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Big Chalk

Mary Liz Ingram —  January 14, 2016 — 1 Comment

One of the main reasons I began using pastels was to loosen up.

In high school and early college, I was the queen of minute detail. I loved teeny tiny brushes and sharp pencils. I had a huge callous on my right middle finger from squeezing the pencil so hard to get every last dot on paper.

detail of "Martha," 18x24 pastelI still love detail, as I adjust the picture next to me to the best angle and spell check myself as I type. I’m sure it drives my husband crazy, as I settle in on the couch each night, needing the correct lamps turned on, my blanket just so…the list goes on. I will spare you, even though he is trapped. I attribute this desire for order and quirky detail to my father (hi dad!), who must have his lunch of a sandwich and chips on a paper plate every day, with a Mountain Dew of course.

But I digress. My oldest daughter, to whom (poor thing) I’ve passed much of this down, calls us “noticers.” We notice things. I’m good with that.

But when it comes to art, it can be FRUSTRATING. Especially on a portrait. Sometimes you just have to let go; you have to loosen up. So I grab a big piece of chalk. Still getting good detail, the large pieces keep me from over-detailing, from stressing and focusing on minutiae. It has helped me take the leap from tight drawing to something closer to my favorite style of Impressionism.

Using big pastels is like having a third child.

You have to loosen up, or you won’t survive. It just won’t work. You have to learn and train yourself to go with the flow, to notice the important things and pass over the stressors and tiny dots that just distract. You can more easily see the beauty that stands out, and enjoy it, record it, embrace it.

Martha, 18x24 pastel on board

Martha, 18×24 pastel on board

The Garden

Mary Liz Ingram —  October 23, 2014 — 5 Comments

For months, I’ve been consumed with my latest project:

My fabulous front yard garden.

I’ve researched, I’ve measured, I’ve sketched and planned. I’ve shoveled dirt, I’ve carried rocks, I’ve moved buckets and buckets of soil. I’ve planted, I’ve watered, I’ve problem solved, I’ve watched food grow, I’ve eaten produce from my front yard.

With my trusty helpers, including the 2 year old, we have made my dream a reality and I have to admit I am super proud – giddy even. If you follow my blog, you may remember my post from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, when I was first inspired to plant the garden. Well, I’m happy to say I DID IT. I did it!!! And if you follow me on Facebook, you’ve been barraged with garden doodles.

In planting, I tried to be responsible – environmentally, economically and practically. After a persistent search, I found an amazing deal on recycled fire bricks ($25 a ton!) to edge my garden. I ordered a huge dump truck load of soil at the best price. I compost and I now own a $40 rain barrel. I ordered non GMO seeds ($.99 sample packs!) from and they grew. I shop at my local Homewood Garden Shop and have healthy blueberry bushes and lovely plants.

I worked my butt off building and planting this garden.

Beginning at the end of August, in the Alabama heat, I made it happen with my ever-present garden buddy. My kids, especially my son, now understand exactly where food comes from and how to grow it and care for it. My son waters it, pulls grass out of it, harvests the radishes, and takes a walk through it every time I open the door.

My garden is planted to grow community.

I didn’t know how that would work, but the first day I was out there I had real conversations with a dozen people, neighbors and passers-by. I share food with my neighbors and have met all sorts of new people. My kids tell anyone who asks about the plants growing, and I find that food is an easy thing to discuss, a common denominator.

My favorite story happened a few weeks ago. As we walked home from school, I began talking to an older lady about rosemary, as our kids were smelling it by someone’s mailbox. I just made a quick comment, not aiming at anything, not trying too hard. A few words later, we were talking about my garden. She was interested and missed her garden, as she said, “in my country, we have sun everyday and I grow many plants.” As we parted ways, I told her to stop by anytime and see the garden and take some herbs.

A week later, she stopped me at the corner with her two grandsons and asked if they could walk down to see the garden. On our short stroll, I find out they are from Haiti, and that her entire family was there during the earthquake except for her. She had arrived in the US four days before the quake for a wedding, and was plagued with anxiety over the separation at such a time. I now know her name, I know a portion of her amazing story, and the kids all ran together along the stepping stones of my garden.

