The Continuing Discoveries of a 21st Century Naturalist

Subtle Nuances in Nature

I often wander our property on a nice day taking photographs of seasonal plants, birds and butterflies.  We have nicknamed our property ‘Butterfly Hill’ because so many visit us here – both in quantity and variety of species.  As a naturalist I keep life lists of birds and butterflies I’ve seen and/or photographed.  It is rare that I don’t take photographs of each sighting and often those photographs reveal subtleties I might have missed otherwise.

The photographs below, and subsequent highlighted versions, show the distinctive marks that separate two very similar butterflies – the Painted Lady and the American Painted Lady.   I hope you will be inspired to appreciate nature’s unique attributes in your own encounters.

American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) – Dorsal View

American Painted Lady Vanessa virginiensis

American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) – Ventral View

American Painted Lady Vanessa virginiensis

American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) – Ventral View II

Painted Lady Vanessa cardui

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) – Dorsal View

Painted Lady Vanessa cardui

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) – Ventral View

If you haven’t already found the differences they are circled in the photographs below.  The American Painted Lady has a tiny white mark in one of the orange cells on the dorsal forewing and has only two ‘eye-spots’ on the ventral hindwing.  The Painted Lady has no mark on the dorsal forewing cells and has four smaller ‘eye-spots’ on the ventral hindwing.


Inspiring Naturalists one story at at time.




The Making of “Cavendish and Cognac” and “Piping”

It’s late May on the mountain with steady rain and a temperature struggling to reach 60° (F).  The dampness is giving the atmosphere a decidedly cooler feel to a Spring day.  I thought about this as I was deciding on which artwork piece to write about in my “Making of” series.  The chill in the air today made me think of two pieces that, while created in different media, emit a feel of old style warmth and comfort.

“Cavendish and Cognac” is a still life in oil.  “Piping” is a still life rendered in color pencil.  Both lean toward the masculine and the refined.  They invite you to sit back in a large, comfortable chair and enjoy a warm view whether you partake of the contents portrayed or not.  If it’s chilly where you are today have a warm beverage of your choice and follow the progress from beginning to end of both of these pieces.

Cavendish and Cognac

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Each step, whether from a direct view of an arrangement of objects as in “Cavendish and Cognac”, or from a photograph I took of an arranged objects required dedication and concentration.  While I don’t typically ‘enjoy’ photo-realistic work both of these arrangements contain surfaces I love rendering – wood and glass.

So as we move out of May, having passed the holiday with the heaviest volume of phone calls (Mother’s Day), and into the month that officially begins summer enjoy a few cooler days (hopefully) wherever you are.  And don’t forget to spend some time with your Dad for Father’s Day whether in person or by phone on the holiday with the heaviest volume of collect phone calls. Take a moment to relish having a father that’s always just a phone call away (collect or not) or one whom you have fond memories.

If you don’t have either of those perhaps indulging in a cold adult beverage will suffice.  Cheers!


If you are interested in purchasing either of these works you may do so here:

Cavendish and Cognac



Taking A Chance In A Social Media Driven Society

I recently published a blog piece here and here about being raped almost forty years ago.  I spent weeks gathering research, examining my personal history, exploring painful childhood experiences and struggling with whether to publicly share such a personal experience.  I finally decided to publish it because I believed if one person read it who had any similar traumas might find information or comfort that would help them heal.

At first, I was relieved when I hit the publish button.  Then I started doubting the wisdom of sharing so much of myself.  But I continued to think, “If one woman is encouraged by the thought of not being alone in her trauma it’s worth it.”  Instead I believe it’s an irrelevant revelation in a society where people only want an easy, short read.   My story isn’t an easy one to read – I actually pulled from scholarly sources to help myself and others understand the relevance of the information I was sharing.  Nor is it a short read – at over 5500 words it’s an anomaly in a society where we read a headline, react, and scroll down to the next one.

So here’s the revised version and my perceptions of how it’s been received.

  • I’ve been having significant issues since the presidential election of a president who has been known to publicly demean and assault women in the past. (“Aren’t we all having some sort of emotional reaction after this election even if it’s euphoria at having someone confirm our prejudices and biases?”)
  • A really bad childhood that I was afraid to talk about but which I found research supporting the link between that and my being the victim of rape. (“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy.  Research quotes? *Yawn*)
  • My teen years were marked by a great deal of emotional trauma. (“Isn’t everybody’s? Time to get over it.”)
  • I am a survivor of date rape and the research I did found that “ age at rape and knowing the perpetrator were independently predictive of delayed disclosure”.and in writing this updated piece I found Department of Justice statistics show that “In 8 out of 10 rape cases, the victim knows the attacker”. (rape, “not another story of some woman whining about being raped”, research, Blah, Blah, Statistics, *Yawn*)
  • Trying to provide a context for all of this and how it affected me involved sharing a lot of personal details. (“TMI”)
  • My reaction to the election of Donald Trump’s election and trying to understand how he could be elected when he had such a history of disrespect for women. (“It’s over”, “who cares?”, “Snowflake”.)
  • 5500+ words (“OMG! Will this piece ever end? *stops reading about 1/3 way in* *scrolls to the bottom to see how it ends*)

I should have known better than to expect anyone to actually read the whole piece with all the connective details, any meaningful dialogue to result or to be taken seriously as a woman relating a 40-year-old rape story filled with personal details of abuse.

I want to apologize to my readers for this diversion from my normal work.  I’ll be going back to writing about how I create my artwork and photographs of, and information about, flora and fauna.

There, 561 words! (I can take enough time out of my social media liking of cats, dogs, and pregnant giraffes to read that.)

Betrayal of Trust: Abuse and Survival In The Age Of Trump

Recently I read an article, and comments on it, about a pedophile who managed to hide within boundaries of what should be a safe environment.  The man in question was a school teacher and coach at the junior high/middle school I attended.  I’ve heard discussions of “why was I not chosen”, “how could I have trusted, even admired, this person” and “what if it had been me”.

There are even people who have expressed doubts about why the victims would wait 30 years to come forward.  Such conjecture does what is often done with victims of abuse or rape – cast doubt on their accounts of what they endured. At a time when the focus on campus rape has, rightfully, increased, and people in power believe they can treat women as less than human, I’ve been having flashbacks and issues arising from being raped almost forty years ago.  I hope by sharing my story this will help others who are experiencing similar problems or don’t fully understand because it’s never happened to them.

The decision to publicly tell my story is not an easy one.  As I write this I’m not even certain I’ll hit ‘publish’ when I finish.  If you’re reading this my better angels won out over my demons.

What are the ways in which a sexual predator determines their victim?  Appearance of vulnerability is pretty high on the list.

For context I’m going to begin by sharing some of my childhood history.

I spent a great deal of time searching for studies finding any links to childhood physical and/or emotional abuse and the likelihood of becoming a rape victim.  Normal Google searches yielded no results which I found disappointing especially when I finally found a lot of information through Google Scholar.  One study found

Results of hierarchical logistic regression analyses indicated that childhood victimization increased the risk for adulthood victimization by any perpetrator for men and women, and by an intimate partner for women but not men. Female and male victims of physical and/or sexual child abuse are at higher risk for adult victimization by non-intimate perpetrators.

I was raised in a fashion which, by what seems like reasonable logic, should have prevented me from being a victim of rape.  Our household was extremely strict with rules for pretty much all actions.  Some of those rules were about when we could date, what kinds of clothes we could wear ‘to town’ or school, and even girlfriends with whom we could have sleepovers (my parents had to know their parents and my parents never made the effort to meet any parents that weren’t within a couple of houses from us in our neighborhood).

