Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Art Journaling Good Moods

This week's Positively Creative Art Journaling exercise is about brain washing...I mean, nurturing a happy mood. Frankly, I just had fun with this spread, got almost silly at one point. Once more there were no new ways to get paint on the page so I just used a credit card to drag first yellow paint across the page rather than down, then white paint. I thought the white covered the yellow too much so I made one more drag with yellow, this time from top to bottom. Then I rubbed over it all with a baby wipe to kind of blend and knock back that last layer. Eh - as usual, not exactly what I envisioned but I'm learning not to agonize over that.

So the journaling included three different steps: 1. Pick a paint chip strip in a color that makes you happy; 2. Think of 5 things that put you in a happy mood to write on the page; 3. Draw something on the page that may or may not be related to your 5 things (but which makes you happy).

A couple of things about this exercise appealed to me - the use of a paint chip and the invitation to draw rather than cut pictures out of a magazine. As I stood in the paint department studying the paint chips, waiting for one to jump out at me as happy, I couldn't help thinking that I'd already sort of done this in the very beginning when we were asked to pick 3 favorite colors to work with. Don't favorites of anything intrinsically make one happy? Then there was the issue of yellow which seemed an obvious choice. I mean, who would not agree that yellow is just a happy color? Yellow was already one of my paint colors and I hate being obvious, so I was finding this just a little hard. I did end up bringing a yellow paint chip home along with the color I ended up using and one more. I almost think I chose these not so much because the colors themselves made me feel happy (although I decided that on some level they do) but because of the clever names that were given to them, like Magic Purple Moon, Violet Diva Royale and Playful Lemon Spritz. After studying them for several days, the lavender strip won out, looking good against the yellow background.

That scalloped strip next to my paint chip? I've been itching to find a place to use it in this journal. It was trimmings off a padfolio that I used to try out colors for the satin stitching that would finish its edges. Of course, I couldn't toss it out so it has been waiting awhile to find its place. I wouldn't normally use happy faces but those spaces demanded I fill them thus. I jotted down some happy mood things, not unlike the responses to previous prompts to what makes me smile, laugh, etc., then wrote them in gel pen starting on the paint chip and running off onto the right hand side. And then it was time to get out those Sharpie markers and start drawing, really very fun. As for the lettering on the other side, I wasn't very neat or fancy with it which I didn't think mattered when I did it. But the more I looked at it, the more its sloppiness bothered me, made it look like it didn't belong. I continue to be amazed at how much simple outlining of shapes can transform them into something with more presence, as it did here. Still loose and haphazard lettering but looking more like it was intended to be that way.

So what was with my quip about brainwashing? Well, with the page complete, Dale Ann had one more thing she wanted us to do. Think of those 5 happy thoughts before going to sleep and again when waking up every day for a week. Go to bed happy and continue that happy feeling in the morning with these thoughts and it will keep you in a happy mood all day. Have a string of happy mood days and you should find yourself in a better feeling place at the end of it. And then it will become a habit. Sounds like brain washing to me! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Come Walk With Me

I went on a shooting spree today...not THAT kind of shooting spree...a photo shooting spree. I was in search of color and some new views. I'd noticed a splash of color while rounding a corner near downtown last week and wanted to check it out. A large old house graces that corner, holding on to its huge lot that, if the angle is just right, belies the fact that businesses encroach upon it on all sides.

A classic cast iron fence encloses the yard on two sides.

And here is the color I spotted as I drove past. Someone is working hard on these beds so they may be even more colorful in the future.

Signs of spring show up on the fence too - accumulation of pollens.

And then there were the gargoyles on either side of the steps leading to the porch. I had not noticed them before and don't know if they are original to the house or not.

But I'm relatively sure this guy at the base of the stairs is not.

Nor that sign on the porch.

The house itself had nothing to commend it to a sketching session but the old building that houses the county courthouse next door does. But today was not a day for sketching.

