Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Start of "Savannah: The Two of Cups"

In March, even before I finished my "First Lady" piece in April, I was already thinking about the next piece in my Kitchen Tarot. I'm now working on the minor cards, having completed the major 22 cards last winter. And I draw a minor card at random to see which one it'll be next. My third minor card piece is to be the Two of Cups, and since Cups, or the Water suit, is one of my favorites, I started making sketches in March. At that time, I was thinking about the White House Organic Garden as the theme, but I ended up making other works about that idea. So the Two of Cups imagery was again up for grabs.

I was busy teaching a lot this year and didn't get around to actually starting the piece. I was also making other, smaller works, and the summer was coming on! Then Jack Walsh called in mid June, and invited me to make a commission for him. His only request was that the piece would have to do somehow with water, since his lifetime career has been working with water chemistry. There were no other restrictions. And yes, I was VERY happy! And besides getting to work with Jack, I was happy, because my Two of Cups piece was in the suit of WATER! Yea!

(Here's a sneak peek at a detail of the painting I've now created for Jack's art quilt. Keep in mind that this, and all of the images you'll see below, will change a lot, because I'll be doing my tiny diary writing all over the whole piece, with my airpen.)

I suggested to Jack that I would love to make my piece be about his life, especially about his career in water science. He was hesitant, and I'm sure that was because he's a very gentle, modest person. But I explained that his life would mostly be in the tiny writing, which I'd mix in with my own diary and stories of current events in the world. I said I'm the artist who can tell your story, and since it's a very interesting one, someone needs to do it! I see that he's not on Wikipedia. :)

Between that first call and now, Jack and I have had long phone talks and emails, with me taking notes and asking lots of questions. At the start of August, I began making sketches of the Two of Cups, specifically for Jack's piece:

I made about 20 more sketches, which led me to some favorite choices:

On August 28, when it was time to actually start working on the big 90 x 84" piece of cloth I'd sewn together a couple of days before, I laid a lot of stuff out and kinda freaked. Commissions are more scary than just plain old making art, even though you couldn't find a nicer person to work with than Jack is! I just REALLY want him to love this piece!

I looked at my paints and my sketches and photo references, and decided I needed some of my box wine. Got my Hello Kitty glass and took a little break. (Normally I drink my wine at bedtime, so I can sleep through the night, without insomnia, but this day was special!)

Then I fired up my airbrush, loaded up some black paint, put on my respirator and turned on the air and the fan. And I started with the face of Kathy, Jack's daughter. (Thanks very much to dear Jimmy, my husband, who took the pix for me, that have me in them.)

I had looked at those sketches and thought about them for so long, I was pretty full of ideas for how it would go. I don't look at sketches when I draw the "real thing," as I want to stay in the moment when I'm swooping around with that airbrush. And the long wait to actually work had made me very eager to get to this scary and really exciting studio day!

OK, here's the start of the big farmhouse-style kitchen sink I wish I could have in MY kitchen. It's not in Jack's kitchen either, but it would look mighty fine anywhere!

After drawing Zoe, Kathy's daughter (Jack's granddaughter), I finished drawing the sink, and here I'm putting handles on the cupboard under the sink.

I had to hike the cloth up, in order to draw the waves and the N S Savannah, the ship Jack was in charge of water chemistry for, for many years. That's the Savannah in the title of this piece.

Here I'm going over some lines on the pies (my symbols for gifts and blessings, on which I'll write some of Jack's life stories later.) It's funny how you work and work to learn to make very thin, crispy lines with the airbrush, and then here I am, needing big, fat outlines on my large pieces, so when I put in all my tiny airpen writing, the forms will still show up.

Jack has done a lot of genealogy, and he sent me pictures of some of his ancestors. So I decided to just look at the photos and draw them freehand. However well they'd come out, I wasn't going to have to worry: I can write their names on them. :) But I still tried for good likenesses.

Haven't screwed up yet ...

I don't know if Jack will recognize his forebearers as well here as he does in his photos, but this is how they came out for me. Good news is that they all fit into the space I had for them. The guy on the left is his Great Great Great Great Grandfather!

I made an executive decision to throw in some water lilies, since Jack and water are ONE. Luckily, he told me he likes water lilies. That's good, coz they were already drawn in, by the time I found that out.

I added Jack's parents at the very top, looking down into the piece. Water is pouring from Jack's little trophy pump to the sink, to Kathy's cup, and then to Zoe's cup. It's my symbolism for passing on the family's good energy from one generation to the next, to the next.
OK, that was enough artmaking for that day!

