Sedges in Snow

I don’t know exactly what goes into a painting. Whatever my “process” is, it’s as mysterious to me as to anyone else. I do know that since July, painting has been all but impossible for me. Covid brain is a real thing. I found it very difficult to hold an idea. It was as if parts of my brain just wouldn’t connect to other parts. I did do a painting in there somewhere, sunflowers with acrylic using a palette knife. I did that painting to try out the knife (I only have one) and to have something to hang in the show at the museum. I liked it a lot, and it seemed to prevision something changed in Martha the Painter. I wasn’t sure I could paint at all which is why I used the knife. I knew I didn’t know how to use a palette knife. It’s a simple painting of a common scene; nothing fancy but friendly and likable. I could also paint this in a very short time so there wasn’t the challenge of maintaining the image in my mind.

Last Summer acrylic on panel, painted October, 2022

What makes a painting, for the painter, anyway, might be more than the result. For me it is.

I love painting more than anything else I do. It’s just a wonderful thing to me, engrossing, intriguing. All of my paintings have been experiments because each one changes me and moves me to a different place along whatever might be my personal painting trajectory. I like that journey. Paint is part of it — just that, paint itself — and the image in my mind is another part. Doing the work is a pathway I’ve never traveled. I’m not sure I can explain this clearly because it’s not a word thing.

I think of the painters in the past, and I’m sure some of them must have loved painting. I think Turner must have. Kandinsky. Georgia O’Keefe definitely loved it. The jubilation in van Gogh’s work says to me he probably loved it, too. Back in the days when painting was a trade more than an ‘art’ those guys must have loved it, too, even though it meant a lot of hard work and the development of far more skills than painters today need to know.

I have an amazing book, On Divers Arts. That’s “diverse” not divers, but anyway. It’s by a guy, a priest, who’s writing under the name “Theophilus,” friend of God. His friendship with God is real. It’s not just that he is a priest, but also because of the way he regards all the material he works with. It would be a different blog post to go into that, so I won’t. But I share his feelings. Paint itself is a miracle.

Theophilus’ mission in writing the book was to pass down to the future all the things he knew about making art for a church and it’s practically everything — from pigments for the wall and manuscripts to the lead that holds stained glass in windows and the glass itself. It was written in the 13th century. I have found it very inspiring even though I don’t understand most of the technical instruction. The most inspiring part to me is the dedication where Theophilus explains to the person reading his instruction that the act of creating something is partaking in a little shred of the divine through physical gifts that have been passed to him through time. It feels that way to me.

For the past few days I’ve been really painting. It’s been the good stuff where I didn’t know where I was going and had to completely let go. All I had was a day week before last when Bear and I rushed out to the Refuge to catch the snow before it quit falling. We walked into a day unlike any I had ever seen. Bear and I wandered through a mystery.

Yesterday, when I finished this, I felt I’d painted that beautiful snowy afternoon.

FYI this is really just a painting of snow, fog and sedges. It’s not symbolic of anything. You’re welcome to see anything you want in the image, just don’t tell me 😀

It’s oil on acrylic primed linen canvas. The paint is Gamblin’s Flake White Replacement, a titanium based white designed to mimic lead white. Indian yellow, lapis ultramarine, and Gamblin Portland Gray. Gamblin is a paint company in Oregon. Most of their paint uses safflower oil rather than linseed oil because it doesn’t yellow over time but to make it true to the original paint, the flake white replacement uses linseed oil. The lapis ultramarine is from Daniel Smith. Indian yellow is very luminous, truly, and I chose it because there was no other color that day so the sedges seemed lit from the inside which, in a way, they were, holding summer’s sunlight in their persistent stems.

And Yet ANOTHER Walk With Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog

It’s alleged that the cranes will come earlier this year because of a lack of food down there at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. If they do, they’ll be here a while as there is no open ground at their next stop. In advance of the influx of Crane Tourists and the 40th Anniversary Crane Festival of Song and Story, Bear and I headed out for a walk yesterday even though the wind blowing from the southwest did not demur, but blasted like a MOFO. It was blowing so hard it seemed to suck my breath away, but probably it was just blowing at me so hard I couldn’t exhale. I’ve been out there in heavy winds before, but yesterday was a little different.

As I fought the wind, I thought “Chinook.” My friend in Wyoming could use a wind like that with her sheep out in deep snow. The situation is dire. Deep snow has covered the ground so the sheeps’ usual winter grazing is inaccessible and food — for the sheep, the dogs and the men caring for them — has had to be trucked in. The road is dangerous in winter and there have been numerous wrecks. You can read about it on her blog, Ladder Ranch.

