Friday, August 20, 2010

Art: what being an artist "means"

I like Andrya Dorfman's animation video's and Tanya Davis' song poems.  This one especially. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Hand to Hand Project:

Last winter, I heard of a project called Hand to Hand, a daily record of what happened in Iraq day-by-day as seen through the eyes of artists, all using gloves or other representations of hands in their interpretations.  Begun by Cecilia Kane at the start of the Iraq war in 2003, it expanded to include nearly two hundred other artists, each taking a week or two.  The artists are from all over the world, including Iraqi citizens and American soldiers who've served (and in some cases, are serving) in Iraq.

I immediately wrote Cecilia and asked if she had room for me.  She did, and assigned me the week of July 12.  That week, I searched a score of sources, printing out dozens of stories.  At the end, I sorted through the stories, looking for as broad a representation of what went on that week as possible. As I read the stories, I began to recognize the ways in which all of them were intertwined.  It was slow winnowing down to one per day. Though there was one day, to my amazement, when I could find no stories at all-- to be followed the very next day by stories about bombings that killed dozens and injured dozens more.  People who were going to work, looking for jobs, buying food, people who left families behind.

Doing this project took me far deeper emotionally than I expected.  Each story made me think profoundly about not only the direct implications of that event on people's lives, but also how each of the stories linked up to others to weave a web of cause and effect, position and consequences, abstract numbers and real lives.  Working on each piece, simple as they of necessity are, moved me deeply.  My mind is now populated with people I do not know, but who have become part of me.   I ended up spending a great deal of time pondering how best to express each story, and the human story buried in it.

Before I began my week, I had done some background reading to refresh my memory of the political and cultural history of Iraq. I went to college (decades ago) with many middle easterners, and got to know many of them as friends.  My university had a strong middle east program, and a course on middle east history that I audited opened my eyes to the fact that Americans have no sense of Iraq's true history, or of the factors that created the land it is today.  If they did, they would understand why Europeans have been so reluctant to become involved. It was this very sort of involvement on their part for centuries that created the rupture of the middle east. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate.  I learned so much, both from the reading, and from the process of creating art from it.  When I saw the photos of the exhibit, I was deeply moved.  It is stunning to see all those hands, and all the ways in which artists incorporated the hand motif into their expressions of their stories.  I am honored to be part of it. 

Here are the pieces I created for the project (click on the images to view a larger version. Use your browser back button to return to this post):

My pieces are on their way to be included in the current installation in Athens, Georgia, at the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art, where Hand to Hand is the featured installation along with other installations addressing related themes.  The exhibit at ATHICA opens August 21st and runs through September 26th.

 The Hand to Hand website has some striking photos of the exhibit, including links to samples of work from each year-- over seven years in all.  The cumulative effect of the hundreds of hands and nearly 200 artists' visions is stunning. Cecilia is working to secure a final resting place for the installation.  I hope she is successful. 

Ironically, the final installation will be at the gallery I am most involved in, the Chaffee Art Center, in Rutland, Vermont, something I did not know when I signed on.  It opens there on October 8th and will run to November 20th.  If you are nearby, please come to the reception! 

* * * * * 

A note about method: I used what are known as "museum gloves", light-weight cotton gloves worn to protect art works from the oils of human skin.  They allowed me the flexibility to shape the gloves as needed.   I chose to mount the gloves on 7 inch by 10 inch pieces of matboard, in a collage incorporating other materials and paint, ink, and pencil.  On some gloves, I used an acrylic polymer hardener to make it possible to create a three-dimensional aspect.  Others were glued flat because that seemed to fit the day's story better. I added the daily "headlines", word for word,  by printing them on a laser printer and lifting the print using translucent acrylic gel, then using the same gel to mount them to the matboard.  I used the same method to incorporate snippets of photographs in some of the pieces.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Looking back at a very young self

Doctor's orders: stay off feet as much as possible while broken foot heals.  So I got out some boxes of old papers and photos I've been meaning to go through for ages.  Kind of amazed to find my old report cards from elementary school.  They tell an interesting story.  Here are a few from first and second grade: 

First grade, second half: 

Second grade, first half:

This was the situation: We lived in a small town in southern Oregon.  My brothers and friends and I were outside all the time from the time school let out until supper and then often until bath and bedtime.  Weekends my family spent on my grandparents farm on a dead end road in the hills at the edge of the valley with our extended family (we were related to most of the people on last segment of the road).  Cousins ran loose in the fields and woods in between meals and other interesting family events.  I got PLENTY of fresh air and exercise.  And with that many people around, plenty of socializing.

