Sunday, December 28, 2008

Free Gimme

On December 24th it was 40 below zero wind chill here in the wind swept plains of Nebraska.
Highway 6, 2008 14 x 11 Oil

On December 26th it was 62 degrees above zero. I'm no rocket surgeon, but that's alot of degrees in just a few days. No wonder I'm feeling a little schizophrenic.

It's also very nearly a New Year. I'm celebrating with a Free Gimme.

I'm giving away warm weather. Green grass. Cool water. Reflections of warm sun.

Platte River, Late Afternoon, 2008 11 x 14 Oil

I'll send you a free (yes ma'am, that's no cost to you!) postcard-sized reproduction of "Platte River, Late Afternoon". I'll sign it, too. It'll bring back memories of summer, a late afternoon by the river. Dip your toes in and listen to the bugs buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

It's yours for the asking. Tell me where to send it and it's there. I'm not looking for anything from you. It's my little gift to those of us who have a hard time getting through the winter months. Zip me an email at and ask for a warm breeze in your mailbox.

Here's hoping your holidays were lovely, and your New Year is full of warm friendships.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Christmas List

First off, for those of you who thought I was referring to your Christmas letter...nnnnoooo, it was someone else's letter! Your letter was my favorite!!

Santa's been asking about you. Here are some gift ideas I shared with him for the artists on his list:

A box full of fresh ideas. An ego strong enough to handle criticism. Self cleaning brushes.

Frames that actually look like the picture in the catalog. Self cleaning oil paint lids.

Customers. Did I mention friends?

A place to hang artwork. Good lighting. Time to create.

An open mind. A supportive significant other(s).

Friends. (I may have already mentioned that one.)

Dustless pastels. Just the right color.
Great subject matter.

A receptive audience.

A willingness to mentor others.

A sense of humor.

Last but not least, friends. (You just can't have enough of them.)

What would you like for Christmas?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

C is for Christmas

Ah, it's that time of year, isn't it? You know what I mean.
It's December, the month when all the friends you haven't seen in the last 12 months write to tell you how fabulous their year was.

It's Christmas Letter Time!

Eleven-inch envelopes that normally hold bank balance statements or credit card reminders now carry 8-1/2 by 11-inch pages of dancing snowmen or twirling holly garland wrapped around the years' adventures.

Does no one just stay home and read anymore?

It seems that all my best friends, who I haven't heard a peep out of (out of whom I haven't heard a peep) since their last declaration of Christmas cheer, have traveled the world with their beautiful children in tow. Remember them? The A+ students who organized the Katrina Relief Effort from their elementary school in the 'burbs while directing sight-impaired children across the street at the afterschool program in the projects before heading out to dance class to practice for the lead in the Nutcracker, after which they'll build a house for the neighbors whose house burned down, and train their dog to fetch newspapers for the elderly. Oh, don't forget the bone marrow drive they're thinking of starting? All while wearing white, neatly ironed button-down shirts, actually tucked in to their Dockers. Which are actually pulled up to their waists and belted. Did I mention they dined with the Pope?

Who are these people?

My Christmas Letter to You:

It was a pretty darned good year. Learned alot. Forgot some. Learned some more. Laughed more than I cried. Added a few more wrinkles and silver hairs. (Note to self: try 20 watt lightbulbs in the bathroom.) Made new friends. Kept the old ones.

Love my family like crazy, every single one of them.

How was your year?

Sunday, December 7, 2008


The last of the green bean casserole has been eaten and we're getting back into some sense of a routine after our Thanksgiving blow-out.

Back in my studio after not having been there for way too long I found myself floundering a bit. What to do? How to do it?

When in doubt, sometimes it helps to break convention and try something out of the ordinary. I'm not talking anything really weird here. I don't paint with condiments or throw things from my second story studio. I refuse to tie my brushes to the Wiggly Dog's tail or paint with my eyes closed. No, I simply reached for some yellow.

