The Masks We Wear

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” Claude Monet

I used to walk.

I put my son in a backpack and walked. When I was lonely or bored or sad, I walked. An the walking took me outside of myself.

We lived on John D’or prairie Indian Reserve and I had the strange experience of not knowing one single person other than my husband and my infant son. My husband was a teacher on the reserve and the teachers were a tight knit group. But I wasn’t one of them. The natives were a tight knit group but I wasn’t one of them either. So I was lonely and I walked. I saw all kinds of homes, some only shacks, some larger all in various stages of repair, some abandoned. I saw few people. But I always had a feeling of being watched. 

I saw these two houses standing together in a sea of long grass that turned and waved in the wind. My son sat in his pack looking at everything in silence. He was the quietest, most studious child. I watched his eyes looking around in awe and I thought how special it is to see something for the first time. And then I realized, it was my first time seeing them too.

It was only after many years that I realized the painting was really a portrait of my husband and I. The pink house in the foreground is my husband, more open, more interesting. and more vibrant. And the yellow house was me, standing in his shadow, drabber, more closed off, plainer.

But much like houses, people’s interiors can’t be seen from the outside. My husband’s effervescent exterior masked his sadness, and my reserved nature covered over a rich imagination and strength that he didn’t have. It took me many years to understand this fact And now that he’s gone, I think back to those times and I wish I could live them again so I could be the kind of wife he needed and we would have been happier.

Find this drawing and the subsequent painting at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com available for download. 

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The Downward Curve of our Mouths

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” Edgar Allan Poe

For years I took the bus past this church. I worked at a daycare center and I had to transfer buses to get to work. People don’t believe me when I tell them I really liked taking the bus. I used to sketch people’s faces while I sat on my bumpy ride home. I had to be sneaky so they didn’t know I was drawing the graceful curve of their jaw, their tired expressions, eyes that drooped after a long day. Every one’s face is beautiful in its own way. We wear our worries on our faces between our furrowed brows, under the love starved hollows of our cheeks, on the downward curve of the corners of our mouths. Every day I would see some of the same faces and some new. All unique. All lovely.

When I transferred buses I waited for the number 12 right in front of this beautiful church in West Edmonton. I saw the building every day and grew quite fond of it. I’ve always given buildings human qualities in the same way people anthropomorphize teddy bears. I actually feel like they can love me back. Every day I sat across the street from this lovely church. Finally, I took the time to sketch it, missing one of my buses in the process. 

And the church is still there, of course, but the neighborhood has changed somewhat. Condos have gone up around it, towering over it. But the church still opens its doors and parishioners show up in ever dwindling numbers.

The church contacted me a few years ago about using my painting as a fundraiser and of course I agreed. I could have charged them copyright fees but I didn’t. I’m not a religious person but I have warm feelings about churches whose purpose is usually community and companionship and solace. The last time I was inside a church was for a garage sale. My son was with me and he said he felt like lightning was going to hit him because he’s gay. How can I support a church when it makes my sweet, little boy feel so condemned? I don’t go to church at all but even if I don’t attend church, I still love the buildings and I have a feeling of fondness when I see them.

I never felt the need to attend church. As a child, I had a recurring nightmare that Satan was coming to my house to take me to hell. This was in reaction to the teachings I heard on Sunday morning. I had the terrifying dream over and over, waking up in a cold sweat curled up in a ball on my bed. As I grew older I had no use for the church which could cause a child to feel such fear. I have more reasons to stay away than to belong. 

But as an adult, I have cared for patients who are faced with their own death. I see their despair and fear. I listen to their weeping. And I have come to understand the value of a deity. People cower in the face of death. We hide in the coat tails of a God who may or may not exist. But often, our beliefs give us some comfort when looking up at the emotionless face of our own mortality. In the darkest times in our lives, we need a warm voice to tell us “It’s going to be OK.” And when they feel that fear, we call the pastor to talk to them, to pray with them. Religion is able to give comfort that medicine can’t offer. I have learned that we don’t have to be believers to see the transformation that can be brought to a person’s fear by God. That’s what I see in the churches I sketch. I see people coming together to remind one another how wonderful it is to be alive.

This drawing and the subsequent painting can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

Wanting to Belong

“Art is anything you can get away with.” Andy Warhol

Oh to be Van Gogh.

A Starry Night is my own personal aspiration so much so that I named my second son Theo, after Van Gogh’s little brother. And floating somewhere in the universe is the energy that used to be Van Gogh. And I like to think I’ve channeled a little of that energy into my artwork.

When my husband and I were young and in love, we used to go on drives out of the city. We’d get food and park somewhere, eating and talking. Every artist has a little bit of a voyeur inside them. You can bet if you invite a writer to your house for dinner, they go through your medicine cabinet when they use the bathroom. Not that I’ve ever done that of course. Any artist has this open minded, loving curiosity about others. And I used to look at other people’s homes the same way, seeing the warmth of their souls inside maybe because that warmth is what my own life lacked.

