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)

29 January 2018

Saint and Sinner

"Saint and Sinner"
48" x 49" Diptych
Oil on Stretched Canvas

You may be wondering why I would post an image of a blank canvas...two of them, actually.

It is because I think there is magic in a blank canvas. Just as white light holds all the colors of the spectrum...a white canvas holds endless possiblities. It could be anything.

Often, I will stare at my next blank canvas for a while...even when I know what I want to paint. It is a way of owning the space...or connecting with it...before breaking that void with brush or charcoal. This is where every painting begins...

Stage one of the sketch. Once again, I will sit back and stare. I will be thinking about where I want it to go next and where the painting wants to go...not always the same direction!

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

26 December 2017

Boxing Day

On Boxing Day in 2003, I was trying to make funeral arrangements for my Dad when my phone charger broke. Dad had been ill for a while, but everyone thought he was getting better and his sudden death on Christmas Day was completely unexpected. Less than 24 hours after singing cowboy songs to him as he passed, I was still in shock when I found myself in the most dreadful of places: Denver's Cherry Creek Mall.

Holiday music blared, everything glittered and throngs of happy post holiday shoppers milled and shoved past me. I just needed to find the darn Verizon store, buy a charger and leave. As I made my way through packs of chattering teens, dodged strollers pushed by smiling parents, stepped around cooing couples and tried not to step on giggling toddlers…I started to get angry, thinking “my Dad just died, can’t you people just let me get out of here?”

My own question stopped me in my tracks. Suddenly, I wondered how many people I encountered every day were quietly making their way through some tragedy? How many were fighting for their lives at that very moment? How many were grieving a loved one? How many were worried about how to pay their bills? Were some afraid of losing their home or their job? What percentage were going home to a dying parent, partner, friend or child? Which of them had just been abandoned by a partner or spouse? How many would go home to emotional or physical abuse? Who among them would be unbearably lonely that night…or even at that very moment? How many were depressed and contemplating the value of their lives, or perceived lack thereof, as viewed through a broken heart or debilitating depression? What number of people were trying to get through life facing more than one of those things, simultaneously? How many were trying to just survive until tomorrow? More than any of us ever imagine.

At that moment, in that ridiculous mall, among the hordes of cheerful shoppers, I made a vow to myself…to try to remember that what we don’t always know what is going on in someone’s life. When we are happy…someone is facing unimaginable tragedy. When our heart is breaking…others are joyful. Life doles out its various trials and tribulations at a different pace for each of us.

As much as I try, I don’t always live up to that vow. Sometimes I fail miserably. Admittedly, I took my imperfect humanity into consideration from the beginning when I promised to “try” (sorry Yoda, sometimes try is all we can do). It is easy to forget, to get caught up in our own battles and worries and heartbreak...and it is hard, often impossible, to tell who hurts. Out of sight, out of mind makes it hard to remember to consider the worries that may trouble the people we encounter and cut them some slack. Still, I try.

Every Boxing Day I am reminded of that moment in the mall when deep grief and a crowd of happy people helped carve into my heart one of the most significant philosophies of my life. Every Boxing Day I renew my vow and, during the 364 days between, I keep trying.

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.