Aunt Ellie appears as herself (woman in red) in my Uncle Emel's painting of the Parthenon in Athens
I am reflecting upon the gifts I have received from the past year.
This month, we lost the matriarch of our family, our 97 year old Aunt Ellie. I learned so much from her – about positivity and creativity. I am dedicating this blogpost to her and sharing lessons from a life well-lived! There is much to learn from this personal story!
KEYS TO LIVING A FULL CREATIVE LIFE
(What Ellie's life taught – my take)
Can these habits be learned? We learn through example. Ellie consistently demonstrated good habits and joie de vivre.
1) Be open to new things. Try new foods, visit new places, listen…be a lifelong learner.
2) Listen to many forms of music. Blast Pandora on a new channel. I signed up for a free trial with no advertisements and will probably invest! I’m selecting artists from Ellie and Emel’s collection---today Xavier Cugat and Charles Trenet.
3) Study all forms of art. Try something new. Take a class, read books or watch a YouTube videos…sketch, throw pots, paint, weave… After many years of observing and watching my Uncle Emel create, Ellie drew landscapes, trees, my uncle, objects on shelves, bouquets.
4) Keep asking questions to learn AND to encourage curiosity in young people. Let them comb your hair; take them to the theater! Our children adored her, and we are grateful our daughter-in-love had the opportunity to know her!
5) Suspend judgment – listen to all evidence. Research sources.
6) Be brave! Learn a new skill (such as swimming)—skiing, knitting, playing an instrument – whatever you have avoided, but secretly wish to learn! Overcome your fears.
7) Keep joy in your life—maintain a pragmatic, but cheerful attitude, with gratitude for all you have!
8) Clean out your purse once a week (as Ellie’s elementary teacher taught her). This can be symbolic of many areas of your life—review your workspace, to do list, and life often. Discard trash and keep what is truly important!
YOU MAY BE ENCOURAGING OTHERS MORE THAN YOU REALIZE!
(I hope you see some of your own good habits or some to adopt from Ellie’s life!)
Ellie’s positivity and wisdom teaches much!
Eleanor, whom we have always referred to as Ellie, was synonymous with good cheer, pragmatism and great tips. She lived respect – for others and cultures. I do not remember her without a smile—well only once. At eight years old, I turned on the garden hose (an actual firehose because they lived in a fire-prone canyon) full blast instead of off! She met me at the top of the stairs, drenched with that schoolteacher look, hands on hips!
She was my role model as I grew up – always stylish and up-to-date with current events. In her 80s, she continued emeritus classes.
I could publish one of those posters:
Everything I need to know I learned from Aunt Ellie!
She taught by nurturing and individualizing. Teachers will recognize the name of Madeline Hunter at UCLA, and Ellie was in her innovative program. During the 1960s, she created learning centers which spilled out into the halls. My artist/engineer uncle made workable machines for her first graders to build! She visited British “infant schools” and Japanese schools to study innovative techniques.
Her journalist training instilled her mantra, “Suspend judgment.” She looked objectively at all evidence and intelligently made decisions.
Ellie worked for a short time writing copy for the founder of the Gemological Institute of America. I found some of her typed articles ready for release to the September 1948 Jewelers’ Circular Keystone. At UC Berkeley, she babysat for the legendary Berkeley physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and when she applied for teaching positions, his letter of recommendation didn’t hurt!
This smart, modern woman met my uncle in the 1950s. She married my mother’s twin when I was four, and they shared a love of life, cooking, travel and art. As you can see her, she inspired art as well:
Ellie Among the Poppies, Janis Commentz Poppy Fields, Emel Smith Stonehenge, Emel Smith
Ever the encourager, she influenced me from an early age. At six, I wanted to be a teacher as she was (and I taught high school for 35 years).
Ellie made those in her life feel extra special.
She was an excellent cook – brightly colored orange and turquoise jars full of pasta, beans and goodies lined her kitchen. Food and music were important. She loved Mexico and Mexican art – especially Nativity figurines and Oaxacan candle holders. I hope to hook up their hi fi and listen to some of the records in their collection--- a random sampling includes Songs of Charles Trenet (Parisian cabaret), the 15th Annual Topanga Banjo & Fiddle Contest, Japanese Koto Classics, Harry Belafonte, Billie Holiday , Andre Previn, Xavier Cugat, Sounds of the Middle East, Herb Alpert, traditional classics….
She and Emel loved to travel and decided to add a new experience! Traveling with a young child. When our son was four, they proposed a vacation with us. What at a memorable, wonderful trip which included an alligator watching boat ride in Louisiana, visits to antebellum plantations and New Orleans! Expecting our 2nd child, I was just too tired to accompany them to hear jazz at Preservation Hall! Alas!
