Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

From our house to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy and safe new year.

I plan to post some of my favorite books and activities from 2009 and my goals for 2010 very soon. In the meantime, thank you to all of you who read and post here. I love hearing from you, and you make me feel more connected to the world. But right now I have to make an appetizer for New Years Eve!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Crossing Another Off the List

Ivory Billed Woodpecker
vintage trading card

OK, I didn't see an ivory billed woodpecker. If I had, I think all sorts of universities and birding groups would be here interviewing me, since the bird is so elusive and rare. What I did see on Christmas Day at my sister-in-law's house up in Door County was a pileated woodpecker, which looks rather similar to the bird on this old card.

I've been saying I wanted to see one for several years. I'd wistfully comment that I wanted to see a pileated woodpecker and people (my aunt, the sister-in-law, whoever) always would tell me they had seen the bird. Ho hum. Where have I been? But a personal sighting eluded me. Two summers ago I thought I saw one at the top of a tree in Oregon, but I was a passenger in a car, and the look was too quick to be certain. On Christmas Day I was upstairs on the telephone to my aunt when I heard the group downstairs calling to me to look out the window, and there it was, a monster woodpecker with a red brush cut hanging on the suet feeder. Woody Woodpecker himself. I got a good look, and was well pleased.

That was a really fine gift, seeing that woodpecker. I'm fifty-nine today, with lots of Christmases and birthdays under my belt, and it's getting harder and harder to see, hear, or taste anything very new. The Christmas Day sighting of this wonderful creature was about as good a gift as I could want.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Northern Lights

5x7 inches
watercolor on Yupo synthetic paper

Christmas is over. We made it to my brother's house for Christmas Eve, despite cold rain and high winds. Dick had called his sister to cancel our plans to drive to Door County for Christmas Day, but when it was sunny and dry here in Janesville, not a blizzard as forecast, we called to ask if we could still come. The answer was affirmative, so we packed overnight bags, loaded up the cat bowl and headed out. The further north we drove, the cloudier it got, and the more the winds picked up. By Algoma Lake Michigan was a sort of ochre color, the high waves filled with sand. The water crashed dramatically over the jetty near the red light house, but it was so cold, wet and windy I didn't ask Dick to pull over so I could get a photo.

We made the trip safely, but Dick's other sister and her husband slid off a side road into a tree, and their vehicle was wrecked. We ended up staying an extra day and giving them a ride back home on Sunday. By then the roads were clear and dry, and the trip was uneventful

I had started this little watercolor before we left, then I finished it this morning. The inspiration was a desk calendar photo of northern lights, something we haven't seen in a few years.

Cold Climes
by Mary Brittnacher in the 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

I've lived my life in frosty air,
Near firs and moss and hedgehog's lair.

For me the seasons are a book;
That tells a story wherever I look.

Browns of springs show many hues;
Flowers of summer are always news.

Gold, red, and rust of fall,
Never fail to give their all.

Deep in winter I watch the birds;
Sleeping woods speak silents words.

Story same, story new,
That rivers and wrens tell clearly and new.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


5x7 inches, oil (sold)

We have just passed the solstice, the darkest day of the year. I find myself attracted to painting images of sun. This is a little exercise I based on an exercise in a book I checked out of the library. I have been experimenting with using water mixable oils over acrylic under paintings. The biggest challenge is finding somewhere to put the paintings while they dry. For now, that's a disused bathroom in our basement. I painted this a couple weeks ago and it seems dry.

Winter with its cold weather and darkness turns me into a brooder. I enjoyed making art this year, and have worked with paper collage, mixed media, watercolor, acrylic and oil. I've made it into some shows, won a few awards, sold a few pieces. One of my pieces that feature recycled materials was purchased as an "eco-friendly" award for a local business. Most mostly I have a growing stack of painting slowly filling up my closets (and bathrooms). A part of me asks, what is the point? I buy materials, pay out entry fees, take classes, and mostly it drains my bank account and fills up my storage space. Is the enjoyment I get from making art worth it?

