Into the Spotlight

COVID BEAR- Judy Gale Roberts Pattern

If I could jump into a time machine and transport back to nineteen fifty-two I would. There has been a question the answer to which has bothered me ever since I took a test to determine what profession I was suited for. I was registering for high school. The particular school had several college directed curriculums. I chose to go into pre-engineering. The guidance counselor told me that my scores did not indicate that I would become successful in that kind of career. Being strong-minded and strong willed I rejected their advice and began an education that eventually yielded a career in engineering. What I would like to know is what my test scores actually pointed me toward. No one would ever tell me. So for the past sixty-nine years I have lived in the dark abut whether I made a mistake by pursuing engineering.

The direction could have been any number of directions which might have been easier to come by. I was always tinkering with mechanical things, so I could have chosen to become a mechanic, or maintenance man. In between building model airplanes and sniffing a lot of glue I was always doodling artistically, and loved doing artsy things. I learned that I was a natural at mechanical drawing and had a strong ability to view three dimensional things and being able draw them in two dimensions from many different views, and vice versa. Printing and lettering by hand came almost as easily as cursive writing in the Palmer method. I hated all things like social science so that would have been out. Yet, today I seem to have a penchant for political science, and history. What did the test scores say? Should I have skipped going to college in favor of barber school like my dad recommended? What?

In high school, I learned that I loved to write stories, but hated grammar, sentence diagraming, and punctuation. Skip all the Shakespeare stuff along with all things to do with English literature. In college I definitely loved calculus, solid geometry, and art history. What a combination that is, art and math. I struggled through the many physics and high level math courses, but eventually succeeded in getting my Bachelors in Science, Mechanical Engineering (B.S.M.E.)

Horn Man-Original

In my aged wisdom I have concluded that what my real direction could have been doesn’t matter anymore, because my chosen career was my passion, and I succeeded in making a living, raising a family, and putting three kids through college and into careers in science.

For the last twenty-five years i have been dabbling in an art form called Intarsia. I like it because it incorporates art, with the use of my hands, and skill with wood cutting tools. I began with simple projects and slowly, ever so slowly my skill level has been improving. The early projects were all based on another artist’s vision of things like fish, teddy bears, and flowers. I bought patterns and used them to make pictures from wood. In the last ten years I have decided to develop the art form into something more. I go beyond two dimensional forms pieced together from different colors of woods with some minimal shaping to original designs based on photographs. I convert a photograph into a pattern then shape it into wood sculpture. The very first work I did I called “Horn Man.” It is based on a photo of my grandson Dan practicing with his trumpet. I felt so proud of this work that I have gone in this direction since. Today, I only use pre-made patterns when I like the subject. In fact I will take a pre-made pattern depicting something natural, and then add something special to make it mine. My second attempt at doing this combined a Judy Gale Roberts pattern of two blue jays drinking at a bird bath with my vision of the bird bath in an endless green lawn which has a single dandelion growing at the base of the bird bath. I call it “An Almost Perfect Lawn.”

A year ago, pre-covid era, I entered an arts and crafts show. I priced the pieces so high they would never sell. I needed to learn if anyone else besides me liked any of these works. Although no one bought anything I learned that my works have some appeal. One visitor told me that I was at the wrong show, and that my work should be exhibited at the Frankfort Fine Arts Show. Then COVID hit. All shows were cancelled.

Last month I decided to enter a couple of pieces into a show titled “Emerging Perspectives” at the Tall Grass Arts Association Gallery in Park Forest, IL. Still unsure of myself, I labeled the pieces NFS meaning not for sale. Since then, I have decided to enter as many shows as I can just to give my work some exposure. This morning I completed the entry for my piece titled “Three Roses,” into the Frankfort Arts Association Member Exhibition “Into the Light.” I love the show names, they really pump me up. Anyway, all this excitement about showing my art has raised the question I posed above, did my career interest test indicate that I should have pursued art as a profession? I’ll never know and I really don’t care any more, I like what I am doing: blogging to practice my writing, and using my wood working skills to produce some interesting art.

Three Roses-Original
An Almost Perfect Lawn-Judy Gale Roberts Pattern, Embellished

Cecil-Original

Broken Promise

Back in 2011 I made a promise that I couldn’t keep. My daughter-in-law asked me to make her an intarsia hummingbird. Like always, I dove into the project only to learn that I was not skilled enough to make a hummingbird out of wood. Hummingbirds are tiny. This month I searched the internet for the smallest bird on the planet, only to find out that the Ruby Throat hummingbird is not the smallest. There is a species that is found only in Cuba called the Bee Hummingbird. It is almost half the size of a ruby throated humming bird. Nature just raised the bar on me.

