Thursday, July 21, 2022

Three Weeks in South Africa

Noah and Mike looking for animals from a "hide."
This summer we were able to take the trip to South Africa that we had planned for last year. Because of the world wide pandemic, the trip got moved to 2022. It was a dream trip chosen by our grandson, Noah.

The big goal of the trip was to see animals in the wild, but we also wanted to learn a bit about the country beyond the game reserves. Flying to South Africa involved 2 ten hour flights: one to Amsterdam and the next to Johannesburg. That's definitely an achy joints sort of voyage. 

A photo for a tip.

Our time in Johannesburg was brief (2 days), but we managed to see quite a bit of the area. Mostly I was interested in learning about pre and post Apartheid. (I highly recommend Trevor Noah's book, Born a Crime.) We hired an uber driver to give us a tour of Soweto, the township originally set aside by the South African white government for residence by Blacks. Nelson Mandela lived there for a time so there is a bit of tourism going on.  As I write this, I want to be clear that I am not making judgements about S. A., but just imparting facts as I experienced them. S.A. is still a developing country.

We were fortunate that our black driver was open to share so much about the current situation of living in South Africa. There is tremendous poverty among blacks (80% of the population). The wealth of the country continues to be primarily among the white population (20%). The original homes still stand--4 room houses on a very small space. Along with the houses are shacks made of corrugated metal and plywood. 

The Airbnb where we stayed was in a wealthy white neighborhood where all the houses have 8 foot walls topped with razor wire and electric fencing. One has to believe that the crime rate is high in the city. We experienced the loss of a wallet and passport while there, and later had our credit cards cloned. The passport was replaced in one day at the American Consulate and our credit card companies immediately let us know of the fraudulent use. 

Dabbadoo and Noah changing a flat.
We were not unhappy to leave Joburg and fly down to Port Elizabeth where we rented a car and began our drive from Port Elizabeth to Kruger National Park where we would spend our last week. Once away from the big city, we found the people of South Africa very friendly and helpful. The country was happy to be opening up to travelers as that is a big source of income for the country's businesses. Mike did most of the driving on the "wrong" side of the road, shifting a stick-shift vehicle with his left hand. Miraculously there were no wrecks and only a couple of honks along the way, but a great deal of sweating in the driver's seat.  We did find an amazing amount of potholes which caused a flat tire. Noah learned about changing a flat for the first time in his life. 

We planned our trip ahead of time, making all of our reservations in advance. Kruger especially is a very popular National Reserve for South Africans as well as travelers, so those spots had been reserved months ahead. I use the term travelers rather than tourists because we almost always do our own planning and driving in our foreign visits. Signing up for safari's would be much easier, but we would not have had nearly the adventures we did being out on our own. As we drove from Port Elizabeth to Kruger, we stayed in a variety of inns, lodges, and airbnbs with only one hotel in the city of Nelspruit/Mbombela.

The first two game reserves we visited on our first week of driving were Addo and Hluhluwe. All these parks allow the visitor to drive throughout the park during the daylight hours. Addo National Elephant Park has a "hop-on" guide service where a guide will get in your car and travel through the park helping the travelers to spot the animals. Our guide really helped us develop our vision to sight animals. 

Male Ostrich

Greater Kudu

It is unbelievable that an animal as huge as an elephant can be hard to see in the brush. Suddenly the animal appears just a few feet away from your car.

One of my favorite photos!

After several days of wild animal viewing, we stayed at an old ranch at a higher elevation. This cattle ranch was at one time a dairy farm that has converted the cheese factory into guest rooms. We spent 2 nights there resting up, getting laundry done, and seeing a different part of South Africa.

Did I mention that it is winter in South Africa?

And, yes, you can see cattle in Oregon, but . . .

We helped feed the cattle up on the hills.

There is such a softness to the African skies.

So on our last week we made it to Kruger National Park which covers an area of 7,523 square miles, the size of Wales. There are around 20 different bushveld camps and rest camps. We stayed in four different areas of Kruger where you could hear lions roar and hyenas howl at night. We did see the "big 5" while there: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and African buffalo. Why giraffes aren't included, I don't know, but when a giraffe crosses the road in front of you, it is amazing!

