One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

28 November 2017

Lessons in Less

Among the new works I showed in Georgia were these three "Flying Fawn" paintings.

Originally, I had imagined a grouping of pieces that were a little different, a little more "finished". As I learned long ago, though...sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.

I am typically drawn to chipmunk-cheeked Winter mule deer fawns…but these lanky Summer youngsters loitering near my house were captivating. I wanted to try to capture their seemingly effortless bounding.

These are all small-ish, 12"x12" or 12"x16". The background is the simple wash I toned the surface with before starting. It was not intended as the "finish", so it is imperfect...but somehow worked better than anything else.

Sometimes "perfect" is relative.

As I started quickly scrubbing in the basic planes of the first one (the 12” x 12”)…something happened. It just “worked", painting it seemed as effortless as their bounding had been.

As my fellow artists know, they aren’t all effortless…far from it.

The second one bounded to life in much the same way…fun, loose.

It is easy to get caught up in the push toward your mind's eye version of "perfection"…much harder learning to stop before you go too far.

I suppose I could fix this or that. Soften an edge here and push the color there. Perhaps they could be better...but, to me, they “work” just as they are.

Anatomy, described by quick, thin, brush-scrubbed planes…thick, buttery highlights…and swashes of color.

Flying Fawns…as fun to paint as they were to watch.

The fawns didn’t find a home, but that gives me an excuse to play with a couple more before the next show!

(PS: Thanks to Walt and C.D., two of my art heroes, for noticing this trio and for the very kind words about them!)

13 October 2017

Pardon Me, but You have Something...

We’ve all seen them…the adorable, fluffy “baby crow” (it is a rail), the “baby platypus” (it is a stuffed toy), the “petrified stump of the tree that would have been ten miles tall!” (it is the Jugurtha Tableland rock formation in Tunisia). Then there are the fake obituaries. Just imagine if someone was passing that kind of fake news about one of your friends or loved ones or your child. There are countless more out there…fake memes that are shared, reshared and sent on viral trips around the world. These posts die down and then resurface again and again. Tom Petty fake-died so many times that some people called his actual death “fake”.

Everyone gets suckered by a fake post now and then. Last week I posted a great quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson. It came off the “Brainy-quote” site, so I assumed it was accurate…I mean, if they call themselves “Brainy”, shouldn’t that mean something? Within minutes, a friend debunked it. I double-checked, he was right, so I deleted the quote and PM’d him a “thank you”. I learned something new and one less fake post headed out into cyberspace.

Once in a while, I will try to gently and kindly point out to someone that the meme they shared is fake and explain what it really is. Never once has anyone said “oh, thank you!”. Rarely, if ever, do they delete the fake post. In most cases I am actually attacked, mocked or bullied…and it isn’t just me, I have seen it happen to other who rally for the truth. The original poster and their allies will often staunchly (sometimes viciously) defend their post, even in the face of evidence proving it false. Sadly, they are more willing to BE wrong than admit they were wrong.

Think about it this way: Someone pulls you aside before your first date or big presentation to gently say “honey, you have a big piece of spinach between your front teeth”. Do you chew them out and ignore them...or do you check the mirror, think “ewww, glad someone told me” and grab a toothpick? 

A fake meme or fake news story on your social media page is like a hunk of spinach between your front teeth (or worse). For every kind soul (and it IS kindness) who clues you in, there are hundreds who will just snicker behind your back or think “how embarrassing” or, worse, lose respect for you. 

Why does it matter? Why SHOULD it matter? In a world where fiction is being taken for fact, we owe it to ourselves, if no one else, to seek truth. We need to learn to think critically...it is not that hard to do. Take a few seconds to fact-check your posts and give yourself extra credit for finding truth in an environment that makes it easy to mix fact and fiction. At worst, you save yourself a little embarrassment...at best, you learn something new.

You think you “don’t know” how to tell what is real? 
Here is a simple tip. Before posting, sharing (or believing) something on the internet, google a couple of key words along with “meme”. You will get a pile of hits and can learn within SECONDS if it is true. 
For example, the “baby crow”: When that one first showed up, I knew it wasn’t a crow (having seen MANY baby ravens and crows), but I did not know what it actually was. I googled “baby crow meme”. Up came plenty of photos of actual baby crows, a dozen different versions of the fake baby crow…and several sites debunking the meme. Turns out it was a baby buff-banded rail (Gallirallus philippensis). That does not make it ANY less cute…and, bonus, I learned something new.

