Monday, October 24, 2016

New Henry David Thoreau Tribute for Oct's Nibblefest Art Contest "PUMPKINS" Theme

"I would rather sit on a pumpkin
and have it all to myself, 
than to be crowded on a velvet cushion...."

~Henry David Thoreau

7.5 x 9.5, "Thoreau, Pumpkin Sitter", painted in oils for Oct's Nibblefest Art Contest

Several months have come and gone since I last entered the Nibblefest Art Contest.  I never intentionally blow it off, and for so long -- but often time does just get the best of me, as it did this long (though it actually seemed so short!) and mega-busy summer.  No matter, it's always there for me to come back to whenever I can...., which I finally did this month with its "Pumpkins" theme.  What better way to celebrate 'Pumpkins' than with these wise words by the venerable Mr. Henry David Thoreau?  As a person who tries to practice Voluntary Simplicity whenever I can in my own life, I can so relate to this quote.  Thus we have here my little personal homage, as always painted in loving (if slightly irreverent) tribute:

Side View

I had the perfect plaque for this, one that I dug deep out of storage -- an aged one, of slightly weathered wood.  I had to scrape off some faded, generic print that was hopelessly stuck to it, sanding it down to a smooth finish.  The slightly rough condition  seemed most fitting for this project -- I wanted a folksy feel -- plus in the spirit of Simplicity I tried to use minimal paint and really let the grain show through....

  Longtime readers might recall this portrait I painted from a few years back, for Nibblefest's "Forest Creatures" theme in August of 2014:

Portrait of H.D.Thoreau, August 2014

 It's been nearly exactly two years since that one so I figured the time was nigh for another visit to that fascinating face.   
So much expression in those expansive eyes....:

Mr. Henry David Thoreau

 RIP, Mr. Henry D.

"Thoreau, Pumpkin Sitter"

Saturday, June 25, 2016

New Emily Dickinson Tribute for June's Nibblefest Art Contest "BUTTERFLIES" theme

"The Butterfly Upon the Sky...."

Oils on a 5 x 7 beveled corner wood plaque, my tribute to Emily Dickinson

Yep, it's time to Nibble, once again.  
June's Nibblefest Art Contest theme is "Butterflies". 

What comes to mind when you think about butterflies....?  For me, it's the stately American Monarch.  Or more specifically, the trouble that our lovely Monarch Butterflies are currently finding themselves in.  They are at grave risk of becoming endangered.  This once ubiquitous Lepidoptera, which used to be EVERYWHERE when I was a kid....?  How can this be?

As I understand, the primary issue for their decreasing numbers, is their food source, the Milkweed.  A once common prairie plant, the Milkweed is the ONE and ONLY food source for the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar.  The adults lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves, and the larvae hatch and feast.   Loss of habitat, in combination with uber-effective new-generation herbicides in the agricultural industry, have really done a number on this once-common 'weed'.  It no longer grows in America in numerous, wide swaths as it once did.  So it's simple math really -- no Milkweed, no Monarch Butterflies....  

As such, Monarchs were heavily in my mind as I reflected upon this month's "Butterflies" theme.  To help me flesh out my concept, I turned to some lines of poetry by one of my favorites, the legendary Emily Dickinson.  She wrote a short poem entitled, "The Butterfly Upon the Sky".  A tribute to a classic American butterfly should only be paired with a classic American poet, don't you agree...?

"Butterfly Upon the Sky", my 4th in an ongoing series of tribute paintings of Emily Dickinson (one of them being in the  heading pic at the top of this blog)


The following is my auction description...:

"The Butterfly Upon the Sky"

My entry for this month's Nibblefest Art Contest (NFAC), the theme for June being "Butterflies", features a portrait in wee loving tribute to the classic American poet, Emily Dickinson....

Painted in oils upon a 5"x 7" wooden plaque with beveled corners, this original is signed and ready to hang. 

****NOTE: 50% of the proceeds for this auction will be going to the non-profit Monarch Watch, a monarch butterfly conservation organization.  I will also mail some milkweed seeds along with this painting if the winning bidder is interested....

