the trolls of olafsfjordur part 3

see the beginning of this story here
and see the previous post here

so, more blue paint. the lift wouldn’t go from one end of the mural to the other, so i had it parked right in the middle, and finished everything i could reach before getting bjarney lea to help me move it. i kept moving the lift, hearing it whine and feeling it shudder and bounce as i went up five feet, or over a little, or down. for hours. the lift made noise every time, whining out over the town as i worked into the night, the only body up out of bed as far as i could tell.


the campground was quite crowded because there was a tremendous music festival in dalvik, and 40,000 people or more had come from all over the country, with their campers, and the smart people didn’t stay in dalvik but came around the mountain and thru the tunnel and stayed with us. so the campground was full and there were campers parking in the field out in front of the pool. i imagined family after family turning over, cursing the whine of the lift motor, settling down for a moment only to have the whine start up again.

at some point i finished putting on a second coat of blue, and came back with the black and my widest brush, to outline the body. but now it was getting very dark, and i couldn’t tell how well the black was going on – would it be solid enough to avoid a second coat? i could only tell in the morning. and around midnight, i just couldn’t stand the noise i was making, certain that everyone was lying awake listening to it.


the next day i was out early, before any of the campers got up. i could tell from the street that i was having the same trouble with the face as i had all along. this time it was worse because the face was exactly on a pillar, so the lines had to travel 18″ deep on both sides before continuing along the face of the wall. seen from straight on, it would look okay, but from either side there would be distortion, and the way the figure was drawn, one eye was going to be on the pillar, and the other on the wall beside it, with an 18″ eyebrow connecting them.


i called bjarney lea over to help me move the lift. we had to hook it up to her suv to move it properly; we were too lightweight to wrangle it by hand, and the ground was uneven. but we could raise and lower the legs, and level it like competent amateurs, and we were happy enough once it was all leveled and stable.


and then back up on the wall. this time i worked on the feet and legs, and when it got moved again, it was to his forward hand. and then it wasn’t really done because i wasn’t happy. it was too plain. the body needed some shading. and i had all these colors. the dark gray that lara had bought, a new thing of black from haukur, a pot of the same white the workers had used on the gym-addition they’d just built. i even considered using some burnt sienna for a red. in general, tho, i was very happy when i came away for the day.


that night connor and i went down to a family gathering. it was a gathering of haukur’s family, and bjarney is his niece, and i knew by sight half a dozen others, and connor knew all the kids. they had a bonfire. haukur and a cousin had guitars. there were flasks of wicked whatever probably homemade schnapps and beers in the coolers in the backs of the suvs.


some ageing ex-teenager kept dipping into the gasoline can and throwing it on the fire, making the kind of evil black cloud that would have had the cops down there if it hadn’t been a family gathering. the sun actually set around 10pm, tho it didn’t get dark – the sunset goes on for hours, and then it gets brighter and the new day begins again around 3.


there are a dozen or more families in olafsfjordur. they’ve been here for around a hundred years, and even tho most of the kids and grandkids and great grandkids live in reykjavik these days, the old folk who were born and raised here tended to stay here, and they end their days at hornbrekka, a rest home (attended by their cousins and nieces) and the downwind generations all return to their family homes in the summer, and everybody has a reunion. family business, meetings, kids playing, people who haven’t seen each other for ages.


after we went back home, i put connor to bed and went back up onto the wall until midnight when it got too gloomy.

some of connor’s many friends, out like any kid around here, until they get tired or bored

i spent some time putting smudges of gray on various shadowy places, like the curve of his leg and the muscles of his shoulders and neck. creative frenzy. i thought they would look okay from a distance, but it looked like crap. i unwisely chose to use the dark gray to scumble shadows onto the swimmer’s belly and legs, and under his neck. this isn’t something that should be done in the half dark. nothing calling for artistic energy and judgement should be done in the middle of the night after a full day.


so the next day, the bank holiday monday, found me back up on the lift bright and early, going over what turned out to be awful smudges all over – larger than life and twice as ugly. so i pulled the blue paint back out of the back of my alice’s car, and went over all the nasty creative smudges, and brought it back to a flat cartoon of blue skin and black contour lines. all except for on the face. i couldn’t quite get the lift to reach that part, and had to leave it for a final movement of the lift.

so we moved the lift, and i finished the painting, and marked it with jim’s and my name, and the hashtag. bjarney lea came over, we hitched the lift to her truck and took it back to the guy who lives in back of alice’s house. thanks very much.


tues. august 8 – the long weekend over, it was tuesday, and horseback lessons started. two weeks of lessons for an insanely small amount of tuition. i dragged connor out of what turned out to be his last week of soccer practice, and walked him to the stables. i don’t know why i did that. i had been driving everywhere but the pool and grocery for weeks, because the back of the car was full of paint. and the stables were most of the way to the beach – thru town, over the bridge, and way over underneath the feet of the mountain. a good half hour walk. i was missing the walking, i guess. my vow of keeping weekends sacred had just fallen with the swimming troll, and with less than a month left, every day mattered.

connor’s horses – kjoi (pronounced sort of like joey – keeoey)

connor had a great time. he’s a real animal person (in gaelic his name means a person who loves dogs). as always, he was the shortest kid there, but that has never stopped him. the director was careful with him and took the second set of reins when the class went on excursions up the hanging valley, and that was out of her own anxiety, because connor has never had any fear at all, physically. he’s been climbing since he was able to walk, moving objects heavier than himself so he could stand on top of them to reach something. adults are always afraid he’ll get hurt, and usually upbraid me for not hovering more.

together we curried the horse. mainly i did it, but he did get to run the comb over kjoi’s back a couple of times. icelandic horses have such broad backs. they’re so muscular and steady – hard to shoulder around when they want to stand there and you want to get by. the parents were only supposed to be there with the kids for the first day, and i was too busy to hang out and watch, so i took the opportunity to curry the horse before and after every lesson. i’d attended a horseback summer camp once, my one and only summer camp experience, and i’ve never been more lonely in my life. the horse was my only friend. a bunch of spoiled rich girls and i so didn’t fit in. but i learned how to ride a horse, how to muck out stalls, how to care for tack. i love it all. but the horse i had did step on my foot and break a toe…

i got to watch connor ride around the ring with the other kids for an hour, learning how to hold the reins, how to sit, how to turn and stop and start. when they were done everybody rode back the stables and unsaddled their horses, and then got a handfull of horse candy and learned how to feed it to their horse without getting their fingers nipped. connor had to work on that skill more than any of the others.

and then we walked back toward town, and crossed the road to where our troll statue was. bjarney lea was there with omg i forget who now (sorry), and they’d got hold of the search and rescue team’s generator, and tommi’s rock drill, and had bored two good holes thru the stacked and cemented rocks.


bjarney lea was going to have to go to dalvik to get more cement, and some rebar cut to the length of the drill bit, so we left the assembly for another day.

the kids gathered them, so we stuck feathers into the drying cement between rock layers

then connor and i went to the pool, and went home, and had dinner, and went to bed. connor went to bed, and i went out to the bank with the darkest chalk i could find, and finally drew in the figure.


i’d been struggling with the bank mural for over a week at this point, and was anxious to get it over with. the ground sloped down to the left side of the wall, that was the problem. so i couldn’t draw a level line. i mentioned it to a few people, but nobody brought me a spirit level, and i went day after day either thinking about the problem, or drawing freehand lines that i then had to erase. and i had scale problems, also. not just the scale of the wall, but the intended scale of the painting itself.

the actual artist who created gryla is rán flygenring, who has a commission from arionbanki to make paintings in all the branches of the bank. so when i came to town asking to make murals, the bank manager heard about it, and asked me to execute the drawing rán had already made. i was happy to do so, because none of the drawings i’m painting are my own work anyway, and because i want more artists to contribute to the trollification of the troll peninsula.

the trouble was that, while i make jim’s drawings fit the wall, rán was trying to make her drawing fit a typical tourist. the idea of her troll was as a tourist attraction, as something people could go up to and mug being eaten while someone else took a picture of them. it’s a great idea. so we went back and forth about exactly how high gryla’s pinching fingers should be, and that added to my anxiety about the slope in the wall and the levelness of the lines (because skewed lines mean a leaning, mishapen drawing).

but that night it all came together. i found that the compass app on my phone was also a level, and used that to draw my marks, and gridded the wall, and drew in my figure.


aug 9, 10 – that morning we had a sock tie-dye workshop for the kids at tjarnarborg. it was raining, but who cares. a couple of dozen kids came, and i was super busy trying to mix up dye and counsel the kids and mix up more dye. the kids didn’t need coaching, and they had a blast, and when we were done i had two dozen pairs of wet, dyed socks in plastic bags with kids’ names and addresses scrawled on them.

horseback riding was probably fun for connor, but i dropped him off and returned after an hour to get him, and then we went to the pool, and had dinner, and i went out again, while connor also went out, but not to the wall – he went to play with who knows how many of his friends, loose about the town.

back at the bank, the paint went on, blue for the clothes, gray for the skin, and white for the details. i used my smallest brushes, because this was just about the smallest scale mural of any of them, and was going to be seen by a lot of people, close up. so the brushwork had to be careful and the painting smooth and even. two coats of everything, as with all the murals, but in this case it mattered.


the next day saw the outline go on. this is backwards from how i’d been doing it, where i outlined first and then put in the color. but after the swimming troll, i wasn’t thinking about what i was doing nearly as much, so i wasn’t having to cover my mistakes nearly as often.

that evening i washed the socks. this was difficult, because of the certainty that i wouldn’t know whose was what after they came out of the washer. so i had to unbag each pair and take a photo of each sock and each bag together, the socks facing the same way, the writing on the bag clear and legible (hah!). i made sure there was one bag for each kid on the list i’d made during the workshop, and tried to anticipate all the things that could go wrong with the idea of giving each kid the socks they had made, and not making wild guesses and having disappointed kids, some of whom put a whole lot of thought into their sock designs.

the feet are still messed up

aug 11 – the drawing was faithfully executed on the wall, each pimple and hair where the artist had drawn it. the only problem i had was with the feet, and had to paint it out and back in again. but then it was done. i used the wall paint the bank manager had bought for me (the same color as the background, but apparently the wall had aged a bit since the last time they’d painted it. i guess they’ll have to paint the building now…


it was so warm that connor didn’t have to wear a jacket, or even a sweater. he was red-faced as it was, and i had to struggle to get him to wear his jacket for horseback riding.

after that, we went to the troll statue. you can hardly see in this photo, but i’ve finished cementing the rebar into the drilled holes. i never thought to take a picture until that point. and then the weather turned ugly or something, and we went off to the pool.

there are two filled holes in there somewhere

sat. aug 12 – after doing tiny final touches that only i would notice on the bank mural, i went back to hlid to work on the two murals there. i took connor, and he played with the dog in the bright sunshine. i wanted him to wear his jacket because of the wind, which was constant up on the side of the mountain, but of course he couldn’t be bothered. i worked on gunni’s troll, completely isolated from the wind, and took off all my outer clothes. i even put on sunglasses so i could open my eyes while painting right up next to the wall.


to balance all that sunshine, we took a walk up the valley after dinner, coming back around 10 as it was beginning to get gloomy over olafsfjordur, but was still bright and sunsetty on the mula and over across eyjafjordur.


aug 13 – a sunday. the weather was brisk and breezy. the wind was mostly coming from the north those days, and we had had a succession of strong sunny days with blue blue skies. it was a real heat wave, but ida kept remarking how autumnal the skies were, and going on about those perfect days before winter. i felt the slight chill in the shadows and heard a threat in her voice about the weather to come.

i would miss that weather. at this point, i’ve been following it in weather reports and my local facebook feed (which is half in icelandic). but i don’t understand the weather. the nights were already shortening back to normal for the temperate regions; the equinox would be only a few weeks after i returned home, and after that the amount of sun would shrink down to zero. not endless night, like at the poles, but no sunshine as the disk sank down behind the valley’s mountains and didn’t reappear for months. it still gets daylight, for hours every day, and the sunsets and sunrises are hours long. but they get snow. and everything changes. i want to see that.

i sat in the hotpot wondering about this one day, about the time i discovered that omar speaks english way better than i had assumed. so we talked about the winter, and he said it was hard. others have also said that. but i have lots to do when there’s nothing to do, and as a painter i’m used to working under artificial light, and i love to sleep late into the morning, and all these things. i actually have no idea how i would respond to constant cold and darkness early in the afternoon and late into the morning, and isolation. but, my sister is the one who suffers from sad, while i quite like the middle of the night.

anyway, tho it was colder up at hlid, i still had to take off my sweater to work on gunni’s mural. i made connor keep his on, but i’m not sure he listened, because he was playing with the grandson, haldor, connor’s new best friend.

svanfridur and i hung out and talked about the progress; i always like to check if i’ve missed a nuance when there’s still time. the chickens were awkward, and she offered to paint the window white and get rid of the feature altogether, but i was already making use of it as a perch. svanfridur always had a carafe of coffee when i came to paint, and kleinur or some other sweet she’d baked herself, always yummy. i always got the impression that they felt bad that i wasn’t asking for money. but then, if i had, i wouldn’t have been able to put up any murals. who’s going to pay to have a troll put on their wall? but they did pay – they gave me things, they fed me, they loved me. what higher reward is there?


because i was having a little trouble with the face of the singing troll woman, i asked svanfridur to pose for me, and the sun was so strong that she couldn’t open her eyes while she was doing it. but that was okay, because i had other photos to reference.


i left connor playing with haldor, inside with the videos and games, and went up to asgeir’s house, and had just climbed the scaffolding with the paint when my phone went off. i was waiting for the call because rán was making a trip around the country to visit all her artwork in the various branches of the bank, and was heading my way. so i went back down and met the artist, and her partner, and her tiny baby.


the wind wasn’t so strong down in the town. we looked at her work, agreed that it was the right size, but that the wall itself was so much larger that it screamed for a huge background painting. maybe a larger troll behind gryla. maybe a cave entrance or trollhouse behind her. maybe some lettering. but something. we’ll see what comes of it.


so back up the hill to asgeir’s. they’d moved the scaffolding so i could get to the other side of the drawing and finish the cod. they’d also been busy trimming the hedges and sprucing up the yard, because people were stopping down on the main street and scrutinizing their house. oh, the unintended consequences of what i was doing. it could be fraught if things got out of hand.

