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Out at sea…

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity, Design | 5 Comments

It’s one thing to go to a great rug camp, but when you are six miles out to sea on a small island, the problem is that every direction you look in, there is a rug design just waiting to happen. This is a photo of early morning, just after sunrise, on the Isles of Shoals, where I spent four days at Pam Bartlett’s Star Island Rug Retreat. And yes, though I got a lot of hooking done, this time I did take photos of at least some of the projects people were working on to show you.

Last year, Pam set aside the project she had brought to spontaneously make this rug during the retreat:

And she challenged us to come back to Star with a rug reflecting our memories of the island. Three people brought beautiful pieces. First, Cathy Dupuis, of Holderness, NH, made this small piece, capturing the rowboats that anchor in the harbor:

Donna Rousseau, of Wells, Maine, finished her challenge rug this week on the island. She decided to call it Cornerstone:

And Dayle Young Wheeler, of Rutland, VT, brought back her wonderful view of the chapel steeple, with the words that capture the essence of a retreat on Star Island – just beautiful:

And while we were there, two rugs were completed. Biffie Gallant, of Randolph, VT, finished this lovely rug that she had been working on for more than a year. The pattern is Chinese Roundel, by Jane McGown Flynn:

And Bonnie Roycewicz, of Fort Ann, NY, finished this charming rug during our time on Star. The pattern is Love Birds, by Cushing, and adapted by Bonnie as a wedding gift:

And in our four days, I got a lot done on my rug, based on the photo I’ve shown you of my porch with our flag flying:

Each day, Pam spent a few moments talking with us about being creative, being in the moment, being mindful, and noticing the beauty of your surroundings. And of course, this, we can each do wherever we are.

Pam Bartlett does such a wonderful job organizing this retreat, as well as running a great rug shop, The Woolen Pear, in Loudon, NH, online at www.redhorserugs.com. It’s not that easy, when every single thing has to be anticipated and transported out to the island on the ferry. Thank you, Pam.

All photos of these rugs are shown here with the permission of their makers, and many thanks to each of them. And thank you, Star Island. More info on day trips, retreats, and conferences on Star, and the fascinating history of the island, can be found at www.starisland.org.

Before I go…

By | Antique rugs, Design | 4 Comments

Before I go off to rug camp, here are a few antique rugs coming up for sale for you to contemplate and consider. First, above, is a perfect combination of a floral pattern with hit or miss completing the geometric design. It is Lot 337, coming up for sale by Wooton and Wooton, in Camden, SC, on Sept. 16th (10 am). The description: Early American Hooked Rug Late 19th/early 20th century. Having floral pattern throughout. W 41 1/2″ L 61″. Estimate: $100-$200.

This next photo shows two rugs being sold together, by Locati Auctions, on September 18th (9 AM) in Maple Glen, PA:

The larger rug does not interest me that much – a bit too blotchy even for me – though I do like the border. If the center section had been hooked in all one color, the other areas of variation would not bother me nearly as much. But the Hit or Miss rug is great – the simplest of a geometric design, with an internal grid border to define the blocks. I can say it is simple, but if I got out a piece of linen to draw it out, I would really have to focus on finding the exact diagonals in each block that forms the pattern. One of those designs that look simple without being easy to reproduce! These two rugs make up Lot 917639. Description: The larger rug has floral decoration, the smaller rug has a geometric pattern, both early 20th century. Dimensions: 60″ x 35″ and 37″ x 24″. Estimate: $200-$300.

And here are three more antique rugs which will both be sold tomorrow (Sept. 9, 10 am) at Garth’s Auctioneers, in Delaware, Ohio:


This is a large rug, and I think it’s quite elegant – the bright flowers and center design are framed by the two-tone scrolling leaves. It is Lot 497, described as AMERICAN HOOKED RUG. Twentieth century. Room size rug with large polychrome bouquet of flowers in center, bordered with flowers and foliage. Backed with cloth. 9′ x 12′. Estimate: $600-$1200.

