Sunset in the Swamp

Sky on Fire in the Everglades 6.94x10.94 20130522

This is another old watercolor — I sure do miss this Permanent Rose in my palette.


Christy’s Island

Bright Seascape Watercolor 1:2 sheet '13 June 01 100_6414

This is another older watercolor done larger than I usually work — it was a  half sheet of watercolor paper; I was experimenting with permanent rose an Indian yellow. I’m definitely going to have to put the permanent rose back into my palette.

If you like this watercolor, you can find fine art prints, home decor and exercise products featuring it exclusively through Kess InHouse:
Christy’s Island by Cyndi Steen at Kess InHouse

Flock Flying Low

wc.2009.07.20.seascape.cHere’s another early watercolor I did after watching Frank Clarke in his series Simply Painting. I really liked the delicate colors of the sky and the wave action in this one.

If you like this painting you can find prints, home decor products and exercise clothing exclusively in my shop at Kess InHouse:

Flock Flying Low by Cyndi Steen at Kess InHouse

My First Acrylic Painting

reblogged from Niume Art (defunct):

My Garden at Giverny - from iPhoto

More than twenty years have passed since I painted this version of Monet’s Garden at Giverny. My mother-in-law, Eileen, introduced me to the world of art; I used to draw in school and even did a tiny bit of pastel work after high school, but I got very frustrated and just gave up. Eileen helped put me back on the road by sitting me down with a stretched canvas and her paints.

__1998ish.givernypainting 589 in process

My art “career” actually started here with this painting (above). After returning from a year in China with two small children, we were living in a condo that someone had decorated with tropical themes. I get it. It’s Florida, but this canvas in the living room had this GIGANTIC Nautilus shell painted on it. I like shells just fine, but I REALLY REALLY HATED that painting.

I told my mother-in-law that any time she wanted to cut down the great mounds of paint making up that ugly shell and paint Monet’s garden over it, I would be delighted! Not long after that she took the enormous sofa painting down, cut all the huge globs of Nautilus shell paint off it and then enlisted the help of my four year old daughter to paint. They laid the painting down in the grass outside and grandmother and granddaughter painted the afternoon away. After that initial blocking in, we hung it on the porch and whenever family members visited, everyone was given a brush, some paint and a reference photo. It became a huge family project. My husband’s grandmother even contributed.After that, Eileen gave me my own smaller canvas so that I could work on my own version — that you’ve just seen on the the first page of this post. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Having Fun with Crayons

This is another older watercolor from a few years ago. I was experimenting with wax resist using Crayola Crayons and decided I wanted to make this a very colorful house and played with complementary colors. I also tried to keep it kinda loose, so it looks as though this house may fall down soon, but I still had fun.

Re-Do Before Moving On

reblogged from Niume Art (defunct):


The Chapel watercolor mixed media c 100_9380 iPhoto'dI think this is the last one that I have an early comparison for from the Walter Foster book. I painted this in 2013, before giving the book away, just as a way to see how far I’d come. To see one of my first efforts, go to the next page. I’d prefer you didn’t, but feel at liberty to see some of my worst early work! 🙂


I can’t believe I’m showing this to ANYone, but this is the first version of this painting I did, way back when, in probably 2009.

Lesson in Crashing Waves

reblogged from Niume Art (defunct):
Crashing Waves watercolor lesson 20130813 c 100_9388 iPhoto'd

Another old lesson in the Walter Foster book from my last hurrah before I gave the book away in 2013; apparently, I didn’t feel the need to do water and rocks when I first got the book in 2009, so I don’t have an earlier comparison of this lesson. I always find it a challenge to keep so much white of the paper, but this is a good reminder that I need to focus on doing that more in my current works.

After and Before

Reblogged from Niume-Art (defunct):

Sunflower watercolor lesson 20130810 c 100_9384 iPhoto'd

Looking back at this one–another 2013 redo of the Walter Foster lessons in that book before I gave it away–I think I should have put some more darks in it, but for a relatively quick painting, I was pleased with it. See the next page to see one of my first versions of this lesson from about 2009

wc.2009.05.sunflower 001.darker.c.smaller.nfs

Another one of the first few watercolors I painted using instruction from the Walter Foster book.  In some ways, I like this first one better. But in truth, if I had either of these originals now, I’d add more layers of color to both of them and probably do some ink or graphite in them as well.


Re-blogged from Niume-Art (defunct):

Rooster Watercolor Lesson 20130810 c 100_9386 iPhoto'd

This was a lesson from a Walter Foster book; this is 2013 just before I decided to give the book away. I wanted to get an idea of just how far my skills have come in the seven or eight years since I started painting in watercolor. Click to see the next page and you’ll see just where I came from! 🙂


This is one of the earliest watercolors with instruction that  I’ve done–probably 2009 or 2010–I hope you can see why I put the one from 2013 on the first page.

High Interest

reblogged post from Niume Art (defunct):


Straight lines are boring. This was a great lesson–again, from a book I picked up at the library. It’s one of my favorite compositions too; it reminds me of my grandparents’ old cow barn. There were many techniques used in this painting — from creating the brick work, bleeding out lines in the door, adding paint splatters and lifting out paint to create a vignetted appearance on several of the edges.

Street Market in Marrakech

A reblogged post from Niume Art (defunct):

An old painting and one of my first attempts ever at painting the human figure. I painted it for my sister and brother-in-law who’d gone to Marrakech and allowed me to use their photographs as reference material. Overall, I was very pleased with this, especially the women’s faces. You can tell they are faces, but without much detail.

The Cliffs

reblogged from Niume Art (defunct):

Watercolor The Cliffs 20121103 jake

This is another older watercolor lesson done from a library book. It’s not a technique I use often, but it calls for dipping your brush in several different colors of paint before applying the brush to the paper, instead of mixing the colors beforehand. I like the effect, it’s just hard to keep my colors clean unless I’ve planned ahead.

More Peony Pretties

These are the last of my peony studies from a few years ago on 90lb practice paper. I really loved the pink blended with the purple. I threw some Phthalo green in with Phthalo blue and I LOVE the pink witha that vioet. All in all I loved this color combination and I’ll definitely be adding the pink and sap green back into my standard palette.


Pretty in Pink

reblogged from my Niume (defunct):

An old peony study on 90lb paper. I’m in the mood for spring! So I’m posting another flower today. Technically, it’s a little early for peonies, but I don’t care. I LOVE FLOWERS and miss the peonies my mom used to grow in our flower garden when I was a kid.  This one reminds me of the bright and delicate pink varieties that brightened our yard.


Exploit Your Public Library’s Resources

A few years ago we happened to live in an area of the country that had a fabulous Public Library system. I used to regularly check out the art section and find all kinds of great books on art instruction and they also had some really good videos as well.

This is one of my favorite watercolors. I did it a few years ago; it was done from a lesson in one of the library books I’d picked up. I had a blast creating those bricks, putting in the darks for definition and then lifting out at the corners of the painting to sharpen the contrast in the overall work.

I think it’s about time to try another version of this one, but it may be a while. Paints are put away, following Irma; though this leaves me wondering what I may be able to accomplish with digital.  Hmmm….

