watercolor painting of sunflowers by emily weil

daily painting | sunny flowers in teapot

Obviously my sisters have been on my mind lately since they have both recently left the planet. Younger sister Kay was a force to be reckoned with — focused and determined; when she had her sights on something you stepped back and got out of her way. I admired that strength, and also was frustrated by it (easy to feel bulldozed by her). Similarly, I think of older sister Diana who only a few months ago committed suicide. She was so shackled and hobbled by mental illness (she had a number of diagnoses throughout her life), paralyzed and tortured by panic and daily terrors. I related to her as I also absorbed a lot of fear as a little one, as our dad, a truly miserable guy, often flew into rages. Which makes me think, well, how would my sisters think of me? And did they see things in me to which I am blind? All too likely (this quote comes to mind from Fran Lebowitz: “Being judgmental, to me, just means I have standards.”). But I so aspire to clear-headed self-reflection. I do not want to live an unexamined life, which brings me to these sunflowers. They have such wide-open faces and seem so trusting. So American, too, being native to this country. Home-grown. My reflexive reactions to life when I hurt are to withdraw, to keep myself safe. Which is the illustration of Diana’s life; she was agoraphobic and painfully tormented in her later years. So it feels risky for me to open myself up to all of life’s myriad experiences with trust and faith and hope, which makes for a richer, often bumpier life. I’ll take it though. 

I am somewhat on that wobbly cliff as I ponder retirement and my future. I’m pushing 70, and in light of my sisters’ deaths, want to live to the max in whatever time I have left. What does that mean? Not sure yet, though art certainly is the hub of that wheel. These past 15 months have been ridiculously challenging and painful, for many reasons. As they have for all of us. Yet I feel extraordinarily grateful for the many gifts I enjoy every day, from my health to my life on the water to creating and teaching art to time with loved ones to holding a wild hawk in my hand (see GGRO.org) to… well, too may things to list. I’ve been encouraged lately to celebrate the life I have designed. OK. Will do.

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

 

 

 

watercolor painting of squash blossom by emily weil

daily painting | squash blossom

Have you ever had fried squash blossoms in an upscale restaurant? They are amazingly delicate and yummy. So my taste buds got activated as I spotted this growing in a neighbor’s garden. There’s something quite beautiful and approachable about these lovely golden blooms — and they perfectly match my cadmium-yellow-medium watercolors. I was going to paint today anyways but when I came home after my farmer’s market shopping expedition (luscious dahlias and strawberries!) there was a small group of painters along the walkway outside my marina and several were creating paintings of my home, so it was great fun to say hello and be inspired by these artists (hope to join that group of sketchers in the future). If I can manage to stay only in this moment — a skill that comes and goes — there are so many pleasures to enjoy and absorb, from farmer’s market plenitude to making dinner for a sweet friend to scoping out a nearby bounteous zucchini patch to waving at the goatee’d goats (ha!) at Maker’s Farm when I whiz by on my bike to watching happy little goldfinches discover my feeder to (just now!) being visited by a young night heron just feet from me, alighting on my deck railing. Of course these are the moments that comprise one’s life, and when I can slow down my monkey brain and absorb these sparkly gifts I feel grateful and amazed.

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

 

 

 

watercolor painting of wildflowers by emily weil

daily painting | purple posies

Happy Birthday to my little sister who lost the battle to cancer last November. She surprised everyone, including herself, by making it to her 66th birthday a year ago, and good for her. She lived large and according to her own design. A powerful woman.

I thought about all kinds of things on this cool and breezy July Tuesday as the edges of the marine layer flirted with my marina on and off all day. But mostly about Kay on her 67th birthday. My memories recently were confirmed that our trips to Carmel where my mom attended the Bach Festival for a handful of summers when Kay and I were little were fun and pleasant and we didn’t squabble, which we did constantly at home (I’m talking about hair pulling and kicking and rage — one time my exasperated mother handed us both a sharp knife and told us to kill each other, but do it in the bathroom where the cleanup would be easier; we were too shocked to respond). Removed from the family dynamic and in the company of our kind babysitter (no parents, heaven!), we had a ball and got along well. So interesting how kids absorb family tensions and dysfunctions and act them out. I am happy to think about that, the innocent joy we shared together during all those hours we spent on the beach. I am deeply grateful for those glorious, sandy, often-foggy summer days.

