Heather Ross Shop

Country Mice

Heather Ross31 Comments

I'm working on a new line for Kokka, its all about fables and nursery rhymes. Here are some little details from two of my favorite prints from the group so far.

The line isn't completely finished yet, but hopefully Kokka will agree with me about these little mice and the postage stamp cheater quilt print. The line will launch at Quilt Market in May and be in stores by early summer. I'll keep you posted!

PS: yes, of COURSE, there are city mice too!






Taking The Plunge (originally posted in January, 2009)

Heather Ross12 Comments

I hope nobody minds a re-run... -H

When I was very young and too far away from my future to even guess what it would hold, A very wise and well-lived woman gave me excellent advice. She told me that no matter what I did or did not do, there would only be two things that I or any other woman would never, ever regret: "A swim, and a baby". I understood the swim part perfectly. I grew up in a damp swimsuit, and knew that late afternoon sun and finally-dry-again hair could trick you into thinking that you did not need another jump-in, when in fact you always do. I had learned long before that if I jumped in with the faith that once I was underwater, the reason I jumped would be clear, and so there was no point in arguing with myself. 

For almost two decades I have shared that advice within the private confines of every "should-I-or-shouldnt-I"  conversation that has presented itself, with an assuredness that I am sure, at times, was a little annoying to my friends who were facing the important, life-changing decision to have children. My faith in this advice has been unwavering, unbending, and, apart from my commitment to swimming in anything, conveniently untested. I finally must admit that now that its me in the should-i-or-shoudnt-i spot, that faith is a little shaky. Not surprising. It is rare that I have faith in anything (which is too bad, because having faith in something is a very good thing, if only because it provides a rest from over-thinking and indecision). Lately I have been feeling the need for a little more than blind faith to push me past this very comfortable stage of my life, a little more faith that having a baby or two will not leave me in a state of regret...  And this, in a very roundabout way, is why I agreed to jump into the ocean at Coney Island on New Years Day. Because sometimes you have to test faith in order to renew it. 

But wait, lets back up. Regret might be too strong a word. Its really more of an anxiety about the idea that my life will be irreversibly altered and filled with many many new opportunities to make terrible mistakes, just when I feel like I have finally gotten the hang of things. My swimsuit and my hair are dry, so to speak. I have glamorous, confident friends who argue that a baby will ruin them because they will no longer be able to dress up and stay out late and travel on a moments notice to exotic places. In contrast, a baby would actually justify my ideal evening routines, which last night involved eating an entire bag of chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzels while watching The Biggest Loser. And it would be nice, for a change, to blame someone else for the food stains on my clothing, especially if it was someone who could not verbalize a defense. But even so, I'm good at my life right now. I'm a pretty good cook, a pretty good friend, I love my husband and my dog and my cat and when I am in my kitchen and my dog is sleeping on his little rug under my feet and music is playing.. things feel pretty complete. Why muss that up?

And then, of course, there is the issue of my devoted husband, to whom I give too little credit.  TC finds himself reminding me, far too often, that I am no longer going it alone. This is taking some getting used to on my part. New Years Day was no exception. When I imagined TC's reaction to my wanting to join the Polar Bear Club at their annual Coney Island swim on New Years Day, I pictured him being supportive and perhaps coming along as a spectator, not being crazy enough to jump in with me. Crazy was my hobby, not his. And besides, I already had definite plans to borrow the extremely warm muppet-like fur lined knee length four inch thick warm-up jacket that he had worn between practice laps as a competitive swimmer in college, and now hung in our closet. I also planned to use his thermos, which is better than mine, and was counting on him, post swim, to order my favorite wonton soup from Grand Sezchuan, and to reward my bravery by giving me the corner of the sofa and the remote control for the day if not the week. But when I saw myself in the water, I saw myself alone. I always see myself alone. So, when he jumped at the chance to join me (and our very adventurous friend Stephen, who had first broached the idea) I was a bit floored. I think my first words were: "OK. but I get to wear the jacket." 