Spring is Springing

a reblogged post  from Niume (defunct):

For the last week, my friends have been posting pictures of their daffodils that are starting to bloom, so I thought I’d share this early watercolor of daffodils that I’d done many years ago. I just love daffodils!!! I was not made for winter and seeing this flower in bloom is just thrilling for me.

A Help For Hands

A few years ago, I had to stop a big painting I was working on to learn how to draw. Going through Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain helped me to overcome some huge obstacles in my art.  After working through a few exercises in the book and using a glass picture plane, I was able to draw my left hand.

 hand using picture plane 20130121 100_2067 crop
Here is my glass picture plane and how it helped me draw the complicated lines of a lampshade I was working on.
glass picture plane 100_2779

Once you have your sketch paper divided into four quadrants (like on the piece of glass),  you can draw in the outlines of your difficult subject on your sketch paper, using the grid method.

To use this method for my hand, I had to lay the picture plane on top of my left hand and draw the lines in marker on the glass with my right hand. It was kind of a balancing act, but it worked. Then I used the guide lines drawn on the picture plane as a reference to draw lines in graphite on my toned sketch paper that I had lightly marked with quadrants using the grid method. (Betty Edwards’ grid method only uses a grid of four equal blocks.) With the initial drawing laid in on the toned paper, I was able to add more graphite to create deeper tones and then lift out graphite with a kneaded eraser to create highlights.(If you want to learn to draw better, you should check out Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. No, I don’t get paid to say that; I just liked the book. A LOT.)There are a number of artists out there that say that using a picture plane is “cheating*”; Albrect Durer used one as did many other famous artists. It’s just plain faster than figuring out complicated lines without the extra help. glass picture plane 100_2778

*Apparently, it’s not cheating if you are a professional artist whose life depends on greater productivity — because you like to eat.

Tea For Two Purposes

Reblogged from my Niume (now defunct):

Watercolor special effects: this is an old study exploring watercolor techniques touching one color up with another one and letting them mix on the dry paper; before the colors dried I sprinkled instant iced tea in various places to create a mottled effect on the stoneware pieces I was having fun with. It’s still one of my favorite watercolor effects, but unfortunately, when I have instant iced tea powder around, I usually just drink it and don’t have any left over for painting. 🙂

wc 2012 dried tea study scan

Make Every Stroke Count

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I’ve been working on horses for the last six years or so. This is my first attempt at a minimalist approach to a horse. Knowing that I needed to make every stroke count, I tried to keep those strokes very fluid to communicate the spirit of the animal. His ears are a bit short, but overall I am VERY pleased with this drawing.

Learn to Draw!!! Yesterday!

I’d been sewing, crafting and painting for DECADES, but my husband told me many times –and for YEARS– that I should learn to draw; I hemmed and hawed and totally ignored his encouragement because I simply didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to stop painting and take the necessary time to learn a new thing with tools I didn’t prefer. Then one day I found myself in the middle of a very personally important project –a gift for someone I love– and I couldn’t complete it because I didn’t have the skills to do what I most wanted. I got REALLY frustrated.

After getting most of the landscape portion of this painting completed, I hit a road block that stopped everything and made me back up. The painting process went on hold and I finally began learning to draw.  However, because of my time constraints, I couldn’t complete the ultimate ideal project . This painting should have a moose in it. You will notice that it does not:  

After I learned to draw a bit, I was able to do this moose as a study, but he was too big to fit in the painting I was working on and with my limited skills I wasn’t able to fit a smaller one into the painting and finish it on time. I tried. Believe me, I tried, but I’d hemmed and hawed too long:

I still don’t draw as much as I should. Everyone says so. Everyone who matters most to me. But here’s one of my most recent charcoal sketches.

My figures still aren’t fabulous, but they are good enough to get an outline laid in for a painting if I need one and I no longer fear having to tackle a complicated subject like a horse. Before I went through the Betty Edwards’ book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, I would have simply avoided the subject altogether. Avoiding things left me feeling very incomplete and stunted, both personally and in my work.

I just can’t say enough good things about Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Betty Edwards provides exercises and tools for you to SEE better and so you can draw what you are seeing, not just what you think you see. The book is often available at your local public library. Check it out. Literally.

Drawing exercises a different part of the brain that often gets neglected in many parts of everyday life and it helps you access creative solutions and develop problem-solving skills that will help you work through problems in other areas of life, not just in art; almost everyone has access to a pen or pencil and a piece of paper throughout the day. Draw more.

I actually had a few meltdowns as I began to learn to draw, but made GIANT leaps forward in my personal life, in addition to acquiring new art skills. Once I began to really SEE what was around me, dormant parts of me began to blossom; my communication skills improved and I also had more self-esteem as I learned to conquer my fears in this process; it’s been personally therapeutic as well as professionally satisfying.

In most instances and for the average person, pencil or pen and paper is sufficient for drawing sketches, but for those who want to see what they are really capable of I heartily encourage you to go through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain; she’s an excellent teacher and gives you the tools you need to succeed.


Here is one of the exercises I worked on in 2012, using a glass picture plane (demonstrated and explained in the book). Hands are one of the most difficult subjects to draw and I’m still astounded that I was able to do this! You can too!!! She’s an excellent teacher and gives you the tools you need to succeed.


Here’s the glass picture plane I used to draw my hand; here you see I was working on angles for some confusing lines on a lampshade:

Missing Syd

Reblogged post from my Niume:
Cantaloupe Still Life WC150919a IMG_3654


I am NOT a city girl, but last year we spent 5 months in Sydney, Australia and  I loved it! But alas, visas run out and we returned to the States. Earlier today, a friend posted a meme of an Aussie Rock Melon, captioned, “Why do Rock Melons have elaborate weddings? Because they Cantaloupe.” Corny, I know, but it got me thinking and pining over Sydney.Here’s a watercolor I did of a Rock Melon and other fruit (fresh and fermented) that I did while we were there; we’d had some serious weather with terrible flooding and I was stuck in my room for a few days, but on this rare occasion I was able to get most of my painting done before my family ate and drank my models!

Today’s Art Tip:Always take a reference picture of your still life before you walk away; family members may not notice your big signs, “DO NOT EAT!” At least that was their story. And they’re still sticking to it.

Sleeplessness and Productivity

A reblogged post from my now defunct Niume account:

So, last year when I was staying in Auckland I went through a couple of very sleepless nights. At first, I thought it was because I was on the other side of the planet from where I’d grown up and all my friends “at home” were up, but now I think it really was a factor of aging or I that I had lots of things on mind. In fact, since returning to my native hemisphere I’ve had to limit my screen-time to mostly daylight hours, so that I sleep like normal people. Normal people… Anyway, during my sleepless nights I’ve been known to do a bit of digital painting; it’s hard to paint with traditional media in the dark and I really don’t like to have lights on while my husband is trying to sleep, so painting digitally is a huge blessing on those occasions! It helps me refocus my mind and settle down so I can sleep. (Now that I’m limiting my exposure times to blue light–computer screens–I am sleeping better, so I don’t have many nights when I simply can’t sleep anymore.) These are a couple of my middle-of-the-night paintings when I was experimenting with the full version of Sketchbook Pro on a Surface 3 that I was trying out.