OK, time to start adding colors. I almost always start with yellow, because everything else will go over it. (This is watercoloresque, this airbrush fabric paint stuff.) I like to outline the major forms with yellow, and start coloring in areas that will either remain yellow or get layered with something else that mixes well with yellow. I use this same color order philosophy, when I'm hand-brush painting. That way, you can layer the transparent colors to get shading, etc. You can't put a light color over a dark one, so you go from light to dark.

Now that the yellow's on, you can see the forms much better, and there's some foreground-background separation. Not such a jumbled up image anymore. Or at least, that's what I think.
Did you notice the two cats? They are Jack and his twin brother Frank.

Time to add blue. Usually I move next to orange, since it's another warm color, like yellow, and it covers yellow. But this time, I wanted to be sure to have plenty of room for blue, the color of water. So I just jumped over to blue, but it's still a very light blue, made by adding more water to the airbrush paint. I always say there are no big rules in artmaking, in creating. As long as you'll be responsible for what happens, and you don't hurt anyone, break them rules!

Here's the water pouring down through the cups, and now you can see the Savannah better.

OK, now greens. How about green hair, girls? It's so much prettier than regular hair colors! Very eco-symbolic. And in some lights, water is green.

Here's with all the first time greens in:

Now I'm jumping over to a kind of orange, a little dusty:

And some pinks and reds. Pinks are just very slightly hazed in, watered down reds. All my colors are pretty watered down anymore. They make lovely pastels and they don't clog the airbrush much. Only the black is thicker, so the lines will be rich.

Back with more greens, for shading, as once I'd added those darker reds, everything else needed more depth, too. Always happens that way! Change one thing, and the whole thing goes out of balance! You just have to listen to the painting and figure out what it wants from you.

I went to bed that night knowing I needed more color, but wanted to sleep on it, before doing whatever it would be. Just sitting and staring at it that night wasn't giving me the answer. I needed sleep!

In the morning, with fresh thinking, I knew right away: More red! It needed some more red, somewhere down in the bottom, to balance all that red up there in the top, on the pies and water lilies. So I made the sink's cupboard red - that put a LOT of red in the bottom!

Yes, m'am! Red! I put some red shading on Jack's mom's cheeks, on the pie crusts, and other places here and there.

Here you can see better, without me in the way. Had I mentioned why I'd put a waterfall on the right side of the piece? There's a waterfall at Jack's cottage at Watkins Glen, NY. Jack's cat tail is hiding in the waterfall here. And the big W on Kathy's apron is a logo for Waltron, Jack's water company. And the little house on top of the 18 storey Roebling Building, where Jack went to work on June 29, 1959 (over 50 years ago!), was actually up there then! It was the water company's laboratory.
In this image, the painting is hanging up on the higher wall upstairs, where the bottom no longer flows out onto the floor, so you can see the ship and the waves better finally!

Jack's astrology chart, which I've made, will go into the wheel on Kathy's skirt.

Nothing like throwing a new painting into a bucket of water and rinsing it out! I DID heatset it before, so I knew it'd be safe. But the reason I washed it was to get the airbrush surface smoothed down better, so it'd feel nicer to the touch. And besides, a piece about WATER should be baptized in water, I say!

It was a beautiful day today, to hang Savannah, the Two of Cups out to dry in the back yard!


And then Jimmy checked out our first, almost ripe big tomato, and found a great big critter bite had been taken out of it! OH NOOOOO! After all this time waiting, with the big tomatoes taking forever to ripen in this cool summer weather! OK, who did this???????

So my piece dried, and now I've begun to write on it with my airpen. But tomorrow is Yoga day (this is Yoga Eve), and then Yoga View Sack Lunch Heavy Discussion Group. And then my friend Jennie Alexich is coming to visit with her husband, all the way from Berkeley. I'll be writing on Jack's Two of Cups piece for a while yet. I may not get to the quilting til sometime in October. But I'm sure I'll be making more blog entries that include this piece. This was the big news blog entry on it tho, as you won't see changes in its looks from now on, except for all the tiny writing that'll end up being all over it, and then the thin border and my random grid quilting. Really tho, the composition is done. Ta Da!

Meanwhile, I hope you like your piece in progress, Jack! I'll be calling you with questions, as I'm writing and will realize that I need more details. Thanks for all the stories! Your life is fascinating, particularly since I'm a real fan of water, especially now, since water is endangered, and we need more than ever to learn to take good care of it. Jack and I are both hoping that Dean Kamen, the Segway guy, who was on the Colbert Report on April 1, 2008, will succeed in making a practical water purification machine (using vapor compression distillation), that can be taken to villages all over the world, to give everyone safe drinking water, in an inexpensive way.

I skipped putting up a blog entry about going to see GEM (our kids Gretchen, Eva, and Mike) in Lakewood last weekend, so maybe they'll show up here soon, along with a progress report on Jack's piece.

