Month of Sundays -- An Art and Life Project for Two

We have been working on a project lately combining art and ordinary living. These are the best kinds of art projects, after all—we especially enjoy the act of recording the world as we live in it through art.

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This project is based on a cliche you’ve heard before.

How long will it take?

If quite a long while, as the saying goes, it might take a “month of Sundays.”

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But what does the phrase mean? Sunday, considered holy and also a bit slowly (at least in comparison with busier days of the week) is a day that gathers its own time rhythms to it. Sunday has a different time to it than other days, a different temporality. That’s just one Sunday. Just think of the stretched out time for reflection, sacred contemplation, and just laying around that a whole month of them would hold.

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The premise: Interrupt our usual ways of spending uncollected time together by creating a ritual around a picture window in our living room. Every Sunday we would sit at the window together. One would sketch the view in poetry as the other did so in pencils, and together we would produce a fuller picture of the shared time spent between us.

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Our Month of Sundays project is as much an effort to “keep” our time together as it is an effort to make time. In every view and in every poem, we make together in order to draw attention to the life and time we make together.

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Sessions usually take a little over an hour. At first, we would have to squeeze in the time to sit together on the same bench inside our home (the same bench that once served as our daughter’s toy box) to watch a concrete bench outside of our home as it resolutely weathered the seasons. After a while, though, our Month of Sundays ritual became an anticipated event. You don’t need to “schedule” or “plan for” something you’re looking forward to all week.

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Whereas Michael aimed to produce a single image for every session, filling a quarter page of the sketchbook each Sunday, Sara’s drafts of poetry spill across many pages.

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A simple lesson learned—when you make a single day special through shared practices of being together while observing the extraordinary in the ordinary, you acquire a deepened sense of the significance of each passing moment.

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This specific portion of the project is nearing a point of closure, but only in the conventional sense of there being only thirty or so days in a month. Our practice has changed our thinking about time. We no longer define a day or a month in terms of their limits or endings.

We plan on continuing our works of days and months, looking and seeing together through apertures we choose.

Birch Arts and Crafts

Sara and I spend many hours working with strips of birch bark. We harvest the freshest pages, as we call them, from a few fallen birch trees around our yard.

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Vermont is home to many birch tree varieties, and our yard is no stranger to nature’s occasional offerings and donations.

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The material poses challenges for the inflexible. It is resilient and water proof, but it can break easily, too. Parts of it continue to peel worse than a fragile onion—only in the most paradoxically durable way.

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The material is fashionably lied about everywhere in popular culture for being white, charmingly mottled with deep brown or grey. Most bark paper is ruddy, reddish brown, nearly pine, with smooth random marks like Morse code or that notched paper fed into old self-playing pianos. It comes in distinct colors and textures, which is good news to those with a design mind.

With an ability to create sharp contours and contrasts, birch possesses rich potential as an expressive art form.

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To purchase our birch craft products, please click here.

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Latest Almanac Debut: Vital Things aka The Podmanac

We are proud to debut our latest almanac. This one has been a summer in the making. In paint, poetry, and clay, we tell the story of our adventures with the 'vital things' around us.

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As this almanac developed, it became a world, or at least, a way of looking at the world.

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The more we worked at our tiles, and as Sara worked out the poetry that graces the margins, we noticed how the whole piece works as a kind of 3-D tarot deck and even a playable game. Each panel in the middle three rows offers a fortune. Here's a sample of some of those fortunes:

Can you tell this person's fortune? Using this piece you can. First, let the person ask our Podmanac a question. Then, let them roll three dice, each corresponding to a different row of our Almanac.

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Then, interpret the trio of tiles thus rolled. If the above were the hand rolled, it would be a good fortune indeed.

