Week 46: Thanksgiving

I normally steer clear of symbolic images from popular culture, preferring instead to stay safely wrapped in my own obscure personal iconography. I like my comfortable world of diminutive landscapes, little trees, tiny animals, and falling leaves. I like making small-scale pictures with places to wander and stories to tell. But there is a time and place for creating a bolder, singular statement. I genuinely love holiday traditions, so I decided to take on the challenge of the iconic Thanksgiving turkey. (Christmas Trees, you are next!) I could hear the groans of my inner critic, screaming “Don’t do it! It will be trite! It will be a cliché! It is impossible to pull off!” Smiling to myself, I continued on. Using a combination of collage papers, charcoal, ink pen, colored India Inks, and acrylic paint, I reveled in the rich textures and colors of turkey feathers. I enjoyed each sweep of the charcoal, every small stroke of the pen, the fervent flow of colorful ink, and the tactile release of each blob of paint. I felt gratitude for the opportunity to sit here in my studio and create, choosing curiosity over fear. When I was almost finished decorating every feather, I discovered that my turkey had a message for me. It came first in a whisper, and then in a loud, warbling, joyful voice. So I scribbled this message on a piece of paper and glued it right onto the collage: “Be thankful for your Colorful Life.”

Thanksgiving, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Thanksgiving

Detail, Thanksgiving

Detail, Thanksgiving


Week 43: Walk in the Woods

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Autumn in Virginia is a glorious time to walk in the woods. Walnut Creek Park is our favorite place to go hiking. Just south of town, and less than a half hour’s drive from our house, it is a nearby place that feels a world away. There is a beautiful lake for canoeing or fishing, and miles of wooded trails for hiking or mountain biking. My husband and I started going there together soon after we met. We would always bring our two Labradors, Toby and Maya, who loved running the trails as much as we did. Now 14 years later, we come with our Labradoodle, Holly, and our young son, Max. Life has changed a lot in this time, but Walnut Creek remains the same special place.

We also enjoy bringing visiting family and friends to Walnut Creek. My father-in-law, Papa Deak, and his partner, Papa Paul, were here visiting from California, and it was a perfect “Autumn in Virginia” kind of day to share with them.  The colors were just past their peak, but plenty of reds, oranges and golds still clung to the treetops, and a soft layer of dry leaves covered the paths. The air was cool, the sun was warm, and each step forward brought a gentle crunch through fallen leaves. There is a stillness to the woods that quiets the chatter of my mind, making room for a more essential understanding that emerges in its place: as we move through the colorful canopies of changing light, we are no longer separate from nature, or from each other, but merely different incarnations of one life, one love. Holly romps through the leaves, my boy laughs, I hear the click of Papa’s camera, a bird sings, three generations walk together, all different but the same.

Red Foliage Textures

For the Autumn collages, I began experimenting with different ways to create textures and patterns to represent the colorful foliage. I first tried this a few weeks ago in the Sunday Drive collage. Using charcoal and colored India inks, I filled up sheets of paper with leaf patterns that were then used to cut out shapes of tree canopies and individual leaves. I tried out different color combinations, as well as small and large scale patterns to develop a sense of distance and space. Once I had a good variety of pattern sheets to choose from, I was able to assemble the tree imagery in combination with the other small drawings and painted motifs. In this week’s work, I included a small illustration of my family ahead on the trail, my boy in a familiar gesture with his Dad, Holly following close behind.

We had a wonderful visit with Papa Deak and Papa Paul. They have always expressed an interest in my artwork, and continually offer their support and encouragement as I move along my creative path. They have also taken the time to read every single post of my blog and respond to each in the comments section. I am so appreciative of this! It was a lot of fun to show them the collages in person for the first time, after sharing them on the computer screen all year. I feel very blessed to have such loving and supportive people in my family. Thank you Papa Deak and Papa Paul!

Walk in the Woods, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Week 40: Wild Geese

Every Autumn I hear the musical honking of the wild geese, as they pass through Virginia on their way south for the winter. The sound always stirs something in me, like the changing golden light of shorter days and the burnt orange and red of falling leaves in October. The call of the geese weaves itself seamlessly into the fabric of Fall, my favorite time of year. The sound brings back memories from my childhood, when my father taught me to observe and listen to the natural world. We teased apart the honks and warbles of waterfowl and shore birds, and looked for the identifying white patch on the face of the Canada Goose. Our family liked to visit a nature preserve on the eastern shore of Maryland, Blackwater Refuge, where we climbed the observation tower to look out over the ochre landscape of cattails and marsh grasses, the wild geese calling to each other, flying in their characteristic “V” formation. My young mind thrilled at this sight. “How do they choose the leader? How do they know which direction to fly? How far is their journey?”

