Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wisteria Basket

“She is a wild, tangled forest with temples and treasures concealed within.” ― John Mark Green

We have lived in our house fourteen years and the entire back yard has always been covered in all sorts of vines.  We were told the previous owners liked vines and purposely planted many varieties.  I was excited when we bought the house because I owned a book called, From Vines to Vessels by Beryl Omega Lumpkin, and I always fancied that one day I would make a basket from our vines. 

But after fourteen years of ignoring the farthest reaches of the back yard it had become quite a jungle.  And one vine, in particular, had not only flourished but had grown on top of the neighbor's roof!  This vine was wisteria and was quite an impressive being.  Where the original vine had been planted the base was as thick as my thigh and I liked to refer to her as "la madre."  I imagined the wisteria to be the goddess that had overtaken the back yard, creating dark places in her silent path .  She had formed ropes that literally covered everything and with every passing year her thick tendrils reached further and further into the entire yard.  I had the sense that if left unchecked she would slowly take over not only the yard, but the house and then some!  Below you can see a picture I took of it in the spring.  You can see her battle scars where someone had tried to take her out years before.

“Aphrodite just kept smiling. Because she was just doing what a goddess does-the same way that a tornado rips houses apart or a fire burns down a forest.” —L.J. Smith, Spellbinder  

Having ignored this situation for so long I was in need of some help which, by a twist of fate, magically appeared about a month ago.  We were getting an estimate from a painter and his assistant seemed very interested in the yard.  I gave him a tour and my heart skipped a beat when I showed him the "jungle" that was the far reaches of the yard and his comment was, "I clear." 

He has now spent three long days clearing the "jungle" and has made impressive headway.  One morning I walked out to the sound of an electric saw and there were piles and piles of long ropes of wisteria.  Part of me felt excited to have my yard back, but the other part felt sad to see the end of such a great being.  Normally it is my job to put the piles of yard waste into the truck to haul away, but that morning I spent hours making wisteria wreaths.  I felt the best way to honor "la madre" was to make use of every last bit of her beautiful body.

After making all those wreaths I needed a place to put them so I actually cleaned out the shed to make space for them (so many spiders!!!).  But yesterday I started to worry that if those wreaths were out of sight they would be out of mind...and who knows how long it would be before I returned to them.  Plus, the vine is best woven when it is fresh.  So this morning I decided to seize the day and finally make that basket.  Here is how I did it.

1. Make wreath.

2. Cut and insert ribs.

3. Secure ribs by weaving thinner wisteria over and under.

4. Secure other side of ribs.

5. Alternate weaving one side then the other.

6. Complete basket when space is filled
(you may have to double back before reaching the rim as it might get too tight).

7. Find a pot to fit the basket...

or line basket with coco-liner.

8. Fill with dirt.

9. Tie rope around edges and plant a pothos (or your favorite plant).

10. Hang basket!

One thing I like about weaving with wisteria is that you can be assured your basket will not be perfect.  Usually the basket is wonky and misshapen in some way.  Sometimes the vine splits into three thinner vines, has a nasty bump or rootlets sticking out of it...but in the end these imperfections are what truly give it character. 

Weaving with natural vines is a lesson in both perseverance and rolling with what life gives you.  The vine might break at the most inopportune time just as you were rounding the rim and you either have to cut it farther back or start a new piece.  And sometimes the weave gets messed up...but you just make the best of it and keep on going. 

The vines will also teach you about strength.  If you use a piece that is too thick and strong you won't be able to make tight turns and no amount of forcing will work.  In that case, the vine wins and you must start a thinner piece.  At other times you have to use all of your strength to force the vine through a small hole.  Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.  Either way you find your boundaries and the limits of the vine.  It is a beautiful give and take.

Ironically, the day my dream of making a basket finally came true is the same day my yard is now devoid of vines. I have quite a few wisteria wreaths stored now in the shed but I am now lacking the fresh vines that are best for weaving. But I am not overly worried.  Although my magical gardener friend dutifully dug every vine he could find in the yard and "la madre" is now cut in half, I have a suspicion that behind that fence lies a treasure trove of fresh vine.

