Mara – ink & pastel on paper 30 x 40″ Vera Long 2018

Trope – ink & pastel on heavy paper 30 x 40″ Vera Long 2018- SOLD

Epsylon – ink & pastel on heavy paper 30 x 40″ Vera Long 2018

Baleen dream – ink & pastel on heavy paper 30x40″ Vera Long 2018

Plenty of new work this year….and plenty of new events in the world. You don’t have to be an artist to be sensitive to the fact that our society is going through an upheaval. Although I do believe we all have to find our brave inner artist, if we are to get through this in one piece. Catharsis, controversy in unearthing corruption and abuse, bombings, refugee crises, strife over whom is right and wrong, bickering between those who should and could be allies, violence, insane wealth disparity, unchecked pollution….perhaps it is ‘same as it ever was’, but it certainly seems to be reaching a fever pitch.
It is so overwhelming.

Superness heroine – ink & pastel on heavy paper 30x40″ Vera Long 2018

I find myself, like many others, feeling frustrated with how difficult it seems to simply communicate…to come together for common values and to ‘do something about it’…to do anything constructive about it. I think there is an applicable pearl of wisdom in the old adage, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. This is a time of unparalleled connectivity, social media explosions with sometimes incredibly positive effect (mass mobilization for change) and sometimes terrible tragic outcomes (violence stemming from alienation). The questions arise: “Are we truly connecting? and “Who the hell is in control here?!” The internet has been described as a ‘disembodied medium’. Are we losing or expanding our humanity in this flood of images and blaring slogans? In the wake of the harrowing February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, I felt so deeply powerless and vulnerable. Have we all gone mad? If I had my druthers, I would heal it all…reach out to shelter every lost soul before they made such terrible choices or were victims to catastrophe. See, I have lived through my own little slice of hell. I lived in La Conchita before I moved to Ojai. I lived across the street from a sweet little family and on January 10, 2005, they lost their lives while my family 30 feet away survived…..simply by fate. The hell I mentioned was not their fate…it was the cavalier way that some blamed them for being there on social media. It was the hell of being powerless to go back in time and clearly see what was coming….and do something about it- to change the outcome. The Thomas Fire and deaths in the Montecito Mudslides and the Parkland shooting bring it all back. Sometimes it seems that I have shrapnel under my skin. The surface heals over but just beneath at any moment…is anything getting better? Safer? But in truth, the shrapnel of my embedded memories, those unwieldly surly intense emotions always at the ready, invited or otherwise… are *seeds* if I choose to treat them that way….and water them with my full attention and acceptance.

Landslide – ink & pastel on heavy paper 30 x 40″ Vera Long 2018

I do not casually use gardening as a metaphor. It was a quietly powerful part of my healing process after the landslide. After moving around for a couple of months from place to place, we landed in Ojai. I felt safe here. My son already was going to Monica Ros, and it was such a warm community environment. We were all reeling with trauma and my father was dying from his own landslide of one organ failure after another. I decided to plant a garden from seed. One of the first things I got was a golden yellow glazed pot (pictured below to the right) from the now defunct nursery on 33. I got a bunch of kitchen herbs to put in it, but when the nursery owner heard that I had come from La Conchita, he insisted I take the plants as a gift. Right from the start, I found a welcoming community here. With so much lack of control, so much loss….so so much loss….it was hard to find faith that I could go on. The seeds didn’t seem to feel the same doubt. They just accepted what was around them and acclimated to it. And everyday they just kept reaching for the light. They didn’t have any hang ups with stoicism. I was incredibly pro-active that year. I “had” to be strong and could not sit around waiting for help. While with all the crisis training I had gotten from having been a firefighter for 6 years before becoming a mother, it was easy to come up with action lists on what to ‘do’ next, even in chaotic new territory…but I had no training or blueprint on how to deal with all this loss. All these “feelings”, they would not move along with my action plan. They just were. Slow moving. My every step was more of a run at full clip away from being and feeling ‘needy’ and ‘vulnerable’. Although surrounded by tumult and difficulty in rebuilding my life, it was so inspiring to see the flowers and vegetables bloom. Nobody every calls a flower needy for wanting to be watered. Maybe with the practice of caring for these plants, who so gracefully accepted it…I could learn from them. Maybe I could pretend that it was also in my code to bloom even in adverse conditions. Maybe life does go on if you’ll just attend to it- wholly. It takes patience to care for living things and work…but the work is so satisfying and rewarding, not just in the product but in the act of engaging. One of my neighbor’s kids who passed away that day in la Conchita was an artist. Hannah was 10. She was quiet and had deeply watchful eyes. I loved the things she made, they always showed her mind and heart at work. I made a promise to myself then that I would full-bore carry on my art career for her. And I have enjoyed many opportunities here to reach out to support other children making art. My kids are alive and beyond being “strong for the them”, they do best when I am *whole* and present. We are in it together, figuring it out as we go along. That garden pot, container of grace, is still blooming and seeing it in my new home, reminds me of the caring that Ojaians characteristically extend to each other. “What can I do to help?” I see just the same generosity in the outpouring of support and caring for those in our valley who lost their homes in the Thomas Fire. But, my, how generosity has grown! Vaughan Montgomery and the family at Greater Goods, a Meiner’s Oaks 501c3 community cooperative, spent months holding fundraisers for the displaced and was able to disburse over a hundred thousand dollars in donated grants and worked tirelessly to connect displaced families with temporary and permanent housing and relief aid. The Maker’s Market Fire Fundraiser at Grace & Dan Malloy’s Meiner’s Oaks’ Poco farm, through the collaboration of artisans and local makers raised $43,000 in just 4 hours!…and besides the financial success, it was such a beautiful event and celebration of people supporting their own community and those locals that make objects of use and beauty and nourishment with their hands! These are just a few examples, so many local individuals and businesses did not miss a beat in rushing to help each other survive the disaster and thrive again in the aftermath. One of my favorite song lyrics is from Spearhead: “Don’t worry about putting out the fires of the world when you are not watering the flowers in your own backyard”.

