Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fellow Travelers Represent you, me and the Average Joe Blow

"Auburn Nights" 16 x 20 Oil on Canvas, framed
I saw a lot of colorful people on our vacation; first in the airplane, and then at the places we visited. What stories they could tell. And yet, we are all so alike. As we worried about our plans to deplane and whether to stay on board or go out for an hour to walk, eat and relax.
The woman a few seats down expressed the same concerns. 

The catch, we all agreed was the required removing of our luggage from the plane and then having to again re-board. We all made a group decision to escape for awhile in exchange for waiting in line a brief time before reclaiming our original seats.

Across the aisle, a man in his sixties captured my attention as he read an actual book rather than a Kindle. How did he read such small print? His gray hair was pulled back in a ponytail hanging down his back. His face was covered in a scruffy short beard and mustache; a new retiree perhaps heading for Florida?
"Window on Pine Island" 16 x 20 Oil on WrappedCcanvas
A red-headed young woman on my right hovered over a hand-held device playing a game. She didn’t say a word the whole flight. Finally she buried herself in a shroud of covers and went to sleep for the duration. When she awoke, I was stunned to see that her lips and jaw protruded far beyond how the average young girl might look. Later, my husband described her as looking “old for her age.” When it was time for her to leave, my heart went with her.

On the airplane, people of all colors, shapes and sizes laughed, talked, slept or read; each adapting peaceably to their surroundings. In this setting, it was hard to imagine that any would seek war or choose to maim, kill, or jeopardize the safety and well-being of others. And yet we read about this happening almost every week. We wonder about the mind-set of those who are capable of such atrocities.

"Blending In" Acrylic on Canvas
(We saw a few of these in Redwing, MN)

We are always on guard. When the airplane finally puts up its wing-flaps and the craft slows, we breathe easy that we’ve almost made it. Prayers of gratitude are mumbled. The passengers collectively brace themselves as the plane hits the runway. They apply imaginary brakes together and sigh when the plane makes its way to the gate.

For the length of this flight, the people have smiled politely at one another, gone out of their way to be courteous and respectful, even assisted with luggage when necessary. Where are the violent protesters and the mobs that create chaos and harm to law enforcers and business owners? Where are the bullies who wreak havoc on others? Who ignites the spark that sets off a chain reaction of destruction? What is their agenda?

My friends it is lawbreakers, gangsters, international syndicates, terrorists; and unfortunately, our local, state and national officials. For their own nefarious purposes, they set ablaze communities, instill fear and anger, destroy law and order to gain power over people, and the control of city and national power structures. 

When the party is over, they scatter like rats. Disguised as innocents, they offer money and support as they feign ignorance over cause and effect. And they get away with it! Not only do they play deaf and dumb, but they blame someone or something else for the carnage.

There are stories to be told, all right. But the tales are not about average people who go about living their lives in peace; who work and play, travel and contribute to society and in their neighborhoods. The bigger story is about corruption in government, about power-hungry ideologues who seek world dominance, and about why the people who elect them are willing to ignore their dishonesty and the stench that goes on right under their noses.

"Americana" 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas, in barn wood frame

Monday, August 8, 2016

Vacation Musings bring Insight and Patience

This morning I had my first cup of coffee on our son-in-law's deck in Minnesota. It was in the mid-70s with a slight breeze. Exhilarating after leaving Fort Myers 95 degree 90% humidity. We had to take a breather from the heat, so headed for Minnesota's cooler and breezier climes. Here the weather may change in an instant, but for now it is intoxicating.

We're on the go so much that I haven't been in one place long enough to blog. Today we're going to spend some time with my husband's great grandson Marcus. We haven't seen him, except for photos, since he was a few months old. Now he's walking. The family was eager for us to see their new home.

After 13 years in Fort Myers, my husband wants to move back to be near family. Now we've added house hunting into the mix on the condition that we can sell our villa. My online life is not affected in any way except for the transition periods, and the reason why this blog and others are super late.

Since my own children are scattered across the country, where I live does not seem to matter. The only change will be that they must visit us rather than have us fly out to see them. Aging does have its disadvantages. But more than getting older, ill health this year has cut a big swathe across my extracurricular activities.

We all have ups and downs in our lives no matter what age. How we handle the crises that come to us will determine whether we allow circumstances to get us down or to serve as a stimulus to our malcontent which motivates change.

