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.