Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Year End Treasurers

"Desert Sky II" 21" X 30"
acrylic on paper
Winter Solstice is a natural time to look back at the year passing and plan for the year coming.  In thinking about what I have accomplished in 2015 I turned to my sketch notebook where I record ideas, workshop notes, experiments and 5X7 photos of completed paintings.  I also have a different sort of record that I can review, a summary of thoughts, in this blog, which is what is prompting me to write this post.

A year ago this time I was anticipating our trip to southern Arizona in February and preparing for the Intensive Studies Seminar in Taos, NM in April.  I was also transitioning from multi-layered non-representational painting style used in my Journey series to the more simplified representational shapes evident in my Desert series.

During the year and without my really noticing, I was making dozens of new friends, many of them fellow artists.  I met them at workshops, art fairs, art conventions and through social media.  I began to look forward to opening Facebook in the mornings because my news feed has become a gallery of incredible art as well as photographs from my traveling friends of places I might otherwise never see.

In looking back over 2015 I realized that my old and new friends, with their thoughts and ideas and experiences, are the best thing about the year, and their friendship is a treasure I find becomes more valuable with every passing day.  I am looking forward to 2016 with anticipation.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Time To Reflect

"Adrift on the Energy Sea"
 aka "I bumped into Bob yesterday"
Last night was the opening night of a month long show of my artwork at Sage Gallery in Bend, OR. The gallery owner, Denise Rich, hung the show earlier this week.  We put out some snacks and opened some wine and people started to arrive.  During the evening there were numerous moments, talking to people, that I felt a deep connection, as if what I was saying or showing was of incredible importance right at that moment.  Eyes would "light up", heads would nod, swivel, cocking ears towards me. Afterwards, when I recalled some of the conversations, I realized I was not only connecting with other people, I was connecting with myself. I talked about where my thoughts are now in the desert series and I realized that I'm presently moving back into more abstracted painting because I don't yet know the symbols I will use to discuss the disruption of the land and peoples and for the faith I have that the overriding spirits will hold it together.   Those symbols will come out as I paint.  

I believe I exist for a purpose.  It may have absolutely nothing to do with me.  I might be here to say or do something that in turn helps someone else move along.  It's my "bumped into Bob" theory of how energy works.  During the height of the evening I was talking to some guests when an unaccompanied child came in.  She stood uncertainly, looking around.  After a few minutes, she moved shyly to the table, picked up and ate a single pirouline, and then did something that caught my eye - she picked up my business card.  I know that at some festivals children will "collect" things like business cards.  I've heard vendors comment about the practice.  The child was really looking at the artwork.  I regretted I was engaged with someone else and could not speak to her.  I wonder who else will pick up that same card.  I wonder where and how that bit of energy in the card will spin off.

"The Lesson" Transformer teaches chick
how food is energy and energy is food
By talking to visitors about the paintings, about the series, I have come to a much better understanding of why I'm painting this series.  I realize my new interest in weaving baskets and using fibers is to better understand the peoples and culture of the desert.  I want to rise into the sky and look over all the lands, desert, mountains, forest and sea and find the commonality, the binding spirit.  Kachina, after all, exists in one form or another all over, not just in the desert.

To those of you who came to see the show last night, thank you.  I had a great time and I hope you did, as well.  If you couldn't make it and are in the Bend area during November stop in and see it (834 NW Brooks Street), say "hi" to Denise and maybe buy yourself a little christmas present.    

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Time To Celebrate, A Time To Learn

My painting, "Klamath Lake Lily III", received 6th place award from Juror Ratindra Das at the 50th WSO Fall Watercolor Exhibition in Hermiston OR, with the convention held this past weekend.  In July I wrote about making choices for competition, about the difficulty, the hope, the fear I face when offering up my works to a juried show.  My painting was accepted.

I rejoiced in that acceptance, got the painting framed and delivered it to the convention.  On awards night this past Saturday, I saw the 6th place ribbon on MY painting and had to sit down, rather suddenly, on a nearby bench.  I've been in several shows in the past few years.  I've never won an award before now.  I was speechless.  My husband recorded the event with a photo.

