Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dare I say 'resolution'?

I don't know if it's smart to utter the words 'New Year's Resolution' in the same sentence as 'post more frequent blogs', but there... I've said it! Actually, I'm not going to be quite that specific. I just intend to get rid of the chaos in my life (translation: 'house') and strive for organization, space-saving solutions, and timely schedules. That should help me stay on track and keep up with my housework, my projects, AND my blog.

I've been saying I'm in the process of remodelling the house for quite some time. But when you tear out a wall, or rip off some old sheet rock, but don't go any farther with the project, it's not really remodelling at all. It's 'DE-modelling'! Now, on the brink of actually RE-placing said sheet rock and new walls, I am invigorated and hopeful that this will all lead to much needed improvement in our home.

But on a lighter note, (if you consider zombies light), I can now post about my latest art project. My stepdaughter, Krista, and I made a batch of wine for my husband for Christmas. With the help of the fine folks at 'Water 2 Wine' in Austin, we put together a vat of 'Italian Amarone Especiale'.

Here we are, weeks earlier, mixing up the brew.

Then the Saturday before Christmas, we were able to bottle up our concoction,

put in the corks,

seal the top with foil- sort of a shrink wrap method,

and apply our label. THAT was the fun part.

My husband is one of the biggest zombie fans EVER, so I came up with a theme that he went nuts over. I wanted to draw a portrait of him as a zombie for the wine label and I was worried about getting an appropriate photo of him without giving anything away. Then on Halloween night, as he was watching 'all things zombie' on tv, he looked up and made several zombie poses while I snapped the camera (I just happened to have it handy!) I was able to render the face using watercolors, graphite pencils, and Prismacolor sticks. Again, with the help of Krista, we added type, special effects, borders, and backgrounds and came up with this label:

Hand-cutting around the two drips at the bottom of the label was the worst part, but after an hour or so, we had all thirty labels cut and applied to the bottles, and felt it was well worth the effort. During the label design process, we had to work separate from each other, so it was necessary to communicate through instant messaging, texting and emails. It was a slow process to work out the kinks, but we finally got there. Thank you Krista for such a huge effort and the upbeat willingness to be tortured and nit picked! And as a result of this wine's overwhelmingly positive reception, we may be producing future themed wines. (Scab-salve, 'They're coming to get you Barbera', Cadavernet...) Ahhh, ideas for future batches are brewing... So let me pour an 'undead red', raise my glass, and toast to a very happy and fruitful year ahead!

Saturday, November 6, 2010


...uh... I've been away for awhile, haven't I? I have a lot of reasons why, a lot of really good excuses, blame to assign elsewhere.... It's not like I am at fault! I wasn't being lazy and wasting time. I was designing an addition that we'll start building on the back of our house in a month or so, renovating a bathroom and kitchen, OH, and we went to Jamaica to be in our friends' wedding, and I'm almost finished with another whole piece of artwork, a 2-foot square tediously detailed painting, and I knitted a scarf, and I've planned a super-cool theme cake for my husbands birthday (it's next week, but I can't tell you about that yet because he occasionally reads this blog), and I'm also half done making the coolest Christmas gift EVER for my husband (again, mum's the word), and I designed and strung a 12 strand pearl and crystal necklace, and I had my parents visiting from out of state for a couple weeks, & then they left, and now they're scheduled to arrive back again tomorrow, so my Dad and I can start building a rather large shed together..... uuuuuhhhhhhh (that's a long inhale!)

So, you see? I've been busy enough. It's just that few of those things are blog-worthy. The sketches of the home addition and the shed are crude and unimpressive, the scarf can't be discussed, lest it also spoil a surprise, and the same with the birthday cake and Christmas, well... here's Jamaica!

The main weather concern happened the day of the outdoor beach wedding we attended. Up 'til an hour before the ceremony, it looked like this outside:

Then the storm passed on, the rain stopped, and the sky produced a beautiful sunset over the ocean. It was lovely. My husband and I were both in the wedding, so we weren't able to take pictures of that. were our friends, the day before, already taking the plunge!

So on to the artwork. I learned from the past few postings that I don't really like showing my artwork until it's completed. No one really cares what your intentions are because that often doesn't go as planned anyway. But here I am, showing you another half finished painting, and telling you that what I plan on doing is adding shadows underneath every single strand of the weaving to make it look like it's laying next to a wall or backdrop. It will give it some grounding and hopefully make it pop. So far, without the shadow, it's a bit flat. This is a detailed section of part of the painting.

I like the way this painting looks like a subtle textural abstract piece from a distance. Then as you move in closer, it takes on a whole new feel. You become aware of all the details and realize that it's actually quite a realistic painting, even though I want it to fit into the category of 'abstract'.

In the customary end-of-year fashion, I have vowed to focus more on finishing the projects I start and getting more organized. In other words, this New Year's Resolution is to honor the resolutions I came up with last year! Ha! That should result in more frequent blogging, more check marks off my list, and less excuses! Good luck with that, right?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


It only took a week to paint most of these threads on the 'weaving', and somehow, it has taken two months to actually finish the painting, seal it, and get it delivered. After considering my goal with the 'fabric' part of the painting, I decided to take the advice of one of my closest friends and make it look as old as possible, like it was some kind of artifact. After finishing all the weaving, the tangled fringe at the bottom, and the highlights and shadows of each thread, and also repairing a noticeable dent in the panel (long story, don't ask), I coated a dark glaze layer over the whole thing, threads and all. Here are the results:

This piece measures 24 x 40, and is titled 'String Theory'.

