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As promised, I will try, as time allows, to bring you some of the amazing works of the sculptor Seward Johnson. He is the founder of the Grounds for Sculpture Museum, which is largely outdoors, and in his 80’s, he continues to work today. A retrospective of his work has been on display for well over a year now, and I feel fortunate to have gotten to see the many pieces that will soon return to their homes around the world.

Just inside the Welcome Center is a large gallery of his works; all but two are based on famous paintings. Today’s post focuses on a few of the works inside the gallery.

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What you see above is a 3-dimensional room created from Van Gogh’s painting, “Bedroom at Arles.” When you step inside the room, there are two shiny black footprints upon which to stand. I, (yeah, I know, shame on me), didn’t read any of the art notes provided, but obediently stood on the footprints anyway and photographed the installation. What I didn’t see until I got home, is that by taking the photo from that exact angle, the effect was that of the 3-D room being flattened to appear as Van Gogh’s painting.

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To me, the genius of this sculpture is not just in Johnson’s usual accomplishment of turning a 2-D painting into a 3-D sculpture, but in then finding a way to reverse it back to 2-D. Above is a photo I took inside the room where you can see that the bed is made up with a real blanket, pillows and sheets.

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Stepping back in time, we have Vermeer’s “Girl with A Pearl Earring.” Johnson sometimes uses a suspended real frame to perfectly surround the subject as he/she appeared in the original painting, while they sit in the proper pose.

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In more than one example of his work, we see Johnson’s sense of humor, and his “Mona Lisa” installation is certainly one of them. Here she sits, nicely framed, as was our girl above. The guards you see below are, of course, part of the installation, but what about the other people in the photos?

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Maybe not so much! What is truly enjoyable as you tour the grounds and this gallery and see his work, is that you are frequently left wondering, “Is that person real?” In a world where only a base under their feet can indicate that the people might not be live, it’s not always so easy to tell. Sometimes you do have to come pretty close to be sure.

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Who knew the Mona Lisa offered photo ops? I can’t help but think Da Vinci would have been amused.

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And who would have suspected that the Mona Lisa was a much more modern young lady than her rather serious portrait might indicate. Cheers to Seward Johnson! You put a smile on every person’s face that looked at this exhibit.

If these works appeal to you, I encourage you to go to Seward Johnson’s website where you can see all his works, often multiple views, and have a link to take you to the original painting upon which he based his sculpture.

More sometime soon …

Summer Mix

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Why, you may ask, are you looking at a pair of feet in (… well, a pretty cute set of) flip-flops?

Here’s why. For the same reason you’re about to look at a yummy summer salad sitting on an antique kitchen chair complete with original milk paint, (which by the way, doesn’t hold up all that well to everyday wear and tear.)

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It’s an offering. A little tide-you-over. I’ve been somewhat absent from my blog, but I do think of you, and I do miss the delight of writing more frequent posts, as well as stopping by your blogs. (Just because I don’t follow you or comment doesn’t mean I don’t stop in for a quick peek.)

The last few weeks have included some exciting things – a visit to the Grounds for Sculpture to see the Seward Johnson retrospective before the borrowed pieces return to their permanent spots all over the world on July 1. So much to see, and such genius! I’ll be posting more on that soon. Meanwhile, here’s a little teaser of what’s to come.

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Johnson is known for his sculptures of people in everyday life and his 3-dimensional interpretations of famous paintings. Throughout the grounds one finds groupings of people as well as individuals, such as this hot dog vendor along one of the walkways.

And then there was the NJ SCBWI June Conference where we all ate, drank and slept children’s books for nearly two days straight. It’s intense, exciting, rewarding, and based on everyone’s collapse on Monday, a major rush! The workshops, meeting and dining with agents and editors, connecting and re-connecting with fellow writers and illustrators is quite the whirlwind of an experience, and has us all coming home with a renewed sense of purpose, our dreams fired up, and ready to further our goals and experiences in children’s books.

Intermezzo: a French Bulldog illustration of mine, for summer. (p.s. This is available as part of a boxed set of Frenchie notecards.)

