Beautiful Journey

Unprecedented, worldwide, social distancing, flattening the curve, shortages, stay at home, distance learning, non-essential businesses closing. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions and new information, new normal the last few months as the world has struggled with how to best deal with the covid-19 pandemic.

Living in Florida, it feels reminiscent of preparing for a hurricane coming, and yet the path of this storm is worldwide, but not clearly visible on radar. We know about germs, and washing our hands, and yet we’ve become hyper aware of what we and countless others touch. The seriousness hit home as Disney and other theme parks announced they’d be closing not for a day or two but the foreseeable future.

Disaster movies, dystopian fiction have long been wildly popular, yet not something we want to personally experience. This pandemic causes us all to face how much of life is really out of our control. Microscopic germs have ushered in a whole new reality.

If I spend too much time watching the news I feel more anxiety. I purposely limit my intake amounts to be aware of any updates that affect me but not to marinate in what is out of my control. Hope rises in my chest as I hear reports of people helping one another, businesses looking for ways to assist.

My kids are at home, doing school online. My husband set up his work station in our dining room and has virtual meetings regularly. I normally work from home, so not a big change for me.

Since all this has happened a new activity has been a daily bike ride. My son has joined me many days, as his Physical Education class requires 30 minutes of exercise a day. Besides the much needed physical activity, these rides have been mentally restorative. I live on the edge of things, close enough to stores, yet there are still some country roads around us. I have loved the mental breathing space these rides give. As we ride along, the sun is shining, leaves gently move in the breeze, a snake slithers across the road and baby sandhill cranes walk alongside their parents. It’s quiet and peaceful. Nature reveals the glory and faithfulness of God, not the worries of man. 

I’ve been inspired to paint some of these scenes of nature I’ve encountered on my rides, and will continue. For me this painting reminds me to refocus not on all the unknowns, or all the things we cannot do but on the beauty that remains. I’ve read many stories of people that had gone through hardships and struggles and how it transformed their priorities and relationships. I hope that that is the case for myself and for the world when we emerge from this season.

Morning Meet-up

Acrylic on canvas

We arrived just a few minutes before 7am and parked. It was still dark, and a few other cars were also pulling into the parking lot. We walked up the trail, our footsteps growing slower as sand became deeper, shifting under our feet. We emerged through a tunnel of sea grape bushes onto the beach. The light was still dim, but growing slowly brighter. The waves crashed, fishermen set up their poles in the sand. And quietly the sky began to lighten more and more. Warm hues of yellows, oranges and pinks crept in. Still no sun. Its light proceeded it, signaling the beginning of a new day. Little sandpipers darted down the beach, their legs a blur, staying right at the edge of the water’s reach. The sky continued its light display, a subtle symphony, building to the crescendo as the sun finally appeared over the horizon. Light beaming through clouds that kissed the ocean. The shallow surf lapping up the beach, reflecting yellows, and the lightest blues, darkening the sand, smoothing, leaving foam and sea kelp behind.

Slow changes, peaceful, unhurried. Such a contrast to the last few days and weeks as we have seen a virus spread around the world, and leaders seeking solutions to stop the spread and best provide for their citizens. Another cancellation, more stories about toilet paper, extended spring break stay-cation. Washing hands, becoming more aware of how much I touch my face, and how many other hands touch things that I touch. Wondering both will the virus hit us, and others. Especially those more vulnerable. But also wondering about short term and long term financial implications. All this shouting every time I get on social media or look at the news.

Our lives, our normal is fragile, vulnerable. So easily disrupted. Widespread worldwide tremors felt. Emotions running high; fear, anger, frustration.

A reminder how out of control so much of life is. I can plan and work and yet a microscopic virus can derail months of planning.

How do you deal? What gives you hope?

For me? I find myself repeating, that God’s not surprised, this has not caught him unaware. He is still good and in control. He has the power wisdom and love to work all things for my good and His glory. I’d love to see successful events bringing art sales, yet I need for my hope to not be in my plans but in God, his power.

I call the painting Morning Meet-up, inspired by the birds who gathered peacefully, not ruffled by the latest doom and gloom news.

