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)

20 May 2018


In April and May of 2009, I was undergoing radiation treatments following my cancer surgery. The doc had told me that the effects of radiation were cumulative, that I would get more exhausted as time passed.

The problem, for me, was that it was my favorite time of year in Yellowstone.

Typically, I would be spending most days during those months in the park, but radiation meant treatments five days a week in Bozeman. That wouldn't stop me from doing what I love.

Nearly every weekday morning I'd get up at 3 am and drive a couple hours into YNP to look for wildlife. Scheduling radiation as late in the day as possible, usually 4 pm, meant that I needed to be headed out the North Entrance by 2:30 in order to make the one and a half hour drive to Bozeman to get zapped. Afterwards, another half hour drive back home to set the alarm and crash for a few hours. Weekends were spent entirely in the park.

In the waiting room before my appointments, I heard other radiation patients tell tales of woe. One woman said all she could do after her appointments was go home and cry.

Meanwhile, I would come in giddy with stories of the bears, wolves and other wildlife I had seen earlier in the day.

One of the many animals I was watching that Spring was a playful young grizzly. She looked like she had not been out on her own for very long and was delighting the paparazzi with her antics.

In late April, I noticed that this little bear was limping pretty badly.

Apparently, she had experienced a “life lesson” with a porcupine and her right front paw was full of quills.

She would walk on her knuckles so she didn't step on the quills, and lean on her elbow to dig with one paw.

A paw full of quills could mean a death sentence to a bear…between difficulty foraging, crippled movement, and the possibility of infection. Quills don't "fall out". As I understand, they have to work their way THROUGH.

Still, she persisted.

As I was learning to deal with life under different terms, so was she. She was learning to dig with one paw and run on three. She was obviously in pain, but she hunted, explored…and played.

Through weeks of radiation, I kept doing what I loved and never felt the exhaustion or depression that seemed to be crippling other patients.

Hoping to share a little of the joy that buoyed me through it, I started printing photos to share with other patients and staff.

Shortly after finishing radiation, I saw the little bear again. She had moved miles away, across mountains. She was hunting, running and playing in a different part of the park. She still limped…but her skills at managing had improved greatly.
When I saw her in 2011, no one would have known that she’d been quill-crippled in the past. My sightings of her were rare over the next few years, as I tended to spend time in other parts of the Park and avoided the construction in her home range…but I heard stories about her.

Visitors tagged her with “names” and Bear Management fitted her with a collar and corresponding number. She had cubs, lost some, but she's figuring things out...and her current cub is starting its third Summer. (typically born in February, “third year” cubs are actually about two and a half years old).

This Spring, I've had several opportunities to spend time with her and her cub. She will probably kick that cub out in the next few weeks…but, for now, they are affectionate and playful. It seems she has taught her little one well. Recently, she dodged the advances of a boar and has been ranging across her large territory, as usual...delighting her fans wherever she goes.

Wild stories don't always end so well.

When crippled by quills, the bear didn’t feel sorry for herself. It is bear nature to deal with her new reality and simply carry on.

Human nature doesn’t always work that way...but I had made a choice long before "meeting" this little bear.

After surgery, I remember standing in front of a mirror and thinking “this is just what it is now”.

Chin up and carry on.

Nine years have passed since we first crossed paths. She has no sign of a limp and my scars have faded.

We’re both older, tougher, and (hopefully) wiser.
There is no shortage of tragedy in either of our worlds,
but she still romps and plays…and I am still laughing.

Against the odds, we have both survived.

16 May 2018

Field Studying

This is just a glimpse into what the research for my paintings looks like.

Recently, I started condensed years of reference on to species-specific copies of iPhoto for easier access. One copy of iPhoto is JUST GRIZZLIES observed in the wild since 2003, when I started shooting digital. I have similar collections for other species, as well.

