Tuesday, January 25, 2011

... warmth & welcome ...

Calligraphy, n. the art of fine handwriting.

Do you recall having learned this in grade school? I remember clearly being fascinated with this art form and practicing it over and over again on our specially-lined paper in fourth grade. And, if memory serves me correctly, I recall having a wonderful substitute teacher one day during a handwriting lesson, and thinking that she was so much like this artistic expression by her lovely grace and kind attention that she demonstrated to everyone.

Mrs. Kuert was a substitute teacher back then ... funny how time goes by - - my son now sits in her kindergarten classroom (hopefully behaving himself!!). I couldn't feel more fortunate that his first year of school is under the guidance of such a gracious and warm-hearted teacher.

The Kuert family is one that exudes this generosity of spirit. Our community is also enriched by this family, as her husband, Pastor Kuert (as I call him, but I believe that he is better known as "Pastor John"), has led his church into tremendous growth and expansion over the years. He is a pastor that emanates such joy and kindness that even a simple chat outside the local market leaves one feeling uplifted.

Their adult children, Lisa and Jonathan, are mirrors of their parents in that they exemplify the very same genuine traits that makes one feel blessed to know them.

So, of course, when I was asked to create this painting for their family, I was happy to oblige.

(You may be seeing a pattern here throughout these posts ... a painting is requested and I am always happy to fulfill that request :) Keep that in mind to any of you who may be considering a painting - - I would be more than happy to get those paintbrushes going for you, too! LOL)

Mrs. Kuert wished to present her parents with a home portrait for Christmas ... decorated for Christmas :) Yay!

Once I began the painting, I decided to take a drive that evening at dusk (isn't that sky beautiful?) ... to drive by their home and see how they decorated for the holidays. Luck was on my side that they were not too far away. I was told that her parents still, in their 90's, trimmed their home inside and out ...

... how about that? Twinkle lights strung with care and candlelight glow gleamed from the windows creating such warmth and welcome. It was a beautiful sight against the snowy backdrop. I was so glad to have taken that little trip, as it was important to me to capture their style - their traditions.

Surprisingly, this painting took only one day. Home portraits typically take a few days to a week depending upon detail, size and of course, my schedule. It surprised me so much, considering the tiny detail and intricate lines of the home; however, it just flowed so smoothly. I painted from the time I awoke until midnight that night ... just couldn't put that brush down!

I always enjoy painting a winter's evening with all its cozy warmth ... and adding wreaths & bows were simply icing on the cake!

I am finding that the more trees that I paint, it is the evergreens which I enjoy the most. Creating the depth and highlight of the pines and dusting it with snow, seems almost magical. I've always had a special place in my heart for evergreens - as it is the same place where I keep my pap. His childhood stories of claiming large towering evergreens as mighty fortresses has stayed with me ... I suppose my fascination began there. But, I do imagine that within those heavy boughs of pine, pap's story goes on as tiny animals and birds take refuge, nesting ... and being a king of their own castle :)

So, I thank you, Mrs. Kuert, for the opportunity to create this portrait for your family. It was a delight!

I wonder why calligraphy is no longer taught in school ... I suppose it is due to the overwhelming material that must be presented in order to prepare for the required state tests. It is unfortunate that my children's experiences in school are so vastly different than mine. However, that is another topic for another time. Perhaps I will revisit this technique with my summer girls. Our book club/art camp is around the corner, and knowing how time flies, it will surely be here before we know it. That is a lovely thought isn't it? Warm summer days ... well, for now I'll enjoy the coziness of the season and refill my coffee cup to keep me warm!
Happy Wednesday!
Never lose an opportunity to seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, January 24, 2011

... thinking of spring ...

It was so cold this morning that school was delayed 2 hours ... so cold that when my daughter walked past me after taking the dog out, she caused a frosty air by crossing the room! ... so cold that all I want to do is curl up with my cozy plaid blanket, the latest book that I keeps me up at night and a frothy mug of hot cocoa ... as the saying goes - baby, it's cold outside :)

Thankfully, as I began gathering a few photos to present in this post, I began to feel a warmth that is very welcomed on such a chilly day - - a painting set in "springtime" is just the ticket to cast off Jack Frost and reflect on days dampened with morning dew, not icy flakes - budding blossoms, not stark branches. Winter certainly has its beauty; but on a day such as this, I tend to pine for the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the flowers.

