Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Cleaning Inside and Out

These last weeks have swung between sun and rain, warm and cold. When the weather is fine, I feel like skipping and singing. Some days have been so glorious that we've flung doors and windows wide open. The temperatures soared up into the 70s (22º Celsius). I was born in the spring, so perhaps that is why it makes me feel so ALIVE when it comes. It's the promise of it is buoyed by the anticipation, because in reality, other than very pregnant buds on the barren trees, rose and hydrangea sticks, not much is actually popping yet.

The Virginia Creeper has not yet awoken from its long sleep

 Wherefore art thou, spring?

The only exception to this barrenness is our Daphne plant, full of the most delicious smelling modest little flowers. This plant has spring spirit, blooming before anyone else and choosing fragrance over showiness. There are also those birds who are back in town and who wake us in the early morning with their singing outside the windows. The blackbirds may not be much to look at, but their powerful, melodious songs are brilliant. They too are in a kind of frenzy of anticipation as they poke through the bushes looking for just the right spot to build their nests. They arise before the first church bells, and twitter and chatter all through the day, and well into the the dusk.

A sunny window in the studio

Like them, we have been very busy and focused. Some of the many projects I have wanted to tackle are finally underway. Our hedge plants have just been delivered and planted. We chose photinia as they are hardy here throughout all weather conditions and grow very fast. On these warm days, they can grow a few inches a day, as their multiplying leaf clusters open up. Their foliage is green and red, rather showy. Of course, for now it doesn't look like much. With gardening one needs much more imagination and patience than I easily can muster. In a year or two, they will offer us complete privacy within our garden plot.

 You have to start somewhere.

Inside I have done a certain amount of reorganizing and refreshing. Switching rugs around, rearranging furniture, doing some deep cleaning, and most gratifying of all, repainting some trim. This will take me a very long time as there is so much of it in the house. I'm not sure I'll have it done before our season actually opens. When we moved here in 2007, we spent an entire year working on the place, adding bathrooms, redoing electricity and plumbing, reshaping some of the rooms to give each bedroom a private bathroom, which required building walls and adding doors to existing ones. In the process we repainted all the walls. That was one of my favorite activities, because the walls are plaster and to paint them, you simply mix a big bucket of chaux (limestone dust) with some water and throw in a little bit of natural powdered pigment. I still have jars of each of the available colors. You never know what you will get once you put the chaux on the walls. The color you see in your bucket has little relationship to what happens once it has dried on your wall. To put it on, you have a huge sponge, you wet down a small area and then you literally slap the chaux onto the damp wall with something about the size of a wallpaper brush. It's the sloppiest job in the world, which is just how I like it. It's hard not to get a beautiful color, as all the dyes are natural and the texture and modulation that are inherent in the material have their own charm. In the process, however, we left all the trim painted as the former owners left it, always meaning to get to that later. You know how that can go! So finally this week I was able to buy a can of paint (surprisingly difficult and outrageously expensive in this country for some reason) and beginning at the bottom floor I plan to slowly but surely cover up the old tired colors. One thing that has bothered me about the original trim is that the doors were painted one color and the baseboards another. When I'm done, it will be uniform.


I have also been rather busy in the atelier. I'm getting ready for several exhibitions and creating some new images. I have been experimenting with a new technique of deep biting old etching plates on which I have painted bold varnished shapes. The acid eats away at the plate until there are frayed edges, holes and valleys. The protected parts are partially bitten away too, making new shapes and unexpected forms. I then print them as relief prints, not wiping them at all. Afterwards I hand color them with pastels. I like their boldness and they hold together as a series. I was very happy to find a framing shop in Le Mans that could cut mats and glass and put together custom frames while we waited. Rick then was able to frame them all. I like the black frames and white mats very much. It seems to match the graphic-like quality of the images.

I am reading The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, a wonderfully magical tale of a twelve year old in the 18th century who got mad at his parents one day, climbed a tree and refused to ever come down again. It is beautifully written and highly recommended. Here he is meeting his neighbor Viola with whom he becomes instantly smitten. She is a malicious little thing, using her hunting horn to call to adults to come capture him.

I also have begun my zine. The story of Quinn and his nightmares. Here is the cover and one of the first pages.


