Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Would You Like These Pictures on a Mug?
Come to my new Zazzle store -*.  I am making my pictures available on popular Zazzle products.  These two - "A Mother's Love" and "A Renaissance Lute-Playing Cat" - are available in 7 mug styles.  I have just added a postcard and an additional mug, and will be putting up more shortly.  Enjoy and share with your friends!

Friday, May 25, 2012

I have recently completed two projects I had set aside to knit the camisole.  The picture above is a single crochet cotton dish towel - the size I want it!  When I first started trying to make kitchen cloths, I went strictly by the pattern books.  Kitchen towels are supposed to be 12" by 15".  This is wonderful if you want something to show off, but not if you actually want to use the thing.  I decided to make one my way.

You will notice immediately that I fell into a common error.  I simply don't like having to count stitches on each row, but apparently this is necessary for a US 10 or smaller crochet hook.  You can see where I lost some stitches and worked to regain them.  The bottom of the cloth is 17" wide and the top is only 15", despite my best efforts to add back stitches.  I didn't go back and unravel the errors, since all I wanted was a towel for my own kitchen.  I'd really rather spend all my crochet time thinking of science fiction plots and possible articles, but apparently I'll have to break down and count when I use the smaller hook.
  This is the second tote bag I've made, and I've just listed it for sale on Peaypatch.  Here I decided to use chunkier yarns than I had tried before; only the handles are crocheted with two threads at once.  The back, bottom, and sides are done in the hefty Lion Brand Hometown USA yarn, while the front is done in a somewhat lighter weight Deborah Norville yarn.  I didn't have any stitch counting problems using the US 16 crochet hook.  The bottom, sides, and handles, of course, are narrow pieces made from a 6 or 8 chain.  I sewed the pieces together using a yarn needle and my inestimable needle threader.

The bag I made earlier has been with me to the public library.  I figure a bag sturdy enough to handle library books is sturdy enough to sell to the public.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I Try a New Direction
You know I'm normally a cat artist, but sometimes circumstances compel me to try something different.  I write Nashville Political Buzz for, and I wanted to do a piece on homophobia and how it might affect the current presidential campaign.  Now, for each article you need a picture.  What to do?

Twice before I have had to make my own illustrations, using facial outlines with filled in clothes to cover my deficiency in facial shading.  But how to illustrate hate?  I came up with a one word answer - Beardsley.  I am fortunate enough to own two volumes on this black-and-white genius of the late 19th century.  Beardsley's art is hardly rated 'family friendly'.  My own remarkably laid-back father remarked that 'Aubrey was a little weird'.  Sure enough, I found exactly the image to modify to portray hate.

Aubrey Beardsley was both a phenomenon and a child prodigy.  This latter bit was lucky, because he only lived to be 25 years old.  He was diagnosed with tuberculosis at age 7.  I'll cut a lot of slack for a man who lived like that.  Always weak and lacking in energy, he turned to black and white drawing, with the occasional wash, as the only medium he could master.  In his later works, he created elaborate dresses and settings using tiny dots instead of lines.  I can't see that saving much effort, but it worked for him.

Yes, his vision was often disturbing and odd, as in the Salome drawings.  As an asthmatic myself, I can understand that.  Fortunately, I've never hemorrhaged or suffered the worst effects of tuberculosis, but I know what it's like not to be able to breathe properly.  You certainly don't want to be hugged, and you feel it's unfair that there are so many things you just can't do.  A serious or chronic illness simply give you a different, darker view on life.

If you are a serious artist, Aubrey Beardsley's techniques are definitely worth studying.  If you're an opera lover, you might find it interesting tha Beardsley drew Salome conducting an orchestra, though Strauss wrote the opera four years after his death. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

My New Hand Knit Cotton Top
I finally finished it!  This camisole top took three 50 ounce balls of cotton boucle yarn.  Actually, after this picture was taken, I decided the top was shorter than I wanted, so I spent most of the weekend knitting a three-inch extension (140 stitches).  I used a seed stitch border at top, bottom, and sides, with stockinette in between.  The straps are seed stitch; I don't need them curling up on top of everything else straps do!  Actually fitting the knit fabric to my form took some sewing skills but was really not difficult.  I used a yarn needle and one of those marvelous needle threaders.  I can't praise them enough.

My son Lawrence took this picture at Gerst Haus, where we had gone for a Mother's Day treat a few days early.  Since his family lives in Gallatin, it is convenient for him to visit me here in Nashville after work.  These nights are special; we discuss my forthcoming novel Befriending Aliens. Every novelist needs to bat ideas back and forth, and Lawrence is my key to science fiction.  He enjoys television a lot more than I do, so he can clue me in on good visual effects.  Already he's drawn the front cover for me - that's a relief!

Anyway, if I can knit a top like this, you probably can too, especially if you have some knowledge of sewing to make it fit.  I bought the yarn from KnitPicks when I bought the latest lot I wrote about.  This was a discontinued line of yarn - one reason I knit it on US 10 needles rather than the US5 or 6 suggested.  Since I didn't want to play with circular needles while knitting straps, I knit those on my US9 straight needles.  This boucle yarn was rather thinner than I expected, and the boucle bumps made it virtually impossible to crochet.

