Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I wish my dear readers a blessed Christmas. I am taking a little break from blogging, but will post again on New Year's Day.

I found the image on

And here is the King's College Choir singing my favorite carol.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New, almost ready coloring page

I think I will draw her again onto different paper with colored pencils, in the style of my gardening angels. I hope to get the coloring pages up for free downloads oh so soon.

The red wire basket in the upper left of the photo is an egg basket with today's gathering of eggs. It happened to be on the table where my son left it after going to the coop a few minutes ago. I thought it went nicely with the my old Walker's Shortbread tin pencil box.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

He wishes for the cloths of heaven

Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet;
But I being poor have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
 (by  W.B. Yeats, 1865-1939)

The painting is by Hungarian artist Ladislav Mednyanszky (1852-1919) and can be found at the Slovak National Gallery.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Encouraging creativity in my children

I am not an expert on creativity in children. I have not done a study. I have not read extensively on this topic.  My children are not creative, competent adults, proof that my methods were sound. I do not think I have all the answers for you and your children because you are not me and your children are not my children. But I can tell you some things I do that seem to help my kids and might help you encourage the young people in your life.

Perhaps most importantly I am creative in their presence. Sometimes this feels like a sacrifice. Sometimes I would rather be creative in solitude and silence (which does happen early in the morning before they get up). Sometimes I wish the little ones would not want to paint, model clay, cut snowflakes, embroider, string beads, or glue popsicle sticks nearby while I do my thing.  They make a mess and interrupt my flow with questions and chatter, though I don't allow big noise or horseplay in our creative space. But the sacrifice is worth it, and it is the life I have chosen. I may make a little less art because of it, but they make much more art, and all their lives I hope they will know that art is good work for grownups to do and associate it with loving companionship.

My older two are actually great company and are more independent in their ongoing projects. As a mom with lots of opinions it would be easy for me to interrupt them with advice, but I have learned to restrain myself.  Ill-timed advice breaks their stride, disrupts their flight pattern and leads to discouragement. If they are left in peace, I find they naturally improve and solve their problems without my input. If they request advice, I speak carefully, trying not to burden them with a right way to do something if there are lots of right ways. If they don't request advice and I think they need it, I try to give it strategically in simple, digestible bits to think about after they have set their project aside.

I take their creative ideas and work seriously, so they do too. I don't think of it as trivial child's play, so neither do they. Their ambitions to write books and make movies are interlocked in my mind and theirs with the writing, drawing, dreaming, brainstorming and organizing of theatrical moments they do every day.  Lucy was taught by my husband to keep a seed book, a note book where she jots down the plot and character ideas that seem always to be coming to her. I try to make sure she has long spaces of quiet to develop some of these ideas into stories. Even as I write my older two are hashing out the plot of a screenplay. I just overheard Lucy tell her brother that they can't do effects because they "don't have the budget for it." I am smiling.

When the weather is warm, they spend a lot of time outside and have always made art objects out of sticks, rocks, leaves, dirt, clay and blackened sticks from the fire-pit. I don't object to the dirt.

We read and listen to great books together, and the plots and characters are integrated into their play. Years ago I overheard a game they were playing that included both Sherlock Holmes and the terrifying Injun Joe from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer.  I laughed inside but was pleased.

But sometimes their creative light gets dim. When this happens and they tell me they are bored, I usually realize it is because I have been lax in delegating household duties. Chores are great for making kids think of  wonderful creative things they wish they were doing. And too much mess in their own creative spaces smothers their imaginations, though they don't realize it's the mess getting them down, and they don't seem to remember that a clean desk can be a well of creative energy.

The other big suppressor of creativity in our household is the fatigue, grumpiness, and foggy brain that comes from food sensitivities. Whiny complaints about being bored or work being too hard accompanied by flushed cheeks or pallor and black circles under the eyes tell me that once again I need to adjust our eating. Which makes me want to whine, but I do what I have to do. It also makes me wonder how -many difficulties that people have with their children could be improved by different food.

On a different note, an idea I had in yesterday morning's creative time was to make coloring pages that could be downloaded free from this site. I made two yesterday and want to make a few more every week. I will put them up as soon as I figure out how to do it, although my inner perfectionist is muttering that these are not good enough to share (I think that's her looking grimly from behind my pretty tray). I have written two stories with my little angel characters, and I want to illustrate and try to publish them someday. Doing some black and white drawings to share seems like a good way to work on ideas while introducing the characters. (And no, I don't think coloring books hurt kids' creativity. I think they are a fun way to play with color!)