TC not only gave me the jacket, but he let me wear the pair of sheepskin boots that we share when we take turns walking the dog. I had my warmer than warm manitoba mittens, a very good hat, and a huge thermos of hot coffee. Under another layer of fleece tights and a wool undershirt, I wore a bikini. When we stepped out into the bright cold (sunny, but 18 degrees f)  New Years morning, I looked at TC and Stephen. They looked sporty and well layered, almost as though they were headed out for an apres ski fondue. I was taking no chances, making no allowances for fashion, and as a result looked like I had woken up in the coat closet the morning after an ill-fated party at the Notre Dame swim teams squalid off campus house and made a run for it.... but not without stopping for coffee.

The most surprising thing, upon reaching the pre-swim party on the Coney Island boardwalk, was that so many other people were there. I had pictured dozens of people running into and out of the water - not hundreds. There was live music and a wide variety of costumes, a "strong man" demonstration and much beating of bared chests. An adorable troupe of water ballerinas in big flowery bathing caps and goggles fluttered about, giggling to stay warm, while a group of burly bearded men, one of them holding an enormous american flag waving madly in the wind, passed around a teensy flask. This was not at all what I had expected. I guess I had pictured a dozen or so sturdy old men, espousing the health benefits and logic of cold water swims. Isn’t that what I always see on TV on New Years Day? Instead, the costumes and mock-pageantry made it suddenly apparent that everyone agreed that this was a seriously insane thing to do. And yet, we were all giddy. Everyone seemed so different, but everyone seemed to belong. It was so cold that it hurt a little to inhale, and my speech was impaired by a frozen chin. Loud music was being played for people who were dancing to stay warm, I just jumped up and down, and panicked a little inside.

When the happy mob finally moved onto the beach and the countdown began to the 1pm call to jump in the water, we made a plan. Genuinely afraid of losing sight of each other and the pile of warm clothing we would be leaving on the beach, we mapped out our route. We were maybe fifty feet away from the water, and directly between the large burly team with their american flag and a very permanent looking wooden lifeguard stand, and decided that it would be those two things that we looked for when coming out of the water.  Confident that we would be able to beeline in and out, we shed our clothes and, when the buzzer rang, ran straight into the ocean. 

TC was in the water first, almost completely submerged.  He was turned around and dashing past me before I was knee deep in the water, and then gone, engulfed by the screaming crowd that was still rushing towards the surf. Stephen and I were in and out almost as quickly. The water, which was about 41 degrees, didn't feel too bad. The air, on the other hand, was bitter. I had no shoes on (it was enough of an effort to have to find a bathing suit in January with a hangover, I gave up on the water shoes) and my feet began to ache immediately. I looked at Stephen. His eyes were very, very wide. And panicked. He had just realized, moments before I would, that the wooden lifeguard stand had been moved. "WHY??" he screamed at me from mere inches away, his eyes wild, "WHY WOULD THEY MOVE THE STAND??" It wasn't a rhetorical question as much as it was a demand for a new plan, ideally set forth by whoever had moved the stand. We were suddenly completely disoriented, standing on a very crowded beach that looked the same for a hundred feet in each direction, packed solid with cold, wet, and equally disoriented people. We ran a few feet in one direction, then a few feet in another, and then back again. We were not calm, nor were we able to think constructively. As many times as I told myself that I needed a new plan, that thought process was interrupted by a part of my body screaming at me to make it warm. Each time Stephen and I collided, which is what happens when you run in tiny circles with a friend and you are both in shock, we would repeat-scream at each-other. WHY?? WHY DID THEY MOVE THE STAND??   or "$%@!". That was it. I believe I had opportunity to repeat these two phrases five, maybe six times before I turned around for just a minute and lost sight of Stephen completely, and found myself alone. With no one to scream at. My entire body was bright red, except for my hands, which were a sickly grey-blue, and my feet, which hurt too much to look at. I could not think what direction, other than towards the water, I should run. I was completely and utterly incapacitated, and knew, based on the expressions of almost every member of the confused and panicked mob I was a part of, that I was not the only one. And here is where I will admit, ashamedly, that I was not thinking about TC at all. In fact, when a small opening between bodies allowed for a split second glimpse of him, it registered as an illusion. 

