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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Newspaper Column for December 2009

Kettle Encounter

On a wild night with gusting winds and driving rain my husband and I ventured out to a restaurant in Kinston for a special meal to celebrate our anniversary. Only the specialness of the occasion persuaded us to leave the cozy dryness of our home. But, determined not to let the weather change our plans, out we went. After a wonderful meal, we were ready to leave when I thought of a few things I needed to pick up. By the time the waitress dropped off the check I had a note pad out and was busy writing a quick shopping list. Somewhere else to go in this wild weather. My husband never complained once. Honestly. At least not out loud.

Braving the lashing rain again, we dashed down the street to Wal-Mart, the closest store. My husband, gallant soul that he is, drove the car right up to the door so I could jump out quickly and stay as dry as possible. I scrambled out none too gracefully, but did manage to stay relatively dry.

Under the slight shelter offered by an awning over the front door, I paused, adjusted my pocketbook strap, straightened my jacket and headed for the entrance. As I walked toward the door, something bright red to my right caught my eye. A Salvation Army kettle. No doubt left there from earlier in the day when a volunteer had stood by it. My eyes traveled a little farther and, to my disbelief, tucked back in the corner, behind the kettle, sat a lady. I couldn’t believe anyone would be out here in this weather. She was an older black lady, petite and pretty, with a cap of loose gray curls. Wrapped up to her chin in a dark heavy coat she was scrunched against the wall to stay out of the rain. Our eyes made contact. She smiled at me. Not a perfunctory I’m-out-here-because-I’m-doing-my-duty-but-I’d-rather-be-somewhere-else smile, but a beautiful warm smile that lit up her face and crinkled her eyes. I couldn’t help but smile back. I was amazed at such dedication and cheerfulness on a night like this. We talked for a minute then I reached into my wallet, chagrined to find that I had only one dollar left. I’d used what little cash I carry for odds and ends (my intended purchases would be debited from my checking account). Hoping it didn’t sound like a lame excuse, I told her that I was “down to my last dollar” as far as cash. One dollar - it seemed such a paltry amount to give to someone who was giving so much.

“That’s alright honey, every bit helps,” she said.

I stuffed the single dollar into the top of the kettle, still wishing I had more to give.

I was rewarded with another glowing smile.

“God bless you real good, honey”, she said.

“And you too,” I replied.

I liked the idea of being blessed "real good" - and felt like I had already received such a blessing.

As I walked into the dry warmth of the store, it occurred to me that this lady's sweet spirit and unselfish giving, especially on such an inclement night, had demonstrated to me the real spirit of Christmas as much as any seasonal celebration I might attend.

After all, the true spirit of Christmas is about giving, not of packages, but of oneself.

This Christmas, amid the joy of family, friends, food and gifts, may we find a quiet time to reflect upon the unselfish giving of the Most Precious Gift of all.


Merry Christmas!

I'll "see" you after Christmas when the hustle and bustle has quieted down. I wish you and yours a warm and wonderful holiday season!

~ Teresa

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Over the Top Award

I've finally emerged from the whirlwind of cleaning, cooking and company that goes along with Thanksgiving. We're talking (this is one day's cooking) 4 sweet potato pies, 4 pecan pies, 2 blueberry pies, 2 turkeys brined, one ham, chicken salad.... followed by a full breakfast cooked on two mornings. As you can imagine, I've hung up my apron for a few days.....

I have a fun award from Ann of Blue Bird Hill blog! Do visit Ann... she has some beautiful art. Though she may not know this, Ann was one of my earliest inspirations in colored pencil work... and I continue to be inspired by her work.

The rules are:

I need to pass this award on to five people, then I need to answer a list of questions in ONE word. (a rule I was unable to abide by :-)

So here we go:

1. Where is your cell phone?…desk
2. Your hair?… Up
3. Your mother?… Vivacious
4. Your father?… Witty
5. Your favorite food?… Chocolate
6. Your dream last night?… Forgotten
7. Your favorite drink?…Coffee
8. Your dream/goal?… Steady art career (okay, that's three words.. oh well)
9. What room are you in?… Studio/office
10. Your hobby?… Knitting
11. Your fear?… Heights
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years?…Here
13. Where were you last night?… Home
14. Something that you aren’t?… Social climber
15. Muffins?… Yes, please!
16. Wish list item?… Blank check to Dick Blick's, Amazon or my local yarn store
17. Where did you grow up?… England
18. Last thing you did?… Brought in the mail
19. What are you wearing?… Sweats!
20. Your TV?… OFF (my favorite channel)
21. Your Pets?… Cats
22. Friends?… Wonderful
23. Your life?… Good
24. Your mood?… Content
25. Missing Someone?… Several
26. Vehicle?… Needs replacing
27. Something you're not wearing?… watch
28. Your favorite store?… book store, art store or knitting store (couldn't pick just one)
29. Your favorite colour?… Red or black
30. When was the last time you laughed?… this afternoon
31. Last time you cried?… Can't remember
32. Your best friend?… Hubby
33. One place that I go to over and over?… Yarn store
34. Facebook?… No
35. Favorite place to eat?… Home

Now I need to pass this on to five bloggers. Here is my list, in no particular order.

1. Jeanne of blog of same name
2. Laure of Painted Thoughts
3. Lori of Twin Cedars Drawing Board
4. Lynne of Bun Mountain Cottage
5. Jan of Pets to Posies

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jack..... completed?

Well, possibly. I've been nose-to-the-grindstone for the last few days because I have a deadline (self-imposed) on Jack: tomorrow.

At the moment I'm letting the portrait sit, and I'll check it periodically to see if anything jumps out and says, "Fix me!". If you see anything you think needs attention..... feel free to make suggestions!

I'm posting the wips and the final version. Sorry they are shown all at once... completing the portrait took some long hours at the art table which didn't leave much time for blogging.

What I learned from this portrait:

(I like to do this... take a little time after a project is completed to think over what I did that I want to repeat, and what I did that I don't want to repeat).

1. On the gouache... it worked pretty well, and overall I was pleased with the nice white it gave me on the colored support. What I didn't like was the fact that when I used colored pencil over the gouache the tiny brushstrokes became visible. I did not put a thick layer on, but apparently I need to thin it even more. Next time I'll try two thin coats.

2. Once again, I underpainted parts of the portrait with watercolor. I find this a very useful timesaver (and sanity saver). Colored pencils are notoriously s-l-o-w, and this gives me the ability to get a base layer of color down in just a few minutes. Since it's watercolor, it takes the cp beautifully.

3. Listened to music while I worked. I usually listen to nature sounds while working (ocean waves, etc) but I had read somewhere that some artists work better with actual music. Apparently it's just distracting enough to keep you from endlessly toiling over the details... and it worked for me!

4. This last item was perhaps the most helpful of all.... I kept in mind the wonderful advice of Carl Purcell ("Drawing with Your Artist's Brain", and "Painting with Your Artist's Brain"... two excellent books). That is, to see the subject with your artist's brain (shapes, values, color) and not your intellectual brain (nose, eyes, fur). This simplified matters tremendously. I highly recommend both of these books.

Newspaper Column for November 2009

The Greatest Show on Earth... the weather?

I’m beginning to wonder if Ringling Bros, Barnum and Bailey are running the schools attended by aspiring meteorologists. I’m sure you too have noticed a trend toward dramatic and entertaining weather forecasts.

