Friday, October 31, 2008

Ay, Carambola!

#106 - Draw something tart or sour

It sounds vaguely like a Spanglish cussword, but it's Averrhoa carambola, a.k.a. starfruit. The seedling I planted in my backyard years ago is now probably over 25 feet tall and veerrry productive. Why, I'd wager its annual yield exceeds the Gross National Product of some small countries! But the fruit is so sour as to be inedible. I know, I've tried. Last year, muttering the family motto "waste not want not" under my breath all the while, I marched out there and picked a dozen of the fattest, ripest fruits. I ran them through a juicer and kept adding sugar, an obscene amount, until I could force a glassful of the green-gold liquid past my lips. It made my molars itch, and the back of my throat felt as if it had just been massaged with a wood rasp. I told myself that a draught so -- uhmm -- bracing, must be very good for me! Over the course of the next 24 hours my digestive tract did all it could to dissuade me of that theory.

There are a couple of things I've learned in the meantime. First, fruit trees grown from seed, as this one was, might hearken back to some far less civilized ancestor and not produce usable fruit. Second, the acrid aftertaste I attributed to an overabundance of citric acid (Vitamin C, as in, protects you from colds) was more than likely supplemented with a strong dose of oxalic acid (as in, shreds your kidneys!) Normally there's not enough to hurt a healthy person, but most likely the process of juicing concentrated what was already, due to the poor genetics of the tree, an overly large amount.

This year my wicked carambola tree is flaunting another huge crop. I look at the heavy clusters of beautiful fruit with disdain. I'm married to a man with a chainsaw -- I could easily have it whacked!! But it is just so pretty. That should count for something, shouldn't it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Subtle Art of Pricing

#191 – Draw Some Paper Money

I was at a yard sale where a bubbly woman had a small table of kitsch and bric-a-brac under a hand printed sign saying "35 cents each." What I next saw sent me into a tailspin. It was a tiny origami shirt fashioned from a dollar bill. I took it to the cashier's table to show the sweet but obviously math-challenged lady her mistake.

“This is a dollar.” I said.
“No,” she countered, “it’s thirty-five cents.”
“But it’s made from a dollar bill!” I sputtered.
“But now it’s a paper aloha shirt.” says she. “Isn’t it too cute?”

We proceeded to have a debate. I had it in my head that “legal tender” must mean I was engaging in a crime if I bought a dollar for thirty-five cents. She was determined that if someone paid less for it, they would not think of it as a dollar, and she didn't want it unfolded and spent. I retorted that the average person, paying a reduced price for a dollar, would be all the more motivated to spend it. Eventually I bought the paper shirt for the asking price and no more, still feeling karma will someday get me for it.

I was at another yard sale where a little girl was hanging a crayoned sign over a box of kittens saying "$2.00 each, or 2 for $5.00." We proceeded to have a debate during which I pointed out the logical marketing intent of two-for-one sales and bulk buying, and how she had the idea all wrong. She graciously acknowledged my advantages in education and life experience, even admitting her own mother had told her much the same thing, but trumped me with her Daddy’s words. He had opined they were her kittens and she should sell them however she pleased!

Not being one to give up easily, I had a brilliant idea. I could buy one kitten for two dollars and take it too my car. Then I would come back and buy a second kitten for, again, two dollars, thereby proving beyond all argument that the fair market value for two kittens could not POSSIBLY be more than four dollars. Hah!! But... then I would be left with two kittens I really didn’t want to live with, despite their obvious appeal, and one husband I really had to live with despite his total lack of appeal (once he found out why I'd bought them, I mean, and got all outraged about it) so there was no more debate.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Round and Round and Round She Goes

#151 - Free choice

This summer I spun out. That is to say, I had too many paintings, projects and fanciful ideas going at once and consequently I couldn't seem to make progress on any of them. So I returned to the circle. I try to have a mandala design going when those phases sneak up on me. If I have a complex circular design drawn out, then coloring it in is mindless, soothing and repetitive work. I can handle that, when facing overwhelm.

