The Courageous Heart

Art to Heart, oil on canvas

Art comes from the heart. No question about it. The brain may be involved but the flow of creativity is a direct result of the heart’s willingness to put on paper, canvas, clay, wood or whatever the chosen medium is, what is inside. In some it is cloth and thread. Others it is flour or spice or herb and the oven. Art comes in many forms. Design is art. As is the work in a garden. In each and every case, that work comes from the heart. Whether one is a professional or hobbyist or somewhere in between, it is the heart that makes the creativity happen. It takes a great deal of courage to lay that heart out for the world to see in whatever creative form it takes. So what happens to that heart when the eyes that see become the mouth that hurts? What if you have your work before critical eyes that go with a brutal mouth?

The question is one that takes courage to look at and courage to work through. Sometimes one unthinking, ugly response to one’s heartfelt expression of creativity can be enough to stop a person from ever creating again. Or severely limiting what is done or shown to the critical eye. Wounds take time to heal. The deeper and more heartfelt they are, the longer and tougher the healing time. Can that pain be stopped cold in its tracks? Can one stare down the arrows that come from an uncaring, insensitive soul? Yes it can! It must be confronted directly in whatever form that takes. Not in repaying barb for barb but binding up the wound and standing up to block the barbs. Deflecting each and every barb where possible. To turn the thrown darts back at the thrower is also effective when to do so can be done without taking part in dart throwing in return.

When critical darts are unthinkingly hurled, stand up and refuse to let them hit the target. It takes courage to put your heart out there through an art. Stand on that courage. The look at what is hurled and see if it can be broken down into something constructive. Many times it is simply constructive criticism thrown in a harsh, thoughtless manner. Dissect what is there. Is there something to be learned and taken to heart? There is the healing. Was what was said coming from a bitter heart? Then show pity. There is healing there too. If there is learning to be had from a brutal critique, take it in and turn it from a rock into a diamond, with gratitude. Gratitude is a great healer. If the ugliness comes from an equally ugly heart, smile. A smile makes lots of ugliness go away.

Like Georgia O”keeffe says : “To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.”  So take up your courage and throw some paint on canvas! I wrote about the courage to paint in one of my first blog posts several years ago.

Some of the greatest creators of all time were once brutally rejected. Here they are in this post: The Power of Rejection.

Here is a post about how to keep your heart singing: The Singing Heart

Stand up. Stand strong. And let your heart sing!

Tuesday Morning Bird-Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle, pencil

Searching for a great photo of a bald eagle to paint from has been an endeavor I’ve undertaken for what seems like years. This summer at Kentucky Lake and the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, I’ve seen more Bald Eagles almost close enough for photos than ever. By pure accident, I was able to catch a photo of an immature Bald Eagle when he came right down by the boat to snatch a fish out of the water a few feet away. It happened so fast I almost didn’t get my camera up in time. It was a thrilling moment.

Juvenile Bald Eagle with Fish, Kentucky Lake

This photo was so accidental I don’t know if I will ever get the chance again to come so close. I am hoping to make a painting out of this guy. It seems to be fated. So far, I have only begun to explore the painting and how to begin the approach. Will I choose to make him his actual age or will I take him up to full adult status with the characteristic white head. The age estimate of this one is around 2 years. The white head fills in about age 5. Or so I’ve been told. When this one came down to get his fish, I wasn’t sure it was an eagle without the white head visible. I was able to get confirmation from the American Birding Association‘s Facebook page, “What’s this bird?” One of the ABA’s knowledgeable associates quickly identified and explained the markings. The ABA is an invaluable reference for the many birds I’m learning to identify.

Adult Bald Eagle, Kentucky Lake

By the end of the summer, I was able to get a few more photos of Bald Eagles, though none quite so good, to me, as The Fisherman on Kentucky Lake. He will stay as my favorite example of that special unplanned moment when my camera was fortunately close by. I must paint him soon! I can see some Bald Eagle paintings coming on! There is just something so fascinating about them, and not only because they are our national symbol. Maybe it is the fierce determination on their faces?

Injured Bald Eagle, Reelfoot Lake

Reelfoot Lake State Park and Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge in West Tennessee, provide care for injured Bald Eagles. The goal is to treat and return them to the wild. Not all can make it back to the wild. This one is forced to stay in captivity. His face shows no less of the fierce determination as his cousins in the wild. Bald Eagles truly are a majestic bird even in captivity. I didn’t talk to the rangers so don’t know if this one is on the mend and will be returned to the wild or not. From the look on his face, he seems to think he will be.

Bald Eagle with nest, St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, Florida

In The St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in Florida, this bald eagle nest is occupied throughout the winter months. I watched the pair for a photo op when I was spending time near there. They never came close enough for me to get a great shot but still I watched. There is that fascination again! It drove me to check regularly to see if they were flying close enough for a good photo but they never did. That year a hurricane directly hit St. Marks. I worried about the nest. It was out on the tip of a marsh where exposure to the hurricane was a very real danger. I couldn’t wait for a return to trip to see if they were still there and if the nest was unharmed. Finally, I was able to make it back. And yes, nest and birds survived the hurricane. They must know a lot more than humans about how to build a nest to survive a hurricane. Few human nests survived the same hurricane. Maybe we can learn from the eagles. I must paint them soon!

After the Hurricane, Bald eagles and their nest

PS: Monday Morning Birds is moving to Tuesdays!

