Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wedding Insert

Custom Design
This past week I designed a insert to be included with the wedding invitation for a couple who will marry in Newark, Delaware.  The hotel had provided them with a generic invitation insert providing details about the hotel accommodations.  They wanted a custom designed insert to coordinate with their invitations. 
I developed two schemes from which they were able to select.  The designs incorporated the colors and theme of the invitation.  The bride wanted to create a coordinating insert, without matching the design of the invitation too closely. 
The couple selected the design with a green border and a flowering branch.  These 3.75"x4.75" inserts will be a charming insert with their wedding invitation and accessories.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Western Avenue Series

Mile 4: 98th Street-90th Street
This sketch is a part of my Western Avenue Series, through which I'll be making 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Western Avenue, in Chicago.  I started this project because while it is not considered to be among the most “beautiful” of Chicago’s streets, Western Avenue is a perfect place to document the humanness of Chicago, the positive and the negative. In the words of Stuart Dybek, "Western, with apologies to State Street, is a great street,  Unlike State, it is a street that goes to the interior, the heart of the city, as it glides and glows through a United Nations of neighborhoods."  Check back next Monday to see the painting completed based on this sketch.
The stretch of Western Avenue between 98th and 90th Streets maintains some of the character of the portions of Beverly which lie further south.  Included in this mile are well established business like the Original Rainbow Cone, which is to be featured in the sketch above, and Beverly Bikes.  This mile also has seen new development, including suburban style strip malls which house chain stores like Applebee's and Walmart.  
There are also business like Evergreen Plaza, which represent some mix of these two genres.  Timeout featured Evergreen Plaza in a article highlighting various businesses located on Western, they said:
"On the South Side, if you say you’re going to “the Plaza” it is understood you mean Evergreen Plaza. (The nickname became so popular that in recent years, the mall dropped the Evergreen from its signage.) This Evergreen Park institution has been the quintessential city shopping center since 1952. But inside, the stores have more flavor than the typical collection of chain shops, with esoteric specialty stores such as Lids (devoted to ballplayers’ caps), Just for the Scent of It (an all-perfume store), Silver Design (jewelry), and Twin Hicks, which sells the artwork of Aaron and Alan Hicks (“identical twins…identical art styles”)."
I was totally charmed by the sign for Beverly Bikes, which is located on the northern edge of this mile  It is reminiscent of a time gone by and Beverly Bikes was, in fact, opened in 1921.  In those years it's had only 3 owners, in 1996 the store was purchased by Paul and Kathleen Weise and was renamed Beverly Bike and Ski.  Today, the store rents and sells both cross country skis and snowshoes.  Besides doing complete bike mechanics the store offers full ski service in those winter months for both cross country and downhill skis.  
Did you know that cross country skis and snowshoes were available for rent on Western?
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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Other Projects

