Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A week of change and joy

I know it is only Tuesday but it has felt like several weeks have gone by. Since Friday, two friends have had surgery, one of them for her heart and the other for her foot...worry, worry. They are both recovering. I found out my eyes (along with all the rest of me) are getting older but I let that lead me to a new prescription and some amazing bold French frames selected with the help of my friend Delia.

Yesterday I got an email from a man who had seen my drawing online at the CBIG site and he wanted to hire me to do some drawings. Wow. I've spent years wanting to do this and now, one week after posting my art, I have a client. Wow.

And my daughter Natalie will not be moving home after graduation, because...
Natalie Allen got into the Actors Theatre of Louisville!!!!!!!!!
I was sitting in a Starbucks when she IM'd me in Gmail. I shrieked with joy and the entire table was happy for her too. She's in this program. It begins August 9th for 9 months. She is one of 22 acting students to get in out of 2,000 applicants and it is really prestigious. And intensive. She will come out having a much better idea of what aspect of drama--acting, directing or writing--she wants to pursue. And will have plenty of new contacts. It is all good. Natalie will waitress all summer to save up the money she'll need to cover her costs in Louisville.

Caitlin is hoping to get an internship at the Center for Book Arts here in NYC over the summer. I hope she gets it, she loves making artists' books and one that she did last semester got selected to be in a show in some state far far away, Nebraska?

My daughters are starting to lead their own interesting lives. How amazing it all is. I may need "progressives" to see now (as if middle-aged eyes were a political party) but it isn't hard to keep my eyes on them, they are becoming the adults I shall soon know. People I'd want to know even if they weren't my girls.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why point-'n-shoot is your friend when eyes dilated

On Monday I had an eye check-up and this meant the dreaded pupil expanding drops.
"Look at your feet as you walk," said my eye doc as I was leaving, "be careful, maybe take a cab, you won't see well for about an hour."

I clipped my shades to my busted eyeglass frames, pulled my coat hood over my eyes and headed West. The world was, indeed, blurry and light expanded and made everything look overexposed. I passed the Metropolitan Museum and thought, oh, sad, I can't see the art. And then I realized I really couldn't see any of it as the museum is closed Mondays. I carefully crossed the street and headed into Central Park.

I just love that moment when it still looks like winter until you look closer at the buds and crocuses beginning to dot the twigs and earth. The sky was a deep pure hue, no grays. It was cold, but not cold enough to kill the first sprigs.

But I couldn't see worth a damn. Blurry and overexposed eyes. Then I realized I had a point and shoot camera, as long as I could frame it, decide if all or only part of it should be in focus, then I could take shots and reasonably expect them to come out OK. And I did.

I recognized Pale Male, or was it his mate, regarding the baseball fields for scampering or flitting lunch morsels, I found a tree with red buds, a bush with yellow ones, and somehow, it was fine. Except that I couldn't tell when the hawk's face was in profile (yes, looks like a hawk) or not (could be a very large pigeon).

So, now I know I don't need to be able to see all that well to snap decent pix. As I get older, this may be good to know. Especially if I keep doing maps which are elected most likely to make me go blind from squinting and squiggling.

Alimentum at the 2009 New York Book Show

Yes, I am very proud. Alimentum came in 1st place in the quality paperback series category at the 23rd annual Bookbinders' Guild New York Book Show. Kudos to my co-designer Peter Selgin and visionary publisher Paulette Licitra as well.

I ate strawberries and chocolates and sipped wine as I looked at all the books on display. Was happy that the talented Jason Fortuna (Adventure House) won an award for his design of the ESL catalog for Cambridge U. Press. Happy that my pals at Oxford U. Press won for the Oxford Picture Dictionary series.

This year's crop of books was terrific. My favorite kid's book was Mark Rogalski's Dream Machines, it is printed amazingly well--perhaps with 6 colors? Despite being digital, which can sometimes feel a bit cold, the images exude pure playful fun and the accompanying text panels have an old-fashioned charm, almost 1920s design, that plays well against the art. And the jacket on the cover unfolds into a board game on the reverse. How cool is that?

The simple charm of Patrick McDonnell's illustrations, for his picture book South, are also something I just had to touch and read. Was white a 5th color for this book? I didn't have enough light to tell if the color of the paper it is printed on is tan and white a spot color or the tan was printed...

Then there was this amazing die cut slipcase/cover for a trade book about design, Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far, by Stefan Sagmeister, lots of little holes in a photo of a face, with nose, eyes, mouth, hair not cut away...and inside a series of unbound signatures, a collection of 15 mini-book essays. Once can play endlessly shifting the insides around to change the feeling of the face on the case. Loved it. Here is a video of it. Go Abrams.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Good weekend in the Brook

My daughter Natalie did a great job directing her first full length play, Sailor Song by John Patrick Shanley. With her grandparents, we saw the matinee in a small theater in the arts building at Stony Brook University. She met us as we were going in. For a moment I didn't recognize her. Tall, thin, and dressed in a black skirt, heels, and nice gray top, she was, well, elegant.

