Oil Painting- The Early Works

I’m being optimistic and very driven to entitle the blog entry this way, inferring that eventually I’ll look back and say, “Wow, look at the stuff I did when I was just starting out,” and we’ll all have a good laugh. But I’m nothing if not optimistic.

This, like all of them, has been a hot summer so I took a break from mosaics for a few months. There were two other main drivers in this decision. The first is that I can’t find green tile anywhere, not cheap at least. A couple of Christmases ago I bought out all the dark green plates I could find at Dollar Tree and the 99 Cent Only store. Since then, I have searched high and low and can find nothing without spending a fortune on upscale designer tile online. I made one small cactus on the wall and now am completely out except for anything but the lightest green.

The second driver (because lack of green doesn’t preclude me from making a red and white mushroom on the back wall) is the new mosquito infestation in Southern California. I’ve lived here seven years and have never gotten a bite. And now not only are there mosquitos everywhere, a reminder of home I didn’t want, but we have “day biters.” At least in New England we’d be safe until dusk when we could hide inside as if avoiding zombies or vampires. But here? Any time of the day or night is fair game. I sincerely hope the cooler weather will come soon and they will go away.

So back to the point of this blog. I saw a Groupon for a painting class so dragged my husband along. We were told ahead of time this would not be a relaxed paint and drink night, but serious painting. And it was. That first night we learned the art of mixing colors by instinct and judgement and not to rely on “red and yellow makes orange” though that’s part of it. We learned that anything but primary colors can have many other colors within. I used exclusively Windsor Oil Paints, Artists line though I picked up some Winton ones in that brand and they work pretty well too in a pinch but aren’t as glossy.

I was hooked and for two months took classes four hours every Wednesday night. It was brutal as I had a master artist instructor whose art hanging in our workspace was breathtaking, intimidating, and inspiring. I learned what Realism was and wasn’t but went into it blind, knowing very little outside of maybe ten famous artists and the difference between water colors, oils, acrylics, and crayons. Every stroke was a lesson. If time and money permitted I would have stayed in the class for years, as many of the students did. But some work and life changes so I had to drop.

This first picture is the one I completed after a month with the teacher’s instruction. I’ll note that most of it was his work. As much as I’d like to take credit for it, and the fact that I had more paint on the canvas than he did, his touches and final layers made the painting beautiful. Each time I’d paint for an hour and he’d walk over, dip a brush in linseed oil and smear away everything I did and do a section “right.” Then he’d repeat that over and over until I was close to tears. But I learned. I learned a LOT of what not to do.

But I also learned that all painting isn’t Realism, and that painting to paint because it’s a peaceful activity is also okay. Since I’m not painting to become famous and get my work into a gallery, I took everything I learned in those two months, plus what I absorbed from at least 100 YouTube Videos, mostly Draw Mix Paint, and have been painting away. I’m getting better for sure but have a long way to go. One thing I love about working with oils though is that you can paint over and over the errors, and keep adding layers until you get it right.

One thing I realized early on is that I have a REALLY hard time with perspective, and everything is always crooked. My gas pump looks like it’s melting. Mr. Peanut is leaning though not as much in the early drafts. My crayons started off fat and different sizes. With a little more work they got skinner. The blue one on its side looked more like a crayon. And then I painted in the brush I was using because I kept seeing it. I painted a picture of the rolling hay fields in Prince Edward Island but also wanted to feature the little straw man in my living room. This painting didn’t get finished because of a canvas issue I’ll discuss in a few paragraphs.

The bottle painting below is the last one I finished. One thing I learned along the way that varied from what I learned in class, is that I can use my imagination to change the colors or backgrounds or anything else. In the one below, in real life there were some bottles on my kitchen window next to an old coffee grinder. Behind it was a dirty window looking into my driveway. There’s a screen and part of a tire that appears to be floating because of the lighting. If I painted that it would look ridiculous. Pus when I painted the grinder I just could not make it look three dimensional. Yes I could have spent a month on it, and studied perspective and repainted that object over and over. But I’m not trying to achieve photographic realism. I just want to paint because it’s calming.

