Monday, January 31, 2011

Day Thirty: Another Zentangle Bird

I'd originally planned to do this Zentangle Bird in color, but it got too late, so I'm posting it as is. It feels incomplete to me, so maybe I'll add color tomorrow.

Stay tuned....


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day Twenty-Nine: Doodling

Some time ago I bought a wonderful blank book down at the Boulder Book Store, called "642 Things to Draw", published by our friends at Chronicle Books, who, by the way, also produced yesterday's beautiful origami papers.
This book is just what is says it is: a book that lists 642 things to draw, sometimes one on a page, sometimes two, sometimes three or more, and basically, you just open it up anywhere and start doodling. It's a wonderful way to procrastinate, especially when you have something important you should be doing. I looked for a page about birds, but couldn't find one, so I picked a random page--which happened to list: A Cabin, Mushrooms, Shrubbery, and Bob Marley. Of course, I had to make the doodles about birds. Bob Marley was the hardest; I should have written "No Woman, No Quack" but didn't think of that til just now.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Corrections to Shorty Post

I spoke with my Dad today about my Gramma Shorty post, and he offered these three comments: 1) My parents were married in 1942, not 1941. 2) His father actually did get the influenza in 1918, lost all his hair, and almost died. Fortunately for future generations (myself included) he did not, and went on to father four sons, my dad being one of them. 3) After Gramma Shorty finished washing the floor and the kitchen counter with the same rag, she then washed all four boys' faces with it. Note: This story is unconfirmed.

Day Twenty-Eight: Seven Swans a Swimming

The Simple Swan is one of the most elegant and graceful of all the Origami figures. And it is so incredibly simple to make, that I simply had to make seven of them.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Day Twenty-Seven: Shorty

Today's Bird is in memory of my paternal grandmother, Ida Osherow Breen, (1880?-1973), who was never called anything but "Shorty" by our family, not because she was short (she was) but because her sons would put her in shortstop position when they played stickball out in the street in front of their apartment at 12 N. State Street.
Nobody remembers Shorty as being anything but unimaginably old, though one of these photos shows that she must have been young once. As a Jewish woman, she emigrated to the United States from Russia at the turn of the century with her siblings, Hannah, Sarah, and Shimcheh, to escape the state-sanctioned pogroms of czarist Russia.
At some point, she married my grandfather, Nathan Breen, and they worked together first in Chicago's sweatshops and then in their own tailor shop, in Elgin IL. She was in her late thirties, or possibly early forties, when she had her four sons. My father was born during the Great Influenza of 1918. Lucky for me, he and his mother did not contract the deadly influenza that killed 20 million people worldwide.
My father grew up in an environment of grinding poverty and rampant anti-Semitism, but he and his brothers all managed to get college educations and earn advanced degrees, and all four served their country in World War II. This was a tremendous source of pride to my grandmother, though goodness knows, America had not been particularly kind to her. I wonder what memories today's immigrants will have of an ungracious and unwelcoming nation.

My grandfather had died two years earlier when I arrived on the scene in late 1947. My sister and I were Gramma Shorty's first grandchildren, and her pride in us was overshadowed by her unceasing anxiety for our well-being. Gramma Shorty always lived in Chicago with my Uncle Mike (Myer), but often came to visit us first in Geneva, IL, then Asheville, NC, and finally Norwood, MA. I remember being fascinated and very distressed watching her take her teeth out at night and put them in a glass of water. I spent a lot of time worrying about the state of my own teeth, and when this would happen to them. I was also intrigued by her preference for a cup of hot water over tea or coffee. Sometimes she would stir in some lemon Jell-o powder, but I rarely saw her eat or drink anything else, preferring to hover over us as we attempted to eat her truly alarming borscht or greasy potato latkes. Culinary subtleties were not Gramma Shorty's specialty. My father always said that his mother was the only woman he knew who would stew a steak.

Gramma Shorty was always cleaning. My father claimed that his mother would scrub the floor with a rag, then use the same rag to scrub the kitchen counters, but I never saw evidence of this. She would wash my hair in the kitchen sink whenever she came to visit, scrubbing my scalp raw. Once, when she was very old and nearly blind, she hemmed a pink pinafore for me with the most exquisite tiny hemstitches I have ever seen. She said she learned to stitch like that as a teenager working in Chicago's sweatshops.

Even after decades of living in America, her accent was so heavy that it was hard to understand her. I remember listening with horror to her tales of the pogroms, which she told over and over again as though they'd just happened. She also talked incessantly about a bewildering array of relatives--living or dead I was never quite sure--of which she seemed to have hundreds. The actor Paul Newman was, according to Shorty, a distant relative.

