Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mis suenos es de Puerto Rico

Now for something a little different. I'm feeling a bit homesick for Luquillo, Puerto Rico, my parents' winter home for the last 30 years. This year, my folks are trying out Florida. While they report things are fine down there, they miss the breezy, close-knit, multi-generational community in Luquillo. Dare I hope they'll winter in Puerto Rico for a few more years? We could go without them, but it wouldn't be the same.

Here are some of my favorite photos from last year's visit. Hopefully I'll get a chance to take some new ones next year. In the meantime, I'll be dreaming of Puerto Rico. 

At the foot of El Yunque mountain, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S., are two wonderful galleries across the street from one another. The TV and the op-art piece above welcome you to the funkier of the two galleries.

These cheerful gentlemen welcome you to the Pal Mar Gallery. They are based on the native vejigantes that chase bad spirits away. Pal Mar has stalls with work by local artists as well as other island-made goodies. 

Yokohu Tower is the highest point on top of El Yunque. The view is amazing.

To me, Puerto Rico has a brilliantly colored and highly textured surface, but underneath is a deep well of faith and spirituality.

No tour of Puerto Rico would be complete without flowers. Hibiscus, bouganvillea and ginger bloom everywhere with great abandon. This one was wrapped around a street sign. For someone from chilly New England, it's nothing short of amazing. No wonder they call it La Isla de Encantada.

I miss Puerto Rico! 

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pandora's closet

The 17th GPP Street Team Crusade is here. Michelle Ward in her wisdom suggested a challenge that goes right to the heart of why I started the Commuter's Journal. She asked her Street Team to share the kits they carry to make their journals. After all, art is as much about craft and process as it is about inspiration.

The Ur Kit: My constant companion

In my case, inspiration came afterward. This blog began because I had a kit and a journal by my side at all times. Seven years ago I began commuting on Metro North from my lovely home in Connecticut to New York City. It's a long trip -- 1.5 hours on the train and another 30 minutes to get to and from stations. I'd often read (uninterrupted reading time is a luxury as any mom can appreciate), work, play Scrabble or Solitaire on my Palm Pilot or snooze. But I needed more. I needed to capture the adventures I was having, the experiences I encountered on my way. So I began keeping a journal in composition notebooks. I remembered how onerous keeping a daily journal became in my younger years and decided to give myself permission to put in anything that inspired, outraged, tickled or otherwise moved me. Little did I know that I was joining a growing movement!

So I packed into the shoulder bag I carried in lieu of a brief case the supplies you see above. These were just the basics -- pens, markers, glue stick (I must have gone through dozens of these). I often decorated the cover of the journals at home, which sometimes brought raised eyebrows on the train. Inside, I put drawings, poems, daily highlights and lowlights, heartfelt outpourings, recipes and tons of newspaper articles, illustrations and photos.
Once that began, my sister and niece gifted me with a book that was meant to be a travel journal. It became my vacation journal. This journal inspired this kit. Still simple, but expanded just a wee bit. This kit got to travel far and wide with me on ferries, planes and Amtrak.

The Travel Kit: Minus brush
markers and water-soluble pastels (travel journal at right)

It was on a trip to Puerto Rico to visit my parents in 2006 that I got the idea of bringing all of this to the Web. I had been getting a lot of requests from out-of-towners for directions and places to visit in Manhattan, and I wanted to share some of what I was writing in my journals. 

As the old saying goes, life happens while you are making other plans. There started to be hints that I might be laid off of my job by fall. At the same time, a medical condition I thought I had overcome returned. Soon my commuting days were just a memory.

But all was not lost. A thoughtful friend had sent me a small journal as a gift last summer. After drooling over the journal art I was seeing online, in the pages of Somerset Studio and in books, I leapt into the art collage world. The kit for creating journals expanded to include my old craft supplies, now resurrected for a happy, new life.

Then I found Michelle's Crusade 16, booked a trip on the Moebius Loop, and here I am. I'm thrilled to have found a way to combine my writing and art in a way that allows me to join a vibrant community of artists. And to think, it all started with a small art kit. Amazing!

Of Mice, Dragons and Tree Fruit

Thank heavens for the celebrations of late winter to lift us out of the grayness -- Elizabeth Bunsen's Polar Festival, the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shevat (also known as Jewish Arbor Day or the New Year of the Trees), Mardi Gras, Purim and Chinese New Year. All of these bright, lively, color saturated festivals fill my head with gorgeous images and inspiration. And all of that inspiration is, once again, late.

However, I didn't want Chinese New Year to go by without a shout out to Lea who pointed out during the Polar Festival that the friendly talking mice (of Cinderella fame) who found something for me to bring to the Ball were in town thanks to the entrance of the Year of the Rat. How perfect!

