Friday, April 29, 2016

Käthe Kollwitz and The Threepenny Opera

Tacoma Opera finished out their season with a production of The Threepenny Opera. This was a very different set from anything else that I've worked on.  Noel gave me five drawings by Käthe Kollwitz
to reproduce on big panels, to display along the back of the set. The opera was written in 1928 in Germany (between the wars), and its themes of social criticism are nicely illustrated by Kollwitz's depictions of poverty and oppression.

For this show we had the use of an empty office building downtown (owned by the man who owns the Armory, I hear).  Doug checked out a laptop and projector from school, and I used that to trace the images onto the panels. I've never tried reproducing anything like this in paint before, and I wasn't sure how it was going to go, but it turned out to be surprisingly quick and easy. The fact that they were (mostly) sketchy and imprecise helped a lot.  I ended up just dry-brushing everything, and it looked just like sketchy pencil lines.

This was the one piece that was not sketchy pencil lines--more of a cross-hatch pen-and-ink technique, which was a lot more complicated to reproduce. I'm glad they weren't all like that!

I thought the girl in profile was looking a little too Dr. Seuss-y, so when Anne Marie came painting with me one day, I got her to take a look at it and figure out what it needed. (Doug often gets to fill this role when I work on things at home--it helps to have a second pair of eyes.)

Anne Marie dry-brushing stairs.  The rest of the set was all weathered gray wood.

Photo by Kate (she was having stomach pains and came with me instead of going to school that day).

This was a really nice space. There was plenty of room to spread out all my painting stuff and not get in the way of rehearsals. (It did get a bit hot and stuffy on sunny days, but other than that it was awesome.)  The ceilings were nice and high, too, so I didn't have to worry about whacking anything when turning a panel over.  They were looking for a new tenant, though, so I guess we won't be able to use it again. Alas!

Theater load-in started on a Friday instead of Saturday this time, and I was actually not painting up until the last minute on the day of dress rehearsal. There was still a lot to do, painting and dry-brushing the scaffolding that they put together, and painting the undersides of the higher platforms black so they wouldn't be glaringly visible from the audience. It was kind of a noisy set, with people running up and down the different levels, but Tony put some carpet on the higher platforms and that helped.

Photos by Peter Serko.

(That's Johann in the back.)

I went to the opening night show with Mary McGiffin and Erica Davis (Anne Marie went to a Sherman Alexie book signing and couldn't come). Mary has been to four of my six operas with me, but it looks like this was our last together, since they just found out that they're moving to Spokane. So sad! I will miss my opera buddy!

I wasn't completely familiar with the storyline, but I knew that it was pretty dark and gritty. If I were going to sum up the theme, I would say it's about how morality goes out the window when people are starving. This definitely isn't one to take kids to.  The cast did a fabulous job and everything looked amazing. 

I got to paint all three shows this season! Now I shall fill my summer with other projects.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Kate's shelves (and some art)

Kate's room is full of little things that she's made or collected--things like Shopkins and Littlest Pet Shop figures, and her various Sculpey creations, which are myriad and tiny.  Her bookcase headboard has gotten very full.  I've had the idea for a while to make some narrow shelves above her bed where she can display all these things more comfortably.   It took some time but we finally got it done.  We made a Saturday excursion to McLendon and picked out some wood and some brackets, and when we got home I started sanding and painting.  Kate was running in and out playing with her friend Tavah all afternoon, and every time she came in she would ask, "Are my shelves up yet?"  They took a little longer than that.

We discussed colors and thought these sounded good, and I was able to mix them up with my cheap craft paints.  I got a little roller which I think worked much better than brushing.  As I was working I realized they're the same colors that Lorne Elliot mentions in his song "The League of Lawn Art Lovers" (a favorite of ours since we were in Newfoundland).  Here's the relevant bit:

Thirty Javex bottle windmills, 
Colored some fluorescent hue.
And if they're not to your liking,
Maybe our house will look more striking
If we paint it in three colors,
Pink and green, and electric blue.

(Kate is a big fan of electric blue.)

Each shelf got two coats of paint and then a coat of polyurethane (which I ended up regretting--should have just left it off).  Mounting them on the wall was a bit of a pain, too. The whole process took a couple of days. 

They look good!  We should have realized, though, that any sort of storage solution we come up with for Kate does not get used for storage, it gets used for playing.  She immediately invented a complicated game with different biomes and levels, and started making more little Sculpey creations to enhance her game. 

(She says she wants more shelves.  I indicated that this was unlikely to happen very soon.)

Here's a recent Sculpey creation--Kate made this Marcel the Shell for me.  He sits on my plant shelf over the kitchen sink.  Isn't he cute?

Kate wanted to share this drawing, too. She calls it "Fox of the Forest."She's really been developing her drawing skills lately.

