Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Portrait Painting Progression

I do still paint. I had to dust of my workspace, freshen up my pallet, and re-clean brushes before I could get started. I also had to juice up my inspiration before I tackled a portrait; a little Sargent always does the trick.

I started on a panel that already had a painting on it - an old crazy looking self portrait that I never wanted the world to see. A little something already going on on the canvas helps me stay loose and gives the new painting more interest and life.

First I lay in the darkest values. I try not to go back to my darks once they are in... for some reason, trying to darken an area far into the painting always spells disaster. Since the canvas started so dark, I didn't have to do much.

Next I begin adding medium and light values to begin to define features.

After a few more minutes, more details emerge and it starts to look like something.

She still looks older than she should so I keep lightening and softening...

I decide that the features are not right. To get them right I have to scrape the whole face back and start over. At this point I turned my reference and my canvas upside down. Looking at it upside down helps me see what is really there and not what my mind thinks should be there.

With the features redone she is looking more like the real person. Tomorrow I will put away the photos and work on softening and rounding everything, giving it more atmosphere and solidity..

Stay tuned... more photos to follow...

Doin the Kitchen Limbo

Yes, we are planning to remodel our kitchen. This Spring.... summer? I don't know. I don't know yet when the contractor will be ready to start. I also don't know...

whether our plan falls into our budget
how long it might take
what my painted cabinets will look like
which countertop I want/can afford
what stainless gas range I want/can afford
how we will do our laundry
where I am going to put everything that comes out of the kitchen
back splash?
what lies behind our soffits
can we get rid of the soffits?
my whole plan hinges on those dumb soffits

The list goes on and on. And so I try to concentrate on my work. I try not to make more holes in the walls. I try to make social plans for the next month or two as if life will still be normal and constructionless.... but will it? And so I am doin' the Kitchen Limbo.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hare Today Gnome Tomorrow

I spent yesterday felting snow hares. Today I hope to photograph them and list them on etsy. And then, if things continue moving as they have for the past couple of months, they will be gone. I will need to make more. But I also want to make more hedgehogs. And I'd like to make gnomes, donkeys, mice, ponies, not mention more basket bunnies and lifesized bunnies for Easter. For a show in the Adirondacks this summer I need to start mooses, bears, raccoons, chipmunks, foxes, skunks, owls, and deer. In a month or two I should start building my inventory for Fall which means ornaments, reindeer, and Mr. and Ms. Claus.

I had a bag in which I'd hoped to start accumulating critters. Every time I made a critter for etsy, I made one for the bag. I can't tell you how satisfying it was to see the bag begin to fill. I had about a dozen "extra" critters in there but then Vulcan's Rest in Chesapeake City requested more critters and now my bag is empty.

I realize that quickly selling what I make is a good problem to have. I hope I am not coming across as complaining. But scrambling, yes, that I am. ( Here is my daydream: I imagine something like a ball pit full of critters that I have made. I run towards it, leap into the air, and descend into the abundance. I emerge with bunnies and gnomes spilling off of me. I reach down and toss them about. Critters everywhere ready to sell.) I am always getting faster and more efficient but I can't stop wondering "how can I make more?"

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Perfect Storm: Waking in the Middle

The way I see it our little home does not stand a chance at cleanliness against the waves and winds of three fierce factors: rural family life (kids, animals, dirt), my personality (not neat), and my home based career (all of the things I create and all that I use to create them are in our home). Nothing brings it into clearer focus than Spring.

I have been waiting for the Spring Cleaning Urge to strike. Tick tock tick tock. Hello? My house is a mess here... Spring is springing....Urge? Meanwhile I am beginning to notice the dirt that all Winter I was able to ignore. I see the crayon on the wall, the dirty spots on the curtains, the gray unknown laying in wait at the bottom of my window sashes, dust on the tops of my framed art, musty (boarding on a tactile tackiness) dog beds, and bug carcasses in the light fixtures.

And that's just the more subtle dirtities, never mind the in-your-face messes. School papers everywhere. My papers everywhere. Evan's little personal tornado of clothing and toys. Max's gazillion lego happenings. Laundry and dishes always. A constant tide of dog hair. And my work: finished critters, wool, unfinished critters, pens, pads, paintings, old ones, new ones, paintings paintings paintings.

Spring also awakens a pull to the out of doors. All of a sudden my eyes can see the yard that lay untouched for 4 months. Limbs that fell from heavy snow strewn the yard. Weeds emerge along with the tulips and daffodils. Months worth of three dog's poop is scattered about waiting... for me. I notice the horse's fencing is down, not in one or two places, but everywhere. When did that tree fall onto the fence? Man, that's a lot of manure.