Detail of painting-close up of the birds.

Morning over the marshland

Florida is a fairly flat state, and between Orlando and the East Coast there are miles of marsh land. The best way to take in the marsh land, and have a chance to see alligators is with an airboat ride. The boats are propelled along the surface of the water by giant fans on the back of the boat. I haven’t been on a ride in many years. (Add it to the list of things to do with the family.) However I catch glimpses of these areas as I drive out to the coast. Many times I’ve aimed my camera out the window trying to capture the waterways that wind throughout.

I wanted to capture this beautiful Florida landscape. It’s one of those times that my photos were pretty dull, so I combined them with some sunrise shots of sky that I had captured earlier.

Morning over the Marshland
30×30” acrylic on canvas

The Gulf Coast

I keep a mental list of places I’d love to visit, many international destinations to famous city’s like Budapest, Prague, Venice, and more. Those dreams are on hold for the moment, marked with maybe someday.

However I feel fortunate that we’ve been able to explore many places closer to home in Florida. Last year we spent a few days on the Gulf Coast during our kids spring break. We made a day trip to go to Tarpon Springs area, famous for the sponge docks. It was a fun day, and we also drove to a few parks in the area.

The first was on the Anclote River. I loved the trees casting their shadows and overlooking the water. And then we went to this beach that was connected to the coast by a tiny spit of land. It was palm trees and sand, relaxed, people just enjoying the day. I pulled out these photos as some that would be fun to paint as I was giving an ongoing demonstration at an art festival I did in November.

Along The Anclote River
30×15” Acrylic on Canvas
Resting on the Gulf
20×16” Acrylic on Canvas

Both water scenes are Florida, but one is more what is expected, while another could be so many places I’ve visited.

While there is so much of the world I long to explore for myself, I do feel fortunate that I’ve seen so many places in the United States.

The Amalfi Coast

About a year and a half ago I had been following and felt a kinship with a women on instagram living in Italy. Loved her spirit of adventure. We have daughters close in age, and our significant others are about the same age. She regularly shares photos and videos of her life in Positano, Italy. (You can see her feed on instagram @nickipositano. So I wrote to her and asked how she’d feel about me using some of her photos as painting inspiration. She agreed and I’m so grateful. My series of paintings of Italy are all inspired by wonderful spots she has found in Positano and the surrounding Amalfi Coast area.

Someday I hope to go in person and take it all in. I tell admirers of the paintings, if they sell maybe I’ll be able to go. Nicki had videoed a view she found while working at a wedding in a hotel, and it was spectacular. It gave a great view of the town and I loved the vantage point. I call it Summer in Positano, as the crowded beach attest to it being the busy season.

Summer in Positano
40×30” Acrylic on Canvas

It feels like the towns of the Amalfi Coast embody the saying; making lemonade out of lemons, although more accurately would be making limoncello out of lemons. This area is mountainous, and yet the towns are carved into the hillsides. The most made of small spaces, and it looks like everyone there has a green thumb with the overhanging bougainvillea, wisteria and other plants shading patios and walkways.

The painting with the orange umbrellas was a screen shot I captured of one of her videos. I loved the contrast to the busy beach with those bright orange umbrellas with the cool blue sea. I actually started the painting during an art festival where they asked us to paint so patrons could watch.

La Spiaggia Di Santa Croce, Amalfi
20×20” acrylic on canvas

And the final piece is “Umbrellas at La Scogliera, Positano” an areal view of the coast with bright umbrellas and inviting water. I loved how the view gave the scene an almost abstract quality.

Umbrellas At La Scogliera, Positano
24×24” acrylic on canvas

Conor O’Neills- Ann Arbor

30×30 inches
Acrylic on canvas

I showed this painting nearly completed to a co-worker and she said; “Italy?”

While I do love painting scenes of Italy, I ran across this charming sidewalk cafe in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I loved the bright blue and colorful flowers. Tables set out to make the most of the summer. It reminded me that beauty can be found anywhere, it doesn’t have to be an exotic location.

