Doing the Best I Can in the Place Where I Am

“Do the best that you can in the place where you are, and be kind.”

–Scott Nearing

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Whenever I’m browsing around the garden, the daydreams begin…imagining grander scenarios, ones with lots of land far away from cities, growing my own personal paradise from seed and cuttings, keeping hives for honeybees and constructing glorious coops for my colossal flock of chickens, wonderful and absolute solitude…

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…and then I remind myself that I can create something productive and fulfilling on the suburban plot I live on presently–a steep and somewhat arid quarter of an acre, with a range of really sandy soil to straight up clay. To focus on what I have, and work to bring it to its full potential. Heck, we’ve already transformed one step of our terrace from a swathe of cat litter to a fruitful potager!

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Going for walks helps me reconcile my dreams with my realities, provides a clarity of mind and allows for acknowledgment and acceptance of what is. And it fortifies me with the enthusiasm I need to implement my vision. We’re really lucky to have a beautiful park just up the road from our house, and Mena and I went there this morning.

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Isn’t the Callistemon gorgeous? The bees and the hummingbirds love the bottlebrush flowers.

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I think about Scott Nearing’s advice, and think about all those who have lived and breathed those words, who have brought to pass beautiful and marvelous things, one flight of fancy rooted in the earth at a time.

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“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

–Jawaharlal Nehru

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Look at those gorgeous grim pine trees! I see a painting with them in the near future…

“The value of doing something does not lie in the ease or difficulty, the probability or improbability of its achievement, but in the vision, the plan, the determination and the perseverance, the effort and the struggle which go into the project. Life is enriched by aspiration and effort, rather than by acquisition and accumulation.”

–Helen Nearing

A Time for Every Purpose

Nearly finished with the studio. Anthony has only to put the window trim in (the baseboard is actually in, just not in the pic), and it’s finished! I’ve moved most of my supplies in, including the computer and printer. So excited to have a room of my own, in the words of one of my favorite writers 🙂

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Got a bunch of dirt and some manure to prepare the garden next to the keyhole bed…have to come up with a good name for that one, instead of always referring to it as “the garden next to the keyhole bed.” I love planning a garden…and it’s so satisfying to see it growing in, maturing, becoming what you imagined it to be, and more.

In the veggie garden, summer squash is still chugging along, radishes will soon be harvested, another batch to be seeded now. Mesclun has sprouted, to be picked when young and put into my daily juice!

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Rosemary is blooming and lovely, and the bees are in heaven. Going to take some cuttings. I’m planning on planting a hedge just below the last tier of the terrace and above the live oak, one of blackberry and currant and rosemary. I’m going to do a bit of guerrilla gardening and stop on the side of the road next to a local park where I noticed the blackberries growing wild and take a few snips!

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Looking forward to October and cooler days and nights and keeping busy inside with painting and baking and reading. And going to the parks on off-season when we don’t have to pay for parking! I really do miss truly delineated seasons, especially fall: the sweeping mass of color in all the foliage, the smell of wet leaves and the cold, everything in a golden haze at sunset, when the air is so crisp and clear it makes everything seem hyper-real.

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I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

–Henry David Thoreau

Finishing Touches

Finished the 5″ x  7″ unicorn painting. I took a few progress pics to show those who are interested my process. Most of the time, I just make things up as I go, stopping periodically to look at the composition and deciding how to continue, which shapes to integrate, coloring and tone, etc.

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I thought I was going to take a more asymmetrical approach with this one, but then I decided to add similar gingko shapes to the other side in order to create an arch.

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After I finished up the background, I needed to distinguish the unicorn a bit more, make it pop. So, I added some black foliage in order to really contrast with the white. I think I’m going to make this a limited edition of 25, hand-embellished with metallic bronze paint, matted to 8″ x 10″. I’m really excited to be painting again!!

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Pumpkins in the garden are getting orange!!

Keeping Sane

“To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

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My husband Anthony has been away for a week, and the girls and I have been spending the days outside. I am excited for fall and have started sprouting the season’s vegetables: cauliflower, cabbage, pak choi, kale, broccoli raab, lettuce, and onions.

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Being out in the garden always gives me great drawing/painting ideas. Way too many to keep up with, actually. But a few have stayed in my mind, waiting to be transmuted onto paper…like Grandpa Ott with his morning glories and foxes wearing gloves and other lovely cottage garden scenes.

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I really hope when my girls are grown that they will garden, too. It is truly an incredible source of happiness. One that also happens to have delicious by-products without all the extra nonsense they usually come with in grocery store form!

More Unicorns and the Fairy Room

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Working on a unicorn painting to get back in the swing of things, do a bit of practice. I haven’t painted in a while, probably because I don’t like looking at the ever-expanding zone of chaos my little art corner has become.

Luckily, my studio is almost finished!! Then, I’ll be able to move all of my art supplies to a special, designated place, which makes me feel a lot more productive.

I’m going to finish this one tonight or tomorrow and then start on a commissioned piece. Hopefully, my fingers and right brain will have been sufficiently reawakened by then.

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And I got some prints for my little girl’s room…they arrived today and look so magical 🙂 I also have a poster of “Midsummer Eve” by Edward Robert Hughes. The two above are by John Bauer and John Atkinson Grimshaw.

Evergreen Tutorial

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Hello, all. I’m presenting my step-by-step painting process of the 5″ x 7″ watercolor Evergreen.

1. I always start out with an image in mind. Most of the time, I don’t like to draw it out before I start painting. I like spontaneous things to happen, for different ideas to occur as the painting emerges. So, the only thing I draw in the beginning is the focal point object/subject. For this one, I looked at a bunch of pictures of little woodland cottages for inspiration.

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2. Next, lay down a wash surrounding the focal point–in this case, the little cottage. I usually do this by selecting an undiluted color of medium strength and then apply it around the lines of the drawing with a fairly small round brush, like a #2. I then blend outward with water using progressively bigger round and filbert brushes, covering the entire sheet (it’s a good idea to have two glasses of water when working: one for cleaning, the other filled with nice, clear water for blending). To the clear wash covering the sheet, I begin dabbing color in in large swathes with a big filbert brush. I also add color straight from the dabber when using Dr. Ph Martin liquid watercolors (calypso green, here).

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3. The next step involves picking out shapes around the focal point drawing. When fashioning the shapes, keep in mind placement and orientation, hard vs. soft edges, symmetry and asymmetry, etc. With my paintings, I want the individual shapes to work together and harmonize visually. For this particular piece, I used my hiking excursions in redwood forests as inspiration for the shapes. In general, the shapes in this piece are predominantly geometrical and hard-edged (as opposed to rounded and more organic), with the exception of the wild ginger groundcover that is added later.

4. Keep layering in complementary shapes. I use small round brushes for the initial outlines of the shapes and then blend with either a flat or filbert brush. A note on color: I wanted this piece to be a bit muted in color, so I added most of the greens and golds within the first few layers. The greens and the golds in these layers are unmixed, though pretty dilute.

5. In the ensuing layers, I added a lot of Payne’s Gray to the greens and sometimes used just Payne’s Gray in order to tone down the color. Remember to blend outward with every layer using the clean water. Blend to the edge of the paper; the edge of where the water ends always dries visibly (sometimes, this proves to be an interesting effect, sometimes not so much).

6. Usually, when I feel I’m done layering in shapes, I offset the last ones with a dark wash of color. I like to save a significant space for this; here in this painting, it will be the night sky. This gives a good amount of contrast to the upper part of the painting.

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7. The bottom foreground portion of this painting require some thinking. I didn’t want to add more similar shapes to the background conifer shapes–no ferns or the like, something different, yet consistent. I decided on the heart-shaped leaves of the wild ginger that can frequently be found in the redwood forests. I basically picked out a few shapes in the immediate foreground, like I did with the conifer shapes behind the cottage, and kept adding layers. I also snuck in a Stellar’s Jay in the bottom left corner for added interest.

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8. Lastly, I finished filling out the bird with blues and blacks and filled in the stars using white acrylic. The house was painted using the negative technique, with the lines in white, using only a single layer of paint. Blue, green, and yellow are next to one another successively in the color wheel, and this gives an overall calming effect to the piece.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask!!