Saturday, May 20, 2017

Travel Time

The time for traveling is upon us. The average American family saves their money all year for a one or two week vacation at a favorite destination - one which happens to be my island. We see travelers from all over the world, marveling at our beautiful beaches, eating our fresh catch of the day, hang gliding from the largest sand dune on the east coast, and wandering the maritime forests and marshland. Personally, I don't enjoy traveling more than a day or two. I get homesick; wondering what changes are happening to the dunes and wetlands while I'm away.

Andrew Wyeth said, "I feel limited if I travel. I feel freer in surroundings that I don't have to be conscious of. I'll say that I love this object or I love that hill. But that hill sets me free. I could wander over the countless hills. But this one hill becomes thousands of hills to me. In finding this one object, I find a world."

I feel the same way. I have miles of beach, parks, forests and refuges that cradle every imaginable bird, amphibian, mammal, reptile, insect and plant I could ever desire to sketch. We have the most glorious skies offering a new show every day. And I have a front row seat for free.

The thing is, that hill, or tree or dune morphs into a new object depending on the time of day, weather and season. I have more to explore and paint than is possible in one lifetime. Other artists may paint my marshes but they have no idea about the changes in water level making the "wet" change color. They don't notice the new tree sprouting up in the very place that old snag stood where the hawk would perch each afternoon. And they will miss that scat from the resident bobcat. All those things take time to explore and make a place worthy of observation. That time to get intimate with a location doesn't exist while traveling unless you spend months in one place.

Friends look at me quizzically, insisting I'm missing out by not traveling. I think they are missing out by not getting to know their own backyard more, especially a backyard that draws thousands of people to its shores each year. But I respect their choices and listen attentively to their stories. All I ask is that they do the same for me.

My friendships and close relationships with places take time because they have lots to share. It's about the experience of being there and then translating that to your work. It can't be rushed. So I will continue to travel over the bridge to Alligator River, up the road to Sandy Run Park, over the inlet to Pea Island and along the coast to Coquina Beach. And I won't have to worry about lost baggage because everything I need fits right into my field kit.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


My new friend at Alligator River
My favorite place to spend time is chock full of things that can hurt me; poisonous snakes, bear, alligators, spiders, ticks, etc. And yet I feel no fear there, only peace and tranquility. I am more
frightened when driving the bypass in the summer, listening to the current political situation and thinking about the sad fate of the environment.

I'm a pretty brave woman. One son would agree, the other would laugh. I relocated alone with two little children, far away from family and friends to begin a new life as a full-time artist with no guarantee I'd ever sell another painting. I have no pensions. I faced a deadly disease and won. And I will stand up to anyone who mistreats another living creature whether human or beast. I am not bragging; we all have done things like this, and quite honestly, many have thought my decisions to be foolhardy. But I am a risk-taker, believing that nothing can be accomplished without taking a chance, and there is everything to gain by doing so. Most importantly, I wake up happy almost every single day.

Courage and fear go hand in hand. Dorothy Bernard said, "Courage - fear that has said its prayers."

But there is a recent change in my life that has brought a fair amount of fear to my soul and has required a lot of courage on my part. After 30 plus years of a successful career painting whimsical animals that have appeared on numerous products all over the world and adorn many homes and businesses, I have decided it's time to explore new realms. I have more stories to tell and more subjects to converse with.

My passion for my whimsical work began waning a few years ago as the yearning to immerse myself in something new and challenging began to rise. I have always felt a true artist needs to be challenged instead of always relying on the same thing just because it sells or it's easier than making a change. Kobi Yamada said, "Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down." Never wanting to think to myself, I wish I had tried, I have taken the leap and will try to build my wings.

So where is all this fear coming from you wonder? After all, my boys are grown, and I am no longer responsible for anyone but myself. But I have grown to love having food in the fridge and a roof over my head, and when it leaks I can afford to fix it. So I am fearful that the public, my clients, galleries, etc. will dismiss me because they want the old work back. Will I find a new audience? How will I face having to return to producing work that doesn't inspire me because I had no other choice if I want to pay my bills? Quite simply, it would break my spirit forever.