A darker example: A few months ago a meme was circulating among my far right friends with a photo of a Nazi, claiming it was George Soros. I didn’t know who Soros was, so I googled “soros nazi meme” and learned that the photo was actually of Oskar Groening (google THAT name, omg). Within seconds I learned that not only was Soros NOT a Nazi, but that he was a 9 year old Hungarian Jew when the war broke out. His story is the kind of thing that makes movie plots. Whether you agree with his politics or not, whether you love or hate his business practices…it turns out that his philanthropic projects have made the world a better place for many people. More good than most of us will ever do. In the comments of the posted fake meme, I said simply that the photo was not Soros but Oskar Groening. The original poster and several other artist friends laid into me saying “it does not matter, he (Soros) is EVIL!”. They reminded me of that Monty Python movie scene…”he’s a witch! ‘he’s a witch”. Their meme post had the opposite effect than intended…I gained respect for Soros and lost respect for everyone who defended the cruel fake meme. My bad, that wasn’t spinach in their teeth…it was much worse.

If you are not sure which “news” sites or websites are fake…again, just google them. There are reputable sites that rate the accuracy of information on the web and lists out there of websites that have been proven to publish fakes news. Note that I use the plural, there…not just one site…there are many sites that independently research this information. If a news item only shows on ONE website...that is good reason to be suspicious. 
Example: Shortly before the election, a dear friend posted one of the horrific political memes. The meme was attributed to “the Denver Guardian”. So, I googled “Denver Guardian”, turns out the address for the Denver Guardian was a parking lot space…it was a fake site (confirmed by several articles). The "Denver Guardian" website and others like it had been traced to foreign sources who were making a lot of money playing Americans off one another. You share those posts and not only do you have spinach in your teeth for your wedding photo, but someone is making money selling billboards of it.

When it comes to politics on BOTH sides…sharing fake news and memes does NOT help your cause. You hurt it. People will think less of you, your stance and your party. Wanting to believe something and finding a supporting meme on the internet does not make it true. The more fake memes people lob at one another (like primates throwing feces), the more divided we become. By the way, since I didn’t want to insult primates by that reference, I googled “primates throwing feces” and got this quote from Vanderbilt paleontology professor Neil Kelley: “Bored primates soon learn that flinging feces elicits a dramatic response from the humans outside the cage and that response is a strong reinforcement for a socially starved animal”. Seems my analogy was more true than I thought. What it boils down to is this…stop throwing poop at one another!

I have been wrong a lot over my years. What I have learned along the way, is that my best leaps forward in thinking, art, life…have come from screwing up, then admitting I was wrong and correcting my mistake(s). It hasn’t stopped me from making more mistakes…but that only means I am still trying, still learning, still growing.

As to correcting people…no one wants to do that, no one wants to risk being called “mean” (or worse) for trying, even gently, to point out the truth. No one wants to be the one who says “honey, you have spinach in your teeth” (that is almost as bad as finding out you had spinach in your own teeth AFTER the big date). More often than not, people tell you the truth because they care enough to want to save you from embarrassment or teach you something of value. 

When someone does offer a correction, even if you don’t have it in you to be gracious, at least try not to be mean. Even when the truth hurts, I am grateful for those who offer a respectful, constructive, accurate correction…for they are helping me become a better person.

25 August 2017


With everyone fighting over statues and monuments…perhaps we should take a hard look at the elephant in the room. It isn’t entirely racism and it isn’t about loss of heritage or erasing history. It is about spin.

My parents were history fans, especially my dad. Our Summer vacations meant trips to the battlefields, monuments, and Southern historical sites like Monticello and the USS North Carolina. They dragged us around the region to anything and everything they could show us...along with lessons about what these places meant to both sides.

To this day, I love history and deeply believe that we need to remember our history so we can learn, heal and measure our progress forward. So, when the issue of confederate monuments first came up, I was on the fence. As an artist, as a history buff, as a Southerner, as an American and as a compassionate human I wondered how we should handle these statues, if removal was for better or worse. Then I started reading.

Innate curiosity meant that my understanding of our history only deepened after graduation. Howard Zinn and James Loewen shone light on the rewriting of history that took place long before I opened my first book. Recently, despite wild rants from both extremes, I have learned even more about the true history of a treasonous war that pitted brother against brother…and of the monuments left in its wake.

