Two cousins walking through a field of Queen Anne's Lace getting ready to play ball.

 

 

 

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”      George Bernard Shaw

What does Childlike Wonder Look Like

It was a beautiful cool Saturday and I was sitting near my art booth when two small boys (5 and 7) came running over to see myTiny Wonders original watercolors.  I had one painting of a vintage red race car and the older boy just had to pick it up and look it over very carefully.  The younger child quickly checked out all the other paintings and was squealing with delight.  I could not have been more pleased.  It was refreshing to see how my paintings brought out so much joy in these young people.

Where Did Our Wonder Go

A little later there was a young man, perhaps around 26 who also came over to the admire the Tiny Wonders.  He looked at all the paintings quite intently and after awhile I said hello and made a comment on the weather.  I explained all paintings were originals and he confessed his admiration for my work.  You could see delight in his eyes but no squealing like the young boys.  He was well mannered and controlled, probably did not want to overly express his interest for fear I would ask him to buy something.  It became very clear to me that this young man’s childlike wonder was still present but suppressed.

Wonder gets stolen from us at an early age.  Squealing is not appropriate behavior when entering a art gallery or museum (except for children’s museums).  How fun would it be to go to the Louvre and roam the floors with youthful  excitement seeing the work of the world’s most creative geniuses and exclaiming with delight the whole time.  Your heart would sore and your imagination would go wild.  Can you image the looks from people around you and the scolding you would get.  Instead of joining your expression of pure joy, you would be required to suppress you enthusiasm so the more sophisticated art lovers could peacefully admire the works.  They would have read their guidebooks so they knew which works they should like and the appropriate reaction displayed.  Your wonder would be suppressed or stolen away completely.

Can We Find Wonder Again

I have the dearest, sweetest, most naive husband ever.  Each day he demonstrates what it is like to retain wonder.  He does not allow my cynicism to squelch his childlike enthusiasm.   When we first starting seeing each other, I took him on a vacation to a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, called Vieques.  He was not a sophisticated traveler at that time.  He had served in the army in Germany over 20 years earlier and that was the last time he had flown.  On the flight from Chicago to San Juan, we had the opportunity to share one of the three seats with a young girl from San Juan.  She spoke no English and Dave spoke no Spanish.  As we started to fly over Puerto Rico you could see Old San Juan, beaches, a fort, and cargo ships.  Both the little girl and Dave were glued to the window, exclaiming with excitement with each recognizable sight.  She would take Dave’s face in her two hands and point his face toward the window.  Language and age were no longer a barrier, only wonder and joy. 

Join the Search for Wonder

I am on a search for my childlike wonder.  My search starts with finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.  It started with flowers and taking macro photographs to look for unseen details.  Flowers are an easy place to start because they are such amazing creations, you can’t help but wonder how the little bugs catch the nectar and pollen and distribute it to the right place. 

I take these photos and interpret them into watercolor paintings.  I am not very quick at painting, so as I contemplate the details, I become mindful and that often creates moment of wonder on how this flower was created. 

I know life is busy and time slips away, so I hope my watercolor paintings will help you discover a world you may not have found.  I would love to have you share in my journey and you can do that by becoming an Extraordinarian.  Click here for the path forward.   

1970s image of a set of World Book Encyclopedia
World Book Encyclopedia

It was the summer of 1962 when I was sitting on the couch in our living room with my mother and brother and the World Book Encyclopedia salesman.  He had brought along the most beautiful, cream-colored books. He was offering our family easy access to information that could only be found in libraries and schools right in our own home.  The books felt luxurious, with the heavyweight glossy paper, gold-edged pages and colored photographs for special articles.  It was going to make us scholars, improve our grades, help us with homework, and provide access to a world way outside of our Verona village limits.  The cost of the set of books was probably equivalent to the cost of a computer today, with what seemed like the same access to information.

I loved those books.  My brother and I would read them from a – z, just random information about everything and anything.  We were thirsty for the information contained in those volumes.  They supplemented our equally devoted reading of graphic magazines (comic books), which also served to enhance our literary knowledge. 

The World Book Encyclopedia was our window on the world.  The short sections of information were just enough to satisfy our curiosity without going into details that we could not understand.  They were concise bits of information, easily swallowed and digested. 