I read somewhere that the painter who has no doubts will achieve little, and as I've said, I believe there is no reward without risk. And I was greatly rewarded this past week by winning first place in watercolor as well as Best in Show for one of my new paintings. This was the first time I had put my new work in front of my peers. Scary? You bet it was! But I have now banished my fear to the farthest corner of the studio.

"And the day came when the risk (it took) to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."  -  Anais Nin

Best in Show

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Beautifully Broken

I had an angel wing shell; pristine white and unbroken. I found it on Coquina Beach over 20 years ago and have kept it safe all this time. They are fragile, brittle things and finding a whole one is a rarity since they are usually broken by the rough surf. Recently I dropped it and part of it shattered. I was heartbroken. But as I looked at the damage I saw the exposed architecture of the shell within, showing me how it was made and how underneath that beautiful exterior it was more complicated than I had realized.

As you would expect, living on a barrier island I have a large assortment of seashells at my little house, both inside and out. They collect dust on various tables and counters and litter the yard underneath bushes and on decks and steps. Like fingerprints, no two are exactly alike. Some are perfect specimens with each gleaming ridge and surface unmarred. But most of my shells are beautifully broken, just as I am and like most people I have known throughout my life.

I have never strived for perfection. I do the best I can and for me that's just fine. If it isn't okay to anyone else, I really don't care. My house is never spotlessly clean, my hair is not without issues, and my figure doesn't resemble a sailor's vision of a mermaid. I can say the wrong things, fib, and become impatient. I am broken, not whole, incomplete.

In the same way I choose a friend or lover for their quirkiness and individuality instead of perfection, when I'm choosing a shell to sketch or paint, I am not drawn to the collector's specimen. I go for the broken ones; the ones with the slices, chips, worm holes and worn edges, exposing their insides for all to see. For they are braver than I am. They don't just sit on a table looking pretty. They require me to look deeper, understand what they are made of and accept them for what they are. For they too have a story to tell and just want someone to listen.

Here's a step-by-step look at a handmade book I created highlighting broken shells.

Admit it, you think they are beautiful too.

This book is available through my Etsy Shop.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Personal Power

I've been thinking a lot about personal power. I have a bumper sticker on my back windshield, quoted from The Wizard of Oz, that reads, You had the power all along my dear.

One advantage of getting older is that you learn how to use that power. You learn when to say no without offering excuses. You reject clothes, 'suitable for your age' in favor of ones that make you feel wild and free, and you learn to say, To hell with anyone who doesn't approve of the way you live your life. These are hard-fought lessons to learn since we girls weren't brought up to step outside the box.

But along with that power comes responsibility and hard decision making. On this day I had the power of letting a bird live or die, or letting another go hungry. It was an extremely hard decision because it was being played out right in front of me, and I couldn't turn my back.

The dove was enjoying an afternoon snack of seed on the table under the pergola, totally unaware of the danger lurking less than three feet away in the form of a young Sharp-shinned Hawk. The hawk seemed puzzled about how to snag his dinner which gave me an extra few moments to make my agonizing decision. I walked out to the pergola. The dove escaped and the confused hawk flew up to the cherry tree. He stayed for a very long time, occasionally looking straight at me with an accusing red eye. I still wonder if I made the right decision and if I should even have the right to do so. Is one life more important than another? I don't believe so yet we all make judgments on this very topic every day in one way or another.

These decisions we make on a daily basis hold immense power in themselves. When a friend asks if they should buy that skirt, do you tell them the truth or do you fib so as not to hurt her feelings? And is that the right thing to do in the long run? Do we cheat and eat bad food even if we know we won't get caught but also know it will hurt us in the end?

Buddhists don't believe in killing anything. It's as much the intention of killing as it is the act itself that is unacceptable. And this rings true more and more for me too, because I find the most abusive form of using my power is when it affects other sentient beings - the spider that mistakenly got into my house or the mosquito I swat that was just looking for a bite to ease her hunger.

A friend of mine won't tolerate English Sparrows because they push other baby birds from the nest and take it over. He doesn't like Cowbirds either because they lay their eggs in another's nest so their baby will be properly cared for; kind of like leaving a baby at the door of a firehouse or hospital. But by my friend interfering with his personal power, he is affecting instinct; what God, Mother Nature or other force you believe in designed for that bird. Who are we to question the purpose of its existence? Like the Lady says, "I was born that way."

