From the time we begin to engage in our world as a small child, and then start school, we find those who will admonish us if we spend too much time daydreaming. We’re told to be practical, pay attention, focus, make a plan, and develop stick-to-it-tive-ness. These are all quite admirable of course and necessary traits for success in life. I would say, however, that there is an equally vital component for success… imagination.
Imagination is born in play; unscripted and spontaneous play. It is also a skill developed over time that gives our life both foundation and wings, equally. Most importantly of all, it is not exclusive. Absolutely everyone has the access, and the capability to play and grow their imagination. It can become the unpredictable element that lifts the successful to the notable, and the admirable to the extraordinary in the most incremental action or creation.
Over the years there have been those who have growing concerns over the level of scripted creativity now found in play. The images are prescribed, the dialogue is written, the songs are complete, and little is left to the imagination. The concern is that if we do not learn how to fill in enough of the images or stories from within our own imagination we will not learn how to create our own. It could also be said, however, that by giving us stories and images as seeds – however complete – they prime the pump for future creativity. Perhaps both are accurate?
We need to dream. We need to write and draw and build and imagine beyond what we know, absolutely. Dreams are how inventions are made real. Dreams are how we reach beyond our perceived limitations. Dreams are our freedom from confines.
Today’s painting in the ‘Play’ series is an 8″ x 10″ oil on canvas of a dog who is the main character in a children’s story, one of several I will publish someday.
Following in the same venue of taking concerted steps towards slowing down, resetting, and choosing to move ahead on a more optimistic path, I’ve decided to simply play again.
I guess if an artist decides to methodically paint with a common theme or statement, those works can be considered a series. I don’t know that I have any particular statement to make but I think I may be moving into a series. The grand label for the series may just be, play. Those who know me, know I love painting animals, birds, and the like (maybe less so fish). Truthfully, it is calming. It may be as simple as their color range is broad and extravagant and the textures to their skin, scales, feathers and fur is always relaxing for me. Visually repetative and tactile work contributes to my calm.
I decided to think back to a really fun time over a year ago when I went to see the interactive bird exhibition at the local conservancy and paint those birds. It was truly a delightful and exciting experience to be in this confined area with a little cup of special treat juice and have these colorful birds land all over me, hopping and making huge noise and grabbing all of the treat that I had in my hand. It’s one of those ‘giggle to yourself and get charlie horses in your cheeks from smiling’, moments.
I hope you enjoy my quick capture of a happy memory on this 7″ x 14″ oil on canvas called “Keats”.
So as I think about what I need to do to sort things out I immediately remember something my dad used to tell me over and over when I would get overwhelmed. If I had a lot of tasks at hand looking like insurmountable challenges, he would quietly say, “… just stop. Take your time. Rather than look at everything you have to do all at once, break it down. Look at things one piece at a time.”
That particular approach is not unique to my father. I have heard the concept repeated a number of ways over the years but having someone I respect remind me of that has continued to help me my whole life. I can get overwhelmed by the appearance of magnitude. I need to be reminded to stop for a moment, and take my time.
I am a list maker and that can be good or bad. On the good side it’s a very organized way to articulate and identify all the things I need to do, and as I finish something I can make a check mark next to it. That’s satisfying and encouraging. When it gets hard is when your list grows expotentialy, becoming unwieldy. It begins to grow out of control and each day you just add to the list, try to pick up speed to get a handle on it, and you may not get to make any check marks. Well that’s no fun! It can be suddenly overwhelming.
Tonight I am sitting on my back screen porch looking out at the last rays of today’s sunlight. It is the first sun we’ve really been able to enjoy in some time and it is uplifting. I was thinking last night about what my father had said about stopping and taking my time, and realized that I needed to do that.
I need to stop the inertia. I need to be self aware. Painting has the duality of both catharsis and illustration, the latter sometimes giving the captured negative bits too much traction. So when I put a canvas in front of me last night I decided that I needed to paint something that was defusing and positive again. I needed to take my time.
