Is There Bacon in Heaven?

“Art is a line around your thoughts.” Gustav Klimt

I love diners almost as much as I love churches. They smell of lard and pancake syrup. And there’s the constant sound of sizzling, the lick of bacon grease hitting the heat, the cook shouting from the back “order up.” And let’s not forget the fact that they serve breakfast all day. I could eat breakfast foods any time. I’m not sure why other foods exist. Sausage, bacon, pancakes, Belgium waffles, syrup, butter, eggs over easy, eggs sunny side up, eggs scrambled. All of them hot with salt and pepper. Fried potatoes with ketchup. Buttered toast with peanut butter or jam or sometimes both.

I haven’t eaten in a while.

Anyway, this drawing was sketched at a diner in Cardston, Alberta. I ate there with my little sister once, and the waitress stayed with us talking as if she were really interested in our lives. We left her a good tip. She was just a local girl with a quick smile and a friendly nature. She probably grew up on a farm, one of a million small town girls who make the world a nicer place to live in but have no idea that they do.

I’ve eaten at a lot of breakfast places. Years ago, my husband and I made it our mission to find the best breakfast diners. When we started the search, the breakfasts were $2.99 or $3.99. You can’t find deals like that anymore. My older son was just a baby when we started the search and we sat him in a high chair and handed him pieces of potato and bacon as he drooled. We could never decide which restaurant was the best. We preferred the privately owned diners with torn upholstery and chipped table linoleum. Maybe some photo displays of staff and their families. Maybe cow shaped creamers. It didn’t matter where we went, they were all good.

I haven’t eaten at many of those places since I lost him. And on those few occasions, I would sit alone at a table and watch as his ghost came to visit. He’d smile a ghostly smile and laugh his big laugh which I couldn’t quite hear. I always loved the sound of his laugh. So I pretended he was really with me. I wanted to people watch with him or make up conversations for the other customers like we used to, but of course, I couldn’t. Now, I just sit quietly in my chair and look at the place where his face used to be and I can almost hear his soft voice. And I can almost smell his aftershave and run my finger along his jawline. He’s quiet in death, the way he never was in life. And I pretend to take his last piece of toast or bacon when he’s not looking just to see the look of shock on his face.

Even after he got sick he still went with me to a few diners although he lost all interest in food. He went with me because he loved me. But he could only sit with strangers for so long and the greasy food made him sick so he just picked at it. His vision was almost gone so we couldn’t watch the other customers. And for some reason, when I made jokes, he just didn’t seem to understand my humor anymore. But he pretended he did because he loved me.

I tried to keep going with the breakfast search but it was too sad for me. Every time, I went I would see my young, healthy husband arrive and watch him deteriorate to the blind old man with bad kidneys and a bad heart. I would spend the rest of the day fighting back tears and swimming through a quagmire of regrets. So I had to stop. I still eat breakfast foods though, who wouldn’t? But I can’t go to the diner’s anymore. I look at them longingly whenever I pass. And I wonder if there’s bacon in heaven.

This is a time lapse video of the drawing

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Travelling Like Turtles

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” Marc Chagall

Four years ago, my sister and I started driving, not knowing where we were going. We lived in Edmonton, the most beautiful place in Alberta, probably the country, maybe the world. We drove south using only the secondary highways which took us through charming small towns. We called it our “White Trash” holiday. Our goal was to visit every dollar store and Wal-mart in every town small enough to have a water tower. We made friendship bracelets peppered with clay beads. We read romance novels. We did sudoku and crosswords badly. We drank specialty coffees in the morning with nothing but the sky for company. We ate pop rocks and licorice and listened to music.

Fort Macleod was one of the places we visited. We camped for a night outside the town in a tiny site nestled against the Old Man River. The town used to be an RCMP barracks and the old Fort Museum is still there to tell the story of our early days in this country. The main drag through town has rows of buildings, many still have the false fronts from the pioneer days to make them look bigger.

We had all the things we needed in our car; a small propane stove, air mattresses, sleeping bags, tents. We traveled around like turtles, carrying our home with us. What a glorious existence to be a nomad. We had no idea where we were going at any given time. We woke up in the morning and said “Where do we want to go today?” And that’s where we went.

Fort Macleod sits just west of Lethbridge, riding high on the prairie like a boat on the swells. I imagine any person who ever saw the landscape felt the same awe and love for the expansive green fields, the largeness of the blue sky laced with filmy clouds, warm winds that embrace. The calmness of the small town local who asks for nothing from you but will give you a smile, hold open a door, ask how you’re doing and really mean it.