This next one is Lot 401 in tomorrow’s auction at Garth’s:

and what’s not to love about that charming, smiling dog? Even the star is sweet! Description: AMERICAN HOOKED RUG. Early 20th century. Large dog. With fringe. 26.5″ x 41.5″ Estimate $200-$400.

And here is Lot 408, in the same auction tomorrow:

I really like this one, both the design itself and the combination of colors used. Description: AMERICAN HOOKED RUG. Early 20th century. Floral design on purple ground. 31″x 65″, Estimate $100-$250.

Well, I am fairly ready to set off for my rug retreat on the Isles of Shoals this weekend. I took Lynne Fowler’s advice, and cut a lot of 3″-4″ wide long strips of wool in the colors I think I will need for my flag-on-the-porch rug. I put each group of colors together with a large safety pin, so all my grays and tans are in one bundle, all my greens in another, and so on. It cut down my pile of wool substantially, but I will have a good choice of colors to be getting on with. Great idea, so thanks, Lynne!

Here are links to the auction websites, and all photos are used courtesy of them: www.wootenandwooten.com, www.locatillc.com and www.garths.com

Hope you have a great weekend with at least some hooking involved, wherever you are!

My way of doing it

By | Design, Making rugs | 8 Comments

What to work on next? Well, here is the story of how one rug is getting underway. I wanted to do a flag rug, just out of feeling patriotic these days. I looked at a lot of designs and graphics to get some ideas. But while there were a lot of versions of the Red, White and Blue out there (espeically some great primitive patterns around), it suddenly occurred to me that I should do my flag, the one hanging outside of my house.

So I went outside and stood in the driveway, and took a few photos of my porch, with our flag, and the door into our house. I finally chose the photo above for my design. I liked that it included the little stone wall on which I keep my stone cat sculpture, and flowers in pots – they would add some bits of bright color in the foreground.

Then I took my photo, and ran it through an app called Waterlogue that I have on my iPad. As you can see, the colors get simplified, and the outlines of objects stand out:

I also made a plain black and white copy of the photo, and on this, I took a black marker, and traced all the major lines, just so I could see them easier once I got to the light table:

I wasn’t happy with the flag itself – didn’t think enough of the Stars and Stripes were showing, so I waited for a windy day, and took a few close-ups that showed it fluttering out a bit more. And I decided all the tree foliage can be filled in once I start hooking them.

Then I figured out about how big a rug I wanted to make. This will be a hanging piece, not a floor piece, so I kept it small-ish, about 15″ wide by 21″ tall. And went down to my local copy shop with my marked-up black-and-white version to enlarge it to rug size.

Then down to use a friend’s light table, to trace it onto my linen backing:

I think everyone has a slightly different method for transferring a photo to a design on backing material. I have done without a light table by using masking tape – taping both the design and the backing (on top) to a bright window for tracing. I’ve even tried making my own temporary light table by putting a small lamp on the floor and balancing (on stacks of books) a piece of plexiglass above it. It worked ok, but my friend Mary has a real light table – it is easier and more stable!

Now the color planning. I had the right reds, whites and blues for Old Glory, and scrounged through my wool room and pulled out a few browns for the porch, dark maroon for the porch trim, grays for the roof, a bunch of bright colors for the flowers and pots, a lot of grays and beiges for the stone wall, and a whole pile of greens for all that foliage. And some more grayish-tans for the ground. That is about the extent of how I color plan for a pictorial!

The problem is this: I will be starting to hook this rug at the rug retreat next week, out on Star Island. So there is no throwing anything you might concievably need for wool colors in your car. I think pictorials are the hardest to choose the wool for, when going away – you might need just a bit of this-or-that, right? So here is a photo of my initial wool sorting:

A friend reminded me that I probably will not be able to finish the entire rug in four days at camp, so if I take enough wool to get started on the porch and flag, and maybe begin on the green leaves, I will probably have enough! I know she is right, but… but… I always pack wool like I might somehow get stuck at rug camp for a month or more. And you can never have too much wool!

Simple, repeating, captivating.