"It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but retire a little from sight and afterwards return again."Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: Second Series  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Succulent Basket

Last week was my friend Margot's birthday and I decided to make her a succulent basket.  I know succulents are all the rage right now but I have always loved them.  As a child my mom would take us to Knollwood Garden Center and let us each choose a tiny cactus.  I LOVED that! 

I never went for the spiky, spindly kind but was instead drawn to the plump, soft variety.  So when I went shopping for plants to put into this arrangement I was super excited to find these...especially the "red-fingers" below.  Their shape makes me want to reach out and give them a squeeze!

I am not 100% sure where this vintage wire basket came from but it has been sitting in my basement for years.  My next door neighbor had a fire a few years ago and we stored some of his belongings at our house.  I am suspicious that it originated from him (thank you John!). And when I needed something to prop the basket on I remembered that somewhere in my basement was a dragon plant stand.  I ran downstairs and was rather proud of myself for finding it in the depths of my gardening shelves.  When I put the two together I nearly squealed with delight.  

I thought I was done taking pictures but after I watered the planter I noticed the water looked like jewels and, of course, spent another half an hour photographing the water droplets.  Succulents are beauties in so many different ways.

The photo above was taken on my side porch on some limestone slabs.  I used to keep planters in this spot and through the years they created a circular patina that I love.  It reminds me of a spinning galaxy.

Making this planter for Margot made me happy on many levels.  First, just going to the plant store to buy succulents makes me happy.  Second, I love when I finally enact an idea I have had for years.  This basket cried out to have succulents sticking out the sides of it!  And finally, it makes me happy to celebrate the birthday of a friend who I think is an incredible person and I am truly blessed to know.  Happy Birthday Margot!

“A friend is someone with whom you dare to be yourself.”
― Frank Crane

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Coral Tree Pod Linocut - Photos & Sketch

It is always hard for me to choose the subjects of my linocuts because there are too many good options.  But the colors of this coral tree pod I found last year in Costa Rica were so stunning I knew it had to be made into a print.

I wrote a post about all of my Costa Rica sketches last year and here is what I had to say about this pod:

"Our first destination of the trip was Bijagual Ecological Reserve.  The reserve is a beautiful rain forest teeming with biodiversity, trails, rain, and rivers. One day Christina and I took a short walk down to the Bijagual river.  As Christina sketched I spent time looking for rocks for a little project I will blog about later.  When we were about to leave, something caught my eye on a little island in the middle of the stream.  I saw a bright-colored seed pod but couldn't quite make out if it was worth the effort to cross over to retrieve it.  Luckily some of the students had left their binoculars on the shore and when I looked through the lenses I was super excited to see these crazy purple colored pods with bright red berries hanging out.  As I made my way over to the berries I could see they were from a tree that had washed down the river.  Luckily Paul Foster, the director of the preserve, showed up soon after with clippers and identified the tree as Erythrina.  He was also excited to see this plant as he had been wanting to plant some of the seeds for the preserve.

I fell in love with everything about this plant.  I don't think I have ever seen a plant before with such an amazing color pallet... I also loooooooooove the bulbous pods and how they curl around to make a bumpy, purple, red, and cream sphere about the size of a grapefruit.  Plus the red seeds were literally hanging by thin papery strips that allowed them to move in the wind.  You can't get more eye-catching than that!  As Christina put it, these seed pods look like they were from an alien planet.  You can see her sketch here. "

When I start a linocut I like to print out my reference photo to the actual size of the print.  In this case that is about 2 ft wide by 3 ft tall.  I tile the image, print it on legal size paper, and then tape it together.  Once I have it printed out I do a light trace onto my paper.  I do it lightly because I usually end up altering the shapes.  In this case the pod had wilted and shrunk a bit when I took the photo so I had to plump everything up a bit.  Plump, me up!

Below is a video of the sketch process from start to finish.  (Please turn your volume up so you can hear the took me forever to get the music set just right!)

Some times when I am in the middle of the sketch I feel like the print could go any number of ways.  I really liked the sketch at the stage below.  I thought it would be cool to do the print with just the inner pools as the focus. 

But of course I can't help myself and have to continue just to see what it would look like if EVERYTHING had linework to indicate shape.

And usually by the end I am convinced the whole thing needs lots of lines!  Plus, I have done all that work and I don't want it to "go to waste."  (But just doing the inner pools is still a good idea and may some day get explored.)

