(Illustration Friday) Making Cake

March 18, 2011

One year when I was a girl, my mother made an angelfood cake for my birthday. It was from a mix which included multicoloured sprinkles (some of you call those candy bits “hundreds and thousands”). I have no recollection of how old I was, whether all of my brothers were in attendance, whether all were still alive, even, or what present I might have received — I just remember the beautiful wedge of cake, and the fact that Mum had attempted it and it had turned out well.

Maybe I remember the scene because she was relaxed and pleased with her work for once. Mum’s culinary expertise lay in  pork chops, meat loaf, scalloped potatoes, pickled red cabbage, and green beans by the truckload, cheap, nourishing food that sustained seven people on a paint-factory worker’s paycheque. Maybe, on this particular evening, Mum’s face was as bright as that slice of white cake shot with rainbow dots of colour.

Whatever the reason, whenever I think of birthday cake, I think of that one.

I was quite pleased, then, at the card I made Aunt Theodora for her 95th birthday:

Sprinkles, glorious sprinkles.  They shower downwards at a gentle slant, thanks in great part to this nifty little paintbrush:The purple and yellow background dots were made with a round (think “ordinary”) brush, while the words took a rigger, a brush with longer, fewer bristles, so that it will hold a decent amount of paint while producing thin lines; it’s also called a script brush.

And here is a close-up of the candle. The photo doesn’t show the shininess of the blue. I mixed the blue paint with gum arabic, a liquid that greatly slows the drying time, and then coloured in the flame, starting at the top and finishing by touching the yellow to the blue and tipping the card upright. The result wasn’t quite what I wanted; the time I’d tried this before, the yellow stayed yellow and didn’t blend to make green. Will have to keep experimenting.

although I composed the words for the card, there have likely been hundreds of riffs on the same theme in the history of commercially-produced birthday greetings. So sue me. I’ll pay my lawyer with one Cardi, and you can have the other one.

Anyway, the fact that both the plate and the words on the outside of the card use the same colour helps to give a “black and white” effect to the inside — with just a little added sweetness:

There you have it.

No cats were harmed in the making of this card.


(Illustration Friday) Sir Thomas

March 11, 2011

A few weeks ago on a Wordless Wednesday post, Barefootheart told me about Illustration Fridays. On checking the link she provided, I decided an Illustration Friday feature might keep me motivated to play with my paints.

I also thought an Illustration Friday feature might get me writing again, as opposed to Wordless Wednesday, which is — well, you get the point.

By the bye, I will state up front that I have never been tempted by Facebook, Twitter, or whatever sixteen other social media have been spawned since their inception. Likewise, I never signed up on the megagigantic Wordless Wednesday list, and won’t sign up for Illustration Fridays either. Consider this your own private salon, you lucky (or at least faithful) readers!

So. When my son and his partner were here for Christmas, they gave us several thoughtful gifts. One was a field guide of North American birds, in hopes that I might use the photos as subjects for my watercolour paintings. They know I like birds.

Fast-forward to this winter’s watercolour class. Everyone in that class, with the exception of me, has been meeting to paint together for years, and they are good. I began that course intimidated and ended up dejected. While they’re all nice people, there’s something to be said for peers.

One technique I did glean from the class is to squint at the subject and paint the patches — in realistic colours or not. I decided to try it with this tom turkey, and was quite pleased with the result.

This is the version in my sketchbook. I haven’t tried making a “good” copy. Maybe someday.

Meanwhile, if you’ll excuse me, Aunt Theodora’s friends and well-wishers are throwing a 95th-birthday-party bash for her tomorrow, and I need to head upstairs to make a card. Ta for now.


Follow-up Friday: Sculpt

February 25, 2011

By popular request (okay, Jayne  in Australia asked, and I thought Novroz over in Indonesia might not know these birds), I have decided to present a few photos of a European Starling chiseling away at our suet feeder. Since the photos, taken with the zoom lens through the living room window and then tightly cropped, aren’t very sharp, I will plague treat you to four pictures to give as much fuzzy subtle detail as possible.

Starlings are medium-small birds, bigger than sparrows but smaller than crows. (To compare, the suet cage is about 13 X 15 cm.) Males and females look pretty much the same.

Other than their pink feet, the colouration of European Starlings depends on the season and the time of day. In Winter, they’re spottier because they’ve worn their body feathers down to the spots.*** In their new Spring outfits, they’re a little more uniformly black. In Winter, their beaks are darker; in Spring, they turn yellow.

If you squint a bit, you’ll notice a green sheen on this bird’s feathers. That’s a trick of the sunlight that starlings share with other black-feathered birds.

You don’t need to squint at all to notice that the suet cage is now broadside to the camera. The wind that day was spinning the cage like a hypnotist’s watch.