No, it was time for walking, and I headed through the parking lot toward where I knew a bike trail so far unexplored begins. My route took me past The Old Power House and another thing I should be sketching, but not today. The end of the building holds some interest - I'm thinking this part must be a former loading dock.

The sides are thickly encrusted in spots with moss, some of it looking quite dead, making this green shoot appear even more stark against that background.

The bike trail in question heads under the bypass that opened in 2012. I was instantly drawn in by the underside of the elevated roadway, the gentle curving lines. Sucker.

And then I was standing "between" the bypass and an exit ramp, an interesting symmetry. The water there is Sand Creek, not far from where it empties into the lake.

Once it has wound under the bypass, the trail heads south, sandwiched between the highway and the railroad.  I am so grateful for the bypass committee member who lobbied for this decoration of mountains incised into the concrete along the off-ramps.

Eventually, the train tracks head over the lake at a point locally known as dog beach. Dogs aren't allowed in City Beach, although a surprising number of people think that doesn't apply to them and their precious pets. But dog beach has always been the place where you could bring your dog to swim.

Once I got this far, I started seeing a bench here and there, places to rest and enjoy the view. But this one was not like the rest and must have a story behind it. Not only its unusual shape caught my eye but also the branch shadows across its surface.

And nearby attached to a rock was a bit of art.

The next bit of interest soon appeared on the beach near the trail, a long stretch where people's names and intentions were spelled out in rocks.

As I looked down the trail, I could see that before long I'd be at the place where the trail crosses the lake on a portion of the old long bridge right next to the current one in use. That bridge is about a mile long and I'd love to walk across it. But I guessed I'd already walked a mile and a half and needed to turn around and head back. But gosh, isn't this a beautiful view? Still lots of snow in our mountains, some fresh from yesterday.

Sadly, there were no flashes of color along the bike trail, but I knew where to find another infusion on a side street on my way home. Thanks for joining me on my walk, and happy spring!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monthly Meeting Push

This isn't the first month I've thought, "Thank goodness for the Art Group" as I hunkered down this weekend to get the binding on "Reverberations". Sure, I could have shown up at today's meeting without it sewn on, draping the strip along the edge to show what I had in mind. Sure, I could have asked what they thought about more beads without the binding having been sewn on. But I've been needlessly delaying these final touches to a quilt that won't be shown for another month and a half. And I really wanted a finished piece to show. The group declared it needed no more beads so it is done! Well, except for a sleeve and label.

I was so pleased to find this bit of hand-dyed fabric for the binding, and it played with the quilt exactly as I had envisioned. I'd dyed it years ago specifically for a tie for my father-in-law, and had used most of what was leftover in other projects. But after he died, the tie came back to me and what I had was all on the bias. Fine with me as I had this notion to round the corners on this quilt, and that would require bias binding. The only thing I was worried about was stretching along the edge. I SHOULD have worried about how those corners would work out. They were a puckered and stretched mess that required picking out, repinning and hand-stitching to get anything close to a smooth seam and turn. That total fail on the first try totally unnerved me, she who gained the reputation of "binding queen" early on in my quilting career. My fix would not pass muster were this going to a traditional quilt show. But it is not and it is good enough for ArtWalk, good enough not to embarrass me as I stand by it.

I also took my two Upward Ticks along. The group had not seen the sheer version (on the left) but at the last meeting had weighed in on the difficulty I was having making the other version work with the photo mount. That batik background just didn't work well, the circles were perhaps too bright, we all agreed I probably should stop fighting with it and either pick a different batik to put my circles on or a different photo or fabric for the mount. Defeated, deflated, and why I moved on to the sheer version. It was purely an accident that one day I stood with a piece of blue tulle in hand, right next to where I'd deposited this problem quilt. I did that look at the tulle, look at the quilt, look at the tulle, then lay the tulle on the quilt thing. It was like magic the way it transformed it and made me believe it would work with that mount. (You should be able to see the difference it makes in the picture above.) So I wanted to check with my ladies to see if they agreed (they did), then ask their advice on the technical aspect of doing this.

