Sunday, June 12, 2016

Corvus sanzuwu

I can't believe I did it!  I finished it in two weeks!  My friend Lyall Harris asked if I would be interested in participating in Strathmore's Pass the Journal event.  It is an international round robin of sorts and each artist has exactly two weeks to decorate a two page spread however they like.  It was exciting to receive the journal but also a little intimidating.  I wasn't sure what I was going to draw on my pages.  At first I thought I might sit on the downtown mall and sketch some of the buildings or draw some of the letterpress machines at VABC.

It just so happens that near to the day I got the journal I had a meeting scheduled with my other friend, Debbie Ku.  We were talking about our upcoming participation in the Tree of Life print exchange.  We were both thinking of addressing the Chinese concept of the Tree of Life.  She told me about Xi Wangmu (Queen Mother of the West) and the Fusang mulberry tree in the valley in the west.  One note caught my eye and I researched a little more into Sanzuwu, the three legged bird.  The most popular account is of Yangwu or the "golden crow".  An account read, "Even though it is described as a crow or raven, it is usually colored red instead of black."  It was stated that there were originally 10 separate sun crows and each would take turns accompanying Xi Wangmu across the world in a carriage.  Legend tells that in 2170 BC, all the crows decided to escape and land on earth to feast on two kinds of mythical grass.  This caused the world to burn and in order to save the day Houyi, the celestial archer, shot all but one of the sun crows with arrows.  Can you guess which one remained?

I was so inspired by this fantastic tale that I sat down with my pencil and began to map out Fusang with its branches full of Sanzuwu.  I was really excited at the beginning of this process!  I had to search for a lot of references and kept a closer eye on the crows that like to visit the house.

Finally, I had the finished sketch but now a week had gone by and I was getting nervous about finishing the work.

Here's a close up of things in progress.  I was starting to feel like a failure because I was finding the tree really hard to paint.  I didn't have many references on how to light and shade a glowing hot pink mulberry tree with translucent white leaves!  I decided to start rendering the birds instead and this really helped relax my hand and get into finishing the whole thing.

This was the first time I used my quinacridone red and gold paints.  The quinacridone red came out a nice hot pink.  The quinacridone gold I'm hook on.  It went on as this thick rich golden ochre color and then would thin out to this luscious mango yellow tone.  Sexy.  The finishing touches are translucent gold halos.  I was really excited to try out Golden's Interference Gold paint.  For the finished shot of the painting, I propped one side of the book up so that all the halos would be illuminated.  As you can see from the image above, in certain angles the halos virtually disappear.  I took a scan of the journal before sending it off and the halos don't really show up in the scan.

This was a really great project to do and made me commit to painting a drawing again.  That was refreshing.  Now, on to that Tree of Life block print that I need to do . . . 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Tree of Life VABC print exchange

2nd Meeting 

VABC shop studio Saturday, April 16th at 5:00pm

What it is: A collection of prints created by participants and inspired by the concept of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is a global archetype focusing on the concept of a sacred tree. It is a symbol that is usually associated with hope, healing, stability, sustainability, and protection. Through history, it has occurred in many different cultures. 

Edition Goal: Enough prints to accommodate a final portfolio collection in a hardbound case for each participating member and a determined number of cases for donation to the VABC. 

Print Size: 11” x 14” 

Paper Type: Paper is the choice of the artist. 

Participation Fee: Members: $40.00
                               Non-members: $70.00 

Medium: Traditional” printing methods are
encouraged but the project is not exclusive of digital methods. Contemporary media can be used and is encouraged but be considerate. Methods and materials that compromise the collection as a whole will be excluded.

Please contact project manager, Lana Lambert for more information at

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Crozet Artisan Depot

I got into a new local venue! Literally!  The Crozet Artisan Depot took me on as one of their new artisans and I am delighted to join them.  They are located in a fantastically quaint old train station in downtown Crozet, Virginia.  It is jam-packed with wonderful art of all kinds!  There are pieces to delight the senses and pamper the soul.  Naturally, some of them followed me home . . .

Below is a photo of my cards nestled amongst all the goodies.

