our community garden, part 1

in lieu of a new blog, maybe called “stealth gardening for the masses” or “the neighborhood dirt,” i thought i would post my report of our first meeting on june 20.

Jim and I arrived in the round place a little before 5:45-7, the next few got there while I was walking back to the house to get some water, and people trickled by until 8. We parked the truck sideways in the street, blocking the culdesac well back beyond the entrance. We all brought something to eat, a few brought tables, a few chairs, a rug. We brought sidewalk chalk.

When most of the people had arrived, I spoke up and told everybody what I’d found out from Carla Smith (City Councilwoman) and Mario Cambardella (city Urban Agriculture director) about how to start a community garden.

I’d had a meeting with them down at City Hall a few weeks before. The vision I presented at City Hall was this: I wanted to cut off vehicular access to the cul de sac, except for the parking spaces adjoining the rental duplex on the south of the street, and the roadway leading to the back yard parking area of the house on the north. Then I wanted to tear up the asphalt on the remaining circle and use the dirt underneath it as a garden and play area. I also wanted to take down many or most of the trees in the area beyond the circle. And I wanted to get the sound fence continued, and the rest of the outer boundary of the area fenced off. I wanted to retain the ‘cut’ from the neighborhood to the convenience store on Boulevard, but I wanted the woods fenced off from Boulevard and the I-20 on-ramp. In short, I wanted to make a community garden covering the entire cul de sac and the whole area beyond it, from the property lines of the existing houses to the borders of Boulevard and I-20.

Carla and Mario were enthusiastic. They can help get things done. They told me that the process was to find out who owned the area (the City and the DOT), and to get them to sign it over to the Parks Department, after which Parks Atlanta could own it for the purposes of the water bill and insurance. We assumed the property belongs partly to the City and partly to the Department of Transportation, and they thought it wouldn’t be much of a problem getting the ownership of the City’s portion transferred to the Parks Department. But it might take a couple of years to finalize things with DOT. Which means it might take a couple of years to get them to take up the asphalt (free of charge, because they recycle it). So for a couple of years we’ll have to use raised beds.

And then there are other issues. Emergency vehicles use the cul de sac as a shady turnaround and staging area between calls, so they won’t want us taking up the asphalt. We might could work with them on that. And we need to get water into the garden. Perhaps we can get Watershed Management to run a line, but then someone has to be responsible for paying the bill. So someone has to “own” the property. Carla and Mario suggested we work with Park Pride, who do this sort of thing, and I spoke to Betty Hanacek there, who offered loads of help once our space is an official park.

Mario suggested we begin using the area as our own, put in some raised beds, take our kids there to play. They pushed me to set up the first meeting, suggested I bring sidewalk chalk so we could begin envisioning our garden. Carla is having someone look up the ownership of the cul de sac and woods, and I need to find out what the next official step is, and prepare to take it.

We need to organize a group, a friends of the community garden. We’ll need a prez, vp, treasurer, secretary. We already have two volunteer officials – Susan D wants to be treasurer, and Mike M is going to make proper drawings. I’d like to see volunteers for everything else, including prez…

We’ll need to start cleaning up, thinning the brush, cutting some trees. It’s not our property yet, so I’m not sure how much of that is allowed. But it can’t hurt to maintain our neighborhood’s public and abandoned spaces ourselves.

People who attended our first meeting had some cool ideas.
Make and install a “coming soon” sign in the cul de sac
Have a multi-family yard sale in the cul de sac
Install a basketball hoop
Make raised beds from the containers used for stones at the garden center on memorial
Raised beds from wooden palettes, or from bales of straw
Get the City to install a stop sign on Bryan St eastbound at Park Ave
Petition Watershed Management for free water for Atlanta community gardens

Next steps are for me to find out what the next steps are, for us to start cleaning and trimming the brush, and to have another function. I’m going to canvas for a July weekend morning for us to get out there with weed whackers and chainsaws, and we’ll arrange another evening social in July – maybe a barbecue?

Here is a drawing of all the chalk drawings people did as we brainstormed where things could go.