Most likely I need to market myself more. I have pieces in a local gallery and coffee shop, but this year nothing sold from those places. I did sell by simply showing people my work, one on one. I have not tried selling online, though I may do that. Of course selling isn't everything. I enjoy the company of other artists. I enjoy making and showing art. But I worry about if I am getting any better, and if my enthusiasm will become a financial burden for us.

This uncertainty may be a function of too few sunlight hours. Maybe I should fret less and just go to the studio.

OK, that's where I'll go, but first a poem from my desk calendar.

Sunsets on My Farm
by Candace Hennekens, 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

A flaming peach blazes
through green needles,
the pine bough marking
summer solstice.
As the crow flies

fields of soybeans
groves of trees
an abandoned farm
lying in the rays' path.
As summer wanes

the sun slips down
to Westphal's farm,
then Albert's place,
drifting faster now
past trees, barn, silo

until the sun sets
at winter solstice
behind the old oak
standing tall
in the fence line.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Platform Boots

12x12 inches
watercolor on Yupo synthetic paper (available)

At least a couple time a year I like to paint something in response to an online subject. Maury Kettell has a site called Watercolor Passion, and four times a year he posts a challenge. This one, which ends December 31, is "Shoes."

My interpretation of the theme was to use my friend Rich Fletcher's photo of a big city shop window filled with platform shoes. I painted fast and loose with bright saturated colors. The nice think about Yupo, a synthetic plastic surface, is that the colors stay bright and are easy to lift. I had a good time lifting out the reflections on the window.

Here's the link to the site:

There's still time to submit a painting of your own if you'd like to give it a go.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sledding Santa

I decided not to put up a full-sized Christmas tree this year, but I did dig out some favorite ornaments and decorations. I bought a little wooden Santa Claus ages ago, and he has become a favorite. The old guy still has some child alive in his heart, apparently. Just so I could look at him more carefully, I decided to paint him in my sketchbook. Who knows, maybe he'll end up on a card some time.

I had a good surprise yesterday when the English pen pal I started writing to in 1961 and hadn't heard much from for several years wrote me an email. When I was about ten I sent fifty cents in to some magazine and got back an address for a pen pal. This boy and I wrote a couple times, but didn't have too much in common. However, his mother started writing to me, and to my mother. I met the family in 1972 for the first time in London. Then over the years we met several more times. Through weddings, divorces, deaths and births we kept writing, though not so often in the 1990s. Then five years ago both my mom and the woman who had written so faithfully died in the same week. I didn't hear from the son and his family except for a Christmas card with signatures until yesterday. Now the boy I wrote to so long ago is a grandfather, and he promises to catch me up on their family via email.

It's a wonderful world, eh?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beautiful Days

Winter in Wisconsin can be dark and gloomy, but the cold snap in the aftermath of our recent snowstorm is beautiful snowy trees. Mornings are especially pretty, with combinations of sun and shadow on the frosted branches of maples, oaks and conifers. The only hitch is that the weight of so much snow has been breaking off branches, and in some cases taking down power lines.

My eye craves color in all this white. This poinsettia from our local FFA is as bright as a cardinal.

Sometimes the color comes from little things, like these colored glass bottles from a local resale shop. Note to self - try a painting of these sparkly things.

It's hard to see here, but this little artificial tree is flocked almost solid white, art imitating nature. I like the combination of little white lights and big colored ball lights. I made a dozen or so paper cranes from origami paper to use as extra decorations.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cold Morning, Warm Buns

Last night we wedged the backdoor shut so no frigid air would seep in, kept the cabinet doors open under the sink so the pipes wouldn't freeze, and brought the cat to bed for a little extra heat. We were lucky because our furnace never quit runningt. Quite a few people in town lost power yesterday when snow laden branches fell on power lines.

This morning it was below zero, and I decided to warm it up with a recipe clipped from the Janesville Gazette. This thing is a dieter's nightmare, but it sure smelled and tasted good this morning with snow blanketing the outside world.

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls
recipe provided by Judy Stoney

12 cinnamon rolls, uncooked and frozen (I got mine at the U Bake store)
1 cup butter - yup, two whole sticks
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 small box butterscotch pudding
1 small bag chopped pecans - optional but I love them

Directions: Place the frozen rolls in a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the butter, add the brown sugar and stir. Stir in the dry pudding mix. Stir in the pecans. Pour this mixture over the frozen rolls in the pan. Let the rolls sit on the counter overnight. I covered mine loosely with foil.

