Where do I thrive?

I’m used to pining for one place from another.

When I lived in New York City but my heart was in Alaska, I would pace the sunny streets of Brooklyn looking over the river into the new shining condominiums of New Jersey, wishing it was the Chugach range.

In mid-January in the low light and frigid cold of Alaska, I think of Nevada. I yearn for the high, powerful sun infusing the air with dry and permeating warmth, on my face, arms, and legs.

From the comfort of my house in Alaska, I miss living out of a van.

Living out of my truck in Alaska while Airbnb-ers rent our house, I miss the comfort of home.


This summer was the most frenzied Alaska summer I’ve ever experienced – and this is for someone who is used to the breakneck pace of 24 hour daylight. 

I had a Covid respite, fully vaccinated and slowly and then suddenly arriving back on the “scene” of being around people; saying “yes”, “yes”, “YES” to every opportunity as it came up, after a full year “off”.

We rented out our home for extra income to support long term plans. We camped in various friends’ driveways. We flew down to Nevada to attend Reesa’s high school graduation and experience van life for three straight weeks. Family visited and we drove down to Homer for a three-night staycation; we went on a fishing charter. I learned how to packraft and flew into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a friend’s epic bachelorette party on the Ivishak River. I had an art opening with Stephan Fine Arts. I trained for a marathon. I hiked Pioneer Peak for the first time.

And I maintained a roughly thirty-hour work week consulting, with breaks for some of the above-mentioned activities.

You’re waiting for the inevitable mic-drop of “and, boy I’m exhausted.” That’s true. Ish.

I am realizing that when I fill up many, contrasting aspects of my interests and life, one complements the other. When I’m living out my truck, I am an excellent consultant. Driving through the high desert for weeks at a time, I can write an essay a day. Training for a marathon helps me build enough endurance to sit fully still for hours focused on a painting. 

I’m working on what I need in order to live a life that is less about a house, and more about experience. At least, for the time being. I’m only 75% clear on what that means exactly, but I think that’s a good start. I’ll be sharing more here as I put my plans in motion!

In the meantime, I know it’s been a while since I wrote. Pictures & inspiration from this past summer below!

Finding presence, without the yoga

Listen: I’ve tried yoga. I’ve tried it so many times. Back when Groupon was a thing, I bought unlimited yoga classes for a month and went religiously. I remember it was very difficult for me not to giggle when everyone’s butts were in the air. I felt irritated at an “ohm” dedicated to something terrible happening in the world (these are all South Anchorage ladies, surely we could dedicate…money?!). And one time during a particularly relaxing class, I fell asleep on my mat.

Now I do yoga like some people smoke cigarettes: socially, occasionally. 

What I am really into is finding ways to be present in my life. 

“Presence” is now an Internet wellness-ism catch phrase. When I think of the word, though, I think of raising my hand in class. Hi, I’m here.

Painting snow is kind of like insta-presence: it requires enormous concentration and trust.

At 35 years old, I’m not old or young, and one thing I’m starting to fully grasp is how my life will culminate in a series of moments. It’s so strange, fickle, and in some ways unfair that I can’t simply create and hold a way of being or feeling that I like for myself – nope, everything that happens to me will be fleeting and yet add up somehow to something bigger.

Good luck figuring that one out, right?

Well, I’m trying.

I think many people try to access this presence in both body and mind through yoga. Think of it as one portal in. This particular portal doesn’t work for me, but I have stumbled on other means.


Just kidding. A few of the ways I bring myself into my own present are through good, genuine connections with friends, family, and colleagues; exercising outdoors with all of my senses – remembering to breathe deep and smell stuff, to notice how a breeze feels on my skin, to listen to birds and trees – and (you know where this is heading) through painting.

Painting at its best is meditation.

I enjoy painting most when I’m relaxed and along for the ride, even though I’m the one in the driver’s seat. Yet, in a sense I’m not. Much of painting for me is intuition. It’s taking one good big belly breath at a time, noticing and focusing on where I am in a piece, and taking small, precise and yet uncharted steps toward drawing a bigger whole. It’s not like I’m painting by numbers. My brain is humming but hopefully not in overdrive, and my lungs feel full of air and hope as I watch myself build something on the canvas.