So it was a very beneficial session for me, pushing me to get some work done beforehand and giving me needed input so I can take off on the next round of work. Thanks ladies! 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Observational Drawings

The other day I had an appointment at the Ear/Nose/Throat clinic that sits across the street from what some people say is the best bit of architecture in our little town. My doctor and his staff run an efficient ship and rarely run behind (yet never make my time with him feel rushed or incomplete). So I had every intention of sketching that building from the parking lot following my appointment. However, a dump truck had overturned on the mile-long bridge into town, delaying the entire staff (who come once a week from the main clinic 50 miles south) for over an hour as they waited for the lanes to be cleared. I wasn't interested in rescheduling, so I took my sketching inside once I noticed this nosy mug on the check-in counter.

I didn't have a sketchbook in my purse but did have a notepad in the back of the pocket calendar I carry there. And only a ball point pen with which to draw - and as ball point pens go, not a very good one at that. But better than nothing when you have an hour to kill and need all the practice you can get. I could have wished for something other than a waiting room chair - I'd drawn several of those during my time at the Mayo Clinic - but there were good angles and perspective to consider. I was looking nearly straight on at the left side, yet not straight on at the chair as a whole. Oh - that right arm is so wrong! And see how both sketches cant to the left? It felt like I was drawing them level but apparently not.

I ran across an interesting interview with illustrator Will Hillenbrand in the same The Artist Magazine issue I referenced in the last post (you can read it in its entirety here). As I get back into sketching, remembering how one gets better with regular practice and how one can get lost in detail for longer stretches than one would think, I found this passage about Hillenbrand's first course in illustration just what I needed to hear.

Meanwhile every night...we had to do what [the teacher] called "observation drawings" because he said the most important thing for an illustrator was to observe. He was going to train us to observe - just the way someone learns scales on a piano. We would take small things like the stem of a watch, where it winds, and we'd spend 15 minutes drawing in line only, no shading. The first week, we were all, "Fifteen minutes - you're out of your mind!" By the end of the year, we wouldn't even finish those little drawings in 15 minutes because we'd become so observant. That trains your eye. It teaches your eye to look. The eye is a muscle.

I was a little surprised at the next part though, although if I were to be honest, I know from my own experience for it to be true as well:

It's the same with Josef Albers's theory of color. You look at color; you look at what color does with color in your exercises with color, and you strengthen the color cones in your eyes so suddenly you're seeing more color. Those are the things artists have to be trained in.

I have a real desire to add color to my sketches. Well, not these here. But the street ones, I see them evolving from simple line drawings with shading to ones with splashes of color, probably added with colored pencil. But I can't get ahead of myself. That eye muscle needs a workout first. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Adding just a touch...

I don't know why I've been putting off adding these beads to Reverberations. I found them almost effortlessly towards the end of last week, something that seldom happens when I start rooting around in my stashes for just the right thing. You know how it goes - not quite the right color, or perhaps not quite the right size, or worse, not enough. I was the most worried about the single bead I envisioned for the center. Would you believe it was the only bead that color in my stash? How lucky that it was also the perfect size.

But a lone bead in the middle was not going to be enough. A few strategically placed sparkles at the v's in the design was just the thing in my mind. And then one at the tip of each flip of the kaleidoscope arms, lined up so the radiating stitching looks to flow out the end of them. Perhaps you can also see how I added color to the tips that run off the edge of the printed piece. I rubbed on several layers of various colored pencils followed by heat setting which I hope has driven the pigment into the fabric.