Yellow is not my favorite color. No special reason, I just don't reach for it easily in my collection of pastels. I've got several hundred sticks of soft pastels in many different brands, and the yellow group is overly neat and clean compared to the blues, reds, oranges and especially the greens. So, because I was still feeling a little full after our Thanksgiving revelry, I decided to stretch just a teeny tiny bit by going sunny.
Oh, the agony.
I still don't like yellow. I don't read it easily. What looks like an orangey-yellow in my palette turns greeny-yellow on the paper.
Except when it doesn't. Then there's the grey area where it's no longer yellow but not quite green (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun). Reading the warm/cool aspect of that particular blending was giving me a headache.
Look, I get that I'm not doing rocket surgery here. There's no heavy lifting going on. But it's a challenge to keep fresh and not fall asleep at the easel.
Pick a new color. Give it a shot and see what shows up.
Yellow 24 x 18 Pastel 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Recipe for Thanksgiving

This is the best recipe ever.

Gather a bunch of siblings...add a Mom...swish in the loving memory of a Dad...

sprinkle liberally with sons, wives, husbands and special others...

add a wiggly dog...

stir in an extra curricular activity...

and nap for one hour at room temperature.

Season with hugs and fond memories of a truly lovely Thanksgiving holiday.

Love you all-P

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanks Dr. Z

I shared a Grateful List for my birthday, and it really hasn't changed much. I'm a pretty grateful kinda gal. To that list I've got one more addition to honor the holiday.

It's been a frustrating couple of weeks in my studio. Some ideas that have been floating around in my head don't seem to translate onto paper or canvas. Inside my noggin, they're beautiful renditions of the acres of birches we saw in the U.P Michigan. On paper, well, it's another story. It's been frustrating, to say the least. Especially since I saw a really beautiful exhibit by Hal Haloun at Kiechel Gallery in Lincoln, Ne. Achingly beautiful.
Deep sigh.

So many people have said to me "Oh! It must be so much FUN to be an artist!" And I smile and mumble something about it being better than kick in the pants. Satisfying, certainly. But fun? Playing cards with friends is fun. Sharing a meal with family is fun. Being an artist? Mm, not so much.

When I was in college, I had an instructor who was refreshingly honest with me. During our last conversation, while I picked up the last assignment of the year, I asked him whether I should pursue an art degree, or get a 'real' job. Of course, I was hoping he would smile sweetly and tell me how wonderful an artist I was.

He didn't.

What he did say has stayed with me all these years (and it's been alot of years).

He said, "You've got the talent. You can do it if you want it, but it's going to be hard work."


I didn't understand the hard work part. For me, just like those people, painting was FUN! I hadn't yet spent hours trying to make the perfect mark that would hold a painting together. I hadn't spent days working on one small painting, wondering how to get oil paint to look like air. I hadn't yet spent hours in a studio, alone, facing the fear that I had no idea what I was doing. And doing it anyway.

I get that art is not like hauling rocks from one site to another, or saving babies from burning buildings. No one has ever used a canvas of mine to protect themselves from an assassin's bullet.

I'm grateful to Dr. Z for being honest with me, and telling me that being an artist is hard. Not saving babies hard, but ego-bruising hard. Not back-breakingly hard, but intellectually hard. Inventing a new language hard. Sharing your private thoughts and hopes with strangers hard. Had he not been honest with me and shared that little nugget of truth with me, I'm pretty certain that I'd be working in the food service industry, or the local Shop-n-Drop. It may yet come to that. But until then, I'm going back into my studio and face that canvas one more time. Dr. Z will be standing with me, shoulder to shoulder.

I'm grateful for that.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

No Grumps Allowed

Okay, I've had it. I'm not playing along any more.

As far as I'm concerned all the Talking Heads have yelled their last yell. The guys at The Weather Channel have, uh, weathered their last hurricane. In my world Christiane Amanpour has moved over to the cooking channel and is helping Duff decorate wedding cakes.

I'm ignoring warnings of recession and crashing markets and iron poor blood and cellulite. I absolutely will not participate.

I have heard my last dire warning. Play along if you like. Winter is not on it's way, and Thanksgiving dinner has no calories. I can already taste that second piece of pie.

So what gives? Well, it's been a long time since we have had much good news. And I'm weary of it, so I'm creating my own.

