Inside the Studio

Inside the Studio

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Madrona, Mountain, and Moon

Happy New Year to everyone! I am still working on hand painting the last two dozen of a 100 cards to mail out. The cut was loaned to me by Jami at Sherwood Press in Olympia. She's a gem.


The holidays have been lovely. I have truly taken a break from studio work (except these cards and, oh yes, a small printing job) to enjoy family and the out of doors.

My Christmas celebrations are few and far between, and this was the first time for Bill and I to get amped up at all. We were inspired that two of his children, Jessica and Joshua, and our granddaughter Emily were coming out for Christmas. A few days earlier I had pruned a huckleberry. (Bill was dismayed, but I think he will be happy with the plants nearby getting a bit more sun.) I brought the branches in and we started decorating. The garland is from a fair trade store, made from plant material and dyed red. The branches were then hung with Magnolia tree seedheads, rosehip clusters, some Chinese plant medicine slices I saved years ago from my prescription formulas, glass icicles, with many jingle shells and a few sand dollars from Sanibel Island, Florida. There are also two bird nests tucked into the branches. We love it! Bill cuts numerous snowflakes every year, and those are hung in the window. (I usually use them for stencils to sprinkle powdered sugar or cocoa through to decorate cakes.)

Now it was Bill's turn to do some pruning. He took on the Maple that is shading the hummingbird garden. Bill has climbed lots of mountains, which is very handy for getting up trees. All he needs is a rope!

There were also walks to the beach, which is at the bottom of the hill. It's a sea salty inlet, part of Puget Sound. Toward the east is Mount Rainier, here with the moon up high and this beautiful Madrona by the beach.

From the beach we can also watch the sunset. In this photo Bill caught some stars sliding off the water towards us.

Here's another picture Bill took. It is looking out the office window where I sit typing this post.

It has been so foggy here, and freezing most nights and late into the days. On Sunday I was out walking and I heard the sound of pouring rain nearby. I looked up, but the sky was blue. The sound of rain was unmistakable. Right next to me was a fir shedding all its melting frosted dew, I suppose. It was incredible. Heavy drops, light rain, mist, all sizes of drops were coming off it. It looked like the tree was under a shower! I wanted to get under, too, but I was already cold just stopping to stand and watch it happen. Though I could hear more rainfall in the distance, all the other nearby trees were dry and silent, or wet but not yet dripping, I suppose. I had never seen such an isolated or thunderous incident with the tree melt. Coincidentally, I think it is the same tree the red tailed hawks were nesting in last year.

Snow frosted Mullein in the hummingbird garden.

I hope everyone has a beautiful and healthy 2010. Now I will get back to work so I have more studio progress to report on!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Road Trips and the Joy of not Cooking

On a recent visit with my Mother she showed me this photograph.

When my Mother was young, her family moved from Sherman, Texas to Hilt, California. (If you've heard of Hilt, it would be a surprise. It was one mile south of the Oregon border on I-5. Hilt disappeared, and now it has somewhat come back. It would also be a surprise if you've heard of Sherman, Texas.) There were other family members that moved to the Hilt area, but most of my grandparent's family stayed in Texas and Oklahoma. So in this picture above my grandparents and their three children aged 10 - 14 and my great aunt Mary and uncle Raymond and their daughter, Linda who was about 4, are driving from northern California to north central Texas for the Blankenship family reunion in 1950. So there were eight people in the car! I love the pile in the rack on the top of the car. Cars were so big then, and Mom says Linda slept in the back window during the drive. Long road trips have been genetically inherited from both sides of my family. And Bill seems to have the bug, too. His mother, Alma, has driven out to visit us from Illinois every year!

My own road trips have largely been up and down I-5. For a long while there were regularly irregular trips to San Francisco for the Book Arts Fair at Fort Mason. A few of these I took with inspiring book artist, Mare Blocker. Our first trip down together we went to the Sanrio store, where Mare had told me you could always get your picture taken with Hello Kitty. Several purchases were also made.

Going to San Francisco and getting silly pictures taken seems to run in the family. This was taken at Playland on the Beach, a large 10 acre amusement park. These are my Grandparents about 1955.

This is my Mother on the right and her Aunt Mary (rumored to have married five times, and unfortunately widowed every time) on the left.

Taking road trips and finding great food is the best. I would love to have everyone write back and tell me where and what to eat when I am on the road. ANYWHERE! But I want it to be REALLY REALLY good food.

My recommendations:
Seattle -- Paseo in Fremont. The pulled pork plate with rice and beans and salad. La Spiga on Capitol Hill. Get the lasagna or the minestrone soup. Sunlight Cafe in Roosevelt. I love the nutburger with cheese and a side salad with tahini dressing.

