Shopping with Dad

A few posts ago I shared a sketch I made of my mom from a memory I have of her. So it did not surprise me that lately I have been thinking about particular memories of my dad.  What I decided on was a sketch of my dad shopping.  As with the sketch of my mom, this is not meant to be a realistic depiction but more of the essence of a particular memory I have.

In order to grasp this image, there are a few things I need to explain about my father. First of all, he loved to shop and really, Really, REALLY loved bargains such as:  50 pounds of sharp provolone cheese, 6 foot in diameter rolls of paper towels, cigarettes he got cheap and gave to people as he lectured them about smoking, etc.  But what really stands out about my dad’s shopping habits at this moment is not so much what he bought but how he walked around the store. 

My dad was an average size man but he had a very strange shape from the back view. He was straight up and down and had absolutely no rear end. Therefore, his pants were always baggy in the butt. They stayed up by assistance of a belt and a very large belly that was solid muscle (which was not at all apparent from the back).  He also had excessively long arms which contribute to this particular memory of him. As dad walked around looking for bargains we had no use for, he would hold his hands behind him in a very contorted manner and point his fingers upward. Usually one hand he held his fingers splayed apart and the other hand his fingers were together as if he was cupping something in that hand. Observing these mannerisms resulted in hysterical fits of laughter from my mother and I.  In addition, he was always humming. The song that comes to my mind is one that was a favorite of his is The Shadow of Your Smile.

What struck me odd when I made this image was that I could not really picture any of my father’s clothes. I could picture him in his fireman’s uniform and his painting job clothes (fireman always had about a thousand jobs because they generally had large families, low pay, and a schedule that allowed them to hold down other jobs).  He was not by any means a flashy dresser barring the occasional Hawaiian shirt popular in the 1960s and 1970s. His shirts were generally pale in color; that much I remember because they contrasted his olive complexion.  I have very vivid recollections of my mother’s clothes but not so much my father‘s clothes which is strange since he was my main caretaker.

So below I present my memory of my dad, hands awkwardly positioned behind him, as he wanders through one of the many stores he loved – Sears, Two Guys, the PX – surrounded by the glitz and glamour of bargains he could not resist.    

Dad shopping

Public Art

Recently I heard from my friend Allison Wooley, who I met during a residency I did through through the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Art Futures Program. Allison has since moved to Cleveland and sent me images of a public art project she is part of.

Allison has had two works accepted for public display through the Shaker Arts Council. These are electrical utility boxes that are wrapped with an image designed by a local artist. The images are printed on a plastic material and are permanently adhered to the utility boxes.

Artwork by Allison Wooley

I was first reminded of the various similar project that sprang up several years ago in the Philadelphia area – the RCA dogs in Moorestown, cows and dinosaurs somewhere else. Those projects involved artists decorating a fabricated replica of whatever animal was being placed around the town. The animals had some significance to the area; the RCA dog related to the company being local to that area of New Jersey.

Artwork by Allison Wooley

What I like about the project Allison is involved in is that it takes something that is part of our everyday infrastructure and modifies it so it is something pleasant to look at. As a person that does not like extra ‘stuff’, the utility of this project appeals to me (no pun intended). I had to ask, since Allison’s first design showed a street light, if the project had to be related to electricity but it does not. Her most recent one, that is currently being printed up, is of a fish bone she saw at Lake Erie.

You can see additional designs for the utility boxes here. Congrats to Allison!

Story Time with Mom

Not long ago, I was thinking about a short story my friend Claudia wrote about a train ride she took to see her son in Pittsburgh. The reason I was thinking about this story is because I remember reading it to my mother on a visit to her when she was living with my sister.

My mother was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease later in life. During our visits, I would play classical music and opera for her and read her stories. For some reason I decided to read her Claudia’s story even though I took it on the trip with me to read for myself. My mother, for whatever reason, was absolutely captivated by this story . She sat on the edge of her seat leaning towards me with this look on her face of complete fascination. Every once in awhile she would say THAT’S AMAZING or I NEVER IMAGINED THIS or some other similar exclamation. I have no idea what my mother was hearing or imagining, but she seemed very content and happy and engaged by this story. It made me wonder all kinds of things about people with dementia that we ‘feel bad for’. They may have a much more rich interior life than we could ever know. Certainly they are not aware of any particular issues on a broader scale, which in and of itself would make anyone happier. Anyway, I digress. Because I was thinking of this story, I found myself making a picture of it in my sketchbook (below).

sketchbook drawing of me reading to my mom

Now this little scene above is far from reality. First of all, at the time, my mother was in her late eighties. Of course, I was a grown up but depicted myself much smaller than my mother because, to our parents, we are always children. My sister did keep our mom’s hair short for ease of care so that is accurate as is the purple shirt. My mom seemed to have a lot of purple shirts. The image of the steam engine is a stretch since this train trip that my friend took occurred in 2013, not 1913. But I do feel I captured my mother intently listening to this story; hands on face in awe and her mouth slightly ajar.

Actually, I do not remember my mother reading to me. She didn’t have time; working all day and cooking for who knows how many people every night. But I do remember her telling me stories and she had quite a lively imagination. She would tell me that she was not my mother, that she was my mother’s twin sister Josephine and my actual mother was off on a secret spy mission in another country. Me, being somewhat of a jackass, believed her.

