Sunday, July 29, 2012

Living in the Moment : It's All You've Got!

A man was walking through a field and spotted a tiger following him. In a panic he rushed to the end of the field where there was a cliff. Using a vine, he climbed over the edge to hide. Looking down, the man spied another tiger looking up at him from the bottom of the cliff. As the vine began to give way, he noticed a large, ripe berry and stretched his hand out to snatch the fruit. A berry never tasted so sweet.

There is something to be said for living in the moment. I make an effort to live this way, finding it aids my field sketching work, forcing me to focus and capture the moment offered to me before it's lost forever. But mostly I find it helps me to recognize the beauty and joy in each instant. Animals live like this. They don't worry about what will happen next year, or tomorrow, or within the next hour. Their happiness in in the present, whether they are playing, eating or resting. The activity is given full attention with all of their being. We humans need to take a lesson here.

Old catalog cards from libraries make for an unusual background.
Even though this blog is usually about the changes and beauty of the outdoors, in this heat and humidity, I sometimes take a side road and act spontaneously, creating art in a different way just for fun, pleasing no one but myself.

Every so often, I take advantage of "present moments" to explore in the studio, trying a different concept, a new technique, working on a whim. These appetizers are not for a future piece of work. They are not to learn a lesson, though of course I always do. They are done for no other reason than because I found them interesting at the time. They fuel me, light my artistic fire, and bring freshness to my regular endeavors. I'd like to share some of my moments with you.
I love to make envelopes using my art as backgrounds or as the main subject.

Reminiscent of hand tracings we did as children. But now I add a personal touch.

Bookmarks for keeping places.     

Small butterfly books for sketching or writing.

Take advantage of spur of the moment ideas. Drop what you are doing and participate. The most amazing things can happen in the blink of an eye. Don't miss them.

"There is one thing we can do, and the happiest people are those who do it to the limit of their ability. We can be completely present. We can be all here. We can give all our attention to the opportunity before us."

                                                                        Mark Van Doren

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Kill Devil Hills has a secret, and even though most tourists and some locals don't know about it, I do, and I'm willing to share. It is about a sweet spot, a land of dappled sunlight and shade, a place Renoir would have found inspiring.

Even on the hottest days of summer, a cool breeze weaves around you, inviting you to sit down and listen to the frogs tease each other with promises. This secret place is tucked right behind the busy bypass, across the street from the Wright Brothers monument. What's this oasis called you ask? Aviation Park, though to me that name sounds too harsh, too paved over for this little gem of a landscape.

 This park has become another one of my favorite places to sketch and contemplate the seasons. Magnificent tree sculptures are plentiful in shade or sun for whichever mood I'm in. I've watched egrets and herons fishing for breakfast and turtles drifting in and out of the water shadows, playing their version of the shell game. Bird songs intermingle and wings flit about in the hedgerow alongside the path that circles the pond.

When you've had enough serenity, take a walk on the shaded paths over to the butterfly garden where Red Admirals and Painted Ladies dine on crimson colored flowers while the blossom heads of Queen Anne's Lace hula with the wind. Benches are scattered throughout the park where one can sit and read, meditate, make a grocery list or pull out a sketchbook and draw to your heart's content.

Hope to see you there!

These sketches were done with a Prang watercolor set which uses a semi-moist formula resulting in brilliant color, General's Sketch and Wash pencil (when you add water it turns the graphite into a lovely wash that sets permanently, no smudging), and Faber Castell Pitt artist pens.

"Sometimes I have a terrible need of, shall I say the word, religion. Then I go out at night and paint the stars"  
                                                            - Vincent Van Gogh

Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's a Jungle in Here

I'm in the belly of July, our peak season at the beach, and this week I had a two day show and orders to fill so no time to venture outside and commune with the wildlife. But there is always wild life lurking around corners and doorways in my house in the forms of Buddha and Erb. They are a limitless source of lessons, teaching me about curves and angles, constant movement and the expansive softness of rest.

I feel I should add a brief background since their stories are rather unusual. A few years back, I went through a difficult time. It's not important what happened since everyone has their own stories. But while navigating through this unfamiliar territory, I kept having dreams of a turquoise Buddha circling my bed on the ceiling, clockwise, round and round. After a bit of research I found some articles telling me it was a celestial Buddha, a healing Buddha, and to see one is a very good omen. Stay with me now.

My last feline friend, Kizzie, had passed away six months previously, way too soon for such a magnificent king. The Crooked Little House had become solemn and still, lacking luster. So in the middle of all my drama, I decided to adopt another friend to help take the chill out of my little abode. I went to our local shelter and in the far, back cage was a beautiful, buff-colored boy with copper penny eyes, missing half an ear. I asked the attendant about him and she replied, "Oh, that's Buddha". His fate was sealed.
Whenever I had a rough few days, I would wake in the morning to find Buddha had placed all his toys in a circle around my bed. This circling happened every time I needed healing. And to this day, even if I have a cold, an arc of fish, mice and toy birds greet me upon awakening.

