Cast Your Vote

Election day advice from my grumble of pugs...

 Waffles is voting for Hillary this election.

Waffles is voting for Hillary this election.

 Alfie prefers Trump.

Alfie prefers Trump.

 Amore is writing in Bernie.

Amore is writing in Bernie.

Voting is a serious business, but please remember, no matter who you are voting for this year, lighten up, have some fun, and be kind to those who may disagree with you. In the end, we are all part of the same pack!

More Colored Pencil-Rhianna and Amore

Rhianna Final Colored pencil may be my new addiction so I hope you guys don't get tired of viewing them while I perfect my technique. This picture is of my new pug puppy, Amore, and a young girl from our church, Rhianna. I've been taking Amore to church since I got her last December. She is quiet and well behaved and loves being passed from person to person during the service. As she has gotten a bit older this is not as easy because she is growing so big so quickly, but both Amore and Rhianna still seem to love their cuddle time. Below is the picture I did this from as well as further examples of my process.

1934946_10208341578239868_6771658361017948843_nRhianna Sketches

Colored Pencil-Obama

President Barack Obama by K.J. Gifford Last February I attended a conference put on by the Vermont Arts Council called Breaking into Business. It was designed to help artists establish and market their businesses. There, I met colored pencil artist Corrina Thurston, who does fabulous drawings of animals, wildlife etc. They are so realistic. I had never realized such an effect could be achieved with colored pencil. A lot of it involves building up layers and also using tools to cut into the layers to create lines, hair, wrinkles, whiskers, fur, etc. I decided to give it a try and began doing some portraits. This is one of my most recent of President Obama.

I'm really enjoying the process and am fascinated watching the image emerge. I have been taking photos of the drawing as it progresses and find that by the time I take the one prior to the final I frequently am ready to give up. When I get to this point I have tried studying the photo of my drawing and comparing it to the original picture in Photoshop. I practice making changes in Photoshop where it is easy to backup and erase mistakes and once I realize what needs to be fixed, I return to the page and colored pencil to make the changes. In this case, the changes were minimal, a narrowing of the face and a darkening of the eyes, but it made all the difference. Below, shows the sketch in progress.

Obama sketches

You can see how the fourth picture here is slightly different from the final image. All the changes here were done by hand. I only use Photoshop to compare the photos.

Writing Prompt: There and Back Again: Memoir Writing on Home and Travel

Sundog I've been thinking a lot about place lately as I am scheduled to begin a memoir class on home and travel. As I've been pulling together my syllabus and lesson plans, my mind has been keenly focused on the subject and as a result I've come across so many interesting pieces of writing focusing. A fellow blogger, Deb German Young, wrote a beautiful piece capturing the heat of Memphis and her childhood there while she searches for Avalon in her now everyday life in Vermont. A friend shared with me a piece about his grandmother's home in Vermont and a childhood fight that had him feeling like an outsider on many levels. This morning I stumbled across an announcement that West Virginia University Press is starting a book series called In Place focusing on books firmly rooted in place. For numerous years my primary form of income has been writing for magazines such as Upper Valley Life, Kearsarge Magazine, Rutland Magazine—all regional publications, but I don't think I gave much thought about how much the place where I live and was raised affected me until I started traveling. So many of the differences in political, religious views, customs, even affection for pets, I could soon trace back to my northern New England upbringing. My setting influenced if not my actual beliefs at the very least the way I approached things. I began to see that even my fears were based on where I came from. I have friends from afar who don't think twice of getting in a car and driving through six lanes of traffic, while many of the people here close to home find a sojourn to Burlington a big challenge. Our world here is small in scale and while I am not implying that we do not seek broader horizons, for many of us it is a leap to do so. I realized that my best friends have not strayed too far from home and my own family all lives within a 50-mile radius of each other. I come from people who stick and my own journeys in to the bigger world have thus, been perhaps been viewed as greater adventures than they might be to someone else. Each summer I get on a plane and travel 7,000 miles away to Hawaii. When I was 12, 16, even 25, I could not have imagined myself going that far.

I took a writing class two years ago with memoirist Abigail Thomas who kept encouraging me to write more about my family and their rural way of life. I couldn't quite grasp the uniqueness of it then, how much of it is a part of my story. I am beginning to now. Perhaps that is why I decided to teach this class. I have a good group of seven or eight students and I am excited to see where they are from and where this class will take us. I am also intrigued to find more memoirs and books where place plays a role. I recently found a few on Amazon that I am eager to read: Small Beneath the Sky by Lorna Corzier and No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments by Brooke Berman. One of my favorite descriptions of a place is not in a memoir but in Steinbeck's Cannery Row.  I'd love to hear any suggestions anyone else might have.

When I attended the workshop with Abigail Thomas she gave us a memoir prompt on place that I intend to use with my students the first day of class: Write 2 Pages on Where you Are From. I'd love to hear responses.

New Beginnings

FullSizeRender As some of you know, today my first email newsletter went out, keeping you apprised of latest news, classes, art shows etc. If you haven't already subscribed, you will notice there is now a place to do so on the home page of the blog. I hope this is one of many new changes over the course of the next year to make the web site more user friendly.

