Monotypes and Wise Words

“How do you learn a language before you can hear? How can you make a painting before you can see?”

—JD Wissler

On Saturday, I took a monotype workshop led by the artist JD Wissler. The workshop took place at Kings Oaks in Newtown, PA. I had taken the same workshop last year (read about it here: Monotype Workshop) and my memories from that day were so wonderful that I was eager to do it again.

It was as lovely as I had hoped, and we made monotypes for hours! It was a glorious autumn day, the wide green fields stretched out beneath the pale blue sky. I lay down in the warm grass for a long time and watched the thin, wispy white clouds floating above me. In the surrounding distance were stands of trees, glowing like jewels with their new autumn colors: reds, oranges, and bright yellows.

Inspired by these autumn colors, I decided to try my hand at something new: monotypes using colors instead of my usual black ink. The images in this blog post are monotypes I made during the workshop.

And now… here are some things JD said that sounded wise, so I wrote them in my sketchbook. Enjoy!


Wise words from JD Wissler:

  • “You will learn something with every mark you make. It will lead you somewhere.”

  • “I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. That’s what’s so exciting at times.”

  • “I can’t wait to get ink on my fingers and wind in my hair!”

  • “It’s a process. It’s about learning. It’s about exploring. It’s about constantly questioning.”

  • “I happen to be one of those people that enjoys seeing the struggle, the decisions…”

  • “Enjoy what you’re doing.”


Pie Painting Class

“Once I started painting, it all seemed to come together. I was stunned and surprised at what I accomplished.”

—Irene Tatariw Trindle

“Pumpkin Pie with Candied Cranberries” gouache on paper, 5x5 inches, by Irene Tatariw Trindle

“Pumpkin Pie with Candied Cranberries” gouache on paper, 5x5 inches, by Irene Tatariw Trindle

A guest blog-post by my mom, Irene Tatariw Trindle.

I love my artist daughter’s pie paintings.
I love them so much that I want to buy one.
My daughter does not know this but one day I drove one hour north to Easton to look at her pie paintings.

I got to view, in unhurried luxury, several of her pie paintings that were hung in a bakery on Northampton Street in Easton, PA called Pie + Tart. The paintings were hung in the front display facing the street. I could not decide which painting I liked best. I casually walked inside the bakery hoping to see if there were more paintings inside.

So I said: “I really like those pie paintings.”

The ladies exclaimed: “The artist is local!” And, then they started talking about how wonderful the artist was, etc. I wanted to say: “I know her. She’s my daughter.” So, I just said: “How much is that cherry pie, the pie missing a slice?” So, I bought the pie with the missing slice. The price was adjusted because of the missing slice. I did not buy a pie painting. I have not bought a pie painting...yet.

I look at Facebook occasionally . My artist daughter posted “Pie Painting Class! Sunday afternoon, learn the delights of gouache painting and feast on delicious pie from Pie + Tart.” I clicked and reserved a spot for myself.

“Apple Pie Slice” gouache on paper, 5x5 inches, by Laurie Latner

“Apple Pie Slice” gouache on paper, 5x5 inches, by Laurie Latner

The class was on Sunday, October 13, 2019. It was Lauren’s first class in her studio. She planned on having four students. There was a waiting list but this time I was an Early Bird. Each of us was given a 5 page syllabus with an inspirational quotation from Charles Hawthorne:

“Beauty in art is the delicious notes of color one against the other.”

“Apple pie on a blue-patterned plate” gouache on paper, 5x5 inches, by Rachel Engh.

“Apple pie on a blue-patterned plate” gouache on paper, 5x5 inches, by Rachel Engh.

Lauren said she wanted us to think about three things: colors & shapes, continue painting well after the class ends, and to have fun. She showed us examples from her favorite books of how artists successfully used colors and shapes. She talked about Value, Composition, Color, and Shapes. She showed us Ken Kewley’s simplified pencil sketches. She said that getting the relationships of colors right is more important than the “real color” that you see. And, sometimes colors “sing” together. She said that we should look for color and shape combinations that make us happy. That’s one of the reasons that I like Lauren’s pie paintings; they make me happy.

Lauren did a quick demonstration of using gouache paints with a limited palette. Then, she said she wanted us to start with just a few colors such as red, yellow, and blue. They were paired as warm and cool colors. For example the red that had a little orange in it was the warm red and the red that had a little blue in it was the cool red. So we worked with warm and cool colors in red, yellow, and blue. We also got burnt umber, yellow ochre, and a dollop of white. I swiped a bit of a green that caught my eye. Paints were put in clean clear recycled plastic egg cartons. The lid of the egg carton was removed and we mixed colors on that.

Students painting in Lauren’s studio during her first pie-painting class.

Students painting in Lauren’s studio during her first pie-painting class.

Lauren gave us strips of paper. She wanted us to paint our own sample palette to refer to in the future. We were to have four dime sized colors on this paper strip from left to right: black, dark grey, light grey, and white. We were not given black but we were told to make our own black from mixing ultramarine blue and burnt umber. It was important to keep our brushes clean and maintain a clean jar of water. She said it was ok to see the brushstrokes.

We had a choice for the pie. Everyone picked the lattice apple pie so I picked the pumpkin with a couple candied cranberries on top. We also selected the plate that the pie would sit on!
There was one light source on each pie and we were told to look at where the light fell, what was in the shadow, what had light on it, what were the colors in the light and shadow, what did we see...

A student painting a slice of pie.

A student painting a slice of pie.

Lauren said that gouache was fun and easy to work with. She said it dried quickly and there were no mistakes. Things can be painted over! She said that gouache can be layered so it’s hard to “ruin” anything. So, I quietly listened. But when it was time to paint, I just stared. Everyone was busy painting. I just had a painted triangle and a lopsided circle. (Pie and saucer.) I would move from area to area and it wasn’t happening. Others were moving right along. Finally, after about 90 minutes, I started painting and I just kept going. It gave me a big appreciation for my daughter’s pie paintings.