After hassling over a number of sealant choices, I picked out two Golden products. I read that if you want to seal several coats on your painting, and you are striving for a matte or satin effect, you should paint the underneath coats glossy and finish with the outermost coating in your satin or matte product. The glossy layers are sharper and show more detail through them while retaining the richness of the colors. Satin layers diffuse the detail and dull the colors. So if you repeated the matte layers over and over, it would compound the negative effect. I liken it to how non-glare glass affects a framed work. It makes sense.

Now I'm on to the next work. It's funny how much I can bounce around from project to project. I started out on this last piece, then got severely sidetracked with remodeling plans in our kitchen, then closet, and now master bathroom. I can get so focused on one thing for awhile that the rest of my projects come to a complete standstill... at least for awhile. None of those other house project are finished... in fact they are barely started, but for awhile at least, I'm back to painting.

I got a renewed desire to a paint, as I just made a trip to visit a good friend and gallery owner back in Oklahoma. She took the 'String Theory' piece and will show it when she can. I'm not sure how it fits into her gallery schedule, as there are a string (no pun intended) of one-person shows lined up through the rest of this year and most of next year. But just being in the back room archives is a step in the right direction. And visiting her gallery always motivates me.

So my next panel is now built, sanded, primed, gessoed with two different layers, awaiting a third or fourth white layer, and then after one final sanding, it will be ready to start painting. More later...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I want this painting.

I'm almost finished with my second painting using a woven pattern. I should've waited to show you the end result, but I'm impatient and tonight offered me enough time to sit down and post this.

This has come together for me in less than a week's time. It measures about 24x40.

I made the woven texture wrap around the top edge of the panel. I estimate being able to complete this in another couple of hours. Well, then there's the sealant... but that's basically it.

A friend has suggested that I do things to make these paintings look as old as possible. Well, I mean, the woven part should look old, like it's some kind of artifact. I agree with this notion, though there's not a lot I can do to this current one to accomplish that. I will definitely change a few things in future pieces though. First of all, I won't draw out my pencil grid lines using a rigid t-square. I will pencil in more wavy lines so the appearance will be softer. I might also make some tattered places in the weaving, or worn edges. However, I do want to make the threads whitish, or off-white in my very next painting. That, in itself, might look newer, if not for some flaws or discolorations here and there. So I can't wait to start on it.

I shouldn't look too far ahead though, or plan the next painting after the next, etc. I was listening to an interview with the late Agnes Martin recently. She said she doesn't think about anything at all when she paints. I don't know if I could do that, as I always have something racing around in my head. But Agnes had learned to train her brain to empty itself. She used to meditate, but said she even stopped that thought process as well. She just wanted to be still and let the painting happen. She didn't feel that any of the inspirations were her doing, as if she were in the middle between someone/something else and the painting. Though she didn't take credit for the work, she said if something went wrong, she would have to take the blame. The worst thing an artist could think about is themself. When she is working on a painting, the only thing she will allow herself to be aware of is the fact that she wants the painting. I think that's a very good thing to acknowledge. here I go wanting mine.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Much Ado About Face

Hmmm, here it comes... an excuse intertwined with an explanation of the solution to my dilemma.
I haven't been completely clear about (or content with) the faces so far. The second looser one 'happened' in just a few hours, thankfully, but then I took a turn with it that I loved for the technique of it, but just not on a face. I started painting horizontal and vertical parallel lines in different values. The result was something I wanted to see painted on its own in an abstract piece. Here is a close-up over the eye area on my second face painting:

So after staring this gal down for a long time, I set her aside also, and began another piece, one without a face. The result was magical for me. I decided it was already time to 'about face' and change directions. I painted one whole piece in just a couple days' time. This isn't actually completely done yet, but it's close. It measures 23" x 23".

The upper righthand corner of this 'swatch' has a shaded under/over effect that I will do over the whole weaving. I used a basic soft leaded graphite pencil (9B) to do the shading and worked it in with a small blending stump. I'm very happy with the result. I feel like making a whole bunch more of these pieces now. I'm pleased that it goes so quickly and the tedious nature is actually very welcome to me. It's like knitting! What more could I ask for?


Friday, June 25, 2010

Layer One

It's amazing how much the painting feels 'completed' by just filling in the background. In just a few minutes' time, it went from being half covered to all covered. Unfortunately, I had envisioned getting the first layer blocked in in just a few hours, not 2 or 3 weeks! But now is the time where I stand back and take a few breaths and comtemplate how I will manage to distort this image and make it a lot more obscure. Yeah, in a way, I'm going to mess it up royally, but that's what I want!

So don't get too attached to it, and don't try and stop me! Just say goodbye to this:

And now, for something completely different (to quote Monty Python)...

