Seeking “a Kernel of F***ing Worth”

This past week I finally learned what the numbers attached to the AQI (Air Quality Index) mean: 1-50 Good, 50-100 Moderate, 101-150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, 151-200 Unhealthy, 201-300 Very Unhealthy, 301-500 Hazardous. This morning as I write (and please let these numbers be better by Tuesday when this posts), friends in Portland have 294, further south in Oregon the numbers are all above 300 and hazardous, our Los Angeles family 157. We hover around 200.

The West Coast, except blessedly Anchorage 17, burns with unprecedented wildfires. Human stupidity (both in the big picture by failing to act on climate change and in small, careless ways, “wreckreation” and gender reveal parties!?) leaves forests and houses and towns destroyed, yellow twilit skies and acrid smoke, the number of deaths not yet known. Lies and rumors complicate already impossible firefighting. Heartbreaking stories tell of mass evacuations and homes lost, including those of firefighters. I can’t imagine the terror of waiting in a shelter or car or motel after evacuation, wondering about the fate of one’s home.

And that’s, of course, just part of what faces us. The Woodward revelations last week that Trump knew how virulent the virus was and how it spread. He lied about it and people died. Every day reveals the administration’s corruption and manipulation of the agencies charged with keeping us safe. And then there’s the danger that this mendacious man might win reelection.

“And still we go on…” – that’s what Patti Smith says in this clip from Smith’s Instagram account my painter friend sent last night: (

In her quiet, unadorned way, Smith is so very articulate, just says what is. That we go on, feed the birds, drink coffee, make masks and jam, are thankful for safety (if we have it), but anxious and unsettled, made miserable by so much suffering.

She made me smile with her humanity.

Please stay safe.



Recap About A Kneecap

My best laid plans for the January break got upsot – as did I. Foolishly rushing down our driveway, my foot slipped back, and my knee crashed straight down on asphalt, causing my femur to split my patella in two. Repair surgery was a week later on the 17th, and I’m no weight bearing on that leg for at least six weeks. I asked the physical therapist this morning about my knee bending, he said yes, but it will be a six-month project.

So with a walker I clump around on my good leg with my injured leg in a full length leg immobilizing brace, gratefully accepting a lot of help from my good-natured husband (who in the last three weeks has learned much about household matters and care giving), the Trail Boss who came for surgery and aftermath, and Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, who came separately more recently, and friends – all of them bringing good humor, kindness, and competence.

And now it’s February, the little paintings I’d been working on still sit on my table, and the Photoshop for Illustration class I began online in early January paused at Week Two. The assignment that week provided dummy magazine articles, which we were to illustrate after making little drawings and chunks of handwritten text to manipulate and move by the instructions. We had a list of subjects to choose from – kitchen madness, studio madness etc. Now the title of my attempt seems appropriate.

House Rules

Rules we abide by (or ignore) in our own houses can be complex and mysterious in origin. Where do we get these notions that fill our home rulebook?

My mother is the source of some of my rules: no ketchup bottles or milk cartons on the dining table, and from her Irish roots, “if you kill a spider, it will rain the next day.” She believed houses should always have fireplaces but no overhead lights actually used. We lived in a 27-foot trailer for some time, so I’m not sure that rule worked out for her, but I’ve remembered and obeyed it.

An old neighbor of long ago, the one, who had four little towheaded boys when our towhead joined the neighborhood line-up, was the source of several tricks and truisms. (I was so new to both homeownership and motherhood at the time that I readily absorbed her rules.) She declared that if the toilets weren’t clean, the house wouldn’t seem clean, and recommended at the approach of unexpected visitors to pull out the vacuum. A vacuum in the middle of the floor signals a cleaning in progress!

My old friend who lives on Bainbridge Island taught me about counter wiping. We joke about it, but it’s true. A nurse, she knows germs. Also, she possesses Scandinavian blue-and-white clean genes, and her house can sparkle – with towels and sheets fresh from hanging on the line outside, cut flowers on the kitchen table, homemade preserves.

No shoes in the house is second nature to anyone who has lived in Alaska.

From my very good high school friend’s mother, I learned to always leave a house or a cabin clean when departing. Dirty windows block a huge amount of light. That’s longtime Anchorage garden writer Jeff Lowenfels’s rule to encourage light for houseplants – and lifted spirits for humans.

My painter friend taught me to shut the shades and close out the dark each evening, a ritual I love here where the winter nights are even darker (not now thankfully!).

The rules for how to hang paintings come courtesy of Don and Julie Decker, the owners of the Anchorage gallery where I used to show. The museum rule is the center of the painting at about five feet above the floor – the Deckers could masterfully eyeball that height. It’s so easy to hang things too high, and as our younger son said to me recently, it looks weird once you notice.