By | Antique rugs, Textiles | 3 Comments

From time to time, I stop by the Nazmiyal Antique Rugs collection, just to see rugs from all different cultures – Moroccan, Scandinavian, Art Deco, Ottoman, Chinese, Berber, Persian, and many more. But today I found this rug, pictured above, in their gallery of antique hooked rugs. Just had to show it to you!

It is hand-hooked, and huge – 8’7″ in x 12′ 6″ – so must have been years in the making. It’s dated to be “early 20th century”. Not only is the overall design captivating, but look at how there are hit-or-miss borders in a basketweave pattern to the squares, and the inside of the squares are solid color! Just the opposite of the hit-or-miss rugs I have seen or made myself. It really becomes three-dimensional once you look at it for a little while.

Here is the online description:

Beautiful and Early Antique American Hooked Rug, Country of Origin: American, Circa Date: Early 20th Century – Ingenious in its style, color and composition, this spectacular antique American hooked rug features a splendid allover pattern that creates an illusion of depth and texture. The beautiful basket-weave pattern with its poly-chromatic stripes follows a strict under-over form that sets it apart from the monochromatic and subtly variegated squares featured in the background. Like a patchwork quilt that incorporates innumerable colors and prints, this stunning antique hooked rug is a joy to behold. The varied earth-tone hues are juxtaposed beautifully against the vivid pink, vermillion and turquoise accent colors that are set between the basket-weave stripes. This outstanding antique rug, an American hooked carpet illustrates the amazing versatility of a simple geometric repeating pattern, which is executed in a way that is full of color, texture and visual appeal.

I do love this rug, and it has given me ideas! And I also got a kick out of our “hit or miss” being referred to as “poly-chromatic stripes”. We’ll have to remember that! And isn’t it lucky that I don’t have a place for this large rug in my house – its price is $24,000.

Photo is courtesy of the Nazyimal Collection, online at www.nazyimalantiquerugs.com. You can go straight to their hooked rug gallery here, but I do encourage you to browse around in their collection to see many beautiful examples of rugs and carpets from around the world and throughout history. It is enough to make one dizzy with inspiration.

If you get Rug Hooking Magazine, look for my first published article (whee!) in the new issue, on making hit or miss rugs. I must say, seeing this rug is quite humbling!

Taking a closer look…

By | Art, Color, Composition | 6 Comments

I just came across this lovely painting, for the first time. It is The Homestead, by John Whorf (American, 1903-1959) and it is a watercolor done in about 1945.

Let’s look at it together, and see what we can see. After my very first glance (“what a beautiful old cape! Oh dear, abandoned…“) I notice that almost half of the painting, in the foreground, is taken up by the soft diagonal of the field. The black of the wellpump stands out from the tans and browns of the grasses. The pump draws my eye right to the house itself. In terms of color, the field has a bit of green and even some yellow in with the tans and browns.

Where does your eye travel when viewing the painting? I looked at the brighter colors of the field first, then the black pump led me to the green back door of the house’s ell, and the roofline. And then my eye goes to the hard shadow line across the house, and to the far door… My eye travelled back to the patch of black in the window just to the left of the white door – a broken window, I think, that adds to the abandoned feel of the house. And from the far door, I took in the boarded-up window on the far right.

It was only on the second looking that I really took in the angles of the roof, the two chimneys, and how the house is framed and softened at the top by the unseen tree’s branches.

Look at how the angle of the shadow falling across the house is as hard a line as the house itself. Look at the shadows from the tree on the top roof and far side of the house. Where is the sun coming from?

Did you notice that the diagonal of the hard shadow-line on the house is just the same as (parallel to) the diagonal of the left-most roofline? How do the different diagonals of the roof itself play off against the soft diagonal of the field?

The green bushes here and there in the field balance the greens of the branches overhead. And the field itself: it puts the house at a distance from us, doesn’t it?

Of course the shape of the house itself – the placement of the doors and windows, the rooflines and horizontal lines of the clapboards – is determined by the architecture of any good old cape. But the artist chose just that angle to view it from, with the sun and shadows falling at just that moment, when he contemplated his choices – his composition.

