Friday, October 31, 2008

Duncan and Duff

For the last week I have been obsessed with these portraits of Duff(left) and Duncan(right). They are only 5X7, but I had a very hard time getting the likeness of the dogs, especially Duff. I did portraits of two other Scotties owned by the same people years ago. Those dogs died and now here are the new boys. It has been quite a challenge to get individuality into each dog, but I think I finally managed to catch them. In any case, they're finished. After all I've been through, I am afraid even one more brushwork could be disastrous.
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chickens and More Flowers

I haven't taken pictures of the chickens for awhile, so when they refused to go in for the night, I used the time to get them on camera. This is the only one I got with all six. They are so friendly that it's hard to get far enough away from them. I threw a handful of Rice Crispies on the ground, then snapped the picture. They are big and beautiful and healthy.......and happy.
The cosmos is still going strong. It looks disheveled because of the wind, but it is covering the whole garden now. It's a beautiful sight. I picked the last of the gladiolas and put them with the others on the table in the kitchen. What tremendous rewards I have received from planting flowers. There can't be much that delivers such pleasure.
The country is in a terrible economic crisis right now. Since I have nothing to lose, it has hit me only (at this point anyway) in hypothetical terms. My brother Mike, however, has lost all of the money he spent years accumulating. He planned on moving here and enjoying retirement. We've talked about it for years, and I have even looked at real estate for him. He has worked hard all his life, and it just breaks my heart to see his dreams evaporate............
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Painting Group

Wednesday we had our usual painting group. I have written about it so many times, I decided to take a picture. Here are Lisa and Sydney having refreshments (wine, cheese, and crackers) after our afternoon labor. I love looking at this because it brings back the feeling I always have there. Sydney's studio, on the third floor of her huge house, is comfortable and welcoming. The lighting is less than ideal for painting, but we aren't really bothered by it. Our camaraderie makes up for any practical difficulties there may be. We paint and talk, occasionally falling into easy silence as we work. Topics of conversation run the gamut......local gossip, politics, personal problems, religion, books, TV shows, art, philosophy....nothing is off limits. Despite the fact that we usually get together only this one day a week, it seems we are the best of friends. Seeing them in this picture makes me realize that I love them.

The top picture is the one I started that day and finished at home. I have liked painting these vegetables and envisioned a series. After this one, the third, I'm not so sure. I'm more intrigued by the idea than the process. Probably I will do one more and then see how I feel about it. I've already picked another arrangement, so I may as well keep going. I am so short on supplies that along with doing without some of my paint colors, I have started painting on a pad of canvas paper that I've had for at least ten years. It's flimsy, so master of invention that I am, I got some vinyl tiles left over from the bathroom floor out of the cellar. They are square, and are sticky on the back--perfect for mounting canvas paper. I am quite proud of my resourcefulness. It amuses me that so many artists no better or more famous than I worry so much about preserving their work. They worry about color-fast paint, archival surfaces and framing materials, and exposure to light. Putting my work on peel-and-stick floor tiles is a defiant piece of performance art, if only in my own mind.

I had a wonderful print-making teacher named Zislaw Sikora during a summer session when I was at school. He once said, as we students labored endlessly over our preparatory sketches, "Come on, hurry up. If you were Rembrandt, you'd know it by now."
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Monday, October 13, 2008

More Vegetables

Here's the second painting of the pile of vegetables I photographed so many times. Once again, I'm amazed at how detailed my paintings look when shrunk down like this. I like it in the flesh, too, though.
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Sunday, October 12, 2008


I was wrong when I said the sunflowers were the garden's last hurrah. The gladiolas that I thought were too late to bloom have been budding and flowering. Even now there are quite a few still at it outside. I picked these this morning and by chance put them on the table in front of my painting of Epping Road. The effect in the photo is quite interesting, I think. It looks as if the flowers are in front of a window.