Once I started painting, it all seemed to come together. I was stunned and surprised at what I accomplished. I think I am going to Michael’s to buy a frame so I can hang my pie painting in my home. So, it looks like I won’t be buying one of Lauren’s pie paintings...this week!

“Apple pie and apple slice” gouache on paper, 5x5 inches, by Deb Boyer.

“Apple pie and apple slice” gouache on paper, 5x5 inches, by Deb Boyer.

Lauren chimes in: Thanks Mom for the guest blog post! Here’s an email I got from another student:

Hi Lauren,

Thanks for a great class today! It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and I really enjoyed experimenting with the paints with someone there to guide me…

My son and I painted our vase of flowers with the leftover paint and he loved it. He tried smushing it all around like he does with watercolor and was very excited when he figured out "oh! you have to go gentle with these paints!"

Thanks again,


This student took her paints home and made more art with her young son! This makes me so happy! I couldn’t ask for a better response to my first class! — Lauren

This student took her paints home and made more art with her young son! This makes me so happy! I couldn’t ask for a better response to my first class! — Lauren

Next Pie Painting Class is Sunday, December 15th, 2-4 pm. Register here.

(You might also enjoy my mom’s post from last year, Girl with a Flute, describing her workshop with Rotem Amizur.)

My Maine Thing

“I was in a sense still looking at the world through Maine eyes…”

—John Schmidtberger

“Belfast Sailboats” 18x14 inches

“Belfast Sailboats” 18x14 inches

a guest blog post by John Schmidtberger

Maine, for me, is more a state of mind than an actual place.
Most of these works were painted there, and mostly en plein air, but others were done in New Hampshire and a few in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Two were painted from memory. What is common to all of them are the conditions and traits of the Maine experience: clear, hard, warm light. Low humidity. Quickly-changing weather. Mystery. A slight melancholy. Fog. Vastness. Reverence. Awe.

“Houses Down the Hill” 12x12 inches

“Houses Down the Hill” 12x12 inches

For many years, I could only paint during our summer sojourns in Maine, and because of that, the place (and the state of mind that goes with it) had an outsize influence on my development as an artist. Even when I began to paint full-time in the Delaware River Valley, I was in a sense still looking at the world through Maine eyes. For example, many artists prefer overcast days for painting (easier to grasp values and local colors) but I like full sun, early or late in the day, because that’s a Maine thing. I love strong contrast—another Maine thing. Fleeting weather conditions, changing moods, shifting light--Maine challenges a painter!

“Storm over Penobscot Bay” 8"x10 inches    All paintings include hardwood floater frames hand-made by the artist, as shown here.

“Storm over Penobscot Bay” 8"x10 inches

All paintings include hardwood floater frames hand-made by the artist, as shown here.

Of course, there is also the influence of Maine (and other northern) artists to consider. My teacher, Neil Welliver, was a Maine artist. Rockwell Kent, Edward Hopper, Lois Dodd, Fairfield Porter, Louisa Matthíasdóttir and Marsden Hartley are also strong influences. Many of these artists lived and worked in the Mid-Atlantic region, taking short trips to and extended stays in Maine, drawn I’m sure by many of the qualities I mentioned above.

Enjoy the exhibit!

--John Schmidtberger, October 2019


MY MAINE THING/Recent Paintings by John Schmidtberger opened on Saturday, October 5 from 5–7pm. The exhibition will run through November 20, featuring thirty plein-air oil paintings from Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

10 Bridge Street, Suite 7, Frenchtown, NJ 08825
p: 908.268.1700
hours: Thursday-Sunday 12-5, by chance, and by appointment

“Road in NH” 20x16 inches

“Road in NH” 20x16 inches

Journal After Italy (Part 4)

“You must think of your time in the studio as an investment. You have to think of layers of your time.

As an artist, each layer may ultimately be illuminating and help the work.”

—Tamara Gayer Art/Work

“The New Mother” oil on canvas, 11x14 inches

“The New Mother” oil on canvas, 11x14 inches

Sept. 2019: I’ve been reading over old journal entries from two years ago, searching for meaning.

(This series begins with: “Journal After Italy” Parts One, Two and Three but you don’t need to read them in order.)

December 1, 2017

In general, I am feeling melancholy and delicately mortal. Life is so short. This week I have sacrificed my studio time to nurture relationships…because relationships are most important. But I want to start fresh on Monday with prioritizing my studio work. Because I have so many friends and family who want and/or need my time, I could easily make that a full time job.

I feel emotionally spent.

It’s very healing to sit here in the sunshine with the cat, feeling this warmth and quiet peace.

Cat sketches. (pen and paper)

Cat sketches. (pen and paper)

“I miss the solidity of work in art and the depth of concentration.”

Anne Truitt, Turn

Dec. 4th, 2017

Allowing myself some sketching time feels healthy. I must resist rigidity. Take deep breaths. What a wonderful vocation!

“Mother and infant” pencil sketches

“Mother and infant” pencil sketches

Dec. 5th, 2017

Taking a little tea-break by the fire, mid-studio session. I’m home, which takes a little extra self-discipline. I thrive in my routine. I’m allowing myself steady hours of solitude to explore, create, put colors beside each other and see what happens. I can’t help but feel that what I’m doing is rather infantile. Shouldn’t I be working in a more “serious” way?

But, what of it?

There is an earnest sincerity below the surface, which is why my time is so crucial. I can’t just achieve it right away, I need the leisure to sneak in “through the back door.”

I’m trying really hard not to check social media. I know it’s negative for my spirit…

“Volevo scriverti lettere…” (I wanted to write you letters…) oil on canvas, 11x14 inches

“Volevo scriverti lettere…” (I wanted to write you letters…) oil on canvas, 11x14 inches

Dec. 6th, 2017

So very tired. I worked on my blog/newsletter from 9-12. Then I painted 12-2, my “I wanted to write you a letter” still life. The only thing I really love about it is the pencil. I’m very pleased with the pencil, how the color changes in such a lovely way where the shadow falls across it. I’m worried I may have ruined the painting, fussed over it too much…but oh well, it’s all in the pursuit of learning what the paint will do.