Sunday, December 7, 2014


In college  I interrupted my English major lifestyle of reading lots of unassigned books and putting off writing papers to take a life-drawing class that still informs how I make art. The professor praised my work and encouraged me to become a professional fine artist. "There is a place for you," he said, which were encouraging words, words I bring to mind sometimes when I feel insecure about making art. But I had lately discovered beautiful children's book illustrations and I thought that what I really wanted was to write and illustrate children's books. I loved (love) books, which was why I was an English major, but I didn't love them only as repositories of ideas. I loved the smooth, almost velvety texture of good paper fanning out from strong binding. I loved looking at pictures that illuminated words, and I liked enjoying art sitting in a comfortable chair. I showed my professor an out-of-class sketchbook with some fantasy illustration ideas I thought were pretty good and said I was interested in becoming an illustrator.

I still remember his condescending smile. The drawings were no doubt fussy and immature, different from what was developing in his helpful class, but mostly he didn't think my subject matter was worthy of  art. He didn't respect illustration as a profession. In so many words he asked me if I wouldn't rather be a real artist. "Not really," I thought. I felt embarrassed and emptied as I left his office. There were no illustration classes at my college anyway.

Too bad, huh? Though even if he had respected illustration as a legitimate way for artists to spend their time and had said something constructive, I might not have been able to go anywhere with it at that point because although I respected illustration as worthy of artists, I couldn't respect myself as an artist for a very long stretch of time. I got help with that later, and now I am well established on an exciting journey that makes me feel young and ambitious.  Maybe that's something people my age don't always get to feel.

Here's a smudgy, charcoal self-portrait from my college days. I was wearing glasses which had fallen halfway down my nose, but they seem to have worn almost completely away.

Soon after I graduated, one Halloween our pastor asked everyone who wanted to make a picture of a saint for All Saints Day (the day that Halloween, All Hallows Eve, is the eve of). I did this St. Francis painting super fast, for me. I should have done something like that every day!

I think I did this iris around the same time. I bought it at a florist shop--which is how it can have a forsythia blossom in the same composition. For some reason I cut this bit out of the larger composition. I was probably having trouble getting the yellow right in the forsythias. The water damage is interesting, I think

Angels in one form or another have fascinated me for a long time, This week's Illustration Friday prompt is "light" so I think I'll post this over there.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Even the sparrow: a beginning

"Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, a place near your altar, O Lord of hosts...." 

For a long while I've wanted to do a drawing of a sparrow and her nest with words from Psalm 84 hand lettered in the picture somehow. Today I sketched a little pile of ideas. This has the prettiest bird though maybe not the best idea.

And then we zoom out for a glimpse of the creative chaos (and, whoops, my unswept kitchen floor). When I am done in a few minutes I will clean it all up as the Flylady tells me to do, but for now this artist does not clean as she goes!

I have big questions about the composition. I want to suggest sacred space, hallowed ground, without putting in anything churchy. but a minute ago I started feeling impatient and thought "Oh, I'll just pick one of these compositions and go with it." Then I remembered a lecture on creativity by John Cleese. He said that one characteristic of creative people is a willingness to leave creative decisions unmade when there is time for it and they think they can come up with a better answer. This is not about perfectionist dithering, or fussing and fuming and erasing and redrawing something that should be left alone, but permission to let an idea germinate and branch out and go places. My plan is to do more loose sketches at night and see if my sleep brain comes up with something to discover in the morning.

This is not the lecture I remember, which was much longer and, from what I read in the comments, is now available for the paltry sum of $750. So we'll just glean what we can from this. It still has good stuff. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How many angels

In a college creative writing class a fellow student wrote a funny, rather brilliant poem (I thought) about looking through a microscope at the head of a pin, seeing the punch bowl, the chips, the scuff marks on the floor, but noting that "the angels were gone." He was thinking of that old story about the Byzantine church leaders cloistered away, wondering how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, while Mohammed's armies surrounded Constantinople. That story is, of course, completely made up. If you want to read about the real origin of this question, go to

But as I was mulling over what or if I would post on Illustration Friday for this week's prompt of "wobble," I remembered my acquaintance's delightful little poem, and decided to do a quick drawing of one of my angel characters trying to dance on the head of a pin. Here she is.

If you want to see more of these angels, go here in my blog.. There are angel posts before and after the one I linked to, making twelve in all. This one is my favorite.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sketching my kids

I know I need to sketch like a musician needs to play scales, so last night while the kids were sitting still-ish watching the Dick Van Dyke Show (very silly) on Youtube, I attempted some quick drawings in charcoal. 

