Making arrangements

Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day – like writing a poem or saying a prayer.   — Anne Morrow Lindbergh

© 2012 Chip Mitchell. Floral design by Mary Garner-Mitchell. Centerpiece candlelabrum for food table at the wedding reception of Berkley Gordon and Colin Mudrick, September 15, 2012. Floral materials include coral spray roses, bridal white and peach long-stem roses, dried oak leaf and fresh “antique” hydrangeas, silver artemisia, protea, abelia, yarrow, dalhia, pale peach stock and “Love Lies Bleeding” amaranth. For more wedding floral images, see  http://www.chipmitchell.com/clients/cmp/downloads/wedding


Painting, design, dance, music, and of course flowers — all art is arranged. I think I may have mastered a couple of these, and a couple I dabble at, but I love flower arranging above all. It comes as naturally to me as breathing.

Over the years I’ve realized enormous similarities between flower arranging and graphic design.  I once told an intern back in my previous life as a newspaper art director, that page layout was similar to arranging flowers.  One needs an entry point, a focal point and an ending.  White or negative space is essential, as is cohesiveness in color and tone. And the color and tone must convey the story or theme, be it either a photo spread or flower arrangement. For focus, a dominant image married with a well-crafted headline should prevail, supported by secondary and detailed “spots” lending detail.  Same is true for a flower arrangement. One key material or blossom is supported by the punches and wisps  of select materials that will dance and enhance.  As for endings, in a photo spread, an image that is the sum of all the others before it; for florals, if not the container, then it is the collective whole of the materials that went into the arrangement.

I think the same can be said for life.  There’s the entry point — the birth and/or nurturing through childhood; some form of focus — natural gifts or education that will support and influence; and the ending — a means of grounding, closure and completeness.  Stories, be they in photos or flowers — or lives — all transfer to memory, and all, though bound to fade, color every passing day hopefully with beauty and richness.

On living “kind”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Acrylic airbrush. Editorial illustration.

Somehow I want to coral my thoughts today around a personal and heartfelt mission I’ve been considering these past few months with the hope of it becoming a habit. I’ve decided to live “kind”… really try to, at least, and already I’ve seen that it truly helps smooth life’s rough spots.

It all started one recent summer evening when my friend Absolut and I met at my favorite watering hole. (We meet in a couple of chairs in the front yard to ponder the pond and life’s mysteries more often than is healthy, I’m sure.) Our conversation wound its way beyond the week’s woes and wickedness to ways to combat the general “snarky-ness” snaking its way into my psyche of late. (I owe such malaise to yet another vice — social and broadcast media.) ANYWAY… as my ice was melting, so was my mean streak and I came to the conclusion that the remedy might just be a good dose of “kind” and that I needed to live it in order to receive it.

So I asked Absolut (btw, his last name is Truth) just what is kind, what are its origins, moreover, why has kindness become so elusive these days? I was reminded of a most cherished phrase — “I kin ye…” — from The Education of Little Tree.* “Kin” as a verb extends far beyond the noun version meaning of familial ties. More than I love you, it says I really, deeply and truly understand you. Someone, I suppose, somewhere down the page in the English lexicon decided we needed an adjective version of this word kin and added a “d.” So there’s my hypothesis as to the word’s origins, and therein lies the answer to my query regarding kind’s meaning and elusiveness. Kindness has a direct correlation to one’s ability or willingness to try to understand.

According to the Talmud, “deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.” So, here’s my plan: Simply taking a moment to first consider and maybe kin the person who cut me off in traffic before flipping them off; to maybe hide, but not “un-kin” Facebook friends who can make my blood boil; to remember that I kin the someone who left some trivial household chore undone before I bark out my displeasure; to pay it forward at every chance; to write a handwritten thank-you note once a week; to believe the best before assuming the worst — That’s living kind.

God help me.

* Read more about “The Education of Little Tree” and “I kin ye … ” here:  http://www.fivemoreminuteswith.com/2011/03/the-real-meaning-of-kin/

White Room

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Collection of miscellaneous white porcelain in the kitchen at Stagfield, Ashland, Virginia.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression Like white on rice?  (You have to be Southern to say it “rite!”) Lest you wonder, it means something that’s integral, something through and through, something so stuck on something else that there is no separation.  I’m that way with old things. I don’t particularly like new, unless it’s a new car. That’s why thrift stores and junk shops are so appealing to me. And I seem to always be drawn to things that are or once were white.

