I had the great pleasure of putting together a ketubah — jewish wedding contract — for a client not that long ago. It was a fun challenge, I really enjoy making milestone objects like this for people. 

Ketubah 2016-03-11T14:45:37+00:00

Painter’s Way

I have written before about the Oregon Country Fair, but I haven’t written much about the PEOPLE. The community of gentle, wonderful people that make the thing possible. It’s a large group of people I feel deeply connected to, although I’ve only had the pleasure of their company a scant 5 years (and really, 3 of those were by proxy.) 

I suppose that isn’t a long time, but something wonderful happens when you spend 170 consecutive hours with folks, shouldering the heavy burden that the recyclables are — sliding through the mud, directing a fleet of ancient trucks, repairing those trucks, watching the trucks slide into the mud, lifting things, laying hands on every single piece of glass, plastic and aluminum — both returnable and not — that is thrown into barrels (and NOT thrown into barrels, thank you very much.) We call the people who work at OCF “family”, because it’s completely how it feels. Sleep deprivation, filth, discomfort, giving comfort, laughs, food, tears, etc — it all leads to an incredible bond. 

We call our elders…”elders”, because it is respectful and because it is a nod to cultures who treat age with a respect that is sometimes lost in the youth-obsessed mainstream. One of our elders began to rapidly lose his battle with cancer recently. We had been kept abreast of events to keep in our thoughts –treatments, chemotherapy, analysis, waiting, accepting. 

When further treatments were proposed he opted not to deny the inevitable but rather to embrace it. He did so in a way I have never seen anyone do, but in a way that I want to be a model for my own life, should such be my lot. 

Through the listserv and Facebook, it was announced that Mr. Painter would be having a farewell send-off. A celebration of life. 

The local core members — along with long-suffering family members — mobilized as only they know how. People were called. Roles were assigned. camping-canopies were dug out of garages, outdoor heaters were found, as were an army of mix-match plastic chairs — as the house could only accommodate so many. And the prospective visiting list was over 200 strong. Casseroles were made. A sign up sheet was made, so each person who wanted one could have their moment. 

I have often had examples of how to live, but this was the first I’d really had of how to die. It was the most simple thing, yet the most profound thing. Pictures began to pop up on the Facebook group, and the look in the man’s eyes is something I find difficult to describe, for it is something I haven’t seen before. The earnest, joyful face of a man who is having it his own way, fading peacefully at home, surrounded by a sea of loved ones. Young and old, time-worn and new, everyone who could make it did. 

From his recliner in the center of the room, bolstered by pillows and warmed by a crocheted blanket someone had made, again and again his pure, open face of surprise, delight, at each new familiar face (and perhaps even some less familiar ones, still offering joy, still offering gratitude for having known him, spoken with him). Here a person kneeling in front of him, leaning in. There a person sitting on a stool laughing with him. There a person showing him a collage they put together, or a painting they painted in his honor. Each holding his hand — save the crew member who skyped in from Japan.  

We are not as close to him as many are, and we opted to let those who needed it have their time. But I have been following it all on Facebook because it is beautiful, and makes me swell with gratitude that I know such decent, wonderful people.

Visiting hours closed over the weekend, but for a week after the goodbye party updates ripples of warmth and beauty continued to surge through my feed. Pictures from when he was young. Pictures of people visiting with him. Pictures of flowers. Messages from crew members. More casseroles. A recipe for a depression-era raison cake that was a favorite of his. Updates about the man himself, so many including the words, “he is lucid, happy, and pain-free.” One update described how he woke to see the sunrise , and expressed his wish to be reborn as a night-blooming cactus. 

He breathed his last Feb 2 — almost two years after he shared his diagnosis with us. At that time he said that, untreated, the doctors gave him four months. He opted for treatment so he could go on his own terms. 

What a note to leave on. We should all be so lucky to have the grace to recognize the end when we see it, and to greet it surrounding by flowers, love, and smiling faces. 

Painter’s Way 2016-02-09T15:25:57+00:00

It is in giving that we receive

I am starting to wake up to the fact that managing social media — particularly my personal feeds, which are not curated like my art business feeds — is an activity that comes under the heading of “socializing”. That is, navigating a social space. Which is to say: it is an extroverted activity.

