No Where Near Being a Master

Every time I paint, I paint a masterpiece. It’s true. I am completely in love with most of my paintings as I’m painting one and right after I finish it. Then, with few exceptions, I’m not in love with it any more. Sometimes I’m on to the next one, sometimes not.

Maybe the reason I’m not a “master” is because I never got serious about painting. The pity there is that I’m not good at a lot of things and I approach the surface not knowing what’s going to happen. Maybe no artist knows what’s going to happen.

There’s a wildlife artist whose work I like very much, Greg Beecham. His work is amazing. He offers lessons — I’d like to learn some things about his technique. I’m pretty sure he uses glazes, something I’d like to try, but haven’t figured out. I watched a segment of one of his lessons and what intrigued me wasn’t him, what he was saying, or how he was painting, but how he’d literally drawn everything onto the painting surface somehow. It resembled the surface of a paint-by-number kit from back in the day.

When I approach the surface, it’s with colored pencils. Depending on the painting I’m imagining, I might have a small version in water color like this one for a BIG painting I started two years ago and that now overwhelms me. Usually I just block in main areas of color and that’s it for “drawing.”

Sometimes I draw elements of the painting and then take my painting from the drawing, but I don’t normally draw much on the painting surface. In my mind there’s a difference between a drawing and a painting. I think most artists have their ‘approach.”

I drew this painting on an envelope at a conference. There are a lot of strange things in this painting. First, I painted it in California but it is a painting of the San Luis Valley down to the contour line of the San Juans as you see them from the 160 between Monte Vista and Alamosa, pure accident. Second, it was inspired by the stranger than fiction tale of having written about my own family in Savior without knowing it at the time. When I did genealogical research later and discovered that, I realized that all I’m ever going to find as a writer is something about myself and the entire planet is an immense graveyard of bones and stories.

I integrated a quotation from Goethe as the bottom strata of the land where “I” am digging. It says: “How all in a single whole doth weave, one in the other works and lives.” This painting hangs in my living room along with another that is more mysterious, even to me.

The World is Out There

I didn’t fully understand this painting until I’d lived here for a year. I painted it in California few years before I moved. It began as a painting for my stepson and his wife, a street scene of New York I started in oils and realized it would be better as a watercolor. Quite a distance from one to the other…

My paintings — for me — fall into two categories. Personal paintings and landscapes. Only one landscape has crossed the line a little bit.

I don’t have — for myself — an identity as an artist. It would take more painting for me to figure that out. Mostly I experiment and play.

In school, I got encouragement from some teachers and outright discouragement from others. Over the course of my life, what this gave me was freedom. I didn’t even try to make a living as an artist. I didn’t believe I could, I understood the competition and the difficulty, and art went into the “garage,” the “shed,” and now the back room. It’s good that it did. Most of us are not going to be “great artists.” I’ve had some work hang in juried shows and sold most of my bigger paintings which is good because they take up space, but I think the best I can do is enjoy painting.


I love Federico Fellini’s films. I think if I’d had the opportunity to know him, I might have liked him, too. I first learned of him — his films — when I was a little kid and a then-scandalous “foreign” (OH MY GOD!) film came out. My parents went to see La Dolce Vita. My brother and I had a babysitter that night. All I remember hearing about it the next day was, “I don’t like subtitles.”

I watched Nights of Cabiria in a college film class. Afterward, my teacher explained what Fellini was doing. I listened without being convinced. It’s an incredibly dark film made before Fellini broke from the post-war vision of most Italian directors.

The next Fellini film I heard about was Satyricon. There was a big article about it in Life Magazine that sparked my curiosity. I was in college, and Satyricon was at the Denver art theater, the Flick. A guy from the Colorado School of Mines was trying to date me. He picked me up at the dorm, took me to the theater, and expected me to pay half. THAT wasn’t my idea of a date at all. We didn’t see the movie and I never saw him again.

Eight years later my best friend, her boyfriend and I went to see City of Women at Denver’s Vogue (vague) Theater. It was hilarious, and it beat out all previous films in my experience for quantities of phallus images (to be fair also images of birth canals). As we were leaving the theater, we looked in the window of the nearby Mexican restaurant at all the cocktuses and laughed.

Somewhere in there I had decided that God had abdicated responsibility for guiding my fate and had subcontracted to Federico Fellini. I’d told my friend this one night over dinner. She just laughed at me until one of the songs in City of Women was this disco hit by Gino Soccio that she’d heard ONLY at my house. It convinced her. 😀

Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film about failure, the artistic vision vs. investors, monogamy vs. human nature, the constant pulls on the human heart and the artist’s imagination was my best friend for a long time. Whenever I felt discouraged about teaching, writing, love, life, money, identity, I watched 8 1/2.

