daily painting | tiny blooms

I am still sorting through photos taken last November when I stayed with my sister during her last weeks on the planet. I enjoyed walking through the damp neighborhoods, snapping pics, hoping to paint certain scenes. These small white blossoms were lovely and prolific and beautiful. Was taken aback — gorgeous blooming front yards right there in chilly, wintry Seattle! I started this small painting yesterday after returning from doing volunteer work in the Marin Headlands which takes the better part of a day. After cleaning myself up I wanted to get my paints out and do a small work. The very act of taking a wet paintbrush, loaded with Daniel Smith watercolor pigments, and splashing it over a chunk of clean white paper soothes and focuses me.

I had sort of a light bulb moment the other day — these days of grief and recovery and healing are necessary, however wrenching. Remember a million years ago when forest fires were often a good thing, before terrible outer space villains started focusing laser beams on California in order to destroy the state (wish I just made that up)? When flames burned off the undergrowth, without harming the trees, making the whole ecosystem healthier and happier? Well I sort of feel like that. Times like these are painful, and even feel dangerous at times, but crap gets burnt off I don’t need. Detritus goes up in smoke. I am seared into a better version of myself. Trust in myself deepens. Wish it wasn’t so damn uncomfortable, but I think it’s all good. I do keep my fire extinguisher nearby though. Must mind the embers. Or find some asbestos socks.

6″ x 6″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $45

 

 

 

daily painting | contained

A favorite place for me to visit is the nearby Alameda/Oakland estuary where these huge ships deliver and pick up containers filled with all kinds of goodies. I love watching the shipping cranes in action, seeing the tugs escort the hulking beasts to moor under the praying-mantis-like contraptions, admiring the lovely San Francisco skyline and bridges in the background. The other day I snapped a few photos of this scene as I loved the bright red hull of this hard-working, ocean-crossing vessel.

Ok folks a bit of therapy-speak coming up so feel free to check out now. Here goes. Some of my most profound healing moments occurred in a group therapy setting, facilitated by our skilled and beloved counselor Peter Frechette, several decades ago. One exercise we did was to create a “container” — a safe way to express deep emotion, grief, sadness. This amazing environment, where trust had developed between group members, was difficult, challenging, healing, life-changing. For example, a person I might choose with whom I felt comfortable would hold me in a protective, gentle way so I could emote and let old childhood feelings out. For me to feel so secure was earth-shaking and phenomenal. Thus, the title! For this painting is of a container ship, and I hope you think I’m SOOO clever! (I’m not, but still.) These days grief often overtakes me, and while I do not have the safety of that group of peers to hold me while I weep, I know how to create a protected setting, which is often the overstuffed chair in my studio. Where I can sob away. Which brings profound healing and mending of my heart. I was immersed in the creative process of this painting today, pastel chalk dust flying. Loved every minute of it and danced away while drawing and painting (Sam Cooke is a favorite). Yesterday, though, I sank into my spattered chair in my studio and cried and wept and was immersed in profound sorrow and loneliness. Relinquishing control of those strong emotions is the only way to heal. You have to let them wash over you. And you get to the other side. Contained, sheltered, better.

20″ x 30″ watercolor, sticks and ink, chalk pastel, pencil on paper = $775

 

 

 

daily painting | crab cove calla

Aaahh… the time of year my favorite flower blooms. Spotted this glory at Crab Cove, and no I will not divulge my secret stash of overlooked Calla Lily plants somewhere in the bay area where I can swipe a few and no one pays any mind. The simplicity of this flower! The sexually suggestive “spadix” — isn’t that a fabulous word? — stunning. How they unfurl when  blossoming, like a sail. The creamy whiteness of the “petals” (actually the scientific name is “spathe” and aren’t you excited to learn such trivia?). There is something cosmic and magical about these beauties and I can’t get enough of them, which is obvious if you’ve seen past blog-posts. The challenge for me is to keep the painting uncomplicated and not noodle around too much, avoiding adding details that only distract. I love juicy simplicity. Which is a good thing, as life during Covid has been pared down to fewer elements — simple exercise, an afternoon on a socially-distant beach, cooking soup, Zooming with friends, playing with pen and ink and watercolor. Grieving. Challenging days, now. But I know there is much to look forward to when it’s safer out there in the world to roam around and travel and go to a favorite cafe and hug our friends. Holding on to those visions during my darker, sadder days, which helps.

8″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $75

 

 

 

daily painting | outburst

My lush, blooming amaryllis bulb has four giganto blossoms atop its stalk like those tall poles with siren loudspeakers you see outside sometimes. Four! Each the size of a big salad plate, with another stalk reaching up, hoping to outdo its sibling. I decided to do a rendition of this lushness in my studio using larger paper, ink with sticks, watercolor and pastel.