If I can simply notice, instead of judging myself, I stay in a good zone. Yes, it’s work. But I just keep on holding the bigger picture and taking small steps that eventually continue to grow into something complete.

That something complete is also me. When I’m painting, I’m constantly growing, focused, completely immersed. I’m present. (Hi, I’m here!). That’s one way of being complete; this constant state of motion that’s also grounded in fully sensing the right here. 

That’s blue, right?

My poor old brain. I am constantly trying to feed it things and get it to do stuff for me. I picture it skulking around in the shadows trying to avoid me, wondering how many hours until we get to sleep again.

Sometimes, when a new idea or realization hits, I feel my brain’s movement. It’s laborious and slow, like giant gears on a machine groaning into place. But when it has a really good reason it accommodates, grinding ever-upward until it a new thought sinks and clicks.

The other day, I was working on a painting-in-progress. My thoughts went something like this:

We’re painting sky. Sky is blue. Mix, mix, mix the whites and the blues, oh and a little red – is that right? Oh yes, nailed it. Nice first layer.

Now we’re painting faint mountains; background mountains. They’re – what’s that, they must be navy blue. Head for the blue, some white, and a touch of black. 


[Cue my brain, big dopey eyes wordlessly begging me to not make it continue working, scuttling around frantically for a place to hide from incoming New Information.]

I caught the thought just in time: WAIT, it said. Actually look at the color of the mountain range. Is it what you think it is, or is it something different?

I looked at the mountains and tried to remove my knowledge that they were mountains. I looked at the shapes and what was in them. Suddenly, I saw dark gray with deep purple undertones. A very different shade from what I had initially assumed based on what I know of background mountains.

Meanwhile, my brain begrudgingly lit up – acknowledging the work it had just put in to come to a new conclusion, sure, but also happy to be resting in the glow of new knowledge. 

The painting I was working on – see those background mountains?

Learning new information is pretty easy, especially when it already fits what I already know. The general shape of a mountain, for instance, is not that tough. Filling it in, with all the complexity of color and shade? That’s tougher, particularly when I’m working with something I’ll never fully understand – all the light, depth, subtlety, and majesty of true mountains. My paintings are only a translation between those mountains and the rest of the world, the filter being me.

As an imperfect but striving filter, I am challenging myself to look at what is and not what I assume. This very much hurts my brain, which craves comfort and knowing that background mountains are navy blue. Why do we have to change something that’s served us so long, after all? Can’t we just go to bed already?

The new color brought me closer into those mountains I was painting. I felt that I’d learned something about reality that had always been there yet I’d never seen. There’s something exciting about that exploration, taking place so quietly in the moment where I make a decision to look at something in a new way.

A word, please. On New Year’s resolutions.

You probably think I am about to rail on the futility of New Year’s resolutions. There are plenty of articles out there debunking them. “You’re setting yourself up to fail,” they say. “Outlandish and unrealistic changes in your lifestyle are unsustainable.”

But me? I’m for ‘em. I love me a good New Year’s rezzie, and here’s why.

Okay, so time is a construct, nothing actually magically changes from the end of one year to the start of the next, etc, and yet. We collectively mark the moment in time. It’s an agreed upon time to turn a page; to celebrate a shift. A ball drops, people smooch, fireworks explode (dogs whimper, too many people share fireworks on their social media, we wake up the next morning with champagne headaches which are actually and certifiably the worst form of hangover). 

This was my New Year’s resolution painting from last year. Hiking Lazy. Anyone who’s ever done this haul knows you just take it one step at a time!

Generally we agree to celebrate one year ending and a new one beginning.

With that celebration tends to come reflection. What even happened last year? What were the high and low points? What do we want to keep going in the new year, and what might we want to shift or let go of entirely? What’s our word going into the new year, what’s our commitment – there are so many forms a resolution can take just in terms of how we apply our focus.

