Natural Selection

In the children’s area of our local Louisiana library

standing tall

an armful of this week’s haul of crinkly books.

Explaining, to the appalled assembled parentage of

Madison, Ellie, Aubrey,

Brok, Brendan, Holly and Bree,

why my three year old

zebra print bow gathered up in her curls

has just leaned forward

comfortable on the blue plastic couch

to cup her hands around her mouth and clearly shout:

“Mom, did you get any books with the naked people in it?”

“It’s Eric Carle,” I say

to the suspicious mommy grandma big sister faces

“one of his books, ‘Draw me a star.”

But by the time I’ve described the artist as an analogy for God

I realize I never should have explained to begin with.

Who can explain the point, or the pulchritude, of a picture book.

There is nothing to defend, there is nothing to do but

stack up the books on top of the stroller

16 month old strapped back in below the dangerous tower of words

three year old galloping ahead to the circulation desk

behind us

shelves of books waiting their turn.


Running on the ‘No Nap’ platform

'Bean says no to napping' - Copyright Kate Forman Illustration 2014

‘Bean says no to napping’ – Copyright Kate Forman Illustration 2014

Let me tell you about some of my strengths as a mother:

  1. I excel at getting toddlers to eat vegetables. This is mainly due to the fact that I love vegetables, and my enthusiasm is catching, and also because I have some amazing recipes in my arsenal, including a recipe for Bim Bim Bap from the amazing book ‘Hungry Monkey.’ I tweak the recipe by using no table sugar, and more fruit for the marinade and I use any ole veggies I want and, voila: a toddler who eats — with delight — cabbage, snow peas, carrots and trees (broccoli.)
  2. I’m great at singing songs with my little girls, not because I have a great voice — but maybe because I don’t. Singing is just fun, I really enjoy it and so even on days that are otherwise difficult the three of us will be rocking out for at least some part of it. My little bean is 9 months old and automatically looks up when LuLu and I start singing ‘Great big stars’ because not only do we sing, we put on QUITE the performance.
  3. I’m, quite frankly, amazing at sharing gardening and other old world-esque skills with my little girls. Lulu can dead head a marigold and pull it apart to spread some seeds around, she knows that roses love banana peels, and that lavender and rosemary smell delicious. Also, nary a meal out goes by without Lulu sprinkling some salt onto her right hand and then throwing it over her left shoulder. I taught her that. Safety first, as it were, and I look forward to passing on all that and more to Miss Bean.

I could go on, but I don’t want anyone feeling bad at their inability to, oh, effectively extricate a cranky little girl from the playground with as little drama as possible vis a vis my impressive ability to make up silly rhymes on the spot. Also, what I’d like to get to is my huge, yawning, aching and horrifying deficit as a parent:



I mean, really.

There should have been a class, but I probably would have failed. And, yes, I’d love to read that book that worked so well for you…but when, exactly, does one find the time to read? (Honestly, too, parenting books give me anxiety — unless they’re about food or the incredibly reassuring  ‘Baby meets world’ book that I think should be handed out at the first ultra sound…especially the part about breast feeding.)

So, I typed this while breast feeding because Bean decided twenty minutes of shut eye was all she needed today (it wasn’t, she’s miserable.) I probably won’t paint today, which is aggravating, but I’m trying to keep a stiff upper lip about it all. I know it will get better, LuLu does actually nap pretty well most of the time now, and gets through the night too — which I never would have believed was possible, so, fingers crossed that Miss Bean comes around sooner than later.

Oh, much, much, sooner than later.

*Throwing salt over shoulder*

Pass the tissue (paper painting)

Tissue paper, watered down glue, popsicle stick

‘The Flowers’ by Lulu

This week I had some  lofty painting goals. And then we all got sick.

My toddler, Lulu, attends a very sweet, play based, school program twice a week. When I picked her up on Tuesday her teachers warned me “she was the only one not coughing today…” Sigh.

