December 20, 2015

Sonic Hedgehogs with Pearly Eyes

My last batch of zoomorphic ceramic clicking instruments, which I am still calling sonic hedgehogs, emerged from the kiln on the dark side.  I was hoping that the reduction firing would turn them black, but instead many of them became a dark burned cookie shade of brown.  Searching for a way to brighten them up, I found that I had on hand a package of seed pearls and green stones just small enough to put into the eye sockets to create a bright focal point. 
The size and carving of these instruments is small - about the size and feel of Japanese netsuke figures.  The mouth part is proportionately oversized to
 I have yet to hear them all played at once.  They would sound like a field of crickets or cicadas.  But to make that happen someone would have to collect a bunch of them and invite guests to each rattle one.  Perhaps that will happen as I do have someone collecting between ten and fifteen of them.  A good idiophone orchestra might need to be comprised of about a hundred.  One day.
the body to emphasize its function as a noise maker.

December 17, 2015

Sonic Hedgehogs Versus Sonic The Hedgehog

Everyone knows about the video game that features Sonic the Hedgehog.  Everyone but me.  I thought that I had found a good name for  my small ceramic zoomorphic sculptures that made clicking noises when shaken when I read about a molecule called sonic hedgehog.  It turns out that I was influenced by a rather obscure term which had been named after the popular video character.   Every now and then someone would tell me that my name for my idiophones was a video game.  But I didn’t actually look that up until my friend started writing little stories about my sonic hedgehogs.  Looks like we might need a name change before officially going public.  Too bad.  I enjoyed calling my invention sonic hedgehogs.  It seemed so apt.  And I could not  come up with a satisfactory alternative: clicking critters, sonic salamanders, atonal animals....they all fell short.  It seems the best names are always taken!
The second batch of sonic hedgehogs came out of my kiln recently.  This time the substantially reduced atmosphere made most of them quite dark.  But they still make a good clicking noise when shaken, whatever I might eventually name them.

December 16, 2015

Metallic Sheen from a Pit Firing

All of the pottery that comes from my pit fires are experiments.  I try different combinations of organic substances and different levels of oxidation and reduction with each firing.  This yields unexpected surprises.  In my last firing I used  cedar chips, a pile of twigs, and a lot of Spanish Moss.  I kept the atmosphere very reduced with a stopped up kiln for several hours.  The results surprised me.  Although the very dark pots that emerged could be expected from the black sooty atmosphere, everything was covered with an iridescent sheen.  My natural caramel colored clay udu drums turned platinum, copper and silver.  Usually I don’t get too emotional when I open my kiln but I found myself tearing up at the sheer beauty of these surfaces.  The results were almost like a raku firing.  Beautiful!
The waxing and buffing I did to protect the surface of the pit fired vessels took some of the metallic look out but there was still enough preserved to please.  This at least helped compensate for the earlier loss of three udu drums due to premature firing and some clay instability. 
I should try to emulate this effect for the next firing, but I’ve determined to oxidize more and add different organic materials for a more traditional saggar fire.  More experiments yet to come.

December 14, 2015

Cats in Distress

In an effort to salvage work that has gone awry, I sometimes ruin it.  I sometimes try to save an art object that probably should be discarded.  Such was the case with a large rattle in the shape of a feline sculpture.  I put an experimental terra sigillata surface on the piece which crazed in the bisque firing.  Another sculpture with a similar glaze on it also crazed.  I kept one piece, a sculpture in the shape of a possum, with the glaze intact on it.  But I was not satisfied with the extent of the crazing in the cat sculpture because it appeared to be delaminating in places.  So I carefully sanded most of it off.  I should have sealed this and left good enough as it was by sealing the raw clay and quitting.  But I could not resist trying out yet another terra sigillata over the bisqued ware to see what would happen.  And I could not resist throwing the whole thing in a fire without sealing the terra sigillata in a bisque firing first.  The results were interesting, but the terra sigillata glaze began to delaminate again after it cooled.  I started sanding it off once again, but got so tired that I just decided to trash the piece.  But taking a hammer to bowls and whistles is one thing, and smashing a sculpture staring back at me with wide open eyes was another.  I could not quite bring myself to do it after this descent in to animistic sentiment.  Fortunately a friend agreed to take the piece off my hands.  The distressed feline is en route to her now.
A second rattle also did not make it through the bisque firing as it separated into two pieces at the juncture where it had been originally fitted together.  What to do to save it?  I almost threw the piece away.  Then I thought that I might sand down the edges and call the small sculpture “two cats caught in quicksand.”  Finally I resolved to put kitty humpty dumpty together again with a bead stuck inside so that it would make a rattle noise when shaken.  I covered the cracks with silver acrylic for yet another experimental effect.  I don’t think I’ll go this far to attempt to save work again!

