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)

24 December 2014

A Christmas Story

When I was 10, I asked my parents for a horse. Just any old horse wouldn't do, I was specific. I wanted a dappled grey gelding, about 14 hands, 7-8 years old, who would jump and run barrels. My folks knew they'd never find THAT...but, since I'd outgrown the Shetlands and none of the horses were "mine", they began the search for a solid horse.

Two days before Christmas they found HIM. A dappled grey Connemara gelding, 14 hands, 8 years old, who'd raced gymkhana and the steeplechase pony races (often winning). They bought him on the spot for the 'outrageous' price of $250, and went home to get the trailer. When they returned, another trailer was pulling out of the dealer's place. Years later we'd find out that it was the horse's original owners. They'd had a change of heart and came back for him...but it was too late.  Fortunately for me, the dealer kept to his bargain with Mom and Dad. Serendipitously, the little horse they called "Chigger" had been at the dealer's less than a day.

That Christmas morning, I found carrots in my stocking and looked out the picture window to see my dream horse tied to the split rail fence. (To this day I get misty just thinking about it.) "Chigger" was changed to "Clyde" and he became one of the many extraordinary animals that have shared my life.

There is a good reason that I have a soft spot for grey horses...

Happy Holidays, everyone...may all your dreams come true!

01 October 2014

Oh, October

Maybe I haven't gotten much better at dodging the curves that life has thrown at me over the years...but I can say that I have grown to appreciate them more than I would ever have thought possible. October, my birth month, seems to be a catalyst for joyful, devastating and enlightening changes in my life. As another October rolls around, it seems appropriate to take some time over the next few weeks to share a few of the switchbacks that October has brought to my path and some of the lessons I have gleaned from them.

Long ago on October 1, I was a Mom for part of a day. It was a 24 hour period filled with fear, confusion and ultimately grief. There are no words to express the feelings associated with the loss of a child. There was sweet sympathy expressed by friends and family afterwards over the death of our son. One friend touched our hearts, though, when he very insightfully said "you were parents even if only for a short time"...and thus shared with us a celebration of a life, even if it was a terribly short one. The years have eased the hurt and I occasionally wonder what my life would have been had things gone differently. It would be wonderful to have my son beside me...but I truly believe that our paths (his, mine, his father's) were as they should be.

Over time, I have come to believe that we are here to learn how to love one another unconditionally. That means loving...and losing. Trusting...and being betrayed. Holding back...and letting go. Giving your heart...and having it broken. Opening your soul...and having door after door slammed in your face. For how can one truly understand another's grief/pain/sorrow/loss if we have never experienced it for ourselves? How can one know love if they've never had it? How can you truly value love if you've never lost it? From these lessons come the empathy that ultimately, hopefully, gives us the potential to feel true compassion. From these experiences comes the strength to stand above and look beyond the trials that come our way and find the trails that lead to something better.

There are myriad experiences that shape who we are...but it is the choices we make about the path through those experiences that shapes who we become.  I am grateful for the loves AND the losses that have forged my life...they have given me the grace and grit to, hopefully, face anything.

(Originally posted October 1, 2012)

31 July 2014

Go Limp

by Lyn StClair

You never know who will touch your life…sometimes, sadly, they aren't even here.

Since moving to this amazing place, I have felt a deepening connection to a woman I never met.  She was, it seems, something very special…brilliant, funny, beautiful, strong, feisty and wise.

Glynna was gone before I ever knew of this place that is now "home".  Friends shared snippets about her before my move, enough to make me realize that we might well have been friends.  She is often in my thoughts as I explore this place and marvel at its beauty. The more I learn of her from her family, the more I love her.  The other night, while perusing her family's old photo albums, it struck me that I've been seeing her in her daughter's smile.  Then came a little gift, from Glynna through her daughter, Cassidy…

Cassidy spoke of the new moon as a time for creating intention and, in describing her own intention for this new moon, shared two words of wisdom handed down from her Mom:  
"Go limp"

Those words were like a match tossed into my tinder heart (pun intended).  No explanation was needed as to their meaning because they were a beautifully succinct way of describing a life philosophy that I have been crafting for some time…and trying my best to practice.

Go limp.

