It was 1972. I stood on the dock at Talequah, breathing in the salt air, and every cell in my body came alive! I have traveled/lived all over the world, but at that moment, for the first time in my life, I was home, home on an island in the Puget Sound. On this island, I have lived in a chicken coop, a 100 year old farm house, a VW van, a converted garage, and now a house of my own design. I have raise my sons. I ran a school for young children (Suzanna's School).
On this island I've found joy,
and a Love that transcends the death of my soulmate, Love that continues to live and grow with my beloved dervish husband, and I wake up singing Halleluiah! I express this Love and Joy through watercolor painting, through painting on silk, and through monoprints. Most of my subject matter is inspired by nature and by human relationships.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shut the door to many of my pleasures. Singing with friends, laughing with my 96 year old mother, playing with my grandchildren; all of these things and more have become nostalgic dreams. Thankfully, the beach, the woods, and my studio remain to nourish my soul and inspire my work.
In the beginning of this Stay Home Be Safe era, I painted backdrops for Rich Osborne’s market booth at the Freemont Sunday Market and Vashon Farmer’s Market—but both markets closed before he could use them. I turned my attention to the garden and ambitious landscape projects. I tried to understand the changes in our country and to be a part of that conversation. Now I am working a memoir and on illustrations for two children's books. The backdrops I did are hanging in the All Things Rich booth at the Ruston Public Market.
“I learned that hope is not something that you have. Hope is something that you create, with your actions. Hope is something you have to manifest into the world, and once one person has hope, it can be contagious. Other people start acting in a way that has more hope.”
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Age Holds Wisdom
The other day I made a long list of things this pandemic--and our reactions to it--have taken from me. From us. Like I said, it was a long list. It inspired me, though, to look for gifts in these times. I confess, so far my list of losses is much longer than my list of gifts, but here's a start:
What gifts have you discovered in these times?
I've been studying watercolor techniques with Julia Cairns. This was my first attempt with negative painting.
The class was doing guinea hens, but I don't follow directions well. I'm in under the sea mode as I work on my Mermaid book, so of course, I painted a fish. A fantastical fish, inspired by my research into coral fish. I want my mermaids to playfully introduce children to the wonders of the ocean. In fact I'm doing a whole series of fantasy fish, as a way to experiment with the techniques Julia is teaching and still stay focused on the ocean and it's creatures.
Here's my goal: one pencil drawing (thumbnail) for the book and one small square fantasy sea creature per week until the book is finished. Think I can do it? So far so good: I have 5 fantasy fishes finished and seven or eight thumbnail spreads for the book.
It’s been more than 5 months since we began this Pandemic Journey, and it doesn’t look like we are anywhere near the end.
How are you faring? Are you anxious for a return to “normal”, or are you beginning to rethink your life going forward?
I did OK at first, thinking this would all be over in a few weeks. I painted backdrops for Rich’s booth—then his markets closed. I am continuing to write my memoirs, Patchwork House, with the encouragement of a few writing friends. I started a new children’s picture book inspired by memories of playing mermaid with my grand daughter.
Then my natural inclination to hermit took over. I only went out to shop for groceries or care for my mom. I spent hours on Instagram, or trying to figure out what the H*** is going on in this country by checking the news feed on my phone, checking the credibility of news sources, checking sources.
My creative life slowed down.
It feels like I’ve been treading water until the world returns to “normal”--whatever that is. Now I’m never quite sure what stage we are in, what is safe to do now.
I can’t continue to wait for normal. It’s time to figure out how to live in this new reality. I need to see and talk to my friends in person. I need to see and hug my grandchildren. I need to create, and to somehow offer my creations to my community. And I still need to be careful because the dread disease is still out there.
With no Art Tours, no First Fridays, and no big gatherings allowed in the places I have my work, how DO I invite my community to see my work? I have some ideas and would like your input.
