So much more to see.

Continuing in my theme of exploring the beauty that is around us in the Midwest, I decided to look at the photos I had taken on my recent drive and saw another one that struck me. There is just something beautiful about the wonderful farms nestled among the rolling hills in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Barns, silos and pastures with cattle or horses lingering among greens and yellows that lift a spirit just to see.

This farm was situated in an unusually flat valley with a long horizon line and a subtle prospect of a still and reflective creek, yet easily standing with the grace of a midwestern farm. In this case I loved that long blue sky and the string of farm buildings. It was sunny and bright with a clarity of midday and the surprising colors of maturing crops.

I respectfully ask you to celebrate each day and look for the beauty that is so abundant all around you. I am glad I could share these two midwestern landscapes this weekend.

This painting is a 20″ by 10″ oil on canvas called, “Creekside Farm”.

Late summer in the Midwest

There is something really beautiful in all of the landscapes from every part of this country. It is easy to be awestruck by glorious mountain ranges, huge canyons, or amazing seascapes. We take pictures of saturated sunrise or sunsets over our favorite spots be it hillside, lake or ocean. We marvel at the color and the light and the majesty of rock and field and at the emensity of prairie and desert and timbered ranges. I am awed and humbled with every single view.

Equal to the awe born of the grander aspects of the land are the inspirations found in the beautiful details. Each blooming flower and perching bird, flashing all of the colored plumage that God has chosen to cloak them with, stand as testament to His attention to detail. I hope we do notice that colored stone, the dropped feather, and the blossom that emerges sometimes overnight. We are right to celebrate those amazing details.

As long as painters have selected worthy images to paint, or photographers seek something notable to photograph, we have celebrated the wonder of the beauty around us. The painting I started yesterday after our morning drive is just a subtle reminder that the postcard miracle shots are just the tip of the iceberg of the incredible beauty that surrounds us disguised in the subtle midground every day, every where.

Each time we go for a drive I take the opportunity to take a few pictures with the eye on the beautiful rolling hills of the Midwest. Here, in late summer, I see treelines that rest relatively unimpressive between the new Spring greens and the Fall blaze of colors that are coming soon. Now is when prairie flowers are often confined to mowed edges and we don’t redily see the dusty weed banks steadfastly attending the shade of the majestic country trees as the grand gardens they truly are.

I heartily encourage you to hop in your car and go for a quick drive in the country. Don’t think about the highway and of the 30 minutes down the road that you need to go to find a park or some other pre-established destination with entertainment. I mean make a loop on a gravel road. Slow down. Take a second look at how blue that sky is, how amazing the shadows are across that road, how the light is playing among the treelines, and look at the amazing prairie flowers along the mowed ditches. Celebrate the beauty of the details. It will help you start to see all of those subtle, beautiful details in your life that get lost in the planned trip.

I have really enjoyed my weekend so far. I hope you’re enjoying yours, as well. Today’s painting is a 16″ by 20″ oil on canvas called, “The Road Less Traveled”.

Carry on!

Painters must first just continue being painters.

There is a great deal of discussion every day about varying perspectives and beliefs of the changes or modifications to our behavior necessary to carry on with our lives. I’m not here to debate any of those stands but only to share my thoughts on myself as an artist …out in public.

This year, any work I had done had been done in the studio. First it was seasonal, but when this all started to impact us in March I also began working from home as a library director/administrator during the stay in place orders. That made it very difficult to separate my 2 “jobs” let alone keep appropriate proportions but I managed. Now we’re in late summer and since I returned to the workplace in mid June, I have found that I’ve done even less painting because my focus has been on returning students and finding some kind of new working normality.

I am acutely aware at this point that I need to rebuild the foundational part of my emotional well being, my art. It has suffered even more since I went back to the office. Since all of my camping/historical reenactments have been canceled I haven’t foraged out much for anything but to campus. Fears can almost foster an agorophobia that needs addressing before it gets a hold. This week we’ve had beautiful weather, and it made me reminiscent of being out and about capturing in the real time, and not from a photo.

Sunday I decided to run away and Monday morning I found myself in a state park, having camped in the van, and smiling as I listened to birdsong and waited for morning coffee to be ready.

I did a few modifications of my field kit over the Winter assuming I would be launching early Spring with it, and taking our big road trip in May like we usually do. Some of the changes made it lighter, easier to carry, and compact and I was excited about testing it. It had yet to come out into the world until this weekend.

