are you smarter than a squirrel?

I’m not sure I am.

You know Jeff Foxworthy’s show, “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader,” right?

Squirrels may be smarter than 5th graders.

2 weeks ago “my” squirrels (all squirrels live in the same square mile their whole little lives) knocked down the multi-opening feeder one two many times, so I hung it on metal hanging wire, with a caribiner.

It stayed in the tree, so one of them unscrewed the top. I could see his little teeth and claw marks. I fixed that.

They can’t get in the top: so they chewed out the plastic perch/openings — you know, the ones the birds need rest on to eat from? Two out of 5 of those was flung on the ground, riddled by tooth and claw.

We put out the one with the metal perches. It’s smaller and you have to fill it more often, but they can’t totally destroy it. So far so good.

The plastic “dish” style feeder? They knocked it out of the tree It fell upside down, They chewed a hole in the bottom of it to get to the seed.

That one was replaced with a hanging wooden version they can’t quite tip — on a caribiner. (When squirrels figure those out, I am screwed.)

I could go on. It’s an ongoing project, me and the squirrels and the bird feeders. My dad used to despise squirrels. I always understood why he was annoyed: because they are problem solvers and WILL get to the bird food. We are all sad the “Yankee Squirrel Flipper” wasn’t invented while he was alive. That would have filled him with glee.

What I never understood until now was the depth of his anti-squirrel passion. I get it now. I love my birds. There’s a fantastic little wild kingdom that includes painted buntings, cardinals, finches, and above them all a pair of hawks and a pair of kites. I’m not feeding squirrels.

This week, I am a little smarter than a squirrel….for awhile.

But, knowing what problem solvers are squirrels, how resourceful and persistent — imagine the alarm to learn on the news this morning that a meth addled squirrel is out in the wild in Alabama.

Think about that for a minute. A meth addicted squirrel. How would that happen?

Well, a meth addicted Alabaman created that little monster TO PROTECT HIS STASH.

Picture that squirrel.

The police were warned about him, and were prepared. And yet they let the squirrel go.

Somewhere in the urban jungle, somewhere in Alabama is a squirrel coming down off meth. Do NOT approach that squirrel. Take cover. Throw bird seed at him if you have to. His eyes will be red and his little claws will be shaking.

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remembering why I paint

I’ve been painting so long now that there are a lot of levels to every canvas I drop. And that’s a good thing! It means I’m busy and successful.

There are canvases created for several niche markets I serve, like the Lowcountry pieces, and the ongoing City Series. There are customized pieces which utilize reproductions of my own paintings that I paint again in different palettes, or add mixed media elements to personalize for collectors. Now there are “products” which are a modern wonder of technology that allows me to use my original paintings to decorate functional items, at click.

In creating this new platform for my recent wildlife buddies, and some older fish and birds, I found myself writing little narratives to go with the cutting boards and throwpillows. And in doing that, I remembered how many of these pieces came about, the feelings involved, or the activities that led to them.

The fish pieces, for example, showed up early in my painting. In those days, my husband and I tried to spend at least one weekend a month on our boat, off the North Carolina coast, often out in the Gulf Stream. We seriously pursued billfish, researched our pelagic friends, caught and released, and caught and ate. I know what a tuna feels like on a line and in my hands. I know what it tastes like raw right off the hook. I got pretty good at driving the weedlines, watching the birds.

We caught all kinds of fish. We took home lots of tuna, Spanish mackeral, mahi, wahoo. We saw all kinds of crazy stuff out on the water; you always do. We had sharks steal fish. We had birds ride along. One day when my stepdaughter was with us, we anchored over a hole and caught nothing but baby hammerheads. When we took the kids, we’d cruise through Shackleford Banks and watch for the wild horses.

All those sensory memories went into the creation of “the dinner crowd,”* simple painting though it is. But you wouldn’t know that to look at it. You wouldn’t know that I used to anchor in Charlotte Amalie every Tuesday in the 1970s, even though the nautical chart for USVI creates the background of that painting. Or that fishing for bonefish in the Turks and Caicos gave me the “feel” for the surface reflection looking up above the pack of sailfish. You wouldn’t know that I know what a sailfish bill feels like, as you hold it while the hook is released, or the power of that body as it jerks away in freedom. But I hope you see it there.

