I’ve lost track of how many oil paintings I’ve done, but “over 200” is possibly right. My lifetime goal is over 1,000 finished oil paintings, so I’m about 1/5 of the way there. When I get closer to the goal (and after I’ve counted to be more accurate) I’ll add a progress bar to this site. Until then, I’ll just keep adding more paintings to the pile. And for that to happen I need to get back to work! The move has set me back, but I plan to start painting in my new space next week. I have to finish setting it up first.
Every time I’ve moved to a new place my life has changed. Sometimes the shift in my art is dramatic, sometimes subtle, but whether conscious of it or not, I begin a new art journey when I change my life. I’m thinking back to when I painted this angels painting and how it reflected what I was going through at that time.
Mom started developing health problems in her 50s but ignored them. By the time she reached her 60th birthday, she was struggling. I became her caregiver which was emotionally complicated beyond anything I can explain here. She passed away after a dramatic event in the hospital at age 62 that I was present for and traumatized by.
Dad died of cancer 25 years almost to the day, when he was 37. When Mom died it was like losing Dad all over again. My grief journey was as complicated as my caregiving journey, and all of this impacted my art journey.
I painted these angels about a year after Mom died, after we had to sell our house and move due to my husband losing his job when the company he worked for moved operations out of the country. I’ve told parts of this story on this blog several times, because it’s how I became an oil painter. Prior to selling our house, I had a home teaching studio, so I lost my job too when we had to sell it and move.
I’d been teaching dance, theater and art for many years and now everything I’d built up had abruptly ended. I no longer had a classroom and my own kids were outgrowing and losing interest in participating in the business. Why not just do it (art and shows) myself? My college age kids join in occasionally- only as they wish to do so. Most of the time I’m flying solo, no longer a backup singer to my kids or my students, no longer teaching art but painting it, no longer directing shows but performing them. For the past five+ years I’ve been an entrepreneur rather than a teacher and small business owner.
It was a big change, but it feels exactly right. Honestly, my students never had the passion, energy and intense work ethic that I do. I’d have stressed them out if I’d pushed them as hard as I push myself. I managed to teach some valuable things but the program was kept light and fun and tailored to meet each student where they are, whether child, adult, someone with disabilities, or someone with a spark of talent. Our shows were never going to amount to much more than something their families and community enjoyed. And that was enough for me. But it wasn’t enough for my life’s purpose and destiny.
My world was too small, and like it or not (and I did NOT at first! I didn’t want to give up the life I had and I felt very insecure about being in front of the camera rather than behind it) I was meant to move on even though moving (physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually) is hard. You can probably relate to this. When we are pushed to let go of a life we’ve lost, it’s easy to feel that the old days were better. But the past is only a foundation. The future is where hope lies, and it’s in the present where joy lives.
Even when we’re in a season of grief, there’s a quiet joy that exists deep down, and is reinforced when synchronicity and God connections align. Which brings us back around to the angels. The angels painting was inspired by an unexpected visit by someone I knew a long time ago. The fateful encounter gave me hope. The depth of my sadness during that time is reflected in my art.
I can see that for myself now, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I’m offering this particular angels painting as a clear example of what I’m trying to say. My paintings reflect my life and change when I do.
I wonder who I am now as an artist. How is my life changing? How will my art journey change? We’ll find out together. Are you with me?
I painted this just over a month ago, you might remember when I shared it. It feels like much longer to me. Does it to you? I thought of this one to add to my spree of fall related paintings. Something about the sky feels moody and ready for autumn even though there are still flowers in bloom and green leaves on the tree.
In the video, do you notice how the oil paints look when they are wet and the light shines on them? The sky feels real when the light interacts with the paint as I add each layer, along with the choreography effect of time lapse footage synced with music. What I share is often more about the experience of painting than the painting itself.
Sharing my art through moving, fluid video (and live on stage) is what I want to contribute as an artist, and as a fellow human. It is my hope that I can touch lives through sharing this experience, and that people like you will feel a connection- and will make it your own experience. Your reaction is personal and unique to you, and may even be difficult to explain to others. It is my wish that you feel understood, even though I can’t possibly know your story or why you might feel something meaningful to your own life when you watch these oils flow into finished paintings.
