Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Unveiling

In my last blog, I said, “Stay tuned!” I was about to launch into the project of creating  a self-portrait at 69 to accompany my series of crow self-portraits, begun when I was 65.

So I began. The goal was to reflect the inner child at play and to create a reminder not to take life so seriously all the time. Of course, there’s lots to be serious about, especially these days. Serious and deep are good things – it shows we’re paying attention and thinking and acting in right ways. But I tend to do that too much, judging by the “MEGO” effect  (“My Eyes Glaze Over”) some of my conversations and blogs have on people. (You’ve been very discrete, but yes, I have noticed.) So I tell myself, at 69, let’s get some balance here: a little more lightness, fun, play and laughter.

A playful crow: easy peasy, right? No. Ironically, this was not a painless, carefree, playful project. I took it terribly seriously – I even had restless nights in which my brain was preoccupied with problems to solve. As it turns out, this project is an illustration of what I’ve just written above: there’s a balance to life. You have to put in the hard work to get it done, but there’s no law against having a giggle while you’re doing it. Let your light heart have its say. As Mary Poppins reminds us, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun....”  And the inner child pumps her fist and says, YES. Some days she runs on with light-hearted abandon, and has a blast. Some days, she plays quietly, and her play involves trial and error until she gets it right. That's what this project turned out to be.

So here she is: Miss June. She still needs some finishing touches – a ladybug, a spider and a frog in the garden, bubbles coming out of the bubble jar, better nailpolish on her toes. But you get the drift. Put your tongue in your cheek and enjoy. That’s the playful thing to do. Then move on – it’s not great or serious art. Miss June is telling you, “Lighten up, eh? Let your inner child out to play.” (She must be Canadian, eh!)

Some of you have asked about the process of creating an art piece like this. If you’re interested, read on. I have photographed and commented on various steps in the process. This is the serious part of the blog.

How to Create a Self-Portrait
1. Start with a concept or inspiration. In my case it was my Calendar Girl moment, and the reflections and thoughts I had afterwards. I decided my self-portrait should portray my inner child.

2. If you are not a great illustrator, check through images on the internet and in books until you find one you like, and work from it. If you are going to copy it exactly, you’ll need written permission from the original author/illustrator. However, if you are using it for inspiration, there’s no copyright on ideas, (although it is polite to acknowledge your source.)

3. Create a pattern. I wanted my wings to bend to hold the hat, so in my pattern I mirror-imaged the bent wing. Much later, I actually went back to the extended wing and used it instead. I also didn’t like the big-beaked face, so changed that as well.

4. Decide on a background setting. Originally, the background edges were going to include a picket fence, an arbor, and a sign over the top of the arbor. That was too much. I also spent a good part of a day trying to find a good background fabric. Nothing seemed right, so I called it a day and decided to work on the crow the next day.

5. What kind of feathers should she have? Yellow is the colour of playfulness, so I looked for fabric with yellow in it. I created lots of feathers, but when I dressed up my crow, she looked like she was wearing a dowdy old-lady dress. Not good.

A couple of other kinds of feathers also didn’t work. Finally I went for my standard crow feathers: black and dark shades of reds, blues and greens.

I stitched the feathers on to the body of the crow by machine. I made wing templates, and stitched feathers to them. Then I stitched  the wings to the body.

I’d spent a second day trying things out, but finally I had a crow -- it would need some work, but it was recognizable.

6. Now it was time to find a background. It came to me fairly easily the second time around: yellow for playfulness, fairly plain so I could fill in little details on a neutral field. I bordered the yellow fabric with a brighter print, the same print I used in my self-portrait at 65.

7. Time for details. My original concept included a hat for her to hold and a jaunty topknot of feathers. Instead, she ended up holding a basket of flowers and wearing a hat. I realized I wanted to add a magic wand, so I created a new wing that extended out to hold it.

I wasn’t sure how to add a subtle reminder of the calendar girl idea, then ended up creating one to hang on the wall. Inside is a tiny photo of me, Miss June, the calendar girl.

I wanted a playground sign, so created one of my own. I needed to add flowers and the fun things that come with flowers, since for me a garden setting always helps me feel relaxed and happy. So I grew some sunflowers up the side, fussy-cut some flowers and leaves out of floral fabric, and top-stitched them to the stems.

