Tuesday, February 28, 2017


A sketch has charm because of its truth - not because it is unfinished.
-Charles Hawthorne (American artist of the early 20th century)

I spent a lovely day off at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Warm, humid green oxygen soaked air to breath as an antidote to February in Illinois. The longest short month of the year is how it feels around here.
My sketch of palms, ferns, and a marble statue somewhat hidden in the verdant abundance. 

Monday, February 27, 2017


A few days ago I had a lesson in experiencing the practice of Visio Divina and learned about something completely new to me.
El Greco "The Baptism of Christ"1568

While Lectio Divina is a method of praying with scripture, Visio Divina (Latin for "divine seeing") is a method for praying with images (such as Icons).
Visio Divina is a contemplative practice meant to develop ways of seeing holiness in our everyday lives. By meditating on paintings, scenes from real life, and icons, you can learn to penetrate the surface meaning and unearth what God means for you to hear and learn. The first step is to find part of an image that grabs you, that makes you stop and look again. Using a series of questions to answer as a guide to discover just what spoke to us through the images. The practice is simple: once you enter into the presence of God, you discern what the image is telling you. What is holy is what speaks to you and captures your heart.

The altarpiece painted by El Greco with the Baptism of Christ on the right.
Our workshop leader had us look at a reproduction of "The Baptism of Christ" by the late Renaissance painter El Greco. After reading several Bible passages that tell the story of Christ's baptism, and a time of contemplation, we turned away from the image by El Greco and drew our own impression of what spoke to our hearts. I have posted below my drawing which is a bit more developed than what most people would do. Okay, it's what I do, I'm not a public speaker, writer, or gifted singer, I just draw.
Traditional icon Baptism of Christ
As I looked at the painting by El Greco which I did love to see, I was cognizant of the traditional icon form of the composition. Coincidentally I have been teaching my Rhetoric and Logic art students about Byzantine Art and icons in art history. 

Yet what caught my eye was the figure of John the Baptist. Why is his skin darker than that of Christ's? Because he lived in the desert eating locusts and wearing animal skins? Why is the sky so turbulent? There are some odd and arresting silhouettes made by the foliage and staff that John carries. I could think of more to write but will leave this image that I drew as the moment of discernment. I ended up not drawing the figure of Christ or the angels, because I was identifying with John and the swirl of nature about him.
I appreciate the opportunity to learn about this spiritual practice, and today even more as we approach the season of Lent and contemplation. Contemplation and holiness and learning about spiritual matters does not mean I can't draw and paint. I have now learned that in fact I should give myself over more to this gift.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

how to see

I am practicing the discipline of "Visio Divina". Daily episodes of beauty in small moments strike me as divine,  imbued with spiritual meaning.
Contour line drawing worked from a jonquil purchased from the grocery store. It's still too early in February to see these out in nature. It is also very grey outdoors, this tiny shaft of sunlight came in the late afternoon today.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare" Georgia O'Keefe
Expressions, book suggestions and sketches on my notepad at the book club planning meeting.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

paying attention

It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.

-Leonardo da Vinci

Friday, February 10, 2017

those deMedicis

"Methinks I will not die quite happy without having seen something of that Rome of which I have read so much." --Sir Walter Scott

the view beyond

“Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio, that bridge which is covered with the shops of jewelers and goldsmiths, is a most enchanting feature in the scene. The space of one house, in the center, being left open, the view beyond, is shown as in a frame; and that precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables on the bridge, is exquisite". - Charles Dickens

Monday, February 6, 2017

glowing Italy

“The student has his Rome, his whole glowing Italy, within the four walls of his library. He has in his books the ruins of an antique world and the glories of a modern one.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Our very best day in Florence, was the culmination of everything that we had found wonderful during our journey. We wandered the lovely magical ancient city, getting lost, consulting our travel map and finding new places. We finished the day with a splendid Aperitivo at a little unassuming bar on a side street. Aperitivo is an Italian version of a happy hour with bars serving a buffet of small dishes and drinks offered at one price. This particular bar was the friendliest welcoming spot we had ever found with a chatty waitress who was half British and half Italian. We were encouraged to enjoy the buffet, even going for seconds. I was amazed at the buffet spread, there were so many interesting authentic Tuscany dishes, roasted vegetables, pasta, olives, meats sliced and smoked, fruits and breads and cheeses. I had never seen anything quite like it except in haute cuisine magazine spreads or a cooking program about Tuscany food. The waitress informed us that they had a chef who loved to put out a huge spread with fresh ingredients cooked with local flavors. Sounds like a culinary hit show back in the USA. 

