Composing a Beach Portrait

My dog ran right past this half buried shell, but I saw an eye staring back at me.


It is rather large, so the head will have to be in a comparable scale.


A  20′ piece of stranded kelp, complete with some “hair” and even a goatee, becomes the head and chest.


Despite the confusing goatee, this is a female figure.  She gets some extra hair in a kelp strand bonnet and kelp pod breasts belong in this expansive chest.


Now I begin to add some facial features and ear ornaments.


Remember the 1st shell? It looked a little dead so I’m adding this stranded jelly.


It fits perfectly.


The future’s so bright she has to wear shades!


Her nose and mouth needed attention. A gleaming mussel shell became an important nose, and a delicate crab’s claw, tiny shell and folded seaweed pinked up her mouth.


Normally I incorporate a lot of beach trash in my portraits, and cart it away when I’m done, but this beach was squeaky clean. I found just two tiny shards of plastic to create the bridge and top bar of her sunglasses.


I searched the beach for a few more embellishments to add.




I add a single feather to her hairdo and I think she is now complete.


Next time you find yourself on a beach, try one!

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Homemade Christmas Stockings

When I was born my grandma made me a Christmas stocking.


It was probably made from a kit-the elements may have been the same on ALL the stockings made for children that year, but mine has a little, pink angel, a lavishly decorated tree, a white house with a red roof, and a train, trailing tiny seed-bead smoke.



I think emptying my stocking was my favorite part of Christmas morning. My sister and I always got candy and fruit. In this photo I can see walnuts, cumquats, tangerines, and maybe mini marshmallows.

Peri had her own  Grandma-made stocking but it had a few crucial differences and we spent HOURS comparing and contrasting the stockings. I still think mine is better.


Later I began to ask for sour things: cocktail onions, lemons, pickles and homemade vinaigrette.

Hey, maybe there is something in there now…


Uh-oh, those look too empty.

Let’s hope they fill up on Christmas Eve!

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The Christmas Trees of Yore

Everything seems BIG when we are small.

But my childhood Christmas trees really were VERY tall. For scale, I am almost three years old in this photo and I am lost in the bottom branches.


Unlike other families, we didn’t put up our tree until Christmas eve.

Many years we drove up Breadloaf Mountain and cut our own trees on Middlebury College forest land.


We waded through the snow, Mommy carrying the loppers and Daddy carrying the same saw as this dad in my 4th picture book: A Year of Beasts.  Back then it seemed we always had snow at Christmastime.

bigsnow'62Then it became the 70s. The trees were still tall and sparse, my mom was more beautiful than ever, my dad still put up the train set, I was always sulking and Peri was always sick in bed on Christmas eve!christmas72

Wild trees are not full and bushy. Dad figured out a way to ‘hang’ the tree from one of the beams in the 2nd floor gallery. The trunk dangled in a bucket of water. I used that idea many years later for this crazy tree.


One California Christmas I collected and sorted found wood into a tree shape and my elf drilled a hole in the “balance” center of each piece. We found a long piece of fresh kelp and used it as the “rope”. Once all the pieces were strung, we tied a knot at the bottom and hung the tree. It can hang flat like this or in the round. It was fine with lights, but hard to hang with ornaments.


Now that I’m back in Vermont I must break with tradition. The long, dark nights are too long and dark for an adult to endure without the cheerful glow of a lighted tree. So I’ve compromised. The tree is in a bucket of water and she has lights, but I will wait to add ornaments until Christmas eve.

Brightly shining, for a brief period, in the darkest days of the year.

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Wreathes, lit with Candles

Four lighted candles, standing precariously upright on a wreath, hung from ribbons, swinging from the roof beam. 

Not a typical holiday sight but normal for me since earliest childhood.

adventwreath_webBehold a family Christmas picture, circa 1958. That’s me, kneeling.

In the cradle is my new baby sister, a newborn from mid-November. The German Shepherd’s name is Lumpy. He is still a big puppy, acquired recently to get me used to the idea of sharing my parent’s attention with another being.

Above my father’s head is a wreath, hanging from four, red ribbons and holding 4 candles.

It is an Advent Wreath and I took these for granted growing up.

So much so that I drew one in one of my earliest knock off stories, a version of Rumplestiltskin.

Trust me, that is an Advent Wreath.


A drawing from 1962                                                                                                  It looks a lot like this one , but ours never had 24 candles on it!


