October 6, 2015

Toad in a Sardine Can Braves the Great South Carolina Flood on 2015

I posted my family members on my status as being "okay" despite the fact that Orangeburg County is an official disaster area. Although my basement was flooded and the hot water was off for a while we still had an intact home with electricity and running water. This is something to be very grateful for.

The brother who inquired as to my whereabouts liked the illustration of my toad valiantly braving the flood. The conversation turned to some suggested improvements on this illustration. Bob thought that I might reconfigure the drawing with a Warhol inspired addition of a Campbell’s soup can lettering. I looked around my house and found we had no such soup cans. I settled instead on the lettering from a can of sardines. The words seemed apt: "SARDINES in water."

My updated toad paddling in a sardine can boat is attached above. Even the toads in South Carolina are resilient. This one fashioned a boat from a sardine can found in a recycling bin.

October 5, 2015

Washed Out in South Carolina

Nicolai Gogol opens his novel My Childhood with a scene from the funeral of the protagonist’s father. It is deftly told through the eyes of a child who cannot as yet fully comprehend the import of his father’s death. Instead the child focuses upon the living frogs haplessly swept into the grave along with the dirt that was being piled upon the coffin. He watches with alarm as the frogs futilely try to struggle up the sides of the grave and are just as persistently knocked down the hole again by the dirt falling off shovels. Walking back from the funeral the child asks his grandmother if the frogs will live. "I don’t think so," came her stalwart reply.

I thought of this piece of Russian literature when looking at my now flooded basement/studio/garage. Fortunately I was not storing too many perishable objects down there due to the lack of temperature control and the tendency towards water accumulation. But I may have lost my kiln and it will take time for the hot water heater to dry out, the gasket replaced and the pilot light relit. But I was not looking most ardently at those things. I was looking at the feeble drain in front of the garage. It was an antique sort of thing...a wrought iron grate with large elliptical holes on top of a carved out area of cement and equally antique drain pumps inside to siphon the water off to lower ground. In the preceding months of dry weather this drain had become the residence of two toads. I named them Richard and Wilbur, observing their habits and dutifully feeding them every day. I even built a small toad house for them on higher and safer ground. They stayed there for a while then returned to their preferred drain abode, as it offered a seemingly safe and cool haven, rich with attractive crawling food.

Now the drain was under six inches of water. Pictures of desperate flooded out cities and equally desperate people in South Carolina have been flooding the media all day yesterday and today. Yet I could not help but think of those two toads in the drain. Did they live?

I intended to work on writing about my illustration work for sonnets or finish a landscape I was working on. But the constant battering rain and the images on the news were just too great a distraction. And there was that nagging question about the lives of two toads. I finally dispensed with the toads and brought myself back to the question of clean up by making a small illustration of Wilbur the Toad escaping from his flooded drain home. I submit my illustration of a South Carolina Toad escaping the great flood of 2015.

October 2, 2015

Sonnets for the Malamute: A New Turn

Sometimes even the clearest and best laid plans go awry. After carefully considering the format of my illustrations for my client, we settled on portrait style, or vertical illustrations. Everything went as planned and my client seemed happy with the project’s progress as I created detailed 8" x 10" art work in a vertical format. While at work on the next illustration, however, halfway through the completion of the drawing, I realized that for some reason, I had turned the page and started working from left to right in a horizontal format. I am not certain as to why. Was it the horizontal images of Elizabethan woodcuts that I had been studying for inspiration on the theme of death? Or was it some feebleness of mind leading to inattention to an important detail?

Whatever the reason, the subject of two figures side by side seemed to work better on the horizontal rather than the vertical. Death and the dog. Death is horizontal, yes? The grim reaper is the great leveler. Perhaps those ideas impressed themselves on my unconscious, causing me to turn the page a different way.

I could justify the horizontal both aesthetically and conceptually for this illustration of death. But how would I justify it for my client when my contract called for vertical illustrations? I decided that because I had put so much work in to this illustration I had to think of a way to appeal to my client’s good nature so that I would not be obliged to start over again. I offered a discount. He accepted with the caveat that perhaps the next illustration could also be horizontal so that they could be paired in the text. Since my ideas for the next illustration also would work better for a horizontal format I was quite amenable to the change.

October 1, 2015

Sonnets to the Malamute

The sonnets that I had been making illustrations for were written in such a way as to come full circle, with the last sonnet repeating lines from the first one. Before illustrating them, however, I asked the author what I thought I already knew the answer to. It seemed to me that both the first sonnet and the last one described a night sky. But no, the poet told me, the first was a night sky and the last was a sunrise. It always pays to ask.

The line that was repeated in the first sonnet and the last sonnet was, "You are the sky above a star on earth." So for both the first and the last sonnets, I created an image of a malamute puppy in the sky. The puppy floats above an aerial view of Princeton, New Jersey, alluding to a favorite haunt of the writer. Since I knew that the last sonnet references a sunrise, I altered the sky to reflect that. Also, to visually recreate the theme of a circle in the writing, I made the last illustration a mirror image of the first.