I paid little attention when Ellie skipped the swimming pools. Soon after they retired, we learned Ellie had never learned to swim. She was determined and signed up for lessons in their new retirement community. She overcame her fear!
As a model retiree, she followed directions. During hip replacement, she followed all therapy instructions and had the other hip replaced the next year. She wanted to continue her walks! Although not a pet owner – she noticed how canine friends wanted to speak and was certain they had their own well-developed language.
Of her many treasures, one of the most intriguing is her sketchbook from 2003-14 which she began in her 80’s. Her beloved emeritus instructor, Collette, created new classes each semester. Ellie’s notebook contains trees, people, items on the shelf, a list of the many species of trees in their community, and a section of detailed objects entitled “Things I saw”… an Indian grinding stone, the breakwater at Dana Point, sailboats and women wearing hats….
She and Emel organized senior art field trips. Ellie spent 20 years as a “living history” Victorian schoolteacher at Heritage Hill Historical Park in Lake Forest, CA always answering questions from young people with that sparkle in her eyes and asking questions to them thinking! She was delighted when our son and his bride chose to be married at Heritage Hill State Park in Lake Forest, CA; she kept pinching herself!
Aunt Eleanor was ever-cheerful throughout her long life! A good friend of mine described her as always adorable and animated! She encouraged me to make the most of each day, to travel and do as much as I can while I can. When I painted, she exclaimed that my uncle would be so pleased.
During my youth, Ellie’s other nieces and nephews lived across the US, and I had her “all to myself” on holidays. However, I know she made each of us feel as if we were all very special!
Emel and Eleanor
New Better Habits. Give More by Saying “NO”
“What?” you say!
June is a month of celebrating achievements and anticipating new frontiers. I am learning from my new isolation habits!
What are you celebrating and looking forward to? How are you nourishing your creative flow?
From the past months, I have learned...
Cheap Joe's Art Stuff
June is a time of completion, celebration and some reflection. As you look forward to summer,
What are you doing in the studio?
Will you Paint? Sketch? Write? Play music?
To whom do you turn when you need to share—art talk and more?
Create a circle of painting friends to meet (in-person or virtually) and paint, chat, eat and share!
Sometimes we just need a fresh start:
See my YouTube video:
We will be sharing some of these techniques in my Art Zoom.
Contact me if you are interested in joining; I charge a small fee to cover the Zoom cost.
I am delighted to be teaching In-Person Workshops this fall:
Art Groove Camp for Grown-Ups September 10-15, 2021, Angelus Oaks, CA
Desert Institute Class October 16, 2021 Joshua Tree National Park (Black Rock Campground), CA
So, for the first time in a year and a half, it really feels a bit like “June is Busting out all Over!”
Happy Graduation and end of the school year to those in the academic world! Thank you for your dedication.
Happy Father’s Day!
Celebrate Juneteenth or Freedom Day, a holiday which connects us to our roots, both joyful and regretful.
Celebrate summer’s longest day, Summer Solstice!
June also boasts some lesser known holidays:
June 1 – Mint Julep and World Milk Day
une 3 – European Bicycle Day
June 4 - Hug Your Cat Day
June 6 - National Yo-Yo Day
June 9 - National Rhubarb Pie Day and Writers Rights Day
June 12 - National Peanut Butter Cookie Day
June 14th - National Bourbon Day…to name a few.
If you missed one, it's ok to go back and celebrate!~
In France, La Fete De La Musique is a day of music celebrated on June 21—musicians (of all levels, cultures and genres) are encouraged to play in public places. Musicians of all levels, cultures and genres are encouraged. World Music Day has spread to many countries. Create your own Day of Music!
I hope June finds you healthy with the prospect for creativity and some leisure. Nurture friendships—finally we can visit safely in small numbers! I hope you will soon see those loved ones whom you so desperately wish to hug!
Schedule special visits or issue an invitation! Wishing you a joyous June!
Inspired by all of you!
Recently, I had a fun opportunity to visit the home of art collectors, who own several of my works and art by many other Hi Desert artists. Herman and Dina Platzke graciously invited me into their home and nurture many artists! Herman is also exploring the painting medium and doing well. I love this painting of his granddaughter in front of the iconic stone at Jumbo Rocks! Thank you art patrons!
Periodically I send out a newsletter--maybe 6 times a year, and I would love you to sign up to receive it on the contact form. Here is the new letter for May.