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making art with dirt

i’m a stealth gardener.  i’ve always propagated plants wherever i could, whether it meant taking the smallest of succulent leaves that had fallen to the floor at the garden center, or wrenching seedheads off of neighbors’ flowers to scatter in a bed around the house.  i’ve always made gardens where i could.

i was once fortunate enough to have an abandoned lot next to the apartment building i lived in 30 years ago.  from my fourth storey windows i could see it behind a tall wall, choked with ivy, invisible from the street.  first i climbed over into it to reconnoiter.  then i noticed the bricked up door and started picking it apart brick by brick for an entrance i wouldn’t have to scramble over.  i never asked permission, never notified the caretaker of the apartment building – it was my secret place, and it had to be invisible to everyone; it just had to.  i rolled back the ivy and pulled up its roots, declaring a war on ivy that persists to this day.  i clandestinely divided primroses and daffodils along the public paths nearby, and planted the divisions in my secret garden.  and cuttings.  and seeds.  it was beautiful before i moved away, and it’s probably still doing okay 30 years later, because i make my gardens to go untended.

when i lived in an apartment in brooklyn, 30 years ago, there was a 2’x3′ chunk of broken up cement behind an ankle fence right next to the front door.  i broke that up and uncovered the dirt, and stuck a bunch of seeds into it that popped right up and happily clambered all over the place.  and then i turned my attention to an abandoned fenced-in almost park at the end of the block, and before long others were colonizing bits of it, and people were bringing kids and dogs to play, and it was getting to be a neighborhood thing.

when we lived in the suburbs and my kid was just starting school, 25 years ago, they started building a new elementary that she was slated to attend once it was built.  naturally i hung around the building site (looking for interesting rocks), and asked questions, and had a look at the plans, and saw that nothing was being done with the central courtyard.  so i contacted the head of construction, and the soon-to-be principal, and asked if i could do something with it, and they said sure and here’s a 20k budget to go along with it.

courtyard plan

so i designed an almost 300 foot x 25 foot enclosed courtyard that stretched from the library to the cafeteria, and had classrooms opening onto it all down its length.  i used sacred geometry (daring in the south, had anybody asked me about it), xeriscape plants, put in a garden plot so the kids could learn how to grow vegetables, specified fruit trees and shade trees, bat houses, a pond and fountain, teaching areas and seats.

2 courtyard - spring hill south

1 courtyard - spring hill north
school courtyard, first year

it all came to happen, and nobody knows it but me, because when i went back recently to get photographs of the project 20 years later, the trees were thick and tall, the concrete paths were still wandering down the length of the courtyard, but every other feature had changed.  the garden suffered first, because i neglected to specify fresh dirt, and the school was built next to the county dump, so it wasn’t the nicest soil (the janitor told me he grew tomatoes the first year, and they tasted awful).

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how it looks now, 25 years later, still being used as an outdoor classroom

and i even got a tad of fame, if you don’t mind illegibility and an ex last name.

clipping garden

when i did a year and a half of art residencies in europe and the states 15 years ago, i took dogwood seeds with me, and oxalis corms, picked up things from where i was staying, and planted and cross planted all up and down the east coast.

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i’ve had my own garden around my own home for 12 years now, and i plant whatever will grow there, and then divide that to some other part of the yard and grow more of it.  i capture seeds from flowers on our dogwalking route and prepare small beds for them in my yard.  i take a single iris from healthy patches that need thinning.  i dig up stray magnolia treelets and dogwood seedlings and native ferns.  i transplant some of my vinca to every dirt slope i find.  i still pull up ivy, and poison ivy and i are currently at a standstill, because i refuse to use roundup.

when i went to north iceland on an art residency two years ago, i began to think about gardening in the arctic.  some amazing things grow in the botanic garden in akureyri, including bamboo, which isn’t usually that hardy.  i thought up a nice project to do the next time i go back (next summer) – called the troll garden.  i even talked to the mayor about it, and he said fine to moving a bunch of trees in an abandoned nursery.  we put them down the main drag, far enough away from the snow ploughs to be safe and grow up big and tall.

in our neighborhood is a cul de sac that serves as a place for the kids to run around, and a shady place for the ambulance crews to wait for a call.  we’ve been talking about turning it into a community garden, and then learned that there’s now a city-sponsored program to develop urban agriculture, and called up for a meeting with my local city councilwoman.  and so we met the mayor’s head of urban agriculture, and i’ve got my in with the system.

