I look at this picture, one of my favorites, and it makes me smile. This was such a good day. Everyone was in such a good mood after a day in Bar Harbor. Now these silly monkeys are almost out of the house. Annika (middle) will be 21 in about 2 months! She moved out of the house last October and has been struggling, but mostly happy (I think) living in Maryland with her most amazing girlfriend, Taylor, and their melange of animals. Shippen is figuring out life at the University of Maine at Orono while Ajax is at University of Southern Maine in Gorham. George and I decided college should be for everyone in the family so he is going to Husson. As for me, I couldn't be happier as a 52 year old freshman at Maine College of Art in Portland.
Of course, now that my fall is starting, I was looking ahead in my calendar when the realization that I have a HUGE amount of things to do between now and Christmas, hit me like a tidal wave. These first few weeks of school has been a whirlwind of activity. I have been a little overwhelmed with all that needs to be done. I am still trying to figure out how to get all my homework done. The difference I am finding between art school now and school 30 years ago, living on campus, is immense.
For those who live in or around Portland, you all know how much fun it is to find parking. Luckily, I am extremely fortunate to have a friend be my taxi service to drive me in to school as well as picking me up afterward. There have been a few days where I have had to drive myself and even finding a place is nearly impossible. Today, I circled the block 5 times before I finally found a space near my drawing building. I didn't have that problem when I was at Hood. The other big difference is getting work done. I have to go into school later at night or on the weekends to make things such as pots for my ceramics class. This time, there is no strolling from the dorm to the art building any time I want.
I am having the best time. I love all my classes and the kids are starting to talk to me. I am trying to make a point to say "Hi" to at least one person I don't know every day. I also knit all the time. I knit during my English class, during critiques, during assemblies and at the end of day when I am waiting for my ride. I have had a number of people come up to talk with me. It's a great ice-breaker as well as keeping me calm and less stressed out with the day. I have also sold a set of dryer balls and been told I should try to get a table at the MECA Holiday Craft fair in December. My application was sent in yesterday.
A Leap of Faith
Every now and then, your life needs a restart. It may feel slow or stagnant, old and reliable or just kind of "blah" or "meh." It's not a bad thing for that to happen but maybe you want more, maybe there is something you have always wanted to try but you have been afraid. Sometimes, you need to take a leap of faith.
I took a leap of faith this spring. My last two kids were waiting to hear from colleges. Maybe it was fear of being an empty nester or excitement for them to be able to experience a new world without mom and dad. They can go do whatever they want to, I don't know and neither do they. Whatever the reason was, I applied to my dream school, Maine College of Art. To my shock and amazement I was accepted. To make it even more exciting, I did not transfer any of my credits from Hood College, the school I graduated from almost 30 years ago. I applied as a freshman, taking all the freshman classes, hoping to earn at least one major in Painting, maybe two, Textiles, and earn a minor in Arts & Entrepreneurship as well. Maybe that's biting off too much, who knows?
I spent the end of last week at Orientation, me, with about seventy-five 17-19 year olds who looked at me as though I had two heads. A few teachers came up to ask me if I was a student or a new member of the faculty. I was given business cards from professors if I needed someone to talk to or meet for lunch, or coffee. As much as I wanted this, I think I was totally unprepared at the same time.
Today was the first day of classes. The night before I went from pure excitement to feeling as though my whole stomach was going to land on the floor for the whole world to see. I had trouble falling asleep. What if no one talked to me? What if I had to sit by myself? What if I was ignored? What if I didn't understand anything? What if....? I finally fell asleep around 2:30 in the morning.
Mondays and Thursdays are my heavy days...three classes and if I thought the teachers were going to go easy on the first day, I got a very rude awakening. First class, 8:30am on the 5th floor, 3D Design. I got there early so I could find a seat near the back. Seven absents and you automatically fail. Yikes! Not that I was planning to skip, other than the first Friday when we take the kids to their respective colleges, but failure is a stiff price to pay. First assignment: create a 12" cardboard free form sculpture due next class...ummm….that's in 3 days....I had to read the instructions at least 4 times to even begin to understand the directions. I now sit in my home studio with two massive pieces of cardboard sheets I have to cut down to 12"x1"x1" strips to make into a 3D square tube to create alternate meanings for a sculpture. Don't get it? Neither do I.
English class was next. I love my teacher. I think this class will be informative. Not only are we going to learn how to write well for research papers, but also learn to write as an artist for grants, residencies, scholarships etc. First assignment: write a simple Artist Statement. As easy as it is now, I know it isn't going to stay that way. The teacher mentioned the Foundation Reviews as our final exams. Have we heard about those? No? Oh, well, those are oral presentations we give in front of 3-4 professors about what we have learned during our semester. Excuse me? Regular exams are bad enough but now you want me to stand and talk about what I have learned?? As I told my Textile Group in the final class, the last 4 days have thrown me COMPLETELY out of my comfort zone. And oh yeah, did I mention I am terrified of teenagers? They laughed and one of them said "Don't worry, we are too."
