I live ten minutes from Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey. The order of monks that reside there have been so gracious to share the trails of their large natural area with the public. It’s a treasure- one of the few places left closeby where one may take a quiet ramble in nature. I set off solo early in the morning for an Earth Day hike. It’s pleasant with friends but by oneself you have the opportunity to notice so much more and the birds and other wildlife are much more willing to present themselves.
The main Guadalupe Loop is a steep one- about 1.5 miles up. At the top of the mountain is a primitive shrine to Our Lady Of Guadalupe where visitors can meditate, admire the view, and leave offerings- Catholic or not. It’s the kind of a hike where you can leave with a storm in your brain and then come down with head full of sunshine.
It’s good to remember where we come from especially now- the earth needs our attention and love more than ever.
“a statement of the beliefs or aims which guide someone’s actions”.
Over the years I have collected some words of wisdom that have guided me through this adventure we called life. I decided to finally write them down in a format that was easily accessible. At first, I considered a small booklet but then I settled on a poster format. This would serve as a mini “Graffiti Wall” that I could access in an instant
This was a project I did not want to fuss over (avoid perfection, just get ‘er done). I grabbed a 14” x 11” piece of cardboard, painted a coat of yellow paint over it with a little embellishment, put my cartoon self in the center, and then started writing my words and phrases on the board in different colors and sizes. There is plenty of room for more guiding principles as this is an ongoing project. You can never have enough words of wisdom.
I keep this posted in my studio and glance at it now and again. It keeps me grounded as with my personal mission statement- but that’s a whole different post…
“Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Layughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.“
I needed a large piece of artwork to hang behind our bed- preferably a painting to put the finishing touch on our Covid bedroom remodel. We started this project wall by wall at the beginning of the lockdownto light up a dark vintage 1940s bedroom in this old farmhouse to something fresh and airy. Off came the dark blue wallpaper and the remnants of an old brick hearth- something I hated for the 28 years I slept under it. Now the walls are a lovely light green with white woodwork and new white blinds. This painting would be the symbol of new beginnings.
I am an artist but not a painter- not my thing. My skills are in printmaking, ceramics, and mixed media. In general I work on a smaller scale than this project required. In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of an abstract painting of a rural farm landscape in cheery colors. Extensive research online turned up nothing that I liked. Original art was out of my price range. That left the task up to me to manifest the painting.
Often when I am faced with a large creative challenge my first default is procrastination. That was not an option in this case. I wanted this room to have closure. So I fleshed out my recipe I’ve used before (which with some revision works for writing projects)…
Vision– what do I see as a finished result?
Concept– what do I want to express?
Reference sources– images for a color palette, design ideas
Proper materials for the project (pull out those 25 year- old acrylic paints)
Timer to keep me on task (essential)
I broke down the project into small steps such as…
Figure out the proper size of the painting
A trip to the art supply store to pick up a cradled (dimensional) artboard of the right dimension.
Another trip to pick up the proper sealer
Set my trusty timer and paint for an hour straight with no interruptions- no matter how scared I was of screwing up. Keep going– paint until the timer dings.
Repeat the above step over and over until done, make tons of mistakes, and paint over them. Revisit reference material for guidance.
I wish I documented the process to show how muddled the first attempts were but I was too involved with the process and making a mess.
Eventually, I started to find my voice which beckoned me to add familiar media: collage paper, water soluble crayon, colored pencil, paint pen, a little gold leaf to add to the sky, and a few ceramic shards from an old pioneer homestead found closeby. Then I started to enjoy the process and looked forward to visiting my studio every day. To get to that point though, I had to push through my insecurities. In that regard, my timer was my best friend.
The finished piece now hangs in the bedroom. It may not appeal to the eyes of others but that was not the goal. I love it. The design represents the landscape around my home. There are details that are personal to me within the piece. Moreso it represents to me that by pushing through your one’s fears, you can accomplish your goals. Just start and keep going.
Hurtling towards the spring equinox I awoke to the sun in my eyes this morning. It’s been months since that’s happened. Yesterday I made an appointment for my second Covid vaccine. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Soon I will be able to resume somewhat of a normal life. Camping and river trips are starting to appear on the calendar.
As with everyone else – it’s been a rough go through this pandemic (and everything else). If I were going to give a speech at the “Covid Survival Awards” at the beginning (while holding my covid 19 virus trophy) I would have to thank my two, now 7-month-old tuxedo kittens, Zoey and Zander, and their baby mama, Zinnia (“Mama Z”) for unwittingly helping time to survive this time. Their endless antics and purrs have helped to keep laughter and smiles in my life. I’m sure many of you out there feel the same…
Last year I was looking for a daily creative practice that I could stick to. I was not much of a sketcher or morning pager. I needed something kind of short and sweet. Then I noticed the 2’ blank square in my 2020 day planner. Not much going on there but a few spillovers from my to-do list. I committed to filling up those square every day with a doodle or something creative. The ground rules are to use pen and have no judgement on what I come up with. Spontaneity is key.
Fast forward over a year later- my day planner practice is my creative kick start to the day. Not only does it get my pen to the paper in a nonthreatening way, I have created an artifact of my life to look back on though this crazy time of Covid and political craziness. Mostly I create a daily doodle, a weather report, a cartoon, quote, poem or something about my life with words and/or pictures. It’s been an evolving practice. Some have become finished pieces, most I don’t appreciate until I look back at them.
This year, 2021 I couldn’t find the same day planner so I made my own. I purchased a simple blank spiral sketchbook and glued some decorative paper. I customized it for words of the year and monthly goals and then grid out each week as they come along. At first I measured but now I just eyeball it letting the lines be as wonky as they want to be for interest.
My planner is now less about what I need to do but how I need to be…creative and fully alive, paying attention to the inspiration each day has to offer. I highly recommend trying out this daily practice.
