Monday, December 10, 2012

A Little Gift of Yourself!

For three years I have run  a watercolor greeting card class (or tried to) at the Art Centers where I teach. For some reason they often do not fill with enough people to run. Which confuses me. The classes that I have taught have been well received.  I've even had repeat students disappointed the class did not run. 

I recently had an conversation with two artist friends about Christmas Cards and if it's worth sending them given the cost of cards and postage. Are times so tough that many or most have quit sending Christmas cards? I hope not, because I really love getting them from my friends and family, many of whom are far away and I never see them.  Yet once a year I get a card and usually a letter updating me on a year in their life I've missed.  That is something I look forward to.

 I still find it sad that email and the Internet have replaced the written word and stationary!  To me, letters and notes are so very personal and special.  And nowadays, even more so!    Many of my friends who are artists have cards printed of their work to send for the holidays. My friend Maria says "A card of your painting is also like a little gift. I thoroughly enjoy getting the creative efforts of my friends (plus I can also be jealous!)." I love her perspective! A little gift! I totally agree with Maria.
Or, as one student suggested, do you need to feel the art is "good enough" to share so broadly? (And so many of us doubt our paintings are any good)   Do you worry it's not "good enough" to share with the world?  Ask yourself if that's the point.  Instead of worrying about producing a masterpiece, do a playful painting like the Christmas lights above.  I saw a card online with some lights and used the idea, but did it my way!  Its simple but fun. I have a few templates and ideas for my classes that are simple and easy to replicate, but look around you for ideas.  Save cards that speak to you as inspiration for your own.  While copying is a no-no, you can use the subject matter in a unique way.

What says Christmas to you?  You cant go wrong when you paint something that speaks to you!  I've done a Poinsettia painting every year for years.  Eventually if you do a subject enough times you will get a painting you like!  I've used a few of these paintings and poinsettias have special meaning since my mother & grandmother loved them so. 

So why do a painting for a Christmas card? Because you are sharing a little more of yourself with your friends and family.   My point is to not get all caught up in the perfect painting, but instead get caught up in the joy that is painting and the joy that is Christmas!  Combine those and you cant go wrong.  And if you need that extra inspiration and confidence that comes from guidance-sign up next year for my classes!  :)

 Have a wonderful Christmas and a New Year filled with joy! (and ART!) 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Giving Thanks

Well, it's been a busy few weeks for me!  Freshly back from my Charles Reid workshop in Arizona, not only did I have to catch up from being gone a week but:
  • I had some medical issues to take care of,
  • my email went nuts and won't send any emails so I spent two days figuring all that out,
  • I caught a cold and
  • I am getting ready for my brother and sister in law to stay with me for 5 days at Thanksgiving.
  Thankfully, I am not having Thanksgiving dinner!  Before I take the time to regale you with my workshop experiences, I'd like to take this blog post to celebrate the holiday a little. So today, I'd like to thank each of you for reading this blog.  I'd like to thank any of you that have purchased any of my art.  I'd like to thank all of you for being supportive of my life as an artist and my art/talent.  It can be a hard road to make art your main thing!  I'd like to thank those who have taken and those who continue to regularly take my classes.  Each one of you and each way you support me means more than you know.  My hope is that in turn, what I've written, what I've created, what I've taught and how I've pursued my passion, has helped you live a more creative life.

So a big THANK YOU to all of you readers of this blog. I hope your holiday is filled with a cornacopia of reasons to be grateful.  Blessings to you and yours! 


Saturday, November 3, 2012

We Called Him Lucky

Art is often personal.  Art can be a way to communicate.  I like to-and try to-communicate the positive.  The joy in life.  It's beauty.  But sometimes my art helps me deal with difficult times.  Then art becomes a way to process feelings.  To get in touch with them or to understand something I can't verbalize.  It helps clarify thought and gives me a time to focus.  Then, quiet often, I find peace.

My first cat, Lucky left me to go to the great outdoor adventure in the sky a little over a two weeks ago.  So I felt it only fitting to honor him with a little painting and a blog post, since he brought so much joy (and grief) into my life!  The painting helped me process his death and let me grieve.  But it also gave me time to think about this little furry creature that made such a mark on my life.  Time to review his gifts to me.

In looking for a photo to paint, I could only come up with one!  I have thousands of photos, what with digital making it so easy to take and keep every little one.  I have taken many of the furry people, but I could only find the one.  (this has prompted and all out frenzy to catalogue and organize the photos I can find!) So sad am I, that this was the only reference I have of such an important piece of my life.  Note to self:  don't just take pictures!  Take the time to keep them organized and safe...

And, so.  Lucky came to us one Christmas as a present for my daughter who had indicated she would like a cat.  She does not remember it that way.  As is usual, the cat became mine...I digress.  We went to the local Vet who had a rescued litter.  These kittens were freezing in a barn and we brought home a cute one and called him Lucky, since he was lucky to be alive.  (and even luckier to find a home with us!  We kind of spoil the furry people!) 

His coat seemed a little dirty, so, never having had a cat before...I decided to bathe him...OUCH.  And for all that trouble, Lucky was always a kind of dusty looking orange tabby.  Never gave him another bath, I'll tell you that! 

Lucky was an indoor cat...until...we moved and he saw the big glass sliding doors and the expanse beyond!  Shortly thereafter, he began his escapes.  The first was a three day excursion leading his owner to wander neighborhoods and scour fields calling for her cat!  He was never gone that long again, but made dashing out the door a perilous experience for all involved!  We called him the escape artist. 

