Easily Entertained

The last couple of years, I have been captivated by the bird cams hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The first year it was the Red-Tailed Hawks that caught my fancy, followed by the antics of the Great Blue Herons (with their FIVE babies!)

Last year I mainly watched the Kestrels (with only three babies, the herons were less frantic.)

This year the Red-tailed Hawks (Big Red and Ezra) have already started their brood, with three eggs laid. Three has been their number, so I’m not holding my breath for another egg.

Big Red

I started watching in earnest today. My favorite moment was toward the end of the day when Ezra flew to the nest to offer Big Red a nice juicy mouse. She deigned to take it and leave, and Ezra settled in for a nice snuggle with his kids, tenderly rolling them before settling down flat to protect them from the wind and rain. About an hour later, BR came back. Ezra wasn’t ready to give up his time, so she came over and stood on him until he gave up.

Their tails are so great.

Their tails are so great.

I’m so easy to amuse.


Almost there….

I have been battling a variety of physical complaints this week that have kept me close to home and more inclined to sleep than paint.

However, I did go to painting class and today went to the TRAG gallery where I put–what I think is–the finishing touch on my newest piece: “Sizing Up the Competition.”

"Sizing Up the Competition" - 2014 - 22"x15"

“Sizing Up the Competition” – 2014 – 22″x15″

While there are many difficult stages in the painting process, I think the most intellectually challenging stage is figuring out when enough is enough.

It’s a common problem. I’ve heard a number of successful artists talk about this challenge.

“Overworking” a painting is a common mistake. It’s when an artist goes back and tries to fix something… and fix something… and fixes it again until the purity of the brushstrokes are lost.

Additionally, artists are always learning. I’ve heard authors with a long print history talk about the benefits or drawbacks of re-editing previously published pieces. On one hand, it was the story they want to tell then and the best they could do at that time; on the other, time has marched on and the author has learned additional lessons.

I’ve sat in critique groups where painters brought in paintings years old that they were still thinking about changing. While I see their point, I have often advised to start over; why battle with the mistakes of your past self? If a piece takes more than about 6 months to finish, I think you’re done. If you are still interested in the subject, start over.

The other extreme also has it’s merits: “It’s done when I say it’s done.” And into a drawer it goes.

For me, my best paintings have a lot done quickly, then months in critiques making minor changes. Patricia Schmidt describes this process “tiptoeing”. It’s a good description.

This painting has sat on my wall for two weeks and each time I passed it I thought to myself, that spot (the small dark triangle on the upper mid painting) needs to be darker. Today, I made that change. It took less than five minutes and it improved the painting so much.

I still think the grey’s nostrils should be darker, but I’m going to think about it for a couple more days to be sure. Then… well, you never know. I might call it “done.”

588 Photos: The Reason to Edit

Today I went on a wildlife viewing tour of Sauvie Island with Oregon Wildlife. Originally this tour was supposed to coincide with the Audubon Society of Portland’s Annual Raptor Road Trip, but “Snowmagedon” caused everything to shut down.

We observed a small herd of deer with yearling in tow first thing. No sign of spring fawns yet.

We observed a small herd of deer with yearling in tow first thing. No sign of spring fawns yet.

I had a great time and used my mom’s big camera (she’s had it loaned it to me for over a month) to take as many photos as possible. 588 to be precise.

After editing out all the blurry ones, vague tree shots, and black ones (oops, camera lens still on…) I was still left with a bounty of future reference photos.

Of course, the Sandhill cranes stole the show. But I was amazed at the variety of birds, particularly waterfowl. We saw several kinds of Canadian geese: cackling, Travener’s, and Dusky. I wished I had spent more time with the ducks. There were snow geese (SO many) and even a few Tundra swans.

The other time I went on the Raptor Road Trip, I saw more raptors in numbers, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t see plenty today.

But arguably the most exciting find was the heron rookery. I had heard they were there on the island, but I had never known where to look. This HUGE one was just off the road.

Going through them to pick out the best ones for my reader’s viewing pleasure, I noticed the the key to future paintings was almost certainly going to be editing.

Case in point. This photo of swans. It’s nice, but a little bland.

Roughly cropped swan photo.

Roughly cropped swan photo.

But after I examined it, I decided it would look a lot better like this:

Severely cropped swan photo.

Severely cropped swan photo.

This way I can see the painting I will work on. I’ll mask out the swans and do a pour, then take off the masking and put in the detail.

Similarly, there was something about these cranes that I found amusing and I took  many photos of them.

A group of Sandhill cranes.

A group of Sandhill cranes.

It wasn’t until I applied the ol’ crop tool in Photoshop, that I realized what the punch line was. It was their posture. The other cranes and the background obscured the potential rhythm of the piece.

