December 31, 2014

Finishing "The Book of Marvelous Cats"

The end of the year is here. I had set a modest goal of finishing the illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats and have done so. Most of the illlustrations were revisions of previous drawings. The revising, although truly time consuming, turned out to be a good idea as the second generation of images were much more detailed and rich with nuance than the first generation.

After completing the last revision, I created one more new drawing - Carpenter Cat.

In the remake of Bouncer Cat, pictured above, the interior has been transformed from a vacant space into a lived in home. Gone is the rat in Bouncer Cat’s right hand. Instead he grabs a hapless person by the foot. In keeping with my new interest in shoes, there is a shoe on the floor. The enormous cat is so eager to fling the man out of the house that he doesn’t even allow the "bounced" person a chance to put on his shoes. On the wall is a picture of "Designer Cat," from a previous illustration. The picture is replete with a number of such details of the cat within the picture of the cat. See the earlier version at right for a comparison.

December 2, 2014

Eliminating Methylparaben, Other Parabens and the Return of the Dragon

The drawing illustrated above is a cultural overlay of ancient and modern design. The bottles are drawn from Byzantine glass perfume vessels. The background consists of over a hundred repeated tracings from a tube of ointment. What they represent are my present search for paraben free products. My drawing, however, with its background of nine columns each of thirteen tubes (if you count the implied tubes hidden behind the glass bottles) came to signify something else after I completed it. So I will address the subliminal, almost mystical aspect of the drawing first, then proceed to the paraben issue.

Before attending to my blog post about my attempts to eradicate parabens from my life and after I finished the drawing I had an interesting experience with my history in China. I was cleaning out my basement, also to downsize and remove allergens, when I came across a crate that my mother had sent to me nearly two decades ago. The crate contained my letters from China. She had kept every one. I had not the heart to open the crate because although China in the 1980's and 1990's was a meaningful experience, life there was very painful in many ways as well. Yet as I was doing yard work later that day, I thought about the memoir I had started to write a few years ago before I became too ill to work on it. Should I recover enough to work on this memoir again, I thought, looking over the letters would be helpful as time clouds memory.

Later that day, I received a package from a friend that I had kept up with off and on since high school. She had been cleaning out her house this past week as well, she told me in a letter, and thought I could use the contents of the package she sent. The package contained three boxes of letters from China that I had written to her over a four year period. She had kept every one!

After this day of synchronicity, I looked began to look at other things for clues or signs that there was something mystical in the works. Was there something subliminal or cosmic about my choice of nine columns of thirteen tubes in the background of my drawing? Nine times thirteen equals one hundred and seventeen. Out of curiosity I looked up nine, thirteen and one hundred and seventeen in Chinese numerology. To my surprise I found that nine is the symbol of the dragon and that the Chinese dragon has one hundred and seventeen scales because nine times thirteen is one hundred and seventeen. Amazing! It could be coincidence or perhaps the China years are so ingrained in my subconscious that I subliminally use significant numbers.

Does this relate to the preservative methylparaben and can I extend the metaphor of dragons, numbers and China to a chemical compound? Probably not. I suppose I could grab at an obscure reference to methylparaben having an odd number (3) of oxygen atoms in its chemical structure but that would be a stretch. Once again, my writing about an illustration will be in two completely unrelated parts.

The preservative Methyl Paraben as well as other parabens, has been receiving scrutiny in recent years as a commonly used preservative in numerous over the counter as well as prescription medical products. There is some research implicating parabens as not quite healthy for human consumption in general and as a result there are a growing number of "Green" , "Eco-friendly," and "Hypo-Allergenic" industries that claim to leave this preservative out of their products. See the Washingnton Post article: www.washingtonpostcom/...parabens

For those who are suspicious of this product and wish to eliminate it from their daily use, I have provided links to various companies that produce paraben free products. For those who are allergic to it, elimination will be essential.

I first became aware of the preservative methylparaben when I found out that this product was on my long list of chemicals that I am allergic to. Finding products without methylparaben in them has proved to be challenging. The first product to eliminate was local anesthetics, cortisone injections, or other ingested drugs with this product in them. This first line of attack against the parabens was essential because ingesting or injecting the paraben would cause the most severe reaction, i.e. low blood pressure, tachycardia and loss of consciousness. Not being able to use local anesthetics for minor procedures was becoming increasingly difficult. Although I did get through a forty-five minute tooth extraction with no anesthetics I would not recommend it.

Fortunately there is an epinephrine free lidocaine without the methylparaben in it. I did get chills and some tremors after using this, probably from hypersensitivity, but the severe reaction was eliminated. A heads up though, about local anesthetics for people allergic to methylparaben. Local anesthetics fall into two categories; amides and esters. The ester local anesthetics are broken down by the body into para-aminobenzoic acid, or PABA, which is a metabolite of methylparaben. This could provoke an allergic reaction.

With the local anestheic problem tentatively addressed, I turned to eliminating methylparaben in the numerous over the counter and prescription medications as well as in soaps, shampoos, and cremes. I was amazed at how ubiquitous the chemical is. I found it in sunscreen. It was in my lotion. The metabolite of methylparaben, PABA, was in the multivitamin I was taking every day. It was in metalworking oils and fluids. It was in the food I was eating.

In addition to its predominance in so many products, another problem in eliminating methylparaben and paraben mix compounds from these products is that it goes by so many different names. It can even be masked under "other fragrances." The alternate names for methylparaben are: Methyl p-hydroxybenzoate, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid methyl ester, methyl parahydroxybenzoate, p-methoxycarbonylphenol, ethyl p-hydroxybenzoatek ethylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid ethyl ester, ethyl p-oxybenzoate, p-carbethoxyphenol, propyl p-hydroxybenzoate, propylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid propyl ester, butyl p-hydroxybenzoate, butylparaben, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid butyl ester, benzyl p-hydroxybenzoate, benzylparaben, phenylmethyl 4-hydroxybenzoate, p-hydroxybenzoic acid benzyl ester. Like spell check on my computer, most health care professionals do not recognize the names of these chemicals.

Considering the hard to remember multi syllabic chemical names and the fact that companies may not even list the names, or may mask it under a vague name, the best course of action I found, was to use products that specifically state that they are paraben free.

The paraben free product that I was initially most interested in obtaining was hydrocortisone creme. It seems counter productive, but just about every over the counter hydrocortisone creme on the market contains both methylparaben and paraben mixes. One wonders at why an anti-itch anti-rash creme would contain a common allergen known to elicit contact dermatitis - unless the object is to create more rashes so that the hapless victim keeps using more hydrocortisone creme. There is one company worth mentioning here. Exederm, based in New Jersey, offers a paraben free hydrocortisone creme: 908 542-9300. They may be the only company that manufactures paraben free hydrocortisone creme. They are worth checking out, as they are committed to purity in their products and produce other items that are paraben free, such as shampoos and conditioners.