My oil painting of my daughter reading in the butterfly garden… this one doesn’t have a video because I painted this before I started filming my sessions. It was the first oil painting I ever did, and it’s what started a whole new life. I painted it after my husband bought me a floor easel for Christmas and I didn’t want to let him down by not using it. I saw an ad for a “Call for Artists” in a juried competition. I followed the exhibition rules and painted this art. It was accepted!
This painting went on a 14 month tour (I only went to one of the showings and I lost track of where the painting went, but it was safely returned to me at the end of the tour and I’m saving it for my daughter to keep). Shortly after this we had to sell the hobby farm with the butterfly garden he’d planted for me, as my husband was losing his job because the company he worked for was moving out of the country, ghosting the nearby small town (I have shared about this already in previous blog posts). I directed a small private arts (dance, theater, drawing, etc.) school from my home studio, so when we sold the house I lost my job too. Anyway, that’s the condensed version of the story of this art. I’m using it for this blog post because it’s how my vocation as an oil painter began… sort of.
As with anyone’s journey, it can be hard to define the exact starting point of easing into one’s purpose. I was “born” artistic and would always draw. It was my language. My dad was an artist and the family would gather in fascination to watch his funny doodles. He mostly did comic type characters just for fun, but sometimes he was paid in odd jobs on the side to illustrate otherwise boring managerial manuals with one-panel comics. He also did some sign painting, and plenty of projects for the family. So, it was never a big deal that I was artistic and creative. I was just my dad’s daughter and it was unsurprising, even expected it seemed.
But, how this was going to translate into a life’s purpose was never decided. Before dad died, he made me promise that I’d go to college one day. He was only 37 when he lost his long battle with cancer, after serving two tours in the Vietnam War. I have mentioned Dad a lot, as he was a big influence in my life and he continues to impact how I think about the world even though he’s been gone for many years. Saying this just reminded me of something that shocked me at one of my author events. One of the many reasons why I hated being an author! Here’s what happened:
I was booked to make an inspirational presentation to college students. I gave a speech that was around 45 minutes long that I had put a lot of time, planning, preparation, effort, empathy and enthusiasm into. I sincerely wanted to make a difference and connect with the students in a meaningful way that might inspire them into the future. In exchange, I would have an opportunity to promote my books at the end. I wasn’t expecting much to come of this, and I know that students don’t usually have spare cash, and when they do, they don’t generally choose to spend it on books that they aren’t forced to read in class, so I donated the books to the students. I preferred that they have my books than to have them walk away empty handed.
It’s a good marketing decision to give books (or other types of work) away when word of mouth might help you get more work in the future. So, I was fine with this plan. However, I did expect to at least talk with the students about my work. But right after we took a group photo, an obnoxious woman- a professor who dropped by and interrupted my speech a couple of times- set up a table of her own and lined up HER art! Wow, that was quite brazen. She then plugged her work and hijacked my event. She was a loud brassy large woman and I don’t fight for the spotlight. I stayed for a short while and when I realized that the host wasn’t going to stop this woman from using up the remainder of the time, I made my goodbyes and left.
Can you imagine the audacity of this woman, to have packed her art (wooden folk art figurines from what I recall, I think animals), and then just set it all up as soon as I finished the long, comprehensive inspirational speech for the students. Wow. Not just tacky and advantageous, but extremely rude! So, you know this woman now and you’ll be able to imagine the scene that shocked me. Picture her sitting (as a large older woman) among the quiet courteous students (young small college girls, timid), who seemed to be at rapt attention, while she’s belting out disruptive statements or questions from time to time.
I was attempting to inspire the students to never give up, even when life doesn’t go as planned and things like grief interrupt our dreams. I talked about my father’s death and I mentioned that he didn’t live to see me grow up and never met my husband or my children. The horribly rude woman piped up with this: “You never knew him either. He died as a young man.”
I felt like I stood there for an eternity with my mouth hanging open and my eyes bugging out. That’s not true. I looked cool, calm, and composed. I was in my professional public speaking mode and I was patiently friendly in my response, as I do when I don’t like some heckling troll at an event. I was “handling” her to end the conversation swiftly and get back into my speech before she destroyed what I was trying to accomplish for the students.
But after the event was over, and long afterward, her words came back to me. I had never thought about this before, that I never knew my father. I decided that she was wrong, and how DARE she suggest it! I did know my father. I knew the core of his spirit, the kind of man he was. I didn’t need to see his future self that he was denied, because the type of person he was, was an inspiring and powerful spirit that was memorable to all who had known him. We DID know him. In fact, he was known by many more people than I knew.
