Monday, June 18, 2012

Early Summer Garden

My cage o' potatoes is filling up. They're holding their own against the flea beetles. But, I have no idea if the potato plant is actually making potatoes under all that mulch. I've heard that the plant will get flowers and then start to die off. When that happens, I get to open it all up and magically, the potatoes will appear. But, I can't look until then...must not sift through cage looking for signs of tubers...must not disturb mulch...
My lavender is in glorious bloom right now, filling up vases all around my house. It lavender, which is an awesome-smelling sort of thing. Yay!

 The asparagus are doing what asparagus do in the summer time, which is looking like some sort of whispy weed and nothing at all like the sort of asparagus one eats. They're my secret asparagus until next spring since no one can identify what the heck they're supposed to be. I'm really glad they're getting so big this year though. Last year they were suspiciously tiny and sickly looking. Way to grow, asparagus! (get it? way to grow...instead of way to go...Oh, nevermind.)
The blackberries are on their way. Some are even turning from green to pale brown already, which is just a hop skip and a jump from black. A few more weeks, perhaps? I just love how dang dependable these things are. They require pretty much no effort on my part, which is nice. Less room for me to mess it up.
And, speaking of messing things up, none of my broccoli sprouted in my broccoli beds. That is why one of said beds is filled with corn. I gave up and went to the garden shop and bought these cuties so I wouldn't get really sad looking at my empty dirt mounds all summer. I'm trying lasagna gardening this year and I didn't make the broccoli beds until this spring. I was supposed to do it last fall, but I lazed out. I also only added like two layers of stuff to the bed instead of the ten or so layers I added to the pumpkin and Black Krim beds. My fault.
While I was at the garden shop replacing all my dead seedlings and un-sprouted seeds, I finally found hops! I planted them in a big pot under my pergola in the hopes that it will help give us some shade in a few years and make some delicious beer (I don't make beer, but my friend does and I think if I give him a bunch of hops he might give me beer in return).
In the lasagna beds that I did correctly, my tomatoes are looking rather lively. I don't have any tomato fruits yet, but at least the plants are big and healthy looking. The Uncle Mark Bagby's have a bunch of flowers, but they don't seem to result in fruit. I dunno. It's only June though, so I'll strive to remain patient.
This cantaloupe is a replacement for my beans, which after several weeks are still a 3" stems with a single leave on top, as you can see below...
 I don't even like stupid beans, but I'm still disappointed that they're not working. Once again, I lazed out on the construction of my lasagna bed and appear to be paying the price. These beds I did make last fall, but I didn't add as many layers as I should have. What's funny is that people say that lasagna gardening is good for lazy people. I appear to have been too lazy for the lazy man's garden. Oh well. I'll add a bunch of crap to them this year, I promise.
Another replacement for my beans... Watermelon! I've never grown melons before and I hope that they'll do better than the beans since the roots are deep enough to reach actual dirt instead of just straw and compost.
My second tomato bed isn't doing as well as my first. But, they're alive and that's something.
I've grown artichokes before and I hope these do as well as they did last time. They're replacing my peas which not only stopped growing but were then subsequently eaten by rolly-pollies, or woodlice if you will. I never knew those weird little things ate seedlings until this year. Huh. Learned something new I suppose. Or, maybe I have the wrong guy. Maybe they were eaten by something else. I don't know. Either way, they were there one day and gone the next. So, hellooooo artichokes.
It's so weird that my potatoes are doing so well when everything else is dying. It's always been the opposite in my experience: Broccoli? No problem! Potatoes? Good luck. Well, at least I'm learning.
Peaches? Still growing. They haven't all been claimed by urban wildlife. Let us hope that I get to eat one this year. If my survival depended upon my own garden, I'd invest in an air rifle for sure. I'd be hunting zombies AND squirrels if it came down to it.