In elementary school I remember science projects, simple experiments of planting seeds and watching them sprout and grow. I was quietly and secretly amazed that little small hard things could contain a miracle like that — how could a tiny seed hold so much information, and need so little to burst open with life? I carefully — unconsciously — held back my curiosity and thirst for knowing these things, as that meant vulnerability and vulnerability meant exposure and exposure meant danger, either from my father’s rage and derision or my mother’s mocking, sharp tongue. I learned to stay deep inside myself and thus survive. Once I arrived in my twenties, struggling with crippling PTSD from childhood trauma, I sought — and found — professional help. My first therapist gave me words for my roiling feelings, helped me find support groups, counseled me and guided me into hope and love and wholeness.

These spectacular blooms grew out of a lumpy, humble, ugly duckling of a bulb. How is that not a divine marvel? As I painted these flowers, I got completely lost in the creative process and felt a joy in making art I hadn’t felt in many months. I was a whirling dervish of splashy bright paint and powdery pastel chalk and drippy India ink and I hardly knew my name, what day it was, the time. It was a Disney Fantasia dream reminding me that life happens, whether from seeds or bulbs or paintbrushes or pens and inks. No stopping its amazingness!

22″ x 19″ watercolor, sticks and ink, chalk pastel, pencil on paper = $550

 

 

 

daily painting | meanderings

Graphite crayons, oil pastels, pencils, chalk pastels and crayons are in the top tray of my art therapy toolbox these days. I love how the marks wander through a square of white paper. They are helping me walk through unknowable mysteries of intense emotion.

I’m reading a book called The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. I have an assortment of books lined up by my bed, waiting for me to discover their magic. Having books I look forward to absorbing is like having money in the bank — I know I can relax because great reads are piled up in my fat book account. I’ve had Dog Stars for awhile. Heller is one of my favorite writers, so when I go to Walden Pond Books in Oakland I head for the used book shelves in the back corner and see what they’ve got (Louise Penny always, Louise Erdrich, Heller; his book Celine is an all-time fave). Last summer I pulled Dog Stars out of my stack, but the description on the back had the word “pandemic” in it and at the time I thought better about reading a post-apocalyptic story. Too close to home. But it’s perfect for today. Heller’s books have themes of grief and loss running through them, but they are not dreary or bleak. Just the opposite — he writes of connection and humanity and love and beauty in the midst of loss and sadness and I find his words especially comforting in these times. The protagonist, Hig, makes no apologies for his feelings — or his weeping — and I’m attracted to that kind of fearlessness. I aspire to it. So today I follow my own inner knowing, my deep need to allow mourning to take me down her river. I know I will find dry land again. I’ll be OK. And I have a fierce desire to be true to my heart, for that’s where wholeness is. Isn’t it hard to give ourselves permission just to feel what we feel, regardless of what it is? To make room for it? I find it takes terrific courage and trust. And it is often quite isolating. But for me it is as essential as breathing. Today, I follow this encouragement by Eckhart Tolle: “I relinquish all resistance to the present moment.” That brings me peace, even in pain. Thank you for witnessing my journey.

9.25″ x 9″ oil pastel, chalk pastel, pencil, ink, crayon on paper = $110

 

 

 

daily painting | amaryllis from angela

What could be better to lift one’s spirits than dramatic blooms like these that magically grow out of a bulb that was a gift from a kind neighbor? It’s a kind of miracle, and things that are alive bring lightness to my tired soul — from these stalks erupting into dramatic blossoms to feisty finches at the feeder to cormorants diving for wiggly little worms. Focusing on the natural world is a wonderful and encouraging distraction. I’ve been watching this stalk of green grow up out of a ceramic pitcher in my living room for several weeks and — voila! Big showy white flowers! Another stalk is also ascending so maybe a second act is on its way. Such simple, glorious beauty growing out of a bumpy bulb (my experiment with growing sunflower sprouts has been slightly less successful). I’ve been watching the stalks grow, itchy to paint the flowers once they popped. I was happy to get my watercolors out today after a morning of sadness, followed by the lovely news my sewage outtake hose had disconnected outside my home (all fixed now; again, Angela’s kindness via a phone call alerted me to the yucky problem she discovered while walking past my house; Vern to the rescue!). I’m fairly snugged in now, warm and comfy as the rains come and the winds start to pick up. Yet again I am saved by putting one foot in front of the other even when my insides are roiling with grief. A story on NPR today helped as well — about people hitting the “pandemic wall” as we desperately hope this terrible virus will someday fade into the background though now it continues to hunt us and scare us and keep us from each other. I have hope but my dark moods I’m sure are part of the state of things we humans now struggle with. We’re all hanging in there. And we will keep doing so. We just need to keep paying attention — to our feelings, to each other. How lucky I am to have warm and kind humans in my life!

10″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $90

 

 

 

daily painting | headlong

Lately I’ve been obsessed with making marks on paper with chunky graphite pencils, crayons, pastels and big fat oil pastel sticks which are vibrant and messy and slippery and full of pigment. This one also has ink, watercolor, and acrylic paint. It’s an abstract smorgasbord. Using all these different media (mediums?) is great fun, and takes me out of my thinking brain and deep into my instincts, intuition and emotions; I let the artwork guide me, and it tells me what it wants. These processes of creating art, as I have said a million times ’til you are bored to tears, dear reader, are essential to keeping my head on straight, a challenge more pressing than usual right now, grief being the gorilla sitting on my chest most days. Sometimes she weighs me down so heavily I question if I’m mentally unhinged. And then she lets up some. Or maybe not until the next day do I feel it’s OK to still be breathing. But I know it will pass and it takes time. Months. Years. Read this last night in the book, The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, a favorite writer: “Grief is an element. It has its own cycle like the carbon cycle, the nitrogen. It never diminishes not ever. It passes in and out of everything.” I’m cycling through, wishing it was on the gentle setting instead of heavy load.