It turns out that he was living a secret life that he didn’t tell us about. He helped people without ever saying a word. After his death, people sought me out, knowing I am his daughter, and wanted to tell me what he did for them and for others. I still recall what it was like to go to his memorial service, expecting to see mainly just the family there, but the place was packed! Who WERE all of these people mourning my dad?
I have many stories to share about Dad. He may not have lived long, but his spirit was known and he still inspires people to this day. He still inspires me, and through my stories about him, he inspires my husband and my kids. And you. Maybe he inspires you? Can you imagine being the kind of person who draws a crowd when you pass, because of the big impact you have on others?
Well, back to my story. I grew to greatly dislike my career as an author, and the events I was doing. There was a certain grubby competitiveness there, and in artist circles as well. I hated all of it. Whether it was the snooty circles in galleries and upscale conventions, or the rather trashy venues, or something in between, my experiences in that world were usually mixed at best, and miserable or even dangerous at the worst. On rare occasion I had a delightfully pleasant encounter and a real connection with the people I met. I remind myself of that whenever I need to consider a public event.
But, always lurking in my mind is the power that random strangers have of saying words that can’t be unheard. It’s uncanny that she came up with something that could shock me. I’m often a stoic person, rock solid. Not much throws me off. You could even say that while I’m hopeful and positive, it is with a survivor and work-hard thriver mindset, not idealism. I’m a realist, and some may consider me to be cynical. But, wow, she got me.
Because of her, I will think even more highly of my dad. He was truly an inspiring person, a person who many people knew. He was warm, generous, smart, talented, funny, humble, and most of all… kind. When we know these characteristics in a person, we may be inspired by them forever. Goodness outlives a person.
So, I don’t fear public speaking events and I look forward to the challenges and positive twist that the bullies and nasties throw at me, as well as the wonderful pleasant meetings. I was once scheduled at a book festival in a very small town. The irony is that the speaker at the top of the morning was a man who had reviewed my very first attempt at a mystery novel, very unfavorably. LOL, very. Sure, my book was quite horrible, but there was no reason to trash so viciously first-time work by an unknown author who was no competition to anyone and would certainly not go anywhere anyway. Besides, some people liked it. Just not that curmudgeon.
He’d published a scathing review in a major big city newspaper and mocked me for publishing the book myself, from what I recall anyway. I don’t actually remember the details after all this time. I’ve had a lot of critics. They all blur together after a while, especially when I’ve reached an age and place in my vocation when I don’t pay much attention to what they say. I’m going to keep producing new creative work. Can they say the same? Maybe, maybe not. I fail to see why diplomatic words couldn’t have been used to “warn” people that I’m garbage to read.
But, whatever, I had to go to the same event that he was attending as a fancy author and critic. Apparently we had the same agent (ugh!). I only had an agent for a brief time. My daughter had work of her own and had some success that paid for an agent we’d share. We did certain projects together as a mother/daughter team, so that’s how the agent thing briefly came about. We wanted to do more events. But this was scheduled just for me, as our agent would place only me for events that didn’t really work for the project that we did together (don’t worry, I always found a way to get my daughter included somehow, even if it had to wait until the ending meet and greet part). Anyway, so… I was temporarily stuck in a slightly bigger league with the man who declared me a failure before I even began.
I dreaded the thought that I might run into him, but I was quite certain that he wouldn’t recognize me or remember that review from so long ago. He’d probably burned many authors, who seemed to have been his competition- isn’t that a conflict of interest? Ah, a slimy industry this can be. So, I arrived there, and he was already gone! WHEW! I saw his unpleasant face on the posters, but didn’t have to see the actual man! Apparently he didn’t excite the small turnout of mostly women and children. He wasn’t a tough act to follow, and I knew my presentation would be fun, warm, and inspirational for the attendees. I started to look forward to the experience.
Suddenly the hostess rushed up to me and gaped at me, star struck. She gushed, “You look even more glamorous in person!” Well, I was so shocked by this, that I laughed. I still laugh whenever I recall that moment. I’m laughing right now while typing this. So, here was the polar opposite experience from the horrible woman who shocked me with an insensitive observation and bullish behavior that cut my event short. This time, I was treated like a celebrity princess, with great appreciation from all who attended. They even had a feast waiting for me and my family, in which it seemed their entire staff had gone overboard to impress. Sure, it was created with the hope that the town would turn out huge for their book festival (sadly they didn’t), but their enthusiasm wasn’t dimmed in the slightest. They were happy to see how grateful and truly jazzed we were with their presentation. Someone had even made minions with Twinkies!