So far, my opinion of lasagna gardening? If you make your beds the way the internet tells you to, it's awesome. My tomatoes and pumpkins are doing really well. But, if you made a mound of crappy dirt and cover it with newspaper and a one inch layer of compost and straw, you're gonna have a bad time. This ought to have been obvious to me, but I combined laziness with optimism and got a bunch of fail. 

Happily, this doesn't mean I have to start over entirely. I just need to layer more crap onto the mounds I already have, which is the same thing you're supposed to do regardless. I'm leaving one of my broccoli beds empty for the year as a reminder and as a repository for some of my yard waste this summer. Also, make sure you flatten the tops of the beds really well so that it can retain seeds when you water. And, make sure your top layer of straw or wood mulch is really thick before winter so that the wind doesn't deconstruct all of your hard layering efforts. That's what I've learned so far. We'll have to see what the rest of the summer brings.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The art of packaging a print

After putting so much effort into my paintings and prints, I couldn't imagine sending them out into the world without first making certain they were appropriately dressed for the occasion. Here's what I normally do...

1. Corrugated cardboard.
2. Cello sleeve.
3. Cardboard mailer.

Before one even begins to think of making one's packages pretty, one must think of their safety. I use a cello sleeve to protect my prints from moisture and dirt. I collect boxes from my library and my friends to cut into sturdy cardboard inserts. And, I use a stiff cardboard mailer to wrap it all up. 

Prints are so much lovelier when they're not damaged! My print is signed, sealed, and ready to go...almost.
1. Ink
2. Stamp
3. A bit of pretty paper, as wide as your print, and folded in half.

I love the idea of making my packaging pretty. Presentation is key, is it not? But, I'm not wild about the idea of using up a ton of extra paper and other supplies that will likely be thrown out moments after my art reaches its destination. So, instead of stickers, I use a stamp. And, instead of wrapping my entire print, I use a small bit of paper for the top only.
 Not only does a fancy hat for my print use less resources while still being attractive, it doesn't cover up the artwork itself. I attach it with a small piece of double sided tape at the top of the sleeve and a staple on either side (far above the print! Do not staple your print!)
To decorate my envelopes, I use scraps of pretty paper left over from other projects and bits of kraft paper from gift bags and grocery bags, generously saved by my friends and family.

There are as many ways to decorate an envelope as there are artists to fill them. In my own packages, I try to balance my desire to give my patrons something beautiful and unique on their doorstep with my own concerns for time and material use. Also, it's fairly important that the Post Office is able to read where it's from and where it's going. Legibility is key. And, I try to not clutter up the envelope too much.

And, that's about it. I play with the design occasionally, trying to find ways to use less paper, or more recycled paper, to make it prettier, etc., but the basic idea remains the same.

If you have any awesome art print packaging ideas, I welcome you to share with the class! Post a link to your photo(s) or share your tips and tricks in the comments!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Late Spring Garden

Vegetable gardens in May are terribly unimpressive. I have these big mounds of dirt and straw and these tiny little seedlings hiding here and there. And, I have no idea if any of it will survive or produce anything I can eat. All of that dirt attracts weeds and in Denver, those tiny little seedlings need a stupid amount of water from my hose and constant attention to survive. Yet, even in May, the squirrels and birds and beetles have marked this garden as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My war with urban nature has begun. May is fun for planting and then lame in its waiting and maintenance.

Happily, time marches on. And, I know from past experience that even if some of my plants remain unimpressive, others will suddenly explode into crazy bundles of bounty. Right? Right? It's so hard to tell at this stage... A gardener needs either faith or patience and preferably a bit of both.

I'm pretty sure my peas were supposed to sprout a month ago. But, they took their time popping up and have been sitting there not really growing anymore for the last week. Come on, peas!

I planted beans because gardens are supposed to have beans and beans are really healthy to eat and they're supposed to be good for the soil too. I don't actually like beans. I'm hoping the mister will eat them all if they survive.

