Tag Archives: art

The Thing With Feathers

puerto_rico_amazons_by_ravenari

Puerto Rico Amazons by Pia Ravenari

 

Mostly sneaking back by to give a brief shout out to a kickstarter. I’d spoken about it on here before and it didn’t run, this time its going and they’re at reach goals now.

 

The project is called Losing Altitude. It’s a collaborative art book featuring threatened and endangered bird species from allover the world, illustrated by over fifty artists, also from all over the world. Arras, who is spearheading this, will be researching each species, so this should be an awesome mix of art and information. I’m excited to be getting my copy next year!

 

I don’t have the requisite illustrative skills, so I’m contributing some key and tree pendants towards the kickstarter incentives.

 

Bird's nest ringThough, since it is a bird themed entry, a quick look at a very WIP project: an adjustable bird’s nest wire wrapped ring. This one is antiqued copper, bright copper and freshwater pearls.

 

Front view bird's nest ringA friend sent me a link to a bird nest pendant tutorial. I’ve seen plenty of the pendants, and make enough other styles, but most of the rings I’d seen involved a wire nest glued to a base. Since I don’t have the setup for soldering I decided to try to make the nest and ring from the same wire. It’s a bit bulky, I found the thickness of wire that makes a stronger ring shank makes for a large nest, but as said, work in progress.

And now for gratuitous Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

 

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

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Google Prompt and Metamorphosis

Embarrassingly enough, I’m finally posting this because of Google. I’ve had notes for ages, but I’m not always good at scrunching a complicated life into a handful of lines, so I’ve been procrastinating on writing about Maria Sibylla Merian. I saw one of her books on display at the Library of Congress last week. Then I saw the Google doodle proclaiming her birthday, and was finally shamed into it!

 

I have a lot of unusual reference books on my shelves. Perhaps the one that gets the most second glances is my copy of Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam, nestled between my art books.

 

It is by Maria Sibylla Merian, whose work I first saw years ago at a Rembrandt House special exhibit.

 

Merian (1647-1717) was one of the first documenters of insect metamorphosis.

 

She was born into an artistic family–her father was an engraver and publisher, and her stepfather a still life painter who encouraged her talents and taught her along with his (male) students. She was interested in flowers and insects and observed the life cycles of both.

 

She married her stepfather’s apprentice, moved to Nuremburg, had children, continued painting, designed embroidery patterns and took on (female) students of her own. By teaching their children she got access of the gardens of the elite and studied their insects.

 

In her time scholars still held onto spontaneous generation–basically the belief than insects and other ‘lower’ creatures were spontaneously created from mud or other debris. For example, that flies came to life from rotted meat.

 

She illustrated the metamorphosis of insects-showed that caterpillars wove cocoons and turned into butterflies. She painted the stages of these transformations and their host plants. These were collected into her first book in 1675.  The New Book of Flowers ultimately took three volumes to complete. It showed each flower distinctly so that it could be used as a reference for artists and designers of embroidery patterns.

 

She had a second daughter, published a second book and returned home after her stepfather died. After his estate was settled she left her husband to live in a religious commune.

 

There she met the governor of the Dutch colonies in Surinam and was introduced to its flora and fauna.

 

She later moved to Amsterdam, where her work was noticed by the scientific community. She was able to study the collections gathered by the intelligentsia. Her older daughter married a merchant and moved to Surinam, and Merian sold her belongings and was partially sponsored by the city of Amsterdam to travel to Surinam with her younger daughter, Dorthea Maria. They spent two years there studying the local animals and plants–recording the native names and uses–and collecting specimens. She contracted malaria and returned home, publishing books about her experiences and selling the specimens she collected.

 

She suffered a stroke and died in relative obscurity. It was Peter the Great who ultimately saved her for posterity. He had seen her work before, and heard that the then ailing artist had many works in her collection. Dorthea Maria sold 300 of her mother’s remaining paintings to an agent representing Peter the Great.

 

He opened his country’s first museum to exhibit them. He also invited Dorthea Maria and her family to Russia. She designed one of his largest scientific exhibitions and her husband became a court painter. After their first exhibition, most of Maria Sibylla Merian’s paintings were closed away in the libraries of St. Petersburg. This kept the delicate paintings safe from sunlight and abuse until their rediscovery centuries later.

 

It was an adventurous life for a woman of her time. (Anyone, anytime actually.) She traveled long distances to collect information and samples nearly a century before scientific expeditions became the norm. Her studies and use of native names influenced the European terms for some of the creatures, though since she published in the common tongue at a time when science was Latin only, her influence was limited and her observations against spontaneous generation largely ignored. She was a talented outsider rather than part of the scientific community. (If you’d like to read more on her and other early adventure/naturalists, check out Eaten by a Giant Clam, by Joseph Cummins. You’ll probably learn alot about a number of names that sound vaguely familiar.)