I have always loved Chinese New Year. In recent years I've taken the kids to New York City's Chinatown during the festivities, but there was a time that we used to celebrate the New Year with friends of Chinese descent. Such amazing food! Long, long noodles to be slurped without biting to bring long life, tangerines with the leaves still on (so pretty!) so your prosperity will grow, whole fish in the most savory sauce, and too many more dishes to name. Best of all, another fresh start. I feel fortunate to be able to celebrate the Chinese, Jewish and secular New Years. Each brings something different to renew the spirit.

Included here are two tributes. The dragon and the mouse were inspired by Lea's comment. I hope my Chinese friends forgive my Chinese writing. I tried to do it in stroke order as taught -- but it's pretty bad. However, the journal page will make a great departure point for a later painting. The smaller artwork was done during my cut-and-glue days during convalescence. I did a series of pages each based on a single color, of which the white pages I brought to the Boglandia Ball (below) are also a part.

The next illustration was inspired by Tu B'Shevat, sometimes known as Jewish Arbor Day but is actually more like the trees' birthday. The Torah gives strict instructions as to when the fruit of a tree may be picked. In order to know how old a tree is, it's "birthday" is said to be on the 15th of the month of Shevat of that particular year -- hence, Tu (15) B (of) Shevat.

Nowadays, it has become the custom to celebrate with a special meal in which the seven species of tree fruit mentioned in the Bible are eaten. I love the connection with early, nature-based festivals. More to celebrate and I say, let's invite everyone to the party. There will always be a seat at my table for you.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hearts to you!

The Valetine's Day Grinch is no more! I have decided to embrace the day, to count the blessings I do have in my life (terrific son, great friends, loving family) and release the things made me stomp around yesterday muttering the Valentine's Day equivalent of "bah, humbug!" (Hmm, I'm seem to be getting my Christmas metaphors all twisted.)

So to you and yours I offer my favorite symbol of enduring love. Whether your valentine is 8 or 80, two-legged or four-legged, nearby or far away, may today you know that you are loved.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 8, 2008

C'mon Wilbur, Take Me to the Ball!

The uber-talented Elizabeth Bunsen has invited the art blogging community to her latest Bloglandia Ball and, as usual, I am hustling about right before deadline. It's good to know that a career as a writer and editor hasn't interfered with my tendency to finish everything on deadline.

The delicious invitation made me feel a bit like Cinderella -- the ball is here and I have nothing to wear. Fortunately, the friendly talking mice reminded me that I did have something to contribute to the white theme of the Bloglandia Polar Festival. During my convalescence I made a series of entries in my small journal based on color. I could add my white pages, which you see above. Good mice!

Here is my composition in white. For someone who loves bold color, I may just try a more restrained palette and see where it takes me.

Don't you love when others inspire you in new directions?

Sister Act

There's something magical about being one of three sisters. Unlike other numbers of sibs, there's never quite a balance (the old two against one thing when you're kids) and yet, it always seems to work out somehow. Each sister has her assigned role -- the responsible eldest, the striving middle child and the free-spirited youngest. And each responds to that assignment in her own fashion, adopting or rejecting those expectations and her place in the family. It's rich material for art and writing.

I have long wanted to do a series based on the Three Sisters theme and this is my start, although if I don't get cracking on it my sisters and I will resemble the sisters of Scottish play fame more closely than the pretty Victorian trio used in this piece.

Well, no matter how old we grow, our relationship as sisters will always define us in some way. It's funny how that works.

Monday, February 4, 2008

What's the Rumpus?

I want to thank everyone who stopped by and left wonderful comments on my first entry into Michelle Ward's GPP Street Team Crusades. It was so great to meet so many of you and view your inspiring and invigorating work. Thank you!

Today's journal entry came from a quote that popped into my head when everyone welcomed me to the party -- "Let the wild rumpus start!" I would guess that anyone who has been a mom -- or a kid! -- has read Maurice Sendak's masterpiece, "Where the Wild Things Are." If you haven't, it's a picture book about Max, a naughty boy sent to his room for being a "wild thing." Vines grow on his ceiling and a boat appears, so Max sails to the world of wild things and they make him their king. His first act is to declare a rumpus and they dance under the moon.

Eventually, Max realizes he misses being in a place "where someone loved him best of all" and leaves the wild things and travels home. Once back in his room, his dinner is waiting for him, in spite of having been naughty, and it's still hot.

I think art is part divine inspiration and part letting our inner wild thing out to play. After many years of following a career path that was more about pleasing clients than self expression, it felt wonderful to get back in touch with the little girl who loved picture books and let the wild thing loose. She wants to join the celebration and make art.

Let the wild rumpus start!