Friday, December 30, 2011

Human nature or stupidity?

The new year is a good time to re-evaluate who we are and where we're going, but sometimes the process elicits more questions than answers.

For instance, why do we worry about the environment:  is it getting warmer, is it too cold, are the polar bears starving, are the oceans rising, is the air clean enough? And then we use our bodies as a garbage dump for every toxic element we can shove down our collective throats (or veins) in the name of fun, stress, popularity, intoxication or thrill seeking without regard to how it poisons and pollutes our internal environment.

Why do we blame society, the government, or the world when politicians (or sports idols) are caught cheating and crime gets a little too close to home? Don't we sometimes lie just a little, or speed when we think we can, or take a few pencils and papers home from the office, or delve into taboo behavior when no one is looking?

Why do we keep insisting that a little infidelity, a little pornography, a few indiscretions can't hurt, and then we're surprised when a friend or a neighbor suddenly goes berserk and shoots someone, hurts someone, or rapes someone? Remember the adage "what goes in, must go out?" What we put into our bodies or our minds will, whether we like it or not, affect a result.

Like a woodpecker pounding away at a tree, if we do it long enough, often enough, and hard enough eventually we'll get a hole. Bad habits and wrong actions have that same effect. They keep on chipping away at us, weakening our resolve and our willpower until we lose all sense of who we are or what is happening to us.

It isn't the environment, or "global warming," or "climate change" that needs our attention. It's the "heart of darkness" that lurks within each of us. Input equals output. In the coming year, let's use balance, moderation, and common sense to change the world, the environment, the government, and our own health and well being.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Holiday Aftermath -- a Kick in the Teeth

It’s a “down” time of year: that ebb between the hoopla of celebration and the impetus of New Year’s madness. We pause. We evaluate what has been and what will be. It is a somber time. Some people get depressed after the letdown of holiday’s end.

Stress has been building; expectations have not always been met, and we slide into that slump known as “Twixtmas.” Maybe we return gifts to recoup our losses. Perhaps we spend a little more to lift our spirits and take advantage of even lower prices only to regret it later.

But when all is said and done, we’re a little wiser, a little closer to the true meaning of Christmas. We’ve put up with crazy relatives and learned a thing or two about tolerance, forgiveness and understanding. Besides, buying something for someone else has enlarged our spirit and given meaning to our own self-centered lives.

But for some, tragedy strikes in the context of life and death. The turmoil of every day living takes its toll. Accidents happen. New babies are born as others are taken in the midst of our singing and merriment.

Such a tragedy struck my dear online friend; a Pastor whose beloved wife was taken from him as he held her in his arms on Christmas Eve. His faith is strong. He will prevail because life goes on.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35-39 KJV)

My own sadness pales in comparison. I’m sad the festivities are over, and that I’ll have to take down the holiday decorations. The ornaments will be boxed and put away, the house and my life will get back to normal, and all will be well again.

With the dawning of a new year on the horizon, we can only hope and pray that, indeed, there will be peace on earth. But as the song reminds us: “peace begins with me.” God Bless you, my friends, and may the new year bring you joy and happiness.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hallowed Traditions Spark Togetherness

Christmas Eve was a special time for my family. Coming from a Scandinavian heritage, it was a time to open presents, visit with Santa Clause (a kind neighbor down the street), and afterward enjoy a scrumptious dinner of turkey, ham, and all of the trimmings.

New Pastel -- "Maestro"

Since my husband’s family celebrated on Christmas day, this worked out well for us. We had a large dinner Christmas Eve and another one on Christmas day. The in-laws were not offended, and we could spend time with both families.

After our dinner and the opening of “one present” each, we put on our bathrobes and wound towels on our heads for turbans. Everyone in the family had a part. The youngest always played the baby Jesus. We read the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus and acted out each scene.

An Open Book

The children enjoyed saying their parts and dressing up in costume. It became a tradition. As they grew into awkward and silly teenagers, our tradition soon changed to a simple reading of the scripture, but the message and the feelings remained the same: the hallowed birth of God’s son.

Playing Dress-Up

Family traditions help shape and strengthen the bonds of love. Without them, families hurriedly go their own way secluding themselves in their own rooms with their ipads and phones connecting to the outside world instead of with each other.

A new kind of loneliness is eroding families; an isolation that happens even in the midst of holiday chaos and fun. A feeling of being separate and apart. Reach out this Christmas and tell those close to you how much they mean to you, even if they don’t. Take someone’s hand or place a hand on a shoulder and say: “I love you.”

Dainty Diva

God is love. What better way to celebrate his birth than offering our love to others.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A walk through Bethlehem

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 in a group will react.

A beggar with a hunched back stands outside Bethlehem's walls. He asks for mercy and pleads for shekels. One 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. When the child approached the stable, he 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 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.

One 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!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Eyes I Hide Behind

We never see ourselves as others see us. I recall when I was 12 years old picking beans with a group of kids for a local farmer. During our lunch break, a teenage boy looked over at me and said: “You have beautiful eyes.”

I ducked in embarrassment. I was wearing eye glasses for the first time. I felt self conscious and ugly. How could he see my eyes behind these glasses, I wondered? The adage “boys seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” rang in my ears.

Work in Progress -- "Maestro" (pastel)

I’ve long since outgrown any qualms over wearing glasses, and I’ve reached the stage where I’m not too concerned with what other people think. I like being myself. I enjoy my own company. I’ve learned you can’t please everybody. In spite of that, I still feel insecure when I’m working on a painting and another artist looks over my shoulder and questions not only my motives, but my vision.

Working on a concept painting -- May change.
Painters blue tape area to keep canvas clean in that spot.

After having to explain myself and getting negative feedback in return, I stress out for days. My creativity flies right out the door! All of a sudden the idea that excited me seems to fragment and disappear in the fringes of my brain. I feel inadequate and inept. Later these feelings are replaced by anger; not necessarily at my peers, but at myself for being so insecure that I allow their opinions to effect me in a negative way.

We all go through this. An artist friend expounded that she wanted to become another Georgia O’Keefe. Unthinkingly, I blurted out: “You’re not that great!” A thoughtless, tactless statement meant as a joke that ended up hurting her. This negative remark had sunk into her psych and continued to dig at her insecurities for weeks until she talked to me about it.

(I'm dieing to paint these red pears!)

I was stunned. The remark, or at least its intent, was not meant to hurt. “What a rotten thing to say,” I said to her. “That’s what I thought,” she admitted. We cleared the air. Artists are such vulnerable people, me included. We flinch at a glance or a twitch of a nose. We boil and bubble in our own sensitive juices. Perhaps that’s what makes us artists in the first place. We are sensitive creatures who not only observe the details in nature, we empathize and scrutinize the depths and the complexities of meaning. We feel, we watch, we execute form, shape, and line to capture what our intuition tell us.

(Another photo waiting to be painted! Permission granted!)

Many people in our world walk around wearing a mask. They hide themselves from the rest of the world while we (artists) wear our hearts on our sleeves. We hang our emotions, our pride, our anger on canvas and hope other people will like us and our view of the world. When they don’t, we retreat, we sulk, we nurse our wounds until the muse pulls us from our reverie.

These are the eyes I see the world through. I’d love to hear your views and share your dreams.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Global Adventure of the Palate

In a follow up to my Drawing blog, I left out a very important statement made by a fellow artist at Fine Art America named Janie (I don’t have her last name). Janie said, “Whenever you paint or draw, be sure to check the negative space. Don't concentrate on the positive until the proportions are correct.” This is a vital element, especially for portraits. 

Serena Shines -- pastel drawing

After my last blog, I took a couple days off to visit friends in Orlando. We had a great time “catching up.” The next day we went to Epcot Center at Disney. I’m sharing a few photos with you.

