Yellow – Fall’s Hidden Treasure

Fall is my second favorite season, summer will always be my first. What can I say? I love the warmth of the sun. I do have to admit that the cooler temperatures of fall make long walks and bike rides along the towpath even more enjoyable.

This year the reds and oranges have been especially vibrant, and for the first time ever I noticed the beauty in the color yellow as well.

I also discovered that sometimes the leaves that have fallen to the ground are as beautiful as the leaves still clinging to the branch. This blanket of gold and subtle accents of green covering the grass took my breath away.

hidden beauty inspiration

I have no doubt that the drivers of the cars passing me wondered why I was taking pictures of the ground, but I couldn’t help myself. I saw more than fallen leaves, I saw the hidden beauty.

The image inspired me to draw.

hidden beauty

I decided to call it “Hidden Beauty.”

One Thing I Know….

As many people do, I struggle with seasonal depression – sometimes referred to as SAD. Mid-December when the days are short and the temperatures are cold the world around me becomes heavy and it becomes increasingly difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning. I’m fortunate because I understand what’s happening to me and can take action to lessen my feelings of sadness and anxiety.

This winter has been more difficult than most; its extra cold and snowy and the sun seems to have run away to the Caribbean for the winter. I’ve no doubt that major life changes such as becoming an empty nester are also contributing to my feelings. The good news is the days are getting longer, I discovered light therapy, and a new outlet for sharing and engaging my creativity.

A month or so ago I bought a lamp that mimics natural outdoor light and have been using it daily. I do believe the light therapy is helping. At first it seemed  little strange to have a bright light shining directly on me for 30 minutes every morning and again in the evening, but now I’m used to it and almost look forward to it.

I stumbled onto the creative outlet quite by accident on Google+.  It’s called the #onething creative challenge and was started by  Katherine Tattersfield and Drew Myler (you can learn more about it here).

It’s self paced, anything goes and the goal is to create one thing daily, weekly, or whenever you get to it – it can be drawing, sculpting, writing, taking pictures, knitting, cooking…. etc. Then you post it in your feed using the#onething  hashtag. I was inspired by the wide range of entries and the camaraderie among the participants.

My first contribution to the challenge was my most complex and intricate ink journal entry so far. Undulate is the word that comes to my mind to describe the movement of colors and patterns through the middle of the drawing.

hearts and tears_7

My second creation was a simple drawing in my journal accompanied with my sentiments about creativity.

One thing I know
is that we are all creative
it just takes a while for some of us
to realize and accept our gifts.

onething

The #onething challenge has already made a difference in my life. There’s a great energy among the people who are participating and it’s prompted me to once again take out my camera and take pictures of things that catch my eye.

Many people don’t see or understand – is that there is inspiration everywhere, and often-times in the least expected places, like the pavement in front of the gas pump.

I’m not sure why there was this lone shoe-string curled up in the shape of a heart and abandoned in the asphalt – but it caught my eye and I’ve no doubt that it’s the inspiration for some really fun drawing.

photo 3 b& w

I took a deep breath before posting the picture from the gas station. The positive and supportive comments about the picture made my fears of being rejected, laughed at, or even worse ignored seem almost silly. But we all know how real those fears can be.

Yesterday was my fourth day of participating and the snow covered ornamental grass in my front yard was my contribution for the day. One person said it made her think of cotton candy.

snow covered natural grass

Today’s blog post will by my #onething for today. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep up the pace of contributing something every day, but it’s been a great spirit lifter.

I’m thankful the days are getting longer, the sun is shining today and I’ve found one more thing to help me through the season and feel less sad.

Hurry and arrive spring, I’m ready to take my camera out on the towpath again.

this makes me smile

A Serendipitous Walk and The Importance of Teachers

Today I took a walk that was long overdue. It’s not so much that it was overdue from a physical fitness point of view but from a creative standpoint.