We are now one full month into 2021. The coronavirus apparently didn’t take a break to celebrate new year’s, in yet another chapter of its being a soulless virus. A new Administration officially took office, after a riot and before shenanigans on Wall Street. In many ways, the dreaded 2020 marches on, and yet. Didn’t we have a New Year’s? Didn’t those fireworks go off?

What about YOU, though? You and me – we are the rest of the world in so many ways, but also we are not. We have our own personal reflections on the years past and what we want(ed) going into this one. Did you resolve anything? Did you pick a word; a focus? How is it going?

In defense of New Year’s resolutions, yes, they may be based in an artificial notion of time and yes, some may be completely outlandish goals (like any goal, at any time). But there is power in choosing to reflect and then define a purpose and focus in moving forward. New Year’s provides a pivot point; an opportunity to decide what to aim for moving ahead. That aim might be something concrete, like a savings or fitness goal. Or it may be more amorphous, like choosing to focus on feeling or inhabiting your body and mind in a certain way.

There’s lots in this year we can’t control. But we’ve always got ourselves. I’m really happy, one month in to 2021, that I chose to double down again on art. It feels like something deep within me that I can grow and bring into the world more and more. I’m looking forward to where it takes me – and us!

On bettering the world

It’s not lost on me that I’m writing this on this inauguration week in what will likely go down, some way somehow, in history books. I continue to be a firm believer that while as individuals it can feel like we are helpless and powerless, little actions add up to change. If you’re feeling a sense of alarm mixed with detachment and burnout, and the tiny fervent wish that the world would stop being a dumpster fire for even a minute, you’re not alone. 

Here’s what I am doing with that feeling this week:

  1. Focusing on something beautiful.

No, this is neither a commodified Yoga type platitude (#blessed) or an invitation to stick my head in some soothing, aesthetically pleasing sand. 

I believe that I don’t do the world or myself any favors when I’m in a bad way. If anything, if I’m not grounded I’m more likely to react in ways that future-me is unhappy with or not proud of – lash out on social media; bark at a colleague unexpectedly. 

On the other hand, if I can somehow lure myself to at least neutral if not positive, I can act levelly from my own values. Or, at least more levelly. I realize I’m teetering here – there’s a lot out there to spike my heart rate.

So, I chose a painting to work on this week with the kinds of colors I am craving. It’s been slate gray at my house for what feels like eons and I almost burst into tears on a bike ride yesterday when there was enough light to cast my shadow. That’s a check engine light for me. Since I can’t will the sun higher into the sky, I can at least paint about it. I’m focusing on ethereal sunset colors and will soon build snowy branches into the foreground.

2. Picking an action to take and doing it… without telling anyone.

There’s an almost knee-jerk reaction to share absolutely everything with social media. It’s there, right? Likes feel good. Little heart or thumb shaped dopamine hits are momentary flares of something resembling joy. 

But I think the more durable joy and change comes from what isn’t always shared. It comes from a lot of people choosing to do the right thing, whatever that means to us.

Maybe it’s taking advice from a trusted leader on a good phone number to call this week, weighing on a decision maker to do the right thing. It could be making a donation to a trusted organization. It could be reading something that pushes me into a new perspective. Whatever it is, I’ll do it, and know that it’s a thing that took time out of my day and brain space; that someone or something out there got this little push from me up in Alaska. And that if there are enough “me’s in Alaska” consistently doing the right thing, it adds up to change.

I’m not saying don’t encourage others. But I think there is a world right now filled with askers and sharers, and perhaps not quite enough doers. I find that for myself there is an integrity (one of my core values) in fulfilling an action that I think is right, without telling the world. It checks me on my intent. 

All in all, this week I will try to stay focused on the world I want to see while still responding to what is. I hope that by combining both my focus into something better and brighter, combined with day-to-day actions, I can contribute meaningfully and productively to whatever comes next. 