I finished this mandala painting last week, though it has been in progress for a very long time. It started as play. I picked up a marvelous little low tech Spirograph-like toy in a dollar store. That produced the center rings. Once enlarged, the rest I built on, using templates cut from thin plastic.

I'm finding much meaning in this mandala even though it started as "just a design." Basically it speaks, to me at least, of the chaotic and distracting stuff between the calm center (my true purpose and potential) and the encroaching darkness outside (what I am able to make manifest; bring to fruition.) I could go on about the directions of spin, the significance of colors and numbers and all manner of symbols popping out, but that's like trying to explain a dream -- most likely the one explaining is the only one enthralled. So, I'll sum this up as I began. This summer I spun out.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The One With Boats

#129 - Draw People Doing Something; #192 - Draw Something That Floats

Newcomers to our fair little city, those of a nautical bent that is, might wish to join a yacht club. If they hook up with the oldest and most venerable they can enjoy tennis courts, a swimming pool, a fine restaurant, bar, and other amenities (for an upscale annual fee, of course) but chances are they will not be able to find co-members who want to talk about trimming the sails and love of the sea and objects floating thereon. Being a fan of irony this amuses me no end! I did some research into the history of the Hilo Yacht Club because I had it in the back of my head that there must have been a time in its 95-year history when an obvious connection to yachts was lost. This is what I found:

HYC was conceived in 1913, to create a social club promoting "aquatic and other athletic sports and pastimes." Surprisingly enough, the aquatic sport then of choice was "the lively interest in competitive rowing!" Up until the tsunami of '46, which evidentially swept it away for good, this club maintained a boathouse and some rowboats. Any other connection with yachting as a sport is confined to the fact that in 1962 their governing board voted to change the official title of chief officer from "president" to "commodore." I ask you, does a fleet of rowboats, gone nearly 20 years, actually require a commodore?

Na Hoa Holomoku of Hawaii Yacht Club on the other hand (it's a mouthful, but the other name was already in use) owns and maintains several sailing vessels and actively promotes sailing. If you have even so much as a whim that sailing might be fun, show up at their Sailing 101 Sundays, held without charge once a month on the bayfront. They will gladly give you a taste of the sport. Join, take classes, and help out with maintenance chores for the fleet and you can be a sailor - aargh! But, they don't have a clubhouse and swimming pool.

To be fair though, I must give credit to the Hilo Yacht Club for being politically correct. Why, as early as 1984 they voted to allow women to hold membership "under their own right!"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Customers Say the Darndest Things

#15 - Draw a Tree

I had the good fortune to spend five years working for a bonsai master. I wish I could share one tenth of what I learned from him in this short essay. Heck, I would be happy if I could just remember one tenth of what I learned!

I spent most of my time in the nursery, which was generally blissful, the rest in sales which sometimes could be frustrating. What is this obsession with age, for instance? Yes, there are some trees that have lived in captivity, so to speak, for a hundred years and more. This is a fun fact, but let me say this as clearly as I can, you cannot purchase such trees in a commercial nursery for nineteen dollars and ninety-five cents. Yet on more than one occasion I've had people stomp away from the cash register in a huff because I was trying to cheat them with a tree too young to be "genuine bonsai."

Outside of the antique plant market, rules of esthetics count far more in the valuation of bonsai than age. Without continuous and skilled training, a bonsai does not automatically appreciate with each passing year. This is hard to explain to the gal who picks up a starter plant from the cheapest table, points to the custom collection plants priced in the hundreds, and asks - "How long must I wait until this tree is worth as much as those?" I was often confounded by this question, and never came up with a concise reply, at least not a polite one. Then there was the gentleman who insisted on buying three very expensive plants even though I'd tried to talk him into something better matched to his skill level, which I'd judged to be rather low. While I was finalizing the purchase, he told me he'd never had much success with keeping houseplants alive in the past, but that was about to change because these bonsai were "already trained." While the process of reducing and styling the plant material into a shallow pot is referred to as "training," I guess he thought it meant they'd been taught to care for themselves. What really gave me pause was his final comment. He said he didn't have children, but it made him feel good to know these lovely trees would continue on long after he was dead and gone!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Please Don't Tell PETA