I chose charcoal because I didn't want to erase or get otherwise persnickety, but I still did, in some of them. I believe firmly from experience that sketching things quickly again and again is a better way to improve my drawing than trying to get one drawing right, but the drive to labor over one image is powerful because it's rooted in fear. "Oh no, it doesn't look like her," I think. "I need to fix it to prove I'm really an artist." Then I get all tense and draw worse than ever.

I feel a little scared sharing these. You might figure out that I'm not a real artist. But I am sharing them, and I intend to sketch more and worse, like a real artist, so I can get better at it. Anyone want to join me?

(I only have four kids, though this looks like I have a dozen. And that's a lamp under the head at the top of the photograph. It's not supposed to look connected to anything. I just sketched a lamp close to where I sketched a head.)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent roses

Today is the first day of Advent, a four week season of waiting and preparation, a season for hoping and for growing in the virtue of hope. We remember Mary waiting for the birth of her Son and we wait for the return of her Son to judge and heal this wounded world. The usual Advent color is purple, but blue has also been used in the historical church, because of its association with Mary and with hopeful expectation.

Last year my husband and a friend made a plain blue advent stole for the priest of our little country church (not the church I attended until recently and describe here). A stole is like a beautiful scarf that hangs in two long panels down the front of the priest's robe. I have been wanting to beautify this stole since it was made, to tell a story on it.

So last week I began an embroidery project. I used gold thread to outline a budding rose stem on the bottom of both sides of the stole, which you see partly done in the photo. Each week of Advent a new rose will grow higher on the stole, each one opening wider than the one below it, until a fifth and final rose, a Christmas rose, fully opens. I'll show you again at Christmas when it is all done. This year it will be a simple design, just an outline of gold. Next year I will fill in details week by week.

I suppose I got the idea from the German Christmas carol, "Lo, how a rose e'er blooming." (Go here to listen to a performance by John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers or here for Sufjan Stevens.)

As I have been mulling over the design, thinking on roses and their perfume, on living petals fresh and cool like a baby's cheek and leathery dried petals dark red in bowls, scented with a sleepy, nostalgic, indoor sweetness, lines by T.S. Eliot have been rattling around my head:

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed 
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and lifegiving
Worried reposeful
The single rose
Is now the garden...

(from Ash Wednesday)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tree of life drawing

I finished my little tree of life drawing. I'm not sure how I feel about all the black. Next time I want to try something with deep indigo blue. 

Below are some pictures that I used for inspiration and reference. I hesitated posting them just now because they are amazing and I feared my work might suffer by contrast, but I really wanted to share them too, so I decided to just get over myself.

The tree design below is by English Arts and Crafts designer C.F.A. Voysey. I found it at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The next is by Maud and Miska Petersham, illustrators from the last century whom I really, really love. I wish I knew what book it's from. I found the image on The Lop Shop, which is devoted to all things lop-eared bunny (yes, its true).

This bracelet is by Art Nouveau designer Henry Vever, and can be seen on World's Luxury Guide

The Illustration Friday prompt this week was "slow."  I thought I had at least a little justification for posting this picture there. For one thing, it has a turtle in it. I also though it could be a symbol of the slowly maturing fruitfulness that can happen when we mindfully slow down. Not that I thought about that while I was doing it or feel like that is its essential meaning.

Happy Thanksgiving

This exquisitely decorated painting of a turkey was made in the early 1600s by court artist Ustad Mansur for the Mughal emperor Jahangir. Jahangir had commissioned Mansur to paint all kinds of exotic plants and animals being discovered by Europeans at that time. 

The Mughal empire covered most of modern day India and Pakistan.

I discovered this painting browsing the watercolor collections of  the Victoria and Albert Museum. I would so love to go there for real someday.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A rainy day

It's not too cold and a steady rain is falling. I love rain. I love the sound and the faint, sweet smell of it. It gives me a sense of release, of relaxation and relief, as I feel the pleasure of the ground taking in the wet. I began to love rain during a drought the year I graduated from high school. It hurt to see all the green turn dry and tan. Tree leaves withered and fell before their time. After that, every good rainfall has given me relief that there will be no drought. Even when more rain falls than we need, more than the earth can hold, I secretly enjoy it, partly because I like the sensations of it, and partly because of a hoarding instinct, a feeling that we might need it later and it's good to bring that water table up.

