Category Archives: country living

A walk in the big woods.

It was a beautiful early fall day on Friday so I decided that my dog Mikey and I needed to explore the big woods to see how things were progressing towards autumn.  I always take a bag to collect fall things – acorns and pretty leaves, bits of lichen and moss.  Our property is a mix of gently rolling hills and streams with some acres of hardwood (red and white oaks) up on a hill.  It is one of the highest places around and one of my favorite escapes.

Beginning of the walk through the east bean field.

I usually don’t head up to the woods in the deep summer – too buggy and too many weeds. So I was eager to see what had happened since I’d last been up to the big woods last spring.  Of course, this called for long pants and long sleeves, and some bug spray.  Dang, I hate chiggers and ticks!  And biting flies!

An old weathered tree stump on the dry creek bed.

Through the hickory grove. Love the way the light strikes the dead cedar on the left. My companion Mikey waits almost around the bend. He’s very patient.

Another almost dry creek bed. Look closely and you can see plenty of deer traffic through here, especially some very large prints.

I’m always fascinated by interesting patterns of fungus and lichen.

It’s a little early for many of the leaves to have changed color here but there were the beginning signs.  And, as expected, the creeks were really dried up after the past few weeks without rain.  Normally everything is very lush, even in the deepest of summer.

Mikey loves to go into the woods and runs about 20 feet for my every step.  Of course, one will never see any wildlife as he chases it all off.  But I eagerly look for signs and wasn’t disappointed to see some pretty big deer prints in the mud near one of the creeks.

Getting ready to cross under the powerline. Usually this is a cleared path but since we’ve added another path, this one has grown up over the summer. The weeds were taller than me! I’m heading towards that dead tree on the hill on the upper right.

Wading through chest high weeds, I appreciated the brilliant colors of this late patch of goldenrod.

I actually just walked through this (looking back). Path is totally grown over with some fierce briers, snatching at my hat and clothes. I can’t imagine the early pioneers and explorers wading through this kind of terrain, although deep woods really have little undergrowth. This is caused by the open spaces that were created when some trees were taken out.

Reached my “resting” chair, an old chair that we dragged up into the woods on a favorite lookout space. I had to clear the weeds off just to sit down.

Over the past 30 years, we have done some selective timbering.  The last time was a few years ago and a new path was cut to the big woods on the hill.  The old path had grown over but I wasn’t prepared for just how much it had grown over since last spring.  I almost got myself into more work than I anticipated as I had to practically hack my way through the overgrown weeds and briers.  It was a relief to come around to the new path (and mowed) area. I sure don’t know how the pioneers did it except that real heavy woods don’t have much undergrowth.

We’ve hacked our way through the briers and have come out on the downside of the loop with the cleared new path. Yay!

Now the hiking is much easier, exactly what I was anticipating.

Coming out of the top woods, heading back under the powerlines.

The view from the top of the woods on the hill. If you enlarge this photo, you’ll see farms in the distance which is about a mile or more away.

Easy walking through the lower woods. These are mostly hardwoods, red and white oak.

Poor Mikey was as tired and thirsty as I was. I have never seen him lie down to drink. I think he really wanted to roll in the water on the cool sidewalk.

Mikey and I had a good hike (about a mile and a half for me) and much more for him.  But we were both exhausted by the time we returned to the house.  An immediate shower was called for to help prevent any chiggers or ticks from digging in.  So far so good.  Lots of good material for future paintings and a pleasant way to spend a fall morning.

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Selling Art on Etsy….or Not

My90Acres, Etsy shop

A couple of months ago I had lunch with two old friends from high school.  We hadn’t seen each other for decades so there was much to catch up on – families, careers, retirement, etc.  We had such fun.  As the newest retiree in the group (just since May), I was curious about how they spend their time.  As it turns out, my friend Susan started an Etsy shop.  We talked some more and I thought I could probably revive some fruit and vegetable paintings that I used to do when I was traveling the art fair circuit.  Later, when I returned home, I looked at my friend’s shop DoodleDogDesigns (cute personalized doggie bandannas) and was impressed by how professional it was….and how many sales she has had!  Wow, who doesn’t need a little extra income?

