My Very Real Artist Life and Travels, 2015

I've written the travel blog I promised. I didn't know last year at this time I would be traveling quite so much in 2015, but this is how it happened.

Many people helped me go places this year - I have already thanked them, and remain very grateful for how they have reached out to help me! Having hospitable, generous friends is one of the best things about my life!

I like what Lewis Howes recently posted on Facebook:

This quote, above, reminds me of how we were made to use our God-given talents and store up treasures in heaven, not on earth, as it says in Matthew 6:19-34.

Our Father in heaven has answered many of my prayers for direction and provision this year. For His help and wisdom, I am awed and thankful. Most of the time, people stepped in to fill needs. 

Below, I will try to portray a realistic example of what my artist's life really looked like in 2015.

January opened with me on the frigid coast of Maine, and my mother nearly homeless back in Vermont. She had fallen and injured herself very badly in late November, and moved back to Vermont to be closer to a good chiropractor. I spent hours on the phone after working all day, calling people, trying to help find her housing from a distance.

I had been looking for a new home myself since the previous September as my kind aunt was planning to close up her house and move. I didn't have too many options, not having funds to pay for even room rent. I was under a huge amount of pressure, on a daily basis.

Food and utilities, purchasing three cords of green wood, some additional funds and the assistance of several generous workmen who gave their time, were what I had been able to contribute since arriving back in Maine in July 2014 with $11 to my name, after helping my mom move and get through the previous winter.

In late January, an emailed notice arrived, letting me know I had a firm moving deadline of May 15, 2015, otherwise my possessions would be put into a storage unit. My heart began beating very rapidly. I had already experienced eviction from our home of thirty years in 2009 and this felt very much like a repeat of those tremendously pressure-filled days, six years earlier.

Meanwhile, I had been painting diligently 3-5 hours a day for months in my studio bedroom. One of my commissions was large and highly detailed – 102 hours when it was finally completed was a record. I'd never spent so much time on one painting.

I've watched an oil artist paint a $1,200 piece in a period of four hours and a nationally known watercolor artist do something similar. Unfortunately, my name and watercolors are not yet considered this valuable, despite the amount of work and time I invest. Otherwise, my life might be considerably more comfortable.

My studio space was chilly. I was wearing two wool sweaters, a hat, wool scarf, ski pants and had a hot water bottle on my lap in order to stay warm enough to paint.

I did have the joy of seeing my children's books, Gos's Big Dreams and Gaby's Big Dreams, come out in print that same month; my friends were hugely supportive and I was able to regain a portion of the printing funds invested. Of course, most had no idea what sort of other pressure I was experiencing.

After painting each day, I walked one-half-mile to check my email and mail books to people who bought them. Finances were very tight, the printing costs had taken all I had saved.

Walking to the Library on January 31, 2015
Playing piano and selecting hymns for my church family each week provided a needed break from my other work. How much I enjoyed the empty sanctuary, practicing songs!

Stained Glass window in the church sanctuary where I played and sang last year

There was no other option but to finish my painting commission. One does not get paid unless the work is completed. I planned to deliver the painting in NYC and then continue down the east coast. Two old family friends had invited me to come live in extra unused rooms in their large homes and I desired to visit the families before moving, since relocating is expensive and rather a big deal.

And so, my first of five long bus, train and car trips this year began!

I love to travel! For me it means facing the unknown, exploring new places, meeting new people after being holed up for months in my room, and the unexpected challenges that often happen...some people take emotional or physical risks – I guess I take those sometimes, but more often, I take financial risks in the form of traveling.

Subway platform, 42nd St. Station, NYC, February 2015

I left a very cold and snowy Maine in mid-February, after buying one final cord of wood and stacking it to try to keep my aunt warm. My trip south would not have been possible without the extremely kind assistance from friends in Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. 

30th Street Station, Philadelphia, February 2015

My friends dropped me off and picked me up at several bus and train stations and housed me with great warmth and kindness. It's true you don't need a car if you have friends. For the hospitality of each of these kind friends, I am sincerely grateful.

