Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jeannie's Drawing Lab Blog Hop #1

Hi there, people. I apologize for the downer that was my last post, and I thank you sincerely for your kind thoughts and supportive comments. I actually don't know how to respond to your comments individually. I sometimes leave a comment at a blog then get an email that is in response to that from the blog owner, and I don't know how to do that. But know I appreciate it even though you may not get an individual note from me saying so.

I've been feeling better lately -- I think the sciatica is abating, so the nerve may in fact be healing, as the surgeon said it should. I was doubtful about this, but I'm down to no more than one painkiller a day, and none on some days, so that's a big improvement. I'm doing my little PT exercises and keeping my fingers crossed. That's my part of the bargain, I figure.

I've even returned to the jewelry table and made a couple of pieces, trying to get back in the groove of that. (The best thing about the jewelry making hiatus? Not having gunk under my fingernails all the time. At some point I noticed my nails were actually little white crescents for a change. So girly!) Later this week, the major league baseball season kicks in, and I'm a big Phillies fan, so that will mean a lot of jewelry making time as I "watch" games on TV. I'm looking forward to this concurrence of two of my favorite activities.

But I'm here today to share some of the drawings I've done in the Drawing Lab led by Jeannie of Jewelry by Jeannie and Jeannie's Blog as part of a little blog hop. I shared a few of my earliest drawings in this post, and now you'll get to see some more recent ones. The way the Drawing Lab works is that every Friday Jeannie sends out an assignment, we have until the Sunday a week later to do it, and then we post our work to a private Flickr group where we comment on each other's drawings. I used to draw all the time when I was younger and in fact won several art awards in high school, but I only lasted a year as an art major in college, and I was so burned out from that experience that I put away my supplies, threw away the key, and had barely drawn anything since. Recently I'd been wishing I were drawing again but found that just telling myself to pick up a pencil and get going wasn't working, so I signed right up when I found out about the Drawing Lab (via Erin Prais-Hintz's blog, I believe, so thanks, Erin). It's been fun and challenging and I recommend it to all, though you may need to wait until next year to sign up at this point.

For this blog hop, Jeannie suggested we show a progression or just a few of our favorites. I'm going to do a bit of both, showcasing my favorites in the order I did them, bearing in mind that I didn't complete a couple of labs because of my surgery (and one I basically forgot to do). Despite all the drawing I did in high school and my first year of college, Jeannie has managed to present some assignments that I never did before, and that's mostly what I'm sharing here.

Week 3. Blind contour drawing. The idea with here was not to look at the paper at all. Look only at the subject, letting your eye trail around the edges and having your pencil follow your eye without lifting it from the paper (since repositioning it would be impossible without looking). It's stupidly fun to do the drawing and then see what you did. Laughter often ensues. My classmates did some amazing self-portraits using this technique, but my pencil went off the paper while drawing my glasses, so my best result was the still life below.

Depiction of two terrariums (minus the plants, but showing the stones in one)
and an amaryllis bulb in a bowl (well, actually floating to the left of the bowl),
plus a sprig of pine keeping the amaryllis company.

Week 5. Negative space drawing. The two drawings below were done focusing on the space around the subject and filling in that space rather than outlining the subject (though I definitely did some outlining on the chair). Since doing this assignment, I will occasionally be woolgathering, staring off at something, when I come around a bit and prompt myself to consider that thing in terms of its negative space, which changes my perception some. So this was a valuable exercise for that alone, since anything that gives you a new perspective is useful, right?

A rocking chair in my living room. I liked how this image filled the page.

The faucet, soaps, dish drainer, and stuff on the windowsill in my kitchen.
I drew a little frame for this one before starting since it's a long counter,
and I needed some limits. 

Week 7. Nondominant hand drawing. For this assignment, we were to put the pencil in our nondominant hand and go to town. Jeannie said that these drawings would be more childlike and naive, but my left hand seemed to have a mind of its own and the pieces that emerged were a bit more sophisticated than I expected. I happened to be in Puerto Rico for my brother's wedding when I did these.

This is not actually what Troy looks like, but at least you can tell it's a person,
a man even, a bald one.
I'm not a big traveler, so Puerto Rico was the first place
I'd been that had palm trees, which I'm embarrassed to admit tickled me pink.
(Really, what's more touristy than pointing at a palm tree and squealing?)
I set out to draw one in the backyard of our rental with my left hand,
and I was pleasantly surprised with the result.
I think my left hand approached this in a different way than my right hand
would have, and I like this outcome better. Sorry, right hand.

Week 11. Continuous line drawing. The object here was to put your pencil down and draw your subject without lifting the pencil from the paper -- just one long line. We had done this previously with the blind contour drawing, but this time we at least got to look.