What is the focal point of the painting? I am not sure, and maybe it is different to different people. But I decided that for me, it was the white door – what I took to be the main door that would be used every day.

The whole abandoned look of the house brings to mind who lived there, why they left it, who went in and out of those doors a hundred times, a thousand times. And, at least for me, that is the emotional impact of the painting. I can so easily picture a woman coming out of that green door of the ell to pump water – for dyeing wool or yarn on the top of her old stove. Don’t you think there might have been a hooked rug in front of the stove?

Each art medium has its own look. Watercolor allows that very softness of color, and the wonderful almost blurry top edge of the field grasses, allowing you to feel you are looking right through the grass where it overlaps the house’s foundation. You could dye wool to get the different colors of the field, but it would be beyond me how to create that soft edge where field and house meet.

John Whorf’s The Homestead (August), c.1945 is being sold by Childs Gallery, Boston, MA for $8,500, and they are online at childsgallery.com.

The Gallery description of the painting reads “John Whorf was one of the most accomplished American watercolorists. In this watercolor he treats a Cape Cod house… with a style and technique reminiscent of two of his favorite artists, John Singer Sargent and Frank W. Benson.”

Whorf was born in Winthrop, MA, and died in Provincetown. I did not find much biographical information on him, but it is clear, after searching, that many galleries actively are interested in finding works by him. And a book has just been published about him, John Whorf Rediscovered, available from AFA Publishing. You can see a few more of his paintings here, all lovely.

Today, don’t look at the eclipse without special precautions, so you can continue to look, and then look again, at everything else.

First Rugs

By | Creativity, Making rugs | No Comments

When I meet someone who is just starting to hook rugs, I usually tell them to always keep their first rug. This one is mine. It was a kit I got from the Dorr Mill Store, and I have no idea who did the design – I didn’t know enough to write the designer’s name down or try to remember it back then!

The loops are a bit lumpy, and on the back, I just hemmed it around a piece of cotton for a backing. Hemmed it poorly, I might add, but I never claimed to be good at sewing:

But that’s ok. It still is a design I like, and I still use it as a chair mat. As first rugs go, it was a pretty good design – nice arching lines on the tree, needing to learn a little control to do the leaves and the little apples. Now as I look at it, the outside dark border is uneven – thicker on one side, thinner in other places.

I have always thought a beginner’s first project should be a kit, where the cut wool is provided. Unless they have a friend who sets them up with a cutter and wool, it is better for a beginner to focus on just pulling loops at first. And one of the reasons to always keep your first rug is that it helps you to remember what it was like to just start out hooking.

Then, I tell them, find a pattern you like, and emerge into the wonderful world of choosing your own colors, and learning how to cut your wool. Here is my second piece, a small pattern I got (again no designer recorded!) and also still like a lot:

When that second project is done, I encourage people to dive right in, and draw out a design of their own. Any rughooker can show a beginner how to run a pencil down the gully of their linen to get straight lines to then use a marker on, for the borders. Then, draw it out! It can be a little crooked house with a cat in the yard, it can be a group of stars, leaves, flowers or whatever. I just think it is empowering to see one’s own drawing come to hooked life. It may not be a ornate, fine-shading sort of design, but it will be all yours!

Even if you end up hooking mostly patterns, drawing out a few of your own will give you the confidence to adapt patterns if you want to, down the road. Here is the first rug design I drew out myself:

Of course, I did not realize how tricky all those little pine needles (and the background between them) would be to hook, but I figured it out. To my eyes now, the colors I chose left a lot of, uh, room for improvement, but not bad for a first design.

And I always remind beginners, nervous about facing that first blank piece of backing, to try out drawing your idea a time or two on newsprint, and then either cut out the design elements and trace them, or just start in once you feel you’ve got a design you like. If you make a line wrong in black marker, just correct it in a different color marker, so you remember which is which! And you can always turn the backing over and start again! And you can always change a line as you are hooking.