This newsletter was made possible by an artist development grant through the Vermont Arts Council. This past February a friend told me about the Breaking into Business Program, also sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council. My sister-in-law and I attended and the results, including the grant, have been fantastic. The program offered crucial information and advice on how to establish and further your art business as well as awesome networking opportunities. I am really excited about the newsletter, which I will publish monthly to start, that will give you further glimpses into what is going on with my writing, art, and teaching. And, of course, you'll get a fair share of pug news as well.

Which brings me to the latest update—a new litter of pug puppies at my friend Joan's home. Five blacks, all different in shape, size and personality. I'll be introducing them to you in the days ahead. They are three weeks old, have opened their eyes and are learning to stand. The biggest barely fits in two hands, while the little one can curl up in the palm of one.  They are magical and I have been visiting them daily.

Unfortunately, I have to take a break as I am  headed to Philadelphia to volunteer for an open air religious crusade in Nicetown. For those of you who come to the pages of this blog as writing students or art lovers, please don't be dismayed as I share these other details of my life. We are people of story, which is what art and writing and living and memory and memoir is all about. So just as I encourage you to share yours on the page, I am learning to share mine. I will be writing more soon and sharing lots of news, pics and some latest art projects, too. It has been a busy summer, which means there are many stories to tell.

Journal Jam

IMG_1094_2 My sister-in-law Gretchin and I are putting together a series of joint art and writing prompt classes that we are calling Journal Jam. We will be announcing the location of the first workshop shortly. In the meantime, we have both been working on our own journal pages. One of the prompts I love to offer comes from a book by Tristine Rainer called Your Life as Story. In it Rainer gives a prompt on How to be ________. The writer than offers a list of criteria describing how to be ______. Gretchin and I plan to use this prompt in our class and as an example I tried my hand at my own.

The night before I had been visiting Gretchin's house where my three-year-old niece Ellie was dancing around in the buff. I decided to write How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing. Here's the result:

How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing

Be Stark Naked

Lift Your Arms in the Air

Twirl

Mold Your Hands into Tight Little Fists

Roll Them One Over the Other

Do Your Magic

Stare Up Into the Sky with a Smug Look of Satisfaction

Burst Into Song

Sing the Theme to Frozen

Twirl Again

Lose Interest

Walk Across the Room, Strutting like a Drunken Supermodel

Turn and Walk Back Toward Me

Shout "Hey Bee, Look at This!"

Twirl One Final Time.

I then went to work on my own journal pages, but as so often happens the preliminary sketches seemed better than the final result, so I experimented a couple of times.

One of the things I love about digital collage and one of the reasons I turned to working in that medium is that nothing every has to go waste. You can always use a "bad" photo or sketch and transform it into something else. I started to do so with one of the iphone pics I took of my sketch.

I had an older picture of Ellie and when I put them together it seemed as if the two were dancing. I am still working on the collage. This is just the preliminary piece. I'm calling it Shadow Dancers or Fairytale 699.

blog shadow dancing

I'm hoping to add a version of this to my journal pages as well.

 

Ellie Saves the Day or My Tribute to Leonard Nimoy

IMG_1066 I just finished googling “Everest Paw Patrol Action Figure” because my three-year-old niece Ellie is obsessed with the show. Earlier this year I ordered all the remaining action figures I could find from the series when she received only two for her birthday and realized she could not recreate her precious adventures with so few. Now they went and introduced a new member to the Paw Patrol team, Everest. So new, they haven’t even produced an action figure for her yet, though Ellie recently told her mom not to worry, “Bee (her nickname for me) will get me one.”

If my recent Internet search is accurate I probably won’t be able to pull off that miracle anytime soon, but I will keep trying because I understand Ellie’s obsession. She loves Paw Patrol so much that her present hope is that they will produce an episode called “Ellie Saves the Day!” Who knows? As an idol of mine once noted, “There are Always Possibilities…”

When I was three, I would stay up way past my bedtime to watch the Starship Enterprise streak across my television screen and dream of exploring “strange new worlds” as a Starship Captain. I would sit on my backyard swing for hours soaring to those same new worlds.

When I grew older I secreted Star Trek novels and Best of Trek books under my bed because I feared friends would discover them and deem them too nerdy. Little did I know my brother was sharing my stash with fellow Trekkie, his friend Chris, and with that cat out of the bag we began attending conventions together, feeding a mutual obsession. It was at one such convention I discovered our own version of buyer’s remorse after spending $300 to a replica of an original series tricorder—you know that cool scientific contraption carried by Spock to take readings of alien life forms? At 15, it was the most I had ever paid for any one item and after making the purchase I felt nothing but guilt. That tricorder, however, has adorned many a Halloween costume, attended some Star Trek movie premieres, even been worn at a friend’s costume wedding. I think I got my money’s worth. Still, till this day Chris or my brother John can text me at a moment’s notice with the phrase “I have Tricorder syndrome” and I think, oh no, what have they gone and bought now?!

