Saturday, January 31, 2009

From the Vault: Old Yankee #1

I don't usually like to paint people- I'm much more interested in capturing the colors of landscapes, or in creating intimate drawings of shells and sticks and other little nature-y things. But I went through a short phase where I tried a few portraits; most were fairly unsuccessful, in part because I was trying to paint people I knew and loved. I think that when we know people really well we add things to their characters that isn't always visible. This is why someone who might have seemed plain when we first meet them becomes beautiful as we learn what's on the inside as well as the outside. The whole weight of our history with the individual bears down on how we perceive them, and when it comes to depicting them in simple shadow and light I find I never can capture the essence of the person. I'm off just enough that one small change to a feature, or wrong expression, renders the whole portrait dead and lifeless. So I tried to paint this old Yankee from a photo...I was able to discover his personality in the same way I discover that of a character in one of my fiction pieces-gradually and with no preconceived notions.

Sadly, I have to keep him in a box in the corner, because I don't like the way he looks at me... kind of creeps me out.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Unplugged Art Night Update

Well, a few weeks ago I announced my intention of devoting one night a week to turning off all electronics and focusing on doing art. So far, it's been a complete disaster. It's funny, I always put some stake in the idea that if you voiced your intentions out loud and to a lot of people, you would start to turn your idea into a reality. There is usually something about declaring intent that seems to give it momentum, and ultimately helps me stick to a goal better.

Not this time though. I've had good intentions to start working on some paintings, but each time Friday rolled around there were unexpected interruptions- almost in-laws dropping by unexpectedly, power failures, mandatory family gatherings--all things that I COULD have said, "Nope, get out, can't do it," but not without serious social repercussions. Sigh. I chose to go with the flow this time, rather than make unnecessary waves.

And so, Unplugged Art Night is still on the plans, but as yet remains an unrealized dream...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

imagine a rush of poems, like a surging river in spring

"Antisthenes says that in a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer."- Plutarch, Moralia

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

'What it Is' new favorite teaching book is what it is

This is a page from cartoonist Lynda Barry's new book What It Is. I fell in love with the collages in this book, each of which is focused around an idea for a writing exercise. The book itself is equal parts graphic novel, memoir and writing workbook; I love the way it approaches writing in a non-linear and creative manner.

I used one of her exercises in a creative writing class the other day, and asked the kids to journal on her page "what and where is your imagination?" The page itself is full of images, words and sub-thoughts, all colorfully crashing into each other. At first, it seemed to overwhelm some of the students, most of whom were used to more direct prompts-some needed a little guidance to figure out what they were "supposed" to write about. But I think her books include the kind of exercises where you look at her images and each time find something new to think about. You can repeat her prompt, and find yourself answering a different question.

I'm trying to push the edges of what these kids are used to encountering in a creative writing class, and I like using her book as a jumping off point. Like all things, creativity takes practice, and I think the kids will get there...

More info on Lynda Barry can be found here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

From the Vault: Balboa Park Gardens, San Diego

Lilies and Carp

PK and I spent a few weeks in San Diego this summer, and spent hours wandering around the many gardens in Balboa Park. The light was usually too bright for good color photos, so I spent most of my time doing little sketches and just absorbing the calm atmosphere of the Japanese garden and the gigantic botanical building while PK chased after hummingbirds with his camera. There were so many different shapes and textures to enjoy-all piled on top of one another, shaded and merging with other plants, people and the flocks of wild birds. My tendency in big public places like this is to seek a quiet corner and create my own sense of solitude and wilderness. These photos were taken in some of those nooks.

Cactus Garden

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

they fall into the sea, eventually

Temporary Art Installment #1, by PK

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From the Vault: Imagined Trout

This was a quick watercolor sketch I did a few years ago- since then it has been clipped to an unused easel in the corner of our study. I messed around with the colors a bit- I'm not sure any real trout looks like this. When I draw or paint I tend to be over-meticulous, and spend far too much time trying to achieve a realism that is all to often elusive. I like this trout because it swims in the face of that reality, and reminds me to try more quick sketching, and to let my brush wander around without always listening to my hyperactive inner-critic. Maybe I'll paint the next trout in fuschia and blue. That'll give my inner critic something to talk about...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inspiration: Adelaide Tyrol

Splice by Adelaide Tyrol

Vermont painter Adelaide Tyrol stuns me with the way she uses vibrant colors to paint intimate portraits of birds, insects and plants. There is a spark of life to her work that makes me think of Chris Augusta's pastels, something that just lights up within the piece and stops me cold- that makes me expect to see the creatures lift up out of their technicolor universes and burst up into the sky. Tyrol deviates from the technical perfections of scientific illustration and instead captures the soul of the organism in such a way that it's individual personality and expression pour off the page. I love it.