In this photo, you can see the starling’s long, narrow, pointy beak. It works well for picking bugs out of the grass, plucking berries from bushes, or pulling bits of suet from between the cage bars. Starlings will eat anything. They are not picky eaters, like birds of prey. The raptors, however, aren’t jealous. Instead, they graciously rejoice in the starlings’ easygoing ways that have helped to spread their population, in just over a century, from one end of North America to the other.

Starlings also make tasty, nutritious meals for hawks.

One last picture. Here you can see the starling pausing to inspect its artwork. Will it incise “I love Turtle”? Will it fashion a reliefwork basket of tulips? Will it decide which breadcrumb is biggest and best?

The world will never know.

My funny valentine was in fact the work of many starlings, not simply the sculptor seen above. They often arrive by the dozen, some playing King of the Castle on the suet cage while others stand on the snow beneath, catching the fatty crumbs that the mock warmakers drop. Their chattering and clowning in the snow-coated stillness brightens my day.

***Nota bene: I got this part wrong. Starlings get new clothes for Rosh Hashanah, not Easter. Their new suits are spotted, and by Spring they have worn some of the spots off! Please check out Seabrooke’s informative blog entry for more info on these birds.


(Wordless Wednesday) How Blockbusters Begin

January 26, 2011


Of Rollers and Royals

December 31, 2010

E.g., Mary Ann, and Ginger are the respective daughters of three sisters — Rose, Theodora, and Helen — and are thus first cousins to one another. Mary Ann was born and raised here in rural New Brunswick, grew up on a farm, and married a farmer. Ginger was raised on a different sort of farm: a plantation in Kenya. She speaks “kitchen Swahili”, as she calls it, has retained her parents’ British accent, and married a successful public relations expert. E.g. was raised in a Saint John suburb, has travelled the world, and married nobody. Like their mothers, all three women are bright, talented, modest, considerate, and friendly. I like them all.

So for this Christmas, besides painting four greeting cards for Rose, I painted two each for Mary Ann and Ginger. Mary Ann received the cards showing the Grosbeak and the Tanager that you’ve already seen. Rose’s cards included a Cardinal and an Atlantic Puffin, neither of which you’ll ever see because I forgot to photograph them (wah!).

The route to Ginger’s present was more zigzagged. I’ve been reading Sir Thomas Malory’s stories of King Arthur, and one morning I decided to paint the dragon of which Arthur dreams, that presages his reinstatement as Holy Roman Emperor. Here’s the beast now, straight out of Turtle’s feverish brain, displaying both birdliness and an eerie resemblance to Marlon Brando in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof:

Now, if there’s one surefire topic on this side of the family, it’s the Royals. With Prince William’s wedding date set, I thought Ginger might appreciate this card hearkening back to England’s “first” king.

The second card was a challenge. In the library, I found a book on Kenyan wildlife. It’s forty years old, and the colour photographs have deteriorated. Still, how hard could it be to draw and paint a Lilac-breasted Roller or a Superb Starling?

Very.

After two attempts at the Roller, I gave up in despair. The shading didn’t make sense, the colours didn’t work together. I just couldn’t “get” this one. And I was running out of time.

As in, Dinner at Ginger and Blake’s was that evening.

Back to Malory. My edition is chockfull of illustrations, everything from medieval manuscripts to Pre-Raphaelite paintings. I chose one of Arthur and Guenever, and…and…I cheated. Instead of drawing the figures and architectural details freehand, I traced them and then used transfer paper to copy them onto the greeting card. I didn’t even have time to do a preliminary painting in my notebook.

My picture does vary in several ways from the one in the book. The illustration in the book is black-and-white, so I chose the colours. The wallpaper flowers had five petals; I drew four petals. The original expression on Guenever’s dog is one of a monkey with indigestion, and the rear and tail are visible; I tucked a happier pup into her cloak. Arthur’s dog was originally a fold in his robe that I misinterpreted in tracing. I liked the idea so much, though, that I kept it. From thence came the inspiration for the silly caption. Oh, and yes, the original artist had Arthur holding two gloves.

It sez, “Arthur and Guenever dispute which hound hath devoured the king’s other gauntlet.”

Alas, my gift backfired. Handing me the envelopes, Ginger vowed she would never mail the cards. She would, instead, frame them. I wonder if they’ll go in the room where that big frame is hung, the one with squares of linen painted with Kenyan birds, including the Lilac-breasted Roller and the Superb Starling?

***

Happy New Year, everyone! See you next year!


(Wordless Wednesday) Airmail

December 15, 2010


(Wordless Wednesday) One Little, Two Little, Three Little Lorikeets

December 1, 2010