Sometimes I go to a place, camera-ready, walking around looking. Other times I stumble onto a scene that inspires. And of course, sometimes I’m too busy in my day to day routine to even notice. I think we stop seeing when we take the mindset of been there done that. Nothing new to see. I’ll just bury my nose in my phone while waiting for the next big thing. So the challenge is to try and have eyes to see what is good, pure, praiseworthy and beautiful right around us. How are you doing? Have you been surprised lately at what you’ve found? Recently I’ve been scrolling through paintings and becoming interested again in some of the scenes before me that I didn’t have the time or desire to paint beforehand. Time away can help you see with new eyes too.

All my work is for sale. When you buy from a living artist, you are showing your support in a practical way and investing in something you could pass onto your grandkids! Leave a comment or send me a message if you want to learn more. Reproductions are available here.

Michigan Painting Series

After returning from spending time with my family in Michigan I spent the month of August working series of studies, from 6×6, 8×8, 10×10 and 12x12Acrylic on canvas and on wood board.

The familiar is easily overlooked, however visiting new locations are full of unknown potential. I had looked forward to escaping from the summer heat and humidity of Florida for many weeks, excited for a few weeks where I grew up in Michigan. My kids and I flew up there, while my husband attended a work conference. There were trips to the grocery store, and in town to get ice cream and play mini-golf. An art festival and a trip to a gallery to drop off art. However most of the time was spent close to my parent’s home located on a chain of lakes in the countryside.

It wasn’t a destination you’d see on Pinterest. Just miles of cornfields and small towns. However, I took up the challenge to walk, bike and kayak around the area and look. Look for beauty. It didn’t have to be a grand dramatic scene. And beauty was waiting to be found. Chicory and tiger lilies growing along the roads, trees touching creating tunnels of green. Fields growing, rolling hills, hay bales waiting in the field. Lily pads and other water plants with ducks and turtles milling about. Houses nestled among the trees and bright colored chairs around a fire pit near the water.

When I returned to Florida I slowly went through the photos I’d taken and decided to do some quick thumbnail sketches to give me ideas for what to paint. At times it was zooming in to see just a portion of the photograph, or combining a few, but I ended up with over 30 thumbnails.

So I started painting. Small pieces, from 4×4 up to 12×12 inches. Trying to capture the moments. Seeing what might be turned into larger works.

This series is a reflection of my time in Michigan. However these scenes are not unique to one area. Beauty can be found anywhere, you just need to keep your eyes open, and slow down!

Summer Harvest

Acrylic on Canvas

We drove along past fields planted and growing, through a small town, past big farms, more small towns. The land rolled gently the sky a wonderful blue with fluffy white clouds.

I’m not a farmer, I tend to favor succulent plants as they are harder to kill. It seems to me that farming a mix of knowledge, skill, hard work and faith. Farmers use their knowledge and skill and a lot of work to plant crops suited to their climate at appropriate times. They care for their crop with irrigation and fertilizer. Yet they are aware that planting is an exercise in faith. They can’t control the rain, storms, wind, drought, temps, amount of sun each field gets.

I think one reason I find a freshly harvested field so satisfying is it is hope and hard work realized. It is a time to give thanks. It is seeing the finish line, goal met.

Where are you in the cycle? In the midst of tilling up the soil, preparing to plant? Planting? Waiting for rain and the first sprouts to appear bursting through the soil? Are storms looming that threatens to destroy what you worked so hard for? Or are you enjoying an amazing harvest?

Or are there various parts of your life that are all of the above? While I saw hay bales collected indicating harvest there were neighboring fields, probably all owned by one farmer that were just starting to grow.

Sunset over Dead Horse Point

Acrylic on canvas

Sometimes the best plans fail. We had enjoyed a few previous trips to the Southwest and knew we’d be returning in the summer. From experience, we knew hotels to book up fast and had made reservations months in advance. I had started a Pinterest board of hikes and places of interest I wanted to explore on the trip. We would be going across the country to New Mexico, then up and over to Arizona then, Utah and Colorado.