“The warm wind kept blowing
…like a low chant from the land
or like the flurry of far wings…
lapping up the snow…
until the whole body of earth
lay brown and breathing
except for the topknots of buttes
and, away and away,
the high float of mountains…
Promise of Spring.”

A.B. Guthrie, Jr., from These Thousand Hills.

As happens, when we turned around with our backs to the wind, the day felt completely different. Bear found a patch of snow with some appealing scents to roll in. I studied the light changing on distant Mt. Herard. The wind was blowing snow over the Sand Dunes at the base of the mountain. I tried a photograph (featured photo), but the phone does not really have a powerful telephoto lens so it looks like a paint by number painting but you might get the idea.

As I photographed Mt. Herard I saw my reflection in my phone screen. I very very very seldom take selfies because I prefer the illusion to the reality of my appearance, but yesterday it was just too funny.

Bear is pretty well trained, but we’re doing a refresher course. Taking each dog out separately means Bear doesn’t get half a walk; she gets the whole thing to herself. I’m helping her understand that so she’s not in a rush to get to the scents. I don’t know if she understands the theory behind this, but it doesn’t matter. Theories might be for humans. For Bear the reality is we aren’t in a hurry any more because no over-enthusiastic, passionate, little land demon is pulling us. She’s getting it. I realized that yesterday when she stopped in front of me, leaned against me, and wouldn’t move. “OK Bear. We really do have all day.” I swear, she sighed.

I have had a couple of happy blips in my life as an artist. Last week a man in Tennessee did the research needed to find me. He’d bought notecards from my defunct Etsy shop two years ago and wanted more. Yesterday I learned that Colorado Central Magazine wants to run my painting of the Cranes on a Windy Day with the article instead of the photos I submitted from the festival’s media kit. 😊

Meandering Blog Post about My Dilettante Life

In an effort to overcome Covid brain I’ve been doing languages on Duolingo, a free online language program. I don’t like it, but 1) it’s free 2) I have to concentrate. Multi-tasking is (as far as I can tell) the big challenge right now, something highlighted (why not high lit?) by having written the same thing five separate times as I was trying to label my paintings at the museum the other day. Someone was talking to me as I was trying to write — well, print. We won’t mention that I’d already written the labels correctly only moments before, but couldn’t find them (18 inches away from my hand).

I started with Spanish, my best foreign language. It was kind of fun to move ahead from where I’ve been for 50 years. Then, to challenge myself, I turned to Chinese. That was strange. Chinese ideograms were always easy for me to recognize, but not on Duolingo. I have no way to know if it’s my brain or the way the program has decided to “write” them. Also, the program presents Chinese the way it presents alphabet languages which is a little strange, too. But I honestly can’t tell if it’s strange or my brain is strange. And, since my Chinese is primarily directly out of daily life, the practice conversations seemed strange. But then, I never lived in a place where people speak Mandarin, so I don’t really know. Most of the ambient Chinese in my life was in Cantonese — which I don’t speak or understand well. I spoke Mandarin in Guangzhou, but it wasn’t until I visited Hangzhou that I had an actual conversation in it.

It’s funny but even thought mosquitoes were ubiquitous, I never learned to say “mosquito” in any Chinese dialect. I like the word best in Italian, “zanzara.” It sounds like a mosquito sounds. Italian is my second best foreign language but practicing THAT on Duolingo is incredibly noisoso.

I’m a dilettante in everything, the kind of person who walks around in the shallow part of a lake and imagines she’s an Olympic swimmer.

As I was writing Christmas cards, I was contacted by a woman I met at a conference — the SISSI Conference– Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery — really fun, very eclectic, conference. SISSI is long gone. We met what, ten or eleven years ago? She was giving a paper on Goliardic poetry which was mostly sung and written in Latin in the Middle Ages. I guess that’s pretty obscure but it’s right up my alley. When I saw the write up in the program I really wanted to meet her. She’s a classics teacher at Purdue. We had so much to talk about — it was as if we were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time. She’s NOT a dilettante. She can speak and read several iterations of Greek and Latin. She has worked on many translation projects on manuscripts I dream of even just SEEING.

I was giving a paper on the Medieval Leper. I think we might have been the only two medieval topics in the whole show. Anyway, they scheduled us for the same session. I was sitting outside the session room, waiting for my session to begin, reviewing my stuff, and I saw her. She walked up to me, and asked if I were in the next session in that room. I said I was. Then I realized who she probably was, based on the program. I said, “Are you Liz Mercier? I really wanted to meet you!” She was so surprised and told me no one had ever really wanted to meet her. We struck up an instant friendship. I loved her paper and if I ever return to the story of Benedetto, Michele and Gaspar the donkey it’s all because of what I learned from her. Anyway, we both miss SISSI and our annual meet-ups and listening to each other expound on little-known and possibly irrelevant topics.

