“Big Bad Birds”?

Last year Bainbridge Arts and Crafts presented a group exhibition called “Big Bad Bugs,” and this year I’m invited to participate in their May show: “Big Bad Birds.” The deadline approaches quickly – it’s a temporal truth that time speeds up toward a due date.

Drawing a winter wren for the Twitter exhibition in Oslo reminded me how I love to draw birds. And from a few years ago, I have the photographers’ permission to draw from pictures of juncos, winter wrens, robins, sparrows, chickadees, and other beloved birds – now filling the woods with their spring song.

I’ll post more here later, but the image below is a start –- getting familiar again with bird colors and shapes. In the end I hope to make little paintings – maybe on wood, not big or bad birds, but small and sweet birds.

Bird Study - neighbors

Beginning a bird study – near neighbors in pencil and watercolor on Rives BFK…

 

A Postcard for Twitter

One Saturday morning at the very end of January, on an uninspired gray day, flat sky indistinguishable from sea, and no wind to part the clouds or better the weather – I happened to read about the 2015 Twitter Art Exhibit.

This is the fifth installment of #Twitter Art Exhibit – a “worldwide art experience” that invites artists to make a postcard-sized piece of art (no guidelines or themes other than a precise size and suitability for family viewing). Artists donate their work to sell for $35.00 at an exhibition in Moss, Norway. Home-Start in Moss benefits this year (an organization that matches experienced volunteers to families with young children to offer help and support).

The very thought gave structure to a dreary Saturday!

Flipping through postcards already submitted – both strange ones and lovely ones – I began to wonder what to do. Such an opportunity to do good with a little picture – something that appeals across borders. Needs to be in Norway by March 1st. Color, what would be colorful? What about spring somehow?

a Winter Wren and spring colors

 

“Essentialism” and the Lady Baby

Alaska winters test humankind and, when I visited this January, old, hard-packed snow crusted the bleak backyard at Downtown Abbey. The Ladies Cora and Winna joust and tussle endlessly out there, and shredded stuffing from tug-of war-battles with chew toys litter the landscape.

During these short, cold, snowless days, outdoor playing with children requires ingenuity. After dinner Mr. Carson takes Lady Baby (dressed in full cold weather gear) and both dogs (wearing reflective vests and blinking lights) to go “spelunking.” Carrying a small purple lantern she received for Christmas, Lady Baby leads the way through the neighborhood dark.

But indoors is warm and cheerful. In spite of new toys for Christmas and birthday, most favorite is a jumble of toys in a big plastic bag, purchased by Mrs. Hughes at a second-hand toy store some months ago.

The bag contains a pick-up truck or two, a boat, and a lot of somewhat articulated plastic guys – Lady Baby calls them “camping guys.” They do have a tent amongst their gear, but they also pack heat, wear goggles, cargo pants, and vests of different colors. Some appear to be uniformed officers with hats and badges.

But many of these details don’t register with Lady Baby, she makes up job descriptions, abilities, and story. Mostly the guys ride in the pick-up pulling the boat (driver and a passenger in the cab, the rest in back). They can bend their knees into a sitting position, though they often tip and slide from their assigned seats. They have names, but I’m wont to mix them up.

One day I noticed the moment she crossed over from batting-around-bored into an imaginary world. Wanting to finish a small sewing project for her mom, I’d picked up my needle. I sensed her regard me, assess my potential, and then turn to something elaborate with the guys as she moved them around the room. We happily did our parallel play.

At nap and bedtime, she often requests (one of several stalling mechanisms), “tell me about your day.” That’s an irresistible command, so I say OK, and she says, “No, you say, OK if you lie down and be quiet.” Then I begin – “once upon a time Lady Baby got up in the morning and found her granny” – and I carry on describing our activities in detail, ending with – “and then she got cozy with Monkey and the other stuffed animals and went to sleep.” And she usually does.

A participant in The Workroom recommended Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” McKeown’s theory of keeping to what matters, though written for hard-driving executives, applies to much of life. He’s adamant about the importance of play and the value of sleep.

Both are Lady Baby strengths. She lives a life of essentialism – few screens, good food, sleep, loving family and friends – and plenty of play.

Jack and Dale

 

Resisting Temptation

Walking with a friend one morning last December, we talked about habits and diets and health – and about her tendency to be an all-or-nothing sort of person when it comes to food. She’d recently lost access to a dietician food guru who helped her eat the way she wanted.