Anyway, back to my trip to visit my mother, I did do an actual sketch of Mom while she was napping in a chair sitting out back. It is a much more accurate depiction of my mother at that time, though I think within herself she felt more like the image above. Maybe she was dreaming about her adventures as a spy in a foreign country.

Mom, 2013

50,000 and Counting

This is dedicated to my friend Penny, who I was hiking with when we stumbled upon the first Lady’s Slipper I ever saw.

Thursday was a big day at the herbarium where I work. We, as a group, collected our 50,000th specimen: A Pink Lady’s Slipper. Dr. Jim Matthews, who is the founder of the herbarium, rightly felt it was an occasion for celebration. The reason for the choice of the Lady’s Slipper has to do with it being one of the first specimens Jim collected for the herbarium. We returned to the same site to collect this specimen. As we monitored for when the plants would flower, we discovered that the site now has an abundance of these wonderful plants thanks to the conversations efforts of people like Jim and our county park system. Please note that it is not permissible for individuals to collect such specimens as Lady’s Slipper unless they are associated with a scientific collection. Below are some images of the celebration along with a very short video of the actual collecting of the specimen.

Above – a Pink Lady’s Slipper in the wild. Below – Dr. Matthews getting ready to put the collected specimens in the plant press.

Below – Dr. Matthews signing the back of the herbarium sheet. All who were present that day signed the sheet as part of this celebratory collection event. If you look next to Jim’s hand that is on the table, the first Lady Slipper he collected and mounted for the collection is also part of the celebration.

And how can you have a celebration without a cake??? For more information on the herbarium and the work they do, visit their web page here.

Reduction Linocut Step by Step

Many years ago on a former blog I had a tutorial on how to do a reduction linocut. A reduction linocut, said to have been invented by Pablo Picasso as a means to economizing on linoleum, is when you use only one block to make a color print instead of the traditional one block per color method. The word ‘reduction’ refers to the continued carving away of the block, resulting in a block that is destroyed at the end of the process and, therefore, a truly limited edition of prints. When I was at the Hill School last week, I came across this demo piece I made several years ago and photographed it so I could repeat a tutorial on this blog.

Below is a piece of art linoleum. It is readily available from art stores. Though I do not know where I got this particular piece from, I can say that now I buy all my relief printing supplies from McClain’s

Transfer your design onto the block or draw directly on the block. Keep in mind, the final print will be in reverse of the image of your block.

Below I am showing the first cuts I made, then the block was inked and printed in yellow. The white part showing (which is the paper) is the part that was cut away from the block and the yellow part is what was left. In relief printing, it is what is left on the block (or the raised part) that will print.

Next I will cut away any part that I want to remain yellow and the next color I will print is green. The green inked block is ‘registered’, or lined up with, what was previously printed in yellow and printed on top. So basically, I printed the green inked block on top of the yellow print. I also printed a sample of the block in just green and you can see that more of the paper underneath is exposed in this version and gives an idea of how much was cut away.

I am now going to print the last color, which is black. So I carve away all the parts I want to remain green, ink up the block with black ink, and print the black in on top of the yellow/green image. Here is the result.

And I will also show you what the block looks like just printed in black as well as what is left of the actual linoleum block itself.

Below you will see the whole tutorial that I mounted on a board so it could be displayed during class as a reminder of the steps involved.

So if you want an edition of prints, say 10 in total, it is always a good idea to start with more until you get very good at registering your prints on top of one another. This way, if you misregister and have to discard some prints, you will still have a decent size edition. For as long as I have been printing, I still from time to time misregister prints. It happens. What I love about reduction printing is that it is like solving a logic puzzle. I think it is sort of related to why I like to key plants.

I have used a lot of terms in this tutorial such as registration, drawing transfer, and editioning. But for this post, I wanted to stick with just explaining the basics of reduction block printing. If you have printed before then those terms are probably familiar to you. Actually, here is a post of some basics on block printing. Any questions, feel free to send a comment or contact me.

World Atlas – my new pastime

I have always loved maps, especially very old maps and maps of odd things. Along with all of this is an interest in geography in a very broad sense – from land masses to the types of signs you see different places. So I figured it was about time that I owned a world atlas but I was not about to buy one that I never saw.

Because I have a very limited attention span when it comes to reading pretty much anything, I need to have something with lots of images and concise, easy to grasp text. One day last year I went to my local library to look at atlases to see if there was a particular one that I might want to buy and was greatly disappointed in not only the lack of what they had in quantity as well as quality. So I sort of gave up this idea of owning an atlas until a few weeks ago when I was in the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore. I could not find any atlases but asked their very accommodating staff if they had any. The woman I asked went to a storage area and came back with three atlases of different sizes and scope and I choose The DK Reference World Atlas, 11th edition. An accompanying tag line reads ‘An encyclopedia in an atlas’

True to its description, this atlas has information I never even dreamed could be included in an atlas such maps of the average number of caloric intake per person in the country! I have some images of some of the informational maps below. All this is before you even get to the actual maps of the whole world. This book will give me hours of enjoyment! Not to mention a mini work out every time I go to lift it. Thank you DK publishing for putting out such a great reference book.