Monday, December 12, 2011

Shawnee - Final (or close to it)

Shawnee - Acrylic On Ampersand Board  
 I've finally gotten into the short rows with this portrait of Shawnee and I've just emailed the client for approval.  It's taken what seems to be forever but between the flu and the Thanksgiving holiday, I guess it really hasn't been that long.  

A fellow artist asked me about the technique I used to get the fur texture so I thought I'd share it with you all too.  I used a small #2 round for most of the fur work and just worked back and forth in layers using three or four colors of paint.  Shawnee had a buff colored undercoat which did peek through her outer fur at times so I used the buff color as the base layer.  Then I used a mixed black (Ivory black and Indigo blue) to avoid that "flat black" look, a white with varying tones of blue or white with a bit of the buff mixed it to help convey the reflected light.  The working in all these colors with such a small brush is why it took so long to finish as there must be hundreds and hundreds (or maybe thousands) of brush strokes in this painting.

I have a set of "fur" brushes but in this instance they left a very regular brush pattern that just didn't look like fur at all.  Many times, these are my favorite brushes for fur as it goes relatively quickly with them but they just didn't work as I wanted this time.  In case you're wondering what brushes I usually prefer for fur, they're the Simply Simmons Comb brushes.  You can see how they cut the bristles into irregular lengths which gives the look of fur most of the time at this website:

Anyway, I hope my client likes the portrait and that it's a comfort to her. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another Shawnee Update

I haven't posted an update on Shawnee's portrait and thought I'd better even though it's in the "ugly" stage.  I always feel that people look at it and wonder how any kind of finished portrait could come from that!  But, for better or worse, here's an update.

I'm pretty much finished with the buff colored undercoat and have started working on the silver-tipped black top coat.

There's really not much to say about it at this point!

Oh, sorry for the bad photo - for some reason I just couldn't get a good one!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Very Odd Thanksgiving!

This past week - a week containing our American Thanksgiving holiday - has been a wild one and one very different from past Thanksgivings!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it seems to be the one most unaffected by blatant commercialism.  (I won't even comment on starting "Black Friday" on Thanksgiving Day this year!)  This year the kids (we have a son and a daughter) had other plans and I didn't have to cook a conventional Thanksgiving dinner.

This ended up being a good thing because the Saturday evening/night before Thanksgiving I kept violently up-chucking and ended up in the ER at our local hospital for several hours on Sunday morning.  It was some sort of bug and some IV fluids and anti-nausea meds got me back on track.  But, it took several days to get to the point where I could do much more than sleep and cooking a big dinner would have been nearly impossible!

So, we decided to get together this past Saturday (the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day) for a "Build Your Own Pizza" party.  I made my "famous" homemade pizza dough & sauce, set out every topping that anyone even mentioned and let everyone make their own pizza.

The top photo is one of the pizzas and the bottom photo is of three of our four grandchildren - aren't they all beautiful?  Our oldest granddaughter is just as gorgeous and is married and now lives in Maine.  It would have been perfect if she'd been able to join us also.

We may have had a very unconventional holiday but it was a fun time and maybe something we'll do again in the future!

We're so very thankful for our wonderful family and I'm very thankful to those of you who visit my blog and have become my online family!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shawnee Update - German Shepherd Dog Acrylic Portrait

This is the latest update on the portrait of Shawnee, the German Shepherd Dog.  I'm still blocking in color and it seems to be going slowly because I'm trying to build layers.  With pastel, you can immediately go over the top of previously put down color, but with acrylic, you must wait for it to dry.  It doesn't take long but is just different from the way I usually work.

Shawnee had a lovely buff colored undercoat that I really want to get down right as bits of it will show through the succeeding layers when I begin to build the silver and black colors of her top coat. 

Soon I'll begin to texturize her coat so that all the subtle colors will work together to make her fur seem touchable and real.

A long way to go still but it's getting there!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Shawnee Painting Update

Not much of an update on the painting of Shawnee but it's been a pretty busy last few days.  As usual, I see several things to be corrected already and I'm just blocking in color at the moment.  One of the wonderful pluses for acrylic paint though is the ease in correcting mistakes!

The most exciting thing that happened lately was a trip to Raleigh (NC) for the "Art of the Carolinas" trade show that Jerry's Artarama puts on every year.  We got there shortly after it opened on Friday figuring that it wouldn't be too crowded on a Friday morning - Wrong!  I picked up a few items I needed  then stood in a check-out line that didn't seem to move.  I was told by the artists in front of and behind me that it was the worst time to visit the show!  I guess everyone tries to get there early to buy supplies for the different workshops along with trying to get frames and canvases before they get picked over!  Since I wasn't in the market for either of those items and wasn't taking a workshop, I wish I'd waited to attend the show! 

As it was, I bought a few things at the show for some good prices but still ended up with a small bag of stuff and about $60 poorer!  Not only that, but we ended up going just down the street to the actual Jerry's store (which blessedly was nearly empty of customers) for some acid free foam board.  I also saw some Rub'nBuff which I had heard was great to transform frames and picked up a tube of that.  I'd looked for it in Hobby Lobby and our local big box building supply store but hadn't found it. 

Since it's so rare for me to get to go to a large art supply store, I really wanted to look around more.  But being at the show with all that crowd was really wearing.  It was shoulder to shoulder in the huge room that contained much of the show and trying to see what was available was nearly impossible.  At the store itself, many of the shelves were empty or depleted because the stock had been taken to the show. 

Oh, well, I got pretty much what I went for plus a little extra so it was certainly successful in that regard!

It's back to work on the portrait of Shawnee today and I think I may get the colors all blocked in and a good start on the detailing if all goes well.

I'm also starting a portrait of two beautiful Golden Retrievers and have the sketch pretty much worked out for that.  It will be on a full sheet of PastelMat which is the largest size pastel portrait I've done.  I'm looking forward to starting it but feel I need to wait until Shawnee is finished so pastel dust won't contaminate the acrylic portrait. 

As always, I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New Pet Portrait - Shawnee

I met with a client about a week or so ago to meet her elderly and ill dog so she could have a portrait done.  She wanted the portrait of a younger Shawnee and we gathered up photos to use as painting references.  I started the portrait after receiving an art order on Saturday with some needed supplies and found out this morning that Shawnee had passed away yesterday. 