I have decided to set this painting aside and begin another, looser one that I can smear around on and learn what to expect with the second phase of this abstraction. That way, I can decide what to do on a work that will have taken less time. Once I get comfortable with the outcome, I'll switch back to this more labored piece. It's not how I wanted to start, but I'm learning. And since I'm such a sissy, I can't be that daring with this first attempt.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Time Lapse

After hassling over a broken washing machine, getting a new set of front-loaders delivered and hooked up, catching up on all the piles of laundry as a result, Father's Day, dental visits, and the other various things in life, I realize that I've slowed way down on this painting. Fortunately, when intending to make an eventual time-lapse view of the work, it doesn't care how much time has actually lapsed in between frames.

I'll cut to the chase here. The image still looks like a member of the paint-by-number club, and I've only tip-toed my way along since I last showed you. Can't wait to smear it up!

You see, I've been fighting 'Multiple Creativity Disorder' again. I feel pulled in several other directions lately. I haven't given in to too many temptations, but I realized that I have probably MORE projects going on that anyone I know. Most of them are started, but some are still only in the planning stages. I thought it would fascinate me to make a list of all of my projects, and maybe I could prioritize them a little better if I saw them listed. I won't get into mentioning the stash of yarn or fabric or beads or other raw materials I have and what I would like to make out of them... that would just be silly!

HA! After listing 29 separate general projects (some of them were paragraphs, enumerating several projects within each category), I got too depressed and decided to copy and paste them into a notebook entry on my desktop. No one wants to hear about all the stuff I need do in the future. If I get around to fiddling on any of them, I'll let you know, and if there's a photo, you may care to glance at it. But trust me, you don't want to read paragraph after paragraph about what I intend to do with this or that.

So I'll just get back to working on the hand of my gal here. Oh, did I mention that this started out to be a painting of the actress Rhona Mitra? She starred in the movie Doomsday, as well as having roles on television shows like Boston Legal, Nip/Tuck, and various others. By the time I get done abstracting the heck out of her, she'll probably look more like Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining'!

I don't think I have enough photos to string up the time-lapse series just yet. Another 2 or 3 images should get it going nicely, and I'll present it at that time- tick, tick, tick...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

There is no right way

Up 'til now, I never knew how many decisions were needed to make art that was anything other than realism. Before, working in a realistic style, I had only one goal: make the art look like my reference photo. I found that very easy to do. Now I'm intending to go in a looser, more abstract, and much larger direction and it's making me uneasy. I have worked a couple of long days on this piece and I've realized that it's still turning out way too realistic when you stand back from it. I blocked out the values and painted them in with jagged edges and murky colors. When I photographed the progress, it looks 'very nice' on the camera replay. NOOOOO... that wasn't what I wanted it to be. I was imagining something so vague that you wouldn't really notice a likeness to anyone. Granted, I still have many things planned to 'muck up' this piece, but I seriously have to remember with the next painting, that I don't need to start out so neatly! By the time I start slathering messes of paint all over the place, it will change drastically and the first layer's neatness won't matter.
So here it is so far, in all it's likeness of a paint-by-number work of art:

I should've taped a dollar bill to it so it's size/scale would be more obvious. It's 38 inches tall and totals about 70 inches in width. I have an open palm planned for the left side of the piece, sort of a 'talk to the hand' gesture.

Here's my frustration. It's way too commercial/graphic art looking, and I expected to work less tidy and more painterly. So I have a long list of possibilities to employ that should 'mess up' the image. I might smooth over the hard edges of each value block with some horizontal pinstripes that will 'stitch' the areas together. Those stripes will be varying colors, many that aren't naturally on a face. But the values will average themselves together and still end up making sense on the image (when you stand back and squint!) Also, I plan to create patterns and textures here and there in the areas of more solid color, especially in the dark area off to the right. Also, I think some glaze layers are necessary to add some mottling. I won't even mention the spray paint idea I'm deliberating over. Ha!

So I have made some tape marks on the floor where the tripod will stand, and after each painting session, I will set up the camera and take another shot. Eventually I'll string them all together in an animated gif that will show the time-lapse progression of the painting. This is going to be way more interesting to you than having me babble on about what I did. But at the same time, it's pretty scary for me because I'm in unfamiliar territory without a map, and I don't want anyone to know I may be lost! And SEE?, that's what I need to fight. That phrase right there is saying that I assume there's a right and wrong way to do this and I may or may not be working correctly. I really have to break out of my current tight-working style. My friend Kim told me this story one time (I assume it's true, but I didn't learn it myself in art history class) about Andrew Wyeth. Now, I appreciate his work and have always admired his sensitive, realistic portaits and images. Well, the story goes that one day Andrew was having a particularly frustrating time working and he flung his materials (paint, or brush, or whatever) at the canvas and walked out. The next day when he returned to the piece, instead of lamenting the damage or feeling that he had ruined it, he felt like it was the best thing he'd ever done. I don't know if he managed to incorporate the 'mess' into the realistic image, or covered it up, or exactly what the outcome was. The point is, the action of loosening up that much to fling something at the canvas in some kind of a climactic release didn't ruin the painting or end the world! It worked into the scheme of things and was greatly freeing to the artist. Now, I've never yet been able to do anything close to that. I'm still hovering a few inches over the work, holding my breath, going over and over the areas to solidly build up paint and work out all the brush strokes. Yikes! Get over it!

