Monday, April 27, 2009

My mom the artist

My mom reads my blog.  Everyone say hi to her!

My mom (Nancy Ann Sobel) is a quilter, and not a mere maker-of-bedspreads but a genuine quilt artist.  She hesitates a little at the title "artist," because she approaches her quilts from a very traditional craftmanship standpoint...and also she's really shy about her work.  But artist she is, and I want to show off a few of her quilts here this morning (she said I could, even though she's shy...and these photos are used with permission)  These big quilts take a long time, countless hours of designing and piecing and doing the applique, and then literally months on the actual quilting...which is all done by hand a stitch at a time.

Mom spent this whole last week in Paducah, Kentucky, attending the big American Quilting Society show.  And not just attending, but being honored as one of the Best in Show winners from the last 25 years.  She also won Best Workmanship another year.  I'm very proud of her.    

Here are two of her quilts.  The first one is called Dawn Splendor, and it's the Best of Show winner.  The other is part of a series on the seasons, this is autumn, and is my favorite.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I'm having a perfect moment, lounging in the hammock on my porch on the first really warm night of the year, sipping a wee bit of leftover potluck wine, listening to the frogs singing and enjoying the quiet darkness that comes with living in the country.  It's good to be warm outside again.  It's good to have a quiet night and enjoy some solitude.

Market today was mighty fine too, hot and dusty and breezy and full of happy people who like dark green leafies and local art, just the way it should be.  I feel my clouds of ennui lifting and expect to wake up tomorrow ready to conquer the world.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The cup that cheers but does not inebriate

Woolpack Dave made a comment to the effect of "" to my last post, which got me thinking.  Perhaps you're drinking some now, as you peruse blogs and catch up on email.  Two things you should know: first, that I LOOOOOOVE coffee, and second, that I have not had a cup of caffeinated coffee for almost a year. 

(Before I go any further, I've chosen to illustrate this post with a mug made by my pal Gary Rith, awesome potter and prolific blogger!  Isn't it great?)

Here is my personal history of coffee consumption, A Tale of Seduction and Loss, with a Redeeming Ending, in Three Acts.

Act I: Christi works as a barista
I first flirted with coffee as an undergrad (mainly as a vehicle for cream and sugar), but the real relationship didn't start until I had a job as a barista at a coffee shop in Phoenixville, PA.  I learned the difference between good and bad espresso, cut out sugar in order to savor the coffee itself, and learned to love Sumatran beans.  Then, when I was in grad school in Santa Cruz, madly drawing sheep skulls and bird nests while gaining my scientific illustration degree, coffee was my late-night friend and companion.  I learned to love coffee both for itself and for its effects.

Act II: Christi roasts her own
So a few years went by, enjoying my daily cup of warm round-flavored, aromatic coffee (cream, no sugar)...the morning ritual.  Sometimes I would fall for an afternoon cup but this was never a good idea.  At some point my coffee snobbishness took a new turn when some friends of mine started learning how to roast your own beans.  Did you know you can roast coffee in one of those old-school hot air popcorn poppers?  So cool!  I ordered a bunch of green beans from various countries (see Sweet Maria's website for a fascinating reading experience and good source of beans if you're interested) and learned the difference between a Full City and a French roast.  I also learned to taste the difference between, say African beans (sharp, clear) and Indonesian beans (heavy bodied, rich).  My stars...roast your own beans, let them sit for 12 hours, grind them up and you will have the most amazing cuppa you've every had!  SO nice...smooth and a great buzz.

Act III: Tragedy and Redemption
So all was well, or so I thought.  I'll spare you the details, but suffice to say that last May I had to make a complete diet change that included giving up coffee (and black tea and gluten and dairy and anything sweet).  That was a blow, let me tell you.  No headaches, but I spent about a month actively dealing with the daily craving and wanting to knock the next person I saw walk by with a Gimme cup at the market on the head.  During the darkest time, I might just have killed for an espresso brownie with ice cream.  But ya know, I dealt with it, and realized at some point that I had my own energy again, and am no longer dependent on coffee and caffeine to keep me going.  I don't miss being a complete spaz while under the influence.  I gave up my crutch and discovered I could walk on my own.  

A year later, I still miss coffee...I can still hear it's siren call loud and clear and have to tie myself to the proverbial mast.  Decaf is just not the same, although there are some decent roasts out there.  I'm discovering the subtleties and pleasures of green tea.  

My 1946 Esquire Handbook for Hostsbook describes coffee as the "drink that cheers but does not inebriate."  There's a magnet on my fridge that says, "Coffee: do stupid things faster with more energy!"  

Monday, April 20, 2009

Put your coffee cup on it

I just realized that I have been remiss by not yet promoting a cool local business that has been one of my creative partners for the last few years.  Loudeac Tile Studio, operated by Jean and Phil from Newfield, print art on ceramic and stone tiles.  Which includes my art...among several other local artists of all sorts, and classics like William Morris.  Here's their website and their blog, check them out!  You can order several sizes and surfaces, tiles for coasters or trivets or wall art or even tile murals. What the heck, tile your bathroom with a million little Star Trees if you can stand it.

Also, they recently opened a store in Collegetown called Magpie Gallery, tucked in a side street near the main intersection of Dryden Rd and College Ave, right near that yummy Vietnamese restaurant.  Lots of lovely things, shiny objects for your inner magpie.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Korova show reception on Sunday!

