Going Home

I was raised in a household where we went to church every Sunday; my mom was the church secretary and Sunday school teacher. I helped fold church bulletins and did my homework in the quiet sanctuary. I never had a moment in my life where I had to learn to accept Jesus as my savior, it was ingrained in me from birth, I never knew it any other way. This beautiful gift was giving to me by two of the strongest women in my life. My mom, Marilyn and my grandma, Lenora. Lenora was also raised in a Christian household, albeit a stricter one. She didn’t just read her Bible, she studied the Bible. And I mean straight up until she passed away at 93 years old. Her Bible was bound together with duct tape, notes scribbled on the side of every page, passages highlighted and underlined (and sometimes both). Her Bible looked like it had been through a war and in some ways it had.

Lenora had an unwavering faith, however this faith didn’t come easy for her. She suffered many a heartache in her life. When she was 18 years old her 1-year old baby boy, Richard, tragically died in his sleep from a medical malpractice error, he was given a drug he should have never been given. At first, she was angry with God, but then she turned back to her Bible. Her faith began to grow and she witnessed how this book and those words written in red[1] gave her hope and healing. Her faith brought her through the darkness and her Bible was her lifeline.

[1] Red ink is used in some New Testament Bibles to represent Jesus’s spoken word

I don’t know if a grieving mother has some sort of otherworldly channel to the other side but it certainly seemed like it. Almost as if going through something as tragic as losing a child opened a wound so deep that once it was filled with the Spirit she was offered a connection like no one else could experience unless they themselves had gone through it. It was like a double-edged cosmic consolation prize; with ultimate heartache comes ultimate comfort. She was connected to the Spirit, by faith alone.

Years later her husband was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was only 52 years old. He was in every sense of the word the love of her life. When she would talk about him, her face changed, it softened, like she was in a happy place just at the thought of him. Back to the Bible and back to her faith, her armor. She prayed hard during this time. That kind of fall on your knees scream pray, begging to heal him. I can only imagine her grief kept her from hearing the answer to her prayer, so God found another way. He sent her a dream.

She dreamt Jesus was standing in front of her holding a lamb and he slowly turned and walked away. She woke up, not heart broken, but filled with peace. She believed this message meant that her beloved husband would be healed, not the way she wanted but he would be at peace in the comforting arms of Jesus. He was going home, to the flock. He passed away soon after and once again her faith brought her through the darkness.

Years later when I was almost 10, our family went through another scary time. After months of headaches, ear aches, and an unyielding sinus infection doctors found an egg sized mass in my head, deep inside a sinus cavity next to my brain panel. After several tests and scans they were able to confirm that it was in fact benign, but would require a risky surgery to be removed. And icing on the cake, this cyst was nearly unheard of in someone my age so they had never performed this particular surgery on someone so young.

My grandmother prayed through it all. And that heavenly connection sent her another dream. She dreamed again of Jesus standing in front of her holding a lamb only this time He was walking towards her as if saying, “I’m taking care of her here on earth, don’t be afraid.” She awoke with hope and I remember her telling me her dream with such a matter of factness there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that I wouldn’t be ok. And I was.

Over the years I’ve thought about the two dreams she described to me.  For me, this painting has always been something I wanted to create. I imagine its early morning, the sun is breaking through the trees.  The Shepard has spent the whole night searching for His one lost sheep. Having found him, he takes it back to the flock.  My hope is that this image will bring someone else the peace that it brought my grandmother.  And I hope she knows how her faith has inspired me.

We need this Shepard more than ever right now. The farther we separate ourselves from Him the darker this world seems to get. There is such a disregard for human life its gut wrenching. We’ve been given the answers already, the guide book on how to treat your fellow man with scripture by a man also known as the Prince of Peace. I hope that these deep wounds that are being inflicted are filled with the Spirit and we will have a connectivity to each other the world has never known.