In the morning preheat the oven to 350 degree. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes. Let rest five minutes then tip out onto a platter. Or do what I did and leave them in the pan and dig them out with a spatula (one less thing to wash).

Happy eating!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Day

This was what we saw out the dining room window before bed last night. Local weather forecasters called this storm a "beast." Our beast, little Bucky cat spent a good part of the evening in the cellar hiding from the snow thunder.

The scene this morning was a study in black and white. I was awakened a couple times during the night. Once when the cat climbed into bed for some warmth and security. Once by snow plows on the street, and again at 5:30 a.m. when the school district's new automated calling system announced that school is cancelled. Trouble is, I have been retired for three years. Plus, when the test call came two days ago I called the central office to remind them to remove me from their list. They assured me they would, but apparently the new system still has some kinks to work out.

We live on a hill, which makes winter weather tricky. We can step out the door and be lulled into thinking the weather is fair enough, forgetting the shelter the hill provides from wind. There's no pulling out of our driveway on these days and heading up the hill. We've had hours of entertainment watching other people try it though.

So, it's a day to stay in and read, or paint or work on cards. I didn't put up a big tree, but several small ones provide a little color on a day that has me humming "A Hazy Shade of Winter."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On This Date

December 8th and we are in for a big winter storm. People are out buying snow shovels, snow blowers and snow tires. I think we'll settle in for some reading (Winter Study by Nevada Barr is getting really good) and writing of Christmas cards. I can do some painting.

Lots of things have happened on December 8th. John Lennon was shot on this day in 1980. It was the birthday of Sammy Davis Junior, also of Mary Queen of Scots, James Thurber and Diego Rivera. It was the day in 1941 that the the USA entered World War II.

It was my mom's birthday too. She was born December 8, 1930, so she would have been 79 today. She wasn't a big fan of birthdays, but she did say that in 1941 the family forgot hers with the news of our entering the war. As a child she was not too happy about that. She's gone now, but I think of her every day. Maybe a little more today. Miss you Mom.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2009 Christmas Letter

I spent most of today updating my address book and working on Christmas cards and the annual letter. Then I thought, why not post it for everyone to see?

Christmas greetings!

I’m discovering that Christmas is, as much as anything, a time to keep track of friends and family, and an opportunity to look back over the year that is rapidly coming to a close.

Dick and I are both well and doing what we said we wanted to do when we retired. We both are reading up a storm, and we enjoy taking trips. This year in March we traveled with UW Whitewater to Peru. I don’t have a formal “bucket list,” but if I did, seeing Machu Picchu would be on it. In August we flew to Colorado and spent a couple days in Rocky Mountain National Park, then went on to join our Badger Buddies in Breckenridge for a few days of companionship and hiking. We took smaller trips too, to the UP of Michigan, up and down the Great River Road as far as Red Wing, and we spent of week of Thanksgiving in Key West, Florida.

I took a trip with DIck’s sister Sandy in May that I’ll never forget. We took Amtrak’s Empire Builder west to Washington State. In Spokane we met quite a few distant cousins related to my Grandma Tess. I was thrilled to find one of the houses she lived in as a little girl in Hillyard, and to see the old Adams family farm in Fairfield. I was particularly happy to meet these Smith and Adams in person, and to be able to help secure a stone for my great grandfather’ Adams’ unmarked grave. I also got to collect more stories, photos and family history information. After that we drove along the Columbia River gorge, and up into the Olympic National Park. We ended up in Seattle and took the train back from there.

Other highlights of the year included Dick riding another couple thousand miles on his bicycle (he’s much fitter than I am), my 40th Elkhorn High School class reunion, and my painting. This year I continued to work and take workshops in watercolor and acrylic, but also began experimenting in oils. I have some art in a local gallery, entered several shows with the Wisconsin Regional Artist Program. In June we had a reunion of UW Whitewater roommates and their spouses in McFarland. It has been a real joy to be able to keep up with these women and men and their lives for more than thirty years, I have also been writing my Late B(l)oomer blog, where I post some of my artwork, photos from trips, family stories and an occasional recipe. I’d love it if you would stop by and take a look. Here’s the web address:

There were other fun things, meetings and trips with my doll collecting group, lunches with teacher and fellow reading friends, trips north to visit my aunt Ellen, our annual Badger football outing in Madison.

