I was thrilled when my grandmother, Joan Meharg, submitted today’s woman of valor, Harriet Tubman. I’ve always loved her story, even as a child. My mother read me Faith Ringgold’s beautifully illustrated “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky” and Jeanette Winter’s “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and visions of freedom danced in my imagination. As a child Harriet Tubman’s story was about freedom. Instead of playing house with my dolls I played runaway slave. I would rescue them and we would run for freedom, hiding from the pursuing imaginary dogs in closets and under beds. The story of Peg Leg Joe and the Drinking Gourd and Harriet’s story merged in my memory and I saw slaves following the North Star and heard the lines of Drinking Gourd rolling through my mind, over and over.

When the sun comes back and the first quail calls,
Follow the Drinking Gourd.
For the old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom,
If you follow the Drinking Gourd.

Portrait in process

Guiding slaves along the underground railroad is the most widely recognized part of Harriet’s story, and that alone is enough to place her among many great women of valor. But Harriet did many more amazing things. When she escaped her own life of slavery in her 20′s she did so even without her husband’s support, a huge step at the time. She returned multiple times to rescue various family members to keep them from being sold and further fracturing her family. Harriet was also a Union spy and the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. Her expedition led to the freedom of more than 700 South Carolinian slaves.

With all her amazing accomplishments, one of the things that strikes me most deeply about Harriet is how much she gave. Although she was well known during her life, Harriet never had much money, relying on the generosity of friends and family to survive. Despite this she never stopped giving and sharing, even donating the little bit of land she had been given to the church. She gave of herself for the freedom of others, in so many ways. Harriet didn’t just fight for her own freedom. She fought for the freedom of all.

Finished Portrait

“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.” – Harriet Tubman

Today is my last day as a 24 year old. I really like the days that fall at the end of life seasons. Whether it’s the last day of the year, last day being an age or last day living somewhere, they’re perfect for reflecting and appreciating what you have before a change. So in honor of my 25th year I illustrated three lists of some of the most important parts of my life as a 24 year old. Looking back now I can’t believe what a huge year it was.

Let’s start with major life events. I had 5 last year. I began my year by graduating with my B.F.A. in Illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design. I graduated in the top 5, a huge honor I generally try not to boast about buuut…..it’s my birthday so today I get a free pass. I signed my first contract with HGTV shortly after graduation and signed my second contract with them in January, my first regularly paying art job. I got married in June and moved to Europe with my husband on Halloween. That’s where we celebrated our first Thanksgiving and Christmas married, and my first Christmas without my large and boisterous family.

24th year sm

 

When I read all that now I can’t believe I did so many major things so fast. I understand why people thought I was a little crazy. Maybe I am, but I can also look back and say that at 24 I made some of the best decisions of my life so far.

One of the hardest and best parts of 24 was all the moving. I slept in 13 different beds last year. It’s always fun and exciting and stressful and exhausting to travel. Some beds were for one night, others for a few months. Some were covered in huge fluffy pillows and others made my back and shoulders ache every morning. But it’s really not about the beds. It’s about waking up to mountains outside your window, crashing waves, deer darting through trees or a beautiful day with family. Really the beds don’t represent sleep. They’re all about the days in between.

24th year 1 sm

 

One of my favorite ways to fill those days is with books. I still remember the first chapter book I read as a child, an abridged version of Peter Pan. Finishing that book is still one of the most exciting moments of my life. I was so proud of myself. I read all the time as a child, but much less in college because reading for pleasure wasn’t really a break after hours in a textbook or hunched over a painting. Graduating reawakened my love of books, and my life is better for it. I can’t remember how many books I read last year, but I illustrated the 26 that stood out to me in some special way.

24th year 2 sm

 

Don’t worry, I know most people don’t love reading as much as I do so I won’t bore you with the whole list. But I will narrow down the list a bit more, to the books that touched me deeply last year.

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai – I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s so easy to dehumanize cultures we don’t understand, to think that other people don’t matter because they think differently than us. Malala brings humanity to the Middle East that is rarely seen in news reporting, at least in America.

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan – This book isn’t new, but it was incredibly eye opening to me. Much like Malala, this book is much more educating than any news reports on TV. It’s the story of individuals that often gets overlooked in our generalization about Israelis, Pakistanis and the Middle East.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans – I wasn’t going to read this book because I don’t generally enjoy reading elongated sermons. But I was jet lagged in the London airport and needed to keep myself awake so I figured I wouldn’t really need to concentrate with this book. Turns out it’s amazing. This book inspired me in so many ways, including my Women of Valor series, something that will continue into next year.

Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd & Anne Kidd Taylor – This book is why we are in Europe right now. Halfway through the book I told Matt I wanted to move to Greece and here we are, one month away from moving to Athens.

So there you have it, my 25th year of life summarized in 3 lists. Tomorrow I start a new year and a new set of lists. It’s pretty exciting.

P.S. If you have any books that should be in my list for next year, please leave a comment!

I painted these two sunset paintings on the same day, about an hour apart.

sunset 1a

 

sunset sm

 

Watching the color change and shift is such a beautiful experience. The sky glows softer and softer, and the water slowly gradates from pinks and yellows towards Homer’s “wine-dark sea.”

The second woman in my Women of Valor series is Boudica, the Celtic warrior queen. (Also known as Boudicca, Boadicea or Buddug.) She was suggested to me by my dear friend Ashley Loveland, so I’ll let Ashley’s words tell a bit of Boudica’s story.

“She was the warrior queen of pre-roman England. She was Celtic and her husband was a tribal king – one in a group of tribal kings that ruled England at that time. Her husband tried to pay off the Romans so he could keep his land/not have them invade, however after the king died the Romans broke the deal, invaded, flogged Boudica, and raped their two daughters. Boudica got mad, created an united alliance between all the other tribal kings, and together they wreaked havoc on the Romans. The band of barely iron age kings lead by Boudica, almost kicked the most powerful army in the world at that time off the island.”

raven sm

Raven – Celtic symbol of vision, power and battle

Boudica was ferocious. She was known for her amazing hair, we think it was probably red, and for her multi colored cloak, both of which stood out on the battlefield. She slaughtered the Romans, men, women and children alike. She led all the other kings into battle as a general and queen. It’s interesting to note that the Brits didn’t seem to have a problem being led by a woman, it was unusual but not unheard of, but the Romans definitely had a problem being defeated by one.
Boudica is an interesting woman to include in this series, because she did some horrible things. When I say she slaughtered men, women and children, I mean she brutally murdered them and strung up their bodies in grotesque postitions. She wiped out entire villages. How do your reconcile admiration for what she did – uniting a divided kingdom and leading a nation into battle against it’s captors – with the fact that she did it so mercilessly? I think that understanding Boudica’s actions requires an understanding of what sparked them.

DSC_0237asm

Starting with basic shapes cut from painted tissue paper

Boudica was fairly content to comply with the Roman rule when they first came in. Even when they taxed the people unfairly and generally ruled them as conquerors would, Boudica didn’t make waves. She seemed willing to keep the status quo as long as her people had food, shelter and were still alive. It wasn’t until the Romans broke the agreement and raped her daughters that she became absolutely outraged. Momma Bear came out and she had way more power than your average Momma Bear. She protected her family and she protected her people. That’s what impresses me most about her. She did what needed to be done to protect her country.

DSC_0353asm

Adding details

I added bears to the background of my illustrations to suggest Boudica’s Momma Bear tendencies. Ashley later pointed out to me that bears became extinct in England about the same time that Boudica died.

Ashley said Boudica inspired her “because she united an island of warring kingdoms, she lead them, and she used underarmed, under-skilled, rough, simple people and almost beat the most powerful, tactically brilliant army/empire in the world. She used cunning, brilliance, courage, confidence; while being fueled by passion and vision.”

boudacia sm

Finished painting

Ultimately Boudica and her band of rag-tag warriors were defeated by the Romans, but she is still a powerful symbol in the United Kingdom today. As Ashley says, “she rocks.”

 

Learn a little about my Women of Valor series and read about the first one here.

