Saturday, March 16, 2019

Now I Can See the Moon

Thoughts at 2am:

Sometimes, after reading about the 41 brave souls in England who volunteered to have catheters inserted in their brains so an experimental nerve cell growth factor could be tested or patients in Tasmania who are making and wearing buckets festooned with red LED lights on their head in the hopes that new cells will be nurtured...well, it hits me: this. is. really. happening. The curtain wavers a little and I glimpse the evil neurodegenerative wizard behind the scenes.

Years ago, deep in the base of my brain, critical nerve cells silently started dying. There were clues something was wrong but no obvious signposts to point doctors in the right direction. Mostly they just pointed at me: get mental therapy (for the depression & anxiety)...get physical therapy (for the rigidity & slowness)...take sleeping pills (for the insomnia)...take laxatives (for the constipation & digestive issues.) One determined internist put me through a battery of specialists and specialized tests only to finally say: "I know there is something wrong but I'm sorry that we won't know what that is until it gets worse." Ten years rolled by and it got worse. A finger began to twitch. Insidiously and over the course of another three years, that twitch spread to include my entire hand, my arm, my shoulder, down my leg. Finally, the enemy inside had pushed itself out into the open and like eagle-eyed bird watchers, the neurologists pointed at the tell-tale resting tremor and I got to add Young Onset Parkinson's Disease to my life list.

Most of the time, I feel detached from the reality of Parkinson's, from the fact that *my brain is dying.* I think we are *all* slightly detached from the fact that our brains are a part of our body. While housing the core of who we are and what we experience, the brain miraculously commands an unimaginably complex meat suit that propels us through life and living. I knew that brains could fail; my youngest brother's fatal cancer of the brain stem showed me that. But even as I flinched from the sight of a railroad of staples running across my brother's shaved, post-surgery head, I never once considered that someday, *my* brain might fail me. And then it did.

Oddly, the same brain that is failing inside me is also working to protect me from that fact. The feeling of disassociation keeps me from simply lying on the floor and screaming without end. It keeps me writing, painting, teaching, sweeping dog hair, petting cats, parenting, and smirking at the stupid jokes of coworkers while they try to help me cope. I marvel at the flash of ruby on a hummingbird's throat, the power of thunder to shake a house, and the fearlessness in a child's drawing. I stop now to appreciate such things. I am (finally) learning how to live while dying nerve cell by nerve cell and I suppose *that's* the blessing of all this...Reminds me of a favorite quote by Japanese poet Mizuta Masahide:

"Barn's burnt down --
I can see the moon."

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Art Class Swag

So let's see: Since the last time I posted, the flu virus I was battling has settled itself in my lungs, I dealt with another kidney stone, and had several days of Parkinson's issues that refused to relent with medication. Although I seem to be particularly sensitive to illness, it is worth noting that my school - indeed, entire school districts in our area - have been hit extremely hard this cold & flu season. In addition, the Norovirus swept through the county as well and took down 100 students in one small cluster of schools right before winter break. We do a lot of preventative work at my school such as disinfecting door handles and regular hand washing for all staff and students but the germs manage to sneak past defenses all the same. Everyone is in the same boat: trying to get and/or stay healthy while supporting colleagues and students who have not been lucky enough to escape the viral bombardment.

Since I have been unwell and still trying to get through teaching, I've had little time for my own personal artwork. I did, however, manage to craft these wee treats, little recycled pin-back badges that I will use as reward swag in my classroom and library. I purchased a big bag of used pins from my local creative reuse center, designed 24 creature faces within circles to cover the front of the pin, color copied, cut out, and then re-covered the badge with my own images. After a couple of coats of gloss varnish, these will be ready to hand out. It is a fun project that I can mess around with here and there; it satisfies my desire to do art but also supports my efforts in the classroom.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Hello 2018

The Lost Aesops series: "The Octopus & the Minnow"
Well, 2018 is off to a rocky start as I missed my own self-imposed posting deadline due to some virus I picked up over winter break. From December 30th onward, I've been wrestling a nasty lung bug, fevered, hacking, light-headed, disoriented, nauseous. Missed my first day back to work today but I have been cleared to return tomorrow provided I continue to upswing and that I am guarded about my energy output.

A great deal has changed in my health battle, so much in fact that I really don't want to describe it detail for fear of getting bogged down in the enormity of it all. So let's not. In this space, at least for today, let's just talk art. 