Growing something, overcoming obstacles (like cats, cabbage worms, flooding rains, aphids…), being faithfully attentive and persistent…you learn things from gardening. About life, about children, about the world. I feel at peace and connected to nature when I’m checking the leaves and hearing the spray of water hitting the thick pile of green collards. It is a small miracle to see a snow pea sprout and grow out of the dirt, mere days after planting. There are more benefits to this garden than I can name.

My Garden Doodles thus far:



Traveling Doodle SuppliesI’ve never been to Germany before. It is one of the most beautiful, peaceful and clean places I’ve ever been. We drove around the country on a big pink tour bus. All of my drawings from the trip were drawn on buses, trains or planes, making for some bumpy doodling. I decided any stray marks or wiggly lines just add character.

For my travel doodles, I carried a sturdy new notebook that would fit in my small bag, a set of 4 Staedtler ink pens, a small set of Faber-Castell PITT artist pens (brush markers), and a small box of Prismacolor Art Stix (woodless colored pencils). Everyday I watched for things to catch my eye, I tried to discover the essence of each place, recording my findings on my blank white pages.

Here are my first impressions of this beautiful country:

June 17, 2014

“In Mainz we walked up quiet streets, passing stacks of bikes, elderly couples holding hands or walking dogs, families with little kids trotting down the cobbled streets. The streets were canopied in beautiful trees with large leaves and smooth bark. Decorative white buildings with red roofs surround our walk. We passed an outdoor market filled with flowers and caught the smell of fresh fish.

At Wartburg Castle, we wound our way up the steep hill past mossy rocks and cheerful daisies to the white-washed walls crossed with thick wooden beams, ancient archways, white doves, cool breezes, and a high view of the German landscape. Sunlight danced on the rolling green fields, the many clusters of villages with their white walls and rust-colored roofs, the dark trees lining and dotting the land, and the huge wind turbines towering over the little towns with their giant, spinning arms.”

"Germany", marker & ink doodle

“Germany”, marker & ink doodle

"In flight", colored pencil & ink doodle

“In flight”, colored pencil & ink doodle

“The world is wide, and I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.” -Frances E. Willard

A week out from a transforming experience, I’ve recovered from jet lag, spent time with my kids, sorted out things missed at work, uploaded photos, and let the adventures rest in my mind. Two weeks in Europe, touring, learning and changing, with a group of 30, thanks to the generosity of family, travels never cease to change a life. In order to cement memories, absorb lessons into my life, and recount my journey through words and art, I’m sharing my daily doodles, journal excerpts and reflections in small bites over the next few weeks.

As with all great journeys, mine starts with leaving one place to go to another.

Equipped with lots of hugs and kisses from my kids, a packed bag, and a tidy stack of traveling art supplies, we headed to the airport in Atlanta, headed for Germany. Ready to experience and discover, always growing and seeking to move forward, reforming and becoming better in order to do my part to better the world.

June 16, 2014

“With the roar of the jet engine ringing in my ear, and the bright sun streaming in through the oval window, we zoom above the puffy clouds towards Germany. Sitting by the window, looking down on the patches of trees, snake-like streets and glimmering drops of lakes, our journey begins.

The engine drowns out the sounds of the mother in front of me. It muffles the conversation of the parts seller who builds his own motorcycles. It blankets the woman clutching her rosary in an unknown fear or grief. It lights the spirit of adventure that makes my heart skip, taking us high from the ground and letting us soar through the blue sky to new places, new people, new experiences. 

Below us, a mountain range of clouds, a landscape made of cotton…

A ribbon of rainbow streaked across the sky as the sun begins to set over the wide ocean.

Dozing in and out of a quickly passing night and into morning, I look down to see the sun rising like a jewel on a blanket of ripples like sheep’s wool. Clouds like an ocean of foam blanketing the sea.”

Germany, ink doodles

Age of the Dinosaurs

Mary Liz Ingram —  September 8, 2013 — 1 Comment

Long ago, in some of my earliest yesterdays, I took a trip. Amidst mouse-eared balloons, sky-painting lasers & flying elephants, we approached the dinosaurs.

