The Swetsville Zoo in Timnath, CO is actually a sculpture garden showcasing the wild imagination of Bill Swets. Filled with creatures made from metal scraps including parts from cars, tractors, and motorcycles, this “zoo” includes dinosaurs, birds, insects, reptiles, dragons, even people and flowers. The two things all Swets’ creations have in common: they are all made from recycled materials and they all make you smile.
The first thing I saw when we arrived should have told me what was in store. I’m not sure if you have to keep your dinosaurs under 5 mph or you drive under 5 mph because of the dinosaurs. Either way, I was in.
There were LOTS of dinosaurs. This was one of my favorites (complete with a bird’s nest in its mouth):
There were quite a few dragons as well.
While I liked his ants and other smaller insects, his giant praying mantis was my favorite.
I found his birds charming, too.
Last but not least, here’s something that reminded me of the goblins from the movie Labyrinth (note the little driver in the mechanized monster’s open mouth):
All the articles I found online talk about the looming demise of this unusual garden. Big box stores have been built right next door and there are plans for more development in the near future. But the Swetsville Zoo is still open (no entry fee! Donations welcome) for your enjoyment and I am hoping it will last. Get there while you can.
Paper collage fascinates me. Most styles of quilting are a form of collage — putting together pieces of many different fabrics to build up a pattern or picture — but the limitations caused by the need to sew seams* keeps me from achieving the truly detailed results I want from my animal art. While looking at animal pieces by other art quilters, I stumbled across a paper-collage dog portrait and got curious. Here are the artists I discovered while surfing the web.
My favorite is Dawn Maciocia, who lives in Scotland. Her lively animal portraits balance realism with whimsy and her use of line suggests that she can draw quite well. Her subjects are mostly mammals and birds, with an emphasis on the wild. To get a sense of how complex and time-consuming her process is, check out this short video:
Laura Yager’s work is also whimsical, but much more in-your-face. She strives to make the world a better place with her “happy art” and her neon animals do the trick. Her strongly colored papers are also high in pattern making her work more like a quilt than any of the other artists listed here.
The work of Samuel Price is much more realistic, though his realism is noticeably pixellated. Using pieces of photographic images, he builds up a new photographic image with the fuzzy edges of a newspaper photo. His main subjects are dogs and horses.
Last, but definitely not least, is Elizabeth St. Hilaire. Her charming art work includes goats wearing blossoms, sheep highlighted with rainbow colors, and tiny birds perched on flower stems. She uses papers with both printed and hand-written text as well as painted and color papers to achieve her naturalistic animals.
Who did I miss? Let me know in the comments.
*I know I could be fusing (gluing) the fabric instead of sewing it, but that’s not really my thing.
I love starting a new project. It’s one of the reasons I’m such a NaNoWriMo fan. I get to write a whole new book in November, meet new characters, discover new worlds. Starting a new quilt is always a buzz, and I sew like crazy, inspired by the unfamiliar colors and fabrics.
New projects are exciting, but they can be challenging, too. The newborn idea is dazzling in its beauty and potential and we adore it. We dress it up in cute sleepers that say “Momma’s Favorite” and “Future Best Seller” and we coo. We walk around with a huge happy grin on our faces, so proud of our baby, anxious to get back to her when we are forced to do something else.
Then we start to work and things change, fast. The baby grows into a toddler, and what looked perfect is suddenly smearing mashed peas all over the walls and pouring milk on the cat. What happened to our sweet little baby?
Hoping to get the little monster back on track, we work even harder. To our dismay, things change even more. Suddenly, a willful teenager is there, with her own taste in music, his idea of what’s cool, and it may bear little resemblance to what we dreamt of when we held that little baby in our arms.
Nothing we create is art at first. It’s simply a collection of notions that may never be understood. Returning every day thickens the atmosphere. — Walter Mosley
Now we take a deep breath. And we keep working. Because we are not done yet. Teens with braces and zits can blossom overnight into attractive adults. That kid who wouldn’t clean his room becomes a naturalist intent on saving the environment. We have no way of knowing how this is going to turn out.
Which is why we have to keep the faith. Keep working. Keep showing up.
Love that project through all its stages, from cute baby to adulthood.