Friday, April 01, 2016


This happened today. I'm glad I noticed this little guy before biting down. That would have been unpleasant for both of us, I'm sure! The snail went back outside and the lettuce got a better washing.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter Eggs and Wolf Ears

While Doug had a week off between quarters, and Grandma Mary was visiting, and the kids had a half-day at school, we decided to go to the zoo for the afternoon. It was raining a bit, but we went anyway and had a fun time. Kate found this wolf ear headband in the gift shop and decided that it was the very thing to make her life complete. She bought it with her allowance money and then wore it constantly for the next few days.   At our annual neighborhood egg hunt, she was the only wolf in attendance.  ( I suppose they might pass for bunny ears if you don't look too closely.)

We used her gelli-printed valentine bag as an Easter basket. Multi-purpose!

Andy didn't get any eggs (he's not pushy enough), but he was happy to get out and play.

We've been enjoying the Spring weather and the flowers!  Ahhhhhh!

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Kate, ready for school this morning!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

That first tooth is a doozy.

We've had a rough couple of weeks. Kate was sick, and then Andy was sick, and missed an entire week of school. In the middle of it he also lost his first tooth. That was traumatic. I realized it was loose in the morning, and he had it out by about 2:00 that afternoon--just kept wiggling it the whole time. And then once it was out he cried and kept trying to put it back. We try to explain to him what's going on, but I don't think he really understands. Sad! 

It was a couple of days before I could get a photos of his gap. You can see the new tooth peeking up already. (His lips are a bit puffy from all the poking and worrying.)

I'm not looking forward to repeating this experience! Maybe future teeth will get easier. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day Baby!

My sister Barb had her baby--Sage Elaine.  She was just past 38 weeks and still over ten pounds. Look at those cheeks!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Been better....

I turned forty-five today.  It's hasn't been the best birthday--not that I'm (on principle) opposed to turning forty-five, but I've been sick all week, and it hit Kate pretty hard Thursday night, too.   We've been doing a lot of resting and recuperating.  (Kate was quite impressed that I was willing to spoon-feed her ice chips.  She seems to be on the upswing now.)

I was planning to go out for some kimchi jjigae, but that'll have to wait. My family called and sang to me, most fabulously, and when I was outside early this morning I heard an owl, so that was cool.

I got myself some paint for my birthday. I'm looking forward to playing with these, once I'm feeling a little better. (Soon!) And Doug got me a solid-state hard drive, which should help my computer run better.

My sister Barb is expecting her fourth child, who apparently decided not to share my birthday, but should be along any day now! We are excited!

I've been spending the past couple of days checking out Airbnb sites in Korea, and looking at maps and imagining itineraries.  We have a plan.  September 2017, with both kids.  It'll be a crazy adventure.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Art and YouYou

YouYou and her parents are new members at our church. They're from China.  The kids have been on mid-winter break this week, so we had YouYou over for an art play date.

YouYou's Sculpey creations.

Kate's painting.

YouYou's painting.

Mixed media experiment (acrylic and pastel).

YouYou's mom picked her up after lunch and took Kate over to their house for the afternoon. YouYou is working on her confidence in English conversation, but apparently they found some good ways to play together. Kate said she had a lot of fun.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Valentine Project

In the midst of all the opera painting, I was also working on Valentines. I was asked to help out with a Relief Society activity, and also helped Kate make some for her class.

I got some gelli printing and stamp carving done ahead of time, but no actual Valentine-assembly happened until Wednesday night. I was thinking Kate's class party was gong to be on Friday, but she came home and told me it was on Thursday, so we had a late night Valentine-making session.  As it happened, I'd been super tired for the first few days after theater load-in, but on Wednesday I suddenly got this great productive burst of energy (still trying to figure out where that came from and how I can make it happen again!) so we just buckled down and got it done.  I did the front sides of the cards and she added a personalized message and drawing on the back of each one. 

Kate brought home a bag from school to decorate.  She cut out some paper pieces, and I did some gelli printing on the bag before she glued them on.

I've been watching mixed media tutorials on YouTube,  and I have a lot of things that I want to try.  I did play with stencils and molding  paste a little (which we ended up using on the cards for Kate's teachers, but I didn't get a picture), and I got some Tim Holtz distress ink and a blending tool.  Cool toys!  I need to experiment with that a bit more.  I have this problem--I have tons of ideas and things that I want to try, but when I'm feeling most productive is usually when I'm busy doing other things.  Isn't that always the way? 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Birthday cake(s) for Doug

On a lazy, rainy Saturday, where we're all feeling a bit stunned from our late night at the opera, Doug decided that what he wanted to do for his birthday was go to the Indian buffet in Lakewood for lunch. We used to go there quite frequently, but had been neglecting it since discovering East India Grill in Federal Way. This one is quite a bit closer, though, which is a definite plus, and we found that, though the selection is a little smaller, the food is just as tasty. (I was particularly enjoying the pakoras.) Afterwards we stopped by the German bakery and Doug picked out some cake. Three pieces.

