Hot Days, Cool Paintings

Many moons ago when I was seventeen and I spent four glorious hours a day of my senior year of high school in the art room, my art teacher and friend, Ms. Prince, taught me a technique that stuck with me for 21 years. I haven’t used it in about ten years but when I realized that I had a substantial stack of tubes of acrylic paint that were slowly hardening into tubes of brightly colored plastic, I decided I should use it before its too late.

Twilight Drawing

I started with painting acrylic on bristol board and using oil pastel to add texture. Having cleaned out two art supply stores out of Indian ink meant that I had a large enough supply to paint a layer over the drawings. I let the solid layer of ink dry overnight. When I woke up the next morning, I held the drawings under the faucet of my kitchen sink and set the ink chip off with mixed results.

Heart Painting

Not liking the way that getting the bristol board that wet was doing to it (it was seriously wavy) I ventured back to the art supply store for watercolor paper which would hold up better to the moisture. I stumbled across canvas mounted on board and knew this was the way to go. I cleaned the store out of this too. The millennial behind the counter had to work some magic with their computers inventory before it would let me purchase it all.

Rainbow Daisy

With better materials, I could now go back to my ink resist technique without worrying about destroying the paper. I added thick layers of acrylic, reacquainting myself with a medium I rarely used over the last decade. Then, I would paint a thick black layer of Indian ink over it. A scary move when I just spent three hours painting something without knowing if the ink would resist enough to chip off when put under the faucet.

 

Rose

There were a couple paintings that I couldn’t bring myself to paint over because I liked them the way they were. The goldfish was my realization that I could still paint even though I have been using colored pencil and graphite and my main mediums over the last few years.

Goldfish

Since I cleaned out the art supply store of canvas boards, I had to order from Amazon (something I rarely do as a small business owner). I now have 40 canvas boards in a variety of sizes to do more paintings. Should last me until August first. Just in time for the temps to cool off a little so it isn’t so hot while I paint.

These paintings and others are available on my Etsy page.

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Cities of the Dead

New Orleans is famous for many things, among them are the cities cemeteries. When New Orleans was settled back in 1718 by the French, they buried their dead in the banks of the Mississippi. When a big storm or flood would come through, the bodies started coming back to the surface. For the French Catholics during that era, this would have been horrific. It was decided that they would use mausoleums and crypts to bury their dead. I visited two of these beautiful cemeteries during my time there.

These two cemeteries are in two distinctly different neighborhoods. St. Louis Cemetery is in the French Quarter, which was a mix of French, Spanish, and African cultures. On the other side of Canal Street is the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetery. The Garden District was where predominately white American’s settled after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

St. Louis Cemetery #1
St. Louis Cemetery Number One is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans. Owned by the Catholic Church, the only way to tour this cemetery is with a registered tour guide. It was closed to the public to prevent any further vandalism. The cemetery was crumbling and in need of repair. A couple of the crypts have crumbled completely. The church now works in conjunction with non-prophet organizations to better preserve the tombs.

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Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of the 1800’s is buried in this cemetery. It is the most visited grave in the city. She was a French-speaking mixed-race woman who became famous for helping those in need and for her practices in the occult and fortune telling. It is rumored that her body was moved over the course of history, but the church has written records that say otherwise. Still, two unmarked crypts are vandalized repeatedly with a series of three X’s as tourists pay homage to her. She shares her actual grave with 84 other people. Marie Laveau did this willingly because she always looked out for those in need.

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Among the cemeteries famous graves is the one featured in the film ‘Easy Rider’. The statue has since been vandalized. In the film, the statue still has both hands. Peter Fonda can be seen in the film sitting on this statue. The director thought it would add a little extra to the film.

 

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Nicolas Cage, who has owned one of Anne Rice’s houses and the Lalaurie house, also owns a tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1. When Mr. Cage fell into financial hardship and stopped paying his property taxes he lost both homes, but he still owns the pyramid-shaped tomb in the cemetery. It is thought to be an homage to the ‘National Treasure’ movies he starred in.

Funny story:  many Nicolas Cage fans have taken to covering their lips in brightly colored lipstick and kissing the tomb. As a Nicolas Cage fan myself, I can honestly say that the thought would never have crossed my mind. Who knows who else has kissed that tomb. Herpes, anyone?