December 12, 2015

Revision can be a Subtle Thing

Revision can sometimes be a subtle thing.  I had been culling my ceramic musical instrument collection by resurfacing and tuning the older ocarinas.  Some required substantial work; sanding down an old surface, shaping, tuning, applying a new surface, firing over again, the pit firing for a smoked design.  The ocarinas that required the most work came from a lot that had not fired correctly and would melt when wet.
I was always happy to find some instruments that could be improved just by widening the sound holes and polishing.  An ocarina in the shape of a small mask already had a good sound but only a four note range.  By slowly sanding out the holes the range was increased to a full octave.   After tooling and sanding out the sound holes, I embellished the instrument a bit by adding sgraffito designs, widening and flattening out the eyes in the process.
Some small whistles could be enhanced by adding an inlay of small seed pearls after widening the indentations in the sculpture.  A before and after example is at left.

December 6, 2015

Revised Ocarina

As the year draws to a close, I like to think of one word or phrase that sums up a theme for the year and another key phrase to express the aspirations for the new year.  The key phrase for 2015 is: Editing, Revising and Refining Work.  This year saw the completion of the editing and revision work on three illustrated manuscripts.  I continued to revise and update drawings from my travel books.  December finally saw a culling of my ceramic ocarina collection by either throwing them out or revising them for a better musical range and resurfacing. 
Although I have been revising my ceramic ocarina collection over the last three years, at the end of this year, I became particularly diligent about making necessary changes.  This was prompted in part by seeing just how much better a resurfacing and tuning can help the art work.  For example, the red terra sigillata on the long sweet potato shaped ocarina looked a little shabby to me.  There were too many rough areas so the burnishing was irregular.   This “before” ocarina is pictured at right.  After sanding the whole thing down I expanded the four note range to a full octave by opening up the sound holes and drilling a few more.
There are more revisions to come.  For now I’m celebrating the newly dressed musical instruments coming from my shop.  Below is my “after” ocarina.
This also required adjusting the mouthpiece.  I replaced the old terra sigillata with an aged white, then added some iron oxide brush marks.  I burnished the new surface to a high sheen and then bisque fired the piece with another batch of revised and new pieces.  These were all then smoke fired in my outdoor kiln.  My efforts were for naught, as the fire reoxidized after I vented the kiln too early and all the smoke design was erased.  It happens.  But I was committed to improving this body of work so I smoke fired everything again and kept the kiln stopped up longer.  The result was a good variation of black, grey and white.  When I played the ocarina again, however, I found that one of the sound holes didn’t work.  So instead of risking more tooling around with it, I decided to fill in that hole with a fresh water pearl.  Why not?  It was a nice embellishment and the instrument still played an octave. 

November 25, 2015

Two Old Women and a Brain

Life and art often lead to an expression of mixed metaphors in my work. Even if odd, sometimes surreal effects are not my original intent, the drawings I have made over the past three years generally end up looking that way. I attribute this to trying to manage a chronic health condition while revising and completing a large collection of sketches from my travels. Sometimes one insinuates itself into the other.

I was in receipt of a CD of a brain scan. It came in a nice square package. What if I finished one of my small square drawings in such a way as to illustrate the contents? I found a good candidate for revision in a study I had done outside of a cathedral where two old women were sitting on a bench near a buttress. I considered the drawing unfinished because there were large, uninteresting blank areas. I had originally intended to use the unfinished sketch as a study for a small painting. But since I have been making studies into drawings whether they had become paintings or not, I decided that the two old women were good candidates for an odd little visual statement. The large blank area cried out for something unusual. Why not a large brain painted on the side of the cathedral buttress? The brain I put there is not entirely accurate, but it does the job. And one more strange little drawing can be added to my collection, "Two Old Women and a Brain."