“Mistakes are little windows into what is possible.”

—Laura Owens, New Yorker, Oct. 2017, “Think Big”

Dec. 20th, 2017

I feel so empty, a gross cavern of emptiness. I hate myself. I mourn the loss of [a friendship]. I hate it. This morning was awful…maybe after I finish this journal I will burn it.

“Moral goodness is the result of habit.”

— Aristotle

Jan. 1st, 2018

Last night I dreamed I was nursing a baby. It wasn’t my baby, but I was happy to be nursing it. I had plenty of milk: I was full of abundance!

First day in the studio in FOREVER! Feels great!

Jan. 5th, 2018

So today Ian took off work [because the kids had another snow day] and I got to come into the studio. I’m working on a big painting. (Big for me: 18x24”) And it’s hard. I’m still working with this new technique I like, mixing colors and applying them with a palette knife. But I can feel myself getting progressively sloppier and lazier with the color-mixing. So, it’s a subtle balance of trying to be strict about that, but also to allow for spontaneity. My inner voice keeps saying: “You’re being self-indulgent,” as I sensuously, and with real, physical pleasure, lay on the paint.

But even if this painting flops, which I’m sure it will, it’s important for me to do. I know I’m learning more about the paint itself, and pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone….

I’m just going to jump into it and paint passionately! I don’t have to make a good painting. It’s fine. It can be bad. I’m learning. I’m allowed to learn.

I miss having a teacher.

Just the experience of painting daily. That is my teacher.

Am I doing this art-thing right? Am I making a big mistake?

No. This feels right.

“A Space Has Opened Up…”  oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

“A Space Has Opened Up…” oil on canvas, 18x24 inches

Jan. 30th, 2018

So, today I didn’t paint, but I got myself sorted out and made brownies.

I carried a few works-in-progress paintings to the studio and looked at them. (Palette-knife interiors of women by windows, one pregnant, one breastfeeding.)

I realized that I sort of know what direction I want to head in. I want to explore these shapes, these careful colors, these explorations of spaces that I create with color, with shape, this mood…

I really feel authentically inside myself that I want to go in this new direction. I feel happy about it. It’s also very refreshing to feel like I actually know what I want to explore, for myself and not for others.

“Meghan, pregnant” work in progress, oil on canvas 10x8 inches

“Meghan, pregnant” work in progress, oil on canvas 10x8 inches

“Joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do and thus into this world from deep within you.”

— Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

Journal After Italy (Part 3)

“I longed to set up my easel and paint…”

—my diary, November 2017

Statues in the Boboli Garden during    my visit to Florence   .

Statues in the Boboli Garden during my visit to Florence.

Lately, I’ve been reading over my old journals since my Italy adventure. This particular section of my journal comes after Parts One and Two. It’s funny how I now think of my life in those terms, Before and After Italy…

“Strawberries at Mom’s house” oil on linen mounted on board, 6x6 inches

“Strawberries at Mom’s house” oil on linen mounted on board, 6x6 inches

Nov. 9th 2017

Really, my path here is to look within, to work alone, and to pursue the kind of work I want to make.

The quiet morning, the cup of coffee, this peaceful time to reflect. It is so precious and healing.

Nov. 12th 2017

Tomorrow the week begins afresh. I long for empty spaces of solitude. I need time to reflect, to read and ponder, to journal, to be.

This is something I can surely have in my life. I just need to be clear about it with myself.

I have been making my studio time a daily practice, almost a spiritual one. I think I would like to begin my time there with a prayer or meditation. It is a good part of my day. I don’t need to work all that hard, just consistently.

Nov. 13th 2017

This Monday is off to a good start! I had a pretty good morning with the kids, more love than tension, although getting ready for the bus can be aggravating: shoes, jackets, mittens, etc.

I went for a lovely rainy walk with my friend Berry and then she bought me a hot coffee. Yum!

Then: four hours in the studio! I played around with a palette knife again, mixing colors, scraping, laying it on…having fun! I feel good about my day…

It feels good to allow myself the space and time to grow and explore and figure things out. I’m also really happy to be alone in my studio, to have my own company, and shake loose of my desire to please others.

Nov. 14th 2017

Today has been spent with the kind of busyness I try to pretend doesn’t exist, or isn’t important. Instead of going to the studio, I spent 3 hours tidying up the downstairs and sorting through my papers: correspondence, checks, emails, and just a whole mess of to-do lists and the like that was forming a real monster on the living room floor.

Then I felt so keyed up by that (and maybe so much coffee and listening to the news) that I couldn’t focus, my spirit was agitated. So I sat at the piano and played my Tchaikovsky several times until I was able to forget all about myself and fully enter the music…

“My Kitty” (sketchbook)

“My Kitty” (sketchbook)

Nov. 15th, 2017

Oh my goodness, my emotions are so strong! It’s hard to believe they don’t totally control me. Walking home from my studio, I saw many beautiful colors—tree shapes against others— and I longed to set up my easel and paint.

Today I had fun working on a still life painting with a palette knife: very messy, very enjoyable: a pear, some art-cards… but now I’m wondering, was that all just meaningless work?

No. Meaningful. Full. of. meaning.

“A Traveller in Italy” oil on board, 10x8 inches

“A Traveller in Italy” oil on board, 10x8 inches

Painting Workshop in Rhinebeck, New York

“Beauty in art is the delicious notes of color one against the other.”

—Charles Hawthorne, Hawthorne on Painting

I taught my first group painting workshop on Saturday!! It was so wonderful! It turns out that I can teach people, and also that I truly enjoy teaching!! I had some worries that I might not have “what it takes” to be a teacher, but once I got started, the day flowed easily. The whole weekend was unbelievably magical to me, and I’m truly grateful for the experience.