The images on the screen in the photo represent just a small fraction of around 250 "events" (folders) containing roughly 130,000 images of exclusively wild grizzlies (it says 160,000, but there are some duplicates). I'm still loading images...and haven't even started trying to transfer the video I was also shooting in 2003-5. These "events" are sorted by year, location, and by individual bears (or bear families, in the case of sows with young). There are certain bears that I have been watching for as many as 15 years.

These photos are the result of countless hours observing/photographing these bears. They don't include even more time spent with bears that I just watched or sketched. On top of that is the time spent "not" finding bears...studying their habitat and the other species they share it with.

As much as I love what I do, it isn't easy, it isn't a "gift" and it isn't "luck" (though I do get lucky, on occasion). It is hard work, sacrifice, investment (in time, gear, research, more), and simply paying attention to everything in the field. The hard days outnumber the great moments exponentially, lol...but, to me, it is worth it.

The photos do not come close to capturing the memories I have of time spent in the field. There is so much that could never be captured by a camera or sketch. Every time I look through a group of images, I relive the time spent with the subject(s).

If I chose, I could spend the rest of my life painting grizzlies and never leave the house...but that isn't why I do it.

All that time spent in the field has taught me more than I ever imagined about my subjects...and, yet, what I understand about these wonderful creatures is just a drop in the bucket. There is so much more to learn...

Mixed into every brushstroke of every painting are years of stories, memories and experiences with the wild creatures that inspire my art...

24 April 2018

Always Say "Never"

"Painting" seems such a simple word to describe something that isn’t simple at all.

As artists, we try to describe everything…light, color, depth, dimension, perspective, life, weight, texture, liquid, fur, tension, metal, soul and so much more…with paint on a flat surface. No wonder artists seem mad as hatters, sometimes.

The thing I love most about painting? 
You NEVER get “there”.

No matter how many paintings and drawing I have done (and that numbers in the thousands now)…I am still learning things and making discoveries. No matter how close I come to what I want to describe with my medium…there is always something more to work toward.

Lately, it seems as if every painting is teaching me something new and different. That is a pretty heady feeling...simultaneously inspiring and overwhelming. One of the way I keep things “fresh” is to keep multiple paintings going. When one needs time to dry (or my mind needs a break), I can dive into another. Currently, there are five “in progress” paintings staring back at me from the easels in my livingroom/studio (some so different that I have two palettes set up).

Starting back into this one after a break, I noticed my favorite brush of the moment was failing, losing bristles and looking like someone had been scrumbling paint onto a panel with a little too enthusiasm (who? me?). I thought, “maybe it is time to break down and buy some of those dreamy Rosemary brushes that have been on my wish list for some time”. Then my scruffy old brush showed that it still had something to give…and something more to teach me.

So when it comes to figuring it all out as an artist...I will always say "never".

Still craving a handful of Rosemary brushes, though…

DETAIL of a Work in Progress
Oil on Cradled Panel
16” x 16”

29 March 2018

Spider Sensei

A few days ago, I noticed a tiny spider had started hanging out in my soap dish. Rather than move it outside (my usual MO), I decided to live and let live. That, in turn, led to my being careful about respecting its space and valuing its life. I found myself fascinated.

Not wanting to crush the spider, I became aware of how I picked up the soap and put it down. At first, when I would move the soap, it would make itself as tiny as possible in the bottom of the dish. Now, it seems to “trust” me a little more. It holds its ground and goes about doing whatever a spider does in a little soap dish world...and I carefully replace its "roof" when I'm done. Last night, when I tried to take a photo, it waved its forelimbs in the air. Was that a threat...or a greeting?

I wonder what the world looks like, from its perspective. How do I appear in a spider's eyes?

In just entertaining that thought for a moment, I find myself even more respectful of its place in “my” world. Suddenly it becomes, instead, “our” world. The wee spider and I are sharing a bit of space during our relatively short spans of time on the planet. Spider has much less time here than I do...who am I to shorten that based on "my" version of reality?

How much better would the world would be if we spent more time wondering what things look like from other perspectives rather than judging and condemning based on our own fears and biases?

