Monday, December 31, 2012

Lyrical Thursdays (ish): Auld Lang Syne

OK, so it's not exactly Thursday...  But between being on Christmas break and getting sick, my days got all jumbled up and I missed last Thursday.  So to make up for it, I'm doing a special New Year's Eve edition of Lyrical Thursdays, featuring the poem Auld Lang Syne.
Auld Lang Syne is generally attributed to Scottish poet Robert Burns, but some accounts say that he didn't compose it, he only wrote it down. Supposedly it had been around long before him, but just passed along orally.  So in 1788 Burns put quill to parchment and wrote out the lyrics to the poem now so often heard sung on New Year's Eve.
Auld Lang Syne translates literally to "Old Long Since," and more generally means "long, long ago," or "days gone by."  I thought I'd include the original Scottish lyrics with the English translation below.  You can decide which version you'll sing after the ball drops (and after your New Year's smooches, of course...!)! 

Auld Lang Syne - Scottish Lyrics
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I'll be mine !
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu'd the gowans fine ;
But we've wander'd mony a weary foot,
sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o' thine !
And we'll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.


Auld Lang Syne - English Lyrics
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you'll buy your pint cup !
and surely I'll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we've wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o' thine !
And we'll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lyrical Thursdays: Sorrow

Today's poem is sort of the antithesis of the one I posted last week.  I had planned on posting it at some point, but wasn't sure when, since it's a bit of a downer.  However, it's also beautifully written, and phrases from the poem get stuck in my head from time to time, specifically the line: "All my thoughts are slow and brown."  Tired, gloomy days will find me with that line crawling around my sleepy brain!

After the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut last week, this poem seemed the right choice for this Thursday.  Thankfully, few of us have ever or will ever feel sorrow like the families who lost loved ones in such a terrible way, but words can sometimes help us understand even the smallest part of what they are going through.  In this way we can be better prepared to "mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:9).

Sorrow can take many forms and be inspired by many different things.  When I was in grad school I lived alone, on the other side of the state from my family, burdened by the stresses of school, work, and church responsibilities, and some days I found it hard to even leave my apartment.  It's silly, really, in comparison to the deep sorrow so many feel, how trivial my own was.  But it was real to me and so I turned, as I often do, to poetry (and scripture) for comfort.

Once again, Edna St. Vincent Millay came to my aid, with this poem that in some ways fit what I was feeling, though is more pertinent to those who feel sorrow to a much deeper degree.  In an effort to express my feelings and thoughts about the poem through art, I created this painting (which was featured in my post a couple of weeks ago):

I collaged the words of the poem onto a board, and then worked over them with paint - rubbing it in with my fingers, or scraping it on with a palette knife.  The line in the poem, "I sit in my chair," was poignant to me, because sometimes that was all I felt I could do - sit in a chair, not having to face the world or the stress or all of the expectations weighing me down.  Getting out of that chair was at times the bravest thing I did that day.  So the chair became my focus, along with the color brown and the overwhelming, cramped, dark feeling we get when we feel sorrow of any kind.

I could go on about the painting, but it's time, I think, for the poem itself.  Here is Sorrow by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Sorrow like a ceaseless rain
      Beats upon my heart.
People twist and scream in pain, —
Dawn will find them still again;
This has neither wax nor wane,
      Neither stop nor start.

People dress and go to town;
      I sit in my chair.
All my thoughts are slow and brown:
Standing up or sitting down
Little matters, or what gown
      Or what shoes I wear.

If this poem leaves you feeling too raw, please go back and reread last week's poem!  It's an instant peace restorer for me.  Or check out this video on my sister's blog of our niece dancing (link).  I'll also include here a quote from one of my favorite book series - the Mitford Series by Jan Karon.  In this particular book in the series, the main character, Father Tim, is suffering from depression, but learns to give thanks in even his darkest hour, referencing 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and saying,

"Father, I don't know why You're causing, or allowing, this hard thing to happen, but I'm going to give thanks in it because You ask me to.  I'm going to trust You to have a purpose for it that I can't know and may never know.  Bottom line, You're God, and that's good enough for me."  I second that emotion.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lyrical Thursdays: Hope

A few weeks ago, I was feeling really frustrated with life.  Just life in general - how things often don't turn out the way you think they will and how it's so hard to be patient and see how things are going to end up.  I was talking to my mother about this, and she offered me words of comfort and then paused and recited a poem to me from memory (clearly I come by my love of poetry naturally).