Lafayette Cemetery
Lafayette Cemetery, much like the Garden District surrounding it, has been well kept over the years and isn’t in the state of decay that St. Louis Cemetery has endured. Yellow fever outbreaks every summer during the 1800’s filled the cemetery quickly. In family crypts, when room was needed, the casket would be taken from the crypt. The corpse would be put into a cloth bag and pushed into the back of the crypt. A new casket with the newly deceased body would be put into the crypt. This is how tens of thousands of people can be buried in a cemetery that is only one city block in size.

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Jefferson Fire Company No. 22, one of the larger volunteer fire companies in New Orleans, has a crypt there.

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Both Lafayette and St. Louis Cemeteries are known commonly as Cities of the Dead and rightfully so. There are many cemeteries in the city, each with its own character.  I had time for only these two, which leaves many more to explore in future visits.

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Hunting the Ghost

St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum in New Orleans is rumored to be one of the cities most haunted buildings. Now parts of the building are used as a hostel and hotel, but they do allow ghost hunters in at night to the unoccupied part of the building. We used EMF readers, rem pods, and other equipment to try to find the spirits within the building. We also used a cell phone app called Echovox to try to hear if any spirits wanted to be heard but not seen.

Built in 1861, the building housed orphaned children during the yellow fever outbreaks that killed thousands, including many of the children housed with its walls. People didn’t realize that yellow fever was caused by mosquitos until 1905. Before then, one of the doctors at St. Vincent’s tried to find a cure by experimenting on the children. When the people in the surrounding neighborhood (now the Lower Garden District) found out, they tied a noose around his neck and hung him from a tree behind the asylum. His spirit is one of many said to be in the house to this day.

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The Orphanage was operated by nuns. The Mother Superior who operated the asylum when the doctor was experimenting on the children is also said to still be in the building. She made an appearance, vocally not physically, while I was in the building. Through Echovox, we realized that she became angry when we mentioned the doctor. She didn’t stick around long after we brought him up.

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We spent most of our time in the kitchen, which has been updated with modern sinks and an oven (the building is still partially in use). There, we met a ten-year-old boy named Charles who had died in the orphanage. He repeatedly told us his name through the Echovox app and kept telling us that there were eight total people in the room. Five of us living humans and three spirits. Charles is the only one who made his presence known. We tried to get him to move the ping pong ball, but he wasn’t willing. He did, however, set off the REM pods a couple of times.

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I was skeptical that any of it was real, even though I wished it to be true. One of the people in the building with us said he kept feeling spirits touching him and hearing the shuffling spirits of children running around us. None of the rest of us heard or felt any such thing. This guy even handed me an infrared camera and tried to turn me into his personal camerawoman. I politely refused, which left him recording with his own camera, and he would jump anytime he felt a tiny wind push past him.

It wasn’t until I was back in my hotel room that I felt creeped out. My room had a small kitchen with dishwasher, refrigerator, and sink. I kept hearing sounds coming from that direction in the dark hours of the early morning. When I investigated, I found out it was the ice maker in the freezer which left me feeling silly at being creeped out. The next morning, however, there were no ice cubes in the freezer. Did Charles follow me back to the hotel and play a trick on me? I like to think so.

Three Plantations

While visiting New Orleans, I visited three of the plantations near the city. Each had their own vibe and personality, much like the people who once lived there. Before I go further, you should know that the plantations in southern Louisiana were sugar cane plantations, never cotton. It is much too humid and wet in the southern part of the state for cotton (trust me, it’s like breathing in tomato soup) but sugar cane loves the moisture.

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Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley was my least favorite of the three. While the row of fourteen 225-year-old oak trees was truly a beautiful sight, I felt like Oak Alley has a level of fakeness associated with too much tourism. They don’t allow photographs taken inside the house and they serve alcohol in several locations. Not that I don’t mind a good drink on vacation, but this plantation seems more interested in giving the tourists more hangover than letting them see into the real history of the place. Even the slave quarters were built new and made to look old. Still, it is a cool place to see if you are in the neighborhood, but other plantations do a better job of handing you more history.

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What drew me to Oak Alley was that ‘Interview With a Vampire’ was filmed there as well as ‘Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte’ starring Bette Davis.