I write this as a small encouragement to others who may be feeling the same way. I really do believe that collectively we can and will make change.

Working small while dreaming big

My kitchen table has seen a lot over the past year.

It’s patiently endured wax spills, as I fully realized the extent to which I’ve become a “candles person” over the pandemic. 

My stepdaughter set up for her remote classes each day during the summer with a smoothie to one side, thick textbook to the other, and her laptop. 

Now, every Friday I pull out my paint supplies and arrange them over the far end of the table. 

The setup is modest. I have an old sheet that I spread out to protect the wood from inevitable paint flecks. An old table easel that has been with me for over ten years (I know because it has an old Nordic Ski Association sticker still affixed to it, somehow) is small but quite functional. My paints live in a big wooden box; brushes fan out from an old giant cottage cheese container and I use an old tin can for water. It must have had tomatoes at some point.

12″x12″ kitchen table work-in-progress painting of the iconic old gas station in the Butte neighborhood of Palmer. Photo taken 1/10/21.

The size of the canvases I work from have contracted alongside the set up. I do 5”x7”, 8”x10”, and when I’m feeling bold, 12”x12”. This is a far cry from the bigger paintings I was completing in my studio space.

What I’ve discovered is that the little paintings go a lot faster. I might start one day, and complete the next if I’m really feeling it. With bigger paintings, it could take me weeks to complete a single painting.

I still give the tiny canvases care. I am choosy about the photos I work from. At the beginning of a new painting, I examine various options and think to myself, where do I want to spend an entire work session? Do I want to stare and really immerse myself in this, or that? 

Sometimes detail on the tiny paintings is painstaking. Especially letters on signs, or tiny silhouettes of people. I have to get those right, or my mind sends up flares that something is wrong.

But when I complete a painting I have this little (literally) springboard into the next. I didn’t plan it this way, but it’s a great way to quickly build back a body of work and build back excitement about what’s to come. I think about someday working day in and day out on a body of tiny paintings; maybe sitting outside, being at a crafts event, or being in a mobile studio taking in a new view as I go. I think about how much people have seemed to connect with and enjoy the tiny paintings, and how they’re more affordable than the larger ones.

There’s something to this. It’s barely a new year, and already I have several new paintings completed. That feels good.

My kitchen table doesn’t seem to mind. This is what it was made for – more use, more time, more activity. I’m grateful to have a simple space that works.

The Plan for 2021

I started 2020, like many of us, on a roll. My art business was picking up, my calendar was full of little tasks and to-do’s; Fridays found me parked in front of my easel painting merrily away. When I wasn’t painting, I was growing my competence and confidence in facilitation and other small business/NGO consulting, playing outside, or spending time with friends.

Then the pandemic hit and the last painting I started, full of greenery, was left on the easel in my public studio half-way finished for months. I vacated my art studio in favor of working safely from home. Finally, I closed down the studio, partially as protest and partly due to Covid-19. During the summer I eased myself into gardening more and working less. I had less to give at that point as a human, and indulging in simply taking in good, green, fragrant sensory input from my backyard at a time when the world was going to shit felt like the right thing to do.

Friends passed through, outdoors or around a fire, but the interior of my home was just for me and Wes. As the months went by and the days got shorter, that interior got fuller and richer. I turned more into myself than I have since I was a teenager. It felt fascinating and indulgent; also limitless and scary. As someone who’s moved around a lot and relishes big change, I’ve always wanted to know what it would feel like to be in one place and go deep; to experience everything one place has to offer and understand things like how the sun hits in a certain way or why a plant grows here but not there. This year I had my opportunity.

But I can only let the world carry me along with it for so long, with no aim beyond my present moment and taking it all in as I go. Going into 2021, I need to set my sights somewhere and pick myself back up. 

Interestingly, when I took some time this past weekend to write down all of the high and low points from the last year and reflect on themes, I noticed that I had more high points in 2020 than I wrote down for 2019. This is despite much less external activity. 

And the themes I’m taking away are all about presence.

