February 24, 2015 @ 9:25 pm | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff
I’m always amused when the Coursera “recommended for you” email arrives and I get to see who their algorithm thinks I am this time. Coursera-Melissa has wonderfully eclectic tastes, doesn’t she?
I must say that Australian literature class looks mighty enticing. I’m sure the Planet Earth course came up because of the several climate change classes I’ve taken. Proooobably not going to squeeze any Econ into my schedule, though. And as for learning C#, I’ll leave that to my daughter the computer science major.
If you’re looking for a lit class, I can highly recommend “Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction” with UVa prof Bruce Holsinger. I took that one last year and found it top-notch. Holsinger is an engaging lecturer and he brought in a lot of interesting writers for Q&A interviews.
I’m afraid to click around on the site too much right now, since I have a crazy amount of stuff on my plate this spring and I’m not likely to have much extra reading time. Still…I find the course lectures are most excellent listening material while I’m cleaning or (lately) sketching. Couldn’t hurt just to sign up for the Aussie lit class, could it? A little something to listen to while I’m scrubbing the bathroom floor?
February 22, 2015 @ 1:10 pm | Filed under: Family
Swiped from Scott’s Facebook:
My wife looks skeptically at the gorgonzola. “How can you tell if that’s still good or not?” the 14-year-old asks.
“I don’t know,” Lissa says. “It’s moldy and it smells like feet, so it’s probably okay.”
Rose, stretched out on Beanie’s bunk reading Paradise Lost. Beside her, the bluebook she writes compositions in for the Spanish class she’s taking the community college, and a battered paperback copy of The Wizard of Earthsea.
Beanie, sitting on Rilla’s unmade* bed, drawing a sketch of Rose. Beside her, her Journey North Mystery Class chart.
Rilla and Huck in a corner of the living room, in the midst of a litter of Legos, deep in some complex game. Their tones are urgent, their faces serious. Vast, capricious forces are afflicting a host of small plastic people with a series of grave disasters. Rilla shoots a glance at her fellow demigod, brow furrowed.
“Nobody likes my jokes,” grumps the smaller deity. From the kitchen, I chuckle.
“Ha!” amends Huck. “At least Mom appreciates them.”
Wonderboy’s at school, Jane’s away at college, Scott’s in the back room writing a comic book, and me? I’m just soaking it all in.
*Recently overheard, Rose to Rilla and Huck: “Listen, there’s something you should understand about Mom. If she sees you’re in the middle of a really good make-believe game, she will never interrupt you to make you do your chores.”
February 19, 2015 @ 8:58 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry
1. Journey North Mystery Class! Tomorrow is Week 4. I love this project so much. We’ve been doing it for ten years now—hard to believe.
2. This old post that Scott dug up from his archives for, I suspect, the sole purpose of making me melt.
3. Discussing “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” with Beanie and friends (yesterday but I forgot to include it).
4. A great editorial letter.
5. The other day I was cutting back the overgrown pumpkin vines and harvesting our little pile of pumpkins—far more than we had any need for. A neighbor happened by, walking her dog. She stopped to chat about the pumpkins—she said she’d enjoyed watching them grow—and I urged her to take a couple of them off my hands. Today she returned—WITH PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE. Somehow I think we came out way ahead in this transaction.
Today’s happy list is three keeper moments from my boys.
1. Huck, wistfully: “I wish no one in this family would have more birthdays. I like everyone the way we are.”
2. A story my friend Patti told me. Last Friday afternoon, Patti organized a wonderful St. Valentine’s Day party in the park for the kids in our homeschooling group. It fell during my work time, so Patti offered to keep an eye on Huck and Rilla for me so they could attend the party. So nice! Today she told me that in the thick of the festivities, Huck came up to her with a pine cone. “This is for you,” he said, “because that’s how much I love you.”
So basically this kid just has me melting all over the place these days. And I know how he feels—I wouldn’t mind having a six-year-old around at all times.
3. Wonderboy has a recurring kind of email he likes to send to family and close friends, describing what he wants to be when he grows up. Sometimes it’s a teacher or a “pet shop man” or a UPS driver. Today it was a librarian. As always, he included a long and detailed list of holiday hours—you wouldn’t believe how many holidays his library has special hours of operation for. After the list come the ground rules. If you want to visit his branch, here’s what you should know:
1. Please do not talk on the phone as you come in.
2. Do not run.
3. No yelling.
4. Please check out book.
5. Please return your library book as you are done.
6. No gum.
7. No slamming.
8. No child should be bringing toys.
9. Please bring your key and library card.
10. Use the computer if you want.
11. As it closing time, just quietly leave.
12. No iPod or iPad or Computer, or DS or WII.
13. Bring a bag if you have so many books.
14. Bring a bag if you return so much.
15. Please Park somewhere near the library.
16. Please lock your car if someone gonna steal it.
17. No animal noises.
18. No hitting and eating books.
19. No ripping books.
20. No crashing.
Got that? You’d all better behave yourselves.
