Argh! Midlife crisis!

I jest, I jest.

Well, maybe I have a little midlife crisis.  I’m about to…. (drumroll please) switch from acrylics to oils.

It happened like this.  Due to the neighbor problems that caused me to buy a house in the first place, I hadn’t felt much like painting in quite a while.  Who knew acrylics can go bad inside a sealed tube?  When I was transferring my stuff from apartment to house, I realized that nearly every tube and bottle of acrylic paint was lumpy, half coagulated, and resistant to re-mixing.


Or is it?

Living in this house with all its possibilities has caused me to think a little more creatively – and since I’ve always wanted to try painting with oils, and have rediscovered the wet on wet painting technique via Bob Ross, why not replace my acrylics with oils?

Problem solved, opportunity found.

The cost is a little higher, yes, okay maybe a lot higher, but like the watercolors and colored pencils I used on the greeting card you see above, oil paints take a lot more punishment before going bad.

For cleaning I am going to use orange oil (similar properties as lavender spike oil, used by artists before turpentine was common) and for those really hard jobs, stinky mineral spirits.  I don’t want to use odorless mineral spirits because most of the danger is still there without the warning signs.  This will be supplemented by an open window, and open door, and an exhaust fan in my study/studio.

Some of my brushes will still work.  My canvasses can be reused.  Same with my gesso.  I think this will be an interesting adventure, and hopefully start a love affair with oils.

So there you have it… my version of a midlife crisis.


The Moon and Clouds

Tonight it’s so beautiful.  The bright, round moon is picking out the clouds in such a fascinating way, and the trees and other objects in the area make a deep contrast to show just how bright the sky is tonight.  This little digital painting was my attempt to capture some of the light values so that someday I might do a much better, more detailed work, possibly in chalks.  It made me happy to paint it.

night sketch.png

Unhappy Accidents

Fred Rogers’ mother told him as a child that when terrible things happened he should always look for the helpers.

That advice hasn’t stayed with me as firmly as it should, not all the time anyway, and I admit my faith in humanity often slips.  Today I had cause to be reminded that there are still good people out there, even if they aren’t as often captured on cell phone video or posted on YouTube.

I was sitting at my coffee shop this bright and sunny morning, with my spouse.  She had a cold brew and cacao, I was celebrating her negative pathology results with an iced chai.  Deliciousness in a glass, that.  We were having a peaceful time.

The front porch of the coffee shop faces a busy, six lane street.  We see plenty of near misses and traffic on that street and often comment on the interesting or colorful cars that we see.  Not long before, a bright green VW van had gone by, with huge daisies impeccably painted on it, followed by a gorgeous deep purple Dodge Challenger.  Lovely car.

A little while later we saw something that wasn’t so lovely.  A rental car stopped too fast in order to turn in to a driveway, a small sedan was following a touch too close.


In an instant, the one who had been rear ended was driving away up the street, carried by instinct I think, and the car who had been behind was a wrecked and smashed mess that was bleeding fluids everywhere.  Radiator fluid, steering fluid, brake fluid – it was a pinkish red, spreading puddle.  I sniffed the air and did not smell gas, to my relief.

My spouse headed up the street to check the other driver.  I stayed to watch our stuff.  A young man and woman got out of the car, along with a cat carrier.  Spouse came back after a bit, gave me the license plate number and said the person in the car was all right and on the phone with 911.

The forlorn couple with the smashed car were on their phones as well.  I ran over to let them know I had the license plate number in case they needed it.  When emergency services came, everyone migrated to the front patio of the coffee shop, it was the nearest place with chairs.

What I noticed then was all the helpers.  The cops being gentle with the drivers, the EMTs putting patient care above all else, the woman nearby who brought water for one of the drivers. The people who came to help both drivers, offering comfort and support.   We had our own job too.  We got to cat-watch.  The occupant of the cat carrier was an older kitty with a broken arm, they’d been taking him to the vet to get his cast changed.  I was happy to see his owners loved him enough to get him a vet’s help.  We looked after him a couple of times as the young couple had to take care of various things related to the accident.

Soon I saw people coming to help both sets of drivers.  I checked to see if the young couple needed a ride anywhere or a cup of coffee.  At the end, when the wrecks had been cleaned up and the cops were gone, I saw the drivers of both cars shake hands – young man and older woman, showing respect for each other.  There was no screaming match, they behaved like civilized people.

I tell you it almost made me cry I was so happy to see it.

It was a terrible thing to happen – but in the end, everybody was all right.  No one was hurt, and I saw so much caring and regard on that coffee shop patio.

I saw helpers that day.

Happy Accidents

Silence would reign in the house of my young parents.

A bump.  A crash.  Then a suspicious silence.

A young voice, maybe two or three, calling in a rather brash way…



I did that when I was little.  My poor parents.  Hey, at last I let them know something was up!

Accidents are generally bad things, and I strive to avoid them.   However, sometimes the more I try to avoid them, the more I make mistakes!  It’s a nasty cycle.

Here comes Bob Ross with a nugget of wisdom that is deeper than it seems.

