Thursday, April 16, 2015

Acorn Linocut - Part 2

I finally finished printing the giant linocut acorns!  It has truly been quite a learning experience for me.  I learned that:
  • It will take me months to complete a project like this
  • You need to sharpen your linocut tool every day with a slipstrop
  • I friggin love carving and listening to music 
  • It is really hard to print a big black area evenly
  • I need help to print this large
  • I will have extremely strong arms if I keep this up
  • I need to clean the basement so the whole house is not disrupted by large prints laying everywhere
The list could go on and on, but in the end this experience has only wet my appetite to do more.

I also had fun documenting the process.  Below you can see photos at each stage.

1) Complete full-size pencil sketch.

2) Transfer to Safety-Kut.

3) Carve design.

4) Ink the plate.

5) Print!

It was interesting to me because in the end I may have been just as excited about the photos of the plate and print as I was about the actual print.  Maybe down the road I will make some note cards of the photos. (You can click on the images to enlarge.)

As I said above, one of the biggest lessons I learned was that I need help during the printing process because the paper is so big.  I couldn't have done it without the help of my next door neighbor John.  He not only shot the following video of me inking the plate for the first time, but he helped me lay each sheet of paper down onto the inked plate and then meticulously rub every square inch until our arms were going to fall off.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, John!

As you can see in the video this was the first time I inked the plate to make a test print.  I quickly realized I needed to buy a bigger brayer!

Below are a few more photos of the final print.

At some point I hope to be selling these prints either online or in a gallery.  I will keep you posted!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Acorn Linocut - Part 1

I have been dreaming about giant linocut acorns for a while now so I decided it was finally time to attempt one.  I usually have an assortment of pods, seeds, and random plant parts sitting under my computer monitor and I stare at them all the time.  I think the acorn caps below have been sitting there for at least a year and it was finally time to make use of them.

I started this project by photographing the acorns and then composing them exactly how I want them in Photoshop. I then printed the photo and did a large sketch exactly the size I wanted to do the carving. Below is a short video of the sketch as it came along. (Sorry about the quality, I am just learning this video stuff!)

After finishing the sketch I then transferred the design to my plates. I originally wanted to make a SUPER GIANT print, but decided I'd better start with a size where I can buy the paper locally. So I went downtown to Suder's and bought a roll of mulberry paper and a sheet of their largest Stonehenge (38''x50''). I then had to decide what material to use for my plates. I wanted to use safety-kut because I have some arm issues and it is nice and soft to carve. But the down side was I would have to tile two sheets together to make the print (they sell an 18x26 "Big" sheet). The other option was to carve out of wood or linoleum, but then I would have to buy real tools that can cut those materials. In the end I decided to go with the safety kut and hoped that fixing the seem wouldn't be too un-seemly. 

Below is a video of some photos of the carving process.

Next week I will post some more process shots and the final print. Check back soon!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Birding Journal on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!

Last week I was so excited to find out my book, "Birding Journal: Through the Seasons" was on Tina Fey's new show, "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"!  Earlier in the week my friend Christina emailed me she saw my book on the show.  I assumed it was in the background somewhere.  Then the next day my friend Margot emailed me this photo and I couldn't believe it...front and center!  In the scene Ellie Kemper (who plays Kimmy) is trying to prove how nerdy her employer's step-daughter is and she holds up the book and says something like, "Look, she even has a waterproof birding journal."  It is probably in the scene for five to ten seconds.

I had heard good things about the show but I don't have Netflix.  However, I am going to my Dad's for a week where I plan on binge watching the whole show.  If any of you watch the show keep an eye out for it in Episode 10 at 21:40!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sketch of St. Mark's

Last weekend Christina and I walked over to Evanston to sketch St. Mark's church.  Every time I get off the highway I drive by this beautiful church and admire the tower.  The church is no longer open but there is a school attached to it that is still functional.