I can’t close without showing you our ”furry child” Bucky. She is our little friend and lap-warmer, and she reminds us that life at a relaxed pace can be a very good thing..

Warm wishes to all of you for for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cock of the Walk

On our recent trip to Key West I was charmed by all the roosters and hens that wander freely everywhere. I took several pictures of the critters, and then last night I decided to try out my water mixable oils.

In November I took a workshop with Shelby Keefe, and artist who paints impressionistic urban landscapes using acrylic under paintings in complimentary color, and oil on top of that. At that workshop I tried her technique with all acrylic paint, which was OK, but I wanted to try oil. For a whole year I have had a set of these water mixable oil paints in a drawer in my studio, never feeling brave enough to try them out. Since they clean up with water, toxic fumes are not an issue in my small painting space. What a treat to be able to mix colors on a palette and then come back later and still be able to work on the painting! For a bird like this with brilliant feathers, I was excited to get such deep color so quickly, and to have the color stay the same, not dry darker as acrylics to, or lighter as watercolors do.

One issue that worried me was where to store paintings like this while they dry. Eureka! We have a small non-fuctioning loo in our basement, and I can stand the paintings against the wall in that little room, hidden away and safe until they dry.

This painting is 11x14 inches, painted on canvas board.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Exploring a New Watercolor Book - and a Poem

I usually plan my trips to the local library around my fiction reading, but a couple days ago I browsed the new arrival shelves and found one that looked interesting. The title is Exploring Textures in Watercolor, by Joye Moon. It is published by North Light books.

Moon lives in Wisconsin and I've seen her name in area workshops, though I have never taken one. This 5x7 inch watercolor is the result of my doing the first exercise in her book, which has to do with basic skills and techniques. I thought I might do some small watercolor Christmas cards for friends, and this is a scene I probably could do quickly.

The book has 14 chapters and is nicely indexed. Some of the chapter titles include the following:

Discovering the basics

Exploring geometric shapes and color theory

Turning a negative into a positive

Pouring your heart out

Capturing sparkling white

Painting the garden

Painting people

Collage painting

I enjoy looking at her demonstrations, and I hope to do a few in the next couple weeks. It hasn't snowed much here yet, but I thought I'd share another poem from my desk calendar, one that imagines an early December snowstorm.

December 1
by Ronnie Hess in the 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

The mail carrier has delivered
The season's first snowstorm
Pulling the tempest out of a bag
Slung across his shoulder:
Wet circulars and post cards
Iced holiday greeting cards.
This drab gray afternoon
He looks vaguely familiar:
The red face the beard
The big black galoshes
The baggy pants
The white postal truck
Isling at the corner
Ready to take flight.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Travelogue: Key West

Dick and I both prefer warm weather and sunshine to drizzle damp and cold, so we planned a Monday to Friday get-away to Key West, Florida over Thanksgiving. Dick had never been there, and the last time I visited was with my grandparents in 1961. I remember because even though I was only ten, the newspapers were full of the news of Ernest Hemingway's death.

My grandparents and I arrived by car, and stayed in a traditional motel along the highway. Dick and I flew to Key West and stayed in a nice bed and breakfast. The Heron House is a restored Classical Revival style house on Simonton street, in Old Town very near Duval street. We had a lovely and quiet room with views of their tropical garden, complete with waterfall. The place serves a continental breakfast every day, which was a little disappointment to us. Most B&Bs we've visited have a traditional sit-down breakfast, and an opportunity to chat with other guests and the hosts. This had a much more informal atmosphere, and we ended up not talking with anyone else. To be sure the breakfast buffet of coffee, cereal, juice and sweet rolls was all we needed to get started each day, and the patio was pretty. It just wasn't the homelike atmosphere we had expected. Think small inn rather than bed and breakfast.