Going Home by Jann Maser

Back to School

The list of art education I’ve had would fit on that little piece of paper inside a fortune cookie. Besides my high school art classes, I am mostly self taught. I went to college, but not for an art-related degree. I changed my major 4 different times while at West Virginia University and ultimately earned a Regents Bachelor of Arts degree which is basically a piece of paper that says that I earned enough credits (in multiple areas) to graduate. I like to say I know a little about a lot, but my parents don’t think its very funny considering they were footing the bill. My brothers had been very successful in college and went on to have great careers. I wanted to be successful at something, I just didn’t know what that something was. Making a living as an artist was the furthest thing from my mind even though I was constantly drawing and doodling on the sides of all my class notes.

After college, I ended up working as an administrative secretary at the College of Creative Arts, in the art department. I was still drawing, doing portrait work and even illustrated a book! At one point I asked one of the painting professors if I could sit in on a class and he graciously obliged. No credit, no grade, just taking a class because I wanted to learn. I never missed a class. I learned how to build and prep a canvas, how to blend colors, the importance of an underpainting and so much more. I also learned that I LOVED to paint. It wasn’t just fun, it was peaceful and helped calm my mind. My very first painting was a still life.

First oil painting, 2009
My first paintings hanging in a very prestigious gallery, our shed.

Since then I’ve done mostly portrait commissions and that is something I will always do, but I’m excited to explore different ways to express my creativity. I’ve actually already blogged on that topic here. But where do I start? I have a sketch book full with ideas, but which one do I pick? What if it is a total flop? What do I have to say? I’m a wife and mother, my day consists of packing bookbags and planning dinner, what could I paint that would be of any interest? So I decided to go back to school in a sense and paint a still life. My subject matter? Something I’m constantly surrounded by – my kids toys, and more specifically, their play food. This will be part of a series of toy still life paintings that I will eventually hang up in the kids room in a gallery style.

Toy Food
Still life, acrylic

I enjoyed applying those techniques I learned almost 10 years ago and I plan on doing a lot more painting. College is out of the cards for me now, but I don’t need a formal education to do what I love. Every artist is constantly learning and practicing. That process never truly ends and I’m excited to see where it takes me next.

The still life set-up
The reference photo
The underpainting
Finished and framed

The unfinished side of me

My husband likes to remind me that when I first decided to blog he had to talk me down from doing my planned 365 creative project (an art project, everyday, and then blog about it . . . for a year). At first I was offended, “What, you don’t think I can do that?!” and then I glanced over at my 3 year old who was going on day 3 of wearing the same socks . . . I have a real ‘shoot for the moon’ approach to my work but sometimes its just not practical.

I have been at a standstill (in terms of doing art) since the end of February, mostly because my youngest was given the opportunity to attend a great school that started this summer. When we found out she got accepted I decided to spend that precious time with her. Three year olds can be a handful but I love hanging out and experiencing life with my girl. I’m still grappling with not having her at home everyday.

I recently started following creative blogger Austin Kleon. He is a successful blogger, artist and author. He describes himself as a writer who draws. His most recent post spoke to me. He highlighted a quote from Kathryn Schulz, a staff writer for The New Yorker, that really resonated with me.

“For me, the engine of writing is almost always ignorance. I write to figure out what I think.”

I realized in the few posts I wrote that I learned quite a bit about myself through my writing and also my creative work. I’m not writing about what I know, I’m writing to find out. While writing my last blog post titled Mother of Angels, I realized I was finding out how I felt about my own experience with miscarriage; something that up until that point I had refused to confront. I was emotionally exhausted after that piece which is another reason why I took some time away.

During that time I did a few commissions here and there. A family member proposed a project to me. He and his wife had spent New Years Eve in NYC and he took an incredible photo of the ball dropping in Times Square. It was a rainy night and the lights from 7th Ave were blurred in the pavement. There were halos of blue, white, red and yellow. The buildings were casted with violet and blue light. The focal point is Times Square literally glowing like it is the heart of the city. It was a really cool shot. He asked if I was able to make a re-creation* of the picture and I accepted the challenge.