This sketch was drawn in such a way, sitting in the car, eating burgers with my husband while I sketched on a fast food napkin. The house was a magical little mushroom of a house that glowed like a lantern in a place with no other lights just on the edge of the city. A home that would make a hobbit proud.

And I could tell things about the people inside just by looking at the exterior. They looked happy. They had kids, I could see the toys. They sat on the front lawn sometimes, I could see the lawn chairs. They had an RV parked in the driveway and I imagined they went on trips together. I’ve looked at other families this way my whole life. I’ve wanted to belong to such a family as long as I can remember. Maybe they weren’t as happy as they looked. Maybe the husband was having an affair, maybe the mother was addicted to pain killers. Maybe they had the same emptiness as I did from a love starved childhood. And maybe we all have some type of darkness in our past that makes us look to others for fulfillment.

And there they sat, in their warm little home under a blanket of cool night air, lulling them to sleep, while I sat outside drawing their idyllic scene.

The video documenting the sketch of the above painting can be found below. The download of both the sketch and painting can be found at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

The Companionship of Wind

“Art is harmony parallel with nature.” Paul Cezanne

“Why do you draw farms?” I’ve been asked many times and I don’t have a pat answer. I could explain that I love all the different shaped buildings that sit nestled into the landscape, surrounded by trees as a windbreak, the peacefulness, the sounds of animals, the companionship of the wind, the air of industry, honesty, hard work, love. But most people don’t understand. If I give them my whole answer, I see their eyes glaze over, I see them lose interest after couple of sentences. So I end up saying something like, “I think farms are pretty.” And they smile and nod and say “Cool,” but have no real understanding of my motivation. And sometimes emotion defies logic. We love what we love, we feel what we feel. Trying to explain art is like trying to explain why we cuddle with babies. It’s a feeling that’s both complex and simple at the same time. It fills us up inside. It feeds us in a way that nothing else does. It allows us to touch a part of people that is otherwise inaccessible. It allows us to be a colorful part of the human experience.

I drew the sketch for this painting south of Edmonton on a warm summer day. I was a couple of months pregnant, not enough to be uncomfortable, just enough to be frightened of what might happen in the future. My young husband was outside of the car doing tai chi in the ditch alongside the country road. We went on many trips like this, driving in the country with no real idea where we were going, only stopping when I saw the perfect composition. And I do love this composition. The way the lines of the plowed field worms over the uneven landscape, the earthy road, the fence posts at different heights, the small windmill, the red barn. This sketch became one of my favorite paintings ever. And in the painting, every color that vibrates against another is love, And every line that gracefully curve around a shape is love. And that’s what I want to create. I want people to feel the love I have inside, the naked, raw, embarrassing truth of who I am deep down, my own gratefulness for this gift of life. 

This sketch and the painting can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com. And the video below shows the drawing of the downloadable coloring page.

Why is it a Sound?

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“The aim of art is to represent, not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.” Aristotle

For about five years I lived in North Carolina with my husband and our two sons. The landscape there has it’s own particular beauty as all places do, but I found myself less inspired to my artwork than I was in Alberta, probably due to the fact that I was working nights, going to nursing school days, and still breast feeding the baby. But every now and then, I packed the boys in the car and we drove to the coast which was only about half a mile away. We often went to the water’s edge and walked along it, listening to the waves roll in and tasting the salt.

One Christmas, we took the boys to the beach. It was so warm I wore shorts and my older son splashed in the water. I sat in the sand with my infant son feeling the cool water wash over our legs. People walked by us and I noticed they had parkas on which I found strange because the weather was so warm. But they were giving me dirty looks and I realized they thought I was a bad mother for letting my children into the water and I wanted to shout “I’m not a bad mother, I’m just Canadian.”

This sketch was drawn on such a warm day from a wharf in Beaufort, North Carolina. It was my first attempt at painting water and I loved the curved horizon line. The boats bobbed in the cool water, air blew in from the ocean, outer bank islands were visible in the distance where, on a good day, you can still see the wild horses.

Of course, this was the Sound, not the ocean but I still have trouble understanding the difference between the “sound” and open water because it seems to me that it’s all ocean. My older son was likewise confused. He put it very succinctly when he said with his lisp, “Why ith it a thound? I don’t hear it.”

We saw the little, purple boat that had the words “Dit Dot” painted across the back. Dit Dot, it was explained to me, was the name the locals gave to the non locals, the tourists with their cameras and strange accents. I was a Dit Dot, apparently. And this painting, is a commemoration of that time in my life when I was the boat, drifting on waves, and wondering what wind would push me towards shore.

