Category Archives: books

Winter reading – artists’ biographies

I love reading biographies, particularly autobiographies, particularly artists’ autobiographies.  Winter is a great time to snuggle inside with a book or two or ten.  These are a few of my current recommendations.  You may be surprised that I don’t just read books about painters or even about artists who work in the same style as I do; I am more interested in their motivations, how they became who they became, and what obstacles they had to overcome.

Alexander Calder, an Autobiography with Pictures.  1965.  In this autobiography, Calder dictates over a period of several months, his life and career as an artist.  From a struggling student in engineering to the famous artist he became, this is a fascinating tour of his life.  He doesn’t always delve into the why of the works he created, but it’s amazing to see how his career grew.  And I couldn’t believe just how much he and his wife Louisa traveled, not only between the US and France, but all over the world.  They moved frequently and were undaunted to tackle any old derelict of a farmhouse, apartment or barn.  Personally, I would not be able to remember all the details about my life as he relays in this account of his.  Full of photos in both black and white, this is a page-turner.

Chuck Close, A Life  by Christopher Finch (2010) Chuck Close is a brilliant artist known for his gigantic portraits but he also faced many struggles in his career. A poor student, he probably suffered from dyslexia, but he overcame the naysayers to garner acceptance into Yale.  His early successes established him as a leader in the art world.  I loved reading about his years in a loft apartment in the Village, and the name-dropping of other famous contemporaries.  His spinal stroke in mid-career set him on a new trajectory that would have sidelined many lesser individuals.  Close didn’t discover until late in life that he actually suffered from prosopagnosia, i.e., he is unable to recognize faces, even of those whom he knows well.  This probably set him on the path to focusing on the giant portraits.

Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir  (1959) It was interesting to read this biography of such a famous artist by his own son.  I always admire the early impressionists (although they didn’t call themselves that at the time) and to read such a personal account by an eyewitness of the day is fascinating.  I learned a lot about Renoir and in the end, didn’t really care for him as much as a person.  But this is still a great you were there account which gives the true flavor of what it was to be a painter at this critical period in France.

Van Gogh by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (2011)  Nearly everyone holds some ideas about Van Gogh but many of those ideas are shallow characterizations.  He was much deeper than cutting off his ear.  He painted to celebrate his love of God and God’s world.  The fact that he was able to create in the face of so much ridicule and drive himself to continue to paint is inspiring.  This book is not for the faint of heart as it is over 900 pages, but it is very thorough.

Edward Willis Redfield, An American Impressionist and His Paintings and the Man Behind the Palette by J.M.W. FLETCHER (1996)  I am a huge admirer of Redfield and his work.  He was such a dogged master painter and had some of the best working habits of any artist that I’ve read about.  Redfield doesn’t get as much attention as he did during his lifetime but take a look at his work if you happen to visit a museum.  What I love most is the sheer energy that he put into his paintings.  You can tell by the bold and sure strokes.  He was a big man and usually painted large canvases….on location.  No matter the season, winter or summer, he would wade through snow and ice to get what he wanted.  This book is a personal labor of love by the author who researched it about as thoroughly as anyone could.  It contains just about every detail of Redfield’s life and career as he could round up.  I feel that some of the photos that the author took could have been done a little better, but overall, this is an amazing portrait of an American Impressionist.

Willard Metcalf, Yankee Impressionist  Spanierman Gallery, LLC.  (2003)  I fell in love with Metcalf when I first viewed his painting The North Country in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It became an annual pilgrimage to visit this painting on my many trips to the city.  The delicacy of the colors of the painting cannot be done justice in any reproduction compared to the real painting.  Metcalf was prolific and had many successes early in his career.  However, he was not so lucky in his relationships and had a problem with alcohol.   The book is filled with many beautiful plates and is certainly a good depiction of a lesser-known American artist.

This is just a small list of some of the artist biographies that I have enjoyed.  Check them out and be inspired. I’ll post links to my favorite women artists another time.

Links to the books:

Calder – Autobiography with Pictures

Chuck Close – Life

Renoir, My Father

Edward Willis Redfield 

Willard Metcalf 

What are you reading?

Books, my not-so-secret addiction

What are you reading these days?  This is a question I am frequently asked as most people who know me, also know that I am a true bibliophile (lover of books.)  I covet books.  I love the smell, the feel, the heft.  Just opening a new book gives me chills of anticipation.

So, most friends are also surprised when I reply with several titles.  How can you read more than one book at a time?  they ask.  Well, you can watch more than one television series at a time, can’t you?  You watch an episode and then come back the next week to watch the next one.  Then I can see the light dawn as they get what I’m saying.