I'm bringing back summer. I'm bringing back those lazy days by the river, when the sun was just going down and the cicadas were beginning their rhythmic song. (I'm not bringing back mosquitos.) I'm bringing back the cool breeze whispering 'goodnight' in the trees.

Come get some for yourself. When the going gets tough, when the Talking Heads shout one word too many or that crazy Jim heads outside for the next huge storm, put your eyes on this momento of quieter, softer, warmer times.

And have a second piece of pie.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Great Expectations

A couple of days ago I took the trip to Graham Gallery for the purpose of delivering new artwork for the Christmas season. This time of year is a big deal at this gallery, as it probably is in most galleries. The walls are cleared of artwork that's been, well, hanging around, and new work is hung ceiling to floor. The aroma of cider and cinnamon will soon permeate the air and holiday music will be heard playing from the corners of the room.

Despite the fact that the year is aging, and time for all we were going to get done is running out, it's hard not to feel excited about the coming holidays. Even though the decorations being strung from the street lights in my town are nearly antique, they inspire a fresh look at the town square. The sky is that particular tone of blue that is startling in its intensity. The air is clean, the breeze chilly and brisk and the holidays are just around the corner.

It's a hopeful time, this end-of-the-year season.

There is the obvious, the hope of a successful economic up-tick for sellers of various stuff. (This includes yours truly here.) This season carries the entire year for some.

There is hope for those whose candidates won, to have their dreams met, or at least recognized. There is hope for those whose candidates lost their races, hope that fences will be mended and cold shoulders warmed.

There are great expectations for families to gather around a common table and share not only turkey and pie, but laughter and love, or at least a feeble joke and a momentary truce. I hope I have enough silverware to go around.

Some hope for snow, but not me. I'm past my sledding prime.

I hope people buy art. Not just mine, although that would be really, really great. I hope folks do not become paralyzed by the constant warnings of dire times from the Talking Heads. I hope people turn off the negativity and look up at the aging street decorations, and the families gathering and the clear blue sky and feel good about where this year has been. And where it is going.

And where we are.

By the way, if you're in Hastings Nebraska on the evening of November 20th, stop by Graham Gallery and see what's hanging on the walls. I'm sure there'll be a cup of steaming cider for you.
Hope to see you there.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Name Change

I've often wondered why Vincent Van Gogh signed only his first name. After this weekend, I think I know the reason.

Let me just say that I love my last name. Scarborough.

It sounds good. Rolls off the tongue in a nice way. You can even get a little snooty with it if you like: Scahhhborough.

It's problematic for some folks, however. They give it another couple of 'o's, an extra 'r', or even another 's' in the middle. As for me, I've never had a hard time with the spelling. The letters come together just like it sounds.

Until recently.

Let me just say that I have been a pastel artist for nearly 20 years. After a pastel piece is finished, I sign it using a school bus yellow, Ticonderoga #2 pencil. It lets me almost draw the name out, even allowing for a little flourish at the end. P Scarborough. I skip most of my first name. Twelve letters is enough to scrawl across the bottom of any painting.

A year and a half ago I took up with oils after a very long absence. The issue of my signature became, well, an issue.

Managing P Scarborough with a pencil is one thing. Getting it out of a size 0 paintbrush dipped in oil paint is another thing entirely. It requires a great deal of concentration to match up dipping/holding on to the brush properly/spelling the name/using readable penmanship skills.

It happened first a couple of months ago. Marcy, master framer at Graham Gallery, noticed first. There were only eleven letters in my signature. I had misspelled my own name.

Concentrating so completely on getting the brush to make all those curly lines, I neglected to actually read what I'd written.

Okay, hardy-har-har. So that painting is now worth a million because the artist didn't get her own name correct. But the thing is, that only works one time. And I did it again this weekend. Twice.

So, I appreciate Vincent's approach. However, I can see the same problems arising with my first name, Patricia. And using just my initial doesn't seem like a good idea. One lonely P on the bottom of a painting just seems to invite trouble. I'm thinking of changing my name to something more easily spelled with a brush. Maybe a symbol, like Prince uses. A swoosh would be excellent, but I think it's taken.