Fortunately for my marriage, Dave and I seem to have the same attitude towards the clutter and dirt. We are a good team; we live harmoniously with each other and the mess but when it is time to get it together we are a force of our own. The mess doesn't stand a chance. I organize and pick up the pieces and Dave cleans like a mad man. It'll happen.

We won't have you over for dinner until it does.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Good Hair Day

Old tired hair

About 5 years ago, after the birth of my second son, Evan, I cut my hair off. Whack! From mid back to pixie! After a year or so I grew tired of my face sticking out of my hair so I grew out the pixie. Then, for about 3 years, I sported a Posh bob that never looked posh. Today, with inspirational photo in hand, I went to my hairdresser friend Lauri and asked for a change.

That's not me, folks. That's the inspirational photo.

After she spent 2 hours highlighting, washing, cutting, drying, recutting, and styling, I stepped out with a BANG so to speak. I felt light, happy, and current. Thank you, Lauri!

My new do must have inspired me to help others. I have attempted to felt, and failed, 3 different hedgehogs. The challenge was how to represent their spikes. Finally I figured out that the rabbit angora would be perfect. It's the opposite of spikes, soft as a cloud, but it looks right and makes a cuddlier critter

hedgehog inspirational photo

I spent the rest of my day giving new life and glorious hair to a little rodent. Finally, a camera worthy hedgehog.

Who has better hair?

The Whole Bunny and Nothing but the Bunny

Sunday's class started with enthusiasm and wool and ended with a BUNNY.

We sat around a table our foam in front of us each with two needles ready to go. I tried my best to explain each step and demonstrate when needed. I had to move us along, as it is tempting to stab at your creation longer than necessary, but still be mindful not to leave anyone behind with half felted legs, mismatched ears, or ill-placed body parts.

It was all fun and games until we got to the process of felting on the rabbit angora. With our bodies, legs, and face details all finished, it was time to add the fluff. I'm used to it but I suppose it is a bother. Each little section of fiber has to be aligned by hand before you can felt it on. The angora is so light that it flies away from you; you find yourself batting at your nose, clawing at your cheeks, and trying to blow sideways at your own face because single fibers are tickling your skin. It is so soft and light that your mind tells you to be gentle but no, you can't. I needed to give my group an injection of conviction, "Ladies, don't pussy foot around! Grab it! Hold it! Pull it! Put it where you want it!"

Shocking, I know. But once everyone realized that they were in control the bunnies fared far better.

As usual, the end of the class felt rushed. We were felting until the end - no one wanted to stop. I wish I had taken more than a minute to appreciate each creation. I think that everyone left happy with their critter and maybe picked up a few tips.

Thank you Kathy for the pics!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I Find it in the Darndest Places

Inspired by working with clay and the life of a celebrated therapy whippet.

Inspiration can come from...

a compliment
a sale
a moment in nature

Sitting on a rock ledge in Keene Valley, NY.

a letter, note, or email
a photograph

Inspired by a photo I took in Saratoga and the quiet early morning light.


Inspired by an intimate moment between the foxhounds and their doting keeper.

a suggestion
new supplies
a challenge

A friend suggested I felt the Headless Horseman... I HAD to do it.

a deadline

Inspiration is as much a part of my life as food or love. I can't imagine life without it.

Far from Perfection

One of the comments I get often in regard to my work is, "You must be so patient!" I am sure a confused look flashes across my face before I compose myself and gracefully accept the compliment. Does the person believe that I have toiled away and fussed over every detail, forcing myself to persevere even when the task of creating the art seemed to take forever?

I am not patient. I am not meticulous. I am definitely NOT a perfectionist.

In my line of work perfection is boring. Surgeons need to be perfect. Wedding cake decorators can strive for perfection all they want. Bridge builders should definitely try as much as possible to be perfect. If I were to stab my critters until they were symmetrical, smooth, not a hair out of place so to speak I would have felted the life right out of them. Same goes with painting. The last thing I want is for something I created to look like a photograph.

So in my line of work my brash spontaneity serves me very well. In day to day life... that's another story.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'm no Doctor

Sigh. My sister has started a blog. She is witty and has always been able to make a blank page come alive. I am fascinated by this glimpse into her medical life. But I am also made aware of her big brain and the non-sister very serious intense undertaking that is her career.

While I try to blog about my mundane day of needle felting or painting all by myself without so much as a change of scenery, my sister is recounting medical miracles, surgical intensity, lives in the balance, and silly or gross anecdotes, from her school, residency, internship, and practice, all the while using detailed medical jargon and impressive doctorish wisdom.

