Painting, By the Book

Evening_Flight.jpgIn the article, “Nurtured By Nature,” in the August issue, I wrote about artist Cindy House having a fondness for playing audio books in the studio during painting sessions. That resonated with reader Mary Agrell Stroeing who emailed us with this letter:

Dear Pastel Journal,
Like the artist Cindy House [featured in August 2008], audio books are a piece of my creating, too. One of my favorite stories is a time when I was standing in front of the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska, where we lived from 1982 to 2002, working on a large pastel.  I had my wide-brimmed hat and was listening to a talking book. As the tourists arrived to see the glacier, I continued to do my pastel and was not distracted by the coming and going of the visitors. When my husband came to visit me and called my name and I didn’t respond, a tourist stopped him and said: “She won’t hear you; she’s the real thing!”

I love audio books because they shut off the critical voice—and allow me to just create. I’d be curious what are some of House’s favorite stories/audio books or readers.

Mary Agrell Stroeing
Via e-mail   

I asked Cindy House if she’d like to fill us in. Here’s what she writes:

It is always such a delight to hear of other artists that listen to audio books while painting. Mary Agrell Stroeing’s story is priceless and she couldn’t have expressed it better when she states that she”love(s) audio books because they shut off the critical voice–to just create.”

I began renting books from Recorded Books—overall, the best group of narrators (several of whom could read me the phone book and I’d be entranced!)—and Books on Tape back in the early 90s. Over the years, I’ve rented hundreds. Early on, all the books were nonfiction—history, biography, nature and travel essays. In those days, I was a great arm-chair sailor, listening to Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World and anything by Eric Newby. Since then, I’ve become a mystery fan, especially British, and especially enjoy books in series such as Ian Rankin, Reginald Hill, Donna Leon, and Laurie R. King, to name just a very few. I still enjoy nonfiction have listened to most the books by David McCullough, Simon Winchester, Bill Bryson and Nathaniel Philbrick. Last winter, though, I particularly enjoyed listening to City of Falling Angels, a story about Venice by John Berendt. And then there is Harry Potter; Jim Dale’s narration of J. K . Rowling’s books is pure genius.

I could go on and on with a list of titles and authors, but suffice it to say that listening to talking books has become an integral part of my creative process. There are always times when—no matter how much I love my pastels—that a painting becomes hard work. It’s at these times, in particular, that I’m thankful for audio books. They’ll draw me into the studio just to hear the last chapter or “who done it” and before long, I realize that I’m over the difficulties and back to the pure joy that is pastels.   
Best regards,


Speaking of Harry Potter, Cindy told me she can’t look at the painting Evening Flight (above; pastel, 13×18) without seeing a quidditch match in her mind, so we know what audio book was in play during that painting!

If you have favorite soundtracks for your painting (whether audio books or music), feel free to bring the discussion right here to the blog. We love to get your comments!



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4 thoughts on “Painting, By the Book

  1. Laura Wagner

    I am currently listening to Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones. This is one of the best audio books I ever listened too! An incredibly gripping storyline. Recently I listened to 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Another good one.

    I only listen to books in the studio, not that I often work outdoors! I recently picked up a copy of Pastel Journal, thinking it was a new magazine. I had never seen or heard of it before (yeah, I need to get out more. It pays to go to a different bookstore from time to time.) It’s a wonderful magazine and I hope to be subscribing soon.

    Laura Wagner

  2. Mary Agrell Stroeing

    I wanted to share some of my own favorites; Ron McClarty — both as a reader, author and actor–incredible voice! Stephen King’s book; On Writing; Memoir to the Craft — He is the reader (and SO FUNNY and Lively!!) and tells how he started as a writer and also the story of getting hit by the car and his rehabilitation. The reader to all the Janet Evonavich’s #’d stories. Ruth Rendell–Piranah to Scurfy. Ruth Reichell(sp) tales of a food critic–Garlic and Saphires /title (a wonderful reader). I too love Jim Dale reading Harry Potter. So many but these are some of my fav’s from the library I just had to share!!! Thanks Cindy for telling your story and sharing a few of your favorite audio books with the rest of us!! Mary

  3. Linda

    This is something I think I have to try. The two artists really make it sound wonderful. And, as a bonus, I get to "read" books, another thing I love to do. Fantabulous! Thanks for the idea.

  4. Diane Edwards

    I love this idea, but only for music. I find painting outdoors to just be so all consuming listening to the birds, insects and wind and waves sometimes I want to hear nothing else.
    when there are tourists however, I like to listen to Sarah Brightman, Josh Groban, Sarah MacLachlan and Sissel.