On numerous channels, watching the weather person give the forecast reminds me of watching a performer in a three ring circus. The ringmaster (aka meteorologist) conducts the show with theatrical gestures that would earn a guest spot on any soap opera... arms wildly waving (think "Wax on, wax off" from the movie The Karate Kid), exaggerated body motions and facial expressions (mute the sound sometime and just sit and watch), and conspicuous emphasis on certain words and syllables. Next time you watch the weather, notice the forecaster’s enunciation. Recently I heard one guy get his money’s worth out of the word "minor." "It’s a ‘myyyyyyyyy-nor’ chance of rain." he said, his voice rising in pitch as he mercilessly stretched the first syllable. I could have gotten in at least three words in the time it took him to say the "mi" from minor.

But the thing that gets my attention the most is the hand motions. My husband has a quick, quirky sense of humor and his comic timing is impeccable. He would have fit right in with Moe, Larry and Curly. One night as we were seated on the sofa being entertained by the antics of a particularly animated weather person, my husband suddenly jumped up, and stationing himself to one side of the TV, began mimicking the meteorologist's dramatic gestures. "There’s a cold front coming in from the North, folks," boomed the weatherman with a grand sweeping flourish, indicating to us clueless masses where North is, then another arching swirl of his hand indicated where we are on the map. My husband, with comical facial expressions, was following along, making wild arcs and pointing to The North and then to North Carolina. "He looks," said my husband, "like someone using a hand crank to start a tractor." I giggled… the image fit perfectly.

But there’s more! Not only do the forecasters use hand motions enthusiastic enough to gladden the heart of any first grade teacher, at times they also have animated graphics following those motions. Yes! A weatherperson waves their hand across the northern part of the U.S. (the Northern Part of the U.S. is again indicated to us), predicts snow, and with a sweeping curve a picturesque flurry of snowflakes magically issues forth from their hand. They can do rain and wind too.

But there's still more! Besides the torturously stretched syllables and expressive body language, we also have a new breed of terminology used by weather people. Here, for your perusing pleasure, are a few gen-u-iiiiiiine expressions gleaned from various unsuspecting meteorologists:

- "About the middle of the week we’ll have a rain event."

Ah, I love this one. It used to be simply "rain"; now it’s An Event. Wonder if they’re selling tickets?

- "I can’t guarantee you sunny weather this weekend."
Ah, well, actually we didn’t expect you to. I assume there are still some things in this world that are not under human control.

"We’re going to ramp up the forecast for the next few days."
Ramp up? Sounds more like directions onto or off I-40 than the weather.

"Folks, there was a small gustnado over Kansas yesterday."
A gustnado? I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like the sound of it. Turns out a gustnado is a tornado plus a gusty wind. Oh.

There is a wealth of sayings, quotes and folklore about the weather that go back for centuries, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that forecasting has become as entertaining as it is informative. I picked out a few weather sayings you might enjoy reading….

- Evening red and morning grayhelp the traveler on his way.
Evening gray and morning red
bring down rain upon his head.

- Clear moon, frost soon.

- Red skies at night, sailor's delight.
Red skies at morning, sailors take warning.

- Smoke curling downward, poor weather.

- When a cow endeavors to scratch his ear,
It means a rain shower is very near.
When he thumps his ribs with an angry tail,
Look out for thunder, lightning and hail.

- When the stars begin to huddle, the earth will soon become a puddle.

- When your joints all start to ache, rainy weather is at stake.

- If February brings no rain, 'tis neither good for grass nor grain.

- A wet January, a wet spring.

- A year of snow, a year of plenty.

- If Candlemas Day (February 2nd) be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight:
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone - it will not come again.

- A wet May makes a big load of hay.
A cold May is kindly and fills the barn finely.

- A dry May and a leaking June,
make the farmer whistle a merry tune.

- A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly.

- If there's ice in November that will bear a duck,
there'll be nothing after but sludge and muck.

- If a cat washes her face o’er her ear,
‘tis a sign the weather will be fine and clear.

- Fish bite least with wind in the east.

- When the wind is out of the east,
‘Tis neither good for man nor beast.

- If your corns all ache and itch,
The weather fair will make a switch.

- Trout jump high when a rain is nigh.

- Onion skins very thin
Mild winter coming in;
Onion skins thick and tough
Coming winter cold and rough.

- The first snow comes six weeks after the last thunderstorm in September.

- If February brings drifts of snow
There will be good summer crops to hoe.

- When sheep gather in a huddle,
tomorrow we will have a puddle.

- If woolly worms are dark, the coming winter wilt be severe.

- When ladybugs swarm,
Expect a day that’s warm.

This brings us to the end of our perusal of the weather forecaster’s art. I could just write, “The End,” but in keeping with our topic I’ll take my cue from the forecasters and finish with a more entertaining “Th- th- th- th- that’s all folks!”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Update on Jack

Well, Jack is turning out (up to now) to be a very enjoyable subject. I'm trying a new working method, and so far so good. What I usually do is outline the subject and rough in the features, then sort of paint and draw as I go. Problem is, when I need to make a correction I'm not just erasing a pencil line, I'm erasing colored pencil... sometimes several layers. I never thought I'd want to do a highly detailed drawing first (guess I'm too eager to get to the color)... but I did this time. And guess what? It seems to be working better! (I know that's a "duh" because I've read countless times to make a really good drawing first... but oh well.... I'm catching on slowly but surely :-)

I'm also working on colored Stonehenge, which is a first for me. My previous colored pencil work has been on a white support. I haven't decided yet how I feel about it. Jack has patches of white fur and I had a difficult time getting the white to be really white. After trying two brands of white cp, a white Stabilo pencil and white oil pastel (on scrap paper), I painted in the white patches with white gouache....which is what you see in the first WIP. The next two WIP's are color work done in colored pencil. Lighting is not too good on these pics... taken indoors on different days... and today it's raining as we're beginning to feel the effects of Hurricane Ida..... we're expecting 4-5 inches of rain over the next three days - get the galoshes out!

If anyone has any tips about an easier way to get a true white when working on a colored support.... I'm all ears!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Color Charts and Jack

This perky fellow is Jack, the "granddog" of a client who commissioned Jack's portrait as a gift for her son's birthday. After several emails back and forth with the client to settle on a pose and size, I headed for Photoshop to experiment with the saturation, levels, contrast and brightness and sharpening filter. When I'd gotten Jack pretty much where I wanted him I printed out four prints:

1. The actual pose
2. A black and white version for a handy value chart
3 & 4: A couple of other shots of Jack that, posewise were not usable, but colorwise were excellent references. The preferred pose is a little washed out from the camera's flash, so to get Jack's true colors I asked the client to select additional references that are accurate colorwise. I'll be working from three photos while doing the portrait to get the information I need.

I've also been busy making color charts for my cp's. Somehow or other I've ended up with 160 different colors in various brands, which is wonderful, but makes selecting a color a little tougher. Every time I went for a different color I'd scribble a little swatch on scrap paper to see if it was the color I wanted. The light bulb finally went off (better late than never) that I should make a color chart for cp's as I'd done for watercolors. Apparently some of us are slow learners ;-)

The color chart has been quite informative. I found colors I had not used because... well, the color's name or outside color on the barrel of the pencil didn't seem to fit the job. Several colors weren't at all what I was expecting. It feels like I have new pencils!

So, we're now a little better organized and Jack is ready and waiting to have his portrait painted.

