Beyond the Edge

It’s been quite a while since my last post. It was an homage to my sister, Kathy, a eulogy of sorts, and since then, I took a breather, a break, to keep hold the thoughts and events since that loss. One year turned into two, and three…

Those years have been rich with adventures and amazing connections. I was reminded then, and everyday, that life is short. I have always been aware of that and feel I live a life that reflects that. Since that last post, I stepped into the artist cave, found inspiration in studio time, in my home in North Carolina, and beyond. The “beyond” includes multiple life-affirming journeys around the world, and Kirah Fine Art, Inc has grown in ways “beyond” belief! Along with short snippets on social media, the blog is revived and I’m excited to share all that is to come…beyond the art, the travels, the classes…beyond the edge of tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

Join me!




The Art of Letting Go

“You’ll be a beautiful butterfly – we’re all waiting for you!”

On Thursday, October 15 of this year, at 2:00 pm on a beautiful sunny fall day in North Carolina, a watched my oldest sister, Kathy, take her final breaths, ending a very short but well-fought battle with cancer. This past Sunday, November 22, family and friends gathered for a celebration of her life.

I had just returned from a two-week art retreat, total immersion in process and freedom to create without distractions. What came out of that time was a better understanding of the themes that are so prevalent in my art, those of transformation and liminality, and it provided me the comforting space to grieve. I was thinking about that day Kathy passed so peacefully and thought about the memories I would want to share at her memorial. Just days before she died, she was moved from her home in Burlington to the UNC Cancer Center, palliative care providing wonderful support to her and to our family. She was safely wrapped up in a cocoon of warm blankets, finally pain-free.

A cocoon…that’s what I kept thinking of as I watched her sleep, the idea that death wasn’t an end, but just a transformative event on the journey of life. With that in mind, this is what I shared as a eulogy and memorial to her and how she impacted my life:


Kathy, here holding me as a baby, was my hippie sister, a  creative, down-to-earth presence who had the best record collection I could imagine. We spent what seemed like hours listening to Three Dog Night, the Rolling Stones, Carole King and the Beatles. Thus was the beginning of my love affair with Paul McCartney! And one of my favorites was her Beach Boys Endless Summer album that I took from the stock when she left home. I played it over and over until is was worn and scratched.

Kathy loved being in nature, instilling and sharing that with us and her children. We shared a love for animals and she could sew and craft anything, a Bohemian Martha Stewart. She, like my other siblings, gave me wonderful books as a child. These books were my escape, the illustrations inspiration for me to become an illustrator and artist. One in particular that has meaning to me is Hope for the Flowers, by Trina Paulus, published in 1972. Kathy gave me this book for my 8th birthday.

It is a story of two caterpillars, friends on the journey of life, seeking “more,” as well as meaning. Of course it is a story of transformation, of growing in love, vulnerability and trust. One day, the yellow caterpillar comes upon another spinning a cocoon, hearing him mention the word “butterfly.” This is their exchange:

“Butterfly – that word,” she thought. Tell me, sir, what is a butterfly?”

“It’s what you are meant to become. It flies with beautiful wings and joins the earth to heaven. It drinks only nectar from the flowers and carries the seeds of love from one flower to another.”

“Without butterflies the world would soon have few flowers.”

“It can’t be true,” gasped Yellow. “How can I believe there’s a butterfly inside you or me when all I see is a fuzzy worm?” 

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively. 

“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

“You mean to die?” asked Yellow. 

“Yes and No,” he answered. “What looks like you will die but what’s really you will still live. Life is changed, not taken away. Isn’t that different from those who die without ever becoming butterflies?”

“And if I decide to become a butterfly,” said Yellow hesitantly, “what do I do?”

“Watch me. I’m making a cocoon. It looks like I’m hiding, I know, but a cocoon is no escape. It’s an in-between house where the change takes place. It’s a big step since you can never return to caterpillar life. During the change, it will seem to you or to anyone who might peek that nothing is happening – but the butterfly is already becoming. It just takes time!”

“And there’s something else! Once you are a butterfly, you can really love – the kind of love that makes new life. It’s better than all the hugging caterpillars can do.”

And so I take solace in the butterfly she has become. This is what I celebrate most.

I will continue to cherish my copy of the book, a reminder of Kathy’s gifts to me and all those she touched. That beautiful day, as the sun streamed in to that hospital room, I was reassured in the love that gave new life, new blooms.