The location was a gorgeous private residence in Rhinebeck, New York. There was a stunning vista just outside the kitchen door: an expansive green lawn, rolling down gracefully to the tranquil waters of the Hudson River, and distant blue hills far away on the horizon. Really, it was a landscape that could almost paint itself!

There were five students, most of whom did not identify as artists. I believe it was everyone’s first time with oil paints. I wanted to share my love of oil painting, so I started out showing them some of my favorite art books and images of paintings. These included the work of Corot, Bonnard, Susan Jane Walp, Anna Valdez, Ken Kewley, Chris Liberti, Kristen Peyton, and many others. These are painters and paintings that excite me, and more importantly, that inspire me to paint!

I told the students that I had two main goals:

  1. To share my LOVE and PASSION for painting. (It’s fun!!)

  2. To give them an understanding of “color-shapes,” and their relationships.

(Note: Looking back, I feel like I met these goals! Woohoo!)

Me, laying out some of my favorite art books for students to look at.

Me, laying out some of my favorite art books for students to look at.

Students, sketching in a bucolic setting.

Students, sketching in a bucolic setting.

After looking at the art books and going over a couple of basics, we started with a sketching session. I encouraged the students to take a few minutes and make some thumbnail sketches with pencil and paper, investigating some of the many possibilities before them. Then, I did a little painting demonstration on how to get started. I suggested they use their sketches as a guide. One way to start is with a quick line drawing on the canvas using some burnt umber thinned with gamsol. Afterwards, they could have fun making “color shapes” using a fairly limited palette.

Me, doing a painting demo in my new hat.

Me, doing a painting demo in my new hat.

I wouldn’t have had such a successful time teaching if it hadn’t been for the wonderful art teachers and friends I have had over the years. All I had to do was just pass on information that I had already learned from these generous souls. For further reading along these lines, read some of these older blog posts:

Eve, using a picnic basket as an easel.

Eve, using a picnic basket as an easel.

I also believe I also brought my own special insights and wisdom to the students. It was very empowering to realize that people were learning from me and enjoying the process! In fact, I heard one woman mention later that day how she was looking at all the colors around her differently, thinking about how she might paint them. How wonderful that one day of painting could influence a person’s whole way of seeing the world!

People painted quite happily for awhile, and I went around answering questions. Around noon we took a break for lunch, which was not only delicious beyond all measure, but visually as beautiful as a Bonnard painting.

After lunch, we did another session of painting. I did a second brief demonstration, and then everyone took out their brushes and paints and got going! I was so proud to see them working so well, with such enthusiasm and perseverance.

A student painting with a good deal of concentration.

A student painting with a good deal of concentration.

Students proudly holding up their finished paintings.

Students proudly holding up their finished paintings.

We held an informal “critique” session after painting. Each person described what they thought was working best with each painting. Everyone was so engaged and positive, and each person had unique insights. I feel as though I learned as much as they did from doing this!

In short, teaching a painting workshop was a rewarding and uplifting experience. I look forward to to doing more of these in the future!

Me, leading the critique.

Me, leading the critique.

Here’s the “Student Gallery.” Enjoy:


A few weeks later, I received some wonderful testimonials from two students! Here they are:


Cape May Paintings, Summer 2019

“What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive.”

—Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea


In August, my sisters rented a house near the beach in Cape May for a week, just like they did last year. It was a large house with room for many family members, and we had several full days of togetherness: cooking delicious meals, playing board games, and swimming at the beach.

Despite the festive vacation atmosphere, I was struggling with a lot of personal sadness. Craving solitude, I tried to wake up very early, before 5 am most mornings, in order to get to the beach before sunrise.

This is my favorite time of day; a threshold between darkness and light. At dawn you can feel, for a fleeting moment of time, that anything is possible.


One morning, my husband joined me on my painting expedition, and he took some photographs. Here I am, taping a sheet of linen onto a board. I had prepared an imprimatura of transparent cadmium red, which shows through in most of my paintings.

“Sunrise over beach dunes”    oil on linen mounted on board 7.25x10.75 inches

“Sunrise over beach dunes” oil on linen mounted on board 7.25x10.75 inches

Most mornings, there wasn’t another soul on the beach. The peaceful, repetitive sound of the waves was healing.

Lots of clumsy paint application, as you can see, applied with a palette knife and scraped away, repetitively. A constant pursuit of simplification…

“Lighthouse at Dawn”    oil on linen mounted on board, 6.25x9.5 inches

“Lighthouse at Dawn” oil on linen mounted on board, 6.25x9.5 inches

With my back to the waves, I painted the morning light just as the sun rose and hit the dunes. I painted very quickly, trying not to think too much.

“Beach dunes at dawn”    oil on paper, 5.25x8.25

“Beach dunes at dawn” oil on paper, 5.25x8.25

I did manage to get out one evening and catch a sunset. Despite the overcast skies, the evening was glorious. Quite a bit of sand got stuck in the paint because it was so windy.

There was one day I didn’t manage to get to the beach. Instead, I painted this water tower, which I could see from the front yard of our rental house. The actual tower had the words CAPE MAY printed on it, but I didn’t feel like putting words on my painting.

Now summer is over. My kids are back in school, and I’m trying to get back into my studio routine, without much success. The sadness hasn’t gone away, but I’m taking steps to deal with it, including a lot of self-care. Perhaps I can integrate my emotions into my painting practice.

“Water Tower   ”oil on paper, 8.25x5.5 inches

“Water Tower”oil on paper, 8.25x5.5 inches

“I walked far down the beach, soothed by the rhythm of the waves, the sun on my bare back and legs, the wind and mist from the spray on my hair. Into the waves and out like a sandpiper. And then home, drenched, drugged, reeling, full to the brim with my day alone; full like the moon before the night has taken a single nibble of it; full as a cup poured up to the lip.” —Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Piano Sketches

“Music is prayer without words.”

