Sunday, August 31, 2014

Flower Power or Sketchbook as Memory

Remember Flower Power in the late 1960s? My mom had a different take on that. She loved fine china with all its complex and flowery designs, and checked out junk and antique stores regularly in search of teacups in Spode or Lalique or Royal Albert...the list of companies in her mind was lengthy. I suspect her collection grew once all the kids went out into the world, because to amass such an extensive collection on my dad's meager teacher's salary was quite a feat. And she would use them lovingly, when friends would come around, on formal occasions, or just for her afternoon cup of tea. There were flowery, decorative stacks of them in the dining room to brighten the grey, drizzly Oregon winters.

Truth to tell, I raised my eyebrows and never quite understood. Give me a big, sturdy mug so I don't have to worry about breaking anything.

Recently, however, with the online classes at Sketchbook Skool, my thoughts have turned towards the sketchbook or art journal as a work of Memory, as a commentary on one's life to be bequeathed to loved ones eventually, to the younger generation. I tend to use my Textile Sketchbook/Art Journal in that sense, but, paper and paint never tempted me much. That may be changing. One of the assignments concerned teacups and suddenly there was a torrent of outpouring from SBS students remembering mothers and grandmothers. This seems to concern women in particular (what is it about teacups?), but the Memories were there.

This forced me to think about 18 of my mom's teacups gathering dust in my cupboard. I looked them over and realized they really are beautiful. I chose one and started a layout over two pages.
Because of the complexity of this design, I got distracted by another cup in blues that seemed just a bit simpler in design. (Hmmph! It still took me 3 weeks to finish.)
I glued a recycled watercolor painting to the corner. I like the yellowed paper and the hard lines of the geometric patchwork design that contrast to the swirly florals. Done with a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen, I had fairly good control over the design. Then the moment of truth came when I added the watercolor shadows.
After spending so much time on the finicky flowers, I nearly had two heart attacks when I ruined it all twice...however, if I've learned one thing at Sketchbook School, it's to keep going. And so, it all worked out in the end. And I thought often of my mom--OK, Mom, got it, teacups are useful (to paint). A series may be developing here.

Now, I find it comforting to think that maybe one day my granddaughters will sit and sip tea from their great-grandmother's teacups while looking at their grandmother's sketchbooks. They will remember... Memories of Flower Power...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp: The Bardo Museum, 1

As the Bardo Museum in Tunis contains one of the most spectacular collections of Roman mosaics in the world, the Camp director decided to take campers to visit and sketch. However, the palace itself is worth the visit.

The Bey (King) of Tunis resided in the Bardo Palace, which was constructed in the 19th century, until it became an antiquities museum in 1885.

The museum has been renovated and extended, however, one can see the former splendour of the palace.  Leading up to the front door, a series of lions stand watch. The National Assembly now meets in that section of the palace.
Some exquisite ceilings can be seen.

I could live under this ceiling.
Maybe the most spectacular and certainly over-the-top: an ornate mezzanine floor.
It's hard to know what to admire first, the woodwork, the painted ceilings, the metalwork, or the gorgeous marble of the columns.
And of course, lovely tile work graces many walls. 
Memories of Istanbul, for the beys were of Ottoman descent and kept ties to the center of the Empire. One can't help but admire the sophisticated use of pattern and color. 
I'll have to go back when the weather gets cooler.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

If the Shoe Fits...

After the Little People left, I vowed to do some Spring Cleaning early, you know, some deep cleaning, organizing and junking stuff that will never be used, especially in my workroom, which is really my playroom, but don't tell my family (I keep the ironing board set up and ready to go to keep up appearances). In the corner, a framed pen & watercolor painting from the 1990s leaned against the wall, out of use and forgotten.

It was just at this moment that the cat decided to have an accident (he tried to tell me he was desperate) on the frame of the painting...which in turn required a thorough cleaning of the whole corner. I took the picture out of the frame, washed the frame and put it in the garage for future use. The painting was yellowed so I tried to put it in a drawer, however, it was too big. I'd have to roll it up.

Then I looked it at, I mean I looked at it. I remembered...I remembered the lovely Tunisian wedding shoes with the tapped design in silver foil, nailed onto a wooden clog. They dated from 1940 and belonged to my Tunisian mother-in-law. The craftsmanship was outstanding, but one shoe was obviously made by an apprentice and the other by the master, seen in the clarity of the detail work.

Then I remembered the hours spent gripping a Rotring pen (maybe a 0.2 or smaller). It probably took me more time to draw them than it took to make them. I framed it up with a patchwork design. 

These clogs are not particularly comfortable, but the modern ones are worse. My daughter's wedding shoes are too narrow, less attention is paid to the craftsmanship, and the designs have been simplified. Yet, they're pretty to look at.

