Yard Art

I can’t draw.

Drawing is, I feel, an admirable – even enviable – skill. But when it comes to seizing hold of a writing implement and attempting to produce on paper a semblance of some actual object, I’m just not there.

So when I was overtaken by an impulse to start painting some of the steel tubing planters that stand here and there around the yard, I wasn’t quite sure how I would approach the project. A trip to Lowe’s and Michael’s for paints and brushes seemed like a good idea for a start; then I discovered paint markers at Target. I don’t know what to do with a brush, but I sure know how to play with markers!

I should get out more.


I went ahead and picked a planter, its cactus lost to a sudden freeze last winter, hauled it to the garage for a once-over with the wire brush, set it on a leaf bag in the driveway and hit it with some primer, and pondered. What I had in mind were the wooden poles out at The Natural Gardener, but when I went to take a closer look at them I saw right away they were way out of my league. The flowers were recognizable for what they were: a poppy, an Indian blanket, bluebonnets. What to do?

I was sitting at my daughter’s kitchen island late one Friday afternoon, feeling very sorry for myself because I can’t draw real flowers or real birds, when I noticed my current purse. It’s one I returned to a few months ago when my right hand was out of commission and all those Baggalini zippers were out of the question.

Here was some art that, while I might not be able to reproduce it exactly, at least granted me permission to draw stuff that doesn’t perfectly emulate nature.


Now that, I could do.

See, I may not be able to draw, but I have a PhD. That means I have spent many years in school.

That means I can doodle.

As with any painting project, at some point you just have to grab a brush and start slapping some paint around. I’d spent as much time as I could setting up my corner of the garage, finding places for paints and brushes and paper towels, covering a couple of surfaces with parchment paper…It was time to commit to something.

Naturally my dear spouse summoned up some commitment long before I did, and brought me home a lovely piece of steel, capped on top and a mere five or ten pounds more than I can easily handle. But who cares? This will be great.

I knew right away that steel wanted to be blue.


And it needed a tree: black. Which brought me to Sylvia Plath, of course.

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.

How wonderful, to have a piece of steel that seemed to want to decorate itself. I felt like one of those sculptors who says you just need to chop everything that doesn’t belong there. Pink leaves suddenly make perfect sense.

Wallace Stevens showed up, of course.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

All four sides of this post have a piece of poetry attached to them; it seemed like a good place to start. Then the top of the post needed, of course, Hopkins – to set the mood for the entire project.


Point being, none of this had to be fancy, perfect, or even particularly artistic. It’s yard art, for Pete’s sake.

I guess I just felt the world could use some poetry right now.

Then I had in mind some sky, some landscape, some flowers – except I have no idea how to recreate a sky and a landscape. Fortunately this is am extremely permission-giving kind of project. Blue sky, yellow grasses, a strip of green; and some flowers. None of which have to look like the real world at all.


Into this colorful little puppy would go a pansy, I just kind of knew. Pansies are winter flowers where I live, able to sail through even icy, even snowy days. And provide me with flowers for pressing, which is another project for another post.



It’s that time of year when the yard needs color and things that need no water. Austin has this odd tradition whereby your water use for three winter months is measured and used to calculate your “wastewater average” for the year. So the amount of water I use now will be part of the equation next summer, when water becomes exponentially more expensive. Never mind that my “wastewater average” is always higher than any individual month of water use; obviously it is calculated by minds far greater than my own.

But by now I am tired of everything that wants water. Or any attention at all. I just want to hang around someplace warm and paint.

So an even taller piece of 4″ tubing with a cap arrived at the house and I set to work. This piece of steel told me it wanted to be black. Because every garden needs something black?

Or because white doodles would look nice on black?


Those mandala looking shapes bring us to the heart of how everyone can make a nice doodle: all you have to do is start with a center shape and add shapes on the outside, over and over. College and grad school are extremely helpful for this. Or at least they used to be, when people took notes on paper.


I kind of misted over this post with the fumes from some metallic spray paint, so it has a kind of sparkly dusty look. Don’t know if I’m wild about that exactly, but one of the wondrous things about a project like this is that you get to paint all over it if you don’t like what you’ve done.

Take this 15″ piece that seemed to want to be red with black stripes:


It was so clear in my mind: like a tuxedo! But then it looked like a filmstrip and I didn’t think I was up to painting little squares to make it look like actual film. Which was chickening out, but so what? I could go that way again any time I feel like it.

Meanwhile, black was calling out to me again. Black with wildflowers. Good-bye red!


Naturally, Supervisor Marco approved of the choice. Black is is favorite color.


Didn’t we all used to doodle when talking on the telephone meant sitting for long stretches with a wired-in telephone machine in our hand? That’s all the skill that’s required here.


I think all flowers look nice on a black background, and wildflowers all look as though they were just invented this morning. I learned in second grade art class that little dots and stars make sweet additions to any drawing, so I lean heavily on that little trick too.

Can’t you tell from this photo that we had a snowstorm three days ago?

Years ago I visited friends in Albuquerque and one day we drove to Santa Fe along the Turquoise Trail. Ever since then I’ve imagined myself living in a wooden house on a dusty road, making art all day for people who might or might not want to buy it. I’d live on rice and beans, have gray hair swept up in a messy bun, and shuffle around in Birkenstocks. I’d have a gentle demeanor and be nice to everyone.

I can dream, right?


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