New Roof

New Roof – Watercolor – 21 x 29 inches.

“The world is overflowing with things to paint, waiting only for you and your imagination. Your final assignment of this course is to paint a watercolor of any subject you wish.” One would think that after three months of drawing and painting under my direction, the students would have been happy to be set free, to paint whatever they wanted and not what I told them to paint. But no, of all the assignments during the semester, this one caused them the most dismay. Why? I wondered.

A few said that “the real world was intimidating;” there were too many subjects to choose from. They felt lost: “How do you choose?” My advice was “if you’re in doubt, just paint whatever happens to be in front of you.”

That watercolor class ended a long time ago and I forgot about the assignment until one morning when I looked out of the window of my studio and saw the house next door getting a new roof. This painting has nothing to do with dreams or mythology or symbolism or any of the other things that make me wonder. It’s just the result of being in doubt and following my own advice.


Ripley – Oil on canvas – 31 x 40 inches.

It was summer, remember?
The world belonged to big
people, parents and other
adults, all big. Except for
a gift, the morning after
a lightning storm.

Puddles glistened, crows were
silent, fishermen made their
momentary appearances in oil
paint before you made them
all disappear: their boats, the
telephone wires, the summer
cottages, everything erased
except light and trees
and water.

Every thing appeared again later
after you opened your eyes.
You were a child, remember?
You, the one who disappeared
miles and years ago?
The trees and the lake haven’t
paid the slightest attention
to your absence.

You were a wiser child then,
when you knew nothing, when
a luminescent summer
morning opened its forest
arms, as dark and deep as
a storm at night, as wild
and blue as the wings of
your imagination.

Woman Waiting

Sketch: Woman Waiting – Watercolor, ink, collage – 8 x 10 inches.

Pay attention, she’ll move soon. I fumble for the mechanical pencil, open the sketchbook, catch the shape of her back and head. Wait! She moves. No, no, the lead’s jammed in the barrel, no time to fix it, use the pen.

“Welcome to Delta Airlines Flight 4057 to Seattle. We will begin boarding soon.”

She sits almost straight up. Pay attention to the slump of her head. Polka-dotted pants? No time, remember colors, fill them in later. What’s her story? Is Jayne still alive? The hospice workers should be with her today.

“Flight 4057 to Seattle pre-boarding now. Passengers needing assistance, and
active duty US Military personnel welcome to board.”

She’s flying to Seattle. Grandchildren? Something prim about her, pretty hair, but pink socks? Seattle’s just a stop on my way to Whidbey Island. Stop thinking, pay attention, draw!

“Boarding now for 1st class passengers.”

Her body looks OK, but the angle of her head doesn’t. Start another sketch, skip the details, draw faster, not much time, the slump looks better, but I’ve lost her face. She stands up, pockets her book and disappears into a line of passengers.

“Main cabin passengers now boarding.”

I close my book, put the pen away and join the queue.

Hours later on the Island, the hospice workers have gone back to their own homes. Jayne slumps in bed. Her husband Tim, my brother, props her up on pillows. I can’t bear to draw her. We hold hands. She talks in a whisper, but soon she falls asleep.

Tim and I and her other caregivers, Ruth and Jake, their children, share a bottle of Spanish wine. I paste the label and the bee in the sketchbook two days later, after I’ve flown back to California, after saying goodbye to Jayne for the last time.