01 January 2018

From Unspoken to Outspoken

Over the past year or so, I have taken some hits because I have been more outspoken politically. That’s okay, in my own opinion, I have earned a few hits, not because I speak up now…but because I have not spoken up throughout my life.

I was raised in a home where politics went unspoken. As my Mom explains, she hates politics because her father and uncles argued politics ad nauseam when she was growing up. That would put just about anyone off politics. My great uncles were republican, but my Grandfather’s strong democratic beliefs earned him the nickname “Demo” as a young man…and he would go by that name for the rest of his life. That passion for politics skipped a generation.

We grew up rural, sheltered from the horrors of Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge. Watergate was not discussed, Ford was a joke on Saturday Night Live and Carter was a peanut farmer from the South. We did not talk about the fights for equal and/or civil rights. My parents loved teaching us about the past…but they did not engage us in the present. Ignorance is bliss...but only to a point.

It was not until I left home at 17, that I started to pay attention and my horizons began to expand. This was mostly due to my first husband. Before he was old enough to drink, Don knew more about world politics than most people ever will. Over the next decade of my life, so much would happen…and, though it did not come naturally (or nurturally), I started to notice. While Americans talked about MTV and Indiana Jones and personal computers, Islamic Afghan Freedom fighters would spend the decade fighting and dying until they hamstrung the Soviet Union. The Cold War that had plagued us since 1950 was coming to an end. Ronald Reagan was president over most of that decade and Nelson Mandela was serving his third decade in prison. Great and terrible things happened over those years. In 1989, I would paint “End Apartheid” across the front bumper of my truck in support of those fighting that terrible battle…meanwhile, across the world, the Berlin Wall would fall, the Exxon Valdez would spill 10.8 million gallons of crude oil along the Alaska coastline and hundreds of peaceful student protestors would be gunned down in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

What I discovered when I paid attention, was a world of injustice that offended my innately fair-minded little soul and tore at my empathic little heart. Everywhere you looked there was something or someone worth fighting for. I was pulled in a dozen directions at once…outraged, overwhelmed, heartbroken and discouraged. I donated money, time and art…I recycled and voted. I wanted do more, though, like help clean birds by Prince William Sound. Instead, I told myself that it was better to give the world what I was “good” at by focusing on my art. In hindsight, maybe I was wrong.

The most important lesson I learned by going to DC last June was that we can and should be involved and engaged regarding the issues we are passionate about...and we can make a difference. Our politicians work for us and sometimes we need to hold their feet to the fire. It isn’t easy…it means researching the issues and learning to discern fact from fiction. It means stepping out of our comfort zone and delving into the things that worry or scare us. It means making an effort to think for ourselves and express our beliefs in a world that won’t always “like” what we think or, worse, will respond with hateful vitriol.

There are a lot of good hearted people who don’t get involved. Some don’t think they could make a difference. Maybe they hate politics...who doesn't? Some can’t be bothered to research issues...it gets overwhelming. Others don’t care because their own world seems “safe” and they just can’t relate to the troubles of others. It is easy to criticize social programs until your own house is on fire.

I may not have children…but I worry about the future of my niece, my nephews and all the children/young people who will inherit what we are creating (and destroying). What will we leave them? Will they have clean water and air and wild places to escape to? Will they be saddled with the crushing deficit that the GOP is creating to enrich the rich? Will they have opportunities for education and equality?

Most of us hate politics, or at least some politicians...but you don't have to like politics to be involved. Like it or not, the decisions made by politicians involve you. I would think any parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle would want to do whatever they can to protect the future of the children, nieces, and nephews grandchildren they are so fortunate to have and/or love. Our country is on fire, my friends...and we should all be grabbing buckets.

To those who would criticize me (or anyone) for showing interest or being  outspoken about the issues that face us, I say this:
the MOST patriotic and the truly American thing we can do is be involved, speak out, vote and sometimes (gasp) protest..

As a new year dawns, I am squaring my shoulders and preparing to continue passionately and compassionately speaking out and standing up for what I believe in…it is the American way and I am an American girl.

“Well, I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down”
Tom Petty