Another study found

Compared to controls, the date-rape group had significantly higher scores on a measure of overall childhood stress and maltreatment and scored significantly higher on the principal subscale of that measure, which assesses negative home environment/neglect…..the relationship between date rape and other negative childhood experiences remained statistically significant after sexual abuse was partialled out. Thus, forms of maltreatment that are not specifically sexual are also associated with an increased likelihood of sexual victimization later in life. Maltreatment was significantly associated with dissociation, depression, and other psychological symptoms of trauma. Findings are consistent with a model in which the psychological consequences of trauma increase the likelihood of later traumatic experiences.

Like school, where children should feel safe, a home should be a safe haven for children. The household in which I grew up was one of intense and secret abuse. For me, there was no sexual abuse involved.  I outlined a little of that environment on this blog in the past so I won’t rehash those circumstances.  We were always told any mention of the leather belt spankings beatings we received, starting as small children, to anyone outside the immediate household would result in “getting worse than we had already received”.   So we lived double lives – trepidation and terror when my father, a truck driver, was around; smiling, seemingly well-adjusted, polite girls in public.  In all likelihood the overbearing paternal influence may have played into my reaction to my rape – which I talk about below.

So the ground rules were explicitly defined and were not to be defied.

The strict structure concerning dating included no dating until fifteen and a half and then only double-dates with single dating allowed at sixteen.  Dates were only allowed on Wednesday (6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.) and Saturday nights (6:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.), and on Sundays (2:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.)  One minute late meant being ‘grounded’ (no friends allowed to visit or going to visit them, no dates and no phone calls for at least a week).  I don’t know how the ‘dating rules’ were devised. They began with my oldest sister and applied to both middle sister and me.  No exceptions.  So, as a high school student, I was never permitted to go to any sporting functions on Friday nights as a date. Truly, the only sporting events I did attend were when I was a cheerleader in my Freshman year of high school or as part of the school pep and marching bands.

Even as small children we were not allowed to wear shorts to the grocery store with my mother on even the hottest summer days.  If she did let us wear shorts we had to stay in the car while she shopped – I know this because I remember my legs sticking to the red vinyl seats of our 1964 Ford Galaxy 500.  Otherwise, we had to wear dresses or skirts and tops or long pants anywhere we went except in our own neighborhood.  As we began to be able to wear pants to school they had to be long pants and initially even jeans were prohibited (primarily because my father saw them as dungarees and a sign of the poverty in which he grew up).

As an adult, I have indignantly listened to men pontificate about how what a female wears creates a signal to be raped. I once walked out of a Sunday School class in my late twenties because some the men in the class were saying how short skirts and ‘revealing’ clothing meant a woman was asking to be raped.  Clearly, the message that rape is NOT about sex but about power and control has yet to get through.  In Unsafe On Any Campus a book published in July of last year, author Dr. Samuel R. Staley notes a limited study of college students by psychologists Lori Koelsch, Amy Brown, and Leah Boisen found

When asked about personal responsibility within the context of sexual assault, women and men blamed women for their behavior, either by attending parties by themselves, drinking to the point of becoming inebriated, or wearing sexually provocative clothing.

Dr. Staley goes on to say, “It’s no wonder that psychologists have coined the term “Rape Stress Syndrome” and often diagnose survivors with PTSD.”

However, the public side of my formative years was not always pleasant either.

I was a quiet, studious child in part because of the fear of what punishment would be meted out if I didn’t make good grades or misbehaved in any way.  As is often the case with children my peers picked on me mostly through taunts of ‘goody two-shoes’ and ‘teacher’s pet’.  I felt embarrassment and humiliation even though I believed I was just being obedient and I liked learning.

When I was in the seventh grade I dared to start ‘going with’ (a quaint term used in my school for having a boyfriend even if you really never went anywhere together) a boy in a grade above me. By this time, most of the taunting by my fellow students had subsided to a great degree but I was soon to find out there are other types of humiliation.  This boy allowed me to wear his football jersey over the long-sleeved white blouse I’d worn to school a couple of times.  (I could never wear it to/from home because I was not supposed to have a boyfriend at my age. ) That simple act constituted living dangerously in my regulated world.

On one such day the lad in question waited until a break when the halls were full of other students to tell me, at the water fountain, with people in line behind us, to give him his jersey back.  He had someone else he wanted to wear it. I recount this event because my reaction is indicative of how I behaved under the thumb of my male parent.  Stunned and completely humiliated I took the jersey off right there, incredulous but obedient, and somehow made it through the remainder of the day.   In researching this article I found this statement in a Psychology Today blog which shows my reaction was pretty typical.

People who are in the process of being humiliated are usually left stunned and speechless, and, more than that, voiceless.

Again, growing up with my paternal figure no thought of anything but acquiescence occurred to me.  I remember crying silently on the bus home and when I arrived with red eyes my mother assuming this was due to allergies and gave me a dose of Allerest to treat my pain.  This would be the first in a long pattern of humiliation in my interactions with the opposite sex. There would be two boys I dated ‘seriously’ in high school who I would find out through friends were dating someone else behind my back.  I assumed those ‘infidelities’ were because I wouldn’t have sex with them.

Going back to my middle school years I had a chance to start over when a new middle school was built and the two elementary schools whose students would normally come together in high school were combined when I began my eighth grade year.  I was in a new place.  There were new people to meet.  People who hadn’t witnessed my early elementary school taunts or the degrading incident the year before.  I started to come out of my shell but when I could begin dating I almost exclusively dated boy who had come from the other elementary school.

By the end of my eighth grade year I was convinced by an older neighborhood friend to try out for the Junior Varsity cheerleading squad even though I had never cheered or played any sports.  She coached me through the spring and I ended up being the co-captain of the squad.  Even though I only participated one year, doing so gave me a way to enter high school with more self-esteem. Less positive changes to my self-image began as I approached the summer after I turned sixteen.

Both of my sisters had graduated and left home and were now unmarried and pregnant.  My father who believed in appearances above all else ‘disowned’ them.  My mother and I were ‘not allowed’ to speak their names in his presence.  I was not allowed to visit them or call them except when my truck-driving father was on a long trip and my mother would let me go and visit them. Through that experience I learned another ‘family lesson’: any infraction could now result not just in beatings but in ostracization.

Then my first experience losing someone I loved dearly happened.  My father married my step-mother when I was not quite two years old, my mother having died shortly after my birth.  Since my step-mother grew up in a town five hours from where we lived we visited my stepmother’s parents in the summer and spent one or two weeks each year living with them.  My MaMaw and PaPaw were wonderful, kind, loving people and I adored them.

Even in my earliest memories of those visits my PaPaw would have a horse for us to ride while we were visiting.  This particular visit was special.  My PaPaw had been battling cancer since before my thirteenth birthday but was now back to his normal weight and looked the best he had in years.  I spent every day with him on his doctor-prescribed walks.  As we strolled up and down the dirt road in front of their house he apologized several times for not having a horse for me to ride.

Two weeks after this visit my PaPaw went to the stock sale with my uncle and purchased a colt to train up for me to ride the next summer.  He brought it home, tied it to the gate post and as he went to open the gate and get the young horse settled in, had a fatal heart attack.  I was inconsolable.  I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t stop crying.  I was alone at my grandparents’ house because my sisters were unable to make the trip – one due to her advanced pregnancy and the other because she was still persona non grata in my father’s view.

With all of that emotional turmoil as background I was raped a couple of weeks after my grandfather’s death.  I had been on a couple of dates with a neighbor’s friend (the neighbor who had helped me with my cheer leading training).  He was buddies with the fellow she was dating, and would eventually marry.  He was a cute guy – baby-faced and well-mannered.  Even though he was three years older than I, unlike other boys I had dated, my parents liked him.  I thought I was safe and lucky to be going out with such a nice young man.

