Today, I found my almost-6-year-old son on this ledge worriedly kneeling over a plant. He turned to me and pointed at it.
“What happened?” He asked.
“It’s dead. Daddy killed it.” I said. I’m sorry Dad. It was a flippant response. Dad has an amazing green thumb. This spot has been a difficult gardening space and the plant has been dead for 6 months easily, probably longer.
I did not expect my son’s response.
Daire choked up and fought his tears from spilling over. He wiped them away, trying not to let me see.
He has teared up like this before. Recently, I described Mt St Helens eruption. We watched a short video and his tears let loose as he learned 57 people died, all the animals gone and the trees completely blasted down. The story hurt him the way it hurt the earth.
It concerns me that he doesn’t want me to see the tears. I gave him a kiss and told him that I loved how much he cares. He leaned over and hugged me, a wonderful vulnerable moment shared openly.
“Do you know what happens when we die?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“We become a part of the world around us. When I die I will become a part of you, and Dana and your favorite places on the earth.”
He nodded, thinking.
“I don’t think it happens that way.” He said finally.
“I think we get old and then we die, then we are born again.” He nodded firmly, very confident.
“Yes. I believe that happens too. We become new beings.” I paused. “Is that sad or scary?”
He was still fighting his tears but he said “No.” Nothing more.
But it is change. Monumental, unstoppable, life-altering change.
The Magic Tree painting starts with a couple of lively sisters, 5 and 8, that love to climb trees and a mom that loves everything these girls teach her. When the family had their kitchen remodeled they all decided they wanted a painting. And of course the girls insisted it had to be a tree.
I am honored to be recruited for the project.
I visited their house, took pictures of their kitchen, noted the colors, absorbed preferences and listened to mom talk about trees, her kids and climbing. The assignment was a tree. I honestly didn’t know what it would look like when I left. But I had some ideas.
I sat down to sketch them out. A magic tree emerged, with a climber, to capture those magical moments and memories the family will always have of their climbers.
For reasons that can only be attributed to my manic painting behavior, I only had sketch paper available, all other boards were being used. When this sketch emerged on regular paper I knew it was what I wanted. I tried to paint over the sketch so that mom could get an idea of colors.
The colors are not what I intended. It is amazing how the colors just don’t match when painted on regular paper and you simply can’t work the color the same way to bring them out – the paper will disintegrate first.
Lesson learned: Always use watercolor paper when sketching an idea for a client.
Despite this, mom liked the composition, but not the colors. To clarify this key point before I started painting, I mocked up a color palette on watercolor paper and a detail of the painting to share with her.
I like the detail so much, I might just finish the painting soon, now that things are settling down.
With these three mock ups in place, mom was confident and gave me the go ahead to begin the 24″ x 18″ painting.
Mom let me post the progress on facebook and I kept her updated on progress. It took two weeks to finish, mostly because I was also trying to prep for my studio party. This painting would have taken about a week otherwise.
Here are the progress pictures:
As I posted these on social media, there were some interesting comments about leaving the climber as a negative space, including from my husband. This posed the question as to whether I should paint the climber or not. I had deliberately left the climber to the end to make sure I got a good balance of shading and color for it.
I asked mom what she thought, and she debated, but we agreed to paint it.
I wanted to paint it. I’m keenly aware that as a painting emerges there is a fear of f**king it up when it is coming along so nicely. There is a balance in that space and it takes a lot of thinking, reasoning and faith to not let the fear control the artistic decisions. I knew some subtle shading would add depth, and made the climber look like a child-like symbol instead of a ghost (in my mind). But it was a difficult space to be in at the end of the painting. Mostly, I had to believe in myself and my vision, not always easy. Mom really believed in my instincts and I’m grateful for that.
In the end, I’m pleased. More importantly, the family is pleased. When they came to pick up the painting, both girls were sure the climber was them. Exactly. Don’t many of us identify with the climber? The parents commented how much better it looked in person (it really does).
And the painting looks even more amazing in the kitchen.
And my first run of prints is gone, a couple sold before I finished the painting and the last two sold at my studio party. A wonderful success.
If you would like to learn more about my commission process and prices, you can visit my Commissions & Services page for an overview or contact me directly.
Limited Edition customized prints (of 25) are now available for $65. Contact me directly for purchasing information.
Did you know that a baby sea turtle isn’t much bigger than a ping pong? And they are dark, almost black. From afar, they could be wet bark and then they move. Amazing. As they grow they stretch that layer thin and the green reveals itself.
Seeing one is witnessing a breathing miracle. The one in Mexico was deadly persistent in its pursuit of the sea. A wondrous role model. Sadly, it didn’t make it. There were many factors against the poor thing, including the crowd of tourists, the daylight, the gentle-ish yet inconsistent surf and the pelicans circling overhead. The survival rate of a baby turtle is about 1% and humans contact lower these chances more. Yes, we can kill them with our love.
It did not escape my daughter, Dana, that this was a and uncommon and momentous event. She drew the experience and then steadily persisted that I paint her drawing.
I’m grateful for sea turtle markings which are like an unique topographical map, and gave me some artistic freedom. Dana wanted a golden head. So gold she had it and though I was challenged by it, I’m thankful to not have to map that artistic decision.
Although I’m an abstract and illustrative artist sometimes I find myself struggling with the seen and seek permission to break through the literal. Why do I need permission? Why do I feel like my painting must look like what is? That makes me laugh. I insist there is much we don’t see. I’m very interested in making the invisible, visible. And yet, I struggle. It is a human bind.
