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.


  1. Oh, my! This is gorgeous!!!! The finished painting on Yupo is just so colorful and alive. I am very much looking forward to your new stuff (and now that song is in my head! ha ha)

  2. You will never know how much your words mean to me. It's a scary thing to switch over at this point but your positive feedback sure helps. Thank you.

    Great song isn't it?!