So what I painted last night is simply a portrait of a cow. There is no cloaked message, no statement, and no internal angst being processed. It is a step towards my inner peace. It is me calming down and hitting a reset button. It is an exercise in pushing paint around. It is play. It is art. It is honoring the other part of Kelly that sees joy and beauty in absolutely everything. That is the person that I need to feed and nurture and protect because that is the person who will persevere.
I hope you enjoy this 11″ by 14″ oil on canvas called “Cow”.
Here it is the first weekend of a New Year and because we still don’t have the opportunity to run out and play easily, we are home. The quiet time actually lends itself very well to thinking. I agree, thinking is something that we profess to do continually but I’m referring to that deep consideration that we do when we are not distracted.
We may take the time off to work on a hobby, or call friends or family, or we might do what is referred to as contemplation and introspection. All of them are quite worthy.
Because of the New Year I find myself doing what is considered “counting my blessings” today. As I sat at my easel yesterday and today finishing up the first painting of the New Year, it has allowed me to think, and be thankful.
I go back to work tomorrow and have found myself truly thankful for the time I’ve had off over the holidays. I am thankful I have a good job with benefits. I am thankful that that job helps afford us a good home with heat and lights and other more playful amenities. I am thankful that my work has introduced me to people who will, in all probability, remain lifelong friends. I am thankful that my job also allows me to meet and interact with any number of employees and students and colleagues, each with their unique gifts and challenges to my perspectives. I am thankful that God has given me my art. I am thankful for a husband who is not merely compatible with me, but is a wonderful compliment, and completion to me. I am thankful for the people that I know, the family that I have, and a 1000 other wonderful things that I could start listing. I often don’t feel worthy of the abundant blessings that I have been given.
So I will close by saying thank you to all who have given me gifts of friendship, food for thought, healthy criticism, and motivation to grow and become better. I also thank those of you who have given me permission to paint your image as this young woman did for me in December. I intend to use 2021 to grow in my proficiency, and stretch my limitations as a painter.
In less than a week we will begin a new year. We are always hopeful that somehow this invisible line in the sand caused by the flip of a calendar will somehow cause a miraculous shift to the better. The excitement and hope that we all experience causes us to make a plan, make a list, make amends, and universally go into the New Year with a tremendous level of optimism and determination.
Tabula rosa, the clean slate. I, myself, am right there with plans like that each year. In this approaching year it feels even more necessary. I suspect there’s not anyone reading this that won’t be happy to see 2020 in our rear view mirror, but I wonder why we’re so focused on a singular, set date to begin?
Yes, this has been a hard year for a myriad of reasons, all slightly different for each of us depending on our own circumstances and emotional state. I struggled, as many have, but am determined to be grateful for all of the blessings I have received. I enjoyed my Christmas Day with my husband and cooked and ate and watched some television. I also started this painting. I had begun to think about the year ahead and sat down at the canvas to push some paint around while I thought.
Sometimes the years are mundane, only becoming as good as we pre-determine them to be. Oh, I know, there are those things we have no control over (like illness) but we inadvertantly set limits based on our limited vision. What if we truly start over and remove the ceiling? I have to say that by this point in the year I am positive that the next year will be better than ever, and I feel the most control. Maybe that’s where I make my mistake. I’m not in control and really shouldn’t try to be because I will always aim low based on my limited vision.
As I started to paint I was thinking about my love for the dramatic sunrise, sunset, water reflection or shine and I realized that in all of those scenarios the light is already fully engaged and somewhat predictable. I enjoy painting light in full splendor. However, there is something truly amazing and inspiring to view emerging light that begins when you are in the darkness. If you’re in the woods, especially in the middle of the Winter when it gets very dark early and stays dark later, that darkness can be very deep. When dawn starts to grow the first little bit you are literally thrilled to be able to differentiate between solid and the space between limbs, branches and voids. Then, there is that magical moment just before you actually see the source of the light, but you can begin to see the effect of the light. The limbs and the edges of the branches begin to reveal because of what you can’t yet see, and wherever the light hits new snow it becomes almost luminescent in a joyous response to the light. As light increases, so does color. It is … awesome.
