Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Swamp Angel"

Swamp Angel was inspired by a trip to Babcock Ranch, a wonderful place north of Fort Myers. The diverse lay of the land includes swamps, pastures, wetlands, and glimpses of wading birds, alligators, cracker cattle, and panthers (if you're lucky).

Painting is 16x20 oil on canvas; $325 w/o frame. Free U.S. shipping; Plus shipping outside U.S. For giclees, prints, or cards please go to:

What's for Dinner?

I can't help myself. When the calendar reaches January, my mind conjures up images of winters past with snow and blowing cold. Even though I live in Florida, come January I get that "rumbley in my tumbley" for a crock full of homemade soup.

I love soup. I know it's not a guy thing, and nothing like real meat and potatoes, but it's user friendly. No matter what you put in the pot, it comes out smelling and tasting like fine wine or the best in epicurean cooking. And when you're done, you feel like you've accomplished something.

In the winter, soup warms your bones. In tough times, it fills your stomach. When there are many mouths to feed, you can thin and stretch soup to fill every hungry mouth. People who turn their noses up at leftovers, slurp down every sumptuous bite that is hidden between stirs of a bubbling pot of melding flavors.

Soup is like life itself: a pinch of this, a dab of that, some bittersweet, some sugar, some spice mixed together with faith, hope and love. Simmering through the highs and lows, the combination becomes the essence of a life well lived; a life remembered.

Is it any wonder that my favorite channel is the food channel? I believe that people who can decorate cakes with sculpted roses, create memorable recipes, and present with style can match any artist's creativity. Come to think of it, that soup is so colorful I see shapes forming, values changing, and my imagination soaring just like it did over my alphabet soup when I was a kid.

Got brain freeze and painter's block? Get back to basics and warm up with a bowl of hot yummy soup. Happy New Year everybody!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

For the love of paper

I fell in love with paper somewhere between third and sixth grades. I remember the excitement of making that first mark on a white sheet and wondering where it was going to take me, either to capture a vision I saw in my head, or to write a few words hidden within my heart. It was magic!

My first visit to a public library was love at first smell. There is nothing like the fragrance of books, paper and binding material to draw the creative muse from the shadows. I literally sat at a table and sniffed the pages as I read my way through several children's books. A kind, and rather concerned librarian assisted me in getting my first library card. It was heaven!

But aside from "The Bobbsey Twins," "Nancy Drew," and "The Five Little Peppers," it was eighth grade before I read a real novel: "Les Miserables." From there I discovered the classics and the great artists in history. I lugged stacks of books home from the library each week, and I snubbed my nose at the coloring books mother purchased, requesting, instead, clean white paper.

I still like the smell of paper, and tremble with anxiety before each blank page or canvas. It's all about discovery; learning about yourself, and exploring the world around you. Using simple tools like pencils and pens, brushes and paint, paper and canvas, you can change lives. Heck, you can change the world!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brush drawing, "Mother and Child"

Every December our church and some generous volunteers, put on an unconventional nativity titled "A Walk through Bethlehem.". The characters are asked to read the Christmas story as found in Matthew, and a script suggesting possible action and dialogue, and then they improvise before a live audience. You never know what the characters will say on any given evening. You never know how the touring audience of 10-15 people per group will react.

A hunched over beggar stands outside Bethlehem's walls. He asks for mercy and pleads for shekels. This year an adorable guest asked her father for money and then skipped over to drop it in the beggar's bag. Another child attending for the third year had brought a gift for the baby Jesus. The child approached the stable, tiptoed up to the manger, and wished the baby Jesus "Happy birthday." He kissed the babe's head, and placed his gift beside the swaddling clothes.

My first year as a volunteer, I played an innkeeper. My job was simply to complain that Bethlehem was brimming with people who were there to pay taxes, and that I had no room for anyone, especially these new visitors. After all, I had just turned away a mother with child, riding on a donkey.

That first year, I thought the presentation was a bit "hokey." A little too informal for my taste. After all, I had been involved in a real pageant with a cast of hundreds, and professional actors and directors. Surely, this little play by a local church could have no impact or make no impression on the community. But I was oh so wrong.

This year I was a greeter; able to listen and observe the adults and children who walked through the grass, past the wooden props of sheep and donkeys, past the wooden scenery that I had helped to paint a few years earlier. I saw the wonderment in the eyes of the children. I heard adults express their gratitude at how much they looked forward to their "Walk through Bethlehem" each year, how it renewed them and prepared them to celebrate the birth of their Savior. And I felt the spirit that can only come in a simple stable, with simple people who in humility welcome the birth of God's Son.

Merry Christmas everyone -- and Happy Holidays!

"Mother and Child" is a monochromatic brush drawing using Burnt Umber Oil on a 12x16 panel. The painting is available for sale at $249 including postage; giclees, prints, or cards are available at:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pencil drawing, "Emma's Birthday"

Emma is a delightful person. She has spent a lifetime raising her children and serving her community and church. That's where I met her, and worked with her on the newsletter committee for several years. We still consider her a member of the group, even though she seldom participates with us anymore.

When our committee drew names for Christmas, I got Emma. With a $10 gift limit, I wondered how I could honor this prestigious lady and express my love and appreciation for her. After all, what do you give to a woman who has celebrated 94 years of living? Over the past several years, Emma had enjoyed my drawings on the homemade cards I had given her; even framing and displaying her favorites. So a drawing seemed like the perfect gift.

A few weeks earlier, we had celebrated her 94th birthday with friends at a local restaurant. I thumbed through the pictures we had taken and chose a composite of those I felt captured her delight in the gifts, the singing, and the birthday cake.

I drew "Emma's Birthday" with pencil on 70# paper and presented it to her at our annual Christmas party, matted and framed. I also printed several greeting cards of her portrait that she could share with family and friends. Her delight in this portrait will inspire yet another drawing or perhaps a painting in the future.