I'm off to get some lunch and then I have a date with Jack. See you soon with a WIP!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Newspaper Column for October 2009

You Can't Go Back to Your Childhood, but...

… sometimes - even now - things we missed during our passage to adulthood can still be had.

Somehow I'd made it to the point where I’m old enough to be a grandmother but had never read a certain series of books; iconic, award-winning books loved by millions the world over. Though these books fall in the category of “children’s literature,” I decided it was time I found out what they were about, time to patch one of the holes in my reading list.

As you’d expect with children’s literature, the books are written simply, in a style that’s refreshingly uncluttered but conveys a rich sense of people, time and place. It’s easy to slip into the writer’s world, to become part of it and absorb what the author wants us to see, feel and hear.

These books are largely autobiographical, and the fascinating accounts of everyday life at the time (latter half of the 1800's) stand as accurate and colorful historical references. The people of the era were skilled at making the most of everything. Such ingenuity, hardiness and resourcefulness! While reading, we are delightfully drawn into their lives, and the telling of their tales provides fascinating little history lessons gently woven into a thoroughly enjoyable read. Consider the following tidbits from the first three books:

- A tall tree stump, dead and hollow, is converted to a smokehouse. A lid on the stump top kept the smoke inside, and pegs were fixed high on the inside of the trunk to keep the smoking meat out of reach of uninvited diners.

- Since natural butter is usually very pale - more white than yellow - carrot juice was added to give it a pleasing yellow hue.

- Provisions for winter, including dried and smoked meats, dried herbs, fruits and vegetables were stored in the upstairs loft of the one room cabin… the children’s bedroom area.

- A pig’s bladder was inflated and tied with a string to make a balloon for the children on the annual hog killing day.

- Severe winters meant lots of time indoors - especially at night time. This time was put to good use. After supper the family gathered around the fireplace, and father whittled or made bullets for pantry-stocking hunts by pouring melted lead into bullet forms; mother knitted, quilted or sewed to make warm clothing and blankets for the family, while the children quietly read, or the girls might sew while the boys whittled.

- The building of a log cabin was related, including how to chink cracks between the logs.

- Wonderful line drawings illustrate equipment and tools that look strange to our modern eyes… tools such as a homemade plane to smooth and shave ax-split sheets of oak into roof shingles.

- The school teacher, having no home of his own, stayed with the pupil’s families, rotating and spending two weeks in each home.

- Butternut hulls and other natural substances were used to dye wool and thread to make colored clothing.

- Melted tallow was regularly rubbed into moccasins (worn by young boys) and boots (worn by older boys) to keep the leather supple and waterproof.

No doubt some of you have guessed by now that the books I’m referring to are the series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the same books that inspired the popular TV show “Little House on the Prairie.” I’m currently on my third book in the series, although I’ve read a couple of other books in between, one being “The Letters of a Pioneer Woman” by Elinor Pruitt Stewart, which is just as fascinating, educational and absorbing as the Little House books.

It’s easy to idealize their time period, a time perceived as simpler, slower paced, more family oriented and lacking the stresses of modern life. And, in some ways it was easier, but in other ways, more difficult. Still, there is a pleasantly nostalgic element to the books. Depending on your age, some of the incidents related may stir up similar memories of your own childhood. In “Farmer Boy” Laura describes the childhood of her future husband, Almanzo, who lived in upstate New York. Laura tells of one cold night - forty below zero - when a cozy evening spent around the fireside with Mother knitting, Father scraping a new ax handle and the children reading, came to an end when the clock struck nine - bedtime. Leaving the warm room and a stove full of glowing embers, the eight year old Almanzo

“ran clattering upstairs. The bedroom was so cold that he could hardly unbutton his clothes and put on his long woolen nightshirt and nightcap. He should have knelt to say his prayers, but he didn’t. His nose ached with the cold and his teeth were chattering. He dived into the soft goose- feather bed, between the blankets, and pulled the covers over his nose.”

As I read the text I thought of my Grandad’s house. Long gone, it was a typical city home of the time: two stories, the front door opened onto the sidewalk, the bathroom was outside, and it had a creepy coal cellar in the basement. If you’re not familiar with coal, it’s heavy, messy to handle, and makes black soot as it burns. At the time using coal to warm homes was very common, so most houses had a coal cellar. When visiting my Grandad, I was less than enthusiastic about getting a bucket of coal for the fire. The coal cellar was in the basement and to reach it you went down a dimly lit slanted little hallway with a low roof. The coal was in a pile around the corner - where it was even darker and creepier - and you shoveled it into the coal bucket. The eerie, damp atmosphere of the cellar was made even more uninviting by the fact that there was a black skull and crossbones painted on the ceiling. My Dad, evidently harboring notions of villainous pirates, swashbuckling adventure and feats of derring do, had painted the foreboding pirate insignia on the ceiling as a youth. Gee, thanks Dad.

Of course, these coal heated homes had no central heat, which meant that the only warm room in the house was the room with the fireplace; little heat reached other areas of the house. As I read the account of Almanzo’s cold bedroom, I recalled a day long past, at my Grandad’s house, when I awoke one freezing morning to delicate patterns of ice sparkling on the inside of the windows. "Jack Frost has been during the night," my Mother said. Brrrr! I shivered as I read and remembered!

As a child I was an avid reader. I still am. My opinion that a good book is one of life’s greatest pleasures has not changed over the years. When I finish the Little House series I’ll be casting around to see what other classics I’ve missed, because a classic that has stood the test of time is always worth reading- regardless of when you read it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Blog Award from Jo!

Jo Castillo has kindly bestowed an award upon my blog. Thank you bunches, Jo! Do visit Jo's blog here - she's a wonderful artist working mostly in pastel and has some stunning western scenery paintings .... and be sure to check out the "boots" posted on 10/22 ... love that painting!

With the award comes a request to tell 7 things about myself. So, here goes....

1. I love to paint
2. I love to read
3. I love to knit
4. I love to walk on the beach when it's pretty much deserted. The rhythm of the waves and tide is so soothing.... just washes away all the cares of the day. Plus, you can collect pretty shells!
5. Winter is my favorite season. I love a crisp cold wintry day and all things associated with it: hot Irish Coffee, watching a good movie while snuggled up in a cozy blanket, chunky sweaters, quilts, hearty soups and stews, baking, that exhilarating feeling when you step outside on a winter's morning and the cold air zings your lungs!
6. I despise avocados/guacamole, cottage cheese, caviar, oysters, crabs and lobster (my hubby is quite happy that I'm a cheap date at a restaurant ;-)
7. I love chocolate, a fruity light wine, traveling, walking down quiet paths and having some time alone to think and be creative.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Using Photoshop as a composition tool

This is a commission piece.

The original photo (bottom photo) is landscape orientation and has a busy background which detracts from the subjects. This commission is to match a cp sketch I did some time ago (the original featured the same child (the boy) as a one and a half year old) so the client wants this piece done in the same style, size and orientation.

I started by simply cropping an 8 x 10 out of the original which gave me the image shown in the second from the bottom photo. Rather bland.

So, using Photoshop, I started experimenting. Photoshop's layers feature gives me complete design freedom- I can add, subtract and move elements around to my heart's content. Anything I do is reversible so I can try any idea that pops into my head.