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Chatoyant Skies

Chatoyancy is the term used to refer to the cat’s eye effect that occurs when a fibrous mineral or fibrous inclusions line up parallel to one another and create that famous shimmer. (It comes from the French for cat’s eye.) More generally it can be used to refer to that sort of shimmer and texture, even if it doesn’t create the classic cat’s eye effect.

As chrysocolla reminds me of Claude Monet, blue pietersite is a chatoyant stone that reminds me of El Greco.

Pietersite is breccia aggregate of hawk’s eye and/or tiger’s eye. (It’s chemical makeup is silicon dioxide.)

Those stones are created when silica replaces crocidolite (blue asbestos-sodium iron silicate), a fibrous mineral. Hawk’s eye is when the quartz replaces the crocidolite directly and the rich gold and browns of tiger’s eye occurs when some of the crocidolite has decomposed into iron oxide before the silica replacement happens.

Basically pietersite is hawk or tiger’s eye that’s been broken apart and twisted and generally mangled then squashed back together again. This gives each stone a unique patterning and coloration. Melding swirls, chunks of very different colors all together, a gentle variegation of shades, different angles of chatoyancy in the same color scheme– all in the rich gold and brown and red of iron oxide ranging to sleek grey and steel blues. The one of a kind nature makes for an addictive gemstone-each piece tells its own story.

The pieces with the blue and steel shimmer remind me of El Greco’s moody skies.

El Greco (1541-1614), Domenikos Theotokopoulos, was a Greek-Spanish painter. He was born on the island of Crete (then owned by Venice) studied in Italy, and spent his career in Spain. His time in Crete and Italy appears to have given a slightly Byzantine fascination with color and a feel for mannerist elongated forms.

He moved to Toledo with hopes of becoming a court painter and moving to the capital. He did get two commissions from King Philip, but the king wasn’t satisfied with the paintings and gave him no further commissions. So El Greco settled in Toledo.

His View of Toledo is one of my favorite paintings. The broody ambiance and deceptively simple perspective always intrigues me. Yet there’s something refreshing in the colors. Like a slightly raw breeze after a muggy day.

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is a beautiful example of the elegance of his elongated figures, his skill at portraiture and shows off how well he handles the complexity of composition.

Sometimes there is a surreal edge to his paintings that makes for an interesting counterpoint to the almost hyperrealism that some of his Spanish Renaissance contemporaries espoused. (Juan Sanchez Cotan and Francisco de Zurbaran are my favorites in that category.)

El Greco’s painting of Laocoon is a great example of his taking the fluid and elongated figures to  nightmarish extremes. (And of a lighter but still tempestuous sky.) It’s inspired by a story from the Aeneid: Laocoon is a Trojan priest who tries to warn his people against taking in the wooden horse that the Greeks left behind. For his pains the vengeful gods send sea serpents to strangle him and his sons and frighten the Trojans into accepting the horse.

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An impression of Impressionism?

I got a lovely surprise this winter in the form of a package with a large slab of chrysocolla from Dusty, an amazing wire worker. (You’ve seen her coral and geode pieces on here before.) The colors in it reminded me of some of Monet’s large and more abstract water lily paintings at Musee de l’Orangerie  (take the interactive tour) so I wanted this to be a nod to those. The lily pad is part of the frame, I made that part first then guestimated around it. The stem came out a bit short, something I’ll keep in mind for next time. I used silver, gold and brass coated copper to try to catch the opulence and depth of an old frame.

What’s really odd is that from a distance the colors blend into a really proper gold color, and the bronze lily pad didn’t stand out enough but didn’t match either, so I tried to wrap it to blend in a bit more. And added a dragonfly charm with sheer pale green nail polish spangled wings. I’d gladly take any tips/ideas for balancing the size/shape/way to enhance the water lily effect!

What’s kind of funny to me is that so much of Impressionism is in capturing light using adjacent colors, and that’s what I had so much trouble with in this piece.

I made color samples by wrapping the colors of fine wire I was contemplating using around thicker wire to try to get a feel for how they would look as a frame. It helped me rule out some combinations, but didn’t really prepare me for the final effect.

I’m still trying to figure out light and color I guess.

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Lord, what fools these mortals be! Or Happy Maximum Tilt Day…

The image that first got me hooked on Arthur Rackham and his Shakespeare illustrations.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends
.

