Sunday, July 15, 2018

Maggie the Eighth

Painting of Maggie signed, framed and delivered to the Bubers this week
One month as a retired art teacher. Thirty days. I have to be thankful that each day has been filled with things to occupy my mind and has kept me physically moving. Zach and Michele are officially engaged and a date is set for their wedding. I bravely faced retirement with a rush of emotions and busy work. I cleared out the overstuffed basement to make room for more stuff, hosted barbecues to welcome in the summer with friends, completed two paintings, sold one for cash, went to a few art exhibits for inspiration, enjoyed a few beach days with Norman, and helped Joyce build shelves. Phew! All of this has made the transition from working a full job to not working a full job easier. And, it does not feel like I am not working a full job. I am just as exhausted come nightfall.

Maggie saying "hello"
I completed Maggie, my eighth dog portrait. I am ready to design a website to sell my work. People love their pets. I can do this. After one dog portrait, I could say I am a painter. After eight dog portraits, I can say I paint dogs. Right?

I felt so grateful to be able to work in my own art studio this month, perfecting the details of her collar and dog tags with the tiniest brush imaginable. Maggie's eyes shined brightly on the canvas and her fur seemed soft and real. She was coming alive for me and I was living my dream.

Maggie is now signed and framed, and lives in her new home with the Bubers, along with the real Maggie Goldstein.



Here are my eight completed dog portraits, all painted with love and hopefully displayed with just as much affection in the many homes they live in. My Murray, you are next.

Commissions are open! Contact me...
Blevine129@gmail.com






Pictured:
Maggie the cockapoo
Dave the beagle
Zoe the poodle/shih tzu mix
Harley the havanese mix
Princess the poodle
Hannah the shih tzu
Babs the shih tzu (with Norman the husband)
and Tattoo (some kind of white fluffy dog?)





Thursday, July 12, 2018

Let Them Draw Cake

Sketch of cake by artist Wayne Thiebaud
I just enjoyed a great day of inspiration for any artist. My trip to the city was a lonely one, but it was a trip I was happy to do for myself. If an exhibit looks promising, the weather fair, and no other pressing needs were keeping me home, why wouldn't I make the $6.80 senior fare bus trip into Manhattan? I tried reaching out to a few friends to meet me at the Morgan Library and ended up on my own, having just as much fun talking to strangers in each of the galleries of the Museum.

I love discovering art on the streets of Manhattan.
This oversized needle was a surprising find on a corner of the garment district.

Thomas Gainsborough

My brisk walk to the Morgan Library on Madison Avenue was filled with thoughts of a few exhibits I was excited to see. Street art along the way made the day all the more special. At the museum I started my self guided tour with the sketches of Thomas Gainsborough. His sketches resemble the style of his paint strokes. I discovered the same startling comparison years ago in an exhibit of Vincent van Gogh's drawings. Vincent's small repetitive marks of pen and ink in his drawings were a perfect match to the small directional strokes of his paintings. I remember thinking this was obviously how Vincent visualized the world and expressed his observations. It was just as startling to remark on the same fluidity of work with Thomas Gainsborough.

Do my drawings look like my paintings? I'll have to think about that.


The next room I visited at the Morgan featured the drawings of Wayne Thiebaud, an artist famous for painting cake. I meant to teach this artist to my art classes and never got around to introducing him to the kids. How much fun would it have been for them to paint a picture of cake? Without planning a lesson on the artist, I never did the research or learned much about him. Turns out he was a draftsman and a cartoonist before he ever painted cake, and this exhibit clearly was not about his paintings. The display began with his early cartoons, and his wit brought a smile to my face.
He was also asked by Wimbledon to attend their tennis matches and visually record the tennis players. Here I thought Norman would not appreciate being dragged through another museum, yet we would have both enjoyed this particular exhibit for our own separate reasons.

I was most taken by Thiebaud's quick sketches of people as they could have been drawn by the hand of my dad. It must have been the drawing style of mid 20th century art, and they were both wonderful artists of that era. I felt a close bond with Daddy, even if he was not with me at the museum.

Thiebaud's obsession with food came from a fascination he had in the 1950's with displays of food in shop windows. The geometric patterns and colorful renditions of his rows of cake, candy and hamburgers eventually brought him fame.

Seeing the quick pencil and ink sketches of Gainsborough and Thiebaud was almost like having a glimpse into the personal lives of these artists. Just like handwriting can reflect the personality of the writer, so can the drawings of an artist.

