A Minute in the City 3/17/2020 – Keeping the Spirit of St. Louis Alive

I don’t need to tell anyone that these are unsettling times. Each day comes with a new case of jitters as the Coronavirus story grows. To combat the news, I am taking walks, playing music, watching movies, and throwing myself into my work.

My new calendar went to the printer today, about two months earlier than it had in past years. It may be my favorite calendar yet, if only for the quiet and calm it brought me when I needed it most. There is solace in creativity and hard work.

And that’s a good thing. Because, beyond the obvious health scares created by COVID-19 are the impending economic problems. It’s a nerve-wracking time for small business, and I am responding by writing a big check to the printer. Sometimes it’s important to invest in hope.

This month’s blog wasn’t supposed to be about Coronavirus. It was supposed to be about The Spirit of St. Louis, the single-engine plane that made the first solo flight across the Atlantic almost 100 years ago. I knew the story, because I’d seen the Jimmy Stewart movie. And I knew the plane, because I’d seen a replica at the airport and later, at the Missouri History Museum.

I visited the history museum in 2017 to study The Spirit of St. Louis for my first Year in the City calendar, but on my first walk-through, I couldn’t find it. When I asked the museum guard where it was, he smirked and pointed directly over my head. There it was, all 2100 pounds of it. I just needed to look up.

A full two years later, I learned that Charles Lindbergh, who piloted that plane, was a controversial figure. This rattled me, because I had always thought of him as a national hero. So I watched the movie again, trying to square my new findings about this man with the larger-than-life character portrayed by Jimmy Stewart. In the end, I decided to hold onto the parts of Lindbergh’s story that could teach me something. And this is what I learned: First, that it’s wise to travel light, because the things you carry can only weigh you down. Second, even if you can’t see where you’re going – and Lindbergh, having neither windshield nor radar, could not – you can still get to where you need to be. And finally, you can always start a new journey, even if conditions are less than optimal.

It is not a bad flight plan for the times we’re living in. We can rise above the fear, divisiveness, and anxiety of this moment. We just have to keep looking up.

Stay well, everyone.

 

The Spirit of St. Louis appeared on the May page of A Year in the City calendar in 2018. Prints are available for purchase, either as individually packaged calendar sheets or as framed, archival 16 x 20 giclees. Please visit ayearinthecity.com for more information.

A Minute in the City 2/22/2020 – Citygarden

When I was in college, my professors used to ask this question: WHAT IS ART? My classmates and I would be sitting on the concrete floor of the art school contemplating projects that we’d stayed up half the night to finish. Most of us were still wearing the clothes we’d slept in.

The truth is, I really didn’t care what art was or wasn’t at that point in my life. I had known from the age of eight that I wanted a practical career as an artist, and I was ready to get on with it. But some of my classmates would stare out the window when the question was posed, as though looking for the answer in the trees. Their pondering sometimes caused our morning critiques to drag into the afternoon.

Here’s the thing. My classmates were way ahead of me. They knew at a young age that you couldn’t be a true artist if you were goal-driven like I was. You had to see the things in the periphery and in the rearview mirror. You had to allow yourself to be distracted, especially by things that were tugging at you emotionally. Tunnel vision was not an option.

Public art makes that argument in a big way in St. Louis, and it’s not just because its installations are so huge. It’s because they are put into places where life is happening, where they have the best shot at becoming part of the big beautiful periphery of daily life.

I think in particular of Laumeier Park when I say this, because of the way the art is woven into the woods there. You’ll turn a corner and boom, there it is: a sculpture that makes you feel like you just discovered something no one else has ever seen. It’s not only that the art is saying, “Look at me!” It’s also that it’s saying, “Look at that tree over there. Look at that hill.  Life is happening. Don’t forget to watch for it.”

Citygarden does the same thing, but here the art points to kids playing in fountains, businesspeople on lunchbreaks, elegant downtown buildings marching along its borders. Would we take all this in were it not for the sculptures that got our attention in the first place?

Especially downtown where business has a way of consuming us, art gives us respite from our work. It forces us to take a breath, to do a reset, to give us clarity and balance so we can have fulfilling lives.

For those of us who approach each day with a lengthy to-do list, art is a life-giving force. What I wouldn’t give to sit down with my college professors and tell them.

