The Eight Pillars of Joy

January 4, 2017

Watercolor sketch of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu from The Book of Joy

Watercolor sketch of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu from The Book of Joy

Pencil sketch, portraits from the cover of The Book of Joy

Pencil sketch, portraits from the cover of The Book of Joy

Today is the first time in 2017 that I took the time to pick up art materials and make art.  It felt good.  It is a bright, sunny, cold day, and the light was good for painting at my table.

As I look forward to this coming year, I’ve decided to focus on four main art projects/themes/activities for 2017:

  1. To continue working on line drawings in pen and ink or pencil.  I have a new book to put these in.  I think I can only get better if I draw a lot.
  2. To copy famous art works by master artists from history;  my own version in watercolor;
  3. To do more portraits of animals and people; and
  4. To take the time to draw or paint the covers of some of the best books I read in 2017.

My first book cover painting and pencil sketch are from The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.


These two wise men spent a week together discussing various aspects of joy and obstacles to feeling joy.  They offer insights into eight “pillars of joy”  — four qualities of the mind and four qualities of the heart:

  • perspective
  • humility
  • humor
  • acceptance
  • forgiveness
  • gratitude
  • compassion
  • generosity

The facilitator, Douglas Abrams, wove the Dalai Lama’s and Archbishop Tutu’s comments and observations with recent findings from academic and scientific research.  It was interesting to see the overlap.  One researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, found the following three factors have the greatest influence on increasing joy and happiness:

  • our ability to reframe our situation more positively
  • our ability to experience gratitude
  • our choice to be kind and generous

Another researcher, Richard Davidson, discovered four independent brain circuits that influence our happiness and well-being:

  • the ability to maintain positive states
  • the ability to recover from negative states
  • the ability to focus the mind and avoid mind wandering
  • the ability to be generous

I especially appreciated the discussion about negative thoughts and emotions, like feelings of worthlessness, envy, loneliness, etc.  The Dalai Lama was a strong advocate for building our mental immunity so that we are less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings.  He believed that preventive measures can be learned and cultivated, things like meditation or keeping a gratitude journal.  Archbishop Tutu, on the other hand, felt that human beings are not always in control of the negative emotions and thoughts that crop up during times of stress.  He believed that because negative thoughts and emotions are inevitable, we should accept that they come and forgive ourselves for having them.  We can learn and grow and develop stress resistance over time after experiencing challenges and situations and people that test us.

Reading The Book of Joy was a perfect way to start the new year.  The two holy men remind us of our common humanity and that we are in this life together.

“. . . ultimately our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.”
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering.  A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”
— The Dalai Lama


My Christmas-season place mats

My Christmas-season place mats

Now that I’ve no little children in the house, I’ve severely edited my Christmas decorating and obligations.  Still I do cherish and enjoy the few Christmas-y moments I’ve sought out this year, starting with having my red and green log cabin quilted place mats handy for our dining room table this month.  I’ve already written about my single string of outdoor lights over our front door, my makeshift garden trellis tree, my snowflake tree, driving to Bothell to see the Christmas lights at Evergreen Church, and painting a few Christmas cards.  In recent weeks I’ve also enjoyed a Christmas play at the Taproot Theatre and listening to Brad Craft, bookseller, reading aloud Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” at the University Bookstore.


Still to be enjoyed is a new Christmas book, Family Christmas Treasures, an anthology of stories about Christmas excerpted from literature and color plates of art celebrating Christmas.  I like that there are new-to-me stories, like “The Montreal Aunts” by Maureen Hull as well as some lovely art that I had not seen before.  For example, I really like these two Christmas prints by Andy Warhol:

Poinsettias by Andy Warhol, 1982

Poinsettias by Andy Warhol, 1982

Untitled (Fairy and Christmas Ornaments) by Andy Warhol, 1953 - 1955

Untitled (Fairy and Christmas Ornaments) by Andy Warhol, 1953 – 1955

They inspired me to paint some of my own Christmas ornaments:

Christmas ornaments

Christmas ornaments



What We Need Is Here

November 26, 2016

Skagit Valley snow geese

Skagit Valley snow geese

The Wild Geese
by Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Flock of snow geese in the Skagit Valley

Flock of snow geese in the Skagit Valley


Watercolor painting of Skagit Valley snow geese

Watercolor painting of Skagit Valley snow geese

Gearing Up for Halloween

October 26, 2016

Current display at the Greenwood Library

Current display at the Greenwood Library

Every year businesses in the Greenwood and Phinney neighborhoods host a daytime trick-or-treat walk, and this year is no exception.  Here is the display advertising the event, complete with a few new crows in witch hats!




Library staff who are scheduled to work that day are welcome to dress up in costume.  I’ve always had lukewarm feelings about Halloween and never felt very comfortable dressing in a costume.  Maybe one’s feelings about this holiday are formed during childhood, and we never went trick-or-treating when we were kids.  My parents held the view that this activity was akin to begging and therefore shameful (?!?) in some way.  My mother would buy candy bars to give to us on Halloween so we wouldn’t feel deprived!

I don’t hold the same views as my parents did, and I enjoy seeing how excited kids become when dressed up and given candy treats.  It’s a festive occasion.  I still do not like to dress up in costumes — too exhibitionist for me.  Perhaps I should stretch myself and move out of my comfort zone.  But I don’t think so.

Happy Halloween!

New October display at the Greenwood Library

New October display at the Greenwood Library

The new October display is up at the Greenwood Library.  I scanned my crow paintings and used them to decorate the bulletin board and surrounds for the interior book drops:

Book drop surround

Book drop surrounds



Painting Crows

September 27, 2016

Recent watercolor paintings of crows

Recent watercolor paintings of crows

“All that is wild, is winged.”
— Jay Griffiths

I’ve been painting crows in preparation for some October displays at the library where I work.  I have plenty of models — I bet I see at least one crow every time I step outside.  With my hearing loss, I no longer hear the high-pitched tweets of many songbirds, but I still hear the raucous call of cawing crows.  I’m thankful for that!

They are ubiquitous, as noted in the following poem.  I love how Mary Oliver calls them the “deep muscle of the world.”

by Mary Oliver

From a single grain they have multiplied.
When you look in the eyes of one
you have seen them all.

At the edges of highways
they pick at limp things.
They are anything but refined.

Or they fly out over the corn
like pellets of black fire,
like overlords.

Crow is crow, you say.
What else is there to say?
Drive down any road,

take a train or an airplane
across the world, leave
your old life behind,

die and be born again —
wherever you arrive
they’ll be there first,

glossy and rowdy
and indistinguishable.
The deep muscle of the world.














Fading Hydrangeas

September 26, 2016


Hydrangeas are maybe my favorite flower.  I love their colors, a changing palette — they age so beautifully.  And I love their round shape.  Even this late in the season, I see hydrangeas as fresh as the one above, which I photographed at the ocean in Bandon, Oregon.  But more common are those that are past their peak, fading, fading.


Painting hydrangeas

Painting hydrangeas

Watercolor sketch of hydrangeas

Watercolor sketch of hydrangeas