Friday, October 28, 2011

Rich Mountain in the Ouachitas

What do you see from your front doorstep?

Right now I see trees with the most gorgeous golden, red, yellow, and orange leaves.  This afternoon I told my husband we should go for a drive just to see the wonderful foliage that the Ozark Mountains has to offer right now.  While trying to decide which direction we should drive -north, east, south, west - we decided that our own driveway had the prettiest trees we could see anywhere.  So... we stayed home... maybe tomorrow we'll go for that drive.

The Ozark Mountains are where my home is now, but I grew up in a small town in a surrounded on all sides by the Ouachita Mountains.  From the front doorstep of my childhood, this was (almost) my view.
The photograph used as a reference for this painting was taken from neighbor's doorstep just a few miles away from where I grew up.
Those two peaks of Rich Mountain bring back a flood of memories and make me stop to sigh a little.  Instead of a lake and dock, from my doorstep there would have been a front yard, a dirt road, the neighbor's garden, a pasture or two, then the very same mountain peaks in the background.


   I am from a red-clay road

rolling with dust after each passing car
            from a long bed of irises 
purple, white, yellow, and maroon
from two cars out front 
one with 4 doors, one with a bed, two humps, and a tailgate
            from a front porch with a dachshund named Noodles lying on the step, a
screen door that slams, and a panoramic view of the Ouachita Mountains.

   I am from tassel-topped corn stalks, thorny blackberry vines, and staked tomato plants
                        bringing the flavors of summer
            from a formica kitchen table
                        surrounded by six chairs and a stool
            from little glass Pepsi bottles, black angus beef,
and homemade ice cream hand-cranked by strong brothers
            from sit-down dinners, lingering while the food settles,
                        and sisters washing dishes by hand.

   I am from Curtis Ray 
                        “Handy as a pocket on a shirt”
            from Gladys Adelle
                        “Busy hands are happy hands”
            from trotline catfish
dangling off Grandpa’s stringer
            from quilts and afghans
                        labors of love from Grandma’s worn hands.

   I am from Ben Franklin’s, Piggly Wiggly,
                        and a fifteen-cent Tastee Freeze cone with a curlicue on top
            from a picture window, an attic fan, an antenna on the roof for
a black-and-white television
from football games on Friday nights, cartoons on Saturday mornings, and church
twice on Sundays
            from  pot luck suppers, “Count Your Many Blessings,” pass the offering plate,
in Jesus’ name, Amen.

   I am from a place that is real
            from a time that has past
            from bonds that endure
   I am from home.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

:) Happy 86th Birthday, Mama!

Mama's favorite sayings...

"Busy hands are happy hands."

"Every age is the best age."

Mama, here's a little story about us.

The Little Black Stool

               As usual, the four big kids rushed through their breakfasts then scrambled to get outside as the school bus rumbled up our big hill.  After I waved goodbye and the house finally became still, our day could begin… calm, cozy, comfortable…
               The dark clouds didn’t matter much at first.  Even the rain didn’t bother our morning routine.  I perched happily on the little black stool.  It was nothing more than four round legs and a seat, but I loved it because it was little, like me.  My feet could touch the floor, hook on the crosspiece, or fold up underneath me.  It fit me, so it was mine.  I ate my Cocoa Puffs and watched Captain Kangaroo, as usual.  Momma started some laundry then cleaned up the kitchen, as usual.
               Everything peaceful about that day changed when Daddy called from his work.  After they talked, Momma’s eyes said fear, but her voice said calm.  She needed me to be a big girl for her while she went out.  It would be like a game for me.  “I have to pull the boat up so the flood doesn’t wash it away.  You get to stay here to watch for me.  Let’s move the little black stool right by the door.  You can watch for me, and I’ll be right back.  Don’t get off the little black stool.”
               I’d never stayed home alone before.  How exciting!  I could do it!  I watched Momma put on her raincoat and Daddy’s boots.  She hugged me hard, too hard.  Then she left.
               Knees against aluminum, forehead against glass, I sat very still on the little black stool and stared outside.  Everything I could see was gray, everything. The lightning and thunder were not pretty like Momma had always said.  There was no pitter-patter of little raindrops.  This rain pounded against the house and the ground.  The wind was probably howling, but the rain was louder. 
Where was Momma?  She’d been gone too long.  I had to stay on the little black stool.  What if she fell?  What if the bull came after her?  What if the flood washed her away?  I had to stay on the little black stool. 
Still on the stool, I scooted across the hardwood to look out the back door.  Then I scooted back to the front door.  Momma needed me.  I would go get her.  I would accidentally fall off the little black stool and go get her.  I knew when my bottom left that black woven wood that I was no longer minding Momma, but she needed me.  I would go get her.
               The house seemed so big and hollow.  I tried not to make a sound as I walked through the den, kitchen, and onto the back porch.  I took my raincoat off its peg and buttoned every button.  Momma would want me to stay dry.  Then I reached for my red boots.  I was careful not to knock any of Momma’s canning jars off the shelf.  Then I checked for spiders before I slipped a bare foot into each boot.
               Stepping out into the rain was scary, cold.  The trail seemed longer this time.  Branches kept poking me, and rocks kept tripping me.  The lake had big waves going in all directions like a monster was turning flips under the surface.  Where was Momma?  I turned away from the lake, away from the trail, and trudged toward the road.  I came to the barbed wire fence, and I had to climb through.  The barbs pulled and ripped at my red raincoat.  I needed Momma to hold the wires apart for me.  Where was she?  I’d never walked up that hill before.  The dirt road had turned into slippery mud.  The rain made it hard for me to see.  What if a car came?  I might be too little for the driver to notice.  I shouldn’t be near the road without Momma. 
               Then I heard her voice calling my name!  She was running toward me.  Her raincoat wasn’t buttoned.  Why was she crying?  I’d come for her, but she kept saying she’d found me.  Her voice said fear, but her eyes said joy.  She hugged me hard, too hard.