Photo by Hilary Sloane - see her fabulous work at Hilary Sloane
Happy Mother's/Friend's/Father's Nurturing Day! It has been a long winter, but May is finally here! I want to wish you all a Happy May Day! Besides Mother's Day-several things come to mind. When I taught at Sky High School, we had a beloved school secretary, Josephine, who would treat the entire student body (about 100) and staff to ice cream on her birthday, May 1st! What a generous way to celebrate a birthday!
In France, May 1st marks Labor Day - and a day to share a bouquet of muguet (lily of the valley). These tiny white heralds of spring (my Grandmother's favorite flower) are sold everywhere - by vendors, in floral shops and in front yards-as American children often sell lemonade! In Brittany, I bought a sweet sprig of the lovely muguet. The lily of the valley (or muguet in French) has been given as a gift for centuries. Legend has it that the custom originated on May 1, 1561 when King Charles IX received a sprig of the tiny flower as a token of good luck. You may remember having a bottle of Muguet Perfume!
I continue to teach a Thursday Zoom Art Class - where we have moved from landscapes to introductory figures. We chat, philosophize and paint and I have been so inspired by the camaraderie!
I am adding more wedding images to the notecard collection at my online Etsy Shop French Press. I am delighted to have been interviewed by The French Wedding Podcast and will let you know when it is posted.
The Latest Blogpost
I invite you to read my latest blogpost---which celebrates Mother's Day/Nurturer's Day and the history of painting mothers and children: Here’s to hoping your Mother's Day and family connections are blessed! Art depicting mothers certainly began long ago.… Even if you are not a mom or your mother has left this planet, nurturing is what keeps us young, teaches us kindness and continues to courage. Nurturing is a special kind of teaching. (click here to continue reading)
No matter where you are this spring, I wish you health. I urge you to continue to be very safe about all your gatherings. Thank you for continuing to inspire me,
New wedding images for French Press
Here’s to hoping your Mother’s Day and family connections are blessed! Art depicting mothers certainly began long ago with images of Mary, a sacred subject….
Even if you are not a mom or your mother has left this planet,
nurturing is what keeps us young, teaches us kindness and continues to courage. Nurturing is a special kind of teaching.
Self – nurture is crucial to your creative side and a healthy existence.
Teach yourself small tasks
Perhaps add small simple figures to your landscapes.
Experiment with a new medium
Move from acrylic to oil paint.
Or oil to acrylic.
I have not yet tried encaustic painting and it’s on my horizon.
My mother was often excited about a new medium. She was a sculptor, ceramicist, and painter. When acrylics hit the scene, she used them with a gusto - not only for art but shoes, house repair, wherever it would adhere! During my middle school years, she taught me how to use acrylic modeling paste for school projects
…a round Aztec gilded calendar with carved patterns.
the head of a model of Louisa May Alcott. We used wire for her curls!
I now “borrow” my husband’s hand and belt sanders.
What did your mother or another nurturing person teach you that awakens your creative habit?
Hover on images above to see artists' names
Our world may be going through a metamorphosis, but nourishing skills and habits modeled by a nurturing individual is something to cherish and pass on.
Happy Mother’s Day, Family Day, Friend Day, Father’s Day, wedding season, vacation season!
May these celebrations evoke treasured memories of simple days and more restful lives.
To friendship and family!
I sincerely hope you will be able to meet up safely with family and friends this year. We are planning a small Christmas together and it will be like…Christmas!
I have painted my daughter often—but will perhaps dare to include myself in a mother/child work!
Thank you for allowing me to indulge in a bit of sentimentality.
Janis Commentz "Bikini Mom" oil on linen 2010 Janis Commentz - Baby Announcement 1985 - ink
March--- a year into the pandemic, March Madness, the Ides of March – and finally Spring!
If you are at all like me, you just want to crawl out of hibernation into a warm semi -normal world. It’s been a brutal winter.
In the Mojave Desert, we have had about 7 dustings of snow—unusual for us and I think I am cold. This month we first ventured out to the Palm Springs/Palm Desert community for a restaurant meal, the first in a year! At a favorite French café-outdoors.
I also took myself on an artist date, visiting a beautiful garden nursery and an art gallery. I needed some color and warmth!
I feel in between worlds. Daylight Savings Time brings that unbalancing effect that shakes our visual world.
Unwittingly, I began a collaborative interdisciplinary project via Zoom (more later) and on the first day of Daylight Savings Time, and was surprised when my anticipated 3 o’clock light was really 2 o’clock light!
As we emerge from this strange cocoon—a bit perplexed, I urge you to continue your creative practice –or begin a new chapter!
