Tuesday, December 29, 2015

An update and some little sketches

I've been patiently working on my bluebird story, molding the plot and thinking through structure before getting too much into my favorite part--playing with words and other little details. I find that good ideas come in bursts, with a burst every day or two. I used to say "I'm not good at plots," but now I realize I'm just slow about it. This podcast and its sequel have been helping me to think carefully about the story I want to tell. If you want to tell stories too, give it a listen.

On another note, here are some two-inch by one-and-a-half inch colored pencil sketches I've been doing in odd moments like visiting friends and waiting in the car to pick my husband up from work.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Just keep swimming

I'm feeling panicky, anxious, blocked. I want to drop my Loula and Hampton story. I'm afraid it's just not worth doing anything with.

I am afraid of landscapes. I imagine the most uninspired children's illustration landscapes I've seen and think that is what mine will be like.

I am afraid of drawing street scenes and interiors (all those straight lines).

Unlike Hampton, I prefer the open-ended to the finished and closed. I don't much like making decisions. Independently completing a children's story with illustrations seems to mean independently making five million decisions mostly right now.

And to top it off, the most reasonable part of me, the part that is not subject to my predictable cycle of idea and discouragement, is fairly certain that my little tale is not going to shake the publishing world, but that nonetheless I should complete it in some fashion because each thing we finish provides grounding and education for the next thing, and I do want there to be a next thing.

The most reasonable part of me is also fairly certain that if I try I can make pretty landscapes, charming interiors and cute birds pushing vacuum cleaners and making music.

So here goes.

(But not yet. First this bit of loveliness, from India, 1700, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I do love pretty trees.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Two more birdy sketches

Loula with a stack of music under her wing.

Hampton pausing on the way to his vacuum cleaner shop.

Friday, December 11, 2015


I went for a barefoot walk in the woods this morning. The air was so sweet and mild.

I saw deer tracks; fox tracks; raccoon tracks; a small, slow daddy long legs; glossy new grass, wispy like fine hair; black and white woodpeckers with red caps; silvery, wide, gently rippling water; thin white sunlight.

I heard silence, embroidered on the edges with the distant, variable hum of traffic; a single pure note from an unseen bird; a stirring in the underbrush.

I felt sharp, cold tingling in my feet; unexpected warmth in a sandy, creek-side hollow. I felt alive.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A new observation about discouragement

A few years ago I read a book on the four classical temperament types that gave me a new and liberating understanding of my tendency to be easily discouraged and dissuaded from persevering in long or difficult creative projects.  I realized that I often would not completely follow through with a good  idea because I would misinterpret the discouraged feelings which always followed my initial exhilaration as an actual sign that the path I was taking was somehow not right for me, and I would feel weirdly guilty until I quit. If I had an obligation to someone else to follow through, I would, but if I did not, the project would be left behind with relief followed by wistful regret. When I learned that this tendency was simply a weakness of the phlegmatic side of my melancholic and phlegmatic temperament combination, I was empowered to stick with things better than I had before.

And yesterday, I am pleased to realize, I had a new insight about how unrecognized discouragement decreases my productivity. I was carving a new crucifix design in wax smaller than the ones I have made so far. I was thinking about anatomy and design and the technical requirements for making a sturdy wax model. I had my computer by me with lots of crucifix images pulled up, but I just wanted to check my personal Facebook, so I did and took a few minutes to answer a comment. Then I found just the right music to listen to. Then I shared it on Facebook. Then I changed to a podcast with a couple of successful artists talking about their process. The wax was looking worse and worse, so I put the music back on. Then I checked to see if my friend had responded to the comment I had put up in response to her comment. Then I told myself to stop wasting time and went back to the music. Then my six year old daughter came down and crowded in the chair with me and messed with my stuff and accidentally hurt herself with a hot wax tool, Then, to my relief, she was invited to my friend's house to visit some cute ducks, and my absurd, wasteful cycle of distraction started all over again. I wasted a couple precious hours I had worked hard to free up, and probably went backwards in my project.

