Sun Prints

Screw Loose Cyanotype

A month or two ago my husband took the kids – all four kids – for a weekend adventure.  While they were gone I took a trip to the National Art Gallery and while there picked up a sun print kit to do with the kids.  The other day when my husband was traveling I knew that an easy mess free art project was in order both to energize my spirit and to occupy the troops.  I think my own mother had done this project with us when we were kids – I remembered loving it. Basically it’s a super easy project.  All you do is ask the kids to gather a few interesting specimens from around the yard and then lay these on top of one of the sheets of treated paper.  After a brief exposure on a bright sunny day of about one minute the image is ready for a bath in tap water and then voila!

Sun Splash Cyanotype

Before we dove in I did a little research and discovered that there are various methods for darkening the Prussian Blue and for lightening it.  Usually, it’s my understanding, a bath of hydrogen peroxide before the final water rinse will darken the color.  In my experience with these prints a spray of hydrogen peroxide (undiluted) before the water rinse bleached out the image but an application after the water rinse slightly darkened the color.  The white splashes in the above image are the result of hydrogen peroxide.  For more information on the process and for a site that sells chemicals to make your own chemical solution to treat the paper with see here.

Lace Cyanotype


On Saturday I tried my hand at photographing puppies for the first time.  Their breeder asked if I could photograph all six puppies together.  This proved impossible but I did manage to get some fantastic individual shots as well as some of five puppies together.  Before they arrived I had researched a little bit and knew that often pet photographers have their subjects play for a while before they try to get some good shots.  In this way the animals get some energy out and get used to the camera.  This was not the best solution for the puppies.  After a one hour car ride to my house they were only still for the first few moments out of the crate.  After the initial disorientation of being in a new place they were scattered about my fenced in yard exploring everything.  Nothing – not even treats or a bowl of water – could lure all of the puppies into one place at one time!   Here’s one of my favorite individual shots:


Happy Sea Turtles

Here’s a happy little project for preschoolers.  This kept my three-year-old busy for only about ten minutes but that of course depends on the day.  The four and five year-olds were occupied for upwards of 30 minutes with all the cutting and gluing and coloring.  Here is the turtle template which could also be used as a coloring sheet. (I used a picture from this site to make the template, the first hit on google for sea turtle.  By the way, an older gentleman asked me the other day if I had Google – cracked me up!)

Sea Turtle


I printed out the same drawing onto colored sheets of paper.  (You can print on lots of different kinds of papers including paper shopping bags in a laser printer if you only trim them to the correct size first.)

Paper Turtles


I tried to use only complementary colored paper, crayons and sparkle glue.  A few other colors joined us accidentally.  In the end my five-year-old insisted on cutting out her entire turtle and pasting it on a neon orange background which actually looked quite stunning.

Complementary Colors



We had made these color wheels together a while back and they have been very useful visuals for reference.  At the time we made them I helped with cutting and gluing and actually did the entire project for my then two-year-old.  I think I let her stick the shapes down on the background circle.  The kids each have a sketchbook with a pocket page in the front and they keep these color wheels in this front pocket.

Turtle in Process


I used a regular white sheet of printing paper but I would suggest a heavier back piece for this project.  As you can see, my children cut out large areas to glue down but this could b a much more elaborate project for older children if much smaller pieces were used.  Tiny colored pieces of paper would look stunning on a black background.


Drawing with the Masters

As part of my homework for my anatomical drawing class I am copying drawings of faces.  Although I have meant to focus on improving my drawing for some time this class is exactly the motivation I have been needing to make practice a priority.  Here’s what I’ve done so far this week:








As I mentioned previously, in class we have been focusing on the bone and muscle structure of the human body by studying both a skeleton and a human model.  We have not been focusing on the mechanics of how to shade and which medium to use, etc.  Since I felt that I needed a bit of a review I also watched Carrie Stuart Parks’ Drawing Realistic Faces Workshop.  (heres a clip) Here’s a list of what I found most helpful from that video:

1) Overview of her preferred materials (I always love seeing what different artists use and how they use their materials, Mrs. Parks is particularly obsessed with mechanical pencils and electric erasers which give her drawings an excessively precise look)

2) Facial proportions (these are not fixed rules and of course the rules only work when looking directly at a face or in profile but they are helpful nonetheless)

