Monday, September 25, 2017

The Ugly Lamp - restoring a family heirloom part 2

More than two years ago I acquired a family heirloom known as the Ugly Lamp, and got the go-ahead from my family to repaint it however I desired, since NOBODY wanted the lamp.  I shared pics of it "as is", and told you all about the lamp and why/how I acquired it in a blog post, HERE.  As of today, after some minor touch-ups, the painting of the lamp is complete, and I want to share it with you.  I'm calling the color scheme "demented circus" though the original inspiration was designer McKenzie Childs.

I should explain, the lamp was carved by my woodcarver/furniture maker/sculptor grandfather Harry Levine, who I unfortunately never got to meet. Most of his carving work is much more sophisticated than this, and I'm hypothesizing, because of the intertwined initials and the crudeness of the sculpture, that perhaps he made the work early in his career, as a wedding gift for my grandmother. 
At the time of the original blog post, I had been cleaning the lamp in preparation for repainting.  I spent many hours washing and stripping it, first chemically, and when that became unsuccessful, using a delicate grinding tool to get rid of the old paint.  Finally, when I discovered a layer of what is called 'milk paint', I gave into my frustration and aborted the attempt to strip the paint.  I sprayed it with a coat of primer, took some photos of it, and used colored pencils on the photos to pick out a color scheme.  The pics above are the lamp when it first came into my possession, and after I started removing some of the paint.
I started painting the lamp, but I wasn't satisfied with the colors. I purchased more paint, and changed the colors several times.  Finally I gave up.  Almost two years passed and this August I decided it was time to get back to the project, and approached it with a fresh perspective.  And now I'm sharing with you the finished product!  The lamp is 3-sided, with a different engraving on the base of each side: a menorah (the top photo), my grandparents' intertwined initials (H for Harry, R for Rae; directly above), and on the third side, a Star of David (Jewish star) (pictured below). 
I don't know that my grandfather, Harry Levine, would have liked it, since his work was very traditional, but I think that my family is pleased with my renovation, and I'm pretty satisfied with it!  Here's the top, pictured below, not that it will be visible once it has a shade on it.
Now I've got two more decisions to make: first, I need to choose what to use for a final protective coat.  I'm torn between keeping the satin finish of the paint or possibly adding a hard gloss shine.  The second decision is the shade.  (My husband is going to rewire it while I figure this out.)  I've received suggestions to use a colored shade, such as green or yellow, but I prefer white because of the light quality.  I'm considering possibly painting some simple large spots of color on the white shade, using the same colors, or perhaps mimicking the shapes of the leaves with a line pattern or even a printed pattern.  So I will print a few photos of the base, and get out the colored pencils again, coloring my various options for lampshades.  I'll let you know what I decide and how it turns out!  (I may even turn to you for your opinions, not that I'll listen!)  Then the only other decision will be to figure out where to put the lamp, since it is rather substantial in size.  I may need to buy a table for it....

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Twisted - my "Aha!" moment

This is not an art post.  Or an education post.  It is actually a personal post about my recent "aha" moment, that for some reason I just want to share with you all.  I don't really have images to go with the post, so I'll take this opportunity to share some recent photos with you along with the post.  (I hope nobody is offended by the "dragonfly porn"!)  Before you read further, please know I'm not writing this post looking for sympathy, and I'm not writing it to complain.  I simply want you to get to know me better.
I've been going to a chiropractor for back pain for many years.  Maybe 10 years or more years ago, some x-rays showed that along with the suspected disc degeneration, I have scoliosis.  I have known for years that I have one leg shorter than the other, first brought to my attention by my podiatrist (foot doctor).  But I never thought about it in the context of the rest of my  bone structure.  I knew my mother always nagged me to stand up straight when I was a kid, but for some reason, I was never told I have "scoliosis".  I suppose my leg length is directly related to my spine, and I am guessing I must have had scoliosis all my life, which has gotten progressively worse, contributing to my chronic back problems.
This summer, I noted an increase in the discomfort.  One Saturday, severe pain had me panicking, and at an emergency visit to the health center, a young doc ordered an x-ray of my back to rule out kidney stones.  Luckily, there were no kidney stones.  I was gobsmacked when the doc looked at my x-ray and said "you have the worst scoliotic spine I've ever seen!".  (Thanks, dude.)  My chiropractor ordered an MRI, and after various doctor visits and some physical therapy, I had spinal injections for pain management. The injections have helped somewhat, and at my doc's recommendation, I'm starting a gentle yoga class tomorrow. 
But with all this going on, it wasn't until a couple of days ago that some pieces fell into place and I had an "aha" moment about how clothing fits and falls on my body.