I did really like this “brush” for doing abstracts!

And though this was a daytime painting, it was the first one I did on the Surface with the full version of Sketchbook Pro, so I’ve included it with the other works. Reference for this lemon painting was shot by my friend and fellow artist-photographer, Allen Randall, in San Diego. Seriously, the man can make snails look GLAMOROUS and this lemon was stunning. I am not kidding–he’s been a great inspiration!

After a few months, I discovered that I didn’t “paint” as much using the full version of the program. Yes, yes, there were too many choices and I found it overwhelming; the program and the hardware worked quite well, but I’ve never been too much of a “bells and whistles” sort of person. In the end, I ditched both the hardware and the full version of the painting software and went back to my old Galaxy Note8 and the simpler version of Sketchbook Autodesk.

Here’s a painting done with the Note8 and Autodesk; reference also provided by Allen Randall:

I pronounce the simpler program totally adequate for my needs! The Note8, however, is on it’s last legs and I’m left wondering what to do…

So, if I’ve piqued your interest at the idea of glamorous snails then you can check out Allen Randall’s paintings here while you wait for him to upload his photography :


Reblogged from Niume Art (defunct):

Irma DPAR 13_005

My spot for viewing the first half of Irma was handpicked for me; Hand-Picked by Someone who knows more than I do about what I need and where I need to be. I don’t think we could have plopped in a safer place. The steps of a a righteous man are ordered of the Lord; and from what we’ve seen, so are his stops. Our hotel room on the 3rd floor of a Ft. Myers hotel took no wind throughout the entire storm. We had a north-facing window and during the day we saw trees battered by winds from the east. Later as the sun went down and we were in the calm, we could see the lights from Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte from our room. We lost power about 5 pm so we watched the changing sky from our room; it was pretty calm about then as the eye was passing over. Just after the sun was almost completely set, I saw three notable explosions in quick succession at the same spot on the horizon. Later, I heard that one of the other hotel’s generators had blown up. I was immediately grateful we didn’t have a generator!

Our hotel staff was awesome. They were short-staffed, had never been through a hurricane and have handled themselves admirably. Just before the sun set and we lost power, they went from room to room, handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fresh fruit and water to everyone who was hungry.  The second night with no electricity, they brought in meat and mayonnaise sandwiches for everyone! La Quinta is now my new favorite hotel. Love them to bits!

We were without power for about 28 hours. We are SO thankful for everyone who worked so hard to get power back to our area so early! Again, another reason we know our room was handpicked for us; we were near the airport and the hospital which were both high priority for restored electricity. After Wilma we were without power for about 5 days down in Naples. Irma is my 4th hurricane. I would like to hope that she is my last, but I have the feeling that this is just preparation for what is to come.

I won’t lie;  I had many anxious moments, especially before the storm hit, but KNOWING that I was in my Father’s hand the whole time and that we had friends and family all over the planet who were praying for us, I had tremendous peace after the rain and wind started.  I was even able to lie down and sleep peacefully though the first parts of the storm and then slept soundly through the night for the last half after the winds changed direction. “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.”

The following morning we took a look at the damage in our area; there were lots of damaged trees and two of the other hotels on our road had some minor roof damage. Our hotel lost the big sign out front and the pet station. Not bad, all told. We are most grateful for everyone’s prayers. Thank you!

See my post Irma photos and brief video of the winds here:

Quick Horses

A reblog of my now defunct Niume post:

Ever since I was little I’ve been fascinated with horses; I was not one of those fortunate ones who ever got to ride one much and certainly never owned one of these beautiful beasties. My fascination with them continues and after several months of solidly painting landscapes I decided it was time to get back to some horse work today. I’m not going for masterpieces here, but my son and another artist friend of mine have encouraged me to do quick paintings as an exercise. So, today, I got back to it and had a lot of fun with it!

A Quick Horse AC160916a signed IMG_5804 touched up enhan rot crop

This full horse was done in about an half hour with just a few colors that were left on my palette from my landscapes earlier in the week.


I spent a bit longer on this head sketch, but also used a limited palette and tried to work quickly.

Rodeo AC20151027b-13
Rodeo-quick horse study in acrylic

This is Rodeo, a friend’s horse, that I did several years ago; he’s still one of my best and favorites. It was a quick sketch in acrylic paint with a limited palette.

Crossing the Swamp

Naliboki Forest Watercolor 2012-001.b smaller
After watching the 2009 film Defiance that told the story of the Bielski partisans during World War II, I wanted to paint my inspiration and dedicate this painting to Tuvia Bielski and his brothers, Zus, Ashael, and Aron who fought the extermination of their people and saved about 1,200 lives. This is the swamp in the Naliboki forest that they needed to cross to escape an attack by the Nazis.

Many thanks to Siarhei Hatski for allowing me to use his photograph of the Naliboki Swamp as reference and to the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation for allowing me to take their on-line course as I researched the era and the Bielski Partisans. I’m very grateful for JPEF and their work to keep these memories alive and for teaching methods of resistance to tyranny. For more information on the Bielski Partisans and the surprising number of resistors during WWII visit their website:

Yarnell Hill Fire

This painting was done in tribute to the Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed in the Yarnell Hill Wildfire on June 30, 2013. 19 of the 20 members died that day.  One of my friends is from Prescott and news of the tragedy really struck a chord in my circle of Arizona friends, so it affected me too; I painted this as the firefighters were being carried to the cemetery for burial. This is one of the most emotional pieces I’ve ever done and if anyone knows who has the original I would be gratified to connect with them, for no other reason than to finally find out where it ended up. The original painting was acrylic on a piece of MDF that was about 12″x24″:

Ashcraft, Andrew – Age: 29

Caldwell, Robert – Age: 23

Carter, Travis – Age: 31

Deford, Dustin – Age: 24

MacKenzie, Christopher – Age: 30

Marsh, Eric – Age: 43

McKee, Grant – Age: 21

Misner, Sean – Age: 26

Norris, Scott – Age: 28

Parker, Wade – Age: 22

Percin, John – Age: 24

Rose, Anthony – Age: 23

Steed, Jesse – Age: 36

Thurston, Joe – Age: 32

Turbyfill, Travis – Age: 27

Warneke, William – Age: 25

Whitted, Clayton – Age: 28

Woyjeck, Kevin – Age: 21

Zuppiger, Garret – Age: 27

I’m very grateful for these firefighters who laid down their lives to protect others; I pray that their families are comforted and that all of their needs will be met.

Some Days It Just Clicks

Sketch133232628Today, I am resting and only doing things that I find restorative; I found an older piece of art that needed some tweaking, so I began to play. No stress, no striving, just letting the creativity flow. I find that enjoyable and very restorative. Things like promotion will wait for a “work” day; that’s not restful.

As I was playing, my mind wandered back to why I am doing this (art) again. As I so often do when I am being contemplative, I turned to Streams in the Desert:

In Streams in the Desert
“But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him…And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf” (Gen. 8:9-11).