I started drawing years ago as a way of documenting the things in the world that are the most beautiful. And Alberta is certainly beautiful. I began to make drawings of anything that struck me, usually an interesting composition. I looked back at my drawings after a 20 year hiatus and saw them as stepping stones sprinkled across a river. They became a path for me to find myself, to be reminded of the reason we are here. And that reason is, love. Love is the only thing that makes Art in any form, it’s the key ingredient to any thing in the world that’s worth doing, the essential component to anything with which we might occupy our time.

When I looked back at the years that have passed and all the many things that have immersed me, I realized that love was often missing from my most important relationships. I had forgotten love. And I can’t go back and live those days again. Those grains of sand have passed me by and I can only learn to forgive myself for my coldness as much as I learn to triumph in my warmth. I see those failings of mine, those days when I was at my lowest and needed a kind word and I decided to put my drawings out for the world. And maybe people might see the same thing about themselves. We’re all human and I know we’re all guilty of the same failings. But we can reach out to each other in our times of need and offer that smile that asks for nothing in return. We can say “How are you doing?” and listen quietly for the answer.

This is a time lapse video of the drawing

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I’ve Never Seen Paris

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Edgar Degas

Alberta is such a beautiful place. I’ve said this to many people and I’ve often been corrected. “You haven’t seen Paris,” they say. And they shake their heads, maybe roll their eyes, firmly believing in my lack of sophistication. But I feel sorry for them. They’ll probably never visit the cities they recommend to me. And they’ll spend their lives hoping to find happiness somewhere else when I can find it right in front of me.

I see beauty everywhere. I see color, and light, and composition. No matter where I am, I can see it. What a sad situation most people are in because they don’t realize they can see it too. Seeing the world in this way is the reason I started painting. My goal is to remind people of the beauty that surrounds us every day. If they see what I see, maybe they’ll remember it too.

The prairie sky is infinitely charming. From my childhood until today, I’ve developed a habit of watching the sky which is the most magnificent canvas. Morning and evening the horizon is draped with color, like a gift, colorfully wrapped around the edge of the world. Look away and when you look back it’s already changed. Escape is only as far away as casting your eyes upward.

This farm, near Elk Island Park, was a string of ancient buildings, weather worn and broken in places like people. I’m pretty sure they weren’t being used any longer. And chances are, with Edmonton close in proximity, this farm may no longer exist, building gone, holes filled in waiting to become a golf course or hotel. But the painting still hangs on my wall, bringing me back to that moment when I sat quietly watching the sky change on a warm June day in the country.

This is a time lapse video of the drawing that inspired the painting

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Fresh Air on my Skin

“I dream my painting. And then I paint my dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

Elk Island National Park has always been a part of my life. From the time I was a young child until just a few months ago when I went kayaking on Astotin Lake. 

As an inner city kid living in poverty, my life was anchored in the noise and close quarters of low income housing. But I always had the park with the green smells of the algae, the sounds of the loons calling, the feel of fresh air moving over my skin. Buffalo and elk can be seen close enough to smell their matted fur. Herons and swans gather in flocks. We used to sit on the edges of Astotin Lake and feel the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the water, the grittiness of the sand.

The park is very close to Edmonton but takes on the cloak of a very different world. As a child, and as an adult, I would feel the stressors of life fall away as I leave the city. During one of these trips, I saw this little farm, ducks swimming in the water, every building a different shape, trees losing their leaves, sky as blue as a robin’s egg. So this sketch captured that lovely afternoon and eventually it became a painting. 

This painting has my favorite tree I’ve ever drawn. It’s perky and happy and energetic, and I’ve used it in three other paintings, like I’ve plagiarized myself.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and that I love farms and that the world of country living was something I craved. Such a different life than I had, clinging to the fringes of society, feeling picked on, pointed at, teased, barely tolerated. The poor kid. The welfare kid. 

It was no wonder I saw a farm as paradise. I could be someone else. I could make a new identity. I could be valued for who I was instead of being trapped in the role of leach on society. I used to fantasize about living on a farm. A strange fantasy maybe but even now, decades later, I think about how ideal my life would be living near the earth and animals. And I wish we could live life over again so we could use our hard won wisdom to be better the next time around.

This is a time lapse video of the drawing that inspired the painting.