I was excited about school. I already knew how to read and make letters and do simple arithmetic.  I was bored (believe me, Dick and Jane was even dumber and more boring than you've been told).   I was entranced by learning, and lusted for the interesting books for older kids I found in the classroom.  I seized every chance I could to read them (and get some quiet time, which was hard for me to come by).  

I think a lot of teachers don't actually think about what is going on, and don't bother to ask the questions that would illuminate a child's experience.  There were rules, and rules must be followed.  Especially in the America of 1950.  (Think about that next time you wonder why the 60s happened.) 

At least my first grade teacher recognized my leanings toward creativity.  But she is also the one who told my mother she should not have taught me my letters, because they no longer used that method to teach reading.  My ploy was to ignore what the teacher was doing and just read ahead on my own, and do arithmetic the way my dad taught me.  Hence the "stubbornness", which has stood me in good stead all my life. 

Now the last half of second grade:

Learning to fit in, though there was still criticism (one of them was that I often didn't color inside the lines of the mimeographed "art" projects, or use the "right" colors!).  By third grade, I asked my parents how old I had to be to leave school.  I was serious.  I was bored stiff.  I wanted out. 

In fourth grade, my parents moved to a different town, and I started a new school, with an enriched program for kids like me, including real instruction in art and science. I was off and running.  I felt challenged and stimulated, and began loving school again. 

And eventually became both the scientist and the artist that child was trying to be.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


acrylic on cradled birch panels
each 6 x 6 inches

My art supplier had some acrylic inks on sale that I'd been wanting to give a try.  So I ordered a few bottles. Ok, I ordered 12 of them.  I played with them for a while on paper, and then decided to give an idea I had for a set on cradled wood panels a go, combining the inks with fluid acrylics.  Some things didn't work out as planned (do they ever?), and some things I ended up having to redo or rethink.  But overall I am pleased with this fun set of little paintings.  I have them placed in a gift shop.  Think I'll do more.  I had fun with these. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I decided I like the painting below just as it is, and changed the name of it to "Cloudburst". I'll put it in a white frame for an upcoming show in June at the Chaffee Art Center in Rutland, VT.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spring Rain (working title)

acrylic on stretched canvas with inclusions
20 x 24 inches

I laid out this painting with my left hand, and am switching hands as I work.  As it took shape, I found myself liking the somewhat unfinished look.  Perhaps because rainy, misty spring days themselves have that look. 

I was going to use white paint to give some bright spots, but happened to have some foil laying about. So I experimented on some small practice pieces to see how that might work.  I liked the look, and tentatively set some foil torn to shape on this one. This photo does not do justice to the way the foil works with the shapes and the bits of red in the composition, especially in room level light.  I like it.   

I am nearly finished with it now, and have set it aside with an isolating coat to protect it. In a few days or a week, I'll make a decision about whether to work more on it, or simply leave it be.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Taking Refuge

textured acrylic on stretched canvas
16 x 20 inches

As I suspected, "Watching the Wind" was not yet complete.  It did not tell the whole story.  Over the last few weeks, a bit at a time, I modified the existing layers a little, added a layer, and worked in the details that held the story. 

This was January 2, 2010, and at dawn that day, as the filtered light gradually illuminated the storm raging around us, I and perhaps 8 or 10 others formally took the Five Mindfulness Trainings as laypeople in the Buddhist Order of InterBeing.  Part of the ceremony is called "Taking Refuge".  The Refuges being referred to are the Buddha (awareness), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).  And that day there was the literal refuge from the storm within the hall.  So our large meditation hall held many meanings. 

