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

Friday, March 26, 2010

Where Have I Been For So Long? A Muralin'!

It's been an interesting month. I thought after finishing the castle mural in the little girl's room that I would start right away on the barnyard mural in the little boy's room. Not so. One very ugly cold(?) virus, complete with all those fun things like fever, sore throat, cough, blah, blah... you know the routine.... plus one perforated ear drum due to severe congestion (yes, I've had all the fun lately ;-) kept me out of work for a week. What is it they say about the "best laid plans of mice and men"?

Thankfully, I finally ditched the virus and painted the barnyard mural (this one is about 5 ft high and 7 ft wide). I'm posting wip's. This mural took almost twice as long as the castle mural because the clients decided to add several elements to the original design (cow, the family dog, tractor, boy on tractor, pumpkins in field, tobacco barn and bee hives). But it was such a pleasure to paint... I really enjoyed it and hope the little boy does too! My working method was the same as for the castle: sketch on wall with a pencil, then paint. I used mostly Liquitex Acrylic paints, retarder and flow mediums. Also did an acrylic glaze for the first time and really liked the effect it gave. Will use that technique again.

If I haven't visited your blog lately.... it's not because I haven't wanted to. I'll get around there as soon as I can so don't give up on me yet!

Have a good weekend!

Newspaper Column for March 2010

Make Memories That Are Worth Revisiting

Early morning, hot coffee and a good book…to my way of thinking it just couldn't get much better. Blissfully engrossed in my book while sipping coffee, something I read reminded me that a year ago a trip to Ocracoke Island was in the final planning stages. The May visit to Ocracoke would not be my first; and, with luck, not my last ... it’s such a pleasure to be on the island.

What makes you fall in love with an area is more than the beauty of a place, it's the emotional response it elicits from you, the way it entwines itself around your heart and mind, and the power it has to stir memories long after you’ve returned home.

I allowed my thoughts to wander from the page and return to the sights and sounds of Ocracoke. May’s cooler temperatures mean the island is still fairly quiet, making the off season a perfect time to visit. The beautifully wild seashore, thankfully protected from the ever-grasping avarice of man, invites contemplative walks and the leisurely gathering of seashells to the soothing accompaniment of the rolling surf. Something about the seashore that is so deeply restorative, so cleansing.

Inland, an ideal way to explore the little island village is by bicycle. No confining car- just two pedals, and one small - and truthfully - not very comfortable seat. It’s still lots of fun. The easy pace of cycling allows you to see, hear and smell little things that you’d miss in a car. Relaxation slowly overtakes you as you breathe deeply of the pleasantly salty air and listen to the gulls squawk overhead while your neck and back are gently warmed by a benevolent spring sun. Rambling down quaint side streets, you see clusters of flowers in sandy yards framed by picket fences; fences that were once fresh white, but are now quietly and charmingly faded. The timeworn homes, often decorated with flowering vines, are guarded by wind-twisted trees bent over the driveway. The older homes have a curious air of being out of step with time. As if the original owners might still be there, might tell you tales of the early days of settling the island, when hardy islanders lived with scarce resources and the vagaries of the sea ruled their lives. For the history buff, there is much to explore and appreciate on Ocracoke.

I remembered the poignant ceremony at the British Cemetery, the morning cool and misty as bagpipes wailed a musical memorial to the British sailors lost while helping protect Ocracoke's coast during WWII. I remembered visiting the colorful, overstocked variety store and the fun of picking out just the right T-shirt. I remembered the sand, sea, weather-stunted trees and the history of life played out on a small island. The memories seemed so real I was almost there again. I realized that of the places I had visited over my lifetime so far, this was one of my most cherished favorites.

The realization surprised me. Despite the passing of decades, my memories of childhood vacations in Wales, the country that neighbors England, were still very colorfully alive and well. Wales is a breathtakingly beautiful country. Mountains border rocky beaches with secluded caves, little-traveled country lanes run alongside fields where cows offer lazy “moos” and old stone farmhouses and castles look just like picture postcards. It was pure magic to a kid from the city suburbs. In my present-day early morning walks, I often see something that reminds me of Wales- a snail inching its way down the road snaps my memory a couple of thousand of miles away and more than a few years back, to when I walked along a country road in Wales closely watching another snail’s slow progress, fascinated by the silvery rainbow trail it left behind.

I sipped the last of my coffee. My thoughts had traveled from my book first to Ocracoke, then to Wales. Memories have such power. Do childhood memories seem so sweet because, as children, we gave ourselves wholeheartedly to the venture? As adults, can we jump wholeheartedly into adventures with a similar childlike abandon? If we can’t, don’t or won't, I suspect the memories we make today won’t be nearly as sweet as they could be when the years pass and we look back.

I had thought for years that there would never be another time and place like those vacations in Wales. There were other enjoyable holidays, but Wales reigned supreme. I’d like to think that one day I will again visit that beautiful land. But I realized with some surprise that the quiet sea-washed beauty of Ocracoke had also firmly claimed a place in my heart. Wales continues to hold a special place in my affections, and it always will. But Ocracoke has its place too. There’s room for both old and new.

The past may be wonderful, but it is past. The present can be every bit as magical. All you have to do is jump in wholeheartedly. What a pleasant assignment- making memories worth revisiting. Think I’ll get started on that one right away.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Ups and Downs (think ladders) of Painting Murals....

