April 7, 2014

Garden Cultivator Cat Revisited and Revised

I am working on two fronts. Revising illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats, and slowly using up my supply of locally mined and reconstituted clay. There is just one lump of this clay remaining. The cat illustrations will take a while yet to revise if I go through my entire collection.

The cat illustration I have posted above is my recently completed revision of the Garden Cultivator Cat. I’ve attached the original smaller version at right. For this remake I didn’t have to change much in the composition because I liked the original. The larger format however, did allow me to sharpen the details and add an interesting arch to the composition.

April 2, 2014

Small Works/Big Undertaking and a Grant from the South Carolina State Arts Commission

My recent exhibition of Small Works was taken down yesterday, packed up and delivered. Many thanks are due to Lee Malerich and her husband Glenn for hanging the exhibition and for packing it up again in short order. I am also very grateful to Beth Thomas for all her help with this exhibition and to Julia Quick for gratuitously providing the live music for my opening exhibition. I would also like to thank the South Carolina State Arts Commission for supplying matching funds for this exhibition. It really came in handy and added that official stamp of approval that went beyond the cash award. Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina and by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts.

I’ve pictured at right my ocarina made from local clay and pit fired

March 17, 2014

Slapping Onself Silly Over Medicine

I made a painting of a cat with its arms and legs a tangle of movements. I thought that I had been influenced by Picasso and perhaps was. But after having developed vocal and motor tics with my present illness I realize that to an extent it was a self portrait. Even the nervous miniature paintings around the perimeter of the painting are about movement. They were meant to represent the fly that the cat is attempting to catch.

The irony is that as I was on the cusp of being sent to a movement disorder clinic to try yet another medication I decided to check the medication I am already on, doing a thorough search this time for an extended list of possible side effects. Sure enough, involuntary movements was on the list. Pays to check carefully.

March 7, 2014

Revisioning the Cat Book

With a commission completed and no more scheduled and an exhibition nearing a close, I am about to draw and paint for myself for a while. Yet as I was about to slosh around in acrylics I remembered that there was one more work in progress that could use some attention: The Small Book of Marvelous Cats. What was needed was two more illustrations for the last two unpictured rhymes and the updated version of the first draft of the book. The first draft became a first draft after I started illustrating a new batch of rhymes for the cat with pictures that were twice as large as the former ones and much more detailed. After much hesitation because I knew that it would entail a lot of work, I decided to bring the first group of illustrations up to the level of the second.

Above is the first attempt at a redo. The illustration at right is the original one for the poem “Little Cat up a Tree.” The first one was adequate but the second version is definitely more refined and detailed. Something else changed in the remake. The first drawing is from the perspective of a person observing a small cat up in a tree. The second rendering seems to be more from the perspective of the cat looking downwards.

March 6, 2014

A Painted Box

A commissioned art work is always a challenge. An artist’s artistic abilities are tempered by a client’s need for a particular kind of interior decoration. I don’t mind at all tailoring my painting or mosaics to suit a particular location. It is certainly different, however, from painting freely in the studio. Technical considerations often come up which create a need to learn a few new skills. A client’s tastes and interior decor are factored in as well.

I recently completed a painted box that is to be displayed on a mantel underneath a reproduction of a Piranesi. I didn’t look at my client’s Piranesi print and perhaps I should have, because for some reason although he said “Piranesi” my brain heard “Nicolas Poussin.” Images such as the painting reproduced here danced in my head: dark shapes against a turquoise blue sky. Piranesi, conversely, was more famed for his black and white etchings. Nevertheless, my painting was influenced by classical traditions and hopefully will look just as well beneath a Piranesi as it would have with a Poussin.

My client was interested in a box painted with images of birds and flowers. He is a bright and discerning fellow, with a formidable musical career as scholar, educator, and performer. For this reason I made two mock up studies in acrylic on a long piece of paper that would wrap around the box so he could see what it would look like and have personal input into the aesthetic process. My first painting study was basically a dark on light design. But my second design was based on my visions of the wrong painter, Piranesi, and was dark on light. Good thing I made a second version because that was the one my client chose.

Making the box was somewhat problematic. The top was made from picture molding and the rest from hand crafted poplar. I didn’t have the equipment or skills to create it so I had to find a picture framing willing to take the trouble on. No one wanted to do it. I finally found someone in Charleston willing to make a lid with a matching box because after conversing with him for some time we found that we had attended the same graduate school in New York and knew the same people. Connections and New York “bonding” always come in handy.

The box arrived from Charleston and although well crafted, needed something more in the way of finish. Once again, it turned out to be a wise choice to have my client look it over before I painted it. We decided that the interior needed to be refinished and painted, the inside lip and base sanded and coated with shellac. A final addition was four squares of vitreous glass on the base to raise the bottom of the box.

Before painting the box, I had to finish each side in the traditional way that icons were prepared - several coats of rabbit skin glue followed by several coats of cooked marble dust gesso - applied hot, then cooled and sanded between coats. Because it was a box instead of a flat panel, each side had to be prepared, dried, then turned to do the next side. The process made me recall why I had stopped making painted boxes some years ago. The final step was to seal the gesso with my home made ruby shellac - which added a nice golden glow to the gesso. My client approved of the as yet finished but unpainted box.

For subject matter, I chose images of wildflowers that were local to South Carolina as well as Carolina wrens. The wrens, however, I painted more gold than brown so that they looked a bit more like canaries - more in keeping with Piranesi. I used some rather pricey colors on this painted box; real lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite green and sedona. This made the overall effect jewel-like and very much like a classical painting. The nice thing about painting small on a slick surface is that expensive pigments go a long way.