Merry Christmas Emma!

Dogs and green beans

When I lived in Kansas City, we had a backyard garden of sorts. We grew tomatoes, peppers, radishes, lettuce and squash. But the main staple of our garden was green beans. I was ever so proud when we had enough to can (if I wanted to), and enough to share with friends and neighbors. That is until we adopted two stray dogs we named Lady and Buttons. Adorable dogs that someone had dumped near the highway. My husband rescued them and brought them home for the kids.

Lovable and as cute as their names; Lady was a brown and white water spaniel, and buttons a solid black mix that we guessed as part terrier and part mutt. The kids loved those dogs, but I could never get them to take responsibility for their care. The dogs had never been housebroken, so we kept them mainly in the garage and in our big backyard. We weren't prepared for what happened next.

Over the course of the summer, our bean patch produced in abundance. When the dogs chased off the squirrels, I was delighted. After all, the squirrels had eaten the budding cantaloupes and my starter tomatoes, and sometimes they took big bites out of the older ripe ones. We had also battled crows and blackbirds that circled around to peck and poke. They were one reason why we had switched from corn to green beans.

When the beans were ready to harvest, I marveled at how many there were and how quickly they had grown. I was pleased with our efforts, until I washed them in the sink. Every sticky green bean, every fuzzy green leaf was covered with dog hair. While Buttons and Lady had romped through the garden scaring off birds and critters, they had left a trail of dog hair behind them.

I never could scrub all the hair off those beans. We finally had to give up on gardening all together. To this day, I marvel when I see a neat backyard garden, wondering what their secret to success is? Your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


What can I say? I'm a Leo. I love sunshine and bright colors, especially yellows and reds, and I'm crazy about sunflowers. Come to think of it, sunflowers look like miniature lions, only instead of hair their mane is ruffled petals.

I remember the first time I saw field after field of sunflowers one summer in North Dakota. I was traveling from Minnesota to Mount Rushmore with my family when an incredible wave of sunshine brightened our day.

From a distance, individual flowers trickled together to form a raging flood of liquid yellow rolling across the landscape like spilled paint. Up close, sturdy stalks rooted like sentinels guarded the perimeter. Their broad green leaves clustered for protection. No wonder the sunflower has become the most popular flower to paint in history.

I could have painted black-eyed susans. They're yellow. They resemble a lion, except without the variation, texture and color of the sunflower's delectable center. But there's a problem of perception. Black-eyed susans remind me of Mexican sombreros in miniature.

I could have painted daisies; but memories of desecrating my mother's flower patch by picking petals and reciting "he loves me, he loves me not" took all the fun out of it. And that brought me back to those sunflower fields. Hey, I'm a Leo. See me roar!

"Sunshine" is an 8x10 oil on acrylic panel. The original painting is sold, but giclees, prints and cards are available at:

T'is the season

This is the season of giving. The season to be jolly. But sometimes it seems that everyone has their hand out, from organizations and charities to people in actual need. Between flashy advertisements to buy, and pleas for contributions, our cheer and our budgets get stretched pretty thin.

It was on such a day that my husband and I sat in a Steak 'n Shake and discussed our gift giving plans over a burger and fries. While we talked about budgets and lists, I noticed an elderly man sitting behind my husband. He was sipping on a cup of coffee, and slowly spooning down a cup of soup. Meager provisions, I thought; and from the way he was dressed, wondered if that was all he could afford.

I said nothing to my husband who was deep in monologue, and waited for him to finish. By the time he did, the old man had left his table and disappeared into the outside world.

We should have purchased a more substantial meal for him I lamented. I should have stopped my husband's discourse and told him what I saw. I was kicking myself for having missed the opportunity while we paid our check and pushed out the door.

In the parking lot, I was confronted by a young muscovy duck. He waddled up to me with his tiny webbed feet, tilted his mottled red head, and looked at me with pleading eyes, begging for crumbs.

Again I was empty handed; no "doggie bag," no leftovers. The duck followed me all the way to the car. Was he desperate enough to jump in, I wondered? Before I had a chance to find out, another car pulled in diverting the duck's attention. He waddled over to greet the exiting driver.

As I said "t'is the season," and everybody has their hand (or bill) out -- even the ducks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Flash Dance"

People say that my paintings are bright and colorful. Of course, they're right. I guess I see the world that way.

Take people; I like to assume the best in them, even when they prove me wrong. Some may call that gullible, others naive. I admit I've been "taken" a few times in my life and "smartened up" in the process.

The way I see it, the world has enough negative dark vibes vying for my attention. I'll let someone else deal with that. I prefer not to ignore that pessimism, that evil, but to see through it, around it, or over it. I choose to create the world I want, and to believe in the basic goodness of people.

When I look at nature, I see God's creation in all its fullness. I see colors that blow your mind, and insects and creatures that are so beautifully patterned and bright, there's no way you could create any better. I see beauty that swells my heart to the point of breaking the feelings are so intense. If that makes me a "cock-eyed optimist" so be it.

Yes, I paint with bright colors and with warmth and passion because that's how I see my world. I also like to experiment with color to find out how blending certain colors together increases the "light" intensity. I like to layer colors, or glaze colors in such a way that the glow comes from the inside out. And sometimes I make terrible mistakes. In the beginning, I made some nasty mud pies.

I worry that my paintings are too bright, that they "shout out" a bit too much. My featured painting is a perfect example. Just when I thought my painting was complete, I'd think of another splash of color I wanted here or there. The painting almost wrote its own title: "Flash dance." Your comments are welcome!

Painting is 16x20 oil on canvas; $325 w/o frame. Free U.S. shipping; Plus shipping outside U.S. For giclees, prints, or cards please go to:

Turkey Day with the Amish

For three years in a row, we have made the trek to Sarasota, Florida to meet other family members and share our Thanksgiving dinner in a small Amish restaurant named "Mom's."