Sometimes, even if memories are involved, research is necessary. And the amount of research often has no relationship to the result. In the painting of New York City I did in 2012 I did hours of research on the Brooklyn Bridge, even though it’s painted very simply in the foreground. I wanted it to be recognizable, and one thing led to another. Eventually I listened to a 50+ hour book about it, but not before I finished the painting.

When I paint cities I use lots of photographs. Even if I know the city well, like Raleigh, or Charleston, I look at dozens of angles and images. When I was painting lots of cities, I’d often paint them in groups, and the palette would be the same among them. So LA, Newport Beach and Phoenix are all in the same palette, for example, as are Philadelphia, Birmingham and Richmond.

In other words, planning has been involved in the majority of painting I’ve done in the last 6 or 7 years.

But for the last week I’ve been working on 3 canvases intuitively. This is something I used to do a lot. It’s a lot of fun. Just start applying paint and see what happens. It is very freeing and therapeutic. Sometimes I still paint backgrounds this way, but less and less often. I used to do entire paintings intuitively and a lot of abstract artists consider it the only way to paint.

It was fantastic. It felt good. Just the smell of the paint and the feel of it. It’s hard to turn off the designer in my head, but I just went with the motions. One of the three may actually continue as an intuitive abstract, but the real reward was the process. I had no agenda, no expectations to be fulfilled, no city to recreate or design niche to fill.

So for two very different reasons I was reminded of the origins of these paintings I do, and the joy of the process. I need to be reminded of that regularly.

They tell us that if we have a passion, that is what we should do in life, and then we’ll “never work a day in our lives.” The idea being that if you do what you love it isn’t work. But it is. And even if you absolutely love the thing you do, you still do it to make a living and it therefore runs the risk of becoming many things besides your passion, including mundane, stressful, and run of the mill.

Don’t let it! Remember the smell of the fish on a hot afternoon. Remember the feel of the paint, when it didn’t matter where it went. At least once a week, take a few minutes to remember what it was like to just do it for the fun of it.

Don’t think about the profit in it or the deadline attached. And remember how much just the sight of the finished product can make someone’s day. That’s the other joy of painting we forget, but I’ll save that one for another day.

  • the original painting is 36 x 42 and is titled “hunting with the big guys”. It is in a private collection in Kentucky. It seemed only right to rename the products “the dinner crowd” These guys are at the top of the food chain and they often hunt in packs like this. They cruise the warm oceans of the world at will.
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swamplife

I’m a morning person.  Always have been.  I’m the person who still got up at daylight, even if we’d partied until 4.  I always felt you missed something if you missed mornings.  I was never the person who slept until 3, or around the clock, even when I should have.

Morning shapes everything.  It’s why we have phrases like “getting up on the wrong side of the bed.”  It’s also the reason people are encouraged to pray and exercise in the morning – because it influences the rest of the day.

As someone who hasn’t partied til 4 for decades now, mornings are even more inspiring, because there’s no recovery time to overcome.

Better still for me is my morning yard.

Having coffee outside as the day unfolds is one of best things about being older.  I have few time constraints, so …

This morning the light through the live oaks and spanish moss sparkled.  We had a tropical thunderstorm and downpour last evening, so all has been scrubbed.  Brilliant green sego palms still dripped, and I had to dump the bird seed in my ersatz feeder, because it was a soggy brick.  But the feral cat we feed was still on the porch, which pleases me, because it means he was smart enough to stay dry there.  (He’s a mess and we call him “The Professional,” because he always survives but worse for the wear, like Jean Reneaux in that movie.)

Also this morning two rabbits were enjoying the green feast.  I haven’t seen them before and they made me smile.  What’s not to like about seeing bunnies? Unless they’re eating your vegetables, of course.

And all of that was before coffee!

The swamp is rich in wildlife, even if we think we live in a town.  When you look at us on a map, we are surrounded by bodies of water, with a blackwater swamp less than a quarter mile away, and a boat ramp less than 4.  The wildlife is not city savvy, like the coyotes and raccoons of our Raleigh neighborhood.  We were “just outside the beltline,” so not even suburbs but a real forest was nearby and the agricutural classrooms of NC State weren’t more than a mile away.  I saw several coyotes, and our neighbor routinely trapped and relocated raccoons.