The start of a painting.

The start of a painting.

For this potential painting I see something more geometric to accent the fluidity of their poses. And a title that helps the story along….

Anyway, 588 photos, a trip to see the horses at Sound Equine Options (a bunch of adoptions this week!), and a quick trip to a fiber (think knitting) sale. I’m a tired girl (also still itchy.)

Itchy and crazy

When I was about six I had my tonsils out. This was a good thing because until then I had spent a lot of time sick.

In fact, one of my earliest memories is waking up and not feeling well and having my mom scold me for not wanting to do morning stuff. As I sat sulking at the breakfast table, she offered me a banana. I took one bite and promptly threw up all over the kitchen floor. I remember my mom as being both disgusted and relieved, “Oh, that’s why you are so cranky.”

The rest of that day was spent feeling miserable, throwing up, having my temperature taken, and eventually going to the doctor.

So at about six (closer to seven?) I had my tonsils out. Frankly, I didn’t understand, but I was told that I would get unlimited ice cream. Sounds great, right?


I didn’t like the hospital experience; strange people in masks told me to count things and then I woke up calling for my mom in a strange room. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without help. And when food finally arrived, I didn’t want to eat… not even the ice cream.

Once I got home I didn’t feel much better and ice cream still didn’t sound good.

Then it snowed. As I’ve previously stated, Oregon snow is pretty infrequent; that year we got a good, heavy cover. And I could only sit on the couch, sick, watching all my friends playing on the street in the lovely snow.

I remember sitting on that couch, so longing to play in the snow, feeling physically and spiritually miserable. My mom was about in tears too because she wanted to see me play too.  Eventually Mom and Dad bundled me up and took me outside for a few minutes. It was great… except it didn’t solve my problem of still feeling miserably bad. But I remember it making me feel better that my parents were trying.

All this is to say that when I get sick, I go immediately back to my six-year-old self, sitting on the couch feeling miserable and longing to go outside in the snow.

Fortunately, until I was in my thirties, I was pretty healthy. The occasional cold, a few shots, one really bad splinter in my… rump.  My doctor’s visits were minimal and usually centered around solving some immediate and easily-solved problem. In most cases I walked in, stated my problem, and walked out again in under 10 minutes.

Then in the late winter of 2006 (at 31) I developed a cough. A year later a pulmonologist diagnosed me with hypersensitivity pneumonitis (hives in my lungs) brought on by an allergy to my parrot. My blood oxygen was down to 60%, I couldn’t speak in full sentences, let alone walk and talk. The doctor wanted to put me in the hospital for two weeks; we settled on putting the bird (Joey) into boarding to see if I got any better. I did and eventually Joey got a new home. I’m still heartbroken about that.

During the period between December 2005 and March 2007, I had 7 colds and two cases of pneumonia. Toward “the end” I spent every day in some form of discomfort. I had scratch tests for allergies, an upper barium GI for stomach problems, and countless blood draws. There were points I really thought I would die, or at the least be diagnosed with cancer. In fact, some days I almost wished to be diagnosed with cancer just so the doctors would finally understand there was really something wrong with me.

This period remains the worst singular period in my life. While 2011 will always be my “Année terrible”, 2006 will remain as my “Année maladie”. I spent it in varying states of sulking, pouting, misery, and anger. While I had never exactly liked doctors, this period convinced me they were all evil. One doctor (one I eventually left and filed a complaint about) actually got up in the middle of a sentence to answer his cell phone and had a five minute conversation with the person at the other end (and it was a pretty personal phone call… if you catch my drift.) Never mind the suffering patient in his office. She was only an obvious hypochondriac who had been at his office once a week for the last month trying to solve the trifling problem of hacking up her lungs!

All this is to say that when any health problem troubles me, no matter how small, I have to wade through a morass of emotion and bad memories in order to get to the small amount of reasonableness, practicality, and sensibility that remain.

Any woman who had read an article about “talking to your doctor” in the last few years knows that you had to stand up for yourself when interacting with members of the medical community. Gone are the days of blithely putting yourself in a doctor’s care and allowing him to choose what’s best. Today it’s imperative to ask questions and be informed about medical care.

Last year, just as life seemed to be settling down, I developed pneumonia in my right lung. That re-started a four-month-long version of “the horror.” Even once I finally kicked the pneumonia I still haven’t been able to get my breathing completely back to where it was. I have had to add a daily inhaler to my medicine cabinet, and this week I tried a new pill for additional help.

It seems I am allergic to the pill as one week after starting to take it I broke out into full body hives. This, in addition to the patch of poison oak I wandered into two weeks ago, had made me a very itchy mess.

And so I’m right back on my mental sofa, looking outside and pouting.

