Creativity expresses itself in many ways and one of the ways that David and I have expressed ourselves over the years is in rehabilitating houses; old ones in particular. We are drawn to their stories, love reinforcing the layers of history they contain, are excited with the creative how-to problem solving – AND it’s something fun we can do together. :)
We have a new project to end our summer with. The oral history of this sweet New Englander begins in the late 1800’s when it was built alongside 3 other similar houses on Beacon Street in Concord, NH. I always wondered why there were so many of this style of house dotting the city areas of this and other states. A little research told me that this style of house, with the front gable design, was made possible with pre-cut timbers suddenly available by the advent of lumber yards. Due to the new railroads, transport of these timbers to cities was made easy and thus the lumber yard was born. The “pre-fab” Starter house of the day, this style was a design from around 1850 through the first of the 1900’s. The “ranch” style house took over as the next Starter style.
Oral history says, around 1900 the city of Concord decided that it wanted to build another fire house right where these houses stood. So in 1900, each of these 4 homes were pulled by oxen up the street and around the corner to be deposited into this quiet little cul de sac. Brick foundations were built then clad with long granite slabs and the houses were just set upon them. Crazy what those guys could engineer back then!!
Our house still has some of its original features but also gives a nod to its updates through the years; some 1930’s touches, some 1960’s touches…garrish 1970’s paint colors and the 1980’s drop-in-fixtures look. In the vein of re-habilitation (not restoration) we have a motto of letting the house be what it is and not forcing it to be something else. We will focus on the 1900 – 1940 era letting those touches remain and reenforcing that style with replacements for later era worn out stuff that we will strip out.
Here is my artist’s rendering before and after of how we will change the front of the house, phase one. Watch for the continuing posts of how the house is coming along. The house will be for rent sometime in October.
Shutters in sage green with accent panels here and there; plus a bold plum front door. ..and loose the red steps. What do you think?
This Friday from 5-8PM, in conjuction with the First Friday art gallery openings here in Portsmouth, I am showing my newest collection of artworks at the Shapley Townhouse in Strawbery Banke. All water themed, they might be fodder for your own inspirations! Please come and share some light refreshments with me; 454 Court St.
Above; “Ripples and Rivulets” 22″x24″. Hand painted and hand dyed cotton fabric, machine pieced, machine and hand quilted, hand appliqued. Stretched quilt.
Above; “Floating on the Surface” 30″ x 32″. Hand printed/painted cotton, machine pieced, machine and hand quilted, hand appliqued. Stretched quilt.
Above; “Piscataqua from the Other Side” 16″ x 22″. Hand painted and dyed cotton, machine pieced, machine quilted. Stretched quilt.
Above; “A Clear Day” and “Another Clear Day” 12″ x 12″. Hot glue and acrylic on canvas.
See these and many other works hanging in the halls outside my business Euchlora now through September. 454 Court Street, Portsmouth. 603-491-7305
“How long did it take you to make that?” is the question most often asked. The honest answer? Weeks. And months. To create something original in stitched fabric – without a pattern, without a super clear direction – it does take a very long time as the piece builds upon itself before one’s very eyes. It’s as though the piece has its own end in mind and you are just along for the ride.
And unlike paint that one can joyfully swath onto a canvas with immediate results, that moment of inspiration is delayed through the process of finding the correct colored fabric, cutting it, stitching it then ironing it and hoping it is what you see in your mind’s eye. And if painting or dying fabric is involved, add another 5 or so steps. Creating art with stitched fabric takes at least 5 times as long as painting a canvas of the same size.
Here is the process used to create “Jonquils at Sea” above.
The Inspiration. In strolling thru my bins of fabric color one day, my eyes stopped at the blue grey. That got my attention; I could see that color mixed with the complimentary colors of yellow and orange.
The design. I walked around that bin in the studio for several days waiting for the color inspiration to create an image in my mind of how it should take form. Suddenly I had it, so sketched out the form and the proportions quickly while the actual details I held in my mind. I like my finished work to be slightly off-square thus one side longer than the other. I use the golden ration to decide where to divide that “square” into parts. 28″ ÷ 1.61803 = approx. 17″; 28″ – 17″ = 11″…….. 25″ ÷ 1.61803 = approx. 15″; 25″ – 15″ = 10″.
The mechanics. I thought for a while on how I would execute what I saw in my mind’s eye on that left hand section, I envisioned variegated patterning with little rectangular splotches of color set into that grey. I dove in trying a technique I had used before, strip piecing that then gets cut into random curved lengths that are pieced and stitched as I go, deciding what the color and placement should take place after the last one has been done, pausing and pondering after each strip to create “intentional irregularity”.