I've got so many more to get printed but fresh off the presses are the stacks of boxed Thank You cards.  I have some singles for sale too.  Sometimes just one will do!

I was fortunate enough to score a set of Tuscan Ombre type from Wingnut Foundry.  It paired nicely with vintage dingbats from the VABC collection and the "money green" doesn't hurt either.  More on these guys later, but should you find yourself in need of some Thank You notes, now you know where to go!

I cannot impress enough how delightful the Crozet Artisan Depot selection is!  You can find paintings, prints, ceramics, baskets, wooden bowls, jewelry, stationery, books, candles, soap, knives, instruments, candy, preserves, . . . I mean the list goes on and on!

The staff is really great as well.  I met a luthier who makes some amazing instruments!  Marvin Rankin creates these beautiful masterpieces, but it doesn't end there.  Not only beautiful to look upon, in the right hands they create aural magic as well.

These two really stood out to me.  I've never seen an electric cigar box guitar.  He even has an amp under the display for a demonstration of the sound.  Stellar!  See more of his work here:!marvinr/ckku

I had to come away with some goodies!  I picked up this gem by Emily Hancock.  The binding is delicately crafted and it was hard to pick from her selection because they all looked so tempting.  At last I chose this little beauty because the bright marble paper reminded me of an Easter egg shell.  I added the title at the top right on the front to personalize it just for me.  Check out Emily at

While perusing, I recognized this collection right away!  It's hard to miss the unmistakable precision and soul of Abbey Noelle's carefully rendered graphite animal portraits.  I recognized her work as she has framed with us at Creative Framing.  I've seen adorable little "Coffie the Fruit Bat" in person and the detail is crazy.  I bought one of her cards to remember him.  I know he hangs upside down but I like looking at his little face right side up!  You can find out more at:

I actually met the lovely Kerensa of Lux Aromatica when she had an opening this past 2nd Saturday.  I simply had to try some of her wares and boy, was I not disappointed!  I'm going back for more.  For now, I'm enjoying one of her Ice Mint soaps (mint soap is a weakness of mine!) and wonderfully fresh French Perfume candle.  I want to try Rare Earth and Kama Sutra next. You can see more at: 

Well, I better get back to cranking the press handle but stop on by the Crozet Artisan Depot to check out the fantastic collection of locally crafted treats!  Be warned, it's hard not to come away with something that you won't absolutely fall in love with!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Turkey Quill

I was debating on wether or not to post this in my art blog or my hippy blog (ne'er the two shall mix?) but so much of this was about process that I decided the art blog would be more appropriate.

I have a feather collection.  People collect things for many different reasons and even in the realm of feather collecting, people do it for different reasons.  My reasons tend to lean on the religious side and since you guys are reading my art blog and not my hippy blog, I guess you'll just have to wait for an explanation!  At any rate, I made the recent discovery that my collection was not safe from little insects that destroy the feather follicles if given the opportunity.  Being a framer by trade I did not despair, I just simply got to work.

If I associate my collection with experiences, then I wanted the framing of it to be personal to me and not just a specimen case.

I started with my small turkey quill.  I had fallen in love with a Japanese arrow fletching pattern I have seen and wanted to use that geometrical influence.

 The tedious part begins with penciling out your lines on an acid free board.

A grid is first drawn and then the oblique lines are installed.

I knew I did not want a solid wall of pattern.  I was going to mount the quill in the middle so I picked out some of the blocks not to fill with pigment.  A handy tool at the top right is a rough thumbnail sketch.  It's kind of like a road map for where you generally want to end up with your design.  I also had my double mat ready nearby.  You can see at the top left that I chose an off white top mat and a soft gray under mat.  Since my frame and background were going to be bold, I wanted a lighter matting so the final presentation wouldn't be heavy.

Next came lining the pattern.  The pencil drawn lines are invaluable at this point.

I've grown to love my ruling pen for tasks like these and today it was earning its keep.

When I began to fill in the pattern, I liked the bold red color but realized halfway through that this pattern was going to end up dominating the presentation.  It would be hard to see the feather against all this.

Luckily, I had a scrap of beautiful japanese paper with bark and fiber inclusions.  It was an improvement that actually enhanced the look because the inclusions look like they were being swept up by the wind and my feather would feel right at home.

