Choosing your response to change.

Change is inevitable. Good or bad, it will occur. We rarely have the ability to deter the change but we may have the power to lessen the negative impact to some degree by our reaction to it. How it affects us longterm is most assuredly affected by choices we make.

We can either be agile enough to move with it like the colored leaf on the surface of a tumbling creek, or we can choose to be the rock and spend our energy holding fast against the water in a Scissorphean stance and let the water ravage us until we break or wear down. To stubbornly resist change is exhausting and relatively pointless.

I propose to you – decide which you will be before change is upon you. What if you choose to be the leaf? Choose to be agile and take the proactive, optimistic perspective before you land on the surface of the water? As that leaf, what if you choose instead to enjoy the breeze blowing you through the air? What if you choose to enjoy the perspective of the sun on your surroundings in an ever changing view as you fall? What if you enjoy the delightful change in temperature as you approach the water? What if you celebrate the fun and rapid movement once you’ve landed and you swirl away down the creek to new adventures and new beginnings?

The paintings that I’ve been doing lately have been reflections of my inner thought process – sitting and thinking about my next steps and my reactions to change. I have also been thinking of people that I know who live in a spirit of positive reaction. Living with an optimistic perspective has an absolutely evidentiary impact on our life; our reaction to change, our stress levels, our potential for happiness in the face of challenge, and our ability to spin our futures in a positive direction.

I am blessed to know many positive souls and am grateful for it.

The painting above is of a young woman that I admire. I have watched her grow into a most lovely woman, both inside and out, and her beauty comes from the joy that emanates from her face and is reflected in her smile. It is one of my strongest opinions that people are the most beautiful and/or handsome when they smile. That joy is a powerful force that affects both herself, and those around her. It can become a driving force that is cyclical and self escalating.

No, I don’t think she actually owns chickens but chickens somehow make me happy and make me feel a connection to simpler times. Thanks to my model, Hannah, for your infectious joy.

This painting is a 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas called, “Hannah’s Heart”.

Are you OK? Yes, I believe I am.

That’s a question that I would never again answer flippantly. If I have learned nothing else from the past year and a half it would be that no one can predict what will happen next, and speaking thoughtfully and truthfully has value beyond measure. It has been incredibly hard, even debilitating and life changing for so very many people. It is not easy to find anything good to say about the affect of a worldwide health crises, but despite all of the negative aspects, I must say that I am now being able to identify some positive effects it has had on me.

Knowing that I had to think about all of my actions, all of my words, and all of my intents, made me a more careful and thoughtful person. I may not have taken the time or I may have procrastinated making the changes that I was forced to make. Yes, we had to wear masks to keep from infecting each other with this evil virus. Yes, the restrictions affected our ability to move freely in society as we worked collectively and selflessly to control the spread. It also slowed me down and made me take the time to evaluate myself, my aspirations, my selfishness, and the impact that I have on everyone around me through my opinions and my actions. I also became more aware of these impacts from others.

This time has helped me take my relationship with my sweetheart to a deeper level, and I am heartwarmed and grateful. We have played together and talked together and dreamed together like new lovers. The painting above is just one of dozens I have captured of places from our driving adventures.

My art has also become more important for me. I am painting more, maturing and evolving faster, and becoming better in a way I might not have been able to do if I hadn’t been slowed down drastically. I am painting broad subject matter, and experimenting with color, style, and method. I am always learning and growing now and increasingly optimistic that I will eventually be recognized. The painting below is an oil study I’ll call, “Breakfast”.

Later in the year I will be taking my art history knowledge to a public event (Platteville, Wisconsin) setting up original work at an outdoor art fair (Greenwich Villiage Art Fair in Rockford, Illinois), and showing at an Outlander Convention (Thru the Stones in Davenport, Iowa).

Are you OK? Yes, I believe I am. Am I different? Yes, I believe I am that as well and I am grateful for the good changes I am now undergoing. It’s been a tough year but it’s time to breathe, celebrate life’s riches, and move forward. I am OK and I believe I will just keep getting better.

Honoring those who we lose.