Here's a shot of part of my show at Korova (thanks Scott for good photos!).  This is about half of the room, and you can see 4 of the new paintings.  I really love the way Tim hung everything, all the clusters and levels set the work off so nicely.  Can you see my favorite live oak from Santa Cruz over there in the corner?

So tomorrow evening, Sunday April 19th, is the official reception.  It starts at 8:00, when the place opens.  If you're in the area, please stop in.  The address is 214 The Commons.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Meet Odetta.  He or she is a baby Eastern painted turtle, who has been living here in a tank on my dining table since late last fall.  (Gender is anyone's guess at this stage, so let's call the little critter a "he" to avoid cumbersome inclusive pronoun gymnastics.)  When he arrived, egg tooth still attached, he looked like a tiny colorful wind-up toy (see photo on the left), with little beady eyes glittering and wee legs vigorously churning.  I took the photo on the right today, 4-5 months later.  Huge!  Well, relatively.  Still totally cute, and exquisitely perfect and colorful.  

Turtles live a pretty simple life.  Odetta pretty much spends his days bobbing around in the water, craning his neck around, basking on the rock with legs sticking out, watching me, waiting for food, munching on spinach leaves, occasional bouts of vigorous swimming.  What do turtles think about?  Do they get bored?  Why do they seem so wise?

Tomorrow morning I'm driving Odetta to a new home at the Montezuma Audubon Center, where he will live in a big tank that is part of an interpretive panel that features a mural I painted last August.  I'll miss hanging out with Odetta, small alien intelligent presence.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kew Gardens oak tree

It's Monday morning, when I make my lists and assess the week ahead as I drink my morning tea.  It looks to a rather full week.  Freelance projects and market work has been sneaking up on me, and multiplying like rabbits when I haven't been looking.  

Here's a linoleum block print I made last fall, using two blocks.  The tree image this time comes from some sketches from Kew Gardens, made when I was in London last spring.  Kew is an amazing place  with a rich history, and I am extra fond of it because it's where I did my botanical illustration internship.

Linoleum block printing is a fun, very low-tech means of printmaking.  I played with it a lot during the patient months of waiting for the etching press (not low-tech) to arrive.  You can even make prints in this style using styrofoam and a ballpoint pen to score the lines.

Alright, off to actually tackle the weekly list instead of just looking at it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


It's Easter, my housemates had their new baby girl, the hostas are coming up, and there's a blush of red on the maple hillsides.  New life everywhere, renewal and change and cause for joy.

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savor of the sandy earth

-TS Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Quiet week

Well, it has been a super quiet week here in my little arty world, and I'm finding interesting blog post ideas to be thin on the ground.  So I'll just put up an amusing chicken photo (this is Clara) and ramble for a moment in case inspiration strikes.  The Farmers' Market started up last weekend on a wicked cold windy day.  It snowed quite a lot this week, I finished my taxes (and now would like to request a federal bailout package so I can buy groceries and pay my electric bill, thanks!), and I've been working on an illustration project involving alternative ways of increasing rice yield for small farms in developing nations.  

It's beautiful outside, and I'm heading out for a run instead of sitting here on my computer.  You should do the same.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I know people read this blog (hi Mom!), but I've had several people say they've had difficulty making comments.  I just reset that to allow anyone to comment regardless of what kind of account they have, etc.  So please leave your thoughts...! 

My alter ego

It's a rainy darkish Monday here in Ithaca.  It was a busy weekend, with the Farmers' Market starting up and all (it snowed).  Currently I'm digging out from under another pile of paperwork and generally attending to the non-glamorous side of running one's own business.  I am also procrastinating on a project... although procrastination is kind of productive because then I do everything else that needs to be done.  

Speaking of glamour, let me introduce my alter ego.  Some friends and I had a riotously good time at a sort of costume party this weekend.  I love dressing up, and also love that I have friends who don't mind being outrageous in public.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Artist's proof

Here is the first print that went through my press...a small copper plate etching called "Inner Child."  I spent the whole rainy afternoon in my newly carved studio space, harmonizing loudly with Emmylou Harris ("Wrecking Ball" is one of my all-time favorite albums) while sorting out my system of water baths, inks and blotting paper.  Made many prints.  I think the press is dreamy.  My cats however are very skeptical of the big scary machine and tiptoed nervously around the room.

"Frail my heart apart and play me a little Shady Grove..." she sang.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Negative space

Negative space in art is the space around the object in focus.  I first heard the phrase in a high school art class, when we were trying to draw chairs.  Our teacher told us to look not just at the chairs themselves, but at the shapes of the spaces between, and to draw those shapes.  Amazing, it worked...I use this trick all the time when drawing.  Lately I've been thinking this is perhaps the most important part of designing a piece of art, and I like to play with it.  Sometimes I spend more time on the background than on the object.  The spaces between and around your subject are what create interest.  In the drawing here, what you see are the trees...but what I drew was the spaces around the trees.  

As time has gone on, this idea of negative space has matured for me to extend beyond the art application.  We see stars because of the dark sky they sit in.  In music, it's the flow and variations in the spaces between the notes that make the notes shine.  In words, sometimes it's what's NOT said that should be listened to the closest.  In people, often it's the things you don't know that are intriguing.  In relationships, it's the context around the moment which give the moment shape and meaning.

Background, mystery, silence, intrigue, context, flow.