I used the Rubber Stamp tool to add elements to the composition. In the 8x 10 crop, the image just kind of sits there. I did some cloning to add some interest to the layout: the sky from another photo to give a pleasant but uncluttered background and mums and bales of hay from the left side of the original photo to balance the composition. I did not take the time to refine the composite image - you can see a blue outline around the boy's head - because this is only to suggest a layout.

The final composition is the top photo, and this layout was accepted by the customer.

Photoshop is an invaluable timesaving tool that allows you to experiment with all kinds of changes to the composition, lighting, degree of saturation, and other aspects of your design. It's also great for quickly converting a color photo to black and white to easily see values, and for "posterizing" a photo- which reduces an image to simple bands of color and helps you see subtle color changes (the photo second from the top is posterized). Notice the distinctive bands of color around the bottom of the large pumpkin.

Photoshop is mostly used by professionals in the design and photography industries, and it has a significant learning curve if you wish to take full advantage of all of its features. It is also a fairly expensive program - retails for $586.49 on Amazon. However, there are alternatives: Photoshop Elements (which has about 75% of the features of Photoshop for about 25% of the price), and there are also several free programs similar to Photoshop - they don't have all the bells and whistles - but are quite capable. Two such programs are ArtWeaver and Gimp. Google "free alternates to Photoshop" if you're interested and you'll get a dozen matches. As always, before downloading software make sure it's spyware and virus free. I like to get my downloads from cnet. com - they often have staff and consumer software reviews and their downloads are certified spyware free.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Yay, Ouch and Wow!

I've got.....

a) a new computer (the "yay")

b) a pulled muscle in my right shoulder (the "ouch")

c) gorgeous flowers in my garden (the "wow")

I've spent the last week curtailing my normal activities to allow my arm to rest, eating Ibuprofen, and trying to stay off the new computer while itching to get properly acquainted with it. Shoulder is much better now (pulled it on Monday) but not yet back to normal so this will be a short post.

I did want to share with you a few photos I took recently. Fall is well on the way here in the Carolinas and we've had some beautiful weather. It's the time of year when the cosmos (the pink/red/lavendar flowers) and the fall yellow flowers (as I call them for lack of the correct name. Some type of daisy? Anyone know the real name?) are putting on a colorful show, the native Scuppernong grapes are sweetly ripe, and the leaves are just beginning to turn and tumble in the light breeze. Forecast is for an overnight low of 49 degrees in just a few days... Yay!! Cold weather is almost here. Sure hope we get some snow this year.

About the photos:
- The grapes are in a neighbor's yard, as is the pond in the bottom pics. Grapes are shared with the neighbors (lucky us!) and we sometimes help feed the catfish at the pond.
- Cosmos and "fall yellow flowers" in my garden
- Corn that was left behind in this year's harvest. This is not sweet corn for the supper table, it's feed corn that will be used for animal feed. It's allowed to dry out before harvesting. Another sure sign of fall around here is when the corn is picked.
- Check out the hungry catfish in the last photo! You can see the fish food floating on the water. The reason the water looks so gray and murky here is that catfish stir up the silt on the bottom of the pond while feeding. Their mouths actually come out of the water when they're reaching for the food.

Have a good weekend.... and if it's Fall in your corner of the world... enjoy this colorful season!

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Child Shivers in the Night: Newspaper Column for September 2009

A Child Shivers in the Night

A child shivers in the night, discomfort keeping rest at bay. Too cold to sleep; it's a disquieting, harsh reality for many children. It's also a reality we're often not even aware of. I’m busy, you’re busy. Yet every once in a while, a photo, story, or news clip, manages to poke through the hedge of busyness surrounding us and we are pierced by the realization of another’s desperate need.

I recently discovered Knit-a-Square. It’s an Australian based organization working to get blankets, caps and simple sweaters to orphaned or abandoned children who are desperately poor. So poor there’s often little more than a small fire in a hut to ward off the cold when night temperatures drop below freezing. Children who can’t sleep at night because they’re cold: I can hardly bear the thought.

Though my own two boys are now adults, I cherish the memories of our nighttime routine when they were young. First, a soapy, splashy bath to wash off the dirt from a day’s play, then a good supper, and a little later it was off to bed, clad in soft, footed pj’s to keep them snugly warm. A bedtime story was generally required. Often requested was “A Day on the Farm”, a Little Golden book about Farmer Brown, his tractor, farm and family. I read it to them so many times, that even now, twenty some years later, I can still recite parts of the book word for word. At night my children were warm, well fed, read to, and loved. Would that all children’s bedtime was no less.

It was with concern, a concern I couldn’t shake (nor did I wish to), that I read of the very different experience of many children in Africa. Children of the AIDS epidemic, literally millions of them, orphaned and unbelievably poor, often cared for by a relative who was not much better off than they were, and even some young orphans trying to be head of the household for their younger siblings. The color of these children, the politics of the region they live in, and the circumstances which orphaned them matter not one bit to me. What does matter is that a child is cold, and I can do something about it. And, if you'd like to join in the effort, you can too. How does a person sleep when shivering from cold? In our world we throw an extra blanket on the bed, revel in its cozy warmth, then drift contentedly off to sleep. What if we had no blankets? No warm clothes? I thought of my own children in that situation. Pictured them going to bed, and instead of giggling and snuggling up in the warmth after a bedtime story, what if they had lain there with the cold nipping at them, tossing uncomfortably, sleep elusive through the long night?

When I learned of the Knit-a-Square organization it was too worthy a project, too easy an opportunity to pass up. Here is a chance to make a real, everyday difference in a child’s life - cold and miserable versus warm and cozy - by knitting or crocheting easy 8” x 8” squares. It’s doable, small, yet gives almost immediate help to someone. Mother Teresa said “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Making 8" x 8" squares is a small thing, but when our small efforts combine with the small efforts of other knitters and crocheters across the globe, the little bit we each do comes together to change the lives of many children.

Some facts about the Knit-a-square project:

- It is estimated there are 11.6 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. 1.4 million live in South Africa.
- Many of these children are orphaned or have been abandoned. Many live in great poverty in shack settlements. Some head up families of their siblings and other children, and some live alone, without shelter, in hills and dumps around the cities.
- They need love, shelter, food, education and warmth. Many children’s charities are working hard to provide the first four. Charity knitting and crocheting can provide the last.
- This simple charity crochet and knitting project to make and send 8” squares, which are made into blankets for these children, takes little time, costs little and DOES make a difference. All while you do what you love - knitting and crocheting.
- There are thousands of people making and sending squares from 32 countries around the world, but the need is so great, we implore you to join our army of charity knitters and crocheters as well.
- Every square that is sent will be used in a blanket to keep an orphan or abandoned child warm.
- Use your left over yarn scraps, join the knit-a-square crochet and knitting for charity project and your squares will soon be in blankets, keeping children warm.

How it works:

- Squares are mailed to South Africa where the women of the parish and other parishes within Soweto have set up the Soweto Comfort Club to collect, sort, bundle and stitch the squares into blankets and then distribute them to groups of children who are greatly in need.
- Volunteers from countries all over the world, even school children, are busy knitting squares, caps, and simple vests and sweaters to warm the children’s bodies, and their hearts. These children receive two gifts: the gift of a blanket, accompanied by the gift of love. Someone cared enough to make a difference.
- Knit-a-square furnishes easy patterns, even instructions on how to knit and crochet. If you like, you can subscribe to the blog to keep up with what’s happening, visit the website to see short videos of children receiving their blankets, sweaters and caps, and get email updates. The website address is: www.knit-a-square.com .
- If you do not have/use a computer, you can visit your local library and for a very small fee you may print out the simple patterns, complete mailing instructions, and any other information you might want from the website (www.knit-a-square.com)

Over the years of my crafting ventures I’ve amassed quite a bit of leftover yarn; often only small amounts, but too good to throw away. I’m glad I kept those leftovers - they're now being put to good use. Knitting squares, easy hats, and even a few simple sweaters is actually quite relaxing and fun! I often find a few minutes to knit while sitting in the doctor’s office, when I’m a passenger in a vehicle, while watching TV or any other time I catch a few minutes. I carry an extra little knitting bag with me most of the time - knitting squares doesn’t require a lot of supplies, and you never know when you might have an unexpected delay that you can put to good use.