For paraben free toothpaste and lip balm (yes chapstick brand chapstick has methylparaben in it) I used Tom’s of Maine: The Allergy Asthma Center has a good line of paraben free soaps, shampoos, detergents and skin lotions. They also have a shower attachment that removes chemicals such as chlorine from the shower water. The latter has proved to be quite rewarding: www.allergyasthmatechcom or call 1-800 621-5545. Hope this helps chemical allergy sufferers!

November 25, 2014

Bop Goes the Beetle

Toys can come back to haunt you. When I was a child I was given an action game that included a large green plastic frog like creature, two orange bats and an orange and a blue pod that loosely resembled beetles. The game was called Bop the Beetle, and came out around 1962. The object of the game was to open the jaws of the frog and balance the hinged panels on the inside to keep the jaws propped open. Then you would use the orange bat to hit the beetles so that they would fly into the open frog mouth. Upon hitting the panel inside the frog mouth, the mouth would snap decisively shut.

Bop the Beetle terrified me on some level. Perhaps this is because I would sometimes accidentally step on it and it would snap shut on my leg. Or if the panels inside the mouth were touched too heavily it would snap shut on my arm. Bop the Beetle doesn’t look too intimidating today but I do recall that it was large enough to swallow up half a leg or a whole arm of a toddler. Such was the state of ideal toys for kids in the 1960's. Nevertheless, bopping or throwing the plastic beetles into the frog’s mouth was fun.

It is now time to say goodbye to Bop the Beetle, if that is even possible. He has been dutifully cleaned, photographed and posted on e-bay. But since I have not yet accomplished the fine art of bringing attention to my listings no one appears to be looking at Bop the Beetle. Just in case the frog and other childhood toys do leave the household - and I sincerely hope that they do - I have been propping them up and using them in paintings and drawings. Good to get one last bit of use out of them. The painting above is a fanciful interpretation of Bop the Beetle as an icon. The photo to the right is the actual plastic frog with his orange and blue beetles. I never did find out what happened to the orange plastic bats that were used to pop the beetles into the frog’s mouth. The painting of toys before relinquishing them has occasionally paid off, with my selling a painting for more than the object itself would have earned.

In a tangential way, unloading these toys and various other items does indeed dovetail with my present goal of reducing environmental allergens. At this point I am looking at objects as things that increase the dust collecting, mold growing surface areas of the immediate environment. Many of these objects have been cleaned and packaged so as not to have them out and about, obliging me to keep them dusted.

One thing I have found is that getting rid of objects is much harder than one would expect. There is the initial requirement to put sentiment aside, which isn’t difficult when there are too many objects to maintain. The next step is to relinquish the idea that these things are valuable. Most vintage items have value if they have been unused or barely used. Even for those things that do have value, finding a buyer willing to invest in them can be problematic. For antiques, finding someone to evaluate them professionally can cost up to $100.00 an hour. Too bad if the evaluation turns up a $10.00 item! So the next barrier to letting such things go is to resign oneself to the fact that they will be sold (ala flea market style) most likely for less than was originally paid for such things. Truly, the taste for acquiring stuff subsides when all of the above is taken in to account!

So bopped out of the house go the frog and the beetles.

November 24, 2014

Mechanical Cats Do all the Chores...I Wish.

I have been writing blog posts about my search for allergy free products, beginning with shoes and socks and ending with watches. There are many products yet to come, and more richly illustrated articles to attend them. In recent days I have turned my attention to jettisoning more allergens from my environment and found this to be so time consuming that sitting down to write about them and illustrate the process was squeezed out of the day. During the cleaning up phase I did make notes, however, and the allergic artist blog posts will return shortly.

In the mean time, a second project that I have been working on has moved to the front burner of artistic pursuits.

The revised illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats left only four more to do and while it is good to clean up one’s environment, it is also nice to finish projects. Inspired perhaps by cleaning and restructuring, I turned to my revisions of the illustration for the rhyme about Mechanical Cats. "Mechanical Cats do all the chores, they roast the chickens and mop the floors.." the rhyme begins. Would that I had mechanical cats to be doing these things for me. In my revised illustration I included a picture of "Culinary Cat" from a previous illustration. The last few revised illustrations have been paying homage to previously illlustrated cats. An art work within the art work. Another new detail is the long cat on the back wall. This was taken from a photograph of my friend’s cat standing on its hind legs to play with a suspended toy. I simply turned the cat on his side to fill a horizontal space.

November 13, 2014

The Search for the Hypoallergenic Shoe with Socks

I made a sketch of a man seated near a table that was set for a dance party. The sketch had a long expanse of blank floor at the bottom. This was an awkward, empty space so I did not complete the sketch or resolve to paint the scene.

Now that I am using my past sketches to make new drawings, sketches with blank spaces are welcome. The blank areas in sketches serve as stages for the dramas being played out in my daily life. The sketch delineated above served as an illustration for my continued search for the hypoallergenic shoe with socks. In what was formerly a blank area in the sketch I drew in shoes and socks. For these I had an array of my husband’s shoes to sketch from as well as my Crocs slides. I dropped a pair of socks into the mix, letting them fall into position naturally.

In the midst of my continued wrangling about shoes and socks, my microbarrier booties and dermasilk socks arrived from Alpretec ( ) These were neatly packaged in sturdy hypoallergenic plastic containers. The company must take the business of allergies seriously, I noted from the careful packaging as well as the detailed instruction contained within about the proper care for their product. There was a picture on the package of someone pulling regular socks over the booties so I followed suit.

After a day walking around in my new paraphernalia I was pleased to find that there was no rash on my feet by late afternoon. The barrier booties soon came due for their first washing. Instructions called for hand washing in tepid water with a small amount of hypoallergenic shampoo. I used Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. The next day I wore my booties underneath my socks again. This time results were decidedly different, with two red feet by day’s end. Could it have been the washing in the Baby Shampoo? I checked the ingredients and there was a long chemical list, including fragrances that I was supposed to be avoiding. I killed them, I thought with utter despair. I killed my beautiful Italian booties with an American industrial product! Johnson’s Baby Shampoo may be gentle enough for babies but not for this baby.

So I washed the booties again with hypoallergenic soap and gave them several rinses. Next time I wore them I also added the dermasilk undersocks for good measure. I went about my day with my undersocks and refreshed booties. By the end of the day I checked my feet and found that they were free of rashes but had some small spots of redness which I attributed to pressure. So I live and learn and try to remain as itch free as possible.

November 10, 2014

The Search for the Hypoallergenic Watch

A new pencil drawing is born. A man sits in a café at a table in front of a window. A potted plant forms an intricate halo around his head. There is a drink on his table, and a basket full of unidentifiable breads or snacks. On a white napkin on the table is a tiny detail which encapsulates what has taken up a large portion of my present search for allergy free products. The watch sits unworn on the table, an object for reflection rather than use.

My search for the allergy free watch has yielded fascinating results.

