Thursday, December 31, 2020

Daily art -- it's that time again

Friends, I do a lot for you and ask so little... but every year or so, often at the end of December, I make you read the lecture on daily art.  (Like this one, or this one, or this one.....)  I give this lecture so often because I feel so strongly that daily art -- committing to some action every day according to the rules set at the start -- can make you a better artist and a happier person.

2016 -- daily drawing

I've found that people respond to the lecture in two ways.  One bunch says "OMG, that sounds awful, I could never stick with it, I would get bored doing the same thing every day, I don't know if I could commit to every day, it doesn't sound like fun, it would take too much time, that's just not me."  The other bunch says "what a great idea, I'm going to do it!"  And as time passes, many from the second bunch report back that indeed, they have greatly enjoyed and benefited from their projects.

2018 -- daily map

Just yesterday I had a phone call from an acquaintance whom I had last seen two years ago, a lovely lunch during which we talked about daily art (she does it too) and I got the inspiration to do my daily miniatures.  She wanted to know what I'm going to do for daily art in 2021 and to get my take on her ideas for next year.  I'm going to do calligraphy again next year, but right now I want to talk about you, dear friends, and share some of the things we talked about in that phone call.

2012 -- daily hand stitching

New Year's Day is a great time to start a daily art project, but so is January 4 or January 15 or any other day.  So don't get started until you have given some thought to your rules: the most important part of the endeavor.  If you set rules that are going to be impossible to follow, you will fail.  So don't commit to a daily sketch of the majestic oak tree a mile away if your street sometimes gets iced over and impassable.  Don't commit to a machine-stitched landscape every day if you're planning a vacation to a tropical island.  (As things turned out, I'm kind of sorry I didn't commit to a daily sewing machine project for 2020, since it's been the only year of my adult life where I spent every day in my own house!)  

2010 -- daily photo

If you're worried about the project taking too much time, have a 15-minute-only rule.  If you are afraid of drawing, start with the smallest sketchbook in the store.  You could even have a rule that doesn't require any traditional art-making -- for instance, you could find something tiny and interesting on your daily walk, and take a photo of it, or label it with the date and put it in a box.  You could even commit to throwing something out every day (this time it's me saying OMG, that sounds awful).

2013 -- daily collage

Most important, if you don't think you can stick with a project for a whole year, commit to a month and see what happens.  Take a cue from the growing popularity of alcohol-free January resolutions or one-month introductory memberships to the fitness club.  And if the first month gives you problems, you might want to revise the rules for the second month and give it another try. 

2020 -- daily calligraphy

While daily art is fun, that has not been my primary purpose in doing it for 20 years.  I do daily art because the structure and discipline of such a project helps me make better art in my other work.  And it is immensely satisfying to see the progress that I make from day to day as I explore new twists on what I did last week, try out new tools, riff on familiar themes and discover unexpected things surfacing from my unconscious.  

2019 -- daily miniature

You might get a lot out of such a project too.  If you try it, let me know how it works out, one way or another!

And happy new year, with fervent hopes that it will be much better than this year, for each of us and for the world. 

Monday, December 28, 2020


Bethany G left a comment on my last blog post: "I would LOVE to have you share your Cranberry Orange recipe -- my mother-in-law made it every year for the family and I would dearly love the recipe.  She passed before I asked."

Bethany, I am thrilled to share my recipe, and embarrassed for you to see that there's really no recipe involved.  The secret ingredient, so to speak, is the meat grinder in which it's prepared.  

All you do is take some cranberries, and some oranges, and run them through the grinder on the large aperture.  You mix it all together and add some sugar.  You let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days if  you've had the foresight to make it in advance, or just eat it if you haven't.  That's it!

Always use navel oranges, because they have no seeds. Sometimes I get fancy, carefully peeling off the zest, then taking off and throwing away all the white spongy pith.  The zest and the meat of the orange  go into the grinder.  Sometimes, though, in a hurry, I have just thrown the chunks of orange into the grinder as is.  I suppose the pith makes it a little more bitter, and a little lighter in color, but I have never had anybody spit it out or fail to take seconds.