As for me, I am slowly learning to first take a breath and think about the decision I am about to make which will affect everything around me. And I will always try to use my power for good - for every living thing. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

World Book Day April 23

I never went to school for art. That surprises a lot of people. I rarely took an art class in high school either because I didn't want to spend hours working on something near and dear to my teacher's heart but not my own.

I was fortunate to have a mother that saw my passion at a young age, going so far as to convince instructors in adult art classes in the community to let me enroll in their classes. As a teenager, she encouraged me to continue to take classes at a local museum. And I talked to every artist I ever had the good fortune to meet, picking their brains asking how they did what they did. I also had a father who set a great example by pursuing his passion, turning it into a successful career as a professional golfer. A very good example for a budding artist.

But if asked how I really learned to draw and paint and develop my own style my answer would be - BOOKS. I read every art book I could find no matter what the subject, style or even if I didn't like the artist's work. I felt I could still learn something and I did. Being well-rounded so to speak, I even delved into the self-help and marketing books, a necessity for running a business, art or otherwise.

Books became incredibly important in my life. As I write this post, I am anxiously awaiting a book I have coveted for a long time but didn't or rather never felt I could justify the expense. But getting older puts a new spin on decisions. I ordered the book last week. What is it you're wondering? It's called, A Sea View, the work of Sarah Adams. She echos everything I feel. Her Alligator River is the Cornish coast with its sea caves and inlets. I am quivering with anticipation over the arrival of this book.

Books take many forms. I have tons of the usual kind, mostly non-fiction, ranging from field guides to art books to books on crystals and symbolism and many other subjects too numerous to mention. I have tons of sketchbooks spanning 30 years or so; my go-to field sketching, spiral-bound ones to my handmade artist books using antique book covers. Some books I've crafted are accordian style while others are housed in vintage compacts and old Mothene containers from the 1930s.

So this year, on World Book Day, take a few minutes, grab a cuppa and pick up a book, even if you just look at the pictures!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Lure of the Ooze

I live at the edge of primordial swamps; that borderland, that margin between the firmness of the earth and the place where you begin to slip into the ooze. I don't know why but this is the place I am drawn to. I love painting the dunes, but spending time on the beach doesn't do it for me unlike the thousands of visitors to our islands who come for just that purpose. I simply cannot drive by a patch of wetland without slowing down and stopping if at all possible to get out of the car and simply breathe in the greens, yellow slime and muck.

I've said it before, Alligator River Refuge is my all time favorite haunt. It calms me, absorbing any tension or worries into its mire, and I return home in a much better state of mind. I sketch it more often than any place else and visit every chance I get. To me, this primordial world is mystical, enchanting, enticing, luring me to come to the edge of the ooze, daring me to dip my toe inside.

One of my favorite book is by Barbara Hurd called, "Stirring the Mud", and I have read it more times than I can recount. She whispers things I feel but cannot articulate as well as she does. But the one thing I can't recall her mentioning is the subject of portals, and Alligator River is chock full of them.

I am considering doing a series of paintings - The Portals of Alligator River. These entries appear one day and close up the next, never to be seen again. I was speaking to my friend Eve about the portal we discovered the day the bobcat approached us, a magical day to be sure. We had both returned to the refuge separately a day or two later, and the portal had vanished like a primordial Brigadoon. To this day, when I venture down that side road I look for it but have never found it, and the spot where it appeared is now becoming hazy. Did we really ever see it in the first place?

Perhaps the bog elves or faeries allowed us a glimpse into their world by parting the sodden curtains of vegetation before changing their minds, deciding the human race just can't be trusted. These are the latest portals I've discovered. I returned to these spots just last week and couldn't find a trace of either of them. But I swear I heard rustling and soft laughter.

Finished Painting

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mellow Yellow

I had to travel to Elizabeth City on the mainland this week for a doctor's appointment. It used to be that the road was sided by field after field of cotton dressed in whites, maroons, ochre and sepia depending on the time of year. Things change as they tend to do, and now vineyards have replaced the cotton fields; the vines turning their tendrils up at the thought of cotton sharing their neighborhood.

