Monday, December 20, 2010


Done! Color version of Walkers on the Beach:

Weekend Wonders

Wonders - as in amazing.

An amazing dinner:

An amazingly bad shot - (but fortunately this allows me to show it on this very public site):

An amazingly beautiful hotel lobby:

An amazing gingerbread house that makes me want to visit Disneyland: (those of you who have visited can sing along - "In the tiki tiki tiki tiki tiki room, in the tiki tiki tiki tiki tiki room"):

I wish I had shots of the amazingly graceful ballet we attended, particularly the last scene before the intermission of the land of the snowflakes - just breathtakingly lovely.

On tap for this week: completing the color version of the walkers on the beach painting and preparing for Christmas VIV's (VERY IMPORTANT VISITORS!!!). Can't wait for Friday when they all arrive.

Have a wonderful week.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gray is such a beautiful color

I'm lovin' those gray tones!

Black, white, and everything in between. I never would have thought that doing a value painting would be so helpful to me. It doesn't just help me to define my tones throughout the painting. It also helps me to discover problems I'm going to encounter throughout the painting.

Most important I think, is that it helps me to approach the painting more confidently. The value study is less intimidating. Not having to worry about color reduces the anxiety I feel when I begin a painting. When I'm not sure what to do, I just start painting what I know, either the very light tones or the blackest black. This information then leads me to figuring out more difficult areas.

This little painting is a commissioned piece that is quite small. I was a little nervous about it but after doing the value study, I'm excited to begin the color version.

Oh, and here is the color version of the last value study that I shared. It is a Centennial Trail piece, "The Three Islands Trailhead".

I'm also so excited about my week-end. I'm going downtown for dinner and fun with a couple of girlfriends tonight. Saturday, I'm being treated to the ballet! Life is good! I hope you have a wonderful weekend too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A visit from my cookie weekend

Twas two weeks before Christmas
the kitchen was calling
I assembled utensils
as snow came a falling
(actually, it was a mild day with no snow)

The bowls were lined up
and the Kitchen Aid whirring
The dogs licked the floor
and the kitten was purring
(actually, the kitten is a cat and was upstairs hiding - but the
dogs helpfully licked the floor whenever needed)

The cookies like soldiers
were ready to go
my stomach was bloated
from sampling the dough
(actually, it was more like sampling whole cookies as they came
out of the oven, tasting the frosting, tasting a frosted cookie,
eating the ugly ones)

The crock pot was cooking
a wonderful dinner
after that much sugar
chili's always a winner

(the foil is there because my crock pot spits - very rude behavior for a crock pot. Crock pots are one of life's frustrations for me. When Norm and I were married, my brother David, gave us a little unassuming crock pot. I happily used it for a couple of years but then succumbed to the siren song of better, bigger, fancier crock pots. After acquiring my crock pot upgrade I gave away my first little crock pot and have forever regretted it. I didn't realize that my first crock pot was the best crock pot I would ever have. It even had the ability to go straight from being able to brown on the stove top to being plugged in. In 20+ years I have never been able to find that feature again. Every crock pot since has been adequate but has never measured up to that first crock pot. It's a lesson in life, I guess. Be happy and appreciate what you have. That grass that looks greener can't go from the stove top to the plug in and you will always regret trading it in. On the other hand, maybe the analogy isn't so good. There are some things in life that simply aren't working - so get rid of it and don't look back!)

Now the cookies are finished
and ready on plates
so how do I get rid of them?!!!!!!
they simply won't wait

(OK so I couldn't finish my poem properly to convey my ambivalence towards the rows and rows of cookies that are now on my counter. I want someone else to deliver them to people for me. Isn't that pathetic? Maybe I could just send an email to the intended recipients letting them know
their cookies are ready for pick up)

With that generous thought
I'll leave you so bright
Merry Christmas to all
and to all a good night

(OK, it was a silly rhyme. I DO hope you're feeling bright. Enjoy your week. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by for some cookies!)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Defining my values

As promised, the focus in the studio this week was values.

I am coming to greatly appreciate how important it is to have your values straight. I thought I would share some of my work for the week.

This Centennial Trail painting greatly benefited from my doing a value study. I had tried to paint it last week before my week-end workshop and had been displeased overall. There were things that worked, but the overall impression was that it was a muddy mess. I am not going to show it to you because I cut it up for scrap paper. (Great excuse, yes?) After the workshop I did a value study and then painted it again.