September 30, 2015

A Picture Perfect Malamute

My recent illustration job entailed making pictures for sonnets to a malamute. Fortunately the author of this collection allowed me to choose which sonnets I wanted to illustrate. I chose the walk in the woods as a start because it allowed me to ease in to this project with a drawing of paw prints. But I knew that sooner or later, the poet would want me to use his photographs of his beloved pet. In looking over the sonnets, I next chose a verse that described how, when walking his dog, passing motorists found his dog so beautiful they would stop by the side of the road and take snapshots for themselves To illustrate this I made a drawing of photographs on a table top that was covered with a printed pattern of peonies. I altered the view in my illustration to create different strata of vegetation and water, and alluded to multiple photographs by making partial views of dog details on rectangles beneath the top photo. My client liked the portrait and I too was satisfied with this job thus far.

September 29, 2015

Sonnets for the Malamute

I have yet to publish my illustrated poetry books. I send them out periodically and get my rejection notices a short time later. Although I do have fee paid publishers at the ready to publish for a price, I will be holding off on that for at least a few more months of trials with traditional agencies.

Despite the fact that my career as a writer of illustrated poetry has not exactly been launched in full, my work on these manuscripts paid off in an unexpected way. Excerpts from my illustrated Book of Marvelous Cats caught the attention of a writer who had just recently finished a book of sonnets for a malamute dog and was seeking an illustrator. His poetry was inspired by the premature death of his malamute. The content of the sonnets, however, were also infused with a complex personal history and decades of scholarship. He was looking for someone whose illustrations were as complex with overlays of patterns and meaning as his poetry. I got the job.

For the first illustration, I decided to allude to the dog walking alongside his master in an indirect way by focusing on paw prints. The graphic nature of this flattened view allowed me to make use of minute patterns with the prints and in the background vegetation. It was a nice way to begin the series of illustrations, as the allusive nature of an indirect reference to a living thing that was now gone seemed to dovetail with the nature of poetry.

The subsequent illustrations included adaptations of the author’s pictures of his dog as both a puppy and an adult. But those I’ll save for a later post.

September 10, 2015

The Persistence of the Periphery and Split Brains

For several months I stopped painting, devoting myself to the work of sculpture and drawing. The shift from color to black and white in my blog posts documented this change. Before I dedicated myself to mostly black and white drawings, I made note of a loss of color vision in my left eye following a protracted illness and cataract surgery. As my left eye is my dominant one, the eye through which I focus on my world, this made color perception in general problematic.

Initially, my visual world was split in two - all objects were divided with half one color and the other half a different color (i.e. yellow on the right side and pink on the left). In time, my left eye reasserted its dominance and the colors blended. Still, if I closed my right eye I would see one color world and a different color world with my left eye closed.

I waited for the restoration of normal color vision and it never came. To make matters even more disconcerting, the formal color vision test that I was finally able to obtain revealed a substantial color perception loss in my right eye as well. To this day I am still confused by that because in my perception my right eye is still the "normal" one.

I mentioned to my neuro-opthalmologist at Johns Hopkins that I found my color vision so confusing I felt obliged to give up painting in color. He suggested that I try to paint anyway to document the changes. I didn’t feel like documenting this oddity. My illness generally made me too fatigued to withstand the rigors of oil painting anyway.

In the weeks following my documented change in color perception, I noticed a strange but interesting phenomenon. In the far peripheral vision of my left eye, I would see flashes of "true" color. At least those colors in the left eyed periphery dovetailed with what I saw in my right eye. I decided that I would take the doctor’s advice and attempt to paint what I saw. The painting above is the result. I have named it "The Persistence of the Periphery." The painting is a remake of a study I created of an elderly composer seated backwards on a chair, a fabric tacked to the wall behind him. I painted swaths of color as I see them in my left eye versus my right - green shifting to blue and orange to pink. And swimming around the edges are the flashes of color restored. Sometimes I crossed colors - putting the left eyed distortion on the right and vice versa.

When I spoke to another neuro-opthalmologist about my split vision and showed him an earlier painting I had made of that it jogged a memory for him of something he had studied years ago. When he mentioned "split brain phenomenon" I recognized the same thing that I had studied years ago while a science student in pre-med. It was an old treatment for seizures involving a surgical division of the corpus callosum. This essentially "split" the brain to thwart a seizure from traveling from one hemisphere to the other. Patients survived and the seizures stopped, but they were left with a brain that could not communicate perceptions from one side to the other. I recall an experiment with a split brain patient that had her look into a box with a divider in it. When a photograph of a funny looking naked person was put in the side of the box which she could see with her right eye only the patient laughed but could not tell the researcher why she was laughing.