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now comes the organization.  i’m used to doing it all myself, but that’s not a thing at my stage of life, so it’s going to take lots of people helping.  luckily this is something the folks in the neighborhood have been talking about for years, so it’ll be easy to start off.

first we’ll put above-ground garden plots – boxes that serve to impede traffic and claim the space.  and then we’ll go thru the hoops necessary to take control of the land, get permission and someone to take all the asphalt up, get permission to thin out the scrub forest, get the city to put up a barrier fence between the area and the interstate onramp.  it’ll take fundraising, ownership, an account with the water company to run a line.  all sorts of stuff.  this will all take years, but this is a great year to start a big project.

and, still to come, next summer i’m going to be back in iceland for three months, hosting the residency program, inviting artists from around the world to come to the troll peninsula and make art about trolls, elves, the hidden folk – unseen beings among us.  my personal project will be to make a 15′ high troll statue out of local volcanic rock, set on a hillside overlooking the town.  around this i will plant a garden of things that grow, and things i hope to see growing there in the future (lupins, birch, spruce, willow – hardy bamboo!)

so stay tuned for the further adventures of a stealth gardener on her rounds of this earth we can only steward and never own.

the very idea of a container ship residency

it’s enough to set my heart racing.  i’ve been applying for residencies aboard ships since they started becoming available – late 2015.  and it’s okay if i don’t get in.  there are thousands of artists applying for an artist residency cooped up on board a ship on the open ocean.  and why wouldn’t they?

see, i’ve been trying to get on a boat for some extended period of time.  not to work, and certainly not to party in one of their many ballrooms and yuck yuck yuck.  i’ve always wanted to go to see on a tramper.  a local.  a merchant ship.  a bulk carrier.

bitd there weren’t any container ships.  there were cargo ships, and there was the QE2.  then the shipping container industry swallowed up everything else, and now it’s hard to hitch a lift on a steamer, because those container ships only hold 12, and they’re all crew and officers.

but recently it became possible to actually book passage on a ship again.  especially after eyjafjallajokull blew up in 2010 and ruined everybody’s air travel plans for a couple of weeks.  I was preparing for a residency at that time, and had to shelve my plans.  that’s when i started looking at the possibility of a long ocean cruise, during which i could paint all day and rock in my bunk all night.

and even more recently, there came two opportunities for container ship residencies.

one was negotiated personally by a woman of great courage, willing to face the stony responses of shipping companies until one said, sure.

the other takes advantage of the newly available booking companies for passage on board ship.

both offer three weeks on the ocean, where all you have to do is paint and show up for dinner.  a cabin of your own, and as much solitude as you can stand, with only the weather outside that changes, and the rocking of the floor beneath you.  in my case, the sloshing of my watercolors freshly applied to paper, and the running of wax as i try to burn in my encaustics.  maybe i could rig a sling to keep things even???

anyway, a residency application often takes as much time as a funding application, and i’m actually doing both.  i applied for the first container residency between xgiving and xmas, and then i applied for a residency aboard a scientific research vessel, and now i’m finalizing the application for the second container ship residency, and then i will go back to working on the funding application for a big public art project in iceland next year, after which i will do my taxes.

and there’s no art involved in this, not since i finished up a dozen venetian canal oil paintings in oil, and another dozen little venetian window watercolors for the local xmas market.  but i haven’t done anything since then, and my bedroom doesn’t even smell like oil paint at the moment.  waah.  but writing proposals is an art form in itself, and i love to write, so i’m having fun turning my vast unorganized outpouring into an artist statement and a proposal of no more than 250 words each.  hahahah.  but i do it, in the end, and it sounds pretty good, if a little romantic at times.  because i like metaphors.

i will post again soon, but i’ve waited already too long to post this.

here are the pieces i’m submitting for these projects.