•••

Since it opened in 2009, Citygarden has attracted millions of visitors. The sculpture Eros Bendato by Igor Mitoraj was the subject of my April 2019 calendar page. For prints of Citygarden and other St. Louis attractions or to buy my current A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar, please visit ayearinthecity.com.

A Minute in the City 1/1/2020 – Soulard Market

It’s fresh start time, everybody! Time to set out to be your best self, to shed that extra weight, to drop a bad habit or two.

But wait. What if this year, instead of losing, you set out to gain something of value? To build on your life-already-in-progress, to add enrichment and adventure to your day-to-day? A YEAR IN THE CITY has done that for me since I started it in 2017. Right from the start, I took the winding road to places unknown, and soon they became a part of me.

I realize that there aren’t too many people who have the luxury of taking impromptu field trips as a part of their job. And, to tell you the truth, neither do I. My days consist of creating calendar art (a year ahead of printing), posting to social media, packaging, binding, meeting with printers and retailers, and going to shows and signings. But I always need new material, and so I venture out.

I’m very lucky that excursions are a built-in part of my to-do list. Connecting with the place in which I live gives me a deep sense of contentment and belonging. I remember a time before A YEAR IN THE CITY when I couldn’t find time to look up from my computer. It was during this period that a writer friend of mine shared a piece he’d written on winter hiking. He talked about frost flowers – a phenomenon I had never seen. His writing was so vivid, I felt guilty that this wonder had passed me by.

It is that same reaction that I often get when people see my calendar at shows. “I haven’t been there forever!” they’ll say, looking at Eckerts or Steinberg Rink or Soulard Market. “Is it still the same?” “Do they keep it up?” “I really should go back.”

Yes, actually. You should. There are precious benefits to scheduling a few local day trips around St. Louis each year.

First, the benefit of personal enrichment. Yours. You owe it to yourself to relish in this beautiful, historic, inventive place. But you also owe it to your family and friends to share the adventure with them. When you do this, new stories are sure to be born.

But the ripples go out further, and the meaning grows deeper. When we introduce ourselves to new places in the community, we begin to shape that community for others. When we change the way we see our home, we change the way that others see it, too.

And so, on this first day of a brand new year, I’d like to challenge you to take a day trip in St. Louis. Then share your findings – and your photos – on facebook.com/ayearinthecity. Together, let’s resolve to make a fresh start for our city and ourselves!

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Established in 1779, Soulard Market is the oldest operating public market west of the Mississippi. It is open four days a week, year-round. Soulard was featured on the March page of my first A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. For more information or to buy a current calendar, please visit ayearinthecity.com.

Shopping the Shops: Places you’ll find A YEAR IN THE CITY…and so much more

It’s the last weekend before Christmas, and if you’re like me, you’ve only got a few things left on your list. But chances are, your last-minute gifts are going to be purchased in stores, rather than online. Personally, I think that brings an added measure of joy.

I’ve gotten to know a lot of shop owners and managers since I started creating A YEAR IN THE CITY. They are outgoing people who really care about their customers. If you venture out this weekend, please stop by and give them a friendly hello. And to Abby, Angela, Michelle, Gail, Stephanie, Jaynelle, Anne, Peggy, Claudia, Patty, Emily, Susan, Holland, Julie, Cory, Kelly, Mary Beth, Sarah, and Mary (x3), my grateful thanks for all you do to support the city… and A YEAR IN THE CITY!

And thanks to all you shoppers for your support of my products! You’ll find A YEAR IN THE CITY – and so much more – at these St. Louis locations! For your convenience, here’s an “at-a-glance” of each.

Abigail’s Gift Boutique – South Hampton has always been a haven for small businesses, and Abigail’s fits right in. Abby offers lots of kitchen and bar ware, funny/snarky gifts (including a hysterical collection of socks) and a big beautiful children’s area.

ArtMart – For as long as I’ve been practicing art, Artmart has been there to inspire me AND to remind me of all that’s waiting to be discovered. This store caters to painters, sculptors, draftsmen, doodlers… you name it. But they also double – OK, triple – as a gift shop and frame shop. Even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist, plan a nice long visit. I allow a full hour every time I go!