After wondering what to do about my allergy laden watch, my sister initially gave me the bright idea of not wearing a wrist watch for the time being. This alone had some unforeseen benefits. For one, I had noticed that my autoimmune illness tended to peak at certain times of day and it was helpful not to look at a clock and increase awareness of my impending "witching hours." Illness rolled in anyway of its own accord but at least I did not anticipate it as much.

Clock watching in general has been a carry over from my teaching days when I had to adhere to a strict schedule. Taking the watch off my wrist was an acknowledgment, finally, that those days were over. Nevertheless, having a wrist watch would still be useful for keeping track of appointments for both self and spouse. Besides, opening and closing a cell phone to obtain the time has proved somewhat problematic for someone whose hands are often wet with clay or some other substance.

While my wrist was taking a vacation from watches, I looked for allergy free substitutes. I found two companies with intriguing solutions. Sprout watches, for instance, produces eco-friendly watches made out of an array of natural materials. I was most fascinated by a watch that has a face made of bamboo, a cotton strap, a corn resin casing as well as corn resin buckles and a mercury free battery. I never did find out what kind of glue was used in the cotton strap - problem being that I am allergic to glues used in both leather and upholstery. But for people allergic to everything but glue they may be a viable product: Their products are very economically priced and a purchase may not only be healthier for the body but for the environment as well.

My immediate solution to the watch problem came from a combination of my take home instructions from my allergist as well as from the Global Watchband company. I carefully coated the back and side of my metal watch with polyurethane and ordered a watch band made of lorica from the Florida based Global Watchband company. The customer service at Global Watchband was excellent. I spoke with Amy by phone, who charmed me instantly by offering to go to the warehouse and look for allergy-free prospects in watch bands. Anyone who offers to leave their desk and hunt for things on my behalf wins my allegiance. Amy knew quite a bit about hypoallergenic watch bands and will be added to my rapidly growing resource notebook.

The Global Watchband company had a striking array of watch bands made out of metals, synthetics and natural animal skins - even python! This last substance piqued my curiosity because I knew that pythons are invasive species in Florida with no natural predators. I suppose the purchase of a python skin watch band could be said to be an action in support of Florida Everglades preservation.

The newly coated watch with the allergy free watch band works well. I’ve been wearing it for a few days now without a rash.

For those wishing to replace their watch bands with allergy-free alternatives here are a few links to the Global Watchband company:



November 4, 2014

Purple Clay from the Wilds

For the last several blog posts I have been writing about the slow expulsion of allergens from my environment and the hunt for replacement items. This has been temporarity interrupted by my coming in to about one hundred pounds of locally mined South Carolina Clay. Processing this has taken up a significant portion of my time this week but the work has yielded exciting results. The raw clay, mined from the Congaree area, was found in striations of unusual colors; white, orange, buff, pink and purple. I had heard about the purple clay and begged an archaeologist friend for a sample from an excavation. I received a number of samples to experiment with. The orange and white clay was fairly pure and strained rather easily, if not always expeditiously. The purple and pink clay was another matter. Those colors were quite sandy and took a while to force through a colander. But, oh what remarkable colors the pinks and purples were! I took a picture of the purple clay drying on a plaster bat with purple pansies as a backdrop for color comparison (photo at right). The purple clay reminds me of the color used in some of the yixing ware produced in China, which makes me eager to see how this fires. The completely processed wild clay, in all of the color permutations, is shown above.

Should anyone reading this wish to try their hands at processing "found" clay I’ve outlined a few steps here:

1. Test the clay for plasticity by rolling a coil and bending it. If it cracks in many places it is too "short" to use.

2. If desired, sort the clay into component colors if it is mixed. (I did this with most of my found clay until I got tired of sorting and threw the remainder into a mixed bin and homogenized it).

3. Wild clay can be made stronger by the addition of volcanic ash. To make it more plastic add ball clay.

4. The wild clay should be divided into smaller pieces (preferably while still moist so as not to created dust) and soaked under water for a few days to a week.

5. The soaked clay should be made into a thin slurry by kneading with hands under water or by using a drill fitted with a paint mixer. If a small amount of clay is being processed, then it can be run through a blender.

6. The clay slurry should then be forced through a fine mesh colander (if there is a small supply) to remove debris, rocks, and coarse sand. If processing a large supply then it might be better to use a sheet of wire mesh screen fixed onto a wooden frame.

7. Strain into a plastic bucket or bin underneath the wire mesh. I sometimes use a stiff paint brush to force the clay through the mesh.

8. The slurry should then be allowed to settle in the bucket for a few days to allow the water to rise to the surface, where it can be siphoned off. I find a turkey baster very useful for this.

9. The thickened slurry should then be spread out on a plaster bat to dry.

10. Roll up the clay when sufficiently dry and wedge.

November 2, 2014

The Hypoallergenic Purse

Sometimes there are gifts that truly brighten a day. Yesterday I received a package from my sister. The contents were hand sewn fabric purses and wallets. Instead of metallic snaps, buttons or zippers, the purses and wallets closed with velcro. With no metals, leathers, or adhesives with allergens in them, these were truly hypoallergenic purses. Even the plastic button was sewn over with fabric. Finally, an object I can use on a daily basis without having to wear protective clothing or immediately wash my hands after touching!

The actual purses are shown above. In keeping with my art/allergen/restoration projects I incorporated the design into a drawing of two women looking at pictures in a museum. The pencil sketch was initially made from life as I observed two women looking at an expressionistic painting of two women. They were both standing in a similar way - holding purses behind their backs. I just tweaked these a bit to match the fabric purse gifted to me.

This drawing was completed with water soluble ink color pencils that I had received earlier as a gift from my sister. It seemed fitting at this time to complete a small art work of two women holding fabric purses. One more brick in my wall against multiple allergens has been placed - the replacement of the leather purse with a fabric one.

October 29, 2014

Max Ernst, Birds and Barrier Socks

The last few days of art making has been a synthesis of the observed present, the remembered past and the anticipation of future events. In reviewing my sketch books of former years, I came across a sketch I had made of an odd rock formation. It looked almost like two long necked birds facing away from each other. I recall at the time I made this drawing that the bird like shapes reminded me of the surrealist painter, Max Ernst. Abstract birds were a predominant feature of his drawings and paintings, hearkening back to his own memories of a pet parrot from his childhood. I was inspired to complete this drawing in charcoals and pastels shortly after reviewing a biographical film of Max Ernst. His drawings now fresh in my mind, I was able to add textural details to my work similar to the Ernst rubbings and fastidious collages.
After completing the birds underneath the arch in this drawing, there remained the problem of a vertical blank area on the right side. Enter contemporary experience. I am still in the slow process of replacing allergens in my home and on my person with allergy free materials. The next solution to the allergy problem will be a few pairs of barrier socks from Alpretec. Realizing that a truly allergy free support shoe most likely does not exist, I decided to go with barriers. With that purchase, one more brick will be set in my wall against myriad allergies. The white booties that I ordered had an interesting shape to them. So I drew in five impressions of white barrier socks on the right side of my abstract bird drawing. In the drawing the socks take on an almost fossil like appearance - very much in keeping with the original stone fossil that inspired this work.
For those who have been searching in vain for solutions to shoe and sock allergies and are considering a barrier solution, the web address for Alpretec is: The company was founded in 1997, specializing in the design and production of medical textiles, obtaining a patent for DermaSilk therapeutic clothing in 2001. Their customer service is excellent and they do ship to the United States. They do not yet have a distributor in the United States but perhaps that will change. I will write again on this subject after their product is on my feet for a while instead of just in my drawings. By that time I should know a little more about Barrier Socks and DermaSilk. For now this exists as potential mana from heaven for the relief of shoe and sock allergies.
The solution in general to multiple environmental and chemical allergies seems to be elimination when possible, avoidance when a choice is in the offing, and sealing off with barriers when the first two aren’t options.

