Tuesday, July 2, 2013


The baby hawks are gone and I am ridiculously devastated. I know they're only birds.  I know they are wild creatures; their survival had always been far from certain.  Nonetheless I feel loss.

I had anticipated another summer of watching a new generation of hawks growing up.  Two years ago the nest was right in our yard. I watched the adults painstakingly build the nest during the spring and then in the summer I watched the juveniles learn to be hawks. 

First they did what I called "walk abouts".  Actually it was more like "hop abouts".  They would hop from one branch near the nest to nearby branches.  Soon they were taking first flights, clumsily knocking each other off their perches.  I was amazed that hawks, who were born to fly, were so abysmally bad at it at first.  It was encouraging to me, teaching that just because you aren't great at something right off doesn't mean you weren't born to do it.  Our society often has no patience for failure or mediocrity, offering little grace in the way of forbearance of judgment about our worthiness to pursue a passion unless we quickly exhibit brilliance to casual observers. 

The four "band of brothers" stuck together that summer, perfecting the art of flight...and killing.  I tried not to think too much about their meals, the songbirds and chipmunks that were probably on the menu. My hawks were simply magnificent and I was blessed to have a front row seat. 

This spring the adults were back and they chose a different tree to build their nest.  At first I was disappointed.  The tree was technically not in our yard. Soon I realized that this tree offered a great advantage: better viewing.  I could stand on our deck and look into the nest with binoculars, something the proximity of the previous nest didn't allow.  Soon I could see the babies. I couldn't wait to again experience the gift of watching them learn to become hawks.

A few nights ago at dusk, a raven and one of the adult hawks flew by, fighting.  I could tell the hawk was attacking the raven and I was worried for the fledglings, but I thought they would be fine.  They were getting so big and they had their parents to protect them.  That night, I was in bed reading when I heard the babies cry.  That's the odd thing.  I had never heard them vocalize that I was aware of.  I'd heard the adults and knew their calls and once the juveniles hunted, they would vocalize in a similar way.  I hadn't heard the babies yet.  But that night I did; I knew they were in trouble.  I don't know how I knew. It was dark. I couldn't see what was happening.  Even if I could see, there was nothing I could do.  Like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, I was across the way bound to my space, unable to help.

I hoped I was wrong, that it was just my imagination.

The next day I didn't hear the adults' morning calls, but sometimes that happened, I told myself.  I couldn't see in the nest.  Sometimes that also happened; the branches often moved and obscured my vision. I kept telling myself the babies were surely in the nest, safe and sound. In the afternoon I tried again and had a clear view.  The nest was empty. Empty. No more babies "fluffing" their wings. Empty.  I kept hoping I was looking in the wrong place but I knew I wasn't.  They were gone. A new reality imposed by one day on the previous one.  

Loss is like that, any loss, big or small.  The new reality fights with the reality that still exists in your mind and for that moment, during that second you are lost, until you orient yourself and resurface. The greater the loss, the more times you experience that wrenching disorientation.

For years after my grandmother died I would catch myself thinking about sharing something with her, the reality of her absence at odds with my experience of her being present.  I'd have to give my brain a chance to align the "what was" with the "what is".  I experienced the same reality shift of loss when I miscarried our second child.  It was so unreal to be pregnant, full of joy, anticipation, and dreams one day, and not be pregnant the next.  My brain was constantly misfiring, confusing the present reality with the old one and each time that misfire happened I would experience the loss again. 

We all experience loss; it is the very nature of having loved. Just as love is the reason we feel loss, love is also the salve for the wound.

I heard the adult hawks the next morning.  I sat on the deck and watched them fly to and from the earlier tree with nest building materials in their beaks.  For some reason I felt tears on my cheeks; I don't know why.  For the loss? The disappointment?  The hope? I don't know.  I was happy to see them.  I can't imagine that they have time to start again but their actions still brought me a kind of joy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Taking risks

How comfortable are you with risk taking?