I painted over the coffee grinder, changed the bottles a little, and changed the real white metal panes for chipped green wooden ones. I updated the real background of screen and sun, floating tires and palm trees, for a snowy winter scene. In the end, the bottles were merely inspiration, much like the subjects in my fiction stories. For me, this is good fit.

One thing I learned the hard way is that when you use canvas paper it’s hard to frame. I’d bought it in pads for practice rationalizing that it was easier to throw away a piece of cloth I’d practiced the heck out of than bulky canvases. When my painting improved and I wanted to frame some of these, like the bottles, the bear, and Mr. Peanut, the canvas pulled in on itself when it started to dry. I finally understood why it’s normally stretched over wood. Live and learn. I set the pads aside for true practice work and picked up some 9X12 boards to use at Five Below. These are solid and not springy like a true stretched canvas and easy to work with. Plus I don’t want a trash bin full of bulky canvases.

For now this will be my thing. I have urges to write sometimes, characters barking at me to write their stories, but I am not ready to delve back into that overwhelming abyss of fiction writing again. Playing my dulcimer calms me, mosaics calm me. Painting calms me. Writing revs me up and takes over, obsesses me, makes me cranky and dismissive of all the real life stuff around me. Sorry Fiction, you’ll have to wait in the sidelines a bit longer.

Here’s to hobbies that bring me peace.

-Tracy

My Mosaic Wall – My Sugar Glider

A lot of people still don’t know what a Sugar Glider is, which is probably a good thing. They’re adorable, snuggly, loyal, and more work than someone would expect for a tiny marsupial that weighs less five ounces. A lot of people buy them on impulse, like Ivy and I did, and then realize they’re not just an expensive, smart, hamster-sized creature that is content to live alone in a cage and chew things. A lot of them end of being neglected or rehomed. Ivy and I had one for eight years until she passed away. Mia, as we named her, had a lot of adventures with us. She was on Pets 101 on the Animal Planet with us, played escape artist and got lost several times in our old place, and spent about six hours a day on average sleeping in my shirt and sharing my lunch when I worked from home.

A few weeks ago I thought it would be fun to add a sloth to a bare spot I had on the wall. I looked at cartoon pics of a sloth and laid out a draft of it on a 12 inch square tile. I was pretty excited at how cute it was and expected this to be an easy project. I used bathroom white tile from the Habitat for Humanity Restore, gray floor tile from the same store, and various pieces of brown glass tile and black penny tiles from Home Depot. I’ve got some Dollar Tree broken plates for the leaves.

Unfortunately once I added it to the wall it looked terrible. But I wasn’t worried because once I add the grout everything usually falls into place. Except because there was so much white, it didn’t look at all like a sloth.

So I painted the in between spots with black grout paint. It looked ridiculous. And worse, I discovered sloths didn’t have tails so I had to chip away the tail, much to the annoyance of the husky next door who DID NOT LIKE all that hammering and chiseling. This was the final, which I hated. I planned to go out the next day and chip the whole thing off the wall which I have never done before but I was not pleased with it, at all.

When I looked at it closely, I saw that it kind of reminded me of Mia, my old Sugar Glider. She was gray and hung upside down from things and resembled this bad attempt at a sloth. She passed away a few years ago and I had failed to memorialize her on the wall previously.

I picked up medium gray grout stain and mixed it with my grout. I chiseled away the nose and the sky where the big ears would need to go. I didn’t want to chip away the sky where the sloth tail had once been, and add the tail back. But Sugar Gliders have long tails. I placed the tail tile over the sky tile, to go give it a 3D look but more so because I didn’t want to start chipping away too much of the long-settled piece beside it.

