A Year Like No Other

Compass School Vision Board 2020

I’m a proud parent of two Compass School kids. It’s a little charter school in Rhode Island. The school has two missions that attracted me to the place, environmental protection and social responsibility. Teaching kids to care about their planet and how to respect other people’s humanity. At Compass there’s a place at the table for everyone. This charter is no easy task. I believe, like our country, there are a few steps forward and a couple steps back, but always there is the hope to be better.

I’ve been a parent of the school for ten years. My youngest little cherub will graduate this year and with that, will come the end of my tenure at compass. My take away will be the profoundly wonderful parents and staff I’ve met along the way and a true involvement in volunteerism. Volunteering for a school is volunteering for your community. When I began at the school, there was literally a patch of dirt with some trailers for classrooms. When we’d go to the principal with an idea, he’d say go do it. That was always the answer. There was no funding and there wasn’t anyone to take up a task. If you wanted to see something happen at this school, you’d better roll up your sleeves. Finding the other parents with the same passion sincerely changed me. There were about ten of us and we got stuff done. It could be literally painting the exterior of buildings, creating a fair to earn a couple dollars to introduce after school electives, creating a playground, erecting greenhouses, doing yardwork on weekends, manifesting a biodiversity garden and finally real buildings that will stay firmly put on Compass soil for decades to come. There are many of us who feel connected to this place through true sweat equity.

There have been 4 principals in my ten year stay. Think about that. That is not stable. It made for some seriously rocky years, but while that worked itself out, the teachers carried on as if nothing had ever happened. God bless ’em. Six years ago we got a new principal and she is in it for the long haul. You can trust that when the principal is willing to send their own kids to the school. I think of her as a golden retriever pit bull. Most people see the retriever, but look under the hood. She is all pit bull :) I mean this in a good way. She has faced a school system that hates charter schools and a school without buildings. It doesn’t sound too much like a school, but under her administration we have truly flourished.

Six years ago this brand new principal called me into her office and said “I hear you might be able to help me make a vision board”. What? I said. The principal wanted to have a vision board at a vision night where she could guide the parents from where we are to where we want to go. The idea was to have a pen and ask each parent to write a wish for the school and over the years we could see which wishes came true. Talk about the power of some positive thinking, I have seen some amazing accomplishes come to pass.

Here are the past 6 years of visions of the school. Ms. Brandee the principal sends me an email every year “Can you draw the addition of new lockers? How about a couple acres of walking paths? A soccer field? Swing set? Farm stand? Gaga ball court? Lavender labyrinth? Financial funding for a new building? A family dance? Goats? Sheep? Cows? Basketball? Excavating machinery? Cement mixers??? That all sounds well and good, but how in the heck do you incorporate such large ideas into a small piece of paper? Dear me, it’s enough to send an artist to the looney bin. Based on my anxiety alone! But slowly over the last few years, I’ve figured it out. Slowly. I bet if you gave me another ten years I might nail it ;)


Do I need to say anything more? Forget any real accomplishments like renovating a giant barn which now fits a middle school. None of us have even seen it because of the pandemic. I got the phone call to make a vision board for a vision event that won’t even happen this year. “Could I add some sails that we are using for outdoor classrooms? How about a laptop showing our virtual school? The kids have really enjoyed harvesting the gourds this year…”

Gourds? Gourds? Ahhhhhhh!!!!!!!!

Yes. I have been visually tasked with summing up school during the COVID 19 pandemic. Can I go back to bed? I say that a lot these days. Can I go back to bed and hopefully wake up a year from now? And would it be too much to ask that all my loved ones still be alive with me? …….GOSH!

Well, my solution to any problem I’d like to avoid is humor. I always start there. So for this painting. I started with our good ole Rhode Island Red chickens. They are the only animals left on campus due to the pandemic. Instantly I could envision the chickens running by with masks.

Now… A steaming comet of Covid hitting the school? That might be memorable? How can I leave a reminder of all the crazy rules? A building sized sanitizer bottle? I’m sorry. As much as we’d all like to forget the terrible political season of 2020. I’m pretty sure we will be talking about this one for decades. In fact the school had to double-down on “social responsibility” to remind kids that every person and every family are entitled to their thoughts and beliefs and we all need to work on respect and acceptance… what a nightmare and “great teachable moment” of course :) Some other chuckles are a 6ft tape measure and gourds. You have to love kids. During all this mayhem, they still love the GOURDS!!!!