Lucky had the endearing and always comical habit of sleeping in my baskets.  I have them everywhere, and no matter the size or what is in them, Lucky would fit himself in these baskets!  Hanging over the sides of a small one or tucked way down in a big one, that's where I would look for Lucky.   We called him the basket case!  Yesterday I passed the big round basket on my dresser he use most often to sleep in.  I just had to smile and shed one small tear. 

Lucky had a habit of knocking things off counters and table or dresser tops if he wanted something.    Then he would play with it.  Jewelery, pens, coins--even larger items, glasses of water were his favorite. Usually he wanted attention.  But, say, he was out of food.  He would wait until 3 AM to alert me to his plight!  I tried everything to stop him from this annoying habit!  I squirted him with a water bottle.  (until I was in hysterics!  Lucky would just sit there and let you get him soaking wet with a confused look on his face!  All the books tell you it works--don't believe it!)  But he never stopped.  Most of the time he just wanted me to chase him around in the middle of the night.

And so, it is with sadness I share my small sketch of my Lucky.  He was such a...oh yeah, JOY!  He really had a personality I could relate to.  Free spirited, loving, risk taking, playful, tenacious, mischievous, energetic, lazy, sleepy, feisty and loyal.  He was one in a million and I miss that big dirty looking orange tabby cat!! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hanging On

Hanging On
What a beautiful fall it has been!  My favorite time of year, and I finally got out to plein air!  This small 5x7 plein air sketch was made a week ago at Hoover Dam.  It was just past peak for the leaves, but the shoreline across the lake was still brilliant!  Fall is the landscapes last hurrah!  And the color was awesome this year.  I took many photos, but have not gotten the chande paint any but this small piece with friends on a beautiful day in the open air!

The change of seasons always makes me a bit melancholy.  Letting go of one thing and embracing the next can be both exhilarating and scary!  I get tired of the heat with the endless garden chores and welcome the fall frosts and autumn color.  But the falling leaves always remind me to take stock.  When the leaves are gone, we see the landscape differently.  Gone is the foliage and naked is the earth.  The forest floor covered with color that once clung to the branches and danced in the breeze.  Now we see the structure of our surroundings.  The very thing on which its covering hung.  While not dead, only sleeping, our eyes rest with muted colors and bare trees. 

I ask myself what is the structure beneath my art?  What do I want to do with it and why?  Or why don't I?  Will I accept the fall with it's brilliance as well as the winter with its barren yet restorative chill?  And what am I hanging on to (or is hanging on to me) that I would be better off letting go of?  Yup, I'm at it again!  (what is she talking about, you ask??  But it can't hurt to think about these things, right??)  Fall reminds me to reassess.

On another note...I've opened an Esty storefront and this painting is for SALE!  (5 x7 oil on board, unframed)   I just opened it today and as of now only have two items listed.  I will be adding more as I catalogue unsold pieces and create more for sale.  Please visit  my Etsy Store by clicking this link:  MichelleMorrisArt

Please share my blog with your friends, join this site and sign up to receive each new post in your email inbox with the buttons next to this post on the right side!  I promise it won't be more than once a week.  Thank you for reading, and sharing this adventure in art and life!!

Have a great week

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Travel and the Lowly Sketchbook

My son Chris looking out the window

Last week I went with my husband and son to visit my oldest son in Arizona.  Most of the time when I go with the family there is precious little time to paint.  We are a busy outdoorsy group so we went hiking and the guy's golfed giving me time to paint?  No, I shopped!  There are other things in life!

I used to take my paints and sketchpad on my trips and never take them out.  I was afraid of onlookers and who knows what else?  But since painting with a plein air group, I don't have those issues anymore.  Most onlookers just take a peek and move on.  Some are chatty, but I've found ways to deal with that.  My family is very supportive and are usually willing to wander while I paint a bit.

Traveling with the family means I don't really have 2 or 3 hours to set up and do a larger plein air painting.  I take my paints in case they decide to do something that will take a while.  But generally, my vacations are to be with those I love and to adventure.  So I take lots of photos to someday do studio paintings.  (another blog entirely)

Over the last five years or so, I've carried a smaller sketchbook and pocket paints in my purse.  With these I do small sketches that require little time, space or water.  I can usually find some bottled water to use on site rather than drag it around--water is heavy!  But small sketches don't need much.  These wer done on the tray table while in flight.
fellow travelers
My favorite things to sketch are people.  (or to paint, period)  On the plane this time I had some fun doing very small paintings of those seated around me.  They are usually unaware and I try to keep it that way.  Its the perfect way to practice quickly drawing faces or figures.  These sketches are usually pretty fresh and don't get overworked.  There is nothing to prove in the sketchbook.  It's a place to practice with color, shape, value and composition.  There is no right or wrong about these little paintings, which may be why they are becoming so dear to me. 

I have grown to love my sketchbooks and the paintings that are in them.  Many are so simple and straightforward I could frame them.  I don't since they are also memoirs ( I write notes beside them and about my trips) and reference.   Some go on to be larger paintings.  Many serve as inspiration when I've lost mine.  I flip through a sketchbook, see a sketch and remember a photo I took that would be the perfect painting! 

Next I'll show you the paintings from my larger sketch book and share some hints on how to pack light and paint fast with focus.  Until next time! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

50 Shades of Grey

Now that I have your attention...;p Ha, Ha!  Our book club recently discussed reading all three books in the erotic trilogy beginning with the first book Shades of Grey.  We decided not to, for various reasons.  Yet discussions about this book with friends, students, co-workers or just a gal in line at the grocery store- have been a source of entertainment for me!  I have some thoughts on Shades of Grey as literature.

