a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pigments of My Imagination

September 28 2016

When I first began to attend painting workshops, the drill at table was to tape the edges of watercolor paper down to a board to create a neat border.  Messy painter that I am, it seemed a fine trick to ensure that my colors spilled gracefully within a limitable space.

That practice didn't last long.  While neat, it made the works themselves seem a little childish, like children taught to color between the lines, or at least to clean up their extra-territorial spills.  

Lion of Judah, for Michael  '00
Watercolor, I soon came to realize, was meant to find its own borders, and interestingly enough, as I let it go on its own accord, it took on its own points of departure and arrival, none of them within regulated lines.  Few of them even reached the edge of the paper.  In my hands, the pigments and the white spaces they floated in negotiated their own boundaries.
And continue to.  Riverbed, above, is a new miniature I've painted, made into a card, and set aside for our November show.  See how the paint and water places itself lightly on the page, stroke by stroke?

I'll tell you what the secret is to that borderless scene:  a trusting hand.   It's a lot like making pastry (which, interestingly enough, I have little talent for):  a practiced hand knows not to handle ingredients more than barely.  Along the way, I've learned that light is best, both for guiding me into a image and for bringing to life the merest shadow of an idea.

Naturally, not all pieces work out...I can be heavy-handed, trying to "correct" errors (or what I think are errors), and suddenly a puddle of mud appears.  I can think I know better than the paint and its watery path, and force them in another direction; sometimes that works, mostly it doesn't.

Nancy Collis, one of my more patient instructors, wryly called me an intuitive artist, which was nice of her, since at the time I was busy not following her very sensible advice about what she called planning a painting.  I could take a photograph, for instance, draw a loose outline of its subject on my paper, choose my colors, and try to follow the "plan", but you can bet within minutes I would have turned that beautiful garden of summer roses into a sly bear entering woolly autumn woods on his way to hibernate.  Wisely, Nancy didn't argue, most probably because she knew that some things can be taught, and some people can learn them, but others...just can't.

So I go along with her kind word intuitive, letting my brush discover what I'm going to paint that day. Colors spontaneously suggest themselves to me, one by one, allowing a vision to grow in the back of my mind of a place I've been, like that Texas Hill Country dry creek bed I was remembering as I did Riverbed, or dreamed I've been, like those hills in the faraway country I had never seen until eight months after I had painted and given the painting to my boy on his birthday: Lion of Judah. Other more abstract visions defy spatial reference; they simply grow out of nothing beyond intuition itself.
 Even in three-dimensional, found-object hangings, the piece grows on its own; the materials I pick up randomly here and there seem to contain their own artistic destiny.
Treasures from the Sea

Here are a few more of the pieces I'm doing for the show, since several of you in comments on and off the blog (thank you!  I love to hear from you!) have asked to see what I'm working on these days. Although I've got some hangings and larger paintings in store, and probably a few more will come in the days ahead, I'm mostly busy making these small miniatures in watercolor or collage. They're hangable as they are, or can be framed in groups of three or four as my neighbor Anna did. As original cards* they can offer a lovely sentiment to those we love and like best, or make welcome gifts singly or a few together in a pretty bag.

As for their maker, these small paintings are, for me, like the lyrics I spent my poetry writing...visions of a moment behind which are inspirations and interpretations as individual and discrete as each observor, and yet also simply what they are...a dawning on a small piece of the world we might otherwise overlook.

House in the woods

             *Please note that these are all original works.  I don't make copies of them, so there is only ever one of each image.

Art doesn't have to be monumental.  Sometimes, a wash of color that evokes a place or time we want to revisit or dream about, or that shifts its colors as the sun and shadows flit across our walls, is all we need to bring home and inspire us.

Monday, September 19, 2016

On the Shore

September 18, 2016

This morning I woke to the ocean’s swish and thud, a sound that has echoed in my bones since birth.  I knew I was home, and lay back a few more minutes to appreciate it.  I was born on the shore, grew up near the ocean, and though I mainly live farther away now in miles, coming back is simply a matter of stepping out of one world and into the other.

just before rain

In the narrow bed under the front window, I sleep soundly, as I always did here, with the ocean’s voice humming just below the surface of sleep.  I can wake at any time and hear its pulse even if the window is closed, no matter the weather.