Thirty something years later, I hear the sound of the geese flying overhead, and remember that feeling of wonder and curiosity. Our neighborhood sits up high on a ridge, a small network of quiet tree-lined streets, cul-de-sacs, and well-tended lawns.  There is a spot where the entry road climbs the steep hill to our houses, cutting open a clearing that reveals a long view to a wilder place. There are layers of open field, farm, and woodland, the Rivanna River winding its way in between. As the leaves fall, we can see a widening band of the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. The Canada Geese congregate in the field at the bottom of our hill. Sometimes I see their tiny black shapes rising up in a graceful “V” through the clearing, other times they fly directly over our rooftops, calling loudly. I think of my son, who is inside playing on his iPad, and I remind myself, “Teach him to listen for the wild geese. Don’t forget.”

Wild Geese, acrylic collage 12 x 12

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Week 32: California Trip Part III

Climbing the Drum Bridge

I could not resist doing a collage about the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. It is a magical place with the potential to explore all the themes that I am continually drawn to in my artwork: imaginary landscapes, rich layers and textures, story-telling and narrative, journey and discovery, and the intersection of human artifice with the natural world. As you wander the garden, a series of carefully composed vignettes open before you. Sometimes a view through the trees offers a glimpse of what lies ahead. Other times you reach an elevation and are invited to look back over where you have come. A myriad of visual surprises draws you along the stone paths: sculpted evergreens contrast with feathery maples left to their natural habit, and colorful koi dart through the shimmering ponds while lily pads float serenely on the surface. Fanciful bridges and brightly painted buildings punctuate the natural landscape, while birds and butterflies accompany visitors on their journey.

Our favorite element in the garden is the Drum Bridge. When seen from a distance, its dramatic arch is pleasingly picturesque. As you approach, the scale of it comes into focus, and you see that this is not a bridge for strolling over. It must be climbed– more like a ladder than a bridge! We all had fun scrambling up the steep incline to the top of the arch, where we were rewarded with a fantastic view, looking back over the gardens. Maybe I can try to approach other obstacles in life just like the Drum Bridge: welcoming challenges with an attitude of play, humor, and curiosity.

Japanese Tea Garden, 12 x 12, acrylic collage

Detail, Tea Garden with stone path

Detail, Tea Garden with koi pond

Detail, Tea Garden with pond

Detail, Tea Garden with Buddha

Detail, Tea Garden with Drum Bridge

Detail, Tea Garden with bird

41 Candles

I just celebrated my 41st birthday. I’m so glad I was born. Here are 41 things I am thankful for in my life:

