Monday, April 1, 2019

Walking In Sunshine

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
--John Muir

I'm so lucky to have a big dog that needs to be walked several times a day. He usually chooses our route and he is a creature of habit so we frequently end up walking the same path every day.   When we follow our normal route it's interesting to see little changes in the way things look day after day. As February comes to a close, you start to see tiny little buds show up on trees and think, was that there yesterday? Then something green starts to emerge from the ground. It's like the earth gradually starts to wake up after a deep sleep. And makes you realize that even though it looked like nothing was going on in this spot for several months, behind the curtain there was actually a lot of activity. A good life lesson there.

These walks are of course, good for me, and I get a lot of joy seeing how this little thing that we do several times a day makes my dog so very very happy.

One of the best things about these daily walks is the thinking time. I get so many of my ideas when I'm out free from the distractions of my home and electronics (I usually don't bother to take my phone). A few months ago I saw a friend out walking and said, "If you ever want to walk in the morning, let me know," and I respect her enormously because she said, "I really can't. This is when I collect my thoughts for the day." I also appreciate her honesty.

There's a famous quote by Grant Wood, who painted American Gothic, the painting with the farmer and his wife standing with a pitchfork, in front of their farmhouse. He said, "All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow." Without getting into left brain right brain stuff, when your hands and body are busy with routine tasks, your mind is free to think and imagine. Which is why the coloring book craze is so good for us.

Anyway, while walking with Rufus, I have watched spring approach, which is incredibly beautiful in Virginia. Winter seems to hang on a little too long, and the choking heat and humidity of summer still seem a long way off. One by one, pops of color have appeared -- the yellow of daffodils and forsythia, red of flowering quince, purple from grape hyacinths and crocus. This week the tulips are about to explode, and this morning I saw the first iris in full bloom. Artists never tire of flowers because the challenge of matching some of the real life colors is endless. Some colors can ONLY be found in nature, the most astonishing painting of all.

I've been painting flowers for years, sometimes obsessed with color, sometimes obsessed with shape, other times detail.

 Last summer I started some flower paintings exploring a new technique but found them lacking.

 Not really finished, to my eye. The fermenting and percolating in my brain all winter has helped me realize how I wanted them to look, and what I needed to do. During the past few weeks I have been furiously, obsessively experimenting and practicing. So today, April 1 the flowers in the outdoors as well as those created by me, are exploding. I'm starting a new discipline today, 100 Flowers in 100 Days (similar to my Daily Painting practice). It will run April 1 to July 9, I will post a new painting each day on FB and Instagram, and put up on my Etsy site for sale. We'll see where this goes.

These are a few that have been started but by no means finished. Watch what happens!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Lesson In Flower Arranging

Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.

Whenever I'm at shows or markets, people ask how I make my collages. I know all the rage now is Live Video, but I've not advanced to that as yet, so here is my step-by-step for a piece that I recently finished.

Usually I make collages of animals, which I paint and add paper to. I save a ton of photos and clippings that serve as inspiration, and I had run across a bunch of flower bouquet photos I have and thought I'd take a break from the animals. I reinterpreted one of the bouquets in paper and paint a few months ago. I had gotten good feedback on Instagram which I use as a sort of barometer, so I thought I'd do a few more.  Here is the first one.

So, here's my process:

First, I looked through my color clippings. Whenever I see color combinations I like, I cut out the magazine page, or get a sample of the fabric, or take of photo of the outfit.  I find that if I just make note of the colors I don't remember the precise shades that attracted me. This is a nice combination of pinks, whites, reds, and yellow from a catalog. I love using red and white -- those colors always look classic but also fresh, clean, and energetic. And red and pink is my all time favorite color combination (at least today it is). This is a comforter/duvet cover from the catalog.

Next I found a photo of a flower bouquet that I thought I could recreate using this simple color combination.

 I made a rough sketch in paint to create the composition and make sure the proportions were correct. When I paint in oil, I usually do an underpainting but since most of the canvas will be covered with paper I didn't see the need for this step.  Based on the photo,  I divided the flower parts into the 4 basic colors, deciding that the stems and leaves would be white.  