Collaboration partner and me-a few years ago - collaboration first painting
Last year at this time I had dived into painting and was more productive than I expected. This year, I catch myself saying –more? I am a bit tied to my comfy studio and less eager to interact. The past few years have been a flurry of art related activities. This quiet spell is causing me to reflect on priorities, time, and my ability to say no.
The world around us may be physically opening up—somewhat prematurely—as much of Europe is entering a new lockdown. I have received both doses of the vaccine and hope you have been as fortunate.
So how can your creative practice keep you uplifted and purposeful? And while it is important to keep your boundaries in mind, I suggest an accountability partner. Someone mindful and attentive, but kindhearted and considerate of your needs. Yes, I said partner- so someone with whom you can be attentive and mindful. Someone to boost you when you need to be uplifted and share joy –and someone you can encourage as well.
And very likely, this will have to be via technology.
Zoom art friends sharing a birthday! Encouragement partners
Social media can be overwhelming, and we need connections that are personal and yes, intimate. Some circles from the past did not make the connectivity transition this year via Zoom or other long distance instant communication.
Accountability. I realize this word can carry negative connotations. The work world is full of teamwork slogans and artificial motivation measurements.
I am encouraging you to look in your circle for a person who is a fellow creative, who encourages you and honestly keeps you on track. Someone who cares about you and your art. Someone who might be interested in learning more about your artistic endeavors or genre –and here’s the key, someone whom you would like to encourage as well.
Recently, I embarked on a collaborative project and we do not know where it will lead. My childhood friend who lives in another state is deeply involved in music and dance. I would like to know more about her music, and she is interested in my painting process. Via Zoom, as she played the piano, I painted. We are reflecting and talking a bit more about the processes. We are not certain how this will evolve. We are each dedicated to our art and to motivating the other—and in a way, accountable on an easy going level where we check in to encourage each other---much as one might do with a gym or walking partner. Our friendship spans decades. We are fortunate in that. You may choose to share with someone new in your life. Encourage - as long as it is just that, encouraging! Remember your true accountability for your art is to yourself. Remember, if you need a friend, be a friend! And take joy in your power to encourage another person!
And a closing tip: As I often asked students to consider sending a note of thanks to a former teacher who played an important role in their development, I will ask you to consider writing a note of thanks or a tribute to a person in your life who played a significant role in in your creative progress.
I was blessed with several, and I’d like to note my mother’s very artistic and nurturing twin brother who contributed greatly to my artistic development. From building the truly wondrous doll house and easels (one when I was 5 and another when I was 50!) and years of encouragement, cheers to Uncle Emel!
Just one of many talents and projects. Uncle Emel painting the backdrop for a diorama which is now displayed at Heritage Hill state Park, Orange, CA Uncle Emel passed away in 2008
· “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.” — Simone De Beauvoir
· “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
Bright Agave, 11x16, acrylic on canvas, recently sold
As water and air are vital to life, creative expression is vital to a purposeful life.
We ask, “Are we there yet?” How many more challenges we must face in the upcoming months. I hear a lot about fatigue, weariness, stress….
No matter how much patience, self-control, kindness we have mustered this year, it has been hard.
Not everyone has time to indulge in “creative” moments…or do they?
Yes, many are kept at tasks at home or on the job---essential workers, moms, dads…. All striving to remain hopeful.
In early 2020, I chose to address an aspect of encouragement with each blogpost. We have reached growth.
Growth affects our creativity and creativity affects growth.
Developing and expressing our creative side encourages joy, luster, vibrancy and joie de vivre. These qualities are the essence of what the Thomas Jefferson called the “pursuit of happiness.” Even the most timid may enjoy audacious expressions of art, love and joy!
As water and air are vital to life, creative expression is vital to a purposeful life.
Creative play! Above--create a '"rid" with a white crayon or candle; fill in the squares with fun color! Creativity in the kitchen; just set out color!
Ok—I’ll jump off the soapbox and focus on guidelines for YOU—to move forward – with a generous sprinkling of creativity in your daily life. How do we nurture creative actions in our home, on the job, in our children and of course, in ourselves? We cannot bless others unless we show grace to ourselves!
Our imaginations may be getting lost in the chaos of this new life, new expectations, neglect of healthy food and exercise, and changing Covid practices.
Our brains react to protect us when stress appears, draining blood and oxygen from the thinking part of the brain. So, what to do? There is good news! Our brains can be re-molded! Our brains have plasticity! One method is to recognize your feelings thoughts. – in an activity such as journaling or saying them aloud.
As you do this, ask yourself if your thoughts are based on truth and reality? Replace negativity if possible, with positive affirmations such as I can do this—I’ve done it before, I am good at ______________________(cooking, putting things together, gardening, encouraging people).
Meditate on something that it uplifting to you! Music, quotes, artworks….
