Saturday, March 30, 2013

Of Cabbages and Kings, of Toilet seats and Things

Springtime in Fort Myers -- an Art Show -- 2013 Bell Tower Shops

Florida living provides me with an endless supply of stories and artistic material for painting. Every day I see a wide variety of birds, animals, plants, and aquatic life.

Take this morning. I wasn’t expecting to see a black racer snake devour one of its own on my front porch, but I did.  And I don’t enjoy cracking the door ever so slightly when I leave the house to prevent a lizard, or whatever else is out there, the slightest chance of sneaking in; but I do.

I’m reminded that living in the tropics brings its own special joys and surprises; like the time I was caught in the buff by a thirsty green frog that was perched on my toilet seat. I don’t mind sharing, but not in this case.

I coaxed my mini-intruder into a glass jar and transported him outside, unharmed. If I can, I prefer to save life, even a frog’s. Lizards are another matter.

When I first moved to Florida, I couldn’t bear to kill anything. But after chasing several lizards through the house and having them hide under sofas and chairs, or behind the bookcase where they die a slow death, I’m willing to exterminate when necessary. At least lizards don’t stink when they decay. Like withered old soldiers, they just fade away, leaving a crusty carcass behind.

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 under wing linings, a striking contrast against the black flight feathers.

Someday I will paint the pileated woodpecker. 

 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. 
"Robin Hood" 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas

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 gangley 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.”
"Berry Picking Time" 16 x 20 acryllic on canvas

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Innocence lost -- Gone were the Good Old Days

"He Lives" 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas
I came from a small town where doors were left unlocked, people waved and chatted over fences, and children were allowed to roam the streets at will. In winter, I walked a few miles across town to ice skate, returning in the dark of night, never worrying about the shadows or the fruits of my overzealous imagination.

My innocence was shattered one evening at a movie theater. The woman who sat next to me called my attention to a stranger’s arm that dangled over the back of his seat.

 “You’d better watch him,” she said in a hateful tone. “You never know what they’ll do.” She pulled her purse close to her, keeping it a safe distance from the stranger’s limp hand.

To this day, I don’t remember the movie. I was terrified the whole time, checking the foreigner’s hand, making sure he didn’t touch me. Had he done something to the woman, I wondered?  Was she upset because he was different; an Iranian student, a foreigner to our town?

It was dark when I left the theater. I usually skipped home, knowing my mother would have supper waiting. Attending a movie, walking home alone at night had never bothered me before; but that evening, everything changed.

 I heard footsteps clicking behind me. When I turned, it was the man in the theater. Fear overtook me, the fear born of one woman’s hatred and my own insecurity. I walked as fast as I could. When I quickened my pace, he quickened his, or so it seemed.

I reached the safety of home several yards ahead of him. He took no notice, but continued his nightly walk, likely returning to his own apartment. But if he had gained on me, what then? Prejudice breeds fear.

So does the influx of strangers and the changing dynamics of a diverse and growing population. That year a baby sitter returning home from a job was murdered on her own front porch and time stopped. Our safe structured world was shattered.  People started locking doors. Parents were more cautious about letting their children go out at night. Our town changed. The whole world changed.

The culprit was a young man, a troublemaker who had recently come to live with his aunt and uncle.  Bouncing from one home to another, he finally landed in a place that offered hope and love. He hadn’t meant to killer her. He only wanted to talk to her, perhaps kiss her, but her frightened screams wouldn’t stop. He covered her mouth a little too long, and then it was too late. He fled in fear.

The town not only mourned the girl, but the sad young man who never had a chance. Foreigners, who first drew suspicion, breathed a sigh of relief and went back to minding their own business. Others covered up their misplaced blame with excuses, and life was never the same.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Vicarious Living isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Co-op Art Gallery at Coconut Point, sponsored by the Art Council of SW Florida
We live in a crazy world where you can experience many things by virtue of your computer or T.V. screen. Watching the Travel Channel is almost like being there. A virtual pet can offer hours of play time without the responsibility. Virtual life experiences can give us a taste of what it’s like to be a mother, a father, a teacher, or a movie star without having to go through the hard work that actual parenthood or stardom involves.

The problem with virtual experiences is that they are not real. Some of them are simply make-believe and don’t mirror real life at all. Real life pain hurts. Raising real kids is difficult, messy, and hard. Online romances may blossom and grow, but real love is not built on fantasy or false assumptions. Real love is built on relationship and knowing the weaknesses and faults of a person, as well as their strengths.