I mounted the quill and installed the mat on which I had written the turkey's scientific name.  I framed it in a bright red burl-wood frame by Bella called Tiny Cinnamon.  Now my little quill has a home that is beautiful, magical, and is safe from bugs, moisture, and UV light.  On top of that, it is hung near our bedroom so instead of laying on a shelf I get to wake up to it every morning and have a reminder of the magic alive in the world.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Free Adult Coloring Book Page!

Okay boys and girls, I've got your Sunday activity right here! Be prepared to chill out and have fun.  Who could have anticipated the popularity of the adult coloring book craze?  I'm glad people are into it because "coloring" (a.k.a. art making!) is very therapeutic.  I happened upon a proof of one of my blocks while cleaning up my tiny studio.  Looking it over, I thought Well, this would be a good candidate for a coloring book page.  So go ahead and print off a copy, break out those colored pencils, gel pens, and markers. Pour yourself a glass of wine or brew a spot of tea! Relax and let your imagination wander!

On a side note:  I printed a copy off myself and started coloring it in just to use as an example of the potential there is in your coloring.  As usual, I got immersed in it and had to remind myself several times to stop so that the example would look like a work in progress.  Once you get into staining with those rich colors and stippling, it's hard to quit!! Damn this coloring crack!  Anyway, I took a photo below of the supplies I used to start coloring my dragons.  I got it all from your friendly local neighborhood Art Box.

I flipped it over to check out the backside of the paper.  Markers are notorious for their bleed through and companies have even engineered paper and sketchbooks to tackle this specific problem. (The Art Box carries Paris Paper pads by Borden & Riley)  I actually kind of like seeing the bleed.  Someday when I have time out the whazoo, I'd consider doing a piece that works particularly with this quality.  I can see how it would be a bother if you wanted to color both sides of a page though.

Have fun coloring and if you're proud enough of your finished work, send me an email of it and I'll post it up here for all to see!  I think it would be neat to see how people approach the same material.  You're almost always guaranteed to get a diversity of results.  That's the spice of life!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Semicolon in the Sky

On the 18th of July in the year 2015, something beautiful happened.  Venus and the Moon danced together and I was there to capture it.

I had recently gotten an iphone and had heard about how wonderful smart phones were for taking snapshots on the go.  Color me underwhelmed.  This close up looks like a bad UFO shot.

I tried to capture the expanse of deep evening sky that I was seeing and it just wasn't working.  Disappointed and realizing that I was now one of those people who wasted the moment trying to fiddle around with some gadget while missing the opportunity to witness the wonders of the natural world, I stopped. Mesmerized, I stood in the front yard and soaked in the beautiful atmosphere as the moon slipped behind the mountain and I tried to atone from my previous error in judgement.

As I watched the evening sky and the cool air shifted around me, I took some time to reflect.  I comforted myself in the notion that at least I had tossed the phone aside when the camera images didn't live up to what I was seeing.  A sting of regret was still nagging me.  I had just witnessed a moment that was beautiful and breathtaking and I just knew I wouldn't be able to go draw it right then and there.  Artists have this thing for wanting to share what we see and feel.  Me personally it goes a little like: "Oh, I can't even begin to explain or write how it was! Here! Let me draw you a picture!"

And then, a feeling came over me.  Venus and the Moon took me and showed me the way.  I was suddenly overwhelmed with the sensation of "Why not? Why not go upstairs right now and do this right now?"  And so, when the Universe offered to come and keep me company for the night, that's what we did.  The Universe and I spent some quality time together and here is what that looks like:

The photographs could not capture the awe encompassing sky that poured deep blue black overhead.  The photographs said that the evening horizon was a washed out pale blue but that's not what my eyes saw.  I saw the subtle veil of sanded light as it faded away into the evening.

A closer study allowed me to record it's rusty color and the sheer thin slice of the waning moon.  Venus pierced into the dingy firmament.

I also did a pencil sketch that allowed me to record the gossamer streaks of clouds that were almost unseen.  They only barely show up in the photographs but they have been placed in my sketchbook.  Now I have a permanent momento of the night the Universe came to visit me for dinner.  I am one special lady. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Bank of Howardsville Currency Notes; preserving a bit of history.