Amtrak rails, Philly 2015

My traveling costs from Maine to South Carolina with stops all along the way, and back were only $350. This is mainly because I took Megabus and Amtrak and did not fly.

California Poppy, painted in April or early May, 2015 in Maine, Private Collection

Coming home I had my first Chinese night-bus experience – leaving from Greenville, SC and going to NYC. I was asked why I had chosen this route. It was simply a matter of the price. I could not afford a different method of travel, otherwise I would have chosen  differently! I'm sure anyone traveling by night bus would choose another way to go, if they could afford it!

This night bus was an experience to remember for the rest of my life! This particular bus was not clean or in good condition. The engine would quit every hour or so, and the driver would pull to the side of the interstate and push several buttons to re-start the bus. I texted my brother with this news and told him I doubted we'd reach NYC...he told me he and his wife were praying for me!

Common Lilac, painted in March 2015 while on my long trip down the east coast, Private Collection
The bus was first very hot, then very, very cold. The air-conditioning system was dripping water on folks sitting in the rear seats. The heating system had broken and would not turn back on, so everyone was freezing cold as the bus went further north in the cold rain, except me. I was dressed for bear and had plenty of wool layers. I took off my heavy coat around 2AM to place it over the woman shivering in the seat in front of me. She had a 3-year-old child she was trying to care for...What did I expect for $40? Not much more. I was content.

It was truly an adventure. The people I spoke with around me – in front of me, in back and to the side, were all going to stay with friends, they told me, for they also had no money for rent. It was sort of “the homeless bus.” Many people fall on hard times. I was not alone and I felt glad to meet each of them.

I continued on home to Vermont for Resurrection Day, to see my family for the first time in nine months. I had a lot of good times caring for my little niece. 

Smooth Hydrangea, painted in March, 2015, on my trip, Private Collection
Arriving back in Maine in mid-April, my low back was injured from all the sitting - painting and traveling. I was also really struggling emotionally with a sense I didn't belong anywhere – not in Maine, not in Vermont, not down the coast. The people I had visited on my trip had each changed their mind and told me they could not house me after all. Without a car of my own, they felt I would be too dependent. Yeah, yeah. Our Father was in this, too, but I felt like my life was just a burden to others. I was extremely unsure of what lay ahead. 

Texas Bluebonnet, painted in April 2015, Private Collection

Mom, I just feel like a failure,” I glumly told her on the phone. “Elise, you are FAR from a failure,” came my mom's reassuring voice back to me. I guess I wouldn't be an artist today without my mom's continued encouragement. Some people surely do see one's lack of being entirely financially “independent” as a failure, that's true, but not my mom!

Yet God provided. Work requests came in unexpectedly in the form of more illustrations and helping some friends get their own book in print.

White Pine Cone, painted from a cone I saved, painted in early May, 2015, in Maine, Private Collection

In the midst of more painting deadlines, I packed up everything and moved on May 1st, two weeks before my moving deadline.

Then I left Maine in early May, for Harrisburg, PA and a large convention where I was scheduled to help an old friend at a convention table. 

Entering Lincoln Tunnel, 2015, heading for Philadelphia the second time this year

Philadelphia Bridge, May 2015

Building in Philly, May 2015
I was attempting to test the book market waters to see how my little children's books would sell. Our booth location wasn't the best and there were 250 other booths competing for sales. I learned I'd shipped way too many books south, and had to re-ship them home after they didn't sell. Sent book-rate I still took a $50 loss on this trip venture, but at least had not had the cost of a booth. It was a good learning experience and a chance to visit with old and new friends.

Work Unites Us - Mural in Philadelphia, May 2015

Then I stayed for three weeks in Maryland with a hospitable family who had heard I did not have a place to go...I was subsequently told they “did not want to support my fantasy” - being an artist is an oft-rejected profession. I had not asked for their support, had paid for my food and utilities and was quite happy to head back north.

