Portrait Project

Meet Cathy

The portrait story project I’ve been working on these past months now has a name!

This is My Story: Women and Homelessness

and we’re already working on the book! as well as upcoming art show/events later this year to which you will be invited! The original art story portraits are now hanging on a rotational basis in the dining room at The Living Room (TLR),  so that the participants can get to see them and know each others’ stories better. They gather round in excitement when the new ones are hung!

I met Cathy first in the Meditation Group at TLR and instantly wanted to know her better. I’m sure you would too. Her story is directly related to the 2017 firestorms. I’ve had to abridge it to fit it onto the page, but here’s the gist of it.


One part of Cathy’s story that I couldn’t fit on the art piece was what she said about her large extended family  in this area (almost all of whom lost their homes in the fire): “My upbringing was in an Italian immigrant family where, because of the cultural experience of loving, caring, and compassion, we made a solemn promise to never abandon each other, to always take care of each other.” And then the firestorm tested the human limits of that promise, though they are still doing their best.


The portrait project at The Living Room is keeping me joyfully busy these days, collecting the stories of these women who have become my friends. They have all been homeless and many of them still are. They have that is common, along with other things I couldn’t have known about without spending hours listening to them. They possess a kind of hard won wisdom and a desire to minister to others who are down on their luck.

. . .Like Carmen, who leaned in to tell me her secret, “Sleeping on the streets you learn to be grateful for what you do have, and it makes you strong.”


Carmensita is almost always to be found by her side.  She is the white “Yoda” in the stroller below. Likely she is dog sitting the large hound by her side.



#30faces30days continues. . .

I think I’m getting addicted to painting faces, after 26 days this Sktchy challenge, which is also a course with different teachers and lessons every day. When I look at faces now I see minute variations in skin tones and am constantly mixing colors in my mind, while my fingers twitch in anticipation of sketching and my eyes can’t help but notice how the ears relate to the nose and eyes, etc., etc. I curl up on the sofa in the evening to draw and paint the muse (the picture which is one of thousands of available faces on Sktchy) of the day. Although it’s better to do all this with a live model, I’ll settle for Sktchy in the meantime!

The 30 days is almost over, and I feel like I’m just starting to get the hang of it. Here are some of the past few days’ sketches.


Day 19 the lesson was to “let the light be your line” with teacher France Van Stone, who is a genius with graphite. But watercolor is my thing, so I made the point by slapping on some rich background negative painting at the end.


(on gray toned paper) Lesson 23 was “Drawing Shadows with Minimal Lines”, with Patrtick Hochstenbach, but being a painter, once again, I went for color, dashed in some extra lines at the end, and really liked the effect.

30faces24 (on toned paper) Lesson 24, again with France Van Stone with graphite, was one of my favorites. I loved being told I didn’t have to finish everything and maybe it would be better if I didn’t!  And what a fabulous face to draw!


(toned paper) Lesson 25 Lending Your Portrait a Hand with Margriet Aasman was challenging because I like drawing hands only slightly more than windows in a tall building, meaning not much. But Margriet makes you look at each joint and curve so you start to see how different each is. Nevertheless I think my impatience shows in the outcome here.

It’s all good though. Lots of good practice and learning to apply to the portrait project I’m working on at The Living Room these days. I’m up to about 17 portraits with stories now and will share move of them soon.


Meet Maria

When I first starting going to The Living Room to sketch the stories I felt shy about just showing up and sitting down with the women. I had been given permission by the staff, but at first it was a bit like showing up at a party where no one there has actually invited you. Or even like the first day at a new school, an experience I had many times as a child, since my family moved a lot.

But it was my good luck that one of the first people I met, as I sat down in the singing group, was Maria. It was so easy to talk to her, and she volunteered information about how things worked there, so that I felt more at ease. And the next week, when I showed up at the Knitting Group, she let the group know what who I was. Over time I learned that it came naturally for her to offer help to women who had newly shown up at The Living Room, bewildered, anxious and in need of  direction. By the time I did this portrait, I had already sketched her numerous times in activities and events there.



Portrait Project

The conversations about homelessness are everywhere in our county. So many kind hearted people, who have secure housing, are struggling to understand: how could it be that there are 200 people living in all manner of tents in the pouring down rain and mud of a popular public trail!? We wonder, who are these homeless folks and how did they come to be on the streets?

I have been slowly finding my way into conversations with women to try to understand how this can happen in a county where there is considerable concentration of wealth. Most of the women who come to The Living Room have at some point suffered “on the streets” without shelter. Some have been living in their cars or minivans by the roadside or in parking lots. Others have been staying in emergency shelters and, after long waits, secured transitional or more long term housing. Aside from those similarities, each of their stories are as unique as their personalities.

For the past couple months I’ve been doing watercolor portraits of some of these brave women who have shared their stories with me. I’ve been struggling to condense their complex histories, experiences with homelessness, as well as their strengths and hopes for the future, into a few sentences to put on their portrait.

They want to be seen, not for their homelessness but for their humanity and individual gifts, and this is the pact I make with them. Their stories have been a gift to me, but as I begin to share the portraits I realize that this gift elevates the whole discussion of homelessness to one of our shared humanity. As we listen to each other’s stories we realize that our personal sphere of caring and responsibility has grown and our hearts have grown with it.

And so the Portrait Project at The Living Room was born. The intention of the project is to raise public awareness, raise money for The Living Room’s extensive services for women and children at risk, while also raising the self-esteem of the women.  We will be exploring local venues to exhibit the portraits, events like panel discussions with experts, and publishing a book of the portraits and essays on homelessness.

Meanwhile you’re probably wanting to read the stories too! Over time I will be sharing them here. And I hope you will participate by sharing any ideas about a possible name for the project or venues for an exhibition. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to participate in some way.