Had a nice moment today doing some outdoor household chores — I heard peregrines calling overhead and watched what may have been one of the resident falcons (there’s a nest on the Fruitvale bridge near me) chasing off an intruding falcon. Such beauty and acrobatic grace! A second or two of locked talons, even. Was cool I happened to be outside when that raptor-drama occurred (I did race inside to grab my binos).

Today’s painting — dug back into past photos. These are of wildflowers in Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills. Paints dry faster on windy days.

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

 

 

 

watercolor of lilies by emily weil

daily painting | barnhill lilies

As I journey on in this remarkable time of loss, I am encouraged and heartened not just by the loving support I have in my life but by what I am learning about myself: the old stumps I drag behind of family suffering, the incredible power to heal and say farewell to encumbrances and embrace new goals. Sometimes my head buzzes with fireworks — both illuminating and dangerous. Here I am, in the december years of my life (maybe just late autumn?) and yet here are new ideas, previously unconsidered possibilities and lessons of faith and trust. How grateful I am to be alive, and I’m going to co-opt a quote I heard from Norman Lear who described his family as having “lived at the top of its lungs and the ends of its nerves.” An excellent way of being in the world. I aspire to it.

Here’s this week’s adventure story -— after a particularly meaningful and healing session with my counselor who is a combo of skilled therapist, spiritual director and gifted healer, I headed up to the Oakland hills for my fave trail through the redwoods to absorb the powerful work of that afternoon. As I parked in the lot by the Joaquin Miller Park visitor center, avoiding street parking as they warn of break-ins, I heard red-shouldered hawks calling and saw red tail hawks circling above. The groves of trees embraced me as always (and I hugged them back); they comfort and soothe. Back to my car, I started it up and it made the worst racket! Like my muffler had fallen off. Not knowing exactly what to do (my mechanic had already gone home for the evening) I decided to limp home to Alameda, coasting downhill most of the way, glad for the electric engine that kicked in, avoiding freeways and laughing as I bombed through the Fruitvale district, attracting attention from the clamor of my engine. White-haired old lady in her hobbled Prius. Made it home (whew!), thankful for my safe arrival. A generous neighbor looked at my noisy vehicle and pronounced, “Your catalytic converter was stolen.” It’s in the shop now, getting repaired and is covered by insurance. Should be good to go, as my mechanic assures me she’s got quite a few miles left in her.

I also want to share this poem; couldn’t believe it arrived in my inbox, so perfect: 

YOU WHO LET YOURSELVES FEEL by Rainer Maria Rilke

You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing

that is more than your own.

Let it brush your cheeks

as it divides and rejoins behind you.

Blessed ones, whole ones,

you where the heart begins:

You are the bow that shoots the arrows

and you are the target.

Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back

into the earth;

for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown

too heavy. You cannot bring them along.

Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.
____

This painting: one of the owners of my marina has a fabulous garden (on land) and I took a number of photos of her lilies which, thanks to my Christian background, always make me think of Easter and new life.

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

 

 

 

daily painting | sibs

Here is Quinn, one of three sisters I was commissioned to paint. It was a gift to their mom, who recently had a big-zero birthday (I am told she loved the paintings). A sibling-palooza! 

Sisters is the ongoing theme of my life these days. I have friends who have precious relationships with their “womb-mates,” and these connections my friends have with their girl sibs comforts me greatly. I was not close to my two sisters who have recently died, and that’s OK. It was more or less the result of growing up in a troubled, cold family. We all tried. Did our best. No lack of love there, but the bonds were thready.

I find this process of grief and loss a jumbled stew — it’s painful, excruciating, fascinating, illuminating, healing and deeply depressing. I know I am shedding things no longer needed during this crucible-like process. I will become clearer, more alive. I’m certain. But for now, the fog wafts around my brain and obscures my vision, for the pain of this loss is unspeakable, after my sister Diana’s violent act of suicide. I am showing up for this process, though. That, I feel, is very important and I think shows courage. Because I often feel upside down (though I mostly stay strapped in).