My bag separated out brushes in a better way, and I added more small clips that I could reach for at a moments notice. I found a small palette that fit the new pochade box that we cobbled together. We self destructed one of my small easels and use the sliders to hold a small painting. There were some other changes that I needed to make too. One of them was that I needed to find a way to keep my turpentine hanging up closer for the quick dip to my palate. I also needed to make sure that I always had my blast jacket and hat with me because I now sunburn easier than I ever did before, and this weather had had a little chill in the air. [I’m loving it by the way.]

But here’s where the other piece comes in. Artists in the field painting plein aire attract attention. Unlike joggers, walkers, or bikers, artists are stationary for several hours at minimum. People come up to us while we’re painting. It’s part of the fun. People want to watch and engage, they get excited, and they get close. So whether you believe in masks or not, in my opinion everyone needs to respect others and wear them.

I do believe in them. I must wear one and believe that I have to keep safe if I’m going to keep painting. I cannot afford to hide in my house because someone else doesn’t believe in the science, so I have embraced my responsibility for protection. When I’m in the field I will have a mask in my pocket and when I see someone coming up to watch me paint I will donn my mask.

I am enjoying the fresh air. I am enjoying the beautiful scenery. I am enjoying capturing that scenery with oil on canvas. And when I have the opportunity to talk to the public who have just approached me and my painting, I can talk art! It is part of the joy of the public process. When I do, I will do so with less angst, wearing my mask that is fashionable and perhaps reminiscent of Monet.

Please be respectful and civil to each other. Just relax and let others do what they need to do to feel safe and enjoy the same outdoor fun that you enjoy without ridicule.

Stay safe. Find your balance. Seek your peace.

This painting is a 5″x 7″ oil on canvas board painted at Lake Shabbona.

Need for Good Conversation.

I do miss people. Oh I know, I’m seeing people at work and in the stores but one of the things that is missing the most in this time in my life is how much I miss the variety of good conversation. I had no idea how much sitting with someone and talking about things that I find stimulating becomes so terribly important to my day. I thank God my husband is a good conversationalist!

I also find myself aware that I miss particular topics of conversation. I never realized how I tended to seek out particular people based on their eclectic interests, or how diverse my friends and acquaintances are. Please take no offense that I talk in terms of topical genre when I think about particular people, but I think if we we’re honest we’d all find that to be true. We look forward to that one friend, for example, who can talk about sports and we can relax and just go down a rabbit hole with on that topic. For me I look for particular friends who can talk about art, or that I can talk about historical reenacting, or those people that I can talk about costuming, or faith or any number of other passions or entertainments that make up the whole of who I am.

I’m not able to go to the art shows and to the historical sites and talk to that particular group of friends and I find myself hungry for it, certainly. But there’s still more to it.

Even the conversations I’m having in my immediate circle are struggling because I made some realizations about how I listen. First, I’ve always been an eye person. I look at a person’s eye while they’re talking, as actually most of us do. You get the expression, and you get raised eyebrows, twinkles, crinkles and any number of enhancements to punctuate what they’re saying. What I have discovered now, with the mouth being out of sight, is that I was actually also watching the entire face action. I think inadvertently, we read lips to some degree to make sure that the words that were hearing are correct, especially when filtering out extraneous noises.

Add to that our new social distancing and there is something about the 6′ apart that is adversly affecting our conversation. Even though we know why someone is standing away from us there is a real subliminal paranoia that creeps in that makes us feel like they are rejecting us on some primitive level. It makes us feel like it’s a statement even when it’s not. These two things, compounded by the fact that that my eyes aren’t what they need to be even with my glasses on, and I can’t read the other person’s eyes as well as I should.

I am yearning for the connection of conversation. I got to thinking about events on the calendar again today and how right about now I would be excitedly anticipating the next 2 events coming up in an ordinary year. I got to thinking about the friends in Kenosha that I would be seeing the 1st weekend in August, and then following hot on that heel would be the gathering of friends on North Shore Superior at Grand Portage, Minnesota.

There are so many wonderful people that I’m not seeing and not having conversations with this year, and until the virus has been contained sufficiently to open the Canadian borders, I don’t know when I’ll get to visit with those people again. I understand the disappointment I feel. What surprises me is the sadness, and even a slight fear that I may not get to visit with them again, ever. Any one of us could become a fatality from any one of life’s dangers be it car crash, virus, or some other malady. This feels unnaturally pessimistic.

I’ve been struggling to paint. Today as I sat at the easel trying to make myself get past the block, I got to thinking about a lovely conversation that I had in the great Hall of Grand Portage National Park with a lovely seamstress from Canada. She’s a professional woman whom I admire and always enjoy talking with. So today rather than dwell on the fears of not being able to talk through masks or from a distance of 6′ or from a greater distance across borders, I decided to fondly think of conversations I have had with her and so many others.

