Posted by: jeanne | July 13, 2017

a cane and a raven

this is about my second mural, and also what connor and i have been up to in the five days since the last post.


on sunday there was a bach recital. a local woman and her cello, and a local couple doing readings and singing old icelandic songs in between movements. cello suite #1, one of my favorites. connor and i sat in the front row of the museum gallery, and he was just a little fidgetty and bored. halfway thru he sat on my lap, and i wrapped my arms around him and we listened. from a distance of only a few feet, the sound of the cello went right thru our chests. i love bach.


when the concert was done, we started home, but ida came to the door of the cafe and waved us back.


she told me that the woman who sang the folksongs and her husband who read excerpts from some story (the only word i understood was indiana) wanted me to do a mural on her wall, so i went back into the gallery and waited to talk to them. svanfridur and sigurd are their names, and they live up the road on a farm. more about them in a little while.


when i said i was done with ida’s walls, i lied. i went back the next morning and painted over most of the lightning bolts, and then drew new ones. i’d run a photo of it by jim, and we talked about how to make it look better, so i took out the ladder and extended it another couple of rungs, and crawled up there to paint more steam and smoke, and a few more lightning bolts sticking out around the top. it was kind of perilous being up that high. i get vertigo now that i’m old, so i had to be extremely conscious of what i was doing with my body. ladder yoga.


on one of these days it rained. it hasn’t been raining much. my little garden has a bunch of tiny seedlings, and the sprouting potato i stuck in a pot has dried right out. so oh well. it’s also abnormally hot these last few days. today the thermometer outside the kitchen window was showing 18 degrees, and that’s not even sweater weather. connor and i are getting very tan from being at the pool, and his hair has turned strawberry blonde, like mine was when i was a kid. strangely, loads of sun doesn’t do much for the white part of my hair, but the lower bits are back to being red after years of going dark.

while it rained i had time to mix up some dyes and start making scarves, and to do a quick watercolor on some pieces of clayboard i’d brought with me. it’s 4×6″, and the clay tends to crack when it gets wet. i’ll have to be gentle getting it home, and then put a coat of wax on it to keep the cracked bits from actually falling off the board.


that night the sunset was spectacular, so i got out of bed at midnight to get a photo of it.


on monday i went over to inga and ingimar’s house to start the mural, but they weren’t ready, so i worked on the scarves. i didn’t bring soda ash with me, so i had to make some by putting a mess of baking soda in the oven and heating it for an hour, making a chemical reaction that changed it from one form to another. cool. so i mixed up some sodium alginate resist and went to work on a dragon scarf. it took much of the day to draw it in with resist, and to paint it all, and to do the various bleeding things that make it interesting. and then i hung it up and didn’t know what else to do with it. i don’t have a steamer, so i can’t steam the scarves, so i looked up a method of setting the dyes with soda ash and tried that. but i’m not sure of what i’m doing, so i’m not expecting good results. works in progress; gotta love ’em.

on tuesday connor and i went over to inga and ingimar’s. they’d gotten me scaffolding, which was great. connor sat inside with them, playing on his tablet and teaching them how to play minecraft, etc. and i went out to work. at first i did the grid in chalk that you can just barely see in the photo below, standing on the ledge above the door, and the wooden scaffold that has been there since they replaced the window to the right. it was very perilous, and i was quite nervous about being up there.


but after i took connor to soccer, i came back and got them to help me move one of the foot boards to make a bridge between the scaffolding and the wooden structure. that was much more secure, so i was much happier. but then i put a ladder on top of the scaffolding, and it was back to perilous.


i’d drawn the first figure way too small, so i had to redraw the grid, stretching out the vertical more than the horizontal but enlarging in both directions. i put the troll as far up as i could, 100″ tall, and that meant i had to adjust the angle of the troll’s arm and the position of the raven, so i left it for the second day and painted in the contours in case it rained. but when i saw it from the street, 50 yards or so away, i could barely see the lines, so i planned to go back and use the 1″ brush to make wider lines.


but by that time it was 3:45 and time to pick connor up from his soccer/playgroup and go swimming.  it was very warm.  we swam for two hours.  anna kristin was with us, and she took a hand in connor’s instruction.  he paid attention to everything she told him, and learned to blow his breath out underwater as he’s doing his flips and coming up for air.  he’s able to go a whole length without floaties now, and can almost tread water, and almost do the crawl.  he does a mean canonball and can do a flip into the water from the side.  he has also discovered that he can see under water without goggles, so now he’s not wearing goggles.  he’s gotten so confident in the water that he’s actually dangerous, and i’ve caught him getting into the big pool without me twice, and spoke to him about it both times.  i’d show pictures but i don’t have any, not a single one, of him in the water.

it was so warm on tuesday evening that we decided to take a walk up the mountain around 8:30.  we didn’t take our jackets, only our vests.  we drove to the quarry/dump and then walked up a gravel (hah!  fist sized rocks and larger) road that went up alongside an actual forest of birch trees and then switched back to continue up the side of the mountain.  we got high enough that the farm buildings that look far up from town looked puny and nearly to the flat from the edge of the waterfall.  there’s a small building up the mountain, with a waterfall that is actually the endpoint of water that’s being piped down from the hanging valley 1000m above.  they discharge the water after it runs thru the building, and you can see it gushing from town.  i was out of breath and tired by the time we got up to the building, and tho the road continued up toward the mouth of the hanging valley, we stopped there to rest and wait for the sun to go down over the mountain.


it didn’t go down.  tho the sun descends at quite an angle as it goes down, its position relative to the mountain, and the mountain’s descent at roughly the same angle, meant that the sun never actually set on the building, even tho the shadow crept right up to it.


we sat up there for half an hour or so, every now and then shading our eyes to see where the sun was.  connor spent some time throwing rocks off the building, and hunting around for things.  he found a chinese brush that someone had left there, and so took it home to use as a paintbrush the next time we do a painting.

the upper middle of this picture shows a face in the glare: the troll of the mountain

IMG_8893i do believe that’s grimsey in the distance.  it’s 30 miles off, and right over the arctic circle

on our way down i took another photo of the cascade’s lower reach.  we were just about to come out of the shadows and back into the sun.  it was close to 10pm.


we came home, ate some ice cream, and connor was out like a light.  i spent much of the night working on my scarves.  when i washed out the first one, it faded all the way down to pastel shades, the blue most fugitive.  what am i doing wrong?  i tie-dyed the bamboo socks i brought with me to give as presents, and they dyed a lovely rich dark green.  but what is going wrong with the silk?  i might figure it out.  for the second scarf, i added more black and blue pigment to the water, and more soda ash, but then the dye wouldn’t move at all when i put salt, or later water on it.  wtf.  the next try will be to soak the scarves in soda ash first and then paint them.

on wednesday morning i got up on the wall and thickened the lines, then drew in the rest of the figure – the arm, cane, and raven.  at that point i decided i needed some color, so i got out the light gray, the dark gray, and the white, and colored everything in.  it’s visible from the road now!

connor had loads of fun inside with inga and ingimar, who turned on movies for him, gave him endless potato chips, and even presented him with a spinner, which he now keeps under his pillow.  he wanted me to let him live with them.  but i told him we’d be finished with the mural by the end of the day, and he wouldn’t be able to spend time with them any more.  he was quite saddened by this, but then he went to soccer practice and forgot all about it.


at 1, anna kristin and i went up to the farm to see their wall and talk about what to do for it.  she’s an artist, and we’ve been working together painting.  i recently got some pigments, and i’ll be showing her how to mix her own paints when she has some time.  we stopped by the mural, and she said the raven looked more like a dodo bird, so i decided to download a proper photo of a raven and redraw her.  for that i needed the housepaint, so i asked inga and ingimar to locate it for me.


we went up to the farm, it’s a place you can see from town, halfway up to the hanging valley behind them.  they have a border collie (i love border collies) who kept bringing tiny little pieces of gravel for us to throw, and by dog found the tiny bits of gravel no matter where we threw them.  what a smart dog.

we went around the farm, looking at the buildings.  the obvious wall, facing the road, gets too much snow and wind in the winter, and is in constant need of repair.  so that was out.  they wanted me to put something on the wall facing the courtyard.  a troll.  with a sheep.  and some chickens.  so i went around taking pictures of everything.


and the dog.  and the baby.

there was another wall as well, the wall behind the clothesline.  svandfridur suggested a tree for that wall, since the clothesline was on a sturdy treelike post.  she showed me her birch trees, very large and old.  they have 30 year old rowan trees, as well.  and a greenhouse.  everything is well sheltered and very sunny.  then they took me inside the house to see a costume she has that jim can use in the drawing, and showed me some nice paintings, and the incredible view from the windows.  i want to live there.  i’m very much looking forward to going up there again to do the painting.  connor’s going to have to come with me, because he’s going to love it there.  but it will be a week or two before i get to it.


after we were done talking to the farmer and his wife, i dropped anna kristin at the cafe for her shift and went back to my wall.  i’d found a picture of a raven, but it was facing the wrong way, so i had to hold my phone in my left hand, standing on the wobbly scaffolding, and with my other hand paint in the reverse of the picture on my phone.

i find this mural deeply symbolic for several reasons.  first, ingimar was in a car accident some time ago, and broke both his legs.  he still uses a cane at times, so jim and i decided to show him with his cane, but not using it to walk.  rather it’s being used as a perch for a magical raven who has befriended him.  but there’s even more significance, because it turns out that inga’s name is rafnsdottir (raven’s daughter), and so she’s the raven.  i love it when this happens, because i didn’t know her name when jim and i designed the mural.

i spent so much energy up on the scaffolding and the ladder that i was exhausted when i finished the wall by the end of the afternoon, and took an extra long time soaking in the hot pots at the pool.  connor and i swam, of course, but he spent a lot of time in the kid pool with other kids.  it has been crowded all this week, and the hot pots are as full as i can comfortably stand.