Since moving to Pennsylvania, one of my favorite past-times has been to go for long walks or bike rides along the Delaware Towpath and take pictures of things that catch my eye. I post them on Facebook, use them in blog posts, and I’ve even framed a few.

In fact I was so excited about the images I’d captured and shared that I registered for a photographic essay class this summer. I looked forward to it with great anticipation. The class description invited beginners to learn about photography, it even said something that I interpreted as ‘no experience necessary.’ As a writer and a person who loves to take pictures it seemed like a perfect fit.

Within the first few minutes of the first session I suspected I might not be in the right place. The instructor started off the class with a pseudo lecture about how smart phones and cheap digital cameras have degraded people’s appreciation of truly good photography. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and introduced myself as a writer, the owner of a cheap digital camera, and eager to learn about photography.

The second class was devoted to evaluating each students photos in front of the rest of the class. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I was nervous. The evaluation went something like this:

“This photograph is a mess, it has no focus”

summertime

I imagine he’s correct from a technical point of view, but it was meant to be messy – women and summer are messy, not organized or neat. It was a slice of life and an un-staged moment that represented summer to me.

“You really should have moved the twig out of the way.”

butterfly

Really? I’m not sure how I would have done that and still captured the butterfly.

I won’t bore you with more, but it went downhill from there.

I stayed after class with a couple of other students while he did a final critique. This woman’s work was absolutely phenomenal. Clearly the work of a photographer and not someone who ‘just likes to take pictures.’

I didn’t return to the class and my camera has been more or less in the drawer ever since, along with my pencils and charcoal. As an adult, perhaps I should have known better – but as a fledgling artist, I let him knock the wind out of my creative sails.

Today, I decided to change that and I’m glad I did. I live in a breathtaking part of the country and my pictures are a way for me to share my world through the lens of a camera.

I love capturing and soaking in the vibrant reds.

065

I also love sharing my observations. This fall has been strange.

It’s October 27th and many of the leaves are still green. The contrast between the trees who have fully engaged with fall and those that are still holding onto summer is striking.

fall trees next to trees with green leaves

I spotted this small pink daisy (at least I think it’s a daisy) clinging onto summer and refusing to lose it’s last petals onto the crunchy layer of leaves below.

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I have no idea what this purple flower is but I thought it was stunning and it didn’t seem like it fit into a walk on a chilly fall day.

purple flower in fall

The towpath was alive with bikers and runners today. I laughed out loud when two young boys raced by me clad in boxers, sweatshirts, and neon sneakers. I had to wonder if it was a dare or a fashion statement. I hope it was a dare :).

boys on a bike

Normally I walk about four miles, today I decided to go further. Now comes the serendipitous part of my walk. I ran into one of the first people I met after moving here and I stopped to chat. We met through a local running group’s winter race series.

I’d been thinking about participating in the series again, but hadn’t decided because I’m SLOW and the majority of the people in the running club are FAST (and I mean fast). Turns out she’d been thinking about the same thing – so we’re both going to sign up and it’s looking like I’ll have someone to go running with.

I grinned the whole way home and managed to catch this spectacular picture of a heron.

heron_towpath_10-26-2013

I don’t know what the teacher from my photographic essay class would have to say about it, but I think it’s pretty darn cool.

Even as adults, we rely on teachers to encourage and teach and challenge, not to criticize without being constructive.

I’m deeply thankful for my drawing instructor who guided me into the artistic world with kindness, encouragement, and constructive feedback. The right teacher makes a world of difference.

I’m not sure what the most serendipitous part of my walk was – but it’s been a good day all around.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I like to joke with my friend Kathy and say that I’m her “roadie.”  After she introduced me to the art of making paper I’ve enjoyed two sessions of creating hand made paper, a workshop on the craft of making books, and as of last night, it now includes Monotype print making.

I registered for her next workshop at the Princeton Arts Council. Yesterday was the first session and it’s sure to keep me busy and out of trouble for the next two Monday nights.

