Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Traditional Antler Pictures

Merry Christmas from the kitties (who, the other 364 days of the year, are not required to dress up).

"Merry Christmas.  Can I return to napping now?"

"The indignity of the holidays never ends. Ho ho ho."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bea’s River

Found the following snippet floating in an old file, so played around with it today.  It's a creative response to a The Cowboy Junkies song, Bea's Song (River Song Trilogy: Part ll). Lyrics to the song follow the story snippet. 

For those that were following my recent attempt at re-booting writing, I did finish a draft of the story for the winning story start.  I'll post it here in a bit.  


Bea’s River

I stood by that river in Colorado for a good long while, listening to the rhythmic burble of it: up and over, up and over, up and over the rocks, on the rocks, on the rocks, up and over the rocks. A bird of prey circled overhead.  When he caught the highest loft and disappeared over the scrawny pines, the music ended and I leaned over to untie my hiking boots.

An old Peanuts cartoon has Charlie Brown telling his sister before a big game that he always puts his right sock and shoe on first, and then his left sock and shoe, for luck. His sister pauses for a minute, and then asks, “What kind of luck?” The last panel shows shoeless Charlie Brown staring at his feet.

My first barefoot step into the water (up and over, cold! cold!) forced an inhale, but as my reddening feet settled into the coarse sand at the shore, the shock fell into numb.

Behind me, John swore under his wheezy breath, closing the car door not quite hard enough, so it clicked only once, not twice to latch.

“My keys, you have them?”

I wiggled my toes. They responded, but as from a distance. I felt the gritty texture of sand, but nothing else. Up and over. Up and over. The rocks. The rocks. On the rocks.

I held out my arm and dangled the keys from my hand, rattling them maraca-like.

“Why didn’t you say so?” The clawing crunch of his footsteps approached steadily until he slid slightly at the two-foot drop off near the river’s edge, the stumble marring the beat.

“You’ll turn blue,”

“Color me Neptune,” I said, and turned from the waist to toss him the keys. They flew up and over light slanting through trees, skipping rope with sunbeams.

“You look at the moon and the stars more often then you look into my eyes,” he said

He was right, of course, but I didn't want the conversation or the life he wanted to have. And so I said nothing, cradling our illusions in simple rhythms.


Bea's Song (River Song Trilogy: Part ll)
Speed river at my feet running low and flat
I'm sitting here burning daylight,
Thinking about the past
And that distance out there
Where the earth meets the sky
The slightest move and this river mud
Pulls me further down
John's at my side, but he's sitting on firmer ground

John says I look at the moon and the stars
These days more often than I look into his eyes
And I can't disagree so I don't say nothing
I just stare on past his face at venus rising,
Like a shining speck of hope hanging over the horizon

With each passing year that I sit here
That horizon seems to inch just that much nearer
And all that appears on it seems as clear as spit
But if there's one thing in my life
That these years have taught
It's that you can always see it coming
But you can never stop it

Speed river at my feet running low and flat
I'm sitting here burning daylight,
Thinking about the past
And that distance out there
Where the earth meets the sky
The slightest move and this river mud
Pulls me further down
John's at my side,
But he's not noticing that I'm drowning
The slightest move and this river mud
Pulls me further down
John's at my side,
But he's not noticing that I'm drowning

Friday, November 22, 2013

Catch Up

A month evaporated quickly, thanks in part to a new part-time job at an art museum.

In some ways, working at a museum is like working anywhere else.  The server is sometimes slow, the new database quirky, free food brings everyone out to the reception desk, and parking can be tough some days.

And in some ways, working at a museum is totally different. For instance, I can take a 5 minute break and run downstairs to stare at a Georgia O'Keefe painting if I feel like it.  I get to peek into rooms and see the exhibits going up.

Plus, the art by the copy machine beats the heck out of that at any other office I've worked: an enormous Impressionist oil painting of rocking chairs, complete with fancy gold frame.

Unable to get a decent photo of it (light streaming through the window left it dark and sickly yellow) I had a little fun photo editing.

In my head, the copier station now looks like this:

Disco pink photocopying!  Get your glitter on, and I'll see you by the rocking chairs.

In other news, I acquired a bag full of golf tees from a museum fundraiser that I'm trying to turn into an art project.  So far, no substantial progress.  Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bird of Prey

acrylic on canvas
11" x 14"
Another new painting...this one grew out of a random swirls started last week that, upon reflection, ended up looked like eyes. I dug around for bird photos after that, and found a face that fit my start.

Our last class was made more festive by the addition of cookies - thanks Marylee!

Thursday, October 10, 2013


9" x 12"
acrylic on canvas

8" x 8"
acrylic on canvas
I dropped off two canvases today at the Morean Arts Center, with the hope that they'll make it into Skulls & Skeletons student retail show that they're putting on in conjunction with Fork & Cork Café. If my skulls make they cut, then they'll be for sale at the cafe for a couple of weeks (and if not, well, I still had a great time making them - time well spent).

These paintings are notable in that they are the first that I've ever actually varnished.  I'm digging the shine that brings out the colors!

