Wednesday, October 29, 2008

notes from the studio...

This morning my heart feels full. I look up and a bright red cardinal lands on the bare branch outside the window. In a colorless late-autumn landscape, the color shocks me. The branch bows and drops with the cardinal's slight weight. I feel a similar weight in my heart and the sight is nearly enough to bring tears to my eyes. The branch springs back into place as the cardinal flies away and a chickadee settles onto the branch above.

These days, I am up to my eyeballs in paint. I'm preparing for an upcoming exhibition, RESCUED: Dogs of Pet Haven. I will be displaying a sneak preview of the series at Pet Haven's Fall Benefit on Saturday and will hang the rest of the show Sunday night. Needless to say, the pressure is on. Luckily, when it comes to art making, I seem to thrive under pressure.

Last night, in need of a break, I sat on the floor with my sleepy pup, Ella, and studied/scrutinized the work surrounding me. There are now so many paintings that I've run out of room to hang them. Before sitting down I had been working on the portrait of a beautiful boxer/American Bull dog mix named Spice Girl (now Bella, her adopted name). She was rescued by Karen Good of Red Lake Rosie's Rescue. Her back led was injured when they found her, and she carried a litter of pups, of which only 2 out of the 5 survived. Her leg required amputation but has healed well. The best part of this story is that she's been adopted by a family who loves her beyond words. There is a strength in her that had me hooked from the moment I laid eyes on her photograph.

As I work on her portrait, her gentle eyes and strong demeanor cause my heart to break open. Sitting on the floor, with my pup snuggled warmly on my lap, I noticed that my work has "matured" in the past year. The thought struck me as odd since it is a concept that I would normally attribute to the work of musicians as they grow into their work....musicians like Norah Jones or Ani Difranco or Bonnie Raitt--the ones that started young, got famous, and stuck with it. Perhaps it isn't so much that my work has matured, rather that it has become more purposeful. As I find myself more deeply involved in my endeavors, it is interesting to me how this deepening shows up on the canvas as well. I don't get used the sensation of my heart breaking open, no matter how many times it happens in a day or a year. I think, instead, I've become more sensitive to it.

The other day I finished a portrait of Hazel, a pit bull mix also taken in by Pet Haven. Hazel is a Hurricane Katrina dog and, two years later, is still waiting to find her forever home. I can't tell you how badly I hope that this painting will help her get adopted. The painting captured such a look of yearning. She splinters my whole being into a million pieces.

Then there's Peanut. I have to admit that I love the way Peanut and Hazel bring balance to one another. In painting Peanut's portrait I was overcome by a feeling of sheer joy and exuberance. I mean, just look at her! Peanut was rescued from a hoarding situation where she was neglected and starving.

And this is what I love about rescued dogs: their resilience.

My heart can break open a million times during the course of the day, but it always comes back to hope, to love and, yes, to resilience. All I know is that I am profoundly grateful to be doing this work. These days I have been painting from the time I get up until the time I go to bed. Despite the exhaustion it produces, I would not give this up for anything.

In my studio, I have what I call the "Wall of Dogs." It is where I put all the photographs of the dogs I've painted. The wall is full. But not nearly as full as my heart.

Next week I will be moving into a new studio space. Oh, sweet anticipation! It's a good thing because, currently, I am bursting out of the seams of the space I'm in now. I'm looking forward to the extra space for many reasons...and with it will come an even bigger "Wall of Dogs." My only question is: how many dogs can one heart hold? I have a feeling that the answer to that is: a lot.

This post was originally published here.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Tagged: taking a mental break.

I've been tagged by Samosas For One. It's been a long time since I've done a tag, but my brain needed a break and, anyway, this way you get to learn a few nonessentials about me. Things I'm sure you were dying to know... ;)

Clothes Shop: I love Macy's Free People line (although I can only afford it when it goes on clearance!), Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and all those little boutiques that I've only recently worked up the courage to shop in. I always thought it would be too expensive or that I didn't look nice enough to even enter those shops. Turns out I was wrong because they are always nice to me, they usually have a broad range of prices, AND they have unique clothes that you can't find anywhere else. I recently QUIT buying clothes at Target. They have cute styles, but the clothes are cheap and, after wearing anything a couple times, they start to look it. Giving up cheap clothes is one of the ways I'm learning to value myself in a new way. Granted, I have not bought many clothes in a very long time and my closet is a desperate work in progress. Recently losing a significant amount of weight has opened up an opportunity for me to revamp my style--and I'm totally ready for it.

