Painting vs Evil

Painting has turned out to be an effective strategy in other dark times and seems to be working now. It makes a big difference to me to focus on something beautiful rather than something ugly. And making something beautiful seems to be the definition of positive thinking.

Yesterday Facebook showed me a painting I did last year when I first got the natural pigments. Looking at it (and I like it and am proud of it) I thought, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Snowy Trail (actual size)

It’s been important because in no other sense have I been able to “get anywhere,” especially in these times when so much is out of my control and so much of it is bad and scary. The little painting above is 5″ x 7″ (13 x 18 cm)

Right now I’m painting garden signs. They’re fun, colorful, don’t take up a lot of space, and people buy them. My order of acrylic paint finally arrived late last night (??,) so I can finish a couple garden signs that are hanging fire and start one that needs a color I couldn’t mix.

I listened to Biden’s speech yesterday and his plan is expensive (initially) and ambitious, but I think his point that if people HAVE money they can SPEND money and with the rolling out of vaccines, people will be able to go into the marketplace more freely. I know that when I don’t have money, I can’t spend it. Most of all, his plan is kind. Right now that’s worth a lot to me. I doubt Trump will ever get his comeuppance, but I really don’t care, do you? 😉


It’s been a really long day. I sincerely hope no one really expected that by turning the page on the calendar, things would be better.

Today I cleaned out all the old oil paints bequeathed me by an old friend and filled her nice paintbox with acrylics. It’s sad when oil paints go bad but they do. I wrapped books I have promised to people and the yard sign I made for my cousin as a prayer, I guess, that she’d live to see it. I followed the news to see how impeachment part deux would play out (but I already knew), and even I think it was a foolish waste of time and made our country even worse than it is. Not that I think the insurrectionists (including 45) should get off scot free, but I think the Amish and Mennonite practice of shunning might be a better direction. We need vaccines, jobs and peace. I don’t think the second impeachment helped because I don’t think 45 gives a rat’s ass about whether he’s impeached or not. He just wants his Twitter account restored.

I’m just going to try to paint my way out of this mess. Paint and walk the dogs. I can’t see any other ropes to which I might hold on. I plan to take a break from WordPress, but we’ll see how that goes. Just know it’s not you, it’s me. ❤

Painting Against the Gotterdammerung

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home” pretty much sums up my feelings at this moment. I have no great inspiration right now, but just the act of painting, realizing an idea or facing down a challenge, is healing and distracting.

On my birthday, I spent the morning on the phone with my cousin for whom I did this painting as a birthday gift from my cousin’s daughter:

On the phone she mentioned she loved it but what she REALLY loved was the painting on the back which is my “logo” — a little quickly done painting of the mountains near my house, notably, Windy Mountain. So, I decided to paint her a little painting featuring that scene (featured image).

The big project I was struggling with was a salmon colored poppy. Red poppies are easy because the color is intense and self-reliant, but salmon? When you start mixing colors and are dealing with pastels, everything is trickier, for me anyway. Not my favorite painting, but not a total failure, either. This garden sign is 23 x 12

Meanwhile, they’re alleging snow, but Bear and I are skeptical. I’m not doing great art at the moment. It’s been an intense and artistic few months and the psyche is a little tired, not to mention the relentless scary ugliness of current events. SO… I guess I’ll just keep painting toward better days and hope for snow… March is sometimes the snowiest month of the year.

This poppy is in my Etsy Shop.

Who Are You?

“Yet in my lineaments they trace
Some features of my father’s face.” Lord Byron

As a kid, people said, “Martha Ann looks like Bill.” (My dad) In my late forties/early fifties I realized how much I looked like my paternal grandmother. And NOW? In later life the invisible internals of those people begin to assert themselves.

Genetic science is interesting, but, of course, you have to pay to find out the really good stuff, stuff beyond your eye color, hair texture, whether you like cilantro or not (I do), etc. You know, stuff you already know. Except I was pretty excited to learn that I have the “sprinter gene” which means I run fast for short distances. I did. And, beyond that, I see the benefit in that when escaping from Smilodons and such back in the day. I haven’t paid and won’t.