I was much more pleased with the results:

This is my value study of a photo I took on the trail in October. It was a somewhat blah photo. I really never intended to paint it. But after the workshop, I came to appreciate the complexity of the reflections and decided to give it a go:

If the painting is worth sharing, I will post it next week. Regardless, I have found my greater focus on values to be very helpful.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reflecting on water

I took a watercolor workshop this weekend from an incredible watercolor artist, Stan Miller, who fortunately for me, lives in our area. The workshop focused on the visual properties of water and how to render them believably through the medium of watercolor.

The entire workshop was a validation of some of my thinking throughout the last several months. First of all, art is all about vision. What do I REALLY see? Not what do I think I see. Then, how do I reproduce that on paper? I have to be able to master my craft before I can manipulate it to use it as a tool to say anything.

Values, the lights and darks of a subject are critical. I know this so well, but it was good to have it hammered home throughout the weekend. We painted six paintings in two days. Only one, the last, was in color. This forced us to think only about values. Color and technique are the big seducers. It's so easy to be sidetracked by them. A good piece must be designed well, and the values must be correct. It's like building a house. Without a good foundations, it doesn't matter how many beautiful finishes you add. The thing still falls apart. Values are part of the foundation.

Where do I go from here? Back to the studio to practice what I learned. I know I need to do more value studies of each of my paintings. I need to practice, practice my craft and not be so worried about having something to frame every time I sit down to paint.

Old ideas. Thoughts I've considered many times before. But some ideas are worth repeating and reflecting on.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Seeing old friends

I started decorating for Christmas today.

As I went through each box, I was struck with a feeling of connection - a linking of the past years and the dear people in my life.

Like this old guy. Actually he's part of a pair that I swear is from my grandparents, and Norm swears is from his. Maybe it doesn't matter. One of them leaks sawdust but neither Norm nor I would ever think of throwing it away.

These make me think of my best bud, Judi, who gave me the cottage and my godparents who gave me the little santa/snowmen bingo carvings a long, long time ago.

This slightly bedraggled angel connects me to my mom, who created it and this Christmas tree many years ago.

These snowmen represent our family. Kate, Jeff, and I created the tall snowmen on sticks several years ago. I especially like Jeff's snowman because of his expression. Jeff created the large snowman in the middle, and Kate created the small snow people family, each of which represents one of us. This display always warms my heart.

When I see these stockings I think of my babies. I created them both while I was pregnant so they are very dear to me. Cy's has become an important addition.

This handsome fellow was hand carved by my sweetheart and painted by me. He always gazes out from our mantel.

And this is my Christmas Table, a tradition started by the aforementioned sweetheart several years ago. Incredibly, every day during December, I wake up to a new present on this table. I can't begin to say how blessed I feel to have someone treat me with such love and care, even after he has had to live with me for 27 plus years!

During this season I am so thankful for these memories and the precious relationships they represent. I am not worthy of the gift of the love of all of these people. Much like how we are not worthy of the gift of love of our Lord. But we have it and I am so thankful.

I hope that your holiday season is filled with joy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Having faith

When you work with watercolors, you have to practice a great deal of faith.

And hope.

It doesn't matter how the painting eventually works out. During the process of creation they all look terrible. Terrible enough that as the artist, I despair and have to resist the impulse to tear them up and throw them out. I fight the urge to give up on a painting with two thoughts:

  • no matter what, it will be good practice (practical)

  • maybe it will turn out after all (hopeful)
Both of these paintings are perfect examples of this process. They both looked absolutely terrible through most of their creation. I had to have a little faith, a little hope, and a lot of perseverance.

They are both inspired by the Centennial Trail. I loved the grain and the colors in this downed tree, with the leaves as a beautiful contrast.

Since I first started running along the trail in the spring, these purple flower weeds were everywhere. They grew like, well, weeds! I'm sure that they are universally hated because of that. I contemplated painting them many times but never deemed them quite worthy of my attention. Yes, the spikey flowers were pretty, but the plant wasn't really particularly eye catching.

So what changed my mind? Their sheer perseverance. When we walked the trail recently, they were still tenaciously blooming, the last hold outs of summer color. So I changed my mind and decided they were worthy after all.

I admire perseverance.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Implications of Dormancy

Centennial Trail - Mile markers 7 - 9

I haven't run the Centennial Trail lately, but we did walk it a few days ago. It was a cold, fall day with a very brisk wind. The season is clearly over - few people, but the trail holds a beauty that is different from summer. Colors blaze everywhere, the squirrels and remaining birds are frantically busy.

This fellow watched us as much as we watched him.