I had serious challenges wrapping my head around Kathy’s instruction to bring along black and white  images that would work to use in the process. As always she was super patient and explained that we were going to trace the shape on an object onto a piece of clear plexiglass and that the shape should be large and simple.

I brought along more pictures than I needed to. I would have loved to have tackled the image of a butterfly resting on a flower, but I suspected that it wouldn’t be the best choice for a beginner.  The picture is from an unexpected treat and a visit to a zoo in North Carolina – I took more pictures of butterflies and flowers than of the animals (which will always me laugh).

I couldn’t resist sharing the color version.

I cropped it and turned it into a black and white close up of the butterfly.  The contrast is exaggerated to bring out the details.

In addition to the butterfly, I also brought a picture of a pair of running shoes, which I plan to draw but have yet to tackle.

And last but not least I included a couple of versions of one of my favorite pictures from this summer.  There’s something fun about the beach hat perched on a wine glass and the reading glasses, smart phone, and kindle on the table.

We reviewed the images and mutually agreed that a close up of the hat was the best choice for my first attempt at print making.

The first step is to prepare the piece of plexiglass, which starts with peeling off the plastic covering (on both sides) and after smoothing out the rough edges the fun begins.  The fun part is tracing the shape onto the plexiglass with a Sharpie.

Kathy had us include a clue that would help us remember which side we were working on.  The words “Ink” and “Draw” were the guidelines for which side to put the ink on.

The next step in making the print is to coat the plate with a layer of release agent and then add the ink.  The ink is applied with rollers and the goal is to get it spread evenly across the surface.

Then it’s time to play!  The objective is to “artfully” remove ink and reveal the object.  We had access to use everything from bubble wrap to Q-Tips as well as paint brushes and bamboo sticks,which were all tools to remove the ink.  I used a combination of things, but my favorite was creating a feathery movement with some tin fine tooth combs.

I had no idea what to expect when I flipped the plate, ink side down, onto the paper.  Kathy helped make sure that I applied the right amount of pressure with a giant rolling pin.  She had me press and hold down the papers edge while she lifted the corner to expose a beautiful abstract yellow hat.

After cleaning off the yellow, it was back to the ink station, another layer of release agent, and a coat of red ink.  I found myself being bolder with shapes and movements in the ink.

It was fun to watch everyone go through the same process doubt and wondering what the print would look like to big smiles and a feeling of satisfaction.

Next week we’ll add the final layer of ink and I’ll take pictures with my “real” camera, not my smart phone. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Sunsets on Big Sand

perfect reflection of clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

I’m always sad to see summer come to an end.  Summer always has been and always will be my favorite season.  I love the heat, the sun, and especially the long days.  Although the one thing that’s nice about the sun rising later is so do the dogs.

Looking at the upcoming forecast and highs in the upper 60’s and lows in the 40’s was a reminder that I’m going have to trade in my flip flops and ankle bracelet for shoes that cover my toes and eventually socks.

It seemed like a good day to post some of my favorite pictures from this summer.  I don’t think there is anything as beautiful as a sunset on  Big Sand Lake, MN.

My parents have a cabin on the bay, their beach is called Iowa Beach even though the lake is in Minnesota.  I think that’s because at one time most of the cabins on the lake were owned by families from Iowa.  The gate between their cabin and the lake always fascinates me.  I think it makes a great frame for a sunset.

sunset on big sand lake through the garden walk gate

On the first night we were there, the sunset reflected off of the pontoon like an invitation for an evening cruise, which of course is one of my favorite things to do at the lake.

pontoon at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

One of the things that amazes me about the lake is the variety of cloud formations.  No two days are alike and its always a treat, my favorite is when they turn vibrant colors like pink and orange.

pink clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

Every once in a while a picture just happens and the unbelievable reflection of the clouds in the calm surface of the water was a once in a lifetime moment.

perfect reflection of clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

My favorite dinner cruises are when we take chicken dinners and wine on the pontoon and tour the lake while we eat.  Hmm…I don’t have any pictures of that; I must have been too hungry to think of capturing the moment – next year.

