A Mosaic of My Life


Two Black Paper Pastels have found a home!

Could not resist spreading the good news: a young man with impeccably good taste in art has purchased two of my Black Paper Pastel babies! The ones which have been added to his collection are the banana tree fluttering in the sunshine and the Okefenokee piece of the watery cypress forest. I was very touched when I found out purchasing my paintings was his birthday present to himself!

This is the very thing that inspires me to go through this long process- knowing that I can make someone happy enough with my art that he’ll spend his hard-earned money to hang it on his wall. And I happen to know that he works VERY hard for his paycheck!

Happy Birthday, Davie! Thank you so much!


Osprey nest on the Loxahatchee River

One of the best reasons to paddle a canoe is that you gain a wonderful new perspective on your surroundings. Ever since Dr. Tom Kazo and I founded Wildlife Research Team in 1993, I’ve been able to take thousands of photographs from what we call our “Canoe View” of the waterways and shorelines we’ve explored. (You can see some of these at www.wildlife-research-team.org.)

The Loxahatchee River, located on on the lower east coast of Florida, was designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1985, one of only two in Florida. (The other is the Myakka on the west coast, which I’ve also paddled and painted.) It’s a river with a rich and colorful history; to read more about the Loxahatchee River, please visit websites such as http://www.loxahatcheeriver.org/about_the_river.php.

Although the “Lox” as it is known to its many friends, starts out as a freshwater river, it becomes more saline as it nears the Atlantic Ocean. There was a time when it was fresh for most of its route, but as rampant development occurred in the area, more and more fresh water was diverted to public use, with golf courses and lawns sucking up enormous amounts. Therefore, the river is becoming more and more brackish and salty further and further inland.

In my little painting of an osprey nest built into a dead tree, there’s a backstory. Once upon a time, these dead snags were healthy cypress trees. The mangrove trees below were less likely to have encroached this far inland. Mangroves do not require saltwater to live, but they are not able to compete with freshwater trees. So, although spotting an osprey in its nest is always a joyous sight, the realization that development is slowly but surely killing large and beautiful cypress trees is a sobering thought.

An osprey peers from its nest, built into a snag that was once a magnificent bald cypress tree on the Loxahatchee River shoreline. Now mangroves flourish in a saltier environment than the cypresses can endure.

However, at least the osprey has been making a strong comeback since the EPA outlawed the use of DDT in 1972. The pesticide found its way into the osprey’s main food supply, fish. As the DDT accumulated in the bird’s system, its eggshells became more and more fragile, so that they were crushed by the parent’s weight. Spotting an osprey nest, especially when it’s inhabited as this one was, is a cause for celebration. I love seeing an osprey dive into the water and come up with a fish! (Although of course I feel sorry for the fish…but nature is what it is…)

Below is a photograph of this 5″ by 7″ pastel in a typical tabletop frame, to give you an idea of how it could look in your personal environment. I’ve removed the glass from the frame for the purposes of this photograph. Pastel, otherwise a superb type of paint because of its resistance to fading, is susceptible to smearing until glazing is placed over it.

"Osprey Nest Along the Loxahatchee River" is 5" by 7" framed out to 8" by 10" and is an original pastel painting on black paper.

This pastel was painted on the rough-textured black paper. I am getting ready to try out a smoother paper. Although I like the effect of the rougher paper, I am looking forward to being able to punch in more detail with the smoother paper.

This painting will soon be listed in my Etsy store, http://etsy.com/shop/donnakazo.

Thanks for visiting today, and keep checking back for my next artistic adventure!

Approaching Storm, Key Largo

Artists flock to the Florida Keys for many reasons. There’s a special light down there. The islands are so small that the encompassing ocean mirrors and reflects the sunshine like nowhere else on earth. Of course the colors of the water and the sky are exquisite no matter what time of day. Their magical names roll off the tongue— azure, turquoise, teal, olive, sapphire, aquamarine, ultramarine, lapis lazuli, cobalt, cerulean, viridian, indigo, ivory, lavender, violet, vermilion, crimson, ruby, rose, saffron, ebony, russet, copper and peach. To name a few of the colors I’ve personally enjoyed and soaked in on my trips to the Keys!