Next,  I put in a little bit more detail for the flowers to further clarify the shapes and where the colors would go. Whenever I'm teaching drawing and painting I suggest that students concentrate on making shapes instead of trying to capture the actual object they are drawing. With this bouquet of flowers there are lots of roses, peonies, tulips, and ranunculus, all with different leaves and stems -- which can be totally overwhelming to capture on canvas. However, if you look at each part as just a shape (instead of a particular flower), your brain forgets the roses, peonies, and ranunculus, and you make circles, ovals, and lines.

After I got the shapes right, I started to add the paper. I have a HUGE collection of papers, and keep them fairly organized according to color. So I grabbed a stack of pink papers and scraps and started pulling out pieces I wanted to use. Not as simple as it sounds --  I have particular shades of pink in my head; a soft medium bubble gum pink for the background -- in paint, and a fuschia hot pink for flower parts.

I finished off with the papers, including the whites and creams for the leaves and stems.

To finish and pull together each flower, I add another layer of paint, outlining the shapes.  I then added a really basic vase in a great neon pink, and added a yellow table (including a shadow using yellow paper), as well as yellow centers to the flowers. You can see how this paint step really differentiates the flowers and stems from one another and pulls the piece together. 

I usually come back a day or so later to look at the piece with fresh eyes and decide if I need to make any changes. If it's done, I cover the canvas with a water based varnish to make sure the paper doesn't start to come unglued later or tear, as well as give the painting a glossy finish.  Voila.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.
Anatole France

Any of you that know me, have seen my paintings, or any of my Facebook or Instagram posts know that I am crazy about dogs.  I always have been. You've probably heard the phrase, "The more I know people the more I love my dog", from Mark Twain. Enough said. I was never a girl crazy for horses like so many females. (Usually a preteen phase, horses are a symbol of power). It was always, always dogs for me.  I considered being a veterinarian when I grew up but I was afraid I'd have to see too many hurting animals so I changed my aspirations. One summer I returned from sleep away camp and my sweet mother had painted dogs all over my bedroom furniture. I was thrilled.

I was lucky enough to grow up with a Golden Retriever who was my constant companion. We got him when I was about 4 years old and from then on I refused to go to bed without him.  I would build half a nest on my bed with all of my dolls and stuffed animals, and he would curl around me to form the other half of the nest. He always stayed until I was asleep, then got up and checked on everyone else in the house. He kept a nightly patrol sleeping for a while here and there between checking on us. He lived until he was almost 16, two years after we began giving him daily shots for diabetes. I spent my entire childhood and teens with him and I was in college when we finally had to put him down. He had been with me for my whole life. He was as much a brother to me as my biological human brother.  He was an integral part of my childhood and influenced the person I am today. He taught me about love, play, sharing, loyalty, obedience. He let me dress him up, attended my tea parties, listened as I read books to him, was often a student in my made up classroom, wrestled with me, let me play hair salon with him, tried my cooking, listened to my boyfriend problems. I became a forever dog lover because of him. (Even now as I write this I am getting teary).

*(If you want to read a fantastic dog novel, read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.)

I am slowly making my way through several dog manuals, trying to paint each breed. No matter how many paintings or prints I have of different varieties of dogs, someone always asks for the breed that I don't have. So I'm trying to correct that. Here are a few:


Great Dane







  Bassett Hound


I've parented various animals since our Golden Boy but I didn't fall truly head over heels in love again until we adopted Rufus, not coincidentally another Golden Retriever. He's my third child, the one I have had more time to just sit and look at and fall in love with over and over. My boys are 15 months apart and their early years are a blur of diapers, constant motion, messes, and physical exhaustion. I simply did not have time to ooh and aah over them for hours on end like I do with Rufus.