October 25, 2014

Fair Returns

The season of the state and county fairs has concluded. This year, health issues so preoccupied my time that I was unable to attend either the state or the local county fair. But I was able to send work to both these venues. The state fair yielded no honors or awards. I have no problem with that because in years past I won a Best of Show Award, First Place Award, Second Place Award and numerous merit and purchase awards. I suppose I had my fair share of prizes.

I did win first place in miniature art at the Orangeburg County Fair. There were only two entries in that category so at least second place was a sure bet.

The larger painting that I submitted to the County Fair came out without accolades or prizes but it was a nice painting to have worked on and I am glad I completed it. This painting, reproduced above, was a remake of an earlier painting of a scene at the Tarn Gorges in the South of France. The previous painting was made with an overlay of thin washes so that it looked more like a watercolor than an oil painting. In my remake, I made the paint more opaque for a thicker, more substantial surface. The end result was something that looks a bit too impressionistic for my taste but is still an improvement over my earlier attempt at the scene. I do like the shadow of the gate at the base of the painting and the large expanse of subtle shades of green in the middle. The haphazard network of tree limbs satisfies me as well. For now, the painting hangs in my sunroom overtop a marble table set with a large pot au confit jar. This large ceramic piece was something I had painstakingly carted in a large sack ( in lieu of a carry on) through several airports to get it back home from France. It looks at home now with a this painting hovering above.

October 23, 2014

Socks and Crocs

The hunt for allergy-free footware has been ongoing. This search is now melding with my concomitant project of revising/restoring sketches and drawings from my travel notebook. My most recent intriguing finding was a pencil and pen sketch of an actor in a play that I made some years ago while watching a live performance at the Trustus Theater in Columbia, South Carolina. The actor was dressed in a woman’s shoes and tights. He donned a gold blouse, I recall and a wig of long dreadlocks. During his performance, he histrionically snapped his fingers. I caught him on paper with his right hand raised about to make a snap. In completing this drawing, I added lace details to the shoes and drew a long sock dangling from his right hand. I gave him a long sock to celebrate my finding hypoallergenic socks made of bamboo and cotton. There was most likely some spandex in these, however, for my characteristic rash appeared at the top when I wore them, but the rest of my leg and foot were fine and comfortable. All cotton socks with no elastic in them whatsoever are on my horizon. For these I envision two wads of material clustering around my ankles. No rash, no cling.

Another source of comfort were my second pair of crocs. The woman’s flat didn’t work out too well and were sent back. But the Baya slides were fine, allergy free and comfortable. As sandals, they are not supportive enough for problem feet to walk, run, or exercise outdoors but they make for an allergy free sojourn around the house. Good enough for now.

Should fellow allergy sufferers wish to try Crocs, I have found, as have many others, that sizes run large and that one would do well to order a full size down. My slides were a half size down and still a bit large.

October 21, 2014

The Hunt for the Allergy Free Support Shoe

Last night I completed my drawing of a woman glancing down rather forlornly at shoes. This was influenced by my search for the hypoallergenic shoe with hypoallergenic insoles that also provides good support for problem feet. For various reasons, this beast may not exactly exist. What is left is a step down into using what may be the least provoking of materials. My search for latex, neoprene free insoles did not pan out. The insoles would have to be made almost completely of GORE tex which would not offer stability and support. So the next best solution may be neoprene with a synthetic barrier cover.

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, there are still small companies that make hand stitched shoes with leather soles. But cost aside, there are a few draw backs with these. Many of the higher end brands do not make wide width shoes. I am speculating that this is because the companies are making a well crafted product that looks good. A shoe made in a width that would fit my feet would not be pretty. Also, many of the hand stitched shoes that are sturdy and supportive of feet come in styles for men only. The women’s lines tend to be mocassin. But one solution here is to find a small men’s shoe that has an equivalent in a woman’s size. There are size charts on line that help with this conversion. But since sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, I found that the best solution is to take measurements of your foot (see and provide these to the shoe makers to be sure. Depending on the brand, the sizes to fit my measurements vary all the way from 6 to 8 ½"! Rancourt shoes has men’s hand stitched in a size that could fit women so I’m told. I haven’t nailed that down to specifics yet, but the men’s boots could easily double for women’s.

But even with a shoe that is hand stitched the problem of the insole will emerge again. So what to do? Barrier socks, and keeping feet and shoes as dry as possible seems to be the answer - a decidedly low tech solution.

October 19, 2014

Allergic to the Shoes on One's Feet - The Continuing Search

The crocs shoes did not work out. They were too loose, made my feet chaff and had virtually no breath ability. They had no support, which I already knew before ordering given they were slip ons, but I thought better of using them even for just walking around the house. I sent them back to the company on Friday. I will still try their shower sandals, which for some reason have been stuck at a post office in Atlanta these past two weeks. Something to investigate for sure.

The Gabor shoes did not work out either. Although a very stylish and well made shoe, they are really more of a dress shoe with their narrow width and low heel. They might be fine for someone with narrow feet that aren’t fraught with orthopedic problems. But with feet that are extra wide with a weak right ankle and right tendonitis they were decidedly impractical for me. I sent them back on Friday.

The hunt for the hypoallergenic shoe that will also accommodate my frail pronate duck feet continues. I went back to my allergy list that I obtained from the test results and wrote out the list of chemicals found in shoes that I am allergic to. The list was seventy-one items long! This would be a challenge indeed. It soon became apparent that I would have to either resort to shoes that are still hand sewn, thereby skipping the use of the resins and adhesives that I am allergic to, or find a good support shoe that has the least amount of the offending chemicals in it and find good barrier socks and a latex free orthotic insole.

There still are companies in the United States that are small, family run businesses that craft hand sewn shoes. They are pricey, generally beginning in the upper $400 range for one pair. The less expensive hand sewn alternatives that some of these companies make are mocassins. The companies I had found thus far are; Rancourt shoes, Sebago, The Eastland shoe company, and the Feit shoe company. Such beautiful shoes these companies make! I have no problem with their price - the price reflects what the value of a handcrafted shoe is. My problem is my budget. But these may be something worth saving up for some day. I only chatted with the folks at Sebago and they were delightful. I may call the rest just to talk briefly about their craft. The art of shoe making in general interests me as an artist, but in particular because I am descended from a long line of Welsh shoe makers on my mother’s side. Talking with these shoe makers is like a homecoming. Since my foot problems preclude the use of a mocassin I would be obliged to purchase a very pricey shoe indeed.

