There is Perfection in Imperfection

"Seasons of learning - Ink and Water Color Pencil Drawing"

I am a Renaissance woman in more ways than one.  The past 3 years and in particular the past twelve months have been explosive and I’ve discovered things about myself that I had no idea were a part of me.

One of the most interesting discoveries has been the fact that I’m an artist in addition to being a writer, a business woman, and most importantly a mom.  I’ve been posting pictures of my projects and experiences throughout the year.

It still boggles my mind to think that I dipped my toe into the proverbial water and took a drawing class less than a year ago. Since then I’ve taken 3 more drawing classes, a print making workshop, and I learned how to make paper.

In the past months I’ve discovered that I have a passion for working in ink.  For anyone who knows me, this is completely counter – intuitive.  I’m a perfectionist, if there’s a chance that it won’t turn out right; I’m more inclined to not even start than to make a mistake.  So ink, particularly on my hand made paper seems like it would be an unlikely creative outlet.

Earlier this fall, I combined various things that I’d learned and I created my very first book.

""- ibeth's first book - ink and water color pencils"- ibeth's first book - ink and water color pencils"

This started out as a drawing and turned into something quite different – I changed course along the way a few times – the biggest being that I cut all of the edges off of the cover and made the edges of the ‘book’ uneven and well – like the edge of a forest.

I finished my last class of the year a few weeks ago.  As our last project Anne had us create an abstract drawing using a most unusual approach.  The process will be a separate post, but the outcome was quite intriguing.

Abstract Drawing Ink and Water Color Pencil

True to form, I didn’t finish it during class time and it took me more than a few sessions to complete this drawing in ink, water color pencil, and a bit of white charcoal. I can’t describe it, but this drawing unlocked something within me.

A few weeks ago, I started drawing a trilogy.  Only I didn’t know it at the time.  I sifted through my stack of hand-made paper from the summer.  I held a thin piece of paper made from flax up to the light.

I saw crinkles and creases. I also saw trees and teardrops. It was as if my pen had a mind of it’s own as I began to trace along the creases and crevices to create patterns and mystique.

"Seasons of learning - Ink and Water Color Pencil Drawing"

After I finished it I sorted through my paper and found another piece with similar imperfections.  Too thin to write on, too many creases to be of value, but just right to create on.

"emerging from the woods - ink and water color pencil drawing"

I found one more piece of perfectly imperfect paper in my stack, refreshed my paintbrush water and let my imagination do the work.

"ink and water color pencil on flax paper"

Who would have imagined that I had exactly three pieces of paper that were equal in their imperfections and in their potential for beauty?

Beach Hats and Butterflies

monotype print - butterfly

Sometimes I try too hard to come up with the words to express what I feel.  I prefer it when the thoughts and emotions just flow out of my fingers but I guess  there are times when they don’t.

I think part of it is that I have a hard time saying goodbye to things and when I feel like it’s a goodbye it makes me want to linger in the moment and hold the experience close to my heart.

When I was a little girl, the sobbing started the moment I crawled out of my grandmother’s arms and into the back of the wood-sided Ford LTD station wagon, and lasted until I ran out of tears (and I had at least an hour’s worth of tears).  I really don’t know how my parents managed to retain their sanity mile after mile.

I didn’t cry when I drove home from my print making workshop, but I did feel sad about such a wonderful session coming to an end.  I had the privilege of spending three consecutive Mondays with four other unique and daring artists; three other students and our instructor Kathy.

Each member of the class couldn’t have been more different.  Ann is tiny in physical stature, is an amazing water color painter, and works in the most amazing and delightful detail imaginable.  I think she took the work in an unexpected direction.

Sarah is a lovely young college graduate who is finding her way into the post graduate world.  She made me both lonesome and happy to experience the class with someone who reminded me of my daughter Katie.  She has a great eye and a wonderful approach for creating each piece.  My favorite was a steaming coffee cup in the middle of a table.  It was the kind of image that makes you wonder why someone would leave their hot coffee behind.

Grace introduced herself by saying, “I’m not an artist.  I just enjoy learning about art and making things.”

