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Hope On A Paper Towel

papertowels

 

Fear has been reaching out for me lately. While I believe that good wins out in the end—there are days when I struggle to stay hopeful. And then I found a pocket of hope in an unexpected place, a roll of paper towels.

 

I’m trying to cut back on paper towel usage—the environment, you know. But I haven’t been able to go cold turkey. So I picked up a three-pack of the cheapest towels on the shelf. Each role had a design. I can’t remember what was on roll one except for the fact that it was pink and baby blue. Not my colors. Roll two had butterflies. Who doesn’t like butterflies? Roll three was special. There was a message running over the first two squares. This is what it said: “Each MORNING is an Opportunity to SHINE, a CHANCE to give the past a KICK in the pants, and the future a BEAR HUG.”

Sometimes I find meaning in the strangest places. I remember the paper towel message every morning when I sign a petition to honor freedom of speech and religion, make a phone call to protect the environment, or send a letter to the little girl I sponsor in Rwanda. I think of it now and then on my way to work where I teach young children with special needs. I’m helping them give their future a bear hug. I just need a reminder now and then that what I do matters.

But wait! There was a second message on that roll of paper towels. The second message said: “Love BIG, play HARD and eat DESSERT. Savor the simple things and DON’T WORRY about the rest. CHOOSE today to be AMAZING.”

Worry is not proactive. It weights us down. Even in the midst of great challenges, it’s OK to play and eat dessert. It’s the moments of fun that rest our minds and feed our souls. All work and no play wears us down. So I dance. I spend time with good friends and supportive family. And I continue to hope. I hope for a future that works for everyone. As Tiny Tim once said, “God bless us, every one.”

Anatomy Of A Painting

I posted recently that I was working on a new painting and worried that it wouldn’t be finished in time for the upcoming art reception at the Cloverdale Arts Alliance Gallery. Well, I got it done, but lost a lot of sleep doing it.

People often ask me. “How long did it take you to paint that?” Or they want to know something about the process. So, here’s how this particular piece came together. Keep in mind that every piece is different, and my process is not necessarily typical. Every artist has his or her own approach. Here’s mine.

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Day 1—Roughing in the subject

First, I painted in the background. I use acrylic paint. A discussion of acrylic versus oil may be a subject for a future blog. I always start with Indian Yellow. It gives a nice underglow. Next, I sketched in the subject. I don’t always start with a drawing, but this is a portrait of my granddaughter, Elise. When I’m doing a portrait, I want to make sure that the proportions are correct and everything is right where I want it. So I draw.

picture2

 

Day 2—Face first

I don’t always start with the face, In fact, I usually start with the background. I enjoy figure drawing most and tend to save the best for last. But I wanted some assurance that this painting would bear a resemblance to my granddaughter. If I didn’t get that reassurance would i have quit? Probably not. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…

 

 

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Day 3—Move back

At this point I moved to the background and starting roughing in the color, simulating wood grain in the flooring, painting the carpet background, and placing a design on the curtain in the back. I worked on the walls as well. The background colors are very close, but there had to be differentiation. I found this stage to be a bit tedious. It doesn’t look like a lot happened here, but many more hours went into this phase.  I’m going to keep an actual count of work hours on the next painting.

 

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Day 4—More background detail

Longing to get to the figure, but I wanted to keep working on that background. Since Elise is placed in the actual environment where I snapped her photo, I wanted it to be accurate. Elise loves to get out all my hats when she visits and model them before the wall of mirrors in my room. I’m painting what will one day be her memory. Keep going…

 

 

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Day 5—Rough in the figure

At last, I’m on to the figure! That pink hat is Elise’s favorite. It’s also the one I wore to the women’s march. It gets around. By now the painting has a title, The Pink Hat. I gave Elise the dress she’s wearing in the painting. It actually has a western theme. Goes with the hat…

 

 

 

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Day 6—Details details

There are two figures here, Elise and Elise’s reflection. The mirror element is a challenge. I started the dress pattern at this stage. The dress has horses on it. I needed to just suggest them. If I covered the dress with realistic little horses people would tend to focus on them, not the painting as a whole. I’m not happy with the face but I still have time. It was a work day so I started painting after dinner. I painted until 3 AM with a raging storm in the background. Another work day tomorrow. Tired!

 

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Day 7—Almost done

After staying up late the previous night and working all day, I had a hard time dragging myself back to the studio. Lack of sleep sapped all my energy. I just sat on the couch and dozed in front of the TV when I should have been painting. Getting up was REALLY hard, but I knew I had to in order to be ready for the show. I finally entered the studio at 11 PM and painted until 5 AM. It’s hanging day at the gallery. Finish!

 

 

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Day 8—Close-up & done (maybe)

Got up at 7 AM—not much sleep—and painted finishing touches until 10. So much for sleep, or lack of. Not sure the photo shows the actual color palate accurately, but you get the idea. I’m still not totally happy with the painting, but I’m my own worst critic. I’ll probably  do a bit more work in the future. In the meantime, you can see the painting at the Cloverdale Gallery.