The weather was comfortable, and I loved being able to shed my jeans and wear Capri pants, short sleeves and sandals. It rained a little each day, but we still were able to see all we wanted. We walked everywhere, though we could have rented bicycles or an electric car. Next time I'd do that, since my airplane-swollen toes raised blisters the first day.

Key West is 90 miles from Cuba, which is closer than it is to Miami. Key West once had many cigar factories, which are all gone now. But there are shops that sell cigars, and at least one that features Cuban-themed merchandise. Cuban grilled pork sandwiches are available at many restaurants, and in fact that' s what I had for lunch on Thanksgiving. Delicious.

We really didn't have a bad meal anywhere. I had delicious fish tacos one night, a pile of boiled pink shrimp another. There is a vegetarian cafe that served the best falafel I've ever tasted. But my favorite place was here. Actually this sign marks two restaurants, Alonzos downstairs and Berlins upstairs. We ate twice at Alonzos, which is the more casual of the two places. We kept ordering appetizer plates to split, all sorts of fresh oysters, and bowls of white chili. I had lobster/crab cakes that I remember fondly for a very long time indeed. We loved the bread pudding and the key lime pie here too.

On Tuesday we took an old town trolley tour of Key West. I was a little unhappy about the cost, but to be fair we could have gotten on and off the trolley all day and saved ourselves some walking. We just rode the big loop and got some sense of where the big attractions are and something of the history of the place. Our driver and guide was friendly and informative, and I don't regret spending the money. There is another similar tour in the format of a train, but we didn't try that.

We enjoyed our visit to the Audubon house. This photo is a little wooden bowl of nests, feathers and shells that the artist collected. The house is lovely, filled with antiques and bird prints, and there is a pretty garden on the grounds. I heard that sometimes there are orchids blooming, but the day we visited none were.

Another historic site we both wanted to see was the Hemingway house. Of course we were both English majors in college, and have read most of the Hemingway novels and short stories. I used to teach The Old Man and the Sea, though I generally liked it better than any of my students. The house is lovely, and our guide was friendly and well informed. There were a handful of children on our tour, and they seemed most interested in the many six-toed cats that roam the property, many resting on Spanish antiques and old textiles. Here one is curled up on a chair in Hemingway's writing studio, oblivious to the chattering tourists and their cameras.

There are lots of literary connections in the keys. Robert Frost wintered there and wrote poetry. Tennessee Williams wrote plays in a downtown hotel. I believe poet Elizabeth Bishop had a house here, Zane Gray spent winters nearby, and there are probably others as well.

On Thanksgiving we took a stroll to the historic cemetery. We both like looking at the old monuments, and seeing what history we can learn from the stones. This cemetery has a section devoted to those killed when the Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor. I was interested that most of the graves are above ground, as they are in New Orleans. The island sits on solid rock, and it is very expensive to excavate. This rooster, one of hundred of chickens that roam the city, was finding some insects to feast on.

We never went to the beach, but we did walk around the harbor, admiring the boats, feeding the fish, having a few margaritas and beers. Key West is famous for its sunsets, and thousands gather at Mallory Square to applaud the setting sun each night. We skipped that, but we did sign up for a sunset ride on a catamaran. We've done this in Mexico and in Jamaica, and always have fun. The "cruise" was a two hour ride with complimentary beverages. By the end of the two hours everyone knew each other and was in an exceedingly good mood.

The sunset cruise was our last activity in Key West. Friday morning we headed out for a lovely breakfast at Sarabeth's (shrimp and bacon omelet), then packed and headed for the Key West airport.

I was surprised to be pulled aside and patted down in security, since most people look at me and wave me right through. The last time I was patted down was in 1972 in Paris after a series of hijackings that led to an international airline strike. But other than that, our flight to Miami and then on to Chicago was smooth and trouble free. It's good to be home again, and the cat seems relieved to have us back.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hunting, JFK, Etc

Ralph Pierce, about 1958

Deer hunting season started this weekend and that always makes me think of my dad. He and his buddies used to drive up to the Rhinelander area every year when I was a kid, and stayed for a week. He only brought home a couple deer that I remember; I think he enjoyed hunting ducks and geese more. We had a couple little horns made into coat hooks in the house, and a tanned skin he said he wanted to get made into something, gloves maybe. But he never did. After he died in 1983 one of his hunting buddies admitted that they spent more time just walking the woods, eating out and card playing than anything.