The pontoon not only doubles as a dinner cruise ship, its often also a fishing boat.

fishing at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

Sometimes my kids don’t mind when I take pictures of other people.  They’ve never said it, but I think there are two unwritten rules.  Only take pictures of people if there is absolutely no chance of being caught and make sure it’s a picture worth taking.  I think the image of a canoe slipping through the water at dusk follows both rules.

A Canoe at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

Oftentimes we stay out on the lake until the sun has almost set and we can see the lights on the other boats and pontoons as they quietly return to the bay.

Pontoon coming to shore from a sunset cruise on Big Sand Lake, MN

My dad caught the shutter bug this summer and took over for me after I left.  I think my favorite picture and sentiment is the one he sent from his phone in an email.

He said – “the lake without beth”

I said – are you trying to make me cry?

He said – yes

stormy sky

He knew it would make me both cry and smile to know he captured a moment that said “it’s not the same here without you and we miss you.”

Farewell to summer and greetings to fall.  I’m lucky because sunsets on the towpath are beautiful as well.

sunset on the towpath

The Loss of Art in Education

I’m a “one thing leads to another” kind of person, which can be interesting when it comes to explaining my train of thought sometimes.  It might be hard to explain how an online class through a community college called Romance Writing Secrets would lead to drawing, making handmade paper, and not last or least to a workshop on making books.  There is a connection, but it would take a book to describe it – so instead I’ll stick to my most recent adventure.

Last Saturday I roped my friend Christine into taking a workshop at the Janney house through the Artists of Yardley.  My friend and instructor Kathy and her fellow artist Mindy offered an all day workshop that was split into two parts; the art of making paper and of making books.

I arrived 5 minutes late, but with coffee from WaWa in hand – an important tradeoff.  I have to admit it was fun to show some of my paper and the drawings I’ve done.  It’s such a thrill for me when people say “wow, I really like that.”  I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, I hope I never do.

Because I’ve had the opportunity to make quite a bit of paper lately, I asked if I could spend the day with Mindy making books.  As always, the atmosphere in the studio was conducive to learning, laughing, and creating.  We learned how to make two styles of book, accordion and flag.  The accordion is easier to describe; paper folded in a “mountain, valley, mountain” pattern ready for pictures or drawings and secured between two covers.  The flag book is much like a pop-up book and I think the possibilities are endless (once I wrap my head around how to approach creating the finishing touches).

Mindy is an amazing teacher and it’s easy to understand why she and Kathy are friends.  The dynamics of the morning and afternoon sessions were as different as night and day and Mindy never missed a beat.  I watched in amazement as she adapted her style to the needs and pace of the students.

I usually try and describe the process at least in a general sense, but  book making has a lot more steps and detail than what I’ve been doing lately and I’m sure I wouldn’t do it justice.  I was a little intimidated by the need for measuring and precision, but Mindy put me at ease and I was pretty sure she would find a way to fix almost any mistake I might make.

What I think is interesting is how everything I’m attracted to has to do with paper.  Writing, photography, and drawing are all done on paper.  Somehow everything I’m learning is weaving its way together.  It’s really quite fascinating when I take a step back and connect the dots.

I have no idea how I’ll put this all together. What I do know is it will be a lot of fun to figure it out.  The books I made last weekend are wonderful experiments. There are supplies on the way to create pieces that match my style and taste.

The entire process has made me stop and think.

The thought that keeps popping up in my brain is how we are depriving today’s youth.  Our education system is focused on activities that require the ability to memorize and calculate, not on the ability to perceive and create.  How can one exist without the other?

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Busted

butterfly on a pretty weed

My kids find it embarrassing when I stop to take pictures of things like a pile of shoes on someone else’s porch, a muscle car in a parking lot, or of a stranger’s garden. I think the word they use if they catch me taking pictures of a person is “creepy.”

