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.

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”.

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”

Simple, or not.

We sometimes like to speculate that we understand the complexities of life. We may even brag that we have a handle on what all is going on around us. We try to make everything binary, black or white, an either or scenario. There’s a confidence in that thinking that tries to make things as simple as possible and thereby easily understood. Our logical minds know that nothing is that easy but we want it to be, so very much.

There is good and there is bad, and there is left and right, but it is the indefinite layers in between that is unsettling because it is not easily labeled. Like onion skin, the layers are indefinite and the variations that make life messy and multifaceted. It is not simple, actually.

I had looked out my kitchen window the other day and was enjoying the birds on the feeders and the grape jelly, enjoying the false forget-me-nots (bernerra) blooming in the yard, enjoying the fact that the hostas didn’t get ruined in the recent hard frost. I also enjoyed watching a tiny bunny who apparently survived the extinction of his other nest mates. Now, I don’t necessarily enjoy having full grown rabbits treating my gardens like an all you can eat salad buffet but little bunnies are just too cute to get mad at. I’ve been out there weeding and almost put my hand on him, and as time has gone along I have enjoyed seeing him approach what I’d call pre adolescence, where he was a little more flighty, a little more brazen, and knew the channels under the hostages so well that I rarely encountered him but only saw him from a slight distance. I was telling a friend of mine on the phone about the bunny in the yard and realized that I had started to amorphize him.

Then, the other day I decided to do a quick study of him because bunnies are, like I said, pretty cute. So I put up a canvas, painted and got almost done before stopping for supper. As I stood in the kitchen talking to my husband we heard the unmistakable sound of a larger animal crashing through hosta leaves and then the unmistakable noise that a rabbit can make. I knew what it was in an instant and ran to the kitchen window to see a feral cat from the neighborhood racing down the sidewalk toward the alley with something larger in its mouth.

I can’t dwell on it. I hate to think about it. I know my pendulum is swaying from far left to far right and back. I know that it is the way of nature. I don’t believe in people letting their cats roam. Everthing deserves a right to live. It is the balance of nature and God’s call, but the bottom line is it began to represent our lack of control in our current environment. We can’t control the feral cat. We can’t control life-and-death. We can’t control anything but our own actions and our response to the uncontrollable.

I was sad for a bit, and then finished the little study in hommage to the wee bunny for he made me happy for our short part in it all.

For your enjoyment, the painting is an 11×14 oil on canvas called, “Hommage”

Missing our historical friends.

Ordinarily, this time of the year reenactors get together in great celebretory encampments all over the United States to talk history, smell good wood smoke, buy fine wares from historical craftsmen, and catch up on what everyone has been up to. History lovers have such a wide variety of special interests to bring to the table and in the living history communities especially, the variety is broad. Living history reenactors are often full time professionals in the trades, or we are teachers, doctors, librarians, artists or a myriad of other roles, but our common ground is a love of history.

Spring is the time to share about what we’ve researched over the winter, show what we’ve created or built, and to brag on new attire we have sewn. We talk of hunts, and purchases, new babies and the passing of old friends.

Like any close knit community, and believe me living history reenactors are a close knit family, we miss each other. We talk about seeing each other on Facebook and we call each other on the phone and we sit around in zoom and face time rooms showing each other quillwork and leatherwork and paintings …talking about when this will be over.

It’s hard… but we count on knowing that hard times pass. I have dozens of people that I only see in these settings but find myself extremely fond of. Some are brilliant and loving individuals, from all walks of life, and all capabilities, and all denominations of faith, and representing all of the peoples of mankind.

Unfortunately, the economic effects of this widespread illness may be the undoing of some small businesses in historical communities. In these new and unusual times of staying safe by staying away from each other, the living history communities cannot orchestrate large gatherings of camping historians (often a 100 or more tents) in a field or two. With events cancelling, the vendors in camp who have sown and hammered and created all Winter cannot now sell their wares to the other living historians. This is not just a hobby for them and these people do not have other professions. Living history IS their small business. Still they must pay their mortgages and buy their food just as any local small business owner we know must do.

It’s a helpless feeling to not be able to help small businesses in times like these. We find ourselves doing curbside pick up at our favorite restaurant knowing that it may help them sustain.

When you think of ordering online, I would encourage you to think about some of the small living history based businesses, artisans, and craftspeople you know and reach out to their websites. Look at what they’ve been doing and purchase directly on their secure sites. Help these historians who support themselves in a small business.

Today’s painting is a reminiscent little study, oil on canvas, of two of my friends sitting around a campfire at an event last summer. It is titled, “It was a good day, wasn’t it? “.

Workflows and other new regimes.

“Make peace with imperfection”. This is one of the phrases I took away from an online teaching group discussion I attended today. While certainly a true phrase for trying to deliver content in an online teaching environment, especially if the transition has been rapid and without warning like this Spring has been, it hit me how applicable it is in painting. I am notorious for worrying a subject to death and not stopping soon enough, thereby striving for perfection and falling terribly short.

I also know that another phrase that came out of that meeting, “less is more” (remeniscent of Meis logic) is also applicable. Instead of trying to show everything that you are capable of as a painter in one piece, stick to the synthesis, or simple way. It’s exactly what plein aire is all about. In that style you look, judge, synthesize, and quickly capture the impression of what you’re seeing. Small studies in the studio follow the same principle. So while I’m listening and watching a zoom meeting, my mind is jumping to a next lesson on canvas.

Our new normal is a blend of teaching and learning with one job and having that job be embedded in your home environment, complete with all of the new tasks and precautions of the pandemic. When we get groceries they come into the house and get processed in an assembly line of wiping and disinfecting and all fresh produce gets washed in the stainless steel sinks and dried in the drainer.

Timing in learning is part of the integration process. My worlds collided today. If you need subject matter for your paintings, you are literally surrounded by thousands of chances to ply your trade. Today’s painting is the merge of what I learned in my meetings and what we now do in our home work flow.

This piece is an 8 by 10 oil on canvas called, “Quarantine Still-life” (or, now everything gets washed)