The commission finished, I can now turn to my haphazard, whatever inspires me art work.

February 28, 2014

A Sleeping Cat Blooming Like a Rose

A little white cat with big ears

Uses them more than just to hear.

When the house is all a-hush

You will see they start to blush.

Then a gentle quiver starts

A nod, a jerk, a twitch --

As he delves even deeper

Into his role of a sleeper

You know that his dreams are rich.

February 26, 2014

Pink Cat in Verse and Paint

I was attracted to a poem about a cat. Or I should say the memory of a poem about a cat that was white with pink highlights. The cat was running in my memory and became entirely pink and grey so I painted it that way and added a collage border like I had on a previous small painting of a leaping cat. I showed it to my friend Kris Miller, who had written the poem that inspired the painting. She pointed out that the poem was about a sleeping cat. Funny how memory plays tricks on one. The color pink loomed so large in my recall of the poem that the state of sleep was erased.

Yesterday I finished some designs for a commission so had some time to spare between the client’s final decision and the start of the work. Into this small gap between activities I dashed off a painting of a sleeping pink cat. Still not true to the actual cat because the sleeping cat was white, the pink cat is at least in repose. Yet looking at the poem again, it could very well be about a rose colored cat. It is a light and humorous little kitty ditty so perhaps it was fitting to make a miniature about it.

I had just enough border design from my previous painting/collage to fit around the border of this one as well. It created an impression of a quilt. At various points in the painting I brought the dark triangular shapes of this border into the painting.

Another look at the poem reveals an essence captured even if details are not correct:

43 – Pinkie II (Mickey)

One cat is nicknamed Pinkie
But not because he’s a commie

Along with an eye that’s winky

He got his genes from his Mommie.

So as he grew up and got older

His gray paws got much paler

And his nose turned bicolor

As a rosy hue took over. -Kris Miller

February 24, 2014

Celebrating the Year of the Horse

A few days ago, we were invited to celebrate Chinese New Year at the Confucius Institute at the University of South Carolina. There was good food and entertainment to ring in the Year of the Horse. The entertainment potpourri consisted of Beijing Opera, a musical interlude on the saxophone that did not sound particularly Chinese, and a performance by children from the relatively new Chinese language immersion school, East Point Academy. The last performance was perhaps the most impressive. It was certainly encouraging to see young children from South Carolina speaking and singing fluently in Chinese. It was good to know that in at least some areas, this state has become forward thinking. Their intonation in Mandarin was already pitch perfect and they could speak idiomatically. Here is the potential for South Carolina to have an entourage of fluent Chinese speakers, trained from childhood. I imagine they will have a significant edge in doing business as adults if their language skills are maintained.

To celebrate the year of the horse, I ‘ve been reworking some old sketches of horses. The one above was originally sketched in pencil from life when I went out to see the horses at dawn. I still remember the rising sun making a golden halo around the horses red bodies. I made a few paintings from this sketch so today I thought to add colors and retire it from service.

February 21, 2014

Cat Paws

The interlude between the end of creating art for my current exhibition and the start of a small commission saw a creative pause - or should I say paws. I was inspired to make some small painting/collages by the poetry of a friend. I had been sharing images and rhymes from my Small Book of Marvelous Cats with Kris for some months now. After reading several of my little kitty ditties and offering constructive advice on how to make the illustrations better, Kris was inspired to try her hand at writing poetic odes to the cat as well. I usually write one or two a month when I have an idea for an illustration. Kris, however, in a wild burst of creative energy much like the leaping cat that inspired it, wrote a fifty poem tome within a few weeks. Amazing!

The first poem in her newly written book of poetry was based on watching a cat trying to catch a fly. There was an interesting allusion in the poem to Kris’s unusual February 29th birth date. A leap year and a leaping cat. I made a painting for this that depicted a many armed cat flailing away at an unseen fly. I thought the fly should appear in the collage border around the miniature. I made this intensely decorative by painting each square in the border with flying insects, cat eyes, and bird beaks. It was a mess of color and shapes. Just out of curiosity, when I glued the last square down and counted them up. There were thirty-one squares. That was close to the leap year twenty-nine so I decided to try again with another version of the painting. In the second version I made a more natural looking cat, albeit blue. I then surrounded it with exactly twenty-nine squares. The four corner squares are a stamped design reading “flying” in Chinese seal script - hard for me to resist a stamp or two. The poem that marks Kris Miller’s debut into the society of cat poets is as follows:

1 - Little ballerina cat - an ode to Sadie (Sadie) Look at the little ballerina cat

She has her eye on a fly

She leaps She spins

She's very spry

But can't quite catch her prey

So perhaps another day... I'll bet in Leap Year she'll get a boost

To jump and twirl even higher

And bring down that nasty fly at last

Her giddy heart's desire! -Kris Miller

February 20, 2014

Letting the Clay Body Shine Through

The last batch of ceramics I made for my pit firing made use entirely of locally mined clay. This clay had a variety of interesting colors in buff, red and caramel. In order to make use of the natural color in the clay body I made a number of small vessels that I either did not apply colorants to, or applied pigments to highlight only small areas like lids on vessels or the neck of a bottle. I used a stone to burnish the surface of the natural clay, leaving it rough in certain areas for contrast. The small lidded bowl pictured above was a product of original design. But the bottles with the long necks were inspired by the Byzantine glass bottles I saw recently in New York. One of these had an interesting donut hole in the base. Most had long slender necks that swelled in the middle then tapered down again towards the top. Their original purpose was to hold myrrh. My ceramic bottles inspired by these exotic vessels hold only air.