But this week, besides seeing the newly awakening vines, I was awestruck at the fields I saw on either side of the road, mile after mile. Like saffron-clad monks bowing low in prayer, these brilliant, yellow fields are crops of rapeseed and will make their way into our kitchens as canola oil.

I've read that when the ancient Indians looked into the jungle they could always tell which leaves were about to fall from the trees, because they were either yellow, orange or brown. Consequently, in India, yellow became the color of renunciation. Monks and nuns wear yellow robes as a constant reminder of the importance of not clinging, of letting go, of giving up.

Change is hard because it usually relates to time. When things change, we are reminded that we too are aging. Things are no longer as they were. Some try to stave off time and change, but inevitably they too realize its time to let go of the past. Change doesn't have to be a negative thing. This week I was thrilled to put my past behind me, walking out of my oncologist's office with a clean bill of health. I will admit though, it still saddens me not to see tufts of cotton littering the roadside in the fall.

But like the monks I am learning to let things go, not to cling to past thoughts and ideals. This allows for new ideas and opportunities to come wafting in. I will no longer hold onto the image of cotton fields every time I cross the bridge to the mainland. Instead, I am replacing that past with the present rapeseed, imagining the fields to be blessed full of earthly prayers.

Copyright E.M. Corsa 2017

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Tunnel Vision

I am claustrophobic, big time. I begin to sweat at the thought of entering an elevator, preferring to climb the 20 flights of stairs. I don't like being placed into a tiny doctor's waiting room with no windows and mobs of people around me at an event is not my idea of a fun time. Even the phrase tunnel vision makes me think of that tunnel I keep hearing about you must go through upon your last breath before the white light enfolds you.
Copyright E.M. Corsa 2017

Merriam Webster defines tunnel vision as this:

1. constriction of the visual field resulting in loss of peripheral vision
2. extreme narrowness of viewpoint; also: single minded concentration on one objective

I find I do have tunnel vision myself, at times becoming so absorbed in my work that nothing else exists for me. Not always a good thing. If I'm not careful I fear I'll become one of those people that hole up in a cave wearing the same paint-stained clothing day after day, living on a loaf of bread and a pack of bologna. (My brother would laugh at this reference.)

But there is a tunnel I love, one that holds no threat to me in any way. It's at Pea Island Refuge on Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my home. I have many memories of walking through this wild, wind-shaped sculpture of trees; limbs embracing you, keeping out the cold while birds flit back and forth across your path. This tunnel does not restrict your field of vision and eventually opens up to a vista of marshland and ponds full of herons, ibis, ducks and swans.

I can only hope the tunnel vision I now observe in politics, whether it be about the environment, the arts, or social issues will eventually open up like the tunnel at Pea Island, allowing the bright light to enter once again.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lessons from a Birch Tree

"I've kicked the habit,
Shed my skin;
This is the new stuff."         - Peter Gabriel

I was teaching a field sketching workshop last week on the banks of the Perquimans River in Hertford, North Carolina when I was exposed to the most beautiful tree I have ever seen. To some this tree is nothing special since it grows all along the waterways. But there was something about it that mesmerized me. I had grown up with white birch trees in New England, spending hours peeling the bark off in big white, chalky sheets for arts and crafts projects. But these trees, River Birches, were new to me.

I was struck by the colors of the bark and exposed trunk first of all as well as the immense amount of bark vibrating in the dappled light, twisting and curling off in huge sheets from the trunk. The beauty of these trees stayed with me for days, so much so that I decided to do a finished painting of them from my sketches.

I think I was meant to make the acquaintance of these birch trees at just this point in my life. For I too am finding I am shedding my skin, creating new stuff. People who love my whimsical work might feel they are being left out on a limb, but artists MUST grow and experiment, and the land that surrounds me has begun speaking to me, yelling in fact to be sure its voice is heard. I cannot ignore my yearning any longer. I want to share the secrets that are being shown to me. I can do that by taking more people out into the field to experience for themselves the magic awaiting their sketchbooks. I am even working on Yupo, a challenging new support for my paintings, and I like a challenge. Now this doesn't mean I won't ever do another whimsical animal painting again or an air angel. I love my birds after all. But I have so much more to communicate with my work. More that I want to share. More stories I want to convey.

