daily painting | lilies at lucy’s

I just wanted to get out my tray of watercolors today and I didn’t care what I produced. I started working from a photo of lilies in my therapist Lucy’s front yard, and it wasn’t quite working so I made it an abstract. I disappeared into art. It was out of ragged desperation — I’m home today after a nutty few weeks that included a string of bonkers events — my bro is slowly showing more symptoms of the brain cancer advancing and mental illness and addictions are ravaging my family and my car is failing (with elusive causes) and I had an argument with the hospice social worker and … well, blah-blah-blah. I was frantic for relief today (while also grateful to have a chance to rest), jogging one step ahead of a melt-down-panic-attack tsunami, so today was weird. I pulled ice cream out of the freezer and melted chocolate to put on top. This alone was alarming — I never do that. I sat and did breathing exercises, fighting off going completely numb while staring into space. I briefly worried I’d lose my lunch. I paced the floor, wondering how close I am to a padded room in the psych ward (but I’d hate the drugs).

My most loving friends would remind me of all that is happening in my family and in my life and tell me my crazy feelings are only natural. But how can I make them go away? Not going to happen. So now as I type this while sitting on my couch with my laptop waiting for the senate hearings to begin I invite the grief, rage, pain, sadness and disbelief to sit beside me. It’s crowded, but this is today’s party at Emily’s house.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, acrylic on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | cota street chimneys

Here’s another watercolor sketch from my week in Santa Barbara a few months ago to attend a watercolor workshop. Gosh I’m glad for that wonderful trip there; how amazed and grateful I am that I got to do that, as I came home to the brother brain crisis very soon after. This apartment complex, called “Cota Street Studios”, was designed by an imaginative, coloring-outside-the-lines architect who created quirky chimneys and wonky corners and amusing architectural flourishes that made us all smile with delight. Finding such colorful scenes makes life a wonder, don’t you think?

Well I wasn’t so thrilled with the wonders of life yesterday, I tell ya. After spending $1400 to fix my 2006 Prius last week, heeding advice of knowledgeable mechanics who tell me it’s a great car and worth fixing, it broke again yesterday (same symptoms, ugh). That’s when my dear pal Claire and I, after putting in a day of painting blinds for GGRO in the Marin Headlands, found out that tow truck drivers call that area, “The Deadlands,” as drivers don’t like to go out there. But someone finally did show up to truck us to the car shop in Berkeley and now I will await my mechanic’s next diagnosis. Sigh. Wish me luck. I know in life the tide comes in and the tide goes out. And jeez this muck is getting sticky and stinky.

7″ x 8″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor painting of magnolia bud by emily weil

daily painting | magnolia bud

Lucky me to have time with my dear friend Claire, visiting from WA! We visited my brother and afterward we headed over to Uncle Fuzzy’s yard in Mill Valley to enjoy some Chardonnay and chat. Claire and I (90% Claire, 10% Emily) looked after our old friend as he was dying of cancer two years ago, and the house is still in probate and not yet up for sale so I pulled my camping chairs out of the back of the car and we watched the woodpeckers and crows in the nearby trees and reminisced. During those months in 2020 Claire and I sat in the yard many times, sipping wine and laughing and shoring each other up while Russ (his given name) napped, as we loved him and he was soon leaving. So in Russ’s back yard is a gorgeous blooming magnolia, and this bud was just peeping out and getting ready to pop. 

I feel immersed in death and dying, and that sounds darker than I feel. Death is a fascinating part of life, and yes I will be shattered after my much-loved brother leaves the planet a few months from now. You get up in these years and loss is a part of the landscape. As one writer opined in an NPR interview, once you get past 60 you constantly carry a 100-lb sack of grief on your shoulder, as loved ones grow old and die. Yes, exactly. And there’s a magnificent beauty to that natural unfolding of things, though our hearts break daily. And this is a part of life, and how glorious to fully live, which is my response in the midst of all this. I want to live as largely as is humanly possible until I, too, get ready to leave the earth. I want to skid into that moment, waving my freak flag and laughing and rollicking with irreverence and giddy with joy at having been given this amazing gift of life.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor painting of bouquet of flowers by emily weil

daily painting | tj posies

I did several iterations of this Trader Joe’s bouquet, getting my paints out before my commute to Mill Valley for brother-time. As I’ve said about 100 times already, grabbing my porcelain tray full of watercolors and opening a hot-press watercolor paper sketchbook to spatter some “Opera Pink” onto wet paper heals my soul and helps me grieve. I feel so fortunate to be an artist. I suppose it helped as a kid too, now that I think of it — I doodled a lot with pencils.