My father ushers me into place with the rest of my family. We begin our journey to the Mesozoic Era…the age of the dinosaurs.

Entering in darkness, unsure of what lay ahead, we creep tentatively under huge palm leaves. Something red is glowing up ahead, huge moving shadows warn me of coming doom. Dinosaurs.

These things are huge. They are moving. They are not stationary models, replica skeletons. In my 6 year old mind, with widened terrified eyes, if I’d know the words, I would have been saying “holy s$*#!!” If I wasn’t held in by a lap bar and my dad, I would have been in full on flight mode, running hysterically through the dark in a desperate search for 1987. Horror. Terror. I thought these guys were extinct?! But there I am, trapped in dinosaur land, eyes squeezed shut in hopes I’d survive this slow moving train of death.

All the while, as heart palpitations and sweat consume me, hysteria setting in, my poor Dad is trying in his logical, parental way to force me to look at these monstrous, man-eating beasts, promising they’re not alive.

Um, did you SEE them? They’re chewing on leaves and roaring for pete’s sake!? Not real?! You are kidding me!

Somehow these people don’t understand the situation. We are all going to die. Eaten by dinosaurs at Disney World. Perhaps crushed by a giant foot, chomped by a tyrannosaurus….who knows what horrific end awaits?

Well, so maybe I was mistaken. We made it out alive. Shaken and scarred for life, yes, but alive.

Traveling from the Jurassic period (or Triassic, Cretaceous…who knows?!) to present day, one week removed, you arrive at my 32nd birthday. One night over dinner, the kids asked me if I’d ever seen dinosaur bones. Well, yes, I answered, they are in museums. After a quick google, I announce that there’s a stegosaurus skeleton at a natural history museum an hour away.

So we take a trip. To see dinosaurs. On my birthday.

Call it motherly love, parental sacrifice. I STILL do. not. like. dinosaurs.

But we came, we saw, we photographed, we cheesed, we went. There were more dinos than I expected. Gross.

But the kids were AMAZED. I guess it was cool.

But they give me the creeps. Thanks Dad. 😉

Dinosaur & Hubby, ink & colored pencil

Dinosaur & Hubby, ink & colored pencil

The one and only drawing of a dinosaur I will EVER do…

A few photographs from our adventures at the Anniston Museum of Natural History:

It Figures…

Mary Liz Ingram —  July 31, 2013 — 2 Comments

“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future…. A day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.” -Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey

Sometimes you just need a break… get away from it all, clear your head, breathe in life.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary. He so sweetly surprised me by taking me on a long journey, far away to a Scottish resort.

Okay, really we dropped off our three kids at my parents’ house and drove 15 minutes to a lovely resort which felt very far away (and they did play bagpipes at sunset!). It was a fabulous 18 hours of relaxation and peace. We were both able to hang out in our respective spa areas for quite awhile and have a massage.

Now let me tell you something about Mary Liz and massages:

I’m a bit uptight. Massages stress me out a bit. I get nervous beforehand, and try my best, in my yammering stream of consciousness, to relax. But still…massages are lovely. Somewhere in between feeling awkward, wondering how many nasty feet the guy rubs a day, and finding my happy place, I began contemplating the human body: muscles, skin, shapes of calves…we people are pretty cool.

When we returned from our mini vacation, refreshed and ready to hug our tiny people, I felt inspired to do some figure drawing. 

Right down the road, there is a figure drawing class once a week in the evening. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in my family schedule, so… I tried the next best thing. Home alone, kids asleep, I had to draw myself. I’m not a fan of pictures or drawings of myself, but you do what you gotta do to feed a whim.

So I present to you two self-portrait sketches, in graphite on paper.

Self portrait, graphite sketch

Self portrait, graphite sketch

Self portrait, graphite sketch

Self portrait, graphite sketch





Mary Liz Ingram —  July 16, 2013 — 2 Comments
Chair with apple, graphite sketch

Chair with apple, graphite sketch

Sunday mornings are made for lounging, an always calming day of rest. 

We’re always on the go: working, playing, living. It’s important to me to also stop. To rest, to reset, to pause and refresh.