Olympia -- Trinacria, a Sicilian restaurant. The lasagna and the pizza and the salad dressing. Divine. Old School Pizza, the olive and mushroom is my favorite. The Bread Peddler has great sandwiches and soups and of course, treats.

Portland -- Pearl Bakery. I love just about everything here, but always have to get the chocolate panini.

Near Cashmere, Washington -- D'Anjou (a bakery). Buy anything and everything and eat it all yourself.

San Francisco -- Three Seasons, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Marina District. Try anything for the main course, but then the fried bananas and coconut ice cream for dessert. This is a must eat place.

Sanibel Island, Florida -- Trader's has the best crab cakes on the island, I know, I tried them everywhere (that's where the driving comes in). For a very nice dinner out go to Thistle Lodge. I had the best snapper. Thanks Annie and Bill!

Somehere in New Mexico, Kathy Kuehn drove us for 3 hours to have the best burritos or tacos with Hatch green chilis. I don't remember where it was, but it was on the way to visit Clifford Burke. Kathy always knows where to eat and where the best pie is.

This is why eating at people's houses is not always the best idea.

In January and February I will have many trips to Portland and in February another trip to the Medford, Oregon area. I think late spring or early summer we will take a trip to Montana and Colorado. And any place north of Seattle between there and the border? Please, please, please, tell us where and what to eat or where to have a silly picture taken!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mountain Women

My friend Ann was visiting me from Vashon Island this morning so we could talk about future projects together. I guess this is why this blog post took a big left turn from what I thought I would write about.

In 1998 I made a book where I/we tried to capture the spirit of a place. That book is called "Volcano Blue."


Volcano Blue came about when I was invited by Seafirst Gallery in Seattle to participate in their show celebrating the centennial of Mt. Rainier National Park. I think I had about 6 months to create a book, which for me is a very short time. My solution was to make it a collaboration. I invited Ann Spiers (poet) and Kim Newall (visual artist) to help create the book.

It was unanimous we could only begin by taking a trip to Mt. Rainier together. Until then all ideas were off the table. The three of us drove up the NW side of Mt. Rainier near the Carbon River Glacier. We hiked up so when we got to the lookout cabin we could turn and stare eyeball to eyeball with the mountain. Ann would sometimes feed us informational tidbits, having grown up in the area and spending much of her time on the mountain hiking and with her geologist husband. Ann knows the native plants, native stories, and much of the geology of the mountain. I wondered how we would ever get all this depth and richness in the book.


The cuts Kim did for the book are patterns of cedar trees, rocks, topographical maps, and geological maps. The many transparent colors overlay, usually with one pattern dominating from each view. There is a cool blue north view and warm red south view. And of course more an in between of greens for east and west. The horizon shaped mountain and foothills were designed from a computer program that let us pick any two points and it would give us a condensed horizon line. We chose points that allowed us to create flanks of the book that would correspond to places on the mountain which inspred Ann's poems and printed the poems accordingly. Ann was often called to the studio during printing to cut a word or flesh out a line so I could register everything properly.


Ann is such a gifted poet. The poems are so lovely, and she even wrote some of them so you could read the stanza order both ways. I printed them in steps, so whether you were climbing 'up the book' or 'down' the poem would work. The book is about 19" high and spreads out about 4 1/2 feet, but you can also read it in your hands, turning the accordion pages as you go.






I met Ann Spiers when I lived on Vashon Island. I was there for 19 years. I met so many women who shaped and inspired me. Most of them older and showing me how a woman can enjoy her 40's and 50's (and now their 60's). Ann was (and still is) one of these women. Rayna Holtz is another. Rayna is the person who started me with letterpress and book making. An amazing series of coincidences brought me into her living room where a C & P was at work, printing books for Laughing Dog Press. I was immediately enchanted and thus began my career as a letterpress printer and book artist.

Here I am when I am still printing at Rayna's on her 8x10 C&P. There was no treadle or motor, so I had to turn the wheel and feed the paper at the same time.

Here's one of the poems I wrote while learning to print at Rayna's:

I learned faith at the wheel of the press
To roll ink across the chase
I must believe in the poem again
and again and
again as it appears
kissed on to each white wing of paper

Rayna is a political and environmental activist. She pays attention to nature, to culture, and to the poetic use of words. She taught me to think about what I was writing and wanting to print. I met Ann through reading events on the island, and because she is a friend of Rayna's. Ann is also a writer, naturalist, and gatherer of stories. She makes me laugh till I am going to pee my pants. Her own life is usually funnier than the stories she tells about other islanders, which are already side splitting. I hope I am in at least one of them. If not, I have work to do!

Rayna is cleaning press rollers and talking while I am taking pictures. We had so many profound and personal talks over many months of Tuesdays when I would come and help print.