As we walked, I passed plants that a few weeks ago would have been beautiful - full of blooms or bright leaves - now merely sticks. Unlovely. Unremarkable. If I didn't know their history I would have passed them by without a thought. The plants aren't worried.

It occurred to me that human beings are burdened by self-awareness. Those of us who are in stick form, not blossoming, not lovely, fret. Are we worthwhile? Is there more within us, waiting to manifest? Will we be loved when we are barren sticks?

Plants and animals are not weighed down with the burden of these kinds of thoughts. They simple ARE. Not worried about worth. No more valuable as gorgeous flowers than barren sticks. No concerns about how long their beauty will last. No comparing themselves to other blooms, wondering if they measure up. Not wondering if after their beauty is spent, whether they will ever bloom again. They simply ARE.

I know that the simple conclusion to this kind of thinking is to cut yourself some slack. Know that you are inherently worthwhile. Concentrate more on the moment, putting one foot in front of the other. I work on that kind of thinking daily.

But there are other implications.

How many people do I pass by without a thought? I don't want to pay so much attention to the appearance of people. It's so easy to love and admire the beautiful, accomplished, and successful. I want to be more careful with the unlovely, the unremarkable - the sticks. It is so easy to look past people just as we look past dormant plants, not even noticing them. I want to work harder to see the possibilities in people.

"There is more to us (and others) than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less".
Kurt Hahn

Friday, November 12, 2010

Waiting for Winter

The world around us seems to be in a waiting mode.

Waiting for winter.

You can feel it getting nearer. The trees are nearly bare. The air has a cold, heavy feel to it. When we have wind it brings a deeper chill, prompting you to quickly move inside. The animals are quieter. I don't see birds flitting about as I gaze out the window. The chipmunks and squirrels seem to have moved inside. The weather forecast hints of possibilities. Of snow.

This little guy is waiting for winter too.

The Sentry - Centennial Trail - Mile marker 13 - November

Some places have already tasted the first dusting of snow.

First Snow on the Mountain - Pocatello, ID

This painting was so fun to do. Unlike most of what I've been working on which involve hours of planning, masking, glazing (like that handsome guy above), this painting was done in about 20 minutes. It was based on a wonderful photo from this highly interesting blog.

Have a wonderful waiting for winter weekend.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Too Sensitive

Rough week in the studio this week so I thought I would share something else.

I've been reading a wonderful little book called "Wesley the Owl".

The author, who works for Cal tech, describes the emotional sensitivity of owls. One example she describes is the attachment owls feel for their mates. Upon the death of its mate, owls sometimes turn away, refuse to eat, and die. I'd heard something similar to this with other species, but another example resonated with me. An owl living in their lab got its foot caught in a ventilation fan. The damage to the foot wasn't too great, the owl was well taken care of and with time would heal well, but the experience was so upsetting to the owl, that he simply turned his face to the wall and eventually died.

The owl was just too sensitive. Why couldn't he snap out of it? Other owls had endured much worse experiences. He had a good life, was well taken care of. Ridiculous comments to make, right? The owl was exhibiting behavior that was inherent in his very being. He could not change what he was.

Human beings, of course, are capable of greater reasoning ability than owls. But I've been thinking about the connection to sensitive people, people who just seem to feel things more than other people. If owls are capable of this kind of emotional stress, surely human beings can suffer as well, and on even a greater level. And all of the well meaning attempts by other people to help them to "snap out of it", are at best as ridiculous as my comments above and at worst destructive.

Our society sees outgoing, even aggressive personalities in a positive light. Sensitive introverts are often not understood or well thought of. The world can be jarring, loud, unfair, incredibly painful. The reality is that some people are just overwhelmed by it all and when faced by upsetting circumstances, turn their faces to the wall in distress.

I've thought about how you help someone who has turned to the wall. I know it doesn't help to tell them to think on the bright side or to remind them of all the positives in their lives. I think of a dear friend who when hearing the sound of my voice one time during the school year, got in the car and drove 15 hours to just come along beside me for awhile. She didn't "fix" anything. She was just there. I am especially incredibly thankful for my husband, my lifelong partner, who has always come along side me when I'm turned to the wall, never judging or offering recriminations. As painful as it can be to be a sensitive person, I know that that very sensitivity is what is the essence of creative vision. It's a double edged sword.

"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:

A human creature born, abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.

To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise,

a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy,

a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism

the overpowering necessity to create, create, create --

so that without the creating of music

or poetry or books or building something of meaning

his very breath is cut off from him.

He must create, must pour out creation.

By some strange, unknown, inward urgency

he is not really alive unless he is creating."

