Poems and Snow

Do poets wander alone “scribbling in notebooks, peering across moors, feeding ducks…?” In  “Mary Oliver and the Naturesque,”  Alice Gregory suggests that Oliver writes and invites us to ramble with her. As the poet says, “the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting.”

So … yesterday I wandered. After watching reports of far away blizzards, I followed sidewalks dusted with snow. It was my first time out taking photos, because last October I chipped a bone in my foot. Since I am just beginning to paint again, I’m posting this sketch.

Duck
Duck | watercolor | copyright Liz Macklin 2018

Gregory’s article appeared in Poetry magazine on February 16, 2011.

Watercolor Turnips

Watercolor paintings of turnips
Art by students at Carlin Springs Elementary School

A recipe for July watercolors:

  1. Step out to the backyard garden.
  2. Pick a few turnips and bring bring them to school.
  3. Take out the paints, brushes, paper and containers of water.
  4. Look at all the different greens and purples on the plants. See how the leaves curve in and out. Which part of the turnip grows underground? Why is the root purple?
  5. Paint!

Could your paintings also show the soil, the surrounding plants, and the animals that visit the garden?

For more ideas for school projects in the garden, check GreenSTEM Learning by Mary Van Dyke.

And if you’ll be in Arlington, Virginia, in October attend the 2017 Virginia Agriculture Summit.

Sunflowers

Three Sunflowers
Sunflowers | watercolor | copyright Liz Macklin 2016

We have a bumper crop of pumpkins this year but absolutely no sunflowers. I guess the squirrels ate the seeds.

My friend, author Jackie Jules, grew sunflowers on her deck. Her seedlings vanished once, then twice. But did Jackie give up? No.  In fact, I bet that she sang as she watered her plants– songs of maidens and magic seeds. Her flowers bloomed in the brightest gold.

More than a thousand miles away, I dreamed of blossoms and howling guards that chased away the squirrels. In the morning I’d walk the dog and sneak past a neighbor’s house for a glimpse of her sunflowers.

Then one day Madelyn Rosenberg came to my rescue. She was typing away. I imagine her looking like a brunette Katherine Hepburn — author/ journalist. She took a break to bring sunflowers to everyone at our writers group. Madelyn, how did you know? I just had to paint them.

—————  Even if plants can’t hear storytellers,  what do we know of how plants respond to sound? A study of caterpillar crunching! From the California Academy of Sciences.

Ogees in Pink and Blue

Ogees in Pink and Blue
Ogees in Pink and Blue | copyright Liz Macklin 2016

Making prints is like magic. You can paint an image on a sheet of plastic, place paper on top, apply pressure and lift the paper. Suddenly you have a new design!

This technique uses wet watercolor with either wet or dry paper, and I never know exactly how the paint will spread. On a grey day, we experimented. Our first grade students created prints with tempera paints on construction paper. In an instant the room filled with spring colors.

Sprouts

Sprouts

My daughter planted seeds and placed the pots in our kitchen window. They’ve sprouted! We forgot to label the containers, but we’ll recognize some of the vegetables by the shapes of their leaves. As for the others … oops! Expect a few surprises.

In April and May, I’ll join first graders to create art inspired by nature. One of the first things we’ll do is sketch the plants sprouting up at school.  The students love to remind me to “visualize.” It’s fun to close our eyes and think of a picture and then paint it! Here’s my painting of the salad I’ll eat — made up of vegetables grown in the next few months.

How do you imagine you’ll enjoy the outdoors this spring?

Summer Salad
Summer Salad | watercolor | copyright Liz Macklin 2016

I’m excited to hear from  Mary Van Dyke at Green STEM Learning about a group that shares ideas for school gardens and outdoor learning — the Virginia Association for Environmental Educators.

For information on caring for a backyard garden, I check the web site of The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia.

And when I feel like sitting down with a book, I read about vegetables, herbs and their botanical families in Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison.

Looking forward to spring harvests!

updated: March 17, 2016

 

Dancing

Dancers
Dancers | watercolor – inverted digital image – edited January 29, 2016 | copyright Liz Macklin 2015

Dancing. In my dreams. Last month I broke my femur. Thank goodness the surgeon put it back together. Now I’m painting and thinking about dancing. Maybe in the spring.

One of my favorite fairy tales is The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. I have A Little Golden Book published in 1954. The story is retold by Jane Werner with pictures by Sheilah Beckett. I love the colorful dresses, the trees studded with leaves of silver, gold and diamonds, and the mystery of it all. Where do the princesses disappear to in the night?

What is your favorite fairy tale?

A Little Golden Book: The Twelve Dancing Princesses, published by Simon and Schuster, New York, 1954
A Little Golden Book: The Twelve Dancing Princesses, published by Simon and Schuster, New York, 1954

Fox Tales

fox -- head in profile
watercolor | Fox | copyright Liz Macklin 2015

A fox ran past our house the other night. I spotted it under the streetlight. My neighbor saw it, too.

My favorite book from childhood, The Anthology of Children’s Literature, included “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story” by Joel Chandler Harris. You might also remember the story from the Disney movie, Song of the South. Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox trick each other. The fox catches the rabbit with a very sticky ruse, the Tar Baby. To avoid becoming barbecue, the rabbit pleads, “Please don’t throw me into the briar patch!” Of course, the fox flings the rabbit straight into the thicket.

Virginia Hamilton retells this story in her anthology, The People Could Fly, and the rabbit cries, “Hot lettuce pie! This is where I want to be,” as he lands in the briars — free and safe.

Peter Spier’s The Fox went out on a chilly night features a roguish fox that fares better. He races through town and country and arrives home with dinner for a den full of kits. Emily Gleichenhaus sings this melody on the CD for her program, Sing Books with Emily. You can catch her performances for children at libraries in Northern Virginia.