At the moment, midday, in the quiet after lunch, everyone napping the hottest hours away, it’s the only sound I hear, and it sets me to thinking about other shore afternoons, prefaced by the longer, more complex lunches with more (much more) company at this same table, and more courses, and more ceremony.

These days lunch is a sandwich or salad (chicken for some, salmon for others), juice, cookies or pastry for dessert.  It’s only an echo of those days when my grandmother had soup with fresh noodles on the table, and platters of cold cuts and tomato salad, and good bread, and a pitcher of peaches in wine.  The ambiance is still there among us at table, as is the view from the window—the pale blue hazy sky, the deeper blue/green or gray of the water, the boats fishing near the horizon, a sailboat skimming by.  And there is longevity, too in residence.  The nonagenarians at the table outnumbered us; we were celebrating one aunt's 94th birthday; another aunt and uncle celebrating with us are even older.  Next door, neighbors cheer their father’s 95th..

It seems to me that the real point of being on the shore is not the foamy step from terra firma into the infinity the ocean seems, but the far point beyond our sight that, ever shifting, keeps us from believing only in the restrictive push and pull of ordinary days in the city or country. At that very point, the vanishing point artists call it, the sun rises and twelve hours later the moon rises.

photo by Barbara Jaeger
And there is evening and there is morning, each day.

Soon enough one realizes that the shore isn’t the foamy edge at our feet; it’s the straight blue line between somewhere out to sea and the edge of the sky.  It’s an illusion, of course; there’s no demarcation at all.  Perhaps we have to learn to eschew illusory separations before we see what horizons really are.

What we know is that imagination lies there, and possibility, the potential we thrive on.

Yesterday my sister and cousin and I found a shell someone had left in the sand, most likely deliberately, with a message they meant to pass along. 

We took note, and duly left it to the next passerby walking the shore.  We had no trouble heeding it.


Peaches in Wine
2 ripe peaches, sliced or diced, not too small, and 1 bottle dry red wine.

Just before dinner, pour wines into clear glass or ceramic pitcher.  Add peaches with juice. After dinner, serve with or as dessert in wine glasses.


Thursday, September 15, 2016


September 15, 2016

Feeling a bit twisted-up a few days last week, I made an appointment for a Reiki treatment with my daughter-in-law Tricia Weiner at her new studio Happiness Is The Key Company,.  In that place of calm, she took me through a tranquil, meditative session.  I came out not only myself again, but also with a greater understanding of what my body was trying to tell me.  At my age, it seems to be speaking a different language, one I've been a bit slow to pick up on.  Not entirely a disagreeable stage of life (recalcitrant joints and such notwithstanding), I've found myself heading in new directions, as she has, bringing together the diverse experiences of a many-faceted life to begin a new way of thinking and creating.  I wish us both luck with it, as I do all of us who, at one point (or more) in life, decide to open new doors, or at least windows, and live more expansively.

 I remember the day I began to be an artist.  It took a friend, Helen Raplicka, a marvelously creative woman in San Antonio who allowed her art to take her in all sorts of directions, to bring me to the visual arts.  One day at Journal Workshop (I'll write about that long history another day), I had told the others what suddenly facing a blank page was like.  I was new to writer's block; all my life I'd been able to write what I wanted, spilling words out on pages in one wave after another on a ready shore.  But now, though words came, they seemed superficial--seemed not to mean anything, really.  It was a lesson I could teach, but also one I was living through.  After our workshop, she came quietly up to me.  "I think you need to do something else with your hand," she said.  "I'm going to sign you and me up for a drawing class with a friend of mine.  She's teaching at the Botanical Gardens.  It's so beautiful there."  

"Helen," I told her quickly--too quickly--"I can't draw!  All my life people in my family have told me I'm not the artist."  "Never mind," she said.  "Just come."  In the lovely setting at the front of the Gardens, which each week we traversed from one biome to another, Jean Rosow took my pencil and eraser away and handed me her pen.  "Trust your hand," she said.  "A mistake is just an opportunity."