Every day in Kruger we spent hours slowly driving around on mostly dirt roads. It was an easy enough drive there that I braved driving some of the time. Our necks got pretty tired of craning from left to right. There were dull times and then other times when we would come across a herd of 20 to 30 elephants with young. Those moments were stunning. Over time we learned to stop and enjoy looking at the animals for as long as we could rather than driving on to see as many different animals as possible. Our check list of species grew. We saw only one lioness from a great distance. That was Noah's greatest wish, but she was so far away, we weren't quite satisfied. Then on our last night in Kruger, we took a sunset drive which is a guided group trip. Not only did we see a lion, we saw six lions lying on the warm road right in front of us. They were in no hurry to get up and move, so we had many minutes of watching them. We also saw a pack of wild dogs feasting on an impala that evening. It was the perfect climax to our stay a Kruger.

Here are some of my favorite photos.

One last piece of our trip is what Noah brought home from South Africa: infected spider bites which he is still dealing with 10 days later. 


Thursday, May 12, 2022

Enjoying Being Back in Our Happy Place


Seventeen months have passed. Today I sit in a recliner in our new bedroom looking out on our beautiful back pond--the feature that sold us on this property 37 years ago. I marvel at the Douglas firs, azaleas, pink dogwood, and rhododendrons that survived the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. What didn't survive was the house and garage full of our acquisitions of 50 plus years of marriage. It turns out we can live without those things. We now look forward to the next chapter I will title "Back in our Happy Place." After all, it is the property, the community, the rural beauty that we are forever attached to.

I am curious what this next chapter will mean for my art. For the last 17 months I have been creating most of my art on my lap, or small table. And most of it has been fire related. 

Now in my studio I have a wonderful space to do big art again--full sheets of watercolor paper, 30" by 22" have always been my favored size. I know I still have lots of things to say about the fire that raged through the McKenzie Valley. I feel an urge to go more abstract, so I am starting to use paint rather than pen and ink. I'm interested to see how that's going to work out.

There is still much to do to organize my new space. There are piles of paintings that I have to sort through and decide what to save, what to rework, what to offer out to the world again. 

But moving in and organizing has been put aside long enough here and there to give a try and applying paint to paper again. I am still using black and white with limited color. Here you see my starts and two pieces I played with enough to call done. As always, a mat helps formalize the art.


Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Learning From Myself

One of the great things about Facebook is getting occasional memories. A photo will pop up which leads to going back to that moment one posted a picture and made a comment. Well the other day a painting popped up from 2014 with an invitation to read a blog. (My whole life since 2007 is on my blog.) So I did go back to that blog and it was so appropriate for this moment.

And here is the connection. For the last year I have been sending in paintings to competitions with one rejection after another. Reading my blog from eight years ago, I can learn from myself! Here is one quote from that blog:

"So what is one to do? I love this Alice Walker quote, 'Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.' I should put this on every prospectus that comes my way. I should prepare my images, fill out my forms, send my entry fees, and as I hit send or mail my envelope say 'expect nothing.' I want to "live frugally on surprise."

I also did a bit of self-cheerleading. Another quote:

  • Over 20 years of painting, I have learned to apply and manipulate paint in many different ways. I have a full tool belt!
  • I have found a topic I can discuss in my artwork over and over--my (humans) relationship with nature and the timeline of our existence.
  • My viewpoint is unique.
  • I have a whimsical side that comes through in my artwork.
  • I have a lot more fun creating a backdrop for my subjects rather than painting reality. (It's a bit like creating a setting in a stage production.)
  • Painting allows me to experiment and explore and find my art language.
  • My design and composition skills come more naturally.
So I have to chuckle. I am right where I was eight years ago in the world of competitions. Do I paint to get into shows? NO. Do I like to get into shows? YES. Am I still driven to create? Absolutely.

Here is the eye-candy. A painting I love that has gotten two rejections. Dare I put it out there for a third?

Under the Shadow of Calder
29" x 21"
Transparent Watercolor

Sunday, February 20, 2022

What I Paint and Why

 As I work on revamping my webpage, I decided that it was important to include the history of the last 18 months since our home burned down. It has made such a tremendous impact on my art. Not that I have stopped painting, but I am painting an entirely different subject matter and in a different style. Mostly I focus on two things, our charred forest and flying birds.