He never seemed to have money for a typical date – movie and/or dinner so we would drive to a pond near where he lived and sit and talk for the whole date.   Nothing untoward happened – kissing and hugging only – until the third date.  He wanted to touch me and I said no.  He wasn’t pleased but he didn’t seem angry and didn’t become insistent.  The insistence came on our fifth and final date.

There was a large lake in the county in which I lived and we went there and parked instead of at the usual pond location.  He suggested we walk down under the bridge and talk.  As he began to try to touch me and suggested we have sex I kept saying no.  I truly wanted to wait for the right time and person.  But this time, in such a secluded place, he became emboldened and decided no was no longer an acceptable response to his advances.

As I stated I’ve shared my emotional state leading up to the assault because most studies, as does this one, agree the primary characteristic perpetrators of sexual assault look for in a victim is vulnerability.  Isolating their target is also common.

…how most rapists plot their assaults. They identify their victim, isolate her, attempt to gain her confidence, and then suddenly become aggressive to shock her into doing what they want. The primary quality rapists look for in a potential victim is vulnerability.

I blocked out a lot of what happened but one memory has remained constant.  Having tried to rebuff his advances, and believing another “No” would prevent further advances I am on the concrete, my pants and underwear wrenched down, and he’s on top of me.  I am screaming and shaking my head no.  I see a light come on in a house across the lake.  My hope of someone helping me fades as he puts his hand over my mouth.  I focused on that light until the assault was over.  I don’t remember getting my pants back on or getting back to the car – but I do have this sense of him being unaffected by his assault on me.  I don’t remember what passed by the car window – only that I sat pressed against the passenger-side door sobbing.

I had never been more thankful that my mother was not waiting up and my father was not home than I was then.  I knew my father would blame me so I began to control only the things I could to keep anyone from finding out.  I hid my bloody and stained light blue corduroy jeans and underwear until the next morning.  I was working on a farm that summer and was always up and ready to leave by 6:30 a.m.  My mother didn’t get up with me since the farmer I worked for picked me up and brought me home each day. That morning I rose extra early, after crying myself to sleep, so I could sneak into the half bathroom that adjoined what had been my sisters’ bedroom and wash everything out in the sink.  I dressed in my jeans and work shirt and again hid those telling garments in my closet to dry out.   Eventually, they made their way into the hamper to be washed more fully with the rest of the laundry.  No evidence.  No one would know.

The boy never called me again, thankfully.  I suffered in silence believing if I told my parents my father would treat me the same way he had treated my sisters.  I lived in fear I, too, would end up pregnant and be unable to continue to hide what had been done to me.  To this day, based on his continued pattern of behavior, I still believe my father would have blamed me.  I didn’t have any experience with society’s tendency to blame the victim – I just had the history of the behavior of my father.

I later found out the young man had gone to prison for dealing drugs.  I made myself believe he would never be released.  He was in prison.  He could never get to me again.

What happens when it is me?

I wanted to know if my personality or behavior changed in any obvious ways.  I decided to go back through my high school yearbooks and see if there was any indication my classmates saw changes.  I had never looked at the notes in those books as a continuum.  I read through each of the notes and paying careful attention to what people had to say each year – particularly adjectives they used to describe how they saw me.  Some of those common adjectives and comments follow.

In my Freshman year the most common adjective is sweet or sweetest.  Other comments included “good friend”, “fantastic, nice or lovely person”, “great personality”, and “someone who doesn’t judge people”.  People frequently mentioned my smile.  When I was a sophomore sweet or sweetest were again the most commonly used word to describe me.  Then there’s “wonderful personality”, “understanding of others”, “considerate”, “best friend anyone could have”, and “lovely person”. Similar comments are on those pages from teachers whose classes I had been in that year.  Even given the propensity to exaggerate with compliments in yearbook notes I seemed to be well-adjusted, polite, and well-liked by male and female classmates and even teachers.  And my ready smile was again often mentioned.

That sophomore year I was struggling with my personal situation involving my older sisters and some of my closer girl friends were aware of that and it shows up in their notes. But again most often my peers described me as sweet, the sweetest or nicest. From teachers – there are phrases like “pleasant company” (LF) and “charming, and special girl”(EM).  Other classmates noted “It seems that you had a pretty bad year this year”, twice someone wrote (one female and one male classmate) “Keep smiling – because you are beautiful when you do/you are so beautiful when you smile”.  Another female classmate stated “I’m glad you’re learning to smile” and still another, “Keep your chin up”.  Then there are the “understanding”, “special”, “unique”, “great listener”, and again “good sense of humor”.   There seem to be cracks showing in my carefully crafted façade. “All you need is a little self confidence…”  (Surprisingly, a couple of comments from my classmates jolted me because I don’t remember the girl they mentioned – “You kept the class in laughter” and “Always fun being in your class”.)

The next year not only did the number of people who commented in my yearbook drop but there’s a sense that while I was still seen the same way by some classmates others noticed a change.   I still hadn’t told anyone what had happened to me but some said things like, “It seems that you had a pretty bad year this year.” and, from a girl I had been very close to since the 7th grade, “We haven’t been as close and I haven’t figured out what changed.”  But while I was still listening and trying to help others with their problems I refused to open up about mine.  Attesting to this are two notes – “Thanks for being there when I needed someone to talk to about my problems” and “Thank you so much for being a great listener when I had problems with my parents.  You really seem to understand.”  My teachers continue to say positive things like,  “Your sensitivity and maturity have been a constant source of inspiration to me.” (CS) “…friendly, smart, joy to teach” (BM) and “Your presence always cheers me up” (GP).

But in looking at this in light of events in my life I can see how I was pulling away from people. The research I’ve read in preparation for this piece often mentions self-isolation and lack of trust as side-effects of rape survivors.  In Dr. Staley’s book mentioned above he notes,

The event and the depression experienced by rape victims isolates them from the world and their friends.  Their depression deepens, and they struggle in silence….Many find ways that compartmentalize the event – and hence, ignore it – or otherwise cope in ways that allow them to move forward….for many, the psychological effects are long-lasting and change the way they relate to others….While survivors may heal and adjust, like any other trauma, the rape or assault will continue to be a part of their experience and identity in the world.  Our social institutions weaken because individuals are less trusting, have greater fear about the intent and actions of others, and lower self-confidence limits their ability to fully engage in the community.”

The coping seems to have begun by my senior year of high school and while there are even fewer entries I seem to have returned to the illusion of what I had once been.  The smiles are back – “You always have a sweet smile on your face…”and “I will especially miss your warm smile and cheerful laugh.”  And from a teacher,  “You a sweet young lady which seems to have it all together” (BT) But I didn’t have it all together and I didn’t want anyone to know what I’d gone through.  In many ways, I still don’t.  One study from 2001 provided insight into my reactions.

Not thinking or doing anything about the problem, and keeping busy and suppressing negative thoughts were associated with less psychological distress immediately following a rape….Several studies of adult survivors of child sexual abuse and rape survivors interviewed at least one year post rape found avoidance coping to predict psychological distress..studies of sexual abuse survivors generally find avoidance to be helpful in the short-term but maladaptive over time.

My first semester in college is a testament to a significant change in my behavior.  I was so angry inside and I was determined no one else would EVER have that kind of control over me again.  I even told myself I would kill anyone who tried to do that to me again.  I adopted an “I’ll show them” attitude in an attempt, I now believe, to wrench back control from my rapist – which I could never do.  So using the excuse that it didn’t matter if I were sexually promiscuous since my virginity had been taken from me. I therefore had nothing special to offer anyone.  I had multiple partners in just a couple of months and am thankful I did not contract any diseases from those actions.  My thoughts about why I reacted that way seems supported by remarks in Dr. Staley’s book – an attempt to control my body.

