The Challenge of Green

The Challenge of Green

One of my painting friends said that plein air painting during spring was not as interesting as during the autumn season. Everything is green. That’s the problem with some landscapes. There is just too much green. Spring has a range of palest yellow to a medium range accented with colorful flowers. The richness of summer foliage can be almost blinding, especially in the dazzling sun. Autumn’s green is rich and more varied, touched with reds and ochres. Here in South Louisiana, green is part of the landscape year round, even during winter.

An artist commented that he counted over twenty different hues of green in the prairie landscape of North Mississippi where I grew up. Really? Was that all he could count?

I started painting outdoors about fifteen years ago after working almost exclusively from photographs. I took a workshop with Allayne Stevens through our local art guild. Not only was it my first plein air adventure, I was using oil, with which I had little experience. I was amazed how differently I saw colors in life as opposed to photos. It was challenging to figure out how to make them.

Pasture on Highway 73
Pasture on Highway 73

Green is one of my favorite colors, but it is frustrating trying to make the correct hue and value for all of the different ones out there. There must be hundreds of different tube colors of green. I collected quite a few from workshop instructors’ supply lists as well as from reading what other artists use. I try to limit the number of colors on my palette, not only to keep the amount of paint I carry to a minimum, but to achieve a more harmonious composition. I am still struggling to achieve the green I perceive. I love bright colors and have a difficult time neutralizing them. Or maybe that will just be my thing…brilliant greens, and lots of them.

Pasture on Highway 73 - Beginning Stages
Pasture on Highway 73 – Beginning Stages

The Cottage

Years ago my friends and I spent many Friday afternoons at a place known as “The Cottage Inn.” We discussed the week’s events, listened to the juke box, and had a few adult beverages. The Cottage had been open for many years and few changes ever took place, except the personnel working the bar. The waitress was a long-time employee who was very attractive and willing to model.

I just completed a workshop that focused on painting figures in an interior and wanted to practice what I learned.  I asked the manager if I could bring my painting gear and paint the waitress at work, and he agreed as long as it was not on a Friday or Saturday afternoon. One day after finishing a day teaching at the middle school, I hauled my new French easel,  24” x 30” canvas, palette with paint, solvent and lamp into the lounge.  I was able to plug the lamp in a place where no one would trip over the cord, but the light was rather poor. There were a few men in the place, so the waitress was not too busy to pose. Once in a while she had to move to get something for a customer but was always able to resume her stance.

Imagine…a dark bar, a pretty waitress, men who had just gotten off from working at the plants…and a painter working at her easel. Things were just a little out of the ordinary at The Cottage Inn. I was making some progress. Several men came over to see what I was doing and asked questions. But the strangest statement came from a young man sitting at the end of the bar. “I want to buy Ms. Sisson a drink.”

The waitress at "The Cottage Inn."
The waitress at “The Cottage Inn.”

No one had called me that name for many years. “Sisson” was my maiden name, and I had been married for some time. I looked at the young man and asked, “Who’s buying?” It turned out that he had been in my first sixth grade class at my school. I remembered him well. We chatted for a while, and he filled me in on his life since his middle school years. I was glad to know he had done well for himself.

I did not complete the painting at that time and worked once again on location. Eventually I finished the painting and won a ribbon with it. I see the former sixth grader again occasionally at the Winn Dixie. I have not been back to The Cottage in many years but am sure it has not changed since I painted the waitress leaning against the counter in the bar.

Eat Dessert First

I recently asked a student if she had completed an assignment I created especially for her.  “No, I haven’t had time,” she replied. Of course, the assignment was made in December and I went over it with the student three weeks ago, so she had plenty of time. It just was not something she was interested in doing, so she did not make the effort.

There are so many things we want to do and others we have to do. It’s easy to understand how there is no time to do those things we really don’t think are all that important. I let many opportunities slip out of my hand when I fail to respond to inquiries—just because I think I will get around to it later. And then I don’t. The first excuse that comes to me is, “I didn’t have time.” Well, I certainly did. I simply chose to do other things with my time.

Conversation Hearts are another guilty pleasure. I have been known to keep them until June.
Conversation Hearts are another guilty pleasure. I have been known to keep them until June.

I am still working on my goal to schedule those things I want to do. Sometimes I think because creating artwork is like play, I should put it off and do the job that actually pays the bills and allows me to pursue my craft. Or my other job, which is running a home and family (it’s a small family, just my husband and two cats, but someone has to cook the meals and clean the litter box). But then I realize that when I accomplish something at the easel, doing the other chores becomes a little less dreary. Make time to do what you want, and then you will find time to do what you need.

Eat dessert first.

Snow Day

Snow days (or “sneaux” days) are rare occurrences in South Louisiana, but they are exciting even for us older people.  Having a day to do nothing but stay inside, watch movies, and eat junk food is great, as long as it happens on a school day.

We had an unexpected day off last Friday when wintery precipitation was predicted. I don’t know why I feel a little guilty when school is cancelled due to bad weather, but it is probably because ours is nothing compared to what has been occurring in other parts of the country. I promised myself that I would spend a couple of hours completing the never-ending paperwork my job involves and then do something just for myself.