Think water: cool ... clear ... water.

Love, Lucky


  1. Cool clear water indeed. This is magnificent. You astound me with the depth of your work. You go girl!!!

  2. Oh, Dan can you see that big green tree
    where the water running free and
    waiting there for you and me?
    clear cool water

    Cool Water Farm in Washington (state that is)

  3. I love the process, then planning then the freedom with the drawing. Wonderful work!

  4. that's so much fun to see your process and the SIZE of this piece!!!! WWOOWW!

  5. Totally amazing. I love your creative process. You are such a gifted artist. All of the little details in there, nothing like dotting your i's and crossing your t's. That takes alot of staminia of standing and bending over. You go girl!

  6. I love reading "the making of" stories . . . I look forward to seeing this work-in-progress in progress . . . thank you for posting it!!

  7. Thank you so much for taking the time to document your creative process. Fantastic!

  8. Your work is so amazing. After taking your workshop at QSDS and seeing you work on a small piece, it is exciting to see your process on a large work of art. Jack Walsh is one lucky dude. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  9. I love it that you not only shared your process, but explained and shared your thoughts, which is a bonus, the work is wonderful. Having seen your work area, I felt as if I were right there with you as you created. Now I am wondering how you'll quilt it when it is ready.


  10. Hi Susan!
    I just finished my commission for Jack. Your piece is incredible....wish I could see it in person.

    Have fun....

  11. WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL They are always so WONDERFUL,luscious, and delicious.

  12. What a gift YOU are. I love your work, of course, and I love reading your blog. Jack's a lucky guy, Lucky.

  13. So interesting and inspiring to see you in action Susan! I throughly enjoyed the peek into your art-making process. Thanks very much for sharing it.

  14. Awesome art piece! Thanks for sharing the process.

  15. What a fantastic post.
    This is my first time here and it was worth the trek! Thanks for all the great photos.

  16. Thank you, Jack and Lucky, for letting us see all this. I grew up in an arid part of Venezuela where it did not rain but a couple of weeks each year; we collected the water in big barrels and cisterns and we used those for washing and for our imaginary playtime as kids. Oh, and the Caribbean Sea was just right 'there.' Thanks again.

  17. I feel privileged to share the process of you working on a small masterwork for my green book, Unforgettable Tote Bags, coming out in another month (shameless promotion, yet such an exciting project with you among the contributors!). I can only imagine the glorious, liberating feelings you describe about making art at this gigantic scale! Truly inspiring to read how you "listen" to the piece tell you what it needs and respond with artfulness, sensitivity, and confidence. Obviously, a big piece needs a lot more than a little one, but I know you devote the same thoughtfulness regardless of size. --Eleanor Levie

  18. Thanks so much for sharing your process. The joy of your work comes through in your writing. I am trying very hard to be about the process and your post really spurred me along. Thanks again.

  19. I just discovered your blog and I must say, what a treat to see the work in progress. It's so amazing I was moved to tears - really. You are an airpen goddess!

    Nice to be in touch again. Hope to run into you again some day.

    Lesley Riley

  20. I wish my daddy would read this being a water person too. Jack and his life has always interested me. Is the Roebling Building connected to the same Roeblings who built the Brooklyn Bridge.
    Excellent job!!!!
    2 of Cups
    Alchemy Waterfall.

  21. I absolutely love this quilt! the girl, the cakes, the faces, everything!
    I'm so happy you have a blog now!! You were the first one doing a blog of your own before the blogs appeared anyhow!!!

  22. Thank you so much for posting your beautiful quilt and wonderful process...I've long admired your work!

  23. Thank you, everyone. Wow! What a great response! Makes all that time creating this long blog worth it! Madeline, I'll machine sew this big piece, as I've been doing, like how we quilted our works when you came to Turtle Art Camp last year. There is no airpen work here yet. This was all airbrush. I'm currently about 1/3 done doing the tiny writing on the piece with my trusty airpen. But now it's time to finish packing up, to teach for Front Range Quilters in Estes Park National Park. then Arrowmont, then a camp here. Will try to sneak in writing on the 2 of Cups, but it looks very likely to be going well into November, to finish Jack's piece. I love working on it! Stay tuned!

  24. I had the honor and priviledge to meet this quilt top and quilter last night at Front Range Quilters - It was like walking around in a dark room and suddenly the lights come on! Thank you so much for sharing your art and for being so persistent in finding a way to make it the way it suits you.

  25. Thank you, Lori. I REALLY appreciate your encouraging words! You brought back very fond memories of that night for me. What a great group you are at Front Range Love and thanks, Susan