I think that is the definition of an artist.  An artist isn’t someone who makes a living selling their work; it’s a person who loves to create and appreciates the beauty in the world.  I really think artists are people who see the world just a little differently and find a way to express it.

Grace made some of the most interesting work in the class.  My favorite was the piece she created when Kathy challenged us to complete a print in thirty minutes or less.  I never would have thought to step outside and pick a few leaves to use as the shapes and impressions, but Grace did – and it was amazing.

I had a couple of other ideas, but got lost in the land of butterflies and beach hats.  Who knew that the same form could take on so many different shapes?

Starting with a hat; I rolled out, marked and printed the yellow and red layers during the first class.

Monotype print - hat after yello and red layers of ink

As instructed, I returned to the second session with the print and ready to finish it with a layer of blue.  I went to the ink station without hesitation and rolled a layer of release agent and a coat of deep blue onto my printing plate made of plexiglass.

Whala!  I made a butterfly – oops!

Monotype print making butterfly - greeen, blue and yellow

In my confidence and haste I picked up the wrong plate and started the print making process from the wrong direction.  It’s best to go from light to dark colors not the other way around.  I couldn’t help but laugh at my mistake and with everyone’s encouragement made the best of it.

After the blue butterfly mistake, I made sure to take the plate for the hat to the ink station.

mono-type Print hat 1

Next up was a butterfly done with the colors laid down in the right order.  I have a thing for butterflies and this one is gorgeous.

monotype print butterfly 1

There was just enough time for me to experiment a bit.  I was so intrigued with how the butterfly that started out as a mistake turned out that I thought I’d see what would happen with the hat.

monotype print -  beach hat in blue

After the first class I was questioning myself and whether or not what I’d done could be considered “art,” given the fact that the drawings were traced and not original.

A timely phone call and a long conversation with Kathy convinced me that what I’d created was original, artful, and maybe even painterly.

My answer to the 30-minute challenge at the beginning of the third session was yet another beach hat.  The words wild and psychedelic come to mind.  I’m wondering what it would look like if I turned the lava lamp on.

monotype print - beach hat

Last but not least, I took a thoughtful approach for my final print.

monotype print - butterfly

Beach hats and butterflies – sunshine and summer.  I wonder what’s next.

It’s Not What We See – It’s What We Feel

Seven months and 25 days ago I almost made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

Thank goodness I didn’t succumb to my irrational fears about taking a drawing class at the age of 50.  I thought the class started in January, but my faithful journaling  helped jog my failing memory and put the dates in order.

On March 9th of last year I drove to the Janney House – home of the Artist’s of Yardley and almost passed out.  Ok, not really – but I did almost turn around and leave as I was walking toward the studio.  If it hadn’t been for another late arriver, I’d have chickened out for sure.

Today was the first day of a new session.  I didn’t know what to expect today.  Anne always surprises me  and I was delighted to recognize students from my previous classes.

Today’s lesson was what I least expected.  In the past two classes we’ve focused more on drawing what we see – not so much on interpretation. I guess in other words, it’s been more about technique.

With four returning students Anne decided to mix things up and have us do something completely different.

I have two words.

Georgia O’keeffe

There’s a funny story behind what inspired her to have us draw a rose in an interpretive style – but it’s one of those stories that gets lost in translation, so you’ll just have to trust me.

She gave us each a silk rose and a copy of  Georgia O’keeffe’s abstract white rose.  It’s really beautiful.

georgia-okeefe-abstraction-white-rose-1927

I learned something about myself today.  I like working on a smaller canvas.  My first drawing took up half of the space and just looked odd.  I couldn’t seem to interpret the rose because I was constrained by the space.

I made the connection between all of my recent drawings on small spaces and mentioned it to Anne.  She immediately responded and brought me a smaller size paper to work on.

This really worked for me and I have to admit that I saw some promise in the early stages.

I at least liked a lot more than my first draft – which looked more like a carnation than a rose.  It’s all about shading and understanding what makes sense – easier said than done.

Tonight, I lost myself in music and didn’t ‘think’ about it. I just ‘felt’ it.

It’s far from finished, but I think it’s my interpretation of this particular rose.  As a friend mentioned to me recently – I’m finding my signature.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I like to joke with my friend Kathy and say that I’m her “roadie.”  After she introduced me to the art of making paper I’ve enjoyed two sessions of creating hand made paper, a workshop on the craft of making books, and as of last night, it now includes Monotype print making.