One of the key themes I've encountered is: this book is not written well.  It is not considered "good" literature, nor does it pretend to be. In which case we all know why it's a best seller.   Literature, like any art form is subjective.  And what criteria classifies art as "good" anyway?  I think most people consider art "good" if a lot of people like it, verses a lot of people not liking it!  If that's the case, then 50 Shades is good literature.  :)

Another theme I've heard (and thought myself) is: is this just porn dress up to look legit by calling it a novel?   I've drawn the nude for years and have had similar discussions with more conservative people many times: is the "nude" porn dressed up as art?  Again, subject to your viewpoint.  Yet considering  the art in Europe and throughout the centuries uses the nude, you might conclude it is legitimately art. Yet the lines and boundaries vary from person to person on this issue.  Can we conclude Playboy is art?  Certainly it's photography? 

Along the same lines I've had many a discussion about the work of the late Thomas Kinkade. If "good" means the masses approve, then he's good right?!  The art community viewed the man as a hack who sold himself into crass commercialism with a formulaic style he cranked out for mass production. Harsh?   Maybe. True?  Again, depends on your viewpoint. He is, in fact, the most collected artist of the twenty first century and in the world (according to CBS news) and his mass produced work hangs in one out of every twenty homes in America!   I checked out his book with the paintings he did plein air.  The man had talent.  So then popularity is bad...?  It's not good art if it sells?  Or is popular?

Let's look at the Beatles.  As a group they were a phenom.  As single artists, I say John Lennon was the true poet and the best and greatest artist in or out of the band.  My husband says it's Paul.  I say "you'd think the people would have had enough of silly love songs.  I look around me and I see it isn't so"  Oh no...And what's wrong with that, I'd like to know? 

I like to paint flowers among other things.  (and yes, the occasional nude flower:)  Flowers are pretty and my floral paintings are pretty little paintings.  I've heard the term "pretty little paintings" used to describe an artists work, and not in a good way.  I think I know good art, and I don't think my paintings will grace a museums walls.  I'm not delusional.  But people like them and they sell.  Who am I to argue with cash? 

We know that many painters we think of as greats today could not sell their work in their time.  I read some of the 47 different endings Hemingway wrote for A Farewell to Arms.  I liked a few alternates better than the one he chose!  Sure, I can editorialize an ending, but could I write the book?  50 Shades begs me to ask, would it have sold so well without the sex?  Oh come on!  I wonder if the author wrote 47 alternate endings?  And no one-no one-I've talked to says Shades is great literature. But I'm betting it will be on the best seller list for a while.  Sales have been so good that Shades of Grey bolstered Barnes and Nobles profits and may help them get out of the red and into, as it were, the grey--!  I wonder if A Farewell to Arms would sell as well as Grey has today. I'm sure not.

Excellence is rare. That is what makes it so very valuable.  I watched a most interesting video from a documentary on the BBC that is related to this issue. It's called Why Beauty Matters. (I've linked the You Tube video to the title) It is an hour long, but it is well worth the time. Narrator and art critic Roger Scruton states in the first few minutes his opinion that "We are losing beauty and here is the danger- that with it we will lose the meaning of life." Now that's a bold statement, but I found the whole piece very thought provoking and relevant in this age where someone can pee on the sidewalk and call it art.

So while there are as many opinions about what is and is not "good" art, the bottom line is this:  There are many, lets say 50, shades of gray in this area!  And since excellence is rare we ought not to be so critical when we fill our lives with silly love songs.  If you buy into pop culture is it less valuable as art?  With the saturation and proliferation of the ordinary, and the homogenization of our culture, will we lose our sensibilities for excellence?  For the individual and unique?  How do we know "good" art when we see it?   What is excellence?   Hard to say, but I still want to paint pretty little flower paintings!  (and sell them...)

Friday, July 27, 2012

I'm Back!

I've been a bad little artist!  Not to mention a bad little blogger!  I just hate it when my favorite blogs go dormant and there are no posts to entertain me.  How spoiled we are that with the push of a button and the flip of a switch we have entertainment and inspiration 24/7.  And how lucky.  I must say there is a dearth of postings on my favorite blogs during the summer months. 

But I should talk-eh?  "Where are your postings?" you ask!   Thanks to those of you who have written asking-when are you coming back?  I wrote last post that I would only write if I had something to say.  Could it be I have nothing to say?  Highly unlikely!  But do I have anything worthwhile to say?

The truth is, I've led a very boring life lately.  And I welcomed boring!  The post wedding months have been all about rest!  I have been working in other area's and have a few new inspirational ideas that may develop.  And there are important things that have required and continue to require my time and attention.  While I have less time in general, I'm seeing a shift in my thinking concerning time and how I use it. When your time is at a premium, priorities absolutely become clear!  So besides being all newsy and catching you up on what I'm doing, I want to share with you what I've learned lately. 

Lately I've learned how important my family is.  I've learned how to honor my father by letting go of me and stepping up to help him.  I've learned through the wedding how wonderful our family is and how those special celebrations cement our bonds.  I've learned that in crisis, we turn to our family.  I've learned that there is little else I truly care more about!  Next time I want to share a little bit more about time, our priorities and our art.  Being true to ourselves and our art requires time and a commitment.

But to confess, I haven't kept up my sketch book or painted a single thing!   Until just a few weeks ago...I have a painting in the works, which I will be sharing here in the coming weeks.  It's for the negative painting class I will be teaching in a few weeks.  (If you have an interest, you can sign up by hitting this link:  McConnell Arts Center)  This is a new class and a new venue for me.  Negative painting is a way to learn how to see all your spaces, not just the subject! 

I've noticed students don't usually think about the negative space in their paintings until it's too late.  Negative space is usually an after thought.  Yet much of the time a paintings negative space is larger than the subject matter!   To really have good composition you must think about all the space on the picture plane not just the subject matter.   Doesn't it make sense to plan and use the largest area on your paper to best advantage? 

