Thursday, December 31, 2015

Highlights of a visit to the Boston MFA

My husband and I had a few hours to kill in Boston on Monday, and decided that, since we'd be in the car for a few hours afterward, and since the weather was not great, we should spend the time visiting the MFA (Museum of Fine Arts).  I was particularly interested in the current exhibition "Class Distinctions - Dutch Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer".  Photos aren't allowed in this exhibit, but we both found it extremely interesting.  One complaint though: I knew that, since it is vacation week, it would be crowded.  But this exhibit was filled with people pushing strollers, and several very tall men (I would guess over 6'5") who stood close to the artworks, taking their time reading the labels that explained about the work.  While it wasn't a problem for my 6'1" husband, it was really frustrating for 4'11" me.  By the time I got to the final room of the exhibit, I simply gave up.  Please folks, be considerate of others!  Let short people in front of you, and re-consider bringing baby strollers in an exhibit like this, unless you have someone who can watch the stroller in the center of the gallery when you are getting up close and personal with the artwork!  Thank you!!
Other  parts of the museum weren't so crowded.  Our time was limited, so we picked certain areas to explore before we had to hit the road.  There was another current exhibition I wanted to see, though it did not interest my husband at all!!  The exhibit is called "Crafted: Objects in Flux", and a few pieces really caught my interest!!
The temporary site-specific ceramic installation "Poros", by Nathan Craven, pictured above and below, and also at the top of the post, is made from approximately 6000 fired clay elements, fitted to a window, with light pouring in from the outside.
Here's a few other pieces that intrigued me, from this exhibit. 
I'll admit, the MFA is NOT my favorite art museum, but there still is much to see.  We spent a bit of time exploring European painting, including works by Monet, Picasso, van Gogh, and more.  But it was a contemporary piece that totally grabbed me:  Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism by Josiah McElheny, pictured below and at the top of the post.  This installation is made from hand-blown vessels of mirrored glass, and mirrors.  It was totally fascinating!
Pictured below is me!  I'm taking a photo of the mirrored installation, so you are seeing a reflection of me in the case that holds the blown glass display.  Confusing, I think?
To confuse me further, there was a piece of performance art ongoing:
All in all, visiting the MFA was a great way to spend some time before we hit the road!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tis the season for Cookies and Books!

  Hello there, everyone! 
Just for fun, I thought I'd share my recent artsy cookie baking endeavors.  A week ago, I made and decorated these Hanukkah cookies below, for a Temple book club Hanukkah party.  (More about the book club and books in a little bit.)
Then, this week I baked my annual batch of gingerbread cookies, using my husband's family recipe.  I'm not a huge fan of gingerbread, but I do like making these every year.  (Though it took me way too long this year.  Maybe it's because I really don't know anything about cookie-decorating; I just make it up as I go along and hope it works.)  Anyhow, I made a wonderful big mess in the process, and I hope you like the results!   
So about the book club...  I'm actually in TWO book clubs; I've been in one for about 20 years, and joined the Temple group after I retired.  So I've read lots of books I might never have discovered or chosen on my own - some I've liked, and some... not so much.  And I've met some terrific women through both groups.  Both book clubs take a little reading hiatus in December, opting for food instead of books, and also take a meeting break in the summer.  I use that time to read books waiting by my bed that I've picked up along the way.  (Yup, I actually read actual books!  There's something tactile about books that I love.  I have no desire to use an e-reader.)
I want to mention a few books that have made big impressions on me in recent months.  In one group, we recently read West With the Night by Beryl Markham, and in the other group we are now reading (though I've already finished it) An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine.   I'm a big fan of books that are told with a unique voice; both of these books fit that description.  One is non-fiction, and the other is fiction, but I give highest recommendations to both.  They are non-typical, and really special.
Meanwhile, I've independently read a couple of those books on the night table that were NOT book club picks.  I was especially intrigued by The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.  A little dark and creepy, but I'm a fan of Hoffman's magic realism, and I enjoy books that are a little bizarre!   And this is definitely on that list...  
 A few others from recent months that I really enjoyed reading for my clubs:  The Language of Flowers by Vanessa DiffenbaughThe Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, and Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  And has anyone else read A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka? It was a fun little book that I picked up at a book sale. 
 Have you read any of these books?  Did you enjoy?  
Do you have any other fun book recommendations to pass along?  

Happy Reading, Happy Baking, & Happy Holidays!! 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My state convention - the final convention post!

I don't have a bunch of pictures for this post, so maybe you won't read it...  I don't know... Hopefully there is something here worthwhile a few minutes of your time. Meanwhile, blogger keeps moving around the few pictures I included.  So if the formatting is weird today, all I can say is OOPS!

  But anyhow...  I haven't yet talked about the other two workshops I presented at my state conference, or a few fabulous ideas I got from one of the workshops I was able to attend.   I'll briefly share here. 
So first, my workshops - one was on working with easily available recycled materials.  I gave instructions for several easy favorite projects, including  my absolutely simplest, easiest, and most favorite of all sculpture projects - little abstract cardboard sculptures that were a first grade favorite.  I've blogged about them many times, detailing the process in a post HERE.