A final exhibit, "The Magic of Handwriting," connected all the rooms of the museum in a well curated theme. Upstairs in the Morgan was a room filled with the handwriting samples of many people in history, world leaders, artists, scientists, and celebrities. A glorious and oh, so fascinating room to wander through. I examined each torn slip of paper that someone before me had written on as the most precious of all finds in any museum. Sigmund Freud wrote a letter to his 94 year old mom, giving her six dollars on her birthday. That was very typical of the small notes I took a long time to read and enjoy. I witnessed the signature of the Grand Duchess Anastasia along with her imperial family days before their death, I looked at the shaky hand of an older Winston Churchill, the bold script of Andy Warhol, and the feminine scrawl of Marilyn Monroe. Hands down, the most beautiful writing in the room belonged to Benjamin Franklin. Those were the days. Kids are no longer taught script in school.

I was ready to record all these treasures with the camera on my phone, but what got my notice with the most glee was a letter written and signed by Vincent van Gogh. Shana Lindsey at Ranney once questioned my use of the lower case "v" for van and wanted it changed to a capital letter before report card comments were sent out. I was pretty sure my usage was correct, but I could never be positive that I was not following some other incorrect information on the internet. And as Vincent usually signed his work with just his first name, it was hard to prove my case. But here was a letter signed in full. Sure enough, it was written as Monsieur V. van Gogh! It was a joyful feeling to be validated by the artist himself. Best exhibit ever. I was inspired by the hands of many brilliant people and I was even given credit as an art teacher who knew her stuff. Not a bad day.







Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Day with Georgia in the Bronx

A gift from my thoughtful husband this year was a pair of tickets to see Georgia O'Keeffe at the NY Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. We spent a magical time together in one of the best weather days of the summer. And I got much needed inspiration for my own life as an artist.


We began with a stop on Arthur Avenue for an Italian dinner. That made me nervous since we are talking about traditional Italians here, kind of like Sonny's of Hopewell Junction. Gluten Free or other crazy American nonsense served here? Not likely. But a lovely dinner for me was possible, and it was discovered at Gerbasi, a lucky choice for us on the traditional avenue. We dined in an outdoor patio with Godfather music filling the cool night air and it felt like we were transported not to the Bronx, but to Italy. My dinner was amazing, my date with Norman, lovely, and the waiter absolutely happy to put together a V/GF meal of my choice. Smart man. A happy customer means a returning customer bringing more friends to try out his Italian delights.

The O'Keeffe exhibition in the Gardens was just as perfect. It was a small collection of her flowers and landscapes to fill my soul with art, especially after warming up during the day painting at my own easel.

The Gardens surprised me at first since we did not see a single flower. We walked along a path looking at pretty green lawns, cool origami street lamps, rocky formations, and well groomed trees. This part of the Garden looked more like a public park than a place to pay to enter. After walking around the exhibit in the library, we stopped to listen to Hawaiian music and I even joined in a hula dance lesson on a great lawn. Imagine me dancing? Not in my wildest dreams, but I did swirl my hips!


The Hawaiian theme continued in a conservatory with brilliant flowers typical of a tropical island. They really did a great job of transporting everyone into the world that inspired Georgia. And it will inspire me to face my easel again with renewed spirit and gusto. Andrea might just question the Hawaiian flowers I am inclined to add to her sweet Maggie's portrait!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Hold that Pose, Please


Katie and Zoe with my Zoe Painting

For the last 15 years I taught young artists in Ranney how to create an old fashioned selfie. We worked on circle portraits, Mona Lisa inspired selfies, Andy Warhol style portraits, paintings of portraits, drawings of portraits, photo manipulations of portraits and even iPad portraits. The smiling faces of our self portraits filled the gallery at school every fall and welcomed everyone to art.

At home, I have the pleasure of being greeted by the smiling faces of my canine subjects, their gaze captured forever in an inquisitive pose on the surface of my canvas. To date, I have completed seven dog portraits, and each one was a joy to bring to life. With each portrait, I learned something more about art, about painting, and about the unconditional love of an animal. I must have learned a thing or two with Zoe's painting above. When Katie tore off the wrapping paper from this gift, she began to cry and the dog started barking franticly at her image. I love that memory. I got something right.

Norman with Babs
Babs' painting was done many years ago as a Father's Day present for Norman. It was a photo that I was playing around with on the computer and loved the Andy Warhol look of the image I manipulated. Beautiful picture of my husband. Babs is a large canvas and hangs in my kitchen.

