I finished the first version of this painting of the pumpkin seed in 2012. It was even on display in a gallery for a while, but it didn't sell. I was happy to bring it home and hang it on my wall, but admittedly, I never really fell in love with it. I remember struggling when I worked on it, but I also remember feeling good when it was done. The thing I noticed over the years though, was that every time I was considering entering a show and I would look over at my finished work, I never felt this one was good enough to enter. It looked bland and it didn't feel alive. It took way to long to realize that I should just try again. While I was waiting for my recent commission to dry, I plucked this off the wall and gave it a second shot.
Originally I didn't want to frame it, but it just didn't feel right hanging as a slab of wood. I added a rather raw, weathered frame. The block of wood that the painting is on is just slightly off square, and the frame adds even more awareness to the angle, but this feels natural to me. I used the block of wood as I had found it, without cutting any edges because I didn't want freshly cut sides contrasting too much with the rest of the weathered surfaces. I also felt that since the size of the wood was such a good fit for the image it would be most authentic in it's true found state. This feels good to me. This feels like how I garden. Most of the time gardening does not yield uniform shiny, smooth, sexy produce. It's dirty and imperfect in so many ways because there is so much that is out of your control. So it feels natural to me that my work that is inspired so directly by my love for growing whole, healthy food is also imperfect.
There has been a frenzy of growth in my garden this year. Rain has fallen in well timed intervals and all of the plants are in competition for space. It is saturated with green, sumptuous leaves and gorgeous blossoms that are quickly growing into food. So far I have harvested beautiful heads of lettuce, a couple of handfuls of sugar snap peas (more than I've gotten in recent years), a few small clusters of broccoli and three zucchini. Green beans, red cabbage and cherry tomatoes are probably ready to be picked today along with more zucchini. It feels like the bulk of the harvest is ahead of me which made today's garden discovery feel particularly discouraging.
Right there in plain view, more than a dozen eggs. Waiting, mocking.
I found dozens of groupings on one plant cluster totalling hundreds of eggs!
Ofcourse, I didn't just find the eggs. Some of the little jerks had already hatched. This group met their demise shortly after I snapped their picture. Squash bugs suck at the stems/vines of the plant for sap. The plant will appear healthy until it isn't. It can quickly turn into a wilted mess with no hope for further production.
It didn't take long to find an adult squash bug. She was on one of the highest leaves of the plant almost as if she were surveying her kingdom after a day of hard work. She must have been feeling pretty proud of herself.
I wasn't surprised to find the squash bug infestation. We do battle every year. Up until now we have only engaged in hand to hand combat. I usually take a container of soapy water down to the garden and scrape all the eggs and bugs I can catch into the water and I dump the container down the disposal inside the house, just to be sure that some of them don't somehow survive and escape. I was recently tipped off to the successful use of diatomaceous earth to reduce the presence of this pest. It is going to be included in my next wave of defense this year and next year.
I was picking the first ripe zucchini when I found the initial group of baby squash bugs. It was a harsh dose of garden reality. Planting a garden is always a hopeful act, but it is not without struggle and inevitable heartbreak. The continual crusade of the plant to overcome the steady barrage of attacks by pest and disease is not usually on my mind when I put the seed in the soil. I imagine this is because I plant the garden knowing that it is a supplement to our diet. I freeze, I can and I dehydrate to try to make the harvest and health last as far into the winter as I can, but when we run out we can always run to the store. My income isn't dependent on the survival of any of the plants, if the plants do die before they produce much, I can go to the farmer's market. This is not to say that I don't feel pressure, stress and sadness over the struggles of the season, but the element of risk is low for me. There is a lesson in this that can be carried over to my artwork. One that was spelled out for me in critiques during my last residency and made crystal clear again in the garden just now. The element of risk is low for me. . . I feel the stirring, anxious, roiling, urgent desire to begin a new painting, a new series.
But it is summer and I can't just run up to my studio and feverishly begin working while throwing baseball practices, soccer practices, summer reading, dinner and all other responsibilities to the wind. I decided to temper the bitter squash bug discovery and the crippling inability to run away and paint immediately by making something sweet in the kitchen to accompany dinner - Zucchini Crisp!
A few years ago my cousin casually mentioned using zucchini to make crisp instead of apples. I tried it out and it was delicious! I looked up a couple of recipes on sites like epicurious.com and the food network.com, but really all you have to do is take your favorite apple crisp recipe and make a few tiny alterations. I like to keep things simple.
I roughly peel the zucchini to remove just a little of the green skin, but not all of it, I cut out the pithy, seedy center, then I cube enough of the zucchini to fill an 8 x 8 glass dish.
I add enough lemon juice to coat the zucchini and allow a little to pool in the bottom of the dish. Next I sprinkle with cinnamon, stirring occasionally to mix it in, until it smells good. Don't measure, go by look, feel and smell. Finally I add about an 1/8 cup of sugar or honey. It's a compromise, just enough to make it palatable to the kids since zucchini is not nearly as sweet as apple. I let the zucchini marinate with the flavorings while I mix up the crisp.
For the crisp I blend the following ingredients until they are crumbly; 1 cup of rolled oats, 3/4 cup of flour (To make it gluten free for my beloved I use three 1/4 cup measurements of different gluten free flours. This time it was oat flour, pre-mixed corn and potato flours, and millet flour, but you can also use rice flours, etc.), 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 stick of butter, a pinch of salt.
Bake at 375 degrees uncovered for about 25 minutes and then check the tenderness by poking the zucchini with a fork. It may be necessary to lightly cover with foil and bake an additional 10 - 15 minutes until the zucchini feels tender. The foil will prevent the crisp from becoming too browned while the zucchini continues to cook.
I know I am fortunate to even have what I can call a studio space in my home. I am lucky that my domain is not the dining room table therefore requiring that I pick up and put everything away at the end of every session and store my paintings . . . where? Even so, I still feel cramped.
Each one of the three kids loves to come into the studio, ask questions and paint with me, and I love that too. . . But they are often right under my feet, literally, and I am often tense that they will bump into something wet or fragile which wouldn't be hard to do. My stress level goes through the roof if they all venture in there at the same time.
I also don't have much wall space to work with since one wall is taken up by books and a few completed paintings, one by windows and one by Rosie. Hanging up drawings and other in-progress paintings to study becomes difficult if not impossible, so I have slowly and silently commandeered other available wall space.
The tv room/laundry staging area now shares space with my study drawings. (This series includes a third image on the right/proper left that hasn't made it to the larger tracing paper yet) The slate paintings are replacing the full length mirror on the bedroom wall where I hung them at a comfortable height so that I can work on them in my bedroom - when my husband isn't sleeping - instead of hauling them up and down to the studio.
I suppose the silver lining is that I get to look at something I'm making in at least three different rooms of the house as I go about the normal business of the day. If one or more details continually pop out at me every time I walk through the room and look at them, then I know what I need to fix the next time I go to work. It may even make my studio time a little more productive.
The down side is that I don't always get to feel how the images interact with one another in one space.