I’m not sure I needed to create a visual reminder of 2020. I’m pretty sure this year, for anyone who lived it, both young and old, has been unforgettable. But for the kindergarten class that will be graduating 9 years from now, who will be standing exactly where my family stands this year, hopefully they can look back and chuckle.

Pottery Prep

It’s that time of year where us artisans try to produce as much as we can to sell around the holidays. With the pandemic ever-present, where will I sell? Most of the holiday gift shows in my area are canceled this year due to the pandemic. So, as I have put it off for years I think it’s time to start my Etsy shop. I’d imagine I am not the only artist wondering what to do this year. For shoppers of handmade items, I think there will be robust options online which is good for the world. We need more art!

Here are some ceramics I am working on as we speak:

I am also working on tons of little soap dishes. I bought some loaves of homemade soap that I would like to combine into nice little gifts. I know I am a sucker for homemade soap. I’m hoping there are other fans out there.

So, I am plugging along. The kids are in-and-out of virtual and at-school learning. This is definitely a different year circumstantially, but I still feel that excitement of rushing around in a creative frenzy. Ha. I just thought about it. It’s very similar to squirrels rushing around preparing for the long cold winter.

Well, if that’s the case, then I’m in good company!

Secret Garden Series -#5 CAT AND FOUL

18 x 24″ watercolor on 140lb Arches Coldpress paper

Happy November! I’m still struggling to get back to a normal life during this crazy 2020 pandemic. Slowly but surely I’m getting there. My kids are back to school –sort of. I’m painting again –an hour here and there. I have rejoined my pottery studio –in a mask 6 feet apart from all the other potters. I’ve fallen in love with a new jewelry concept – But I have no holiday shows to sell them…. Yeah, (eye roll) things are sorta getting back to normal.

I was just checking. I posted my first declaration to create 8 paintings in what I am calling my “Secret Garden Series” on December 3, 2019. Boy, when I made that declaration, I had no idea what the world would look like 3 months later. And yet, here we are. A month from now will be a year. Something tells me I won’t have the next 3 paintings completed by then, but hey, I HAVEN’T QUIT!!! Even though I’ve wanted to ;)

So let’s get to it. Let’s talk some art. With the presidential election tomorrow, it will be a pleasant distraction!

The painting Cat and Foul is my 5th painting in the series:

My concept was to take things I am passionate about and put them all together. Each of these paintings feature: plants, gardening, animals, fabrics, pattern, architecture, a Latin phrase, and a bunch of random objects hidden throughout. If I were to complete this series, there would be 8 paintings that tie together visually and symbolically and they would be fun to glance around to see what you could find.

I haven’t had many pets in my life. My mother definitely was not into it. But as an adult, I have had two cats. Let’s just say I LOVE MY CAT. I credit my cat with teaching me how to be present and give love without any expectations. When my cat slinks by and generally plunks herself down on whatever painting I am working on, I always make it a point to drop what I’m doing, take a deep breathe and hug that little kitty. I feel her purring. I let her rub her slimy little nose on my face, I give her a couple pets and get back to it. That’s my spiritual practice. I bring myself back to the “Now” and I feel blessed to have this little reminder visiting me every couple hours.

So let’s just say I LOVE cats.

I also added a guinea hen because I adore them for their graphic nature. Who can resist black and white polka-dotted feathers? I have a jar of them I’m always adding to.

There is no white paint in watercolor. So you can’t take white paint and make dots on top of the black. You have to take the black paint and paint around every single white dot. This would make your eyes cross, so using a little trick like masking fluid goes a long way in keeping your painting sanity. Masking fluid is similar to rubber cement. Here I painted masking fluid every place I wanted a white dot. Then I painted black watercolor over it. When dry, you rub the masking fluid off and it reveals the nice crisp white paper below it.

Here is a time lapse of how I decided to tackle the painting:

A lot of times I don’t know where I’m going. So I always begin my painting with the things I am most sure about. I knew the plants would be greens and the animals would be browns. What I didn’t know was what color I wanted the walls, wall paper and wall mural. I take baby steps adding one major color or pattern at a time trying different variations before I officially paint them.

Let me list the objects I hid throughout the painting and see if you can find them.