Fall is almost here. I look forward to its much anticipated cool days and invigoratingly chilly mornings. It's my favorite time of the year. Because I have adequate clothing and shelter, I don’t have to worry about being cold during the day or too chilly to sleep at night. It’s a good feeling to know that, little by little, more and more children don’t have to worry about it either. Cozy in their blankets of colored squares, made by many different hands in many different lands, they sleep warmly, wrapped in stitches of love.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cape Hatteras: an early watercolor

Dug this out recently. It's one of the first watercolors I did- 10-15 years ago? It's of Cape Hatteras light on NC's Outer Banks. This was before the light was moved further inland due to erosion from storms. There are 268 steps from the bottom to the top of the lighthouse.... I know... I climbed them all! I don't think they allow anyone to climb the lighthouse any more. Glad I had that experience while I could.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Maine ATC's

A couple of ATC's in mixed media (watercolor and colored pencil, with a touch of white gouache on the boat sails in the bottom ATC). When I did the portrait of Blue Girl I used wc as an underpainting- simple, light washes to speed things up and get the white of the paper covered before I started with cp's. I liked the way that worked so I'm now seeing how I like using wc to get the lion's share of the painting in and then use cp for all those tiny details that I dearly love (funny how I paint fairly loose with oils, but when I switch to wc or cp I think I MUST have those details!). I also considered gouache as an underpainting medium and may still give that a try. Nice to be able to just experiment and see what you like!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Don't Use Your Good Shoes for Brakes!

“Don’t use your good shoes for brakes!”

That was my Mom’s parting admonition as I dashed out the door for a homemade “go cart” race. We were city kids. Suburbs, actually. Our family lived in cul-de-sac (called a “close” in England) of a nice little neighborhood, filled with average families and kids, which meant there was usually someone around to hang out with. The neighborhood kids often got together for bicycle races, snowball fights, playing marbles and, occasionally, go cart racing.

Most of the older kids at some time or other had such a go cart. Looking back, I realize how comical and clunky they were- they must have looked like rolling junk piles! Of course, the building of these fine racing machines required lots of assistance from our Dads. The base of the go cart was often the frame and wheels from a pram. “Pram” is short for Perambulator, an English baby carriage. Put the image of a modern baby stroller out of your mind. Not like that at all. These now-old-fashioned-prams were huge affairs with a hood to protect baby from the weather, and wheels almost as large as a kid’s bicycle - ideal for racing. To give you an idea of how they looked, above is a photo of a typical English pram of that era. Check out those wheels! At the time we thought our go carts were great. I suppose most of today’s kids wouldn’t be caught dead in one, but we had no such sophistications. We were quite adept at making our own fun, and knew how to amuse ourselves for hours at a time with very little TV and - yikes! - no video games or computer. But back to the go carts.

When the would-be racers had their go carts ready, we’d decide on the ideal place- a relatively quiet road that ran downhill and had a wide sidewalk. Yes, I know we shouldn’t have been playing next to the road, but we were city kids and surrounded by roads. Besides, we were used to walking to school everyday along busy roads; we were traffic savvy and well drilled by our parents on safety.

Our go carts had no motors, pedals or any other mechanical means of getting the vehicle really moving, except gravity. Hence the selection of a nice long road with a enticing downhill slope. Ready to race, we lined the go carts up at the starting point, and when someone yelled, “Ready, set, GO!” off we went! I laugh even now thinking about it. What a bunch of crazy, adventurous kids we were. I’m sure the neighbors tut-tutted in disapproval as we careened past, a disorganized jumble of arms, legs, pram wheels and wildly yelling kids. It was tremendously exciting!

Now the only disadvantage to a great hill is that at some point it comes to an end. Going down a good slope you can get up some speed, which posed a problem- not only did our go carts not have pedals, they didn’t have brakes either. But that didn’t bother us in the least- we had a solution: when we got close to the bottom of the hill we lowered our feet and, flat-footed, dragged them on the pavement to slow the go cart down. The friction generated enough heat that you could feel it through your shoes. A few runs down the hill sure put some fast wear and tear on a pair of shoes. I’m not that old (well, you know, not that old) but I well remember that a nice new pair of real leather shoes was a big deal, and new shoes were to be taken care of and made to last as long as possible. No, it wouldn’t do to put six months of wear on a pair of good shoes in one day; hence my Mom’s firm reminder, “Don’t use your good shoes for brakes!”

There was one other disadvantage to that wild ride down... the go cart had to be hauled back up the hill after each tantalizingly short thrill ride. No wonder us kids had no problems sleeping at night- we were worn out.

I think back to our childhood pursuits and I’m glad I grew up when I did. The world was not as unkind or dangerous a place as it is today. Kids were pretty safe roaming around the neighborhood, discovering new things, riding our bikes down new roads, exploring the fields and woods past our neighborhood. The freedom to run, play, and roam allowed our young imaginations to run wild. We were cowboys and cowgirls one day, pirates another, sometimes castaways a la Robinson Crusoe and we'd build a shelter from the elements (usually an accommodating shrub or low hanging tree branch which we fortified with extra branches on top). I remember once we built such a shelter and decided to stay in it even though we knew it was going to rain. We thought we’d done a good job on our shelter and we'd stay dry. The rain came, and after a while we tired of it dripping on our heads and making us shiver. It was good then to no longer be a castaway and return to a warm, dry home.

It’s been said that “a child’s play is a child’s work.” When a child is playing, they’re learning. What a wonderful thing for a kid to grow up playing outdoors- having adventures, learning about themselves, nature, and the world around them.

Even if they do wear their good shoes out once in a while.

Yes, I'm making art...... !

but I can't show it to you right now.

Apparently the gremlins are loose in my office/studio. Just recently my laser printer has stopped working, my scanner has died a slow, painful death (old age, no doubt) and when I tried to take a photo to post a WIP... the batteries in my camera were dead! As soon as I go shopping again camera batteries will be on my list. Until then, at least my inkjet printer is still working.... fingers crossed here!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ch- Ch- Ch Changes!

Phew..... I've finally escaped from the clutches of the blueberry bushes!

I've also finally gotten my Extended Reach internet (not without a passle of problems... was supposed to be hooked up last week... just got it up and running Wednesday afternoon) and am lovin' it! It's nowhere near as fast as real high speed, but compared to dial up... well I feel like I've morphed from the turtle to the hare!

I also decided to go with Mozilla's Thunderbird for my email. I switched browsers to Firefox a couple of months ago (after huge problems that came with an I.E. upgrade) and I love Firefox! After checking out Thunderbird, it looked good, so I downloaded it. Had quite a few problems trying to get the configurations right from my old ISP and Outlook Express and getting email to go straight from Embarqmail (my new ISP email) to Thunderbird without routing emails through Outlook before they went to Thunderbird. A call to tech support at Embarq solved the problem and Thunderbird is running smoothly. Woo Hoo!