I own my body.  I have the right to decide what I can do with it, who has access to it, and under what conditions….”Yes” means “Yes” and “No means No”.  End of story…When someone imposes their will on someone else – forces someone to have sex without consent – that person is violating the [person’s] right to self-determination, to control [their] mind and body.

I saw myself as tainted goods and even said so to my college roommate who was the first to know about my assault.  It was four years before I finally told my sisters but most of my family and friends still don’t know.  It was not until I read another study that I realized the people I told first were all females.  I eventually told a few men in my life over the years but not until the event was extremely distant.  In examining social support as a form of immediate coping strategies of survivors at three days post-rape the study examined the people to whom survivors disclosed.  Females friends (49%) were among the most frequently listed.

[T]he mean ratings for specific groups indicated that SARS nurses (who were all women) and the victims’ sisters were rated as most supportive….Men, in general, were rated as less supportive than were women.

In my personal situation both my sisters were very supportive.  My avoidance of sharing with any men around me stems from the male parent figure with whom I had grown up.  But even so I was four years from the event.  I kept busy.  The farming family for whom I worked readily allowed me to work more hours a pattern that would follow me into adulthood when I would often work 10 and 12-hour days as a salaried employee.

So how often DO victims delay disclosing abuse and why?

An article published in Child Abuse and Neglect The International Journal found

Fully 28% of child rape victims reported that they had never told anyone about their child rape prior to the research interview; 47% did not disclose for over 5 years post-rape. Close friends were the most common confidants. Younger age at the time of rape, family relationship with the perpetrator, and experiencing a series of rapes were associated with disclosure latencies longer than 1 month; shorter delays were associated with stranger rapes. Logistic regression revealed that age at rape and knowing the perpetrator were independently predictive of delayed disclosure.

Conclusions: Delayed disclosure of childhood rape was very common, and long delays were typical. Few variables were identified that successfully predicted disclosure behavior, but older age and rape by a stranger were associated with more rapid disclosure. This suggests that the likelihood of disclosure in a given case is difficult to estimate, and predictions based on single variables are unwarranted.

What causes survivors to remain silent about such violent attacks?  In my case my family and childhood background played a huge role but in reading an article in The Globe And Mail I saw a lot of other reasons for my and many other women’s silence.  For instance,

Women all over the world are still blamed for the violence committed against them. Think about that. They are blamed if they speak out, and if they don’t. It’s a wonder anyone comes forward at all.

This is not to say that women shouldn’t be encouraged to report their abuse, only that the reasons they don’t are complex and intractable, and so deeply ingrained that they span generations and cultures.

According to an article in The Globe and MailNancy Venable Raine, author of  After Silence:  Rape and My Journey Back, says writing it was “…an attempt to defeat the words that her rapist yelled at her – “Shut up, shut up” – she decided to speak out.”    The hand over my mouth as I tried to scream for help has remained there, in many ways, for most of my life.  While I managed to move forward I find that since political events of the past year have pulled me back.  Most rape survivors never fully recover.  And how many people would expect a loved one to ‘recover’ from such a vicious attack.   Study after study supports the long-term effects of sexual assault on survivors.  As in this one,

Even after many years, rape continued to be a serious trauma for these women, resulting in fairly high levels of symptoms across a wide range of problem areas. Individual differences in severity of symptoms were related to age, socioeconomic status, time since rape, force used during the rape, and prior history of sexual assault. Also related to current level of functioning were whether or not rapes were reported to the police and the amount of time women took before confiding in another person. Both approach and avoidant coping strategies were observed to be negatively related to recovery.

The article I mention at the beginning of this piece is not the only reason, perhaps not even the strongest reason, for me to publicly relate my journey as a rape survivor.   The main reason is the emotional paralyzation I’ve felt since the presidential campaign.   I tortured myself through the debates often yelling at the TV about the misogynistic behaviors of Donald Trump.  The history of such behaviors in this man is chronologed in The Telegaph  From the first debate on September 26, 2016

It escaped almost no one’s notice that Trump constantly interrupted Hillary Clinton (25 times in the first 26 minutes), talked over her and mansplained. It was painful to watch.

And that was before he questioned Clinton’s health, saying: “She doesn’t have the look. She doesn’t have the stamina.” For which read: ‘She’s not strong enough to cope with the job.’

What is the presidential ‘look’ in Trump’s mind? Coming from a man who can’t resist commenting on women’s physical attributes, that remark is pretty un-presidential stuff, too.

 And from Quartz Media, LLC came  this analysis

But as last night’s final presidential debate highlighted, Trump’s candidacy has become personal for American women far beyond those he may have groped, resurrecting their experiences, large and small, of misogyny and objectification.

When debate moderator Chris Wallace raised the subject, Trump claimed the allegations were lies. In his telling, the women are either seeking fame—because what woman doesn’t want to be internationally known as one of the many objects of Trump’s fingers?—or they were manipulated by Hillary Clinton’s “sleazy campaign.” After denying the allegations, Trump quickly pivoted to blaming Clinton for violence at his rallies: “They hired people,” he said of the Clinton campaign. “They payed them $1,500 and they’re on tape saying ‘Be violent, cause fights, do bad things.’”

Trump also denied saying he couldn’t have assaulted the women because they aren’t attractive enough. (“Look at her,” he said at a recent rally, referring to one of his accusers. “I don’t think so.” At another: “She wouldn’t be my first choice.”) He also made the point that the fact that he has not apologized to Melania is further proof that he couldn’t have sexually assaulted other women…..

In response, in perhaps her most poignant statement yet about Trump’s attitude toward women, Clinton nailed the truth of his misogyny: “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”

Even his predatory attempts at intimidation – walking around, walking behind the opposing candidate spoke volumes to me.  It was like watching my menacing father run for elected office.  I could only hope that people would see his behavior and vote against such a tyrant and bully.

The morning after the election I kept periodically breaking into tears.  I kept saying to myself, “I’m disappointed but what’s this really about?”  Mid-morning I realized having that man as president was like having to face my attacker all over again.  Every. Single. Day. I have gone back through the self-incrimination of not telling anyone at the time, of why I couldn’t do so and how similar the personality of the elected president is to that of my biological father.

The trauma, combined with having more time on my hands than I want, as I pursue a return to the public job market has left me edgy at times, suspicious of people who I thought were friends, who I thought were smarter but who still voted for that man, people who refrained from any discussion at all, and even withdrawing from family and friends.  Earlier this year I went through and did the ‘unforgivable’ in social networking – I unfriended people who were spouting support or outright attacking me for my views.  It’s not that I don’t think they have a right to their opinion.  It was because I simply couldn’t take the denial and the vitriol any more.  Every time someone vocally opposed my opinions, talked to me in a condescending fashion, or accused me of not knowing the facts it underscored the memories of oppression from my father and the violence I experienced through that rape.  For me, the election was never about having a female president.  I was about not letting someone who admits to, and exhibits, sexually abusive behavior represent our country. But he got away with it.

That made me think about how my rapist also ‘got away with it’.  Thinking about that I wondered what happened to him.  Was he still in jail?  Had he followed a lifetime of crime and violence. Thoughts which caused me to do something I truly regret.  I looked up my rapist on social media.  He’s not in prison. He’s living in the community in which I grew up with a wife, kids and grandkids.  He’s living a normal life while I still live – Every – Single – Day with what he took from me.  I live with the fear that he may have done the same to others because I didn’t speak up.  I keep telling myself there was nothing else I could have done in my situation back then.  I try to keep my renewed anger in check – most of the time I want to scream out loud.  I’m still struggling with how to forgive that scared girl for not speaking up, for not taking the chance someone would believe her.