One of the people in charge of the exhibition told me that the Juror had said he wished to speak with me.  So I sought him out in a quiet moment before the evening's festivities began.  I explained who I was.  I expected, I don't know, I guess some discussion about my painting or my technique.  Mr. Das said "Your mat is too small.  It should be bigger by at least an inch." I was startled, said that I used the standard 3 inch size and that I try to enter pieces that are smaller to keep shipping costs down.  He shook his head.  In a show like this one, a larger mat would have placed my painting in a more prominent position on the wall, he told me, which was absolutely correct.

It took a day or so for what he had actually shared to soak into my brain.  I'm "there" now.  I won't get into every show I enter but I'm getting in regularly enough that what I'm offering is worthy.  Now I have to think of the business end of things like presentation and positioning in the show.  The cost of shipping has to become irrelevant.  My friend and instructor, Ruth Armitage, has been telling me to pay attention to the "business" aspect of the art world.  Mr. Das reinforced what Ruth has been saying.  I guess I am ready to take the next step forward.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Watching a Series Evolve Into a Personal Journey

"Spirit Song" painted in 2012
I'm caught in the passion of a series that began after my visit to the desert southwest last spring. Every new painting provokes thoughts for the next pieces.  The series itself seems to draw in new ideas and materials and asks me to learn now, quickly, because we, the series and I, have some place we have to go and no time to waste.

My thought pattern in the series has reached out to include all native peoples and their beliefs, the stories and common elements that are found among very diverse people.  I have had an interest in coastal Native American art, and now the desert series is prompting me to weave that into my paintings, to think about how the spirits of one people could have traversed great distances to become the spirit stories of another population.  Paintings I've done in the past suddenly have new relevance to this present series.  The meaning of symbols I use have become clearer. This seems to be why weaving has suddenly become important.

I've always had an interest in weaving.  I have done collages that incorporate simple woven pieces with natural elements.  Recently I hosted a workshop led by Sheri Smith <> on weaving pine needles, beads and waxed linen thread into lovely medallions.   I created a simple piece and left the ends loose, added feathers I'd found on the roadway.

Pine needle medallion
The series is telling me that I have to bring this together, that I have to weave the stories of the peoples, the animals and the earth. I am being prompted to create more 3 dimensional pieces.  The almost frantic early pace of the series has abruptly slowed.  I'm pondering the meaning of the colors, shapes and symbols that have developed.  I've developed an interest in natural dyes and fibers. Notes, sketches and collage materials are scattered over my studio like flakes in an early snow.

Perhaps it is just as well that I will be traveling over the next couple of weeks and will be away from the studio.  I tell myself I will take some books and my sketch notebook and let the chaos of the studio subside even as the series is prompting me to take a canvas, beads, thread, pine needles, twine. "Spirit Song", in a frame on my studio wall, laughs and plays his music.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

On Being "Self-Taught"

"Cholla Fruit" 11" X 14" poured acrylic on paper
"Self-taught" generally refers to someone who does not hold a college level degree. Much of what I've done in life has been self-taught.  I became a paralegal in intellectual property before there were any college courses offered. I am a self-taught artist, as well.    

Being "self-taught" doesn't mean I learned everything in
isolation.  To become a paralegal I took hours of classes provided by my employer who had some really talented secretaries and could see the economic advantage of using them rather than hiring more lawyers.  I took law classes at Marquette University as well as math and engineering classes at a community college. To become an artist, I've taken numerous art classes at community colleges and workshops with teaching artists.  

"Prickly Pear II" 11" X 14" poured acrylic on paper
Something I've noticed is when I stop taking classes or attending seminars I start to lose my grasp on what's new and relevant.  This was especially true with law and it has equal truth in the art world. Exposure to outside thoughts, ideas, opinions, materials and techniques is vital to stay fresh as an artist.

