Awash in Ideas

Some ideas come easy, some come hard and some don’t come at all. Lately I find myself experiencing a deluge of ideas, drowning in a flood of projects half-imagined and half-begun.

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Hula Dancer Sketch on Board

A large project based on a long-ago experience in Hawaii has tentatively begun, but just barely. Sometimes ideas jostle for position, competing against one another for fruition. This time, a smaller work prompted by memories of a pre-gentrified neighborhood strip club has nudged out the bigger piece. How these things proceed remains a mystery.

The building where the ladies used to gyrate in the window still stands so I was able to snap a reference photograph.

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870 North High Street Storefront

Alas, the ladies themselves are gone, edged out by optometrists, tatoo parlors and craft beer joints, so the rest had to be made up from memory. That’s alright. I’m not much for literal realism anyway.

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Original Sketch 870 North High Street

As usual, doing the sketch was time-consuming but oddly reassuring. After the familiar labor of correcting the sketch and transferring it to the board, here is the progress so far.

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Club La Rouge by Lynda McClanahan In Process

This piece has everything I like: a brightly-colored, blocky composition and a strange and sexy subject matter with plenty of opportunities for detail. The Hawaiian piece is resting forlornly against a chimney as other ideas continue to vie for attention like a herd of cats rubbing against the leg. Choose me! Choose me! Choose me! I am in manic-artist-heaven.

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Ohio Art League 2018 Fall Juried Show

The last show in what, for me, has been a breathless spate of exhibitions opened last night.

The Ohio Art League Fall Juried Show has become increasingly competitive throughout the years and submitting is always I’ll-just-give-it-a-shot for yours truly.  It’s always a welcome surprise to be accepted.

Deciding what to submit is full of angst and neurotic fussing.   There’s always an attempt to ‘suss out the jurors by researching their websites, but this activity almost never predicts what they’ll take and what they won’t.  Word to the wise:  don’t bother with time-wasting attempts to load the odds in your favor.  Getting into a juried show is a mysterious process and just one more indication that life is a crap shoot.   Frankly, acceptance might come down to nothing more than what the juror had for breakfast.

This particular show had a slight bump in the road before opening night.  My original submission, “Little Sister” was accepted by the jurors but rejected by the venue as being too sexy for a public space.  I was surprised by the first occurrence, but not the last.  It’s come up before (the necessity of adding pasties to “Nude With Buzzard” for a library show comes to mind), but it’s always depressing.   Memo to self:  even though Beyonce goes around half naked most of the time, boobs are a forbidden object of contemplation for the young (Ft Hayes is a public high school).

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Banned in Columbus:  “Little Sister” by Lynda McClanahan

It always feels bad to be rejected, for whatever reason, but a venue has the final say as to what goes up on its walls.  I’m salvaging my ego by touting myself as a naughty old lady.   “Banned in Columbus!”  What’s not to like?

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Lynda McClanahan with “Lindsay With Dogs,” Ohio Art League 2018 Fall Juried Show

The strange thing is, “Lindsay With Dogs” looks better on the wall than “Little Sister” would have.    I thought about telling viewers that the dogs were naked but thankfully thought better of it.  Fellow artist Roger Williams suggested the Art League could have covered “Sister” with a sheet and charged people a quarter a pop as a fundraiser.  Clever lad!

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“Lindsay With Dogs” by Lynda McClanahan

There is always more than a bit of neuroticism at an art opening.  The painting which looked so dramatic on my drafting table seemed much smaller and less dramatic once it was in the show.   As usual, there was nothing remotely like it in the rest of the cavernous room.  I’ve always been an outlier but even at this stage in the game, it’s always a jolt when it’s brought to my attention.   Showing your work always means showing yourself as you really are, not as you’d like to be.   The thing nobody tells you about doing art is that even though you spend 99 percent of your time alone and sequestered from humanity by choice, art is no place to hide.  It’s just another one of God’s jokes.