For me, it's time to take some risks - little risks and major risks.  It seems like there are seasons for risk taking, times to play it safe and times to say a prayer, batten down the hatches and hold on for dear life.  I tend to like the former rather than the latter, but I'm going to try to embrace the thrill of the risk.

What are the risks, you ask?

Here's a small one. 

This is a study that I think turned out to be quite lovely and I am pleased with it. The risk involves painting a dark background which is what I plan to do next. I've spent many hours on this painting and just like that, a dark wash can very likely ruin it.  (Ah, for a computer paint program where you can just press "undo".)  Often I won't take the risk, but this time I will.  I'll let you know how it goes.

The big risk?  We're selling our house, most likely moving from the area where we have spent the last wonderful 20 years, and we're not even sure where we're going!  The reason I've been absent with blog postings is that my main job the last few months has been to get the house ready to sell. 

Well, today it lists.  We're ready to close the door on a large chapter of our life and begin a new one.  I just wish I could skip to the end of the book and find out how it all works out.  (I do that, you know, because I just can't stand it.)  I have faith that it will all work out and now matter where we end up we will be moving forward which is what I know we must do.

I'll keep you posted about how that all works out too.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A little patience, please!!!

The teacher has been a student in the studio lately.  Honestly, it is hard to know what and how much I have learned because learning is such a nebulous thing. Sometimes it's only in retrospect that you can fully appreciate the scope of the learning.  One thing I do know that I've learned:  I am an impatient artist. I never fully realized how much my impatience impacts my work.

I have been learning from two artists.  Using a video from Susan Harrison-Tustain, I painted this piece:

I was particularly interested in learning from Susan because of her ability to create atmosphere in her paintings.  Originally trained as an oil artist, she is unusual in that she paints on smooth hot pressed paper, using layers and layers of glazes to achieve rich results. Through this process I discovered the true level of my impatience and how it is a major stumbling block in my work. Probably because of insecurity, I am uncomfortable when the work doesn't look right.  There is a level of anxiety and a desire to make it right, RIGHT NOW!!!  Through the process of glazing, I discovered that tempering that impulse will go a long way to improving my work.  You learn to become comfortable with the fact that the painting does not look finished for quite a while and THIS IS OK.  I am very pleased with this piece.  I chose this video lesson because of the challenging textures presented in the subject matter - the soft rose, shiny porcelain, and reflective wood.

Lian Quan Zhen is the polar opposite from Susan Harrison-Tustain.  Trained in the minimalist Chinese style of watercolor, Lian has developed a style of painting that begins with pouring, splattering, and blowing just three pigments of color all around the page.  He then masterfully brings order out of chaos.  I was drawn to Lian's work because of his skill with negative painting.  Here is one of three pieces I completed based on his teaching:

This entire painting just used three colors: Antwerp Blue, Hansa Yellow, and Pyrrol Red.  Lian isn't concerned about colors matching the subject in the photographic reference.  It is his skillful use of negative painting that really makes his work sing and is the meat of the learning I carried away from his workshop.  Negative painting is painting around the subject rather than painting the subject directly.  It is much harder than it seems.  The piece I shared above doesn't have a lot of negative painting in it, but here is a close up of one area where I used it:

Negative painting creates an illusion of depth that is powerful. The only way to become excellent at negative painting is to practice it.  It doesn't come easily or naturally, but I am determined to become more skilled.

As different as these two artists are, I am thinking that they are actually two sides of the same coin.  I noticed during Lian's workshop that all of the other students suffered from the same lack of patience that I do, resulting in them making missteps - particularly the mistake of adding too much pigment at the wrong time to make it look right, NOW.  Watercolor has an elusive nature that demands a real understanding of the properties of paper, pigment, and water to truly master.  I have to relax into the medium, trust my understanding of it, and learn to be patient.