The Story of the Humble Blackberry Poem

blackberry-bush

 

 

 

In my last blog I complained that poets who rhyme are a lot like the late Rodney Dangerfield. They don’t get much respect. There are a few notable exceptions like Kay Ryan and Richard Wilber, but for the most part, poets who rhyme are expected to feel a little apologetic.

I tend to send my non-rhyming poems out into the world in hopes of landing in poetry reviews and anthologies. I have had some success. But poems that rhyme are often kept hidden in a folder on my computer. I entered one of them in the County Fair this year. It won a blue ribbon. It wasn’t an accolade from the Midwestern Poetry Review. Still, someone liked it.

Recently I read a few of my poems to my writer’s critique group. I planned on entering a few in an upcoming contest and wanted the opinion of my fellow writers as to which poems were submission worthy. When I finished reading my “serious” poems, I had an afterthought.

“You know,” I said, “I have another little poem I wrote last fall. I was walking along a trail with my little dog, Peanut. Blackberry bushes lined the path, most covered with shriveled fruit—seasons end. Then, a spot of white caught my eye. It was a blackberry blossom struggling to produce against tremendous odds. I went home and wrote the following little poem. I’m not going to send this one out, but I’d Iike to read it to you.”

The Lesson

blackberryblossomLast blackberry blossom of fall,

most optimistic flower of all.

It’s a brave show, but tinged with regret—

there isn’t time for your fruit to set.

Nature’s lesson shows those who wait

that good intentions can start too late.

When destiny calls, don’t tarry;

be a bloom that becomes a berry.

Our group meets at a local coffee shop. People tend to come and go around us. So, I didn’t pay particular attention to the man at the next table when he rose to leave. I was surprised, however, when he headed in my direction, leaned over, and whispered into my ear, “I liked the one about the blackberry.” He’d been listening.

Suddenly, my simple, little poem felt more important. A stranger’s comment emboldened me to say, “Damn it, I honestly like this poem!” And you know what? I do. No apologies for the rhyme.

stolen-light

Gift the gift of Poetry For Christmas…                                              Stolen Light: Redwood Writers 2016 Poetry Anthology

Beautifully crafted poems by some of the finest poets from Sonoma County, California. A lovely gift for anyone who enjoys poetry in all its forms.

 

 

In Defense of Rhyme In Poetry

poetry-typeTo rhyme or not to rhyme? That is the question. At least, that is the question for me. Many literary critics feel that question has already been answered…rhyme is out, blank verse and free verse is in. When it comes to rhyme, they admonish poets, “Just don’t do it!”

So once again, we have the guardians at the gate defining for the rabble below what is “good” and “worthy.” We have turned our backs on the old guard. Farewell Shelly, Keats and Byron. Oh, we allow students to study them in school, but be sure to tell them that, if they have poetic aspirations, they better not submit rhyming poems to any of today’s prestigious journals.

I happen to love GOOD rhyme. I capitalized “good” for a reason. It’s important. There is a lot of bad rhyme our there. Good rhyme is hard to do. Maybe that’s why so few poets try it. They just aren’t very good at it.

There are rumblings out there that rhyme is gathering a few friends in the literary world. There are still some journals that accept it. Don’t send any to the New Yorker, though. In fact, if your poem is understandable to the average guy in the street, you might think twice about sending it to the New Yorker. (OK, it’s a great magazine. My bias against literary snobbishness is showing.) Continue reading

What is Art and Why Do We Do It?

dreaming-kandinskyThe Merriam Webster Dictionary defines art as: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.

Leo Tolstoy described art as “the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others.”

Pablo Picasso said, “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Those are all pretty good definitions, but they don’t really answer the question, why do people make art? Why are some artists willing to face great hardships in order to paint, or write, or compose songs and symphonies? Only a handful of actors reach stardom. Only a few artists have paintings in prestigious museums. The stereotype of the struggling, starving artist has reached mythic proportions, and yet artists in every field seem compelled to do whatever it is they do. I am both a visual artist and a writer. I have asked friends in both fields, “Why do you do it?” The reply is almost always the same, “Because I have to.” The desire to create seems to be an inner compulsion that not everyone understands …unless you’re an artist.

That compulsion to make art is a thread running throughout history… from the earliest cave paintings to the Renaissance cathedrals, to the street murals and graffiti of the present day. But its expression is unique to each particular time and place and creator. None of it can ever be repeated. For myself, each piece I create is the best one I can do between two moments…the moment it is conceived and the moment it is completed. All are personal and, I think, distinctive. No one else could have produced them.

I have been drawing and painting as long as I can remember. I started a writing club in the fourth grade (horse stories only). My first poems were published in the local paper when I was in high school. I always had that desire to create something out of my imagination and share it. I could pontificate about how art separates mankind from lower life forms. I could talk about the spiritual aspects of art and describe it as a form of meditation. All of that is true. But my final answer to the why of art is this, “Creating art is what I do; what I have to do; what we artists all must do.” Martha Graham, the great 20th century dancer summed it up when she described art as “a queer divine dissatisfaction, a divine unrest.” That’s why we do it. We just can’t help ourselves.