Painting in Progress, and a Walk

in progress

To begin a painting, I like to create an underpainting con brio. That’s fancy for “letting the paint fly”. This one is planning to be a wetland painting, with an egret in it. Let’s see if that is where it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime I ran off to play hooky at Illinois Beach State Park earlier this week, and I want to share with you some of my favorite photos of the day. They will probably become paintings eventually but I’m slow.

Euphorbia corollata turned red

Here is a Euphorbia corollata, all decked out in red for fall. I love this plant for its lacy white flowers that dance over the savanna for several weeks, and then light up late dog days of summer by turning red.

Dead River TRail

We are on the Dead River Trail, heading toward Lake Michigan in a meandering sort of way. That is my favorite way of getting somewhere, so this is pretty much my favorite trail ever. To the left are older dunes, left by the retreating glaciers. They are cloaked by Black Oaks, Quercus velutina. To the right is a glorious sedge meadow wherin rises the Dead River. In the summer is it filled with fritillaries and many other butterflies. In fact, back when I was the butterfly monitor, this was a very busy spot. Woodland and Savanna butterflies on one side of the trail, wetland and meadow butterflies on the other. Swiveling my head back and forth could make me dizzy but it was worth the effort.

Ladie's Tresses

Ladie’s Tresses! What a cool find. I really like how the blooms spiral up.

DunesAnd that brings us out to the foredunes.  This photo doesn’t show it well, but blazing stars, asters and golden rod were in bloom all over the flanks of the dunes. More, in fact, than I’ve seen before. When I first started coming to the Park, the dunes were much more bare of vegetation. It has been quite interesting to watch succession take place here. By the way, I find it quite odd how the lake appears to be about to pour right off the screen. That is a bit unsettling. A check of the tree reassures me that I was not leaning, myself. Photographers, what am I doing wrong?

As you can see, it was a very good day to play hooky. At one point I looked up and could see the Chicago skyline. You can’t always, but on a clear day you can. I marvel about that~the contrast between the wildness where I stand and the city I can see.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our walk :)



Once in awhile I’m able to capture more than a blur of feathers when I’m out in the field. My policy is to click first and ask questions later, so here is my little bird. Can anyone tell me what she is? I think she is a Dickcissel. The habitat is restored open tall-grass prairie.  I really liked how she settled herself in the midst of these Compass Plant flowers like the centerpiece in a bouquet. ‘Tis the season of Sylphiums and Liatris, symphonies in yellow and purple.

Choosing Joy

The Oak

Today when I ventured out to my favorite little coffee shop I was surprised to find the TV on there, tuned to news. It seems another police officer has been shot, this time in a little town near my home. They have pretty much shut down the entire area while they hunt for the shooter. Even schools are on lock-down, and many major roads are closed off. Helicopters hover overhead. It is all very distressing. I hate it that this is happening in our country (well, anywhere)~shooters are everywhere, it seems. I grieve for the officer and his family, and I grieve for the human family that it continues to be torn by intolerance and violence.

As always, I find solace at my easel and in the woods. I cannot go be in the woods today, but I could work on a painting of one I started last week. One of the delightful features of a prairie-savanna complex is big old open-grown white oaks. They spread out their massive limbs like a giant stretching, and let them sweep nearly to the ground. Duck under them and you find yourself in a glorious, peaceful little sanctuary. I abstracted this tree out of its habitat in order to emphasize that, and the “isness” of it, from its furrowed bark to its sweeping limbs.

Painting helps me focus on what is good in the world. I hope this painting helps you feel some goodness, too.

Gone Fishing

boys fishing 2

I hesitate to mention where this painting takes its inspiration for a couple of reasons. Technically speaking, the boys should maybe not be there fishing. When I saw them there, however, I decided I’d much rather paint them than scold them. If we do not allow young people to interact with the natural world, how can we expect them to grow up with a love of it that will move them to protect it? Personally, I think it is a miracle they had fishing poles in their hands instead of cell phones. Or really, that they were there at all.

My other reason for reticence is I’ve recently learned that professionals are no longer allowed to take photos or make images of the preserves. !!!! What?! A friend of mine is a steward, and she saw a ranger hunting down a photographer who’d been reported taking photos. I have to say, even typing these words makes me furious. We pay the taxes that make these preserves possible. We dedicate hundreds of hours volunteering to restore them, and now we can’t take pictures of them? Holy smokes. I cannot even call the person responsible for this new rule, because I fear I won’t be able to be civil to her.