(I had a very long and stupefying nap after that big lunch!  Opera-ing is hard work!)

Happy birthday Doug!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Die Fledermaus

We took Kate to the opera! I've been painting for Die Fledermaus, and got some extra tickets so I could take Doug, since his birthday was the next day and he never gets to go to these things--and then I thought, why not take Kate as well? It's a fun opera and I figured she could handle it. (She said she thought she could sit quietly if she had a kneaded eraser to play with, which we agreed was a good solution.)  It was a great show. 

We didn't really have a set designer for this one--the whole production crew met with the guest director and we all hashed it out together. The first act takes place in a house, the second in a ballroom, and the third in a jail.  We came up with the idea of using different colors on the masking panels (visible through the doorways) and different frames around the doorways, to represent the three settings.  It ended up working really well. I wasn't able to get photos of the different looks, but you can see the green for the ballroom in the top picture. 

After the success of the tear-away painted drop-cloth walls in Don Giovanni, Noel asked if it would work to just paint all the walls on drop cloths and affix them to the set on-site. I was up for giving it a try.  Tony also thought it was a great idea, since it meant one less time that he would have to move all the pieces.  Right before I started painting, though, our car died.  This made things considerably more complicated.  I ended up painting the first drop cloth in Laura Call's garage (conveniently within walking distance of our house), and then moved to the Temple Theater and later the Armory, and had to beg rides or take the bus.  Then Anne Marie said I could borrow her daughter Raechel's car (she's away at college), which was a huge help. 

On a Wednesday at the Armory, Anne Marie came and helped me paint for a day. We worked on the big columns. (The first time I've actually painted these--we used them in Roméo et Juliette but they were already the right color.) We had a nice time painting and talking, and ate our lunch at one of the prop tables.

We also painted a drop cloth for the center masking panels. I'd already done one blue and one green, and this one was split down the middle (to be cut later). The colors that I got ended up being very bright. Like special-effects-green-screen bright. Anne Marie said it was like painting Kermit and Cookie Monster.

The director was going for a 1930's setting, so I wanted to use an art deco stencil on the masking. Anne Marie helped me find a good pattern, and I went home a made a stencil with some tyvek. I got a darker emerald green paint and scrubbed some of that over the too-bright background before stenciling.

The tyvek worked okay, but the edges did curl up as the paint dried, which made it a little tricky. (And it got messy--after this I brought gloves!) I ended up only doing the center panel, since it took so long, but it I was happy with how it turned out. And I did scrub a layer of darker green over the other two panels as well.

Painting everything on drop cloths worked pretty well--we could still see the seams and wrinkles, but I don't think they really detracted from the overall look. I had to use quite a lot of paint to get a solid color on the green and blue panels, but the walls required much less, since the light gray I was using for the background was not far off from the original color of the canvas. But it did take a while to get everything up and looking good, which means all the rehearsal photos show a rather unfinished-looking set.

Johann gets ready to paint a masking panel. (He's the one who was interning at the theater during Pinafore. He's been in the chorus of all the shows since.) The "dry floor" sign is a sight gag for the beginning of Act 3, where the jail guard has a rather lengthy slapstick bit involving a mop.

Tony works on a window.

The stapled-up cloths were looking a bit sloppy, but the white trim at the top and bottom really helped pull everything together. (I was able to paint the top trim before it was put up, and we got Johann to do the bottom trim. So nice to have help!)

We got as much as possible done before dress rehearsal, but there were still a few things left to do, so Tony and I had a work call Friday afternoon. 

Royce's daughter Brenna, staying away from the wet paint while the stenciled cloth gets hung. (Her mom put her on tape-measure duty, so she was going around measuring everything, but then she was sad that I wouldn't let her measure the paint.)

Finishing up door frames, mere hours before the performance.

Humorous cartoon-style keyhole.

The director said that it's common to add an extra number in the party scene, so he got the idea of collaborating with Tacoma Ballet, and had two couples come out and dance a number. One of the dancers was Erin Guinup's daughter. It was a great addition to the performance. (Photo by Peter Serko, from rehearsal.)

Kate's friend Emma's mom watched Andy for us so we could go to the opera. We were accompanied by Anne Marie, Mary McGiffin, and Lynne Hennessey (grandmother of the ballerina). It was such a fun night. The music was fabulous, and the performers were all excellent. They really played up the humor. (Kate says she liked the singing and the fancy dresses.)

I read that Fledermaus was the first show that Tacoma Opera ever did, back in 1968. And in 1996 when Doug and I went on our first official date, he took me to see an opera revue at the University of Utah that a friend was singing in, which included Fledermaus's champagne song. (In fact, that's the only song I remember from that night.) It all seems fitting, with Erin's daughter being in the show, since Erin was the director of our multi-stake Pirates of Penzance, which is how I ended up getting this job in the first place. It's been altogether fabulous.