Pearl S. Buck

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fast and loose

There are many different styles within watercolor.

Some artists prefer to work very very loosely, letting the colors flow and mingle, with resulting lost and found edges of the subject matter.

Other artists are very tight and controlled, creating crisp, sharp edges. I tend to be of the later rather than the former persuasion, but I took a different approach with "Blooming Bloomers".

As I said in earlier posts, I delight in these flowers because of their buds which remind me of some kind of early 1900's women's fashion - maybe bloomers? Even when the flower is in full bloom, the bud is intact.

In solving the problem of how to showcase this subject, I decided that I needed to work more loosely, since the flowers are always in a tangle of leaves, stems, buds, flowers, and other vegetation...a lovely chaotic mess, not lending itself to tight control.

You can see the difference between the styles in "Blooming Bloomers" and "Out on a Limb". Click on different parts of "Blooming Bloomers" and you will see the lost and found edges.

Even though "Out on a Limb" had an initial wash that was wet in wet, resulting in a loose background, the subject matter was applied on dry paper resulting in very crisp, clear edges, which was what I wanted for this particular subject.

This week I will be working on a Centennial Trail painting featuring thistles, leaves, and a robin. If you scroll down to previous posts you'll see the photos that I'll be using (no photo of a robin - had to use stock photo). I'm pretty excited about this one. You can probably guess which watercolor style I will use.

Thanks so much for your supporting comments! I'm so excited to share this journey with you and I appreciate your encouragement more than I can say.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Out on a Limb

I finally did it.

After five months I made a commitment. I now have an official palette.

What took me so long, you ask? I don't know. It's silly really. If I change my mind about a particular color, no big deal.

Actually, it kind of is. Paint eventually dries rock hard and only after soaking and scrubbing, soaking and scrubbing, soaking and you finally get rid of it. But even that is really no big deal.

I think it had more to do with feeling qualified enough to decide for myself which paint pigments I think are important. I've relied on authorities: art teachers, art book authors. Of course, none of those "authorities" agree, so I've kept my paint safely in their little tubes, judiciously squeezing out only what I think I will need at the time waiting for the day when I would decide for myself what colors I wanted to choose.

Whatever my reluctance, I decided it was time and with nervousness, I squeezed out expensive paint into the little wells, emptying my precious tubes. I also printed out a key so that I would have a record. After painting my first painting using this palette, I am happy that I finally made the decision. No more scrambling in the middle of a wash to squeeze a little more paint into the interior of the palette. No more feeling guilty when I realize that I've wasted some. Now when I get ready to paint I just mist my wells and off I go!

I'm official. I'm least to choose my own pallet colors.

And here's that first painting. This is a Centennial Trail piece. I was drawn to the colors of the leaves one day as I was running by and came back with my camera to take some photos. The little berries went beautifully with the gorgeous reds in the leaves. The trail is full of these little brown birds...busy, busy, busy. I believe they are small robins.

I tried a new background wash with this piece that I was very pleased with. I used thick, thick, thicker than cream pigments on wet paper and let them mix together as they wanted, thus allowing the focus of the piece to be on the crisp foreground objects that I had found so compelling.

As I was running on the trail, it occurred to me that as a teacher, I was considered a "big picture" person. My lesson designs were always constructed backward, beginning with the end result and then working backward to flesh out all of the details which would lead up to the eventual big learning goal. As an artist, I find that I am struck with the details. Not stuck, struck, entranced, fascinated.

I have been thinking about my artist's vision. What do I think about my art? What is it that I want to say through my art? What makes something worth the time and effort of painting it? Heady stuff. I'm sure that whatever I say today will evolve into something else down the line (at least I hope so). For now, though, I seem to be drawn to the idea that there is more around us that we realize, more to us that we realize. Right now, my art is reflecting the realization that objects that are easily overlooked have incredible worth and beauty.

"It is the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive".
C.W. Leadbeater

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dressing for success

"90% of life is just showing up" - Woody Allen

While I have always agreed with Woody's quote and even repeated the quote to my students on many occasions, yesterday taught me that maybe the sentiment is a little too simplistic.

First you have to get dressed.

Then, you may need to encourage yourself along the way. Possibly many times.

Yesterday was a murky day. I wasn't feeling great. I've been battling a nagging infection that just isn't responding to antibiotics and an annoying headache that seems to accompany it. No big deal but enough that my normal energy and enthusiasm were lacking. After spending the early morning in the studio, it was time to run some errands and go running.