"Emulsions" oil/mixed media, by Barb Valentine
Real life grounds us. It reminds us of our human weaknesses and foibles. Fiction and fantasy cannot provide a strong foundation for living. We must do those things ourselves in the process of making mistakes and learning from them. Both the Batman and the Sandy Hook shooters were caught up in self-created fantasies. They had difficulty separating their virtual world from the real world. Once they began to mimic their virtual reality and live it out, they lost touch with the real world in which they lived.

"A Happy Place" acrylic by Annie St. Martin
Groupies and stalkers become obsessed with the person they idolize. They build their own reality and create scenarios with their beloved; vicariously living and breathing through the one they adore. Their hold on real life becomes warped as they live out a fantasy life in their head. This behavior seems to be on the rise as more and more young people lose their grip on reality.

"Eyeing You" Epoxy Resin by Ira Nason
A make-believe existence robs you of your life. Being real is being authentic. An authentic person knows who they are and what they believe in. An authentic individual recognizes that actions and choices have consequences:

  • If you have sex outside of marriage, you may get pregnant or worse, contract a venereal disease. Unfortunately, babies are not valued in a world where virtual reality separates us from the consequences of our actions. Using a thin veneer of denial and pretense we make choices that go against everything we have been taught or that we believe in. Becoming pregnant or giving birth to a child means you have a responsibility to give that child not only life but a better future. 

"Magnificent Tulips" oil, by Mickie Timmons

  • If you steal or take from others what is not yours, you may get caught, go to jail, or simply degenerate into a low-life when you could have taken the necessary steps to create and grow your own wealth. Your respect could have been earned rather than taken. You end up substituting a fake existence for one with substance and the foundation for happiness.

"Golden Gate" mixed media by Sylvie DeGraff
Artists create a virtual reality. Screen writers and authors couch their words in a seemingly real world, but their creations are of the mind; their pages inhabit a world of fantasy and make-believe. Unless we are grounded in reality and truth, we may live out our entire lives vicariously through others instead of forging an authentic life for ourselves.

"Ancient on the Planet" mixed media on panel by Ursula Cappelletti
The paintings in this blog were supplied by artists currently showing at the Co-op Art Gallery sponsored by the Art Council of Southwest, Florida at Coconut Point.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Do cramped closets and overstuffed drawers have you by the throat?

I didn’t realize what a pack rat I’d become until I tried to clean out my jewelry boxes and a bulging chest of drawers.

My rationale went like this: “If we move back up North, I might need these sweaters, these gloves, and this flannel nightgown.”

The jewelry was no different: “If I had this fixed, got a new clasp, a new link, I could wear this necklace again. Why, some of these pieces must be heirlooms; I could give them to my kids. The stones may be valuable? At the very least, I should have them appraised.”

And so it went. Instead of throwing things out or giving them away, I just moved them around to a different place.

"Home at Last" 16 x 20 acrylic on panel
In truth, I’ve thrown out a lot of things in the past from necessity. For one thing, I’ve moved a lot. When you move or downsize, some things have to go. I think the loss has made an impact on what I’m now willing (or unwilling) to give away.

 Everything near and dear to me seems to be gone. My children live in different States across the country. I’ve changed my life, my religion, and my hair color. Is this why I cling so tightly to what is left?

Please don’t psychoanalyze me! I do that enough myself. I’m just glad that I haven’t become a classic hoarder (yet!).

I once knew a woman who, like me, had trouble throwing away her favorite magazines. She lived in a small duplex and when you walked in the living room, every table held multiple stacks of magazines, albeit neat stacks. Each pile was face up in date order and could be found instantly. While I admired her ingenuity, I often wondered how high those magazines were allowed to get before they came tumbling down.

"Painting of my Grandmother" mixed media using "found items"
My artistic “scrounge for finds” nature encourages clinging. “What can I turn this into?” I ask as I comb through saved items in the garage. “There must be some mixed media project that would welcome this?” So like a game of shuffle board, I just move junk from place to place until I get the urge to clean and then I start the process all over again.

My mother was a neat freak; immaculate and germ conscious to the point of paranoia. She once threw away a square of butter because a fly had landed on it. I remember thinking that I would scrape away only half an inch to make myself feel better, but never the whole square.

She also loved changes and moved her furniture around at least twice a month. I hated it. When I walked in the door after school, instead of feeling at home, it took me several days to adjust. Because of this, I rarely change my furniture around. I find an arrangement that feels right and then I live with it – forever. Why change a good thing!

