Thursday, July 16, 2015

Critters on the radio

I listen to ravens, and paddle with alligators in wild and scenic places, but I know that true adventure can be found just outside your window.
Starting July 17, the first of my multi-platform The Art of Paying Attention Nature series will be airing on Arizona Spotlight KUAT Friday at 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and Saturday at 5:00 p.m. My drawings of the critters I talk about will be featured on AZPM's website. where you can listen anytime online.

First up: The art of paying attention.Once you start looking, it is hard to stop.
Next week: Stink bug love. Warning: this piece contains graphic (insect) sex.

Find more drawings - and true stories - about spirited critters on this blog and at

Friday, June 26, 2015

Out of the Lion's mouth

Yes, I drew this, but there are days when I can't tell if she's being swallowed or launching herself out of the lion's mouth.
In Balinese myth, a big moon faced ogre swallows the moon goddess each month until she's a sliver of light and hope, but he never succeeds entirely, because he only has a head. She always emerges, serene and beautiful, with a knowing little smile. It's something to aspire to--outwitting the ogres, knowing where the lions are-- don't you think?

Musical confluence--Wondering Where the Lions Are by brilliant Bruce Cockburn

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rare mermaid sightings in the desert dispels myth!

Four mermaid sisters, merbabes all, recently arrived in the low desert of Arizona. They are stranded and looking for seaworthy accommodations, preferably with a handsome vegetarian sailor or two  who views them as more than just a nice  piece of tail. Meanwhile, they are  waiting for monsoon rains and may be spotted in flooded arroyos.
Separated from their 6 siblings by frames, they keep their mersisters close in the form of small unframed prints.
Merblue Mermaid 32" x 42" by Beth Surdut
 Each mermaid is watched over by a set of eyes on her tail-- a chaperone of sorts.
Meremerald Mermaid 28"x42" by Beth Surdut
And many of the mermaids travel with a small denizen from the deep, except red haired Meremerald.
Merglow Mermaid 32" x 42" by Beth Surdut
Merglow knows secrets she may never tell...and has had a large portrait printed of her beautiful self.
Mermaid and Parrotfish 31" x 42" by Beth Surdut
 This mermaid fiercely protects her parrotfish from human dinner tables and never divulges her name.

Original paintings on silk, $2200 each. Lovely small signed prints, $75 each. Larger sizes available.
To meet all the mermaids and read their inception/conception story, visit The Mermaids Return
and watch the video with a luminous score by Conrad Praetzel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Modern Tallit

Pomegranates and the 613 Mitzvot Tallit designed and painted by Beth Surdut
When my Russian-born grandfather was 18 years old, his two brothers, studying to be Torah scribes, were murdered by Cossacks. My grandfather came to America in 1905 and fathered three sons. My decision to become a designer and painter of prayer shawls, wedding canopies, Torah covers, and healing scarves is, in part, a way to say Kaddish for these family members, along with my mother and my father, each time I hand letter a prayer in Hebrew. 
I see a prayer shawl as an invitation to step out of the chatter of daily life-- and life has become very noisy-- and into a meditative space. Designing each silk tallit for a specific client, I draw, paint, sew, and tie tzitzit to form a portable house of prayer.
Wisdom Tallit custom designed and painted by Beth Surdut
As I look through notes I've taken while I interviewed clients and their families, I find the girl who wanted an owl flying in a night sky over the Jemez Mountains, the woman in the desert who felt at peace by the sea, the man who freely sang his heart to God every week, the scientist who admired the Periodic Table, and many more. Jews by birth, Jews by choice, seasoned adults and 13-year-olds about to be Bar or Bat Mitzvah-- each one bringing me to new places of study as I searched for prayers that spoke to each person. 
Like many people, I tend to avoid the Book of Job, yet in that catalogue of tsurris I found one of my favorite questions for an atarah:
"Where shall wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding?" asked Job, the guy we all run from until we meet him face to face in the mirror. 
"If not now, when?" asked Hillel. Autumn Tallit custom designed and painted by Beth Surdut

Monday, June 22, 2015

How to have sex with a flower: the art of hybridization

Nectarine Dusk by Beth Surdut
If you think this going to be about sex as you know it, you're going to be disappointed, although giving these luscious little hand painted hibiscus pieces might lead to a really good time.