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Ohio Art League 2018 Fall Juried Show

I didn’t have it in me to stand next to the piece and chat people up, but it was gratifying to see folks come in close and really look as I lurked in the background.   Part of the reason for doing what I do is to stop viewers long enough to fall into the narrative world of the painting.  Technique is a lure, not a final destination, and virtuosity is meaningless if it only takes you to itself.

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Ohio Art League 2018 Fall Juried Show Opening.  Work by Elham Bayati in Background

The show is wide-ranging and strong, with only a few clunkers.   I especially admired the quilt-like assemblage by Elham Bayati on the back wall behind these folks.  It works far away and close up and…you could sell each piece individually if you wanted to, a great strategy.   The opening was a great success, full of delightful conversation with fellow artists, who are the most down-to-earth people in the world.  Those of us who work with our hands form a companionable fraternity based on mutual respect for human labor.  This is the real reason art costs so much.

I’m working on two sketches:  one a large hula girl dancing on the beach, and the other a modestly-sized depiction of a long-departed strip club in the old neighborhood.  It feels good to have projects plotted out and ready to go.  I’m getting closer and closer to being ready for another solo show.

 

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Work, Tension & Release

Feelings of victorious release and wistful loss are familiar companions when a large project is done.  “Lindsay With Dogs” had spurts of ease but also long stretches of mistakes and torturous effort.  Sometimes you can miss the sensation of hitting yourself in the head.

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“Lindsay With Dogs” by Lynda McClanahan Head Detail

Although I am in no way a portrait painter, the face came surprisingly easy….

…as did the grass and the trees.  I tried to execute both in a realistic fashion (how I admire plein air practitioners!) but ended up in the usual default stylized mode.  I’m always interested in improving technique and evolving as an artist, but experience has taught that it’s better to modestly succeed than to fall on one’s face in a hubris-inspired heap.  Brutal honesty regarding one’s abilities is a must in this game.

One of the main anxieties surrounding the work was how to paint the dogs.  Intuition indicated one would come easy and the other hard, which proved to be correct.

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Red dog detail “Lindsay With Dogs” by Lynda McClanahan

The red dog rolled off the drafting table with sure-footed confidence and efficiency.  I like the way this dog’s fur flows down the surface in sinuous clumps.

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Black Dog Detail “Lindsay With Dogs” by Lynda McClanahan

The black dog came hesitantly and with great difficulty.  For some reason, it’s always harder to render something in the black-to-grey tonal range.   Perhaps this is a personal problem but maybe a more advanced artist can comment and tell me why.  I tried various strategies to achieve something similar to the other dog but had to settle for a kind of brushy, crew-cut effect.  It works, but I’m a bit worried that the two contrasting styles introduce unintended visual tension.  Oh well.

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“Lindsay With Dogs” by Lynda McClanahan

“Lindsay With Dogs” is at the photographer, waiting for a scan but here in the studio, I’m waiting too.   I’m being nudged along by insistent but mysterious impulses.  Who knows what comes next?

 

 

 

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How to Process Grapes With a Steam Juicer

It’s that time of year again.   The weather is hot and humid, tomatoes are coming on and the birds have signaled that it’s time to pick grapes.

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Grape Vines (Background)

We have two grape vines.  One is four years old, the other more than twenty.  Both yield dependable crops with no discernible difference between them production-wise.  Grapes are almost supernaturally generous when it comes to fruit and are an ideal choice for the urban garden.

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Laundry Baskets With Grapes

This is an average harvest, plenty enough for our purposes.

I have tried various methods for turning grapes into juice over the years:  cooking and straining, mortar and pestle and, most recently, an old champion juicer.  Last year I finally gave up on the juicer.  Eight hours of picking, cleaning, running through the machine and filling bags proved to be too much at this stage of life.  On the recommendation of a fellow wine-maker, I turned to steam extraction this time.  Since this was my first time to use this device, many mistakes were made.  Perhaps I can save fellow newbies from some of the sorrows I experienced along the way.