That was not my initial user experience of the internet way back in the 2000’s when we were all just blogging into the void. That felt introverted. And I have been, without realizing it, mentally categorizing surfing the web as an introverted activity — EVEN THOUGH I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that reading things online put me into a “reactive” mode, not a “receptive” one.

I have been trying to keep a closer watch on myself as I surf the web, and that has become particularly true as the American public generally loses its mind over the Syrian refugee crisis. There is a great deal of inelegant behavior on both sides of the issue on my feed. (Because truthfully I don’t know what saddens me more these days: the blind hatred of “refugees”, or the eagerness with which my so-called progressive friends express hatred of the people who have this stance, rather than focus on dialogue and perhaps education.)

One thing I saw during an infrequent visit struck me. A friend-of-a-friend had posted something about her work at a local refugee resettlement office. To paraphrase what she said: she does not have time to educate people, nor discuss politics, nor point people to helpful info-graphics. She is too swamped and too overwhelmed {and, one gathered, too crushed and irritated} by the amount of hateful threats their office has received since the bombing in Paris. (Threats that include bombings and slitting employee’s throats).

“I don’t have time for this”, she said. “I don’t have time to deprogram you. All I can say is what I have said before: go volunteer at your local refuge resettlement office.”

I did some digging. ‘Refugee resettlement’ is one of those jobs that I’d never really thought about, but one that I was deeply moved to discover. Of course there are people who help on this side of that journey. There has to be.

Portland has a reputation for being the whitest city on the west coast, so I was mildly surprised to find a helpful list of programs right on the city’s website

Each of these programs linked from that list has, at the very least, a wish list of items most needed — usually toiletries and personal care related, but some with very specific needs like certain mattress sizes. These lists should loom large in all of our Christmas giving, I think. 

I stuck with my roots and emailed the coordinator for the Catholic Charities program. I knew they were busy, and did not expect a prompt reply. Within almost 24 hours however I received a beautiful email from the woman, with details outlining various positions available but also the smaller ways people can just plug in, which is likely how I will have to operate, at least at the beginning. 

The email had an application attached, and also had a fascinating sample of upcoming arrivals, as well as the current new postings on a sort of help-needed bulletin board. 

“This is by no means exhaustive” she said. “It’s just today’s update. I’ll be writing up a new update later today.”

It was something like 20 people, all with specific situations and needs. This person with some mobility issues that gets lonely when her son is at work and would benefit from some companionship. That person who wants to enroll in community college and just needs help going through that process. A recently resettled family that needs help navigating the bus system and getting the hang of the grocery store. Several people just needed friends, one in particular who lives with extended family sits at home fretting about things, and needs someone to “engage in positive activities” with.

That list was incredibly powerful for me. It was like seeing cells under a microscope for the first time. Or, in this case, putting demographics and very specific stories to a singular mass that we call “refugees”. Most of the people on the list I saw live in the same quadrant I do. Which is to say: most of these people are my neighbors. And each of them need something fairly human and basic, and I look forward to doing my share of of that help once I have gone through orientation.

It doesn’t solve the refugee crisis, but it is one very direct thing I can do to help. 

One person can’t fix it all. But if each person does whatever they can, well, that’s something.

And I’d rather do something than nothing.


It is in giving that we receive 2015-11-23T15:54:00+00:00

With apologies to November

Usually this is the time of year where I place my feet firmly in the Thanksgiving / autumnal camp and make an argument for taking things one month at a time, to enjoy what we have now and not rush off to the GIMME GIMME GIMME season. (That’s really easy to do here in Oregon, because it is not going to even THINK about looking like ‘winter’ for at least another five weeks.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to November. After a rough day I was seized by a compulsion to make these little greeting cards. I had some folks to write to, and I am always of the opinion that non-bill related mail is as thrilling as it is rare (alas) and so fun mail should be made as fun as possible. So I started noodling around and made these.

I am not a stranger to celebrating the seasons with little homemade creations. In fact I do a version of it every year, I think. That paper turkey still makes an appearance every year, and why I have not yet made little skeletons and bats for Halloween is anyone’s guess. 

Anyway. These were incredibly fun to make, and they looked GREAT in envelopes. I started getting more ideas. I started roughing out sketches and thinking of maybe pimping these to a proper card outlet once I get enough ideas. 

To add to the excitement, people on my personal Facebook page started going bananas when they saw these. They wanted to know how to buy them, and whether or not I’d be making Christmas cards. Well? It had crossed my mind. But to offer the cards that were just sitting on my desk would mean…selling a handmade, original thing, which would put the price at something like $200 – $450 — which is to say, priced as a piece of ART, not a thing you can scribble on and send to your friends. LAME.

