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 :)