In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
In yesterday's post I was talking about Flickr and online communities for sharing art and photography. If any of you are on Instagram, I'm also experimenting with it and would be happy to connect with you -- you can find me here.
Tabletop with peonies and a postcard. Pen and ink.
It feels good to be drawing again, after running around for several weeks and barely setting pen to paper. There's no need to look for, or set up, a beautiful arrangement of objects - interesting forms and juxtapositions are everywhere. I find it a good challenge to just draw what's on the tabletop at a particular moment and not fuss over it too much. What can be made of whatever simply is?
Wine bottle with plastic bag and computer mouse. Pen and ink.
I think it's more important to get one's fingers busy drawing (or writing, or playing music) and one's head concentrating and absorbed than to worry about making a beautiful, finished, accomplished piece of art. Working fast and often, filling up sketchbooks, studying and learning from one's efforts: this is what seems to pay the best rewards and keeps me, anyway, from getting paralyzed by self-doubt or freighting infrequent drawings with too many expectations. (I liked what Laura Murphy Frankstone wrote about this recently on her artblog, in a post called "The 48 crayons and me") And it's amazing how, over time, we actually do improve: we see better, we draw better, our fingers gain facility, we get a better idea of what we want to do, we can make sense out of where we've been, we don't get as rattled by our failures, we're freer and more able to experiment. The point is to plunge in, trust the process, and not worry too much about where or how, or especially about end results or comments from others.
It helps to have ways of seeing one's path, and to have some sense of community. Having gallery shows is one way, keeping a blog is another, and the internet affords us a lot of other opportunities as well. Over the past year or two I've regularly posted a lot of my work on Flickr, and followed a number of other artists and photographers who do the same. Unlike some other, busier social media platforms, our little corner of Flickr seems to be populated by people who use it as a way to collect and view their own body of work over time, and that of others. It's respectful, serious, and pretty quiet. I enjoy seeing the evolution of the work of other artists: drawings that turn into paintings, ideas in different media that grow and change, bodies of photographic work, people who work in several media at once, directions explored and directions abandoned. I learn a lot about my own path by observing what others are doing, and their perseverance encourages me.
The new project here at Phoenicia is Annunciation, an illustrated book of poems by a diverse group of contemporary women. The project began in my mind after I did this relief print, back in December of 2014. About 15 poets who I've invited will be contributing poems; I'll be designing the book and producing a set of relief-print illustrations to go with the texts.
This week I finally got going on the new prints, and thought you might like to see the first one in process. This is "Gabriel's Lily." It started out with the pencil drawing, above, to which I added a hand grasping the stem.
The translation from pencil drawing to a block print is worked out in pen and ink; I usually end up with a pile of drawings and worked-over photocopies. Once the idea is fairly set, I reverse the drawing and transfer it to the linoleum, and ink it to minimize mistakes in cutting.
Starting to carve. I use the drawing as a guide, but the vigor and expressive energy in a print comes through the cutting itself: I have to trust myself to add that intangible element through my hands, and a certain amount of freedom and letting-go. This is something I hope I'm getting better at as I gain experience in the medium.
This is the back side of a print as it starts to emerge. I'm using a new ink, Akua, that cleans up with soap and water and doesn't have any odor, so I had to do a lot of experimenting to find the right consistency and thickness on several different Japanese papers. It's pretty different from my usual oil-based ink, but I came to like it.
The block went through several revisions too, until it arrived at this state. That's the scariest part: I wanted to simplify parts of the design, but knew if I went too far, I'd wreck it. Here's my table with the rolled-out ink and baren, the block, and a finished print. What you don't see is me saying "whew!"
A bunch of prints hung up to dry.
And the artist's proof. The book will be coming out in late fall, 2015, and I'll be sharing more of the process as it comes together. It's possible that this particular print won't even make the final cut; what was important was to get started. I'm thrilled about the poems I've received so far, and inspired by them: so many different interpretations and responses to this story, by excellent poets of different faiths and backgrounds. All the texts will be submitted by July 1, and then it's up to me to finish the work of making it all into a book.
It also makes me so happy to see how the collaborative publishing efforts that began with the Ecotone Wiki and carried on into the online literary magazine qarrtsiluni, co-managed for years by Dave Bonta and me, continue to spawn new projects and new relationships. Dave has just started a really cool new project that I'll tell you about in another post, and most of the poets who are working on Annunciation are people I met through qarrtsiluni or other online venues. I sometimes forget to stop and trace the lineage of those relationships back, since all this has happened over just one decade, but it strikes me as a sort of rapid evolutionary process, where creativity and human relationships have partnered with advances in technology and communication, changing all of our lives and probably our brains as well.
We were in central New York for the past few days, visiting my father, staying at the lake where I grew up. Early on the last morning, a deer walked slowly across the grass near the house, on her way to the water's edge, stopping to graze now and then, lifting her head to sniff and listen. We hardly ever see deer so close to the house, so I was surprised and grateful. I had been feeling sad to be leaving, and this beautiful animal felt like a sign to me that all was well, all would be well.