What will it be like, I wonder, to both set my sights on where I want to head and pick myself up on a path I am designing, while simultaneously being more fully in each moment as I go and letting it take me along? 

I have big dreams, but this year also taught me that those dreams are realized every step along the way.

So, The Plan for 2021 is grand: I am picking back up on painting and art; I am starting up again modestly with only tiny paintings because it’s what I can do from my kitchen table; I am working toward designing and purchasing a mobile art studio either this year or next. But The Plan is also to feel good; better – not just to take my time, but to fully inhabit it.

I hope that at the end of 2021 I can once again tick off a list of high points that are both external and deeply internal. After all, if 2020 taught me anything, it’s that I live mostly in my own mind, and I can shift much of my own experience by being fully present within it.

Why I’m moving my art studio

Reesa hanging up Black Lives Matter signs in the studio windows in early June, 2020. Afterward we walked downtown to the rally that was organized in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

Recently I decided to close my art studio in the Kaslosky building in downtown Palmer, AK. This was partially due to COVID-19. But what ultimately pushed me to a decision was the landlord insisting I remove the Black Lives Matter signage in my studio windows.

I wrote the full story in an Op Ed published in our local paper, the Mat Su Valley Frontiersman.

But I want to post this here on my website and blog as well. After all, if Black Lives Matter signs are removed and a studio closed with no one who knows about it, what does it matter? For posterity’s sake and so no one wonders where I stand as a human and a small business owner: Black Lives DO matter, and I think that is the barest minimum statement of fact. Although it’s painful to shutter a studio I loved so much, it would be corrosive to who I am and what I stand for to stay. I made a pact with myself that my decision to shut down the studio due to removal of the signage would be paired with amplifying this message through all of my channels, so here we go.

I hope you will take some time to read my piece, which is written with the predominantly white audience of Palmer business and civic leaders in mind. I truly hope, in my heart of hearts, that it sparks reflection, dialogue, and action even in some small way. If it does resonate, keep going. The official Black Lives Matter website is here and in the incredible age of the internet there are a billion other resources right at your fingertips.

I will keep going and find somewhere or something new. This is far from me giving up! This simply marks the end of one phase, and the beginning of something new.

If you’re wondering what to do

Oh, I think we can all agree it’s been an interesting week. I mean “interesting” like when you try a new flavor and hate it but are trying to be polite, or when you meet your friend’s new boyfriend and just…can’t.

I feel like I’ve been handed a new multifaceted prism through which to see the world. Kind of like a geodesic dome extension of my eyes and brain. At its center is me. I’m a very healthy, but also asthmatic, extrovert who paints, writes, and facilitates for a living. I am, by any global standard of living, rich. I am also far from rich. I am extremely fortunate to work remotely already for a living, and to be in the position to be able to stock up on food and cancel upcoming travel. 

Through my prism, I see a world built on a perilous house of cards; a system delicately strung in and of itself where one thread pulls at many others, and those that have the least to give are pulled the hardest. Economic inequality is one dry way to put that. Another way is to say we have a system that’s all about haves and have nots, and if you have already it’s easier to get farther; and if you have not you are supposed to somehow claw your way out of that in a system that is literally rigged against you.

I think of people like me; sure with an underlying condition that makes me susceptible but also with the massive, lucky standing in life to be able to mostly (hopefully) mitigate my risk. I think of healthcare, social, grocery store, delivery, cleanup, hospitality, and really any service worker profession that have varying degrees of choice about exposure. And then I go back to thinking about my reliance on this system.

Summer 01

Here is something green to look at and enjoy

I believe this is a moment in history that is rapidly unfolding so quickly that I, and we, don’t yet have the time to think through each of these lenses of what’s happening – what’s being starkly revealed, exposed, developed. We know some of it already – inequity, for one – but it’s easy to look at that from a dispassionate, academic perspective until we are forced to or force ourselves to confront it.