KitMiracleArt-Etsy shop

Within a week, I had set up a new Etsy shop, My90Acres with the intention of focusing on artwork related to the theme of this blog, i.e., living in the country.  The paintings are all original watercolor / pen and ink sketches, matted to 8 x 10.  These used to be my bread and butter item when I did the art fair circuit for 25 years. Very popular with buyers who want to add a pop of color to their kitchens and living spaces.  Afterall, just how much grey can we live with these days?  And they’re small enough to fit into those awkard spaces in your home, on the soffits over the cabinets, between the cabinets and the counter, between windows, or even on a shelf.  I had customers who would come by my booth every year to add a few more paintings to their collection.

Veggie Painting, My90Acres, Kit Miracle

I was also surprised that an Etsy shop that I’d started a few years ago was still registered to me, KitMiracleArt.  So I decided to revive it for all of my other artwork.  I’m ambitious if nothing else.  Besides, I have plenty of artwork on hand and plenty of time to pursue my interests now.

Autumn Road

So after two months of the Etsy experience, this is what I have to report.

Pros

  • The investment was minimal. I already have the studio and all the tools I need to do my work.  The Etsy fee is only 20 cents per item and 3% per sale which is a small fee to get my work in front of so many people.  I did purchase museum-grade ready-cut mats.  Not much overall.
  • I already have the skills. I’ve been painting professionally for over 30 years. I have years of selling at art fairs and running a business.
  • I have a modest amount of computer skills with my original web site since the mid 1990s, plus managing the website, blog, and other online activities at my former job as Director.
  • I’m pretty good at marketing and SEO (search engine optimization). During my decade as Director, we sold out about 50% of our performing arts events. And a Google search of my name reveals that I come up five times on the first page.
  • This forced me to take a complete inventory of my studio, plus clean up. Neither of which is a favorite activity of artists.
  • I was forced to learn my “new” digital camera which I purchased two years ago.
  • I was also forced to learn a really good photo manipulation program which I had installed over a year ago.
  • And, my time is still my own; I still get to paint and do something I enjoy. I love those afternoon naps, too!

LuckyRed #3

But all is not paradise in the land of Etsy.  There were some surprises.

Cons

  • Running a successful Etsy shop takes LOTS OF TIME! I so admire those people who are really good at this and totally appreciate the effort they have put into their shops. The actual time invested to make this happen was a surprise and affected almost every area related to my Etsy shops.
  • Establishing a new shop and reviving the old shop was more work than I anticipated. What was I thinking?!
  • Production time increased. Just to get enough products for the My90Acres shop required a concerted investment of time.  This could almost become a job. Did I mention that I just retired?
  • Taking good photos is paramount. If your pictures don’t look good in your store, you don’t look professional. I was forced to learn the new camera so this ultimately was a good thing. It takes a lot of time to set everything up, check the lighting, take the photos, and put everything away.
  • Photo editing (after I learned the new program) takes a lot longer than I anticipated. I really want my pictures to look good.  Many evenings will find me working on my laptop while my husband is taking in the Cubs game.
  • Writing the descriptions for each item takes way more time than I imagined. Afterall, I want to be informative but perky, to entice the buyer to actually purchase something.
  • Promotion is critical and again, takes some investment of time. This includes making sure your tag words are good, searchable, promoting on social media, and just keeping up with it all.
  • Educating myself about the ins and outs of Etsy has also been a treat. I’ve read a couple of books but will say that the Seller’s Manual on the Etsy site has been a tremendous help.  I’ve also watched several videos on the topic (there are over 1 million Etsy videos on YouTube).
  • One needs to have some business background – budgeting, accounting, inventory – to have a successful shop. Fortunately, I had this already but new Etsy shop owners should educate themselves in this area.
  • Planning and organization are key. I’m pretty organized but the amount of time involved has been a surprise.

Bottom line

So, my shops have been open for less than two months.  Lots of visitors from all over the world but no sales yet.  My friends are encouraging and I’ll stick with it because, hey, I’ve got the time to devote to it now.  And….shameless marketing….I’ve got sales going on in both shops through September 18th.  Time to start shopping for the holidays! KitMiracleArt   My90Acres

Pumpkins and Sunflowers, KitMiracleArt, Etsy

Painting wildflowers

Swamp Mallow – wildflower, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

After almost four months into retirement, I’ve been able to devote a lot more time to my creative side.  This means time spent in the studio as well as venturing out for plein air painting.

