Environmental Centers Part II

A popular scene to paint at the BFEC



If I had to choose just one place to paint for the rest of my life it would be the Brown Family EnvironmentalCenter at Kenyon College.  I painted there four times this summer and wouldn’t run out of scenes to paint if I went there 400 times.

There’s so much material to choose from:  flower gardens, a lily pond, a mini waterfall,  buildings, farmland,  the Kokosing River and bike path.  It makes me want to move back to Knox County!

A water feature in front of the farmhous 


The evening I painted the water running over the stones, the sun was being selective with the highlights.  I captured it as well as I could but I’d like to revisit that lighting in a new painting.  It’ll have to be plein air.  A photograph doesn’t have the nuance I want.

The View From Observatory Hill



I’m working on being a bit more subtle with color and texture.  I felt like I nailed it in this panoramic view looking down into the valley on the Fourth of July.  What I nice morning!




Stonehenge at Kenyon

I painted “Stonehenge” on COPA’s Saturday paint-out.  By the time I drove to Gambier the garden was already swarmed with painters and I was too lazy to walk to the river.  So I decided on the rock garden because I liked the shadows.  When I got home it looked much darker than it did on site, so it took a bit of adjustment to get it into shape.


The center’s manager, Noelle Jordan, welcomed our Central Ohio Plein Air group multiple times throughout the summer, keeping the center open on Wednesday evenings and the Fourth of July as well as one Saturday morning time slot.  All that work resulted in a show that opened at the end of July and runs through September.


Painting the Environment Part I

Photo of the Barn at Shepherd’s Corner

Most of my paintings this summer have been scenes at two environmental centers – Shepherd’s Corner, in Backlick, operated by the Dominican Sisters of Peace, and The Brown Family Environmental Center at Kenyon College.  This post will focus on Shepherd’s Corner.

I painted at Shepherd’s Corner one Friday last fall and spoke briefly with the gardener there.  This spring, the center’s director, Sister Rose Ann Van Buren followed up to see if I would help recruit other artists to paint there and donate the artwork to be sold at the center’s 25th anniversary celebration on September 16th.

A.J. the Shepherd

Inspiration for painting is everywhere you turn.  Shepherd’s Corner has a flock of sheep kept in line by A.J., the resident llama. He’s really quite vain and seemed to pose for photos.  He was once a show animal, so he’s got the modeling thing down pat.  This is an 8″x8″ pastel done from a photo.  While A.J. is an experienced model, I’m not skilled enough to paint a moving target.




Wild Ones

The farmer and volunteers raise vegetables sold at a farm stand, with massive amounts being donated to local food pantries.  While they are not certified organic, they do use organic practices.  This oil painting of the wild flowers was done plein air near the garden fence.







This painting was done from a photo taken on a day when the sky looked like rain at any minute.  I took the photo from a low angle looking up under the porch roof on the barn.




Reflections in the Vernal Pool


Part of the area is wild with meandering meditation trails and a labyrinth.  There’s a vernal pool with a bridge over the wetland.  There are surprising little spaces with benches or interesting views.




I really enjoyed painting there. I have so many more photos that I want to work into paintings.   I hope these paintings sell for a good price during the Shepherd’s Corner anniversary celebration in September.  It really is a worthy cause.

I posted an invitation to artists on three art organizations’ Facebook pages, but  I don’t think there was much response.  I understand why many artists aren’t keen on donating work. Sometimes charities sell it below market value which can have an impact on the rest of the artists portfolio.  Also, most people who request donations don’t know that artists can only use the cost of materials as a tax deduction, not the value of the artwork.  I’m very fortunate that neither of those considerations has a big personal impact, so off these paintings go to Shepherd’s Corner.  May they turn into dollars which in turn become vegetables for hungry people.



From Nothing to Something

Last summer I promised to do a landscape painting for the highest bidder in our parish festival silent auction.  One of my painter friends warned me that I’d be likely to get photos that would be difficult to work with, but I went blindly ahead.  (Pun intended.)

The couple who won the bid wanted a painting of the view from their favorite campground.  They promised to get a photo with fall color and email it to me.  Ideally I’d like to visit a location and take my own photos but the campground was more than an hour away so I waited for their photo.

After a gentle reminder, here’s the photo I received.

Oh, the challenges!  I needed to imagine a composition with a center of interest.  I loved the sky and I imagined that rolling hills were beautiful in person so I at least had a starting point.   When I enlarged the photo I could see some buildings near the fields in the distance so I decided on a barn as the focal point.  I emailed the couple and told them that I’d need to make some adjustments and asked if the rolling hills were their main interest in this scene.  They agreed so I started with a pencil sketch to work out my ideas.

I decided to go with oils instead of pastels or watercolors and chose a 16 x 20 inch canvas so that I could wrap the scene around the edges in case they didn’t want to frame it.

