February winds have made for a blustery bay this week, but that hasn’t stopped visitors from coming to our fair little coastal town. I’ve been busy conjuring up some “sea-themed” items to offer through artsyletters, especially at my kiosk over in Fordham Market. I wrote a wee bit about this in my author blog post for Poetry Friday last week.
In that post I showed the elements in progress, but above is one of the finished pieces. These are miniatures, made from cradled wood boards into small shadow boxes. I painted them black and covered them with acrylic gloss, then antiqued a self-leveling hanger and attached it to the back.
The featured text came directly from
Gems of Literature, Art, and Music
Choice Selections from the Writings and Musical Productions of the Most Celebrated Authors, From the Earliest Times
compiled by Henry Davenport Northrop, D. D., and published in 1888.
It’s actually a refrain to a song, “The Tar for all Weathers,” by Charles Dibdin (1745-1814). Lucky for me, the refrain appeared a few times, so I made three of these. (I was able to find the author’s name in three spots in the book as well.) I’ve put two of these at Fordham and listed the third in my Etsy shop.
Here are the words:
But sailors were born for all weathers,
Great guns let it blow high or low,
Our duty keeps us to our tethers,
And where the gale drives we must go.
(That line, “Great guns let it blow high or low” has been rattling around in my head since I read it!)
The text is placed atop an original mini-woodcut. I hadn’t done any printmaking in the months since my neck/nerves injury in the fall, and it felt wonderful last week to carve a block or two and roll out the ink (love that smell) and print some images! The ship’s wheel hanging above the text is hand cast from blackened pewter, from a wonderful Etsy shop specializing in antiqued brass.
Here’s another 4″ by 4″ piece with text from a different poem, “At Sea” by John Townsend Trowerbridge:
The text reads:
A heavenly trust my spirit calms,
my soul is filled with light:
The Ocean sings his solemn psalms,
The wild winds chant: I cross my palms
Happy as if to-night
Under the cottage roof again
I heard the soothing summer rain.
This little piece features tiny vintage watch parts – a watch hand and a wheel, as well as a lovely vintage brass decorative element. It was described as a flying mermaid; I’m not sure, but it is some kind of fantastical winged human creature! Fortunately I was able to purchase a few of these, so they will appear in other work, too.
Finally, here is a 6″ by 6″ shadow box/mixed media piece. Again, I made the background by creating a wave-themed woodcut, printing the black image over a block print of mottled blue and green inks. It’s from the same book, CROWN JEWELS, and features a poem by Thomas Lovell Beddoes, “To Sea.” (I’m including a close-up below so you can read the entire poem.) More vintage watch parts on this one – an ornate golden watch hand from France and a tiny wheel which perfectly shows off the decorative illuminated initial “T.” The seahorse is a vintage pin, found by an Etsy dealer in eastern Europe!
Thanks for taking a look. Wishing you smooth sailing the rest of the week and right out of winter into spring…!
I’ll explain this messy table in just a minute. But first, a quick catch-up:
My plans last month were: Travel to help oldest (daughter) get set up her brand new third-grade classroom, return home, travel with hubby to get youngest (son) settled in to his second year of college, return home, and work like a crazy person in my downtown studio, creating at a record pace to fill my Etsy shop and my local display at Fordham Market for the busy fall season.
Reality was: The very night of the college move-in, what I thought was an annoying pulled muscle in the back of my shoulder (that I’d ignored for weeks) suddenly morphed into something excruciating. Pain not only engulfed my shoulder, but my entire arm and hand as well. So began my adventure with entrapped nerves – the ones that exit the vertebrae in the neck and pass through the Scalene muscles (the three muscles in the side of the neck).
I am beyond thankful to have found a neuromuscular massage therapist with a masters in physical therapy. (Think part relief/part torture.) She is slowly putting me to rights, but it’s a long healing process. Still don’t have complete feeling in my last two fingers or full strength in my right hand; still packing myself in ice several times a day to chill in the recliner we ended up buying. (This condition does not lend itself to much actual sleep!) Note to my artist and writer friends: years of hunching over drawing tables and keyboards contributes to the possibility of this! So, take frequent breaks. Watch that posture. Breathe.