This whole experience is a massive leap of faith. I have jumped with my eyes tightly closed but found myself completely curious as to what the environment was like as I fell through the sky so I opened them. My inner, tiny voice has been screaming at me, "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE????" while my curious voice keeps shushing it and says "Wait. We can DO THIS."
I can do this. I WANT this and if you have something you want, you should go for it as well. We are not getting any younger and no one is going to give us what we want. The path is going to be full of sticks and stones, potholes and mighty hills but there will always be someone there to help us along. Even if it is an 18 yr old young woman who looks like a deer caught in the headlights who has the 2D class but can't find her room. We are both nervous, both early and together we go make sure she knows where she is going.
It's Impossible to Even Try
I believe the actual photo for the inspiration to this painting was taken by my cousin, Nina Houghton. The picture was taken along the Sandy Beach Road on Islesford in the evening so the boathouse was dark against the amazing sunset. This was one of my earlier paintings, acrylic on aquaboard. Clouds and skies intrigue me, among many things, and trying to paint the beauty of an incredible sunset is very difficult. I was told by someone, "Why bother? You'll never get the sunset to be as magnificent as it really is."
I agree with this statement. I will probably never get any of my paintings to look exactly the way they really are and I'm not trying to. Instead, I see it more of a challenge to see how close I can get my paintings to invoke some sort of response from the viewer. There are colors I see in the night sky that make me think anything is really possible. Or, how is that possible? How is that color, right there, that bit in the mountains, how is that possible? And why isn't it reflecting somewhere?
I often use photographs from family and friends as my jumping off point. The photograph gives me shapes and positioning of objects such as an old boat house, or a boat in the tall grasses or the formations of clouds in the sky, and then I go from there. I take bits and pieces from the photographs and integrate them with my imagination. Maybe the final painting reminds the viewer of a special place but in reality, it is nowhere at all.
I know I will not get close to the brilliance of some of the sunsets I have seen but the challenge to try is right there. The same can be said for finding the various shades and textures of green for the trees and bushes and grasses outside my studio window right now. I'm not painting to give an exact replica of what is out there. I paint to remind myself, and to show others, of what I see in my world right now. My paintings remind me of people who are gone, my kids growing up, pets that are no longer here and my favorite places. I know "impossible" is all around me, but the rewards I get from trying to create the Impossible have been incredibly fulfilling so far.
I'm not very good with remembering time, but I think it has been about two years since you've been gone. I know we weren't really friends, more like acquaintances, but I wanted to let you know how much I miss you and your amazing photos. We had a lot in common, you and I. To this day, I am still touched that you used my pattern for Scottish Hose to knit for one of your family member's soon-to-be husband. Thank you for sending me the picture of him wearing the hose with his kilt on his wedding day.
We friended each other on Facebook from the few times you would stop in at The Stitching Mantis when you were down this way. Your posts were something I looked forward to every day. I have always been a firm believer that Islesford is one of the most beautiful places in my world. I have to admit, when I saw pictures of your island, Beal Island and Ketchup's Find, it was the first time I started to doubt my belief. I fell in love with the beautiful spot of heaven you had found. I have SO MANY of your photos saved to my phone, in folders on my laptop or printed off and around my studio to paint in the future. The sunsets over the islands across from your house rivaled the ones I see over the mountains of Acadia from Islesford. The families of deer in your front lawn, the seagulls flying at dusk, and that sweet little building in a field all by itself. I have a love for that kind of stuff. I loved your garden with those really cool granite posts sticking out of the ground and the way the fog would come in and make the whole world seen to glow a soft orange.
I loved the pictures of your big black Newfie sitting on your deck or in your yard, covered in snow. The lobster boats motoring by or your cats napping in flowers, I saved them all. Many of my paintings have been inspired by your photographs and I thank you for allowing me to save so many. I miss you and am so sorry I never found the time to visit. I have a Bucket List, though, which is to visit every square of Maine as pictured on the back of the Maine Gazetteer. Some day I will get there and some day I will see the beauty of Kethcup's Find for myself.
My oldest daughter, Annika, is responsible for every animal we have except for our newest puppy Apollo. It was about two years after our first dog passed away when Annika started saying we needed another dog. I was totally against it. We had had Ella for about 11 years and I was enjoying not taking a dog out during the frigid winter months, or tracking a dog down whenever the kids decided she needed to be free and let her out of the house. I didn't have to clean up dog poop or pee from the floors and our cats were happier. But there was also something missing I couldn't put my finger on.