So, now we all have it — the general malaise of short people germs, resplendent in yucky and gunky, and short on sleep. The baby, my little bean, has it the worst, as if teething wasn’t enough for her already.

The beguiling thing about a sick toddler is that, unless they are really sick, the illness can bring on a manic level of energy. As the sick mama all I want to do is slurp soup and watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and feel sorry for myself, but Miss Lulu wants to (figuratively) swing from the chandeliers.

What to do?

Typically our at home activities include painting, but as our usual mode of painting needs a certain exertion of energy in set up and clean up I presented LuLu with the tissue paper painting option.

Tissue paper painting is one of my favorite artistic tools. It can be used as a meditation device, or it can be appreciated for it’s hedonistic amounts of sensual enjoyment. It’s an intervention I used regularly as an art therapist and while I did, on rare occasion, meet a client who didn’t delight in the process, for the most part I think it’s a balm for all wounds, across all populations.

Tissue paper painting requires the following supplies:

  1. Tissue paper
  2. Elmer’s glue (or any glue similarly non toxic and easily washable)
  3. Paper (as high or as low brow as you want to go, I’ll explain more below.)
  4. A cup/bowl
  5. Water
  6. A brush, anything that can carry a water based solution, width at the artist’s discretion

There are two types of tissue paper: the kind that bleeds (the colors ‘run,’) and the kind that does not. If you look at Lulu’s painting you can see some blue, that is the dye leftover from the piece of tissue paper she first put down, but then subsequently removed. If you buy tissue paper at a craft or art store it will often be labeled as bleeding or non, I recommend the kind that bleeds — it’s more painterly, and part of the magic of tissue paper painting is how much work the medium does on it’s own — there’s a certain loss of control on your end, but if you don’t like that and want as much control as possible than the non-bleeding sort might be more up your alley. (Hoarding the tissue paper that comes with gifts and rolling the dice as to whether it will bleed or not is also a nice devil may care way to go about things.)

The glue is mixed with water, enough water to make the painting fluid, but not so much water that the tissue paper doesn’t adhere to the surface. Approximately a 30/70 or 40/60 glue to water ratio. If you want to get super zen about things you can just use water: some of the dye might run, but once the water dries up the tissue paper will slide off the paper and your art work will have been about living in the moment. The usual process is to put down the tissue paper where you’d like, and then coat each piece with the glue mixture. Today, though, Lulu painted the whole paper in the gluey water and then put down her tissue paper. It was one of those hand to head smacking ah-ha moments. It’s a much more immediate process that way, less control, of course, and I wish I’d known of that technique when I was working as an art therapist with the geriatric population. Toddlers, truly the best innovative artists around.

As for the paper, heavy stock water color paper is heavenly, and you can get super precise about things and tape down your edges so that the water doesn’t buckle the paper. Alternatively, any paper or cardboard with a coated surface is nice and celebrates the fluidity of this process, but, truthfully, there really isn’t a wrong paper to work with. As Lulu is a very prolific artist I tend to collect all sorts of paper and up cycle them into her works of art. The paper she used today was 8×11 office paper my husband had previously printed with a typo.

There is a lot more I could say about tissue paper painting, I could go on and on actually, but I’ll just quickly say that I prefer tearing the paper into shapes as opposed to cutting it, but adolescents, in particular, often got into cutting out letters/shapes and gluing them down, and that you can be a tissue paper purist, or you can incorporate anything else glue-able: glitter, beads, shells, collage, or — as you can see above — the odd popsicle stick. Dried tissue paper paintings done on thin paper and hung in a sunny window take on a stained glass effect, and layers and layers of tissue paper and glue become effortlessly organic. I’m not surprised that Lulu named hers “The Flowers,” somehow this process moves away from it’s store bought origins and gets quickly earthy, in the best possible way. When I would paint along with my clients I would inevitably layer blues and greens together — it felt especially soothing — and almost every group agreed that my finished product looked like the ocean, and so one day I intentionally choose reds and oranges and when it was all done a client observed that it looked like the sun setting on the ocean, it’s just that soulful of a way of creating art that I think it brings out our primal identifications with nature. (No, seriously, check out the cool water marks left in Lulu’s tissue paper and tell me that doesn’t seem like the relief of a fossil?)

