Artist Study: Matisse

"I don't paint things. I only paint the difference between things."  - Henri Matisse

The second artist that we learned about in our Charlotte Mason-inspired artist study is Henri Matisse. This was a fun one! Matisse's works are so full of color and are so playful; Silas really enjoyed being surrounded by them. 

Much like Monet, there are so many great picture books about this artist. Our favorites were: Matisse's Garden, Henri's Scissors, The Iridescence of Birds, Matisse the King of Color, Colorful Dreamer, Henri Matisse, and Oooh! Matisse.

As before, we just checked out prints from the library to hang on our art wall and read books about the artist to immerse ourselves in his work. Our local art museum does have a Matisse in its collection, which we plan to go see soon. As I plan our artist studies, I'm trying to let what is available to us locally guide my choices. I think it's really important to see these works in person.

YouTube is such a great source to enrich these studies, even though it wasn't the first thing that popped into my mind when searching for resources. We enjoyed this video of Matisse drawing and speaking about his work as well as this video of Matisse creating a paper cut work.

To bring it all together, we created art "like Matisse." I asked Silas what he thought it would mean to do that. He said that he most liked the papercut works that Matisse did late in life, so that was our inspiration. I gathered a big stack of paint chips to cut shapes out of, which were then glued to a watercolor background that Silas painted.

A Rainbow Hat

There's nothing like a stretch of 90 degree weather to motivate some knitting, right? Poor Silas requested a rainbow hat for this past winter. The pattern was chosen and the yarn purchased, but with moving that project just never made its way onto the needles. Then the hot weather hit and our lack of air conditioning and single fan left me planted on the couch at the end of every day wanting to move as little of my body as humanly possible. Suddenly, knitting seemed like a great way to pass the time. By the time the heat broke he had a finished hat for next winter.

This is the Rainbow Trout pattern (ravelry notes here) and I used Crystal Palace Mini Mochi because it was the only self-striping rainbow yarn I could find after a quick search. It is very very soft and I like it, but I probably wouldn't choose it for a hat again. For socks, though, it would be divine. The pattern is fantastic and was a perfect way to add some visual interest to the rainbow stripes without being too distracting.

Joining Ginny.

A Scooping Game

Lately, we've been spending a goodly sum of our time in the front yard playing in the rocks. Silas is building quite an elaborate fairy house and garden (complete with pond, bridge, and stable for fairy animals) and Theda loves to splash in a little pan of water.

She is deep in an enclosing schema and much of her self-directed play consists of putting things into things. I often give her a pile of objects and an empty container and one by one she will put each thing into the basket. Her focus is amazing to watch; she is very determined that all things must be put away.

When giving her a little pan of water outside, I didn't give too much thought to the set-up - just some water with a spoon and a little cup - but she developed a little game for herself that she's been playing over and over for days now. One at a time, she'll pick up a rock, toss it into the water, and then scoop it up with the spoon. Then, very carefully, she removes the rock from the spoon with her other hand and brings the spoon all the way up to her mouth to drink whatever water is left in it. She will then either toss that rock and begin the process anew with a different rock, or she will place the rock back onto the spoon and dump it back into the pan of water. Over and over and over again.

There's also a fair amount of splashing and, of course, dumping going on too. But, this little game of hers, that she comes back to again and again, seems to be fulfilling a need for her. What exactly she's learning about the world or what skill she is trying to master I'm not quite sure, but it's not really important that I do. I trust that she knows best and am happy to watch her work.

Birthday Bolero

I promised myself (and Steve) that I wouldn't buy any more knitting books. I rarely use them anyway as Ravelry is such an easy and useful resource. But this one called to me from the shelves of the resale shop at our library. Filled with such cuteness! I actually passed it over once, but then decided to purchase it (for a whole $2) on another visit after I realized that Theda needed a little cardi to keep her shoulders warm while wearing her birthday dress. I may not be able to sew in sleeves yet, but I can knit them!

The pattern is Debbie Bliss' Baby Bolero (Ravelry notes here) and I used a skein of MadelineTosh that I had purchased with the intent of making a Valentine's Day sweater that never made it on the needles. I've not used MT before (because, good heaven's it's expensive), but it is so dreamy to knit with and so very soft to wear. Theda and I are both fans. I shortened the sleeves because I was shy on yarn, but it worked out perfectly to wear during this very warm spring.

This patch of gravel, by the way, is her new favorite place to play. It's right outside our front door and she practically dives out of my arms, trying to get down to the coolness of the stones, whenever we are coming or going. She can sit there and kick her feet and pick up and put down rocks for as long as we're outside...usually watching Big Brother ride his bike on the sidewalk in front of the house. She's pretty good about not putting them in her mouth and whenever she tries to she does so very slowly and deliberately with a sideways glance in my direction, anticipating the "no, no, no" that is to come and laughing hysterically when it does. 