I like a variety of books and subjects to read and switch off during the week.  Quiet morning time is often reserved for more contemplative, deeper non-fiction.  Later in the day, I escape with some fiction (many genres).  And bedtime reading is, let’s just say, a wee bit boring, or at least nothing that’s going to keep me awake all night.

So this is my current reading stack.

Bronnie Ware’s The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.  Since I already have more years behind me than I have before me, I mostly want to see how my life compares with others who have reached the end of theirs.  There are some interesting concepts but I do find that the author wanders around a bit.

John Muir’s A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.  This is more of a journal than a bonafide book.  It is scanned and has all the errors that some scanned books have.  But I always find Muir a fascinating and awesome writer and person.  It’s nearly incomprehensible some of the treks and adventures he made with very little in the way of supplies or equipment.  Bedtime reading, for sure.

Dr. Michael Mosely The Fast Diet.  The author discusses some of the science behind intermittent fasting and the research for better health and longevity.  I think I like’d Dr. Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code better but this book is very readable.

James H. Rubin How to Read Impressionism: Ways of Looking.  I’ve read so many books about impressionism, the period, the specific artists of the era, that I doubted there would be anything new here.  However, the author approaches the subject by grouping the artists and paintings by location and subject matter more than chronologically.  It’s an interesting read but I have noticed that his conclusions do not always agree with other authors.  It’s loaded with color pictures and is a good reference.

Then this past weekend I indulged a guilty pleasure of zipping through two sci-fi dystopian books by Dima Zales, The Thought Readers and The Thought Persuaders Not deep but good entertainment.

So, this is what is on my reading table these days.  What is on yours?

So many books; so little time. – Frank Zappa

Your Legacy

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.  (Kahlil Gibran)

I was in my studio yesterday, finishing up a large painting that I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks.  Then I started another one…and finished it.

My mind often wanders when I’m working as I’m zoning out in the painting process.  I’ve been spending the past month redesigning my website from the ground up.  I put up some work in the archives which one of my sons remarked he had never seen.  (Before you were born, sweetie.)  That led me to thinking about all the art I’ve created over thirty-five years plus.  A lot!

And then that led me to think about where it all is now.  I did my first art fair in the early 80s and have been selling my work ever since.  I’m embarrassed when I visit relatives and see all the paintings I’ve given them over the years.  It looks like a Kit Miracle art gallery.

Several years ago I received a call on my business land line phone…when I had a land line.  It was from a woman in Florida who had purchased one of my small paintings in a resale shop.  It had my information stamped on the back.  We chatted for a while.

That led me to thinking about where all my paintings are now.  I’ve traveled a lot.  Shipped a lot.  And now, with online marketing, have sold work all over the place.  It’s a little bit of me scattered all over the world.  That’s my legacy.

I’ve never been a person who longs for fame, but it’s always pleasant to think about all the places where my paintings live now.  Maybe they’ll end up in a jumble sale; maybe they’ll be treasured family heirlooms.  But they’re like my children, scattered to the winds.

Which led me back to one of my favorite poets, Kahlil Gibran and his exemplary work The Prophet.  The section of the poem above is from the part of the work where he discusses Children.  My art is like my children.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

We are the bows.  We send our children….or our creations…out into the world.  That is our legacy.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of The Prophet lately, check it out soon.  I’m sure you’ve got an old copy from high school or college lying about.  Or you can check it out of the library. Or purchase a used copy.  You won’t be sorry and you’ll have plenty to think about when your mind takes a walk.

The Demise of Art Supply Stores and Bookstores

Just a small part of my secret addiction.

Two of my favorite hangouts when I go shopping are bookstores and art supply stores.  For some reason, these marvelous emporiums of possibilities grab me and hold on until I manage to escape some hours later.  Usually lighter of wallet, too.

Last week I made a foray to the “city” of Evansville and, as usual, stopped by Dick Blick’s art supply store.  I had my list in hand, had checked out online prices, and was prepared to spend some money.  I milled around a bit, filling my basket with some “necessary” studio items, and proceeded to the checkout.  The clerk couldn’t tell me if the in-store prices matched the online ones or not. What the heck.  I was there already so I checked out anyway.  It seemed like a lot but when I got home and checked the online prices, they were the same.  That’s good for my budget.

And I’m afraid that I do the same thing at bookstores.  Spend hours perusing my favorite sections, surreptitiously check prices with Amazon and Bookfinder, and see if the book I desire is the latest edition.  It’s just so easy so shop from home and have my heart’s desire delivered to my doorstep.

But the past several years, I’ve made a concerted effort to actually buy something in these stores, even if the price is a little more.  I think we need to support our local merchants for more than just a cappuccino and to read magazines for free.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be enough.