Fast forward to today.  Information is everywhere online. When I go to Wikipedia to research a topic, I get lost in the information rabbit hole of links to links to links.  I end up in a new subject without knowing where I started.  If I want to go to a restaurant, I hunt for every review available to pre-determine my satisfaction with the food.  If I purchase a product on Amazon, I must read the reviews, and their links and comparisons and in the end, I am unable to decide for fear I will not have done enough research.

I am suffering from information overwhelm.  It may have started with my first set of encyclopedia, but it is now an ever-present danger that threatens my joy, reduces my creativity, and makes me questions my abilities.  I go into analysis paralysis and become unable to determine what I should do next.

A good example would be weight loss. Do you know how many diets you can research online?  Do you have any idea how many food choices, scales, tracking programs, or exercise programs you can research before deciding to eat less and move more?

What is interesting is this information overwhelm is a subject that has a great deal of discussion on the world wide web and just this morning I started down that rabbit hole of information until I just said, “stop”.  Essentially more is less in the world of information.

If you are suffering from information overwhelm what should you do:

*Turn off your computer.

*Get up out of your chair.

* Do something physical.

If you are suffering from information overwhelm, what do you do to overcome this debilitating condition?  Please add your comments below.  Thank you for helping others with this condition.

Milkweed plant in flower
Milk weed Plant in Flower

I live in an area of Wisconsin known at the Driftless Area.  I am not a geological expert, but I understand during the ice age, the glacier covered most of Wisconsin and skirted this area leaving a completely different landscape with unique rock formations.  This driftless concept was never explained to me during my informative years and has only recently been thrust forward because of my interest in watercolor painting.  I began hearing this driftless term when looking for art shows and found some special shows devoted to driftless area artists.  Then recently when our local historical museum expanded, it reinvented itself as the Driftless Historium, kind of a cool name with a bit of a Victorian nature.  In my quest for locations to display my watercolor paintings, I approached the Driftless Historium with some new products and as a result, they suggested I paint prairie flowers because they fall into their Driftless concept.

I have done several floral watercolor paintings and this seemed to be a logical step, helped limit my scope of subjects and I found myself in research mode.  During the research process, I found a local remnant prairie on Instagram called Moely Prairie.  It is only 30 miles from my home and I was permitted to use their wonderful photos, which was great considering it is tough to photograph prairie flowers in the winter.  During my quest, Moely Prairie posted a Milkweed Plant Flower as a reminder of the connection between Milkweed plants and Monarchs.  My normal tendency is to zoom in close to a flower to extract the more interesting details within the flower itself.  I had never looked a Milkweed plant flower before, but I became captivated by the five little nectar cups around the floret and the petals that pointed down instead of up as most flowers try to display their pretty parts.  I started to look into the reason for this interesting display.

I became a bit obsessed after awhile when I started to read about the claw-like thorn that came up from the cavity around the cups.  Instead of nice little pollen granules that stick to the bee or insect, a pollinator slips off the downward turned petal and a sac of pollen attaches to its leg.  It has to be pretty strong to pull its leg out or it may stay stuck on the plant and die.  It is pretty hard to explain how this works, so I have placed a YouTube video below so you can get a better explanation.

The other cool thing about the Milkweed plant is the connection with the monarch butterfly.  The monarch caterpillar eats milkweed exclusively because they are not affected by its toxic sap, but birds find the caterpillar unappetizing.  Unfortunately, the number of Milkweed plants is diminishing because they aren’t a flower garden plant and prairies are dwindling so Monarchs are dwindling also.  I recommend doing some research of your own and look around for opportunities to spread Milkweed seed if you get a chance.  Maybe plant some in your yard where they can co-exist with other perennial flowers, or contribute to a prairie restoration group to help the Monarchs continue to thrive.  Below is the completed Milkweed Plant Flower painting and the original was given to my Granddaughter for her birthday.  I have provided the Driftless Historium with Watercolor Print Blocks displaying this and other prairie flowers and they will be for sale at their gift shop soon.  Keep the wonder going Extraordinarians.