So, this is what I’m asking everyone this week and in coming weeks. One: take care of yourselves. For me this means eating really well, getting outside, setting up Skype dates with friends to look at ridiculous pop culture trends (and yes, staying up on the memes – I can’t get enough of those). Two: take care of each other. If you’re well and if you’re able, deliver groceries for someone who’s cooped up. Watch the kids. Make a dinner. Call instead of text. But do text the goofy meme. Ask how people are doing. Care. Three: do something for the world. Maybe it’s small; that’s good – share something you’re reflecting on on social media. Write a letter to a decision maker about an issue you care about; write a letter to the editor. Donate to organizations and causes that matter – that GoFundMe that’s going around. The Red Cross. Your local Food Bank. I’m sure there are many other options – can you send food delivery to an E.R.? I don’t know – but if that’s a thing you want to do, explore and do it.

I’ll be hunkering down. I’m doing the social distancing thing; still making all sorts of art and sharing it here. Please, please, please – enjoy it. Our brains can’t be lit up all the time by anxiety without eventually crashing; we need awe and beauty to relax ourselves so that we can function at our fullest. And all of us functioning at our best is what the world needs right now, so don’t shy away from beauty. Seek it out, create it, share it. 

Stay healthy and safe, everyone.


The murky middle

When I first started painting I was 15 years old. I was convinced every single time I started a painting that this would be the one I couldn’t complete.

My paintings then were polished, “perfect”, almost hyper-realistic. I learned by the hair pulling, painstaking, breath holding process of doing; of teaching myself along the way by adhering to strict self-imposed guidelines (which were basically creating whatever was on the photo I was using for guidance; using whatever technique I could to get there). Through this grueling process, painting by painting, I started to learn bigger trends of what worked and what didn’t. Every painting, until I finished it, was an exercise in heart-in-throat persistence to maintain confidence and focus on the bigger picture.

Now, having completed probably 100 paintings, I feel more confident just because of my history that I’ll finish whatever painting I’m working on in a way that feels satisfying and complete.

…And yet. Every painting I set out to complete, somewhere between the beginning (which is always clear, because it’s just about laying out big patterns) and the end (also clear because I feel satisfied), there is a phase where nothing looks right.

In that phase I look at the painting and have real fear. This is the one I won’t be able to do, a voice in the back of my head asserts. It looks like shit, another one chimes in. How are you going to dig your way outta this one?!

McRoberts Fall

This is a good example. I completed this painting recently. It would have been much more painstakingly true to “reality” had I done it when I was younger, but instead I trusted the patterns I was seeing/creating and pushed through until the painting was done. I think the painting embodies both a sense of realism but also movement.

Every time I have to coach myself through the phase, first by reminding myself that it is just a phase, and that it always happens. I have to take deep breaths and give myself an internal pep talk. Stay focused on where you want to go, I tell myself. Continue to try. Lay paint down in layers, see what works, adjust as needed; but above all believe that you can and will get there, and you can’t stop. The most important part of this phase is thinking and behaving with confidence and trust; continuing to move and push forward.

The fascinating thing for me is that I can see how, over time, my paintings have actually come to embody more movement and less fastidious attention to detail. There is something about picking up on trends and gaining muscle memory from tools that allows me to more flexibility in creating the bigger picture I’m trying to attain, without being bound to exactness. An entire painting seems to really come together somewhere in that murky muddle; the exact point where I want to tear my hair out but push myself to keep on going.


Let’s redefine ambition

Up until very recently I would have told you that I lack ambition. 

Backstory: at some point over the past few years I noticed friends and colleagues going far, fast in their careers. They wanted to be the boss. They weighed their life choices carefully; their career fully in the mix of determining where they might want to live or what job they might want to accept.

I thought to myself, huh. I’m not like that. I don’t really want to be the boss; I’m a much happier second in command. And I don’t want to work 24/7.


Ambition is definitely needed to hike up Lazy Mountain, which is anything but.

I must lack ambition. 

At first I felt shame around it, but then I slowly accepted it. I went about my days: rode my bike, saw my friends, went to work, came home. It was spring when it first occurred to me that I might not be ambitious and I remember thinking that everything looked green and new, and wondering if I was just that slow to notice.