One of my favorite children's books is a wordless book by Peter Spier called Rain. It's a story in many pictures of two children (they look like me and my brother when we were kids) on a rainy day. Of course you can get it on Amazon, though maybe you could also find it at an independent bookstore near you. I'm waiting for it to turn up at a thrift store, because I don't know what happened to my copy.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Coming along with a little tree of life

Every time I look at the ribbon on my banner, I want to make something else with a dark background, so now I am having obsessive fun with this little tree of life drawing. The black has no intentional symbolism. I just love the way color shows up against it.

I am also loving this hare.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"...and all the flowers looked up at Him, and all the stars looked down." (G.K. Chesterton)

It's cold outside and quiet this morning. It's not bitterly cold, but crisply cold with a sweet, clean smell. The sky is overcast and the wind is gentle with occasional gusts, stirring the dry brown leaves in a faint clatter on the ground. I know because I just put my head out the window. But now I am sitting on the floor with my back to the radiator, colored pencils around me, looking with mixed feelings at my Madonna and Child.

I have a wise friend, an artist and a teacher, who says that when a piece of art is finished but you wish you could change it, that just means you are still an artist. You have more ideas and you are not done making things. As I look at my little picture, improving it (or maybe just changing it) in my mind, I take those words to heart.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A new-to-me illustrator, Julie Paschkis

I am in love. I am high on an illustrator I just discovered today. Her name is Julie Paschkis. She's been around awhile doing children's books and other work, but I've been too busy enjoying the various golden ages of illustration to notice. What other wonders have I been missing?

Here is a link to her blog and another to her website. I recommend that you click on that blog link for a delightful post about why she doesn't use the computer to modify her work. In case you don't take my excellent advice, I am going to copy a poem that she included in her post so you can read it here. I am high from the poem too.

Lastly, here is a link to a video interview. She talks about her process and shows lots of wonderful images. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The beginning of a Madonna and Child

I restarted a drawing I've been thinking about for over a year.

 Last fall the image flashed into my mind as I thought about G, K. Chesterton's pretty poem, "A Christmas Carol," especially the last stanza:

The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a Crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

(I posted the whole poem last Christmas Eve.)

I looked at lots of Madonnas last year and made a lot of sketches, but I never felt like I got a handle on what I wanted. Now I'm just going for it. I thought through the composition then went right to good paper so I wouldn't be overwhelmed with possibilities. There are a few things I'm not sure about--what kind of border to make and whether or not to hand-letter lines from the poem. (Hand lettering scares me.) I also don't think the Child's face is quite right, but I'm going to start adding color where I know what I'm doing.

As I was looking at Madonna and Child pictures I found this by Cicely Mary Barker, who is best known for her flower fairies. (I found it on Pinterest but it was linked back to Encore Editions where I couldn't actually find it.)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Contentment and discontentment and a finished drawing

With my littlest kids getting kind of big--seven and almost five, I take a lot more showers than I did for awhile. I always felt on call, always felt like someone was going to need me any minute, so taking a slow shower when I didn't really really "need" one, just to gently refresh myself, contemplate life and design things in the steam on the door didn't happen much. I was taking that kind of shower a few days ago, when my seven-year-old boy yelled outside the bathroom door "Mama, does disc----" He paused. I thought he was going to say something about a DVD, but he went on "--contentment cause trouble?"

"Yes." I said. I was surprised and amused, proud of my insightful little boy.

"Yesssss!!!!" he shouted and pounded back to the kitchen.

I was no longer so proud.  I realized he was probably using my "yes" to bolster his side of an argument with his feisty little sister. He had probably been lecturing her and meeting resistance.  I finished up quickly, expecting yelling and accusations to invade my sanctuary, but it didn't happen. They were painting watercolors, and I suppose they were enjoying their work enough to drop the argument.

Here's a picture of the contented pair that Lucy took last month. 

I've been thinking some about contentment since then. "Godliness with contentment is great gain," said St. Paul, and "In every situation I have learned how to be content." Yet, ungodliness with contentment is not gain, and neither is the lazy acceptance of bad stuff you can make better. One thing I am not content with is my energy level, which is affected by sensitivities to all the pretty smelling stuff people use to get clean and beautiful. Careful eating has made a big difference, but I spend a lot of time cooking, and I don't have much of an energy margin. Going to a party with lots of clean and shiny people or making a big grocery shopping trip takes a toll on my energy, which cuts right into my art time which makes me sad. I once overheard my four year old singing a little jingle she made up: "She was mad and sad because her aeroplane was running out of gas." My little creativity aeroplane often sits wistfully in the runway, while I sadly watch all the gas going into the cooking-healthy-all-from-scratch-meals-for-picky-people-with-special-dietary-needs and going-to-the-grocery-store jumbo-jet. And I'm not really content with that if I can do anything about it.

