letting go

I write this blog, from the little yellow house in the big woods. It is prone to a very personalized picture of the way rural life can work. We have bears and coyotes wander through, raccoons who become quite familiar, and over time our inside four leggeds have switched from dog heavy to a cat bonanza, small gifts from the big woods. The interesting thing is, I would never have described myself as a cat person, famous last words. One spring a young feral cat pushed her way under the boards of our old house at a bit of foundation retreat and in the underspace had her kittens. We determined their lifespan outdoors would be very short and over the space of several weeks when making friends failed we used the friendly trap and one by one we brought in the kitten pack, including mom who was barely more than a kitten herself.

The transitions were not all smooth, we had to gain their trust as furless two leggeds and the stories are many but the one I want to share is Isaac’s story. Isaac was a beautiful little sleek black kitten who would be all but invisible in the shade of a leaf as he napped in the daytime. He was an explorer and a wildly playful one who would blindside his mom as she sat watch for her brood. He climbed the trees and used small branches to leap from one spindle of the hedge overhang to another, he was the first kitten to come inside.

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He was so small, though we do not know their dates exact we thought about 8 to 10 weeks old. We brought him into the laundry room and when we opened the trap in his frantic race to escape he sprang head first into the freezer, not once but twice before hiding behind  the fridge. My daughter stayed in the room and tried coaxing and bribing and eventually cornered him and picked him up to her sadness his response was to detach and become limp, to give up. Feral cats are not picked up by things that aren’t planning to eat them, so, it took a while before he started to understand that wasn’t the outcome plan. He broke us the first night when he would go the the register above the crawl space and cry into it for his siblings. Those first few days he became so wonderfully attached but his understanding was like pre toddlers in the space where they do not know you are still there if they cannot see you. He wanted a constant companion.  When the next kitten came in a few days later we were relieved he had a mate. We did not plan to have a bunch of cats, we planned to get them people ready and re home. It took a huge investment of time and trust, months for the mom, and by then we surrendered to life with the cat pack. Isaac, laughing one, had the first of many laughs on us. He is the Alpha cat . When any stressors come up, he takes the foreground and the others fall in behind him. We have learned so much about their communication systems by being a parallel pack of beings now fully integrated.

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Around february, Issac started losing weight. At first we thought it was a good thing as we had been trying to bring their sizes down, one thing you will know about ferral to tame is the trust in abundance is never really there and stress eating is not just a people thing. By March we made an appointment and had first check up, nothing seemed wrong, but the weight kept dropping. In April we did a senior blood screen and everything seemed pretty normal but the weight kept dropping. We bought a scale and monitored the weight, increased calories to see if he could gain some but it wasn’t going well so on the last appointment we agreed to a surgery that would either allow us to go forward and have the next expected five years of life, or know we had made one more strong try. Everyone including the vet was hopeful. I was hopeful. Tuesday morning at my yoga class during savasana I found myself with such a clear visualization it was as though watching through a window. Izzy, his little self at about a year old, walking in blowing sunlit grass, a hazy gold to the sky. His face alert, exploring, he was alone again without his pack, an alpha first to check out this new place and I knew in my heart no matter how much i wanted not too, it was a good bye. I could not stay with the meditation, or in the room, Tears fell and fall still. I truly hate good byes.

It might seem when whole towns have burned to ash – when countries become unsafe for their citizens and perilous re homings are daily news, when there are so many things of magnitude to consider, to be fixated on the life of a small feral cat an indulgence. I understand that. The thing is though, when you learn that all life is precious, that life interactions teach us a love story that enriches our spirit and that all loss includes grief, there isn’t a sliding scale for value. life is life, love is love and while this story is not wholly over, its end not fully written, we understand recovery isn’t part of it. Izzy comes home tomorrow to be with his pack until he lets us know it is too hard to stay and then we will let him go the rest of the way.

Before the kittens came in, I felt it absurd we were so committed to their rescue. I was losing my mom in pieces at the time. Ed was in transition with work and health both now strong and better than we had imagined, but at that time I felt like saving one thing I might be able to impact might get me through. In a lot of ways, it really helped. In the course of being less focused on human demands, we took a turn at learning to be more humane and that is a gift I will keep always.