November 22, 2015

Mold and Morning Glories

Every so often circumstances cause my blog to go fallow. Such has been the case for late October through November. During this period the causes have been multiple. First was a case of broadly dispersed shingles....all the way down my left leg and in to my left foot and in many other areas as well. Needless to say it made getting around problematic. And like any virus, it exacerbated my underlying conditions as well. Amazingly, I did manage to keep producing art work by sitting at a small table with my leg propped up. But rather than complete my usual 2-D work, I opted for making small ceramic sculptures and musical instruments. Since these take a long time to produce they are still in process. They are fired but not yet smoke fired for that final surface. Unfortunately my awkwardness caused me to break about half of these!

Then there was the flood clean up. That has been quite slow as well. A mold allergy makes cleaning up moldy areas quite challenging but I have been managing. And processing claims for my studio damage has been proceeding rather slowly. First FEMA, then flood insurance agents, then probably FEMA again. The flood insurance claims requires photographing everything, taking an inventory and finding out what replacement values would likely be. The agents seemed particularly interested in documentation of the water line.

There was the problem of when to turn on my kiln to see if was still working as the water came up to the bottom of it even though it had been propped up on bricks. The delay here was that I was initially reluctant to turn it on until everything was dried out. I would not know whether or not it was really damaged until I had run a firing. And I didn’t want to run a firing without having something in it to fire...hence the sculptures. The kiln fired up and several pieces made it through but a number of them did not, either because the clay was not quite dry enough or because my experimental clay bodies were not stable. More set backs!

While photographing broken and moldy works downstairs in my studio/garage/basement I came across a plaster mold that I took of my hand for use in a sculpture. I probably will not be able to claim this but the moldy hand looked rather interesting.  I might use it in a future drawing.

Finally, to add a bit of cheer amidst all the mess I took a picture of my blue morning glories. I just needed to look at something bright,clean, and unbroken for a change.

October 23, 2015

The South Carolina State Fair Fine Art Exhibition: A Closer Look at a Few Works

The South Carolina State Fair this autumn hosted an art exhibition with an exceptional number of exquisite works of photography, paintings, drawings, mixed media works and sculptures. It was a joy to behold. What did not come as a surprise to me was that the special accolades accorded to the juror’s favorites missed most of my own selections. Of course, the sheer number of entries makes it difficult to truly evaluate the merits of the work. This is especially a problem when work is stacked one on top of the other or crowded too close.  When sculptures  that rely upon  negative spaces as a strong compositional component, such as Lee Malerich’s fantastic windows for instance, seen left, are placed in front of other objects, the purpose can be obscured. Imagine a sculpture like this in a setting with other sculptures in front of it and behind it and placed on the floor instead of at eye level.
 I do believe that in the context of crowded spaces, art that is subtle and complex tends to be missed. These are works that require undistracted time and focus in order to truly appreciate.

One such gorgeous yet understated painting was "A Collection of Heirlooms," by Jonathan Moore. At first glance it is merely an aerial view of a mass of tomatoes. But closer inspection reveals a subtle variation in color in every tomato. No two are alike. Any artist knows that sustaining that variation over a number of objects is difficult.

In photography, two works were especially memorable to me: Charles’s Hite’s color photograph "The Blacksmith’s Shop" and a black and white interior by Jo Robbins. Jo Robbins’ work is especially fine, with beautifully rendered textures and details. The work requires looking a while and observing closely so that the interior can reveal its many layered tonalities and richness of patterns. Is there a message to the book on the table that is emblazoned with the name of Rembrandt? And why is there no person napping in the chair when the photograph is entitled "Afternoon Nap?"

Perhaps the most memorable of the photographs in the State Fair exhibition was Charle’s Hite’s "The Blacksmith’s Shop," pictured at right. The photograph required much thought and technical skill to create and therefore requires just as much thought to observe. The artist tell me that the photograph was shot on a "camera bought in 2006, the Olympus E-500." In order to capture the complex scene Mr. Hite tells me that because of the high contrast he used "the HDR technique of capturing five images at five different exposure values ranging from +2.0 down to _2.0 to render the details inside and out as my esyles see it and the way I remember it..not as the camera tells it should look, as all camera systems capture differently."

