Merry Christmas Eve

December 24, 2016

Folk art angel cat

Folk art angel cat

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Christmas crow

Christmas crow

It’s just after 9 a.m. and already I feel behind.  As soon as I finish this quick post, I will head out for a round of grocery shopping and errands.  Once back home, I will need to clean the house a bit and do laundry and begin cooking for holiday meals, but what I really want to do is read with pencil in hand, sketch a few more pages in my Idleness book, paint something with color, and work on a few blog posts.

I’m not exercising and moving enough.  I have too many finished projects.  Aargh!

This is the time to remember what has helped me in the past.  To slow waaaaay down.  To take each moment as it comes.  To let go of the idea of packing all these things into one day.  Not possible!  Do a few things well instead.

 

My Christmas-season place mats

My Christmas-season place mats

Now that I’ve no little children in the house, I’ve severely edited my Christmas decorating and obligations.  Still I do cherish and enjoy the few Christmas-y moments I’ve sought out this year, starting with having my red and green log cabin quilted place mats handy for our dining room table this month.  I’ve already written about my single string of outdoor lights over our front door, my makeshift garden trellis tree, my snowflake tree, driving to Bothell to see the Christmas lights at Evergreen Church, and painting a few Christmas cards.  In recent weeks I’ve also enjoyed a Christmas play at the Taproot Theatre and listening to Brad Craft, bookseller, reading aloud Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” at the University Bookstore.

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Still to be enjoyed is a new Christmas book, Family Christmas Treasures, an anthology of stories about Christmas excerpted from literature and color plates of art celebrating Christmas.  I like that there are new-to-me stories, like “The Montreal Aunts” by Maureen Hull as well as some lovely art that I had not seen before.  For example, I really like these two Christmas prints by Andy Warhol:

Poinsettias by Andy Warhol, 1982

Poinsettias by Andy Warhol, 1982

Untitled (Fairy and Christmas Ornaments) by Andy Warhol, 1953 - 1955

Untitled (Fairy and Christmas Ornaments) by Andy Warhol, 1953 – 1955

They inspired me to paint some of my own Christmas ornaments:

Christmas ornaments

Christmas ornaments

 

 

Handmade Christmas Cards

December 19, 2016

Painted Christmas card, and ornament tree

Painted Christmas card, an ornament tree

I am getting fewer Christmas cards with each passing year, probably a reflection of my giving fewer cards as well.  Still, one of life’s joys is finding personal letters in the mailbox.  So in my limited way, I’ve tried to spread some joy by painting and sending off a handful of Christmas cards to my family and a few friends.  The rest of you will have to find comfort and joy via these images over the internet.  My digital good wishes are no less heartfelt!

Evergreen forest

Evergreen forest

Merry and Bright

Merry and Bright

Decorated Christmas tree

Decorated Christmas tree

Ornament tree

Ornament tree

Snowman ingredients

Snowman ingredients

Holly tree

Holly tree

 

 

Handmade Christmas Trees

December 8, 2016

“O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree . . .”

Watercolor painting of Christmas tree

Watercolor painting of Christmas tree

In lieu of a real Christmas tree this year, I’ve created a couple of hand-crafted, scrappy trees from materials at hand.  I used a broken, misshapen garden trellis as the base for a rustic tree.  One string of lights and a few favorite ornaments, and it transformed into a magical spot of holiday cheer.

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I’ve always loved paper crafts, so I created a tree of paper snowflakes.  Just cut a bunch of snowflakes of assorted sizes, stack them from large to small on a wooden dowel (I used a pencil), and top with an old earring.

Cut paper snowflakes

Cut paper snowflakes

Roughly sort by size

Roughly sort by size

Stack on a dowel, large to small

Stack on a dowel, large to small

Voila!  A snowflake tree!

Voila! A snowflake tree!

 

 

“Without a doubt [Leonardo’s] drawing was a source of solace, of tuning out the world, and of capturing it as well.  Consider those early lost drawings not for their focus on some particular thing, like a twig or a frog, as would be usual, but for what’s blocked out.  They are psychological documents as well as artistic.  Any drawing is.  Most importantly, one senses that the act of drawing became his way to learn about a thing.  It was how he contemplated the world.”
— Mike Lankford, Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa, contour-line drawing

Mona Lisa, contour-line drawing

“One of Leonardo’s greatest discoveries as a child had to be the power of his own left  hand.  It must’ve seemed magical to him at first — and to everyone else.  Not only could it capture reality and put it on paper, but the effort of drawing a thing seemed to inform him as well, as if he knew it better afterwards.  As if he owned it afterwards.  As if to study something closely enough to draw accurately was also to learn it deeply all over its surface, to absorb the thing through visual touch.  For him, drawing was a way of knowing the world, and he learned that as a child.  Self-taught, it seems clear.”
— Mike Lankford, Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci

I had the opportunity to read an advanced reader copy of Mike Lankford’s Becoming Leonardo: An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci.  This new biography of Leonardo da Vinci will be released in March 2017.  I was drawn into the life of Leonardo by the sheer imagination of the author.  He seems to have put himself into the shoes of a Renaissance man, using clues from places Leonardo lived, historic events that would have been talked about in homes at the time, and jottings from Leonardo’s surviving notebooks (10 of 18 notebooks have been lost) to imagine Leonardo in the world.