February 16, 2015 @ 9:28 pm | Filed under: Art
On Twitter, Kim asked if I had any advice for a family getting started with sketching and art journaling. Did I ever!
I’ve Storified the conversation, if you’d like to see how it unfolded, but I’ll recap it here as well.
My replies below, expanded a bit. Points #6 and 7 are the most important.
Suggestions? Yes, lots!
1) Koosje Koene’s Draw Tip Tuesday videos. She also offers classes in drawing and art journaling. (Here’s a post I wrote about her videos in November.)
2) Sign up for a free two-week trial at Creativebug and take Dawn Devries Sokol’s Art Journaling class and Lisa Congdon’s Basic Line Drawing. I wrote about how much Lisa’s class inspired me in my “Learning in Public” post.
3) A bunch of books to inspire you: Lynda Barry’s wonderful Syllabus; Danny Gregory’s new Art Before Breakfast (it’s a delight; I’ll be reviewing it soon) and the much-beloved The Creative License; the Illustration School series; the “20 Ways to Draw a…” series; Claire Walker Leslie’s Keeping a Nature Journal; the Usborne “I Can Draw” series. And a few more recommendations in this older post.
4) Maybe try a Sketchbook Skool course! They offer a free sample class (I mean klass) so you can get a taste of the magic.
5) Cathy Johnson videos. Rilla loves Cathy’s art and her gentle delivery.
6) The most important thing! Really just dive in and do it—if you do it, the kids will follow. Mine truly love to see me working & playing in my sketchbook. Actually, Rose was just commenting on it today, before this Twitter conversation occurred. She said she has really enjoyed watching me start from scratch (so to speak) and work at learning to draw. They all seem to love to see me trying, making mistakes, learning, improving. My progress excites them almost as much as it does me.
7) The REALLY most important piece of advice I can give: Allow plenty of TIME and room for mess. Many parents say “I want my kids to be creative” but can’t tolerate mess. Art is messy. Creativity is messy. You need space to leave work out and return to it. Supplies in easy reach. And big spans of time for messing around, staring into space, doodling, doing things that look unproductive. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is to any creative process. Time and room.
When I’m writing a novel, my most intense work happens while I look like I’m doing nothing at all. Sitting and staring blankly, chewing my nails, or filling an entire page with tiny lines and spirals. This is my body getting out of the way so my brain can get down to the real work of creating.
And for the visual arts, these totally tactile pursuits, you’ve got to have a place to spread out your paints, your pencils, your small objects that make you itch to draw. You know what’s nice and tidy and doesn’t clutter a room? A cellphone. If you want them to spend less time staring at screens (I’m not knocking screens here, you know I love me some screen time), you’ve got to grant them some real estate.
With that in mind, I make a point of keeping art supplies in easy reach. We have a dedicated kitchen drawer for placemats, paper, paint supplies so even the youngest kids can help themselves. Jars of colored pencils & crayons on table, a sharpener on the kitchen counter, a stack of art books on the shelf nearby. I want them to have constant free access to art materials. It’s also a good idea to keep a bag packed for outings. I described ours in this old GeekMom post.
8) And what materials do I recommend? For littles: good paper, cheap paints. I elaborated on my reasons in this post from several years back:
When my older kids were little, I read lots and lots about the benefits of providing children with really high quality art supplies. In some cases, I still agree: Prismacolor colored pencils are worlds better than your drugstore variety. The lead is so creamy and blendable. They’re expensive but they last a long time—we’re on our second set of 72 colors in over ten years.
But watercolors? Real watercolor paper makes a huge difference, but it’s expensive; that’s one reason I was so taken with Jenn’s idea to cut it into smaller, postcard-sized pieces. But when it comes to the paints themselves, well, I’ve been the high-quality route, absorbed the persuasive literature that talks about rich pigments and translucent hues; bought the pricey tubes of red, yellow, blue; collected jars for mixing colors; watched my children squeeze out too much paint and gleefully swirl it into an expensive puddle of mud-colored glop.
Lesson learned. The 99 cent Roseart or Crayola sets work just fine. In fact, dare I say I think my preschoolers like them better? Mixing colors is fun, but there is nothing quite so appealing as that bright rainbow of pretty paint ovals all in a row. When Wonderboy and Rilla make a mess of their paints, Jane cleans them up with a rag and they’re practically good as new.
For older kids—and for yourself!—my advice is to skip the student-grade watercolors and go right to artist quality. More expensive but the difference is immense. You can use the money you saved buying cheap paints for the preschoolers.