Would a thumbprint work?
White Bark, 5 x 7 oil, P. Scarborough (spell checked)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Recipe for Success

Before we left on our trip up north last week, I had the opportunity to share my experience with the Grand Island Sketch Club. They're a great group of dedicated artists who meet once a month to learn from each other and invited guests.

I started out with a demonstration, which is how most classes begin. The goal is to share the kinds of techniques and decisions one makes on the way to a successful painting.

I liken the act of creating a painting to being a chef in the kitchen. Follow along carefully.

When a master baker creates a beautiful weding cake, they don't normally start by putting out the tiny, delicate sugar roses. Not if they want a happy bride and goom they don't.

A successful recipe follows a certain, proven order. The baker beats the eggs, softens the butter, sifts flour and adds the ingredients in the proper sequence using the proper tools. The oven is pre-heated, and the mix is baked for the right amount of time. Even cooling the cake layers is handled carefully, removing the cooked batter from the pan at just the right time and letting it stand to firm up properly.

Then the baker worries about the frosting, or fondant, or whatever. Only when the baker is certain the frosting looks just right does she bring out all the frou-frou, the little icing do-dads. Then, and only then, does she delicately place a few perfect little roses in just the right place. Voila!

You can't hurry those people. If they try to rush the process, or change the order, the cake goes soft in the middle, the fondant falls and the roses roll right onto the floor. It's an unhappy time.

It's really no different creating a painting.

Make certain you're working with a good recipe. Use the best tools available to you. Get the foundation of the painting correct before you move on. Is everything in the proper place? If not, now's the time to stop and correct anything you're not sure of. Rushing the process is extremely tempting because those sugar roses is where the fun is. That lovely flourish is what people see first and congratulate you for. Who wouldn't want to dive right in to the best part?

However, putting those roses on before the cake is ready is a recipe for trouble. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that pun.) Adding highlights and final marks to your painting before you've got your composition down solid, or before you've got your supporting shapes and values in will lead you to frustration.

Just a little recipe for success from my kitchen to yours.

I leave you with a lovely photo from my trip north. We're still basking in the relaxation of our time there.
Enjoy our view from the top of Sugar Mountain.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Dear Hubby, Fine Son and I just spent several days in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my Sis and her husband at their cabin. It's so far north that every direction is south.

It's a beautiful spot. Brilliant birch, deep dark pines, burning red maples. No neighbors, no noise, no traffic.

No electricity. . . no plumbing . . . no internet . . . no television . . .

Just each other.

It's amazing what people do when there's no distraction. We actually talked to each other. Laughed with and at each other. Watched the stars. Stared at the fire. Read books. Chatted some more, remembering when we were kids. (Did my sis and I have the same childhood?)

It was life unplugged. And it was lovely. We walked for miles kicking up golden birch leaves. The guys fished and kayaked. Hubby, casting for musky quite vigorously, tipped his kayak over into the icy, tea-colored water, besting any roller-coaster ride for thrills and chills. We ventured up to Sugar Mountain and imagined being the first among the miles of trails wandering through the wilderness.

At no time did we wonder what was on channel 5. Or channel 204. Or the radio for that matter. We were living fully and in the fullness of the present moment.

It won't be long and we'll be back among paved streets and tv satellite dishes. We'll settle into our forced-air-heated home, check the fridge repeatedly in hopes that someone actually cooked something, and stare at the television hoping to be stimulated. (Is that an oxymoron?)

And soon we'll take an evening to sit on the patio wrapped in blankets and watch the stars. We'll re-live the hikes and the laughter. We'll leave the tv off and dream.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Art of the Decision

My friend Mavis and I were having a discussion recently about making decisions. Conversation centered around just how one goes about deciding to decide. We shared techniques used to get us to the point where we're comfortable taking a particular direction, and laughed at some of the coin-flipping, universe-manipulating maneuvers in our repertoire.

What I've come to is this:

Sometimes action is what you have to take. In our search for solutions to our weaknesses we dither and wait for an answer from a greater source. Through prayer and meditation questions are asked and answers waited for. Sometimes we pray more and meditate more and wait more until we get the answer we're looking for.