For the last several years, I've been repeatedly pushing my bra strap up on my left shoulder after it has fallen down. Very annoying.  I have shortened straps with no success.  I really didn't understand it.  I would just push up the strap and keep moving, without thinking about why.  But the reality is, that as a result of my crooked spine, my left shoulder slopes downward at a sharper angle than the right.  If  you  traced my silhouette, you'd discover my left shoulder is about 2" lower than my right shoulder. So Duh!  Of course the straps fall down!
Also for several years, I've been frustrated by clothing twisting on my body as I walk.  Whether I'm wearing a  button-down shirt or zip-up sweater, or jacket, or whatever,  when I walk down a hall or street or wherever I am, within a few minutes the straight seam or zipper or line of buttons is twisted to the right at the hips.  The waistbands of skirts and dresses all pull to the right.  Totally frustrating, awkwardly uncomfortable, and annoying.  Two days ago, from out of the blue, it hit me: it's simply because my spine is curved. Why has it taken me years to figure this out? 
 Of course, now that I've figured it out, I still have no idea how to fix it, and I despise how the crooked clothing and drooping strap looks and feels.  But at least I understand the WHY of it!  (I was always too embarrassed to say anything about it, because I never saw clothing twist on anyone else, and I couldn't imagine what was wrong with me.)
So maybe you expected a more enlightening "aha" moment than one about falling bra straps and twisted clothing.  Sorry; this is it.  But my DragonWing Arts classes start again this week so there will be new artsy posts coming your way soon, I promise!  Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Graffiti Revisited

