Seize the Sieve!

Are there any of you out there who feel like the already-busy internet has turned into a madhouse of adrenaline-addled traffic? For good reason of course, but all the more reason to embrace filtering.

You may be wondering about my title, let me explain. Many years ago, 1992 to be exact, I attended a conference at Omega led by a woman named Judith Duerk. The conference was based on her 1989 book, Circle of Stones, and it was perfect timing for me. I was in the middle of a divorce from a man with whom I had not only shared a life, but had also shared a house and a business. During those seven years of joined-at-the-hip marriage, I seemed to have misplaced my identity. Suddenly I found myself turning forty, newly single, homeless, and unemployed.  I knew something had to be done.

The good news is that conference reconnected me with parts of my soul, my identity,  that had been thoroughly covered up by the busyness of life. Of all the pearls Ms. Duerk offered us that weekend, this story has stayed with me the most deeply. It goes something like this:

“For some of us, and I believe it happens to women a lot, our souls at some point take on a sieve-like character. Thereafter, it seems like all the compliments and loving support we receive starts to runs right through us, as if our comprehension is a sieve, and all that remains in the sieve are the bits that hurt, that need improvement, are behind schedule, or in some way do not measure up. Your job now, from this conference on, for the rest of your life, is to fill in the holes of that sieve, and turn your soul back into a beautiful bowl that can hold all your joy and accomplishments, as well as those challenges that are the spicy, ever changing, natural parts of every life.”

That weekend I saw that somewhere along the line, I had unwittingly embraced a mental filter that was working against me. I had developed Velcro for failures and Teflon for successes, and no amount of psychotherapy was going to really help. The shift was up to me.

Like with so many things, simple awareness can actually be the cure.

For years now, whenever I am feeling low (especially if I am replaying a recent situation that left me feeling ‘less-than’) I think of a sieve. In truth, I actually picture an old, dented aluminum one on my head, and I am forced to lighten up!

Daily journal tools

So here is some putty to help plug up those holes. I have kept a daily journal for most of my life, starting in childhood. A while back I started including an addendum at the end of each day’s entry: I jot down one ‘Proud Of.’

It can be tangible (like a task completed), or an intangible (like handling a difficult situation with more grace than I expected.)  Perhaps I moved a ‘complete-able’ creative project forward just a tad, or I spent time on a never-ending project (like ‘improving my watercolor skills.’) Either way, I jot down how it went, the part of it that makes me feel contented or proud. Putting in the time is what makes me proud, naturally; not the outcomes that may or may not show on paper.

So now, in the midst of this worldwide madness, it is prime time for all of us to Seize the Sieve. Notice what is sticking and what is washing through. Don’t analyze it, heaven forbid, but rather just look, notice, and say, “Huh.” If you like what you see, carry on. If not, perhaps you can identify, just for today, a pleasurable focal point, for perhaps 30 minutes, an hour, or even more if you’re lucky like me, and give yourself the gift of contentment-in-the-moment. It is the only place it is ever found, of course.

Speaking of courses (well, sort of), my ‘complete-able’ project for this week is to return to a wonderfully simple watercolor course that I signed up for ages ago and never finished. (Of course that never happens to you, right?) I made a deal with myself: in this online video course, if I just want to watch all the videos, I can do that. If I want to do the homework exercises too, that’s great.

The course I am now working through is on the Udemy platform, instructor is Andy Walker, and there are several from which to choose. I started with Watercolor Fast and Loose and loved it. Then I went on to Paint Landscapes 1 & 2 –  that is where I am now. It is great fun, and as Andy says, “Give it a go!” If you are already a skilled watercolorist, it will reinforce the foundations in a very lighthearted way. If you are a beginner, especially an intimidated one, Andy is the man for you. Very encouraging. There are introductory videos you can watch before you decide whether to buy or not. It is very affordable as well.

Here are a few of the exercises from the sketchbook I dedicated to this course:


By now most of us know what to do to stay fairly safe, physically, in this new reality.