3) Shading tips (Stumps are for broad areas and you use the side of the stump in only one direction and tortillions are for tiny areas, this review really helped my shading abilities)

Anatomical Drawing

Sunday I had my first anatomical drawing class at The Art League in Alexandria.  It is going to be fantastic!  The instructor, Athanasios Papapostolou, first had us draw the model in several positions without any instruction so that he could observe our approach to drawing.  It was a little nerve wracking and since I only registered for the course on Saturday I didn’t bring any of the proper materials.  Thankfully the kind lady next to me lent me some paper and I used my own pencils instead of charcoal.  Here are my first attempts:


Kind of blah – I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing but I tried to use the sight size method.  Next we took a bit of a break (thank goodness because my arm was killing me!) and then he spent some time explaining terms.  The most fascinating part for me was when he stood a skeleton next to the model and pointed out certain points in the bone structure that then cause shadows on the model.  I began to see things that I had never noticed before which is exactly what I have always found so exhilarating about drawing.  After the instruction we finished by drawing four poses side by side.  I had learned before about the “ideal figure” being eight heads high but not that it is helpful to portray a figure as eight heads high in order to overcome optical illusions.  You can see the figures below look much less squatty and blah:


The Garden



On Saturday I finally worked up the motivation to plant the garden with the children.   They were so completely overjoyed when we had finished that they dragged every single toy and chair and cushion to surround the garden.  All four children and every inanimate object stood around what we had done to partake in the ancient mystery and promise of planted and silent seeds.

Hope in the Face of Hate

Dirty Dishes


The tangerine fire-glow of sunset reflects off my neighbor’s windows and lightens for a magic moment my kitchen table.  That table which no sooner set is cluttered with dirty napkins, spilled spaghetti and abandoned as quickly as it was joined by a screaming baby and a busy four year old.  The girls linger and talk but they too outstrip me as their father takes them upstairs to get ready for bed.  I am alone when I witness the holy transformation of menial horror into divine and absurd splendor.  And I ask myself, why am I not blogging regularly?  This is why I wanted to write in the first place.  I wanted to be a witness of the beauty in the midst of chaos.  Too much recently I have instead been drowned by the despair of chaos.  I have been taking myself much too seriously and wondered – deeply wondered what I am doing in my life.


It is all too easy to be overcome by despair.  As Kierkegaard warned the despair of meaninglessness and death is real but worse than blissful ignorance if it does not drive us to the merciful face of God.  It is easy to be in despair when there are so many magazines and blogs and podcasts about blissfully croqueted, felted and scrap booked lives.  When I see the world though the frame of someone else’s camera it is easy to believe that someone else’s life is well ordered right and pleasing.  She must be stronger than me.  Perhaps she is more talented?  Even Diane Gilleland of the CraftyPod confessed recently to falling prey to that epidemic of crafter’s envy and the ensuing despair.


My husband bought me my own alchemist’s box.  He did not give me the Nikon for me to transform the grime filled corners of the house into a fabricated golden world.  He gave me such as sweet gift so that I could gather up reference photographs in good weather for the weary months of cold winter evenings when I long to draw and paint.  Once I held the camera in my hands I began to see how so many women create the splendor that is Pinterest and women’s blogs.  Oh the glory of a frame and what it can conceal!  Even I with my four preschool children can sweep up one small edge of the house and snap delicious shots as children fight and scramble in the background.


These photos could never capture the beauty and horror of my kitchen table.  The strange wonder of sauce stained cups, matted parmesan and the crumb laced butter all baptized in a heavenly glow.  It is as if I too like Mary have been met, “Hail, full of grace, you are highly favored.”  I am highly favored because of He who has visited me; the Holy Ghost himself has come upon me.  Although I am shamed daily by my own impatience and ungratefulness I am made chaste by the blood of Christ and although my heart harbors hate and bitterness towards my husband and children I am filled with the love of Christ.  I behold the apocalypse of spaghetti night as my husband assists with zippers and toothpaste tubes upstairs.  Some nights I have patience as we put them to bed, some nights I don’t.  Some nights it is strain to kiss them when they keep calling and nagging.  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.