Book House – Where do I start? That’s what you’ll say when you walk into Book House in Maplewood. Floor-to-ceiling shelves on the main level are accessed by sliding ladder.  A large stairway near the entrance is lined with books. Rare first editions and collectibles are displayed at the front of the store. No matter what you’re looking for, Michelle and her staff can help you find it!

Bowed Farms – Though it’s a little off the beaten path (east and north of the West End), Bowood has become a well-known secret among St. Louisans. Per its name, its main business is plants, and they are fabulous. It is also home to Café Osage, where you can enjoy “garden-infused” menu items for breakfast or lunch.

City Museum – There is so much to see at City Museum, it’s easy to miss their gift shop. Don’t. Tucked right behind the ticket counter, the gift shop carries eclectic gifts, knick knacks, and tees, so you can take part of this rich experience back home with you. In addition to the main shop, the museum also sells shoelaces and necklaces woven on vintage machines on the second floor.

Dog town Gallery – Cute story about this one. My father-in-law, Frank Muhm, sold his memoir (entitled Passage to2838) to owner Jaynelle Haynes. Unbeknownst to me, he also sold Jaynelle on my calendar when it was first printed. Thanks to both of them, I have a presence in the friendly Dogtown area. Jaynelle’s gallery is proud of its Irish roots and is located – fittingly – next to Seamus McDaniel’s on Tamm.

Down by the Station – I had long been a customer of Down by the Station before I approached the owners in 2017, and I still consider it a great honor to have my calendar in their shop. DBTS carries beautiful jewelry, accessories, home goods, barware, and stationery items, as well as a sweet array of gifts for kids in the caboose. Part of the great walkable Kirkwood shopping experience, DBTS is a must-visit.

Dunaway Books – Like a good book, Dunaway is waiting to be discovered. Three stories of stories draw in readers of all ages for hours at a time. I am personally intrigued by the library-like lower level, where you can find stacks of sheet music for all instruments. Because Dunaway is part of the South Grand shopping district, you’ll lots of cool places to eat after you browse!

Lamp Mansion – Anyone who has toured, dined, or slept at Lemp Mansion seems to have a story to tell. But it’s not all about the ghosts. You’ll also find lots of history, amazing food…and A YEAR IN THE CITY at the back of the house.

Main Street Books – A hot spot of St. Charles Main Street, this indie book store caters to readers of all ages and interests. Looking for a banned book? Check here first. Main Street also has a wonderful children’s/young adult section upstairs.

Missouri History Museum – Architecturally speaking, Missouri History has one of the most inviting shops I’ve seen. If you enter the museum from the south, the shop seems to spill out into the entryway, as though pretending to be a gallery. And, in a way, it is. I have found real treasures there, including a beautiful St Louis Cardinals tie for my son-in-law and books on Missouri for my father-in-law. The shop, like the museum, will surprise you. You can’t imagine how much there is to love about this big beautiful state of ours!

Novel Neighbor – The word curious comes to mind when I step into the Novel Neighbor in Webster. This seemingly tiny shop is actually “long on story” with a back room and kids’ room that will delight all. The next-door events center and bathroom have earned this shop some well-deserved press, but it is their books and gifts that keep readers coming back.

Sign of the Arrow – I’ve always been amazed at the cross-section of people who buy A YEAR IN THE CITY. And, when I say that, I think first of Sign of the Arrow, which is a needlepoint business. But the thing that continually draws me to this shop is its charitable focus. Since the shop was founded 50 years ago, it has donated all of its proceeds to charity.

Stone Soup Galleries – Making the best of underutilized space, Stone Soup operates out of Chesterfield Mall. From its bright, beautiful space at the foot of the Chesterfield Cine elevators, you’ll find the work of local artisans, including milliners, woodworkers, glass artists, print makers, and jewelers. Check it out before or after the show.

Subterranean Books – Subterranean is a jewel of the Loop with regular events and signings that draw diners and movie-goers along this iconic stretch of Delmar. Alex, Gena, Griffin, Kelly, Sarah B, Sarah T…and Teddy the dog are super-knowledgeable about good reads and store inventory. Subterranean  was one of the first shops to carry A YEAR IN THE CITY.