the wind out of the north was so brisk that i had to wear all my gear, including gloves and a scarf. it was cold wind. my fingers stiffened up and the paint didn’t dry. so i could only put on one coat of paint, and was finished very quickly.

aug 14 – monday, and i had exactly two weeks left. i wasn’t panicking, but i was focused. i dropped connor off at inga and ingimar’s house in the morning, which was a great help to me, and a nice comfort for them (they love kids and theirs are grown).

after putting a second coat of paint onto the cod’s scales, i fled back up to hlid, where i could go back and forth, in and out of the wind as i worked on both murals. svanfridur and i agreed that there wasn’t enough foliage on the tree, and that it needed to be a little more troll-like, so i built out the branches and leaves, using bright green paint, and put some pinching branches near her head. perhaps a little too subtle, however. and of course i was only procrastinating, because her face was the only real problem.


i picked connor up after horseback riding lessons – they went out every day for excursions now, mostly up the valley, sometimes way past the farthest point connor and i had walked to. that day connor had fallen off the horse, the director told me. kjoi had hit a bad patch of trail and stumbled, jerking his head forward, and connor went to the ground. but he didn’t cry, and he climbed right back on, and he was totally copasetic about his experience. that kid has no fear.


we went swimming, and in the hotpot i met omar. so i took the opportunity of asking him if i could put a mural on his house. he seemed delighted by the idea, and said it was his sister’s house and he would ask.


so i ran over to his house and took a picture of it. it had been recently repaired and they hadn’t yet repainted it, so it was rather messy looking. but i don’t care about that. repaired is good. and i had three different white paints now, and was sure i could match it for the bottom patch.

after dinner, i sorted and labeled the socks so i could give them out. i had several socks that didn’t match, either the photos or the other socks (there were 3 sizes). connor left me alone and went out. school was getting ready to start, and so in the evenings every kid stayed out late. connor was going out right after dinner to play with his friends until it was way after 10. they went as far as the football pitch, or as close as the playground across the street. there were kid noises everywhere.

tue. aug 15 – leaving connor happily ensconced with inga and ingimar again, playing violent videogames and eating junk food, happy as a clam, i returned to asgeir’s and finished the painting. it was cold and windy, clear and sunny.


then i ran over to skuli and guffa’s house and gridded their wall. the wall was in pretty bad shape, with cracks and hollow noises behind the stucco. but this was a wall i had long coveted. i originally wanted the wall above that, the full height of the house. but there had always been a problem with access. i wasn’t about to get ladders for this job. i couldn’t ask them to put up scaffolding because it would block their access. i wanted to use the lift, thinking i could just move it there in the night and move it back to the pool in the morning. but of course that was impossible. i was talking to guffa one day about it, bemoaning the likelihood that i wasn’t going to be able to do their house, and she suddenly told me she had a solution, and dragged me out onto the landing to look down instead of up.

i had to check it out. the main reason i was insisting on a mural of skuli and guffa (i had to talk them into it) was that their house is visible from the webcam. skuli runs the webcam – he’s the town computer genius – and he often programs it to linger on his door. so i wanted to make sure the world could see the trolls. it was the only one of the many trolls that would be visible from the webcam and so it was vital. because i’m convinced the effect is actually backwards – the world would then be visible to the trolls.


and then it was lunchtime with connor, horseback riding, and then back up to hlid. svanfridur and gunni’s grandson was staying with them until school started, so he and connor played every afternoon. svanfridur and her daughter took the kids down to the lake – they were busy doing the landscaping on a summer house below hlid while i worked on the paintings, and the boys and i ran off to the pool together most afternoons.


finishing the two paintings was easy, because i was right at the edge of doing too much. the smudged shadows worked much better in a just-larger than lifesize scale, i was happy to see.


in addition to grasping finger twigs, i thought to make a sinister face or two in the branches. it’s something i tend to see anyway, faces in trees.

and then we went to the pool, the kids and i. the absolute necessity of our day, like dinner. a couple of laps, wearing my lungs out each time, and then into the hotpot, and after awhile, into the hotterpot, depending on any number of factors – how cold and humid the day, how strong the sun was or how cloudy, who else was in the hotpot, how tired and in need of a mini-nap i was, whether i needed the jacuzzi jet on my spine or wanted to boil awhile.

aug 16 -the weather had changed. the wind was coming from the east coast of north america and suddenly the knees of the mountains were covered by creeping cloudbanks that chugged up the valley and poured in slow motion over the ridges and cols.

so it was rather unpleasant to be out painting. nevertheless. as long as the surface wasn’t wet, the paint would hold, so i went. and was glad i did, because svanfridur and her daughter asked us to dinner that night. wee hah.


so we ran off then to the pool, connor and haldor and i, and then i did some more at skuli and guffa’s. it was fixing to rain, so i had to hurry once i chalked in the lines. this was one of those walls where if i didn’t put in the acrylic, than it would all wash off in the rain. so it was a rush. and my fingers were cold because of the wind. but i got to the edge of what i had to do, and then we went up to dinner at hlid. a farmhouse dinner. with homemade lamb sausage, and lots of fixings, and desert and coffee. the kids couldn’t finish all their food; i could barely (and had to eat the rest of connor’s), and the two farmers ate everything that was left except for one small end of a sausage, which i’m pretty sure went to the dog after we’d left.


it started raining as i finished inking in the waving trolls, and it spit and blew the following day, and hovered around 3 C. but, valiant me, i went over to ala’s with connor, and insisted on putting in the skin tones with one of the warm grays i’d acquired. but there was water running down the wall that the parents and grandbaby are on, so i had to paint around the water. the paint on the more sheltered walls looked like it was going to take all day to dry, as well.

so never mind. i went home and washed and ironed some scarves i’d been making in my off hours (hah) to take to the gift shop. they are northern lights scarves, using a photo gisli took which featured in alice’s book of northern lights stories. when i dropped them by galleri ugla, the gift shop, they surprised me with a giant troll woman they’d knitted. they were still working on the troll man, both to be slipped over a traffic cone and displayed in front of the store. nicely impressive. i was so happy to see them coming up with something of their own, like ida’s troll festival.


fri. aug 18 – with a break in the morning long enough to let connor have his last ride, the big rain came, with the enormous winds, and i did house work, preparing for my one and only houseguest, francis, who was at that moment wending his way around iceland on a bus.


aug 19 – a different kind of day altogether. it was the long-awaited berry festival, with a classical music concert heading the events. our gallery had an exhibition, there was a concert up at hornbrekka, and several other things, more than i could encompass.


weeks ago i had volunteered to help ida for the event. she was, of course, in charge of catering the concert, as well as running her own kaffi klara-based tapas and music evening, and with two of her staff off at college, she was glad to have me. so i spent the morning helping to do all the bits and pieces for a dozen or so appetizers, plates and plates of them.


connor was asked, along with all the other little soccer players, to walk the men onto the field for the big game. i didn’t get to go because by that time i was over at tjarnarborg setting up for the show.


somewhere in the middle there, i managed to pick francis up from the bus stop, took connor and haldor to the pool, attended the listhus exhibition from 5-7, and then worked until after midnight providing food to all the ticket holders, washing dishes, refreshing water carafes.

aug 20 – bright and early next morning i was over at omar’s. it was only on the next street over, i could walk there with my paintbrush in hand. but i didn’t. the first thing was to match the white of the wall with one of my three whites (the school’s white, the bank’s white, and the white found in the storeroom at listhus). it took a minute, so i spoke with one of the neighbors while it dried in the brilliant sunshine. then i painted the wall, two coats.


from there it was only a walk to skuli and guffa’s house, on the other side of where we were living. color went on and never mind the details. and never mind the proportions. i could see the legs were wrong, but figured i’d fix it in the second coat, and just hurried thru the layout.


then i went over to bjarney lea’s wall and we drew the grid and then drew the foot. at this point i was just slapping things up with little regard for preliminaries. just get it up, and worry about making it pretty later.

after that ida had asked us to throw up an exhibition in kaffi klara, so all the artists dragged their stuff over and pinned it up, and we had a rather large reception because of the numbers of people in town for the berry days festival.

aug 21 – a day without any work at all, as we took off first thing with francis in the direction of myvatn, and didn’t return until it was as dark as it got then. we saw loads of wonders, and it was good to get away from the valley into the rest of the beauty that is olafsfjordur.


tue. aug 22 – francis liked the look of akureyri so much that he took a bus there in the morning, and i got right to work after i saw him off. i’d taken jim’s drawing and replaced it with omar’s face. i had to do a lot of figuring out and looking up to find a picture of him on the internet, but i did, and it was by then an easy thing to photoshop his face onto the drawing. he seemed pleased when he saw it; i was delighted. the bird annoyed me, tho. so far i’ve pulled all the raven paintings down from the internet instead of relying on jim’s portrayal.


when i did as much as i could there, i took the car over in front of skuli and guffa’s and walked the appropriate tub of paint to the stairs. this was the day that i put the logo on the bottom of everything i could find, running back up to asgeir’s to find the scaffolding still up, adding it to the gryla painting on the bank wall. i missed several murals, tho – inga and ingimar’s for one, and mulatindur. at least one person saw the progress picture that day, and thought i was going to leave the face blank as a symbolic ‘you are there’ projection. but no.

extra big logo for that webcam image

next, the day being so fine, we went over to the lake and worked on the troll woman with bjarne lea and her kids. she’d arranged for tommi and his truck to come over and hoist that huge stone up to the top of our assemblage, marking the waist of our troll woman. her skirts blow in the wind. tommi got up and drilled holes for rebar, making it look easy. thanks, tommi.


after that, we had dinner with the artists at listhus, and i brought bread. it was fun, and connor had a blast being himself with the artists.

aug 23 – it was a very busy day. i had art supplies to turn over to the college’s art teacher, i met with one of the artists who is on the board, francis hung out at the cafe much of the day and took a nap in the afternoon. and in the meantime i ran around between omar’s, skuli and guffa’s, bjarney lea’s and ala’s – all within shouting distance of my alice’s house, but all requiring different buckets of paint and sizes of paintbrush, being at different stages of completion, and different levels of complexity.

starting to repair the raven

looks just like him

the closest to freeform drawing yet, we both created the troll foot

i went back to do more on omar’s troll now that his paint was dry. and a series of interesting mini-events led me to think it must have been something i was thinking, because the tub of black paint i was carrying exploded all over my legs as i was carrying it from the car. i’m afraid paint went all over omar’s grassy front lawn, too – sorry, omar.

one less heavy item to fill up my checked suitcase

better, but i wasn’t satisfied

and then to ala’s with connor. i got to hang out and finish bits and pieces of this collection of portraits while connor played with her kids, and ala hung out and had all sorts of conversations with all sorts of neighbors, touching all the bases and knowing all the players. i felt like i was in the center of the world.


aug 24 – the next day, first thing before anybody else was up, i hauled the dark gray over to omar’s, walking with the paint past the playground and over the new pavement of kirkuvegar. as i passed the church, a huge raven was perched on the cross on top of the steeple, and he cawed as i came closer, turning this way and that. i said hello and he flew off. and that was what made my decision to make omar’s painting more lifelike and less like a cartoon. i’d been thinking about it in the night, thus the dark gray paint, but i wasn’t sure until the raven.


then to bjarney lea’s house. she’d finished putting the second coat of blue on. she bought her own paint so she’d have extra, plus we were running right out of the sports center’s blue. everything about this mural was site specific. jim never understood what i wanted, so we drew the foot from life – it’s bjarney lea’s, and because of the extreme viewing angles, every bump and curve had to be drawn and redrawn.


at the moment, the part we were having trouble with was the ankle. it was fine from the side, but from the swimming troll, it was spindy, not trollike at all.


then to ala’s to finish everything. again, there was an amazing hum of activity as neighbors dropped by, the phone rang, the noise of connor and whichever kid he was playing with (even the neighbor girl and her friend had him over to jump on their trampoline). i never looked at what was going on, only listened, and only stopped for a single coffee break.


in addition to all this work, i ran around with a ladder and long brush and touched up the remaining nasty gray bits on the swimming troll, went swimming with francis, got asta to read my cards, and dropped off several departing residents at the bus stop. but since i’d finalized three murals that day, i was okay with the distractions.

fri. aug 25 – first thing that morning, connor and i drove francis to the airport in akureyri. bye francis. the second thing that morning, connor and i went to the akureyri pool, with its gigantic new slides. i had to accompany him on them, and i’ve got to admit i don’t like it at all. connor, of course loved being buffetted and battered in the stream, and never once got water jammed up his nose from hitting the water at 35 mph.


behind dalvik

once back in olafsfjordur, i went to bjarney lea’s, who was putting the final touches on the troll foot. i signed my name, that’s about all i had to do.


we went down to the lake and did one more addition of rocks to the pile. we were going to have to stop there, probably for the winter. another mess of drilling and rebar, and the next thing to add would be the shoulders. but it was now too high to lift heavy stones, so the next stage will have to be with help.


aug 26 – i spent all day cleaning alice’s house and packing up our stuff into the bags. and repacking. and taking stuff to people around town for their own stashes (paints to anna kristin, art supplies to the school, old clothes to angelo or the red cross). connor went to akureyri with angelo, his mom, and gummi. they saw ‘cars’ at the movie house.

in the evening, bjarney lea and i went around to visit all the murals, so she’d know where they were. i left my drawings and notes with her, as well as the trollhouse drawings the kids did (that i’d never gotten around to wheatpasting up). and then connor and i had dinner at ida’s house – pizza – and we hung out for the evening of our almost last day.

the view from ida’s house

aug 27 – i finished up the cleaning and packing, and went to akureyri airport to pick up alice. connor was off at his very last soccer tournament with the woman who taught him to swim – jonina. and that was it. three months being part of the town, and we were planning to sneak away in the morning light.


mon. aug 28 – but we didn’t get off without an early swim, breakfast at kaffi klara, and a bunch of hugs. and when the bus to reykjavik pulled up, it was our turn to get on, and the driver greeted us with a wry smile.

i don’t have firm plans to go back. i trust the trollification will continue with other artists, and that the people will figure out how to handle the future they are bringing about. i want to be a part of it, and when i’m not fantasizing about buying a house in olo, i’m thinking about how to rearrange my life to include more time there.

i’d apologize for the length of this (these) posts, but it’s three months of work digested into a small a space as possible. if you want the further details, you can read all about our summer in olo at

the trolls of olafsfjordur part 2

see the beginning of this post here.