Lately, I have been reflecting on the sketchbook as a "travail de mémoire", Memory, which is linked to recycling as well. I took my "fancy" sketchbook (Stillman & Birn with heavy paper), painted a background with watercolors, then cut out and glued on one of the shoes.
Of course, I had to tell the story of the shoes and the painting. Maybe one day a family member will read it. Memory, memory...
The patchwork sections frame a watercolor of figs. I like the contrast of the yellowed paper and the stark white of the journal.
That old painting has taken on a new life and I like to look at that "fancy" sketchbook often. Now the shoe fits much better... 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp 2014

The Little People have headed home after another summer at Grandma's Boot Camp. 

Taking care of cats (do they really need all that attention?) was the first order of business. 

Then, there were the birthday parties. GD2 (second granddaughter, now 7) loved the fairy cake

GD1 (now a grownup 12--"What do you mean, Little People???") devoured Harry Potter's Sorting Hat (complete with magic wand).

Notice the leathery effect on the back. Man, that was a delicious cake--chocolate through and through. I get a sugar high just thinking about it! Cake credits go to my friend and fellow sketcher. 

Besides piano practice every day, the girls spent several days at the beach, and we worked on our sketchbooks, sometimes at breakfast.
GD2's breakfast sketch

GD1's breakfast sketch

We did our annual visit to the Roman city of Uthina.

Just imagine that what appears to be a hill is actually a buried city, which is s-l-o-w-l-y being excavated. We visited the water reservoirs that served the city--incredible constructions. 

And then we took out our sketchbooks and sat for awhile at the temple on the top of the hill.
GD1's sketch at Uthina

GD2's olive tree at Uthina

Back on the farm, GD2 practiced driving the tractor.

OK, I admit that it sounds like we had a lot to do, but, after a busy and stressful school year, the kids (of all ages) arrived at the farm and simply collapsed. Sometimes lazy is good and one just needs time to grow. Take the case of GD2's new tennis shoes, a subject for sketching at the beginning of summer.
GD2's tennis shoe sketch

GD1's tennis shoe sketch

On the day of their departure, I found GD2 sitting on the steps and fussing: "Grandma, my shoes are too tight." Sure enough, the new tennis shoes didn't fit anymore and we had to scramble to find a pair of sandals suitable for traveling. 

And they almost had me participating in the ensuing crying fest. But Grandma does not cry--she has a reputation to maintain. It was close, though.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Joyful Education, Art, and Dreams

In 1968, George B. Leonard published his ground-breaking Education and Ecstasy, qualified as "epochal" in the blurb on the back cover. Leonard analyzed the problems of education and schools and not only proposed solutions, but also looked to the new, developing technologies that would enhance the learning process and come to the aid of teachers. As I come from a family of educators who place a premium on education as the ultimate goal in life, this book filled me with excitement and hope and I have carried it with me since 1968. 

Today while rereading Education and Ecstasy, tears came to my eyes and my throat tightened. Tears for the wonderful possibilities that have failed to materialize, for the grinding state of our educational systems and the burden that our teachers must bear, for our failure to make use of the amazing technologies that have sunk to the lowest common denominator of Facebook with a Big Brother lurking in the background, for the dreams that have escaped our grasp. And yet, tears of relief because I have had the privilege of participating in two exciting university programs in language education that may measure up to Leonard's standards, programs that are creative and that make use of new technologies while taking the student into consideration. 

Leonard delivers a blistering critique that remains relevant today pertaining to the state of our school systems: "To learn is to change...Do not blame teachers or their administrators if they fail to educate, to change their students. For the task of preventing the new generation from changing in any deep or significant way is precisely what most societies require of their educators. Perhaps it is enough that schools should go on with their essentially conservative function: passing on the established values and skills of the past" (7). Does this sound familiar? Doesn't the word "school" carry heavy connotations for the majority of us? And as for technology, hasn't the cell phone become a glorified leash with blinders, preventing us from communicating directly and focusing on the here and now?

Several simple yet profound ideas run through Leonard's work. First, that education is a life long process and should be joyful and even make us ecstatic. Educators should be able to share the inspired moments of learning with their students, moments that happen only rarely in the traditional classroom.

Secondly, Leonard places importance on the mastery of technique, giving the example of the violinist who "arrives at the sublime only through utter mastery of technique." He adds, "The instruments of living that are now coming into our hands--rich, responsive and diverse--require mastery" (18). 

And finally, the environment contributes to the learning experience: "Learning involves interaction between the learner and his environment, and its effectiveness relates to the frequency, variety and intensity of the interaction" (19).