Oh, and practice, practice, practice.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

All in good time

My first attempt to merge the "Wild Style" with a little bit of planning:

There's a story behind this painting...of course there is!
Many years ago my niece graduated from high school.  For a gift, I created a pastel drawing of her and her brother when they were very little. 
Two years later, her brother graduated.  I wanted to do something similar for my nephew and I even had the photo references.  My daughter had gone out on the boat with my brother and his family and she had taken wonderful photos of my nephew wake boarding.  I wanted to use those photos to create a work of art.
But there was the problem...I didn't know what form the piece would take or how to do it.  So the photos have waited.
When I was playing around with the "wild style" of painting, I decided that the first attempt at harnessing the wildness in a controlled piece should be this painting of my nephew.
So, 10 years or so later, the time for this piece was finally right.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chairway to Heaven

My apologies to Led Zeppelin.

I had a couple of revelations this week in the studio as I was working on focus studies using the same subject I've been playing with for a while.  I used values and color temperature (and color intensity) to create focus.

When I saw the result, I burst out laughing - I had created the chairway to heaven.  Surely if you just sit down in one of these seemingly everyday metal chairs, the glow of heavenly inspiration will be upon you, or maybe you just instantly transport directly from the chair to the heavenly realms.  Perhaps you must rise and walk through the heavenly portal I also created as the second focus alternative.

Seriously, I have learned quite a bit from these studies.  The focus studies are obviously exaggerated in their style, but I can apply these basic principles to improve my work. 

I shared a gradation study last week using these same metal chairs and a couple of personal communications I received about that piece shocked me.  I looked at it as a throw away exercise, but each person indicated that they would not only frame it, but would love to own it.  I had never even considered that. It was a revelation.

And I didn't even need to sit in the chairs to receive it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close up!

Isn't it funny how some things stick with you?  For those of you who don't know, this line comes from Sunset Boulevard, an old black and white classic film.  Interestingly, I've never watched the whole movie, but I love that line.

This week in the studio I've been working on gradation using a close up detailed area of a value study I worked on last week.  If I ever actually paint this piece, I want to have problem solved all of the important areas, and moving my viewer's eye using gradation will be very important to the success of this painting.

I also thought I would share some finished student work from the classes I'm teaching to give you a close up introduction to a couple of artist/authors.  My goal for students is to learn the fundamentals of three dimensional drawing all the while experiencing different materials.  This first project featured watercolor and pen and ink and utilized the marvelous drawings of Mark Kistler.

Mark Kistler has been teaching children to draw for many years and used to host a television show called Imagination Station.  While I don't think his show is on anymore, his books live on and continue to inspire. His drawings are appealing to children, yet lay a strong foundation for three dimensional drawing.

The other artist/author I am using this year to teach the grid method of drawing using photographs, is Lee Hammond, who has several wonderful books available.  Children love animals and these books break down the steps of creating an accurate line drawing and then using shading to render beautiful drawings.

Both artist/authors have graciously given teachers permission to photocopy pages of their books for classroom use.  Mark Kistler gives permission in his books; I emailed Ms. Hammond to ask permission and received a lovely affirmative response.  I love that I can share these books with children and direct them to their local library and book store to discover that books serve so many purposes, that they not only transport us to wonderful worlds through stories and our imagination, but also allow us to discover and develop new skills.

All right, Mr. DeMille, fade to black.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Are we having fun yet?

The answer is YES!!!

 I've been designing possible paintings:


doing value studies:

teaching 3 classes of delightful 4th and 5th graders fun art projects:

and beginning a new hobby - carving stamps:


I hope your week has been as happy and full.  

Friday, January 4, 2013


Confluence - the coming together of separate things to become...ah, the possibilities are endless, but one this is certain, the result will never be the same.

I love the juxtaposition of this post with the last - two distinct styles of painting which represent where I am artistically.  

I am standing at the confluence - how exciting!

This painting is a result of several photos taken at the American River in California.  The three figures represent choices we all deal with - there are times when we are on a mission, head down, moving forward.  There are times when we have stopped to just enjoy the now.  And there is often tension between the two.

Confluence - Watercolor
I hope you enjoy it.