Gather tools to journal!
Actually, this closely follows the advice of Julia Cameron. In over a dozen books such as The Artist’s Way, her main 3 steps always include free journal writing, walking, and what she calls artist date, where you take yourself on a date to admire something or interest or beauty -- to nurture your own spirit. It can be formal such as visiting a museum or bookstore or simply taking a nature walk or looking at store windows.
Despite it all, show grace to yourself so you can GROW!—or slowly drag yourself--jump into a space where you can nurture creativity. If you have a family—as much as possible, make your home a petri dish for creativity. Allow play, art messes (within reason) and freedom for kids to express themselves without having to achieve or perform. A Facebook friend posted a geometric mural she and her son had mapped out for painting his bedroom. I loved that!
If possible, at home and if you have employees, go beyond encouragement and honest listening to consider the sounds, colors, temperature and lighting. I had a homey ginger jar lamp in my classroom, and when students asked why - I told them ambience! They liked the warm, welcoming atmosphere.
Make creativity a commitment. Schedule time for learning, practicing, painting, researching –and record your progress. Take photos or jot notes about your progress…or just allow yourself that freedom to create and keep or toss, but enjoy the process! Don’t judge your activity by the burnt cookies!
Grow by boosting your creativity.
Be king to yourself on this journey!
Wishing you all so much goodness,
Plein air painting - take your watercolors outdoors!
*Note: Each month I write and rewrite my post, and usually it takes a couple of weeks to mull over. If you are in the Midwest, experiencing a winter much more drastic than normal or Texas, or anywhere, my heart goes out to you. Like a plant that needs water, sunlight and TIME—be king to yourself. Let your creativity sprout in God’s time.
January 9, 2021
As the temperatures drop and the sun begins its slow trek back toward the north, I just want to check in with you. As you may know, I am not a fan of winter, but I have learned to love the winter light with its long deep shadows which add drama and dimension to our Mojave landscape.
With this new year, I wish to spread some hope - and I am sharing an excerpt from my article recently published in our local newspaper, the Hi-Desert Star.
"We reflect on our past and must have hope for the future. What are artists to do in 2021? I suggest you be kind to yourself and pat yourself on the back when you make small progress. Keep creating. Work small. Create several times a week rather than forcing a huge project! Watch your health— sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, and spiritual nurturing are crucial! Follow the Covid essentials of social distancing and mask wearing
Kindle new interests.
Learn new skills.
Teach-share what you know.
Reach out, locally and globally.
We are not only missing hugs and contact with others. Artists miss the tactile elements. It is not easy to see the depth of brushstrokes, the thickness of paint, the characteristics of a medium, or even to know the size of a work. Ask questions! Interact with artists online or with old fashioned devices, a note or phone call. I received a Covid collection of cards this summer and I treasure them. My Esty business specializes in notecards and paper items with a personal touch and a French flair.
You have heard enough about Zoom! Yet, a virtual meeting over a meal contains the elements of breaking bread with another. If spirituality is part of your life, cultivate those connections. I meet weekly with women for Bible study and prayer and to provide encouragement.
Keep a journal or diary which includes gratitude.
During 2020, meditative hands-on activities such sewing masks, remodeling our rental (lots of scraping, sanding and painting) and making meals became important to me—connecting to the lives of ancestors. I often ponder how they lived with simple items.
As we begin a new year and confront the unknown, how do we inspire others and remain motivated?
Despite my love/hate relationship with social media, I maintain my accounts to promote new art and to communicate. I give myself breaks. Social media is not an obligation; it can be an opportunity!
This year I found it important to embrace the USPS! When I requested package pickups, I left 3x5 notecards saying #usps or #IloveUSPS. My carrier picked them up! At Christmas, when I gave her a calendar, I learned she loves the French Impressionists! Another positive connection as a result of Covid!
We must develop skills such as patience, resilience, and openness, especially to the unexpected.
Keep your life sane!
Create home comfort centers. Typically, artists collect a lot of stuff. Neaten up! Clear out! Read for information or imagination! Place chairs, tables or baskets with your needs conveniently: pencils, colored markers, notepads, journals, inspirational books, Kleenex….
Savor the seasons. Study changing light and its effect on your painting or other art forms
Find ways to help others. Give back!
I gifted my France Sketchbook calendars and Zoom classes.
I hope we, as creative thinkers, can turn problems into opportunity, peace of mind, satisfaction, and contentment during 2021!
I was reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s words in Walden. May we take note:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. — Henry David Thoreau, Walden."
Please, dear friends, stay safe this year. I thank you for your interest in the arts and wish you joy with your own creative projects. And please, tell me what you are doing! Post a comment below!
