More about Milkweed Manor

It seems so strange, after 857 blog posts, to write one that doesn’t have any images!  For a visual artist, this is difficult to do.  But now I am expanding my artistic efforts to writing and illustrating a book, “Milkweed Manor.”  I can’t say that I intended to write a book, but the idea evolved from something else, as is so common, I think, in the creative process.

I was pondering ways to add value to my ceramic animal character figurines and, since I nearly always had a little story in mind as I created them, I decided to actually write the story and include it in a tiny hand-written booklet that would accompany the figurine.  At some point it seemed a shame to only use the writing once.  And at the same time, the characters I found myself imagining were tied together.  They all lived in the same place – the forest behind Milkweed Manor  The idea for a book slowly worked its way to my conscious mind.

And I must say that I had a catalyst in this process.  At the beginning of the year I joined a coaching group for artists created and led by Nikol Peterman, called “Fearless Academy 2018.”  It has been so helpful in so many ways.  I was working on defining my “body of work” that I wanted to concentrate on this year (in addition to continuing to produce pieces for my Etsy shop The Foxes’ Garden} when Nikol nudged that seed into sprouting!

I never really thought of it as a children’s book, but during a visit to Barnes and Noble, looking for books sharing the format of the one I had in mind, I found myself squarely in the children’s books section.  This has taken some getting used to, but I’m almost there.

What I’m really interested in is the characters and the way they live together in their little Community in the forest.  I’ve found that what I have in mind would fall into the children’s book genre of the Anthology which is apparently (according to my research at least) not much favored by editors.  But after giving it some thought I have decided to forge ahead, banking on the value of authenticity!

So I’m aiming for about seven chapters.  I have ideas and notes for all of them, and have written the rough first drafts for four and am now working on the fifth.  Sometimes the writing seems to flow, and other times it’s difficult.  But the flowing times are so wonderful that the hardest of “stuck” times are well worth it.

I’m absolutely itching to get to the illustrating, but I’m not going to do anything but preliminary character sketches until I have the whole thing written at the second draft stage.  It’s so much easier and quicker, after all, to rewrite that to do a new illustration!

Thanks for listening, and I’d love to hear from you!


The Little Owl


Now I’m working on my second needle felted animal character inspired by my emerging Milkweed Manor stories.  This is Thea, the little owl.  A large storm destroyed her family’s nest and, even worse, separated her from her mother and brothers and sisters, hence the (Swarovski crystal) tear falling from her eye.

At this point I’ve completed the needle felting.  The wires you see sticking out from the underside of her feet at to allow me to attach her to a base.  And speaking of a base, for literally a few years I had the perfect piece of wood – a narly chunk from the base of an oak tree that my sister found – sitting on my kitchen windowsill.  Now I can’t find it anywhere!  So frustrating, but it’s just another problem to solve and I’ll come up with something.

The next step will be to make her bed jacket.  I bought a few pieces of vintage chenille bedspread scraps on Etsy and I’ll use one of those.  Then I’ll have to distress it to look like it’s been through a storm.

Lots of fun ahead!

Just Waiting

Here’s my current group of sculptures drying in the kiln and waiting to be bisque fired.  I need several pieces for it to make financial sense to run the kiln and, to tell the truth, I could fit a second layer, but I’m OK with going with it at this point.

With this batch I’ve started a new regimen of letting the pieces dry in the kiln.  I’ve found that when I let them dry outside the kiln and then transfer them they’re prone to breakage as a dry piece is so much more fragile than a wet one.  So I’m hoping this will work well for me.

Zeke – The Rest of the Story

Here are two photos of the finished Zeke.  I took the one above at an angle that would show the gold, and the one below at an angle that didn’t.
The noteworthy technical thing is the use of graphite.  In the past I’ve had trouble getting graphite to stick.  Even when I sprayed with workable fixatif the graphic didn’t work.  On this one, I used only Liquitex matte gel medium as an adhesive and Liquitex gesso for knocking back color.  Otherwise I used Golden fluid acrylics.  The graphic worked fine over this substrate.
When I was done (except for the gold) I varnished with a satin varnish and the graphite didn’t smudge.  For once, I remembered that if I wanted to varnish I had to do it before I added the gold.  Varnish over gold just dulls it!

Beginning Zeke

I began working on the second week’s piece for the Series 52 group, a Facebook Group began by Jeanne Oliver challenging other artists to join her in creating 52 pieces during 2018, preferably working in series.  Fiona was the first in this series of mine which I think will end up with 7 pieces.
This is little Zeke’s portrait – a collage featuring my drawing of him as well as my effort of writing text purportedly from him about how he would like to be seen and understood.  The name I’ve given to this series is “See Me!”
So, after writing the text and drawing the portrait, I placed the basic elements of the collage.  By the way, although most of the text is obliterated in the finished piece, I transcribed it before I began and will print it out and put it in an envelope on the back of the piece.  My surface is a cradled board, 8″ x 8″.

Next I added more collage elements layered with washes of Golden fluid acrylics.  I almost always stick to the more transparent colors, by the way.  I also began to add some color to Zeke – also acrylic washes.  So far, so good.  And I really like the blue tissue paper that I added along the right edge.

Using the New Palette

I’m painting a barn owl surrounded by foliage and floral motifs, using my new watercolor palette from Robax Engineering.  For whatever reason, I always seem to experience a bit of a block when I use a new tool or approach, but I pushed through it and got this far today.
I keep thinking how much easier this would be to do with acrylic, but I’m pushing myself to learn watercolor because I believe that the colors can be so beautiful, and I like the funky things the paint can do, like the “blooms” in the leaves.
The hardest part so far was the Indigo shading around the edges.  I made several passes at it, while I think a more experienced watercolorist would get the value correct the first time.
But as for the palette, it took a bit of getting used to.  Although it holds virtually the same number of colors as the palette I’m used to (19 vs 18) it’s much bigger so I’ve had to rearrange my work space.  The mixing areas are also different – wedge shapes instead of rectangles – but I’m getting used to that as well.  By the way, even using staining colors, the mixing trays washed out beautifully.
There was nothing wrong with the palette I was using before, but what attracted me to this one is the well liners that allow me to switch out colors.  So far, so good.

The Old Way and the New Way

My watercolor palette has served me well.  Not so many color wells, but quite enough.  From this many colors I found I could mix about anything.  And plenty of mixing space too.
But ever since taking an online class from Danielle Donaldson I’ve been fascinated by watercolor palettes from Robax engineering.  This engineering company somehow got into making watercolor palettes based on design ideas from various artists.  I’ve been scrutinizing them for over six months now and finally took the plunge.

The one I was initially interested in had wells for 85 colors!  But after using my old palette for a while I realized that so many colors sitting in front of me would just be confusing and in the end I got this one with 19 paint wells.  It’s 12 inches in diameter.
The super cool thing though, is that you can buy liners for the wells (which I did) which allows you to easily switch out colors!
These are the colors I chose (all Daniel Smith):
New Gamboge
Quinacridone Gold
Quinacridone Sienna
Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet
English Red Ochre
Quinacridone Rose
Burnt Umber
Permanent Brown
Rose of Ultramarine
Indancrone Blue
Imperial Purple
Deep Sap Greem
Terre Verte
Hooker’s Green
Sap Green
Phthalo Green Blue Shade
Prussian Green
– not necessarily an orthodox selection, but I really like these colors.