It’s a wonderfully dreary start to the day before Thanksgiving in central Pennsylvania, the perfect weather for painting.

We, like so many in this land, have a large plucked bird in the fridge and are planning to roast it with most of the trimmings and be thankful. And I am, for many things. But today, I thought I’d concentrated on…the birds.

Watching them, feeding them, learning about them, painting them, and most of all the delight of coming upon the treasured gift of their feathers.


The studio is full of them. Collected over the years, their beauty astounds. With my new bionic knees I am back out on the trails, and the muses are back as well…


After finding this beauty, I decided it was time to get serious about identification so I got this book…


Which I highly recommend. I’ve been pouring over it for days now. And the first one I spied was this one which recently made a supporting role appearance in this painting you might remember…

the master carvers tea

if you zoom in on the Jorgesen, that would be the clamp for you non-woodworkers, you will see the feather, which…every single one of the avian enthusiasts mis-identified. I have four of them which have been floating around here for years. But right there on page 91…


we see that it belonged to a Chukar !
Further research, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, reveals that the Chukar is…
chukar web

A native of southern Eurasia, the Chukar was introduced into the United States from Pakistan to be a game bird. It lives in arid, rocky terrain across the western United States and southern Canada.
And then it hit me…I already knew that. Insert fading memory comments here as you will, but it all came back to me. Years ago, I’ll say 4, I found one perched on my studio garage roof. As you can see, it is a stunner of a bird so it caught my attention, but it is also not a local gal. I also seem to remember that, when first I googled this creature, there was mention of raising these smallish sized birds to release for hunters to take down with big guns, ( picture me here shaking my head in dismay).

The memory of finding the feathers is lost but, when I decided to take the leap to add that little bit of whimsy to Peter’s painting, it was after all a painting of Peter, the birdman of Plymouth, I didn’t have to look far to find the perfect candidate as these four feathers have been tucked into a little blue teacup behind my easel for lo those, I’ll say four, years now.

Above that easel is this display of painting and sketch and original model…



And yes, the muses are right there over my shoulder of late…


Cardinal Wolsey. The ever present window slammer of a bird, is still with me. I now believe she is more than just a disturbed bird. Pat and Finn met a woman at the park last week who, after hearing the story of the intrepid one, immediately suggested that she was someone who I had known who had “passed on” and did I know anyone in the clergy. Well I sat back in my chair at that one. Seriously, my father, the Presbyterian minister, returned as the slammer ?


Possibly ?
I’m still pondering that one.
But this bird is definitely trying to tell me something. She now follows me from window to window and watches me all day long. Hurling Herself at the panes seems to diminish when I settle in at the easel. Then she just flies up and stares at me…the rubbernecker.

Well, ok, that part could be Ted. He is definitely nudging me to focus on painting…probably as I write this…which is taking time away from what I began this blog with…

that perfect painting day.

Well, the dreary rain has turned to our first snowfall of the season. The promise of a winter wonderland, a bird in the oven, one at the window, and two dozen at the feeders…that’s all I need of Thanksgiving.

And, this…to all my friends and patrons, whose support allows me to do the work that is so meaningful to my soul…

Thank you.




The Return

Ah dear readers, I am back.
The month of honeymooning was grand. The outpouring of kindness, generosity and celebratory enthusiasm stunned us both. It will take a month of sundays to write all the thank you notes and we are humbled and still smiling with the fun of it all.

Along with all the festivities, came a much welcomed block of time in which to creatively…rest.

There have been lots of times in my life, when I have been forced to take time off from the easel. There were years of interruptions and detours until I stepped off the “I’m going to be and artist” track and began to lift the brushes full time. Since the end of 2001 I have been going full tilt with the aim of making a living out of those brushes and as every self employed person understands, your success is measured in direct proportion to your willingness to show up.

There is, of course, a hell of a lot more than a good attendance record to making a living as an artist, and the balance of persistence, talent and sheer luck is best left to the muses to manage. The support of fantastic gallery owners, the investment of patrons, and a healthy dose of shameless self promotion help to keep the paints and canvas in stock, but what about the creative factor.

