Friday, April 13, 2012

My Madonna with text

Which comes first: Illustration or text? Normally I would do the lettering for a project and then add the illumination, but to achieve the faux stained glass appearance, the background painting needs to be done first. Adding the lettering to My Madonna was another learning experience.

It is difficult for one who never relied on thumbnails and drafts before making marks, I know the next panel will be more thought out. Not only where to insert text, but also measuring the general layout especially for the illumination 'windows'.

I've learned to paint in the areas for the text first and then proceed to add the lettering. If I make any spelling or placement errors, the time spent painting the background is minimal. It would be easy to say, "Discard! Begin again." 

Within My Madonna are many decisions based on the image and the story that goes with it. Now that she is more than 85% completed, there are parts that I can kick myself for not thinking about sooner. Leaving space for bumping up the black outlines to give the impression of the lead casements that hold the stained glass is a major regret."Next time" is a forgiving thought.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Madonna

Painting of panel completed. Ready for lettering
If My Madonna looks a bit tilted, it is because this photo was taken with the panel on a slanted drafting table. She's resting comfortably waiting for me to letter the text. Unlike other projects, I am nearly paralyzed by the thought of taking pen to panel. What if I make a spelling or spacing error? There are no corrections on crinoline. I shall let her lie in peace on the table while I work up the courage.

Over the years of making art I've found it important to respect the media. The Book of Mary is a challenge with the choice of using crinoline. It is an open weave starched fabric that reacts quite differently to paint than paper or canvas. I've experimented with watercolors, gouache, and acrylics, but encountered major problems. Too much water in the paint will dissolve the starch and stretch the fabric. Too little water makes the paint too thick to spread evenly. Finding the right ratio of water to paint is like preparing a batch of pancakes. There is a very fine line between crepes and cakes.

I nearly gave up the notion of doing faux stained glass panels, but remembered I had a set of  Faber-Castell Aquarell Pigment Sticks that were a gift from Brenda, a very dear friend. The set consists of thirty sticks with a broad range of colors. With just a swipe of a lightly water-filled brush, it was easier to get within that fine water to paint ratio.

Oh, there are still issues. There are places where the fabric buckled and bowed after the paint dried due to the broad weave of the fabric. Ironing the fabric is not an option even between a cloth barrier. The starch melts at the slightest heat. Repeatedly I was reminded this fabric was not meant to be painted. But every time I was ready to give up, my motto "Even if it can't be done, do it anyway" nudged me on with the reminder to respect the media.

The choice of using an earth/skin-tone palette for My Madonna is rooted in my personal belief Mary represents the Great Mother. Queen of All. Mother of God: the God that always was and always will be. Yet she bows her head showing humility as a servant so those who require her attentions may feel welcomed to do so.

Though born a Catholic, organized religion is not something I subscribe to. However, I adore the Catholic Mary. So many prayers, hymns, devotions, paintings, murals, sculptures... over the span of two centuries. She is the Mary of my childhood who brought comfort whenever I called upon her. She got me through many nights when seriously ill. And there have been times when I was sure my prayers to her saved planes I was on from crashing.  She helped me land jobs and find funds when I desperately needed them. She is an ever-present companion.

Prior to this project my process was improvisational. Cut a length of canvas and cover it with color! Dance while flinging paint. Spend hours layering paint upon paint. And when that was done, let the pen-in-hand go to the canvas with words and words and more words. No mockettes. No rough drafts. Just pure, unadulterated improvising. Not so with the BoM. Every mark is made with thoughtful consideration. There are layouts and roughs before going to the crinoline. Colors are chosen with care not only should the colors "go-together", but that the colors provide another layer of meaning.

Time to gather courage to get back to the mission of laying the text. Maybe praying to her will help.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Madonna di sotto gli Organi and My Madonna

Madonna di sotto gli Organi, XIII secolo, Pisa, Duoma
I've been collecting images of the Madonna for The Book of Mary to use as models for the stained glass panels.  Louise sent me this image of a 13th C icon known as "the Madonna under the organ" (so named because of where it was placed in the cathedral). Her story is quite an interesting one. It is believed a returning Crusader brought her to Italy. She was an object of devotion so revered that for centuries no one was allowed to look at her. She was covered by seven veils for centuries. There are stories about those who may have tried to peek under the veils and those who took charge to rescue her during times of fire and war. Presently she is displayed unveiled at the Duomo in Pisa, but she remains an object of devotion. With such a history, she became my first model.