tue. july 11 – connor and i walked up the valley again, in the late evening, watching the sun set the whole three hours we walked up and back.

this was the day when i decided that we needed some color, and came back with the gray paints. i had two grays, a light cool gray and a dark neutral gray. and i still didn’t like the bird.


anna kristin and i went to visit svanfridur and gunni, the couple who performed at palshus a few days before. ida arranged everything, and then told us where the farm was located and sent us off to find it. it’s a farm on the side of the mountain above the lake, and you can see the whole valley, the town, and out to sea from there.


it’s a magnificent, old farm, and they raise chicken, sheep, and (used to) trout. they took us all around the farm buildings, and we saw all the pens and vats and storerooms. and walls. there was a wall that could be seen from the road, but svanfridur pointed out that the wind, which is fierce aloft, would rip the paint off it in just a season.

the barn. they just wanted the old stone storeroom wall painted, leaving the bigger barn wall for another time….

and the end of the house, not really sheltering the clothesline (made of really stern stuff and sideways to the north wind)

she took me to a very sheltered wall behind the barn, and showed me another wall on the side of their house, and they told me what they’d been thinking about, and i took pictures of both of them, and their animals, and their grandkid, and the walls, and excitedly took them back to jim (via email and skype).

they raise sheep, and icelandic sheep are ancient and purebred, and make the best food and warmest clothing ever. everybody knits in iceland, and veganism is impractical in a culture where you eat whatever is edible in order to stay alive.


they raise chickens, too. icelandic chickens are as specialized as the dogs and sheep and horses. they came with the vikings 1200 years ago now, and they’ve been a species all to themselves ever since. sort of. they have all been controlled only for the last few years, but in general, the livestock and working animals are the same as they were in 900-something. it makes sense. the environment is harsh and unforgiving (thank odin for geothermal heating), and only a peculiar hardiness and a close symbiosis with other species enable them to survive, and thrive there.

people keep chickens for their eggs. they’re really very scrawny and tough under all that fluffy plumage

the farmer, gunni – i’ve finally met a farmer – gets up before dawn in every kind of weather, tends without complaint to all the animals and their every need, does the same things at the same time every day unless something happens that he has to attend to instead. but so do we all. his great virtue is that he works with nature, life and death, necessity and the natural cycles, while we tend to work at a desk, or selling something. we’re slaving away at other people’s goals for our money, and he’s using his energy to feed people for his. plus he’s ten years older than you’d think. and in the evening when his work is done, he turns to music and literature and art. and good food.

anna kristin pointed out gunni’s checked shirt. she told me that farmers always wear checked shirts, and that jim needed to include that detail in his drawing. which he did. but he did balk at the glasses. trolls don’t wear glasses, jim was positive about that.

gunnar, who looks like an elf to me

when svanfridur first told me about her idea – a tree – i was just going to get jim to draw a typical icelandic tree, which i’d have to supply a reference for. but svanfridur already had thought it thru. she showed me the lee side of the house, sheltered from the ferocious winter winds, where she was given birch trees by her mother when she got married, i think (i’m probably wrong about the details), so they were 30 or 40 year old trees, and were massive and majestic by icelandic standards. they’d made a whole grove, and put a greenhouse at the other end once they grew into a good windbreak.


svanfridur wanted a painting of the birch tree, right behind the clothes tree in the front yard (a joke), and she wanted a little picture of a woman standing beside it, singing to it. i immediately thought of her features, of course – she sang at palshus.

svanfridur held up several costumes for me to show to jim

i caught a glimpse of one of the grandkids as we were getting ready to leave so i didn’t hesitate to get a picture of him, too. it was going to be a complex set of murals, and take a bit of discussion to get my idea for the paintings across to jim. i let svanfridur and gunni know that it would be a few days until i was ready to start, and they offered to paint the house wall before i started, which was very kind. they’d already painted the barn earlier that summer, so i was good to go on that surface.

when i first met the dog, he came up with an infinitesimal piece of gravel, asking me to throw it. when i did, he went and found it, and brought it back, and asked for again more

and then i went straight back up on inga and ingimar’s wall. the bird. i hadn’t been satisfied with jim’s raven, so i pulled one down on my phone and drew him in myself.

in the end, it’s the little touches that makes all the difference. a warm gray on the skin, some gray in his hair, a few invisible shadings. it all had to be seen from over 100m away, across an empty lot between streets. so the simpler the better. i signed it jim and jeanne. later i asked bjarney lea to put her hashtag idea on it somehow, because we didn’t come up with a hashtag for several more weeks. #olotrolltown

and …..that was another one finished. only in a few days, a few 2-hour sessions. i was getting used to this.


july 13 – i went back to mulatindur and told them i was ready to start. the daughter was going around with a paint chart, and i said oh i already have plenty of paint. and then she told me she was picking paint for the whole building. and then one of the mechanics was getting ready to leave for dalvik and the hardware store, and he was going to get enough paint for the whole building. and they were assembling scaffolding (oh i won’t need that, i said blithely, i’ve brought a step stool). and they told me i should come back tomorrow and start then, and i thought that was a good idea, and went away, bemused.

when i found out she was the daughter (works painting cars) i stuck her into the drawing

my surface. i’d already gridded it and decided i was going to have to change the scale anyway

then i went to kaffi klara to meet bjarney lea. i’d been corresponding with her ever since she moved to olafsfjordur last winter, and had to wait this long to meet her because she’d been in greece with her family. she was full of good ideas about tourism and marketing, and very enthusiastic about my troll project, and wanted to help (always accept offers of help). and her kids were connor’s age. so we were going to be good friends, i just knew it.

ida decided the moment i finished her trolls (three days before) that she was going to have a troll festival to celebrate, and the sooner the better. there were going to be two family reunions that weekend, so why not then? the virtue of a small town is that you can do that. borrow the little kiosk things all the families use for their reunion parties at tjarnarborg, borrow the bouncy houses from whoever holds on to them (the fire department, i think), close the street in front of kaffi klara to vehicle traffic, tell everybody in town what’s going on, rig up a sound system, cook a whole lot of soup and stock up on ice cream, and unpack the cotton candy machine, popup tent, and facepaint in the storage room. every day, i stopped in to get a cup of coffee, and ida came over and excitedly told me about another idea she was working on for the troll festival.

in the middle of summer, ida’s cafe was a hive of activity. it was always crowded for lunch, which was always a hot casserole, some soup, salad, fresh bread. there were people stopping in all day, some just to say hi, like me, and some to spend hours there with their laptop, their knitting, their kid. connor spent all his time there (mornings, before lunch, soccer, and swimming) when i was painting the cafe. now that i’d moved on, he was spending a lot mornings with inga and ingimar, but i would dump him at kaffi klara more than once and go off to paint some wall, all summer. thanks, ida.

july 14 – at this point, halfway thru my stay, i started to think about maybe panicking. i looked at the balance of work done so far – 2 murals completed, just starting mulatindur and hlid – the farm – and then several more to start scheduling, including asgeir’s house, ala’s house, the bank, and the troll foot bjarney lea had gladly claimed. i hadn’t begun the school or the sports center yet – they were wrapped in bureaucracy – and the factory would probably not be repaired in time. there still wasn’t a home for jim and the raven. lara had suggested a wall that faced the main road as it rounded a bend, a great location, but i hadn’t gotten hold of a family. and tommi wanted me to do one on the roof of his shop!

the mockup from the artist at the bank, showing a typical tourist mugging for the camara before being eaten by the troll – should be a trend

bjarney lea’s wall. she loved the foot idea, even tho i thought nobody would want it on their house. it’s one of the only ideas that i started with

sat. july 15 – we had the troll festival at kaffi klara. it started out raining, but dozens of people came, and we filled the street with chalk paintings, and everybody got their faces painted, and i went in full makeup as a troll woman, and there was live music in palshus, and broadcast music on the street, and a felted troll workshop, and all the craft businesses were open, and it was great. and it stopped raining. and i ate bucketsful of soup – ida’s soup. troll soup, actually, using a local plant they call troll herb. and in the evening, there was tapas and live music.

skuli, the town’s electronic genius back in the day, and still runs the webcam

and his wife guffa, who is a genius with knitting needles and never needs a pattern

the next day connor and i traveled most of the way to akureyri for the medieval days festival in gasir, where people live like settlement era vikings for a week or ten days, and other people come and pay admission to gawk at them. it’s a surreal juxtaposition of two distinct sets of strangers in two different period costumes, ignoring each other in a popup town in a field by the shore. but it was also loads of fun, and i got some wonderful photos for jim and me to paint.


july 17 – back to work now, i left connor with inga and ingimar, showed up to mulatindur to find my wall painted a nice cool gray, and one of the mechanics up on the scaffolding, painting the rest of the building the same color. i still felt a little sheepish about being the cause of vast expenditures on paint, but maybe i was just the excuse. i was quite pleased that they’d offered to paint over the window for me. it meant i could now use that space for details.

a faint chalk grid. yellow chalk is particularly prone to fading to white in a few hours

the faint chalk outline of the drawing, including the incorporated daughter

i was going to have the usual trouble making things look properly elliptical

starting in with a now-traditional range of grays


all the work above took 2 hours in the morning, and another two hours after lunch. mulatindur is up on the hill, on the way up to or down from the tunnel to dalvik. it was windy every time i went up there. the view’s wonderful, and i heard the ravens. maybe it’s the part of town alice’s house is in, but i didn’t hear or see the ravens this year unless i ventured to the shoreline and mountainsides. except for several remarkable times, this being one of the minor ones..

july 18 – i finished mulatindur in two days. after spending three weeks on ida’s more developed mural, it was heartening to spit out two murals in a week. if i could keep up two murals a week, and still keep the weekends for myself and connor, then i could just keep steaming along, and everything would wrap up on schedule. a magical way to work things out. living happily ever after always sounded natural to me.


steinni came grinning with a pair of slippers and asked me to change the works boots for the slippers. then everyone will know it’s willie, he said. my take on it was that sacrificing a picture of their son to the car troll would ensure his safety here in the world, but maybe they thought it was too close to home.

i heard the raven and decide to change jim’s drawn hood ornament: a third raven painting

that afternoon bjarney lea called me to announce that her neighbor gulli had delivered a load of rocks to the edge of the lake, where we’d decided we were going to build our stone troll. i had given up on the idea of a statue, even tho the dream of a 15ft stone troll overlooking the town was my primary motivation for returning to olafsfjordur (at least while i was applying for funding).

july 19 – the next day, connor and i took three artists on a trip to saudarkrokur, which on paper takes three hours. but we’re talking about artists with cameras, and we stopped sometimes every 500m and piled out of the car to capture the inspiration.

i had to go anyway, in order to visit the fish tannery, and buy some fish leather for the guy who makes those shoes. and since none of the residents had a car, i offered to let them share expenses in return for a wonderful journey around the rest of the troll peninsula and into a vast valley of more distant mountains, and a winding river that went on for miles before a bridge could cross it. there was an ancient churchlet. there was a turf-house farm. there was a great old bakery with wonderful soup. and a harbor with cod drying racks and gasp-inducing sea-washed rocks, and then a stop at hofsos halfway back, to soak in the ‘most magnificent pool‘ in iceland (open until 9pm and costing twice as much as our local pool. and our view, of our mountains, rivals it with a quieter presence.

thurs. july 20 – i went around to all the new walls to check them out, including hlid with gunni and svanfridur, and asgeir, who runs norlandia, and ala with her menagerie. i warned asgeir that i was probably not going to have time to do his factory wall at this point, but that when it was ready we would take advantage of it. he had already set work on the building in motion, but at this point it was up to workers that were back in their home countries for their summer vacations. so whatever, fine. i could still start on his house if he would only put up scaffolding for me, which he had done the next day, while i was going to have to delay working on it because of the other commitments i’d made just the day before. i could see where this would get crowded, and foresaw the day when i’d have to sacrifice my weekends to get everything going. after all, i still had the majority of the murals yet to do, and less than 6 weeks to do them. and it was impractical to assume i could continue finishing two murals a week. but i had help now.

sherry, a wonderful canadian woman who came over to spend six weeks volunteering in return for bed and board, and a great introduction to life in iceland. i’d met her getting off the same bus as two of my residents at the beginning of the month. she mentioned that she knew her way around a brush and was curious about wall murals, and ida – her host – had no objection to my borrowing her for a few hours here and there. so i now had someone who could grid a wall and transfer the drawing and paint in the contour lines and fill the volumes. yay, a mini-me!

since nobody wanted the mayor’s face half a meter high, overlooking the town, i traced asgeir’s profile onto jim’s drawing

the project that disrupted my casual scheduling of walls was the large mural at the school. originally lara, the principal, wanted it on a not-so-prominent wall, but gisli, the photographer, (who holds three jobs just like everyone else, and here ran the school building with all its maintenance and physical needs) photoshopped jim’s drawing onto the end wall that not only faces the main road, but is visible all the way from mulatindur, halfway up to the tunnel to dalvik. then lara forgot all about the idea for a couple of weeks, while she was extremely busy with school things (not more busy than during school, just different busy), and only on my asking how the approval process was going with the mural, did she submit it to wherever it had to go to get approval.

she got approval immediately. then she had the builders (who were making a big new addition right where i had wanted to put the troll garden, way back 3 years before), throw up some scaffolding for me, and she took me to a store right in town and bought me several gallons of dark gray paint. and so i had to drop everything else, or at least push it aside, and concentrate on this. scaffolding represents money, and so does paint, and i was very insistent on this not costing anybody anything. city governments and banks notwithstanding.

a plywood base over the trashcan bays, propped by 2x4s, a single rise of scaffolding and the stepladder i’d borrowed from the residency. and connor

i was getting used to wobbly scaffolding by now. no matter how bad (unless it collapses, of course), it’s not as bad as just a ladder. i had to climb a footstool and then hoist myself onto the top of the trashcan bays. and i only realized that the scaffolding was very carefully placed on the wall when i moved it to the right, to grid the other half of the wall. without the 2x4s supporting the plywood base, the scaffolding itself overhung the edge of the bays enough to risk toppling the scaffolding off the top of the bays and crashing onto the parking lot. so i totally risked my own life there, and was totally scared by the dangerous wobbliness. and after i moved the scaffolding carefully back to where the lads had built it, i was totally more comfortable with the wobbliness that is inherent in scaffolding. the shit just wobbles.

