Early signs of spring

Spring sketches page 1

I always eagerly anticipate the first signs of spring.  This year, I was surprised to see a dandelion in bloom on January 4th.  That is amazing to me.  Now I’ve eagerly started looking for signs.

So far, I’ve also spotted several bushes in bud. Rhododendron, azalea, magnolia. Sometimes I’ll catch a mixed up forsythia in bloom already but then, they often bloom in autumn, too.  However, they are easy to force if you just cut some branches and bring them inside. (Put them in water, of course.)

I have a lot of naturalized daffodils in the yard.  They are already coming up in several places.  Sometimes they’re too early.  One year I painted a group of daffodils blooming in the snow so it’s not inconceivable that I might see some soon.

One day last week, I saw three robins in a row in the front field.  Sometimes I’ve seen large flocks of them in early spring.  Only the males.

Rabbit in the headlights

And I caught this rabbit in my headlights as I was coming up the drive a few days ago.  The little devil was looking for something yummy in the garden but there’s nothing there yet except garlic.  A motion-detector solar-powered light is good to chase away night critters.

Nest

With the winds, I saw several of last season’s nests which have been blown down.  My kids used to bring them to me and I still love the engineering. 

These little sketches were done with some very old Osmiroid ink in sepia.  (It’s a collector’s item now.)  I haven’t worked with ink for awhile so it was fun to get back to an old friend.  I used a #4 quill which is also hard to come by these days.  There are a number of fine quality pens and inks made in Japan of which I would like to try more.  Stay tuned.

Spring sketches page 2

Fog

The east field. Frequently we see deer crossing here.

I am glad that I live in a climate that exhibits mercurial moods.  The past month has been some wild ride.  Record-setting heat for winter, up to the 70s.  And a blizzard which scrubbed the land with high winds, followed by bone-chilling freezes.  No two days were the same, it seemed.  I think I would get bored if every day was sunny and warm, say like Florida or Arizona. But ask me about that next month towards the end of February.

Out front looking back at the house.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that my own mood perks up on sunny days.  Thus, I seem to prefer painting outdoor scenes depicting sunshine.  So when I woke to a heavy fog a couple of weeks ago, I marched outside (yes, in my robe and rubber boots) to take some photos of the fog.  The air was soft and the neighborhood was very quiet.  It seemed shrouded in mystery if that isn’t too much of a cliché.  One could almost imagine some settlers emerging from the heavy air or some knights on horseback in days of old.  Yeah, too much reading with my granddaughter.

The front yard. I saw some deer go across the end earlier.

But as I was reviewing my photos, I got inspired to try some new subjects.  The misty landscapes will probably appear sometime in the next few months.  Just imagine the peace and soft footfalls.

The north field. The fog is beginning to lift but it’s just above the tree tops.

Oh, by the way, happy new year.  Or at least a better one if the past has been difficult for you.  Find a still place to reflect, maybe enjoy the peace of some foggy weather. 

A big maple in the side yard. The fog is already beginning to lift.

The Big Chill – Christmas

Blue sky and blue shadows. Beautiful but chilly.

Unless you were vacationing in some tropical paradise this past week, you probably are aware of the big arctic event that blasted through the center of the country this past week.  After a relatively balmy fall season leading up to the holidays, this is what my little corner of the Midwest experienced this week. 

The weather forecasters were urgently warning much of the nation to pay attention and take appropriate action.  Which we did.  The cellar was loaded with firewood in anticipation of the deep freeze.  The fridge was full of the usual supplies.  Our son and his girlfriend were rushed to Louisville on Thursday in anticipation of their very early flight back to the west coast on Friday.  (Fortunately, they experienced  only a small delay.)  We made it home by early afternoon before the big blast and battened down the hatches in preparation.

By early evening, the temperatures began to drop, the misty rain turned to driving snow, and the wind cranked up the volume.  It didn’t stop until today.  The high here yesterday was zero.  I didn’t even step foot outside the house until today when I went for a walk and to catch up on outdoor chores.

The sun was out and everything was sparkly.  The bird feeder has been popular.  We’ve gone through forty pounds of sunflower seeds in the past two weeks.  I saw plenty of tracks here and there, especially around the mulch pile.  I was looking for another visitor, too.  I spotted a mink skulking about last week which was the first that I’ve seen around here.  Haven’t seen any deer or turkeys but I’m sure they’re holed up somewhere.  Leo the cat has been taking marathon naps and very quick trips to check the weather.  The dog doesn’t care and is always ready to play with anyone who ventures outdoors.