 Hybridization is about sex of the floral kind. Beautiful colors, the right scent, some pollinator action, and the appropriate reproductive organs make flowers ripe for pro-creation. There's even a peduncle involved, which is the piece of the stem that's attached to the flower, not some totally creepy relative who should be locked up. And, as if life isn't already confusing, the stigma, florally speaking, is the receptor of the female flower's reproductive organ.
 Hybridizing is the act of "crossing" flowers to obtain a seed pod. This creates seeds that are completely unique, and, just like humans, the offspring can be even better looking than their parents... or just different. You get to be your own mad scientist with a cotton swab and sperm donor.
Peachy keen by Beth Surdut

Turns out that flower sex is best in the morning. Sperm dries up in the heat of the day and no amount of boom-boom pills is going to make that pollen functional.  Choose a good looking male (flower), pick up his/its pollen on the cotton swab--the more sperm, the better. Rub that sperm onto the female stigma (sooo much more fun than a stigmata). In dry climates, maybe a little shpritz from a mister--this is not a euphemism; I'm talking a bottle with water and a sprayer. 
The goal is to create new seeds and a plant with a resulting flower you can name after yourself or your pet or your kid, if you are so inclined.  There's even a special place for you, the floral yenta/Dr. Frankenstein, to record the parents. It's called a stud book. No, not making this up. 
Know that crosses do not always come to fruition. Just like humans, sometimes the seed capsules do not mature during the 60-90 days of waiting. Who knew flowers could be so sexy? But let's be clear, this  is all about  the seed that will become the plant that will produce the flower, maybe. 
Roxanne's red dress by Beth Surdut

I'm not that patient. Instead I painted my idea of hybrids on silk using fiber-reactive dyes and gold-flaked resist. The images are approximately 11 inches (not so square) and 15.5" square framed and glassed.
$175 includes domestic shipping per piece. If you purchase the gang of three, I'll give you a discount and no, you can not trade sex for art. 

Monsoon:Quench My Thirst,  43" x 32" $1100, is on view @ Raices Taller Gallery in Tucson  through July 15.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Harris hawk and the intruder

Harris Hawk drawing in progress by Beth Surdut

Stuart Udall wrote, “Get to know the land and the messages it whispers to those willing to listen.”
No whispers here, the songbirds and doves silent.
Fierce, the Harris hawk glared at me with cantaloupe colored eyes.
Big. Intent. Used to winning, I could tell. Unsettling.
Hissed at me as it flew from my patio to a high branch of an acacia tree to scold me for all the neighboring animals to hear.
Lush russet legs, substantial talons and a beak that could have snatched the cat away.
The hawk returned the next afternoon, “anh, anh, anh” as it flew overhead.
The cat, no fool, crouched by the kitchen door, blue eyes watching through the screen.
A baby Anna’s hummingbird, old enough to flash crimson as it moved its head, young enough to be fluff, allowed me to stand near and watch it watch me.
The neighbors say, “The animals seem to find you.”
I think not. I am the intruder moved into their territory.
Speaking of territory, you are welcome in mine
Post Script: Hawk returned on the third day, perching on a telephone pole, his presence dominating  for only a moment before two mockingbirds gave him what-for, screeching, scolding, pecking at his head and  chasing him across the sky. "Annhh, annhhh, annnh, " I called as his small but mighty escorts took the lead and the rear, giving  Hawk no chance to turn back.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fetch Google Fetch! on being a rank stranger on Google

Having built a new website with the same name as the old one, turns out that keeping the name did not keep my Google rank as far as my products are concerned. Type in my unusual name and voila! about 3,510 results including this new interview in the June 2015 issue of Arizona Jewish Life
However, if someone who doesn't know my work (how can that be?!) is searching for a custom tallis, raven art, nature paintings, botanicals, mermaids, jungle art, wearable art for men and women, or the variety of media from murals to radio that I work in -- my pages do not show up. It is not unusual for clients to find my work before they know my name, and this is my livelihood, so while the google robots are out looking for me,  any links and shares to from colleagues sites would be appreciated.

And for those of you unfamiliar with the Rank Stranger that existed long before Google, here's a  gorgeous version

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Choose your audience carefully

The  Regal Horned Lizard, pointed and crenellated, stubby and shy, was so intent on watching a grasshopper on my front  stoop that  neither one moved when I appeared.
Patience, such patience, I thought as I stood next to the lizard, admiring him with my camera.
Grasshopper did not move.
My camera snapped at them.
Lizard glanced at me, then back to Grasshopper.
Snap, went the jaws my camera.
Lizard did not twitch. Grasshopper held his ground.
So smart, I thought. Grasshopper knows the speed of a lizard.
Playing it  safe, I thought.
Oh, the wisdom of the wild.