We are taught to fight for what we love, work for what we want, to brace against pressure, suck up our gut and stand for what we believe in.  This can be a good thing, a way of creating our life and forging our dreams.  Being a rock has its place…but sometimes it is also important to let oneself be a leaf on the wind.  

Throughout my years, I have determinedly worked for my dreams.  Despite my best efforts, life has often picked me up and swept me in directions I never imagined wanting to go.  There are ragged scars in my heart and deep bruises in my soul from fighting the current over and over again.  

With time, hindsight has shown me the wisdom of going limp and letting go.  It did not come easily… often I was still fighting when "going limp" came, not as a choice, but out of pure exhaustion.  When you have given until you are empty or fought until you had nothing left (it's only a flesh wound!")…those are the moments when a deeper truth is revealed if you are willing to look for it.  More often than not, when I let go of what I wanted…something better came along.

These days I am learning to go limp sometimes when there is still some fight left…or before the fight even begins.  It is remarkable to discover the peace of mind that letting go can bring.  Of course, I will keep chasing after my dreams…but there is also empowerment in setting yourself free of that ego-driven desire for life to be the way you want it to be and simply accepting the perfect beauty of what it is.  

This wonderful home came into my life because, after years of struggle, I allowed myself to go limp.  It is a "soul" place that heals, teaches and inspires me.  With it came some remarkable people…including one incredible woman who was lost too soon to cancer.

Glynna, darlin', where ever you are, hope you know how much I appreciate being able to share this piece of Montana that you loved so much.  You are in my thoughts every time I ride the ranch or stand in speechless awe of this landscape.  Your family has become treasured friends and I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know you through them.  Thank you for the piece of my dream realized because your own dream come true…and for those two words:

Go limp

Thanks also to Cassidy Freeman for taking this wonderful photo of Newt, Jesse and I on top of the world (in more ways than one)

28 March 2014

Heroes and Nightmares

by Lyn StClair

During my first night on the road to the recent Natureworks show in Tulsa, my sleep was interrupted by a series of art show nightmares.  The only one I remember was of pulling out a painting of a black bear to discover I'd painted its feet in the wrong place.  The bear was walking in profile across the canvas and somehow I'd painted the feet from the legs furthest away from the viewer in front of the feet on the near side.  I woke in a panic…and was tempted to tear the truck apart to check.  Fortunately, it slowly occurred to me that I had not brought a black bear painting at all.  

Long ago when I was marketing my limited edition prints of dogs at dog shows, I would have dreams before my shows.  Okay, "dreams" isn't the right word…they were nightmares.

They were startlingly real…occurring in the very place I was or would be.  In those days, I would often sleep in my booth to protect my art (and to save money).  The alarm would go off and something utterly bizarre would happen at the show…then I'd awake and, because the details were so real, have to convince myself that it was just a dream.  Often there would be several different, equally real, dreams in a row…and they would all happen in exactly the show I was at.

One of these shows was in Detroit's Cobo Hall.  It was a two-day show…I would arrive the day before, set up and sleep in the booth.  One of the dreams I had sleeping on the floor of my ready to show booth before the first day was that I arrived late and was just starting to hang my work as the final classes (groups) were being judged at the end of the second day.  I was desperately trying to hang my work while the other vendors were packing up.  

Most dreams happened the night before a show…but sometimes the nightmares would begin months before a show.  Some dreams were classic…like showing up without clothes or having all the customers and my fellow artists laugh mockingly at my work…others were just really weird.

Over the years, I began to notice a pattern…the more numerous and/or worse the dreams, the better the show sales would be.  For the longest time, I never mentioned THAT part of it to anyone for fear of jinxing it.

Then, one night, while staying at my Dad's on the way from Vermont to the Phippen Show in Prescott, AZ…I had a series of dreams so hilarious that I had to share.  There were several…but here are the two funniest:

In the first, I was trying to set up my booth in time to get much needed breakfast before the Quick Draw.  To my horror, I started opening the plastic tubs that I used for small paintings…only to discover they were filled with Christmas ornaments.  To make matters worse…worrying about the missing art made me late for breakfast and the other artists had eaten everything.  Of course I woke in a panic that I would "bonk" during the Quick Draw for lack of food…until I remembered I wasn't at the show yet.