Experts say that birches shed their bark in order to grow. They also believe it's their way of shedding "hangers-on" and ridding themselves of bacteria and unwanted insects. Sometimes we need to do the same thing; shed ourselves of the hangers-on that try to keep us from growing because it's comfortable for them and what they are used to. That means they don't have to grow or change either. Other hangers-on include people that exude negativity, perhaps not intentionally but it becomes draining on those around them. I have had to release some of these people from my life too in order to grow like the river birch.

I hope you will enjoy my new endeavors as I grow and shed my skin.
For this is the new stuff.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Burn Baby Burn

I think I've mentioned that I just cannot drive by the Alligator River Refuge without pulling in for awhile to wander the gravel roads, watching birds, bear, and whatever else may be about on a lovely spring afternoon.

So after teaching another class on field sketching in Hertford, I pulled into the refuge to see billows of smoke rising up from the horizon behind the fields. I did a couple of sketches and watched for awhile, puzzling as to where the fire was.

Upon pulling back onto the road home, I found the source; a control burn of the marsh. Driving by it was awe inspiring; a curtain of wavering air and flame. Controlled burns are common here, and after doing the sketches I decided to do a finished painting from them back in the studio.

The Burn

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Foiled by Rain

spring trees at the pond
I am so used to getting outdoors everyday to walk and sketch that it's a real heartbreaker when I wake up to the sound of raindrops.

I had planned to venture down to Coquina Beach today to beachcomb for an upcoming class I'm teaching on drawing beach finds. I certainly have a large enough collection that I don't really need to go out to look for more shells, mermaid purses or driftwood. But I can't resist. Who knows what could have washed ashore over the last day or two. And with the season fast approaching, I need to make the most of these days that aren't filled with visitors.

So I decided to reserve Monday for the beach. I still spent my day at the beach painting, only it was from my sketches from my sketchbook. I am quite pleased with this one of East Bonnett St. dunes from a sketch I did a couple of days ago. And I didn't get any sand in the house!

Both of these paintings were done with watercolor on Yupo.

Dunes   Copyright E.M. Corsa 2017

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Over the River and Through the ... Swamp

Nothing is nearby.

My island is two hours away from everything. No Barnes and Noble here to squander an hour or two browsing through racks of books, no Target or Pier One to purchase those necessary things you don't really need, and no museums to haunt for inspiration. The lack of these things keep my island charming, but sometimes you just need a fix of traffic, people, and clothing without starfish or dolphins on it. 

This week I had the pleasure of conducting a workshop on Drawing Birds in the lovely town of Hertford - over two hours away. Four or five bridges, (I lost count) and mile after mile of swampland later, I finally reached my destination and was greeted by 10 of the most talented women ever. Their 20 hands produced some incredible art that day.

Drawing birds is hard work. Getting the proportions correct, the posture, eyes, beaks and bills, etc. It took a bit of time but soon everyone got the hang of how to accomplish what they were after. Nothing makes me happier than to see people realize how gifted they truly are. 

One student told me she could look at the first drawing we did and see how much she progressed in three short hours. That made my heart swell as did the fact that two students are coming back for the field sketching workshop in two weeks and two others are joining me at the bird park workshop in April.

If I'm going to drive two hours for a reward, I think I found the best one in Hertford, and I can't wait to go back in a couple of weeks. 


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jockey's Ridge, one more time

As I say over and over again, nothing is as fresh as my first sketches done on location. You can see why I say that by scrolling down to the original sketch of this dune posted a little while ago.

But the value of those sketches is this. Not only do they bring back the memory of that gorgeous day, working in a light breeze as the dune changed colors, but these sketches allow me to go back and work from them. No, I do not like this as much as the sketch. It's too "finished," too careful. But it will be turned into a concertina book, and I think when it's extended out on a table or mantle, it will still have that aura of the dune about it. And perhaps it will still carry a memory or two of a visit to Jockey's Ridge for whoever purchases it.

the finished book