Ah, pumpkins. Pumpkins are nearly impossible to kill and are very little work until the fall when I'll have to battle the squirrels for each and every one. I'll have to get an Acme catalog and set up elaborate booby traps. I have no trouble mustering up faith and patience in these little guys. Hooray, pumpkins!

Getting these Black Krims for my garden this year was an adventure. The seeds are easy to come by, but the plants take some serious effort to find. I finally found this one in a one-weekend heirloom tomato sale in the parking lot of an iron factory in the industrial section of North Denver. It's been hailed on once and has already been discovered by beetles. This first little photogenic fruit has already been eaten by either a bird or a worm. But, it's alive and I'm hoping against hope the rest of the summer goes easier for it. My precious.

Surprisingly, my peaches have survived several snows and are growing away. I've had this tree for four years now and have yet to get even a single peach off of it. Here's hoping this year is the year. Please-oh-please-oh-please-oh-please...

Cherries are delicious. My trees are still very small and haven't found their legs yet. Each tree gets one or two fruits per year. You read that correctly. One or two fruits per tree. They're just silly. But, dang it, those two cherries are delicious.

I have two types of potatoes this year: Russets from the grocery store and German Butterballs. I planted these Russets about two years ago and they're just now popping up. I didn't even think that was possible. But, there they are, right on the edge of my asparagus patch. And, since the ground around them has become so packed in the last couple of years, I figured I'd try growing my spuds in a cage. They too have been discovered by the beetles, but I've been going beetle-picking every morning and so far I think it's helped to keep the damage under control. 

I fully intend to cover my entire chain link fence in white climbing roses. But, for now, I have this one. And, it is pretty. Lonely. But pretty.

The archway and staircase from the front yard into the garden. It looks so fancy all dressed up in early roses and a paper pompom garland!

And, finally, a place to sit and relax after I'm finished with all the weeding and trimming and watering and beetle hunting for the day.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Girl with a Cat and the Evolution of a Face

This is my newest painting, Portrait of a Girl with a Cat. Let me explain.

Some artists have it all figured out. They've learned to paint, they've painted, and the world has chosen the pieces worth anthologizing. Those pieces tend to, in most cases, have a very distinct style. You can see a Picasso, a Dali, a da Vinci, and know the artist even if you've never seen that painting before in your life. It's the same for musicians. You can hear the Pink Floydness in a Pink Floyd song, the Led Zeppelinness in any Zeppelin song. Authors are the same. Think of Dickens and his tangled full-page sentences or the heavy curtness of Hemingway. The brilliant artists of the world become known for a certain sound, a certain look, a certain feel, many times because they invented that look, sound, or feel.

But, they didn't spring from the cradle with this style, they developed it over time. Back in the day, many early compositions that were considered unimportant or forgettable were forgotten or put aside by the world or destroyed by dissatisfied creators. Lost to time. More recently, the wonders of mass production have preserved the "early works" and errant works of artists of all types. If we dig, we know Pink Floyd can sound like this. We know Jimmy Page used to play this. And, the invention of the internet will likely give us video of our next artistic heroes as middle schoolers fumbling about with their first guitars.

Sometimes, when I make a new painting, like A Portrait of a Girl with a Cat, that's a clear departure from what I was doing previously, I'm torn between the excitement of doing something new and the embarrassment of  doing something that so clearly defines me as "still learning," which in the art world, seems to always be meant as an insult. I'd love to settle into a style and start making a portfolio of consistent works -- someday. But, I'm not there yet. I'm still evolving. And, I still love my older paintings, even if I'm headed somewhere that looks a bit different. It comforts me to remember that people still love the Beatles' Meet the Beatles! album, even after they made their Revolver album (not that I'm comparing myself to the Beatles. That's just silly. I merely speaking of the love of early works).

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As for my new painting, I think she's pretty. I love her depth and her detail and I hope to bring those bits along with me to my next painting.

Here's to evolution!