Tag Archive | painting

I heart craigslist, part 1

How do I love thee, craigslist? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when I find a deal that’s just right

For the woeful grammar and hilarious typos.

(With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)

When my family moved into the log cabin in the Fall of 2011, there was already a table in it, so we put our little kitchen table into storage, along with 75% of our stuff.

When we moved into the cabin in the Fall of 2011, Konik was not quite yet 2 years old and was still in a high chair.

When we were preparing to leave the cabin last fall, we realized that our seats-4 table was going to have to accommodate 5 and, soon enough, a 6th person. No way, no how. Craigslist to the rescue!

Mr. Gren found a solid wood table with double turned legs and three leaves for $30. Caveat: it was in rough shape and desperately needed refinishing. But not enough to scare us off! When we moved into the house, Mr. Gren put the table back together and we ate at it for months, albeit with a tablecloth to hide the ugliness and protect little arms from rough spots. Finally, in May, I was feeling well enough and the weather was dry enough that we felt like we could tackle this project.





As you can see, the finish was gone, the veneer on the side was chipped up beyond repair, and some of the “medallions” on the legs had fallen off (although the woman who sold us the table did have a few in a baggy that she gave us). First things first: removing the remaining veneer with a putty knife and a chisel file. Correct tools for the job? Not really. Eventually, we did get every last scrap of veneer scraped off, but not without a few banged-up knuckles.

Little helper

Little helper

Once that was done, we had to sand any remaining varnish off before painting time. Then, Mr. Gren had to reattach the middle pair of legs. Even though they were original to the table, they were too tall and made a hump in the middle of the table. He sawed off and sanded the feet until they were the right height. We also had to match up and glue on the missing leg medallions. So hard to wait through all that when I just wanted to paint! All necessary evils to get to the good stuff. The dry, dark wood took three coats of white paint for a good, bright finish.

The sun was going down, but you get the idea.

The sun was going down, but you get the idea.

All three leaves in

All three leaves in

Do you see that thing? I didn’t measure it exactly, but the table stretches to about 8 feet. Banquet at my house!

After the white paint, things got fiddly again as Mr. Gren meticulously measured and taped out 12″ diamonds from one end of the table to the other which we would paint in a pale blue. In order to keep the measurements correct when we painted, he could only tape out the two outside rows at first, leaving the center blank. Once the paint dried inside those diamonds, he could finish taping out the diamonds down the center. It was tedious work and I love him for it. I love him for other things, too, like washing the dishes, changing light bulbs and killing spiders.


You may be able to tell that the skirt of the table is also the same pale blue as the diamonds. We wanted it to be a very subtle shade — enough to give the table visual interest, but not a bold slap in the face. When all the blue was dry, I gave it three coats of clear polyurethane for protection and to make clean-up easy. I have four kids; I know it’s not going to look pristine forever, but I can at least give it a head start.


The back diamonds look discolored, but that was just the light in the dining room. It was really hard to get a picture where the blue showed up!


As long as my children stop using those horizontal pieces as footrests, we’ll be alright.


I kinda like blue in the dining room.

I am in love with this table now. Forget odes to craigslist; I need to write an ode to my beautiful table! Every meal feels classier now. Except… notice the mishmash of ugly chairs? Stay tuned for part 2…

A more refined torture

I am a beginner painter. While I consider myself to be a decent artist with pencil, painting — specifically watercolor — is still something I’ve yet to sort out. Oh, sure, I painted plenty of pictures in elementary school, but nothing with any real artistic value. Perhaps if I had been able to take an art class past 6th grade, I would have a head start on this medium, but I was too busy taking French. Priorities.

A little over a year after my husband and I had moved to France, an event occurred that sunk me into despair. The wife of the French pastor at our church noticed and encouraged me to join a painting class at the small art school that she attended in an old mansion. It gave me a reason to get out of bed and leave the apartment, which I desperately needed at that time in my life. She signed me up for the beginner’s watercolor class and introduced me to the instructor, Chantal. I quickly discovered that it wasn’t so much a class as a painting club, full of older women who had lots of time in their day. I was the youngest in the class by a good thirty years, which automatically made me la petite — the little girl. Fine, I could live with that.  The next thing I discovered was that all of these women already knew each other and had been in this class (club) for a couple of years. Now I’m really the newbie. Chantal would bring a few items to set up in the middle of the table as a still life and then we were all supposed to set to work. On the first day, I sketched out my picture of the pitcher in the middle of the table. Then I erased a few lines, tweaked the perspective and generally fiddled around with it to put off the inevitable disaster that would happen once I put paintbrush to paper. Chantal noticed that I was stalling and in her loving French way, told me, “You can’t spend all day drawing it! You need to start painting!”

I am no stranger to the color wheel. My dad has sold paint for most of my life and, when I was a child, gave me my very own color wheel with rotating windows. I understand complementary colors and mixing colors; I am familiar with the concepts of shade and hue. I did not know, however, that watercolors do not conform to those rules. I was at a loss. My pitcher was brown and muddy and nothing I did was making it look any better. Subtle cracks on the real life object translated into glaring scars on its painted counterpart. This was going downhill fast! By the end of the session, I felt like crying. Chantal was no help at all. There was no actual instruction, but plenty of critique.

But, I kept attending. It was something to do, after all. Every session was a struggle. I had a horrible time trying to denote the transparency of glass bottles, the composition of my hat picture was pas bonne, the very real irises looked flat and artificial. And still, no real help from Chantal. About three months into this, I was mortified to learn that there was an art show where each student was expected to submit two pieces. My portfolio was severely lacking. Most of my paintings weren’t even finished. Finally, I chose a scene of a Moroccan courtyard and the sad irises. My husband and I attended the show, saw my paintings, and sighed at the much better artwork all around them. Part of me feels like I could get good at this if I had any idea what I was doing.

My daughters were convinced that we were having the time of our lives.

As of this writing, this particular talent still eludes me. Today is 6 June, which, if you paid attention in history class, you’ll recognize as the anniversary of D-Day. I taught a lesson this morning to my French students on the critical and amazing battle of Pointe du Hoc. It left me feeling rather patriotic and I felt like doing something to commemorate the day, so I pulled out my paints. I always have grandiose visions, but should have toned them down, especially in light of the fact that I haven’t painted a thing (bedroom walls don’t count) in two years. I used our own photos from our time in France. The first two times, I attempted a co-mingling of the French and American flags. Apparently, I am no good at flags. The third time, I opted for a landscape featuring the bullet-perforated Nazi observation post at the tip of the Pointe, topped by the large monument, representing a grappling hook, in honor of the American Army Rangers who fought there. It turned out… fair. I still have a long ways to go before I have any show-worthy pieces!

  Flags attempt #1                                                                                             Flags attempt #2