Creative Distraction

Quinn and Zinnie’s reenactment of American Gothic, an iconic painting from the 1930s.

My daughter Emily and her family are finding clever ways to endure the lockdown. They have had their spa days, their dinner parties with the neighbors over the fence (passing dishes back and forth with a basket rigged up on a pulley) and some photography fun. Still, the kids are getting a little tired of being so far away from their classmates. They start school next week, although it certainly won’t be the same as before. They will be required to stay inside their little prescribed space, marked out on the floor, all day long.

I don’t feel the limitations too keenly. I have my own creative activities to keep occupied and days go past so quickly that I rarely have a moment to wonder what to do with myself.

I start my day with a bowl of fresh fruit and orange juice, pretty as well as delicious. At the moment, blood oranges are in season, making the juice extra special. After some aerobics via YouTube, I head down to the atelier where various projects await my attention.

Seasonal fruit is a perfect way to start the day.

In the garden the bee balm is in bloom. I got out my eco-dyeing supplies the other day, which had been untouched all winter. But bee balm makes such a predictably nice blue image, so before they bloomed out, I printed up a few.

Eco-dyed image on paper of wild bergamot, also known as bee balm.

Meanwhile I am back working on some relief printing. Instead of the reduction printing technique I have been experimenting with recently, I decided to work on a woodblock print with separate plates for each color. The nice thing about reduction printing is that everything naturally registers because you only have the one plate. The problem I found with it, however, is that the ink gets so thick on the paper. I wanted to try the more traditional multi-plate technique, but find a reliable way to register all the colors. I discovered a nice system that utilizes wooden pegs. The paper is per-punched with holes which can be put in the wooden pegs on each plate to guarantee the same placement for each color on the paper. The key block plate is printed first on paper and then transferred to each additional plate so that the blocks are also registered with one another. Rick kindly made up a nice rig for me. He is also carving the blocks, which I appreciate very much!

Transferring the key block image from paper to plate to ensure accurate registration.

We got this first color printed this weekend. The registration is pretty good. We still have a lot to learn. Since I seem to be so promiscuous with my art techniques, I am always in the learning stage. But I suppose I must prefer that. Mastery seems out of reach. For this one, there are still three colors to go. It isn’t turning out as I had imagined and hoped, but we will keep working on it.

First color (after the key block).

I am quite spoiled by having Rick available so much of the time. I am taking advantage of his good nature and requesting all kinds of upgrades to the atelier. This week he built me a fabulous new easel contraption in about an hour and it is just marvelous to work on.

Easel with two shelves for watercolor as well as oil painting.

Twice a week I meet with the grandchildren on FaceTime to do art class. We have made a color wheel. some simple shading exercises, cartoon characters and various other drawing projects.

Some pages from the kid’s expanding sketchbooks.

Weather this week has been a little less warm but the flowers continue to burst into bloom both on the terrace and in the garden.

Two rose varieties blooming on the terrace.
Peony bouquet from the garden.

Finding Beauty in Confinement

We take our afternoon tea on the terrace.

For me, this week has passed much like the week before and no doubt similar to the week ahead. Still the natural world outside our gates is not standing still or waiting for us to rejoin it. The pace there has accelerated. I don’t think nature misses us much. It actually gives me great pleasure to hear about how the animals are returning to reclaim empty streets of cities, how the air and water are recovering, how it is noted that even bird songs are louder this year as the avian population is not so stressed by human activity. What have we done to our world that our absence is not only not regretted, but actually celebrated? Less than a hundred years ago the earth was 66% wilderness. Today it is barely 25% and shrinking yearly. Every environmentalist that I have heard speak about this pandemic points out that it is the natural consequence of the way we are using our world. These few weeks of human pause seem very precious to me. It is far from certain that we will abandon our unsustainable ways as a result of being temporarily stopped in our tracks, but some things will change. Nature has a point of view and is perhaps trying to send us a powerful message. It makes sense to try to hear it.

In the thirteen years we’ve lived here, we have never actually had our house to ourselves except during the darkest days of winter. What a pleasure it has been to have these wonderful warm days and spend our time as we choose, without having guests to accommodate. Rick has time in his schedule, which is rare. He decided he wanted to start doing some woodblock cutting, I was really thrilled. I am working on a new print of a clematis branch and I was certainly happy to allow him to do the carving for it. He is really a much better craftsman than I am, more patient and meticulous.

The weeds have gone wild both inside and outside our gate. But if you’re an attractive weed, we give you free rein.

At the big garden the bee balm and brunnera are in glorious bloom. These plants too are volunteers, but I welcome them both wholeheartedly.

A friend from California sent us California poppy seeds a few years ago. They seem quite happy in our garden, they come back each year and in ever greater numbers.

The last tulips are enjoying their final days in the garden, playing their part in the cycle of life.

The side of the shed, weathered by years of sun and rain, makes a beautiful natural abstract painting.

In our large garden irises came and went a couple of weeks ago, but in the terrace, they are just beginning.

In the fields around the village, horses and other farm creatures are romping about in the sunshine.

Our entry which has always served our clients has been made more cozy by removing one of the two couches we had there. We had a difficult time deciding where to put the extra one until we came up with the idea of having it just outside the atelier, in a little hallway that has served as a storage area.

It has turned out to be a very pleasant place to sit, as long as we remember to take off our inky smocks first.

Inside the atelier itself, I am always moving things around to find better arrangements. Birds and boxes feature prominently on one of the storage cupboards.

Last but not least, this week, I have a simple recipe to share with you. We have begun to make a Chinese style vegetable fritter which is quite delicious and super easy to make. You cut a leek, a zucchini, a carrot, an onion, some scallions, a hot pepper and a mushrooms to make 1/2 match stick sized pieces. Put 2 1/2 cups of the sliced vegetables in a bowl, add 3/4 cup flour, 1t salt and 3/4 water. Still together. Cook in a generous amount of oil until browned and loose on one side (a few minutes), flip and brown the second side. Serve with a dipping sauce of 1T soya sauce mixed with 2t rice wine vinegar. Float a few sesame seeds and red pepper flakes on top of the sauce.

The safflower fields are all bloomed out, but the view is still a pleasant alternative to television.