“Breathing. (twitter.)”

Sometimes I see an image in my mind. Sometimes it’s just a strong flow of feelings. Usually, it’s a little of both. In all cases, I never know exactly how a picture will turn out when I start. Sometimes, I have no idea at all what it will be, I just start drawing (or painting).

That’s what I did with this painting. I picked up the leftover nubs of oil pastels and just started scribbling and smearing them all over the birch panel. When I don’t know what I’ll be painting or drawing, that’s what I do. I find just moving my hand with the medium gets things going.

I started with the “just get color on the panel.” I added more color and still nothing was forming. I set it aside and worked on some other things.

A few days later, I had a dm (direct message, a kind of “chatting” on twitter) conversation with @tackie_jackie who suggested I make a painting about the word “breathing.” When I’m overstimulated, overwhelmed, or simply need to get back to my center (and, typically, away from technology), I’ve developed a habit of tweeting the word “Breathing.” and then walking away for a bit. Noticing my breathing has been an important part of my life in the last many months.

So, here are some pictures of the progression of the painting that is now complete. It is called: Breathing. (twitter.)


This and several other of my paintings will be hanging at the Starbucks on Congress at High/Free Streets in downtown Portland (Maine) starting on May 2, 2012. I would be thrilled and honored if you would check them out.

how’re things?

The mass email. The holiday greeting letter. The personal update. Is it possible to share a personal update without it feeling disconnected and generic? I’m going to try. I want to let folks know how things are since I’ve shared some pretty tough stuff in the last few years…

The girls are doing great. My 8.5 year old has had some health concerns but they are mostly all resolving without any serious long-term effect. She excels at school academically and socially. She is courageous and sensitive and intuitive and brilliant. Her frame is small (still about 10-15% on the height/weight chart) but her heart and mind are expansive. Her school continues to be amazing. I’ve started teaching a weekly writing class there which has been really fun. More than just fun, teaching has reminded me how much I love (and am good at) working with children.

It’s hard to believe my toddler will be three next week. She is exploring some of what I thought of as normal toddler behavior until 8.5 didn’t explore them (throwing food on the floor, insisting on doing things ALL BY HER SELF, for example). She is also one of the most consistently joyful children I’ve ever known. Full of laughter and… really, “joyful” is the perfect word for her most of the time.

Our new home is perfect. I couldn’t’ve dreamed a better place for us. The physical location is ideal, just a few minutes to downtown, a few minutes to the supermarket, and only a few more minutes to 8.5’s school in Falmouth. We’re also only a few minutes from the Portland Friends Meeting where the girls and I enjoy a great community of good people. I’m working up to the point where I’ll be able to attend meeting even on non-First Day School Sundays, though that might take a bit more time as it will require both girls feeling comfortable being “left downstairs” with the childcare helpers. Most importantly, don’t ever underestimate the impact that a dishwasher and an in-apartment washer and dryer can have on the mental health of a single mother. Our life has improved dramatically in the last couple months simply because of those FANTASTIC new additions.

Work is picking up after a few years of very limited activity. You can read more about that here. I have several meetings lined up in the next two weeks and all of them might lead to new work. If they don’t become new clients, the conversations will definitely be informative and useful for me.

I’ll be showing my pictures (here’s a link to some older ones) at three different places in the next four months. I sold one of my paintings, which has no comparable feeling in my life’s experience. (It feels good!) I bartered with a friend so I have an easel. I have one painting still in progress (it has been since December), another forming in my mind, and now have the space set up so I can get back to work on them.

My former husband (MFH) and his partner are moving this weekend into an apartment that’s about 5 minutes from here. The girls will spend some time over there each week and we will have a more typical “custody” arrangement. MFH’s partner has gone above and beyond the “girlfriend” status in my book as she will be commuting the 1.5+ drive each week to continue her work, in great part so MFH will be closer to his children. She’s good people.

I hope to join the Portland Food Co-op in the next month or so, ever expanding our commitment to sustainably grown foods. I’ll write more about my experience at the pig kill in January, too. I’m also about to post some thoughts I had about this blog space. I know I miss writing. I’m just not sure how or where I’ll be able to meet my writing needs.

Life is just going well. We’re stable. Our foundation is growing and solid. We’re putting in roots. Life is rich and wondrous and ridiculously exhausting and challenging. That’s how things are for us. :-)

opening reception (how it went)

Once again, I had the honor of people visiting me in a space where my pictures are displayed. This reception was at the Dyer Library in Saco, ME and my pictures will be there for the month of February. Ten or so people came to the reception, or about 15 if we count the children (and why not?). I’m never sure how I “do” at these events because it becomes a bit of a blur. I’m part host, part artist, part visitor at a party and I spend a lot of time just breathing and realizing the experience of others can’t be determined by me.

People were generous, kind, and had some beautiful comments and questions. At one point I considered making a sort of more formal welcome statement, but decided to leave it entirely casual.

I still can’t get over the fact that people took time from their schedules to support me and my art. It’s flattering and mystifying and amazing. Here are a couple photos of the display and a couple quickly shot photos of two of my newest pieces.

figures — oil pastels, paper collage on canvass; $165 (sold)
what’s left — oil pastels on birch panel; $235


If I won the lottery, I’d “just” take care of my children and our home.

I am that irresponsible. I want to be my children’s mother. I want to have the time and energy to do parenting very, very well in the way that feels right to me. I want to be the mother I am. I want to live a rich life as an individual, as a woman, full of variety and color and creativity, so learning from my example strengthens my daughters.