Watch this video to see the sketch of the dit dot painting.

Hero in a Nurse’s Cap

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Edith Cavell was a nurse in World War One in Brussels. I can’t imagine being a nurse during that time when there were no antibiotics, where men who were wounded beyond repair were often left to die, where amputations were performed without morphine, and the sound of gunfire rang in the background. This was the first war where nerve gases were used so men suffered horrible effects even if they wore their gas masks.

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I try to put myself in Edith’s place. Dividing men into four groups: gas injuries, shell shock, diseases, and wounds. And I wonder how helpless she felt when she could do nothing to help the men in her care, save for the solace of holding their hand or giving them a sip of water. I wonder how many men were reminded, in their last hours, of their mother or a sister simply because she was there for them.

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I have been a nurse for a number of years and I have many different ways of treating patients. When I go to work, my hospital is clean, and quiet, and my patients have doctors to oversee their care and nursing attendants to clean up their mess. I get my scheduled break and I’m paid well. But what did Edith have? She had scores of men who cried, who stunk, who were covered in lice, who had STDs, who begged for food, for relief from pain, for death. Often the soldiers were left waiting for the primitive medical care available and died, leaving behind corpses teaming with bacteria. Schools and churches had to be turned into make shift hospitals. Many treatments were in their infancy such as x-rays which were available but not for the bulk of the wounded. Imagine receiving a large facial wound, taking away part of your jaw and nose and having none of the surgical reconstruction available today and prosthetics only in it’s infancy.

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Nurses had to learn to treat trench fever or trench foot caused by poor weather and dirty conditions. They had to learn new technologies which included ad hoc blood transfusions and administrations of new anesthetics, surgeries, and sedatives. A young, unmarried woman would join the volunteer nurse corps and have to learn about elixir of opium and morphine suphate, cocaine hydrochloride and camphor. This was the first war where nurses could administer these medications and it often saved lives or comforted the dying.

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In all of my nursing training, I learned nothing about Edith Cavell. I wish I had one class where I could have done a presentation on a historic nurse. I would have chosen her. She is one of my heroes, she represents all that is good in the profession. Nurses at that time had to learn to work long hours with little time left for sleep, they were surrounded by pathogens, they were not afforded the status of officers and their authority could be undermined by any male of rank. And even the diligent care they gave did not stop the most deadly illness of the entire war, the Spanish flu.

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All of the people in these images are dead. The person who took the photos are dead. And they died for us. All we have are the whispers of their presence and the vow that we will never forget.

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I imagine what it was like for Edith Cavell and thousands of nurses just like her. I imagine looking down into the face of a man who was going to be executed and wonder how I could help him, wonder if I would be willing to sacrifice my life to save his. Could I face the terror that the Germans instilled like she did, the anger she no doubt felt that such horror existed in the world at the hands of man. As a nurse I would like to think I would help him escape. But I really don’t know what I would do. But she didn’t hesitate. After helping hundreds of men escape, she must have had some close calls, terrified at the near miss of being identified as treacherous. She must have known that helping those men would bring the punishment of death, she saw the horrors of what the Germans did every day. She knew, but she helped them anyway. She knew she would never see her family again, she knew she would never marry or have children, And she knew that what she was doing was right. So she sacrificed everything, like an estimated 16 million men and women did. She did it for us so that we would not have to relive this in our lifetimes. And I thank you Edith. I thank you for giving your life. I thank you for the freedom I have. Thank you. You are remembered.

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A Sea of Mustard

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“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth,” Pablo Picasso

I love churches.

A strange admission from someone who’s not religious at all. I have hundreds of drawings of churches. Every time I see a steeple on the horizon, I find myself heading towards it and pulling out a piece of scrap paper to capture the image. Churches seem to have a freedom of architecture that other buildings don’t have.  Churches don’t have encumbrances for living such as number of bedrooms and walk in closets. The main function of a church is for community and I think that can be seen in their shape. And they make such a lovely silhouette against the sky. The negative space is often more interesting than other shapes in the world.

This church was sitting on the edge of a small valley, overlooking plowed wheat fields that traced their lines over every mound, every hill, golden canola waiting for harvest, a sea of mustard yellow that smelled like vinegar.

And the leaves, the beautiful leaves dropping to the earth and scrambling around on the road like lemmings, every color imaginable. I sat in my car looking at this scene and knew I had to draw it. Some people sketch in sketch books but I never did. I sketched on napkins. So I pulled a napkin from the glove box and drew this picture.

When I draw, I want to capture the beauty of a moment in time, specifically the moments that fill me with peace; make me grateful to be alive. And now I will forever have a record of that day, of something grand that I can point to and say “This is what I love.”

This painting and the sketch it originated from are available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

This video shows the creation of the coloring page of the church above.