Tag Archives: relaxation

Why Does the Birdie Show Up?



They bring me joy. They are all done in a notebook, simply for my pleasure. So why?

In part because I so strongly believe we need to do things just for us, things that bring us joy.

The birds that visit my bird feeders outside my studio window bring me great, great joy.

My Papa gave me a “Birds of North America” book because I kept calling him to ask what this bird and that bird was. My Papa always knows, just by my description. I love this about him. He’s such a committed nature lover.


One day, I just started to draw a chickadee from the book, then another, and so on. Here’s the thing: I don’t particularly like “realistic” art. I’m of that school that thinks I’d simply take a picture if I wanted to view or paint realism. For me, the joy of painting come from the creativity involved in being “painterly.” Painterly is a term I learned in college that means what it sounds like: that the brushwork and paint take importance over the subject. That a painting show you it is, indeed, a painting. It’s the color pushing into color, the movement of the paint. The way something made me feel versus a rendering of the visual information before you.

These birds have become simple meditations.  And they let me keep up on my skill to represent reality. It is true, you do need to know the rules to break them. Art is such a delicious exercise in breaking the rules, when done properly. But mostly, it’s a meditation. I don’t have to be creative, I don’t have to think; the information is already there. I can have a seat and simply draw.


When I paint, my soul goes into the work. I paint standing up because I like the energy it brings to my work. I like the physicality of my work. But sometimes it’s nice to just relax, have a seat and just make little birdies. Let my body, mind and soul relax without thoughts of selling; just something for me. I think we all need a notebook that is just for us, just a guilty little pleasure to stoke the bigger works, just a place all your own.

The by-product of drawing or painting anything is it makes me appreciate the subject more. So my birdies are even more special to me.



The feeders outside my studio sometimes get more visitors than just birds…

Florence, Day 5: What Can One Day Teach You? And Other Reflections on Life and Learning



The sun rose on a warm and glorious day in Tuscany. After sleeping more (much-needed) hours than I can count, I woke up good as new, excited and ready to work outside in Florence. What can I learn today?

My mentor here in Italy is Enrico, a kind and patient teacher — thankfully, because, well, my prior training and the rules of Italy are different. For example, when I studied art in Mexico, my teacher would say, “Now that you are done looking, close your eyes and think how you feel. I don’t care so much what you see as how you feel about it. Now paint that.” I suspect if it were not for that very long and extremely well-established art history here, Italians with all of their wild, impassioned ways would be like this.

You see, Mexico does not have Michelangelo to live up to. But as my winemaker friends have explained to me, when you’ve been doing things a certain way for literally hundreds of years, you do it a certain way. There is only one way to make a Chianti, a Brunello, a Barolo. And so it is with art.


My local winemaker friends say they have a freedom that a winemaker in Italy or other well-established regions don’t: They can experiment. And so it is with me.

I have to convince Enrico that it’s perfectly OK for me to leave that unsightly pillar out of my drawing, or forget about the big wall to my left, blocking my view of the city. He says, “But it is there.” Still, he’s patient with me; he’s very talented and kind, so I pay attention.

I, for my part, came here in a large part for the discipline. How do they teach art where they have been masters for so very long? So I stretch my comfort zone. I do as I’m told (mostly), and I’m growing. I’m using my pencil more than I have since college, and I’m slowing down. It’s relaxing on one hand, uncomfortable on the other. But isn’t the old saying, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”?