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And then of course, there’s work. LOTS of work. Not to complain; paying one’s bills is a good thing, but between it all, well, my blog bore the brunt of it. As have my poor LightBetweenOeans-MLStedman2porches which remain bereft of a single flower this year. (I’ll spare you the empty porch photos.) And then there are the everyday demands of just plain life. Busy!

And of course I’ve been reading. I am always reading, no matter what. Great book – just finished – I highly recommend it.

Soon I will share with you some truly amazing treats from the Seward Johnson exhibit.

So stay tuned … I do believe I’m back!

Sunlight in Spring Forest, Bavaria, Germany

TheTigerRising-KDiCamillo2What first draws you to physically pick up a new book? The title? Perhaps. But what makes you think that it may be truly wonderful? Chances are it’s the cover. And when it’s a children’s book?  The artist’s cover illustration is what will make you long to see more.

As an artist/illustrator myself, I am always thrilled to come across new and fabulous illustrators whose work I’ve never seen. This has happened twice recently and I was so impressed with these two artists’ work, I thought I’d share with you.

The first artist is Chris Sheban and I searched him out because I was so taken with the cover art on the Kate DiCamillo book I’m reading – The Tiger Rising. Turns out, Chris has also illustrated another favorite middle grade novel of mine, same author, Because of Winn-Dixie. Take a look at Chris’ portfolio – he’s amazing.

InAVillageByTheSea-AChu2The second artist is April Chu. She came to my attention because she is the illustrator of the soon-to-be-published Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, the debut children’s book written by author and dear friend, Laurie Wallmark. What inspired me about April Chu are the illustrations of her most recently published book, In a Village by the Sea. It takes a lot of talent to portray the ocean as beautifully as she has, not to mention everything else in her illustrations. Take a peek at April Chu’s portfolio. Her work is truly outstanding.

Just as reading, as well as watching plays, movies, and yes, even TV, adds to our depth as writers, looking at other artists’ work adds to our richness as illustrators.

EdmundDulac-PrincessPea2I’m going to add one more artist who has been a longtime favorite of mine. I can’t add a link to his portfolio because he is no longer alive, but his work glows with a richness and vibrancy that I have loved since I first set eyes on it many years ago. He is Edmund Dulac, born in 1882, passed away 1953.  You can get background on him here, if interested, but will see more of his images here, where prints of his work are for sale. Pictured here is a 1911 illustration of Dulac’s for The Princess and the Pea.

It’s a good day to be inspired!

 

 

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Those of you who stop by with any regularity often see at least one photo of the stash I garner after the Annual Library Sale. Not this year, but I did bring home some wonderful selections, adult, MG and YA, which were accompanied by another bunch of tantalizing books which my Library Sale Buddy offered me. (She opened her trunk like she had hot merchandise in there – dozens of books she’d read over the year, and was offering to me and other friends. It was pretty funny.)

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A few days ago, I was ready to dive in to one of those picks and chose a book by John Irving, Cider House Rules. I’d seen the movie years ago, which was fabulous, but as I CloseToFamous-JoanBauer2began the book, it didn’t seem right. I wanted something that would feed my creative self, the me that wants to work on my Middle Grade novel. I put it back on the shelf and drew out the Joan Bauer MG novel I’d picked up, Close to Famous.

I like Bauer’s style – her characters are believable, palpable people you might know or like to get to know. No high drama, but real life in a compelling way. This would both feed my creative self and provide an enjoyable read.

 

For those of us who create, who aspire to bring something new and of value into the world, feeding that part of ourselves is so important. I know, for myself, it can also get sorely neglected when life’s demands are peaking, and Creative Me can get tossed into a corner like a shucked-off backpack, full as it is of wondrous things.

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What writer isn’t enriched by reading, what artist by looking at art that inspires? Imagine a baker who doesn’t sample fabulous cupcakes, tasting every nuance of flavor, checking the texture for mouthfeel – how could she possibly produce truly delicious cupcakes herself without knowing what really good cupcakes taste like? It’s no different with us.

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Another way to feed our creative selves is to get out in nature — take a walk, take a drive to a nearby park, sit in your garden, watch a bird, a bee, a squirrel. Nothing fancy. Let the wonders of nature inspire you, help you feel at peace, connected. In that serenity, our creativity can come out to play.