  1. The opportunity to be the Mom of the greatest little boy I could ever imagine.
  2. My husband and soul mate who continues to blow my mind.
  3. My very loving and supportive extended family who have freely offered their unconditional love.
  4. The foundation of a happy childhood with super hero parents, and the memories of that time that never leave me.
  5. My dear friends who never miss a beat, no matter how long it has been since we caught up.
  6. My teachers and mentors who pointed me on the path to my best work.
  7. Our happy shaggy labradoodle, Holly.
  8. Our sly little lady-like cat, Olivia.
  9. A house that feels like a home.
  10. A backyard full of flowers, vegetables, herbs, shrubs, and trees that inspire me daily.
  11. A safe neighborhood full of friendly people where my kid can ride his bike and play outside with other children.
  12. Access to clean water and plenty to eat.
  13. Access to fresh, local, natural and organic food.
  14. My education. 
  15. Novels, Cookbooks, Art Books, and The New Yorker.
  16. My studio space with a view of the woods.
  17. My Mac with the gigantic screen, and my Wacom drawing tablet.
  18. The opportunity to pursue my creative ideas.
  19. My Vitamix and the discovery of the Green Smoothie.
  20. Learning to keep my body healthy and strong.
  21. The internet, where I can find an answer to any question, at any time.
  22. My iPhone, where I can find an answer to any question, at any time, no matter where I might be.
  23. A steady supply of sketchbooks and Uni-ball Vision ink pens.
  24. The success of my family’s restaurant business and all those who have contributed to it, including our amazing partners who have remained our best friends.
  25. Yoga and long walks.
  26. The ability to work from home part-time for my day-job, so there is still time for my art and my family.
  27. The opportunity to work for a business with a respectful, fun, and supportive company culture, and the highest quality standards.
  28. Awesome co-workers.
  29. All the people in the art and design world who are generous with their knowledge and are willing to share their journeys and experience in the industry.
  30. All the people in the blog-o-sphere who are sharing their personal stories.
  31. My art-escapes to Whidbey Island and the fairy godmother who invited me there.
  32. When I can hear the Universe whispering “Yes, you can.”
  33. When inspiration strikes and I have the courage to act on it.
  34. When inspiration does not come and I have the courage to keep working anyway.
  35. Discovering the power of taking the next small step.
  36. Learning to trust myself and knowing I am capable of more than I once believed.
  37. Music.
  38. Colors.
  39. Rain, Sun, Clouds, Wind, Landscapes, Oceans and all the fascinating creatures of the natural world.  
  40. Lemon, Olive Oil, Herbs, Garlic, Sea Salt, and seasonal produce. And chocolate.
  41. All those who have touched my life, in ways big or small, bringing joy, wonder, and new discoveries about the world that we share.

Business and Pleasure

Olive Oil Doodle

I’m back from my business trip to the Fancy Food Show, a trade show held each year for the specialty food industry.  The company that I work for distributes beautiful products in a broad range of categories: artisan cheeses, charcuterie, olives and antipasti, chocolate, bread, meat and seafood. One of my very favorite product groups is the olive oils. We feature olive oils from Greece, Spain, Italy, and the south of France, and each has its own unique landscape, culture, and people behind it. One of the best things about the show is the opportunity to meet the producers and hear their stories, in addition to tasting their products. Flavors and images overlap in my mind: some real, some imagined.  Having once visited the Arbequina olive groves of northern Spain, my memory of the majestic thousand-year-old trees overlays the warm buttery oil on my tongue. Others are new to me and my imagination takes over as I conjure the silvery leaves sparkling in long rows, soaking up the Mediterranean sun.

In my olive oil doodles, I was very interested in the shapes of the bottles, which are concrete, observable objects. (I couldn’t resist including a few Balsamic Vinegar bottles in the sketch too!) But I was also exploring the story of the landscapes, trees and fruit behind each bottle, stemming from both memory and imagination.  One more important point about this post: I am using my art to make friends with my day-job. While it’s true that I do enjoy my work, my day-job has often been cast in my mind as the enemy of art, taking up my precious creative time with the frustrating necessity of earning a paycheck. But in the spirit of My Suburban Life, I am making the choice to stop fighting against what is. Yes, I am still pursuing my dream of one day making a living as an artist and designer, but for now, quitting my job is not a reality. So why not stop complaining about it and appreciate what it gives me? Health Insurance, a good paycheck, relationships with wonderful co-workers and vendors, an education in fascinating artisan foodstuffs, inspiration for both my kitchen and my sketchbook, and a taste of delicious olive oils…

Olive Oil Doodle 2


Shrub Roses in May bloom

My roses are in bloom!  I planted these hearty shrub roses along our front walk about four years ago. They require almost no special care, and provide months of enjoyment, blooming throughout the Spring and Summer and even into the Fall.  At the height of the summer heat, the blooms take a break, then come back again in a fiery flush when the weather cools a bit. In milder years we have had flowers up until Thanksgiving. They require no pruning to flourish, although they grow so vigorously I need to cut them back several times throughout the season to prevent them from closing off the path to the front door! It has been warm and a bit humid the last couple days, which tends to amplify their lovely fragrance. When I come home from a walk, I like to just pause on the path before entering the house, inhale the perfumed air, and look closely at the intricate magenta petals. In these moments, there are no deadlines, no pressing tasks. There are no past regrets, or doubts about the future. Just the blaze of the roses and me. This is the elusive place I sometimes reach when I am drawing or painting, centered in the spacious awareness of the present moment. Sometimes the distractions and anxieties of life seem to barricade me from this place, but then I remember to just open my eyes. Wherever I may be, it is as close as my own front door.