But what I have learned thus far through this lapse back in time is that I was taken advantage of because of my emotional state and because of my oppression by a male parent.  I’ve searched for ways in which I can connect or somehow understand the people who would vote for such a malevolent person.  As I write this I have found similarities I had not noticed before.  Trump had the same sense who in our country were vulnerable and preyed on their emotional state.  He knows how to use power to oppress and therefore recognizes behaviors of people who are feeling oppressed.  Those people trusted him and we’ve seen him abuse that trust just in the first 100+ days of his administration.

It feels to me as if Donald Trump is raping America and many, like me, who have survived sexual assault are being forced to relive our nightmares on the public stage.



The Making of “Pearl of Great Price”

As a tribute to goat kidding season I’ve been posting photographs of kids I’ve had over the years on my personal Facebook page – Caprine kids, that is.  Some of the photographs ended up being the basis for paintings in my “Caprine Colors” series.

I began building my herd in 2003 but didn’t start breeding until 2005.  The initial herd consisted of two nannies and a doe kid.  By the time this story begins that herd had grown to fourteen nannies and they were in various stages of gestation.  That season I had bred in two stages – older nannies in the early group and younger does, kidding for the first time, in a later one.  The result being two kidding seasons’ that year.  Eight older does had kidded between 12/25/2006 and 2/12/2007 and I was waiting for the second round of births to begin.

There are easy kidding seasons and complicated ones.  This year was to be one of complications and not just that of vastly separate kidding and weaning periods.  One of my older nannies had a bad kid presentment in labor in late December with its front legs tucked under (normal presentment of a kid is front feet and nose first).  A friend had pulled him for me and then, even though the next billy was presenting correctly, showed me how to pull a kid so I’d know what a normal presentment felt like.

The story behind this painting started on a Saturday afternoon in April.   The first of those latter group of does went into labor just as I stopped to check in on my way to run an errand.   Her water had broken but her labor was not progressing well.  The errand was forgotten and after thirty minutes of watching her strain I decided she might need some help.  Unfortunately, her kid’s her head was turned completely to the right and I was unable, being by myself, to get the kid pushed back enough to try to straighten her nose.  I phoned the vet immediately.   An hour after his arrival and one-hundred and fifty dollars later the expertise of the vet resulted in the delivery of a lovely female kid.  She was healthy with the exception of her head being twisted to the right the first few days of her life.

I decided to name her ‘Pearl’ as in “Pearl of Great Price”.  Part of this was that while her mother was a lovely caramel color with the exception of a white ‘cap’ on top of her head, speckling of white on her ears, and bit of white around her nose, Pearl was almost a negative image of her mom. She was a lovely pearly white all over with the exception of caramel on her face, across her neck and shoulder, and speckling her ears.  The great price, of course, came from the cost of delivery.

Years later I would use a photograph I had taken of the two of them in the pasture door of the barn as the basis for this painting.

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If you are interested in purchasing this item you may do so by following this link to my Etsy store:

The Making of Sweet Helen

Goat kidding season is underway in much of my geographical area in the United States.

In deciding the next group in “The Making Of” series, in which I illustrate my process in creating artwork, from an idea to a painting.  I have made this choice precisely because of the time of year. For eight years I was a part-time goat breeder.  Having the focus of something outside of my high-stress job helped me manage and, in many ways, helped me survive some of the most emotionally trying times in my life.

As I’ve gone this series of blog posts on how some of my paintings came to be I’ve generally chosen pieces at random.  Most of those choices have been based on whether I had photographically ‘documented’ the progress of the paintings.  Many works won’t appear in posts because I didn’t begin being faithful to doing that until late in my life as a visual artist.

This painting is of a doe kid, out of Emerald’s Beatrice, who was one of two half-sister, registered does I purchased in 2006.  I ended up calling her Aunt Bea and named her offspring based on characters from the The Andy Griffith Show that aired throughout the 1960’s.  Helen was one of a pair of twins – her brother being named Andy.

She was a lovely gray-blue color with white markings and soft, waviness to her coat.  Unlike most of the lighter kids I had witnessed birth to in my herd her nose was black instead of pink or brown. Below are the stages of that painting from a rough sketch through the painting process.

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The Making of “Growing Girls” Series

A drawing is a translation.  That is to say each mark on the paper is consciously related, not only to the real or imagined “model”, but also to every mark and space already set out on the paper…..Every time a figuration is evoked in a drawing, everything about it has been mediated by consciousness, either intuitively or systematically. – John Berger Another Way of Telling

The majority of my artwork results from, to use John Berger’s term, translating what I see to paper or canvas.  I arrange a still life and “translate” that into a painting.  I sit beside a stream and “translate” what is in front of me into what I “see”.  I take a photograph and take that “quotation” and “translate” it into a piece of my artwork.  However, there are times when that mediation “by consciousness” comes purely from intuition.

That is the case with the series of paintings I call “Growing Girls”.

This series began when I tried, for the first time,  to create by letting my “unconscious” mind direct what ended up on the paper or canvas in front of me.  The first two of these paintings are very loose but what I found happening in each was that a face (or faces) appeared during the process.  As I continued this process a face always emerged and so began the “Growing Girls” series.

The first two paintings in the series, “Letting Go” and “Tormented”, were done in 2010 during a confused and turbulent time in my life.  But not every painting that followed was a reflection of where I was emotionally.  Some, like “Weathering The Storm” and “In Bloom”, definitely arose from my emotional state.  Looking at those first four paintings I realized there was something happening in me and, as a result, in these free association paintings.  I could see growth and change – positive growth.  Many of the paintings came from using up left-over paints from another work I had just finished.  Over time the series grew from four paintings to fifteen.

This “Making of” piece will not show stages of the paintings in progress as I have done in the past because most were created in an hour or less from the time I put my brush to the mat board or canvas.  The only exceptions to this are “Appalachian Dreaming” which you can read about here and the Yoga pose paintings of which I’ve only completed two of the four I have planned.

I’m sure there will be more of these paintings when I settle in a new place but for now they illustrate a journey peppered with trauma, renewal,  recognition, and growth.

Letting Go

“Letting Go” Acrylic on Mat Board 15 x 20


“Tormented” Acrylic on Mat Board 15 x 20

2011 - Weathering The Storm Watermarked

“Weathering The Storm” – Acrylic on Mat Board 15 x 20

In Bloom

“In Bloom” Acrylic on Mat Board 15 x 20 NFS Private Collection

Dark Lady

“Dark Lady” Acrylic on Canvas Board – 14 x 11


“Strands” “Acrylic on Mat Board 15 x 20


“Guardian” Acrylic on Canvas Panel 11 x 14

Priestess Leilani

Priestess Leilani Acrylic on Canvas Board 11 x 14


“Aura” Acrylic on Glass 11″ x 14″


Moonglow Acrylic on Canvas Board 9 x 12

Mrs Modigliani

“Mrs. Modigliani” Acrylic on Canvas14″ x 11″ (Framed Dimensions 16.75″ x 13.75″)

Dancing to the Music of the Spheres

“Dancing to the Music of the Spheres” Acrylic on Glass 8 x 10

7 - Appalachian Dreaming 3 watermarked

Appalachian Dreaming Acrylic on Canvas (Sold)

Vrksasana Tree Pose - watermarked

Vrksasana – Tree Pose Oil on Canvas 96 x 48

Hasta Uttansana

Hasta Uttansana – A Sun Salutation Pose Oil on Canvas 96 x 48



If you are interested in purchasing any of the paintings shown please see the list below and follow the link to my Etsy store.