I told her about a system of “pre-commitment strategies” I’d read about, employed when people recognize they want to accomplish the kind of goals we set when we know something is good for us, but fear we lack the willpower to resist temptation. Research finds that people do best when they pre-commit to punishment if they fail. That’s right, not reward, but punishment.

Often this punishment is monetary. Websites like “StickK” help design a commitment, hold the money, and turn it over to a designated person or charity if slippage occurs. A list of goals people have committed to scrolls up the side of the website, along with the total dollar amount on the line (19 million a couple of weeks ago). A further twist, confirmed by research, finds the best compliance occurs when people stand to lose money to a despised cause.

We laughed about how counter-intuitive this is and about dreadful possible recipients. But when we reached her house, she told me to wait a minute, and came back out with a check written to me for $1200 – a year’s commitment!

I am to hold the check (pinned to my workroom wall), and she is to eat no dairy or sugar. Over the holidays we clarified our expectations, the possibility of unintended consequences: what were replacement sources of calcium and Vitamin D, how not annoy hosts as a dinner guest with food limitations, and how to travel and work long days with no easy availability to her chosen food.

Going whole months seemed dangerous. It would be easy to fall off the wagon in week one and say what the heck, I might as well eat whatever! So our contract agrees to a weekly check in, leaving $25.00 increments at risk.

In a draconian addendum to the contract, I will return her check and my friend will write another check to send her hard earned money away (and have her name registered as a donor). Given the designated recipient of the money (and both our tendencies to do what we say we will do), it will kill us if this fails.

For two weeks I happily put gold stars on a calendar at the end of each week. I heard great reports about the power of this strategy from her. She also said that rereading the article, (I had to ask her to send the link back), meant even more to her now that she was involved in the “program.”

And then, dinner out with risotto (parmesan cheese) happened. My friend confessed the transgression and ruefully admitted she’d have to write a check.

Painful. I couldn’t stand it – so offered an opportunity for redemption. Because another of her goals is to increase the two days a week she exercises without fail, I proposed that two weeks of daily exercise (five days without fail) could turn that black mark to gold star. Glad for the chance to exercise her way out of slippage, she accepted.

She’s back on track. And I love hearing from her every week – and drawing her gold stars in place!

January calendar 2

 

 

 

I <3 My iPhone, But…

When it dawned on Manoush Zomorodi from “New Tech City” (WNYC’s technology show) that she had never been bored since getting a smart phone, she got curious.

To investigate what’s lost by banishing boredom, Zomorodi spoke to the U.K. psychologist Sandi Mann, who deliberately bores people in her experiments. Mann finds that after 20 minutes of true boredom, participants think up more imaginative solutions to a set task (what to do with two paper cups). Mann concludes that “idle minds lead to reflective, often creative thoughts.” She says, “minds need to wander to reach their full potential,” and encourages “embracing boredom” to allow the resultant dip into the subconscious we know as daydreaming.

The neuroscientist Jonathan Smallwood studies daydreaming, and told Zomorodi he defines it as the “ability to think independently of our surroundings,” a time “when the brain self-generates thoughts that do not arise from perception.” Other scientists call it “the default mental state of the human mind.”

Zomorodi also found this photo essay produced by The Atlantic with pictures of people from all over the world with their phones. I was teary and grateful for cell phones by the end, and somewhat unsettled. They’re everywhere and important.

And I’m a little leery of daydreaming because voices echo about “wasting time.” The scientists above would disagree, they encourage real daydreaming.

So I am curious about the challenge Zomrodi designed for us on Tech Nation: “Brilliant and Bored: The Lost Art of Spacing Out,” to run from the first of February to the sixth. She invites anyone to sign up to participate and receive daily inspiration for changing a relationship to technology (specifically the smart phone). Of course, a free app will measure phone usage.

I am curious about this. I always look for ways to encourage creativity, and although my numbers of views per day aren’t what Zomorodi talks about – hundreds for some people – I could rearrange my phone checking in the name of research. (Candy Crush doesn’t tempt me, but Instagram is a huge lure.)

For a week in February it will be fun to have company in this experiment – I’m signing up!

iPhone on perch

“Novel Interiors”

January, oh January – in need of a jolt of color, a list of possibilities, a gathering of beauty, an inspiration of visuals – and so I offer Lisa Borgnes-Giaramonti’s “Novel Interiors: Living in Enchanted Rooms Inspired by Literature.” It’s so good!!

On the afternoons of Christmas and Boxing Day I devoured Lisa’s book in the best possible setting, propped on the daybed in our living room, covered by a little plaid blanket, surrounded by pillows while the fire blazed for hours, fed by the younger son who sat reading gardening books in an armchair nearby.

