Monday, February 13, 2017

Deep Listening

In the early stage of any of my paintings I have a chance to be playfully unconcerned about the outcome.  Colors and gestures are free and pleasurable.  After the initial layers I spend as much time in contemplation and conversation with the work in progress as I do with additions and subtractions.

For some reason this particular painting, which I began in August, 2016, challenged my faith in that process.  Questions of my inherent ability arose as days and then weeks of small amendments didn't really advance the work.

In early October, I had to admit I was totally stuck. There seemed to be no way forward that would satisfy and I was struggling more than usual to eliminate parts of it.  This painting hung there taunting me.  I didn't have a clue how to proceed.

Stuck, after several weeks.

By December, wondering if I should just paint over the entire surface and begin again, I realized it wasn't just a painting anymore.  It was a metaphor for my own uncertain, unsettled self.  I began working on it again in earnest.

Eventually it started to greet me with less hostility. We were sharing true communication.  In the final stages of any of my paintings, I go over every inch of the surface to make sure there are no marks, spaces or colors that disturb me.  Then, standing back, if it lifts me up, I experience the satisfied joy of completion.

Deep Listening

For this painting, there was extended, distressful floundering for clues, for progress and for affirmation.  As difficult as it was, I am proud of myself for working through the dark thoughts of giving up.  More than that, to come out on the other side, in gratitude, the long process truly a deep listening.

Monday, September 12, 2016


I am participating in Art Trek, sponsored by Upstairs Artspace in Tryon, NC.  It is a 2 day Foothills Open Studios event September 24 and 25 with an opening reception on Friday, September 23 beginning at 5 pm.

Part of the exhibition is a fundraiser for this 38 year old nonprofit institution.  Each of the participating artists can choose to have one of their works in a silent auction, raising funds to support the operating costs of this fine contemporary art gallery.

I recently chose a painting from the upstairs store room in my home and brought it down into my studio to be labeled for donation to this fundraiser.  Much to my dismay, this favorite painting of mine had some scuff marks.  I assessed the damage, then the painting as a whole - which I had finished in 2013 - and decided to remove the final varnish coat of cold wax medium so I could paint over the inadvertent marks.  Well...

There is no such thing as a "simple repair" when it comes to my work.  Not only did I study the abrasions, I used my critical eyes of 2016 to take a fresh look at the piece.  Hmmm...I seem to think there is room for improvement!

So, I squeeze out some fresh oil paint, scrape some cold wax medium onto my palette and start mixing colors - this while listening to The Platters on my stereo.  By the time I get to "Only You" I realize I'm on my way to re-conceiving the painting, a little here, a little there.  About 3 hours later, the music long finished, the seduction of "making it even better" has lead me from one thing to another. Certain nebulous areas were amended, a few colors changed and I've been sneaking quick looks at it to see what other little details I want to adjust.

It fascinates me how once I let a deeper part of me take over the painting process, I take risks I could never have made before.  Letting my intuitive side enter, I am capable of changing details and making incremental shifts in the composition.  Then my critical thinking returns.  This is my dance of trust and assessment.

My once favorite painting has gained something almost inexplicable to me.  Rather than just trying to fix the bits of damage, I believe this was an opportunity for me to bring forward the essence of the original composition with more clarification.  And THAT makes me feel it is now more favorite than ever!

Thursday, May 19, 2016


I can't really explain where my paintings come from except that "everything goes into the pot."  Paying attention to what I resonate with leads to endless discovery and inspiration.

Sometimes when I begin a painting it seems to breathe immediately on its own with barely any assistance from me.  But some weeks ago I began a painting that took me on a long journey.  I didn't photograph the beginnings, because all my paintings start with a leap of faith, a choice of color and a belief that at some point I will find a direction to take it.  But as this one evolved and came closer to satisfying me, I documented the changes I made.

Between each of these photographs is a "studying time" which usually lasts from a day to a week.  This is when I stand back and pay close attention to the overall effect, getting clues for what needs to happen next.  It might be a color change, or the addition or subtraction of a line or form to make the composition more pleasing.  My work grows one step at a time from unfinished to that aha! moment when I feel it is successful.

Often I am immediately aware of a section that disturbs me and I know what I want to do to help it. This photo shows the basic composition that I created over the first few days.

The next photo is much more satisfying but I know it isn't complete.