Graffiti...  Two years ago I wrote a blog post discussing whether graffiti art projects belong in the art curriculum, particularly in the elementary and middle school, which is where I have the most teaching experience.  You can find that post, "Does graffiti art belong in the art curriculum?" HERE.   As most of you recently started a new school year, deciding what belongs in your curriculum and what doesn't is probably forefront in your mind.  Perhaps it is time for me to be a little provocative.  So here goes. 
At the time of the former blog post, comments on the post were mixed in their opinions, but people in the Art Teacher Facebook group mostly disagreed with my stance.  One comment on my blog post went so far as to say "Shame on you" and went on to say that I "don't have the open, experimental artist soul that spearheads new art and change."  I always was very conscious of the fact that I worked in a public school, in a relatively conservative rural community, and I felt that as an elementary teacher I had a responsibility to be respectful of my community. So maybe in that context she was correct in her assessment of me; I don't know. 
Two years later, my opinions haven't changed much on the topic of graffiti.  I am personally opposed to giving precious time in an art curriculum to having students do graffiti art projects.  With the endless possibilities available for possible art projects, is it appropriate to teach students to design a "tag" of their name?  Note that I have NOT said that it is inappropriate to DISCUSS street art, and to discuss the ethics of it, and to discuss the difference between true street art and graffiti/tags, which is vandalism.  But I cannot in good  conscience approve of having young students do a PROJECT based on an illegal activity.  My opinion and I'm entitled to it. 
A recent walk to the grocery store on the local bike path prompted me to revisit this topic on the blog.  The photos in today's post are from this walk.  Much of the walk is through a wooded path that passes through neighborhoods and then heads behind these buildings pictured, and on to the grocery store, before crossing a bridge and heading back through more peaceful wooded neighborhoods.  Most of this graffiti in these pics is recent, at least to my knowledge, and consists of "tags".  One name, which says something like "SPUREE" (if I'm reading it correctly) was largely painted in several places on a few different buildings.  The buildings are the back sides of warehouse/industrial type buildings.  Are they attractive buildings from the back?  Not particularly.  But does this graffiti make them more attractive?  I would say no.  It appears invasive, uninvited.  And without the permission of the building owner to put the graffiti there, it is VANDALISM. 
Anyhow, I often see Facebook posts in one of various Art Teacher groups sharing projects where students have designed their own "tags" as a graffiti art project.  As I've already said, my reaction to these projects is the same as it was two years ago when I wrote the prior blog post, and I will repeat myself:  Tagging is graffiti, graffiti is vandalism, and vandalism is illegal. As a public school teacher for 36 years (now retired), I feel I had a responsibility to my school community to to model responsible behavior.  Since graffiti is illegal, in my opinion, teaching kids to design their names "graffiti-style" is not modeling responsible behavior and isn't an appropriate art project for kids.  Yes, the kids will think it is cool. But hey, there's a lot of things that kids think are cool that aren't particularly good ideas for us to be teaching, don't you think?  
Don't get me wrong; I repeat that I am not opposed to discussing street art and artists, particularly at the secondary level where dialogue about the ethics of street art could be provocative and enlightening.  Certainly this discussion can include defining the difference between street art and tagging/graffiti.  But having that discussion is NOT the same thing as simply teaching young kids how to design a "tag" because it "looks cool".  There's such unlimited possibility when it comes to designing art projects for your students. How do you make those choices?

I know I'm going to get disagreement to this blog post.  And yes, I've seen some beautiful, provocative, and even humorous and charming examples of street art, and like I said, the topic is deserving of discussion, but if you do, make sure you discuss the issue of legality.  Do the artists who created these pieces have the permission of the buildings where they were placed?  If someone did a large piece of street art on a building you own, without your permission or knowledge, would you approve?  What if you don't?  Is it appropriate to break the law sometimes, but not other times?  So many  provocative issues to discuss....  Have fun mulling this over!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

An Amazing Event - Illumination Night on Martha's Vineyard

So many pictures to share....  Here's the story.  About 15 years ago, my husband, our young son, and I vacationed on Martha's Vineyard.  It was our first trip there, and we had picked the town and date at random, not realizing we were putting ourselves there when an amazing spectacular event called Illumination Night would be taking place.  We were awed and delighted, and always said that someday we'd be back.  It took us a while, but finally, this August we spent our summer vacation on Cape Cod, with an excursion back to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard for a couple of days, timed to coincide with the event. 
Like I said, the event is called Illumination Night.  Let me explain. 

The town of Oak Bluffs includes a community of colorful little gingerbread cottages called The Campground.  It began as a Methodist campground where an annual gathering "meeting" was held, and eventually the annual gathering of tents began being replaced with the pretty cottages, all close together and arranged in a circular fashion around a central Tabernacle with additional little paths in between like spokes of a wheel.  I'm not going to go into the whole history of the event, but basically, the Illumination tradition started many years ago.  Nowadays, it begins with a fun sing-along event in the Tabernacle. Here's a couple of images of the Tabernacle, the evening of the event. 

And here's what the gingerbread houses look like before they are decorated for Illumination Night. Their doors, windows, and porches are all so pretty and cared for with love.   I'm a big fan of the colorful and inviting porches. 
My nickname for the house below is the Swiss Cheese House.  Maybe you can figure out why by looking at the photo. 

Anyhow, back to Illumination Night... at about 9pm, the whole Tabernacle and campground goes dark, and then, starting with the Tabernacle, paper lanterns (that have been hung earlier in the day on all the cottages) are lit throughout the community.  It is an exquisite event, worth the visit to Oak Bluffs.  The sing-along is fun, upbeat, cheerful.  The whole event is happy, and there's a lovely spirit of community and warmth and friendship.  Here's some people hanging their decorations, earlier in the day.