Emotionally safe, now that’s another matter, but equally important.

We can’t control other people, but we can have influence over our own wellness by continuing to enjoy life as it now presents itself.

Seize the Sieve!

(And as always, let me know how you got on!)

Posted in Art-Making, Cafe Wisdom, Life Insights, Sketchbooks, Storytelling, Watercolor | Tagged | 5 Comments

Consider Rationing… but not everything.

I’m going to try to make this short and sweet. Two points:


It is easy to snack/overeat when you are stressed or bored and stuck at home. This is now reality for a lot of people. I was sick with colds and sinus infections for 8 straight weeks this winter, from mid-December through mid-February, so I get it- I was already self-isolating before this latest madness started. And during that time I learned a few tricks.

The solution with food/hunger is two-fold:

  1. Have a food plan each day (I write mine on a post-it note) and stick to it (hmm, unintentional pun there…).
  2. The key to feeling full, satisfied, more often is simple: water. Hot, cold, in tea, in soup, through a straw, lots of water. It helps your immune system too. That way it will be easier to ration what food you have at home, make it last longer, and you’ll stay healthier.


Now that springtime is toying with us in the Northeast, it is so tempting to go outside. Do it of course, if you can, while avoiding people at the same time. For those of us who live in apartment buildings whose hallways and stairwells are starting to feel like biology-class petri dishes, you can still get some really good exercise, and mood elevation, by turning on your favorite music via Pandora or even the radio (what’s that?) If it’s truly your favorite tunes (from our teens and twenties for most folks), you’ll be dancing in no time whether you like it or not.  Go crazy! It’s your music, and a celebration of your own amazing life. Instant anti-depressant and anti-anxiety med, free of charge. Only side effect is joy.

So ration your supplies, but not your joy. This pandemic shall pass eventually, one way or another. In the meantime, you are here. It is time to enjoy every minute (just like it always is…)

Oh, and save some of that beautiful water for painting…

Bobby Heron-- smaller

Self-Portrait: Bobby Heron…. or Bobbie Herron. Discipline with Freedom, all wrapped into one. 🙂



Posted in Life Insights, Storytelling, Views from Aloft, Watercolor | Tagged | 7 Comments

Simmering Pots & Comrade Spirits

“The Show” is up, finally!

Thanks to a good friend’s assistance, on March 1st we hung up 25 paintings, evenly spaced, along a 49′ wall. For me it was a very long year of not only painting, but during that time I was also learning a new approach that was difficult and very exciting. I was well pleased by the time the show opened. The reception from 1pm-3pm was a mob scene for most of it, which I can only take partial credit for because it was also “Kids Eat For Free Sunday” at this very popular Main Street eatery. Hungry for Beauty? Hungry for Tacos? We have it all!

Then Monday arrived and thanks to good planning and self-knowledge, I was able to enjoy a restful day with no fear of The Day After Crash that has so often happened in the past.

You need a Simmering Pot

Sure, reaching a goal feels great, but I have learned the hard way that if I don’t have a couple bright ideas simmering on the back burner, I will find myself in full-blown disorientation at the end of a big project. That is why I always have a simmering pot of ‘What Next Stew’ on the mental stove, to stir through when I am ready to start The Next Thing(s). Here they are, two simultaneously this time:

1) A sketching handbook.

The world does not need yet another book on sketching, give me a break! I know, I know. But I’ve decided that all those lesson plans I created and used for three years at my local art school deserve to have another life, rather than simply dying on my computer hard-drive. So, I am going to learn what I have to learn about On-Demand Publishing so I can create a very small, very inexpensive booklet of “Sketching Shorthand For Those Who Are Too Impatient To Read A Whole Book On Sketching.” The title may well be longer than the book, we shall see. It will be a good experience for me to simply organize the book, design the illustrations, and also learn about self-publishing, something I will need later for my Big Project that I am not talking about yet….