This week one solution has been to do art in the morning before kids are up. Instead of jumping quickly into housekeeping stuff to get it over with but wearing out early in the day, I wake up more slowly and take advantage of that dreamy, nighttime kind of intelligence before it dissipates in the morning light. I am excited about how well this schedule is working for me and have high hopes for increased artistic productivity.

I was able to finish this piece in a few days. I still want to do an all new design on bigger paper with powerful rolling waves that feel like much more than a border and (maybe) trees that curve into each other's space, but I'm glad I didn't just drop this version. Though I'm not in love with it, I learned and got good ideas from going on. Maybe some day I'll like it or have more ideas to improve it. Thank you Margaret, Janice and Linda for encouraging me to finish in your comments on my last post.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

My "work in progress" goes kaput

There will be no more work on this piece. The problem with taking an idea to good paper--expensive, beautiful paper--is that it's really hard to admit that you have a made a foundational mistake. I kept seeing that the water and the trees were out of scale, but I kept hoping that I could fix it with color, which is embarrassingly stupid. I was deceiving myself, almost. I actually knew it wasn't working before I got onto the good paper, but I didn't want to admit it. I think I need to grow in courage to face the pain of letting go of something irretrievably flawed and to persevere until the problem is solved. This seems very different from being a perfectionist.

The border of waves needs to be about twice as big as it is, so I'll try it again on some really big Stonehenge paper I have--not as good as Arches, but plenty fine.

Does anyone else make these kinds of mistakes?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A bright fall morning

As we tilt away from the sun, the angle of light makes the whole day like morning or evening. There is no glaring noonday, shadows always stretch to the north, and all day long leaves catch the rays like stained glass. 

I went out this morning to have fun taking pictures, and it felt so good tromping around in the weeds that I wondered if I should just do it all day--Sunday being my resting day and all. Then I wondered why I didn't just go for a walk or sit in the sun without a camera--why didn't I just take some time to be instead of doing, why didn't I just look around me with nothing between my eyes and nature but my glasses. My answer right then was that I didn't want to.

But a more complete answer came a few hours later, while dreaming in the shower, using up the hot water. Looking around me to take pictures as well as I can (which I know is not very well) and putting my appreciation into words and typing them out allows me to engage more fully and appreciate more deeply. Some kind of creative shaping of what I see gives me a deeper experience of the beauty of creation that I can gain no other way. It's how artists have their cake and eat it too--share it even.

I also took a picture of some charms I really have to get into my shop, which means I have to take individual pictures of them next week. These are designs I created in wax which have been cast in lead-free pewter. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"

My bathroom has the most beautiful view, especially this morning. It looks down on a misty pond enclosed, gemlike, within yellow maples, silvery weeping willows, red-brown oaks huge and dominant like cumulus clouds, and an unknown tree bare of leaves but full of dried-up berries and clamorous starlings. Beyond is an old cow pasture richly green, all the greener for a touch of white frost in its shadows, bordered by a wide creek footing the steep, scrubby hill of an old rock quarry. I can see that creek curving away in the bathroom mirror, overhung at its bend with an old oak, and cliche as it may sound, that mirror image always looks to me like a magic portal to another time and place. That sounds so sentimentally cliched I consider leaving it out, but it really does always look like that to me. The whole misty, frosty landscape is crossed with bars of shadow and sunlight. I don't have a working camera right now and, anyway, I don't have the skill to capture that rhythm of light and shadow, glowing color and misty reflection, but I hope my words have put a picture or two in your mind.

I also want to share a few pieces of art from the Tate museum that capture the light and colors of this favorite month of mine.

This 1935 Eliot Hodgkins oil painting is called "October."

Below is "Carrying Corn," by Ford Maddox Brown, 1893. To my American readers, corn here means grain in general, not the particular grain that we call corn. 

"Autumn in the Mountains," a tempera painting by Adrian Stokes, which was first exhibited in 1903, is like nowhere I've actually been. The blues and yellows are the blues and yellows of lowland Octobers distilled to perfect clarity and brilliance in thin pure air, exhilarating and cold.

And then we return to the softer colors and fragrant fruits of lower, cultivated ground. George Lance, "The Autumn Gift,"  1834.

I continue to make little bits of progress on my work in progress. I am working on remembering to set aside fifteen minutes now and then to work a little at a time, rather than hopelessly waiting for the uninterrupted hour. I'm still not in the habit of remembering to do that with creative work, though I have developed that mindset for housekeeping.