I get asked a lot at shows, “How do you come up with ideas to paint ?”
My usual answer is that I have more ideas than I have days left in which to work, and yep that is definitely true. I have never experienced the artist’s equivalent of a “writer’s block”…(insert painting just for the fun of it here )


But, after a decade plus of intense focus with short controlled bursts of weeding and one or two actual days “off”, I found myself, at the end of this summer, in an entirely new place…sheer creative exhaustion. It sounds bloody narcissistic, and it definitely feels that way. Polly would have sharply admonished me to, “shake yourself together !”. Boy howdie did I try that…right up until the wheels of the plane lifted and we were airborne and headed to Albuquerque.

The ensuing month off, far away from the studio, provided a slow unpeeling of layers. Bathing in the  breathtaking kindness of true friends, bathing in an actual hot tub, bathing in beauty…hard core color and light…surrounded by new vistas and familiar landmarks, my eyes eventually eased.

It took more time than I imagined, to crawl up and out of that groove, but long about the three week mark the light bulb grew brighter. I remember the morning, when the amber light of the vineyard sunrise angled its way through the pall. I could actually breathe more easily. That crisp October air cleaned out the last of the cobwebs. Finn saddled up in the back of the car. Herself put the camera in her lap. I sharpened the pencil and readied the sketchbook, and off we went…

When I have been away from the studio, on one or another of those “detours”, there has always come a moment, a jolting grip at the core, a stunning urgency in which I simply can’t wait to get back.

Today, after I get home from taking Finn to see her doc about some clean teeth, there is nothing, for miles and miles, between me and the easel. The first panel is up, sketch is on, I laid the fresh paint on the panel minutes ago, audiobook fired up, thermos of hot tea next to the cup…and I am ready.

I’ll keep you posted as the winter progresses but know that, for now, I’m back.



Tis the Season…


Yes, I am painting.
Most of the hours of most of the days.
But the apprentice has lately been insisting on beauty breaks…

the finn

And, after the winter of discontent that we all shivered through, I am taking deep breaths of every single blooming flower in my garden..

beach rose

My beloved Beach Rose and irises and even the daisy that always reminds me of J O’H

white iris daisy

and, with a cart full of color, and a pair of sturdy gloves
I am taking full advantage of every single space between the brushes
to get outside and work in the dirt.
in waiting

Herself chuckles and grins as she reminds me of the day,
sometime in mid-January,
when I hung my winter weary head
and swore I was not going to do ANY gardening this year.

Certainly no new plants, and definitely not the heavy lifting of the vegetable beds.
No, I was going to keep that head down low and focus focus focus on the paintings.
And right up until about March I was right on track with that dark pledge and doing fine.

Then some plague germs bullied their way into the studio and I spent the next few months crawling out of a very deep hole of un-health. (Spell check didn’t like that last hyphen and neither did I.) Which has thrown some curve balls of perspective at me.

BUT… the veil has lifted.
(Insert a choir of angels here please)
and all verdant bets are off…
Life is so damned short and…
you simply can’t keep a gardener’s soul from a wheelbarrow filled with marigolds…

And then there are those newly revised beds that I dreamed of through the wintery gauze of tissues…

new beds

and the annex to the asparagus bed that wants to try growing some beans this year…

asparagus bed

Everywhere I look there are things growing…

wild chives

And chairs that call to sit a spell…


or swing…

sky chair finn

And so yes, I am painting, but I am also living large in the tiny corner of the planet that we are taming. And, when the brushes begin to whine, I settle back into my chair at the easel with a tiny token of the garden wonders to temp the muses…

sir bernard and the rose

May your paths be filled with clover
and strewn with beach rose petals…
now go out there and grab a trowel.



Creative hibernation

…Don’t get me wrong, I love a blizzard. EVERYTHING ABOUT A BLIZZARD, from the early rumblings of “something to keep an eye on” on the weather sites, to the empty aisles in the grocery stores…who needs milk and bread, we hit the chocolate and cheese sections, to making sure there is a shovel of some kind just outside each door, firewood on the back porch, emergency candles, rubber ducks floating in the water-filled bathtub…


then the countdown as NOAA tweaks and teases the snow totals out of the more reliable European model…like that.