If you could draw a cat, a house, a lizard, a star, heart, or a tree in the fourth grade, you can still draw!

If anyone would like to share a photo of their first rug, what you remember about doing it, what was the hardest to learn, or what you think about it now, please do! Or if you have advice you tend to give a beginning hooker that really helps, or what you wish someone had told you early on, send it along. Just send photos and any accompanying comments to me at mjanep(at sign)yahoo.com. And keep on hooking!

Ruby in the Garden

By | Composition, Making rugs | 4 Comments

Back in March, I drew out this design, Ruby in the Garden, pretty quickly, since I needed a new rug to work on. At first, it had a butterfly and a second bird in it, but as I finished working on the cat and flowers, decided that they made the composition unbalanced, so left them out. One bird was enough to keep Ruby mesmerized, anyhow!

The only other conscious decision I made about the composition as I drew it out, was to have one of the tulips arch just parallel with the curve of Ruby’s back. I just thought it would, in a subtle way, give her more presence.

The lilac pussywillow flowers were done with the Waldoboro sculpting technique – just enough to add interest, even if you can’t really see it in the photo. And maybe pussywillows are not really lilac, but that’s what seemed right at the time. After I had hooked Ruby and the flowers, I set this rug aside to work on a wide-cut rug for a class I took.

Then about a month ago, I lost Ruby. I had just finished that wide-cut rug, and so a few days later, I pulled out this rug again to finish it. It did help to work on a Ruby rug during those first days of feeling her absence after 15 years. It just worked out that way.

It may not be the last rug I ever make of Ruby, but it will be the last one that has her cat fur embedded in it, from her lying on it from time to time.

May you always have just the right rug to work on, to soothe your soul and raise your spirit, as you go through your days!

More rugs! Never enough!

By | Antique rugs | 3 Comments

There are many more hooked rugs coming up for sale during this summertime auction season, and this may be the only time we get to look at them. First, let’s travel down to Texas, where Bright Star Antiques will be selling the floral rug, above, at their Aug. 26 auction in Sulphur Springs (9am, CST). The only description of it is: Lot 112: Early Floral Hooked Rug 26 1/2″ x 52″. No estimated price given.

What a happy rug! I’m not even sure why “happy” is my first impression of it, but that’s the way it is. Certainly, the bright colors help, and there is something about the way the little rosebuds are peeping up toward the center. And there is just enough oddity in the varied greens (from lime to mid-range to dark gray-green) around the outside border to add interest. Whenever I see “patchy” sections like this, I can’t help but wonder if this is by design, or if the hooker ran out of other greens, and just used what she had. I think the lovely effect this patchiness creates gives us (with our almost instant access to so many wools) reason to loosen up and let the wool go where it will.

Here is another sweet rug in the same Bright Star auction:

This one is Lot 111: Pa. Cottage Hooked Rug 28″ x 52″. No estimated price given. Somehow it got from Pennsylvania to Texas. No real shading, just a bit more of that patchiness on the roof and a bit in the trees, bushes and border. It could have been an early pattern – seems like I have seen a similar cottage rug before, but I’m not sure. It reminds me a lot of Grenfell Mission rugs from Labrador and Newfoundland, maybe because of the simplicity of the design, the outline around each of the design elements, and the lack of any real shading.

This dazzling primitive is going to be sold on Aug. 17 at the James D. Julia auction in Fairfield, Maine:

Another cottage, but so different than the other one! It is Lot 2347: FOLK ART HOOKED RUG OF A HOUSE. Description: First quarter 20th century, American. A folky hooked rug depicting a homestead under a starry moonlit sky in bright colors including reds, blues, greens and more. Also with earthy whites and beige’s. SIZE: 40″ h x 48″ w. CONDITION: Good. Estimated price is $3,000-$4,000.

It looks like it was hooked with yarn, just judging from the fine texture. There is something almost modern/cubist about this design, with the blocks in the background and the moon and stars block above the house. Wouldn’t you love to be able to talk with the person who made this?