Mankind, by our very nature, has a tendency for various rituals and belief systems based on honoring those who have gone before. Over millennia, these have been based on our theology or cultural norms and personally, having been raised in a Christian based belief system that designates heaven as the hoped-for goal, I grew up with a pretty clear image of that place.

I suspect that every one of us has some variation on that eventual place of perfection in our minds that is rooted in our spiritual readings or stories and motivates us to stay the course and win the prize. I know I do. As a woman of faith, heaven is absolutely in my plan.

Now, the variations of what heaven is, exactly, or how one gains entry, and a number of other proprietary criteria tend to be the literal root of dissension among all of the various faith systems. Sadly, it becomes competitively discriminating and fearfully defended without regard, by self-appointed human bouncers.

I believe I will see my parents again, and dear relatives, and even people I have admired for their intellect or spirit or love. I rarely admire anyone for their status or material accumulation and have long since leaned into the ‘actions speak louder than words’ rubric with a sans-theatrical filter. Cons just don’t impress me, and rarely fool me anymore if I’m paying attention.

My thoughts today, however, are focused more on one small thread of who may or may not be deemed worthy of entry through the gates of heaven. I believe, and I do qualify this as my belief, that heaven is also populated by all of the other sweet creatures that God lovingly created here on Earth. Yes, I believe that all of these animals, birds, and delightful creatures are also living happily in heaven.

I believe that heaven is governed by God’s law, and is complete with His peace without regard to any of the human interpreted qualifiers. We suspect this in our hearts as we share stories of beloved pets walking the rainbow bridge ahead of us, of them running to greet us when we arrive, and of the peace between all of God’s creatures in the nirvana that it’s heaven.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who spoke about the eventual loss of his horses, who are quite aged. I understand. It made me think about some of the wonderful, loving cats I’ve had and how sincerely grief stricken I have felt when I lost them. My common voice assured me they were just pets but my spiritual voice said far more. People who have seen that unconditional love coming from the eyes of an animal can easily relate to the unconditional love our Father has for us. God doesn’t work through coincidences but instead, gives us tangible lessons, demonstrations to help us understand concepts at the edge of our comprehension. This world He created for us is for more than food and shelter, it is here for us to learn and prepare for heaven…. and believe me, He really is watching, and impossible to con.

Today’s painting is a 5″ x 7″ oil on canvas board called, ‘Warm welcome’.

What are the art rules, actually?

I have always had a tendency to follow the rules. I don’t say that with any embarrassment or boastfulness, it just happens to be my tendency. I believe that in order to be a fruitful member of society we all need to follow some rules.

When I was little I knew that I was supposed to come in right after dusk or the last red light green light game was over. I knew that I was supposed to have a bath on certain days. I knew that I was supposed to eat my peas and not hide them behind the curtain in the kitchen. I knew that I couldn’t stay home from school and say I was sick but then turn around and feel OK later in the day and want to play outside. Rules were simple then, but straightforward. I learned right from wrong, good from bad, and the basic rules for good behavior.

From our childhood we move on through life, learning more and more of the subtle nuances of rules of engagement and acceptance. We learn the dance that is interaction with peers through school. We learn how to navigate the very delicate rules of the workplace that involve everything from personal interaction with colleagues to political steps for career mobility. We have to quickly adapt and learn the rules of each unique environment.

In my particular case, because of my heart’s inclination, I chose the visual arts. It, like most other career paths, have their own set of rules and when it comes to making the art itself, that has its own as well.

Early on it was pretty easy. No one expected me to follow predetermined steps since they knew I was exploring. Creativity allows for fewer rules but as soon as I started demonstrating that this was a lifelong path, the rules began to emerge in earnest, shifting elusively. The message appeared to shift from mentor to mentor, art history lesson to art history lesson, and region to region. I was confused.

As I reached middle age I found myself more and more anxious to seek out the advice from mature artists. Having spent almost 25 years in the graphic design industry as an illustrator, I felt like I didn’t know the rules for the fine arts. I was in my mid forties when I was able to return to college to finish my bachelor’s degree and I was hoping for clear direction. The advice I got from the professors, however, was actually all over the board and I learned my 1st solid lesson in subjectivity. The rules depend on everyone’s opinion.