But swamp life is more natural, some good, some bad.  I’m not enamored of the armadillo, for example.  They are nasty and dig up the yard.  But they are also potentially toxic and nocturnal, so not easy to “relocate.”

Bunnies, on the other hand…

Deer, too, though we haven’t seen as many in the last couple years as the town grows and fills in.  I saw a fox on the front lawn after a storm last week, though.  And we are researching a pair of hawks that we’ve seen mating and hunting nearby.  They are beautful: small and elegant with a pale gray front and head, slate wings leaning towards purple and masked eyes.  We watched one eating a small bird for a half hour.  The two had been mating, but when one flew off, the other stayed with its prey and ate.

It was the food that actually made us get out the binoculars.  My husband thought it was eating a big bug, but then I could see blood, and bugs’ blood is yellow — I know: I just returned from a drive to Oklahoma and back.  I’ve seen bugs’ blood.

So, the small hunting bird research continues.  My husband is very particular in his observations, and though I am the painter, his details are often more accurate.

Rabbits will be appearing in the “fantasy animals” series now.  I can’t imagine why I forgot them.  Their amusing postures and interactions will be fun to add to my groups of critters “conversing.”  They could even go into this gang of adventurers.

I’ll keep you posted.animals among us smr

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wet paint

It is an honor and a privilege to paint for peoples’ homes, for their lives. If a peripheral glimpse of color brings a smile to the day, it’s succeeded. Continue reading

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Mid-Century Modern

Mid-Century Modern looks a bit like the Jetsons, to me.  Or the wonderful hard-edged advertising that made its way into our sub-conscious in the 50s, 60s and early 70s.  I never really thought of it in terms of my own paintings.

But about a decade ago I was invited to be part of a Mid-Century Modern exhibition in California, and it dawned on me that the casual observations to that connection were more applicable than I had credited them to be.

It’s not outrageous, really.  I am mid-century modern myself, born 4 days before the year 1950, and growing up with all of those images in my mind’s eye.  Even the brief period in which I worked in advertising was in the very early 70s, when the colorful, hard-edged, style ruled.

So, now I am told that “Mid-Century Modern is coming back.”  Along with “the 80s,” a “style” that was lacking even when it was new.  But Mid-Century Modern was never lacking.  It always had appeal.  I just think it’s funny. Ironic funny, not haha funny.

For the last 5 years, I’ve been wondering when people would stop decorating with old dentist signs and horse collars, and start hanging real art again.  I’m sure it’s been wonderful for Chip and Joanna Gaines and Magnolia, and it’s surely been fantastic for all the “pickers” and “upcyclers” out there, but really, a barrel hoop as a focal point is simply not art.  It’s not even decor (a term used derisively by artists).  It’s just a barrel hoop.

Convincing people they can decorate with ANYTHING, is very freeing, and I’m sure it’s been wonderful for many men and women who were scared to do anything outside the box.  But to hear that we are going from rusty highway signs back to Mid-Century Modern is downright thrilling.

It means actual color may come back.  Actual paintings may come back.  Even framed things.   I know it’s empowering to realize that the potato stencils you learned in middle school can be framed and hung in your dining room, but what do they bring?

Seriously.

I’m so obsessed with the value of my work that a sign hangs in my studio that asks me “why should I care? What does it add to anything? where is the value?”  Those are the questions I put to a piece of my own work before it is ready for YOU to see.  Because I believe art adds value to everything around it. Or at least it should.

And that just can’t be said about a rusty barrel hoop.

So, “Mid-Century Modern is the new trend”?? Bring it on!  The sooner the better!

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what do you hang on your walls? what is on your shelves?

What do you collect?

Is there some ONE thing, which every time you see it – at a show, online, in a catalog, in a store — makes you stop, and wonder, “should I get that?”

Is it turtles, or owls?  Lots of people collect anything and everything which includes their favorite critters.

For some people its color.  Or a place or team.  Boats and cars.  Glass.  Ceramics.  Fine wood. Landscapes or sculpture.

What do you have on your walls?  Specifically.  I really do want to know.  I’m developing a theory about DIY shows, and I need the input.  But I’m also a 2D artist, so I really need to know.  As a painter, it’s always been a challenge to actually make a living, because paintings are so subjective.  Husbands and wives don’t even always like the same paintings.  These days there are a hundred other options for everything, and that includes art.  From what you want to how you get it.