The stop gap measure became one of finding something more economical and expedient for the near future - especially since I am trying to make do with a makeshift bubble-wrap insole of my own design that I have been using to replace the latex insoles that I was allergic to. The tiny explosions coming from my shoes as I walk make walking into public, government run facilities prohibitive. Bubble wrap insoles aren’t working out too well. I did find latex free, EVA made insoles from The Insole Store which will ship out tomorrow.  I started the above ink and color pencil drawing of a shoe while I was waiting on-line with them.

Barrier socks, made for people with allergies to latex and leather adhesives, are available from Alpretec, manufactured in Italy. They cost $65.00 each and they do ship from Italy. They are unfortunately not manufactured anywhere in the U.S. Perhaps that may change one day as the demand for allergy free good increases. I will contact a few allergy supply stores and suggest that they consider having these available if possible.

After countless hours of searching, I did find a 6" high boot made by LL Bean in Maine that was only $99.00 ($89.00 if you get their credit card) with a sewn leather on the top and polypropylene on the bottom. The sole is rubber but that may simply be unavoidable in just about any shoe today -although some hand sewns have leather soles for a premium price. The interior of the boot is lined with allergy free materials. So I decided to have a go with this.

The customer service at LL Bean was excellent and very helpful. To my surprise they did not shun the question about the chemicals used in their adhesives and will compile a list that will be ready in two weeks. My guess is that it will have at least some of the seventy-one aforementioned chemicals on it. But with so many internal barriers that might not be too much of a problem. Besides, after reading through my shoe allergy literature more carefully, I found that shoe allergies can be staved off to an extent by keeping shoes and feet as dry as possible. The allergens from the chemicals used in the adhesives leach out with moisture. I found to my dismay that the boots I ordered from LL Bean are out of stock and won’t be shipped out until December 4 when they have a supply again. Good thing my orthotics are on the way as my bubble wrap won’t hold out much longer! And I do believe it is making me itchy.

October 15, 2014

Allergic to the Shoes on One's Feet....And Everything Else for That Matter

This autumn was supposed to be a "fall without agendas." This was because I had decided to concentrate once again in finding answers to the nervous system, eye and muscle problems that changed my life so dramatically. Illness removed me from the world of being a productive and basically healthy teaching artist to that strange underworld of the disabled. Firm answers were not forthcoming, only theories - some legitimate others quacky.

Things began to change when I pulled out all my records and did some painstaking research. On the basis of my research I requested more professional investigation into the field of allergy and immunology. It was determined that I had autoimmune illness but determining precisely what caused that and what to do about it is still a work in progress. What did emerge in greater focus was a veritable plethora of environmental allergies, which I already knew about. But what I didn’t know about was the legion of chemical allergies - upwards of thirty or more commonly used chemicals in the manufacturing, agricultural and medical industries. Each of these had lists of ten or more chemicals that cross react and several alternative names for each. It was overwhelming.

For my next entries, I will address some possible solutions I have found in my research because I am certain there are others in need of help for multiple allergies. And it gives me a great excuse for making new art work - like my drawing of toxic shoes.

I began the long search for allergy free materials from the ground up - starting with the shoes on my feet. Shoes turned out to be the most problematic allergy free item to locate. Almost all contain latex products, to which I am allergic. If they do not contain latex they contain alternative rubber products to which I am also allergic. The leather in shoes is glued with adhesives I am allergic to. The insoles are often sprayed with metallic substances to which I am also allergic.

After weeks of searching I did finally come up with some solutions, each with it own pros and cons. It was an interesting, albeit time-consuming journey. The most difficult part of this search was getting information from manufacturers about what exactly is in their shoes. For adhesives, the answers to my queries ranged from "don’t know" to "can’t find out," to "that changes monthly depending upon availability" to "that is proprietary information." It soon became clear that finding out about the actual adhesives used in shoes would be an impossibility. I found only one company that claimed not to use adhesives with known allergens in them. That was Gabor shoes, made in Portugal. I will have to take their word for it. These are available through Nordstrom Shoes. The one company I found in the United States that manufactures shoes without adhesives is Crocs. Their shoes are made from an EVA composite material that is molded as one unit. ( The actual composition guessed it... proprietary information). I learned about Crocs from my dentist and from my sister. Customer service at Crocs was excellent! There are just two drawbacks to Crocs: 1. The use of EVA was apparently banned in Europe as a possible carcinogen 2. The shoes don’t offer much in the way of support. But I decided to get them anyway as slip ons for the shower and slip ons as light dress shoes. They fit fine. I am more concerned about autoimmune illness and allergies at this point than cancers anyway.

Now for the insoles. These are problematic as well. Some products that are touted as allergen free in fact are most likely not. Ortholite, for instance, used in insoles in many shoes is actually a rubber amalgam and therefore probably not safe for people allergies to latex, rubber products, or chemicals used in the rubber processing industry. Cork insoles are not pure cork (it would be too unstable and inflexible) but a cork and rubber composite. New Balance does offer insoles made from Gore tex, which is a material so inert that it is used in medicine as a tissue replacement. Poron insoles are another option for the allergic-to-shoes crowd. Many of these soles, I found were sprayed with Medzap, an anti-bacterial which may contain metal that I am most likely allergic to. Lost soles all those. One company that has been very helpful was The Insole Store, which has a great customer service and a shop online. I’m still working with them on insoles. (Update on that ...couldn't find a definitively allergy free insole)  As luck would have it though, the Gabor shoes I received today have plenty of support without the added insole. (Update on that, they don't have quite enough support for tendonitis).  But I am still going to obtain an allergy free pair to use as an interface in shoes I already have, as I need something to use as a work shoe. These will need to have a pair or two of socks "segregated" from my "clean" socks used only in the allergy free shoes. This is because I read from my allergy warning list that I am obliged to discard all my socks and start anew. Reason being, that allergens from adhesives and rubber are absorbed into the socks over time and do not wash out. Yikes! All the more reason to try to get the shoe and insole allergy question right the first time. Dreadful to think of having to throw out all one’s socks a second or third time.

If someone wants to be a purist and obtain shoes with no adhesives whatsoever, there are small companies that make shoes the old fashioned way, with hand stitching. I have my shoes, but I may look in to these companies anyway - just out of curiosity.

Many thanks to the shoe companies, Crocs, New Balance, Nordstrom, The Insole Store,, Foot Solutions, Finn Comfort, who aided in my search.

September 28, 2014

Woman Dancing With The Cosmic Slinky

The next drawing in my series of revisions of the sketches from my travel notebooks was completed yesterday. In case you’ve just tuned in to this blog series, I was once a traveling artist/educator. For decades my husband and I toured Asia, Europe and America. In the early years this was facilitated by working at various overseas institutes, traveling on weekends and vacations. On all these soujourns I kept illustrated journals.