We haven’t had a big freeze like this for many years so it’s been an adventure.

Anyway, I hope that wherever you are spending Christmas day that you’re warm and cozy and safe.  Enjoy your families if you’re near, or your friends if you’re not.  Or better yet, make your friends into a new family. 

Let the warmth of your hearts extend to those in need. Stay safe.

Best wishes for the season.

Blind Painting – or Painting from Memory

Blind painting – Sunrise before the Storm 1, 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

I’ve been clearing out a lot of junk from one of our attics lately.  A few weeks ago, my husband and I were taking several large bags to the dump one morning.  A big storm was moving in from the west so we put the rush on to get it delivered before the skies opened. 

The dark clouds were rolling up behind us.  As I was hustling along the road, I made a note of how beautiful the early morning skies were, especially the dramatic contrast between the rising sun and the storm clouds.  I wished I could take some photos but kept my hands on the steering wheel.  I decided to use an old trick which I haven’t practiced in quite some time.  This is to memorize the scene.

Blind painting – Sunrise before the Storm 2, 8×10, KitMiracle

Landscape and plein air painters often use this device.  That is, to set their easels up facing away from the scene, then study the scene for a bit and try to commit it to memory.  The point is to try not to capture every detail, but to make note of the key aspects.  Then turn around and, facing your easel, begin to paint what you remember.  It sounds difficult but you get better as you practice. 

We made our deposit at the dump and scurried home.  By this time, the skies had opened and a torrential rain was beating the car. 

As soon as I got home, I went to my studio and did two quick pencil studies of what I had seen.  Of course, I couldn’t remember every detail, but I think I got the jist of it.  Noting the main colors which had attracted me in the first place, plus some primary shapes.  I fired up these two small paintings (8 x 10) and am pretty pleased with the results.

I think the best part about using this technique is that it forces the artist to focus on the main shapes and not get lost in the weeds of details.  Certainly worth a try if you have never done so before.

Sketches from memory

Breaking Bread

It’s no secret among those who know me that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  The holiday of gluttony and naps I always joke.  But that’s nearer to the truth than most would admit.

It’s a time for sharing with friends and family.  A time to reflect upon the rapidly receding year. I love the new  holiday this has evolved into called Friendsgiving, where we share a meal and company with a chosen family if we can’t be with our loved ones.  Isn’t that a great idea?  Since people are spread out all over the country now, we find friends that we can share the spirit of the day with.

Other than the cooking and food shopping, there isn’t really much to preparing for the day.  No presents to buy and wrap.  Minimal decorations.  No cards to mail.  Just sit back and relax, enjoy our company, talk, argue, maybe watch some football on TV.  That always leads to more loud discussions. 

I always like the term breaking bread which actually extends beyond Thanksgiving.  The idea of sharing food is universal among all cultures.  A little while ago I did an entire series of paintings called Breaking Bread which depicted people eating together, or sometimes alone, the aftermath of the table, or even the presence of a well-loved furry member of the family.  I tried to capture the warmth of the occasion.  I think this was one of the most missed things about our isolation during the pandemic.

In honor of my favorite holiday, I am holding a temporary sale on all of the Breaking Bread series of paintings, a whopping 50% off!  And free shipping, too.  The sale will only be for a couple of more weeks so if you see something you like, grab it. These are all original paintings on stretched canvas which should arrive in plenty of time for the other big end of year holidays. 

Check them out on my Etsy shop at kitmiracleart.com

And then the cavalry arrived

The sticks ready to be processed.

As I have mentioned previously, we rely on wood heat to keep our house warm in the winter.  Yes, we have a gas furnace but that has a price.  The wood heat is free….mostly.  Oh, there’s your labor involved and the wood requires a lot of handling. A lot. 

The guys were experienced and jumped right into work.

Southern Indiana is hilly with plenty of hardwood forests. People often selectively timber their property.  That is when individual trees are cut.  The logger only takes the primary eight foot log (sometimes more than one per tree).  He leaves the limbs and tops for the landowner.  This is where our firewood mostly comes from.  Saturday mornings are spent in the woods, cutting, dragging, chopping, splitting, moving the wood from one place to another.  A lot of handling.

Last winter my husband bought some “sticks” from the neighboring logger.  The wood was good but maybe it was twisted, the wrong type, whatever.  They delivered it and it’s been sitting there awaiting attention.  Unfortunately, as mentioned in an earlier blog, he had a serious health issue this year and can’t handle the wood as he was used to.  Which led to plenty of fretting on his part.