So the question became: how can I do it? Is this sort of thing viable for a one-woman outfit like Simply Kumquat?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I did eventually find a print shop that would be able to PRINT and CUT OUT the cards, as cards, which was something like a miracle. (Such places exist! I had no idea!). I scrambled around to get quotes, so that I could work out both: 

1.) if I could price them accessibly, and,

2.) if I would be able to order them at all.

Because the truth is: the upfront cost is incredibly high on these, particularly for a person who cleans houses for her day job. The first batch will cost roughly 85% of my monthly income, and for those playing the home game, 96% of my monthly income goes to obligatory spending such as rent and bills. I really do want to offer these cards though because they’re cool and I they’re the sort of thing I would buy off the rack if I saw anything like them in the shops. And I DON’T see anything like them in the shops, at least not where I’ve been nosing around.

Which is all to say: this is the test-run. The listings are live. Go order some and see if I’m not right. I have little flimsy fakers hanging around while I wait for the real proofs to arrive from my print shop, and even those are filing my heart with so much joy. 

If they sell, awesome! I can make more designs in spring. If they don’t, well, on to the next idea. 


With apologies to November 2015-11-09T15:17:15+00:00

Apples, apples everywhere

At the beginning of the month we trekked out to our beloved Mt. View Orchards to pick apples. We go every year, and with the addition of my brother-in-law — newish to preserving and very enthusiastic — we wanted to make sure we got a good haul. 

We indeed got a very good haul — something like sixty pounds!  That seems like a lot, but it was amazing how quickly we got through them, particularly with all the apple butter we made. Man nothing burns through apples like apple butter, especially if you keep adding apples to the crockpot as it cooks down, (which is what we did, slowly, over the course of two days.) That behavior will significantly decrease your apple population, but you also end up with the richest, most glorious apple butter you can imagine. Christmas presents: accomplished. 

We also made about five quarts of applesauce (I’d envisioned more, but I think I’m the only one in the house that cares about applesauce so we’ll just see how far that gets me), a glorious cake tart thing I make every year, and we are trying our hand at apple cider vinegar, since we had so many apple peelings on our hands. (And we go through rather a lot of that stuff.)

We also ate a lot of the peelings just as is, like chips, because dang these apples. You don’t want to waste a thing. 

Things I wanted to try but have not yet include apple chips in the dehydrator, Béa’s baked apples, and fruit leather (which may be where the pear / apple butter ends up, as it was not nearly as exciting as the straight up apple butter.) I also want to make Smitten Kitchen’s apple cider caramels, because HOW CAN YOU NOT. 

The result of all this — mostly of the apple butter — is that the house has smelt beautifully like autumn. Or like heaven, as one of my roommates put it. He sent me this video of little apple rosettes in puff pastry, to which I replied: challenge accepted. 

Apples, apples everywhere 2015-09-30T14:09:35+00:00

Cedar waxwing feathers

Something made a snack of a cedar waxwing in my backyard — I didn’t see it in progress but I found the feathers. A whole lot a smooth greyish brown ones, and several diagnostic ones, including the namesake “wax” tipped secondary flight feathers. 

I’d never seen these up close before — they’re very striking. As though someone shaped them with scissors and then dipped them in paint. 

Cedar waxwing feathers 2015-09-18T01:31:00+00:00

What’s in a user image?

I have been using Mr. Stargazer as my user image for a long time. I couldn’t remember how long until I had to dig around for the original file in my archive-drive, and found him in the folder labeled…2010. Good God.

It’s not that I feel a particularly VISUAL affinity to the guy, it’s just that at the time I didn’t have a lot of featured faces in my work aside from him, and I liked his wistfulness, his gazing upward towards the heavens seemed hopeful to me. He was also one of the first finished paintings that I sold immediately upon unveiling him to the internet, so that felt like a sign of good luck.

I am also the sort of person that only changes their user image once every five years or so — at least on Facebook, which is the only place I use a picture of my own face. (It feels weird to use a photograph on my “official illustration business” social media things, as an illustrator).  I have so few pictures of my face — I don’t have a particularly photo-happy group of friends — and I’m not big on “selfies”.  