So that's what I'm up to right now.  The above painting "Daisy Do" is an example of a negative painting.  Look carefully and you will see how I carved each daisy from the negative spaces.  Last fall I did a negative painting of fall leaves, which is what started this class idea.  I hope you like these and the coming paintings.  Now that I'm back, I hope you join me again and be inspired and encouraged to use your creative spirit! 

Monday, May 7, 2012


As many of you know, my daughter gets married in a month.  I can do little else but keep the list and check off each completed task.  So blogging is not a high priority this month.  In fact, I am not going to try to write once a week anymore.  I've decided to write when I really have something to say!  (but fear not--I always have a lot to say!)   So maybe once or twice a month.  Or so.

The bigger problem is I have no time to paint.  Walls, yes.  A painting no.  Flowers bloom and call to me-"paint me!"   I watch them fade, knowing they will call again next spring.  The landscape is awakening and it, too, calls me to pain it.  I  paint them in my mind and wait for another time.  And so it goes.

Seasons of separation from my art, forced or not, are good. It reaffirms that I am an artist in the most basic sense.  By basic I  mean it is such a part of me I need to create.  And I am lost when I cannot.   I think about it even when I cannot do it.  This signals to me that it's more than what I do, it's who I am.

So right now, my art and this blog need a break.  I will devote myself to the other things that are also who I am.  My family and friends.  My home and hospitality.  And the celebration of these things that are also most basic to me.  And going forward, living with intention -as I blogged when I met the bear-I want to celebrate.  My daughter and her future husband.  My family and all my friends.  And later, when the time comes, my writing and my art.

But there is that painting I have sketched sitting on my easel...:)  I'll post it when it's done!~

Friday, April 13, 2012

Perspective 101

Perspective is a term used in art.  As defined by Merriam Webster:

1. a technique of depicting volumes and spatial relationships on a flat surface.
2. a picture employing this technique, especially one in which it is prominent: an architect's perspective of a house.
3. a visible scene, especially one extending to a distance; vista: 

Perspective is an important concept in art.  A basic principle to learn that gives depth to a painting.  It helps us dipict three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.  I hear the word often used in what I do, but I want to talk about another kind of perspective.  You know, seeing the forest through the trees?

I begin a landscape deciding what to put in the foreground, middleground and background.  This is simple, perspective 101.  But in our lives, I think we tend live and focus on the foreground.  At least I know I do.  While it is true we only have today, "getting perspective" helps us to see the bigger picture.  And it's important to remember there is a bigger picture.  The tendency is to stay in the foreground of the everyday of the "to do" list or what's currently on our plate.  But "getting perspective" reminds us that there are other ways as well as other things to see. 

Students often spend a great deal of time on an area of the painting that is not really all that important to the overall painting.  That blade of grass they paint so carefully is not what they want the viewer to notice.  Yet they spend so much time on it, and give it so much importance.  Why?  We get caught in the foreground, because it is the easiest to see.  It is right in front of us, the here and now, so to speak.  

While the foreground is a part of the whole, let's not get stuck there. Lately, I've been getting the message that I'm not living very large.  Don't get me wrong, I have a great life.  Right here and now.  But things keep knocking me down, giving me a totally different perspective!  (sometimes I need a knock upside the head to see things straight!) I have several friends in crisis right now.  Which put's any problem I may think I have at a pretty low category.  And that's a good thing. My grandmother always used to say "there is always someone better off and someone worse off".  She was a smart woman. Her point is well taken. All I need to do is move to change my perspective.  But then the challenge is to choose what to focus on.  I have more options now.  I see more clearly, but I also risk confusion!  I need a "focal point".  (But that's another blog!)

So, I've changed my perspective recently.  Adjusting my perspective has given me a better view and expanded my vision.  I have some things a bit further down the road that are coming into focus.  Largely because I expanded my vision and took a cue from the messages being sent.  Live large, they chant.  Be bold is the chorus.  What are you risking by staying at a distance?  they ask.   I think you risk a limited vision!  I say, if your not liking the view, change your perspective!  

Have a great week!  


Friday, April 6, 2012

Mixing It Up!

Today in the grocery store I was assaulted by Easter Lilies!  White Lilies everywhere!! It's tempting to pick up another one.  My mother loved and purchased an Easter Lillie almost every year.  She loved the "hot house flowers" that you can get during the holidays. 

Last Easter I had a "left over" Lillie and decided to "mix it up" with watercolor and Pastel.  As you can see, I have it framed and hanging in my house.  While not my favorite, I limited my palette by trying to stay with a few "spring" pastel colors.  I lost the under painting, but it was more and experiment for a class I was to teach later that spring. 

Later, for the workshop, my set up and demo was inspired by a trip to the garden center.  I bought some pansies (another favorite) and a small mouse.  I demonstrated an under painting with watercolor and applied pastel on top of a warm grey Wallis paper.  I did manage to leave some of the Wallis paper untouched, but I lost most of the watercolor under painting.  It even won an award at a local art show. 

My trip to the grocer reminded me of lilies, and the painting I see everyday.  It also reminded me I need to mix it up again!  Getting out of your comfort zone is healthy.  When you stretch yourself you find out all kinds of things are possible--just because you tried!  Go MIX IT UP!

Have a lovely Easter! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012


Close up from larger painting

Inspiration.  What's yours?  For me it's everywhere.  There are not enough days and never the energy to paint all the paintings in my head!  I see a potential painting daily if not hourly!

It wasn't always that way.  Inspiration used to visit on a whim.  If there was no way to take the inspiration to canvas or paper in that moment, the moment, and the inspiration passed.  Though not always forgotten, the initial excitement to act faded.  And more than not, nothing came of it.