When we arrived, we took a Ferry over to the Moroccon pavilion. My friend is Lebanese, and she was hungry for Middle Eastern food. We ate lentils, pilaf, tabbouleh, and pita bread with vegetables and meat. She said it reminded her of her childhood. In the mini-museum, we saw a statue of a man dressed in typical apparel. She remarked that he reminded her of her father; a handsome man with a kind heart who owned and managed a restaurant.

Afterward, we went into the courtyard and watched a belly dancer perform as the musicians played. The music was lively and seductive. My friend, a former belly dancer in her younger days, couldn’t keep still. She started to bounce and gyrate causing one of the hostesses to join in. Soon they were dancing and laughing in time with the instruments.

As we toured the other International exhibits, I couldn’t help noticing that everywhere we went the violin played a large part in the music played. The orchestra/band instruments were essentially the same, but the sounds coming out of them were distinct and unique to each country.

Japanese Pavillion

Many foods were also basically the same, but their spicing and preparation were unique. For example, the crepe is made of flour in European countries, and is used as a desert or as a wrap for meat and vegetables. In middle eastern countries, the flour is more coarse, but it is still used in much the same way. The pita is heavier and is formed into a pocket, but is essentially made out of flour.

Italian Pavilion

In Spanish or Hispanic speaking cultures, the crepe is made out of corn meal, and called a tortilla; also used to wrap meat and vegetables. In Norway, the crepe (or pancake) is called "Lefse" and made from a potatoe flour, in Italy the pizza serves the same purpose. The sauces and spices used in each country make all the difference. The human “link” is ironic in the way that each country prepares food using the ingredients they have on hand.

Norwegian Pavillion

I’ve noticed that a recent trend in art is the representation of foods from specific areas. Focusing on the color and types of foods that are unique to a culture or people gives art a new twist on still life and conceptual paintings. The redness of a lobster against blue water or china; a checkered or flowered cloth that ties the various foods together; the lip-smacking red of strawberries and the blue of blueberries against white china; a cupcake decorated to the hilt in swirling curls of colorful frosting and candy.

Our daily bread and table connects us across the globe as the family of God. Bon appetite׳!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Take Advantage of Free Courses and Demonstrations

NorthLight Books recently offered a free drawing demo online to promote the artist Sandra Angelo and an upcoming course on the basics of drawing. I decided to link in and see what she had to say.

Viewers were allowed to type in questions and the artist would respond. Here are the highlights:

  • Do you use your fingers or a “stump” to shade your drawing?
    • “No. You can’t get subtle changes in value. It’s okay when you’re working with pastels or charcoal, but not with pencils.”
    • “It is better to use the range of pencils available to you in a set. Don’t stick with a 2B; add other pencil grades when you need something darker. Make gradual changes in the shading using a different pencil.”
    • “If you want subtle changes, use a softer touch. If you want an “impressionistic” style, let the lines show through.

Sandra uses the “grid” method for enlarging photos for a drawing. “If you have a lot of detail,” she said, “use a smaller grid.”

Her favorite paper? White. She likes to utilize the paper underneath for the highlights.

Does she like “tooth?” She prefers smooth paper for her drawings. That doesn’t mean that you must use it; but for her delicate shading, smooth paper works best.

Does she use fixative on her drawings? Only when she’s sure the drawing is complete. Once fixative is put on, you can’t erase or make changes.
She discussed storing your drawings in an archival sleeve. She adheres archival foam core to the back and a mat on the front. The mat serves to keep the paper away from the glass once it is framed. The glass should shield out UV rays which fade the drawing.

Brown archival paper is placed on the back of the drawing over the frame to keep out moisture. The greatest enemies to paper is light, moisture, and insects.

Was the class helpful? Absolutely. How many times do we forget what we have learned and need an occasional reminder. How often do we miss something in class that may be critical to our success? I draw mainly to create a map for my paintings, but even this requires accuracy, perspective, and composition skills.

I urge everyone who wants to improve their lives and their professional careers to engage in “continuing education.” If the costs are a deterrent, do as I did and take advantage of the freebies that are out there. More of Carol's drawings are @

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More Studies, Sketches and Doodles

I still haven’t found the face I’m looking for; but in the meantime, I’m getting lots of practice.