Recently I decided to translate my poured watercolor skills to acrylics.  This was not without some humorous moments and the learning curve was pretty sharp.  I'm fairly pleased with the results so far and am presently working on a full sheet piece, now that I have the basics worked out.  An advantage to approaching things like this is I stay experimental and creative.  The disadvantage, if there is one, is that sometimes I reinvent the wheel.  My reinvented wheel will be way cooler, for sure.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Competition Choices

Entries for the Watercolor Society of Oregon's fall show close tomorrow, which put pressure on me to review my inventory list to find those pieces which would meet the criteria of the show: (1) watercolor only (2) on paper, no yupo or other grounds (3) not painted in a workshop (4) not shown in a previous WSO show and (5) painted within the last two years.  Since I'm not painting a lot of watercolor pieces on watercolor paper right now the list of qualifying paintings was fairly short.   I'm allowed two entries.  I came up with three possibilities.  Two of these paintings have been submitted for a different show and were rejected.  The third has not been offered previously.

I prepared all three digital images for entry, resizing them and renaming them to fit the show entry criteria.  At that point I had to finally decide which two of the three to enter.  Self-evaluation is always difficult for me.  I am especially reluctant to offer works that have been refused by one juror for fear of a second rejection.  Usually 2 rejections does it for me.  By then the painting is getting "old" since the process often takes a few months and I may have newer, fresher work to offer.

I talked to my friend and instructor, Ruth Armitage, about this recently.  After a year of rejections, offering what I felt were very good pieces, I was feeling a little discouraged.  When should I "give up" on a painting? Ruth has experienced this cycle many times in her career.  There is no set answer to this issue.  Time and discouragement will take their toll on many wonderful pieces.  We can't know what any particular juror is going to accept or reject except by watching the shows those jurors put together to see if they have obvious preferences, for instance for portraits or landscapes, or obvious prejudices, for instance against non-representational work.

With all this in mind, I decided to submit "Klamath Lake Lily III" and "Klamath Lake Lily IV", both poured watercolor, both well designed and well executed.  The third piece, "Winter Solstice" would have been an excellent alternative but I felt the two lily paintings fit well together.  The decision is made, the entry sent in.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Rethinking the concept of a "series"

In January I wrote about the confinement I felt in naming a body of work as a "series".  And now in June I find myself in the middle of a huge series based on impressions from my visit to the desert southwest in February and April.  I cannot seem to focus on anything else.  I feel I'm almost "caught" in this series and will stay here until all possibilities are exhausted!  I'm obsessed.

This experience helped raise my awareness of what fellow artists who paint in a "series" are telling me, especially when  I see multiple paintings by those same artists that are outside their current named series. While I was in Taos attending the Intensive Studies Seminar in April, Skip Lawrence defined a "series" as something that is 20 works or more.  I'm not sure where he came up with the number, but I'm there, in fact I've passed that magic number.

I think that a series can represent a
lot of things.  It can be a response to a particular subject, as my present series is, or it can represent a situation, a period of time, a thought or a mood.  We artists can see when we are changing course.  Every painting is different, every work speaks a new language.  When we start repeating that underlying language over and over we are in the middle of a series.  When we insist on change, on not being "stuck", then we are moving away from that series and moving into new territory.

Being an artist is the hardest, the most challenging and the most satisfying thing I've ever done in my life.  I want to label, identify, quantify (20 at least!!) and understand why I do what I do and why it works or it doesn't work.  I don't pick up a regular paycheck, I don't get some little ribbon or paper at the staff meetings anymore.  I work and work and work
and sometimes that work says a lot about one thing and sometimes it does not.  Currently I'm saying a lot about my personal response to the desert.  The first photo was, even though I didn't know it at the time, the signal that this series was starting.  It incorporated new colors and new shapes and I called it "Transitions" which turned out to be a very appropo title.  The second is  "Desert Scorpion" which is a huge simplification of shapes within this series.  The third is my most recent painting, "Desert Spring", which expresses how amazed I was at all the green that I saw in February. I've done 20 paintings plus.  Welcome to my current obsession, called the "Desert Series".