Degas taped his paintbrushes to his arthritic hands so he could continue painting. Beethoven lost his hearing, but could hear the notes in his head and continued composing.

Countless other artists and musicians have overcome obstacles to create beauty with their feet or teeth. They have been blind and limbless, but have gone on to become famous using their internal gifts in spite of their disabilities.

Fall in Apple Valley, MN, water color on silk

Why not you? Why not me? You are more than the imperfect body you have been given. Your spirit and soul reign supreme. Your gifts are eternal and intrinsic to who you are. Don't give up on life just yet. Discover the power you have within. Test your limits. If you believe in a higher power harness your dreams to something greater than yourself.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Symbolism in True Form is meant to Jar

India Rising Series -- "The Lost" acrylic on canvas
Definition: Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style originates with the 1857 publication of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal.

“Symbolism developed new and often abstract means to express psychological truth and the idea that behind the physical world lay a spiritual reality. The emphasis is on expressing emotions, feelings, ideas, and subjectivity rather than realism.

“The work of symbolists is personal and expresses their own ideologies, particularly the belief in the artist's power to reveal truth. Symbolists take the ineffable, such as dreams and visions, and give it form.”
Michelangelo's "Finger of God"
In her book “Experimental Painting; Inspirational approaches to mixed media art” Lisa L. Cyr writes: “When one is free from inhibitions and preset expectations, the door opens for that spark of brilliance and magic to come through. Spontaneously and without effort, a highly imaginative world known only to the artist begins to reveal itself.”

Many symbolists combine "religious mysticism, the perverse, the erotic, and the decadent. Their subject matter is typically characterized by an interest in the occult, the morbid, the dream world, melancholy, evil, and death.”


Here are a few recognized symbolist painters and visual artists, which include Gustave Moreau, Gustav Klimt, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, Jacek Malczewski, Odilon Redon, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Henri Fantin-Latour, Gaston Bussière, Edvard Munch, Félicien Rops, and Jan Toorop.

Color and the way it affects mood is often used to create a message or sharp response in the viewer, but we’ll discuss color in another blog. Today artists are free to use alternative styles by combining conventional approaches with innovation. There has been a modern day revolution of sorts in the way art is created and presented.

The artist Cyr, quoted earlier, calls this inventive approach “reinterpret, reinvent, and redefine.”

Below are some helpful Youtube videos.

 Jake Baddeley - Symbolist painter  

 The Symbolist Paintings

Sometimes Impressionism and Symbolism overlap

Monday, July 18, 2016

Locusts Inspire more than the Latest Painting

You may have noticed a headline in Sunday’s paper that blew your mind the way it did mine. “Researchers think bugs could help find bombs,” News-Press, FL July 17, 2016.

Of course, the article didn’t mention just any old insect. The “bug” in question is a locust, long-held to be an enemy of man and is known to have destroyed thousands of acres of crops in a matter of hours or days resulting in famines worldwide.

The fascinating article noted that “Locust antennae act as a nose, with sensors more complex than any clinical sensor an engineer could make” (Oh, the wisdom and knowledge of God!) “A group of researchers at Washington University hopes to hijack that sense of smell using bioengineering to create the ultimate smelling machine.” If you ask me, bioengineering is the next greatest go-to career.

What’s the big deal? “First researchers will implant sensors in locust brains to understand neural activity when the bugs smell different things. They’ll use algorithm to interpret brain patterns, allowing them to decode what the locusts smell.

“Raman, head researcher on the project, has found that locusts can quickly be trained to recognize different scents. Taking a page from Pavlov, Raman and his team hit locusts with a puff of a smell, and then reward them with a grass pellet. Within five or six trials, a locust learns to associate that specific smell with food.”

Fair game, I suppose since people also eat locusts and other insects. Yum! Not for me. I saw silkworms roasted and eaten when I was in Korea. That seems tame now that I think of people munching on a large crunchy grasshopper or locust.

Currently a tiny backpack is in a prototype stage and the energy is powered by the locusts’ own movements. Even steering the locusts has been successfully tested, but researchers are trying to figure out which is more effective: “steering the locusts toward a potential threat or allowing them to sniff it out themselves. For now, the focus is on the technology.”