After my show, I went through my usual post-show lull in art-making as well as a bit of an uncharacteristic disinterest in art in general. I guess I was so busy just trying to survive my day physically that I had nothing left for the studio. Thing is, art is what truly makes everything else survivable and I had to work to re-establish balance in my days. It was hard at first but I think I have gotten back in touch with my daily art practice and you all will see the results of that effort in coming weeks.

For now, I am making a firm commitment to one blog post per week. There will likely be more than that but this is one area where I have to give myself permission to let go if necessary. You will also start seeing more posts about art for sale. My health care expenses are rising with my level of disability and I need to supplement here and there. THANK YOU to those of you who have supported me via my tip jar! Every drop in the hat helps me breathe a bit easier. And thank you to everyone who waited so patiently for this space to come back to life. That support is soul-nourishing as well! Here's to a new year that gets better and better!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


Lost Coast Post will resume posting on January 1, 2018. Life has gotten in the way of blogging and while I don't yet have my feet completely underneath me and I anticipate that life will continue to be chaotic and unpredictable, I think it is important to try to maintain my usual activities even as my way of life is transforming. I have missed this space and I have missed all of you. So if you are still here, I will be too. Let's get through the last few days of 2017 and start the new year fresh.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Art is Up

Just 6am here on the northern California coast...the sun isn't up yet and already I feel the chaos of the week's impending work beginning to chip away at my weekend calm. I'm stealing a few minutes though from my horrendously long "to do" list and tapping out this post so you all don't think I've disappeared for good.

This year's show is up on the wall and it looks amazing (if I do say so myself!) In years past, I reserved the main display wall for all new work and kept any older pieces separate on other walls around the store. This year, however, I combined the 27 new pieces I created in the past 12 months with nearly 30 older works which produced a huge, full display representing seven different series I've worked on in the last six years including Figmenta, Sparks of Madness, The Motley Menagerie, Ornithological Oddities and the three newest series The Lost Aesops, Class of '25, and Figments of the [Scientific] Imagination. 
The official "opening" was last Friday and it went well. Someone anonymously left flowers and several co-workers came out to support me. Lots of people came and looked at my art. I'm not a lover of limelight but it feels nice to be seen every so often and it is healthy to make an effort to be seen every so often as well. Art teaching & art making are my life's purpose and passion. This annual show is my opportunity to really shout that out to the world.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Patience, Dear Readers

Every time I think " I'll sit down to blog" something comes up that drags my body and attention away from the writing desk. This week, I'm traveling with the entirety of my school's 5th through 12th grade student body (about 75 kids) to Ashland, Oregon for our annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Next week, it is a return to the classroom for the last three weeks with the Wildlings as well as a frantic final push in the studio as my show has to go up onto the wall by October 7th. Forgive me, dear readers. I have emails to respond to and lots of posts to write but time eludes me. (And if the past is any sort of reliable resource, sleep will be in short supply the next four days as well.) Rest assured that I think of you all often and that I will send out some smoke signals from Lost Coast Post as soon as I can...

EDIT: I'm going to give blogging-on-the-road a try for the next four days via my Instagram account which is @lostcoastpost 

Not promising anything monumental (or even consistent) since my first attention is to work & the students but I think Instagramming could be a interesting supplement to the more long-winded approach to my art life that you find here at LCP. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Adventures in Teaching: 11 Wildlings, 1 Fair-Haired Girl-Child, and Me

There have been so many fun & exciting (and yes, utterly exhausting) changes in my work life beginning with the onset of the new school year just a few weeks ago. First of all, I am now an official "artist-in-residence" at my school, Laurel Tree Charter School. Essentially, this means that I not only teach art to students but also provide workshops and/or individual assistance for staff members who want to infuse lesson plans with a bit of art. I float around the school grounds, inside and out, looking for ways to add art to beautify & inform. Right now, this mostly manifests in the form of bulletin boards but in the future, I'd like to create a sculpture & fairy garden walk as well as bright, colorful, whole school collaborative art projects. Basically, I get to add "professional art fairy" to my resume. So awesome!

In addition, this year's art program is substantially different from years past. I began teaching art at Laurel Tree Charter School 12 years ago as a volunteer when the school's art program was entirely on Friday mornings. Each year, I developed two or three art classes, as did three or four other teachers in other subjects (such as music, crafts, and dance) and the middle school students signed up for what they desired. (You could call it a "required art elective" day.) After a few years of that, I moved into the regularly weekly schedule by integrating art into the middle & high school English curriculum.