Finally, my finished result! Still not great but a lot cuter than it was before and now I’ve got my little Mia to make me smile when I look at the wall.

Now that I’ve got the gray stain I may go back and work on the Easter Island heads again. If I do, I’ll add an update to the last entry.

Two weeks ago I started an oil painting class so I may be adding pictures of new art one of these days.

Until then, happy creatiing!

Tracy

My Mosaic Wall – Holding Hands Around the World

Since the wall beside my house is getting full, I decided to start adding mosaics to the back wall, at the top of my hill. I knew it was going to be a large project. It would have to be so we could see it from the patio. Here’s my original sketch. I planned to surround the earth with people holding hands. Looking at the finished product every day (we can see it from the couch in the living room if we scrunch down) reminds me that there’s a lot of love and hope in this world.

I wanted the people to be uniform size which I would not be able to accomplish unless I bought pieces already cut. I picked up a few containers of these from Amazon. I never measure anything and was relieved in the end that I had just about enough of the little pieces to complete the people circle. For consistency’s sake I decided to use black penny tiles for the heads since I only had blue, black or silver. I like the uniformity of the black heads.

The first day involved smashing a lot of Dollar Tree green plates. Finding green tile is really hard so I rely on Dollar Tree plates, and sometimes The 99 Cent Only Store. In this case I used up all my plates (1st picture) then had to stop for the day. Carrying tile up and down the hill, and trying to kneel and balance among the cacti and gopher holes was physically taxing. Luckily Granola was there to keep me company.

The next day I smashed some new plates. I finished the land masses and started on the water. I had some Dollar Tree blue plates, some small (about 3 inch) mosiac or subway tile from Lowe’s, and some of my friends’ leftover pool tile. I decided to add in a “love ocean” just because. I’m used to doing a whole project in an hour or two and grout it the next day. This was a much larger project and took four days overall.

Day three I used tile adhesive to glue all the people around the earth. I started on the bottom because I knew I’d be too worn out to sit in that position and stretch all the way up by the end. It was a good decision. This step took four hours (straight). Initially I was going to add the people and put yellow tile all around them. But because of the work involved, and how cute they looked on the tile, I decided against it. One thing I hadn’t considered was that if I put adhesive on the back of the pieces and pressed down, there would be extra goop that I needed to clean off. The pieces were small and hard to maneuver so I used a wooden skewer and had to clean up around all the edges, piece by piece, person by person.

By the end, there were 53 little people around the circle. I started with solid colored people but I ran out of matches and the ones on the top are all different colors. Finished product without the grout.

At night a solar spotlight shines on it. It was a lot of work but this is my favorite mosaic so far. I do feel a little bad that we can probably never sell the house now both because I love the wall too much and also because a new owner may not love it at all. Since I plan to be here until I’m dead, I’m not too worried about it and will keep beautifying the concrete.

Here’s to creativity!

-Tracy

Healthy Tuna Snacks

Every weekend we meet up with our friends. We used to get dinner out but since COVID we’ve had to be more creative. We’ve eaten our share of takeout but also do a good deal of cooking. Sometimes at our place, sometimes at theirs. A few weeks ago we decided to all make appetizers and make that our regular Friday dinner.

I wish I’d taken pictures along the way but instead I’ll list out steps and show the final product. Since that night I’ve made tuna with this method a few times and eaten it with mustard and raw spinach on a low carb wrap.

In early March my doctor warned me in no uncertain terms that I needed to lose weight and lower my cholesterol by June or she was putting me on medication. The main problem is the triglycerides for me. Up until my recent visit, I thought triglycerides were caused only from sugar, not healthy high grain carbs or excess fat on me. All my other numbers went down to almost normal levels, but my triglycerides were really high. It was partially do to the Valentine’s Day Candy, the case of Ice Cubes of which I ate about a dozen before I removed them from my home. But, I learned, that all the carbs I was eating, healthy or not, were adding up. Being a vegetarian it’s hard to find protein that’s not a carb. I was eating a lot of hummus, chick peas, all sorts of beans. And yes I ate sugar too but not a ton of it.