Not sure if I will add any more beads. It's tempting to scatter more sparkles down the quilted rays, but I don't want it to end up looking just sparkly overall. Another thought is to add beads along the binding - perhaps just a single bead where quilted ray meets it. We shall see once the binding is on. I am encouraged to use restraint, having run across this in a product review of Yupo in the July/August 2013 issue of The Artist's Magazine:

With everything that Yupo has going for it, there is, nevertheless, one big danger: you may become too caught up with technique. Textural and subtractive effects can never take the place of a good concept, a well-thought-out message, and a sound design. Technique should support your painting - not take charge of it. - Mark E Mehaffey

I do think this is a weakness in many quilts, that misunderstanding that more is always more, a temptation to use all you know how to do. I want the beading on this to support the design, not take charge of it, although as pleasant as it was to sit and stitch, there could have been the danger of adding more and more. It's always nice to find support for one's world views!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Downside of Positive Thinking

I hadn't planned to share these truly bad "street sketches" from last week, but I find they may be a good illustration to something I wanted to share about positive thinking. In college, I dated a boy on the basketball team who was learning the then new technique of visualization. The theory was that it was as helpful, if not more, to sit with eyes closed, visualizing making the perfect shot, going through the mechanics of a perfect basket but only in the mind's eye. Alright, you've got it now, got the technique burned into your brain, so the next time you step up to shoot, your brain knows what to tell your body to do.

I was skeptical of this approach but have tried it off and on over the years since it continues to get praise for improving performance. Mostly I was envisioning the various steps to completing a project, seeing myself as successful in the end, rather than how I really felt - unsure and maybe even daunted. All I found it did for me was convince my mind that I had already completed the task I was visualizing. It would come as a shock to me later on when I realized I'd been assuming I'd gone and done something when in fact I had not.

And as for positive thinking overall - well, as I alluded in my last post, I am not naturally a positive thinker. I'm a glass half empty sort of gal, one who has typically spent much time figuring out the worst case scenario of every situation so as not to be caught unprepared. I can't tell you how many people (including the husband) chided me for wasting my time preparing for things that likely would never happen. But that is how I'm wired and all that preparation was a way to control anxiety when approaching the unknown, whereas that much prep for those wired otherwise would increase their anxiety. The book that pointed this out to me is The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. After reading it, I felt vindicated in my behavior, which actually decreased my tendency towards anxiety even more.

With that as a background, you might see how this article in The New Yorker, The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking, really resonated (in spite of the progress I've made in taking a calmer approach to life). I've always feared for people who go on these total positive jags, worried for the day when things would come crashing down around them, no positive thoughts able to fend it off. And here is that same thought: the journalist Oliver Burkeman noted in “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” “Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.” 

Bingo! But what about the idea of visualizing yourself doing something successfully until you convince yourself that you truly can - a sort of building of confidence, silencing the left brain perhaps that is always so eager to point out our failings?

According to a great deal of research, positive fantasies may lessen your chances of succeeding. In one experiment, the social psychologists Gabriele Oettingen and Doris Mayer asked eighty-three German students to rate the extent to which they “experienced positive thoughts, images, or fantasies on the subject of transition into work life, graduating from university, looking for and finding a job.” Two years later, they approached the same students and asked about their post-college job experiences. Those who harbored positive fantasies put in fewer job applications, received fewer job offers, and ultimately earned lower salaries. The same was true in other contexts, too. Students who fantasized were less likely to ask their romantic crushes on a date and more likely to struggle academically. Hip-surgery patients also recovered more slowly when they dwelled on positive fantasies of walking without pain.

Is this proof of my theory that visualizations merely trick the brain into believing something has actually happened, not that it still needs to be done? Through similar research, Heather Barry Kappes (London School of Economics) found that fantasies hamper progress because they dull the will to succeed:

“Imagining a positive outcome conveys the sense that you’re approaching your goals, which takes the edge off the need to achieve.” Oettingen and Kappes asked two groups of undergraduates to imagine the coming week. One group fantasized that the week would go as well as possible, whereas the other group conjured a more neutral version of the week. One week later, when the students returned to the lab, the positive fantasizers felt that they had accomplished less over the previous week.