—Bethann Kratzer, piano teacher

My son Morgan has been taking piano lessons from Bethann Kratzer for many years. I have always enjoyed going to Bethann’s house and sitting on the couch in the adjacent room, listening to the lesson. Sometimes I sketch Morgan and Bethann during the lessons, or Morgan alone while he is practicing.


Three years ago, I decided I wanted to take lessons myself. I used to play when I was a child, but I quit when I was 13. Now, 25 years later, the piano is part of my life again. I have been playing a little bit every day and taking regular lessons.

I love taking lessons with Bethann. She has a calm, gentle voice and manner, and a quiet, subtle way of teaching that I adore. I find I respond best to someone who teaches this way.

It feels really good to have a creative outlet that is all my own, that the world at large can’t judge. I don’t play to perform on a professional level, but strictly for my own enjoyment in the music. It complements my painting practice, I imagine, much like cross-training benefits an athlete.

Currently, I am working on Rebikov’s Lullaby, and Tchaikovsky’s Winter Morning. I’ve also started composing some music for Seal Lullaby, a poem by Rudyard Kipling, just for fun. (This poem is in the public domain.)

Seal Lullaby by Rudyard Kipling

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow;
Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.

“Red Tulips”    oil on canvas, 14x11 inches

“Red Tulips” oil on canvas, 14x11 inches

We got our piano for free, years ago. It seems people are always trying to get rid of their pianos. I suppose they take up a lot of space.

But I will always have a piano in the house. A piano is like part of the family, a handsome living creature reflecting sunlight and promising pleasure.

“   Piano Music"    oil on canvas, 28x22 inches

Piano Music" oil on canvas, 28x22 inches

This is my last blog post for awhile; I plan to take the rest of the summer off, and I shall resume in September. Thank you for reading!

Silly Street Signs in Florence

I can’t believe it’s been two years since my trip to Italy. Sigh…

Here are some weird signs that I saw during the three days I spent wandering around Florence.

“Translations” provided by yours truly.


Don't walk around with an ice cream cone on your butt or a pooping dog will try to eat it.


Beware huge, angry, health conscious flowers. Also don't smoke cigarettes that are bigger than your head.


It's advisable to pee in the bathroom in order to be safe from terrifying leaf-creatures.


Don't be foolish. Watch out for angels sneaking up from behind!


Red and black cars can be friends.
No weather allowed.


Don't litter, but also beware of aliens putting chips in your brain.


I guess this means "taxi.." I don’t know…

Figure Drawing Class

“You’re not going to hit it perfectly the first time. Try to think of it as an experience.”

—Abigail Synnestvedt

Figure reclining in a chair (2), charcoal on paper, 18x24 inches (my drawing)

Figure reclining in a chair (2), charcoal on paper, 18x24 inches (my drawing)

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of taking a 3-hour figure drawing class at 7th Street Studios in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. The instructor was Abigail Synnestvedt, an amazing artist whom I had been following on instagram for some time, and I was especially eager to take her class.

7th Street Studios is run by Taryn Day, another fantastic artist who teaches classes there. I had never been to this art space before, and I was absolutely delighted as I stepped into the bright, spacious room. It was an old building, with high ceilings and large windows that let in plenty of sunlight and fresh air. There were about a dozen students in total who attended the class.

The class was absolutely wonderful. I appreciated Abigail’s calm and encouraging teaching style. She started off by showing us pictures from some of her favorite art books. One of them was Drawing Lessons of the Great Masters by Robert Beverly Hale. We looked at drawings by many artists, including Rubens, Cambiaso, and Käthe Kollwitz.

Photograph of Abigail Synnestvedt (right) helping a student get started.

Photograph of Abigail Synnestvedt (right) helping a student get started.

Notes from the class:

  • We can make analogies, or metaphors, with the visual elements in our drawing. For example, we can think of a head as a cube or an egg, and the neck as a cylinder.

  • Art is really just a few very basic concepts that take a whole lifetime to learn.

  • Look for the centerline in a figure. Pay attention to the orientation. (I.e. eyes are on a plane together.)

  • Imagine a plane in space.

  • Look at Euan Uglow’s figures.

  • How does the figure exist in space? Give a notation, a small mark or line, to make note of things.

  • If you’re having trouble with a pose, walk around the model to see what the body is doing, to understand it from difficult angles. (Sculptors do this regularly.)

  • Train your eye to see the movement

  • You could almost think of the negative space as so powerful that it’s releasing the shape.

  • Look at Käthe Kollwitz and how her drawings are searching.

  • Approach the drawing like you are asking a question. What is this doing? Drawing is like asking questions.

  • If something isn’t quite right, just erase it. It’s no big deal. Or, just move to another part of the body, sometimes fixing that will fix the original problem.

  • Look at Richard Diebenkorn’s The Sketchbooks Revealed. [Note: The Cantor Art Center has made all the sketchbooks digitally available in this online catalog.]

For those interested, Abigail Synnestvedt is teaching a Self Portrait Painting Workshop this Saturday, June 15th!

Seated Figure, Turning Away, charcoal on paper, 24x18 inches (my drawing)

Seated Figure, Turning Away, charcoal on paper, 24x18 inches (my drawing)

Figure Lying on her Side, charcoal on paper, 18x24 inches (my drawing)

Figure Lying on her Side, charcoal on paper, 18x24 inches (my drawing)

Figure reclining in a chair (1), charcoal on paper, 24x18 inches (my drawing)

Figure reclining in a chair (1), charcoal on paper, 24x18 inches (my drawing)

“Art is the organization of shapes.” Edwin Dickinson

The First Elegy

“The problem is not whether the song will continue,

but whether a dark space can be found where the notes can resonate.” — Rilke


excerpts from a poem by Rilke, the accompanying monotypes are my own:

The First Elegy

Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic

orders? And even if one of them suddenly

pressed me against his heart, I should fade in the strength of his

stronger existence. For Beauty’s nothing

but the beginning of Terror we’re still just able to bear…

Fling the emptiness out of your arms

to broaden the spaces we breathe—maybe that the birds

will feel the extended air in more fervent flight.


