanted to spend it doing something fun. I had hoped that it would be a whole family affair, but Larr and Ethan were not feeling all that well so we left them at home. Yesterday Ethan purchased a Toyota 4 Runner. He is pretty excited about it, so he spent the day cleaning it up. Ellie and I were happy that Kohlton could join us for the wintery adventure.
It has been pretty warn in town, so we had to head to the mountains. Thanks to webcams, I was able to pick an awesome location. We drove up to Berthoud Pass near Winter Park.

The snow was dry, but nice. It was also very deep in some places. Many people were walking up the hill and skiing, snowboarding and sledding down. Others were enjoying a bit of telemarking.

The photos above were taken from the mountain side across from the parking lot. The kids had their best run of the day by taking what looked to be a ravine of some sort that Ellie found just off of the parking lot. The kids said that it was the best sledding - ever. But certainly not for novice sledders as some parts were very fast. In some parts they even caught air. They went very far, walked the road a bit and had me pick them up by the side of the road. (It is not uncommon for people to ski or snowboard down the hill and then hitch hike for a ride back up to the top.)

I had a very serious sledding accident a few years back. I lost control at the top of Loveland pass and nearly ended up on the highway much farther down the hill. I was on crutches for about 8 weeks. I have not gone on a sled since then.

While the kids were sledding I spent my time knitting a bit and walking around. I met Gerald, a 7 month old black and white kitty who loves to explore vehicle tires. I spent a bit of time petting Hazel Mae who was a yellow lab that did not know that she was not still a puppy. I also petted many other dogs who darted around. It was clear that most of the dogs were having as much fun as their owners. The lone exception was a poor whippet that was rail thin. He sported a lovely winter jacket, but his paws were so cold that he tried to alternate between just three of his legs, holding one up for a longer period of time to warm it up (I presume).

The kids are very cute and funny when they are together. Their affection for each other can make you forget that there is anything bad in the world.

I am sure we will find our way up there again some time soon.

Connie and her family recently moved. I made the following Chicken Tenders for them. I also made gluten free brownies from a Bob's Red Mill mix. It was awesome and super easy.

Chicken Tenders, Gluten-free

1 lb Chicken Breasts, boneless, cut into bite size pieces

1 whole egg
1-2 tablespoon milk
2 cups gluten-free Corn Chex Cereal, crushed (I used my foot processor)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika- if you don’t have this, you can use regular or just omit
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup Baking Mix, Pamela's Gluten Free

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In one bowl, whisk together eggs and milk.
On a large plate, combine Corn Chex, Baking Mix, garlic powder, onion salt and smoked paprika, and oregano. Mix well to combine. Place this in a large baggie.

Season chicken strips with a little salt + pepper. One chicken tender at a time, dip into egg/milk mixture – let excess drip off before dipping into the dry mix. Coat the chicken tender with the seasoned cereal mixture by placing it in the bag with the mix and shaking. I do coat many pieces at a time. Place directly on the prepared baking sheet. Continue process for remaining chicken strips.

Bake on a foil covered pan for 20-25 minutes or until chicken has cooked through and coating is nice and crispy. You can also saute them in a frying pan with enough olive oil or coconut oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Cook on medium until done, turning as needed.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Of a Rock Band Birthday, Painting and "Les Miserables."

This year, for the first time in many years, I wanted to have a birthday party. You see, my birthday is on New Year's Eve. I had so much fun playing Rock Band on Thanksgiving, that I wanted a repeat.

We threw the party together in a day and luckily, a few of our friends were on hand to help us celebrate. We actually had the party on the 30th. I simply saw no need to compete with New Years Eve. A nasty crud is going around, so some people who would have otherwise enjoyed the evening could not join us.

We had lots of sweet appetizers, a taco & burrito bar and cinnamon rolls, in addition to royal velvet cake, for dessert.

We totally rocked with The Beatles songs, but were pretty sucky when we tried the Rock Band 2 disc, the one with the music from the late 1990's.

New Year's Eve was really pretty understated around here. We mostly stayed home. Ellie and Kohlton hung out at his house. In the past Larr and I had always gone to the Book Group party, but with the median age being something in the 80's, many of them have died and a few have come down with terrible illnesses like Althizmer's. They start their party early (around 5:30, I believe) and sing "Auld Lang Syne" at about 7:30 and call it a night. It seemed more fitting to stay home this year.

I also spent part of the day painting. I have three paintings that I am not happy with, yet. I decided I would try to "fix" them. I sought out Ellie's advice as I trust her artistic sense. She says that she thinks they are all good, but was also able to listen to my ideas and give me feedback. I am still working on one of the paintings, the only one I got to so far. I will post about it once I am happier with how it looks.

Next up on my artistic winter holiday, I went to see "Les Miserables." It is such a season for really lush, beautiful films and this was no exception.

I really enjoyed this version of the story, but I liked the 1998 film with Liam Nelson, too. Considering them side by side, you can see how much an actor brings to a role with his or her interpretation of the character.

In my next life, I would love to design and create costumes for such amazing movies as "Les Miserable."

Okay, I could be persuaded to help make the sets, too.

Tomorrow I am going to take in the Victor Van Gogh exhibit at the art museum.