UPDATE: Both paintings will be on view at the mini-exhibition from October 21st through November 26th. Neat!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Stained Glass Forest

Another new abstract.  I've been in a huge rut of frustration with painting recently, of the, what's-the-point, skill-less hack variety, and so this painting was a struggle.

It started out as a blank canvas with a light blue base last week in class. Demoralized by a particularly unsuccessful portrait attempt the previous week, I had opted for working on a relaxing abstract.

The painting turned into a swirl of motion, but with nothing appealing or cohesive, a mish-mash of energy and unfortunate colors. Some days it just doesn't come together. I went home when I realized my mother gave me most of my paints, and I would no longer be receiving the fancy paints from Mom on Christmas and my birthday.

On the way out of class, I accidentally-on-purpose dropped the painting in a puddle and then swished it around a bit, with the idea that either drip art would make it better, or dirt would add texture, or really, anything would be an improvement.  But the paint mostly just stuck there, still lifeless and now under a sheen of dirty water.

Once I got it home, I took the sink sprayer to it.  God love good water pressure.  Sections of it peeled up, others flaked away. Amazingly, that actually made it somewhat better.

I put it aside and ignored it for another week.  This week, I dragged it back into class, and started layering in the lined framework,and washes of color over places that were flaked back down to white canvas, and otherwise rearranging things a great deal.  I turned it around and around, and have decided that this way is up (partly because if I turn it the other way, I see an enormous duck).

I built a story line of sorts for it, involving a birch trees and a cave with pools of water and hidden jewels, some kind of ancient adventure, as seen through a window from afar.  And with that, I can find enough affection for it to, at least, keep it out of puddles.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thanks for Your Votes!

Voting results are in now for the Get Me Back to My Writing Desk Survey!

THANK YOU! A huge thank you to everyone who participated by reading and voting. Your vote helps nurture the feeling there are projects to work on and that creativity does matter, a feeling well-needed after a difficult year.Thank you for responding with curiosity, smarts, compassion and humor.

(click here to review the blurbs)
1 Chloe - 4 votes
2 Harry2 votes
3 Glory - 4 votes
4 Anne - 4 votes
5 JP - 5 votes
6 Ellie - 0 votes
7 Meg - 1 vote
8 Maddy - 0 votes
9 Julie - 1 votes
10 Paul's Mother - 3 votes
11 Jack - 0 votes
12 Diana - 4 votes
13 Ivy - 2 votes
14 Hattie - 2 votes

And the winner is:  Option #5 - John Paul (JP)
When I saw the groom with a black eye and the bride with an 8-month belly draped in lavender sequins and carrying the head of an alligator costume, I knew this was going to be my kind of wedding.
The winner, oddly enough, is one of the most recent starts I've created, and the one that I have the least amount of information on in my own head so far.  So thank you for choosing the character that is a fresh exploration, and one where my sometimes acerbic humor is likely to find expression. While I do have a few pages on this story, I suspect that I'll be taking it in a different direction than those pages currently detail. 

Chloe, Glory, Anne and Diana tied for second - and so what is next on the agenda could be more complicated question (and not one that currently needs to be addressed).  It was encouraging to see that all but three blurbs got at least one vote, that there was some kernel of interest be activated. Most who voted voted for several stories.  

Jack and Meg, who between them only collected 1 vote, are the two oldest stories floating around (the two that got me into graduate school, although I never considered them finished so much as abandoned).  I am relieved to have excuse to let them gently rest permanently. While I'm fond the characters - characters are children in a way, and I have fondness even of the less appealing ones - Jack and Meg have somewhat worn-out situations and making those interesting would have been an arduous challenge for rusty writing skills. Maddy and Ellie, the other zero votes, were both part of multiple point of view exercises, and were, in each case, the least strong voices in the exercise in my mind - and apparently the voting audience's as well.

Voting on creative elements doesn't live in a vacuum, of course, and I learned a little bit about folks' reading tastes - those that opt for humor and romance (including G's entertaining comments on those that sounded "porny" on FB) while others preferred a darker or more reflective tone.  Several people were irritated by the use of present tense, so stylistic elements clearly were in play even in such small snippets.

It's worth noting that I don't intend to write the Great American Novel. I'm not looking to alter the course of history and create a new world philosophy.  Rather, I intend to tell a story and let some characters explore. Obviously, I've got my own set of themes and tics that tend to reappear in one form or another, which I suspect most readers have already intuited in this blog well before the fictional parade of characters marched by.

Thanks again for reading.

Story Prompt: What if a door-to-door salesman
was a 2-foot tall white bird? 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Abstract: Geometric Rain

A relaxing day playing with a new abstract.

Current title is Geometric Rain, but that (and the painting) may change - as usual, I'm not sure if it's done yet.

I am sure it was a fun way to spend the day.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Voting Now Open: Choose the Story to Be Finished

Long, long ago, I went to graduate school, and while there and sporadically afterwards, I started stories.  I have the first draft of, well, a lot of stories, and the final draft of none. 

