Harvey & Irma flash me back to Gilbert


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My friend Betty texted me the day Harvey hit to pray for Jan, her Houston friend who was inflating her pool floats so her family could flee the hurricane. Betty’s message prompted me to google Hurricane Gilbert, the 1988 category 5 hurricane, and dig out the photo album I made after living through its devastation of Cancun, Mexico.

A Youtube video brought back the horror of the wind. My album brought back the sights, sounds, smells, heat, wetness, dirt, terror … and the valiant people, with whom, to my regret, I’ve lost touch. If they find this online, please get in touch, particularly Christian of Chile.

To this day, almost 30 years later, hurricane emergencies like Houston and Irma provoke an anxiety attack. I am so sorry for the humans and animals living through these current nightmares.

Looking at the album I made for my fellow survivors after we were safely home in the US and Chile, the details of our story are still vivid. The hotel we sheltered in, the Mary-Teri in Cancun, is listed today as a one-star hotel, but we were glad of its cinder-block construction and the rooms we shared on the second floor – until the water started coming in through the window frames. By morning, the water in the room was several inches deep and a good chunk of the third floor had blown away. The following are excerpts from my 1988 album.

fr-christian at mary-teri

On Tuesday, the day the Gilbert was blowing in, I had been enjoying Club Med, which was located on an exposed barrier reef. The hotel evacuated us via bus to the Hotel Cancun, downtown, where we were to find a spot on the floor in an enormous ballroom to weather the storm. Christian, above, from Chile, was one of a group of about 10 of us that decided to try to find to find better accommodations. We ended up in the Mary-Teri hotel. Despite its cinder block construction, it suffered significant damage overnight. Below: John was drenched with the water coming through the window frame.

fr-water leaking through window

Above: After the Mary-Teri took a direct hit, we hitched a ride on an open-backed truck in hurricane winds from the Mary-Teri back to the Hotel Cancun, which had lost power and water, to see if there were any important communications.



Above: Thanks to my Latin colleagues (my Colombian family would lovingly call them “avispados”), on Wednesday afternoon we were able to get on a bus to the Hotel Intercontinental, which welcomed us with clean beds, food and running water –in the basement the first night, but it felt like heaven. I woke up on Thursday hyperventilating (literally). On Thursday night, the Intercontinental put us in luxury rooms–and never charged us a penny.


Above: We returned to the downtown hotel the next day, Thursday, to find people desperately trying to shower under a drizzling outdoor faucet. No electricity, running water or flushing toilets. 

fr-me with sign

Above: Christian and I tried to find food in Cancun on Thursday night, without much luck, but we did have bottled water and crackers. Here we’re downtown surveying the storm damage, foraging for food. Earlier that day, Christian somehow found his way back to Club Med and retrieved my suitcase from the wreckage.


Above: The Cancun airport had taken a direct hit, so we couldn’t get out. Also, in 1988, no one had cell phones and Cancun’s infrastructure had been demolished, so there was no way to call home to let family and friends know we were safe. Somehow on Friday I got to the airport and somehow got on a flight to Miami (I think speaking Spanish might have helped get through the pandemonium at the ticket counters). I spent a few days in Miami recovering and writing my story. 

Betty’s friend survived Harvey, but not until she and her family had to live through a harrowing time and extensive damage to her house.

To help artist victims of the hurricanes, Blick art supplies, online or stores, will match hurricane contributions.

And the NY Times published a story with legitimate relief organizations.

“The Great Spirit of Women…”


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…is the translation of the Indian term “Wiawaka.”

Eight women spent the week of July 3, 2016, at Wiawaka as artists in residence.

Wiawaka was founded in 1903 by philanthropists to create a retreat for women factory workers in Troy, New York. Part of the property is Wakonda Lodge, endowed and built in the early 1900s by the Trasks, the same couple that eventually founded Yaddo, the historic retreat in Saratoga for artists (of many disciplines).
blog wakonda
We lived in Wakonda for the week; one of us (Ellen) stayed in the same room (number 18) that Georgia O’Keefe occupied during many summers.blog georgia's room

It was a great week with great women. Here are the artists who made the Wiawaka artist in residence so special.

blog artistsI also want to thank Wiawaka’s Executive Director, Meaghan Wilkins, and the Wiawaka staff.

On Wiawaka’s grounds are three sculptures, housed amongst the birch trees: Birch Girl, Birch Women and Birch Elder. I’m dedicating my painting of Birch Woman to all these wonderful women artists whose friendship I will treasure, and to Meaghan for her support in making our residency happen.blog birch woman

Thank you, Women of Great Spirit! Hope to see you next year.


Thursday at Wiawaka


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It’s Thursday at Wiawaka. Tomorrow the show opens, so the artists in residence are highly productive today, working to finish pieces for the show.