Here is my essay on What I Paint and Why.

Holiday Farm Fire, Sept. 7, 2020

(The night my home burned down.)

At 8 PM on September 7, 2020, the power went out at our home. Soon 70 mph winds were pushing a wildfire down the McKenzie Valley toward our house and by midnight our home was engulfed by flames. Just like that, my life changed and so did my way of creating art.

On the first day we were allowed back to our property I was relieved to find that our barn, which housed my studio, was still standing. Without power or running water, I pulled out a piece of watercolor paper and painted my first post-fire painting. I used collage materials that had fallen from the sky and ash that surrounded me and painted “The Day His World Cracked.” But working there, an hour from the house we were renting, was not practical. So I gathered up paper, paints and  brushes and set up a workspace in the rental.

I had new topics to express, fires, ruins and loss. Since I was working in a smaller space, I used smaller papers. At first I continued to use a full color palette, but the more we visited our property, the more I saw the world in black and white. What is easier than drawing images in black and white then adding bright red expressing the burn! 

From that first small piece, I began looking at the patterns left in the burned remains and was drawn to the charred wood of the trees. I have since painted many black and white pieces, usually with a bit of color. For months it was just trees, then as life began to return I added birds and plants as they appeared in the McKenzie Valley. 

At some point, I began another topic, flight. I believe I envied the birds and their ability to escape an alarming situation with a few flaps of their wings. For us humans, it is not that easy. We have had continuing difficult decisions to be made since the fire. 

But my art gives me hope. It helps me see the color in our world again. and it gives me valuable time where my focus is entirely on the relationship between my thoughts, my feelings and my art.

Monday, January 31, 2022

What Ifs and It's Only Paper

As so often happens, words spoken by art instructors come to mind as I begin a new painting. Frank Webb's quote, "It's only paper," comes up at the beginning and often throughout my painting process. With that in mind, and Fran Larsen's "What if? Try it," I forged ahead on this new "egrets in flight" painting. This time I am using a different mix of colors and learning more about controlling the spray of a mouth atomizer.  

I put on my blue film to protect the sun and the birds, then sprayed away with a cobalt blue/burnt sienna at the top, and pyrrol orange mixture on the bottom of the long piece of paper. This was a "what if" sort of moment because I was using two color mixes that I'd not before applied in this way. As I sprayed, I questioned how the combination would look as they met. Stepping back, I decided it worked. What do you think?

In my previous egrets in flight I painted the birds next and finished with a landscape for the bottom portion of the piece. This time I decided to create the bottom using more abstract ideas and pen and ink. In this way I am inviting my newer graphic art tendencies into my watercolors.

Then on to the birds--to outline or not to outline, that is the question. Following Fran's "What if," I went with the outlining. The use of the pen and ink on the birds, helps create unity in the painting.

So now the stage was set for how to treat the next large egret. Onward with dipping the pen!

Finally came the work on the small birds--those egrets left a little earlier and led the morning flight. 

I really liked the white images, but decided to make them misty. I applied a gray made with cobalt and burnt sienna, then lightly lifted the center of each bird, creating a softened sort of outlining. 

My final "what if" was what if the sun hits the small bird's bellies? So you will notice each small bird has an added a bit of color to their lower portion. I am satisfied that the tiny bit of color helps tie the top to the bottom of the painting.

Sunrise Flight
Mixed Media

"It's only paper" and "What if" keep me from being paralyzed in making decisions.


Saturday, January 8, 2022

Painting with a Delicate Touch

I was introduced to use of a mouth atomizer years ago, but in the last few months I have used it more and more to create an interesting textured background to paint on. I also have found it a great way to paint a sky for birds to fly into.

It has been a while since I've done a step by step post, so read on if you are interested in just how I created this latest egret painting. ** The lighting/color is inaccurate until the last photo of the finished piece.