I was scared straight at the doctor’s office and will note I’ve lost 10 pounds since the visit. I’m looking forward to my June redo of the blood work and being able to show here that I can lose weight once I’m threatened with meds.

One compromise I had to make was eating tuna. I’m not a vegan but rarely eat eggs because of the cholesterol. I eat cheese only rarely because I feel bad for the cows and some dairy makes me sneeze. I almost exclusively use non-dairy milks and ice cream. And I don’t eat any fish. So pretty much a vegan but I’m not picky about it. If there’s chicken broth in healthy veggie soup I don’t lose sleep over it.

But reading up on it, it seems that tuna will help my lipid levels and fill me up. So in the short term I’ve added it to my diet so I have some non-carb protein. I eat a lot of tofu too but there’s only so much tofu and Impossible Burgers I can eat in a week. I’ve also given up pizza until I get down to a reasonable weight which is one of the only times I have real cheese. Admittedly I’m cheese fiend when I’m not careful, with a particular weakness for Cracker Barrell Aged Cheddar. Since cheese is high in calories and fat and cholesterol, it’s something I’m avoiding as much as possible for now.

Here’s the easy recipe for my tuna spread.

-1 large can of solid white tuna in water

-1 small avocado

-1 stone ground mustard (use enough to make the tuna creamy. I didn’t measure but maybe 3 tbs. I squirted it into the food processor)

Add tuna and a soft avocado to food processor and blend, adding mustard until you get the creamy texture.

Meanwhile, peel two cucumbers and run a fork down the sides to make grooves. Cut in thick 3/4″ slices. If you have a pastry bag, use that. I prefer to use a plastic sandwich bag with the end cut off. this way I don’t have to clean it. I cut a corner off a sandwich bag and added a frosting tip inside followed by all the tuna. If you don’t have a frosting tip, you can still squeeze the tuna through the bag and it’ll look like little tuna poops, but you know, in a cute way. I added some tomatoes as a garnish.

I’ve been making the tuna, avocado, mustard mash every week, without the fancy piping part, and it’s really been keeping me full. My arteries will thank me I’m sure.

Happy Cooking!

Tracy

My Mosaic Wall – Mosaic Jerry

A few weeks ago, my former boss passed away unexpectedly. He was a bright sunny person all the years I knew him. After I got past the initial shock, I knew I had to honor him by adding him to my wall. Now when I go outside, I see his smiling face and remember all the good he did while he was here. He will be missed but will also have a place on my wall and in my heart.

I used various types of tile here. His hair and eyes are black penny tiles from Lowes. His face, floor tile from Home Depot. His glasses were strips of glass tile which do not smash well. For those I had to drag my wet saw from the shed and carefully cut the glass in strips. All the white parts were donated tile from a friend who was cleaning her garage.

Overall, I think it looks enough like him to bring me joy when I see him up there.

I think it’s fitting that he rests by the California flag, the Coronavirus 2020, and the Hope Sunset heart.

RIP Jerry

-Tracy

My Mosaic Wall – The California Flag

I’m at a crossroads with my wall. The area I can see from my patio is full. I now have to stand to my left to see all of it where the corner of the house is. To the left of the wall is a tree I don’t want to tile behind. I could tile up the wall on the hill, or against the back wall but I’m worried about water from when I water the plants. At this point I think I’ve decided I’ll continue the wall even if it’s beside the house and I can’t get a picture of it all at once. That’s what video is for.

For today though, I’m posting about my take on the California flag with its symbolic bear. One thing I learned pretty quickly into this project is that drawing bears is hard. Here are the first few steps I took. As you can see I wasn’t off to a promising start.