This whole thing reminds me of an old carnival act called the “Flea Circus.” Here tiny fleas are taught to play on minuscule equipment. The show is then viewed via magnification. Is the show a mirage of trickery or are the fleas actually trained? You’d have to ask the trainer. At any rate, people have always been intrigued by the natural world and the miraculous creations that abound in the universe.

“In Chinese “cricket” culture, the cricket-related business is highly seasonal. Trapping crickets in the fields peaks in August and extends into September. 

The crickets soon end up at the markets of Shanghai and other major cities. Cricket fighting season extends until the end of autumn, overlapping with the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day

Chinese breeders are striving to make cricket fighting a year-round pastime, but the seasonal tradition prevails.”

Below is a link to Wikipedia if you want to learn more about having a cricket for a pet.

There is an amazing array of artwork online that is inspired by locusts. Here is one by Katie Hoffman called “Locusts and Honey” that is both representational and abstract.

If you would like to see more of Hoffman’s unusual work go to Katie Hoffman's Web Address

More artwork using locusts as part of a theme is shown below.

Moving on to today’s technology, I’ve noticed that computer generated artwork seems to be more popular than traditional artwork and sells at a cheaper price. This future trend still requires the skill of an artist, but the materials and the end product are much different than the nuts and bolts of stinky turps and paints of the past. Will technology supersede and outpace the old style of doing business in the art world? 

Many said this about libraries when Kindle came along, but Public Libraries have actually incorporated this new technology into their game plan. Today they are busier than ever because society continues to crave information and entertainment.

How will you adapt your artistic repertoire into this new world? Many older artists are not even computer literate. I get asked to help others build an artist’s web site or help them learn how to photograph and upload their paintings (for free, of course!). I not only can’t spread myself that thin, but I find it almost impossible to teach these “old dog’s new tricks.” They simply can’t grasp the technology, and they forget our first lesson as soon as they leave requiring follow up calls.

The only way to be successful in the future is to keep up with the latest and greatest and learn how to bend your skills to take advantage of what’s trending. Good luck!

Here is the best web side to differentiate between a locust, a grasshopper, a katydid, and a cricket:  Locust Grasshopper Cricket Katydid

And thanks to the Agriculture department and .gov:

Locusts and grasshoppers are the same in appearance - how they differ is largely in their behavior. Locusts can exist in two different behavioral states (solitary and gregarious) whereas grasshoppers generally do not. When the population density is low, locusts behave as individuals, much like

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Artists Copy from Nature Either Intentionally or Unawares

Nine-Banded Armadillo -- a small knight in protective armor
Many artists pride themselves on their own ingenuity believing that what they create is unique or has never been done before. But the facts are that styles and designs repeat themselves over the centuries. Artists only do a variation on what has been done before.

Nature provides us with countless designs and shapes. Unconsciously we bring them into our work and they become a part of whatever we create. The saying: “There is nothing new under the sun” was spoken (or written) for a reason. It is true. Conjure, if you will, the varied shapes and intricacies of a flower or a leaf; an insect, the odd shapes on a giraffe, the stripes of a zebra, a caterpillar’s fuzzy or lined patterns.
The things that surround us find their way into our art. We manipulate them. We re-color them. We may even change their shape, but the origins of idea are still formed from that which we recall. Even abstract forms are reborn on canvas maintaining a semblance of the original nugget of thought. Scientists also admit that they create and change those things that already exist. They may duplicate life, but they cannot create it without using parts of that which already exists in nature.

I’ve drawn many simple creatures of nature simply because their intricate outer covering intrigued me. Usually I do some research to discover how unique and independent these magnificent insects or animals are in the scheme of things.
A quick sketch of an armadillo I saw while out walking.

Yesterday morning my husband discovered two young armadillos foraging in our back yard. I snapped a photo hoping to capture them in the early light. 

Normally, armadillos sleep during the day; but these two were still in the throes of youth, and were perhaps more daring than their parents. These were “nine-banded” armadillos protected by a hard, scaled shell that some playfully call “armor.”
Two nine-banded armadillos in our back yard.
Armadillos have poor eyesight which explains why I was able to stand fairly close without getting them overly excited. They can’t hear very well either, but if attacked or fearful, they will roll into a tough, round ball.

How do they eat? They are expert at burrowing and can smell insects nestled in the ground. They make three to five inch circular holes boring for a meal. Usually we don’t see them, but we know that they have been in our yard by these small holes placed at intervals in the soft earth of our flower beds.

