The Cat Who Wants Too Much

Our cat, Hopkins, at eleven months, well over thirteen pounds.

When the tiny tabby, just over two pounds, arrived from the shelter, we were warned that he was spicy and bitey. One of the smallest cats we ever hosted, but full of will and want. A silver brown tabby, with eyes turning gold.  He was always leaping, bouncing and hopping. In the first days when we needed to keep him separate from our other older cats to start the gentle introductions between them, whenever we entered the room, he would greet us bounding towards us on his hind legs, front arms outstretched as if to grab us in a hug. 

Hopkins at the shelter being vaccinated. Note the woman’s hand holding him for scale.

But Hopkins was bitey, yes, frenetic, yes, and we knew while this was cute the cuteness would not last longer than his tininess. To have a grown mid-sized predator on your hands without some calmness and kindness towards humans, who lack fur to protect them from enthused play, is a scenario that loses its humor quickly. 

We named him Hopkins, in salute to Gerard Manley Hopkins and his poem ‘Pied Beauty’, for if ever a tiny cat had speckles, dashes and spots, this one did. We had a guest at the time, a young man who was so skilled in animal handling that I wish he had decided to use those skills as his career. This man took on the handling of Hopkins, letting him play ferociously, wrestling his tiny savage self with firm hands, and actually demonstrating for our five-year old cat Watson, how to play with a kitten on overdrive.

Hopkins around three months.

We’ve raised a lot of kittens in our time, but we’d never seen a kitten so hyper as Hopkins. He had a royal presumption about him, a feeling of the feral, the untamable, even though he loved us and wanted to be close and cuddled, and liked to sleep in a padded box by my pillow. Indeed we wondered, was there any chance there was some splash of an exotic breed in this kitten that made him so much more so, than one normally expects? 

Watson and Hopkins, early days.

Watson did not know what to do with this scrap of energy, and it took a lot of sessions of our young man demonstrating how to spin a kitten on the carpet and roll or flip him over with a quick hand. Watson showed signs of conflict in himself– he would cry when he saw the kitten bite a human hand like someone objecting “That’s not right!” He would make little essays and charges, then deflect or retreat as though afraid of hurting the miniature monster. Finally, one evening, Watson dashed in and bashed the kitten with a paw, claws hidden. After that, one bit at a time, he began to understand he could play with the mite and hit him, and even gently bite. It took weeks, though, and our friend had to continually encourage Watson with advice and example.

We lost our oldest cat Kitsune in this time period to a cancer of the throat, and again, our young friend demonstrated his skills as an animal handler during that difficult time. But our friend soon responded to a call from his home, headed back through a dip in the COVID numbers, and we missed his kind presence. Hopkins showed the loss, he kept looking for his friend, checking by the door to no avail.

In the meantime  Hopkins grew. From just under three pounds he stretched and bulked to six, then eight, then ten. We tried to keep him exercised and much handled, something that you want to do with any young animal who will be a companion. He was profoundly affectionate, attentive, but still rough. It concerned us, but we hoped he’d mellow in time as he reached his adulthood. But when would that be, and how big was he going to be? 

I should also mention that this was a young cat who, if you played with him using wand toys, showed a truly daunting ferocity, a dedication and even savagery in his behavior, such that I was concerned that if Watson played too, someone would get hurt, and I was very careful when I put the toy away that I used some sleight of hand, because what if Hopkins seriously objected?

About six months into his life with us, we received news from our daughter that there were two newly captured feral kittens in desperate need of a home. They came from a feral colony near her place, the same colony that had given her a rather problematic but character-ful black cat of her own, all too fittingly named Ravage. It took us no time at all to say yes. The little guys arrived in October, weighing perhaps four pounds each, black with greeny gold eyes. Jinx and Jasper.

Two feral bits of feline.

Our planned careful introduction of Watson and Hopkins (who now weighed over ten pounds at about seven months) to the little guys was not as slow as we’d planned because there was a jail break and the next thing we knew we had a malestrom of cats playing, playing and playing, all over the place. Curiously, it was Watson who made all the noises, sounding like a querulous baby, as if trying to say “I don’t know how to play, be nice to me. don’t bite so sharp. don’t hit so hard,” while the little black kittens and Hopkins were dashing and rolling, play biting and batting all over the house.