Yesterday I received an e-mail notification that Dick Blick’s in Evansville will be closing later this month.  I am so sad.  This was one of my favorite stops every time I went down there.  Shopping online just doesn’t supply the same adrenaline rush of actually fondling new pens and paints, checking out new authors, just looking around to see what is available.

Over the past several years I’ve seen Border’s flagship bookstore in Ann Arbor bite the dust.  As well as Hawley-Cooke in Louisville.  These stores had knowledgeable staff, enormous selections, and were just comforting places to hang out.

Lee’s Art Shop in New York closed its door last year.  Dang, that is where I bought my Lamy fountain pen (in dayglow green).  And the awesome Rizolli’s Bookstore in upper Midtown was a store right out of casting central – beautiful carved stone exterior, well-worn wood inside, nooks and crannies to find some amazing tome.

Sigh.  I know.  Things change. And we’re all guilty of bottom price shopping.  But where are people going to shop, to hang out, to fondle the plants at the nursery or the special pens and crayons at the art store? To find out what is new and amazing?  Are we all going to sit in our isolated armchairs and just punch buttons to order things?  It is fantastic to be able to find that something special online but it doesn’t quite replace the in-person experience of ogling something new in person. It’s so sad but I await to see what’s next.

What are your thoughts?  Have any of your favorite stores closed?

What’s with that?

Since this blog is about art, books, and country living, today’s post is about books.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an Amazon Vine reviewer.  They offer me a limited number of books and merchandise to choose from which continuously changes.  I get to keep the items and all I have to do is write an honest review of the product.  No where does Amazon require that I write a good review if I don’t think the product is any good.  I do try to justify my review with specifics thinking of the readers who rely on reviews.  In fact, I often find the negative reviews to be more enlightening but that is just me.

I’m not quite sure how Amazon selected me for this program.  Probably because I buy a lot of books and other merchandise through them.  I also write reviews even on the non-free items that I order, some of which have received high ratings.

But a few months ago I wrote a negative review on a book that I’d ordered several months ago.  It was an art book and I felt the author was a fraud and didn’t have any skills except self-promotion.  I realize that anyone can write a book and publish it.  That is not the point.  The point is that other people rely on the reviews when they make their purchases and would be wasting their money if they purchased the book thinking it was one thing when it wasn’t (in my opinion).  So I wrote the review and even had several photos that I’d scanned from the book to prove my point.  However, for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to upload the photos.  But the review received several positive votes.

The surprise was when I recently revisited the review to see if I would be able to upload the photos now, the review wasn’t there anymore.  Hummm….  A little internet research revealed that Amazon is now taking down some reviews.  There’s some internet chat about the reasoning behind their decision, but the fact that they do makes me pretty skeptical about the entire review process.

The point here is, you ought to be wary of the review system, too.  How do we know we’re getting honest opinions?  I don’t know the answer to that question but I do know that I’m going to go back and re-review that book.  Hopefully I’ll be able to upload the photos now.

My friend Bill

Bill Whorrall - Artist Parking Only

Bill Whorrall – Artist Parking Only

Recently, I went up to visit my friend Bill Whorrall.  Up – to me – means north.  He lives a few counties over up in Martin County, a place nearly as rural as mine.  Hills, rivers, woods, rock outcroppings and a good variety of interesting people.I’ve been acquainted with Bill for several years but have only gotten to really know him the past few years.  He and his lovely wife (or as he describes her “the long-suffering Karen) live on a nice little homestead farm snuggled back into the hills overlooking their large garden and orchards, where they have their studios (she works in clay).  So I had a little extra time over the holidays and wanted to kick around a few ideas with Bill.  It was one of the most interesting days I’ve had in a long long time.

Bill is well-known in the region but those who don’t know him well often think of him as an opinionated, outspoken crank and contrarian.  He is.  He is also one of the most innately creative people I know and is passionate about his work and many other things. He has a wonderful attraction for the ironic. Bill is a photographer, artist, sculptor, writer, poet, and one of the best art teachers in the country.  That last is not an exaggeration.  He was recently nominated for a nationally-known art teachers’ award although he would never tell you about it.  He is very humble about his accomplishments.  His students, both children and adults adore him.  He is able to get his students to tap areas of creativity they didn’t even know they had.

After several hours talking about art and the state of the world, and a substantial lunch prepared by the lovely Karen, Bill voiced his frustration about updating his website.  His web designer had disappeared.  This is one of the few areas that Bill isn’t experienced in so I offered to come back and help him.  I suggested that with his many creative talents that a blog would be a perfect venue for him.  Currently, in addition to all his other work, he makes and prints his Billzines.  These are wonderful handmade, hand-printed magazines that are only mailed to a few select recipients.  I am happy to say that I am on that very short list now.