So much more to rush off and accomplish. We've at least put some pansies in our planter as we wait for the weather to improve. I long for various shades of lobelia tumbling down the sides. But that will have to wait for May!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spring Break

When the hills turn green and the sun comes out, it's difficult to find a good excuse to sit in front of my computer. Au contraire, all my atoms are yelling "take us outdoors!" And so I race up to our bare garden and mess about in the dirt, dreaming of more colorful days to come. soon. It is because the weather, though still quite chilly, has been bright that I have been tempted away from my normal routine. 


My blogging friend Amanda did a post about zines recently. She always has something interesting and constructive to say. It got me thinking about my own collection of zines and non-commercial little books. I have it in mind this year to make a few of these myself. I find them so appealing. Strictly speaking, according to Wikipedia a zine can be considered as any self-published work with a distribution of less than 5000. 

If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow is not strictly a zine, or even a self-published work. It was, however, a real break-through book when it was first published in 1978. I bought my copy in the 1980s. It was one of the first soft cover and small children's books to be published and it was easy to sell in gift shops for this reason, so on the West Coast of the U.S. it took off like a rocket. It had no competition whatsoever. Green Tiger Press was a small and avant garde (and at the same time retro) publishing company run by the same kind of people who make zines today.

The illustrations and even the lettering were done by hand, before computers had such a central role in the art we do these days.

I still love this little book. Tiger Press seems no longer to exist.

One of my favorite little books is actually printed, rather than photocopied. It can't be called a zine, but it is an art book, made at a very small press. I believe it came from Twinrocker, although it is not branded, which is a real shame. 

In Paris one year we went to the show where French children's book publishers present their new titles. I buy children's books for myself. My favorite stall, however, was a little independent press. Jacques Benoît produces his own little books. They are fabulous and his very funny website is well worth visiting.

The puzzles in this book are all completely absurd and unsolvable. 

Flip books are also among my favorites. They're so simple, so funny and so low tech. Muji, a very popular store here in France, used to have an entire collection of them. I've given many of mine away. My other flip book has a little video here where you can see the crazy action that takes place when you thumb the book.

Frankly, the most authentic zine I own was all handmade and reproduced by my Australian printmaking friend Wendy. The book, so beautifully drawn, produced and bound, was a gift to us, sent after she and her partner had stayed here for a few days of etching.

The zine tells of their adventures traveling around France and of course my favorite page features our atelier and house! I know this project took her some time to accomplish. I only wish I had the patience to create such a wonderful memory for important parts of my own life.

My friend Françoise sent me this lovely little book. It tells in detail about one day in an artist's life.  It was created by a small publishing company. It's a bit more like a journal than a zine.

But it's filled with photos and drawings. It would be a wonderful exercise to find so much to describe about a single day.

I find that many bookstores in France have an entire section devoted to zines and self-published graphic books. Is this now true in other locales as well? I'm always drawn to that section since I like looking at pictures. 

Étienne Davodeau publishes his own work and sells it directly to bookstores and individuals. They are beautifully reproduced and bound. 

I bought this one just a few weeks ago at the bookstore at Parc de la Villette. I particularly liked it's format. It's about one apartment building and all the people who live there. You slip the book out of it's attractive sleeve and then it opens left to right and top to bottom in various levels.

Someday I hope to steal this wonderful design! I am really making myself impatient to get back into my studio!

The last zine I bought very recently is by one of my favorite artist's Becca Stadtlander. It has no dialog or words or any kind. I guess you can make up your own story.

It was published by Little Otsu, which seems like a great little publisher. Have you ever noticed how many clever people and creative enterprises are based in Portland?


In personal news, the grandchildren came to visit over their own spring break. Quinn generously shared his cars with Zinnie, but she didn't seem to care too much about them.

We've been sharing our garden space with a man from the village for the last few years. He decided to abandon his vegetable plot at exactly the same time that we got the itch to redo the entire garden. We've cut down a lot of old trees, torn down the raggedy wire fence and intend to plant a nice hedge and lawn. I spent two days pulling old ivy vines off the wall (which was built in the Middle Ages!).

If I go silent, you can imagine me there, transplanting roses and lavender bushes.