Approaching Storm, Key Largo

Florida’s thunderstorms bring an ever-changing drama to our summers. Due to the flatness of the terrain, they may be viewed from many miles away, and there’s no guarantee that a distant storm will find its way to you. Or, you very well may be pummeled and drenched for five minutes and just as quickly dried by the blazing sun which follows.

This gorgeous view is from the deck of a friend’s home in Key Largo, where you can pull up a chair and enjoy a dynamic performance of sky and water 365 days a year. On the flats just beyond the boat channel, red mangroves walk on tiptoe, providing food and shelter to the local wildlife. Their roots anchor themselves in the sandy substrate better than any other type of tree. Actually, red mangroves are the predominant tree of not just the Keys, but the most southerly areas of Florida’s peninsula. They are tough and springy and protect the fragile shoreline from hurricanes like nothing else can. I’ve spent many happy hours paddling my canoe or wading through mangrove-lined corridors, and these amazing trees will find themselves being honored by my artistry for years to come.

But for this small painting, this majestic thunderstorm is my subject. I can recall the freshening breeze upon my face, the change of air pressure, the call of birds finding safe harbor, the splash of waves pushed by the force of the storm. An impromptu performance as theatrical as anything written by any human.

As with all the paintings in this series, this pastel is 7″ by 5″ and is matted with a custom-cut raised mat to fit into a frame 10″ by 8″ and is listed for sale in my Etsy shop, www.etsy.com/shop/donnakazo.

To give you an idea of how this painting looks in a typical 10" by 8" tabletop frame.

The Stained Glass Banana Tree

Okay, so it’s not really made out of glass. But to me, it’s just as beautiful. Banana leaves reflect the light very well, and are thin enough to be translucent. The wind has torn these huge soft fronds, and as they wave in the breeze, some areas are lit by the cool blue light from the sky, some are drenched by golden sun passing through, some parts are in cool blue shadow.

The stained glass effect of banana leaves fluttering in the breeze

I must confess, I’ve painted this image before. I crop it differently each time. The original banana tree grew on the Herbert Hoover estate on Indian Creek Island in Miami; this photo was taken way back in 1981. Since then, I’ve often taken photos of banana plants, but this one surpasses all in paintability. I learned from this tree that light from the sky is cool and blue, light from the sun is warm and yellow. Light passing through leaves is splendid and delightful.

It’s not just about the light, either; each time I paint Mr. Hoover’s banana tree, I seek out new aspects of it. In this version, I sought to convey the sense of movement, of how the leaves were dancing in the ocean breeze. Like my other Black Paper Pastels, this one is but 7″ by 5″ so I didn’t have a lot of room for details.

I’d love to know what you think!

This little painting is listed in my Etsy shop (http://www.etsy.com/shop/donnakazo); please visit and enjoy your stay there, and thanks for reading about my paintings!

Just to give you an idea of how my painting looks in a standard 10" by 8" tabletop frame!

Water Lilies in Pastel on Black Paper

With so many really famous artists attracted to this subject, I felt a bit intimidated as I sought my own approach. I’ve been wanting to paint this image for a very long time. Keeping it to the 7″ by 5″ format of this series, and using the black pastel paper, gave me the confidence to go for it.

The most important thing was to find the big shapes, the abstract forms. It was good to realize that some of the lily pond was in shadow, while some was sunlit. I could then use either cool or warm colors to describe that effect. Although I really don’t consider myself an Impressionist, what I hoped to achieve with this painting was my impression of the plants floating peacefully on smooth water as a shadow passed across the pond.

As with all of my black paper pastels, I sought to discover every nuance of color both in shadow and sunlight. Well, I won’t claim to be Monet, but now I do understand why that worthy gentleman chose water lilies as one of his favorite subjects. What do you think of my water lily pond?

This pastel, along with the previous Black Paper Pastels is listed in my Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/donnakazo. Click on through and enjoy your visit!

I've added this photo to give you an idea of how beautiful my lily pond pastel can be in a 10" by 8" tabletop frame.

Why do we love old barns?

