Last week’s topic in MATS was wall art and the assignment was to create an abstract, collage-style piece of art containing florals and words for a retailer such as Anthropolgie or Urban Outfitters. Initially I had a hard time finding my way into this assignment, as it’s a different style than I’m used to working in, but as I started sketching ideas, I remembered that I’ve been wanting to create a more modern version of rosemaling, which is a decorative folk art that originated in Norway. For inspiration, I photographed a few of the rosemaled pieces I have in my house that belonged to my grandma. As I began to paint and collect items for the collage, the project cascaded deeper into my grandma’s life, as I found many of her things that I am now fortunate to have, including her handwritten lefse recipe, photographs, her fabric, and several sewing and crochet patterns.
My grandma lived in the same tiny community, Petersburg, Minnesota, for the first 94 of her almost 99 years. I’ve mentioned Petersburg before, and at one time it was a small, thriving, rural community with a church and a school and a creamery (where my grandparents worked and met), a store, and a gas station. The church is still there, but the school is gone, the businesses are closed, and it is now just a collection of homes near the crossroads of two highways.
As I began working on the assignment, pieces of this story -- of Petersburg and my grandma -- began making their way into the collage. The collage includes bits of her handwriting, crochet patterns, and photographs of the lace from her wedding dress and Petersburg, where she lived the majority of her long life. It also includes a striped pattern that I painted inspired by piano keys, as she played organ for our country church from when she was a teenager until well into her 90s. I realize this collage is more personal than "mass market” (I seem to have forgotten that the class is called “Make Art that Sells”, not “Make Art that Only Your Family Would Buy”), but as soon as I started gathering pieces of her life and this community, I knew that they needed to find their way into the collage. I initially thought about using photoshop to create a digital version where I would replace the pieces that are specific to my grandma with more general imagery and patterns for the final submission. But in the end, I decided to submit it this way, as it just felt right to me, even if it may not be exactly right for the assignment.
My grandma’s life was quite simple, but upon closer inspection, it was also quite extraordinary. By today’s standards, she didn’t have a lot of opportunities in life. She wasn’t able to go to college. They didn’t have a lot of money, and she lived the majority of her life two miles from where she grew up in a tiny rural village that slowly deteriorated from the thriving community of her youth into today's quiet shell of abandoned buildings and shuttered businesses. But she was always joyful, hardworking, and kind. She taught piano lessons, she played the organ every Sunday, she knitted, she cooked, crocheted, read voraciously, and wrote a weekly newspaper column for well over 50 years that chronicled the lives of people in Petersburg. That is not a simple or poor life. It is a rich life.
While finishing up the collage, I decided to add the word Velkommen, which is Welcome in Norwegian, as my grandma was very proud of her Norwegian heritage. In the end, this may have veered too far off the tracks of the original assignment, but I think my grandma would have looked at this piece and smiled and said, in her own pleasant way, “Well, that’s real nice.”
I added this new coffee cup print to my shop this week. My goal is to start adding new prints on a weekly basis. I’ve wanted to do this for a while now, but I haven’t been able to get any traction behind it as my focus inevitably wanders off to other projects and priorities. But releasing a steady stream of new illustrations, prints, and products is something I want to get better at. So you heard it here first… A new print each week for the next five weeks.
And now that I’ve said it, I’m excited. (And I hope that I can do it!)
It's no secret that I love vintage. I have a lot of vintage items in my home, and I love visiting flea markets and antique shops. But I also have a limited amount of space, particularly cupboard space. I live in a small house and for the past year I’ve been trying to live with less clutter and less stuff. It hasn’t always been an easy process, but I have made significant progress on getting rid of things I don’t use or that don’t mean something to me. I’ve also tried to be more mindful regarding my purchases and spending habits. As a result, I’ve been trying to limit my purchases — vintage or new — and love feeling less weighted down by stuff. That said, I’m not switching to a totally minimalist lifestyle because the fact remains that I still love collecting and adding interesting, meaningful things to my home. I’m just trying to be more careful and thoughtful about it.