I registered for her next workshop at the Princeton Arts Council. Yesterday was the first session and it’s sure to keep me busy and out of trouble for the next two Monday nights.

I had serious challenges wrapping my head around Kathy’s instruction to bring along black and white  images that would work to use in the process. As always she was super patient and explained that we were going to trace the shape on an object onto a piece of clear plexiglass and that the shape should be large and simple.

I brought along more pictures than I needed to. I would have loved to have tackled the image of a butterfly resting on a flower, but I suspected that it wouldn’t be the best choice for a beginner.  The picture is from an unexpected treat and a visit to a zoo in North Carolina – I took more pictures of butterflies and flowers than of the animals (which will always me laugh).

I couldn’t resist sharing the color version.

I cropped it and turned it into a black and white close up of the butterfly.  The contrast is exaggerated to bring out the details.

In addition to the butterfly, I also brought a picture of a pair of running shoes, which I plan to draw but have yet to tackle.

And last but not least I included a couple of versions of one of my favorite pictures from this summer.  There’s something fun about the beach hat perched on a wine glass and the reading glasses, smart phone, and kindle on the table.

We reviewed the images and mutually agreed that a close up of the hat was the best choice for my first attempt at print making.

The first step is to prepare the piece of plexiglass, which starts with peeling off the plastic covering (on both sides) and after smoothing out the rough edges the fun begins.  The fun part is tracing the shape onto the plexiglass with a Sharpie.

Kathy had us include a clue that would help us remember which side we were working on.  The words “Ink” and “Draw” were the guidelines for which side to put the ink on.

The next step in making the print is to coat the plate with a layer of release agent and then add the ink.  The ink is applied with rollers and the goal is to get it spread evenly across the surface.

Then it’s time to play!  The objective is to “artfully” remove ink and reveal the object.  We had access to use everything from bubble wrap to Q-Tips as well as paint brushes and bamboo sticks,which were all tools to remove the ink.  I used a combination of things, but my favorite was creating a feathery movement with some tin fine tooth combs.

I had no idea what to expect when I flipped the plate, ink side down, onto the paper.  Kathy helped make sure that I applied the right amount of pressure with a giant rolling pin.  She had me press and hold down the papers edge while she lifted the corner to expose a beautiful abstract yellow hat.

After cleaning off the yellow, it was back to the ink station, another layer of release agent, and a coat of red ink.  I found myself being bolder with shapes and movements in the ink.

It was fun to watch everyone go through the same process doubt and wondering what the print would look like to big smiles and a feeling of satisfaction.

Next week we’ll add the final layer of ink and I’ll take pictures with my “real” camera, not my smart phone. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Never in a Million Years

the beginning of the process

A few weeks ago my friend Kathy asked if I could help her demonstrate the art of making paper for the Princeton Arts Council.  I had no idea what to expect and didn’t even think to ask.  She needed the help, I was available – the “what” I’d be doing didn’t really matter, plus I knew it involved making paper so I figured there couldn’t be a down side.

We met at Kathy’s house and I followed her to Princeton.  My biggest fear was that I’d have to parallel park on a narrow neighborhood street.  Much to my chagrin I don’t know how to parallel park.  I must have at one point in time because I have a driver’s license, but to this day I’ll walk a mile or more before attempting to maneuver my car between two others.

I found a spot on Lytle Street and took a picture of the street sign just in case the street names escaped me later in the day.

Witherspoon St and Lytle St - Princeton, New Jersey

I wandered around with my camera while Kathy and a couple of volunteers set up the tent.  While snapping pictures, the mission became clear.  Kathy had invited me to help her at the Princeton Arts Council Fall Open House.

Princeton Arts Council fall open house_Paul Rebeson Center for the Arts_

Oscar, a volunteer and incredibly nice guy, helped me hang samples of hand made paper along the tent for show and tell.  I was as excited and nervous as a first grader to put my artwork on display for everyone to see.