It was a beautiful ceremony, and the immensity of the storm enhanced the meaning for all of us. It was wondrous, and I hope this painting conveys that feeling.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Summer Remnants, reworked

acrylic on stretched canvas
20 x24 inches

I liked this piece as it was (see it here), but it lacked luster and dimension in all but the brightest light.  So over a period of several weeks, I reworked it until it held its own in ordinary indoor light.  Now I have the strongest urge to add a little mouse tail near the bottom.  I've resisted that urge so far.  But no guarantees.  I still might.

Here's a detail:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aunt Myrt

Charcoal and graphite pencil on paper
5 x 7 inches

I've been away from home for a bit over a week, and when I came back, learned that my aunt is ill.  She is nearly 93, and over the last year, her health has been failing bit by bit.  I was able to talk to her this weekend for only a couple of minutes.  I am hoping this is just a temporary bug that she will recover from quickly.  At the same time, I know that the time is coming closer when she will no longer be around.

Over the weekend, I worked for a while on a large abstract landscape, but then found myself resisting picking up a paintbrush.  Finally, I got out my large sketchbook, thinking I'd just fool around with some quick black and white compositions for a while.  My aunt was so much on my mind that I got out a photo of her I took last year when I was visiting her on the west coast, and did this quick charcoal and graphite study.  It was what I needed to do.  Though I only spent about 30 minutes on it (and it shows), I felt calmer.  Someday, I'll do a portrait of her in oils. 

I call her my aunt, but she is actually the widow of my father's cousin, the son of my father's father's sister (you might have to draw a diagram to get all that, but it is intuitive to me).   To understand this, it helps to know how my family reckons relationships.  My mother's family does all the first/second cousin so-many-times removed thing, but I never have gotten the knack of that.  I grew up mostly around my father's family.  They determine relationships more by generation, with a little shifting here and there to even things up. 

There was the parent generation: so my parents and their siblings and cousins were all part of that generation.  They were all aunts and uncles to the kid generation, and often take on roles as "second mom" or "second dad".  Same with the grandparents: all of them, cousins and siblings to each other, were great-aunts and uncles and functioned more or less as grandparents to all the kids, regardless of which were the actual grandparents (though we had a very special relationship with our own grandparents).  Of course, I am not the kid generation anymore: there are two generations after me, and if I count the children of some of my older cousins, three.  And things are different now, as they are for most families these days. 

Myrt was one of my second moms, and the one I was closest to as a child.  My own mother has been dead for over 20 years. I am now older than my mother was when she died. Myrt filled the role of being my guide in my transistion from young woman to middle age.  In recent years, as I began to approach elder status, she has shown me the path of grace in growing old.  Though she has gone through many difficult situations in her life, she acknowledges the reality of things, grieves, and then goes on to enjoy the good things in her life. 

She is the last of that generation of my family, and I count myself blessed to have had her in my life for so long.  She is such a delightful part of my life.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

City Lights

This is another from the quick little paintings project.  I like it so much I decided to move it over here.  It is on paper, and I am thinking of mounting it on board and varnishing it to frame.

acrylic on archival paper
6 x 8 inches

Since the 30 days that I originally allotted for this project are long gone, I renamed the project blog "Quick Little Paintings, Having Fun".  I am learning so much from these little paintings that I've decided to just keep going with them, doing several at a session as time allows.  They are leading me right where I needed to go.  Some are loose and abstract, some are tighter, but without making me feel as if I have to get it "perfect".  I am enjoying letting the shapes and edges tell ME what they need to be.  After all, I am just the brush holder!  The paintings take on a life of their own and drag me along. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On the 100 little pieces project

Well, I'm over the 30 days, but making progress. I'm now in the 70s.  In my defense, I was gone for a couple of weeks, and there is that little matter of life.  Plus still working on some of my larger paintings. 

But this is fun.  No pressure, just play.  And every once in a while I stumble across something that feels like a keeper, or at least something to explore more deeply.  The two I did yesterday are like that.  I even gave them names instead of just numbers.  They still have that unfinished feeling, which I like.  Today I did modify "Before" a little.  Originally, the egg shape was black, which seemed a bit harsh when I looked at it today.  So I softened with a bit of bluish glaze.  Not sure that's the color it needed, so it may morph again someday. 