With determination, this finally all came together. All told it took about two hours the first day, and about fifteen minutes the next day for the grouting. First picture is the end of day one with no grout. When the project was done, I used black grout paint to make the bear’s white of his eye smaller. I sprayed the whole thing with grout sealer the third day and hoped the paint would withstand the heavy rain (and even hail that looked like snow on the other side of town). It worked out fine. I used a variety of tiles this time, from Dollar Tree broken plates to donated tile from friends, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Habitat for Humanity markdowns.

Final pictures are of my trusty tile companion Granola. This was from another project but she’s always by my side and deserves a shout out.

Thanks for visiting!

-Tracy

Twice-baked Cornbread Avocado Toast

A couple of weeks ago, we went to Ojai with some friends. These are the only friends we see since the quarantine, and generally we go to each other’s houses and cook or get takeout. Indoor dining has been closed for nearly year now with only a small break in between. The governor allowed limited indoor dining briefly but took it away just as quickly. Since it was a beautiful day we decided to take a Sunday trip somewhere besides our homes.

Ojai is beautiful and scenic and filled with cute shops and pretty parks. After a long time of walking (with our masks, of course) we stopped to get takeout food. We ended up at a trendy, cool place called The Nest. We stood in line for a bit before we realized we could order online. If you go there, order online and wait for food. The line is long and moves slowly. We brought our food to the park down the street.

Being a vegetarian surrounded by carnivores, I don’t always get the best food options out, but this place was FANTASTIC. There were so many choices on the menu for meat eaters and plant eaters that I couldn’t wait to try something. I decided on Avocado Polenta Toast. The website lists the ingredients as: jalapeño polenta toast, smashed avocado, kale, quinoa, crispy chickpeas, pepitas, hemp seeds, pomegranate seeds + almond garlic dressing. It was one of the best things I’ve eaten in years so I set out to replicate it at home but with ingredients that were handy, and in an appetizer, finger food format. Basically I changed all the ingredients so think of their menu item as inspiration for what I made. You can change any ingredients to taste more like theirs, or to your liking, but mine is a simple, quick recipe that was devoured in minutes, both times I made it. I have no doubt The Nest is making things from scratch, but I prefer easy and “Semi-homemade” wherever possible.

Without further ado, here is the recipe.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. I used my convection setting. If you use Bake, it may take a minute or two longer.

I got several of these ingredients at the Grocery Outlet Bargain Market. I can’t say enough good things about that store.

-One box Jiffy Cornbread Mix

-Spring mix or any greens, You only need about 1/4 of a cup. Cut them in pieces with scissors or a knife.

-One large or a couple of smaller avocados, softened

Package of guacamole mix. Split in half. I used this brand but any basic one will do.

Sage

Lemon Juice. I use the bottle as it’s easier.

One egg and 1/3 cup milk per the Jiffy cornbread instructions. I used coconut milk because real milk makes me sneeze.

Make the cornbread as instructed, just the mix, one egg, and 1/3 cup milk. Mix together and add half a package of the guacamole mix. Spray a cookie sheet (I use a liner) and spread out to about 1/2 thick. Based at for 10 minutes or until the center bounces back when you touch it.

When they’re done and cooled, use a circle cookie cutter (I used a wine glass) to make as many circles as you can. Set them aside for later.

Mashed up the avocados and add a little lemon juice to keep from turning brown. Refrigerate until you need this.

Snip up the greens and mix in a small bowl with pumpkin seeds (and anything else that appeals to you). Set aside.

Preheat the over to 400 again. These are best warm so do the step two part of the cooking shortly before you plan to eat them. They’re fine room temperature for a party or gathering but warm, straight from the oven are best.

Spray the cooked circles with cooking spray. I used Olive Oil spray, and sprinkle generously with ground sage. Cook for five minutes until they are crisp at the edges and get golden brown.

Spoon the avocado/guacamole mixture on top of each one, add another few drops of lemon juice, and top with the greens and seeds. Delicious!