Anyway, I realized that Covid brain — which is either slowly receding or I’m getting used to it — is worse when I’m nervous, tired, or have been over-stimulated. Both were the case yesterday after all the events of Monday. I found myself struggling with many things that should not be a struggle.

Last night as I fought insomnia (thanks Covid brain), I was thinking that maybe the solution to the painting phobia might be small paintings like those I painted when I first got the natural pigments and didn’t know how they’d work or when I first started doing oil paintings again after not doing any during the forty years since high school.

That painting happened because my stepson and his wife gave me a canvas for Christmas. I loved that present, and the painting was surprisingly successful so I kept at it. Here it is.

A herd of red Angus cattle lived across the street from me and they liked to bunch up against the fence and watch me and the dogs. Their pasture was grass and oak trees with a few boulders interspersed. I liked them a lot.

I kept at it, doing small paintings because paint is expensive and surfaces are also expensive and we won’t talk about frames. The first oil painting I ever sold was one of the cows. It’s the featured photo, 5 x 7. My next door neighbors came to the little art and craft fair at the townhall and bought it, well my neighbor’s wife bought it for her husband for Christmas. I guess the moral of the story is just go try, dammit, Martha.

WordPress’ daily prompt is “Do you have a favorite place you have visited? Where is it?” Here’s my answer. Zürich. It’s in Switzerland.


Yesterday was a sterling day.

First, it snowed, a really pretty soft snow that I would have loved to watch fall, but it was in the wee hours and I was sleeping. It’s wonderful to wake up to a surprise. I hurried through my coffee and blog post, found Bear looking at me wistfully in the kitchen, closed the back door to keep Teddy the Incorrigible inside, leashed my dog and headed out. This wasn’t going to be a dog walk, but a snow communion with Bear. I think Teddy understood that because he just shrugged and jumped up on the sofa.

Fog was lifting from the road as the sun heated it. Fog still hung low over the mountains — fog or clouds. More like clouds to me, beautiful clouds touching the earth. A Great Horned Owl was watching from the higher branches of a cottonwood beside a farm house.

We arrived to find a paradise of untouched snow (except for some tracks of foxes, deer and scurrying creatures). The clouds were lifting slowly, their shadows dragged gently across the frozen, snow-covered pond.

I have never smelled clouds before, that I know of, anyway, but as they lifted, I did, clouds and fresh snow.

Bear and I never hurry and we took the little trail Bear loves in real slow motion. There were very few tracks yet. Even the hunters and hunted had not been out. A red tail hawk was perched in a tree, watching, hoping for breakfast. I hadn’t had any either, but mine was waiting at home in the refrigerator.

Once on the main road, there were more tracks, deer and fox. I had to explain to Bear that we couldn’t go after them. I wished we could, in a way, remembering a time when my dogs and I felt free to track things, but this place is not those places and I’m glad of it. It wouldn’t be this place if people could trample around in it. It’s a small sanctuary from, well, us.

Some disturbing/interesting tracks in the snow were my footprints. Wow.

And THEN….. When we got home I had to face the next thing. I had started a painting,and I was going at least try to paint it. I wanted to try the palette knife, but when I looked at what I have of those tools I saw I don’t have a selection. I I’m not even sure where they came from. I have inherited tools and paint from friends. Were they Michael’s? Sally’s? Alex’? I don’t know, only that I never bought one.

I had to do research into WTF they are. Most of them are (as I thought by looking at them) essentially putty knives used for mixing paint. Only two were meant for painting. I don’t mix paint on my palette. I “mix” it on the painting, so the putty knife ones are pretty useless to me (right now). The two painting knives were/are very dirty with dried paint. I did what I could to clean the cleaner of the two because (I learned) I needed paint with the edges. I managed to get the tip cleaned off and the edges to some extent. It was good enough for an experiment, so I went at it. I haven’t looked at it this morning, but yesterday it was…

So much fun!!!!!

Here We Go!!!

Here’s my first real painting attempt with a palette knife. Here’s what I’ve learned. Knives are easier to clean than brushes. I’m using acrylic and with acrylic — and the knife — I have to work very fast.