Rest in peace.

I miss you.


Cracks. Flaws. Imperfections. There’s something a little unnerving about the aberrations in our human packaging. In an age of achieving flawlessness, there’s a countermovement that embraces all that truly makes us human…that we are creative, explorers, adventurers and learners. That we can’t succeed without falling down. I personally believe there is no such thing as failure. There’s no “bad” experience, no hurt, no scar, no sadness or anger that doesn’t have its amazing counterpart – a lived life!!

How does this apply to art? As I began my fall session of classes last week, I connected with an amazing array of students who all want to tap into their creativity but fear the unknown, the misplaced brush stroke, the inevitable paint outside the lines. There is embedded in that a fear of expressing oneself,  in such a vulnerable way that, risking rejection. There’s that voice that says “it’s not good enough.” But it’s the process, and those happy accidents that can allow a work of art to sing.

We over-think, over-judge and try to hide the cracks, or fill them in. But then we would just live flat lives. No nubbins, no texture, no space over which to leap and fly and stumble and get dirty. And no art to share, to inspire and provide the freedom of play.

Be grateful for those cracks, remember that’s how the light gets in!!

Here’s a story via Tracy Verdugo’s Paint Mojo site that really gets to the point. Beautiful story, beautiful reminder…

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each one hung on opposite ends of a pole, which she carried across her shoulders and neck.

One of the pots had a small crack in it. While the other pot was perfect, and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the river to her mistress’s house, the cracked pot always arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to her master’s house.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, but the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it thought to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream: “I am so ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”

Why?” asked the bearer. “What are you ashamed of?”

“for these past two years, I have only been able to deliver half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your mistress’s house. Because of my flaws, you do all of this work without getting full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in her compassion she said, “As we return to the mistress’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”

As they reached their destination the bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path?

“That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them.

“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my mistress’s table. Without you being just the way you are, she would not have this beauty to grace her house.”

Ahh, Barcelona and the Costa Brava…May was a perfect time to enjoy the colors of the Mediterranean and the energy and eclectic vibe that is Catalonia. Barcelona is truly a treat for the senses, the food, the sun, street energy of the people and the amazing history and architecture. Oh, and did I mention the food??!!


Many thanks to French Escapade for being the perfect host for my first foray into leading an international plein air workshop. The students and I were treated with great service and a personal, custom touch to our time together. Ideally with any international workshop, instructors need an assistant, someone to do the ground work and be available to help drive, make sure hotels and restaurants are set and be able to problem solve as questions and issues will arise. It was so helpful to have a local guide so that I could focus on teaching and not worry about being cruise director. The amazing Natalia filled those shoes as our intrepid and charming guide. As a Catalon, her historical insights made the trip all the more rich.


Our first official day ended with a group picture, and claiming our painting spot!


Home base on the coast in Calella de Palafrugell provided us plenty of subject matter and opportunity for play. We embraced our cultural adventure.


Check out the action painting shots!!


IMG_6959 Love the boats!IMG_6790


This may have been my first international workshop, but certainly not my last. I am working on future ideas and sites: Provence, Italy, Croatia. Where should we paint next?



I am getting excited for the upcoming Painting Spain! workshop starting next week in Barcelona. I have 8 wonderful students joining me and we have had an interesting exchange of ideas on how best to pack all those paints, canvas, brushes, easels and still have room for clothes.

The key, as with many things in the art world…keep it simple. Painting plein air is about comfort, not fashion, and we will be in a beautiful, warm, coastal town where casual dress is encouraged, if not required. But there are logistics to consider, which is why my #1 packing element is the zip loc bag. Plenty of them. They’re great for carrying paint, a wet bathing suit, dirty sneakers, snacks to the painting site, toiletries, or keep your phone and camera dry if near water. #2 is a backpack. I use this as my carry-on along with my half French easel. I check one rolling duffle bag with the paints and my essential clothes. The backpack keeps my arms free and becomes the perfect day pack for hiking, supplies for a picnic, day at the beach, and carry my painting supplies once I am settled in to my location.

This, of course, reminds me of international travel as a kid. My parents used to say, “pack what you can carry, otherwise it’s going to be left at the curb.” I learned quickly how to survive with three t-shirts, a skirt, two pairs of shorts, a hat, scarf and plenty of Tide To-Go packs for laundry in the hotel sink! That’s my #3 item for travel – Tide To-Go packs, because it’s always charming to say you did laundry in the hotel sink.