"Nine-banded armadillos do not have any front teeth; they have rows of 28-32 peg-like teeth in the back of the mouth. Their diet consists mostly of insects and invertebrates but on occasion they will eat a small vertebrate, berries, or mushrooms. They burrow to find insects and other invertebrates. They also will root around ground litter to find their food.

"Armadillos breed in July, but the embryo is dormant until November. In March the females give birth to four young which are always the same gender because they are identical quadruplets. The armor of armadillo young is soft and leathery, becoming firmer with age.
Thanks to the University of Miami web site I learned a lot about these beautifully designed warriors."
Another shot of our back yard armadillos.
Somewhat alarming about this particular animal, known as the nine-banded armadillo, is that in rare occasions they have been known to spread leprosy. But according to the Smithsonian Institute, “leprosy is a wimp of a pathogen. It is so fragile that it dies quickly outside the body and is notoriously difficult to grow in lab conditions. But with a body temperature of just 90 degrees, the armadillo presents a kind of Goldilocks condition for the disease—not too hot, not too cold. Bacterial transmission to people can occur when we handle or eat the animal."

Yes, in some areas they do eat these small animals. According to connoisseurs, armadillos taste like chicken. If you're hungry for something outrageous, search for armadillo recipes. My own gut reaction is “Why would I want to eat a possible carrier of leprosy?” I’ll just leave it at that.

“Though Hansen’s disease effects 250,00 people worldwide, it only infects 150 to 250 Americans. Even more reassuring: up to 95 percent of the population is genetically unsusceptible to contracting it. And these days, it is highly treatable, and not nearly as contagious as once believe.

"And as for armadillos—the risk of transmission to humans is low, only the nine-banded armadillo is known to carry the disease. And most people in the U.S. who come down with the chronic bacterial disease get it from other people while traveling outside the country.

“Experts say the easiest way to avoid contagion is to simply avoid unnecessary contact with the critters. And, of course, they advise not to go hunting, skinning or eating them (which is a rule that the armadillos would probably appreciate, too)."
From the Smithsonian @

Friday, July 8, 2016

It's Spring -- Bless the Baby Birds!

I couldn't resist sharing a childhood experience with you. The story probably accounts for why I love birds and delight in painting them.

 Robin Hood
He was pink, blind and featherless when I found him lying in the bright spring grass. His lifeless three-inch body brought back a rush of memory and I was eight years old again, looking down on another fragile baby bird.

"Tufted Titmouse" drawing

He had fallen so far from the nest that I convinced myself his mother would never miss him. Carefully, and with a modicum of shame, I scooped the tiny fledgling into my cupped hands. I would nurse him back to health and become his protector. In turn, he would be my friend, my pet. He could perch on my finger and I would teach him how to do tricks. He could sing for his supper. Surely mother would let me keep him.

"Courtship" pencil drawing
She shook her head when she saw him; a bad omen. But when she gave me an empty matchbox, I grew hopeful. We stuffed the matchbox with tissue and laid the bird gently on the soft white sheets. His head wobbled back and forth as his tiny body struggled to get up. The dark swollen eyes were closed, but the hungry beak gaped wide in a perpetual state of readiness.

My mother went for the “crumb jar;” the kind you fill up with leftover toast or stale bread until there are enough pieces for croutons or crumbs on a casserole.

We moistened a small chunk of bread in warm milk; and while mother left to prepare dinner, I dropped soggy snippets of bread into the bird’s open mouth. The feeding lasted until the tantalizing smells from the kitchen and the clatter of dishes distracted me.

"Berry Picking Time" 16 x 20 acrylic on panel
It was nearly bedtime before I remembered. I skipped to the back porch, half expecting birdsong to greet me. Instead, I slammed into a cold wall of silence. I held my breath and peered into the matchbox. The bird’s too-large head lay angled against the white tissue, his pale colored beak hung open. The bread I had pushed down his throat earlier was now stuck like a gummy wad of dough. I yelled for mother.

"Hut Two Three Four" drawing
She came quickly with tweezers in hand. “He’s too weak to swallow,” she said, making one final effort to remove the dough from the tiny gullet. “He’s not breathing,” she muttered to herself. And then seeing my tears, she added, “It’s not your fault. He’s too young, that’s all. His eyes aren’t open. He has no feathers.” In spite of her words, I cried. Sad lesson learned -- end of story, or was it?

