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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Community Spoons

The art of crafting started thousands of years ago using readily available materials such as grasses, bushes, branches, trees, rocks, pebbles, sand and the like. We can still see ancient crafting and art projects displayed in natural history museums such as the American Museum of Natural History.

Recently, our South Abaco island High Banks Arts and Crafts Group has tried to find ways to do arts and crafts on the island of The Abacos using readily available natural materials. Large parts of this island and many of its people were injured by Hurricane Dorian. Access to a variety of stores is now limited. Many things islanders use for arts and crafts are from materials, shared and exchanged with neighbors. Part of the challenge on an island is searching for the material to work with. Instead of going to stores, we often head for “the bush” and search for more readily available materials found in the nearby natural coppice.

Nearby Coconut Palms
Basket hand woven from part of a coconut frond

We take a single frond from a Cabbage Palm, or from a Coconut Palm, leaving the palm intact and ready to make more fronds. Or we find a branch on the ground, or get a piece of wood from someone who has just trimmed a tree, leaving the tree alive and growing. We cut a small branch off a bush. Or we cut a few tall grasses to use for weaving. These are the materials for our art projects.

Cabbage Palm Frond
Basket woven from Palmetto Palm Fronds

Carving your own spoon is a very basic and purposeful activity. Making your own beautifully carved spoon from a branch found nearby, while asking a friendly neighbor to help cut the branch into a useful shape before you start carving, is artistic, social and fun. Carving spoons and then presenting some of your newly carved spoons as a gift to the neighbors who helped prepare the wood, is pure satisfaction.

And it is what we call a Community Spoon.

Future community spoons
Buttonwood branch cut and shared by a neighbor
Cut with a saw into a spoon shape by another neighbor
Being hand carved by a wood carver, not yet finished

Stay tuned for more arts and crafts adventures.

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After the Storm. Watercolor on paper

Living on a small island for part of every year leads an artist to think about ways to use local and natural resources, rather than trying to purchase and import all our art supplies. It has become even more imperative now that our island has endured a terrible hurricane. We wish to do no more harm and perhaps even in the process, replenish available natural resources.

We all are thinking about solar energy. Most of us don’t want to replicate the energy uses of the mainland onto our fragile island. In addition, many of us are using these moments of reconstruction to think of ways to do our arts and craft more naturally, using locally available materials. Must we always import supplies?

What does this island have that we might use as a natural resource for our crafting and art work? Can we take it, use it for art and then have it some day return to the soil without causing any more damage to this exquisite and ephemeral island?

Poised to Sail. Water color on driftwood taken from the beach

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Cement Art

Plant potter, made out of cement

How much do I love cement? Let me count the ways.

First, it is readily available and not terribly expensive. We can find it in hardware stores and often have it sitting available in bags in our garages and sheds.

Second, it is easy to mold. Pour wet cement into a small prepared mold and in a matter of a few minutes, it is hardened. This has both upsides and down sides. It does not pay to be indecisive or not yet have your mold ready when you are about to pour the cement. Molds must be planned well ahead of time.

Third, when it dries it is unbreakable. What can I say? Cement is hard!

Fourth, once hardened, it provides a smooth surface for painting. Shown in the photo, as an illustrative example, is a cement plant pot that I painted with a small brush using acrylic and permanent ink.

Fifth….is the unknown asset yet to be discovered when crafting with it. Which is why I am writing this blog. I think this would make a great project for our little island art group to work on together.

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Carving My Own Spoon

Recently, I took a piece of crudely chopped maple wood and carved out a spoon that is now a happy member of my kitchen wooden spoon collection. It is the one and only spoon that I have ever personally carved out of wood.

Newly carved spoon hanging out with older kitchen spoons

I learned how to do this when I took an introductory class, a Wood Spoon Carving Workshop taught by Emilie Rigby at Assembly PDX in Portland, Oregon.

Rough wood

Having carved my first spoon under Emilie’s auspices, I now imagine numerous ways to use a block of wood and a carving knife for all kinds of projects, including carving more spoons.

Tools

Base on this introductory workshop, I have learned a few things about wood carving.

First, carving provides excitement and danger. One must be brave to use knives this way. We are warned about the many possible ways to injure ourselves if we do not use our carving knives carefully. We practice holding the knife so that fingers are out of the way. We learn to stay clear of our partners and to properly sheath knives when not in use. We wear a protective glove on the hand holding the wood block. At first I carve, holding my breath, hoping the knife makes it to the base of the wood without hitting anything other than the wood in front of us. As I gain some experience, I breathe more normally.