So, as I was reading the paper a couple of weeks ago, I saw an article about the local seminary who was looking for families who heat with wood for their annual Project Warm.  This is where the seminarians acquire wood from people who donate it off their property, maybe previously timbered, chop and deliver it to families in need.  So I suggested to my husband that he give them a call and explain the situation.  That he had the wood but just needed some help processing it.

After a few phone calls, they agreed that this would be a relatively easy project for them and came out this week.  Wow, what a beehive of activity!

The crew. Such a wonderful bunch of guys and so hard working. (Husband is the guy in blue in the middle.)

Since the guys were experienced in the process, they were able to go right to work.  We have a log splitter and all the logs were staged in one area.  They just had to saw the logs into the right stove lengths, then split them.  Some used the splitter but most of the young men chopped the wood by hand with mauls.  It was like a well-oiled machine.  Some were sawyers cutting the wood, some were splitting the wood with mauls and one operated the machine splitter.  It is easy to spot someone who has been swinging a maul for years as there is a certain rhythm to it.  It’s not a chopping motion.  And this was hard wood, almost all hickory, one of the heaviest and densest woods, but which provides the most warmth. At least two of the young men grew up on farms in New England where they were accustomed to handling wood for home heating.

The final results. A whole lot of firewood to heat the house this winter.

The guys turned those logs into piles of wood ready to keep us toasty this winter.

Taking a well-deserved break after a couple of hours of real hard work

Of course, we fed them as is our custom in this part of the world.  Trays of homemade Italian pizza, pumpkin spice muffins, fruit, snacks and drinks.  It was a pleasant afternoon for us as I hope it was for them. We so enjoyed visiting with these young men and learning more about their backgrounds and fellowship.  What a wonderful day. The guys are from St. Meinrad Seminary, right down the road from us.  Project Warm has been one of their community missions for over forty years.  Although we just learned of the program this year, I can’t tell you how much we appreciated the help.

Our son came by the following morning to move the wood into piles. This makes it easy to tarp the piles, keeping it dry before it is moved into the house.

Learn more about Project Warm here. https://www.saintmeinrad.org/news?story=13467

He’s baaaaaack!

Brutus looks better than we hoped for.

Our thirty-seven year-old farm truck, affectionately known as Brutus, has a bigger following than I do. For those of you who have been keeping up with this saga, you know that Brutus caught fire back in August. We thought he was a gonner but he’s arisen from the dead, so to speak.

A replacement of many wires and manly internal truck parts, much massaging by our favorite local mechanic, and Brutus is ready for business again. Which this time of year involves stocking up on firewood. He has a little cosmetic damage to the hood where the fire scorched the paint but otherwise, he’s in pretty good shape. Knock wood.

And we definitely travel with a new fire extinguisher in the truck now. So glad that we had several around the house and outbuildings.

As for me, just in case you wondered where I was last week, I’ve been cleaning out several decades of detritus from the attic of my studio. Junk or burn pile. Summer is too hot with the heat and winter is too cold, so spring and fall are the best times to clean. I’ll make a posting about that when I finish the job. I did discover where my flying squirrel or mouse problem went. Might have something do to with the sizeable snake skin I found up there. Ha ha ha.

Hunter’s moon

Last night I sat outside with the chill falling, enjoying the flames in the firepit.  I think we had a frost but it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference. 

The Hunter Moon rising, October 9th.

Tonight I stood outside for awhile to wait for the rise of the Hunter’s moon over the ridge.  As dusk was falling and the dog and I were waiting, a soft shadow drifted into the bean field.  A deer.  One of many nearby.  The dog, of course, took off.  Just the love of the chase, I expect.  I don’t know what he would do if he caught one but there’s really no danger of that.  The deer glided across the field in leaping arcs.  He’ll be back.

Plein air painting with a friend down by the river earlier this week. It was so peaceful.
I’ve painted this scene several times, in many seasons. The tall maples and reddish dogwood set off the white house and the clear blue sky. So brilliant.
The dogwood backlit by the afternoon sun. My granddaughter says it looks like stained glass.

I try to get outdoors as much as I can this time of year.  Took the grandkids to paint pumpkins at the local art fair yesterday.  Went plein air painting down at the river with a friend earlier this week.  But even a walk through the woods with the dog are pure pleasure.  The squirrels sure aren’t leaving many hickory nuts and the walnut harvest is paltry compared to last year.  Never mind.  Plenty for all.

Purple ironweed looks brilliant and healthy this late in the season. It contrasts nicely with the beanfield in the background. It was actually covered with straggler butterflies a week ago.
Surrounded by fall colors which seem to have changed overnight, at least the past two weeks.