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Intensive Studies Seminar - Taos, NM 2015

The fact that I had registered for and was going to attend the Intensive Studies Seminar in Taos drove my work for over 6 months. It sharpened me, encouraged me to take chances, to try new ideas and to show them to people. Then, suddenly, I was there, in the middle of it all, meeting wonderful people and seeing so much incredible artwork!  And now I'm back in my own studio space and thinking,
absorbing all the information and ideas discussed, looking at it's effect.  For me, personally, the effect of the ISS was almost all before the event even occurred.  I came home with one dozen new paintings.  The first three, done before any comments or instruction, are my favorites.  There are perhaps four more paintings that, after a little work, I will be pleased to own.  The rest is potential collage paper.

Before leaving home I volunteered, mentally, to be at the bottom of the group.  I wasn't.  I discovered every one of the 60 artists in that conference hall were and are unique in style, subject, ability, interpretation, goals and temperament.  Many had attended before, several for many years.  And of those repeat attendees, many do not paint regularly.  They
show up, year after year, hoping to get better.  Think of piano playing.  Practice piano once a year and see where you are in 10 or 13 years.  I apply the same piano analogy to an instructor painting on a student's work - one does not learn by watching someone else play the keys. One learns by doing.

Some of the best moments in the 2+ weeks I was gone were in non-workshop moments.  I was delighted with the galleries, talking to the owners, other artists.  I was happy with Taos and particularly happy with the surrounding land, the "plateau", the snow capped mountains, the Rio Grande gorge.  I ate antelope at a place that specializes in local and organic. I had several dinners out with new friends and a "fast food" Mexican place, Guadalajara Grill, an easy walk from the hotel and excellent food (plus margaritas and beer!).

I came home with a renewed sense of self-confidence.  3 of the 4
instructors said "keep on doing what you are doing".  I take that as a validation that I am moving along my path as an artist (or perhaps they were at a loss to say anything?!!).  The 4th advised that my work was "too noisy" and that competition is a waste of time and money.  I think that depends on a person's goals.

I think that out of all the instructors, Katherine Chang Liu was my greatest influence.  I painted to my SW desert theme, these three paintings, in the first two days.  "Desert Signs", "Desert Wishes" and "Desert Summer" were my first three works, undisturbed by instructor comment.  Notice how they got quieter.  Katherine said that usually happens in workshop.  She showed me how to find smaller designs for new pieces, which I did but ultimately found I preferred my own designs.

Take away advice: be true to yourself.  The rest will follow.  


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Art Workshops - How to Survive (and Profit)

As I write this post I am also preparing to leave for Taos NM for the "Intensive Studies Seminar".  This artist's workshop, in it's 20th and sadly final year, is lead by four top instructors: Catherine Chang Liu, Fran Larsen, Skip Lawrence and Christopher Shink.  I signed up last summer, probably one of the first.  The idea that I will be attending this workshop with these instructors has been driving me and influencing my painting ever since I signed up.  I don't want to look the fool, no one does, but I also want to learn as much as I possibly can.  I started thinking about workshops in my past, dozens of them and what I've learned by attending and by watching other artists in workshops.

The main thing I have learned over the years is that a workshop is NOT the place to show everyone how very fine you are, how advanced your work is, how wonderful you can be, how you are such good friends with the instructor (that actually gets to be annoying if you start to monopolize the instructor's time) or how you can help everyone else.  If you arrive with an attitude, you will make no friends and you might set yourself up for complete failure.  You will not have created the personal space to learn.

The space to learn requires an attitude of humbleness, not awesomeness.   Check your ego at the door.  Volunteer to be the least "successful" in the room, the one you are sure everyone will snicker at or feel a bit sorry for.  After all, someone has to be last.  Volunteer to occupy that post.   My experience has taught me that the bottom post in the workshop is the best post.  I experiment more, I try harder.  I also get more of the instructor's time, because obviously I don't know what I'm doing.  I'm struggling, I'm confused.  I'm just who the instructor needs to and wants to help.