Ann and I made seaweed paper in her kitchen for a book of her poems I printed called Tide Turn. It was a lot of fun and took many months to do. It required a lot of beach walks to gather seaweed, and Ann always entertained me with island stories.


What I want to say about these two women is that they helped me move into nature more deeply. They taught me native plants (including seaweeds!) and to soften into the ways of butterflies. When I came to the island I was 27 years old. I had been living in Asia, Canada, and before that, Seattle. I was so immature and just treading water in so many respects. These older women (not that much older, but just enough) were role models of creativity and living with respect for nature. They were grounded in the community and held wisdom that comes from learning through observation of how nature collaborates. They were feminists without giving up their femininity or sense of humor. Married with children, they were committed to shaping a beautiful community vision, a place they wanted to raise their families, devoting many many hours away from home and family (on top of their jobs), and they continue still.

As I wander in the wilds of nature (and into the nature of self) I think of the diverse community of island women and thank them all. For somehow, without me planning or trying, I learned from them a way to be in the world that feels grounded and true. The way I learned to be is brazen, sustainable, rich in experience, and holding a vision with heart.

When I started writing this blog post I really thought I would just focus on Volcano Blue and some of the hikes Bill and I took this summer. We had a great time in the mountains, but I will save them for another time.

P.S. On my wish list is to make a book for Crater Lake National Park (Mt. Mazama) in Oregon.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Revealing History of (Catherine's) Underwear

Okay, you are going to have to wait for the underwear. First - Party Dress!



I made Party Dress back in 2004. I still have copies to bind (and sell), and today I was working on that. I thought it would only be appropriate to wear one of my mother's party dresses while making them, so I put one on. Bill came home from work and took a picture of me.

I was pretty excited when my mother gave me this dress of hers. I remember it clearly from her closet. Party Dress is a book all about my mother's party dresses and how I played in her closet and watched her get ready to go out with my father. She was so glamorous and I ached to be like her. I have a few of my mother's dresses from when she was in high school. I love wearing them, but seldom have an occasion. It's amazing to me they fit, because my mother is 4-5 inches shorter than me. Usually the waists are a little high, but I wear them anyway.


My mother was an amazing seamstress, making many of our clothes and even wedding dresses for hire when I was young. I can't sew like my mother -- I pretty much have to stick to sewing straight lines. Still, I enjoyed adding stitching to Party Dress.

Here's some text from the book: "I played with that dress as it hung in your closet. One push and your entire rod of dresses would dance - swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swaying to a stop." and "You were a starlet with hair pinned in a French Twist. Pssst, pssst, the Aqua Net called from your vanity. Sparkles floated around your shoulders." I would like to do another edition someday with a different design. Only because I have more paragraph/pages of text to add in. I would definitely do something simpler though!

Okay, as if one cut out dress book wasn't enough, a few years later I made "A Revealing History of Women's Underwear." I have even more copies of this to bind, as it is a much larger edition. (The stitching is "knots" on this one, holding the top foredge of the folios together. Simpler.) Here are some pictures:





Unfortunately I haven't taken slides of any text pages, but there are 9 of them - a long piece of text I wrote and had edited and worked on for several years. It is justified left and right to fit the shape of the book. The history of underwear is pretty informative and can teach you a lot about politics, class, women's freedoms (or lack of), and how fads can grow from odd things like hiding a pregnancy. (There's some other juicy bits probably not allowed on this G rated blog. You have to read the book, or do the research yourself!)

And now for the history of my underwear...

It occurred to me today that I had a photo of myself in a crinoline and "bra" outfit - the same as the clothing in the last print in the book! I couldn't believe it. (Not the actual clothing. The prints were made with Barbie doll proportioned clothing that would fit into my printing press and pressure printed.) This photo was taken 20 years ago. My younger sister was standing next to me, and I cropped her out because I don't think she was quite G rated in this photo. We were going to a girl party, and asked to dress up in lingerie or something, I can't really remember. Maybe this is when my under wear book became a twinkle in my eye, I don't know, but I find it interesting to look back on this photo and give it some thought. (My sister lived with me for one very fun year when she was 20/21 and I was 28. She is super creative in different ways than me and I would love to co-create with her again.)

After taking a break from writing the blog and going to bed last night, I remembered a time not long after my sister lived with me when my mother sold underwear at women's in-home parties! So another link between Party Dress and A Revealing History of Women's Underwear. My mother has always been an amazing salesperson. I am sure I could do a book someday about it. I'll have to think on that. And there's a little bird telling me there is yet another women's dress book in my future, but I am keeping that under wraps for now.

Besides binding party dresses and underwear, the weekdays are about the subscription - yes, I swear I am working on the next issue. I am pretty excited about it and will tell you all in advance it is called "How Strawberries Came To Be: A Cherokee Love Story." If you are not a subscriber, but would like to be, contact me and I will send you the prospectus. The price goes up as the year passes by....