Because of the very small piecing (some finished splotches of color are only 1/4″ square!) it makes for bulky bundles of seams. I random pressed them with a hot iron and steamed to be the most flat; some inward, some outward. It makes no difference with quilting in the end.For the top right hand section I used my random square technique of simply starting with a square or rectangle (in this case the white) then piecing around it like a log cabin block, only I don’t cut the strips square so it creates a off-centered look. I consciously work at alternating values and colors so that the over-all effect looks evenly patterned. Again, this takes time because each piece needs to be made to fit up against the former one creating sections of blocks that are then sewn together. Most of the fabrics used were hand-painted or hand-dyed at another time, each one taking hours/days as color is layered and dried, layered and dried, then set, washed and cured.
I had envisioned the lower right hand section to be hand painted section. I did not have any pre-painted fabrics so I custom-created a piece just for this section. I mixed the paint to match the fabrics already used, then made several tries until I got what I wanted. The process for this type of finish is to paint theboard then brayer the fabric into it. The pieces that did not make the cut will be used later in something else just like the pieces I used in the yellow/orange section.
When the quilt top is finally finished and pieced I then create a sandwich of plain colored backing with “bat” in between. I hold it together with curved safety pins. I then begin the process of stitching the layers together with quilting. I used my own techniques; some to mimic the look of more paint splotches, some to reinforce the design and some to add visual interest. Most of this was done by machine but a bit was also done by hand.
Once the stitching is complete the quilt is stretched over canvas stretchers bars and finished with a paper backing like a finished painted canvas. Whew. Complete.
The drive home – just over an hour accompanied by the lull of humming tires – scattered thoughts and fragments from the day often morph together forming new clusters of contemplation that make for the most interesting conversation. Such was one that David and I had last week about the connection between the notes of flavor, color and music.
It started with my explanation of flavor notes. We had just had a great dinner at Morey and Margie’s and were dissecting why it was so satisfying. I believed it was because the meal contained all the flavor groups in one dish – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and Unami [savory]; so it hit all of our taste buds – and the conversation spun off from there.
It went something like this…
High, bright and sharp flavors …like high notes on the music scale?
Explain sharp. Something that makes you pucker?
When a color is bright is it a high note?
What is a low note in flavor? Smoke and bourbon?
And low wave length colors; navy blue, brown, black?
Why do flavors pair together? To balance each other out; like dark chocolate and cherry. The bitter of chocolate against the sweet of cherry; low notes with high notes.
Woa…. these are the nuances of trained sommeliers and Noses (perfumers).
As a creative exercise I made the following chart to express the concepts of this conversation. Is this synesthesia? Or is it simply another idea for a series of art canvases? Lets continue this conversation; please comment.
In my humble career as a visual artist and colorist, I continually hear the reluctant statement from others longing to pursue some form of art, “But I am not creative like you.” That statement begs the question, is being creative-artistic genetic, or is it a learned discipline just any other activity?
A lot has been said about creativity sighting the neuron pathways in the brain that make an artistic temperament, explaining logical vs. intuitive approaches, left brain, right brain and so on…. All of that seems to be true, it makes sense and would reinforce the genetic component. However, I personally observe that attitude and social influence seems to have more impact on the artistic process than any genetic proclivity. So it seems to me that…
…self confidence and the willingness to loose control allows one to give over to the creative process.
I believe that being creative-artistic does not mean that the end result is a sale-able piece of work but instead is an inspired process that may or may not produce and end result. Using my own family as an example, I come from a long line of artists that produced many end results. Some of us were trained to be professional artists, others just dove in like myself. Some of the resulting work was acclaimed, some of it so-so but some of it was invisible being simply the artistic-creative process played out in everyday life.
If “good” art is measured by it’s end result, then some of us would not have been considered talented but all of us would be considered creative as that process poured over into all aspects of life. As my predecessors did, I grew up observing that free-form thinking leads to intuitive decision-making which sparks original creativity. Society supported that for me growing up in the unrestricted 1960’s and 70’s while I watched my parents battle their own urges caught between their formative 1950‘s Beatnik years and their perceived need to be “in control & fit” in suburbia rendering them barely comfortable where they fit and creativity was often stifled. Some of their struggles imprinted me resulting in often times my own repressed creativity.
My maternal Victorian great-Grandmother Nellie. She painted small water-color still-life’s. They were good. Who knows if she would have done more but the Victorian society dictated that women confine their artistic talents to parlor entertainment.
My paternal great-grandmother Zena. She was a model and daringly modeled men’s clothes! Sadly she died at a very early age so I never knew her. I always wonder…
My free-spirited maternal grandfather Albert (AJ) Randolph in the roaring 1920s. Navy man, adventurer and finally self-employed artist. He was a sign painter, sculptor and photographer. His parents were entrepreneurs so given his formative years of thinking outside the box and the “roaring” part of the 1920’s it makes sense that he would feel more freedom to pursue creative and artistic endeavours.