I started with an underpainting using burnt sienna.  I haven’t been using earth colors from the tube in my oil paintings, but I thought it would unify this fall scene and provide a framework. I sent  the couple a pic so they could follow the progress.

I let if rest a few days while I worked on other things.  As I began adding color to the background I shot a few photos along the way.


The road was definitely not working yet.

I smoothed it out and added the couple.






The foreground still needed something interesting and I wanted to get across the idea of a campground. Maybe a few camp chairs facing toward the view, as if the couple had just gotten up?  That didn’t work, so I decided to do picnic tables.

The tables started out a bit grey but I warmed them up with the burnt sienna. (I’m not a fan of the color gray.)   I was  waiting for the painting to dry so I could varnish it and send it to its new home when I decided it needed more highlights.  So here is the final version (I think).



I’ve been wanting to do a picture of Lucy for quite a while.  She’s the faithful sidekick who nestles under my desk chair when I’m blogging.  While most of February was warm, we did have one snowy morning where I sat in my rocker reading and drinking tea while  Lucy watched robins in the snow.  She’s pretty vigilant about any activity outside that door.  I didn’t get any good pictures of the robins, but I did get a few of Lucy.

I’ve found that my oils and pastels turn out much better if I do a detailed pencil sketch to really study the composition and work out the shapes and values.  Overall I liked the sketch  but there was too much foreground.  I was going for a feeling of coziness with snow and cold outside the door, so I decided to leave in the rocking chair and granny square afghan (made by my granny, better known as Baba).  I let those details sink into the shadows so that Lucy could remain the starring attraction.

I had just watched a DVD by Richard McKinley about the stages in creating a pastel.  I wanted to experiment with Pastelmat but wasn’t sure if I could do a watercolor underpainting like McKinley sometimes does. Some pastel paper will buckle  or get too soggy if you wet it.  My ace advisor, Nancy Vance, said she thought it would work but backed up her advice with a reference to Karen Margulis’s blog.


(Sometimes I need a village to get the job done.)

So I transferred the basics from the sketch to the Pastelmat and did the watercolor underpainting.  The paper reacted differently than the UART paper that I’m used to, just as Karen said it would.


With a solid underpainting it seemed like the pastel painted itself.  I started with the darks and worked from large areas to smaller ones.  Usually I’m in too big of a hurry, but I did this painting in increments over several days, taking my time and leaving details until the end.  Here’s “Lucy on the Lookout” or “Watching Robins in the Snow”.

You can vote for your favorite title in the comment section below!


This pencil sketch is copied from a photo of my great-great grandparents on my dad’s side of the family.  I don’t know much about them or the picture. It seems to have been taken in a farmyard, so maybe it was done by an itinerant photographer.  Great-great grandpap (GGP) appears to be quite a character with his elaborate mutton chops, dapper outfit and cigar.  Great-great grandma (GGM) on the other hand has a more homespun look with a skirt made of a sturdy fabric and a scarf on her head.

What we don’t know about their life we can infer from history and tradition.  I’m not sure exactly when they came to America but it would have been during the wave of immigration from eastern Europe.  Given the clothing and the setting we can conclude that they weren’t among the rich or privileged.  I don’t know if the farm was their main source of income or if GGP worked in a coal mine like so many other immigrants.

GGM and GGP were undoubtedly Catholic, given that their offspring for generations to come were devout members of the local parishes.  GGM would have worn her babushka to church in keeping with the requirements for female head covering in the Catholic Church at that time.

In the 1800’s Catholic immigrants were held in contempt by the Protestant majority. They were suspected of trying to undermine the government with their loyalty to the Vatican.  It wasn’t until after World War II and the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960 that the prejudice and violence began to diminish.

As I sketched I began to think about a photo I had taken of a Somali immigrant in a scarf shop at the Global Mall in Columbus as I was working on a project for the Columbus Council of World Affairs.  There was a young immigrant girl in, not a babushka, but a hijab.  How different was her situation?  Not much.  Getting by, not prospering.  Enduring prejudice for her religion from those who don’t know very much about it.

I wanted to make that point so I created this pastel painting juxtaposing GGM with the Somali girl to enter into a show about peace at the Martin de Porres Center.  I realize I won’t win a debate with anyone who has already decided that Muslims are a threat but I would at least like them to think about their own immigrant roots and the prejudice that our ancestors endured.  

Rest and Re-Creation at the Beach

Ever since my burst of plein air painting this fall I have been a slacker – distracted by other projects and the holidays.  I knew I’d welcome a change of scenery in January so when a friend invited a couple of painters to meet her in a warm locale I didn’t think twice.  I am sworn to secrecy about the exact location because it hasn’t been developed to death and it would be good if it stayed that way.  Nary a McDonalds or t-shirt  shop in site!