So I returned to Bill’s house the following week and help him set up a blog.  It is called, of course, http://www.billzine.com  He is now posting his own thoughts and rants, books, photography, ideas for art teachers, poetry and writing.  Please take a few moments to visit his blog and website.  www.billwhorrall.com  I think you will be amazed at what he has accomplished in less than THREE WEEKS!  Sheesh!

Another thing I should mention.  Bill just turned 70 and will retire from teaching this year.  Fortunately, he has agreed to teach for us at the arts center.  Boy, are we lucky.  Oh, yeah.  One more thing.  Bill is now legally blind.  Please don’t feel sorry for him as he doesn’t feel sorry for himself.  He can see somewhat and works at his computer with a big magnifying glass.  He still paints and writes and photographs.  As he said himself, even if he goes completely blind, he will still find some way to create.  And he will.

Bill Whorrall in his studio

Bill Whorrall in his studio

Bookstores and resolutions

Books, my not-so-secret addiction

Books, my not-so-secret addiction

Recently my son was looking at a photo of me in my office at work and observed, “You know, Mom, it seems as if wherever you go, you always have piles of books around you.”

Guilty as charged.

I have made no secret of my special addiction to books in previous posts.  I truly am.  I get a rush when I walk into a bookstore or library.  And hitting the BUY button Amazon must generate a feeling akin to a gambler who has just pulled the lever. I love the smell of books.  The heft.  Looking at pictures, turning pages, feeling the texture.  Seeing piles and shelves full of my favorites makes me giddy with pleasure.  The (yet) unread stories or the old friends and memories of where I acquired the book, where I read it, my thoughts about it.

The only real drawback with books is the sheer space they take up and how much they weigh.  If you’ve ever had to move, you already have learned to pack books into small boxes.

Soooooo….I made a resolution not to buy any books this year.  (I truly am overwhelmed.)  That still leaves the library and my VINE selections.  But…before the new year began, I visited my favorite real bookstore in Louisville.  Anticipating spending at least an hour cruising the aisles, I was shocked when I walked in to see how much their book stock had dwindled.  Their shelves were now filled with toys, games and puzzles.  Gift items and cheap overstock books.  But where were the REAL books?  The poetry, the philosophy, art and musings?  And I realized just then – in a most drastic way – that I was partly responsible for this book shrinkage.  The demise of the brick and mortar bookstore.

I shop online for the lowest price, even for used books.  I’ll frequently receive a “used” book which appears brand new and it only cost me a penny!  (And, yes, I shop Goodwill online, too.)

But what is the future of bookstores if we all shop online or download to our e-readers?  Where will our children and grandchildren experience the pure pleasure of fondling the tomes of authors across time and space?  That they can actually possess for a mere few dollars?

I used to anticipate for an entire year my annual visit to Ann Arbor, home of the flagship store for Borders as well as many funky used book stores.  I’d often wander in with determination and a list.  It was a reader’s pleasure garden, a true emporium of knowledge.  Well, Borders put up a good fight but we all know the end of that story.

So, my resolution has been amended to buy from and support real bookstores whenever I can.  There are no more real bookstores in my little town but all the Google maps of the cities I visit are sure to be starred with my favorite haunts.  I look forward to keeping this new resolution.

As for the other, well, it’s only the 16th of the month and I’ve already broken it several times.  Oh, well.  Keeping authors employed, right?

On being an Amazon Vine reviewer

Amazon Vine reviewer

Several years ago I received an e-mail from Amazon inviting me to participate in a brand new program called Vine.  What the heck is that, I thought.  In their e-mail they said that they would send me FREE books!  I got to KEEP the books!  So what’s the catch?  I had to read and write a review for the books.  Okaaaaayyy…..  What’s the real catch?  So I called them.  Yes, it was true.  This was a brand new program.  They were inviting me to participate.  Yes, I could keep the books.  At the time there was some nonsense that I had to keep ALL the books they sent to me.  Yeah, right.  Do you have any idea how quickly those pile up?  (BTW, that changed recently. I guess they got some complaints from hoarders about the number of books piling up.)

Anyway, I’ve been a Vine reviewer since the inception of the program.  Now if you’ve read my previous posting about my addition to books, you know this is like asking an alcoholic if it would be OK if someone sent him free booze every month.  Heh heh heh.  And the answer to that question would be?  Heck, yeah!