Mom's lives up to its name. The servings are more than generous. We each had a huge slab of white meat, a slab of dark meat, and a slab of honey baked ham. The mashed potatoes were light and fluffy and the gravy and dressing reminiscent of home.

We shared our meal with several Mennonite and Amish families who had come to eat their dinner early as we did; the women wearing white bonnets, the men donning long beards and suspenders. Wholesome, honest and hardworking people with a jovial outlook on life, the Amish live to work and work to serve their maker.

Many of the families are actually wealthy landowners with hundreds of acres of rich farmland. They give up what we perceive as the "good life" to live humble and simple lives in dedication to their Lord. What better place to spend Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Brown Thrasher

"Rufous" seems inadequate to describe the coloring of this radiant bird. The brown thrasher's orange red feathers almost glow in the sunlight. And they can sing, as well as mimic other bird song; but the variety and range is more limited, and the song of shorter duration than that of the mocking bird.

Brown thrashers are year-round residents of Florida, but not so much in the southern part of the state. I guess that's why I feel lucky to have seen a few in the past six years. Their long tails, brown striped white bellies, and yellow-orange eyes make them a real eye-charmer. But photographing them is a challenge, as they fly away when you approach even from a distance.

My daughter who lives in Atlanta tells me that brown thrashers are the Georgia state bird. She has probably seen many more than I have. The first time I saw a thrasher it was love at first sight. They have been my favorite bird ever since. Painting a brown thrasher in its natural grassland setting was a joy.

Brown thrasher is a 12x16 acrylic painting on panel; $325 includes barnwood frame; shipping is extra. Giclees, prints and cards are available at

This little piggy . . .

Fortunately, this little piggy does not go to market. Feral pigs run wild in Florida, usually under the cover of darkness. Other names for these oinkers are "wild boar," wild hog," or "razorback." Sound intimidating? They are if confronted. Their tusks are sharp and from three to six inches long. They can run fast and swim well which is why they seldom get caught, except when outsmarted by a hungry alligator looking for filet of pork. In this case, being pigheaded doesn't help.
Are they good to eat? I saw a feral piglet left behind by a roaming herd. He was plump, pink, and rather juicy looking, I thought. But wild pigs are seldom eaten, unless you're willing to risk the parasitic worms that embed their flesh and the myriad diseases they carry. The early settlers roasted feral hogs for dinner. These hardy folks lived in such primitive conditions, that they probably died of malaria or old age long before the effects of the worms kicked in. Many of them tried to keep domesticated pigs of their own, but the feral pigs managed to breakdown their fences and interbreed, creating more wild hogs.

Trying to eradicate wild pigs is like swatting at flies. They breed like jack rabbits, they're elusive, and they're always on the run.What do they do in the wee hours of the morning? They uproot people's lawns and flower beds searching for seeds, acorns, roots, fungi, worms and snails.

Golf club owners are terrified they will plow through their turf and cost them thousands of dollars in damages. Homeowners cringe when they see their well manicured lawns turned into a mass of overturned clods. How do I know this? Our back yard was feral-pig-plowed last night. Other yards in our neighborhood were also hit. In some cases, it's an easy fix -- simply stomp the uprooted sod back into place. In other cases, not so easy.

A friend of mine had her front lawn feral-pig-plowed three times. Living alone with a disability, she hired a lawn service to put her yard back together again. She paid for service twice. On the third time around, she complained to the Home Owners Association. Her persistence paid off, and she got money back for her piggy bank.

Living in Florida is not always pork chops and gravy, but it does provide an endless supply of stories for my blogs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Arabesque," egrets in flight

Another beautiful day in paradise. This is what living in southern Florida is like; there's always something to see, another new thing to learn, a wealth of nature's bounty right at my doorstep.

Today was no different. The Alligator Flag are in full bloom. This large leafed plant may grow up to 12 feet tall, sprouting slender stalks of odd-shaped purple flowers at its peak. The winter snowbirds who flock to our community usually miss their bright green leaves which frame the ponds and lakes from June through November.

Sometimes called arrowroot or fireflag, the plant announces the beginning of the summer season, and the end of fall when they wither into wheat-colored shards, dry and crisp.

Next to the flag is a gray wood piling that juts from the pond and serves as perch for the anhingas in the area. Today a new bird paid a visit. At first I thought it was a snowy egret, but noticed that the bill was shorter and thicker. The legs were blackish, but without the yellow feet attached. The bird was also too small for an egret.

I filed away an image of the bird in my head until I could refer to my audubon guide. According to the description, my visitor was an "immature" little blue heron. My reading explained why the legs didn't look black; they were actually a "dull slaty olive." In time, this juvenile will sprout the slate-blue wings and body of its parent and the long purplish back and head plumes of courtship.

As I walked past the second lake on my journey, a piercing "killdee" turned my head. Three killdeer, members of the plover family, had seen me before I had seen them. They scissor-stepped across the grass, heading closer to water's edge; their ear-piercing shrieks loud in my ears.

The killdeer are brown above and white below, with two black-striped chest bands; a striking contrast against the brilliant white chest feathers. Up close, the killdeer's black eyes pop out against a red backdrop. Even in flight their high-pitched song is unmistakable.

This is the same lake that inspired my painting: "Arabesque," named for the graceful white egrets that frequent the area. Landing, lifting, or flying across the lake, their movements resemble a graceful dance.

Brilliant white feathers make a striking contrast against the blue-green waters and the copse of trees in the background.

Arabesque" is a 14x18 oil on canvas with barnwood frame; for sale at $275 plus shipping. Giclees, prints, or cards may be purchased at:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In the life

I grew up in an emerald green valley ringed on all sides by a craggy strip of mountains known as the Wasatch front. These rugged giants, and the springs, lakes, and rivers that divide them, were the guardians of my youth. From my bedroom window, the mountains rose like giant hands in prayer; casting benevolent shadows on the surrounding neighborhoods and farms.

