Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Reading Bounty!

Apparently bitey.
At the last second before leaving, I darted back inside to make sure there were no strange messages attached to my library card. I had paid a real-money fine sometime in 2014 (DVDs, with their $1-a-day-late fee always dangerous for me) but was the card still good? Had it expired? This is how long it has been. Prior to this past year, with every job held in downtown Ann Arbor, I have regularly skulked off to the library over lunchtimes of despair.

La Nuit (Miro), granted 3.5 stars!...heh
For me, libraries have always been similar to thrift stores (also beading, fabric stores): joy is held in their potential. Maybe that exact thing you want is not there, missing, or spoken for -- an occasion for grousing -- but almost every time, something else presents itself that you didn't know to ask for. And if you hadn't slowed down your day, you wouldn't have noticed it. It is often better than what you asked for initially. And so, if you are like me, you have to wander. Stroll down a side stack and pull out something random. Look at artwork you maybe wouldn't buy and contemplate for the nth time how cool it would be, if you were to reserve one space on your wall, and swap out temporary library-framed artwork in that space, you could challenge your reactions to it over a few weeks (just long enough to prevent its presence from fading into the background).

In short, it takes me outside of myself, reminds me of all the talent and insight out there, of which I am ignorant. And while the interwebs also does this, and can suspend time while you discover something new and fascinating, I find it way too easy to return to myself again. Why is that? Is it to do with the intellectual search running parallel to the physical search? It seems we have ventured past the initial dismissal of online living as one bereft of bona fide social engagement, so maybe it's along the lines of studies indicating the brain processes differently a book read on a Kindle and one read in the traditional fashion.

In any case, library visits have now acquired a luxurious sheen, and I was most excited to scamper off. I am told that once baby is mobile, I will lose the opportunity to read, but with nursing, I am still able to do so regularly. A certain haziness does impact reading comprehension at times, wherein my brain sagely nods over phrases like "Manlisted for the Short Booker Prize," before backtracking; even less fortunately, characters are sometimes mashed together, which in turn bungs up plots. Alas, gotta work with where you are! Today's two-bag haul included fiction from the browsing section, a Matisse art book snagged from a to-be-shelved cart, plus a couple handfuls of CDs. I passed on the theremin (seriously! Ann Arbor library has a music section!), leaving the moog accessories to the youngsters slouching between the rows of equipment.

Of note:

"When the secret Service agents climbed up into the large oak tress lining the perimeter of the yard, Alice Townley thought they looked like giant tarsiers. She had seen tarsiers in her picture book about wild animals Do You Know What's Out There? According to the book, tarsiers looked like teddy bears, but they were mean and would eat you if you startled them." Garden for the Blind by Kelly Fordon

"A third of the way through the half-mile walk from the landlord's house to his hut, Nitai Das's feet began to sway. Or maybe it is the head-spin again. He sits down on the lifeless field he has to cross before he can reach his hut. There isn't a thread of shade anywhere. The May sun is an unforgiving fire; it burns his blood dry." The Lives of Others*, Neel Mukherjee
  • also, great epigraph "How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of the lives of others?" James Salter, Light Years
  • *manlisted
We Are Pirates, by Daniel Handler, of which Neil Gaiman said: "The strangest, most brilliant offering yet from the mind behind Lemony Snicket": Sold.

"In the face of calamity, the Colliers' first impulse was to overspend at the bookstore." A reasonable way to combat anxiety. You Could Be Home by Now, by Tracy Manaster


Listening to an old Devotchka favorite, drinking tea and waiting for the rain to fall on our field of dandelion ghost blossoms. Armed for the week ahead!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Blank Cards, Hidden Meanings; Imaginary Friend to Rescue his Person?

Baby turned two months this week and I feel like this new life is taking shape a bit. As everyone tells me, each time I get used to what seem to be daily patterns, they will morph into something else, so we have the grand exercise of learning to let go with ease. I can't say it doesn't make me cranky*. I have lived too long with free time to surrender it easily, or consistently, now. But I will learn, kicking and screaming, most likely.

A couple items from the present week:

1.) Dropped off a new batch of woodblock cards at favorite local bookstore Literati:

The houses are borrowed from the design page in Cakeasaurus project wherein we learn "Cakeasaurus could smell cake batter in the air like sharks scent blood in the water". The birds are pulled from the "Birds Don't Like You," one of my favorite prints overall, but which proved divisive -- people either liked the menacing quality or were discomfitted by it (design and process shots here). It lead one older man to say to me at a show, "You have a weird little mind, don't you~~," which managed to be insulting and pleasing simultaneously. Robbed of context in wee cards, the birds don't strike people as hostile or judgy, and  so they sell nicely.
Cake is excerpted from "No Cake is Safe"; again no whiff of danger, without context
I always enjoy gathering decorative papers to complement the woodblock designs; it's a great way of seeing your own work from a new angle. I have really been grooving on the colorful flower paper (above, on left two cards) -- so happy, so jaunty!

