Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fabu Brownies

I have been in the midst of a baking binge. I made some white chocolate chip/cherry cookies (I use the Nestle Toll House cookie recipe and substitute white chocolate chips for the semi sweet and add a bag of Trader Joe's Dried Bing Cherries. After what seems to be the obligatory burnt first two dozen cookies, they came out pretty good. Even though I remembered to move the oven rack up, and switch the position of the cookie trays mid-way through baking,  I left them in for a minute too long--a bad decision. I decreased the baking time back to 9 minutes and decided to bake one tray at a time. Perfetto!

Today, however, was the climax of baking, King Arthur Flour Fudge Brownies. This recipe used to be on the back of their flour bag (maybe it still is, I haven't looked lately). I added a bag of the Trader Joe Dried Bing Cherries. The recipe from the flour bag does not include the espresso powder so I left it out. Espresso powder usually heightens the taste of the chocolate and in that small amount doesn't give a coffee flavor. These brownies are so chocolate-fudgie-good without the espresso so it is the baker's choice.

For some reason, maybe because of the added cherries and the moisture they contain the baking time needed to be increased. I don't know what it ended up to be because I kept adding 2 minutes, then 3 minutes, then 2 minutes, etc. Just check the brownies with a toothpick and when no batter sticks they are done. Of course, be careful not to burn them.

They are fabu, as my new office mate would say. TOMA did that little hand gesture Italians do when they are eating something and it is to die for. I always am happy when I make something and get the TOMA seal of approval. I must say he has great taste in clothes and food. And he hasn't stopped raving about them either. I've made the recipe a couple of times before, but the addition of the cherries gives a rich, moist, chewy goodness.

Anyway, go create something in the studio or the kitchen. The finished product will be your reward.



Baci e abbracci

A Painting

I finished the first painting. It is a watercolor exercise from the book, Water, Paper, Paint, by Heather Smith Jones. I didn't do the exercise exactly as directed. I painted the whole page with yellow ochre and mixed different colors into that original color  in the palette and continued mixing into whatever color came next. I painted blocks and then with white India ink painted rings with ovals inside. Then outlined the rings/ovals with a .1 Micron pen. Here it is:

Almost whole painting about 8 " x 8"

Close up

And I haven't shown you a cat for a few days. My Black Beauty--her name is Black, "B" for short

Friday, January 28, 2011

Snow Day

Another gift from Mother Nature arrived here in Philadelphia yesterday. Fifteen inches! I usually don't really care about the snow. I wear lots of wool, wait for public transportation and everything is fine. Now, however, my feet are recovering from bunion surgery and I am out of the boot cast on my left foot for a couple of days and am still in the boot on the right foot for another 4 weeks. Coming home two nights ago was so difficult--it had snowed and then rained so it was really slippery. I was relieved when my employer decided to close yesterday.

While I was home I worked on some emails from work, did some laundry, read, and painted!!!! I'll post it tomorrow as it is not quite finished.

As I mentioned I am reading a few books right now, two about painting. I am loving the Katherine Dunn book--see my last post. I love her style, it is kind of folk art with a James Castle-like primitive look to it--and I also enjoy her writing and exercises. If you aren't at your book purchasing limit this is a good choice. I've just ordered a few more books from Amazon: Modern Mark Making: From Classical Calligraphy to Hip Hand-Lettering,  Live & Learn: Real Life Journals: Designing & Using Handmade BooksArt at the Speed of Life: Motivation and Inspiration for Making Mixed-Media Art Every DayArtist's Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures [Paperback], and Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life. I also downloaded A Life In Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal. Cathy Johnson recommended it on her blog and I thought I would give it a try. It is the first book I have downloaded for my IPad and started reading it last night. The download is only $7.99.

Hopefully I will have something to post tomorrow.

Baci e abbracci

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Guilty

I haven't posted in the last few days. I feel especially bad because I didn't even update the "Quote of Day."

Since I couldn't travel on Tuesday, I decided to make up the remaining hours yesterday, so I went to the office. Nothing creative there, but I really accomplished a lot. If only I had the office to myself one day during the week. No interruptions. No 200 emails per day to read/respond to. No extraneous conversations around my desk to distract me. It is really easy to get so much done.