Here is what gives me hope, what has, in fact, made me ecstatic: I have stumbled upon a small miracle, finally, the appearance of a learning experience of which Leonard might have dreamed, the online Sketchbook Skool (SBS).  The brain child of artists Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene, the "skool" provides one "klass" each week for six weeks with six different teachers from all over the world with the intention of showing students (from all over the world) how to deepen their creativity and connect to life within the pages of a sketchbook.
My homework assignment--the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

The use of the "k" brings humor and signals that the "kourse" organization has a familiar structure and yet, is not threatening. There are no grades, no critiques, no tests. And yet, the forum for homework assignments, which are voluntary as is posting, shows that students are working enthusiastically, investing time in practicing and doing extra credit as well. 
My homework assignment about toast.
Ruzuku provides the klassroom platform that contains videos and pdfs from each teacher, plus the galleries for student postings. The "playground" is found on a closed Facebook page where everyone can post work, suggestions, and information of interest to sketchers. Not being a Facebook fan, this is the best use of Facebook that I've seen in a long time. The forums are friendly, students help each other, and teachers and students are supportive.

SBS provides not only lessons in a variety of techniques but also in materials,  sketchbook possibilities, and subject matter. In addition, this "kourse" seeks to ground students in daily life by helping them develop a sketchbook habit of drawing everyday in order to see the world more intimately, to see what is real. Danny insists that SBS is not about Art (as in art galleries), but about the intimate practice of art in a sketchbook. 

The SBS motto of "Art for Everyone" indicates that all levels of ability are welcome, that the doors are wide open. Consequently, students range from beginners to professional artists in an atmosphere of camaraderie and creativity. This lively environment contributes enormously to students' desire for mastery, which requires daily practice. This exceptional environment stimulates students and teachers alike to learn and to grow. The attitude of students plus the huge response in numbers has surprised and almost overwhelmed the founders and teachers. Several teachers have noted that the SBS experience has been delightfully unique for them. And to Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene's credit, they have listened to the students and addressed issues that have come up and made the necessary changes, which an experimental program demands.

I remain the Reluctant Sketcher. Although I may not develop a serious sketchbook habit, as an educator and as a lifelong student, I am ecstatic and delighted and I highly recommend SBS for all creative people. If only Leonard could have seen the SBS phenomenon--it would be a dream come true...

For more information see the SBS site (here), an article at "The Art People" (here), and Danny Gregory's blog (here).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

"I Need a Flower!"

She did it again. Like last summer, my daughter required repairs on a summer top, this time in linen. [See here for last summer's flea market marvel.]

Instead of a hole, there was a spot. 

"Ma," she wailed, "I need a flower. P-l-e-a-s-e." Ok, ok. But, I don't do flowers! This was a speed job because of the narrow time frame. I managed to sit down and stitch yesterday. She leaves for a professional conference in Venice (Italy, not Florida) today--lucky lady.

Unfortunately, the design had to be in beige, however, in the end I rather liked beige and white together. This turned out quite subtle. Surprising for me...

And I want to see lots of pictures of that top in Venice!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Summer Elves and Fairies

The Little People have arrived and Grandma's Boot Camp is in full session.

GD2 (second granddaughter) came accompanied by several elves who come from the North Pole. There was some debate about whether they would be allowed to come to Tunisia as it is warm for them. However, GD2's mother sent a special request to Santa to get the necessary authorization. Santa knows that GD2 pays close attention to the well-being of her elf friends. When they need to cool off a bit, she puts them in the freezer. Here we see Ellie and Elfie in deep conversation. 

Charlotte resides in GD2's bedroom and generally moves around at night, changing where she sits. Unless, of course, GD2 misbehaves, then Charlotte can't move. Also, nobody can touch Charlotte or she loses her magic powers. GD2 leaves notes for the elves under her pillow.

Two other elves visit GD2 frequently and leave messages: Behavior Elf and Piano Elf. Although she can't see him, Piano Elf sits on GD2's shoulder when she practices and especially in a recital, which has allowed her to play confidently ever since he appeared on the scene.  She says she can feel him right there helping her along. Behavior Elf helped GD2 get an A in Behavior by the end of the school year. Things were a bit rough in First Grade until Behavior Elf stepped in to help. 

Behavior Elf and Piano Elf took an earlier flight to Tunis and left GD2 a note on her pillow to welcome her. It turns out that they have already made friends with the garden fairies who have been anxiously awaiting the return of GD1 and GD2 so they can fix the fairy house.

And so, my sketching buddy was inspired to create a Fairy Cake for GD2's birthday, as delicious as it was beautiful.

Such lovely detail work: Note the placement of flowers and butterflies, and the wings (non-edible). The fairy even has pointed ears.

I think my friend sprinkled some fairy dust over the cake, for it was a magical evening.