Some might say that Sundays are made for church-going, especially since we live in the southern U.S., aka “the Bible Belt.” My husband works at a Methodist church, a published and well-known youth minister (!). The kids and I get up and go fairly often, but not in a rush or in perfection. It’s taken me awhile, and much attitude-adjusting, to go without stress or pressure or guilt, to go without feeling a burden of expectations. This is also part of the South.

I’m just beginning to go in restfulness, often meaning my hair is still damp, my dress is comfortable, and I’m there with my family in peace. It’s hard to add another place to be, and sometimes staying home in quiet is most needed.

This past Sunday we didn’t go to church. We rested well together. We loved and laughed and lived. We learned about bugs and plants, we ate three meals at our table together, we built forts and unloaded the dishwasher together, and we took care of one another.

These things are important too.



Happy Distraction

Mary Liz Ingram —  July 13, 2013 — 4 Comments

Yellow’s my favorite color, and flowers make me happy.

I was using this vase of flowers to prop up my phone at the kitchen table, as I doodled pictures from past adventures. Leaning back to take a break (well, honestly to internally fuss that my husband was still using the computer when I wanted to blog), I noticed how pretty this simple arrangement was.

So I drew them with a pen and colored pencils. Ta da… That was nice.

Yellow Flowers, ink & colored pencil doodle

Yellow Flowers, ink & colored pencil doodle


I see Rosie the Riveter and Handy Manny in my mind. I hear the theme song from Rocky in the background of my thoughts… we got this.

I am a champion.

I dash back and forth a few times, 5 in 1 screwdriver in hand, and head down the front stairs. My older children watch me in confusion, eating their messy ice cream bars that I absentmindedly allowed in the flurry of sweaty chaos.

My AC is broken. My handyman Dad is out of town. My husband is at a funeral. It is h.o.t.

I’ve seen it done. I can do it. I am woman. Hear me roar.

Maybe that’s taking it too far…but still. I fixed my AC.

In my work dress and chignon, I took off the side panel of the unit, exposing the blower motor, capacitor and wires. I see that the capacitor has burned up (and YES! I even know what a capacitor DOES! Go team me!).

With my dad on the phone, we confirm the need to get a new capacitor. With the help of neighbors watching my kids, I’m able to pop off to the edges of downtown Birmingham, take my little self into the Washer & Refrigeration Supply Co., ask for and purchase a 5 microfarad capacitor for $10. Oh yeah.

I zip home in a jiffy and plug that sucker in. Voila! We have air flow.

I floated along in an internal cloud of success for quite a few hours that afternoon. I, Mary Liz Ingram, repaired my AC.

Washer & Refrigeration, 7x7 ink, colored pencil & pastel pencil on card

Washer & Refrigeration, 7×7 ink, colored pencil & pastel pencil on card

Mother Hen

Mary Liz Ingram —  June 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

I woke up early to the sound of the baby crying, impatient to be lifted from her crib and deposited into her high chair for some Cheerios. The other two were scurrying around in their pjs, building legos and sewing felt animals, asking for their breakfast.

I stumbled my way to the kitchen for some coffee, and had one of “those” moments: where everything feels like Groundhog Day with Bill Murray.

All I heard was “Mommy, mommy, mommy” and I felt really tired. 

For some reason, colorful barnyard animals have been popping into my head at these moments of heightened “sensitivity,” we might say. And this morning, as I sipped my coffee, I thought of a bright orange mother hen and her chicks.

A protective, attentive mother, a bit tired, perhaps letting out a sigh during a moment of weariness. Warm and cozy, but feeling a little irritable.

Well…that description came to me after I drew it. My first thought was of a tired, grumpy chicken.

I ADORE my children. They are unique, precious and beautiful to me, and I devote my life to their happiness, well-being and care with all my heart…

But, occasionally, a mom feels grouchy about being a mom, at least for a moment. And it’s okay.

We shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling like it’s Groundhog Day, when the cycle repeats and beats us down. We still gladly protect our little chicks– we still fix their breakfast, comb their hair and smother them in love and kisses.

The weariness passes quickly, and balance is restored…

Mother Hen, 8x8 pastel on card

Mother Hen, 8×8 pastel on card