i was back up on the school wall the next day. there were several interesting problems with jim’s drawing and the actuality of the wall. the approval was for the troll woman to be walking up to the mountain, but in order to make her as tall as possible (as visible as possible for as far away as possible), i had to reverse her and put her closer to the left edge of the wall. so i had to go back to the drawing, separate the two figures in photoshop, move her relative to the mythical beast, and make the mythical beast at least twice the original size. i had a large wall, by god, and i was determined to fill it.


july 22 – we took off the next couple of days because it was a weekend. on saturday connor had a soccer tournament somewhere around dalvik, and he did remarkably well, running after every ball, enthusiastically risking everything to get the ball to the net, even if it violated the rules to do so, to the chagrin of his coach. the next day it might have rained, but whatever, we stayed home and anna kristing came over to paint with us. i painted a little church under the mountain in arskossandur that i could see from the soccer field. anna kristin painted clouds and abstract local scenes. connor painted soccer players. anna kristin made icelandic pancakes (crepes with jam or nutella), and we hung out all afternoon. and went to the pool, of course. we went to the pool every day, unless something extraordinary happened. in the evening, connor and i went for a walk up the avalanche ramp, behind the old folks’ home at hornbrekka. we could look out over the whole valley from there, and since it was late evening (and still broad daylight), we were the only ones out. the wildflowers dotted the mountainside, the lupins took over the fields farther on and still shone purple in patches.

mon. july 24 – i went around and got reference photos for the next walls. first up to hlid, because i wanted something special. i’d decided that it would be funny if gunni’s troll was just standing there with the wee lamb, not knowing that a mama sheep was about to butt his butt, so i’d found a reference on the internet and sent it to jim as an idea, even tho it was a ram and not a mama sheep – i could tell the difference (what an accomplishment, i’m not a farm girl). but jim of course drew what i gave him, so his drawing was incorrect. and svanfridur and gunni would always be looking at the mural and wondering what i was thinking. so i took the drawing to them, and asked for their help. i needed to paint a ewe butting gunni’s troll. their noses are more round than a ram’s. and i might as well paint one of their sheep, so svanfridur brought up a picture of one of their ewes in profile, and i took a picture with my phone, and photoshopped it in.


actually, for gunni’s mural, i picked jim’s drawing apart and rearranged it, flipping the butting ewe, enlarging gunni, moving the wee lamb, adding some chickens. turns out i liked making my own design out of jim’s drawings.

i’d done great things with his figure drawings for the mural on the sports center, making several versions out of the range of sports figures and various background ideas. i was going to make that a full color mural, a landscape and multiple figures. but haukur acted more sorry than relieved to tell me i had to limit the mural to just the swimmer, no background. so i got back at him by assuring him that the swimming troll was going to take up the entire length of the wall, even tho i only used 2/3 of it in the end. but he paled satisfactorily at my words.

ala had already sent me pictures of all the people in the family, but i was still unclear on the concept, and had to go back around to their house and get a few extra photos, mainly of their critters. while i was there i measured the walls and started messing with the grid, trying to figure out the scale. jim had drawn the two girls individually, and grouped the other six figures into two drawings. each of those pages, tho the same size, used a different scale, and i’ve been consistently doltish when it comes to figuring out the math.

i took sherry with me, so that she could work on a mural from the beginning and go thru all the steps. i showed her the rudiments of gridding, walked her thru figuring out the scale and gridding both the drawing and the wall appropriately, and handed her a ruler and a piece of chalk.

kara and their shy rescue dog gucci, who was so like our lilly that we loved each other

no sooner were we in the door, tho, than kara was making waffles and coffee. so we didn’t get all that much done during this first session at ala’s house. but there was always so much going on at ala’s house that i really had to concentrate on working and just listen to all the various conversations with all the various visitors and relatives, and when connor was there it was even more lively because they would all play with him.


that afternoon i continued at the school. after redrawing the mythical beast twice as large and moving him far forward of lara’s troll woman, it went pretty smoothly. since i had moved the scaffolding back into the place where it had been built, rendering it once more stable enough to use, i was unable to continue at the beast’s head, so i left it for last.

working even that little bit aloft made the wind much more fierce. it was a north wind, from the north pole, and that’s why the sky was clear. a dry, cold wind, and i had to wear my down jacket and fingerless gloves. the wind whistled thru the scaffolding, and i tried but failed to capture it on my cellphone. it was incessant. i loved the sound, always have – the moaning of the wind. some people hate the sound, but it really speaks to me.


july 25 – sherry and i met at the cafe 1, after she’d finished her chores (gardening), and after a quick bowl of soup we went back to ala’s house to finish gridding and beginning to transfer the drawings. she took the two boys and the fish and drew it in very nicely – she’s a natural.

then we went up to hlid, and i gave sherry the drawing of the tree and let her rip, while i went up to the barn wall and started drawing the boy and his dog. it was a very sunny day, and with the light glaring off the white walls, both sherry and i were roasting. i had to get my sunglasses from alice’s car (my sunglasses – i’d found them abandoned on a rock at glaumbaer and accepted them as a gift from the huldufolk, who knew i was going to need them on these summer days – thanks!). the paint dried in moments, and so i went ahead and blocked in the color, moving fast and trying to keep to my new habit of finishing a mural in two days. hahahaaa

sherry was roasting. svanfridur brought coffee and kleinur to a table in the shade

that evening we had the end-of-month art show for the residents. the townspeople never come to these shows, or rarely, and to do them justice they don’t seem to know we have these artshows, and anyway we had dinner afterwards, and we all had fun hanging out together.

jim’s drawings of the murals i was working on at the moment

wed. july 26 – the july residents began leaving, and i had to turn my attention to seeing them off and cleaning for the next batch. things like where did i put the stash bag full of sheets and towels, and hoping the fridges and ovens weren’t too filthy. the second month went by so fast, and now that i was truly, frenetically busy with wall murals, i could hardly be bothered to think about what the residents might need. they were grown ups, they could manage on their own, and did until it rained all night from a particular quarter of the wind, and the second house flooded, but that was in august.

i believe it was jason who left that day. i picked him up at the first house, the one right by the river and then the mountains. as we were leaving, 3 ravens circled the house. i hadn’t seen ravens yet, i’d only heard them when i was up alongside the mountains on the other side of the valley. i assured jason that the ravens were for him, and that it meant he needed to come back to olafsfjordur again, perhaps as a host artist. of course the ravens were for me, too, but maybe he didn’t know the significance of a raven’s appearance, especially in shitting range.

when he left on the bus to reykjavik, the same bus i would be taking in a month – i said hi to the driver and told him it would be my turn soon – i went over to ala’s, and used my reference photos to alter jim’s drawings right there on the wall. it’s amazing what necessity prompts. my wall painting skills (never expert) were improving with every mural. connor played with kara. they jumped on the trampoline while ala talked to neighbors over the back fence, they played with all the legos dumped onto the couch, they did whatever a 5 year old and a 13 year old can think of to do.


after seeing connor off to soccer, bjarney lea and i met down by the lake where the statue was going to rise. we sorted the rocks into sizes, and laid out the first few layers we intended to cement down. there’d been a bag of cement in the trunk of her suv for over a week, and not knowing anything about sculpture of this sort, i’d watched a bunch of videos and read a bunch of websites about it. making me an expert ahahahahah. no, but really, making me responsible for doing it right. we knew that the finished statue would draw every teenager in town to fight it, and if it toppled over on someone, it could severely damage them. so we asked tommi, who came and checked it out, and said we should drill holes every now and then and run rebar and cement thru them, to steady the structure. the problem is that the rock itself is not the most solid. being volcanic in origin, it tends to fracture and crumble. so we had to keep that in mind as we selected our rocks.

we test built the first several layers, putting a couple of big rocks on top of our base rock, then finding the right stones to fill in around and under those big rocks. then another couple of big rocks and fillers. when we were happy, we exploded the structure onto the ground around the base rock, hahahah confident that we could reassemble it from that layout.

and then it was time to go get the kids from soccer, so we left. when we started, we realized that we had a small window to get the statue done. i only had a month left, and she was going to go on vacation with the kids. plus we could only work in fair weather, and also, shit happens. so we tried to get there every day, and basically we’d text each other in the morning and find out what our schedules looked like, and sometimes we arranged to meet there in ten minutes, and sometimes at 1:00. those days i began using the alarm on my phone for 4 or more events every day. i’m sorry to say i’ve made a habit of it at this point, even back home when i’m nothing like this busy.


i went and tried to paint on the school wall with connor off at soccer, but it was very cold, and the wind was up, so i only did something minor on lara’s troll woman. i was just descending from the scaffolding by the tall stepladder, and walking along the trash bays to the kitchen stepladder at the end of the bays, so i could get down without jumping the last 4 feet. suddenly, with a scraping noise, the extension ladder, which had been propped up on the beast’s face, went blowing over sideways and fell onto the sidewalk with a loud aluminum clatter. and that was the last work i did on the wall that day. as i rubbed my frozen hands after hustling the paint back into the car, i told myself that i knew when to quit. but i needed to sit in the hotpot at the pool for an extra long time to warm the memory of that wind.


july 27 – i worked on the school in the morning, and looking at the photos, don’t think i got anything done. later on, bjarney lea and her neighbor runar were down at the statue hefting huge stones onto the base, and lizzie (one of the residents) and i mixed cement and slapped it on as they approached, staggering under the weight of the rocks. we washed the excess cement off right away, because the rocks themselves were so beautiful. one of them was full of tiny little geodes, sparkling white in the black basalt. later, lizzie came down with a lightning illness, with a migraine, throwing up – the works. just when she had a guest arriving, and just before leaving for home. poor lizzie.


after that, connor and i went and visited tommi in his office, dealing with the particulars of his creation of a troll-crossing sign and taking my chance to photographing him for a mural for his shop roof. he’s already got elf ears, so he’s a natural for a model.

then connor and i showed up at asgeir’s house, where the scaffolding was waiting for me, and they were home for lunch, so i got a cup of coffee delivered to me on the scaffolding, and used every last bit of my box of chalk drawing the left half of the troll with a fish. the surface was very rough stucco, and it ate up the chalk.


and because it was supposed to rain, i made sure to draw it in paint as soon as i’d made sure the lines were right. again, up on wobbly scaffolding, high up on a wall, high up on a hill, exposed to the north wind, it was a little chilly. i was still being careful with my black down jacket at this point, making sure to wipe off all spills immediately, taking pride in my neatness hahahaha.


july 28 – the next day it was my turn to have a migraine. i made it down to the troll statue, but i don’t think i was any help, and just sat and watched bjarney lea do all the work. mainly i stood in bed and wrapped my neck in ice packs, the way i always deal with it.

july 29 – the next couple of days was an i’ll be damned if i’m working on the weekend, tho i could see the end of that attitude was coming fast. but i worked on my northern lights silk scarves so i’d have something to put in the gift shop, anna kristin came over and we painted, and i made bread, and cookies, and we didn’t do any mural work. at this point, a month left to go, i had loads and bunches of work to do at home.

jim sent me a drawing of a family who used to live in olafsfjordur but had just moved to dalvik. we’d visited them, the kids played together, we really liked them. so i made big efforts to put a troll on their house. but it was far to go, and their house needed painting, which was low on their list, and they were away for much of the remaining time, and it didn’t get done, in the end. but i would make sure right before leaving for home that i dropped the drawing off for them to keep, and maybe they can arrange with bjarney lea to execute the painting next summer.


the fishertroll mural from the bus stop below, on the main street

july 31 – i said goodbye to more residents and their luggage, and did a lot of cleaning. in between cleaning, i went down to the troll statue, where bjarney lea and anna kristin were hard at work. mainly, i mixed the cement and washed out the poor, scratched up plastic wash basin i found in alice’s house and truly meant to replace.


and the next day was the first of august, the start of my final month in iceland. now i was just like that month’s art residents, with a very limited amount of time and the need to jump right in and get things done. so i probably neglected the residents a little. i figured they were big kids and could amuse themselves, and went ahead and put my head down and concentrated on my work.

in between picking up and delivering artists to their quarters, i finished the mural at the school. i was glad to have it over. there were a lot of issues with it, particularly the colors and the wings and beard of the mythical beast. i wasn’t really happy with it. but i had deviated from jim’s drawing, and had made decisions in style that made it my painting. i was a little looser and more trusting of the creative process (rather than being confident of my skill). i ‘d have been happier with more skill.


aug 2 – there were more residents to greet and settle in; they trickled in a few each day for about a week every month. i used my phone’s alarm clock to keep track of which bus i needed to meet. and in between, i went up to asgeir’s house and worked at the extreme right edge of the scaffolding. the troll was finished at this point, and i was waiting for asgeir’s guys to move the scaffolding to the extreme right of the wall. i’d learned my lesson moving the scaffolding at the school. i know nothing about scaffolding, and that could be enough to kill me. ladders are dangerous enough.


then sherry and bjarney lea and i all went up to hlid for an afternoon session. again, the sun was intense and the glare made it really hard work. but we weren’t complaining.


i continued developing the farmer and his menagerie, while bjarney lea filled in the leaves, and sherry painted the troll woman. as students, they were both getting the hang of it, which was great for me, because i could easily see them back in vancouver, or there in olafsfjordur, making their own marks and developing their own styles.


thur. aug 3 – i got the lift. i’d told haukur that i needed a lift in order to paint the sports center. i would have thought it would have been obvious, but of course it was up to me to say what i needed. when i finally said something, haukur had a word with the mayor, who said he’d pay for it himself, and then haukur contacted the guy with the life, which turned out to be the very same guy who lived behind alice’s house, whose lift i’d been watching for weeks as workers put on a new tin roof. i should have known, since the scaffolding stayed up for a long time, that the householder and the lift owner were the same person, and i should have suspected that the lift owner was related to haukur, and that when bjarney lea (haukur’s neice) took me over to be trained on the operation of the lift, they spoke like relatives, and looked like cousins, and their kids ran around with connor like they’d been playing together all summer.

because the lift was costing someone money, i felt obligated to work on the mural daily until i was done. so before i started, connor and i took a walk up the valley. the sun went down behind the mountains now, shining bright reddish orange on the peaks opposite. it was starting to get dark after midnight, but it was also peak tourist season, and all the icelandic people were taking vacation. our campground always had a couple of campers in it.