Laura Plantation
This location was more my speed. They tell the history of the original family to own the plantation, the Duparc-Locoul’s, as well as some of the slaves who lived there as well. Four generations of women kept this plantation moving along, although they didn’t always get along with their male family members while doing so. The name of the plantation comes from the last woman to run the plantation, Laura Locoul Gore.

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Laura lived a long life. When she was born, Abraham Lincoln was president. When she died, John F. Kennedy was president, just to give you some perspective. The photograph below shows her at the beginning and end of her life (left and right). The center painting is her in a mardi gras devil costume when she was in her twenties.

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Fun fact about Laura Plantation: It is where the Brer Rabbit stories originated. You can read more about this and other Laura Plantation facts here .

Whitney Plantation
The last of the plantations I tours was Whitney Plantation. The Whitney was turned into a museum dedicated to telling the story of the slaves that lived there. Stories told through memorial artwork and sculptures and first-person accounts from the slaves who once lived there keep the history alive.

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Unlike Oak Alley and Laura, Whitney has not updated the main house to have electricity and air conditioning. It has been restored to look as it was meant to. Many plantation owners spent most of the money on the outside of their homes because, even then, appearance was everything in high society. The Whitney may look like it has marble on the outside of the house, but it is just a very good paint job done to make the house look more expensive.

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The slave quarters, which usually would be kept miles from the main house, have been moved to be near the main house so tourists like me can view them. Unlike Oak Alley, the Whitney Plantation kept their slave quarters as is.

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If you are ever in New Orleans, I highly recommend both Laura and Whitney plantations. Go early before the crowds and heat kick in. Along the way you can see other plantation houses along the road, many of which are filming locations to ’12 Years a Slave’, ‘Django Unchained’, and ‘The Skeleton Key’.

What happens in New Orleans…

I arrived in New Orleans this afternoon and was looking forward to seeing cool architecture and creepy cemeteries. I spent a few hours wondering the French Quarter and what follows are my first observations. The first is that the Harrah’s hotel and casino here makes the one in Las Vegas look like they weren’t even trying over there in the desert.

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Like San Francisco and Las Vegas, there are so many tourists. They lurk everywhere you turn. New Orleans doesn’t discriminate so the ages range from teenagers to the retirees looking for lost youth. I helped one of those elderly couples find Bourbon Street using mapquest on my phone. Sweet couple, but it probably took them thirty minutes to walk those three blocks to Bourbon Street.

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I was told by five different people to stop by Cafe du Monde and get beignets.  The next few days are pretty booked, so I made sure I went over there today. Now I’m addicted to beignets. So much for staying healthy on this trip.

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I left my TSA approved Ziploc bag full of toiletries in my bathroom back in Minnesota so I had to stop in CVS Pharmacy to resupply. They didn’t have my shampoo or conditioner, but there was an entire aisle of bourbon. At least I could drink the pain in my hip away after I walked 12,000 steps. You know, when in Rome.

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At one point I stopped to mapquest the route back to my hotel so I could nurse my aching leg (old injuries die hard), and a guy in his twenties stopped and asked how much for an hour of fun. So you get the right image in your head, I was wearing workout leggings, dirty sneakers, a sweat-soaked workout tank top, and zero make up. Apparently, this is what prostitutes look like in New Orleans because not two minutes later another guy asked me pretty much the same thing. I’ve spent three different weekends in Las Vegas over the years and not been asked if I would accept payment for sex. Not once in Vegas, but in New Orleans it happened twice in less than five minutes. Note to self, don’t stand on street corners and check mapquest on your phone in the French Quarter because it means you are open for business.

Thanks for the fun first day, Big Easy. Looking forward to more craziness over the next few days.

Reptile of a Different Color

Earth Day is upon us. This year I wanted to draw something vibrant. Something that would bring a smile to my face as I was drawing it. The chameleon was the perfect subject. I layered colored pencils on top of Prismacolor markers to achieve the brightness I was looking for. Last year I changed things up and used wisteria and daffodils to accent the earth day drawing, but this year I was back to drawing calla lilies and tulips. Their colorful textures call to me all winter.

chameleon 3There are 160 different species of chameleon, with 59 of them exist only on the island of Madagascar. The other species range from Africa to the southern parts of Europe. Their eyes have a 360-degree range of sight around their body and can see in two different directions at once. A useful advantage while spying on enemies.