From Row I, Animal: The Doe --A tile that means circumstances may arise to tax the asker's patience. Success will come, but only as a result of not acting and not right away.
From Row II, Plant: Coneflower --This card indicates that you will celebrate a wealth of medicinal influences in your life. These could be physically, spiritually, or emotionally medicinal. In this context, this could mean that your current efforts at patience will prove to be healing and prevent your future pain.
From Row III, Mineral: The Engineer (the best card you can get in the mineral row) --Means you're a master of the materials around you. Since this is the third card, one could say ultimate success (becoming the Engineer) comes for this asker once achieving the state of virtuous healing and stillness symbolized in the Coneflower.

The blooms of our garden claim pride of place in "Vital Things." Their vibrant colors command the middle row and the viewer's gaze.

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A favorite component of this Almanac is the frame. Made up of decoupage strips delicately torn from antique newspapers, some of them over two hundred years old, the frame bears witness to the ordered miscellany of the world.

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Vital Things

The world is full of them....

Sculpting Flowers Or, The Florascope

We have been working on sculpture lately. Transposing our design aesthetic of the grid onto sculpted figures has been both a challenge and a reprieve. The summer's yield of blooms has served as inspiration. Below, you'll see three images from our latest almanac-in-progress, a sculpted homage to the buds around us.

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The day lily is a plentiful inhabitant of our front gardens. Though her many green limbs can be a gardener's curse at times, we think she's worth the effort.

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Liatris, Blazing Star, Gayfeather. This towering purple bristler is one of our favorite perennials. It was a joy to sculpt.

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We know July is here when the cone flower blooms. This medicinal flower lasts well into August and is wonderful for cuttings.

When the winter months roll around again, we'll look with satisfaction on this almanac, we know.

 

 

Almanc #2 Details Featured in TYPO Magazine

Michael and I were delighted to have some of our details from Almanac #2 featured in TYPO's 29th issue this week. And we're so very proud to be listed as co-creators with so many accomplished writers!

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We created Almanac #2 in December, so many of the images and poems have a distinctively festive spirit.

Below, you'll see a poem about the oldest tree in the world, written in the shape of a Christmas tree cookie. Next to it, a collage orchestrates an ensemble of old newspaper and wrapping paper to sing a carol about broken ornaments.

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Perhaps our favorite is this tribute to our daughter and her love of jellicle cats.

On the left, you see Michael's painting of her in full jellicle costume, and on the right, Sara's remix of T.S. Eliot's "The Naming Of Cats." Altogether, it is a girl power anthem!

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Almanac #2 is a window into our winter memories.

We are  thrilled

to share these views with TYPO's readers and you.

ampersands

We are working on our latest Almanacs. On the wall currently are several canvases in progress. At the moment, our favorite is based on the ampersand.

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This is the under-painting. Next, we're dividing up the cells to depict inclusive and additive elements.

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We've already begun on two panels or cells.

The obligatory sun & moon

The obligatory sun & moon

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This one is less forceful in its relation to the ampersand. We think it's perfect, nevertheless. It sets off the birch bark in shimmering contrast against the darker shades of the oil paint.

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And...

It's a Spring thing.

Blue of the Sky

The snow this morning made the deep blue of the sky stand out.

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The backyard exploded with the memories of deep winter, strangely cast against sunshine typical for spring.

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A variety of cloud shapes and layers helps to deepen the quality of the blue. The world's most amazing dog companion doesn't hurt either. The dog is off in the distance, by the way, in the shot above, scouting for soft light and booming contrasts.

The snow bends this pine bough, but only temporarily. This shot was taken at around 8 AM. By noon, this snow will melt under the weight of the sun.

The snow bends this pine bough, but only temporarily. This shot was taken at around 8 AM. By noon, this snow will melt under the weight of the sun.

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Our favorite poets prodded us to remember their best lines in the presence of these skies.

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The distant proximity of the hills of New Hampshire, as glimpsed from the top of Gillette Hill, (Wilder, in Hartford, Vermont.) The magnetic background nearly overpowers the chalky blue hills perched along the horizon.

There were two paths: one went up, the other left, but it was this one that drew her nose.

There were two paths: one went up, the other left, but it was this one that drew her nose.

When Crows Came To Stay

In February the crows came to stay.