With all this admission of uncertainty, I must clarify that I can picture working through all these dilemmas with this first large painting and should be able to bypass much of my current hesitation in subsequent works. But the act of capturing all this with the camera as I go along is unnerving, to say the least. Still, I want to do it. A few years ago, a friend of mine was starting to paint and she said she felt like she was showing her bare butt to everyone. I thought that was an extreme way of putting it, but she was so hesitant to show her work at the time and felt very vulnerable when the pieces were done and needed to be exhibited. I really couldn't relate to those feelings then, but I can now. Since I am documenting all the steps along the way, it's not even like the instant exposure of a flasher... BAM! Nope, it's like everyone is warned of what's coming, they are watching and waiting, they see me undo the snap and reach for the zipper... okay, enough! I'll just keep telling myself there is no right or wrong way to do this. The decisions I make along the way are a result of a pretty good base knowledge of art fundamentals and of the materials I'm working with. Therefore, though I could go in any number of directions with each brush stroke, the ones I choose are the ones I choose... that's it. No right or wrong.

There's a neat paragraph in one of my favorite art books 'Art & Fear' by David Bayles & Ted Orland. It goes like this: '...the first few brushstrokes to the blank canvas satisfy the requirements of many possible paintings, while the last few fit only that painting- they could go nowhere else. The development of an imagined piece into an actual piece is a progression of decreasing possibilities, as each step in execution reduces future options by converting one- and only one- possibility into a reality. Finally, at some point or another, the piece could not be other than it is, and it is done.' (and I noticed that there is no mention whatsoever about any brushstroke being right or wrong, or anyone's embarassing nakedness showing. Whew!)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Allow Me To Introduce Myself...

I know, it's been a very long time since I muttered so much as a word here. I'm so sorry about that, but it's not as if I'm laying around being lazy. In case you've forgotten me, let me refresh your memory. I'm the one that frequently tries to go in several directions at once and has numerous project running simultaneously. I seem to bounce around from one medium to the next, depending on my mood, or an outside deadline, or... well, the weather even!

Since I last posted any news of my projects, I have worked sporadically on about a dozen things, none of which are finished, but a few are getting close. And I also had out-of-state company, and went on a 6-day driving trip with my step-daughter, been working in the garden, had a root canal and post installed in a lower molar (3 dental visits so far) which gets a crown later this month. So I have plenty of excuses as to why I've let my blog go unattended... but enough!... let's get on with it!

To re-cap, I have a garden gate and entrance in the works (still not finished), a guest bedroom redecoration nearing completion, it's adjoining bathroom just getting started, a dining room almost finished in the style of Captain Nemo's Nautilus submarine, some wooden panels under construction to paint on (actual paintings, mind you!), and I'm drawing up plans to create some built-in cabinetry around the living room. Meanwhile, I have tried to find time to knit on a couple different scarves while I'm sitting in waiting rooms or taking a break from more physical work.

So let me just insert a couple photos to back up my story! First, the guest bedroom. Remember the ugly wallpaper I complained about in the kitchen a few months ago? Well, there's more where that came from. The guest room had an unsightly floral wallpaper that HAD to go! It all got covered in a nice, calm grey color. The baby blue desk and shelving unit was also painted to match the walls.

That desk had been my husband's when he was a child.... but aesthetics finally won out over nostalgia... and now it's GREY! It was such a joy to un-box all my books and art materials and get them back within reach. My pencils have never been so organized!

The room was barely dry in time to host our guests from Omaha over Memorial Day Weekend. Hopefully they didn't mind that the room also has to double as my art studio and office space.

My most motivated project lately has been the creation of 5 sets of wooden panels. I am attempting to attach smaller panels together in each set to create a larger piece. Most of them are made up of three pieces and have had to be clamped and glued on a very flat surface so they don't end up warped and mis-shapen.

My father-in-law set up a nice work space for me under the awning of his house. Since I have no sufficient space to work at my house, this has been a real big help. I have set a goal to have all five of these panel sets painted on by the end of summer. I'll be attempting to head off in a new direction for me, artistically. I have always worked in a very realistic style, but at the moment, I feel compelled to loosen up and get a little weird. My subject matter will be faces and they will probably be rendered in colors that don't make sense- with stripes, patterns, and textures that 'don't belong' on a face. I'm not going for anything resembling portraiture here. I want the faces to be fairly abstract so that they only suggest an expression or emotion. Well, I don't want to talk too much about the particulars until I get going. For a change, I will be able to make decisions all along the way about the work. In the past, once I had started, bringing each area to completion before moving on, the decisions were already made. I had to make each subsequent area match the first part. There was no playing around, no experimentation. Now I will have a lot more freedom, and I'm not sure whether to be relieved or worried. I'll let ya know.

In the meantime, I have these groups of panels to join together and then coat with primer.

I plan to capture the daily progress with the camera and I should be able to get back to at least a weekly blogging entry. See you real soon!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What was I thinking?

I'm on day three of the garden gate construction. It has been much harder than I thought it would be. I spent the first two half-days working on sawing out the main corner notches. After completing just the first notch, I was questioning that there must be an easier way! But then by the third or fourth piece, it was going much easier and my cutting improved. Here is a picture of two very different corners, which shows how much better I became at sawing.

I could only do a couple corners at a time and then I'd have to rest my arm. So the concept of this corner is to flip one of these boards over and lock the two notches together at a right angle to make a tight fitting join. That's the term I fumbled around with and didn't know the name of before. Still don't. Anyway, 16 cuts like this one (each one took about 10-15 passes with a triple bladed saw) and I had the basic gate perimeter rectangles done.