What I particularly appreciate about "The Blacksmith’s Shop" is that it seems to invite a complex and detailed journey or narrative. The viewer enters the remnants of this architectural gem and is treated to a tactile sensation of rough boards and peeling paint. Traveling through the photograph further a doorway at the back frames a landscape, beckoning the viewer to a portal to another world. It is mesmerizing - almost dream like. This photograph within a photograph could be missed with a cursory view.

This is the last weekend of the South Carolina State Fair. Pick out a few favorites and look at them a long while.

October 11, 2015

Sonnets to the Malamute: The Poet Revealed

Apart from the accidental shift from a vertical to a horizontal format in my recent illustrations, the job was going well. I chose the sonnets that I wanted to illustrate. With input from the author, the work progressed slowly but smoothly. Then a shift occurred when the author came up with his own ideas for the last 8" x 10" illustration as well as the final 5" x 7." He proposed to reveal himself as the author of the sonnets. This revelation would be in the form of a dual portrait of himself as both man and child. I was sent pictures of both the man as he is now and how he was over seventy years ago as a toddler. The author originally thought to make the man and boy Janus-like, but I explained that I would require profile views for this and since there were none in the offing, the Janus format was abandoned. With more requests to include two images of a puppy, slight of hand and ventriloquism, my work was cut out for me.

For this last illustration, I treated the author of the sonnets as a kind of conjurer/ventriloquist. He speaks through a small puppy and a toddler. Because these are his creative instruments I reduced their size to a toy-like scale in contrast to the central figure. I had to do a bit of my own conjuring here because the portrait I was given was of a face only but no hands. I drew my own hands in different positions, making the fingers thicker to make them older and more masculine. I placed the right hand palm downwards with strings emanating from the fingers and attaching to the bantam sized dog. The left hand is palm up in a gesture of release - the puppy is released in to the sky. The puppy in the sky is taken from my previous illustration of a line in the first and last sonnets, "You are the sky above a star on earth." In this redo of a portion of the previous illustration the sky is depicted torn in parts and incomplete at the base in order to indicate that it is a construct, like a stage setting, rather than a reality. I made it this way because I felt that once the poet/author of a work steps in to that work it immediately places the art into the realm of a created, imagined or remembered entity. In this regard the illustration depicts both the art and the creator of the art in one context where they coexist yet are separate realities.

October 9, 2015

Sonnets to the Malamute: A Three Headed Dog in Hell

My illustration work brought me to a challenging sonnet. Because I had already switched from a vertical format to a horizontal one I selected a sonnet to illustrate from my clients book of sonnets to the malamute that had allusions in the text to many mythological figures. In that sonnet the malamute became Cereberus, the Hell Hound. His drool was transformed into the Horehound plant. There were three judges in this sonnets, as well as the mythological dog Lelaps. It was a veritable mythological smorgasbord.

Generally, I consulted with my client when I was not entirely certain about the iconography of his poetry. But in this case I illustrated something without doing so because I thought there was a figure not mentioned, but perhaps implied in the text. The mythological Lelaps, the dog who always caught his prey, is often paired with the Andalusian fox. The Andalusian fox can never be caught, so this pair chases each other indefinitely. There was no mention of the fox in the sonnet, but I thought that since Lelaps was there, he should, of course be chasing the fox. So I added a fox in the upper left corner of the drawing.

When the drawing was complete, my client wanted to know what that other dog in the upper corner of the illustration was doing there. I explained that Lelaps is generally paired with the Andalusian fox so I just presumed to make him a feature of this illustration. I hoped that I would not have to do this illustration over again because it was quite detailed and time consuming. I had to do a lot of searching to find good pictures of a horehound plant. And I was unfamiliar with the rest of the cast of mythological characters as well and had to make a few drafts to get them right. Giving a malamute do three heads in different positions also had posed a significant challenge.

So after silently chastising myself for adding a fox without my client’s say so, I ventured an offer to make the fox much lighter. Total erasure was impossible. Of course this can be accomplished with ease in photoshop but my client was also purchasing the original drawings and not just permission for use. Fortunately, the lightened fox managed to squeak through. At least he recedes a little more and is not so dark and obvious.  How foxy!