Close up watercolor painting of a milkweed flower
Milkweed Flower
Display of tools and wired equipment on a wooden workbench
Creative Workbench # 1: Wired

A couple of months ago my son jokingly sent me a message with a photo of his workbench.  It was just full of stuff,  some in-process work, tools, along with some adult beverages.  I laughed when I saw the photo, knowing that my son is extremely inventive, but tends to have too many projects at varying stages of completion.  When I saw the photo, I thought the workbench was a visual interpretation of the many synapses firing in his brain.  Too many to control requiring the need of some fluid refreshments to slow down the impulses.  It was a crazy photo, but after a while I thought wow, wouldn’t that make a great painting.

This started me down the path of a new series I am calling Creative Workbenches.  It will be an intimate look at a variety of work spaces from a diverse group of creative sources.  I have enlisted the help of a jeweler who fixes watches and clock and a fly fisherman who ties his own flies.  I hope to recruit additional artisans over time.  

Value sketches and tiny watercolor painting trying to establish the layout for a new painting.
Katherine Ford’s Creative Workbench

One thing I am learning about creative workbenches is how intimate this project is becoming.  How a person lays out their work area says a great deal about their creative process.   As a messy desk person myself, I need to be surrounded by the materials and ideas associated with the project I am working on, however, I don’t like to mix too many different project at once, so I must put away anything not related to the current project.  The photo above is an example of how I start out to determine the layout of a new painting.   

We are all creative people to some extent, every job has their own creative element and each requires tools for the trade.  I am looking for additional Creative Workbenches: What does yours look like?  Would you like to share and possibly have it made into a painting.  Please leave a comment below if you would like to participate.  If you subscribe to my website, you will be informed on the progress of my creative workbenches.  

The original of Creative Workbench #1; Wired, I will be giving to my son, who provided me with his photo and the idea, but I have scanned it and am able to make reproductions if you are interested please send me a message.   

Keep creating.

Image of the cards from the Spot It! game

Spot It! Game

My granddaughters (10 and 12) completely annihilated me while playing Spot It! during their post-Christmas visit .  My husband and I had no chance to react quick enough to those elusive figures.  

I don’t take this too seriously and I think it is really great that someone has invented a game that children can win without compromising the parent’s integrity or competitive spirit, however, I was very curious about why adults lose at Spot It! so easily.

I have a theory based on a tiny bit of experience and the book I am currently reading, “Reductionism in Art and Brain Science” by Eric R. Kandel, Nobel Prize Winner.  This is not a quick read, but it has some enlightening details on how the brain processes images.  

In grade school, we were shown a classical image of how our eye works.  The image comes into the eye upside down and the brain has to turn it around and figure out the image.  It turns out our brain has even more work to do, it has to take the image and make electrical signals related to forms and shapes and associate them with something we may have seen before, then interpret that into something we can understand.

These signals don’t all go to the same place in the brain, which even adds more complications.  There is a place in the brain that just handles faces.  There is place in the brain that takes care of shapes.  Shapes are easy, even babies recognize shapes, but more complex things require life experience and learning.

So back to “Spot It!,  it is my theory that younger children look at the shapes on the card and react quickly to what they see without going through the interpretation process.  So why do adults lose at Spot It!, because we have too much experience.  Our brain is spending too much time trying to figure out what the shape is, rather than reacting to the shape itself, then associating it with a name.  This makes us slow in reaction time.

If I had a way to turn off all the images I have experienced in life and go back to baby shapes, I think I could do much better, but alas, I don’t think retrograde my memories would be a very good idea.  

This all relates back to how people interpret art.  Art isn’t just someone looking at a picture and seeing what the artist portrayed, it is more of the artist had something in mind, but the beholder uses their life learning and experiences and interprets the image in a completely different way.  Essentially both the artist and the beholder are creators.  

So when you play Spot It! with your grandchildren next time ask them if they could give you a few free cards, just to even out the odds.

 

“Why do adults lose at “Spot It!, because we have too much experience.”