Well maybe this post will actually trigger the MailChimp feed to send out emails to you folks who signed up for daily painting alerts. Invisible anti-art ghosts in the system have made things kind of messed up.

So here’s a question I wouldn’t ever in a million years have expected to ask my brother, but I did this morning on the phone: “How’s your penis?” He had a catheter malfunction yesterday which nicked him a little; the hospice nurse came to remedy the problem but, yuck, poor guy. The indignities and discomforts of needing nursing care. Once he was fixed up, I left his facility to drive home. Cried along the way, especially while listening to an interview on the radio (Fresh Air) with a neurosurgeon. I’m kind of tired of learning about brain tumors (while at the same time I continue to be fascinated). Should have changed the station to hear about how we women are again second-class citizens.

7″ x 7″ ink, watercolor, acrylic on paper = $65

 

 

 

watercolor and ink drawing of hollyhock by emily weil

daily painting | peralta hollyhock

As I left my therapist Lucy’s office on Peralta Ave in Albany the other day I noticed this lovely hollyhock towering in a yard across the street (snapped a photo). There’s something about these flowers — I only see them in the summer, and they seem quite accessible and almost pedestrian but also very gorgeous. They are not sophisticated or aloof, like a perfectly grown rose or an elegant lily. Which is why I think they are magnificent. Lucy is helping me walk through this very difficult chapter in my life (and in my family) — death, dysfunction, addiction, estrangement, cancer and suicide lurk. And death is a natural — even miraculous — part of life. And those of us left behind get out our mops and try to clean up the bloody bits of our beat-up spirits. Lucy advises me to keep my heart open. Which often seems impossible. But when I do, and choose to see the love and magic in the world that surround me, my steps are a bit lighter — I appreciate the red-shouldered hawk that flies overhead when I have conversations on the Mill Valley patio with my brother as we sit under a huge, blooming magnolia tree. Bright scarlet dragonflies zoom around outside my houseboat, skimming the estuary waters. Red tail hawks in a nearby Monterey Pine dodge dive-bombing crows. I get to see golden eagles have kids in the Sunol hills. Finches and sparrows mob the bird feeder on my deck. And, best of all, I absorb the warm hugs and loving affection from my brother. It’s a beautiful world.

OK now I am going to follow the steps a counselor suggested years ago when we experience hard times: Dial 911, step over the body, and do the dishes.

10″ x 7″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

painting of funky old fry pan by emily weil

daily painting | albany bulb

The Albany Bulb, a thumb of land poking out into SF bay behind Golden Gate Fields race track, is a wonder of funky, fabulous art. I’d never been there so was excited to join the urban sketch group yesterday, though it was quite chilly and drizzly (the weather eventually improved). Dogs joyfully run everywhere, there’s a small beach, and chunks of discarded concrete are piled up, where artists have applied paint (my favorite cement block was painted with the words, “Call Your Mother”). It was just great fun to explore all the varied art installations tucked around the walking paths. I stopped at a grove of trees where old pots and pans were strung between tree limbs, creating kitchen wind chimes. One pan had fallen onto the ground, which I chose to paint using monochromatic media. Painting this scene, stopping occasionally to say hello to a roaming, happy dog, was such a welcome change of scenery from the sad nursing facility where my brother is in hospice care. Art as therapy — it’s an enormous help, yet at the same time I am glad for many sweet moments these days as I hang out with my brother. In a few months he’ll be free of brain cancer, Parkinson’s, and a rocky marriage. I’m glad for that, though I can’t begin to imagine life on this earth without him.

7″ x 10″ ink, artgraf water-soluble graphite on paper

 

 

 

watercolor painting of tennessee valley trail by emily weil

daily painting | tennessee valley trail

After visiting my brother in Mill Valley the other day I headed to the Tennessee Valley trail not far away, a spot I hadn’t visited in several years. The fog was roaring in and I knew my afternoon hike would be breezy and deliciously cool. My walking sticks helped me along the way and at one point I stopped to listen to at least five different species of birds calling, including a Swainson’s Thrush, who sings a lilting, gorgeous song (I’m not so savvy about identifying birds by song, but since I bugged GGRO’s Allen Fish about this mystery birdcall a few years ago I knew this one). A wildlife photographer was trying to spot the bird for a good photo but it was elusive visually; its song, however, filled the valley. That lovely walk soothed my heart. As nature always, always does.