I must admit that I don’t believe I fully captured on canvas what I had in my head but it was good practice and good to think. I will no doubt try to capture this predawn time of day again sometime because the hope of this first light is very much like the first day of a New Year. It does not, cannot, and should not attempt to predict the weather for the day, the temperament of the month ahead, or the forecast of events for the year but we forgive the beginning of a day or the beginning of a year because we know that noone or nothing can see the future. We forgive because it did, after all, start out with pure hope like we do.
It’s up to us whether we sustain that new hope, impact the next month with our stockpiled supply of new hope, and potentially set a good course for the rest of the year. Moreover, we are not limited to one calendar day and doomed to wait until we start again. New beginnings are repeatable. Despite what looked like a disastrous year, we have done good things both large and small. Whether you’ve stayed healthy, calmer or resiliently upbeat, you have a proven record of successes every day to show for it. You have endured. You have loved. You have become stronger.
Make this New Year like that of the first new light of the day; full of new hope. If we stumble out of the gate, start again.
I share this image with its flaws and struggles much like the passing year as an excercise in pondering – a 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas entitled, Dawn in the Dark Wood.
As this most unusual year comes to a close, let me take this moment to thank all of you who have followed and supported me as I share my art. May you all have a blessed Christmas and may the next year be one of peace and hope.
Gosh, I miss spontaneity. I miss road trips to wander off grid with little pre-prep. I miss unrestricted play. I suspect I will never take those things for granted again.
Until this year many of us struggled to make time in our busy schedules to set up a weekend play date with friends, or pencil in a vacation on a company calendar. We made do with the quick picnic or bike outing. We hurriedly gathered for a campfire and guitar evening or a luncheon date with friends because we understood the balance that we needed between our work and our play. It’s a hard thing to do under normal circumstances.
Now, in this year of extra complicated challenges, it feels astronomical to plan and even harder to pull off the simplest event. We’re constrained by shifting business environments, by demands to our overtaxed financial status, and by a strange fuzziness of what is considered time off work. We mix going to the office and working from home and go through daily gyrations to figure out how much of the time working from home can be verified. It all feels like the ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears/witnesses…’ conversation. It all feels hard.
Dining with friends has become more than the spontaneity of picking up the phone and saying, “what are you doing tonight?” Now it becomes, “where should we meet… when can we meet… what has your behavior been for the last 10 to 14 days… what’s the temperature outside… is your sitter in quarantine?” The novelty of strict discipline has worn off and the Christmas holiday is coming. Even though we know we need to think about any time spent with others, it comes at the same time that we are tired and wanting to go rogue and gamble. Consideration of others over self is certainly being put to the test now.
I yearn for the luxury of coming home from work and saying “gosh let’s just go out …who feels like cooking”. For the spontaneity of “let’s just go camping this weekend.” “Let’s go see our friends.” “Let’s get in the Van and drive for 2 weeks knowing that we can get gas, can be at a hotel if we want to, can eat at a greasy spoon off some interstate if we want to, can go into a little shop and walk around for distraction or buy some sundry that we forgot. I miss the spontaneity of sitting beside a lake or river and finding the mental and emotional stimulation that resets our priorities.
Any envy of retired friends that tell me that they’ve been walking along the lake shore, biking through the woods, or strolling on a beach is short lived because I know they are only slightly less impacted than I am since they don’t go to a workplace. Self motivation, self entertainment and even the determination to stay positive is a genuine struggle for us all. It is hard not to throw up my hands and say I’m done, but in truth I am way too stubborn to get this far around the track, see the finish line out ahead of me, and quit!