I love the landscape of the Southwest and have loved painting it since my first trip there over 15 years earlier. The time change, the heat of summer and my eagerness propelled me out of bed each morning and kept me wanting to explore until the sun had set each day.

We had scheduled several days in Moab, with Arches and Canyonlands being close. But shortly before our trip, I saw they were would be working on the roads in the park. The park would close at 7pm and reopen daily at 7am. No sunset golden hour pics in the park, no sunrise hikes. I was a bit disappointed. Yet looking back that restriction lead to some great things.

Knowing about the closure made us look at what else to do around the area. We checked out a wonderful hike to Corona Arch outside the park. No crowds, really few other hikers and wonderful scenery. We went to Dead Horse Point State Park. It is right next to the Isle in the Sky entrance of Canyonlands. One night we were driving out of Canyonlands and a quick shower had just left and we pulled over for wonderful rainbow that spanned the canyon. The sky that night was such a great mixture of colors and clouds. We came back for another sunset as the first night we arrived a bit late and much of the canyon was already in shadows. That night the canyon had some great oranges with blue and purple shadows.

Not sure what detours you’ve faced recently. Detours remind me how much of life is out of my control. Yet when I look at this painting it reminds me that sometimes detours can lead to wonderful things, things richer than what I could plan for myself. One thing we can control is our attitude. We can choose to complain and stew or be open to the unexpected. It feels I’m continually learning to surrender the illusions I have of control and try to enjoy the ride.

Alluvial Fan, Rocky Mountain National Park

Acrylic on canvas (triptych)

The summer had included a lot of exploring and adventure. Hiking in a number of National Parks as well as some state parks from Texas, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. We’d looked off the edge of cliffs, across canyons spread out before us, and looked up at the towering walls of stone. It was amazing and tiring and well worth the sore feet and grime washed down the shower drain each night.

Our last stop. Our last day, at the end of the day we went someplace we’d not visited in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Alluvial Fan. An alluvial fan, by definition, is a fan or triangle shaped deposits of water transported materials. (Like rocks and logs.) Back in 1903 farmers made an earthen dam that increased the size of Lake Lawn, high in the mountains, so as to provide a water source for nearby Loveland. Over the years that dam eroded and in 1982 the dam suddenly gave way, sending 200 million gallons of water down the hillside, along with rocks, trees, and debris and flooding the nearby town of Estes Park, and creating Alluvial Fan!

There were signs around to be careful. The ground is rocky and uneven, the current is fast, and the water is cold. For our kids, it was a dream playground. Tons of rocks to bolder around on and explore. But as history had shown, these parks are not Disney world. There is no safety railing. Wildlife is just that, wild. Healthy respect and caution are necessary.

Our kids had grown confident from a few weeks of hiking and exploring. My husband warned them to be careful. Don’t get too close to edges, watch out for loose gravel that could cause you to lose your footing. We all continued to explore. Taking photos, marveling in the size of boulders as big as cars that had been swept, down the hill.

I heard my husband shout, at my son, panic in his voice. My heart beat faster. I had no line of sight but was fearing the worse. Your mind jumps to what if. Did he fall? Was he being swept away in the water? What if he had a broken bone, a concussion, or worse? Would we be that family that everyone talked about who lost their son in the summer of 2017?

Had we just turned a corner and spent our last day as a family?! Our son had fallen in the water. I made my way over boulders to where my husband was fearing what I might see. Praying, crying, yelling, please God no. Help us. Let him be ok.

Then I saw my husband with my son. Dripping wet, shaking crying, scared, but without injury! He had stepped on a spot on the rock that was wet and slid into a shallow pool of water. It was slippery and he needed help getting out. It could’ve been so much worse. We were beyond grateful he was OK. Our family intact, spared. Redemption. A second chance.

So this scene in all its beauty reminds me our days are numbered, and we don’t know that number. Appreciate those days. I love this scene. It’s beautiful. But it’s a beauty born out of destruction. Lives were lost in that flood in 1982.

The photos that inspired this painting were taken just moments before the accident. If you look close my kids are sitting by the water on the left, my husband is at the far right.