I think Nike had it right. Just do it.

Take action. It's movement, active learning. Unless you're diving out of a plane, most things can be corrected if you decide you're on the wrong path. Pay a little bit of attention as you go and see what you learn.

Then again -

Action for the sake of action is actually counter-productive. My friend Kay calls is being bizzy. When you're being bizzy dashing about multi-tasking and committing to committees and buzzing about your bizziness, what are you not thinking about? What are you not committing to? What are you not attending to? It really doesn't hurt to pause ocasionally, look up and consider where you are. If you are on the wrong path, you'll know it soon enough. If you feel good about your progress, the short time you spend in consideration won't hurt anything.

So how to decide?

I suppose one decides in the same way one dives off a diving board. Get into position. Plan your steps (there's only room for a couple of them) take a breath and ... jump. It's part consideration, part preparation, a little practice and a jump.

Funny thing is, I was thinking about all this in terms of art projects. I was wondering how to proceed on a painting, whether to change directions or proceed as planned.

Maybe what's good for an art project is good for life.

What do you learn from your art?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Plein Aire Slapstick

I always thought being a plein aire artist was sort of a romantic endeavor. The artist, dressed in a really cool hat, would wander the countryside, setting up under a spreading tree in harmony with the world. That is, until I started actually doing it myself.

I wrote in a previous post about the insidious spreading of red paint after a mishap on an early plein aire trip. My plan was to show you photos of my latest excursion, only, well, there was nothing in the photo. Literally nothing.

I spent an hour or two "learning", which is a nice word for making mud. I remembered that I wanted to document the trip, so I walked with my camera about 4 feet in front of, and a bit over to the side of, my easel. Carefully I set the camera on a post and set the timer. My timer is set, I've got about 8 seconds to get back to my easel and act like I'm having a great time painting. I never made it.

Two steps into my mad dash I disappeared into a deep ditch that had been completely disguised by tall grass. After plunging for what seemed like minutes and miles I finally and luckily hit soft bottom. Regaining my feet, I rose to find myself eye level to the ground, face to face with a large green grasshopper.

Do you have those moments when you question your career choice?

I have a nice photo of my easel, standing alone by the side of the road.

So just to prove I'm somewhat capable, I'm going to share an image of another plein aire trip. Not a ditch within a half mile.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Welcoming Success

Since I dropped my regularly paying gig a year and a half ago, I've had to wrestle with the notion of success. Have I had it? Will I get it? Just what the heck is IT?

I've got several pounds of books on the business of art. Topics include How To: get into exhibits, build a resume, get a gallery, sell online, build a website, create a blog, frame for less, talk about ourselves, market ourselves, market our art, send a newsletter, win friends and influence art buyers.

If we read them all and do all that, we get success, right?

What does success look like? Does it look like a pile of money? A blinking sign with my name twinkling on it? A page from a magazine with an image of my most recent work printed on it? Perhaps it's a reception hall full of wine-sippers on opening night. A hearfelt hug from a former instructor, maybe. Will it knock on my door and announce it's arrival? Maybe I'll hear bells ringing, or the earth will tremble just a bit. That would be nice. I'd know for certain I got success. Or an earthquake.

I guess the point is this: success is very personal. And fairly hard to describe. And I have the feeling it will change everyday. In many ways impossible to measure. Some days it will be an earthquake, rumbling and shaking. More likely it will be quiet, warm and soft like a favorite blanket.

The thing is to pay attention. Every day, pay attention to your life, your actions and how the world reacts to you. You'll get success. It'll be there if you look.

What does your success look like?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Am I Typical?

Several days ago I was visiting with a nice woman who asked me what my plans were for the remainder of the day. Paint! I yelped. The sky was wildly blue, the wind was nowhere to be felt, it was a day that just begged to be painted.

Oh, she said laughing, you know how to have fun. I'll bet you're a typical artist.


Just what is a typical artist? Oh, that one. No, not me. Not so much.