I appreciate the humor people share. I appreciate the uplifting memes they send. I appreciate the photography of everything from kittens to cabins to stare at. We all get it. We all mask our emotions along with the lower half of our faces to everyone except family, and coworkers in zoom. It is not easy to be spontaneous with Zoom and not all friends and family have the capability, inclination or hardware. Some of my snow bird friends have flown South, and others are putting up their Christmas decorations now. We cannot just go visit and the holiday cheer feels a bit less festive in Brady bunch configurations.
I sat down at the easel yesterday and struggled to find a photo that I wanted to paint. This ‘tired to the core’ feeling is a hard one to stare down, but I felt calmer when I started to look through my phone photos. I do look forward to the day when I can go out and breathe fresh air and see the abundant loveliness in nature but scrolling these I recalled moments that Ray and I just pulled the van over beside a lovely meandering river and felt the peace that this brought. Many of these photos had nothing dramatic about them such as a colorful sunset, rock formation, waterfall or unique creature, but were just what they were, a snapshot of a peaceful moment in afternoon sun.
Perhaps I am numbed by too much drama in my every day. Perhaps I have reduced the importance of how a quiet, spontaneous moment allows you to you look and see subtle beauty. I don’t need a big plan or a long drive, all I need is the impromptu glance out my kitchen window at the birdfeeder. I’ve got to remember not to amplify what I cannot have right now, and focus instead on what I can have. This challenging time will pass and we can go back to our adventures. That spontaneity of a road trip will be worth celebrating, but in the meantime we can endure.
This is a 16″ by 20″ oil on canvas called ‘Roadside Break.”
There has always been a romance affiliated to the act of correspondence. We are intrigued by the images in paintings of a woman sitting at a writing desk, pen in hand, writing a family member or sweetheart. There is evident body language and a transparency of emotion in her face that yearns for reveal.
This kind of writing goes above and beyond the utility of passing information from one person to another. It is the latter mechanism by which we do business, write those formal letters of recommendation, and do legal transactions. It is also true that this utility has sustained itself through emails, texts, tweets and any other digitally transmitted initiatives, and has evolved into another form of correspondence that dilutes the author and disconnects them from their targeted audience.
But let me pause my diatribe and focus for a moment on how lost the core art may be. We don’t have to look as far back as 1803. We can look in our near distant past with parents who still wrote the sweet greetings, the thank you notes, the letters to pen pals in some other country, or to the boy that they liked across study hall, albeit only in their diary. Prose and poetry still held true spots in our vocabulary and penmanship was still taught in school. Stepping back more generations we can look at our grandparents or great grandparents. There was no computer technology so all writing stood for who we were. There was no condemnation for emotion, but there was for the art of penmanship and English sentence structure. These were the basic tools of good communication.
I grew up watching my parents write. Since our family was a fair distance from the core families, they wrote long chatty letters to relatives to keep them abreast of what was going on. They didn’t pick up the phone and fill them in quickly in snippets sentences. They wrote their stories. They expressed their emotions. They put it on paper. They brought you along through a transformation.
From the moment you received the post to the quiet drawdown into a letter when you opened it, it was ceremonious. When you got a special letter you excitedly lay it down beside your chair and went to make that cup of tea because it was expected to honor the gift. Reading was to be an intimate experience, done with eloquence and ceremony. It took time both to compose your thoughts to write, and to imagine the writer as you read their words.
Both my parents had beautiful handwriting, Parker born and bred. My mother’s handwriting was pure artistic poetry. It would follow along with a solid baseline and a fluid scroll and sadly, it was the 1st thing that she started to lose as the dementia began to wash over her in her latter years. She lost the ability to remember how to write in cursive and it broke her heart in a way that I never could have imagined. Writing is that personal touch between the author and the recipient. For her to be able to write friends or relatives and express her opinions in her own hand was important. She spoke boldly and graciously through her writing.