Pizza, Eating
Some of my regular reader have probably noticed that many of the things I post about on Sundays as "other projects"  are a bit of stretch.  It is hard, really, to classify "eating pizza" as a project.  Eating pizza does, however, seem to me a worthwhile undertaking.  There is nothing quite the same as the melted cheese on crispy crust and savory toppings.  Last week I made a post where I shared about my adventures in homemade pizza making.  This week I'll share some of my favorite restaurants for pizza.
Iggie's, in Baltimore, delights me more than any other pizza place I know.  Iggie's opening while I was living in Baltimore and is located just blocks from where I was living in Mount Vernon.  There are so many things I like about Iggies.  First, of course, the pizza is delicious.  Not only do they make their own dough and their own ragu, they even go so far as to make their own mozzarella, which is fantastic.  My personal favorites are the Alice, which includes pesto and goat cheese, and funghi, which is topped with mushroom ragu, leeks and goat cheese.  Not only is the food great, Iggies is BYOB, so you can enjoy a bottle of wine you bring.  In addition, the ambiance is great!  There are charming tables outside during the warm months, the inside is great too.  The employees and owner are super friendly and in lieu of accepting tips, Iggies selects a different charity to which tips are donated each month.   
There are a few things I love about Spacca Napoli in Chicago.  First, I love its location, it is one of the hidden treasures of the Ravenswood corridor.  It is tucked away a block north of Montrose on Ravenswood and feels delightfully neighborhood orientated.  The owner Jonathon Goldsmith is a long-time volunteer at Inspiration Corporation where I volunteer regularly and an organization I think to be fantastic.  Finally, of course, the pizza is great.  The Chicago tribune describes Spacca Napoli as the source of "the city's most authentic Neapolitan-style crust (please, don't confuse it with crispy Roman 'za) by being anything less than a total hard-ass when it comes to the small stuff. From dough balls (between 180 and 300 grams) to precise cook time (90 seconds), Goldsmith enforces the rules — just like they do at the Naples spots where he trained. The result: full-flavored, supple bubbly crust offering a perfect combo of char and chew. Oven trivia: 1,400 lbs.; 1,200 degrees; oak-fired Number of pies on menu: 14-16 Our fave: Salsiccia e Broccoletti. This white pizza brims with Fior di latte mozzarella and fruity olive oil, plus rapini — a heart-smart veggie always helps mitigate gorging guilt.”  Sounds pretty great, right--it is!
Pizza Art is located to near to my first apartment in Chicago.  I walked by it many times as I walked north from the Rockwell Brown Line stop.  It is tucked into a charming collection of shops, which reminds me of a small town.  It wasn't until last summer that I made my first visit to Pizza Art.  I was immediately won over by the lovely outdoor tables, but on a later visit discovered the charm of indoor seating surrounded by a collection locally commissioned artworks.  I was delighted by the fact that Pizza Art is BYOB and there is an eight-foot wood-burning oven in the dining room.  In addition to delicious standard pizza selection like margherita and funghi, there are also exciting middle eastern inspired selections like calabrese (with tuna, anchovies, and olives) and frutti di mare (with mixed seafood, herbs and mozzarella).  

Next up, I need to visit Great Lakes Pizza (in my neighborhood) which has gotten rave reviews.

What are your favorite restaurants for pizza?  
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Featured Artist

Carolina Gronholm
Carolina Gronholm draws what she sees, hears and dreams.  Her work is mainly focused on animals, trees, and swirls.  She gets her inspiration from dreams and her love for mother nature and the animals living in the trees, under the damp earth between the grass roots and in the sky.
In The Woods, drawing in ink and colored digitally, Carolina Gronholm
I love your elegant tree drawings.  Are there places with particularly beautiful trees, which you like to visit in Stockholm (or anywhere) for inspiration?
     We have big trees right outside our window, small parks all over Stockholm and big forests right outside town so the nature is always present here. Actually, Swedish forests covers 53% of the country-this is where my true inspiration comes from.
Trees Of Light, drawing in ink and colored digital, Carolina Gronholm
In additional to drawing and crocheting, you seem to do all sorts of other art-related projects.  Do you have plans for any particular art experimentation this year?
     Right now, I'm working on some mixed media paintings and drawings for a coming exhibition. I'm using inks, watercolors and yarn for this project. There is so much more I would like to try when working with new materials, it feels like my inspiration and creativity is bursting so I always try to channel it into any new art project.             
Sunday Morning Walk, drawing in ink and colored digitally, Carolina Gronholm
Tell us a bit about Sau, your cat, who inspires some of your art making.
     I found her outside in the freezing cold one Easter weekend 6 years ago and she's been with me ever since. She loves tearing paper - especially when the postman comes with letters, she likes acting like a guard cat I guess. Sau is certainly my muse and I love coming up with small amusing stories about her life through drawings. 
Cat On Cushions, drawing in ink, Carolina Gronholm
Many thanks to Carolina for sharing her lovely drawings.  Be sure to check out more of her work at her blog and her Late Night Drawing, her Etsy shop.

What do you think of Carolina's whimsical trees and playful cat stories?
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wedding Invitation

Lake Sunset
It is at this time of the year that I get really anxious for spring to come.  March tends to remain quite cold in Chicago, though it is warm enough to begin riding a bike in moderation.  I am looking forward to warm days when bike riding along the lake path and running at the steps adjacent to Belmont Harbor are a regular part of my life.  Designing this invitation based on a painting I made several weeks was a delightful reminder of the warm days to come.    
The design for this wedding invitation was inspired by the warm yellows and pinks of the sunsets over Lake Michigan. I love the drama of this scene: the most easterly trees bathed in the waning evening light, the other trees casting strong silhouettes against the vibrant sky, and one whimsical cloud floating out of the frame. This would make a charming invitation a weddings being held near the water. This invitation is small format: 4.25"x5.5, with rounded corners.
What are you favorite places to watch the sunset?
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Monday, March 21, 2011