There is a third aspect I’d like to mention, and that is the decision to include people. Just today a woman complimented me on a painting she saw of mine, specifically because it had no people in it. Well, hmm. It’s true that beautiful places sometimes get “loved” to death. But I would like to suggest that this hands-off attitude is part of the problem. Those of us who love nature have gotten the idea that humans are bad and must be kept away from nature. And there is the natural backlash, people who despise nature because they’ve been told it matters more than they do. If you think about it, humans and nature have had an uneasy relationship right from the beginning. I mean, let your guard down and it will kill you! So, for a very long time, humans taught each other that the way to survive was to beat it down. Fell the trees, plow the earth, pave everywhere else. Now the pendulum has swung the other way, with many feeling nature must be protected from humans at all costs.

I think there is a better way. I think this underlying belief that people and nature must be held separate isn’t good for people or nature. Both lose and it isn’t working so well. Instead, I believe we should see how we can weave ourselves back into the fabric of Life. We who love the natural world can’t pretend that people don’t matter, just as the human race as a whole can’t keep pretending the natural world doesn’t matter. Me? I like to see boys leaning on a fence, fishin’.

Into the Light

Pakistani girl in alley

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Clearing out my Dad’s house in preparation for selling it means being reunited with some of the paintings I did for him over the years. ( A couple of them got snapped up by my siblings!  Yay!)  I always sort of liked this one, even though it is quite different from anything I usually do.

He’d been working in Pakistan and Bangladesh, helping design irrigation and drinking well projects.  I think things have not gone well with those wells in Bangladesh in recent years. It is very sad. Anyway, he liked the people there very much. He wanted me to capture the feel of an alley in Pakistan, how the buildings loom over the young girl as she walks along. She seems unaffected, serenely striding toward the light around the bend.

How different her world is from mine, yet she has something to teach me. I can read the terrible headlines and wring my hands over the state of things, or I can set my course and stride forward, not letting myself be deflected. I cannot put out the fires in California, or stop the bulldozers in Austin, but I can avoid the consumerism that drives them.

I wish you all a serene day with lots of light streaming in :)

Gardens and Art

Big Clay Pot;CBG

Big Clay Pot

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As I’ve mentioned you some of you, my dad passed away about a month ago.  On Father’s Day, in fact.  He was a wonderful man who lived an enormous, interesting life, from serveying mountain peaks in Alaska to helping design hydro-electric plants in Bangladesh.  Wherever he traveled he made a point of learning local customs and language, and would relate to a person at whatever level they felt comfortable. I could go on and on, of course, as any of us could about our dads. I adored him and feel I’ve lost my moorings without him to talk to every couple of days.

My trips into my studio have been sporadic since he died, and I notice my interests have shifted.  I find I’m drawn to gardens more, and paintings of them. It turns out there is a rich history of artists in their gardens.  Not a serious subject, maybe. But then, I think there can be a useful message here. Many of my environmentalist friends espouse a wish that humans would go away. Some people hate nature, some people love nature and hate people.  Wouldn’t it be better to embrace both?  Since both exist, after all.

My dad would go into a proposed project with a series of questions.  What conditions exist?  What problems exist? How can a solution be found that maximizes benefit but causes least harm?  Well, granted, he worked on a number of dams in his day and we didn’t always see eye to eye on that.  But the point I took from his method was always to look to nature for solutions. For me, a garden can be an excellent model for getting along with nature.  Can you plant beautiful plants in with the food plants? This can keep soil in good tilth and break up pest problems. Can you contour the garden to maximize water where needed? Can you put in plants with big leaves in that area that always grows weeds, so you don’t need herbicide? These are some of the things gardening has taught me. I want to share them, because in the face of all the scary news of climate change, water shortage, (and contamination from chemicals), bee hive crashes, I think we need to find elegant, easy actions to take to help ourselves out of the mess we find ourselves in.

For some, the Garden of Eden was nature before people stumbled.  I’ve always felt it could be a paradise in which people worked with nature.  A beautiful, healing place.  What do you  think? Can we create that? That would be some art.