Painting lesson

I thought it might be fun to show, step by step, my process of making a painting using acrylic paints. Much as I like watercolors, the cost of matting and framing, not to mention using the right kind of glass, is just too high priced for my current budget.  A lot of my watercolors, consequently, are tucked away in portfolios for however long it takes for me to get prosperous enough to take proper care of them. On the other hand, like oil paintings, acrylic paintings can go in a frame with no mat or glass, or you can simply hang them on the wall, especially if the paining is done on canvas or linen attached to a stretcher frame with the staples out of sight on the back side. Like the one below. (Okay, that wall is not pink. Digital cameras are weird. Just sayin’.)

The painting that really got me started with acrylics.

The painting that really got me started with acrylics.

I went to a painting “class” to benefit one of my other favorite places in the world, the local university’s Biodiversity and Research Teaching Collections. Our instructor had all the ready-to-use canvases, paints, brushes, and sea turtle cut-outs if we wanted to use them. Everything else was up to us.

Since I was new to acrylics, but knew that it’s a very forgiving medium (if you don’t like something, just wait for it to dry and paint over it), I just started playing with shades of blue, green, and white — blending them on my paper-plate pallette, blending them on the canvas — trying to create a watery background. I ended up liking the results, the process, the fact that the class was held in a wine bar…

After I got back to my own “studio,” I decided not to worry about subject matter for my paintings, but just play with colors and practice brush strokes, etc. I already posted some of the paintings I did during this phase, and here I want to show the step by step process of making a painting. Although I forgot to take a picture of the very first step — the base coat, followed by adding sky and ground, I can say that I used cerulean blue and white for the sky with loopy brushstrokes and a flat brush, to make some swirly “wind” effects.

Blue sky and fall foilage

Blue sky and fall foliage, a bit blah at this stage

The “ground” color started out as yellow ochre mixed with parchment (unbleached titanium is about the same off-white color), to which I added all these trees showing off their fall colors.

These are the four colors I used.

These are the four colors I used.

Check out that paintbrush. It’s called “chisel” because the edge is chopped into that comb shape. You’ll see the neat effects it creates. The colors are cadmium yellow, ultramarine blue, sap green, and burnt sienna. I also used cad red when I was painting the background trees. These colors are for the next phase.

So add an evergreen in the foreground.

So add an evergreen in the foreground.

See what that paintbrush does?

How to make "pine" green

How to make “pine” green

And then you need dark gray for darker shadows and tree trunks

And then you need dark gray for darker shadows and tree trunks

The contrasts add some interest.

The contrasts add some interest, but it’s still missing something

Highlights on the fir tree, non-earthbound life forms finish it off.

Highlights on the fir trees, and non-earthbound life forms finish it off.

And then I just play around with the leftover paint, plus some red

And then I just play around with the leftover paint, plus some red


Another rain later….

So, we had another rain last week. Almost four inches. Made one goofy dog quite happy. My brother, not so much…

Oh, dear. Someone's been eating mud again.

Oh, dear. Someone’s been eating mud again…

...and the droughtgrass turned green...

…and the droughtgrass turned green…

...and somebody had to mow it.

…and somebody had to mow it.

Flowers in my yard this week (the sequel)

Some time back, I posted some photos of wildflowers growing in various parts of my yard. Today, I took photos of the ones that sprouted up since the rain we got last Thursday.

Rain Flowers and Drought Grass 1

Rain Flowers and Drought Grass 1

Rain Flowers and Drought Grass 2

Rain Flowers and Drought Grass 2

There are two varieties of Rain Flowers, but the Drought Grass is all the same. And, yes, those are technical terms. I made looked them up. I think the white flowers are actually called rain lilies, but it may be the yellow ones — or they could be related. Oh, wait. I have a book. So, okay, the white ones are rain lilies, or evening stars, and the yellow ones are copper lilies. The Drought Grass is generally crunchy, only not so much since the rain. How that’s relevant is not important.

Next photo shows more of the effects of the drought. The tree looks made for Halloween decorations, except when you think about all the other trees in the area that are in more or less the same condition, just waiting for that next big wind to fall across power lines, or a road, or a car, or your head. This poor individual doesn’t appear to have much left to lose. Or much chance to recover. Still, I have to keep hoping for more rain.