I can sense the frustration out there.  What proportion of cranberries to oranges, you're saying?  Well, it largely depends on what you have on hand.  If you have bought two 12-ounce bags of cranberries, you might use six oranges.  This year I was delighted to find that they are selling 2-pound bags of cranberries, so I bought two bags and a five-pound bag of oranges and made a huge batch.

My usual modus operandi is to grind up all the berries, then start adding oranges.  Every now and then, stir up the stuff in the bowl and see what color it is.  If it's too dark, add another orange.  The color in the bowl in the photo above looks pretty good (although ideally there would be more visible chunks of orange peel, as in the photo of the relish in jars).  But if it were a little darker, or if it were a little lighter, that would be pretty good too.  

Some years I have thrown in a bit of ginger root.  The grinder would let it go through in bigger chunks than you want, so it needs to be chopped very fine on the cutting board and added to the bowl at the end.

So how much sugar, you ask?  There too, I can't exactly tell you.  Cranberries are very tart, so you need a fair amount.  But some people like more and some like less.  As the sugar infuses into the relish, the taste changes, so I always start with less than I think I might need, and stir well, and then taste again after a few hours in the fridge.  Sometimes I'll add a bit more sugar every day till it's time to eat.  With two pounds of cranberries I would probably start with a half cup of sugar, maybe less.

But what if I don't have a meat grinder, you're fretting?  Then, lady, I don't know what to tell you!

When my sister and I left home to establish our own kitchens, we each grappled with the existential dilemma of how to make cranberry-orange relish without Mom's meat grinder.  We tried various methods, such as zapping in a food processor or chopping with a knife, and while they all tasted fine, the texture wasn't perfect.  Fortunately I inherited the meat grinder when our parents downsized, so for many years I've been making existentially perfect relish and my poor sister has been SOL.  

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve

Even with pandemic canceling our usual big family Christmas dinner, it's a festive afternoon here.  Three pies just out of the oven, making the house smell of spice.  Two jars of cranberry-orange relish, ready to be delivered tomorrow for the socially-distanced-crowdsourced dinner.  (And what a nice coincidence that just when you need two travel containers, here are two empty glass jars ready to be washed out and reused.)

There was a sad moment this morning when we realized that the annual pumpkin has reached the end of the road.  

Not sure if it split open from freezing or because a critter nibbled on it, but it is definitely ready to depart.  I lobbied for it to stay out on the deck through tomorrow, since it will likely stay below freezing the whole time, but I was overruled.  Ken has not-so-fond memories of having to deal with pumpkins beyond their sell-by date that disintegrated into piles of mush, and was determined not to do it again this year.

So good-bye pumpkin, you've been a good friend since September, visible from my seat at the table, glowing in the sunshine in early morning and again when the sun wheels around in late afternoon, giving me joy every time I see it.  Rest in peace.

I've been getting photos of the 2020 ornaments on display in various homes.  Pinned to a quilt, hanging on a doorknob, embraced by a ceramic pig, even one hung on a tree!  

When I retired twenty years ago I brought home a bunch of old office supplies that I had carefully rescued from wastebins and the back shelves of storerooms.  Obsolete stationery, pens left over from long-ago promotional mailings, that sort of thing -- and a big shoebox of old slides.  I knew they would come in handy some day, and this year I used the slide mounts to frame my calligraphed names.  This proves that you should never throw anything out, because there will come a time....

Here's wishing you all a very merry Christmas, or whatever holiday you are celebrating this week.  See you all in the new year -- which WILL BE BETTER!  

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The angels get a new home, and landscaping

One nice thing about holiday traditions is that they can change over the years, with new elements added by chance or by plan.  Two years ago, when Vivian was pretty small, she was learning the names of birds and animals, and for some reason "owl" was early on the list.  One of my friends had given me a little owl made out of kimono silk, and sure enough, Vivian knew that it was an owl, and she wanted to carry it around.  

After we put the Christmas decorations out that year, she was carrying the owl around one day and decided to put it with our three little gnomes, Herman, Sherman and Vermin, who always stand on the window sill.  And it fit so perfectly in the group, thanks to the googly eyes, that now the owl is packed away with the gnomes and comes out with them at Christmas, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that this year Vivian remembered exactly where they go.