Western Avenue Series

Mile 3: 106th Street-98th Street
This painting is a part of my Western Avenue Series, through which I'll be making 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Western Avenue, in Chicago.  I started this project because while it is not considered to be among the most “beautiful” of Chicago’s streets, Western Avenue is a perfect place to document the humanness of Chicago, the positive and the negative. In the words of Stuart Dybek, "Western, with apologies to State Street, is a great street,  Unlike State, it is a street that goes to the interior, the heart of the city, as it glides and glows through a United Nations of neighborhoods."  Check back next Monday to see a post about the next mile of Western. 
Beverly Glass is a family business in operation since 1958.  I love this old postcard featuring the storefront.  In choosing to paint their storefront at 10430 S. Western Avenue, I was in part drawn to the clean, rather nicely proportioned facade.  It is a well maintained building, and while the architecture is clearly a reflection of the past, it seems that it remains a viable business today.  This seems a fair representation of this portion of Western: many businesses that have survived for decades, the architecture is reflective of a style in vogue during the 1950s and 60s, and their seems to be pride in local, family-run commerce.  I imagine Beverly to be a place where families live for several generations, people run into their neighbors in restaurants and bars, value is placed on tradition and change happens slowly.

What are some of your favorite family businesses that are still operating today?
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Other Projects

Isn't pizza amazing?  It is seems so simple--cheese melted on a dough combined most primarily of flour, water, and yeast.  Yet, it is so wonderfully delicious.  I really learned to love cooking during the year I lived in rural, West Alabama.  I lived in a town of 2,000, the "Catfish Capital" of Alabama, where fried catfish and barbeque where readily available.  I was left craving many foods I had previously taken for granted, including pizza.     
Chopped onion, celery, and carrot for the Classic Tomato Sauce
Pizza could be purchased at one establishment in the southern hamlet, I called home: the Shell Gas Station.  And, to be honest, during a year spent designing and constructing a $20,000 house, there were long days which ended with the purchase of a gas station pizza.  I was determined though to learn to make really great pizza for myself.
Tomatoes being sauteed with the onions, celery, and carrot for the Classic Tomato Sauce
It wasn't easy to find a recipe for pizza dough, which I found satisfactory.  After trying several recipes, I discovered the pizza dough recipe in Joy of Cooking, which is not too hard to make and rather delicious.  I've been making that recipe ever since.  You can, of course, top the pizza with whatever strikes your fancy.  I'm particularly fond of the potato sage pizza recipe from Joy of Cooking and during a recent pizza adventure decided to top one of the pizzas with the Classic Tomato Sauce I discovered about a month ago.
Boiled Potatoes in preparation for the Potato Sage Pizza
Basic Dough Recipe from Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian, Two 12-inch pizzas
Combine in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
1 package (2 1/4 tsps) active dry yeast
1 1/3 c warm water (105-115 degrees F)
3 1/2-3 3/4 c all-purpose flour
2 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
Mix by hand or on low speed for about 1 minute to blend all the ingredients.  Knead for about 10 minutes by hand or with the dough hook on low to medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly coated with olive oil and turn it over once to coat with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.  Grease and dust 2 baking sheets with cornmeal; or place on a baking stone (if you have one)in the oven and preheat for 45 minutes.  Punch the down and divide it in half.  Roll each piece into a ball and let rest, loosely covered in plastic wrap, for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Pureed Classic Tomato Sauce waiting to top the pizza
Flatten each ball of dough 1 at a time on a lightly floured work surface into a 12-inch round, rolling and stretching the dough.  Place each dough circle on a prepared baking sheet; if using a baking stone, place them on baker's peels dusted with cornmeal.  Lift each edge and pinch it to form a lip.  To prevent the filling from making the crust soggy, brush the top of the dough with:
Olive oil
Use your fingertips to push dents in the surface of the dough (to prevent bubbling) and let rest for about 10 minutes.  Spread in an even layer on each pizza:
Classic Tomato Sauce (optional)
6 oz.  mozzarella cheese shredded  
Potato Sage Pizza ready to eat
For White PIzza with Potato and Sage, follow the instructions above, but forgo the tomato sauce.  According the Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian, American labeling laws state that if doesn't have tomato sauce, you can't call it pizza.  This would astonish some Italians, who frequently eat their pizza with just a touch of tomato or even none at all.  Top the pizza with:
8 oz. potatoes, boiled and very thinly sliced while still warm
2 tsp. dried sage
2 tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