I am trying to reconcile the sorrow i feel with the image of a kitten walking through tall grass, beginning a next adventure in a new place, and knowing in part when the next pack mate leaves us, they will not end up somewhere alone, .

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weekend workshop

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This weekend I participated with a small group of painters gathered in the Vernon Arts Center in a workshop offered by Kelowna artist, Alex Fong.  I have done a few watercolors over the past few years, but even on the ones that found their way to showing have left me envious of the lightness of hand and unguided paint mix on paper I have seen but no so much achieved.   I thought I would enjoy something outside of the comfort zone.

The group was smaller than registered which actually turned into a really nice thing for those of us in attendance. I did find myself challenged in a number of ways, trying not to get stuck in  the absurd self imposed pressure to produce in a room with some pretty prolific painters, I simply had to let that one go.

When I paint at home I start with creating space. I have music, I have a candle, I make a small offering and invitation to the process. This was a classroom setting. A freakishly quiet one the first day especially before a music source was located, and people worked – I am a slacker! But, while I figured out what I struggle with, I also took home a practice list in my head which is the thing I always glean from participating in workshops and watching demos.

I get mesmerized watching people paint, and in this watercolor and some acrylic processes, contrary to popular belief, one can enjoy watching paint dry!  While I beat to death the watercolor application on fish shapes, Alex paused for a two minute goldfish on my sketch pad,  I smiled at it this morning and tucked it neatly on my wildly disorganized cork board.

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I am just about to unpack my basket of things from the workshop, I have a couple of hours before this morning rolls into appointments etc., so while i will start with a walk in the garden and survey the ever growing list of what really can’t wait for weeding, feeding, mulching etc., I will also take a few moments to move paint in a way that is different from my usual approach. I appreciate the strength of limit in watercolor, the underworking as an approach. It is very different from my usual way of under planning. It will not become in all likelihood my medium of strength but I think it will be a fun place to spend some time.

The paintings at the top of the page were carried home! The benefit of a small workshop allowed each person to receive a gift of a personal made for you painting, (i know, lovely right!), and the flower with the leaf turning so elegantly was mine from an end of the day draw!

Reading through some quotes on watercolor, I think this one is closest to my current understanding…You have to negotiate with this medium. It wants to have some say in the work. If you ignore it completely, it will scream ‘Liar’ at you. (Bill Vrscak) . But there is a sense of balance that appeals to me. I have written on the difference gender and life experience  in the developing role of a painter. Sunday, as we all know was mother’s day. My day was a shared breakfast with those at home, a lovely day of being in the garden, dinner and the best berry shortcake made by my daughter near by, a good phone visit with my far and away girl,  a lovely gift to share with my painting friends as we converse in the green spaces painting bits of summer. All aspects of my world flow together, family, garden, photography, paint, and the strengths vary, the pressure from soft to compelling, the light always present, the patchwork always its own kind of perfect. Thanks for stopping by.

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lateral steps

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Tomorrow i can pick up the tiny piece of beautiful art i purchased from the local gallery, i can hardly wait! I should start with, I do not buy art. Not because I do not wish to, but currently I have neither the income nor space to make that a good idea. I buy art supplies and cram them into every bit of space available for my older still days!  I have a highly enviable stable of one day artists to own list building in my head, but for now, I just don’t. The exception has been a wee carved hummingbird that I love. The artist’s bio is what moved me from the art i will someday own, to i just must take this spirit with me in some way.

There is today and tomorrow left in the show so you could still stop by and have a peek and take time to read the biography pages, they are inspiring.

I share this as I struggle on the closing days of the call for submissions with the children’s hospital project. Each time I try to put something together, I am taken back to that long and impossible time in my life and I think I might have to let this one go at least for now, maybe sometime after submissions close i will have a gift for sharing. I don’t know yet, I find time lines are hard for me.

 I am grateful for all of the wonderful  words many of you have shared with me on my experience in kamloops and winning an award. I am grateful to say the least.

