Saturday, September 14, 2019

With Loving Regard to my Hippocampus, Part 2

Lara Lillibridge giving an author talk on her new hybrid
memoir, Mama, Mama, Only Mama last week.

My mind is still racing with inspiration since returning home from HippoCamp 2019. I began to write a second blog post about it a week and a half ago, before I realized midway  through that I still hadn't finished downloading my pictures. My lecture notes and conference handouts are still laying in piles around my office, since I haven't finished digesting them all, or the multitude of ideas that are scrawled in the margins on most of the pages along with snippets of inspired dialogue or description. In the interim, though, I had a chance to experience a little bit of HippoCamp in my hometown.

Lara with co-presenter Ruth Hanford Morhard.
As it turned out, last Thursday Lara Lillibridge happened to be doing a book talk for her new memoir Mama, Mama, Only Mama at a nearby library. I had just participated in the Hybrid Truth session at Hippocamp Lara co-presented with Rebecca Fish Ewan. It was one of the best sessions I attended. As soon as I heard about her author event, I put it on my calendar, and made a point to be there. Not only is she a funny and engaging speaker, I wanted to be there to support what she is doing. I know the hesitant feeling that comes before doing an author event, and the trepidation I have felt when my brain starts chanting, "no one is going to come."

With my home-body husband in tow, we arrived and found our seats in the attractive basement auditorium. Lara presented first, and her engaging subtitle says it all: An irreverent Guide for the Newly Single Parent--From Divorce and Dating to Cooking and Crafting, All While Raising the Kids and Maintaining Your Own Sanity (Sort Of). Amusing stories written in diary and blog-style are highlighted with clever "recipes." These form the spine of her hybrid memoir, fleshing out in memorable ways the very real struggles that led her back to school and, ultimately to finishing her MFA and becoming a writer. This is her second memoir, and, like the best of the genre, it is a raw and real look at struggle and overcoming. Even as a grandmother long past the days of child-rearing, I found inspiration in Lara's story of the surprise route to connection with her baseball-fiend son, and how that bonded them together. The story was a great segue to the second speaker that night, Ruth Hanford Morhard.

Ruth's book, Mrs. Morhard and the Boys, tells the true story of the difficult life of Josephine Morhard and her struggle to not only survive as an abused divorcee, but to find a way to provide positive activities and role models in her growing son Junior's life. Through grit and determination, she founded the first boys' baseball league in America in the midst of the Great Depression, an amazing and previously untold story of yet another unsung woman that I hope will be made into a movie.
Chris talking to Al "Junior" Morhard at the author talk.

We are so lucky in our area to have organizations supporting and providing resources to writers, like our amazing public library's Writing Center and the nonprofit Literary Cleveland. In the car on our way home afterwards, however, I was also thinking how nice it had been to connect with Lara at HippoCamp, and how Ruth, as a non-fiction writer with an amazing book, could benefit from coming to the conference. There is nothing like that supportive national community.

I was thrilled to hear that Jacki Lyden would be the keynote speaker at HippoCamp 2019. As an avid NPR listener, her voice on the radio had been one of the steady daily beats in my life for decades.  She gave a moving and inspiring keynote presentation. Looking out over the audience in closing, she told us that our stories are important, because they provide context to journalistic writing. She was mesmerizing. What a brave, full and amazing life she has led.
To add to my excitement, I had recently
added Lyden's memoir to my "want to
read" shelf on Goodreads. I bought a
copy at the book table, and can't wait
read it.

After Jacki's keynote the fun mashed potato martini bar buffet provided the perfect opportunity to talk with old friends and rub elbows with new ones. Everyone (speakers, presenters, agents, editors, publishers, podcasters; there is no pecking order here) mills around balancing plates of salad, hors d'oeuvres, glasses of water or wine and, in my case, a sweet potato concoction in a martini glass. Connecting and reconnecting. It's a big part of what the conference is about.

The debut author readings always follow the reception. A handful of writers give moving readings from their new books, and this year there was even a tear-provoking performance by Teresa Wong. I wish I could find a video of it.