So the way the program works is this.  Twice a month I receive an e-mail notifying  me that a new posting has been made in a special compartment of the Amazon website where I get to choose a certain number of books.  They mail them to me.  I get to read and write a review about them.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.  Since the beginning of the program, it has been expanded to include all kinds of products, not just books.  Food items, vitamins, toys…you name it.  Whatever Amazon sells.  I’ve received some really terrific stuff.  Aside from the books, I’ve received some neat food products, earphones, a flat bed screener, computer programs, toys….I can’t remember everything.

The big misconception by the public and what I’ve read online is that the Vine reviewers have to give everything a good review.  That is definitely NOT so!  I have been very frank when a product has been a real stinker.  And some of them have been.  I actually do try to read and review every book but they do pile up which is the big downside of this program.  I’m a reader and have a whole bunch of books that I want to read for ME, not just for Amazon.  But who’s complaining? 

Are all of the reviewers as conscientious?  I couldn’t say.  I only know that I read at least a couple of books a week from the program, not counting my own, or considering that I have a REAL life.  I’m not even in the top 1,000.  Do the top reviewers real ALL the books they review?  I can only speculate.  If you rely on the reviews for Amazon or any other website, at least be a bit skeptical.  I would say that most of the reviewers do a great job but there might be a few who take shortcuts. 

Anyway, thank you Amazon, this is a great opportunity. And, for you curious people out there, I use a pseudonym, not my real name so you won’t be able to track down my reviews.  It’s better that way, don’t you think?

Books. Books. Books. My secret addiction.

When I was a little girl and first discovered the wonders of reading, I vowed to read every book in the world.  I can’t tell you how old I was before I actually realized the impossibility of that.  But I’ve been trying ever since.

I’m not quite sure why I took to reading so well.  I wasn’t a particularly precocious child.  I didn’t have parents who pushed me to read at age two or anything.  But I did have a parent who read to me every night and we always had books around the house.  We had a three-volume anthology of children’s poetry and stories, plus my father had a complete set of the classics.  You know the kind.  The ones all bound in red.  Probably one of those order by mail deals. 

When I finally learned to read for myself, I was off like a horse at the Kentucky Derby.  I haven’t stopped since.  I had my first library card at the town library. These were the days where you were issued one of those cardboard cards with the numbered medal plates that made an impression on the card in the pocket of the book.  After I’d gone through most of the children’s section, I was given the privilege of moving up to the adult section of the library.  This was a really big deal to me at the time.  It was a very old library of many floors with steam radiators, high ceilings, dusty corners.  Later in high school, my friends and I would haunt the study rooms in the overheated atmosphere.  Yes, even before computers. 

In college, I actually had a campus job of working in the library which was wonderful.  I could cruise the stacks, get first dibs on the newest selections, and really learned how to research.  By the time I graduated, I had been promoted to the reference desk.  Sigh.  What fun! 

Just a small part of my secret addiction.

In the past many years, my interest in reading has only grown.  It continues to amaze me to realize that we can still share the thoughts of people who have been dead for centuries.  It’s as if they are still here, whispering to us. 

My interest in acquiring books has never waned either.  I still want to possess them.  I love the tactile feel, the smell of the ink, the heft and weight of the books.  I love to see them on my shelves.  Most of the online booksellers know me very well, as well as many of the used booksellers.  I love to cruise bookstores, both old and new, and often ensure that I locate the nearest bookstores when I’m traveling. Going into a bookstore for me is akin to an alcoholic visiting a bar.  It’s a very dangerous (and expensive) proposition.

But what about electronic books, you say.  They take up much less space and are easily transportable.  Humph!  My son bought me a Kindle for Mother’s Day.  Well…..it has its uses.  I can download nearly any book in the public domain and can often read a book for much less than the price of the “real” book.  But it just isn’t the same.

And then to further feed my addiction, several years ago I was invited by Amazon to participate in their Vine program.  I’ll write about that another time but the jist of the program is that they send me free books every month and all I have to do is review them.  I don’t even have to give them a good review!  How cool is that?!

So, thank you Ms. Kuhlman way back in first grade for teaching me to read.  You probably didn’t realize the path you set me on then.  And I’m really sorry I stole that Little Golden Book from the classroom library.  It was my first and only foray into crime.  I think I’ve more than made up for it since in the many many books that I’ve donated to libraries wherever I’ve lived.

Art. Books. Country living

I thought I’d combine my primary loves all into one website.  I live on a 90 acre farm in Southern Indiana.  I’ve been a professional artist for 30 years.  And everyone knows that I’m a true book addict.  What better way to pull it all together than through this one place?

In the coming months, I’ll put up some of my art, entertain you with my very opinionated views of books and art, and some of the funnier (or not) things that go on here in the country.