I never really gave my choice of the Official Face Of Simply Kumquat much thought until that Newsweek thing happened, and I started talking more with my fellow civic minded lady-illustrators. The topic of user images came up in many of these discussions. Does a person “present” as male or female, and why? Do you use a user-image that represents you, or an entity that the industry wants to hire?

There’s a lot of stories about authors using initials, because J. K. Rowling sounds less telling than Joanne Rowling, I guess. Did you know her pen name for adults is currently “Robert Galbraith”? Not Rose, Rachel, Rebecca, or even Robin, which could maybe go either way. Robert

On the one hand, I get it, because she’s not in the business of Changing The Knee-Jerk Reaction Of The Masses, she’s in the business of selling books. And the name “J. K. Rowling” is inextricably bound to the writing of children’s fiction, just like the name Lemony Snicket. The difference here is David Handler can use his own name when writing books for grownups, whereas Ms. Rowling has opted to adopt a pseudonym that will hide her inconvenient gender from the eyes of people who think women can’t write serious books.

This idea was further brought to my attention by this Op-Ed in the New York Times, which influenced this self-portrait of mine very heavily. 

I am kind of straddling both worlds here, according to that article. My limbs, rather than being entwined like supple vines, are pointy and stick out at angles. But I suppose am looking dreamily into space — partly because of the real logistic difficulty of eyeballs through refracted eyeglasses as I was exploring a bit in those sketches there, and partly because it isn’t about YOU, it’s about what’s out there. 

I am somewhat androgynous as far as humans go — so I realize this picture isn’t really all that gender-y anyway, and may not even warrant this entire conversation. But I wanted to mention it because I was thinking about all this as I was painting it, and all the placements here are intentional (just like any painting). 

At least my user image no longer sports a beard, so it’s more clear who we’re dealing with when you get emails from me. That’s the hope, anyhow.

What’s in a user image? 2015-09-03T14:23:00+00:00


It was roughly 11 years ago today that I sat next to the weird guy in Art History class, to save my shy friend the trouble. A few weeks later I took this picture of him. (Well, mainly of the scenery, let’s be real.) (And eight years after that, we tied the knot.)

People would always ask me where that picture was taken, and would be astounded when I told them — along the drainage ditch off one of the very quiet main streets in our very sleepy agrarian college town. This town is not really known for its picturesque pockets, but rather is known for being one of the least desirable places to get your bachelor’s degree in Colorado, of the mainstream choices. (It is also known for being home to a meat packaging plant mentioned in the book “Fast Food Nation”, and one of the places targeted in the ICE raids.)

My memories of that town include these things, but they also include the small-town downtown, with its fine park and pagoda, that would be lit up by lights every December and make a veritable Winter Wonderland to wander in. There was the excellent Mexican food — made by immigrant laborers — at taquerias where English was barely spoken and the telenovelas would be blaring, and the portions were as generous as they were delicious. The enormous cottonwood trees, not just limited to campus but sprinkled throughout the district, which would turn golden in October and filter the sunlight. The majesty of the sparse farmland to the north, where I would drive on lonely roads for hours in the crystalline frost of late autumn, before the ice of winter came in earnest.  

I really don’t think it was JUST because I was falling deeply in love — though doubtless that was part of it. That first picture really epitomizes something we both feel strongly about: that there is something impressive, surprising, magical, or just plain nice looking everywhere, so long as you’re patient enough to look. You don’t have to spend lots of money or time to find it. And it doesn’t have to be that far away.

Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)

Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)

Reflections 2015-08-25T15:08:58+00:00

Monster Drawing Rally.

On Friday I sat with about 80 other artists and illustrators before a bustling crowd to drew monsters, for the first (but hopefully not only,) Monster Drawing Rally

I have Kate Bingaman-Burt to thank for my inclusion, as she suggested my name to the organizers. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d suggested most of the people on the roster. She’s that most rare of creatures — an extroverted illustrator.

I ended up downtown long before the event started and warmed up by drawing people in the park. And I was glad I did, because by the time I had to sit down in front of the throng of people I was very calm and unconcerned about the whole thing. My job wasn’t to do “good work” or “impress” anybody, it was just to have fun and make monsters. 

It seemed like I ran into almost every single illustrator or designer I know in town was all super fun

Paper and provisional supplies were provided — though most people had brought their own materials (including me). Wet media was allowed so long as it dried (relatively) quickly, so although I warmed up with sharpie line drawings, I switched to paint once I sat down once I saw what good results some of my colleagues were achieving in the first round. 