God knows just when to withhold from us any visible sign of encouragement, and when to grant us such a sign. How good it is that we may trust Him anyway! When all visible evidences that He is remembering us are withheld, that is best; He wants us to realize that His Word, His promise of remembrance, is more substantial and dependable than any evidence of our senses. When He sends the visible evidence, that is well also; we appreciate it all the more after we have trusted Him without it. Those who are readiest to trust God without other evidence than His Word always receive the greatest number of visible evidences of His love. –C. G. Trumbull

“Believing Him; if storm-clouds gather darkly ’round,
And even if the heaven seem brass, without a sound?
He hears each prayer and even notes the sparrow’s fall.

“And praising Him; when sorrow, grief, and pain are near,
And even when we lose the thing that seems most dear?
Our loss is gain. Praise Him; in Him we have our All.

“Our hand in His; e’en though the path seems long and drear
We scarcely see a step ahead, and almost fear?
He guides aright. He has it thus to keep us near.
“And satisfied; when every path is blocked and bare,
And worldly things are gone and dead which were so fair?
Believe and rest and trust in Him, He comes to stay.”

Delays are not refusals; many a prayer is registered, and underneath it the words: “My time is not yet come.” God has a set time as well as a set purpose, and He who orders the bounds of our habitation orders also the time of our deliverance. –Selected

“God is never late! He has no where to go.” Arthur Burt

You can trust Him.

As I was reading through Streams in the Desert I was remembered something from a few days ago–I sat down to spend time with my family as they watched a movie; I’d grabbed my Notebook to do some digital painting as I listened and watched snatches of the movie I’d already seen years ago. I clipped through two neglected paintings and by the end of the movie was very pleased with my finished products; this was one of those instances where I was totally in The Zone which makes it even more remarkable that I was able to pay close attention to the dialogue scenes in the movie. One scene, in particular, spoke to me nearly a decade ago, but as I had incorporated the meat of the message into my doing,  I’d forgotten about it over the years. This week I was reminded about those first instructions and that scene freshly watched spoke the same message as an encouragement again; I caught a glimpse of something very important–why I am still painting even though I don’t see it going anywhere.

I know most people don’t get it when someone says that God speaks to them. I can’t explain how I know I’ve heard God speak something to me. I just know. He says His sheep know His voice and another they will not follow. I believe that. I don’t “hear” in that way very often, but when I do, I tend to snap to. I’m very visual and often scenes from movies speak very clearly to my heart. This was one of those times. I don’t pretend to understand all the things God is engineering in the process for and through me, but I am doing what I believe I was told to do. And this week, I needed the reminder. Post-Christmas business is non-existent. I remind myself I’m not in it for the business, but sometimes I need a reminder from higher up.

Sketch216233042In the movie, the central figure is rather disheartened and seeking God because He just doesn’t see any fruitfulness in his life when a praying man comes to him and tells him he needs to bloom where he’s planted. This protagonist remains rather befuddled and questions the man who comes to him. Then the messenger tells him of two farmers who were in the midst of a drought. Both farmers prayed for rain, but only one actually trusted God to send the rain they each desperately needed. In the end, it was the one who who went out and prepared his fields that got the rain. He had demonstrated that he trusted by his actions. In some circles, this would be described as works being the natural outworking of one’s faith.

I heard that direction to prepare my fields 8 years ago, as if it were spoken directly to me, and began working very hard at that time to “prepare my fields.” Occasionally, I get a drop of rain here or there that keeps me hopeful and trusting that I’m still on the right course, but still no field-quenching rain; I’m still working and trusting that in His time, the rain will come. Thankful for the reminder from the movie, I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing and I’ll be ready.

Plow now; if we think we can wait until the rain comes to prepare our fields, we will be caught unready. I’ve never done much gardening, but I don’t think it’s very practical to plow mud. If it’s even possible (forgive my ignorance), it’s certainly much harder.

In reality, the word-picture that was used demonstrated that ONLY the one who prepared beforehand ended up getting the rain he needed. We need to pay attention to that.

If you want to see the movie clip:

“No Extra Junk”

“No extra junk” –great advice from a speech therapist we are working with to help coach a friend who’s working very hard to regain the power of speech after having a stroke last year. It applies to SO many things in life. I think that also applies to this blog. So here’s another re-blog.

I’m getting  back to goals that were laid aside and have been working on horses again, (discussed in my last post) and I’m also in a season where I can just pick up a paint brush or pencil almost whenever I want, but the business side of art is again on the back burner. Horses Studies Charcoal '16 IMG_5972And that’s okay. I’m just noting the change of season. One of my artist friends posted this blog today and I always find this kind of thing encouraging, especially when I am tempted to look at my age and consider that my life is probably well beyond being half over. I’m not in any hurry to leave; I just want to make sure I’m using my time here the way I am supposed to and I’m apparently not alone in using my later years to hone my artistic skills. Compared to many of those mentioned here, I am a spring chicken!

The Naughty Child

I’ve never been one for making New Year’s Resolutions and I’m not going to start now, but a few days ago when I was asking the Lord about His directions for my life for the coming year I got the gentle reminder to finish the things that I began a year ago. Between travel and new projects, I have a longstanding goal that keeps getting shoved aside. I’d like to attribute it all to the unexpected and occasionally urgent things of life that just pop up, but there’s more to it. There’s been a fair amount of trepidation and procrastination. So, as I took a few days to regather resources and finish up other 2015 work, this blog post from Ann Voskamp showed up in my newsfeed today:

How To Destroy Procrastination: Dear You Who Doesn’t Want to Do that Hard Thing in the New Year

You can read it here:

So, what have I been procrastinating, you ask. Horses. Drawing and painting horses. I’m sure most people won’t “get” it, but a few years ago, I was told to draw horses. It struck a real chord with me at the time and I just KNEW it was what I was supposed to be doing. I’ve pursued it whole hog from time to time, usually using a paintbrush to “draw,” but also sketching in graphite; to be brutally honest, for the longest time I found it VERY, VERY frustrating. Sometimes, I could do a drawing that I was very pleased with, but most often not. I love horses, but I’ve never gotten to spend much time around them and I somehow feel deep inside if I could just get my hands on one again, I’d be able to understand their anatomy better. Maybe. Maybe not. Right now, horses are a bit thin in my locale and I have a few pictures, so I’m getting back to it. Here are today’s effort in charcoal:20160101_13030120160101_150952

And while I may not have perfect executions here, I’ve come a LONG way from where I started. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but it was good to work in black and white and not have to mix color. These drawings were done relatively quickly.