What I've decided, in the end, is that at next year's state convention, any and all workshops I decide to present will be hands-on, and I'm not messing with any PowerPoint presentations and laptops and projectors and assorted technology.  That's because of this: my most well-attended workshop, with about 60 attendees, took the least amount of preparation.  I put together a handout, gathered materials, and boxed them into my car.  But for the two lecture-style workshops, I spend hours and hours and hours putting together my PowerPoints.  I bought a new cable to connect a projector to my finicky laptop.  I drove 30 miles to my former school and borrowed  a projector "just in case", which I actually ended up needing to use when the convention projectors didn't like my laptop.  And then, for one of these two workshops, I had less than 10 attendees.  Bummer....  The other one had maybe 25 people.  But hands-on workshops?  FULL HOUSE.  So next year, I'll be putting together some fun hands-on workshops.  Because it appears that everyone secretly is hoping to fill their day with nothing but hands-on experiences!  Lesson learned, on my part!

Speaking of technology frustration... the workshop I most looked forward to attending at my state convention was a 1-hour (well, actually 50 minutes) workshop on Gimp, a free photo editing program similar, I understand, to Photoshop.  I do not have Photoshop, but in anticipation, I had downloaded Gimp onto my laptop, and was one of the first people in the room for this class, laptop open, ready and waiting.  I did NOT want to miss out.  The teacher gave us each a file from a thumb drive to we put on our desktop. When the class started, we all opened Gimp, but her file would not open for me.  (We were using it for a step-by-step follow-along project.)  She kept going with her instruction, but I was stuck.  A younger and more tech-savvy attendee tried to figure it out for me, but still no luck opening the file everyone else was using.  At this point, the teacher (and everyone else in the room) was approximately 400 steps ahead of me, and I was totally lost.  And still no open file.  I couldn't even do step one, and 30 minutes of the 50 minute workshop were already gone.  I closed up Gimp, turned off my laptop, and quickly left before anyone could see my frustrated eyes filling with tears.  I returned to the Bling Your Badge table, grabbed a glue gun, and added a layer of dangling Mardi Gras bead to my already over-blinged badge as quick therapy.

Anyhow - I got a few great ideas from another workshop I want to briefly tell you about.   For years, I was given mat board scraps by the gal who owned the frame shop I used to mat and frame artwork.  But I absolutely NEVER thought to ask her for the obsolete frame samples, which are simply a corner of a frame.  In this workshop, the presenter had gotten them from her framer, and cut mat board scraps with a peak on top so that they could be inserted into the corners to make little houses or birdhouses.  Such a great idea!  So many possibilities! 

Her coolest idea was this:  Using Art Paste that has been mixed, put it in a squeeze bottle with a cartridge from inside a marker.  The color will leak out into the  paste. Or mix in some liquid watercolor.  Squeeze the colored art paste out like gel icing!  It dries beautifully! 

Anyhow, you probably stopped reading a few paragraphs ago, so I'll close it up for now.  Next post will have pictures, I promise!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My state convention part 3 - Fabulous Tooling Foil!

At our state conference, we hold extended hands-on workshops called Friday After Dark workshops.  It's a little crazy, attending or presenting a workshop that doesn't end until 11pm!  This year, I chose to present a tooling foil workshop.  The dinner before the workshops ran late, and so the workshops started late, so my group didn't leave until almost 11:30pm!  And then of course I still had to pack it all up....  Anyhow, take a good look at that piece pictured above, because I'll be mentioning it again in a little bit. 
Yup, that's me, above, explaining a process and looking a little chubby, I think.  I guess I'd better work on that...  That's my yoga frog apron I'm wearing.  Namaste.... 
Anyhow - a lot of people use tooling foil with their students, but I'm a real bug about the process.  I like the make sure the material is used to the max, resulting in a fairly deep relief.  It's not hard to do, if you know how..  I gave specific instructions in this post from a couple of years ago, so if you want details, hop on over there.  The process is the same now as it was then!  But feel free to ask questions, either here on this post or on the older one.

Here's someone working on their piece,
that looked like this, below, at the end of the workshop.  But it isn't finished.  It can have ink added for antiquing, or color added, or both.

The mask on the left below has been antiqued with ink; the one on the right has not.  By the way, after I took this photo, we reached into the back of the mask on the let and popped out the nose where it should be!  I forgot to rephotograph it with its nose looking better. 
To do the antiquing, we simply painted the surface with India ink.  A light brush of soap (using a wet paintbrush) on the surface will help the ink stick better.  Then when the ink is dry, it can be removed as desired with steel wool.  The two gals below are speeding up the drying process with hair dryers.  Let me note the gal on the left.  She was very frustrated with her project, very unhappy.  It was getting late, she was tired, and nothing looked right.  Just like working with a student in school, I reminded her that it was all about learning the process, and was nothing more than a piece of foil.  I told her not to sweat it if it didn't come out right, but encouraged her to finish the process and see how it worked out.  No matter what, she knew I was giving her extra foil to take home.  BUT... here's what happened!  She inked it, and steel wooled it, and *POOF* it looked totally fabulous!  It is the beautiful bird at the top of the post.  I was glad I encouraged her not to give up!
 We did discuss alternatives for adding color - using acrylic paints mixed with gloss for a translucent look, or Sharpie markers.  Also, a technique I just learned - coloring with Sharpies and then using a paintbrush with rubbing alcohol to blend it, for a transparent color wash effect.  Very cool.

So... this is my third convention post, and I still have more to tell you, especially about two really interesting workshops I attended.  So my final convention post, post #4, will be in a few days.  Meanwhile, feel free to let me know if you have any questions at all about tooling foil.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with a link to a blog post with some tooling foil masks made by my 6th grade students a few years ago.  Enjoy!