In sorting through story snippets, I get overwhelmed by which one has any intrinsic interest, and end up running away from all of them.  

So I'm asking for a vote.  For those brave souls that can face it, read through the first paragraph of the following possibilities,and vote for the paragraph that would most inspire you to read a second paragraph. Whichever one gets the most votes (possibly any, given the tininess of Artful Mistakes' readership and odds of actual participation) will merit a fresh literary attack. Any other comments also welcome.  

Vote early, vote often!

Option #1 - Chloe
When Chloe pulled the car off to the shoulder of the road, and she could see the man’s face more clearly, she started having second thoughts.  From seventy miles per hour, he appeared as a scrawny teenager.  But as he grew ever closer to her, he looked like an ex-addict, ex-con, current axe-murderer in his early thirties, all sharp elbows clanking around a skeletal frame, tangled black hair too long to be tame and too short to be pulled back, and skin tanned and weathered from long hours outside burying the bodies. Tall and lanky, the muscles in his arms weren't bulging biceps but sinewy lean, taunt under his faded lime green t-shirt.

Option #2 - Harry
Harry wakes with a start, swatting and missing the fly that has landed on his stomach.  Blinking widely a few times, he leans forward in his beach chair and stares blankly out at the ocean, neither seeing the sunset sky nor hearing the rushes of wind and tide.  At the tip of his memory are the remains of his dream, something about playing as a child in a hotel pool he visited with his mother at his cousin Deanna’s wedding.  In real life, Deanna has been dead for ten years, besides which, she never married, but in the dream, her invented daughter was splashing in the shallow end of the pool.  He kept tossing beach balls at the daughter, but they never landed close enough to her to float into her tiny grasp.  As he sits by the ocean, he instead smells chlorine and cement and the floral candy scent of his mother’s hand lotion.  He hadn't thought about Deanna in years.  They had never been close.  She died in a car accident when she was 51.  Harry blinks again, closing his eyes, trying to shake her death and his mother’s smell loose from his mind. He breathes in the salt air.  Deanna was awfully young to die.  But at least she didn't have to grow old alone.  And she would have been alone. She was ugly as an old wooden shoe as a grown woman.

Option #3 - Glory
Her second husband, Robert, was a boob man, obsessed with the glories of mammary glands, and convinced of his own expertise in detecting the real from saline.  He claimed he could tell saline from silicon as long he could “give them lovely lasses a wee squeeze.”  When he drank, he turned into an Irish caricature.  However, when sober, his Tennessee accent gave Glory a weak feeling near her jawline, a loosening of skin and tension that for some time allowed her to ignore what he actually said and focus solely on the smooth waves of tone.

Option #4 - Anne
Each time I move, the first piece of mail I receive is from the Academy.  With their endowment, they can afford to send an endless stream of postcards and announcements.  Despite the fact that I never give them my new address, they are diligent there in Alumni Relations, and always manage to update my file.  Why, I’m not sure, as my lifetime contribution totals fifty cents.  I sent that one check the year after I withdrew, just so they would know it wasn't just an oversight, an accident, that it’s not that I was too busy or too broke (although those were true too).  But I do always read the Class Notes in the magazine, about the awards and the weddings and children, the charity work and the trips to lush islands, the art openings and the advanced degrees.  I can picture faces, some fondly, all now over twenty years past.  But I've learned to stop memory from going beyond those high school years with those people.  For a while, it seemed fate pushed connections upon me, the way Tim turned up in the most unlikely of places, the years Lorna and I talked over our history, the way my mother still dropped the prestigious school name at the Garden Club, the way the magazine always managed to find me.  But fate had nothing to do with it.  Some signs are misleading. Some signs point to places you can never go.

Option #5 - John Paul (JP)
When I saw the groom with a black eye and the bride with an 8-month belly draped in lavender sequins and carrying the head of an alligator costume, I knew this was going to be my kind of wedding.

Option #6 - Ellie
Ellie walks in a broad circle around the old man, surreptitiously noting the even rise and fall of his chest under the terrycloth robe.  For the last hour, she has been sitting on the beach several yards behind him with her sweatshirt tucked under her as a makeshift beach blanket.  She wiggled her lilac-painted toenails in the sand while writing in the spiral notebook that serves as her journal.  The ink of the pen scraped and caught on the paper as she poured out her words, writing the note she now carries, folded in triangular eighths, in her left hand.

Option #7 - Meg
Hiding from Gary in the women's restroom at Miami International Airport, I stare at my face in the mirror and stick out my tongue.  My sunburn glows a stunning skin-stretching, two-days-tourist red, closely matching the shade of my outstretched tongue.  Against the stainless steel of sinks and stalls and mirrors around me, I am like a canned tomato – pulsing with red juices, trapped among metal. The remains of mascara settle into tiny wrinkles under my eyes, tracing maps to new territories of age. I wonder if I’ll still stick out my tongue when I’m 40.  Turning 30 ten months ago obviously didn’t stop it. My immortality evaporated in a poof of smoke, but there’s my tongue, still lolling in the air, stained red by a cherry-flavored Tootsie Pop.