More of her work can be found here:

Young Rook by Adelaide Tyrol

Friday, January 16, 2009

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009

I love to wander into the Maine Room at the Portland Museum of Art, mostly because of the work of both Andrew and NC Wyeth. My favorite painting, Raven's Grove depicts a cache of broken shells beneath a spruce tree, with just a glimpse of the sea's edge in the distance. It so elegantly captures the small details of wild life on the Maine islands, much more so than the typical beauty shot painting of the coastline. There is an intimate feel to it, and a sense of an artist comfortable in his own surroundings, and the darkness within those places. The following quote from Wyeth has been much-used in his memorials, but so clearly describes his attraction to the bones of the world...

"I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future — the timelessness of the rocks and the hills — all the people who have existed there," he once said. "I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape — the loneliness of it — the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn't show.
''I think anything like that -- which is contemplative, silent, shows a person alone -- people always feel is sad. Is it because we've lost the art of being alone?''
Andrew Wyeth was reclusive, I certainly never met him outside of his paintings. But he will be missed, here in New England, and I wish him peace. More of his work can be viewed here:

Unplugged Art Night

For a few years, PK and I hosted a monthly gathering we creatively called "Art Night", in which a few folks came over to our house and worked on art projects. I loved the atmosphere of the evenings, where we would often have a pot of soup on the stove, and folks could share where they were with their art, and spend time working on projects. We have some extremely talented friends, and many of them have side hobbies that involve creative activities such as fly tying, paper cutting, and a variety of mixed media work. Art Night fell apart though, when it's open-invite format resulted in many folks coming over just to socialize, but not to work on projects. Now, don't get me wrong, the socializing was great- interesting people=interesting conversations=a good time - but it didn't match our original goal of developing a working group designed around sharing creative energy. But I miss Art Night, mostly because it was a way to make me focus on work and ignore the many temptations of our multi-media home.

So here is our experiment for 2009:

PK and I are hoping to unplug ourselves from our various technology for one night a week, during which we'll focus on our art projects. No reading, no internet, no T.V., just art projects. It's not an original idea; many other folks are doing unplugged nights, and I know that we'll have to work around weeks when we are travelling, and other intrusions, but for the immediate future, Friday night is Unplugged Art Night around here. Hopefully we'll eventually open the house back up to our old group from time to time, but for now, it's just the two of us and a palette of paint. Updates to follow...


This past weekend PK and I went on a road trip to Vermont's Northeast Kingdom with a bunch of friends. It was a fantastic weekend of great skiing, food, conversation and general laughter and fun. I skied across old maple sugar plantations, over hills filled with mysterious spruce, and through fields that were once orchards, now scattered with twisted, decaying fruit trees. The snow fell all weekend, in fine waves of powder that squeaked beneath our feet.

Most of the time it was well below zero and too cold to take the camera out into the woods, but I managed to get this photo on our last day, a few minutes before we climbed back in the car for the long drive back to real-life obligations.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inspiration: Jeanie Tomanek

Night Journey by Jeanie Tomanek

The wind is howling outside the house right now, and a deep cold has settled in on our small town. Late last night I took the dog out, and stood there staring up into the dark, cold sky, until my eyes watered from the chill. I've been thinking a lot about cycles lately, and the ways in which we connect to the earth around us--mythic thoughts, about the patterns that we humans repeat regardless of circumstances. I originally stumbled across Jeanie Tomanek's work on a mythic arts website, and these paintings so wonderfully convey that sense of timelessness. I love her luminous figures that move in and out of darkness, and the mythic images that appear and re-appear in her works. I'm also intrigued by her process, in which she uses mixed media to create layers that she then scratches through for different effects. Her website has a great selection of pieces, and she definitely goes on the list of people I would buy art from if I had any money.