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A Sweet Cup of Paradise

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Leonardo da Vinci

I began sketching years ago, long before I realized which direction my life would take. A couple of years ago I began looking at all my old sketches and realized how complex they really are, like I had never given them the credit they deserve. But more importantly, what I found was a visual diary of my life, a record of the places on this earth where my feet have walked. And I saw the footsteps of someone interesting.

Most of the drawings were made on napkins or poorly cared for coil back notebooks that were disintegrating. I had to rescue them. If I had waited a few years more, I might have lost them. So I began a project to pull them out of the realm of the forgotten and bring them back to life. I started a youtube channel to document the revival of the drawings. And I’d like to share them with everyone. I’m not done yet. I should have a couple hundred videos when I’m finished. 

This drawing, the Milk River Farm was drawn, as the name suggests, just outside of Milk River Alberta. I drew it during a camping trip I took with my younger sister. Most often I drew from the car, carefully positioning it so I could see the most beautiful composition. My sister sat in the front seat with me. She had unending patience when it came to my art.

I love going on trips with my little sister. We always look for out of the way places that are devoid of tourists. We usually stop at Fish Lake Provincial Park outside of Drumheller and we’re often the only people there. Such a lonely place. It feels like the end of the world. A place where the sun rises in the morning as a long lost friend. We always bring specialty coffees and every morning we light the propane stove to make a sweet cup of paradise to sit in the company of the air and earth. 

This sketch was drawn during one of these trips. We had awakened and gone to Drumheller for breakfast. We were eating bacon out of styrofoam containers. The world sparkled, droplets of water from the rainfall the night before, cows mooing in the background waiting to become Alberta beef. My sister and I sat in the car munching on sticks of salty bacon while I sketched.

This is a time lapse video of the drawing

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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 video shows the time lapse creation of the drawing

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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.

This is a time lapse video of the drawing

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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. 

The video below shows the time lapse drawing of this artwork

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A Sea of Mustard

golden church low res watermark

“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 drawing

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A Place of Moose and Muskeg

northern-lights-low-res-watermark

“Art is not what you see but what you make others see” Edgar Degas

Northern Alberta, the land of rolling hills covered with the stubble of aspen and spruce. Spiky branches pressed up against the blue sky. Landscape thick with wild rose and saskatoon shrubs. Standing water crowded near the edge with thousands of pale, green blades. Miles of disheveled terrain laced with dirt roads. A place where, if you get stranded by an unreliable vehicle, you might have the minor inconvenience of hitch hiking back to town or the major inconvenience of fighting off a bear. A place of moose and muskeg, of bald eagles and wolf calls. A place where the trees remind us what it’s like to be wild.

I lived in Northern Alberta for a short time just after the birth of my first son. My husband took a remote teaching job and we moved, towing all our meager belongings in a poorly maintained red Capri to a place where I knew no one. And what is a lonely woman to do but draw pictures of her surroundings?

This painting was originally drawn when we lived on John D’or Prairie Indian Reserve. Even though it was a June night, the air was crisp enough to send my breath upwards in frosty plumes of vapor. And I could still see the sparkle of frost on every surface.

That’s when I saw the northern lights streaming across the sky.

I tucked my infant son into a baby carrier, wrapped a warm jacket around us both, and headed into the chilly night.

The lights were so unbelievably beautiful. Some things in life are beyond the confines of language. I sat in awe beneath them, so grateful to be its witness. My son wrinkled his forehead as he peered upwards. Not yet able to smile, he leaned his head back to study the crackling lights, looking, for all the world, like he was analyzing them.

We sat there in the cold, watching the lights as our breath disappeared into the air as silently and heart breakingly as the days pass away, as the years and even our lives pass. All of them drifting upwards and melting into nothing. I held my son and knew that nothing could replace that time with him and that those moments are the glue and mortar that make up our lives. All we can do is appreciate those moments, to own them. As I looked down on my son’s beautiful face, I felt that ownership. And that’s why I paint, so that I can own those times that I love. He has such a lovely face and he will endure hardship because we all do. But at that moment, we owned the time together under the northern lights.

Time is our most precious resource, nothing can replace it or bring it back or buy us more. We can only sit and enjoy the majesty of the world and be grateful for the gift of sight. That is our reward.

That’s where I drew this picture. Sitting on a mound of dried grass, holding my son with one hand while I drew with the other.  Only my baby and I, in the darkness, sitting silently and breathing air just cold enough to make us feel alive.

The video below shows the creation of this drawing.

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