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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Seahorse
Seahorse

Dave and I made a quick trip to visit our daughter and granddaughter for lunch.  We have all be very busy and this was a way of getting together for a short visit to find out what has been happening in our lives.  We had a nice lunch, got caught up on our business and then my granddaughter told a little story about her trip to the big box store.  Her story reminded me just how much courage it takes for young people to grow up.  

My granddaughter had some money she had set aside so she could buy something special just for herself and she had found a pair of sunglasses she liked at the store.  They were nice enough, but when her mother looked at them, she informed my granddaughter that the value of the sunglasses did not compare with the price.  My daughter was being helpful and she is quite frugal and generally can make a dollar go farther than anyone I know, so her advice is sound.  My granddaughter is about 13 and doesn’t have the buying skill of an adult, and she was thankful for the advice but this reality would mean the sunglasses had to be returned.

I don’t know about you, but I hate to return stuff.  I know it isn’t that hard and most of the time the process goes without a problem, but one has to either admit you made a mistake or something was wrong, and there is paperwork to fill out and just a lot of issues so sometimes I just keep stuff to prevent the bother.  Well here is this young woman, moving into unknown territory.  She has no idea what to say, how to say it, or what the customer service person will do when she admits her error in judgment.  She will have to muster up all her courage to move past her fears and approach the counter.  Now,  her mother was with her helping her form the words, but even so, I can just imagine the amount of adrenaline coursing through her body and that flight/fight emotion was telling her to run.  

My granddaughter overcame her fear and returned the item, and all went well.  She learned a new lesson and her success will help her try something new again in the future because of past success.  I was glad she shared this story with me.  I think she was a bit embarrassed to talk about it, but that too required courage.

The seahorse in the picture above doesn’t really have anything to do with this story other than I have always thought how brave the father seahorse must be to carry all his offspring inside of his belly until they are safe to leave his side.  Fear is a big deal and this story is a good reminder that young people meet new challenges each day and some embrace these challenges eagerly and others must overcome deeper levels of fear just to make it through the day.  I am thankful that my granddaughter has accepted the Lord, Jesus Christ as her Savior because she can always reach out her hand to Him to guide her through moments of fear when there may be no one else to help her.

Isaiah 41:13 “For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not:  I will help thee.”

Wingra Lake WI Dam Jumping Musky
Wingra Dam Jumping Musky

Tuesday morning, April 9th, I saw an Instagram video of Wingra dam jumping muskies starting to jump the Wingra Lake dam in Madison, WI.   I am 60+ years old and have lived in the Madison area all my life and never knew about this interesting phenomenon until last year when I saw a You Tube video,  Wingra Jumping MuskiesI was pretty excited when I learned that the Muskies where starting their annual jumping and wanted to go see them.

I told my husband that he should go check it out with his son when they went into Madison to work that morning, but Dave thought he could wait.  I said, not waiting, today was the day, it was was 60 degrees F and the next day it was suppose to be below freezing and snowing.  I explained to him that my father was the type of guy that new when there was something special going on, that work could wait.  I told him that when I was a kid, about every other year the DNR would “shock” the Mt. Vernon Creek to check on the health of the trout and throw out the suckers.  When dad heard they were doing that, we would go down to the creek and follow the shocking crew, walking for a couple of miles and checking out the fish population.  It was just something we had to do and it was more important than work.  I suppose some people would disagree with that kind of attitude, but that was what I loved about my dad.

So after that little lecture, Dave decided he would check out the site.  They watched for a little while and saw the big fish pooling under the dam and about six fish jumped.  That was cool for them, but needed to see it too.  After they returned from work, Dave and I went back in so I could see this for myself.  After all this is the only muskie in the world that do this.  This is truly extraordinary.  I was told they are not really spawning and they are hybrids and a bit crazier than regular muskies, but I am no fish biologist.  

The fish were not as active but I got to see about three jump and a sneaky guy.  There was a big one that was swimming right at the surface and he was ready.  He went under the first section of the waterfall and just poked his head up, then a little higher and then about a foot up into the water before he came back down.  I thought that was so funny, it just made me laugh.  

I was inspired by this little outing and decided I need to capture the fun with a painting.  I had not intended it to be a great painting, I just needed to play with the fish.  It is a 5 x 7 inch painting I used to practice flowing water and shiny fish backs.  It isn’t my normal overly worked detailed painting, but I think it captures the moment better that way.

If you get into Madison, WI before April 14th, you should check out the Wingra dam.  It will definitely bring a smile to your face.  If you go, send a comment back or even a picture so we can spread the word.