So how does this relate back to my street sketches? Well, I've gotten caught up recently in admiring different kinds of sketch journals, so beautifully rendered although the artists insist they are "just sketching". Then I was pointed towards an urban sketchers organization (I had no idea!) and started looking at their loose and lovely renderings of buildings. I want to do that, I thought. I CAN do that, I thought. And I started actively envisioning myself on the streets, sketch journal in hand, making lovely renditions of buildings around town. I'd end up with a beautiful record I could share, plus brush up on my sketching skills. This would be fun!

The reality was much different of course. As much as I had visualized successful easy sketching, I was both out of practice and laboring under too high expectations. This was hard. This was not turning out as I envisioned. This was not the start to the beautiful sketch journal I wanted to create. I was so unnerved by that turret on the left that I nearly shut the sketchbook and drove off before drawing a single line. I had to do a mental reset, remind myself why I wanted to do this sketching in the first place (and although a beautifully rendered sketch journal would be nice, that's not the main reason). The next day, I parked where I could see the tower of the old mill, reminded myself this was practice and to draw loose, really look, and used pen rather than pencil. Amazing how much difference using the pen made, by the way. Did I get the angles right? Not by a long shot. Was it a good exercise anyway? Yes it was. Will I continue to add buildings to this journal. With any luck, you bet. Enough visualization - time to commit to actually doing, the best way in my opinion to get better at anything.

But  do visualizing and fantasizing and generally thinking positively have redeeming qualities? Of course they do.

I asked Oettingen whether positive fantasies might sometimes be useful. She suggested that they might, if a person considered the specific steps that he would take to overcome the barriers to success. Kappes said that fantasies might be useful when you’re unable to satisfy a need—when you’re famished and hours from eating, for example—because they temporarily blunt the pang. There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in fantasy, as long as you aren’t ultimately hoping to indulge in the real thing. 

Now, I can go along with that. Fantasies are a great escape and even means to stumbling upon solutions, but there's nothing wrong with reality checks as well.

So is the glass half empty or half full for you? Do you visualize, fantasize or just get on with life?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Art Journaling Describing Yourself Today

Here's what I did to that sponged spread in my Positively Creative Art Journal. For not knowing what the journaling exercise would be, I'd say I created quite a compatible background for it. The prompt was to describe with a single word how I saw myself on this very day I was journaling. Dale Ann's hope is that after these exercises focusing on likes and desires and all things positive, a person's feelings should be shifting. She suggested looking back at the previous spreads and considering if at this point, we would do any of them differently, add different responses. And then, journal not about what was or what transpired but about where we had arrived in this moment. Cut an image from a magazine of a person that seems to represent you at this moment, or even who you would like to be.

Again, I was not keen on going off to find a stranger in a magazine to put in my journal. However, I remembered that I had saved on my computer images of several paintings by Charles Courtney Curran that I ran across shortly before moving out to Idaho. I showed one of them in this blog post from 2006 with this comment: 

"I've put up another picture to remind me of where I want to be in a few month's time. This painting by Charles Courtney Curran looks so much like a view near my chosen relocation spot that it took my breath away. I want to be that woman in the painting. I used to climb to such vantage points when I was young and there is nothing like it."

The women in Curran's paintings all look calm, relaxed, happy and in their environment. I thought that's what I would be if I got out of Wisconsin and back to Idaho. Well, the move was an improvement but it did not solve all my problems. Still, I can look at these paintings and know that this girl is inside me. I'd rediscovered these last fall when I was in need of a reassuring image, and for awhile, the one I printed out and pasted in my journal here traveled on my shoulder to offer a steadying hand. Funny how images like this can have that kind of an impact.