Before I knew it we were both surrounded by people and I was chattering about how to make paper like I’d been doing it all my life.  It was great fun to encourage people to touch the raw material and watch their eyes light up when they saw the end result.

There were mixed reactions to the pulp in it’s first stage, it’s wet and feels sort of mushy but strong.  Mostly people wondered how the the stringy stuff in the bucket would become a piece of paper.

the beginning of the process

The pulp is soft and feathery after it’s suspended in the water and it really is a lot like panning for gold to pick up the tiny wet fibers and drain off the excess water.

It’s fun to add pressed petals or leaves for a special touch.

The best part of the day was seeing the eyes of both kids and adults light up when they watched the piece of paper magically release from the screen.

At the end of each demo, I shared completed pieces of paper so people could feel how strong the paper is even though it has the texture of parchment.  I was embarrassed but delighted at how people raved it.   I felt like some sort of celebrity when a few people asked if they could take pictures of my drawings and hand made paper.  It’s three days later and the memory still makes me smile, it’s one that always will.

While I was busy making paper, Kathy was equally if not busier demonstrating mono print making. (that’s my next class – can’t wait!)

Kathy is an amazing artist and beautiful teacher.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.  Both kids and adults were drawn to her table like magnets.  They couldn’t wait to see how the painting that started with a bunch of bubble wrap would turn into a piece of art.

Kathy Metaxas explaining mono print making

She’s all about hands on involvement and having fun.  The picture of six child size hands next to one adult teaching hand pressing the next layer of ink on the print was priceless.

Kathy Metaxas_engaging young artists

In the midst of it all, I found a quick moment to take a picture of our guests on stilts and the lonely but hopeful young man who had just moved to Princeton from Montreal the previous day.  I wanted to take a picture of the tall young Caucasian guy wearing an orange sarong and a yellow tunic, but that seemed rude.

visitors on stilts

Before we knew it it was almost 5 pm and although people were still stopping by, it was time to clean up.

It was a day to remember, and one I would have ever imagined, not in a million years.

The Art of Creating and Misunderstanding Creating Art

tree and bench_flax paper and ink drawing

I’ve been doing some experimenting lately – sort of letting myself go “out on a limb.”  which isn’t something I’m necessarily prone to do.  I’d have to say, I think I may start going out on the proverbial limb a little more often.

My first big step was almost a year ago and I registered for a drawing class.  The beginner class was full, so I took a deep breath and signed up for the intermediate/advanced class.

The first lesson was to draw a sunflower.  I started it in January and I finished it in March.  I was nearly petrified at the thought of drawing a circle that would become the center of the flower and  I tried not to focus on the petals that seemed to fly onto everyone’s paper but mine.  What I didn’t know is they were all just as nervous as I was.  I also didn’t understand that the point of the lesson wasn’t to make a carbon copy of the original, it was to learn about shading.

sunflower_first drawing in over 20 years

The next drawing was a landscape and very complex.  I shocked myself with the fact that somehow I grasped two point perspective (well sort of).  This drawing took me even longer than the sunflower did, but I think it was worth the effort.  Again, I misunderstood the point of the exercise.  The focus was to learn about perspective and proportion as well as to experiment with a new medium. (the background trees are done in ink)

There were a few other projects in the first class and I learned with every drawing.

The second session started off with a first for me.  I was thrilled when I completed the pine cone during class.  Until that morning, I’d never finished a piece in anything less than four long working sessions. (I think this may always be one of my favorites)

Pine Cone
I love the drawings I’ve done.  It’s amazing to me that I was able to create such beauty with nothing more than pencil, charcoal, and sometimes some ink.  It’s something I never knew I had inside me.

Yesterday I had a realization.

I’ve completely misunderstood creativity and in particular drawing.

I was scared on my first day of drawing class because I thought I had to produce an exact replica of the sunflower.  I took months to labor over each petal and leaf to make sure the shading was exact and matched the original as closely as possible.

Lately I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with ink and the paper I made.  The drawings have a somewhat primitive feeling and I can’t help but wonder if I’m discovering my style. I am really enjoying the texture and irregular shape of the paper.  It’s funny to note that what would have made an imperfect surface to write a letter made a perfect canvas for an ink drawing.