These readings, and the Q&A that follows, are always a highlight for me. In fact, Lara Lillibridge first appeared on my radar at the HippoCamp 2017 conference when she gave a reading from her book girlish as one of that year's debut authors. Six new authors on the stage, each with engaging stories, and books that I eagerly devoured. Some have become among my favorites. I am so grateful for the circle of connection.

The first full day of the conference ends with the brave souls who entertain us at the annual Friday night story slam. Groans and laughter punctuate the rapt attention paid to true stories told well. After, we pile into the elevator, tired but giddy from all that has transpired. We sit up late in our beds, sipping wine and swapping descriptions of tomorrow's sessions in anticipation of new adventures to come.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

With Loving Regard to My Hippocampus, Part 1

My tiny desk shrine
I keep a little shrine in my office next to my laptop. It is a shifting assemblage of personal objects alongside visual cues, reminders of pressing matters that require my attention. The HippoCamp mementos are among the most meaningful items I keep here, because they remind me every day of the supportive community I have found through attending the wonderful creative nonfiction conference in lovely Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I have returned from this year's event enthused, reconnected and newly able to see fresh possibilities for my work.

The magic begins after check-in and upon arrival at Tellus, the cool old Irish pub and music venue that is just down the street from the conference location at the Marriott in Penn Square. HippoCamp founders and amazing couple-in-residence, Donna Talarico and Kevin Beerman, are there for the pre-conference event, greeting newcomers and repeat offenders alike.

So fun seeing old friends and meeting new ones.
Gayle with Kevin Beerman, Ali J. Shaw, Donna Talarico and Brendan O'Meara

Attending HippoCamp with my writer daughter makes the experience even more intimate and meaningful. We relish Friday night after the conference begins, when we sit and pore over the sessions for Saturday and Sunday, trying to decide from the myriad of fabulous choices which ones we want to attend. When we don't select the same one, we share notes and insights on the car ride home, as we prepare for re-entry into our real lives.

So, yes, I am back home and back at work. Regular readers of Uncommon Threads will soon see the fruits from this year's HippoCamp. Meanwhile, I have a new stack of books to read, and a million new ideas.
From the author's table at HippoCamp 2019 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Target is March 2020

Target Family in progress, by Gayle Pritchard

2020 is coming. This is exciting to me for a variety of reasons: a new presidential election, the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment (look it up, please, if you do not know what that is!), and a new exhibition scheduled for March 2020 with my art group: me (Gayle Pritchard), Gail Crum and Jill Milenski at the fabulous Beth K. Stocker Center Gallery.

My art group tries to meet once a week. We have been doing so for years now. We sip wine, catch up with each other, plan play-days and art-related outings, and, all the while, we work on whatever it is we are working on. When one of us is exhibiting in one of the many juried exhibitions around town, we all try to attend the opening. This type of support is so important, not only for the professional reasons you can imagine, but for the emotional support and the safe creative environment it provides.

A drawing play-day at Jill's
Meeting every week provides an incentive to keep working. While it is perfectly okay if you had a hectic week full of distractions or family obligations or illness and got nothing done, we all really want to have something to work on each week, or something to show that we have finished. It's absolutely exhilarating.

Jill and I, both writers as well as artists, recently took part in a one day writing workshop sponsored by our local library system, The 36th annual Western Reserve Writing Conference. Here we found yet another iteration of the creative community in our Northeast Ohio region. We spend the day with like-minded people seeking ways to improve our craft. I am so grateful to be surrounded by creativity virtually everywhere I go. Writing and talking about the writing process is just another way of expressing that fundamental need to express.

All of which now takes me back to my target: March 2020, the next exhibition, the next body of work, the next chance to interact with my audience, and another giant block of time to work on my art with focus.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Get Out Your Saw, Part II

Measuring the wood strip to cut for framing the sides of the
In my previous post, I showed you part 1 of my framing experiment. This time, I want to show you how I finished framing the piece. Top and bottom, the wood framing strips were cut and attached. To do the sides, I measured the length needed by laying the canvas on top of the wood strip and marking it. I'm going to cut two pieces that same length, one for each side, measured as shown in the picture to the left and below.