It was actually the long coat that caught my attention, flapping in the wind high above the crowd. He stood, bright pink and shaking, and wearing only his tiny wet Speedo (his old college racing suits are so miniscule that when we had a housekeeper she would put them away in my fancy underwear drawer) and bright orange water shoes. I knew that he could not see me, his glasses were off and his eyes were closed against the cold. He was stretched tall, with his arms high above him, each of his hands clenched tightly around the the end of a sleeve of the jacket, its gold fur lining bright against the grey sky. It flapped and waved like a huge flag, as he must have known it would, and while I couldn't hear him I could tell by the way his mouth moved that he was shouting my name as loudly as he possibly could. When I reached him he was so cold that he could not manage to put the jacket around me, much less get himself dressed in the warm clothing that lay in piles next to his feet. He had been standing there for many long minutes, which each must have felt like hours, and rather than taking even a moment to put his wool sweater and mittens and long underwear, much less to steal my sheepskin boots, he had turned himself into a bright pink flag bearing human beacon. There's my guy. And there's my faith. 

This years Polar Bear Club swim turned out to be the coldest on record. This winter, in general, has been a harsh one in New York. Everyone is looking forward to summer, a little more than usual. After a very subdued holiday season in a city that is just coming down from a five year fiscal high and has a pretty serious hangover, that plunge on New Years Day at Coney Island felt like the beginning of something great. Terrifying and unpredictable, but truly great. TC and I spent another very cold day outside together last weekend at the inauguration of Barack Obama, standing again with a mob of other cold, giddy, and determined people, this time more than a million. Both events left us with a similar feeling, a remembered sense that none of us are in this alone, and that a dry swimsuit is highly overrated.

from top left, me and the jacket, pre swim, front and back, Coney Island swimmers, and Stephen, me and TC



Heather Ross98 Comments

Born August 1, 3:02 AM. That's three hours and two minutes away from sharing a birthday with my mother. 7 pounds and 4 ounces, 20.5 inches, already showing a preference for higher end yarns and Liberty fabrics. These past two weeks have flown by. It only took a few moments for our world to shift, with her now sitting squarely in it's center.

Hitting Pavement

Heather Ross145 Comments

I learned to ride a bicycle quite late. I partly blame my mother, as usual, though if you ask her she will roll her eyes audibly and tell you all about the many maddening hours that she spent trying to teach me. The real fault lies with the dirt roads we lived on, with their sharp stones and dried up, flattened frogs and garter snakes always menacing from below. When you walked along the road to our house, which we did a lot, you never looked down. When you were on a bicycle, trying to balance, you could look nowhere but. I believe that I still have bits of that gravel road embedded in my knees and elbows, despite a lot of time dedicated to picking them out.

“DO NOT LET GO”, I would yell to my mother, whose sure-fire method of two wheel bicycle instruction was to run along behind me holding the seat “steady” until I had enough momentum to stay upright and then give me a little extra push and let go. So far this method had not worked on me. It had worked on my sister, who was by then pedaling in long circles back and forth around this tragic scene, annoyed that she still had no-one to ride bikes with except Hans, the nearest child neighbor at three miles away (and even further down the dirt road). Hans was also the child of hippies, but his hippies were the book reading, bee keeping, bread baking type and ours were the smoking, drinking, life drawing type, which created a cultural schism of sorts between him and my sister and I. Hans preferred reading books and organizing his leaf collection to whatever scab-producing activity we were usually pressing him into. I’m just remembering as I type this that Hans recently facebooked me and I haven’t gotten back to him yet. I’m curious about what he’s up to, the last time we spoke was when we were both going off to our second year of college, he was moving into a cerebral dorm at UVM known as “The German House”, because it was where you lived if you wanted to be immersed in german language and culture. I was at the State College in Johnson and  planning to live in an old apartment building known as “The Halfway-Halfway House” because only its upper floors had been turned from state-funded  housing into student rentals. It was where you lived if you only wanted to pay $100 a month. So not much had changed. The more I think about it the more I’m starting to suspect that Hans didn’t even have a bicycle.