Nana Kate doing web research

Nana Kate

Author

 

Box 64 Crayola crayons for 1958
Vintage Box of 64 Crayola Crayons
Crayon Lust Curves Creativity should have been the headlines when Crayola introduced the 64 count crayon box with sharpener in 1958.  Imagine the thoughts I had as a five year child seeing such a wondrous sight.  More colors than anyone could dream of and the possibility of always having a crayon with a sharp point.  I imagined how easy it would have been to stay in the lines if I didn’t have to deal with a rounded crayon.  I imagined the artistry my pictures would have; thinner stick figures, architectural features of my square houses would become distinct with better detail.  Oh how wonderful that flip top box lid was, so easy to fold back over the crayons rather than trying to tuck the flap of the box back in and never quite sealing tight so all the crayons fell out.  
Lust is a big word regarding a five year old.  How did so much desire grow in such a small child.  I don’t remember where the advertising came from that would have enticed me to desire these crayons so much.  I expect it was more word of mouth or even more probable, the rich kid in the class room came to school with a box and the first forms of jealousy formed.
I know I asked for a box of these crayons each year when school supplies were being purchased.  I never did get one, that was probably due to good parental money usage and the reality that one really didn’t  need that many crayons.  In fact I am pretty convinced that if I had that many crayons it would have actually diminished my creativity.  How would one choose the right red when one had eight instead of two. I probably would have been constantly sharpening the crayons, just to see how perfect I could get the point rather than putting color on a page.  
I do know that crayola had the best crayons.  To this day I remember the luxury of feeling the paper on a new crayon.  It had a texture that prevents them from slipping in your fingers, yet was soft and velvety at the same time.  The saturation of the pigment was perfect and satisfying when you laid it on paper unlike cheaper waxier crayons that some people try to substitute to little children destroying their creative joy.  The cheap versions left more wax and the more you tried to achieve a strong color the more wax built up and left one very dissatisfied with the end result.   
The 64 count crayola box was the start of my art supply lust.  To this day I continue to want more watercolor paints in different colors, knowing that only a few are required when you mix your own colors. I always want more brushes, but I only use a few favorite ones a regular basis.  I have to learn that lust for creative tools does not help my creativity, just like jealousy and lust prevent me from loving and appreciating all that I am blessed with now.  Creativity comes from my imagination, not from tools.  The more content I am with my circumstances the more freedom I will have to create.  That applies in all areas of my life.
Tiny watercolor of a pussy willow
Pussy Willow

I was searching the World Wide Web about a year ago when I came across an article about ACEOs.  What the heck is an ACEO I wondered?  Well it is an Art Card Edition or Original.  Okay, that makes no sense at all, so I searched for more information and it turns out there are a world of collectors that buy paintings specifically made on 2.5 x 3.5 inch cards.  Ebay appears to be the best buy and sell for ACEOs.  

I thought, with my level of patience, maybe I should start making ACEOs and selling them.  I can make a complete painting in 1 to 3 hours, mount them and sell them at art shows and my followers can have an original artwork for less than $50.  And so, I have created over 30 tiny water media paintings in the last year.  They are so much fun and rewarding.

Well I looked into the “tiny” art concept a little more and found out there are a lot of different definitions of tiny art and there seems to be a difference in maximum size for these art pieces, some ranging up to 10 x 10 inches. That was kind of surprising to me because most all of my paintings have been 5 x 7 in or 8 x 10 in, so I have been painting tiny water media paintings for most of my artistic career.

Reasons for Tiny Paintings:
  • Small studio space
  • Limited supply storage
  • Lack of patience
  • Experimentation 
  • Set up for larger pieces
  • Just plain cute when done
  • Fun

I think the biggest reason for creating tiny water media paintings is instant gratification.  I have been known to spend 60 hours or more on a detailed medium sized watercolor over the course of a month or more and never knowing when I would be done.  I can remove the tape from a tiny painting in less than three hours and be enthralled with a new work of art.

Leaves from a Eucalyptus branch

    Eucalyptus lea

I also love selling these tiny wonders, because I really love to provide original art to my collectors.  In this digital world there are a lot of wonderful, reasonably priced reproductions and if one is decorating a home, that is a great opportunity to add beauty, but oh, how much more precious is that one of kind piece no one else in the world will have sitting on your desk or hanging on your wall.  