So with this painting, I indulged my love of old barns yet again. I was sightseeing somewhere on the island of Montreal, Quebec, a few years back when we came upon a very well-tended farm. There was a sign for maple syrup, so of course we had to stop and buy some to take back to Florida! Much better to buy from the source than the supermarket. Nice folks, who gave us a tour of their beautiful farm.

Stepping into this barn was like stepping into a cathedral. For me, anyway. Huge hushed space, beams of light piercing the gloom, motes of dust floating in and out of the sunbeams, the sweet farm-smell of hay, straw, molasses, grain, and well-kept animals.

A sanctuary.

How many wild Canadian winters had this barn endured? As my dad used to say about winter in Montreal, “Nine months winter, three months tough sledding.” I don’t remember if they told me how old this barn was. If it had sheltered its people and animals for over a century, I would not have been surprised. Its walls were thick boards, cut from first-growth trees. Too dark to take photos inside.

I wish I’d been able to take better reference photos. The time of day, early afternoon, was against me, however. It was midsummer, and everything was a rampant emerald green, growing madly in the short but intense Quebec summer. I am sure an early morning or late afternoon “Golden Hour” view would be just amazingly beautiful. But I do like this view of the farm. I like the blinding glare of the tin roof, and was careful to describe its shape; there are subtle changes in its angles which tell of the height and the size of what is a very big roof. Since this entire painting is but 7 inches wide by 5 inches tall, I didn’t have much room to play! And, again, the rough texture of the paper was challenging. I could see some rich colors which said “Summer” to me, and punched them into the tooth of the paper.

It’s also challenging to get a decent scan of these pastels. The subtle pinks of the sundrenched road just don’t show up on a computer monitor. Well, the main thing is that I was able to honor this magnificent old barn. I would be afraid to search for it, however. Did the family decide farming was too much back-breaking work, and take an offer from a developer of ticky-tacky houses, let their heritage fall to the bulldozer’s blade?

Do you ever wonder what existed on the property where your home now stands?

This original pastel, and the others in my Black Paper Pastel series, are for sale in my Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/donnakazo

Just for the heck of it, my painting is being "modelled" in a typical 10" by 8" tabletop frame.

Black Paper Pastel Study of Pink Hibiscus Flower

Here in South Florida, the hibiscus is one of the most widely grown landscape plants. I’ve also noticed that it’s one that many artists new to our state choose to paint. But just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful. This particular flower glows because of the beam of light passing through it, against the shadowy background.

As I get to know this pastel paper, I feel as if I am fighting with its rough tooth. So I am now on the lookout for something a bit smoother. I’d like to be able to get more details into these paintings.

Or do I?

I am really getting a feeling of being on a journey with this series of paintings. Which is why painting in a series is so good for an artist. You tend to want to cram everything into a single painting, and lose sight of what’s important. But with a series, as ideas come to you during the creative process, you can file them away for the next work. And the next.

Even though I think of myself as more of an artist than anything else, I do really love science. And when a scientist performs an experiment, it’s all about the number of things that can be controlled. The more variables, the less likely you have a successful experiment. So keep the variables to a bare minimum. That feeling within me flares up when I am at the easel. I tend to be more scientific, particularly when working with oils. I tend to work in glazes and scumbles, and not with a full palette, just with a limited number of pigments laid out.

With pastels, I work differently, as each stick (or fragment, as I use my pastels right down to the crumbs!) is all ready to go, no mixing required. Instant gratification, almost. The immediacy of pastels is unsurpassed, and to gaze upon my wide collection of colors and types of pastels is inspiring. I can feel as if I’m immersed in a rainbow, that the colors come directly from my fingertips, when it’s all going well. And things did go well with this flower.

What made me particularly happy with this flower is that I began painting immediately, did not draw it first. I began by blocking in the main shapes and worked my way down to the small shapes.

What is the difference between painting and drawing? Well, that will be an entry for another day. I promised to keep these short!

I do want to announce that I am beginning to list these Black Paper Pastels for sale on Etsy.com. Here’s the link: http://www.etsy.com/shop/donnakazo

In a 10" by 8" tabletop frame, my pink hibiscus makes a lovely addition to your home.

Thanks for stopping by!