Furniture Shop: I like West Elm, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel. I also love interesting antiques and custom made. Contemporary mixed with old and ethnic. Um, I think it's possible to say that my style is a bit eclectic. Not to mention, my mom and brother are both woodworking artists. They cause me to dream outside the box. I like tables made of thickly cut wood and fabrics of rich, interesting velvets...among other things. ;)

Sweet: I don't often crave sweets, but when I do it might include things like baklava, Lindt truffles, cheesecake, creme brulee, and big pancakes from The Bad Waitress. Um...yeah, there's a reason why I shouldn't eat too much of these things! :)-

City: New Delhi. Despite my 10 year absence, it still feels like my home away from home.

Drink: Water. I drink a ridiculous amount of water. It probably has something to do from that trip to India and the way I got so sick I nearly died. Actually, I drink so much water that I get absolutely tired of it. The best drink I've had in a long time was a cosmopolitan that I had a couple weeks ago at at a downtown hotel in Minneapolis on our anniversary. Oh, I thirst for another one!

Music: Lately I've been listening to a lot of podcasts and books on CD. I think I'm hungry for new music...but some of my favorites are the Po Girls, India.Arie, Jackson Browne (yeah, go ahead and laugh), Beth Orton, Rosie Thomas, various Indian fusion artists, Sia, Bonnie Raitt...

TV Series: We no longer have cable. Yay for us! :) But I'll admit that I recently learned about Hulu and have become an occasional junkie! :) My favorite shows are things like Project Runway and National Geographic's Dog Town. Since I've been without cable for most of my adult life, I am plenty entertained by watching many of the series for the first time.

Film: I'm a geek and don't watch nearly enough movies. Current top ranking movies are The Namesake and Born into Brothels. I also seem to have an affinity for Meg Ryan flicks--I guess it's a girl thing.

Workout: Is dog walking considered a workout?? Vinny and I have been considering getting a membership somewhere. Now that I'm no longer working at the garden shop, my life has gotten a lot less physically demanding. If we get a membership, I would like yoga, swimming, and the elliptical machine (which I have a strange love for) to become an important part of my workout plan. Yoga would be especially good for me during these stressful times.

Pastries: Croissants...sometimes filled with cream cheese and raspberries.

Coffee: Double shot of espresso made from extra dark French roast beans with just a little bit of cream and sugar. Yum!

Gosh, in doing this, I learned a few things about myself, my style, and what I wish for. Ok..what about you?! I want to know. ;)


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

i dedicate today to softness.

Yesterday involved a visit from my favorite cousin, his wife and their two kids who traveled all the way from Pennsylvania. There were lots of hugs, good conversation, and plenty of reminiscing and catching up. The day ended with time spent with my aunt's horses and big bowls of chili. I love these horses and often feel like their beauty could swallow me whole if I let them.

This morning involves a very soft robe that smells of Lavender Downy, a puppy wiggling her toes in the midsts of her puppy dreams, a little black cat curled in an "O" at my back, a perfectly brewed cup of Kenyan coffee, a window looking out towards a yard full of leaves, and plenty of clouds to make my transition into another day a bit more gentle than usual.


I like that word. Its sound causes me to feel cradled.

My old cat is curled up on the other side of the room--snoring. Louis has nested himself on the back of the couch watching the wind blowing coldly through the trees and down the street. The heat has turned on and I love the warm sound it makes as it pours through the vents.

My mind feels quiet, contemplative. It is a good feeling--one that I will take care of with a long shower and soft music. Today I look forward going within, to painting, and to spending a little bit of time visiting the studio space with M.--to dream, visualize, and make plans.

I often find myself daydreaming about that space and how I will feel once we move in. I imagine magic and possibility. I imagine a space that is just messy enough to be inspiring. I imagine a space that invites me to sit down and get close with myself. I imagine breathing in light-filled air--even when, like today, that light is barely the color of silver clouds.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Meet Koda

I have just put the finishing touches on a portrait of a dog named Koda. Although I've never met this dog, I've fallen in love with him. I tend to fall in love with dogs in the act of painting them--but I think I've fallen a little harder for this beautiful spirit because he reminds me of my wolfie, Anu. There is a sense of softness about him that is counterbalanced by those piercing eyes--gentle, yet keenly aware.