Lantana Flower Close Up
Lantana flower close up

I have accepted my role as a tiny watercolor painter and now I have set up a Facebook Group so other people can join my love of tiny water media paintings.  Everyone is welcome to join, artists and collectors, to share this wonderful tiny art world. Join Tiny Water Media Paintings 

If you are wondering where you can buy these Tiny Water Media Paintings of mine, I always have tiny paintings at art shows, but I make so many that I can’t keep up with posting them on my website.  If the painting is larger than 5 x 7 in, it will be on the website.  The smaller ones I try to show off on Instagram, so check me out using @nanakatespaintings (that works for Facebook too).  I think the newest method is to join the Tiny Water Media Paintings and check Tiny Art Tuesday when I will be posting a new painting for sale.  Check early and often, first come first serve basis.  If you have an idea of a painting you would like me to do, put it in the comments or send me an email and I will see what I can do.  

 

Blank Watercolor paper waiting for an image to be transferred
Watercolor Paper Waiting to start the Big Boy Painting Journey  September 2, 2019

My Big Boy Painting Journey starts with a blank piece of paper, the most fearful stage of the journey.  The idea is in my head, I even have a tiny test painting I laid out to see how it might look, but actually starting a painting is the hardest part.  All my fears of inadequacy come to the surface.  Thoughts like, “Am I good enough; is it too hard; will anyone like it; can I satisfy the viewer, etc”.  The other side is I can’t wait to see how it will look when I am done, but I know it will be a long time until it is complete.  I don’t work fast as a rule because I get a bit bogged down in details.  In this case, the Big Boy Steam Locomotive is an historical engine and there are many people that would look closely and critique my work if I get the detail wrong.  So much angst placed on one piece of paper.

Sketch of the Big Boy Steam Locomotive on Watercolor paper
Big Boy Locomotive Sketch  September 4, 2019

It is time to start.  Most of the time I would draw my image on the paper either free hand, or by using a grid to transfer the image.  In this case, because the details are so well known, I did not want to take a chance, so I did a direct transfer from the image onto the paper.  I caught most of the details that can be seen on the picture.  I have additional historic references that I may visit to highlight some thing that can’t be seen in the shadows of the photo, not sure yet.  It would be easier to let them blend in, but I suspect they would be missed.  

05 Sept 2019 progress on Big Boy painting
Big Boy 05 Sep 2019 progress report

I started to get the background and sky in the first washes.  The trees were giving me a little trouble.  I need to find the right combo of black to paint the train.  It looks like some purple will be involved.

 

Work in progress on Big Boy Train with added detail in engine
Big Boy 06 Sep 2019
Dark values added to the front of the engine
Big Boy 09 Sep 2019

I worked on finding the right combination of colors to make a black or gray that had the right degree of dark, but a little warmth also.  The combination if ultramarine deep (blue) and raw umber (a yellow brown).  I tried Prussian blue, but the gray level turned to green which wasn’t at all what I wanted to accomplish.

I removed the masking fluid that kept some of the areas white.  I am not a masking fluid fan because it leaves harsh edges, but taking it off early I have a chance to soften the edge and leave a highlighted space.

I struggled to get enough detail without too much, but it is very difficult to see the details on a black photo.  I brightened the photo a little to see the details, mostly the shading just gives an allusion of detail, steam trains have a huge amount of pipes and small mechanical stuff on them, just no way to capture all that.  I think the most important part of the train is the X4014, 

Continuing to add more dark values to the Big Boy engine
Big Boy Steam Locomotive 13 Sep 2019

I took this picture outside to show it in a more natural lighting.  The painting always looks different in natural rather than the filtered light inside.  I like the way this is evolving, but still have difficulty deciding on how much detail should bee brought out considering the train is in motion and there would be some blurring of the mechanics of the wheels. 

Big Boy locomotive work in progress with most of the final wash
Big Boy Steam Locomotive 18 Sep 2019

I had some life issues going on, so there was very little progress with the Big Boy Steam Locomotive until the 18 Sep 2019 when I put on the last wash.  Now I need to add some detail and it should be done. 

It may not look too much different, but once I sign my name and take off the green tape, the painting is finished.  Now off to the printer for scanning so it can be reproduced.  