Some very good friends are in possession of some Bank of Howardsville currency notes.  Its amazing to think that at one time Howardsville, Virginia had its own currency to support the local economy!  I agreed to create something special to preserve them with.

The first step was to measure the bills and design with enough space to accommodate the mat bevel and the overhang from the picture moulding.  This is the most fun part in my opinion because you get to dream and be creative as to what you will include in the composition. 

We had already picked out a frame moulding and a mat style.  The bills were to be framed in a double glass style.  This means the mat and bills are going to be sandwiched between two layers of glass.  By measuring the mat openings to be a quarter of an inch larger than the bills on all sides, once the piece is hung you can see the wall behind it.  You can also take the frame down off the wall and flip it over to inspect the back of the piece as well.

Mat board is a temperamental material to work with.  I discovered I couldn't transfer my drawing with regular graphite paper.  I found the impression needed to get a mark from regular graphite paper would stain the mat paper and not come out once erased.  Because I was drawing in sepia ink, the stains would show through.  If I was illustrating in black ink there would be no problem but black ink would overwhelm the composition.  I had to make my own transfer paper with a 2B pencil.  This made marks light enough not to stain and they would remove easily with eraser.

Here it is finished against the original sketch.

A detailed photograph shows the Howardsville Heritage banner I chose for the top.  It wraps around two barrels full of tobacco on either side.  The banner cradles a bundle of wheat before unfurling down.

One of Virginia's biggest crops was tobacco.  A tall spire of tobacco plant flanks either side of the mat.  It's crowning head of flowers bursts open like fireworks.  Honeysuckle vine creeps through the tobacco to twine itself through the divider in the middle of the mat.

At the bottom of the mat, a terrapin peeks out from beneath the tobacco leaves.  Sacks of flour and a jug of moonshine wait on the shores of the James River as a Batteau floats tethered, awaiting cargo and a journey down the river.  A bag of dried corn cobs has broken open and a fat hen pecks away at the kernels on the cob.

Doing this project has reminded me of how I miss pen and ink drawing and that I should get back into it.  It took 13 hours to complete the work on the mat.  Whew!  That's at least worth a leisurely float down the river!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Winterfest Cardinal Card

Happy Winterfest! (For all you nerds out there, yes that was a reference to Beauty and the Beast)  I was recently commissioned to do a holiday card design featuring cardinals.  The design was similar to this one but with an edit.  I liked the original image so much I decided to keep it and use it as my own.  I would still like to do something like this except as a Japanese woodblock print but that must wait.  In the meantime, if you'd like to see how it was made, read on!

One day, I'll show you the many sketches I did of cardinals in flight and landing but for now we'll just deal with the pencil sketch of my final.  This particular arrangement is not from a photograph.  My process involves sketching both from life and from photographic references I find online.  Once I've "warmed up" my mind to think of snow, cardinal shapes, and tree branches I start free form sketching what I would like to see.  I liked this particular grouping.

I have gotten into the habit of sketching and inking separately.  I need to get myself a light table like nobody's business but I just haven't committed yet.  I like being able to have the inked version and the sketch separate.  I don't like the idea of "losing" the sketch by erasing it once you have finished inking it.

Anyhow, I knew this image was going to be turned into a polymer plate for printing so I taped a sheet of Denril over my original sketch and did the inking on that.  I think I'll switch to drafting vellum next time because it is absolutely SEXY to draw on.  It just sucks the ink right down and has less smearing.

After inking, I scanned the Denril sheet and colored it digitally.  The image at the start of this post has a gradation of dark brown to lighter brown in the inked areas and the image above has a gradation of black to grey in the inked areas.  The red areas graduate from dark red to a brighter red.  In letterpress printing, this would be achieved by a "rainbow roll" or a "split fountain".  If I were going to make a Japanese woodblock print of this, I would do away with the background hatching and choose to go with numerous subtle "bokashi" or gradations.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Tree of Life Print Collection: A proposed VABC group project

Proposal Meeting at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center

Thursday, March 3rd at 6:30pm

The Tree of Life Print Collection would be a Virginia Arts of the Book Center Group Project which would focus on member's interpretation of the Tree of Life.  Members will produce an edition of 11" x 14" prints that will be encased in a portfolio.  The edition size will depend upon participation as each participating member will receive a set of prints, and extra will be created to donate to the VABC.