The painting I’m working on will have something MORE to it, but I can’t paint it until all of this is completely dry. I may use a brush for the main subject, I don’t know, but this palette knife is wonderful and a LOT of fun.

I decided to use a palette knife since I don’t know how to use one and I can’t possibly get hung up on detail or doing well. If I do well, it’ll be luck as much as skill. This was a choice since I’m unsure of myself right now. My brain hasn’t worked to paint since Covid, but I think it is starting to. Using a tool I don’t know anything about is really helpful. 

I’ve painted a similar painting before — another iteration, a different place, a different subject, a long time ago, a small oil painting. Not these plants, but similar, along a stream in the Cuyamaca Mountains in CA.

The thing about nature is it is ONE thing adapting the species to the land.

Good Stuff

We woke up to an inch of snow covering the ground and clinging to the bare branches of the lilac bushes. It won’t last long, but wow. What a gift. My hope now is that Bear and I will be moving through it sooner rather than later. Two snows already seems to me, knocking on wood, touching steel, a good sign for the winter.

Early next week I’ll be hanging some paintings in the museum. As I “inventoried” my work (went to the garage and counted the boxes), I saw I only have three that I could hang — the fourth is too big and heavy for their system. The fifth, which is in the house, is WAY too big, and the sixth isn’t framed and it would be too big, too. I am going to have to figure this out but maybe not today…

Two of the paintings I’m hanging are at the top of the price point for the community. People will have to fall in love with them to fork out the money. In the grand scheme of selling paintings, they’re not expensive, but for here they are. I realized I will need to paint something attractive that I can price on the low end, something people might want to buy to cheer the short days of winter. And more, it can’t be an oil painting. I went through my photos of the Refuge to see if anything caught my imagination and there it was. I’m not saying yet because it might be a complete flop, but if it works?

I immediately went to my studio where I had already set a panel on my easel. I painted the undercoat, the color behind everything on this planet. Once that was down I looked at the photo and saw lighter spots and went at the still-wet acrylic with an old terry-cloth towel, revealing the white barely tinted with the raw umber. The only thought I had was, “This is going to be fun.” That’s exactly the thought I want to have when I approach a painting.

I wanted to try out the palette knives. We’ll see what really happens. I’d take a photo of what it is right now, but it’s just brown paint on a white board.

Featured photo — my first Thanksgiving back in Colorado 2014 at “my tree” with Dusty and Lois. Pikes Peak in the background. I’ve known this tree since I was 15.

MAK the Knife?

I haven’t painted since July when I got Covid. My imagination hasn’t worked in that way and the concentration needed for painting is different from “normal,” and I haven’t had it. Yesterday, struggling still with Covid’s lingering residue — which I’ve accepted could last a long time — I decided I could try at least ONE thing.

I have one of my garden signs hanging on the fence in my front yard. I don’t like the painting very much, and apparently no one else did, either, because it didn’t sell. It’s a salmon poppy against a blue sky. It should have been pretty, but somehow it really isn’t. I hung it on my fence during the spring and summer drought for a little color and to get it out of my studio. It’s a nice enough painting, so, no reason not to, right?

But poppy season has passed, holiday season is upon us in full force starting today, and I thought yesterday, “Well, I can do that.” I went out to my studio and took out a primed piece of plywood that was ready to become a garden sign. I had the thought of painting something seasonally acceptable, specifically, “Let it snow,” sort of like a prayer flag with my and Bear’s and every farmer’s prayer written on it.

Then the magic of painting kicked in.

I listen to music when I paint. I listen to YouTube, and sometimes they put a song I like in my list that I haven’t listened to in a while. The song in question was this:

Whoa… Two things happened. One was hearing a song I think is beautiful and has to do with snow. The other was the word “fox”in the band’s name. I’d already experimented on the sign with something I have long wanted to try. I’d painted the snow on the ground with my palette knife. That was fun. I knew it would be, but nothing I’ve painted so far lent itself to that experiment. I’m not sure a board is the best surface for that, but maybe. Painting with a knife uses a LOT of paint, but I have a lot of acrylic for which I gave thanks to my deceased friend, Alex Colville, more especially his wife, my friend Louise, who, last year gave me Alex’ paint. It’s a nice story. You can read it here.

I drew a fox across what was to be the letters. I had the idea the letters would remain, but as I began painting the fox — directly squeezing paint onto the board — I saw they wouldn’t. The whole thing changed.

I had such a good time. It’s not a masterpiece, and I’m not happy with the proportions of the fox, but I’m trying to ignore that and leave it alone.

