It’s An Odd Compulsion


Maybe they all are.

[I see that I first drafted this piece nearly a month ago. It doesn’t often take me so many weeks to write a post. This alone should be sufficient proof that I have spent so much time lately traveling down rabbit holes of my own devising that I can hardly find time to go to work.]

A colleague in the addiction trade used to describe an addiction as something that feels good when you’re doing it, and feels terrible whenever you aren’t.

“Terrible” isn’t the word they used, but this is a family type blog.

What is it that grabs hold of the imagination and hangs on, making you think about something you may never have thought about or even wanted to think about in your whole life? I don’t know how you are, but there are things I will start doing out of the clear blue sky and then I find myself wanting to do more of them.

Maybe hobbies are like that. You fold an origami crane, or paint a garden post, or learn to knit. You do a thing and then you want to do it again, do it better, maybe. (At the moment I am hearing Floyd play scales on the trumpet, as he has done many thousands of times over the last half century. And still he is always in search of the improved technique, the better-developed embouchure, the extended endurance.)

It’s not as if the notion of doing a thorough clean-up of the rocky landscape under our enormous live oak had lived in my mind like an item on my bucket list, something I absolutely needed to do before I die. For five years a noisy run through with the leaf blower seemed perfectly sufficient and perfectly sufficiently back-breaking.

Then the interchangeable pillar space needed sprucing up. You can’t have a series of pretty painted posts surrounded by a messy sprawl of stones, dead leaves, oak galls, tiny sticks, and whatever ick the rain and heat and insects leave behind. So I cleaned up around the bottom of the interchangeable pillar.

Then I was faced with the inescapable truth that the spruced up part looked way better than the leaf-littered neglected part.


Not perfect, you see, but very much better. Today’s efforts toward perfection were thwarted by a wind so wild I wondered whether any of the giant limbs overhead might be what are known in the lumbering business as widow makers. Widower makers, in my case. Because even if I heard the firecracker pop-pop-pop of a separating limb – Three Pines is still keeping me company as I work, of course – I sincerely doubt I could hoist myself off the ground quickly enough to flee to safety before I was involved in widower making.

Note to self: get to work on those quads, no kidding.

Anyway, Lucy and Marco had fun all through this morning chasing scuddering leaves and  windblown acorns, and climbing into and out of giant leaf bags.

Because I was sitting under the holly by the front bird bath, plucking individual stones out of the damp soil where they’ve spent five years compacting the earth around the oak tree’s roots, and scooping up leaves by the handful, depositing them in the oddly animated bags.

Here’s where the compulsion part comes in: I didn’t want to go to work (ok, so I never want to go to work. Just go along with me for a minute tho); I couldn’t wait to get home and change and get back under the tree; and even as I write this (tired, 6:00 pm and darkness encroaching) all I want to do is sit under that tree and neaten up another few square feet.

What designs will I ultimately go with? Either in the stones themselves


or in the snakey twists of bare earth where rain is expected soon, and where I’ll pour compost as soon as my back can bear the thought?


Clearly you might think me a woman in need of a hobby.

After many days of scraping up, scraping clean, and placing rocks as neighbors came and went, admiring my efforts but doubtlessly thinking I am completely out to lunch, I’ve arrived at an odd combination of purposeful designs and random spaces. I like to say it captures my attitude toward taming nature: as a gardener I like to do some of that, but as an unruly gardener I like nature to remain top dog in the contest.

I can already tell that this compulsion has not reached its conclusion. Having found rock-arranging an amazingly peaceful occupation, I know I’ll be out there making and undoing designs whenever the mood strikes. Or when paperwork, dusting, or dirty laundry loom at the top of the to-do list.

Here we are in early March:




I’ve certainly been a Texas gardener in need of winter’s end and spring’s beginning, when ice-rimmed days give way to new growth and the wild native survivors make themselves evident among the plants and shrubs that aren’t really up to central Texas conditions. We have had a very long series of wet days; it recently took an entire week to get one inch of rain.