The photos in this post include pics taken in the day before and the day of Illumination, while the lanterns and other decorations were being hung throughout the Campground, and when possible, in the evening during the Illumination event.  This is not an event where "less is more".  The practice here is to go totally overboard with the decorations, with each house outdoing the one next to it.  Many of the houses set up lemonade stands and such  on their front lawns, and everyone is very friendly.

Here's a few photos of the houses at night.  It was a big crowd, so taking pictures, especially at night without a tripod, was a real challenge.  But I hope at least you can get an idea of just how lovely this event is! 
 I loved this display of colorful jars lit up on the steps of a cottage at night. 
 And I just kinda like this pic below!

As an art educator, I want to add that after the first time I attended this event, I used the extensive photographs I had taken in school in the following year.  My photos of the gingerbread trim became design motivation for designs for various lessons at several grade levels.

All right, I think I've officially posted WAY too many photos.  And somehow I haven't even posted pictures of the Wizard of Oz house (complete with flying monkeys by the stairs, and a tin man, scarecrow, and lion in the garden, and so on), or the Alice in Wonderland house (with a Cheshire Cat on the roof, and a tea party and croquet game on the lawn, along with Alice), or the Eiffel Tower house (with a glittery light-up tower on the roof), or Villa Armadilla (complete with handmade armadillo lanterns), or  so many others.  I hope you've enjoyed this little excursion to Martha's Vineyard! 
 

We will conclude with a little taste of the sing-along!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Studio Update including more purge, and a vintage lesson idea!

I've been married almost 30 years.  Which is a hint to when this sample above was made.  (Levine in my maiden name.)  The fact that the paper is heavily water-stained and the text-heavy project is pre-digital is another clue.  Anyhow, the project is one that I did with my students (I think it was either grade 5, 6, or 7), evidently in 1988, as seen below on the bottom of the box, though I got married in February 88, so I am guessing I decided my maiden name was more fun to work with that my married name, Brown.  Or maybe I started the project before the wedding.  It was (obviously) a package design project.  On the right is the top of the box.
Students used careful measurements, parallel lines, and tabs to construct the box templates.  The design work was done flat, and the boxes were assembled.  For the title lettering, we talked about using guidelines, and some basic tips for readability, such as not mixing caps and lower case within a word (consistency), not using yellow for lettering (unless outlined with black), and keeping all letters in one word the same color, unless there's a good reason to do otherwise.  I was much more lenient on the bulk text.  Here's the back of the box.
We looked at real package designs for what elements were important to include, talked about some basic design features for impact, and then we had fun being silly, which you'll understand if you take a moment to click on the pics so you can read the text on each side.
Looking at real  packages was important for the kids to see what colors are commonly used, what types of lettering, how color was used graphically to make an impact, and so on.  If it doesn't grab you right off, you likely will walk right on by.

It's in bad shape, and I'm throwing it out today.  I have to edit what I own and after 30 years, this has got to go.  It takes up space.  Meanwhile....
Also in my discard pile, the gyotaku prints above and below.  Now, I know many of you have tried gyotaku, using rubber fish purchased from an art supply store for printing.  But oh, not me.  These prints are even older than my Levine's Sour Lemonade.