Around January/February of this year, Laurel Tree began development of a forest kindergarten program and that seemed to simultaneously trigger a new concept for our first through eighth grade students. We've long operated with the twin guiding principles of social justice and environmental stewardship. We've worked hard to get students outside and into the surrounding community, fostering connections to each other and the world-at-large. So by the end of the 2016-2017 school year, a new yearlong program had developed that features five different class offerings to fill our afternoons: Edible Education, Community Classes, Theater/Music, Watershed Adventures, and my contribution: Elemental Art. All students, first through eighth grade will attend each of these classes (in 7-week rotations) at some point in the school year. The program name? "Laurel Tree Wild," something I had started calling this concept early on in order to create a bulletin board. The name stuck and now, here we are as Laurel Tree Wild is in full swing.

For me, this means several new things: 1) art at Laurel Tree now has its own stand-alone class during the main school week, 2) I get to share (and decorate) an actual classroom, and 3) I am teaching art to primary grade students on my own (for more than just a one time class) for the first time ever in my teaching career.

So...Elemental Art...what does that entail? First and foremost, I wanted to develop a program that taught the elements of art - line, shape, value, form, space, texture, & color - for younger students and the principles of design for older students. I also wanted to incorporate some sort of connection to the outside world in keeping with the main focus of the Laurel Tree Wild mission. After a lot of brainstorming, note-taking, and lesson gathering, I decided that each of my five rotations would use one of the four elements of life - water, fire, air, earth - as the central inspiration for art projects and materials. (The fifth and final rotation will incorporate all four elements.) For example, in my first rotation, "Water," which runs until October 20th, most of the projects feature some sort of water creature, from purely imaginary to inspired by real life. We are also using watercolor a great deal. Whenever possible and appropriate, all rotations will have projects & lessons outside. The school garden is right outside my classroom door so it is easy to connect to that natural inspiration when we need it.

The student groupings change every seven weeks, alternating between "littles" (1st through 4th) and "middles" (5th through 8th) with the last rotation made up of a mixed age group of littles and middles. I began on September 5th with my first group, "Water" and 12 primary students: 11 boys and 1 girl. Let's pause just for a moment and consider that...a dozen young, ever-in-motion bodies and minds, who need to be wrangled for almost two hours to focus on art projects. 11 of those wild creatures are boys (my "Wildlings",) who, at the elementary school level are a fascinating and frustrating mix of vulnerability and fearlessness with a rousing dose of stubbornness tossed in for good measure. And then there is the lone girl-child - appropriately named Daisy - who is fair-haired, delicate but strong, tiny but mighty, especially in her ability to hold her own amongst a pack of Wildlings. 

These past few days have been challenging and not without some rough spots. The first week always brings boundary-testing and button-pushing (no matter the age group.) We spend a lot of time learning about each other: the students learn my classroom do's & don'ts and I learn where each child is in their art interests & abilities. After my first day, I came home at 4pm, utterly exhausted, sat down on the couch, and woke up the next morning. Even if I do manage to stay awake after work, not much else gets accomplished including chores, cooking, appointments, my own art, and blog posts. I hope as time passes, I'll be able to find a better balance between exhaustion and all the other things I want & need to do on a daily basis. For now, I basically teach and sleep four days a week (or alternately, stare blankly at the television screen.)

Teaching art to primary students is vastly different than teaching middle and high school-level kids. Attention spans are shorter, bodies are busier, emotions less in control, fine motor abilities still developing. We work in small chunks of time - no greater than 20 minutes in one shot - with lots of breaks. Halfway through class is what I call "intermission," in which I open the door to our school garden and let the horde run wild. After 10 minutes, they have let off just enough energy to return to their art and finish up their work. Once the weather turns more inhospitable for outdoor time, I'll need to have indoor activities planned but for now, I can turn them loose into the sun & fresh air.

While I am bone tired almost every day now, I am also incredibly inspired. It is so lovely to work with littles, to witness their ability to simply dive into a project without hesitation. One Wildling likes to doodle "I love art!!!!!" (liberal exclamation points included) inside whatever image he is creating. Another Wildling can't sit down when he works so he stands instead and bounces along with every mark on the paper, providing a constant singsongy tune for good measure. Every student colors with wild abandon and yet, can thoughtfully describe their drawings, weaving elaborate (and extensive) explanations and narrations that are spellbinding. Ultimately, I know that all this inspiration will weave itself into my own work. I can't wait for the energy to make that happen!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Back to Posting Soon...