The poem was "'Hope' Is the Things With Feathers" by Emily Dickinson, and it brought me the comfort I needed.  I used my PhotoShop skills to create a nice copy of the poem which now hangs next to my bed to remind me to have hope, and that hope can give so much without expecting anything in return.  I love the comfort a well-organized group of words can bring!

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lyrical Thursdays

Last weekend some friends of mine allowed me to turn their apartment into a very awesome gallery space.  I hung around 30 paintings as well as a few old prints and a drawing.  It turned out really well!  My sister took a few panoramic shots as we finished setting things up for the evening:

It was really nice to look at paintings I hadn't looked at in a while - that have been sitting in plastic waiting for me to do something with them.  But really the best part of the evening was being able to talk to people about my work.  

As an artist, there is a process I go through with each painting, and it's different for each one.  Some are simply paintings of a beautiful or familiar thing.  But for many of my paintings, there's more to it: emotions I was feeling at the time, emotional attachments to a place/object/person I am painting, a concept I'm trying to get across, capturing a piece of history, etc.  I know that that is happening in each painting, but the viewer might not.

I truly love to find out what other people are thinking when they look at a painting I've done. While I might have all of the things mentioned above going through my head, knowing my history behind it, other people bring their own experiences into each painting and reflect their lives onto them.  A painting I created to express sadness and melancholy, for example, might evoke completely different emotions in someone else.  The visual language of a painting is translated into words spoken about it, and that enriches me every time!

A lot of my work deals with words in different ways and forms.  Some ways are obvious:

And others are a little more subtle:

This love of words starts in literature, threads through poetry and music and ends up splashed on a canvas (OK, let's be real, it ends up meticulously painted on a canvas) in ways that celebrate language - spoken, written, and visual language.  

In talking to attendees of my exhibit last weekend (titled "Tangentials" - since I had a lot of tangents going there...) about the above painting with the brown chair in it, I got to talking a lot about poetry and how it's influenced me and my work.  The more I talked, the more I wished I had a way to share my favorite poems in ways other than subtly included in a painting.  

And then I realized...I have a blog!

So, today is born the first of (hopefully many) Lyrical Thursdays, where I share with you my favorite poems (and go exploring for new ones!).  I may have something to say about the poem, or I may just share it and leave saying things up to you!  

Since this post is already long, I'll share a very short poem with you by one of my favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay (I may post more about this poem at another time):

First Fig
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light! 

Happy Thursday!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wood Shop Skills

When I was in 8th grade, I took the coolest class in school: Wood Shop.  After being terrified by stories of sawn-off fingers and hair being caught in drills, I proceeded (with caution) to make a CD rack, a penguin puzzle, a jewelry box, and a few other little wooden cut-outs.  I felt pretty awesome.  

In later years, I would put these skills to use once more as an artist, building cradled panels to paint on and making frames for my paintings.  Not as cool, but still highly useful.

This past summer I had a chance to bring my woodworking skills to a higher level, thanks to a local festival for which I'm one of the organizers.  I'm in charge of the little kids' activities, which take place on an island in the park.  I wanted to step things up a notch this year, so designed a bridge/castle entrance, a turret, and a dragon.  After getting most of the materials donated by one of our sponsors, I was ready to go!  