There is: a wooden arrow, moon phases, a key, raspberries, a penny, an alarm clock, a nod to RI with an ocean wave and anchor, Princess Diana’s sapphire ring, and a scurrying mouse. The Latin word Modero means SLOW DOWN. I intended this to be a spiritual message like “stop and enjoy everything around you” but I also thought it was fitting because the guinea hen is wizzing by.

The sapphire has a funny story behind it too. When I was in kindergarten, I used to complain to my mother that I wanted to change my name. “Mary” was just too boring in my opinion. Brushing me off, she told me if in one year, I still wanted to change my name, she’d take me to town hall to change it. Being the little bugger that I was, of course I never forgot. Months later I told my mom I was ready to change my name. She said “Alright, what did you come up with? What name do you think suits you better?” I looked at her with all seriousness and pride and blurted out “SAPHIRE”. She looked at me, burst out laughing and flat out said “Nope -go play!” My six year old self was so mad, but adult me thinks maybe I wouldn’t have made such a great adult Sapphire. My family still gets a kick out of this one, so now I kind of get called Sapphire any ways ;)

The other day, a company was thanking me for using them by giving me a free gift. I could put whatever I wanted on a mouse pad.

I chose this recent cat. In fact, it’s sitting with me as I type right now. You know, it’s the little things, they totally make me smile. I’m enjoying this painting :)

Secret Garden Series – #4 PEACOCK

It’s soooo hot!!!!

I’m finding it hard to focus! I told myself I was making a set of 8 paintings about a fantasy garden and here I sit only just completing #4. I’d say I’m crawling… at least that is how I feel. I thought about this for a moment. For the past two weeks, I have slightly dreaded showing up to the canvas. Why is that? The easy answer is that I am a Gemini personality with ADHD tendencies, but a little deeper, I think it might be all the detail. These paintings are so loaded with detail, it’s like painting 17 different paintings within one. Because of this, I don’t get that instant gratification of making serious headway. The painting can look the same for many days. Boo. I like fireworks and race cars!

With this said, in times like this, I refer back to one of my all time favorite films “Field of Dreams”. I whisper to myself “…go the distance” and “If you build it, they will come…” The film was about building a baseball field, but really, the message is about having BLIND faith. Even when you don’t know the outcome, what your doing or why, listen to that little inner voice and JUST DO IT. Boy, That film came out in 1989. That was a while ago. I’m kind of laughing because apparently I have been whispering “go the distance” to my self for like 31 years. When do all of my dreams come to fruition???

Over and Over I am realizing that when these big 18″ x 24″ watercolors are completed, it’s the little vignettes that I love. For instance, my favorite parts of the peacock painting are these:

They don’t feel as overtly planned as the larger composition, yet I could have never created the ease of the animals location without the heavy planning of the larger composition. I’m calling these little vignettes “moments”. So after I finish the 8th painting in this series, I want to move to working at the smaller size of 16″ x 20″, have fewer subject matter and try to create “moments”. I just don’t know why simplicity is so elusive to me!

Here are the smaller 8″x10″ and 5″x7″ watercolor studies up against the large final painting:

I like viewing the evolution. This concept changed a lot, yet you can see small details like a butterfly passing by which made it to the final draft.

I almost forgot! Here are some details. Each of the 8 paintings will have a Latin phrase within it. For this painting, the phrase is “FORTIS FORTUNA ADIUVAT” which translates to “Fortune favors the bold”. I love that. Life’s too short. Be bold man. Be bold! There’s also a bunch of items hidden in the garden. For this painting be on the look-out for: a frog, an Egyptian ankh, a cairn, an infinity symbol, an umbrella, a letter, a monarch, a queen chess piece, a gold finch feather and the number thirteen.

I keep this visual on my computer. Like a kid putting a star sticker on the refrigerator, I get to add another visual to my completion poster. Ahh, that feels good!

Because I’m suffering from a little summer brain-drain, I am going to pause the button on this series. Just for a week or two. I am craving a new painting to put over my fireplace mantle and I have some amazing photographs from my vacation on Block Island that I’d like to play with. I’m going to flip to acrylic paints and canvas which will disorient my brain. I hope the disorientation can act as a small mental vacation. That way I can come back to this series refreshed and ready to start #5.

Amen. Aint no rest for the painting weary!

Secret Garden Series – #3 RABBIT

Secret Garden Series -Rabbit, watercolor 18″ x 24″

I am totally celebrating the completion of this painting!  I don’t know if it’s the hundred little details within the painting which are all mini paintings in themselves, the pandemic, going out to protest or helping my kids finish up school, but this painting was so hard to complete!