Maybe in the future, it will be part of a kid’s first medical exam. My dad and I talked a lot about death and one of the things we agreed on was that it was better that he went through his life until age 35 or so not knowing he had MS and where that was likely to lead. We pondered how a person would live life if they knew at the get-go when and how they were likely to die. The upshot of our conversations on this topic was always that death isn’t the important thing. Life is the important thing.

I wonder, though, how much personality is genetic. I’m a very tough, resilient and optimistic little person. Was my personality the result of my own lived years, or did I come into the world with this as an edge against the bad stuff that was going to happen? My mom used to say of my paternal grandmother, “You’d think that the life she’s lived would show but it doesn’t. It seems to pass right over her like nothing happened.” I can’t speak much to that because I don’t know the details of my grandmother’s life other than her own mother dying of diabetes when my grandmother was still a little girl, marrying my charismatic but alcoholic grandfather, living through 2 world wars, grandpa going to prison for 2 years, her son getting MS and dying at 45 — wait, do I really need MORE than this?

And IF these traits are passed on genetically, how would they track them? This adds a new dimension to the whole question of the invisible and ineffable.

In daily news, I brought home everything from the museum yesterday and put it away. The best part of yesterday was seeing 30 or so Sandhill cranes circling above me as I unloaded my paintings. I don’t know why I love those guys so much, but I do. ❤ I ordered new notecards for the museum and my Etsy store. They should be in stock in a week or so. I don’t know what art project is on the horizon. I expect to use these unseasonably warm January days to cut plywood.

Paintings I’ve converted to notecards (so far) there may be others…

The featured photo is my paternal grandmother — Helen Berggren Kennedy — my brother and me sometime in the early 1960s. The little tree on the end-table is a tumbleweed I flocked and hung little red balls on. My mom saw it in a lady’s magazine and sent me out to find a tumbleweed. It was a cool — and beautiful — project and I still think of doing it again every Christmas. 🙂

A New Brush

Lettering is really difficult, maybe in general, but certainly for me. Last week I did a little research into how I could make it easier and do a better job on the garden signs. There are a lot of tools out there but most of the fancy and easy ones seem to be for lettering on paper, not plywood. Then I looked specifically for lettering brushes.

I think it was back in 2009 when I built the art shed outside my house in Descanso, CA and I had some “extra” money (little did I know that the economy was about to go CRASH and my income with it). Anyway, I went online to find my old-time favorite art store in Denver and I bought a bunch of fancy and expensive brushes. I don’t remember the criteria I used, either. Maybe it was totally random, but I ended up with a bunch of very beautiful brushes. I had the belief, then, that I was on the verge of becoming a serious artist. Of course, the economy came in between that belief and reality, but I still had the brushes.

A long time ago, back in college, I learned the difference between real vs. symbolic wealth from Alan Watts. REAL wealth is things that you own. So, I was rich in brushes I didn’t know how to use but cash poor.

Values, right?

So there I was online the other day trying to learn how to letter signs more easily and better and I finally found lettering brushes. I put one in my cart on Dick Blick Art Supplies but didn’t buy it because I KNEW that the giant bouquet of inscrutable brushes, about which I know nothing, might…

Real Wealth

And THERE it was.

“How will I ever us that thing?”

So, having acted on one of my New Year resolutions yesterday, I realized I needed to get AT something, start something fresh, so I started a new sign. At a certain moment, I had to put words on it. I grabbed (well, I was gentler than that) this brush, took a deep breath and picked up a brand new, unused, fresh brush.

I still have a lot to learn, but it was a better lettering experience than I’ve had so far. I thought it was a good sign (ha ha)

Some of the garden signs I’ve painted in the past year…

Voltaire for the Garden

A nice afternoon painting a garden sign.

This is a quotation from Voltaire’s novel, Candide. If you’ve read the novel, you know it, if you haven’t, it’s a satirical novel written in the 18th century by Voltaire. Basically, the main character, Candide, goes through EVERYTHING one could in life to an exaggerated (and humorous) degree. At the end, he and his friends are living in Turkey where they live peacefully and simply. Candide’s philosopher/old teacher, expounds based on his philosophical theory that “this is the best of all possible worlds” and goes into a long rant about how all the crazy stuff that’s happened has been a long “concatenation of events” leading to the present moment, basically the “Everything happens for a reason” argument. Candide simply responds, “…excellently observed, but let us cultivate our garden.”

What Does an Oil Painting Cost?

