Friday, April 19, 2019

"For I am His and He is mine" the promise of Good Friday

 Today has been a dark day as has been my mood. Most of the East Coast is getting pummeled by quite the storm, high winds, whipping rain, the day is quite dark. I have been struggling with some health issues and lucky me I get to go in to the hospital for an exploratory procedure next week on my birthday. While the staff is apologetic they all agree it needs to be done. So I am going.

My mood ranges being sanguine and terrified. (Wait a minute, I know I am chubby but aren't I supposed to be the healthy one in the family???) I am delighted I have access to modern healthcare but yet still one worries...

What has been a comfort the last few days is songs that pop into my head.  I wish I could say I was a good enough Christian that bible verses would be ever present comfort, but ahem, that is not quite true. Instead what appears are Christian rock tunes and sacramental songs.  This morning I was getting ready to go on my walk and the modern hymn "In Christ Alone" popped into my head and wouldn't leave.  I sang it through about three times. This song is cathartic.  I can't say it was all good because the song moves me to tears, literal tears every time I hear it.  I have sung this song at Sunday services, at a wedding, at funerals, even at a concert featuring the composer.  Every. Single Time. It makes me cry.  And I am not a crier. But it's a reminder, what ever the outcome, it's all good. Especially on Good Friday.

The lyrics are below.

If you would like to read the story behind this song or hear it played click here.

“In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

Somewhere between resignation and determination - scraping faces

 I posted this photo on social media yesterday and I realized that I have reaching a new stage in my artistic development.  I am no longer panicked and filled with doom when I have to scrape a face away and start over (not shown, the other three I scraped and didn't take a photo).
 I noticed all the "scrapes" in the past have been portraits. All faces need to be proportional of course but portraits have to be exact.  Otherwise they just aren't the same person.  Move a nose half an inch wider or an eye a quarter inch down and it is just not the same person!
 Generally when I am painting a face that is not a portrait I don't worry about it as much, I just figure it gives the subject more personality!  This time though I just looked at it and said "Nope, this isn't it". Now mind you I have no idea what Miss Now Blue Face wants to be yet. I will let you know when she "tells" me.
But it is very exciting to realize I am not longer scared to scrape or cover up something that isn't working. Instead of being scared I am now working from a place of somewhere between resignation (sigh, this isn't working) to confidence (you can do better, try again). I guess that is why they call it an art practice.
If you want to see other works in practice/progress or finished works  (including these with faces!) the best way to stay current is to visit my Instagram feed or Facebook page and follow along.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"Who's Playing a MaxFli 2?" and other questions I ask myself as I am cleaning up the beach.

 Our shore front looks quite picturesque from the house. One of the reasons we bought our dream home was the southern facing panoramic view of the York River.  Look to the left you can see the Chesapeake Bay and the sunrise, look to the right and you can see far up river toward the Coleman Bridge and the sunset. The water quality in the Chesapeake is at a all time high (read about the good news here.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that our current Congress will continue to defend the great progress that has been made in conservation practices. I try to do my part by cleaning up litter when I walk on the roads (remember everything flows to the Bay and then the Ocean eventually) and our beach.
 Happily, most days our beach at low tide looks like this - tons of shells, weird pieces of driftwood and the occasional pine cone. Days after storms tend to bring man made flotsam. Today's haul was quite eclectic.  Broken bottles, a patio light, chip bags, chicken wire, plastic tubing, soda cans and a golf ball.  (not shown, a sock, a glove and 2 10 foot fence posts!)
Not sure of someone is using the back of the boat as a driving range or what. But river litterer, I've got your number and it's a MaxFli 2.

Note to self: that darker sand is silt and you will sink if you step on it with your new, no longer pristing, walking shoes...

As Woodsy the Owl used to say.  "Give a hoot, don't pollute". Brought to you by the woman that likes to walk barefoot on the beach.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Most Unconventional Abstract Wedding Portrait

I have a client I call an UnIntentional Muse (behind her back, I must confess). I met her years ago at my old shop in Falls Church where I always admired her graciousness and sense of style.  When she started her floral business I followed her journey both in real life and on social media.