I like some better than others, but they are all unique and beautiful in their own way.  I can honestly find at least one thing I like about each one of them.

Last night I realized that drawing isn’t about reproducing an image – it’s about interpreting a moment.  It’s not about perfection, it’s about having some fun and feeling – it’s about grace.

I say grace because that’s what I feel we need to allow ourselves – and what we need to accept from others.

ink tree on handmade flax paper

sunflower on flaxk paper - ink

sunflower on flax handmade paper

tree drawn in ink on flax paper

tree and bench_flax paper and ink drawing

Honestly every time I look at a drawing, I think about what I could or should have done differently – what could have made it better.

There’s always something, but that’s where I think creativity and art is misunderstood.  It’s not about being perfect, it’s about creating, it’s about being – it’s about trying. It’s understanding that completing something even if it’s got a few flaws is all part of learning and growing and it applies to any endeavor, not just art.

Most of all it’s about having fun and enjoying life.

From Real Life

sunflower on flax handmade paper

It’s interesting to think about some advice I received about drawing.  “It’s better to draw from real life, not from a photograph, and not from memory.”  I’m not sure I agree.

From my perspective, my drawings are more free and turn out better when I’m not trying to replicate the perfection of nature or capture a moment that might disappear with a gust of wind or a slight breeze.

Oddly, I’ve found freedom in ink, hand made paper, and drawing what I feel – not what I see.

tree drawing on handmade flax paper

sunflower on flax handmade paper

I’m not sure why I feel the freedom – still thinking about it.

I don’t really think it matters – the ‘why.’

I think what’s important is that I’m exploring and discovering.

Dip, Dip, Dip…Shake, Shake, Shake…Make Some Paper…

Handmade paper decorative spheres

How lucky for me that Kathy had so much extra pulp she organized another papermaking open studio! I was hooked after the first five minutes of the Wednesday session and was thrilled when I got the email about another opportunity.

I arrived promptly at 9:30 am and had the pleasure of meeting Mindy, who will be teaching a workshop with Kathy in September.  She showed me some samples of what we’ll learn to make; seeing the the book structures firsthand made me even more excited for a day of paper and book making. (I wonder if my family members can guess what they will be getting for Christmas this year.)

Kathy gave me the green light to work independently and I even demonstrated a couple of “how to’s” for the other participants.  I didn’t waste any time and started adding color after I completed a few practice base sheets.

handmade paper with orange and blue color

One of the lovely ladies, Laura, brought beautiful pressed leaves to share.  I would have never thought about incorporating additional elements into the process. (Now my mind is racing.)  The flecks of marigold disbursed against the green and I was delighted with the way the leaf made its signature on the page.

handmade paper with a green leaf and flecks of marigold

While we worked I asked Kathy about other uses for the paper in art, specifically about how to use it in making sculptures.

She held up a blue and red sphere, “I start with a shape; in this case it was a small Styrofoam ball and then I put a layer of paper over it.  It’s as simple as that.”

“How do you get the paper to stick?  Do you wet it?” I asked.

“You can, however I find it best to work with the paper before it dries.  That way it just sticks to the object and as you can see, it’s really quite beautiful.  You can also brush a layer of Methyl Cellulose over the top to help it adhere,” she said.

I bought eight Styrofoam balls and some of the mysterious clear liquid, Methyl Cellulose.

Exhausted but invigorated, I followed Kathy’s instructions to take a break before I started into the creative process.  I couldn’t sit still long.  The stack of freshly made paper and the bag of Styrofoam balls were calling my name.

I pulled the protective material away from the first two sheets and stared at my blank canvas.

handmade paper and styrofoam ball

I peeled up the first sheet, tore off the bright blue corner, and placed it on the ball.  As promised, the sticky wet paper was strong enough to handle.  Colors and designs emerged as I gained confidence and embraced doing something new.

handmade paper covered styrofoam balls work in progress

I stopped to admire the way the shades of green, blue, and orange blended into the natural tannish color of the paper.  The flecks of orange somehow found their perfect placement around the curved shape.

blue, green, and orange handmade paper over styrofoam ball

My porch makes a perfect playroom for an artist.  The bright pink petals against the orange background of the table and hand me down chests is cheery and inspiring.  Enya is my Pandora station of choice.  The dogs roam between the kitchen and the backyard and amuse me with their snores and snorts when they curl up to take a nap.

papermaking project on my porch

The finished project was more than a lesson in papermaking and creating a tiny universe out of Styrofoam balls.  It reinforced that it’s wonderful, albeit sometimes a little scary, to try on something new for size.

