Sunday, February 28, 2010

Agility Training

I am venturing pretty far from my main topic -- art -- but remember; I'm balancing my life. The creature you see to the left is Sparky, our border collie mix who will turn one year old this month. Acquiring this dog really changed our calm "artists in the studio" lifestyle to something a little more active! It all started in a park when a friend rescued a mama dog giving birth in a puddle, on a rainy day last March. She took the mom and pups to my vet and boarded them, then sent photos of the litter to her e mail list, hoping some suckers would step up. I had been missing having a dog since the death of my beloved Westie, Dinah, in 2005. I showed the photos of the adorable puppies (are there any non-adorable puppies?) to Martin, and, in a moment of lapsed judgment, he said "Border collies! Cool! Let's get one!" So we did.

Probably I should have done some reading about the breed before we commited to adopting Sparky, and the horror stories I read online after we said we'd take him were a little alarming. I confess to thinking that probably those people were not good pack leaders -- I had watched enough episodes of the Dog Whisperer to give me a false sense of my own dog training abilities. Anyway, I won't take up any space describing the damage caused by this dog to our home, property, and even our own bodies: what is clear now is this is a dog who needs to be doing something structured most of the time. I had read that border collies were working dogs, and I knew that intellectually, but it took awhile to realize that lifestyle changes would need to be made.
In that vein, Sparky and I started agility training at Bed, Bath, and Biscuit, a great local facility that provides, as the name suggests, boarding, grooming, training, and day care for a range of pets. We had already completed beginning obedience training with Nikki, the Willis Dog Whisperer, and Martin and I both were impressed with the improvement in Sparky's manners. Unbelievably, he had passed his Canine Good Citizen Test; the test administrator is probably the one person Sparky ever met that he didn't jump on. After that triumph, I thought it was time for something fun to work off some energy. Of course I didn't realize just how much energy I would expending, but a little more exercise is not necessarily a bad thing!

On the last day of class Martin went with us to take pictures. I posted these on facebook, and apparently some people inferred that we are "going pro." We have no plans for that, and in fact, Sparky is a little more lackadaisical about the whole activity than I would have imagined. Still, he enjoys it and while I can't use the word "mastered" to describe his performance at all the different stations, he has completed the course with no major mishaps.

The picture above shows Sparky running on the plank, probably his favorite piece of equipment. He hasn't said so in so many words, but he is most enthusiastic when running up, along, and down the plank, and hasn't balked at doing so like he has at some of the other stations. Some of the more difficult stations, like the weave poles, he has not mastered at all, but he is usually eager to give it a shot, especially with a huge hunk of "liver loaf" held right under his nose. He may be a working dog, but he doesn't work for free!

As he approaches his first birthday we starting to see what a great dog he is turning out to be!

Monday, February 22, 2010


On Monday I attended the monthly meeting of the Montgomery County Master Gardener Association. The speaker was one of our members, Mrs. Linda Crum. Linda is an organic gardener, composting wizard, and lover and protector of bluebirds. She gave an informative and entertaining talk and showed some beautiful photographs. She is an officer in the Texas Bluebird Society, of which I am a member. The illustrations on this page are collages that I made in 2009 and 2010 to donate to the TBS silent auction.

Bluebirds are members of the thrush family, as are robins. There are three types of bluebirds -- eastern, western, and mountain bluebirds. Here in our part of East Texas we have eastern bluebirds. Bluebirds are beautiful birds, and their numbers are declining because of lost habitats. They are secondary cavity dwellers, meaning they nest in holes made by other species, such as woodpeckers. Their little beaks are not strong enough to peck out a nesting hole. Because we now cut down most dead trees, and use materials other than wooden posts to build fences, it becomes harder and harder for bluebirds to find a suitable nesting spot. They are also frequently the victims of a variety of predators, including hawks, cats, snakes, and even other birds such as house sparrows. They also fall prey to weather, especially severe weather in the spring. The little darlings need our help!

Many bluebird lovers put up special birdhouses called nestboxes to entice bluebirds to their yards. These houses can be built at home or purchased, but have very exact specifications as to size, shape, ventilation, drainage, etc. as well as how and where to mount the box, all of which should be researched before building or purchasing. The different bluebird societies are excellent sources for house plans or nestboxes. We have three nestboxes on our property, and now is the time of year when we start seeing bluebirds. Last weekend I saw a male sitting on the roof of one nestbox that we have out in a field, and I'm hoping that Mrs. Bluebird will approve the house and start making a nest. We had our only successful fledging there last year. In the past I've seen bluebirds around our second house, but we had a sad event there two years ago (rat snake!) and last year chickadees moved in. That's OK -- I like them too. Our third house has never been inhabited; I think the area around it isn't open enough. It's where I would prefer bluebirds to nest -- it's fairly close to the house and I could watch them from the porch. Apparently they don't have my wishes in mind when they pick a location!