Union Studio – When Union Studio started carrying A YEAR IN THE CITY, its owner and manager took time to get to know me. They do the same with their customers. They understand the people who shop their store and always look for products that will delight them. Union Studio is all local, featuring the work of painters, metalsmiths, leatherworkers, and clothing designers. And through the shop’s Warm Welcome project, artists are given an opportunity to give back to the community.  You simply won’t find a more personal and civic-minded shopping experience anywhere.

Urban Matter – I had the pleasure of selling my wares at the South Grand Fall Fest this past summer, just a block away from Urban Matter’s new digs. Owner Mary has a great eye for unique gifts, and she’s a master of staging. An absolutely beautiful shopping experience and a great new addition to South Grand.

Washington University Bookstore – Geared toward students of all ages – including perpetual “students of life” – Wash U’s bookstore has a wonderful vibe to it. Beyond branded apparel, you’ll find trendy gifts and great new titles to please everyone on your list. Parking is a challenge, but it’s well worth the walk around and through this gorgeous campus.

Thanks again to all of these retailers for their help in getting the word out about A YEAR IN THE CITY. And to all of you reading this, Happy Shopping to all… and to all a good night!

 

 

 

 

A Minute in the City 11/19 – The Fountain on Locust


Right from the start, it was the plan to feature places in A YEAR IN THE CITY that were close to the hearts of St. Louisans. For Valentine’s Day, a certain dessert bar came to mind that was iconic for its chocolate and cocktails. So I built a calendar page around it. The only problem was that this certain dessert bar was not the Fountain on Locust!

Just a few days before going on press with my first calendar, I read in the news that the restaurant I’d featured was closing temporarily and relocating. I had to wonder: What would the new space look like? Would the restaurant be able to keep its following? Its magic? I decided there were too many unknowns. I was going to have to find a new place to draw.

My daughter suggested The Fountain on Locust, but I was dubious. First of all, I’d never set foot in the place. And its location just east of the Grand Arts District was frankly unfamiliar to me. The exterior was pretty enough, although not quite as alluring as my first choice. But then I stepped inside…

Let’s just say that in the two years since, The Fountain on Locust has become one of my absolute favorite places. Its food and drink menus are original and wacky, respectfully, and its decorating is over the top. But what I really love about the place is that it taps all the senses: taste and smell, naturally, but also hearing. Because, if you’re lucky enough to get a booth, you get to listen to original soap operas on the speakers while you eat. And then, there are the art deco wall paintings and tile floors that transport you to another time altogether.

Sadly, I didn’t have time to render the interior of The Fountain on Locust before I went to press. Instead, I transported my Valentine’s Day couple a few miles west and had them stand outside the restaurant.

Because I was in a hurry, I missed a few important details, which I have since added. First, I drew in customers (since the Fountain always seems to have plenty of them.) And then, I added a woman in the window of the adjacent building, watching the approaching couple on their special date. The couple, it seems, is a poignant reminder of valentines past.

For me, the woman in the window is a reminder that every picture does indeed tell a story. And that there is always more to the story than meets the eye.

A Minute in the City 10/19 – King Louie

Fall, it seems, has finally fallen. And I greet it with mixed emotions. You see, I’m not a huge fan of cold weather. In fact, before I started creating artwork for A YEAR IN THE CITY, I always favored a temperature-controlled car to the out of doors. But art does funny things to people. It draws them out, it stretches their boundaries. It opens up the windows, no matter the weather.

That having been said, I took the photos for this illustration on a lovely day in May, so it really wasn’t much of a struggle. The struggle came later, when I sat down to draw our city’s namesake. It was to be my first calendar page for A YEAR IN THE CITY. January 2018.

I was excited at the prospect of illustrating sculpture. I remembered having studied a Michelangelo painting in college in which the same figure appeared twice in the very same pose, but from two different angles. It was suggested by my professor that “Mikey” was essentially painting a statue, and in so doing, he was showing off his ability to understand form. The takeaway for me was that one could make art from art.

While I had never tried it before, I had a feeling that the sculptural surface of King Louie would prove to be much more forgiving than skin or fabric for rendering. There would be less modeling, making the surface conducive to my style of illustration. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was just how dull the king’s bronze casting was going to look on the printed page.