This is a pot rack that hangs above the sink in my kitchen. My home is very small,
and I've been trying to draw from life rather than from pictures when the assignment allows it,
so by the time we make it through 52 weeks of drawing labs, my whole house will probably be represented.

Some things I discovered through these exercises: (1) I really like drawing with my left hand and I'm not bad at it, much better than at writing with that hand, which seems strange to me. (2) Once I started doing contour drawing -- the single, unbroken line thing -- I found myself thinking about drawing a subject with a single line even when that wasn't the assignment. Sometimes I thought out drawing it with a single line with my left hand. (3) I don't care for Zentangles. I know they're all the rage, but that assignment rather annoyed me. I'm gonna try that again later, though I have a hunch it's just not my bag. (4) It helps to be told what to draw or how to draw, and it's getting me over the hump so that I'm more likely to just free draw than I have been in years. So thanks for that nudge, Jeannie. It's just what I needed.

Several of my Drawing Lab classmates have also blogs with some drawings up for you to see: Kokopelli Design, Marsha Neal Studio, Kim'z House, and Lutka and Co.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I have made zero jewelry in the past two weeks. Nothing. I haven't even finished a necklace I started when I was recovering from surgery and had to set aside because the combination of my aging eyes and the poor lighting where I was trying to work left me unable to count chain links, which was vital to a balanced piece. All I have to do is count some links, wire wrap a few more beads, and add a clasp and that piece will be done, but I haven't found the impetus to do it. I'm in the dumps.

I had back surgery about three weeks ago to fix a herniated disk and put an end to the disabling sciatica (nerve pain) I've been having in my right leg for close to a year. For the first three postoperative days, the sciatica was complete gone. Though there was discomfort at the surgical site, I knew that was temporary, so I was a happy camper. Then on the fourth postop day, the sciatica started to come back, and it got worse every day until it reached its presurgery level and I was back on the narcotic pain relievers. My surgeon says not to panic, that this can happen. Sometimes the nerve is so dinged up by the herniation and aggravated by the surgery that it takes six to eight weeks to heal, so it's too early to know whether the operation was a failure. He had no good reason for why I'd have had no sciatica for three days only to have it come back but said it's a pattern he'd seen before, and it doesn't mean that the sciatica is back for good. (When he said this, I leaned in, looked him right in the eye, and said, "You wouldn't lie to me about this, would you?," and because I selected this surgeon myself from many options in the Philly area, I will believe him when he said he would not.) He gave me some steroids and more painkillers to add to my extensive sciatica-related pharmacopoeia, wrote a prescription for physical therapy to strengthen my ailing core, set up another appointment, and sent me on my way with a firm, reassuring handshake.

It's taking everything I have not to freak out entirely about how this is going. Even though I was aware that there was a possibility the surgery wouldn't clear up the pain, I was convinced that it would, and it seemed to have done so. But then, no. It feels especially cruel that I was allowed to think I was fine only to be more greatly disabused of that notion every day as the numbness, tingling, and deeply bruised feeling returned to my leg and grew stronger. I'm trying very hard to believe that, indeed, the nerve may just need more time to heal, even though not a single soul I know of who's had the same surgery reported a recovery like this. They just woke up after the operation and the pain was gone for good. That's what I wanted, what I thought I had. That relief seems to have slipped through my fingertips is all I can think about -- that and what else I will have to do to fix this if the surgery did not (kinesiology, acupuncture, perhaps stabbing myself in the other leg with a steak knife as a distraction). Keeping my chin up is harder every day.

There's my little trauma, and then there's Japan. Japan, Japan, Japan. When I'm not thinking leg, leg, leg, it's Japan, Japan, Japan. I watched as much of the news yesterday as I could bear and saw a country swept away, crumbling, exploding. They said on NPR that a train was missing. A train, gone. How do you start to fathom the loss of life and culture and property? How and where do you start to clean up and where do you go with it all? (The practical side of me sees landfills the size of mountains.) I wish I could say that I'm someone who feels empowered by tragedies, who mobilizes resources and moves swiftly and firmly to make things better, taking matters into my own hands. I'm not though. I make some donations of money and clothing and goods, whatever they're asking for, and then I hope that other people are making things better. Katrina, Haiti, the Indonesian tsunami -- donations plus wishful thinking is my pattern, along with not delving too deeply into the stories about the misery. So, Japan, you'll be getting some money from me, via one avenue or another, and I will be keeping you in my thoughts and engaging in conversation about you when others bring you  up, and in exchange I ask you to forgive me for avoiding news stories about your dead and mangled citizens, your lost treasures, the seeming impossible feat of cleaning up and rebuilding that you face. I care, but I just can't watch.