Maybe we will get a work of art, maybe we won’t.
The kid doesn’t have a chance if we don’t give her the attention she deserves.
Not long ago, I asked a friend if she was interested in writing a book. I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo and hoping she might join in the fun. She loves to read, she’s articulate and smart, and I was pretty sure she would be interested in writing.
I asked her if she had ever done any creative writing. She said once, long ago, but she was very bad at it.
She gave up because she didn’t have any talent.
Her misunderstanding made me sad.
As a beginner, she couldn’t expect to write a brilliant story right away. If she wanted to be a good writer, she needed more practice. What looks like talent from the outside is really lots of skill built through experience. Just like a new runner does not start by running a marathon in their first week, novel writers train up, writing lots and lots of pages before they write a book worth reading.
People often say “I’m not talented enough to do that” when they see a beautiful painting, hear a musical performance, or read a great story. We must remember that what is masterfully done is the result of hours and hours of practice. The artist must develop their skill set before they can expect to get the results that are so admired. They must make lots of art, good, bad, and mediocre, before they can achieve great.
Which brings us to the other comment often made when someone admires a really complex or large piece of creative work: “I don’t have the patience to do that.”
I thought a lot about patience as I was putting beads on Tiny’s Elizabeth I costume. It took me hours to do, but believe me, I am not a patient woman. I don’t want things now, I want them yesterday. Much of the time I was stitching beads onto fabric, I was looking forward to being done. It was certainly not patience that got helped me finish that project. It was determination.
Skill and determination, not talent and patience.
However, there is one place where having some patience is handy: while you are learning your craft. Practice takes time.
You are going to write bad stories, hit the wrong notes, and draw crooked houses while you are learning how to write, play, and draw. Lots and lots and lots of mistakes will be made. There will be successes, too, but it may be a long time before you are able to perform at the level you dream of. This is when patience comes in handy.
If you’re not all that patient, my advice is: use it. Your impatience can drive you to work harder. The more you practice, the quicker you will get better.
Why is beauty never considered a function? — Ronald Rael
I came across this thought-provoking quote in the middle of a video about green technology. While the video shows the building blocks made from 3-D printers, it asks bigger questions. The most important one confronts artists and artisans alike: is it functional or is it “just” beautiful?
This particular question resonates with me because I grew up in a house full of art and craft. Dad took photos that he developed himself. Mom made pottery and took art classes. My sister drew and painted and I learned to sew and knit. Where the line between art and craft actually is has always been fuzzy in my mind and this idea of functionality versus beauty is tied to it.
Take my mom Jane Dunsmore, for example. She mostly made functional pottery to be sold at craft fairs. Treating her creative pursuit as a business meant she needed to make money. Common sense says that people are more likely to buy pottery they can use. Pottery that is “merely” pretty or decorative isn’t going to sell.
Fortunately, Mom has been able to break away from this mold. Today she makes sculpture and tiles, a far cry from the more prosaic and practical bowls, mugs, and plates she made in the past*.
I asked her how she was able to escape from the functional trap and two things came up: a change in mind-set and a change in materials. She needed both to make the change.
The mindset change came from a combination of things. When she retired from teaching, she returned to her pottery studio without the pressure to make money. Also, she was bored after years of showing students how to make round things on a wheel. She gave herself permission to make the things she wanted to and she started experimenting with free-standing forms.
Initially, she was frustrated. The shapes she was interested in didn’t work well in clay — they cracked, something every functional potter considers a fatal flaw.
Then she discovered paper clay (which is clay that contains anywhere from 5 to 25% paper pulp). Suddenly, she was able to make the shapes she’d always wanted to with little to no cracking. Paper clay opened the door to sculpture for her.
Occasionally, a piece still cracks, but now she sees it as part of the work instead of a flaw. Sometimes she fills the cracks with other materials, sometimes she leaves them alone. Letting go of perfectionism, as well as the expectation that everything she makes must sell, has freed her to make the work she wants to make. Her ceramics still have a function, but now it is usually beauty first.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserable each day
of what is found there.
— William Carlos Williams
Beauty is a function: for many people it is what makes something a work of art**. It’s also a key component of every craft there is. We knit and sew and embroider in order to make functional things in our lives beautiful as well.