We had a bit of a drought earlier this summer but with some rain. Crops around here are abundant.  The farmers are scurrying to get it all in before the next big rain but I think they’ll be alright.  None predicted for awhile.

Anyway, I hope you can get outdoors to enjoy the crispy fall air.  I’ve painted nearly everything in the area throughout the seasons, particularly autumn.  But I guess that you’ll see more seasonal work as the months go by.  It never bores me. I find the rhythms of the seasons comforting.  I hope that you are able to enjoy some natural beauty in your area, too.

A beautiful sunrise over Lake Patoka. Photo courtesy of my friend Joan M. who lives nearby.

Preparing for an emergency

Like the rest of the nation, I watched the devastation of Hurricane Ian in Florida and up the coast this week with a mixture of sympathy, terror and awe.  What would you do?  What could you do to prepare?  The scale of this natural catastrophe is beyond comprehension.  But there are a few things you can do to help during an emergency situation.

Last year I posted a few helpful hints for emergency preparations and equipment.  I’d like to expand upon that a little.

First of all, you need a GO bag, or BOB (bug out bag).  This is usually in the form of a backpack filled with some essential tools and equipment.  You can buy variations of these emergency kits ready-made online or make your own.  These can be tailored to your location, climate and season.  Keep in mind the weight as you don’t know how long or far you may need to carry this.

I would definitely take a power bank which is already charged or can be charged from a solar-powered charger.  Both of these items come in various sizes and weights.  Add a solar-powered charger. And don’t forget your charging cords.

Then some rechargeable light source.  Either free-standing or a headlamp so your hands will be free.

A portable radio, either rechargeable or hand-cranked.

A paper map.  If the power grid goes down, your GPS won’t work.  Familiar terrain may look totally different after a major event so a map could help.

Some cash money, as all the ATMs will be down if no power, as will the credit card machines.

Some high protein food, power bars, trail mix, etc.  Water and / or containers, or even purification tablets. 

Other items that may prove helpful would be a poncho or large trash bag, some smaller resealable bags, utensils, such as a knife or pot. Disposable lighters. Essential medications, or first aid kit. Good shoes and maybe a change of clothes.  Copies of essential paperwork or at least an electronic copy on a water-proof flash drive. 

As you can tell, the list is endless.  It all depends upon the circumstances, the type of emergency you are expecting, and how long you expect to be on your own. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, earthquake or any number of man-made disasters.  You should be able to grab your bag and get out of Dodge in about fifteen minutes.

There are some excellent websites out there, as well as some informative books.  One of my favorites is Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag by Creek Stewart.  You can learn a few emergency survival skills without becoming a total prepper. 

A little preparation and knowledge can provide you with the confidence you may need when faced with a difficult situation wherever you live.

Water themes as a painting subject

Waterlilies at the Spillway, acrylic, 12 x 12

Many lists of the most popular painting subjects include landscapes and seascapes.  I must admit that I’ve painted quite a few pieces with these subjects.  Although I live in the Midwest, many of my landscapes include some water feature – streams, rivers, ponds, lakes.  And my travels have taken me to the ocean in various places.  There is something very primal and soothing about hearing ocean waves…most of the time.

Fishing at Patoka Lake, acrylic, 12 x 16

Recently I painted a couple of paintings based on the very large lake nearby.  Lake Patoka is 8,800 acres and is a major water and recreation source for the area.

Leaving the Cove, Cape Breton, NS, acrylic, 9 x 12

But I also cruised through old photos of places we have visited, particularly Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, and New England.  Such beautiful scenery that it was difficult to choose.  Many more subjects for future paintings.

White Wharf, Rockport, MA, acrylic, 12 x 16
Fishing Shack (or Motif #1), Rockport, MA, acrylic, 8 x 10

And, of course, I did an entire series of beach paintings but those are mostly about people and children with the ocean being a common denominator for each painting.

Beach Readers, Intimate Spaces series, acrylic on linen, 24 x 30, Kit Miracle The whole attraction of this subject with the irony of the two young women who are reading and totally ignoring the beautiful day at the beach. I also love the way the red beach chairs draw the viewer’s eye into the scene.
Wet Reflections, acrylic, acrylic, 24 x 30

This is not to say that painting water features is the only subject that I tackle, but it is one of my favorites.  So many opportunities if I take my time to look for them.  

Ritter Creek, oil, 24 x 30
French Lick Creek, oil, 24 x 30

What are your favorite subjects to paint?

See more paintings at my Etsy shop KitMiracleArt or my main website ContemporaryImpressionism