abstract by emily weil using pastels, watercolor and ink

daily painting | tempest

I think mourning doves have the prettiest colors. Did you know that they have turquoise eyeliner all around their eyes? I learned that because of the suction-cup birdfeeder on my kitchen window they visited, where I could take a close look (which I had to stop supplying with seeds as the pigeons were clutching onto my window screen, ruining it). I suppose it makes sense I’m fond of a pretty, taupe-colored bird with mourning in its name these days. But don’t get my neighbor started on this species as she hates it when they nest on her front porch; I saw a photo of a dove that had built its nest in the windshield-wiper well of a Honda.

I’ve been pondering the powerful forces of grief and loss (well, duh). Life-changing, for most folks. And no one is exempt from this experience. We are reshaped by deaths and painful losses — for some into despair and bitterness and rage and for others into growth and clarity and greater strength. This fascinates me, how we develop and evolve both as humans and as a country. I want more than anything for the deaths and losses in my life to make me stronger and more resilient. And kinder. And more compassionate. And less encumbered by childhood pain. Losing my sibs has upset my apple cart forcefully, affecting everything. Everything. Last night I couldn’t sleep and was mentally acknowledging various shipwrecks in my life — in my family, in my relationships — and visualized climbing into the lifeboat, rowing away, finding solid land. I can’t imagine feeling dry and safe again, but I suppose I will.
[Did this abstract in my kitchen today.]

9″ x 12″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper = $140

 

 

 

watercolor of dog by emily weil

daily painting | loki

I hope your holidays are sane and warm and safe and that you did not spend Christmas in an airport (wouldn’t it be nice if the airlines treated us like humans?). This little guy Loki was a commission for a Christmas present, and much fun to paint. 

With a lot of help we got my bro into friend Sue’s house for a fabulous Christmas feast. It took some doing — wheelchairs are cumbersome and he’s a tall man — and was a bit risky, for he gets fatigued easily, and crashes hard once tired. But it worked! And I had much help. I think it was fun for him — he wore a very dapper derby hat with a red feather and looked quite handsome.

This is Jim’s last Christmas, and his demise is slow as the brain cancer advances, but I’m told there may be a tipping point in the next weeks with a possible sudden decline. I would welcome that, so he’s done with this awful march of glio sarcoma through his neurons; he’s going into the 9th month of this sorrowful journey. My heart feels like it’s in a box of broken glass, but so far my homicidal urges have been restrained toward certain callous, cold-blooded individuals in Jim’s orbit. And such is the grief path I am on. I am getting more skilled at showing myself compassion as my emotions take me down this bumpy, harrowing path. I’ve given up on trying to be warmly social in human gatherings and I’m OK with that. I’m civilized — that I can manage; I haven’t snarled at anyone in awhile. One helpful outlet is to open my window while driving on the freeway and scream. Very cathartic but it makes my throat scratchy (no one notices, ever).

Grief is hard. There’s very little room in this world for expressions of raw pain and emotion. So it’s pretty lonely sometimes. And it’s weird but I also am finding this to be a time of amazing healing and love and connection, for my moments with my brother are sweet and precious and as we hang out together I find that some of my childhood pain is mending. And as I write this I am chuckling at the purring noises my guinea pig makes when he hears the chirping mobs of finches and sparrows outside at the bird feeder. They are conversing. 

Sending new year love to you all. Isn’t it something? We keep showing up and putting one foot in front of the other. I’m proud of that.  

8″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, pencil, acrylic on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | grief in technicolor

My heart is full. There is such gob-smacking beauty in the world — earlier this week as I drove home from visiting the bro in San Rafael I was listening to Anderson Cooper’s podcast on grief (highly recommended). His mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, had a rough and lonely childhood and lost one son to suicide yet she embraced art and beauty in her life and loved the crazy juxtaposition of the heart-searing losses in life alongside the beautiful moments she experienced each day (“It’s about what is, not what if”). As I quietly cried, listening to the podcast (while carefully navigating the heavy traffic through Berkeley) I was amazed at how shattered my heart is with grief even as I marveled at the sunset over San Francisco (to my right) and the rainbow over the Berkeley hills (to my left). I am learning with humility to embrace all of life — loss, terror, joy, rage, gratitude, thrilling love and spectacular presentations from nature. It’s all just magnificent. I also heard of a book I must get, Our Book of Awesome, written by Neil Pasricha, a man whose wife left him at the same time his best friend committed suicide. He realized that every day life gives us tiny, brilliant flashes that we can embrace with wonder and awe. In this spectacular moment I aspire to keep my heart open and pay attention.  

10″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, pencil, acrylic on paper = $130

 

 

 

daily painting | november

My brother is upstairs dying. He’s dying while playing online poker with his long-time pals. He’s dying while he eats his lunch of “unidentifiable white fish.” He’s dying while I sit in a pocket of thin November sunlight on a lovely patio with views of Mt Tam, listening to the pleasant watery voice of a garden fountain that is murmuring next to my comfy outdoor-furniture perch. [And yes I suppose I should acknowledge that my brother is also upstairs living, which is true and wonderful.]