And I did, or learned to.  From drawing, I moved quickly to watercolor, filling in where those brooding lines of ink left off.  
one very early spring
Happy with the fluid way that medium performed for me (that's the way watercolor works at its best--you let it do what it wants), I took to it for a good two decades before, once again, I felt constrained.  Two-dimensional work was pretty, but a window slowly creaking open made me see that I was lacking depth.  Collage came next (like these small card/paintings I still work on), tempting me to collect much of the earth's leavings. 

cross hatch

bright leaf

At the Print Council of NJ, I learned monoprinting and bookmaking, which I still love.  Then, soon after life dealt me two impossible blows, came the hangings I assembled out of fiber, found things, needlework, natural elements--pushing me forcefully into the three-(and fourth-)dimension, expressing what I couldn't any way else.  
love letters

Encaustic is enticing me now, too, bits and pieces put together in layers of wax like archaeological finds. Everything is a possibility.  It's as if one really didn't give up one medium, but simply carried it forth into the next. Starting something new is a beginning, but it's also a continuum.  When one learns that, one learns a lifetime of knowing.

In the way that life has of integrating everything, I am finding myself more earth-oriented, as metaphor and meaning, not only in art but in body, too.  Will you be surprised to know that Tricia noted, at the end of our Reiki session, that my chief issue seemed to resolve in my feet?  "Be more grounded," she advised me, and showed me how, physically, I could better connect earth-wise.  Her remark brought me back to a painting I'd seen a few years ago in the Blue Spiral in Asheville, so large it covered a whole wall at the back of the gallery:  if I remember rightly, a small park in front of a few houses, some nearer, some farther away, and in the foreground some trees with grass and stones.  "The Earth Remembers Her Name" was the title.  It was less the painting, though beautiful, than the title that I have remembered all these years and taken as a sort of numinous hum.  The earth remembers my name, I repeat, and it goes on echoing in so many things I do and am these days.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Though the temperature reads almost 90 this afternoon, there’s a real difference in the air that smells like Fall.  This morning’s early walk around my neighborhood circles was cool and light, the sun just coming up above the rooflines.  And I’ve still got the doors open with a breeze floating through now and then.
Cathy Burnham, copper bracelet

In the studio, at work painting some cards for Holiday with Friends , the November Open Studio I’m doing here at Rachel’s House with my neighbor and talented jeweler, Cathy Burnham, I noticed that the color most enticing me was a dab of yellow, with crimson and ochre.  Together, they’re cinnamon.  Soon the center of my palette was an effusive variety of that spicy mix. "Fall Garden",the first miniature painting, which is really what my one-of-a-kind cards are, seemed to shine with it, even on the flower petals.  

I remembered that  Asheville Bookworks  has a two-day workshop which includes using rust to stain paper (sign me up!).  The model bookcovers on the webpage looked so rich you could eat them. And later, I picked up a piece of Cathy’s leftover copper, thinking about what I could do with it in a hanging.

So, cinnamon is everywhere today.  And no wonder.  Down in the kitchen, rice pudding was baking (my mother’s recipe, low temperature, stirred often) with plenty of that spice in it.  The whole house smelled of it for hours.  And outside, given our mostly rain-less month so far, the landscape itself is turning toward those earthy shades.

It’s interesting the way nature finds its theme no matter which of the senses we’re using to take it in.  Oh, there’s plenty of green left, and the reign of purple blooms—Liriope, verbena, bee balm to the fore, typical of late summer—isn’t abdicating yet, but across the street, Jean-Marie and Maureen’s dogwood has been shedding leaves more fit for a carnival than for early September in these parts.  The breeze brings an invigoration that calls us outdoors, or at least calls the outdoors in.  It pushes us farther into the season than the calendar allows.  On the front door, I've hung a ring  that brings October to mind.  Something in the air makes me disdain sunflowers in favor of nutty, leafy arrangements, and in my studio leaves and branches fall out of the paint onto paper, instinctively knowing it's their season, no matter what the calendar says.

Mom's Creamy Rice Pudding
1/3 cup rice, uncooked
4 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon (heaping)

1/2 cup raisins

Wash rice thoroughly and drain.  Grease a medium glass baking dish.  Mix rice with remaining ingredients and pour into baking dish.  Bake in a slow oven (325 degrees F.) about two hours, stirring often during baking until the last fifteen minutes.  The mixture should never boil.  Serve hot or cold.                                                                                                                                                              from A Family Cookbook