I can’t help but compare it to the first day of my drawing class last January.  I was nothing short of petrified and it took me more than six months before I attempted to create anything without specific and hands on guidance. If it hadn’t been for the instructor I’d have quit after the first class.

It’s been a hard lesson to learn, but I now know that my art doesn’t have to be perfect and half the fun is trying.  The perfection of a masterpiece lies in the imperfection of mistakes made and lessons learned as it was created.

I think it could be said, that being perfectly imperfect applies to a whole lot more than art.

Handmade paper decorative spheres

My Renaissance Morning

My life has been a whirlwind lately and outside of taking gorgeous pictures at the lake, I haven’t had much time for the artsy side of me.  My friend Kim must have somehow known that I needed both a respite from thinking about the best way to build a website and the amplified quiet in my house.  I wonder if she also knew that it has been a long time since I’ve taken myself out on an artist’s date.

Five hours after returning home from Raleigh I headed back to the airport to drop Christian off for a 9:15 am flight to Nebraska.  I95 is unpredictable.  The likelihood of an accident, road construction, heavy traffic, or a combination of reasons for a delay necessitates leaving for the airport a minimum of three hours before the departure time.

I checked my phone after a much-needed nap and listened to a voice-mail from Kim.  Before I could talk myself out of it I returned her call.

“Hey Kim, it’s Beth.  Thank you so much for the invite.  I’d love to meet up with you and your friends tomorrow.”

“Awesome! We’re meeting at Playwicki Park to paint.  Do you know where it is?” She asked.

“Umm, nope.  If you send me the address I’m sure I can find it.  Is it ok if I bring my camera to take pictures and a sketchbook?  I’m still not ready to paint,” I said.

Kim replied, “It’s a bunch of artists and whatever you want to do is fine.  I’ll send you the directions and see you tomorrow morning.  Looking forward to it.”

My GPS didn’t find Playwicki Park (it’s a fun word, I had to say it again)  so I printed out Mapquest directions and headed out for my date.  It turned out to be easy to find and a brick archway at the entrance welcomed me to my destination.  Not one, but three bridges spanned the brown river.  Two grand structures designed to support the weight and speed of a train and one smaller bridge which easily bears the crossing of a car.

I think the weather must have been specially ordered:  sunshine, blue skies, low humidity, and a slight breeze.  I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think it made the greens greener and the contrast between colors more vivid than usual.

I helped Kim carry her easel and paints to the river bank where the other ladies were already set up.  She scoped out a spot, hooked Cosmo (aka the best-behaved dog in the world) up to a tree, and settled in to paint. That was my cue to wander with my camera.

The view of the bridges was breathtaking.  But it wasn’t the water or the history that captivated me.  It was the playground.  It reminded me of a ghost town. Something was missing. There were swings and things to climb on as well as slides and see saws or as I call them, teeter totters. It may sound strange, but I would swear it was begging for kids.  The playground felt lonely.

I haven’t seen a playground with old fashioned swings and slides for years.  There was nothing made out of plastic with the exception of the swing seats.  It brought back fond memories and made me a bit sad at the same time.

Today, we don’t often hear the squeals that mean “you pushed me too high, but I really want to go higher.” Let alone the bump of a teeter-totter in the sand or the sound of wax paper against the surface of a slide. Why is that?

Have we as parents opted for Disney World and jet skis in an attempt to provide ‘fun’ for our children?  Have we forgotten that perhaps what they need is to experience is some imagination accompanied by exercise?

I don’t pretend to know what’s right and I know that times change. However, I couldn’t help but watch the artists painting on the bank of the river as so many have done before and wonder if we haven’t lost something that might be important for the next generation.

Are we forgetting how to observe the world around us without taking it for granted?  Are we neglecting the simple pleasures in life? There is so much to experience that doesn’t require a Visa or MasterCard.