2008 was a huge year professionally – I dove into the mural business and painted 3 of them; I painted 125 other paintings from 6″x6″ to 24″x36″ (if I counted correctly, which is always a little dicey with me); I completed 4 portraits (without developing a twitch under my left eye); many drawing students both new and old had a great time learning for the first time or trying something new (in classes and in private lessons); more commissions in pencil than I could keep track of came and went home with happy customers (and several others are nearing completion); AND, this is really big (remember, i don’t even have a microwave) – I became a blogger! On a personal note, in case anyone cares, I knitted 5 cardigans, 4 pullovers, 7 pairs of socks, 3 scarves and 2 hats, and most were not too weird for a change. I have huge plans for 2008, both professionally and personally, but until there is a signed contract I don’t want to spill any beans. So, thank you for reading my blog, thank you for commenting, and thank you for lurking out there without commenting! This is where Michael is today, but not me because I have to work. I’m not complaining, really! I love to work, I do, I do!
“Boxing Day”? It means the day after Christmas in England. It isn’t called this because people have piles of boxes lying around or because they are punching each other’s lights outs for crummy gifts given or too much money spent. It has to do with the rich folks boxing up their excess and taking it to the po’folk. But, I digress. This is a painting I finished a few days before Christmas; it is a commissioned piece that I may have alluded to in an earlier blog, or even shown in an earlier posting. A drawing student brought in a photo of this scene to get help drawing it; I blurted out, “Wow, I’d LOVE to paint that!” So, I did. One of the hardest parts was painting the wind machines; for those of you who aren’t familiar with Farmspeak, that is those white posts. Tiny and precise in the painting, and very important in real life because they prevent crop loss due to freezes! The other hard part was the same that is the hard part on every painting: my signature. Notice i have really gone hog-wild (a little more Farmspeak) with my name on this piece. (or maybe you can’t even see it. . . bottom right corner, signed with first, middle initial and last name!!) This may be an aberration or it may portend a new era of signing for me! More will be revealed. . . 😎
This is the crowd shuffling back down the hall as the party was over. The conversations were so much fun. I heard people going on about the bathrooms (“Fine facilities!” in a very Southern accent), talking about how many paper napkins with the White House emblem that they stuffed in their purses, and the cameras never stopped snapping!
We were very reluctant to leave, as were most of the guests. It was all such a beautiful fantasy, and it was hard to believe it was over so quickly. While I changed from my useless high heels to a pair of walking shoes, Michael made friends with Jeff, a Secret Service guy:
He showed him the photos of meeting the President in Sequoia in 2001 and referred to him as “Dubya”. I said, horrified, “Michael! They probably don’t call him that here!!” Jeff said, “Actually, we call him Forty-three”. Isn’t that a hoot? There are many many layers of security around the White House, several different fences and gates to pass through before emerging onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Here is one last glance back:
I think I stood on a bench for this one. (It was safe – my high heels were in my oh-so-dorky-with-dress-up-clothes-backpack). There was a fence separating us from the White House and another fence separating us from outside the White House. Our next mission was to locate a Metro Station and figure out how to get back to Alexandria, where we had a 19 block walk back to Janey’s (see why I brought normal shoes with me?) Michael was a little uneasy with this, but since I had just been in China, I knew this would be a piece of cake. Why? Because everyone spoke English here AND we could read the signs! So, that is my story of the ornament. One last thing: have a look at the little item that gave me this adventure!
You can view all the ornaments here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/holiday/2007/ It is interesting to note that no where are the artists mentioned, only the National Parks that we represented. And we were instructed to not use our designs commercially – no reproductions, no advertising saying “as designed for the White House”. I have been asked many times why I haven’t made more ornaments, and that is the main reason. If that agreement wasn’t part of the deal, perhaps I might have done so, but to paint the same little fussy object over and over probably would have lost its appeal.
A note about getting “gussied up”. . . I faxed the White House a second time to ask about the dress code. Here in Tulare County, “dressed up” means that I iron a polo shirt for Michael to wear with decent jeans. “Formal” means his best Wranglers, boots, and a “sport” jacket. (“Sport?” What, is he going to play basketball??) Really really formal means a tie with the formal ensemble. So the White House returned my fax with a phone call, and I was told in no uncertain terms that “No denim is allowed on the compound”. This meant a major shopping expedition for Michael. Me? I found a $3 blue velveteen jacket at the local thrift shop, and since I have enough clothing for a small third world nation of short women who wear their skirts too long, this was adequate to complete an outfit for me. So we arrived in style at the White House, and joined the queue to be officially identified as invited guests. Everyone was excited, dressed up, and friendly. We finally got inside the White House itself and began the shuffle down a long hall. Everything was interesting, everyone was nice, every moment was fun! (incidentally, there were 2 men at the reception wearing blue jeans. Michael asked one of them how he got away with that, and the guy said ,”I don’t dress up for nobody”. Apparently he doesn’t bother with proper English either!)
This is the tree in The Blue Room. It was 18′ tall, and my ornament was placed in a perfect spot! You are seeing the back of the head of the woman guarding the tree on the side where my ornament hung. (it doesn’t show in this blurry photo – guess I was a little too wound up to take proper photos!) Here is the view from the Blue Room where we were all standing around in shock and awe:
We handed the camera to a stranger to pose in The Red Room, and suddenly, the carriages turned to pumpkins. Everywhere we looked, a uniformed guard was saying, “This way please”. That had to have been the quickest 2 hours of my life! to be continued. . .
Once we knew the date of the White House reception, I began making plans. We have very good friends in Pennsylvania who invited us to stay with them AND, get this, loaned us a car! So we flew into Harrisburg, which has rocking chairs in its airport!!