What we discovered, was that like some miracle, Hopkins’ roughness melted. He’d needed kittens to tame him. Now he played and rumpused and rioted, but he did no harm. He became far gentler with us. He had always distinguished between my husband and myself and been softer with me, but now we saw him, despite his huge enthusiasm, being even more careful yet, with his new kittens. 

Hopkins before the arrival of his new kittens. Wound up and ready.

Is this the cure for some overly energetic and predatory young cats? Find them some kittens to teach them kindness? I don’t know if this would work for all. But in our household over many decades of living with cats, we have seen the falling in love between young fixed male cats and tiny kittens, and it is a marvel when this magic happens. Seeing a young powerful cat contemplating his kittens with a loopy tender affection is wonderful.

Hopkins and Jinx and Jasper.

I could string you a sequence of names of the cats we’ve had who have done this while we watched, and our hearts melted. Hopkins is now over thirteen pounds of cat at approximately eleven months, and we are grateful for his transformation!

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Banana Cream Pie

Bananas cause strong reactions in people. If you like them, I suggest you may enjoy my personal banana cream pie recipe. If you do not like bananas, don’t waste your time trying this, because it is indeed deeply banana flavored.

Most of the past recipes for this dessert that I’ve eaten have been tremendously over sweet, often using meringue, or heavily sweetened pudding. This one pushes towards a more refreshing note, though it doesn’t lack sweetness. There are three main ingredients, the pie crust, the pie filling and the topping. Chilling is part of the process– though it is not an intensive job to make this, it does need refrigerator time. 

First, make and prebake a simple crust. Not a crumb or cookie based or graham cracker based crust, instead a simple slightly salty plain crust pastry. 

1 1/2 c all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt,

1/2 tsp sugar

1/3 cup od cold butter, chopped up a bit

2 TB grapeseed or other flavorless oil

1/3 cup ice water with a squeeze of lemon or lime in it

Preheat oven to 423 F.

For fast production, place dry ingredients in your Cuisinart, throw in the butter and zap until finely mealy. Put in the oil with the machine still running. Stop and toss the result into a bowl, dripping or drizzling the lemon ice water in, while tossing the pastry crumbs with a fork. Treat tenderly and toss to combine until the crumbs have begun to gather. With your hands, gently press together this dough into a rough round shape, flatten with a light hand and then roll out on a preferably cold or cool surface. I love a flat circular pastry rolling bag for this, and a French or Chinese rolling pin.

 Keep your touch light, and when your crust is round and thin, settle it well into a 9″ pie pan. Prick it all about with a fork — you can use pie weights or beans to keep the crust perfectly unbulgy, or if you are like me, you will simply check on it in the oven after about five minutes and poke any bulging parts with your fork to make them collapse.  Place the pan in your preheated oven and bake until nicely browned, roughly ten minutes, then cool to room temperature.

Next, make the filling pudding by taking a stout cooking pot, and mixing together:

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup of sugar

3 tablespoons flour.

Mix thoroughly. Take 1 1/4 cups of milk and warm in the microwave about one minute, you want it warm but not steaming, or you will cook the flour in the dry mix too fast on contact and make it lumpy.

Take an egg and beat it to break up the structure a bit in a pyrex pint measuring cup using a fork– leave the fork in it.

 Slowly blend warmed milk into dry ingredients in pot. Then bring this mixture to a boil, cooking after lowering the heat so it doesn’t stick, for two minutes. Remove from heat. Temper hot mix into eggs, beating fast as you add each spoonfull so you don’t end up with curdled eggs. When you’ve mixed about half the hot material into the egg you can then mix the eggy part back into your pot. Turn stove back on and bring the mixture to a bubble, then remove from heat and allow to cool. While still warm, add a tablespoon of butter and a teaspoonful of vanilla extract. Turn into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. When its heat is moderate, let it rest in fridge. 

When the cooked pudding is getting quite cool, (close to refrigerator interior temperature,) take three large ripe bananas and peel and slice them, drizzling lightly with lemon or lime juice. Fold into the cooled pudding mixture.

Take a cup and a half of extremely cold whipping cream, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, a package of whipped cream stabilizer and three tablespoons of sugar, and whip together until well stiffened and easily forming peaks. 

Fill the cooled pastry shell with your banana and pudding mix, cover with the whipped cream and serve.