#173 - Draw something from memory

I've been working through Julia Cameron's excellent book Vein of Gold. One of the major tasks is to analyze and write about my past. Questions are posed to help with the process. One is, what was your favorite toy, game, or pastime at ages one to five? I had an obvious answer.

My mother was a child of the depression, you see. It seems the trauma she never got out of her system was not hunger or homelessness, but a terrible lack of dolls. Ergo, she bought all of her daughters dolls aplenty, whether we liked them or not. I certainly didn't. Why would I play with something so stiff and lifeless when, as a farm kid, I was surrounded by lovely furry animals? The accessories were cool, though. And if God didn't intend for doll dresses to be put on baby cats, why did he make them perfectly kitten-sized?

I won't go so far as to claim the little furballs liked this game, but my older brother tells me he was clawed and bloodied whenever he attempted a rescue, and once undressed they would often run straight back to me for a change of costume. To this day he calls me "The Cat-Whisperer."

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Is It a Case of Either, Or?

#125 -- Draw a bird

I always thought once I stopped working, I would easily and automatically return to the easel. But then, I helped build our retirement home in the country. Afterwards I was compelled to grow things and raise some critters. I evolved into what my relatives back in the Cornbelt scathingly refer to as a "pretend farmer." I drove a little Mazda "pretend" pick-up truck to the feed store to buy supplies for my "pretend" livestock (dwarf rabbits, call ducks, and fancy booted bantam chickens, all of which were given their own names, and subsequently never treated as actual agricultural product!) A decade passed in a gentlewoman farmer's dream, with seemingly no time for art, when I stumbled upon a quotation that really got under my skin.

This is attributed to Anna M. (Grandma) Moses - "If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens." Around this same time, I'd been trying to analyze what kept me from picking up the brush and under my list of "energy drains" had suddenly popped up my beloved poultry collection. Could this quote work in reverse as well? It didn't happen overnight, but slowly I divested myself of the flock right down to the last, this little black and white Frizzle rooster. He was just so skittish and shy I could never catch him to be sold down the river. In the years he spent as our only chicken I always felt bad because lack of female companionship had reduced him to the sad and hopeless habit of courting wild lady doves.

This January a road crew was working near our house, and the noise scared little Cochise so badly he ran away from home. Over on the next block, he found just what he had been longing for - hot chicken women!! - and it didn't take him long to decide on a permanent change of address. I do miss him, but about that same time I began a slow but sure return to the studio. Coincidence? I'm really not sure.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mary Had A Little Lamp

#168 - Draw your daily newspaper; #116 - Draw something green; #2 - Draw a lamp.

I was looking over our daily paper to see if there was any inspiration therein to use as a writing prompt. I soon found it, in the classifieds. Now, we locals like to joke about the lack of proofreading abilities displayed by the Tribune-Herald staff. Rumour has it that all new job applicants are immediately given an elementary spelling test. If they can pass it, the interview is over and they won't be hired.

As much as I like poking fun at our Trib, I think for a small paper on an underpopulated island, they do pretty well. Besides, I have to admit I kind of enjoy typos. They usually make me laugh, and always make me feel, well, sort of superior when I find them. Also, it can be like solving a little puzzle to figure out what it was supposed to say. You know how important it is, as we grow older, to exercise our brains on a daily basis!

I found this advertisment under LIVESTOCK FOR SALE. "Premium hair sheep. Lamps and breeding yews. 555-5656." Not only did it make me chuckle, but it gave me an idea for an EDM triple score.

Breaking My Own Rules

I have a "rule" about posting without an accompanying drawing or painting, but I guess this will be a temporary exception to my own rules.