Drought Yard with Drought Tree

Drought Yard with Drought Tree


Prehistoric Badass

Looks like BillyBob got a little too close to the mammoth.

Looks like Ugg got a little too close to the mammoth.

I was visiting my favorite place in the world not too long ago, and toured through the new Hall of Paleontology, (which is awesome!) and took a snap of this poor guy getting batted around like a soccer ball by a couple of mammoths. Ah, life — and catastrophic boo boos — in the Stone Age.

Really big teeth

Really big teeth

As usual, I wasn’t reading all the labels, so I don’t remember for sure, but think this is some kind of giant crocodilian, cruising around, waiting for Ugg to fall in the water. I think the effect of the shadows looks cool.

A Pterydactyl, about the size of a robin.

A Pterydactyl, about the size of a robin.

I always thought the little fliers were cool — about the size of a “pocket dragon.”

Hey, how'd you get in here?

Hey, how’d you get in here?


How I spent my summer Part 2

I went to summer school. Yes, I know I said I was done with taking classes, notes, tests, etc., etc., but I took a class in the spring semester to finish up the mediation certificate course, and found I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to take some more. Just a glutton for punishment, I guess.

Or it might be that the course instructor has a large impact on whether or not the class is engaging. That probably varies from student to student, too. Someone I think is brilliant may bore someone else to tears.

The instructor for the civil litigation class was a smart, high energy, sassy woman lawyer who knew her stuff. And she thought some of my offbeat comments on the legalese in the textbook (we had to turn in a “what I learned vs. what I had trouble with” page every week) were hilarious. And then I made 100 on the first test. And on the third test. Of course I would end up liking the class.

Getting that A went straight to my head. I figured I should go back to grad school and get my doctorate. It would be a snap. As long as I stayed away from math and chemistry (there’s goes the doctorate in any kind of biology). Hmmm. I thought hey, maybe political science, and I could be a lobbyist or something. So I looked for some classes to lead in that direction.

I signed up for two classes in the summer: online Cultural Anthropology for the first term, and Social Psychology for the second. The anthropology class was interesting, but I found I missed the face to face interaction with the instructor. At the beginning of the second term, I found out the psychology class had been cancelled, so I opted for a Texas Government class in the same time period. That instructor was another high energy soul who didn’t take himself too seriously, and I got a lot out of the class. Including a couple of perfect test scores.

I also had a chat with him about my idea for a PhD in political science. Turns out all they do, at least at the local university, is run statistical analyses on stuff. Ugh. Isn’t that math? Yes, it is. But Prof suggested that since I seem to be more interested in the stories, that maybe history would be a better fit. Which it might be. Except that at the same local university, you don’t just have to have a bachelor’s degree (in anything) to get into their grad program, you have to have 24 undergrad hours of History, and then get the M.A. degree, and then you could go for the doctorate. Huh! It would be easier to just get books from the library and teach myself.

I’ll let y’all know when to start calling me Doctor Crazybasenji.

Why do we collect things?


While I work on Part 2 of how I spent my summer, I thought I’d recycle a one or two of my older posts.

Originally posted on Crazybasenji:

I’m no psychologist.  But I wonder, what if collecting things is a holdover from much earlier, less settled times in human history, when it might have made sense to gather and hang on to portable, edible items?  Hmm.

This is completely unscientific, of course, but if you do a web search, you’ll find that websites with the word “collection” or “collections” in them generally have something to do with debts.   Type in “collectibles,” on the other hand, and that’s a whole new world.  But it still boils down to having a collection of something.

Some collections are whimsical, of value only to their owners.  Others vary in value; some are beyond price.

I suppose it all depends on your point of view.  I have a few collections of my own.  And there is a class of collections that is of special concern to me — natural science and natural…

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How I spent my summer, part 1

Remember when you were a kid in school and the teacher had you write an essay on the first day back after summer vacation all about what you did? Do I hear groans of recognition? Yes. Well. It’s that time of year again. School will be starting again for lots of kids, and plenty of adults as well — me included. It will also soon be time for my high school class reunion, and I’ll refrain from mentioning how many years. But I started thinking about some of my high school classes and teachers, and thought I’d blend some of my artsy stuff into my reminiscing stuff and share a bit. This first painting is the result.

Recreation of a high school art project

Recreation of a high school art project.