For glimpses of foxes — I paint the taxidermy specimens, alas! — in Arlington, Virginia, visit the nature centers at Potomac Overlook Park and Long Branch Nature Center.

Note: I noticed today (May 14, 2015) that my copy of The Fox went out on a chilly night, the seventeenth printing, has only “The Fox” capitalized in the title. The other words are written underneath in lower case. As the photo on Emily’s web site shows, more recent printings capitalize using familiar rules, The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.

Seven Degree Days

Snow Houses | watercolor |copyright Liz Macklin 2013

It’s 5:55 am and I’ve checked temperatures on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web site. It’s -26 degrees Fahrenheit in International Falls, Minnesota. My town feels like the tropics at a balmy 7 degrees. NOAA cautions us to protect our noses and other extremities from the cold! My favorite post tells how snowflakes form.

Google says its 39 degrees F in Reykjavik, Iceland. In my email I read that poet Joanne Growney has written about measuring winter and about a recent trip to Iceland in her blog Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics. I start to dream of hot springs and the steamy blue waters I’ve seen in photos of Icelandic mineral baths. Time to wrap up in a quilt, brew a cup of hot tea and then get ready for work.

Celebrating with The Reading Connection

The Owl and the Pussycat
This painting was sold to benefit The Reading Connection in 2012.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

by Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea green boat
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

The Anthology of Children’s Literature, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1935, includes several stanzas of this poem plus a short biography of Lear. He was born in 1812, one of twenty-one children. He began his career as an illustrator of nature studies and was known for his colored drawings of birds. While living in the home of the Earl of Derby, he entertained the children with silly rhymes and drawings. Those high spirited activities lead to the publication of his first  Book of Nonsense. 

As a landscape painter, Lear divided his time between Britain and the Mediterranean. The article in the anthology says that he taught drawing to Queen Victoria, but using a quick internet search, I’ve been unable to confirm the fact. Please let me know, if you find a source that gives an account of teaching the queen!

Lear is famous for his limericks, and you can find more information about his life and writing at the web site for the Poetry Foundation. One of my favorite poems is this verse about the Quangle Wangle. In March my first grade students will learn about animals and their homes. I hope to have them draw their own version of the tree with the Quangle Wangle and his houseguests!

The Quangle Wangle’s Hat

by Edward Lear

I
On the top of the Crumpetty Tree
      The Quangle Wangle sat,
But his face you could not see,
      On account of his Beaver Hat.
For his Hat was a hundred and two feet wide,
With ribbons and bibbons on every side
And bells, and buttons, and loops, and lace,
So that nobody every could see the face
            Of the Quangle Wangle Quee.
II
The Quangle Wangle said
      To himself on the Crumpetty Tree, —
“Jam; and jelly; and bread;
      “Are the best of food for me!
“But the longer I live on this Crumpetty Tree
“The plainer than ever it seems to me
“That very few people come this way
“And that life on the whole is far from gay!”
            Said the Quangle Wangle Quee.
III
But there came to the Crumpetty Tree,
      Mr. and Mrs. Canary;
And they said, — “Did every you see
      “Any spot so charmingly airy?
“May we build a nest on your lovely Hat?
“Mr. Quangle Wangle, grant us that!
“O please let us come and build a nest
“Of whatever material suits you best,
            “Mr. Quangle Wangle Quee!”
IV
And besides, to the Crumpetty Tree
      Came the Stork, the Duck, and the Owl;
The Snail, and the Bumble-Bee,
      The Frog, and the Fimble Fowl;
(The Fimble Fowl, with a corkscrew leg;)
And all of them said, — “We humbly beg,
“We may build out homes on your lovely Hat, —
“Mr. Quangle Wangle, grant us that!
            “Mr. Quangle Wangle Quee!”
V
And the Golden Grouse came there,
      And the Pobble who has no toes, —
And the small Olympian bear, —
      And the Dong with a luminous nose.
And the Blue Baboon, who played the Flute, —
And the Orient Calf from the Land of Tute, —
And the Attery Squash, and the Bisky Bat, —
All came and built on the lovely Hat
            Of the Quangle Wangle Quee.
VI
And the Quangle Wangle said
      To himself on the Crumpetty Tree, —
“When all these creatures move
      “What a wonderful noise there’ll be!”
And at night by the light of the Mulberry moon
They danced to the Flute of the Blue Baboon,
On the broad green leaves of the Crumpetty Tree,
And all were as happy as happy could be,
            With the Quangle Wangle Quee.
————————
Note added February 27, 2012: I amended the biographical info to say that I was unable to confirm that Lear taught drawing lessons to Queen Victoria. Also, I have seen his first book called both Nonsense Book and Book of Nonsense.
Note added February 26, 2012:
The Anthology of Children’s Literature, which, since my childhood, has been  one of my favorite books of stories and poems, was edited by Edna Johnson, Carrie E. Scott and Evelyn R. Sickels and illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. It was published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. The copyright for the first edition was 1935, and my edition was copyright 1948.
watercolor painting copyright Liz Macklin 2012

Sunday Snow

Smithsonian Castle
Smithsonian Castle | watercolor | copyright Liz Macklin 2012

Snow’s on its way — at least if you believe the weather report. On a snowy day several years  ago, I hopped on the subway and rode to the Smithsonian Castle. My friends and I wandered through gardens laced with frost and then toured exhibits of masks and elaborate figures made of wood, horn, beads and ceramics at the National Museum of African Art.

Just about any time, it’s easy to spend hours browsing the Smithsonian web site. If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t let the snow keep you inside. Grab mittens and a hat and take a trip to your favorite museum.