I’m furious that our country’s values make me feel selfish, self-centered, spoiled, and irresponsible because I want to care for my children and create a beautiful, loving, clean, and safe home for them.

Bills must be paid. My former husband is very generous in his support, but it isn’t enough to live on.

Typically, I’m not a fan of complaining without offering solutions. Right now, however, I am just too tired to figure out how this messed up system can be fixed. Somehow, somewhere, someone needs to find a way to make people see that allowing a mother to be at home with her children and be fully present as a parent is an investment in our country’s future.

Until then, I’ll do the work I have to do to make money. I won’t sleep much. I won’t have much patience or energy to just be with my children as there will always be dishes and laundry and errands and follow-up phone calls with insurance companies and just a quick email check to see if a client got back to me and and and…

Last week I put aside all of my to-do items and set the stage for finger painting with my toddler. It was extraordinary. In these photos she is looking at herself in the mirror. I grabbed the mirror after the first time she touched her hair so she would know what she was doing.

This is what beautiful, powerful, enriching, inspiring irresponsibility looks like:

creation of “germination”

One of the many, many areas that fascinate me about going public with the drawings and paintings I’m making is the different ways people want to interact with me about them. I find it unsettling but also such an honor when people ask me questions. I’m surprised every time, too, about what starts coming out of me in response.

This is my recreation of the making of “germination.”

This winter I started getting pictures of seeds sprouting. Acorns in particular. There was something about that seriously hard exterior cracking to let out what seemed from photographs to be the most tender and delicate, but ultimately powerful, shoots really struck me. I spent some time looking at photos online. I found some neat line drawings in what I guess could be called antique books (late 1800s) online and in local libraries. I drew a few sketches or what I thought would become a drawing or series of drawings. Then life came along and I just never found my way back to them. The feelings had fizzled or morphed into other areas.

A few weeks ago I was at my parents’ place in Hunts Corner, Maine which is in the middle of the mountains. I had talked with the Starbucks manager about hanging new pictures before the school year starts (the area my pictures have been hanging usually showcases work from the arts high school nearby) and she enthusiastically encouraged me to put up new pictures. So, I had to make some.

When I got out the easel and oil pastels I was pretty sure I was going to draw flowers and hummingbirds. I was struggling with it a bit because it felt so potentially trite. Still, at some point I’m pretty sure I’ll draw/paint hummingbirds in some form or another. As I started drawing, though, I found myself drawing that acorn sprouting. I didn’t have the photos to refer to, but it didn’t feel like it mattered. I was pulled along by the contrast of the dark shell and the light and seemingly delicate but full of strength and life growth of the shoots.

As with almost everything I’ve ever made it was all about letting go of feeling like it had to be a certain way and going with what happened. Parts that I hated had to stay until they were changed because I felt how they needed to change. I couldn’t “correct” something because I didn’t know where it was going. For example, at first I couldn’t seem to work the sexuality of the images out of it for a long time and I didn’t want something overtly sexual despite the inherently sexual nature of… nature…

So the drawing started looking something like this (the photo doesn’t really capture it, but it sort of does):

I knew the shoots had to be tender light white green but that scared the crap out of me. Still, in the finished piece, the boldness of the bright (tender) shoots against the dark and foreboding or scary or earthy or however you see it rest of the thing makes me really uncomfortable. I keep wanting to go back into the drawing and tone it down. Put back in some olive tones, some bluishness, some shadows. It’s so vulnerable as it is there, so innocent and daring reaching up to the light and down into the earth. Fragile. But the drawing needed to be that way, so it stayed quite bright and light just in the area of the shoots (and the light coming in through the trees/brush/whatever it is blocking the light).

Later that afternoon I was moving in a bit of a brighter direction but couldn’t stand how it looked like the thing was sprouting forth brightness when I meant for it to be reaching or growing. Timid but brave. Just doing what it needed to do.

I love textures and tend to do most of this stuff with very melty oil pastels and my fingers. I really don’t know if I should maybe call them paintings because so much of what I do is essentially finger painting.

Here’s where I’ve layered in more texture. Added more light, too, because the whole thing just felt like one dark darkness and that’s not how the image felt to me in my mind.

I was literally working with nature. The heat of the sun was melting the pastels, the wind was blowing, etc.

The next day I was kind of stressed out because the colors I wanted to use were gone. Used up. I rifled through the pile of pieces from other drawings that I’d separated out that were mostly in the purple or lavender blue family and freakishly happened on a deep forest blue green color. It blended in a way with the browns and blacks and greyer greens so satisfyingly. I just knew I’d found something. Then I streaked it and realized how much more that felt like light in the woods. I’d been dappling and blobbing stuff, but the streaks felt more right.

After I finished the next day I put it on the grass to take a photo. I couldn’t stop touching it (working on it) though. I asked my sister-in-law to get a picture of me doing this touch up. She took a gadgillion pictures. Here are a couple.

This is it finished but not yet matted or under glass. The digital image doesn’t (for me) capture what it really looks like, but it’s close(ish).
Today I was at Starbucks and I often sit at the table just under my pictures. It’s comforting but also feels kind of ballsy. I’ve heard people comment (some nasty comments, in fact) as I was sitting there and I’ve been really glad they didn’t know the pictures were mine.
This is the same picture, taken by me with my iPhone. The photo of the picture isn’t very well framed, but I still kind of like it.
So, that’s some insight into my process.
If I had to describe “what is this drawing about,” this is what I’d say: growth, letting things go as they go, doing what just happens, tenderness and vulnerability are strength, surprising discoveries from tough exteriors, hope, light from lots and lots of darkness, and, the richness and depth of darkness being a source of good not necessarily bad.