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plein air at zoo atlanta

i was out walking the dogs with jim at the end of may, and ran into dawn kinney martin, an artist i knew from way back in the days of cafe tu tu tango.  she told me she would be up at the zoo the first week of june, doing a plein air paint out as a fund raiser for the zoo.  i got all excited, and got the name of the person to call at the zoo – the fabulous julia knox (we’re related by name, sort of).  so i ran home, and you know how it is when you’re trying to get hold of someone with an office – they’re never there, they never answer their phone, and they never get back to you.  but i had a weekend to make it happen, so i hounded her, and finally she gave me this nice polite email about how they were full up for this year, but i could apply for next year’s event starting in december.  i took it well.  i wrote back that there was sure to be at least one no-show, and i live in the neighborhood and could be down there in ten minutes.  well, an hour and a half to run off and get supplies.

so she called me on tuesday, and i scampered down there.  i knew before i even arrived that i wanted to paint the flamingos.  they’re so colorful.  they’re the first things you see when you get inside the zoo, and tho you never stop to look at them on the way out (because fatigue), it’s so nice to stop and contemplate the colors.  plus, they don’t move, so i could make my first painting a still life.

so to speak.

after putting all my stuff in the ‘green room’ (it’s kind of brownish gray), in the round education building up on the hill, the one with the living roof, i was driven down to the front gate by an intern – they’re so bright and chipper, and all of them are from way north fulton county, so this is a really special internship – they all complain of the traffic (welcome to adulthood in atlanta).

i sat in front of the flamingos for about two hours.  it was around 1 when i got there, i picked the deepest shade right next to the railing separating us from them, sat and watched them for awhile to find a grouping of them that didn’t seem likely to move for awhile, and then got out my canvas and my graphite stick and started sketching.  once i had the sketch in, i took a reference photo of what i was going to paint, because even tho they’re remarkably unlifelike creatures, they do move around because there’s a lot of them, and they are sociable.  they squabble some.  they preen, they flap their wings (not often), they poke at the water listlessly (as if there might be food there – the water smells like chlorine and bird poop).  mostly they sleep.

so in two hours i had my reintroduction to speed painting, which is what i did at tango.  and what’s more, speed painting in acrylic, which dries as soon as it comes out of the tube.  i mixed paint a lot.  can i please say how difficult it is to get that brownish green of the water in a beam of sunlight?

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i took a new canvas out with me next morning.  i got there around 9, and wandered around the zoo all morning, looking at the animals, the landscape, the visitors, the light.  then i really wasn’t in the mood to paint after that, wanting lunch and a nap, but i forced myself to stay and start a painting.  i stopped back by the green room for a stash of water and snacks so i would have something to keep me going (i forgot to bring lunch), and then got another intern to take me up to the orangutan towers.

the orangutans were mainly sleeping in the afternoon shade, but the habitat was very nice and green, with the platform and cement tree, the woods behind, and the tourists in front.  i sat on the benches behind the viewing area, about 30 feet from the railing, and painting the habitat for a couple of hours, sitting in the shade, ignoring the hundreds of people who came by to see the orangutans.  i was struck by how many times the same conversations were repeated by different families or couples stopping by.  it was like in venice, when every single tourist would stop on a particular spot on a particular bridge, and swing their cameras up to take the same exact photo of the same place from the same angle and the same spot.  something compelling in the composition of that scene.  i too had stopped and take my picture, and so i did the same thing at the zoo, and painted as if i was a bump on a log, witnessing sort of half-abstractedly the buzzing of the constant stream of tourists in and out of the space.  like a time lapse photo.

please note that what you’re seeing here is the finished painting, in all cases.  when i took them home after the two hour session of painting on the scene, they were simple, roughed in, needing a lot of work, and lacking all sorts of details – like the orangutans, and the tourists.  all that got put in during the week that we had to finish our work before the auction.

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so that was wednesday.  on thursday morning i got here right after the place opened, because they let the staff in at 8, but the tourists didn’t get let in until 9:30, so that was a whole bunch of time in which to paint absolutely unimpeded.  nobody looking, nobody asking, nobody talking, nobody taking selfies with you.

so i staked out the carousel.  i could always see it when i was sitting in the car taking a break from painting.  the lights moved around and around, and i knew what it was.  so i had the little intern drop me off in the kids’ playplace, where they have a wetland full of turtles, and wallabys, and a petting zoo, and a climbing wall.  i liked the carousel.  it was recently done, in 1999, i think, and it’s becoming a little worn, but it’s got old fashioned charm, and features a lot of the zoo animals.  so i walked all around, selected the view of willie b’s rump, and stood against the railing to draw and start to paint.

it’s a really challenging painting, because of all the angles and straight lines, which take a certain level of concentration – meditation – to be able to get it right.  so i struggled with it for my two hours, but in the end got all the white space of the canvas covered, which i consider to be the end of the first act.  and then it was 9:30, and the kids arrived, and ACK the carousel started moving, so i stopped painting, grabbed my camera and took some photos, mostly blurry, but i got these kids in these poses on some other animal entirely, and slapped them in when i was done messing around with the background.