Inspiration has to be nourished.  When I began to seize those moments and also learn to recreate them I found they visited with greater frequency.  Now I find inspiration in daily things and not just  those grander moments .  I see them in the light that hits something or just the color of the sky.  Now, the artists and the art I am most drawn to are those who paint common things and distill a scene to it's essence.  The common.

The One Sketch a Day journal has been inspiration for me.  Finding something to draw daily requires I draw what is at hand.  It's amazing what presents itself in the ordinary.  I fear I've been looking to far for inspiration in my painting when it's always been right under my nose!

Painting, drawing, writing, singing, cooking or whatever your art is-it should come from your heart.  From the things you love.  Which for me are often far and wide.  I love to travel.  I love to travel and PAINT even more!  But ordinary and close are where I spend most of my time.  To find the inspiration there makes me grateful for "the daily". 

Last week the Daffodils were blooming like crazy right here in my own back yard. I've planted many because they make me happy.  Gone so quickly and with other commitments I wasn't sure I'd get to them.   I will be heading out to teach a class at the Delaware Arts Castle on Flowers in Watercolor and I wanted fresh paintings to bring. (click the link! if you hurry you can still register!) .  Last year I tried to paint every type of flower as it bloomed in my yard.  The Daffodils never turned out.  For years I've painted them and was never really happy with them.  I'm pleased these at least resemble daffodils, even though I did them a little tighter than usual.  (I do that when I'm struggling!)  So from my own back yard I finally had a break through with the Daffodils.  Learning to keep at something and work from the ordinary has been my lesson for the week. Also I learned I'm grateful the deer don't like daffodils!

My challenge to all you creative's out there: find theinspiration in the common, the daily, the ordinary.  I hope it makes you happy and grateful.  It does me. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sketching Addiction

So how do you make a commitment to a sketch a day journal for an ENTIRE YEAR?  By now, as I said a few blogs back, most of us have given up our new years resolutions.  Let's face it, it's hard to stick to this stuff.    Our "beginnings" are usually good things.  I mean no one vows to drive on the wrong side of the road once a day, right?  These are good habits and intentions we have.  Things we are trying to cement into place to make our lives better.  So why don't they stick?

Why don't we just keep our resolutions?  Is it really that hard to change?  Well, yes.  Most of the time we just loose steam.  It seems less important than it did when we started.  Or, life gets in the way.  You only have time for so many things in a day and crowding one more thing in is just one too many!  In my life I know that if it does not flow easily into my routine it will not last long!  So I've learned that to effect any real change in my life I need to have a clear focus and make it as easy to do as possible! 

We know it takes 21 days to break or form a habit.  But what is a habit?  The definition of habit that applies to this is A: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance  B: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.  and finally C:  addiction. 

And so A and B are what I'm talking about.  This little sketch book is maybe 5 x 8 with half page entries for each day.  Honey, that's a 5x4 inch space to sketch in--it wont take all day!!  We can fit this in our purse and take it with us.  My point is that it's easy to fit into my life from a size and time standpoint.  Now all it takes is the doing!  So in making it easy I will be more likely to do it and therefore establish a habit.  

Now while definition C has negative connotations, might I suggest that's what artists are?  Addicts.  Addicts in a good way.  Addicted to beauty.  Addicted to expression.  Addicted to the flow of watercolor pigment on the paper or feel of a brush in our hand.  Addicted to the potential of blank canvas or the smell of the oil paint.  We see the world as something to be embraced and recorded. 

So I hope this daily sketching habit becomes and addiction or "nearly or completely involuntary".    I've sketched daily for extended periods before but never a year.  I saw the value in just the short times I took the challenge and I'm excited to see how this changes me and my art.  I will have a visual record of a year-will there be recurring themes?  Will I see improvement in my drawing skill?  Will I find out something about myself on this journey?  I'm sure all of those are true and more. 
Robert Henri says you can't finish a thing you have not begun. I invite you to do it with us. Become a sketch addict!! 

Happy sketching! 

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Visual Journal

I love the promise of spring.  It's been such a mild winter and this past week has been so warm I have been out in it as much as I can.  Officially, the First Day of Spring (Spring Equinox) is on Tuesday, March 20, 2012.  But I'm here to say it has arrived early and I, for one, am all the happier to see it!!

Every spring brings with it the promise of renewal.  On my walk yesterday I was noticing all the tender buds in the understory that could still be damaged by cold temperatures.  They push forth and take the risk.  Sometimes warm temps coax them out early and they are bitten by frost.  I've lost a whole "crop" of lilac blooms to a cold snap!  That, to me, is a tragedy!

While walking and contemplating spring buds, my mind wandered to my best friend's daughter.  Missy is a very talented young woman I had the privilege to nurture in her art when I still lived close. I wondered as I walked that day if she still had the time and energy to do her own work.  An artist's work, you know?  The art that makes an artist happy, like a spring day--new each time full and of promise!  The art with all the possibilities and newness of the spring.  So I asked her if she found much time for it.  Of course, she doesn't.  Life is full and busy.  But in my head I knew I had to encourage her--heck-I have to encourage me-to do what is such a part of me but so easy to set aside.  So I asked her if she'd like to do a sketch a day journal with me this year.  She agreed and we started a yearly visual journal to sketch a small sketch each day.  Not a "have to" thing.  More like a place to nurture that part of ourselves.  A simple act to reinforce who we are and what we love. 
So here we go on a year long journey.  Daily short trips to ourselves. I'm excited!  Thanks for walking with me for the year Missy! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Art at the Arnold 2012

Finished painting on Saturday

This is the third year I've participated in Art at the Arnold.  Every year it is an adventure all its own.  You would think by the third year I'd get in some kind of groove, wouldn't you? 