Epping Road makes me think of Alice and the fact that I haven't mentioned her in quite awhile. I still talk to her almost every week and really cherish my continued contact with her. When I spoke to her yesterday she sounded almost like her old self. She had been given some new medication, she said, and her depression had begun to lessen considerably. I was so glad to hear her animated and interested in doing a few things outside the house. It's been such a long struggle for her...........
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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Next Door Neighbor

A few weeks back David, Thom, and I were sitting on their back deck when we happened to notice this adorable raccoon watching us from the chimney next door. That house has been empty for years and is not livable for anybody except the several families of raccoons who have taken up residence. This guy just lounged around for about a half hour before sauntering down the side of the chimney, presumably in search of his supper.

There aren't many animals any cuter than a raccoon.
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Thom and David had a lot of green tomatoes from their garden. I was the recipient of this over-production so that I could make mincemeat. I've never wanted to eat traditional mincemeat made with venison, for obvious reasons, but I love this. As soon as I resurrected my old stained and torn cook-booklet of loose clippings and hand-written directions, I was back in Newburgh. Phil and I lived there for the first four years of Jesse's life, on an old farm we bought for fourteen thousand dollars. It was an experiment in country living that I enjoyed, but could hardly wait to leave.

As with all small towns, Newburgh had its own personality. The center of the community was the little chapel up the road from us. The pastor there was a missionary, sent to serve a poor, backward church in a seriously depressed area. His wife was a Bible scholar. They made the best of their disappointing situation, having hoped to be sent to Africa. I went to a Bible study group the wife taught on Wednesday mornings, mainly because a babysitter was provided there. It gave me a chance to spend time with other adults without Carrie and Jesse, albeit saying Praise God, listening to hymns played on the musical saw, and cackling over the fate of people of other religions who would get their due when the Rapture came.

My first visitor in Newburgh was a rather elderly woman named Mrs. Belgarde. She was a pillar of the church and had come to welcome us. It was she who wrote down the list of ingredients for the mincemeat for me. She taught me how to cook Lamb's Ears and milkweed (tastes like a mixture of broccoli and asparagus), to knit mittens, and to grow plants and vegetables. She invited me for lunch at her house, and introduced me to my neighbors. I learned from her that everyone in the immediate area was allowed to pick the blackberries that grew all over our four acres. There was no such thing as private property. Once I knew everyone, we all often met at my house to spend the afternoon playing Scrabble. I remember they played with eleven tiles instead of seven, to speed up the game.

My next door neighbor, about a mile or so down the road, was a young woman from Thailand who had met and married a soldier during the Viet Nam war. She taught me how to cook Thai food and a lot of the neighbors had meals at her house to sample the exotic fare. Once I found out that the meat she used was frogs harvested from the stream near her house, I declined anything that wasn't vegetarian. She had a daughter (Theresa Jean, called TJ) just slightly older than Carrie and the two of them played together. She and I were friends. Buachan believed that animals understood human language and often threatened her chickens with a butcher knife if they didn't lay eggs. She could also be found discussing trespassing with her neighbor's cow who routinely helped herself to the vegetables in Buachan's garden. Her family photo album contained gory pictures of dismembered victims of accidents she regularly came across in Thailand, alongside photos of smiling relatives. She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, after which she leaped from the delivery table and insisted on taking the baby home. Eventually she divorced her husband after she caught him and the babysitter having sex in her living room. She snapped a polaroid picture and went to a lawyer. The man married the babysitter, who was pregnant. Their baby girl was killed in an automobile accident at the age of two months when her drunken father ran into the rear of a stopped school bus.

That was life in Newburgh. That was what green tomato mincemeat brought to the forefront of my mind.
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Friday, October 10, 2008

Two Paintings

These are the latest paintings I've done. Both are in acrylic, which I haven't used for quite awhile. The top painting is one that Thom commissioned.........a portrait of his neice and her family. He will be giving it to them for Christmas. Since I wanted it to dry right away, I went to acrylic instead of oil. I immediately remembered why I had always liked that medium and was so enthralled that I kept using it after the first painting was done.