Didn’t happen that way. In fact, it was Sunday before I ever got around to looking at that paperwork. I took a whole day and made a pot of chili and a painting.

Luv Me One and Only
Luv Me One and Only

I just love conversation hearts. They bring back memories of walking with my MaMa and sister to town on Saturday afternoons. We always stopped at the candy counters at McLelland’s and Woolworth’s. Late January and February was candy heart time, and we were allowed to buy five cents’ worth of candy each.  It came in a little white bag, and of course we could hardly wait to get back to MaMa’s apartment to eat it. It was probably all eaten  before dinner and Let’s Go to the Races! After seeing other artists’ interpretation of conversation hearts, I decided to make my own. Before I ate the entire bag.


Resolutions v Goals

Resolutions v Goals


Resolution 4: a formal statement expressing the opinion, will, or intent of a [person or] body of persons.

Goal: 3 : an object toward which play [or work] is directed to score.


It’s the time of the year when many make a resolution to do something beneficial for themselves or others. Lose twenty pounds, quit smoking, exercise three times a week, or make better grades are some common resolutions. Some people have already broken the promises made on January 1. I don’t make promises I know I cannot or will not keep, like the time I tried to give up sugar about the time Halloween rolled around. What was I thinking? A goal, however, requires effort but is achievable. Goals have benchmarks so progress can be measured.

The past six months I have tried to set small goals to make myself a better person, teacher and artist. Since I did not master most of them, I won’t share specifics, but one month I focused on using my time more wisely to paint more. My Wednesday morning painting group was a great motivator during the summer. Even if I did not feel like getting up and heading out to paint, I did it because there were others involved. Once school began, I had to figure a way to continue the momentum.

Schedule it on the calendar.

So simple. I have a calendar for work and home. I schedule classes, meetings and appointments, and quite often meetings get scheduled for me. I rarely miss any because it is written on the calendar. I made appointments for painting, writing and computer time and accomplished quite a bit. There is something about writing it down that makes it a legitimate task. (Painting is fun, but it is also brainwork for me.) It worked well until the holidays when my only goal was to make it until January.

Small Still Life
Small Still Life

So here we are in the first week of the new year. My goal is not to create a painting each week, but to make my weekly appointment at the easel. If I can do that, then creating the paintings will be easy.

The Christmas Cards

The Christmas Cards


My first printed Christmas card started from a small sketch I made in Mrs. Holloman’s algebra class. Instead of paying attention and making sense of x and y, I was doodling in my spiral bound notebook. I started an image of a girl, gave her wings, and then a brass instrument. I am pretty sure I had just received a couple of poor progress reports (failing notices, back then) from my algebra and science teachers, so I brought my sketch along with them to lessen the blow when I showed my mother. Of course she was not happy about my poor performance in core classes, but she did like my drawing enough to ask me to do it in ink so she could have Christmas cards printed with it.

My Angel, ca. 1971
My Angel, ca. 1971

Back in the early 70’s there was no Office Depot or Kinko’s where one could have almost anything printed and purchase office supplies without a sales rep coming to the office. Mother took it to Office Supply Company to find out what it would cost. Printing it was not terribly expensive, but 500 envelopes were. They figured how to print the image on an 8 ½ by 14” ivory paper and fold it to make a self-mailer. I don’t know how many she had printed, but there are still some at her house.

I started making cards again using a Gocco Printer in the 90’s. I wrote parts of my favorite Christmas carols and songs in Uncial and addressed the envelopes (which I could purchase at Office Depot) in Italic. Then I did small paintings and had cards printed at Kinko’s. Recipients told me that they kept them and were waiting on the next card. So I can’t stop making cards now, can I?

Several years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to use the original angel blowing on that brass horn in a different format. The card was labor intensive. The angel was printed on vellum paper, tied with gold ribbon to a background of music (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!) which was on heavy ivory paper banded with gold. Definitely over the top, and I am glad that I still have one.

I will post some of the old cards during the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, I am waiting on delivery of my newest edition…

“Eat Cake”

Sisters sharing a book--delightful!
Sisters sharing a book–delightful!

During the past few months I have seen and heard from a few of my former students. It was nice to know that I had a positive influence on some of the hundreds that I taught. They say I still look the same. (I think they may be exaggerating, but it’s nice to hear) Of course, the twenty and thirty year olds have to remind me who they are and when I taught them. After that, I think they are surprised that I have specific memories of them.

I was contacted by a young lady I taught in the eighth grade nearly twenty-five years ago. She told me that I was a terrific teacher who encouraged her to never give up on her artwork. What an awesome compliment! She wrote, illustrated and self-published a children’s book about learning to overcome negativity to become the person she dreamed of being. The book is Eat Cake by Angie Heard Piper, and it is available at The Book Rack in Prairieville, Louisiana.

As a teacher, one does not always see instant positive results; it often takes years before a student develops into the success we hope for. After thirty-plus years in the classroom, I am finally realizing that my hard work and high expectations are finally paying off. The dividend is hearing, “You really made a difference in my life.”