Returning to the present and my adult moorings, I studied the baby bird at my feet. If I left him here, a neighbor’s cat or a hungry hawk would surely destroy him or a child’s bicycle could crush him unawares. Impulsively, I scooped him into my hands. I had to give him a second chance. Who knows? This time I might succeed; and, perhaps, redeem my childhood guilt in the bargain.
"Star Billing" mixed media on 14 x 18canvas

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Contrast Reveals Truth and Clarifies what’s Important

Thinking back to grade school, the kids who stand out in my mind, are not the popular or good looking ones whose faces I have long since forgotten, but the ones who were different. Even in memory, I can see them clearly. Back then, I felt their pain and even imagined that I could feel their awkwardness and aloneness.

My sense of fair play demanded that I do something about it. I decided to befriend each of them in turns. I got permission from my mother to walk home with Gail to play for about an hour and then walk back home.

My parents were poor by most standards. At the time, we lived in an upstairs apartment over my grandmother’s home. My dad didn’t own a car. Each day, he walked to and from the Caterpillar Tractor store where he repaired and maintained rental machinery. In our small town, income levels were low, and most people lived simply.

Gail, on the other hand, had a house and a yard with a swing in it. Dirty gray stucco that hadn’t been painted in years gave the house a somber look. There were no flowers or shrubs. When we finally made our way inside, I was shocked at the barren rooms.

We looked through the cupboards for something to eat, but the shelves were bare. A dry piece of cake with mildew sat on the counter top. Gail’s parents were not at home and the house gave off an empty lonely vibe. There were no toys to play with except the swing outside so we ended up playing outdoors.

When I got back home our small apartment seemed like a castle. Cheerful colors welcomed me and the sound of my mother's singing while she cooked made me smile. The simple soup and bread we had for supper seemed like a feast after the barren offerings of Gail’s existence.

The contrast between our homes re-defined the word “poor” for me. Gail's home expressed a poverty of spirit and a shortage of amenities. I would never again view myself or my family as lacking in anything.

Over the next few weeks I went home with Alice, a student who had a visible disability. She was a polio victim as a toddler; as a result, her left arm and leg were shorter. Alice limped in a funny hop bounce way that made her arms bob with each step. Everyone made fun of her, except me.

She had six other brothers and sisters. It was obvious from the moment I stepped inside their large old fashioned home that she was loved. There were games, giggles, and a relaxed easy-going ambiance that made time fly. Alice’s life was already full. No wonder she was able to handle the nasty remarks from her peers. The wisecracks didn't shake her world.

Lorraine was a bed wetter who sometimes had accidents in class, especially when she was listening to a story. In the silence of the room her accidents sounded like raindrops on our wooden floor. The janitor was quietly invited to our room and mopped up without noise or distraction. The teacher (my grandfather), continued the story without dropping a beat. The intrusion went unnoticed.

Lorraine was embarrassed, of course, but she never said a word. If she could have stopped wetting her pants, she would have. Most of her classmates felt sorry for her. A few twittered and teased, but most accepted her as she was.

Diane was taller than most girls her age which made her feel ugly and conspicuous. She hunched her shoulders in a grotesque slump to make herself appear shorter. Eventually her posture became permanently cemented for life.

Diane was funny, friendly and likable. It was easy to overlook her rounded shoulders once you got to know her. I was posture conscious. My grandfather had encouraged his granddaughters to walk with books on their heads and their backs straight so Diane’s rounded stance was a constant irritant to me. Her mother never said a word about it knowing it would make her feel even more self-conscious. Her unsightly hump made me want to stand even straighter.

When you are different from others life can be cruel. My heart goes out to those children who are bullied or made fun of because they stand out.

In a painting, contrast defines and highlights the center of interest. The differences in shape, value and color makes the objects jump out at you: dark against light, round against rectangular, bright against dull. A composition becomes interesting or impressionable because of these contrasts.

It’s too bad we don’t view people in the same way. The ones who catch our eye, or are unique would be seen as beautiful rather than nonconforming or odd. The differences would be viewed in a new way; much like a highlight or an unusual shape catches our attention and pulls us into a painting.

"Raccoons at Sunrise" (the last drink before bedtime), 20 x 16 acrylic on canvas