Yes, the Springs had need of you. Many a star

was waiting for you to perceive it. Many a wave

would rise in the past towards you; or else, perhaps,

as you went by an open window, a violin

would be utterly giving itself…


They’ve finally no more need of us, the early-departed…

But we, that have need of

such mighty secrets, we, for whom sorrow’s so often

source of blessedest progress, could we exist without them?


Is the story in vain, how once, in the mourning for Linos,

venturing earliest music pierced barren numbness, and how,

in the startled space an almost deifed youth

suddenly quitted for ever, emptiness first

felt the vibration that now lifts us and comforts and helps?


The complete poem in the translation I used can be found in Letters to a Young Poet/ The Possibility of Being by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by John M. Burnham.

Another translation by A.S. Kline can be found here: The Duino Elegies.

Another Rilke poem, The Seeker, is in my post Monotypes Made by Children.

a wonderful sketch of the poet Rilke by the Russian impressionist,  Leonid Pasternak

a wonderful sketch of the poet Rilke by the Russian impressionist, Leonid Pasternak

More monotypes and art inspired by Rilke: Piano Memories and A Childhood Memory

My own poems are at the bottom of the Creative Writing section.


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do/
With your one wild and precious life?”

—Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

“Path at Jacobsburg Park”    oil on board, 4x7 inches

“Path at Jacobsburg Park” oil on board, 4x7 inches

I feel myself growing older, and as I approach middle-age, I come up against the true limits of my energy, physically and mentally. My spirit longs to be infinite in its passion and creativity, but my body tells me that its resources are clearly finite. I dearly wish to manage my resources in the best way possible, and this has resulted in me reading a whole lot of books about time management and priorities. One of the very best books I have read so far is called Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.

The message of McKeown’s book is: Less, but Better. Basically, you can only do a few things really well. I guess this isn’t “news” but it was certainly helpful for me to read.

“There are a thousand things we could be doing. But there [are] only one or two that are important.” — Jack Dorsey

It follows that if you can only do a couple things really well, it’s important to pick the right things. You need to be honest with yourself about what your goals are.

Question: What is my goal?

My Answer: To have a regular studio practice. To get better and more authentic. To make progress with meaningful work. *

Once you know your main goal(s), you then must remove obstacles to your goal. You can do this by designing a routine where the essential is the default position. For me, the default is that I’m working in my studio on weekdays. I have set hours, and I stick to them.

*Besides having a regular Studio Practice, my other two main goals are to take care of my Health and spend time with my Family. Before taking on something new in my life, I must ask myself if it will become an obstacle to one of these three important goals.


“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” — Pablo Picasso

One huge obstacle for many people is over-committing to things that fragment your time and energy. For me, especially, I need to be wary of saying yes to anything that infringes upon my solitude, which is absolutely essential for my work. McKeown recommends a “Slow Yes, Quick No” approach. Also, it’s helpful to pause before you speak.

Before you commit to anything, ask yourself:

  • Am I investing in the right activities?

  • Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?

  • Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution to my goal?

  • Is this Essential?


“In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.” — Lao Tzu

McKeown advises his readers to “practice extreme preparation.” This means not packing too much “stuff” into your time. This will help you not to “do too much.” A good rule is to “add 50% to your time estimation.” So, if you think something will take you an hour, give yourself an hour and a half.

However, from my own personal experience, I would have to say that’s way too low. I need to give myself at least four times as much time as I think I need. So… my one hour project is really a four hour project. At least.

I hope that this blog post has helped you a little, and I encourage you to read the whole book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. You might also enjoy last week’s blog post in which I discuss Deep Work by Cal Newport.


What is essential?

Eliminate everything else.

Deep Work

“…time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.”

—Cal Newport


I just read Deep Work by Cal Newport, and I loved it. I highly recommend this book for everyone, but especially for artists. In an effort to really absorb the message of this book, I decided to summarize it in a blog post, focusing on the parts that have been most helpful to me.

I also illustrated it with some cartoons which I hope will make you smile!

So… here goes:

THE IDEA: Deep Work is Valuable, Rare, and Meaningful

  • In an age of network tools…knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative—constantly sending and receiving e-mail messages like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction.

  • If you spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness, you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work. (yikes!)

“This state of fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking.”   —Cal Newport

“This state of fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking.”

—Cal Newport

  • “…network tools [instagram etc.] are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused.”

  • resist this trend and prioritize depth!

  • “I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule.”

  • “…ruthlessly culling the shallow and painstakingly cultivating the intensity of my depth.”

  • “A deep life is a good life.”

  • High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

“Busyness is not the same as Productivity.”  — Cal Newport

“Busyness is not the same as Productivity.” — Cal Newport

THE RULES: Work Deeply, Embrace Boredom, Quit Social Media, Drain the Shallows

Work Deeply

  • work deeply. cultivate a deep work habit.

  • “You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.”

  • “…add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

  • Focus on the wildly important.

  • “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing…” — David Brooks, “The Art of Focus”

  • “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” —Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

  • “…time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.”

“…your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to…” — Cal Newport

“…your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to…” — Cal Newport

Embrace Boredom

  • Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.

  • Once you’re wired for distraction, you crave it.

  • “Do what Thoreau did, which is learn to have a little disconnectedness within the connected world—don’t run away.” — William Powers, Hamlet’s BlackBerry

  • Diminish your brain’s craving for these stimuli!! Resist switching to these distractions at the slightest hint of boredom.

  • Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times. Write down the times on a piece of paper! Keep the integrity of those offline blocks!


Quit Social Media

  • take back control of your time

  • “Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.”

  • again, willpower is limited

  • these services [social media] are engineered to be addictive!

  • When tempted to stray, ask yourself: “Do the benefits outweigh the harm?” (loss of deep work time is harmful)

  • “[Social media services] can be fun, but in the scheme of your life and what you want to accomplish, they’re a lightweight whimsy, one unimportant distraction among many threatening to derail you from something deeper.”