...I promise. New posts are coming...I just have to survive this first week back to teaching with all the changes it has brought. Ditto on email replies...if you've emailed me in...oh...say the last month or two and haven't heard back...yep...that far behind...maybe more. *deep breath* I haven't forgotten about you is just that 12 primary boys (1st grade through 4th) and one tiny, quiet, sweet-as-pie girl child thrown into that chaotic mix have my undivided attention at this moment. Will report from the trenches once I dig my way out.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Only a Matter of Time

If you've been following along over the last four years with my ongoing series inspired by vintage yearbook photos, you probably knew it was only a matter of time before those characters leapt from the sketchbook to the wall. I could feel it too. Mesmerized & enchanted, I keep returning to these greyscale faces, reading their descriptions, examining their clothes, looking into their eyes after their gaze toward the future was frozen on film. I've rendered those visages of yesteryear in many ways and I have yet to grow tired of their inspiration. As time passed, I began to wonder about elevating my efforts from playful doodles to more formalized paintings that I could show.

A little over a year ago, I made my first foray into bringing these portraits to canvas. At that time, I thought maybe I would also use vintage mug shots as reference. Combining portraiture with my enduring love of monsters resulted in this first attempt. While I personally love this painting (and others encouraged me to forge ahead,) ultimately I let fear still my brush. At the time, I was preparing for my 2016 show and I needed to build an inventory of work suitable for sale. I didn't think this particular idea would have much market value. That, by the way, is a terrible reason for giving up on an idea. Art doesn't have to match the couch or always be pretty and/or suitable for mass consumption. I confess, though, to occasionally forgetting this rule-of-thumb when time and courage grow short. However, all in all, it is always best to create for yourself first and the walls of others second.

I didn't return to canvas until this past April when I experimented with Dura-Lar Wet Media Film attached to canvas. While I had previous used and loved this technique on index card-sized portraits, I wasn't as enamored with it on a larger scale. So again, I set aside the notion of canvas portraits.

Fast forward to the present: My annual show is  due to hang the first week in October. Up to this point, every canvas I've completed features some sort of animal. A couple weeks ago, it seemed obvious that the show would, in fact, center around animals. I tend to be very rigid about my shows: all the pieces are rendered with the same technique on the same type of substrate and have a unifying palette and subject matter. I've always done it this way even though I actually love shows with a diverse - even eclectic - variety of pieces.

And then, a lightning bolt of inspiration struck. I looked at these small, 5x7-inch oval canvases I had bought - once destined for small animal portraits - and knew exactly what they needed to become instead. I made one and there was no going back.

Behold my new series "The Class of '25":

I have zero idea how they will mesh with everything else I've already painted and even less idea about how they will be received at the show. This time around, I don't care. I am making them because I love them. Others might love them as well. I hope they love them enough to purchase one or two. However, if the entire Class of '25 comes back home with me at the end of October, it will be fine as they already have a lasting place in my heart.

NOTE: To see my previous yearbook portrait work, simply type "yearbook series" in the "Search" box in my blog sidebar (Look for "Find Buried Treasure!" right above my photo and "About Me" link.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

This One's For You, Peggy Jo

Back in April, when I debuted my series "Alley Cats & Junkyard Dogs" for my October show, dear reader Peggy Jo emailed to say she'd like to send me pictures of her beloved dog Tuff as painting inspiration. I, of course, said "Yes, please!" and soon, the sweetest photos of Peggy Jo & her companion popped into my inbox. I held on to those pictures and in recent weeks, finally got to use Tuff as my model for an 8x8-inch canvas. Now, bear in mind that Tuff is not bright orange; in real life he is all sorts of shades of lovely gray and he is also much more congenial-looking...not a snaggletooth or irritable glare in sight. However, Peggy's photos were an incredible reference for painting a truly hairy dog, something I had not attempted up to this point. And I will always carry with me the story behind this piece. Thank you Peggy for reaching out and sharing your devoted companion!

UPDATE: Apparently Tuff does have a snaggletooth! So funny that I couldn't see one in his photos but just assumed he needed one. It is also important to note that Tuff was paid in Greenies for his modeling gig. Fair pay for a fair day's work I always say!

(Note: In this photo, I was still working on detailing the hair so he's almost but quite complete here.)