Annika started looking on Craig's List for dogs. We couldn't afford a new dog from the shelters and a pure breed was totally out of the question. One day, after weeks of searching, she came across a listing for a free dog. With my permission she emailed the contact person and we found out his name. Then we agreed we would meet at Kittery State Park and "just look" which we all know is the kiss of death.
The kids and I went. It seemed sketchy meeting a strange family in the woods to see their dog. We found a young family with 3 small kids and the fattest black lab I have ever seen in my life. He came wobbling up to us, huge sloppy smile on his face and literally fell at our feet and rolled over so the kids could scrub his tummy. He had a huge choke collar on him and was not fixed because the husband "couldn't bear to do that to him." Of course, we took him. There were no toys from his family, no blanket and barely any food. They didn't even say goodbye to him. As soon as they gave us his leash, they were gone. It took all 4 of us to get him into the back of my Sequoia. He managed to sit in the way back with Ajax and Shippen whereupon he immediately rolled off the seat and got stuck. He was too fat to get himself unstuck so we had to fold down the second seat before he could free himself. He was five years old.
The first year we had him was intense. He weighed 124 pounds and was completely untrained. He barked at everyone who came near him. When I took him for walks and people would come toward us, I would warn them that he would bark at them. He had a bark that came from somewhere deep inside of him. It was deep and loud. When we first brought him home, he could barely walk to the end of the driveway without lying down. I took him every week to training class. He loved going to class. He loved learning new things. His favorite exercise was playing with a plastic dumbbell. He liked to play hide and seek. I changed his diet from eating 9 cups of dog food a day to eating 3-4 cups twice a day. He lost 20 pounds in about 6 months and became a completely different dog. He was the love of my life.
The second summer we had him, we were up on Islesford. He loved sitting in the sun by the pumphouse. He would take himself out of the house and sit. This day, the hose was out from my parents watering their garden. He was in heaven just lying there with the yellow hose next to him. He kept looking at it as if it were going to sneak up on him.
The third summer he was there, he met my brothers' dogs, Mondoo and Leopold, for the first time. Leopold was a Norwich Terrier puppy visiting from North Carolina who instantly fell in love with Cooper. They played together every day. I'd never seen Cooper have so much fun, this huge 105 pound black lab and this little terrier who couldn't have weighed anymore than 15 pounds, racing all over the front yard. Cooper had been losing more weight this summer and he was a little wobbly, but he never ever let us know something was wrong.
In October 2018, two months later, on a Tuesday, the day went from great to horrible. He was fine when I left for work but by 5p Ajax called me to say something was very wrong with Cooper. He wouldn't get out of his crate to go outside. When I came home, there was no Cooper greeting me at the door. He looked at me from his crate and barely wagged his tail. I sat on the floor and coaxed him out. He pulled himself up with great effort and collapsed by my side. When Shippen came home ten minutes later, Cooper stood up to greet him and immediately fell over. My heart fell. With Shippen's help, he carried Cooper to the car and sat in the back with him while I drove to the emergency vet clinic. They immediately took him to the back where they took an x-ray and found a huge cancerous tumor under his rib cage. We never knew it was there. The tumor had ruptured and my big black boy was trying to tell me he was done.
George and I told Shippen it was up to him if he wanted to come in with us to say goodbye to Cooper or not. We would completely understand if he didn't want to but he did. This was his first time saying goodbye to one of our animals. The vet people rolled Cooper in on a gurney. He had his nose in the air, lying on his side when he came in. He looked right at me, those big brown eyes never leaving mine. He put his nose against my arm and sighed. I put my head to his, scratched him behind his ears and told him he was The Best Boy Ever and thanked him for becoming our dog. There was no struggle, he was ready. He was 8 when he died, three years after we got him. I miss you, Bud. Every day.
My Other Love
It All Started With A Birch Tree
I was in my Mom and Dad's house the other day. My Mom was showing me the new king sized bed they just bought. I was looking around the room and I noticed a really simple painting of a forest with a few birch trees in the foreground. It wasn't anything fancy but it was nice. I kept looking at it because it seemed very familiar to me but I couldn't remember why. Then, of course, it dawned on me. It was mine.
I am the kind of person who has nearly killed myself by driving off the road or into oncoming traffic because of a really cool tree or animal or cloud I see while I am driving. I love driving down windy roads to see barns falling down with vegetation growing through the roofs. I will pull over to the side of the road to take a photo of a gnarly tree standing alone in a field or a herd of cows grazing. Cloud watching is particularly dangerous as is watching Great Blue Herons fly lazily across the sky.