This is not an especially productive state when it comes to health matters. Doctors in the overworked Kaiser system do not respond to pouting. They sometimes don’t even respond to direct requests. But I’m stumped as to what my next step should be.

The reason I started my new medication was that the inhaled asthma medicine wasn’t enough. I was still struggling constantly to feel as though I had enough air. I had begun avoiding walks with the dog and, frankly, I can’t afford that (let alone what Finn thinks).

One of the many frustrating things about getting to this kind of impasse with doctors is that inevitably I feel like they think I’m crazy. An excerpt from a recent conversation: “Hives is a pretty unusual side effect of this medication.” So what? I’m making it up? When I go to the website for Singulair, rash is the first listed side effect. What are they implying?

I suspect the answer is they are not implying anything. They are either just making conversation, an oblique apology, or trying to convince me not to sue them. I don’t want to sue anybody… I just want to breathe.

I’ll spend my weekend concentrating on surviving my hives and then re-examine my options next week. When, hopefully, I’m a little saner. And even more hopefully, less itchy.

Moonglow and Spring Caps

I went to painting class tonight and Anji announced that she had started a painting for the June Rose Festival Show at Oregon Society of Artists.

"Tara-inspried" background for Anji's latest painting. Subdued?

“Tara-inspried” background for Anji’s latest painting. Subdued?

Her introduction was “this one is Tara-inspired”. When she showed us, I immediately recognized one of my favorite colors: Moonglow by Daniel Smith. But she went on to say “its subdued.”


Moving on…

I don’t have any new art to post, so I’m going to put up pictures from Sunday’s hike at Canemah. They are pretty.

Canemah is a hair breath away from spring bloom. I saw the season’s first wood violet.

The season's first yellow wood violet.

The season’s first yellow wood violet.

Some Facebook friends have already put up their first trillium photos, but I haven’t seen one yet.

And this plant (it’s some sort of flowering bush that is just green for the rest of the year; I think maybe a crabapple) is proudly strutting its stuff around the wet landscape.

Mystery bush.

Mystery bush. I’ll call it a spring cap.

But honestly, it’s pretty quiet around here. I was sick for several days last week, which limited my mobility. And pesky ole work consumed the rest of my time.

I’ll try hard to come up with a better story or new art… or something… soon.

Describing Colors

Every spring there comes one or two evenings when the sun comes out enough to get the crocus to bloom. About a week a ago, we had one such evening and I didn’t get out to take any photos. Then a storm hit and all the purple crocus were battered.

Crocus bed.

Crocus bed.

But today was another gorgeous day and in addition to a walk to the park, I had time for a short photo session.

While winter is probably my favorite time of year, spring is a close second; if it wasn’t for allergies, it would totally be in first. This evening when I was taking pictures I could smell my daphne just beginning to bloom. It’s the smell of spring.

Striped crocus that survived the storm.

Striped crocus that survived the storm.

Because the white crocus survived the storm, I was able to get some great shots of them.

As I was shooting, it occurred to me (not for the first time) that one of these might make a great watercolor. It would be a chance to play with soft pastels and fool the viewer about what white is. Grey? Purple? Yellow? Green?

This time of year, color seems to arrive hesitantly. Except for daffodils which arrive with an almost violent yellow.

Daffodil yellow.

Daffodil yellow.

But are they really yellow? This one couldn’t seem to decide.

Emerging daffodil.

Emerging daffodil.

But the green of folliage seems to know what it is and concentrates on its curves.



Sock Inspiration

Sometimes inspiration comes in strange places. For a couple of years I had been thinking that I should put up a website for my art. After all, I’m the webmaster for:

But I could never really decided what I wanted my website to be. I didn’t feel like I had enough “inventory” to really make a good show and I didn’t add new things often enough to make it interesting for any customers.

Then I came across Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot. As a knitter, it isn’t long before you hear about her. Her books are common discussion around knitting circles. But I wasn’t a blog reader, and didn’t give her blog too much thought.

Then one day it was slow at work and I took a gander. And it wasn’t long before I sat down to read her whole blog.

Stephanie write humor that is Incidentally about knitting; but really it’s about life: child rearing, the creative process, marriage, community, family, home improvement, writing, travel, and many other things.Over the course of her blog (10+ years) as well as her eight books she’s chronicled the important changes in her life… and also her knitting.

Reading her blog gave me inspiration to put up my website this year and attempt to start blogging. I’m still not sure if I have much to say, but I am finding the process enjoyable.

Tuesday Stephanie was in Portland to start the book tour of her new book: The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes: Stories of Tidiness, Self-Esteem and Other Things I gave Up On

The crowd at the reading.

The crowd at the reading.

I had seen pictures of her events, so I got to Powell’s in good time. But by seven, the crowd looked like this –>

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee examines my first socks...