One thing that I’ve been having fun with this summer is painting wildflowers.  With 90 acres, plus the many streams, country roads, fields and forests in the area, there is plenty of subject matter. In a ten minute walk in almost any direction I can snag a handful of different wildflowers.  And the variety keeps changing throughout the season.

Joe Pye Weed – wildflower, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

My love for wildflowers was born in college when I took a couple of terms of field botany.  (Please don’t ask me to categorize any plant through Gray’s Botany; I have totally forgotten how.)  But I spent one summer doing an independent study of wildflowers with my amazing professor, Lucky Ward.  We would travel together on dusty back roads, collecting samples for the college museum and to press.  What an experience!

Goldenrod – wildflower, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Wildflowers have always remained beloved friends even though they are often overlooked by many, or just considered “weeds.”  Too bad.

Trumpet vine – wildflower, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

So this summer I’ve tackled identifying and painting a lot of local flowers.  These are not botanical drawings but merely simple watercolor with pen and ink sketches.  My aim is to capture the beauty that surrounds us in the small bits of color that we pass so blythely by.

Evening Primrose – wildflower, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

So, what to do with all these little paintings?  I decided to start an Etsy shop called, of course, My90Acres to sell them.  No sales so far but I’m hopeful.

Queen Ann’s Lace, wildflower, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Meanwhile, I’ll still be hiking through the weeds, chiggers and all, to see what is blooming this week.

Red clover or purple clover, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Jewel Weed – wildflower, watercolor pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Toadflax – wildflower, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Night visitors and animal thieves

Living in the country, we often have furry visitors, especially at night, and especially when the garden comes in.

This year the raccoons ate ALL the peaches!  Dang!  And they took out the entire second crop of sweet corn.  Fortunately, we were able to put up some from the first planting.

Pears on tree in the orchard.

This year our pear trees are giving us an abundant crop.  The branches are drooping with the heavy fruit.  I put up two buckets of pears this week which will taste pretty good in a cobbler this winter.

Unfortunately, a lot of other critters like this fruit.  My dog barks at night at the invaders but since he is tied up at night (due to his penchant for visiting the neighbor’s chickens), he can only bark. (And keep us awake.)

So, I set up the deer cam to see who was grabbing his attention.  I expected to see a lot of raccoons but was surprised at what I did see.

A family of foxes visits often  They eat a lot of windfall but, like the fox in Aesop’s fables, they will try jumping up to grab a low-hanging fruit.

Fox with pear

Fox at night, eyeing low hanging fruit.

Mystery night creature. Probably an owl.

But the real surprise was the coyote who has become a frequent visitor.  I think this is a female based on the size compared to my dog.  Also, she is probably feeding pups as she returns many times, even during the day.

Coyote with pear. Probably taking it back to her pups.

Coyote on Alert

My dog sniffing around after running the coyote off this morning.

In the long run, I don’t really mind sharing.  Just leave something for me.

Studio visit – where the magic happens!

My studio is the old summer kitchen surrounded by herbs, flowers and giant maple trees.

I love to visit the studios of other artists, to nose around and see how they work, what materials they use, how they store materials and artwork.  Sometimes I get great ideas but it’s just wonderful to see what the other artists do.

So I’m inviting you to visit my studio.

Over thirty years ago, my husband and I decided to leave the corporate world and purchased a small farm in Southern Indiana.  This was always a dream of mine so he mostly came along for the ride.  If you are not familiar with this part of the country, it is totally beautiful with woods and fields, gently rolling hills, lakes and streams. And not too many people.  I like to say it’s like New England without the crowds.

We live in a 150 year old farm house with a large garden, a couple of orchards, and plenty of the aforementioned woods and fields and streams.  We raised two sons here and have enjoyed living in a county that doesn’t even have one stoplight…and we’re proud of it.