Dave the Dog
Dave the Dog was painted by request as a present for Erin's graduation. The chair gave me the most challenge but was fun to paint. I love the side of the big beagle mouth collapsed on the arm of the wicker chair. Great dog, great personality. King Dave.

Tattoo (also known as Queenie)
Tattoo was painted for Anthony at school. She was his son's dog that had recently passed away. I grumbled over painting the silly tiara over her head but when you do a commission for someone else, you give them what they ask for. Anthony never paid me for my services but he took care of my maintenance needs at school so I think it was a fair trade at the time.

Hannah Banana
Hannah was my precious puppy. She was born in our house and was the cutest, most affectionate of all of Babs' puppies. She lived over 16 years and survived a lot, including the loss of her mother and the loss of an eye. This painting was completed just before the end of her life and shows her on the deck looking up at me (with two good eyes). The wood grain was a delight to paint as I love realism and fine detail work. But painting Hannah was the epitome of all paintings for me. She came to life on the canvas. When I saw her expression in my brush strokes and when the fur felt so real to me that I could almost reach into the canvas and hold her soft body, I knew I captured her.

Zoe
Zoe is Katie's rescue pup. As a photographer, Katie was posting many great shots of this adorable pup and I had my choice of inspiration for this canvas. Zoe was painted in my new art studio at home and after completing her in record time, in a space I loved, I knew I had to figure out how I could retire this year and do this full time.

Harley
Harley was Pat's request for Matthew's 30th birthday. This white fluffy dog made a post on Instagram after she was complete and the post completely ruined the surprise for Matthew (not aware that he was following me!). Of all my social media fans, though, I was most thrilled that Daddy liked this painting. I am 61 years old and I still look for approval from my father. He always will be my creative mentor and the greatest artist I know.

Princess
And finally there is Princess (what else would you name a poodle with pink undertones beneath her curly, white fur?). She was another request from Anthony at school. Anthony came to my art room with news that his mother-in-law's poodle died. So did Hannah. They passed away the same week and we were both in tears. I am still not sure if he will pay me for this one, but how could I refuse to paint her? We both love dogs. Princess was the first painting I completed as a retired lady. With time to kill, it only took days to do, not months of it sitting on my easel.

I don't just paint dogs, and in fact, some of my favorite paintings do not have any fur at all. Dog portraits have just been a theme for me lately. The first painting I get paid for, though, will be something to celebrate. So what's next?

Monday, June 18, 2018

I am a retired art teacher

This is what Day 5 of retired life looks like. I am sitting in the den going through bags of stuff I brought home from Ranney. Some of the toiletries have been in my desk at school for 15 years. Do you think the Aleeve is still potent or the bandaids still stick? I am breezing through papers, cards and notes written by students, teachers and parents. Some of the letters make me smile, and almost all of them bring tears over memories that touch me deeply. I am anxious and uncertain of my future, leaving a job I was really proud of having. I had no business being a teacher without an education degree, but I think it was good to be an artist first. The kids got that and respected me for that, right from the start. They happily embarked on a long journey with me as we learned how to explore and create art together. What I could paint or draw, they learned how to paint or draw. My passion for children's book illustration, art history, technology in the arts, and applying paint on a blank canvas was never questioned.

Next to me on the computer desk, is a bear dressed up as an artist. This bear was made for me during my first year at school as a thank you for painting the scenery for the Lower School musical. I must have made an impression on the staff for the principal's secretary to create something so special. And after they saw the work I was doing with the kids, they asked maintenance to hang another bulletin board in the hallway, just so I had another place to display artwork. Everyone gave me the freedom to figure out how to teach and what to teach and they rewarded me with awards for teaching excellence. As I left Ranney School, I was proud to say I was an art teacher. I said goodbye to close friends in the faculty and the most adorable young artists who loved art class.

Six days ago, I lost my identity as an art teacher. It was my choice to stop and even as I know I was ready and it was the right decision for me, it still hurts. What will life look like now?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Gloves for hand quilting

Living in the Northeast means dealing with dry hands every winter! Even more unforgiving is that my hands are in water all day, washing the brushes in my classroom, or just washing the winter germs off my fingers when my classes are over. Dry hands mean the top corners of my fingers crack and bleed. I try to put on lotion, honest I do, (just ask Norm how I feel about lotion!!) but even with coconut oil and tubes of lotion in every room, this is an awful fact of winter hands. As an artist, my hands have to work. With bandaids covering my cracked finger tips, they don't always work.