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then, after lunch, or instead of lunch, or something, i got a volunteer to drive me – they’re older, and sometimes they live around the neighborhood.  we went the back way, around the staff parking lots, and the backs of the buildings, including the restaurants and the reptile house.  we drove around the back of the new reptile house, which is truly spectacular from the outside – like a ufo landed in grant park, all steel and glass.  i felt so privileged to be behind the scenes in the zoo – like the time i got a private tour around the back bits of the aquarium.

i stopped at the alligator habitat.  i had been there the day before, scoping out things.  the inside of the new slimy scaly spectacular ( i think the intern insisted on calling it) is a masterwork of decoration.  the rock walls, the desert habitats, the cement tree limbs, everything was done with an artistry that made the exhibits look pale.  i even got to talk to one of the guys who worked on teh walls, imbedding cast fossils into the rock surface.  brilliant.

the reason i stopped at the alligator habitat was not the alligators.  it was the habitat.  a great swimming pool of an enclosure, a pair or three alligators wallowing on the shallow rock, and the tourists, each and every one of them, bending over double to look under the water level to see them lying there.  it was priceless.  i just had to paint a row of tourist butts.

but first i had to paint the habitat, so i sat on a cement bench with fossils in it, laid my paints and all around me, and painted for two hours, putting in the rocks and the water, leaving most of the other details later.  the sky didn’t get painted in until i saw a photograph jim took the following day, under different conditions.  it was only on reviewing the photos that i discovered that the sky was blue outside the building, so i painted it in much later.  the same thing for the people.

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the next day, friday, i was totally undecided what to paint.  i found out talking to other painters that this was pretty much the case with most of them.  they wandered around until inspiration hit them.

there were 40 some painters there, doing all sorts of work, and they were spread around the zoo in the most unlikely places, as well as the places you’d imagine – in front of the pandas, the lions, the elephants, the giraffes.  they were doing all kinds of work, some working on panels they’d pretreated with a texture or a color or some embellishment.  some worked from photos, even tho they were working outside (a kind of stretch of the definition of plein air), some took photos and went away to paint in the studio.  whatever.  julia, who ran the event, said up front that she wasn’t there to police us as artists, and if we could produce it, we could call it art.  so we were free to let the place and the animals inspire us, and it was a really creative week, and lots of fun, and everybody met a bunch of other artists, not all of them local.

it’s a small world.

anyway, i ended up in the early morning shade in front of the elephant enclosure, and spent the morning painting it.  the elephants soon moved off, and were in fact not seen again, which concerned quite a few tourists, who told their kids that the elephants were probably still asleep.  i’d heard someone who sounded like they knew state that this was elephant spa day and they were having their toenails done.  i ventured this to several particularly worried tourists, and it seemed to help.

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that afternoon, i had time to start one more painting, and unwisely, perhaps, picked the meerkat.  i thought they were so interesting, i wanted to have the experience of sitting in front of their habitat for a couple of hours, absorbing their activity.  that’s what was so interesting about doing all this live painting.  i got to sit and watch animals the way i don’t get to do in life.  i usually work from photos.  i don’t get a chance to experience the wandering and attentions of animals on their own.  the tourists came and went, and i sat and studied the various animals i painted (except for the alligators – i never saw them while i was sitting there).  it was very good to do that, and i’m looking forward to the privilege of time alone with wildlife, even tho of course i’m not alone and they’re not wild.  you know what i’m talking about.

so i painted the meerkats.  this one girl would climb up on a planter and look around, stock still except for her head, which turned here and there quickly, then froze up and stared until something else caught her attention.  i got her to look right at me for the reference photo, and then spent the rest of my time sketching in her surroundings, and drawing her basic body shape and attitude, because she stayed that way for five minutes at a time.

the only trouble with this was that i was sitting in full sun, in the early afternoon, without a hat, without any shade at all.  my paints dried the moment i squeezed them out, my metal butcher tray that i was using for a palette was too hot to touch (i had it resting on my knees anyway), i couldn’t see the colors properly because of the glare, and the meerkats had all gone into the other enclosure which was turned away from the sun.