Option #8 - Maddy
Maddy's father never hired that tree company again, although perhaps that was because there were so few trees left in the backyard by then that he could trim the remaining bedraggled twigs himself.  After the big elm came down, killed by a neighborhood resurgence of Dutch Elm disease, the backyard hosted only small squat trees, angry trolls.  Still, for months afterward, Maddy found herself looking for the Collins Brothers Tree Care white van around the neighborhood, began noting the few remaining infected elms to see if Tim and Mitch Collins would be tending them.  She never saw them though.  Shortly after they dragged away the stump of the elm, she heard her father complaining at a barbecue, and she wondered if he’d put a word-of-mouth hex on the Collins’ business.  Or maybe the elms took them elsewhere.  There was no way of knowing.  Ten years later, she looked for Collins Brothers in the telephone book under Gardeners, Trees, Trimming, everything she could think of, but they were gone by then.  Maybe they were long gone; she would never know.

Option #9 - Julie
Sitting at the hotel bar of the Westin in Minneapolis, Julie pointed her camera up at the sweeping shadows formed by lighting fixtures in the cavernous ceiling above, then swiveled her view down to zoom in on Steve's left eye, green, bloodshot, observing her.  She did not hit the shutter button, but moved the camera away from the hand rising up to block the shot.

Option #10 - Paul's Mother
Given that the incident occurred off the grounds of the school, Paul’s mother felt sure they couldn't very well suspend her son. She had already talked that nincompoop sheriff Earl Wiggins out of an arson charge – twelve year olds couldn't very well be held accountable for acting out a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. It wasn't as if Paul and Jack intended to burn down Morgan’s garage. Still, George Templeton, Dean of Students, known as Curious George by his students, could make things unpleasant for Paul. Templeton had been curt with her on the phone, requiring a meeting rather than being sensible and letting the whole silly fire cool down and blow away like the ashes of Morgan’s decrepit old shed. Templeton had an unreasonable streak – she saw that now.

Option #11 - Jack
Jack pushes open the glass door of Jay’s Liquor Warehouse and then hurries to pull it closed behind him. The frigid air that followed him inside swirls and dissolves into the comfort of indoors.  He breathes in the musty smell of wood crates, stale wine, and the ammonia used to clean the floors and smiles at the familiar odor with the warmth he’d greet an old friend.  In his top dresser drawer at home -- along with a frayed leather wallet, spare change, the toothpick holder his daughter gave him when he quit smoking, a ticket stub from the Uptown and his great grandfather’s pocket watch -- seven AA year medallions rattle each time he opens the drawer to get a fresh pair of socks.  If he walks out of Jay’s right now, he can claim his eighth medallion on April 3rd.

Option #12 - Diana
In German, the moon is male and the sun is female, or so Carlos tells me.  Carlos could tell me the sun implodes every evening and leaves a plate-like flat disc known as the moon as a placeholder until the sun regenerates like a phoenix -- and I would believe him.  Or rather, I would continue to stand there, doe-eyed, lapping up the rumbling cadence of his voice and noting the length of the lashes around his dark eyes.  Lust makes me stupid.

Option #13 - Ivy
Ivy sat on the edge of the four-poster bed, an antique reproduction blown up to king size splendor, and idly swung her feet in an uneven rhythm, bouncing them off the well-padded mattress.  She surveyed the room carefully, checking for any last minute details she might have overlooked.  She worried that somehow the inanimate objects in the room were absorbing her intentions, and would betray her in the end, yielding the truth to the first person that asked.

Option #14 - Hattie
I did not go to my mother’s house, my childhood home on a quiet suburban street in Maryland, with the intention of stealing her most prized possession.  When I went to see Mom, I intended to do what I also did: store the rest of my belongings, boxed once again, in the cellar, next to the furnace and the archaeological remains of my and my brothers’ childhood -- old toys and drawings, seashells from beach trips, pine cones from the backyard, malformed art projects of clay and Popsicle sticks, a plastic ukulele with one string.

Completely unrelated photo of raccoons at the beach.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Back to the Easel

Real Life

Still Life
I am back in painting class...and, alas, repeating my usual weirdness, with unclear light sources and an inability to draw, which translates to lumpy, bumpy shapes and questionable perspectives. That strange yellow lump is supposed to be a wilted flower.

Still. Even if the effort doesn't produce the desired results, it is, at least, evidence of effort. And that counts. And if the colors are odd, they are somehow a reflection of the breadth of colors that live within grasp of my vision, and that too is appealing.  The shapes, the technique, all of it, won't come without the steps toward exploration. And a lot more time standing in front of my easel.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Corey Ave Car Show

The round headlights make
 it look so friendly.  
The great thing about being back in a city is that you can randomly run into events.

Flamingo riding shotgun.  
Last weekend, I happened into the Corey Ave Car Show at the end of the street, and so got to peek into the engines and backseats of some truly lovely vehicles parked over several blocks.

