Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Painting for the Trash Can

I read a great piece by Jean Haines recently about painting for the bin.   At the beginning and end of every studio day, she pulls out a scrap piece of paper and just plays.   She knows it's going in the trash anyway, so she feels free to risk it all and just put the paint and water on the paper.   No pressure.

I feel a lot of pressure.   Pressure not to waste time.  Not to waste supplies.  Not to suck.  Pressure to make Great Art.   To make Frame-able Art.  To make Sell-able Art.  Blah, blah, blah. So I was really glad to read that article on painting for the trash can.

And I went out to the studio and pulled out a good piece of paper and just played. I started in one corner and I tried some  new things.   The first one was Awful. [Owl]  The next one not so bad.  [Rose a la Jean Haines].  The next one really cool [Abstract in wild and crazy colors].  The last one was a quasi landscape - my first love is landscapes - with a lot of wet on wet practice.  

I looked at the last one and pulled out a new piece of paper and a big brush that I almost never use - 1" flat.  It's like painting with a wrench.  I had been thinking about the color around here this time of year.  Lots of black eyed susans, iron weed, blue mist flower, and grass, grass, grass.  Lots of clouds in our skies.  Lots of trees because hello this is Indiana.

I started with foreground and painted a field, wet in wet with all the colors I see.  I didn't worry about it being good, I just played with the color and the water.

Then I did the sky.  I love painting clouds.  We've been really looking at clouds this year, noticing how most of the time they look pretty fake.  If I painted clouds that looked like that, people would tell me I need to practice a lot more.  Often lately, someone in the family will message me a pic - Look at these fake clouds!  It's fun.  And it reminds me just to Go For It.    Keep it WET.  Leave some WHITE.  Define later with 2 or 3 more colors.

And then I realized that the sky did not touch the field.   It needed trees.   My heart knew it so it told my brain and my hand to leave some space for it.

My one goal was to make a really interesting tree line, because I've gotten so good at simplifying the shapes that my tree lines are boooring.    And I wanted to keep using that 1" flat because I knew it would be hard to make 'good' trees, which meant I'd have to be creative.

I mixed up a bunch of greens and took a deep breath and dove on in.   And what came out was a really interesting tree line.

In the end this was a very satisfying session because my brain was engaged, but not constrained.  There was low risk and high creativity.   I have enough stuff in my bag of technique tricks that I didn't get really frustrated or stalled.   It was loose without being too abstract.  I looks like a field and trees and sky.  It was fun.   It feels like my voice, finally.   I don't know that I've 'found my style', but I did sing my own song with this one.  It'll be interesting to see if I can catch that flow again soon.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Elderberry Jelly

They're finally ripe!   I've been waiting on elderberries since they first put out new leaves in the spring.   This year our bush was loaded with flowers and I've been watching the berries slowly ripen for months.

I've been gathering the berries off the stems and putting them right in the freezer so when I have enough I can make jam.   On Friday, my neighbor said I could come pick off her place, too, so I have loads!

When they were all stripped, I had 10 cups of berries.   I added 4 cups of water and boiled.  After I strained it, I had 5 1/2 cups of juice and I followed this recipe here:


I used 1 Tablespoon pectin per cup of juice.  And for sweetening, I used 1 cup of honey from my very own bees [scavenged from damaged comb from last winter] and 1 cup sugar.    Perfect.

What kinds of jam and jelly are you making this year?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Red Barn on Pond

This barn lives on the road to Freedom, Indiana.  I've been practicing skies that aren't blue and practicing painting sunshine.  They're interesting.

I need a lot more practice, but I liked the peaceful feeling here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Waiting for Figs

My fig tree [bush] has loads of figs this year.   It's about 4 feet high with several branches coming out of the ground.   All are covered with fruit.    I'm hoping I get a good harvest this year.

I'm also hoping that my dog, Pepper, who has quite a sweet tooth, doesn't discover how delicious ripe figs are, because she'll eat them all.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Spaghetti Sauce Season

Am I the only one whose kitchen is a total disaster area when I'm doing major canning?

Right now, I've got three large pots of tomatoes, squash, onions and garlic on the stove, simmering down into spaghetti sauce.   There is juice and seeds all over the table, the countertops and floor.  There is burnt schmutz all over the pots and stove and spatters on everything close by.

It's inelegant, but real. [#marthastewart'sstaffdoesn'tlivehere]  And will be real tasty, too, in a few hours.  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Berry Patch

Last year I planted blackberries and raspberries around 3 sides of my apiary.   The berries act as a windblock for the bees and it was nice to give the berries a place where they could go a little hogwild.