Cheryl Mendelson in “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House” taught me her way to make beds – to add an extra flat sheet over the wool blanket, then fold the top sheet over that – protecting the blanket. Mendelson’s book contains 854 pages and many rules – great stuff really – how to “properly” wash dishes by hand, how to light a fire, how to clean most anything in a house.

And same with Ellen Sandbeck’s “Organic Housekeeping,” a gift from Mrs. Hughes, I read it from front to back, and the rule I remember is no sponges (“bacterial incubators”) for dishes. Ever. Maybe.

Rules. Are these rules about rigidity or about comfort? You must have them also. Probably some of yours contradict mine.

But we all know what rules are for, right?!

Scizzors,chore lists

What’s the Idea?

Where do ideas come from? That’s another thing we talk about in The Workroom.

Maira Kalman, an illustrator and author I admire, describes the initial process: “Through visits to museums/sites/institutions, reading, research, sketching, note taking, photo taking, and a general three-week immersion, I find my way to a story.” Such a brief statement – and such an important concept – to allow all that gathering time and activity before beginning.

Rather than actually doing one’s work (but better than surfing for news of Cate and Will), Maria Popova’s website “Brain Pickings” is a highly recommended but dangerous rabbit hole for reading about how creativity happens.

There I discovered James Webb Young’s little booklet, “A Guide to Producing Ideas” originally  written in 1940 for graduate students and active advertising practitioners. I guess we have to think Don Draper, but his ideas resonate for any person desiring to think creatively. The booklet is slim and well worth the $6.26 on Amazon ($4.40 Kindle).

Young’s sections reflect acknowledged steps in the creative process: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. It makes encouraging reading, particularly about the gathering stage. Toward the end, Young briefly restates his five-step formula for the “process or method by which ideas are produced”:

First, the gathering of raw materials – both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge.

Second, working over these materials in your mind.

Third, the incubating stage, where you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis.

Fourth, the actual birth of the Idea – the ‘Eureka! I have it!’ stage

Fifth, the final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.”

But – it’s not just the idea we need – Hugo Lindgren) wrote about what else we need in a New York Times Magazine article last January (here). He says: “Ideas, in a sense, are overrated. Of course you need good ones, but at this point in our supersaturated culture, precious few are so novel that nobody else has ever thought of them before. It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution.”

Solving those endless problems – that’s the fun of The Workroom!

Work sign  ©Katy Gilmore  2013

Keeping On While Warmly Dressed

The artist Rembrandt van Rijn painted more than 40 self-portraits. Some of the best known he made later in life, like this one now on exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum as part of “Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London.”

Collected at the end of the 19th century by Edward Cecil Guinness (the brewery heir), these 17th Century Dutch and Flemish paintings are often huge, filled with gauzy dresses and clouds, rosy or porcelain-white cheeks, battlefields, hunting dogs, ship-crowded harbors, hats of every persuasion, and the fruits and flowers of trademark Dutch still life. It’s a rich exhibition, including Rembrandt etchings, and an extra gallery with paintings of the period from Seattle collections.

My clever friend visited the show earlier this spring and found herself inspired to add unexpected design elements to the quilt she is working on. I left thinking about Rembrandt’s self-portraits. How hard self-portraits are to do, how easy to avoid, and about Rembrandt living only a few more years after he painted the one at the museum.

So I made an attempt (harder to do than ever). The only commonalities with Rembrandt being a certain grayness, the many layers of clothing we wear for work (a fur-lined cloak for him, several sweaters for me) – and keeping on.

An Anniversary

This is the 500th post for “Her spirits rose….”











I think I am silenced. (For today.)

The Workroom – An Invitation

The purpose of The Workroom is to help you put more creativity in your life, and be supported in making this a priority.

We will be a small group, beginning Monday the 17th, and participants have varied projects in mind. Not everyone knows exactly what they want to do – and even those who do have many decisions to make. The vision is to provide an opportunity for interaction and development. This isn’t an art class with painful critiques – we get rewarded for showing up and doing.

I will try to encourage work with frequent posts about lists, goals, time management skills, workspaces, dealing with stumbling blocks, definitions of art, and words of wisdom from artists and writers. Participants will use journals and their pages of our private blog while working on a personal project. Because I so believe in the power of creating, my goal is to help people learn more about how “making” is possible for them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.”

There are still spaces, and if you are debating, and I can answer any questions, please contact me (

Join us as we seek those memorable days!

Her spirits rose…The Workroom!

Thinking about the new venture I wrote about here, it occurred to me that what I propose is most like a workroom – a place to go for creative endeavor. Not a workshop or a studio or an office – room titles definitely designated to particular activities – but a space, virtual in this case, where we go to work, to make, to be inspired, to see what’s going on. And our workroom has colleagues with whom to share the creative process.