For my part, I switched from the painstaking, careful drawing and dry brush painting of the birdbath to the biggest brush I brought and some quick landscapes, which started with this one. Fairly representational (the day was atmospheric with humidity and the hint we might get a storm, so the mountains had a soft, misty profile and colors all around me were subdued).painting lake george blue green

I liked the scene, and I liked the feel of painting in quick strokes with my big flat, so I thought I’d repeat the same scene but play with color.painting lake george sienna

And then take it yet another step….painting lake george magenta

The last one I won’t share with you. It was an abstraction that went awry.

My other work of the day was an illustration of one of the “Birch Women” here at Wiawaka, ceramic statues of Birch Girl, Birch Woman and Birch Elder who represent the spirit of women, wellness and camaraderie that typify Wiawaka. I hope to draw the other two before I leave. This is Birch Girl. painting birch girl

Tomorrow – the art show and the artists.




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A new technical term I learned today from fellow artist Ellen Hopkins Fountain. If you’re a watercolorist you will not need a definition. For everyone else, painterbation occurs when you get the smallest brush you own, use lots of different pigments and then repeatedly poke at your paper until it turns into a muddy, overworked mess.

On the topic of brushstrokes…

I recently took a workshop at View in Old Forge with artist Chris Krupinski, who’s work is very detailed, precise and beautiful. For full sheets of watercolor paper (30 x 22” – big), the largest brush she uses is about a size 8 (which for non artists, is fantastically small. This goes against what almost every other artist ever advises.

Here’s the work I created in her workshop, using the technique of dry brush followed by tons of glazes.13575850_627655870724683_8148389168020739584_o

Most of the little sketches I’ve posted on my blog from Wiawaka are quicker, larger brush, wet-in-wet works that I can do fairly quickly in plein air. But the birdbath painting (I posted the drawing yesterday), I decided to use Chris’s technique. So one day to draw; one day to get as far as you see below, which is the start of the dry brush underpainting. Unlikely that I’ll finish this painting this week… but I hope to get some glowing color down the road.painting birdbath prelim

It’s great fun hanging with a bunch of artists. There are eight artists in residence here at Wiawaka, and we’re all either watercolorists or oil painters; oddly enough, there are no acrylic painters in our group. Lots of different approaches and styles, and some superb painters here. Great camaraderie. I’ll share names and web site addresses tomorrow.


Settling in, calming down

Tonight at Wiawaka the lake sound is gently lapping, and Judy (fellow artist) just said she heard a loon call. The pandemonium of last night – fireworks, a literal flotilla of boats, vigorous wake waves, crowd on our dock – are gone.

The view from our balcony at the moment starts with three trees in the foreground – a tall white pine on the left, small balsam hugging it to its right, and a tall dead birch stand-offish on the far right. Beyond them the water is slate gray, the mountains black with little orange twinkles of lights at their base, and the sky starts yellow-orange, fades to a pale green-gray and continues on to a deep indigo. It’s 9:31. A stately little boat passes by.

This morning, my project was a little garden of hydrangeas, ferns and a cement bird bath. Rather than paint quickly, I wanted to draw carefully, since the subject was complicated. (General concurrence here: without a solid drawing, a painting doesn’t stand a chance.) Here’s the result of working on the drawing for most of the day:

swan drawing

I’m taking a bit of a risk by making the top of the bird bath slightly askew, which is true to reality but might not read well in the painting. I like the funkiness of it, but we’ll see if it works in the painting.

Mid-afternoon I took a break from the drawing to paint this mini of a potted plant hanging out next to me in my little watercolor journal.
painting flower pot

And tonight, while we listened to Trevor and Ninah sing on the deck (listen to them at https://youtu.be/bz3jCr4Ue0s, and read about them at http://www.fortvine.com), I did this quick little sketch in my journal of the view from the dock of the  waning day.painting lake

Remarkable experience here. I feel very fortunate.


Day One Dawns at Wiawaka


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I opened my eyes today to dawn on Lake George. At 6:22 a.m., the lake is calm, even glassy in places, and there’s a pastel glow in the sky and on the water.

I’m at Wiawaka in Lake George, New York, with eight other artists in residence, and Monday was our first full day. Most of us were up early, hunting our painting inspiration for the day.

I chose the first view that met me, the lake, and started with a quick pencil drawing on a 300 lb Arches block (cold press), followed by preliminary washes.

I developed the water a bit, dropping in the dark values and leaving space for the reflection of the buildings.

Once everything was dry, I added the buildings and boats with gouache…painting2a

And then started building value around the shapes on the distant shore.

I’m hoping tomorrow’s dawn replicates today so I can work on the water and refine details.painting3

At 1:00, I took a workshop in Chinese brush strokes — the image at the top is the result.

Looking forward to more painting tomorrow.


