As I continue to draw in my COVID Journal it is changing along with the times and becoming something new. So I have decided to call it The Beautiful Horrific to reflect our horrifying time, and look for the beauty that comes with it. The following are some new pages from the month of June. It has been overwhelming and eye opening.
During my time at home in relative isolation, I created a bound journal from scraps that have been in my studio for up to fifteen years. This Ethiopian binding has quarter sawn wooden covers that were incorrectly made for my edition Gules, and pages of an old atlas that I’ve always thought would come in handy one day. This finally seemed the ideal paper for pages of a journal about a world pandemic.
Eventually, I will fill the book with bats and butterflies cut from maps of China to show the spread of this disease. I began cutting bats and realized pretty quickly that this has to be the last step or it will be very hard to draw on the pages. I want this book to take the form of a travel journal, stuffed with papers or tickets picked up along the way.
My first thoughts began with – where did this begin? A bat, a pangolin?
My next thoughts had to do with what people are doing. I feel there have been so many moments of beauty and thankfulness in the world. This is something I focused on to alleviate the shock and fear. I have been working on linked type, drawn with purely geometrical shapes. I love the negative spaces the letters and numbers create. Even when I was having an off day, I could spend my time drawing text. It felt like a meditation.
I have had some dark moments that couldn’t be denied. I try to keep the politics out of my journal and focus on numbers and facts. Iranians drinking methanol as a cure could not be ignored.
Many hopeful moments include the return of nature. Finding animals in places that are usually occupied by humans and the clearing of smog. These are things that give me great comfort and I hope can continue when the world begins to pick up speed again. I dearly hope that we have evolved in some way from this experience.
Although I am posting the pages in a linear fashion, I haven’t been creating them from beginning to end. I jump from place to place, reflecting on what is happening in a particular area. I date each page so I know when they were finished. There are many pages (and regions) that I have yet to fill.
Working in a random fashion I don’t often get a sense of the whole. It’s nice to see the images all together in this blog to get a feel for what I’m doing.
This is the page that I keep going back to. My home. Where I track the cases and deaths every so often, when I feel like I can face the numbers. The numbers are huge but the individual stories are heartbreaking. The redwing blackbirds are back and active, but this is the strangest spring. Watching and listening to the birds has become a daily pastime.
I’m happy that the last couple of pages are hopeful – blue skies over LA and Hawkbill Turtles migrating to the sea, on a beach that they have all to themselves. One way or another, nature always wins.
Well a lot has happened since my art weekend in early February. We are all dealing with a lockdown due to Covid 19, and while home I am continuing to draw every day. It is one thing that makes me feel good. I’ve also been keeping a journal made with map pages in an Ethiopian binding (to be included in a future post) and creating geometric lettering. I find the measuring and the mindless making of shapes very relaxing. The drawing of the owl above is the first to incorporate this lettering into a composition .
I have been wanting to give the coyote drawings meaning, and although I was moving in a direction my ideas were still unclear, so I let them rest for a while. Now I feel they clearly stand as a pack in support of one another, in contrast to the social isolation of the owl. The hands that I began drawing before coronavirus entered our lives, were suddenly reaching, touching and supporting. We will get to the other side of this and when we do, I plan to do a lot more hugging! We’re in this together.
Every year my husband gives me cash to spend a weekend in a local hotel to make art. Two whole days and nights to myself, to be able to follow my thoughts without interruption and be creative. This year, I spent my time drawing coyotes. I thought about working on another project as well, but I just kept drawing coyotes. I have a vision of hanging them all in a small gallery as if surrounded by a pack.
Since moving to our current home in Evanston, the coyotes in the area have flourished. We used to hear them howl occasionally at night – now we often hear a whole pack yipping and barking, especially when the sirens wail at the firehouse. I love waking up to this sound in the wee hours of the morning. My son and I see them on the golf course, looking lush and happy, feasting on the local rabbits and rodents. People often complain about them on social media (protect your little dogs!) but I feel it’s a good sign that predators have returned and are thriving.
This project is far from done. I plan to do something more with the drawings and add text. I also want to make large ceramic discs (or plates?) with more coyote drawings on them. They will be smaller than the life-size drawings, so perhaps they will form a cluster off in the distance.
