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.  

 

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.

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.  

Watercolor close up of Queen Anne's Lace Progess 05 Sep 2018

This month I demonstrated ACEO (Art Card Editions and Originals) painting at the local historical museum (Driftless Historium).   The event was part of an exhibition by the MHAAA.  I had laid out 2.5 x 3.5 inch cards taped to foam board, some with drawings printed on them and some blank.  I also provided watercolor pens, liquid watercolor, and small pan watercolor so they had their choice of medium to try.  

I explained the history of ACEOs and then I asked them if they would like to try their hand at painting, but before they started I explained that there is no white in watercolor.  Technically there are a couple of white opaque paints that are available, but watercolor purists or transparent watercolor painters do not allow the white paint when judging watercolors.  The only true way to have white show up in your paintings is leave the white of paper exposed.  This means you can’t just paint away and come back later and add the white, you have to plan ahead to protect the white spaces.  I call this “Planning for Purity”

When Planning for Purity, there are a few ways to leave white exposed.  One is to put a masking fluid on the white so you can just wash over the surface.  This is a very safe method, but when you remove the gummy material it leaves a hard edge that must be blended back into your other pigments.  

Another way is to wax the surface, but with that method you can’t remove the wax so you better get it right the first time.  The trickiest method is to paint around the white, being very careful not to get any pigment on the white space.  If you do, you can try to lift the pigment off, but it will never be the true white anymore.

Close up of Peony and thistle
Pricks and Petals

I have had a lot of trouble painting white things.  This picture is a peony and I didn’t leave that much white, it is more of an ivory because of trying to get shadows in the folds of the petals, I used a lot more yellow than intended.  I like the results, but just not really white.

I keep trying to improve my use of white, for example, Silas, the Siberian Crane was a big challenge, since he is all white, except for a few black tail feathers. Siberiancranewatercolor

Planning for Purity in life can be even harder.  We start out pretty good but even as small children it is tough to make good choices when we are bombarded with worldly knowledge.  Our canvas gets darker and darker over time and eventually we need intervention to remove the dark pigment.  We can seek help from others, but there is only one source capable of wiping the slate clean and that is our Savior, Christ Jesus.  I am so thankful for His gift, now my heavenly father can look at me and my canvas is as white as snow.

Okay, I admit it, I sell cards that would be wonderful if used as Thank You Notes.  That was my hope when I created them, but I am not sure if Thank You notes are all that common anymore.  Why would you take the time to purchase a card, write a note, buy a stamp and send it in the mail, when you can just write a text or email for free.

I have three reasons that have come out of recent experiences:

  •  Teaching young people how to mail a letter.  (This could be a little embarrassing for my 12 year old granddaughter, but I think it is worth the risk).  My granddaughter received birthday money from her Great Grandmother.   I encouraged her to write a quick note acknowledging the gift.   I suggested she include her intent for the money, just so Grandma knows that it will be used for something special.  I helped my granddaughter by putting the address and return address on the note and placed the stamp on it as well.  I watched her write the note and place it in the envelope and sent it home with her so she could mail it from her own address.  Well, it was a few weeks later and Grandma had not received the note.  What was the problem?  It turns out that my Granddaughter had moved to a new house and had never mailed a letter, so she had no idea how to put the letter in the mailbox.  Please verify that children know how to mail a letter.

 

  • Let people know you have received their gift.  I recently sent a birthday card with money to another one of my grandchildren and did not hear back from her in any form.  Well, it arrived 10 days late and her mom was nice enough to let me know the problem.  I had mailed it to the wrong address.  I mindlessly copied the address from my cell phone contacts without realizing it was going to the wrong town.  Now this could happen if you send an amazon gift or a card or any other gift through a delivery system, it is good to have a record of receipt from the recipient.

 

  • Its just nice to get something in the mail.  It used to be that getting mail was kind of special.  Hundreds of years ago, people used to send letters to tell about current events and share news or send invitations.  Now we have the internet and instantly we know more about our friends and family than we care to know, so information is no longer special to us.  The mail contains advertisements, political notices, bills, the weekly shopper and other trash that immediately hits the trash can.  So now when a letter or a note comes in the mail, its even more treasured than in the past because it is such a rare commodity.  It expresses a sense of love and caring that can never be reflected in an email or text.  A note or letter can be saved away and read later when  the day has been long and hard and a cheerful message is a reminder that someone else cares.

So send someone a note today.  Thank them for being a part of your life.  I guarantee they will savor it long past your next Facebook post.

Ten years ago my husband and I downsized to a duplex unit adjacent to my parents so we could assist them during my father’s struggle with cancer.  My parents owned the duplex and gave us free reign to redecorate to our liking.  That being said, it is still a rental and we didn’t want to change more than was necessary.  On a wall in the main living area the prior renters had placed a drywall screw to hang a picture, in a reasonable area and reasonable height and rather than remove it I said let’s just use it, so we left that drywall screw right where we found it, about five feet up and two feet from the edge of the wall.

I suppose that doesn’t seem like such a big deal and it wasn’t for awhile.  I just adapted my decorating to the screw location.  I became very inventive over time.  Each year at Christmas I came up with a new idea for a flat Christmas tree.  One year it was a bunch of walnut twigs from our back yard with electric votive candles.  The next year I made a flat tree and covered it with Christmas paper and added Christmas cards.  And so it went for ten years. 

Then one morning I was lying in bed and thinking about that screw and how I had let it dictate my life for ten years.  I had limited my choices not only for decorating but for how I would arrange my life because of a stupid screw.  I woke up and told Dave (husband), “I want you to take that screw out of the wall”.  He didn’t over react to such an abrupt idea because he is well aware of my spontaneous projects and got out the screw driver and instantly removed the screw.  Well it didn’t even leave a mark that needed to be filled.  It was a new freedom, I could move the TV, hang pictures, create a whole new living space just by removing a screw and it didn’t take me long to get started.

Within a few weeks I had completely rearranged the wall into a gallery.  Now I have a chalk board for listing all the things I think are extraordinary, I mounted a small Alaskan ivory muskox in a diorama with a painting I had given my dad, and displayed some of my own art prints along with a few select art pieces I had collected.  Now we have a focal point in our room that includes more than just a TV screen.   The question still remains, why did I wait so long?

Gallery Wall displaying current art work and Extraordinary list
Gallery Wall