With great fervor I was told that there are definite rules! Mandates always began with “You must…”! I was told to …focus on one medium, …focus on one topic or subject, …focus on one style, …focus on one era or artist to emulate, and so on. The rules became equally endless and diverse, and accumulated fast. In no time I was completely frozen.

It’s my tendency, as I said before, to follow rules but I felt that I couldn’t possibly comply. I was awakening and realizing a rapidly expanding diversity of what I wanted to do; to sculpt, to paint, to draw, and so much more. I wanted to explore realism, pointillism, expressionism, impressionism, and photorealism. I could no more settle on a favorite style then I could choose a favorite color or a favorite food. It’s based on my mood and the day and my chemistry. I was told that I was truly impossible.

My peers who seemed to get it were on their way; recommended for the teaching positions in grad school, recommended for financial support, and assisted in establishing teaching career paths. As for me, my naivete and non conformity shut the door to any funding for a potential teaching career in the arts.

Now more than 25 years have passed and I am nearing retirement from a different career and focusing on reemerging as an artist. In anticipation I began seeking the counsel of other artists several years ago and discovered again they have rules for me. I’ve had them tell me they can still see my tight style from my pen and ink days as an illustrator and I must stop that. I am told that I’m too slow because of my attention to detail. They remind me of the art rules I have heard my whole life and finally begin to understand.

I am, and have always been, an artist. It is less about profession and more about who I am. I am older now. I am less inclined to try to please others above myself. I’m realizing that the rules that the other artists tried to help me find were the rules that they had chosen to adopt because they made sense for them. None of those artists or professors or peers acted with malicious intent. They were trying to help me find my way. In fact, I was so anxious to please by following the rules that I made my own barriers. Life aggregates what has gone before and we must pick up a piece here and a piece there of what’s right for us and fold them in to be our best selves.

I’m finally becoming who I am supposed to be. Practice and time have done what advice could not. I am faster and looser now and it makes me a better painter. I think and evaluate more quickly now because I have been doing it longer and improved over time. I have resolved to paint what I like more often then I paint to please others and my emotion reflects that. Perhaps I have merely started to find my compromise with the rules. What I must say most definitely is that there may not be rules, actually. In art, rules are recommendations, observations, and guidance but not a script. We must be true to our art and to ourselves.

Today’s painting is a reflection of my current mood and aggregation. It’s a little bit loose and a little bit tight and a whole lotta Kelly. This 16″ x 20″, oil on canvas titled “Contemplations”.

Long range planning.

We often use the term, “long range planning” as a way to establish a series of actions – a plan so to speak – that allows us to organize a sequence of events over time to achieve a goal. Strategic plans and project planning and project management are all part of that action terminology. I’m kind of a list maker anyway so making plans like that are always something that appeals to me, even if I don’t formally write it down.

When it comes to my personal life, that’s a little harder to do. If there is an identified goal I can work backwards to make a plan that involves saving for an item to buy or I can make a plan for how to pull off a vacation that involves making hotel reservations, or looking at maps and brochures. If it is something about the house I can look at a calendar and decide what chunk of time might be free to get some task done. These are all valid but are also things that are completely based on my control over the time and process.

What about the strategic planning for going after the elusive dream? We may start making a plan when we’re young that is no more structured than a wishlist but somehow we still find ourselves performing the corrections along the way to still keep that dream in sight. Because life is so unpredictable we rarely set down a hard-and-fast path toward that dream because we know that we can get derailed if it’s too structured. It’s the agility that allows the odds for success to go up.

No, I’m not talking about performing tasks for certification or getting degrees for a particular occupation. Things like that need preparation, planning, financial investment and more. If, however, your dream is to be a successful lawyer there are 2 parallel project plans. One entails the action steps going to school, paying for the degree, networking, and internships while you’re in school. All of those are necessary and wise planning steps. I’m talking about the 2nd more elusive plan that has to parallel it. That plan is the dream plan. That’s where you talk to people at various stages while becoming what you want to become. You get advice. You are mentored. You read things, listen to podcasts, talk over coffee, and you pick up lots of little kernels of information to make the plan. It is that bag of kernels that helps you be agile enough to achieve the long term goal.