I took the photos you see here on a recent walk – blue sky, sunny day – reminded me of the me that longs to create despite the daily demands of life. It was like a cupcake for my creative soul.

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Take a little time for yourself, especially when you most think you have none. Treat yourself to a creative cupcake. Add extra sprinkles; be inspired.

The morning skies were overcast, and the roads were fairly quiet. So I brought along my camera on my trip to the supermarket. The photos below were taken on an approximate 5 minute stretch of my 20-25 minute return trip from food shopping.

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Fields have been tilled and planted. Set far back
from the road, a horse farm.

When I first moved out to this beautiful side of the state, I learned from my neighbors/soon-to-be-friends that we “transplants” were not always welcome here. Of course I asked why. I was shocked by their answer. “Because,” they told me, “no sooner do people move out here than they want a supermarket down the road and a 7-11 on the corner, a MacDonald’s in walking distance, etc. etc., just like they had back in the burbs.”

Needless to say, this made no sense to me either. Why would you move out to the country and want to change it? I very soon adopted their attitude. Don’t like it here? Go back to where you came from. Because here … is gorgeous. As is.

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There are plenty of woodsy roads to be found.

I was enamored of this county the moment I moved out here. The more I drove around and saw, the more I loved it. It is truly the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived.

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Approaching the upcoming curve, I always get excited for what’s to come.

Driving the backroads – passing farms and wide open land, seeing horses, cows, goats and sheep living the life they deserve, through densely forested areas, over burbling creeks, watching crops grow – I just can’t wipe this idiot grin off my face.

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It’s a huge farm with Beltie, (and some Hereford), cattle/cows.

With no one else behind me, I pulled over and took a few shots of the farm across the road, always one of the highlights of my ride. There are numerous large pastures and upon them graze what are known as “Belties” – officially, Belted Galloways.

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Belted Galloways are a heritage breed of beef cattle originating from Galloway in southwestern Scotland. They are known
to be a very hardy breed, originating from the 1700’s.

When I first saw these cows, maybe 15 years ago, I nearly went off the road.  I was utterly transfixed by their markings. It’s no surprise that people, including breeders, sometimes refer to them as Oreo-cookie cows.

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A young Beltie. “I can get that itch if I just stretch far enough.”

At some point, I would like to contact the farm owner and ask if I might go out into the fields with the cows and really do an expansive photo shoot. Cows are such wonderful, sweet and curious animals. However, the bulls out there might not take kindly to me among them, farmer-escorted or not. (Not to mention this might be a major inconvenience for the farmer.) But I can assure you I would be in heaven, just hanging out in their midst and photographing them.

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It’s still spring, and the foliage you see is actually just beginning to bloom.

The next leg of the ride on this particular road has multiple sharp curves heading downhill, banks of trees ascending steeply on either side, until you are essentially in a gorge, but alas, there’s no opportunity to stop for a photograph. When summer is full blown, it’s a riot of dense green – trees, foliage and lots of moss. It reminds me of the parts of New Zealand where they filmed Lord of the Rings.

If I can see such beauty as this in just a tiny part of my ride home from the supermarket, why would I want one on the corner?

Don’t like it here? Let me help you pack!

Wisdom from the master himself …

WinnieThePooh

For a long time they looked at the river beneath them, saying nothing, and the river said nothing too, for it felt very quiet and peaceful on this summer afternoon.

“Tigger is all right really,” said Piglet lazily.

“Of course he is,” said Christopher Robin.

“Everybody is really,” said Pooh. “That’s what I think,” said Pooh. “But I don’t suppose I’m right,” he said.

“Of course you are,” said Christopher Robin.

~ A.A. Milne, Illustration E. H. Shepard

 

The Library Card

ChildrenReadingTintSometimes I have to stop and realize how incredibly fortunate I am to be living now, and to have grown up in a time and place where reading was always encouraged, and books always available. The two events I wrote about in the previous post are only possible for me because of these factors.

I am so grateful that, as a child, I was read to often and from when I was very young, that our mom read us a bedtime story each night before we went to sleep. Each week she took my brother and me to the library in town, a beautiful 1780’s Dutch stone house, where, after careful browsing, we emerged victorious with stacks of books in our arms. Once at home, we dove into our treasures. We had bookcases in our rooms, and it was a common sight to see our parents reading in the evening, long after the TV had become a living room fixture.