You can see more of her work here:

Evening by Jeanie Tomanek

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

cold, descending

"The night is darkening round me, The wild winds coldly blow; But a tyrant spell has bound me And I cannot, cannot go. The giant trees are bending Their bare boughs weighed with snow. And the storm is fast descending, And yet I cannot go. Clouds beyond clouds above me, Wastes beyond wastes below; But nothing dear can move me; I will not, cannot go."

- Emily Bronte, Spellbound

From the Vault 2

Illumination at the Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

From the Vault

I've been on break from school the last few weeks, and have been using my free time to start a lot of different projects, but not to actually finish them. One of these over-optimistic projects is to dig through all the piles of stuff in my study and try to beat it into some sort of order before the chaos of the new semester begins. I keep coming across old pieces of art- paintings, photos, poems and the like, and am going to post a few while I work on that whole "finished product" thing. Since yet more snow is falling, here is a little memory of summer. I photographed these barnacles at sunset while PK and I were paddling on the coast of Maine.

Monday, January 12, 2009

soaking beans

I took this photo while I was making some chili for friends, and it stands as an example of how there are moments in life that simply cannot be captured. I was washing the beans when I was struck by the colors, the textures, the way the light glinted off the wet, beany surfaces- so of course, I ran for the camera while my friends watched and wondered if I was going to come back and finish making dinner. Sadly, the final product doesn't come close to the live version. So once again, I'm coming to terms with this idea that the product isn't living up to my expectations. So now I have to approach this moment with a positive outlook and say 'hey, this picture kinda stinks, but gosh, those beans sure were pretty.' And then go read the instructions for how to use the macro lens.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What I miss most in winter...

The moments I love the most in gardening happen early in the year, when tiny plants push up through the soil, offering the promise of delicious meals with friends and family. I love to work this early garden - before the bugs come crawling, before mildew and drought ravage the leaves, before weeds and slugs do their worst. This is the garden of hope, and the dirt beneath my fingernails smells sweet.

Photos by SFD

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Snow Heart Spiral, by Stu Jenks

I was playing around on the web and looking for some inspiration, when I stumbled across these surreal works by Stu Jenks, a musician and photographer working out in Tucson, Arizona. His photos are vivid dreamscapes that practically demand a tribal drum track accompaniment. As someone who is intensely interested in the artistic process of others, I especially like his website, where he often pairs his images with stories behind how they came to be. Check them out at, and make sure to look for the links to his “Circle Stories.”

Owl's Head, by Stu Jenks

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

om moment

My yoga class usually opens with a few moments of meditation, where we set the intention for our practice, and end with a group chant of Om. Today, as the group breathed out and voiced that single, resonant syllable, a train blew its horn as it passed through our town. The sound of the horn harmonized with our voices, and ended at the exact moment we finished exhaling.


Monday, January 5, 2009

a nice little bedtime story

Once upon a time, I lived in a tiny little town on the edge of a river surrounded by lonely abandoned mill buildings. My own apartment should have been abandoned, as the very ceilings were crumbling away, and the back steps were slowly sinking into the ground. For years, the only life on the streets were people stumbling out of their apartments to smoke cigarettes and swear at their neighbors for parking in the wrong spot. Then, things began to change. I started seeing artists hanging out on the corners, paintbrushes in hand, drawing the very buildings that had been only thought about as eyesores the day before. The abandoned mill buildings began to fill up with artist studios. Someone planted flowers along the streets. A lovely little coffee shop opened up just steps from my door. The whole neighborhood began to pulse, to breath a little. I could feel the pavement expand beneath my feet every time I walked outside my door.

And then I moved.

While I love the place where I am living now, and wouldn’t trade being with PK in our little nest for anything, it’s like I fell asleep on the couch just before the really funny thing happened at the party that everyone will be talking about for months. Typical.

There’s no end to this little tale, just the hope that my little old neighborhood is rolling along and building up artistic steam. Maybe I’ll stop by for a cup of coffee sometime soon and see how things are coming along.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Evening-the only sounds the heavy breath of the dog and the swish-swish of skis on days-old snow, the occasional call of a chickadee about to settle in for the night. The edge of a field, studded with gnarled, arthritic fruit trees, picked clean of fruit by winds and wild. A fattening moon, climbing up from behind the treeline, escaping from the twisted cage of branches to shine in the clear night sky, if only for a few hours, before sinking once more, below the trees, below the bay, below the corners of the earth, to sleep again .