It seems I’m packing lighter and lighter for each painting trip.  This time I took pencils, a mini watercolor set with just a few brushes and a tiny suitcase with a few pastels.  The goal was sketching, not necessarily completing paintings.



My first pencil sketch was from our patio looking at the grasses blowing in the breeze.  Just a little something to get going.

The little gull below was done with pencils and my electric eraser from a photo I took on the beach one morning .


I only took a few small sheets of pastel paper. When we visited a state park I wanted to get the feel of the live oaks and the house on the property without having to get into too much architecture.  I think this little piece gets the essence of the place.




At another park I did a pastel sketch of the dunes.



This mini sketch was done at an old house the had become a shop for a designer of some very unique clothing.  The front of the building was draped with vines.   Out back there was a kumquat tree so we picked a few for a still life later.

I like my little watercolor set but watercolor is not my best media.  It’s handy but challenging. 







As I was finishing up at this spot, a paddle-boarder pulled his gear out of the water and stopped to chat.  The scenery improved greatly at that point but including him was beyond my skill level.





In spite of my challenges with watercolor this little sketch at an open air market was my favorite piece of the trip. It might be revisited as an oil painting or pastel.


This trip was just what I needed.   I’m already at work on some pieces from the photos I took.  I feel like I bottled up some sunshine and brought it back to gloomy Ohio!

Some Projects Take Longer Than Others


Author Elizabeth Gilbert (whose book inspired my blog title)  says that humans have been making things more decorative and elaborate than they need to be ever since the dawn of time.  We’re born with a creative urge that wants to take on the shape of the gifts we’re given.  Expressing that creativity puts us on track for some pretty amazing experiences.  This is a tale of one that spans generations.


Page from a 1960’s Lee Wards catalogue for sale on Ebay

My mom, her mother (Baba), my sisters and I were fans of the Lee Wards catalogue which sold needle work kits and  supplies.  Mom also got the McCalls craft magazine that had all kinds of patterns in it.  She made every kind of home decor item or piece of clothing that you could imagine, not to mention amazing clothes for our Barbies.

Dad was a “maker”, too.  He built the cabinets in our house and was always tinkering.  He and my uncles  even installed bathrooms for all the relatives as we left the outhouses behind.  

Baba crocheted and embroidered and quilted.  She made sure we got busy on  pillow cases and dresser scarves for our hope chests by the time we were in grade school.

Our other Grandma made pajamas every year for her 26 grandchildren and they all fit or you grew into them.   We loved the flannel especially since the coal furnace cooled down over night.

My sisters and I learned all kinds of skills and keep right on making. Kathy, is an expert knitter who makes adorable clothes and toys for her grandchildren.  Carol is addicted to home improvements. Joyce makes music.  Theresa is quite a cook.  The extended family is no different. They all have their specialties.  My cousin Emilie paints the most exquisite Ukrainian eggs and her sister, Bernie makes quilts. My cousin Rose makes cards and gifts for veterans in hospice.  I could probably list something for all my dozens of cousins but you get the picture.  

So if I’m a maker, I come by it honestly. I haven’t posted much for months.  First I was caught up chasing fall color with a paint brush.  Then I was on a mission to finish a family heirloom by Christmas. img_3591

A year and a half ago, I began to hand-quilt a piece that Baba, began in the 1950’s or 60’s.  She appliquéd the pansies from a kit (probably from the Lee Wards catalogue) and embroidered it but never started the quilting . It sat in a pillowcase at my mom’s house for decades.  On Mom’s 80th birthday she gave my four sisters and I the quilts that her mother had made along with one that she won a prize for at the Belmont County Fair. 

Mom kept the five quilt tops that remained unquilted.  She wanted to find someone who might be willing to do the hand quilting  authentic to the time period.  Her cousin, Emily Klaczak,  agreed to do the morning glory quilt and started in May 2015. After some hesitation about the work involved I decided to take on the pansies.


Emily and Mom with the morning glory quilt

Mom and I looked at dozens of quilting templates on-line to choose designs for the border.  We found a continuous string of butterflies that she really liked and a curved design for the outer border.  I bought a tubular quilting frame and got started a few weeks after Emily.  

I quilted a little bit most days, usually one episode-worth of whatever I was watching on Netflix.  It was slow going, starting from the center outward.  The straight lines went more quickly than those butterflies!  I didn’t really have a deadline but Emily finished hers by our family reunion in July 2016 so I thought I’d better pick up the pace.  That’s how Christmas became my goal. I got finished about 15 minutes before it was time to leave for mass on Christmas Eve.  So there are two morals to this story:

  • celebrate all the “makers” in your life; and
  • don’t give up on those unfinished projects no matter how long they take!

Detail of the quilt border