this morning i woke to the sound of the guys up on the house behind us, redoing what looks like all the roofing and most of the siding.  they make a wondrous noise at 8:30 in the morning, and then take a coffee break at 9 and everything’s quiet again.  i’m taking it as an alarm clock.  because no matter how beautiful it is in the morning, there’s no guarantee it won’t rain by the end of the day, and i can’t work in the rain.


so we went up to the garage halfway up the hill to the tunnel to dalvik, and asked if they were ready for me to start.  they said yes, and we discussed the wall placement.  i had originally wanted to use the cement wall in the middle and the garage doors to the right of the photo below, but they are plastic, and housepaint doesn’t stick to plastic.  so they showed me the corrugated wall to the left of the cement wall, and said it was okay to paint the window white, since it was blocked on the other side anyway.  i thought about it, and decided that if i reversed the drawing jim made, it would work nicely.  so i went away and got connor ready to go to soccer, then loaded up my materials (rulers and tape measures, a pencil, chalk, a step stool) and went back up there after 1.


when i got there, they were washing the window for me.  the wall needed some repair, and the white of the metal wall wasn’t the same as the white of the wall, and there were grease spots.  so i had asked if they had some housepaint so i could prep the wall.  but they had other ideas.  the daughter was busy picking out housepaint colors.  i asked what she was doing, and she pointed out that the addition was a different color, and it was plastic, but they were going to repaint the entire building (i felt guilty for a minute) and had to match the color of the addition.  that meant i couldn’t start today.  but that was okay.  i gridded part of it and drew in that part, just to see if it would fit.  yellow chalk doesn’t show up at a distance.  it fit, and it’s going to look great, but since they were sending one of the mechanics to akureyri today for enough paint to do the whole building, it was going to be a day or two until i would be able to mess with the wall.  so i said i would come back on monday, since this weekend is going to be super busy.  reversed-car

since i had a little time unexpectedly, i went around to tommi’s shop.  tommi makes all the signs in town, and carves all the headstones, and sculptures, and is also the head of the local search and rescue team (is that three jobs?).  i need his help to make a troll crossing sign, and also to make a display sign for the troll woman on the hill opposite kaffi klara.  so we talked about it, and i’m going to get jim to finalize a troll profile, and tommi’s going to print it out on a sticker, and we’re going to appropriate a sign and put it into place beyond the bridge over the river on the way to the tunnel to hedinsfjordur.  he said he’d been thinking about getting me to paint a troll on his roof, and that might just be doable, tho i’m reaching the end of my stay already in terms of how many walls i can do.  i’ve only got five weeks left here (and that means my stay is more than half over).

then i went to kaffi klara to meet bjarney lea, who is new in town, but has a lot of experience in tourism.  she’s had a few ideas for this town, and is very excited to have me here doing some of the work she’s wanted to see done.  we talked over coffee, about her ideas for the campground, about troll things, about moving the gift shop to a more visible location, about doing a huge troll on the hill.  she offered to help me build the small troll beyond the bridge, and that’s great, because even tho i got permission from the city, i had given up on that as a viable idea in favor of getting a lot of walls painted.  but she knows who to ask to move a quantity of smallish stones to the site, and she’s going to akureyri to get a couple of bags of cement, and we’re going to get somebody to give us a length of chicken wire so we can wrap the stones and put dirt and moss and grasses on it.  she’s got the next three weeks free, so we will start sometime next week, as soon as we get the rocks organized.  before i left for my next appointment, she whipped out a list she’d been compiling, and we went over it.  evidently there are 5 trolls in this town, with 5 different stories, and the idea is that eventually there will be 5 troll statues somewhere in the area, and of course maps and tours and the whole deal.  she’s full of ideas.  i’m so glad to help.  she offered her house for the large troll foot, and that was something else i’d despaired of.

then i met with the manager of the local bank.  i’d talked to the regional manager on the phone, and then someone in reykjavik about the project, but helgi is the guy on the ground.  he brought a drawing that rán had done.  she is the artist that arionbanki has commissioned to decorate all their branches, and she has drawn a troll for the front of their bank.  i will be executing her drawing, and that’s fine with me because otherwise they’re all jim’s trolls, and it’s good to have a little variety.  it’s actually a great drawing.  but she’s not done with it, so we’re going to wait until the beginning of august to proceed.  it’s good to be collaborating with other artists here.

and then it was time to go get connor.  today we didn’t do any swimming in the big pool, because he found 4 boys in the kid pool and they played the whole time.  i got some laps in, and sat in the hot pots until i was tired.  then we came home, i roasted a chicken, we had ice cream for desert, and connor went outside to play with the neighbor kids.  now i’ve read him his bedtime story (rumplestiltskin) and he’s upstairs playing with his spinner.

the weekend is going to be super super busy.  tomorrow one of our artists, sonja, is holding a workshop.  she’s going to make a ‘troll’ drawing on a giant piece of paper she got from tomm.  then on saturday we’re having the troll festival block party around kaffi klara, and on sunday they’re having medieval days at gasir, near dalvik, and i’m taking connor to that.  it’s going to be hectic, but i’ll report back.


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