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Elephant and the Songbird

Here's the final version of the latest Lost Aesop painting I previewed last post: "The Elephant and the Songbird." This was a fun one to paint and I am in love with this color scheme.

The original Aesops' fables were mini morality plays starring all sorts of animals, birds, and even insects. At the end of each story, a summarizing, one-sentence moral was provided (in case the lesson wasn't already clear.) For all of these paintings, I have a moral in mind but I am keeping that secret; I want each viewer to find his/her own moral in the painting. I'm curious...what moral do you see here? (Just for fun, try to encapsulate your moral in a single sentence.)

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Mad Scramble

Now is the time when a return to work, prep for the October show, and continued healing from surgery come crashing together with a great flurry of activity inside the studio and out. As summer winds down, I scramble madly to utilize the uninterrupted free time available to me. I am woefully behind (can't actually remember when I was ever ahead) and sometimes I feel the pressure and stress like a smothering weight upon my chest. I juggle lesson planning, sample & step-out making, painting, doctors' appointments, and physical therapy, all while trying to fit in some down time before school resumes.

The show goes up the first week in October and I know that when I go back to teaching, I'll only be able to manage small pieces so I have been working on a few larger canvases since the beginning of August. After moving rather happily and briskly through the first two works in my "Lost Aesops" series, I stalled on completing the third with the intervention of surgery recovery into my daily life. Once I was able to sit with my foot down for more than 15 minutes at a time, I got back to painting. I finished that third canvas (which I'll share in the next couple of days) and surprised myself by launching into the fourth canvas I had visualized in my sketchbook. Titled "The Elephant and the Songbird," it has a bit of exotic flair with lots of rich teals, warm quinacridones, and golden yellows. As my Parkinson's tremor is progressing, I painted much of this sitting on my left hand to minimize the impact of its constant shaking on my right/dominant side. It is getting harder and harder to manage this type of high detail work and I think perhaps in a year or so, I might not be able to do it at all. However, no sense in mourning that which I haven't yet lost so I continue to plunge onward through life, flinging paint and wielding pencils. My days are often hectic, sometimes frustrating but always rewarding in some way.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Blind Contour Yearbook Friends

Last week, Tammy of Daisy Yellow did a live stream on Instagram, demonstrating blind contour portraiture on index cards. I was subsequently inspired to do a few of these portraits myself using my old friends from Hughes High School's Class of '25 as subjects of my wonky portrait play. I actually do blind contour drawing almost every year with my middle school students as a drawing warm-up/"getting to know each other" game and it always generates smiles and giggles. However, I forget to do these myself so I was grateful to Tammy for the reminder to relax and get silly. 

These are in a Stillman & Birn hardcover Beta sketchbook; I finally finished Volume 1 of Sparks of Madness so it's time to start Volume 2! I drew from the reference photos (mostly without peeking,) colored with Tombow markers, and then added a few more details with a fine point technical pen.

Quick, fun, and betcha can't do just one!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

One-Day Sale at Society 6

Heads Up: 

Society 6 is running a 1-day sale Sunday July 23 starting at midnight PST and running all day until 11:59 pm PST. This is probably their best deal: 20% off everything AND free shipping. There are many fantastic artists at Society 6 offering their art printed-on-demand on a wide variety of products. Society 6 handles printing, shipping, and payments and artists get a small cut of the sales generated. I'm there too with my mixed media owls on a small selection of items and as of today, this pretty, energetic flower print as well. I particularly love the canvas pouches but you can find all sorts of gift and home decor items. Interested in supporting Lost Coast Post? Click here to beam on over to my Society 6 shop. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Studio Beckons

I didn't mean for so much time to lapse between posts but I am, for once, trying to let my body's [irritatingly slow] healing process take the lead. I've had much more fatigue, pain, swelling, and bruising with this surgery; three weeks post-op and my foot is still not ready to come down off the elevated pillows for long periods of time. I am returning to the studio by degrees though and dabbling in a little bit of everything for as long as I can tolerate it. There's not much time left now in my summer break and I am overwhelmed with preparations for a brand-new art program and teaching focus at work come September. (I'll write more about those exciting developments soon.) In addition, my annual October art show is looming so there is certainly no shortage of stuff to do. 

Healing from surgery has its ups & downs and some days, it's more down than up. However, if I manage to spend even 15 minutes at my studio table, I remember that art makes everything better. Life isn't perfect but it can be colorful, playful, and creative. I can't wait to get back to doing and teaching art at my usual pace.
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