Here’s my pie waiting for the whipped cream….

This is a pie that must be stored in the refrigerator and kept cold. With the stabilized whipped cream, this pie will stay in fairly good shape in the fridge for perhaps three or four days. Some people like to add dark rum when whipping the cream for the topping, others like to drizzle some on the pie at serving. I think it’s just fine without! The bananas have a surprisingly emphatic presence in this pie.

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Two Cats

        I found this older post that I never put up, so I’ll share it with you today.

        Look, I know my Little Watson is a pig. He loves food, he’ll take any extra licks he can get. He’ll deftly sneak in under a friend’s whiskers to get that extra bite. Later, he’ll go after the final few molecules with that efficient tongue, polishing all the bowls. But not tonight. He has known Kitsune, our ‘fox’ cat for over five years now, and has always been willing to slip over and enjoy Kit’s food, so what was different?

IMG_0236

            Tonight Kitsune came back from the vet. After a dental cleaning under mild sedation, Kit was extra impaired, staggering with aftermath sleepiness, pupils dilated, drooling down his chin and white ruff.  Nothing to eat for Kit since last midnight, so he was truly ravenous.

            Most days when I feed these two, I sit by to make sure Little Watson doesn’t come in to sneak Kit’s food. Most nights. that’s my job after serving their meals and it’s always Watson who invades the other bowl and has to be removed.

            I looked up after a few minutes tonight, to see a complete reversal. Here we had Kit, who’d bolted down all his own dinner, setting his muzzle deep into Little Watson’s barely half-eaten meal. Astonishing also, because Little usually finishes half a minute ahead of Kit. This time, Little Watson had backed off, and was watching, dare I say wistfully, as Kitsune munched down Watson’s food. There was no confrontation, indeed, if there were any struggle, my money would be on Little Watson, not Kit, to carry the day. Watson’s a powerful, assertive little cat despite his bad left eye.

            I intervened, moving Kit back to his dish, which had a scant trace remaining in it, and returned Little Watson to his. Watson started eating, with zest. Nothing wrong with his appetite. Kit leaned over, took a sideways step and then another, leaned harder, hopeful, …and Little Watson, my glutton, stepped back, like an invitation. Settled down into the cat becomes an egg position to permit his friend to eat. What is a human to do? Well, suspecting that Kit might be sick from overindulgence, I ended up removing Little Watson’s food, and offered it separately to Watson. He ate a little from my hand, but Kit lunged over, wanting more– and yet again, Little Watson backed off as though to say, friend, you need it more. It felt like kindness, it looked like generosity. I’ll call it both.

Watson looking back copy

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To Tell the Truth

            November is nanowrimo month– National Novel Writing Month. Without a plot, without a plan, I sat down and started a new story, hoping it might bring me to a conclusion by month’s end and the 50,000 words of a new novel that the nanowrimo experience aims to produce. 

            My heroine Veronica, known as Ron, has polished her new app, which she hopes will take the world by storm. She aims it at the media, believing that this app will allow everyone to tell truth from lies. Applied to photos, videos or voice recordings, her app highlights even the most subtle of discrepancies or differential sources, so that no one need be misled ever again. Why does she care? Because her young husband has slipped deep into a conspiracy cult that has cobbled together an alternate reality in which he lives, and he will not, and cannot, allow her to try to lead him out. 

            Ron, idealistically, thinks the best thing to do with her app is to send it out to the world, spreading it to all media that she can think of, and to universities and other institutions. She hasn’t thought about how much it will be hated by all political parties. She hasn’t considered the international elements who will be threatened in their efforts to manipulate the world stage. She never imagined that advertisers would have blood in their eyes as soon as they realize what this app could do to their sales. Truth in advertising? Never! So she panics and goes on the run, assuming that if she just gives this app a day to spread, the simple fact that she gave this away for free will protect her as soon as these outraged and menacing elements realize what she’s done. She’s not putting it out for bid, she’ll not sell to the highest bidder or blackmailer, there’s no putting this genie back in the bottle. She just has to disappear until the pace of the news catches up and makes her safe and uninteresting once more.

            What happens when you send an announcement of a truth-revealing app to the media, with the free app attached? Well, who values something given away for free? What idiot would simply open a free app and try it? No one who’s read about identity theft…. Ron has become too accustomed to the free and easy ways between programmers, and she’s been so deep in perfecting her app that she hasn’t stopped to think.