Rufus has again reminded me of the wonder of these creatures. He's a beautiful specimen, and also silly, affectionate, and so very, very sweet. He has spent many hours lying next to me in bed when I am not feeling well. He is so happy when I get home in the afternoon, or greet him in the morning, or offer to take him for a walk. He smiles a huge smile, wags his tail like mad, and turns in circles, leaning on me the whole time, as if I've just offered him the greatest gift in the world, for the first time. He loves my cooking, never disses a movie I want to watch, is perfectly happy to hang out and read magazines, isn't constantly calling me to "come here!", tries to help me with many chores like gardening and making the bed. He respects my choices, doesn't hold grudges, doesn't talk back and never tries to make me feel bad about something I've said or done. He even loves doing yoga with me, although he sometimes hogs the mat.

And he makes me laugh every single day.

Besides their kind demeanor, I'm fascinated by the variety of dogs out there. What an imagination someone had when he made this world!! Tall dogs, short dogs, floppy eared dogs, dogs with ears that stand up, shorthaired dogs, lush long haired dogs, black, red ,white, grey dogs --or a combination of all of those colors in one dog. Spotted dogs, blue eyed dogs, smashed face dogs, racing dogs, hunting dogs, crime solving dogs, show dogs. Dogs that howl, those that yap. All of these parts are interesting and wonderful but to me the quirky partss are what I love the most. Here are a few.

Rufus loves to sit in the Frog Dog position. It never fails to make me laugh even though I've seen it a hundred times.

There are other quirks. A friend once came over with a Boxer puppy, who played in the yard with Rufus. Although she was tiny, she kept trying to pin him down -- to trap Rufus on the ground and stand over him with her legs on each side. "It's what Boxers do," my friend said nonchalantly.  It was really funny looking; they actually like to pin down their playmates. Which came first, the Boxer dog or boxer fighter person?

This is Bailey and apparently this is a Dachshund thing, to be able to balance that short compact body on his rear end (have also seen Basset Hounds do it):

And this is a friend's whippet.  Again, this is what whippets do, apparently. Is she double jointed?

This is how she sleeps. Can she make herself any smaller?

What does your breed do?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

World Travel

First we eat, then we do everything else.
M.F.K. Fisher

One of our Resolutions for last year was to begin an Around The World learning experience, primarily through food, with our family. I got the idea from an interview on NPR with Sasha Martin, who began this practice -- in much greater depth -- with her family, who were a group of picky eaters. She also missed the traveling she had been able to do before settling down into family life and wanted a way to recapture the intoxicating feeling of new discoveries. I heard the piece on the radio (where I get so much of my information -- am I living in the 1940s?) and immediately loved the idea. Our family eats dinner together most nights and this sounded like an interesting and doable thing we could take on, even during a hectic school year.  And, I LOVE a theme.  Just as important, it could be a learning opportunity for my kids. My husband and I have both lived abroad and I knew it would also be a way of relating our own experiences and stories with our children. Lastly, a food related project could not make my husband happier. It reminded me of the Julie/Julia project and going through the whole cookbook A to Z . Sasha Martin's story can be found here:

With both of us working several jobs, school, sports, volunteering, youth groups, and friends, we realized that our "world journey" could only be comprised of one night a week with dinner from that country and whatever other related info we could find. So one night in early January (2016) we began. With A. My husband and I threw around several countries -- Armenia? Afghanistan? My husband's family is Middle Eastern, and we wanted to eat something totally different from any of our usual influences. We settled on Argentina. This was the first week after New Year's. The kids went back to school on Monday (and us to work),  Tuesday the kids were involved in a Chopped Junior cooking competition, Thursday I had Book Club. A normal busy week for us. So Wednesday was the night we began.

John and  I decided to split up preparing the meals as much as we could, knowing that sometimes I would do the whole thing and sometimes he would take over. I began cooking late Wednesday afternoon. I made cookies, "Alfajores", which coincidentally I had recently made for Christmas packages but were given no Argentinian reference and named something else. Also, steak with Chimichurri sauce, and sausages. Also I made ham and cheese Empanadas which were ridiculously easy...The kids did their research and were surprisingly enthusiastic-- each couldn't wait to give his 3 page report (single spaced, typed -- not really). We found music to the Tango and John and I tried to demonstrate. We had taken ballroom dancing lessons before our wedding 16 years ago but never got much further than the Foxtrot, although we saw the Tango demonstrated. Let's just say that my close friends call me "Elaine" -- our boys didn't learn to tango on this night.