I think about literally sitting and watching my aged grandmother’s hands as she wrote. I think about my mother’s hands as she wrote, and my father’s hands as he wrote. In his later years he knew how absolutely important this process was. As a pastor he knew what a personal, emotional touch that a hand written note can have on a person’s heart. It was vital. I watched him write back to every single Christmas card. I watched him write back to every single get well wish that he would get in the mail. Yes, he typed e-mails, his sermons and his weekly bulletins well into his later years, but oh my word what an eloquent writer.
I’ve had several friends over the years who have talked about this with me and one dear friend, Lorie, and I tried to reestablish writing letters. We knew that we could pick up the phone and we could talk for an hour and I would heartily say that we loved those moments, but we also knew that special joy of mail and as we talked on the phone we would say “no I’m saving that one for the letter”. We would send 3 and 4 page letters back-and-forth monthly. She understood me, and loved me despite my flaws so she would overlook my spelling, and run on sentences, and she would see past it to the passion of my heart. There aren’t too many now that are willing to restart that kind of thing. I lost that friend far too early on, just as I’ve lost my parents and my grandmother and others who still believed in the strength and wonder of correspondence.
When was the last time you get out a piece of paper and an envelope and you wrote someone you cared about just to say “hello my friend”? When have you written to say, “I was thinking of you”? I guarantee that you interact on Facebook, Twitter, or email at best. Our correspondence is confined to shared jokes, images and links. If you allow your emotions to show they may be confined to a single emoji. If you really feel strongly about the person they may warrant several emojis in a string. I do it myself. I completely understand, but I also find myself very sad and nostalgic. We exist in anonymity and parrot others’ words.
As for myself, I am afraid to reveal my stream of conscious writing style and the poor spelling that often emerges as a result. Correspondence without spellcheck for me becomes a matter of emotional trust that my recipient will not judge me too harshly and see beyond the errors. It is a bittersweet sadness.
Today’s painting is a 16″ by 20″ oil on canvas called My Father’s Hands.
On this day, the first of a long holiday weekend designated for giving thanks, I find myself spending time at my easel thinking, painting and praying. My thoughts are all over the place, and prompting emotions that range from a gentle low sigh to fleeting angry criticisms.
I am exhausted, anxious, and drained and wish I could just stay home every day and pretend that there is nothing wrong in the world. Denial has a great appeal. I am also hopeful, encouraged and unwaveringly optimistic that these challenges will pass and leave us feeling relieved and ready to renew our best lives. I also realize I am impatient.
The last nine months have been hard for everyone, all around the world. The pandemic is sickening and killing rampantly. Jobs and livelihoods are broadly effected. The economy is uncertain and the people are divided by politics. Families are threatened with hunger and displacement and when people are frightened and feel threatened, fear can often manifest in redirected anger. We want to blame someone, anyone, and declare an end to all of this.
Now is actually the hardest time since this began. We are tired and we want life to return to normal. It is getting colder and darker and the holidays leave us feeling desperate to be with friends and family. Instead if giving up and lashing out in anger, let us close our eyes and take a moment to find positive things to focus on. It’s hard but we need to be determined to count our blessings, not just today but again tomorrow, and again the next day.
I am grateful. I am grateful for enough. Enough food, heat and shelter. Enough work, structure and networking. I am grateful for the extra blessings of entertainment, hobbies, and toys to help pass the time and distract me from hardship.
Most of all I am grateful for love. Love between friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Love between spouses and partners, parents and children, siblings and extended family. Love between strangers who understand how vital repairing this God directed connection truly is, for all of us.
This is a hard time but it can be easier when we stop the escalation of negativity and count our blessings instead. Determnation to focus on the good things in your life is how you can regain control over your reaction to what you cannot control.
Seek peace. Share love. Build a grateful heart.
This painting is a 10″ x 20″ oil on canvas called, A Grateful Heart.