My studio is the old summer kitchen so my commute is about 30 feet from the back door.  For those of you who are not familiar with this term, summer kitchens were popular in the days of wood-fired stoves to keep the heat out of the house…in the summer!  They are very common on old homesteads in the midwest and south.  And it’s very nice for me to have an area to keep my art separate both physically and mentally from the rest of the house.

Thanks so much for stopping by.  Don’t forget to visit my art website at kgmiracle.com  or my Etsy shop.

My Blue Door Studio,the old summer kitchen is about 30 feet from my back door. The blue is Electric Blue, a lucky southwest color. Hey, why not?

View from the front door through the studio. It is a two-room space.

View from my artist chair to the front door of the studio.

A broader view of the front room of the studio. This used to be the dining room for the field hands during the summer.

It may looks a bit haphazard but I know where everything is…usually.

Broader view from the back room into the front room.

This large pantry in the back room of the studio is where I store many objects for still lifes. The old wood cook stove was back here, too. I can’t imagine how many meals were fixed here, as well as all the canning that was done.

Storage is always a premium for artists. Where does one PUT all this art?

This is where the magic happens. The easel for oil painting. The flat table for watercolor and some drawing. Everything I need within a hand’s reach.

Yay! Spring is here!

Blue Bells and Narcissus

I think that people who live close to nature are generally more attuned to the seasons.  Every little bulb that pokes its nose up, the buds on the trees and bushes, and even the wrens making their nest on my front porch.

Hostas and bluebells in early spring

Here are just a few of this spring’s observations on My 90 Acres.  Missed posting the daffodils and forsythias but that is what happens.  Time and nature keep moving on.

A yard full of spring beauties

Close up of spring beauties and violets

Probably won’t be burning too much more wood in the wood stove.  It’s been a mild winter but we always feel like squirrels hoarding nuts when we have big piles of firewood.  It will keep until next winter.

End of winter firewood pile

Spring planting

One of the nicest things about living in the country is being able to grow our own food.  We like the fresh from garden to table taste as well as knowing what is (and isn’t) in our produce.  We’re not fanatics about it (at least I don’t think we are) as there are many things we’ve tried over the years but which just aren’t worth the trouble.  For instance, carrots and potatoes are cheaper to buy in the store or farmer’s market than grow ourselves.  Too labor intensive.

But one of the things we enjoy doing most is pushing the seasons.  We have a spring/fall garden area, separate from the main garden, with a cold frame and some area to plant cooler weather crops.  Here we grow kale, lettuce, asparagus, snow peas and onions.

Lettuce in cold frame – black seeded simpson, bibb, siberian kale, and mixed kale. Planted mid February.

What you see here are two kinds of lettuce and Siberian kale that we planted back in mid-February.  We should be eating this next week.  The cold frame is covered with screen, and in colder weather, a top with plastic, and sometime if we get a late snow or freeze, a blanket.  The lettuce and kale will keep coming until June.  Then we replant it in September to eat in November and early December.  No pesticides or sprays at all.

Sweet onions, planted early March

We’ve planted onions sporadically over the years but always had trouble keeping them.  We dried them on screens or put them in the shop refrigerator, but they still spoiled.  So last year I pointed out to my husband that since we mostly cook with them, why not just chop them all up and freeze them.  So that is what we did.  With the aid of the food processor, it didn’t take any time at all process them all.  It was so easy to just grab a few handfuls whenever we were making soups, stews, or other recipes which called for chopped onion.  This year we’re experimenting with several varieties but we really like the large sweet onions.

Starting seeds in greenhouse. The mousetraps are because the mice kept digging up the seeds!

The garlic has been another challenge.  We planted two kinds last fall.  One made it and one totally died.  My husband did the planting and didn’t mark which was which, pointing out the necessity of keeping good records.  We all have faulty memories and it’s often difficult to recall when and what we planted after the passage of several months.

Sure am looking forward to that lettuce, though!

Studio Work

Like many artists in winter, I don’t have much time to get outdoors to paint. By the time I get home from work, it’s usually dark. However, I paint every week, often several evenings. These are some recent paintings from photos that I took this autumn.  One is from a trip to the Indiana Dunes in 2015.