Great Inspirations

a mountain andscape by Chantel BarberI met Chantel Barber online ages ago, it seems. She’d posted this absolutely gorgeous mountain landscape and since then I have been a huge fan of hers; her loose and free impressionistic style awes me! Lately, her work has become most notable for her incredible, impressionistic portraits which can be seen here . She has an Online Atelier and has published at least two books. When it comes to our personal histories with Acrylics, Chantel and I share some common experiences. Here’s a brief interview with her done by Gaye Sekula: Chantel Barber

Unlike Chantel who knew from an early age that she was already an artist, it took me a LONG time to figure out that I actually had ANY artistic abilities. As Betty Edwards observed from her research that led to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, kids often give up doing anything artistic as they grow up. Like most adolescents, I gave up any serious interest in art out of frustration. My last art class was in 8th grade; I don’t recall any lessons in turning forms, values and making things look dimensional and I didn’t have the vocabulary to express what I wanted to learn. My parents didn’t have any interest in art when I was that age, so they didn’t recognize my frustrations either.  At one point in that last art class, I’d done a nice dog drawing, but when I couldn’t get the snout to look right my teacher came by and finished it for me. While I had asked for help, I didn’t exactly mean for her to do it for me. She did a great job. I did like how it looked, but it seemed that all of my hopes for learning HOW to draw and paint just flew out the window in that one moment. As I entered high school, I never even considered taking another art class. I just filled my elective slots with extra history classes. I still love history, but think my early adult life would have been far different if my artistic abilities had been encouraged and trained.

A pastel painting of Echinacea by Chantel Barber
A pastel painting of Echinacea by Chantel Barber

I did pick up some pastels and charcoal pencils to fiddle around with later in high school, but I never produced anything I was happy with. Perhaps that’s where my deep and long-standing hatred of working with pastels developed. If I had ever painted anything like this Echinacea flower by Chantel, I might have kept up with them. Alas, I didn’t know anyone that worked in pastel, or any other media for that matter, who could help me, so my box of pastels were transported from pillar to post as I moved around, but rarely used. Many years later, I was introduced to acrylic painting by my very creative mother-in-law, Eileen. She helped me get started with art again when she began teaching my young children to draw and paint. After a while though,  I developed many of the same frustrations Chantel mentioned about acrylics. The translucency and quick drying times of the paint were maddening. There really wasn’t anyone doing any work in acrylics that I admired; no one on TV worked in acrylics and the artists publishing books at that time just weren’t producing any kind of artwork that I liked, so I couldn’t get any useful instruction. Early acrylic paintings always flattened out and though you could make an object look dimensional with different values, shading and highlights, acrylics were not a great choice to  create paintings with texture.

I was a big fan of the textures and vibrancy of oil paintings; I grew up watching Bill Alexander and and Bob Ross. I love how oil paintings look, but have never been willing to work in that medium, so I wanted to find a way to work happily with acrylics, but it just wasn’t happening.  In 2009, after years of frustration,  I was ready to quit art again. I can’t even remember if I’d bothered to offer up a prayer about my frustrations, but apparently the Lord heard my heart cries whether I did or not.

Landscape triptych by Chantel Barber
Landscape triptych by Chantel Barber; Here is another excellent example  by Chantel of what I’ve always wanted to be able to do with acrylics and what I’ve always wanted to do with acrylics.

One afternoon as I sat down to eat my lunch, I turned on PBS  and found Jerry Yarnell’s School of Fine Art; I’d never heard of him before and assumed that he was painting in oil like all the other TV artists, but was absolutely delighted to see that he was using acrylics. I was hooked! His landscape work was beautiful and I continued to watch him every day at lunch, certain that I could learn from him. His solution to my problems with acrylic was Grumbacher Gesso, a product that has totally changed my relationship with acrylic painting.  I don’t have any financial relationship with Grumbacher Gesso or Jerry Yarnell; I just love them both and owe them both a huge debt of gratitude.  The fears that tempted me to chuck my paints and give up melted away as I watched lesson after lesson. I began applying Jerry’s techniques to my paintings and finally got good enough that my husband bought me a sketchbox easel.Art Workspace Studio100_2633

En Plein Air Acrylic Bag '13 100_2618
My newer Guerilla Thumbox easel

Since then, however, we’ve returned to a more mobile lifestyle and my sketchbox easel became too much to carry, so I’m moving toward painting smaller using a Guerilla Thumbox–another reason I so much appreciate what Chantel is doing with her small portraits! Her work has encouraged me to stick with the smaller set-up; painting small is a real challenge so far, but I’m trying. I think I’ll enjoy it more when I get the mount and a tripod for the thumbox.




A terrible picture of my small plein air tree done in Sydney
A terrible picture of my small plein air tree done in Sydney

Here’s a 6×8 plein air painting from when I was in Australia a few months ago:

Glass, It’s SO Shiny!

decorative garden pumpkin
Here’s a collection of photos from one of the funnest days I’ve ever had; five years ago on our trek through the southwest of the United States and California, we’d met Marty Marshall at his storefront in Balboa Park. We had a great time talking about glass blowing and all the big names in the art–Dale Chihuly, Pino, Lino and Murano glass. Since we’re such huge glass fans, Marty invited us to come to his hot shop for Marshall Arts Blown Glass to watch the process in person. It was an  incredible afternoon and very educational. He and his partner Mike made several pieces while we were there; we got to see how colors are added and how tiny holes are created in pieces of glass (on purpose) using a frog and feel the incredible heat of the furnaces. (By the way, the frog they use is a metal tool; Google “flower arranging tool” if you want to see one. No amphibians are used in the glass-blowing process.)  Some day, I might actually get around to editing the hour (plus) video we took, but for now here are the stills I took:Marshall Arts Blown Glass-San Diego, CA


I Want to Be Like a Child–At Heart

I’ve been SUPER busy since our return from Australia two months ago; I was sick for a couple of weeks and then ran non-stop cleaning and painting walls to help get our friend’s house ready for the market. Now that things are slowing down a bit, I was reminded by this poem that I should not mistake the urgent for the important. Things do need to get done, but in the doing I don’t want to forget to maintain a child-like nature.

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Royal Botanic Garden Sydney 03 14 15 IMG_3159
Come to me, O ye children!
For I hear you at your play,
And the questions that perplexed me
Have vanished quite away.

Ye open the eastern windows,
That look towards the sun,
Where thoughts are singing swallows
And the brooks of morning run.

In your hearts are the birds and the sunshine,
In your thoughts the brooklet’s flow,
But in mine is the wind of Autumn
And the first fall of the snow.

Ah! what would the world be to us
If the children were no more?
We should dread the desert behind us
Worse than the dark before.

What the leaves are to the forest,
With light and air for food,
Ere their sweet and tender juices
Have been hardened into wood, —

That to the world are children;
Through them it feels the glow
Of a brighter and sunnier climate
Than reaches the trunks below.

Come to me, O ye children!
And whisper in my ear
What the birds and the winds are singing
In your sunny atmosphere.

For what are all our contrivings,
And the wisdom of our books,
When compared with your caresses,
And the gladness of your looks?

Ye are better than all the ballads
That ever were sung or said;
For ye are living poems,
And all the rest are dead.

Carol’s Tiny Cat Rescue!

Peanuts – 1964

I’ve love cats since I was a baby and tried to pull our family cat closer to me — UNDER the railing along our foyer steps. Fortunately, our cat was very patient and my mom stopped me before either of us got hurt.

It’s been some time since I’ve done any serious art or writing; travel back to the U.S., a virus (caught by the whole family) and some home repair projects have kept me very busy, but here’s an event that really moved me deeply and why I chose to post it in this blog.