This is, unbelievably, a lightweight and comfortable summer garment.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Friends in Winter
This box top shows one of my favorite scenes to paint.  It is adapted from an advertisement in a Paris Opera program of 1912.  The product advertised was what we would call bathrobes, though they look more luxurious and romantic than any bathrobes I've ever seen!

Since this round paper mache box did not present a very big drawing surface, I concentrated on head and shoulder shots using a variety of models.  Pictured are four versions of Maria Callas, but the box also includes paintings inspired by Marlena Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Kiki of Montparnasse.

Now that I've got a larger market than street fairs, I'm trying to do more wooden boxes instead of the cheaper paper mache.  You can expect to see my Paris Opera bathrobe cats again on other items. 
Here is a version I put on a refrigerator magnet.  I'll be sending a free magnet of some amusing picture with each purchase from Peaypatch.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Work in Progress
I'm on a painting spree right now, since one of the causes I'm involved in needs to raise money.  This wooden large jewelry-type box, once finished, ought to add a little to the proceeds.  Every artist has a different inspiration and process, so I thought I'd write a little about mine. I want to help other would-be painters and crafters get their creative juices flowing!

My original inspiration for this medieval ladies' picnic came from an illustrated history of music my mother had bought.  The figure on the left came from an early painting of Tristan and Isolde sharing a picnic.  I had some other attractive pictures of medieval ladies to make a completely new scene.  The top image was inspired by a Louis Read drawing of Queen Guinevere going a-maying.  When Borders went out of business, I got a wonderful book of King Arthur illustrations on sale.

The bottom image came from a book on manuscript painting - also one of my mother's.  This particular painting was rather a rarity - an illuminated translation of an Arabic book on medicine.  In the original, the lady is serving orgeat, a type of barley water, to a gentleman with heartburn.  That's probably one of the few medieval cures that's harmless!  The water-filled box beside her I found in a couple of sources.  Apparently this was the medieval answer to an ice chest.  You put your drink jars in a water filled box for outdoor eating.  If a stream was convenient to your picnic site, you simply set the box in the stream.

The fourth image required to balance the painting (and the picnic, since she has the food) is adapted from a photo of Maria Callas in the gentle La Sonombula.  I outfitted her in a costume from Il Pirata to look medieval.  Most folks don't know that Callas grew up in Occupied Greece during World War II and in her teen years often helped organize the bread distribution.

One thing about medieval costume - I was trained to be a stickler for historic accuracy in writing, but I've discovered you can't do that with costume.  No matter how many sources you consult, you can never find a complete set of costumes for any particular time and place in the Middle Ages.  One of the paintings I'm working on has a couple from the 13th Century dancing to the music of a couple from 1490.  Nobody will know the difference; they both look "medieval".  Likewise, literary illustrations and stage costumes depict whatever the painters and costumers thought was appropriate.  It's not necessarily accurate.

I don't worry about copyrights on any of my models.  Wherever I get my inspiration, the originals aren't cats.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Test of Alien Alliance - My Own Novel
Yes, I know the artwork is lamentable, but at least it's my own concept and not somebody else's.  I wrote this science fiction novel under the pen name "Norma Druid", since I'm writing factual articles for under my own name.  I painted my own cover because my son said he couldn't visualize what I wanted, and there was nobody else I could ask.  Thank goodness he grasped the concept and drew the cover for my second book!

I started out writing science fiction because that self-same son asked me to write him a Star Trek story.  There are a number of not-for-profit fanzines for every popular sc-fi TV and movie series, and I played around with stuff that could be submitted to them for several years.  Then I decided that not only do I want to be a legitimate published author, I also want my own universe.

One reason publishers and TV people alike love to put out "series tie-in" novels is that you simply can't tell a full, compelling story in 60 minutes - or even 120.  What we get in movies and TV are broad outlines of characters; instinctively, we want to "hang out" with these people and learn more about them and their universe.  Even multi-talented authors like Barbara Hambly enjoy getting in on the game.

But universes built ad hoc for television and movies are simply not complete, realistic universes.  Don't think I fault the creators; I've read enough Star Trek memoirs to know that the good things we enjoyed came about in spite of, rather than because of, interference by the "suits" and bean-counters in the industries.  They also had to build around personality conflicts.  The entertainment industry, like the aircraft industry I wrote about a couple of posts ago, is too big and unwieldy for an artisan approach.

What I planned to do in A Test of Alien Alliance and at least partially achieved, is a universe where normal business and corporate practices are as important to the function of the whole as they are now.  Honestly, I don't see how they could not be.  During parts of Star Trek V, I found myself cringing. Guys, if we let those folks plan the future, there won't be one!

Also, it has always bugged me that in movies and on TV the solution to every problem is worked out by a relatively small group of people.  Fine when you're hiring actors, but that's not the way it works in real life.  That's why I have a female civilian road contractor handle a major problem my prime characters are in no position to notice.  It's lots of people putting different parts of a solution together that makes life work.

I've also made play with my love of history and unique names.  To promote the book and provide an audience for the next volume, I am selling my author copies at for $10 plus postage - half the original cover price.  I'll even throw in an autograph!