If using a baking stone, slide the pizza off the baker's peel onto the baking stone in the preheated oven.  If making the pizza on a baking sheet, place the pan and pizza in the oven on the bottom rack.  Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven, slice, and serve at once.

It is delicious!
Pizza with Classic Tomato Sauce, mozzarella, and basil ready to eat
Check back next Sunday for my favorite pizzarias.
Have you experimented with homemade pizza making?
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Friday, March 18, 2011

Featured Artist

Bridget Farmer
Bridget Farmer discovered printmaking while taking a weekend course in etching at the Austrailian Print Workshop in Melbourne, in early 2006.  She is a native of Northern Ireland and had previously attained a degrees with First Class Honours in Jewellery and Silversmithing at Edinburgh College of Art.  Later, Bridget pursued an MFA in printmaking at RMIT, Melbourne and she has since been awarded a High Commendation in the Port Jackson Press Graduate Printmaking Award and received a 2008 Australian Print Workshop Collie Print Trust Emerging Printmaker ScholarshipBirds are a recurring theme in her work.  She describes herself as an observer of the world and her drawings and prints are a way of documenting these observations.
Pied Currawong, Sugar Lift Etching, 12.5 x 33 cm, Bridget Farmer, 2008
Why do you think you found yourself more drawn to etching than your initial artistic pursuits in jewelry making?
    I started out in Jewelery and Silversmithing because I loved working in metal and it seemed the right direction to go in, but I ended up not enjoying the precision of jewelery. I'm a messy worker, loose lines and I like results quickly, otherwise I feel I over work things and they loose the spontaneity.
    A very important part of the degree was our portfolio work. A body of work made up of drawings and experimental mark making. I loved doing the portfolio part of the course but just didn't know how to make it my main work. Printmaking was always suggested to me, but for some reason I was blinkered and only thought of screen printing which I didn't really enjoy.
When I discovered etching I found a medium that encompassed my love of drawing and my love of working with metal. It was perfect for me!
Australian Crows, Etching, 10 x 15.5 cm, Bridget Farmer, 2009
Have you developed favorites among the birds you observe to draw and print?
     I jump around quite a bit with my favorites. It's almost like I have a bird of the month or something! I always love crows and Australian magpies. At the moment it's finches. I've just finished a series of dry point finches, I'd like to do a whole finch flock! When I was living in Australia I made all Australian birds. At the moment I'm living in Northern Ireland for a couple of years and I'm concentrating on birds from here. When I move back to Australia in September I'll probably start on Australian birds again. I am quite influenced by my surroundings.
Robin, Etching, 16.5 x 10.5 cm, Bridget Farmer, 2010
Please share a bit about your Camda Etsy shop project.     
       In 2001 I went to Mongolia and oh my goodness, what a place! I fell in love with it and have been interested in the country and it's people ever since. Last winter I saw a very sad film clip about a recent zdud (extremely harsh winter conditions that happen every so often) that was killing vast numbers of the nomadic herders' livestock and leaving the people without a livelihood, forcing them to abandon their way of life. I discovered a charity based in Cambridge, England, called CAMDA (Cambridge Mongolia Development Appeal).  They raise money to help buy fodder for the livestock and send out vets and vital supplies. I donated money at the time but felt I wanted to do more. So recently I made three new etchings, based on my drawings I did when I was there. I spoke with Bill Munns, one of the organizers of CAMDA, and we decided the best way to raise money from these pieces was to open an Etsy shop and sell online. So they are up and selling well and I now have cards made from the etchings that I'm listing too. I'm also asking other artists and printmakers to donate pieces to this etsy shop, I think it'll be an on going project and hopefully raise lots for CAMDA.
Mongolian Horse II, Etching, 7 x 9 cm, Bridget Farmer, 2011
Sincere thanks to Bridget for sharing her beautiful prints and for her fantastic work with CAMDA.  I hope that does print a whole flock of finches one day!