Since I wasn't thrilled with any of the homepages I've tried out, I made a custom homepage using iGoogle. Love it!! Besides an assortment of nifty gadgets (including weather, news, literary quote of the day, a note feature, my gmail and other neat stuff) I added a Google Reader and sorted my blogs into folders. Somehow I've ended up subscribed to over 100 blogs and that's been quite difficult for me to keep up with. Some are merely info-type blogs on which I don't leave comments so the folders helped me organize the blogs in the way I read them. So now, instead of over 100 blogs showing up in my Google Reader, they're in folders and I click the folder with the blogs I want to read... and.... Presto! .... there they are! Hopefully I'll be able to stay more current now that I have a faster connection and am a little better organized.

Well, I'm still customizing Thunderbird and sorting emails that are currently in four different locations. I hope all this time and effort in streamlining will pay off in more time for.... ART!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blueberries galore!

Yep.... still picking blueberries!

It truly is a bumper crop this year. So far there have been 104 quarts of berries picked by us and various family members, plus more berries that were not counted picked by neighbors and such. Of those 104 counted, I've picked around 53 quarts myself. Yes, I now have my degree in Blueberryology. I also have bluish tinted fingernails, quite a few scratches (the best blueberries are at the top of the bush and on the inside... so I stretch and crawl to get those prize berries), and one wasp sting to date. I consider myself fortunate.... only one sting in a season is good!

The berries ripened differently this year. We had lots of rain in the Spring (which came at the right time for the bushes and gave us the bumper crop), but instead of ripening gradually - over a five to six week period - as they usually do, most of them ripened within a two to three week period. We've picked the majority of berries now (it usually takes until the last of July or early August to get to this point) so I hope to set berrying aside and get back to art and blogging.

And..... good news..... I signed up for extended reach internet! It's still not high speed, but it's as good as it's going to get around here until Embarq comes through with true high speed sometime in the next year or so. I was going to hold out for the real high speed, but decided I can't wait another year. The extended reach is about 13 times faster than dial up so that will make my life - and blogging - a little easier. It takes forever to do things on the net when the pages load oh-so-slowly!

Have a great weekend .... I have a few more berries to pick and then I'm going to donate any remaining berries to the birds!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Still here...up to my neck in blueberries!

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. Yet!

We have a bumper crop of blueberries this year. Now, I love blueberries, but this is a major task!

We have over a dozen mature bushes, most of them 10-12 feet high and generously wide. Translation: Many hours in the hot sun picking berries while fending off the wasps that love them as much as we do. Then, for each picking session, several more hours sorting and freezing the berries. We usually start picking the first week in July and continue through the first week of August. By then we've seen enough of the yummy sweet berries.

I'll try to get back to blogging as soon as I can. In the meantime, I'll be on a ladder, bucket in hand, reaching for the biggest berries!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gone..... again!

I'll be out of town and offline for a few days. Will be next week before I catch up with all of you again :-(

Hope you have a great weekend and I'll "see" you next Thursday or Friday!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Newspaper column for June 2009

O say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave?

It happens every time, but perhaps more so at the American Legion dance in Benson. My husband, Milton, plays in a band. Once a month we play the Benson American Legion. The Legion is a great place with a lively and diverse crowd that’s fun to be with. Most honored (and rightly so) among this group are the veterans- veterans of wars recent and wars long past, going all the way back to World War II. In fact, the dance at Benson began during World War II, which makes it the longest running dance in eastern North Carolina.

The band starts playing at eight o’clock, but before the dance begins we stand for the playing of the National Anthem. When the familiar notes ripple out in rousing harmony the crowd rises to their feet, and I scan the room around me, watching the older veterans. Some rise slowly, with obvious effort. Gone is the litheness of youth. But present still is a spirit full of life. They stand, with shoulders squared and eyes turned reverently toward the large flag held by a fellow vet. Their gaze does not waver. Their expression reveals love, loyalty, and pride in the country they served. And that’s when it happens. As I stand with hand over heart, to this most patriotic of rituals I feel the familiar response .... goosebumps appear on my arms, my scalp prickles, and a tremendous pride in this country and love for its people wells up within me. In a few minutes, the splendid notes fade away, the crowd enthusiastically cheers and the night’s entertainment begins. Next month we will salute the flag again, and I’ll feel the very same way.

Some of you are aware that my family and I moved here from England several decades ago. I’m the bridge generation in my family: my Dad served in England’s Royal Navy and my son served in the United States Navy, so I have ties to both countries. I’ll always love my native homeland, but America is home and I’m honored and proud to pledge allegiance to this wonderful country.

I’ve wanted to write this column for several years. But what to say about America that hasn’t already been said? I could write endless pages on its beauty: Ocracoke’s quaint village and pristine beaches, Maine’s eye-poppingly gorgeous coastline, Utah’s majestic mountains and golden Aspen glades, Chicago’s fascinating Lake Shore Drive, Texas fields full of wildflowers, Florida’s endless blue waters, South Carolina’s peach trees and swimming holes (in my opinion South Carolina peaches are the best!), Louisiana’s bayous, and Virginia’s historic towns... and this names only a few highlights.

America’s scenic beauty is equally matched by her people- a people independent, brave, original, creative and adventurous. Still more admirable is this nation’s open-heartedness and kindness; and tragedy-stricken people the world over have been the recipients of this national generosity.

No, America is not perfect- but when I moved here I didn’t expect it to be. But neither did I expect the overwhelmingly warm welcome, love and care showered upon us by our new neighbors and friends. We were (and still are) truly thankful for the generous, caring spirit of America’s people... the neighbor who’s quick to share fresh produce from their garden, the neighbor who left a watermelon on your front porch while you were out (what a nice greeting to come home to!), the neighbor who brings you chicken soup when you’re sick, the neighbor who takes care of your pet while you’re out of town. What a wonderful thing to live amongst people like this. This, then, is why I love America. Yes, it’s beautiful with its "amber waves of grain", "purple mountain majesties" and "shining seas", but most beautiful of all is its people. America is still a truly blessed nation.

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Yes, thank God, the Star Spangled Banner yet waves.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Blue Girl finished!

Posting the finished version of Blue Girl. This was such an enjoyable portrait... I enjoyed every minute of it!

Had some recent [mis]adventures with Internet Explorer 8. After downloading the update to IE 8 I had no internet at all! This went on for several days and though I tried every trick I could think of (which wasn't very many) nothing worked. Since I couldn't download another browser (because no web pages would show up) my son burned Firefox onto a CD, we loaded it... and Ta Da! Internet! I never knew what I was missing... I like Firefox much better than IE.... so I guess that was the silver lining in my internet cloud.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Blue Girl WIP #6A and 6B

(9 x 12, Colored Pencil with watercolor underpainting)

She's got hair!

Posting two WIP's... the whole portrait to date and a close up of her face.

I've given her some hair and made some refinements to her face (they were necessary... really!). Blue Girl will have a chance to sit for a while before I work on it again ... I'll be out of town - and offline - for a few days so I hope you have a good weekend and I'll catch up with you about the middle of next week.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Newspaper column for May 2009

Sneaky Snakes and Gluttonous Guests

In recent years, as I’ve gotten older, and, I suppose, more mellow, I’ve become fascinated by the world of nature surrounding me. Though I’ve always appreciated the outdoors in terms of beautiful scenery, lately I’ve become interested enough in nature - birds in particular - to observe them regularly and even do a little research. I can actually identify a few birds now- besides the very obvious Cardinals, Blue Jays and woodpeckers.