(*NOTE:  This is for a 5-Day Auction)

While my entry for this month's Nibblefest is a wee tribute to a fabulous American poet, Emily Dickinson, it is also in tribute to a fabulous American butterfly species, the Monarch.  Which unfortunately, I'm very sad to say, is decreasing in numbers, to the point of becoming alarming. I can hardly wrap my mind around this, remembering as I do just how ubiquitous they were in my youth.  Monarch butterflies were EVERYWHERE here in the Midwest when I was a kid. No longer common where I live (or anywhere for that matter), it's actually becoming rare to see that striking bold flash of orange and black Monarch wings, as they become endangered.  So sad.

But all is not hopeless.  The primary reason for the Monarch's disappearing act is due to decreasing availability of the Milkweed plant.  Monarch butterflies need Milkweed to survive, being as that it is the ONE and ONLY plant upon which they can lay their eggs, for their caterpillars to feed. Loss of native habitat and tracts of Milkweed plants are pushing our lovely Monarch to extinction.  But we have it in our power to help!  How...???  Plant Milkweed in your yard or garden for one.  There are many varieties of the plant, and while it doesn't exactly have the reputation for being ornamental, it can actually be considerably more attractive than it's given credit for.  And if you plant it, they will come!  I've planted it for years and have had great luck....

Back to the poet, Emily Dickinson. I was inspired here by her poem,
"The Butterfly Upon the Sky" (the first lines of which is written around the side/perimeter of the plaque):

The Butterfly upon the Sky,
That doesn't know its Name
And hasn't any tax to pay
And hasn't any Home
Is just as high as you and I,
And higher, I believe,
So soar away and never sigh
And that's the way to grieve -
~Emily Dickinson


Interesting last line of her poem, eh?  I promise you I will be grieving indeed to lose our lovely Monarch butterfly.  But we will not let things get to that point!  Let's all do our share to help.  Plant Milkweed.  Donate.  Create awareness. 

And, as mentioned above, please note that 50% of the proceeds of this auction will be donated to the conservation organization, Monarch Watch.

So here's hoping you enjoy my entry as much as I did painting it...! 

I've been asked about her 'floating crown'.  Well, I included a crown as a nod to The Monarch, and also to 'crown' Miss Emily D. as the 'queen' of American poetry.  Only we Americans rejected Monarchical rule, so I couldn't actually have it depicted UPON her head, now could I...?  ;-)

 So there you have it.  I painted my own version of  a"Butterfly Upon the Sky", depicted as she is resting upon a Milkweed plant.  This particular variety of Milkweed is known as Swamp Milkweed, a rather unfortunate moniker for what is actually one of the more "ornamental" varieties of Milkweed, with its showy pink blossoms and slim tapered leaves.  I've been growing this particular variety for years with really great luck (and several generations of Monarchs!).  Or, I should say I HAD been growing it.  After many consecutive years of successful plantings, one season, after a particularly harsh winter I think, my milkweed didn't come up at all.  That started a several-year stretch of no milkweed whatsoever in my yard, because I didn't have seeds, nor access to seedlings (plus this particular variety of 'weed' not actually being all that invasive).  But I'm happy to say that last year, a wee volunteer milkweed seedling baby popped up -- what a pleasant little surprise!  I had not deliberately planted it, so I figure it must have lain dormant for several years before finally deciding to sprout? The location was not ideal either -- a rather shady spot, and in the gravel along my driveway no less.  I didn't want to disturb it though, so I left it be, and am happy to say it's grown and is doing well so far.  This is what it looks like today...:

Behold:  The ever lovely, and Monarch attracting, Swamp Milkweed

As you can see, no flowers yet (though buds are appearing at the top).  But it doesn't need blossoms to attract Monarchs.  Here's hoping they are able to find it this year!  Come to think of it, I haven't actually seen any Monarchs in my yard yet this season, sadly they are actually that rare nowadays -- but let's hope in any case.  And please further note that the winning bidder of this auction will have the option of my sending him or her some Swamp Milkweed seeds along with the painting.  Throw the seeds in your yard and give them a try -- or, if you are renting, into an ugly vacant lot or something in your area.  I intend to become the Johnny Appleseed of Milkweed, lol -- just spreading the loooooove....!