I began this portrait last week while up north on my painting retreat. As I painted, I looked often at Anu...studying where the black of her mouth meets the white of her chin, analyzing the marks around her eyes, deciphering the contours of her face and body in in terms of light and shadow, expression and mood. I could see age settling in on her and it broke my heart. But I also saw how age has brought us to know each other and has endowed her with a different way of seeing--less fierce, more wise.

Koda reminds me of Anu's younger self. He reminds me of winter. Somehow, he reminds me of my past. He causes me to feel tender and intense, all at once.

The thing I love most about painting dogs is that there are never two paintings even remotely alike. Koda has been up for adoption for a long time now. One would think that a beautiful dog like him would get snatched up in a heart beat--but it often amazes me how long it sometimes takes for even the best dogs to get adopted. Luckily, Koda is in good hands and will be well taken care of until he finds a home of his own. And yet it breaks my heart to think of all the dogs that are simply put to sleep for lack of better options.

Today I brought Vinny to see the new studio space for the first time. Since I won't move in until November, the best we could do was peek in the windows. On our way there we passed the city pound. Vinny told me that, while he was there to get licenses for the dogs, he noticed two big books on the counter. One filled with photos of dogs being kept in the shelter...and another one filled with all the dogs that have been euthanized. It stuns me to think of the many beautiful beings that this happens to every minute of every day. Then I think of all the people working to make a difference--one dog at a time--and I see how it matters.

These days my basement is filled with dogs. I love walking into my studio and seeing their faces shining from one canvas after another. At the moment I am up to my elbows in paint as I prepare for an exhibition of rescue dogs that I will hang in 2 weeks. Some of the dogs have already been adopted and some of them are still waiting to find their forever home. But every dog comes with a story--a story that I hope to capture, even if in some small way.

I hope that this show will help some of these dogs get noticed. What if every dog I painted got adopted? I wish for that. I hope for that. Lately, I find myself hoping for a lot of things. I like the way hope feels--even if it brings tears to my eyes on a regular basis. My heart feels rubbed raw and as though it is ready to burst. I admit that I think I even like the way this rawness feels. However uncomfortable, it makes me feel alive. It connects me. It breaks me open.


Friday, October 17, 2008


Evolving. This seems to have become one of my favorite words lately. I notice myself saying and writing it often.

I returned home from my painting retreat late Tuesday night and have been aching to sit down with my dear ol' blog for days now. I've decided to carry on a habit I enjoyed during my time away. Every morning I got up, made coffee, and gave myself as much time as I wanted with my journal. I didn't get anxious about how much time I was "wasting" because I knew I had the entire day stretching out ahead of me for only one thing: painting. It felt good to start my day like that and, while every-day-life is not quite as simplistic, it is a habit that I would like to continue with this slow and introspective start to my least while I'm still wise enough to do so.

This is one of the windows that I looked out of every day while up north. It is positioned above a big, beautiful work bench in my mom's woodworking studio, 10 miles from town and a million miles from anywhere. It rained the entire time. That is, until the day it was time to go home. Never mind that it rained. It caused me to get a lot done. In order to outwit the humid weather, I painted like I read books: several at a time. I started 7 paintings and nearly completed 2--all while listening to the steady hush and rhythm of raindrops and occasional rumbles of October thunder. My old wolfie, Anu, stayed always at my side. She is my heart and we both enjoyed our time alone together immensely.

I move through most of my days work-work-working, feeling like there could never possibly be enough of me. I feel inspired on a regular basis, but I am also well aware of how dangerously thin it sometimes stretches me. But this retreat...oh man. I got an incredible amount of work done and at the same time I found myself feeling healed and renewed. I am committing to going on a retreat like this on a quarterly basis--or a minimum of 3 times a year. I urge all of you to do this. I don't care how busy you think you are. I don't care if you're a mom or an astronaut or a grad student or the president of a company or country. You can get a lot done while away...and chances are you will be a lot more efficient when you return. I feel silly for how easy this is to forget, but let's face it: evolution can sometimes be a very slow process.