So. Time on my hands? Seriously? What IS that? (I’m adapting, however — now in its ninth week, this brother-brain-cancer crisis has consumed my life). But with Covid roaming the halls of James’s nursing home I’m at home for now (no argument there). So the paints are coming out. And the laundry is done. The dust on my bookshelf is wiped clean (it was practically sprouting seedlings). I’m still tired, but I think that is a fact of life these days. And I am learning that I need to call by name the sadness that sits next to me on my couch every day. To welcome it and not ignore it. To embrace it, even. Loss is a central ingredient of my life for now. I accept it.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor and ink painting of flower by emily weil

daily painting | mill valley posey

Sometimes a complete collapse is the only reasonable thing to do. Since I am voluntarily isolating myself after five cases of Covid broke out in my brother’s assisted living home, where he is in hospice care, I’m making sure I am not infected and of course not visiting Jamey’s residence (doubtful they’d let me in anyways, though they did on Friday; that place isn’t the most organized).

Deep depression and alienation is how I’d describe my last couple of days. The I-can-hardly-move, wearing-lead-shoes kind of dark stupor. Big black clouds encase my head; visibility severely limited. This morning when I woke up, I performed my usual routine of grabbing my headphones and doing my guided meditation (though I can barely concentrate on it these days). Afterwards I was far, far away. Kind of comatose. So I didn’t fight it and lay in bed, letting myself be drifty and exhausted. Two and a half hours later I came to (my poor little guinea pig had a delayed Sunday brunch).

So many reasons to feel pulled into the muck. Catastrophic Supreme Court decisions, the loss of both of my sisters, politicians who care only about power and not Americans, strife within my family, my brother’s aggressive brain cancer, more than a million Americans dead from a cunning pandemic (as the kind counselor with hospice says, any one of those things would flatten a person).

And today, I just can’t fight it off. So my activities will be simple. I will go for a bike ride, call my brother, and get out my paints. This crumpling of my spirit will not be resisted. “There’s beauty in the breakdown,” is a line in a song from the movie, Garden State. Today I am ravishing.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor painting of old farm house by emily weil

daily painting | lonely house

I have a delightful student named Harvey. We meet for private lessons and he brought me a photo of an old, isolated farm/ranch house (I think taken in the eastern Sierras); he had started a painting of the scene, and I did a demo painting of the snapshot to show technique (students either love or hate my loose style of painting; I think my approach to watercolors is growing on him). I’m posting this today as a kind of a test as my automatic RSS feed stopped working (that’s a fancy way of saying you who have signed up for emails when I upload a new painting weren’t getting the notices). So I’m wearing my IT hat today and hope the Mail Chimp issues have been resolved.

So many ups and downs these days — to be expected I suppose. I bounce from deep depression about my brother’s grave illness to joy at the love of the visitors for my brother. My darling niece Melody and her husband and two little girls visited the bay area from Seattle several days ago and without her mom’s presence — Kay had a very strong personality (she died 19 mo ago) — we could have a marvelous visit. Funny how death and life work themselves out. With pain and loss come gifts and unexpected blessings. OK we’ll see if the link to today’s posts reaches the inboxes of my fan club. Thanks all. Time to head over to Mill Valley to hang out with the bro.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor and ink painting of old farm house by emily weil

daily painting | cota street studios

Feels like eons ago now but in early April I got to join a watercolor workshop in Santa Barbara and it was such a blast. And the timing! A week or so after my return, the crisis of bro’s brain cancer crashed into my family. I could fully enjoy my week in Santa Barbara without worry, thanks to the generosity of my dear friend Sue who gifted me the workshop (and also because my kind neighbor Beth took good and loving care of my guinea piggy).

Anyways, we had a wonderful afternoon painting at Cota Street Studios near downtown — a marvelous and quirky apartment building designed by an architect who definitely colored outside the lines — chimneys atilt, iron balcony railings full of wondrous twists and turns, hidden little alcoves built into the stucco filled with delightful surprises. Here is a door of one of the apartments; the entrances to the residences (each apt worth millions) are accessed from a wonderful and lush courtyard. Very peaceful and beautiful and quirky and lively (and yes I misspelled Cota). Here’s a link: www.jeffsheltonarchitect.com/cota-street-studios

7″ x 5″ ink, watercolor on paper