I like to think about what’s in a workroom – a door for sure – bookcases full of inspiration and instruction – a table and a light – tools and storage – a welcoming place. The first session of “The Workroom” is definitely a beta effort – a learning process – and I’ve loved thinking about, and planning for it.

This session will run from September 17 to October 26 and cost $60. Because there is much to be learned from more experienced participants by the not-so-experienced, the group will be limited in size but not in skill level. While some will have already discovered a way to express their lives through work on a writing or art project, others might use this time and structure to begin to learn a skill like drawing or take a skill to another level.

We’ll have our own blog for The Workroom’s virtual space and learn how to negotiate the inner workings of a blog. (The blog can live on beyond the session – as community and resource.) The idea is that participants will set up and fill individual pages within our blog – a place for each to post about goals and progress – following the familiar arc of creativity – from loose idea and initial enthusiasm to specific thoughts and steady working.

To make that journey in six weeks, it is necessary to have a project fairly quickly in mind. When my young friend was 11, she said to her mom (in response to her mom’s vague comment about “not being inspired”): “if I waited for inspiration, I’d never get anything done.” Muses can only be wooed – not forced – but they do show up when we focus, and maybe for those who aren’t sure of THE project – this period of concentration on a small part of the big task might work – a real beginning.

Please email me ( for sign-up details or with questions, and include a little about what you hope to get from our experience. I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Here’s to September and new beginnings!

A Break and a New Idea

This blog repeatedly makes me alert for ideas, strong in fighting off discouraging thoughts, and happy designing engrossing work. But except for an occasional “iPainting Summer” or other image for the record, “Her spirits rose…” will take an August break. A break in the “gone fishin’” sense – gone reading, gone hiking, gone visiting, gone being visited – summer gone.

But not unthought about. Mindful of Mary Oliver’s words about the world’s most “regretful people” – those who feel “their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time,” a notion incubates in my mind for an addition to the blog this fall, and I wonder if it might interest any of you.

I’m thinking about creating a place online, perhaps “Her spirits rose…the workshop,” an eclass, a group where participants support one another and enjoy the process. Individual journeys with company. A blog of our own?

Space and time to begin to make something unique, art born of observing and transforming, coming from a particular life and expressed in an individual way. My role would be guide, but also participant, my creative challenge to try and make a setting that would inspire and encourage.

Participants could focus on any project, using media they choose – art is a big-tent word with room inside for many pursuits and obsessions. But the goal would be to work on our projects in a conscious, disciplined way, with routine and priority – a goal sometimes hard to achieve alone. It’s good to have colleagues. We won’t compete with one another – but will compete with ourselves – be accountable to our intention to do this work.

Internet wisdom holds that only 1% of people will actually participate in an online activity – a blogger I enjoy refers to the other 99% as “lurkers.” We are all lurkers sometimes, but in this experience we need commitment to participate.

I am thinking about six weeks of online meeting – beginning in mid-September. Often people attempt to encourage participation by charging for an ecourse – figuring we are more attentive to something we’ve paid for. I’m not sure about that. Or about group size – small I think – at least to start.

So – a thought to leave you with during the August break – is there something you would like to achieve, some technique to learn, a project you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t quite start – or finish? Or you know you want to make or do, but haven’t been able to focus enough to know exactly what?

August is perfect for a break, and September is perfect for new beginnings. Enjoy the former – and please think about the latter!

A Little Bit of Lucky

Renato is the owner of the villa where we stayed near Bettona, Umbria, and he also teaches at the University of Perugia in the Environmental Sciences department. I wrote to him after we returned to say than you, and asked about a painting at the villa (with signature initials the same as his). He emailed back that he did make the painting, but that he didn’t paint much lately because he was writing the text for a book of photographs about Bettona. Softening his email with a smiley face, he inquired whether I might “correct his English.”

I said sure – it was July and I was avoiding the undone book arts project. He offered to send a disc with the photo layout and a file with the Italian and English text. I didn’t know what to expect. It seems brave to write a book at all, and daunting to write in two languages. It intrigued me that he would tackle this labor of love (proceeds, if there are any, go to UNICEF).

Renato photographed Bettona from his terrace across a valley, over and over as the weather and the seasons changed. He shot at dawn and sunset, as the sky colored with lightening storms or festival fireworks. In some photos fog blankets Bettona unmooring it from its hilltop. In the text he introduces a little history and culture and, surprisingly to me, the science behind weather phenomena.

My task seemed like a really fascinating puzzle – a puzzle that mattered to somebody. Sometimes fixes were easy like making words consistent throughout – choosing British or American spellings of words like color. Other passages seemed at first impenetrable – complicated by my unfamiliarity with scientific terms and the difference between literally translated words and the way we really write and speak.