This blog post has spiraled out of control and is much longer than I intended it to be. I really meant to write something short, but then I felt like I was talking to friends and my thoughts evolved. Point to all of this is… a bit of an update. I’m working on my new show. It will be another “live taping” show. And while I’m older and wiser and am in some ways excited about getting back into public events, for now I’m happy to have only you as my audience.
Work on the show has begun and I hope to step up my game to make each one better than the one before it. And since it’s a taping, no one can interrupt me with depressing revelations about my private life and grief, but… no one can tell me I’m glamorous and give me minions Twinkies either. Ah, I shall have to settle for bringing my own celebratory treats!
What we see and feel about art is highly individual, personal, and intimate. It’s always interesting to see what people respond to, and what they like. It’s even more intriguing when the work I don’t like is a favorite of others- like this yellow butterfly which I didn’t enjoy painting, even though I tried to and had a few fleeting moments that felt sort of like joy. And then I didn’t like the finished art either. I was frustrated by it and almost binned it.
But it ticked off a box for a project goal and it would have been foolish to dump it, and get behind schedule, just because I didn’t personally care for it. So, I was committed to it. Well, my daughter really liked this one. I suppose that’s not too surprising, since sometimes we have the exact same taste in something (and compete to grab it first!), and other times we are polar opposites.
Later, when I shared this painting, one of my customers said she really liked this one, as one of her favorite works I’ve done. REALLY? But why? The thing is, I can’t even say why I don’t like it. I don’t know why. I just don’t. And that intrigues me… it’s how I know I’ve made it as an artist. My art isn’t about me and as soon as I set my paintbrush down, it no longer belongs to just me. It doesn’t even matter if I personally don’t like my art or if I don’t connect with it. Someone else will, and it’s not up to me to decide which paintings they can connect with and which ones I don’t allow them to see. No, art as a vocation is a language that is shared without censorship, not even self-censorship.
Now, obviously if my painting fails to make a project goal at some point- which has never happened- then I can justify binning it. But I’m past the skill level for that to happen. I’m rather stuck with my projects if my only real issue is “I don’t like it”. I don’t have to like it. If I insist that all of my paintings must be to my personal taste, I’ll never reach my lifetime goal of 1k finished paintings, and I’ll also have a one-sided conversation. Sometimes others connected differently to art than I do. What I might see as a disappointment, another person may see as special. Why is my perspective superior to theirs? It isn’t.
This same philosophy can be applied to all human interactions and ways of communicating. We must be humble enough to lay down our impulse to be the arbitrator of what people should connect with or what they should hear, see, do, think, feel and believe. We are not all the same, but our needs are the same. We all need to be respected for who we are, given freedom to think as we wish, and an opportunity to reject or connect on a deeper level to things that we can’t explain.
The connection between art and music is very strong. Sometimes when I hear music, I imagine what I’d paint to express the song. An idea flickered through my mind that I could collaborate with indie musicians and songwriters to create something truly original… never before seen!
My painting experiment pushed me to new heights and helped me grow as an artist. This first piece was inspired by the original composition of a talented pianist. When I heard it, I asked him if I could use his music as inspiration for my next painting. I painted what I see in my head when I hear his beautiful music. “Dancer in a Floral Forest” is the result (the composer is credited in the video).
This next piece was selected for its lyrics. Words are a powerful inspiration for art. When I heard these lyrics for “Be Strong”, I knew it was an excellent choice for my painting project “Eagle and Dove”, also known as “Peace through Strength”. Credits to the singer/songwriter appear at the end of the video.
In this last example, I wanted to be brave with creativity. I composed my first ever original piano piece, which is simple, slow, and expressive. I created this music for my oil painting “Serenity Piano”.
I now create shows that incorporate my singing, music, and dancing into live painting. Some of the show format is “variety show” style, in which these acts are performed separately, but sometimes I combine them… like singing while I paint live. I want to continue to push the boundaries and try new ways to express what’s in my heart, whether it’s profound, silly, bittersweet, or joyful. Our human experience shines brighter when shared through music and art.