Bird in an Autumnal Sumac



I haven’t made up my mind about this one. It is in oil. The new Earth Paints are a joy to work with but of course there are ways in which they behave much differently than my acrylics. I think this doesn’t match my desire to paint wild abstract-y interpretations but I really wanted to highlight the gorgeous shades of red of sumac leaves in the fall. Plus, I couldn’t resist the little bird 🙂  I’d love to hear what you think!




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.

Night Heron

Green-backed Night Heron

Green-Backed Night Heron

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When I was a young girl, my family moved often for my dad’s career.  This meant that we lived in lots of interesting places and I got a taste of several different kinds of habitats, all of which imprinted themselves upon me.  Finally we landed here, in northern Illinois.  It is a land of water.  Rivers and streams criss-cross the area, and there is a liberal sprinkling of lakes, bogs, marshes, swamps, fens… all gifts from the last glaciers.  Paradise to a barefoot kid who found she quite liked mud and frogs and turtles and sunfish.  So when this beautiful heron let me get close and look at him I knew I wanted to paint him.  I don’t go plunging into muddy water anymore, sadly, but he does.  Just watching him brought back that feeling of wonder~ what amazing creatures are lurking under that floating duckweed?

I’ve been reading about the benefits of wordlessness.  As an intellectual endeavor I find it difficult to achieve but sometimes I find myself sinking into it without trying and then I remember I spent much of my youth in that state.  I would head out the door in the morning, meet up with a favorite tree, say, or pond, and just lose all my words. It happens when I am painting, too.  In fact I found it impossible to teach because whenever I tried to demonstrate a technique my words would sort of tra ..i .. l .. o f  f … I’d “come to” to find my students studying me with concern, waiting for me to finish a sentence! Ha!  Not so good for teaching.  But great for sorting problems or simply being.  I’ve read that our wordless mind can process considerably more bits of information than the part that is busy narrating our story to us.  All those words get in the way of truly knowing.  When the words fall away I’m left with a sense of energy connected and flowing between me and, well, everything.  Have you experienced this?  Give it a try~it’s pretty fabulous 🙂

Unfinished Transformation


I tried to paint an abstract…I really did.  It was fun, too, for awhile, until I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to start putting in form.  It looks to me like this painting really wants to be a landscape.  The bird was a real joy for me~I spotted him as I was walking the trail last summer. It was very hot and he was poised there, still for long enough for my lowly point-and-shoot to focus on him.  Yay!  At home I pored over my field guides and my best guess is that he is a Dickcissel.  I will be giving more substance to the compass plant he sits on, while endeavoring to keep the overall feel light and free.

This and another thing came together in my mind as a meditation.  I cam across the movie, “The Nun’s Story”, with Audrey Hepburn.  It looked like a heavy movie but I’m a big fan of her’s so I watched it anyway the other day.  I was struck by what seemed to be a central teaching for the nuns~ the Grand Silence.  They learned to silence their thoughts so they could hear God.  I liked this idea, and I wondered to what extent any of us could reach for that within our lives without entering a convent or monastery. Not that I think there is anything wrong with them~not at all.  I find the idea of them quite beautiful.  What I mean is, I wonder what positive change can a person bring from within a worldly life if they focus on transforming themselves rather than others. I suspect there is great fullness to be found in that inner stillness.  And light.  And freedom.  I suspect that things like road rage and red light cameras and materialism dissolve. I feel lighter already 🙂

Hickory Tree Along the Des Plaines River

Hickory along the river

This seems like a good morning to look back, while I wait for the snow to melt and for things to green up.  And other things to start flying around and biting (sigh)  🙂

Fifty years ago the Lake County Forest Preserve District voted to preserve a green corridor along the Des Plaines River.  It would run from the Wisconsin border all the way through the county to the bordering county to the south.  I have just read that the last piece has been purchased now, and nearly all of the trail has been completed.  An incredible array of habitats have been preserved, rich in biodiversity.  It took a great deal of thinking ahead, and nurturing of relationships with landowners along the way.

This painting isn’t that old, but I did paint it some years ago.  It still stands as one of my favorites.  I have seen wonderful things in my walks along the Des Plaines River Trail, among them these wonderful old Shagbark Hickory trees watching out over the river.  I love their gnarly look and their peeling bark.  They were one of the first trees I “met” when I became involved with ecological restoration many years ago.  When I see one I am swept back to those exciting days when learning leapt out of the classroom and into the field, and I met people who shared my passion.

Linda’s Heron

Linda's Heron

I’ve spent the past several days helping a dear friend move to Florida.  When she suggested it, I thought, “Heck yeah! I’m always up for a road trip!”….forgetting that the last road trip I undertook was many moons ago. Tired as the trip left me, I’m so glad I did it.  It did my heart good to see her follow her dream. It felt like a proper send off to someone who has meant so much to me here. Thank goodness for the internet~Hugs, Diana!!  I miss you already!

When I returned to my studio, this fierce fellow was waiting for me.  He’s my last commission of 2014.  Yesterday I tinkered a little with him, and then decided I’d better leave him alone.  Gazing at him standing there with rain drops pelting him, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for this planet of ours.  Last night I watched a movie filmed in 1948.  Back then, people could be certain of their world, I think.  Of course, human impact via chemicals, birth rate, accelerating commercialism and all the rest, were already beginning.  But they could still count on going out and seeing a frog, if they had a mind to.  I can no longer count on that, even with the thousands of acres held in preserve.

Life will survive, and nature can heal herself.  When I ask myself what is to be done, I think the best answer is to keep loving the world and each other.  When love is a verb, magic can happen.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane in the Fall Reeds

Here is the latest oil I have been working on.  I can see why people like oil, especially when you are mixing your own.  There is something so delightful to my senses in pouring out a bit of the dry pigment, adding a bit of walnut oil, and mixing away until it has the feel that I want.  Takes me back to my mudpie days!  Then I get to apply it to canvas.  You can get completely lost moving this stuff around.  But then, when you go look at all that delicate brushwork you did the day before, you discover that all the colors melted together!!!  What a shock.  Clearly there will be a learning curve here, and I won’t be able to construct a painting the way I do in acrylics.  Despite all that, I hope you enjoy my monochromatic friend here.

From time to time I am asked about my process, so I thought I’d invite you all into my studio while I work on a commission so you can see the steps I take.

Warm underpainting

Here I’ve painted a warm underpainting on the canvas.  I like to do this because it influences the tone of the painting, and ties all of the colors together as I go along.  The woman who gave me this commission had a slug of photos for me to use as reference.  This is very useful, but at this stage of the game I’m not looking at them much.

Laying in the sky

Now I’ve begun laying in the sky.  You can see how the blue and white respond to the warm underpainting.  Turns out if you do this with oils, you get mud.  Just sayin’.  I’ll be doing commissions in acrylic until I have a better handle on oils.  Or, perhaps, I will always continue to work in acrylics for some paintings.  Is that what it is like for you photographers~some cameras serve you better in some situations than others?

In the photos, the sky is a much more saturated blue but I like this softer color better.  This is how I will leave it for now, until I have the rest of the elements in place. When the trees and so on are in, that is when I look at values and make changes if need be.  I’ll be bringing in the background, so stay tuned! 🙂