This is a photo of my labyrinth garden, taken by my friend Rev. Angelica Taggart, who some years ago encouraged me to build it. It's more recent than the depiction of the same garden in the banner.

I'm writing about it now because it has been mentioned in a magazine article which I can probably only link to until the next issue is published. I always meant to explain my connection to labyrinths and what they mean to me somewhere in this blog, but I never know quite how to go about it. It's a mystery! Anyway, maybe the article will help.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Just Because We Can -- Period

#170- Draw a zipper

I like the woman, she does much good for the world and she produces an uplifting publication. That said, I was home after a hard day’s work at the bonsai nursery. A casserole was in the oven, so I relaxed with a fresh new copy of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. I was reading an article on age appropriate dressing, and I agreed with most of it, until Oprah herself chimed in to share a pet peeve. She acknowledged that many employers in this day and age allow casual attire for the job. Evidently this fact is troubling enough, but what really distresses her is that women of a certain age are now wearing blue jeans to work. If they could only be honest with themselves, they would admit an older body cannot carry off this look, and it is so much kinder to those around you to dress attractively. In essence, just because women over 40 can wear jeans to work, doesn’t mean they should. Ever!

I had spent that day shoveling cinders, screening peat, hefting 50 lb. bags of fertilizer, and now I learn that all the while I had been subjecting my poor co-workers to the indelicate sight of my middle-aged behind in snug denim. Oh, the shame! I re-read the few lines of copy, surely there was some loophole? Some mention of “in the office” or “metropolitan” or “white-collar”, but there was none. I didn't bother to do the research, but there must be many women employed in agriculture, in construction, and driving trucks. I may be going out on a limb, here, but I think at least a few of them might be over the age of 40, and probably do not plow and hammer and toil in the designer corduroy and tweed slacks that “O” has blessed as appropriate work wear (none of which, by the way, cost under $300.00.) I know she had another type of woman in mind, but do the rest of us not exist? After giving the matter a lot of thought, I formulated an opinion of my own. Just because a media mogul can project her standards of dress onto the masses, doesn’t mean she should.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Grog Wasn't Just Redecorating the Foyer

#117 - Draw Something Round
Consider, if you will, the cave painters. How did primitive man, (or woman, we don't really know!) render such beautiful two dimensional depictions of live moving objects from the three dimensional world, without even the help of a reference page torn from Nat'l Geographic? Just the "how" of it boggles my mind, and then I must go on to the "why." Again, we don't know, but I think s/he did this to capture the animal in the spirit world, so hunters could experience a successful hunt in the real world.

This is why I paint mandalas. It all began as an experiment in capturing the "spirit" of something I wished to manifest. You could easily argue that every artist does this with each attempt at art, but I try for something a little more... what? Intentional? Esoteric? New-agey? Goofy? I dunno, you decide.

I begin with affirmations which I write longhand into a wedge shape. After these word-forms are repeated around a center point to form a circle, I end up with a complex linear pattern. Then I pick out shapes using color and contrast. While coloring in the pattern, I try to meditiate on the feeling of the affirmation, be it joy, abundance, health, protection, whatever. It is a calming, centering process, and I wanted to share it with you. (OK, I also wanted to buy time while I finish challenge #170, which is taking longer than I thought it would.) This particular design is built on the affirmation "I love my home, with each passing day its positive energy increases."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ode to My Old Friend Jeeves

#169 - Draw a piece of cake

I was introduced to AskJeeves soon after I discovered the Internet. We immediately hit it off. I could ask him anything, he was never too busy to talk and he never ridiculed my questions. He was especially helpful when I came home late from work and didn't have a meal planned. I would look in the pantry, make a list of three or more ingredients, and ask "What can I make for dinner with (fill in the blanks?) Often I was given menus and recipes which exactly fit my needs, sometimes it was necessary to make a few substitutions, and even if no close answer appeared I always received an idea to build on. Then one fateful evening I was down to a couple of condiments, wilted lettuce, and a half bag of Gummi Bears. In desperation I typed the question anyway and hit "search", fearing that the CPU might explode, or that Jeeves might decide he didn't want to be my friend anymore. But instead he came up with an answer and it was spot-on. The first hit was "How to make dinner reservations online"!