That power of being present, that beauty of not just our surrounding nature but the beauty of our connectedly engaged *humane nature*- that is why I came here for inner & outer shelter and why in every sense of the word, I call this place *home*. Here I am again planting a garden, putting down roots, knowing full well that they could be destroyed without forewarning. That’s just how life is – transitory. But the spirit remains and weaves us together and carries us on.
It occurs to me that this blog was supposed to be about my art! Please forgive me if my writing follows as circuitous a path as does my life. Back to my theme of being an artist feeling powerless in this crazy world of tumult and disembodied communication. Making art, or rather thinking about making art, or even worse…talking about making art, makes me squeamish and in all honesty, a bit nauseous, not because it is not great but the talking about it feels rather trivial. But finding some connection and meaning in the present is, in the end, all I’ve got. I’m still alive and quite aware that I have no idea what will come next much less do I imagine I have very much control over it. I clearly do have a lot of words and noble intentions but what good does that do anybody? Because of my experience, I have a deep distrust of even the best & well-laid plans and most certainly an aversion to hollow words. None of my drawings or paintings are technically planned or posed- they are just what came out from the interaction. While I may not have the time or influence to be a powerhouse activist for feminist and humane causes, I can open myself for a brief stretch of loose flowing action to recognize the complex female person in front of me. I can make a physical reference for transitory powerful emotions. I can simply let the drawing happen. Even after doing live portraits for twenty years, I still *think* each piece is a failure as I am doing it…but art is one of the few arenas where I can let myself *feel* and so long as I am doing that there is no such thing as a ‘mistake’. Just allowing the inner criticism and apprehension to wash over me and carry on with just being there and showing up and being playful with my perceived failures and mental chatter- that is my only technique to speak of…my ‘anti-technique’.

Mara – ink & pastel on paper 30 x 40″ Vera Long 2018

My art is indeed my way of escaping and superseding the chatter of my mind, the awareness of my ultimate powerlessness and working with rather than against what discovery might be found on the other end…letting my hands go faster than my rationale and seeing more of who is in front of me- thereby braving to face more of what I carry inside of me. Making do with the moment…rather than closing or giving up. I cannot re-orchestrate the world to be more equitable but I can provide an opening for what’s inside of me to connect to what’s inside of somebody else, whether that be the model or the person who feels inspired to take the piece home. With color and freedom and release from fear of the unexpected, the wonderfully wordless pattern in the chaos emerges. Life is full of mistakes and misfires and unexpected calamity- so if I can embrace that for even a moment than that is probably a good muscle to exercise given the state of our world. So I have been purposefully putting myself in awkward unexpected positions for twenty some years now and accepting that I will never know what ‘The’ purpose is or how fate will turn out. Artmaking, for me, is the discipline of losing control and flowing with what one can do now with the simplest of tools in yet another brief throw-away moment of life. As far as empowering the disenfranchised and healing the voiceless and lost souls of this world, I find it has been more productive to simply listen and look and allow it all in. I no longer aspire to any kind of ‘greatness’ in some perfectly executed masterpiece….I find it far more exciting to carry on with a chain of potentially beautiful mistakes- for that I can get up in the morning and lug my easel around, because it smartly ensures for failure and redemption rather than shying away from them. My art is about recycling in that sense. Nothing is thrown away… in embrace, nothing is lost.

hand etched recycled wine bottle drinking glass

On the note of recycling, besides large original drawings and paintings, I will be offering small archival prints mounted under glass as sets of drink coasters (more social engagement and use that way!) and recycled wine bottle glasses with hand-etched designs on them from my other previous life as a sommelière. For this Saturday’s open tour, there will be 9-10 framed drawings and paintings and some 30 archival mounted drawings (which can be dropped off that day at one of our wonderful local frame shops: Summer Camp – across from the Vons shopping center and Ojai Frameworks next to the Ojai Business Center, downtown, (or you can commission my partner to construct one of my signature custom colorful recycled wood frames.) Despite my tone in this blog, I am actually quite cheerful in person …and I promise to let Pedey, here, do all the talking on my behalf! Or better yet, please tell me what *you* see….I consider myself no better an observer of what comes out, than you! I have dispensed of my website, so if you want to follow my winding journey you can tune into my weekly creations by following me on Instagram. <click the link to peek!

Pedey, my very savvy art representative…we were assured he was a purebred Jack Russel but he may, himself, have been misrepresented!

.My studio, home and garden will be open this Saturday,May 12th, 10-3 pm. We are located on the corner of North Pueblo and Fernando- 203 North Pueblo, Ojai CA 93022 – as you go north on Pueblo from El Roblar it takes a jog to the left. We are the diagonal driveway on the kittycorner- You can’t miss it – Look for the not-so-tiny-Tiny House in front being built by my industrious partner Matt Minor of Haven Tiny Home. www.OjaiTinyHome.com Hope to see you here! Viva La Connection!

The lighthouse beacon to my studio!