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.

May 16, 2015

Every now and then, life gets too chaotic. The garden gets overgrown. The art work piles up without being catalogued and put into binders or secured in files. Generally when I put things back in to order again I make joyful little discoveries - gratuitously growing ferns that can be placed in a garden, art work that I thought I had lost, reference material that I thought I had lost. Clearing the way makes things appear. The two most recent unearthed finds are some monoprints of daffodils and butterflies that I had completed this spring. They are actually part print part painting with a lot of textural additions. Enjoying cleaning house.

May 15, 2015

Building a Moss and Fern Garden

The weather has been great. Not too cold, not too dry and not yet too hot. A recent lessening of the symptoms of a chronic illness meant that I could take advantage of the mild climate to tackle the neglected gardens around our home. Temporarily putting aside the creation of art work, I substituted works of greenery, rocks and earth.

There was nothing quite like obtaining free plants in the pursuit of gardening. This has been a great benefit of living in a small rural community of avid gardeners - availing myself of the garden spill over from a friend’s or neighbor’s yard. That is how I collected hydrangeas, a confederate rose, a swamp hibiscus, rose of sharon bushes and most recently ginger lilies, spider lilies, century plants and Japanese ferns. The lilies, spider lilies, century plants and ferns come from Lee Malerich, an artist friend who blogs about art, the art of creative salvaging and gardening:

The ferns inspired some renovations. I selected an area around a tree that had overgrown its cement and rock boundary for the placement of the ferns. The overgrown ivy around the tree and azaleas competed with the ferns so I tore that out. The torn out ivy and tilled up soil revealed buried rocks. I used these to re-establish a border for my new fern garden. But what to use for a green replacement for the ivy that would not compete with the delicate ferns? Going on line I saw some very nice gardens using ferns and moss for shady areas. I was smitten by the tropical rainforest look. There was already gratuitous moss growing in the area so I knew that more of it could probably be accommodated.

The more I looked at mosses and lichens the more I liked them. Low maintenance and good for shaded areas with ferns. And what beautiful colors and textures. I learned about sheet moss, cushion moss, haircap moss, rock cap moss and reindeer moss (which is actually a lichen).

I readied myself to order moss carpets in a pleasant variety of greens. But then I looked at price on line. Reindeer moss was about $20 for two square feet. About $10.00 a square foot for the other varieties of moss seemed about standard. So I resolved to find my own moss from around my yard and discreet areas in the neighborhood.

Looking in my own back yard I found about three varieties of moss. The neighbor had a fourth tall and bushy growing variety which I begged a sample of. Not being moss savy at first, I pulled the long stem like structures out of the clumps of moss I was transferring thinking that these were invasive weeds. Turns out these were spores from the moss that were best preserved.

As I slowly pieced together a quilt of mosses for around the ferns and down the bank of earth around the garden I thought of money saved. Ten dollars for every painstakingly pieced together square foot of moss. (I later heard that Lowes sells the moss more cheaply than that so will check out shortly).

Funny how setting a monetary value on something changed everything. I began to see not moss but fifty cents growing on a rock. Five dollars growing on my sidewalk. Waking up in the morning I did not wish for a sunny day but rather an overcast cool day of rain so that ten dollars might grow on the dark side of my back porch. I recalled a few years ago coming across reindeer moss growing on its own on a forest edge. At the time I considered taking a sample because it was so beautiful but I did not know what I would do with it. Too bad. There was probably about a hundred dollars on that bank!

As luck would have it, my search for money-conserving soil conserving moss also turned up some small volunteer ferns growing around the periphery of our house. These I put in to my moss and fern garden to complete the circle. I added a potted fern in the center where I will eventually place a large autumn fern that a neighbor just offered!

May 11, 2015

From Hand to Foot

For my last revised detail picture for my illustrated book of women monsters, I decided to switch from hands to feet. Again, this was not my idea but came about from my graphic designer’s pointing out that in the case of this illustration for the poem Mother Puffer, the feet were more interesting than the hands. As with any exception to the rule, this illustration will be placed at the end of the book. Hand, hand, hand, then foot.