I personally prefer plein air in acrylics. Oil paint can be challenging, especially having wet paintings to transport. Several of my students have asked about the best way to address that, I found the following site with a plan that seems to work well.

Traveling with wet canvases.

What do you need for your plein air travels? I keep the palette limited to double primary colors. I have to have a small sketchbook and travel watercolor set. Headphones for the plane, gluten-free snacks, my favorite pens. If I forget something, wing it. Or borrow. Or buy at the destination. That’s always fun to have an excuse to venture into an art supply store in an exotic locale. If anything, I get a marker pen in an interesting color, stop by a fresh corner market, grab some bread, local cheese, a bottle of wine and I have all the supplies I need. Art is what you make it….the less you carry on the front end of the trip, the more room you’ll have for all the new findings and creations. Happy Painting!!!


I am thrilled to be hosting my inaugural European plain air painting workshop from May 11 – 18, 2015 in Costa Brava, Spain. This is a spectacular Mediterranean coastal location rich with light and painting subjects. Barcelona is our gateway, Calella de Palafrugell  our home base for the week. With sun-kissed coves, colorful fishing boats, cafes, and gardens, the Costa Brava is historically a treasure trove for artists. Come immerse yourself in a cultural and creative feast.

As a Golden Artist-Educator, my plein air workshops are all about creating a road map to design and color fundamentals. Working in a loose, alls prima style, we will consider ways to make our work more dynamic, colorful and free. I will demonstrate Golden’s Open Acrylics, beautiful new QoR watercolors and Williamsburg oils. All levels and mediums welcome. I encourage working in acrylics for their versatility and forgiveness. We will have fun with journaling, working in alternative color palettes, building confidence in color mixing, brush handling, and ways to expand our creative approach to plein air.

The workshop, along with hotel, meals, and cultural sites and transportation in Spain is $2999. Airfare to and from Spain and incidentals are not included. This early-bird price is only good until November 30. Want to join? Check out my website at http://www.kirahfineart.com. There’s a link to more information, registration and itinerary under Workshops.

In the meantime, here’s a sampling of what’s in store:





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I recently began a series of posts regaling my recent two week trip to Spain. Beginning in Madrid, I soaked up all the amazing art to behold in the capital city. Day 2 was another bucket list day, the highlight a visit to the modern art museum formally referred to as the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

A five minute walk from the Prado, this is the sprawling home of Spain’s collection of 20th Century works – think Picasso, Dali, Miro, Gris, and showcases one of Picasso’s most powerful works, Guernica.

museoreinasofiaThe large 4-story building is an odd combination of classic architecture set up in a square configuration with interior Romanesque colonnade and galleries breaking off on each side…and industrial modern elevator shafts attached to the outside, facing a city square with a variety of cafes. We arrived late in the afternoon, many of the museums in Spain offer free entrance late in the day or on specific days of the month.

Families gathered at the cafes, kids playing soccer in the square, the various public sculptures proved great hiding spots for a game of tag.

Again, it was impossible to see everything in one visit, so we headed straight to the Picassos. Guernica is massive, 3.5 meters high and 7.8 meters wide, a black and white mural painted in oil. It is an emotional homage to the horror inflicted by German and Italian forces at the behest of Franco on the Basque town of Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. It has become an anti-war symbol, representing the suffering war inflicts on innocent people.









The gallery where the mural resides is stark white, eerily quiet despite the mass of viewers moving through. The Cubist style is striking, providing a dramatic edge and visual confusion that evokes the shards of glass, mangled bodies and screams of horror. The eye with the lightbulb shines a light onto the confusion, a massive triangular composition, all in service of the question, “why?” and the declaration that we will not forget.

The lack of color is disturbing, it feels like death. The contrasting rhythm of black and white leads the eye through the maze of exaggerated and distorted shapes. It was striking to see after the previous day’s visit to Las Meninas. Both profound in their commentary on Spanish history, both leaving a lasting impression.

2014 Spain 043I left the museum in a bit of a fog, my excitement tempered by the mood of the art. Contemporary abstraction often does that for me, triggering a spectrum of emotions that goes so much deeper than appreciating a “pretty work of art.”IMG_4631

The walk to Plaza Mayor for dinner and sangria offered time to process and soak back up the warmth and heart of the city, the tapas bars humming with crowds, the vitality injected back into my spirit.

I couldn’t wait for what the next days would bring. Ole!!