I loved a phrase I read in a book last night, “holding oneself… in the face of some emotional wind,” describing a character who had survived an intense and threatening experience (Peter Heller, The River). We are frightened, in our culture, of strong feelings. We want them to go away, and soon. But they need to be here, with us, moving around our hearts and minds and bodies until they have exhausted themselves (particularly since we’ve just been through a nightmare pandemic). I often have a hard time allowing myself to feel the grief — my brain says, “Buck up. You’re wallowing.” Or, “This is taking too long. You’re stuck.” Or, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” But reality is I am steeped in a profound process of loss, and it will take however long it takes, and I will stay present with the sorrows. I’m OK with that. And I side-step the harsh criticisms in my head that say I’ve lost my way. Because I haven’t.

7″ x 7″ watercolor, pen on paper

 

 

 

abstract painting by emily weil

daily painting | crab cove confab

One of my great joys is gathering with other artists — a sketch group, perhaps, or a class I’m teaching, or meeting my painting pals Sue and Madeline at Crab Cove to draw, paint, gab — or maybe just stare at the water in a slight daze or notice how the Canada geese goslings are growing up. There are big leafy trees, people with those colorful crescent-shaped wind-sail thingies out in the bay, cacophonous crows squabbling in the trees, cooling, salty breezes off the water, families having picnics, neighbors walking dogs, nature classes for kids. An embarrassment of riches. I am humbled and grateful for these warm-hearted and soothing conclaves. On a recent afternoon I doodled this abstract.

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

 

 

 

watercolor of US Army Corps of engineers ship the Yaquina

daily painting | yaquina 2.0

This US Army Corps of Engineers dredging vessel, the Yaquina, plies the coasts of Oregon and California scouring silty river openings. She will soon be captained by my sister-in-law Jane. How cool is that? She commissioned this painting as a gift for her boss, the captain who is retiring. What an honor, to be asked to create this gift. So many interesting twists and turns in this life — several years ago the ship was being maintained and fixed up at a nearby Alameda shipyard, and I was happy to be invited on board to paint. What great fun and a wonderful privilege that was! (Jane commissioned a painting of the ship then as well, and I believe it hangs inside the Yaquina).

Jane has traveled the world as a merchant mariner, and I am so happy we are in touch and that I am still considered part of the family of my divorced husband. To be seen as kin. I’m running low on sisters these days so I am particularly grateful. 

Saturday I found myself doubled over in grief pain. It sideswiped me and I am guessing it was because it was my brother’s birthday. Maybe because I have no more sisters’ birthdays to remember and celebrate? Dunno (felt better the next day). I am grateful for kind, comforting friends to talk to. Such a surprise, sometimes, this grief train. It rolls over me, flattening me and I don’t see it coming. But here I am, still upright (if slightly bent over) and truly grateful to be an artist. I don’t have a fat bank account, but I am satisfied. 

11″ x 14″ watercolor, pen on paper

 

 

 

watercolor painting of nasturtiums by emily weil

daily painting | lynda’s nasties

Don’t you think that nasturtiums are about the sweetest posies ever? So accessible, with their cheery bright oranges and yellows. As a kid I remember walking home from school and along the way there was a riot of nasties in a neighbor’s front yard, and if you plucked a blossom, you could suck the nectar out of the little pointy end of the flower. Sweet and delicious, and it was a slightly naughty thing to do (maybe I was imagining I was a hummingbird). My kind neighbor Lynda grows these and sent me a lovely photo of her bouquet. I find fresh flowers lift my spirits. Their beauty is temporary, fragile and fleeting, and must be appreciated in the moment. 

Today’s grief update: I don’t mean to brag, but I totally got out of bed today. 

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

 

 

 

daily painting | hollyhocks

“In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and it comes with bitter agony. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now realize that you will ever feel better. But this is not true. You are sure to be happy again. Knowing this, truly believing it, will make you less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once.” — Abraham Lincoln [lost his son Edward at age 3, another son William at age 11; after his assassination, his son Tad died at age 18].

Written from the grief bus. Destination unknown. Love, Emily.

7″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $60

 

 

 

watercolor and ink drawing of roses by emily weil

daily painting | berkeley roses

There’s something about the front yards in Berkeley. I have come across plants and bushes and flowers that I’ve never seen before — it is interesting and fun to roam around the neighborhoods while visiting a friend or walking from the auto shop or doing other walkabouts. These roses are the size of dinner plates — full, lush, open and gorgeous, like big trusting faces. The buds seem normal-sized, but the open blooms are enormous; this large rosebush hanging over a front yard fence stopped me in my tracks. What a gift it is to stumble across such beauty. 

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