"The Pose" 16 x 20 Barred Owl acrylic on panel
My mother’s cupboards and drawers were neat and simple; partly because my parents had so little, and partly because she hated old things. Ironically, I developed a love for antiques and used items. I’ve always felt that old things carry the spirit and the life of those who went before.

This feeling was reinforced by an antique frame I purchased that held the photo of a woman with dark eyes. Every time I walked into the room where the picture was stored, those eyes bore down on me. There seemed to emanate a dark spirit of evil around that photograph. I couldn’t explain it, but I certainly felt it. Eventually I threw that old photo away, knowing that it was worth far more than the antique frame that held it.

See, I can throw things away on occasion.

"Playing Dress Up" 16 x 20 mixed media on canvas

Saturday, March 16, 2013

What I Learned Climbing Trees and Playing Jump Rope

"Hey, Coconut Mon" acrylic on canvas
When I was a child, I loved to climb trees. I could look down on passersby, but they couldn’t see me. It gave me a great sense of power. I felt larger than life. Today, this concept is given a grown-up term called the “big picture.” This overview or perception is essential in planning and setting goals.

Many of the things I needed to know in life, I learned as a child; take jump rope. I gained more than building coordination. I learned how to merge. Do you notice how many people simply don’t know how to do this with discretion?

There are the bullies who drive into traffic like a bat out of you-know- what, always expecting that an opening will be waiting automatically. Sometimes they make it, causing people like you and me to stomp on our brakes or swerve into dangerous congestion. Or they slam on their own brakes and wait. By the time an opening appears, their car is at a standstill.

Then there are the turtles, the terrified ones who creep up onto the ramp, afraid of whizzing cars and trucks. They don’t have enough speed to merge in, and so they wait with a trail of cars behind them. These are the people who, when they were kids, either never played jump rope, or were never good at it.

They were the ones who stood and watched the rope go around and around, and when the time was right, they stood there as immobile as slugs. If they finally found courage to jump in, they were so out of sync that they tripped on the rope – game over.

"Cattle grazing with egrets" 11 x 14 oil on archival canvas
It’s all about rhythm. There are signs that alert a jumper when the time is right: the tapping of the rope on pavement, the height of the rope when it’s time to jump in. It’s all about gut feel and the rhythms of life; moving when the time is right and taking turns.

I call it tact. Some people naturally have it. They must have been jump rope pros! They seem to know when to talk and when to keep their mouths shut.  They sense when another person is tense or angry. They are in tune with other people’s feelings and the rhythms and patterns of human speech and emotion. Unlike their opposing counterparts who blurt out insulting remarks without thinking. Tacky!

"Window on Pine Island" 16 x 20 oil on wrapped canvas
These tactless souls are the ones who swerve in and out of traffic without regard for anyone else’s safety. They are the shoppers who push past others waiting in line, crashing into them like bumper cars. They are impatient. They think having to wait is for wimps. Anger propels them. They don’t have time for games unless they can win. “What’s in it for me?” is the question that prefaces every action. They are bulldozers in human form.

You find out a lot about people by waiting in lines and driving down the highway. You find out who knows when to merge and who doesn’t. And you discover discourteous people who refuse to move left, even when they can, to allow someone else to enter the highway. I swear these people never jumped rope.

"Fish Market" acrylic on 18 x 24 canvas
If I had my way, jump rope would be a part of every Drivers Ed. Class; maybe even part of college preparatory education or on-the-job training.  Who knows, there might be fewer accidents on the road and more teamwork on the job. But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Magnificent Obsession or Compulsive Fixation -- It’s all in your Point of View

"Flash Dance" 16 x 20 mixed media on canvas

Long before I was born, Lloyd C. Douglas wrote a book called "Magnificent Obsession" that was made into several movies. The theme of the book and of the 1954 adaptation starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson was that doing good for others, especially if done in secret or without praise or recognition, could become an obsession; a magnificent obsession.

When I read “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” a book written by Irving Stone about the life of Michelangelo I thought of that movie. The book described the life of the early masters: their struggles, their weaknesses, their triumphs over hunger, temptation and difficulty and their obsession with their craft.

"With These Hands -- Wonder" oil on 18 x 24 canvas
This painting has sold more prints than any of my other paintings.
They learned how to draw the figure by studying cadavers; a gruesome exercise that proved enlightening. Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel was the triumph of his career. But his greatest personal achievement his “Magnificent Obsession” his “Agony and Ecstasy” was the Pieta, a sculpture of Mary holding the crucified Christ.