“There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”

Much like Yoda’s “try not, only do,” this isn’t saying you shouldn’t try to do your best.  After all, would it be a mistake if you weren’t trying to do well?

After some thinking about this statement, I came to realize that he’s talking about learning to work with whatever happens, whether you planned it or not, and that will lead you to turn some mistakes into opportunities, make fewer mistakes in general, and be happier with what happens.

In art, and in life, I think we could all use a dose of that.

It’s a wonderful and relaxing attitude and I think I may turn it into a tattoo.

The walking, talking blood pressure pill

I’m not the only one who’s stressed out.  There’s busy traffic, suicidal pedestrians, work pressures, bills, unexpected life events, medical concerns, judgemental people, cats trying to trip you, price fluctuations, eternal questions about life, the Universe, and Everything.  I’d make an exhaustive list but quite frankly, Dear Reader, we don’t have that kind of time.

I (and practically everyone else on this planet) often seek ways to reduce stress.  Perhaps a Zen koan, a few moments of meditation, some soothing tea, a relaxing game.  A hobby.  Creating a refuge.  Baking.  Once again, there are so many things to try that we don’t have the time needed to list them.

I rediscovered an old favorite, someone with a voice that’s like a mug of warm cocoa and a hug for the ears.  I feel my blood pressure dropping as he speaks.  I feel whole, like I’m okay, like I’m Just Enough, like I can do anything when I listen.

I’m talking about Bob Ross, of course.

During his long career as a painting instructor on PBS he taught a lot of people to make art.  But he also tried to tell everyone that they could believe in themselves.  The paintings he gave away after each show have been sold to make money for charity.  He was like Mister Rogers for adults.  Once a hard-ass Sargent in the Air Force, he had a dream of never having to yell or scream at anyone again.  He found ways to make art.  He learned the wet-on-wet oil painting technique that let him create whole paintings during short snatches of time, when he escaped the rigidity of the Service to create his own world.

I came looking for Zen and I found Bob.

I don’t paint with oils – too messy.  But I can use some of his techniques with other media.  I want to learn to keep that vision and that peace that he offers through his show in my heart.  To continue to strive for excellence, but temper it with gentleness and playfulness.  So that no matter what, art stays fun.

From now on I’m going to try and watch at least one of his episodes per week, as a meditation but also a way to learn to create that kind of hopeful world within my heart.

Here’s to you, Bob.  You left the world better than you found it.

“There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”

Latest Commission

kathy bike 1500.jpg

It’s a great thing to finally have a dedicated room for art that I don’t also have to share with a bunch of household storage, odds and ends, the family vacuum cleaners and I don’t know what all.

Having everything close to hand makes me want to be more productive!  This was a small commission for a family member, who wanted an old style girl’s Schwinn with a basket of flowers on the front.  I found a photo of an old Phantom and did what I could.

For those who are interested, I used hot rolled watercolor paper, then sketched the frame and details with a mechanical pencil.  Very lightly, of course.  I did some of the shading with the mechanical pencil and finalized the lines.  I put on the color with wax based colored pencils, then made the background with some washes, and finished everything with an ultra fine manga style ink marker.

I hope my client likes it – there are things I could improve but all in all it’s all right.  The details are a little rough because of the small scale, which is roughly 8 1/2 by 11.




Life with backyard chickens

beak bird chicken close up
Photo by Souvik Pradhan on

If you want to live with chickens, prepare for noise.

Even if you leave that noisy rooster (who doesn’t just crow at dawn, mind you, he crows often during the day, pretty much when he feels like it, and his voice carries for miles) at the feed store, the hens will make a racket.

You know how hens just make soft clucking sounds in movies?  Well, they do that, but they also have their ultra-loud “I just laid an egg and it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever done” call, that usually sets off the other hens, until they finally settle down.  Until another one lays an egg, that is.  That one sounds like “buckbuckbuckbuck B’GAWK!” repeated seemingly ad infinitum.

Then there’s the “I’m really completely hungry and haven’t eaten in days” sound that sounds like a raspy “raaaaaaaaaawk, raaaaaaaaawk, raaaaaaaaaaaaawk,” and once again has all the hens involved.  I don’t care how often you feed them, chickens are basically bottomless stomachs and have very little memory.  So they always think they are hungry.

I love taking care of chickens, and I even love the obnoxious roosters.  But they’re a bird for the country unless you have understanding neighbors.  My advice is, bribe them with fresh eggs.

Did you know chickens can fly?  Surprisingly long distances at times, even for the fat, heavy ones?  They can get up on roofs, into trees, and over fences.

Chickens are good for pest control, provided you don’t allow them near baby plants.  You might try a portable run that you could move around the yard.  Properly fenced, they are an asset.  The eggs are fantastic when you have your own chickens, they even taste better than the fancy free range cageless eggs at the store.  Chicken manure is great for your garden if you age it properly.   They will help you dispose of kitchen scraps and my even kill rats and mice.  Mine did, anyway.  Some chickens will become friendly and start following you around.   So definitely have them if you can, just be aware that it’s not at all like what you see in the movies!

That’s what I learned from a childhood of chicken-keeping!