I will continue to write. I'm not the type to throw up my hands and walk away. If you have not read her blog, I might be safe. If you have, I will do my best to convince you that my felting needles are the instruments upon which the fates of my needle felted critters' lives hang. And the tiny shaped details can only be pulled from the wool by my deft hands. Then there are the complicated mechanics of my easel; only the precise angle and tension can cradle the surface properly to facilitate the potential flow of creativity like a breath or pulse. Any minute I might be met with a creative crisis which threatens my art's very existence!

We each have our calling. Thank you to the doctors of the world. Have you hugged your doctor today?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wool and Teaching

I am teaching a felting workshop at Vulcan's Rest on Sunday. This will be my fourth class there. We are going to make puffy bunnies. So far there are 6 people signed up. I can't wait; I love teaching.

When I start a felting class I usually do not know anyone. This means I don't know if they have felted before, or if they are otherwise artsy/craftsy, or if this is their first time trying anything creative, or if they are proficient in all arts and every other craft in the world. So I get my feelers feeling quickly. I don't want to insult the wise nor leave behind the clueless.

A few women in my largest class to date: 12 people for 8 hours. We made snowmen and other Holiday inspired creations.

Pretty quickly I can figure people out. There are the brave (my favorites): "I get what you are saying and I am going to run with it." There are the stubborn: "I am paying you handsomely for your sage expertise but I think I will pretend I don't need any instruction and don't even think about making a suggestion." Then there are the needy: "Is this right? How's this? Is this cute? Can you help me?"

A few of the finished snowmen: everyone got really creative

No matter what a person's felting constitution proves to be, she (I have only had shes) leaves the class with an adorable creation. Something that was once a pile of wool has been forever changed thanks to inspiration, creativity, and a teeny tiny bit of genius guidance.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Did It!

I started my work day with a pile of wool, some wire armatures and some half finished critters; a hairless snow hare, two fox stick figures, and a basket bunny embryo.

First I gave the basket bunny a fighting chance at life on etsy...

Then I tackled the bald snow hare and gave him a glorious luscious coat that would put Fabio to shame.....

Next I worked on the foxes, one of the most complicated critters I make. Don't ask me why. It's complicated. Anyway, they are now proper foxes....

Finally, I wrapped some more armatures so that when a new felting day dawns I will be ready to finish them up! Two more hounds and a sheep....

I'm Telling the World

Apparently my blog posts have been viewed in Belarus, Iran, Japan, Russia, and China (according to my handy blogspot stats.) So I am telling the world!

Today I will start 1 sheep and another hound. I will also finish 1 fox, 1 snowshoe hare (he needs his fluff), 1 basket bunny.

Pics by the end of the day if I get it all done! Do you think I can do it?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Yard Sale Fever

As you may know, we are about to remodel our kitchen. First we have to clean it out entirely. Every single item from existing cabinets to mellon-baller HAS to find a new home. The most important 1/4 of our home will be ripped apart down to dirt and cinderblock walls. And while all of this is going on we will be using the converted dining room as our new family hub.

The upheaval will require me to be organized and to get organized I need to PURGE. I already have boxes of stuff piling up to go and I continue to clean out cabinets, closets, and drawers.

Every time I go trough the effort of weeding out the excesses of our lives, I think, "I should have a yard sale!" And every time I have a yard sale I think, "I am never doing this again!"

Do I really think that people want my cast away crap? Am I that desperate for a buck that I put myself through the yard sale ringer?

Box it up
Haul it out
Advertise it
Clean it
Tag it
Arrange it
Sit with it
Haggle over it
Load 99% of it back up
Deliver it to the Goodwill

On paper, the yard sale debocle appears to be "not working for me." And yet there must be something about it that I love. I must be "getting something out of it" if I am always drawn to do it.

I will ponder the yard sale psychology today while I sidestep the accumulating boxes of crap. I'll let you know what I figure out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Raisins and Other Body Parts

To be or not to be... anatomically correct. I work very hard to capture details and realism in my needle felted critters while injecting my own artistry to their character. I love felting tiny little noses, pads on paws, the furrow of a brow, folds of a jowl, and giant hare feet. Recently I have felted a few dogs and for the first time, especially with the short haired breeds, I am facing the decision of how detailed to be in the bodily functions area.

Shall I just blur them out like Ken and Barbie? But, a dog butt would not a dog butt be without the little raisin nestled under the tail. And what fun would it be to pose him lifting his leg if there were no reason for him to need to do it? Why shouldn't I enjoy felting little sheathes and butts just as much as the other details?