I'm not sure that my "positive" quotient has changed much since starting the journaling, hard to decide since I've been working on this for a few years anyway. I've always been a worrier and it has been difficult to shed that habit. But one thing I've discovered is that, as much as I think I want to be in control of everything, there are things I simply don't know enough about to make informed decisions. I need to depend on the expertise of others. Trusting someone else produces worry of its own, but it can also give one a sense of calm - no more wondering should I do this or that; it's now in the hands of someone more qualified. And in the particular situation I am thinking of effecting me these days, the results of my trusting have given me a calm about it which in turn leaves me cautiously optimistic. (See, the worry does not totally leave!)

How do you see yourself, right now, today?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Greetings

To my chagrine, I have no Easter or spring flowers greeting me this morning, save the little pansy set a bought more than a week ago and have yet to transfer to a pot. It doesn't seem to mind much though, as it waits on my deck and blooms away anyway. There's not even sun today, although the weather lady said there would be. Well, maybe for her neck of the woods south of here, but so far, my little corner of northern Idaho is quite overcast, cool and threatening rain. It could be worse; I remember many Easters with snow still on the ground, and even a few with it flying through the air!

Yesterday afternoon I made a batch of walnut sticky buns for my breakfast this morning. While the dough raised and then the butter/cinnamon/sugar/walnut-filled buns baked, I made a shallow bowl from the leftovers of the coiled fabric basket I made here. I'd checked to see how far the clothesline would go and could see it was enough for the same size base and a few rounds up the side. I think I only had three strips of the light fabric but quite a bit of the orange/brown left. I crossed my fingers that it would be enough.

I'd noticed when I made the first basket that if I stopped after those first three rounds that started the side of it, this would make a nice little lipped plate. This is what I was going for with my leftovers. That orange/brown fabric ran out short of the last two rounds. Quick! Search for something similar in the stash to finish it off - and here was this 3 or 4 inch strip of dark brown fabric with a tiny orange pattern in it saying, "What else would I be good for - strip me!" I actually went up an extra round to have a full two lines of it along the rim, so my lipped plate is more of a shallow bowl about an inch deep and 5-1/2 inch wide.

I had a plan for this one. If I drive, I come in and out of the house through the kitchen door that leads to the garage, so I have a place to hang car keys and dump my purse near there. But when I take my walks, I leave by the front door which is also where the stairs leading to the second floor are. I sit on those stairs to change into walking shoes, and toss my phone and house keys on the stairs when I get back. Wouldn't it be nicer to corral them in a bowl like this, which can sit on a trunk just past the stairs? Yes it would.

Easter in America - Sheila Mahanke Barnes ©2006

So with that out of the way, I can put away the mess from that project, freeing up some work space on the table. I found some beads to add to Reverberations so could use a little more room in which to sit and stitch - maybe this afternoon. I'll work a little on my Positively Creative Art Journaling spread, having had time to figure out how I want to answer the next prompt. And later, I'll be whipping up a lamb dish for dinner, one I haven't fixed for awhile. All in all, a restful and reflective day. Wishing you the same on this Easter Sunday. And as much chocolate as you desire!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Little Art Journaling

I managed to lose my bad attitude about the last couple of Positively Creative Art Journaling exercises that I refused to do. I'm glad I waited because it gave me time to mull things over and come up with an approach to the journaling prompts that I felt comfortable with. It also gave me a chance to get out of my mood and be more open to the process. Part of my frustration lately has been the lack of new methods to try to get paint on the page in preparation for the journaling. So this break also allowed me to think of some things I wanted to try on my own. Could I create some texture by sponging paint over a piece of netting? And flipping the net over to the other side like a stamp to remove the excess paint?

Yes! This is the netting that bags of oranges come in and this particular one was quite stretchy and springy, unlike others that I KNOW I have stashed somewhere but couldn't find. This would have worked a little better had I taped or clipped the netting in place, but I was kind of in a hurry. When I flipped it, it bounced all over the place so I couldn't get a net impression and struggled to get the paint on the page, but basically it worked.