Anyway, my therapist recently “allowed” me to work an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, if I rest with ice in between.
I’ve been SO happy to be able to make some art, and make a mess, even if it’s for short periods! Just so happens I was trying out a technique I’d recently seen in a video by the talented and generous Seth Apter. He had demonstrated a way to use textured wallpaper samples and gesso when working on mixed media surfaces. This necessitated, of course, that I find a really cool book of Italian wallpaper samples on eBay and purchase it. Yes, I did.
I’d been trying out this technique the last couple of days in my brief studio visits. Then late today I stumbled on a Twitter link to a fun round-up Seth is doing on his blog, The Altered Page. He’s invited artists to submit links to their own blog posts featuring their messy studio tables! Kind of a come-as-you-are-party, rather than the polished and perfect studio pictures we all drool over in magazines.
I figured since my current project – making backgrounds for some small mixed media pieces (pix of those soon – promise! My idea is actually turning out…), I had to knock at the blog party door even if I’m a little late today. So there’s my messy studio table up there, and here are a couple more pictures:
and I can’t wait to spend LOTS of time in here, making more messes!
If you love sneak peeks into working studios, be sure to check out all the great links artists have submitted to The Altered Page. That will keep me busy in my recliner for quite a while. And if you’d like to see more of my own studio, I posted a little “tour” a few weeks ago, here. Thanks for coming by!
Okay, so we haven’t historically had big “Columbus Day parties” in our home. But this coming weekend, we’re celebrating both kids home for college for Fall Break over the Columbus Day holiday. I thought it might be a fine time to share a recent mixed media piece with a Columbus connection.
The map is an original page from the Meyers Konversations-Lexicon, Vol. 7 (G), Fourth Edition, Leipzig, Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1887. Genoa was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, who penned these words in his Letter to the Sovereigns on the First Voyage, February 15-March 4, 1493 (first and rarest of printed Americana), referring to Hispaniola (today, the Dominican Republic and Haiti):
And they know neither sect nor idolatry, with the exception that all believe that the source of all power and goodness is in the sky.
This mixed media piece features various watch components and decorative metal embellishments from a variety of sources, namely antique markets and Etsy vintage shops. A peek into how I chose to put what, where:
First, this round metal watch component with the red calendar numbers on a white background seemed perfect color-wise for the piece, and I love the suggestion of time having to do with anything historical. I “highlighted” Columbus Piazza on the map with a small vintage silver component.
I liked the way the shape of these vintage watch parts seemed echoed in the shapes near them on the map, with the circle and spokes, and then the arch/ray image:
The shape of this old metal key seemed to suggest the shape of the docks depicted on the map.
And… I couldn’t resist adding the brass vintage “True Blue” button beside the quotation about the sky! As far as the larger brass embellishments, I placed them at the top of the map to frame the whole image. Notice how the “arched” piece on the right echoes the shape of the harbor at the shoreline immediately to its left.
I had fun making this piece, especially working with such a lovely map in such wonderful condition. Thanks for taking a look. And, HAPPY COLUMBUS DAY on Monday, however you choose to celebrate it!
(Note: This piece is for sale and has garnered some interest at shows this fall, though it’s not currently listed in my Etsy shop. Feel free to contact me with any questions about it. The image is approx. 9 X 11 in. ; the frame’s outer dimensions are 18 X 20.)
My wonderful friend and author Kim Siegelson left this intriguing note on my artsyletters Facebook page last month: “I found the coolest addition to your artsyletters set up today.” Curiousity was killing this cat! You see, in addition to sharing the writing life, Kim is the one I’ve turned to in past months for Etsy advice. She has a lively vintage Etsy shop (two actually), and I love seeing what new items show up in Perfect Patina. On my author blog in November, I shared another special gift she found for me and my appreciation for our vintage hunting adventures.
We finally met up at our SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle in Atlanta this past weekend, and Kim gave me my new surprise. (Drumroll….)
by D. D. Lessenberry and E. A. Jevon, published by South-Western Publishing Company in 1933.