I was on a gigantic emotional roller coaster  which began when one of my Besties informed me that there was a litter of eight tiny newly-weaned kittens that were in danger of being destroyed if new homes weren’t found for them by the end of the week. The mom was a stray and was finally being neutered and adopted by another friend who was moving within days. The circumstances were somewhat convoluted and frustrating for everyone involved, but my friend Carol jumped right in, took up the challenge and spent all day calling local shelters and organizations looking for a place that would save these tiny, adorable babies.

After watching Carol make call after call with no success, I did what came naturally to me, I prayed. I think I may have mentioned that I love cats. God says He knows when a sparrow fall to the ground, so even though cats sometimes eat sparrows, I figure He cares for them too since they fall somewhere in the middle of the Sparrow – Human (worth) chain. I was amazed by Carol’s determination to find a place for these kitties however it worked out. At first I hadn’t realized how upset I was about the situation until Carol noticed that I was disturbed and asked me about it. It was only after she asked me if I was okay that I realized just how distraught I was. As the clock ticked and days passed, I continued to remind the Lord that these little lives hung in the balance. No one was willing to take them.

Finally as the deadline approached toward the end of the week, the phone rang; Carol found out that if she could make it to an area near Athens, GA by 2 pm, there was a shelter that would take all eight. It was already lunchtime and the short deadline set us on a whirlwind adventure! I asked Carol if she needed help; I had prayed for this answer, so it only seemed fitting to accompany her and watch over the scared newbies as they were being transported. They’d never had much human contact as their mum hid them in a woodpile for weeks; I knew that riding in a car would also be a new and scary experience as well — the ride to the shelter was over two hours away. Carol needed to focus on driving through unfamiliar areas, so off I went with her on this adventure. I just couldn’t believe that with all of the other things she has on her own plate, that she would take the time to save these kittens. This woman is one of my heroes! Really.

First we had to pick the kittens up in a neighboring town.

Carol's Tiny Cat Rescue '15 IMG_3127 A quick heads-up to the property owner gave her time to capture the cuties before we got there, but we didn’t know that they were all secured until we’d arrived! More prayer in the car before we got there; the shelter agreed to take all eight or none. Fortunately, they were all hungry and capture for the property owner was effortless. I couldn’t believe what a variety of coats there were in this one litter! Three red mackerel tabbies, a calico like mom, a brown mackerel tabby, a couple of grayish ones and a black. What a palette! (See how I worked the subject of art into this post!)

Fortunately, after transferring them to a bigger box most of the kittens hunkered down and went to sleep after the car got rolling, but there were two or three who thought they might try to escape. They were scared enough about riding in the car that they let me stroke them and they kept eye contact with me as they vocalized their concerns. The worriers kept waking the others too with their mewing and stepping on their sleeping sibling’s heads, but eventually, they also settled down and finally went to sleep for most of the ride.Carol's Tiny Cat Rescue '15 IMG_3072

Carol's Tiny Cat Rescue '15 IMG_3134
Carol’s daughter assisting Dr. Geren with the black kitten

It was quite an honor to play even a small part in this rescue. We were later than 2, but Dr. Geren was a gem; she is passionate about cats was very thankful that Carol had plowed through all of the challenges to save these little beasties. She assured us that these little lives were finally safe and would be well cared for–neutered, shots, treated for parasites, of course, but also well-fed and housed without cages as they are fostered until they are adopted. The best news is that Magi-catrescue is a no-kill shelter.

I admit it. I cried. By the time we reached home, I was brain-dead and dead tired. But it was a good tired. I may not have many friends and may not get to see them often because I travel so much, but the ones that I have are gold!

Thank you, Carol and thank you Dr. Geren!Carol's Tiny Cat Rescue '15 IMG_3136

These babies aren’t quite ready for adoption, but there are other lovely cats ready for new homes now!
If you live in the Athens, GA area and would like to adopt a beautiful kitty, check out this shelter first:
Magi-cat Rescue

Piedmont Animal Clinic
1870 Hog Mountain Rd
Watkinsville, Georgia
(706) 769-4624

Here are the rest of my photos from our afternoon together: Carol’s Tiny Cat Rescue ’15

Litter of 8 @ 6 weks Sept 3 2015
Photos from Dr. Geren.

Litter of 8-November '15
Litter of 8-November ’15


Litter of 8 update November 2
Litter of 8 – November ’15 update
TOM THUMB of 8 Sept 23 2015
Tom Thumb –Adopted!
BRINKLEY of 8 Sept 23 2015
GAVIN one of 8 Sept 23 2015
KATIE of 8 Sept 23 2015
SOPHIE of 8 Sept 23 2015
ZOE of 8 Sept 3 2015


Out of the Shadows

Teacher and Student from Local Color Shared by permission


‘I don’t paint because I want to. I paint because I have to. I do it because when I am in the moment of creating, I find that I am somehow in touch with everything that is right and good in the Universe. I’ve also found that the best work comes from taking yourself completely out of the equation. Although this may sound like a contradiction, your work should never be about you. If it becomes too much about yourself, the work becomes about vanity. Artists who perform for accolades are surely lost and become addicts for more and more attention. That type of insatiable thirst never gets quenched and not only does the work suffer, it can leave the artist emotionally broken and bankrupt. As corny as this sounds, the best results come from the concept of love. I think one achieves greatness by humbly and happily bowing to something greater than themselves.

Darkness is easy. It is the place where many choose to go. It’s easy to survive there because all one needs to do is hide. But hiding is all about fear. The artists that I’ve admired have chosen to go for the light. The light is frightening because there you can’t hide. Everything is in full view. But once your eyes adjust, you’ll accept nothing less.'”

– George Gallo

The Art of George Gallo on Facebook

I have to admit that all too often my art has been about me, but I’m trying to learn from those who are wiser. Several years ago, I was introduced to the movie, Local Color. It remains one of my favorite films and I’m still learning from it and its creator, George Gallo. I’ve struggled for many years with a deep desire to hide. Even as I pursued my desire to create, I would use art as an escape, but that very act of creating has driven me from the shadows out into the light. Who knew? I’m still not altogether comfortable with it, but I want to be better, to love more and not merely be comfortable.

Thank you, George; my favorite artists are also those who love light.

From Tinkers to Evers to Chance

It always amazes me to see how life blossoms; my post on Desolation brought back many forgotten notes from previous research. Thomas Cole had some REALLY cool friends!

public domain
Kindred Spirits by Asher Brown Durand

Kindred Spirits by Asher Brown Durand, shows two close friends, William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole on a rock outcropping in The Catskills. Durand painted it in tribute to Cole upon his rather sudden and unexpected death in 1848. Durand was one of the countries best engravers, yet became an oil painter, a rather notable painter in The Hudson River School. Like Cole, he left behind writings which demonstrated his belief that nature was an indescribable manifestation of God, that “[T]he true province of Landscape Art is the representation of the work of God in the visible creation…” (Letters on Landscape Painting in The Crayon, an art periodical from the mid-19th century in NY.)

Cole was my Tinkers. Durand became my Evers. Bryant is my Chance.

