Smithers, Artist’s Assistant, C.A.T.

Last night Smithers reported for duty in the middle of my arting around. Turns out my brush rag wristband fits well around Smithers’ neck. She sat still for the length of one brush cleaning before losing interest and trying to walk away with my brush rag.

C.A.T. (Certified Artist Torturer)

Geared up and ready to “work”
Smithers in action. Good for only one use.

Reflections on Work

I’d been holding my breath, and didn’t realize it. I heard from a client I’d last spoken with in December. At that time she’d asked me to ASAP turn around a draft of a large design project. I sent her a very rough sketch of a section to give her an idea of the design I had in mind with an email full of notes.

And then I didn’t hear from her.

I experience the immense void of silence as a dark chasm into which anxiety and fear flood and storm.

I sent her a follow-up email at the beginning of February to which there was also no response. The trickiest thing about working remotely is not having any idea of what forces are in play in someone else’s life.

You can NOT panic in those moments. 

I do. I hold my breath and have huge feelings of doom and failure. Plus, I’m not getting billable hours for the month…not good mentally or economically.

The greatest benefit of working remotely is that your co-worker, colleague, or client can’t see the anxiety.

She emailed late yesterday to say she’d been caught up in another project and to apologize for not replying sooner. EXHALE…and relaxation of an inner tension that instantly made me feel more optimistic about the immediate future.

This is going to be a dynamic I need to work on internally. 

The vicissitudes of humanity have been the end of the two main jobs in my career. In each case, the owner of the business sold their business to a larger entity and situations became fluid to the point of eventual dissolution.

In my mind in these situations, I was on a raft in the ocean, and survival was, in no way, guaranteed.

All of this is just fear, and fear is one of the wolves you can not feed. Of course, The Walking Dead is the exception to that rule, but I digress.

Amidst the work of keeping your fear in check, you also have to maintain the client relationship through the silent void. In any communication attempt you send, there has to be a whisper of breezy casualness, but a steely determination to be ready to accept the baton and sprint like crazy whenever they are ready.

This is a difficult dynamic. She works in an office with her direct opposite. He communicates well and easily, often briefly but clearly. There is no mystery or internal drama when I’m working with him.

When I come across a difficult working dynamic, there is a lesson I need to learn. She may have a lesson to learn also, but that is not something I control. We are all just human.

Now I recognize that her long silences are about her, not me. She is just caught up in something, and she can put a pin in our work together to come back to later. This is my lesson and will need to be my focus for the future.

She contacted me with a different “rush” project this morning, so now I know something else I will have to do TODAY.

Similarities with The Walking Dead: She just grabbed me from behind, through the pharmacy shelf, when I was browsing the opposite shelf. Too bad life doesn’t come with the high-tension background music. I’d at least have a clue things were about to get exciting.

This is a difficult way to live a life (on the awful scale, it’s not that awful), but I have other clients upon whom I can direct my focus and energies.

That is a change I put in my life.

I determined after CRM closed its doors that no other individual’s life decision (perfectly valid decision for which I don’t blame them) can leave me adrift on the ocean any more. People will always make decisions based solely on what they know, need, or want. 

Because I know this, and I am the center of my universe, I wonder if this isn’t what a lot of former and potential employees are feeling? 

The wage gap, pandemic, social unrest, burst bubble of the mortgage market, wars, and environmental issues have laid bare just how tenuous our hold on civilization really is. You can only pull the rug out from under people so many times before they just won’t stand on the damn rug any more.

Plus, the drive to strive and sacrifice the now for some tentative (at best) future benefit is a hard sell when the future looks pretty much like it may be a worse version of the present.

There are tiny glimmers of hope. I see individuals leaning into problems and finding creative solutions. They are leaning into hurricane force winds though.


Not unrelated…there is a job listing in the Kenosha area for a “high paying” assembly job, no experience needed. $25-27 hour, shifts Friday night (can’t recall the hours), Saturday and Sunday from 6:30 am – 7 pm. 

Let’s chuck out the quality of family and social life issue of working solidly through the weekend. If you’re just starting out, and you want to be able to live it up all week, this might be the perfect gig! Or, if you are a parent whose S.O. has a full-time job during the week, and you are taking care of the kids during the week, it may also be the perfect fit.

Let’s run the numbers:

Assuming the Friday night shift is also 12.5 hours, you will have a total of 37.5 hours each week (technically this is not full time, so there may not be benefits. Maybe that’s a negotiating point?):

(37.5 x 27) x 4 = $4,050/month. Not too bad actually. 4050 x 12 = $48,600

$48,000 x .15 (Assuming 15% approximate effective tax rate, and we’re leaving out other withholding) = $7290

Take home = ~$40,710

Random low rent/mortgage plus utilities number: $1,500 x 12 = $18,000


Health insurance premiums (you are part-time, and I’m assuming you’re single): $300 x 12 = $3,600. This premium will cover one check-up a year and emergencies. Set aside $$ for other trips to the doc, co-pays, whatever other magical bills appear.