I had a good conversation with a member of faculty/artist in the mailroom this week. He is a MFA critic and teaches drawing. When I said I wasn't happy with most of my work he asked me why. I told him that I didn't really like my style and that I have a lot of problems with light and dark, especially when I try to crosshatch. He gave me some sound advice that I would like to try this weekend. As I show the results I will discuss the advice.

I learned about a musical artist recently. Leonard Cohen. I know at my age I should have known about him, but I am a child of the 1970's so I kind of missed out. I heard his song "Who by Fire" at the end of a "Criminal Minds" show and loved it. I just received his greatest hits CD and am really liking it. I don't really like Bob Dylan so I am surprised that I like Cohen's work.

I also treated myself to TWO books yesterday. I feel guilty when I buy one book imagine the guilt doubled. Actually I used a large portion of a gift card I won at the holiday party at work and had 33% off coupons for both. I am holding off on really looking at them--you know saving the best for last kind of thing. It is how I used to feel when a new knitting magazine would come in the mail. I wouldn't open it for a while just to save something fun for the right moment. Anyway I bought Water Paper Paint: Exploring Creativity with Watercolor and Mixed Media by Heather Smith Jones, and Creative Illustration Workshop for Mixed-Media Artists: Seeing, Sketching, Storytelling, and Using Found Materials by Katherine Dunn. When I am done cleaning this wreck of a house I will savour them and maybe even try an exercise.

Also, I had a wonderful surprise when I came home from work yesterday. I was a big sister to a young girl for a few years and after my father died and I went through a year of major change (another story for another post), I am embarrassed to say, I lost touch with her. Recently, I was thinking about her and searched the internet, including Facebook, but could not locate her. Her mom sent a note stating that her daughter would like to speak with me. I called right away and left a voicemail but have not heard back yet. I think I met this girl when she was 7 or 8 years old. She should be about 18 or 19 now. I can't wait to talk to her!

One last thing for now. I just read that artist/blogger/author Melanie Testa has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I don't know Ms. Testa but have followed her blog and purchased her book so I was shocked and saddened when I read this news this morning. I can only wish her a smooth and complete recovery. You can access her blog from my sidebar if you would like to read what her friend wrote.

Give thanks for your good health, roof over your head, and food on your table as I will today.

Baci e abbracci

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Surfing the Net

I am spending my time surfing blogs rather than drawing, which is just as bad as vegging out in front of the t.v. I tell myself it is for inspiration, but know it is just an excuse. Anyway, if you are also looking for an excuse to get out of doing something you know you should be doing, check out this You Tube video of Don Colley. He is an incredible artist from Chicago. He is represented in Philadelphia by the Fleisher/Ollman Gallery. His sketchbooks (old accounting ledgers) are amazing. His drawings of nudes and people on public transportation are great.

He uses Prismacolor Brush Pens. I watched a few of the videos on their site and found out that they have created a color match system that allows you to buy color 123 in a brush pen, colored pencil, or pastel and they will all match. This is great for mixed media artists.

Prismacolor is also a customer service oriented company. I purchased a few of the Premiere Art Markers in black in different nib sizes. Three of them dried up around the same time not too long after I purchased them. I got irritated and threw them away. Later I decided to email them about it and they said just send them back--they are guaranteed--for replacement. Even though I could not send them back, they replaced them anyway. I thought that was really nice.

Thank you everyone who has left comments about this new project of mine. I just love hearing from you--keep this up and maybe my inner critic will have to go house hunting... Yeah, right...

Okay, let's get up and do something before it is too late.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Getting There

I stayed home from work today due to the icy conditions. I worked on email for about 3 1/2 hours, slept a little, made chili and cornbread for dinner and finished a drawing that I began last night.

I decided to start using my Hand Book sketchbook again. I don't like it because the first pages have bad drawings from when I first started drawing last year.