Only to fall asleep again and have the WEIRDEST ART SHOW NIGHTMARE EVER…
At the Phippen Show, they had a separate area where paintings entered in the competition were brought to be judged.  I had brought my work over and discovered that they had added a horse competition to the jurying (real horses, not painted ones).  Though, at this time, I had no horses in real life…in my dream, I had entered my horse and was waiting beside my painting while the horses were judged.  While I stood there, someone came up and studied my painting then asked why I left it the way I did.  I turned to see what they were talking about and was shocked to see that my painting was not finished!  Devastated, I headed over to get my horse…but he wasn't there.  When I inquired, I was told that because of my horse's size he'd been moved to the "pony" category.  When I arrived at the pony section I was stunned to see that my horse really was much smaller than I remembered.  One of my art heroes, Bill Anton (yes, the artist), was the judge for the art and horse (and pony) competitions.  He was standing nearby, so I asked him if he thought I would look silly riding such a small horse.  He started to answer…then about that time the pony started farting loudly, rhythmically and repeatedly.  Bill said "Well, I think you have bigger problems than the size of that horse…" at which point I woke to find that the "farting" was actually Rob, my hubby-at-the-time, snoring in real life.

So, the next morning I told Rob and Dad about the dreams…and about my history with bad show dreams and what they seemed to mean.  Since these were the most vivid and strangest dreams so far, I kinda wanted witnesses to see if they meant a good show.

At the actual Phippen Show, Bill Anton (who really was the judge) awarded first place in drawing to my pencil piece…of horses.  The Quick draw went great and sales-wise, it ended up being by far, my best show ever at the time.

During the artist party, I was talking to Bill's wife and told her about the dream…she said "you have to tell Bill."  He probably thought I was a bit off…but he still ended up inviting me and a couple of other artists, including G. Russell Case to his studio (I was the only girl).  His studio was amazing, especially the hundreds of plein air studies stacked against the walls.  The guys all asked Bill if he'd trade and he did!  I was too shy to ask if he'd trade, though.

The next day I lamented to a collector friend, kicking myself for not being bold enough to ask Bill if he'd trade.  A little while later she brought Bill over and he said "of course I'd trade with you!".  He asked if there was a piece I had in mind.  There was, one that I had been thinking about ever since I saw it….a little study of the Tetons from the Idaho side.  

"My" gorgeous Bill Anton painting arrived shortly after the show with a nice note.  It is one of the favorites in my collection...for many reasons.

Ironically…little did I know that within 18 months, I would be living on the Idaho side of the Tetons.  

Oh yes…AND I got to trade with Russell Case (also a painting of my beloved West).

As to the nightmares on the way to Tulsa…it was my best Natureworks show so far.

20 March 2014

Wake Up Call

Ten years ago today a little Lightbulbhead went out.  The little Italian Greyhound that followed my every step for eighteen years crossed over.

Since then I have had many remarkable dreams of him...as if he wants to remind me that, one way or another, he is still around.

Over the past couple of weeks, people in three different states have, independently, spoke of their memories of the Gig (aka Litebulbhead).  

In Denver, at the fabulous Meininger's art store:  Pat, when meeting Newt said "you would bring in that miniature greyhound, Giggy"  (It had been at least 12 years since Gig had been in the store…and  probably more than 20 since he was a regular).

At another art store in Santa Fe, the Artisan:  while meeting Newt, T-Bird suddenly exclaimed:  "You had 'Litebulbhead!"  She  recounted his visit to Meiningers when she worked there…wearing his 'wolf' costume (that was nearly twenty years ago!).

Then, a few days later on FB, when a former collector of my pen and ink work of dogs was searching for me…another long lost collector, Linda, chimed in from Tennessee.  She posted a pic of a drawing I did many years ago of her Giant Schnauzer "Jezi" with this comment "Jezi and Lyn's Italian greyhound used to play together at shows and Lyn took pictures of Jezi play bowing to Mr Gig…"

These are people who only met the Gig once or twice…so I find it rather poetic that these encounters came in the days approaching the tenth anniversary of his death…which is today, the first day of Spring.  Perhaps Gig is trying to tell me something…

This path we walk is fraught with twists and turns…and along the way we touch countless others…often without even realizing it.  One can only wonder how many times in the course of your life that your kind word brought a lift to another's spirit…or, sadly, how many times a thoughtless barb has crushed another.

