Back in January 2011 I walked into my first illustration class. It was with my favorite professor, but I didn’t know that yet. I didn’t know that my classes with her would revolutionize my style, and teach me a huge range of techniques and skills. I knew that most of the other students didn’t like her, and I knew that she wasn’t known for being the nicest professor around. So I sat in my desk, close to the front, but not on the first row. I wasn’t that bold yet. And we were handed an assignment.
The assignment included was to illustrate a nursery rhyme.
Sing a song of sixpence
A pocket full of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie
But we had to illustrate the nursery rhyme with a pirate theme, because the printed assignment also included a webpage that claimed that “Sing a Song of Sixpence” was a recruiting poem for the infamous pirate, Blackbeard. This sounded a little far fetched to me, but the source was Snopes so I figured it was true.
Snopes made it up. Did I go and tell my favorite professor? No, of course not. Remember, she wasn’t my favorite professor yet, and I wasn’t even bold enough to sit on the front row. I wasn’t about to tell her she was wrong. Instead, I didn’t include any pirates in my illustration. I did this instead:
Favorite professor liked it, even without the pirates.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, winter 2015. I decided it was time to go back to my roots. Not just my college roots, but my first ever read-to-me-and-I’ll-memorize-every-word-you-say roots. Because I know all the nursery rhymes. I think I knew them before I could talk, but who can say for sure. (I couldn’t.) So I pulled out the nursery rhymes, and low and behold the blackbirds started flying out of the pie all over again.
Step One: Cut out lots of tiny birds.
Step Two: Glue them to a beautiful piece of wood.
Step Three: Paint the pie first because pies are the most fun. Also, don’t forget to paint the birds.
Step Three: Add in some tiny birds because 24 paper cut outs was just too many too fit on that little piece of wood. Ta-da!
Thus an old school assignment comes around again and turns out very well, even without the misplaced reference to pirates.
P.S. To any other past professors who might be reading this: You were probably also my favorite.
Merry Christmas, happy New Year, and all around good cheer! This last year has been a wonderful whirlwind of travel, family, friends, art, food and a few really good books. Since it’s hard to summarize a whole year, present you with 12 short paragraphs, 12 photos of us, 12 pieces of art by me and 12 by Matt – a little glimpse of each month.
But, just in case you’re behind, let’s start with a very quick history.
June 2013 – Ruth and Matt get married – Yay!
November 2013 – Ruth and Matt fly to Portugal – Yay!
We both work as freelance artists, so we can live anywhere with an internet connection.
Now that you have some context, let’s get started:
We spent most of January in Foz do Arelho, Portugal and the surrounding area. Portugal is a stunningly beautiful country. We climbed castle walls and succulent covered cliffs, walked along the beach every day, and met some wonderful people.
February found us in Makarska, Croatia. Makarska is nestled along the coast of the Adriatic sea between the water and the Biokovo mountain range. We lived a couple of blocks from the sea side and watched unbelievable sunsets over the water from our balcony. I’ve never seen such beautiful landscapes before, and the water was clear and bright turquoise.
In March I turned 25. We took a birthday week to hike along the coast and visit Split, Croatia (location of one of Emperor Diocletian’s palaces), where I was incredibly thrilled to see an actual Egyptian sphinx! (Imported by Mr. Diocletian back in the day.)
In April, Matt joined me at the quarter century mark and we celebrated with a trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia (location of the castle where they filmed Game of Thrones) and a move to Athens, Greece!
Spring lasts ages in Europe, and we enjoyed months and months of beautiful blooms. Greece had the biggest bougainvilleas we’ve ever seen, and their blooms covered buildings built before Christ all the way to now. Walking the acropolis was also magical, like being transported back in time.
In June we celebrated our anniversary on the Greek island Aegina. We watched dolphins swim around our ferry, ate amazing food, splashed in the sea, visited an ancient temple and made the huge mistake of biking across the entire hilly island on a 95 degree day. (Just kidding, the bike ride was great. Mostly great. Just block out the heat, the sweat, the burning calves and the need to pee with no bathroom in sight and it was perfect.)
Temple of Aphaia, Aegina Island, Greece
In July we visited Corinth and the rode the tram along the Athens coast. We ate lots more yummy food (Greek food is everything it’s cracked up to be. Plus a little more.), visited friends and stopped in the Istanbul airport before an incredibly long flight back to Texas. We can’t wait to actually leave the airport and visit Istanbul next time – the city called to us from the horizon and the cultural mix of people was fascinating.
In August we got our first car (we love our Prius), visited lots of museums and did a bit of USA travel. I went to Washington state for a gathering of women artists, Matt took his first business trip to Las Vegas and traveled to Atlanta for a good friend’s wedding.
In September we took a week long road trip. We swung by New Orleans and dipped our toes in the gulf, spent a couple of days in Atlanta and Charlotte visiting good friends, stopped at the best brunch place in the world (Matt has high brunch standards, so this is a legit endorsement) to visit another wonderful person, drove through D.C. at sunset (wow!), and paid a jaw-dropping amount of tolls before finally arriving in Delaware.