What do you think of Bridget's prints?
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wedding Invitation

Notre Dame
The campus of the University of Notre Dame is rather a beautiful place with a number of lovely vistas.  The drama of the tree alley looking down Notre Dame Avenue, the beautiful big trees of North Quad, and the views across the two lakes make the campus quite a picturesque place.  
The design for this invitation was based upon what I think is one of the most beautiful locations on the Notre Dame campus. From the far side of St. Mary's Lake, looking back toward campus one can glimpse the Administration Building and the Basilica of Sacred Heart over the trees. This invitation is ideal for couples celebrating their weddings at Notre Dame.
Have you visited Notre Dame?  What are your favorite places on campus?
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Monday, March 14, 2011

Western Avenue Series

Mile 3: 106th Street-98th Street
This sketch is a part of my Western Avenue Series, through which I'll be making 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Western Avenue, in Chicago.  I started this project because while it is not considered to be among the most “beautiful” of Chicago’s streets, Western Avenue is a perfect place to document the humanness of Chicago, the positive and the negative. In the words of Stuart Dybek, "Western, with apologies to State Street, is a great street,  Unlike State, it is a street that goes to the interior, the heart of the city, as it glides and glows through a United Nations of neighborhoods."  Check back next Monday to see the painting completed based on this sketch.
The third mile of Western Avenue had a character rather similar to first two.  I would characterize it primarily as commercial strip, with a bit more pedestrian traffic and density than the first two miles.  There are a lot of old businesses like Beverly Glass and Mirror,  Morand's Liquors, Fox's Beverly Pizza, and Janson's Red Hots.

A review of Janson's notes not only it's 15 foot high sign, which caught my eye as well, but also their pizza puffs and banana shakes, $3 each respectively.  A pizza puff, an item of food with which I was unfamiliar, is it seems a miniaturized version of a pizza, whereby the dough is folded over in a rectangular pattern and is deep fried. The result, crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. The banana shake is recommend on the basis of the fact that they use real bananas not banana flavoring and they don't skimp on the ice cream!

Have you ever eaten a pizza puff?
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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Other Project

A Painting for CAMDA
Next Friday, I'll be featuring the work of Bridget Farmer, a very talented printmaker.  After I came across Bridget's work, I discovered that she has an Etsy shop devoted entirely to raising funds for CAMDA (Cambridge Mongolia Development Appeal). 
According to their website, "CAMDA was first formed in 2000 as the result of  widespread poverty and hardship among Mongolia's nomadic herding communities caused by the dzud that year, which is a climate disaster when a drought summer is followed by a winter of extreme severity. Deep snow accompanied by long periods of ultra-low temperatures (-45C) killed millions of herd animals leaving their owners destitute.  News of the first disaster got scant media coverage and John Pirie felt urged to help ease the plight of these herding families. Little was then known about Mongolia, a country still grappling with immense financial deficits, undergoing huge social and economic reforms after 70 years of a Soviet command economy."      

CAMDA develops and maintains grass-root projects.  These projects include a WSPA-funded Mobile Vet Project (2003-2007) to inoculate essential horses against parasitic diseases. A Well-Refurbishment Project to bring water to remote drought-stricken Gobi regions. They also make grants for simple grass cutting equipment to co-operatives in northern provinces where grass is more plentiful. Horse-drawn mowers or diesel tractors fitted with cutter and rake attachments are loaned to local communities helping boost reserve fodder stocks to help see them through the long Mongolian winter.

I was inspired by Bridget's generosity of time and talent in creating a shop for CAMDA and decided to donated a piece of my work to the shop.  This original watercolor painting will be available at the shop once it makes it way to Bridget in Northern Ireland.  It depicts the a Mongolian Landscape with a Ger.  Nearly all Mongolian herders live in white gers (felt-lined tents, yurt in Russian).

What are your favorite examples of art for a cause?
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Friday, March 11, 2011

Featured Artist

Walter Helena Photography

Walter Helena Photography is a Vancouver, British Columbia based company. At the helm of WHP is Nadine, who has utmost respect for fine art images that are reproduced at the highest of quality.  WHP creates themed collections -- each of which are produced in limited edition quantities of 25.