  • constantly checking social media weakens your mind’s general ability to resist distraction, making deep work difficult later when you really want to concentrate.

Drain the Shallows

  • treat shallow work with suspicion

  • become hard to reach

  • you don’t have to answer emails or texts immediately or plan a lot of meetings that fragment your deep work.


“Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention;

let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”

— Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges, a Dominican friar and professor of moral philosophy


I hoped you liked this post. I can’t say enough good things about this book, Deep Work, by Cal Newport. He also wrote a book called Digital Minimalism which has been profoundly helpful to me.

Next week I’ll talk about Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

River Sketches

“I will come to your river/
Wash my soul again…”

—Ibeyi, “River”

View from Riverside Park , charcoal on paper, 9.5x13.25 inches

View from Riverside Park, charcoal on paper, 9.5x13.25 inches

Last Thursday, the sunshine was so delightful and warm, it was impossible to stay indoors. I took my sketchbook and drawing supplies and walked along the river, finding quiet places to stop and be. I’m lucky to live at the intersection of two rivers, the Delaware and the Lehigh. Whenever I feel anxious, I find it soothing to sit near the river and contemplate its changing, moving waters.

Bridge over the Lehigh (1),  walnut ink on paper, 4x6 inches

Bridge over the Lehigh (1), walnut ink on paper, 4x6 inches

I found a sunny spot in the grass, and I sat there drawing for a long time. I didn’t look at my phone, so I wasn’t even sure how much time had passed, which was a truly liberating experience. It was also refreshing to just play around with my art supplies and be creative without any clear goal.

I really liked this view of the two bridges over the Lehigh River, with hills and church domes in the background. I did two versions of this composition.

Bridge over the Lehigh (2),  marker on paper, 4x6 inches

Bridge over the Lehigh (2), marker on paper, 4x6 inches

Even though I had a hat and sunscreen, I got a little sunburn, which actually felt delightful, surprisingly. I think my body has been missing the sunshine.

Train Bridge over the Merging Rivers , pencil on paper, 6x8 inches

Train Bridge over the Merging Rivers, pencil on paper, 6x8 inches

My son asked me recently which season was my favorite, and I paused for a long time before answering. In fact, I couldn’t really pick one. But I do know that Spring is the season which I always feel is over too soon. I wish it would last a little bit longer: the frothy pale green and lacy blossoms and the fluffy little goslings…

Sketch of a family of geese,  pencil on paper, 4x4 inches

Sketch of a family of geese, pencil on paper, 4x4 inches

As I walked home, I passed a bright stretch of green grass doted with yellow buttercups.. The baby geese, stumbling in their fluffy little bodies, were following their mom happily.

This might be something to paint someday…

“Family of Geese”  monotype, 6x6 inches

“Family of Geese” monotype, 6x6 inches

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring comes and the winter.”

— Rachel Carson, as written out in a recent letter from a friend


“The dance of pie is the dance between the perfect and the beautiful.”

—Grace LeClair, Pie: family recipes, how to’s, and stories

Today I have a sweet treat for you! Here is a collection of some of my new pie paintings, thanks to the scrumptious and delicious baking of my friends, Lisa Yelagin and Anne Gerr, who own Pie + Tart bakery. (Unless otherwise noted, the paintings depict pies made by Lisa and Anne.)

My paintings are accompanied here in this blog post by the writing of my friend, Grace LeClair, from her wonderful cookbook/memoir/ love story: Pie. *

“Pie: Family recipes, how to’s, and stories”

by Grace Le Clair (excerpts)

Pie holds an almost mystical place in my family. The crust that contains the filling, the roundness, the alchemy of turning raw fruits of field and tree into something touched by hands and fire and thereby transformed, filling the mouths of those we love.

And pie is just as down to earth as it is mystical— celebratory of the simple pleasures of a task well done, a day in the field, shared food, sweetness and good company. Pie is a plain food, touched by hands. I cherish the crimp that holds the bottom and top crusts together, evidence of the hands of the maker.

My hands hold the memory of my grandmother’s hands as I repeat her motions, crimp and turn, crimp and turn. It is from her that I learned that we perpetuate eternity by our actions of the moment, small things that by their repetition make enduring patterns….

Giving and Receiving

For me, pie brings up the larger topic of giving and receiving. I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents on their farm. My grandfather came in from his fields and sat at my grandmother’s table that was always ready. “Drink, Ma,” he would say. “Bread, Ma.” She bustled to provide these things, a meal of meat and potatoes, then pie.

“It’s not up to my usual,” was my grandmother’s introduction to her amazing pies. It was her preparation for and defense against my grandfather’s strange but consistent response to them. His first bite and the table grew quiet, waiting for his verdict, too often a gleeful cry of “Sowah!” the liftng of the crust and dumping of sugar on her marvelous filling, tender blend of apple cinnamon and sweetness. If the pie was not deemed “sowah,” it might instead be “s-w-e-e-e-t.” Once in a while, very rarely, a pie would merit the stellar rating of “pretty good.”

“Since you don’t seem to like my pies, I won’t be making them for you anymore for a while.” That’s what I imagined her saying, but she never did. She continued her sweet and sour blend of artistry and martyrdom, giving consistently in the face of my grandfather’s seeming unwillingness to receive.

Last Thoughts, Good Wishes

The dance of pie is the dance between the perfect and beautiful.

To find pie freedom, imagine you are making one hundred pies and this is just one, about to be devoured by the most appreciative audiences…

The joy in giving pleasure overcomes the fear of imperfection and failure. The celebration of beauty—all those fruits, all those round shapes, all those dear friends in the kitchen, all those beloveds eating pie.

The encounter with flour and shortening and salt, fruit and sweetener, the gentle tossing, the rolling, the heat, the waiting, the aroma, the cutting of the pie. This is the same vulnerability we have all the time. Is how I am OK? Is what I bring to life enough? How is my offering going to be received?