If a wee dog can spark fond memories in passing acquaintances a decade after his death…what then are the memories left in the wake of our own paths?

I cannot honestly say that all of my encounters have left pleasant memories…but I can hope that I have more often left good over bad.  Life has taught me, sometimes the hard way, to look with an open mind and a loving heart.  

As time passes, I am certainly more and more purposely mindful of TRYING to leave a happy wake (even though, being human, I do still trip up more than I'd care to).

Like people, dogs evolve throughout their life.  The puppy that starts its life with us is very different than the old dog we say goodbye to.

When a friend recently commented that her aging dog no longer looked like the young dog she KNEW, I thought of how many times I looked at younger photos of my elderly Italian greyhound and thought "that is not the dog I KNOW".  

If the eyes of our aging pets "look" different to us…possibly it is because they SEE differently than in years before.  

Giggy/Litebulbhead was always amazingly intelligent…but he became wiser with every year of his life.  Those eyes looked at me with such intensity sometimes…such love…even when I had let him (or myself) down.

It is said that the eyes are the mirror to the soul…and, like us, our old dogs' souls have seen so many things.  Not just happiness…but pain, anguish, grief…

UNlike us, their aging eyes still look with boundless hope, infinite forgiveness and unconditional love…even when they know the darkest parts of our flawed human souls.  

My animals are a treasure to me not because I dislike humans…quite the opposite, actually.  They are precious, in part, because they teach me to be a better human and always remind me to keep working on my wake…

Litebulbhead, my little Sensei…thank you for bringing so much light and happiness to so many people (including me).

09 March 2014

"Just a Little Green"

"Just a Little Green"

A few years ago I was fortunate to explore one of my favorite places, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, with several talented artists who also happened to be much loved friends.  After the Florida Wildlife Art Expo Rob Mullen, Carel Brest Van Kempen, Cole Johnson, Steve Oliver and I headed to Ding Darling armed with cameras, binoculars and canoes.

After a lovely few hours paddling off the beaten path, we pulled ashore near a dike that was a popular birding spot.  One of the tourists, seeing our cameras and binoculars, walked over and said "you people look like you know what you are doing…" he pointed to a bird perched nearby "is that an eagle or an osprey?"  It was obviously an osprey even to the naked eye, but we glassed it to make him feel better and confirmed "osprey".  The gentleman looked at the printed bird list he held and said "well, I want it to be an eagle…so I am counting it as an eagle"  He checked the eagle off his list and headed back to his group.  We looked at one another and laughed...

Along the dike, we spotted a little green heron hunting from a mangrove knee.  Every species of heron has it's own techniques for hunting.  The green heron's arsenal includes sitting perfectly still and watching the water until a fish swims within reach…then, with lightning speed, the little green will try to grab it from its perch.  

We sat and patiently watched, waiting for the moment…the heron didn't move.  Time passed and the observers, birders, photographers and artists alike, began wandering away one by one.  Pretty soon it was Carel and I and a photographer we didn't know.  Then Carel left.  The photographer and I sat as still as the heron. cameras poised for the shot of the moment when the bird went for a fish…waiting and waiting and waiting.  Finally, almost simultaneously, we both lowered our cameras in defeat.  Of course, it was then, as if on cue, that the heron shot its head into the water after a fish.  

What came as a complete surprise was that the heron apparently forgot that it was supposed to maintain a grip on the branch when it grabbed for the fish…and crashed into the water with a completely undignified splash.  The heron scrambled back out of the water and onto another mangrove knee where it fluffed its soaked plumage and ruffled its crest indignantly.  The photographer and I looked at one another, laughing in amazement.  Neither of us had ever seen that happen…and I have never seen it happen again.  

It is moments like this that are carved into my memory after countless hours in the field watching the creatures I love to paint.  Over the years I have learned that, for me, it isn't enough to visit a place and snap a few pictures for reference.  The payoff for all those hours spent as my limbs cramped waiting for what happens next…are a plethora of precious, priceless moments of wonder.  