After sketching we walked over to the new coffee shop, "Community Blend."  My smoothie was delicious and according to George and Christina the coffee was good too.  It was nice to support a locally and employee owned shop (see video about it here).  If you are in the area you should stop by.

You can see Christina's sketch here!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spotted Salamander

Friday night there was a steady rain and George convinced me that it was the magical night he had been waiting for for weeks...the night of the spotted salamander migration!  The spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) spends all winter burrowed deep in the ground.  In the early spring on the first rainy, warmish night, they venture out of their winter hiding to migrate to vernal pools to lay (or fertilize) eggs. It is one of the few times a human might actually be able to catch sight of these highly reclusive creatures.

Earlier in the week George had gone searching for the elusive amphibian only to be disappointed.  It was indeed the first warmish night of spring, but the pool still had a skim coat of ice; not a single yellow-spotted creature to be found.  So when he came up to the computer room Friday at 9:30 pm where I was cozily surfing the web, I was not sure I wanted to don my wellies and raincoat to search in the rain and mud for this illusory prize. 

But boy was I ever rewarded for braving the elements. As you can see above we were successful in our quest!  We had barely arrived at the trail before George spotted those yellow spots.  I was amazed how big and fleshy its body was.  And I loved the ridges on its flanks, not to mention those wild yellow spots.  The whole creature seemed quite improbable and yet there it was looking back at us in the soft rain.

The distance from the trail head to the pool was only about a half a mile, but I couldn't imagine how such a small-legged creature could walk so far on those little side-protruding limbs.  But somehow they do it!  And when we arrived at the pool it was clear that many do indeed make it.  The video below shows a salamander on the moss-lined edge of the pool making its leap into the water.  When we looked into the pool you could see maybe twenty or so salamanders writhing, swimming, and every so often coming up for air.

(After pressing play, click the bottom right corner to enlarge the video.  It is fun to watch it large!)

We found five or six salamanders on their way to the pool.  At first I wasn't too worried about stepping on them because of the bright yellow spots, but then George found a couple that had no spots.  I am not sure if they were young ones or a different species. 

On the drive home I couldn't help but think that we live in a crazy, amazing world.  To think this startlingly beautiful creature not only exists, but lives right near me blows my mind!  And I must mention that, yes, they really do appear to have a smile on their face.  I know I am anthropomorphizing here, but I will never forget their docile, yet determined nature.

So if you are ever offered a chance to search for gold in the middle of the night in the pouring rain, take it my friend... take it!  You will be rich in experience, your heart will sing, and you won't be able to wipe a ridiculous grin off your face for weeks.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chinese Lantern Plants

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I stopped to photograph these Chinese Lantern plants growing in my yard I was excited to find one with the orange seed still inside this late in the season.  Usually the sun, wind, snow and rain have worn through the walls of the seed pod to free its precious cargo.

As I sat here looking at this incredible seed pod I couldn't help but imagine myself as that little orange seed.  My first thought was, "What holds us in and makes us feel secure is what holds us back."  But then I thought, "No, this cage does indeed protect us for a while and the slow wearing away gradually allows for a beautiful, slow maturation.  Until one day, when we are ready, life wears down enough of our barriers that we fall into our potential.  Everything about the system is perfectly timed and designed."

OK, enough waxing philosophical.  If you also didn't notice I had a hard time deciding how to crop these images.  The top two are the same image and so are the bottom two.  Normally I just make a firm decision and move on, but I was torn between loving a good close-up and really enjoying the composition of the original images.  And because the fun of the blog is to do whatever I want, I decided to post them all!   

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Beefeater Begonia

When we first moved in to our house a neighbor across the street gave us a cutting of her beefeater begonia.  Twelve years later it is still thriving and produces the most beautiful flowers at the bleakest time of year.  I have always been fascinated by these blooms because they are both tri-lobed and bi-lobed on the same flower.  But the real reason I started this blog entry about the begonia is not because of the flower.