And they have.   Some of the canes are a good 12 feet long.   When we prune next, I'm going to pull out my 4 ft stakes and put in some 6 ft ones so I can impose some order into this thicket and make it easier to harvest.

As it is, Pepper snags the ripe berries at the bottom and we lose a few on the interior of the thicket where they can't be seen, but we're getting enough that everyone is happily munching on fresh blackberries most days.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Plein Air Painting

So in my recent quest to do some things outside my comfort zone, I took a recent opportunity to spend a few hours painting in the great outdoors when I went to Michigan.   After the long drive from home, I spent some time walking the grounds at Fernwood Botanical Garden in Niles, Michigan.  

Fernwood is a lovely place with both formal and informal garden areas, a cafe, and a gift shop.  There are miles of paths that wind down and around the river, creeks, ravines, prairies, buildings, etc.   I knew I'd find a good place to paint so I packed my painting bag and braved myself up to paint outside and maybe with an audience.

I took an hour to wander around and look and then decided that I'd go to the platform in the middle of the tall grass prairie and paint there where the light was interesting, things were blooming and the features were challenging.  Challenges are good.    I lucked out in that no one else was there and I was able to do my first plein air painting sans audience.   Whew.

The thing about prairies is that there's not a lot of structure to paint.  It's a field - and with the breeze and intermittent clouds it was like painting a moving target.   I had to choose my view carefully and emphasize what structure was there so the painting would at least make sense, then observe carefully and just go for it.  

And I did it!   Yay!    It's not a great painting by any measure, but I did it, outside, in the breeze and sun and clouds, in an hour and a half, in less than ideal circumstances.   And it was such an interesting experience, that I will likely do it again.    There's a paint-out at T C Steele property in Brown County in September.   I think I need to go do that one.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Garden Bounty

The garden is booming this year - with sunflowers.   Everything else is a little unhappy about all the rain.   We have rampant romularia and other fungal problems in the rhubarb, beans, tomatoes, etc.   Plus mega bug problems with the eggplant and squash.

But the sunflowers, zinnas and marigolds are glorious.  And for that I am very happy.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Burning Bales

After my class in Kentucky with Judy Mudd [see previous post], I came home and did some work on a piece I've been thinking about for a couple of years.

One afternoon in early spring just after a snow, we came upon a field where the farmer was clearing out some old fence rows to join two fields.  He had flattened and was burning the old bales.   There were probably 25 bales in a smoky line.   It was beautiful and eerie and amazing.  

I will probably try this piece a couple more times, experimenting with different things.  

Monday, July 18, 2016

Painting Class with Judy Mudd

In my eternal quest to become a really good painter, I took a class from Judy Mudd in Berea, Ky earlier this month.

It was amazing.    I'd never done a class like that before so I decided to go with the flow.  She had done a lot of prep before hand, chosen the reference photos and worked up a finished painting so we knew what we were aiming for.  

We spent a lot of time gathered around her easel watching her demo, then back to our own work, then back to demo, back to ours, etc. a section at a time.  

Here's the thing.   When you take a class like this from a gifted artist and teacher, she brings out the best in you.    I do not paint as well as I painted in this class, yet every pencil mark, every puddle and brush stroke in these paintings is really mine.   I painted these...and was stunned afterward that I did.

We painted this one the first day.  There are some things I'd like to fix, but I tried a bunch of new stuff and it looks pretty OK.  I was really happy with it.  [And truthfully, the best thing about this is the rust on the silo.  I invented that rust - it wasn't in the reference photo.  I love that rust.]

The second day, we did the white house on the curve [above].   A bunch of stuff clicked and I was amazed at how successful that piece is.

Here's the other thing.  Now I'm kind of scared that I won't be able to do my own stuff that well.  Yeah.  So I've pinned these up in my space to remind me of what we did.   I have my class notes out and open so I can refer back when I need to.   And I'm going to keep on painting.  

Friday, June 10, 2016


Late this morning, I walked outside and heard what I thought was a large engine coming from the neighbors place.   I went back in and then right back out for something and realized the sound was an awful lot like bees, so I headed out to the hives.  

In time to see the biggest orientation flight I'd ever seen outside the Sweetie hive.   Awesome!   I love watching those.  

But it was noisier than usual and then....then...just up a little higher and over about 20 feet, just above a stand of sumac I saw a lot more bee action.