The family we lived with in Delaware quickly became like our second family. (Third family? Do we count our individual immediate families as two? Or do they share the first spot? Anyways, the point is we love our Delaware family in addition to our Meharg and Miller families.) I loved picking tomatoes for lunch from the garden (the smell of tomato leaves is one of my favorite smells) and Delaware is full of incredible gardens and natural treasures. We also were privileged to visit Philly and NYC, the enchanting Cape May, and many, many art museums.
Cape May, New Jersey
In November we stopped in Pittsburgh (on the way to Michigan) and savored the international flair of the city. (I found my favorite candy from Poland – candy I couldn’t find in our 9 months in Europe!) We arrived in Grand Rapids right before the snow and spent 3 weeks visiting family and friends and celebrating Thanksgiving before stopping in Missouri for a little more family time.
Hang on, it’s December already? Well, we’re back in Texas spending the Christmas season with my family. We’ve painted lots, cared for a couple rambunctious cats, and visited more museums. (Surprise!) Now that we’ve reached the end of the year, I can happily say that Matt and I don’t know of a single goal we set for 2014 that we did not accomplish. (I don’t remember where I put our list of goals. I also don’t remember our goals. I think it’s safe to say we were totally successful. If you too want to be totally successful this year, don’t be intimidated by our accomplishment. You still have a few more days to lose your goals!)
That’s the end of our 2014 story. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!
If you want to keep up with us next year you can follow me on this blog (I promise to start updating again) and Matt on Sunflowerman.com. Or find us on social media:
Inspiration is a funny thing. We look at people we know, and people we don’t know, people living and people who have passed on, and we let something in them touch us, push us, move us. I like to think that inspiration multiplies. Someone inspires you, and in turn you inspire someone else, and our society is lifted onward and upward. So for this post I’m doing two women of valor, one who has passed on and one who still inspires.
Meet Amelia Earhart and Esther Mbabazi.
A few months ago one of my amazing friends, Ruth Deal, suggested I include Amelia Earhart in my Women of Valor project. Of course I thought Amelia was a perfect fit for the project. Here’s what Ruth had to say about her:
“Amelia Earhart has been my inspiration since the 2nd grade. I’ve always been inspired by her sense of adventure and desire to be be free no matter the cost. She accepted change. And married it. [My first daughter] Selah’s middle name is Amelia mainly because of how much this women whom I’ve never met has spoken into my life.”
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic ocean. Her first flight was as a passenger, but it wasn’t enough and a few years later she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and ultimately disappeared while trying to circumnavigate the globe. Those are the facts that everyone knows about Amelia, but of course she was much more than just an aviator. Ms. Earhart was a best selling author, a teacher and a supporter of women’s rights in the days when women had very few. And Amelia was also a dreamer.
I know, that’s a pretty big claim to make. But here’s why I say it. As a child, Amelia kept a book of newspaper clippings. She cut out every article about women who inspired her, women who were excelling in fields dominated by men. And when she discovered aviation, the field she would flourish in, she did everything in her power to pursue her dream.
As I was working on Amelia’s portrait, I happened across the story of another amazing woman pilot – Esther Mbabazi. Last year Esther became Rwanda’s first female pilot at the age of 24, after dreaming of flying for 20 years. When she was 4 she watched planes flying overhead and dreamed of being that mysterious pilot, and after graduating high school she packed up and bought a one way ticket to pilot school.
When I heard Esther’s story, I couldn’t help comparing her to Amelia. Both women were determined to do something new. Amelia wasn’t just the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, she was one of the first humans to do it. Esther isn’t just the first Rwandan woman to fly a plane, she’s also among the first Rwandan pilots, male and female. And now Esther isn’t the only woman flying in Rwanda. She helped make a way for others to follow their dreams.
Inspiration spreads. Somehow when we pursue our dreams, we can open up doors for others to chase theirs. When we celebrate the success of others, it lifts all of us up. So who inspires you? Let me know, I just might paint them!
Oh, and those little birds? They are Northern Wheatears. During their migration they fly around the world.
I was recently asked what my “essential image” was. Supposedly this is a single image that continually inspires the art one creates. I found that not only did I have no such image, I can’t even imagine having one. The idea of a single anything being a source of inspiration is one that completely baffles me. Everything I create is influenced by my whole life, by everything I have seen, heard, experienced and even the people I have met. But the question did make me think a bit about the evolution of my work and how I got to where I am now, which is what this blog post is really about. Let’s start back in early 2011.
The first tissue paper collage I ever did was this Daddy Long Legs.
I created it in one of my very first illustration classes at SCAD. The assignment was to use Eric Carle’s signature technique to create an insect. (Think “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”) This meant hand painting tissue paper with acrylic paint, cutting shapes from the paper and gluing them onto a plain white background. It was a fun project, but I didn’t see much future use for the technique. In typical artist style, I kept the extra bits of painted tissue paper anyways. You never know when you’re going to use things again!
I didn’t touch the paper for year, but then I accidentally ended up in a collage class. I wasn’t planning on taking it, but the class I had signed up for wasn’t what I was hoping for so I switched over. Turns out it was one of the most significant classes I took at SCAD. It started out with this bear.