It's been a busy (and happily tiring) two weeks!

I was commissioned to do a series of three murals in a newly remodeled home. Two of the murals were to be done right away, the third a little later. The first two murals are in children's rooms- a fairytale castle for a little girl's room (size: approx 6.5 ft. across and 6 ft. high), and a barnyard/farm scene in a little boy's room. Since the little girl is having a big birthday party tomorrow (Sat.) her mural was the first to be done. I finished it Monday and then started on the barnyard scene. The clients have since added several elements to the barnyard scene so it will be next week before it's completed. Which means I'll be pretty scarce again this coming week.

What have I learned from doing these murals? Well, first of all that I'm not as young as I used to be. Yikes! The first and second day of 6-8 hours of climbing up and down a ladder and constantly holding up my arms to draw and paint told me more about my age than I cared to know :-) But, it's also been wonderful from an art perspective. Being away from my home meant that I wasn't distracted by laundry, meal preparation and all those other time stealers that can wreck a work day. It was wonderful to simply draw, paint and think about nothing but the project before me!

My working method is simple: draw the scene on the wall (I use a pencil) and paint. I use acrylic paints which work well for murals... soap and water clean up and fast drying. I'm posting photos that show the castle mural progressing; the last photo shows the little girl's room with the completed mural. I've made a good start on the barnyard mural but will post that a little later- after almost two weeks of very little computer time I've got a lot of emails and blogging to try to catch up with!

Have a good weekend!

Newspaper Column for February 2010

Beyond Your Front Door

Is there a memory from your school days that stands out in your mind? A pleasant memory whose recollection brings a smile?

My answer is “yes“. It was a class field trip to a country estate called Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire, England. Situated on 500 acres, Wollaton Hall is an impressive old country house that houses a natural history museum.

Our assignment for the trip was to open our eyes - really open them - and record some of nature‘s masterpieces. It was also our mission to collect anything that had fallen - seeds, leaves, cones, twigs and the like - for placement in a nature scrapbook. Along with the leaves and seeds from each tree we were to include bark rubbings. I well remember the bark rubbings. Before the field trip I’d never paid much attention to the bark of a tree, so I was surprised and delighted to see the varied patterns you could get when you leaned a piece of paper against a tree trunk and rubbed across it with a wax crayon. I remember happily moving from tree to tree, basking in the freedom of being outdoors in the warm sunshine and then, feeling like I came upon a celebration when the winged seeds of a Sycamore tree showered down around me like confetti drifting on the breeze. At that moment I felt a connection with nature, an awareness of how special and inspiring the natural world can be.

Perhaps in part because of that special day, trees still hold a lot of appeal for me. When traveling I’m usually on the lookout for trees with unusual character, special beauty, or trees that hint at a story. In our area you occasionally see a circle of old oaks standing sentinel over an empty space, the home once guarded by those faithful trees now long gone. Before air conditioning came along such stately trees were highly esteemed for the cool shade they provided during long hot summers.

Nowadays, tucked away in our comfortable heated/air conditioned homes, we’re more removed from the outdoors than folks were a few generations back. Nature doesn’t hold as much sway over people’s lives as it used to. And in a lot of ways, that’s an improvement. When the mercury is in the upper 90’s, I’ll be the first to admit that I’d much rather have a home with an efficient air conditioner than one shaded by large oaks. But I can‘t help but question… do we get so used to relegating nature to the back burner that we miss out on many ordinary wonders? What a shame it would be to miss the adventure of learning new things, the fun of outdoor exploration, the good feeling of turning our attention away from the everydayness of our lives to a fresh awareness of a whole other world waiting for us just beyond our front door.

But back to the field trip. Our school also nurtured learning and exploration by having a nature table in the classroom where "treasures“ were displayed. What was on the nature table? Most anything that’s nature-made and will hold still! Leaves, nuts, seeds, twigs, stones and rocks, dried flowers, seashells, dead insects (I can hear you thinking “Ewww” but you know how fascinated kids are by that kind of thing), exoskeletons, berries (none that are poisonous of course) and a few well chosen books to encourage kids to read and learn about the world around them.

Over the years, most classroom nature tables gradually disappeared in favor of more high tech methods of learning; but now teachers and parents, realizing the unique benefits of acquainting children with nature, are campaigning to “Bring Back the Nature Table”. What a great idea!

Besides giving children hands-on experience collecting nature items, it’s also a wonderful way for kids to let their imagination fly and develop creativity. Who knows how many budding artists may be inspired by drawing and painting the treasures found on a walk? Not to mention the benefits of the exercise you get while out exploring!

I realize this isn’t the season of the year when you think about long nature walks outside. But winter, too, has its own beauty. You don’t have to go far - or stay out long. There are items of interest practically under your feet.

As I finish this article, it’s Friday night, February 12th, and it’s snowing. According to the weather forecasters we may end up with several inches of snow. And though it’s going to be cold in the morning, I’ll be outside, bundled up and trekking around with my camera recording the beautiful sights. Guess in some ways I’m still the same kid who was fascinated all those years ago by the spinning seeds from a Sycamore tree. I’m glad. Glad the wonder of nature has never dimmed, glad its beauty and variety continue to fascinate and inspire. So much to see, hear and experience… and all just beyond my front door.
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