Inspired by all of you,
Link to complete page
More information available: Zoom Art Classes, available artwork, my Etsy shop: French Press (which is offering my 2021 calendars this month at 25% off)
Mom's Wingback Chair, watercolor, Janis Commentz (available on cards)
Restoration for the Art Soul
Even before the pandemic was underway, I had chosen encouragement as my blog message for 2020, following my acronym:
We have reached restore, which is now very appropriate as we enter the fall season.
In a few weeks we will turn back the clocks, but we know we cannot turn back time. We have always known we are part of a larger community, and that has become immensely apparent during 2020. Being part of community means starting with ourselves!
As an artist, restorative time is crucial. Even though we have been isolated for seven months, my life has been full of activity: Zoom meetings and virtual gatherings. October is traditionally “art month” and I am moving at a steady pace. This week I completed a YouTube video bio as past of the “Art for Heaven’s Sake” project and I placed my France Sketchbook Calendar 2021 in my Etsy Shop: French Press Art by Janis Commentz. I have two classes to teach this next week, an acrylic plein air class for the Joshua Tree National Park Desert Institute and a Youth Zoom class for the 29 Palms Art Gallery
Currently, my November calendar is a beautiful, unfilled space.
As the leaves begin to fall, I too wish to shed a few things – to see clearly what lies ahead. I need to clear clutter from our home, activities from the calendar and activities in cyberspace that merely fill without feeding the soul.
Many of us know that “restorative” poses in yoga “ allow us to relearn the art of relaxation while developing the skills and abilities to self-soothe. It enhances our healing capacity through helping us regulate the stress response and re-balance the nervous system”—from yoga coach Meghan Johnston.
As we move from seven months of isolation into the unknown, as artists and creative beings, we crave the restorative season. Think of a squirrel gathering treasure of nuts and acorns. In fact a study from professors in the Department of Psychology at University of California at Berkeley, and published in the September issue of the journal Royal Society of Open Science (2017) — claims that tree squirrels use a mnemonic technique called "spatial chunking" to sort out and bury their nut scores by size, type, and perhaps nutritional value and taste. When they are hungry later, it is theorized, they can remember where to find what they want.
Squirrel study by Albrecht Dürer, 1512
This may explain the need to re-organize during this restorative time. I plan to thoroughly sort and re organize my studio. I work more efficiently and happily when I know where things are. Even when they do not look organized, I remember where objects were placed during the last organizing activity.
Like the leafless tree, in restorative mode, collect things that strengthen. Gather kernels of wisdom and truth, reach deeply with your roots into rich soil.
Prepare now to feed your artistic self with activities, people and provisions that will contribute to your art. Long walks in nature, quiet reading of works that uplift, strengthening exercise.
As a painter, this is when I put the dictated art projects aside and play! What images have I longed to explore. What medium have I not used in a while?
Last studio organization - needed again!
I meet with a group each week to inspire creativity and although we originally met to paint, we are exploring the foundations of drawing, remembering my colored ink, pens and other drawing materials. The simplicity of line and contour! The advice from classic authors such as Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain; Kimon Nicolaїdes, The Natural Way to Draw; and Robert Henri, The Art Spirit. Our meeting has become a nurturing space. One individual is looking forward to a bone-muscle surgery and is planning now how she can prepare her space for quiet, nurturing art practice as the recovers; like the squirrel, she is planning, collecting and organizing!
May I suggest also helping to restore the spirit of neighbors. Here in California, many have been devastated by fires as well as the pandemic. For example, apple orchards in nearby Oak Glen have been badly affected. Nearby Cactus Mart in Morongo Valley, which carries my artwork , posted: “ If you’re going to @rileysatlosrios in Oak Glen for your apple cider be sure to stop at @action_true_value_ in Cherry Valley” to contribute to a donation. Look for those in need. Often, they are silent and not reaching out.
Part of restoring ourselves is helping to restore our community. Creativity should spread generously to uplift others.
Yes, it’s been one of the most unusual Julys I can remember.
As I write, I am nearing the close of a solo pilgrimage to one of my childhood havens, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. I am eager to share reflections and tips for pursuing your creative practice. Quiet time can be healing.
Carmel is world-renowned for its rugged shorelines, mystic cypress trees bent by the wind, the almost too charming architecture initiated by Hugh Comstock in the early 1900s,, and Pebble Beach. In the early 1900s – writers, musicians, painters, actors flocked to the colony and established a haven for creativity.
These childhood photos tell you my story: Mom 'n me, four generations at Carmel Beach (late 50's)
I think it's easy to see why I am drawn: I feel especially close to my parents when I visit Carmel and relive memories, while creating new ones.