Long live Emily Dickinson and The Monarch Butterfly....!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Toto Too", my entry for May's 'Pet Animals' Nibblefest Theme

New artwork...!

"Toto Too", 5x7 wood oval plaque

Oh, how the months do roll on.  We find ourselves here in May and at yet another Nibblefest Art Contest week.  May's theme is "Pet Animals".  Well, I certainly adore animals of all ilk -- pets or otherwise.  I am especially devoted to my own dear, sweet wee pet -- a very much cherished and doted upon 27-year-old geriatric cockatiel (a feathered 'baby' by the name of Pierre).  Even so, I still can't say as a theme it was giving me great sparks of inspiration at first.  After tossing around a few lackluster ideas, only to boringly reject them, a good friend pitched several promising suggestions, including one that I finally felt I could really run with.   Because honestly,  who doesn't adore that darling, courageous Cairn Terrier of the film classic, The Wizard of Oz....?  

And so we have here a wee piece painted in loving tribute the spunky puppy-whupple, Toto, and his loving mistress, Dorothy Gale. 

Side view, showing painted Rainbow

Painted in oils, I used a 2nd-hand, oval wooden plaque that I already had on hand to recycle for this project.  I really liked the oval outline to work with, because it was the perfect shape for including Dorothy's Rainbow, painted along and following the sides of the plaque...:

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow...."

Side view....:

Close up

And so, if I was going to include a Rainbow..., I guess I figured I should also include two other highly iconic elements of the Oz tale:  A Tornado, and the Yellow Brick Road (as seen in Dorothy's background)....

"Toto Too" for the theme "Pet Animals"

Now, being as that I was recycling this plaque (which originally had a small cluster of tole-painted daisies on it), I found it interesting how the original owner had herself recycled a pop can tab to fashion some hanging hardware on the back.  Highly functional, so I left it alone -- and heck, might even start doing this myself  (if I can get my hands on a supply of used pop can tabs that is --  being as that we're non-pop drinkers!)....:  

Back, showing the existing pop-can-tab hanging hardware.  Clever!

In any case, the film Wizard of Oz does hold such a fond place in my heart.  In my youth, before the magic of of the internet, or heck, even VCR players, The Wizard of Oz would only broadcast on TV once a year.  As I recall it was always on Easter.  My siblings and I would count the days..., then on The Day it was to air, we would count the hours, and then the minutes...!  So, so much excitement in our house over 'just' a movie.  Those were the days!


"Toto, Too" won First Place in May's Nibblefest Art Contest!  Thanks to all my lovely bidders...!  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Stars-n-Jars", my entry for April's 'Things in Jars' Nibblefest Theme

New artwork...!

"Stars-n-Jars": A trio of 4x6 oil paintings in tribute to to three legendary female Country Music icons

Dolly, Loretta and Tammy"

Goodness gracious (great balls of fire), this past month really flew by.  Flew!  It's Nibblefest Art Contest week here again already, with yet another stimulating theme to contemplate.  April's theme...? 
"Things in Jars".

So how serendipitous is it that I just happened to have three small 'mason-jar' shaped wooden plaques in my stash...???   I picked these little guys up last year at a second hand shop for practically pennies.  I thought they were cute enough, and had the potential to be interesting -- but with no particular plans for them, they've been sitting around taking up space.  Upon hearing of April's theme however, I just knew I *HAD* to somehow use them to enter this month, come hell or high water.   It was meant to be!

It did still take a little while for me to come up an idea as to what my actual "things", for "Things in Jars", were to be exactly.  I ruminated for quite some time.  I needed three 'things' that related to each other.  And which would somehow be suitable painted upon a mason-jar.  It took awhile, but once I had the whisper of a concept in my head, I decided to just run with it.  Thus we have here what ended up to be a little 3-way portrait series, painting in loving tribute to a trio of female Country Music legends, my chosen STARS(-n-Jars...!).