So lately I've been obsessed with gloves. Lotion and then gloves. Mittens work better to keep me warm and I have two pair that I drive to school with before the heat starts working in the car. Then there's the walking-the-dog gloves that grasp dog leashes and hold poopy bags. Of course, there's the fancy gloves from Coach that I got as a holiday gift and my cute red gloves, just because. Gloves are important. They protect my hands.

That brings me to quilting. I recently discovered the beauty of Perle cotton for hand stitching. I've been going back to my finished quilts and adding hand stitches to them. (When is a project ever really done?) The Perle cotton adds more contrast and I just love the look of the stitches on the fabric.

I sometimes have trouble pulling my needle with the heavier weight cotton through the fabric. And as I get better at stitching and can load up my needle with more than just one stitch, it is really hard for me to pull the needle and thread through.

As a good student of all things creative, I watched hours of videos on free motion quilting (before deciding that hand stitching was really my thing) and of course bought the gloves they told me to buy for this purpose. The gloves have rubber finger tips that grip the fabric as you move it around under the needle of the sewing machine.


So I grabbed my unused machine quilting gloves the other day and tried them with this hand quilting project. They worked brilliantly!! Not only did the rubbery tips of the gloves grasp the needle better for pulling the cotton through the fabric, but the tip of my middle finger had just enough thickness to act as thimble, pushing the needle through!

Now we just have to invent a pair of quilting gloves with lotion! Coconut oil gloves? Hmmm... Aloe vera gloves!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Drawing with thread in the city!

Close up of "Starry Night" block center
Well, it was Katie that started me on this quilting journey after all.

I completed 3 quilts and 1 quilted pillow over the last couple of years, learning very different techniques with each one. I thought I might as well continue to experiment with this art form on my kids. They are always happy to be on the receiving end of one of my creative whims... a new pancake recipe, a framed painting, a quilt... whatever!

So starting with my daughter, Katie did a bit of research on the computer and found a quilt block that she liked and then came to the quilt shop with me for fabric. As expected, she chose very conservative colors (brown and cream) with just a tiny print in the brown. It took what seemed like forever to cut out all the pieces for the quilt top and sew them together. With every quilt, I learn something new. With this quilt, I became more comfortable at my machine and actually sewed a pretty consistent 1/4" seam! I also figured out how to chain stitch all the small pieces to make it go faster.


Time for the border and backing meant another trip to the quilt shop. Katie zoomed in on a fabric that looked like a map of NYC. It was a wonderful choice and so unexpected for my conservative daughter! I know she is a fan of all things Manhattan, her grandfather and architecture at the top of that list, so I was thrilled that the quilt might now mean something more to her than just another experiment of mine. We also picked out a border fabric that would tie the colors of the backing fabric in with the front design.

Assembling the quilt with all the layers was exciting and I could not wait to get on with hand quilting the entire project. Now that we had a theme going with the NYC backing, I had ideas for the quilting designs. I would create a skyline all around the turquoise border and in each of the 12 centers of the blocks, I would stitch something that meant New York to Kate and to me. I could not remember being this excited about any other project in the longest time!


I tried, I really tried, to master machine quilting. I am just not a fan of the look. I bought a few Craftsy classes on free motion quilting, and experimented as I do with anything new, over and over again. I thought about simply doing straight quilting lines with my walking foot, but that did not thrill me. And my quilt shop even has a long arm quilting machine I could use as well. I know a handmade quilt is special because you get to select the fabric and it is made with love, but once it goes through a machine to assemble the whole thing, I think it kind of takes the handmade out of it. I suppose someone who hand dyes their fabrics would feel the same way about that step of the project and would never think of buying batiks on a bolt. In any rate, working each stitch by hand as the quilt becomes complete feels more like something handmade and it is something I love to do.

So with my vanishing purple pen in hand, I sketched different designs in each of the cream centers of the blocks and quilted the designs with brown thread. I was blending together my skills for drawing with my love for fabric. How perfect is that? I also used the brown thread for the skyline on the border and a cream thread to finish quilting around each of the triangles of the blocks. It was with a smile that I completed each section of this quilt and added my signature at the bottom. It is with a smile that I can share this with my daughter. After all she was the one who started me on this journey all along.

Taxi Cab

Fountain in front of Lincoln Center

Empire State Building

NYC Public Library

I Love NY logo

Brooklyn Bridge

Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Big Apple!