  • “Letting Go” – Click here
  • “Tormented” – Click here
  • “Weathering The Storm” – Click Here
  • “In Bloom” (not for sale – in a private collection)
  • “Dark Lady” – Click Here
  • “Strands” – Click Here
  • “Guardian” – Click Here
  • “Priestess Leilani” – (not for sale – private owner)
  • “Aura” – Click Here
  • “Moonlit” – Click Here
  • “Mrs. Modigliani” – Click Here
  • “Dancing to the Music of the Spheres” – Click Here
  • “Appalachian Dreaming” – sold
  •  “Vrksasana – Tree Pose Oil” – Click Here
  •  “Hasta Uttansana – A Sun Salutation Pose” – Click Here































































































































































Snowflake Effect

* “…Individual snowflakes all follow slightly different paths from the sky to the ground —and thus encounter slightly different atmospheric conditions along the way. Therefore, they all tend to look unique, resembling everything from prisms and needles to the familiar lacy pattern.” -National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

* – “An overly sensitive person, incapable of dealing with any opinions that differ from their own. These people can often be seen congregating in “safe zones” on college campuses.” – Urban Dictionary

Snowflake Effect

Call me a snowflake
And I will smile.
I know the path I take.
Even if I appear to melt from the heat
Of your intended insult
I may sink into the peat
or clay or sand
To nourish future flowers
or seeds or trees.
I may return as showers.
I will not disappear.
I will return in other forms –
Year after year after year…
– Lea Booth


Footnote:  Companion Artwork in progress

The Last Dress

Hanging in a cedar-lined wardrobe the red grosgrain fabric stands out between my stepmother’s dark Sears Mouton fur jacket and the butterscotch-colored canvas hunting coat – with requisite lined pouches to carry quarry along the bottom – that belonged to my father.

I call it a dress but it’s actually a matching two-piece top and skirt.  It has a few wrinkles I’ve never pressed out from being carefully wrapped in tissue paper for forty-eight years.  The only thing that gives its age away is the faded letters and folds of the labels inside the collar.

Toni Lynn, Lot (undecipherable), Size 12

Last Dress Toni Lynn Label

I have often wondered about the design and the designer.  I finally researched her and found that she designed ‘fashionable’ maternity clothing from the mid-1950’s to the mid-1960’s. She was chosen to design the maternity wardrobe for Elizabeth Montgomery as the character Samantha in the TV show ‘Bewitched’.

The San Bernardino County Sun Sunday Oct 3,1965

The San Bernardino County Sun
Sunday Oct 3,1965

I was given the outfit by an Aunt on an impromptu visit six years ago.

It was after one of my jaunts through the foothills of North Carolina in search of more twigs to add to my 25-year old family tree research.  The day had been more tiring than usual.  I was haltingly adjusting to crutches which supported me to keep the weight off my first ever broken bone.  I’d called my aunt before going to her home in Yadkinville needing to talk to a live person after my visits with the dead.

I maneuvered my way up the few steps to her porch where she greeted me with her characteristic smile and soft voice.  We sat down in the front room to catch up on family health and happenings. Eventually we started through the tall weeds of the past to wander along neglected, and to me, unfamiliar paths of memories.  She shared some of the pain she’d experienced in her life as well as the joys.  She paused as if we’d come to a woodland clearing where she saw herself as a girl playing with her childhood friend.

When my father brought home his child-bride – she was only fourteen when they married – my aunt and she became best friends.  They were only a few months apart in age and would sneak off together to wander the fields and woods.  That friendship would last through my Aunt’s marriage at nineteen, raising families, and working together at Hanes Hosiery in Winston-Salem for a few years.

Hanes Factory 1960 from

One of her regrets shared was not going to see my mother at the hospital.  She was a few days from her due date in her second pregnancy and her husband wouldn’t take her.  The trip between Yadkinville and Winston-Salem in 1962 was longer than it is today.  So she stayed home.

The next day my mother died.

My aunt still had tears in her eyes when she stood up and headed into another room.  Over her shoulder she said, “I have some things I’ve always meant to give you”.  She return a few minutes later with a bundle of pictures, a blue and white blanket, and a white gift box.  I’d seen the pictures before (I’m not sure how many sets float around the family) but she wanted me to have a set.

I silently flipped through the pictures.  My mother in a baby blue and white negligee and robe that matched the lining of her coffin (blue being my father’s favorite color not hers of lavender).  Her hands crossed with the mark of an IV tube still visible on her hand.  Her father stoic and jaw clenched beside her casket.  My father posed with one hand resting on the white tufted blanket draped across the side of the casket.  The views of all the flowers around her and one of the flowers at the graveside – a large white floral and ribbon heart standing in the center.  I rarely look at those photos.  They are part of a tradition that was expected in those days but no longer so popular.

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The blanket was a soft baby blanket that became the backdrop to a shadowbox frame I had made which contains the outfit I left the hospital in, an embroidered handkerchief baby dress, and stretch lace gloves from my preteen years. But the white gift box opened up a new view of my mother.

Shadowbox Frame

Shadowbox Frame

Carefully folded and wrapped in tissue paper was the garments my aunt told me my mother was going to wear home from the hospital cradling her newborn baby.  The color, fabric, and design were nothing like anything I’d seen my mother wearing in the few pictures I’d seen of her.  The top has 3/4″ sleeves and buttons the size of half-dollar pieces covered in the same grosgrain fabric with a small snap at the rounded, collarless neck.

The skirt design fascinated me since it had no elastic, no buttons, no zipper and certainly none of the expandable fabric used in maternity clothes today.  Instead, the top of the skirt was scooped out in the front to allow the growing womb to rest and expand unimpeded.  It fastens by one ribbon extending from the bottom of the u-shaped scoop through which ribbons on either side at the top thread through a loop allowing tying as tight or loosely across the waist as the lady’s pregnancy required.

Last Dress f

I can imagine my mother shopping the department stores that once lined 4th street in Winston-Salem, NC for a chic maternity dress for that special day.  A twenty-one year old pregnant girl on a quest, perhaps on her lunch breaks, to find something out of the ordinary to wear home holding her new baby.

Mother and Daughter Store Downtown Winston Salem Opening March 1940

I like to think she found it at ‘Mother and Daughter’.

In My Father’s Shadow

Spoiler Alert:  This isn’t your typical Father’s Day musing

My father’s shadow covers my early life.  That shadow recoiled among acquaintances and extended family whose light compressed it like that of a sundial’s at noon.  But in the confines of our house the darkness blanketed us a like a new moon night.

Perhaps not believing he should have to try to be a good parent, he never attempted the feat. Instead he worked to imprint his shadow on his children by darkening their lives with anger and lashings of leather.  A heritage of darkness was what he desired and he was comforted in the idea that they might take his lead and cast darkness around themselves.

Honor thy Father and thy Mother is often made the scapegoat for putting up with dishonorable behavior.  According to Merriam-Webster honor is “a showing of usually merited respect”. Respect came to him from those who never felt the depth of his darkness or the blackness of bruises and welts from the leathery extension of his hand.

Shadows of fear receded when he was away but left an ashen cloud always – breathed in like his dislike of the smell of pizza.  Pizza was only one thing that could never be tolerated and had to be partaken of only when there was time for any scent of its presence to dissipate before his return. Another was childlike joy or amusement.  Learning to tiptoe around to avoid stepping on any part of that shadow resulted in timidity – and conformity to onerous rules and regulations more befitting an encampment of soldiers than a group of small children.

But no words or actions could keep the shadow from reaching out and slithering into our worlds even when his physical presence was lacking.

