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 | 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 | inklings

Sometimes throwing away my usual routines is exactly the right thing to do. The other day in my studio I ripped up a few small sheets of paper and wet them and spattered India ink on them; after they dried I added watercolor and some oil pastel. I finished this small piece today and like it. I really love the way India ink behaves on wet paper — it can make beautiful patterns, and it feels like magic. To create — whether art or a yummy dinner or plans for the future — we must do it. It’s so easy to get sucked into dark places these days. Sunshine, time in my studio, dancing in my living room, being surprised by a shooting star (last night!) all help me keep moving forward. These are very difficult times, and I’m still vertical. More or less.

6″ x 6″ watercolor, oil pastel, pencil on paper = $45

 

 

 

daily painting | over a barrel

Survival is sometimes a challenge as a 6-decades+ old woman during a rampaging pandemic, terrifying insurrections in Washington (is it civil war yet?), watching a Death-Valley-like drying up of my freelance business, grieving a dead sister (did I miss anything?). So afternoons like today boost my heart, give me hope, help me live in the moment. I was graciously invited to join two sketching friends to explore a charming garden in Ballena Bay in Alameda to draw and paint and my god what a tonic. We sat at a table and enjoyed the sun with a spectacular view of the SF skyline at our backs and fun and interesting growing things at our feet. And bushtits hopping about the branches above us. And laughter at a nearby table in the yard as the innovative and hard-working gardeners joked and rested. Conversation sans Zoom! Laughing through our masks! Commiserating about today’s world that seems completely mad! I want more of these conversations and arty afternoons. I feel more sane and hopeful because of today’s gathering. As humans how we need conversation and time together! I will never again take things for granted like parties, meeting friends at restaurants, a good blues club. Even a brief interaction with a neighbor soothes and encourages. Sigh. OK. Soldiering on. Well, maybe “soldiering” is not quite the best word these days. But you get it.

7″ x 7″ watercolor, pen on paper = $65

 

 

 

daily painting | cross-wise

You know how strange bumps in the wee hours morph into a life-threatening disaster in your brain? And then, in the light of day, your fears seem silly? Last night was that night. Today, I understand my upset. We are all besieged and frightened right now for a zillion reasons. So if a funny mechanical noise at 1am sent me into a terror spiral, I can understand and have compassion for my battle-weary brain. Explanation: I live on a houseboat and depend on electrical pumps to discharge wastewater from a holding tank under my floorboards into another larger tank, operated by my marina, that connects to city sewage facilities. That marina tank is outside on the dock next to me, and I do hear it, but it isn’t noisy or annoying. As I drifted toward slumberland last night, I heard a strange noise — like something mechanical was trying but not working. It sounded strained. Immediately I thought of my own sump pump under the floor. The noise was regular, about every 20 mins. Now, dear reader who must be bored out of your mind by now, if a pump fails, you can imagine how disastrous that can be; if my electricity goes out, I do not run water or flush the toilet for fear of overflow (it’s happened and is messy). So. I was completely freaked out — imagining the mess, the expensive repairs, the inconvenience. In the middle of the night it felt life-threatening and horrific; rationality had long since flown out the window. I laid down on my floor, knowing if my pump was stressed out and breaking down, I would hear it under me. The noise happened again, and I could tell it was outside my house. PHEW. So then I thought it was probably the marina pump in the tank near me, not working. After a fitful night (the whining motor noise was really bothersome), I woke up and opened my windows to better hear if the marina pump was the source. The marina pump seemed to be working normally. And the noise stopped and hasn’t repeated itself since.

If you’ve suffered through this useless information so far, you probably know I’ll get to the punchline at some point. The lesson is — these are dark times. Full of grief and loss and threats. It makes sense that my stressed brain would pour miracle-grow onto a puzzling sound in the night and turn it into catastrophe. Once again, as I keep reminding myself, gentleness and compassion are the answers. To soothe myself I walked on Crown Beach this afternoon. I painted in my studio (results above). I will do whatever I can think of to comfort myself and hope that it doesn’t have long-term destructive consequences. And there it is. Bob’s your uncle.

18″ x 18″ ink, watercolor, pencil, pastel, oil pastel, crayon, acrylic, on paper = $425

 

 

 

daily painting | blues

Finding words is a challenge today, five days after insurrectionists tried to violently attack and disrupt our democratic process, egged on by a sitting president. I’m shocked, stunned, speechless. Having a hard time shuffling through tasks and chores and January plans. I’m sort of sure we’ll be OK. But never in my six decades have I questioned that our democracy would continue — until now. I’ve always taken it for granted, even if unhappy with voters’ choices and flaws in how we govern. Now, I’m rattled. Now, I’m unsure of our future. While I do believe we will get past this dark moment as a country, I have no pollyanna notions about how hard this will be and it was already severely challenging. I’m dodging puddles of grief and loss and isolation and loneliness. And facing worries for the country I didn’t know I loved so much. So today I counsel myself to employ gentleness and kindness toward myself and others. If foggy I will turn on the headlights. If knocked sideways I will get up and keep going and find my path again. I will keep taking sheets of paper out in my studio and “painting out” my overwhelming feelings. And if all I can manage is to vacantly stare at ocean waves at a Marin beach, that’s what I will do. As I talk to friends about these events, I know I am not alone in my stupefaction, which I just decided is my new favorite word. Tenderness and love for ourselves and each other will help us get through this. And rage.