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee examines my first socks…

The talk was great. Stephanie rocked it, giving a short and funny introduction and then reading two her stories from her book.

Because I had arrived in good time, I got my turn to have Stephanie sign my book and I fulfilled a small dream. Stephanie like socks (famously); she also loves bad first socks. My first socks are epically bad. I wanted her to see, because everyone else tells me they are okay.

... and determines they ARE terrible!

… and determines they ARE terrible!

She agreed they were terrible, and even put a photo of me and my bad first socks on her blog.

But her next question really made my day. “Were your next ones better?”

It will keep me going, reminding me that progress of any sort is worth documenting.

The power of red

Well, I survived the Rose City Yarn Crawl this last weekend in good form and relatively inexpensively. There was the purple “Birds of a Feather” purchase. Then seven skeins of a red linen yarn I hope to turn into a tank top. Then two skeins of discounted mohair I got for a steal. Great job and restraint!

Example skein of the red linen yarn resting on the Rose City Yarn Crawl bag.

Example skein of the red linen yarn resting on the Rose City Yarn Crawl bag.

This evening I attended painting class and finished two paintings (such a great feeling)! I’ll post about the second one next, but one of the paintings was a little different for me.

Each year I make noises about entering the Oregon Society of Artists Rose Festival Show. And then I don’t do it.

When Angie suggested a project where we used layers of masking to create a painting, I thought about doing a rose and getting a jump on the deadline.

I don’t do a lot of flowers. I like flowers, I just typically get distracted by something else. But I decided to go for it… and for once do it how Angie suggested.

IMG_5699Of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t make it my own. I fooled around quiet a big with the layout of my original photo to get something more dynamic and interesting. And I decided to not use red because that would be too obvious for a rose painting.

Step 1: Masking has been applied, and the first layer of magenta has been applied.

Step 1: Masking has been applied, and the first layer of magenta has been applied.

I kept my colors pretty traditional for the first level. For the second level, I masked over the light pink and left just the ends where I applied a dark purple.

Next I removed the masking and applied the inner shadows in a neutral wash.

It was at this point I had to make a decision. The painting was good, but not great. It was pleasant but not the eye candy I had envisioned.

So… I added red.

"Double Delight" - Final version without signature.

“Double Delight” – Final version without signature.

I will look at this for a few days and if nothing else occurs, I’ll sign and frame it. Done in good time for the June show!

Party all the time

This has been an exciting week for me. I have been out late twice! It’s party all the time around here.

The reason for all this excitement is the Rose City Yarn Crawl. I’ve participated in this for two previous years, and it has been a blast every time.

The excitement for this year has been building for weeks, starting with my participating in the Mystery Knit Along with ultimately resulted in this “Rosaria” shawl.

2014 Mystery Knit Along Shawl "Rosaria"

2014 Mystery Knit Along Shawl “Rosaria”

Wednesday evening I went to the first annual “Yarn Ball” which kicked off the yarn crawl. There people wore their shawls. Of the 400+ people who signed up, over 40 were at the event showing off their shawls… in all their sameness and variation.

The "Rosaria" shawls at the 2014 Yarn Ball. Photo by Michele Bernstein of PDXKnitterati

The “Rosaria” shawls at the 2014 Yarn Ball. Photo by Michele Bernstein of PDXKnitterati

Then today I went to lunch with a friend and we hit the downtown Portland yarn shops: Knit Purl, Pearl Fiber Arts, and Dublin Bay.

Many shops are having special “trunk” sales as part of this event, and at Pearl Fiber Arts I fell in love with a somewhat unusual item.

Purple "Birds of a Feather" by Alexandra's Crafts

Purple “Birds of a Feather” by Alexandra’s Crafts

It is 700-900 yards of a variety of types of yarn united by a color. There is chunk art yarn down to sock yarn, varigated and solid, thick and thin. I immediately fell for the color and asked the sales person what this would make. Her answer: “It’s for a knitter who’s out of the box.”

I laughed and that sealed the deal.

Love the shine...

Love the shine…

I’m not a knitter who’s unable to follow directions… I’m out of the box!

This is something that I will probably ponder for a while until I figure out what to do. I love the randomness of it united by the color.

I’m going to need some time to figure out it’s ultimate destiny.

Let the pondering begin.


King of the world

Today I recovered from workshop hangover by taking Finn for a hike at Canemah and running some errands. The hike was by far more fun.

I'm king of the world!

I’m king of the world!

Everyone at Canemah was announcing that they were open for breeding. I heard four Anna’s hummingbirds (only saw two) and was nearly deafened by the frog chorus.

I took a short video with my camera to show you how loud the frogs were, but I can’t upload it. You’ll just have to imagine!

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