IMG_9780connor looks tiny in front of the lift in front of the wall

aug 4 – first thing that morning, i met haukur to get some paint. the supplies i had collected from the residency storeroom were almost exhausted, and i need to paint a significant percentage of a football field sized piece of concrete. we spent some time in the same paint shop as before. the guy who runs the paint shop is haukur’s son. at this point, i’m pretty sure this is all relatives doing business with each other, and when it’s familiy, who can say whether any of this is costing any actual money at all. and remember, i’ve got a thing about costing people money. money is expensive.
i went and started on the wall after that. bjarney lea had to come help me remember how to work the lift, even tho i’d filmed the demonstration on my camera.

going up and down in a lift is a learning curve. you press a button or shift a lever and the contraption moves suddenly, and stops moving as quickly when you release it. and if you’ve got a cup of coffee, or a can of paint water, or a full and uncovered bucket of paint, the results can be disastrous. i was still trying to keep my jacket clean at this point. it took halfway thru the mural before i could stop thinking about which lever combination to press when, and before the motion of the lift became smooth and precise. it was good to have these things become second nature, to look like i knew what i was doing and wasn’t an embarrassment to the whole town.

connor’s so tanned and blond after a summer in iceland

i spoke to lara about her mural, once i’d announced on instagram that it was finished. she pointed out that both wings appeared to be on the far side of his body. and she was right, and the scaffolding was still there, so i rushed over and thought about what i could do to the painting as a whole, because there was that lingering dissatisfaction. lara also suggested a touch of realism – put a patch on her dress, she said. it’s what they do there – every time you see the women of olafsfjordur, they’re knitting or crocheting, so of course the troll woman would have a patched dress.


aug 5 – 7 – i spent the next three days up on the wall at the sports center. it was a bank holiday weekend, and i had a bunch of new residents to tend to, and there was a family bonfire we were invited to, and i wasn’t about to miss swimming every day. but every other moment was spent up on the lift. by now everybody in town knew what i was up to. even tho people had slowed down when i was working on ida’s wall, and even stopped and went into the cafe because i was hanging around outside with a brush in my hand. even tho steinni brought all the auto shop customers out to inspect my figures.

i couldn’t see them watching when i did ingimar and the raven, or up at hlid, or behind ala’s house, so i thought i was still invisible. but actually i became famous once i started on the school and the sports center. it’s a good thing i didn’t realize it, and never thought that everybody was talking about me, because i would have felt inhibited. and if anything, not having anybody come out and tell me to stop helped unleash my brazen inner ham. i was in heaven. all the walls i could paint, people who accepted me, a clear mission, and a happy connor. figure in paradise as a background and it just can’t get much better than that.

the gloom of night

i went up on the sports center wall for more than just a couple of hours at a time, those three days. i left connor sleeping and went out first thing in the morning, and came back to find him playing games on his tablet, having eaten the cereal i’d left out for him. we went back out after i warmed up and had a cup of coffee, and connor played with kids on the soccer field while i went back up on the wall.


i was painting as much of the body color as possible, first thing after chalking in the outline. it was a light blue, used on some buildings as a trim color. i had a gallon that haukur had bought, and ran out the second day, with only half of the giant painted in. i was fretting about it in the hotpot that afternoon when haukur came up to see how i was getting on with the mural, and by the time i got back to the lift, there was a new tub of paint sitting there, even tho the store was closed because of the holiday. thanks, haukur.

there was orientation to hold that night, a new batch of residents who needed to be welcomed and introduced to the town and advised not to go wandering in the mountains without telling anybody where they were going. and they all had to introduce themselves and tell about their art and what they hoped to do there, and we had a full house so there were 12 artists to speak and show their websited, and connor played outside with his friends the whole time we were sitting there listening to artists confess in one way or other to being both uncertain, and excited about the freedom this uncertainty gave them..


when i was finally free to pack up the leftover goodies and find connor, i scurried back home to put him to bed and go back out to the wall. in early august, it was still mostly light all evening, but it was getting very gloomy after midnight so i was eager to work as late as i could.

the face – trouble as usual

see the last post in this series here

the trolls of olafsfjordur part 1

this is a sort of succinct chronology of the three months i spent in olafsfjordur in 2017, painting troll murals on the walls.

(sorry, i just started rereading it for edits, and had to laugh. succinctahahaha. even dividing it up isn’t going to help. it’s way long. 20,000 words.) instead of subjecting you to a long short story, i’m splitting this up into at least two parts.

it started out as one long screed, using the contents of my daybook, and my previous posts as guidelines. included in this post is a record of what i did on the murals every day for three months. what’s not included are all the details of daily life and icelandic adventure, for which please see my travel blog –

my first mural, 2014 – the map of iceland on its side is a troll. we’re on his upper lip

i had previously painted a mural of the troll of iceland, on my first art residency in olafsfjordur, in 2014. because i loved the town and its people so much, i jumped at the chance to be host artist for three months in 2017. two years in advance, i jumped at the chance – i didn’t have to think twice, and i only consulted with jim after accepting the offer. three months!!!! in iceland!!!! for next to nothing rent, because i would be nominally in charge of the residency program. the duties were minimal, just a couple of meetings a month, and i was offered the director’s apartment to live in, so i could bring my family. i didn’t think about the family part when i accepted the residency, tho. that came later. i confess i only thought of myself – an entire summer within swimming distance of the north pole!!!!!

my vision was to construct a 5m troll woman, made of local stone, on a promontory halfway to town from the tunnel exit high up on the mountain’s flank. that was going to be the project, a troll woman strolling down out of the first of the hanging valleys, toward the town’s several bad children (things trolls do). it would dominate the town. when i left, i had support from one of the town’s movers and shakers, and continued thinking about it, intending right up until i got there to make it my number one priority. i should know better.

if i’d been thinking clearly several years before, i might not have arranged for three months during this particular year. but how was i to know? we decided last year that we wanted to spend another winter in venice. it was easy to arrange, and much cheaper now that we knew what we were doing. and so we were only back for two months when it was time to pack up again. it was an interesting exercise in scheduling. the idea was to bring all the boys with me for as long as possible, anyway.

the problem with extended trips is that we have a menagerie, so we require housesitters. however, we’d been badly burned by the housesitters from hell who were in charge while we were in venice – slashed tires, broken appliances, fixtures ripped from the walls, 50-year-old bushes pruned ruthlessly back to the trunks – our elves were furious. a neurotic codependent and her active alcoholic. roaches and hysterics and exterminators – massive loss of income when they moved into the apartment downstairs. they lurched out of here a month early as well. it was horrible. may our most virulant elves go with them.

for our time in iceland this past summer, after trying everything to find someone we could trust, we turned to old friends and their now-grown-up son, who spent his first weeks living on his own in our house while we were gone. and other than a few housekeeping skills he still has to get under his belt, there was no worry, no disaster, and no problem the whole time we were gone. thanks, jasper.

i couldn’t take everyone for the whole three months i was supposed to be there. connor had to start kindergarten when he got back, so i could keep him with me all summer. but avery’s other family didn’t want to let him go for three months, and his school started at the beginning of august this year (how uncivilized). and jim didn’t want to leave the dogs in anybody’s hands for more than a few minutes, because of the housesitters from the deepest circles of hell. so i scheduled jim and avery for 3 weeks, only enough time to say they’d been there and to be familiar with any scene i might try to describe.

and so, off we go.

wed. may 31 – we traveled by low-cost, no-frills wow airlines. the connecting flight being delta to miami, an overnight at an airport hotel where the water in the pool was in the high 80s (sunshine and air temperature rather than geothermal, nasty rather than soothing – with a scum on it!), and then miami to keflavik. we got jim a wheelchair for the flights, and we were whisked from desk to gate, thru security. i needed that little bit of help, with the boys and their hand luggage. we were early for each flight, and sat around the lounge forever – long enough for the boys to make some instant friends and do some frantic chase sequences around the seats. we ate lunch, got stuff for the plane, and everybody went to the bathroom and filled their water bottles.

june 1 – the flight was great, as always, if steerage qualifies as great any more. we went over greenland at 30,ooo feet and it was clear, so i got some great shots of the soon-to-be-denuded island, shining in the midnight gloom.

early june – one day all that white snow will be green valleys

our dear friends siggi and runa picked us up at the airport at 5am. siggi is a bus driver, so he borrowed a training bus from someone, and we loaded all our stuff into it – a 20+ seater, all for us. we went back to their house and rested for awhile because of driving regulations. siggi merely rested, but jim and i took the opportunity to take a nap. and then we drove route 1 clockwise halfway around the country. more photos – several hundred. as supporting artist, it’s my duty to flatline the camera at every opportunity, just in case we get something we can use back in the studio.

june 2 – so we got there. we installed siggi and runa into gistihus joa, the local hostel. they got the only room with a balcony, which siggi appreciated because he smokes. alice, the residency director and our host, made room for jim and me in the master bedroom, put the boys into the airbnb room in the attic, and made do sleeping on the single bed in her office. i had a hell of a time getting the boys to go to sleep and be quiet, since they were right next to alice’s room, and weren’t yet used to the constant daylight. i had to go shush them five or ten times an evening.

alice stayed with us for a week before leaving for her new home in bergen. she’d been making all sorts of preparations to actually move away from olafsfjordur, which raised all sorts of questions for the continuation of the residency program, a problem we tackled later in the summer.

sat. june 3 – it was a holiday in iceland, so the pools were closed all weekend. so we settled in the usual way, going to the store, stopping by kaffi klara to say hi to old friends, wandering over to the residency for the monthly welcome meeting for new residents.

the welcome meeting is where the director lays down the rules, which are minimal, describes the important facts about the town and our little valley, tells about themselves and their art, and then gets everybody else to tell about their art. there are about a dozen residents, and tho you’d expect everyone to take ten minutes, that’s not the case. some of the residents go on and on and on. one of them showed us slides and installations for over an hour.

i spent a lot of the time thinking how i would limit it to five minutes when it was my turn to be director. when it was my turn, i never showed my work, i didn’t talk about my achievements – i was going to be director, and that meant i didn’t have to make friends, or set any kind of tone. my job, as far as it went, was to hold the residents’ hands when they got nervous, to facilitate anything they wanted to do in the town, to know or be able to find out how to get things done for them. not to be their friend. as a grandmother, i know the value of not having to be their friend. besides, director wasn’t my job, just the price i had to pay for being there for three months.

the work i came to do was much more important to me. and luckily, the artists were a bunch of grownups that didn’t get into fights, didn’t decide they had to leave, didn’t cause trouble. they all made instant friends with each other, tho, which is how it works in most cases – instant friends that never see each other again once they leave the residency.

for a couple of days we didn’t do much of anything except settle in. we checked out the pool, and found out about summer soccer camp, and we eyed the hanging valleys, thinking to hike up them at some point. we got used to the weather. when we left atlanta, it was just getting into the upper 80s during the day, and i’d been walking around barefoot for a month and a half. when we got to iceland, the temperature ranged from 3c to 15c – 45f to 60f. we wore leggings, pants, undershirts, long sleeeved shirts, sweaters and down jackets. but the humidity is much lower there, so 45f felt as comfortable as 60f at home.

troll woman and her kids returning to the mountains at sunrise – slowpokes turn to stone

june 6 – jim started making drawings of trolls. it was my plan to put as many murals up as possible, and i wanted them to be visible from the main drag. it’s a tiny little town that until 2010 was very hard to get in and out of, but since they dug several magnificent tunnels thru the area, it’s now possible to take a day and detour off route 1, the ring road, to tour three wondrous glacial valleys – the toes of an entire peninsula – the troll peninsula! – and then continue your tour of iceland’s diamond circle.

tourists tend to go right thru olafsfjordur without stopping. and nobody in olafsfjordur rubs their hands in anticipation of its becoming a tourist destination. the locals like their town to be obscure and off the beaten track. it means the world leaves them alone. the people watch with some horror as one place after another around the ring road succumbs to tourists bearing money. they ruin everything. but they bring money, so they’re tolerated, even catered to. but they’re ignorant. and they’re rude. and they’re demanding. and they shit on the side of the road and leave used toilet paper stuck between rocks. tourists should have to pass a test in order to be allowed to travel around iceland. personally, i’m waiting for the elves and trolls to do something about it.

jim and i started getting involved in the town. we visited the town hall – tjarnarborg – and set up a workshop for the kids several weeks hence, we found out how to get the kids enrolled in the soccer program, we bought passes for the pool – a 10-pack for avery and jim, a year’s pass for me. we volunteered jim to help with the preparations at the natural history museum. when we saw ida at kaffi klara, she claimed the first troll mural right away. she’d been thinking about it since i told her i was coming back. a mural on the street-side of the building – a troll woman stirring a big cauldron.

it sounded great, so jim and i took photos of the walls, i made measurements, and we talked to her some more over coffee. the wall was red, so i was going to have to use color, or at least lots of white.

the whole family works at kaffi klara (as one of their three jobs each). they’re a team in everything they do. so we sketched in everybody and took more pictures. how cool is that – the whole family! after all, the street-side wall goes the whole side of the building.

how exciting, i got a commission. and it wasn’t going to cost anybody anything because they had ladders and more red wall paint, and alice had already told me to use the paint in the residency storeroom, which was full of paint of all types and colors.

i knew nobody was going to want me to put up a mural if they were going to have to pay for it. so i always assured people – especially people with businesses – that it was free. and why not? i was there for ridiculously cheap, my materials were being supplied, and i am happy to work as an artist and not get paid for my time and effort. it was going to be my gift to the town, but more than that, it was something that needed doing and they were letting me do it. that’s all it takes.

the boys and i started going to the pool. we’d spend about an hour there every day. they balked at first, especially avery, because you have to get naked and shower communally, and americans are ever so shy about that. i don’t know why – i’m from the ’60s and ’70s where skinny dipping and streaking were a thing. they’re so prudish now. but once the boys were over the shower part, they had a wonderful kids pool (full of adults wallowing as well), supervised bobbing and drowning in the big pool, and a big yellow slide they could go down while i sat in one of two hot tubs and watched to see they didn’t get into trouble. the pool is one of those essential things in iceland, like central heating. and without seeming too, everybody is watching out for the kids.

june 7 – people in the town were busy getting the local natural history museum up and running. it used to be on the top story of the bank building (the tallest building in town), but it had recently moved to palshus – the old hardware store right next to kaffi klara – and a team of people were renovating it and preparing for the opening. they’d actually hired a group of interior decorators from reykjavik to do the final presentation showcases and finish the surfaces, but everybody else involved was a volunteer.