And here is one rug that was sold on Aug. 1st, at the D. L. Straight auction in Sturbridge, Mass:

The pre-sale estimated price was $200-$400, but this sweet spaniel, sitting on his own hit or miss rug, was sold for $100.

And one more. This rug will be sold off today at Eldred’s Auction’s sale in East Dennis Mass, sometime soon after 10 am today:

Lot 915: PICTORIAL HOOKED RUG 29″ x 39″ Depicts a winter landscape with horse-drawn sled and rider, a cottage and distant mountains.
The estimate is $150-$250. It’s hard to know what the colors on this rug were originally – it has the look of wools that have faded quite a lot. If I were looking at it in person, I sure would want to turn it over and check the back side, the less faded side, to get a better idea.

As always, there are many design ideas to be found from the antiques on these sites – from stained glass windows, painted dressers, carved birds, weathervanes, pottery. And of course, from paintings, like this amazing one of our beloved U.S. Frigate “Constitution” that sold for about $13,000 at Eldred’s July 20th auction:

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

Painted by DEREK GEORGE MONTAGUE GARDNER English, 1914-2007. “U.S. Frigate ‘Constitution’ with the sloop ‘Hornet’ at sea 28 October 1812”. Signed lower right “Derek G.M. Gardner”.

All photos are courtesy of the auction houses, and many thanks to them for making their catalogs accessible to be copied and show here. Bright Star Antiques is online at brightstarantiques.com, James D. Julia is at jamesdjulia.com, D. L. Straight is online at www.dlstraightauctioneers.com, and Eldred’s is at eldreds.com.

I confess I have never been to a live auction, but what a treasure trove of lovely things – held in private possession, brought into the public for sale, and then likely disappearing again into a private collection.

Animal Rugs from the Past

By | Antique rugs | One Comment

Let’s look at a few antique rugs that are now in public view, because they are coming up for sale at various summer auctions.

First, above, is a lovely old rug (described as just “Hooked Rug”, Lot 357-156) at today’s auction at the W. A. Smith Auction sale in Plainfield, NH. We don’t know when, where, or by whom this was made, so we just can look, and imagine who loved these two dogs enough to create this rug. I especially like the twisted rope border.

Here is another dog rug coming up for sale, this one is Lot 130 at the Aug. 1st sale at D. L. Straight Auctioneers, in Sturbridge, Mass:

The dog is sweet, and I’d bet the hooker worked to get her own dog’s markings just right. But the red vine elements are a little too unbalanced or maybe un-flowing to my eye. Still, much care was put into making it, and someone loved this dog, and probably this rug, too. Description: 19TH C HOOKED RUG OF A DOG, GOOD COLORS, 26 X 49. Estimated Price is $200-$300.

James D. Julia Auctions, up in Fairfield, Maine will be auctioning off this rug, Puppies at Play, on August 17th (10 am):

Here is the description: Lot 2490, “Last quarter 19th century, American. Based on the Currier and Ives print “Puppies at Play.” Depicting puppies playing upon a hilltop with trees and a house in the background in natural earth tones of greens and browns. SIZE: 25-1/2″ h x 50″ w. CONDITION: Good, rug is professionally mounted.” The estimated price for this one is $2,500 – $3,500.

I searched for the original Currier and Ives print of the same name, and while I can’t be sure this is the only one, the figures of the two pups are pretty similar, though reversed.

If this is the same print the rugmaker used, (and the more I look the more sure I am that it is) then the rest of the design of the rug was the maker’s own. I especially love the closely figured grassy hill the pups are playing on. And my guess is that she set the two puppies in her own yard, and that the house on the far right is the hooker’s own. A wonderful example of a rughooker adapting artwork she liked and then making a rug her own. I think copyrights were not an issue back then!

