Monday, December 18, 2006

All is Calm, All is Bright

“I love this picture!” I told Pat, showing her a tiny 2-inch-square sketch from her own portfolio. “That sky is so peaceful; it might as well have a Christmas Star.”

“It could,” Pat agreed, eyeing the placid stargazing pooch. “Hmm. I’ve been looking for a Christmas card idea . . . this might work. But I think I’d need to add a few details.”

Knowing Pat and her love of details, I had a hunch that her sweet-dreaming pup wouldn’t remain alone for long. Artists, like writers, tend to add characters when they expand upon an idea. And if anyone can create characters, it’s Pat.

“What about a cat?” Pat demanded, when next we met near the Starbucks kiosk at work. “Do you like cats?”

Okay, I have to confess, my eye was following the cup in her hand. A Grande. Steaming hot. How could I ignore that?

“Um, yeah, sure,” I said, rendered ineloquent by visions of mocha lattes and chai dancing before my eyes. “Cats are fine.”

Weeks later, another Grande in hand, Pat explained that she wasn’t satisfied with the curtains. “They need to be bigger. And I’m thinking about mice. . . .”

Mice? Now, I’m no fan of real-life mice, but Pat’s mice were bound to be fun. “Sure!”

“I should have made her hair like yours,” Pat said, offering me the first print last week, pointing to the dog and cat’s human owner, who had joined them in the picture—complete with Pat’s sly commentary on owner/pet resemblances.

“She’s fine just the way she is,” I insisted, knowing that Pat's Far-Side style take on my image would probably prove all too accurate. "And that star is perfect."

Dear Readers, enjoy.

Love and blessings,


Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Art of Revision

When I first entered Pat’s studio, I immediately noticed that one piece of furniture—a large retro-style wooden wardrobe—was coated with nothing more than basic whitewash. To all minimalist-inclined furniture lovers, the white coating would certainly be ideal; the wardrobe’s lines and style would blend comfortably into any streamlined suburban home.

As settled and demure as the wardrobe appeared, I wasn’t fooled: in Pat’s studio, white paint simply meant that the wardrobe was not fulfilling its bright destiny.

“What are you going to do with it?” I asked, trying to imagine brilliant turquoise skies, sunflowers, and iridescent butterflies drifting across that blank surface.

“I don’t know,” Pat said, frowning at the wardrobe as if it had been defying her for some time. She grabbed two soft black art pencils and handed me one. “C’mon. You can help me think about it.”

To a writer, thinking means scribbling. But to an artist, thinking means sketching, and within thirty seconds, Pat had detailed a thought onto one of the panels. A grandfatherly face peered at me rather drowsily through a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles—on the verge of either telling a story or dozing off to sleep.

Delighted, I timidly mimicked Pat’s style, sketching a counterpart onto the opposite panel. A grandma appeared, equally placid, replete with beaded earrings, a small pursed mouth, and reading glasses sliding down her long nose. I complained about her curls, which had none of the depth and texture of Grandpa’s.

“Well then, just change them,” Pat urged, leading by example, smudging her fingers across Grandpa’s mouth, then his eye, “You can’t hurt the paint . . . see?”

Her casual revision brought an immediate tension to the picture that thrilled my storyteller’s mind. Grandpa now sported a shadowed upper lip and a dark shiner of an eye that strongly hinted at his not-too-placid past. I cast a suspicious glance at Grandma, wondering if she’d had anything to do with that shiner. She did look smug. Actually, the longer I studied Grandma, the more I feared that any further sketching or revising on my part would bring out her true nature. Villains have a way of threatening to take over an entire story, and I wasn’t about to unleash this gal in Pat’s cheery angel-decked studio, beads or no beads.

“You understand . . .” Pat hesitated, stepping back from the wardrobe, contemplating the elderly couple, “they aren’t going to stay this way.”

“Oh, I understand,” I replied, wondering if counseling could help the pair, never mind how many years they’d been married.

Pat chuckled. “I’ll probably change them into cats or dogs.”

Squinting at Grandpa and Grandma, I revised them yet again. Perky ears, facial fur, and a few more spots on Grandpa . . . . It might just work.
No counseling needed.
Blessings, Dear Reader!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sometimes, I’m like a cat . . .

Why has Pat Janssen Hall’s “CAT” picture so enticed me? Of all the marvelous pastels and sketches on Pat’s studio desk, I kept coming back to this mournful critter. Look at him. He’s so sleek and well-fed that I should hear him purring. But there’s nary a purr emanating from this sketch. Instead, I can almost hear him groaning.
And Pat is such a sunny gal; why would she draw such a gloomy-Gus Cat?
“Why is he so unhappy?” I demanded, laying the picture in front of its creator.
Cheshire Pat smiled. “Look at his eyes.”
Obedient, I looked. And I saw . . . Fish.
Beautiful, cat-food-perfect fish.
Never mind that Cat has obviously just finished ten courses of Nine Lives.
He wants more.
Never satisfied.
I laughed and returned the picture to Pat. “How human of him!”
At the end of our visit, Pat generously allowed me to take home a portfolio of her drawings. Chief among these was Cat.
By now, this frustrated feline has all of my understanding, if not pity. Reflected in those dark fish-longing eyes, I see much of my author-self.
I ought to be satisfied with my work and enjoying the gift the Lord has given me. But too often, I want more.
I want my writing to be so perfect that editors rejoice. I want to scribble every story in every language and every genre—okay, almost every genre—in the known world. I want to write poems, epics, songs, and pen marvelous quips to make others laugh.
I want-want-want.
Very Cat of me.
Could it be the tuna I had for lunch?

Blessings, dear Reader,


Pat's desk, 2006

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

As a writer, I love to create images with words. When readers send notes saying, "I could taste the food!" or "I felt like a fly on the wall, watching everything in your book!" then I'm grateful, knowing that I've managed to convey the image in my mind to readers.

Often, I've wished I could put those same images into an actual drawing, but my sketches and dabbings of paint rarely meet my expectations. How I envy and enjoy artists who can snatch paints or pencils and pour their thoughts onto paper, providing a genuine visual feast for onlookers.

You can imagine my delight when I learned that a precious friend, Pat Janssen Hall, is exactly that sort of artist. When you meet Pat, she glows. Her laughter echoes warmly, and her dark eyes sparkle with mischief and a pure joy of life.
Pat conveys this warmth and her own sense of whimsy through her art. And when I write "whimsy," I do mean whimsy!

How many artists use a couch as a canvas?

Moreover, this languid lady and her drowsing dog [forgive me, Pat, that the dog is caught in the glare!] are in a world of their own, floating on an island of lily pads and goldfish, surrounded by water bubbles and large, sparkling, hand-applied crystals.

There's a story here . . . . in a distant place Pat has created for dreams.

Some images don't need words.


Blessings, Dear Reader,