Awards were handed out to cheers, but I didn't stay for all the festivities. Florida heat is still in high great, and so I retreated home to bask in the joys of air conditioning.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Zen of Glass

Glass sculpture outside the
Chiluly Collection, downtown
St Petersburg
St Petersburg is a glass town.  Notably, the Chiluly Collection is on display downtown. I've yet to make it there during appropriate hours, which is ridiculous given how enticing the sculpture outside is, but it is on my list of museums to check out.
Working with torch

Because St. Petersburg has a thriving creative community, I have, however, managed to see two glassblowing demonstrations in the past month.

The first was on the day I signed up for a painting class at the Morean Arts Center. Conveniently, their glass studio hot shop next door had a demo starting moments later, so I zipped over to watch David Spurgeon create a vase.
High heat work.

The second demo was last Saturday night, at Zen Glass Studio. Having checked out the downtown portion of Second Saturday last month, I wandered over to the warehouse district this time, over on 27th Street South. Zen Glass had the doors wide open to dissipate some of the heat and invite wandering folks like me in to see glass work in action.

As in the first demo, there was some handing off of the project back and forth as the piece was shaped, reformed, added to, cooled, reheated, and throughout, continuously twirled of the metal tube to keep it symmetrical. It is something akin to dancing watching people move through the studio (if dancer involved a lot more fire).

I spoke briefly with one of the founders of Zen Glass, Joshua Boll, who reported that he has been working with glass for 17 years (to which, in my head, I was thinking, so they handed you a torch when you were 5 years old?  Presumably, however, he is older than he looks), and clearly remains enthusiastic and enamored with the possibilities of glass.

I put my name in the jar for the free class drawing, so I'm waiting by the phone for the call to tell me I'm the big winner.

"What are you looking at?" look from glassblower.
(Answer: flame & glass)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sad Man with Lilies

I had my last Oregon art class yesterday, and took it as an opportunity to do a fast, somewhat strange portrait based off of two random magazine photos - one of a man, one of lilies.

We've been talking about color a lot recently, and so, the emphasis on complementary colors here.

Not my finest work - he's lopsided, and the light source is unsteady, and those flowers are, well, a little more abstract than even I intended.  But therapeutic nonetheless.  It feels good to get back to painting.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Art of Childhood

Margot Daffron and her children some time in the 70s
I haven't posted for quite a while here.  There is a reason for that: I was up in Maine tending to my mother during what turned out to the final month of her life.

I didn't know that would be the case when I arrived, but it was clear a week later - or really before, but we were willing to acknowledge it then - that it was time for her to stop treatment and enter hospice. The chemo was making her sicker, decreasing her quality of life even further, and not providing any meaningful help against the relentless march of the cancer.

Upon entering hospice, Mom declined more rapidly than anyone predicted. I extended my trip to Maine.  I was holding her hand when she died a few weeks later.

Family and friends did have time to say goodbye while she was still with us, although some just saw her bright smile, happy at their arrival, more than gaining from any long chats at the end. She was unconscious for the last days of her life.

There is a great deal more I could say about cancer, about my loved and complicated mother and the life she led, the person she was, about how amazing hospice people are, the enormous warmth of family and friends, and about the dying process.

I'm not there yet.

In fact, I'm trying hard not to think about those last weeks in Maine, her pain and kindness, my panic and erratic competence, friends and family and stress, the complicated mix of personalities and relationships in difficult times.

Instead, I'm thinking about Christmas in red pajamas.  I'm thinking about coloring Easter eggs and that smell of vinegar from the dye.  I'm thinking about collecting zillions of seashells and mild sunburns on Florida beaches. I'm thinking about curling the stems of dandelions walking home from kindergarten, going back to those early childhood years.

And I'm thinking about art, because art is always my refuge, even when it's not, when it's processing that which cannot really be understood.

In Maine during bleak times, art still provided some escape. I took photographs.  I re-read favorite childhood books. I stared into the art on the walls of Mom's house and talked to her one day about a small abstract painting near her bed, about the movement of paint that to her looked like dancers.  From early on, Mom instilled in me an appreciation for beauty.

Flowers & purple house, with
creative spelling of my name: Chthia
Flower, tulip, house, tree,
dog (maybe?), swingset
In Maine, my sister and I spent an afternoon going through childhood drawing dragged up from moldy boxes in the basement. We laughed until our stomach muscles hurt.

Some clear themes rose up through each of our portfolios of art. Susie had skill in creating dog and horse drawings, as well as flowers.

Tree & house painting
Hand-sized turkey bird, Xmas tree,
purple house and huge flower
She never drew trees then though, as someone once told her she did it wrong, so she didn't draw them again in elementary school. Thoughtless comments can collapse dreams and effort so easily.

Meanwhile, I was obsessed with drawing, in some combination, a square house with cross-pane windows and a pointy roof, enormous flowers, over-sized turkey birds (using my hand as the template), and other holiday figures over and over and over again.

I did draw some trees, often the standard lollipop tree, a green round blob on a brown trunk, unless I was feeling Christmas-y, in which case it was saw-like evergreens.