Within 24 hours of beginning to work on a panel in the fashion of stained glass, I can say I learned a lot. The First Epiphany was remembering I prefer making letters more than drawing images. The Second Epiphany is understanding how my Mary should be portrayed and the third was realizing for some unknown reason as the moment, My Madonna will be without child.

It was quite daunting to recreate the Organi Madonna. For very practical reasons the artwork is first laid out on drawing paper. Once the under drawing is done, a length of crinoline can be placed on top to transfer the image. 

Using a large sheet of white drawing paper (cut from a roll), #5H pencil, erasers (yes, plural) and the image, I struggled nearly an hour with drawing and erasing before giving up. Considered using a projector to trace the Duomo's image, but abandoned that notion after realizing there is no convenient wall in this house to project a large image. Whether it's a bookcase, king size bed, or cabinet, moving heavy furniture was not an option. It was easier to go back to the board and do the best I could.

Into about hour 7 I realized that a 5H pencil was not right for this job. Calligraphers keep 5H pencils sharpened to a pointy point around for lining papers with a very light line that won't smudge and are easier to erase when the lettering is completed. But sketching with one made the lines difficult to erase and the sharpened pencil point scored lines into the paper making it harder to erase.  Bespeckled with eraser crumbs and an inch of them on the floor, the frustration level was Code Red.

Knowing how one uses the muse was very helpful. I shut down the studio and washed the dishes. While contemplating the bubbles, the First Epiphany was revealed. Going back to the board, things didn't really look that bad and this is when the Second Epiphany stuck. Spent two hours reworking the Organi Madonna into My Madonna. My Madonna will not have a face. She will remain veiled.


It's been a long time since I've been so excited about making art to want to get up to work in the studio during the wee hours of the morning. It's been a long time since I've watched the sunrise from my studio. It's been a long time since I've been in the ever-so-coveted Zone. The Third Epiphany came as bright as the sunrise. My Madonna and future Madonnas will be depicted without The Child. I can't be sure whether it is because I simply can't draw or something more meaningful to be revealed as I work on this project.

It's important to note it's OK if a panel doesn't work. Calling it a mockette removes the stress. Each concept and technique will be a learning experience. I'll proceed with each step, try the things that come to mind, and forgive what doesn't work. After all, it really is all about the process.

My Madonna Drawing ready to be transferred to crinoline

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Book of Mary

After spending 2011 in what was more of a hibernation/house cat state of being after twenty years of perpetual motion, I feel my cup is empty ready to be filled once again. 2012 marks my 60th year of being. My state of being means something different now than it did a mere year ago. It includes being contented, being aware, and being a productive contributor to society, but in a different way.

Last year, health issues forced me into different daily routines focusing on being still rather than in motion. In November I found myself in a crisis requiring a trip to the ER. While struggling for breath, I repeated two mantras that have always brought peace and calm to such situations: "Holy Mother, giver of life" and "Hail Mary, full of grace". While not a practicing Catholic, I do call upon her during times of stress and need. And she is always there for me!

It was this particular experience that germinated a seed of an idea into an installation for an upcoming exhibit. What began as an outline of ten panels measuring 38" x 60" has grown to thirty-four possible panels. I discovered Mariology/Marion studies that span the globe and of course, the Internet. She is everywhere!

The Great Mother also brought my dear sister back into my life. She is a gift I treasure! Louise contributed ideas for the panels I never would have thought of doing. We have been recording these ideas via emails serving very much like a project journal for the installation I'm calling "The Book of Mary". This chit-chatter birthed additional possibilities. It has been a long time since I've felt this excited about my own art.

Another major event in our family's life has given the BoM additional meaning. My oldest son decided the Army was the career he wished to pursue. While I am very proud of his choice, learning how to be an Army Mom (considering his MOS is as a Combat Engineer whose motto is something like "We pave the way") is the challenge. I really need Mary at my side!

The Book of Mary will be comprised of at least 20 panels each measuring 38" wide x 60" length done on stark white crinoline which is a stiff semi-transparent fabric. The panels will be hung from above one behind the other approx 20" apart. There will be a layering-look to the panels displayed in this manner.

Below are two experimental panels using traditional calligraphic letter forms and techniques. The fabric has an exceptional quality for accepting metal nibs and writing fluids such as gouache, ink, watercolors, and pigmented markers. The key is to use just the right amount of water while writing and painting to keep the starch in the fabric from dissolving.