I like how my collections of white objects are testament to their former purpose or previous life. Maybe with antique linens being the one exception, cracks, crazing, grease spots, the way a sugar cone has oxidized over the years earn these items  “most favored” status for they are the pieces that speak to me of memory, of time passing. Rarely do I think, “Oh, I wish this were restored to its original gloriousness, all clean and pristine.”  No, I like “50 shades of white” over the singular non color of new … “where the shadows run from themselves.”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell.

This photo deserves a bit more of a caption. Daddy made this Shaker-style table in 1975 for my first apartment from walnut he and my grandfather harvested long before I was born. If the house were to ever catch fire, I would certainly grab this piece on my way out! The reticulated bowl and platter filled with dried lichens may be one of my best thrift shop finds. It has an impressed stamp on the bottom that is hard to make out. If the Roadshow ever comes this way, I’m taking it and an early 19th century piece of French needlepoint for evaluation.The deer figurine is a yard sale find and I think I paid a whopping 5 bucks for it the year we moved into Stagfield. It moves around the house quite a bit. It is soapstone, I believe. The round plaque, a reproduction I buried in the yard for a winter so it would get mossy and gross enough to earn its spot amongst the old stuff!  The chalk urn I spotted in the barn of the same grandparents’ home when I was a little girl. When they held the estate sale many years later, I asked my mother to look for it and it was exactly where I had remembered!  It is my all-time favorite flower-arranging vessel. It holds pussy willow from the yard most of the time. The ironstone tureen is a much-treasured piece, and it, too, is on the “save list” as it has been handed down from my mother’s family for several generations and has held the centerpiece florals at numerous weddings, mine included.

Far from perfect

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Watercolor. Botanical illustration under the tutelage of Lara Gastinger http://www.laracallgastinger.com

If you look closely at a tree you’ll notice it’s knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully. Matthew Fox

“Only God is perfect…”  I’m sure I’m not the only person who grew up hearing this — for me mostly from Sunday School teachers. But in my kid brain, as now, I’ve always balked at this notion, though perfectionism is a disease I fight every single day of my life. Be it in relationships, art, business, cooking, gardening — everything I attempt, I have this unattainable vision of a perfect outcome. And as for the Creator being perfect? I don’t think so. Cases in point: Jellyfish.  Now tell me that wasn’t an experiment that eventually was just tossed in utter disgust where it plopped into the ocean and multiplied!  Or,  crazed gunmen in movie theaters. Hmmm… maybe we humans are just experiments, too.

Something to chew on

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Seattle’s Gum Wall is located along Post Alley, under Park Place Market.

Nothing like getting away for a few days and coming home with a store of good memories and inspiration.  A trip to Seattle to visit a long-time girlfriend followed by my nephew’s wedding amongst a faerie tribe in Oregon surely opened my mind to art and lifestyles that are so far removed from my staid mid-Atlantic sensibilities, that it’s downright shameful. And here I’m supposedly a creative. There must be something in the water or in the sea breezes off the North Pacific, otherwise, how else could people en masse be moved to create something like Seattle’s Gum Wall!  You can read more about this amazing gum-lined alleyway, including its second-place ranking as the “germiest” of tourist attractions next to Ireland’s Blarney Stone at

http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/the-seattle-gum-wall-a-sticky-attraction.html

While some may dismiss the Gum Wall purely for its “ick” factor, this is the sort of creative spontaneity that I truly appreciate and see far too lacking in my day-to-day life and surroundings here in Virginia. That’s something I’ve got to change.  I’m sure I just need to venture to the city more often, look longer and WORK harder.