            But there are some elements out there, including her husband’s cult, that understand the power of her offering and they are frightened. They believe it will be possible to put this genie back in the bottle if they can get hold of the author and however many copies she’s carrying with her in a pocket full of memory sticks. Some are even willing to give her a price for it.

            As she realizes she is actually being pursued, Ron panics, and does her best to slip through the busy streets of her city. When she is captured and interrogated, she begins to see a very different price for her work, and a very different value.

            It takes a thug to remind her of the basic truth, that you cannot make a person change his mind. Force doesn’t work. Even an app, can be seen as force. What happens to Ron, what unexpected friends rise to the challenge of allying with her, what the final price may be for her peace, these questions drive.

            I have never been so seat-of-the-pants in writing an unplanned novel before. I don’t usually have a great fondness for outlines, but this was surely one of the wilder writing efforts I’ve ever tried. Is it any good as a novel? Oh, it likely has holes big enough to drive a semi tractor-trailer truck through, but it’s been such a ride, I won’t worry too much about that until this draft is done! I’m at 47,849 words today.

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Carry On

I’m concerned, hearing more people talk about relaxing their covid regimes.

“Oh, it’s fine, I’ve met up with them before,” one woman I paused to talk with on my walk said about her plan to spend Christmas with sixteen family members from three states, in a rental house in Oregon.

“We saw each other in August.”

“But isn’t the question what they’ve been doing since you met them?” I said. “It’s the going out and shopping, the kids at school, and doctor appointments…?”

She waved a dismissive hand. “It’ll be fine. We’re all family.”

“Well if you’re all masked that will help,” I say, letting my doubt show.

“It’s okay,” she says again, but looks away, and I don’t believe she’s saying they will all mask. “Masks, it’s so hard to find any that fit. Besides, you can’t live in fear.”

A quote at which I decide I don’t care any more. But now, hours later, I’m a bit ashamed. Of course I do care. Covid doesn’t distinguish between relatives or intentions, fear or bravado. It only wants opportunity. But I have a sad feeling that nothing I could say would take the shine off this woman’s plan with the lovely house in Oregon and her sixteen relatives from three states.

Please, friends, be careful. Don’t drop your guard. Don’t let the weariness of this strange and strained regime we try to follow get your guard down. We can still do this. And we must still care.

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A Change in Pace

Working in the studio during this lockdown seems so unchanged, and yet the news is ever on my mind, challenging my concentration. I cannot believe the latest series I’ve produced is unaffected.

I pulled up a lot of images of persimmons — not the ones I grow, but my neighbor Ginny’s Hachiyas. I also opened up my sketchbooks and found my drawings of persimmons on my passageway counter, plus the dried persimmon leaves I saved from last fall.

This set of three paintings are the results of my staring at these various items and rearranging them in my mind. I plan on at least two more before I go to some other topic….

Here’s an image showing how I start, a rough sketch in colored chalk — complete with rub-outs, and a placement of my darkest darks.

Here’s how that sketch ended.

And since I waited I can now show number five.

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Garden Hours

morning harvest mid July 3

I wander through the garden before the warmer hours and blinding sun are full on, (cataracts make a difference in the dazzle when you’re outdoors, even with a hat.) Hanging from the netting, beans beckon, fistfuls of NorthEasters, a superb Roma type stringless and of superb flavor, Carminat long and slender the color of garnets in sunlight, and the old staple from the 1850’s, Kentucky Wonder. Then I must pay some attention to the Oriental Express eggplants, gleaming curves so purple they verge on black and shining smoothly under fuzzy leaves like felt.

Tomatoes next, a puzzle of which can be left one more day to bring their sweetness up– but please pick before any one goes mushy. Black Krim, Amish Pink Paste, Cherokee Black, Brandywine, Striped German, Japanese Trifele, Marbonne, Nepal, Indigo Cherry, Rose, and of course Sungold. Who creates these names? Purple kale, cucumbers (Piccolino are fantastic),then some sprigs of rosemary, basil and a handful of hot peppers, Serrano of course.

kale and tangerines

I set the basket in the moving shade of our sycamore tree then take another basket to go after fruit. My navel oranges, Washington and Roberts are mostly past, so I take a few Fremont tangerines, three Mexican limes, some Eureka lemons, late-season apricots (only good for cooking), Dapple Dandy plumcots and a few ready-to-fall Pettengill apples. The first and second plantings of zucchini have given up but I have some nearly grown new plants out, and there will be more squash before two weeks are past. Pleanty for my give-away box at the end of the driveway.

