Mary, Untier of Knots

Our drive southwest was supposed to happen last year.

We reserved weekends twice, and hotels twice over the course of a few months. Each time, we were derailed by my father-in-law’s illness, which started out stressful but manageable, but steadily declined until he passed in July 2017. That seemed to kick off eight months of chaos, and when we finally planned our third attempt for travel, we did so holding our breath, afraid that this trip was just cursed, forever derailed by something confusing and awful that we could not control.

On the morning we left, our anxiety lessened as we drove further away from Dallas. By the time we arrived in Santa Fe, we had fully relaxed.

For the most part.

Not only did we lose my father-in-law last year, we also lost my husband’s bestie – the Pinky to his Brain, the mastermind to his sidekick or vice-versa depending on the day and the task at hand. Combine those devastating losses with the fact that I left my last full-time job in 2016 and just recently made the decision to start my own business after a year spent on airplanes going to stress-filled interviews for jobs I only kind of wanted, and you can see how vacation mode was still a bit out of our reach.

But we were happy. Our hotel room was amazing, quiet and private. We could walk to most places. We were in the tea house and chocolate shop  district (apparently). Everyone was nice. I mean, REALLY nice. It was good.

Friday afternoon, we walked down to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, an 1800s-era cathedral on the Santa Fe plaza.

It was just after Easter when we visited the basilica, and the sanctuary was filled with flowers and beautiful colors: symbols of rebirth common across many religious calendars at this time of year.

As I made my way through the sanctuary, I noticed in a statue in the corner that was festooned with purple ribbon. This was something I hadn’t seen before, so I stepped in for a closer look.

It was Mary Untier of Knots (aka Mary, Undoer of Knots), and each of her ribbons was attached to a prayer. There were so many! The words on the cards were private, so I didn’t look at them in any detail. But on one, the words “please don’t let him die” were visible in plain sight.

“Please don’t let him die.”

It was impossible to tell if the writer was male, female, young, old, or where they were from. It was just their prayer, their “knot.” This time last year, it could have been written by me. This time next year, or next month, or next week, it could be written by any of us. In researching Mary, Untier of Knots, I learned that she is invoked when we can’t solve things for ourselves, when the knots are too tight. When we ourselves do not see any solution.

Regardless of our spiritual beliefs, we can agree that there is something powerful about letting go of an impossible burden. That was the beauty – and the clarity – of my personal experience in the basilica.

We hope someone will get better, but can’t guarantee they will. We hope our professional lives will stabilize, but who knows really. We hope our family and friends will be happy, but there’s no magic wand for that.  That’s reality. But there’s a solace in the act of tying those hopes to a statue and walking away from it, even for a moment. Thank you, Mary.

New Mexico Palette

Custom Paint Palette: Shades of Santa Fe

I recently began making my own paint with gouache binder medium and pigment powders. It’s very rewarding to see the medium and powder combine into the final result, and to be able to personalize the color exactly how I want for any given project.

The ability to make my own custom paint palette inspired me to create specific colors for the places I visit. The mixing supplies are too cumbersome to take on the road with me, so I pack lightweight tools in my artist travel kit, then rely on memory and the sketches I make on the go to recreate the colors once I am back in my studio.

Our recent road trip through West Texas and New Mexico focused mainly on Santa Fe with a day trip up to Taos and the Rio Grande Gorge.  The landscape changed constantly, from the plains and desert conditions of the Texas Panhandle into Santa Fe, to the mountains, evergreen and birch trees as we headed north toward Taos. Just a few miles from Taos, at the gorge, it was flat again. Coming from Dallas where you’ll drive a similar distance and see mostly concrete, this diverse scenery was a special treat to experience.

This inspired me to create the colors shown above: Rio Grande Russet, Adobe Peach, La Posada Plum, Evergreen, Desert Sky, Horizon Blue and Sparkling Shadow.  These colors are made from Earth Pigments and Pearl-Ex, combined with gouache medium. For the painting below, I embellished with gold drawing ink and used an off-the-shelf warm gray watercolor for the background.

Travel Palette, Santa Fe, NM

In my previous post, I showed a Peerless watercolor palette as part of my artist travel bag.

While it’s lightweight and versatile in its packaged form, I decided to lighten my load even more and use it to customize a palette specifically for the trip I am planning through West Texas and New Mexico.

Santa Fe will be my final destination, so that’s where I imagine I’ll have the most time to do some quick sketches inspired by what I see or have seen along the way.

With that in mind, I clipped these colors from the Peerless palette: Japonica Scarlet; Light Green; Brilliant Yellow; Sky Blue and Pearl Grey. While it’s not a comprehensive set, I feel it gets me off to a great start capturing the natural beauty of the southwest, and I can also blend most of the colors to make new ones. (The red and blue to capture a violet sunset, or the yellow, red and blue for adobe structures, sandy hues and many skin tones, for example.)

I used a little glue to attach them to watercolor paper stiff enough to hold up to the substantial paint squares and test swatches. This is less than one-third of a Peerless page, so not only do I have plenty of color to last a few days on the road, I have many more options to choose from or use again for the next trip!

I’ll slide this paper palette into a protective cellophane mailing sheath before packing it, to avoid damage.

Santa Fe Artist Kit

Part of the fun of traveling is putting together my artist travel kit. It differs slightly for each destination, depending on space, weather and the trip’s planned activities.

For this particular adventure, we are driving Southwest, so I made sure to have many desert-inspired colors to choose from, plus some metallics to accent. I didn’t want to include pastels or anything that might easily melt. Watercolor-infused paper and water-soluble pencils keep things versatile and compact.

Even though we will have room in the car, I travel pretty light. I keep my art supplies simple while I’m on the trip and make quick sketches or color studies to draw more involved pieces from when I’m back home. This allows me to balance making art with the fun of immersing myself in a new city. I also make a point to visit art supply stores when we travel (independent art supply stores if possible!) so if there’s something I forget or feel I must have, I have the option of purchasing it on the trip, patronizing a local business, and having an artsy souvenir.

What’s in the Bag:

Here are the basics of my next artist travel kit: (Left to Right) Strathmore 5X7 Visual Journal; Peerless Watercolor Booklet; Pentel Aquash water brush pen; 3B and 6B Staedtler Mars Lumograph charcoal pencils; HB Koh-I-Noor Toison; Silver and Gold Caran D’ache Supracolor II pencils. I pack my supplies in a Found Leather Goods portfolio bag.