On clear summer days, the sky filled our valley with morning light long before the sun had reached its crest on the jagged peeks and thrown off its coverlet of shadow cast by aspen, Juniper, and sage. A neighbor’s rooster proclaimed break of day, and the sounds of engines starting and cattle lowing struck the chords and the notes that play out in my head even now.

On the Western side of the valley, the distant mountains completed the circle, framing a patchwork of fields and farms that spread out on the valley floor like a farm wife’s quilt. At day’s end, the sun, saving the best for last, celebrated its descent in triumphant tones of amber and rose before snuggling deep into mountain shadow.

On evenings such as this, time stood still as I watched my father practice the art of fly tying. Like a true artist, he adjusted clamp and vice to secure the hook while he twisted and wrapped the tiny feathers into place. Although each fly was unique, he duplicated one lusty specimen many times over for its ability to snag rainbow trout and German browns.

With the same skill he used to cast his fishing line in a timeless dance over canyon waters, he cast his children out to experience life. If we encountered rough waters or found ourselves in over our heads, he would reel us back in for further instruction.

Sometimes his reprimands were harsh. At those times, his words cut through our disobedience with the sharp edge of truth. Then he would cast us out again, giving us more line from time to time, until we got it right.

Because of my father’s skill as an angler, I grew up with a man-sized appetite for pan-fried trout. Father cleaned them. Mother cooked them -- dusted in flour and fried in butter, without the cholesterol guilt or fat gram shame. We dined on fish two or three times a week. The extra fish were frozen for winter meals and to keep my father’s dreams alive for the next fishing season.

Sometimes the family went with him on his fishing expeditions, wandering the byways and dirt roads of Southern Idaho, Wyoming, and Northern Utah in search of the best fishing holes. He waded up to his armpits in the rivers and dams along the Wasatch front; the winding Snake River, the wide Green River, and the brilliant blue Bear Lake.

When my father could no longer fish, he shared the woven intricacies of fly tying with his grandchildren, leaving them an inheritance that would continue on like an echo in the same canyons and mountain streams.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Loggerhead shrike

A saucy bird with an unusual song, the loggerhead shrike is both striking and endearing. Slightly smaller than the mocking bird, but with similar coloring, they are often confused one with the other.

There are distinct differences. The loggerhead has a thick black beak that turns downward and short black legs and feet, while the mocker's beak is shorter and thinner and its legs longer. Shrikers also appear fatter than the grayish-tan mocking bird, having a whiter belly that makes its black wings and tail appear darker and its silver rump and upper wings more striking.

The loggerhead shrike, one of my favorite birds in southern Florida. I had to capture my impressions of him on canvas.

Please enjoy my acrylic painting on 12x16 panel; $325 includes barnwood frame; shipping is extra. Giclees, prints and cards are available at:

Cypress incubator

Each day, I walk by a small cypress copse that juts out into the lake. Sometimes the branches are filled with migrating cormorants looking for a free lunch, or with egrets and herons returning to their nests.

Together the mated pair clean and fix-up their old digs. During this renovation, the herons come and go at will; not returning for days at a time. Once the eggs are laid, the parents take turns incubating them and later caring for their brood. This process may take more than three months and provides the neighborhood with weeks of entertainment.

When the newborn chicks hatch (usually three), their oversized beaks rise above the nest, begging for food. The parents continue to take turns guarding the nest and flying off to fish or forage.

Before the chicks leave the nest permanently, they flutter from branch to branch within the copse, until they learn how to fly. The parents are extremely patient, allowing their youngsters to stay until they are good and ready to survive on their own.

I remind myself that all things of value are worth time and patience, that goes for life, families, faith, and yes, my paintings.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Birds of prey

Have you ever noticed how tenacious birds of prey are in pursuit of their supper?

A red shouldered hawk frequents the southern oaks behind our villa. I observed him sitting on a nearby branch for at least 15 minutes. I assumed he was waiting for one of the unsuspecting squirrels that romped through the branches.

He sat frozen, except for his eyes that darted from limb to limb. While he waited, a flock of finches gathered; first one or two birds, and then a huge swarm. They chattered away, calling attention to their common enemy waiting beneath them.

Would they have the nerve to dive-bomb him or attack him, I wondered? The hawk didn’t wait to find out. Exasperated, he flew off to find a new perch.

An osprey chose his hunting site in a dead tree at the south end of our pond. I took a picture of him as he scanned the water searching for fish. When he spotted his prey, he lifted off with wide wings and literally performed what looked like water skiing as he skimmed the water's surface.

His sturdy legs and clawed feet sent out a spray of water before he lifted upward, clutching a huge sunfish. I’m told that ospreys have valves in their nostrils which close on impact, preventing the water from getting inside. Their feathers also repel water from an oily substance that coats the plumage. The osprey made a great catch without having to dive in as many other birds do.

Because tree owls hunt mainly at night, it is rare to see them. Their keen hearing protects them as they sleep during the day, and helps them pinpoint their prey even in the dark of night.

On my daily walk, I saw a suspicious shape in a tree. I chalked it up to my vivid imagination, but instinct pulled me closer. When I was only a few feet away, the owl’s eyes flew open. His keen hearing alerted him to my presence. The owl blended so well into the bark that until I saw the yellow of his eyes, I was never really certain.

The owl was sitting on a limb that was much too close to the ground for his safety. He must have fallen asleep before sunrise and didn’t recognize the danger. His seeming negligence didn’t last. Before I could get a picture, he took off, flying swiftly but surely to safer climbs.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Innset Kirke, Norway

My husband is Norwegian. He still has many relatives living in Norway.