Around 1980, give or take a year, I took a 6-credit graduate Oceanology for Educators class at Project Oceanology in Groton Connecticut.  (I wonder if it is still there.)  It was, I believe, a three week class, living in college dorms, and spending our days mostly on a retired Navy launch that had been converted into a research vessel, in Long Island Sound and the Thames River Estuary, testing stuff like salinity, using equipment like sling hygrometers (I don't exactly remember what that is, but I like the word), and sometimes putting out a trawl net and seeing what we'd catch.  It was a special, unique experience.  Everyone else in the class was either a secondary science teacher, or an elementary teacher with a science concentration, and I was a high school art teacher at the time. This enabled me to ask the stupidest questions without embarrassment, and come up with the craziest ideas.  Like this. 
I had heard of gyotaku (fish printing), so when we got a nice flat flounder in our trawl net, I said "Let's print it!"  For some reason I actually had printing ink, a roller, and some printing paper with me.  Heaven knows why.  Also the markers for added details to the print directly above.  Probably Flair pens.  But anyhow, the fish was slimy, slippery, and flip-flopping everywhere.  We had to sadly 'disable' the fish, to put it nicely, and scrub it down with Dawn to get the slime off so the ink would stick, and then we printed print it.  I suppose if we had the internet back then, I could have found out how to do this without harm to the fish.  But we laughed for hours, and I've saved these two prints all these years and have never done gyotaku again.  Never once as an art lesson.  Once was enough.  And now that I've told you the story, I don't need the prints any more either.  Please don't get on my case about animal cruelty.  It was at least 35 years ago. 

Another artsy thing  happened due to a trawl.  We had caught a squid. The boat captain, Walter (a tall man with fabulous rainbow suspenders and had a burly beard), asked me to come quick and grab paper.  He sliced open the squid, releasing its ink for me to draw with, using it's backbone as an ink pen. Then he proceeded to eat the tentacles raw.  This was WAY before anyone had ever HEARD of sushi!!!!  I don't still have the ink drawing, but I still recall the image of him standing tall above me with tentacles dripping from his mouth.  I also still have, rolled up in the basement, a large oil painting I did of Walter (not with the tentacles, but definitely with the suspenders) that I can't bring myself to discard.  I had a soft spot for Walter and I love the painting.

Back to the studio update, which is what this post was supposed to be about before I found the two projects above.  Here's what it looks like today.  The futon arrives tomorrow. It will go in the empty space in the pic directly below. It looks like it won't fit, but it will.  A bed was there before.  The height of the back will JUST make it.  I've had to move shelving to accommodate the bed opening out.   The rugs will not be piled in the middle of the floor like they are now!
Turn to the right, and here's the window wall, with shelf above and shelving below. 
Here's the opposite end of the room.  You may not believe this, but I cleaned it up today.  The cat likes sleeping on my chair, so the cushion is reversible.  The paper cutter will spend its unused time on the floor under the table.  There's no other choice.  The trash (right-floor) will be emptied tomorrow.
And here's one end of the fourth wall.  The folders that are leaning against the red cart will go under the futon, as will the carton of paper and other stuff, topped with toothpaste batiks, on the lower left. 
Here's a longer look.
And here's the rest of the 4th wall.  The door is temporarily off the hinges to make it easier to bring in the futon.  So you are seeing into a walk-through hallway closet.  Weird old house.  That's a patch of light on the floor, not a sock. 
Here's the floor with the stuff that needs to be emptied, moved, and put away. 
Tucked at the wall behind my table are some of my sewing stuff on the left, and my French easel and outdoor stool for plein air painting.  No other place to put it all. 
A closeup of some very stuffed shelving, and Wendell, the bookworm puppet that I made a long time ago.  He serves no purpose these days but I like him.  I suppose I should find a kid who wants him.
Here he is again.
Below, some of the shelving to the right of the door, including two Laurel Burch papier-mache cats, and a ice bucket diving helmet.  Or maybe it's a cookie jar.  My favorite yard sale find. 
Also a papier-mache daruma, and a photo of me and my boys a dozen years ago while in Alaska. 
Behind my room easel are boxes of large cardboard and tagboard, a giant frame, and  other stuff.  Every space counts.  Behind the cat is a weird candle-holder I made from papier-mache mash. 
And finally, the Ugly Lamp.  Still a lot of painting to do if I'm ever going to finish it.  And then it needs rewiring and a new shade.  Here's an old post link about the lamp