Saturday, July 27, 2013

Shadow Play

Around four o'clock each afternoon I find Buddha settled onto the spine of the sofa pondering bird shadows against the drawn drapes. He began keeping vigil when the afternoons became so hot I started closing the drapes in an effort to keep some of the heat out of the living area. Confusion fills his dilated eyes and his feline brain as he watches varying degrees of darkness flit across the sun-drenched windows. And then a lunge, a futile effort to capture the elusive bird he is so sure is there, almost like a birder with a life list.

I am finding that as the years pass I too try to capture shadows, only mine are from the past; the dreams that didn't quite come true, the places I never ended up going to see and the memories of pleasant times I want to experience again. I don't find these "shadows" to be sad, more like an interesting vision to explore and rework, to learn from and perhaps cast anew.

There is beauty in shadows as well as occasional confusion and complexity. The trick is to decipher them, learn to see through them, realize they are transparent , just a thin veil of softness, not an opague mass. When learning to paint shadows you begin to see the surrounding colors being reflected like a memory, not good or bad, just another way of looking at things. Maybe shadows are a call for us to wake up and push through the gossamer; see what's really there in all its clarity, maybe begin to live a true life. Might it be time to reshape and cast some new shadows to fit who we are today instead of chasing what we used to be?

But for now, there is too much heat and humidity to go out sketching the interplay of light in the marshes and on the beach. So I'll just hide out in the coolness of the shadows with Buddha.

"How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole."      C.G. Jung

Saturday, July 20, 2013

For Hailey

Dostoevsky wrote, "Love animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy, do not harass them, do not deprive them of their happiness, do not work against God's intent. Man, do not pride yourself on your superiority to animals; they are without sin."

I received a letter this morning from a friend that broke my heart causing me to spill tears of understanding. Her dear companion, Hailey, the one who has shared her life for so many years has passed on. This loyal being was not human but "just a dog", as she has been told by many people. Just a dog. Those three words are what broke my heart.

My Kizzie
My friend had to make a responsible pet owner's most difficult decision, to put her dog to sleep. She did all she could to make things right and I hope in time she will realize that. Sometimes, no more can be done. So my friend performed the kindest act possible. And now she is left with an emptiness that can never be filled. Those of us that truly share our lives with animals know that they are part of our family, our life and our love.

I have lost pets as a child but as an adult I have mourned the loss of two cats; one I spent too much time with to let go, and one, not enough time. Kizzie lived on the street and was quite old, spending years stealing food from the pit bull's dish up the street and spending hurricanes tucked under the rental house next door. One day he wandered up my driveway and we became fast friends. He eventually worked his way into my house to spend his last years free from hunger and fear. I only had his company for three years, much too short a time for me and not enough for him to be loved as he should have been from the start. He deserved more.

Zoomy however, lived until the age of 18 until she could no longer keep food down, starving herself because of an inoperable tumor. I had to make that awful decision to put her to sleep, a terrible phrase since she wasn't going to wake up. The night before we went to the vet, she curled up in my arms, trusting me to do the right thing. And I feel I did. Zoomy and my boys grew up together. She got us through hard, hard times and loved us through all of them. I needed her. Whether a natural death or one we had a part of, losing a pet is an enormous loss. A part of my heart was torn out with each passing, never to regrow. And yes, I still have guilt and cry at times over what I had to do.

from Zoomy's book
Zoomy's book
In tribute, I have put Kizzie into many of my paintings, a favorite one being, "Missing You". And I created a book of Zoomy's life.

last page
So shame on anyone who utters the words, "just a dog".  Rest in peace Hailey.

(from Zoomy's book)
"I know the night is near at hand:
The mists lie low on hill and bay,
The Autumn sheaves are dewless, dry;
But I have had the day.

Yes, I have had, dear Lord, the day;
When at Thy call I have the night'
Brief be the twilight as I pass
From light to dark, from dark to light."

                          - Silas Weir Mitchell

Saturday, July 13, 2013

You Get What You Pay For (or do you?)

edge of a canal done with graphite pencil
We have all been told that we get what we pay for. You have to spend money to get a quality product. And sometimes that is true. A good brush makes painting details easier because it will hold a fair amount of paint and keep its point. A piece of handmade watercolor paper is a joy to work on, producing images you've only dared dream about. But sometimes it's just about the process and expensive is not always the best choice. This week I learned a valuable lesson from some very talented students.

When I began teaching field sketching, I wanted to provide my students with the best possible drawing tools I could afford to put into their drawing kits. So I included good drawing pencils along with the pad of drawing paper and other tools for working in the field. I personally use an inexpensive mechanical pencil, not because of the price but because I like the fact that it is always sharp and I can get a wide variation of shades from it. But for my students, I wanted the best.
sketched with water soluble graphite pencil

Part of my class involves sharing my personal sketching tools. I like to let students try different things so they'll know if they like the effects and if they want to invest in the items. One of the pencils I share is an inexpensive, water soluble, graphite pencil, my all time favorite sketching utensil for field work. And time and time again, each and every one of my students latches onto this pencil, falling in love with the softness of the lead and the richness of the tone it produces. The professional drawing pencils I have included in their kits are quickly put aside.

 I have stopped ordering drawing pencils and am now including a mechanical pencil like the one I use and a water soluble graphite pencil, along with an eight count pack of crayons, yes crayons. They're fun to use and produce gorgeous layers of color. Lesson learned. Thank you students.

"If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable."
                        Rainer Maria Rilke

working with the water soluble graphite pencil

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Singing in the Rain

A squirrel dangles from the feeder.
Mimosa loaded with blooms.
The moon flower vine finally emerges.
Mid-summer has brought drenching rains and humidity almost every day, making one feel sluggish and water-logged, longing for sunshine and sea breezes. But there is still cheer at The Crooked Little House with birdsong and signs of new nests being constructed in the birdhouses by those late-in-the-game birds. And squirrels dangle from the lone feeder, happy to perform acrobatic feats for the reward of an easy meal. Everything is lush from the rain, smelling of uncontrolled growth and excess.

But for me, mid-summer means endless days of filling orders, doing demonstrations, supplying galleries with original work and making deliveries on tourist-clogged roads. Mind you, I am NOT complaining. I am grateful every day that my work is appreciated, but I so miss the free time of the off season when I could explore my favorite haunts to my heart's desire with no thought of time. Recently, at the end of a class, my students and I were treated to a rare sighting of an otter, his flat head bobbing up and down and his back like a sea serpent as he played in the small pond where we had been working. I was once again reminded of the gifts I receive when I get out of the studio. So please excuse the lack of field sketches throughout the summer. I'll have lots more to share when fall returns, but for now we can enjoy the sanctuary of
The Crooked Little House.
Mary, Mary, how is your garden growing?

The trumpet vine drips with blossoms.
Mermaids and sea monsters continue to creep into the studio each night, keeping me company and taking up space on the worktable. They are expanding, infiltrating my dreams and days, pushing their way into my thoughts. So I am giving in and devoting more time to painting my versions of what sailors imagined were snaking through the waves and under their ships or singing on the beach under a Carolina moon. I like to think they still do. If anyone is going to be on the island on the 18th, stop by Seaside Art Gallery in Nags Head. I'll be demonstrating from 5 to 8 pm. Here's a peek at one of the pieces I'll be working on.

"One of the definitions of sanity is the ability to tell real from unreal. Soon we'll need a new definition."
                                                                                             - Alvin Toffler