Enjoy life now... it has an expiration date.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Visiting some wonderful new blogs...

In responding to comments left on my blog I've recently found some wonderful new art blogs that, if you haven't visited yet, I think you'll find very interesting and helpful.

1. http://sketchesbyfiz.blogspot.com/ is a blog by Felicity Grace. I found it recently and immediately fell in love with her colored pencil technique. She is an awesome artist, and when I asked a couple of questions about her portraiture technique she was kind enough to do a mini tutorial and posted a series of WIPs with lots of great information. The two portrait images above (posted here courtesy of Felicity) are the first and the last WIPs. To see the complete series, here's the post:

2. Teresa Mallen left a comment on my blog and I'm so glad I followed the link to her blog and website! Not only does she have some gorgeous art on display (the beautiful crocuses above is one example from the gallery on her website - posted courtesy of Teresa), she also has lots of information for colored pencil artists such as tips, tricks, resources...... AND...... a free e-zine you can sign up for to share tips and techniques, and receive critiques on your work! Thank you, Teresa for graciously sharing your knowledge! Here's the link for Teresa's blog: http://www.teresamallenstudio.blogspot.com/ and here's the link for her website: http://www.teresamallenstudio.com/

3. The United Kingdom Colored Pencil Society (UKCPS) has a great site, some informative step by step demos, and other tips and hints. I particularly like Graham Brace's colored pencil landscapes so I was thrilled to find a demo by him. Don't miss 'em! UKCPS website: http://www.ukcps.co.uk/Welcome.htm, and the step by step demos: http://www.ukcps.co.uk/steps.htm

Have fun browsing........... and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Guess what I got for Christmas?!?!

A daughter!

Just before Christmas, my son, Philip, and his girlfriend, Rhonda, became engaged! I'm thrilled! Rhonda is a lovely girl, both inside and out. She's kind, sweet, loving, generous, and even has a great sense of humor. Philip... you made a great choice! Rhonda... we've loved you almost since the first time we met you. We hope you enjoy being part of our family as much as we enjoy having you in it. Congratulations to both of you!

You know, it occurs to me that this engagement has other benefits too... as the mother of two sons and wife to the hubby, I've been the lone female in my family for almost three decades. Finally, I have some serious backup during holidays in this male dominated home! Yes! LOL!

Today is recovery day from the holidays. I'm pleasantly tired - even a bit lethargic - but it's okay. The holidays were wonderful, and as usual, I cooked too much, stayed up too late and just generally wore myself out. But I don't regret a minute of it. There are few blessings greater than a loving family all together for the holidays.

Posting a couple of pics. The top pic is Philip and Rhonda. The bottom pic is two of our five nephews who love to come over and snuggle up on the sofa with blankets to watch a movie. Little Eric (Eric on the left, Ellis on the right), has difficulty pronouncing some letters and calls it "watching a woobie"! Sometimes I wish my boys were little again - instead we just borrow the nephews for a while.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tomato Soup Christmas

Until I can make it back to the art table (Christmas preparations and band activities have been keeping me busy) to complete the portrait of Levi, here's my newspaper column for December.

Susan studied the cans of soup. Shoppers skirted around her, their carts bulging with holiday fare. Christmas carols played steadily and colorful decorations gave the store a festive air. Chicken Noodle? Split Pea and Ham? Tomato? Not exactly a Christmas feast, but it was cheap. She chose Tomato and placed it in the shopping basket. She browsed, her steps slow, unhurried, while other shoppers hastened to finish.

John quietly observed her. He guessed her to be in her late twenties. He’d seen her a time or two around the small town in which he’d operated a grocery store for almost thirty years. Over the years he’d learned to pick out a shoplifter. Something in their eyes, their attitude, their movements. Yet this girl didn’t set off alarm bells in his head. Her regular visits to the store for the past few days had caught his attention. He knew most customers by name, knew their families and where they lived. He also knew that most customers don’t come in several days in a row for long periods of time. How long had she been in here today? An hour? Two hours?