In 2004, in the midst of my Felliniesque life, I even gave a paper at a professional conference. The topic was “The Image of the Hero.” My mind went right to Fellini’s corpus. I named the hero of Fellini’s films “Old Half Head,” the nickname given to a statue of Julius Caesar standing in the town square of the movie version of Fellini’s home town, Rimini, in the film Roma. Half of Caesar’s head has broken off. I saw this image over and over and over in Fellini’s films, and over time, realized that it represents what an artist does to himself when he/she gives up, gives in, loses faith. The “Fellini hero”, in many films, “half-heads” “himself.”

The protagonist of La Dolce Vita half-heads himself in the very last scene of the movie. As construction proceeds in a subway in Roma, a Roman villa is discovered and there is a floor mosaic of Fellini with part of his head broken away. In 8 1/2 the hero, Guido, stops short of half-heading himself with a pistol. The half-head is what happens when an artist loses faith. There is also “half-heading” in I Vitelloni, Intervista, and the unfinished Voyage of G. Mastorna.

I haven’t yet lost faith in the journey, even though it often seems dark and desperate. The important thing of man today is to hang on, not to let his head droop but to keep looking up through the tunnel, perhaps even inventing a way of salvation through fantasy or will-power, and especially through faith. For this reason, I think the work of artists is really important today. Fellini on Fellini

P.S. I just learned that yesterday Fellini would have been 100 years old. ❤

One is the Loneliest Number?

Daily Prompt Cut Off When was the last time you felt really, truly lonely?

Yesterday I met one of my neighbors for the first time since I moved to a rather remote Colorado small town in October. Yep. Haven’t met anyone between October 21 and February 23. “Aren’t you lonely?” she asked midway into our conversation.

We were exchanging information about ourselves, where we came from all that, how we find the town. As I was describing my experience of moving here, I could see her impressions reflected in her face. She thought I was either very crazy or courageous. “Do you know anyone here?”


“How did you pick Monte Vista?”

“I saw a house I liked online and came last summer to look at it. It was impossible, but I liked the town and the San Luis Valley is so beautiful.”

Her situation was different. Her husband got a job here and so they moved. Her kids live in Albuquerque and Denver, so they are halfway between them. Not too close, not too far. A lot closer than they were in the northern mid-western town they came from. I wasn’t sure she liked it here; I was sure that she was glad to meet me and, at the same time, a big hesitant. Solitary women are sometimes a little scary to people.

That is the question I’ve gotten most frequently since I decided to move here is “Do you know anyone?” I’ll admit it’s a little embarrassing when I have to answer that question (at the doctor’s or something) and I have had to say “No.” For an emergency contact I give my friend in Colorado Springs. At least the area code is Colorado…

Solitude has a stigma attached to it. We’re social animals (most of us) and from the time we’re kids in school wanting to belong to the “cool kids” we feel shame in being alone; especially women, I think. If no one “wants” us and we’re alone, we’re rejects. My Aunt Martha never married; she never wanted to. Her attitude toward men (she was straight, so that’s not the issue) was that they were great, but that there was nothing they could do that she couldn’t do. She liked them, she worked well with them, she had her share of lovers, but she didn’t want one full time. She had good woman friends and a large family (sisters), but as they slipped into infinity, she was still fine. She had no problem living with herself.

If you are alone, and not comfortable with yourself, you will be lonely. Many people are unsure of their value — or even of their existence — if someone is not with them.  The problem for such a person, however, is that all the company in the world will not fill the void.

These days — with the internet (Hello everyone!) we are afforded more chances for connection. I am sure that my four months here would have felt more isolated if I had not brought friends with me via my laptop. At the same time, though, it made it less necessary for me to emerge from my house in search of human contact.Most people move to their people, their kids, their friends.

I would have moved to Colorado Springs where I have friends, but I couldn’t afford it. As one of my friends said, “It’s OK. This way we get to come and visit you and you get to come and visit us.” So far it’s given all of us a little bigger world with more adventures. And, when you visit your friends and they visit you, you get to spend a different kind of time with them than you ever spend with friends in the same town.

I’m a writer and a painter and those are not things you do with a group of pals. I love it when I have the chance to hang out with my friends, but because of who I am, I very seldom feel “lonely.” Life’s too short, anyway.

Here’s a beautiful song on the subject — don’t be afraid to listen to it because you think you don’t like new music. You might very well like this one. Beck, “Blue Moon.”