Lollipop trees, 2013
I learned recently that my tree technique has evolved very little in 30 or 40 years.  

Upon my return to Oregon, I signed up for another painting class through Klamath Community College. We started
with painting trees.  My first attempts were sadly similar to my nursery school drawings, even with Joni's reminders on adding light, medium and dark.

Later attempts came out mildly better - more tree, less lollipop - but it's still clear that, ahem, I can't really draw, and that limits my painting.

Sort of strange tree, 2013, but
at least not lollipop-shaped
If criticism can lead to a tree-drawing strike, praise can inspire greatly. A number of those childhood drawings had tape still stuck to them, or black marks from refrigerator magnets. Susie and I handed our artwork off to our mother and thrilled when the good pieces got a place of honor on the fridge. And many of those homemade holiday cards were tucked away for safety.  My father still has a drawer full of them, and many of Mom's cards appeared in those boxes, saved through several decades and multiple moves.

Cathedral Fire
acrylic on canvas
Cancer is a particularly brutal way to die, a disease that chips away at you from the inside.

Losing someone you've known your entire life is horrible, a shock even when you know all along what is coming.

In my mother's house in Maine, along with many paintings of the flowers she so loved, also hung one of my more recent paintings.  Mom requested it as Christmas gift a year or two ago.  It made my artistic ego happy seeing that painting up on a wall (it being way too large to fit on the fridge).  The painting is an abstract - no lollipop trees - but in it I hope my mother saw the same message contained in all my early drawings of flowers, houses and enormous Thanksgiving turkey scribbles, and writ large in cards:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nothing to See Here

Sweet Nothing in Neon
Portland, Oregon

If you have nothing to say,
say it in neon.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Still Life of Canisters.  Do they look 3D?  That was
the hope.  
For the last several weeks, I've been taking a painting class at Klamath Community College with Joni Leaf.  Since I have gaping holes in my understanding of painting techniques, with the majority of my knowledge being hard-won through my own experiments on the canvas, having an organized approach has been fantastic. Joni creates a warm and supportive environment, and is great at throwing in little details that save you some hardship, from reminders to put your water and paints to the right (if you're right-handed) so you're not crossing over your canvas with drippy brushes, to remembering to step away from your painting on a regular basis to get a more true perspective (one that disappears when you spend too much time 6 inches from the canvas).

We've created color wheels and value charts, and talked about the importance of observation and light source, and also just had a fine time playing around with pencils and paints.

Yesterday, we worked on a still life of three canisters of different colors and heights.  As usual, I took some liberties with the colors (there should be more a purple tone to the blue, and more orange in the red - and who knows where the green background came from), but I did try to work on having the light, medium and dark in each shape so they look three dimensional. In part, that meant making the darks darker than I might normally have done (as noted previously, I can be wimpy about having actual contrast).  We have been painting using only three colors - red, blue & yellow - so that a lot of paint mixing is required.  Our previous work on a color wheel gave me a better understanding of what, using my own paints, the mixing was likely to create, so it was a little less hit-or-miss on creating colors. Also, big things like darkening the value of a color using the complementary color was revelatory to me. I'd just been winging it with adding blacks and browns or whatever color seemed to be missing in some vague way.  It was a relief to have more of  plan, even if that plan, ahem, didn't always come out the way I expected.

Contour Drawing 2
Contour Drawing 1
Another fun, fast exercise we've worked with is Contour Drawings - which for me has meant drawing without the stress, since the idea is that they improve your observation skill more than create fine art.  The rules are that you draw an image a) without actually looking at your paper as you're drawing, and b) without lifting your pencil from the paper.  We were randomly given faces of people cut out of magazines to use as models.  The interesting thing is that the attitude of the person comes out even though the face may be skewed in a million different ways - expression is in the details, so if you can capture those details correctly, it doesn't matter as much if his eyes are lined up with his chin.

The picture I was copying was of a very nice looking male model with some pouty attitude.  You can see that attitude even if my versions aren't nearly as symmetrical as his chiseled jaw and cheekbone.  You can also tell where I decided what things looked like more than actually following the original drawing (e.g., his hair on the 3rd drawing was just the idea of his hair, rather than any contour I was following - oops).

Contour Drawing 3 - Drew the face on
the right first, and then started over to
do the one on the left, once I was a wee
bit more focused. 
Contour drawings are good warm-ups, to get you into an arty frame of mind before sitting down at the easel.  I was aware of the days where I was distracted with other things to begin with.  I recommend them as a meditative fun process.

Sadly, I will miss the remaining classes of this series as I'll be traveling next week.  But I'm grateful to have learned what I have, and enjoyed time immersed in color, shape, light and creation.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Portrait: Brendan

Brendan Dean Mullen
I've gotten to the painting point with this portrait of Brendan where I need to stop futzing with it. There are still some places where it is, uh, weird, but it's closer.  If I don't put it aside for a time, it will get much weirder, so best to let it be for a bit.    

The process of examining a face closely and translating it into paint brings a whole new understanding in a way I can't yet verbalize.  Whatever the words might be when they come, the creative process is comforting.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


"Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can't come." 
- Michael in The Big Chill
Brendan Dean Mullen
(b. April 29, 1969 - d. April 9, 2013)

Brendan Dean Mullen passed away on April 9, 2013, hours after being taken off life support. He had spent several days in a coma following attempting suicide. His memorial service was held today in Arlington, Virginia.

Monday, April 29th, would have been his 44th birthday. He is survived by his two sons, mother, two brothers, other relatives, and a host of friends.


I knew Brendan only briefly, meeting him through a mutual friend at a Virginia bar in 2010. Our connection evolved into a sporadic friendship. Out of the blue, he would call up, and I'd subsequently find myself listening to music at Wolf Trap, or at the Sculpture Garden downtown, or sitting in my living room playing with paints or bits of wire, making odd objects, or dancing myself silly in some bar having had one or two too many beers. Because of Brendan, I saw the Spleen installation on H St. It was an afternoon with Brendan when I made Wilhelmina out of wire and glass.

Brendan grinning in beads
Spending time with Brendan was an adventure, and usually an unexpected one. He collected information on art processes, eccentric artist documentaries, worked on his own paintings and antenna boxes and metal sculptures, but he also loved nature, from snowstorms to waterfalls and his mother's beloved dog Guinness. He remains the only man that has ever shown me his worm farm. ("Is that some sort of euphemism?" a friend once asked me. No. He had a plastic file folder box full of soil and very happy worms squiggling about). Brendan was interested in everything, and would happily quiz you on what you knew,and zoom off on several different directions at once with it. Most of our conversations revolved around art. He viewed me as an artist well before I did, simply because at that bar when we met, I picked up the sidewalk chalk and drew.

2010, the year we met, wasn't a good one for me, and was difficult for Brendan as well. Custody issues left him distraught, ill at ease with the unavoidably adversarial nature of divorce. He was a gentle soul.

I never met his sons, but I know how much he adored them, taking them out for Five Guys burgers and hearing about their days in school and at swim practice. He missed them as he got to spend less and less time with them. And he knew how troubled they were by the changes in the family. He once wrote, with unusual and somber directness, about "realizing the hurt of the two black holes in my heart where I'm missing John and Daniel."

I do know that while we seldom chatted in depth about tough issues, we talked about my depression issues enough for him to offer to make me a light box. He wanted to help. He was that kind of person that, when you had problems, he wanted to help. I failed to recognize just how much he knew about the issue of depression, fooled by that toothy grin.

The last email exchange I had with him, after longer and longer gaps in our chats, was in 2011, and had as its subject "you ok?" I'd gotten a phone message from him, and followed up. He replied, "Thanks for the feedback about not sounding good. I guess hate getting msgs with subject 'You OK?' Hate is a strong word I don't like to use; and I do very appreciate the feedback. Guess I didn't need someone to tell me I was in a bit of a funk. But it is absolutely something I'd rather keep to myself."

From there, it appears that we spoke, and he was trundling off to yoga classes, and feeling better. I don't remember the conversation.

What I can't stand is that I never followed up again. I never reached out, even though I knew that he was having a difficult time, and I knew from my own wrestles with depression, that it doesn't just - poof! - disappear once you had a few good moments. Like cancer, it can come back, often stronger and nastier.  And Brendan's tendency to cover it up, to save others from any gloom and keep it to himself, worried me.

But I did nothing, and let the friendship drift further.

I spoke to him once more after that, shortly before I moved away from DC, when he called to tell me our mutual friend, with whom I'd had a huge falling out some time before, was pregnant. She's the mother of a lovely child now. Brendan, I suspect, would be pleased to know that, however tenuously, we seek to bury old bad feelings between us, as she was the person, remembering our friendship, that reached out to let me of know about his death. He didn't like fighting, and he was fond of both of us. He was always ready to celebrate the good in life and make peace. Or so it seemed to me during the time I knew him.

Since his death, almost every comment I have read about Brendan talks about his enthusiasm, his big grin, his sense of adventure, his warmth. I don't know what happened in the years that followed our last conversation, what changed that his enthusiasm for life failed to quell darker thoughts, nor if that change was abrupt or a gradual seeping away. I knew him as someone always looking for the good, expressing that enthusiasm.

Brendan once asked me in an email, again, trying to help me with my struggles, "When you belly breathe deeply do you visualize breathing in goldenhealing yellow bright and breathe out the bad blackness?  Sometimes I do." So as I sit and wonder what happened to extinguish his light, wishing I had listened more and said more when he was still here to speak and listen, I will also try to breathe out the blackness.

Brendan also noted: "I don't tell anyone what to do or feel or think, but if you watch Pink Panther Strikes Again I bet you would laugh." He was a man that loved to laugh - just look at that grin.    

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Abstract: Spring

16 x 20
acrylic on canvas
New abstract, tentatively titled Spring.

Reminds me a bit of the ee cummings poem, [in Just-]: "when the world is puddle-wonderful."

Complete poem available here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Long-necked, red-lipsticked woman.  
It has been way, way too long since I've done anything arty (besides photography), a complication stemming from moving, travel and a lack of self-control given access to cable TV.