He was gone hunting the day that Kennedy was shot. I was in seventh grade, sent home early once the news was announced over the junior high school PA system. I remember going to my grandmother's house and watching coverage on the black and white television set, the adults very quiet. That night Mom and my sisters and little brother went out to eat, a rare event in those days. We went to the Traveler restaurant and all had hot beef sandwiches. Funny what stick in a person's memory.

Today my husband and I went for a walk at Oakhill cemetery. The weather here is very mild for November, and we thought we'd look at the old markers, and visit the grave of a close friend. She is buried on top of a hill that looks out over trees, and miles of fields. As we were coming back to our car, a white-tailed deer, a young doe, bounded across the markers ahead of us. I hope she stays safe.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Something New

9x12 inches, watercolor on canvas

I'm excited about how this little watercolor turned out. Normally I paint from photos that I have taken, but a few days ago I read about an online friend's vacation to Copper Canyon in Mexico, and she included a link to some of her husband's photos. I fell in love with the image of this potter, and wanted to paint her. Normally I use 140 lb. Arches watercolor paper, but I had purchased a Fredrix watercolor canvas in a class last year, and never even opened the package. I decided to give both the photo and the new surface a whirl.

There are good and not so good things about working on the watercolor canvas. One of the best things is that the canvas, once dampened stays damp quite a while, making blending nice and easy. Once the paint is dry, it's also easy to lift pigment. Fixing errors and restoring highlights is no problem. It's not so easy to glaze over colors because of the way color lifts. However if the underlying paint is very dry, and the glaze is applied gently it can be done. The large area of dark door way was a real problem. I prepared what I thought was an adequate pool of indigo and a little burnt sienna, and realized that I wasn't going to have enough to make a uniform dark area. Then I accidentally touched the edge with a damp finger and lifted a spot. When the whole thing was dry I went back in with an indigo watercolor pencil, and evened it out. I actually like the way the dark watercolor pencil sits on top of the weave of the canvas, and the color does look less blotched. A couple more pluses with using the canvas are that the surface never buckles as watercolor paper can, and the finished painting doesn't need to be matted or framed. So the extra initial cost of the canvas is offset by savings in framing expense.

Anyway, I still need to fix the color on this painting, since any moisture will make the paint lift. I'm going to have to wait for a still dry day so I can spray outside.

Here's a ten minute video from Tom Lynch demonstrating using watercolor canvas:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another Poem and The Ace Hardware

12 x 12 inches, acrylic on canvas board

I was excited about how the last acrylic painting turned out, so I launched into another last night. One thing I like about Janesville is some of the old-fashioned signs in town. This one is huge, rising over the old hardware store that is one of my favorite places to shop. There is another over a downtown jewelry store, though the wonderful neon diamond on that sign blew down in a storm a few years ago. I painted the neon sign on front of our venerable Chinese restaurant (the oldest in Wisconsin) a few years ago, although I'd like to paint it again, larger, and in acrylic. My problem is that I don't manage to paint buildings and lettering especially well. If I practiced more on it I'd probably improve, but I suppose I'm too lazy to paint something, then write it off as "practice."

Tree Cutting
by Hanne Gauls, in the 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

The county Artillery
lined the corner
of Timberline
and Europe Bay Road
declaring war
on enemy trees
obscuring the view
of highriding SUVs.

Bloody branches
spattered the road
winded trees
stretched their
injured stumps
yellow eyes egging
for their missing limbs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rain on the Pumpkins

12x12 inches, acrylic on canvas board

I'm still playing with the techniques I was introduced to in last week's workshop. I see now that the pavement needed an orange under painting, but this will have to stand as it is. I photographed the scene a couple days before Halloween, when we were out looking for pumpkins to carve. It was drizzly and cool, and everything was wet.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Three Days, Three Paintings

16x20 inches, acrylic

The Shelby Keefe workshop I attended at the Peninsula Art School certainly got me painting. I mostly finished three paintings in three days, and realized what a slow painter I am. This fall scene was my first attempt, and though I like the way the under-painting makes the colors vibrate, I probably will go back and make the trees look more three dimensional and the leaves look less like blobs.