Regularly visiting our bird feeder, besides the cardinals and one red bellied woodpecker, are a variety of other birds including the Indigo Bunting, a nuthatch, the Eastern Towhee, a Blue Grosbeak, one spectacularly colored Red Headed Woodpecker, plus a few others whose names I’ve yet to learn. Also congregating around the feeder are the softly colored Mourning Doves, at least one Brown Thrasher, and, predictably, way too many blackbirds, grackles and crows- those unwelcome and ill-mannered banquet crashers who descend in raucous cawing mobs to decimate the supply of sunflower seeds while bullying away the smaller, less aggressive birds. Darn pests!

A couple of weeks ago a male Kill Deer (yes, the male!) built a nest in the rocks of a ditch across from our house. The nest was really nothing more than a shallow, round depression in the rocks. The bird had used smaller pieces of rock to line the nest - not exactly my idea of comfortable or cozy. Nonetheless, in a few days three Kill Deer eggs were lying in their extra firm bed. Every time the hubby and I went for a walk we passed the nest, and though we tried to avoid upsetting Mama Kill Deer it was inevitable. At first sight of us she went into her famous broken wing routine. She quickly hopped off the nest, ran wildly down the road, and then while rolling over on her side and turning her wing at an awkward angle, she flapped the "broken" wing helplessly and squawked for dear life. It was, of course, an elaborate charade, designed to draw a predator’s attention away from her nest and eggs. The idea was that a predator would see an "injured" bird - an easy meal - and pursue her. When the predator got close, Mama Kill Deer made an amazing recovery and flew off! For a week we checked on the nest during our evening walks. After a few days, she began to relax a little- enough so that if we stayed on the far side of the road she didn’t leave the nest, although she watched us intently as we passed by. We thoroughly enjoyed watching her and hoped that she’d successfully raise her young. But we were doubtful. Last year we lost three broods of baby Bluebirds to snakes. The Kill Deer eggs, in their out-in-the open location, were easy pickings for snakes and other predators. So we continued to watch and hope for the best. One day we went to check the nest, and as we approached there was no sound or movement. Not a good sign. We were disappointed to see an empty, abandoned nest. I looked around carefully... no signs of any disturbance or broken egg shells... probably the clean work of a snake. Darn snake. What a struggle life is for birds... it seems that only a minority of them actually hatch and grow to adulthood. The next week another Kill Deer made a nest in our side yard. The nest soon had three speckled eggs clustered in the center. We watched. After a few days the eggs were devoured by a predator. Again, no signs of disturbance around the nest. Darn sneaky snake. I began to harbor exceedingly malevolent thoughts about this persistent and efficient predator, and considered ways to bring about his untimely end should he be so unfortunate as to be spotted by me. Thus far, he’s been more successful in eluding me than his helpless victims were in eluding him.

The Kill Deer are not alone in living this everyday struggle that is their life. At the same time the Kill Deer were nursing their eggs, we also had baby bluebirds in the bluebird house; a three egg nest in my tall butterfly bush (I haven’t seen the mother fly off the nest and not sure what kind of eggs they are); and one superbly built nest in the domed cover of the gauge on the propane gas tank in the back yard (photo above). From doing a little reading, I think the eggs under the gas tank gauge cover belong to a Carolina Chickadee. Chickadees usually lay between five and seven eggs, white with reddish brown markings. Bingo! We have six eggs fitting that description. For such a small bird the nest is quite impressive. Sturdily built, it slopes down from a high side on one end to a taper on the low end - a cornucopia-like shape. The nest cavity is quite deep and is lined with fine, soft bedding (baby Chickadees obviously have more cushy digs than baby Kill Deer). So far, so good on the Chickadees. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. As for the baby Bluebirds, I’m happy to report that the youngsters fledged and went their way into the world. The unidentified eggs in the butterfly bush did not fare so well- the next time I checked on them they were gone. Mostly likely that darn snake again.

I look back and am surprised that until recent years I was fairly oblivious to the life and death struggle and everyday adventures going on all around me. It’s been an eye-opener and source of wonder to stop and really observe nature. It may sound corny, but each season is now fresh and new, and every baby bird, newly opened flower, and spectacular sky is a mini miracle. Albert Einstein said, "There are two ways to live your life; one is as though nothing is a miracle, and the other is as though everything is a miracle". In my younger years I was in the first category, with a little age and perhaps a little wisdom I’m happy to now find myself in the latter category.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blue Girl WIP #5

I meant to post another WIP before I got quite this far along, but art is so intoxicating that when I get into it I forget about everything else... including taking photos for WIPS!

Most of her face is about finished, and I've lightly drawn in some basic hair shapes. Her hair will be the next thing to do. I want to lighten up her skin a little on the areas of her face that reflect the most light- the watercolor underpainting gave quite a bit of color and needs toning down in some areas. This is fairly easily accomplished and I've liked having that initial layer down before starting with cp's. Will probably go that route again on with some other portraits.

"Blue Girl" has been the most enjoyable portrait to date. I've been much more relaxed, have had very little re-do's, and have looked forward to working on it. I'd like to think that has something to do with the hours I've spent practicing, experimenting, reading about and studying portraiture - enough so that some of the info has gelled and I can begin to focus a little more on how I want to interpret a portrait rather than how do I achieve this effect or that effect. I've got little scrap pieces of various types of art paper scattered around my art table where I've tried out different techniques and colors. This "playing around" has been a tremendous help, and I save these labeled experiments to refer to as needed.

Something else that's making a difference in my work process... I've begun to develop a basic palette that I'm comfortable with when painting skin, eyes and mouths. My palette may change as I continue to experiment, but knowing ahead of time what colors to use to get the effect I'm after saves a lot of what my mother would call "dithering around". So far the pencils and colors that I "must have" are: Prismacolor: white, cream, jasmine, light peach, beige, peach, goldenrod, blush pink, rosy beige, clay rose, carmine red, henna, raspberry, light umber and dark umber; Lyra: light flesh, raw umber, cinnamon; Polychromos: light flesh, light yellow ochre, burnt ochre; Caran d'ache: light ochre, venetian red, sanguine. It should be noted that I've fairly recently started using Polychromos and Caran d'ache, so I only have a few colors as a trial and am still getting acquainted with them. So far I'm very impressed with both brands...and I'm particularly in love with Venetian Red by Caran d'ache... a wonderful color for subtle shading on faces! Other colors (for irises, hair, etc) I use as needed and haven't settled down with any particular favorites yet.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Blue Girl WIP #4

9x12, Colored Pencil on Stonehenge with watercolor underpainting.

Made some progress on the Blue Girl. Added a little more detail to her hat and got quite a bit done on the eyes, although I'll add more modeling around the eye area as I model other areas of the face. I've also put three very light cp layers down on her face, covering the initial watercolor wash. I like the look of smooth, soft skin (especially on young children) so I'll be paying particular attention to very gradual color changes as I introduce the shadows and highlights that will bring dimension to the face. Although it doesn't look like I've done that much since the last WIP, there's actually quite a bit of time involved in those light layers and careful painting of the eyes. I took my time doing her eyes as I'm determined to work as often as I can by Laure's motto of "Get in, get it down, get out!".... in other words, as little re-doing as possible.