Which reminds me, there’s been a wonderful aspect to this time, in that people are responding to that give-away in more personal and enthusiastic fashions. We receive envelopes with greetings, bottles of preserves made from our produce, and even though the bin has a big sign on it “FREE–GRATIS!” I’ve found embarrassing presents of money in it. I have a small collection of the hand-written notes, and fine memories of people calling out with a thank you or a description of what delicious meal they made with our produce.

It’s enough to keep me busy, planning meals around this garden’s generosity, but don’t forget, the corn’s ready too. Lovely ears only marred by corn borers. Does anyone know why corn borers are so variegated in hue and pattern? Are they really several species of these aggressive moth children, with an identical fondness for sweet corn? But they look the same to an uncritical eye when they emerge from their pupae. You’d think on such a diet they would reward the eye with colors and pinwheels of pattern, but no…dusty brown gray is all we get for the loss of tasty kernels.

Yesterday I set several sixpacks of soil I seeded with eggplant, zucchini, and even a few tomatoes into the coldframe my husband rebuilt. You look at me askance. Coldframe? It’s summer isn’t it? Yes, indeed it is, but remember we have an ocean influence here, so our nights drop into the fifties most of the year, even in summer. And temperature, as my father taught me, is vital in encouraging germination. I don’t know if he would have shaken his head over my trying a few late tomato sets, but I think it’s worth the experiment. I’ll report later, how that goes. The sun’s on full, and I’m retreating to think about food.

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Night Must Wait, new edition in 2020

I spent a while resisting working on formatting my novel Night Must Wait for a revised edition release as an e-book, because I was lazy and didn’t feel like I wanted to learn a new set of skills. The rights to the book reverted to me some years ago from the original publisher, but I kept finding reasons why I wasn’t ready to sit down and grind through the process. I didn’t have a new cover painting–that was one excuse. Those of you familiar with this blog probably will laugh pretty hard hearing that excuse, knowing how many paintings I paint a year!

But I’ve done it. I figured out the rules of reformatting, and I took a section of an existing painting out of my past oils of Nigeria, and I navigated obtaining a new ISBN (you can’t re-use the ISBN the original publisher gave the book because that number belongs to them and this is a new edition with many changes, deletions and completely different spacing,) and I managed to get the copyright registered with the Library of Congress. If any of you are considering working out the process for your own book, you can settle for the free AISN that Kindle will give you and you don’t have to get an LCCN. I wanted these extra things because I’m vain about this book, its subject matter and characters and I think the text has legs for the long run. I also have seen how various on-line ‘free’ book sites have stolen it over the years, and that made me mad. Not so much because of the theft, but because they butchered the book! You couldn’t read the hash they made of my poor novel!

How hard was this to do? Not so bad. The ISBN and LCCN processes were the most anxious parts. Reformatting? Two days and a half of intense work.

So, here are my hopes. I priced low because I want people to read this story. I also signed up for free promotions; thus, if you have a Kindle Unlimited account you’ll find the book is free right now.

If you want to do me a great favor, download it, and when you have an opinion, put in a ranking and even a one-sentence review. In my estimation, even a ‘bad’ review is better than no review. As a writer I’m still working on becoming a better writer– I’m not done yet. Input helps. Bear this in mind too, for any other writers you know– the best gifts you can give to any of us are to obtain the book and leave a review. Once a fellow writer couldn’t read a book of mine– she apologized because she found it too disturbing. and dark. I asked her to leave it a one-star review, please, and to give her reasons. But she was too kind, and thus, my profile still lacks that one-star review! (By the way, she has read and enjoyed Night Must Wait, and honored me with a review of it.)

Now you ask, what’s the story? A historical thriller set in 1960’s West Africa, in Nigeria.. I’ll give you a version of the back cover blurb:

Four best friends from college– but one is a liar and a murderer. They went to Nigeria to seek adventure and satisfy ambition, yet none foresaw civil war erupting in the country. War tears them apart, but one of them plans to sacrifice them all to her purpose, unless something or someone stops her.