This is another of those times when I almost wish I had a different occupation.  I know the owner is hurting badly at this time and viewing any progress on the portrait will just hurt that much more. 

I want my pet portraits to evoke good memories yet it's possible that the owner will look at the painting and remember only that Shawnee left this earth during the time the portrait was being painted.  Shawnee's mom and I had talked of a portrait many times and I wish she had commissioned it when she first thought of it.  I would encourage any pet owner to get a portrait done when your fur child is strong and healthy if you want one.  Don't put it off.

I met Shawnee when she was ill and in some pain but her photos show her to have been a gorgeous black, silver and buff German Shepherd - very regal and almost wolf-like in her coloring.  I'm painting her in acrylic and so want to do the best job possible with this painting.  Of course, I always want to do that but I feel even more obligated to present Shawnee at her best in this portrait for the sake of her grieving "mama".

Run free at the Rainbow Bridge, Shawnee and be assured that your memory will live on in the hearts of those who loved you.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Old Acrylic Painting

I was going back through some of my older paintings earlier and found an acrylic painting of this little puppy.  I don't remember when it was done although I know it was for practice with acrylic paints.  As I look at it here, the yellow background looks almost neon but it's not that bright in real life!

This painting was done on a sheet of canvas - one of those that comes in a pad and can be used for just about any medium.  I think the next painting will be on a gessoed hardboard panel or on a stretched canvas.  It will probably be the hardboard panel as I've never cared much for the "give" of even a tightly stretched canvas.

Anyway, I have done a few paintings in acrylic and would like to do more of them.  The temperature here today has plummeted with rain and wind to make it feel even colder so staying in to do more practicing sounds really good to me!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Double Exposure Photography and Art Exhibit

This past Friday evening was our local Third Friday Art Walk which featured the Camera Club's Double Exposure Exhibit.

The Chatham County (NC) Camera Club posted some of their member's photographs and local artists were asked to paint, sculpt or otherwise interpret the photos in their medium of choice.  Then last Friday the art was exhibited alongside the original photograph.  It was fun to be a part of this exhibit but even more fun to see the exhibit!

The best part was that my sister and brother in law were here from Colorado and attended the exhibit with my husband and I.  We had a good weekend just visiting and since my sister is a professional photographer, I think she enjoyed the exhibit.  We also drove around just looking for interesting photo ops.

All in all, we had a great weekend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Artist's List

I realize that it's been a while since I've updated my blog and I do apologize.  Life gets so crazy sometimes and real life has to take precedence over cyber life.  One of those real life concerns is my little Maltese who's been a bit under the weather recently.

Plus, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately.  I seem to do that in the fall of the year since it's my least favorite season.  I get very introspective and start to hunker down for the winter I know will be coming soon.

One thing I've been thinking about is my art and where I want to go with it.  I received the following in my email a few days ago and have been thinking about what it says:

I give you my list of 10 Things Artists Should Be Thankful For. Print this out, fold it up and put in your wallet. Send it to your artist friends. Read it whenever you feel all your work is for nothing and you are thinking maybe you should just stop making art and grow up. Post it in your studio when you are wondering what the heck you are going to do with all this work? But, most of all…believe it. Remember, it is impossible to feel thankful and be depressed at the same time.

1. I am thankful that I am not one of the majority of people in this world that wakes up every morning, goes to a job they hate, just to come home and do it all over again.

2. I am thankful that when I am away from my studio, my ideas come with me, they keep me company everywhere I go.

3. I am thankful for this passion that gives me so much joy (and angst) but mostly joy.

4. I am thankful that when I have left this earth, I will leave something meaningful behind.

5. I am thankful that I have a mind that can not sleep, I will never be bored.

6. I am thankful that there is a part of my life that nobody can control, except me.

7. I am thankful that no one in the world can ever take this gift from me.

8. I am thankful that I am brave, it takes courage to pursue my gift.

9. I am thankful that I am never satisfied, it forces me to move forward and grow.

10. I am thankful I discovered this list! Pass it on.

Do you see the sentence I've highlighted in red?  Why is it out of all the positive points in this, does this particular sentence jump out at me?  I do look around my studio and wonder what to do with all my art.  I also look at point #4 and remember a recent trip to the Goodwill store that I took with my daughter.  As she looked at normally expensive name brand purses, I looked at the bin with all the frames and artwork.  I was aghast at seeing really lovely original artwork being sold for a dollar or so.

Is this the "meaningful legacy" we're leaving behind?

I hope you all are cheered and encouraged with the above - I am and then again, I'm not.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Experimenting with Gouache

Since finishing Bracken, I've been experimenting with gouache again.  I really like using it in combination with watercolor but decided to try it the way I understand it's supposed to be used - like acrylic or oils.

One reason I decided to play with gouache this way was to try to learn acrylics without having to clean brushes constantly.  Because gouache is water soluble, you can leave your rinsed out brushes without doing a thorough cleaning of them.  The gouache doesn't set up in the bristles like acrylic or even oil.  I guess I have to be careful not to get into bad brush habits just because I can leave brushes when using gouache.  I don't want to carry any bad habits into my work with acrylic!

I'm not at all satisfied with this painting and may continue to work on it or I may go over it with pastel.  The gouache dries very quickly and smooth strokes and gentle transistions are very difficult for me to achieve.  I do like the basic premise of this but know it could use a lot more work.  The question is whether I want that work to be in more gouache or pastel!

Oh, this painting was done on Arches 140# hot-pressed watercolor paper with Lukas gouache.  I've taped it off so that the actual painted area is 8 x 10 inches.

As always, comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bracken - After The Fall

I've been working more on Bracken since I dropped her portrait and am once again at the stage where I'll let it sit to make sure there's nothing more I need to do to it.

As always, if anyone sees anything that need to be done or changed, please let me know!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I had done some additional work on Bracken, the Golden Retriever, and was moving him off my art table to a "safer" place when I dropped her!  As you can see, the pastel came off in many places!

This is the first time this has ever happened to me although I've read about it happening to many others.  Sooooo, velour is no longer a favorite support around here.  Fortunately, I only have a couple of sheets of it left.