Then I started laying in the middle supports. I was originally going to cut them to fit in between the 2x4's and jam them in, holding them with screws from the outside. But I was doing such a thorough job with this other 'new' method I had just learned, so I opted for continuing to work in the same laborious way. And the more pieces I added to the middle, expecting to cut corners at some point and switch to the easier way of attaching them, I continued notching my way along.

It sprinkled rain on and off, interrupting my work sporadically. Then after I finished one whole gate, it cut loose with a heftier rain so I had to scramble to get my stuff inside. These are big! I will need Hubbs' help with positioning them in place to attach the hinges. But that's another day.

To add a little asymetric interest, I staggered a couple of the vertical boards. I will do the opposite stagger on the second gate to mirror this one. I didn't want too many irregularities in the basic orderly design, but I did consider all kinds of options, drawing them out on paper first. In the end, I only went for this subtle 'misalignment'. Just like with the entry borders I constructed the other day, I don't feel like the scale of this gate is apparent. When I stand next to it, I am a foot shorter!

I worked steadily all day and I have a feeling I'll be very sore tomorrow. I was working on the deck, squatting down for most of the work. But thankfully, my back has been feeling very good lately, so I think my chiropractor's last adjustment was a good one! Tomorrow I intend to finish the second gate and stain and install them on the weekend. I hope my next post finishes off with the entire thing completed! Cheers!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


That's the sound of all those days flying by without making any progress on my projects. I haven't done anything constructive in over two weeks! Wow, that's just not normal.

I have purchased most of the rest of the lumber and materials for the garden entrance and gates. Since I'm not exactly the smartest construction worker there is, I had to ask a lot of questions of my father-in-law. I'm very picky and can come up with lofty, complicated ideas at times, but in the end, I need expert advice on how to actually achieve what I want. My F-I-L offered me the use of a much higher powered saw for some of the process. I have a rather nice saw that can do a combination miter, but my hand saw wasn't up to par. So now I get to use this very heavy-duty hand saw (skill saw, circular saw? I'm a girl- I don't know what it's called!) and we were able to stack 3 blades on this saw at one time. That will allow me to make much wider cuts where I will remove half of the thickness of wood from two separate pieces that get butted together at the corners. I don't know what that's called, but let's say it's like a dovetail join only with just one notch on each piece. Seems like extra work, but you know me... complications are welcome in my projects, and I have a feeling it will look more professional this way.

It's not fair of me to blab about something I haven't done yet, nor will I actually be able to make any progress on it until tomorrow. When I last left off, I just barely got the surrounding border started on the garden entrance. I'll work on the gates next, and finish off with the more Japanese touches across the top. I have been discussing this project with a gardening expert friend and she has given me some suggestions of ways to take the garden in a more Japanese-feeling direction. Imagine a section of tea plants, or a water feature or fountain, and I've already been planning the seating area outside the garden next to the chicken pen and future pagoda (storage shed). If any of you have inspirations on this topic, please share them in the comments. I would love suggestions.

So enough with the words, eh? How about a nice picture from this real Japanese Garden I visited? I believe this was in Fort Worth, but it might have been Seattle. I don't remember which. I would love to have a piece of statuary like this to put somewhere in our garden. I shot this picture using high-speed infrared black and white film. I processed and printed it a few years ago when I had access to a dark room. I actually still co-own a complete darkroom with a good friend who lives in Tulsa. It's set up in one of the rooms in his house. Conveniently, I used to live right across the street from him and we spent a lot of time producing beautiful images... well, that was before I moved to Texas. I don't foresee doing work like this anytime soon, but it really is a nice effect, isn't it? This special film 'sees' things that our naked eye can't. For instance, the foliage in this scene was probably a nice rich green color. In regular black and white film, that would read as a medium or darker grey color. But with infrared film, it appears very light, due to a lot of infrared rays being emitted from the leaves. This highly sensitive film does unexpected things at times, but it's results are usually magical and surreal. In this photo, I have hand-colored the leaves a pale, pale green. The ground and stone structure are a tan color due to the light sepia toning I used on the fiber-based print.

Since I won't really have any garden progress to report until tomorrow, I think it's only fair that I share an awesome recipe I made tonight for a family barbecue. I give most of the credit of its success to the awesome Deb Perelman whose blog shares the absolute best recipes at Check it out! She won't steer you wrong! So these beans... they are hot and spicy and bacon-y, and very good. I started with Deb's recipe, using all of the same ingredients, but added a little more of this one and a little less of that one, and arrived at what I was happy with. This recipe makes a lot, so if you're getting together with a group, it would be perfect. For me, it made two casserole pans full. It's so good, I never want to eat canned baked beans again. (Well, let me explain something... these were canned beans, but they were plain, unseasoned beans, not the sweet saucy 'baked beans' to start with. But using canned beans bypassed all the soaking and longer cooking time of dried beans. If you have the time and inclination, you could certainly go that route.)