My maternal grandmother Bernice LeMoine Randolph also was a water-colorist. There is very little of her painted work left to show but she also expressed creativity through massive colorful gardens sculpted carefully with hard scape.
AJ and Bernice’s children were also artists.
My mother Flora Jane worked for the US navy doing illustrations and air-brush retouch work (pre-Photoshop). She liked to tell how she worked right next to the men that would become the first Walt Disney artists. When she left the navy she had a glamorous career retouching print ads for the San Francisco Union Square department stores like Sacks. She gave it up to become a mother and suburban housewife but later returned to it as well as pursuing chinese brush and oil painting. During her absence from making finished art, she filled our home with loads of boot-strappy creative touches; decoratively painted furniture & artistic arrangements of found objects with out-of-the-box color schemes.
FJ’s sister, my aunt Nell, had perhaps the most successful & prolific art career of anyone in our family. Internationally known and making art everyday of her life, she choose a bohemian unencumbered lifestyle which I believe helped her have the freedom to express herself completely. My sister Nina maintains a website of Nell’s work with some limited-addition prints still available for sale.
FJ’s husband Bob, my father, also worked in the arts. He was a professional photographer, a print maker and lithographer. When he was doing this work, it was all done by hand without the aid of a computer using one’s own eye for judging artistic balance. His father was rather repressing and stern so maybe this was some of his hesitation when I was growing up. But maybe something was observed from his seemingly creative mother Zena that allowed him to pursue some arts.
And the next generation down – my sister, myself and my cousin John – all have expressed ourselves creatively. John (observing his mother Nell’s lifestyle) was a graphic artist, fine artist, musician, chef and oozed creativity. My sister is a photographer, cartoonist, gardener and fabulous cook and of course there is me. And my children are jewelers, painters, musicians, writers, poets and highly intuitive as I have tried to provide them with an upbringing that encouraged their urges.
Certainly being creative-artistic has to do with self-expression and the confidence to do so.
So, is being artistic genetic? Or is it environmental? What do you think?
If you are interested in exercising your creativity, you might find my upcoming workshop interesting as I will address the process of getting into your creativity.
Amsterdam, Viet Nam, Italy and Greece… all on a day off. Just for fun, David and I recently took the Downeaster Amtrack train out of Durham, New Hampshire to Brunswick, Maine and what a pleasant surprise to have our senses tickled with artistic influences from all those continental destinations.
First stop upon arrival; Vietnamese food at the restaurant Lemongrass. Sweet potato and shrimp crisps, Pho [soup] with lime, lemongrass and basil, chicken bean sprout salad.
Next stop; Bowdoin College to visit its art museums. Surrealism photography and Arctic expedition artifacts. But the campus itself, founded in 1794, was art in itself. Classical architecture, so well-appointed with so much detail, made us feel like we were in Europe.
After immersing ourselves in art, we took a stroll through the town peaking our heads into antique and home decor shops, then ended our day with happy hour wine and apps at the local, agrarian Greek and Italian restaurant Trattoria Athena. Prosciutto wrapped artichokes, cheese stuffed “crepes”, cauliflower cakes. A perfect day off.
For your own perfect day-off, try these to-die-for cauliflower cakes that I worked out the recipe for.
Inspired by my recent culinary excursion on a perfect day off, I worked out the recipe for these unbelievably delicious cauliflower cakes. For you Winifred… :)
Steam until tender, about 15 minutes:
1 1/2 pounds (2 lbs with stem and leaves) cauliflower broken into florets
In a food processor, puree the cauliflower then blend in:
1/2 tsp kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper
1 T minced green onions
1/4 cup chick pea (garbonza bean) flour
1 beaten egg
Form this mixture into 30 patties. Note that they will be crumbly. Press each patty into:
almond flour – 3/4 cup total for all patties.
Press them again into:
unseasoned Panko bread crumbs (if you are gluten-free these days, then just press them again into more almond flour) – 3/4 cup total for all patties.
Place patties onto a rack to rest for 30 minutes and to firm up. After this time they will not be crumbly any longer.
In a frying pan on medium-low heat, warm some *spiced clarified butter (Ghee) till just smoking. Fry each patty until they are golden on each side. Serve with lime. NOTE: I used a flavored Ghee that was a gift from my friend Winifred. She obtained it on-line from Pure Indian Foods. I used the Niter Kibbeh blend that contains cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, turmeric and nutmeg.
NOTE: if you can not obtain this pre-blended spiced butter then add some of these spices to your own clarified butter.