Every choice is very deliberate in art making, even when it seems arbitrary. This turtle tested the balance between symbols, color, memory, relationships and art. Because in part, it had to be a turtle as you and I know it while more fantastic to satisfy my child and the child in all of us.
My father, who died 17 years ago, used to keep a 5 gallon water jug for spare change. It was a way of saving, a game and my confession: my brother and I used to “steal/borrow” from it as children.
Dad wanted to see if he could fill it up but he expected to live much longer than 49 years…so he didn’t. And our sneaking didn’t help his goal, the quarters disappeared fast.
After he died, my mom kept it and added a little to it over the years.
Today, she handed it over to our kids; a heavy bowlful of change that can’t be counted in one sitting. It is a gift from a ghost and from a time when having kids were little more than maybe a thought to the 23-year-old me.
My kids are through-the-roof excited.
Dad touches them, with a small habit, very tangibly right now like a small bit of time travel. I’m happy he could give them something they feel at this age, a small brushing of souls.
He touches us in many unseen ways too.
And maybe he meant to save the money for them and maybe he didn’t. I don’t know.
But legacies play this way. We think we know what we leave behind, but we don’t. We just do our best and leave it for the people left behind to make meaning of it. The meaning making is our legacy.
Dana is happier with the turtles progress now. The water has pulled in the ideas she was exploring in her drawing. She notices this. She feels seen, she feels important. I have had a small moment of connection and motherly victory. I'll take what I can get. I get a lot of eye rolls and sighs these days too.
I also washed the head in some deep yellow because she suggested a golden head. I'm really going to have to think about the head now. I'll look at some pictures, but as I write some ideas are forming.
So much of painting is looking, studying, thinking. I often take long breaks and photos on my cell phone so I can just look. Before I had my studio, I used to prop my painting at at the end of the bed before I went to sleep, just to look at it and make decisions for my next painting session.
Her original drawing has a nest of eggs. She has told me not to include it now. Honestly, I'm glad to not include it, I knew it would be challenging to design. It will let me focus on the other elements more thoroughly. I think it will also reflect the experience of seeing the turtles more acurately. And in some way, that makes it more magical for me, and less scientific. Is that weird? The turtle just appears and we don't know where it comes from now.
For me, There is a point in painting, when a the painting goes from being a painting “of something” to a reflection of my viewpoint, where I and the painting merge. At this point I internally say “Now, this is me, now I'm heading somewhere,”. It is as if I and the painting are making our ways towards each other.
Ironically, often when I'm done, I laugh and think I must be a little insane. I don't mind being crazy as long as it makes me laugh.
It is interesting to me how the practice of art is a melding of personalities and roles. The artist is the giver and the receiver is the subject or client or both. But somewhere in this process, I feel I’m gaining a very precious gift and our roles are reversed. I am grateful.
My daughter wants me to paint her turtle drawing (this is absolutely necessary since I finished Daire’s Dragon).
Daire’s dragon in many ways reflects him. It is all energy, desire and a frenetic wanting of everything without compromise. My son is 5, almost 6.
This turtle is calmer and more grounded, like my daughter. We saw baby turtles in Mexico this winter and large green turtles laying eggs in Costa Rica a couple years ago. It was magical, of the real life kind, both experiences were awe-inspiring. Unlike a dragon, turtles are a real life story. She draws what she sees and learns, she is very scientific and loves the natural world.
When she saw my progress, she was clear she wants more stimulating colors like the dragon – a golden head for example. This surprised me a little. She wants, in many ways, more of me in the painting. She also expressed the knowledge that I was only just beginning, and had confidence the end would be a lot different. She pays attention that way.
What I’m noticing is that through art, the giver and receiver express their relationship and that relationship matures in the process. It is very intimate and so wonderfully human.
I feel this in all the paintings I have done for others, but witnessing it being expressed from my daughters point of view is very touching and expanding. She is 8 almost 9, and really defining herself as a person. In doing so she is also defining me as her mother. She is making sense of me.
And this is in part what this painting is about, a mother making sense of her daughter and her daughter doing it right back.
Something we will do for the rest of our lives I suspect. I am grateful for it.
Inspiration comes from the most unexpected places. This drawing is my son’s most recent dragon. A dragon that spits fire, water, rainbow, stars, snow, and anything else that comes to my boy’s mind. I love the energy that went into his frenzied inspiration as he drew and told the story of this dragon. I love the large lower jaw and teeth, the chicken legs and ultra-fancy wing. The composition of the body is a dragon meets T-Rex meets Tasmanian devil without arms. Fierce but friendly, a dragon that means well, powerful and ultimately scary but awe-inspiring. As I watched this dragon unfold, and listened to Daire’s story, I knew I had to paint this one.
Been working on adding more basic decoration to all of the dragon, working in one green for the body with the intent to bring in other shades later for depth. The wings are shades of pink, purple and cobalt blue and all shades within in but I’ll come back to them and bring more shading in as well.
I’ve deepened the coloring in the body and wings and started coloring in his fire, water, stars breathing capability. I haven’t decided if he is sitting on a cloud, a rainbow, the moon, a tree, a flower yet. I just can’t seem to decide, maybe I will ask Daire himself.
At times, our most beloved feel most distant and those closest most mysterious. Their landscape is illusive, incomplete, and barely graspable. The more complex, the more unknowable. The more loved, the more blind.