i sent jim down there with his brushes, and he got to paint the portraits of various flying geniuses thru history, including davinci (who looked like jim), the wright brothers, and superman. i was home putting together a poster advertising for people’s walls to paint on. i asked only that their wall be visible from adalgata, the main road thru town, and promised to put a large troll on it for free. worded that way, i actually didn’t expect too much of a response, because who wants graffiti on their house? but i put up posters at the pool, the gas station, the town hall, the library, kaffi klara, and the grocery store.

june 8 – i sent jim off back to the museum, and the boys and i did stuff involving playgrounds, soccer practice, and swimming. in the evening, alice took me to the local rotary meeting, where i had cod casserole and listened to a meeting in icelandic. yummy. but i had brought all the drawings jim had made to date, and when alice introduced me, i got up and told them why i was there and what i hoped to do. and i guess that was exactly the right thing to do, because twenty of the most involved townspeople could now spread the word all over the place. and at the end, asgeir, the head of the fish factory, took me for a guided tour of walls around town.

the factory

he showed me his factory, and the buildings around it, telling me that the other building owners would also love murals on their walls. he showed me the farm on brimnes hill (the site of the settlement, or first, farm in the fjord), where i want to put a 5m stone troll (when someone asked tommi what it would cost, he came up with a number around 2m kr, for sculpting and other refinements. i laughed so hard. ask guys and you get a real price. ask women and you get a solution – just drag a few enormous rocks up there and lean them together, and you have a troll on a hill).

asgeir showed me his house on the street that skirts the hip of the mountain, which i thought was an unusual site. but it overlooked the main road, and people would see it. he offered both his factory, which has a very old mural on it, and his house, and i was delighted. he also offered me some intense liquorice (beloved in the north) that had an ammonia taste worse than fermented shark, f’real. i snuck it into my pocket and resisted offers of more.

fri. june 9 – the boys (i always include grandpa as one of the boys) did something all together, probably suiting up in down jackets and gloves and going to one of numerous playgrounds in this most child-friendly town, and i drove alice to the airport in akureyri. after that the car was mine. i might have gone to the largest bonus grocery in akureyri, but by the time i was on the way back thru town, it was closed. even on friday night. people have actual lives in iceland. things don’t have to stay open 247. that’s a good thing.

i measured ida’s three walls and jim finalized the drawing, and prepared to start.



june 10-13 – the days now settled into routine – jim drawing trolls, the boys going to soccer and swimming (lessons for both of them), me running around meeting people and arranging to paint their houses.

part of the design for the factory wall

we took time off to hang out during seamen’s day, when a bunch of sailors ran around and got wet for the crowds, and took a hike up one of the four hanging valleys we can see from the town, one of the only ways out of the valley before there were paved roads (starting in the 20th century).

they got so wet and cold. connor cried for ten minutes on the way back down

then we went to meet inga and ingimar, who had responded to our poster. ida told us they were interested, and then i contacted them on facebook. they lived a little set back from the main road, but visible, and they’d just finished doing some repair work to the facade, so there was a little scaffolding still up.


we couldn’t help but notice that ingimar walked with a cane and a limp, and it’s a tragic story, but there’d been a car wreck. on the way home we discussed our impressions, and both thought the idea of representing ingimar with his crutch was a great idea. we’d already made ida’s family look like themselves – why not use metaphorical characterizations of people in general? it seemed at the time to be a way to get to know them. and to personalize the town tourists kept speeding thru.


it reminded me of that project in some eastern european country back in the ’70s, where they put blown up photos of the residents in the windows of some enormous apartment block, formerly faceless and dehumanized. or was that detroit? i can find no references on the interent.

wed. june 14 – i had an appointment with the mayor of olafsfjordur and siglufjordur, to discuss my various projects and get whatever other permission i needed now that everybody knew what i was doing there. there’s no actual process for doing this there, no permitting, no forms. you just make friends with the people (everybody told me) and then you can do things. another saying everybody used – it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. the mayor’s assistant, haukur, who also ran the pool and built summer houses (because everybody has 3 jobs), started the process of getting me commissioned to paint a mural on the huge sports center wall. i liked him; we’re the same age and have lots in common.

i met the mayor and ran everything by him – he cleared me to build a 2m troll statue by the side of the road, and the only thing he didn’t like was my presentation of a troll-cave bus shelter, which was drawn by me and was too crude, so he didn’t want it. this is amusing because it, like the 5m troll statue, were some of the only things i’d had planned to do during the three months i was there). instead, practically all i did was paint.

directly after that meeting, i bundled the boys into the car, and we set out eastward on a 7-hour tour that actually took 14 hours, but since we stopped at a waterfall, a troll city, another waterfall, a troll bathing spot along the river, an enormous rock bowl filled with birch trees and elves, and a fishing village – it’s not a surprise that we got home at 2 in the morning, with the boys asleep for hours before that.



unfortunately i hit a bird on the road, and killed it, so i earned the hole in my muffler on the last leg home. i had it fixed the next day, and while i was there asked the owner of the repair shop if they wanted a mural, and they said yes, just like that. then they asked how much i would charge them, and looked suspicious but relieved when i insisted it would cost nothing. wee hah, another commission. that’s 3 and maybe 4 (the sports center). keep them rolling in.

next, we had a workshop for the kids. they drew troll houses on regular a4 paper and i planned to paste them up around town, but never got to it and have now left it in local hands for next spring. but i got to meet a bunch of the town kids, and so did connor and avery.


fri. june 16 – we visited another house today, connor and avery playing with the kids, jim and i hanging out with the interested houseowner. in this case it was ala, a wonderful force of nature who is just like me in many ways (i feel strong kinship with so many of the people there), her family and their pets. she ran around like a madwoman, showing us this or that sentient being, adding them to the list, overwhelming us with details. her house was obscure, tho; she didn’t face the main road, and not only that, but we could only paint the back of her house, which would make it a hidden troll mural. but this appealed to us, and we loved her energy. so we took pictures and added it to the list.


and then we went to the bank. the bank manager had spoken with ida, and was wondering if i would execute someone else’s drawing of a troll, because the bank had commissioned her to do art for all the branches in the country, and they just needed an artist…i said yes, of course, and ida had told me it would be appropriate to charge them for my labor, so i asked for money, the only time i did it. i asked for $100, and he blinked and started, and answered too quickly. so that was way cheap. i’d forgotten how expensive things were in iceland. (i learned my lesson when i fell in love with icelandic dogs and found out they cost $2,000.) but whatever, i wasn’t in it for the money, and a hundred bucks would come in handy when i had to pay mileage on the car i’d borrowed from alice.


avery, connor and i set out to measure some of our prospective walls. this one is the factory wall, and it’s 222’x10′. unfortunately it needs a lot of work before it can be painted on, so i took jim’s preliminary drawings and put them aside.


part of the design for the factory wall

it was national day that weekend, june 16ish. there were bouncy houses and a water slide (longest water slide in iceland), and the boys really enjoyed themselves, tho they were wet to the bone in 50f weather.

jim and i chalked in features on the troll rock opposite kaffi klara that evening, when nobody was looking. we didn’t know it at the time, but it’s a real troll rock, with a real troll inside, and this troll has a boyfriend, and he doesn’t like it when people mess with his girlfriend. so not only did we get a hard rain that night, that washed off all the chalk, but the next day the microwave went poof, and we had to get another. so there went that idea. we plan to honor the troll rock with a plaque. in contrition. maybe next year.


june 19 – my friend lara, who is the principal of the local junior college, claimed her troll next. i took pictures of her, and the stone lions that are such a symbol of the school, and jim turned them into a troll woman and her mythical beast, complete with wings. she had to get permission from the city to put a mural on the wall, so we left the drawing with her and waited until she was able to run it thru the proper channels.

channeling a trollwoman

the folks up at mulatindur were delighted with their design, and i promised to work on their wall right after finishing inga and ingimar’s wall, mainly because at this point i had quite a few walls to do, and was wondering how many of them i would be able to complete before the end of august, assuming people would keep asking. ida kept telling me that this person or that one wanted a wall, and at this point people were suggesting this wall or that one, and rattling off the name of the person living there, and while i could point to them all, i didn’t know any of the prospective wallowners at that point.


haukur, the mayor’s assistant, met me in front of the pool one day and remarked offhand that i now had permission to do the sports center, and asked me to submit a drawing. we discussed it, and he said it would be good to put an example of all the sports they play in olafsfjordur, as played by trolls. so i ran home and sketched out 5-6 figures and sent them to jim, and in a few days he turned out individual drawings of swimmers, handball players, and soccer players, which i arranged artfully on the photo of the sports center, redrew, added the local landscape as background, and submitted to the city council via haukur. a couple of days later i ran across haukur again, who said only the swimmer. when i warned him that the swimmer would end up being 18x4m and take up most of the wall, he gulped, but said ok. then i told him i was going to need a lift, and that i was going to need help getting a lift. he said no problem, and offered to buy paint as well, which was good, because i was getting low on the paint i was using on all the other murals.

like the methods used in stone soup, various official representatives bought paint – the city, the school, the bank – and rented lifts and lent ladders and gave brushes and gloves, and even donated and moved rocks. and this was what everybody told me – everything costs money, and people are horribly busy in summer, but make friends and the doors will open and people will find spare items that you can use, and spare time to help you in your project. and they did. i even got a new used microwave (thanks inga)!

the largest blank canvas yet

thur, june 22 – my three weeks with the boys was over. connor and i shipped jim and avery back home, and i got down to work. jim had left me with several drawings we didn’t yet have a home for, and i put them aside for later. our lives became quite routine, breakfast around 9, and morning work sessions from 10-12 with connor hanging out somewhere while i was up on a wall, then lunch and getting ready for soccer at 1, and an afternoon session from 1-3, then the pool until maybe 5, and home doing stuff and having dinner, connor playing with friends in the streets, until bed. and after connor went to bed i processed all my photos and wrote my blog posts and called jim on skype and talked to him for 40 minutes, and fielded calls from my brothers and sisters about my mom, who is not making the effort to age gracefully. i usually went to bed around midnight, and woke up at 8. the daily alarms on my phone were set for 8:01, 9:50, 12:01, 12:45, 14:45.

one of the original ideas for troll murals was just a big foot coming around a corner

this was a portrait of the mayor, because i thought he made such a cool troll

this was one of the first drawings jim did, and of course it looks like him

june 24 – the first batch of residents had their end-of-term dinner and the next day i started on the first wall at kaffi klara. when i was in olafsfjordur three years ago, it would have been my time to pack up and leave after my month as a resident, and i had hit the ground running, artistically speaking. but this time around, i was barely getting started after a month. to celebrate our first month (because the nights were in broad daylight), connor and i walked up the dardadalur valley, an easy hike to, up, and over some humpy rocks in the middle of the valley where there were some troll rocks we liked. we hiked this route several times, and connor rode up it on horseback a few times. we never went past the end of the humpy part, tho. the ground was wet the entire way to the end of the valley until late in the summer, and there was snow beyond that, and a steep incline to the ridge.


june 26 – i made a fair start on ida’s wall. the process was the same every time – measure the wall; draw a 12″ grid (later it became 60cm); grid off the drawing (requires calculations, and i never remember which way to do them); use chalk to transfer the lines square by square; then get out the black acrylic and a small brush, and go over the chalk drawing to set it (otherwise it rains that night and you lose all your marks).



tue. june 27 – no sooner than i started on ida’s wall than i had to spend the day in akureyri participating in the rot project with other artists. since i still had 8 weeks left, i was happy to be part of it. and i met one of the teachers at the junior college, karolina, who was in charge of the project. lara had suggested we get together and scheme an art project for the students – a troll parade.

for the longest time, i kept to my self-promise that i wasn’t going to work weekends. that i would hike or take a road trip with connor, or hang at the beach, or go touring with one of the locals. and i did some of these things. but i was there to work, and once i started taking on work, it started to flow, and faster and faster, and already i had more than i could finish. i started thinking about getting someone to help me paint.

committing myself in paint, even tho i’ve got severe questions already

i had the usual trouble with faces. i could faithfully transcribe jim’s drawings of flames, clothing, hair – but when it came to the face, i just couldn’t get it right. and plus, it didn’t look very friendly for a family-run restaurant. ida agreed. so i painted out the face. and in fact, i painted out the whole thing, because it was too short, recalculated, regridded, and started again.


the week of june 29 – july 4 marked the end of one set of residencies, and the beginning of another. artists are all different, residencies are all different, every different gathering of artist residents is different. one thing i learned by being host for three months is that the artists come and go, and mainly don’t disturb the placid day-to-day life of the town. they are hardly noticed, like fish in the harbor.

after the residents departed – en masse – i had many happy hours of cleaning in two separate houses, with 8 bedrooms, 2 kitchens, 3 bathrooms, 6 studios and an art gallery. altho the residents had cleaned up after themselves, bless their hearts, they’d neglected important things like dusting, sweeping out from under the bed, getting the hair out of the bathroom, cleaning the refrigerator and oven. this is where i was grateful for having had no option in the 1970s but to take home economics classes in high school. while i was forced to forgo woodshop or electronics or auto mechanics, i did learn how to clean an oven, and the proper way to clean a toilet. thanks, backwards social mores bitd.

after cleaning, connor and i took in a free choir performance at the church, a danish girls choir. danish is nothing like icelandic. i sang along with a leonard cohen cover, as did everyone else in the audience.

and then it was time to welcome a new group of residents. and get back to work.


there followed a bunch of redrawing of the features of the mama troll stirring the pot full of bad kid pieces. no matter how i redrew it, it looked nasty.

connor and his friend fooling around outside of kaffi klara, denizens of the restaurant


and all the time, i was waking up to see jim and his raven staring at me from the wall in my bedroom. he was urging me to loosen up and paint like i knew what i was doing, instead of trying to be faithful to a sketch.

i hung it up, so even if i couldn’t find anywhere to paint it, i would still see it

july 4 – the murals were supposed to be quick and dirty. no color, just cartoon outlines and maybe a little shading. but this one was on a red wall, and the black wasn’t really visible, so i decided i was going to have to put highlights in all over the place. black and white. maybe just highlights, and no actual colors.


i actually had a lot of different colors to work with, but that red wall limited what colors i could use. i started with an icelandic skintone – ash white.




once the paint (it was pink in the bucket) dried, it turned into way too ashy white, and was just too stark, so i went over it with the burnt sienna, and then fetched out the next brightest color for the shirts – i had barely enough yellow for this.