Note: I recently had the opportunity to see Angie. She is a lovely young woman, married and the mother of two, and is still pursuing her goals of becoming an artist and author.

Cobalt Skies and Cadmium Yellow Wildflowers

This tree has fascinated me for years. It was the perfect green-gold color this week.
This tree has fascinated me for years. It was the perfect green-gold color this week.

Since I have not been able to get together with my friends to paint during the week, I decided to do a little plein air painting on my own one afternoon after school. There is a fabulous green-gold colored tree across from the school that is just begging to be painted, and once again I could stand on the sidewalk and work.

I parked across the street. The crossing guard stopped the three lanes of traffic so I could make it safely across the street. Then I realized I left my canvas in the car, so back across I went. At least I got some exercise. There was a shady area to set my easel. After making a sketch, I began to paint

One never knows what will happen outside or who one will meet. The cross-country team from the high school ran by, and the coach followed on his bike. It turns out we were former colleagues, so we had a nice chat. When the cross-country runners passed on their way back they complimented my work. A student walking home from school stopped and showed me her art portfolio. The after-school detention group even spoke. I packed up before the traffic became too heavy to cross the street.

My painting was just a quick start. I may never complete it. Being outside on a perfect October day with cobalt skies and cadmium yellow wildflowers swaying in the field just for the fun of it may be the best reason of all to paint.


Painting the Bridge


Tombigbee River Bridge, Highway 82, Columbus, MS
Tombigbee River Bridge, Highway 82, Columbus, MS

When I was very young, crossing the Tombigbee River Bridge in our ’55 Bel Air meant we were going on an adventure out of town. When I was older, crossing the bridge meant we were going to the Southernaire or The Club. (I never went to Bob’s. Really.) The bridge seemed so long and big, maybe just a little scary too.

I am so impressed with the Riverwalk. It is well maintained, safe, and has some beautiful vistas. The citizens of Columbus have good reason to be proud of it. When I visit my family, I often bring my easel along and begin paintings of local scenery. The bridge of my youth was covered in rust, but even so, it was majestic and would make a fabulous landscape. I worked on the bridge a couple of hours to get a good underpainting and completed it when I got home.

One of the reasons I paint is to capture the subject. Photos are fine, but there is nothing to compare to the work created by the artist’s hand and heart. Plein air painting is not for everyone. I started painting on location about twenty years ago.  The results are not always good, but I enjoy it and love being outdoors. And, unlike some golfers, I have something to show after my morning outside.

Good Things Happen to Those Who Wait

Last weekend I accomplished something I have waited five years to do. Patience does pay off.

On location with my new easel.
On location with my new easel.

When I began teaching at Dutchtown, the school was situated in a rural area. There was a convenience store where one could buy fried chicken and a cold drink for lunch, a Texaco station where the owner would come to the school, pick up your car, wash it, inspect it and return it, a nursery/greenhouse, huge live oak trees and fields where cattle grazed and hay was baled. Now the convenience store is under new management, the Texaco is a self-service center, the nursery/greenhouse is a high school campus and some of the live oak trees were removed to make a parking lot at the Walgreen’s. The hay fields are still there, and I have been waiting years to paint them.

I started plein air painting many years ago. Not being an outdoorsy type person, it’s almost surprising that I will pack paints, brushes, camera, and an easel to spend several hours in uncomfortable conditions just to start a painting. The difference in painting from life and a photograph is difficult to describe. One must experience it. But like those who play golf every weekend, I love to be outside making art, and I have something to show for my efforts.

Back to the hay bales in the fields. I often saw them rolled up during the week and thought I may have a chance to paint them in the early morning or late afternoon light. I would ride by on Friday afternoon to find them already taken away, or there would be rain (the sun on the hay was important to me), or another event such as a Saints game kept me from painting it. OK, pure “I don’t feel like getting up this early” thoughts were a factor too.

But a few weeks ago, everything fell into place. The hay was cut on Thursday morning, baled on Friday, and still in place on Saturday. The early morning sun was brilliant. I took my new easel and set it up on the sidewalk across the street from the field and started working on a small canvas. I felt as though I was cheating because I was standing on the sidewalk in Geismar, Louisiana painting a rural landscape. People who were jogging stopped to see my work. Drivers blew their horns! (I am a rock star when painting in public!) I had so much fun I went back on Sunday morning even earlier to start a different canvas. IMG_0359

The morning light was losing its warm glow when I noticed a white Cadillac Escalade slowly drive down the center lane. Figuring that the driver just wanted to see what I was doing, I started wiping my hands and getting my stuff together to leave my site. Then I saw the vehicle parked behind my SUV and a young man getting out. I was a little worried that maybe I was painting forbidden hay.

He told me that he had baled the hay a few days earlier and noticed that I was painting the field the day before. He and his family were coming back from Mass, and he wanted his twin girls to see what I was doing. Well, of course! Turns out that his father-in-law owned the property where the hay was. He also invited me to check out his property further down the road where it would be safer to work. The girls seemed to like seeing a “real” artist at work.

So finally after so many years I have a couple of good starts on paintings and a future site to paint on. It was definitely worth the wait.