Lay the canvas on top of the length of wood. Measure, marks and cut with your saw.
I used very small nails to attach the strips of wood. Even then, I found it easiest to make a starting hole with an awl to get the nail started. At first I did only top and bottom, but the canvas wasn't completely square, so I added a nail in the middle to eliminate any gaps.

When you cut the side pieces, top and bottom or side and side, remember to cut them the same size. Measure twice, cut once, but make them the same. Lightly sand the cut edges, mark your nail holes, and hammer the wood strips in place. Make sure you are hammering the nails into the wood edge of the canvas. I may use a drill and even smaller nails next time, as I did end up cracking the on one end of the framing strip as I hammered it into the adjacent piece.

After all the wood framing pieces were nailed in place, I painted them with transparent acrylic airbrush paint. It's very thin, so it's easy to paint on in layers to achieve the color you want. I used a golden yellow color to match the artwork without distracting from it. After the paint dried, I wired the canvas for hanging.

Hurrah, May Queen is ready to show!

May Queen by Gayle Pritchard. The frame is attached
and ready to paint to match. The last step will be
wiring the canvas for hanging. 
Wired to hang
May Queen by Gayle Pritchard
Notice how the painted color of the frame doesn't
detract from the artwork. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Get Your Saw Out: A Framing Experiment, part 1

My  handy-dandy miter saw
It's been a busy few months, and now it's time to start preparing for my next three-woman exhibition, Conversations With Women, which will be in March 2020. More on that later, but...hurrah!

A few posts back, I was pulling out some unfinished work, and showed you my piece May Queen, in progress. I finished the collage, which I had created on a painted canvas, and now needed a way to frame it for a finished look. Because of the depth of the 3-D elements in the piece, it wasn't going to be popped into a regular frame, and I didn't want it inside a shadow box. So, off to Lowe's I went in search of wood suitable for my purposes.

My canvas was only 3/4" deep, and I was looking for something a little wider than that. I ended up with 1 1/2" maple, that would do the job, and bought enough of it to allow for the entire perimeter of the canvas, plus extra for mistakes. I bought two 5' lengths.

Mark the wood in pencil so you can see
where to cut.
I got my miter saw for my birthday one year, and it's perfect for these kind of projects. I use it a lot for my artwork. The saw sits in a groove, and the pegs are movable so you can lock them in place around the wood you are cutting. The blade is replaceable, too, if it gets dull. I have my saw, wood strip, my artwork and my pencil, and first off I'm going to mark the first cut. I line up the wood edge to edge with the canvas, and mark it. I started with the short sides, and made sure the mark worked on both ends. 

Make a hole with an awl, and push
the nail in before hammering.

Saw, saw, saw, and the wood is cut. I used a bit of fine-grained sandpaper to smooth the cut edges. I picked up some really small finishing nails at the hardware store. I used an awl to mark a hole to hold the nail while I hammer it in place.  
I attached both the top and bottom frame
pieces. Voila, I'm halfway home!

Measure and pre-mark all the nail hoes with an awl
before trying to hammer the finishing nails in place.
I ended up adding another nail in the center of each side,
since the canvas was not perfectly straight. The extra
nail eliminated tiny gaps.

May Queen by Gayle Pritchard, half way framed!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Making Marks is the Start

"Mexico" by Gayle Pritchard, oil pastel with collage and
image transfers on mat board
I have never met a kid who, at a certain age, did not like to draw. Somewhere along the line, most of them end up abandoning the skill, because they are taught, often by an untrained "art" teacher, that their drawings aren't up to snuff. They aren't taught that drawing is a lifelong skill and one that, no matter how good you naturally are at it, can become rusty or greatly improved, depending on how often you practice.

So, making marks: It's the key to it all, and my hands long to create them. Whenever I travel, even if for a few days away from home, I always bring along a little travel kit which includes drawing supplies. I especially love the marks that soft pastels or conte crayons make, but I adore using the less messy oil pastels.