This home portrait, yet another Christmas gift to be shared, came to me by a doll of a gal, Linda, who wished to present this painting to her parents. This was one of the largest home portraits that I have created - measuring at 18x24. I was thankful for that, as it allowed me gracious space to create the sprawling ranch and add the special details to capture their home.
Some of my most favorite days in the spring are ones that tend to be gray - warning that a rain shower is likely coming to pass. I'm captivated by the stark contrast of the bright budding leaves and blooms against the murky sky. It tends to leave me with feelings of a peaceful comfort, knowing that I will take a cozy refuge from the raindrops in my home, watching God nurture his gift to us - - the beauty of nature in season.
With this in mind, I decided on a grayish blue sky - not dark enough to be menacing, but enough to capture the sense of that peaceful comfort within their home.
This beautiful ranch had much detail to its design. From shaded brick to architectural panels and trim ... from decorative lighting to landscape and rock gardens, I wished to capture the essence of their home, noting how much it was loved and looked after, and more importantly, what it undoubtedly held behind its doors and windows - - family. memories. love.
Because this portrait was large scaled and the architectural design was ranch-style, there was ample room at the forefront to include a cherished quote or saying. Of course, I was thrilled when Linda chose the words ... "All roads lead home ..." They are of special significance to me, as you might have guessed :)
How fitting for this piece!
Thank you, Linda, for the opportunity to create this painting for your family - - a true joy.
Check back tomorrow - as I will be sharing with you a Christmastime home portrait created for a lovely family ... the Kuerts. :)
The day the Lord created HOPE
was probably the same day He created SPRING.
- Bern Williams

Thursday, January 20, 2011

... a yummy dessert ...


I made a teeny mistake in my previous post ... it was not "cherry tarts" that Mrs. Cox taught us, eighth graders. Nope. Rather, it was "cherry turnovers." My memory became clear when I searched for recipes and saw that tarts are these beautiful, little, fluted open-faced pies. Imagine teaching THAT to a roomful of 13-year olds! This revelations certainly unveils my inexperience with the culinary art of pastry - LOL!! Oh, well. Turnovers, it will be ... now for the ingredients.

Upon searching my fridge & cupboards, I realized that not a cherry could be found ... however, I did have blueberries on hand. So, saving a third trip to the market this week, I settled on "Blueberry Turnovers." :)

I have this wonderfully delicious and incredibly simple recipe for Blueberry Compote that I found in a New England Country B&B Cookbook some years ago. It has come in handy for serving over waffles, adding into cheesecakes, and filling into pies. Truly, you could let your imagination run wild with this recipe, as it is a wonderful base.

Blueberry Compote

2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 t. lemon juice
1 T. cornstarch
Blend the ingredients together in a medium-size saucepan. Cook over low/med heat until thickened and serve warm.
To use as a pie filing, just double or triple the recipe, depending upon your pie plate. :)

Next comes the pastry crust. Now, I must be honest - - I cheated last night. I couldn't help it... the Pillsbury Refrigerated Crust was sitting there, so vulnerable on that shelf and I took it. Laziness, convenience and anxiousness won for the evening. Lazy due to the cold I'm fighting - convenience for time & clean up - and beyond anxious for the premier of American Idol that was due to start in 10 minutes! :)

So - refrigerated crust it is - genius in a snap!!

My son rolled out the crust (as it seemed a little thick to me ...). I like to use powdered sugar rather than flour to roll out pastry/cookie dough. It just adds that tiny touch of sweetness instead of the grainy taste that can happen with too much flour - - especially when baking with the kids!
Next, I found a square container to use as a cutter which made it so easy for my kids to make all the squares that we needed. One pastry crust made six 4"x4" squares, which was just enough for us.

Then, we placed the squares on a silicone-lined baking sheet and spooned our Blueberry Compote onto the center of each square, rubbed water along the edges and folded the pastry over to make a triangle. Using a fork, we gently pressed a lined edge to seal the turnover and pricked the top. Finally, we brushed egg whites over the top and sprinkled generously with granulated sugar.

Baked at 400 degrees for approx. 15 minutes ... and voila!!

Scrumptious Blueberry Turnovers :)
All in all - this dessert took approximately 10 minutes to prepare, 15 to bake, 10 to cool and 2 minutes to devour!!
Using the pre-made pie crust really made this recipe a cinch. However, should you wish to make a homemade pastry crust, this is a tried & true recipe that has been passed down the line in our family ...
Aunt Rosie's Pie Crust
2 cups flour
1 cup shortening
handful of sugar
dash of salt
1 glass ice water
Combine flour and shortening. Cut up ingredients using a pastry cutter. Add sugar and salt. Work mixture until it becomes the size of peas.
Then, add a little ice water and mix. Keep adding a smidge of water until dough becomes rollable. Make into two balls for each crust.
The kitchen is a country in which there are always discoveries to be made.
- Grimod de la Reyniere

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

... reminiscing & embracing ...

Cherry Tarts.

When I think of cherry tarts, I think of Mrs. Cox. Why, you might ask? Well, this darling woman taught me how to bake my very first dessert in her Jr. High - Home Economics class ... of course it was Cherry Tarts :) And, I went home and made them over and over ... and over again.

Since my leaving Jr. High - some many moons ago, my part not her's! LOL - she transferred to my daughter's elementary school, and luck was on our side when my daughter entered her classroom in third grade. Mrs. Cox became a favorite all over again!

The saying goes, "like mother, like daughter," and it certainly holds true with this family. Her daughter, Sam, is fun-loving and a real sweetheart of a gal. Sam has also chosen a path in life to enrich the lives of children in her own classroom. These two women will surely have a hand in molding and inspiring young people to do great things in their lives.

So, when Sam asked that I create a home portrait & family tree for her mom & dad as a Christmas present, I jumped at the opportunity.

She requested a home portrait done in a winterscape and warm lighting from the home.

Because there was much lawn frontage, we decided to go light with the snow on the ground, and create a snow fall to enhance the winter scene. Golden light from the windowpanes exudes warmth and comfort held within the home - - I imagine a sweet smell of deliciousness wafting from the oven and embracing visitors as they are welcomed inside. It looks as though there might be a delay for school the next morning should the snow continue to fall overnight ... :)

Next on the list was their family tree. Sam decided on a 16x20 wrapped canvas, which allowed wonderful spacing for the branches and detail.

As avid birdwatchers, Sam suggested that I add something to embrace their hobby and love for birds. She also chose an autumn themed family tree, which is becoming one of the most popular designs. I personally favor this style as well, as I like to imagine which strong little leaves have survived the brisk fall winds before tumbling to the ground, decorating it in color.

And, then we have ... "All because two people fell in love ..." One of my favorite sayings. I love that Sam requested these words, as I've always felt that they encompass a marriage in strength and stature. Because these two people created a life together, they in turn created a family that continues to branch out, growing and flourishing year after year. Love that!
My daughter came home from school the other day and told me that Mrs. Cox pulled her aside to remark how she loved her paintings ... this just warmed my heart.
Recalling this, I just had a thought ... perhaps I'll surprise the kids with dessert tonight. I'm thinking -- you guessed it~ Cherry Tarts :) The kids will love making their own!
Happy Wednesday!
Memory is a way of holding onto the things that you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.
- Kevin Arnold - The Wonder Years

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

... a brisk, winter's zoo walk ...

Rather than a day of sleeping in & lounging in pjs till noon, the kiddos and I headed out the door early Monday morning to meet up with the Girl Scout Troop for a day-long seminar on marine science. This is one of the many reasons I love that my daughter has remained with her Troop, graduated up to a Cadet and has enjoyed experiences such as this to develop her interests.

Since my son joined us during this trip, I thought it would be best that he and I had our own day while my girl shared her day with friends, learning the ins and outs of ocean life at the aquarium.

So, after dropping her off with her leader, my son and I headed out and about, as it was still only 16 degrees outside and a walk through the zoo would not do with our noses turning blue!

We breakfasted on dreamy, vanilla cupcakes from Starbucks ...(Yes! This earned me some major sweet talk from my 5-year old ... "Mommy, I love spending time with you. You're awesome" and the like :) Considering our breakfasts are usually oatmeal or eggs - I figured a little splurge would be just fine - - besides, they were calling my name from the case!!" We also shopped a bit, strolled the bookstore and had lunch before heading back to the zoo.