Come In, and Sup - painted in Maryland in May, 2015 - one of my favorite doorways in Maine

There was a bit of a detour before coming back to Vermont, however. I saw a dentist about fixing a badly broken filling, and also went to help gather my mom's summer clothing. This brought me through Albany, NY and I enjoyed the old architecture there very, very much!

Albany, NY, early June, 2015. I'd only really remembered every seeing this city from the Interstate - I'd never realized how lovely the old homes are!

I returned to Vermont to live in the spare bedroom of a very old family friend. You can read about this move here: Where Do I Live?

At the end of June, now staying in another new location and without community who knew me well, I purchased Storyline Conference and bus tickets to give myself a firm deadline for my new book to be written by the end of October. I began the daunting process of writing, tackling my nineteen chapter outline, and page by page, a 40,000-word book slowly began to appear.

I also painted my heart out on two very large 22x30 watercolor pieces for an international jury in late June into July. My work wasn't accepted but I wasn't terribly surprised. I really didn't have enough rest or time to prepare and paint something of the highest caliber.

The Shining Path, 22x30, 2015 - a scene I saw a few days before beginning this piece

Pears on the Windowsill - Psalm 37:16 - the table where I ate in Maine

Needing winter clothing and tired of living with the same garments packed into my small suitcase since early May, I returned to Maine in mid-July. I painted for a benefit auction and did some Farmer's Markets. I hitch-hiked to one market. I don't usually hitch-hike and I don't recommend it – I think I've tried it only about thrice in my life...but I did what I felt I had to do to survive and buy groceries that week. It's an interesting practice in experiencing rejection really, sticking out your took about 45 minutes to find my first ride!

String of Pearls - painted and sold on July 19, 2015

String of Pearls II, painted in August, 2015, Collection of the Artist

I was staying across the peninsula from my old home, and as I didn't know many people there, had a perfect opportunity to work on writing my new book. It was the time and the place. I wrote about half the book in one week. 

Dorys tied up, 2015

Cape Rosier, Maine, 2015

Buck's Harbor, Maine, summer 2015
I felt extremely blessed to have friends enabling me to travel around, helping store my possessions, and also making it possible for me to gather my things yet one more time. I paid my chauffeur for gas and we had a great time, seeing the coast of Maine. Our Father provided for beautiful folks who loved, understood and encouraged me! This is probably the seventh time I've moved since 2009...not counting my many trips, visiting.

Seamus on the Island, painted in August, 2015

After coming back to Vermont, I painted a dog portrait and then almost immediately left for New Jersey to help my old friend Jack, now 85, pack and move. I was kind of tired from all the travel, but I still painted three portrait illustrations in two weeks time. These were donated, not sold, but I'm happy they went to a good cause. Then Jack drove me home, carting a trunk of heavy books and a very large, framed painting I had done back in 2009 while living in NYC.

Returning once more to dear old Vermont, I somehow got through the next two months, which were extremely pain-filled. A dentist had kindly agreed to help me save my teeth, replacing old fillings. After spending all the money I had, I traded one of the finest pieces I'd ever painted for a lot of dental work. Not having insurance, my teeth had been on the back burner for many years. They could not wait any longer.

Because my bite was not right, my cranium was not supported and my low back wasn't holding either. The chiropractor patched me up several times, at even more expense. My bite was finally adjusted properly and until I see the dentist again, my back is stable and I am out of pain, thankfully.

In the meantime, I was also helping my mother, who was again in need, find safe housing and move once again. Her health was quickly deteriorating. She blacked-out completely one day. I caught her just before she fell and dragged her limp body back into bed. We tried to figure out what was causing her health problems. Again, I found myself on the road, hitch-hiking to get to a hastily-made doctor's appointment for her. She almost died that day. But once again, God is in the business of preserving life until His time comes to take us Home.

Finally the explanation came - five dental abscesses...that's enough to kill an average person. Bacterial infections are easier to cure than viral infections. And so, my mother is regaining her strength.