Sometimes I fear that I am wasting away in this season of toddlers like Charlotte in her web after she has laid her eggs.  Will I wither in the winter’s merciless frost?  Am I living only to pass on my DNA to an endless parade of procreation?  Then I remember Abraham and Sarah.  I remember that they lived their lives not knowing how early in the story of God’s salvation they came.  They lived and had meaning then as well as now.  Who knows why I exist?  I certainly don’t.  I don’t tell the story.  I am not even the main character.  However, since there is a storyteller and I am here in the story I do have meaning.  I am real and here by plan and by purpose.  I am unique and precious in the sight of my God but I am also one minuscule part in a fantastic divine epic of the Church.  My tiny note will sing and end, but Oh God let it sing hope!


That cruel despair that rages against me, that evil doubt that poisons me, that is not truth.  Death and the inevitable end and pointlessness of all things is not truth.  I cry out with Bach, “Trotz dem alten Drachen!”


Defiance to the old dragon, defiance to the vengeance of death, defiance to fear as well!  Rage world and attack; I stand here and sing in entirely secure peace!  God’s strength holds me in watch; earth and abyss must fall silent, however much they might rumble. (translated here from Bach’s Jesu, meine Freude)


And then one of my doubts is assuaged.  What was the use of my Liberal Arts education when all I do all day is change soiled sheets and play Solomon to bickering preschoolers?  If for nothing else it was worth it so that I could know these words Bach wrote.  If for nothing else I can sing of that hope to my children.  By God’s grace they will sing of this hope to a people yet unknown that this sure hope was accomplished by Christ alone.  This then is the joy of Easter – there is indeed life after death even now by the grace of Christ Jesus!


Praise the Lord for my children.  Without them the table would never have been messy but without them I never would have known how weak I am.  Praise the Lord for my husband and his prayers for me.  Without him I never would have had this sanctified moment to witness the tangerine splendor and hear the voice of God.

Sunflower Paintings

Sunflowers on a French Tablecloth

This week the sunflowers at Trader Joe’s called to me.  Bright and beautiful they are the warmth that this lingering winter sun cannot offer me.  So this week I worked with my preschool children as well as with my 11 year old art student to draw and paint them.  With my own children I first drew for them a simplified sunflower on the chalk board.  A tiny circle, a larger one around it and then two curved lines that each start at the larger circle and then come to a point for each of the petals.  My poor three year old was frustrated from the get-go.  The four and five year old absolutely loved the project.  I even tried drawing the flower myself for my little one and suggested how she might paint it but she insisted on doing her own thing which was just fine.  (And all of this was only accomplished because the baby was asleep.)

We drew the flowers in crayon and then painted painted on top with water colors.  Here are the results:


The Three Year Old Girl:

Three Year Old Art


The Four 1/2 Year Old Boy:

Four Year Old Painting of Sunflowers


The Five 1/2 Year Old Girl:

Five Year Old's Painting of Sunflowers


Later in the week my 11 year old art student came over.  She is home schooled and so we were able to come up with a fantastic trade.  I teach her art while the children are supposed to be upstairs in their rooms “resting” and then she helps me for a couple of hours before my husband comes home.  This week’s project took quite some time.  We had been building up to drawing using the sight-size method.  Teaching her to measure was a little tricky so I decided to shelf that idea for the time being.  Instead I had her measure the size of the entire subject and then I proceeded to draw from my perspective and I had her imitate my own drawing.  She drew on tracing paper so that we could transfer the final work onto a piece of watercolor paper.  This is her drawing which took about an hour to finalize and then go back over all of the true lines with a heavy hand:

Sunflowers on Tracing Paper

After her drawing was complete I had her flip her drawing over and set it on top of a piece of watercolor paper.  I then had her draw over each of her lines again to transfer the image to the paper.  We had used carbon paper to transfer images in a past project so the idea of transferring an image was familiar to her.  After the image was transfered I showed her how to paint wet onto dry and to use watercolor pencils to add texture.  She then added some of her own decorative elements to the painting after I gave her some basic instruction.  We has spent so long on careful and specific observation at the drawing stage I really wanted her to let loose and have a little fun at this point.  Here is her own drawing with mine below.  You can see the similarities since she was using mine as the model:

Eleven Year Old's Sunflower P


Watercolor of Sunflowers