I shifted my stance and Lizard lost his focus,
scuttled into the blue agave whose
spines would protect him from me.
Grasshopper did not move.
Closer inspection allowed.
Surely, Grasshopper would leap now.
But it is hard to leave when one leg is stuck to the  pavement
Impossible to leave when
you are desiccated
perfect, but dead.

The Regal Horned Lizard (horned toad, Tumamoc in the language of Tohono Oodham)
and I, with more names than I shall list,
had patiently stalked a dead grasshopper.

One foot stuck in place can
impede your progress
You could stay there, looking perfect
until you die, an object of curiosity
and eventually
Someone might notice that
you haven't moved and
the living would move on.

There is a video crawling round the web
the courtship dance of a male
peacock spider, so named
for his brilliant display.
Such a dance he does!
Choreographed as if for Vegas
His legs, like arms, kicking
like a chorus girl
waggling her sequined behind
On and on he goes
Giving his all
"Look at me! Notice me! Pick me!"
But she is silent
Dead, like the grasshopper.

Take notice who you dance for
Choose your audience carefully.

Speaking of audiences, get a front row seat

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

All Things Considered: Sense of Wonder

A few weeks ago, I sat in a study group under artificial light in a darkly paneled room with no windows. 
The teacher pontificated, "We have all lost our sense of wonder."
He shook his head sadly and continued his lecture on ancient theological arcana. 
Speak for yourself, mister, and get a window. Better yet, get outside where all your senses can spark if you pay attention. One glorious place to breathe in and explore is right in the city.
I'll Fly Away- Saturniid Moth-- silk painting by Beth Surdut (sold)
 The butterfly house at the Tucson Botanical Gardens is a steamy world of small wonders.
It is also a kind of coming home for me.
Tucson Botanical Gardens
Orchid Society by Beth Surdut
The years I spent in the jungles and rivers in Hawaii and Florida
Butterfly islands design by Beth Surdut
Tucson Botanical  Gardens Butterfly House
TBG Butterfly House
Hibiscus Varietal-OOAK hand  painted silk woman's top by Beth Surdut
  introduced me to the mysteries of orchids, hibiscus, epiphytes,
Dendrobates ventriculatus @Tucson Botanical Gardens
 and dendrobates, tiny colorful frogs with a poisonous reputations and Latin names so satisfyingly  fun to say: ventriculatus, histrionicus, tinctorus.
Painting by Beth Surdut of dendrobates ventriculatus @Selby Gardens
After a volunteer checks to see that no butterflies are hitching a ride on me,  I stand in each realm of the botanical gardens, seeing what I have already painted and drawn, and planning what I want to do for a solo exhibition in the lovely gallery that was the home of people who absolutely delighted in nature's beauty. Every element extends an invitation to me as a visual storyteller and writer, illustrator and designer. In turn, what I create will, I hope, both please and inspire, and come full circle so that people will follow the path from my art to the fascinating beings and habitat that causes me to pick up pen and brush.
An otherwise shy lizard, big and handsome, flaunts his spiny blue back as he pauses in front of me and turns his head to give me a sideways look. I can tell you that his sense of wonder and mine are still intact.
Armored Chameleon (detail) painting by Beth Surdut (original and prints available)
I invite you to step inside my garden

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Here be dragons

After a hard day of walking on pavement, she was glad to be home

This little dragon, a Regal Horned Lizard, is stalking a grasshopper on my front stoop.

Somewhat coy, this Desert Spiny Lizard and I circled each other this morning and yesterday.

Pomegranate Stain (2" x 60") by Beth Surdut
Pomegranate Stain lizard detail by Beth Surdut

Mayhuel and her many headed El Dragon by Beth Surdut

El Dragon, stuffed , trying to escape the studio

El Dragon, painted silk (pre-stuffing) by Beth Surdut

          Come visit!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fifty Shades of gorgeous with just a little grey or gray
Really, who needs handcuffs when you can tie your lover up in these beauties?
Hand painted silk art-to-wear by Beth Surdut, Visual Storyteller
Take to the mountains and the Milky Way in this deeply passionate Night Fall~Sangre Mountains scarf.
SOLD see other wearable art @
Surprise comes in #FiftyShades. In this silk scarf, lapis, coral and jade reflect the high desert.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Monday, November 24, 2014

The educated conversation at the butcher's

For many more years than not, I haven’t eaten four-legged animals, but somehow fish, I could eat. So when yesterday, in a small market, displayed in crushed ice, a pink grouper’s head attached to maybe half a body caught my eye with its clouded one, I asked the affable young butcher for a pound, or a bit less.
As I talked with a retired English teacher wanting red snapper, who told me there was no teaching anymore unless it was in a private school, BANG! The butcher slammed a mallet down on the knife perched on the bone of the grouper.