I enjoyed it when his text wandered away from science, and described the experience of making the book – “between an idea and its realization, between saying and doing, there is a distance that seems insurmountable ” or spoke of fog, “by hiding reality, fog plays the role of muse and leaves space for the imagination.”

And I loved learning more about Bettona – it was just a sleepy, shuttered walled town on the weekend we walked into it. Now I know it has preserved medieval walls on top of an ancient Etruscan foundation, a patron saint who settled there in the early days of Christianity, and a contemporary Goose Festival.

A favorite phrase came in an email when we’d finished most everything. Renato wrote that to get a photo of Bettona in snow, he needed to wait for winter because snow didn’t fall in Bettona last year. He said, this year “I need a little bit of lucky!”

That’s wrong for proper English – but a keeper!

Projects Large and Small

Bainbridge Arts and Crafts recently announced its annual “Almost Perfect Sale” – bargains for customers and a chance to clean out the studio for artists. I got out the 12×12-inch panels I painted in acrylic – nine flower panels exhibited in a shared show as one quilt-like piece. I like the idea of this sale – better the panels find a life out of their storage box.

I began to picture them signed and titled as individuals, and when I posed them about my little workroom, I told myself – this will be a project I will enjoy – painting again on each, even if only writing words.

And then I thought about Rose Frantzen. If you go to, you will see a really exciting use of 12×12-inch panels. The link takes you to Frantzen’s “Portrait of Maquoketa” at the National Portrait Gallery and her gallery talk.

Frantzen conceived of, and completed, a huge portraiture project. In her talk, she explains the genesis of her project – her initial “ah ha” moment came in the grocery store: “I’ll paint a portrait of each person in this little town!”

It’s fun to watch her begin to speak nervously, and then warm to the task of describing her working process – how many people, in what format, and what the whole experience was like (not what she imagined, going in). While you listen you get to see her lively paintings in the background – 180 of them, people of all ages – each painted from life in one sitting.

Frantzen is an artist through and through. She also taps into “project energy” with this series – the vigor that attends something we label as a project – setting aside time, making lists and plans, looking forward to the encapsulated period contained within this particular project, and finding pleasure in the moments of resolution along the way.

I sent the link to my painter friend and to my friend who paints in the woods, but didn’t think more about it till I was in the midst of the small, doable, (signing and titling) project (a break from pushing along the larger pocket book project). But Frantzen is great encouragement to keep going with big projects.

Her project is truly enormous – and the joy in the video is her articulate ability to tell of her growth and learning along the way. When Frantzen talks about her discoveries – about individuals and generations, little towns and community – she describes dedication. The video is 57 minutes (an easy to complete project) – an enjoyable, inspiring tale of what became so much more in the doing.

It’s a pleasure to share this – I really wish Rose Frantzen well. And all of you, with all your projects!

Wandering Mind

The amaryllis or belladonna lily, the one I’ve been recording, is progeny of a bulb given to me nearly 30 years ago. A long time ago I gave my painter friend a daughter bulb, and she returned a granddaughter to bring here to Washington. Usually it blooms for the New Year, but skipped last year, so I was so glad to see the start of a bud.

With smaller flowers than the showy amaryllis we force for the holidays, these plants bloom the color of a Creamsicle. When the bud emerged, the only leaf extended from a smaller bulb rooted beside. Impossibly spindly at first, the stalk grew fatter and sturdier just in time to support the buds. And then they fell.

By depicting the amaryllis during my time off, I recognized I still wanted to tell what was going on. In his beautiful little book “The Art of Description: World into Word,” Mark Doty suggests there might be a problem of “life not having been really lived until it is narrated.” I surely missed the narrating.

In spite of enjoying the freedom to wander my mind, I also missed discovering in the way the poet William Stafford described: “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought if he had not started to say them.”

I appreciated all comments and encouragements at the end of the year. You who show up to read provide what Brenda Ueland says someone who wants to write needs – ”…persons who, for some mysterious reason, leave you full of energy, feed you with ideas, or, more obscurely still, have the effect of filling you with self confidence and eagerness to write.” What a gift. Truly, my spirits rose.

In her third book “Prospect,” Anne Truitt explains the motivation to write this way: “Life is a lonely business. My impulse is to hold out my hand to readers. By recording my life as clearly as I can (while retaining my reticences) I offer them my companionship, a kind of friendship.”

It’s a happy thing to touch another in the process of trying to describe my place in the world. Including my mistakes. I shouldn’t have watered the amaryllis again so soon. I debated, and then pictured moist Kauai, with afternoon rain squalls – brief, but frequent and drenching. But my potted bulb had no leaves and no way to process extra water. I’ll do better with the second bud. And I’ll try hard with the second year also!

Thank you for reading – I’m glad to be back!