“No I will not sign the release forms” became the shadow of shame of being the only one in my class not allowed to go on the Beta Club senior trip.  “No. I refuse to fill out financial aid papers for you to get assistance with college” translated as his hope that I would fail succeeding only in what he wanted me to (“You can get just as good a job without a college education”).

I learned that asking for help of any kind was to be driven back toward that suffocating world in which he thrived on controlling others.  So I stayed within sight but out of reach.  No sorrows or needs shared meant I could stay out of the dark pool in which he was drowning.  That pool he submerged himself in when he shoved his children out of his life.

We were brutally pushed away from him by his own darkness and the words used to express it – word that left no doubt he wanted us out of his life. He may have thought we would not be strong enough to resist the pull of that lifetime in his shadow.  When that didn’t happen he painted his children with a black brush of dishonor and scorn.

I can now honestly say, “Thank you father for freeing me to walk in light and joy and without fear.  It was the best gift you could ever have given me.”


The Making of “Family Memories’

“Making a concrete association between a vivid memory and an object or a location, and recalling the love or joy we felt in that moment — helps us to relive that positive emotion again each time we see that object or place.” – “Play Back Your Best Memories” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa Psychology Today May 24, 2013

One of my favorite genres to paint is still life.  While the term comes from a Dutch word stilleven which may also be thought of as immobile life as the quote above indicates even immobile objects can be powerfully moving.  In my paintings of still lifes I often use objects that have significant emotional attachment for me as in “Mother’s Night Out – 1955” and “Granny’s Gifts”.   For this painting the memories attached to the objects are not mine but my husband, Jim’s.

There are a few of my paintings that are not for sale and this is one of them.  I painted this piece for him and it will only be sold if he wants to do so.

That’s the background of the piece and below is how it developed into a completed painting.  I did no study sketch and started photographing the progress at the end of the first day’s work.

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The Making of ‘Bel Air’

Those who read my blog regularly may have picked up on a theme that shimmers, like a spider’s web, sometimes barely visible, in the background of many of my pieces – searching.  It exists most noticeably in my series “The Continuing Discoveries of a 21st Century Naturalist“.  Those blog posts are about sharing information on the subjects in photographs I’ve taken of nature.  But my artwork is often the result of exploring also – sometimes the “story” of objects as in “Granny’s Gifts“, “Mother’s Night Out – 1955“, or “Family Memories“, color like that of “River Kisses“, “Serpentine“, “Blue Reflections” or “First Green Is Gold“, or where exploring has led me – internally – “In Bloom“, “Weathering The Storm“, “Letting Go” or externally “Mabry Mill – Winter“, “Somewhere Over The Blue Ridge“, or “Around The Bend“.

The piece I’m writing about today is of the external exploration variety.

I used to wander the back roads of Yadkin and Surry Counties in North Carolina often doing genealogical research.  Those trips took me to many places and I often snapped photographs along the way.  The photograph I used as reference for “Bel Air” had been in my stack of “source for paintings” pictures for over 20 years.  When I began focusing on color pencil pieces last year I decided to try to use this one in a way to challenge my technical drawing skills.

I had crossed the low-water bridge which is the featured image of this post to visit the Rockford General Store.  The store is filled with jars of various old-style candies as well as other kinds of merchandise.  After carefully choosing my sweet delights for consumption and a soda I walked out intending to sit on the porch bench, rest, and relax in the shade.  What confronted me as I left the cheerful charm of the store was a scene that gave me the feeling of being whisked back in time.

Parked in front of an old shed across the road was a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air in pristine condition. It was as if someone had driven it down to show off her new car.  But the faded and dented RC Cola sign punctuated the present.  I didn’t know how long the car would be parked there so I, thankfully, dropped my sweets in my car, grabbed my camera, and captured a bit of history.  The car pulled away after I left. Sometime in the intervening years the shed has disappeared as well.

The car was the greatest challenge for me since the texture of the shed’s siding and brick wall as well as the trees behind it were all things I naturally drawn to in drawing.  In preparing this piece I went back to something I learned while taking my courses from The Art Instruction School as a teenager – grid layout for enlargement onto art board.  In this technique, used for commercial art before digital graphic design, the subject photo is measured and a grid drawn, usually in one-inch increments, on it.  The measurements of the original grid are then transferred in a ratio that will allow it to be enlarged to fit the finished artwork’s surface.

This is essentially how “Bel Air’ came into being.

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The Making of “Sift and Stir”

I’ve been sporadically writing pieces about how my paintings progress from a blank canvas to a completed work.  This, another of those pieces, is about a painting that fought me from start to finish.

First let me share one of my greatest fears as an artist – losing my eyesight.  As I’ve gotten older my vision has increasingly needed the assistance of corrective lenses.  It was during one of the periods when my vision was rapidly changing and my once-a-year optometrist visits couldn’t keep up with the pace of change that I began this painting.

Normally, when I paint a still life, I paint directly from life.  “Sift and Stir” is not one of those paintings.

We live in a time when people desire photo-realism in art.  I don’t particularly care for that insistence but can execute a piece that fits that desire competently.  However, with this piece even though I had the group of items arranged less than four feet away from my easel I could not see the details I needed to capture in the painting.

Fortunately, I’m also a photographer and have used that skill not only to assist me in creating paintings but in deciding on composition as well.  These are the photographs I took of the original arrangements for the painting:

Sift and Stir Still Life Original Arrangment

Sift and Stir Still Life Original Arrangment

Sift and Stir Still Life Starting Arrangment

Sift and Stir Still Life Starting Arrangement







I have collected old kitchen implements for many years and liked the red-handled pieces’ vividness against the black background.  I also have this wonderfully whimsical egg separator I received as a gift a long time ago that I included in the second version along with the addition of the bag of flour.  I wanted to ‘tell a story’ of a different kind of creativity – that of cooking from scratch – in the painting.  The egg separator obviously doesn’t fit and only those that had seen me use it would have a clue what it was but in it went!  Artist and painting at war.

So with the assistance of both the arrangement and the photograph I began the painting.  As you’ll see the little smiling cup’s expression slowly turned into a menacing grin for me.  It made sense to me!  It needed to stay!

Beginiing Sift and Stir with starting reference photograph

Photo & start of “Sift and Stir”

Beginning of "Sift and Stir"

Beginning of “Sift and Stir”







And The Battle of the Separator begins - Day 2 of "Sift and Stir"

And The Battle of the Separator begins – Day 2 of “Sift and Stir”

"Sift and Stir" Day 2 with Reference Photograph

“Sift and Stir” Day 2 with Reference Photograph







Determined to make it work

Determined to make it work

I became so frustrated with the lack of progress that I stepped away from the painting for a full month. When I came back to the painting, I thought I had figured it out.  It was the color of the cup that didn’t work! So I gleefully removed the grin from the canvas. worked on some other details, and came back the next day with a new and improved version of the egg separator.

"Erasing" the grin

“Erasing” the grin







Adding it back in red

Adding it back in red

Red Cup Version working day 5 on "Sift and Stir"

Red Cup Version working day 5 on “Sift and Stir”







A better version of the egg separator grin

A ‘better’ version of the egg separator grin

More details on day 6 (actual working days on the piece) nothing new on the

More details on day 6 (actual working days on the piece) but nothing new on the egg separator








Reviewing progress.....

Reviewing progress…..

Stuck on working day 6 of "Sift and Stir"

Stuck on working day 6 of “Sift and Stir”











Another month went by and I finally gave in to what the painting needed and replaced the cup with something that still fit the story but did so more directly.