And then I reread “Novel Interiors” in the harsher light of January – and loved it even more. I’m a fan of Lisa’s blog and wrote about her here, so I knew about the book as she worked so hard on it. I recognized her very clever idea – to meld her love of literature with her equally intense passion for stylish living. She’s done a terrific job of noting those moments of scene setting in favorite books that linger long in our minds.

She’s organized her book into chapters illustrated with fabulous photos by Ivan Terestchenko of real houses, lived in, imaginative, comfortable houses. Chapter titles hint both at books and the “distinct design aesthetic” each chapter focuses on – “Shall I Put the Kettle On?,” “Anything Goes,” “Remembrance of Things Past.”

Lisa seeks both style and comfort and writes with charm and wit, “Patina is what gives our possessions – and ourselves – character and meaning.” I’m often suspicious of books heavy with quotes, but Lisa knows these 60-some novels, and she lets her chosen authors speak: Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell, Willa Cather and Isak Dinesen. “I Capture the Castle” is here, which in my mind has always been about green velvet, and I like it that “Buddenbrooks” and “Cold Comfort Farm” both provide inspiration.

My favorite chapters are the ones with a bohemian anything-goes-in-an-orderly way vibe – comfort and color being primary. But I also respect the “rooms designed with order and purpose in mind” that fill chapters on elegance and glamour.

Lisa adds “lessons” learned from the novels in each chapter. And here is her voice, a modern woman with a family who must throw a great dinner party, and loves to curl up with her cat and read and read (“literary wandering” she’d call it). The lessons suggest in doable ways how to create cozy corners, memorialize mementos, or add “drama with portieres.”

Nowhere in my house could a portiere hang, but oh I love the idea of it, a curtain or heavy drape to add mystery. I could, however, right away make her velvet pillow 12 by 18 inches, filled with dried lavender and buckwheat hulls, and settle down to dip yet again into this treasure of a book.

Treat yourself to a January break in the fascinating world of “Novel Interiors!”

windowseat - January

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Je Suis Charlie

I’m not really Charlie, nor am I Ahmed, the murdered Muslim gendarme. I paint flowers and teapots, write about granddaughters and good books. I don’t offend, but I could. I’m among the privileged few in this world who take freedom of expression completely for granted.

The brave journalists at Charlie Hebdo died for exercising their right to picture rudely a pope or a president or Muhammad, for presenting outrageous depictions of power, for pointing out the emperor has no clothes.

After the Charlie Hebdo offices were firebombed three years ago, the editor known as Charb said that he couldn’t imagine a world where it wasn’t OK to laugh at dogma and authority, that he respected the laws of France, not religious laws. French law, like our law, protects free speech, a right defended many times over.

Now he is dead. This photo posted on Instagram by the cartoonist Wolinski’s daughter undid me. I know that drawing board and those bookshelves and the jar of pens – the forlorn chair waiting for Wolinski to come back to work.

I think about intolerance closer to home. I know how infuriated I felt when confronted by the hirelings who stood in front of the post office presenting pictures of President Obama with a Hitler moustache. I told one of them he should be ashamed of himself. He laughed and told me to have a good day. He could make the poster, and I could say my piece. Both safe.

In England we saw “Charles III” – a satire about what might happen when Prince Charles becomes the King of England. It was very funny and irreverent, and performed not far from Buckingham Palace without threat or danger from royal guards or royalists. “The Book of Mormon” is even more outrageous and insulting – and funny – and plays on Broadway and the West End.

A YouTube exists of people yelling at John McCain and calling him a traitor. John McCain and I would probably agree on little – but calling him a traitor? The heckler can speak.

Freedom of speech isn’t pretty. A much more conservative friend than I once made an amazing statement referring to the problem she perceived of “civil rights rearing their ugly heads.”

Ah yes, the inconveniently ugly heads of freedoms. Freedoms that allow things we don’t like – protestors outside abortion clinics with scary tactics, offensive New Yorker covers, or lord knows, political cartoons from the other side. But believing in freedom of expression, we just sigh and groan and allow.

In these days after the murders, I watch people express their belief in the freedom to create – they attend vigils, leave pens and flowers, and post to #jesuischarlie on Instagram and Twitter. I plant hearts on posts of strangers who are illustrators and artists. I’m with you, I try to say with my “likes.”

I’m full of sorrow and admiration for those who died, those who tried to protect them, and for those who will continue to make funny, rude pictures and write confrontational words. Because they can, and because it’s right.

Je Suis Charlie