Hot, Spicy, Smokey Baked Beans
(adapted from smitten kitchen, who, in turn, adapted it from Bon Appetit, July 1999)

6 slices bacon (I used turkey bacon and added oil to make 'drippings')
2 cup chopped onion
3/4 cups purchased barbecue sauce
1 cup dark beer
1/4 cup molasses (I used organic, unsulphured)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 chipotle peppers, minced (from a can, packed in adobo sauce)
or roughly 2-3 tablespoons. Feel free to add more, you numb-tongues out there!
6 (15-16 oz.) cans Great Northern beans, drained

Fry bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Transfer 2 1/2 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet to large bowl. Finely chop the bacon and add to bowl. Add onion and next 7 ingredients, whisking to blend. Add the chipotle chilies and beans and mix well. Transfer mixture to your casserole dish(es) and bake uncovered for about an hour. Cool 10 minutes before serving. This recipe also called for chopped fresh parsley, but neither Deb or I used it and didn't miss it. You could certainly sprinkle a nice amount on top after it's done, or maybe cilantro. Adding epazote will take care of gas issues (see title of this post!) Have at it, make it your own!

As the weather is going to cooperate tomorrow, I expect to work hard and will show you some garden gate progress in a couple of days. But for now, why don't you make up a mess of these beans and enjoy!

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I'm creeping along with my garden entrance and feel very proud of the work so far. Being 'just a girl', I feel like I'm doing a lot of heavy lifting and 'guy-sized tasks' with these 2x8 treated beams, 6x6 treated posts, etc. The treated lumber is a lot heavier than regular wood, and even these bolts required a heavy duty drill to get large enough holes bored all the way through five inches of depth. I worked very slowly, measured many times, checking that each piece was level and plumb. So this is where I left off, using up all the materials I purchased so far. I guess that's as good of a place to stop as any.

I haven't actually sunk the last decorative stair-stepped post on the right side. I've only mocked this up with a stump and a scrap piece of wood, but it shows the effect I'm going for. The right side gets two sections of support elements, the left only one. The path leading up to the garden will curve slightly to the left coming toward you in the foreground, and also forks off to the right, just at the lower right corner of this picture, and heads over to the amazing chicken run. That's a story for another blog.

When I see the structure in this picture, it doesn't look as impressive as it does in real life. So that you understand the scale of it, imagine standing directly underneath the cross beam and reaching up. If you're 5'8" like me, you will just barely be able to touch it with your fingertips. See? It doesn't look nearly that high in the picture, does it? It required me climbing a ladder and moving back and forth from one side to the other, trying to prop up the beam, clamping, then measuring and checking the level, then the other side, back and forth. Working by myself made it interesting, to say the least. Getting the beam up there to begin with was comical!

Now I have some great news. I just got my new Nikon digital SLR camera today, so in future posts, I should be able to provide MUCH more impressive photography.

I'll keep this short, but in closing, I'll leave you with a humorous little Photoshopped image I created for a women's photo exhibit a few years ago. This is nothing new, but just something I came across in my files. The theme was 'Misbehaving' and this was my entry, entitled 'Moi?'

Au revoir!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not in MY Backyard

Nothing much is happening in my backyard today, nor the front yard or at the sides. There is a thickly overcast sky ‘round these parts, and I doubt I’ll get any garden/entrance construction done today. I’d hate to get all my tools and saws out and have it cut loose and downpour on me. However yesterday, we were able to install the two 6x6 posts in the ground

Again, thanks to Hubbs, father-in-law, and the Bobcat, it was a relatively painless task. This is the first step that will tie into the existing fence posts bordering the garden entrance for reinforcement. It’s called a knee support. That should stabilize my somewhat heavy entryway. I've chosen an asymmetric plan so the posts aren't level with each other. The slanting ground played into my decision, and as an after thought, I now plan to add another stair-stepped second post to the right side that is less for support, but more about aesthetics. So thanks guys, for your help! Now the rest is up to me.

But for now, I might as well take advantage of the weather and shift over to an indoor sport. I'd love to crawl in bed with a knitting project, but there are more pressing projects at the moment. I’m finishing up a few small 5x 5 inch drawings. I drew this pair of pears about a year ago and quickly started a couple more just like it.

This is made with a watercolor base wash, then shaded with Prismacolor pencils and topped off with graphite pencil shading on the pears. The background is mostly acrylic paint. After completing the first version of these pears, I dabbled at Version #2 and #3, here and there, now and then, throughout the next few months, but I kept letting a lot of other projects interrupt. Now, with focused attention, they are basically done, short of mounting them for display, and I’ve gotten underway on another series of 5x5’s. This time, I’m working in graphite pencils alone, rendering a simple metal picture hook, nailed in the wall. I haven’t decided on the background or whether it will get a ‘color’. I decided to do those in multiples as well, since I’ll donate one to a gallery fundraiser (see below), and a couple others are committed to other people. I’d certainly like to keep one for myself too.

This 5x5 gallery event happens every May and I have donated a piece for many years. For more information, click here:

Here are a couple of my past years’ donations.

So I’m going to settle in to my chair with a cup of hot peppermint tea, and draw the rest of the day away. I'll hopefully show you some finely-drawn picture hooks very soon.