A little while later I went out to see if she was still there. The deer had disappeared, like the apparition she seemed to be, but the morning light was extraordinary as the mist blew across the water.
Someone had already had their breakfast:
And thousands of miniature worlds hung suspended in the dew.
The day before we had driven to Cooperstown with my father and his friend, through the green hills...
...and fields where the corn was just emerging.
We saw a lot of wildlife. Flocks of geese in the fields, and on the water with many goslings. Delicate wild bunnies. Herons and hawks. Skunks and woodchucks. Lots of deer. Wild turkeys. And even a gloriously blue bluebird.
And here's Dad and me at our destination: that most American and summer-celebratory of institutions, the Baseball Hall of Fame, with a couple of pretty good hitters behind us.
It's hard to believe, but even though I've been in Cooperstown countless times - I practically lived there one winter long ago - I'd never been to the BHoF before. We had fun. And were sorry to just miss meeting up with Phoenicia author and good friend Marly Youmans, who lives nearby. Next time!
Yesterday was sunny and I lay on my back on a warm rock near one of those big perfect maple trees that grow alone near houses. The sun was so bright against the white New England clapboards it made my eyes water. Above me were lazy summer clouds and high, high up, swallows playing in the wind. The air smelled like lilacs and grass; redwing blackbirds argued in the trees and a solitary cricket sang under the porch. It was as if my former life were colliding with the present one: all the sensory impressions were as familiar and readable as my own skin, while my actual self seemed to be elsewhere. I felt like a ghost.
Thinking of my beautiful, beloved mother today, who left us nine years ago. This photograph was taken in 1974, when she was 50.
And, as has become my ritual (here and here) I made a drawing as a way of remembering her, incorporating lilies-of-the-valley and one of her Wedgewood pots. This one also includes three Mexican palm-leaf fishes, made by the Nahuatl for Palm Sunday.
In my memory, my grandmother sits knitting in a sunny bay window surrounded by her African violets. I wonder how many she had - fifty? - and they were always in excellent condition, blooming happily. Every month of so she would put newspapers on the big dining room table and transfer all the little pots over there for inspection, trimming, repotting if necessary. Some of the violets were on shelves in the windows, but there was also a Victorian multi-tiered iron plant stand with many swiveling arms that held some of her favorites.
In the winters, when she and my grandfather went to Florida for a couple of months, my mother and I would be in charge of watering the plants. As a little girl I remember wanting to help, but being given precise instructions about watering sparingly and only from the bottom, and never spilling water on the leaves. The special pots had wicks in the base that soaked up water slowly from the saucers to prevent -- I guess -- overwatering and root or crown rot. I was allowed to help, but always did it seriousness and a certain amount of trepidation. As a result I grew up thinking of African violets as fussy old lady plants and not very desirable. Though I certainly inherited my grandmother's green thumb, I've never yet had an African violet in my house.
That changed last week when we received this temporary visitor to care for while its owners are in Europe. Not only did it ask to have its portrait drawn, I think it's also telling me it's time to break down and get one or two of my own to fuss over, now that I'm clearly becoming an, ahem, older Victorian lady myself.
Oddly, they remind a bit of one of my most favorite woodland flowers of all, the hepatica. The leaves aren't similar, but the form and soft colors of the flower have an affinity. Better yet, they bloom all year round.
I just learned that African violets belong to the intriguingly-named genus Saintpaulia, are native to the cloud forests of Tanzania and Kenya, and that some of the species are endangered or threatened. They range from "micro" (3 inches or less in diameter) to "giant" (12-16 inches). Here's how they came to the attention of European botanists:
The genus is named after Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire (1860–1910), the district commissioner of Tanga province who discovered the plant in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in Africa in 1892 and sent seeds back to his father, an amateur botanist in Germany. Two British plant enthusiasts, Sir John Kirk and Reverend W.E. Taylor, had earlier collected and submitted specimens to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in 1884 and 1887 respectively, but the quality of specimens was insufficient to permit scientific description at that time. The genus Saintpaulia, and original species S. ionantha, were scientifically described by H. Wendland in 1893.
And I guess it's true about spilling water on the leaves:
Saintpaulias are highly sensitive to temperature changes, especially rapid leaf cooling. Spilling cold water on African violet leaves causes discoloration. This is thought to be because rapid leaf cooling causes cell vaculole collapse in the palisade mesophyll cells.
I've been a bit laid up with more dental stuff, about which the less said the better, but I've been whiling away the healing time with some drawing. We had a bouquet of tulips and early iris from my garden that were spent, but still interesting, so they became my subject today.
Nothing too exciting, but that's just fine: sometimes the purpose of art or music or books is to distract us and allow a focus on something entirely absorbing and different. I'm grateful I have those things in my life, and glad I've learned to use them that way. I'm expecting to be back to my normal routine in a few days, but it hasn't been bad to spend some time at home doing this, too.