It has been a long time since my last post, but a number of unexpected things have happened that have kept me both from blogging and from artwork. However, I am back again, and I am here to share with you something that I’ve kept a secret since I first thought up the idea back around March of this year. My parents celebrated their 35th anniversary on September 13th. Since it was a milestone year for them, I wanted to make some kind of artwork for them that would be meaningful. I came across several beautiful poems that likened parents to the roots of a tree, the strong, steady foundation that holds everything together. I liked that idea very much. It inspired me to start working on a poem of my own, personalized to mean as much to my mom and dad as possible. I had to work in complete, delicious, secrecy. They are so involved in what I create and what I’m up to in my studio, so I had to go to great effort to keep this a secret.
It all started when I went to Junk Bonanza last April. I went with my mom, but I had a secret agenda. I wanted to find something with a 35 on it, or even letters to spell Happy Anniversary. I knew it would be tricky to buy it when she was right there with me, but I was determined.
I came across a booth that had many small metal numbered tags, post office tags, cattle tags, you name it. Under the guise of searching for “junk supplies for my sculptures”, I began to look quite thoroughly. Luckily for me, my mom said she was going to move on to the next booth while I looked. And then I found it! A metal tag with a 35 on it. And not only that, but above the 35 were the two letters H and W. How perfect could it be? H for Husband, W for Wife, and a 35. Awesome! Just so my mom wouldn’t wonder what I had bought, I purchased a few other little items so she wouldn’t single out that one tag.
And here it is.
Early in the summer, as soon as the leaves were full on the trees, I went for camera walks, getting pictures of our trees to go with some sort of tree poem. The tree that has the most sentimentality for our family is the enormous maple tree that is in our front yard, towering over our house. It’s been a part of our lives for a long time. My dad remembers stringing up a tire swing in it as a kid, and my brothers and I used to play in a tire swing from that very tree, and now, my parents’ grandkids have two tire swings hanging in that tree, too. It’s a trusty old tree, complete with wooden board “steps” nailed onto it from my childhood.
As you can imagine, I decided that this was the tree to draw. As I photographed it, I included the house, which was build in 1926. My brothers and I grew up in it, and my dad and his brothers and sisters, and even his dad and his brother. It’s got so much history and so many memories for us all. I couldn’t draw that tree without this beloved house nestled beneath it, so my plans were made.
I started the drawing on June 17th.
The drawing is clayboard, just the second clayboard I’ve done. It’s a big drawing, as I wanted it to be dramatic for Mom and Dad’s wall. Keeping it very secret, I worked on it only when they were nowhere near, and I had to cleverly hide the drawing, the supplies, and all other evidence that I was working on anything in my studio.
Meanwhile, I spent several nights up late in bed, writing and rewriting the poem I wanted to give to them with the drawing. I found some amazing tips on how to paint letters neatly on a wooden board, and I got started on that. I mixed a couple of ideas I found online for sign-painting to get the result I wanted. I painted the board black (just an old board that was in the basement…I sanded it fairly smooth first), and then printed the poem on regular printer paper in the font I liked. I then took a white charcoal pencil and colored the backs of the papers generously. After checking, re-checking, re-checking, and re-checking the alignment of the papers on the board (it took 4 sheets of paper to get the lettering big enough to fill the board), I taped them in place. I then took a ball point pen and wrote over the words firmly, causing the white charcoal to transfer onto the wood. When I lifted the papers, I was so surprised by how neat it looked! I then took a cream-colored acrylic paint, diluted it quite a bit, and painted the letters using mostly a 00 paint brush. It took quite some time, but I was really pleased with the result!
Ah, but the wooden sign didn’t take long at all compared to the drawing. A clayboard is essentially an un-inked scratchboard…it is simply white clay on a Masonite board. You add the ink (or paint or whatever else you’d like) yourself as you wish. I used Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens for this project, using mostly brush tip for the application of inks. Anything on the board that is not white had to be inked over first. I used a variety of grays and blacks to get the desired values in this drawing.
The house part of the drawing was by far the most challenging. I definitely do not have a mathematical brain, and all of these angles and corners and straight lines were certainly out of my comfort zone. I spent many hours (days, even) with a straight edge and a pen, drawing and re-drawing all of those squares and lines and shapes over and over until I finally felt things were in place. I then got to work building values, which was done using shades of gray pens. The beauty of clayboard is that you can draw in the traditional sense, but you can push it further by treating it like a scratchboard. You can take your X-Acto knives, your blades, your fiberglass brushes, and you can scratch away the ink. It’s a beautiful thing! 🙂
I am happy to say that my parents were both completely unaware I was working on anything. I never thought I could keep this a secret all summer long. I was so excited to give this to them, and they seemed pretty excited to get it, too. 🙂
– The clayboard drawing measures 16 x 20 inches in size. It is made with a set of Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens (the Manga set of 8), some other very fine pens for detail and texture, a couple of different X-Acto knives, a fiberglass brush, some other scratchboard tools, and steel wool to remove smudges or marks in larger areas.
– The wooden sign is made with just an old board that was in the basement (note the hole in the upper left corner), sanded, and painted with black acrylic paint. White charcoal, printer paper, and tape for the lettering, and cream-colored acrylic paint for the poem. I sealed the board with a satin varnish.
Ok, at long last, here are the pictures. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to photograph something this large without getting some shadow and lighting issues. The photos do not do this drawing justice, but they were about the best I could do. I did not take one single progress photo – I couldn’t afford any evidence to be found! 😉
A few close-ups.
The poem. (Click to view larger.)
And the finished, framed, and displayed artwork as it looks on the wall.
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you both so much!