Now Erb, my tuxedo cat, was discovered by my son in a parking lot at the tender age of six weeks, covered in blood, chin ripped down and a paralyzed left front leg. Josh scooped him up and got him to the vet who felt he had either been hit by a car or tossed from one. With micro stitches to the gum line, his chin was reattached. His leg will never have feeling again, but his shoulder works.

                                 My son, a trauma surgeon, named him Erb, a long story regarding medical terminology. I find it easier just to tell people he's British. I agreed to babysit Erb while Josh went to climb Kilimanjaro, but when he returned, I couldn't give him up. And don't feel too badly for Erb. He keeps up with Buddha easily, flying through the house.

                                                                                                                                                                      I have found the most meaningful subjects can be those closest to us, both indoors and out in our own backyards.

To hold a living creature,
To learn its loveliness,
To feel its heart beat,
In our hands,
To know its trust,
Is at last to understand,
That we are kin,
Is to rejoice in life,
Is to lose all loneliness.

                                                  -Pam Brown

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Smoke on the Water

I am not a fan of July. In fact, it ranks at the bottom of my list as far as months go, and within its humid grasp is my least favorite holiday, the 4th of July. Call me unpatriotic if you like but I do not enjoy the throngs of people that flood our little island creating traffic nightmares and 24 hour parties. And I take no pleasure in things blowing up, especially when detonated in the middle of the street or on a boat by people that are so "under the influence" I'm surprised they don't catch fire.

Having a fireman for a son, I've become aware over the years of the dangers of fireworks in the hands of the average citizen. They land in parched grasses, on rooftops and on cars. I've seen tourists shoot the rockets up my street at car level resulting in a house fire two doors up from me, all at three in the morning. So no, I am not a fan.

Fireworks are illegal, say the signs when you cross the bridge to the Outer Banks. But seriously, maybe I shouldn't be placing all the blame on the average visitor since they are sold at all the local stores. Is it me or does that not make sense to you?

So it didn't surprise me when this year smoke was spotted on the water, or more precisely, in the dry marsh grass around Little Colington island across the bay from me. Swing by the post office and you'll hear numerous stories about how it started and a controlled burn to combat it. One thing everyone was sure of though was that it began with fireworks. Whatever happened turned a sunny, summer morning into a "end of the world" landscape for a number of hours. Sightseers clogged the road along the sound by my house making it impassable in some places. People love drama.

But basically I am an optimist so I'll turn my eye to the bright side. The 4th is over and people have settled down a bit. The next evening, the fiery, less-than-full moon was dripping gorgeous golds, reds and orange from all the leftover debris in the atmosphere.

Next up : Labor Day

One day, someone showed me a glass of water that was half full. And he said, "Is it half full or half empty?" So I drank the water. No more problem.
                                       - Alejandro Jodorowsky

Sunday, July 1, 2012

No Empty Nests Here

Well I can't grow a garden and can barely keep a geranium alive for lack of a multicolored thumb. But I've found what I can cultivate is a bumper crop of wrens and chickadees.

Starting with one birdhouse, a gift from my brother in Massachusetts, I was hooked. As soon as I had hung the box in the black cherry tree, a pert little chickadee claimed it, uttering that wonderful electric sound they make. I spent way too many hours watching the pair of chickadees cram nesting material into the house. Soon cheeping permeated the air, growing stronger each day. One morning, all was silent. The babies had flown the nest without even a thank you for all the high priced sunflower seeds I had put out.

I took the house down to clean it, easing the softness out of the overstuffed box, placing the nest in a clear, glass vase and adding it to the rest of my collection that lives on my mantle. (I like to put them into glass containers so they can be picked up and looked at, revealing the intricacies of the nest and the materials that were incorporated.) I discovered that chickadees are quite fond of  Buddha's hair which I add to a wire basket after brushing him, along with bits and pieces of strings, ribbons, etc. for nest building. No sooner had I returned the house to its former location, than a pair of wrens claimed it for themselves. I made an emergency call to my brother - send more bird houses, fast!

Now my house and trees sport birdhouse ornaments year round, housing families of chickadees and wrens in the spring and summer since they can produce 2 or 3 broods a season, and in the winter, the houses provide shelter from the "fowl" weather. (I know, I know, but I had to.)

My nest collection is growing. And no, I don't rob birds of their nests. They are found on the ground after being dislodged during a storm, or they come out of my bird houses since the birds like to build new ones instead of using the old ones. Some of my nests are unrecognizable to me. I have a field guide to nests but sometimes they all look alike.

I love the impermanence of a bird nest and the fragility. It's a good reminder of life.
"All God's critters got a place in the choir. Some sing low, some sing higher, some sing out loud on the telephone wire."
                                            -  Bill Staines

And each night I am lulled to sleep by a lone, male mockingbird in the mimosa tree. I hope when he finds his love, they will nest in my yard.