The second thing that I learned is that the process of carving is like a form of meditation. The slow movement across the wood, the emergence of the spoon out of the wood, has a sort of ephemeral quality about it.

Third, wood is a flexible and beautiful medium to work in. It has a lot of character that emerges as you carve.

Beyond that, I am too much of a beginner to say much more.

However, I did purchase my first hook knife which is used for hollowing out spoons and for many other things, so clearly I do believe that there is a future for me in wood carving.

Hook Knife for working on curves

Below, is an introductory video of spoon carving, for those who might be interested to try it.

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We had an afternoon to share, my granddaughter and I. She said, “Grandma, how about art?” I said, “Sure.”

We gathered up some watercolor paper that is cut for making cards, brought out our brushes, inks and acrylics. We covered my kitchen table with an old plastic shower curtain that I use to protect my good table. We grabbed an empty and cleaned up peanut butter jar to use for water, and started to work.

She used some shells and a sand dollar we had picked up at the ocean for her inspiration. I looked out our kitchen window at all the angles. She decided to play with the starfish and then shifted the shapes and began to ink them in. I played with lines and angles, thinking about some of the wonderful drawings my artistic neighbors did when in the Abacos as they drew lovely, simple, angular paintings of island homes.

At some point, we spilled the water and also knocked over the blue ink. But it mopped up easily, given the plastic shower curtain we had used as protection. We cleaned up the mess and kept right on painting.

Several hours later, we took turns walking into in the other room and holding up the other person’s painting for them to see, more objectively.

We got hungry, ate lunch together and talked.

It was a perfect day.

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Bye Bye Birdie

Starting a water color painting is like beginning a relationship.

At first, little is familiar but for the simple attraction.

What follows is a portrayal in watercolor, of seeing, feeling, hearing, touching, imagining this bird over a period of shifting time. Some of what I draw is real; some is not. Over time as I work with this painting, my perspective changes, colors shift, the focus drifts, speculation occurs on what actually matters. Details that are not noticed, at first, suddenly matter. My imagination takes over for a while as I freely add my own personal perspectives on what I see or imagine about this bird and its location.

Eventually, tired of details, I am relaxed by the big picture and remember perspectives, one after the other, left and right, upside down, viewed through a larger kaleidoscope of ideas, shapes, colors.

Then comes the longer-lasting part, the part when we say goodbye. This painting may be given as a gift, or sold to an interested person, photographed and shared with a wider audience, or even put aside, leaving me wondering if there is something more that I should do with it, be with it.

Good friends of all kinds must eventually leave, move on, go to new places, change environments. Life is nothing but change. What remains are things remembered, lost thoughts regretted, happy memories jumping up and cheering from time to time.

A picture is truly a thousand words. And words are thousands of pictures.

Bye bye, birdie. It was real nice knowing you. I hope you like your new home.

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And what changed?

I like painting from different perspectives, each one more abstract than the last.

These three are titled “Overhang”, watercolours by MJ Chamie

First, I draw or paint a scene in some detail, doing pencil sketches, or painting while working with values, shadow, color, choice of detail.  At some point, I stop.

Then I may do a second painting using pens or brushes and focus on the overarching theme, letting imagination do the rest.  

Finally, I shape these ideas into a single thought and paint something that is closer to a symbol, like a hieroglyphic.

This is my usual approach to art, and it feels like I am having a discussion with the painting while doing so.  If I ever come back to a place that I have painted, it feels so familiar and welcoming to be back.

In the examples below,  fascinated by the arches of trees over the walkways of South East Portland,  I walked through a place that I chose to paint.   At this location, it felt as though the trees were communicating, whispering, as they arched over the walkway.  

It is one thing to capture the detail, and another to capture the feeling.  

IMG_6901

Photo taken by MJChamie.

Dark overhang of trees in South East Portland, Watercolor by MJChamie.

This thought resulted in a Haiku poem and watercolor that I painted. It says,  “Silence abounds here. I feel its cover and stop. It whispers with me.”

Setting the tone and level of detail in any painting is part technique and part personal judgement. I like the struggle of figuring this out, while knowing it is clear that there is no exact right or wrong to this.

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