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The Halyard h600 Mask

1 complete 2

I’ve made several masks of different types since leaving you with the brief description of one that worked. But I do have a new favorite, very fast to cut and sew, and the best fit yet. If you look at the models of what happens when you sneeze inside a mask you’ll see that the leakage from the sides can be a real issue. This mask does far better–even though I admire the Olson, which can take a coffee filter in its front pocket…lovely idea, but not as good a fit.

I was inspired by this video,   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZBbkn-g-vE   and then made up my own template of which I will share a scan.

4 scan pattern

I really like the material this young professional recommends, the Halyard h600. But let me note that if you wash it, it will lose its waterproof qualities and become no better in its function than any other fabric mask, except that it may fit better, which is after all one of the reasons to try it– it is endurable in warm weather because of its lightness and breathability. You can either put is aside for a minimum of 72 hours after one wearing, or cook it at 165 F for thirty minutes (per University of Florida College of Medicine, Dept of Anesthesiology.) Bleach or other cleansers will degrade the material. In the pursuit of completeness, I also must note here that Lancet had the observation that particles of this virus can persist on fabric for seven to ten days, a truly dismaying figure. I understand this finding is being contested, and if I find out it has been amended, I will later try to get an edit in on this page. Or perhaps one of you will correct this!

2 Halyard h600 fabric

The Halyard h600 comes in large sheets, two-layered. Cut out the mask template so that you have the double mask shapes, one blue one white, then cut two strips of  the double-layered 24″ Halyard. The strips you’ll split into four pieces by pulling apart the layers. Take 24″ pieces of pure cotton twine , lay one down the center of each strip and sew the twine into the fold, thus creating four flat ties, two for each side of the mask. No need for perfection, just function.

4 ties

4.5 tie strap on s m

Sew along the top nose line of the mask, stitching the two layers together. Cut a piece of flexible stout wire, (number 5 is good,) and bend the tips in so no cutting edges are where they will poke through your mask. Shape this to fit the curve along the top nose part of the mask and stitch this into place, essentially pocketing it.

3 wire bent A5 how nose wire will fit between

This photo shows final placement of the nose wire, but it’s much easier to first sew the two layers together along the top, insert the wire in this orientation, and then pocket it in place by stitching through both layers to trap the wire firmly.

6 nose wire 2

Attach the flat ties to the mask with zigzag stitching for security, giving some attention to the angle at which they attach so that they will pull the mask appropriately against your face without creating rumples.

7 attaching ties A

Now stitch the two side darts, making sure you catch all layers of the Halyard fabric without gaps. As you can see from my photos I have become very fond of the cloth sewing clips which have one huge advantage of leaving no holes in your mask other than the ones the sewing machine must make!

8 dart pre s A

9 chin stitching

Last, sew the chin angles together. Try it on, molding the nose wire to your nose, and see if you need to re-set any of the ties or resew any gaps. If not, you are done. If you can do a fit test, please do!

11 complete

Tie the top tie up high, above the ears or across them so that the edge is uncomfortably close to your lower eyelids. Then tie the lower tie snugly behind your head, which should draw the mask down so that you can wear it comfortablt. Mold the nose wire tio fit your nose and you should be good to go.

 

 

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Painting in progress– chaos

fin ptg cropt

Above you see the finished work. I’m not sure I’m going to actually call this painting “Chaos” because it is actually too ordered for that, but I think the subject matter is one of those challenges for the painter that are inspiring. The landscape in question is out in no particular beauty spot by customary rules. It’s a batch of brush and struggling trees on the edge of an open area that has gone dry with the end of summer, and the pale stems of grass and tree branches form an interplay of old and dead and retreating. This comes from my last year’s sketchbook, and a scribbled shape on a page, enriched by memory.

I paint generally in arepresentativemode,veering at times into fauve and often circling around impressionism. Here is a sequence of shots I took as I put this painting together. There’s a bit of glare on these shots for which I apologize– looking at the camera at the time I thought I’d done better!

ptg stage 1 goodptg stage 2 gl

You can see how the underlayment of structure rescues the piece from the chaos in the title of this blog post!

fin ptg cropt

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