I remember many years ago, when I was taking classes at the community college where I lived, one of the artists asked me to go out sketching plien air with her. So that Saturday, we met at a local park, sat our butts down on the grass, and began to draw.

Our subject was a large oak tree with sprawling branches. In class we were drawing a nude model using ink, and a brush; I seemed to excel at this, and won first prize for my ink linear drawing. But trees? Not so much!

I looked at her beautiful detailed drawing and wondered why on earth I ever thought I could draw. Her style was remarkable; her vision accurate and sure. My eyes had not yet been opened to detail of this kind. I was ashamed of my efforts next to hers.

What is the point I’m trying to make? Learning to draw, to see, is a gradual process. There is a learning curve that takes years to master; practice, practice, practice!

Although some people have innate abilities, most of us have to learn these skills. Before I took my first oil painting class, I had no idea if I had any talent at all, or if I could even do it. I am ever grateful that I took that first class or I may never have discovered I could become an artist. When people tell me they can’t paint or draw, I tell them “How do you know? Have you ever tried?”

Trial and error is what it’s all about. If you discover that you have a love for the process and the miracle of the outcome, you’re an artist. If you keep trying and refuse to give up because of the drive and hunger in your soul, you’re an artist. If there’s nothing you’d rather do than sketch and doodle, you’re an artist. If you adore the process of slapping paint on canvas and are hypnotized by color, you’re an artist.

The best decision I ever made was to get back to canvas and brush. It allows me to speak through color and form the things that are in my heart, but are difficult to put into words. I am a writer and have been doing that since I was a child. I struggled to pare my words down and to find just the right words to say what was in my mind and heart.

3rd Place Winner in "Protest" Contest = "Broken"

Art is much the same way, but it is a visual medium. Instead of describing what you see and feel, you illustrate it. It is as intuitive and magical as the process of writing. One feeds the spirit through words, the other through color, shape and form. Both important arts that enrich the soul of mankind.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Community Interaction: New Patrons, New Students

Part Two of our community outreach program at the Lee County Regional Library was a big hit! People came in to see our artwork, listen to the live music, to chat, and to partake of simple refreshments.

We had reserved the conference room and Graciela and Glen Price had a screen presentation to recap other art shows we had participated in plus the artwork mounted throughout the library. In addition, we were able to bring at least six more paintings to display in the showroom to be included in the juried competition.

Many high school students were interested in pursuing their art dreams and were excited to learn about the location and opportunity offered by the PanAmerican Alliance. The most popular offering Saturday was a free profile drawing by one of our portrait artists. Both children and adults were eager to see how they looked on paper.

The climax of the show was the announcement of the juried competition, and a critique and commentary by our Judge, Evelyn Swanson. She spoke about the close runners up and the honorable mention categories before honoring the finalists. She reminded us of the importance of light and shadow; recognizing where the light source comes from in a painting and emphasizing contrast to increase the power of light.

She complimented us on the number of conceptual paintings in our show. She remarked that they showed a nice color balance. All paintings, she emphasized, should have an attention grabbing quality. They should reach out to us and grab our attention so that we want to explore and enjoy the painting.

Shadows create depth and contrast, she said, but they don’t have to be all one color. It is better to vary them and have different shades and tones to enhance the other colors in the painting.

Here are the winners:

Parker Harlowe won 1st Place for his conceptual painting of the varied flora and fauna in Florida.

Diane Carmen won 2nd Place for her unusual beach scene of trees, shadow and light. “Excellent contrasts” liked by the Judge. Diane also brought and played her keyboard.

Carol Allen Anfinsen (that’s me!) won 3rd Place for her painting titled: “With These Hands—Love.”

In the end we were all winners. Everyone had a good time and many new friends were made. One young girl asked for Annie St. Martin’s autograph. “I’ve never met a real artist,” she said. That statement alone made our day!