After recovering from a red-eye flight (Note to self: NEVER do that again!) the next day we drove to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia to the home of our good friend and cabin neighbor (and partner in my book) Janey. The drive was so interesting to us. Just seeing signs along the freeway that mentioned Civil War battlegrounds was fascinating to these West-coasters! And the colors – this photo was taken at a rest stop!
I knew I would love Janey’s town from years of hearing about it. Sure enough – just look where she lives! (Please excuse the car in the way – parking is at such a premium in her neighborhood that we had to have a permit for our borrowed car and she had to negotiate with a construction crew for a place to put the car.) These homes were built in the late 1700s, and I was shamelessly and instantly in love with the whole place.
In August of 2007, I was asked to paint an ornament for the White House Christmas tree, representing Sequoia National Park. My first thought was “Shoot! Another freebie!” I was told an invitation to a reception at the White House would come with the ornament, and I thought, “So? I have to pay for that too!” My friend Lisa told me I would be nuts to turn this opportunity down, and Michael said he’d be happy to come to the White House with me. So, I began painting.
At the time the call came, I was working on a painting of Sequoia trees in the snow. I got a few little ornaments and tried the same design on one in acrylic paint, but it dried way too fast! I tried oil paint on another, and that worked well. Eventually, a large shiny gold ornament arrived. It looked like glass, and I was afraid of dropping it. I put layer after layer of white paint on it, carefully handling it as if would break, because if that happened what would I do?? During one of these layers, my thumb dented the thing a little bit and I realized it was plastic! That took a load of worry off my mind! When it was finished, my neighbor Robin came over to take photos of me holding it so that the size would be evident.You can see this is no ordinary ornament – it was big, which made it much easier to paint than my little practice ones! There was a little difficulty about the reception because no date was given and reservations needed to be made. We painters were given a fax number to send any questions, so I sent a note asking when the reception was and how tight the deadline for mailing the ornament was. As I was frantically trying to program in the fax number so a response could be received by my fax machine, the phone rang. “Cabinart, this is Jana”, I answered. “This is Bob at The White House”, came the response. “Hi Bob,” said I, ever so casually. To be continued. . .
In college, I had an art teacher in a design class or some other esoteric subject who said to me, “Just because you can draw doesn’t make you an artist”. I was devastated, insulted, dismayed, shocked, and any other adjective you can think of for the situation – how dare he say that to me!! Now that I have the advantage of 25+ years life experience and wisdom, I know he was right, even if it was an insensitive and snotty remark. Drawing is a skill that can be taught, learned, developed and is sometimes just innate. Art has to be something that one learns about, develops over time, and comes about because of a love for the subject. Art can encompass many skills, forms and be useful in many careers. Drawing is a skill that is useful regardless of one’s career, and it definitely is useful in any art career. One can become an artist without the ability to draw, particularly in this age of multiple tools. Tonight at The Downtown Gallery I had an interesting conversation with my friend Lisa, the art teacher and MFA student. (That means Master’s of Fine Art, which is the highest degree possible in art). She is teaching her junior high students more than any of my college professors ever taught me – she goes into principles, elements, styles and history. My college professors may have had their MFAs but mostly they walked around the room while taking a break from their own work, and offered criticism and snide remarks (“Just because you can draw. . .” or “You need to work on composition”) without ever bothering to actually teach, to demonstrate or share information! I have been teaching people how to draw for almost 15 years. (and that is without an MFA – imagine that!) It is a skill, and in teaching the skill, many other things about art can be shared. We talk about different styles, ways to set up a drawing from the beginning, ways of arranging the elements in a drawing, and lots of technique. (The main thing I ever want to learn is HOW and the second is WHY, so that is what I share with my students.) Through the years, only two of my students that I can think of have pursued art as a career. Two!! Everyone that has stayed long enough to learn to draw has learned to draw, and they each have drawings they can proudly show off to prove that they know how to draw.
Tonight I saw 3 former drawing students. Louis is in the Navy, Stephanie is thinking about occupational therapy, and Mark is just thinking. Maybe. Maybe he is just enjoying being 19 and trying out this and that. Drawing lessons were not a waste of time for any one of these wonderful young folks – they learned to draw (duh), learned to communicate with people of all ages (that is the way my classes are), explored a type of art in a comfortable environment, got to display their work in a show or two, developed a bit more confidence, and made new friends. I enjoyed every moment spent with each of these people and love seeing how they are turning into adults. We have an easy friendship that transcends age and that has lasted through time and changes. (And I can draw AND am an artist, so there, you Snotty Professor who are now probably just a retired teacher! But I’m not bitter. )
This is the far corner of the workshop where I paint. You can see the little stove is working again, now that there is propane in the tank. The Vice President In Charge of Heat And Power And Water lit the pilot last night after returning from hours and hours of pushing snow around with a big yellow machine. What a guy! I am showing this corner so you can see I have been busy busy busy, but it all must dry before I can continue working. Are you curious?? I am curious how other oil painters deal with cold weather and getting their work to dry enough to continue working! This method of little heater and fans and easels works for me, thanks to the wonder of propane and a very good VP!
This is how Alta Peak looked from my window this a.m. Not only is it cold outside, it is very cold inside my studio and painting workshop because I ran out of propane!! I painted awhile and finished a little painting that you don’t get to see because it will be a gift for someone who probably reads this blog. And I worked a bit on the orchard scene, but the changes are too minimal to show in my photos. So, please enjoy this snowy photo while I go for a brisk walk to warm up!