Monday, March 22, 2010

A Lull in the Action

There is not always going to be discernable changes on any given project from day to day, and if I were you, I might assume all progress had halted, or we’d hear bragging about it and see photos, right? I hear tell of projects that can be finished in a day or two, or even a few hours, but those are rarely ever my projects. So just because there is no mention of the last project you thought I was working on, I may have been making such slow progress (undoubtedly due to an absurd level of complication I chose to pursue), that I see no reason in bringing you up to speed. I could place two photos side by side, showing off the work before and after some subtle bit of completion was attained, and challenge you to see if you can spot how these two photos are different… but I won’t. Of course, there’s the flip side. I may have indeed halted a particular project, my A.D.D. getting the best of me, and moved on to something more exciting.

Case in point: I have tabled the hat rack cushions for now, deciding that central Texas garden season is well underway and our pitiful garden entrance is screaming for attention. I have set foot inside the garden a few times, I really have, but not enough to have brought it up to the state it should be this far into the year. One barrier for me right now is the awful menagerie of plastic mesh fencing, and stakes, and bungee cords that obstruct the opening. It’s there for a reason. Our 20-some cats love to ‘help’ in the garden, realizing that freshly tilled garden dirt is far superior to litter box granules! But cat urine is a very bad ingredient in a soil recipe, so we do what we can to discourage them. It doesn’t always work, but our ugly gate/fence/entrance here has cut back somewhat on them getting in. (Hotwire is effective too!) All through the winter, as short as it was for our region, I didn’t need to access the garden as much, so we rigged up this bit of ugliness across the opening. The photo (another embarrassing tattoo?) shows what I’m talking about.

Keep in mind, it was taken during the off-season when nothing but weeds were growing, and I had given up caring, for the most part. But, still... yikes!

So this garden entrance will be my next project, only requiring minimal help from Hubbs with strong arms and my father-in-law with a Bobcat. Mostly, I think I can manage it myself. You’d think I would’ve gotten this entrance done last year at the very start of my Texas gardening experience, but it just got TOO HOT too soon, and I couldn’t bear to spend one more second outside than necessary. It’s hard to imaging how this area looked when it was just a field with cows and horses grazing in it.

So here’s a stroll down memory lane from one year ago. The first step was to disc the ground.

Once again, it was my father-in-law to the rescue. In fact, he helped in so many ways that his name could appear in almost every sentence describing the first couple of months of garden beginnings. So F-I-L did the disc work around the whole corner of this field. We incorporated a light fertilizer and he churned up the soil a couple more times. The soil analysis turned up some surprising good numbers, so we didn't need that many amendments right off the bat.

Then F-I-L erected real fencing around the perimeter of the 50 x 115 foot garden. I helped him for two days straight and it was the most rigorously physical work I had experienced in a long time! I didn’t even do the hardest parts of the work, just assisted as best I could. Thanks to the Bobcat auger, drilling the post holes wasn’t too much of a chore, but everything after that was hard work. We took advantage of an existing fence for one long side of the garden and only needed to add the other three sides to enclose it. We set 26 more fence posts, bracing the ends and corners, and attached some serious 5-foot-high horse fencing. A deer could still bolt over it effortlessly, but maybe not with more of that hotwire extending outward and upwards.

I proceeded to set some reddish concrete pavers vertically to create raised beds. This one was for the future 6’x10’strawberry patch (now plush with healthy plants, flowers and the beginnings of a bountiful harvest!), and was followed by 2 more beds of the same size which became permanent herb beds.

And finally, this last photo shows the meager beginnings of the garden. We had a freakishly late freeze last April which killed the tomatoes and stunted the potatoes (in the foreground) and surprised everyone three whole weeks after the last freeze should have happened.

It’s funny to see such a barren space, and I hardly remember it looking this way, as it soon filled up with cornfields, squash, okra, more tomatoes, more covered hoop rows, beans, peas, Armenian cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe... and the list goes on. I learned a whole lot about organic gardening, and while I felt like a failure at times, I discovered a lot of what NOT to do, and what NO one, even expert master gardeners, can do in temperatures constantly over a hundred degrees.

So that catches me up to date and it seems fitting that this year’s improvements start with a proper entryway. I can’t tolerate straddling and tripping over that mess of a blockade to enter the garden anymore! So you’ve seen the ‘before’ shot. I estimate the ‘after’ shot will be unveiled in a couple weeks (or months), but I'll keep you updated all along.

Hubbs and I love Asian architecture and are patterning this project after Japanese Shinto gates. See this example:

I'm shooting for something similar to my crude drawing here, which could take some twists and turns as it develops. Don’t be too surprised if I add my own ‘flair’ to the design. I'm not striving for anything strictly authentic. But I will head roughly in this direction:

I’ll leave you with one more detail from the Nemo Room, since I haven’t worked on anything Nautilus related in awhile.
I will report in much detail when I get back to working in there, but I thought you might like to see the floor design I painted. There was a nasty crack in the floor that fought wood fillers, and putties, and even defied the Bondo epoxy mixture made especially for wood. So we gave up and decided to camouflage the line by making enough visual texture and detail so the eye just wouldn’t see the crack. Most of the floor is fleck-speckled with little bits of red/black/tan and coated with a super strong shell of a garage floor topcoat, but the main traffic path is now this faux metal grate walkway. It also has several layers of a clear sealant topcoat. (Pardon the plastic sheeting- as cat proofing the fresh work was important.) I felt like I was working rather sloppily with this, but the effect is still decent, and the bolts look somewhat realistic.