There is another thing I've learned from years of painting workshops.  Not every instructor will give me something that "fits".  In fact, some will rattle my style and my content for a number of months, trying to "paint like the instructor".  Because of that, I've learned to be very choosy in my instructors. However, over the years every single instructor has always given me something, some little thing, some number of things, that has helped me move on in one way or another.  Attending a workshop is never a "loss".  I can always make a list of at least 10 things I learned from the experience and that's 10 more than if I had not attended.

We all tend to focus on the goal, the prize, being the "best", winning the ribbon, hearing the applause.  For me that comes from competition, not a workshop.  If I treat a workshop experience as competition, I lose.  If I treat a workshop as a time and place to learn, to grow, then I gain and the applause and the ribbon is waiting on down the line.

The painting with this post is "Signs" (14" X 21" acrylic on paper).  This was a transitional piece for me, following a workshop.  I take the advice offered by the instructor, I see if it fits, I try it out for a while, and then I either incorporate it or discard it.  I have the space required.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Study of Silence

This winter I read a post about the study of silence in yoga.  The post suggested doing one's practice in silence and noticing the differences.  Most yoga classes play soft music and I was in the habit of playing music when I practiced at home.  I thought the idea interesting and gave it a try. I soon found that I was eliminating music from other things, like when I write every morning.  As much as I enjoy listening to music (I'm listening to it right now) I found that in some situations music was intrusive.

I decided to study silence in my work, my painting.  I painted for several days without my familiar music.   I wrote some notes about that experience and I'd like to share those thoughts.

1.  "To contemplate silence in art is more difficult and more interesting than contemplating the noise of a rock".
2.  "I challenge myself to work in silence so that I can better hear what the work is saying.  This would be like an explosion of silence".
3.  "I am noticing the noise of active shapes versus the peace of quiet ones, active versus restive."

Rocks can be very noisy.  They tell you, if you are interested in hearing, how they were formed, what they are made of, how long they've been, well, lying around.  Listening to a painting, instead of drowning it out with my own thoughts or with outside noise, is important and instructive.  The painting has a lot to say.  However, I think the last point I noted down was the most important.  I never noticed before how some paintings have a lot of "noise" and some are very quiet.  I became aware of that very recently.

Some artists paint quietly naturally.  Katherine Chang Liu and Elaine Daily-Birnbaum are two whose works immediately come to mind.  Most artists paint in the mid-noise level.  I looked at my works from the past couple of years and I see some I would call "noisy" and some I would call "quiet".  Noisy paintings have a lot going on.  They are jittery, have lots of shapes, colors, lots to look at.  Quiet paintings have large quiet spaces.   I admire quiet paintings.  I admire simple shapes and the use of sparing color.  I don't paint that way.  Why?  Because I'm a noisy active person.  I think the larger lesson in my study of silence was that absence of noise does not change or influence who I am. The person I am will always come out in my work.

The paintings included in this post are "Wings" (21" X 14" acrylic on paper) and "Universal Languages" (21" X 14" acrylic on paper) as some of my quieter work.  "Breaking Up" (29" X 21" acrylic on paper) is an example of my "noisy" work.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Every artist must have courage.   It is essential to what we do. Without it, no performer would ever get up on stage and risk ridicule and public humiliation, no singer would risk a bad note, no musician a missed key or beat,  no writer would submit a work for fear of rejection and no painter or photographer would ever show their work, for exactly those reasons.  It takes a great deal of courage to take our art, which is a bit of our soul, and offer it up, even to close friends or family.  To enter into competition requires the utmost courage and faith in one's work. A disassociated person will judge our work and find it to their liking, or not.  We artists never know why we are rejected or accepted.  No matter what our art form, we all go through the same process and it requires a great deal of courage.  