2) Learning to Draw What I Always Avoid Drawing

I confess, there are a few things I have avoided drawing (like people, animals, etc.) simply because I’m no good at it. By avoiding it, I can ensure I will never be good at it! Therefore, I picked one nemesis to start with:  Complex Architecture. I love looking at buildings that are either very ornate or are quite tumbled down, anything from cathedrals to tool sheds. I really want to study this seriously because it is so frustrating when  90% of a drawing/painting looks fresh and confident, but the buildings look belabored and tight. Thus, my latest textbook purchase:   “Architecture: Super-quick Techniques for Amazing Drawings” by Liz Steel.img_20200309_140242

Notice I called it a ‘textbook’: that is an attitude, a decision on my part. Real learning does not happen by osmosis, nor by buying a book, flipping through it, and exclaiming at all the pretty pictures. (Not that I haven’t done that a zillion times, I have.) The text part of a book is there for a reason. I want to benefit from every bit of work the author put into it.

So that’s my two-pronged Next Project. While I work in a word document creating my handbook, I will also keep my palette and brushes wet with learning the shorthand of drawing and painting architecture. There are several very ornate buildings within walking distance of my home here in New Hampshire’s capital city, so I have free models galore.

As soon as this darned worldwide virus has run its course, I shall be armed with a whole new set of drawing skills, fully prepared to sign up with my favorite touring company, Road Scholar, and I will book my trip to Oxford, England. In the meantime, I’ll simply watch Inspector Morse and Endeavour, and hit the pause button often as I sketch Oxford from afar.img_20200310_0917262

Essential for Artistic Success: Your Tribe

I’ve heard that ‘too many cooks can spoil the broth’ but in the case of Creativity Stew-Pots, you need all the chefs you can find. An insight came to me out of the blue last month:

I need people in my life who love what I love, as much as I need people in my life who love me.

Read that sentence again. The people who love me, who also don’t give two hoots about watercolor, don’t (by their very nature) know how to feed my creative soul.  My watercolor friends do. This is not to discount anyone’s friendship, not at all, but you see, having artist friends and non-artist friends is a bit like being bilingual. I can live in another country if I know the language, but when suddenly I hear my native tongue, the language of my heart,  I exhale all the way. When I am hanging out with other watercolorists, we instantly know something quite rare about each other. We coo and sigh over the latest sable brush, or gear satchel, or gasp over the exquisite color of the late afternoon shadows, in ways that make our families roll their eyes and smile in sympathy. No matter. I need and want both tribes. Without my artist tribe, I am stuck refilling my own well all alone, every single time, and I get tired. Eventually I run the risk of abandoning the very activity that, for me, makes life worth living. Then I’m no good for anyone.

So that’s it for now. The cafe where I am writing this is about to close so time to pack up. Remember to add these Two Important Tools to your already marvelous Art Toolkit as soon as you can:

1- Gather a stew-pot of simmering ideas

2- Identify your artist friends, online or in-person, and find ways to have exciting, regular contact, to everyone’s benefit.

Good luck!

P.S.: to visit the show, go to Dos Amigos, 26 North Main Street in Concord NH between now and the end of March 2020. The sooner the better, some paintings leave when they are purchased!

Posted in Art-Making, Cafe Wisdom, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools | Tagged | 6 Comments

Paper-free Sketching

[Apologies, I think I have three trains of thought in this post (health, being teachable, and the benefits of perseverance), so bear with me. None of them were willing to wait for later.  Geesh, kids…..]

I went for a walk this morning (despite the wind chill of 18°F), because it was sunny and I am developing a bad case of ‘joint rust’. Not just morning stiffness, yet not as severe as advanced arthritis, something in-between. After surviving two solid months of the bacterial/viral flu/cold that invaded our region this winter, I discovered I no longer had the stamina or muscle that I had back in November. I was writing in my journal this morning, and a sentence poured out of my pen.

“It’s not called ‘MARCH’ for nothing!”

The challenge is on! I plan to take a walk every day in the month of March, and if it is too inclement/cold/icy/yuck outside, I will set my kitchen timer and ‘march’ indoors: in place, or around the apartment, for 30 minutes. It’s only a month, right? I can do most anything for a day, and to do it for a month I just have to do it for a day, over and over again.