This reminiscence came about because I first had to bake a cake in order to draw one. Being a practical person, I searched for a recipe using two ingredients I have an overabundance of: dried, natural coconut from our front yard, and bran cereal from an unfortunate experiment in case lot buying. I didn't think I was going to like this crumbcake, but it turned out to be surprisingly good. The main flavors, coconut, coffee and almond, blend so beautifully that no one dominates. The recipe is a keeper, the drawing -- not so much.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Warning: Some Content May Be Disturbing

#167 - Draw something that needs to be fixed.

I found the first at a garage sale on the seedy side of town. Soon, needing more, I was haunting thrift stores, flea markets and even church bazaars. I approached a family member for help. She didn't even bat an eye at my macabre request, which may suggest that my dark imaginings are an inherited trait. She found more that were promptly subdued, strapped into unmarked boxes, and transported over state lines. Once they reached my workshop terrible things happened, things I would rather not describe.

You see, my muses once bid me to make an "art doll". I had what I thought were some terrific ideas and threw myself into the project with unbridled zeal. I collected all the raw materials, tools, supplies, and teeny-tiny props necessary. But each time I begin working on the task my initial vision expands, morphs, becomes more complicated. I cannot seem to get past the deconstruction phase on this job without changing direction or stalling out entirely. In short, I have a terrible habit of not finishing my creative projects, and this habit is what very much needs to be fixed!

Monday, April 21, 2008

With Solitaire on the Hard Drive, Who Needs Real Cards?

#163 - Draw a deck of cards

I tore my house apart looking for standard playing cards, and nary a tattered Joker turned up. I did, however, find the little yellow silk purse I use to hold my old Medicine Cards(TM) deck. I never had much interest in fortunetelling, but I guess these could be described as tarot-lite. Now that the challenge is done, I must look up the meaning of this spread before I can put them away. The descriptions run a couple of pages, so I will just pick out pertinent bits to share, OK?

CROW: "... keeper of sacred law... shapeshifter.. bends the laws of the physical universe... rare and unique ability... few adepts in today's world, fewer still have mastered (it)" Whoa! This is so appropriate, you see, because I "shifted" the challenge to another type of cards. Not only was I justified in doing this, but I was using my special rare talent in the process. Why, I could even have drawn credit cards, or greeting cards, or a CARDinal, because, unlike the rest of you, I AM NOT BOUND BY PETTY RULES!!

The next card is upside down, so I have to look up MOOSE, REVERSED: Let's see, "in tooting own horn... ignored teachings... others have same potential... excessive ego can ruin accomplishment..." Hmmm, I see. This means -- that is, could be interpreted as -- well, err -- ohnevermind!!!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Of Beauty, Eyes and Beholders: My Fish Tale

#166 - Draw a fish.

He is about one foot in length, made of some lightweight cement mixture rather crudely smeared on a wire mesh armature. If you can't see his charm, I can only assume that is because my drawing failed to capture it. I found him, serendipitously, at a craft fair, only because I had stooped down to tie my shoe. He and his half-dozen fish and amphibian friends were stashed far out of sight under a table of very nice but very expensive pottery.

When I asked his price the vendor seemed confused, or maybe a little insulted. It seemed these quirky creatures, fashioned by a ne'er do well in-law, were only brought along to the fair out of a sense of familial obligation. The potter could not imagine that anyone would actually want to buy one! After I finally convinced him I was serious he quoted me a price of five bucks. I left happy, and so did my husband, because he had impulsively told me to pick out anything I wanted. Nothing else I'd looked at that day had been priced at less than a hundred dollars. (I've always been a cheap date!)