I get requests from my husband and his U.S. relatives to paint scenes from Norway. One painting was sold at an art show two years ago. Two Norwegian tourists recognized their bay town and bought the painting for a Christmas gift.

The featured painting is a historical site called "Innset Kirke." The beautiful building has been preserved and renovated. I wanted to highlight its past religious significance and the burnished glow of the wood.

Painting is oil on 11x14 canvas; framed in an antique country wood that is peach tinged to further enhance the orange highlights of the building. Price is $325 plus shipping. To purchase original or giclees, prints or cards, please go to my web site at:

Partridge in an oak tree

When I spotted the two birds, they were running alongside the chicken wire fence, hidden beneath the Brazilian pepper, the hedgerow, and the Spanish moss which draped from their lower branches.

When the birds saw me, a soft chortle started up in their throats, and they ran for a hole under the fence which led to their escape. They were so fast on their feet that I failed to capture the details necessary for identification.

Checking my Audubon Field Guide later, I tried to piece together my impressions: stocky round bird, reddish brown feathers, unique head markings or Mohawk haircut; a chipping or swamp sparrow I wondered? Naw, too small.

It was a year later in March before I saw another pair scurrying along the fence line. This time I got a good look before they slipped under the fence and disappeared in the dry pasture stubble. Turns out, they were northern bobwhites; members of the quail or partridge family and indigenous to Florida.

When the mating season begins each spring, coveys break up and mates build their own covered nests in the grass. In late summer, families join others to form a new covey until the next breeding season.

My husband and I saw the bobwhites almost every day for several weeks. One lusty fellow searching for a potential mate flew to the upper branches of a live oak and serenaded us with a “bob bob white.”

On days when we didn’t see the quails, my husband would whistle his own rendition of “bob bob white,” and we waited. Sure enough, an answering call told us where the bobwhites were located that day.

When the spring rains came early that year and flooded the grasslands, our bobwhites disappeared. My husband still whistled to see if they had returned, but there was no answering call. I hope we see them again this year.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Window on Pine Island"

I did the preliminary sketches for “Window on Pine Island” plein air, and followed it up with photos. The actual painting was done at home.

I was captivated by the light on the water and the trees that surrounded this scene. There was an actual wooden plank walkway that started at a nearby house, traveled across the lawn where a chaise lounge awaited, and then on to these two trees: a tall cabbage palm and an old southern oak. The walkway continued to water’s edge.

I was struck by the roughness of the palm bark, the gnarled trunk of the old oak, and how each trapped the afternoon sunlight in their jagged folds providing a frame for the boats in the distance.

Painting is available; 16x20 oil on 1-3/8" wrap canvas. $325 plus shipping. Contact the artist if you are interested. For purchase of giclees, cards or prints, go to the following link:

Art studio -- or NOT

Over the years, I’ve subscribed to several different art magazines. They inspired me. They taught me. And they gave me something to shoot for; a goal, a future, a dream for success and a studio.

Truth is, today I live in a basement-less villa with scant storage space. In the off season, when friends and relatives are still up north, my guest bedroom is turned into an art gallery, a paint drying station, and a haven for stashing project parts and pieces.

Painting supplies are stored in the “utility closet,” and waiting canvases, drawing pads and paper are neatly stacked under the beds or in clothes closets. I know that doesn’t sound romantic, but it’s a fact.

I always wanted a studio. I always dreamed of having an extra room or some space that was just for me. But somewhere between holding a full-time job and having kid’s reality set in. When the kids moved out, we downsized.

If you must know, my studio shares space with my utility room. There’s a window that streams brilliant sunlight at least part of the day, and an overhead light that makes up for it when it doesn’t. I drape the washer and dryer with old towels, lean my canvas against the top on one side, and place my palette and paints on the other. I paint standing up until either my feet drop off or my back caves in. Not glamorous, but it works; “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

I hope I didn’t burst your bubble. The important thing is this: don’t put off painting or starting your career until you have that “perfect place.” If you do, your dreams may never happen.

The importance of community

I missed my local art league meeting two Wednesdays in a row. My tail was dragging, I had a migraine headache, I didn’t want to lug my stuff around; and so it went.

The following week, another excuse popped up. I had no car. I was planning to paint at home anyway; it was no big deal. Two days past before I realized what I’d missed: the camaraderie among friends who share a passion for art; the reason why most artists reach out to each other.

Some other things I missed: the chance to “group critique” my latest “problem child,” the painting that started out great, but is getting out of control fast. Should I sand it off and start over? Is it too late to change the placement of my sight line? Are my values too few and too abrupt? Are my reflections in the water slightly off? Did I make my egrets too large, and on and on.

Inspiration and ideas may come when we’re alone, and these quiet moments are important; but you can’t create in a vacuum. Since art is life, our muse, if you will, is the larger community. If your reservoir of ideas and inspiration is drying up – reach out and drink from somebody else’s well for a change. The water’s of creativity will begin to flow again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hibiscus Glory

The hibiscus is one of my favorite flowering shrubs. At its peak, each bloom seems to turn itself inside out in a showy display of glory. Painting is a mixed-media, oil on acrylic canvas; 16x20.

Artist will paint a "flower" of your choice, simply submit a photo, and request size and medium to my e-mail:

Painting was commmissioned, therefore sold; but prints, giclees or cards are available online at my web site below:

Whistle for me

My mother could whistle better than any guy, and long before it was fashionable. She even whistled through her teeth while playing softball on a young women’s team (unheard of). Later, she “whistled while she worked” around our house.

I thought of her today when a meadowlark serenaded me from a nearby field. It was the eastern variety; its song shorter than the western meadowlark my mother imitated.

“I am a pretty little bird,” she said in a singsong voice, followed by a perfect whistle rendition of a meadowlark’s song. She could mimic all of the local birds with a whistle that was sweet and clear, even on the highest notes. She had a beautiful singing voice as well, and used her talents in the church choir and to sing us lullabies before we went to sleep.