And the happy is exactly why I bought a few sheets within a selection for nursery buntings (Hollander's, natch). The triangular banners were about the only thing I felt compelled to do to make baby-to-be's space cozy and welcoming. What with her early arrival, I didn't get them assembled and hung until she was a few weeks old, but heyyyyy, her field of vision fell way short of the ceiling at that point. How conveeeeeeeeeenient. I think she actually started noticing them this week! They can't hold a candle to the mobile, but still a festive touch:

delightful felt mobile made by Dundry Hill
I ventured into JoAnn Fabrics, first time in a decade, to scare up some curtains
*Disclaimer: outside of being smitten by baby and wanting to watch her breathing, kiss her baby skin, yadda yadda yadda etc.

great image gallery here
2.) Finished The Imaginary by A.F. Hoffman, illustrated by Emily Gravett. If you're into off-kilter intermediate books (think Matilda, subtract a bit of the nastiness, add fantasy-based menace) and are fan of illustration and design, it's a fine book to check out.

As I often do (even with adult reads, sad to say), I got sucked in by the cover art and packaging. Illustration facing the Introduction is a black and white drawing in the shape of a young, outstretched hand, giving us glimpses of a park, a clocktower, dark tree limbs. I tend to love this treatment anyway (Chris Keegan springs to mind as a favorite, in a much more layered, slick photoshoppy way).

Successfully intriguing here, and the opening text is equally promising: by the end of the second page, we learn that Rudger, an imaginary friend is afraid his human friend is dead -- and what then, will become of him? He fears the fading away which would result from being forgotten...Great conceit, right? And how many children's books begin with death? Perhaps way more than when I was growing up, for it seems overall, fiction for youth is permitted to be edgier/grittier. In any case, a good almost-ending to hook the young reader: a mournful and contemplative couple of pages, before an unexpected voice cuts in...and we are brought back to the proper start, with adventurous Amanda Shuffleup meeting her soon-to-be partner in crime standing inside her wardrobe. Naturally there's a nefarious character plotting evil deeds involving imaginaries, and he, too, has a similarly evil imaginary himself. And that's all I'll say about it.

At heart, the book is a celebration of creative power and imaginative play. Fittingly, The Imaginary is filled with great design elements: a bird flies from abstracted flower to butterfly among the page numbers, tiny feline silhouettes separate paragraph sections, and running characters are stamped into the black hardcover surface beneath the dust jacket. It's the kind of book I'd want to create, with so many wonderful details that it takes subsequent pass throughs to appreciate all the cleverness. A thorny garden branch snakes from a house drawing on its left-facing page to become a floating astronaut's lifeline on the right; an imperiled imaginary is seen multiplied-but-faded beneath the story text, as the evildoer's silhouette is shown, darker and towering above him. Suspenseful and satisfying!

You can see brief videos of the processes of both author and illustrator midway down this page; Harrold's video doesn't shed much light on his process, though I get that it's difficult to depict the largely internal act of writing in a compelling way. Based on the video, he simply writes something in pencil and then writes over it in pen, thus making it publisher-ready -- and then he walks to the mail box to send it off. Watching Emily Gravett's creepy imaginary girl emerge is much more fun (though also un-narrated); another publisher page also feature her discussing her approach to creating images for the Rabbit Problem (great title! look forward to seeing that; she also did the spare, pleasing Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear). One last link, if you're still with us -- a longer interview with Gravett here.

Hope all is well this Friday in May. A beautiful day and quiet night to close out a full, eventful week. Numerous adventures await us!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