I confess, I am a Lifelong Sedentary Person. Not much surprise there, because those of us who love to draw, or paint, or read, or write, often find ourselves sitting on our butts more than we like to admit. It is the easiest habit to acquire, and I am well aware that in the long run it is deadly. I also know I am younger today than I will ever be again, so why not give this “move it or lose it” mindset a try? My goal for the month, and beyond, is to incrementally increase my strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility, all essential to a more comfortable life, no matter how long it is.

But what has this got to do with ‘love of words and watercolor’, as this website’s tagline says?

A great deal really. Because Spring Fever has hit me early this year, and nothing says springtime like getting outside again with my sketchbook and kit. I am chomping at the bit, and here’s why.

I just completed several months of studio time dedicated to creating ‘hang-it-on-the-wall’ art for my upcoming show. My goal for this exhibit was to get comfortable (or at least less terrified of) improvisational watercolor, painting  from my imagination.

In the past my paintings relied heavily on keen powers of observation. Whether on location or in my studio using photos, I began each one with long, leisurely minutes of observation, looking, and looking, and looking again, then beginning with mark-making using either ink or pencil for an under-drawing. It was a great way to sneak up on a painting, even felt like prowling at times! Imagine going from that, to taking a deep breath and starting with a splash!

Here are samples of each style so you can see the difference.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Previous style, begun with a detailed under-drawing

North Country Wetland

Latest style, juicy watercolor free-fall

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy working in both styles and admire both in other painters’ work. But I have known for a long time that I was jealous of people who could work very loosely, just letting an impressionistic image evolve on the page with no reference image at all. Some time last year I decided that I would do what had to be done to learn their secrets.

Painting from my imagination (where I must be present to interact with the painting as it appears under my brush) felt like trapeze work without a net—exhilarating and stressful. This scary bit was by far the biggest and best hurdle to get past, as I learned to shrug my shoulders when I had gone too far, thereby ruining a painting I had been quite fond of five minutes prior! It happened often, believe me. Tightrope walk indeed!

I will continue to study and practice improvisational painting on single sheets of paper, but I am equally excited now to get out of my studio (the northwest corner of my living room) and reunite with my long-lost traveling companion: my sketchbook. I am dusting off and fine-tuning my Basic Tool Kit for 2020 (more about that next week.) For now, I want to tell you more about a priceless tool that you can make yourself, for free, that will save your life. A bit of oversell? I think not.

Use it to sketch, use it to meditate, use it to return to this very precious moment. That magical tool is: The Viewfinder.

While looking through a viewfinder, I actually transition from pedestrian to artist. I could do this with my smartphone’s camera too of course, but there is something delightfully rebellious about simply using an index card taped inside the back cover of my sketchbook. I get to stay in ‘analog mode’. With a viewfinder, no one ever mistakes me for a photographer, not even me. I am in artist mode.

And if you use it long enough, it becomes a part of you.

I have used a viewfinder for so long that I now can ‘look through a viewfinder’ when I don’t even have one with me. It’s effortless, a part of how I experience life. As I walk downtown, every step of the way I am observing the cloud formations, the colors in them, and how fast they are moving. Subconsciously I am selecting the center of interest, deciding where to place it in the composition, and smiling because I just created a completed work of heart/art without lifting a finger.

The truly amazing thing is that these sketching-by-just-looking moments deliver a feeling of restoration similar to having had a brief nap, the same feeling that comes from an actual sketching session. ‘Sketching with your eyes’ can be momentary relief from the chaos in your head, those mental traffic-jams that can be so bothersome.

Be Here Now. Great advice from Ram Das and other saints throughout the ages. But how? Here’s the secret, and it is so simple.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath, open your eyes, and whatever is before you, simply say, “Look at that!”

It can be the best antidepressant in the world. I recommend it highly, with or without pencil and paper.