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Our bedroom window looks out onto a grove of Black Walnut trees.  In the summer when the days are cool we have the windows opened and our wake up call is set off by the morning sounds.  Early in the spring there is a cacophony of bird whistles as they anxiously start to set up housekeeping for the year.  This starts at about 5:00 am, although we can ignore it for at least another hour until the crows start calling for the few scraps we leave on the table.  The most wonderfully annoying sounds come from our close neighbors, the wrens.  We have four houses set close to the house, because for some reason wrens like to be nearby.  They start their scolding early and keep us company for most of the day.
Wren Picture for blog
Wren Nesting in Gourd

The most entertaining wrens occupy a gourd on the front of our home next to a screened “cassita” we have on our front patio.  They fly in and out without paying any attention to our noisy gatherings from April to then end of July.  Generally they have two sets of chicks and once they have completed their housekeeping they leave until the next season.

I wasn’t keeping track of their absence, probably because of the heat and our windows were closed, but early in the August it occurred to me that we no longer had our early morning wake up call.  The woods were quiet.  The pestering had stopped and now only the crickets or cicadas could be heard.  Now instead of wrens chirping, we hear the squirrels husking the walnuts, dropping them on our shed roof and then the gnawing sounds as they scrape away the hard outer shell of the nut trying to find the inside meat.
The summer sounds are softening, signally change.  The lack of sound is deafening as your ear reaches out trying to recapture the excitement and energy that once existed.  There will be a slower pace, change is in the air, the flowers have found their peak and will now diminish as the days shorten.  Preparations will start for a new beautiful season with fall colors and the quiet of winter when sounds are muffled by snow.
Summer Flowers

Enjoy the remnants of summer as they wane.  Look forward to change and prepare your hearts for new opportunities. Find something extraordinary and share it with a friend.

Horizontal dandelion close up
Macro of dandelion bloom

I am working on a series of paintings I want to call “Undesirable Beauties”.  So what are they?  They are plants most people would refer to as weeds, but when you look close at them they are really quite beautiful.  I have a couple of these already completed; Creeping Charley and Queen Anne’s Lace.  The most obvious of all these beauties would be the dandelion.  I waited until they bloomed this spring to get my own macro photos and decided I like this horizontal image the best.

I consulted with my mentor on approaching this painting and he recommended that I work in more of a “designy” mode.  I am not sure that is a word, but my interpretation was to loosen up a bit, not get involved in the details and get a bit more abstract.  Basically he is tell me to get out of the box, start scratching at the boundaries of my artistic box and break free from control.

Tiny dandelion abstract study
Tiny study painting for a dandelion abstract

I really wasn’t really sure how to start this project, so I approached it by doing a tiny painting (ACEO 2.5 x 3.5 inch).  I sent it off to my mentor and published it online and low and behold people liked it.  Encouraged I moved on to the big paper (11 x 14 inch) and started to lay some paint on the paper.  You see below how I embraced the color red, so it has a dramatic start.

Dandelion Abstract WIP 1
Dandelion Abstract Start Up

I was beginning to like this bold color and added some more to definition to the flower and then I stopped.  I could tell that I was starting to add detail, trying to control the outcome and not letting the water and pigment flow to where it wanted to go.

The best watercolors let the magic of the water and pigment work for you.  Over control can make for a muddy mess.  As I reflect on what is going on with the “out of the box” thinking I think maybe I am getting a little nudge from the Holy Spirit that He is in charge.  I have been given a gift, but He controls the outcome.  I need to hand this over with open hands and trust that all will work together to His glory.  Well, I am sure that is all good in theory, but my nature will surely get in the way again as it always does.  I just hope that somewhere in the process a compromise will be reached.

Stay tuned as I provide more work in process photos.  

Dandelion 06 June
Dandelion 06 June

I was hoping that I would be able to scratch myself out of the box of of artistic styles, but alas, I could not allow the paint to be totally free.  I need to see the detail in the petals to satisfy my sense of organization.  I had to know where the petals started from and where they finish and to see some subtlety.   I feel I compromised and left some of the outlying petals undefined.  In the end, I think I like it, but it is different for me and I would love to see comments on what you think

Below is the final picture.  I am not sure if I will make it available on this website.  I might just take it to shows and see if I can get a response from a general audience.  If you are interested, please send me an email.  I have title this painting “Dandelion Inferno” because of the red hot color below.  Please provide comments to let me know if I should do more of this type of painting.  Thank you

dandelion inferno
Dandelion Inferno

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