Susan moved slowly with her basket. It contained a can of soup, an apple and a couple of marked down items. She bought just a few things at a time. Gave her a good excuse to return. After working her morning shift at the grill, she’d read late into the afternoon at the local library before heading to the grocery store. Put off the inevitable as long as possible.

John was thoughtful. As he greeted customers and checked the shelves, he watched the girl. He saw no signs of furtive movement, no quick glances around - those telltale signs that meant trouble. Instead she bore a solemn, stoic look. Vulnerable, but determined. A few fact finding phone calls might be in order he decided.

Herb hung up the phone, sipped his coffee and considered the phone call. John was a good man, though he could be a bit abrupt at times. Some shoppers who frequented his small grocery store didn’t seem to know quite how to take him. But John put in long hours at the store and always gave the local churches and civic groups a generous discount when they bought groceries for fund raising events. Herb reached for his heavy coat - evening was coming and the temperature was dropping fast. It was only two days before Christmas. There was even talk of a white Christmas. Wouldn’t that be nice, he mused as he cranked up the gas delivery truck.

"Excuse me, young lady."

Susan, startled, looked up at what she assumed to be the store owner. She’d noticed him coming and going from the little office toward the front of the store. She’d also noticed him watching her. Her chin went up. She hadn’t done anything wrong. There was no law against taking your time buying groceries was there? Yet she felt a tremor of nerves as she faced him. This Christmas was difficult enough as it was, she didn’t need any more problems.

"How about coming into the office for a minute?" he asked.

Susan assessed his intent. He sounded reasonable. He was an older man, easily old enough to be her father, possibly even her grandfather. Something in her was tired of fighting, yet she was ready to defend herself if need be.

The office was small, cluttered, with piles of paper everywhere and notices hurriedly tacked on a bulletin board. An adding machine sat on the desk, alongside a well worn phone. He motioned her to sit and closed the office door.

Seated behind the desk, he steepled his fingers as he chose his words.

"Susan" right?

"Yes," she replied, immediately on guard. How did he know her name? Tension tightened in her. She said nothing, just waited.

"I hope you don’t mind but I made a few phone calls.... about you. I’ve noticed you in the store a lot this week, and, well, especially at this time of the year, you can’t be too careful."

She flushed. "I haven’t done anything wrong" she blurted.

"I know," he replied, "I’m not accusing you of anything."

"Susan," he paused, "We all go through tough times in our lives. I’ve been there myself. I’d like to help. Is that your Civic outside?"

She nodded, thinking of the old car with the peeling paint job.

"I thought so. I know most of my customer’s cars. I know you’re new here so I’d like to welcome you to our little town and wish you a Merry Christmas."

Susan stared at him. A Merry Christmas? People in her circumstance didn’t have a Merry Christmas - they just survived.

"It’s alright to go home now, Susan."

He stood up, opened the door.

That was it? She rose, wondering if he was crazy or if she was.

Lights were being turned out, the store was closing. Another night to face she thought, walking dispiritedly toward her old car. As she drew closer she saw odd shapes in the back seat. Both alarmed and curious, her steps quickened. The back seat was loaded down with groceries. A ham stuck out of one bag; fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, cookies, bread and various packages peeped out of others. She gazed in disbelief. A horn tooted. It was the man from the store. He waved and smiled as he drove off.

Overwhelmed by the gift, she bit her lip. The unexpected kindness brought her closer to tears than her recent hardships had. At least she had good food, she thought.

A few minutes later she pulled into the driveway of the tiny house she’d rented. Few jobs were available, and it took most of what she made in her part time job just to pay the rent and electricity. She dreaded the cold worst of all. Her little electric heater barely made a dent in the cold, but the expense of filling up the gas drum and turning on the heat was more than she could handle right now. So, when not working she’d resorted to spending as much time as possible in the grocery store, library, convenience store... anywhere it was warm.