P.S. My temporary studio…

painting studio

You Can Do Anything You Want


While I was driving to my artist in residence week at Wiawaka in Old Forge, New York, across the empty and beautiful spaces of the Adirondack Mountains, I had time to think about the balancing act between studying art versus just doing it.

Those pesty “shoulds” and “should-nots” can really paralyze you sometimes if you study too much and too many approaches. On the other hand, how do you grow and improve if you don’t expose yourself to new ideas?

When I arrived, I did a short walking tour, but was unsure of where I could and couldn’t go. I bumped into one of our hostesses, who told me, “You can go anywhere you want. You can do anything you want.”

Wow! A whole week to kick the shoulds out the window right into Lake George, which is just outside my door, which by the way, is next door to the room Georgia O’Keefe stayed in when she summered here…

I hope to post a little something every day. Please visit tomorrow.


Learn an art, for heaven’s sake.


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The Rotary Club of Utica, New York, invited me to talk to them about my experience filming two online watercolor classes with the Craftsy Corporation. Since many of them are local business leaders, I talked about my experience going from an IBM executive speechwriter to an online artist in the “gig” economy.

Here’s a video synopsis of the talk.

My main message was that I was grateful. Grateful that I had a chance to have two careers — well, at least to start my second one as a fine artist — and that filming my two Craftsy classes has given me a jumpstart on that second career.

I concluded with the following Kurt Vonnegut quote:


For me, these are words to live by.

March is National Craft Month. If you want to practice an art, consider a Craftsy class. Through March 13, 2016, you’ll be entered to win a $1,000 donation to a craft-focused charity of your choice.

Happy creating!

Staying in the Lines


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john card jan2016 4x5Last weekend I spent a few happy hours creating very quick little paintings using some of the thousands of reference photos I’ve stockpiled over the last couple of years but haven’t had a chance to paint. I was surprised by reactions to these simple pen, ink and watercolor sketches.

andrea card jan2016 375x55Last year at a plein air art auction, I noticed that, of all the works exhibited, which included oils, watercolors, acrylics, multi-media, etc., the most highly sought after were the pen/ink/watercolor works.

And yesterday, walking into Barnes and Noble, I was reminded of the huge current craze in adult coloring books.

blackwillow_lineart_web_022016The function of lines in art is a huge topic, of course, but why are simple, almost cartoon-like drawings filled with color so appealing to us?

Here are a couple of my thoughts:

  • Alphabets are made up of various little straight and squiggly lines, so maybe our brains are trained to respond to the explicit little doodles that form letters, words and then sentences.
  • As pointed out in the website ehow.com, “In the most basic sense, the line captures the essence and the shape of an object,” so perhaps it’s just the simplicity of the drawings and the parsimony lines allow to suggest rather than be specific that appeals to people.roses_lineart_web_022016
  • Many children’s books, at least in the culture I grew up in, were illustrated with pen/ink/watercolor paintings, so maybe enjoying this type of art is a throwiris_lineart_022016back to childhood. Likewise, most comic books and cartoons use the line and color format. In writing and teaching, the best way to leave your mark is through storytelling, which we learned how to learn as very small childre
    n. Perhaps lines follow a similar trajectory (pun intended) to the way we learned visually as kids.

boyfishing_lineart_web_022016To artists, graphic designers, children’s book illustrators and cartoonists out there who are practiced in this medium or who have studied the psychology of art, I’d love to hear from you on pen, ink and watercolor have such a strong appeal to people. Please let me know what you think.



Of stories, dogs and friends

Classical music lovers debate absolute music, or music for music’s sake and not intended to tell a story, and program music, or music that tells a story or offers metaphors to evoke images or events. Not sure if there’s an equivalent discussion in fine art—abstraction versus realism perhaps?

This blog’s painting, “Powell’s Barn,” doesn’t tell a story, but it comes from a story.

mickeyIt starts with Mickey, a puppy that failed his temperament test at eight weeks and kept me sleep-deprived for months. His attention span was less than thirty seconds and, despite his small body, his jaws could demolish in minutes treats intended to last a week. I thought he was Demon-Dog.

At seven months, I was seriously considering returning him to his breeder until my friend LP took a good look at him, concluded, “this is just a normal puppy,” and introduced me to the trainer who had rescued her own relationship with one of her dogs. LP even met me at the trainer’s to effect the introductions.

Now, months later, Mickey is sleeping through the night, obeying (most of the time) and signed up for Intermediate Dog Training. He’s taught me a lot. And he’s totally in tune with his job of being Man’s Best Friend.

To thank LP, I created this watercolor of her barn, which has now been torn down (and rebuilt in Texas as a wedding hall – but that’s another story).

powell's barn 110315 small

Here’s the little guy at 10 months with my nephew Evan.