Art at the Arnold is, after all, a competition.  In keeping with that, you hope to do some of your best work.  It's a lot of pressure!  Not only can you tank in front of the public.  Them, I tell myself, you will never see again.  But bombing out in front of your peers?  Ouch.  So why, every year, do I pick the hardest model to paint?  The one I am least prepared to paint? (slow learner?) The one with the least clothes and most skin (I don't get a chance to paint many dark skinned people and hardly ever in watercolor) and overly developed musculature!  Why didn't I pick the beautifully lit blond haired blue eyed cheer leader or the female martial arts model in full white uniform?

closeup of the model I tried to paint
Friday was a disaster.  That and my experience last year gave me doubts.  I went home very discouraged.  God bless my supportive husband.  He let me get it all out.  Then he pointed out that I can actually paint and that I let my own thoughts derail me every year.  And he stood me up the next morning and marched me out!! 

So on the drive in I reminded myself of all I had in my corner.  I also reminded myself that tomorrow, no matter the outcome, the sun would still rise.  Sometimes I take all this so seriously.  And once again, I decided to enjoy my peeps and have fun!  That's the magic.  I mean, if it's no fun, what's the point?

I printed several photos with different subjects and decided to choose one that morning with fresh eyes.  I chose this photo reference for several reasons. To me, these ballroom dancers have so much fun.  And I LOVE to dance!  The bright pink scarf in contrast to the black and white.  The glasses, which up close were also checked.  I loved the pose.  Most of all, it was the skirt.  The checks, the blur and the twirl of it!! 

Many decisions are made during the painting process.  All my decisions were based on fun!  Keep the glasses?  It was harder because they are so small, but I think they add to the fun.  The colors in the background?  Obviously not in the photo, but bright, fun and complimentary to the scarf and tie.  I think the thing that made it for me is the skirt.  At one point, what I would do with the skirt was at issue.  Could I pull of the checks without it becoming too busy?  I knew I wanted to do the blur but I wondered if painting the skirt a solid would help me stick to my philosophy that less is more.   I conferred with friends and took the risk.  Saturday it paid off.   Friday it didn't. 

Not a winner this year.  Or maybe I am :) 


Thursday, March 1, 2012

What do Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Michelle Morris have in Common??

Ballroom Dancer from Art at the Arnold 2010

The Arnold sports festival is held in Columbus every year.  The festival has expanded into the world’s largest multi-sport fitness weekend since its 1989 beginning as The Arnold Classic as a one-day professional men’s bodybuilding competition.  It is an experience to say the least! 

This will be my third year to compete at the Arnold.   Didn't know I was that physically fit, did you??  Well, I'm not.  But I am competing in the "Art at the Arnold".  The 3rd Annual Art at the Arnold competition during the Arnold Sports Festival will again use this unique venue for artists to portray athletes and sports action on March 2-4 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center (GCCC).  The 3-day event allows artists to compete and entertain spectators by creating paintings from dozens of sports that range from archery to weightlifting. Artists will create their work in the open concourse between the GCCC and the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The exhibit will be March 4 on the second floor of the GCCC. (that's straight from the promo!)

There are so many talented artist's that participate, many of whom are my friends.  It's three days of intense work and long hours.  And it can be a lot of pressure.  But it is a huge amount of fun!  I am looking forward to finding a subject that inspires and hopefully create a piece I am proud to show on Sunday. 

If you get to the festival this weekend, drop by the concourse and say hello!  Wish me luck! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Having a Plan

I don't have a plan!  I know, I know!  Do you??  January starts with such good intentions.  All the books roll out to organize and plan your year.  Exercise equipment is everywhere.  Gym memberships are on special!  All the blogs I read had ideas for the new year.  I even bought a book about the business side of art with all the plans you could ever want!  I admit, I was tempted to put one in place.  But I know myself better than that.  Why set myself up, I asked?  Now, it's almost March. Are you still doing what you set out to do? Have you followed the plan?

I believe the adage "fail to plan, plan to fail", so I guess I do plan, loosely.  I plan my compositions.  But when I paint, I like to be open to the painting to tell me where to go with it. Sometimes it's better than anything I had planned. 

 I think you have to have a set destination to really chart a direct course and follow it.  But I'm more of a stroller.  I like to dally in the green meadow or stop and look up to watch the bird in her nest.  I have an idea where I'm headed, but it's less about getting there and more about the pleasant diversions along the way. For me.

Not everyone is built this way.  You may need a schedule and timeline to get things accomplished or you feel uncomfortable.  I feel uncomfortable and restrained with rigid deadlines.  I have them and I meet them.  But I don't thrive on them.  I think we are bent one way or the other. Which way do you lean?  And while deadlines and destinations keep things moving forward in the world we live in, we need balance. 

I say embrace it!  Don't fight it.  This world needs all kinds.  Those who are strollers keep those uptight deadline makers from taking themselves to seriously and the planners keep us from driving off the road into the ditch while we watch the scenery!  It's a win win thing if you ask me. 

The painting above is the beginning of a self portrait I started this week with my portrait group.  I can see myself beginning to emerge in a cloudy haze.  (yes, it's very flawed and needs work, as do I!)  That's how portrait painting works for me.  And I love it and the thrill of seeing the likeness (hopefully) emerge.  Over the years I've wanted to focus more on my portraiture (among other things!!) so I joined a group that paints once a week.  So here's the balance.  I do it once a week  (plan/structure) but do it in a way that I find relaxing and with fun people (loose/strolling).  I think that's a balanced win-win plan! 