Colorful Fridays-Forays in Gray

ink landscape2

“There’s so much gray to every story-nothing is so black and white.” Lisa Ling (from Brainyquote)

A sojourn into the land of grey can be extremely painful for those who are certifiably color addicted.  Gray can quickly turn into depressing or dull or any other sad state you can think of.  Most people associate grey with negative connotations such as, “It’s a gray day.”  Or “Gray skies today.”  One of the worst associations is “Battleship gray.”  Who wants to paint a battleship?  Well, somebody might but that’s beside the point.  The connotation is still unfortunate.  These associations give the whole family of grays a bad name and especially the most widely used grey, Payne’s Gray.

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 British watercolorist, William Payne (1760-1830), is believed to be the first artist to come up with this bluish grey, thus the name, Payne’s gray.  According to an article in Walker’s Quarterly published by Basil Long in 1922, Payne likely devised the color by blending a combination of indigo, raw sienna and lake.  Experimenting artists have come up with many combinations since to get the precise degree of bluish gray that is Payne’s gray.

Carol Gillot of the blog Paris Breakfasts states she combines ultramarine and bone black for Payne’s gray in her paintings.  Others have used combinations of Prussian blue and alizarin crimson for this particular gray. Personally, I have found the combination of viridian and alizarin crimson makes a nice Payne’s gray.  And there is always the straight stuff right out of the tube if you prefer to spend your time painting rather than mixing.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that all paintings with Payne’s gray must be negative.  A little play in the land of gray can explore new depths of shadow and form.  Painting strictly in gray can force the eye to see things that may otherwise be obscured by color.  So paint some gray skies and gray days.  Maybe even some battleships.  Have fun in the land of gray and see what happens.  Payne’s Gray could possibly break a total color addiction.  You never know, Payne’s Gray may even become a happy color.

Here are some artists doing wonderful things with Payne’s Gray:

quick sketch using only perylene maroon & paynes grey

Paintings by William Payne can be found at the Tate:

In case you want to know more things you can do with Payne’s Grey, here is a makeup artist teaching you how to create Payne’s Gray eye shadow:

Feeling The Rain

Chickadee, oil on canvas

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”Bob Marley (from

At the first sign of raindrops splattering on the windowpanes, most people run for cover. Or they unfurl an umbrella and search for the nearest shelter hoping not to get too wet. Still others stay indoors and refuse to come out until the rain stops. What if, instead of running, seeking shelter or staying indoors, people looked up to the dark overcast, forbidding sky and followed Gene Kelly’s example, and began to sing and dance. Instead of running for cover, throw hands up to the sky and let the rain pound down. What if, when the rains pound down on creativity, creative people jumped up and started to dance and sing.

It’s inevitable that the creative spirit will get drowned by daily life at some time or other. How long the drowning lasts, depends on the circumstances. Creative people, like any other group, hunker down and ride out the storm, hoping it won’t wash away too much creativity at the same time. A choice is made to hunker down. Nobody is forced to run for cover or unfurl an umbrella. They just do it because nobody wants to get wet. When it’s raining on the creativity parade, artists console each other and say sweet little nothings like, “don’t worry, the rain can’t last for ever.” What if the rain does last forever? What then?

How about refusing to hunker down? How about leaving the umbrella behind?   How about getting wet? Raining on creativity may be a signal that the artist has not being doing enough singing in the rain. The artist is so busy running for cover that the thought of stopping to sing and dance has never occurred. The next time the creativity parade gets rained on, turn toward the rain and check out what it feels like. Does it taste? Or smell? Tune in. It could be the rain is just watering the next creative idea. Jump in. Play Gene Kelly. And pity the souls who prefer to hunker down while artists are singing, dancing and a lot more than just getting wet. There’s no telling what creation may come from feeling the rain instead of running for cover.

In these days of lock downs and virus fear among all the other wild and crazy stuff going on, maybe a little Singing in the Rain is what we all need to get our art pumping again!

Monday Morning Birds-Cardinals

Cardinal Pair on Dark Blue, oil on canvas

“When cardinals appear, Angels are near.” From a poem by Victoria McGovern

Cardinals are a favorite for me. I love painting them. Their personalities are never quite clear. There is nothing like seeing that beautiful bright red on a snowy day or a day when the leaves have all gone brown. At this point, they are probably the bird I’ve painted the most. People seem to have an almost spiritual connection to them. They frequently tell me that a cardinal is a message from a loved one passed on. When they see a cardinal, it is a visit from the loved one. To see a painting of cardinals is to keep that loved one near always.

There are a number of places to read about where the story started about the cardinal’s relation to someone in the past. One such place is the Wild For Birds blog. A nice description on the site covers the high points of the meaning behind the cardinal as the main messenger bird. Most sources give the origin to the saying, “When cardinals appear, angels are near,” from a poem by Victoria McGovern. Read the complete poem on Bonnie Lecat Designs website.

Cardinal Pair on Teal, oil on canvas

I’ve painted so many of them that I have my paint colors down to a short list. My favorite red is Winsor Red from Winsor & Newton. It is more transparent than the cadmiums and does not have their toxicity. Indian Yellow brightens up both male and female bird when used in transparent layers. Payne’s Gray is my choice for the masks. I try to never use black if possible and Payne’s Gray will achieve the darkness I’m seeking but occasionally I’ll add a bit of Hooker’s Green to the Payne’s to create a little drama to play off the surrounding red. Zinc White or Mixing White are my lightener colors. Titanium White is too opaque and chalky for my tastes. A more transparent white is my preference. Occasionally, a bit of Lemon Yellow is needed to brighten up the lightest spots on the birds. Really only a few colors are needed to paint beautiful richly colored cardinals. The only other colors needed are your choice of background color and some Burnt Sienna and Naples Yellow for the twig.

Have fun painting a few “messenger birds!” Let me know if you get any messages!

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