The following is my auction description....:

(Dolly Parton * Loretta Lynn * Tammy Wynette)

My entry for this month's Nibblefest Art Contest (NFAC), the theme for April being "Things in Jars", features a fun trio of wee portraits painted in loving tribute to three classic Stars of Country Music:  
Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette

Painted in oils upon three 4" x 6" found 'mason jar'-shaped wooden plaques, this set of 3 original pieces are all signed and ready to hang as a grouping.

(*NOTE:  This is for a 3-Day Auction)

I've long been looking forward to this particular theme!  Some time ago, I picked up three wee, 'mason jar'-shaped wood plaques at a 2nd hand shop. Clueless as to how I might use them at the time, I was intrigued nevertheless and so brought them home.  Imagine how delighted I was to later find out "Things in Jars" was an upcoming theme...!  

So fine, I now knew exactly what I would be painting ON..., while still stumped as to what my exactly subject matter should BE. I kicked around a few concepts, when "Stars-in-Jars" randomly came to mind.  Hmmm, perhaps a fun trio of celebrity portraits?  But which celebrities exactly???  That's when it hit me: What Stars could possibly be more fitting featured upon "Mason Jars", than Dolly, Loretta and Tammy -- three beloved classic country music Divas, all of whom rising from extraordinarily humble, hard-scrabble beginnings to become beloved, world-renown talents, thanks to their amazing singing/songwriting and musicianship. This small set of "Stars-n-Jars" is my own tribute to these legendary women.




So ok, here's the thing.  While I can't say I've ever personally been a huge fan of the country music genre (particularly the contemporary stuff)...?   I did grow up in the 70's listening to the country-western classics, thanks to my dad.  His radio was (and still is) permanently tuned to the local country-western station.  He just loved it.  Always a project of some kind going on in the garage or basement, I have strong memories growing up of the music playing while he was working on his hobbies, with him whistling cheerily along.  There was also the weekly Saturday night "Hee-Haw" watching ritual (who remembers that old program...?), that went on for years and years in my youth.  Like everyone else, we had only the one TV back then -- and at 6:00 p.m. every Saturday night my dad claimed it for his own.  Without fail.  He would always pop corn on the stovetop for the occasion.   And of course I was bored enough from the little else to do back then than to just watch "Hee-Haw" too.  But as much as I told myself that I didn't like it, or protested about having to listen to the Country station on car trips, those old melodies got seared into my brain -- exposure that ended up giving me a real soft spot for the Country Music classics, in spite of myself, lol....  

And so, yes, while there may be a certain small element of 'tongue in cheek' within my entry here, please know that I really do have deep respect for these accomplished women -- Dolly, Loretta and Tammy.  I've read Loretta Lynn's autobiographical book, "Coal Miner's Daughter", and have seen the film several times, documentaries, as well as having read the histories of Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette through the years.  All three of these ladies were challenged from such hardscrabble backgrounds -- isloation, inadequate education, poverty (and thus I believe a canning jar to be a quite reasonable symbol of such shared humble beginnings!  (In fact Loretta Lynn was an expert canner as a young wife and mother before her career took off, having won numerous Country Fair blue ribbons)).  And yet, thanks to their amazing musical talents, all three overcame tremendous obstacles (including but no limited to, at least in the case of Loretta and Tammy, teen motherhood and troubled relationships) to rise to such astonishing heights of fame -- especially remarkable given the male-dominance of their industry back in the '60's and '70's.  But, they were all trail blazers -- doing their own thing while going on to set a standard for the role of women within their genre.  And it's not simply that they all had such strong, beautiful singing voices -- which of course they did.  But they also wrote most of their own material -- the melodies and the lyrics, hundreds of albums between them.  That takes a truly special talent.  And they all had it, in spades (with Dolly and Loretta still having it...!).

Lastly, I just want to make mention that these are oil paintings, my first since studying art in college.  I have always adored oil painting, but simply found acrylic paint to be more practical these many years since, for a variety of reasons.  And I do still like acrylics, and will probably still find occasion to use them.   However, having recently invested in oil paints, and having so much fun re-acquainting myself with them, I think it's a safe bet to say you can expect many more oil paintings from me in the future....


Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Animal Farm Gothic", my entry for March's 'Farm Animals' Nibblefest Theme

Nibblefest, again (finally!).

"Animal Farm Gothic", acrylics on 8 x 10 found wooden plaque

Oh, Nibblefest Art Contest.  That lovely-and-lively, fun-and-friendly art competition which rolls around ever so faithfully each and every single month.  Did you think I'd forgotten about you...?

No indeed.  Happy to report I'm back in the Nibblefest saddle again this month after a wee hiatus while I was off and busy doing other things.  And now here we are in March. 

Having sat out several contests in a row, I unfortunately missed out on some really neat themes I would have otherwise been quite inspired by, like "Creatures of the Night" and "Fruits and Veggies".  So when I found myself with time to finally put something together THIS month, I crossed my fingers for what I hoped would be a really juicy, inspiring Theme...., 

....only to find March's theme to be 'Farm Animals'

Well...? I certainly love farms, and I of course I adore animals.  But I still admit my very first reaction to this was... bleh.

 That is, until one second later I flip-flopped the words giving me "Animal Farm"...,  and then it was off to the races, yee haw!

 I recall reading 'Animal Farm' way back in middle school English.  We also watched the animated film in class.  I'm positive most of the political allegory of the story, Orwell's telling of the rise of Communism after the Russian Revolution, likely went WAY over my head at the time, though I remember I did find the tale of the trials and tribulations of these assorted squabbling, intrepid farm critters interesting.  It wasn't until high school however, when I read the book, "1984", that I found myself really sucked into Orwell's Dystopian writing (with"1984" still being my favorite of Orwell's tomes, and in fact among favorite books in general.  Note that I did do a small tribute to '1984' years ago as part of the 2012 '29 Faces' Art Challenge -- hope to do another, more thorough dedication again one of these days, when the stars align!).   However 'Animal Farm' is fascinating too, and so I set out to do a little fangirl tribute....

Thus I had my concept, which I knew would incorporate a portrait of the handsome author in some manner.., but what next?  I'm sure I could have argued my way into making a straight-forward, simple portrait of George fit the theme -- but I wanted to do more than that.  Yet how to visually reference his book "Animal Farm" in a way to be instantly recognizable....?

 With what has to be probably the most iconic farmers art history, that's how:  Grant Wood's gorgeous 1935 classic, "American Gothic".  It's only been parodied bazillions of times already, so why not another.....?  I do love my 'mash-ups' after all...!

And so here we have the venerable author, George Orwell, posed a la "American Gothic" iconic fame, along with a main character of his story, the pig named Napoleon.  In his political allegory, "Animal Farm", the ambitious and power-hungry Napoleon is a stand-in for the tyrannical Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin.  To portray Napoleon from the book, I featured him here in full Empire regalia (though he doesn't actually wear such in the book), to refer to exactly which pig character of the several in 'Animal Farm' I am representing....  


Of course, it can't very well be a loving spoof of the painting "American Gothic", without including the famous, American Gothic-style window of the house Grant Wood's farmers stand before, from which indeed the painting got its name (and which I've actually visited in person, in Eldon, Iowa).   With George and Napoleoan standing in front of a house of American Gothic-style architecture making little sense however, instead I took liberties (lots and lots of liberties) and turned the structure into the windmill which features so prominently in the book (the Windmill being Orwell's symbolizing for the massive infrastructure projects the Communists embarked upon after the Russian Revolution, which the animals of the farm take to building and re-building.). 

The following is my auction description.....:


"Animal Farm Gothic"


My entry for this month's Nibblefest Art Contest (NFAC), the theme for March being "Farm Animals", features a wee portrait in loving tribute to the British author, George Orwell, and his famous 1945 book of political allegory, "Animal Farm" ( addition to the classic USA painter, Grant Wood, of "American Gothic" fame).

Painted in acrylics upon a 8.25" x 9.5" found wooden plaque, this original piece is signed and ready to hang.