Some tender new leaves are asserting themselves in the mulchy muck. We are always glad to see them come back.

Other creatures remain cloaked in uncertainty, like lantana I put in a little late. I keep monitoring for signs of life in the landscape, but it’s too soon to know about all the citizens.

And how is it that so many neighbors can have native Columbine survive year after year after year, and I cannot? Is there a gardener alive who has never raised a fist to the heavens and roared, It’s not fair!!!!!! ?

I thought not.

My other ongoing compulsion involves brushes, tubes of acrylic, and an endless supply of paper, paper towels, and the sort of canvases-for-beginners that you pick up on sale at Michael’s. I started working with a book, Learn to Paint in Acrylics with 50 Small Paintings. I believe I foisted a few of those on you in a previous post, but here are a couple more:




Then I discovered a wonderful online teacher: Jane Font. She posts a new beginner level painting every Tuesday and takes you through each painting in a step-by step manner, right down to how she’s holding her brush and why layers are a good idea. Jane is extremely permission-giving and relaxed, something I appreciate in a teacher.

A few Jane paintings. You’ve seen the poppies before, but the rainy city is another one done with palette knife.



I really should not paint in a notebook, for obvious reasons (paint sticks). These are also from Jane’s tutorials:


Unable to let go of the need to paint seascapes, I looked for Jane’s examples because other online instructors either annoy the life out of me or go forth at a level far beyond my pay grade. I wish Jane Font taught all the classes, but I guess a variety of instructors is a good thing. I am going full-size here because smaller versions look deceptively better. Might as well be honest.


Not a bad portrayal of clouds that seem to have fallen into the sea. I was moderately happy with the log for about ten minutes. Anyone who claims that creativity is satisfying is a person who cannot be trusted.

So then I decided I needed to learn how to paint clouds. Full disclosure: I decided this because my efforts to paint a lovely translucent ocean wave had come to grief after grief after grief after grief. Jane is good with clouds. Me? Not so much. I can do flat clouds, cartoon clouds, cotton ball clouds, and the kind of clouds we used to draw when the world was portrayed with a strip of green on the bottom and a strip of blue across the top with a house and a tree in the middle and a round yellow sun with yellow lines sticking out of it.

Here we have an example of how far I have come. This first one captures clouds in the exceedingly rare mallard formation:


I know they look more like geese, but “mallard formation” is funnier.

Then I went for a cheery spring landscape, once again traveling with Jane:


I definitely want to learn to paint buildings. Perhaps this is a skill one can only acquire in Italy. Perhaps a GoFundMe is in order.

Then I decided to check out Will Kemp. Now there is a mistake waiting to happen. Every one of his online classes looks like a MUST DO to me, and I am supposed to be practicing some modicum of fiscal restraint over here as a semi-retired person. Fortunately, he offers a vast array of free instructions as well.

In truth, his cheery Good morning, class! kind of gives me a sinking feeling.

But wow can he ever sketch and draw and paint and teach! Will Kemp Art School He even describes himself as a compulsive collector of art materials, and his collection of sketching pens had me salivating at 5:00 this morning. It is only by the grace of No Amazon Links that we will be eating for the coming month.

Or maybe they were links and I just didn’t try any of them because I just knew what would happen…

In any event, I feel sure Will Kemp can teach me how to paint things that don’t look quite so flat. Here’s a not-quite finished sample that I might like for even more than ten minutes:


Or I might prefer the abstract landscape of the paint accumulating on my desktop easel.

Or I might go outside and re-arrange a few rocks.


3 thoughts on “It’s An Odd Compulsion

  1. Dana says:

    Your paintings are really good. And—-I love the painted iron posts and gravel around them.
    Hope to see you at Rock -n- Oaks for the reunion! Love you!,

  2. Dan Hancock says:

    Your rock formations remind me of the Japanese tranquillity gardens where they have pebble or gravel formations amidst boulders or other objects.

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