There is an extension of the show coming up in May with invited pieces – some local, some far away, all wonderful. If you are included, I am excited to see your work again in our home venue! I didn’t know how to address this because my work was not selected and I had planned to say nothing because, it is what it is. It does not require explanation from the gallery, and I will never know exactly why because I do not need to.  I was disappointed but that happens. I felt as though the pieces submitted were strong, I am happy with them and they had a nice response in hanging. I felt like the link between supporting an artist I do not know, but whom I admire at a soul level and being given an honour, was the way i understand karma. Not the karma people smugly say will get you if you mess up, but that it will lift you when you lift another. In a book i picked up last week I flipped to a page I now cannot find, but it was a quote regarding Georgia O’keefe, to the effect of, she liked to have her own show, before the public show. In such she could really look at her work and determine what was strong and what wasn’t.  A space to  form her own opinion and in so doing she could hear the good, the critical and let it all flow out the same window. In such. she was at peace. 

Creative work must be its own voice of approval or dismissal.  Everything from the outside should be taken lightly and set free.

a long time away

I have felt as though I have abandoned this part of my project, though the writings and drawings stack in a folder that grows, even now, as my year of living quietly has kind of changed up.  I have had work in a few shows this year as winter melted to early spring I felt the busy carve into the stillness and a fierce need to protect deep pockets of quiet places.

In February I started a yoga class 2 to 3 times weekly.  I thought this was a gift for someone else but it quickly turned into a self gift that also requires a commitment of time.

Yesterday I picked up two beautiful books on watercolor painting and this time next week I will be gathering up things for a workshop. There is a lot I want to learn to do, life is a classroom with so many rich options.

While mowing the grass today, skimmers float over the dandelions,  early butterflies and hummingbirds delight along with me in the fragrant lilac bushes in their early stage of open. A deer has squashed a cluster of iris bulbs in making its bed, I have set the trail cam in case it is a repeat resting place.  The shadow of the osprey circles the grass as she flies overhead, their sound is both the morning and end of day in the summer months ahead.

Time is gift.

There are stories I am waiting to share here, but for this brief moment, a check in to see if the page still opens, and the pen still writes.

 

the comfort zone.

In all things we become accustomed to and gravitate towards the familiar, and in so doing we find the space we call the comfort zone. Depending on your sense of adventure, security, collective receptive experiences that zone may be wide or narrow but if you think about it, you probably can identify it with ease.  It applies to  relationships,  the places we choose to spend our time, the music we are drawn to and the tools we use in the work we do. It is why I continue to use a pentax for photography, it feels so at home in my hands after some thirty five years of practice while I have sometimes coveted a nikon, i stay with what has served me well. The comfort zone may be in part created by opportunity and exposure.  It is why the first color I explored in paint came with a big free box of acrylics and much of my process in the development of color practice bounced between acrylic for canvas and watercolor for sketches. I never questioned it.

Part of what I planned for my year of living quietly included a challenge to provide a space for exploration of medium, styles, subjects and composition to develop skills and expand my comfort zone. I have spent a lot of that time falling in love with oil paint.

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Far from mastering the medium, seriously it is only a year we are talking about, I am developing a comfort for how it moves, layers, holds light, and dries! I am beginning to think in terms of fat over lean which initially sounded more like a nursery rhyme or jenny craig commerical than studio speak.  So, just about the time I should possibly commit, what do you think happened?

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I opened the supply cupboard…..

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and laying in wait…. (you could insert the music from the great white shark in jaws)

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There was the most delicious boxed pastels, some gifted from my painting aunt, some christmas gifts, one purchased for it’s absolutely irresistible range of portrait tones.

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oh yum…..

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Over the past couple of years I have watched demos wherein Dennis Webber used pan pastels to make the most magical transitions and impeccably soft portraits. Viewed Justin Maas compelling emotive portraits, Cindy Whitehead create landscape and wildlife images, and Dianna Ponting demonstrate staggering realism with the edges of these thick soft pigment sticks that seem impossible.

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And now something new begins. We’ll see where it goes. A wonderful woman I sometimes share a painters circle with, now in her mid eighties continues to create in a variety of mediums and who continues to explore new things with gusto shared with me these thoughts. “Perhaps I should have focused on one thing and gotten really good at that rather than a bit of everything”, she has taken workshops with an impressive list of presenters and considered the hour and a half drive to a neighboring town for some weekly workshops this past winter. At eighty five her learning curve continues and her work represents a life long love of and commitment to growth. How cool is that?!