When I was about ten years old my godmother gave me a set of little wooden angels, probably made in Germany, who made up an orchestra.  I've been setting them out at Christmas ever since.  As my own children, and now my grandchildren got to the right age they would be in charge of arranging the orchestra.  

Some years the angels have been arrayed on the piano, some years on top of the radio, once or twice on the bar, or this year, on the chest of drawers in the living room.

This is the first year Vivian has been old enough to set out the angels, and I explained that they all have to face the conductor.  She did it that way, and then she noticed the little stitched house that has been sitting on the piano for several months since I finished it.  She thought the angels ought to have it so they could go inside after the music was over.  And she was right -- it's the perfect size (if you put bunk beds inside).

Then a few days later my husband found this little snow-covered tree-on-a-spool hidden on a shelf in the kitchen, where it has sat for years since somebody gave it to me (I wish I could remember who that was...).  He wondered what it was and I said -- it's a tree!  And I put it with the angels too, right by their new house.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

My readers help with calligraphy

Many times when I write about my frustrations with calligraphy (this year's daily art), readers make suggestions.  I've resolved to try out those suggestions before the year ends -- and yes, I've pretty much decided to stick with calligraphy again next year, because I certainly haven't done all I can do with the task.

Vancouver Barbara said "for a real thrill in randomness try very skinny pieces of cedar bark that have the ends smashed.  The "pen" takes over and you get some incredibly beautiful marks."

Not having any cedar bark at hand, I tried this with a strip of paper and decided it was a disaster.

I'll keep trying to find some cedar.

Karen Amelia Brown suggested that I try using a ruling pen, a gizmo with two arms whose distance apart is adjusted with a screw.  (Supposedly the ink stays in between and the outside of the arm stays clean enough to move smoothly against your ruler.)   I vaguely remember my father using a pen like this but I don't think it's in the stash of art stuff that I inherited.  So this experiment will have to wait till I venture out to the art supply store -- probably not in the immediate future.

Mags Ramsay said "using non-dominant hand can bring a fresh approach."  I've known that for a long time but it took her comment to nudge me into actually trying.  I used a fountain pen instead of a dip pen for these experiments because it gave me one less thing to worry about.  I was amazed at how difficult it was to make my left hand do anything I told it to!!  

The black writing in the first sample is nonsense letters; the green writing in the second is actual words in German, but written right-to-left.  The red is English, right-to-left.  For green and red I turned the sketchbook sideways so I didn't have to hold my writing hand on top of the spiral binding (new appreciation for the systemic difficulties that lefties face).  

All seem equally illegible.  I was pleased with the overall appearance -- the writing maintained its character throughout the page, and was reasonably good-looking as a pattern.  But I'm not sure whether I want to continue exploring this approach, since I have so little control over what happens. 

Thank you, readers -- suggestions are always warmly appreciated!  You can check out all my daily calligraphy on my Daily Art Blog.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Ornament time

As I have done for at least 40 years, I'm making ornaments this year.  In the beginning of this project, my work time was focused on coming up with a new idea each year, and in a good year, adding one or two people to the list -- new in-laws, new babies, new friends.  Lately it's a good year when I don't have to take someone off the list, and in this year of pandemic, it's especially heartening that I haven't lost anyone.

My daily art for the last two years has been calligraphy, so it's probably no surprise that I'm writing the names for the ornaments.  I usually just do initials, plus the year, but on the infrequent occasions when I've spelled out full names, I've never done so with a writing implement!  So, a first this year (hard to accomplish when the series has been going on for so long).

I visited my friend Marti last week and was delighted to find that she has hung all the ornaments I've given her over the years in a place of honor, pinned to a beautiful pale green quilt that she made.  This will be year #22 that she's been on the list, a long time and so many shared memories.

I left it too late this year, should have started my ornaments in October as it became apparent how unreliable postal service has become of late.  I got the two international envelopes in the mail a couple of weeks ago, but the US batch won't go till tomorrow morning.  Fingers are crossed for all of them to arrive on time.  Or if they can't get there for Christmas, at least before New Year so the "2020" won't be a lie.