I finally dug out a sketch book yesterday and played around with colored pencils.  I discovered I don't really know how to make good use of colored pencils, since they aren't all that amenable to blending.  But it felt good to draw and play with color in any case.

No idea who this is - imaginary woman from my head.  Her eyes are crooked and too large, and her neck probably longer than most found in nature (hey, Modigliani does it - why not?).  She lacks much attention to lighting or detail.

Still, I find something appealing about her cartoon-y self.  And any movement toward art is better than none.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nomadic Month

Seagulls St. Pete Beach
Seagulls lining up on
St. Pete Beach, FL
For a variety of expected and unexpected reasons, I've been traveling a great deal over the last month.

cemetary McNeal Arizona
Cemetery in McNeal, Arizona
First I journeyed from my former home in New Mexico to St. Pete, Florida.

Once returned to NM, I packed up and drove up to Portland, Oregon, stopping over in McNeal, Arizona and Klamath Falls, OR.

Flowers blooming in Portland, Oregon
From Portland, OR, I flew the friendly skies out to Portland, Maine.

I've seen weather fluctuating from 8 inches of snow to balmy sea breezes and 75 degrees, and zipped up and down from sea level to snowy mountain passes.  
In flight

Through all of this, I've kept my camera stashed in my purse, and managed to make good use of it here and there.

sunset Portland Oregon
Sunset from car window,
Portland, Oregon
(I've also taken quite a few dreadful photos, rambling around rest stops to stretch my legs or sitting in doctor's offices blessed with surprisingly nice water views, and other places when I needed to pause for a moment. I'll keep those masses of less successful photos to myself.)

highway 97 Klamath Falls
Hwy 97 north of Klamath Falls, OR
Lovely shots or not, I find focusing on images relaxing, a quick and easy way to tune down the incessant whirring of my sometimes overactive mind.  

After a month, I can tell you: this country is very large, and gorgeous in a myriad of ways.

I presume at some point I will be more clear on what season it is and what time zone applies to me.  We'll see.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Long Guns and Tall Tales

As I’ve said before, I tend to avoid political conversations in a public forum.  I don’t know if it is a product of my age, or a true change in the civility level of national discussion, but the nastiness and name-calling tends to leave me impotent with anger, hardly a productive frame of mind. 

However, as a writer, I do use writing as a means of organizing my thoughts, even when I don’t anticipate those thoughts launching forth into the world.  Sporadically, for around three decades, I've kept journals and ruminated on various topics, largely personal, but occasionally with political aromas.

The gun debate, particularly in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, left me, like everyone else, dismayed. I turned to writing to review my perspective, to see just how my opinions grew to be. 

The result, Long Guns & Tall Tales, somewhat meandering and definitely personalized, ended up being shared with a couple of friends, and then passed on to B2L2.  I wasn't the only writer turning to words to try to work out opinions on guns, so B2L2 put together a theme issue on the topic.

Here on Artful Mistakes, I'll continue on with my usual artier topics shortly.   

Monday, February 11, 2013


Top of the spiral staircase
Dali Museum
St. Petersburg, FL

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Beach Walk

beach chairs, St. Pete Beach, FL
The modern miracle of travel means that I started the day in New Mexico, drove to Texas in pre-dawn dark under a blanket of stars to doze on a plane, and was walking on a beach in Florida by the time the breeze began to kick up in the late afternoon.

Toes in the sand, I watched the pelicans swoop over the water as they hunted for dinner and reveled in the wind currents.  Returning to the ocean, any ocean, with our bodies made of so much saltwater, is always a homecoming.

Pelican in flight

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Welcome to Playland

Many people feel this way in El Paso.  
Sometimes you have to wonder what people are thinking.

For instance: who decided on the dying steer as part of the play area at the Outlet Shoppes of El Paso?

Did his or her kids run up saying, "Yes, yes! I want to crawl all over the plastic despairing remains of an animal! Make one look sad and sick, please, oh please!"?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

An Elephant's Memory of Blizzards

Whenever the blue cloud untangles itself from the red sky, we will continue to pray for you—in our invisible ship, our invisible

for the divine discourse of the soul,

for the end of the in between,

and for the windows to open unto an unentangled sky of white clouds free-floating against the insane blue—

and embrace each other like mighty humans.

-- Neil de la Flor, excerpt, "Prayer for a Blue Cloud," An Elephant's Memory of Blizzards

Neil de la Flor has a new poetry collection out: An Elephant's Memory of Blizzards.  His second solo collection is being published by Marsh Hawk Press.

You should go buy it.  Right now.

Neil's hat, Almost Dorothy &
Floyd the dashboard frog
Note that net proceeds from the first 30 books sold will benefit The Center for Positive Connections where de la Flor is on the Board of Directors. TCPC provides HIV prevention and health education, social and emotional support, mental health counseling, holistic health treatments for those living with (and affected by) HIV/AIDS in South Florida.

For information on buying the book, and getting your very own signed copy, see: