Before my first child was born, I painted still life and landscapes, in addition to learning to weave. When we lived on the east side of Cincinnati, I met a woman who taught an art class at a community center near our apartment. She would set up a busy still life with an ornate andiron or vase, artificial flowers, fabric draped behind this, and strings of beads or other artifacts. I think she had the class using oil paints.
Most of my oil paintings were a mess. I didn’t know how to keep them from becoming muddy. My best painting from that time is Baubles ‘n Beads. Today it hangs happily in my laundry room covering the fuse box. It is just the right size and I get to see it every day as I walk by.
When we outgrew the one-bedroom apartment, we moved across town to the west side. The neighborhood painting class was held in the basement of the library, a few blocks from where we lived on the second floor of a duplex.
In that class I used acrylic paint
and my paintings were brighter.
I set up my own still life
arrangements using things like
lids to pans, shoes, and fabric
scraps from my sewing projects.
But most of my creative time was spent on weaving.
In the early 1980s I was making woven pieces and attaching them
to pieces of driftwood. Sometimes the driftwood had a damaged end that I wanted to alter, so I took some basic wood carving classes sponsored by Livermore Recreation at “The Barn”.
I learned to use an assortment of gouges to make a relief carving—where the image emerges out of a solid piece of wood, and the uncarved edges form the frame. This is like a picture, as opposed to a free-standing 3-D carving.
June 13, 1965 is the day I was married to Ray Erickson. Ray was a dedicated stamp collector. He didn’t have much use for hand-made woven things, so I made him a carving of one of his favorite commemorative stamps as a Christmas gift. After carving the image, I painted it to match the stamp.
In wood carving, the artist needs to think the opposite of what he does with other art forms. Carving or sculpting requires you to remove the parts of the picture or image that don’t belong there. In painting, print making, drawing, collage, and clay work the artist is adding materials to define and enhance the desired image.
Carving totally turns your mind around. It creates new connections in your brain.
Carving a rubber stamp of your initials or a favorite image will do the same thing.
My final senior art project in high school turned out to be another huge endeavor. The assignment was to replicate, in mosaic tile, a painting by a famous artist. The choice of the painting was entirely up to us, but it needed to be something that would translate into small bits of color.
I was also writing a final paper for senior English on Van Gogh, so I had books of his work, and it made sense to me to select one of his paintings. His jabs-of-paint style was perfect for pieces of ceramic tile.
I selected his painting of “Old Peasant” (August 1888), and made it slightly larger than his original 27.75 x 22.75-inch painting. Mine measures 30 x 24 inches.
I worked on it daily in the two-hour art class and any other free time at school. I brought it home on Friday several times and worked on it all weekend. I had to get it done before graduation to get credit for the art class. It’s hard to hurry a large mosaic that needs to look like a painting.
My dad built a frame for it out of some scrap wood he had, and we covered it with burlap. The rope around the edge was Dad’s idea too.
Everyone in the family refers to the mosaic as “Vincent”. It resided at my parents’ home in Ohio for a number of years. When we moved to California, we had a fireplace faced with a brick wall going up to the ceiling that needed something dramatic, so “Vincent” came to the West Coast.
The large size and vibrant colors create the drama. It wouldn’t be the same if it was only 8 x 10 inches.
Humm. . . maybe I should work bigger—I haven’t done that for several years now.
I was introduced to the joy of pen and ink in junior high school. In the 1950’s we used tiny crow quill pens with a bottle of India ink. The main task, of course, was not to get it all over yourself. With such a fine pen I could make thin, tiny lines and shade surfaces with minute dots of ink spaced close together for dark places and dots spread out for light areas.
In ninth grade our assignment was to find a black and white photo of a building in a book and draw a copy of it with pen and ink using all the shading techniques.
At that time, my proclivity for turning any and every project into a colossal production emerged. I chose a picture of Rheims Cathedral in France from my history book. The photo was a full front view about the size of half a page in the textbook. I drew out the shape and main lines with a light pencil on 18”x24” illustration board.
I don’t recall being told this was too big. This church has hundreds of stone figures in little cubby holes all over the building, plus a stained glass rose window, and two bell towers. The drawing took forever to finish.
About the same time, I was learning to sew at home. On one of my trips to downtown Cleveland, Ohio, I bought a pattern to make a pant and vest outfit, and purchased a nice plaid fabric in yummy fall colors. When my mother saw the fabric, she was not pleased. She explained that with a plaid we had to cut it out very carefully so the lines in the plaid pattern lined up, connecting with each other. I learned I had to slow down and be very careful about the sewing as well, because if the lines didn’t match up I had to tear it out and redo it. Abandoning the project was not an option. I’d spent the money and I had to finish it.
These were good lessons that paid off later. A year out of high school, I was hired to draw tiny pictures in pen and ink for a company that wrote math workbooks for elementary schools.
In the mid-1970’s I decided to weave drapes for my living room. When I encountered problems with the size of the project, quitting and trashing the yarn and the work I’d already done was unthinkable.
In 2009, when I dug a seventy-five-foot dry stream bed across my back yard, I learned that hauling river rock was hard, tedious work, but it built some mussel and I enjoy seeing my stream everyday now.
I still get excited about big, challenging projects and have some in mind as soon as I finish the one I’m in the middle of now.
The first week of April I spent two days at Art Is You in Santa Rosa, California. This was my first experience at an art retreat but it was similar to basketry and weaving conferences I’ve attended in the past.
I had seen a notice last fall on Seth Apter’s Blog, The Altered Page, saying he would be teaching there, so I looked over the list of classes and saw that Finnabair was also teaching at the retreat.
Santa Rosa is about 115 miles from my home–I can drive that in a few hours. I have been looking at Finnabair’s work online for several years. I had tried doing something similar in 2016, but wasn’t satisfied with the final result.
This seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn her techniques and familiarize myself with her products, so I eagerly signed on for two days with her.
Opening night featured a chocolate buffet and a challenge to decorate a plastic eye protector while meeting the instructors and other attendees.
The first day we did a 12-inch square panel with layers and layers of papers, paint, gels, lace, mechanicals, and embellishments, including a photo of a face, then more paint and waxes. Finnabair demonstrated each step explaining why she uses each product. At the end of the afternoon we had a finished piece.
The second day project was an altered book. We gelled and painted the cover, building up layers of fabric, then wood shapes, a pocket watch piece, and mechanicals all painted with ‘Rust’ paint, gritty to the touch. A personal photo of my dad went inside the watch. We had to hurry to finish the outside of the book so it could dry during lunch. It was raining and the air even in the building was humid so the gels didn’t dry as quickly as they usually do.
After lunch, we were shown how to cut out a section of the inside. This cutting of a few pages at a time took a great deal of time and most of the participants, including me, were having trouble keeping up with the next steps. I think the cutting took too long and made the project more than a one day project.
I learned the process but I was somewhat unhappy with the finished product because I was not able to be as careful in my work as I like to be. So, I have a sample. While it doesn’t look terrible, it would look a lot better if the work hadn’t been done in a rush.
The venue did not provide an easy way to see what other workshops were doing, nor was there time to visit vendors. Still, I’m glad to have been taught by a good teacher. It was also a wonderful opportunity to sample her products before I invest in them.