“I AM NOT LETTING GO”, would be my mother’s insistent response, but I knew that she already had, because I could see her lanky shadow on the ground next to mine and that of my horrifyingly tall bicycle, all of us distorted beyond reason and playing out like a scary movie on a dirty screen made of sharp little rocks and hard dirt, my small feet so far off the ground and those thin tires so fine and wobbly, and my mother’s tall, lean figure with it’s long hair streaming behind as she galloped along, with an outstretched hand held open at the end of a long arm, reaching to just above the back of my seat, but CLEARLY NOT TOUCHING IT.

“YOU ARE SO!”, I would shout back at her, “YOU ARE SO LETTING GO!” and then I would turn to look at her with angry, knitted eyebrows one last time before closing my eyes and crashing into the shrubbery, to save myself.

It would have gone on like this for ever, I think, me becoming one of those thirty-year-old women who never learned to ride a bike (my husband tells me that there is no such thing, but I still find it hard to believe that absolutely everybody figures it out) had it not been for two developments. One, I needed an independent means of getting to the Village Store to buy candy and Two, the town paved the first mile of our road. Not the whole thing, just within town limits and just up the first, very long, steep hill that happened right after you turned off the main road coming from town. We called it The Hill. It was brutally steep, so much so that on slippery winter days my mother would sometimes have to put sandbags into the back of the car so that we wouldn't slip all over the place. The Hill was paved but not marked with painted lines, and was under a leafy tunnel of trees for most of the summer, where it stayed cool and dark and quiet. It wasn’t my imagination that the trees on this paved part of the road were noticeably greener than the ones on the gravel section, it was fact. Their trunks and leaves weren’t covered in dust anymore.

Like most town roads ours wound along a steeply running creek and was full of twists and odd grades, the most severe of which my mother would take with her foot on the gas, leaning into the curves with her elbows out like the driver of a get-away car, whether we were on the paved section or not. Living on a dirt road and driving fast is very hard on a car (as are running out of gas weekly, never changing your oil, and crashing into things a lot, just for the record. Mom.) and will eventually rattle every inch of it into shaky bits of junk. Your muffler will fall off first, which will make your car very loud and get you noticed when you drive through town. Next, your suspension will go and things will get very bouncy and quite fun, especially when you are allowed to ride standing on the back bumper and holding onto to the roof rack with one hand while you do the Princess Diana Wedding wave with the other (elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist) which is something that my mother ONLY allowed when we were on the dirt road, and would pull right over when we got to the start of the pavement and then we would have to get inside the car, where it was “safe”, except when she forgot about us and didn’t and kept going and found us when she pulled into the gas station with white knuckles wrapped around the roof rack (all of them, Princess Diana Waves be damned), frozen solid and quite windblown and a little deaf. It was hard to believe that my mother had ever been holding anything back in terms of speed while still on the gravel, until she hit that pavement.

postcard from Montgomery, VTI remember so clearly the way it felt every time the tires of our car left the gravel and crossed over onto blacktop. It was a random spot in the road, there was no sign or intersection. One instant you were a loud, rattling mess, yelling at one another to be heard and watching the dust shake free from the dashboard and try to settle again, windows eternally open to allow cool air (and more dust) in and my mother’s cigarette smoke out,  and then you would feel the tires lift up and over the small lip, because the pavement was slightly higher than the gravel, first under your front tires and then, a split second later, under your back tires, and then suddenly, the whole world would be silent. A sort of civilized, musical, wooshing sort of silent. Unless of course you still hadn’t re-attached the bumper, in which case it would feel like a much more self conscious sort of silence that wasn’t really silent on your end at all.