Posted in Art-Making, Cafe Wisdom, Life Insights, My Story, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Storytelling, Urban Sketching, Watercolor | Tagged | 6 Comments

Not everyone is a wannabe…

Not everyone has that essential itch that leads to compulsively purchasing art supplies and doodling their life away. And even those that have the itch don’t always have it forever; many will be sketchbook artists for a while, then see another shiny thing called “Gardening”, or “Embroidery”, or “Gourmet Cooking”. Over time you might accumulate remnants of all these things, and then you can host a personal archaeology dig right in your own home! Nothing wrong with that at all, despite how we can turn our Willingness to Explore into an odd source of shame for exploring wide rather than going deep. Trust Mr. Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Yet even for those of us who have settled into Just One Thing for a while, it is easy to be stymied by indecision.  There can come a day when you have the Itch to Draw, and no idea at all What to Draw. Solving that conundrum was the focus of my most recent class, which ended up being the fastest three hours we have ever had together. Here is the lesson plan, free for you to use and share with anyone else who is One Of Us.

First, a reminder…

Sketching is supposed to relieve stress, not create it. If you are feeling too restless to sit still and doodle, it might be better to first go for a walk, or do some errands, or even tidy up your living room. My sketching time is much more fun if I am not fidgeting.

Aside from your art supplies, you might want to get a timer.img_20200217_1118522

Yes, yes, I know, everyone has one on their smartphone, but I like the kind of timer that ticks out loud and is easy to see at a quick glance. Because I was the only one who could see the timer, I gave the class a verbal two-minute warning so the bell wouldn’t surprise them. (My warning was met with laughter and sighs and groans, of course!)

First sketch: 5 minutes- Organic Matter

And we’re off! Start with a relatively quick warm-up, five minutes, no stress at all, just to settle in a bit. The choice of medium is of course up to you, so I started with pencil and a very dried-out leaf that I grabbed from the ground on the way into class. [Note: There is an old art school expression called, “Kill the Model.” If your leaf drawing comes out terrible, crush the leaf in your hand, throw it in the trash, and then if anyone sees your drawing you can say, “Yes, it really DID look like that,” and no one will be the wiser. I killed my model, which is why my drawing is so different from this leaf…]

Next, I handed out the viewfinders, a simple paper index card that had a hole cut in it and a pithy expression on top.img_20200214_1336422-1

These are the cheapest view-finders you could ever have because you make them yourself. I always have one taped inside the back cover of my active sketchbook, and sometimes use the viewfinder just to look around when I don’t have time for even a quick sketch.

Second Sketch: 5 minutes- Buildings

I also gave each student a handful of photos and told them to choose one picture that had both a building and greenery in it. img_20200214_1336522Then they were told to lay their viewfinder directly on the picture so the open ‘window’ area framed part of an architectural detail.  (You could easily use a magazine photo for this.) Then they drew a small square (about 1” x 2”) in their sketchbook in which to place their next sketch. Keep it simple, big abstract shapes, note the tones/values (darkness or lightness of each area) more than the color, even if you do use color.

Third Sketch: 5 minutes-  Greenery

Move the viewfinder around the same photo until the frame only shows foliage, such as the top of a tree, or a shrub, or a garden close-up. Again, small square in which to draw, big shapes, dark/light push/pull, color optional.

Fourth Sketch: 10 minutes- Paper Mountains

This is an oldie but goodie, says anyone who has ever taken a drawing class in art school. Grab a piece of copy machine paper, not tissue weight, but not cardboard either. Then crumple it up, let it relax a bit, and set it on the table. You now have a new view of the Himalayan Mountains if you use your imagination a bit. (Note: I killed the original model again…)

Fifth Sketch: 15 minutes- The Buck Stops Here

Currency is the artwork we take for granted every day.  For example, in America all of our paper currency has been upgraded for security reasons in recent years- all except the humble one-dollar bill. If you study a collection of one-, five-, ten-, and twenty-dollar bills, you will see that in many ways the single dollar bill is the most ornate. Without a magnifying glass, by simply staring, you will see how beautifully designed this currency is. You will need to draw it considerably larger than life, just to fit in all the detail you can see. I found the upper right corner of the front of the one-dollar bill most interesting.