Anticipation builds and nothing beats those few extra flakes that trump the forecasted foot or two. Yes, I love a blizzard.

But the last time we got one of those was when Finnegan was a little pup. And the winters in between have been dismally short on temps cold enough to produce the white stuff.

But……this winter is shaping up and laying down…in short controlled bursts… and I have been simply reeking of positivity lately, so I am happily learning to also LOVE these back to back to back little snowfalls.


Turns out 2-6 inches of snow offer almost all of the same gifts of beauty and soul warming wooly slippered comfort…without the sore shoveling muscles from moving those big mountains and drifts… and the cabin fever that hovers over Herself when she can’t get out of the lane.


The hearty Bernese Mt. Dog Finnegan has had weekly doses of heaven and has begun to take for granted that her first few steps each morning will be giant leaps into deliciously soft cold snow. I have rarely seen her this happy.finn

Herself has made several batches of her favorite snowstorm apple bake and now has the recipe…down Pat.

Sue and Zola helped to re-stock the firewood and the log cabin has been a toasty refuge for this tired artiste at the end of long luxurious days at the easel.

And, indeed, those long, glorious days at the easel have been pure bliss.


I was going to wax on about how the muses tend to find artists when the winter dampens the bridge to the outside world. How, in this world of bells and whistles which emanate from our pockets and conspire to shatter those hard fought for slivers of emptiness, we struggle to find mental rest stops.

And how magical it is,
that when just a couple inches of snow falls,
in the studio yard,
being forced to sit in stillness,
reshuffles the creative deck.

There ya go,
now I’m headed back to work.
Stay frosty out there…

Thinking of Light…and you…

the mender72

These longest nights of the year are magical
and on this eve of Christmas day
as I finish up a little bit of ribbon tying
and warm up this second cup of tea…

I’m thinking of you.
Wishing you laughter
and peace
and above all…


A Season of Greetings

Skating on Thin Ice

The Studio is alive with dancing muses…
The Teacups are dividing up into twos and threes
donning their mittens and warmest scarves
and the props have been hears whispering of yuletide mischief and cheer.

Our best and our brightest…
are wishing you and yours
a season of clear frosty nights,
with morning cups of steaming tea,
and afternoon walks amongst the snowy pines.

Be well,
stay safe,
and maybe we will catch up,
grab an elbow,
and walk a little ways
down the path with you.

Yours in hibernating brushes and winter wisps of Darjeeling,

Heather and Herself,

AND Finn !

 This painting is currently featured in a new CyberShow…an online exhibition hosted by Gallery 1261 …which does exist as a brick and mortar gallery in Denver, Colorado…by day…but, as with all things worth taking a second look at…
there are many layers of mystery awarding the curious “mouse” clicker…
(click on this link to view… http://gallery1261.com/html_shows/13-small-works/neill-heather-skating-on-thin-ice-12×16-oil.htm#.Uq20EXZ3vGg )



This morning Finn and I took advantage of a warm spell and walked around the yard filling the bird feeders. I had been heeding the woodland warnings not to put out seed until the bears are hibernating. I have never, repeat never, seen a bear in my yard… but lately, I seem to be leaning into the winds of caution.

At the end of the path, just before the lilac bushes, we found this feather…hawk feather

It’s about 6 inches long and the tips on the right side are dipped in a burnt sienna which the sun wants to make red. The top, which is at the bottom of this photo, is a mottled grey. I first thought of a red tailed hawk. Possibly a big owl ? But my heart wants it to be a Hawk.

Peter will know, or possibly his friend Marie, and most probably several others of you out there…so I decided to toss it to the cyber winds for some helpful answer.

It’s so beautiful, on it’s own, against the creamy ivory of my journal, and I am grateful to the muses for this gift of Advent.