I love typewriting manuals! I have a couple others I’ve picked up in antique shops, but what makes this one stand out are the amazing illustrations of typewriters inside. (I couldn’t find a credit for these.) Here are some more samples:
Aren’t these great?
At art shows, one thing I’ve loved to offer is my old Underwood typewriter available for attendees to try out. Especially kids – most have never used one before! I make them type enough of a line to hear the magic bell…
One of the first products I wanted to offer in my new art business last fall was some typewriter notecards.
This image was drawn with pen and ink (and some colored pencil and other media worked in as well) on paper I had painted to suggest a parchment effect.
In the mixed media department, I was delighted to find on Etsy a dealer from Great Britain who had parts from an old Remington typewriter for sale. I’ve used these in a few pieces, and still have some left for future projects. This collage I made and sold on Etsy incorporated some of these metal parts, my own typewriter image above, a vintage flash card, some vintage metal letters, and a line of exercises from another old typewriting manual that reads:
“Write it on your heart that every day is the very best day in the year.”
I was delighted when a customer purchased this collage with the following note:
My husband is a “collector” of typewriters and we both love to live with our hearts so I cannot imagine anything much more appropriate for him than this framed piece.
Even more delighted when she kindly sent me a follow-up note as well:
Just wanted to tell you how much my husband LOVES the framed artwork and note cards. He opened it today and it is now placed happily on our piano. We can hardly believe how perfect the message and collage of unique items come together to match our lives.
Let me tell you, words like that fill my own heart and soul. I’ve been blessed to realize that beyond making items to sell, starting an art business has given me connections I treasure. These might be the happy thought that my work has made someone else smile, or the special knowledge that a friend would pick up a vintage typewriter manual with dynamic black illustrations of old typewriters, and she would think of me!
Thank you, Kim.
Anyone else have fond memories of clacking away on a heavy metal typewriter (or those sleek electric ones that slid into the market)? Do tell!
One of those milestone ones. Others in my family are having them, too: my daughter turned 21 this month, and my son will turn 18 this spring. (Last year, my hubby got a head start on the milestone I’m hitting today.)
This past year has been particularly full of struggles and joys, losses and new adventures. Maybe that’s the reason for my current obsession: doors. The poet in me is all about the metaphor, for myself and for each person in my family. Doors closing (some slamming painfully shut; others slowly creaking closed until you realize you’re in a different place) and others opening (new experiences and things to learn, new art to make, new poems to write, new endeavors to launch, new friends to meet…).
The artist in me is all about a visual description of that metaphor – books as doors! What better than a book to transport us to new worlds, open up new ways of thinking and dreaming and wondering?
Hence, my newest artistic adventures. Vintage books-as-doors collages! (With poetry inside, too.)
For this piece, I hollowed out a vintage book, embellished it, and tucked in this Emily Dickinson poem from another vintage book:
He ate and drank the precious words
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!
The door is adorned with a round filigree find from an antique shop, and a vintage jewelry part I bought from a European dealer on Etsy. The door knocker (also purchased on Etsy) is a vintage brass doll house door knocker. I’m stashing all kinds of fun vintage bits of hardware for these.
Surrounding the door, with sidelights and a fanlight, is relief print I carved. It’s a simplified version of a doorway in Dublin, the kind I got to see in person when my father-in-law took our whole family to Ireland when our kids were little bitty.
This collage is 9 X 12, in a cradled wood panel painted glossy black. I’m excited about making these collages in different sizes and with different details. When I took this to show my art critique group this month, seeking their feedback, one of the members bought it! That was pretty encouraging feedback.
(More coming soon for sale in my Etsy shop! I’m making them now. Really – working on them right now!)
Do you remember any particular doors from your past? I remember the wrought iron gates to the small courtyard in the house I grew up in in Florida. I remember walking through the gi-normous jaws of an alligator to enter Gatorland there, too. And the imposing entrance to the Haunted Mansion at Disney World! How about you? How about now?