Three years ago, when I became disabled, travel became out of the question. It still is problematic but I do get around on short jaunts. In my homebound time, which has most of the time, I turned to my travel journals, taking tours in memory and imagination. In my review, I discovered numerous sketches that could be reconfigured into complete drawings. For three years I have been slowly completing them, redoing some completely, merely restoring others.

The drawing at left was completed from a sketch I made of an eighteenth century French sculpture of a woman dancing wildly while swing large cymbals. Her purpose and meaning now elude me. This sketch evoked two memories; one of Hurricane Katrina, the other of a childhood toy.

I had used the original sketch as the basis for a painting on wood of this exotic creature. I painted her in red. The painting was collected by a patron in New Orleans and it was subsequently swept away by Hurricane Katrina. It is now in the permanent collection of the Gulf of Mexico.

When I made this sketch into a drawing I came up with the idea of expanding the cymbals into a series of circles and arcs. I had in mind a time lapsed movement, or perhaps the changes phases of two moons. The end result reminded me more of a childhood toy - the metal slinky.

Slinky was a simple toy made froma series of metal coils that could be trained to walk down a flight of stairs by flipping over itself. The metal coils made a beautiful cascading whir as the toy walked down the stairs ( A later, cheaper plastic version of slinky was manufactured without the characteristic sound which seemed to miss the point entirely).

Negligent children that we were, we invariably left slinky on the stairway to inevitably be tripper over by a hapless family member - usually my dad. His response was generally something like, "Who left that %$@($** slinky on the stairs!"

All of us kids being members of the silent conspiracy of the childhood mafia, the miscreant was never divulged. But we were always disheartened by the miss hap as it meant the death of slinky...its once pristine coils now mangled by the feet that tripped over it. Oh, we would try to resuscitate slinky by trying to hammer the bent coils flat again one by one but it left crooked gaps all the same and slinky would hobble down the stairs like a wounded warrior, ending in an abject heap at the base of the stairs. Eventually another slinky would take its place.

The drawing is of a woman, perhaps an allegorical self portrait, dancing with a cosmic slinky conjured up from the distant past.

September 27, 2014

A Piece of Fluff

The drawing at right is a piece of fluff. I found a sketch I had made earlier of a standing woman outlined pencil, holding a staff and accompanied by a goose. I believe that she was a sketch of a statue in a museum. It is the kind of drawing that may have best been completed in pen and ink, with crisp hard edge designs. But here she is in fluffy charcoals anyway. For this drawing I made use of my new tool, a white pencil. With this pencil I could add thin lines of white back onto the black and grey areas.

September 26, 2014

The Last of the Mama Terrors

I completed a charcoal and pastel drawing diptych called "Mama Terrors" based upon sketches I had made of actresses on a stage. I knew that I had made a third sketch of this scene with the son of one of the actresses seated at the front of the stage, his legs hanging over the edge. Luckily my hunt for this sketch yielded results right away, uncharacteristically finding it in the first place I looked. I spent part of my day making this into a charcoal and pastel art work. Now the diptych has become a triptych. The most recent addition should be a center panel, the boy flanked on either side by the matrons. He should be center not only because of the age and gender difference but because the whole composition is different from the other two. I’ve reproduced one of them again here at right for comparison. I call the new addition "Mama Terrors Plotting in Secrecy," so named for the female cluster at far left. The lonely empty chair reminds me of a throne with the matrons perchance vying with each other for the occupancy of it.

September 25, 2014

Aboriginal Cats Haves Lots of Spots

Yesterday I finally finished the revision of my illustration for the rhyme "Aboriginal Cats." I revised not only the illustration but the rhyme as well, further strengthening "The Book of Marvelous Cats." For comparison, I’ve shown at right the original illustration. For the revision I left out the details and focused only on the two cats. I juxtaposed them in such a way that their tales bore a yin yang relationship. As an avid didgeridoo player, I could not resist making one of the cats playing this instrument. For the background details, this time I consulted Australian Aboriginal paintings to get a better idea of how all the dots should be arranged. So many dots made this piece quite time consuming to create. It took nearly a week. This means that I’ll be posting quicker and more spontaneous pastel drawings for a few days.

September 15, 2014

Those Last Minutes of Sunlight

I have been slowly "retiring" the sketches from my travel books by making them into complete drawings. I am calling them "retired" because so many of them served as blueprints for paintings. But many, such as the one above, never did acquire oil painting status. Had I run out of time, or interest? Or perhaps there just was not enough information in the sketch to base a painting upon.

Although the drawing featured here was never used for painting, it now has an interesting life as a work on paper. These figures were hastily sketched as the sun was setting, consequently they were in shadows with their features undelineated. I often created paintings with the halos of the sun set, or sun rise around them, but in this case there was evidently not enough information to base a painting upon. There was a mystery to the dark figures squeezing a ball or badminton game into the few remaining minutes of the day, just as I was using those few minutes to make one last drawing of the day. A drawing of two men and a woman in a park in Italy. A nice moment to have revisited.

September 13, 2014

A Store Front in North

It was time to consider art work to submit for the South Carolina State Fair. Those pesky rules about two dimensional art work having to be at least sixteen inches long and completed within the last two years was a challenge for me. I had created well over a hundred pieces in the last two years, probably two hundred - all under sixteen inches. The logical thing to have done was matt and frame one of the 11" x 14" drawings. But I chose to register a painting anyway, giving it the generic title of "Remembrances," so that anything would do. I had one 18" x 22" panel left. I also registered a "ceramic ocarina," of which I have loads from which to choose.

I set to work painting a store front from North, South Carolina on the 18" x 22" panel. I had to work so slowly on account of illness that the paint dried faster than I was able to blend. This created a harder edge to the forms than I would have liked. But I decided to live with that. It now looks a bit like a folk art piece with all the flat expanses of color without texture. This will either become my new style or I’ll switch to slow drying oil paints. The finished painting would not quite fit on my 11" x 17" scanner so I had to float it on the surface - hence the fuzzy look. But this is the gist of the piece.

I have been working on a larger work with better texture but most likely this won’t be ready for the South Carolina State Fair - better for next year perhaps. Or it might be ready in time for the Orangeburg County Fair a few weeks later.

As to the ceramic ocarina, I chose one that looks great but doesn’t actually play. I’ll either have to take the dremel to the mouthpiece and see if I can fix it, or just hope that the juror doesn’t decide to try to play it.

September 9, 2014

Mama Terrors

To my great delight, I found another incomplete sketch of the two actresses from SCSU. Another idea to make into an artwork and a sequel to the first work. The first work I named "Mama Terror." Since there are two formidable women in this picture I have named this one "Mama Terrors." In rendering these actresses, I included the lower half of the stage for its geometry and also to keep the setting in the context of the imagined life. The two contrapuntal spirals were not a part of the original sketch but added later. The facial expressions were something most definitely embellished upon as well.