Groceries for the month for a single person: $300 x 12 = $3,600


Car? Savings (for a rainy day or unexpected expense or unemployment)? Retirement (IRA for your future)?

You actually have a little breathing room, but I don’t know that I would consider this “high paying” and you are giving up your weekends when everyone else is free to have fun.

Benefit of the doubt I’ll give the employer: maybe it is high paying for this type of work, and they aren’t willing to pay well for weekend shifts…good for them.


Just for giggles let’s rerun the numbers for the minimum wage increase to $15 that can’t make it through Congress. Also, we’ll assume this is a full-time position (congratulations you have benefits!):

(40 x 15) x 4 = $2,400 x 12 = $28,800

Poverty line in Wisconsin for a single person is $13,590 (really?!?), so you are above it! Awesome!

Taxes: $13,590 x .15 (15%) = $2,038

$11,552 (Bummer, after taxes your net pay is below the poverty line in Wisconsin. Don’t worry, your congress believes you can do it!)

Rent/mortgage and utilities at $1,500 a month: $18,000. BOING! 

Nope, you’ll have to find a room to rent. $500: $500 x 12 = $6,000


Groceries because landlords don’t usually provide meals (maybe you’re into ramen and coffee with an occasional piece of fruit): $150 x 12 = $1,800


Car? Savings (you don’t want to live at home or rent a room forever…maybe, but you’ll still have unexpected expenses and unemployment)? IRA (for future you)? Travel and eating out with friends? SAAS? You have $312/month to cover these other expenses, so choose wisely.


Why is the minimum wage even a conversation any more—shouldn’t we have increased it by now? Why these teeny, unrealistic numbers when the economy has left the station and is farther down the tracks?

If we’re going to have the conversation at all, it should be to increase it to $25 an hour.

The AFL-CIO published an article about this (2018):

Their minimum wage recommendation in 2018 would have been $24 after adjusting for inflation, so my suggested $25/hour might be low.

The minimum wage is a good idea to protect workers from being paid usurious wages. Unfortunately, it seems to have become the low point that some employers sink to when determining the value of their workforce in the dispassionate light of accounting.


Business, and just work on a more basic level, has to do with relationships–how we value each other’s contributions, give each other space and time, and look out for each other’s interests. When done well, it is a glorious dynamic that makes life better and can produce some great outcomes.

First of all, we are all human and change is inevitable. Accounting for these two realities needs to be the base of our calculus or the system built atop is likely to falter.

And, no, there aren’t businesses that are too big to fail. They can fail. They will just bring all of us down with them and that is why they keep getting propped up.

Ok, now I really need to get to the office. Things to do, things to do to build my business.

Thanks for reading.

Not Unrelated

The leaf at the foot of the stairs was batted down from the second floor, one step at a time, by Smithers in the early hours of the morning. It must have been the most fun Smithers has had in ages. She probably reached the bottom step and wished the flight went on forever.

Smithers is also responsible for the color scheme on this spread. I dipped my brush in a Windsor & Newton half pan in the dim light of the evening, and took a brush stroke on the page. I’d been aiming for burnt umber but I got aquamarine! Noooooo!

For a moment my mind could not resolve my inability to remember which colors were which in my palette—I’ve been using it for more than 10 years. I replace the pans as they are used with the exact same colors because I am comfortable with these colors. How could this happen??? I actually returned to the pan for a reload thinking perhaps it was a bit of aquamarine on top of the umber…nope.

How did this happen?

Then I recalled Smithers sitting in front of me the week before. Looking me in the eye, looking down at the closed and dry palette, using one deft swipe to send it crashing to the floor. It fell from the height of the coffee table, so what harm could it do?

I groaned, “Smiiitherrrs.” As I picked it up from the floor, I noticed one of the paints (not the pan, just the dried paint) was sitting on the floor next to the still closed palette.

Apparently, Smithers is magic. Ha…she wants me to think she is, but I can appreciate physics and force enough to understand the dynamics that allowed the palette to eject a small block of dry paint, and then come to a rest face down and closed.

I picked it up and put the paint back in its proper pan. There was a white hole where my burnt umber should be.

Kind reader, I crawled around on my floor in multiple sessions over the next three days searching for that missing chunk of paint—swearing at the rotten cat the whole time.

I’d resigned myself to ordering a new burnt umber half pan for the set, when I discovered the aquamarine pan had two lumps of paint! AHA!

It took the top chip out of the pan and put it back in its proper pan with a small feeling of relief washing over me, and a heart filled with forgiveness for Smithers…that sweet little scamp.