22″ x 30″ pencil, pastel, ink, watercolor, acrylic, oil pastel, crayon on paper = $795

 

 

 

daily painting | splash zone

I was watching a documentary about Keith Haring and loved seeing him do his line work. I’m already crazy about my oil pastel sticks, so I couldn’t wait to take a break from watercolor and head into my studio and take out fresh sheets of paper and mark them up. The sticks are gooey and thick with pigment but take forever to dry, so I do hesitate to use them at times. But not last weekend. This drawing will be sticky for months, but that’s OK. Working like this taps into a deep part of me, and is quite healing and cathartic. Abstract works are helping me work out complicated feelings about my sister who died in November. Why did we fight so much when we were little? How much childhood pain & trauma did she subsume into her chanting practice? I know she suffered during her teen years, as did I, with depression and despair and we both found ways to comfort ourselves. Today I feel deeply saddened by the dramas that played out in our family with our parents who were terribly wounded souls. I am glad for the mental and emotional stability I have worked hard for, and I am sad for the ways Kathy and I acted out, as little ones, the unspoken frustration and rage in our family. Today I feel peace and heartbreak at the same time. Emotions can be so confounding. Best not to argue with them. [Note: after I posted this, I watched this 16-min TED talk and was a bit blown away by it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVnwC-taQXM&feature=youtu.be or look up, “Through the Mud We Rise | Michelle Esrick”]

15.5″ x 18″ pencil, oil pastel, crayon on paper = $360

 

 

 

daily painting | dance it out

I love my Zumba classes that are available on Zoom from local dance teacher Lynda Gutierrez. Her classes always cheer me (and make me really sweaty), and she is such a bright and warm presence. She often says, “Dance it out!” Meaning, work out your frustrations by dancing. It helps! And working out my emotions in my art studio helps as well (especially since I managed this morning in my stocking feet on my wood floor to have my foot slide out from under me, pulling something in my hip; no dance class today, must rely on art to work out emotions). Last weekend I was hankering to express myself with pen and pencil and oil pastel sticks on paper, inspired by several art documentaries I watched. It was surprisingly satisfying, and provided grief relief. This piece kind of looks like a dance party on paper, which made me think of Lynda. On this rainy day as I sit on a bag of frozen peas, feeding my news junkie tendencies, sipping my Earl Grey tea and writing this blog, I appreciate the sanctuary my art studio in Oakland provides. I will hobble there this afternoon and keep working.

15.5″ x 18″ pencil, oil pastel, crayon on paper = $360

 

 

 

daily painting | barbara, ree-ree

Barbara has been a model with the Bay Area Models Guild for 30 years. This was a quickie painting done of her exquisite face from the Zoom gallery during last weekend’s drawing marathon. Damn I wish I’d taken a secret and illegal screenshot of her pose so I could do it again! But this shows her character and essence, I think. She wore this marvelous sequined red hat and I found myself wishing I could hear all her modeling stories. Now, how to work in another sister story? Hm. Choppy segue here but I want to write about yesterday’s email exchange with Dawn, a life-long friend of my sister’s from childhood. Dawn wrote to me and my brother asking for a few more details about my sister Kay that she was curious about, like her name. As a kid, Kay (born Kathleen) had the nickname Ree-ree, which morphed into a few other ree-lated monikers (I crack myself up!). Never occurred to me to ask the origin story of that name, but since my brother was 11 years old when Kathy was born, he remembers stuff. He said that when Kathy was a tot learning how to talk, “ree-ree” was her way of saying “raisin” and it stuck. Funny how the small things that seem innocuous or even adorable can dissolve me into a soggy, mushy puddle. Which happened last night, under the full moon. A big wet mess up on my deck to match the accumulation of rainwater that caused the Christmas night leak, and a new year’s thanks to Vern who just left after flushing out the drain. And it’s likely my tear ducts will be leaking out my sorrow again soon. And that’s a good and healthy thing.

7″ x 7″ water-soluble graphite, pen on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | maker farm hoofer

A couple of days ago I grabbed my bike to get outdoors and try to outride the dark thoughts creeping in under my eyebrows. I enjoy riding down the estuary to where the shipping cranes on- and off-load the hulking, ocean-traveling ships. Such a funky, interesting mix of sights and scenes — the clanking of the primary-colored containers as they are loaded onto the ships, small sailboats dwarfed by enormous rust-stained hulls, maybe some cute little oystercatchers pecking at tidbits at the tide’s edge with their cartoony, orange beaks; a few folks living in their RVs, humans letting their pets loose at the dog run. It’s so splashy and unsanitized. Nearby is a fun nursery called Ploughshares, a collaborative operation and a good spot to buy plants for your garden and support the local community. I was delighted to ride past their spot and see folks with rakes cleaning up an open lot alongside backhoes moving dirt around, sheep chomping on composted refuse and piglets wrestling with each other in the mud. Turns out Maker Farm, which had been next door to my marina, found their new home. They let me come in the gate and photograph the activities, and this friendly and curious hoofer came over to say hello. It’s a kind of figure drawing, right? Sheepy, shaggy models. These unexpected and fun moments are such a relief from dodging grief bombs. Last night, while out on my deck, a Great Blue Heron swung around the corner of my house and flew within a few feet of me. I could hardly catch my breath, it was such a magnificent surprise. Beats hell out of dodging raindrops dripping through my ceiling onto my bed in the middle of the night, but that’s another adventure too boring to describe. A Christmas night wake-up, but it’s OK now. Moving soggily onward.

7.5″ x 7.5″ watercolor, pen, acrylic spats on paper = $75