After we enjoyed all that abundance of roasted vegetables basted in olive oil, hams and sausages, unusual bits of pastas and breads and cheeses, all that makes the Mediterranean diet so famous, we wandered a bit to walk it off. At one point I looked in my Rick Steves guidebook for a recommendation for a gelato place. Well, we just happened to be wandering past the very street where Rick said can be found the very best gelato in Florence which has the very best gelato in all Italy. So we went in and ate some of the very best gelato in all of Italy and it was all we could have wanted. I had coconut and my husband went for chocolate.
After that we wandered again but on this last night I wanted to return to the Piazza della Signorina just to look once more and to get another bottle full of that fizzy mineral water from the ancient Roman tap.
As we drew near we heard music, which happened everywhere in this city drenched in art and history. We had often stopped to enjoy sublime moments with a classical guitarist or a sweet faced opera singer giving the tourists high culture for an offering in a hat.
The music we heard was Beethoven's 7th Symphony played by a visiting orchestra from Switzerland.
As evening settled in on the Piazza, the throng of wandering tourists quieted and people just sat down on the warm pavement stones in a reverent hush to hear the music.  Our favorite day and best memory remains enchanting.

My favorite quote for this by T. S. Elliot, "And the end of all our exploring
 Will be to arrive where we started
 And know the place for the first time"

Saturday, February 4, 2017

my favorite Piazza

I am posting this series of sketches from my trip to Italy this month for many reasons. Fatigue from politics and dreary weather; fatigue from chest cold/flu virus with 6 weeks recovery, all leading to a desire for softer warmer memories. I haven't produced much art yet this year due to above mentioned virus so I have been making a memory book of our trip to surprise my husband for his birthday. This is a project among many that I have been wanting to get to and cold dark winter days have been the right time. (Photo here shows me sketching near the large doors to the Palazzo Vecchio with the statue of David looming above, and the Fountain of Neptune shining bronze in the far background.)
The city of Florence was my absolutely favorite place that we visited, and I am echoing the opinions of many more erudite travelers. And in that fascinating city I found a Piazza that was my favorite spot to visit again and again. Piazza  della Signoria, famous gathering place of Florentines for centuries that sums up all that is wonderful about visiting a place with layers upon layers of history and culture.
The statue of David in these photos is not the real one by Michelangelo but a copy placed in the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.

Under the Loggia dei Lanzi are more statues by Cellini, Donatello, and more Italian Renaissance masters than I can name. Other spots about the Piazza where I sketched are the Fountain of Neptune and the equestrian monument of Cosimo I de'Medici. Scanning through my sketchbook and remembering those hot golden days wandering around the city until my feet collapsed under me is such a pleasure and I want to share it here.
Another pleasurable memory is the discovery all over Rome and Florence of ancient Roman  drinking fountains drawing from underground springs with pipes that still deliver cold mineral water. I found one of these in the Piazza della Signoria that had ancient bronze lion-head spigots for cold water, welcoming for filling up your water bottle on hot days, but also a spigot with fizzy mineral water. Just like a sweet tonic water, fizzy like soda but so refreshing. I insisted on making every trip a detour to get my plastic bottle full of that good stuff for free in my favorite piazza.

Friday, February 3, 2017

touristy but sublime

"Florence, the home of the Renaissance and birthplace of our modern world, has the best Renaissance art in Europe. In a single day, you could look Michelangelo's David in the eyes, fall under the seductive sway of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and climb the modern world's first dome, which still dominates the skyline. Of course, Florentine art goes beyond paintings and statues — enjoy the food, fashion, and street markets. Sure, Florence is touristy. But where else can you stroll the same pedestrian streets walked by Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Botticelli while savoring the world's best gelato?"
Rick Steves Travel Guide to Italy

Thursday, February 2, 2017

summer invincible

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." Albert Camus
Memories of our trip to Rome and Florence in the middle of July. Unbelievably hot, and I do prefer hot weather to midwestern winter. We enjoyed gelato everywhere, mini cones for a euro or two, just enough to cool off a bit. Savoring the memories from my sketchbook on a freezing January day.