To remedy the situation, I drew from my color theory days, hitting the highlights with warm colors and the shadowed areas with cool colors. And that worked just fine for a sunny day. But then I remembered…this was supposed to be January! I ditched the blue sky and brought in that beautiful pink one you might see in January. That’s right, I drew a sunlit Louie on a winter’s night. And, despite my aversion to cold weather, I let the snow fall where it would.

 

King Louie appeared in the 2018 calendar. He has since been offered as a print, a notecard, and a holiday card. A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars and gifts are available at ayearinthecity.com/shop and in several St. Louis shops, including Down by the Station, Union Studio, and The Missouri History Museum Gift Shop.

 

How things work

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have much interest in the mechanics of things. It doesn’t matter to me how car engines or refrigerators or computers work… only that they do. And it is only when these things break down that I give any thought at all to their moving parts.

A few years ago, I worked with some intellectual property lawyers and a talented technical illustrator who helped them express their ideas. The attorneys would spend hours talking about exhaust systems and machine parts and shoe soles, and the artist would turn out masterful diagrams of these things that were as beautiful as they were precise. What fascinated me about the process was each party’s willingness and ability to cross the great divide between the left and right brain. I’m not sure when I’d seen that level of communication, patience, and mutual respect in the workplace.

Fast forward to last month, when I visited the National Museum of Transportation in Des Peres. I had decided to feature the museum on the June page of my YEAR IN THE CITY calendar for 2021, at least partly because I was drawn in by the intrinsic beauty of machines. I took dozens of pictures of cars, trucks, and trains that day, paying close attention to the smallest details so I could accurately represent them in my calendar.

But back home, I discovered that all those details meant nothing if I didn’t understand their functions. Without a patent lawyer or mechanical engineer to walk me through, I was going to have to simplify my art.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily think that art needs to imitate technology. And I don’t pretend to be a technical illustrator. (Probably best, given my avoidance of all things mechanical!) But I love the complexity of machinery, nonetheless. Technology can be beautiful.

Steve Jobs understood this. He was a master at disguising technology as art, introducing sophisticated machinery in innocuous-looking packages, so that artists like me wouldn’t run away scared from his invention. By hiding the brains of the Mac, Jobs began to bring together the aesthetic and the analytical. Beauty was in the eye of both beholders.

The Mac has been my constant companion for the last 25 years. Before that, I was a board-trained graphic artist, which meant that I had to ink and cut every little detail before it printed. Much of that process has been simplified by the computer, but others things have grown more complex. Now I bring my own photographs into a vector program and draw over them to create hundreds of shapes, manipulating the angles to capture the critical details. Then I start playing with colors, juxtaposing dull with bright, cool with warm, so that all these shapes play well together. Somewhere in there, I color the background to bring the subject forward. And finally, if the subject matter lends itself, I add in people.

That’s often where the magic happens. Because, for all my focus on craft, my illustrations are less about places and things than they are about people. In the case of the father showing his kids around the train yard, there is this driving curiosity about the workings of the locomotive. What does this do? What is this for?

But for his children, the technology is just a means to something bigger, something more important. Across the great divide of age, wisdom, and experience, comes a memory of a day spent with Dad.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars and gifts are available at ayearinthecity.com/shop and in several St. Louis shops, including Down by the Station, Union Studio, and The Missouri History Museum Gift Shop. The National Museum of Transportation, pictured here, will be featured in June 2021, in celebration of Father’s Day.

The Forest for the Trees – A Mother’s Day Tribute

As the Mother’s Day/Father’s Day season rolls around, I have a renewed sense of just how fleeting the moment of connection is for both for parents and children. Though the days are long, as the saying goes, the years that we run to our parents – or shelter our children – are painfully short.

I tried to capture this feeling in my May illustration for the 2020 YEAR IN THE CITY calendar, partly because of the two special days that we set aside yearly to honor parents. But also because of the fact that St. Louis actually has a Mother’s Day place!

On so many levels, Laumeier Sculpture Park is a metaphor for the family. It’s a haven, first of all – a place where we can be ourselves, but also stretch our limits, letting out the proverbial leash to discover something new. It’s a place with deep roots that connect us to one another and branches that define us as individuals. Finally, it’s a place to reflect on the beauty of creation, with massive sculptures tucked into the woods or standing bravely out in the open. Either way, the backdrop at Laumeier is always part of the picture.