When revising the details in this drawing,
 I made the barbs in the background even more pointy and treacherous looking. What were dots in the original became small triangles in the revised version of the poem. I felt that this was more in keeping with the general tenor of the poem. The complete illustration is above and the revised detail at right.

May 8, 2015

A New Tattoo on a Fairy's Hand

The illustration I made for the poem Tinsel Twinkle Toe Fairy belies the rather cynical nature of the poem. The poem satirized the cult of optimism in the United States which informs people that they may have their hearts desire just by wishing for it. The idea is rather deeply rooted in the American psyche. Recall the film The Wizard of Oz...the scene at the end of the film when the good witch Glenda tells Dorothy that she always had the power to go home. "She just didn’t want it badly enough." the good witch tells us. At least that is what I recall. And even watching the film as a child, I always felt that this line flew in the face of logic and how life actually worked.

Despite the fact that I don’t adhere to national proclivities when it comes to a way of looking at life, I am influenced by the opinions of others. It was the opinion of my graphic designer that the tattoos I placed on the hands of the Lioness in my revised detail of that illustration were a good addition. So I dittoed that and made a tattoo on the hand of the Fairy and added a ring as well in my revised detail. Perhaps adding changes to what should be an enlarged portion of the illustration flies in the face of logic.

The detail revisions give me plenty of opportunity to embellish on an original idea, sharpen the graphics, and generally get creative. I have reproduced the original illustration above along with the revised detail portion at right for comparison.

May 7, 2015

From Feline to Canine

Despite my work on illustrations of cats, or perhaps in an odd way on account of these illustrations, I have attracted the attention of dog writers. No, I don’t mean dogs who write, but rather people who have been writing odes and stories to or about dogs. It could mean a job making illustrations of dogs. One can only make a bid and leave the rest up to fate and willing clients.

In my last pit firing I included a small group of figurines that were distinctly canine in nature so perhaps these were a harbinger of things to come. Most of them were purely fanciful and imaginary but one, the terrier form in the foreground of the photograph above, was based upon a friend’s Bouvier terriers. I liked their shapes.  They seemed to made up of a series of squares and rectangles. All of these dogs, save one, were made from burnished local South Carolina Midlands clay. I preserved the natural purples and reds of these clays.

The exception to this group was the small figure in cobalt blue. He was made with local Maryland clay and salt fired in a wood firing kiln.  I retained her as a reminder about how to pace activities. I created her in a class I took a number of years ago in Maryland. The instructor was a young, gifted artist who was a treasure trove of knowledge about local salt fired cobalt glazed pottery but who was new to teaching. The course was ambitious - perhaps too ambitious for the time allotment of just one week. We would have to make pottery, dry it, bisque fire it, then burn it all night in a wood firing kiln. I would not have attempted to teach such a course in five days. A seasoned instructor would know that the time crunch would mean that students would have to create their pots the first day, dry them the second, fire them the third, and salt fire them the fourth day, open the kiln the fifth. 

The newly minted instructor perhaps had not anticipated the tight schedule, as we spent the first day playing "get to know you" games and learning the history of salt firing in the northeast. Then we played "get to know the clay" games as the instructor passed around a minuscule bit of clay for us to play with. When the fragment got to me I decided that I would conscript it into my service and made a tiny dog out of it. I was allowed to keep it. I knew that it would be dry by the next day. Another student potter with a keen sense of self preservation that matched my own and I snuck back in to the studio that evening and made a few more things. They were the only things to survive the bisque firing as moist clay vessels made the second day by the rest of the class, sadly, exploded in the kiln. Duty bound, the men teaching the course put these fragments in to the wood kiln along with my intact little dog and kept the kiln burning all night long. A lot of work for a two inch dog, a whistle, a pot and an ocarina. It was awkward to say the least.
 I sometimes look back on this event and wonder if I should have stepped up and encouraged the new teacher to have his students make their vessels on day one.  But I was a painter and not a potter and wasn't completely certain that the work could not have been completed in four days instead of five.

I do hope that the potter was hired back again in subsequent years and given another chance, most certainly having figured out how to pace the pottery making.  I keep the little blue dog to remind myself about budgeting time.