Joining Ginny.

A Little Party Dress (or two)

I sewed up a couple little party dresses for Theda (because for her, every day is a party). The parade fabric was the inspiration for it all and my intent was to sew her a first birthday dress. I asked in my local sewing group for pattern suggestions with the parameters that the pattern had to be beginner-friendly, have a gathered waist with a sash, and no sleeves (eek! sleeves!). Because the ladies there are awesome, in no time I was directed towards the party dress by Mummykins and Me (which is free if you follow her FB page) and it was perfect. The instructions walked me through each step so it was super easy to sew and it's fully lined with finished seams, so it's comfy to wear.

I did a test run of the pattern using an old bed sheet (so soft!) for the main fabric and something from my stash for the accent. No joke, I bought this fabric six years ago in my very first fabric order ever. I have no idea what I intended to make with it, but I'm guessing I was thinking it would make a good skirt as I bought three yards. Who knows?

I think she is in dire need of some bonnets to go with them.

One (Plus a couple months)

Dear, sweet, Theda,

You truly are a second-born child. There was no costume for your first Halloween, there are far fewer photos of your first year on Earth, your mama-made birthday crown came weeks after we celebrated your first birthday, and this post to celebrate your birth comes two months late. We are just lucky that you are so sweet and good-natured. I'm sure you're too busy laughing to even notice.

You have said "mama" for a very long time, but "mom" has recently emerged and you say it almost constantly, which is about how often you would like to be in my arms. How could I resist, though, when you say "mom" with an exaggerated lip smack and then lay your head on my shoulder and squeeze me with the entirety of your being?

The list of things that you adore is long, but the top of the list, without a doubt, is your Big Brother. The two of you screech at each other in a language shared by the two of you alone and that is barely tolerable by your parents, but that has you both in fits of laughter. The adoration is returned...your brother is quite certain that the sun rises and sets with you. He treats you with such gentleness and kindness, reads you your favorite books over and over, and explains the ways of the world to you.

You love to make people laugh and are very good at it. Just before doing something silly you make sure to pause and cast a sideways glance to make sure that everyone is watching. You have an explosive temper and try to bite anyone who displeases you. Luckily, your anger burns out just as quickly as it flares up and you return to smiles quite easily.

I never worry, as I did with your brother, whether you are getting enough to eat. You attack your food with as much zeal as you do everything else. Your favorites are eggs, chicken, Parmesan cheese, pasta, and sausage. Notice there are no fruits or vegetables on that list. Despite all of my efforts, you have no time for them, with the exception of an occasional roasted sweet potato.

My dear Theda, you have helped me to heal wounds that I didn't even know I had, teaching me again that I am strong, I am capable, and I well-equipped to mother my children.

Happy Birthday my sweet little girl. I can't wait to continue to learn about the person you are becoming and to be in on the joke with you.


A Reggio Exploration of Space

I mentioned before that Silas has begun an investigation of space. I thought I'd do just a quick recap of some of what he's been up to in addition to reading lots and lots of books (because there are always lots and lots of books).

There have been galaxies made out of loose parts on the light table.

He and daddy took a rare after-dinner trip out of the house to go to the public viewing night at our local observatory. It was a very cold night, but he got to see Jupiter, which he said was blue.

I set up this invitation for him and it was a big hit. I made a translucent sand tray out of a picture frame, filled it with black aquarium sand and included some space miniatures and planet rocks that I painted for him. All was set up on the light table, with a galaxy print out as a back drop. 

He got the most enjoyment out of burying everything in the sand. 

Later that week in a hectic moment when he very much needed something to keep him occupied, I handed him the galaxy printout and some metallic markers and he drew in planets and characters from the "Planetron" books he was reading at the time (and which he loved): Adventures in the Solar System and Adventures Beyond the Solar System, both by Williams.

There was also some play with galaxy dough and a variety of loose parts. The space miniatures and planet rocks made a repeat appearance and were joined by some star cookie cutters, gemstones, sequins, acrylic discs, and small mirrors.

For the galaxy dough I used our regular play dough recipe, but added black food coloring and paint. I wanted it to be a really rich black color and all the tutorials I found online used black gel food coloring, so that's what I used. But, even with a full tube, it was definitely more of a purple than black. I threw in quite a bit of black tempera paint as well to deepen the color and it still ended up more of a really dark gray. Then I tossed in a half a tube of silver and a half tube of gold glitter and called it good.