Sixth Sketch: 15 minutes- Go Nuts!

…but check for allergies first, of course. I handed out walnuts, and a nut cracker, and told the class about a painting I did years ago called “Apples, Peaches, Plums, and Stones.” I had taken black-and-white pictures of all those objects, fascinated at how similar their shapes are, but how we can tell in an instant what we are looking at by the subtle textural variations, even in a monochrome rendition. I asked, “Why do you know that is a walnut and not just a nubbly chunk of sandstone? Show that in your drawing.” Some used the nut cracker, but most didn’t, they just observed, and drew, and painted.

That was about all we did for the three hours, along with chatting and laughing and encouraging each other. It was one of the most fulfilling classes I have ever taught, for me and I believe for the students. That simple kitchen timer helped everyone to know where the boundaries were. In turn that led to more reasonable expectations. At the beginning of class I said, “You can use pencil, pen, watercolors, any combination, or you can just stare at your subject, it is entirely up to you!” That left everyone with the freedom to follow their own instincts rather than external suggestions.

It feels so good to just play with art supplies. Inspiration is all around us, and we each are hard-wired to have a personal favorite when it comes to subject matter. As for me, I love to zoom in, get hypnotized by a curious detail that other people overlook. The old “dandelion growing out of a crack in the concrete” trick. It always leads back to my favorite expression… “Look at THAT!”

Posted in Art-Making, Pen and Ink, Sketchbooks, Watercolor | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Take Care…but not too much

I wrote a blog post a week ago today, knowing full well it would never see the light of day. In it I was able to wail and rant and despair and simmer down and see the point in it all. That is not something I like to do in public, it can be embarrassing at any age, let alone when someone is officially crone age, with or without the wisdom bit.

And yet what does age mean anyway? That we have been alive long enough so that our feelings should be well and fully buried by now, that we have so thoroughly allowed ourselves to become jaded that, in truth, nothing hurts except maybe our joints?

When I was a kid I looked at all the really old people I knew, the grandpas and grandmas and nursing home people, and I noticed something I couldn’t understand. It seemed like every one of them had opted for membership in one of two clubs. The first club was ‘Happy’: nowadays I would use big words like contented or grateful or satisfied, but to a little kid, it looked like happy.

The other group was ‘Angry’. Again, I would now say bitter or mean-spirited or resentful, but angry works too. They were the old people who snapped at little kids to be quiet, or to get out of the way, or to stop acting like kids. Too much joy annoys these people.

I found myself at that intersection last Monday and had to choose which road to take: Angry Avenue or LetItGo Lane. Here’s what happened: When I arrived home that evening I opened my computer and saw a new email from a good friend, entitled “Friendship”.  I was all ready to settle in for a long chatty letter about how good it is to have friends we have known for over a decade, with whom we have shared laughter and a good bit of tears as well.

Instead the email announced in two short sentences that she was ending our friendship,  that I confuse her, and that she was not ready to talk about it yet. I realize this could easily sound very ‘middle school’, but to be honest, I was stunned and thrown off balance, because this was a woman whom I thought was 100% in my corner, as I was in hers. For a few days I found myself depressed and self-doubting despite all logic to the contrary. It was not, after all, a logical situation.

Then it dawned on me that no amount of fiddling inside my own head was going to make matters better, and that moreover, it would actually make matters worse. Whether I painted myself as the hero or the villain, I was still just making stuff up and taking it personally. I was giving entirely too much head-space to a situation over which I had no control. I realized I cared too much.

And why do we do that, why do we sometimes care way too much about a person, or job, or situation over which we have no control?