All sorts of wonderful, civilized things existed on pavement: The Village Store with its penny candy and single red gas pump, the swimming pool with the diving board at my grandparents house, our elementary school, which was a place that we liked going to mostly because it was more novel than mandatory (2nd grade, as my sister puts it, was somewhere you went if everybody got up in time and the car happened to start), and the lunches were pretty good, and further down the road the grocery store with its candy bars and odd smelling meat counter. Pavement was, to us, The World. And the idea that the world was slowly moving up our hill, up our road, closer to being within reach without having to climb on the back bumper of a muffler-less car driven by my mother (there had to be a better way), well there was something worth learning to ride a bike for. Surely the pavement would soon reach all the way to our door, right? Just for the record, it hasn’t made it there yet. So learn I did. I taught myself early one morning by hucking myself down a hill and pedaling against absolutely nothing until there was some, and then more, and then a lot, of resistance. Learning to turn would take another four or five years, but for my main purposes (getting down The Hill), I was set.

There were so few cars that traveled on The Hill that when you rode down it on your bike it wasn’t really necessary to stay on the edge, or at least it didn’t seem important at the time, so you could really concentrate on speed. You had already pedaled more than two miles on the gravel, past countless flattened toads and Black Eyed Susans. When you were on the gravel you had to pedal on the straightaways, and even when the road pitched slightly forward the rough ground never allowed for any coasting, until you reached the top of The Hill and that small lip of blacktop that marked the beginning of civilization, and of speed. This was the kind of speed that  children do not otherwise have the ability to assume. It was the kind of speed that you could feel in your hair and against your shirt cuffs, the kind that made your eyes water a lot, the kind that wasn’t possible (or at least sustainable) on a gravel road without a motor. And it was an almost silent speed, with a fast, smooth softness under your tires that was more something you could feel than something that you could hear. And where the road leveled out you emerged a silent, coasting statue that sometimes felt as though it were being propelled and steered by your own will. Until you started to feel the slow down and your own weight being pulled to the ground again, and had to admit that you had probably not succeeded in creating a supersonic, self propelled, previously unknown dimension of speed. And there was that fresh memory of something that as an adult you would learn to recognize as adrenaline, but for now just fit into the category of Really Fun. It also felt like freedom, especially since it landed you closer to the candy counter without adult supervision, but a lot of other things feel like freedom when you are a kid, so it doesn’t stand out as much at the time.

When I was in my third year at State College my friend Mark, who was always on his bike, had to go home to be with his family for a few months because his mother was very sick. The night he got back to school we stayed up late and talked in the dark about his trip. I’d asked him how it was, but now sat terrified, feeling totally unequipped to be having this conversation about something that was obviously so difficult for him to talk about. He slowly described a series of long days spent indoors at his suburban New Jersey home, he hadn’t felt like he could or wanted to go anywhere or see old friends and didn’t want to be away from his mom during waking hours. But at night, when she was sleeping, he would get on his bike and ride in fast loops around his silent neighborhood, just listening to the sound of his tires on the smooth, dark pavement. I could hear him smiling when he described this part. He asked me if I knew what he meant by “that sound” and I told him yes, that I did, and I felt tremendous relief because up until then I hadn’t been able to offer a single sentence that could convince him that I or anyone else in our twenty-year old world could possibly relate to what he had spent the last few weeks facing. But that sound, and the sense of freedom and peace that it could still bring, that I could remember and understand. And it was therefore nearly possible for me to try to imagine what the far opposite might feel like, the weight and noisy burden of such a painful thing as a terminally ill mother. And then I started wondering, if I stayed off a bike for another five, ten, thirty years, would I eventually stop being able to remember that sound and that feeling? Don’t answer that, I’ve since decided that I don’t actually want to know.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, that power of being able to remember what something feels like. Nostalgia, it could be called. I’ve been on a hiatus from waxing nostalgic about my childhood or generating anything autobiographical since January, when this happened. It wasn’t even an intentional hiatus, it just felt like I had burned my hand on the stove and was opting to use the toaster oven instead for a while. I’ve seen this happen on other blogs, people get a little scalded or hurt or freaked out and you just lose motivation to post for a bit. My mother, of all people,  was the first to complain. “I have no idea what’s going on in your life because you only talk about work on your JOURNAL now”. She likes referring to my blog as my “journal” because she still hasn’t apologized for reading (and publicly broadcasting the contents of) my diary when I was a teenager and can now smugly point out that I “let everybody read my JOURNAL” and therefore "can’t possibly still be upset about THAT (insert dismissive hand wave with lit cigarette)".

