Thursday, March 29, 2012

This year, each morning, I walk out into the back yard and take inventory of the plants. Been a long time since that was a high priority, and I'm enjoying how my heart feels when I take the stroll from the double-blossomed red geranium beside the door, to the neon pink cyclamen blooming under the suddenly dark red leaved Japanese maple ...

I see some volunteers: a freesia getting ready to bloom where its parent planter used to be, some yellow nasturtiums already sending out long streamers, ready to conquer the world.

Then the troubling cucumber planter, where the seeds have not sprouted, and I don't know if I just planted them too early, or if the jays watched me, then dug them up and ate them.

The snow pea tub comes next, with more snow peas than you can shake a stick at, lush and green, the blossoms pure white. From there I wander to the tomato barrel, where "Bush Goliath" has set its first tiny tomato in spite of the chill nights.

I say hello to the first California poppies blooming nearby, nod smiling to the new pale green leaves of the grapevine and the temperamental avocado. The volunteer cosmos are growing by leaps and bounds, and look! -- there are potato leaves poking out of the soil in Potatoland! Behind them, flanking John's menacing artichoke, are two Roma tomato plants, looking smug in their little cages, begging for their booster of epsom salts.

Stopping to poach a spear of asparagus, I cast an eye on the space I hope to house a couple Big Daddy tomato plants in the not-too-distant future. The golden euonymus gets a warning as I pass: Stop harboring bindweed and rose-root bastards or we will dig you up and turn you into compost. (It's seven feet wide and has a trunk the size of my wrist, so it doesn't take me seriously.)

Loaded with buds and new blossoms, the Stella cherry grows sedately, sparklingly white blossoms in the morning sun. By the time this tree sets fruits, we'll have swathed it in bird netting so that the mockingbirds and the jays don't destroy the cherries. They take a bite out of each cherry, the greedy things, spoiling them for us before the cherries are even fully ripe.

I shake the hand of a branch of the fern pine we planted to provide summer shade for our bedroom window, salute the indefatigable alstromeria flowers that have colonized most of the bank, and avert my eyes from the obscene number of lemons hanging from the branches that stretch far over the birdbath from the back patio.

Our garden is beautiful, and I'm delighted to be enjoying it again.

Once inside, I visit my tomato seedlings in the windowsill.

Life is good.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I spotted the red freesias in bud just as it was getting too dark to take pictures without a flash. The result does nothing to convey the other-worldliness of the buds. The real colors were ocher instead of yellow, and deep, dark magenta instead of reddish. I'll try again in the morning, if it doesn't rain like they're saying it will.

Of course, they -- the Weather Channel -- says it is currently raining outside, but it isn't, so probably they will be wrong tomorrow as well.

April is a bunch of buds ready to bloom. I am astounded at the landslide of replies and submissions the Piker Press has received in response to my letters asking a number of previous contributors to offer something in the Press for our Tenth Anniversary Month. The five April Anniversary Issues will be fat and fine.

And what does this mean for me, personally? Why, it means that I am going to be working harder than I have for ten years (which was about the time I retired from the paying job). April is going to be nutso for me. I hope it rains a lot so that I have an excuse for not fiddling around out of doors. Not only will I have 3 - 4 times the material to edit and format, but also will have a major artistic expenditure, as I would like each of the Anniv Ish stories to have its own illustration. Alex has already turned in two, and I have a stack of manuscripts available should she desire more prompts for her art.

I'm going to start formatting stuff tomorrow, after we get back from Lowe's, where Bernie promises to get me a functional shoplight. My halogen ones, though I love their spectrum and their heat, are totally unreliable and burn through bulbs in a matter of hours.

The work is going to be stimulating, I know; and after reading and editing so much of other people's work, I'm going to have a thrilling May, getting back to my own.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The original plan was to spend part of Sunday afternoon doing the cover illustration for the Piker Press, but once I got out to the studio, I was too content with the idea of not working on a Sunday, and so opted to play with my watercolors again.