When I spoke with collectors and walkins in my public studio daily, I lived in a young, hip urban area.  It was fun to adapt my work to the minimalist modernism of young professionals, many of them in the technology industry.  Many times design was just a 72″ TV and a great sofa from IKEA.  They liked my abstracts, because they were “mid-century modern.”

A lot of young professionals everywhere these days are designing with online communities, where a look they identify with is easily available through websites and TV shows.

There’s another group of collectors who say they have everything they need, and are giving stuff away.  But if an exquisite little gem of glass appears in front of them, resistance is futile.

There is another group which says we all have too many things already, so they collect nothing, but I’d rather not talk about them.

So where are you?  Are your living room walls filled with large canvas repros of your own travel shots?  Is your dining room a collection of small original paintings in a grouping?  (Small groupings rule in our house, because as an artist myself, it has been the way I could afford to collect other artists I love!)  Is there an antique bakery sign in the kitchen?

And how do you find the things you put in your house? Magnolia?  Wayfair? Actual stores?  Catalogs?  Enquiring minds want to know.

But, most importantly, what is that one thing (not person!) that would make your knees weak …..

Below are some of my little eclectic collections of other artists work.  The top two are in my kitchen.  I’ve always surrounded myself with images that made me feel good.  Even when I lived in little ships cabins, I stuck art postcards in the mirror and above my bed.

Art ads value to everything around it.  Even the clock and the cookbooks!

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What do you want from me?

I’ve asked this question a dozen different ways over the years, but it remains an important question — because painting is how I make my living. My collectors and friends have always given me good input.

When I first started painting, I didn’t know what I wanted, much less what my future collectors would want.  I painted very colorful abstracts for awhile.  Then I painted wildlife for a (long) while (and still do), and then I started adding structure to my abstracts.  When I’d put in my 10,000 hours (5 years of 40 hour weeks, honest), my signature style emerged and people really responded. Really responded.

The “geometrix” (now tradmarked) style earned me a lot of collectors, all over the country and the world.  It evolved into painting nearly 100 cities, which earned me more collectors, and the cities still sell regularly in print formats.

When we moved back to the Lowcountry, I was surrounded by natural beauty; there were no cities in sight.  Having painted multiple cities a year, for many years, I decided to paint one or two a year either by request or if I am doing an event in a new area — because it’s just silly to mess with a good thing, right?  I still promote the cities, because people still love them – thankfully!

But I also wanted to paint the sort of marsh life that surrounded me here; the things that still make me go “oh!” when I see them.  Like dolphins strandfeeding in Whale Branch when I cross over to the islands.  The little clatch of tall white birds that turned out to be storks.  And the bigger group of pink birds that were spoonbills.  The first time a painted bunting landed on my feeder, I went “oh!” and scared him away.  (He still comes back, with his little green “wife.”) After Matthew, there were a couple maccaws in our southern pine, but after a few hours (resting?) they’d moved on.

So I paint these guys.  And people love them.  All of them seem to find homes.

What, you ask, is the dilemma?  Well, part of the dilemma is looking like a dilettante (after 17 years) because I have several distinctly different bodies of work. Every business of being an artist guide there is says “pick one.”  Otherwise you don’t look serious.  Well, 100 cities is pretty serious. A hundred abstracts is pretty serious.  A hundred or more wildlife paintings and mixed media pieces are pretty serious, but it’s always a matter of perception.

The other part of the dilemma is which to promote, because that is what I need to do now.  I need to decide which of these to share with the world in a big way.  I have to decide whether to become the queen of the cityscapes, or the lady of the landscapes.

I’m at the point in my career that I am pulling back the stops.  It’s a good thing.

It’s exciting to live your life always building.  When I discovered painting, and the joy of creating and sharing my creations, the passion was strong to just keep painting, every day.  I’ve done that and the results have been enormously rewarding on so many levels.

But I’m cutting back on live shows in the field, and concentrating on online sales, and that requires a finer focus.

So, I need to choose.  Cities?

Wildlife?

Lowcountry landscapes?neighborhood watch sm (2)

 

 

 

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