September 7, 2014

Man Warming His Hands

Today I had a headache. That’s nothing new. I have a headache every day. It is part of my ongoing struggle with chronic illness. But today’s pain was such that it caused the making of art to be rather a strain. Yet I painted, made drawings and exercised despite everything. I was told recently to try to continue to do the things I enjoy despite a life of unremitting pain. This sounds like the kind of advice a person without chronic headaches might liberally dispense. Can joy of any kind puncture a headache, I wonder?

To the sometimes fruitless search for joy I submit a drawing that was done without a thought to beauty or to marketability. In short, nothing that involved too much concentration. It is a drawing of a man warming his hands in front of a space heater. I made him merge with the background in one abstract array of triangles, stripes and rectangles. It is not a particularly joyful drawing but it did serve as a distraction.

September 5, 2014

Drawing of a Man who Became a Boy

When I sketched an adult male model some years ago, for some reason I made his body too diminutive. This gave him the physical characteristics of a young boy. I almost discarded the sketch when I decided instead to complete it and claim it as a back view of a boy. I added some patterning in the fabrics and darkened the background. With highlights of chalk to bring out greater contrast it became a drawing to keep. One more addition to my collection.

September 3, 2014

Memory Sketch of Leland Bell

While in graduate school, I studied with a fine man and inspirational artist, Leland Bell. He was very sick in his last year of teaching and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to be under his tutelage. I rediscovered a sketch that I made of him in the rural countryside of Beemerville New Jersey. He was quite weak but made the outing anyway. I sketched him as he was lying down to rest. As his body failed his mind never did as evinced by his hands gesturing into the sky as he talked about art.

This drawing was completed today using my creamy pastels and charcoals. I believe I had used the sketch to make a painting or two and now this too is retired into my portfolio.

August 30, 2014

Two Retired Maidens

The last two charcoal and pastel drawings that I competed were remakes of figurative sketches that I had used a reference material for paintings on canvas and tiles. The standing woman was from Haiti and had a wonderful golden color, a delicate form and fine features. She was shivering dressed in a thin robe in a cold studio in winter - hence the unrelaxed pose. Pebelle was her name and I used this drawing in three paintings.

The second black and white sketch was used in one painting, the whereabouts now unknown, and in two or three tile paintings. I had intended to do the entire sketch over again on another piece of paper because her foot ran off the edge of the composition. I opted for moving the foot on the original drawing instead.
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August 27, 2014

Scanning the New Drawings

A new computer, a new scanner. Our new scanner enables me to scan drawings up to 11" x 14" - a luxury compared to the 8" x 10" that I was using previously. The 9" x 12" drawings that I had been scanning for this blog were always nipped a bit too close - cropping off a foot or hand of a figure because I tend to work forms out to the very edge of the paper. I went with the awkward cropping because readers could still get the gist of the composition. The drawing that I've scanned here is a 9" x 12" complete with the figure's intact feet. This recently completed charcoal and pastel features artists rendering a posing model. When doing life drawing I generally draw from unusual positions - above or behind a model. New computers are always difficult to navigate at first. Lets see if this takes.

August 24, 2014

A Second Try on an Abyssinian Cat

My recent charcoals finished, I turned once again to my revisions for The Book of Marvelous Cats. The latest revision was the illustration for Abby Sinian. The original was a cat rendered from a vision in my head. Such visions generally not being very accurate, I decided to look at the Abyssinian breed to get a better idea about the cat’s actual form. Amazing ears on those cats! For the background in this drawing I consulted an old college art history textbook for details from Assyrian architecture.

I found halfway through my drawing that I was using the rough, textured side of the paper rather than the smooth side that I had been typically using for these illustrations. This helped reduce glare when scanning the image, but the tooth on the paper made for a soft textured finish rather than the crisp linear look that I had favored. I hope this means that I don’t have to do the entire thing over again for consistency. For now I’m going with the softer look. I’ve reproduced the finished illustration above along with the original version for comparison. I hope it inspires a budding artist/student/illustrator to always try something a second time. 

August 18, 2014

The Hills of Home

The rolling hills of rural New Jersey were the subject of my latest drawing. This was completed in a rather spontaneous method using quick and easy smudges of pastel and charcoals. The foreground rock was largely imagined and alludes to my training in Chinese landscape painting. Despite the fact that I was not on location when finishing this drawing, I remembered that it was early spring and that the grass in the middle ground was still in its light golden winter color. So I retained a light touch on the middle ground, making a nice ribbon of light contrast to the dark mountain and the foreground rock.

August 17, 2014

New Patterns on Old Forms

I always had a penchant for drawing people who had unusual shapes; legs that were short and stocky or perhaps overly long or thin, an oddly shaped head, long thin hands. The pencil drawing I just completed was of a woman who had a very short thick body with a large head and copious black hair. She was my favorite model and could hold a pose for long lengths of time - even standing. There were few details in my original sketch but I do remember the dark pink bodice with the lace trim and the thin neglige. I had to invent the patterns of the lace, background textures, and floor patterns.

My lack of recorded shading makes many of these revised pattern drawings flattened. But that is fine by me because I am very fond of the flat patterns found in Japanese prints, which I hope to emulate. So the journey through my sketch books of the past in order to glean art for the present continues, replete with pattern upon pattern in a celebration of design upon strange bodies.

August 16, 2014

Big Woman with Black Gloves and Old Lace

One thing that has always been fun to do is create Treasury Lists on Etsy. These are promotional on-line exhibitions of a maximum of sixteen items chosen from their storehouse of online shops. The exhibitions consist of twelve to sixteen squares of images based upon a theme. They can be as creative as one chooses. For my own Treasuries I try to make story lines or paired items that appear interactive in a counterpoint relationship. One example of the latter is my exhibition Gloves and Old Lace. For this I chose both modern well-crafted wearable art gloves as well as vintage gloves and paired them with antique or vintage lace objects that had similar textures, colors and patterns. The result was a succession of gloves that appeared to be reaching for matching texture. This has been how I make an ordinary thing come alive.

I was so inspired by the gloves and lace objects that I found in other artist’s shops that I started “dressing up” figurative drawings that I was working on so that they were wearing such objects. It was almost like dressing paper dolls, and evoked pleasant memories of youth. The drawing above was original a study of a large big boned woman. Now dressed in her lace and gloves, she has taken on a more svelte look. To see the exhibition that inspired this follow the link: Or if this link isn't live go to kozachekart on Etsy, cursor down to "Treasuries" and have a gander.

August 15, 2014

A Magnificent Cat

The cat that used to share our lives was an outstanding example of a well-muscled big helping of a furry beast. He was a large eighteen pound mixed Maine Coon breed with white paws and delicate silky hair that was a shade of champaign pink. He did more than meow. He actually sang cat songs. The cat would climb up high trees and come down forwards instead of backwards like most cats. Our cat was so fascinating that once he passed away we could never find another that was his equal so we remained catless.