I didn't feel like running. It was understandable. I had a good excuse. But, since I had errands to run anyway, I had the possibility of running on the Centennial Trail...even running my favorite route since one of my errands took me out that direction. So I told myself to dress for running. What if I was on the errand, all the way out near the trailhead, and was suddenly filled with the zest for running? If I wasn't dressed I'd be irritated with myself.

So I got dressed in my running clothes, filled my water bottle, stuffed Kleenex in my pocket, (didn't want to allow myself any excuses to not run), got my running dog ready to go and headed out. I took care of the errands first. On the final errand I told myself I still didn't feel like running.

But I was dressed! I was almost there! Sprecka expected it!

"OK", I tell myself, "We can just walk a bit".

Once there, I got the dog ready, locked the car and immediately regretted the whole thing. It was cold. I didn't have gloves. My hands were frozen.

"Just run to the next mile marker", I told myself, "Sprecka hasn't run for a week. She needs it".

I start running. I'm cold. My fingers hurt. It's incredibly deserted. Even with Sprecka, the wonder dog, I am uncomfortable with the feeling of isolation.

"Just run to the next mile marker", I tell myself.

We run to the next mile marker. "Let's run a little farther", I tell myself. We keep running. Two miles into the run, I notice my fingers feel warm, I see some people on the trail. We exchange greetings as we pass. I realize my pace is pretty good and I feel even better. By the time I reach 4 miles, I've done a personal best for the season.

I finally broke the 11 minute per mile barrier! OK, so it took me until October but who cares? It was a great run.

And I almost didn't go. Several times.

Gives a whole new context to the phrase "dressing for success".

I took some photos later of some unassuming weeds that I have great plans for. Here they are.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Raindrops on roses

Centennial Trail - October - Mile markers 9 - 11

Actually, it's more like raindrops on weeds, or at best, raindrops on wildflowers. Somehow it doesn't have quite the same ring to it does it?

But the fact is that this flower/weed is actually one of my favorite things about the Centennial Trail.

Unlike some of the other plants I've painted, this one is harder to find. I've even found some of the other plants in my neighborhood once I had the eyes to see them. But this one...just on the trail and in only a couple of places. They also grow in an unusual way. There are tall stalks of beautiful yellow flowers with purple/pink buds and purple in some of the leaves. The really striking think though is somehow as a part of the plant, there is a stalk of what I call "chocolate pearls". I'm not quite sure what stage of the plant these are, but they always catch my attention. At the base of the chocolate pearl stalk are sword leaves that hug the stalk tightly.

These equally interesting parts of a tall plant made it difficult to photograph and presented challenges to paint if I wanted to include all of the components. I still haven't decided it I was as successful as I would have liked.

Unfortunately, that's usually the case with me.

I have another plant from the Centennial Trail series that I'm looking forward to painting. They are sweet white flowers, but what really strikes my fancy are the buds, which are still visible when the flower is in full bloom. The buds reminded me of a woman's piece of clothing from the early 1900's...maybe bloomers or something. They remind Norm of watermelons.

The weather has definitely turned here but, while I probably won't be running the trail as often I am committed to visiting different parts of the trail during the winter to add to my series. I'm also working on designing a new painting to go in my "Take Out" series.

The painting looks really good in my mind right now.

That's usually the case with me too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Happy Trails

Running on the Centennial Trail has been such a blessing in many ways. Here are my latest two paintings from mile markers 11 - 13.

The leaf painting was technically quite difficult so I am very proud of it.

I had painted a little bird study that Norm liked a lot. I decided to paint a particularly pretty weed/flower around it. The buds of these little flowers are quite lovely.

Right now I'm beginning a new trail painting of my favorite flower/weed that has been difficult to photograph. We'll see if it is difficult to paint.

Who knew that a trail full of weeds would be so inspiring?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Making Mulch

We composted this week-end. So did many other people from Spokane!

Our beautiful Finch Arboretum offered a master composting class Saturday. We used to compost quite a bit when we lived in California, but have not done so for many years.

We visited five different stations learning about what materials to compost, types of bins, the value of worms (that was the best station), and finally saw a short video.

After all of this, we were awarded our own bin.

Our most difficult decision was where to put it. Our plan is to build some raised beds in the lower level, so we put the bin there. We also finished cleaning out the garage (YEAH!!!), and moved all of the gardening tools to the old play structure.

It was a beautiful week-end and the forecast is for a beautiful week. I'll have new Centennial Trail paintings for you to see tomorrow!

(Kate, here are those photos you wanted to see. Sorry about the blurry border photo.)