The word magnificent perfectly describes the results of his work: superb, wonderful, splendid, glorious, brilliant, marvelous, grand. He used his gifts to portray Biblical scenes and make them come alive.
"Beach Buddies" 18 x 24 mixed media on canvas
This is the next best seller in my portfolio
The word “obsession” describes Michelangelo’s passion for his work. The synonym “fixation” has both negative and positive meanings: fascination and addiction. There is a difference between obsession or passion and addiction. The synonym “compulsive” says it best: obsessive, neurotic, habitual, irrational, and uncontrollable.

If we have a passion or obsession for our work, there is joy and love that flows from our heart into our fingertips, and into our work. We are in control of what we do. Our emotions emanate through our thought processes and into the finished product.

If our behavior and our work are compulsive, obsessive and uncontrollable, our work will lack consistency and cohesiveness. It will reflect our inner state of being and appear irrational or neurotic.

"He Lives" 16 x 20 mixed media on wrapped canvas
When we harness our own passion or “magnificent obsession” our work becomes compelling, attention grabbing and interesting. Our work flows freely, our thoughts are uninhibited, and we become one with the canvas rather than dominating it, forcing it, or thrashing it to death.

When we recognize our own strength, we reach a pinnacle and there’s no turning back. Like climbing a mountain, we rise to new levels. We reach the heights of all that we are. When the project, the book or the canvas is finished, we are sad.

The journey begins again when we start afresh, not because we have to or because we can’t stop, but because our life is fulfilled when we practice our craft, touch brush to canvas and share our joy with the world.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Healing the World through Natural Remedies and Cooperation

"Cafe Costa Rica" 20 x 20 acrylic on canvas
I’m having a cup of chamomile tea while I work. It’s supposed to be good for your immune system. I’m staying away from caffeine as I’m having digestive problems. I added a sprinkle of ginger to cut the sweetness of the flowery tea. Ginger is another digestive wonder. How do I know? I studied herbs and medicinal flowers using my favorite Public Library.

Before manufacturers got in the business of making drugs, people always used natural remedies in healing. I’ve used some of them myself: garlic for earaches and croup, dill seed tea for diarrhea and stomach ache, etc. Depending on how costly medicines and care becomes in the future, we may all need to learn about the natural healing properties of plants and seeds.

"Work-in-Progress" of Cafe Costa Rica
In the sixties, people were flocking to communes to share in "the love" and in the expenses like housing and food. Some of these groups were successful, and some of them ended up in bickering and violence.

Some people were attracted to the communes for a “free ride.” When they discovered they had to pull their fair share, bitter complaints and disagreements boiled to the surface.

Some of these “swarms” were brought together under the guise of religion, but instead of being anchored in truth, they were nothing more than mind control cults that preyed on the gullible.

I read about some of the early communes. I myself had longed to go to Alaska, the last frontier. Some of my favorite books tracked the early exploration and settlement of this spectacular land. The early settlers learned much from their Eskimo and Native American counterparts who shared their methods of gathering and storing food.

Additional knowledge was learned through experience and through bouts of hunger and starvation. Communes learned quickly that If you didn’t catch it, kill it or store it – you didn’t eat. People worked together building cabins, and bartering for food and game. 

An Indian mother showed a new resident how to put moss on her baby’s bottom to soak up the urine. Moss’s softness and drawing properties kept the infant’s skin smooth and free from chafing and rash.

Foods that the newcomers had never eaten were cultivated and harvested under the guidance of the natives. Using Alaska’s almost limitless supply of plant foods, fish and game made survivors out of them. A tough, hardy people, they faced unknown terror and starvation in order to carve out a new life in this wild frontier.

(Inspiration for the following painting: "Americana")
Could you survive if all the grocery stores were suddenly empty? What would happen if supplies were interrupted by terrorists or traitors? Would you know how to forage for food; what to eat and what not to eat in the wilds of your own back yard? If money was scarce and food lines were long, would you know how to plant a garden and feed your family or yourself?

Thanks to my parents and grandparents, I learned how to sow and to reap. Following in my mother’s footsteps, I canned tomatoes, green beans, applesauce, peaches and pears. When the produce was available, we pickled beets and cucumbers; cherries, apricots and raspberries. We made jams and jellies to spread on our homemade bread through the winter.

"Americana" mixed media on canvas
My father, a fly fisherman, caught fresh trout: rainbow and German brown that my mother froze for the winter months. We always had food on our table even when times were lean. 