Because I wanted to protect the birds and moon as I applied paint with the atomizer, I covered the shapes with an adhesive film.  I sprayed 4 different times, letting the paint dry between each spray. The first mix was a gray using cobalt blue, ultra-marine blue and burnt sienna. The upper area of the piece was my focus, as I wanted to create a feel of the evening moving in. The next color was made with pure cobalt blue.  I concentrated spraying the blue on the lower portion of the paper. After it dried I felt it was just too light and too blue, so the third round of spraying was using a bluer gray mostly on the lower area. The last spray was a unification of all the colors with another round of blue gray in a circular pattern.

I am learning more and more about controlling the spray of color using the atomizer. I can leave an area light and create darker areas, just by moving my head and hand holding the tool as I blow on the atomizer.


(I've talked about this in other posts, but here's a reminder of what the mouth atomizer is.)

After peeling off the protective film, the first thing I painted was the moon. 

Then came the most distant birds painted with a gray. I wet the area with water first before adding the pigment. I also used a very small brush to control the edges. 

I've included this photo showing a towel protecting the lower portion because even one drop of water can  make an unwanted break to the beauty of the misting. I've learned this the hard way!

I love the delicacy of the white egrets and worked at keeping my marks delicate also. This was aided by wetting areas before dropping in the colors creating soft edges and diluted colors.

After painting the birds, I was unhappy with the cool yellow of the moon which I'd painted with Aureolin yellow. I warmed it up with a wash of yellow ochre.

My plan was to create a marsh grass under the birds. In this photo you can see that I threw down some paper scraps to check out the color and potential size.  By messing around with the paper pieces I could also try out  the frequency of blooms I might apply with paint.

Eventually the rain slowed down and there was enough light outdoors to take a good photo of the finished painting. 

Leaving the Marsh
22" x 15"
Transparent Watercolor

Monday, January 3, 2022

Wrapping Up 2021

 As I sit here (still in a rental home) near a burning wood stove, the snow falling yet another day,  I am reflecting on my year's art making.  It has been a prolific year for me. I have created many fire inspired pieces from charred wood to charred wood with birds to charred wood with plants. Owls kept flying through and seemed to be among the most favored of my work. 

"Owls represent wisdom, knowledge, change, transformation, intuitive development, and trusting the mystery. They are tied to the spiritual symbolism of “death” which brings about new beginnings with a higher understanding and evolved perspective. Owls can show up when you are being asked to listen to your intuition."


Believe what you like, but I do feel that owls' mysterious traveling through the night, their ability to hide and camouflage, and their haunting hoots have created a connection we humans feel towards the species. And so, one of my more meaningful Christmas gifts I made was an owl painting for my granddaughter, Angelica. With her permission, I share this piece which is about loss/death of a best friend. It brought tears, the good kind.

Trying to keep up on my watercolor and gouache skills, I painted a couple of new pieces in the last month of the year. They both fit in with my thoughts of how small we are in an immense environment. I've enjoyed looking through photos I've taken that reflect that thought. "What Was" says so much about our experience of the loss of our home which was snuggled into a grove of old protective trees. 

What Was

22 x 15 inches
Transparent Watercolor

The very last painting of the year is "Sharing Secrets." I chose to paint this because there is nothing more poignant than the connection between a young person and an animal they trust and love. 

This was painted on a gold gessoed piece of watercolor paper. (Gesso is a layer of paint you prime your watercolor paper with. In this case it is a metallic gold gesso.) I cut out the human and horse form with an adhesive film to protect that part of the painting while I created the background.

I am always attracted to the use of strata (horizontal layers) in a landscape. The painting above shows the first skin of gouache I used. (Gouache is an opaque watercolor paint.)

Gouache needs more layers when put on the gessoed paper. So the landscape gets developed with more layers and detail.

The final part to this piece is peeling off the film and settling the figures into the painting to complete the story. I love the way the horse and human connect and seem to be communicating with each other. I remember our kids sitting/lying on their horses just feeling safe and heard in a way neither parents or friends could understand. A horse can hear the tales of woes and continue to graze--the horse's way of saying it doesn't really matter so much. And maybe as I paint this picture I am saying to myself, " It doesn't really matter so much." New times coming!

Sharing Secrets

15 x 22 inches
Gouache on Gessoed Paper