I think I need to redouble my efforts to straighten my posture, throw back my shoulders and put aside my fears, and make a point of focusing on the true level of the water in my glass.

Today’s painting is a 5″ x 7″ oil on canvas board called “Visit With a Friend.”

The Power of a Kind Word.

Interesting day today. As I’ve continued to think about some of what I talked about yesterday with regards to allowing myself some grace, I was made very aware of another important component to help correct my unfruitful patterns – the kind word from someone else.

I mentioned yesterday that the facilitator, in essence, gave me permission to paint. I know that’s a little bit of a simplification but I started to think back on when I have been able to be more productive in the last week, or month, or several months and began to see a subtle correlation. My productivity, and my emotional fortitude, is tied to when someone says something kind to me. Being validated by a gentle word is so powerful.

A couple of weeks ago I got a lovely email from a friend and haven’t answered him yet. His email lifted me, but I felt I needed to finish my tasks before I could do that, but by not answering him right away the guilt started to drain me. I also got a text last week from another friend who said some very kind things to me about my writing. Again, I had not answered him either and sank lower because of it. Being frozen through a negative emotion like guilt is cyclically destructive.

This morning I got a text from someone who wanted to comment on that posting yesterday and chose to do it in private. The person told me that what I had said struck home, and touched them… compelling them to write me and tell me that they appreciated it. I realized I needed to answer immediately and did. It felt good and it allowed me to accept the compliment and to acknowledge that I had spent time yesterday doing something I wanted to do and it was OK. I then wrote back to one of the texts from last week and I felt empowered and calmer. Finally, I got another email from someone I had written to asking for a professional opinion and his response was genuine and kind. This was powerful.

This series of small events might not appear to be important enough to talk so extensively about here, but in fact the ‘ah ha moment’ of the cumulative affect of accepting their kindness and responding was allowing me to place them and their affect on me in the appropriate place of importance. I was accepting the gifts.

For a second day I found myself relaxing and being at ease with giving my body and spirit what it needed, despite what my incomplete task lists looked like. Once again I went to the board and painted.

Today’s painting is an 11″ x 14″ oil on canvas called, “Peace of Mind”.

Take time for what’s important.

I was in my summer school online class this morning and the teacher said, “I want you all to put in the chat box what you’re feeling, or if you have a particular focus at the moment.” Many of my fellow classmates said things about a work project, or plans for the weekend. A few said they felt uncertain and weren’t sure what to say. Without my usual temperance I posted “I am quite overwhelmed and not sure what to do. I feel like I have so much going on I am always behind, and it all seems equally important so I don’t know where to start. I really wish I could just paint.”

Once I posted that I realized I basically spoke outloud. Everyone could see that chat comment. One of the other facilitators immediately said, “Oh you must find 30 minutes a day for you to do that, Kelly”.

Somehow that struck me. Why do we feel like we need permission to do things for ourselves? I value my job, my commitments, and my obligations, certainly. I don’t ever want to appear ungrateful because I know how blessed I really have been, but I also realize how trained I have become to ‘don’t be selfish’.

In my life I have made promises, both explicitly and implicitly, that I have delayed or even denied because I felt I had to get my work done first. We become conditioned to think that if we stay home from school, we’d better be sick. If we don’t have the chores done, we can’t watch TV. I grew up with a work ethic that says you can’t play till the work is done. The work means both employment and life tasks of course, and in my life that has grown exponentially to the point where I can’t ever get all my work done. As a result I hesitate to tell myself that it’s OK to play without factoring in the guilt.

But I am not living honorably! I made vows to my husband and our relationship. I promised to pray for friends who are currently undergoing horrible challenges like illness, or poverty, or heartache. I told my Dr I would try and reduce my stress levels and take care of myself better. But I am not doing these as I should. I’m on the bottom of my list of things to do because I assume I can wait. Or can I? Should I?

Today when it dawned on me that I need to look at my priorities, I closed my computer, made myself a big glass of ice water, and sat down in front of a blank canvas. I can do 30 minutes. Actually, maybe I deserve an hour. Or maybe nothing that I thought I had to do today was really that important. I have the day off work, so maybe I can think about me and make myself happy pushing paint around. That makes my husband happy, it makes my doctor happy, and most of all it makes me happy.

I appreciated the reminder today that it’s OK to put myself higher on that list of important things. It is not selfish, it is kind.

Today’s painting is a 12″ by 24″, oil on canvas called, “Morning Priorities.”

Pain has a thousand faces.