Elisabeth Dancing

acrylic on canvas panel
5 x 7 inches unframed


acrylic on canvas panel
5 x 7 inches unframed

Monday, March 15, 2010

100 little paintings: a blog of their own

I had been working on several paintings, and came to the end (or what feels like the end) of a series. Then I took some time off to do some other things.  I was feeling the need to explore but didn't want to jump into another series yet. 

I read Robert Genn's newsletter to artists regularly, and it just happened that he posted one with a suggestion that was just what I needed.  Paint 100 small paintings, quickly, without references, over a period of 30 days or so.  Robert suggested  these paremeters:

  • keep the paintings small
  • use a limited palette
  • spend only a few minutes on each one
  • leave them unfinished
  • paint like you are four years old
The last one has sometimes been the hardest!  But also the most important. 

Because there are so many little paintings, and the quality is all over the place, I decided to make a blog just for them. 
Here it is:  100 little pieces in 30 days (now called "Quick Little Paintings, Having Fun", same address)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Summer Remnants, Preserved

textured acrylic on stretched canvas
20 x 24 inches

I think this is finished now. Late in the fall, there was a frosty night, and toward morning an ice rain fell briefly, glazing the tops and stems of grasses and weeds along the edge of my garden. This week, I decided to capture the sense of wonder I had that morning when I went out. This is built up with layers of glaze overlaid to develop the stems and seedheads, and then with repeated thin layers of heavier, lightly tinted gel to give it dimension and texture.

It was cold and windy all week, and I was recovering from a cold with laryngitis, so I alternated short stints of painting with feeding the wood stove, fixing cups of tea or soup, and snuggling under laprobe with a book and cat. A good week.

Images of detail from painting:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Watching the Wind: still in progress, I think

Watching the Wind
textured acrylic on stretched canvas, 16 x20 inches

I laid down the base for this painting sometime in December, using a base color from another painting. Then I set it aside until the image became clearer in my mind. In early January, while I was at a spiritual retreat in the Catskill foothills, a massive, intensely cold stormfront covered the entire Northeast. We were at the edge of the storm, where winds were intense and randomly changing direction as the storm rotated. creating a layered whiteout that was constantly changing. I was entranced by the way the tiny particles of snow flowed with the eddies of the wind, making what is ordinarily invisible visible. and making what is ordinarily visible invisible.

At home, I pulled this canvas out, and began to paint what it felt to be in the midst of that amazing storm, using layers of tinted white. I'm not sure it is finished yet, but it is close. I set it aside while I worked on another painting, and each day look at it, waiting for it to tell me. I think it is asking for another layer. Tomorrow when the light comes, I will see.

Detail photos:

Monday, January 11, 2010

In progress: still unnamed

textured acrylic on stretched canvas
16 x 20 inches

I have two paintings in progress right now. I like working this way.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stinkingwater Pass

Stinkingwater Pass 1
16 x 20 inches, oil on stretched canvas

Yes, that is a real name of a real place, and (of course) it is located in the western mountains I love. Where else would have a name like this?

The pass is in central Oregon, about 30 miles east of Burns on Highway 20. a narrow, winding, two-lane highway through the Strawberry Range. Elevation 4848. As I approached the pass near noon early in September, I was struck by the contrasting masses lit up by the sun, and found a wide spot to pull off on. I was tempted to set up my easel, but there really was no room (my car barely fit) and it would have been dangerous.

So I walked back down the highway to the place my jaw dropped, and took quite a few photos, some from the middle of the highway (watching carefully for traffic; fortunately, there was little). Back at my car, I made some rough pencil sketches, just blocking in the masses. And that was that.

Until a couple of months after I got home. On one of those incredibly dreary mid-Novermber days, I went through my photos, and found myself again drawn to those massive shapes. I had to paint them.

The first painting I did using the photos to help me place and shape the masses, but drew on my memory for the striking color contrasts that caught my eye. And then I found my little pencil sketches, and did another painting, smaller, imagining myself still there, with quick, loose strokes, plein air style. I like them both.

Stinkingwater Pass 2
11 x 14 inches, acrylic on hardboard panel