Finally, my blue mood is deepened by the knowledge that in two weeks, H would have turned 50. There would have been a righteous celebration of this to which I would not have been invited, but that's okay. I'd have called him a day or two before and wished him well and dropped off a gift on the back porch, as I have practically every year since we split, since that's the kind of exes we were. In the past month or so, I've seen several things, mostly artwork, that made me think "H's birthday present," a thought that isn't fully through my mind before it's headed off by "H is gone." A happy thought gone wrong before it's fully thunk.

The hits are getting harder to take, but there are happy things too. Last evening I went to an opening reception for a gallery show of my friend Alyce's paintings, which can be seen here. She is as genuine a person as I know, is a terrific artist and teacher, and is always wearing at least one piece of jewelry I made, so just seeing her cheers me up. Here we are last fall standing in front of a localish tree in a localish park that won some kind of statewide award. (Yeah, who knew that trees competed?) We followed signs leading into the woods to the state champion tree and frankly found it to be pretty average when got to it, so we took a picture of ourselves standing in front of it to make the occasion more memorable.

Glad I dug up this picture, since seeing Alyce's smiling face is again making me feel a bit better. Thanks, Alyce.

Hang in in there, Japan; help is coming. Wish you were here, H. And get over your bad self and fly right, sciatic nerve. I've had about enough of you.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Although I started this blog for my own nefarious purposes (sorting through the crap of 2010 and trying to salvage some going-forward-type stuff from it), now that the Bead Soup Blog Party has brought some unwitting bead lovers to the door, I feel like I need to share some things that aren't related purely to my nefarious purposes. So, for your consideration, a few sites you might want to know about.

First up, a site I'm going to try to avoid but that seems like it will be BigBigBig: Pinterest. (It may already be huge and I'm just late to the party; it's happened before.) Think Etsy treasury taken far, far beyond Etsy. Adding a couple of buttons to your toolbar allows you to identify images from virtually anywhere in the weberness and "pin" them to a board at Pinterest so the whole wide web can see what you find [p]interesting. In short, you curate, a verb that makes folks giddy with choices and self-importance. Whereas Etsy treasuries have, what, 12 or 16 spots (I've never made one, too impatient to wait for them to come available or construct the thing if I did nab one), the boards at Pinterest seem virtually unlimited. The images link back to the original site, so they're portals to places you might never have found otherwise. I spent a little time yesterday following out some of the compelling images of stairs (of all things) from this board (I could peek in windows all day and be perfectly happy), and realized pretty quickly how this site could become the biggest timesuck in internet history, since the possibilities are literally limitless. Thus, I'm largely going to try to steer clear, but I hope you enjoy it. (Leave a comment and your user name if you ask to be invited and sign up, and I'll bend that ironclad rule I just declared and go see what you made.)

Pilfered from here via Pinterest.

Second, I found out about Pinterest by following the writer of the blog Fresh Vintage on Facebook. I'm a sucker for stuff that used to belong to someone else, and this woman writes a very amusing blog about buying and reselling exactly the kind of thing I'm most suckery for (ie, "anything green and beat to crap," to quote H). I stumbled into her blog a year or two ago and was tickled by her taste, her no-nonsense manner, and her slightly bawdy sense of humor. (She swears and finds more sex-related antiques than you might expect.) When I read through her earlier posts, I came to learn that she had lived in the little town right next to where I currently live for a few years, until she picked up and moved to the town right next to the town that I grew up in. Now there's a coincidence. So I sent her an email and said hey and she said hey back and now we're best buds. Not at all, but I've made the 45-minute drive a couple of times to the space she rents in an antique mall to check out here wares, which are always nicely displayed in a tidy but not-too-precious way and very fairly priced. She doesn't deal much in jewelry, but that's a-okay with me. Jewelry I got.

From this post at Fresh Vintage.

Finally, I want to share that I won a blog giveaway more than a week ago, and I'm so new to this "online presence" thing that I forgot to shout about it here. (Add in surgery and the Bead Soup Party and forget it.) How rude of me! The two polymer clay pendants I won are from Jeannie of Jewelry by Jeannie and Jeannie's Blog. She wrote about the pendants here, which are much cooler in your hand than in the photo -- they're deep and rounded and sit in the palm of your hand -- and then I left a comment and won them. Thanks, Jeannie! I happen to be taking Jeannie's Drawing Lab (see button in right column), which is simultaneously fun and somewhat grueling. Looks like we're going to be having a blog hop in a few weeks, so if you come back, you might see a portrait of T done with my nondominant hand or my forgery of the Mormon prophets' signatures. (See what I mean about fun and grueling?)

Polymer clay pendants from Jeannie's Blog.

