Friday, October 30, 2009

Tribute: Human Nature as a 'Work-in-Progress'

For the past two weeks much of my focus has been on other than my drawing, rightfully so. Several days ago we lost a vital member of my extended family.

Doris Van Wagner was one of the most creative persons I have ever known: not only in regard to her designing, quilt-making, painting, and crafting, but simply in the way she executed her life. She was young, very young; only forty-seven years old -- and for the past twelve years she fought a tremendously courageous battle with illness. One could say she lost her battle with cancer -- or because of the type of person she was, one could say that she ultimately won her battle with life.

So as is my nature I have engaged in a tremendous amount of introspection as of late. I cannot adequately put into words how much it meant to me to be able to spend time in her home, with her immediate family and close friends, during the last couple weeks of Doris's life. I've given a great deal of thought to what I've learned (and relearned) from my cousins Doris and Tommy, as well as strong bonds created with other family members during this process. Though some of these principles may seem simple and obvious, here is much of what Doris and this experience has left to me.

1) Try to remember that we never know what is going to happen, or when. What is, or what we think may be, can all change tomorrow.

2) Really cherish whom and what you cherish: not only in thought and feelings, but through actions as well. Do not let time pass without letting others know how important they are to you.

3) Dare to be an emotionally strong person. When life calls on you with its toughest challenges -- even if you think you simply cannot handle it -- do it anyway. You can handle it.

4) Be as honest as you can with others, without causing harm. Speak gently. Do not speak ill of others.

5) Identify those things that you are passionate about, and pursue them with vigor. Work hard to develop them, even if it means doing things that you are afraid to do. Take risk, after risk, after risk. Fear subsides when it is faced head-on. What pulls at your soul?......Do not pretend it does not exist.

6) Life is too short and too precious to allow ourselves to be worn down by negative persons and experiences. Do not allow your soul to be sacrificed in this way. Take care of yourself; even if this requires you to have the courage to make tough decisions.

7) Do not be angry; and if you are, don't hang onto it unduly.

8) Forgive others whenever possible. Remember that someday you may need someone to forgive you.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Telling a Story

Regardless of whether I am observing another artist's work or making compositional decisions about my own, I often am most drawn to images that tell a story. The story may not be obvious, but rather implied -- through the visual narrative, gestures, or the look in a subject's eyes --causing me to derive meaning and subsequently emotion, from an image. That may be the primary reason I feel compelled to draw people; I seek to convey a feeling, a story.

For me, my current work-in-progress is a compelling story. It is an image chosen from literally hundreds taken of wild horses in both South Dakota and Wyoming. There was simply something about these two particular wild horses that grabbed me, and continued to grab me -- as I have returned to their photo images many times over the past couple of years, only to put them away again and begin work on something else.

According to some sources there are approximately 38,000 wild horses in the United States that live on the range. Another 30,000 are cared for in corrals and pastures funded by the government following their capture by the Bureau of Land Management. The stated reasons for these wild horse round-ups includes the fact that there is not enough viable range land to sustain herds (a fact disputed by many), and competition by large livestock ranchers for the resources of food and water. Wild horse proponents assert that the BLM has regularly removed horses from the range at the urging of cattle ranchers, and without adequate land studies. And the round-ups themselves are another source of tremendous controversy. Frequently conducted using helicopters to drive the horses, many are injured or killed during the process, and foals too young to sustain themselves are separated from their mothers. Though some of those in captivity are adopted out through the BLM program, many go to meat-buyers and slaughterhouses. Over time the BLM has acquired so many wild horses and burros in captivity, they may engage in mass euthanasia to deal with the numbers and subsequent cost. Admittedly, I do not know enough about this issue to have developed an opinion about what specifically should be done -- but arguments against the BLM's practices are extremely compelling, and seek to place the welfare of wild horse herds as a top priority. I have been fortunate enough to have walked among wild horses and photographed them in their natural habitat -- and the experience was like no other.

With that as a backdrop, I return to my work-in-progress. It is one of my larger pencil pieces to date, being approximately 22" x 30". It portrays two wild horses that had been captured by the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming, freeze-branded, tagged, and placed in holding pens. The dark horse (partially completed above) stares right at the viewer; the pale horse, whose rendering is not yet begun, has his head hung and face buried tiredly and sadly into the neck of the dark horse. Their recent struggle is evidenced by the blood and grass stains on the coat of the lighter horse. It is an evocative image that truly tells a story, and I wonder at this moment -- whatever happened to those two horses?

For more information (on both sides of the controversy) visit the Bureau of Land Management website at or the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Road-Trip: Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

Recently my husband and I visited the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary in Augusta, Michigan, for the purpose of obtaining potential photo references. Originally developed in 1927 as a refuge for migratory birds, the 180 acre sanctuary also became an important part of Michigan's Trumpeter Swan restoration project in the 1980s. It features numerous species of waterfowl in their natural habitat, as well as birds of prey enclosures displaying a number of raptors and owls. I found that we were able to get so close to many of the bird species with our camera equipment, that I have many more resources than I could ever dream of using. Bird photos, anyone?
While en route to the bird sanctuary we accidentally happened upon quite a gem. Much as I hate to admit it, I was more than a little cranky that we had not stopped for breakfast prior to arriving in Augusta which is more than an hour from our home...............because upon first glance it appeared that there was no food to be had in Augusta! Then just slightly off the main street we happened upon 'A Food Affair Cafe', a gourmet restaurant owned by chef Jared Dellario, and his mother Cheryl Dellario. 'A Food Affair Cafe' strives to use products made and grown in Michigan in an effort to help sustain the state's economy, and rightfully prides itself on the fact that all menu items are made from scratch and from the freshest ingredients available. It is truly fine dining, in a comfortable and casual atmosphere adorned with fine art by local artists. Both of us felt that it was one of the best restaurant meals we have had in quite some time.............and enough cannot be said about the level of hospitality we were shown. Because we arrived earlier than most Sunday patrons we had the opportunity to talk with the owners as well as "Rachel" our waitress, and we truly enjoyed meeting and chatting with them. So in sum, stop in to 'A Food Affair Cafe' for a great meal; even if Augusta is a little off of your beaten path, you will find it well-worth the detour.
The past couple of weeks it may seem as if I am doing more running around than I am drawing -- and relatively speaking that may be true when compared to the big push I experienced in July and August just prior to the gallery show. But truly, I am drawing; and in fact am working on the largest piece I've done to date. It is currently experiencing its "ugly-phase" -- or one of the many, considering its size. A work-in-progress photo will be posted soon.
Thanks for reading.