In my defense, I only take pictures of random strangers from a distance and I don’t post them on Facebook. I like having them as a source of inspiration for writing and as a visual reminder of the many characters in life.

I thought twice about taking my camera along on my late afternoon walk. It was overcast and muggy and the day didn’t have the lighting I had in mind. I love taking pictures around sunset. I think there’s something romantic and nostalgic about that time of day. Of course pictures taken at sunrise may also share those qualities but it’s highly unlikely that I will ever discover whether or not that’s the case. The only reason you’ll find me up before sunrise is because that was the flight time with the very best price.

I stopped in front of the favorite garden along my route. There are flowers from spring until fall and I’m drawn to the bursts of color and the combination of plants and flowers that are both whimsical and wild.

Lost in thought, I focused in and snapped one picture after another in an attempt to capture the contrast of the oranges, yellows, pinks, and purples against the small sea of waving green.

“Excuse me,” called a voice from the porch.

Shoot!

My kids worst fear has come true, I’d been busted. As a rule follower at heart, my face grew hot and my pulse quickened.

I swallowed hard, “Hi there, I was ummm…just ummm…you have a beautiful garden. I especially love the day lilies.”

I opted out of trying to explain why I was taking pictures and attempted to distract her with a compliment and called out the one and only flower that I knew the name of.

daylilies

“I noticed you taking pictures and I just wanted to tell you that you are welcome to wander anywhere in the yard for as long as you like.”

Really? She wasn’t mad?

“Wow thanks! By the way, I’m Beth.”

She waved from the porch, “Nice to meet you Beth, I’m Bonnie.”

Bonnie joined me in the yard after she finished her late afternoon snack. She gave me a personal tour which included an introduction to the frogs in her pond, I’ve nicknamed them Fred and Fernando. There was a third frog, but he wasn’t showing the camera his best side.

fred the frog
Fred the frog
fernando the frog
Fernando the frog

Bonnie shared a passionate overview of how her gardens have transitioned over the past twenty three years. I had never given a second thought to how many things could impact the art of bringing flowers to life.

I told her my tale of woe and how my second attempt at gardening hadn’t gone nearly as well as the first thanks to the deer and the heat. She listened with an understanding smile and invited me to stop by in the fall to collect as many perennials as I wanted.

I think we made each others day.

I wandered along the towpath taking pictures of butterflies and what I consider to be pretty weeds. I thought and I walked and I realized, flowers and butterflies are beautiful even on a cloudy day.

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A Little Slice of Heaven on Earth

A place to relax outside the Colleen Attara Studio

When I lived in the Midwest, my perception of the East Coast was the same as many others. Based on movies, magazines, and personal travels I imagined it to be all skyscrapers and sidewalks. When I moved here, my friends from Omaha asked me about the traffic and how long it takes to get to work and whether or not I missed the wide open spaces.

I get a kick out of explaining that I live in a town that has a main street with a single stop light and the only type of traffic jam that could cause me to be late for work is a flock of geese crossing the road.

One of my more recent discoveries is the Patterson Farm.  It is one of the few, if not the only pieces of open space left in the area.  It’s the home of the Artist’s of Yardley, the studio of artist Colleen Attara, and the rich land is a source of local produce for the community.  There are two houses and sets of farm buildings; one was owned by the Patterson’s and the other by the Doan’s.

Last Friday I was feeling out of sorts, so I grabbed my camera and drove to the property.  Today I’d like to take you on a tour.