I don't own a big loud multi-tiered skirt. I don't have big hair. No birkenstocks either. I can tell time, and given enough of it I can add digits in my own head. I believe in starting meetings on time and finishing up quickly. I have several sports medals and trophies (admittedly none very recent) and have been known to attend sporting events. I don't always know what's going on, but I cheer with the best of them. I'm organized in my own way. I have no intentions of starving, either.

Does that make me odd?

Believe it or not, I don't know any typical artists. Not one. The artists I know are just like teachers and bankers and insurance salespeople. We show up for work. Sometimes we play hookey. We attend classes and workshops to educate ourselves in our chosen field. We wear sensible shoes and golf and visit our accountants regularly. We barbecue and go to church, or don't, and live pretty much like the rest of the world does. We also believe in getting paid for our services, just like the teacher, the banker and the insurance exec.

So maybe I should have educated her. Maybe I should have explained how normal we all are.

Maybe next time I will.

Are you typical?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Painting Lesson

In a month or so I'll be teaching a pastel class for the Grand Island Sketch Club. I'm really honored to be asked to share with them because they're a group of dedicated and very talented artists. It occured to me that maybe you'd like in on the lesson.

This first shot shows how I arrange my pastel sticks. I made the trays out of fome-core board. The sticks are arranged by color family, and value.

The first step is to sketch out the "chunks", the big areas of value. I lay in a thin layer of pastel in a very dark value which represents the darkest part of the painting, and then rub in some red tones for the foreground. When that is done, I dip an old brush into rubbing alcohol and wash the pastel into the paper. (By the way, I'm using Art Spectrum sanded paper.) This allows the first layer to be very rich yet thin. Because it's melted into the surface I can go over the first layers with lots of lighter colors.

Now I work on the local, or "real" color. I'm slowly adding colors to suggest leaves and grass.

This close up shows how loose my strokes are. Lots of original layers show through. I'm not really worried about how accurate the colors of the grassy area are, or even whether it's actually grass. My interest lies in the energy I get from the scene. By letting some of the drips and dribbles of the alcohol wash show through, the area becomes really exciting.

This 9 x 12 piece is nearly done. There are some issues with the sky I need to resolve, and I'm not sure about that diagonal line through the foreground, but it's time for a break. I'll put it away for a couple of days and see what comes to mind with a fresh eye.

If you're interested in taking the October 13th class, let me know and I'll get you the details.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Weekend Fun

You'd think by my email that the only things going on this weekend were debt relief, consolidating my bills, or enhancing my husband's pe...uh...personality.

Wrong! It's not too late to check out Jerome Dubas' amazing ceramics at Graham Gallery. The reception was held over the weekend, but his work will be featured for another couple of weeks.

Famfest in Aurora was held over the weekend as well. A family oriented event, it's a great time to see who's creating what in the fly-over states. Truly amazing. Artist's of all kinds get together and show off their wares. I had the real pleasure of hearing an emerging singer-songwriter, Leesha Harvey. She's got a beautiful voice, and the song writing skills to match. Don't fret if you weren't there on the square listening, she'll be at Mick's Music Bar in Omaha in October. She's worth the trip.

The crowd was appreciative, and that's important for us artist's. It's tough, shlepping our display panels, chairs, families and art to various courthouse lawns, parking lots and parks. I don't do the festival circuit much, so Famfest is a delight. And thank you to Gloria for valuing my work. I'm pleased you purchased a painting you're happy with.

Oddly, there were no solo trombonist's featured at this event. (Brian, this one's for you!)

Next time you decide to settle for cleaning out your spam filter, go find something else to do. Your pe...uh...personality is just fine.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sneak Peak

With Labor Day comes the last of the season's art festivals, for me at least. I'm a lightweight when it comes to outdoor events. One I'm pleased to attend as a participating artist is the FamFest in Aurora, Nebraska. This is a great event full of music, good food and excellent art.

I'll be showing a few new pieces from my plein aire painting trips.

I'll give you a sneak peak to temp you into coming to Aurora (as if coming to this great little community weren't enough!)

Painted early in the morning, the coneflowers this year were gorgeous.