By this time, the weather became a balmy 28 degrees! I know ... what were we thinking? Well - What was everyone else thinking - - because, when we went to park, we had to find a space!! Grant you, the entire lot was not plowed, but I was shocked at the number of cars.

The reason for the turnout must be that it is a much better experience to visit the zoo during the winter rather than the summer. This was our second winter visit, and I must say, it is - by far - my favorite time to go. The animals are much more active, you are not walking around smelling that delightful zoo stench, nor do you need to carry a pile of water bottles to prevent heat stroke. Even bird watching is more stunning among the snowy background ...

We watched a roaring match between the Siberian tiger and a male lion ...

(... that is my son's yellow head in the far right corner. This pic raises my blood pressure something awful! Thank Heavens for that glass in between!!)

How incredible is this pair?? The majesty of a male lion is breathtaking, isn't it? And, it appears that he was making eye contact with me and I didn't even realize it at the time. Yikes!!

I just find elephants adorable!! This little baby had fuzzy whiskers covering his head and chin - too cute!!

After walking through a very desolate African Savanna (gee, I wonder why?! - apparently ostriches and giraffes do not take too well to the cold & snow :), we headed over to the aquarium where my daughter was - I hope! - having a great time with the sea life :)

A sand tiger shark swimming above us!! Imagine seeing that image while swimming in the ocean!

One of my absolute favorite exhibits is the Sea Dragon ... aren't they incredible?

And, our last stop was to check on my girl ...

who may not have acquired a love for marine science during this trip, but I know that she definitely walked away with a much better understanding and respect for it all. Thank you to those who arranged this day and to the fantastic staff of educators.
All in all - - a wonderful, frosty day filled with family, friends & God's amazing animals :) What more could one ask for? Especially when the end of that day is toasted with yummy frosty treats. Yes, I shouldn't have considering the sinful cupcake, but - hey! - It was calling my name, and I'm not rude ! LOL!
Check back tomorrow for a post of more paintings - - another family tree & a home portrait created for the Cox family! :)
Our task must be to free ourselves ... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.
- Albert Einstein

Sunday, January 16, 2011

... my wishes painting ...

It was time to begin tackling the two remaining painting orders that were requested to be held for after the holidays. The first is for Elaine ...

As soon as I pulled out our old plastic table cover to set up at the kitchen counter (you would too, if you saw my studio! LOL), my son immediately recognized the task at hand and grabbed some cardboard and his brushes. :)
I just love when my kiddos get bitten by the artsy bug!!

After setting up a movie for us (you know me & my painting routine ... ), pouring a cup of creamy vanilla coffee and grabbing my painting tools ...
... the canvas began to come alive in hues of green, blue.
This painting was challenging in that it was to duplicate a prior painting that I had sold at the show. Knowing that there may be differences in the sky's light and shadows, because painting a sky always takes on it's own flow of color and personality, I felt it most important that I create the same inspiring feeling overall that the original painting possessed ... that to search your soul with whimsical wonder. :)
Next at hand was to add "the girl."
This girl represents each and every woman who feels that tug on her heartstrings and a flutter in her soul of ideas, promises and dreams of who she is, who she wants to be and what she wants to accomplish in her life. I believe, wholeheartedly, that every woman experiences this during her lifetime. Mine is currently ongoing and really blossomed when I became a mother.
When painting the original, my initial thought was "first snow." I have always found the first snowflakes to fall so magical and delicate .... much like wishes that I would send up to the night sky. But when I added the "flakes" to the upper sky, they reminded me more of twinkling stars on a brisk night when the overcast is clearing ... and one's dreams become more formed and possible in her mind.

So, I give you my wishes painting ...

Should this painting speak to you as well ... prints can be ordered on my Etsy :) ... or perhaps you may wish for a painting of your own ... :)
Our deepest wishes are whispers of our authentic selves.
We must learn to respect them.
We must learn to listen.
- Sarah Ban Breathnach

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

... like branches on a tree ...

... our lives may grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one. (author unknown)

I am so thrilled to finally share the work that I have been keeping under wraps, per se. As you know, family trees are one of my favorites to paint and these two were certainly no exception.