It is more politically correct to think the Civil War was about states’ rights but, if you read the actual declarations of secession, it is clear that the Southern states were fighting to keep slavery. Why is that? A relatively small portion of Southerners were slave owners (estimates vary between 20 and 32% overall, less in some states more in others), so why did so many join the fight for the rights of comparatively few?

The majority of Southern whites did not own slaves and many were against it. So why were they willing to die, to fight, even against their own families, to protect slavery? Spin. The rich slave owners told them that they would lose their jobs, their land, their homes and their way of life to blacks if the North won and slaves were freed. 
Sound familiar?

It wasn’t just the slaveowners, either. Southern religious leaders threw in to the mix. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, claimed that slavery “has received the sanction of Jehova.” Southern Baptist Reverend Richard Furman taught that the holy scriptures sanctioned the right to hold slaves and that “every Negro…will be the equal of every one of you. If you are tame enough to submit, abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.” Pastor Dunwoody of South Carolina said “god has authorized the practice of slavery…therefore, slavery is not a moral evil.” Presbyterian Robert Lewis Dabney told his fellow clergy to use the Bible to explain slavery. “We must go before the nation with the Bible as the text, and ‘thus sayeth the lord’ as the answer…the abolition party will be driven to unveil their true infidel tendencies.” 

Again, sound familiar?

THIS is why we need history…so it does not repeat itself.

That said, we do NOT need revisionist or apologist history. We need to understand the real reasons why countless Americans died to protect the rights of the wealthiest among them and how that relates to what is happening right now. We need history so we can look critically at the motives behind our current political and spiritual leaders, so we can learn to recognize who actually benefits when we are being played against one another.

Many of the monuments in question were created not to honor, but to divide. They were built so people would continue to rally behind a false ideal…against their neighbors, their family and their fellow Americans. When we fight over monuments that were purposely created to further divisiveness, we only deepen the divide…even worse, we miss what is really going on.

While people come to blows over statues, our REAL, irreplaceable monuments and natural resources are under fire. While we call one another names, laws are being created to take away what we have worked for and put it into the pockets of a very few. While some lobby for walls to keep out the workers who do the jobs we don’t even want, the jobs we DO want are being sent overseas by corporations. While Americans complain about a minuscule percentage of our tax dollar going to programs for healthcare, arts, education…a large portion of our tax dollar goes to corporate subsidies and monumental tax breaks for the wealthiest few.

Americans worry so much about the threat of “others”…other religions, other races, other ideologies. In fact, we are our own worst enemies. We fight amongst ourselves rather than coming together to create something better. If Americans supported our own, if we voted for laws that helped small businesses to succeed rather than supporting subsidies for corporations, everyone would be better off. If we open our hearts and borders to the immigrants that have been the very fabric of our nation since the beginning, we are ALL better off. If we supported programs that give opportunities to people who have few or none, it would lift us ALL up. If we supported education to raise standards rather than lazily grading to the lowest common denominator, we would ALL benefit.

We need to stop pampering our delicate egos and look at EXACTLY why that war happened, to understand its true history rather than the spin. We need to be outraged by how we are being similarly manipulated to this day. It isn’t the Mexicans, Jews, Blacks, LGBTQ, Muslims or any other “OTHER” that threaten our way of life, it isn’t the wealthy, either…it is our own refusal and/or inability to convert lessons from our own history into critical thinking regarding the manner in which we live, learn and VOTE.

04 July 2017

These Boots are Made for Washington - Part 5

At last…hello, Mr Lincoln.

My dear friend Paula was kind enough to pick me up after I arrived in DC. First, I wanted to see the Jefferson memorial as inspiration for a previous post (Part 2), afterward we wandered through the Museum of the American Indian until it closed and then made our way toward the Lincoln Memorial.

Hilariously, we could not get there. Paula’s GPS sent us past it and over the river to Arlington and another try sent us past it again. We could not find parking, not even a sign for parking reasonably close. I pulled up the directions on my iPhone…and no better luck. We crossed the river at least 8 times and still were no closer to Lincoln. We were chatting, laughing and I’d wave at Mr Lincoln every time we passed. I kept saying “maybe there’s a reason…”

Eventually we found parking near the Martin Luther King Memorial, another of my favorite Americans. We could see Lincoln from there, not a far walk…but something in me said “no, not now”. So we visited Dr King and then went to dinner. I’d try again to see Lincoln before I headed home.

