Instructions for Living a Life

In her poem, “Sometimes,” Mary Oliver writes, “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be Astonished. Tell about it.” Oliver, gave everyone three very simple instructions as to how to live. Reading this poem I realized that these instructions are three simple statements that are embedded  in the process for creating.

I have been in Florida for a month and like a true vacationer paying attention to a new environment is part of the excitement of being in a new place. Paying attention begins the process before I open my palette box and prepare my paper. Sitting quietly and observing, walking through a space and noting what is there and taking out my sketchbook to document the moment is how I pay attention. Sometimes my sketches are about the light and darks, shapes, colors, textures, mood. I will write in my sketchbook the sounds, smell, weather conditions and even conversations of people who walk by. I also capture some of the observations on my cell phone camera. Attention isn’t just about what I focus on — it’s also about what my brain filters out. Paying attention is the only thing that guarantees insight.


Sanibel Light House Keeper’s Cottage reference photo. Kathy Grundei
Value Drawing. Kathy Grundei (2018)


Color Study. Kathy Grundei (2018)


Astonishment is the emotion what leads to wanting to make sense of things. Astonishment is what ignites me to wanting to explore my own meaning. I am motivated by astonishment. I suddenly wonder about the dark shadows that cloak the object, the curve of a tree limb, the variety of foliage and the diverse shades of green that are part of the composition. I become astonished as I begin to paint-maybe I can depict this scene. The composition unfolds, colors I envision are there on my palette.


Sketchbook Study. Kathy Grundei

Eventually, the process leads to telling about what I focused on and what I noticed. I tell about the big and small and the important and not so important. I made my interpretation, expressed my lines, color, values. I told about quiet presence of a home no longer used.  It made me wonder about who lived there and what memories the house holds.


Sanibel Light House Keeper’s Cottage. Watercolor. 13″ x 15″ Kathy Grundei (2018)


Thank you for reading!