But, I'm not really so unhappy that it happened.  I wasn't crazy about the portrait and now I can make some changes and not worry about the tooth being filled.  I'm a "the glass is half-full" kind of person! lol

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Golden Retriever - Marinating Stage

I think I'm nearly finished with Beautiful Bracken - at least I'm at the stage where I know I'm not quite there but need to let it "marinate" a little before deciding what needs to be done.

I don't know if I messed up or not but the green of the velour paper just wasn't doing it for me so I added in some other greens to give it a little variety.  That's one of the things I want to think about.

Another is the collar  - I normally leave collars off unless the client just wants it  because I find they often distract from the portrait itself.  The round tags might be ok but I plan to ask Linda if I can cover up the buckle part.  My eye goes right to it.

The other thing is the sienna coloring - for some reason it never scans or even photographs very well.  Even though I'm using Richeson, Rembrandts and Senneliers, that particular color seems to be less opaque or something and the undercolors come through, particularly in a scan.  I'll photograph it in a little while and see if I can get a better photo.

If anyone sees anything amiss, please let me know.  If I change anything, I'll post again!

Golden Retriever - WIP 3

Still just pretty much blocking in color although I have started some detailing in the head area.  Still a ways to go.

I forgot to mention that the reference photo is from LJ on Paint My Photo and is of her 11 year old Golden Retriever.  Also that I'm using green Hahnemuhle velour paper, 9x12 inches in size with a variety of soft pastel sticks and pastel pencils.

I'm going a bit more slowly than usual as it took a while to get back in the groove painting on the velour but I think we're cooking now.  If only there weren't the interruptions one gets during the course of the day - I've said it before but I'll say it again - I need a mother!  Not just a housekeeper, but someone like an old-fashioned mother to keep up with the laundry, shop for and cook the meals and keep the house clean!

Any takers out there?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Golden Retriever - WIP2

Just a bit added to the portrait of Bracken, the Golden Retriever.  It's getting easier to work on the velour but I'm still just blocking in colors.  I'll go back over it and refine the details once I have the colors in place.

Watch this space!  lol

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Old Favorites

This is directed to the other artists who read my blog.  Did you ever have a favorite support that you used forever and thought was the best thing since sliced bread?

My favorite support was always velour and I rarely had a problem painting on it.  However, the paintings I've done recently have been on PastelMat or ColourFix Suede.  So I had this green velour and thought it would be perfect for the portrait of this older Golden Retriever.  It's been an uphill battle since I started and I just don't understand it!

I thought going back to a previously favorite support would be like riding a bicycle - after all, you never really forget how, do you?  Doesn't the old brain make pathways from repeated motions so those motions can be carried out quickly and easily in the future?  Of course, much of the problem has been getting the right colors. Even though the pastel is covering pretty well, the green background does affect the applied colors.  But the application has been difficult also - the pastels tend to drag and sort of skip on the surface and I can never remember that happening before.

Well, I'll quit complaining and just get back to it.  If it turns out lousy, I'll give it a try on PastelMat or ColourFix Suede!  Shoot, I may even switch media altogether and that would really stir up the old brain synapses, wouldn't it?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Double Exposure

I got this painting delivered to my gallery (the Raleigh Street Gallery) yesterday.  It's for a special exhibit for the Siler City, North Carolina Third Friday Art Walk and I'm excited about it.  The exhibit is called the Double Exposure Exhibit and is a joint endeavor between local artists and the local Chatham Camera Club.

A few months ago artists were invited to choose a photograph from a selection from the Chatham Camera Club to interpret in any size, medium and way they wanted.  Then a joint exhibit featuring both the photos and the art will be held at the Chatham Camera Club gallery during the Third Friday Art Walk in October.

I know the exhibit is over a month away but thought maybe some of you who are fairly close might want to mark your calendars and plan to attend.  I think this will be an interesting exhibit and it will be really fun to see the art next to the photograph.  I know one artist is using a medium that needs to be fired!  How fun will that be to see!

And, some of you artists might want to sign up to participate in the next Double Exposure Exhibit or maybe even start something similar with your own local camera club if you're too far to participate with this one!

By the way, my painting is soft pastel on Colourfix Suede - I call it "King of the Mudflats" and I think this is a Little Blue Heron.  There are so many varieties of herons that I'm not completely sure but I do know that it is a heron!   lol

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My Visit With Dors

Some of you may recognize the beautiful kangaroo drawing I've posted.  It's from my blogger friend, Dors, blogspot,, and she presented this gorgeous drawing to me during the visit to us by her and her husband.  I was just delighted and overwhelmed by her generosity and so honored to have one of her beautiful drawings.  Don't you just love it?

Dors and her husband, Nev, arrived Friday afternoon and were so warm and friendly that it felt as if we had known one another for years instead of just meeting at that moment.  Of course, we have "known" one another for years but only on the internet and it's usually different when you meet someone in person.

Dors is no exception - she is different in person!  First of all, her bubbly personality just doesn't come through on the internet.  She's very warm and actually very funny and, as Sue ( predicted, we talked the "hind legs off a donkey" that evening! 

Dors and I talked art of course, and Nev, her husband, was equally warm and very knowledgeable about a variety of subjects.  He's also a master photographer and got some wonderful photos of our hummingbirds.  Between the two of them, we ended up staying up later that my DH and I have done for ages!  We just had a great time and I hope Dors and Nev did also.

We also hope they'll come back for a visit again one day. It really can't be too soon as this visit was way too short!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Being a Loose Woman Ain't Easy!

The following is a blog post I did at the Paint My Photo website.  They're having a contest where members can post a painting of theirs in a loose style and possibly win a book by Jean Haines who is to judge the contest.  Since I've been a fan of Jean's since I first saw her work on Wet Canvas, I really wanted to win her book but ------ the following blog post explains it all!

You don't know how many attempts I've made at a loose painting for this month's (August) challenge - my wastebasket overfloweth! 

I've tried loose paintings in watercolor (but I stink at that medium under normal circumstances), then I tried pastel but if you put a brush or a pencil or pastel stick in my hands it's not really going to result in a very loose painting.

I've also tried an acrylic piece that is definitely loose because I used my fingers only but it's certainly not on par with the paintings already submitted for this month's challenge.  I just don't think I'm cut out to be a loose painter.