This one, which was taken much later, made me feel good.  In fact, I was happy enough with it to call it finished and I put it on my web site.  I still needed to put a final coat of cold wax medium on for varnish though, and when I tried, I just couldn't.  I knew, blast it, that I still needed to tweak it before I could complete this last step.

My eyes kept landing on the little house.  I realized it just felt too whimsical.  I removed the painting from my web site and over the next few days worked in small increments to amend the area, arriving at this photograph.

More study, another few days, I conceded that despite my liking it better I had more work to do.  The whole lower portion seemed wishy washy now...

Finally, the painting felt right.  I left it alone overnight.  Joy in the morning!  I felt an instant friendship with it.  Yes, it was finished!
Voyager, 12 x 16" Oil and mixed media on cradled board

Instead of a journey, this painting was a real trek for me.  It taught me, once again, a hundred times again, to keep working until every bit of it feels right.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"What inspires you?"

Studio work bench
Recently I have been fortunate to discover the informative blog of artist Nicholas Wilton.  His insight and compelling questions for artists are astoundingly clear and helpful.  A particular post sticks in my mind.  He advises that one of the imperative questions an artist can ask herself is "What inspires you?"

It makes sense when writing an artist statement, but I know his question has a much broader application. If I adopt the question in other areas of my life, I know it will be instructive to my art.

There are the obvious answers... Nature, with a capital N, for sure!  Since the age of 5 I loved being in the woods behind my house, all alone except for my imaginary animal friends.  Now well into my 60's, I have been hiking in the woods with two legged friends.  I've rediscovered the creative power in using fresh eyes to see large vines in calligraphic gestures amongst the trees, or the striking greens in patches of moss and lichen. 

I'm not certain if my attraction to weathered surfaces began when I visited Italy for the first time or if it was decades earlier with my appreciation of an old wooden wheelbarrow sunning itself on Mr. Mitchell's farm.  Metal, wood, cement, even faces, all age with such character that I can't help be fascinated by the marks of time.

Words inspire me.  Whether it is their specific combinations in a finely written paragraph or poem, or singled out for their particular inference that resonates with me, I have always been drawn to the shape, sound and power of words.

Bowls!  I love vessels in all forms, but especially bowls, holders of all kinds of tastes or thoughts.  Replete with the possibility of metaphors and mystery, bowls draw me like magnets in museums, galleries and in my kitchen.

Now, through some sort of osmosis, what nurtures, stimulates and inspires me shows up in my studio explorations. My personal response to nature, age, words and vessels allows me to transport them into my paintings.

Melancholy  30 x 30" oil on board

Acceptance  30 x 24" oil and mixed media on board

Continually acknowledging what inspires me not only makes me a satisfied participant in my life, but helps form my authentic artistic voice.

I could also ask the question "Who inspires you?"  And for that I would definitely include the name Nicholas Wilton.  His cogent writing and generous spirit of encouragement has in a short time had a substantial impact on me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Color and Words

Color.  Words.  I don't know which I fell in love with first.  Early in my life I discovered joyous freedom in learning how to read and write, only equaled by a box of crayons and pad of paper.  As an adult, I've developed into an artist who has, from time to time, combined words with paint.  In some paintings from years past I liked the directness of words that are bold and recognizable.
Bird Soaring
Other times I tucked words underneath the paint or camouflaged them with unusual spacing.
Underneath it all lies the heart

Around 2006 I began using book bindings adhered to my canvas.  I wrote words into a Venetian plaster surface I applied to the empty book, blurring them so they were unreadable to challenge the individual viewer to find their own personal message.
Passages I
Blue Seeps Through
A bit later I created ambiguous paintings.  For instance, a work with gestural marks tht resembled writing is titled Wordless.

Another with a book like object as a focal point ironically had no words.

Sometimes I titled paintings alluding to words although there were none present.
Point of View


Around 2009 I began collecting words in a little notebook, words that had a special resonance for me.  Sometimes I would choose one as a title for a finished painting if it seemed to embody what I saw in the work.

In the autumn of 2015, when I was invited to be in an upcoming group exhibition of artists who use words in their work, I turned to my word collection.  I selected 5, mulling over their qualities.  My belief is that words hold energy, whether spoken or written.  So I wrote a short description of what the word meant to me and each of these paintings has those words underneath the paint, or sometimes peeking through enough to be readable.  


I chose colors and created compositions that reflected the concept and spirit of each particular word.  Even though I have often used text in my work before, this was a totally different process.

Are we, as human beings, much like words?  Do we each have colors and compositions?  If we each were an abstract painting, what would we look like?