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Apr 29, 2018

Little Else



The day is brilliant, it's the end of April but it is so warm I have to take my long sleeves off as I start up the trail at Bald Hill with my old friend Consternation. We have been inseparable since the day I realized that being a receptionist wasn't exactly my calling and failed to come up with an alternative that could be found in the want ads. Consternation has been such a faithful companion, together we mull over each option, tear it apart and look for a new option that doesn't involve possible failure.

I look around for a moment outside, the section of the trail I'm on usually feels like a magical passage through an enchanted wood. Today it is just trees and grass. Has something changed? I wonder, is it better walking trough from the other direction? I know I am just too engrossed in these escape plans to feel the day.

"There is no way to peace, peace is the way," A.J. Muste once said. He wasn’t thinking of internal struggles and yet it is very sage advice for any conflict. I take a deep breath, consider the strength of my legs on the uphill and look for trees to sketch. I remember last week when I searched the internet with "jobs for people who are not detail oriented." I’d received a couple work emails asking me to do things I am not good at remembering to do. Names, call-back numbers—shouldn't a fax number suffice in the modern age? I've done plenty of job searches before but this one turned up something interesting, “Adult Recreation Instructor.” I already do this, which makes it real, within reach, something besides heart ache.




Not wanting to be left out Consternation piped up and reminded me how hard it would be to have a full schedule. We've been scheming around this ever since, but now I'm in the woods, its beauty is lost on me and I blame my companion. What if he is like a bad boyfriend who knows the moment I believe in myself I will walk out the door without a single glance backward? What if every time I start to see a new possibility Consternation snares me in a question of how to make my exit completely risk free, knowing it isn’t possible?

At the top of the hill I bask in the sun on a bench with two other women and watch a buzzard glide past. We talk about our shared experience of participating in the Women’s March the last two years. It's a simple conversation but I am suddenly awash in a desire to be here in someone else's existence, someone besides Consternation. My smile feels awkwardly uncontained but somehow I don’t mind being the odd, needy girl in the park.




Did he leave? Is this who I am without him? Was my whole curmudgeonly, cynic-self the only person I could be in his presence?

I head back down the hill, finally able to be with the fresh green leaves of the undergrowth, the lilies and irises along the trail, the mossy oaks breaking the radiant blue into odd shapes. Consternation is not gone. He still butts in and pries me away. But by some grace I have changed a little, I know the way out, all I need is a little courage and maybe a lot of patience.

When the woods get dense and the lighting is just right I stop to draw. Three firs sharing a triangular space, each beautiful, slightly different from each other. I don't sketch much. I am done with my studies and it's time to experiment with new ways of painting. I just record the things I find compelling and don't take a photo for reference. This is new, it is a tiny risk, as it always is to begin with a blank sheet of paper, a desire for peace and little else.

Apr 14, 2018

Awkward on Paper.

The Larch and Dawn Redwood


I have been remiss in my diary and my treescapes are all out of order. I started 100 at Hoyt Arboretum after making sketches for 99 at E.E. Wilson Wildlife Refuge but then I finished 100 and as soon as it was finished, it became 99 which makes what was 99 now 100, sigh. I know, it's a small thing, really.

I have been besieged by fatigue and while it is possible to paint fatigued it has taken so much effort to do my day job and feed myself that the sketches from E.E. Wilson sat for three and a half weeks before I even looked at them.

And while it is possible to paint fatigued it is a sort of internal slapstick the way chess is a sort of sport. My normal battle with a short attention span was all but lost at Hoyt, attempting to paint en plein air for the first time since winter. It is odd to feel a resentment toward branches for their complexity when their beauty is the whole reason I am out there in the first place. Do I really have to add in the foreshortened branch, those are so hard! I don't know if I've painted this one already, they're so crowded. These long larch branches look awkward on paper. You're kind of ruining this painting, long-awkward branch...no, really, it's not me, it's you. 

It is as absurd as it sounds, the root issue could be impatience. But also, I like to work symbolically, to illustrate. Painting does not think, it observes and records at varying levels of realism or abstraction.

sketch from EE Wilson


I find it very uncomfortable to climb into the part of my brain that can work on direct observation. When I do the resulting paintings have a sense of breath that is so compelling, I'd like to think I could become that kind of painter full-time if I worked at it. But I'm drawn instead to tell the story of a place—to illustrate the moment of three trees growing together like old friends in a shroud of lichen on an island of unruly foliage in the middle of a meadow that was just like walking into a fairy-tale bog.

Having pursued an academic training in art I decided to make 100 paintings of trees and their surrounds from observation to develop my facility from which to tell stories. I lapse often into illustrating but have always maintained an uncomfortable effort to use more direct observation than I would normally be inclined to and now I am almost done with the project. I finished the awkward larch and dawn redwood from Hoyt Arboretum in my studio with the help of a sketch and a photo. Now number 100 sits on my table as a silvery line drawing, fine as lace and waiting for paint.