It makes no sense but it seems to be part of the human condition, right? Many years ago when I was going through a divorce (feelings oddly reminiscent of  last week!), I went through a ‘cartoon phase’. I had so many emotions reeling around in my heart and soul, not all of them kind. The cartoon below came to me at that time, and it has been universally applicable ever since.img_20200204_0957422

Eventually I always get to “Oh well.” We all do, and we can take as much time as we want getting there. In the olden days it seemed like I had time to build park benches along the way in my Land of Righteous Indignation so I would have a place to rest and gather recruits to see My Side of the Story. Eventually, after no one else was willing to listen to me, I would arrive at the exit labelled “Oh Well”, and I would leave my self-created parkland.

What’s underneath that reluctance to leave the misery behind though?

I think there are a couple assumptions underneath it all. One is “That situation/ job/relationship was So Perfect, So Wonderful!”  The other assumption is “That was the Last Chance I will Ever Have.”

In Watercolor, as in Life

I don’t have a great photo to insert here, of how wonderful a painting was right before I ruined it by going too far. (Why would I stop to take a picture when I thought I was doing just fine, right?) These two photos are close illustrations though. (The color is not accurate, but that’s not the point either…)

The photo on the left is of the first layers of paint right after they dried. In many ways this is the best part of watercolor, the wet, juicy part when the paint itself is swimming in a wetland of water, and that fluid feeling remains, even after the paint has dried.

The photo on the right shows the same painting at its overworked stage. You almost need a sip of water just to look at it, there is so much dry application of paint here. Ironically even the water looks dry. About fifteen minutes prior to this stage I knew it was good enough, but I pushed on because I wasn’t at ‘oh well’ yet.

Here is my second example, which many people might like less, but I like a great deal more.


This is alive, and juicy, and unforced, and I stopped at ‘Enough!’ Many areas are undefined, sloppy. (To be honest, it reflects fairly accurately what my actual eyesight is like these days. At any distance at all, I experience a combination of blurred and double vision, which makes painting challenging of course. I see things that aren’t there, as well as not seeing things that are. That sounds like a metaphor for life, but I meant it literally!) In this painting, I had the sense to stop, to say and believe, “That’s enough, no more fiddling.” I stopped when it was at its peak.

Erroneous Painting & Life Assumption #1: “If I just keep trying/ fiddling, I can fix this.”

Not in watercolor, 95% of the time. And in Life, when I catch myself saying, “It was So Perfect,” I have to admit, no. It may have been good, it may have been very good. But naw, it wasn’t perfect.

Erroneous Painting & Life Assumption #2: “That was my Last Chance.”

In watercolor when I keep going and going long after a painting is beyond rescue, it really means I am too cheap to break out a brand new piece of virgin watercolor paper and simply start a new painting. Not even “do this one over again”, because that is impossible. Start a Brand New Painting. I can use the same reference photo, I can even use more or less the same design (the same cropping, center of interest, color choices), but trying to create a duplicate-but-better painting is a recipe for frustration and disaster.

A new beginning in life is also never a literal ‘do-over’. That river water is long gone. It may feel like “That was my Last Chance,” but no. There are more jobs and people and relationships and circumstances waiting for me and for you, that we can’t even imagine in our little pea-brains at the moment, trust me. And in watercolor, if you are anything like me and dozens of my painterly friends, you already have a huge stash of watercolor paper that would make John Singer Sargent and J.M.W. Turner envious!  So have at it! Grab a new sheet of paper and go crazy! Try doing the backstroke in Endorphin Soup instead of the crawl in ShouldaCouldaWoulda Stew.

The distance between Here and Oh Well varies every single day. But what a comfort to know that ‘Oh Well’ and a fresh sheet of watercolor paper are always, always, just around the corner, one thought away.

Posted in Art-Making, Cafe Wisdom, Cartoons, Life Insights, Storytelling, Watercolor | Tagged | 8 Comments

In your heart you know

That expression, “In your heart you know” was said to me over twenty-five years ago by a man who was refusing to cooperate. At the time I had a big decision to make, I had weighed all the pros and cons, and I still was undecided. The deadline was approaching, so I needed an answer. In my infinite wisdom I thought of John, a man who loved the sound of his own voice (as do I at times), who was often free with his unsolicited advice. This trait of his, annoying to many, was just what I was looking for.