I had an art professor tell me one time that he didn’t spend a lot of time mentoring me and in fact made my life pretty miserable because he knew I was “in it for the long haul”. That’s a double-edge sword. I was flattered that he knew I was serious and would not be deterred from my dream. I was also furious that he did not want to give me any advice or mentorship toward that goal. In hindsight I think he was actually threatened by me. That’s a whole other topic that I’ll address at some other time. Suffice to say I am out here still plugging away and I have stopped watching the chronology. The long haul can mean anything.

I have no idea anymore what time frame I’m working under. Periodically along the way I look into my little bag of kernels and realize how much I’ve learned. There are times when I’ve used some of them to adjust my path and be sure that I’m still headed for the dream. There are other times that I worry about them having an expiration date, but that’s just fretting. It’s my slow realization that the joy is the journey and the journey is the dream. So for today I’m going to celebrate and be thankful and keep on walking the dream. I’m going to plan strategically for tomorrow and the next day because I am, after all, in it for the long haul.

Enjoy your tomorrow. Celebrate your tomorrow. I hope you enjoy today’s painting -a quick oil sketch- of a Friesian horse.

Growing Pains – the next step.

The conversation that I mentioned having had in the last post, challenged my comfort zone. That is a good thing. When I am challenged I do not view it as an attack but rather as a welcomed catalyst for change.

My friend, an accomplished plein-aire painter himself, suggested that I choose one subject (such as a fire hydrant) and paint it repeatedly so that it becomes more about the process than about the subject. My work experience as an illustrator has actually rooted my artwork in the subject. I don’t think my friend was questioning the validity of me being a subject painter but rather the priority the subject had over my act of painting. He implied that this could inhibit any next-step development that I might seek. I agree that this is true. Learning to move past naturally occurring sticking points, such as fixating on the subject and for me, the story, can in fact weaken my work.

In order to respond to a challenge I first think hard about what was said, and then whether it is applicable. The exercise of doing that – actually articulating in my own mind what makes the comment accurate or inaccurate – forces me to examine it. If it is even partly true then I need to decide if it is something I want to keep and own, or something that needs to be modified, changed, or even discarded. That is the fundamental concept behind any growth.

I found that this comment struck home. I spent an entire 1st career drawing exactly what the client wanted, what the catalog demanded, or what the story needed. As an illustrator, my role was to accurately present the subject, not my interpretation of it. Now, what that means to me is that I need to be aware of the relationship my past has to my current work. I don’t need to embrace the complete dismissal of subject because it is, in fact, part of what makes me – me. It is perfectly valid, however, for me to be aware of this challenge in my work. Growth can mean finding that mid ground.

I am a representational artist and will remain so, but to achieve my next level of expertise I need to strengthen the marriage between subject and process. In the end it will allow me to relax and enjoy the process of painting, and the viewer to connect themselves more readily to the images and the comfort of an identified object.

So I hope you enjoy this small series of oil sketches. It is my exercise for subject and process alignment through subject repetition, a tool that I will continue to use periodically to help me improve.

Thanks for the challenge and the motivation. Onward I go.

Growing pains and fire hydrants.

Regardless what it is, it is always interesting to me when I reach another of life’s directional markers. I am always surprised. Even though subliminally I knew another tectonic shift was coming because I was paying attention and I knew it was about time, I am surprised. I don’t necessarily like change. Change equates to the unknown and that’s unnerving. I can’t predict how big the change will be and that’s scary. I can’t gauge how frequently the next changes may come so I can’t prepare. I can’t control change. I feel off kilter.

I’ve spent some time recently thinking about where my art is going, noticing how I’m evolving, and wondering what might happen to my art if I retire from my day job at some point? Is my work going in the right direction? Is it getting better? It’s uncomfortable territory and yet I think about an old Chinese quote I read once, “Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still.”