William Cullen Bryant, featured also in Kindred Spirits, was a fascinating man; he was a close friend of Thomas Cole and though he was a lover of nature as well, he spent an awful lot of time in cities. I think he enjoyed cities much more than I do; in fact, he spent most of his time in the city I dislike most, New York City. I’m content in my fantasy that New York must have been a much better place in Bryant’s time; perhaps it wasn’t though, since Bryant was powerfully connected with the creation of the only two things in New York City that I really love–that wonderfully huge green space, Central Park and the glorious collection of art and antiquities, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thank you so much Mr. Bryant! Your efforts helped provide much needed comfort during my time in Megalopolis.

I’ve never been a huge fan of poetry, but the man was indeed a notable poet. Where Cole used paint to express nature, Bryant used words:

A Forest Hymn

The groves were God’s first temples. Ere man learned
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them,—ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,
Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down,
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
And supplication. For his simple heart
Might not resist the sacred influences,
Which, from the stilly twilight of the place,
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven
Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound
Of the invisible breath that swayed at once
All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed
His spirit with the thought of boundless power
And inaccessible majesty. Ah, why
Should we, in the world’s riper years, neglect
God’s ancient sanctuaries, and adore
Only among the crowd, and under roofs,
That our frail hands have raised? Let me, at least,
Here, in the shadow of this aged wood,
Offer one hymn—thrice happy, if it find
Acceptance in His ear.
Father, thy hand
Hath reared these venerable columns, thou
Didst weave this verdant roof. Thou didst look down
Upon the naked earth, and, forthwith, rose
All these fair ranks of trees. They, in thy sun,
Budded, and shook their green leaves in the breeze,
And shot towards heaven. The century-living crow,
Whose birth was in their tops, grew old and died
Among their branches, till, at last, they stood,
As now they stand, massy, and tall, and dark,
Fit shrine for humble worshipper to hold
Communion with his Maker. These dim vaults,
These winding aisles, of human pomp and pride
Report not. No fantastic carvings show
The boast of our vain race to change the form
Of thy fair works. But thou art here—thou fill’st
The solitude. Thou art in the soft winds
That run along the summit of these trees
In music; thou art in the cooler breath
That from the inmost darkness of the place
Comes, scarcely felt; the barky trunks, the ground,
The fresh moist ground, are all instinct with thee.
Here is continual worship;—Nature, here,
In the tranquility that thou dost love,
Enjoys thy presence. Noiselessly, around,
From perch to perch, the solitary bird
Passes; and yon clear spring, that, midst its herbs,
Wells softly forth and wandering steeps the roots
Of half the mighty forest, tells no tale
Of all the good it does. Thou hast not left
Thyself without a witness, in these shades,
Of thy perfections. Grandeur, strength, and grace
Are here to speak of thee. This mighty oak—
By whose immovable stem I stand and seem
Almost annihilated—not a prince,
In all that proud old world beyond the deep,
E’er wore his crown as lofty as he
Wears the green coronal of leaves with which
Thy hand has graced him. Nestled at his root
Is beauty, such as blooms not in the glare
Of the broad sun. That delicate forest flower
With scented breath, and look so like a smile,
Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould,
An emanation of the indwelling Life,
A visible token of the upholding Love,
That are the soul of this wide universe.

My heart is awed within me when I think
Of the great miracle that still goes on,
In silence, round me—the perpetual work
Of thy creation, finished, yet renewed
Forever. Written on thy works I read
The lesson of thy own eternity.
Lo! all grow old and die—but see again,
How on the faltering footsteps of decay
Youth presses—-ever gay and beautiful youth
In all its beautiful forms. These lofty trees
Wave not less proudly that their ancestors
Moulder beneath them. Oh, there is not lost
One of earth’s charms: upon her bosom yet,
After the flight of untold centuries,
The freshness of her far beginning lies
And yet shall lie. Life mocks the idle hate
Of his arch enemy Death—yea, seats himself
Upon the tyrant’s throne—the sepulchre,
And of the triumphs of his ghastly foe
Makes his own nourishment. For he came forth
From thine own bosom, and shall have no end.

There have been holy men who hid themselves
Deep in the woody wilderness, and gave
Their lives to thought and prayer, till they outlived
The generation born with them, nor seemed
Less aged than the hoary trees and rocks
Around them;—and there have been holy men
Who deemed it were not well to pass life thus.
But let me often to these solitudes
Retire, and in thy presence reassure
My feeble virtue. Here its enemies,
The passions, at thy plainer footsteps shrink
And tremble and are still. Oh, God! when thou
Dost scare the world with falling thunderbolts, or fill,
With all the waters of the firmament,
The swift dark whirlwind that uproots the woods
And drowns the village; when, at thy call,
Uprises the great deep and throws himself
Upon the continent, and overwhelms
Its cities—who forgets not, at the sight
Of these tremendous tokens of thy power,
His pride, and lays his strifes and follies by?
Oh, from these sterner aspects of thy face
Spare me and mine, nor let us need the wrath
Of the mad unchained elements to teach
Who rules them. Be it ours to meditate,
In these calm shades, thy milder majesty,
And to the beautiful order of the works
Learn to conform the order of our lives.

Cooper Union NYC '13 Food Tour Dinner  100_9294
Cooper Union NYC ’13-CSteenArt

There are many other things about William Cullen Bryant’s life, his interests and his passions that I readily identify with. He was a member of the Free Soil Party whose slogan was ‘Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men.’ He opposed slavery. He was a great supporter of Lincoln and introduced him at Cooper Union. (That speech galvanized Lincoln’s support and eventually led to his presidency.) Bryant also defended the rights of religious minorities and immigrants, supported the rights of workers to strike and was extremely vocal about the corrupting influence of particular bankers. These are all pretty hot topics, then and now. Perhaps I have another new hero; he seemed to hate injustice as much as I do.


I avoid reading news before I go to bed since it’s often so disturbing, but I slipped up Friday night and watched a video posted by a friend who rarely posts anything negative. Oops. I found the content pretty upsetting, but went to bed and even slept well, thinking I had laid the issues to rest. I WAS SO WRONG! Once I was fully awake Saturday morning, my headspace was so brimming with outrage over these injustices that my desire to practice painting horses was quickly dismissed. There were other more personal things cluttering my mind-space too, but social injustice definitely affects my ability to paint, so I caught up on some business and spent some time reading a few blogs instead. I just can’t focus on painting when I’m that upset. What I read in the blogs prompted me to begin writing and it’s been a marathon session. I’ve had three long days of writing and editing — I’ve cut enough from what I originally wrote for this post to start my autobiography!

It all started when one of my favorite bloggers encouraged her readers to be vulnerable with people — to really connect with them and establish truly meaningful dialogue.  I’ve tried to practice this principle for many years and her blogpost was a timely reminder, but let’s be honest, being real with your closest friends in person is far different from trying to keep it real online with a gazillion people you don’t know. I find the prospect terrifying; some people can be very abusive.  Still, I gave it some thought and since I truly despise trivial chit-chat and meaningless banter, I am trying to be veneer-less here .