I am staring through sun-lit branches of autumn reds and yellows, waiting for my grief-tears to catch up with me; it’s pointless to try and absorb the NYT Book Review, for my attention span does not stretch past five sentences. I am immersed in sorrow and that is my present moment that I haltingly, reluctantly embrace. There’s a gray-cloudy peace that comes from this acceptance of wretchedness. It’s awful. I adore my brother and losing him will be like losing an essential body part. I dread that concrete wall of loss I will smash into — but there it is, getting closer. I clutch at hopeful lessons and positive thoughts but they are slippery and fleeting and I’m exhausted and angry from trying to keep my damn chin up. And… last night’s moonrise took my breath away.
[This painting was a quick watercolor class demo]

9″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | aldersly rose

Ahhh… the hungry ghost. He’s back. Here I was cooking along on this watercolor — I loved how the rose was developing — and then things got a bit muddy and complicated and the hungry ghost is jabbering in my ear about what a shitty artist I am. I HATE that.

A hungry ghost is a Buddhist concept I heard about in a lecture once. It is perpetually ravenous and feeds on joy, happiness, contentment and self-confidence. I notice that when I feel happy to be an artist or confident in myself as a sister or competent as a GGRO bander, the damn ghostie likes to rob me of my moments of peace and joy.

So I’m going to post this painting anyways. It is from a photo of the lovely rose garden at Aldersly, where my ailing brother resides. Those wonderful folks there told him that if he wished to employ Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID), they would help him do that in their beautiful rose garden (he has brain cancer and had expressed a wish to die outside).

He just told me he has decided not to make the choice for MAID, but will let that damn hungry cancer ghost do its nasty work. And I support him (as I would whatever he chose). Today painting is soothing me (I just started another rose painting) as I take a day off from brother care to stay home and rest. I feel so fortunate. I can paint and enjoy my home where I feel safe and content. Many, many gifts in my life. 

10″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper = $130

 

 

 

watercolor and ink painting of peruvian lilies

daily painting | peruvian lilies

Over the last weeks I’ve gotten my paints out to poke around at being an artist pretty regularly, but without uploadable results. Today after a blast of a morning playing at my new passion, paddling in a dragon boat in the alameda estuary, I came home to draw and paint, doing my best to be heedless of results. Good thing, too — I photographed some lovely sunflowers in Seattle two weeks ago as I wandered through my sister’s old neighborhood (we scattered her ashes in her favorite park), wanting SO badly to produce a good sunflower watercolor. Nope (they were OK, just not up to par). So I decided to do a wet, sloppy painting of these lovely purple Peruvian lilies from Trader Joe’s. 

It’s an excellent October afternoon — a few breezes (not as bad as forecast), slightly overcast skies, comfortable temps, smoke-free air. Enough sun to dry the paints when I prop the painting in the window.

And again I lean hard into the things that keep me right-side up. As my brother fades from brain cancer (fatigue, wobbliness but thankfully no headaches or seizures; he’s mostly still lucid) I find myself feeling skinless and vulnerable and out-to-sea most of the time. I’m learning to accept this state of my mind and heart. It’s exceedingly painful and uncomfortable but I certainly have no control over my desperate, excruciating emotions (and a pox on those who blow “toxic positivity” in my direction — do look that one up). And so be it, dammit. I’m here. I’m showing up. I’m trying really hard not to be an asshole (with splotches of success). Getting outdoors in nature (Tomales Bay was a treat last week) and getting out my watercolors and bending the ears of my compassionate pals are my mainstays. I don’t know where I am on any map. Can’t tell where I’m going; I am without a horizon. But as I write this my guinea pig Buster Posey is foraging in his cage for small-animal hay and making cute noises, I’m roasting some veggies in the oven (the thyme smells deliciously fragrant), the view outside my window of the marina is beautiful and calming, and I wave to my neighbors walking by on the docks. Life is awful. Life is hard. Life is wonderful. Life is amazing. 

10″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper = $130

 

 

 

water-soluble graphite painting of sweetgum tree by emily weil

daily painting | sweetgum tree

On the lovely Aldersly grounds in San Rafael, the skilled nursing facility where my brother now resides, there is a large, lovely shade tree on a lawn near a bench where Jim likes to rest after he does a few laps on the pathways in his walker to stretch his daddylonglegs (he’s 6’5”). Yesterday I rode my bike down to an Alameda nursery to ask for help in IDing the tree; with their help my best guess is American Sweetgum (Jim and I are curious).

Jim (or James or Jamey depending on my mood) thinks it would be nice to die under that tree. I agree. We have lots of deep talks about his ending as the galloping brain cancer takes over, and he may decide to use the MAID (“Medical Aid In Dying”) drugs to end things sooner rather than later so he can fulfill his desire to die outside. Lots of ongoing discussions on that topic. 