If you were to look more closely at our almanacs from February and March, you might notice the winged and feathered influence of a certain bird from the family corvidae.

detail from Almanac #5a March

detail from Almanac #5a March

 

Yes, we are talking about the American Crow, or Corvus Brachyrhynchos—perhaps the canniest and certainly the creepiest of birds.

In our February and March almanacs, crows proliferate. They take flight and respite. Their wings bear brushstrokes, words, and occasionally, omens. Their history and behavior serve as inspiration for poems, puzzles, and more.

detail from Almanac #5b Almanac with Crows

detail from Almanac #5b Almanac with Crows

 

So where, when and how did the crows become central to our canvases? Okay, we’ll tell you.

In the late afternoon on February 5th, a great commotion brought all of the Chaneys (plus dog) hurrying to our windows. What looked to be hundreds of crows swirled like a living, feathered cyclone above a neighboring pine tree. We had never seen so many crows in one place at one time.

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After a little research, we concluded we were witnessing a mega roost. Common in winter, these crow parties boast big numbers, often in the thousands. Although it may look and sound like these roosting birds are auditioning for roles in a Hitchcock remake, they are just settling down for the night. Crows who roost together tend to be safer from predators. And hey, that would have to be one brave owl to attack 144,000 crows!

 

Here are three examples of how we honored the crows in our almanacs:

1)   Asemic Writing

Ink on canvas and paint splatter (the latter created by very controlled flicking of the brush). The legible writing gets smaller and smaller, till it is indistinguishable from a flock of distant birds.

detail from Almanac #5a

detail from Almanac #5a

 

2)   Shaped Poetry

We used cardstock paper and exacto knifes to make our own bird-shaped stencils for writing.

This exercise is great for writers who want to explore the visual appeal of their written words.

detail from Almanac #4 February

detail from Almanac #4 February

 

3)   Shaped Poetry, Plus

Another take on a similar idea. Here we take the crow shape and make it the ground for words. These word-birds are set against a background of oil paint and newspaper collage.

detail from Almanac #4 February

detail from Almanac #4 February

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We love nothing better than to draw inspiration from the daily.

This day was no exception. The crows left their mark on our canvases.

10 things to do with birch bark

 

We have birch trees that cozy up to our cottage, peppering the yard with occasional branches. What to do with these offerings? Here are ten great ideas for the birch enthusiast.

1. Wreath

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You could begin with an old float toy from the pool and a good pair of scissors. Cut the bark into regular strips, then glue them to the toy. We like to use wood glue diluted with water for such applications. Voila!

2. Card

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If you have need for a special touch, let birch bark help you say how you feel. We are birch bark aficionados and even we were surprised at how gorgeously these materials come together.

3. Paper you can print on

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We figured out a way to tape thin strips of bark onto paper, fooling our printer into printing onto the bark. Here is a detail of two panels from Almanac #2 (December). Side-by-side, the unadorned beauty of the wood grain contrasts against the mechanical gloss of the ink and varnish.

 

4. A Personalized Notepad

Thanks to their durability, birch strips easily lend themselves to various applications. They work great as covers. Here is our version of a personal notebook with flair.

 

5. Embellishments for furniture

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Strips of birch add softness and design appeal to this makeshift seed caddy. We made it from scrap wood left over from our projects.

 

6. Decor Accents

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A word here, a snip there, and any natural element like a birch curl can add drama to your environment. The trick is in placing it just right.

 

7. Flower Holder

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Sometimes, we need just one stem to go in the middle of an arrangement. For such moments of floral precision, try the waterproof spring of a birch curl. It can fit into most flumes to create a dedicated track for that special stem in your bouquet.

 

8. Frames/matting

We use backyard sticks in lots of projects. Birch makes for a sturdy frame. Don't even get us started on using denim to paint on!

 

9. Toy or gadget

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This spinner comes from our Almanac #4. You spin to get what should seem like many results, only in our cheeky universe of spinners, there are only two options.  The durability and flexibility of the birch bark made this project a breeze.  You might use the bark to make your own gadget for that special spinner in your life. Bored backseat passengers on long rides might find the possibilities pleasantly distracting.

10. box or pouch

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We fashioned this piece of birch to represent a mailbox. Inside the curl rests a letter, bound like a scroll and ready for delivery. Because the material is very responsive to glues of all kinds (white glue, wood glue), we know there are many ways to build a box with birch.  The strips  could be used as panels or just the curls. The possibilities are endless.

Count on us to experiment more with birch bark in our mixed media Almanac artworks. Also, please check out our latest birch crafts here.

Our latest birch craft designs showcase the rustic grain of the birch (as well as a few sprigs of dried leaves), converting the paper into a lovely and durable ornament you can hang on a window or a wall.

See our birch crafts here.

Let Birch Inspire

Creativity is hard work. It's all worth it when the well of ideas flows. But it's no walk in the park when the ideas won't come. Well, there might be more wisdom in that phrase than we know. Whenever we feel the lulls (that are really essential to creative work!), we look to the trees in our backyard for inspiration.

We search for inspiration in the birch trees. They linger by our cottage, a cape nestled in a clutch of woods at the base of Gillette and Jericho Hills in Windsor County, Vermont. Pine, maples, and birch are everywhere. They may be common, but you will remember meeting one in a thicket, if you happen to notice it on your walk.

We search for inspiration in the birch trees. They linger by our cottage, a cape nestled in a clutch of woods at the base of Gillette and Jericho Hills in Windsor County, Vermont. Pine, maples, and birch are everywhere. They may be common, but you will remember meeting one in a thicket, if you happen to notice it on your walk.

Contrast is not just a principle in art making. Contrast is essential to human vision. We really can't see what doesn't stand out well to our eyes. The birch tree is a highlight that calls attention to its own bark and makes us suddenly aware of the intricate splendor of the typically more muted natural surfaces all around us.

Contrast is not just a principle in art making. Contrast is essential to human vision. We really can't see what doesn't stand out well to our eyes. The birch tree is a highlight that calls attention to its own bark and makes us suddenly aware of the intricate splendor of the typically more muted natural surfaces all around us.

In our Almanac mixed media paintings, we use birch bark to signify all the things it reminds us of--history, writing, parchment, paper. Although it is best never to remove birch bark from a living tree, when peeled from fallen branches or dead trees, the bark can be used as paper. For us, it is more importantly used as a source of inspiration.

In our Almanac mixed media paintings, we use birch bark to signify all the things it reminds us of--history, writing, parchment, paper. Although it is best never to remove birch bark from a living tree, when peeled from fallen branches or dead trees, the bark can be used as paper. For us, it is more importantly used as a source of inspiration.

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A big, beautiful curl of birch bark hangs proudly atop our February Almanac, shown above while still in progress. We salvaged this piece during one of our walks on Gillette Hill.

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A close-up on the tiny forest of birch shavings inside our natural embellishment. We later decided to convert this one into a tiny mailbox. It even has an actual letter inside (written on birch bark, of course). The natural asymmetries of a birch curl often challenges us to think in unexpected and whimsical directions.

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The birch tree is known for its beauty and resilience. Resistant to water and disease, the bark has been used for centuries to make everything from canoes to writing paper. Here, it graces our canvas in homage to nature's flawless engineering.

 

Art Making With Snow--Photo Impressions Frozen in March

It's all in the framing.

We spend time finding art in the natural arrangements surrounding us.

We spend time finding art in the natural arrangements surrounding us.

A collage is any selection of items. We like it when the principle of selection is as obvious as our color choices.

A collage is any selection of items. We like it when the principle of selection is as obvious as our color choices.

Curating a visual panoply--that's one way of seeing our process, as through a glass hazed over with winter frost.

Curating a visual panoply--that's one way of seeing our process, as through a glass hazed over with winter frost.

During our daily hikes along the base of Gillette Hill, we wonder about those whose prints precede ours with gratitude and humility.

During our daily hikes along the base of Gillette Hill, we wonder about those whose prints precede ours with gratitude and humility.