I've admired the work of Jean Haines for eons and frequently refer to her tutorials on Wet Canvas.  I don't think I'll ever be able to paint as loosely as Jean but I would certainly like to loosen up at least some!  She makes it look so easy, doesn't she?

I think it's too late for me to paint anything for the challenge this month as there are a lot of things going in the next few weeks but I just wanted to say that whoever wins Jean's book certainly deserves it!  If it ain't so easy being a loose woman, it's probably not so easy being a loose man either!

The lion painting above is from ESP at Paint My Photo but I certainly did not do justice to it.  I painted it in acrylic but instead of using a brush or palette knife, I used my fingers and finger nails although my signature was done with a brush.  While it's not a masterpiece and loose may not be easy, it was certainly fun to do!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I just came inside after having the most amazing experience right out on our back porch!  When it got really dry this summer (they say we've been in a drought for the past couple of years) and the flowers just dried up, we put out a hummingbird feeder that I keep full of sugar water.

I was putting out some fresh nectar while ago and got literally mobbed by hummingbirds!  I got a few photos afterward but wish I could share the experience of having those tiny birds fly right up to your face as if to say "who are you?"

 I don't know how much larger I am than they are percentage-wise, but I'm sure it's a lot!  Those tiny little creatures didn't seem at all fazed by this giant though.  As soon as I put up the feeder, they came swarming in, jockeying for position at a yellow feeding "blossoms".  But these little beings are feisty little warriors at heart and will fly at one another to try to keep the nectar all to themselves!

There are times when I wish we had cable, stores and nice restaurants less than 15 miles away and some of the other amenities of city life.  Then there are times when I walk out on any of our porches and know that the lack of those amenities is nothing in comparison to the perks we have right here in the middle of nowhere!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Can Spell Schnauzer! Pastel on Suede Paper

This little guy was the source of some controversy as I had gotten the reference photo from Paint My Photo, a group I belong to.  I had started the painting but gotten busy and put it aside until today when I finished it.  I had intended to finish it in a loose style and enter it into a challenge at PMP but the person who posted the photo had left the site and removed the photos they had posted. 

The challenge is to paint a photo from the site in a loose manner but, as you can see, I failed miserably at looseness with this!  At PMP, all paintings posted must be from a photo also posted on the site.  I guess it's ok that the person left and I can't enter this in the challenge as it's not a best effort.  I began it to play on some suede paper I'd bought and had liked for other paintings but it was difficult to get the colors right on this bright red paper. 

It's another painting that I'm not particularly pleased with but I'm posting just to show you that I am painting. lol!

BTW, it's still ok to post the painting even though the reference has been removed from PMP - it's also posted on MorgueFile.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Dreaded Ginger Cat Portrait

My client picked up the cat portrait yesterday and said it looked just like him.  I had tweaked it a bit more before she arrived (but forgot to get a new photo of it) but I was still a little apprehensive of what she would think when she saw it. 

Whew!  I honestly did the best job I could with what I had to work with, but I wasn't really sure I'd gotten the likeness.  So, I was really pleased that she felt it looked like him.

It's these type of commissions that cause baldness and bad dental health from pulling your hair and gnashing your teeth!

Now off to get ready for Dors visit with maybe a quick painting or two if there's time before she arrives!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Enlarging Photos - SmillaEnlarger

Sue, from Pencilpix blog, was also blogging about poor reference photos so I went searching for a solution.  It seems we pet portrait artists get way too many small images that make it difficult for us to do the best job with our pet portraits.

My search for a solution led me to the SmillaEnlarger, an open-source photo enlarger that is free and works very well.  It's not perfect but I enlarged a small photo from 421 pixels to 1155 pixels with very little loss of detail.

The only problem I had with it was initially trying to install it.  Source Forge software often doesn't usually install the way other software installs and it can be intimidating/confusing to try software from Source Forge.  To help figure it all out, I found the following which should be of help in using this software as it doesn't actually install.  Anyway, if you have problems, go to the following website or search for using instructions on your favorite search engine.

Hope it helps!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sucker for Punishment! Cat Portrait

 I've been asked to paint a portrait of a recently deceased cat and the following (& a couple more that are similar to these) are the only known photos of him.  The first and last photos are the best, of course, but none are really great references.  The first photo is of the cat when he was younger and the rest are from the last years of the life of the cat.  And these are all at the size the client emailed to me.  When I asked for larger resolution photos, I got enlarged versions (not higher resolution) of the ones sent - very pixelated and worse than the originals. 

I guess I'm a sucker since I said I'd TRY to do this portrait.  This is a favorite client and she's commissioning it for a friend of hers who just lost this cat.  So many people think an artist can look at bad reference photos and immediately paint a superior portrait. Fortunately, this client is not like that but she would still like a miracle, of course. 

To all others who give me reference photos like these I'd like to ask them to drive down to the corner store and get me a soft drink - oh, and by the way, have them wear a blindfold.  Then , if they protest, I'd say, "Oh, don't worry, you've driven there hundreds of times and I know you can do it! and please can you be back in about 10 minutes?"

To me, that's much the same expectation many people have of a pet portrait artist.   Just because we've painted a lot of cats or dogs or other animals in our life doesn't mean that we automatically know what your pet looks like nor can we paint it in a short amount of time.  Animals are like people and one ginger cat does not look like another one!

Fortunately, I'm to paint the younger version of the cat before he got his ear mangled. I don't think I could paint that ear and have it look right - there's just not a photo that shows it clearly enough to paint accurately. 

I know, I know, I could have refused to even consider this commission but hey, I'm a sucker! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ATC/ACEO Pastel Paintings

I've been on a little kick of painting ATCs/ACEOs lately.  There are a couple (or three) reasons - we're having an exchange on a forum I belong to, I haven't had time to work on a full sized painting (although these little paintings can still rack up the hours) and I've been wanting to challenge myself to try to get as much detail into this small size as possible.

These are both pastel pencils on PastelMat and both regulation ATC/ACEO size (2.5 X 3.5 inches).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lakefest - Clarksville, Virginia

The days are flying by again as we've been pretty busy lately.  We took a "quick" trip to Florida to see my DH's mother and his sister and her family,  I say it was a quick trip because it actually takes about 12 hours to drive and we were only gone a total of four days!  Of course, it took two of those days to make the drive!