On the Occasion of my First Mother's Day: Amnesia and Art Appreciation

Based on a one-house study, seven weeks of parenting marks brief periods of amnesia for both parenting partners:
  • Early evening: I am sitting on the leather sofa (the material for which we have repeatedly congratulated each other on choosing, after bouts of milk spit up, less fortunate fluids, coffee spills), musing how nice it will be when Javier comes home in the evening. Possibly we will go to bed early! But whatever hour, it will be so nice to sleep the night next to him. Nice, indeed! Except that this picture currently defies reality with a newborn. I am holding a baby at the time these thoughts occur.
  • Night: Javier comes into the bedroom where I am nursing. "Soooo, I was just deciding, 'I think I'll go to bed early,' but I had this strange feeling I was forgetting something. What, what, what could it be?" Javier has baby night shift.
  • Afternoon: My esteemed sister has been here for a visit, developing strong Auntie muscles, and adding some flexibility and sanity to our lives by holding the baby for hour stretches. She exclaims, "She's SO sweet! SO. SWEET!" more frequently than we are capable of doing, since she lives far away and we live here. She IS so sweet, but we must alternate our bouts of enthusiasm with other reactions. In any case, due to Aunt presence, I am able to take a multiple hour nap. I think I will maybe jot a few notes down, or read a few more pages of The Winter People* ; my body vetoes that. "Falling asleep" is much closer to "passing out" than it used to be. I had very active, forgettable dreams, into which an aggressive sound eventually intruded. My brain muttered, "That's a baby~" as in: how *odd*. I had climbed pretty close to consciousness by the time I was able to make sense of this.    
*which is creeping me the hell out, btw. Also, I got it from Bookbound!... Finally checked them out, it's a lovely book store, when you're on the Plymouth Drive side of AA.

So, I expect we are typical new parents. Exhaustion battles with wonderment and frustration. We are learning the baby, who we of course think is potentially showing us how exceptional she is at any given moment. The baby's best friend is a mobile, silverware clinking against china should be banned, and all lights hold mesmerizing keys to the universe.

Baby in Communication with Favorite Painting 
(or super-strong, shiny magnets holding it up)
There's so much to tell you since yesterday!
The lights didn't know, so I've got a question for you.
Do you really think so? That's exactly the way I feel!
...Okay, so the post title was kind of a fake out. No real art talk. I'll try to be better about that -- to help the non-kid oriented avoid baby posts, and keep posts on creativity easy to find...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Gorgeous Weather + Sleeping Babies = Fine Weekend

A perfect Spring day in Michigan: warm enough to hint at the (inevitably short) Summer to come; perfect for those attending the U(niversity) of M(ichigan)'s commencement ceremony; perfect to avoid the snarled U of M traffic for the rest of us residents; perfect for driving down country roads in search of art open houses and friends who invite you to sit down to iced tea, while a cat slinks around the side wall and flops onto the heated asphalt of the driveway. The baby is off being doted on by her Dad, sister and grandparents; I am tempted to start an online series "Baby Asleep on People." I am also tempted to flop myself onto the grass in the backyard and not do a damn thing, but I will only be grumpy later if I do so, and really, the yard is probably closer to swamp than firm ground, with only a deceptive grass/weed covering.

So. I listed a few new Cakeasaurus prints in my Etsy shop and figured I'd re-share the introductory signs, since a long time has passed:

This is an inked woodblock from early in the tale, depicting how he stays below the radar:

How does Cakeasaurus best serve his dessert-thieving needs? By skirting around the edges…hiding in plain sight. This print is as close to “Where’s Waldo?” as a monstery story gets. Where, indeed! The bird is the holder of knowledge, as they often are. But who would he tell with his birdsong? And who would believe him? The townspeople, keen to apprehend the cake thief in their midst, rarely look to avian solutions. The same old conundrum: the one with key information has a credibility problem… Ahhh well, such is life.

"Crept quietly, quietly..." (for sale here) is a companion piece to “Cakeasaurus Roamed Under Cover of Night,” also found in the Cakeasaurus Lurking section of my Etsy shop.
Hopping forward slightly, this jaunty woodblock print follows on the heels of the chaos of “Cake Maelstrom” and the wreckage of “Nothing Was Left”. Here we have Cakeasaurus at his most buoyant: filled with his treat of choice, and triumphant in his thievery. Some even say he has jazz hands…
And Sunday even beats Saturday for the weather! Baby is fitfully snoozing in her swing in the living room, while residents throng the northwest corner of Ann Arbor for the annual Water Hill Music Fest -- anything from 10 y.o. violin players, ukelele bands, to jazz musicians who have played with the likes of Sarah Vaughn. Friends, tell me about it when we next meet! I aim to make it next year, along with many cool annual events that have occurred either during late pregnancy or early parenthood. 

Baby, the sights you will see! She did quite well at her first art opening on Friday evening (=slept, peppered with occasional mutterings, while people cooed over her); and the Yourist Gallery Drink (c)Up exhibit is small but well worth checking out. Today's mutterings are getting louder, so that spells the end of this post.

Till next time, a block I just transferred for carving -- nearing a pivotal confrontation between boy and monster:

Happy Sunday and have a great week, Everyone!