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so i went home with everything.  and spent the next week fixing them, finishing them, in some cases redrawing them according to the reference photo.  and on saturday they had a big party at the zoo, and a silent auction, and all that.  we went, but that’s another story.  one i probably won’t get around to telling…

watercolors in venice

i’ve been in venice, italy, for six weeks now, and have six more weeks here before going back.  i brought my watercolor paper (3 blocks of cold pressed arches) and most of my pigments (72 of them) plus the gum arabic to mix up watercolors with.  i also brought my old watercolor palette, from when i used to use tube paints, but i find most of them aren’t venetian colors, and i don’t want to use them.

for instance, i have tube blues (ultramarine, cerulean, indigo, idanthrone, prussian) but the water here is cobalt green and mayan blue.  (my friend marie matthews likes to mix up cerulean and yellow ochre.)

anyway, i have the old palette, and the new one, and i mix up what i need for the painting.

i’ve done five paintings so far, and am working on a sixth at the moment.  it’s not very fast work, but i have several excuses – a three year old grandson, and houseguests.   so i’m dancing as fast as i can…

here is what i have done to date.  i’m not very happy with them, because they’re far too tightly painted, and i was hoping for more looseness.  but i’m doing architectural paintings, and they are by nature pretty nit picky.  when i start in with the silk painting, it’ll loosen up.  it has to.  i can’t do tight with silk.  i had hoped to bring my encaustics, because they’re also by nature loose, but you can’t take orange oil on the plane, and i’m not into smuggling, so i just didn’t bother.

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this one is of a building i saw on my first day here.  it’s at the the of a street that leads to via garibaldi, the main shopping street for this part of venice.  there’s a guy walking down it, away from my viewpoint.  the day i took the reference photo, there was a delivery boat.  it must be a quarter of a mile to via garibaldi, but they deliver from this point, at least some of the shops get their deliveries from here.  there is another canal that actually ends at via garibaldi, but it’s not convenient for this shop or delivery boat.  who can tell?  i liked it because the building is so ornate, with a garden on the veranda.  so i painted it.  it’s 11″x14″, and i used the tube colors of my old palette.

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i did this one next.  it’s on a street leading to the island of san pietro,, and i’ve taken the view from campo ruga because i just loved the building on the corner.  it’s on the same sized paper as the last one, and uses the same old palette.

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for a change, i decided to do one of the houses on the grand canal, at one of the extreme high tides we had during the last full moon.  for this one, i had to break out the pigments, because i just didn’t have the blues.

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then i did one of another little alley off of via garibaldi (never straying far from home, so far).  i continue to be entranced by all the laundry people hang out.  in the courtyard of the apartment where we’re staying, the women put out laundry every day, and that seems to be all they do (which isn’t fair, because it’s just all i see…).  i can’t do the same, because i don’t have a clothesline.  i have a folding drying rack that i put next to the radiator, so it dries the clothes actually a bit better than they dry outside (in all kinds of weather), but they don’t smell as nice, and i can’t participate in the ritual.  oh well.  it’s also on the same sized paper, using the tube paints.

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this one is different.  it’s in the same area (when we first got here it was completely blocked by the caterpillar roller coaster ride of the luna park, but now that it’s gone…)  i took the reference shot from the vaporetto, at high tide, and put the painting on clayboard.  i love working with clayboard because it takes the watercolor so well, and you can lift the paint off again.  so the clouds, and the dripping water from the broken wave are all lifted, as is the really too intense yellow ochre i put on the walls of the house.  the clayboard measures 3″x4″, so this is a miniature, and i used my pigments for the first time with this painting.  they are much more true to life than the tube colors on the old palette, so i’m going to continue mixing my own colors while i paint.