The bees are not supposed to be over there.   And they never are over there in those numbers.

Which meant, of course, something unusual was going on.   Like a swarm.   I looked for a swarm cluster and didn't see one.    Because they had just barely left the mother hive.   As I watched, they started to cluster on two branches of one of the sumacs, about 10 feet high.  

I happened to have walked out at exactly the right moment to catch what was going on.

So, I called Eric, who luckily was between jobs and headed home fast.   In the meantime, I suited up. I noticed that there were two clusters so I prepped boxes for two new hives. [It's common for multiple queens to be in a swarm - the old queen and any extra virgin queens.]  I got the dropcloths, and two buckets and the loppers, thanking heaven the whole time that the clusters were so low.

By the time Eric got home, I was ready.   He suited up and got the ladder and when we got to the clusters, we found that they had joined - and on the lower branch, so that was lucky.

Eric got the ladder ready but because the cluster was over a lot of brush and brambles, we couldn't use the dropcloth, so I put the bucket on my shoulder and stood underneath while Eric cut.   The cluster was so low in the first place that the bottom of it already hung in the bucket.   All he had to do was drop it.   The smell was very strong - a swarming hive smells like lemon grass oil in a big way.   LGO is often used as a swarm lure.   Now I know why.

[New readers may be wondering if I was freaked out having 30,000 stinging pets flying around and all over my head.  Swarms are notoriously noisy but not aggressive.  They're not defending, so they only sting if you grab one wrong.  Mostly they crash into you - and crashing is not the same as stinging or attacking.   Plus, I have a great suit.  It's not totally sting proof, but it helps keep me calm and if the beekeeper is calm, the bees will be calmer.   So, no, I wasn't bothered.  This was not my first bee rodeo. See this post for my first cut out.  After that, nothing fazes me.]

Anyway, Eric dropped the branch in the bucket on my shoulder and I walked it over to the hives, slowly so the flying bees would follow.

I decided to use two boxes because most of the frames already have some comb in them. They won't be slowed down by starting from scratch.   Plus, this queen builds up super fast and I knew they'd be bursting at the seams soon.  I took some frames out of the top box and we gently took the branch out.   This was a 2 person job, so no pics.  

After the branch was in, I shook it off and dropped the bees in the boxes.   They went straight in - a very good sign.  Then we turned the bucket upside down and knocked the rest of the bees out of it into the box.  

Then we put the bucket in front of the hive where the stragglers immediately found the bottom entrance of their new home and went in.   This is very good as it means the queen was in the box and the girls were communicating well.  I replaced the frames and closed it up.

The whole swarm catch took maybe 15 minutes once Eric got home.   Fastest catch in the history of swarms.

This brings us up to 4 hives this year.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Chrysalis ID

Looks like we have a good idea of what our butterfly will be.   Lily did some looking around and found this page of images.   It seems our chrysalis is a Viceroy.    Hopefully we see some actual proof in the next couple of days.  It's starting to change color a bit.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

July Classes

Hand dyed nylon yarns
I'll be teaching two classes on Saturday, July 16 at White Violet Center at St. Mary of the Woods, Indiana.  [Just west of Terre Haute]
These are some of my favorite classes of the year.  Great place, great people, great fun.   I hope you can come!   Register at the link above. 
From their website:
9 a.m.- 12 p.m.: Color Basics and Harmonies.
1 p.m. – 5 p.m.: Dyeing Animal and Protein Fibers
Color Basics and Harmonies:
Take the mystery out of putting colors together. Learn how to combine colors in beautiful ways from a master colorist. Topics will include basic color theory, using color tools, wheels and books, classic color combinations, etc. Spend time making your own color notebooks. Expect to get a lot of practice putting colors together and using your new skills. This class is indispensable for anyone who works with color–artists, quilters, knitters/crocheters, sewers, interior designers, even gardeners!
Dyeing Animal and Protein Fibers:
Explore the use of acid dyes to turn your stash of ‘boring’ protein yarns and fibers into designer yarns and fibers that you will be excited to knit, weave or spin. Using safe and mild acid dyes, students will learn how to put several colors onto a skein to make variegated yarns. Students may bring their own wool, mohair, alpaca, soy silk, or silk fibers and yarns to work with. White or light colors work best

Friday, May 27, 2016

Pink Pea Flowers

We tried a new type of heirloom pea this year.   These are the flowers of Gray Pod Snap Pea.

They're pink!   So pretty.   I hope they taste as good as they look.
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