So what does this have to with vintage coffee cups? Well, while I’d love to have a cupboard full of amazing coffee cups, I don’t have the cupboard space and I also don’t need them, as I already have my own little, eclectic collection of handmade and souvenir coffee cups. The cups I do have mean something to me — the coffee cup from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, or the chipped mug with Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting from the Art Institute of Chicago, or the wood fired cup I bought last weekend from a potter at her (amazing) country studio. Those are the ones I want to pull out of the cupboard and use every day, so I will continue to try to keep myself from buying the ones that I fall in love with in vintage shops.
I started painting this collection of vintage coffee cups back in July, and added on 8 more this week. I think I could fill up several pages full of nothing but these tiny coffee cups. I decided to adopt the same philosophy as when I painted a collection of vintage radios: If I can't have my own collection, I'll paint myself a collection instead.
This week I reserved some time to create something for the Illustration Friday theme. The week's topic was the word wish. I thought about illustrating some of the things I'm currently wishing for, such as more time for painting or a house in the country (...more on the fictional country house another time). But after some sketching, I ended up with something a bit more literal: the act of making a wish.
Maybe the most important thing is just the act of wishing for something to happen. Put it out there, do the work, and you never know.... that house in the country just might happen.
...And maybe this wallpaper will even be hanging on the wall.
I have a thing for old radios. I often find myself photographing them while wandering through antique shops, and I love how the lines, colors, and materials clearly represent the era the radio came from. While audio technology has certainly improved over the years, the same can’t always be said for the external design, which is probably one of the main reasons vintage radios continue to be so appealing – and why so many new radios and record players are now made in vintage styles. Even boom boxes from the 80s have their nostalgic charm (most obvious and famous example here), but something tells me that the huge, lead-weight, neon displayed, multi-CD, dual cassette, stereo systems from the 90s and early 2000s won’t have the same nostalgic draw in 20+ years. Although who knows... Maybe just a few more years need to pass (along with the memories of lugging mine in and out of dorm rooms and apartments and finally purging the last one from my basement) before I see their charm.
This is also the first illustration that I've submitted for the Illustration Friday weekly topic. This week's theme is... you guessed it... Radio. I painted this illustration back in July, but I'm hoping to continue participating in future weekly topics. It will be a great way of stretching my muscles a bit and drawing things and themes that I might not necessarily paint on my own.
I've also added this as a print to my shop, and it can be found here.
Earlier this week I was a bit out of sorts. My to-do list was long, I was thinking/worried about a few important people in my life, I wanted more time to just paint, etc., etc. So I went to bed on Tuesday night determined to wake up early and get some quick sketchbook painting in. Before checking emails, before checking my blog feed, before anything. I decided to paint in my sketchbook so nothing would feel overly precious or precise. So I would just paint.
I painted quickly. I didn't think too hard. I just got something on the page.
And everything totally shifted.
It's really amazing what a quick bit of painting (or insert any creative endeavor) can do when you are doing it just for its own sake - for the process, not the outcome.
It's likely not a coincidence that end result -- the flower painting above -- turned out to be one of my favorite recent paintings.
But most importantly, it was exactly what I needed. Perhaps I need to start off more days this way. :)
Last weekend brought some typical, late August weather. Humidity, thunderstorms, heat. Perfect conditions to not feel guilty about spending time in my studio during one of the last weekends of the summer. I decided to finally finish one of the paintings I started back in July during my painting a day project. This canoe illustration was still sitting on one of my Arches watercolor blocks and I needed to finish the third and final canoe before I could tear off the sheet and scan the painting.
The photographs above are of the original painting when it was still on the block. I don't have much natural light in my studio, so I went up to the third floor of the building to borrow the nice, big windows. The pictures below are of the open-edition, archival print, which is now available in my shop (you can find the print here). I'm happy to have this one done, but I might be even more happy to have my watercolor block back!