Happy eating!

Tracy

My Mosaic Wall – COVID-19 and Dr. Fauci

I couldn’t let the year go by without acknowledging the two things that took over and altered everyone’s live in 2020: COVID-19 and Dr. Fauci.

When COVID-19 started to become a household word in March 2020, like many people, we watched the nightly TV broadcast of President Trump and Dr. Fauci. There were other speakers like Dr. Birx and generals and other health experts, but Dr. Fauci became the man our country turned to for the truth about the status of COVID-19.

All our lives were turned upside down, and as we’ve wrestled with one restriction after another, one loss after another, the root of it has been this darn virus. Since my wall is an homage to everything in my life (that I can relay in tile) plus some other things that are just fun, like the dolphin, I had to give it and Dr. Fauci a spot on my wall.

I made his glasses from a Christmas tree hook since they’re abundant in our house right now. I used from silver penny mosaic tiles, some glass sparkly strips Home Depot, and some broken plates from Dollar Tree. I also used some square green mosaic tile I bought last year.

I added his mask and glasses after I grouted as they were an extra layer. I need to go back and fix his arm. It’s a tiny figure and at the time I didn’t notice his elbow. Still though I think it’s a good depiction of the virus and it’s communicator, trapped in a frame that I hope means it will be contained.

My Mosaic Wall – The Giant Giraffe

I’m always looking for new things to add to the wall. I was watching The Last Tango in Halifax, the most recent season, and in one of the episodes someone painted a giraffe on the wall of a barn. So I figured why not put a giraffe on my wall.

I had a rough idea of what giraffes looked like, bright orange with brown spots. But when I looked at pictures online many of them were tan with brown spots. Since my art isn’t meant to match reality 100% I decided to do what i could with the tile and broken dishes I had on hand.

My daughter reminded me that giraffes have purple tongues (to prevent sunburn). Though I made the tongue light purple, it was hard to see until I grouted and added some black grout paint.

I left the sky around the trees bare for now. I want to make a spectacular sunset and maybe a word from tiles, like love or hope. In the close up picture it’s a little easier to see her purple tongue. She loves eating the leaves.

This was made from lots of broken tile, broken Dollar Tree plates, and by her feet a bag of tile stones I got from the Habitat for Humanity Re-store. The tree branches are pieces of floor tile that looks like wood. I generally don’t use this because it’s porous but it was just right for this and I’ve learned more about wiping grout off immediately that when I started.

The very hot, then very windy, then chilly weather kept me from my wall for a bit but I’m back on track. Look for more tile scenes soon.

Happy Creativity!

Tracy

My Mosaic Wall- Birds and Other Things

I’ve started to fill in some of the empty spaces in the main block of where I’d intended to add art. I added two small birds which were inspired by something I saw on Pinterest or maybe Instagram. For these, I smashed up Dollar Tree plates and some clearance patterned tile from The Home Depot. They’re not all that exciting but filled in some gaps.

The next bird was bigger and a lot more involved. My daughter called and said she was rereading Jonathan Livingston Seagull so I was inspired to make him. He’s got a lot more gray than Jonathan but I think it turned out pretty well. When I was done, and it was grouted and dry, I added some pieces of seaglass and shells. I had planned to write something with broken tiles in the sky but instead made a heart-shaped sunset. This was made mostly with broken plates and ceramic tile.

The red and black birds left me with some small spaces to fill in. I added a smiley face and a little Tracy. I’m not that thin in real life but I may as well memorialize things with an idealistic slant.

Finally, the wall so far. I’ve run out of projects I’ve finished so the next one will be brand-new. The little kids next door are forever bouncing on their trampoline. I see their heads and bodies over the wall and they yell over and say hello. I told them I’ll put the trampoline and them on the wall next.

Friday we got a new puppy, Granola Barr, so I’m sure she will make her way up there soon enough too.

Have a creative week!

Tracy