I am a little embarrassed to share this, but it seems likely that I'm not the only one who does this sort of thing, And I did gain a useful insight: yesterday's ridiculous distractibility had to do with discouragement. My task seemed daunting, but I've learned enough now to know that I really want and need to finish it, so I didn't run away from it in a big and final way. I just dawdled.

Now that I recognize what is happening, I want to train myself to stay focused longer when I am doing something that feels hard. I'm going to try setting a timer for forty-five minutes, during which time I do not look at anything on the computer but the images I already set up to use. I'll let you know how it goes!

Here's something pretty just because.  The artist is Becca Stadtlander

Monday, December 7, 2015

Meet Hampton

Hampton is a practical, down-to-earth, tenacious bird of deep but usually unspoken feeling. He repairs and sells vacuum cleaners for a living, and his hobby is gathering and organizing complete collections of things such as porcelain tooth-pick holders from every state and match-boxes with pictures of the presidents. What he starts, he finishes. He does not easily fall in love.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Meet Loula the bluebird

I've had this little lady on my mind for awhile, and this evening I took a stab at designing her character. I think she needs a fancier hat.

She is a music teacher, cultured and kind, but too busy for love. The bluebird Hampton, owner of the vacuum cleaner repair shop, is determined to win her hand in marriage. I'll do a picture of him soon.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Some pictures by Ota Janecek

I'm out of the habit of writing blog posts, which means that I think about it a lot, but don't let myself get any actual ideas. Instead, I start making up rules about what I can write about. (It has to be outwardly focused and of general interest, whatever that means. It can't just be about me not being able to think of anything to write about. It has to contain and relate to actual new art made by me. It has to be brilliant.)

Those rules, of course, shut it all down. So as I lay awake tonight, wondering when I will ever blog again, I decided to get up and write about how I can't think of anything to write about and share some art by somebody else.

These illustrations are by Czech artist Ota Janecek, 1919-1996. This one can be found here.

 And this one here.

And this one here.

I love the lines of the leafless trees. To me winter trees seem to have distinct personalities, benevolent and actively protective,

I intend to be back soon, pushing perfectionism and unhelpful rules to the wall.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Alicia, artist

A few days ago my five year old asked me, "When I grow up, should I be an otter or an artist?" Unfortunately, her options are fewer than she thought. 

But I sure do like her art. I like her comfort with abstract design. It was satisfying to watch her slowly drag the loaded brushes across the paper. I felt her satisfaction in the way the acrylic craft paint made smooth, opaque strokes of color without crumpling the paper.

Though the upper painting is not meant to be representational at all, the shape reminds me of cave paintings of bulls. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Beautiful soil

I am awake very early this morning, though I would like to have slept in. I have heard this early time called "the gray dawn." The air through my kitchen window is cool and clean, and I hear birds chirping, fluting, whistling. This spring I have often felt that I would like to gather bird songs into bouquets like wildflowers on long stems.

My husband does not have to go to work today, and I have great expectations for getting things done in the garden--putting up trellises for my cucumbers and pole beans, laying in a long bed for sunflowers (I use a no till method that involves killing grass with a layer of cardboard and covering it with soil, old horse manure, dead leaves, and any other good stuff I can scrounge up.) There's no other way I'd rather spend  a day. I'm happily obsessed. I am like Uzziah, ancient king of Judah, who, the Bible says, "loved the soil."

I grew up in a gardening family. We never bought fruits or vegetables in the grocery store, but grew them and preserved them in the summer, to eat every day all year round. I didn't like garden work as a kid. I certainly didn't love soil. I hated our compost pile. But I did love things the garden grew. I marveled at the unexpectedly beautiful cabbage plants that opened like giant green roses. I was amazed by the incidental, throw-away beauty of starry potato blossoms.  I rejoiced in Sugar Baby watermelons with my brothers and sisters, eating slice after red slice till my stomach stretched tight. I gorged messily on really ripe peaches. The fuzz on their blushing golden skin was a slight irritant to my own skin, but the dryness and roughness accentuated their yielding, drippy sweetness. I thought of our Mackintosh apples as gifts from God. No human could devise such simultaneous crispness and juiciness or the sweet-tart, winey flavor. (I had never tasted wine, but I felt they must taste like wine.)