DH took the rest of the week off and we've gone here and there locally doing things we normally can't do when he's at work.  One thing we did was attend Lakefest in Clarksville, Virginia.

My daughter and her family were spending the weekend near there on Kerr Lake on the North Carolina side so we met them and went to the festival.  It was a mad house!  The festival stretched for what felt like miles on a hilly street.  The photo above was taken from atop one of those hills and was about mid-point of all the booths.  If you click on the photo, it will enlarge and you can see how many people thronged this event!  Unfortunately, this was about as far as we got as both my husband and I were seriously tired after about the first mile.  We took turns carrying our little dog in her mesh carrier but the day began to really heat up and we were concerned that she would get too hot and since we were already tired, we just left before getting to see all the offerings there.

Although it was advertised as an arts and crafts festival, we only saw one booth with actual art in it.  There were many craft booths but the food vendors probably outnumbered everything else!

Maybe we'll go back someday and take the time and effort to see the whole event - my husband says I can do it if I want to but he's not going to go through all the heat, the jostling and up and down walking again!  I think they have another festival in October and it should be much cooler by then!  Think I can change his mind by then?  lol

Thursday, July 14, 2011


 Well, darn!  I can't get the photos aligned right but maybe you can still get a sense of the closet off my studio.  I've finally gotten it somewhat organized, or at least to the point where I'm not too terribly embarrassed to show you photos of it.  This closet is about 8 feet deep and over 6 feet wide with a little niche that adds another 2 feet on one wall.  That niche is the perfect place to put the treadmill so the closet isn't strictly for my art supplies.

Unfortunately, because it's so big, it became the storage area for things we didn't know where else to put and got very messy and disorganized.  It still has to store a few sewing supplies, the treadmill and my saddle (not shown).  I plan to advertise my saddle though and hopefully will be able to sell it - do any of you need a nice Stubben saddle and other tack? lol

So, as you can see, I'm getting there with organization but still messing around with the placement of things in the studio.  I'm thinking of moving the desk that used to house my computer stuff into the closet and use it for a mat cutting area.  I don't think that would work though as the desk would have to sit out from the wall far enough to allow a full sheet of mat board to be cut and I don't think there's quite enough room for that.

As I said, still exploring the possibilities!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

WARNING from Susan Roux - PIRATES!

I was browsing the comments on Sue's (pencilpix) blog and one of the comments came from Susan Roux.  The post mentioned that she was from Maine and that's where my granddaughter lives so I wandered over to her blog to see if she had done any paintings of Maine.  Well, I didn't really get to look as her post about Modern Day Pirates caught my eye.  You can read her post HERE.

Many of you know that copyright violations are a pet peeve of mine anyway and to have an artist be so blatant about copying from another artist really burns me up.  Not only that, but the pirate artist (Hugo Diaz Mapi) claims to have painted his paintings using PhotoShop.  As a digital painter myself, it was a double insult as I felt he also gives a bad name to digital painting. 

Anyway, Susan, thanks for revealing this fraud.  I hope all artists are on the look-out for copyright violators and will report them to both the original artist if possible and also to the rest of the artistic community as Susan has done.  And I do hope the original artists will file charges - there are copyright laws in effect for most of the countries in the world. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's Dog Days

I don't know about anyone else but we're having some really hot and humid weather right now.  I don't know if the term "dog days" can be applied officially but any smart dog is cooling off anyway he can!

Even with watering, the garden has nearly quit producing and the landscape is looking more like late August than early July.

So, how hot is it?  Hot enough to wish I were with this dock diving dog in the photograph right now!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Attempted Rescues

 The following paintings are a couple that I started painting eons ago and for whatever reason lost interest in them.

The painting of the magnolia started out as a watercolor but was unsuccessful so I decided to see if I could rescue it with pastel.  I think I like the technique of pastel over watercolor but I'd used hot pressed paper for the original painting and there wasn't much tooth to allow for more than a layer or two of pastel.

The poppies started out as pastel but it was a painting from my first attempts at pastels and all I had were pastel pencils and not very many of them at that.  I've done what I could to rescue this painting and I do like it better than the original but  it's still not what I hoped it would be.

I guess you can tell I'm STILL in the process of organizing my studio but I keep getting distracted when I find these old paintings!  One of these days I WILL have it done - hopefully before Dors arrives!  lol

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Acrylic Raccoon - Last Post

I think this will be my last post on this raccoon.  It's not that I feel it's finished as there are still some areas that need tweaking, but I've got other things that need doing and I'm out of paint that I've mixed for this fellow.  It just feels like a good time to stop for now.

OK, what have I learned about painting with acrylics?  What do I like or dislike about this medium?

Well, it's all color over color in layers and can be kind of tedious.  It's the same with pastels, watercolors and gouache (sometimes) so I don't know why I don't mind going over and over in pastels for instance but it's irksome to do it in acrylic!  Maybe it's all the brush cleaning in between as that adds more time to the painting.  Even with watercolor or gouache, I can lay down a brush with paint residue in it and not worry about ruining the brush if I don't clean it thoroughly right away. 

I so like the idea of acrylics going onto just about any surface or support.  And I like the fact that they don't have to be framed under glass unless they're on unmounted/unvarnished paper.  Those are certainly pluses for me.  And while I'm pretty slow right now, this painting hasn't taken much longer than the pastels I do.  I think in time I may even be able to paint faster, which would be another plus.

So, I don't know if the acrylic medium will ever become a favorite but at least I feel as if I've gotten a handle on the basics and won't be hesitant to do more paintings with it.  We'll just have to see, won't we?

Oh, any c & c is very welcome on this.  His paw isn't quite finished, the whiskers need some attention and the tree bark definitely needs work.  If you see anything else, please let me know and please suggest HOW to accomplish any changes if you can!  I'm always open to learning more!

I would heartily recommend Lee Hammond's dvd and book if you want to learn more about the mechanics of painting in acrylics.  I hate it when you buy a video and just get to watch someone paint.  Ms. Hammond tells you what colors she's using and mixing and shows you how she actually paints and I wish more artists were as thorough when they put out a dvd.