I believe there probably are enough barn paintings in the world already, but I wanted to tackle my personal nemesis, architecture. If I were doing a watercolor I would have plotted this baby out on a graph and gotten it as close to right as possible, but here I eyeballed it. I looks a wee bit like paint-by-numbers, but I am satisfied enough for a class exercise. The blue peeking through the gold soybean field adds interest, and ties the bottom of the painting to other areas.

This poor woman ended up with essentially no face and an arm that appears to have been badly broken in childhood. I like the rowboat best, and again the orange and blue in the under-painting adds more interest than would have been there otherwise. This photo was a challenge for the Different Strokes From Different Folks blog, and I've wanted to try it for ages.

So, now I'm back home in my teeny studio, and am trying again. This time I have a photo from a local farm market of pre-Halloween pumpkins, and I hope the blue underneath will lend sparkle to the painting. It's certainly a different way of working for me, and I have hopes that I'll like the results.

All these paintings were done in acrylic paint. Keefe only uses acrylic for her under-paintings, then uses oils for the main part. I've always been hesitant to use oils, though I have a small selection of water mixable oils set aside. My big concerns are that they smell strong in such a small space and that I cannot figure out where I would put them to dry. Still, I want to try using them, if for no other reason than I already bought the paint.

Fiddle-dee-dee, I'll worry tomorrow.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Extended Weekend "Up North"

The past few days I've been having fun "up north." I signed up for a painting workshop at the Peninsula Art School for last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but left a day early to spend a day with my aunt in Algoma. People sometimes call the small town on the shores of Lake Michigan the "air conditioned city," and in the summer it is almost always cool. I have been visiting there since I was a child, and have a pile of photos from the little harbor. It used to be lined with commercial fishing boats and tar paper fishing shanties. Most of the shanties have been torn down to make room for condominiums, and now there are only two left. This one was refurbished and moved to its prime location near the red lighthouse. I managed to crop out the condos.

After a good visit with my aunt I headed to Fish Creek for my workshop at the Peninsula Art School. My aunt doesn't like coffee, so when I got to Fish Creek Thursday morning I popped into the Blue Horse Cafe and bought a latte. I was charmed by the smiling face in the foam and was sure it was a good omen for the day.

I have always been fascinated with the Mexican celebration of Day of the Dead, and the gallery of the art school had several shrines filled with food, photos, artwork, religious symbols, and these wonderful calaveras (sugar skulls).

The main reason for the trip was the painting workshop, and it turned out to be a winner. The instructor, Shelby Keefe, paints by using an acrylic under painting in complementary colors, then the main part of the painting is done in oils. She demonstrated part of each morning, then we had lots of time to work on our own. She was helpful and encouraging, and I was happy with my first attempts at working this way. Actually I worked all in acrylics, since I didn't have a way to transport wet oils and didn't want to smell them for the entire two hundred mile trip back home. I got mostly finished with three small paintings, which I felt good about since I tend to paint rather slowly.

I hope to post pictures of my finished paintings later this week.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November Scenes, a Poem, and a Workshop

Our pumpkins are on a fast downhill slide. Too ripe when they were carved, the squirrels are nibbling on the the soft Jack-o-lanterns. Dick's "snowman" looks like he has been lethally shot from behind and is on a slow pitch forward toward the deck.

I was glad to have a sunny day, because I needed some more reference photos for a painting class I'm taking this week two hundred miles north in Door County at the Peninsula Art School in Fish Creek. Shelby Keefe, an artist who paints mostly urban landscapes in oils with acrylic under paintings is the instructor. I've been collecting materials, painting in acrylic, and assembling reference photos in an effort to be prepared for three intensive days of painting.

This shot of an old brick barn on the Tallman House property appealed to me because of the lines, and the single fall leaf against a window.

I liked this photo of downtown Janesville for the geometric shapes and bright colors. You can't see it, but the Rock River runs along beside these old buildings. I will be back on Sunday, and I hope to have some interesting paintings to show.