Last night was the first night I painted with my recovered palette and the paints were in the wrong place!

Smithers might be magic.

Both the burnt umber and the aquamarine had been dislodged from their pans in the short fall, they had then switched places COMPLETELY in the air so that, upon coming to rest, the burnt umber was in the bottom position of the aquamarine pan.

That is quite a feat of acrobatics in such a short distance.

Since I am currently under the influence of the Olympics, I believe I need one of the snowboarding judges to tell me what type of twisting madness was involved.

Not unrelated…everything is a little interconnected and fun to watch.

The Fish That Ate My Weekend

Lassitude and sloth ate my weekend. They are why we have weekends, right?

It’s a lazy sketch from this great photo by Danté Fenolio

…which appeared on my Facebook feed posted by Undersea Naturalist.

I visited and found a treasure trove of scientific research about the Gulf of Mexico after the DWH oil spill.

On that site, they provided a link to a special issue of Oceanography filled with articles examining the DWH spill, response, impact, and oh so much more. I could lose my entire day to reading the issue.

The world is a big place and it is a small place.

Leaders in environmental science and justice who happen to be black—a Green Lab post for Black History Month.

Walking Trees

If you’re a Tolkien fan, Ents spring to mind when walking trees are mentioned.

Prior to 2018 I had no further mental reference than Ents myself. But then I had the opportunity to stand under the Banyan tree in Lahaina Maui. That was a magical treat.

For the landscape company that maintains the tree, the mere mention of it probably makes their backs ache. A Banyan tree in the wild is a dense and impenetrable life form. The one in the center of Lahaina has been carefully sculpted to make rooms for a brick paved party with seating under its protective branches.

This sloppy bit of scribbling is my mental picture of this…

Photo by PaulT (Gunther Tschuch) taken in September of 2018.

That is all one tree! The tree branches grow so far they send down support trunks.

We are the limit of our own experiences. I still look at the Banyan and feel amazement and wonder. Anyone from Lahaina would say, “it’s just a tree, what’s the big deal.”

The big deal is that even with all of our shared experience as humans— eating, drinking, and sleeping on this planet—there were Banyan trees in your life from day 1, and it took me more than 50 years to find out they exist.

I may have seen a picture of this tree at some point in those first 50 years, but my mind would have considered it a copse of several manicured trees instead of one large tree.

The big deal is that I know a lot of stuff, but I am still learning.

A slightly smaller deal is, with the stack of craft paper I got from just one package, I have plenty of opportunities to make a much better rendering of this beautiful tree.


My collection of sketchy, daily Moleskines dates back to 2006. They all share a common trait…empty centers. In the summer months I don’t spend as much time drawing/writing/creating in my Moleskine. There are other things to do.

Continuing the scribbly lined tree theme for the year.

While I slowly cooked my breakfast this morning, and listened to the latest edition of The Economist, I did a little illuminating. Some might call it doodling, and that is not a wholly inaccurate description of the activity. However, this was doodling with intent after self-assessing my annual habits.

This one is the closest to.a doodle of the them all. It was wonderfully meditative creating the little loops…leaves, bows, who knows?

I also made a conscious choice not to go farther than the pen work on these. I’m giving my overburdened/distracted/outdoorsy future self a chance to play with watercolors later. Yep, I’m making coloring pages for myself.

Faint lines of perspective visible.

The garden club I belong to (Four Seasons Garden Club) plants a tree each year to celebrate Arbor Day and Earth Day. We plant each one at a school in the area, so the kids can help with the planting. Fun is had by all.

Here’s how Arbor Day came into being according to the History Channel:

The modern idea of an arbor is more of a garden structure for shelter and/or plant support.

My sketch taps into a memory from my childhood of our elm-lined street. Everyone’s house had one or two elms on the parkway. Their canopy covered the street in a cathedral of moist, verdant shade. Blistering summer heat never penetrated that shield, and raucous winds were caught and mitigated by the high branches and leaves.

The monoculture planting that created this beautiful effect showed its inherent weakness when it was devastated by Dutch Elm disease…one by one the trees came down.

A smattering of new trees (more varied for greater resiliency and to address individual’s tastes) were planted. Volunteer trees that grew in convenient locations were left alone to flourish where they sprouted.

The neighborhood was never completely restored.

The strength of a tree is in a forest.

Years ago in the living arbor of Door County

A single tree can provide some shelter, but for a true arbor you need the forest to envelop you.

On the day Daylight Savings Time begins.

I finished today’s illuminations with a return to a bit of doodling. These were created by outlining a petterned glass candleholder that lives on my kitchen counter. I offset it a bit and partially outlined it again. Do we think this will likely end up with a clock face? Not only possible, but probable.

Enjoy your weekend!