If you do delve into this process I would LOVE to know your reactions to it. Meanwhile, I’m off to make a cuppa peppermint tea. Stay healthy, soulful artists, stay healthy.

All pieces

A few weeks ago my little ladies and I were visiting the local library, as we often do. Vera B. William’s wonderful ‘A Chair for my Mother’ was one of the books the children’s librarian had displayed on top of the stack and I excitedly pulled it down and said to Lulu, “Lulu, Mommy used to work for the lady who made this book!” And Lulu said “Next, we go to the playground?” And that concluded my name dropping for the day.

When I was in my twenties I had the very good fortune to be an occasional studio assistant to the amazing Children’s book illustrator and author Vera B. Williams. Vera is pretty much as you imagine her: she has beautiful white hair, crinkly eyes, a perfectly raspy perfect Bronx accent, a strict policy of wearing skirts in the rain, and an ever present joie de vivre. Vera’s books are beautiful and very real.  The kids in her books grapple with things that real kids do: poverty, imperfect adults, life’s ups, and downs, good days and bad days. However, there isn’t anything depressing about Vera’s work. Life is worth living, despite all it’s twists and turns, and Vera’s kids live life to the fullest, minus any smarmy sugar coating.

One conversation, among the many interesting ones I was lucky to have with her, stands out in my mind, and is something I’ve reflected on ever since becoming a Mom. We were eating lunch and Vera mentioned that she’d been given a gift certificate to a cooking class, and then she laughed, and said that when she was home with her kids cooking had been one way to be artistic, but that now that she was working as a full time artist she rarely cooked anymore. I’m paraphrasing liberally, it was a long time ago, but I remember her listing some of the other ways she used to be artistic while she was raising her children, and I remember her acknowledging that she didn’t do much of those types of things anymore now that she was able to paint and write on her own schedule.

I remember being surprised, at the time I was walking around with the  “all of a piece” quote from Anna Karenina written in my address book, and my number one aspiration was to have everything in my life in one piece too: I wanted jobs, friends, a place to live, and a lifestyle that all moved cohesively in one socially conscious and artistic direction. The notion that the successful artist in front of me had ever not been completely put together and succinctly goal oriented was difficult to wrap my mind around. I was very young, and so thought I was very old, and had difficulty recognizing that life doubles around on itself, sometimes, and that, sometimes, the winding path, with plenty of rests, is the most productive.

Now, with two small halloween costumes draped over my art desk, along with an unfinished sketch, and finger paintings drying on the kitchen table, and jack o lanterns that still have to be carved, I take great comfort in that conversation with Vera. It was a gift, and there’s a reason I kept it tucked away in my mind. Someday soon, far sooner than I can imagine now, these little people will all be grown up and I’ll have more time to paint, but, for now, there are crinkly library books to read, sticks and leaves to collect, and small, pudgy, fists determined to have their moment at this keyboard too.


My current catch-22: I think, “I should really write a new post and get back into the swing of things, it’s been so long, too long.” And then I think, “But I should explain, I should rationalize, I should set new realistic goals. I shouldn’t just pop in a post all of a sudden, it’s been too long!” So then, having thoroughly shoulded all over myself, I do nothing. The time with no post yawns wider, and becomes even more of a reason that just popping in a post isn’t an option.

Meanwhile, there’s so much to write about. My new baby girl! A new move around the country. Newer adventures in mommy-artistry. New art, but different. New inspirations, some surprising. And new realizations that communicating through writing and art inspires me and keeps me healthy, and that even if I can only do a little bit right now it’s just the right amount.