I'm going back to the garden, laundry, the kitchen and the rest of the house that I've sorely neglected recently so you may not see me again for a while!  But, I'll be back!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Acrylic Raccoon - WIP 2

I'm a bit surprised this morning as this painting actually appears to be coming together!  After yesterday I thought I'd never be able to do anything with acrylics but at least I see a glimpse of a raccoon staring back at me today.

Hammond calls these unfinished stages of the painting the "awkward" stages - most artists call them the "ugly" stages.  Most artists do go through stages in the painting that aren't polished or the subject even recognizable in some instances.  It's normal but when you're learning a new medium, it's very discouraging and you do want to throw in the towel.

So, I'm working on and hoping it will all come out.  I'm sure it will & I'm sure I'll get faster as I do more.  Right now I'm kind of plodding along feeling my way so I have a lot more to finish.  I also see some things to change and that's the one aspect of acrylic painting that I most appreciate - the ability to easily make changes.

I'll continue to work on this and may even finish it today or tomorrow!  Again, stay tuned!

Monday, June 13, 2011

"New" Medium - Raccoon in Acrylics WIP

I recently purchased the book and dvd, Painting Animals in Acrylic with Lee Hammond, and this morning I started an acrylic painting.  I've painted in acrylics before but really never got on with them that much.  However, I'd like to learn to paint with them so I can produce pet portraits that are less fragile than those in soft pastels.

I'm posting so I'll be more encouraged to continue with and finish this painting at least!  lol  Oh, the reference photo is from hotblack at MorgueFile.

Lee Hammond's method for painting in acrylics is to block in the base colors then start refining.  She works back and forth between colors building layers and I can see where that method gives more depth and finish to a painting.  Here I have the base colors pretty much blocked in and will be starting to refine next.  I have no idea how long this will take.  When I work in pastel, I'll often work in brief segments but with the drying time of acrylic paint, even with the stay-wet paint keeper (homemade), I don't think I'll be able to do that with acrylic paintings.  We'll just have to see if I can change my habits or find a way to work with them using acrylics.

OK, I expect you all to hold me responsible!  Let's see if this old dog can learn some new tricks!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pastel Persian Cat - Final

I think I'm finished with this.  I spent a lot of today working on it and think it's pretty overworked.  However, my husband thinks it's not overworked but finished.  I printed a card and took it to the pet shop where I have some of my work and the owner liked it a lot so I'm calling it quits.

It doesn't look anything like the ref but that's ok - it was for my own learning and not a commission.

BTW, it's titled "One P.O.'ed Persian" ------

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pastel Persian Cat - WIP 3

I'm moving very slowly on this painting - so many things to do lately that I just get to come in and make a few strokes then move on to something else.  It's coming along though and I hope to finish soon.

I think I've finally found the pastel combinations closest to the colors I want but have to go back and change them from the wrong colors.  I need to pay attention to those organized and thoughtful artists who do the test strokes on a scrap paper before committing the color to the painting! 

Oh, well, tomorrow is another day!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pastel Persian Cat - WIP2

I haven't managed to get much done on the cat this morning.  I've had a bit of problem finding the right colors to use in her fur.  I'm finding that it would be very nice indeed to have an extensive collection of pastels - unfortunately, I don't so will keep working and see if I can make do with what I have!

In the meantime, here's where I'm at right now - I'll keep plugging away with her!

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Painting - Persian Cat WIP in Pastel

This is from a photo reference at MorgueFile and I just could not resist that face!  Of course, I realize you can't tell much about it at this stage but I wanted to post it as a WIP to keep me moving on it.

This morning was spent putting up squash, doing laundry and just generally trying to get a bit ahead before the garden really begins to produce!  This is always such a busy time but is so worth it during the winter when good veggies are at a premium.

This is pretty small, only 5 x 7 inches.  It's  various soft pastels and pastel pencils on black velour and it's really going fairly quickly so I hope to have another update soon.  Stay posted!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 21, 2011 and Harold Camping

Well, finally, here I am again but not with any real art updates as art hasn't been the main thing on my mind lately.  Instead, I've been thinking about the recent stir caused by Harold Camping, the minister who predicted the Rapture would happen on May 21, 2011 with the end of the world shortly following.  Of course, it didn't.  I'm still here and so are all of you.

I am a Christian and I do believe in the "gathering together" of the believers by Jesus at some point in time.  But I'd never heard of Harold Camping nor the huge campaign to promote May 21st as the day of what most Christians call the "Rapture" of the church before there was such big publicity about it.  I do know the scripture that says no man knows the day nor the hour of this event and also the scriptures that say it will come as a thief in the night so I was pretty surprised that someone purporting to be Christian was actually predicting both the day and the hour that it would happen.
But I do think it's possible that someone will perhaps know the general time and maybe even the week it will occur as the Bible also says that believers shouldn't be ignorant of the end time, that believers shouldn't be in darkness so that the day overtakes them like a thief.   It seems as if there's a contradiction there, doesn't it?  And that's what I've been thinking about and studying on and I've come to believe that there's not any contradiction at all.

When the Bible says that Jesus will come as a thief in the night and that no one but the Father knows the day and the hour,  I believe it's talking about those who either don't know or haven't believed or just don't care that Jesus will return for His Church.

I'm pretty sure that even believers who do know about the gathering together of the saints won't know the exact time of it,  But the Bible has given enough details and predictions that they will know the general timing and will be prepared if they have any sense at all.

As I said above, I've been thinking on the end time events and asked God about the thief in the night scriptures and the seeming contradiction with the scriptures that say we shouldn't be ignorant nor be in darkness about those times.  While I didn't hear an audible voice, I believe God did answer me in the following way.

While still praying about this, I was taken back in my mind to the time of being pregnant with my daughter a couple of days before her birth (which was over 40 years ago).  I saw myself hugely pregnant and down on my hands and knees cleaning the oven, scrubbing the floors into the corners and cleaning areas of the house that I wouldn't have bothered to clean so thoroughly before.  This seems to be a common action by most pregnant women shortly before giving birth.
Pregnant women know the approximate date that they'll deliver the baby - like the prediction that Jesus will return for His church,  it's no secret.  However, they usually don't know the day and the hour of the birth unless they have a cesarean section scheduled.  Even then, the exact time of the birth is still not known.  That urge to clean and prepare or  "nest" is a pointer or a sign indicating that the time of the birth is very near and actual contractions indicate that the process has actually begun!