I still haven't chosen the "perfect" sketch book. If the paper is okay, the size isn't and vice versa. My favorite is the Daler-Rowney Cachet. The paper holds up pretty well to watercolor, and the paper is smooth, but it is 8" x 8" and a little heavy to carry everyday. The Hand Book journal is nice, but the paper is a little toothy. I love hot press 140 lb. paper, but would have to bind my own books and I don't really want to get into that yet. It is also very expensive and therefore, precious (I'm cringing at saying that--I've read everything that says not to make any art supply precious, but I do it anyway; and have a closet of precious yarn and a shelf of precious fabric too).

Anyway, here is the drawing

Eastern Cardinal

Close up
I'm still rusty, but happy I am at least drawing.

Also, I received my zine from Andrea Joseph. It is great! Check out her blog (it is on my sidebar) her work is incredible. If only...

And, I couldn't help myself... Isn't he just beautiful?




All of the sudden he moved his territory to the living room. It has been the bedroom for the last few years. Crazy.

Baci e abbracci

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Today's Quote

I am a big fan of the show Criminal Minds. In fact, it is the only show that I make a point of watching every week. I know it can be gory, but I like the cast, especially Matthew Gray Gubler (an artist in his spare time) and Thomas Gibson. I also pick up some things from the show, like music (just found out about Leonard Cohen from a rerun of the last season's finale) and quotes. Today's quote is from the end of one of the episodes. And it rings true for me.

"Nothing is so common-place as the wish to be remarkable."

Don't we all want to be noticed for something? Especially those of us who create. I am so thrilled when someone compliments my work. People compliment my appearance, my baking, even the quality of my handknit pieces, but it doesn't compare to when they compliment my drawing or my knitting when I also designed the garment.

I also think it is part of the reason we blog. Doesn't blogging cater to the exhibitionist in all of us? Don't we want people to read our blogs? Those of us who show techniques are also providing a service, but honestly we love those positive comments.

The reason I brought this up is because I wish I didn't need that compliment so much. I wish I created for myself and no one else. I read the book by Summer Pierce, The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week. She suggests hanging your work up in your office, so I hang up color copies of my sketchbook pages around my desk. When someone tells me that they like one of my drawings it absolutely makes my day! Someone thinks I have some talent! And since I work in the art world (as an admin assist) if someone who teaches art or is an artist him/herself admires my work, well, I might just need a cigarette after the comment! (BTW: I don't really smoke.)

Why are creative people so needy? I see it on other creative people's blogs too. They just can't believe their submission has been accepted and published, they can't believe they got a show or have been asked to write a book. Why don't we believe in ourselves enough to say 'I don't care what the world thinks, I know I am talented'? I know the inner critic is a much discussed and much written about topic. I guess since I have been in a creative slump for a few weeks it is in the front of my mind.

I did a little drawing. Yesterday I was inspired by Diana Trout's (who I took a class with last spring and loved it) You-Tube video about her doodle game. So I tried it and came up with this:
Full Page

Detail

Then today while visiting TOMA's aunt I completed a simple line drawing of the pastries on the table. It is in my small Moleskine Cahier book, which doesn't take wet media well, so I am not sure I will add any color.



Baci e abbracci...



Saturday, January 15, 2011

Back to Work

I returned to work on January 13. An opening at each bus stop was cleared so the snow wasn't really a problem. However, I need a walker for any icy and uneven ground, but since it slows me down considerably I wind up carrying it a lot. It is heavy and awkward in my condition and tires me. Once I get into the building it is much better getting around. Right now work is at a comfortable pace while I am catching up. I feel so stupid. I accidentally permanently deleted all of the emails from my 2 weeks away that I had placed into a separate folder to review in intervals. I meant to delete one email and before I knew it the whole folder was gone. Urghhh! Our IT man was trying to retrieve them at the end of the day--I will find out if he was successful soon enough.

Work really tired me out, so I've just been doing some doodling on the train.

I wanted to tell you about someone. I recently took a drawing class at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts through the Continuing Education program. Some of the drawings from that class are in my Flicker collection. The teacher is amazing. Her name is Phyllis Laver. If you Google her you will only find critiques of her by traditional-aged college students who complain about the homework and emphasis on attendance and being on time, but she obviously doesn't have those requirements for people taking classes in a continuing ed atmosphere.