It’s very tempting to just shallowly post my favorite painting, tell you how much I love the colors, and feed you lots of little interesting facts about the life of its painter, but I don’t see much point. While this is supposed to be a blog about art, you can read those things from any book about him or someone else’s art history blog. I’m more interested in sharing WHY this painting is tops on my list of favorites and WHY I like its painter so much. Why HIS art touches MY heart:

Thomas Cole, the father of The Hudson River School of painters (American Impressionism) is one of my real-life heros. Monet, the father of French Impressionism, is still my first-love for all of his work with light and his willingness to buck a stifling system, but Cole hits me much more deeply because of his passion for nature and his ability to colorfully display those passions all over his paintings. In England, no one believed the brilliant fall colors in his paintings were real; his friends from America actually sent leaves to prove he wasn’t embellishing. Cole did more than just paint his passions. He left behind notes and letters. By looking at his writings, he sounds like an early environmentalist; he was very concerned that his beloved Hudson River Valley was being raped by “copper-hearted barbarians” as they built their railroad. Trees were disappearing at an alarming rate and Cole wasn’t quiet about it. He saw what was coming. This is what most attracted me to him — and his paintings.

I don’t have much personal connection with the Hudson River Valley or the Catskills where Cole lived and painted, but I’ve seen pictures. It’s still very beautiful; I can only imagine what they really looked like during his lifetime and enjoy the limited views I get through his paintings.

In stark contrast to Cole’s experiences, I grew up in American midwestern suburbia. Our town was surrounded by corn (“as high as an elephant’s eye”) and there were gigantic holes — gaping gravel pits — on the edge of town. I had little exposure to “real” nature for most of my childhood. I did spend part of each summer in northern Michigan where my family enjoyed waterskiing in clean lakes out in the middle of nowhere.  I also roamed the woods with my cousins, always slightly terrified that we might encounter a bear. We never did, though one day we came across sets of mama and baby bear tracks in a freshly plowed garden not far from my grandmother’s farm. It was definitely an exciting moment in my life and as close as I ever want to get to a wild bear in the great outdoors!

I’m still not very outdoorsy. It seems like I get stuck in cities or suburbs all the time, but I love the countryside. When I’m was in NYC, I frequently found myself singing Eddie Albert’s part in the Green Acres theme song: “Green Acres is the place for me. Farm livin’ is the life for me. Land spreadin’ out so far and wide. Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside!” I long to be where I can hear crickets, frogs and katydids. I love the woods, trees, streams, rivers, lakes and all of the animals that live in them. When I was younger, a walk in the woods always brought me incredible comfort whenever I was upset or confused. Among the tall trees or in an open meadow, I could think, breathe and feel free. It was a delightful sort of solitude; I was alone, but not truly alone. It always felt as if God was wrapping Himself around me when I was there. Being in wild nature, sans wild bears, brought me peace. These things forge a strong feeling of kinship in me for Thomas Cole as he talks of those copper-hearted barbarians destroying his forests.

Cole was a self-taught painter who traveled doing mostly portraits in his early career. Later, he returned to England on family business and stayed in Europe for a while to study paintings, painters, architecture and the older civilizations that produced them. I’m not really a Cole-expert, but it became obvious to me that he was a deep thinker. It shows in his work. He wasn’t just painting pretty landscapes. He had a kind patron who allowed him a fair amount of latitude to paint the things that were on his heart; what Cole studied in Europe generated a series of paintings called, The Course of Empire; it’s a set of 5 paintings, depicting the changes in nature and civilization as humans interact with their environment. Throughout the series, human numbers and activities grow and they begin to dominate their environment until they finally conquer nature with manmade structures and human occupations. In the fourth painting, it all comes crashing down around them, but it’s the last painting, after the fall of human civilization, that speaks so deeply to me. Desolation depicts the depredations and destruction of man being erased by the restoring effects of nature. Nature rebounds and reclaims its former territory. “Life After People.”

I sheepishly admit that it was actually all that purple in the painting that first caught my eye, but it’s the deeper message of the painting that keeps Desolation in first place on my list. This painting sings to my nature-loving soul. It speaks of hope and a more natural beauty and calm that overcome the violence and domination of man after he destroys his own prideful, lust-induced artificial creations. It speaks of healing. It beacons peace to my world-weary heart.

I hope it speaks to you.

Desolation by Thomas Cole- The course of Empire

I was going to include a link to the interactive website for Thomas Cole and his works so that you could view these paintings in detail, but it’s currently undergoing maintenance.  Here’s the link to the Wikipedia article on The Course of Empire, if you want more information:
The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole Article

and here’s a three and half minute video overview of The Course of Empire paintings:

For Hope, Love Mom

dusk in samoa print

My daughter will tell you that my usual taste in poetry is deplorable. Actually, her adjectives are much more colorful. So, on this Independence Day, I choose to share some good poetry:

To Hope by John Keats

WHEN by my solitary hearth I sit,
And hateful thoughts enwrap my soul in gloom;
When no fair dreams before my “mind’s eye” flit,
And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head!

Whene’er I wander, at the fall of night,
Where woven boughs shut out the moon’s bright ray,
Should sad Despondency my musings fright,
And frown, to drive fair Cheerfulness away,
Peep with the moonbeams through the leafy roof,
And keep that fiend Despondence far aloof!

Should Disappointment, parent of Despair,
Strive for her son to seize my careless heart;
When, like a cloud, he sits upon the air,
Preparing on his spell-bound prey to dart:
Chase him away, sweet Hope, with visage bright,
And fright him as the morning frightens night!

Whene’er the fate of those I hold most dear
Tells to my fearful breast a tale of sorrow,
O bright-eyed Hope, my morbidfancy cheer;
Let me awhile thy sweetest comforts borrow:
Thy heaven-born radiance around me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head!

Should e’er unhappy love my bosom pain,
From cruel parents, or relentless fair;
O let me think it is not quite in vain
To sigh out sonnets to the midnight air!
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head!

In the long vista of the years to roll,
Let me not see our country’s honour fade:
O let me see our land retain her soul,
Her pride, her freedom; and not freedom’s shade.
From thy bright eyes unusual brightness shed—
Beneath thy pinions canopy my head!

Let me not see the patriot’s high bequest,
Great Liberty! how great in plain attire!
With the base purple of a court oppress’d,
Bowing her head, and ready to expire:
But let me see thee stoop from heaven on wings
That fill the skies with silver glitterings!

And as, in sparkling majesty, a star
Gilds the bright summit of some gloomy cloud;
Brightening the half veil’d face of heaven afar:
So, when dark thoughts my boding spirit shroud,
Sweet Hope, celestial influence round me shed,
Waving thy silver pinions o’er my head!

Sarasota Rocks with “Public Pianos” Downtown

At nearly 1,300,000 hits already as of this writing, you may have already seen it on Facebook; I’ve been waiting all day for the owner of the video to post it to Youtube, so it could be posted outside of Facebook.

It made me cry. There are so many people living on the streets these days-there are as many reasons as there are people it seems, but sometimes you just get blown away. This is quite an extraordinary performance; I don’t imagine he gets to play often!

I hope it blesses you. I hope it inspires other communities to get creative.

For those who are unfamiliar with the song–which takes me back to my childhood–it’s “Come Sail Away” by Styx:

From the original FB post:
“Sarasota installed ‘public pianos’ throughout downtown. This homeless man now has the opportunity to be something other than ‘just a nuisance’ to all the people downtown. Just took my breath away. Wow.” Aroar Natasha