I planted sunflowers this year, for no reason other than I love them. These mammoth variety are over 15 feet tall. The heads are at least a foot wide, plenty big enough to feed the finches.
These plein aire pieces are 5 x 7 inches and beautifully framed. They're available for $200 each. To see them in person, and to see other new paintings, stop by my booth in the artist's tent at Famfest in Aurora and introduce yourself.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Measure of Time

It's that time of year. The point in my summer when I realize the earth has shifted without my noticing.
The sun set a good 30 minutes earlier last night than it did the night before. Suddenly cicadas are fillling the air with a tremendous rhythmic zz-zz-zz-zz that is supposed to mean frost in 6 weeks. Six weeks! School busses are rumbling down the streets, brakes squealing as they pull up to load children born just yesterday for their first days of school. The sky is even a different color, just a bit bluer than before. The coneflowers are fading from their rich lavendar to a dull grey. Sunflowers that just yesterday were hilariously yellow are now bent under their heavy brown load.
My friend is writing a book. Her goal is a chapter a month. Suddenly she realized, like I had, the changing of the season. Months had gone by - what month was it? She couldnt say, but she knew she had 6 chapters written.
Another friend passed away recently. She'd lived 78 years. I'm certain that she saw her life as ridiculously short, although the last days were probably endless. At her funeral her life was recounted in laughter and tears, lessons learned and shared rather than units of time.
I'm setting a goal for myself. I'll share it with you when the time is right. Four days ago I was behind, yesterday I'm ahead enough to feel comfortable.
How do we measure time? It's a season, it's a goal, it's the number of ticks my clock makes in the earth's ciruit around the sun. When the kids were home it was measured in homework and grades and days left before leaving the nest.
Now it's measured in sudden moves of the earth. In chapters written, lives ended and paint tubes squeezed dry.
How do you measure time?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monet Meets Curly Joe

After reading Christine Kane's blog about expanding vs shrinking I shrugged off all shrinkiness (read stinginess) and purchased a really lovely plein air easel. Painting in the open air, away from the studio, sounds so romantic and, well, just plain fun. Turns out it was more like Claude Monet meets Curly Joe.

Becuase I am fairly new to painting away from the studio, I traveled only as far as my back yard.

It's a good place to start, actually. The sun on my black-eyed Susan's was really gorgeous. (That's my sister's really awesome chain-saw carving you see there in the background.)

There I stand, just like Claude Monet. The warm sun, cool shadows, brilliant yellows, purples, birds and cicadas breathing life into every stroke of my brush.

Things begin to go awry fairly quickly. Monet steps aside and Curly Joe moves in. Somehow I managed to flip my 5 x 7 board upside down, onto my fresh palette. The backside is now decorated in great gooey globs of cadmium orange and scarlet. Not to worry I tell myself, I'm outside. Wipe it off, put the board back and get back to work. I notice a bit of red paint on my brand spankin' new pochade box. The pochade box is supposed to carry the paint in it, not on it. Stop painting, wipe it off, gotta keep that new pochade box shiney and clean.

It's not long before I find I'm holding in my left hand a paper towel full of red paint, 4 brushes and a palette knife. Yes, my paint box came with a brush holder. It's just that my hand is so, well, handy. And yes, I have managed to get red paint on each and every brush. Oddly, the hair part is clean.

About that time a cute weiner dog strays into the yard to check out the Lady in Red. We introduce ourselves, and he leaves a moment later with a red stripe behind one ear.

An hour later, I've got red paint on my hands, brushes, pochade box, up my arm, on my shorts, the back door, my left sock, and on my right cheek. My hair is highlighted in - yup, you guessed it.

But I've also got 70 square inches of really lovely flowers painted, and I'm thrilled.

And now, as I'm typing, I see cad red scarlet on my keyboard. And up my arm again, and on my right knee. What would Monet think?

I'm thrilled. I survived my first real plein air session. I expanded my horizons, all the way to my back yard. Maybe tomorrow I'll expand them all the way to the end of the block.