I believe signs of this type are what the Bible is talking about when it tells us we aren't to be ignorant or to be in darkness about the time of the catching away (commonly called the Rapture) of the Church.  While we may not know the exact time, there will be definite signs that we should heed.

The Bible also says that the end times will be like the days of Noah.  What happened back then?  Well, Noah was instructed by God to build an ark and he set about doing just that.  The Bible says that the townspeople laughed at him, mocked him and thought he was crazy when he tried to warn them and told them why he was building the ark.  After all, none of them had ever even seen rain before and couldn't imagine a great flood.  So they went about marrying, eating and drinking and just living life as always while Noah built the ark.  When the rains came, the people were unprepared but Noah and his family and the animals were saved.  Even though Noah's neighbors were told about the rain, they were taken by surprise (like a thief in the night) when the rain finally came!

I believe that our neighbors are laughing at Christians today and think we're crazy as we go about preparing for the return of Christ but that they, like Noah's neighbors, will be surprised when the Rapture actually occurs.  The Bible says that there will be a loud trumpet sound and the dead in Christ will rise first followed by living believers.  This will not be a hidden event like most people think so can you imagine the astonishment of any unbelieving caretakers or visitors of cemeteries around the world when the dead start leaving the graves?  Or just the dropped jaws of the general population to see the dead rising to the clouds followed by living people floating past them?

I know most people don't believe that the events told of in the Bible will come to pass.  Most people, even those professing to be Christian, don't even know what the Bible says about the future!  But I know according to the signs the Bible says to watch for that the end times are drawing very, very near.  It may not be in the next few hours or next few days or even the next few years (after all, it took Noah many years to build the ark!) but we would all do well to pay attention to the signs of the times!

One last thing - I'm not writing this trying to scare you into becoming Christian.  God has always allowed people to decide for themselves who they will follow and I've always said that I can do no less.  All I can do is point out that you do have a choice.  Being Christian is a decision of the heart though, not because you're afraid of where you'll end up if you don't become one.  But perhaps my words (and even the actions of Harold Camping) will encourage some of you to soften your heart enough to seek further information from the Word of God, the Bible.  And maybe that seeking will further soften your heart to make the decision to follow Christ with the truest motives.  I sincerely hope so.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program - art!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Show News

I'd promised  to tell you about the show I did during the month of April.  It closed on Friday and I didn't sell anything.  That was a disappointment, of course, but I'll live!

It was the first show for this venue but they intend to showcase a new artist every month.  I was told that my art drew a lot of positive comments and I was asked to leave four of the most popular paintings to fill out spaces that the incoming artist wasn't able to fill.  I thought that was very nice of them. 

I'm also still working on my studio.  I'd like to get rid of the huge table that takes up so much room and replace it with a smaller work center but my husband made the table for me and I don't want to make him feel bad.  I did finish painting the old desk extension that will hold my paper cabinet though.  I did a really good job if I do say so myself!  lol  I even put a large shelf under it for additional storage.  Now I have to figure out how to arrange the studio to accommodate all this wonderful new storage!

Posting here will be very hit or miss as spring starts our garden season and there are just a lot of things happening at this time of the year.  Just bear with me!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Back To Cleaning Up

I know you all will think me awful, but I still haven't got my studio in order.  I'm still in the process of painting the desk extension thingy that my paper cabinet will sit on and I still haven't emptied the old computer desk and found places for all of its content.  I'm thinking I may go to work on the huge closet adjoining my studio and move it in there.  It's a very nice desk but it's in an oak finish and I'd like to keep everything white in the studio proper.  I could use the top for cutting mats and use the drawers for storage.  Sounds like a good plan to me as the closet is currently being used to store frames.

I forgot to mention that I've renewed my organizational effort because Dors from Dors Art Blog will be visiting us during her US tour this coming August and I figure with all my procrastination, it will take me that long to get everything done!  I have no idea how long it would take if she weren't going to visit but my husband keeps saying "Thank you, Dors!" over and over in a very heartfelt manner!

So, why isn't it already done by now?  Well, I keep finding unfinished paintings and end up going back to work on them (like the egret above!)

I started it ages ago when I first got some of the Golden Open Acrylics but I put it aside to dry then moved on to something else before I finished it!  Now I'm determined to finish it and get it out of the way AND get the studio in tip top shape ASAP!  (Hey!  I heard that snigger in the background!)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

We're OK

I just wanted to thank all of you who emailed to see if we were ok after the tornadoes struck our area yesterday and to let you know that we're fine.

My daughter and her family were closer to the destruction but they're ok also but without electricity (unless it was restored last night).  They couldn't get out to come here because of downed trees and debris on the streets but said they'd be fine. 

Again, thank you all for your concern and thank God for His protection of us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I Hate My Job

I really do hate my job sometimes.  Like now, today.  I just finished a portrait of a beautiful Rottie named Crissy.  Some of you may remember her from a blog post about a demo at the Raleigh Street Gallery where some of my art is shown.  There were some aspects of the painting that I just couldn't seem to get right so I put it away until about a week ago.

Crissy was the beloved pet of our friends.  She was young.  She was very healthy and lively.  But something happened and Crissy became paralyzed.  The vet said a piece of her vertebrae chipped off and became lodged in the spinal cord in an area they couldn't get to to operate.

Our friends held out hope that the chip would work itself out but that didn't happen.  Yesterday they decided to euthanize Crissy feeling that she no longer had the quality of life she deserved.

I loved  big ole slobbery and sometimes silly Crissy and that's why today, at least, I hate my job.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A New Show, More On Exhibition Title Cards

Funny how life has it's own pace of stops and starts - it seems it's either the speed of a snail or a sudden acceleration to that of a NASCAR driver in an important race!

It's been the speed of a race here lately.  I'm preparing for a small show and since the paintings are to be hung on Monday, I've been scrambling to get things ready. 

