Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hilarious Dancers

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Adventures in Ice Painting

Well, it finally happened. My paints froze while painting outside, en plein air. (see photo for slushy watercolor paints)

I paint with the PAPC, an informal group of artists who paint at different locations each Saturday morning. Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg, Il (of enormous Woodfield Mall fame) was our stomping grounds for the morning. A surprising, natural gem of a place in the middle of suburban office complexes and huge retail.

Wow, it was a very crisp, yet sunny, snowy winter morning. The birds were chirping, the snow was glowing and reflecting all kinds of light. Life outside seemed to move a bit slower and the world was a bit peaceful. I enjoyed the 1/2 mile hike, in massive ice fishing boots, in deep snow while scouting locations to paint. Sidebar: I’m quickly learning how to dress like a frontier’s woman when I go painting so I don’t freeze! One is miserable otherwise.

The temp was 6 degrees when I left my Chicago home… a bit colder than forecasted. Needless to say, I grumbled on my way out the door. We’ve had a lot of snow this winter and I needed some experience painting snowscapes. I just got a new Anderson field easel and was excited to try it out. I was using an easel of my own creation – being an old music stand for the watercolor block, and an old TV table to hold palette and water. No one is sayin’ it’s sexy, but it did a good job. It was just a huge load to transport.

OK, back to the painting… Plain ol’ water just frozen up! Whenever I’d lay a wash down on the paper, it would crystallize in about 5 seconds. It was frustrating. At times when I’d wait for a wash to “dry”, I went for a walk to wait for the layer to “freeze” so I could put on the next layer. Kinda fun considering, I got a chance to do more hiking in the neat winter weather with nature and wildlife all around. Remember, I’m a born and bred city chick. Street lights and concrete are considered nature around here.

I finished one painting and went to lunch. My friend, Stuart, convinced me to return for another round. Here was my chance to paint near dusk – which I had been wanting to do for awhile. Also, there’s safety in numbers. I found a nice spot with a wonderful scene of a barn, lofty snow hills and beautiful low sun casting crazy-long shadows and warm light. It was gorgeous. I would have been happy just sitting sipping a hot chocolate. But hey, I’m a plein air artist, I have to document the creative process, not just sit there and admire nature. Off your duff Beck.

My second painting was even a bigger frozen disaster than the first. The temperature must have been dropping. My paint was turning to slush right there in the mixing palatte. I applied it to paper thinking the motion would warm it up. It just created ice shapes. There was no controlling what I put on paper. Sigh. My brushes became very stiff and frozen. When I rinsed them they became pliable for a few more seconds. But just to manipulate the
slush. Deeper sigh. Defeated, I decided to snap some phone photos and tackle painting again - later at home. My entire painting was frozen. I tried to show this in the photo. You can see light bouncing off of the icy composition. I wish it would laste - it’s kind of a neat effect.

So where the heck was Stuart in all of this (the shiester who talked me into this adventure)? Was he or his paints literally freezing? He, as an oil painter, was like a kid in a candy shop and cranked out like 3 paintings that afternoon. Oil paints don’t freeze as easily as watercolors. After I packed it in, I found him in the middle of a field – madly painting away. He had to laugh out loud watching me walk the ¼ mile across the meadow in knee-deep snow. I kinda liked struggling along tho. Woman vs. the elements! When I finally reached him, he was painting one of the animal barns. It looked almost church-like in the glowing, setting sun. It was an inspiration to watch him work and also very educational.

Two big snaps to my twin sister, Sally, for sending me her super-insulated (and 2 sizes too big) Sorel Ice Fishing boots. My feet weren’t cold all day. That was a first! Too bad my painting couldn’t follow suit with my comfortable body temperature.

My paintings defrosted in the car ride home. Some of the crystal funky textures remained -- that’s the romantic version of this adventure. The truth is that my paintings were a drippy mess (more so than usual, all you haters).

I’m not giving up watercolor painting outside in the winter It can work and it can be awesome. There is something cool (pun intended) to glean from this experience. A texture one can only achieve when painting in cold weather – outside perhaps. Or maybe, just a neat story. Stay tuned everyone – success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Yeah, whatever. I think Stuart’s comment sums it up best: “When are you gonna switch to oils…” (he kindly left out “dumbass” sidebar: he would never say the last bit).