Although it was difficult for me to attend classes after a full work day, and I missed classes due to my surgery, I learned from her instruction and my drawing improved. The most helpful thing for me was when she pointed out the difference between my drawing and the actual subject, which teaches you to really slow down and look at what you are drawing. Check out the class listing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' Continuing Education Program. The semester has just started so there is still time. They also offer classes during the summer.

Ms. Laver also teaches at the Philadelphia University (formerly the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, my alma mater).

Have a great day!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Creativity in the Kitchen

My last day before returning to work. Feeling a little blue. My mom, my role-model, was a stay-at-home-mom, and that is what I aspired to be (secretly). Yes, I went to college right out of high school, and intended to become a graphic designer. I dropped out of college after 1 year and 1 month (a very expensive month for my poor parents). The story of why I dropped out of college is for another post. I returned 3 years later to the same school, took a class in each of 2 other schools and transfered to and graduated from one of them. I really loved the college I graduated from and did very well in school for the first time in my life. It really built my confidence.

From my very first job in life, I knew I was not cut out to work for someone else. The politics, bosses that are not nice (not my current boss, but many in the past), the personalities at work that do not jive with mine--it all gets me down and in complain mode. Although I have worked outside of the home my entire adult life, my favorite place to be is home--always, even on the weekends. Everything and everyone I love is in my house--TOMA, cats, art/knitting/quilting supplies--everything.

The other thing that has gotten me down is that I didn't really use my time off productively. Of course even though I say "no pressure," I am so disappointed that I did not do more creative activities. The "be gentle with myself" thinking hasn't sunk in yet.

If you are paying attention to the weather in the Philadelphia area, you know we were hit with a lot of snow overnight. Poor TOMA had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to shovel and then leave for work at 7:45 a.m. We take the bus to the train on days like these as there is no parking near the train station with 2 foot plowed piles of snow at the curb. I dread tomorrow with the 2 walking cast boots. I am really afraid of falling and causing damage to my recently operated-on feet or some other part of my body.

Anyway, because TOMA has been working so hard to compensate for my need to stay off my feet and cleaning up from the 3rd or 4th snow storm of the season, I decided to bake him an apple cake. This is his most favorite dessert that I make. When we were dating I made this promise (new love makes you do crazy stuff) to bake 1 cake per week for life. I kept it for over 2 years and then I broke it. Men take these things very seriously--homemade cake every week--and this man doesn't go for supermarket sweets--no Tastykakes, Entenmann's, Hostess--none of that! He will eat from the local bakery, but it's not the same. So I baked a cake on December 26, before my last surgery, and today. He will come home to the sweet smell of cinnamon sugar throughout the house and instantly smile. Surprise!

This is the best apple cake--everyone says so. The two secrets are orange juice (to make it moist), and layering with lots of cinnamon sugar. I have found a few great recipes on other creative blogs so I thought I would give you this one. (On Alisa Burke's blog there are two recipes that I made weekly before my surgery--chili and cornbread. I made the chili vegetarian and substituted pasteurized egg whites for the eggs in the cornbread and enjoyed it a few times a week while I was loosing weight. See the recipe here: My Husband's Favorite Chili, Alisa Burke.)

Apple Cake recipe:

Ingredients:
Bundt Pan
4 cups of Apples (peeled, cored and sliced) (I use Gala and/or Fuji)
4 Eggs (for the last 2 cakes I have substituted Trader Joe's pasteurized egg whites-3 tablespoons = 1 egg. We noticed no difference in taste or texture, just less calories, fat, and cholesterol.)
1 cup of Vegetable Oil
1/3 cup of Orange Juice
2 1/2 teaspoons of Vanilla
2 cups of Sugar
Separately: 1/2 cup of Sugar and 2 heaping teaspoons of Cinnamon mixed together
3 cups of Flour (love King Arthur Flour--the absolute best for baking everything)
3 teaspoons of Baking Powder