It has been a hot minute since I’ve painted and that is mostly because I’ve been raising tiny humans. Those two jobs aren’t easy to do at the same time. My previous experience with painting was with oil paints and while they are beautiful to work with they are also a pain and toxic . . . did I mention I’m raising tiny humans? Life is about paper plates, prepackaged crackers, paints that dry quickly, and brushes that can be cleaned with soap and water. I once viewed acrylic paints as the lesser of the paints; I was wrong. There is so much that can be done with acrylics and with different mediums they can paint like oils. I really enjoyed painting this piece and am so thankful for every opportunity that gives me a chance to paint outside of my comfort zone.

Heart of the City, 2019
acrylic on canvas

What I have learned is that I only had a vague idea about what I wanted my blog to be. Am I a portrait artist, a painter, an illustrator? Am I all those things? Am I none of those things? (I’m basically Po from Kung Fu Panda 3)I’m going to write and create my way through these questions and more. I’m ready to get back to work, hopefully I can reach some peace with it all and as an artist find my voice and path, much like Po.

*recreation: Some thoughts, more than one person has said something to me along the lines of “Is it really art if you are only copying a picture?” Art is so subjective, I’ve seen some things in the MOMA that I wouldn’t consider art and I’ve seen things my kid has brought home from school that looks like it should be in a museum. From the outside I guess I can see where someone would ask that question. But there is such a process to it all and for me it is a re-creation. I’m not copying the image, I’m using the picture to create something new. Same with the NYC painting, it is not the exact picture, I pulled out the parts of the picture that I thought helped give that feeling of being there that New Years Eve night in New York City. Everyone has their opinion on what art is to them. And that is what I think is great, there is an artist for every definition.

Mothers of Angels

The months October through December are a busy time for me as far as portrait work goes. I’m usually working on multiple portraits at once as well as the common hustle and bustle during this time. I was busy drawing portraits of babies, children, and dogs when an email stopped me in my tracks.

In the past, I have been asked to restore pictures (artistically) that have been destroyed and have taken multiple images and combined them into one portrait, but I have never had this particular request. A mother asked if it were possible to draw a portrait of her baby. Sadly, he had passed away at just five weeks old. The only pictures they had of him his lower face was mostly covered in tubes and tape. She was hoping I could artistically remove those parts of the photo so they could have a clear image of him. I was determined that I was going to figure out a way to do this.

She sent me several photos of Maddox and I used them all to get a good idea about how he looked, the curves of his mouth, the arch of his eyes, the shape of his ears. Babies are beautiful little creatures and this little one was no exception, he was just precious. And as I always do, I found myself smiling as I shaded in his hair and drew in his tiny fingernails. I was proud of the end product and she was happy as well. I reached out to her later and asked her permission to use her story and her portrait as part of my blog. She graciously obliged stating that it is important to talk about, support and spread awareness about infant loss and miscarriage. I wholeheartedly agree.

“The main thing that has helped me is sharing my story and talking about Maddox. Also, when other people talk about him and remember him and call him by name.” ~ Maddox’s Mom


After completing this portrait I started to think about other ways I could use my ability to help honor these little lives. I have seen paintings of sonogram/ultrasound pictures in the past and always thought they would make a great baby shower gift or nursery décor. But sometimes, these images are all some families have as well. I thought, I can do that! So I dug out the sonograms of my girls to try some practice pieces but almost as I started to lay ink to paper the name of a dear friend popped into my head, Katie.

Katie and I had had a chance to catch up over the summer and talk about her Cullen that she lost when she was 23 weeks pregnant. The thing about that conversation that stood out to me was that she said she loves to talk about him. The story is tragic but the life is beautiful and he was hers. And his story and their love for him is what is left.

Honestly, I think most mothers find it therapeutic to talk about their lost child. I never shy away if someone wants to hear about him. I just don’t like making others sad or uncomfortable.” ~Katie

So I reached out to her and asked if I could do a portrait of Cullen’s sonogram and she graciously obliged.