Once returning home, I was met with a flurry of activity in returning emails and phone calls. Then I stumbled over a bit of mental anguish in the process of preparing for a presentation that I was asked to give at a Minneapolis pet industry business association meeting about my work. My retreat induced Zen-like bliss momentarily flew out the window. I made notes about everything I wanted to talk about, but then, about 2 seconds into my talk, abandoned them when I quickly realized that I was better off simply speaking from the heart. That is, after all, where I would like the source of my endeavors to originate from. OK, I admit it: I was a nervous wreck. That is, until I got going. Afterwards, I was thanked by several people for giving such an inspiring talk. One woman even said I had brought tears to her eyes! This was a very high compliment, indeed. Is it bad that I like making people cry? :)-

I spent the rest of the day trying hard not to over-analyze my presentation and, instead, made apple pie--the apples, from my grandma's tree up north. I breathed in the warm smells of honey and cinnamon and even saved several of the seeds to see if I might be able to get them to grow.

When my grandma gave me the apples she told me about the large buck she had seen eating beneath the tree just that morning. The sun was rising as he happily ate the fallen apples. I thought some more about what it means to be evolving. I want to evolve like an apple tree: from seed...inspiration to gift to inspiration to gift...
I don't want to evolve into the store-bought variety. I prefer a life that is wild, tart, and delicious. I prefer something unexpected. Every year my grandma's apples reflect the weather they grew in. I always feel an element of uncertainty when making a pie from her wild northern apples--and yet their flavor is exquisite every time.

This morning I am burning a Thai Lemongrass scented candle that was gifted to me by a friend. The smell is refreshing, a little sharp, and catches my senses off guard. I have an orange shawl wrapped around my shoulders to separate myself from the morning chill. I have lots of dog legs criss-crossing over my slippered feet and a cup of coffee at my side. I didn't miss this house, but it feels good to be home.

"I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit."

~by Dawna Markova (I Will Not Die an Unlived Life)

The view of the lake on the morning of my departure.
As luck would have it, I woke up to blue skies and sun!


Sunday, October 05, 2008


Yesterday was Vinny and my 5th anniversary. We celebrated in absolute style by renting a hotel in downtown Minneapolis, enjoying a day full of browsing through expensively stylish shops, lavishly treating ourselves to a delicious happy hour of Cosmopolitans, getting dressed up in our sexiest attire, and filling ourselves full of some of the most decadent Italian cuisine in the city. Of course, the hot tub, chocolates, and yummy next-day breakfast were all just added perks.

We forgot the camera and ended up buying a disposable version--photos will have to wait until the film gets developed. Waiting for photos--how weird is that?

I have more to write about, but for the life of me I can't figure out why it would be of interest to anyone but myself. Hmmm...sometimes my life feels really interesting. Even just a couple hours ago while roaming the aisles of a bookstore I was writing a blog post and thinking that my thoughts were exceptionally worthy of being recorded. But now?

I've come to the conclusion that it is important that I get back into the habit of writing. I mean really writing. What I mean by that, I'm not even sure. All I know is that I need a practice--one that will help me find balance--and writing used to be that for me. I like words and rhythm and what happens when you put them together.

The past several days have left me feeling incredibly inspired. Now that I've had some time to rest and refresh my senses I also feel exceedingly purposeful. I have a massive amount of painting to accomplish within the next 25 days. And yet, somehow, I know it will get done--even if by sheer acts of magic.

In the meantime, here's to experiencing love and a newfound sense of peace. Here's to being filled with inspiration and intention. Here's to all the things that make life worth living. Here's to sleeping well and waking rested.

Here's to living from a place of great happiness.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

in search of sacred.

The Artist's Creed...

I watched this video on Connie's blog and felt it necessary to share. I've spent most of the day in a weird tumult of emotions--wanting to find my center, yet having a hard time doing so.

Yesterday I decided that it is time to head north. Ever since the geese started flying I've felt a deep magnetic pull towards the place I come from. I miss it there. I miss the trees, the fresh air, the stars, the sounds of loons and wolves. I feel like I have been running to keep up with something--what it is, I'm not even sure. I am becoming a shadow of myself. This running, it has depleted me. Today I don't remember who I am. I don't remember what I'm good for. I don't remember what I'm worth.

I've spent a lot of time today thinking about what it means to do the work I do. I've been thinking about how it necessitates a different kind of movement through the world. I've been thinking about how important it is that I find my pace...and allow it to empower me. How do I preserve the sacred space within me when everything else moves so much faster than my rate of creation?

I am looking forward to next week with my whole heart. I am in deep need of the time alone. This painting retreat, it will serve me well. It will be just me, my wolfie, and a car full of canvases. I am giving myself sacred space to create my own artist's creed. As I move into this new life I am finding it to be more important than ever. In the meantime, this one serves as a beautiful reminder.