When you look at your anatomically correct critter and see his perfectly felted penis, don't judge me! "Oh my, look at that. Seems as if she must have had fun making this one."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Have You Ever Tried Whining Back

My dear sweet little Evan.

Max, for the most part, is a consistent, predictable, and happy boy. Evan is a roller coaster of emotion and, well, let's just say he whines.... A LOT. On this point, I am as nonfluctuating a parent as I know how to be. I say, "Evan, I don't understand you when you talk like that," or "Sure, I'll get that for you when you ask in a normal voice," or "Why are you whining? There is no reason to whine. I am here and happy to help you," and sometimes "EVAN STOP WHINING!" But I am sure, just as my nose no longer smells the dog odors of our home, and my eyes don't see the dilapidated kitchen, my ears no longer hear Evan's sad whiny tongue. Maybe I am not as consistent as I think I am.

Whatever the reason, I have not been able to stamp out the brain piercing tone. One day, out of complete frustration, exhaustion, and because I was tired of my other methods, I looked at him and began talking in my most whiny pathetic voice. It was not pretty. It surely was not effective. I hope I never go there again. I don't recommend it.

The whine emanates from the center of his little being and it as intensely a part of him as his contagious smile, lovable mushy face, and heartfelt joy. He is MY roller coaster.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Sunday Morning News Paper

When I was little, on the weekends, my parents would be enveloped in the newspaper. I admired how they were able to manage those huge floppy pieces of paper and noticed how carefully they kept the sections together and passed them back and forth all the while sipping their coffee. The routine was familiar and comforting.

Today my newspaper is my laptop. Every morning my boys come downstairs all mushy and sleepy and visit me at the kitchen table where I have my nose in my laptop. I pull them in for a hug before they push away and ask for their "breakfast treat." Then, I return to my computer. But my bright and shiny laptop seems to have a disturbing presence in the room. It doesn't smell good and flop around like the news paper. Instead of softly encompassing me it seems to pull me in to a lost and distracted space where my kids can't get to me.

Eventually I abandon it to give Max and Evan the attention they want. As soon as I rise, one or both of them run in and take the laptop over exploring free online games.

Bunny Munny

The bunny that started it all in 2010; my first snow hare.

At a time when the economy is what it is, galleries are closing left and right, and selling original art is is like like trying to convince a person that they want to pay me to shoot them in the foot, I am so glad to have found my needle felting niche. But I could be felting the best felted wool critters in all the land and not achieve the success I am having without Etsy.

Most of you are familiar with Etsy: the online marketplace for handmade items. I have had my etsy shop for one year now. It started with a BANG last winter! Then it fizzled to a sad trickle over the summer. In the Fall of 2010 I couldn't list much on etsy because I was hoarding my critters for local shows. As I got back into the etsy swing of things in 2011 I am so pleased that my shop has so far found a strong and steady pace.

Basket Bunnies

Most of what I sell are bunnies. Which is funny. I like bunnies but they are not in the front running. I must have the cunning to make them "right on the money." I felt so many my fingers are numby. I am so grateful for my etsy bunny money. With it, I will make my kitchen unsurpassably stunning. And in it I will cook dinners so yummy. Shoot, that's a "m." Dag-nabbit guess I'll start rhyming "rabbit." This could become a habit. I'll stop; I'm sure you've had it. Or else your thinking of the next rhyme to nab it or grab it.

White Rabbit

Thank you Etsy shoppers! I love my job! God willing I will be felting bunnies and other critters for the rest of my days.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


This morning I let the dogs out in to the yard for the first time of the day and they darted to surprise a squirrel as usual. But instead of the usual smart squirrel who keeps his nut hunt close to a tree trunk, the dogs were startled to find a squirrel in the chicken coop.

I guess the little fellow had found his way in to steal some grain or some of the kitchen scraps we share with the hens. Had he just laid low, he could have waited out the dogs presence. But no, his deep rooted instincts told him "run for the tree!" His escape was interrupted by a wall of chicken wire. Suddenly three dogs were charging around the chicken run.

How are they not getting me?! Why can't I get to that tree? Around and around he went like a motorcycle in the iron cage at the circus. In the coop. Out of the coop. Onto the wire. Onto the ceiling. Back into the coop.

And the hens! Clucking and strutting. What's going on here? I don't know, ask her? Why should I know? I can't see anything. Let me tilt my head this way, now that way, now take a step and tilt my head again. Who said that? What? Did you hear that?