Gramma Shorty, having the double curse of being both Russian and Jewish, was preoccupied with illness, pain, disaster, and death. She predicted her own death on the eve of my parents' wedding in 1941, but went on to live thirty more years.
I remember with astonishing clarity the news of her death. For some reason I have never fathomed, my mother's friend Sylvia Wallace called me to tell me that Gramma Shorty had died. I was in my twenties, and living in Hyde Park with my husband and young son. Where were my parents? Out of the country, perhaps? When I heard the news, I expressed my grief, at which point Mrs. Wallace exclaimed, "Oh, no! Everyone is enormously relieved!" Feeling equally sad and puzzled, I hung up the phone.

I'm glad that Gramma Shorty got to meet my son Quentin when he was a baby. She had had a tree planted for him in Israel when he was born, and when he was about three years old, we went to visit her in Chicago. By this time, she and my uncle were living in a glass and steel apartment building overlooking Lake Michigan, and every time Quentin wandered over near the huge plate-glass window, she would snatch him up, fearing he would somehow break through the glass and plunge to his death in the waters thirty stories below. This is my last memory of her.

This little penguin reminds me of my grandmother. Her shape is reminiscent of the Russian matryoshka dolls, and she's wearing the traditional head scarf called a babuska, which my grandmother always wore. Her eyes are my grandmother's blue, but I couldn't bear to put in the tears which so often filled them.

And this penguin, is, of course, short.

Gramma Shorty, wherever you are, I want you to know I made this bird for you, and that when I heard you had died, I wasn't relieved, I was sad.

Note: My thanks to Melanie Hurlston, at for this pattern.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Day Twenty-Six: Two Bluebirds

Clearly, I am having serious time-management issues. For the second day in a row, I have failed to complete a bird in one day, although today I did get pretty far on a penguin, which I plan to finish tomorrow. So I am once again having to post a previously created bird, or in this case, two bluebirds, done in watercolor on Clayboard a couple of years ago, and subsequently purchased by Amia Studios for a stained glass design for their line. They create really lovely glass pieces, and are faithful to the original art. Sometimes I'm disappointed when I see my art on a commercial product, but not this time.
Their website seems to currently be under construction, but do check back; they do nice work.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day Twenty-Five: A Partridge and a Pear

OK. I didn't make this needlepoint bird today. I actually made it in 1975, and if you were really paying attention, you'd already know that from the signature in the lower right hand corner.

Today was the first day since I started my project that I didn't make a bird. I was doing other things all day and never got to it, and when I finally sat down to work, I was too tired, and I didn't have a single idea for something easy and quick. I feel like I've let my fans down.

I hope this malaise doesn't last too long; I have 340 birds to go!

Tomorrow I'll start fresh, first thing in the morning.

Good night.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day Twenty-Four: Still Life with Kisses

Today's a travel day, so not much time for a bird. This pretty porcelain bowl, in the shape of a swan, belongs to my parents. I painted it, with some Hersey's Kisses, while I chatted with my mother and father on the porch.

Soon it will be time to say good-bye, and Watson and I will head back home to Boulder.
Hugs and Kisses, Mom and Dad,


Monday, January 24, 2011

Day Twenty-Three: Two Parrots

Sometimes the piece simply won't cooperate. At that point, there's nothing to be done but let the tools take over: in this case, a Pigma Brush Pen that was almost out of ink, and my pan watercolors. And I couldn't resist going in with an .01 Pigma pen, just around the heads, feet, and a few feathers.

This is what I call "messy art", and I scorn it in others, but sometimes that's all that's going to happen for now.

Tomorrow's another day...


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day Twenty-Two: Cut-Out Birds

Remember when you were a little kid, and you used to fold strips of paper and cut out shapes? When you opened up the folds, as if by magic a row of paper dolls, or maybe an elaborate snowflake, appeared. Well, artists still get to do stuff like that, so when I saw some long strips of colored paper in a drawer in my parents' den, I decided to make some birds.

Most adults, when they have free time, have to do some serious activity like get a foursome together for golf or work out at the gym.

Artists get to play.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day Twenty-One: Puffin Sketches

I drew these sketches from photos in an article about puffins that was in the July 2010 issue of the British edition of Country Living. Quentin and Alicia had the opportunity to visit the Farne Island last year, and they saw these wondrous little creatures up close.

To me, they look like they are made of black and white velveteen, with beautiful curves and markings, and the most wonderful beaded and bejeweled beaks. I can't wait to make my own little sculpted puffin sometime this year during The 365 Day Bird Project.

