Posted tagged ‘biography’

Biographies and Art Technique Books

January 17, 2017

I bought 4 new books and 2 used books that looked interesting for biography art techniques.

1) How to Draw & Paint Animals: Learn to Draw with Colored Pencil Step by Step by Debra Kauffman Yaun – another excellent Walter Foster publication, and a large format with few pages like their older publications. Many good steps and tips in this without the usual interminable pages of supplies that many publishers use to pad out their books.


2) No Excuses Watercolor Animals: A Field Guide to Painting by Gina Rossi Armfield – I rather like Gina’s exuberant, loose style which is accurate but so different from the precious approach to painting tedious art that looks like a photograph. Again, no 21 pages of supply discussion padding out the substance of the book.


3) Colored Pencil Cats & Dogs: Art & Instruction from 80 Colored Pencil Artists by Ann Kullberg – Each artist has a picture and a page of remarks and tips. I love this kind of book where you can get inspiration without copying a tutorial.


4) John James Audubon: The Making of an American by Richard Rhodes – A recent biography recommended by several newspapers. The print is a bit small but I’m enjoying it as I knew nothing of his life.


These two I bought used on ABE so it will take a while to get them. I have read two other biographies by Mary S. Lovell, so was interested in the one that she did on the Churchill family. She doesn’t include everyone but some of the well-known Churchills and family history.

5) The Churchills by Mary S. Lovell – I bought an older edition paperback and it’s not as fancy as the newer and larger books with photos of the family on the cover. Winston Churchill wrote his own biography of his famous ancestor, the first Duke of Marlborough, but I wanted something lighter.


6) Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds by Lyndall Gordon – I wanted to re-read the biography of Dickinson My Wars Are Laid Away in Books by Alfred Habegger, but it was tedious to read I thought I’d try another approach and bought this for $1.


I joined a new book group for this year where you keep track of what you read each month (something I always forget to do), and they also read a book together each month. I recently got an app for our tablet for reading eBooks, and it wasn’t as hard on the eyes as I expected so I am enjoying reading the first two classic books.

Years ago I used to be on several book groups on Yahoo Groups, but they changed the format on Yahoo which made it more difficult to read and reply to messages, so I gave up and left them all. I miss talking to people about books though, and part of the fun is checking other people’s lists of books and finding new authors of fiction and new non-fiction reads on fascinating subjects.










Some New and Used Books

January 16, 2015

I bought two very inexpensive used books before Christmas, and they finally arrived in the mail. The first is an older edition of Hayden Herrera’s biography of Frida Kahlo. I wanted this to get me in the mood for making the Frida Kahlo doll I want to sew and paint.


I also bought a copy of Marti Mitchell’s quilting book Quilting for People Who Still Don’t Have Time to Quilt because I liked the quilt on the left hand side of the cover. She has a pattern for a wallhanging (which I would upsize) and a charming doll quilt that also interested me. They are done in scraps in a colourwash technique that I like and wouldn’t mind giving a try. These are very, very simple quilts but sometimes it’s nice to sew a simple item.


I am updating this post to reflect the fact that I deleted one book and placed another because the book on EFT and meridian “tapping” just made me sceptical. So, I bought a copy of Lee Hammond’s book on drawing portraits from photographs. I have her book on drawing coloured pencil portraits but in this first one she goes into more detail and uses graphite.


I was talking to Ruth White about her New York Clambake piecing pattern and she mentioned she had a quilt in the book 500 Traditional Quilts, so I bought it too to get free shipping.


The author, Karey Bresenhan, used to write articles in the old Lady’s Circle Patchwork Quilts publication. I loved those magazines because of the historical information and emphasis and have all my old copies. I like traditional quilts done with new approaches to colour, but I also like certain art quilts.

I am looking forward to getting these two new books. I was in a funk all week, not feeling well, and you can always count on quilts to cheer you up!



Boxes and Biographies

October 31, 2014

I have been trying to find some books on embroidering boxes so I can do up a box for the gorgeous Tarot of the Absurd. I have instructions for making boxes from illustration board in at least two of my bookbinding books, but I want some further ideas and instruction on fabric boxes with embroidery inserts or coverings.

The book Embroidered Boxes by Jane Lemon was first printed in 1980 and although re-printed with different coloured photographs for covers, the edition itself has never been updated, and is pretty stripped down with black and white illustrations. I bought a used copy of the 1984 edition for $1. I can’t go wrong.


Decorative Boxes by Juliet Bawden discusses several decorative techniques including appliqué and embroidery so I felt it would be useful. Juliet is quite a prolific writer and has a number of interesting titles for crafts and sewing.


The last book is a more recent publication and covers cross stitch, embroidery, patchwork and the dreaded plastic canvas. While I have considered using plastic canvas as a support inside a fabric box, I don’t really like the way it looks when worked up in tent stitch, but Meg Evans in her book Hand-Stitched Boxes seems to have some workable ideas.