The driveway winds from Mirror Lake road to the Janney House.  This picture isn’t from my most recent set, but I think it’s the best picture I have of the house. I thought it would be neat to include a photo of the house from the first day of my drawing class.  The house was built during the time that Andrew Jackson was president and is the home of the Artist’s of Yardley.The Janney House, Patterson Farm, Yardley PA

I thought the view of these trees and the sun filtered through the leaves was spectacular.  I love the shadows and it made me picture Scarlett O’hara standing with soil clenched in her hand and shouting to the sky, “I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again.”Trees alongside the Patterson Farm Driveway

This body of water brought back memories of my grandparents farm outside of Berthold, N.D.  The slough at the end of the road was the signal for the dog to start barking and that the road trip was over and there were welcoming hugs just ahead.Still Water and trees along the Patterson Farm Driveway

The shafts of tall grass swayed in the breeze and they whispered “Summer,” in my ear.Patterson Farm, Whispers of Summer Grass

I met the gentleman who currently farms the property. He grows fresh produce, and his family sells it at a local farmers market.  He often tends to the farm in the evening as a way to wind down and get away from the hectic pace of the day.  It made me sad to learn that the open space property is in jeopardy and commercial development may ensue.  (more to come on this in a separate post)The current Farmer of the Patterson Farm, Yardley PA

There is something very poetic and nostalgic about a tractor at sunset.Farm Equipment at Sunset, Patterson Farm Yardley, PA

The property is well guarded by feral cats.  I don’t think this one was too happy to see me.Feral Cat, Patterson farm, Yardley, PA

I always enjoy taking pictures of things from different angles.  I like this view of the property and the glimpse of the Doan farm on the horizon.Patterson Farm View of the Doan Farm

It was all I could do to not curl up in one of the deck chairs  and watch the sea of summer wave across the land.A place to relax outside the Colleen Attara Studio

I found this to be a fascinating contrast.  The bright color of flowers blooming against the backdrop of a house with a history and life.  It’s as though the flowers are saying, “Don’t give up hope.”Flowers against old house, Patterson Farm, Yardley PA

I found myself wondering about the relationship between the families.  Was there intrigue?  Was there friendship? I like to think there may have been some mystery, I might just make some up for good measure.Doan FARM, also known as Satterthwaite Farm, Yardley PA

Patterson Farm, Yardley PA

One hundred and thirty pictures later I couldn’t think of a good reason to feel out of sorts.  It’s a beautiful place and a slice of heaven on earth.

A Picture is Worth 200 Words

I take pictures of everything, and multiple versions of most things. I’m not a photographer by any means, although every once in a while I get lucky and capture something breathtaking or unique.

I like to think the digital camera was invented just for me.  My desire to take numerous pictures from different angles began a long time ago.

We were on vacation in New York City, I was 13 and I took picture after picture of the Statue of Liberty.  I think that may have been the only thing on the roll of film.  I couldn’t help myself, I was fascinated with the various angles, shadows, and reflections.  To me she looked different with every click of the shutter.

That desire hasn’t changed, thankfully it’s affordable since I don’t have to get film developed.  It’s not unusual for me to take 100 pictures or more in a single day. Many of them are different points of view of the same object, while some are just random to help me remember a particular place or time.

My kids take it in stride. Although I’d bet money they roll their eyes when I’m not looking, especially when I stop and take pictures of a pile of shoes or a stranger in a parking lot. I also think they take a secret pleasure in repeating the words they heard over and over during their childhood.

“Ahem, Mom, ‘be aware of your surroundings’.  You almost got hit by a car when you stopped to take that picture.”

“There was a car? But I got a really great shot,”  I reply.

You never know when a picture might come in handy, particularly when it comes to writing.

I find that pictures help me recall details that I would otherwise forget, and sometimes they help me create stories I might not have imagined.

Through pictures I remember, how a spring rain looks through the window, the canal at sunset, and the cold winter day we discovered Philadelphia on foot.

I imagine everything from a princess in her castle with a secret garden, to the mysterious man in red shoes carrying a suspicious leather satchel. Who knows what stories they might bring in the future.

I don’t know if a picture is worth a thousand words, but it’s worth at least 200.

spring rain through my window

Yardley PA, Delaware Canal at Sunset

Philadelphia Walking Tour

Ridley Mansion

Ridley Mansion, Secret Garden

man with the red shoes, philadelphia