The online watercolor class had a bit in it about using wax paper to produce texture. It didn't do much for my cheapie kids' washes in blue and green, so I crumpled the wax paper, dripped some purple, blue and green onto it, and applied it to the paper, which was Bienfang cold press 140 lb, not that I know what that means. It looks much more interesting close up, so feel free to click on the image and examine it more closely.

While I was waiting for the two sloppy pieces of quasi-art to dry, I indulged my nastiest current habit: reading NFL articles and their attendant message boards. Today's treat was a story announcing that the Broncos had signed Caleb Hanie as Peyton Manning's backup. 28 pages of comments ranged from applauding Hanie's skills and the wisdom of Broncos' management to bitter predictions of a Broncos losing season after Manning gets wrecked again and Hanie can't figure out whether to throw with his hands or with his feet. From "Elway was a moron to get rid of Tim Tebow!" to "Tim Tebow was a hack who has no place in the NFL!" the commentary ran on and on like a vicious-tearful-accusatory-flirtatious soap opera, and as I was all alone in the studio, I was free to read it all without having any other member of the family cast a disgusted eye upon me.

Well, except Howie, but he didn't know what I was reading, he was just disgusted because I wasn't taking him for a walk.

Using tube paints (equally cheap, I might add) I put some swaths of color on a piece of dry Strathmore cold press 140 lb paper, and did the wax paper experiment again. Much more interesting result.

I can see images in the latter piece that make me want to try to draw a picture out of the mess. Is that valid art, or is that just a senior citizen kid in an unformed art exercise?

Yet why should I worry if it is? Haven't I been yapping for years about always feeling compelled to have my art be marketable or representational or "proper?"

How many years do I have left? Wow, probably not as many as I have toes and fingers. I think I have to take the opportunity to play with art a little before I run out of time, and stop listening to my mother's voice in the back of my head, the voice that abhors abstract or unpretty art.

Watercolors rock!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bernie tells me that my laptop's days are numbered.

I don't want to believe that, because I've really liked this machine, and the keyboard feels so very familiar, and it has all my favorite programs on it to my satisfaction. However, it has begun running with a hot spot in the upper left corner, the power cord connection is wobbly, the DVD reader doesn't read any more, and there is the new problem with the screen going dead for no particular reason.

"It's not that old!" I sputtered at my husband, who then pointed out that this machine gets powered up in the morning even before I totter from bed to bathroom, and though I let it rest periodically during the day, it's also only turned off in the late evening when I've decided I can't keep my eyes open any longer. Is it possible that I've used my machine up?

We started with a noisy e-Machine, on which I wrote my first emails and my first novel; then I had my sweet little Micron that Tedi and JT sent me so that I could have my very own computer. After that came the first laptop, and then a desktop that could handle all the graphics I was doing in Photoshop; and then this laptop, and the absolute lemon desktop that can barely count its own toes and which I despise so much it will probably never work correctly.

So many ghosts of computers past, and present, and what will fill the future? I looked at laptops in Best Buy today, and hated every single one of them.

Nevertheless, I am reluctant to entrust any more writing to this laptop ...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Achoo, Said the Computer

There's a lot of pollen in the air, in spite of the blessed rain we've received this week. My neighbor's filthy, multiply-diseased ornamental pear (fireblight and mistletoe) reached its smelly (as in rotten meat smell) pinnacle of blossom just as the rains came in. God alone should be praised for that mercy.

Against my better judgment, I finally uploaded "updates" to my computers. The result? Can it be Better Performance? Can it be Greater Security? Oh noes, it turns out that now my laptop turns into a cyber-graveyard at random intervals, freezing up and shutting down non-normally.

We've tried "restoring" to a pre-updates day, but the problem persists. How I wish that I could reach the fool that wrote the program that has virtually destroyed my laptop. I'd probably go to jail, so perhaps it's a wish better not granted. This is not something I need, because I have no income, but I can't see any way around taking this laptop in to a shop and hoping they can fix the poor bugger.

Maybe it will work again after the heavy pollen season is over. That's just as possible as me suddenly finding the $$ in our checking account for a new laptop. At least I was able to save my documents -- all my novels -- to a thumb drive.

Damn Microsoft to CyberHell.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Today's Mess

Over the weekend, John's computer got hacked by some asshole in Germany, the passwords to every damned thing in the house with the exception of the toaster had to be changed, the router stopped talking to all the computers, and then my printer stopped talking to my computer.

All of that made my work with the Piker Press get backed up so bad I had a full day's work today. Which isn't bad, but I really wanted to play with this watercolor thing again. I just had to wait until after seven pm to begin.

I added the blue wash to the branches pic on the right; I played with some more washes and paint daubs on most of the other stuff; and tried a bit of representational art with the bell, just to see if I could do more than washes.

Bernie and Alex liked the bell.

Close-ups of the rest are on my Flickr account.

It was fun, and I think I may even have learned something today. Indeed, at one point I got so enthused I knocked that brown drawing board right off the work table, dented one corner, and slopped paint all over lots of things. Tomorrow I want to do the trunks of the trees in the blue wash pic.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse Laundry and Wash Day, with Treasure

Today's play with watercolor wash didn't happen until around 6:30 pm, as it was really chilly this morning, and then I was too busy for the prime hours after noon.

I can see this watercolor becoming a pic of a zombie attack on fleeing living people, a fog rising, strange buildings in the distance. Damn zombies.

I'll bet zombies are the ones who left a carload of recyclables that had to be taken to the city's recycle center. Just how long have those damn zombies been stockpiling bags of junk plastic on the side of the house, anyway?

Wait, I think that watercolor is a zombie attack on fish that can walk upright.

After the recycle run, I made a chuck roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn. Then there was the avalanche of laundry that mysteriously appeared in the laundry room. How many loads? Six?

The submissions for the Anniversary Month of the Piker Press are requiring time and effort, reading the many stories and replying to the authors. This is a good thing, but it's keeping me busy.

Studio time -- I had this idea for a painting (in watercolor!!!) but needed rubber cement for it, found that I had none, and when I surreptitiously checked out Alex and Lil's stock, found that they had none, either. So we headed off to Walgreens a couple blocks away, and on the way, saw a sign that said "FREE" beside a heap of frames and embroidery supplies.


We pulled over and loaded all of it into the hatch.

Maybe if I turn the watercolor upright again, it will look to me like a bunch of white mice looking upward as the Rat Gods descend.

We got the rubber cement, I used it in the artsy application I wanted, I played with a blue wash, and then worked on Press stuff until 9:30.

And all the while in the background, I was fuming because our local theater is running John Carter in 3D at all the early shows. Tomorrow, when it opens, the high is supposed to be 78 degrees, and that means I want a nosh and wine afternoon in the sun. Seeing the movie will have to wait until Sunday, when the temps are going to be much cooler.

Busy? Yeah. Life good? Ohhh, yeah.

Except for the 3D.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

More Watercolor Play

This was today's effort, practicing washes.

It went a little better today; I decided to tape four blank note-cards to the board and fiddle with washes on them. If nothing else, the paint puts a little color on cards I can use as "thank yous."

The top left seems agreeable, though not successful as a flat wash. The top right is a little better.

The bottom right was a reasonable graduated wash, though faint of pigment.

Bottom left is a variegation that I like.

The one in the middle on the bottom ... I'll get to that.

Since I was using a different weight and tooth of paper, I started with a dry sheet. The pigment and water pooled on it, and it was streaky instead of flat, so I dabbed at the lemon yellow and cobalt blue mix with a paper towel, and got a bit of texture that I liked.

Let me explain that I have not worked with watercolors in a long time, and while I'm enjoying ... a bit ... the learning experience, I don't foresee a future in watercolors for me. So for this online class, I bought the cheapest paints and brushes that I could find. And the paper I had on hand is barely better than junk. Actually the notecards are junky paper: there is no reason for them to perform well.

Annoyed with the results for the second day running, I decided to switch off the cheap brushes, and turn to a Chinese brush that I had been required to buy for a worthless (well, almost) watercolor class I took at Penn State as an elective.

The prof's name eludes me, if I ever took note of it. He spent one session talking about washes, and one about matting, and the rest he wasted nattering about his own paintings, which were the very worst kind of abstract shit that somehow gets sold for $$$ because the artist is a Professor. I remember not his name, but mostly his habit of flaring his nostrils and sneering at those less talented than himself.