Stay tuned for more garden news...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hubbs has a hat fetish

Hubbs has a hat fetish. My favorite is his top hat. This fondness of hats has rubbed off on me… and now together we have way too many hats and need a fun way to present them. About the only place I can see putting them on display is on the wall by the back door. I’m envisioning a series of ‘hooks’ made out of pipes that fit with the crude industrial/urban direction I want to see the kitchen move toward. I’m planning to install several ‘knobs’ (9, to be exact) protruding from the wall, made out of plumbing pipe sections, angles, and flanges. I’m debating making some sort of cushioned pad or covering that the hat can sit on. I plan to hang two hats on each hook, and even then I’ll have to stash some hats away in the closet.

Oh, before I take you on a hat rack ride, I thought I’d throw in more details of the Nemo Room to keep you interested in that project. The picture to the left shows the corner detail, made of 4” pvc pipe elbows, ¼” mdf borders, and several wooden carpenter’s buttons, acting as rivets. I started by attaching all the pipes and borders to the wall and painting them the same dark purple-brown color as the wall. I used the Sherwin Williams’ color called ‘Browse Brown’. The rivets were spray-painted gold as a primer coat. After they were glued in place, I painted a coat of Browse Brown over them, quickly rubbing a worn spot on the center of the raised dot. This gave it an aged, rusty patina, but suggesting there might be metal underneath that dark color. Then I smeared some cheap brown craft paint (Americana ‘Bittersweet Chocolate’) around all the cracks, edges, and details to make it appear to have built up a layer of grime. I know, one doesn’t usually desire that dirty effect in your home… but this is different. The second picture shows our column, decked out in rivets that haven’t been grimed yet. See the difference? I feel it’s too flat and plain without the added shading, which I plan to do soon. You might think it’s cleaner before the extra treatment, but that's not the point here. This room came straight out of the 1860’s, and it’s surely going to look like it, if I have anything to say about it! In looking around the room, there are more untreated rivets than I was aware of. I’ve got several hours of work ahead of me, just dirtying up the rest of them.

Now, back to the hat rack. I can’t believe I’m showing you this, but the above picture is what the wall looked like before I put the brush to it. Yikes! This is like an embarrassing tattoo that I should keep covered, but now I’ve just dropped my drawers and exposed it! In it’s day, I’m sure it was fashionable to deck the kitchen out with pictures of apple pies and coffee pots. Since this used to be my husband’s grandmother’s home, it comes with these quaint little dated features. Thankfully, we are changing and covering these features one by one. Using a gallon of Home Depot ‘oops’ paint that I got for a steal (which was an interesting color that I might have chosen anyway), I was able to eliminate the ugly wallpaper pictures with two coats.

I have accumulated all the necessary materials and am ready to begin. Because our ceiling is angled, I like the idea of staggering the hooks rather than put them on straight horizontal lines. I will make 5 hooks in one area by the back door, and two more hooks over each of two doorways nearby, so they will all be in a reasonable proximity, feeling pretty much like a grouping. The installation of these pieces is proving to be very easy. I am working with ½” sized plumbing materials. Each knob is made up of two floor flanges, a 45 degree elbow, a wooden plaque/plate, and a 5” and 3” piece of threaded pipe sections. It is necessary to use anchor inserts to reinforce the wall where the base flange attaches.

Now, where I’ll complicate this project (because, you see, I must!) is in the ‘heads’ of each knob. I started off simply wanting to paint the wooden plaques so they wouldn’t look unfinished. I know myself pretty well though. If I painted them, I may be tempted to say 'That's close enough, they look sorta finished. They won't show anyway, with hats on them'. Then I wouldn't get around to the finishing touches that will really make them more unique and com-PLEEETE-ly completed. But now I have more incentive to stay on track. I have you watching! So I've left them raw, and here’s the plan. While these plaques look decent enough like they are, what I really want to do it cover each of them with a plush ‘cushion’, covered in fabric. The cushions may have to be made of several different sizes to accommodate the different hats. I’m assuming so, specifically because the top hat covers almost the entire fixture and none of the cool pipe shows. So that fixture will get a particularly tall cushion. The rest may be half that size.

After putting some thought into the cushion heads, I have decided to construct walls out of layers of poster board thickness. Just between you and me, it won’t really be poster board, but rather flexible boxes from frozen dinners and pizza boxes. (Reduce, reuse, recycle, repeat!) With enough layers of board glued around in circles, it becomes quite strong. It’s the same concept as fusing wood in the bentwood rocker concept. Enough layers will result in plenty of strength. Then the poster board ‘box’ gets a lid and a generous wrap of batting and then a tightly fitting layer of fabric. I’m sure the fabric covering will require a lot of hand-sewing. I wouldn’t expect anything less! I’m not sure how I’ll attach the cushion to the wood plaque yet, but I may decide to include a drawstring edge for easy attaching and removal. Hmmm, here’s what happens when I talk it through before starting. I raise the bar… look out! Now I feel the basic cushion should be covered with a tough ticking or denim that’s more permanently fixed… and then the nicer cover that will be seen should have the drawstring and can be removed for laundering. Yep, each cushion must be covered twice! Sounds reasonable! Remind me again… what was so wrong with the plain wooden plaques?

I think I’ll give it a rest for now and tackle these covers later. Uh oh, that's how started projects never get finished. Well we'll see about that... Ciao!