The Tree of Life is a global archetype focusing on the concept of a sacred tree.  It is a symbol that is usually associated with hope, healing, stability, sustainability, and protection.  Through history, it has occurred in many different cultures.  A few examples of the broad spectrum of cultures this symbol occurs in are as follows:

Chinese mythology tells of a peach tree that produces a single fruit every 3,000 years.  The individual that consumes the peach will achieve immortality.  It is guarded at it's base by a dragon and from it's top by a phoenix.  Here is a photo of Lady Lee standing in front of her courtyard garden. I would have wished this was a peach tree but alas it is a Hawthorn Tree.

Persian and Zoroastrinian lore maintains legend of an ancient tree called Gaokerena.  It's fruit was pressed to produce an elixir of immortality.

"Ancient Celts called the Tree of Life crann bethadh. They believed it had specials powers. To honor the Tree of Life, Celtic people left a single, large tree in the center of fields whenever they cleared the land. They called this tree crann bethadh. Under its branches, they appointed their chieftain and held gatherings.  Because the tree provided food, medicine and shelter to people and animals, the Celts believed it had the power to take care of all life. Cutting it down was a great crime, and thus, the greatest triumph one could achieve over one's enemies was to cut down their crann bethadh."

(photo compliments of Bgag)

"Africans know they depend on trees for firewood, without which their wives cannot cook their food. In some areas the goats can climb trees to eat the green leaves. The leopard lurks in a leafy tree to fall upon the Lonely traveller at night, and vipers do the same in Uganda. In some trees the bees make their nest where they store honey. Every big tree has a spirit. Some trees house many spirits. Whether a tree is a spirit or is inhabited by a spirit is not an easy question. The people will say: The tree has a spirit, or: in the tree there is a spirit. The spirit has a voice which the careful listener can hear and even understand if he knows the language of the spirits. This voice has to be preserved carefully by the drum maker. The boat-maker too, wants to keep the spirit of the tree in the wood so that it will protect the boatman against drowning in the treacherous rivers, when the tree has become a boat. The appearance changes, the spirit remains. Together in a forest, the trees have a collective spirit, powerful enough to be revered as a god.

Trees can be tricky. With their roots they can trip up the unsuspecting traveller, who will often believe that his enemy bewitched the root to do that. Thorny branches have the same function. In Namibia there is a tree that is believed to eat people: it catches them with its branches, opens its bark and swallows them up. Inside the tree, the victim can be heard singing a goodbye song to their relatives and friends. Only the Woodpecker can save them, for it possesses magic powers. For a fee, it will open the tree with its sharp bill. A man in Zaire was married to a tree. It gave birth to his children, a healthy boy and a girl who were human but knew the spirits of the forest and so became famous herbalists, for it is the doctors who need the trees for their medicines."
-excerpt from A-Gallery

The Mesoamerican World Tree motifs "are a prevalent motif occurring in the mythical cosmologies, creation accounts, and iconographies of the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica. In the Mesoamerican context, world trees embodied the four cardinal directions, which also serve to represent the fourfold nature of a central world tree, a symbolic axis mundi which connects the planes of the Underworld and the sky with that of the terrestrial realm."
-excerpt from Wikipedia

Modern departures could include the iconic solitary tree that stood after the tsunamis at Fukushima or the steadfast Methusela, who has endured for some 4,845 years.  In Australia, a group of protesting sheep shearers founded the Australian Labor Party in 1891 under a Cabbage Gum Tree that has been dubbed The Tree of Knowledge.

Project Focus
Though type is not discouraged, participants are encouraged to use techniques that showcase VABC as a place that incubates visual imagery as well as typography.  Participants are challenged to convey ideas through symbology, composition, color, line, and think of ways to impart a message other than text in order to reach across language barriers.  The collection should not only be a rich visual collection of interpretations of the Tree of Life but also a showcase of printmaking technique, relief in particular.