After a Saturday morning gathering of a bunch of us friends, I approached John in the parking lot and explained my dilemma. Relief was in sight, I knew he would have a crystal-clear suggestion. He looked at me, nodding as he listened, then pulled his glasses further down his nose so he could look me right in the eye. With no prelude at all he smiled and said,

“In your heart…you know.”

Then turned, walked to his car, and drove away.

I stood there, stunned. It was so utterly out of character for him, to be handed a bully pulpit and say no thanks. Where was the John I knew and loved, whose favorite sport was pontificating?

Then, standing in the middle of the echo, I heard what he had said, snickered, and said to myself, “Damn you John, you’re right as usual.”

To this day I remember the sunlight in that parking lot, the fresh scent of spring teasing us away from winter blues. It was one of those moments in life that burns deep into your psyche, your very being. Had anyone else said it, I probably wouldn’t have heard it, or would have brushed it off as new-age woo-woo nonsense. But out of Brother John it was a ten-pound pearl.

And it is amazing how versatile those five words are still. I use them when I get caught up in my drug-of-choice: “O.P.O.”.  That stands for Other People’s Opinions. Ugh, it is intoxicating and devastating, and everything in between. I can get so caught up in ‘blending in with the crowd’ that I forget that I too have a point of view. Carrying John’s pearl of IYHYK goes a long way toward helping me to listen without having to agree, to being with people who actually are not part of my tribe, but are interesting nonetheless.

And yes (I know you were waiting for it), it also applies to watercolor. In my heart, I know when something is ‘off’ in a painting, even if my head has no idea what needs correction.

Over the Hill 1

This first photo is of a painting that I actually thought was finished until I looked at the photo. Then, all of a sudden, when I saw it 1 inch tall and 2 inches wide instead of 8″x 10″, I saw a design flaw that was glaring.

Not that it would bother everyone, but I saw details on the left side (top and bottom), details on the right side (top and bottom), and  the crest of the hill, literally in the dead center of the picture, was bare and gently pointing upward, leading the eye up and out of the picture. The goal in any successful painting is to give the viewer a place to linger and wander for a while. This is especially important if I want them to buy it and live with it for a long time!  I knew changing the curvature of the hill crest by changing the sky would be impossible (in watercolor it would leave an obvious trail of “overworked!”) So I asked myself, “Do I just quit here and give it up as a lesson learned, or do I stare at it, not really thinking at all, until another option becomes clear?” Then it came to me, an intuition, rather than a calculation: “Plant More Trees!”

Over the Hill 2

I began extending the right-hand forest more toward the center, in decreasing sizes so it would look like the trees were continuing behind the hill. Then, in another IYHYK moment, I realized that I had to stop altogether mid-brainstorm, because it was late afternoon in my apartment, the daylight I use for almost all of my paintings was leaving, and I was running the risk of overdoing it, simply because changing the light source to electric light (even to color-correcting bulbs) changes everything in watercolor.  So I stopped and carried on the next day with tidying up the details.

Over the Hill 3

“Over the Hill” by Bobbie Herron

I like it well enough, but of course when I look at it, I relive my entire process, and can’t see the final product as a simple whole. It may be part of the show and sale that begins five weeks from tomorrow at Dos Amigos Restaurant here in Concord NH. It all depends on what secret paintings are still hiding inside my paint palette, just waiting to be liberated in the next few weeks by water and brush, to land on another glorious sheet of pristine white watercolor paper.

When I think of all the work and all the people who were involved in  creating each tube of paint I have, each brush, each piece of thick, thirsty paper, I am amazed that at the very end I get to do whatever I want with the fruits of their labor. Each painting of mine is infused with an invisible layer of, “Thank you thank you thank you”, which I see better than anyone else does. In my heart I know I am one lucky girl.


Posted in Art-Making, Cafe Wisdom, Views from Aloft, Watercolor | Tagged | 5 Comments