And the dogs! It's in there. Got It! Nope. It's up there! What? Where? Who? What are we after? SKWERL! There it is! Bark! Bark! Barking does not help!

Finally the little guy found his way out through a small crack in the door. Three dogs were waiting there for him and the tree was a good 10 feet away. A slow motion recap would have put "The Matrix" to shame. A full body twist to the left as sharp fangs pierced the air. Leaping over the tenacious Jack Russel's head. Contorting his whole body while simultaneously launching onto the tree as jaws of death echo a loud "SNAP" on the right.

And then it was over. The dogs were left looking at each other and then up the tree and then at me. I can only imagine how alive that squirrel must have felt while he caught his breath in the tree tops.

It's About Balance, Not Carbs

Eggs are bad. Sike, they're good. Butter is bad, but go ahead and slather your carbs with flavored vegetable oil products. Don't eat sugar! Here, try this sweet tasting powdered chemical instead. Don't eat fat. Do eat fat. Red meat is the DEVIL. Bananas are the perfect food. Maybe bananas are the Devil. Whole grains. No, wait, no grains. Strike that - only grapefruit. Grapefruit and red meat.

Have we lost our minds?

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Moment in Yoga

My thighs are rotating to the exterior as I bring my thigh bone forward in space. My calves are rotating from the upper outer shin like a vine down around the back and then over my inner ankle and arch of my foot to the outside ankle in order to lift my navicular bone into alignment. My pelvis is vertical so that my light is shining strait down. I am ironing my butt towards the floor while lifting my ribs off of my lumbar. My shoulder blades are open like the wings of an angel. My ribs are tilted up like vertical blinds and my collar bones are reaching for the ceiling to create a bird bath on each side of my neck. My right leg is bent at precisely a ninety degree angle. The heel of my right foot is in a direct line to the arch of my right. My left heel is stretching and reaching for the floor. I am gazing beyond the reach of my extended right arm, with purpose. Oh, and I am breathing.

Stay on task, Sara. I think I'll peek to see how Mary Jean is doing it. I wonder what should I eat for dinner when I get home. Should I go with pewter or brass for the kitchen knobs? How many skylights are in this room? Man, that's a big poodle. Breath.

The instructor is helping someone else. Does he see how hard I am trying? What is he DOING over there? Shit, I forgot to breath. My thigh is burning. I can't worry about my shin vine anymore. Something's got to give. Why isn't Mary Jean shaking too? There goes my light! I think I'm stuck.

What Do You Do

We are invited to a party on the 12th. There are several problems with this. Finding a trustworthy babysitter in the Holler is slippery. Also, this means I will have to stay up past 8. Lastly, I will have to meet new people, chit chat, and answer questions about what I do.

For some people it's a walk in the park:
I am a lawyer. Okay got that. Very clear.
I am a computer programmer. Okay, I know nothing about that but I can easily picture you sitting in front of a computer at a desk.
I am in mergers and acquisitions. Mmmm, very impressive.

I am an Artist. Blank stare or overly eager head bob with a sip of their drink. I feel as if I have just tried to hand this person a cloud. I try to follow up with more details... I paint, mostly in oils and pastels. Ahhhh, I see. Then I feel as if I need to dig deeper: I am dedicated to my career path, honing my skills, selling in galleries and juried shows. My goal is to support my family some day and become a household name. I can tell I need more: I paint the rural landscape and people, horses, and dogs. My studio is in my home. A glimmer of recognition. I might have convinced him/her that I am a real artist! I also make and sell needle felted critters on etsy. Blank stare.

The home makers have it worse. I am also half homemaker so I am dealt a double whammy. You feel as if you should have a list of your daily head spinning chores and tasks to carry around and show people to justify how you spend your time. What do you do? Here, read this list.

I am guilty of falling back on it but I think the question should be ruled out altogether. Let's come up with a new icebreaker.

Perhaps back to: What's your sign?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Spaces Continued

A friend of mine was over the other day. I brought her to the third floor to see my new felting work space. She said, "Wow, Sara, it's like a tree house!" That's what she said, but on the inside she was thinking, "How does anyone work in this childlike, fun-sized, no-head-room, under the eaves, room all of the way up on the third floor?"

Actually, I work just fine, thank you. Previously I had spread my wool, critters, and all that goes with it across our dining room. It looked as if several sheep exploded in there. We rarely use the dining room so it was okay. But now that the stuff is out of there I feel the relief of having a designated space for my crap - I mean craft.

Happily I toil like a little gnome under the eaves making sweet little felted critters to share with the world.