Perhaps you’re facing big transitions soon – as we’ll be adjusting to our youngest leaving the nest over here. Or perhaps your journey will be less jarring. Whatever doors you walk through this year, I wish you blessings as you come and go, and joy and adventure on the other side.
**First, congratulations to Jo, whose name was randomly picked from last week’s commenters to receive a pack of notecards.** :0)
Today we have a lively treat. Melanie Hall is an artist, illustrator and teacher from New York’s Hudson River Valley. Her 25 children’s books have garnered many awards including the Parents’ Choice Award for an outstanding picture book and the Sydney Taylor Notable Book for 2011, as well as favorable reviews from the New York Times Book Review. Her work, often described as sophisticated and whimsical, has been exhibited at the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators (NY) and in many galleries. She teaches graduate courses in children’s book illustration at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as well as professional workshops.
I met Melanie at the 2011 Highlights Founders Workshop for Advanced Illustrators at Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania, led by an esteemed team of amazing illustrators: Melanie, Lindsay Barrett George, Eric Rohman, Floyd Cooper, and Suzanne Bloom.
The Highlights workshops are tremendous. Little cabins to create and relax in are heavenly, and the new “Barn” is a terrific facility for group gatherings. The natural setting is rejuvenating. But the best thing about these workshops is the faculty. I cornered Melanie toward the end of the workshop to discuss her poetry book projects, since poetry is my first love and I’d love to illustrate my own poems. She kindly looked at my work and offered helpful insights. What struck me most about Melanie was not just her expertise and her ability to articulate concepts, but the joy that emanates from her work and her person. She looked at a couple of pieces I’d made and said, “You had fun creating that, didn’t you?” She challenged us to make the kind of work we took joy in, which reflected our personalities.
One of my favorite books Melanie has illustrated is EVERY SECOND SOMETHING HAPPENS – POEMS FOR THE MIND AND SENSES (selected by Christine San José and Bill Johnson.) I had the good fortune to meet Bill Johnson at the Highlights Founders “Poetry for All” workshop this past May. Melanie was a guest presenter there, and it was wonderful to catch up with her and hear about her process of illustrating poetry. Her collages, paintings, and drawings reflect the variety of voices in EVERY SECOND…, which includes the work of renowned poets and also poems from children. (See my blog post for more about the book.) And, drumroll…. I’m offering a copy to one lucky commenter randomly selected this week! (See details below.)
Melanie kindly offered to drop by here today and answer a few questions about herself and her art.
Welcome, Melanie! Tell us a little bit about your background. Were you one of those kids who doodled your way through class?
Yup. The girls asked me to draw horses for them in grade school. No one else could figure out how to draw them. They thought it was cool the way the images just came out of my pencil. I did, too.
How and when did you decide to pursue art as a career?
When I was a senior in high school, I decided to go to art school. Dad was not happy. He said I would “starve in a garret.” He was very proud of me when I became an editorial illustrator and did annual reports and magazine and newspaper illustrations.
What is it about mixed media that you particularly enjoy?
I love being surprised how things turn out. It’s not always what I intended, because the right side of the brain is a genius , and if I just get out of the way, my images become inventive, freer, exciting and filled with spirit.
You wear many hats berets – artist, illustrator, teacher. How do you balance the different requirements for each of these pursuits? (Do you need time away from people in order to create, or do you need to get away from the studio to be with other people?)
Great question. I have to carve up my time to pursue all my interests. Sometimes it means that I work on several different projects in one day: in the morning I’ll do one thing, and then after lunch I’ll do something else, and then at the end of the day I’ll reward myself with personal art.
I used to think it was nutty of me, but I realized it works for me!
In my notes from one of your workshops , I wrote that you said, “What turns my buttons on is to play.” How do you free yourself to play when approaching a new work?
I arrange some of my favorite pieces of artwork near my drawing table to look at while I’m working so I can get back into that frame of mind.
I also love to look at the masters of both fine art and illustration. For instance, I’ll look at a book of Toulouse Lautrec’s posters or a Martin and Alice Provensen picturebook.