I think many people look at painters and think “I just don’t get it?  Why are you so obsessed with throwing paint down?”   I have family members that are bewildered.  They wonder how I can complete a painting and within hours I am starting another one.  Well, of course the first answer to this is passion.  When a person is lucky enough to find something they feel passionate about, it’s not work.  It’s pure joy which means most likely you will want to do it over and over again.  But the second answer is more specific to my passion.  I think my giddiness and excitement comes from the idea of a blank slate.

Staring at a blank canvas is exhilarating.  Actually, it feels a little more like a panic, but in a good kind of way.  There is nothing there.  It’s very personal, because from nothing comes something.  I liken it to forcing yourself to jump off the high-diving board.  I take the same deep breathe, pick up the pencil, and I don’t allow myself to turn back.  Now if I am being honest, sometimes it takes me a few days.  Sometimes I walk around the desk.  Sometimes I sharpen over 30 pencils.  I organize my paints.  Maybe pay some bills.  Find weeding that is absolutely essential…

At first I felt really bad about this.  Guilty actually.  I felt like I was wasting valuable time and procrastinating.  But slowly, I am finally getting it.  It is part of the process.  Because if I look at those uneventful days a little more closely, I am actually working.  I am envisioning and dreaming up what will be in the foreground, background, left, right and center.  I am thinking about the mood, the color scheme and slowly collecting reference materials.  This process isn’t tangible.  It’s just me being silent doing what most likely looks like day dreaming. But eventually it manifests.  Like an exercise routine that I appreciate only after I can see it’s effects, I have to force myself to show up, paint and push on.

So the blank canvas is exhilarating, but the other high-point is the completion.  I think that’s why I love photographing the progression of a painting.  Because I get to sit there for a moment and take it in.  There was nothing there and now there is something there; Creation in it’s purest form.  From nothing comes something.  It’s what I love about gardening to.  I dig, cut and push around the earth and then from a baron space, comes life.  It could also be said for parenting too.  They all give me intense satisfaction from creating.

I can already see that working on this series is going to bring me to a different series of work.  For within each of these paintings, I am falling in love with smaller simpler studies.  I wouldn’t have ever found them unless they were part of something bigger, so I am incredibly thankful for all I am learning in every moment.  Needless to say, this little bird is my favorite part of the painting.

Oh boy, I’ve been going on and on and I haven’t discussed all the things I hid throughout the painting!

If you recall, months ago I thought up hundreds of small objects and symbols I wanted to hide within my secret garden. I had tiny pieces of paper everywhere.  I blindly divvied them up into 8 bundles and as I am sketching the painting, I task myself with figuring out where to put the objects.  It’s definitely the child in me.  I feel like the secrets are what keep someone coming back to look again.  And then, there’s always the why.  Why is that there?  To me, it fuels the imagination.

I wanted to strangle myself when I pulled out one of the pieces of paper and I had written Excalibur’s Sword.  Really Mary?  Do I know anything about swords? and where am I putting said sword without ruining my painting?  It’s kind of where it gets fun, because that in itself, is a puzzle I get to solve.  So  first thing to find is Excalibur’s Sword!

Here are some other things to find:  A Swallowtail caterpillar, a House Wren, a compass, snake-eyed dice, a snail, a key , a toy truck, a lock, a White Ermine Moth, a Scottish Thistle, a red apple, a Rumi book, and the Eye of Horus.

I also mentioned I am adding a Latin phrase to each painting.  The phrase for the rabbit painting is  “Non ducor duco”.  Which means I am not led, I lead.  I love this quote.  But  for laughs, I juxtaposed it with a pointing hand plaque which suggests leading one in a certain direction.  funny right?  Geek humor.

For the first time, I am really feeling good about my work.  I am feeling personally connected to the subject matter which gives me sense of purpose.  I can also see a path forward which makes me feel at ease.  I guess I could equate it to becoming comfortable in my own skin and owning my voice and vision.  Long time coming….Can I get an AMEN!!!

Secret Garden Series -#2 OWL

18 x 24″ watercolor – Secret Garden Owl

My second painting is complete. I don’t know if it’s the distraction of the pandemic, but it feels like it took forever! I’m very happy with how it turned out. I feel like it conjures up the feeling of a secret garden.