Shadows of my past

© Media General by Mary Garner-Mitchell. Acrylic air brush, paint, Prisma colored pencil on paper

I came across this illustration the other day amongst many, many long forgotten pieces from my years as a newsroom artist. The VCU Medical College Auxillary’s antiques sale was coming up and we needed cover art for a special feature section highlighting this annual benefit event. Me being the girl in the art department, such assignments usually landed on my desk. The guys got all the air and space and truck illustrations (Everyone knows girls can’t draw trucks!). Anyway this girl was always fine with the “ladies’ pages.” But back to this illustration: We had the catalog, but the photos were iffy at best.  So I composed what I thought would be a good mix of key pieces. There was much emphasis that year, as I recall, on the Chinese influence in the show, thus the table and the porcelain vase. Then there were the usual European porcelains and a few American pieces (the clock and portrait). Sure wish now that I had taken notes on the actual items and their provenance. I’m sure the beat reporter was responsible for the “words” and captions associated with this as with any story. (Everyone knows artists can’t write — or spell!) What I distinctly remember is that I had a WHOLE DAY to do it! I developed this “square on” style because of such crazy deadlines.  I could cut out shapes from frisket and block in the piece with my airbrush very quickly. Next I would add the details by hand with paint and brush and/or Prisma colored pencils. Then hit it again with transparent gray airbrush paint using a “hand frisket” for some shadows and modeling.  I enjoyed recreating the patterns of the porcelain wares in particular. (Maybe this was foretelling of my ongoing assignment of designing fine Limoges porcelain for a current client, who must remain nameless for now.)  As for the grandfather clock, this one struck up memories of the one my father built back in the 60s. My mother painted its face and wrote his name in the center, much like I added my signature on this illustration. I saved the guy in the corner for last, which is probably why he is the weakest part of the illustration as I attempted to capture the antique style of the primitive portrait.  It didn’t work in airbrush and anyway, this guy was so creepy, with such little hands and I was running out of time. The dude reminded me then, as now, of Barnabas Collins of the old “Dark Shadows” serial.  Johnny Depp would have been much more inspiring.

Recycling plastic

© Media General. “In the Garden” by Mary Garner-Mitchell. Acrylic air brush, watercolor, pencil on paper. Editorial illustration for gardening article.

I was searching for just the right quote to fill the void in my “recycled” watering can illustration, when I came across the 18th-century lines above. While they speak to everything I feel in my bones about two of my passions (art and gardening), one word gave me great pause:   Plastic?  Plastic spade? What, a Colonial Walmart selling crappy tools?

Indeed, I have a love/hate relationship with plastic in general. Mostly hate. I curse its existence every time I go to open any overly-protected-over-packaged-off-the-shelf product, or realize our plastic recycling bins are (once again) overflowing.  I know it’s never going away, literally — as a noun that is.

Which brings me around to my love/hate relationship with words. I often I find the English language just plain stupefying and as I stumbled today, I wonder how anyone learns it completely.  Of course, I am fully aware Mr. Mason’s now antique description is just one example of how our pliable vocabulary bends and stretches over the centuries. But his use of “plastic” made me realize how far down the definition chain this otherwise perfectly placed adjective has fallen. In the context of this quote, it is at the very bottom!

plastic  adj. — being able to create, especially within an art form; having the power to give form or formal expression: (the plastic imagination of great poets and composers.)

“Write” on! How can I hate such a great word? Plastic: reclaimed, reused, recycled!

Compost happens …

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Dual compost bins my birthday gift several years ago built by my kind and sweet husband, Chip Mitchell. I grow great dirt!

I wish I could take credit for that headline, but I can’t.  It was a bumper sticker included in a press kit I received when HGTV first came on the scene years ago. A really cool press kit, too, as I recall, with little pencils made from twigs and a pocket folder made of great corrugated paper stock in a warm, red brick color on one side, and cream on the other. I went around the newsroom trash bins collecting those that got tossed. I was always scavenging for “supplies” that others routinely pitched. Still do. But I digress…

This being Monday, and a not-so-good Monday at that, I thought this particular image of my compost bins was appropriate.  Arguing with off-shore folks at Avis rent-a-car, an unexpected ER bill (false alarm, Chip was fine), chasing a long-overdue invoice, topped off with the realization a back-up hard drive has gone to … well, “compost,”  has made this Monday one to forget.  I believe I’ll pretend I’m a cat, dig a hole and bury it.  On the upside, this extremely hot spell followed by a soaking thunderstorm last night has my compost a-cookin’ good! That’s the “done” pile on the left. Martha would be proud.