Yesterday, I had a great conversation with a friend of mine and I am still mulling it all over, processing and internalizing what I will choose to keep and use, and what is useful in helping me write my own script. It is a real gift any time a friend lets down their guard and talks straight on at you. You’re gonna get higher peaks and lower valleys and the benefits will increase proportionately. I came away from the conversation motivated, validated, and ready to lean into building the new path. I was also unsettled, frightened and somewhat depressed. Now before you either get empathetic or angry at the friend, I will qualify with “I asked for it” and “I am celebrating all of those feelings”. I am grateful.

I have to smile because I think of how my father would often tell me, “… if you sit through a sermon and as you walk away you aren’t feeling uncomfortable or conflicted somehow, the preacher wasn’t doing his job”. God puts people in front of us just as surely as he does good preachers so it’s best just to listen.

I have some time before retirement so this gives me time to transition into the next plan. When daunted, become resolved. Even if I don’t know where the path of change will lead me, I know I must move forward.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” –  Pablo Picasso

True Beauty is Ageless.

It’s sad what our society has deemed beautiful. It it has become synonymous with youth, or body type, or any number of other societal designations. I looked at our wedding pictures and even put one up in my social media page because it’s fun to see us on our wedding day. As I looked at my face and I looked at my husband’s face I saw that they were beautiful. I also realized that the beauty I see is the level of love and happiness coming out of my eyes and my smile that was the beauty, not my age. It was the twinkle in my husband’s eye and the mischievous smile and tilt of his head that was the beauty. Sometimes when I sit at the kitchen table and I see him concentrating I am enthralled. Watching him squint at the laptop screen as he reads the conversations that his students are having about history in his online class, or when he is looking out the window dreaming our next adventure, or even problem solving a task that he wants to accomplish, his face reflects his mind. Here is that same fabulously beautiful face of my brilliant friend. Yes, it is changing. There are different lines, different places for the light to reflect, and even the color of his hair is different. Whiter in bright sunlight than at any other time, it becomes beautiful silver threads and the lines in his face become reflections of that brilliant mind. Perhaps this is the core of the statement, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. If that is the case, and I can assure you that it is, I am thankful to the point of tears that I see beauty in such abundance in everything in my world. I pray to God that this remains my armor against the ugliness that has nothing to do with visual representation. In continuation of gratitude by counting my blessings, I thank God for my husband. I also thank God for my ability to push paint around on a canvas and capture all of the wonderful things He is showing me. I hope you enjoy today’s painting, an 8″ by 10″ oil on canvas study called, “Ray”.

Finding Happiness.

Sometimes that’s a really hard thing to do. It takes tremendous effort, actually, and it feels very selfish. It is also very important.

We see a country in turmoil. We see a plague ravaging the world and reinventing itself to expand the threat. We see people turning against each other to assign blame in a misguided attempt to regain control. We see people struggling with food insecurity, trying to keep their homes and jobs and businesses. We see people looking at what others have and becoming consumed with envy. Looking at all this it is hard to consider feeling anything but dispair and I often feel truly guilty if I say I am happy.

The act of feeling contentment or happiness takes determination and feels contrived. In fact, it isn’t becoming happy that is contrived but it is the difficult, methodical and scripted steps necessary to clear our spirit of the clutter prohibiting us from feeling worthy of happiness, that takes contrivance.

One of the most common ways for me is to focus on all of the good in my life. Yes, if I am trying to be happy I begin by counting my blessings – slowly and reverently. This is not the same as arrogantly flaunting that I have something that someone else doesn’t have. This is not about others at all. Our blessings are unique to each of us, and it is purely and directly about thanking God for each particular blessing we have been gifted. It is personal. It can be hard and must be repeated whenever necessary.

This is a good day for me. I awoke well rested. I can see my home, and the snowy midwestern landscape outside the windows. I am fed, and warm. I have spent the morning painting. I feel joy seeing my husband’s smiling face as he greets me and encourages me just as he has done for the last 35 years. I am truly blessed and immensely thankful. I am happy.

I hope you enjoy today’s painting, a 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas. Perhaps I will title it, Finding Happiness.