She turned the key, braced for the unrelenting cold... and felt ....a gentle rush of warm air. Surprised, confused, she looked around. On the floor lay a notice. It must have been wedged in the door. It was a bill from the gas company for a full tank of propane. It was stamped "Paid in Full" and under that was written "Merry Christmas."

Herb parked the truck in the company parking lot. He’d rather enjoyed playing Secret Santa again. It wasn’t the first time. Quietly, over the years, John had made quite a few folks’ Christmas a little more merry. That, he thought, was indeed the True Spirit of Christmas.

** This story is a fictionalized account; however, it is based on true events. It is written in memory and honor of Remus Teachey, who, unknown to most folks, brightened the lives of many people in the Pink Hill community- not just at Christmas, but throughout the entire year. I was told of these events years ago by a close friend of his, and Remus never knew that I learned of his quiet good deeds. (Permission to relate these events granted by Gaynelle Teachey).

"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matthew 25:39-41

Copyright 2008 by Teresa Houston. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Poster Day

The portrait of Levi is on hold for the moment. On Thursday I spent the day with a good friend who moved to Texas a few years ago but was in NC to visit her family for the holidays. We had a great day, including lunch, and - our favorite - bookstore time! How nice to catch up with each others lives over a stack of books while sipping Pumpkin Spice Latte! Yum! Wish you didn't live so far away D!

Yesterday ended up being Poster Day. One of the guys in the hubby's band asked me to make two posters to go on the side of a car. His daughter is riding in a Christmas Parade, and every vehicle is to have a sign on each side listing the business sponsor and the rider's name. Each poster measures 22" x 28". Requirements were that the lettering be of a certain size and the poster is to have a Christmas theme, yet be fairly simple so that it's easily read. After mulling over a few ways to make this poster, I ended up with my old standby for large art (I used to paint wall murals)... good old acrylics.

Since this is a quickie... done on discount store poster paper and needed only for a few hours, I didn't bother sketching anything. I drew a horizon line separating snow from sky and just painted everything else in. Was lots of fun. I'm much more relaxed when I'm painting large... I don't sweat the details and just go with the flow.

Sure hope they have good weather for the parade!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Levi - WIP #3

Here's the latest on little Levi. I've spent a lot of time on the background - too much, actually, since it seems like the focus of the picture should get the most time and attention. I've read/heard quite a few artists who advocate getting the background in first. Well, that doesn't seem to be working too well for me! After trying both working methods, for me it's easier to get the main subject in then decide on how the background will best enhance the subject. What happened with this painting... I did mostly the steps first and they seem too powerful. Choice: either lighten them up or darken the spaces in between the steps to make them recede into the background. I decided to do both. Not sure if the background is still too dominant? Or do the darks serve to set Levi off?

Constructive criticism welcome (Feel free!! LOL!)

Monday, December 1, 2008

After Thanksgiving

It's sunny today, but not the kind of day to be outside. The wind is more of a strong March wind than a November wind. It blows in forceful gusts, rattling the outside of the house and pushing its way into cracks and crevices around doors and windows. Still, inside the house it's warm and cozy. And I still feel warm and cozy from the holiday. Thanksgiving was a feast, not just of food, but of family, friends and fun. How my heart swelled when my two grown sons walked in through the front door. It's such a joy to see them- their eyes sparkling health and love, tall and strong with youth's good looks. A few days before the holiday, I couldn't help but think of the parents who lost a son or daughter in the war. Their child will never again walk through the door at Thanksgiving. My heart goes out to them. I wish them solace and comfort. And I renewed once again my vow to live each day as fully as possible. To not let the little irritations and disappointments of life crowd out the full and beautiful blessings that still abound.

We celebrated Thanksgiving joyfully. In our small home we really didn't have enough space for all of the company we had. But it was okay. We made do. We had food, laughter and fun in plentiful supply. So thankful were we to be surrounded by those we love that we paid no attention to the little inconveniences - and it turned out to be one of the best Thanksgivings ever. I guess it's taken me this long to learn how to live, how to deeply appreciate and savor the things that really matter, how to be thankful.

Yes, it was a good Thanksgiving.
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