The Season of Solstice

Celebrating the season of long winter nights and welcomingly fragrant evergreens, a grateful return to my seat at the easel, the twinkling of colored lights, newsletters from loved ones, the trail of cookie crumbs from studio to cabin…and back, and the sparkle in the eyes of our sweet lapdog Finnegan who is thoroughly enjoying the frosty morning walks with her buddy.

Wishing you all manner of love and laughter and light…

Pat, Heather and Finn


A sunny crisp winter morning greets me here in the studio after a long quiet month of healing days. Slow and steady progress finds me able to negotiate the short commute across the lane to the studio yard and to catch up on the piles of paperwork and take short naps in the warming sunshine.

Now that the new body parts are settling in it is time to rouse the sleeping muses. It is a somewhat disconcerting phenomenon that the creative energy levels have been slow to resurface and I’m just going to have to try and trick those atrophied muscles back into gear. Perhaps just sitting in my easel chair will spark something. Or maybe aroma therapy ? sniffing an open jar of turpentine ?

Well, while my muses have been on vacation… some of my favorite artist friends have been working hard and I wanted to pass along news of these spectacular shows that are must sees…

Robert Jackson
Bob’s crazy quirky humor is on display in a group of stunning new works at the Gallery Henoch in NYC. This show was delayed due to flooding in the Chelsea Art District after Hurricane Sandy and it is winding up now but well worth a look to see the fun that his boxes have gotten up to lately.

Scott Fraser
Oh the pleasures of viewing new works by Scott. In a few days, Dec. 15, his solo show will open at the Jenkins Johnson Gallery in SF. Below is a photo of the invitation which was slightly bruised in transit by the US postal system but it will provide a link for you to see more of the current work.

Michael Allen and JD Wissler
A study in… studies. These two friends have been part of a group of plein air artists who have spent hours and indeed years together out in the wilds of central Pennsylvania capturing the atmospheres on canvas. Their work has been featured in an article in the current issue of Plein Air Magazine.

My idle brushes are lifted to them all and with a bit more

A fine morning to carve…

As the heatwave nestles into the valley I was disuaded from my early morning weeding by the ever watchful apprentice who decided that we should heed the air quality warnings and head inside to the cooler chambers of the studio.

So I’m getting an early start on the frame carving…

It’s been a while since I have done one of these and I’m loving the chance to get out the woodworking tools and make some tiny shavings. I mentioned earlier that the first painting, “All this and more”…

was based on an NC Wyeth quote and so that’s what is being carved into its frame. I spent all day yesterday getting the words onto the wood. Years ago I created a digital alphabet by first drawing out each letter on graph paper and then scanning it into Publisher and then laboriously cutting and pasting separate files for each letter. That allowed me to open a new file and cut and paste the letters as needed to form the words in each quote. Then I size them to the frame, print out and transfer with graphite paper to the wood itself.

A large part of the morning yesterday was spent trying to FIND that file which was buried on my old harddrive. Ugh. But once I got it on the new computer it worked like a breeze. Still laborious but way easier than the way I did it before, drawing it all out by hand several times until I got the spacing right. Difference of hours vs. days.

But I have to back up a step…the frame really starts with a trip to the local lumber yard…where my trusty assistant volunteered to let the poplar boards rest on her lap rather than on top of the roof for the ride home.

I didn’t get a photo of him but the next step is hauling the boards up to the frame shop, Artworks in Mechanicsburg, PA,( my heros),  and back to John Weist, my super hero. He chops the moulding and the poplar boards at the same time and then joins them seperately so I can work on it assembled which makes it much easier to design.

What I end up with is this…

Then I cut out the words, lay them out on the boards, tape them down and use the graphite paper to transfer lines to the boards.

Clean up the lines…

and break out the tools…

Raking light is essential to see where the cuts need to be trimmed and refined…

and then it’s all about the fun and challenge of removing the wood that doesn’t want to be there.

I’m headed back to the tools now… but first…

for those who are here to see today’s painting…

a happy little number and one of my favorites…

#5- Beach Rose  14″ x 20″ 

Stay cool out there now…