More about Nadine, in her own words.
I travel often and I always carry my camera with me (a Canon EOS 50D, which I adore). A very heavy necklace.

Through my printing styles, the photographs become pieces of art; thick paper, texture beneath the ink, intensely saturated colours, ragged white edges. They are beautiful. And I’m not just saying that because I love each one individually (and I do).

I take immense pride in the reproduction of my images. Each individual WHP image is part of a themed collection and is available in a variety of sizes from 5 x 5 inches to 40 x 40 inches

Many thanks to Nadine for sharing her dream-like photographs!

What do you think of these ethereal images? 
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wedding Invitation

Love Hands Silhouette
I have recently revisited the invitation which I design this fall featuring silhouettes of hands spelling out love.  The theatrical nature of shadow puppet inspired me to format the text with the boldness of a playbill or a marquee.  
I was checking out the variety of shadow puppet silhouettes featured in the flickr group dedicated to that topic.  I am particularly fond of the ocelot and the bird submitted by DanieleDG.
Do you have shadow puppet skills?
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Monday, March 7, 2011

Western Avenue Series

Mile 2: 114th Street-106th Street

This painting is a part of my Western Avenue Series, through which I'll be making 24 watercolor paintings, one to document each mile of Western Avenue, in Chicago.  I started this project because while it is not considered to be among the most “beautiful” of Chicago’s streets, Western Avenue is a perfect place to document the humanness of Chicago, the positive and the negative. In the words of Stuart Dybek, "Western, with apologies to State Street, is a great street,  Unlike State, it is a street that goes to the interior, the heart of the city, as it glides and glows through a United Nations of neighborhoods."  Check back next Monday to see a post about the next mile of Western.
The painting representing the second mile of Western Avenue depicts Clissold Elementary School.  Clissold is a beautiful old building and is a part of the Chicago Public School system.  It is one of several schools located along Western, including Roberto Clemente and Lane Tech High Schools.

Clissold Elementary is named for Henry Rowland Clissold (1842 - 1930). Clissold was born in England, came to Chicago in 1863 and worked as a printer for the Daily News, Tribune, Journal, and Times.  He managed publishing of publications of the Society of the American Institute of Hebrew. Clissold was the first clerk of the village of Morgan Park, as well as a member and president of the Board of Education of Morgan Park. 

Click here to purchase this painting.
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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Other Projects

Cheerleading for the Dinner Party

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to post written by Alexandra Lange on the Gourmet Live Blog, which asked the question, "Whatever Happened to the Dinner Party?"  I was immediately indignant--the dinner party is doing just fine thank you very much!  I relish few forms of entertainment more than gathering people in my home for a meal, so I felt certain that meal-centric parties were alive and well.  

After reading the article, I had to admit that my gatherings take a different form from the elegant dinner parties described by Ms. Lange.  She describes the parties her mother hosted as complete with china, lipstick and fresh flowers.  To start,  I don't own china, in fact only about five of my set of eight everyday dish place settings remain unbroken.  I do, however, delight in coordinating menus around at least the hint of a culinary theme and experimenting with "from scratch" preparation of all manner of menu items.  I also delight in the small non-food-related things that make a meal feel a bit more special.  

With only enthusiasm as a qualification, I would like to champion the dinner party and offer a few helpful hints in planning and hosting these gatherings.  I was initially intimidated by hosting more than a few friends, but in the last several years have taken to hosting as many as several dozen people for dinner.  In hosting larger parties, I found that advance planning is the key to success.  I recommend deciding on a menu at least a week and advance and choosing, as much as possible, dishes that can be prepared in advance (and possibly frozen).  This will allow you make portions of the meal days or weeks in advance, so as to avoid frantic preparation as your guests are arriving.  Soups, pasta sauces, and cakes all tend to freeze quite well.  Baked dishes like lasagna and quiche also work well because you can make them early in the day, put them in the oven as your guests are arriving, and let them bake while people settle in with drinks and appetizers.  

While I don't entertain with ironed table clothes, china and crystal, I am unwilling to serve food on disposable plates either.  My paternal grandmother had a gift for making things "feel special."  When we would visit as children, we were served cranberry juice and ginger ale in a wine glass at "cocktail hour," fresh flowers often graced the dining room table, and it wasn't uncommon to fabricate place cards even when the only guests were me, my Grandmother, and my Grandfather.  I cherish those memories and try to do small things that make guests feel welcome.