 

Puck’s speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, scene i

 

In honor of the summer solstice (and to pair with my previous Tempest post) I decided to be a little bit brave and post an old poem I wrote in college in response to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I don’t remember what the assignment was, but I chose to play with Titania’s character. I always felt kind of bad for her at the end of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. All she was trying to do was take charge of the child of an old retainer and yet her husband chose to make an absolute fool of her.

 

Titania’s Promise

(a response to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Malicious sprite, darkly dancing,

shadow cast under a quicksilver moon.

Oh yes, these shadows have offended.

Spiky foxgloves stand and hiss.

Whispering falsehood and deceit

from full, rainbow-spotted throats.

Beware, beware. Capricious Robin

plays with truth, and breaks his toys.

He knows his herbs and potions—

houndstongue and hellebore,

wolfsbane and rosemary,

the bitter bite of wormwood—

He serves his lord and master well.

He made me a fool before my court,

My ladies laughed behind their hands.

He bathed my eyes in purple poison—

made me love unwillingly

and waste my favors on a hairy beast.

My eyes were cleansed,

I see truly now.

Do they?

I can wait, I shall bide my time.

I can counterfeit a proper wife.

In their arrogance they believe,

that I, like some green willow,

would bend my will so easily.

Playful Puck, Oberon’s steward,

Robin not-so-Goodfellow,

though it take me centuries,

I will be avenged.

Like The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is believed to have been written to celebrate an important wedding and is a mostly original story. (The play within a play is based on Greek mythology, as are the names of the rulers.) The super short version of the story is “Mix-and-match couples in the woods near Athens.” as Shakespeare for Dummies puts it! It’s a play about many things but basically all the ways love messes with people’s heads.

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Happy Earth Day

 

It’s Earth Day, and hard to think of anything that hasn’t been said (and oft ignored) a million times or more. Reduce, reuse, recycle. We learn the three Rs in school, and then everything else seems to bury them. At the simplest, just be mindful of what you use, try to limit the amount of trash you make, and clean up your mess as you go. Picking an altoids tin off the top of the trash like I did this afternoon is optional. (Mind you, I thought everyone bought altoids for both mints and tin…) I scrubbed it up and it’ll make a great mini paint set to keep in my car! Take a look at etsy, a world of inspiration for small tin projects. As well as plenty of other upcycled treasures.

If you’re feeling creative and need some inspiration on how to reuse or upcycle the things in your life, there are plenty of places to go for inspiration. DeviantArt is having a Trash to Treasure contest that runs through mid-May. My finished submission is a plein air watercolor set. It’s an old velamints tin (love those candies, haven’t seen them in ages!) that I painted and decorated with polymer clay that has a paint pan made from the plastic bubbles from a gum pack, a watercolor pen from a kid’s paint pen, and a denim folder that fits both set and water brush plus a sketchbook and other pens or pencils.

I used a slight fire theme to tie the elements together. The polymer clay design on the tin was something I made while watching Henry V and the “Oh, for a muse of fire that would ascend/The brightest heaven of invention” line snagged me. So I opted for a subtle muse of fire vein running through the design. Fire also connects to the myths of the phoenix and rebirth, so it seemed to work doubly, even if my original inspiration was a little on the arcane side.

I’m also hoping to make a denim slipper set, I’ve been meaning to try it out ever since I ran across the tutorial. Seems like a nice idea for a holiday gift.

The New York Times recently ran an article about how there are so many threatened species that the Fish and Wildlife Service can’t cope with the number of petitions and are themselves petitioning the government to limit the number of requests that can be submitted. Limiting the number of officially endangered species doesn’t limit anything, all it does is give threatened species even less of a chance than ever. I understand that paperwork can be brutal, but simply ignoring issues and underlying causes… yeah.

The cartoon of the classic Seuss book, The Lorax. One of my favorite children’s books. Listen to the Lorax and back away from the thneed…

BBC & Discovery Channel’s South Pacific was an excellent and beautifully photographed series. Oddly enough there are multiple versions with multiple narrators, apparently they were concerned that the British accent would put off American audiences. I’m partial to the BBC version.

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Digger

I’ve been too sick to come up with anything clever, but I had to mention Digger, a webcomic by Ursula Vernon. I’ve been addicted to this clever, inventive, cultured and utterly insane comic for years now. It’s finally ended and I feel suddenly bereft. If you’ve managed to miss it, start from the beginning here. I don’t think I can praise it highly enough. It’s been a joy to watch the artist’s development throughout the comic, and the fan comments underneath each comic can be nearly as entertaining as the strip.

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