Chromatophores, the cells in the chameleon’s skin that allows them to change color, contain melanin fibers that spread through the layers of pigment causing the cells to change color. These changes can occur depending on the chameleon’s mood or temperature. More recently, scientists have found that, much like the Flamingo, chameleons also get their colorations from the food that they eat.

Much like myself, chameleons are loners and pretty territorial. The females dislike having males around. In the off chance that the female does want to be touched, the end result is usually mating. Chameleons have no interest in parenting. When their young are born they are on their own.

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The biggest threat to the chameleon is habitat loss from slash and burn agriculture techniques. Of the 160 species of chameleon, 9 are critically endangered, 37 are endangered, and 20 are vulnerable. If you would like to help the chameleon and other living creatures, check out the website for the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF works around the world to fight the effects of climate change and to help conserve animals and their habitats.

Prints of this drawing are available on my Etsy page. I donate $10 from the sale of each print to the WWF.  If you venture to my Etsy page, be sure to check it out.

Here, Kitty Kitty

Since humans domesticated the cat, we often forget that many wild cats still live around us. From the African Savannah to the mountains of China and Canada, they roam in search of food and a good mate when they are in a frisky mood. Habitats have become much smaller for many of them. Carry on, friendly reader, to find out more about the worlds big cats.

The Cheetah
Cheetahs

The fastest mammal on the planet roams openly on the grasslands and forests of the Sahara desert. Cheetahs can accelerate faster than a sports car so good luck out running one if it decides that you are dinner. To avoid competition for food from larger and stronger lions, leopards, and hyenas, the cheetah prefers to hunt during the day. Their eyesight is amazing and they kill their prey with a bite to the throat.  Female cheetahs are solitary and only allow the males near them to mate.  They are listed as vulnerable due to habitat loss.

The Canadian Lynx
Canadian Lynx

The Lynx wanders the boreal forests of Canada and can make its way down into Montana, Idaho, and Washington on occasion. Their long round feet allow them to walk effortlessly on deep snowpacks and have retractable claws to help them climb and hunt prey. Snowshoe hares are the favorite meal of the lynx. The biggest threat to the lynx is climate change and hunting for their fur. Additionally, overhunting by humans of the lynx’s primary food supply, the hare, makes it difficult to steadily increase the numbers of this furry cat.

The Tiger
Tigers

Tigers are the largest of the big cats. Unlike their feline cousins, tigers love swimming in water. It helps keep them cool on hot days.  Their roar can be heard from two miles away. If you hear one, best keep a safe distance.  Their habitats range throughout Asia. Tigers are a keystone species, meaning they keep prey species under control attributing to healthy ecosystems. By helping the tiger survive, we help the ecosystems they live in survive as well. Seems like a win-win situation, does it not?  Habitat loss is the biggest threat to this beast.

The Snow Leopard
Snow Leopards
Of the big cats, the snow leopard has always been my favorite. I feel a kindred spirit in them for their solitary, shy nature. They have long tails that help them keep their balance when traversing the mountains of Asia. The females give birth to their young in dens lined with their own fur. The cubs stay with her for up to two years while she teaches them to hunt for themselves. Their numbers have dwindled to fewer than 7000.

The Caracal
African Caracal

Back in Africa, the caracal has adapted to blend into its surroundings. Its fur is the color of dried grass. Like most cats, the caracal is solitary and males and females only come together to mate. They are stealthy cats. Unlike the lion who chases their prey, the caracal sneaks and then pounces. #sneakattack

It may seem daunting, but there are ways you can help. If you would like to help these big cats and other animals, you can visit the World Wildlife Funds website. The WWF works with communities to conserve animals and their habitats and also works to fight the effects of climate change. The organization is a non-profit that I gladly support.

If you are interested in the drawings you see here, I sell them on my Etsy page. I donate $5 (sometimes more, depending on the drawing) from the sale of each drawing and print in my animal drawing series to the WWF.

RAWR

Cecil the Lion

The noted King of the Jungle doesn’t usually live in the jungle. Most lions live on the grasslands of the African Savannah. There is a rumor of a forest-dwelling pride of lions in the Gir Forest National Park in India. Perhaps they prefer curry on their dinner.

Lioness Hunt

These carnivores work together to hunt and protect the pride. Females do a large part of the hunting while the males protect the pride from intruders. Their prime hunting times are at night, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous during the day. Best to keep a safe distance (I’m looking at you, tourists with iPhones).