Watercolor Ultrasound
3D Ultrasound Watercolor

My loss was during the first trimester when the majority of miscarriages occur and I still remember my doctor delivering the news to us, she probably had uttered those same words to hundreds of other women and her demeanor was as such. I remember hearing, it’s nothing you did, it happens all the time, here are your options. It didn’t make it hurt any less. I was o.k. though, I had an odd sense of calm about it, probably because of how early it was and also I just lost my grandmother and days later found out my mother had breast cancer.

My due date was February 18th. By the time that date rolled around, I was already pregnant for what would be our rainbow baby. For me, that was the hardest part of it all, those early months I was pregnant for Joanna, waiting and hoping this would be a healthy pregnancy. Joanna is in every sense of the word a rainbow. She has brought light and laughter like no other, her life healed us in ways we didn’t know possible. A true rainbow baby. (You’ll be happy to know, Katie also has a beautiful rainbow baby too!)

Rainbow Joanna Silhouette

One in four women will experience miscarriage, still born or infant loss. Some are unfortunate enough to experience a combination of the three. The topic can seem taboo at times, I think that often people don’t know what to say to someone who has experienced loss and often times it just gets ignored in conversation.

Motherhood is a mixture of all types of emotions and they all begin the day you see that positive pregnancy test. Some of us have happy endings and some are more heartbreaking. Some women choose not to talk about their loss and others do. No one is wrong. However there is so much beauty in the love and support I see in the community of women that have gone through this type of loss. I think that is the most important part about awareness, knowing there are others out there that have felt your pain can make it feel less lonely. Where ever you may find yourself in this journey just know there are so many women who have experienced something similar and most are more than willing to lend and ear and even a shoulder to cry on.

Below are some resources to check out. The book has parts that talk about the fathers’ mourning and helping older children cope. The other is a link to a list of tips for talking to families that have experienced loss.


Stop! Collaborate and Listen

“Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up.” ~ Pablo Picaso

One of my favorite memories as a child is coloring. My mom entered me into countless coloring contests. I once won a Nintendo (with Duck Hunt) and a $500 shopping spree through different coloring contests. To this day I still get super excited over a new box of freshly sharpened crayons, even if they aren’t for me. I couldn’t wait to start coloring with my oldest however she was never really one for coloring books, she has always liked to draw her own pictures and color them. Her imagination impresses me everyday. And it reminds me of a time when I use to let my imagination run wild. I don’t know whether its the responsibility that kills creativity or the expectations of adulthood, but whatever it may be, the days of drawing space ships with butterfly aliens that shoot flower laser beams is a thing of the past. Instead you find joy in things like organized closets.

I wish I could say that when I was younger I had the same carefree, reckless imagination that I see in my daughter. I was very much the same as I am now, I had a strict attention to detail and would get upset when my projects didn’t turn out the way I wanted them too. I love watching my daughter work, she is carefree and vibrant. She could care less if its perfect or if it even makes sense, she draws it because she wanted to and she loves it.  Fortunately, she doesn’t have to concern herself with how to pay for gymnastic classes or new Nikes, so yeah maybe it is responsibility that kills creativity. 

I took a page from her these past couple weeks that I’ve been in this creative slump. I’ve wanted to collaborate on something with her for awhile and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. My youngest got in on the collaboration too, although at 3 she has trouble keeping her attention on anything that doesn’t involve My Little Pony or pancakes. 

We tried a couple fun little art experiments. First I did a quick portrait sketch of the two of them and then let them finish the picture. As you can tell we are super into mermaids at the moment. Joanna, the 3 year old, made everyone a black bird and it looked terrifying so I decided not to include that one.

The Adventures of Kara and Joanna by Kara + Jann

Next I drew onto pictures that the girls had drawn.  It was fun adding onto their ideas. However, the look on Joanna’s face clearly meant she couldn’t understand why I had ruined her already perfect picture.  Joanna is going through what I like to call her bird period, much like Picasso’s Blue Period. If Jo is drawing, she is most likely drawing a bird. She drew four birds and told me that they were Daddy, Mommy, Kara and Joanna. I gave the main birdhouse a bird tree-house and that tree-house got a tiny bird house. Meta birdhouse.