He laid the slice of delicate pink flesh on the scale.
“Only half a pound,” he said, disappointed.
I couldn’t stand witness to another hacking.
“I’ll take it; it’s fine,” I told him and turned back to the English teacher and said,
“I went to a private school. Quaker.”
She touched my arm and said, “Then you are educated.”

The slab of fish leaked a bloody spot in the refrigerator overnight. Though I had lost my taste for the idea of it, I laced it with garlic and spices, broiled it, and gave it to the dog who, the breeder had said, was the dumbest she’d ever raised. 
Not educated.
The Conversation by Beth Surdut

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Nature of Being

Everyone Wants You When You're Beautiful by Beth Surdut
Enigmatic Paradise series  @
Being in nature is a succession of moments that imprint all my senses. Every walk, every paddle, every buzz, rustle, call, chirp, and squeak informs my creativity as an artist and writer. Just as we take in and process information differently, so do my experiences translate differently even within my own brain and subsequent output.

The part of me that loves detail--knowing the exact conformation and coloration of feather and petal, genus and species--picks up pencils and pens to render what qualifies as scientific illustration. 
Baby Bunny by Beth Surdut @
Another part of me reacts to color viscerally, judges art on its “edible” appeal, meaning that my first and strongest impression of colors is that they are so juicy I want to lick them no matter what they represent.
There are places—a moss-covered forest trail, a dappled stream, a shadowed slot canyon, an expansive night sky-- that invite me to walk in and lose my edges until they shimmer as I become part of them. There is art that does the same. 
The subtlety of gators--Dragon Scales and Hurricanes series by Beth Surdut @
            What does this say about being outside in nature? My essence is re-colored by each experience. We are already truly integrated if we permit ourselves to pay attention and experience it. Sometimes that means putting down the canvas, the camera, the journal so we can just Be Here Now. I have read that some athletes who wear a  GoPro  camera are mortified when they forget to turn it on, that not catching the bighorn sheep on film negates the actual experience of having seen them.
 I am not only an observer, but also as a kind of chemical experiment, a magnet or perhaps a portal that, when exposed to natural beings and surroundings, takes in elements that reorganize and morph into something both new and familiar in the forms I produce.
I contend that
  • Art is not the “other”
  • Outside is not the other
  • We are not the other
  • We are vital, integrated, shining particles of this world
Breathe in the breath of the world and then see what you breathe out.
I have the good luck to be able to express verbally and visually what swirls and glimmers in and out of me. I am there to see with my eyes, my mind, my memory, not somebody else’s. What comes of experiencing nature betters me more than any indoor classroom situation. I am embraced and expanded by the particulars. And I get to share that with you. 
"If not now, when?" custom tallit by Beth Surdut @

Friday, October 31, 2014

Smarter when you think #Raven!

When you listen to raven, that iconic trickster and smartest bird, you really will become smarter when you think! This image is "The Reason Why" drawing from the series "Listening To Raven." You can learn more and purchase museum quality signed prints on lush paper featured at The award-winning illustrated book-in-progress is still open for your personal raven encounters! Send inquiries to
Click on the image below to purchase a Smarter When You Think Raven Mug  at zazzle only

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Drinking the Milky Way

The Milky Way pours into my mouth, sparkles in my veins.
 Silk prayer tallit "Where shall wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding" Beth Surdut

Reading about Tyler Nordgren and glorious night skies in Nautilus magazine's blog, I thought of this shawl I painted of skies over Bandelier National  Monument, and a full moon walk I was privileged to take there.

Walking with the ancients by moonlight, I joined the footfalls treading this dirt for 10,000 years. While waiting for darkness, I consulted with a resident raven who listened to my questions as the moon rose over these ancestral pueblo dwelling places. 
Raven Tell drawing by Beth Surdut

 It was a poetic night of the senses.
Of rushing water in a dry land
Of drumbeats linking the centuries
Of heartbeats calling to the dead
Of surprises. 
I will not tell you more.