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sweet and Salty

I've come across at least 4 women whom I have overheard or spoken with directly about salt stained shoes. They all were bummed about the road salt staining their leather shoes and were going to throw out their shoes or felt their shoes were ruined. Gals... call your grandmothers! 3 parts white vinegar, 1 part water will get those stains right out.

Since I'm on the salt kick. There's a bar made entirely of salt. It's at the old Jolly Club banquet Hall on Irving just west of Narragansett in Chicago. You sit in chairs surrounded by tons of salt. It's supposed to be good for your system. Perhaps just a psychological ploy to fool your senses into thinking you're at the beach! Whatever!

I'd also like to use this blank space to share with you my feelings, to date, about where the best cupcakes are around Chicago - on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) (follow the link for the cupcake for a cool Threadless tee modeled by Indi)

1) Dinkel's - 10
My ALLTIME FAVORITE. Choclate cake w/ white buttercream. Great cake. Light buttercream. I'm still trying to coax the icing recipe from the. No dice.

2) Southport Market - 1 -
They sucked. Horrible. Dry cake, overly sweet buttercream. Good food tho. The only thing worse would be finding hair in it.

3) Lutz Bakery - 5
Dry, bland cake, very, very light buttercream with interesting flavors.

4) Duncan Hines Devil's Food w/ Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge icing - 6
This is good cake. Icing will due in a pinch. I've been trying to make my own icing but can't seem to perfect the lightness of the buttercream. Lower rating because I don't have good icing for it.

5) Sweet Honey Bee Bakery (Ravenswood on Montrose) - 7
Cake good. Great variety. On the small side. Red velvet a thumbs up!

6) Costco - 8 (priced helped a little)

7) Trader Joes frozen Choc/choc. - 3
Defrosts fast. Cake rocks. Icing tastes how formaldehyde smells. Avoid embalming, and these cupcakes, until you are dead.

Excellent cake. Icing a bit sweet but you can't beat the price!
Places yet to be rated: Sweet Occasions (Andersonville), BomBon in Pilsen (food always GREAT), Swedish Bakery. Dinkels' still rules after years and years. Visit them on Lincoln north of Belmont and see for yourself. They rock! (get choc cake w/ white icing - donuts are awesome too - very awesome).

Lastly, just as a fabulous FYI... Costco Wholesale (my favorite store) now sells their awesome cakes in cupcake form! Woohoo~! Enjoy

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

There's No Business like Snow Business

I love snow. I love anticipating it. I love watching, listening and smelling it fall. I like society, in general, after it snows. It's for rugged folk. I was THRILLED when Chicago got 4 inches of snow in 3 hours on SuperBowl Sunday. Not like I was watching the game anyhow. It was on in the house... so there, I did my duty to the totally stupid, unfair "organization" that is professional sports (I like baseball in a lesser of the evils sort of way. It provides great metaphor's for life, "sacrifice fly", "runs batted in"). But this post is about snow.

So, it's 9pm on Superbowl Sunday and what am I doing? Gearing up my 4 year old for a walk in the snow of course! We had a GREAT time. It was quiet, but you could hear people talking a block away. That was strange. Snow does weird things to sound. I was hoping to hear some forecasted "snow thunder", but didn't Just had to just make my own. Indigo and I were covered in snow. We trekked to the avenue, the snow hill (a few times), the park gazebo, the park and it's slides, the big-kid swings, a discovered snow fort (that we climbed, claustrophobially, through and then home to hot cocoa!

When I was a kid I used to go outside in any weather. I really enjoyed it. I remember I would go out when it was well below zero - especially at night. Especially on very cold days. I'd bundle myself up and crunch my way around the block. I still remember seeing a halo around the moon from the frozen stratosphere. The eerie quiet, the occasional car driving on the street. Where were they going to or coming from anyways? I LOVED my time spent outside on those crazy, cold winter days. Ahhh. I think I would have enjoyed it all the more had my Mom ever taken me out on those days. I know Indi will remember our adventures. But snaps to my Mom (I think) for allowing me to go out alone - or sometimes with my sister. Snow is magical. Here are some phone photos of our adventures through the neighborhood in the snow.