The Final Journal

My mother kept written journals off and on for most of her adult life. At first, they were straightforward records of day-to-day happenings, holidays, and milestones. Later, she kept a journal she called The Joy Book, with entries about things for which she was grateful.

Last year, after decades of suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, my mother moved to a nursing home. Weighing a mere 70 pounds and with joints so deformed that she could no longer walk or hold a pen well enough to write, she surprised me one day by asking for a journal. Her plan was to keep it on her dresser so that visitors could sign it or leave a note about their visit. My sister bought her a hardbound Italian-made Fabriano Venezia Art Book with heavy weight creamy paper and paired it with a plastic Bic four-color pen. With these incongruous materials, the final journal began.

The entries are mostly brief and primarily from my six siblings and me, my mother’s sisters, and a few dear friends. Day after day, week after week, the entries are almost entirely mundane– a stroll outside, the status of her comfort, notes on the weather, things brought or taken, and references to lots of chocolate milkshakes. Occasionally, I’d take a minute to add a touch of artwork to enliven the pages.

My mother died this week at the age of 81. And as I read the pages of this nearly full book, I see that we wrote for her what she could not write herself. We wrote her final journal. It is a painful reflection on how terribly diminished and boring her days were, but likewise, it is a powerful reflection on caring, compassion, simple joys and pleasures, and the love and support of family…the very things that mattered most to her.

There are lessons here: about gratitude and determination, about the things we leave behind, and about saying what needs to be said long before final words are spoken or written. I’m grateful to have all that captured here, and a lot more, to carry forward.

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Church’s View

Painter Frederic Church (1826-1900) designed every detail of his exotic Persian mansion and expansive surrounding landscape as works of art. Every view overlooking New York’s Hudson River Valley– from every window, door, and balcony– is carefully planned and framed. Every facet of the landscape, including woodlands, open fields, lake, and carriage roads were planned or planted to offer quiet scenes and sweeping vistas no less grand than Church’s spectacular canvases. Olana, as Church named the property, is one of his greatest masterpieces.

It’s also intimidating as hell to paint. In part, that’s because the sky and sweeping views are so vast, and the house—both inside and out—is so full of architectural details. But it’s also Church’s stature as one of the 19th century’s most preeminent American painters that makes it hard not feel small, even foolish, when attempting to paint his view. I took a half hour on Church’s front step to try anyway, and made several smaller sketches from photos later. I much prefer the small stuff, and plan to stick to my own backyard for a while.

Savor the Moment

This is just to say…buy some plums (or tomatoes, corn, or apples). Paint them. Eat them. And savor the moment.

Tips & Techniques- I realize that several of these plums look more like purple potatoes than plums, and you may have artwork that doesn’t quite turn out as you would like, too. One way to “save it” is with text that captures something of your experience. Another is to try again (this is my second attempt—my first had better plums but a less interesting layout). Another is to turn the page and be glad that you took the time to practice.

Under the Porch Light

(Work in progress.) I started this page several weeks ago after we left our porch light on all night. In the morning, a treasure trove of moths clung to the walls of the house. Little by little, I’ve added to the collection. Cooler temperatures have slowed the show, but the giant crane fly was a nice find. There’s room for more…we’ll see what September brings. Click on the image to view larger.

Tips & Techniques– I started with a light pencil outline and then painted a miniature variegated wash on each moth to establish a ground color. Once that dried, I added several rounds of details, working from light to dark. The white moths needed a pale shadow to bring them out of the white paper. Although I started with a size 6 brush, it definitely helped to have some very small brushes in my arsenal. I finished these with a size 1 and 0.