I once had a book by Mary Jo Hiney called Making Romantic Fabric-Covered Boxes, and the instructions were so convoluted that I gave the book away. I am hoping I can get somewhere with these other books as several of my card decks could use a nice box. I generally make cardstock tuckboxes for them but I wanted to increase my skills and make some boxes with lids to embellish. I can’t afford the fancy wooden ones where you put an embroidered insert in the lid, so I have to press on and try to find solutions to what I want. It gives me a way to practice embroidery yet make something useful.

I am not a natural at pattern drafting and figuring things out in sewing, I find it tedious, but if I can find basic instructions and adapt them for specific sizes I will be fine.

And lastly, I bought a used copy of Linda Lear’s biography Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, which I have been meaning to track down for some months. I have read shorter biographies but wanted something more comprehensive. I love biographies but now and then there are special people I want to revisit.


Oh boy, I’m definitely out of Christmas money now!

You can’t go wrong continually learning and doing.



Biographies Recently Read

February 10, 2012

I just read a couple of good books; one a biography and one an autobiography.

The first is I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg by Bill Morgan which I ordered on an inter-library loan. I raced through this one and found it fascinating.

I don’t respect the rampant alcoholism and drug addiction of the hip people of the time but I did hold some respect for Ginsberg, and reading this has increased my esteem of the man and his work. I remember seeing him protesting on various things on television and cringing at the way he seemed to hitch himself to causes, but the book explains his genuine interest in such things long after it became shameful to do so. I was also astounded to learn that he didn’t have much money due to his support of various organizations and friends. He could have been wealthy and comfortable and wasn’t. He was quite a genuine person.

And speaking of causes and not being politically correct, someone on one of my reading lists recommended Michael Moore’s new autobiography. He has written stories of his life and will continue to expand on this volume in one or two subsequent books. This was excellent and as many reviews state, you will come away knowing things you didn’t know about Michael Moore: Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life by Michael Moore.

I have been reading several biographies that I got on inter-library loan. I seem to be in mid-century modern mode lately, reading about some of the musicians and writers that became popular in the 1950s and 60s.

Frank O’Hara: Poet Among Painters by Marjorie Perloff

Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn by David Hajdu

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin Kelley

All were interesting, though the Frank O’Hara biography was not well written and didn’t contain much biographical detail, but this seems to be the only book on him available. Incidentally, according to Allen Ginsberg’s voluminous journals, he and Frank had an encounter but they were both too drunk to do anything about it. Frank hung around painters more than he did writers but I suppose paths crossed at parties and such.

I am not sure where to explore next. I could read about scandalous Jane Digby or perhaps the Mitford sisters, or I could stick to music and read about Henry Mancini or Johnny Mercer, both musicians I respect. I might decide to read the abridged autobiography of Isaac Asimov. I have biographies of Oscar Wilde and Zelda Fitzgerald to read at home here but I am not in the mood.

If anyone has suggestions, please comment, I am always interested in book recommendations.

Update: One of my friends wrote to tell me about a biography of Edmund White she is reading.  I have never even heard of White but I see he has written a biography of 19th century French poet Arthur Rimbaud. I have another biography of Rimbaud written by Graham Robb that I should read. Since I am reading about writers and musicians of the 1950-60s era, I find a lot of them were influenced by Rimbaud. Phil Ochs even named a cat Rimbaud. I have a book of poetry of Rimbaud’s but still need to get to this biography. It might be a good tie-in with some of the biographies mentioned in this post.

Coco Chanels’s Lenormand Cards

October 15, 2010

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie
ISBN 9780061963858

I just got this book from the library and it is filled with fabulous photographs and drawings. Right at the beginning of the book, the author talks about Chanel’s fascination with wheat as a symbol of safety and goodness. Chanel had a card deck that she consulted every day which the author mistakenly identifies as a tarot deck. It is actually a Lenormand deck, and Coco’s favourite card was #10 – Scythe. Although it usually depicts wheat with the scythe it is called the Scythe card.

The stated translation from the German is:

Always a scythe around
Will warn you of danger
You cannot ever escape it
Wherever you may go

For those not up on Lenormand history, Marie Anne Lenormand (1768-1843) was a French cartomancer who became famous because of her relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Josephine. Josephine in particular liked to have her fortune told. Naturally, the high society of the time embraced Mlle. Lenormand enthusiastically and she often did readings for people with a deck she created. Eventually a Lenormand deck with 52 figures that was also associated with the cards from a regular pack of playing cards was published around 1828, and redesigned around 1840 as a 36-card deck, which is the one we know today as the Petit Lenormand.

These decks are wildly popular in Europe and South America, and people who collect cards as I do love them as well. Yes, some people who read tarot cards use them but the history of the cards is associated with a European sensibility of parlour fortune telling and games not linked to tarot.