Joanna (3) Bird Family

Kara has watched me over the past couple years creating my paperslides. I cut, paste, roll and stack paper in all kinds of ways to create these illustrations set to music. So every now and then she will do the same thing, it amazes me how patient she is cutting out tiny pieces of paper and gluing them together, here she used that method to make the bees.

Kara (6) Paper Bees

And finally my favorite. Kara drew me some fish the other day (it was actually a part of a book she made about fish). I made a sort of tunnel book and then made an aquarium scene which I back-lit with blue light and then photographed. I’ve long been a fan of Elly Mackay and her work creating whimsical scenes from paper.

Kara + Jann, Rainbow Fish

This isn’t the end of my collaboration with my girls. We are already working on some other fun projects. But more than that, it really got me excited about maybe going bigger, maybe make some collaboration art with the elementary school kids and then auction them off for charity (the work not the kids). I love getting to peak into the beautiful and unadulterated creativity of a child and getting a glimpse of what it was that made me want to be an artist in the first place.

All Dogs Go To Heaven

I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but a large percentage of the portraits I do are of family pets. You might think they are easier to draw, but in a lot of cases they are not. Human faces for the most part are symmetrical. For example, if you would draw a line from the side of your nose upwards it will usually line up perfectly with the inside of your eye. Or the top of the ear lines up almost perfectly at eye level. Once you get some of the tricks of the trade down it helps with making more realistic portraits. I have only drawn dogs and cats, but there is so much variety in both species, especially among dogs.

Hands down, the BEST part of my job is knowing that something I have done has made someone happy.  Several people have sent me videos of their loved ones opening my portraits and it really makes my day.  When I’m not working on commissions or my own work, I love to be able to spread the love.  Whether it be a birthday or a wedding gift, I like to use my talent to make people smile.
Or, if I accidently back into my brother-in-law’s car at Thanksgiving, I might draw an apology portrait of his dog (below).

Unfortunately, my parents dog, Maddie, passed away a couple weeks ago. She was a cute little Maltese with a sweet fuzzy face. Our family has had several animals in our lifetime but Maddie was the first dog that was just my mom and dad’s. I knew I wanted to do a portrait but I wanted to make it special. As usual, I couldn’t stop at just one idea so I did two different projects and will let them decide which they like the best.
The first one I used a small hook so that they could hang her ID tag and for the second I used a shadow box so they had the option to hang her collar, tag and even put in one of her favorite toys.

Below are some other pet portraits I have done.

The Dogwood

I have been on hiatus for a couple weeks. I wish I could say that I’ve been busy painting, drawing and making all my wildest dreams come true, but alas that was not the case. I was in a major creative slump.  I’ve had a project in mind that I’ve wanted to get started on, but every time I sat down to work on it, I just could not get motivated.  I couldn’t understand why! I was excited about this project, it was something new and I had all the tools to complete it, but there was zero interest in doing any work on it.  It was total artist block, I couldn’t work on anything because this one project seemed to be in the way (both literally and figuratively). I don’t know whether I was just plain burnt out from the Christmas rush or because I was sick for almost three weeks, I was just physically, mentally and spiritually drained. Definitely nothing worth blogging about.

I’m about to get real for a moment. Art for me isn’t just a hobby or how I make money, it is very much a therapy for me.  It is one of the tools in my arsenal that helps fight a very bad anxiety disorder.  Along with exercise and meditation, art has become an outlet for me, not for expression but almost as a distraction. I’ve mentioned before when I am working on something I will often think about it constantly and obsess over details which is both good and bad, but it certainly beats the alternative. However during this recent slump, I realized I needed to direct some of this energy somewhere else. I want my work to not just be a distraction, but expression.  That’s what I feel makes art (and music) beautiful–its expressive nature. So I decided to start a daily devotional every morning and include in that a quick sketch illustrating my thoughts on each days devotional. This has helped me tap into some of my own feelings and has helped me have a deeper connection to what I’m drawing. It also helped me break through my slump. I realized there was no reason to hang onto an idea that was not going anywhere out of some weird obligation I had to myself to complete it. It was keeping me from being productive and needed to be put away.