“It’s not up to my usual.” My grandmother’s defense against my grandfather’s criticism is something I want to replace with a heartfelt, “here I am and here’s my pie,” a freedom partly dependent on assuring myself loving recipients and partly on the willingness to just be.

“Sweet Potato Pie” oil on canvas mounted on board, 7.5x8.5 inches    (This pie was baked by my 12 year old daughter, Nell)

“Sweet Potato Pie” oil on canvas mounted on board, 7.5x8.5 inches (This pie was baked by my 12 year old daughter, Nell)

I love this photo of Anne and Lisa! Come visit  Pie + Tart  next time you are in Easton, Pennsylvania!

I love this photo of Anne and Lisa! Come visit Pie + Tart next time you are in Easton, Pennsylvania!

PS. Below are a few extra pie paintings, depicting pies made by my good friend Liza Feltimo. I felt like they wanted to be part of this blog post, so here they are.

“Honey Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Honey Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Blueberry Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Blueberry Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Key Lime Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Key Lime Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

*For your own copy of Grace’s cookbook, which is filled with stories and recipes, please email Grace LeClair:

Monotypes Made by Children

“…and still I do not know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a continuing great song?”


Here are some of the monotypes made by the kids during Sunday School recently. Once a month, I lead an art class for the Sunday School at Trinity Church, and I’m constantly amazed by what the children create!


The Seeker

I live my life in ever widening circles,

each superseding all the previous ones.

Perhaps I never shall succeed in reaching

the final circle, but attempt I will.

I circle around God, the ancient tower,

and have been circling for a thousand years,

and still I do not know: am I a falcon,

a storm, or a continuing great song?

—poem by Rainer Maria Rilke,

translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Here is the bulletin board full of monotypes, a small sampling of what was created.

Here is the bulletin board full of monotypes, a small sampling of what was created.

Secrets to Happiness: Journal After Italy (part 2)

“Art that is deeply felt and valued is the energy source for all art-making.”

Peggy Campbell, friend and poet

Sequel to Journal After Italy (part1)

Oct. 3, 2017

I wish I could lose sight of myself, my ego, my fears, and just paint, explore, take risks…

“let it grow on it's own…” as Nancy Bossert suggested when I interviewed her for the Irregular.

Well, it will happen. I’ll have days like today. I just need to honor my studio hours and trust that good things will follow.

Oct. 10

So today I painted for 3 hours and I don’t feel satisfied with what I made. But, that’s ok. I mean, painting is learning. I’m not always going to crank out shining pieces of art that people are eager to buy. What I keep stumbling up against is this realization that the chiaroscuro work feels boring to me. I can’t seem to accept it, and I keep choosing to do it rather than other things, because it “feels safe.” But I can’t shake this feeling that it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing.

I know I’m afraid of messing up and making bad art, but that’s OK.

New goal: Make some bad art while growing and exploring!

“ Morning Alone”  painted paper collage, 4x6 inches

Morning Alone” painted paper collage, 4x6 inches

Oct. 19

3:30 pm, waiting in the sun for the schoolbus. It’s warm and it smells good: warm autumn smells. I’m looking forward to seeing the kids again, loving them! Hugging them! Listening to them chatter. I love them so much!

The trees across the street wave so gracefully in the warm breeze, so gently, their beautiful greens are so interesting. I think about how I might mix those greens. Tomorrow I’m going to paint outdoors…

I feel like I’m settling into a good autumn rhythm, finding space in each day for all the important things.

my family, reading (see    Storytime Sketches   )

my family, reading (see Storytime Sketches)

Oct. 20

“Art that is deeply felt and valued is the energy source for all art-making.”

Peggy Campbell, friend and poet

“Depth takes time.” —- ibid

Oct. 21

I feel so miserable. I cry at red-lights. I’m so sad. Will I always be sad? My heart hurts so much.

Oct. 22

Utterly overcome by sorrow.

I can’t really fight these emotions. I just have to be gentle with myself.


[I modeled for an art class at Lafayette College, taught by Ed Kerns.]

Ed Kerns, the professor, had a brief yet stimulating chat with me before class. He had some good observations about me as an artist.

“You’re authentic,” he said. “You’re physical. You want it. But you have not stepped up to your next level of mentor. You want the painting to be so friggin’ good, and it can be, but you gotta be physical with it. You gotta go bigger.” He advised me to get a canvas size closer to gesture size. He also told me to look up the artist Ying Li (whom he could connect me with, if I wished.) She is a juicy painter, driven by natural processes rather than a subject. Her drawings are searching, her art is hard-won (like mine.) A lot of physical scraping and moving, Ed explained.

I was so moved and inspired by my short conversation with Ed. How can he know me so well? The things he said were like bursts of light illuminating the darkness within me…

Where St. Francis Walked (by      Ying Li     )   2006, oil/canvas, 30x40"

Where St. Francis Walked (by Ying Li)
2006, oil/canvas, 30x40"

I miss Italy. I wish I could be there again, walking the hot streets, looking at lemon and cypress trees growing in people’s yards, and all that good food…

Lemon tree in someone’s yard in Civita Castellana, Italy…

Lemon tree in someone’s yard in Civita Castellana, Italy…

Oct. 26, 2017

Secrets to Happiness:


  1. go on a long walk outside

  2. Make Art

  3. Rest

  4. Spend time with family and friends

Nov. 1st, 2017…

At noon I walked to the college art building and Ed Kerns met me. We talked a bit. Then he GAVE me two large canvases! (30x40 inches)

“Make good paintings,” he said.

I nodded like an idiot.

When I got home I practiced the piano. I’m learning two Tchaikovsky pieces, and I let my mind clear. When I’m playing music, and also at times when I’m painting, I have that wonderful freeing sensation of forgetting myself.

I’m so scared to paint large. But…. I have done other scary things. Like…

  1. Giving Birth (twice!)

  2. travelling alone to Italy

  3. calling myself an artist

So, I can do hard, brave things.