If you'd like to see some of Shelby Keefe's work, check this link to her website:

Just for fun, here's a poem from the 2009 Wisconsin Poets' Calendar to celebrate the start of November.

Before the Fall
by Alice D'Alessio

We brake against the earth's spin,
clutching this lush
and gaudy day; spiral
of hawks against the blue
and sumac spreading fire
in tallgrass prairie.
We gather apples
from the last tree --
lumpy rejects, they burst
with cidery exultation
on the tongue. Then
pause once more
by the beaver pond
where fresh-gnawed sticks
arrest the stream. As if by
peering deep into the murky
bowl we could unlock
time's secrets.
A single yellow leaf drops,
Somewhere the night begins.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dick's Latest Creation and a Scary Poem

Every year it's the same. My dear husband puts off carving pumpkins until the last minute, but when he gets to it he throws heart and soul into the project. Personally, I am scared of sharp objects, convinced I'll slice off a finger while handling an Exacto blade, or even a kitchen knife. I have a little hand saw that works pretty well... Anyway, he claims to have thought about this all year. My dopey smiling jack-o-lantern is nothing memorable, but his snowman made from three stacked pumpkins sports charcoal for eyes, nose, mouth and buttons. There's no way to light it, which is a disappointment to me, since lit pumpkins are what I like best. Anyway, he's proud as punch, so I decided to show the world.

Here's a little poem that's quite a tongue twister from my days of teaching English.

Ravin's of a Piute Poet Poe
by C.L. Edson
(Scholastic Magazine, 1963)

Once upon a midnight dreary -- eerie, scary -- I was wary;
I was weary, full of sorry, thinking of my lost Lenore.
Of my cheery, eerie, faery, fiery dearie -- nothing more.
I lay napping when a rapping on the overlapping coping
woke me -- grapping, yapping, groping -- I went hopping,
leaping!, hoping that the rapping on the coping
was my little lost Lenore.
That, on opening the shutter, to admit the latter critter,
in she'd flutter from the gutter, with her bitter eyes aglitter.
So I opened wide the door -- what was there?
The dark wier and the drear moor -- or, I'm a liar!:
The dark mire, the drear moor, the mere door ...
And nothing more.
Then in stepped a stately raven, shaven like the Bard of Avon.
Yes, a shaven, rovin' raven seeking haven at my door.
And that grievin', rovin' raven had been movin' (get me, Steven?!)
For the warm and loving haven of my stove and oven door.
Oven door and ... nothing more!
Ah, distinctly I remember, every ember that December
Turned from amber to burnt umber. (I was burning limber lumber
in my chamber that December and it left an amber ember.)
With each silken sad uncertain flirtin' of a certain curtain,
That old raven, cold and callous, perched upon the bust of Pallas
just above my chamber door -- a lusty, trusty bust thrust
just above my chamber door.
Had that callous cuss shown malice, or sought solace there on Pallas?
You may tell us, Alice Wallace! Tell this soul with nightmares ridden,
Hidden in the shade and broodin', if a maiden out of Eden
Sent this sudden bird invadin' my poor chamber
(and protrudin' half an inch above my door!).
Tell this broodin' soul (he's breedin' bats by so much sodden readin'--
Readin' Snowden's "Ode to Odin"!) ...
Tell this soul with nightmares ridden if -- no kiddin'! --
on a sudden, he shall clasp a radiant maiden born in Aiden
(or in Leyden, or indeed in Baden-Baden) ...
Will he grab this buddin' maiden, gaddin' in forbidden Eden,
Whom the angels named Lenore? And that bird said, "Nevermore!"
"Prophet", cried I, "thing of evil, navel, novel, or boll weavil,
You shall travel! On the level! Scratch the gravel now, and travel --
Leave my hovel, I implore!"
And that raven, never flitting (never knitting, never tatting,
never spouting Nevermore) still is sitting (out this ballad!)
On the solid bust, and pallid -- on the vallid, pallid, bust
Above my chamber door.
And my soul is in the shadow which lies floating on the floor --
Fleeting, floating (yachting, boating) on the fluting of the matting,
Matting of my chamber door!
[And that's all there is, and nothin' more!]