The other day I was doing a rare thing and cleaning the house when I noticed a dead leaf had fallen from the begonia.  When I picked it up to throw it away I happened to glance down as it fell into the garbage can and this is what I saw!  These amazing dessicated pathways were being created as the leaf slowly dried out while laying on the radiator.

How lucky I was to find this leaf at that perfect moment.  And when I looked even closer at the drying leaf, there was a beautiful, warm glow at the heart of it set off perfectly by the silver grey lines.

"Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure."  -Rumi

Monday, February 16, 2015

Philodendron Sketch - Krohn Conservatory

Last week Christina, Amy and I sketched at the Krohn Conservatory.  I decided to sketch a huge philodendron that overhangs the waterfall in the center room.  I have always loved the heavily-lobed shapes of philodendron leaves.  Plus the pattern left by the old branches on the trunk and all the "strings" hanging off give it quite the visual appeal.  And the name comes from the greek words philo or "love" and dendron meaning "tree" (Wikipedia) which seems like the perfect name to this tree hugger.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Embroidered Valentine's Card

I have had these scallop-edged cards in my stationary box for years and decided it was time to make something with them.  I started by making the design in Illustrator using the polar grid guidelines.  That allowed me to space everything perfectly in a circular layout.  I then printed the design on regular paper and gently taped it to the scalloped card.  Once it was taped I used my hammer and awl to make all the holes.  I pre-drilled the holes because it makes it way easier to sew later.  After the holes were punched I then removed my paper guide and embroidered the design with a needle and embroidery thread.

Because I wanted to hide the "messy" embroidery on the back I decided to cut a pink circle that would get sewn at the same time as the edge circles.  I decided to add a single heart to the pink circle and sewed that before sewing through both the layers.

I told George that when I am an old lady I just want to sit around making exquisite cards to send to people.  I love designing and implementing a project all in one day.  And I like the thought that there is not another card in the whole world like this one.  Happy Valentine's Day everyone! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An Eye for Wood

I have always loved the odd, bulbous growths (called burls) found on some trees and the other day I stopped to look at one in a neighbor's yard.  As I was looking at it I suddenly realized it was looking right back at me!  And not only that, but it looked like an elephant eye which made it all the more delightful!

The wood spirits must have been especially active that day because I was also called to inspect a stump that I have walked by a thousand times.  This particular stump is about 5-10 feet from the sidewalk and doesn't look like much from the side.  But when I looked down at it from above I was struck by the beautifully aged "golgi-body" shapes that reminded me of petrified wood.  And this is not even mentioning its gorgeous muted color pallete. 

When I really got up close to it, it became a wrinkled landscaped of worn, ruddy mountains waiting to be scaled by a passing ant or termite.  I wonder what they feel when they scale this rugged terrain.  I guess at this time of year they are nestled deep down in the folds dreaming of warmer weather.  It makes me want to climb in there too.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Winter Cabbage

"I thought you went for a walk, not a swim!" was George's comment when I returned home the other day and showed him the photos from my walk.  These cabbages are right next to my front door and I can't believe I walked by this awesomeness every day and didn't notice! Although faded, they are still amazingly beautiful.  My mom bought me these cabbages in the fall and their transformation from bright and bold to soft and delicate is remarkable.

My eyes hear
The wrinkled song
Of fading cabbage leaves

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Berry Feast

I haven't been posting much lately because I have been holed up in my house avoiding the cold weather.  But yesterday a friend asked me to walk their dog and it forced me to venture out and I realized that if I bundle up properly, it really is not going to kill me.  So today, even though it was only in the 20s, I took a brisk walk around the neighborhood. 

As I was walking I noticed several trees had dropped all their berries and the robins were having quite a feast.  I stopped by the house to grab the camera and sat near the trees to try and photograph them.  As I sat still waiting for the birds to get used to me, cars kept driving by asking if I was OK.  They were probably thinking, "What kind of freak would sit out in twenty degree weather next to a pile of rotting berries?"  After I reassured them I was OK they would drive away and the birds would slowly return and I thought, "If they only knew what they were missing they would be sitting next to me!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014