I feel so much better than I did a month ago, physically, mentally and spiritually. I’m ready to get back at it.  For this post I decided to expand on one of my morning sketches.  I was inspired by one of my devotionals to sketch a dogwood flower.  I love the dogwood, not only is it the North Carolina state flower, one grew in my front yard growing up and it has a history of Christian symbolism.  And it’s pretty. I decided to have fun and do the dogwood in three different mediums.

The first picture I decided to use watercolor. I am really starting to enjoy watercolor painting and am finding new benefits using this medium.  I have always loved oil painting and the control over that medium; with watercolor you have let go. The medium itself is expressive, it doesn’t need my constant control to make it something worth looking at. I added the line drawing because well I thought it would look cool, I wasn’t disappointed.  I particularly like this piece because I think it represents both my desire to work freely with a medium like watercolor that is hard to control and the hard lines of the ink drawings that are structured and precise. A therapist could probably have a field day with me.

For the second picture I used oil based charcoal pencils to draw on design vellum. Design vellum is like tracing paper, only smoother. I’ve always liked the look of encaustic paintings.  They have an ethereal, dreamy, misty quality.  Encaustic painting is basically paint suspended in layers of wax. It is a process for sure. One that I have neither the time, money, or patience for (also toddlers and cans have hot wax are a recipe for disaster.)  My idea was to draw on layers of vellum and layer them together to try for the same effect. While not the exact look I was hoping for, it has potential. I’m definitely going to try this one again in the future.

Finally, I broke out the colored pencils and tried a little fun 3D effect with the shadows under the flowers. I once saw a painting where they did this only the flowers looked so real they looked like you could pick them right off the paper. The shadow underneath made this even more so. I like those fun tricks of the eye. I’m a sucker for Trompe L’oeil artwork.

Next week, I will be collaborating with an artist who is very inspiring to me and who helped me break through my recent slump. I hope you’ll come back and check it out.

Hello 2019!

I took a couple weeks off and really enjoyed the Christmas season, my birthday and the New Year. I’ve been working on a couple new things here and there, but mostly helping a friend with some projects and finishing up another portrait. Next week I’m collaborating with another “up and coming” artist and I can’t wait to show you all what we are up too, but I thought I would start off the year by doing a little showcase of what I was working on all November and most of December. I’ve been consistently doing more art work in the last three months and it has really made a difference in my day to day life. I love creating and I love working with others to help make a special gift for their loved ones. Below is a small showcase of what some people unwrapped at Christmas. I added digital frames to the portraits (and silhouettes) so you can get an idea of how they look after framed.

I hope you enjoy!

Be a Maker

Lately I have been making things like crazy. Making gifts, making gift wrap look good (one of my favorite things), making cookies, making some big decisions, and making memories. Our Christmas celebrations have already started. We’ve already had Christmas #1 with my parents (I made the sign above for mom who said all she wanted was pictures of the kids, she also got 40 prints of the girls).  When I start something whether its painting or wrapping gifts, I give 100%, including laying up at night thinking of ways to make whatever I’m doing better. It’s both a gift and a curse.
Every once in awhile you have to put other things on hold while you enjoy the important things in life and that is exactly what I’ve been doing. I’m going to unplug and enjoy all the best this season has to offer. I’m going to take a break here on the blog until the New Year while we celebrate Christmas, my birthday and everything in between. I’m excited to start on some new projects that I’ve been laying the groundwork for and I’m excited to show you all these things as well. So this week I’m wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a new year full of health, happiness and new adventures!  And most importantly make life beautiful.