Mostly.  I knew how to use woodworking tools on a smaller scale, but needed to learn the ways of the larger tools.  Thankfully, I am blessed with a dad who has every tool imaginable and mad skills with all of these tools.  My dad showed me how to use the tools I needed on the castle parts, and I took off on my own for the dragon.  These photos tell the rest of the story:

My Dad, showing me the ways of the saber saw (and an
awesome shadow of an imposing drill)
You can't see it well, but the dragon is
drawn out on the plywood here.
Safety first!!
In process
The dragon all cut out - I decided to make it
into a corn hole bag game as well as a
decoration - the kids had to "defeat the
In the midst of making the dragon and castle, I went on
an African Safari!!!  ...In Ohio.  This is my favorite photo
from the trip of my favorite animal.
Just thought I'd share.
Blue and yellow make...the perfect color for a dragon!
The castle parts and the dragon in process 
Dragon completed!
The castle completed after using a plastic bag
to make it look more three-dimensional
(and awesome).
My initial sketches next to the completed and installed
Dragon on the left and turret on the right on the island
Castle entrance and the dragon at the end
of the bridge on the island

The new additions to the island were a big hit!!  I even received the Spirit Award for my enthusiasm for the festival!  (I was nominated by other organizers of the festival.)  I'd like to thank my wood shop teacher, my's truly an honor just to be nominated...    

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Game On!

Have you ever found yourself in this scenario?  You're substitute teaching and it's MEAP testing day.  The kids finish the test quickly, and you find yourself with almost two hours to fill and nothing to do!!! What now???!?!?!?

OK, so maybe this isn't a very common scenario, but it's one in which I found myself today.  I've had similar experiences with subbing, where it'd be really great to just have a few games that require no equipment and not a lot of space to play to fill some time.  Today I found a great resource.  In an effort to both have easy access to these games for myself and share them with others, I'm going to link some of the games here.  I hope you enjoy!
Another great resource (link)

**Some of these games also make great party games!!**

Buzz Fizz - (I've also played this where doubles are "buzz" numbers, ie: 11, 22, 33, etc) - a counting game where you need to be paying attention or you're out!

Exciting Life Awards - A creative way to get kids interacting with and getting to know each other.

Gifts For the Journey - Kids pair up and have to remember things about each other, and then share them with a new partner.  If you forget something, you're out!

Grab the Finger - MUCH different results than "pull my finger..."  An active game where kids have to keep their finger from being grabbed while trying to grab their neighbor's finger.

Group Hug in Motion - Move as a group in different directions as directed by a leader.

Here I Sit - Could be dangerous, but gets kids moving!

Line Up - Kids line up according to height, eye color, shoe size, etc.  There's also a version where the kids do this blindfolded!

Rock Paper Scissors Tournament - I did this with 18 kids and it was very fun, but also very quick!

Sit Down If - have eaten chocolate today, etc.  Last one standing wins!

Snort - A game in which players - yes - snort at each other!  There's also a game in which players Moo.  Really loudly.

True or False - Players have to guess whether a statement you make is true or false, and are eliminated as they guess incorrectly.

Two Truths and A Lie - A classic, where players have to figure out which statement is a lie and which are true.

Wink Murder - Another classic!!  The "murderer" winks at people who, after waiting a few seconds for the murderer to move away, "die" in dramatic fashion.  The inspector has to find the murderer!

Would You Rather - Popular with kids and adults!!  This website has some great scenarios, too.  With a large group, we split the room for each option and then I had a few kids from each side defend their choice.  It was really fun!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Yes To Staying In More!!

Liz Lemon speaks the words of my heart... 

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Since I finished grad school and had to leave my studio in Grand Rapids, I've been turning to my sketchbook more than ever as a way to get my artistic juices flowing.  I'll admit I didn't use it much in grad school.  I sketched on random sheets of paper and the boards to which I attach my watercolor paper, but it was never very organized.

It's been fun to sketch again with no real purpose in mind besides being creative and keeping in practice.  I thought I'd share a few pages of my sketchbook with you.  It's nothing spectacular, just practice!  And, as we all know, practice makes...well, maybe not perfect, but at least better!!  

I love drawing noses, and thought I'd have some fun drawing
celebrity noses.

I'd been considering impossible things...

I read up on Zentangles and started experimenting.

Close-up of my first one.

Close-up of my second one. (With watercolor in the background.)

Some ink and watercolor sketches.

More zentangles

Playing with stippling and poetry.

All images ©copyright Katherine Downie 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Artist's Corner A/V Club: Watercolor Lettering

Robot Tuesday's Artist's Corner is going techno!  Technological, that is.  I'm adding a new feature: The Artist's Corner A/V Club instructional videos.  My first one is a bit of an experiment, both in subject matter and video execution.  In other words, I hadn't done watercolor lettering before, and it was my first time making this type of video.  (Here's a link to it on YouTube.)