It’s easy to forget what an abundance of riches this truly is. We search the internet, e-mail, write and visit blogs and social media, and read books in a variety of 3-dimensional and electronic media with nary a thought. But that is not, and has not been, the case for many people in this world.

RichardWrightAwhile back, a fellow blogger shared this sentiment and gave me a link to a story by an author whose name I had not heard since I was in high school, Richrad Wright. He grew up in the deep South and in 1944, when he was 36, wrote the book Black Boy.  A particular chapter is titled The Library Card, and in first person relates Wright’s discovery of the vast reading material and knowledge to be had and to which he had no access because of his color. The books he longed to read only became available surreptitiously through the use of one trusted white man’s library card, and this depended upon Wright’s maintaining his attitude of ignorance and subservience to those around him.

For me, The Library Card eloquently makes the point of how blessed we are to be free to read, to learn, and to explore at will. There are people all around the world, including right here in our own country, predominantly children and women, who do not have access to books, nor can they, nor in some places, are they allowed or encouraged, to read.

There are plenty of ways we can bring books and reading to those who need and would benefit, but it has to start with this – the realization of how wonderful a gift we already have and frequently take for granted … a light that shines into the darkness, a transport to other worlds, an endless source of inspiration. Lucky, lucky us.

See you at the book sale.

 

This may be for the reader or the writer in you, but if you’re in driving distance of either of these events, I suspect you may be interested in both!

BooksToBeRead-2First, what’s happening the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd? The event that I have no business going to but will be heading to anyway – the Hunterdon County Library’s Annual Book Sale! It will be held again at the South County Park Fairgrounds in Lambertville, just off Rt. 179, (for you locals), and as always, Saturday features hardbound books at $2, paperback, $1 and Sunday, they’re half that. Something new – Monday, May 4th from 9 to 12, they’re having a $5 bag sale! Last year I believe they had something like 60,000 books, so collect your totes and mark your calendars. For complete information, go to the Library Sale website.

BoyReadingIf you’re a children’s book writer and/or illustrator, published or aspiring, think about attending the New Jersey SCBWI big June Conference Saturday and Sunday, June 13th and 14th, in Princeton, NJ. The conference is two days packed with workshops taught by great names in the children’s book field, critiques from editors, agents, authors, illustrators or your peers, special intensives, socializing with agents and editors over meals, great camaraderie among all those who love children’s books, and more. This, however, requires registration and a conference fee, plus there’s a deadline to register – early bird by April 19th, otherwise by May 15th. You also receive a discount as an SCBWI member. Find more details here, and click on the link to register for more in-depth information. (You are not automatically committed to registering by going to the registration site.) You’ll enjoy wonderful food all weekend long, (I’m looking forward to it already), and you can stay overnight at the Crowne Plaza/Holiday Inn Express Conference Center.

I’ll be going to both events – hope to see you there – I’ll be the one with that book-ish glow!

BaldEagle-Headshot2Each year, a pair of nesting Bald Eagles builds their nest on the Duke Farms Estate, and lay their eggs. This alone, is wonderful, but the entire process is caught live on the Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

Bald Eagles had become nearly extinct in New Jersey thanks to the excessive use of DDT, but they are slowly on the rebound, and this pair can be counted on to lay 2 or 3 eggs each spring. Through the eagle cam, you can watch the baby chicks and their doting parents high up in the tree. The first egg was laid on February 17, and the second of the two eggs hatched March 30. You can catch these youngsters as of this date in their pale baby feathers, then watch them grow right through fledging from the nest.

At times, there’s not much to watch on the eagle cam, but at other times, you have the opportunity of watching either or both of the parents bringing in food and feeding their chicks, moving around the nest, and the youngsters trying out their wings. In addition, there are weekly updates on the family as well as photos showing what you may have missed.

It’s a rare opportunity to get a peek at nature, so enjoy the Duke Farms Eagle Cam.

p.s. In reading more of the post notes, I see that one of the eagles hatched in the Duke Farms nest in 2009 was identified 150 miles away in Connecticut, where he had mated with a female, and fledged two chicks in 2014; the pair has nested again this year.