Like the food, I've found that it is really helpful to prepare other items in advance of the guests arrival as well.  I use on side table in the dining room as a bar, putting out water and wine glasses, pitchers of water, and other beverages.  I am happy to have a collection of about thirty plates (many of which were collected from the thrift store).  I've taken to preparing a "tea tray" in advance--it's nice to have mugs, assorted teas, sugar, and honey ready to be served with dessert.  Finally, I delight in details like serving dessert with small demitasse spoons is somehow so lovely.  

With exuberant support for the future of dinner parties, cheers!

What are your best tips for preparing and hosting dinner parties?  
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Friday, March 4, 2011

Featured Artist

Brendan Kirwin
Brendan Kirwin is a media producer, documentary filmmaker and video artist living in Chicago, IL. Brendan is dedicated to using technology and media to create social change. Along with various documentary and non-profit video projects, he has been working on Journey to Peace a documentary, following reformed gang members as they work to bring peace to their neighborhood. As a extension of Journey to Peace, Brendan helped organize Chicago Conjunto, a community arts event centered around non-violence. He has a BFA, in Music and Multimedia, at the University of Michigan

Dear Olivia from Brendan Kirwin on Vimeo.
You have written that you are "interested in how we communicate through art and media and whether this nurtures true connection or merely feeds more static into our live."  What do you find most challenging about making "true connection" through video art?
I think the most challenging thing for me in creating video art is the lack of immediacy that comes with the medium. If I have an idea that I want to express, I first have to shoot footage, or scan found images, or create motion graphics that evoke the idea. Then I have to work with these images in Final Cut (the video editing software I use) to create a sense of rhythm and cadence that is harmonious with the idea. That's a much different experience than putting paint on a canvas or playing an instrument, and because of this I find that my video art tends to be more cerebral than say my writing or my music. Is a video attempting to represent my human experience really capable of transmitting that experience to another person? I don't know. I like the idea of exploring the limitations of technology (both conceptually and practically) through multimedia, creating a way to scrutinize this overwhelming deluge of "progress".

A number of your documentary projects could be considered a form of art as activism.  What qualities of film-making do you consider to be uniquely suited to social activism?
I would hope that all social documentaries could be considered art as activism. Documentary filmmaking is the best way I've found to convey human experience in a concrete way. The major obstacle of getting people engaged in a social issue is convincing them that it's worth their time and energy. As the saying goes, "You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into," so with an issue like homelessness or gang violence, it's going to take more than statistics and figures to change someone's mind. The way past that is to get people emotionally engaged, and there's no better way to do that than putting a face on the issue. One of the best ways to nurture empathy is through collective experience and short of having the person walk in another person's shoes, you can do that through documentary films. 

Are there specific themes you would like to explore or film-making techniques you hope to experiment with in future projects?
The past few years, I've found Buddhist psychology and practice to be an extremely engaging and liberating part of my life and I plan on exploring more how mindfulness and compassion opens up our heart and mind. I hope to experiment more with stop-motion animation, because it's whimsical and challenging, and seems to be a good medium for exploring the process of "being in the moment".  

Sincere thanks to Brendan for sharing his thoughts on film-making and especially for sharing his short film Dear Olivia.  Pretty extraordinary, right?

What do you think of Dear Olivia?
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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wedding Invitation

Wild Flowers in a Mason Jar
The design for this new wedding invitation was inspired by a month spent at age eleven with my Aunt Anne and Uncle Will, in their cabin, on the St. John River, in New Brunswick, Canada. The memories of this trip have been dulled by time, but there is a definitely a certain fondness associated with that summer.  It was a visit marked by canoe trips, swimming, travel to Prince Edward Island, walks through the cemetery, going to movies, and picking wild fruits and flowers.
I have glimpses of memories of arranging collected flowers in jars on a picnic table overlooking the river.  The beautiful simplicity of flowers in a classic blue mason jar seemed a lovely image for this new invitation design.  I've paired the original watercolor painting with with elegant "mason jar blue" text.  

What are some of your best summer memories from childhood?
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