Below you can see the watercolor sketch I did while in Costa Rica and that I did indeed "plump it up" in my pencil sketch.

The next step in the process is to figure out how I am going to do the colors.  I am still debating whether it will be a 4 or 5 color print.  It is helpful to have a color sketch to help me figure it out.  I know for sure the first color will be cream and will be applied underneath all the other colors.   So hopefully tomorrow I will transfer the outline to my safety-kut and get carving!  I will be posting more process images along the way so check back soon!

"It's not choosing the 'right' path that matters. It's knowing what ignites your passion. Once you've figured out what brings you joy, you don't have to worry about finding the right path. Any path — any path — will take you there." — Ron Shaich

When completed, this print will be available for purchase at

Monday, June 19, 2017

Madisonville House Sketch

Last week a friend of mine put her house on the market and it was also her birthday so I decided to do a sketch of her house.  (If you know of anyone looking for a house in Madisonville message me and I will send you a link to the listing.)  After I finished the drawing I realized it needed a little life in it so I added a few of her chickens walking down the driveway.  And then after I sent it to her it was also suggested I add her cat in the window.  I think it really made the drawing.  But my friend also has two dogs, three more chickens and a turtle so I had to cut it off somewhere!  I will be sad to see her go but I wish her good luck in her new adventure.  Happy Birthday Tiffany!

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” ― AndrĂ© Gide

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Periodic Cicadas

Although the HUGE cicada emergence isn't expected until 2021, we had a fair number of them emerge this year.  Apparently some cicadas are 4 years off the main cycle and they are the ones we are seeing this year. These cicadas are called periodic because they emerge every 17 years as opposed to the cicadas we hear every summer.

I have to admit I don't like when they land on me, but I did have lots of fun photographing them this year.  If you get up close to them they really are quite striking.  The one above appeared to be smiling at me like a kind old sage...or maybe an alien.  Either way I love the expression on his face.

I was also impressed with the color of the wings.  The delicate copper-colored veining that fades to black and the way the light reflected on the transparent wings was incredibly stunning.

And I love to look at them from the above.  Their symmetry is so cool and you can't help but notice the bulging red eyes.

Below you can see a cicada casing.  They crawl up from the ground, attach to a plant and emerge as an adult cicada.  They are only above ground a few days to mate.

Below you can see two cicadas mating.  I came across them in the middle of the road and had to move them because a car was coming.

I was quite impressed at their ability to walk and mate at the same time.

When my friend Christina saw these photos she said they looked like an Art Noveau design and I have to agree.  I may have to make a linocut design of this some day.

If you ever need proof that magic exists in this world, you just need to consider the cicada.  They live in the dark earth drinking the nectar of trees for seventeen years.  They then crawl out of the dirt as a brown nymph and must break out of their shell to emerge as the colorful creature you see below.  The transformation is mind-boggling.  And although they are only above-ground for a short while, it appears as if they have a raucous good time.

"It's hard, to come back out of the dark.  It's harder still, when you emerge, to hold onto the learning, to the gifts imparted by that deep, rich cauldron of wisdom whose potion you tasted while you were there." -Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Chapel St., Cincinnati - House Sketch

For years I have driven by this house near the corner of Victory Parkway and Madison Ave. and thought, "we should sketch that house... it is so interesting."  So yesterday Christina and I walked from my house over to Walnut Hills and spent a beautiful morning sketching this unique house. 

Christina is amazing and finished her entire sketch, watercolor and all, while we sat there.  You can see her sketch here.  But I was only able to finish my pencil sketch and finished later at home.  Sometimes it is hard to look back at a sketch and see all the "mistakes" I've made.  When I see that in other people's sketches I always tell them that is gives it character (and I truly mean it).  But somehow, when I see it in my sketch I just think it looks terribly wonky or googly.  However, I am at least able to see the things I like about it too.  And in this one I liked the color palette. 

George came to pick us up and bring us to lunch and snapped this photo of us sketching.  Somehow I ended up getting a sunburn on the tip of my knee (oh, the dangers of sketching!).  Although I haven't sketched in a while and felt a bit rusty, I am always thankful Christina gets me out there and back at it again.

“A man's mistakes are his portals of discovery” ― James Joyce