One of the projects the teacher had us do was a “non-objective” painting. Mine looked something like the one above.  I figured I’d get a bad grade because the painting looked like giant yellow eggs sitting in “trees.” Instead, the teacher liked it so much she hung it on the wall at the front of the class for the rest of the semester. I was kind of embarrassed. Weird, huh?

I was a bit hot under the collar when I did this

I was a bit hot under the collar when I did this.

I remember learning in my driver’s ed class to avoid driving while in an “emotional state.” Considering all the road rage out there, I guess they don’t teach that anymore. Whatever. No one ever said not to paint while in an emotional state. Once when I was mad, I tried to paint a volcano erupting. It was garbage. This time, I decided to just try and evoke the lava, rather than the whole volcano and surrounding countryside. I used only four colors: yellow ochre, azo yellow, cadmium red, and burnt umber. It was very therapeutic. And, hey, I’d hang it on my wall.

Gotta love fireworks!

Gotta love fireworks!

This was a lot of fun. But then, fireworks always are. These, however, are safe even in extreme drought conditions. They also don’t scare the dogs.

Imaginary nebula as seen from an imaginary telescope.

Imaginary nebula as seen from an imaginary telescope.

When I got finished with this one, I had to laugh. I call it the “My Little Flying Pony Nebula.” I’ve always loved images of stuff in deep space, taken by the Hubble and other telescopes. Always wanted to try and capture those colors. I see many more paintings like this in my future.

Just three colors went into this one.

Just three colors went into this one.

My “alien landscape” was a surprise, as well. I used three colors: vermilion, cerulean blue, and parchment. I stared with cerulean at the top, then blended in the parchment toward the middle. It was the first time I got that to work the way I wanted. Then I worked up from the bottom with the vermilion. Don’t ask me why I wanted garish red land/ocean — I really don’t know. I just like the color. I may have been thinking of a sunset when I started out, but then I just started playing with the brush, jabbing it against the surface, and I started liking how it made tree-like/rock-like shapes. I needed something a little darker in the foreground, so I added some cerulean to the vermilion. I was not expecting the indigo blue. But I really liked it.

And, yes, I threw all the paintings on the floor of my kitchen/breakfast room in front of the patio door to photograph them. It was the only place I could get almost good enough light. Obviously, there is room for improvement in all my artsy methods. :)

The Long, Hot, Summer of the Soul

There are times when you just have to step back, you know? Take a break, reassess, get grounded, or (insert your favorite catch phrase here)whatever, and hope that when you get back to the grind, something will have clicked into place, and life will progress more or less smoothly, and generally in a “forward” direction. Sometimes, there’s no noticeable click, but you realize you have to drag yourself back into the Twilight Zone (some prefer to call it reality), whether you’re comfortable there, or not.

And then there are times when you go walkabout and just get lost…

Or I could spin this past year as a sabbatical, and that I was doing serious research… yeah, maybe not.

What started off last summer as a break to “get off the planet” as it were, and immerse myself in rereading all the books in the Foreigner Series, by C.J. Cherryh, turned into one delay after another in getting back to work on my writing, and all the other stuff I put on this blog. But, oh, well, these things happen. Instead of boring you with all the details in one long blurt, I’ll just proceed like I’ve only been gone a week, instead of a year. That okay with everybody?

The biggest change to the Crazybasenji household is the addition of a non-basenji canine. I know. What a shock. She qualifies as completely crazy, though, so that should count for something. Darby is a Spinone Italiano, an Italian Pointer (or Setter, depending on how loosely you translate). She’s a big, shaggy thing, and goofy as hell. And if there’s one thing I do love, it’s a goofy dog.

Darby belonged to a man who was going through chemo and radiation therapy and just didn’t have the energy to care for her and his other big dogs any more. She came to live with me on a trial basis at first. I wasn’t sure if Ramses would warm up to her. He’d been getting peculiar around strange dogs on our walks, and I was hoping that constant exposure to a very different dog would be good for him. Turned out I was right – at least as far as Darby is concerned. She’s so mellow, that even when he’d snarl at her in the beginning, she’d just stand still – very non-threatening – until he chilled.