Instructions;

  • Prepare the apples and set them aside.
  • Measure the oil, then orange juice. Then add the eggs and vanilla to the measuring cup (measure all wet ingredients in a wet measuring cup, all dry ingredients in dry measuring cups--it makes a difference).
  • Put the sugar in the mixing bowl, then add the wet ingredients and mix together.
  • Add the flour (measure the flour by putting the flour into the measuring cup with a scoop or spoon and level it with the back of a knife--never scoop the flour into the measuring cup) and baking powder, one cup at a time (can add each teaspoon of baking powder with each cup of flour) and mix well. Scrape the side of the bowl once or twice.
  • Prepare the Bundt pan with either grease and flour or PAM cooking spray for baking. Make sure the baking rack is in the middle of the oven and place a cookie sheet on the rack. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Pour 1/3 of the batter into the pan. With a spoon generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture on the top of the batter and lay in a layer of apples. Sprinkle more of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Repeat this twice more for a total of 3 layers.



Pour the batter into the pan and generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture on top

Next, place the apples on top

Add more cinnamon sugar on top of the apples. This is what the cake looks like before placing it in the oven. This will be the bottom of the cake.
  • Place the cake on the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. (Depending on the thickness of your bundt pan, you may have to add a few minutes as I did when I purchased my new pan. I added 3 minutes. I bake so many of these cakes I don't test anymore, but please test with a toothpick for doneness. Remember nothing should stick to the toothpick if the cake is done.)
  • When the cake is done baking, place the cake-still in the pan-on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Then turn the cake out onto the cooling rack. Allow it to cool completely before storing it. (I leave it out overnight with a picnic net over it. Then I put it in a cake tin. It can be stored in the refrigerator for optimal freshness.) *TOMA eats it cold in a bowl of cold milk.


Cake right out of the oven on cooling rack
Cake under the picnic tent-some of it stuck to the pan this time

This cake is really a crowd pleaser. If you make it, please let me know what you think. 






Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Finally

I finally have drawn something. A stylized Callistephus (China Aster). Not my best, but I enjoyed working with the watercolor. I haven't drawn anything in over 2 weeks, so I am quite rusty. It is true--use it or loose it. It is also true that if you practice, you improve.


Yes, I know, I spelled the Latin name of the flower incorrectly on the sketch.  I should install that new spellcheck program into my sketchbook. ;-)

Buona Note

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Creative Slump

I've just started a creative challenge with myself and I am in a creative slump! Not good. I haven't done anything in days--draw, knit, or sew. Tonight TOMA and I will do our usual Saturday night outing--Whole Foods and Barnes and Noble. I usually hang out in the cafe and draw while he looks at books. I also look at books, but try to use the time to draw people--my biggest weakness.

This time I am not going to put too much pressure on myself about not creating because that is my usual way. I think I should be prolific if I am serious about this stuff, and I stress and get upset when I am not creating. This leads to brooding and testy behavior. I especially get upset when I don't do these things when I have time away from work. In reality there are other things to do when I am home from work like chores and sleep. I have always required a lot of sleep. Now, home on medical leave, it is very difficult to get around. I cannot cut, press or sew because I stand to do the first two actions and use my right foot for the sewing machine pedal. Neither feet are in any condition for being used to control a foot pedal. TOMA and I went for haircuts and the supermarket and I was so exhausted and in pain that I fell asleep on the couch this afternoon.


A little cat nap...

I did read my book, "life is a verb..." by Patti Digh while getting my hair done. The pages that I read were inspiring so I've done something uplifting/positive today.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Day Two

Hello! Even though I did not create anything new yesterday, I spent the day with my friend. We had lunch, cannoli and conversation about quilts and knitting. I'm okay with that. I don't get to spend much time with the few friends I have so taking advantage of this time at home to meet with her was great.

I did meditate for the very first time. It was difficult to keep my mind free, but I once read that one should not get frustrated. Instead, when you notice that you have drifted into thinking about something, just call yourself back to concentrating on the chant. So I did.