I didn't do a voiceover, so here are the basic instructions for doing watercolor lettering.

Step 1. Gather your supplies: a small piece of watercolor paper, a pencil (I prefer HB or harder when drawing something out for a painting), watercolor paints, a small round brush, water cup, paper towel.

Step 2. Write out the letter or word that you're going to be painting.  For the C, I did simple bubble lettering with a little flourish.  For my name and "Watercolor Lettering" (at the beginning of the video), I wrote it out in cursive, and then added lines to make a ribbon-like effect.

*Tip* When I do a watercolor painting, I don't like the pencil lines to show.  So, after I draw something out, I will take a kneaded eraser, roll it up into a snake (like you used to do as a kid with Play-doh) and carefully roll it over what I've drawn to lighten up all of the lines.

Step 3. Paint!  I did a wet-on-dry technique, where the paper wasn't wetted down before painting (more on that in another tutorial).  If you're just starting out it might be good to do some larger letters first until you get the hang of it, and then go to smaller.  Make sure your brush fits the size, too.  Small brush for small letter, etc.

The key with this is, as you did with your coloring books as a child, to stay inside the lines!  Take your time - in this case water marks (what happens when some of the paint dries before the rest) can be a good thing and can create a cool effect.

Choose your color palette beforehand and make sure the colors you choose are wet and ready to go before you start.  I chose an Alizarin Crimson (my favorite!), Cadmium Red, an orange (that I mixed), Dioxazine Violet, and a cool yellow for a little detail.  Let the colors mix as you paint!

Let me know how they turn out!  If you have questions, post them here or email me at katherinedownieartist(at)gmail(dot)com.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Six Impossible Things

"Only if you believe it is." - Mad Hatter
"Sometimes I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast." - Alice
"That is an excellent practice." - Hatter

After watching this movie recently, I got to thinking about impossible things.  In Wonderland, some of the impossible things Alice thinks of are things like: animals can talk, there is a cake that will make you shrink and a drink that will make you grow, and cats can disappear.  

I decided that for us, there are three different types of "impossible" things.  (There may be more, but this is what I came up with.)

1. The first kind are more like affirmations or a way to try to convince ourselves that something that seems impossible can actually happen.  Examples: "My hair will do what I want it to do today." "I can lose those last few pounds!"

2. The second type of impossible things are reminders of things that we've already accomplished (formerly in the type 1 category) that encourage us in the next seemingly impossible task that faces us.  Examples: "If I made it through that last blind date, I can certainly survive this one."  "I ran two miles yesterday, I can do it again today!"

3. The final sort are things that you just cannot believe are happening/have happened.  Examples: "New Kids on the Block did a reunion tour and I saw them!" (True...!)  "A man walked on the moon!"  (Hoax?)

Having finished grad school in December, I'm now faced with the daunting task!  Getting a job, finding my place in the world outside of being a student, and deciding where to live all seem like a Jabberwocky in front of me.

This is where Alice's practice comes in.  I try to remind myself of impossible things - things I've accomplished, affirmations, amazing facts, whatever it takes!  Here are a few of my Impossible Things:

1. I served a mission for my church for a year and a half in Thailand.  This included learning to read, write, and speak Thai and I was allowed to talk on the phone to my family only twice a year.

2. I survived grad school, and now I have a Bachelor's and a Master's degree, both in a field that I love.

3. Planes can fly.  (I know there are scientific explanations for this, but isn't it still CRAZY?!?)

4. I saw New Kids on the Block in concert last year. (Yes, I already mentioned this, but MAN, that was an awesome concert!)

5. I got a job the week I graduated with my Bachelor's degree, in my field!  (It can happen again, right?!)

When I think of these impossible things, much like when Alice was about to fight the Jabberwocky, I gain a little perspective and hope.  If these things are possible, then why not what I'm facing??  Finding a job in my field doesn't seem quite so much like a monster I can't defeat.  

So, as I face the monster of all the challenges that lay ahead, I quote Alice: