Tools & Talismans # 12 — Barb Skoog

This piece gave me my first chance to render fur. With watercolor. It's something I want to practice a lot more — and luckily I have a dog or two coming down the line. But man, fur is tough. All the pet portraits I've seen where I've thought: wow, that's amazing, now feels like: WOW that's AMAZING!

I kept trying to break down the dark and light areas, and look at them individually and see how the fur was leaning to one side or the other along the shadow. The nuance is here, but practice is going to be my best friend on this one.

Unexpected Benefit #17 I've received from this project:  Each piece has given me a different homework assignment, a different slant on some of the painterly things I need to work on, and a different way to see.

I’m not a big THING person. As a general rule, I don’t keep stuff around. My house is small, I don’t like to dust, and I prefer wide, open space. My talismans and tools tend to fall into one of two categories: experiences or nature.

Travel fuels my soul. A good thunderstorm grounds me. So when Liz asked me to photograph my talismans and tools, I didn’t know how I was going to do it. How does one get the Great Horned Owl in my backyard, whose call soothes me in the middle of the night, to come sit for a vignette? Or ask the Central California Coast, my go-to road trip when I need to clear my head, to drop by for a little photo shoot?

So my vignette isn’t full of pretty things, but it represents what is best in my life. The knife is a high-end professional chef brand and is the first thing I reach for when I’m in the kitchen. I experience so much beauty and strength in each ingredient, spice, and herb that goes into a meal made by me. The mug holds my morning coffee, which is brought to me daily by my husband while I’m still in bed, every sip savored as I ease my way into the day. The leaves come from one of the two Chinese elm trees that stand guard over my home, my sentinels who protect me, listen to my prayers, and whisper life to me. My husband’s wedding ring, which he never removes from his finger, is my touchstone when I can’t sleep at night. Feeling it on his hand centers me. I rarely wear jewelry as adornment but the earrings, from Ireland, and the necklace, from New Zealand, I put on almost daily for their special energy. They are imbued with the spirit of those lands and I can’t help but feel that every time I wear them.

The photo is the view from my backyard — I see it every time I’m in the kitchen or in my studio. The mountains, the alpine forest, the vast sky filled with silhouettes of birds — all reminders of why this girl who grew up in the Midwest has such a deep, deep love for the California landscape and its bounty. And finally, Mira, mi Gato, whom I reach for throughout the day when I need soft in this hard, hard world.

Barb Skoog, Marbler • Writer • Artist


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Tools & Talismans is a personal painting project where I’m documenting {in watercolor} the tools and talismans of 100 different women — creators and healers, thinkers and makers, wordsmiths and visionaries. Join me for a year of Tools & Talismans — I'll be sharing a new painting with you every Wednesday.