I have to say, I hate drawing fur. I usually prefer to draw sea life or birds, the textures and forms are so much more interesting, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do! This is one project I just have to do to get it out of my head.
Draining blood (flood)
Copper blue (queue)
Cut in half (laugh)
Assembly line (mine)
Six hundred thousand (fend)
Blood donors (loaners)
A third depleted (meted)
But not dead (ahead)
Spawning wild (piled)
New moon light (night)
Mounting milt (silt)
Whetted sand (land)
Ancient ones (suns)
Helmet head (led)
Bookish gills (fill)
Telson tail (hale)
Will remain (wane)
In the sea (plea)
Following paths (maths)
Wandering free (eternity)
I have been experimenting with making horseshoe crabs with clay. The first one (above) was sculpted from a solid block and hollowed out underneath. The top was a bit thick and it exploded during bisque firing so I threw it out. Later, after sitting in the trash box for a week, I decided to reassemble and glaze it. If it didn’t come out well it would at least be a good glaze test piece, and actually I was quite happy with it. The cracks and losses look like the shells found on a beach and give it a nice texture, so I decided to go ahead and add the paper gills and text. In the meantime, while I thought this was a total failure, I decided to make a new one out of a slab of clay (below). I sculpted it as it was draped over a plaster form and then carved the underside in low relief. Although, not as sculptural as the first, it worked out well and I was quite pleased with both glazes.
I have also been making bowls and plates with paintings of sea life. I begin with a thin coat of glossy white glaze with some of the brownstone clay showing through and then paint with black underglaze. I thin the underglaze to look like an ink wash painting. Once fired, it sinks into the white glaze and becomes glossy.
I’m at the Whiteley Center for almost two weeks working on a huge block for the Big Ink Project at Hatch Show Print in September. I’m very excited about participating, and I’m working hard to get the block done in time. It’s been a while since I carved anything this big and although I knew what I was getting myself into, I’m realizing that this is going to take a lot of work and dedication! Back and neck ache? Sore wrist? Scraped knuckles? Yup, Advil may be needed.
I was nervous about opening my home/studio to the public last weekend, but I have to say, whenever I put myself out into the world, the experience turns out to be a good one. Again, this was the case. Thank you to everyone who made the effort to visit. I had many great conversations, new visitors, and ones I hadn’t seen in a long time. I even sold a few pieces of art. All in all a great experience that I plan to do every year!
I continue to create ocean and sealife from earth, and I’m finally beginning to feel some satisfaction. The whale is my favorite by far, and on my third try I finally have a large stingray tray. I’ll have to sell it before I break the tail! It was a challenge to get all these pieces home on the el train. I had visions of lurching trains and stingray tail stabbings.
In the Midwest. I have been working on a stingray platter, trying to perfect the process. Below is the first one, which I’m quite happy with, but the top layer of the head came off in the bisque firing process. I had to rejoin the pieces with glaze and you can still see the cracks. I’m thinking of filling the cracks with epoxy and attaching gold to highIight them, like the Japanese Kintsugi technique. On my second try the head blew up into tiny pieces in the kiln, so I’m now on my ‘third try is a charm’, as my mother would say.
Mum told me that her happy place is Craigville Beach on Cape Cod. In her mind, she walks down to the end of the beach, lies down in the sand and listens to the waves. She is now 90, and it’s unlikely that she will walk the beach again, but thankfully she has her happy memories and this one gives her peace.
The Humpback Whale tray is in the green ware stage, awaiting bisque firing. Sometimes I think all is going well and what could possibly go wrong, but then it does. I’m crossing my fingers on this one!
The Plankton book (remember Tinkaminks?) is finished, and I made a drop spine box with a raised circle in the center to keep the key chain from shifting around. I printed the title on my old Vandercook press that now resides in Ben Blount’s new studio. He has generously let me use it when needed. This one is on its way to Vamp and Tramp Booksellers at this very moment.
The wide array of forms in the sea are endlessly inspiring. I feel I could keep going forever – and I will continue to dream of living on the coast once again. The lake is beautiful, but as I’ve said before, it’s a poor substitute for the ocean!