My childhood in the 50’s and early 60’s included annual visits to Carmel. My artist mother would scope out galleries and sketch as we drove the coastline. This was an era of beginning tourism, but, for the most part, our visits to Point Lobos and along the famed 17 Mile Drive were met with few fellow travelers. Fast forward – this week it was teeming with tourists, most masked, and in town, many cafes have moved into the streets. I remained isolated cooking my own meals.
I cherish time for reflection and the silent birthday retreat; the time has been sweet despite startling differences from other visits.
Cartwheelin' - me definitely a few years ago; my mother would carve a mermaid in the sand at China Cove and I was able to sculpt one for my daughter on a mother-daughter trip in 2011; and China Cove on a sunny visit in 2015 with our son and his wife. The cove is now a seal sanctuary, off limits to humans.
So – my admonition -- create a retreat for yourself. You may not be able to escape as I did. Simulate a beach or mountain or desert retreat atmosphere in your home or studio! Where are those seashells? The woodsy cabin treasures? Desert detritus you have collected? What creative activity do you wish to pursue?
During time alone, I read short devotions and poetry, journal, take long walks and sketch. When my own family traveled, (my adult children still tease me about bringing a dictionary when camping) I had a bottle of magnetic words for inspiration; during my retreat, I pour out a few each morning and ponder. This morning’s random words were: book, new, release, tree, drown, yes, skeleton… I immediately began to think of the old figurative cypress trees along the 17 Mile Drive that were named, The Ghost Tree, The Witch tree...long ago fallen.
Historical photo of the famous "Witch Tree" landmark
at Pescadero Point, Pebble Beach, September 1962.
The tree was blown down by a storm on January 14, 1964.
Quiet time can be healing – even 45 minutes can do wonders - as a restorative gift. If you have not read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s 1955 classic, Gift from the Sea, consider it required reading! (and it led to the title of my original blog, Desert Argonauta!) I am grateful for my physical get-away to escape the busyness of even an isolated life, Zoom meetings, mundane chores, and caring for others.
My words from the jar (love the plexiglass coffee table!); books, tea, candlelight; feet up on the deck; a walk along the beach, desk view, beach at twilight (the Walker House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in the distance).
Lessons from this week:
Be kind. The world is in incredible turmoil. No matter what issues you take to heart, some are easily offended. Stay true to your beliefs, but in love with patience.
Be kind to yourself!
Remember your childhood and honor those who stood out as role models. What made your time with them special? Be that light in someone else’s life – AFTER your retreat!
PAINTING / CREATIVITY TIPS
If it is in your soul, paint, (write, sing, dance, make music)!
Short opportunities can be golden: a sketch, a color study, a few apt words.
If moved, paint outdoors (or from life, flowers, objects, your imagination)!
Grab whatever supplies you have and go to your subject. It may be in the backyard, from your car seat, a public bench—or climb a bluff. Go where the sun and mood take you and be open to opportunity: a parking spot, a bench. Take what you can carry. Take a quick hike to see if what you need: a chair (or sit on a rock, bench, stump), easel to paint? small notebook to sketch or watercolor? backpack.
When people see me out painting, many remark, “Oh I would love to do that! "You already know my response!
Your image will most likely never be what you imagined, but you will improve the more you paint or draw. Don’t be “precious” about your drawings; they are exercises!
Loosen up! Try new techniques: watercolor, sketching with a twig dipped in ink (or coffee), scratching with charcoal, scribbling…my quick study after a slow deliberate drawing is often more satisfying, more evocative of the subject.
The watercolor sketches below show a long version (left) and a quick version without preliminary pencil (right). The last one was after I packed up - hit the trail , took another look and had to do one more!
Color awareness. Not only do weather and time of day affect color, but place plays a huge role. Latitude and geography change the entire scheme. My Southern California desert palette is significantly different from the cooler grey tones of the Central Coast. Allow yourself time to adjust. Keep painting. Be patient but persist in simulating the colors you see. Imitate the appearance or character of what you see.
Each exercise is a small lesson in color, shape, value. Imagine these as taking notes! Remember the photograph does not equal the human eye! But it offers a record.
Think design and simplify! What you leave out is more important than what you include. What is the essential quality of your subject? I think this applies to writing, painting, composing and all art forms.
Be brave: talk to local artists. Ask questions. Listen to artists' advice, but adjust to your practice, what works for you.
Encourage other artists: I had a fun conversation with this young man (above) at Carmel Beach, Sean Conroy, painting from his colorful van.