When I paint, I don't go in for details much with something like a bunch of trees. I figure people will see trees if the coloring resembles trees. I completely admire artists who can create with such amazing details everything about a tree. A birch tree has such amazing character in its otherwise plain and unremarkable bark, a simple light vs dark composition I like to play with. I often find an exercise in painting birch trees to be very calming and relaxing. On the other hand, there have been times when I have gotten very frustrated with my inability of painting one well. I suppose that can happen with almost anything.
This painting was a little 4x6 wooden block of the trees surrounding the Scarborough Marsh in the fall. I had taken a bunch of photos for a commission piece and this one caught my attention. The marsh gets wonderful colors in the fall. The grasses turn all sorts of rusty browns and golds and the leaves of the surrounding trees fascinate me. There was this one lone birch tree that stood out among all the rest...
The Other Side of Maine
I have a feeling when a lot of people think of Maine, they tend to conjure up pictures of red lobsters, maybe some blueberries, moose, L.L. Bean and the ocean. A lot of my paintings reflect coastal images because I live in Portland, right by the water. I also spend a great deal of my time on a small Maine island off Acadia National Park. These things do make up a great deal of Maine as there is approximately just about 3,478 miles of coastline (one mile more than California, or so says Google) but there is also so much more. I don't go inland very often, but there is just as much beauty there as here.
My husband, George, is a hunter. My family does not hunt but I don't keep him from going. There are things I do he doesn't like but he lets me do them anyway, like go to Islesford for long periods of time. George has friends who have hunting camps in western parts of the state and when he goes, he takes pictures for me. This was from a photograph he took while on his way to Coburn Gore, Maine. Do you know where that is? I sure didn't. I had to look it up. If you take route 27 past Eustis and head toward Canada, it's there. It takes about 3 hours to get there from here, about the same distance it takes me to drive to Northeast Harbor to catch the boat to Islesford. It was in the fall when he went and the colors of the trees were astounding. In the distance, there were mountains, although I must confess, I don't know which ones they are.
One of my goals is to travel this vast state and see all kinds of places and meet as many of the 1.338 million people who reside here as I can. We have our Maine Gazetteer to help us find our way as GPS usually sends us to the middle of some lake. I have my camera to help me remember the beautiful lakes and streams, trees, houses, sunsets, animals or anything else that piques my interest. Our last two kids are off to college soon, retirement is around the next corner and I want to explore this state with George. We want to see all the great things this place has and to find the little gems I know are out there.
And Then There is the Yarn
I was starting to have trouble finding yarns with colors I was excited about. Most yarns that are variegated or self-striping are the thinner yarns like sport weight or fingering. A lot of sock yarns that are superwash have the bright colors and the speckles. The heavier yarns, like worsted and bulky weights, are more often plain colors, drab and not exciting. I am not saying they are all like that, but the ones I was finding locally had no pizzazz or were the wrong color. I like color. I like my mittens to be different and fun. For the most part, I use the heavier yarns and I was getting discouraged.
One of the owners at my LYS (Local Yarn Store) said "You should try dyeing your own yarns." An interesting thought and yet another project for me to try. I love tie-dyeing shirts with my kids so why not try it with yarns? I ordered my first dyeing kit from KnitPicks, www.knitpicks.com. It was their Greener Shades Beginner Yarn Dyeing Kit. It was a splurge but we were going away for the summer and I needed a project. It came with an awesome book, 3 full sizes of Bare yarns, 9 colors of dye and citric acid. I honestly had the most fun. When the three hanks that came with the kit were done, I immediately went back to the website and ordered more bare skeins. KnitPicks is awesome because they have so many choices for yarns to dye. They have superwash, alpaca, wool, cashmere, cotton....you name it, they probably have it and the prices are pretty decent as well. The best thing is that if you buy $50 worth of stuff, shipping is free.
As you can see from the picture above, I love color. I also have a hard time planning and what I do plan, usually gets changed half way through whatever I am doing. I was happy because I was now getting the cool, awesome color choices in the yarns I normally use. I can buy the plain colored skeins and then pair it with one of my variegated skeins. I have been so happy with the outcome. I also have so many hand dyed skeins of yarn I am now able to sell them at local craft fairs. They are one skein wonders in that there are no dye lots. There have been a number of times where I look at the skein and think "Meh, this is not what I had in mind at all" but when I knit it up, the difference is amazing. Many of my customers seem to feel excited when they purchase one of my skeins.
If you are looking for something new to try I highly suggest trying to dye yarns. You have been warned though....it is extremely addicting and talk about the yarn stash....!