6.5″ x 6.75″ ink, watercolor, acrylic, pastel, crayon, oil pastel, pencil on paper = $60

 

 

 

daily painting | gardenias

My baby sister and I went out exploring one day in the nearby woods when we were little. Mill Valley hillsides are covered with thickets of poison oak, and we were too young — or too careless — to appreciate its dangers. We soon had horrid rashes, but Kathy in particular suffered so badly her swollen eyes were all but glued shut and she had to get medical treatment. This morning I feared similar eye socket puffiness, as I sobbed so hard during various moments of Biden’s inauguration yesterday I feared my neighbors would knock on my door to see if I was OK. I didn’t quite understand the fierceness of my weeping and at first thought it was because I am in a time of grief. I’m sure that was a factor, but more was going on (and that’s my Rachel-Maddow-style-where-the-hell-is-she-going-with-this intro).

I’m really good in a crisis. I don’t panic and I meet the situation with a clear head. Then, after things have become calmer, I fall apart and feel all the emotions of the difficult moment. I think the relief of having Trump gone was the reason for my strong emotion as I got a better sense of what so many of us have been feeling for the four years of the hellish Trump administration when we felt assaulted daily with blatant white supremacy, tens of thousands of lies, unapologetic misogyny, careless incompetence, greed and corruption. Don’t need to remind anyone of what it’s been like and yes I am absolutely and without apology stating my views of the shocking horrors that came with pumpkinhead’s administration. We’ve been enduring it for four very long and trying years, and now Biden, a grown-up who gives a damn, is in the White House. And the feelings of reprieve washed over me and I wept.

And my peepers are mostly working today. Swelling not too bad. I feel like a wrung out dishrag but I’m fine with that. Congratulations, America. You did the right thing and this is a huge moment. We’re a bit shaky, but we’ll keep bumping along. Good luck Mr President and Madam Vice President. You’ve got this. [I worked on this painting yesterday when I wasn’t going through boxes of Kleenex.]

7″ x 10″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $90

 

 

 

daily painting | jean gray

Kitty #2 for the Frank Bette Center for the Arts fundraiser (www.frankbettecenter.org). I was liking this painting until I needed to do the face — thank god for acrylic pens. My fixers. Worked on this over a couple of days, taking a break to cry today as I watched the memorial service on TV for all the Covid deaths. Heart-shattering. I’ll be up in the morning bright & early & squirrelly to celebrate Biden’s inauguration which can’t happen soon enough. I have struggled lately with dark moods, and today is a bit better. We can all say we’ve been through many difficulties in life — you can’t be on the planet for six decades, as I have, without pain and loss — and being this old gives one perspective; this has been an exceedingly challenging chapter both for myself and my country and we’ll get through it. Wild winds whipped through the bay area last night and today but so far no deck chairs have sailed through my neighbor’s windows. Weather as metaphor. I’ll make some comforting soup tonight and sway along with the rocking and rolling as my houseboat is buffeted by the fierce gusts (which are starting to calm down). She’ll be OK. I’ll be OK. Mooring lines are secure.

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

 

 

 

 

daily painting | zuri

The Frank Bette Center for the Arts in Alameda (“FBC”) is having a fundraiser; folks sent in photos of their pets and FBC assigned volunteer artists to create artwork of the kitties and dogs and other critters (I was kind of hoping for a turtle). Check out www.frankbettecenter.org. Zuri was my assignment — I’m working on an orange tabby as well, and the paint is drying as I write this. Kind of housebound today — a bit under the weather and this morning I freaked out as I ate some of last night’s dinner salad and it tasted, well, mediocre. Is it my taste buds? Am I sick with Covid? No other symptoms, but I’ll lie low and quarantine for now just in case. I think it was just a rather bland salad as my morning tea was delicious. I suspect it’s because my emotions are raw and my nerves are like unraveling mooring lines; had a fairly dark night last night, wondering if loneliness and isolation could be fatal. It sure feels desperate and horrid and I’m thoroughly sick of it. But then, my darling granddaughter in Sacramento FaceTimed me today and I got to say hello and laugh at her two adorable tots (who are 5 and 2) and hear the latest stories about their antics (like finding a whole jar of vaseline and covering their bodies with it — including hair, bedding, blankets, the dog); it takes serious dish detergent to remove the gooey mess, I learned. Ick. But they all seem happy and healthy and normal, and though my arms ache to hold them and my lips don’t remember what it’s like to kiss loved ones, it was fun to see the fam on my little screen. Sigh. One day at a time. Hope tonight’s dinner is a bit more satisfying. I’ll let you know.

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