Now, with a garden of my (and children of my own to feed), I love all kinds of garden work and I love soil at least as much as what I can grow in it. I love its damp smell and the first moist then dusty feeling of it on my hands and under my feet. I love to push seeds into it, especially when it is fluffy, moist and dark like a good chocolate cake, and press it gently down on top of them. I passionately love manure (really) and the wholesome decay of compost. I love earthworms and their tunnels and the helpful bacteria and all the other underground creatures whose names I don't know. I love my new friend mycelium, the magical underground network of fungus that moves nutrients from plant to plant. We live in a beautiful, intricately designed world, and right now the underground commerce of a healthy soil seems as beautiful to me as the wheeling stars.
UPDATE: Writing this was hard. I had to think determinedly to find words, My experience of soil is more direct and wordless than most anything else in my life. This post has been about a week and half, maybe more, in the making. My husband's day off (in the first paragraph) was quite productive. We hauled in lots of manure, made some new beds and finished off some we had already started. The sunflowers are up now.

Here are a few pictures of my garden.

Baby beets and parsley.

 A jungle of snap peas and tomatoes.

Wee carrot plants. My first attempt at carrots this year didn't come up at all--old seed, I think. The second attempt was scratched away by our chickens. This is my third attempt. You can't see it here but it is protected from chickens and too much heat by an arch of  wire fence covered with white tulle. I've never been good at carrots and I'm determined to make it happen for real this year.

 I'm trying to stretch the season of my beloved arugula by shading it with a thrifted lace curtain.

Nasturtium leaves. I love how they often collect a bead of water right in their center.

Can't wait for tomatoes to get ripe. 

Trying to shade the lettuce a bit. Not sure if tulle will make a significant difference.

Cilantro and onions.

Pretty beet stems.

Cilantro, dill and flowering arugula in a lovely jumble.

I have given up on making art for the summer. I'll probably just be sharing garden pictures for awhile.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Morning has broken

I went outside with a camera this dewy morning, before my children were up. I kept thinking of the Eleanor Farjeon hymn, Morning has Broken, sung here by Cat Stevens in 1976, and here by boy soprano Aled Jones.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Nature's first green

In my ideal world, mild spring weather and the transition from winter bleakness to summer lushness would take no less than nine months. Gaunt branches would remain half bare, just softened by the airy lace of filmy yellow-green leaves, apple trees would cling to their frothy blossoms, gallant daffodils would keep fresh and yellow, and starry woodland blooms would bob above the dead oak leaves for months before being overtaken by the heat-loving undergrowth. As it is, every day or two or three there is a change which brings both beauty and loss. The particular beauty of the days before will not be seen again for a year. I grieve when warmer days green the trees with a rush and hurry the flowers to cast petals and make seed.

But while I regret every decorative change of spring's progress, I would draw my garden plants to maturity by force of will if I could. I've been spending hours in my garden every day, digging, mulching, weeding, seeding, amending soil with old horse manure and dreaming of snap peas and and arugula salad. There I am a practical farmer, a sensible hobbit instead of a regretful, backward looking elf. The contrast in these feelings interests me.

While in the regretful, backward looking mode, I think  about Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay," indulging in the pretty images and the neatness of the rhymes and rhythm. In the biggest scheme of things, I don't believe this poem is altogether true, but in the spring it fits my mood.

"Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."

This painting by English painter Duncan Grant, 1885-1978, is from the Tate Gallery.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Green grass

The grass will never be more beautiful than it is today. The trees are minimally dressed. The more voluptuous spring flowers wait for warmer days, and apart from the forsythia there are only prim, retiring blossoms in my landscape, to be appreciated in dainty ones and twos. 

But the grass is a single sweep of potent green, a trumpet blast of color. Blue sky and green grass create a simple, horizontal composition that surprises me with its forcefulness. During the winter I think of spring as light green leaves and a rainbow of flowers. I forget that first comes this fulfillment of green and blue.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A little break

I am sick and family members are sick--coughing, sneezing, wheezing, blowing, groaning, whining. It's nothing serious, but it diminishes productivity, so instead of thinking of this blog with regretful anxiety I've decided to institute an official two week hiatus, while I catch up on other stuff. 