I nearly canceled my trip to Chicago due to my mom's health, but she told me to go. 
I had just .35 cents to my name for a period of about ten days in mid-October. No savings, no debt, just those few pennies. But I'd painted a good painting and our Father provided through it's sale, so I could keep going. It was another financial risk to travel so far, but I went out in faith. 

Bailey Boy, In the Garden - painted in October, 2015, this painted opened the door to Chicago for me

It was such a joy to go to Chicago in early November! All the other trips I took this year were not planned based on desire to travel, they were based on a NEED to travel – to meet commitments, find housing or work, transport needed items, etc. I had not been going on holidays, even though traveling was fun. 

My artist job is completely transportable - I painted on each of my trips south and east in Feb-April (13 paintings), May-June (4 paintings), July-August (four paintings) and in September (two paintings). But going west to Chicago was more of a true vacation – I didn't bring along my palette and brushes this time. Of course, I got a cold from lack of sleep, but it wasn't too bad.

For housing in Chicago at first I looked into Airbnb, but I had a huge weight in my spirit about that idea. When I finally thought of old friends who had housing space, my heart leapt with joy, and I knew I was going in the right direction, finally. Housed by friends, I spent $5 for a hotel maid on this entire trip! Thank you, generous friends!

Bridge to Chicago, November 3, 2015

Looking north, off the previous bridge, entering Chicago, Illinois, 2015

A Spanish girl's head, Chicago, 2015
My Chicago bus tickets cost $26.50 round-trip, Burlington to Chicago and back. This was only because I planned the trip in July and really before I even knew I would be able to go. I am The Queen of Cheap Tickets & Incredibly Wonder-filled Adventures! =)

My sister had told me just before I left, “nice people don't travel by night-bus.” Yet I found quite the opposite is true! I met very fine folks, going and coming back. My bus friends have really, really encouraged me. I find them respectful and kind. Some travel by bus because they have sick relatives. Some travel to find work. Some are artists themselves – I've met people who work in photography/film, theater writing and acting, music production and musicians on a bus.

Storyline Conference was really positive. One of my favorite speakers was Jeremy Cowart, who shared from his life how his parents had always told him, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” - Philippians 4:19. This verse greatly helps me, too.

The Sower, stained glass at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, 2015

The first draft of my book was placed in good hands. I was also blessed to visit old friends after the conference, one of my spiritual mentors, and see the place where my “art career” was encouraged and directed, when I was seventeen-years-old.

Cranes building a tower in NYC, November 11, 2015

Over this past year, amidst all the strain and trials of life, I have painted 41+ paintings, and written a new book. Soli Deo Gloria! Painting has helped keep me sane.

I give thanks this Thanksgiving to our Father in Heaven for His abundant provision for me, and for my family, in the midst of difficult trials. I am grateful for a bed to sleep in, for clothing to wear and food to eat. I am grateful I have not lost my country, as the Syrian refugees have, through no fault of their own! I'm blessed to have family who loves me, and friends I appreciate so much, old and new. I am very thankful to still be an artist, to have had so many neat opportunities to travel, paint and write this year.

I am glad for the faith and strength to go out, not really knowing all the details before leaving. Yet I have never traveled alone, the Holy Spirit has been with me, guiding my way.

Canadian Goose in flight, Oak Brook, IL, 2015

For those interested in traveling to gain the experience of seeing our country, I highly recommend Megabus. It need not cost a lot of money, if you have friends. All five of my travel adventures this year cost only a total of $810.50, which includes all my bus, train and car fares!

Megabus - heading toward home!
Our Father promises to make a way in the wilderness. He also promises the upright that light will arise in the darkness. I have found these promises to be true, very applicable when the pressures of my non-conformist, non-cubicle life seem overwhelming.

New Jersey, November 2, 2015
December 2015 is yet to come. I wonder what this new month will bring to pass?

What risks do you take in your own life? What people or things are you grateful for?

I wish you a very Happy Thanks-giving!

With Gratitude and Love,
your painting friend,


Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” ~ Isaiah 43:19

Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.” ~ Psalm 112:4
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