We were practicing the encaustic technique in class, which means we were using layers of hot wax to attach paper to a surface. (It’s a wonderfully fun technique, but please do lots of research before you try it. If the wax gets too hot, breathing the fumes can cause permanent brain damage. My mom never listens when I try to tell her this.) My left over tissue paper was perfect for our projects, and I discovered that I loved being able to see the layers of paint and the brush strokes on the paper. So I tried a little lobster, without wax this time. Just paper, paint, glue and a touch of pen).
And then I tried something bigger, with no pen, just paint. It was a simple landscape, but I was developing my own technique. It was no longer something I was borrowing from Eric Carle, it was becoming something more, something that fit me much better.
After the landscape I decided to try something less experimental, and a little more realistic. Enter the portrait of my little sister, Jubilee.
All the experimenting led to my first published collage illustration, a painting called “Women, Art and Censorship.”
Now, in the middle of 2014, I’m still creating art using the tissue paper collage technique. Still learning new ways to use it, still practicing making it my own. Still taking a little idea here, a little inspiration there, and trying to weave it all together.
Well, we are back in the States! We hit the ground running, and it doesn’t look like life will slow down soon. I have managed to squeeze in opening an Etsy shop however, and these circles I painted in Greece are now for sale. I’m planning to do a few more like these, personally I like the square “frame” in the background. How about you? Are the squares a good addition?
Sixty-six – Owl
Sixty-seven – Octopus
Sixty-eight – Zebra
Sixty-nine – Manatee
Seventy – Pigeon
Seventy-one – Firefly (Lightning Bug)
Seventy-two – Kiwi Bird
Seventy-three – Porcupine
Seventy-four – Polar Bear
Check out my new Etsy shop if you haven’t already, and if you have one let me know! I’d love to see yours!
Three months ago we visited this little fruit and veggie shop for the first time. Yesterday we visited for the last time. Today is the last day of our first European adventure.
I’m not really sure how I feel. We’ve been living and traveling on this side of the world for 9 months now. We made the best friends in Portugal, saw the most beautiful scenery in Croatia and enjoyed amazing food and museums in Greece. In some ways this feels like an ending, and it is in away. I don’t think we will ever live in Athens again. We’ll never visit the veggie stand or the fruit market again, and this is the last time we’ll have to risk taking the terrifying elevator to our 7th floor apartment. (I’m still worried I’ll get stuck in it with my bags at 3am tomorrow morning and our plane will leave without us. If I never post again you’ll know why.) In most ways though, it’s not really not an end. Our journey continues. We’re still nomads, traveling and journeying, making art and living life wherever we are. We’re just traveling to the next place. Looking for new ground to walk on, new sights to greet our eyes, and always good food.
Mmmm….I love good food.
Endings and beginnings are always tied together. Maybe they’re all just continuings.
Like most Greek cities, Corinth is a mixture of old and new. Ancient Corinth and the temple of Apollo rest in the center of new mansions, restaurants and summer homes. Modern buildings line the nearby coastline, and vineyards, orchards and fields climb the hills behind all the way to the walls of the fortified medieval castle, Acrocorinth. We took a day trip to the beautiful city last week, and had the privilege of being shown around by a local farmer and our friend, Gus. Gus was an airline pilot in the states, but he retired to move to Greece and grow grapes, olives, oranges, apricots and much more. We get some of his delicious fruit every week from the farmers market, and it was amazing to see the fields where it is grown. Farming is a beautiful thing. Without further ado, here are a few little paintings from our trip.
On June 15th Matt and I celebrated one year of marriage. It’s been an incredible year. We’ve lived in 4 different countries on 2 continents. We’ve hiked mountains and dipped our feet in the crashing Atlantic waves. I can’t believe that our life is real. One of my friends asked me what it feels like to be married for a year, and I wasn’t really sure how to answer. I think it’s like birthdays, you know you’re a little older but you don’t feel any different. For this anniversary I decided to document our first year together in a book. It’s full of memories, mementoes, letters and more. Here are a few little peeks into the pages.
You’d think this wouldn’t be a huge surprise since Athens was the original inspiration for our trip, the place I’ve been waiting to get to. But I was a little worried because I generally don’t like big cities, and because EVERYONE told us not to go. Friends, family and people I’ve never even met told us not to go because Athens is dirty, expensive, horrible. I’m so glad we didn’t listen to them.
Everyday a man walks around our neighborhood playing the accordion and singing.
At least a couple times a week we pass an ancient excavation site we haven’t seen before. They’re under skyscrapers, in the metro and just fenced off in the middle of the street.
Everyone has flowers, and they’re all blooming. Pink, orange and red are just spilling over balconies and climbing up walls, everywhere you look.
Everyone is friendly, kind, helpful and so, so welcoming.
Food. Need I say more? I’ve tried all kinds of new and wonderful things since arriving here, cooking and eating are absolute pleasures. It’s easy and fun to find fresh, local veggies and to shop at small businesses.
And there’s more that I don’t even really understand. I don’t know why this city is so different for me, why it feels like we just got here and we’ve been here forever all at once, why I’m not experiencing my usual desperation to get away from all the cement. I’m just really glad I’m here.