Lincoln’s statue is sculpted from Georgia marble and his likeness is, appropriately, larger than life (by three times). He gazes out across the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument…but when you stand there, it feels as if he is looking right into your eyes, into your soul. His gaze seems at once benevolent and challenging.

“It is the quality of revolutions not to go by old lines or old laws; but to break up both, and make new ones.” Abraham Lincoln

Mr Lincoln was far from perfect (and a bit of a tyrant, in some ways), but he believed that the country belonged to the people. It is fitting that this spectacular memorial to one of our greatest Presidents has also been the site of many demonstrations and protests. Probably the most notable was in 1963, when hundreds of thousands of African Americans and their allies gathered peacefully in support of civil rights. On the stairs below Mr Lincoln, Dr Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech…his voice booming out over a crowd that stretched from Lincoln to the Washington Monument.

The morning after our failed attempt to visit Mr Lincoln, Paula sent me a news article. Apparently, when we were trying to find Lincoln, he had already been found by the infamous Richard Spencer and a group of alt-right, white nationalist, right-wing activists. Around 300 of Spencer's followers demonstrated without incident earlier in the day, but it would have dampened my spirits to run into any stragglers. In my opinion, they are almost the polar opposite of men like Dr King and Mr Lincoln.

Here’s the thing, though: while I do not agree with Spencer’s views on ANY level, I support their right to PEACEFULLY demonstrate…even on those iconic steps under the kind gaze of Mr Lincoln. I may be grateful that I didn’t see that group of angry white guys, but they have as much right to be there as Dr King did and as I do. I am horrified by what they say, but I believe in their constitutional right to say it as long as it does not turn to violence. If I don’t want to hear it, all I have to do is walk away.

My last day in DC, on the way to see Mr Lincoln, I came across a demonstration in the park in front of the Capitol. Intrigued, I watched as speakers rallied the sign-waving crowd. People in business attire passed through, some pausing to watch. A dread-locked man on a bike with loudspeakers attached to the handlebars held his own one-man commentary/protest. Foreign visitors mixed among the Americans. Women dressed as handmaids prepared to circle the Capitol. Tourists with children stood beside and among the protest crowd, all gathering in a line to view the arrival of the Vice President. Members of the press stood alongside individuals armed with smaller cameras from all over the country (and world), everyone pointing lenses in different directions. People explained to their children or one another what they thought was going on. Senators were coming and going and the Vice President was about to arrive. At the top of the Capitol stairs, snipers stepped into place (to protect the VP, I assume). Capitol police, some more patient than others, kept the protesters, tourists and playing children in line. As lawmakers came and went, then again when and the Vice President’s limo appeared, protesters chanted or yelled “shame!” and “shame on you!”. This peaceful mix of tourists, foreigners, business people, demonstrators, homeless, press, lawmakers, children, police and world leaders is something you would never see in many countries.

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Thomas Jefferson

When I came home from DC, one of the first things that popped up on my FB feed was the NRA video that appears to incite violence against protesters, demonstrators and liberals. This faction of the far right seems to have forgotten that we are a nation that rose out of revolution. Many of our patriotic heroes were, in fact, protesters (Tea Party, anyone?). Throughout our history, protests and demonstrations, some peaceful and some not, have called attention to problems and sparked changes that we often take for granted today.

From little girls who fought for the right to play “boy” sports to massive civil rights marches, Americans have a proud history of speaking out against opinions and laws that exclude or hurt members of our society. Demonstrating for change or protesting injustice does NOT mean you are against your Country.

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it…” Abraham Lincoln

The First Amendment to our Constitution promises that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” In apparent defiance of those words, the NRA’s video seems to be suggesting gun-owners take aim at demonstrators, meanwhile the current President has attacked the press and incited violence toward his detractors…even posting videos of himself beating up a “member of the press”. When a Republican congressional candidate in Montana body-slammed a reporter into the ground, some of his party members cheered and then they sent him to Congress instead of jail.

We all need to take a deep breath and really consider what it means when our leaders target and undermine the First Amendment. When our rights to peacefully assemble, to a free press, and to freedom of speech are endangered, the whole thing starts to crumble.