How far will you expand your horizon? And what color will it be?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Birthday Gratitude List

Today is my birthday! I'm pleased to tell you I'm 52 years old. F-i-f-e-t-y-t-w-o. My first thought when age is brought up is often to cough my way through the number. You've heard it before. I'm f-cough cough-ti-cough arhum years old.
This past year has been as challenging as it has been great. I'm celebrating my birthday with a gratitude list. One for every year.

I'm grateful for:
My husband.
My sons.
My family.
The rest, in no particular order:
fresh tomatoes
modern medicine
the internet
my friends. You know who you are.
good music
fresh clean water
comfortable shoes
long walks
warm blankets
my Hundai Santa Fe
fresh popcorn
my house
art supplies
Graham Gallery
a good cup of hot coffee
any reason for a good belly laugh
a good haircut
good books
the time to read them
my cell phone
warm socks
egg rolls
my garden
fresh sweet corn
fresh bread
talk radio
long walks with Dan
college opportunities
a comfortable bed
good teachers
The Office television show
air conditioning
my house
grocery stores
my studio
Far Side cartoons
pineapple smoothies at Geneva Java Coffee Shop
sunrises in Nebraska

Gee, that was easy. Truly, I've got alot to be grateful for.
Take a moment to make your list.
What are you grateful for?

Monday, August 4, 2008

CASA Donation

True to my belief in giving when you can, I'm donating another painting to be raffled off for a really good cause. The over $1,000 in art I've given away this year is about $900 more than I could give in real dollars, so I'm pretty pleased. This painting will be given to a lucky person sometime in November (dates are still being settled on). The real winner will be CASA, a national child advocacy program using trained volunteers to act as advocates for abused and neglected children in court.

It's a really lovely framed 8 x 10 oil. Haybales are a favorite subject for me. Their warm gold hue and solid form speak to safety, comfort, and warmth against the long cold winters we enjoy. Under any other circumstance, I'd sell an 8 x 10 for at least $250. That's a potential savings of $249!!

Funds raised will go toward supporting CASA volunteers in Fillmore County. These folks use their own cars and gas, time etc. and funds raised will go directly to helping them out. I can't think of a better group to support.

How can you help? Send in $1 for each chance to win. Your name will go into a big hat, or bucket or whatever, and during half-time of a Geneva Panthers basketball game, we'll grab a name out. Along with your $1, send your name and address so we can get the painting to you if (when) you win. Send your bucks to:

Amanda Miller
Director Fillmore County CASA
2471 Rd 550
Carleton, Nebraska, 68326

Lest you think I'm secretly a Nigerian Prince, well, there are precious few Nigerian princes in Nebraska. None, actually.

Good luck to you! Your donation can help children get a better life. Not bad for $1.

Monday, July 28, 2008

In Search of the Self

In response to Angela Graham's call for entries for a Portrait Exhibit at her gallery, I spent a couple of weeks dealing with the issue of the self portrait.

What, exactly, is it a portrait of? My personality, or my person? If I create a version of my personality, which one do I use? Those of you who know me understand that I'm in the throes of mid-life and new career, and you are not quite sure just who'll show up on a given day. Could be you'll be greeted by the enthusiastic emerging artist, ready to take on the world. Could be you'll be met by the "what-was-I-thinking?" version. Or the "turn the air conditioner up now" lady. Any of those folks come in a crying, laughing or sleeping version. Take your pick.

Those kinds of portraits are interesting ventures. The artist can hide behind all sorts of images, squiggles and paint globs. The heavy lifting is up to the viewer. I get to be whomever I want to be, and leave it to you to figure it out. The flip side of that is that personality peaks through regardless of how hard the artist tries to disguise it, and gets revealed despite all best intentions to put a better face on, well, your face.

So I put on my brave face, (pardon that pun) and went the physical person portrait route. Just me and my face. Since I used a mirror, and tend to make funny faces when I concentrate, you get the "just ate a pickle" face.

I suddenly admire and am amazed by artists who choose to share their self portraits with the world. It takes a bit of ego. You find out just who, or what you look like, and whether anyone's been paying attention.

To see more faces and their egos, check out Graham Gallery in Hastings, Nebraska. The month-long show opens in August.

What kind of portrait would you paint?