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V. Notes

What are V-Notes?

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V-Notes are dailyish thoughts and ideas related to art. I might post a series of pictures, a technique, an idea for a project, or some philosophical rambling. I try to make these emails relevant, but they’re not pre-planned, and they’re not perfect. They’re just thoughts in the moment, take ’em or leave ’em. Hopefully they’ll spark some thoughts and help get your artistic juices flowing.

Ruthie V.

Claire Putney

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Claire Putney’s layered drawings combine maps, charts, and diagrams with sewing, burning, cut paper, and ink washes.

From what I’ve seen of her work so far, although she and I use different images and mediums, her process appears to be very similar to my own. She has a concept, she finds images to help her talk about that concept, she edits and combines the layers to develop her articulation, and she responds to moments as her purposeful choices invite unexpected effects. Through repeated rounds of plans, expansions and careful editing, her products become beautifully honed, relevant, and thoughtful.

In the fall she returns to teach photography at the community college, but in the summer, she’s our “Alternative Drawing” teacher. We’re lucky to have her.

Continuous line drawings from “Figures: Draw, Paint, Sculpt”

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Ruthie V.

Continuous Line Figure Studies

“Figures; Draw Paint Sculpt” Friday night class

Sculpting changed our drawings! Have you ever seen a figure drawing look as heavy as these (below) by Lendy Hensley? They weigh as much as the real model! They have gravity, volume, mass, and space. Aren’t they gorgeous!

Lendy Hensley

“The sculpting has changed my drawing. I like it.” – Lendy Hensley

Jessica Conaway

Kelly Gargour

Alex Walker

“This class was so much fun I could hardly stand it.”  – Alex Walker

Next “Figures” class starts Friday August 4, 6-10pm
CLICK HERE to join us

Bored at work? Read art books online!

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The Met: 1,600 Free Art Books Online

With an art historical focus, this comprehensive collection of over 1,600 full-text titles features everything from African to American art. Like traditional print editions, nearly every online art book features a table of contents and information about the author. Unlike hardcopies, however, the Met’s free online book also include readers’ reviews, a list of any awards won, and helpful links to related reads available on the Met website and in print. Additionally, most books can be both read conveniently online or downloaded as a handy PDF to your device.

Find a book you like? Send me a note to tell me about it. Maybe another V-Note subscriber will like it too.

The beret is never out of style

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400 years, and still fashionable. Maybe some day I will be a real artist, and I will wear a French beret.

How it’s made

History of the French Beret (below) – maybe not so French, says Noah?

Lucien Freud

Cezanne and Monet

Mary Cassatt


History of the French Beret

Posted on October 27, 2016 by Margo Lestz

French beretThe French beret, that little pancake of a hat, has become the recognized symbol of all things French – at least among those outside of France. The traditional French beret is just a flat circular hat of felted wool with a little “tail” poking out the top. But stick one of these on anything and it automatically becomes French.

It certainly is a practical little hat. It’s warm, waterproof, and can be tucked in your pocket when it’s not needed. But it’s much more than just a simple head covering. It’s a statement and an attitude that adapts to anyone’s personal style. This might explain why it has been worn by such divers segments of society over the years. From shepherd to artist, soldier to film star, the beret has identified and conveyed the mood of its wearer.


Noah in a beretEven though the beret has a strong association with France, it has been worn in many parts of the world throughout history, and the French don’t claim to have invented it. In fact, they credit Noah (from the Bible) with its invention. Supposedly, when he was floating around in his ark getting rained on, he noticed that the wool on the floor in the sheep pen had been trampled and turned into felt. He cut out a circle, put it on his head to keep his hair dry, and voila! The first beret.


In more modern times, it was the 17th century shepherds in the French regions of Béarn and Basque who are responsible for the beret’s popularization in France. They figured if the wool kept the sheep at a comfortable temperature in sun, wind, and rain, maybe it could do the same for them. It’s said, they stuffed wool in their shoes to keep their feet warm and dry. They discovered that the compression of walking on it and the humidity from the wet ground (and perspiring feet) caused the fibers to cling together and turned the wool into felt. These early shepherds made their berets from the wool of their own sheep. But they weren’t great hat makers and their head coverings were sometimes smelly and hairy.

Mass Production

Then in the early 1800s mass production of berets began and the flat caps became more standardized… and better smelling. The southwest of France already had a long history of textile production so it was only natural that they started to produce the cap that was so popular in the area.  The first beret factory started production in 1810 and others followed. In the early factories, the caps were still knitted by hand and the little “tail” on the top of the beret was the ends of the fibers. When they began to be machine knitted, there was no “tail” so, of course, it had to be added – because a “tail-less” beret just wouldn’t be a beret.

Worker Berets

Thanks to the factories there was an abundance of berets and the little cap spread far and wide. When industrialization started and many from the southwest moved to cities for work, they took their trusty head covering with them and the beret became recognized as a workman’s cap.

Cezanne and Monet in their berets

Artistic Berets

But it wasn’t only for physical laborers. From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, the Parisian artists of the Left Bank adopted the beret as part of their artistic image. Maybe they wanted to imitate the great artists of the Renaissance such as Rembrandt, or maybe they just needed to keep their heads warm when they weren’t able to pay the rent. Whatever the reason, artists such as Monet, Cezanne, Marie Laurencin, Picasso, and many others enjoyed wearing and painting the beret. The little cap is now inextricably linked with the image of the artist.

Military Berets

In 1889, the French military adopted a large floppy beret as part of the uniform for their elite mountain infantry called the “Chasseurs Alpins.” During the First World War, the British general in charge of the newly formed tank regiment saw these French caps as a solution to his problem: how the men could climb through the small hatch of the tanks without knocking their hats off. The beret was adopted as military headgear by many countries.