Now they’re fine together, and the different energy levels keep things interesting.Image

So I can get back to doing more writing, and painting, and spend less time enabling a spoiled rotten only-dog. Maybe…

A Few Photos

Thought I’d share some of the pictures I’ve been taking of things I’d like to paint.

Clouds in the North at sunset

Spectacular lighting in the clouds.

Tortoise-shell cat

“The extra dog” finally sat still for me to get a picture of her face!

Backlit clouds at sunset

The gate, the road, the mailbox, and those clouds.

A comfy chair in the shade

This just cries out to be painted.

A group of delicate mushrooms

These little mushrooms showed up after a rain, then disappeared. They were so pretty and delicate.





“Failure is Always an Option”

I watch “Mythbusters.” Maybe not as avidly as my brother, but there are a few episodes I’ve seen more than a few times. Jamie and Adam often say they learn at least as much from things they do that don’t work, as from things that do work. Adam even wears a shirt sometimes with the quote in the title printed across the front. That same expression applies to live in general, I think, and maybe especially to those hard lessons a lot of us have to repeat frequently throughout our lives. You can probably come up with a list of those for yourself without much trouble.

They generally fall into two main categories, don’t they? Lessons from “the outside,” from other people or the environment; and lessons from inside, when you listen to those nasty voices in your head, or when you have a disordered internal system. For now, I’m going to stick to the lessons from inside – the ones that make you feel like your own worst enemy, or like you’re at war with your own body. The kinds of battles it seems like so many people around you think you should be able to win in one blow and get on with your life (and stop making them feel guilty for whatever reason they feel guilty). After all, it’s all in your head, right? That’s what “everyone” says, right? So you should just be able to make it stop, right?

As if. Why do people even continue to believe that, you wonder, with all the evidence from medical and psychological studies saying that we each have a unique recipe for the biochemical soup that keeps us cooking along.

Since I’m most intimately familiar with chronic pain conditions, I’ll start with that as an example. Whatever the cause of the pain, there must be some set of chemicals – in the cells of the body as well as the brain – that act together to (sometimes) continue producing those pain signals long after the initial “injury” is healed. There’s (finally) an entire medical specialty devoted to studying and treating all types of pain, and I’m sure they understand a lot more about it than I do. I can only talk about my own experience with any degree of knowledge.

To begin with, I’ve been plagued with back pain since I was a teenager. Scoliosis tends to show up during puberty (or not “show up” – mine was so slight as to be superficially imperceptible). Yet I complained of back pain and numbness in parts of my back – and was told simply, “stand up straight.” Which didn’t make anything all better.

Of course, the generation I grew up in was only a hair’s breadth removed from the notion that a child with a “defect,” like scoliosis, was a direct reflection on the quality of the parents, or the parenting, and I think my mother would have been horrified by such a diagnosis if it had come in my youth. She would have blamed herself – for not being able to make me stand up straight enough to prevent it, most likely. As it was, she felt bad that we didn’t find out about it sooner, but by then, she realized it was neither her fault nor mine.

These days, I use a variety of pain-modification and pain-management techniques, all of which have had some pain-relieving effects, none of which has made the pain stay away for good. Whether it’s a brain chemical that causes me to “want” my back to continue to hurt, or some other set of substances that eventually counteracts all the treatments I throw at it, or just that I’m that sensitive to my own body doesn’t really matter. Apparently it’s not something I can get conscious control over, and switch off. One way or another, I have to find a way to live with this pain, just like people who battle addictions have to find a way to live with always having those cravings – even when they don’t give in to them.

I have a friend who is at risk for diabetes because of her family history. When she eats sugary foods, she has a hard time stopping. I think she hopes that if she stays away from the sugar, she’ll eventually just not even want it any more. I don’t think that’s likely to happen. I think her family members who became diabetic did so because they didn’t work as hard as she does to control the cravings. Somewhere in her personal, unique physiology, is a sugar junkie gene, or the equivalent, and it’s always going to make her want that second piece of cake, or that fourth piece of fudge, as soon as she eats the first one. But I don’t think occasionally forgetting and having that first piece, or even two, makes her a bad person. (And you need to stop beating yourself up about it!)

We all have to be able to forgive ourselves when we make these mistakes, or “fall off the wagon,” or when something doesn’t work (or doesn’t keep working). And then we need to get up and try again. Because failure is always an option. Giving up isn’t.