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Steam Juicer in Action

Steamers come in three sections:  bottom for boiling water, middle for juice and a top basket for fruit.  The idea is simple.  Steam cooks juice out of the grapes and runs out a hose into your catch-container.  So…fill the bottom 3/4 full of water, set the middle on top, cram the fruit into the top basket, add fire and wait.   I learned a few refinements the hard way, at least when it comes to grapes.   First, although you can leave the grapes on the stems (a huge advance over the pick-each-grape-off-the-stem-and-run-through-a-mechanical-juicer), you can pack more grapes into the basket if you do a bit of rough cutting first.  Nothing fancy, just snip the bunches in halves or thirds.  Next, you need some place for the juice to go so plan ahead.  I used a big stock pot.  Extraction is slower than might be expected (over an hour and a half per load in my kitchen) but you’ll know when you’re done when the hose quits spitting.  A bit more product can be coaxed out by lifting the top lid and stirring the contents for one last spurt.  Clamp off your hose before the next step or you’ll be sorry.

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Stock Pot With Juice

Every time you finish a load, refresh the water in the bottom pan.  You don’t want to ruin a fancy juicer by letting your pot run dry!

Next, you have to figure out how to safely transfer the juice into whatever containers you’re going to store the juice in.   I make wine but am not ready to do it right now so I decided to temporarily store the harvest in the freezer.

For this you’ll need….

supplies

…..a quantity of quart freezer bags and a bag filler.

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Bag Filler

For those unfamiliar with the alien device known as a bag filler, this thing is a must for those in possession of only two hands.  Be forewarned: it’s only useful for quarts.  I learned the hard way the results of plopping a gallon bag onto this thing.  It only takes one time for scalding, hot juice to run down all your cabinets and behind the stove to learn this lesson.

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Bag-filler in Action with Juice-filled Stock Pot

The saintly hubby who cleaned up the mess also strongly advised I use the sink next time.   Pre-planning is everything when it comes to food processing.  I arranged my bag-filling operation at a convenient height using a soup pot and it worked great.

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Bags of Grape Juice

And here it is:  Voila!  Grape juice safely poured into bags, ready for the freezer.  I will make jelly or wine later in the season when the garden has slowed.  May those who read this avoid the bone-head moves I made.  Happy juicing!

 

 

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2018 Ohio State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition

I submit to the Ohio State Fair every year and sometimes even get in.  When I do, it’s always a thrill.  I think there were over 2,000 entries this year and only 200 acceptances.

In general, with the exception of some lovely sculptural installations, the 2-D pleasures of the show seem mild and predictable.  April Sunami’s award-winning piece was a stand-out among the prize winners, as was Barb Vogle’s poetic, floral photographic meditations on the transitory nature of life.   My contribution, Snakes & Ladders, earned a nice, well-lit wall with plenty of space around it to cool the feverish imagery.  I would have liked a more central position in the room, but it’s always a crap shoot in a juried show.    I was hoping the piece would attract more attention than it did but, alas, this wasn’t the case.

Other pieces drew visitors to them like bees to nectar.

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Linda Leviton (right) and Joel Knepp (left) With Linda’s Piece”  “As Long as it Looks Good.”

As usual, one of the standouts was Linda Leviton’s quilt overlain with an altered vintage dress and see-through, shimmery, netlike material.  It struck me that the lacey top layer produces a similar effect to what one might see after taking Ambien.  Linda makes her living working with large metal pieces but fabric forms a large chunk of her more private, fine art work.  The hand-dyed, hand-sewn dress she wore at the opening was much remarked upon and appreciated by fellow textile artists.  She looked fabulous and so did her piece.