So I guess it’s visual inspiration that gets me going.
Do you have favorite sources of inspiration?
From time to time, I need to spend the day at a museum to feast my eyes and breathe in that incredible atmosphere; the Metropolitan is one of my favorites. That’s where you’ll find me every year on my birthday to celebrate life.
What are the tools you can’t live without – the items you use over and over again in your studio?
My electric eraser, my“Black Warrior” pencil, and Arches 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper with the wonderful deckled edge.
(I love that deckled edge, too!) Looking ahead, are there any works-in-progress or plans floating out there you’d like to share with us?
Yes, I am writing and illustrating a picture book. I’m on Revision # 6. Each version is better than the one that came before.
Thank you for playing along, Melanie!
To read more about the Highlights Illustrators workshop from last year, here’s my blog post about it.
To be entered to win a copy of EVERY SECOND SOMETHING HAPPENS, please leave a comment below by midnight EST Monday, Oct. 22. Do you have a favorite way to “play” to free up your creative side? One lucky art lover will be randomly selected and notified next week.
WELCOME to ART BREAK WEDNESDAY here on artsyletters! Grab your coffee or tea and visit each week to find creative inspiration, camaraderie, and special give-aways.
What inspires you?
As a writer/poet, I’m a sucker for the written word. My recent artistic adventures reflect that – whether in subject matter (books, etc.) or in substance (vintage book pages, old typewriter parts and keys, and the like.). While my artwork is predominantly black and white, sometimes I like to color things up a bit.
Here’s how I made the 5 X 7 collage I featured in my Poetry Friday post last week on my writer blog.
First, I found a section of text from a vintage book that had “found poem” possibilities (double-checking online first to make sure it wasn’t the last rare copy of this edition or anything!). This is page 206 of the 1922 JOURNEYS THROUGH BOOKLAND (Vol. 6) compiled by Charles H. Sylvester. It’s the first page of a story called “The Poet and the Peasant” by French novelist Emile Souvestre.
Then I played with the text on a photocopy to “find” my poem before working on the real page of text. I wanted to use the first part of the story title to call the poem, “The Poet.” I applied blue-green gouache washes (mixed with gel medium) to the page, leaving the words I wanted highlighted untouched. I added some darker washes underneath the words to make them pop. Then I sprayed workable fixative on the page. When dry, I applied acrylic gloss medium over all of it.
Now for the fun part! I wandered over to my old metal cabinet (does anyone know what this was originally for? I snapped it up on a trip with my artist friends, Paula and Beth, at a local antiques market day). It’s full of recent treasures such as vintage objects and old metal pieces I’ve found on Etsy or picked up on the side of the road! It also holds small letterpress letters and antique type keys and such.
I tried out a few elements to arrange on the page as a collage and settled on these. The beautiful old watch face, vintage key, and vintage Remington typewriter part were all Etsy finds.
I glued them on to the altered page, placed the piece in a frame that could be used as a shallow shadowbox (from a local art/craft store), and, Voila! Now I have a mixed-media tribute to the observational qualities of “The Poet.”
Another essential source of inspiration for me is enjoying the creative work of others – in museums, online, or in books and magazines. I’ve just read ART AT THE SPEED OF LIFE by Pam Carriker (Interweave Press, 2010). This mixed media artist and blogger offers up a feast for busy artists. You can savor a variety of artists and projects at a leisurely pace or grab your inspiration “to go” – the author offers “Speed of Life” versions of instructions for some of the featured works, perfect to fill an art journal in just a few days. Whatever pace you prefer, I’d love to send you this copy!
Please leave a comment below about what inspires YOU, and you will be entered in my first book give-away. [Deadline for Entry is midnight EST Monday, Oct. 8.] One winner will be randomly selected, and then I’ll email you for your mailing address. Thanks for playing along!
[Two of Robyn’s found poems for children appear in Georgia Heard’s THE ARROW FINDS ITS MARK (Roaring Brook, 2012), illustrated by Antoine Guilloppé. This featured shadowbox and other altered pages artwork can be found in her Etsy shop – more coming soon! ]