 

croatia sunset

 

I tried to capture last night’s sunset in 5 minutes. The sky and colors change so fast that you blink and it’s a different scene. Some days the mountains look like they are on fire, bright orange flames seem to leap up the cliffs and belch huge blue and purple clouds. Some days the clouds hang low over the mountains like bright pink cotton candy. Some days the sea looks black. And some days it’s just different shades of blue. Blue sea, blue clouds, blue mountains. It is constantly changing, always unexpected and new. So I have to paint fast.

makarska

 

I’ve never seen a view as beautiful as the one here in Makarska. Every way you turn there is overwhelming beauty. The window from my studio looks out over the Adriatic Sea to a Croatian island on the horizon. The window from Matt’s studio looks out over the Dinaric Alps and the tallest of the Biokovo mountains. I can’t decide which is more beautiful. The sun sets over the sea, but it casts it’s orange and pink glow over the mountains. Sunsets are impossible to capture in photos or paint. Watching it change is at least half the beauty. All I can do is try to capture the feeling. The magic of billowing purple clouds, fading orange mountains and a rainbow sky.

croatia snow

 

We woke our first morning in Croatia to the sound of rain. The drops turned into flakes just in time for us to venture out into the city of Zagreb, and the snow stayed light but steady as the morning wore on. We found our bus, loaded our luggage and climbed on while the snow swirled. Our seven hour trip began as the snow began to stick. We chose a bus ride partly to see the country as we drove across, but walls of white seemed to rise up all around us, hiding everything more than a few feet away. The snow got worse and worse, piling up on the road and stranding cars on bridges, but we barely hesitated. And then suddenly the snow was gone. One side of the mountain was blanketed in white, the other side was soaked in rain without a hint that snow had ever fallen there. In my memory half of Croatia is a stunning mountainous country, and the other half is only a highway surrounded by endless walls of white.

mini seagull

I never lived by the ocean before our time in Portugal. Never lived in a place where I could walk to edge of the waves every day. I don’t know how I will go back now. The ocean is magic. I grew up in Texas, the land of big sky. It’s hard to understand if you didn’t grow up with endless sky, but trees and buildings start to close in on you after awhile. The ocean makes the sky even bigger. On foggy days the horizon disappears and the sky itself seems to crash upon the shore. Seagulls soar freely between the boundaries of sky and sea and I wonder if they need the big sky too. If that’s the real reason they stay near water, because they need the freedom of endless sky.

This little painting along with seven others form my mini Portugal series and are now available for purchase in my online store.

mini garden gate

 

I don’t think you have to travel to Europe to see beautiful garden gates. They seem to be almost universal. Simple gates, intricate gates, colorful gates, old gates, new gates, even ugly gates. But most of them are beautiful. What makes the ones in Portugal so stunning in my eyes, is that they seem to be constantly surrounded with growth. I was blown away by the lushness of Portugal’s land. We arrived in November and left in January, a time when little is blooming in my home town of Texas or my transplant locations in the south. We didn’t go a day in Portugal without seeing flowers. And everything was green. Or red or yellow or white or pink. Wild flowers, cultivated flowers, fruit trees, evergreens…I was amazed every day. Even the walls and roofs sometimes sprouted bursts of green. And the garden gates were always surrounded by beauty.

mini light house

 

I’ve always thought of lighthouses as strong fortresses, built to weather the storm and pierce the dark clouds. I never imagined them falling, except maybe in a most magnificent storm. One where an enormous wave sweeps up and envelopes the lighthouse, illuminated by fierce bursts of lightening and punctuated by rolling thunder, and leaves no evidence behind. I never imagined that instead a lighthouse might perish more like the leaning tower of Pisa, slowly tipping further and further into the sea, hanging in the balance between air and water. So I was shocked to come across just such a lighthouse during our trip to Nazaré, Portugal. There it was, suspended nearly horizontally over the waves. A new lighthouse had been built just across the channel, standing neatly upright like lighthouses are supposed to. But we didn’t look at him. Turns out unstable lighthouses are much more interesting.