The second is a pile of vegetables that a former student gave me. As with most home gardeners, she had so much produce she couldn't use it all. Apparently she gave it away to everybody she could think of. I am not really a friend of hers, so I can only assume she was scraping the bottom of the barrel for places to unload the bounty. I have since made stew, but before that I photographed them several times just as they landed when I put them on top of the washing machine. They were still in the plastic bag they came in.

I can envision doing several paintings of them from different points of view. I did this with just three colors, plus white, as I always do. In fact, my palette was even more limited than usual because I didn't have any of my favorite cadmium red light. I don't think my students ever quite believed me when I told them how few colors I used, but this is just ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, and cadmium yellow. Ordinarily I would have had a cooler blue (my cerulean that I used up doing the portrait), a warmer red, and a cooler yellow as well, but I found I didn't really need them. The primary colors will make any color known to the human eye.

The portrait is 18x24 and the vegetables is a 12 inch square. It's interesting seeing them side by side out of proportion. Also, the portrait was photographed by David, then manipulated with his software that can make pictures look exactly as they really are. It's a wonderful job. I am so happy with that portrait I hated to give it up. I could have stared at it with admiration and pride forever. I suppose that is quite vain of me.............but so be it. The thing is a masterpiece!!
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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Fall Kayaking

This was the kind of Fall day that is always pictured on calendars. Toni and I took advantage of it and paddled up the Pennaquam River and into the lake. The water was like glass. It was very easy to move along at a quiet pace and enjoy the scenery. There aren't enough camps along the way to destroy the feeling that you are alone in the world. The country, and the world, is in such a mess right now that it seems impossible that a place like this could still exist. For a short time the peace is palpable.

As we neared our landing place, a small break in the trees, we began to good-naturedly worry about getting out of our kayaks. We both are over-weight and have bad legs and knees. Hoisting ourselves up and out is never an easy task. Toni got there first, threw her paddle onto the land, and tried to stand up. She fell back, and in the process drove her kayak back out into the water. I was pulling up behind her, so held out my paddle for her to grab. Once she had it, we were a single out-of-control body drifting toward the dam less than fifty feet away. In a heroic maneuver, Toni rolled (or fell) out of the kayak into the shallow water, stood up laughing, and pulled both kayaks and me the short distance to shore.

We sure know how to have fun.
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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Benny's Spot

Lately Benny has had an irresistable desire to be on the dining room table. Every time I forget to push my chair in under it when I get up, I return to find him there. He knocks things off, and has broken two coffee cups so far. I can't get too mad at him, since his boldness probably stems from more acceptance in the household. As he grows older, he's better behaved. As he behaves better, I like him more. The more I like him, the more affectionate he is, and the more affectionate is, the more I like him. And so it goes. I'm glad that things have taken this turn with us. I am, after all, all he has. And if he deserves to live (as many have argued against), he deserves to be loved. It's been a long struggle, and for a long time I had to be satisfied that I was making it possible for him to survive. It was about all I could do. It wasn't enough, and I was all too aware of that. He had all the problems dogs can have. He barked constantly, he bit everyone who came near him or he could chase down. He yanked and pulled on the leash, he chased cars, he escaped constantly and wouldn't come back. He went berserk at the sight of any other dog, lunging, snarling and yanking. Whenever his attempts to get at another dog were thwarted, he turned on Lytton or Patrick. When I tried to break the fight up, he bit me. Twice the police came at the request of people he had bitten, and had someone else reported him, he would have had to be euthanized. Thankfully the other legions of people he bit didn't report it.

Now he is winding down. He hasn't bitten anyone in recent memory. He's calmer, less excitable. He craves affection. It's good to see him feeling confident enough to actually ask for attention, placing his paw on my arm or leg. He likes to sit beside me on the couch, and sleep against me at night. I feel myself softening. He looks cute to me now. He's a good boy after all.
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Friday, October 03, 2008


Thom and David gave me this watermelon a few weeks ago and I photographed it several times. I painted this from one of the pictures. Painting food is always fun for me.
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