I know, I know, I said I wasn't going to do any more shows but this is more like exhibiting in a gallery.  The paintings will hang for about a month and the owners of the space will take care of the transactions should any paintings be sold. 

One of the requirements is to provide the title cards for each of my paintings.  I've been intrigued with the design of those cards for quite a while and ended up printing the image of the painting as a background for the card as shown above.  This way there's no doubt as to what painting goes with what information.

I'll let you know how things go.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Foxy Final

I've finally finished the portrait of Foxy, the little Pomeranian.  I don't know if you all do this, but I tend to leave a painting out so I can see it for a few days after I think I've finished with it and will invariably "pick" at it as I walk by it.  I'm sure there's probably more I could find to pick at with this but I'm calling it finished so as not to overwork it.

However, I don't like a painting in the mail over a weekend so won't send this out until Monday so if you see anything that needs to be changed, don't hesitate to let me know!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Challenge Painting

This is a pastel painting that I did for the March Challenge at Paint My Photo, an online group where photographs are posted as references for artists to paint without worry about copyright issues.  It's not a "vanity" site where any art work is displayed but is a site where the photos are the stars and only art from the photos on that site is allowed to be posted. 

The challenge for March is to choose a photo reference from all those posted and paint it for an exchange between other participating members.  I've always had a fascination with the sea (could it be because I'm originally from landlocked Kansas?) and the red sails from the reference photo clinched it as far as choosing this for my challenge reference photo. 

I'm not normally a landscape/seascape painter so I hope I did a decent enough job with this that the recipient would not be too disappointed with its arrival.  A second reason for choosing this subject was that I wanted it to be pleasing to almost anyone, male or female.  Since we won't know where to send the paintings until the end of the month, I won't know who is to receive it.

It's pastel on Clairefontaine's PastelMat and this is the painting where the support had the little dots and one line where there wasn't any of the special pastel surface.  The bare spots were small and fortunately, there weren't all that many of them, but it's still a bit of a hassle to make sure they get covered.  Have any of you who use PastelMat had problems of this sort? 

I'm also nearly finished with Foxy but will wait until I'm completely finished to post. 

And, after I finish with Foxy, I have got to get back to organizing my studio!  No, it's still not finished because I keep procrastinating about getting it done.  Somebody crack the whip!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Foxy - WIP 2

I've done a little more to the portrait of Foxy, the Pomeranian, which I've posted above.  Most of the additional work has been in the way of adding layers and doing a little bit of refining.  I should have it finished in the next day or so.

Again, this is soft pastel on ColourFix Suede and I'm enjoying this new paper.  I really think my favorite paper is still velour or real suede paper/matboard but this is nice and, to me, is superior to PastelMat.

Both papers (ColourFix Suede and PastelMat) seem to both feel and respond the same way but I like the colors better in the ColourFix plus, there don't seem to be any flaws in the paper as there are in the PastelMat.  I just finished a painting using the PastelMat and had a little trouble covering some bare dots and also one bare line where there wasn't any surface.  It worked out ok but it's just a lot easier when there aren't any flaws.

I'll post the painting I painted on the PastelMat tomorrow and perhaps another update on little Foxy!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Foxy - WIP

This is Foxy, a cute little Pomeranian I'm in the midst of painting.  I have two nieces with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a genetic disease and I donated a gift certificate for a portrait to a fund raiser to help find a cure.

The lady who won the portrait sent me photos of this little cutie and so far the painting is going very well.  I had initially planned to paint her in gouache or acrylic ink but my fingers instinctively reached for the pastels.

This is just the beginning of laying down of the base colors and I have a lot of refining to do.

I'm using the new ColourFix Suede in the Kangaroo color.  It looks pretty gray here and in the color swatches online but it has a bluish tint to it.  The owner of Foxy said she wanted a steel blue as a background color and this seemed fairly close to that color.  This is only the second time I've used this support (& I still haven't finished the first piece!) and I like it ok.  It's similar to PastelMat by Clairefontaine but doesn't seem to have the flaws I've noticed in the PastelMat.  It seems to work the same as the PastelMat in that blending is pretty difficult until the layers are built up. 

Oh, as an aside, the pipe insulation blenders I wrote about in a previous post don't seem to work well after the initial layers and tend to remove the pastel instead of blending it.  I may just need more practice with them and the paper though.  Much as I dislike the feel of the pastel dust, the fingers are certainly the best blenders for nearly every pastel painting situation I've come across yet!

Anyway, I hope to be  able to finish this by the first of next week at the latest. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Another Pastel Blender

Many of you know that while pastel is my medium of choice, I really hate the feel of the dust on my hands.  That's why I'm always on the look out for the perfect blender.

A while ago I touted the virtues of the Loew-Cornell Style Styx and I still like them a lot.  But I recently read on Wet Canvas's Pastel Forum about using foam pipe insulation as a blending tool.  I didn't have any on hand and didn't want to drive 30 miles to a home improvement store so I looked around at what I did have on hand.

I found some dense foam lengths that are actually used in swimming pools as floats or kid's toys and decided to try a section to see how it worked.  It's amazing how well they do work!  You can cut the foam into any shape but I found the wedge shape works the best.

The foam sections that I had were purchased from a local Dollar store for a dollar or less each and one length is more than enough from which to cut dozens of the little blenders.  These wedges hold up well and while, like the Style Styx, they may stain, they can be wiped off and used repeatedly.  Or, they're cheap enough to have one for every color in your pastel collection!

Happy, happy painting!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Winter, Spring, Winter

It's that time of the year again when the temperatures do their wild fluctuations!  For the past several days, we've had temps in the high 70's to low 80's - pure heaven after the cold we've had.  But we had a front move through yesterday that has brought back the cooler temps.  It's not all that cold but still nearly 30 degrees cooler than what it has been.

The daffodils and forsythia are blooming and I spotted a crocus nearly open yesterday.  These plants seem able to take the weather see-saw although a hard freeze would probably ruin the blooms.

Little teasers of spring right now then back to winter.

Another sign of the season is that there are a lot of skunks out and many are being hit on the highways.  Since we're in the country, many are hit on the road on which we live.  That makes for such a delightful perfume for several days!

But, the skunks and the early flowers signal that spring really isn't that far away.  Here's hoping it's early this year!