Source photo close up of eggs that replaced the dreaded egg separator

The replacements….photograph

Finally completed after four months

Eggs in place







It took a bit of work to get the red out and work the eggs in, so the painting has texture to it.  I was happy it turned out that way because it reminds me of the way a counter top and implements feel when you have been mixing pastry.  So after four months that could have easily been less than four weeks except for my stubborn desire to make the painting do what I wanted, the painting was completed.  Once dry a nice dark black frame set it off and it is ready to go to a new home.

Completed at last - "Sift and Stir"

Completed at last – “Sift and Stir”

Framed "Sift and Stir"

Framed “Sift and Stir”







That hasn’t happened yet but it decorates our kitchen when it’s not on exhibit.

If you are interested in this painting click here.


The Making of “Shenandoah Sheds”


I grew up in Salem and Winston country so tobacco barns fill my earliest memories – at least the non-bulk barn style.  I became intimately familiar with them during the four summers I worked on a farm where most of my work involved pulling, stringing and hanging the heavy, sticky leaves that were THE cash crop of North Carolina.  That early association may be the reason that wherever I travel I notice barns – Dutch barns, crib barns, bank barns.

Those barns encompass many more purposes than tobacco drying and storage.  The design of barns were utilitarian based on location and purpose.  Bank barns, for example, were built into hillsides (thus more common in foothills and mountain areas) while crib barns were used both for grain and small livestock since the design included stalls along both sides of an aisle.  So there are barns for storing grain, hay, and fruit.  However, the main purpose was normally housing or working with livestock such as cow or goats for dairy production, chicken coops for nesting (making egg laying and retrieval easier than hunting them in trees and fields), and stables for protecting breed stock such as Thoroughbred horses.  Many farms had primary barns and smaller storage buildings to store vegetables and ice through the winter months as well as extra forage and feed for livestock.

The barn and shed in this painting are from photographs I took on one of my rambles in search of myself as well as subject matter for paintings.  I am including the original photographs with this ‘making of series’ followed by a series of barn photographs I’ve taken over the years.

Barn Photos

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An Artist At Tax Time – Revisited


Updated 1/13/2016

I wrote the piece below three years ago and thought I’d share it again with updates as the tax-prep season is upon us.

My system has worked quite well and while I started using manila envelopes instead of folders for the receipts not a great deal has changed in the basic approach.  I do have my tax income/expense spreadsheet linked to one which contains worksheets that mimic each form/field required for filing my taxes instead of just tabulating the different categories required for expenses and income calculations.

If you have questions about doing this yourself I’d be happy to consult with you on setting up templates for your work and getting you started.   However, I am not a CPA and still have a CPA prepare my actual taxes.  All I am offering is my expertise, through business experience and trial and error, to assist you in ways to have information prepared early, and with a minimum of scrambling, for your tax accountant.


"Tormented" Acrylic on Mat Board 15 x 20

I imagine a visual artist at tax time in a paint-splattered smock, standing before a desk (easel to one side), paint brushes in one hand and a crucifix in the other.  The crucifix of course is pointed  in the direction of tax forms on said desk.

Since my under graduate degree was in Accounting this should be a snap.  However, that was a degree of convenience and although I graduated Magna Cum Laude it was not the course of study I would have chosen under different circumstances.   However, the degree is one thing that helps me where some artists might falter.

I also get some aid from my personality type as defined by the Myers and Briggs tests.  According to those tests I’m an ISFJ with the ‘I’ being almost off the scale and the ‘J’ just as extreme.  But that ‘J’ allows me to, nay demands that I, plan.  So I organize and plan all year hoping I’ll be able to just print out the figures the accountant needs.   However, no matter how much planning I do I still end up with last-minute add-ons to the records I’ve kept during the year.   (2106 – Now that I have my system streamlined all I have to wait for and add are those banking and tax statements from external sources.)  And I’m torn between the absolute soul-wrenching need to work and the horror of not getting those damn taxes done on time.

The tax work no longer wins out in my struggle and I’m sharing some approaches that might make life a little easier for other artists.

A critical act to getting organized for your taxes is categorizing all those pieces that have to be reported.   While I am fairly technologically savvy I still use hard files in addition to anything stored on my PC – and back up on either CD or USB device stored.  (I am working toward scanning hard copies so I can eliminate paper receipts but that is, I hope, coming this year.)  So folders envelopes labeled with the appropriate categories are created and tucked away for record retention.  (You can get perfectly serviceable envelopes at the dollar stores so creating new ones each year is not expensive.)   Previous years’ paperwork is bundled and put away storage bins labeled Taxes Year XXXX when the process is completed (i.e. tax returns are filed).

Here are some categories to consider:  Sales, Sales Taxes, Insurance, Vendor Fees (framers, printers, etc.), Membership Fees/Dues, Exhibit/Submission Costs, Legal, Postage, Supplies (both office and work), Equipment Purchases, Advertising/Marketing, Travel – Lodging, Travel – Meals, etc.

If you work out of your home then apply the percentage of space used to utilities, phone, household maintenance, rent/mortgage payments and, if you require it, internet provider fees.  A word of caution here:   You must have dedicated studio space in your home make such deductions.   In addition to all those categories we can’t forget the usual suspects that are not business related:  Medical costs, Prescription Medicines, Property Taxes, and Charitable Contributions.  I know you’re seeing a filing cabinet looming in wavy motion before you as you get dizzy from all the folders envelopes needed.

I also use an MS Excel spreadsheet to enter the expenses as they occur and have it feed to a worksheet in that file that keeps a running total of each category throughout the year.  Where I’ve faltered is in entering the information regularly.  I now keep a folder where receipts are placed as they come in (it doesn’t hurt one bit that they come in nice bright colors). The folder stays in a strategic location (on a desk in the den) where receipts can be slipped in and once every two weeks  once a month I sit down and put all the data into the tax spreadsheet.  I’ll let you know next year how that worked out. (It worked out grand and I continue to use it today).

Oh, a simple tip for online purchases – print out the email from the supplier showing the totals and slip it in the folder.    Not only is this great for overall costs but it can help keep track of your inventory costs as well.

The other crucial tool to have is a notebook in your car to keep track of the miles you drive for your business.  You can make your own, use a downloadable template or buy one ready-made.  Again, where I faltered was being diligent in writing in the mileage.  I know I’m losing out on some business trips this year because I failed to enter them in my book.  Keep the book and a pen in your car and wait until the end of the year to take it inside and tabulate your mileage – not doing so was the source of at least a couple of my missed entries.  (I am much, better at this and don’t feel I’m missing much now in business miles tracked).

I keep tweaking my process until tax time no longer brings on panic attacks and guilt at not working on my art.

This approach can also be used for other parts of your artistic endeavors.  I keep a expandable file folder with my ongoing business data.  It contains folders for Exhibit Prospectuses, Upcoming Exhibit paperwork, Current exhibits and Shows, marketing tips I run across, blog ideas, gallery lists, and submissions awaiting response.  It’s also a great place to keep current hard copies of Bio’s, Artist Statements, and resumes and CV’s (or CD’s with work examples and these documents ready to send off for places that require that type of submission).

Admittedly there’s a lot of work to be done up front but it can pay off in the long run – if you use it!

Another thing I’ll mention, and no I’m not paid by anybody to tell you this, but I found a great program this year that, again, if used properly can store information on inventories and works (costs, prices, images, sizes, dates, etc.) all in one place.   If you are looking at a way to get all this information in one place take a look at Working Artist.   I priced a lot of database storage systems, and even worked on building my own since I did that in a former career incarnation, before stumbling onto this reasonably priced, fully functional, system designed by an artist.

If you have ideas about how you organize your business information or art and inventory data please share in the comments here.  We can all benefit since one way of doing things doesn’t necessarily work for everybody.

Here’s hoping your tax information gathering is almost complete!  We want to spend as little time on these things as possible and more time in the studio creating!