In the end, I painted the heron poised for the strike…but, swirled into every brushstroke, is the memory of the pink cloud of spoonbills we flushed as we paddled, the a perfect day spent in a wonderful place, the "un-birder" and his "eagle", the laughter of friends and the hilarious "miss" of a beautiful green heron…

15 February 2014

"Gimme Shelter"

UPDATE August 13, 2015:

Sad news today, a grizzly sow was euthanized.  It is possible that she was one of the grizzlies that I have watched, photographed and painted for over a decade. It is said that she killed a park employee who was hiking off trail without bear spray.

I cannot imagine the horror and pain that defined the last minutes of this man’s life. My heart goes out to his family and his friends as they deal, not only with his death, but with the horrific manner in which he died. As if their loss were not painful enough, they are being subjected to a barrage of insensitive barbs and rants by the wildlife lovers who insist on blaming him for the euthanization of the bear.

It does not matter if he was off trail, it does not matter if he was without bear spray, it does not even matter if the bear was protecting her cubs. A man is dead.  For those of us who choose to live in bear country, this is the sobering reality: this bear did not just defensively attack and run, she killed, fed, cached and returned to feed again. For that, the Park and bear management felt as if they had no option other than to euthanize her. Like many, I hoped and tried for better options. At least the lives of her cubs were spared...they will be sent to zoos, possibly re-habbed and released. Wherever they end up, I hope their story continues to be told.

Tears come as I write those words, for if this is the bear they say, I have watched her for over a decade as she skillfully raised a number of cubs by the roadside. She brought so much awe and joy to the countless people who were fortunate enough to have seen her. I have painted her, laughed at her antics, marveled at her parenting skills, cried for her lost cubs and admired her grown cubs as they go about their life being the bears that she taught them to be. There is a hole in my heart just as there is a hole in the ecosystem of the Lake area.

My grief and sympathy extends also to the bear management team. They know this bear and I have no doubt that it also pains them greatly to have to say goodbye.

What has saddened me in addition to the loss of this bear and the hiker, is the blame and hatred being leveled at the hiker, the park service and even anyone that did not post a dozen different petitions to save her.

The reality is that blood of this bear is on all of our hands…she dies not simply for killing and eating an ill-prepared hiker…but for all of us. She died because people, willingly or ignorantly, fail to abide by park rules and recommendations. She died because people love to see bears, get close for a few moments, take photos. Anyone who has ever stood in a bear jam or been closer than 100 yards carries some responsibility in her loss, because we helped her become acclimated to people rather than instinctively running from us. Everyone who visits the park, lives in the area or simply drives a car has to shoulder a little of the weight of her death. Because we want to visit or live in their habitat, consume the products created by destruction of wild places and allow our population to outnumber them by greater numbers every year...we threaten the wild things that we love. It is something we ALL need to think about.

I am still holding out hope that it wasn't the bear teveryone says it was...there are a lot of bears in that area.  Whether is was or not, a man was lost and a bear was lost...sad all around.

Here is the original post telling a story on one of my experiences with this bear:

There are countless reasons to spend time in the field if you want to paint wildlife...not the least of which is the chance of witnessing something truly extraordinary.  

This is the story of one of those days and one of the paintings it inspired...

It was May 17, 2011...I was driving the road South of Hayden Valley when a Grizzly with a tiny coy cub stepped out of the trees to cross the road.  "COY" is an anacronym for "cub of the year"...the wee bear beside its mama was just a few months old.

Roadside mama bears are often pretty traffic-savvy.  She waited for the inevitable stop of the traffic.

When there was an opening, she ran across first...

The cub followed...look at how TINY it is!

We had an extraordinary amount of Spring snow this particular year...and the burms created by the plows were mountains to a teeny coy bear.

Safely across the road...mama headed for the melt-off flushed Yellowstone river.  She started swimming and we wondered where the cub was...and how it could possibly make it across the wide, cold water.

Mama swam out a few yards...then turned back.

She met the cub in the water...

then turned around and waited as the cub climbed on her back.

Then she ferried the wee one across the river.

On the other side, she shook him off...

Then the two headed away from the road, no doubt, to rest and nurse.

In my MANY years of bear watching, I had never seen anything like this (and haven't since).