Over the years, I have acquired more skill in Intarsia, and some better equipment too. I decided to give the bird a try. I began by finding the old pattern I had from 2011. The bird on the pattern is huge I thought. Not a realistic hummingbird but one that would be relatively easy to cut. I searched for more patterns only to learn that most intarsia artists make the birds large, almost like I am looking at the bird through a microscope.

I never found a pattern that I liked so I set out to make my own. Google images has pictures galore of humming birds and I found one that was in the correct pose for my piece. I matched the bird against a hibiscus flower which is one of its favorites to feed from. I made a pattern for the flower, a single bloom, and another for the bird, in scale or as close as I could eyeball the true size.

One problem I had with the bird pattern was to get a good photo of the wings. When a humming bird hovers and stands still his wings are beating at 200 strokes per second. Yep you read that right it is 200 hundred strokes per second not minute, they are a blur. For someone like me who is trying to copy the bird in wood that means I have to find some really slo-motion pictures to get an idea of what they look like while beating. I finally decided I can make the wings look like whatever, and no one can challenge me because no one will ever be able to see these wings standing still. That took some pressure off of my mind so I could proceed.

The next challenge was in trying to make something that tiny in two dimensions but looking like it is in three dimensions. I started out that way but changed my mind when I could not see the beauty of the bird in clunky two dimensional wood. I had to make the bird in three dimensions. the next challenge was to determine how to position the bird so it looked real against a flower. When a Hummer hovers up to the flower to suck the nectar out of its stamen he is virtually motionless and not touching the flower in any visible way. I could not see how to put the two forms together in a way that the final product would be believably real. The only way out was to make a flower, and a separate hummingbird and to design a way to make the bird seem like it was hovering in mid-air just microns away from the flower stamen. I won’t divulge my secret, but I made it look real.

When I finally began this work I was coming off a piece titled “Three Roses” which wore me down. The pieces were very tiny and delicate and there were too many of them. I thought the humming bird would be a vacation piece. My initial estimate was two to three weeks. I jumped into the pattern and made it quickly, then selected the woods and began cutting. In about a week I had the flower and the bird cut from the woods. I set it aside for what reason I do not recall, but it sat from May until November, and then I took it up again. And I spent three more weeks finishing the bird and flower.
As in all art work the frame is important in order to showcase the center piece. I decided on a rectangular frame with an elliptical opening for the art. I am an amateur wood worker even after seventy years of practicing. The damn frame almost broke me. The simplest of all cuts became a nightmare, the 45 degree corners. For the life of me I could not get the 45 degree cuts to match when put together. I think I was at 44. 85 degrees and not 45.00 degrees. The end result was a frame that had large openings between sides. I started with an 18 x 14 size frame and before I finished it was down to 17 x 13. I had to continue to trim the pieces until I could get the corners to match perfectly. Since I only make one or to frames a year I will never be able to afford the precision equipment I need to make forty-five degree cuts perfect. The result is in the photos below. I’m still deciding whether my daughter-in-law will get the work.

Enough talking it is time to unveil the masterpiece. “Hummer Breakfast”

Day 48-SIP-The Three Roses of Padauk

Who is leading? If my recollection serves me correctly President Trump announced the COVID-19 Task Force Guidelines on March 16, 2020. Within forty-eight hours the Mayor of Frankfort issued the same guidelines under his name. Four days later on 20 March 2020 our State Governor issued his version of the same.

I began writing my Covid-19 diary on the 16 of March, the same day the president announced the guidelines. What I see here is a chain of command from the National level down to the local community, but the State lagged in making decisions. Could this lag also be the reason why Illinois has the most debt of all the States? Could it be that is the reason citizens are leaving the state as fast as they can? It is the reason that I have considered leaving many times, only to be sucked back by personal responsibilities?

Anyway, it is a beautiful sunny day in Illinois today, but a might on the chilly side at 46 degrees and it’s windy making it feel even cooler. The sun is making the plant life explode and life is returning from the deep winter sleep. Tulips bloom in abundance, the daffodils are already gone as are the magnolias. The grass is Irish green and the trees and shrubs are about half way open toward full leaf. As soon as I post this non-sense I’ll join many others on a walk along our bicycle path fully masked.

This morning I cleaned my shop as I do after completing a project successfully. My routine is to hang the new work in the place of honor with lighting for a few weeks or until I get tired of it and replace it with something different. In the meantime, I will begin a new piece with fewer elements which should be quicker to complete. This latest was supposed to be that project, but it evolved into one with one hundred pieces and short equaled forty days. My goal is to get ‘short’ down to seven days max. There is a lot of room for improvement ahead.