I received an email from Jill, a friend that I have known since third grade, who contacted me mid-November to see if I would create a family tree for her mother-in-law to present as a Christmas gift. Of course, I answered YES! :)

Because her father-in-law had passed away earlier this year, Jill wanted something special to honor and memorialize her husband's family. So, I went to work on the design with much insight from her on details that she wished to see in the painting. Her in-laws are from an area that harvests a large amount of grapes; thus, she wished for arbors to be included, as well as their two Shelties that had passed away and two cardinals - one on a branch representing her mom-in-law and another flying to represent her father-in-law's journey to Heaven.

When stories such as this accompany a custom order, it is hard not to be overcome with emotion when adding such detail.
I thought that the quote that Jill had selected was perfect ...
What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life - to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories. - George Eliot.

Jill also ordered another family tree to give to her parents. as well. I have know her parents for many years - such a nice couple. Her father is one of our town's pharmacists whom I always seek out for his advice.
So, I was happy to put together a painting that would encompass their life's journey, as Jill had a number of specific details that she hoped could be incorporated into the painting. From representations of high school mascots to the love of mums & sunflowers, from flying the PITT Pharmaceutical flag to memorializing their dear, late toy poodle, Toto, this painting was one of the most personalized family trees that I have designed.

It was a joy to create these paintings and I thank you, Jill, for the opportunity to do so. :)

Happy Thursday!
Do what makes you happy - Be with who makes you smile - Laugh as much as you breathe - and, Love as long as you live.
- Author Unknown

... hello again ...

Finally. :)

I've been meaning to wish everyone a "merry Christmas" and a "happy new year" ... I do apologize for not being prompt on these greetings. It is not that you haven't been on my mind. I seem to be in a bit of a funk that took hold during the pre-Christmas season and has followed through to present.

Have you ever experienced a Christmas when it just didn't feel like Christmas? Nothing was quite the same:

  • Though we enjoyed coming together as a community, caroling this year was a slightly chaotic experience rather than the impromptu and heartwarming walk of song that we had enjoyed the previous year. But the hot cocoa & homemade cookies made it all worth it! Thank you! :)
  • Our annual gingerbread house party was a little different this year - day vs. evening, intimate vs. rowdy :) - however, still a lovely gathering ~ Thank you, Miss Mel!

  • I usually bake at least five different cookies, and this year, I baked NONE.

  • We normally visit Santa; however this Christmas, we wrote him letters.

  • Every year we attend our town's Christmas Celebration festivities & parade, and this year - you guessed it! - we did not.

  • Our Wagilia Christmas Eve Dinner was delicious - thank you my dear Gram of 87 years!! - but it was also minus my sister due to her sickness. Poor thing missed the holiday all together.
  • And finally, we did not attend Christmas Dinner, not only due to my sister's nasty bug, but also because we received tragic news that one of my sister's best friends, Kris, died on Christmas day. Our family was beyond shocked with this news.
Humph. Looking at this list, it is clear - isn't it? - as to why it did not really feel like Christmas this year? Heavens to Betsy!!

... Funny. I feel a little lighter and little more upbeat - perhaps I needed to get that off my chest and out of my head. Whew! Thank you for allowing me this vent!!

Of course, I am always trying to find a silver lining and by focusing on my husband & children, friends & family, good health & answered prayers - I do consider myself incredibly blessed; thus, bringing me great joy entering 2011 :) Yay!!

I have been anxious to share with you what had me so busy from mid-November to mid-December, but have had to keep quiet for fear of spoiling some Christmas gifts! From wine glasses to scarves, home portraits to family trees, I was a painting machine! Even though my work schedule did ultimately infringe a bit on our holiday play, I enjoyed the artistic challenge and loved playing one of Santa's elves in creating a number of gifts for my customers to give.

For the next few days, I would like to share with you the paintings of family trees & home portraits that I created for some very special people.
What I love most about custom orders are the stories behind the paintings. I enjoy so much creating art for families, in that by doing so, it seems to tie them together a little more snug with their love and memories. That is why family trees and home portraits are above all my favorite things to paint.

So, check back tomorrow when I share with you family trees created especially for the Lesko Family :)
Happy Wednesday!
When we look at clouds, we see different shapes. See all the grace you can.