Throughout the Summer the cub often climbed up to sit on mama's back, much to the delight of anyone who saw them.  In watching the two later in the season, I wondered if the cub learned that behavior because of unusually late (and deep) snow.  It would be much warmer on mama's back!

The only other time I have seen a cub "ride" its mama was during the first summer that the sow with four was roaming the area south of Mammoth a few years ago.  Once in a while, if the little runt of the litter was having trouble keeping up, she would turn back and wait for it to climb on before continuing to go where ever she was headed.

These moments of discovery are simply magical...and can only be found by being out there.

"Gimme Shelter"
Oil on Gessoed Panel
9" x 12"

10 February 2014

Collect the Art You Love

by Lyn StClair

Having just finished hanging the booth at the 1994 Grumbacher Gold Show in Prescott, AZ, I was walking through to have a look at the work of other artists.  One painting stopped me in my tracks…Dan Robinson's "Canyon Lake Nocturne".  It was a small oil painting of a lake South of where I lived in Arizona.  I asked the price and it was more than I could really afford…but I kept thinking about it.  

When awards were handed out, my paintings and drawings had won awards in several mediums…

Dan's "Canyon Lake Nocturne" had won first in Oil and the Grumbacher Gold medal.  

I headed to his booth and asked if the price was still the same…it was…and I bought it.

This was probably not the most practical thing to do as a struggling artist…but, thankfully, sometimes my gut wins out over my pragmatic Scottish side.  

Though I had traded with artists many times, this was the first painting that I bought.

Nearly twenty years later, my treasured "Canyon Lake Nocturne" still hangs prominently in my home.  It is as lovely to me today as it was the first time I saw it and is truly a masterful little jewel of a painting.

When it comes to collecting art...listen to your heart.  If you truly fall in love with a painting...you will always love it.

09 February 2014

Something Good

It was below zero when I pointed the faithful Tundra toward the barn to bash my way two miles through a foot of new snow. 

Twice a day, seven days a week...hauling cartloads of hay and spreading it for the ponies...no matter what the weather. You'd think I'd complain...but, no...instead, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. 

How did it happen that I found this wonderful house to rent and such a great landlord (I adore his whole family!) and a breathtakingly grand place to live...? (Not to mention having my fabulous family and friends...a good dog, sweet kitties, silly ponies and work that I love)
As I waded through the snow feeding ponies in the bitter cold, I found myself singing (with apologies to Julie Andrews)...

"Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood

I must have done something good"

08 February 2014

Are We There Yet?

When is a painting finished?  This is a subject that could easily fill a dozen posts (and may, yet). Today I posted an image of a new painting on FaceBook.  It has been leaning against a wall "finished" for a couple of weeks so I could study it...yet, after I posted the image, I saw things that needed just a wee bit of work.

There are several ways to give yourself some perspective on a painting.  The classic is using a mirror...nothing will reveal flaws in your drawing or composition faster than a mirror image.  I am happy with the drawing on this piece...some of the colors look a little intense, but that is due to a less than accurate photo.

Historically, some artists would use a reducing glass.  With the convenience of cell phone cameras and digital images, though, today's artist only has to shoot a photo and look at the image. It can tell you a great deal about your piece.  Now, if you really want to see how your values balance...make a black and white image...

So...in re-evaluating this painting...what do I think it needs?  

The outline down the front edge of the fore horse's face it what really bugs me.  It was like that in the reference, just the way the light hit him...it was something I'd meant to fix earlier, but forgot.  Remember, just because it is that way in the photo, does not mean you should paint it that way!!
By losing the edge of that line, it should give it a little more dimension

The shadow on the rear leg under the belly of the grey horse also bothers me...it is just a little hard...the value is a little strong.  A few whiskers wouldn't hurt.  The highlights above the darker horse's eye might need to be just a tad less strong...and the edge of his jaw and neck should be softened.  The star marking on the darker horse seems a little strong in the composition...it would be easy to paint it out...but I would prefer to keep their markings accurate...so maybe push it back just a bit.

Obviously, it would be easy to nitpick and noodle it to death...I don't want to do that.  The changes I want to make will take about ten-fifteen minutes...then they'll be done.  Period.

Finished piece...

"Lean on Me"
24" x 18"
Oil on Stretched Canvas