One night my girl friend stayed over and heard my mother singing in the kitchen. I squirmed with embarrassment. When my friend remarked that my mother had a beautiful voice, my fears melted away. I never appreciated until that moment how lucky I was to have a mother who could sing and whistle for us.

I heard a meadowlark today, and thought of my mother.

Pheasants and Fall

This time of year brings back childhood memories. Here is one of them:
I sailed over the wooden bridge on my bicycle and slid onto the gravel pathway that skirted Willow Park. The trail wound through marshland, giving visitors glimpses of wild geese, ducks, and birds in their natural habitat.

I stopped my bike and walked through the knee-high grass. I refused to leave to chance the possible sighting of a duck or a bird, even though a sign said “keep off.” It was my lucky day. In minutes, I spied a pheasant’s nest. I knew about pheasants from my uncle Vern who hunted them in season and shared his kill with our family.

The nest was hidden in a clump of Johnson grass like a forgotten Easter basket. Nestled inside were four greenish brown eggs just waiting to be found. I moved closer. Where was their mother? Was she lurking somewhere in the underbrush or had she deserted her nest? Was she alive or dead?

The pheasants my Uncle Vern flopped on our kitchen counter haunted me: the glassy eyes frozen in stare, the shiny green head, the white neck ring splattered with droplets of blood, the speckled brown wings, the striped tail feathers, the buckshot battered breast.

I knelt in the damp grass. The eggs were still warm and as smooth as sugar candy. I wanted them – all four of them, but I could only carry two. Cradling an egg in each hand, I returned to the path and mounted my bicycle. At least I could save two eggs -- two pheasants. I would keep them warm and hatch them out myself. After all, their mother had abandoned them. What if she didn’t come back?

I rode carefully down the gravel pathway, over the bridge and onto the asphalt pavement; struggling to protect the eggs and to guide my handlebars. I was excited about the prospects of incubating the eggs at home. I imagined the babies growing up under my watchful care until they could flap their bronze speckled wings and soar to freedom.

A bump in the pavement shattered my reverie. I braked. The bike swerved. I cushioned my fall with an outstretched leg and a tight grip on the handlebars. Whoosh – crunch, the sounds of multiple crackles reverberated through the air. I felt sick watching the life giving yolk and slimy white gook ooze through my fingers. The eggs were shattered. The precious gift of life I had held only moments ago was gone.

Years later this painful memory would shape my respect for life – all life. God alone knows the miracle, the purpose and the potential that exists within any given seed or embryo. Who am I to act in God’s name, determining who will live or who will die, weighing the value of one life against another?

The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Am I alone in this?

I like raccoons. They’re cute, perky and smart. But like mischievous children, they can get under your skin. They tip over garbage cans that “go bump in the night.” They invade people’s attics; and when confronted, they may get downright mean and nasty, or so I’ve heard.

But sometimes they don’t. My husband saw a sleepy raccoon crawl down from a tree one morning to return to his own pad. I confronted the coon on our front walkway. I don’t know who was more surprised, him or me. We both held our ground and stared for a good minute or two. It was my first up close and personal look at a live raccoon. For the coon it was too close for comfort. He took off like a scared rabbit; so much for the “mean and nasty” profiling.

Another “coon encounter” occurred early one morning on our routine 3.5 mile walk. A few raccoons were taking a last drink at the water’s edge before going home to begin their daytime slumber. It was a remarkable sight and inspired my painting: “Raccoons at Sunrise.”

Painting is available with barnwood frame; acrylic on canvas; $325 plus shipping. Contact the artist if you are interested. For purchase of giclees, cards or prints, go to the following link:

Drawings and things

When I’m not painting, I’m drawing. I use my small sketches on cards and for illustrations in the picture books I’m working on. One of my favorite sketches is a raccoon head that I drew after a close-up encounter with one not long ago.

I wanted to capture the raccoon’s expression. I wanted to portray a tender, simple creature. But like all artwork, appreciation is subjective. To the friend I gave the card to, the drawing seemed too sweet and loving for a raccoon, and she asked if it was a pet or a dog I had once owned. When I told her it was a raccoon, she said “oooh, raccoons are nasty things aren’t they? I always thought they were mean.”

She saved all the original cards I made for her, but not this one. Profiling, based on poor information or past experience. At any rate, the drawing I viewed with affection as a beautiful work of nature was to my friend something else.

This experience brought back what I learned as a writer: “if you fall in love with one of your words or phrases, beware. If you get too attached to what you write, you may not be able to cut when necessary” that holds true for artwork as well.

I would enjoy getting your reaction to this small sketch. Does it look like a raccoon to you? Should I toss the sketch out or continue to use it from time to time?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sandhill crane in tow

Our two favorite sandhill cranes gave birth in early summer to a fluffy yellow chick (at least one survived). Several weeks later, they introduced her to the neighbor-
hood, strutting proudly across the golf course with their wobbly chick sandwiched between them.

My husband and I went outside to get a closer look, but as we drew near, the male’s wings flew up, a warning to keep our distance. BB (before birth), we had often approached the pair almost close enough for hand feeding. Now their parenting instincts kept us at bay.

The wind gusted; stirring the loose leaves in swirling eddies. The male, already on edge, flew up and away a few yards and proceeded to check out the perimeter to be sure it was safe for his mate and chick. The stragglers, indifferent to the actions of father and mate, continued their slow and steady pace across the green.

When the chick caught sight of her father, she began to run; a zigzag path that threatened to topple her. As if on cue, her wings flew out for balance, and she continued her drunken lope across the grass.

Proud regal birds are the sandhill cranes, and wonderful to paint; to capture the bright red crown, the variegated feathers, changing from gray to gold to violet in the sunlight and with the passing of years.