the bright red was borrowed from anna kristin – thanks!

wed. july 5 – at this point i was dragging 4-5 buckets of paint from my car, parked across the street in the troll-rock’s vacant lot, to beneath the windows of the cafe, and then leaving them there all day while i went off to give connor lunch and get him ready for soccer.




july 6 – i thought i was close to finishing at this point. it was all going so well. just local color and black outlines, the simplest form of graffiti. then the cafe got new handmade aprons, done by a friend of ida’s. so i put them on all the girls in the mural.





july 7 – but neither of us were satisfied with the troll woman.


so i took a picture of ida, and went home to photoshop (actually, the gimp), and drew her face on top of jim’s design.


july 8 – i was close enough to being finished that i went up to mulatindur and told them they were next. or next to next. we talked about the location of the mural on their walls, and i told him i needed more space than he had originally wanted to use. and then i had to leave it at that, and come back when i was ready to start, while they thought about it.

the area i wanted to put the troll at mulatindur

so i finished ida’s, getting up on the tall ladder to paint the curlicue smoke tendrils, and put in some lightning bolts. then i returned the ladder, and called it done. i wasn’t particularly happy with the lightning and clouds, tho, but i let it sit for awhile.



sun. july 9 – there was a bach recital in palshus, the nature museum. it was a local woman olof and her cello, plus two other locals who recited poems and did readings and sang folk songs. it was very nice to hear, and connor behaved wonderfully.

then i was told by ida that the couple doing the readings and singing wanted me to paint a mural up at their farm. so i went back to the museum and arranged with them to go up to the farm the following day or two. i had wanted to paint at least one thing out of the town, and was considering doing a painting in dalvik, and another painting on the road to hofsos, right by a farm where they breed dogs and horses (and i wanted to get a dog from them so i was more than willing to offer them a mural). i didn’t have time to do the mural in dalvik, and learned i couldn’t bring a dog home with me, so okay never mind the other idea. but i continued to think about the mural i’d planned – an icelandic horse and an icelandic dog being led by a troll. like the jim-and-the-raven idea, it sat there looking for a home, for weeks.


july 10 – finally i finished ida’s wall of restaurant trolls. i just had to get the big ladder back, and redid the smoke and lightning. i couldn’t stand to see it anymore the way it was. i still wasn’t happy with the lightning bolts, and wasn’t happy with the face, and didn’t like the multicolored leggings, and wasn’t happy with the other faces, or the aprons etc etc. oh well.

and then i went right over to inga and ingimar’s wall and started in.


i’d contacted them a couple of days previously, and asked if they could arrange some scaffolding, because i decided i wasn’t very comfortable up on ladders. the wind can be nasty, and i get vertigo these days because i’m old. they said no problem, and when i arrived at their house with connor, they were all ready to go.

i’d decided that the figure jim drew didn’t look a thing like ingimar, so i took a picture of him and traced it onto the drawing, just like i did with ida. it’s really very easy, you just size the photo of the head and slap it on top of the drawing, add a layer and trace the contours with a pencil, and then get rid of the photo. i would have to do the same thing with the raven. jim’s ravens are too comical.

IMG_8859drawing, altered and gridded

once the wall was gridded, i started drawing it in, and realized i had him too close to the window on the right. so i had to erase him and redraw him one foot over to the right.


then, looking at it from a distance, the figure was way too short, so i had to regrid the wall and stretch out the drawing.

there’s connor, playing with his great good friend ingimar

eventually i got it right, stretching him all the way to the roofline. it made his front foot hang all the way off the ledge, but this way he could be seen from the street.


click here to read the next part of this post.

project – portrait of avery

avery’s my oldest grandkid, and so i tried a portrait of him for his great-grandmother, name of granny.  i took about 50 photos of him, and wouldn’t you know it but the first couple of photos were the best, so i used this one.  he’s 9.


because my daughter allison has been doing portraits of people starting with a tracing, i thought i would try it myself.  it’s much more accurate than drawing by eye, but of course, when you draw something by eye it reflects how you see and how your brain and muscles translate what you see to the paper.  when you trace something, on the other hand, you’re making not exactly a contour drawing, but a drawing of the values in your picture.

i used to do this in my schoolbooks as a kid.  they were all black and white photos in those days, and i would draw lines around all the masses of different tones in the photos.  drawing avery on a light box wasn’t all that difficult, but there are many details that just didn’t come thru the thickness of the watercolor paper, and i also had to guess at many contours that were in shadow.  this is what i ended up with once i’d finished tracing out what i could see onto the paper:


the next step is always intimidating.  in a portrait, one wrong eyelash and it doesn’t look like the person anymore.  and tho i can’t rely on true accuracy in my paintings (my eyes are wonky, so is my brain and my hand), i do try for a likeness – but it doesn’t really matter because in ten years they won’t look anything like they do now, no matter what age they are when you take the likeness.

i used the traditional watercolor method of working light to dark.  usually i don’t, but in this case, with the likeness so important, working light to dark means not making (too many) mistakes i can’t back down from.  so, skin tones first, lightest hair colors, underlying shadows of drapery. (i believe i’m missing the photo of the very first session, with just the barest color.  what’s here is several layers of skin tone, some freckles, some shadows, and the second layer of hair details.


and tho it’s really hard to tell the next photo from the last, i’ve actually done a bit of work on the skin tones.  it started out way too yellow, so i had to add a great deal of red, and orange.  this risks being too dark, and almost muddy in the ears, but i know i’m going to have a dark background, and this means the lights have to be rather garish in order to stand up.


then more hair stuff, including some blue and a great deal of burnt sienna, even tho his hair isn’t really red.  shadows on the face, details of the ears, neck and mouth, work on the eyes.  these are the most delicate things to get right – eyes and mouth.  it’s really easy to overdo it, or put things in the wrong place, and then the painting is ruined.  but this one continued to do just fine.  i was pleased and surprised it went so easily.


a few final touches on the face and head.  i swear the fairies painted this for me because i don’t know how i did it, and couldn’t tell you if a had to.


then a bold declaration of background, hookers green and ultramarine.  and then i stopped because i was afraid of making it muddy.


but once i’d put the camo patterns on his shirt, i realized i needed to hit the background again.  it was not too much, and i was pleased with it.


after a few more things than you see here, like a signature, i tripped it down to the same size as the photo reference, matted it and framed it behind glass.  and of course i didn’t get a photo of the finished product.  but if i remember to take my phone in with me next time i go see granny, i can get a photo of it on her wall.

merry xmas, granny.

our community garden part 2

it’s going to be a monthly meeting, so it’s going to be a monthly post.

round place social 7/19/16

jim and i set up at 6. it was cloudy but the radar didn’t show anything nearby. A few people ambled in, nobody much brought food or anything, which was too bad, because i was hungry. I printed out a copy of the 1980 zoning map of the area that shows a building belonging to the rhodes home – right where the cul de sac is now.

Several neighbors came by for the first time, and so we talked about the ideas and the next steps. I explained that i still don’t know who owns the actual street and woods that currently comprise our future community garden, but that i’m talking to gdot – the right of way office and the surplus property people, and have yet to talk to anyone at those same departments at the city of atlanta and fulton county. It’s a long and twisty road finding something like this out, and i’ve made nothing but negative progress – it’s not a state dot area, we think, the guys are still checking and i have more legwork to do.

We weren’t there an hour before the thunder started, and the group went home when the wind picked up and it started getting dark. But we did decide to have a gargantuan yard sale in september or october, we’re going to think about a squaredance, a block party, a bbq, a movie night. We also managed to pick up two wire planters (the kind that a ton of decorative rock comes in from the landscaping yard).

The next meeting will be August 18, from 6-8 pm.

our community garden, part 1

in lieu of a new blog, maybe called “stealth gardening for the masses” or “the neighborhood dirt,” i thought i would post my report of our first meeting on june 20.

Jim and I arrived in the round place a little before 5:45-7, the next few got there while I was walking back to the house to get some water, and people trickled by until 8. We parked the truck sideways in the street, blocking the culdesac well back beyond the entrance. We all brought something to eat, a few brought tables, a few chairs, a rug. We brought sidewalk chalk.

When most of the people had arrived, I spoke up and told everybody what I’d found out from Carla Smith (City Councilwoman) and Mario Cambardella (city Urban Agriculture director) about how to start a community garden.

I’d had a meeting with them down at City Hall a few weeks before. The vision I presented at City Hall was this: I wanted to cut off vehicular access to the cul de sac, except for the parking spaces adjoining the rental duplex on the south of the street, and the roadway leading to the back yard parking area of the house on the north. Then I wanted to tear up the asphalt on the remaining circle and use the dirt underneath it as a garden and play area. I also wanted to take down many or most of the trees in the area beyond the circle. And I wanted to get the sound fence continued, and the rest of the outer boundary of the area fenced off. I wanted to retain the ‘cut’ from the neighborhood to the convenience store on Boulevard, but I wanted the woods fenced off from Boulevard and the I-20 on-ramp. In short, I wanted to make a community garden covering the entire cul de sac and the whole area beyond it, from the property lines of the existing houses to the borders of Boulevard and I-20.

Carla and Mario were enthusiastic. They can help get things done. They told me that the process was to find out who owned the area (the City and the DOT), and to get them to sign it over to the Parks Department, after which Parks Atlanta could own it for the purposes of the water bill and insurance. We assumed the property belongs partly to the City and partly to the Department of Transportation, and they thought it wouldn’t be much of a problem getting the ownership of the City’s portion transferred to the Parks Department. But it might take a couple of years to finalize things with DOT. Which means it might take a couple of years to get them to take up the asphalt (free of charge, because they recycle it). So for a couple of years we’ll have to use raised beds.

And then there are other issues. Emergency vehicles use the cul de sac as a shady turnaround and staging area between calls, so they won’t want us taking up the asphalt. We might could work with them on that. And we need to get water into the garden. Perhaps we can get Watershed Management to run a line, but then someone has to be responsible for paying the bill. So someone has to “own” the property. Carla and Mario suggested we work with Park Pride, who do this sort of thing, and I spoke to Betty Hanacek there, who offered loads of help once our space is an official park.

Mario suggested we begin using the area as our own, put in some raised beds, take our kids there to play. They pushed me to set up the first meeting, suggested I bring sidewalk chalk so we could begin envisioning our garden. Carla is having someone look up the ownership of the cul de sac and woods, and I need to find out what the next official step is, and prepare to take it.

We need to organize a group, a friends of the community garden. We’ll need a prez, vp, treasurer, secretary. We already have two volunteer officials – Susan D wants to be treasurer, and Mike M is going to make proper drawings. I’d like to see volunteers for everything else, including prez…

We’ll need to start cleaning up, thinning the brush, cutting some trees. It’s not our property yet, so I’m not sure how much of that is allowed. But it can’t hurt to maintain our neighborhood’s public and abandoned spaces ourselves.

People who attended our first meeting had some cool ideas.
Make and install a “coming soon” sign in the cul de sac
Have a multi-family yard sale in the cul de sac
Install a basketball hoop
Make raised beds from the containers used for stones at the garden center on memorial
Raised beds from wooden palettes, or from bales of straw
Get the City to install a stop sign on Bryan St eastbound at Park Ave
Petition Watershed Management for free water for Atlanta community gardens

Next steps are for me to find out what the next steps are, for us to start cleaning and trimming the brush, and to have another function. I’m going to canvas for a July weekend morning for us to get out there with weed whackers and chainsaws, and we’ll arrange another evening social in July – maybe a barbecue?

Here is a drawing of all the chalk drawings people did as we brainstormed where things could go.


making art with dirt

i’m a stealth gardener.  i’ve always propagated plants wherever i could, whether it meant taking the smallest of succulent leaves that had fallen to the floor at the garden center, or wrenching seedheads off of neighbors’ flowers to scatter in a bed around the house.  i’ve always made gardens where i could.

i was once fortunate enough to have an abandoned lot next to the apartment building i lived in 30 years ago.  from my fourth storey windows i could see it behind a tall wall, choked with ivy, invisible from the street.  first i climbed over into it to reconnoiter.  then i noticed the bricked up door and started picking it apart brick by brick for an entrance i wouldn’t have to scramble over.  i never asked permission, never notified the caretaker of the apartment building – it was my secret place, and it had to be invisible to everyone; it just had to.  i rolled back the ivy and pulled up its roots, declaring a war on ivy that persists to this day.  i clandestinely divided primroses and daffodils along the public paths nearby, and planted the divisions in my secret garden.  and cuttings.  and seeds.  it was beautiful before i moved away, and it’s probably still doing okay 30 years later, because i make my gardens to go untended.

when i lived in an apartment in brooklyn, 30 years ago, there was a 2’x3′ chunk of broken up cement behind an ankle fence right next to the front door.  i broke that up and uncovered the dirt, and stuck a bunch of seeds into it that popped right up and happily clambered all over the place.  and then i turned my attention to an abandoned fenced-in almost park at the end of the block, and before long others were colonizing bits of it, and people were bringing kids and dogs to play, and it was getting to be a neighborhood thing.

when we lived in the suburbs and my kid was just starting school, 25 years ago, they started building a new elementary that she was slated to attend once it was built.  naturally i hung around the building site (looking for interesting rocks), and asked questions, and had a look at the plans, and saw that nothing was being done with the central courtyard.  so i contacted the head of construction, and the soon-to-be principal, and asked if i could do something with it, and they said sure and here’s a 20k budget to go along with it.

courtyard plan

so i designed an almost 300 foot x 25 foot enclosed courtyard that stretched from the library to the cafeteria, and had classrooms opening onto it all down its length.  i used sacred geometry (daring in the south, had anybody asked me about it), xeriscape plants, put in a garden plot so the kids could learn how to grow vegetables, specified fruit trees and shade trees, bat houses, a pond and fountain, teaching areas and seats.

2 courtyard - spring hill south

1 courtyard - spring hill north
school courtyard, first year

it all came to happen, and nobody knows it but me, because when i went back recently to get photographs of the project 20 years later, the trees were thick and tall, the concrete paths were still wandering down the length of the courtyard, but every other feature had changed.  the garden suffered first, because i neglected to specify fresh dirt, and the school was built next to the county dump, so it wasn’t the nicest soil (the janitor told me he grew tomatoes the first year, and they tasted awful).