Over the next few weeks my plan is to show you a few ways to use your sketchbook for fun and not just to work out your values or compositions.  And I'm trying to get back to blogging weekly.  Thanks for reading.  Now go create something! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Finding Your Artistic Voice

Have you ever struggled with what kind of art (music; writing; etc.) you want to do?  We live in a world with so many rich choices it can be mind boggeling. Are you like me and love everything and want to do absolutely everything?  This can be a good thing since I believe diversity makes you very well rounded and a more interesting person.  It can also be a bad thing.  So many choices mean we don't focus on any one thing long enough to be really good at anything! 

There are those of you whose path seemed predetermined at birth.  You picked up a paint brush and some oil paints and ureka!  It was magic and you never wanted another medium.  Some of you do landscapes and find never ending inspritation from the vistas before you.  Some of you played a jazz tune the first time and now every note you play has that familiar edge, as though it was a part of you.  Like you were meant to play that way.  I envy you.  For many of us the path is not so clear. 

A great deal of us finally find something that speaks to us along lifes way.  A passion that has not presented itself before or is reawakened later in life.  Something that we find so compelling that we can't get enough. That, is when the magic happens.  Finding your passion is the beggining of finding your voice. 

Next you must master your craft.  This takes years.  Life get's in the way.  Unless it's your career path as well, you must make time for it and time gets shorter as we get older!  But here's what I tell all my students:  you have to master the skills before you can use them creatively.  Only when the skills become rote do we have the freedom to investigate our creativity through our art.  I'm not saying you are never being creative in the early stages of your art.  But I am saying it is much easier to experess yourself if you have more than a basic vocabulary!  So is it impossible make good art when you are just beginning?  Some of the pieces I am most fond of are those that have the freshness of inexperience!  One lesson is to always keep learning to keep your art fresh.  Skill is not the end all. 

Now you have your passion defined and your skill set in place.  Now what?  What makes you different?  What makes you special?  I believe we are created with unique and individual traits.  In the same way, I believe each of you has a unique and individual way to create using your art.  A "style" or voice that is only yours.  I also think we all have something to say that no one else can say quite the way you, and only you, can.

But hold on.  You are going to change and so will your art.  Therefore, so will your "voice".  It's a comfortable place to find your "grove" but a dangerous place to stay.  Let me suggest that as you grow as an artist your voice gets deeper and what you have to say becomes clearer.  All that takes time.  Life is process and so is your art.  The trap is to find something so comfortable you never grow beyond it.  While there is safely in having the skills and knowing what your message is, an artist must continue to grow.  To find something new and fresh to speak about.  At some point people will tune out if they've heard the same thing a thousand times.  And isn't art a conversation, really?  Aren't we really expressing something through another "language" of sorts? 

So I guess my message today is:  All this buzz about finding ones voice is a nice idea, if that were all there was to it:  Found passion-check.  Learned skills-check.  Have something to say-check!-heck.  How dull life would be if that were all there were?  How dull is art that say's the same thing over and over again? 

Think about it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What's Wrong With This Picture? The Value of a Good Critique-Pt.2

Tom - Alla Prima

What's Wrong with this Picture? The Value of a Good Critique-Pt.2

First, let me say thank you to all of you who commented on this blog--and there were a lot of you!!  Most of you receive my blog on an email list serve so your responses come to my inbox and not directly to the comment area on my blog for all to see.   It would be nice for you all to see the comments that land in my inbox and have a dialogue.  There is a setting I need to change for that, but like so much else--someday, maybe...

The number one response I got asked if a bad experience caused me to write this.  The short answer is no. Have I had bad experiences? Sure, I have.  My first college watercolor class was a disaster and I received a D!  I've sat through many a scourging critique and have been rejected for memberships and shows. People have said unflattering things.  (and why is that what we remember?)  That, my friends, is the life of an artist.  It comes with the territory.  You must develop a thick skin or never let your work see the light of day.  So many of you do that very thing. I still feel the sting of negative feedback, as do my most accomplished friends.  You will never avoid it, you must learn to deal with it.

My aim is to encourage you and your talent.  Life is process and so is our art.  Robert Henri wrote in The Art Spirit "A thing that has not been begun cannot be finished".  Yet how many an artist has pulled their toe from the water to avoid getting wet?  They begin, but they let criticism stop them from finishing.  If criticism is what you fear, I say you must just jump in feet first and brave the water- get yourself all wet! Or if that's not your style, wade in slowly, getting used to the water slowly.  Let's face it, repeated exposure will desensitize you. You also can't finish if you quit!  While Mr. Henri was talking about a single painting, I would add that as artists we are never "finished" with our art.  We continue to grow and evolve.  And "constructive" criticism helps us do just that.

A few of you thought I wanted feedback on the painting I posted because of the title of the blog "What's Wrong with this Picture?"  You were very kind in your comments.  I love the painting (I always love the latest one that finished well) and only threw it up there because my readers want to see my artwork.  The title was really a metaphor.  By definition Critique means "the art or practice of criticism"  and Criticism means  "the practice of judging the merits and faults of something or someone".  While a little convoluted, the idea was that most often feedback is negative and some of those doling it out have dubious motives.  So "What's Wrong with this Picture" has two meanings.  Sneaky, huh?

I try now to look at criticism from any source with objectivity.  I ask myself if there is any merit to their view, even if I don't like what I'm hearing.  I try to separate my personal feelings from their reaction to my art.  And I try to remember that for everyone who loves my art, there will be those who don't.  And that's OK.  I don't like everyone's art myself.  You have opinions, don't you? 
Find a safe place to nurture your creativity.  A place where you can grow.  Don't let criticism stop you from doing what you love and expressing yourself through your art and showing the world.  Do learn to use it to make you and your art better, remembering that there is always room to grow and improve.  That's the value of a good critique.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What's Wrong with this Picture? The Value of a Good Critique.

