I got lost looking at the peacocks.

I got lost looking at the peacocks.

“Leaves a Trail Behind Her” 36×48, oil on canvas

I wrote about how I got the title for this painting on instagram back in October. I told the story of how when I was a kid, okay not just a kid, a young adult too, my Dad used to say quite often, “Oh that Denise, she always leaves a trail behind her.” In other words, I was a mess. I’d open a granola bar and leave the wrapper on the counter, inches away from the trash. I’d use a pen and leave it out, the cap resting somewhere nearish but not easily discoverable. My clothes were rarely in drawers. In college, my roommates used to joke about how I’d sleep on the tiniest sliver of my bed, the rest taken up by books and whatever other materials I’d used that day. 

My kids do all these things now and probably to a lesser degree, and it drives me batshit crazy. What’s life without at least a dash of hypocrisy? Or maybe retribution. 

In my post, I said I like to think that all those trails led me somewhere. I think what I meant is that I think I may have learned, eventually, how to leave better trails– how to take up space with my voice and my art rather than all my trash, my discarded projects, my oblivion to who might come behind me. 

I may remember this the next time I pick up yet another ramen wrapper from the counter. I may, as I wipe the dust of the flavor packet remnants into the trash, think about what kind of other trails they will leave behind them, how we are not really so different at all. I might. 

I started thinking about this because someone purchased a print of “Leaves a Trail Behind Her” this morning and inquired about whether or not there had been a blog post about it. I sent her a screenshot of the original instagram post. She responded by telling me that she’d picked this piece because there were peacocks that lived in the rehab center where her dad resided a couple days before he passed away. She said he was very confused and sick at the time, but made her laugh when he said, “I got lost looking at the peacocks.”

I loved that. Maybe it’s okay to be messy and lost sometimes. Maybe the child becomes the parent before she’s ready or before she even realizes it.  Maybe the trails we leave are littered and overrun but take us somewhere worth going anyway.


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Alfred and Mary


In my last post, I wrote about the new series of paintings I’m developing based on Mary Oliver’s poem “Invitation.” In this series, I’ve been changing up two things. First, I’m using cold wax medium in the paint which amps up the texture as well as gives the paint this waxy, translucent quality I really love. Second, I’m painting quite a few faces, real human faces with eyes and noses and protruding chins– you know, the whole nine. 









My love affair with Oliver’s poetry has been going on for a couple years now. For me, reading it is almost more of a spiritual than a literary pursuit. Her poetry is the only thing I read from a real, hard-covered book and not a screen. Sometimes I make tea or light a candle. It feels sacred. When I close the book, I feel more calm, more hopeful, more secure. 

But it wasn’t quite so long ago, or maybe a very long time ago depending on how you look at it, that I had a different favorite poet. I first encountered T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock” as a teen in the nineties. I clung to it, quoted it, read and reread it, and memorized most of it for at least the next twenty years. In fact, in college I did a series of paintings (two pictured below) based on one line from the poem: “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”










If you’ve not read the poem, I still highly recommend it, although I’ll warn you that the speaker is a tortured, self-important, middle-aged balding man who catastrophizes, worries, and obsesses. He is, quite frankly, exhausting. But I loved it (and still do) because it’s gorgeous. It also speaks to my own self-deprecating and still egoistic tendencies. I felt the closest to Prufrock in my early twenties when I wanted to tell a boy I was interested in him and thought the whole universe hung in his response. Turns out, and I know this might surprise you, it didn’t. 

In the fourth stanza, there’s this phrase I’ve long carried with me– “Prepare a face to meet the faces you will meet,” and as I’ve been painting these faces, I keep thinking of it. It’s like what we do on instagram– prepare a certain face to present to other highly cultivated and curated faces. I’m funny! I’m quirky! I’m important! Meanwhile, underneath the prepared face, aren’t we sometimes just little insects “formulated, sprawling on a pin…wriggling on the wall” under the close inspection of others? 


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Prufrock says, of his mundane dilemma to ask a love interest a question, that he has “wept and fasted, wept and prayed” while in “Wild Geese” Oliver reminds me that  “you do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.” In Prufrock’s mind, he can “disturb the universe” by simply asking a question, whereas Oliver suggests in many of her poems and literally in “Wild Geese” that despite our despair and longings, “the world goes on.”

Armed with the poetry from two very different seasons of my life, I have been preparing faces to meet yours, but I hope they will do so in honesty and not in fear. I hope they are more Oliver than Prufrock; I hope they will invite you to linger as they have me.

These paintings have beckoned me to pause and to get out of my own head. I want each one to remind me that the universe does not hang in the balance of either my thoughts or my art, and therefore, both are free to just be part of it. Part of the universe and not at war with it– what a lovely notion. I’m working to let go of the strain and agony of my more Prufrock self and settle into the “rather ridiculous” performance of the goldfinches that are everywhere performing “not for your sake or for mine but for sheer delight” in my new paintings. 

Day 27. Around the Water Cooler.

“Taking a Break” 4×4, oil on canvas. Buy Now

Here’s the thing– by day 27, I’ve got all these stacks of paintings– some finished, posted pieces and others I just keep fooling around with and not really getting anywhere. 

But sometimes I just can’t finish a painting that feels 98% finished. My work days involve just me. I don’t have a water cooler to go to and talk smack to co-workers about how well my fantasy football team is doing (which is why I suppose I’m telling you that very true fact! Someone must know!). 

So my water cooler is this: today’s painting and the tiny, tiny little birds I so often find myself painting when I need to think about the other stuff. They are my breaks. I can work out some painting issues on them before trying it out on other surfaces and other subjects. Fortunately, after three years, they tend to come quite easily, and they renew my resolve. Without them, I’m afraid I would have skipped many of these 31 days or posted paintings long before they were ready. With only five days left, I’m hoping I can complete a few of the “almosts” in my stacks. But until then, here’s another water cooler painting. 

Day 21. What Counts and Doesn’t.

“Chickadee on Green” 4×4, oil on canvas Buy Now

It’s the weekend of wedding paintings, I’m packing my bags in Florida and heading back to Louisiana for another one this evening (photos coming soon). 

It’s funny. I’ve been determined this month to not let any of my weddings “count” as one of my thirty-one paintings this month. They just feel so different to me, as though they break the rhythm of the month’s challenge.

It was all I could do to get this tiny little chickadee out today. Notice the red peaking through? 

Day 20. Living the Dream

“New Heights” 6×6 oil on canvas Buy Now

This is about the time during a thirty day (well, thirty-one this time because why not pick a long month?) when my posts start getting shorter and shorter. The daily grind is getting to me. In good ways. 

I’m in Destin relaxing on the beach before I go paint at my first Florida wedding. If this isn’t living the dream, I’m not sure what is. I’ve been thinking a lot about success and failure, and the ways in which I constantly define and redefine those terms. 

As I walked the beach yesterday and ran around the resort this morning, I was joined by several great blue herons and egrets. Right now success feels like nothing more than making friends with a bird, and watching it take off in flight. 

The video below is from my walk yesterday. The painting is an egret. This is a great blue heron. But you get the idea. All paintings this month are 20% off the day they post!

Day 15. Halfway there…but not Really

“Don’t Look at me Like That” 6×6, oil on canvas Buy Now

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Paintings aren’t like that. They don’t have clear beginnings, middles, and ends the way days of the month do. I sometimes joke that I get 90% of my paintings done in the first twenty or so minutes and then spend hours or even days on the last 10% of the image. 

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