A Special Post for Jeanne!

This post is in honor of Jeanne (visit her blog here). It's her birthday today! It's a special birthday... one of those milestone days... but be it far from me to reveal any numeric details.

Jeanne was one of the first people that I really got to know through blogging. Though we've never met in person (we live on opposite sides of the US... she all the way over to the west in California, and me all the way over to the east in North Carolina- 3,000 miles apart) we've developed a special friendship that includes regular emails interspersed with entertainingly chatty phone calls. Jeanne is a joy to know. She has a wonderful, quirky sense of humor, makes charming and colorful art, and is just a delight.

And now, Jeanne, you may not be aware of this, but I'm known to write [appallingly corny] poems. So, in honor of your birthday, is one such [appallingly corny] poem written just for you:

She loves chocolate and cookies,
TV and art;
Bill, Penny and Friday,
and sketching in the park.

She lives in California,
where the Beverly Hillbillies went to,
Though I'm not a hillbilly,
I send this greeting from the South to you.

Celebrate this milestone birthday-
may it be a wonderful year,
Filled with all the things you love:
Family, friends, doggies
blogging, art and good cheer!

Happy Birthday my friend.... wishing you a Special Day and a Wonderful Year!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blue Girl WIP and other ramblings.....

After a short but happy fling with oils and landscapes, I'm back to colored pencil and a portrait. Truthfully, I'm still surprised that I like colored pencil as much as I do... but since I keep answering the siren call of those beguiling sticks of color I guess I'm officially hooked. 'Course, I really like the Artisan oils too so I plan to continue working with them as well. Nice to switch back and forth between two refreshingly different mediums.

I'm posting the reference for the latest portrait and a couple of WIPs. Since I love to experiment I approached this portrait a little differently... I did a detailed drawing first. I usually just start with basic outlines and "draw" as I paint. Only problem with that is with portraits there's little to no fudge room and if something has to be re-done (not that I would ever do a thing like that) it's a hassle getting several layers of color off... whereas if there's a problem with the initial pencil drawing... ha! my trusty eraser will make it vanish faster than you can say "Hey, Presto!".

I'm also trying a watercolor underpainting. I'm doing this primarily for speed (because it will put a fast layer of light color down where I don't want the white of the paper showing, thus saving me a layer or two of painstaking pencil "washes"). That's the general idea anyway... whether or not it works to my satisfaction- I'll get back to you on that!

Lastly, if you're reading this and I normally read your blog ... don't give up on me yet! I've had a lot going on with family commitments the last couple of weeks (one son and his fiancee flying off to Costa Rica for a two week wedding/honeymoon/beach and surfing vacation, the other graduating from NC State... Go Wolfpack!) so I've had little time on the computer. Tomorrow I'll have access to a computer with high speed internet (thanks, Dad!) and plan to catch up then... in what will be record time for me (since I'm still on dial up... which should be called TurtleNet).

Have a great weekend!

BTW - the reference photo came from WetCanvas - thank you to the generous person who uploaded it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Maine Cove

A couple of years ago we vacationed in Maine. Wow...what a take-your-breath-away gorgeous place! (Would love to live there provided I had a reliable heating system, a snow blower and a home office/studio!). I took lots of photos to use as references for paintings.... but this is the first painting of Maine that I've done.

I used the Artisan oils again and imposed two conditions on myself for this mini painting (it's an ACEO):

1. Spend no more than 30 minutes on the painting from initial sketch to last stroke of paint

2. No re-doing.... for any reason whatsoever

I actually managed to abide by both conditions. I do see some things I'd like to change (no surprise there :-), but I left it alone and will try to keep those things in mind on the next painting.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Newspaper column for April 2009

The Cure for Sea Fever

Sea-Fever by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life.
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

I had a nagging case of sea fever; possibly caused by the confinement of winter months, or perhaps by the siren song of spring that beckoned me to like a child begging an adult to "come and see what I made". And so, ignoring the disapproval of chores that needed to be done, errands that waited to be run and a dozen other "should-do’s" that snatched greedily at my time, I turned a deaf ear and listened instead to the call of the sea.

A light picnic was packed to suffice as an evening meal and mid-afternoon the hubby and I took off for the beach. It was the right decision. A lovely spring day awaited us with storybook blue skies and scudding white clouds. On the ride down, I turned my head from side to side, looking, unwilling to miss anything. Dogwoods, tulip trees, early azaleas, late narcissus and clusters of little wildflowers all bloomed exuberantly and I silently applauded their show.

Arriving at the beach, we climbed steps that rose over a dune, and at the top, stood still. After winter's pale stillness, there’s magic in that first glance at the lilting sea, resplendent in myriad shades of blue and green and capped with white at the shoreline. I took a deep, slow breath, reveling in the salty air and the sound of the sea. My eyes followed the waves that curled, crested and then, relaxed, rolled gently onto the beach. Time fell away, the "should-do’s" ceased to exist, and a peaceful feeling of belonging seeped in.

There were few beach-goers this early in April. I was glad. Glad to listen only to the lulling waves and cries of the gulls. Life at the shore is reduced to simpler elements, and simpler felt good, felt lighter. Like losing ten pounds; not in body, but in spirit.

I had brought a heavy jacket, expecting a cold and cutting wind. But the day was benevolent and I was comfortable wearing jeans and a shirt. Spring’s gentle sun dropped sparkling highlights on the waves and shimmered on the wet sand. Along the tideline the sand was studded with shells; mostly broken, but still beautiful in their variety and color. Wet, they glistened, jewels against a velvet cloth, and I picked up the gems I thought beautiful and dropped them safely into a bag. A good subject for a painting, perhaps.

The hubby loves to feed the sea gulls, so we came prepared with a whole loaf of bread. After the quiet months of winter the gulls were cautious. As the season wore on they would once again accustom themselves to the beach crowds that annually invade their realm. But at the moment they were skittish. The small bread chunks thrown out to them rolled to a standstill where they lay untouched as the gulls, tempted, stared, started forward, then thought better of it and stepped back. So the hubby threw the bread farther out and finally the boldest among them claimed his prize. Then another stepped forward, and another, until soon we were surrounded by a gaggle of gulls all vying for the morsels flying across the sand. They were comical, reminding me of children squabbling and scuffling for the best piece of candy. When one grabbed a piece of bread, another one close by would squawk loudly in protest. Sometimes two or three gulls dived after the same bit of bread and when one caught it, the unsuccessful gulls set off a clamorous chorus of disgruntled and envious complaining. We spent several minutes watching and enjoying the gulls while they enjoyed the food. Eventually, the bread was gone and we expected them to leave immediately. Instead they stood around, looking at us expectantly as if to say, "We’re waiting". They were quiet now, and their fears allayed by the food, had come within a few feet of us. They stood regarding us with an open and patient gaze. We started walking back to the steps over the dune and for a few feet we had company. Then, realizing that meal time was over, one by one the gulls left, circling out over the sea in search of more food.

It was a good evening. There was time to be quiet, time to talk, time to rest. We wondered why we didn’t do this more often. There wasn’t any reason not to. It didn’t require a week, or even a whole day. Just a couple of hours at the beach had gone a long way to curing sea fever. The wind and waves had done their work - as I knew they would. And that night I slept the quiet sleep with the sweet dreams of those who go down to the seas.
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