Eventually, I stopped comparing myself and in thinking I was behind in some way, and instead stuck my elbows out in my own lane and cheered them on in theirs. Whatever floats your boat, I figured. There are more ways than one to make a life, and I am just curiously not motivated the same way other people seem to be. I “owned” my lack of ambition.

Then, just a few days ago this video by Mel Robbins, a motivational speaker and the kind of forceful female powerhouse I find refreshing, popped up. In the video, Mel asserts that just because you’re not career-focused doesn’t mean you’re not ambitious.

I watched it with my mouth open. This is me, I thought, as she spelled out all the other ways one might have ambition in life. I realized how ridiculous it was that I’d thought I lacked ambition, when actually, in the past year, I’ve made a major career change, I’ve started a small business and opened an art studio, and I have relentlessly pursued adventure and building relationships (existing and new), including with my chosen home of Alaska.

In one sense, I’m left feeling vindication and an even sharper sense of “live and let live” – we all have different focuses in life. But it’s also a stunning reminder of how insidious the urge to compare myself to others can be, even when I think I don’t do that.

Ambition. It comes up in different ways. Maybe, at its heart, it’s just about wanting to immerse myself as deeply in life as possible, and challenging myself one step at a time to do exactly that. Somehow, even with big steps I have been pushing myself to take, I missed that definition. But it feels right.

How to paint snow

It’s white, right?

Great – I’m done here, heading home.

But no. Examine snow, and you’ll see blues, pinks, greys, purples, and even yellows, oranges, and reds. White, sure, yes, but that only typically makes up a small percentage of an overall snowy landscape.

When I stare at snow before beginning a painting, my brain explodes a little. I wonder, as I do 100% of the time before I’ve started, if this will be the one I can’t finish. Snow is complex! Its frozen patterns mimic waves. It holds shadows in often barely discernible patterns. It’s soft and fluffy looking, but…paint is not.

IMG_2523 (1)

First draft of a recent 8″x10″ commission. I laid down the patterns of the snow and the colors until they looked just about right, to fill in more later (next picture).

Before painting snow, I have a little pep talk with myself. I recommend these kinds of pep talks for any aspect of life that at first seems impossible or anxiety-inducing. It goes something like, “You’ve got this, self. Think: confidence! Enjoy it. Put your whole self into it. Keep moving, keep trying, don’t hold on too hard – don’t clench. Be in it. Play.”

Then I set to mixing colors, using the photo I’m working from as a guide.

I lay down a foundation of the dominant color. Maybe it’s a blue shadow tinged with red and a little black to add depth; maybe it’s a lighter, sky color blue mixed with some white to soften it. Often, the color I initially put on the canvas isn’t right at all. I add to my existing mix, or create an entirely new mix and try again until it looks right to me. 

Ideally I get to keep working while the first layer of paint is still fresh, although acrylics dry fast. I add shadows with darker colors – deeper blues, purples, and even black. I create gradations with the colors by lightening up a little here or darkening the edges, starting to blend the snow. Finally, the light – there’s always light, usually dramatic and scary to paint because, what if it’s wrong? I go bold: I load my brush up with pre-mixed white, yellow, orange, or pink. I streak, dot, or schmear the paint across the canvas.


Completed commission. I was thrilled with how the snow turned out – it felt true, to me, to this time of year in Alaska and the casual beauty we have right outside our door.

I resume breathing, and take a step back from the canvas. I examine. I unfocus and refocus my eyes. Sometimes I use my phone to look at the picture through the camera lense. Oddly – I can’t explain why this is – doing that helps me see the totality of the painting in a different way. I can more readily pick out if colors or shapes are off, and adjust accordingly.

I keep painting and layering onto the snow, again with the patterning of streaks, dots, and schmear (yes, like cream cheese – there’s no other word that quite fits) until the painting looks right. 

Snow is one of the most difficult things to paint, and also the most thrilling to get right. 

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