Being an artist can be tough.  Art school can be cruel.  You have to develop a tough skin if you want to be an artist!  That being said, there is a line between a valuable piece of criticism and an opinion.  And the difference is: who delivers it!!  Because every criticism is really only an opinionThe bottom line is there are really no hard and fast rules in art by which we can measure its worth.  Art is personal and subjective.  And everyone has an opinion. 

I think it's very valuable to surround yourself with people who's opinions and criticism is constructive and delivered in the right way.   I have friends whom I respect as artists and have credibility with me because I know their work and trust their eye.  These artists have raised my art to a higher level.  They give their opinion only when asked.  And we  support one another and have a safe place to do what we do, without judgement.

Yet there are those self appointed critics who feel the need to let you know what you lack.  I am always amazed when fellow artists or others give me unsolicited advice or criticism.  If you do that, you had better be Picasso yourself or you are only making enemies.  Again, advice, criticism, opinion or whatever you call it may have value and be legitimate, but only if the person delivering it is someone you respect.  Someone you want to learn from.  Those generous with their time and talent and interested in helping me be a better artist.  

Artists are sensitive people.  But the truth is when you put your art out there you are essentially asking the world to look at what you do and to judge it. I don't paint them to put them in a drawer. It would be very mature and together of me to say that others opinions of my work do not bother me. That wouldn't be the truth and I don't really believe artists who say that.  My paintings all carry a part of me, so it is personal. If they love them, I'm happy. If they hate them, I have to decide if I value their assessment.  If I do, I could be bruised.  But I've learned from entering juried shows, from being in critique groups or having them in a class that these situations can lend objectivity to my work and teach me valuable things.   And- that it's not always valid.  Ultimately I need to learn to find those who can reliably help me and keep growing as an artist.  Just realize that if your paintings have no flaws, then you have arrived and now you have no where to go. And most likely, no one to go with!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Grizzly Bears and Art

Last summer I had a grizzly bear encounter.   It's only significance to this blog is how it relates to my life and my art.  As is my habit, I want to share the metaphors with you.
The short version is that while in Montana visiting our son in Glacier National Park I had a very close call with a grizzly bear.  In case you don't know, Grizzly's are mean and very unpredictable.  They are the last type of bear you want to meet!
My sister in law and I took a very short trail to the hotel to return a room key.  The trail was a horse trail we had just seen traversed by four riders.  We thought it a short trip and the guy's needed the bear spray for their trek to the river to fish.  I figured it was safer than the narrow highway with little or no room for pedestrians and a blind curve by the hotel.  Surely all the bear hype was just that - hype? These parts were so full of people and bears tend to shy away from the more populated areas.  But I was wrong.  Lesson number one:  it's not the first time I've been wrong...
So down the trail we go.  Getting further in, the path becomes dense with brush and trees.  I was more uncomfortable now.  Talking loudly and walking quickly to alert any bears we were on our way, I noticed movement out of the side of my eye.  Turning to see what it was, up on hind legs popped a young bear not ten feet away!!  I looked him full in the eye and we stared at each other for a beat; long enough for me to register some real fear.  (Note: You are not supposed to look a bear in the eye!) 
Now you might think this a stretch, but how often has your art gotten you into any real danger?  My guess is, not often!  So what are you afraid of?  Why are you not doing more with your passion?  The answer is that you looked the bear in the eyes and you are afraid!  He's big.  He's powerful.  He could consume you and your life or at least change it forever!  It's risky to walk down that path even with bear spray!  If you really pursue this art thing, it could be a huge failure.  It could take all your savings if you quit your day job.  You could find you are a no talent hack and you were just deluding yourself all along!  It could be a huge disaster!  Or...
The young bear then came out of the brush at us!!   We screamed and ran-- hearts beating outside our chests!!  Yes ran.  (and no you are never supposed to run).  Your odds are thin to nil you'll ever out run a bear.  So why did we run?  In short, instinct took over.  And there's the next lesson.  We all have that same instinct.  My sister-in-law lives in Montana and is married to the director of Parks for the state.  She knows better.  We both did.  And yet, we ran!  We ran because there was imminent danger and we let our fear dictate our actions.  Bears that pop up out of nowhere give you no time to think!  The lesson here?  Practice so you are prepared when the bear pops up!!  What is the bear you fear?  Figure that out and then prepare and rehearse so that when you meet him, and you will if you wander around in the forest long enough, you are prepared to live through it!!
Luckily, the bear ran straight as we ran forward and he disappeared into the dense cover on the other side.  The lesson?  Most of the time you just see a bear at a distance.  But if it gets as close as ten feet, or even appears to charge at you, and if you can run faster than your sister-in-law, your odds of survival are better!  (Just kidding!)  My thought is that while I don't take unnecessary risks, I have learned that taking calculated risk usually does not kill me.  So, while you might see a bear on your path, it's highly unlikely it will be as bad as you think it will-- if it even happens!!  You must take some risks in your art to get any further.
Recounting my trauma to my son later, I was still very shaken.  I had cheated death!  And my heart still raced when I thought about it.  In this very deep way he said "Mom, you are more alive now than you were before!"  He knew what I felt having had a similar experience himself.  But what he didn't know, was how profound that statement was for me.  I was indeed more alive for having that experience.  Do I want another one?  Not on your life!  Yet it reaffirmed some things.  One, my understanding that the here and now is all we really have.  Two, what I worry about is seldom if ever as bad as I fear.  Three, keeping my eyes open and being prepared help keep the fear and self-doubt at bay. 
 I want to live with more intention now.  I do have a greater sense of urgency to experience life more fully.  And I don't want to waste another moment with the unnecessary.  I want to live my life and do my art more fully.  
And I have to thank a bear for that.