The illustration above is for the poem Magnifi Cat from my book manuscript The Book of Marvelous Cats. This one pays homage to our beautiful cat.

August 12, 2014

Looking, Looking, Looking Away

It was one of those grey days in northern Europe. Was it Germany? Was it the Netherlands? I can’t remember. I only had the remnants of a sketchy impression of people at an outdoor café. The sketch as well as the memory bore enough of a trace to use for a new art work. I crafted the new work using my charcoal pencil making wiry nervous lines around the figures and creating cups, saucers and napkins that may or may not have been there at the original scene. There was an onlooker but I forgot who or what he was and what he wore, only that he perhaps somewhat longingly espied the dining couple - a man looking at a woman who turns away to look at something in a distant woods or on a garden path.

I put glasses and a mustache on the man. I did so because my husband asked me, somewhat jokingly, if I was making a sketch of him. I told him that I was not, but then I added the mustache and glasses - making my reply now untrue. I then used my whites, greys and black pastels to create masses of darkness around the wiry lines. And now it rests in my portfolio with the rest of my revisionist drawings.

August 11, 2014

Two Sad Figures

I had an ink drawing of a woman posing in two different ways. I drew her as twins in different positions. I wondered if I should have saved it as a simple ink drawing. I had decided not to, and instead mined my material from the past and used it to fill my portfolio of charcoal and pastel drawings. The drawing is now more heavy and ponderous than the free form ink drawing from which it evolved. But I like the poignant look of reflection in the half closed eye of the front sitter.

August 10, 2014

A Drawing of Three Young Dancers

For my latest drawing, I combined a study of two child ballerinas with a sketch of a dance student resting at a bar. The two ballerinas came from a very old sketch, possibly dating back to the Aparri School of Dance in Princeton New Jersey. The youngster in the black leotard was drawn somewhat later during my stint as an instructor in a summer program at Columbia College. I was almost content with the study of the two young girls but I think that the addition of the background figure, the bar and the wall add dimension and volume. This was completed with my creamy grey pastels and charcoal.

August 9, 2014

Guardian Cat Revisited and Revised

More revisions on the Book of Marvelous Cats. The next cat to tackle was The Guardian Cat. The original drawing I made appeared too weak to salvage so Guardian Cat got a complete make over as did his background. The cat featured is a Maine Coon Cat, which seemed a suitable breed for a watchful guardian. The background landscape with the small abode and shed was taken from one of my photographs of my mother’s ancestral home of Scotland.

After such a revamped drawing, I decided to make a new poem for Guardian Cat as well.

August 8, 2014

Mama Terror

My most recently finished drawing I call "Mama Terror." It was completed from a sketch I made of actresses at the local college here in Orangeburg, South Carolina State University. The actresses were rehearsing a play about a dominant mother figure. The small woman kneeling was in some kind of act of timid obeisance. To complete the sketch I added arches and two scrolls. A fun piece. I can’t wait to find more of them to finish.

August 7, 2014

Party Time for Balanchine's Cat

Turning once again to the work of my Book of Marvelous Cats, I have just finished the remake of the Party Cat. Party Cat rather irreverently wears an American Flag as underwear - or perhaps it is a bathing trunk. This feature, along with the swirling background, the drum and the balloons, were all part of the original drawing. But in the original drawing, the cornet was floating freely in space. This time a large black cat is connected to it, blowing the cornet held in one paw and holding the instrument with his tail. The drum has been redeveloped as well. Instead of a drum from my imagination, I penciled in my Djembe drum with the cloth from Ghana.

The position of the cat was taken from a photograph of George Balanchine throwing his cat into the air to discover interesting positions it might take. The airborne cat apparently inspired some of Balanchine’s choreography.

The Book of Marvelous Cats is slowly drawing to a close with my final revisions. Just about five more to go.

August 1, 2014

Man with a Cat

My recently completed drawing, "Man with a Cat," serves as an interim work between my loosely rendered pastels and my upcoming completion of tightly articulated illustrations for my Book of Marvelous Cats. The drawing is a good transition, not only stylistically but in subject matter as well. The man in the drawing was an old friend from years past. I sketched him some time ago at his home while he was holding his beloved tabby cat. Completing this drawing from a very rough sketch was somewhat difficult on account of the lack of resolution and details in the original sketch. But that opened some opportunities. My husband had happened to have purchased a few caladium plants which I incorporated into the drawing by sketching from life. I included pottery in the background from my own collection. I then invented patterned tiles on the fireplace and in the background floor. The painting above the mantel was also invented. The shoes are my husband’s shoes. Altogether it as an amalgam of findings, invention and memory.

July 20, 2014

Last Two Drawings to Tango

I had four more sketches left of musicians performing at a Milonga. I decided that I was scraping the bottom of the barrel on two of them so relegated them to the trash. It felt good to do so as some editing of my drawing collection is called for. The remaining two were not quite as dynamic as my previous sketches but worth finishing anyway. A few coats of grey, black and white pastels with a touch of charcoal brought them back to respectable life.

July 15, 2014

The Tango Singer: Milestone Number 2400

For some years now, I have been working on a digital archive of my work. Occasionally, I reach a milestone; The first one thousand works...the first two thousand works. Sometimes just even numbers are small events to celebrate. The drawing of the singer above marks entry number 2400. The drawing is full of a number of circles to mark the two zeros in my new number.

What is in a number? Is there a right number for an artist’s life work? Certainly other artists in history have made much more than 2400 works. Others less. Much depends on the size of the work and the speed of execution. I have a balance of quick work, slow work, small work and large work. So I would expect my lifetime of accumulation to be about average.

Most artists don’t painstakingly catalogue their work. Perhaps they are too successful in the here and now of marketing and exhibiting to be bothered by it. The cataloguing for me has certainly been time consuming. I also think that the catalogue is a contribution for a posterity that may never be but there if needed. It has helped benefit scholars who have written about my work.

I must confess that it was a hard sell for me when my brother, a scholar editor an archivist himself, first proposed the project. It would take too much time I whined. And there was this problem of having to confront mortality. When we first designed the archive and defined catagories for items (i.e. drawings, mosaics, paintings, paintings in series etc.) we had to agree upon an upper limit to a number. The limit was 999 for each category. In other words, I probably wouldn’t do more than 999 of any one type of art before I DIED. That is most likely correct but to see it in black and white was rather intimidating. Thus far I have not surpassed the 500 mark in any one category but with over 342 drawings and maybe a few more years left I suppose it would be possible.

For now, I’ll celebrate the number 2400 with a hope for many more to come.

July 14, 2014

The Keyboard Player

Having just finished my drawings of a bandoneon player I sketched at a Milonga in Columbia, South Carolina, I turned to finishing up my drawing of his fellow band player. The keyboard player pictured in the above drawing moved with lively histrionics, which I’ve hopefully captured in this charcoal impression. I had his business card at one time, but could not find it again. So the keyboard player will remain nameless for now. I could, and may, try to contact his partner and get a name.