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” Abraham Lincoln
When I have written about standing against the cruel GOP healthcare plan, most of you have been supportive (for which I am grateful). I have also been criticized, though (that was particularly evident when I looked at some of the comments on Senator Tester’s posted video of our chat). People I considered friends have attacked me for being a “worthless liberal” or “pushing my Democratic agenda”.

The truth of the matter is, I am neither Democrat nor Republican…I am a lifelong Independent, and a moderate one at that. My political decisions are not made by party line, but via critical thinking and a little soul searching. Sometimes I swing left, on occasion I lean right but the vast majority of the time, I am somewhere in the middle. I am a defender of private property and a champion of public lands. I am a gun owner that believes in the 2nd Amendment…but I would register a BB gun if I thought it would save the life of ONE child. I respect ethical hunters and prefer game to grocery…but rail against poaching and the cruelty of trapping. I am an ardent supporter of the free press…but don’t believe everything I read (check those facts, baby). You get the idea. I am willing to pay taxes for things that don’t always benefit me, because I believe we are part of a society and it isn’t all about me. I love my country with a passion…but also believe in my right to protest...in OUR right to protest.

Dissent does not hurt this country as much as complacency and apathy. Too many “reality” shows and “memes” have muddied the water. A large number of people no longer see clearly and, sadly, aren’t willing to look behind the curtain to discern fact from fiction for themselves. Sadder still, people try to dismiss or forget the history we need to remember. We are most at risk when we abandon critical thinking to blindly follow a leader or a party. The worst kind of politicians know this and take advantage by discrediting the press that seeks to call them out, playing on our exhausted disillusionment, and hyping the divide between us to promote violence against one another.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Abraham Lincoln

Among my friends are Republicans and Democrats, right-wingers and lefties, straight and gay, rich and poor, myriad races and a plethora of religious affiliations (or lack thereof). No one is “wrong” or “bad” simply for having a different opinion, party, leaning, belief system, sexual orientation, skin color or bank balance. The magnificent diversity of this country is our greatest asset…and, different as we may seem, we all want essentially the same things. Rather than building walls to defend and isolate our differences, we should be having heart to heart, face to face conversations. Perhaps we could find our common ground and then work together to create something better for all of us.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Abraham Lincoln

After I left Mr Lincoln, I caught a cab back to the hotel. My driver was an African American gentleman who had been piloting DC cabs for over a decade and we had a great conversation. When I said I came to DC to talk to my senators about healthcare, he asked “are you an activist?” That word has such a negative connotation that I automatically laughed a little and said “no, just an artist from Montana”. As we approached Arlington, he said “nothing wrong with being an activist”. He was right. I looked out at the rows of white memorials for people who died for those rights outlined in our Constitution and solemnly replied “I guess I am an activist”.

The Constitution of this great country promises that every one of us should have the equal right to participate, vote, speak out and stand up for what we believe in. The most empowering aspect of my trip to DC was the visceral reminder that we can be, and SHOULD be, an active (or activist) part of OUR government.

“My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” Abraham Lincoln

Happy Birthday, America.

28 June 2017

These Boots are Made for Washington - Part 6

1, 2, 3, 4...6?
Yeah, I know...I skipped one. On purpose, not just because I have been up since 1:30 AM Montana time. ;-) 

Part 5 is coming...but it will take a little time to process the past few days.
The one thing I do want to say is THANK YOU. Thank you ALL for all the kind, supportive and rallying words. It was a busy few days so apologies for not responding to every comment, but know that I read every one...more than once.

So grateful for you all...and grateful to have had a chance to go to DC and try to be a part of the system in a country I love dearly! Hope it made even a small difference.

The vote was only delayed...so the fight is not over. The ACA isn't working for everyone...but this BCRA is far worse on so many levels. We need a bi-partisan plan that addresses issues of concern for ALL of us.

Please, please call your senators and ask them to vote "no". They may not show up for a meeting (like @stevedaines), they may not even answer the phone...but leave a message if you have to or send an email. Your input DOES matter and IS heard. If they don't do their job...then vote them out.

Thank you to Chelsia A. Rice and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network - ACS CAN for giving me the opportunity to try to make a difference!

Thank you to everyone who called Senators (Don't stop!!!)
Last, but not least, a shout out to Senator Jon Tester: thank you for being a voice of reason and for taking the time to listen.