Persist! You will be frustrated by small things: closure of parks, forgetting items, lack of restrooms, light and fog moving in and out, a fence – persist!
Sometimes, the best refuge is a public spot – I notice such a difference in where I situate myself, masked, distanced. I often drive around a block three times, waiting for an opening. Be open to those who may stop and visit; take your cards, why not?
Two on the trail - delighted to be photographed
Sketching through the fence at Cypress Point- I knew I could look out and imagine it not there!
Take only what you need (and can carry), but double check: paper towels? water/medium? brushes? –and don’t draw on the back of another watercolor in your tablet as I am wont to do.
Take snacks, a lightweight backpack, and wear clothes with zippered pockets (one for my tiny zippered pocket wallet designed by artist friend Christine Lamb and one for my phone).
Be alert. As an older woman I feel safer, BUT I am always alert. I use the same if not more stringent safety precautions in the U.S. as elsewhere.
How much is God revealing to me? How much am I listening and watching? I think Moses of the Bible was a visual learner; God used a burning bush to get his attention! God certainly reveals his majesty to me daily as I observe, hear and smell the beauty of the sea, rocks, even my desert home.
Find a place where – YOU can take
Find your roots
Retreat and grow!
My REAL answer to the black and white selfie challenge (yes I took this!) I posted a more flattering shot on Instagram, but I think this comes closer to the real me. Yes, I’m now turning into my great grandmother (shown in one of the first photos on this post!) Tear in the hat and all! Doing what I love. Painting at the beach! and my mask in reverse makes a vintage neck tie.
What is the headline for this photo? FINDING MY ROOTS
This 2016 street work by Banksy criticizing the use of teargas in the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais has appeared on the French embassy in London. The artwork, which depicts a young girl from the film and musical Les Misérables with tears in her eyes as CS gas billows towards her, appeared overnight.
What that sound goin’ round?
It seems like we have experienced much during the past few months, weeks, days.
My blog is dedicated to encouraging artists and the creative spirit—but there is much to ponder.
The last few weeks have become a surreal combination of events, feelings, and visual images.
Pablo Picasso's 1934 Guernica is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country town in northern Spain, by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the request of the Spanish Nationalists.
For over 80 days, the globe has struggled with its reaction to the Covid virus and experiencing stages of grief. Essential workers, young parents juggling home schooling with work, teachers recrafting their art and adapting to virtual classrooms, have all have experienced prolonged stress.
In this bizarre altered universe, the globe seems to experience many events together as we all wait for a vaccine.
The latest deep global wound has affected the world. The murder of George Floyd has exposed a raw nerve.
Norman Rockwell's the Problem We All Live With 1964, is considered an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement. It depicts Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African American girl, on her way to an all-white public school during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis. Because of threats and violence against her, she is escorted by four deputy U.S. marshals.
All parts of the body are connected to the heart and we are reminded again, that as a culture we have heart damage. We have put wealth and willful ambition in front of humanity and dignity for all.
In the midst of the pandemic, we recognize that we need to have sincere and long lasting self-evaluation and change.
Several months ago, I dedicated this blog to encouragement—and following my acronym for E-n-c-o-u-r-a-g-e, I am at O—Observe.
Dorthea Lange’s photographs of migrant families and interned Japanese Americans helped to bring attention to the needs of many during the depression and WWII.
Some definitions of Observe include:
and decide where our art practices may lead.
Théodore Géricault's 1818-19 The Raft of the Medusa drew his inspiration from the account of two survivors of the Medusa—a French Royal Navy frigate that set sail in 1816 to colonize Senegal. The captain had not sailed for over twenty years. After the ship ran aground on a sandbank, there was a shortage of lifeboats, used for the wealthy. Those who were left behind had to build a raft for 150 souls—a construction that drifted away on a bloody 13-day odyssey that was to save only 10 lives. The tragedy became a major news event and scandal of its day and the public were scandalizd by the reality depicted in the monumental painting. 16′ 1″ x 23′ 6″
Recently, I read an artist’s post that during these trying days, painting seems irrelevant. I disagree.
During these powerfully charged days, art can influence!
Art must be an ongoing tribute to creative expression by all people, created by God in his infinite wisdom.
Art encompasses many forms – the painted image, spoken word, film, dance—and our lives are changes by it.
My prescription is to create art for the heart—and that can change the heart!
The heart as it supports
dignity for all
Whether your art overtly depicts images to promote racial equality or abstractly conveys emotions to promote dignity, I encourage you to keep your paintbrushes, pens, camera(phone) and creative tools close by.
Note: The last 15 months have challenged us! This month I encourage you to learn from the isolation and I wish you a cautious, but joyous June reopening!
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