So now my job is to varnish it and hang it on the front fence.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone whether you’re in the US — where it’s a holiday today — or anywhere else in the world. One of my most beautiful Thanksgivings happened in the PRC in 1982. No turkey, but we had a chicken. No mashed potatoes, stuffing, or sweet potatoes, but we had potato salad. No biological family, but a home filled with Chinese friends and chosen “family.”

As for today’s prompt? I think the Aussies have the BEST slang.

Dictionary of Australian slang 

Packapoo ticket

1) smth. messy;

2) toilet paper


I’ve had a painting — or something — in the back of my mind for a while, trying to figure out how to do it and what it would be. It’s a dog painting, but this time the dog isn’t Bear.

Yesterday — it rained all day — very strange, And one day of rain is about my limit and by late afternoon I was all “Rainy days and Mondays…la la la.” I went into the studio to consider the whole thing. For some reason, it’s never a rainy day in the studio, even when things don’t work out. I decided to sketch it even though ONE thing I learned from “Rainbow Girls in Wheatland, Wyoming in 1957” is that sometimes a sketch is all (all?) a work will be. It made me a little hesitant to draw because I (think) want to paint this scene.

It’s kind of a “wet” scene, too, so pencils seem just too hard, and too dry for it to capture it. But a rainy day will drive a person to dangerous lengths.

During the time I was cleaning out my journals, I found one that is really a sketchbook. There were only a few pages that had been “journaled” so I ripped them out and saved the book. The paper seemed just right for the project I was thinking of sketching, so I pulled it out and drew.

I have had some amazing experiences out there with my dogs. This is my dog, Molly (half-Aussie, half-Malamute), blue merle, up in the Laguna Mountains (3/2000). There was about 18 inches of snow at the top — about 5500/6000 feet. You can see in the drawing what a snappy dresser I was back in 2000, taking skis up to the mountains to carpe the diem. It snowed in Southern California, a lot sometimes, but it melted quickly. We skied down about 1 1/2 miles to the pond which was in a completely different season. It was spring there.

The pond sits at the top of a ravine (it’s a small, dammed farmer’s pond kind of thing) and the air currents from the Pacific run right up that ravine. They were carrying snow = moisture. When the fog from the ocean hit the pond, which was warmer than it was, it drifted toward the water in beautiful veils of mist.

A little higher, the fog hit the Jeffry Pine trees and coated the needles in ice and then further up, snow.

Molly and I went back and forth from winter — about 1500 feet above the pond — and back to the pond several times. It was an amazing moment.

And drawing Molly? Wow. I could almost feel her beside me.

Right now, I don’t know if it’s ever going to be a painting. The ephemeral experience might be best depicted just like this, and maybe no one needs to see this image but me (and you!). I don’t know yet.


Repair Finished

Impossible to fill all the cracks but I kind of like it that way. I let a little of the wood show through on the cranes because it matches the mud they put on themselves for camouflage. I will need to varnish it in a couple of days then back to Montana!

Garden Sign

One of the people to whom I sold a garden sign a couple of years ago sent it back. She had hung it in a place that made it very vulnerable to the elements (elements being sun and sprinklers). I try hard to paint my garden signs so they’ll withstand a LOT, but that sign got in a vortex of evil. I asked her to send it back so I could fix it. It’s a somewhat complicated painting on exterior plywood, more painting than sign. It was painted with good paint on high-quality exterior primer, but that didn’t save it.

The painting had peeled (tiny peels) in an interesting pattern with the wood grain that I kind of liked. All I could do was sand it to get the loose paint off and hope I didn’t lose the painting. It got more interesting as I sanded.

After sanding…

This is what I started with when I began the repair work. I was happy my sanding didn’t remove everything because I wanted to keep the image as much as possible. If I had to paint it again, I thought I’d just use a panel or a canvas. She going to hang it inside now anyway, so… but I thought that would lose something, especially the back which has a message between us about the day I finished. It was the day Biden’s election was certified.

As I worked, I felt a small connection to those heroes of song and story — painting restorers — a tenuous connection, but still.

I decided to work my way backward toward the mountains and use the acrylics I inherited last year. The colors in the photos are not right; shifted to red a bit because of the hanging over the window… Especially in the featured photo which is how I left the sign at the end of the day. The foreground, middle hills, mountains and sky are more-or-less finished. I no longer have the same paint I used originally for the sky but I think that’s OK.

The comparatively rougher wood grain adds a challenge to this that didn’t exist when I painted it the first time. There are small cracks. If I were painting a new painting on the panel as it is now, It might be less detailed or I’d take the belt sander to the wood.

Today I hope to paint the cranes.