Today, so far, I have photographed pages from my sketchbooks and uploaded them onto my Flicker page (which you may access from my sidebar). I am a member of the "Sketchbook Challenge" group and I joined the "Urban Sketchers" group. I know, crazy-most of the artists that make it onto the actual blog are fabulous, but I am feeling like "nothing ventured, nothing gained." So why not give it a try?

Some of the photos in Flicker are not the best. I need to work on taking better pictures. I also need to edit a few in Photoshop, but don't really know how to use the program and have forgotten what I did learn about it. I need to edit out TOMA's real name. He is a private kind of guy and it is not fair to drag him into this new public project of mine.

Better go meditate and create!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Easy Peasy

Well, I thought it would be more difficult to start a blog. It took all of 20 minutes. Welcome to my blog!

I woke up this morning (4:22 a.m.), unable to fall back to sleep, and was thinking about the movie Julie and Julia and how I could challenge myself to create more and complain less. I thought, do exactly what she did, start a blog. Then I thought, no, just keep an electronic diary, but then I am not really accountable. I can easily let this challenge fall by the wayside and it would be no big deal. If this diary (blog) is public (even though I know no one is reading it at this time) there is a little more at stake if I fail.

Okay, a little about me... I graduated college with a B.S. in Fashion Design. I work full-time, sometimes more than that, as an Executive Assistant, i.e. secretary. Needless to say, this wasn't the plan.  The one thing I never wanted to be was a secretary. After all, I could have went to a community college for 2 years, really learned the important stuff of secretarydom (short-hand, typing fast, etc.) and walked away with a much lower student loan debt than I wound up with. The one thing about being a secretary that I like is to make things neat and organized. I feel good about my day when I do what I set out to accomplish. I strive for perfection on the job, but being the insecure person I am, not receiving positive feedback on my menial accomplishments leaves me feeling unfulfilled.

Being unfulfilled on the job can cause me to complain way too much and make me, well, very irritable and testy at home. The Object of My Affection (TOMA) can only stand so much complaining and doesn't like being snapped at. (Really can't blame him for feeling that way.) He is one of those people that doesn't complain, just gets more quiet than usual when things bother him. He doesn't burden others with rants and whining. I, on the other hand, go off on tirades, my OCD kicks into high gear and I just don't let go of whatever is bothering me until I have something new to complain about. So in my quest to improve my relationship with TOMA and be a generally more content, easy to be around person, I am going to take charge and be accountable for my moods.

I am home on medical leave right now, and have been watching more than the usual number of movies. I watched Eat, Pray, Love the other night and heard two quotes that stuck with me. The first quote was, "if you could clear all of that space in your mind, [that is taken up with obsessing] you would have a doorway, and you know what the universe would do: rush in." The second quote was, "you're going to have to learn to select your thoughts the same way you select your clothes every day... because if you can't master your thoughts you are in trouble forever." My problem in a nutshell--clearing my mind and mastering my thoughts.

So, I have one more week at home and would like to use the time to get my mind ready to go back to work with a new attitude. Just deciding to not complain anymore has never worked well for me--at least not for more than a couple of weeks. So, I thought let's empty the space where my negativity simmers, boils, then simmers some more and fill that space in my mind with the rest of my universe. I could be so much more creative with all of that time and energy I use for being negative and angry. I will add 12 minutes of meditation a day--as I have never done meditation before--12 minutes of a thoughtless mind would be a big accomplishment, read about Buddhism (the middle way) and learn about my own religion, and once able, get back into my exercise regimen.

Here is the Julie and Julia part: (Disclaimer: The author of this blog is allowed to adjust her goals if she finds them to be overwhelming.)
  • Complete one knitting or quilting project every 2 months.
    • Try some of the techniques in one of the 20 or more quilting/drawing/watercolor books I have purchased in the last year.
    • Finish the quilt I promised my mom for her birthday 1 1/2 years ago.
  • Work in my sketchbook at least 3 days per week.
  • Post on my new blog at least once per week--just in case anyone is reading it.
Okay, now it is official! Sorry for rambling in this first post. I hope you will keep visiting. Thank you.