I am fortunate to have two women artists in my life with whom I meet almost weekly: my art group. When we have play days, Jill, the experienced sketcher and painter in the group, often creates opportunities for us to sketch and draw in new ways. Her massive stack of filled sketchbooks regularly inspires us to keep drawing. As further incentive, she even gave both of us a set of Prismacolor pencils and a brand new sketchbook for Christmas. Get crackin', ladies!
Landscape drawing on two pages, oil pastel, by Jill Milenski
Inspired by both Jill Milenski and Gail Crum and their drawing practice, I have returned to a drawing series I started several years ago. For one of our groups' two major shows over the past two years, I began making house drawings that went along with the theme of our show, Circling Back Home.
Two of my house drawings in oil pastel, bottom,
along with Gail Crum's framed collage, top. From
our Circling Back Home exhibition.

I have also been inspired for many years by two other landscape painters: Wolf Kahn and Sheep Jones. Their use of marks and color combined create a deep longing in me, and I absolutely love their paintings. I am especially moved by Jones' imagery, the evocative houses standing in landscapes that she captures in her marks. 

Now that the New Year is well underway, I am happy to have entered back into my art studio routine. This month began with the need to clear off my work space, which always leads to the discovery of some forgotten sketch, background painting, or fabric or collage snippet. I found all of these, and since several were already in progress, still in the thrall of the original idea, I just picked them up to finish them.

House Drawing #3, Gayle Pritchard, 4 x 6
House Drawing #3 was made on a background painting I had made with a marked gesso surface painted with various acrylics, including interference paint. It creates a nice shimmer behind the oil pastels. It's attached with brass brads to one of a giant stash of vintage boxes that I have. It's a good use for the boxes, and a nice way to finish an artwork, especially these little 4" x 6" ones.

House Drawing #4 isn't finished yet. It is larger, and I am going to mount it on the piece of wood shown. It has also turned into an assemblage, with a shelf at the bottom and found wood, metal and glass pieces added. The wood background, salvaged from an old dresser drawer, has oil pastel marks, and I will probably add some more. The house drawing, just started, is also being created on a background prepared with gesso that has been drawn into before being left to dry. When the oil pastels are added to the surface, they can be pushed down into the grooves in the gesso, creating an interesting, textured surface.

House Drawing #4 by Gayle Pritchard, in progress. Found wooden blocks, beach sticks,
altered photographs, glass and metal will be attached to a piece of wood
salvaged from an old dresser drawer.
Making marks is the start of creating for me. I use a mark to "open" a surface, even if I'm working in fiber. Making marks gives a start. It's a beginning of a new idea about to come to life.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Inspiring Mentors and Faithful Friends

Lois with one of her scarves, made in
her late eighties.
I am such a lucky woman. Throughout my life as an artist, I have been surrounded by amazing friends, several of whom are or were my mentors. Lois Carroll was one of those people, both a best friend, partner in crime, and mentor. She died this past week, right after her 91st birthday. 

I moved back to Ohio in 1988 after living in Europe and then on the east coast for several years. My husband and I and our two little children decided to move back "home" with plans of raising our kids surrounded by grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. 

An angora scarf, my birthday present from
Lois that year.
Having been part of the quilting community in Philadelphia, I knew that connecting with other fiber artists in my new home would be a great place to make friends. I jumped right in. 
Detail of her hand-knit scarf as well as the
art jacket she is wearing. With the hands of
an accomplished seamstress and artist,
Lois still almost always had her nails painted.

Lois was the first artist I met. She had been hired to present a program at a local quilting guild. Vibrant and funny, she was easy to approach after the meeting to talk to about her presentation. We hit it off right away, and it wasn't long before she became my best friend. 

She introduced me to all the other fiber artists in the area, and to the many groups she was active in. In my personal life, she was there through thick and thin. When times were turbulent, she was a steady friend with good advice, and she was never judgmental. In good times, we team-taught classes and workshops in venues all over the region. When a new gallery opened or the art museum installed a new show, one of us would call the other, and off we would go. She was there at every important family event from birthday parties to graduations. 
Lois with her giant cat tote.

When we had to move to Florida for a few years, I remember the sad phone calls back and forth, me walking the beach, and she surrounded by a Cleveland snowstorm. In the last years of her life, when she was in trouble, I did everything I could to support her. I was sad when she had to move out of the area. And now she is gone. I will never forget her, and will treasure the impact her friendship had on my life. Rest in peace, dear friend.

At our last visit