The Three Roses of Padauk

Day 25-Quarantine-Balance Need Vs Virus

“Grind wood,” said my mind, “grind wood.” It has been several days since I attacked my latest intarsia project, so the brain pointed me to the shop. The project is based on roses. It was going to be a short easy project after my last one which put Cecil the Lion in the spotlight. So far, it hasn’t been short, nor has it been easy. Since this is the third time I’ve done a rose I thought it would be simple. Not so. I made a mistake of making the roses too small, life-size actually. But making life-size roses from wood requires great skill, precision, and patience, and I possess none of them.

 

Cecil the Lion

This winter, I made a note to myself to experiment with miniature intarsia. I am thinking of moving to an apartment. Moving to a smaller space would require that I give up my wood working hobby. Thus, the idea of miniatures came to me. I could make a shop with some very basic power tools that would require the space of a kitchen table. The amount of wood I’d be removing would be greatly reduced therefore the dust factor might be livable. I’m still working on reducing noise so that wouldn’t become a lease breaker.

This rose project has a large number of tiny pieces, not unlike a miniature would have. I am learning that miniatures require excellent vision. I wear glasses, but the level of acuity is not there. I have light in my shop equal to the noon-day sun, yet, I still need spot-lights to see the piece I am working on. The idea of moving toward miniaturization is quickly fading. I may be reduced to set up in the bedroom to build model airplanes from balsa wood and glue, like I did in my early teens.

COVID-19 is still a major factor in life. I will break from being a hermit by visiting my daughter for Easter. I warned her that if she gives me the virus, she will have hell to pay. Truth be known she is equally starved for company even though she has a husband, son and daughter living with her. I guess they all lock themselves into their personal spaces and keep at a distance.

The COVID-19 Task Force is finally beginning to see some light, but they are still tenuous about giving a green light to return to work. We are spending two trillion dollars to be able to learn about how this virus spreads to do its damage. If they give up too soon, the data they need will slip from their control. At the same time the economy is about to need a respirator, or it too will succumb to the virus.

Have you ever wondered what it means for the economy to die? Everyone will lose their jobs, except government workers. The rest of us will run out of money, but it won’t matter because nothing will be available for us to use money for. Food will disappear. I don’t know about you, but I definitely need food to survive, more so than toilet paper. Gas will disappear because no one will be working to refine oil, or to distribute gas. Cars will run out of fuel where ever they are and not move again. All roads will be jammed with cars and trucks. Phones will stop working. Hospitals will shut down. Electricity will disappear since power plants will shut down. The list of necessities that are not available is a mile long and we will be stealing from each other to survive.


Deaths

COVID-19 versus Economy

The picture isn’t pretty, so the decision to get the economy back to work before it deteriorates further is crucial. The new question is how many deaths will occur because of a dead economy versus the deaths from COVID-19?

Another New Adventure

As part of my new single life I am declaring myself an artist. I have always shirked from calling myself one because I am an engineer. The two careers are polar opposite of each other. I tend to like mechanical things, and so pursued training into that arena. At the same time I always had a liking for art. Ever since the fourth grade when the good Nun started me  drawing with crayons. That evolved into cursive writing, then printing. The printing evolved into engineering, and dominated my life.

When ever I had the opportunity I went to art galleries and shows to see what people who use their right brain lobes come up with. I am still fascinated by artists and it doesn’t matter the medium. If it is good, I like it. No, I love it. Throughout my travels during both of my marriages we visited art fairs and loaded our home with affordable artifacts. During my recent purge of things that don’t matter to me anymore the paintings. prints, and pottery survived.

This coming Saturday I am signed up for the Winter Art Market at our public library. I rented a space and will be there with the first public showing of my Intarsia art. My walls are a little bare right now, because many of the items I made found there way to places of prominence within the house.

Why did I decide to join this event at this stage of life? It is something to do, and also because I want some validation either negative or positive on the quality of my work. If my pieces sell for the price I have marked on them, it will be very positive. Right now my entire energy is in creating a display that is easily portable and artful as well. I could have spent a mini-fortune to buy art panels made for shows, but being the cheap bastard that I am I decided to repurpose some available materials. Thankfully, I made a plan and I’m sticking to it. I will be at the venue in time for the Friday afternoon set-up, and I have solicited help for the Saturday afternoon teardown. Of course my expectation is the load will be lighter since all of the pieces will be sold and gone to new homes. The minimum is to sell one piece to break even on the registration fee.

If you are anywhere near Frankfort, Illinois this Saturday, 9 November drop by the library at 21119 S Pfeiffer Rd. between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to visit my display and those of all the other artists. Enter the raffle and have a chance to win “Happy Hour Begins With a Single Drop,” a contemporary intarsia art piece donated by GrumpaJoesPlace.

Happy Hour Begins With a Single Drop

 

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