Making Light in the Long, Dark Winter

Sun Dog

Darkness is tough. It’s bleak. Endless. I’ve lived in Alaska for 39 years and I have to say, getting through the winter months is difficult. Eating lots of carbs and sleeping until April is my preference but there are bills to be paid and dogs to be let out and in and out again, so I really need to stay awake for at least a few hours in the day. So, for the last few years, I have endeavored to create little lightning storms inside my head by learning something new.

This year, I’m trying to master painting a believable skin color in oils. When I was little, the first thing I wanted to be, after an angel in heaven playing the harp (my mother said no), was a portrait artist. By the time I reached high school, I figured if I studied art, I’d also need a teaching certificate because at that time, even if I was good, oil portraits were not fashionable. And I couldn’t see myself teaching. So I ended up in law school. When the kids were little, I didn’t dare trying to paint because keeping them out of it would have been a nightmare. I got back into it the past few years and have taken classes and bought lots of books but making believable skin color is tough. So I signed up to follow an artist whose work I admire, Scott Waddell, on Patreon. He teaches his technique in a way that is understandable and enjoyable. Here’s his page: Scott Waddell is creating Drawing and Painting Instruction | Patreon. If you want to see samples of his lessons offered for free, he’s also on You-Tube: Painting Skin Tones: PORTRAIT PAINTING TECHNIQUES – YouTube

Another year, I decided to learn Irish and signed up for Duolingo – The world’s best way to learn a language. They have little animated cartoon characters that react to one’s proficiency. My favorite is the teenage girl rolling her eyes. Makes me want to spite her. After Covid struck and I wasn’t sitting in a parking lot waiting for the kid to get out of school anymore, I haven’t kept up. According to my 2021 report, I completed 70 lessons this year and have learned 162 words. If you need to know whether your candy is in the fridge, I am the person to answer that question.  

Back in 2012, I had an idea for a book that saw me through that winter and five more before it was published, Deadly Solution. I was sitting in an annual law conference in November when the idea struck me like a bolt of lightning. I wasn’t looking for a book idea but there it was and winter was coming on and I needed something to learn. So I spent that winter drafting it and the next five winters figuring out what was wrong with it. Lo and behold! It was published in 2018. That was Deadly Solution.

The cool thing about being in beginner’s mind, being open to learning, is that everything in one’s life becomes a wonder. For instance, yesterday I was low energy and watched true crime series on Netflix. Just for the exercise, I tried to memorize the features of every face in the event I had to describe them to someone, say like a police sketch artist. In so doing, I searched for the pithiest metaphors. One man looked like an elf, if you liked him, or a rodent, if you didn’t. It kept me entertained all afternoon.

Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh! That’s Happy New Year in Irish.


Keenan Powell


Keenan Powell is the Agatha, Lefty, and Silver Falchion nominated author of the Maeve Malloy Mystery series, Deadly Solution, Hemlock Needle, Hell and High Water.

While still in high school, she was one of the illustrators of the original Dungeons and Dragons. Art seemed an impractical pursuit – not an heiress, wouldn’t marry well, hated teaching – so she went to law school instead. When not writing or practicing law, Keenan can be found oil painting, studying the Irish language, or hanging out with her friends at mystery conventions.

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  1. Although I spent only one winter in Alaska, it was a doozy, so I understand how the ever-present darkness affects people physically and emotionally. I love the fact that you use that dark time to learn something new. Please share some of your work!

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