This spring I listened to Alan Wyle present thoughts on painting while waiting for his paint to set. The one I carried home was, If you want to make a lot of money, paint one thing well, over and over and over again. If you want to have a great experience, and then it kind of trails off, and inevitably leaves me with a smile and a sense of affirmation.

the early hours

The early hours are best spent outdoors whenever possible I have come to believe. When the light has slipped in  quietly bringing a warm pink to the treetops and the mist sits like  gauze in the shadows, the wind rustles the dry leaves, geese bleat as they arrive on the water, late autumn on the lake is a time to treasure.  The loons remain and on lucky days I spend some time in their company I have become a familiar sight, one to be ignored primarily which tells me I am doing it right.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours, staying until my fingers were too cold for function. There was magic  in the light and reflections, the perfect stillness of the morning and it was hard indeed to leave.

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I have fallen shamefully behind on my schedule for painting but soon the time inside will be far greater than out and I will be grateful for work that is waiting. Ideas are simmering. Color combinations are introducing themselves and if I can hold them in memory I can attempt to produce them again on the palate and on the canvas.

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I have been captivated by the loons, so iconic of Canadian wilderness considered the be primarily solitary, the pair I have shared time with this summer have pictured elegance and grace, and in their company I feel such ease.  Rarely have I seen them together as much as these past days of colder weather and shorter light and I wonder if the migration day is soon.

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Life is change, the seasons, the light, the experiences though sometimes repeating are never of course exactly the same. In every familiar moment there is also the possibility of something brand new.  In my extended family, beginnings and endings are layering in some dramatic ways. It is all part of the nature of life which includes the inevitable challenging, exhilarating and compelling sense of change that equals the electricity of knowing you are alive.  My best learned secret is when it begins to feel overwhelming, trust your deepest self.  Float, close your eyes, take a breath, stretch your wings and let the current guide you. ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience’ much of which seems solitary, and yet we remain connected.

points of view

One September day I took a day trip with two like minded painting friends to visit some galleries and check out a couple of showings. We drove off on a sunny morning through some beautiful landscape to stop first at the lake country gallery in Winfield, and later the larger Kelowna galleries. I had recently joined online to explore some neighboring towns art options and consider if they might work for me when I bring my work back into a public forum.

An interesting quote I read, though cannot attribute to a speaker, Being an artist is a constant dance between putting yourself out there front and center and hiding yourself away. I think I am quite comfortable with the hiding oneself away part of the dance.

The gallery tour put some incredible work in some beautiful forums, and the day with painting friends always goes into the category of fuel to the fire.   Summer I have found to be a slow zone in painting, I say that while recognizing in spurts some pieces made it from beginning to end, and the sketch book was not totally ignored. It is however, time to get back to the practice part of painting. The one that says in a calm but firm voice, you must show up.

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I have new work that is rising up from the sleepy embers, sparks of idea, flashes of image, and I am eager to make that commitment. I have found an interesting thing happened on the way to productivity, I revisited a piece started last  winter. I have been adding glazes and refining detail, I slipped into the studio late last night to grey down the white of an eye as its brightness was something i didn’t want to see on my first view in the new day. It is a piece that I have learned a great deal from working with a medium and method still new to me. I will not post it until it’s fully finished at this point, as one thought came like a slowly understood revelation. From the beginning I had an attachment to the subject. I do not know him as a person, I only watched him in a moment of his world and work. Despite his youth he had so much strength and openness, not one of vulnerability but of truth. From the moment I started sketching, and in the early stages of the paintings I could see the finished piece with such clarity it never occurred to me that everyone else would potentially see something different. Last night I invited my husband to have a look, stating that in the past two weeks I have spent three full mornings working on this portrait. I can see each change and understand which additional ones I will still make, but I also wondered if anyone else would see anything different. I shared my earlier revelation regarding sharing work in progress, including I am just understanding not everyone may see what I am seeing. A squeeze of my shoulders, a kiss on the cheek, a quiet,”then make them see it”.  I smile.

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We of course do not see the world as it is, but we see the world as we are.  Sharing image is to be done with release. Control the part you can, –   let go, the rest belongs to the viewer.