When I started creating A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, I was attempting to showcase St. Louis’s favorite places. But I soon discovered that I was painting backdrops for people to live in. In the case of Laumeier, for example, I dropped this idyllic family in front of Alexander Liberman’s iconic sculpture, The Way. But then that family took over the plot. They created their own story.

The young mother in the picture is getting her day – finally! She has purchased a much-loved piece of art and is sipping a glass of wine. Her mother is patiently strolling alongside her, just grateful to have the time with her daughter and grandkids. And the children – whose job it is to be nice to Mom today – have retreated to their own thoughts. The boy is less than excited about his trip to the sculpture garden, but he’s at least gotten a yo-yo out of the deal. His sister tugs at her grandmother’s hand, ready to flee at the first opportunity.

In other words, this is a real family. And this is a normal day, because that’s what it means to be part of a family. We don’t always realize what a treasure that is.

My own mother did not require much pampering on Mother’s Day or at any other time. I always got the sense that she was just there to keep us from falling in a hole. As a child, my only obligation was to grow up – in a way that made sense to me.

And yet. I know now that Mom was standing invisibly by – a sprawling tree to my puny sapling – as I discovered my universe. I couldn’t help but think of her last Mother’s Day when I visited Laumeier. She’d have loved it. Not for the sculpture, necessarily. Just for a normal day with her normal family – those people she had watched spring up from the earth to change the forest forever.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, notecards, and prints are available at ayearinthecity.com/shop and in several St. Louis shops, including Union Studio, ArtMart, and The Missouri History Museum Gift Shop. The new 2020 calendar will be available in June.

A HOUSE & HOME – Capturing a (Perfect) Day-in-the-Life of your home and family

This month, I’ll begin taking commissions for “HOUSE & HOME” portraits. These commissions look a lot like A YEAR IN THE CITY illustrations, but they are completely customized to capture a perfect day-in-the-life of clients’ homes.

Let’s face it. Every home has a story. Or a million stories. They’re those little threads that tie us to a place until that place becomes an essential part of our identity.

When my husband and I returned to Missouri from the east coast in the 1990s, we bought a little ranch house on a quiet street. Our yard was fenced, and our neighbors were friendly. We were finally going to be able to give our kids the longer leashes we’d had when we were young. Right away, our daughter “adopted” a turtle from a country road and tried to domesticate it – unsuccessfully. Our son, who was three at the time, learned to climb out of his bedroom window during naptime and toddle up the front steps to ring the doorbell. These were among the many memories that made that house a home. Unfortunately, we weren’t poised with the camera to capture them as they were happening.

A YEAR IN THE CITY illustrations have given me a way to put people in important places, both literally and figuratively. In my Citygarden print, for example, a woman sits among the sculptures reading. She’s at peace in this environment, and yet, she’s completely pulled away from her surroundings by her book. In the City Museum illustration, two “tweens” are approaching the stairs, driven as much by their friendship as the adventure that awaits them. At Powell Hall, two sisters wind their way up the stairs, the older one envisioning her future as a performer, the younger one feeling like a princess.

What I absolutely love about these “characters” is that they’re not posing, they’re not on. They’re just being themselves, oblivious to the camera. But their environments just happen to be these amazing St. Louis landmarks, and the subjects are inviting viewers in.

That’s exactly what I hope to create for my clients with HOUSE & HOME portraits, because to all of us, there is no landmark quite as special as home. In a single picture, clients can bring the most important elements of home together in one place during any time of the year. They can feature family members and friends as they look today or as they looked years ago. They can have their yards and gardens depicted as they want to remember them. It’s their call. It’s their HOUSE & HOME.

People sometimes ask me why my characters don’t have faces, a particularly valid question when you’re talking about customized portraits. The reason is that facial expressions can sometimes limit the story being told, because they dictate the emotions of each person in the picture. A HOUSE & HOME doesn’t rely on smiling mug shots, but on gestures and poses, to identify subjects and suggest a whole range of emotions. In fact, it is not unusual for subjects to be facing away from the camera, particularly if they are interacting with others. As HOUSE & HOME portraits get passed down to grown children, they will be able to tell the story from their point of view.

HOW LONG, HOW MUCH, HOW MANY? A FEW HOUSE & HOME FAQs:

How long? HOUSE & HOME portraits take between four and five weeks, start to finish.
How much? Portraits start at $500 for a single 16 x 20 framed print, half of which is collected when the first proof is reviewed.
How many? Unlimited additional prints may be ordered at cost.
How nice! Portraits are printed on heavy archival-quality rag paper.
How soon can you get on the schedule? Only one commissioned portrait is accepted per month, so your job may be scheduled months in advance.
How to get started? First, check out A HOUSE & HOME portraits at ayearinthecity.com/commissions. Then email me at jkmuhm@gmail.com. I will get back with you within a day to get you on the schedule and set up an appointment.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on a certain calendar, and – if time allows – a portrait of a little girl cradling her ailing turtle, a three-year-old escape artist climbing out of his window, and a house that became a home to me.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY calendars, notecards, and prints are available at ayearinthecity.com/shop and in several St. Louis shops, including Union Studio, ArtMart, and The Missouri History Museum Gift Shop. The new 2020 calendar will be available in June.

Oh Say Can You See?

It’s back-to-school time for college students. I vaguely remember the feeling – having to trudge a mile through the snow for “Spring Term” classes, having to take requirements I’d avoided in the Fall, having to trudge back to my dorm long after the sun had gone done. Oh, poor me!

Sophomore year was the worst. I’d decided to get my math requirement out of the way, which was not the easiest thing for an art student to do at Washington U. You either had to take calculus with the Pre-meds or you had to take baby math with the hippie artists. I opted for the latter.

“Topics in Mathematics,” as the course was officially called, turned out to be a scream. It was here that I learned to mix a drink (properly), to fill in a checkerboard using three (rather than two) values, and to color a map. I breezed through all of it. And – shame on me – I was snickering the whole time.

I couldn’t wait to tell my father about baby math. Dad was mathematics supervisor for the Omaha Public Schools at the time. But his response surprised me. “That map coloring,” he said. “That’s pretty important stuff.”

Forty years later, I’ve discovered Dad was right. My illustrations are made up of hundreds of colored shapes positioned adjacent to one another, much like countries on a map. Sometimes like-colored objects touch, so I have to tweak the colors or the number of objects or both.

Fortunately, I’m not in the business of creating maps, so no need to invent new countries. (Let us be grateful for that!) But I am rendering real places and trying to represent them as authentically as I can. And “Map Coloring Principle” comes in handy. Recently I Googled it and learned that it really is a thing. What’s more, it was a very important thing when I learned it at Wash U.  Just two years prior, the mathematicians Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken had proven the Four-color theorem, refining the century-old Five-color principle. It was the first theorem proven via computer.

About the same time Appel and Haken were proving the Four-color theorem, a man named Josef Albers was being laid to rest. Albers was an artist and color theorist, best known for his paintings of nested squares. The renowned St. Louis painter Bill Kohn taught me about Albers…and so much more. I was taking color theory from Mr. Kohn the same time I was enrolled in baby math.

With the help of Josef Albers, Kohn taught me about the temperature of color. The hue, the value, the intensity. What happened to a color as it moved forward or backward in a plane. What happened to the line inferred by the meeting of two colors. Yellow could be made to look cool, Kohn taught me. Blue could be made to look warm. You just had to learn to see.

A few weeks ago, I went to the print show at the St. Louis Art Museum. I had studied so many of the artists – Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein. But what really blew me away was getting to see Albers’ nested squares for the first time since college. One square inside the other, inside the other, inside the other. Four colors that would have looked completely different were they not touching.

Colors affect one another. And so do disciplines. It is only because of the work of scientists, mathematicians, and other artists that I can make sense of the world and put it down on paper for others to see. So, to Appel, Haken, Albers, Kohn, and the poor teacher’s assistant who got stuck teaching “Topics in Mathematics,” a much-belated thank you.

Thanks also to Dear Old Dad. You were right about Map Coloring Principle. And so much more. It really is important stuff.

 

A YEAR IN THE CITY is the all-St. Louis illustrated calendar. Now in its second year, it features Steinberg Rink, Kirkwood Depot, and ten other regional favorites. Available for sale at ayearinthecity.com/shop