So, I started thinking of my favorite Toni Morrison quote. When asked why she started writing Toni Morrison said “I wrote the book I wanted to read.” And that’s what this post is, the post I’d like to read — an acknowledgement that it is difficult to get art done and raise two gorgeous wee girls, and be present in this family as a wife and mother and person. I would like to read a blog post by a Mom who says, hey, look, I’m an artist, and I’ve got these great kids, and amazing husband, and friends and family and all the rest, and I’m just trying to figure it all out and also, oh yea, this is what I painted and how and why. And, quite frankly, I wouldn’t need to read a self denigrating, or aggrandizing, list of all the reasons she hadn’t recently posted — I would just want to know more of how all the pieces were currently fitting together.

So: I’m just popping this out there.

And I’ll be back real soon.

Please Don’t Feed Your Fears

Copyright 2013 Kate Forman

Copyright 2013 Kate Forman

I haven’t posted anything in a very long time. Also, I haven’t been painting very much. My wee baby girl just turned one, and I’m still learning the juggling act of being a mamma and an artist (not to mention all those other identities of wife, friend, etc.) This idea of painting sayings or phrases is something I’ve been kicking around for a while, and I’m planning on continuing it and posting them here and on my FB page. Hopefully they’ll act as a warm up and motivate me to get to painting a few other things that I’ve left on the back burner for far too long.

Nap Time

'The Start of Something New' Copyright 2011 Kate Forman

‘The Start of Something New’ Copyright 2011 Kate Forman

My daughter is sleeping. There are two very remarkable things about that short sentence. First, I have a daughter. She is gorgeous and strong, remarkably opinionated, stunningly beautiful, intoxicatingly huggable, endlessly kissable, and mine.

MY daughter. They let her come home with us from the hospital. No Doctor or Nurse asked as to my credentials, they weren’t concerned that I failed the high school Chemistry regents test twice. TWICE. Doesn’t it seem that a Mother should have a more basic grasp of Chemistry? I wouldn’t know an atom from  an ion if they offered to change a diaper, and yet, here she is. She’s mine to love, to hold, and to raise — Me, with all my imperfections, and short-comings, and history of goof-ups — I got someone in my life who is absolutely perfect.

Full disclosure: and my husband, she is also his, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on me. Me the mommy, me the humbled human, me the perplexed artist, me the admirer of this incredible baby girl.

The second remarkable thing about the opening sentence is that she is sleeping. Who said that infants sleep all the time? I’d like to call them up and give them a piece of my mind. My daughter sleeps, but not the long tranquil spells I’d imagined during my pregnancy, during which I day-dreamed of no day job and endless hours of nap-times in which to paint and market and even blog. Bwahhh-haaa-haa: that is the sleep deprived laugh I send back to my round naive self.

This fierce little lady and I already share some things in common, and one of them is: we’re kind of lousy nappers. She soaks up the room from the moment she’s awake to the moment she’s asleep, there is so much to see and focus on. In fact, watching her, those first few weeks, develop the ability to focus on our faces and other interesting sights was fascinating. I have trouble turning off my vision long enough to drift off to sleep too, it’s hard to let the room, the window, or the book go during the daytime. My daughter can be anything she wants to be, and I don’t want to push any career on her at all, but I expect that she is already a visual person — as shutting out the day for a nap seems a bit challenging for her too.

However: here today is a remarkable occurrence. We both slept well during the night, we made the coffee together, we had a few chats about things like patterns on pillows, and corners where things meet, and red stuffed animals, and then she drifted off to sleep, and I sat down with the end of the coffee and got things done. It is an amazing feeling.

I have a feeling that this blog will begin to be about being a mommy and making art. The balance of day-jobs and freelance art pursuits and the practical obligations of life is always on my mind, and this blog has frequently been a space for me to express my reactions to it…and now there is another piece to the puzzle. I’m already chewing on this quandary: being a Mom emboldens me, and inspires me, but also has already shifted the entire course of my day and my life, and I wonder how to continue to weave it all together. For now, though, I can hear my gorgeous girl’s soft breath and occasional whimpers and coos, and with that in my ears I’m going to go make some art.