Sometime back a friend and I were talking about painting and she expressed surprise that it cost me more to paint than to write. She didn’t know that self-publishing is essentially free and that painting is very very very very far from free.

I was contacted today by a woman who wanted two of my paintings that are available on Etsy. She wanted a 2 for 1 deal. Was I having an after-Christmas sale? I offered her a deal — the best I could — and that was the last I heard. My paintings are already priced low since most of my market is here in the San Luis Valley which is not a wealthy area.

Let’s look at a 16 x 20 oil painting painted on an Ampersand Gessoboard. This is a common surface for me to use and a common size.

The surface alone ranged in price from $35 to $50. Since I try to get them when they are marked down, let’s just go with the $35. I use this surface because it’s easy to frame and will not bend, shrink or do other nasty things that crack paint. It is also very long lasting so if a person really LOVES the painting it will always be THAT painting. Same with the paint I buy.

Then there is paint. Since a tube of paint is good for multiple paintings, but you can’t paint any without any paint, you have to buy it. I mostly use a brand of paint made in the United States by Robert Gamblin who, in his long career with pigment, has restored paintings all over the world including the National Gallery and the Smithsonian. His company is dedicated to giving artists the chance to make their studios as safe as possible. Most people don’t think about the chemicals that are in paint, but some of them are nasty, such as chromium and lead, not to mention some pretty toxic solvents. If you are interested in this you can learn about it on Gamblin Artist Colors website. Since my studio has no direct ventilation and I don’t much want to die of chemical poisoning, I care very much about this, as should any person buying paintings.

Gamblin’s paints are competitively priced and I generally prefer mixing a lot of my own colors, so I’m a thrifty painter. Let’s invest in Gamblin’s basic set. It is $116 and the artist gets a good assortment of colors to mix with and paint just about anything they would want. But down the line paintings will demand different paints so let’s add another $100 to that for paints that are likely to become important to the painter. My REAL ultramarine blue made from Lapis Lazuli was a bargain paint, on sale, from Daniel Smith at $35. To that I added a collection of natural pigments last year, on sale, for $70, and I’ll “give” you an additional white that behaves differently from the Titanium White that comes with Gamblin’s set.

The artist also needs brushes and brushes are expensive if they are any good. It’s better to invest ONCE in a really good brush than buy a cheap, unresponsive brush that wears out. I have a few brushes I bought on money from the Denver YWCA back in 1977 that I am still using. Cheap brushes wear out faster and do crappier work than good brushes. There is also no one-size-fits-all brush. Depending on style, the subject and the size of the painting any artist needs an assortment of brushes with different types and lengths of bristles. Brushes are an enormous investment for an artist, but since we’re trying to keep costs down while maintaining quality, we’ll get a large set of decent student-grade brushes and figure around $50.

If the painting is any good when you’re finished — or you hope to sell it — you’ll probably want to frame it. Since most of my paintings are OK in a rustic, barn wood frame, and they are economical and still make a nice finished product, we’ll buy one of those for $50.

Framing an oil painting requires more than slapping a frame on it. There are necessary tools and hardware. Some years ago I bought these tools and continue to replace the hardware, so I’ll cut you a deal and only add $25 to the price.

Then there is shipping. Shipping this painting anywhere will be impossible for less than $25 and might be more depending on how far and what level of insurance the buyer wants.

All this adds up to $400 and does not even consider the hours, skill and effort that goes into a painting. Some of my paintings took around 4 hours/day for a month to finish. Some longer. At the rate I was paid as a teacher, let’s see. 4 hrs x $75/hr x 7 days/week x 30 days/month? That’s what, $9000?

So… a GOOD 16 x 20 oil painting, painted with high quality materials with a thought to preservation — lasting a while — priced at $300 is a bargain.

P.S. I did NOT include a dedicated surface like a table, but I had to buy that too. I got lucky at a thrift store and got a great drawing table for $12. And then, my recent purchase, my easel, which I scored in an estate sale for a mere $100 which is $200 off the price the easel costs new. Storage isn’t free either, but I’m OK with my brushes in Lavazza coffee cans, my paints in tool boxes, etc. all scavenged from somewhere. I give up a lot of things in order to paint. I need a new phone. I will need a new laptop this year, but there is always the hope that the money from paintings will refill the well and those other necessities will be in reach. I’m not a starving artist, but some of the garden signs I have painted and sold paid for vet bills, lights, groceries, etc.