For example, consider the place of Leonardo’s birth — Vinci.  It was a two-day trek over a mountain to the city of Florence.  Imagine living with something so glorious just beyond the horizon.  His home on a hill gave out on “a bird’s eye view of the countryside that was panoramic.”  Imagine how this perspective fueled Leonardo’s thoughts about flight and his mapping skills.  Life during the time of Leonardo was chaotic, swept by plagues and warring factions, full of death.  Lankford says, “One key to understanding Leonardo is to see the brutal chaos he came out of, the chaos he tried to separate himself from, the noise on every side.  It was not an easy place to think a straight thought.”

Lankford asks us to consider what it would have been like to live without photographic images or pictures of people we see on TV and computer screens.  During Renaissance times, even mirrors were rare, and people seldom saw their own faces. Then imagine Leonardo’s seemingly magical talent to draw images accurately on paper:

“. . . the rarity of representational art in their lives meant that it had a stronger impact on the viewer than it has today . . . the important thing to consider is the enormous power Leonardo had to convince others simply because he could draw so well.”

“In an age before images were a common thing, Leonardo was the artist/magician who plucked living objects out of thin air.  To the average person it was as if his thinking was more real than everybody else’s.  Certainly more concrete and vivid.  And surely more convincing as well.”

I enjoyed reading about the power of Leonardo’s drawings, especially since I am currently embarked on my own project of doing pen and ink sketches for a month or two while I take a break from painting in color.  Like Leonardo, I appreciate the act of drawing as a way to see things more deeply.  I really haven’t seen a thing until I try to draw it, and then I notice its nuances and how difficult it is to translate what I see onto paper.

I am also a person who thinks better with a pen in my hand.  So I was particularly interested in Lankford’s descriptions about the importance of the notebooks to Leonardo’s creativity and inventiveness.  Leonardo was a genius at coming up with ideas, but he often did not actually make many of his inventions and he left many art and engineering works unfinished.  He captured many of these ideas in his notebooks.  Of the notebooks, Lankford says:  “. . . that’s what originality looks like.  It’s scattered, not entirely coherent, full of holes and gaps and repetitions, even founded on false assumptions, but also containing great insights that penetrate into the nature of the world.”

Lankford says, “It seems to me his notebooks served many functions, from open lab books where the apprentices were encouraged to read, to draft books of ideas he wanted to consider, or ideas for letters, to (at their most personal) his memory books.  If he saw some machine or mechanism he wanted to understand and remember, or some gesture or look in an eye, or a pattern in a lady’s lace or the curl of a finger, anything he wanted to know and examine, he would copy.  I think this is the essence of Leonardo as autodidact: constantly looking, constantly observing, noting, guessing, recording — all for later when he could peruse these thoughts more thoroughly and without distraction.”

“Leonardo’s reputation for invention is actually more the business of a squirrel saving up its nuts until they’re needed.  That was his bottom-most process: follow your inspiration of the moment and then archive the result for later when it can be useful.  Inspiration must be caught while present.”

It seems that Leonardo was exceptionally attuned to catching those flickers of ideas and did not just let them slip by unmarked to die.  He may not have brought all or even most of his ideas to fruition, but he did jot them down and develop them as concepts that seemed like they could work.

Becoming Leonardo is a fairly comprehensive biography, but I was less interested in his roles as engineer for the warring royalty than in his role as painter.  He was not that prolific, but the paintings he did finish were remarkable — the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper,  the Lady with an Ermine.  I was amazed that he worked on some of these paintings for years.  And that they were not painted until he was in his 40s, 50s and 60s. His multi-faceted genius was coupled with a curiosity that kept him learning and growing into old age.  I admire him for that.

 

 

 

 

What We Need Is Here

November 26, 2016

Skagit Valley snow geese

Skagit Valley snow geese

The Wild Geese
by Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Flock of snow geese in the Skagit Valley

Flock of snow geese in the Skagit Valley

 

Watercolor painting of Skagit Valley snow geese

Watercolor painting of Skagit Valley snow geese