Louise lives in Switzerland which means she is a train ride away from Europe's major museums and churches. She suggested creating the look of stained glass on the panels. She has sent me images of various stained glass from The Louvre, The Cluny, and Chartres Cathedral prompting me to visit the glorious windows of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Notre Dame's campus right in my own backyard.

This is a project that inspires and overwhelms me in one breath. However, I feel compelled to pursue it and look forward to showing the results on this blog.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bless my new studio

West wall
Renovations to my new painting studio and classroom space are 95% completed. My deep appreciation to my dear husband, Bill, and sons (Russ & Matt) for doing the work. It is a dream space for me. The advantage of playing and exploring media over the past 19 years is that I know what I NEED to work. Lots of flat working space, loads of storage for supplies, good lighting, place for my books, music, sewing area,  flat files within reach, water source nearby, and most of all......easy to keep clean and organized.

Sharing photos of my haven gives only a glimpse of what this space looks like. But it is far more satisfying to actually BE in this space. Everyone is invited to come and wallow in what I hope will be a den of inspiration.

North wall
East wall Library and administrative area
East wall with sewing area and flat files I hope to keep from cluttering!
There are still a few things that need to be done before calligraphy classes begin on March 1. But I'm testing the space to make sure things are efficiently stored away ready for me to pull when I need them.

Before Studio Arts I would spend every January hibernating, reflecting, regenerating, and incubating plans for the year. I have the luxury of enjoying January & February emptying my well so I can begin to fill it again. I found this haiku circa 2001 that rekindles the reason why winter is a time for hibernation.

Monday, January 17, 2011

So.......What's next?

The transition from the responsibilities of being an owner of a business to not has left me wondering if I'm experiencing an identity crisis. During the two weeks spent going through all the things that needed to be done to close the business, my thoughts fantasized what life would be like without the burdens of owning Studio Arts.

People asked what I was going to do after SAC. My husband asked this question and I had no trouble answering: To have time to plan, shop and prepare nourishing meals, sleep in, walk everyday, put the house in order, bond with my sun porch studio, reconnect with old friends I've ignored for the past five years, and smell the roses. His reply was, "So, what are your plans for February?" Funny guy, but he does know me!

Here it is, a mere 18 days of being a 'free' woman and I am enjoying all the above, but why did I spend 20-hours on updating my web site? That wasn't on my list. Also got the idea of making a painting studio/classroom space usable for teaching art classes from home. The amount of work involved to achieve this is daunting! Clearly, and I know this because the epiphany came at 3am, I am *still* a professional artist/instructor regardless of the closing of Studio Arts. All I need to do now is find a way to not be a slave to the professional side of my personality!

These photos chronicle the progress to reclaim space in the basement for a painting studio/classroom. I'm thankful to have two willing sons and a husband to do the heavy labor. They tell me the place will be ready by mid-February to early March.

The two paper rolls are from "Pay as You Exit" calligraphic performance by Denis Brown. I can't throw them away!
This is the third time Bill has moved and rehung these cabinets. He's hoping this is the last.

BUT! I want it done by yesterday. I think I should add "cultivate patience" to my list of things to do now that I'm "free".

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The All-Critter Channel

One of the most surprising things about living in urban South Bend is the variety of wildlife we find visiting our yard. We live on a double lot so we have plenty of yard space that seems to serve as a thorough fare for critters. We have enjoyed the antics of baby raccoons as seen in this photo. She was the runt of a litter of five so she was always last in claiming face time with food. She's trying to get the last smears of peanut butter her siblings left behind. She's not stuck; just enjoying what little peanut butter she can!

Half-tail came to us in winter 2005. She lost part of her tail somewhere, but seemed to heal without problems. She has held the record of being the squirrel with the most personality. She regularly found her way into the  house via a crack in the front doorway to feed from the bucket of peanuts we kept in the kitchen. We mourned when she no longer came to visit. Her fate remains a mystery.

This little guy also decided it would be quicker to come into the house to feed rather than waiting for someone to throw peanuts out to the deck!

One day I looked out into the yard and spotted this groundhog. We never had one before so this was quite thrilling. He was quite tame going about his business without a care towards the squirrels who showed much curiosity towards this visitor to their yard! He stuck around for a week.

The animals have added a dimension to our lives. We do not pet them nor do we feed them everyday. They need to retain their wits about them for not all humans see them as neighbors. Sitting on the deck watching the All Critter Channel is a wonderful past time we enjoy more than once a day.