Wichern Adventskranz originated from Germany.jpg

And my parents were not religious either. This was a custom that my dad had grown up with that he brought with him when he emigrated. Our candles were red, like most Protestants use.

advent 1

Catholic wreath with 3 purple candles and one rose candle

When I grew up and made my own home, I took the advent wreath custom with me. Here, my friend Denise lights a candle for the second Sunday in Advent. DeeAdventWreath_web

She wears the ceremonial Chinese Santa Hat to do it.

I did not grow up with Swedish Lucia Day, but the similarities to the Advent Wreath are striking, so I include  her in this round up of Wreathes, lit with Candles.

One of the prettiest images is this one by Carl Larsson, called Lucia 1908



Lucia traditionally bears a tray with sweet, saffron-flavoured buns (lussekatter) shaped like curled-up cats and with raisin eyes. You eat them with glögg or coffee.

Look how sweet these contemporary Lucias are–with their LED candles!



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Making my own Advent Calendar~Part 2

I grew up with “Sweet” paper Advent Calendars like this one

Advent Calendars 1The numbered openings are scattered all over, and the pictures outside bore no relation to what was underneath the perforated squares.

You got a lot of glitter outside, and dopey illustrations of stars, bells and candles inside the windows.

This annoyed me as a child. I already craved storytelling and wanted the outside and the inside to add up to something greater.

Nowadays, cool DIY Advent Calendars are all the rage. Many have candy and/or REAL gifts in them.


But that is now. Back in 1986 I was thinking strictly 2-D, so I decided to make my own paper calendar. It was going to be fun to look at AND tell a story.

icicles_webI grew up in a cozy neighborhood in town, in a modern-looking, chalet style house designed by my parents. But my child alter-ego lived in a pale yellow farm house somewhere out in the country.

I needed at least 24 windows and doors on my imaginary house and barn in order to create the world within the calendar.


I included characters from my three, published picture books:


Nutkin, the marmalade cat from Only The Cat Saw

snowmanEllie, the little girl from A Year of Birds and A Year of Beasts, and her Border Collie Pumpkin

And later, I copied parts of my old calendar into books created far into the future like When Lucy Goes Out Walking!

JanuarytreeI wanted the picture you saw when you opened the door or window to make sense and tell a little bit more about this home and family.


So when you open doors 1, 10 and 18, you see into the front hall, the kitchen and the back hall.


The only window that did not fall within a real opening is in the woodpile.

adventcalendar_4but when you open it, the scene inside is still real to the location, even if the mice are enormous next to the cat!

Happy Advent!adventcalendar_6

Though this calendar is out of print, I still have a stash and am selling them here.

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Saint Nicholas and Santa

My Dad was raised in Germany and always celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6th.

I made him this card, back when we had a German Shepherd named Thumper, and before I fell in love with Border Collies.


The European tradition he grew up with is for children to put out their shoes on the night of December 5th and for St Nicholas to leave a small gift in them overnight.

As children my sister and I did not put our own shoes out, but we would put a gift into one of our daddy’s big shoes.

He loved candy, so it was easy to please him. KitKat Bars were his favorites.


But my sister and I believed in Santa Claus: the belly, the beard, the boots and the red hat.fakebeard:web

In 1986, I visited China. In a street stall in Beijing I bought a red satin hat trimmed with sequins and rabbit fur.  It looked just like Santa’s hat, only exotic.


Here is how it appeared in a postcard I painted while still in China.


Nowadays I keep it safely stored for most of the year, but bring it out at Christmastime and wear it pretty much non-stop for a few weeks, especially to paint in.

Kalusbustin hat

Today a bronze bust of Klaus as a child is wearing the hat.

Happy St. Nicholas Day, Klaus!

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As a Vermont Girl, I know my snow.

I’ve been figuring out ways to draw and paint snow, in all its shapes and forms, my entire life.


There are lots of kinds of snow.

The 1st snows of autumn, that slowly cover the still-green grass, frost bitten plants, and leaf strewn ground.

December snows, that slowly fill up the woods~until we trudge through it to find a perfect Christmas tree,

Or February snow, deep and light enough to race a sled through,

Or use as a smooth, white, picnic blanket for the birds.

A Year of Birds

I’ve painted snow as the natural habitat for Polar Bears,

And gray wolves.

And painted it in totally unexpected places, like a usually sunny day in Jamaica!

I’ve sat in my car and drawn a snowy scene from life.

And I ended my new book, Baby Bear Counts One, with 10, big snowflakes, falling slowly enough for a surprised bear cub to count them.

But turn the page and watch as the snow picks up, swirling in curtains across the mouth of the den,

And finally, the flakes are falling so fast that there are…

Baby Bear Counts One

Too many to count!

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