I don't know if it was the added paint, but my dough was really quite sticky. I kept adding flour (I stopped counting after the third cup) until it was more workable. It was already a double batch, so the result was just an enormous amount of dough. We've broken it out several times since then to play.

Porch Picnics

For the past two days the kids and I have been having porch picnics for lunch. My initial reaction to such a request is always resistance. In my mind, eating outside is equated with family reunions: hot sticky August days competing with the bugs for my meal. No thanks. But, I'm starting to come around. Silas might just have the right idea. A blanket thrown on the front porch with the breeze blowing through? That's actually pretty pleasant. 

This blanket, in particular, was a wedding gift. Each panel of the quilt was made by a different friend or family member. I remember crying when it was presented to us at our rehearsal dinner, but then in the chaos of moving and floods that occurred concurrently with our wedding, it got stashed in a drawer and forgotten about. Last summer I started kicking around the idea of making a picnic quilt to take out and about with us; a place where Theda and I could kick back while Silas played at the park. So I looked for patterns and thought about fabric and then I realized, oh. I already have a quilt! Done and done.

I'm also getting more use out of that breakfast tray than every before. I've been carting that thing around with me for 15 years, ever since I got my first apartment and it's sat propped up on the counter in every kitchen I've had since then. It's traveled to three different states and was used maybe a half dozen times total. Now it has a daily date to help me carry my third (!) cup of coffee of the day out to the porch to enjoy these spring days with my littles.

Vacuuming and Planting

It's amazing what a little difference a pass with the vacuum cleaner can make. We share our home with four animals: three cats and a dog. If we don't stay on top of it, the pet hair gets quite out of control. The upside is how incredibly clean everything looks when I finally do get around to vacuuming. Silas is an eager helper, though, and whenever the vacuum cleaner gets pulled out of the closet he declares which room I have to leave for him to do.

Today we finally did a little bit of planting. Before we left our old house we took a few cuttings from the pussy willow that we planted there six years ago. They've been living in a vase of water in our kitchen for the past six months and were in sad need of some soil and sunlight. We aren't quite ready yet to plant anything in the yard yet, so into a bucket they go, waiting to find their forever home.

Making Meteor Craters

Silas has started a project about space. Daddy has a deep love of space research, so kiddo comes by it honestly. He's been interested in space travel, planets, and the moon for quite awhile, but it's only been in the last month or so that we decided to do a project about it.

In all honesty, our last couple projects have either suffered from a lack of focus or fizzled out because I couldn't keep up with journaling and reflection in order to help guide us in productive directions. At just over 5, Silas isn't quite ready to take complete ownership of his projects yet. He still needs my help to remind him what his questions are and to help him seek out resources to find answers. This takes a lot of time and effort on my part and I'm still trying to find a system that works for us.

As I always do when we start a project, I asked him what he already knew about space and what he was curious about. His list of questions was so inspiring and insightful. The first was, "why do people want to know about space?" Heavy, right? So, we've been reading some biographies about people who study space to see where their passion comes from. We started with Copernicus (Copernicus, The Earth is a Planet by Fradin) and Galileo (I, Galileo by Christensen). We're still in a very sensitive stage, though, and the punishments those men received for challenging the church were really frightening for the kiddo. So, we jumped ahead to read about some astronauts: Neil Armstrong (Neil Armstrong, Young Flyer by Dunham) and Sally Ride (When I Grow Up: Sally Ride by Anderson), which were much better received. The current bedtime read is George's Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy and Stephen Hawking and Silas loves it.

Other than that, we've just been doing an invitation to play here and there. Nothing too crazy. Today we set up a simulation of the creation of meteorite impact craters. A layer of white flour with a layer of chocolate cake mix sifted on top (to make the displaced "soil" visible) and dried beans thrown and dropped from all angles and heights and with varying speeds. It was fascinating to see how different the craters were when those variables were adjusted. Of course, making the biggest dust cloud became the ultimate goal.

When that exploration was finished, he then needed some space vehicles to explore his moon surface. So we raided the recycling bin to make some rockets and moon buggies.

It's silly, but I always struggle to control my impulse to buy for projects like this. I am committed to opting out of the consumerist lifestyle. My one weakness, though, are toys. I love to buy stuff for my kids and it takes effort to remind myself that stuff is not at all what they need. 

I'm so glad I resisted the urge because building our space vehicles together was so much more fun than buying a bunch of plastic toys.

And do you see that lunar rover taking soil samples? It doesn't get much cooler than that.

Theda and I sat nearby on a blanket, reading books and playing while Silas was fully engaged in his space exploration.

It didn't take long for the flour to explode everywhere. Thank goodness for a beautiful day and the opportunity to play outside.