It was as unexpected as the pandemic- going gray I mean. I hadn’t planned on it. For 15 years I doused my hair with Clairol Natural Instincts # 4 dark brown. Just like not planning on going gray, I had not planned on ever coloring my hair in the first place. Then one day when I was 50 the lady at the pool counter asked if I wanted a senior pass.
I let my hair grow out, again unexpected, and unplanned. Closed salons meant getting a haircut was not possible. So after years of stylishly short hair, I now sport a mid-length gray mop.
I hardly recognize myself anymore but I barely recognize the world I live in of face masks, lockdowns, and a sobering death toll. I barely recognize this country after four years of political and social turmoil.
Gray is a color that is neither black nor white but something in between. It’s all gray now, a state of waiting, everything shrouded in a fog of uncertainty. When will I be vaccinated? When will this isolation end? When can I have my old life back?
In the matter of hair, gray signals more the end than the beginning. My graying head has become a personal symbol of my mortality but I’m not afraid of it. I’m going wild and just letting me be who I am without a care. Write, draw, scribble, sing loud- it’s all good.
When we can all talk about this era in the past tense and even laugh a little, I will remain gray. There’s no way I can go back. There’s no way we can go back. From inequity to racism too much has been exposed. There can be no more cover-ups.
At the end of San Antonio Road, past the shopping centers, apartments, and freeway, across from the Google parking lot, the pavement stops and the wetlands begin. This is the Baylands a world of dikes, ponds, and meanders, where the San Francisco Bay meets land. Here the ebb and flow of the tide replaces the rhythm of rush-hour. Here waterfowl out number people. When family business calls me back, this is where I go to find refuge.
Equipped with my binoculars and bird book I set out on the dike trails to take a wander and look at birds on this rare sunny, pleasant, February day. I come upon a wonderland of shorebirds, and all manner of ducks. There’s a flutter of excitement as the tide ebbs exposing fresh mud. Greater yellow legs, and avocets gather to probe for a meal. In the water, ducks dabble for food, dropping their heads into the water and then tipping upside down exposing their derrieres to the sky like a circus act. Some ducks are divers, dissapearing momentarily from the water’s surface as they fly underwater for their prey.
On a far bank, a passle of pelicans sit pruning their white feathers with their huge bills. A great egret poses for me graciously by the water’s edge.
Suddenly, a murmuration of dowitchers fly over me so close I can hear the force of their feathers. then land in the water with a satisfying plop. Two swift flying merlins exchange prey in the sky.
In the doldrums of this pandemic my creative image energies are ebbing more than flowing. It’s times like this at times all I can muster is to tidy up. Usually that involves just organizing my workspace. Then after years of procrastination I faced down the leaning pile of old cardboard portfolios full of aging class artwork and design projects that lurked in my closet. The problem is when you hang onto old work there’s really no room for new- physically or metaphorically.
Bye-bye charcoal nudes, bye-bye watercolors, bye-bye drawings. Yep you were “A” quality, fun, but at this point, are not doing anyone any good including myself. And woe to my son who would be stuck sorting them out when I’m packed up to the Rock of Ages Rest Home. The recycling bin is full. I have a well stocked collage box and plenty of classy bookmarks as souvenirs. I took pictures of the T-shirts I designed and donated them to a thrift store where someone can put them to use.
Bidding farewell to old creative work of any kind is like saying goodbye to parts of oneself- but thinking about it, all that hard work and practice is still with me deeply embedded in the work I do today. When I peruse all those past efforts I think of them as either good or bad but merely steps along the path to where I am as an artist today.
We are but at some total of all our work and practice. The beat goes on.
You want to be a writer, but you don’t know how or when. Find a quiet place; use a humble pen.
Recently I received a question on my Almost Daily Doodle Instagram feed. “What kind of software do you use?” I had to laugh. I guess the software would be my hand and my hardware would be my pens. Years ago when I had to make money I did much of my illustration work by computer but I found working by hand so much more intimate and enjoyable.
I began my love affair with pens in elementary school in the early 1960s. In the third grade, there was this rite of passage where we all learned cursive handwriting. It was time to put away those rotund pencils they gave in first and second grade to learn our letters with the privilege of using a pen. This was the first taste of the grown-up world and we relished it. My girlfriends and I were particularly fond of adding stylish curlicues to our letters and using flowers to dot our Is. Then there was the endless practice of refining our signatures.
To showcase our newfound skills we begged our parents to buy us Shaeffer fountain pens that used little ink cartridges. Blue was the preferred color of the day. It was a badge of honor to have a blue knuckle on your middle finger where those pens would at times leak.
Many schools have dropped cursive handwriting in favor of keyboarding. It’s a shame since there are documented benefits to the brain in the areas of thinking, memory, and creativity when you write with pen to paper. I do most of my writing by hand first before typing on a computer. My pen helps me think.
In my twenties, I became an accomplished calligrapher with all manner of dip pens until carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand curtailed that pursuit. I’ve had all kinds of artistic endeavors since but now in my 60s, I’ve returned to the simplicity of pen to paper to do my artwork.
I have a variety of sketch pens I use- nothing too expensive. Recently I’ve switched from Microns to Hi-Tech and now Uniball Signo. Recently while perusing the Jet Pens website for a reorder I came across their fountain pen section. One can spend a fair amount of money on a fountain pen but I found a Pilot Metropolitan for $19.50. Live it up! Third-grade joy here I come!
Since it came I’ve been sailing over smooth paper for my journal and other writing. What fun to write with a nice pen! If you want a simple pleasure consider getting yourself some cool pens (and nice smooth paper). Check out your local art supply store or go to JetPens.com. Below are some samples of my favorite pens. Happy writing!