As a contemporary impressionist, I try to capture the “feel” of the scene rather than every little detail.  It is often difficult to restrain myself.  I think in this day and age, with the benefit of photos, many artists often fall prey to the tendency of painting every detail which has been captured by the camera.  But that is not actually the way we see.  We see what is directly in front of us but the peripheral edges are often lost. The advent of modern photography continues to tempt us.  But that is not why we are artists. Anyone can take a photo but only the few can interpret their feelings in an artistic medium.

Indiana Dunes, 2015, oil on canvas board, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

Indiana Dunes, 2015, oil on canvas board, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

This first painting is from a trip that we made to the Indiana Dunes in 2015.  Surprising enough, this national park is set on the shore of Lake Michigan in northern Indiana.  It seems to have been carved from an industrial landscape but if you spend some quiet time here, you can imagine what the shore was like 100 years ago.  I wish I had painted this with a little warmer tones but that is in hindsight.  Love the sketchiness of the trees and the ever-moving sand.

Fall Walk, 16 x 20, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

Fall Walk, 16 x 20, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

This next painting is from a photo I took on a walk along my country road this autumn.  It is difficult to not go overboard with the bright colors which could lean to garishness.  I had to make a great effort to push back the far trees to add some atmosphere which enhanced the foreground trees and the lovely green of the cattle pasture to the right.

Frosty Field in Autumn, 12 x 16, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

Frosty Field in Autumn, 12 x 16, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle

The final painting is just a glance out my bathroom window one frosty morning.  Love the early morning light catching the pine tree with the colorful woods behind.  Not so successful capturing the feeling of frost.  It looks more like a river or lake but there you have it.  As any experienced artist knows, not every painting turns out as we wish.  But we always learn something, even from our failures.

Clouds

A.J.'s Clouds, oil on canvas, 24 x 30, Kit Miracle

A.J.’s Clouds, oil on canvas, 24 x 30, Kit Miracle

Occasionally here in the Midwest we get some pretty fabulous cloud formations.  They’re probably not any different than anywhere else, it’s just that we actually have the space to see them.  This painting is from a photo that my son shared with me of some dramatic cumulonimbus clouds in August. Interestingly enough, I was taking photos of the same clouds from two miles away as was another friend who lives about 30 miles away.  That’s how impressive the formations were.  I decided to turn it into a painting for my son for Christmas. I don’t think he follows my blog or otherwise, this won’t be a surprise for him.

Sometimes you’ve just got to paint

When pigs fly. Watercolor / pen and ink, 12 x 16. Kit Miracle

When pigs fly. Watercolor / pen and ink, 12 x 16. Kit Miracle

We’ve all heard the  admonishment that you need to create art every day.  But…life gets in the way.  Jobs, family, gardening, etc.  Sometimes I find all my  have-t0′s overwhelming my urge to create.  This weekend I just had to paint.

Yesterday, before I could get overly involved in the rest of the home tasks, I trucked my painting gear out to the front yard and painted this flowerbed which has been calling me for weeks.  It seems to be a symphony of purples, mauves, and yellows this time of year.  The heat was oppressive.  The humidity was drenching.  But I had a great time.

For you gardeners out there, you’re looking at purple cone flower, bee balm, weigela, daylilies, lambs ear, and a giant yucca.  The flying pig is a bit difficult to make out but he’s one of my favorite yard statues, as he bounces on his spring in a strong breeze.  Symbol of not-quite-lost causes.

Giant Moth Mullen Watercolor/ pen and ink, 16 x 12 Kit Miracle

Giant Moth Mullen Watercolor/ pen and ink, 16 x 12 Kit Miracle

Then, this morning I decided to capture this weed, Giant Moth Mullen.  It is already 5 feet tall and will probably top 6 or 7 feet.  It has fuzzy leaves, similar to lambs ear and the most interesting curly-type leaves and stalk.  It will eventually have a tall spike of yellow flowers which in turn, will produce seeds that the goldfinches love.  Probably how it came to be growing near my cellar door.  Majestic!

BTW, I was inspired by a blog challenge by James Gurney, who held a recent competition of people who paint weeds.  This painting is not entered as it is past date, but I thought it was a perfect subject.