Screenshot from 2016-06-09 12:28:38
how it looks now, 25 years later, still being used as an outdoor classroom

and i even got a tad of fame, if you don’t mind illegibility and an ex last name.

clipping garden

when i did a year and a half of art residencies in europe and the states 15 years ago, i took dogwood seeds with me, and oxalis corms, picked up things from where i was staying, and planted and cross planted all up and down the east coast.


i’ve had my own garden around my own home for 12 years now, and i plant whatever will grow there, and then divide that to some other part of the yard and grow more of it.  i capture seeds from flowers on our dogwalking route and prepare small beds for them in my yard.  i take a single iris from healthy patches that need thinning.  i dig up stray magnolia treelets and dogwood seedlings and native ferns.  i transplant some of my vinca to every dirt slope i find.  i still pull up ivy, and poison ivy and i are currently at a standstill, because i refuse to use roundup.

when i went to north iceland on an art residency two years ago, i began to think about gardening in the arctic.  some amazing things grow in the botanic garden in akureyri, including bamboo, which isn’t usually that hardy.  i thought up a nice project to do the next time i go back (next summer) – called the troll garden.  i even talked to the mayor about it, and he said fine to moving a bunch of trees in an abandoned nursery.  we put them down the main drag, far enough away from the snow ploughs to be safe and grow up big and tall.

in our neighborhood is a cul de sac that serves as a place for the kids to run around, and a shady place for the ambulance crews to wait for a call.  we’ve been talking about turning it into a community garden, and then learned that there’s now a city-sponsored program to develop urban agriculture, and called up for a meeting with my local city councilwoman.  and so we met the mayor’s head of urban agriculture, and i’ve got my in with the system.

Screenshot from 2016-05-09 19:06:18

now comes the organization.  i’m used to doing it all myself, but that’s not a thing at my stage of life, so it’s going to take lots of people helping.  luckily this is something the folks in the neighborhood have been talking about for years, so it’ll be easy to start off.

first we’ll put above-ground garden plots – boxes that serve to impede traffic and claim the space.  and then we’ll go thru the hoops necessary to take control of the land, get permission and someone to take all the asphalt up, get permission to thin out the scrub forest, get the city to put up a barrier fence between the area and the interstate onramp.  it’ll take fundraising, ownership, an account with the water company to run a line.  all sorts of stuff.  this will all take years, but this is a great year to start a big project.

and, still to come, next summer i’m going to be back in iceland for three months, hosting the residency program, inviting artists from around the world to come to the troll peninsula and make art about trolls, elves, the hidden folk – unseen beings among us.  my personal project will be to make a 15′ high troll statue out of local volcanic rock, set on a hillside overlooking the town.  around this i will plant a garden of things that grow, and things i hope to see growing there in the future (lupins, birch, spruce, willow – hardy bamboo!)

so stay tuned for the further adventures of a stealth gardener on her rounds of this earth we can only steward and never own.

the very idea of a container ship residency

it’s enough to set my heart racing.  i’ve been applying for residencies aboard ships since they started becoming available – late 2015.  and it’s okay if i don’t get in.  there are thousands of artists applying for an artist residency cooped up on board a ship on the open ocean.  and why wouldn’t they?

see, i’ve been trying to get on a boat for some extended period of time.  not to work, and certainly not to party in one of their many ballrooms and yuck yuck yuck.  i’ve always wanted to go to see on a tramper.  a local.  a merchant ship.  a bulk carrier.

bitd there weren’t any container ships.  there were cargo ships, and there was the QE2.  then the shipping container industry swallowed up everything else, and now it’s hard to hitch a lift on a steamer, because those container ships only hold 12, and they’re all crew and officers.

but recently it became possible to actually book passage on a ship again.  especially after eyjafjallajokull blew up in 2010 and ruined everybody’s air travel plans for a couple of weeks.  I was preparing for a residency at that time, and had to shelve my plans.  that’s when i started looking at the possibility of a long ocean cruise, during which i could paint all day and rock in my bunk all night.

and even more recently, there came two opportunities for container ship residencies.

one was negotiated personally by a woman of great courage, willing to face the stony responses of shipping companies until one said, sure.

the other takes advantage of the newly available booking companies for passage on board ship.

both offer three weeks on the ocean, where all you have to do is paint and show up for dinner.  a cabin of your own, and as much solitude as you can stand, with only the weather outside that changes, and the rocking of the floor beneath you.  in my case, the sloshing of my watercolors freshly applied to paper, and the running of wax as i try to burn in my encaustics.  maybe i could rig a sling to keep things even???

anyway, a residency application often takes as much time as a funding application, and i’m actually doing both.  i applied for the first container residency between xgiving and xmas, and then i applied for a residency aboard a scientific research vessel, and now i’m finalizing the application for the second container ship residency, and then i will go back to working on the funding application for a big public art project in iceland next year, after which i will do my taxes.

and there’s no art involved in this, not since i finished up a dozen venetian canal oil paintings in oil, and another dozen little venetian window watercolors for the local xmas market.  but i haven’t done anything since then, and my bedroom doesn’t even smell like oil paint at the moment.  waah.  but writing proposals is an art form in itself, and i love to write, so i’m having fun turning my vast unorganized outpouring into an artist statement and a proposal of no more than 250 words each.  hahahah.  but i do it, in the end, and it sounds pretty good, if a little romantic at times.  because i like metaphors.

i will post again soon, but i’ve waited already too long to post this.

here are the pieces i’m submitting for these projects.



plein air at zoo atlanta

i was out walking the dogs with jim at the end of may, and ran into dawn kinney martin, an artist i knew from way back in the days of cafe tu tu tango.  she told me she would be up at the zoo the first week of june, doing a plein air paint out as a fund raiser for the zoo.  i got all excited, and got the name of the person to call at the zoo – the fabulous julia knox (we’re related by name, sort of).  so i ran home, and you know how it is when you’re trying to get hold of someone with an office – they’re never there, they never answer their phone, and they never get back to you.  but i had a weekend to make it happen, so i hounded her, and finally she gave me this nice polite email about how they were full up for this year, but i could apply for next year’s event starting in december.  i took it well.  i wrote back that there was sure to be at least one no-show, and i live in the neighborhood and could be down there in ten minutes.  well, an hour and a half to run off and get supplies.

so she called me on tuesday, and i scampered down there.  i knew before i even arrived that i wanted to paint the flamingos.  they’re so colorful.  they’re the first things you see when you get inside the zoo, and tho you never stop to look at them on the way out (because fatigue), it’s so nice to stop and contemplate the colors.  plus, they don’t move, so i could make my first painting a still life.

so to speak.

after putting all my stuff in the ‘green room’ (it’s kind of brownish gray), in the round education building up on the hill, the one with the living roof, i was driven down to the front gate by an intern – they’re so bright and chipper, and all of them are from way north fulton county, so this is a really special internship – they all complain of the traffic (welcome to adulthood in atlanta).

i sat in front of the flamingos for about two hours.  it was around 1 when i got there, i picked the deepest shade right next to the railing separating us from them, sat and watched them for awhile to find a grouping of them that didn’t seem likely to move for awhile, and then got out my canvas and my graphite stick and started sketching.  once i had the sketch in, i took a reference photo of what i was going to paint, because even tho they’re remarkably unlifelike creatures, they do move around because there’s a lot of them, and they are sociable.  they squabble some.  they preen, they flap their wings (not often), they poke at the water listlessly (as if there might be food there – the water smells like chlorine and bird poop).  mostly they sleep.

so in two hours i had my reintroduction to speed painting, which is what i did at tango.  and what’s more, speed painting in acrylic, which dries as soon as it comes out of the tube.  i mixed paint a lot.  can i please say how difficult it is to get that brownish green of the water in a beam of sunlight?


i took a new canvas out with me next morning.  i got there around 9, and wandered around the zoo all morning, looking at the animals, the landscape, the visitors, the light.  then i really wasn’t in the mood to paint after that, wanting lunch and a nap, but i forced myself to stay and start a painting.  i stopped back by the green room for a stash of water and snacks so i would have something to keep me going (i forgot to bring lunch), and then got another intern to take me up to the orangutan towers.

the orangutans were mainly sleeping in the afternoon shade, but the habitat was very nice and green, with the platform and cement tree, the woods behind, and the tourists in front.  i sat on the benches behind the viewing area, about 30 feet from the railing, and painting the habitat for a couple of hours, sitting in the shade, ignoring the hundreds of people who came by to see the orangutans.  i was struck by how many times the same conversations were repeated by different families or couples stopping by.  it was like in venice, when every single tourist would stop on a particular spot on a particular bridge, and swing their cameras up to take the same exact photo of the same place from the same angle and the same spot.  something compelling in the composition of that scene.  i too had stopped and take my picture, and so i did the same thing at the zoo, and painted as if i was a bump on a log, witnessing sort of half-abstractedly the buzzing of the constant stream of tourists in and out of the space.  like a time lapse photo.

please note that what you’re seeing here is the finished painting, in all cases.  when i took them home after the two hour session of painting on the scene, they were simple, roughed in, needing a lot of work, and lacking all sorts of details – like the orangutans, and the tourists.  all that got put in during the week that we had to finish our work before the auction.


so that was wednesday.  on thursday morning i got here right after the place opened, because they let the staff in at 8, but the tourists didn’t get let in until 9:30, so that was a whole bunch of time in which to paint absolutely unimpeded.  nobody looking, nobody asking, nobody talking, nobody taking selfies with you.

so i staked out the carousel.  i could always see it when i was sitting in the car taking a break from painting.  the lights moved around and around, and i knew what it was.  so i had the little intern drop me off in the kids’ playplace, where they have a wetland full of turtles, and wallabys, and a petting zoo, and a climbing wall.  i liked the carousel.  it was recently done, in 1999, i think, and it’s becoming a little worn, but it’s got old fashioned charm, and features a lot of the zoo animals.  so i walked all around, selected the view of willie b’s rump, and stood against the railing to draw and start to paint.

it’s a really challenging painting, because of all the angles and straight lines, which take a certain level of concentration – meditation – to be able to get it right.  so i struggled with it for my two hours, but in the end got all the white space of the canvas covered, which i consider to be the end of the first act.  and then it was 9:30, and the kids arrived, and ACK the carousel started moving, so i stopped painting, grabbed my camera and took some photos, mostly blurry, but i got these kids in these poses on some other animal entirely, and slapped them in when i was done messing around with the background.


then, after lunch, or instead of lunch, or something, i got a volunteer to drive me – they’re older, and sometimes they live around the neighborhood.  we went the back way, around the staff parking lots, and the backs of the buildings, including the restaurants and the reptile house.  we drove around the back of the new reptile house, which is truly spectacular from the outside – like a ufo landed in grant park, all steel and glass.  i felt so privileged to be behind the scenes in the zoo – like the time i got a private tour around the back bits of the aquarium.

i stopped at the alligator habitat.  i had been there the day before, scoping out things.  the inside of the new slimy scaly spectacular ( i think the intern insisted on calling it) is a masterwork of decoration.  the rock walls, the desert habitats, the cement tree limbs, everything was done with an artistry that made the exhibits look pale.  i even got to talk to one of the guys who worked on teh walls, imbedding cast fossils into the rock surface.  brilliant.

the reason i stopped at the alligator habitat was not the alligators.  it was the habitat.  a great swimming pool of an enclosure, a pair or three alligators wallowing on the shallow rock, and the tourists, each and every one of them, bending over double to look under the water level to see them lying there.  it was priceless.  i just had to paint a row of tourist butts.

but first i had to paint the habitat, so i sat on a cement bench with fossils in it, laid my paints and all around me, and painted for two hours, putting in the rocks and the water, leaving most of the other details later.  the sky didn’t get painted in until i saw a photograph jim took the following day, under different conditions.  it was only on reviewing the photos that i discovered that the sky was blue outside the building, so i painted it in much later.  the same thing for the people.


the next day, friday, i was totally undecided what to paint.  i found out talking to other painters that this was pretty much the case with most of them.  they wandered around until inspiration hit them.

there were 40 some painters there, doing all sorts of work, and they were spread around the zoo in the most unlikely places, as well as the places you’d imagine – in front of the pandas, the lions, the elephants, the giraffes.  they were doing all kinds of work, some working on panels they’d pretreated with a texture or a color or some embellishment.  some worked from photos, even tho they were working outside (a kind of stretch of the definition of plein air), some took photos and went away to paint in the studio.  whatever.  julia, who ran the event, said up front that she wasn’t there to police us as artists, and if we could produce it, we could call it art.  so we were free to let the place and the animals inspire us, and it was a really creative week, and lots of fun, and everybody met a bunch of other artists, not all of them local.

it’s a small world.

anyway, i ended up in the early morning shade in front of the elephant enclosure, and spent the morning painting it.  the elephants soon moved off, and were in fact not seen again, which concerned quite a few tourists, who told their kids that the elephants were probably still asleep.  i’d heard someone who sounded like they knew state that this was elephant spa day and they were having their toenails done.  i ventured this to several particularly worried tourists, and it seemed to help.


that afternoon, i had time to start one more painting, and unwisely, perhaps, picked the meerkat.  i thought they were so interesting, i wanted to have the experience of sitting in front of their habitat for a couple of hours, absorbing their activity.  that’s what was so interesting about doing all this live painting.  i got to sit and watch animals the way i don’t get to do in life.  i usually work from photos.  i don’t get a chance to experience the wandering and attentions of animals on their own.  the tourists came and went, and i sat and studied the various animals i painted (except for the alligators – i never saw them while i was sitting there).  it was very good to do that, and i’m looking forward to the privilege of time alone with wildlife, even tho of course i’m not alone and they’re not wild.  you know what i’m talking about.

so i painted the meerkats.  this one girl would climb up on a planter and look around, stock still except for her head, which turned here and there quickly, then froze up and stared until something else caught her attention.  i got her to look right at me for the reference photo, and then spent the rest of my time sketching in her surroundings, and drawing her basic body shape and attitude, because she stayed that way for five minutes at a time.

the only trouble with this was that i was sitting in full sun, in the early afternoon, without a hat, without any shade at all.  my paints dried the moment i squeezed them out, my metal butcher tray that i was using for a palette was too hot to touch (i had it resting on my knees anyway), i couldn’t see the colors properly because of the glare, and the meerkats had all gone into the other enclosure which was turned away from the sun.



so i went home with everything.  and spent the next week fixing them, finishing them, in some cases redrawing them according to the reference photo.  and on saturday they had a big party at the zoo, and a silent auction, and all that.  we went, but that’s another story.  one i probably won’t get around to telling…