Brigitte Bardot and Greta Garbo in berets

Fashion Berets

Traditionally, the beret was a man’s hat, even though some women were sporting them as early as the 1800s. But the big change came in the 1930s when Coco Chanel, who was famous for taking comfortable men’s clothing and adapting it for women, made the beret a fashion statement for the ladies. Then movie stars such as Greta Garbo and Brigitte Bardot wore them in films and the beret has remained a female fashion accessory ever since.

That’s One Expressive Hat

It seems that the humble little beret can be worn by almost anyone and can be formed to fit any face or mood. You can wear it flat on top of your head, slanted to one side, with the fullness at the front or the back, or you can even pull it straight down to keep those ears warm. Wearing a beret can express your country roots, artistic flair, or fashion sense, and it especially suits those who like to show their individuality.

So whether you want to portray yourself as villain or hero, simpleton or intellectual, the beret can help you define your image. It’s more than just a hat – it is a state of mind.

The sole guardian of high culture

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I tell you Leaguers, it’s tough being the sole guardian of high culture, but someone’s gotta do it.

Trouble reading the tiny text? Here’s the script: 
Calvin – “How unoriginal! How jejune! Stupid kid. If you don’t have anything to say, just keep quiet! Well, this is certainly shocking! Face it, kid, provoking a reaction isn’t the same thing as saying something significant! Look, pal, there’s no point expressing ideas if you can’t make them understood! You’re just babbling to yourself! And aren’t we all bored with the irony by now? You just THINK you’re above it all, kid! I tell you Hobbes, it’s tough being the sole guardian of high culture.”
Hobbes – “Talent like ours carries such enormous responsibility.”

Maggi Hambling

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Meet Britain’s most straight-talking and foul-mouthed artist, Maggi Hambling

Busy days – sunny days – I can’t stand to sit here for long thoughts. Here’s a quickie video (below) from a new favorite of mine: Maggi Hambling. More about her tomorrow. Enjoy!

Painter and sculptor Maggi Hambling CBE sounds like a typical member of the arts establishment, but she has been a controversial figure for much of her professional life. Her public sculptures dedicated to Benjamin Britten and Oscar Wilde attracted as much criticism as praise, and here she talks about her beginnings as an artist and how she approaches the creative process. (3 minutes)

This is what happens when I don’t take art classes

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You know this already:

When I don’t schedule creative time, I lose it. 

But you might not know this:

When I schedule creative time with people who care about me, I’m far more likely to show up. I’m also more likely to enjoy myself. 

Working on projects with people makes me happy. Honestly, this is news to me. I thought I had to be alone to make real art. That, evidently, has changed. Having people around, people who care about me, and people who also want to make stuff, it helps me focus.

Sharing studio with good quality people is dang good quality fun. Sometimes there is music, sometimes snacks. This week it got hot, and someone came in with watermelon. Occasionally the stressful world comes in the door with them, but soon everyone settles in, and becomes relaxed and happy. It usually takes a little while – about 20 minutes of friendly chatter. Then, one by one, each person’s attention turns to their project, and the chatter turns to rustling. That’s about the time Lendy catches me deeply engrossed in scribbles, my tongue sticking out like a little kid’s, and I realize I haven’t heard a word anyone has said for…. how long was I gone?

Shared experiences, the moments when I get to say “Hey look what this ink did!” or “How the heck do I do this?” or “Look! I made a thing!” and friends look up and say “That’s fabulous!” – those shared experiences, they feel good, and they build camaraderie.

When I have a creative date with people, I show up. I catch the infectiousness of their interests. I try things I wouldn’t otherwise had tried. I make stuff. When I don’t, well – you’ll likely find me on the computer again, or doing things that are supposedly important, but really could wait another day. 

So I’ve learned to schedule my creative time with classes. The set studio times secure my creative dedication on the calendar. Surrounded by other people who make stuff, I am constantly expanding, and sharing experiences with a growing community of people who care about me. I feel focused, honed, and connected. Art classes make me happy.  

Hey look, fall classes are up. Come join us!

Forest fire paintings by Jennifer Walton

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Sunrise looks like sunset, with this much smoke in the air. Yesterday every smoke alarm in my building was wailing, and my phone, no longer under my control, said “fah-yer. fah-yer.fah-yer.fah-yer.” The view outside was orange and hazy, and for a short childish moment, I thought the entire world was on fire. Evacuation by one floor revealed a very sorry man with a burnt toast, rapidly fanning a the source alarm. The alarm soon stopped, and as it did all other alarms in the building ceased their screaming, but it still smells like smoke, and outside, it is hazy and orange colored.

Forest Fire Paintings by Jennifer Walton

Matthew Cusick’s Inlaid Maps

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Thank you to Claire Putney for introducing us to the work of Matthew Cusick.

Matthew Cusick

“Cusick uses atlases for his powerful collages, uniting pieces of the landscape that are actually quite far apart to create his own new world. Armed with scissors and a craft knife, the artist playfully rearranges the fundamental organization of modern society.” – Claire Putney

“Maps provided so much potential, so many layers. I put away my brushes and decided to see where the maps would take me.”  – Matthew Cusick

“I think collage is a medium perfectly suited to the complexities of our time. It speaks to a society that is over-saturated with disparate visual information. It attempts to put order to the clutter and to make something permanent from the waste of the temporary. A collage is a time capsule; it preserves the ephemera of the past. It reconstitutes things that have been discarded. A collage must rely on a kind of alchemy; it must combine ordinary elements into something extraordinary.” – Cusick