Of course, I had lots of paint on the sponge still and a second lesson I had skipped so prepared a second spread. The sponge I used is just a simple household sponge with small pores which when dabbed lightly gave very nice subtle texture. Where I dabbed a bit too hard I just got a blob. I went back over this in a second color, then painted vertical strokes with a scrub brush with very diluted white paint. The bristles created these fine lines that I liked very much. Looks much better in person than in this picture, trust me. I made the same brushstrokes over the previous spread, thinking to lighten up the green, but the paint was so thinned that the opposite happened; the green showed through to make the white now look grey.

I don't know yet what I'm doing with the second spread but here's the beginnings of the first one. The prompt was about giving yourself a hug, which at the time was not going to solve my problems or make me feel better. Maybe a hug from someone else, or being able to give a hug, but hugging myself and finding magazine pics of people hugging to paste on my page was just making my eyes roll that day! So after days of random returns to this idea and my reaction to it, this is the start of what I came up with. The heck with hugging myself! I tried out my new set of Sharpie pens, which struggled, frankly, to write over the paint. 

I played with this over several days, adding some dark shading around the large letters and finally journaling on the opposite page yesterday. I started in one corner, writing down a ways, then turned and started in the next corner until I had text starting from each corner. By the time I was done, I'd worked out my issues with this hugging yourself thing and my greater need to hug and be hugged. There - I feel better. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Remembering a Friendship

Supermoon Judi & I howled at in 2011
It's been a year since my artist friend, Judi, died. She had a thing about howling at the full moon. So I found it fitting, as I stood gazing up at the sky last night, that at midnight the current full moon went into full eclipse, as if in tribute to my friend and her passing. I thought that if she were still alive, she'd be gazing up at that moon and howling, and I'd feel compelled to join her, just like when she visited me a few years back during another full moon. I was tempted to give out a little howl last night, but I'm living in a development now, one that was oh so quiet at midnight, save for the noisy frogs. So I gave a silent howl in tribute instead.

Mini signature friendship quilt I made for Judi

I recently ran across this reflection by Mark Vernon about the nature of friendships and this seemed a good opportunity to share it. He starts with Aristotle's take on friendship, much of which I bet you will find rings true in your own friendships:

"Friendship, he proposed, is at the very least a relationship of goodwill between individuals who reciprocate that goodwill...He looked around him and saw three broad groupings of relationships people called friendship. The first group are friends primarily because they are useful to each other – like the friendship between an employee and a boss, or a doctor and a patient, or a politician and an ally; they share goodwill because they get something out of the relationship. The second group are friends primarily because some pleasure is enjoyed by being together; it may be the football, the shopping, the gossip or sexual intimacy, but the friendship thrives insofar, and possibly only insofar, as the thing that gives the pleasure continues to exist between them. Aristotle noted that these first two groups are therefore like each other because if you take the utility or the pleasure away, then the chances are the friendship will fade.

This, though, is not true of the third group. These are people who love each other because of who they are in themselves. It may be their depth of character, their innate goodness, their intensity of passion or their simple joie de vivre, but once established on such a basis these friendships are ones that tend to last. Undoubtedly much will be given and much taken too but the friendship itself is independent of external factors and immensely more valuable than the friendships that fall into the first two groups."

My friendship with Judi definitely fell into that last category. It was our mutual interest of quilting that initially brought us together. It was something a bit deeper that found me giving up my own direction temporarily to support her dream of starting a hand-dyed fabric business. When I moved away, the friendship did not wane but pointed up how much we needed each other beyond the sharing of quilting interests.

"Personally, I think that Aristotle is on to something in his belief that the closest kind of friendship is only possible with a handful of individuals, such is the investment of time and self that it takes."

Capturing a bittersweet celebration

So we worked at it, finding ways to keep connected, finding ways to support each other. In 2000, my birthday fell a little over a month after I lost my husband. I was pretty alone at that time, but Judi vowed I would not spend my birthday alone. She made what was for her a physically dodgy 5 hour drive to be with me on that day, taking me to dinner, making me laugh, comforting me as I poured out my heart and my tears. Friends hold each other, physically and emotionally, providing shelter if only briefly.