We are now in late February, a year later and just finished our journey a few weeks ago. We have only missed a few weeks of meals here and there, and decided to take last summer off.  From Argentina we went to Belgium and ate a version of a beef stew. I am extremely proud to say that a few weeks after this meal, the food section in the newspaper featured a "Carbonnade a la Flamande", and one of my sons pointed out where it was from. I have to admit that I pushed Belgium because of the chocolate, and I happily bought a big box of Godiva chocolates to bring to the project. Dessert has always been a requirement of this undertaking.

Next was Cuba, which included Mojitos for the grown ups and Tres Leches cake, along with Mojo marinated pork, black beans, and tostones.

There are not many countries that begin with "D". Denmark was the obvious choice, but the night before our family meal John realized that Denmark foods are mostly bread -- yum --and seafood -- which three of us don't eat. What "D" country is left? Djbouti!! We laughed a lot at this meal, we had barely heard of Djbouti but we sure had fun saying it. Every time one of us mentioned it, someone else would say "What did you say about my booty?!!".

"E" was for Egypt, which included Tabbouleh, Olives, Baklava. "F" was France (obligatory dessert:  Chocolate Mousse), followed by Germany -- Schnitzel and a Creamy Cucumber Salad. I've realized that cucumbers are almost universal. Hungary included Chicken Paprikash, a pea dish called Borso Fozelek and a Hungarian Shortbread. India came next and we hit a restaurant for time and ease. Japan followed -- Chicken Yakisoba and a Japanese Cucumber Salad; then, Korea, Laos (Lao Minced Meat and Herb Salad, Egg Rolls, and Sticky Rice); Morocco:  Moroccan Carrots, Couscous, and Khobz [bread]. We passed on the Kaab el Ghazal (gazelle horns), stuffed Camel Spleen, and steamed Sheep Head.  For now.  Next was Norway (Noregian Kjottkake Meatballs and Potato Gratin; Oman --Madrouba (chicken and rice), and Peru Huancaina Sauce, Ropa Vieja.

Qatar was next. We proudly told about Richmond's art school, Virginia Commonwealth University, and its Art Program there, we pondered the correct pronunciation of the country -- KaTar or Cotter? By this time our boys had stopped printing 8 or 10 pages of information ("Relevance, boys, relevance!!), and they started reading facts off their phones. One of Raine's facts included a favorite food of Qatar including Camel Balls (we did not prepare these for our meal), and that Qatar-ian men could turn their heads 360 degrees to stare at a woman. (WHAT???). Rye always concentrates on the sports of a country, and he told us that Qatar had beat Australia in a handball tournament in 2013. Another talk on relevance of information to our project.

Russia followed -- the vodka was great (for the adults) but we were not so crazy about the cold Beet Soup; Switzerland -- Fondue!!! Taiwan was a wash as we ended up at a Vietnamese restaurant by mistake. This was toward the end of the school year and we were a little burned out on our exercise, which is when we decided to take a break for the summer. We had a redo and tried Turkey. U ("no, we are not doing the United States") -- Uzbekistan, and then Venezuela when September arrived.

Soon we were at W with only a few weeks to go until our project was complete. John has recorded photos of the foods and meals, and I have been intermittently painting our meals  -- here are a few that I've started. Maybe I'll put together a book and give to the boys to remember this time. Although the exercise has been a little tiring ("African food -- again??" and "Let's just GO OUT"), and the research about the countries has become a little sparse, we are not finished with this exercise. We've learned a lot, tried a lot, and are officially Explorers of the World. Our boys have requested our next project -- each state of the U.S.:   Peanut soup, anyone?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Family Fun

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
Oscar Wilde

Growing up, my parents dressed up in costumes at any opportunity, and were big practical jokers, and my brother and I inherited those traits. We all love an excuse to dress up.  My parents always had a dresser full of different parts and pieces -- wigs, hats, boas, masks. Once, my dad got ready to leave for a party with an Uncle Sam hat on, rubber snakes coming out of it, wearing a hospital gown and carrying a briefcase--even he didn't know who he was supposed to be--but he was excited about what he was wearing and ready to go.