"Where should we sit?" I asked her. Peering gracefully around the entrance door she whispered, "If you don't mind, front row center please." And we did. And were pleased.

"You were a great, intelligent, responsive audience," she told us later. She'd watched us from a hidden location. We let her know that her intelligent and engaging treatment of the play made it easy to enjoy ourselves.

I am amazed that she was able to take freshmen and sophomores, some of whom had never been in a play, and showed them how to turn themselves into believable characters. And, she told us, they taught her as much as she taught them. Now she understands the work it takes to be so very much in charge of the entire show.

I got to meet teachers she'd told me about for years. Kathleen who heads up the Swallow This troupe and Val the acting guru. We agreed how far she has come in the last few years. How nice a way to mark her last semester.

Back at my parents house, Natalie arrived between shows with a load of laundry and cards to write to all the members of cast and crew. Last performance tonight.

This weekend was also a Model A Ford convention, on a street near my parent's was a long line of parked, shiny, antique cars...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How is this for computer drawn art?

I drew this in photoshop (cs4), used some copyright free old newspapers and a snap of an old floor, and there it is, an illustration.

Feeling it isn't loose enough, cute enough.

I need to develop digital brushes that feel good to use and are responsive to my hand using the wacom tablet. It still feels like I'm drawing on tupperware with a barbie doll leg.

Comments? Advise?

Getting back to poetry

I had first-book-itus. The condition whereby one realizes the heroic fanfare of writing and getting a book published is closely followed by the equally deflating sound of it falling noiselessly into the forest of almost no reviews and as yet no second print run. This led to a writing slump.

But at some point I just had to say, yeah, I'm no Billy Collins, or would that be Billie-Jean Collins? His name is a household name, my name is known in my household. My book is not likely to spark the poetry dialogue in this country, impress any Russian poetry masters, or even make it to more than one or two college classrooms... but what matters most is still there, I have the beginnings of poems bubbling up inside of me. I write them down. I'm rereading Shakespeare's sonnets and Kay Ryan and Barbara Hamby and enjoying the incredibly different ways they say "I am paying attention." With wit, lust, precision, patter, and ears attuned to the smallest and largest things. Shakespeare gazes into his lover's eye and riffs on his own reflection. Ryan imagines life is like having your living room be on a raft slowly heading down river enjoying the view on the way to the Niagara Falls, Hamby manages to address "you" in every poem and still makes it immediate and full of the rich tumble of her revved up inner chatter.

I had a rock tumbler as a kid, I put in craggy stones, it churned away in the basement for weeks, I'd change the grit that went in to ever finer sand, and then a rich glitter of polished sediments was revealed. Right now I'm still finding the fistful of stones.

There is a (writing) life after the first book. And someone just asked to "friend" me on facebook by asking if I was The Claudia Carlson that wrote that Elephant House book. Yes, yes I am.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Happy news for the acting life

My daughter Natalie drove to Boston today and was one of a thousand people to audition for summerstock and theater acting intern programs through the NETC (The New England Theatre Conference). With a two minute limit, at 2:30, she performed a monologue from the 10 minute play, Quiet Torrential Sound, and Shakespeare's sonnet 65 (When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes) to a room full of producers and artistic directors. She was delighted that they laughed when she wanted laughs, sighed when she wanted sighs. She just called to say that out of 13 possible programs she got 10 call backs. Whoa.

The call backs kept her running the entire afternoon and early evening. Some prestigious and some fun sounding theater groups interviewed her and urged her to take the next step and apply to their programs. She soon decided to not tell any of the fellow applicants just how many call backs she got, people were saying "Oh I'm lucky, I have one call back," or "I have two!" She went to each, answered questions about her experiences, hobbies, personality, and aspirations, and felt lucky, hopeful, and is realizing there will most likely be something to come after she graduates in May.

She is now driving back to Stony Brook for a rehearsal of Sailor Song, by John Patrick Shanley, the play she is directing. Go Natalie.

Cover I designed for THE SAME

Here is the photo of Central Park on opening day of the Gates project with a background photo of the actual flag material. We decided to compress the width of the photo, it adds a sort of magic realism to this wide shot.

This will be the cover for the Winter/Spring 2009 issue.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wine tastings and other adventures

It has been sad that I've been too busy to blog for awhile. I temporarily went to work in an office--nice pants and button down shirts instead of jeans and silk pajama tops--for a client this past week. While the project has been fun to work on and everyone lovely to work with, I am reminded of why I work for myself. So many meetings and projects going at once. Rush rush rush. How do people do it? I work best on one project at a time. Everyone seemed to be working on a gazillion things at once.