 My paintings are like children.  I'm sorry to lose one to a sale.  I want to keep them all close to me.  When I submit one into a juried show, I have double trouble.  Now I face the rejections or acceptace by someone completely unknown to me.  If my painting is accepted, in most cases the painting must be for sale.  I risk selling the work to someone completely unknown to me.  They will be walking off with my precious piece!  Will that person ultimately consign the painting to their attic? or worse, to a yard sale? or just give it away?  And worse thought - what if the piece is in the show and everyone wonders "why is this in here?"

For those of us who compete, we must step beyond all those thoughts and take our work and put it up for public judgment and display.  My painting "Habitat - Egret Hunts Frog" was recently accepted into the Watercolor Society of Oregon's spring 2015 show.  I offered two paintings to that juror.  The second "Counting Autumn's Days" was not accepted. One is suggestive, the other nonrepresentational.    Did that matter?  I have no idea!

I think it takes more courage to send a painting into competition than anything I ever did in life.  I've climbed mountains, kayaked rivers, backpacked, skied, hiked, run ultra marathons.  None of that compares to the feeling of sending a painting into a juried show and risking that rejection or acceptance.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Concept of Painting in a Series

For over 15 years I have been told that it is very important that artists paint in a "series".  The series should have a goal.  The paintings within a series should be related to each other and visually connected. When an artist has exhausted all possibilities within the series, then they move on to a new series, never to return.  Although I've been pressed many times to declare that I work in a series, and I have even given names to various chronological periods of work ("Journey" and presently "Contemplation") I really don't see much division between the two.

What I do see when I review my work is growth over time and a whole bunch of "mini-series".  For instance, right now I'm in the middle of about 8 paintings where the subject is a begonia plant in bloom.  I've approached the concept using watercolor, gouache, acrylic inks and most recently poured watercolors.  I might do a collage.  Does this mean I'm in a "begonia" series?  I don't think so.  

In fact I don't think my brain or my artistic expression works that way.  I'm wondering if declaring a series and a goal confines me as an artist.  It's sort of a declaration that an artist will "stay in this box until I give up, run out of ideas or die..." Some people are comfortable with the concept, indeed several of my very good artist friends are painting in a series.  And several other wonderful artist friends are not painting in a series.

My most recent declared goal is to simplify my shapes and move away from rigid compositional forms, use shape and color with line and pattern more freely.  I think I'm accomplishing that.  And I think I will end the idea of declaring my work fits into a "series".  If I want to paint something that fits into Journey, I will.  If I want to paint something that fits into Contemplation, I will.  And if I want to paint something that doesn't fit anywhere, I will.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Learning Lessons

I believe that every single painting or collage I create should teach me something.  Every painting should be a chance to try something new, different, unique.  Whether I am painting representationally or not, I am always looking for that new experience, the "look at that!" moment when, perhaps, two colors collide that I've never mixed before or maybe brush strokes leave an unexpected texture.  That sort of small but powerful lesson is the experience I am looking for in painting.

"Winter Solstice III" 15"X22" collage
I was a white water kayaker for many years.  We used to paddle the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River (Oregon) almost every summer with a group of other paddlers from the Seattle area. One of the regular guys was named Joe and he was an expert paddler who played guitar but was otherwise a pretty quiet guy.  One trip, coming into our last camp at Solitude, Joe lingered on a small wave just upstream, surfing his kayak back and forth.  Camp was well established before he finally came in.  I asked him what he was doing up there so long and he said "I wanted to stay on it until I learned something."  An expert kayaker on a small surf wave?  "Did you?" I asked and he smiled his gentle smile.  "Yes".

That small lesson is what I am looking for when I paint.  Recently I read a blog about setting intentions in art.  I set intentions, consciously, in yoga and in Healing Touch (I am a Level 1 practitioner).  I never considered applying the concept to painting.  Intention equals "what I want".  Intention is a goal.  If I truly don't know what I want, then I am, as the blogger put it, "just pushing paint around."  The blog provoked a lot of thought because I asked myself "is it enough to say that my intention is to learn from the process?"  I believe it is exactly enough intention.  I seek that wonderful, breathless place where I don't care about anything except watching what happens if.... And, when that moment arrives, it defines what the painting will be, where it will go.  It feels like flying.