I do plan to get some work done in my garden. It's the season of high hopes! 

The illustration is by Cicely Mary Barker. I tried but cannot track it to its online source, encore-editions.com. It's from her book Groundsel and Necklaces.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I really wanted to share something new of my own in this post, but a cold virus has been getting me down, and I haven't done a line of art for days. I'm sleepy all day long. My sluggish, unwilling brain keeps presenting me with negative statements about my creative abilities, but that might be its mean way of making me do nothing and rest.

Spring is almost here and it actually shows. It's a mild, white, densely-foggy day. The old snow is melting into the sodden tan grass, and the birds have broken their winter silence. We opened the windows for a little while today to get fresh air in the house, and now some of my kids are outside making cardboard-box forts on dry spots on the driveway.

In a few weeks, maybe, flowers will come out, and a green mist will brighten gray-brown branches. In the meantime, here are some spring flowers by English illustrator Edward Julius Detmold. They can be found on archive.com.

Update: I wrote yesterday, but did not post. Things change so quickly with a bit of warmth. Today the grass is greening up, the fog is gone, and little children, mine and neighbors, are busy outside, rejoicing in light, color and soft air. I hear their tuneless singing and their chatter like chirping birds. I also hear rocks thudding into plastic buckets. I wonder what that's about.

And I feel so much better today that I sketched and will do so again.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Sometimes, when I have made some little thing with a bit of detail to it, someone says, "Oh, you have so much patience. I would never have the patience to do that," and I feel blank and slightly surprised. Huh? Patient? Me? I thought I was just having fun.

Certain kinds and stages of making trigger easy focus and a pleasant feeling of timelessness that might look like patience or discipline or endurance to someone who doesn't actually like making things. The early stages of carving a wax model are like that. While roughing out the basic shape I do fight impatience because I'm so eager to see my idea take shape, and I have to be careful not to go too fast and mess it up, but once the piece shows its basic gesture it's pure pleasure until I think, happily and mistakenly, that I'm almost done. That's when the long, hard part begins. I smooth the edges, trying to perfect fluid, graceful curves, but then I take off too much wax. I add more wax and refine the edges again, but accidentally nick a finished surface. I fill in the nick and smooth it out as if it had never been, but then I notice a bubble included when I added wax, so I ease it out with a hot tool, add more wax, and smooth it out again. I use a light hand, but delicate parts snap anyway beneath file and sandpaper, and I repair them, sometimes three or four times or more. It is tedious work. It is stressful, especially when I am working to a deadline (which I am not just now).

That's where I am with my leaf pendant.  I have spent hours smoothing, refining and repairing, and I think I actually am almost done. The aggravation has been greatly mitigated by listening while I work to The Mating Season, a Jeeves and Wooster book by English humorist P. G. Wodehouse, delightfully read by Jonathan Cecil. (The link will take you to YouTube and a few minutes of the story which you would have to buy to listen to in its entirety. I checked it out of the library instead.) Fiddling with hot wax mostly felt like a small price to pay for indulging in hours of delicious entertainment, so if someone remarks that I must really be patient, I suppose once again they will just be wrong.  I am more than ready, though, to start on my next project, a pendant shaped like a single lily-of-the-valley blossom.

On another  note, I have been enjoying paintings of interiors lately, pictures of simple rooms that open to the outside. They are straightforwardly real, yet feel symbolic as dreams, charged with quiet significance.

The two top paintings are by Danish artist Carl Vilhelm Halsoe (1863-1935). Google his name to find lots more peaceful, evocative interiors. The link is to Danish Wikipedia. He doesn't have an English entry yet. The last painting is by Adolph Menzel (1815-1905).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Christ our hope

The seeds of this post have been waiting for chance to sprout these last few days. And now I sit down with my watering can and grow light (because that's what seeds sprout under in the wintertime), but all I have are pictures and feelings. I have no words. 

Perhaps that is for the best. I share with you meaningful images, arising from my heart and speaking to my heart. 

An old doodle.

Christ Healing the Sick, an etching by Rembrandt also known as the Hundred Guilder Print. From Wikipedia. Click on the image to see it bigger and better.

And, by me, a little angel bearing gifts.