               I don’t remember what came next.  Maybe chicken noodle soup, maybe a spanking… probably both.
               My first recollection of fear, decision, and determination… Mom’s clearest memory of fear, more fear, and relief…  I chuckle at the thought of my innocent bravery.  Mom shudders and refuses to hear the story again.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Autumn Trees

What kind of artist will I become?

After I painted my first painting "Summer Trees" on February 22, 2007, I stood back, took a look, and couldn't believe it!  They looked like trees!  And just like that, I fancied myself a cross between Monet and Van Gogh!  Painting #2  was "Autumn Trees."   I used great globs of reds and oranges, and it took forever to dry.  As it turns out, that was the first one of my paintings that anyone ever wanted for themselves.  I was so excited, I gave it away.  I think it found a good home.

As it turns out, neither the Monet thing nor the Van Gogh thing worked out for me.  I'm still searching for my artist self, but I the search is still fun.  And, sometimes, I still stand back, take a look, and can't believe it.  Whatever I've just completed actually looks like what it's supposed to!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Carpenter's Hands

Are some subjects too hard to paint?

I'd heard that it's extremely hard to paint those you love the most.  It stops being just an image to convey and becomes an emotional process.  I've found that to be true. I'd wanted to paint my parents, and I searched for the right reference photograph. But, with each one I chose, I'd get a little choked up.  It's hard to look objectively at images that bring so many emotions to the surface.  
So, I gave up... sort of...
This a "portrait" of my dad.  This image probably tells more about him than any picture of his face would show.
I also painted one of my  Mother's Hands.  I think these tell my parents' stories as well as any traditional portrait.  
There was still a bit of that emotion during this process.  I didn't want to over emphasize age spots, wrinkles, and wear and tear of the decades; however, I did want to honor the years of their lives and be true to realism. 

I believe I succeeded with these two "portraits." 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Apples & Grapes

How many paintings must I do before I call myself a real artist?

This was my 100th painting... Wow!  100 paintings with my little HEaton in the bottom corner.  I wanted my 100th painting to be something special.  I think I was disappointed that it was just a plain old still life. But, I look at this one, and how can I be disappointed with it?  I love nearly everything about it.  I love the blotchy brush strokes on the table and the fuzzy edge between the table and the wall.  I love the shadows cast by the fruit.  I love the shape of the grapes, the orange highlights on top of the apple, and the detail of the stem.  And, even though blue is my least favorite color, I love the texture of the background.  
Maybe my 100th painting was special after all.

So, when will I feel like I can call myself an artist?  I'm going to work on painting #166 this weekend.  Maybe at #200... but probably not.

Helen, the one who's satisfied for now calling herself a painter and a student of the art of painting.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunflowers & Butterfly

How do you decide which reference photo is just right?

This is a question I asked on the post from August 28th.  I finally chose this one.  I chose it because I thought the sunflower in the background showed that there was more to the scene.  I also loved the angle of the sunflower.  It showed the three-dimensional parts of the sunflower's center.  There was also something graceful about the leaves that I loved.  And finally, not seeing the full face of the sunflower allowed the butterfly to be the star of the show.  

So, I began painting right away.  Then I got distracted... by the beginning of school... by a commissioned piece, I Am the Legacy... by a really good book, The Help... by a challenge painting for RookiePainter...  a Christmas painting of the same little boy from Little Boy in a Big Fedora...  more school work... and all the time this painting sat half finished on my cedar chest showing a lovely background, some stems and leaves and half a butterfly.  It is very hard to go back to finish a painting after a time.  But, I finally did.  And I'm glad I did.\


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Soccer Boy

How do you recognize a masterpiece?

A few years ago, I donated a coupon for a portrait to my school's fall festival.  This little guy won!  For a dollar donation ticket, his dad got a portrait of his kindergartener.  A couple of years later, a second grade teacher in my school asked me if I'd painted him.  She said, "In reading group, we had the vocabulary word masterpiece.   I asked if anyone knew what that meant.  He answered.  'Mrs. Eaton painted me when I was little!  It's a masterpiece because my dad hung it in the living room.'"
Awww.... Sweet....
And now, that kid's in fourth grade and in my class.  I think he's pretty much a masterpiece!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


How does hope manifest itself?  

Wishes to come true ...
Wants to become real ...
Needs to be met...

Anticipation of the future...
Desire for change...
Willpower to look ahead...

Prayer for what's to come...
Trust that next time will be better...

A deep breath before the next step...
Grace and courage to take that next step...

I was asked to paint these flowers by a dear friend who'd just endured a tragic and life-altering loss.  She wanted this memory to become an image that brought her hope when she felt hopeless.  Change didn't come in a hurry, but it did come.