I had to go to a doctor recently. The why of it doesn’t matter so much as some of the questions that I was asked while I was there. I don’t recall ever having a health care professional ask me questions about my emotional well being as much as they did that day. I was asked if I was feeling OK. I was asked if I was experiencing heightened anxiety. I was asked if I had any feelings of despondency or hopelessness.

I know logically that these questions are now part of the patient interview because of the quarantines for Covid19 and how it is affecting people’s mental state. I must admit that I found it rather reassuring. I felt completely listened to, and cared for in a way that I don’t often feel when speaking to someone other than my husband.

I answered candidly and perhaps even a bit flippantly. Afterwards, I also found it left me somewhat unsettled because it made me do another level of self evaluation. How am I feeling? How am I dealing with heightened anxiety? Have I been feeling despondent or stretched thin? It made me uneasy because I realized I am actually struggling with these things.

I had jokingly said that I turn to my painting to help me with anxiety, and that is partially true. In fact, painting does help me sometimes but when I am feeling at my worst I can’t seem to paint at all. I feel frozen, and the panic escalates. Looking at me, however, you wouldn’t know I am struggling.

Just like when someone has an underlying illness that others don’t know about, emotional illness can also be very invisible. A person can seem calm and solid with a smiling face and yet be consumed with pain. We make misasumptions every single day of our lives. We look at the faces around us and make assumptions of their state of affairs based on the appearance they present. We assume they are happy, calm, confident, well, or any one of a hundred other human conditions based on the mask of that face. Inside, however, the person may be suffering undescribable pain for any number of reasons.

We must never make those assumptions. We need to ask, and we need to listen to the responses. As you look around at the people you encounter every day, remember any of them could truly be the face of someone in pain.

This painting is a 5″ x 7″ study, oil on canvas board titled, “Pain”.

Listening actually needs quiet.

Sometimes we make the most noise when we are crying for quiet. In fact, we make so much noise seeking quiet that we can’t hear it… or should I say, recognize it.

These are such usual times that we’re living in right now. I know how I feel and it is hard. I am confused, and tense, and fearful of illness, and so wishing that I had my routines back. Routines are comforting. I can’t help but wonder if other people aren’t feeling the same way? It seems like it.

I pride myself in being someone who is pretty fairly organized, logical, and methodical to a fault. I look for things to help me be calmer and quieter to avoid being tense and grumpy towards the people around me because I know that neither they nor I are truly upset with each other, but instead are upset with our lack of control in our lives.

Today I thought alot about my father and remembered I used to have conversations with him about quiet. He would talk about being able to listen to the guidance that comes from your inner voice, or from God’s still small voice. He used to say, “you can’t hear good direction when you’re making too much noise. Try thinking about a shore and listening to the slow pattern of the waves”. These days I look for that calming of the waves by walking in the woods, going some place that has a serenity to it, or doing an activity that is slow paced. Whether it’s a place outdoors, or my back porch, or a place in my house that allows me to do some introspective thinking, I have to make that effort to seek it out.

When I sit at my easel and I paint, that is one of those places where I can think. In thinking, once you’re past the superficial and immediate, you begin to follow a deeper path. Introspective thinking is when you start being truly objective and even critical of all of your thoughts and emotions, and how they are dictating your outward actions. Here you can identify and calm those that you don’t want controlling you. Think about statements you make, attitudes you have, tensions that are running astray for you. As I calm those core parts of myself at the easel, my painting is an access to spiritual thought, and prayer.

The painting that I’ve been working on for the last 2 days has been purely an exercise in centering. It is a marriage of the loose style I admire in the plein-aire artists and the illustrative style that calms me. Most importantly, it was my tool for self reflection.

My thanks to a friend who gave me permission to use her likeness. I hope you enjoy this 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas. “Spring blossoms”

Traveling from home

Saturday mornings are a great time to just take a minute, relax, and think about places I’ve gone. I pour a cup of coffee and kick back in the recliner on the back porch. The light is soft and crystaline and bounces off the dew on the ferns, making a galaxy of stars on the fronds moving in the breeze. The colors and textures and light all make it easy to daydream of places I have travelled.

This morning I was remembering our wonderful driving trip to the western states with the van camping and the stunning scenery. As I have said before, I take pictures. Inspired by the morning and my memories of the trip, I scrolled through the album and stopped to smile on this one.

Waterfalls are a fascination to me with their energy and fresh misty air. Surrounded by pines we stood on this small cliff and enjoyed the view, the sounds and the smells for a bit. It was a lovely afternoon, and a memory worth capturing on canvas.

This painting is an 11″ x 14″ oil on canvas called “Morning Smile”.