We’re still addicted to Prismacolor pencils—no other brand will do for me. And I like Micron pens for line drawing. The ink is waterfast so you can paint over it (like my pumpkins in yesterday’s post). I also picked up a few gel pens—white, silver, and gold—and Rilla has had unbelievable amounts of fun with them. I love the white one for writing on a dark surface, like on the tag of my pencil pouch here.
Don’t feel like you have to have millions of fancy supplies right off the bat. Look at what Andrea Joseph can do with a simple Bic pen. (Seriously, this blew my mind.)
The sketchbook I just filled up was a Canson Mixed Media, 7×10 spiral bound. The size worked really well for me and the paper takes watercolor okay (not perfectly but well enough for where I am right now). I also have a small Moleskine journal with watercolor paper, but it feels so special I find myself hesitant to use it and reaching for the mixed media book instead. (I’ve just started a new one, same as the one I filled up.) That’s my real playground, the place I’m not afraid to (in the words of my personal hero, Ms. Frizzle) “Take chances and make mistakes!” But I’m getting braver every day and the lovely paper in that Moleskine is calling to me.
I’ve also found I love doing my first rough sketches with a brown watercolor pencil, very lightly. I go over it with ink afterward and then, when I paint, the pencil just blends in and becomes shadow. I don’t sketch this way every time, but for some reason it seems to free me up. I’m more daring with this pencil. It takes me to a confident place between graphite pencil—with its sometimes overly tempting eraser—and straight-to-ink, which is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes terrifying. The brown Aquarelle feels like my co-conspirator. I don’t know how else to describe it. I have even starting making some first tentative stabs at portrait drawing, thanks to this pencil. (I tried a selfie-a-day project for a week. None of them looked much like me, but this attempt on day seven could maybe be a cousin?)
Guys, I still feel so shy about posting my drawings! I mean, I have so many friends who make their livings as illustrators—heck, one of them even just won the Caldecott! (GO DAN! SO THRILLED!) Do you know how nerve-wracking it is to know pros are looking at your rookie work? Of course you do. Because what I’ve learned is everyone feels that way. Even my most brilliant artist friends look at some other person’s work and sigh wistfully, wishing they’d made that piece. I’ve seen it happen time and again. So bit by bit I’m getting brave enough to share my baby steps.
9) Okay, so you have your lovely sketchbook and drawing implements, now what to draw?? Well, I guarantee Koosje Koene’s videos mentioned above will keep you and the kids busy for a good long while. There’s also this wonderful Everyday Matters Challenge list at Danny Gregory’s blog. 328 suggestions, so you’re just about good through 2016. And Kortney tipped me off to this most excellent Lynda Barry post (in Rilla’s words, I simply adore her) about keeping a visual diary.
10) And a last tidbit I almost forgot: A most beloved activity here (especially for Rilla and me) is to listen to audiobooks while sketching. Many of my happiest hours have been spent this way. We’re especially fond of Roald Dahl while drawing. Nobody brings on the whimsy like Dahl.
February 16, 2015 @ 3:01 pm | Filed under: Art, Butterflies, Gardening
Remember those pumpkins I said might be ripe in time for Christmas? More like Valentine’s Day. We gave most of them away to a neighbor (who thanked us with pumpkin bread, so we came out ahead) but kept a couple to perpetuate the cycle. We’ll ignore these and let Nature do her thing, and maybe we’ll have some seeds sprouting earlier in the season this time around. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the jarring contrast of spring flowers and fall harvest.
Spotted two tiny caterpillars on the milkweed! Sadly, however, we also found a withered monarch chrysalis hanging on the fence with a pinprick hole in it. It looks like we’re raising caterpillars for something’s lunch. Not cool, Nature. Monarchs have enough to contend with these days.
1. Leaving the house early yesterday morning, I spotted a pair of goldfinches feasting on the seeds of my basil—yes, another herb I forgot to pinch back, and now I’m glad
2. Pink milk and candy hearts
3. Saturday night ritual: art time with Rilla while the older girls watch TV with Scott (after the early-to-bed boys have conked out). This week, we binged on Cathy Johnson videos. Oh, I just love her, murmurs my girl.
4. Weeded the front-yard flower beds. Began, at any rate, and made good headway. After I mowed the other day, I discovered just how much is in bloom. Nasturtiums, coreopsis, sweet alyssum, snapdragons, viola, milkweed…Ellie said it’s okay to talk about my flowers, hope you don’t mind.
5. Set up a new palette and spent a good while testing colors with Rilla.
6. This one’s a Big Happy: today I finished the last empty page in my very first complete sketchbook. I started it on August 30. Have drawn or painted almost every day since (even if only for a few minutes). Feeling pretty chuffed.
Huck: Is there dessert?
Me: Why don’t you have a piece of your Valentines candy?
Huck: Actually, I ate it all immediately.