Some of the best things in life happen with an unexpected call. Last week a friend of mine had been invited to come to a wine tasting and asked if I could come too. The founder and co-owner of the Cornelia Street Café, Robin Hirsch (also an author, performer and poet with a British accent), was in the midst of his once every 6 months tasting and buying of wine for the restaurant. Apparently having someone like me and my friend along, the average (read ignorant) cafe patron, was helpful.

"Great, sure, I'll be there," I said. I went over the few things I'd learned at a wine tasting I'd been to a few years ago. There was something about sniffing it and swirling it in the glass before you took teensy sips. Rather like the cat approaches food: Poke-poke-sniff-sniff, what is it? Is it dead yet or twitching enough for playtime? And I remembered that people spoke of legs and aftertaste, which doesn't seem at all appropriate for a mealtime beverage but who am I to challenge jargon?

When I arrived in the decidedly upscale offices of the wine wholesaler, Monsieur Touton, Selection, Ltd., near the flower and fabric districts, I was led to a back wall with an enormous room-wide counter that held a thicket of wine bottles and a view of New York sky and brick. A tray of french bread and plates of tasty cheeses were on the right. Robin and his sales rep Allan Trelford, in yellow, were on the left sipping and spitting wine into beautiful round copper sinks that dotted the counter at regular intervals. A large glass urn held a cord of corks.

I was amazed by the wall decor, porcelain spittoons and antique wine objects that I can't name. The center of the large office was filled with desks and hooded computers, even the desks held some bottles of wine since everyone here was in the business of selling it. They spoke on phones in hushed voices with various accents, wine being an international enterprise.

We were given glasses and tasted the various types of wine along with Robin. Whites and then reds of many varieties. I have to admit that I didn't seem to find any of the wines objectionable and most of them tasty. Maybe it was the novelty of drinking in the middle of the day but I swallowed. No spitting for me.

Robin and Allan have a working relationship that speaks of years of respect and ease. Robin was witty and Allan affable. Their discussions on place and product sometimes flew over my head.

At one point two tall young merchants in impeccable suits with French accents stopped by and one of them was able to name off the cuff the nine varieties of one French vintner. This was part of a lively discussion of how different one variety of grape, grown in the same region, can taste. I supposed out loud that micro-climates and the vintners taste buds had their effects on the product. The experts politely acknowledged I'd uttered a basic truth and moved on. After that I kept to a more general "yum, delicious" or "sticks to the roof of my mouth dry" for me. Also noted that the California wines tended to a sweeter and blander "Disneyland" mix that I didn't like as much as the more subtle and sophisticated tang of the South American bottles.

I discovered the taste difference between a good wine and a very very good one was not an exponential leap. Only the price took such a jump.

The best part was when Robin and Alan talked about wine pairings, rather like setting up a dating service for a red and a white wine. Since I can attest that the food at Cornelia Street Café is excellent, I will now have to go back and have it with that pair of wines, I'd love to see what meal would compliment the two Robin selected. He staggered out with a box filled with the opened bottles of the wines he had bought, to share with the staff and to help them devise the latest wine menus.

My friend and I walked out and complimented ourselves on being such excellent representatives of the average customer. We were like the non-foodies that help judge the meals on Iron Chef. Except we weren't twenty-something Japanese actresses. And I didn't giggle until the very end. I estimated I'd had one very full glass of wine. How sparkly the plants and cheap jewelry looked through well scrubbed windows, how light, how red and white, my mood.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Strange fluffy cold mush

My dog demanded I take her for a walk today. A beam of March sunshine crept in the window and smacked her between the ears and she recognized it as a sign that I could be convinced at that very moment to put on her coat and mine.

I told her it had snowed and it was just beginning to melt and would splash coldly on her undercarriage and the salt would pickle the pads of her feet. She scratched the front door and would not take a no.

I particularly enjoyed watching her manoeuvre, or is that hund-oeuvre, around icy footprints and three inch drifts in the small triangle of Strauss Park.

But neither cold nor ice nor slushy blasts could deter her from her duty. Her small contributions steaming on the snow.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Nedra Carlson wedding quilt in another show

My amazing step-mother Nedra Carlson finished the stitching on our wedding quilt and it has made it into yet another quilt show "Quilt Extravaganza," in Lancaster, Penn, April 2-5. I don't doubt we will sleep well under its prize-winning warmth once it wins more admiring gazes and maybe some ribbons. Look at all the roses she is quilting onto its pieced pattern of compass roses.

A photo of mine sold to lit mag

I am delighted to report that one of my photos of Christo's Gates project has been selected for the literary magazine The Same. For the cover. This is really cool.