Yes, there were "selfies" even back in 2006

And six years later when I gathered myself up to move to Idaho, and was planning the "last time" things I wanted to do or visit before leaving, Judi agreed to spend a weekend at the races with me at my husband's and my favorite track, Road America. Granted, she'd always been into motorcycles, but I deemed it such a favor that I didn't have to take this walk down memory lane alone, but with my best and most understanding friend.

Judi Kane, Rhonda Harris, Mary Stori, & me, with Sherrie Spangler taking the pic

So I moved, and then a year later she moved out west too. We were still 5 hours apart but that beat the previous distance between Idaho and Wisconsin. When I'd visit, Judi generously shared her other friends, like in this chance convergence of former Wisconsinites and a new friend from her now home of Hood River. This gathering that Judi orchestrated led to my making fairly deep and lasting friendships with these powerfully talented ladies.

Judi's first solo exhibit

With our moves, our personal artistic journeys grew. Our styles and subject matter were different so we were never in competition with each other per se, yet our support of each other sometimes took on that feel, but in a good-natured positive way. We pushed each other and were happy for each others' successes, willing to join the analysis during the failures to see what we could learn.

Judi & me along Lake Pend Oreille

As I mentioned, our mutual interests as friends went beyond just quilting. We both had a love for nature, for the mountains and lakes and rivers, for getting out in them, drinking them in, photographing them. We didn't share exactly the same religious beliefs but we did share an abiding spirituality and a trust that whatever happened was meant to be for good reason. We loved to drive through old neighborhoods admiring late 1800 houses or wander through beautiful gardens. We didn't always agree on things, which only expanded our thinking and made us grow closer. She was often the kick in the butt I needed. She told me I was the calming influence she needed.

On a road trip with our signature Bailey's

So is it any wonder, that when she faced her biggest challenge of all, fighting for her life, I'd drop everything to be at her side? We once took many road trips together, sharing laughs and Bailey's Irish Cream. I'd missed those extended times with her. Now we were off on our biggest road trip ever, to Mayo Clinic, and although we wished it was under better conditions, we treasured that opportunity to spend so much time together. I considered it a blessing to be able to give back some of what she'd given me through the years.

Little known side effects of radiation treatment

Those were some of the most difficult months I've lived through, keeping up with the rigorous schedule of doctor appointments, tests and treatments Judi required, and my caretaking duties at the end of each day. All while having to watch helplessly when she was in pain or reacting adversely to medication or had reached the end of her staying positive reserves. (Many more times difficult for her, of course.) And yet, it was not all gloom and doom. Judi had a great sense of humor and we found plenty to laugh at, including this unplanned juxtaposition with these pipes when we grabbed some lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Had to take a picture so she could see what I was laughing at, and she gleefully captioned it, "This is a rare side-effect of radiation treatment."

Judi & me waiting to get in for my birthday dinner

We got through those months, we thought with success, closer than ever and thankful for the time together. Before we left, my birthday rolled around, and once again, we could share it, albeit under bittersweet conditions, with a smile. Less than 4 months after getting home, she got the news that the cancer was back and had spread. A few months later, she was gone.

"Aristotle wrote: ‘The desire for friendship comes quickly. Friendship does not.’ The implication is that the best kinds of friendships are only possible between people who properly value it and who understand how many things from the personal to the political can compromise, undermine and destroy it. There is an art to friendship."

This was my friendship with Judi, a person that took me down paths I would not have traveled otherwise, who considered me part of the family, who worried about me and nagged at me, offered advice and taught me things...and yes, loved me. And I did all that back at her. This is the friendship I lost, that cannot be replaced because each friendship is unique. I miss her presence, but her influence on me lives on, her words of wisdom and prodding surface often, and I am grateful for that. I think we mastered the art to friendship.