Painting (mixed media) oil on acrylic; status -- sold; looks wonderful matted, under glass, and framed in gold.

Live and Learn

The Brazilian-pepper tree, alias Christmas-berry tree or Florida Holly, is an attractive shrub that sprouts red berries part of the year, grows tall, and spreads wide. When I first moved to Florida, I enjoyed watching the wide variety of birds that fluttered in their branches. So when the landscape crew attacked them with machetes and axes, I was enraged. Had we come to this in our obsession for perfectly trimmed hedges and weed free lawns, I thought?

Yes, I would later acknowledge, the Brazilian-pepper bushes were beginning to take over the hedgerow, and their absence meant that I could now see the field behind where cows grazed with cattle egret; but what about the birds? Hadn’t the pepper trees been food and refuge for the brown thrashers, the cardinals, the northern bobwhites and robins, the local mocking birds?

Before I launched into assault mode, I did some reading and investigating; turns out, that attractive Brazilian pepper is considered “one of the worst exotic pest plants” in the State of Florida. Wouldn’t you know!

Brought here from Brazil in the 1800s, the plant was used as an ornamental for its beautiful red berries and shiny green leaves. Deceivingly charming, the plant is part of the poison ivy, oak and sumac family that many people are allergic to. When crushed, the leaves smell like turpentine and can irritate the skin, nose and lungs. No wonder my allergies had flared up in Florida.

Why is the plant so prolific, I wondered? Bingo: “the pepper grows well in poor soil and shade,” and spreads wildly when the conditions for growth are optimum – plenty of sunshine, plenty of rain. Birds and raccoons find the berries delicious and spread the seeds through their guano and scat.

How is that a threat to Florida?
  • The pepper tree shades out native plants

  • The pepper destroys foraging areas for herons, egrets and other water birds

  • The pepper’s roots get so thoroughly tangled up with mangrove roots that it’s impossible to uproot them

The beautiful Brazilian-pepper is on Florida’s “do not plant” list, and its “sale is against the law.” And I thought it was a harmless shrub; if looks could kill.

Today I smile as I walk past the hedgerow. Young leaves are sprouting, filling in naked branches replenished by sun and space. The peppers are sprawled out behind them; roots exposed, leaves withering, on their last gasp. A few yards south, a fence with a stand of pepper trees grows rampant; the property of another developer who will eventually face the removal of this encroaching invader.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Featured painting -- redwing blackbird

The redwing blackbird is a year-round resident of Florida and of Minnesota my second home. Its red shoulders and ebony black feathers make a striking contrast against the rolling sunflower fields of the upper Midwest where they flock in great numbers.

The male exposes red epaulets during the mating season and can become quite aggressive, even attacking passing hawks, crows or people who invade their territory.

Redwing, Minnesota’s sandstone cliffs are a favorite gathering place for many of these migrating birds, attracting hundreds of tourists each summer to this normally quiet city. In October, the changing leaves along the Mississippi river and the quaint antique shops lure additional visitors to Redwing.
In my acrylic painting, the wings and feathers of the redwing replicate the petals of the sunflowers and inspired my title: “Blending in.”

Painting is available with barnwood frame; acrylic on panel; $325 plus shipping. Contact the artist if you are interested. For purchase of giclees, cards or prints, go to the following link:

Freeloading squawkers

The strange muffled squawks caught my attention first, and I stopped to scan the woody branches of the gnarled southern oak. The source was a trio of fledgling blue jays, fluffy and fat, bouncing on a slender finger of new growth. Their croaks only a suggestion of the irritating shrieks of adulthood. Would they survive under the watchful eyes of the red shouldered hawks in the area, I wondered?

Together the daring juveniles fluttered from limb to limb, testing their wings. When they finally agreed on a perch, their beaks flew open in unison, screeching and pleading like three toddlers in tantrum. Even though they had left the nest, they continued to beg for food and expected (no, demanded) to be fed.

As if responding to my thoughts, a large blue jay perched nearby and squawked a protective warning. Would she dive bomb me to protect her young? I didn’t stay to find out. I left so that she could feed her squawking youngsters and perhaps provide some much needed discipline.

Pileated Woodpeckers

Today a pair of pileated woodpeckers landed on our cabbage palm; their arrival a breathtaking flash of blink-bright red and black.

Observing their skinny necks and hammer-shaped heads made me think of another time and place, when prehistoric birds of Jurassic Park proportions roamed the earth; ancestors perhaps?

The large 18” birds circled the tree, hammering the shaggy palm bark with heavy silver bills in search of insects and grubs. Both birds used their long black tail feathers for balance, leaning on them like old rocking chairs. Suddenly, one of the pair fluttered to the upper palm fronds exposing white underwing linings, a striking contrast against the black flight feathers.

Some day I will definitely paint the pileated woodpecker.

That's quite a mouthful

A wood stork went fishing in the pond behind my villa. She waded out only a few inches, her gangly long legs stilt-like above the surface of the water.

Thinking her fishing expedition would require time and patience, I turned away; but a flash of white from the corner of my eye brought me back to the window. Sure enough, the wood stork flew in my direction across the water, over the golf course and into my backyard.

The fish in her bill was a prize catch. A large sunfish, I decided. She held onto the squirming fish and struggled to get it down. With each swallow, her throat expanded. I wondered if she’d bitten off more than she could chew. Like a mother hen, I worried that she’d choke or worse yet, die from over consumption.

I must admit, I can relate. My own eyes are sometimes bigger than my stomach, and I often dish up much more than I can eat. Humans are not alone in this. Seagulls have been known to stuff themselves so full they must regurgitate. But when they’re done, they go back for more.

A displaced python (there are many here in Florida, brought from other countries and released as unwanted pets) tried to swallow an alligator. The Python’s eyes were bigger than her stomach; and to make matters worse, the alligator was prickly going down. The bite, the python’s last, proved fatal. The python’s lusty appetite was too much of a good thing. She literally exploded before her feast was over.