that’s all i’ve done so far.  tonight i mixed up my silk dyes, and i’ll start on some lagoon views in a day or two.  i’m not sure if i’m going to attempt to set my paintings here (i had so much trouble getting the volcano paintings to set properly that i’m frankly nervous about doing anything here, so we’ll see.)

project – lava silk painting

holuhraun, or nornahar as they’re calling it in iceland, the new lava on top of holuhraun, which is actually old lava.  from bardarbunga, a volcano that erupted JUST AFTER i left iceland this summer.  waaah.  i’ve been watching it on the web, tracking its progress.  and one day i came upon this picture:

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and couldn’t wait to put it down on silk.  it’s going to be one of my icelandic series of silk paintings, and by far the most difficult of them all.  i had to make three test scarves before i could be sure of the process.  and the next thing to do is make a production run of four.  but here is a sample of the irritations involved in creating a scarf way out of your own league.

the big technical deal about this scarf is that the warmest, most glowing and purest colors are right next to the most murky black, and the texture is something i can only consider sugar syrup for.  fine water-soluble resist on most of the other details, fine.  but for lava, only a smear of syrup over color is going to work.  but how?

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the first thing is always a template, unless i’m feeling bold, and if it’s a successful first try i’ll still transfer it to paper for a proper template.  once a scarf design is down and proven to be good, i roll it up and use it over and over for as many scarves as i feel the need to make.  usually i go for multiples of two, because i steam them side by side in a tall steamer.  in this case i’m trying to make a bunch of scarves for the giftshop in olafsfjordur (ugla (owl) gallery), so i’ll try for 4 of them.  but first i have to get it right.

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this is the first step of the first test scarf – put on the boldest orange where the lava will go.  and while i was at it, i put in the flames of the lava fountain above the growing cinder ridge of new lava.  the dark, gummy stuff on top is sugar syrup, squeezed from a bottle in rings, and then mushed and spread with my finger.  you can see a fingerprint in the middle.  i have already drawn in the resist lines – you can see this in the white of the bottom of the scarf.  and i have put syrup on top of the resist line for the lava, but i still drew it.

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here’s a closeup.  the purple is one of the streams of water that the lava is encroaching upon, which accounts for much of the smoke.  you can see the lava’s upper resist line well in this photo, with the flames above.

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this is how the first scarf turned out.  the good part is to find that the dye formula i’m using is washfast.  the bad thing is that i got the lava too black, and the black washed right into the lava color when it was wet, and ruined the effect.  because i made everything run after painting it all in, as i usually do.  the runs look cool everywhere else but the lava.  so i’m on the right track.

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the second scarf should have turned out beautifully, except i was experimenting with the steaming method.  i want to switch to my little steamer for travelling, and i also want to use fabric to steam, rather than paper.  but fabric is way too absorbent, and paper is less so.  the fabric (an old sheet) got wet, the scarf got wet instead of steamed, and ran all over my fabric.  so very little of the dye was retained on the silk.  it’s cool looking, but not what i need.  but i can see i was on the right track with the lava.

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so, third try is the charm.  this time i put in a bunch of colors before bothering with the sugar syrup.

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then when i stuck the syrup on i used a palette knife to smear it, and put it on rather more thickly in spots where i wanted more lava to shine thru.

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the black only went on where i didn’t want to have burning lava, and i had to make sure i was seeing the negative space when i put it on.  i will be careful not to let this part get wet so it doesn’t bleed.  usually when i use sugar syrup i want it to bleed later, for that ferny mixing effect of the colors.  but in this case, i’m using syrup because of its resistive properties, and don’t want to mess with it and dilute the color balance.

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okay, here i’m getting a little dark for my tastes with the surrounding night and reflections on the river.  to tell the truth, the dyes i mixed up were very strong, and didn’t flow the way i’m used to, so they streaked and i had to scrub the colors in while the surface was wet.

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then lots of red and everything finished and ready for water.

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and this is what heppened.  the blue bled the red and everything but those awful red lines in the foreground blended right down to atmospheric.

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but, this is the finished test scarf, all washed out and ironed.  it turned out fine.  i want to make the lava more orange, rather than yellow, but the techniques are solid, and i can start into production with the assurance that i have a viable design.

i think it’s lovely.