(*NOTE:  This is for a 3-Day Auction, ending 3/27)

It didn't take long at all to come up with a concept for this month's theme.  A mere flip-flopping of the words "Farm Animals" instantly gave me "Animal Farm" and I was off and running.  I first read George Orwell back in high school and have been a fan ever since, so I was very happy indeed to have occasion to pay him my own little personal tribute.  Thus we have here a portrait of the writer along with a main character of his classic "Animal Farm" tale, the commanding and power-hungry pig named Napoleon. They stand in front of a windmill, which features prominently in the storyline.  (And of course, because I love my little artistic 'mash-ups', guess I just couldn't resist tossing in an additional loving, if cheeky, reference to what has to be one of the most iconic farmers in art history (...and with sincerest apologies to artist, Grant Wood, of the 1935 masterpiece, "American Gothic"!) )

Here's hoping you enjoy my little tribute as much as I did painting it...! 



"Animal Farm Gothic" ended up winning this month's 
Nibblefest 'Big Chomp' Award...!

A big shout out of thanks to my lovely bidders...!


Saturday, February 20, 2016

In More Papier Mache News....:

In addition to the Papier Mache Vegetarian Boar's Head I just previously wrote about, there was also some recent mask-makery on my end.

Back in 2009, I was asked to create some special costuming elements for our local production of 'The Nutcracker Ballet"...:

2009 Stick Mask props for 'The Nutcracker', "Soldiers" vs "Rats"

Still in use today, in fact the ballet company's cast list has grown and they now needed an additional children's "Soldier" mask for this past Nutcracker season....:

Easy enough to whip up another
(especially with an old one to borrow as an example (because to be honest I kind of forgot how I went about it the first time 'round) )...:

"Soldier Stick Mask", in progress...:

The plain mask I was using to build off this time of wasn't quite the same as the one from 2009 (couldn't find that old style), so adjustments had to be made (which is fine, because really, who's going to notice some wee tiny differences from the house of a 1500+ seat theater? No one, that's who!).,,:

Lots of paper mache layers later, and it slowly comes together...:

A little necessary detail work...:

A little painting....and....voila!  A "Soldier Stick Mask" copied...!

Here's to another successful Nutcracker for the Ballet! 
Always fun keeping it local and working within the community....

Paper Mache "Boar's Head", Redux...!

Boar's Head #1, at a VIP event

Been a wee bit quiet in here as of late I know.  Despite my lack of recent posts I'm glad to say I've still been creating stuff -- it's just that these last few months were busy with several lovely private commissions that had me up to my eyeballs in elbow grease (besides, as you know me, even though I may come and go out of here at times.., I always, always come back.  Eventually.).  

Now that most of these projects have been finished up and sent along their merry ways, it's time for some updating....

Who remembers this li'l cutie (well, pretty big actually) from a few years back....?

Vegetarian Pig Head Scultpure Commission, from 2012

I was recently commissioned to make another of these guys -- a vegetarian paper-mache "Boar's Head/Pig Head", for a customer in the great state of Oklahoma.  
Fun times!

Some progress pics of Pig Head #2...:

Disembodied Boar's Head, in progress:  Sculpting the overall shape (as always, Duct Tape to the rescue)...:

Before attaching his ears, I rmust make sure he will still actually fit into the box I've targeted for re-use as his shipping vessel (He fits!).....

Sculpted piggy ears...!

Ears attached...!  Looking more oinky all the time.

Still, lacking in personality, it's time to work in some detail....

Detaila in place, and ready for painting.  I began with a nice deep, dark undercoat.

Lightening him up gradually (plus painting teeth!)...

Always the fun part, painting ...

Never complete until the requisite apple is in the mouth. 

And here we have "Piggly Wiggly" in his new owner's Oklahoma home.  Happy Customer/Happy Artist!

And, as with my first papier mache head, I'm happy to report once again that no harm was done in the making of THIS (2nd) Vegetarian Papier Mache Boar's Head.

Pig Head #2 at his recent Medieval/Madrigal VIP special event.