Once you finished a picture you’d raise your hand, and a volunteer would come by. You would hand them your picture, one of the stickers with your name on it from the long page of stickers provided in your welcome packet. They would whisk both away. Picture into plastic sleeve, sticker onto sleeve, and the product thus readied handed to another volunteer who would clip it to the buying wall. All pictures: $35. No more, no less.

100% of the proceeds were to go to the art museum, which initially gave me pause, as it’s a lot to ask of an artist. (Be the main attraction in a big event (1), perform your work (2) in front of a live audience (3), and bring in revenue for an institution (4) — an institution that I’d imagine has an event budget (5).) However, in addition to the two free drink tickets and a free slice of pizza, the museum gave each of the participants free membership to the museum for a year, which is certainly nothing to be sneezed at. (Indeed, that’s why I worked for free at the Opera, to get free tickets.)

And it really was such fun. There was a boozy camaraderie afterwards, but I had old friends in from out of town and we needed a little camaraderie of our own. I hope they’ll do another one in the future. 

Monster Drawing Rally. 2015-08-24T20:42:00+00:00


Since about April I have rejoined the ranks of full-time glasses-wearers, after fifteen years of religious contact wearing. 

To back up: I have lived in corrective lenses since the second grade, and went to contacts as soon as they would let me. Before that I had worn godawful metal 1980s frames that were the crowning jewel at the height of my awkward phase. 

Look! We all have the same glasses. 

Look! We all have the same glasses. 

he switch from these frames (i.e., horrifying bug-eyed goofball,) to contacts (i.e., super-stud,) was, to me, as transformative as cutting my hair to a pixie cut in high school. Finally! I look like ME! I’ll never look back, I thought. I will wear contacts for the rest of my life. 

A year or so ago my eyes started to reject my contacts with a suddenness and ferocity that I found astonishing. Before this I could wear my lenses for 14 straight hours without incident. Now I could barely keep them in for three before my eyes would cloud over, tear profusely, itch, and generally be useless to me. A few times it was nearly impossible to GET THE LENSES OFF MY EYEBALLS, which is the stuff of nightmares. Once it happened while I was trying a new brand at the eye doctor’s, and she had to get them out for me. The suction achieved by these lenses — and sound they made as they let go — was a real eye-opener. So to speak. 

Added to this, contacts are just an unnecessary periodic expense, especially when you’re hopping around trying different brands and getting special eyedrops from the eye doctor. I took it all as a sign that my eyes no longer wanted to wear contact lenses, and not without a great feeling a defeat and resignation, I acquiesced. Glasses it would be. 

The severity of my myopia is presumably inherited from my father, who, when told he had “gone beyond the top drawer” at his eye doctor’s opted to get laser surgery back when it was in its somewhat experimental (and risky). They didn’t set out to completely cure him, they merely wanted to push his vision back down into the realm of correctability. So he wears glasses to this day, but they are but thin whispers of what once was. 

I am not currently acquainted with anyone whose vision is worse than mine. (Except for a friend who is blind.) When I purchase frames online I am subject to additional “high prescription” fees which I assume pays the giants who have to use their giant hands and giant muscles to press the lenses down into a thin enough shape so I don’t end up looking like Professor Farnsworth. 

This whole thing is a major downer for a person who SEES things for a living, and one of the reasons I was so drawn to contacts — aside for vain aesthetic reasons — was the total correction of the entire field of vision. I use all of it, and I detest having a border of illegibility surrounding my world, as many interesting things in life are seen by chance, at random, out of the corner of one’s eye. I don’t have corners — anything outside of the frame is a colorful blur.

Because glasses are so in vogue — I think American Apparel actually sells empty frames now, which kills me — it is at least fairly easy to order them online, which is great because most of the shops these days exclusively carry the giant 1980s era throwbacks, and I just can’t bring myself to go there just yet. I don’t hang out with anyone regularly from my contacts-only days, so nobody has made a big deal about my quiet shift to Always Glasses. I suppose I just look like yet another bespectacled young person in plaid. Fashionable on accident. When glasses go out of style it will just be me and the actually afflicted, our eyes a refracted mess to the people we’re talking to, our worlds framed in tiny parenthesis of clarity. 

Glasses 2015-08-19T14:26:49+00:00