1. I have a show scheduled for November in Anu Rana’s Kitchen. If we are still unable to have First Friday showings, would you like to join me for tea during the month my show is up? I’m thinking maybe one or two people at a time would be safe. Then you could see my work and we could visit.
2. What if I had an all day studio opening and invited people to come the first Saturdays of the month? By scheduling time slots for visitors, I could keep the “crowd” down to no more than 2-3 visitors at a time. Is this something you would be interested in once in a while?
Do you have any other ideas? How would you like to be a part of my creative process?
It's early July, and the madrona are shedding some of their leaves, as they do at this time of year. By early July, the ground beneath them can be covered in fallen golden madrona leaves.
It was just this season when Bob and I last sailed the Salish Sea in the Gulf Islands of Canada together. Blakely Harbor, on the south east side of Bainbridge Island was our first anchorage on this trip. The first time we anchored here, a 30' sloop sailed in after us and anchored ahead of us. On board was an older man and his 4 or 5 year old grandson. We watched as the boy dropped something in the water and it floated by us.
We fished it out of course. It was a green wine bottle, and inside was a note which said:
Who ever finds this, I love you.
How could we not have a wonderful trip with that!
Several days later on this, our last trip together, we anchored in Pirate's Cove, on De'Courcy Island in Canada. We had sailed by it before and not found our way in; this time someone had clued us on the landmarks and bouys to watch for.
It had been a perfect day of sailing up from Montague Harbor on Galiano Island, under warm blue skies with exactly the right amount of wind. We rowed ashore and walked in a magical madrona forest. The path we walked on was carpeted with golden madrona leaves,and Ravens were singing in the trees.
That day was so perfect, so filled with magic, love, beauty, and adventure, I will never forget it.
The next year when the madrona shed their leaves, Bob shed his body. We scattered his ashes on the Salish Sea, out by the red nun bouy near the harbor entrance. Bob is gone, but his love is still with me, and the magic of that day, when we walked the golden pathway on De Courcy Island, has stayed with me.
What if you could click on the door and it would bring you to a story from Yonder Island? Or click on the squirrel's nest in the knothole and it would take you to a different part of the island and a different story? What if the stories helped you to overcome fear, or to understand something new about the world? What if there were a hundred different places you could click, and each brought you something different? What if you could find music, herbal remedies, or a game for the whole family?
We are building this site, Yonder Island, to include all of this and more! Jane Valencia and Suzanna Leigh are artists and storytellers with a lot to share with you. Jane is also a harpist, an herbalist, and a teacher. Suzanna talks with crows and sea lions, sails her small boat in the Puget Sound, and has spent many years teaching and playing with young children of all abilities. Both of us value nature and compassion for all people.
This is a work in progress; we plan to add something new every week. Follow us on Facebook. Would you like to be a part of this adventure? Contact us here
When my four year old woke with nightmares, I told him a story that became the book Atom's Monster. It's a bit of a twist on the old monsters under the bed theme.
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It took a few years to get from story to book. In the process I completed by B.A. at The Evergreen State College (finally, 20 years after I entered college the first time!). My sons, ages 3 and 5 by then, posed for my illustrations. This was before the age of print on demand, and I hadn't the courage or persistence to find a publisher, so I self-published it--2000 copies! I sold many over the years in spite of not being skilled at marketing, and many, many people told me they loved it and their children loved it. I still have some copies left, though. If you have a child or grandchild who struggles with fear--and who doesn't struggle with fear?--you can still get a copy on mySquareup website here.
I woke in the night not sure if sunrise would find us at war. My heart was breaking, knowing that my friend's newborn may not have milk because the bombing has scared the milk out of the mother. I worried my grand children will not have a green world to live in.
My creative juices felt dried up by these worries. With such horror happening all around, what place has my creativity? I slipped on my robe and tiptoed downstairs for prayer and journaling. This is what came to me:
When Monet was asked what he would do for the war effort in WW1, he answered, "I will paint." And he painted the serenity of his pond, the beauty of his garden.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy were Tolkein's way of transmuting the horrors of war.
When my friend Jamila is worried about her family in Syria, she makes beauty with what she has; she crochets over rocks.
Is there some way my stories, illustrations, and paintings can bring people calm, courage, and wisdom? Can my creations help people to live through these times and to hold onto that which is true, that which is good, that which is beautiful? Can stories and images of everyday love, like those of Puuung, help to restore our sanity?
Perhaps when the world is falling apart around us, it is more important than ever to tell stories and to make beauty, to honor everyday love, to give people's minds a place to go to nourish their souls.
Sunflowers sketch in watercolor
by Suzanna Leigh
Painting certainly nourishes MY soul!
It was a blue sky July day in the Canadian Gulf Islands. My beloved and I had just sailed up to Pirate's Cove from Montegue Harbor On Galiano Island, with a perfect wind. We set anchor and went ashore, to walk in a magical madrona forest on De Courcey Island. Madrona drop some of their leaves in July, and the path was carpeted with their golden leaves. The ravens were singing.
We walked in Beauty, embraced in Love, knowing we were just where we were meant to be, doing what we were meant to be doing.
Although my beloved died before the year was out, that day lives forever in my heart. I still feel embraced in love. I still walk in beauty. This painting on silk reminds me.
Painting on silk is quite a process. I use several techniques, including "serti", which I'm told means "fence" in French. The design is first outlined with lines of resist, then painted with dyes. The dye flows up to the resist line--but if there's a break in the "fence" of resist, it escapes into other parts of the design. Where ever the colors have soft edges, there was no resist line.
This painting was done in several layers; first the large areas of color were applied, separated with the resist you can see as white lines. Then the piece was steamed for three hours to set the dyes. By then painting over the entire piece with Presist, I was able to add details with hard edges. Then the piece was steamed again. I don't remember how many times I added details and steamed again; three or four times I think.
Whenever I look at this image, I feel drawn forward into a life of Love, Beauty, and Purpose. I hope you will feel it too. That is why I am offering prints. All prints are protected with uv resistant coating.
11" x 14" mounted on black wood frame (additional frame not needed) .......................$65 plus shipping
11" x 14" matted for 16" x 20" standard frame (frame not included).......................... $35 plus shipping
5" x 7" mounted on black wood frame (additional frame not needed)........$25 plus shipping
5" X 7" matted for 8 x 10" frame (frame not included) .................................$15 plus shipping
I am fascinated by trees. Every time I walk in the woods I come back with dozens of photos, many of which inspire paintings. Lately, it's the roots that fascinate me. Why? Maybe it's because I was unrooted for so much of my life, moving from place to place. Even when I knew Vashon Island was my home, I moved from house to house for several years, until I built my house near the water.
I always wonder who is making a home under those roots. Rabbits? Mice? Racoons? Elves? Tiny mythical creatures?
I'm framing trees for my show at Anu Rana's Healthy Kitchen on Vashon Island, WA. I'm so tired of lugging around heavy watercolor paintings framed the traditional way, with mats, under glass, with metal or wood frames, that I'm trying something new.
I used to buy the frames in pieces, cut my own mats, and buy the glass already cut, then assemble them. Often there would be a hair or piece of dirt under the glass, and I would have to take everything apart, clean, and re-assemble. Then the glass would break in transit or in storage, and I would have to do it all over again. Not to mention the expense, and the glare off the glass when the paintings were hung.
This time I bought wood framing boxes, painted them, and mounted the paintings on the wood surface. It's just as time consuming--more so, since one has to wait for each coat to dry, but I do like the effect.
There are posts and youtube videos to show you how to do this. One suggested a wax medium for the final sealing coat, but this stayed sticky. This time I'm trying Miniwax Polycrylic. So far I like it better.
Inspired by the places where land meets water, and by stories.