If you are incapable of living in a world without electricity or technology, talk to someone who is. Prepare yourself, if necessary, for an uncertain future.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

From Tentative to Bold – Going Pro

"Sandhill Cranes at Twilight" 24 x 30 acrylic on canvas, in gold frame with black liner
It happens gradually that transition between learning a skill and mastering it. One day you realize you’ve mastered a color mixture or a technique. You’re painting a face or a landscape with confidence and with fewer brush strokes. You’ve gone pro.

It happened to me while painting a leaf. In the beginning I’d try to mimic what I saw unsuccessfully. There was usually too much paint on my brush and only a gut feeling of what to do. My mind didn’t seem to be engaged. That may be a good thing once you’ve mastered a skill or technique, but in the beginning concentration and execution take thought. As the T.V. artist, Jenkins’ said to his students: “Don’t rush the brush.”

"Maestro" Work-in-Progress 9 x 12 pastel on Bristol
Now I find myself painting intuitively and skillfully. Instead of adding veins on the leaves as an afterthought, I leave lighter line areas untouched, forcing the creation of realistic veins without having to paint them. This was an eye opener. I could do this with other things: the smile lines on a child’s face, creases in an older man’s forehead. Instead of painting hard lines which often age a younger face, I could place shadow next to the highlight for a softer looking crease.

These simple revelations come to all of us as we practice our trade. The more you do something, more ways open up to do the same thing in a more efficient and realistic way. I found myself telling a few other artists how to paint portraits. I remember thinking: “wow, so now you’re the expert?”

"Maestro" 9 x 12 Pastel on Bristol
We all have self doubts. But once we cross that threshold of confidence and skill, there’s no going back. The next step is to start acting and thinking like a professional. In the beginning we worry about pricing. We see every mistake we ever made on a canvas, and wonder who would buy it? We price our efforts low and even feel somewhat guilty in trying to sell our wares.

Oh, go on – I know you've felt this way, too. After a few sales and some commissioned work, we begin to see our own work the way others see it. We value our skill and our talents. I use a simple rule of thumb. Width times length equals value; i.e. 16 x 20 = $320 add price of frame, etc. A good asking price is $350.

"Brown Thrasher" 16 x  20 acrylic on canvas
As your skills increase and your name becomes known, the prices go up. Always factor in the cost of the frame and the percentage a show or gallery charges for showing your work (30-40%) and price accordingly.

Once you cross over from beginner to Professional, don’t let anything hold you back.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Open the Window of Your Soul – Read a Good Book!

"An Open Book" 16 x 20 mixed media canvas SOLD

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. I’m especially fond of non-fiction books and historical fiction. But when I’m tired, overworked, and my creative juices feel the need of refreshment, I turn to fiction.

I missed “Hunger Games” on the movie screen. I wasn’t too fond of youth pitted against each other for survival and killing their peers to stay alive. I thought it might be another horror film for teenagers.

With my handy dandy Kindle, I downloaded the first book. I must admit it was a wild ride. The book is well written and I could hardly put it down; definitely not conducive to painting my daily quota. I recently downloaded book II, “Catching Fire” and book III, Mockingjay.

At the same time, I was reading a book by Octavia E. Butler called “Parable of the Sower.” All of these books are considered Science Fiction, but they mirror the degeneration of society and what happens when government becomes tyrannical and parcels out freedom and money in order to punish and control the populace. The parallels at what’s happening in Europe, i.e. Spain, Greece, Egypt, Syria, Sudan and Somalia, etc. are frightening. This could happen in our own Country if the foundation, the structure of the Constitution and the government are destroyed from within.

 I normally have two or three books going at a time. When I had my three-level townhouse, I had a book on every floor. I’d pick up whichever book was there and continue where I’d left off. On one floor, I even had some Opera CDs I’d checked out of the library. I would read the English script while I listened to the music. I not only learned a lot about opera, I loved the ribald humor, the comedy, and the innuendo.

In addition to taking art classes, I studied art at home in much the same way. If you were to tell me you either didn’t have time, money, or the support to get an education or to learn a skill, I’d ask you if you ever visited your Public Library?

Instead of whimpering about missing out on life, or being denied an opportunity to get ahead, look within. You can climb as far and as high as you are willing and your brain is able to take you. It’s all about determination, persistence, and desire. If your desires are in the wrong place, turn your life around. Get help! You can do it. Believe in yourself. Believe in the God who lives within you.

Books have the power to change lives. Read your way to success. The illustrations in this blog were used in the book: “Inez Ibis Flies again; the Story of a Courageous Ibis who never gave up.” See miniature book link on this page.