Here are a list of objects to find within my secret garden painting:

A Dharma wheel, a Mayan temple, a chrysalis, an evil eye, a praying mantis, a potion bottle, the queen of clubs, fire flies, a fiddle head fern, matches, and a ladder.

Also, I am adding a Latin quote in each painting. This painting says “ALIS VOLAT PROPRIIS” which means “She flies with her own wings”.

Here were the three little studies I created to come up with ideas and the comparison to the large final painting:

So that’s it. Next I will begin part 3, the rabbit!

Secret Garden Series – #1 Raccoon


Secret Garden Series – #1 Raccoon  watercolor 18″ x 24″

It feels so darn good to finish a painting!

Not to mention, it sort ended up how I imagined.  I finally got enough “garden” in there to feel “Secret Gardeny”.

Here’s a good visual of how I started with the small studies and now I am continuing with large paintings.  The small studies allowed me to work out a bunch of ideas:


So now that I have completed the first large painting, I can better explain what I envisioned.

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Months ago, I had the idea to try and create artwork that marries all the things I am passionate about.  It’s taken years to figure that out, but here they are:  Color, Animals, Gardening, Flowers & Fabric.  Then, I had another idea.  What if I created my own secret garden where I could hide objects for people to find?  That to me, would make it more fun and “secret”.  The photo above shows tons of little pieces of paper where I worked out what objects I’d like to hide. I’m using them now as cues for each painting.

So take a look again, the painting has a bunch of things to look for.



Find:  A puzzle piece, a dragon fly, a feather, a skull, blue berries, a teacup, a spider, a seashell, mushrooms and a lock.  I also decided I am going to place a Latin phrase in each image.  For this one, I selected “Memento Vivere” which translates to “Remember to Live”.  You know, like life is short so your really ought to go for it :)

I’ve heard twice now that this would make a great puzzle.  …Oh man.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  It really would!  When I’m done with the series, I am going to have to search for how to submit my images to puzzle companies. That would be awesome.


This is my favorite part of the image. If and when I ever find time, I’d like to go back and try this as it’s own painting:


So that’s it.  File this one away and get cracking on #2 which is The Owl.  Off I go!

A Bevy of Birds

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A Bevy of Birds  –watercolor 22″ x 30

Can you tell I had fun painting this painting?  Like I just couldn’t stop?  Well, why not add just one more itty-bitty thing?  lol.

This is my first large painting since I started working on my Secret Garden series.  What’s funny, is I am pretty sure I will not include this painting in the series.  I initially thought pottery would be a great perch for the birds I wanted to paint, but now that it is completed, I realize the painting has nothing to do with a secret garden and overall, it’s a BIT BUSY!

On the flip side, it’s a fun painting.  All the birds came out “cute” which wasn’t the plan, yet whimsy is my overall take-a-way.  I just couldn’t help it.  Pick one bird?  I  can’t pick, I love them all!  I also played with symbols of good luck which are hidden throughout the painting.  There is a #7, a shamrock, a silver spoon, a robin’s egg, a heart, a wishbone, a red apple and a lady bug.  There’s also a bumble bee and fuzzy caterpillar because why stop there???

bird painting

Yeah,  I think I went a little crazy adding as much as I did.  I should have added a kitchen sink for an extra chuckle.

Ultimately, I think I have a better idea for what to do with this image.  I should isolate the images within the image.

bird cards

See, like this. I made a mock up of note cards.  This allows your eye to take a break and focus on each object.

Like the rest of my life, I think I’m in control and going in the direction I choose.  If I have learned anything in my brief forty-something years, I AM NEVER IN CONTROL.  I just enjoy the detours and try getting back on the course I’ve selected.  Who’s to say I know what’s better for me than the universe does? 

I have NO CONTROL over the deadline, but one day I will finish what I set out to do and until then I will have a lot of cool things I encounter along the way.

Like the medium of watercolor.  I  have to laugh and just go with the flow :)

bird card

A Few Extra Paintings of My Friends

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While digging through my stack, I came across these 3 extra paint studies (5×7″ &  8×10″ watercolors).

I have to walk away and not look at my work for a couple of weeks before I can see the picture as a whole.  Otherwise, I can still see each and every stroke and the changes I wish I could make.  A week or two helps.  It really does.

It is gray here in New England.  I feel like it’s been gray for weeks. I wish some of the technicolor of my watercolors would seep into my everyday surroundings.

That’s the great thing about being an artist.  I have the ability to make the sky a little bluer and the grass a little greener :)