In the end, it wasn’t the accusation that I had been unfortunately and unintentionally insensitive that I could argue with. I can’t imagine that any of us, no matter how much we would like to think that we have enlightened ourselves through “close reading” (whatever the hell that means, they did NOT teach in State College) beyond the limitations of our own narrow perspectives and prejudices, is capable of avoiding entirely for the simple reason that each of us is nothing more than a big sac of bones and water, some DNA, and our own autobiographies. Nope. I wasn’t really willing or able to argue with that, and said that I was sorry that I had offended, and pointed out that the artwork was autobiographical, which I really thought would clarify things but obviously didn’t at all, which is when I decided to leave it alone. Mostly.

What really shut me up and got me questioning my own existence for a while, though, was the small subset of comments that were made about the “dangers of nostalgia”, and the accusation that I was depicting a childhood in my art that could never have existed, my “playing horses” drawing compared by one commenter to the kitschy depictions of perfect, tiny waisted, deliriously happy 1950’s housewives that drove my mother’s generation into bloody revolt and comfy bras. That’s what really stung. It took me about six months to look at that drawing of my sister and my cousin and I and to remember that, wait, I did play with little plastic horses. And it was wonderful. I did have a little western shirt with pearl snaps that I loved more than anything in the whole world. And thinking about them makes me happy, makes me glad that I grew up the way that I did, makes me love my mother even though she has really been pissing me off lately, makes me forgive her for forgetting that I was still standing on the back bumper when she hit the gas instead of the brake, and for not recognizing that her method of two-wheeled bicycle instruction was so clearly flawed, and makes me long to see my cousin and to send her little girl some glossy plastic horses and pair of red cowboy boots (which I must admit, I never had but would have loved until they were nothing but dust). And how is any of that, I must ask at the risk of generating a discussion that I am not qualified to be (or interested in, to be honest) facilitating, a bad thing?

Don’t answer that. I’ve decided that I don’t actually want to know.

Everything I Know About Eyeballs....

Heather Ross2 Comments

a monster primer from Ed Emberley....I learned from Ed Emberley. Or rather, everything I learned about the significance of eyeballs... I learned from Ed Emberley. If you didn't have Ed's books as a kid, I am here to tell you that that's OK. Its not too late to go out and buy a bunch of them now. If you have kids (and if you have kids who are looking for a fun project this weekend, perhaps???) then you absolutely need to buy the whole set.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be a part of this project over at the marvelous Cloudy Collection. My artists proofs arrived today and they are just absolutely gorgeous. Plus, there was an unexpected gift in the box: a print by Ed himself. And it's just teeming with eyeballs.

If you don't already know about Cloudy Collection, check their past editions. David Hyuck works tirelessly to bring illustrators together to create some extremely great and utterly affordable sets of prints. David has an impeccable eye and everyone loves working with him on these very fun collections. Investing in them on a regular basis is perhaps the best and easiest way to begin collecting the limited edition work of some of the best and brightest illustrators working today. Its hard to pick a favorite, but I have to steer you towards this one.... maybe it's just because I'm such a die hard Grickle fan (c'mon, his sloths period alone? Brilliance.) but these are pretty perfect, no?