According to Country Living, "Puffins pair for life-- the oldest on the Farnes is 37--and return to the islands to meet their mate each breeding season."

I guess I'd better make two.

You can read more about Puffins and the Farne Islands on David Steel's blog at

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day Twenty: Bird Words

This technique, of using words to define shapes, is harder to do than it looks! This sketchbook page is nothing more than a bit of playing around with this technique. I think with more planning, more care, and some really beautiful calligraphy, it could look pretty nice.
Something to return to another day.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day Nineteen: Tribute to Charley Harper

Charley Harper's Magnificent Silk-screens
Charley Harper was a true original. A commercial illustrator whose career spanned six decades, he has recently been re-discovered, thanks in large part to Todd Oldham, a young designer best known for his TV show "Top Design" on Bravo.
Harper flourished as the golden age of illustration was winding down, in the 1950's and 1960's, a time when photography and later computer graphics were beginning to replace traditional drawing, painting, and printmaking, in the commercial world. His medium was silk-screen and he described his style as "minimal realism", but his look is uncannily like--and yet so different from--the Adobe Illustrator vector art so popular today. I think that's why a whole new generation of artists and designers are so responsive to his work.
Harper's best known work is his birds, a few of which are shown here. For my tribute to Charley, which is done in cut-paper collage and Pigma pen, I've chosen origami papers by a young Japanese designer, Ayako Akazawa, who designs exclusively on the computer. Akazawa's papers, which are a modern interpretation of traditional origami patterns, are available under the title Origami Craft Pad, through Chronicle Books.
Charley Harper never worked on the computer. But I think he'd have a lot to talk about with today's young designers, and I sure wish I could send him a link to today's post. Charley passed away in 2007. I am grateful that his art survives.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day Eighteen: Three Geese: Watercolor over Pencil

Here is not the place for a lengthy discussion of the controversy surrounding drawing from photographs. Most of us do it. Many artists, myself included, cannot always conjure up an image in their heads and put it down on paper. We use photo reference all the time.
Is is original? Is it "cheating?" Is it even art?
Well, it's always deemed more "worthy" to draw from life, and it's certainly the best way to sharpen our drawing skills. And it's true that nothing really compares with the satisfaction of sitting down and getting a good drawing from a carefully observed subject. But it's not always possible, or even desirable, for that matter.
I've had this photo of three geese for a long time. I love the subject, I love the composition, and it seemed like a fun little study to work on for half an hour as I sat out on the porch and chatted with my mother and father.
No apologies offered.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day Seventeen: Doodle Bird

I spent the better part of the day today at airports and on planes, travelling down to visit my parents in Naples, Florida. There's not much to do at the airport, so I always bring my sketchbook and a Pigma pen, and do what I call "Inspired Doodling." Inspired, because I like to work from some kind of visual reference or inspiration, and Doodling, because that's what this kind of drawing feels like to me.

I found this image of a bird in a magazine article about art tiles from California during the Arts and Crafts era (c. 1880 -1910 or so). I like the way the artist has fit the design so beautifully into the square format. My sketchbook is in 'landscape' format, so my bird had to be adjusted for that, and since I didn't have any way to add color, I added line and pattern to give it some interest.
It's challenging to do something creative while travelling by air these days. It's not like you can bring your exacto knife, your embroidery needles, hot glue gun or blow torch with you to the airport. Even watercolor tubes, I've learned from experience, are objects of suspicion with the TSA guys. Doing my inspired doodling is very relaxing for me in this highly charged environment.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Alicia's Bluebird gets a Makeover

This just in. Alicia has 'flown the extra mile' and embellished her bluebird with stitched wings, stitched feet, and best of all, a shiny topknot. Bravo, Alicia, for these 'over the top' additions!

Day Sixteen: Mr. Rooster

Mr. Rooster likes to look at the world through rose-colored glasses. His wife (Day Eight: Pot Holder) says that's fine, but wishes he would do something about his unsightly nose hairs.
My thanks to Marieke Van Esveld for this wonderful design (minus the nose hairs, for which I take full responsibility). Her pattern appears in More Softies Only a Mother Could Love, edited by Jess Redman and Meg Leder.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day Fifteen: Quentin and Alicia Make Birds

Day Fifteen: The finished products

Day Fifteen Bluebird meets Day One Bluebird

Day Fifteen Owl meets Day Five Owl

Charlie takes a break from the keyboard to check on progress

Lily and Annie give Alicia a turn at the sewing machine

Quentin working on Owl

Alicia working on Bluebird

Today my son Quentin and daughter-in-law Alicia came over to help me with my bird project. Each of them wanted to make their own bird to bring home, but I figured that since I was supervising the entire activity, and giving invaluable motherly advice, it would 'count' as my bird of the day.
Five dogs joined us in the studio: Watson, Annie, Lily, Pearl, and Charlie. With my beautiful new studio space, everyone fit in with ease. A jolly good time was had by all, and I documented the afternoon with photos.
Once again, my thanks for the Bluebird pattern to Laura Clempson And for Quentin's owl, thanks to Heidi Iverson
Art is more fun when you do it with friends.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Day Fourteen: A Needle-felted Baby Bird

This baby bird might have just landed at the top of my stairs, and is wondering how he got there. He's my first attempt at a technique called needle-felting, and I was helped by the book: Little Felted Animals, by Marie-Noelle Horvath.

When I started this project, it seemed like there was an awful lot of jabbing with terribly sharp barbed needles, and not much felting going on. Blood was spilled. But as I progressed, the baby bird took on his own form, and though he's not at all what I set out to do, I am pleased with this first try at something new.
The good thing about doing a bird a day for 365 days is that you can't get too hung up on doing it perfectly. There just isn't enough time. The daily task is to get the bird done, get it photographed or scanned, and get it up on the blog. Tomorrow is another day.

Perfectionism is a problem very familiar to artists, and it can lead to those other two perilous "P's", Procrastination and Paralysis.

It's best to leave it at the door when you go into the studio to work.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Portrait of the Artist

My friend Susan came over a couple of days ago to interview me for a blog she writes for Botanical Interests, a seed company we both do art for in Broomfield, CO. She took a bunch of pictures of me, and I must have had a good hair day, because I didn't hate every single one of them! Here I am, pretending to be cutting something out, but actually wondering if I look fat.

Day Thirteen: A Simple Form

This simple bird has a quiet elegance about it, and I know I will return to this shape over and over again. The pattern was designed by Michael Fulkerson, and generously offered to the online community through Spool, a fabric shop in Philadelphia. I found it on their blog, by googling 'downloadable bird patterns.' Please take a moment to click on the link below, to see how a whole flock of these quiet birds can become a beautiful piece of sculpture.
Art does not always have to be complicated. Sometimes, describing the subject in the simplest way possible is the best solution.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Days Eleven and Twelve: A Birthday Surprise

Yesterday I couldn't post my Bird, because it was a birthday present for my neighbor Grace, who turned eight today. But now I can put the photo up, since I've just gotten back from her party. For my Day Eleven Bird, I made her a Penguin purse, for Day Twelve, a birthday card, with the same Penguin on it.

The really nice thing about being an artist is that you can make somebody something that no one else in the world has, because it didn't exist before you made it.

Whether it's a gift, like the purse, or just a simple card, it is the only one like it.

I like that.

Happy Birthday, Grace!

PS: Thanks to Melanie Hurlston, at for inspiration for this project.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day Eleven: A Birthday Surprise

I can't post a photo of the bird I made today, because it is a birthday present for my neighbor Grace, who turns eight tomorrow, and I want it to be a surprise.
So everyone, including Grace, will just have to wait!
Check back tomorrow.....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day Ten: A Collaged Cut-Paper Chicken

For years I've been collecting images cut from magazines, greeting cards, wrapping paper, menus, labels, and other ephemera, filing them by category in my ever-expanding Clip File. I never know how, when, or even if I will ever use any of these. But there is something eminently satisfying about rummaging through these dog-eared file folders, and having something suddenly appear that will provide the key to my next piece of art.
Such was the case tonight with this wonderful advertisement, which provided the spark I needed to get started on Day Ten's bird.
Many artists now depend on the internet, and Google Images, for visual inspiration. I still love to go to my Clip File. It never disappoints.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Day Nine: An Origami Crane

I wasn't able to fold a thousand of these today (or is it ten thousand?), so we won't achieve world peace tonight, but I did manage to get a fairly decent one my second try, so it's a start. I wish my points were sharper, though. I need a lot more practice. I added some beads that I had; I would have liked a crystal to catch the light.

I used some lovely, double-sided paper in a package of Kimono patterns, from Tuttle Publishing, in Rutland, VT; Tokyo; and Singapore. The paper was printed in Hong Kong.

A Japanese art form, that travelled all the way to Vermont, then back to the Far East, before ending up in Boulder, CO.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Day Eight: Bird Pot Holder

I'm old enough to remember a time when the American consumer was not bombarded with cheap goods from China, and if you wanted to give your Mom something special, you usually made it. Clay ash trays were popular items, as were pot holders. Thankfully, most of us don't smoke any more, but we still cook, and while it's probably faster and easier (not to mention cheaper) to run to Wal-mart or Target for a small household item, what have we lost along the way?

This pot holder took several hours to make. The materials cost more than a pot holder from, say, World Market. It's by no means perfect, and the design could use some work. But it's humble, and it's real, and I'd rather use this in my kitchen than something mindlessly mass-produced thousands of miles away in a twenty-first century sweat shop.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Day Seven: Two Artists Collaborate to Create Three Birds

Today's birds are a collaboration between my neighbor Grace (who is almost 8) and me. I drew the birds in pen and ink: one from my imagination and two from reference, and Grace added color.
Throughout history, artists have worked together to create art. Today Grace and I are continuing in this tradition.
The life of the artist can be a very solitary one. Long stretches of time alone are essential to the creative process. Collaborating with someone else from time to time eases the sense of isolation.

Peggy and Grace

Friday, January 7, 2011

Day Six: A Very Simple Penguin

As an illustrator, much of my work has been extraordinarily detailed. I work to an assigned size on an assigned subject, to meet a client's specifications. This flicker and sunflowers is an example of the kind of work I have done commercially.
Which brings us to Day Six, a wonderfully simple Penguin, done in about fifteen minutes with a Pitt artist pen, brush tip, and quick washes of watercolor. I cannot describe how freeing it is to work in this way, so I won't even try.
After years of excruciatingly meticulous work, I feel like a bird let out of a cage! (An image for another day.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day Five: Owl

A 3-D Owl reflects upon his 2-D origins
Today I decided to try my hand at making my own pattern. I got my inspiration from a greeting card by Sunrise Greetings (TM), that my friend Annie sent me when her grandson Finn was going through an "owl" stage. I wanted to try to translate a 2-D design into three dimensions.

It's too bad that the artist wasn't given credit on the back of the card, so I can't acknowledge him or her. I was a stationery and giftware illustrator for fifteen years, and they were hectic years but good years, too. You can see lots of the stuff I did on my website, Then the "Bowie Style" came into vogue: ( check out Marie Perkins' wonderful blog at ) and I was cooked. My style was passe, with that accent over the "e. " It seemed like time to do something new.
So the stars realigned themselves as they often do, I started my dogsitting business, and now, three years into that, I am able to unofficially close my illustration studio, and "explore other creative pursuits." Another way of saying, "Hey, what's next?"

So here I am. I moved to my very own house on the Winter Solstice of 2010, and started my 365 Bird Project twelve days later on January 2, 2011. A Bird a Day for 365 days.

I've had these eyes (the Owl's) for a long time. They are called Suncatcher Eyes, and are handmade in Maine---seriously, let's support these folks: Finally, I'm getting to use them. Oh, and the felt for these projects is from a wonderful place called Prairie Point Junction. Go to I splurged and bought the sampler of all 96 or so colors about a year ago, and have been eyeing the pile in a way usually reserved for a bag of M & M's. Finally, I'm getting to dive in! (The felt, not the chocolate)

So I have a lot of folks to thank for getting me to this moment in time, and I'll try over the next year to thank everybody.

Signing off for now,

Peggy T.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day Four: Zentangle Bird

Today's bird is a zentangle (TM) design. Art of this type, which is really an inspired kind of doodling, has probably been around forever, but it has been given its name and structure by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, a designer and a calligrapher. You can read about Zentangles, see more, and get started yourself at

This design is done with a .01 Pigma marker on a special piece of handmade paper called a Tile, that I got in my Zentangle kit. The shading is done with a 2B pencil.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Day Three: Little Red Bird Needle Case

I decided to work in embroidery today, still drawing inspiration from the wonderful "Little Birds" book. This time I have Artist Lisa Fell to thank:

I had a million interruptions all day long, so never really got totally into the project without the phone ringing, someone at the door, or someone needing something from me (including the dogs)! So here it is 6PM, and I'm finally adding my post for the day.

Hopefully, I'll get to work in a little more peace tomorrow.

At first I was going to just make a decorative object, but then I got the idea of making something useful, since I'm going to be doing a lot of sewing this year.

I worked on some lovely pink linen that I've had for ages, with perle cotton and embroidery floss, then I lined the case with a cotton calico, and made two 'pages' with felt, to hold the needles.

I'm happy with it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Here's the book I'm working from for now. Lots of great ideas!