If you are interested in helping bluebirds, you should contact your local state bluebird society, or the North American Bluebird Society. They have a wealth of resources to share, and bluebird people are nice people!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gridded Images

I've played around with gridded images for several years, both in my own art and in assignments for students. In my Design class at Lone Star College for several semesters my students did portraits in pen and ink using a grid, where each square had a design of some kind. The designs had to be carefully planned to match the values of the photograph for there to be any kind of resemblance. I thought this was pretty much fun and did a few self-portraits of my own, at first using simple designs -- closely packed curved lines, geometric shapes, shapes that were organic but nonrepresentational. Then I wondered if it would work to use designs with representational images -- animals, plants, seashells, etc -- and yes, it did. Ink was used for some of the portraits, but the image shown here, Facescape, (34" x 26") is in watercolor. The images are a little subtle to be seen at this size. This piece was shown in 2007 at the Watercolor Art Society of Houston Membership Show.

In 2009 I was asked to design a tee shirt for The Woodlands Earth Day Festival. Their theme was "it's all connected," and they wanted an image of the earth. In brainstorming ideas for the design I got excited about doing a gridded image of the earth, made up of little drawings representing life on earth -- animals, plants, trees, insects, flowers, water, and other symbols. The small images all working together to create the overall picture of the earth seemed a fine way to illustrate the theme of connectedness. The size of the image was 14" x 14", with 196 one-inch squares, each with a unique image. The medium used was black ink. The result was quite effective, and not only tee shirts were made, but also 250 limited edition prints. The sad conclusion of the story is that Earth Day 2009 was rained out! Some of the tee shirts and prints were sold at later events, and the remainder will be sold at Earth Day 2010.

The image above is my design for Earth Day 2010 in The Woodlands. The black and white version for 2009 turned out so well that I wanted to see how something similar would look in watercolor. This one, Fragile Planet, has the same number of squares but they are 2" x 2" so the overall size of the image is 28" x 28". Some of my favorite images from the smaller version are repeated, but about two thirds of the images are new. I kept a list while I worked, mainly to make sure equal billing was given to mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, fish and other sea creatures, trees, flowers, plants, and symbols representing water, sky, and humans. This endeavor took about six months to complete. (Years ago I narrowed my focus to watercolor as my medium so I could see quick results, but it seems patience comes with age!)

It's my intention to celebrate the diversity of life on earth, and emphasize that our planet is indeed fragile. The dying out of the frogs or the bees or the polar bears affects all life on earth -- it really is all connected.

In March I will be one of three featured artists at the Linda Watson Gallery in Conroe, Texas for the show titled "Go Green." My friend Paula is also featured, with her fabulous sculptures and clocks made of found materials. I will be showing watercolors of nature including Fragile Planet. Prints will be available for sale at the show, as well as at The Woodlands Earth Day Festival on April 10, and also on my Etsy page.

Why balance pose?

The first four or five names that I came up with for my blog were already taken, including my favorite, "Big Muddy Blog." We call our property "big muddy" because of the way it gets in the winter and spring with the rains. The property is one big slope, and the water drains down through the sandy soil until it hits the clay soil, and there the drainage is so poor that we get big standing puddles of water. When the rain is really coming down, other parts run like a river.

You may or may not know that "big muddy" is a nickname for the Rio Grande, and we live nowhere near the Rio Grande. But someone who does already got my first choice of a blog name!

Balance pose was one entry in a long list of brainstormed names. As I crossed off the "definitely nots" and got down to a few possibilities, balance pose became more and more resonant. My life is a balancing act -- at times I am successful at keeping everything I am juggling in the air, and other times it all comes crashing down around me. That's a little overly dramatic: at times of frustration I feel I'm doing nothing very well because my attention is so divided. But, I really don't know how to function any other way, and I'm not sure I would want to. I love all the things I do, and at this point wouldn't want to eliminate anything.

I was a little concerned that people would assume this was a yoga blog. And then I realized, what people? Yoga IS one of my interests, and I take classes with a wonderful teacher, Rhonda. I practice some on my own but for some reason not as much as I wish I would. I practice balance poses every morning when I get dressed, as I put on various articles of clothing and balance on one foot and then the other. I've actually gotten better and better at know what they say about practice!

Some of the interests and activities that I balance are making art, teaching art, and looking at art; Master Gardener activities; buying and selling antiques and collectibles at Bluebonnet Square Antiques in Huntsville, Texas; setting up a shop on Etsy and trying to learn all about selling online; training and playing with Sparky, the crazy border collie mix dog we acquired last spring; having fun with my wonderful husband, Martin; maintaining relationships with friends and family who are dear but not near. My intention is that this will be mostly an art blog -- sharing my own work, my teaching, and art that I go look at -- but I know at times I'll be focused on one of these other areas of my life. And now I have a new interest -- blogging!