One of my childrens' favorite stories is when I was about 16 and my brother 19, the summer after his first year in college. There was a huge masquerade party with half of the town invited. As we "Came Of Age" in the 1980s, I dressed like Joan Jett and he was Sting. I had spiky black hair and high heels that I could barely walk in, even when I hadn't had a couple of drinks. We spray painted my brother's hair gold and he wore tight rock and roll clothes. We acted like a couple of hooligans all night. My parents had declined the invitation for the party, preferring to go out to dinner instead. The event was outdoors and really crowded, and very hot, as it was August in Virginia. At one point during the party two people showed up in long black robes and rubber masks that completely hid their faces. Everyone was talking about them because no one knew who they were--this was a small town--who was crashing the party? And no one could believe they could stand to wear those hot rubber masks as the humidity was crushing. The one dressed like the little old lady came up and pinched me at one point and asked me if I was old enough to be drinking beer. I'm sure I said something rude to her. They were the talk of the party, and eventually left quietly. The next day we filled in my parents on (some of) our exploits and talked about all of the costumes.

Skip ahead about 4 months. It was Christmas Day, and we had just finished opening all our gifts. My mother asked if I'd opened a box with a new purse in it. When I told her I hadn't she told me she must have forgotten it, and sent me up to her closet where she hid all our gifts (of course I knew that, so very few of the gifts were actually a surprise). I opened an old hat box, looking for the forgotten purse, and I pulled out -- 2 rubber masks.(!) oh no oh no oh no !!!!!!  What had they seen me doing at the party?.. I started yelling for my brother, and my parents realized their gig was up.  Flies on the wall, in costume.

Many many costumes and excuses to dress up have followed. Then I had children and making their costumes took over interest I had in dressing up myself. But several years ago, a new excuse for creative costuming has emerged.

We started a new tradition of flying to my brother's family 's house for Thanksgiving.  We always arrive late at night and he picks us up with a cooler full of our favorite beverages. The first year we flew to Austin, and he wanted to demonstrate how he had become a "real" Texan. Head to toe in jeans, cowboy boots, a ten gallon hat, and yes, even a Bolo tie (I hadn't seen one since the 80s)! And we promptly got into his pickup truck.  That was the first.

The next year, Chapter 2. He showed up at the airport in a black suit, dark sunglasses, and a sign with our name, looking like a chauffeur. Just like Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy.

Last year my mother and I decided to take our turn, so when we picked them up at the airport at Christmas we were dressed like the Beverly Hillbillies, complete with a misspelled sign with their name, and took it even further by blacking out our teeth. I wore a blond wig that looked like a curly perm and a pillow under my wife beater tee for a big belly. His plane ended up being late so we sat in the airport looking like fools for an hour and a half. My Mom and I laughed at each other for the entire wait. For the rest of my days I will never forget the look on my brother's face when he realized who the country bumpkins were-- it still makes me laugh.

(An aside: when my Mama first appeared that night in costume I was quick enough to catch a video of her, with a memorable statement that she spontaneously came out with. All of her grandchildren, et al repeat this statement every single time we see her. My oldest son even took the video and put it through an Auto Rap app. I'm sorry I've been forbidden to show it here).

We have just returned from their new home in Florida, from Thanksgiving. We assumed that my brother would be in costume, but we decided to catch him off guard, and arrive in costumes ourselves.  I bought some black hats for my boys, my mom found a couple of old calico dresses and  rush-ordered some bonnets from Amazon. The pilgrims were about to arrive!

We did surprise him, and puzzled quite a few people in the airport when the group (some of who looked like Hasidic Jews) greeted and stood with the surfer dude.

Anyway, here's what I've been working on this week.