As for the playing card associations, this is how my 36-card Petit Lenormand is broken down:

Ace, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King

To relate this to cards in general, there is a 32-card pack of playing cards very popular for playing a game called Skat in Europe, particularly Germany, and a well-known game with 32 cards called Piquet and you can also play Bezique using two 32-card decks. The Petit Lenormand resembles those game decks, but with the 6 of the suit added. The revamp of the Lenormand into a 36-card deck took place at about the time Skat decks were developed. There are many games in Europe that use 36-card decks, it seems to be a regional variant of inventiveness, and perhaps some canny publisher figured to cash in on both the playing card decks with fewer cards and the Lenormand focus by modifying the initial Lenormand deck.

We forget in our time of computers and phones that gaming with cards was extremely popular in human society for centuries. It still is. Humans always fiddle around with things and invent their own systems and games, and the fact that some of these games are still played and popular, like Tarock, which is a game played with a variant of a Tarot deck, is fascinating.

For interest’s sake, here is a card comparison of the Scythe card in my small collection of Lenormand decks. You can see the English version of Coco Chanel’s deck in the upper right corner. It is here associated with the Jack of Diamonds and says:

O, dread the scythe,
that you must when to you it is near,
and hope a friendly environment
will aid against the evil you fear.

The dreaded nearness of the scythe refers to how near it is in the card layout to the male of female significator card used to represent you in a reading, and the “friendly environment” to offset that would be reflected in the surrounding cards. It’s quite an interesting system. At the time I bought my cards there were no English books on the subject, so my book is in French but fairly easy to translate.

In the upper middle is the card from the Lenormand deck I designed myself using clip art. The Tarot Lenormand on the upper left is a tarot deck with Lenormand cards added in for some of the usual archetypes and it also has depictions of the French Revolution which was why I bought it. It’s a very nice deck though, despite the mish-mash.

I’m afraid that for me the image of a scythe is always associated with Death from the movie Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Now he was a scary old feller.

There is a long tradition of associating the harvest with human death, using this analogy for the natural cycle of life, but the scythe doesn’t seem to have become associated with Death until about the 15th century when The Grim Reaper became a popular figure. He was supposed to come for you and cut you down to take your life.

No wonder the scythe has dangerous connotations of dread in this card. All humans fear Death, no one wants to be cut down before their time. Coco Chanel seems to have viewed it with rather a brighter tone, that of safety and goodness, wheat as the staff of life, protecting you from Death.

I think I’m going to enjoy this biography.

Fab-O New Book (But Not Ulysses)

July 20, 2009

Am I ever going to finish Ulysses? The Universe coughs and says “Try and be diligent Judith, try and focus.” Focus, what’s that? Hey the James Joyce Jumping Jack took a trip down to Toronto, what more could you ask for?

I have had to put Joycey on the back burner yet again to read two inter-library loans I received.

As well as the Man Ray biography, I got this fantastic book on inter-library loan which I mention on my Books I Am Reading page, but it’s so good I wanted to put a larger notice here.

I was browsing for information on Lee Miller (a Man Ray friend and lover) and came across this book: The Lives of the Muses : Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired by Francine Prose. Could you have a better name as an author?

Very interesting people and some I hadn’t heard about. I found it fascinating to learn about Samuel Johnson and his muse Hester Thrale; Alice Liddell I knew about from a biography I read of Lewis Carroll but interesting to see another biographer look at her.

That’s as far as I have made it but it’s a page-turner so I expect to finish this quickly.


Man Ray Comes To My House

July 3, 2009

I first came across some of Man Ray’s sculptures in an art book I own called History of Modern Art : Painting, Sculpture, Architecture by H.H. Arnason. This is a wonderful book, and has several editions. I couldn’t afford the new one so 4 years ago I bought an older edition online, and it’s one of the best books in my collection.

I also came across him in some of the history of photography books that I have been reading as I find them over the last five years. I finally ordered this biography via inter-library loan and received it today. I am so excited, and it kind of ties in with my current read of Ulysses by James Joyce. I still think Edward Steichen was a better photographer of women than Man Ray, but I am so interested in the period of art before and after World War I, so I was delighted to get this book.

Man Ray: American Artist by Neal Baldwin
ISBN 030681014X

Blurb from back cover:

“Man Ray is the quintessential modernist figure – Painter, sculptor, photographer, filmmaker, poet, and philosopher. One of the most fascinating of the Surrealists who transformed the Paris art world during the 1920s, Man Ray was an enigma – a Dadaist who revered the Old Masters, an anarchist pursued by wealthy patrons. Driven to make his mark in as many art forms as possible, he struggled bitterly to win acceptance as a painter even as his skill as a photographer brought him worldwide fame. Man Ray came to know personalities such as Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, and Coco Chanel, and he photographed virtually every important figure in the arts on both sides of the Atlantic.”


I also have a book on order from the library called The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired by Francine Prose
ISBN 0060555254, which covers several interesting people including Lee Miller, who was Man Ray’s lover and apprentice at one time. Or his muse and a talented photographer in her own right who influenced him, depending on what you read.

I shall find out!