Free Hand Lettering is a Bitch

Acrylic paint on exterior grade plywood on top of exterior primer, soon to be varnished. 32″ x 8.5″ It will have screw eyes and wire to hang.

Free hand lettering is not easy. In my head I kept hearing my brother, Kirk, who was a professional sign painter, yelling, “More paint! Pull the brush!” Finally, I was happy with legibility! And it’s cute. 🙂

Here’s a link to the Etsy Listing in case you need a little advice and moral support as you browse seed catalog and ponder little pots for seedlings. ❤

Random Update

“It’s time for us to go, but we’ll be back soon,” say the cranes.
“We’re not going anywhere,” say the mountains all around me.
“I’m only here for now,” says the pale ice along the river.
“We’re fine. This is what we were made for,” say the mule deer munching golden grass beside the tracks.
“I’m hungry, but I can hunt,” says the eagle.
“One foot in front of the other,” I think.


The conditions of a solitary bird are five:
The first, that it flies to the highest point;
the second, that it does not suffer for company,
not even of its own kind;
the third, that it aims its beak to the skies;
the fourth, that it does not have a definite color;
the fifth, that it sings very softly.-

San Juan de la Cruz, Dichos de Luz y Amor


A few months ago I bought painting panels. At the time I thought, “Oh boy, I’m going to paint BIGGER,” but in the meantime I painted a LOT bigger (twice). Yesterday I unwrapped the panels. 18 x 24. It looks like a postage stamp on my easel. I have no ideas for a painting, either. There was something transformative about painting on a surface that was, if I stood it on its corner, taller than I am. I liked painting that size VERY VERY much, but I don’t see any way to make a habit of it. And then it’s not like I sell a lot of paintings…

The festive season is upon us. My Christmas lights cross the front window. It’s been a long haul and sometimes stoicism only goes so far. Monday was a good day — a new president and a vaccine is out in the world, given to the people who need it most. According to the “plan” I should be vaccinated sometime in March.

I wonder HOW I could have known several months ago that by March I would be back out into the world, but I did know. I think about the world I will go “back” into, and it’s not that different from this world into which I’ve retreated. I realize I’m psychologically trashed. I’m hoping for a president who doesn’t need my constant (and futile) attention. I think of my friend in Italy who said he liked Trump because Trump didn’t involve the US in more wars. I didn’t respond to that, or say that the withdrawal had been happening for a while before Trump, and that Trump’s destabilizing of alliances in Europe was dangerous, too. I don’t want to argue with anyone, least of all someone I’ve known so long and whose friendship I value so much.

If I’ve learned anything through the shitshow of 2020 it’s that my opinion has no impact on anything or anyone but me. Wearing 8 inches of cotton across my face does.

I’m so tired.

“Logo,” “Motif,” or Mess of Paint?

Last winter? Winter before last? I started to do little water colors of the mountains nearest my town as I’d seen them on walks with Bear. They are Windy Mountain and Pintada Mountain. “Pintada” in the archaic Spanish of the Spanish explorers and the native Spanish speakers of the San Luis Valley means “painted.” ❤

They are the eastern-most range of the San Juan Mountains, the largest range in Colorado. “My” mountains very often catch the very last bit of moisture coming East from fronts that come our way from the Gulf of Mexico or California. They did that yesterday. Just an hour away, “our” ski area got 18 inches (more or less half a meter) of snow. Down here? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I love watching them scrape snow from the clouds even when I really want the snow they’re STEALING from me and Bear.

After I’d painted them several times, their image seems to have moved into the space between my hand and eye. On the back of my paintings on board or panel, I do a “free-hand” painting of Windy and Pintada Mountains in acrylic. That’s my motif and why I named my Etsy store “Windy Peak Fine Arts.”

In the “Count Your Blessings” column, yesterday 45 “Tweeted” the closest thing I think we’re going to get to a concession speech and the money for the transition has been made available to the new president. C-19 vaccines are rolling out, including one that doesn’t need such intense refrigeration. The company that’s making it says it’s between 60 and 90% effective and it’s going to make it available to developing nations at $3 a “shot.” Our flu vaccine is 60% effective so, pretty impressive.