White Lion

White lions are rare, especially in the wild. There are protected areas in South Africa for these majestic animals to survive. No albinoism to see here, kids. A recessive gene gives them their lighter coloring, and it is unique to the lions of the Timbavati region. The people of Africa once believed white lions were messengers of God, so best not to mess with them.

Lions are listed as vulnerable. Loss of habitat and prey from the trade of bush meat threaten their existence. Sport hunting has also become a threat. If you would like to help the lion and other living creatures, check out the website for the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF works around the world the fight the effects of climate change and to help conserve animals and their habitats.

Lion Napping

When it comes to lions and other animals, I never rest easy. I donate at least $5 from the sale of each of my animal drawings and prints to the WWF. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like much but every little bit helps. If you venture to my Etsy page, be sure to check it out.

Sea Turtles and Friends, Mate

The Sea Turtle
sea turtle
Did you know that there are sea turtles living in almost every ocean basin on Earth? They live their entire lives at sea, except when the females come ashore to lay their eggs. Sea turtles have survived on Earth for 100 million years. Dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, just in case you needed some perspective.

Sea Turtles often mistake plastic bags and other plastic particles as jellyfish. Their stomachs cannot digest the plastic so many die from clogged digestive tracks. Constipated by plastic isn’t a fun way to go, so switching to reusable canvas shopping bags is an easy and inexpensive way to keep plastic bags from ending up in our oceans. Most grocery stores give discounts for each reusable bag you use.

The African Spurred Tortoise
African Spurred TortoiseThe African Spurred Tortoise lives in the deserts of northern Africa. These herbivores survive on small plants and grasses. This species of tortoise is extremely hostile toward each other, especially during the mating season. After the females lay their eggs, it takes eight months for them to hatch. Like most humans, the African Spurred Tortoise can become very obese is it is overfed. Guess they’re not so different from humans after all.

Though they aren’t cuddly and they are the largest tortoise on the African continent, they are endangered due to habitat loss and hunting.

The Galapagos Tortoise
Galapagos Tortoise
The slow-moving Galapagos Tortoise loves to spend its mornings sunbathing. Like all tortoises, the Galapagos Tortoise conserves energy to maintain its body temperature due to a slow-burning metabolism. In order to win the rights to breed with a female, the males can be very mean toward one another.

These tortoises have been known to live up to 100 years in the wild, while some have lived up to 150 in captivity. Many of the eggs that the females lay are eaten by predators while others are eaten after they emerge from their sandy nest. Habitat loss due to farming has also made their number lesson greatly. The Galapagos Tortoise is listed as vulnerable, with about 15000 remaining.

If you would like to help these ancient creatures check out the website for the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF works around the world the fight the effects of climate change as well as helps conserve animals and their habitats.

A couple of these drawings are available on my Etsy page. I donate $5 from the sale of each drawing from my animal drawing series to the WWF. If you venture to my Etsy page, be sure to check it out.

Savannah Wanderer

Roaming the plains and woodlands of the African savannahs, the Giraffe is best known for its long neck and signature spotted fur. They spend most of their day eating up to 45kg of leaves from the acacia tree and others plants. These leafy meals also provide most of the water they need to survive so they only appear at the neighborhood watering hole once every few days.

Reticulated Giraffe_PortraitGroups of giraffes are called towers. They are extremely social and like to travel together. The males, also known as bulls, like to show who is more manly by butting their heads and necks together. Humans aren’t the only species to enjoy the sport of necking.

Being the tallest mammals on Earth, the female giraffe gives birth standing up. The babies get a rude awakening when they are dropped up the 1.5 meters to the ground. They bounce back though and are on their feet within 30 minutes of giving birth.

The numbers of giraffes living in the wild had dropped 40% in the last 15 years. The main reason for this is habitat loss and, in some areas, poaching had become a larger issue. If you would like to help the giraffe and other living creatures, check out the website for the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF works around the world the fight the effects of climate change and to help conserve animals and their habitats.

Reticulated Giraffe_Landscape

Prints of these drawings are available on my Etsy page. I donate $5 from the sale of each drawing to the WWF. I also donate part of the proceeds from my animal drawing series. If you venture to my Etsy page, be sure to check it out.