One thing that makes me happy is the books to be found throughout my house, numerous bookcases that house volumes of all kinds. I suppose you might sort them by the time-honored division of fiction and non-fiction, but I tend to see them differently. I keep books for three reasons: I have yet to read them; I have read them and would read them again; and books that I have read and return to on and off as needed.

BooksOnDesk2The first two categories generally hold adult novels, children’s books, short stories and poetry. The last holds things such as cookbooks, art and photography books, reference books for writing and drawing, (such as books on writing craft, dog and horse books, etc.) and my favorite – my inspirational or metaphysical books. They’re mostly all in one bookcase.

And then I have a small subset of that, sitting right next to me where I work. From these books I pick and choose what I need to know in my life now, which means that from time to time that selection may change, but it’s a pretty stable little group. Within those covers lie words of wisdom that guide me and feed my spirit; I may read at random for a few days or a few weeks or even re-read an entire book, as I am now.

Right on top you see a phenomenal book by Anita Moorjani, Dying to Be Me. I first saw her on a PBS special, a guest of Dr. Wayne Dyer presenting Wishes Fulfilled. She spoke of her NDE, (near death experience), its meaning to her and how it changed her life. The book was so highly recommended by Wayne Dyer that I purchased it.

I am currently reading it a second time because of her so beautifully articulated description of her journey from childhood through cancer and all but dying, to her recovery after her NDE, what she learned during the experience, and why she returned. What she has to say is truly inspirational; it helps me find – and know – again the reason why I’m here, and how to (try and) live it every day.

What I like about Moorjani is she never preaches, and she makes it clear that what she says is not suggesting or telling anyone what to do — she is merely sharing her experience. In this, she is an excellent teacher.

In a few weeks from now, could you look in, you might not see her book resting in that same spot, (although you will still see the ring binders of my sketchbook, journal, and PiBoIdMo idea book.) I don’t know which book might sit there, but it will most certainly be one with words to guide me, raise my energy, and help me be the best I can be.

I hope that you, too, find and read whatever books inspire you and brighten – and enlighten – your path.

PastryDough2You know … I was once quite the baker. That was back when I had the time, and was able to bake – and cook – with some sort of regularity. (I even have a little recipe box to prove it!) But how frustrating is it to finally set aside the time to bake, and have what you were going to bake be a disaster!

I know – this isn’t the first time I’ve spilled some baking tears on this blog, but I also know that those of you who do bake share my frustration when you spend the time with such a gorgeous end product in mind and it comes out wrong, or not at all. (Insert huge sigh here.)

So there you see the photo. That wasn’t what I was planning on making. At all. What I’d planned on making was Hamantaschen, those wonderful little triangular pastries with delicious fillings of fruit, poppyseed or almond. And I had the recipe that I had made them from  in the past. I went online and checked some recipes to see that my older one was in the range of what was still being done and all looked good. (By the way, if you want to see what beautiful Hamantaschen look like, their history, and how to make them, take a peek here. This is where I’ll be getting my next recipe from.)

So this morning early, I prepped my pastry dough so it would have at least 3 hours to chill and went about my other chores. Long story short, the dough was terribly crumbly, and was not pulling together any better with some ice water. I’d rolled out 1/4 of it and saw that this was not going to work; there’d never even be enough dough to make what the recipe said. So I made some cinnamon and sugar strips, (above), just to have something come from my efforts.

I brought out the next quarter of the dough and knew I was just wasting my time, and sadly, I chucked it. Half of it still sits in the fridge, why, I’m not sure, but there won’t be any Hamantaschen coming out of this kitchen today. And I wonder … could using organic ingredients make a difference? Are the ingredients used today sufficiently different from those on hand when I originally made that recipe to have this result?

Or … (insert very deep sigh here) … have I lost my touch? I won’t accept that, maybe just a little out of practice. That recipe has followed the too-crumbly dough into the great beyond, and when I next feel Hamantaschen-ish, I’ll check the recipe linked to above. Such is life.

p.s. This is not at all what I’ve been wanting to post about, but there you have it …

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