Joel worked the room with finesse and ease, even managing to get his picture with this sartorial brother.  If you know the man’s name on the right, let me know.  He’s an award-winning photographer with a wry sense of humor and a jaundiced eye regarding the jurying process.   He also knows how to dress, something I admire almost more than art.

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Joel on Left With Unknown Aging Photographer Hipster on Right

I, on the other hand, felt self-conscious, shy and unable to perform the required schmoozing which constitutes such a large part of these events.  Aaaarrrrrggghhh!!!  Evidently, one is never too old to be neurotic.

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Lynda McClanahan with “Snakes & Ladders:” 2018 Ohio State Fair Opening Reception

Partly in response to the neuroto-attack, we fled the room and headed next door to the poultry barn where things seemed to make more sense.  I love standing with closed eyes in the middle of the building, listening to the calls of the birds.  The building reverberates with alien, improvisational music sung by mostly angry beings.  I love this photo.  Can’t decide who is better dressed.

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Joel Knepp With Rooster:  2018 Ohio State Fair

Onward and upward with the arts.  It’s a strange life, but it suits me.

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Rest & Return

After a week off to rest the hands and another to celebrate my birthday, it’s back to “Lindsay With Dogs.”  Even without the above excuses, I’ve been dragging my feet on the project, content to enjoy things as they are and afraid of where they might end up.   If only there were a way to receive credit for doing nothing!

Doing the dogs has been fraught with more anxiety than this sixty-six year old lady would care to admit, but there you have it.  Nothing has ever come easy for this one.

As suspected, the dog on the left is taking a solid week of daily effort.

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“Lindsay With Dogs” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

At this stage, the dog is almost there with the exception of highlights, tightening some lines and cleaning up mistakes.   I’m a bit concerned I’ve made the poor pooch look more like porcupine on a bad hair day than a dog, but it’s probably the best I can do.   I always hope my weaknesses will read as charming eccentricity, but you never know.  Onward and upward, whatever the results.  Here’s to perserverance and the hoped-for rewards of a long, slow slog.

 

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Making a Dress From a Cotton Saree

As a sort of love-gift to myself, for the last couple of years I’ve taken to making a dress right around my birthday in July.   This year’s model is cut from a perfectly preserved old cotton saree.  If you’ve never made an outfit from a saree, here is how you do it.

Sarees usually have a decorative border running along both sides of their six-yard length plus a fancy part on the end designed to show when you throw the end piece over your shoulder.   This presents a challenge when laying out your pattern.  The first thing to decide is whether you’re going to incorporate the borders and end-piece into your garment or just cut around them.  I always choose the former.  Experience has taught that it is imperative to choose a pattern which highlights the design of the original saree, not fight it.  Why waste all that beautiful weaving?

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Fancy End-piece Incorporated Into Bodice

It took a lot of trial and error and creativity before I succeeded in laying out the bodice, but things came right in the end.  I was able to cut the pattern pieces in two different directions which visually strengthens the three-piece bodice front.   A bit of ribbon languishing in the sewing drawer accentuates the design.

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Pocket Cut from Scraps of Fancy End-piece

There was just enough fancy end-piece material to squeeze out a couple of pockets.  This forms a nice contrast to the field of the saree, which is mainly composed of checks (the Indian way of saying “plaid”).

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Lynda McClanahan Wearing a Dress Made From a Cotton Saree

Here is the final product, worn to a birthday dinner.   I was able to get just a bit more style by laying out the skirt so that part of a border could be seen.   The main interest in the piece lies in the material and I wanted to show it off to full advantage.  The fabric turned out to be more sheer than I had anticipated, a problem solved by wearing an old fashioned cotton slip.  I made the necklace too (haven’t figured out how to make shoes).

All sewing projects force the sewer to slow down and concentrate for long periods of time, which is inherently relaxing.    Making something for your birthday is a good way to send love to the person you have been as well as to the person you hope to become.  I go forth into my 66th year literally arrayed in new garments.  All is well.

 

 

 

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