Knowing what your limits are is wise, and the adage “don’t bite off more than you can chew,” is good advice.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Robin Hood

"He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge. (Psalm 91:4)

Robin’s are not particularly fussy about where they build their nests. I’ve seen a nest cradled in a wreath on someone’s door, and a nest wedged between a light fixture and the bricks on a friend’s front porch.

My friend watched over the nest like a mother hen; protecting first the blue green eggs that appeared, and then the tiny newborns that followed. Each time he stepped out on his porch, the mother robin swooped over his head and dive bombed him to protect her nest. Little did she know that he was a staunch ally.

The robins’ precarious nest-building habits are not without risk, and many a nest topples to the ground following a strong windstorm. But when it comes to parenting, robins are seldom outmatched.

My acrylic painting “Robin Hood” was inspired by the apple blossoms in the Spring and the sighting of a robin’s nest.

Painting is available with barnwood frame; acrylic on panel; $325 plus shipping. Contact the artist if you are interested. For purchase of giclees, cards or prints, go to the following link:

Nature Unleased

I never thought I’d be grateful for vultures and buzzards, but I am; even though their menacing black descent into my back yard ignited first repulsion and then indignation.

I grabbed my broom, determined to shoo them away; but as I opened the back door, a stench of decay gave me pause. Something was dead – a rabbit perhaps, or the thick three-foot snake my husband had glazed with his driver while practicing his golf swing?

I went back inside to watch as other black marauders circled, landed, and chased off the first-comers that still ravaged through the surrounding grasses and shrubs. A small white feather sailed upward and then floated to the ground. Were they feeding on a bird, I wondered, or had they only frightened one away?

A loud squabble ensued as a Darth Vader shrouded bird chased another to the roof and was soon joined by three others, all fighting over the same scrap of flesh which hung from an interloper’s bill.

I counted 12 vultures in all: ten black ones and two turkey buzzards that later joined the ruckus. The black maelstrom lasted less than 30 minutes. Afterward, I stepped outside to view the aftermath.

I had seen the remains of a vulture party before: a squirrel neatly skinned from head to tail, the remains completely devoured except for the fur; an armadillo’s exoskeleton covered in flies; a pile of feathers, a wing, a mound of fur.

On this day, all that remained was a fragment of unrecognizable bone, and wonder-of-wonders, the nauseating smell of decay was gone. The clean-up crew had done its job.

Wouldn’t it be great to have our own personal clean-up crew to wash away bad habits, pitiful mistakes, unloving actions, unworthy thoughts and desires — the fruits of our failed humanity?

Oh, wait a minute — there is: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” John 3:16-17

The Lord takes away our sins and remembers them no more. He finds us where we are and leads us into his sheltering arms. He is a loving God; a forgiving God. He comforts us in our deepest sorrow, and rejoices when we reach up to receive his healing gift of grace and forgiveness.

“For by grace are we saved, through faith; and that not of ourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Amen and Amen

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Mocking Bird

“The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the works of his hands.” (Psalm 19)

On my daily walk, I watched a turkey vulture swoop overhead and land on a hot tile roof a few feet away. The buzzard spread its wings to soak up the sun and rest while it digested its morning meal.

A startled mocking bird stopped in mid-flutter
to bombard the huge bird, diving at it with angry squawks and stabs of its beak, despite the fact that its enemy was ten times its size. The indifferent vulture pulled in its neck, tucked its small red head between gangly wing blades, and stubbornly ignored the mocker’s tenacious thrusts.

Not to be outdone, the gutsy mocker continued to swoop and dive, until finally the exasperated vulture lifted its dark wings against the sky and flew off in search of a new perch.

I enjoy the antics of the Florida mocking bird, a slightly browner version than its northern counterpart. Its uproarious songs and saucy attitude inspired my acrylic painting: “Berry picking time.”

Painting is available with barnwood frame; acrylic on panel; $325 plus shipping. Contact the artist if you are interested. For purchase of giclees, cards or prints, go to the following link:

Nature unleashed


Armadillos are the miniature knights of the underworld. Their strange armored bodies are usually seen early in the morning or at dusk; a scurrying blur in front of headlights or as road kill the day after.

When I finally get to see one wrapped in bony layers of silver, pushing a tapered snout into the ground to sniff out ants and grubs, I stare in disbelief. Whether to laugh at such a creature, run away in fear, or praise God for small miracles are all up for grabs.

I watch in silence from only three feet away. The silvery armored tail is pointed in my direction like a sharp, menacing spear. I hear a swish and I’m off like a shot, my forgotten camera still dangling from my wrist. Who wants a painting of an armadillo anyway?

Nature unleashed


The air smelled heavy and earthy. The sun melted the last wisps of morning fog and warmed my back as I stood in the wet grass. A few yards away, a pair of male redwing blackbirds sparred in the underbrush, rising and falling like miniature conquistadors sporting shiny black satin and flashy red epaulets.

They lunged at each other, lifting exultant wings. Their talons poised and threatening. Between lusty bouts, they perched on low-lying branches until the urge returned and they faced off again with aggressive thrusts and retreating pirouettes.

From the corner of my eye, a brown streaked bird with a long broad tail flapped into view. Was this plain, undistinguishable female the reason for this extravagant display of testosterone? She hovered over them casting her spell, flapping her wings like a butterfly on steroids.

First she tried to distract them by darting from side to side. Then she swooped near, pretending to protest their dual of love. When this didn’t work, she trailed after them as they whirled from bush to bush; a visual reminder of her stake in the outcome.

I left before their contest was over. I never witnessed the losing male’s defeat nor the triumphant coming together of the welded pair. What I took away was an indelible memory that may become a painting by-and-by.