While I love her bowls and mugs, Mom’s heart is much more obvious in her newer work. I’m glad she’s found her way past the artificial boundaries set in her path to work that treats beauty as a function.
*She still makes bowls and mugs from time to time, but how they look is much more important to her than how they work. **Art historians, critics, and teachers have a much more complex definition of art but they are a pretty small part of the population.
I use lots of different sources for the doodles in my homemade coloring books. Here are some examples of the many things you can use to make your own designs.
1) Use your own photos. I drew my dog Cora by looking at an old photo fo her, then decorated the wall with hearts. Feel free to trace the image if you aren’t ready to draw it freehand.
2) Draw jewelry. Sometimes I draw a ring or earring I’m wearing. Other times, I go for something more elaborate, like this brooch from the Middle Ages that I saw in an art book.
3) Copy patterns from fabric. I often copy designs from fabrics around me: look at carpets, curtains, table cloths, and napkins to find ideas. If the design is too complicated, simplify it.
4) Draw simple symbols. Your doodles can also come from your head. Draw hearts, stars, flowers, a smiling sun. Simple designs can be made more elaborate and colored in many different ways.
5) Get close. When there aren’t any obvious patterns nearby, I start looking at the texture of things, like the fabric of my shirt or running shoes, or the stitching on a jacket or jeans. These form patterns that can be drawn large and colored.
6) Draw architectural details. Something as simple as a doorknob or electrical outlet can be turned into a doodle for your coloring book. More complex details from old buildings are fun to draw and color, too. One of my favorite sources for architectural ornaments is the book The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones.
The world is full of patterns you can play with. Traditional quilt blocks, tile floors (whether in your bathroom or the state capitol), brick walls and walkways, and fencing can all inspire doodles for you to color. Keep your eyes open and be brave. It doesn’t matter if your drawing doesn’t look like what you saw. You’ll still have something interesting to color when you’re done.
Whether you are coloring in a pre-printed book or coloring your own doodles, there are some things you can do to make your pages look glorious. As I’ve already mentioned, I love using markers to color. Below are some tips for working with markers, and some ideas for how to make your pages look great.
TIPS FOR COLORING WITH MARKERS
1) Make a test sheet. I like to test my art supplies on the paper I’m using. Markers can be particularly deceptive: the color on the outside doesn’t always match the color of the ink. You can make an organized chart in rainbow order, or something more informal. Just make sure you label your tests so you can refer to it as you go.
2) Watch out for bleed through. Marker ink often bleeds through thinner papers. To keep the color from coming through onto the next page in your book, stick a sheet of scrap paper behind the page you are coloring.
3) Use the same color in several places on your page. This is my trick for getting a harmonious page, especially with doodles. It’s easy to get caught up in changing color schemes from frame to frame, but for the whole page to really sing, make sure a few of the colors show up in more than one frame to tie the page together.
4) Pay attention to contrast. How dark or light your colors are relative to one another can affect how your design looks. A fast way to learn what does and doesn’t work is to make a sample page with the same design in a grid, then color each box differently to see what happens.
IDEAS FOR COLORING YOUR DOODLES
1) Use color theory to choose your coloring scheme. We all learned about the color wheel when we were in school (if you need a refresher, go here). It’s a great resource for choosing colors for your doodles. Some common schemes are: a) monochromatic: using shades, tints, and tones of a single color
b) analogous: using two or more colors that are adjacent on the color wheel
c) complementary: using colors opposite one another on the color wheel
d) triads: using three colors that are equal distance from one another on the color wheel (at the corners of an equilateral triangle)
e) combine schemes: I like to add the complementary color to an analogous scheme to make the colors pop even more.
2) Blend colors for a different look. You can blend your marker colors within a design to get a more sophisticated look. This works best with analogous colors because they visually blend into one another, especially if you have a larger marker set with lots of shades, tints, and tones in it. It also helps to work quickly, while the ink is wet, so the colors bleed into one another a bit.
3) Experiment with one design by coloring it different ways. One of my favorite doodles is the one I call X-box. I include it some version of it on most of my doodle pages. It’s simple to draw but offers lots of options for coloring.
Do you have any tips or ideas for coloring with markers that I missed?