(If you're wondering if all my posts will be long and reading intensive, the answer is a likely yes, yes, they will be. I'm not into photography, and I have some stuff to say here, so it'll probably always be more words than pictures. At least I'm not forcing you to listen to the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons though, right?)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Brothers and Sons

It's a few days after the Bead Soup Blog Party, and I'm still slowly, slowly making the rounds. Thanks to anyone who stopped by and took a peek, maybe left a comment. I'm trying to go view and leave feedback on pieces made by everyone who commented on my pieces, which seems only fair, but it's taking forever because I have to be in a recumbent or lying-down position as part of my spine surgery recovery, and my laptop is 8 years old and dreadfully slow.

What inspired this post was that my most enjoyable hour or two lately was spent watching music videos at You Tube. I'd call myself an above-average music fan who in adulthood has always had musicians and musically inclined folks nearby, from my very first post-college boyfriend to my very last coworker. But for a long time I hadn't had a favorite band -- one that I'd go out of my way to see -- until I heard a song by The Avett Brothers on the radio 5 or 6 years ago. The song was "Swept Away" and I tracked it down within days and ordered the CD, called Mignonette, which is in my all-time-top-10 records and which had a profound impact on my life that I won't go into here. I became a one-woman Avett Brothers publicity team, buying their CDs for myself and stocking up on them to give to others. I forced them on people, and still have a couple stashed away for the uninitiated. I saw as many of their shows as possible, as they went from playing (and I'm not kidding) the living room of a guy's house on my block -- a show I MISSED, something I'm still trying to get over -- to big venues in New York and Philly.

Talking with Seth Avett after a Sunday afternoon show at a wine festival in Maryland 
(the worst wine you'll ever taste) on my birthday in 2006.
(If you're here for the jewelry, I made the nonbeaded earrings in this photo.)

Bob Crawford, the bassist, about to hug me.

Video I shot at an outdoor show of a wonderfully ebullient song about dying.

You may have just seen them on the Grammys, first playing solo and then backing Bob Dylan. I never even watch the Grammys but I tuned in just to see them. I was so proud of them -- these truly good guys making good -- but I was more than a little disappointed that they didn't come off better that night. You may not even remember seeing them if you watched the Grammys. And I blame that on (1) Rick Rubin, the hotshot producer who backed their last album, which was only a shadow of their previous efforts to my "old fan" ears; and (2) Mumford and Sons, who played immediately before them and knocked the alt-folk/rock/whatever ball out of the park. While M&S were playing, I just kept saying (much to T's annoyance), "This is an awesome performance! They're having such a great time! They're out-Avetting the Avetts!" (This is fitting since the first time I heard them on the radio, I thought they were the Avetts. Musta been the banjo.)

And then Mumford and Sons finished playing as the audience went crazy, and a different curtain opened and there was the beautiful (but itsy; the man is pocket-sized) Scott Avett sitting at a keyboard (he's a banjo player, Rick Rubin, banjo!); Bob Crawford, on electric, not upright, bass (another flaw); and some random dude on a full drum kit (the Avetts don't have a drummer; they use their feet to play a kick drum and a high-hat cymbal). Whaaa? They looked like the Doobie Brothers, not the Avett Brothers, and proceeded to sing one of their pretty but forgettable songs off the latest album while viewers at home went online and started downloading Mumford and Sons songs or ordering the M&S Sigh No More album,  which I'd have done myself if I hadn't had it already. They put on the most fantastic live shows, but at the Grammys they were more forgettable than I've ever seen them, by miles.

So this post has two assignments for you:

1. Go over to You Tube and pull up some Avett Brothers videos. There's plenty because they're cool and generous about taping at their shows. Here's a good place to start. It's one of NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts, and if you're not interested in seeing more Avett Brothers after that, fine, you're off the hook, they're not for you. (I picked that one because it's nicely done and not too raucous but you still get the gist of the guys.) But if you are interested, I also recommend this professional video of them performing another artist's song, and this amateur video of what may be my favorite Avett song. Try them out; they're way better than what you saw at the Grammys (damn you, Rick Rubin!). I keep hoping they'll find their way back to what they do best, which is powerful, banjo-driven alt-something.

2. Get on the Mumford and Sons bandwagon too. I visited the Avett Brothers message boards today for the first time in a long time, and there seems to be some animosity toward M&S, but I say, why's that necessary? If the Avetts ain't bringing it no more, and Marcus Mumford and his peeps are, then more power to them. And it bears repeating how hard they rocked the house at the Grammys (the buoyant moment in the 1:50 region in that video when they exalt in knowing they're kicking it and taking names is worth the watch alone). Plus every other live video of theirs I've seen is so good it pains me a little. When I mentioned how impressed I was by the Mumford and Sons performance to a friend who's a CD dealer, he said Sigh No More has been his best seller ("Well, next to stuff like Rhianna") for the past several months, largely on word of mouth. So maybe you're already on the bandwagon. If not, I'm the mouth, spreading the word. Join us.