Weekends are rarely about books and studio work. Maybe reading books for pleasure, but usually it is about the garden, the kitchen, hiking, and the grandkids (most often Emily who lives nearest). The last few weekends have been packed full and here are some highlights.

We dug up about 60 pounds or more of potatoes - 4 varieties.

We split and stacked the last of 3 cords of rounds.

We made and canned applesauce (thank you Phil for the apples!)

There's always time for nature, exploring, swinging, tree climbing and getting close to the crawly things. Emily will pick up anything but spiders. And she loves to feed the roly-poly's to the carnivorous plants. (Note her magic wand!)

The fall garden is full of yellows and purples. So beautiful.





That's all for now -- back to work!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sacred Geometry

This set of geometry drawings shows 3 "seeds of life" on the side - one of each done by Bill, myself, and our friend Don (top from bottom). Don was inspired to overlay the three for this beautiful collaboration.

Every two weeks on a Sunday evening my sweetie Bill and I gather with a group of interesting people to "do" sacred geometry. I am often asked "what is sacred geometry?" and I am often told "I'm in to sacred geometry!" What I have learned over the years is that sacred geometry means a lot of different things to people. So everything I say here is my own experience and understanding only.

Bill studied cosmic mandalas till he learned their geometry. He then taught us to draw them at geometry group one night. All our drawing is done with a compass, straight edge and pencil. And then the coloring!

Cosmic Mandala for sale in Kathmandu market, Nepal.

Bill teaches our granddaughter McKayla to draw a simple form: "the seed of life.".

From Josh's sketch pad: "the flower of life."

Tiling detail on a temple in China.

As I have stated before, I got interested in sacred geometry through plants. It is often easy to see their geometry. I was amazed to learn things about the different spirals and how they grow. And then I started learning about square roots. Wow! I was venturing beyond the plant kingdom into the realm of energy and how it forms into matter (or not). It has been so fascinating.








Printed on a "golden" proportion rectangle of blue paper.

Many of us learn about using sacred proportions like the golden mean for art and design. And this has been a part of my application of the teaching. But I have to say one of the best parts is training your eye and mind to recognize patterns in nature and understand the energy/physics behind them.



There is a very spiritual side to sacred geometry. I have barely scratched the surface of this in my years of study and hesitate to say very much. But here is an idea of what I mean. In Nepal and Tibet there are temples of stacked shapes. If you grew up there you might learn that each shape as it rises from the ground represents water, earth, air, fire, and wisdom/ether and represent stages of enlightenment. The round base also symbolizes the entire world and the mark between the eyes in said by some to mean unity. In Islamic cultures geometric patterns and exquisite calligraphy tell their story. I am learning that islamic tiling patterns hold meaning that teach and inform you as you spend time with them. In Europe, as the churches and temples were being built by those knowledgeable of sacred geometry, some amazing places were created that awe and inspire those whose step inside.

A temple in Tibet

The geometry of a Vietnam War cemetary in the Philippines.

An experimental farming basin built by the Inca, Peru.

A temple in Hong Kong.

Fields of grain, China.

A temple in Patan, Nepal.

(You may have guessed from the pattern - this photo is of the doorway as you step into a great pizza place in Olympia - Old School Pizza.)

In Oakland, California.

The purpose for building in sacred shape and proportion is so a person may wander in, knowing nothing, and be informed through the energy of the geometric construction that was shaped to hold the knowledge and teaching. Of course if you were a mason or like-minded person you could perhaps walk in and take in the teaching on a different level - knowing what the builders were conveying more specificly. Our bodies and spirits are made of energy and there is a resonance that can happen. We all experience this when we walk into a place that is holy to us (be it church, temple, forest or meadow) and we can be moved to tears, hope, joy, and healing. Sometimes the geometry is used because it is beautiful or practical. But it is the element of transformation that defines the sacred, and the sacred creates the possibility of tranformation.


My interest in sacred geometry is very wide, and my application still growing. I am learning all the things I can do with it. And what does it mean to "do" sacred geometry in our group? It can mean anything! We study nature's shapes, we draw geometric designs, we use it for personal growth and understanding, we talk philosphy, astrology, numerology, and even about what sacred geometry means. We have made different sized golden mean calipers and so much more.

Seven is one of my favorite things to study. It's all about mystery. It's angle is an infinite number, and therefore impossible to draw/create precisely. It has magical mathematical principles. Seven is usually the geometry of medicinal/poisonous plants. And seven goes on and on. This drawing is from my sketch book.

So this posting is primarily a show of pictures taken mostly by myself, a few by Bill, and a few by my step-son Josh - showing many of the ways geometry appears in nature and in human designed projects. I hope you enjoy them!

A mandala of Josh's (it wouldn't all fit on the scanner).