I still laugh when I see a funny looking naked person and can probably explain why but I have not been formally tested on this. I only know that I now live in two different perceptual color worlds - what I perceive as "normal" on the right and something like a slightly tinted black and white photograph on the left. I can, however, obtain a split view again if I look at an object through a divider. My memory of these split brain patients has insinuated itself into the iconography of my new painting. It is a painting about divided perception, with the old man serving as the block or rift between the two sides. Perhaps I should call him "Mr. Corpus Callosum," in honor of two neurologists who have a natural curiosity.

June 24, 2015

Daughter of the Fire Breathers

My illustrated book of female monsters has been drawing to a finish. The text is complete with just one last illustration to go.

Nearing the end of a long term project always becomes a challenge for me not to rush those last bits and pieces needed for completion. There is something about almost smelling the finish line that often makes me begin to abandon the clear headed, detail oriented work that I began with.

Such was the case with this last project. I tried to hold back but ended up rushing through the illustration for the poem Every Goddess Burns. I sent it to my graphic designer with a comment something like, "Here it is, I don’t like it." She concurred that it was not my best work.

After letting the dust of my eagerness for completion settle, I made a new illustration as well as a new poem. Both were more in keeping with my earlier styles in my text, especially since I drew upon resources in classical art.
  Above is the new illustration for the new poem, "Daughter of the Fire Breathers." The so-so illustration is at right.

June 23, 2015

Removing the Flag, Adding Better Laws

The day after the Charleston massacre, while the shock, disbelief, and sorrow were still raw, I began to think of what, if anything, I might do about it. "Perhaps I should begin by starting a petition to request that the Confederate Flag be removed from the State House Grounds in Columbia." I said to my husband. I went to Google first to see if there might have been one already started. Indeed there was one about four hours old. "Ah, beaten to the punch," I thought. The petition had already garnered many signatures and I was about to sign it myself when I looked it over and realized that the words did not convey what I wanted to say. What I read stated what the flag intrinsically was rather than what it means to people. Perhaps I was being overly cautious about semantics but it occurred to me that the wording of the petition, although intended for the greater good, had the potential to spark an argument instead. And wasn’t argument the intent of the man now sitting in a Charleston prison for a heinous race crime? He wanted to start a civil war - a violent argument on a grand scale.

I decided to craft my own letters to my state representatives in order to request the removal of the confederate flag in words that one could not quibble about. This afforded me the opportunity to be more reflective on how I wanted this request to be made, and to add a call for a hate crime law for South Carolina as well as a request for gun control legislation.

After a few rewrites I sent off my letters to Senator Lindsay Graham, Congressman Joe Wilson, Representative Mark Sanford and one to Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey for his part in weighing in on the tragedy in Charleston.

No sooner had my letters been posted, then Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Lindsay Graham announced their support in removing the Confederate Flag from the State House grounds. "Beaten to the punch again," I thought, but relieved that our state leadership was finally doing something I could agree with and be proud of.

My focus in sending that one out of state letter to Governor Chris Christie was inspired by his own words in response to the recent tragedy: "Laws can’t change this," and his call to encourage people to "love each other" being "what leadership is all about." These are common maxims used by many who don’t appear to understand why we need gun control laws or who may be reluctant to face up to the strong gun control lobby in order to effect necessary change in this country. My own "weighing in" with regard to these commonly used platitudes is as follows:

Laws cannot change what may be in the hearts and minds of people. It cannot change the malicious intents of minds that are warped by hatred. These are things best left to our institutions of education and faith. What laws are for is to restrict, curb, and prevent the actions of those inclined towards violence. It is the obligation of those in government office to enact laws to protect citizens from harm. That is their duty. That is the job they were elected to do. That is why we call them law makers. It means standing up to wealthy powers that put Americans in harm’s way through their own greed and selfish lack of responsible concern. That is what leadership is all about.

May 25, 2015

Possessed by Small Sculptures

Inspiration for art work can come from unusual sources. I recently created a small group of ceramic pit fired baubles after watching a scene from the popular film, Possession, starring Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The film itself was not particularly well done, being a pale imitation of the 1970's film The Exorcist. In this unfortunate remake the evil spirit came from a dybbuk box with mysterious Hebrew writing on it that the father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) purchased for his daughter from a garage sale.

It was the end of my day and I was feeling too tired to get up and switch the channel on the television but not quite tired enough to sleep. Fortunately my interest in The Possession picked up a bit when the evil box was opened and various well carved objects were discovered inside. Spooky music, upturned eyes, night scenes with unearthly windiness and wicked whispering, notwithstanding, I liked how the box of goods looked. The carving was nicely done, like sophisticated pieces of folk art. Therefore the film’s crucial message that these objects were evil was completely lost on me. I wanted a box of small carvings too.

The very next day I set about making small sculptures out of my locally mined clay. I made them all about one or two inches tall so that a good many could fit in a box should I desire making a box for them at some point. They were rather labor intensive, as they required carving in the leather hard stage, sanding in the greenware stage and burnishing to maintain the natural clay color. I drilled holes in a number of these so that they can function as ornamental focal beads and one can be worn as a ring. Or they can just sit on a shelf and make mysterious noises.