The supplies we had to buy included two quite expensive Chinese brushes. (Expensive for us, in those days of limited income. Not so very, but still more than you'd want to pay for a brush nowadays.) The larger of the brushes, a three-inch natural soft bristle, I've used a lot over the years, for sweeping away eraser shavings on pen and ink and pencil drawings.

The small, as the limerick says, "Was of no use at all," until today.

The Chinese watercolor brush from 1975 was still healthy, and I wet it, and charged it with pigment.


Suddenly the graduated wash was successful, even with the cheap paper. And the variegated one looked cool.

How I hate it when a sneering, self-aggrandizing prof from 35+ years in the past is right.

Finally, I pulled out a sample of watercolor paper that John had given me months ago; made in India, thick and soft.

Dry surface. I whipped up a purplish wash of EXTREMELY cheap kid's paints, and applied it to the paper with the Chinese brush. Flat wash, totally successful.

I'll let the pieces dry, and then put them under a stack of card stock to be ironed flat.

Day Two of Watercolor, OK dat.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Cheryl, You Fink

There's my late afternoon work space.
Cheryl talked me into signing up for an online watercolor class, which I thought started today, but actually started on the 1st. Oh well.

I did this because Cheryl is such a "Yes!" kind of person, and I admire that about her. I'm more of a "Uhhh, I'll get back to you about that" kind of hermit. In addition, for the past 35 years, I've been a "God, I hate watercolors" kind of artist. So you see, Cheryl, how fond I am of you.

And Cheryl, I'll pay you back for this, one way or another.

The first session was about washes, thin application of paint to form a background color: flat, graduated, and variegated.

I was not pleased with the results. My paper was too heavy, and didn't soak in the pigment worth a damn. (Top left.) On the second try, I soaked the paper with water, and got a slightly better result.
Ditto with the graduated wash. Wet paper.

The one on the bottom right was a much lighter paper from a different company, and it worked pretty well even dry. I kind of like the variegation. I might even use this technique someday.

The four blocs were as much as I could handle. I was awake from 4am with sinus problems, and though I went back to bed for an hour around 8, once I was up again I worked on the Press, then immediately went out to the ranch to groom and ride the shedding Dink, then ran a sprinkler over five different sections of the front yard and garden while I watched the online class video and set up my workspace.

Tomorrow is supposed to be horrible weather, with occasional showers and high winds -- perfect for hanging out in the studio, so maybe I'll get more artwork done.

One thing is good from today's watercolor session: there are art supplies and implements covering the workspace ... and that's what a studio should look like.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Decade of Filthy Pikers

Last Fall, I had this idea of contacting authors who had previously published their stuff with the Piker Press.

Seriously, LAST FALL. Here it is, less than a month before Spring, and I just today was able to climb over the monsters and nightmares and phobias and panics and JUST DO IT, DAMMIT.

All I had to do was construct a nice form letter that could be personalized, pull out the files of contracts, and go through them, one by one, get the email addresses, and plug in the emails and the stories' titles, and hit "Send."

I've become such a hermit that to do so was paralyzing... but today I did it. And oddly enough, it didn't hurt as badly as I thought it would. I was weary by the end of the day, but not freaked out and shattered. The first step wasn't even such a doozy that I fell down. The next steps were more like an escalator, and seeing the list of names get marked off with my highlighter sent endorphins all through my brain.


The Piker Press is coming up on being a decade old. When the Press was conceived, Lillian was still a month or so from being born, and she's going to be ten in May. I'd love for former contributors to submit something for April issues, and instead of one Anniversary Issue, have an Anniversary Month. We'll see how that pans out.

You Filthy Pikers who didn't get an email yet, expect one. I won't do form letters with them who should be submitting regularly, because I love you, and know you will do what you can.

That wall candle sconce? It amplifies the light of the candle in olden times.

The Piker Press does that, too. Not just on your own computer screen do your words appear, but on screens all over the world.

Light it up, write it up -- we're not famous, as how many people go to the web for literature -- but we're out there, and have been for almost ten years.