Getting down to business …

Where did the week go?  With the Fourth of July falling mid-week, I felt like yesterday was Monday, so in my head today is Tuesday and I need another three days to get the rest of my week’s work accomplished! Needless to say, I’ve neglected my near-daily blog posting, so to make up for the lost time, I’ll take this opportunity to upload some graphic design projects that I need to have “out there” for reference. No witty words for these, except that they were produced with much effort, before the real estate bubble burst and when budgets were flush. Grayson Hill and Monument Square are two luxury communities here in Richmond. I designed their respective logos, all the print collateral for both property launches and was AD for both design and creative in marketing efforts from 2005 through 2011 in partnership with Becker & Calliott Marketing. A great account for many years.

Grayson Hill sales kit. The pocket folder was inspired by 18th-century bookbinding. Floor plan inserts accompany accompany a bound identity brochure. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Associates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Grayson Hill Launch Invitation. Logo-bearing wax seal completes 5 x 7 card and envelop set. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Associates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Grayson Hill handout distributed at launch party included site plan and list of amenities. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Associates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Direct mail campaign; postcard to residents. Design, Mary Garner-Mitchell; Photography, Veer stock

Monument Square launch brochure, complete with floor plans. Logo and collateral design, Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Associates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Monument Square stationery suite. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, Worth Higgins & Asociates; photography © Chip Mitchell

Monument Square “Bling”! Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; printing, photography © Chip Mitchell

Monument Square print ad for Virginia Living Magazine, 2007. Design: Mary Garner-Mitchell; photography © Chip Mitchell

“Sunday clears away the rust of the whole week.” – Joseph Addison

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. “Objets de Barn Art” found mostly on site at Stagfield, c. 1781, Ashland, Virginia.

Relatively speaking, I suppose.

While Friday’s storms had us somewhat consumed with cleanup (we were luckier than many), a pool and a shared bottle of Prosecco underscored a couple of delightful days that I want etched my memory as they otherwise held so few demands, despite downed limbs and buckets of sweat.  Late yesterday afternoon, my friend Nancy Hugo windowsillarranging.blogspot.com/  invited us for a swim and happy Happy Hour that was the exclamation point ending to a weekend punctuated by what to me is “Summertime” – golf,  gardening, grilled suppers, oppressive heat, wind-whipping thunderstorms, good friends,  a good book, a good nap – and with Nancy and John, always good conversation. Which brings me to our discussion of “brown” and an ongoing thread that has  woven itself through my ponderings these last few days, weeks, perhaps most of my collecting life!

According to Nancy’s sources (her children and their peers), the generation just starting housekeeping eschews brown furniture – meaning the pieces handed down through at least the last three or more generations. They don’t want it and the antique and consignment shops are testament to this sad trend. It’s a real shame, for just as our parents and many in my demographic of Boomers are downsizing, this glut of apparently unappreciated, quality “brown furniture” has depressed prices to alarming levels. I have a house full of it!  I’ve noticed even the preponderance of Pottery Barn is moving over for Mod, and while I appreciate aspects of most styles and love a mix, it pains me to see what I fear might be a lack of regard for the real patina of rich walnuts, mahogany, heart pine — in other words, BROWN!

Which brings me in a round-about way to why I like rust.

How ironic that marketing guru, Seth Godin, in his blogpost today http://sethgodin.typepad.com/ notes “Shine is fresh and new and it sparkles. Shiny catches the eye and it appeals to the neophiliac, to the person in search of polish. Patina, on the other hand, can only be earned. Patina communicates trust (because the untrusted don’t last long enough to earn a patina) … “
I believe such is true of lots of things, not only in business and brands but furniture, too. Wrinkles come to mind as well! (sigh…)

So, ANYWAY, today’s photo  seems an appropriate way to illustrate my musings above and my love affair with all things old, rusty, worn, well-used, and well, brown!  “Objets”  I believe worthy of exhibit if only as “barn art” discovered  in the dirt here at Stagfield.  Why? Because they earned it.