Yesterday was a rest day. I was knackered; a recent talk with bro was emotional and intense as we hashed out my concerns he is married to someone who emotionally batters him (there have been many conversations along those lines in recent years). I’ve long been concerned for him, as have been his closest friends who adore him. But the bashing has been so effective he adapts rather than confronts. I am nervous about explicitly writing about this family drama, but the model of abused/abuser is classic — denial, obfuscation, excuses — and I believe in being open about these painful topics as it’s something we don’t talk about. And we need to talk about it. I’d worry a bit if I was alone in my view, but his considerable group of supporters all share the same opinion.  

And I am powerless. Except to support and love him as he gets ready to leave this world and I am glad for him. No more brain cancer, no more Parkinson’s, no more spousal assaults. He’ll be done. The thought of being left behind makes me double over with stabbing stomach pains. But here I am. Armed with my pink pepto-bismol. I’ll be OK. 

10″ x 10″ ink, artgraf graphite, ink, watercolor on paper = $130

 

 

 

watercolor, ink and acrylic painting of pink flowers by emily weil

daily painting | albany front yard

I took out my phone to photograph a delightful front yard I strolled past in residential Albany last week. Pink flowers, backlit in the morning sun, danced like delicate, tutu-adorned ballerinas. They were lovely. When I got out my paints yesterday, at first I painted from a photo of an enormous magnolia blossom blooming in the tree outside my brother’s skilled nursing facility but the results were flat and dull. So I roamed around my photos and found these cute little pinkies and did painting #2.

I had a whole day at home yesterday and could get my house back into shape a bit and make a nice meal (“lemony pasta”). While waiting for layers of watercolor to dry I did chores, and it felt good to tidy up the lily pad. I’ll head back to San Rafael for brother-time this afternoon, as I miss him on those days I stay home. Precious times, these are. My heart is broken but I am fully, energetically, juicily alive and paying attention as I make this nutty, sad journey. Most days I do not feel like getting out of bed. But I still have to get to the bathroom. And then, hell, I might as well make a cup of tea. After that, yes, there’s always stuff to do.

8″ x 8″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper = $85

 

 

 

watercolor, ink painting of roses by emily weil

daily painting | roses

Tired, so tired. Friends at times remind me how taxing caregiving is, and how exhausting grieving is. Yes and amen; I’m there. And trying to cut myself some slack as I hear inner voices telling me I’m lazy or I should be more productive. Get back, mean critics who live in my head! Go and bully someone else (happy to share a few suggestions).

I have frequent conversations with myself. Sometimes I am gentle and follow my therapist’s direction to be as loving and compassionate with myself as I am with my dying, vulnerable brother. Sometimes I feel like an utter failure in life, wondering how I got here. Other times I think I am brave and sturdy, getting up every day and moving forward. 

My dear bro is considering end-of-life options, perhaps employing MAID — Medical Assistance in Dying. Either with this choice or letting the cancer take over his brain, he has an abbreviated future. And I support whatever he chooses. It is, after all, completely up to him. Some in the fam disapprove of this possibility and I hope he follows his own truth. He’s so steady — a decent and kind man. The staff in his skilled nursing facility are fond of him as he is not demanding or difficult. But his life is small and getting smaller, and though he is not in pain, it isn’t a happy existence. And he lets me frequently pester him to get up and take a walk outside or ask him to tell me anecdotes from his 79 years on the planet or discuss the dynamics in our family or explore death options. These moments are often sweet and intimate and I will hold them dearly in my heart for the rest of my years. I am deeply grateful. 

10″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper = $130

 

 

 

abstract painting by emily weil

daily painting | class demo abstract

I was photographing this painting today and as I edited it to clean up the image in Photoshop I realized it’s kind of a big penis in a salad bowl. Oh well. The unconscious mind at work again.
I was doing this class demo in today’s watercolor workshop I taught, showing different kinds of paper (smooth vs. textured). Then as my marvelous students beavered away on their paintings with great dedication I fooled around a bit more on the composition.
I LOVED teaching the workshop today. A welcome break from brother-care; pursuing my art passions keeps my feet on the ground. One of my lovely students professionally designed commercial displays and many of us have enjoyed his brilliant creations in the Gump’s and Macy’s windows in San Francisco. Another student, amazingly, works for a traffic engineering group for which I worked in the 1980s when in art college; I did admin work for the small office and now the company employs 300+ employees. The founders of that company were very kind to me, and in off hours sometimes let me work on class assignments on their office computers. I’m thrilled at their success.
And life goes on, and isn’t it amazing? Queens leave the planet and kings rise to rule. Enjoyed my day — as I express myself in the arts, at the same time various friends and family members and I support our dear brother as he considers MAID — Medical Aid in Dying; he is experiencing his demise from brain cancer. He reflects often on his life — yesterday he learned that the Mosquito Fire in the Sierra foothills consumed his previous home and ranch where he lived with his first wife — we went outside to enjoy the gardens at his nursing facility yesterday and the smoke was in the air and he pondered if he was inhaling his burnt-up house.

8″ x 7″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper