Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Art of Seeing

When first learning watercolor, I started by painting what I saw.  I now realize this process is teaching me to see things differently.

I paint landscapes in en plain air sessions where we stand for several hours painting a picture based on what we see around us.  The longer I look at the scenery, the more amazed I am at how much there is to comprehend. I  feel I need a simpler way to look at things.

The scenery changes before my eyes. Clouds, wind, light, texture, reflections shift continuously. Ocean waves appear and disappear, only lasting for a second, Lake waves lap quietly on the shore and then are no more. A dog runs in front of us, heading home. A bird flies by.

As I stand there taking in the scenery, my observations are also moving about, shifting and changing. What I see in the beginning is not what I see after spending an afternoon looking at it. My perception of what I see changes.

Colors and shading merge then disappear and reappear with new highlights Shapes erode into broad patterns of light and dark. I note new reflections bouncing off water and sky.

I move the horizon on my paper to consider how much of the universe I feel like including in my painting. Geometric patterns of buildings or objects are adjusted as I become increasingly aware of how angles, light and color affect my rendition of them.

The more I paint, the more I realize that I need more time to fully open up and visualize what I see. I need time to let the scenery seep into my mind and to learn to hold it as an impression. I need to recognize the myriad of patterns, colors and shapes shifting in front of me, offering various perspectives on how I might represent them, to reflect how I feel about seeing them.

While doing all this, I often come to some sense of how I want to paint my picture. Then, for several hours I am lost, completely lost in my painting. Time stops.

Seeking to better comprehend what happens in art, I attended some lectures given by Ruth Armitage at the Oregon Society of Artists. In her talks, she encourages us to look more deeply into ourselves for art inspiration and to also explore the work of other artists for ideas about techniques of expression.

At the same time, she encourages us to to express our own points of view more freely, without the preconceived notions and limitations of other's prescribed reality.

Under her tutelage, I am at first shy and can't figure out what to do with the canvas and my paint brush in order to express my supposed inner self artistically that I am still seeking to find. With time, I manage to begin to play with the lines and shapes, to magnify the colors, to soften the degree of detail that sometimes interrupt the painting's underlying thought. 

Ocean Holiday

We are learning the pleasure of experimenting with perspective.  This is just a beginning and I hope to continue exploring art this way.


Sargy Mann, a well known British artist who successfully painted even after becoming blind, spoke about the importance of perception in art.

He said, “I have come to the conclusion that drawing and painting could be almost like a sixth sense.” I believe the activity of art is a way of learning about this sixth sense.

Sargy Mann's last interview before he died in 2015 is  inspirational and provocative and is HERE for others to enjoy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

We'll All Become Stories

Picking up a Romance Writers Report dated May 2015, I scanned through and saw an announcement on page 15 listing romance writers who had died between March 2014 and March 2015 and it included on the list, Gwynne Forster.

She was Gwendolyn Johnson Acsadi, a demographer who was formerly a chief of section in the United Nations Population Division.

In the mid-1990's, we spoke when she retired from the United Nations.  At the time we were neighbors at Roosevelt Island, an island in the East River of New York City.

I asked, what were her plans?  

"This may surprise you, " she said, "I am learning to write romance novels, writing under the pen name of Gwynne Forster. I would appreciate it if you would keep this a secret because I am trying to keep my publications as a demographer and romance writer separate."  

Her decision to shift into such a different field intrigued me, and I could not help but follow her accomplishments over the years from successful demographer to accomplished writer of romance novels and  pioneer of African American romance fiction.  

She ended up merging these seemingly disparate experiences by using her research and demographic expertise to form stories. She took studies about birth and death, sex and reproduction, the consequences of unplanned pregnancies, issues of social class, economic poverty and brought them to life in the world of romance novels.  An illustrative example is shown here, in her book Fire Down Below.

At the bottom of the page of the Memoriam was a quote by Margaret Atwood saying,  "In the end, we'll all become stories."  

The question then becomes, who will write them?

In Gwen's case she delivered her stories to us in a well planned package.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Art of Knowing When to Hold and When to Fold

A friend of mine told me he asked his brother if he had prepared a will and his brother replied, "What do I need that for?  I'm not dead yet!"

Kenny Rogers, when he sang "The Gambler" sang "You've got to know when to hold'em,  know when to fold ''em and know when to walk away and know when to run," and this rings true not only for holding cards but also for furniture, clothing, old sports equipment and dishes, pots and pans and magazines.

A recent article by Elizabeth O'Brian called  The Power of Positive Purging Your Stuff says that "while a monetary gift is sure to please heirs, an overstuffed house presents a more complicated inheritance".   

Imagine inheriting a house with a sign placed over the door saying it is  The Museum of Things We Forgot to Throw Away Just In Case We Might Need Them In The Future.

We spend so much time and money on  expensive gift wrapping and bright ribbons to wrap gift items, but don't necessarily view our plans for inheritance in the same way and often leave it to be presented to the receiver unwrapped, or at least poorly wrapped in newspaper or heaped up in cardboard boxes and the like, complicated by weak instructions as to where all this stuff is supposed to go.

Giving someone a streamlined, well-prepared transfer of funds, furniture and funk, is not so hard.  It just takes a bit of energy and a slight change in perspective.

Not too long ago, I blogged an article on my own personal experience on becoming a minimalist and another on a strategy for getting rid of old things and another on simple steps toward  estate planning.
Yes, this did mean looking at the future and realizing I won't always be in it.  That is not the happiest thought, perhaps.

But it is also not very pleasant to look ahead and see piles and piles of items left in heaps for others to sort through, and to imagine already exhausted adult children,  holding down jobs and taking care of their own children, trying to straighten out the mess of unexplained transfers, while in bereavement.

Setting up a gift package is turning out to be a happy, enjoyable activity, freeing me up in the process to do some of the things I always wanted to do, since I am no longer holding down the fort on so many "no longer necessary" things.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Simplify Your Garden: Go Wild! Part 2

One of my readers asked to see how our cottage garden looks in the winter, so here it is.

The garden now looks like part of the woods.  It is tamped down and waiting for more snow and freezing cold.  We will do nothing more with it until we rake some of the leaves off in the spring for mixing in our composter.

I will photograph the garden again in the spring and add it to this site.

Just after I took this photo, Joseph shouted from the deck for me to turn around and look at the lake.  Much to my amazement, when I turned around I saw a pair of Bald Eagles flying by, looking so magnificent.  Sorry that I did not catch a photo of them, but I will remember this moment for a very long time.  In real life and at this close range, they look very regal.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Quiet Island Life

It is so pretty this time of year on South Abaco island. The greenery is lush, the weather is mild, the water is warm, the silence is enormous.  Our ears feel as though they might implode from the peace and quiet.

The front yard is green, lush and relaxed. Stillness prevails.

The beach has no one on it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Winter Rose Garden

Yes, it is winter in Portland, but the flowers are still beautiful.  

We walk for seven blocks through the city and suddenly we are on the edge of Washington Park, a 40 acre park we walk through to get to the Rose Garden.  

Today we hiked up the 220 steps to the top of a big hill on the way to the gardens.  The walk through the woods is so peaceful.  

It is hard to believe we just crossed Burnside Street in heavy traffic to get here.

We march up and across to the gardens, where things go from wild and natural to beautifully formal.  

The city looms in the distance.  

We take a few minutes to look at some of the flowers up close, then head on home.  It is roughly a one mile trek, and worth every minute.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Our Concentric Circles Discovery Program

Since we arrived in Portland we have been working on a Concentric Circles Discovery Program.  We start from our home with the closest possible restaurants, parks, stores, and places to visit and then slowly work our way outwards, in a circular fashion.
Less than a mile from our place we have discovered the Rose Gardens which are absolutely beautiful.  We walk there almost every day.  It is uphill all the way  and offers us the possibility, if we wish, to take a short cut that includes marching up 220 steps to the top of a hill before reaching the rose gardens.  If we are not in the mood for taking all those steps, there is a road we take instead that zigs and zags its way more humanely to the top.
We have also visited the Japanese Gardens which are 350 feet farther than the Rose Gardens.  They, too, are absolutely beautiful.  However, there is a fee for visiting the Japanese Gardens, while on the other hand, the Rose Gardens are freely entered.
This week, we discovered Pittock Mansion which is  about 2.1 miles walking distance, from our place.  We drove up there on Saturday, and this was the view (see below).  One sees downtown Portland, Oregon and Mt. Hood  in the background looking so powerful and beautiful.

 Today we visited Pittock Mansion again, but this time we walked through town and then zig-zagged up to the top,  a very good aerobic work out.

On the way down, to reward ourselves for the walk up, we stopped at Basta's for happy hour where we had the best pizza and lasagna to go with a glass of wine and a glass of beer.

This is really too much fun.

At this rate of speed, we will be busy walking in concentric circles to interesting sites for years to come.