Blowing bubbles is playful, so that also made an appearance. I could have also added a ball or a skipping rope or a hula hoop, but the piece was getting pretty busy.

Knowing when to quit and say enough is an art in itself.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Miss June

So something interesting happened to me when we were out at our “bedroom by the sea”.

I had decided to look for a magic moment every day while we were out there. For me, magic is a feeling of amazement, wonder, or enchantment – something you might not notice if you weren’t looking for it. So I opened my senses up to the possibility of magic.

And oh, my! The magic moments piled up. There were streaks of emerald green in the turquoise blue water: magic! The sunsets: magic!

The tide came in, the tide went out, never stopping. What a wonder! A pod of porpoises jumped out of the water as they passed the kayaks our kids were in. Wow! Wow! Wow!

We managed to get family photos in which everyone looked pretty good – not only magic, but a miracle! Pretty soon, you couldn’t help but see magic all around you.

Now, if you believe in magic, and are on the lookout for it, your mindset changes. You get back in touch with that little child inside of you for whom everything is amazing, wonderful, and worth checking out. Fun is the name of the game. Do you remember that little child you used to be?

Do you know where your inner child is now? Has it been a while since he/she’s been invited to come out and play? It certainly has been for me. Oh sure, sometimes I set aside a play day for myself, when I try a variety of quilty things I wouldn’t normally do, just to see where it leads. But too quickly that becomes serious business. I begin to insist that it has to result in something, don’t you know? Something good, of course, something useful I can incorporate in my next piece of art.

It was about a week into my practice of looking out for magic when the inner child popped up big time. The campground was empty – all the neighbours were gone. The sun was shining brightly and the water was sparkling. I’d just stepped out of the shower when I spied my big straw hat lying on the bed. As I dried myself and pulled on my capris, I started to giggle. That hat reminded me of “Calendar Girls” – a movie about women of a certain age who decide to pose for a pin-up calendar to raise money for a worthy cause. They stripped for the camera, using flower pots, balls of yarn, books, cooking pots, whatever to cover up the “naughty bits.”

I checked it out: yup, that straw hat provided enough coverage. Maybe, with the campground being so empty, this was my big chance to be a calendar girl myself. I appointed the RS to be my photographer (I won’t repeat what his reaction was, but he did it, anyway. He’s my hero, indulging my fantasies.) Hat in hands, I posed in front of the ocean and had my own private calendar shoot.

Why? Why not? Who knows why I did it? Maybe my inner child that day wanted to feel the sun on her bare back, to feel the breeze caressing her shoulders. Maybe my inner child wanted to be free for a bit, to thumb her nose at the strict guidelines that are laid out for old ladies. It was such a little act of insubordination, but it reminded me that it had been too long since my inner child had lured me into letting go and having fun, hang the consequences.

In his book Whistling in the Dark author Frederick Buechner points out that the differences between 8 year olds and 80 year olds [or between 7 and 70] are not as great as we might think.  He writes: “Second childhood commonly means something to steer clear of, but it can also mean something else. It can mean that if your spirit is still more or less intact, one of the benefits of being an old crock is that you can enjoy again something of what it's like being a young squirt.

Eight-year-olds like eighty-year-olds have lots of things they'd love to do but can't because their bodies aren't up to it, so they learn to play instead. Eighty-year-olds might do well to take notice. They can play at being eighty-year-olds for instance...

Another thing is that if part of the pleasure of being a child the first time round is that you don't have to prove yourself yet, part of the pleasure of being a child the second time round is that you don't have to prove yourself any longer. You can be who you are and say what you feel, and let the chips fall where they may.

Very young children and very old children also have in common the advantage of being able to sit on the sideline of things. While everybody else is in there jockeying for position and sweating it out, they can lean back, put their feet up, and like the octogenarian King Lear "pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies."

Or become a Calendar Girl for a while.

Since 2013, the year I turned 65, it’s been my practice to create a self-portrait every year, reflecting where I’m at in my emotional and spiritual life. I had another birthday recently, and now I have an idea for my self-portrait.  I’ve got an outline, now I have to fill in the blanks. Stay tuned!