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 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…