While Deborah does beautiful glorious wedding and event work she was never too busy to whip up a corsage or boutonniere for my kids as they headed off to a high school dance.

I am very inspired by Deborah's color combinations.   Way back when, I was so taken with a casual bouquet Instagram post I asked her if I could paint it. (See the painting here.) Her tulips were an inspiration for some paintings this spring as well.
Marriage Muses

Deborah has always been a very positive about my art and really supportive as I try out ideas. When I saw this wonderful casual wedding photo of her son and his new bride I felt inspired to try something new. An abstract that alluded to the photo but that would be sort of a "hidden portrait". An art piece that you could hang on your wall that didn't necessarily say "We just got back from our honeymoon".

 I started out with a stretch canvas and blocked in basic forms.
 I played with adding and scraping back many layers of paint using palette knives, paint brushes and other tools. The hardest thing about this process is letting a layer dry before adding the next so it doesn't turn to mud! I tried to keep an eye on my inspiration photo to keep its proportions and lightness in mind.  This was tricky as I don't normally use this much white but it was fun to play with the texture of the paint and the multiple layers.
 Deborah was tickled with this unconventional approach - I am looking forward to trying this again with different photo.  Let me know if you have one you would like me to tackle!
Mountain Wedding by TW Stifel

See Deborah's other beautiful floral work
Wedding photo courtesy of

Monday, April 15, 2019

"We are homesick most for the places we have never known.' Carson McCullers.

 I must confess I didn't recognize Carson McCullers name when I stopped dead in my Instagram feed when I saw this photo. Upon reading a birthday tribute to the author of 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" all I could think of was that she herself looked hunted, or perhaps haunted. The unattributed photo followed my thoughts, I felt compelled to try to capture that look in her eyes.
 Reading a little more about her (like the Wall Street Journal article here or the mini bio here) revealed a complex, challenging life. Now I need to decide which of her novels to read first. Please do tell me if you have a favorite.
Carson MCCullers - detail by TW Stifel
 This portrait is on stretched canvas with a loose collage of vintage and antique papers adhered as a foundation.  I pencil sketched her face. Many erasures later I used Liquitex acrylic paints thinned with gel medium to almost a watercolor transparency to paint her features and shadows. The shirt was sculpted in heavy body acrylic with a palette knife, scraping it pretty hard so the paper was show through.  I am pretty happy with how she came out.
99% of the photos of McCullers are somber so I was delighted to see this one on

Sunday, April 14, 2019

First Fruits - Tomatoes are a Fruit, right?

 My next door neighbor back in Northern Virginia was quite the generous Master Gardener. He ascribed to the biblical principle of "first fruits". Working on the theory that everything belongs to God the ancients would offer up the first fruits of their harvest as a sign of gratitude. Henry did not take his to the temple but lucky for us he brought them to his neighbors. I was especially excited when I received the first raspberry!
Turns out our Coastal Virginia next door neighbors are just as generous green thumbs. They came over this afternoon bearing a flat of robust grown-from-seed plants that we can transfer into our newest raised beds! This is especially exciting for us because our old house was as treed as the lane leading up to our house so we couldn't grow anything other than ferns.  Our new house (Theresa quit saying "new " you've lived here for 18 months!) has a sunny flat backyard, perfect for gardening. I feel so honored that they shared their first fruits with us.
The weather has been crazy here in Virginia. Spring has been especially long because it's been so cool. But it's rained insanely throughout the year and especially lately. We had two inches just yesterday. I swear you could here the leaves unfurling! These two photos were taken 48 hours apart.

Spring always feels like the New Year to me. Maybe it's because my birthday is April, maybe it's all the new growth all around but I am inclined to think big thoughts, make big plans, conjure big ideas, in the spring. I'm excited to see what my first fruits will be.