Last Friday both John and Christ texted me almost simultaneously, Chris, in Chicago, John, here in Vermont. “Did you hear about Spock?” both messages read. And, by now everyone has. The actor, Leonard Nimoy, who brought our beloved alien to life, had died. Facebook and Twitter were filled with tributes as fans everywhere tried to express what this actor and this character had brought into their lives.

Long before I was old enough to truly grasp a concept such as tolerance. I remember learning what it meant to embrace the differences in others and the uniqueness in myself through a fictional alien named Spock. I learned that what I valued, the things that make me happy, should not be hidden under a bed but shared with others and in so doing, broaden my world. I learned to embrace Tricorders and Paw Patrol Action figures because these things we see on TV that can seem so childish or frivolous can take us outside our tiny lives and reveal our biggest dreams.

I just hope Ellie doesn’t come home at 15 with a $300 Everest action figure. Then again, maybe that is exactly what I wish for her—to discover the value of her dreams and explore all the worlds where they take her. May these things teach her that one day Ellie can save the day!

Chris, Me and John in Uniform

 

Let Me Get You Up to Speed...

Let me get you up to speed… Let’s say for the sake of argument that all of this blog from Day 1 through the middle of last year was Season 1 of our ongoing saga—the pugs, my art, my writing, my friend Joan, her life, and mine. Then let’s say we went on hiatus—a long one. We’ve done a lot in that time, but how do you capture it all on the blog? You can’t go backwards and who wants to inundate everyone with a year’s worth of material, right? But, how do we jump right back in? I’m going to do my best to bring the story forward.

We’ve had our share of romance…

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No, not me unfortunately, but my pug Alfie. She turned five in January and it was a do or die moment—time to breed her or forgo the idea once and for all. Alfie is my show pug and the plan from the beginning was to breed her and pass on all her wonderful traits. Unfortunately, her heats were uncertain and it took awhile to figure her cycle out. I decided to take a big leap of faith and go for it this year, so toward the end of January, Alfie and I began daily pilgrimages to visit her “boyfriend” at Pugdom, my friend Joan’s house. Challenge no. 1, while Alfie and the Old Man hit it off, he just couldn’t seem to get the job done, so we had to bring in reinforcements—his son, Gryffindor. Gryff was nowhere near as refined in the courting department, but what he lacked in charm, he made up for in finesse and I was fairly certain after thee successful matings that Alfie was pregnant.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Alfie began vomiting and panting and not acting at all right. I ended up taking her to the Emergency Vet only to learn she had pyometrea, a dangerous uterine infection and had to be spayed. No puppies for us. It seemed unfair on a lot of levels, my idea was if I can’t have children of my own right now, at least I’m gonna have puppies, but that didn’t seem to materialize. Our new grand adventure was cut short, but Alfie is okay, in fact, she seems downright happy and the plan for the future is to find another show dog, since after her spaying, Alfie can no longer be shown.

We’ve had our share of religion…

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I spent two weeks in Hawaii last July on the Missions Trip I go on ever year. It was the start of a life-giving time, a creative time, when I returned home I began taking courses to become a certified minister, became a full-fledged member of my church and recently even taught one of our weekly bible studies. I didn’t discover God—I’ve known him all along—I simply got excited about connecting with Him in a while new way and so much has changed.

We’ve had our share of work…

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This fall the college where I worked for the past 12 years closed, so I’ve been finding new opportunities to teach at assisted living facilities, arts centers, writing centers etc. and expanding my repertoire. This summer I am supposed to teach at a teen art camp in Lebanon, N.H. I am presently teaching a course on the relationship between animals and memoir writing called “Pet Projects” at an assisted-living facility also in Lebanon. My sister-in-law Gretchin and I are also putting together a joint workshop called Journal Jam.

The art projects are going well. I’ve been in several shows, sold more work than ever, and introduced new techniques such as encaustic to my collages. I joined an artists’ collective in Burlington that not only carries my work in their gift shop, but networks with area businesses to showcase the work of their members. The xposure has been great. In November, I had a solo show of my digital collages called Once and Future Things: An Exploration of Girlhood at Radio Bean in Burlington.

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I’m currently in another juried show at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center called “Healing with Arts.” The idea behind the show is to hang works of art in the cancer treatment center with the belief that art contributes to and reinforces the healing process for patients with caner. It is an important show for me to be apart of as more and more close friends face the disease.

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Also, this fall, a friend made financially possible for me to attend a wonderful and productive writers workshop, Dartbrook Writers Retreat, in the Adirondacks. I worked on pulling some of my blog posts together and creating new writing for a memoir of some of my experiences with my friend Joan. I’m starting to see the themes that underlie the work and why getting to be a part of her life and that of her pugs has been so important to me. The plan is to work more on that over the next year and get that book actually written.

Writer Abigail Thomas and Me at Dartbrook Writers Retreat

So here we are…now that you’re caught up let’s call this Season 2. Stay tune for our next adventure.