And here is another lovely rug from the same Aug. 17 James D. Julia auction – just to give the cat world a little equal time:

The description of this one, Lot 2366, is: FINE AMERICAN HOOKED RUG OF LIONESS AND HER CUB, Last quarter 19th century, Probably Edward Sands Frost, Biddeford, Maine. Believed to be a first pattern example of a lioness and her cub in a tropical setting with palm trees in the background within a red and black striped border. SIZE: 32″ h x 62″ l. CONDITION: Area of losses above haunch of lioness and additional holes in area of right foreleg and in lower right foreground facing. Colors remain vibrant. Otherwise structurally good. Estimated price is $400-$600.

Finally, again from the same Aug. 17 auction, is Lot 2484, which includes TWO AMERICAN HOOKED RUGS:

Description: 1st quarter 20th century. 1) Depicting a spaniel resting on a small checkerboard mat within an oval polychrome border and ground, framed by four black, brown, beige floral spandrels. 2) Depicting a pair of songbirds beneath floral boughs, each perched on a branch within an oval border of earth tones. SIZE: 1) 27″ h x 44-1/2″ l. 2) 21″ h x 33-1/2″ l. CONDITION: 1) Deterioration around edges and with light even soiling throughout. 2) Good pile, light soiling. Some bleeding to red dyes. Otherwise good. Estimated price is $250-$350.

You can look at (and bid on) all these rugs online, and photos are courtesy of the auction houses. W. A. Smith is online at www.wsmithauction.com, D. L. Straight is at www.dlstraightauctioneers.com, and James T. Julia is online at jamesdjulia.com.

So which rug do you like the best? Once you decide spontaneously, think about exactly why you like it. For me, as much as I adore both dogs and cats, I would pick the bird rug, the last one shown. Why? I like the birds, the design with the oval inside the square, and the little checkerboard figures at each top edge of the oval, and I like the darker lines outlining some parts of the birds, leaves and branches, and of course, (no surprise to anyone), I like the hit or miss outer border!

Words from John Ruskin

By | Creativity, Food for thought | One Comment

This is a drawing by John Ruskin, titled Trees in a Lane, Ambleside, done in 1847.

John Ruskin (English, 1819 – 1900) was the leading English artist, poet, art critic and drawing teacher of the Victorian era, as well as an art patron, draftsman, watercolorist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote about geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy.

In 1869, Ruskin became the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford, where he established the Ruskin School of Drawing. He taught his students to, above all, observe nature closely. Here is another work of Ruskin’s, this one a botanical study:

But it’s not about Ruskin himself I mean to write about today, it is to share with you something that Ruskin wrote, about the importance of drawing. As you read it, remember that he is talking about observing things, looking carefully around you – and though drawing can force you to notice every detail, what he writes about “sketchers” is also true if you do not draw, but just look. Here’s what he wrote:

Let two persons go out for a walk, the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The [second mentioned] will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect, but not that the trees make the lane shady and cool; and he will see an old woman in a red cloak— et voilà tout!

But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light, and the motes dance in the green, glittering lines that shoot down upon the thicker masses of clustered foliage that stand out so bright and beautiful from the dark, retiring shadows of the inner tree, where the white light again comes flashing in from behind, like showers of stars. Here and there a bough is seen emerging from the veil of leaves.

There are a hundred varied colors, the old and gnarled wood is covered with the brightness; here is the jewel brightness of the emerald moss; there, the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a garment of beauty from the old withered branch. Then come the cavernous trunks, and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes, each with his diadem of dew.

And down, like a visiting angel, looks one ray of golden light, and passes over the glittering turf -kiss -kiss -kissing every blossom, until the laughing flowers have lighted up the lips of the grass with one bright and beautiful smile that is seen far, far away among the shadows of the old trees, like a gleam of summer lightening along the darkness of an evening cloud.

Is not this worth seeing? Yet, if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane.”

Here is Ruskin’s watercolor of a kingfisher:

You can actually go to the website of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, at ruskin.ashmolean.org to look at many of Ruskin’s wonderful collection of drawings, and the lectures for which he collected the drawings. There are even eight drawing classes you can take yourself.

Some people create beauty with words, some with drawing or painting, and some with hooked rugs. But looking, closely, is the common thread. Hope you find wonderful things to observe during these summer days!