Saturday, December 6, 2014

Skating On Thin Ice

Each year I paint a painting for my Christmas cards.  This little guy is from a figurine a friend gave me.  I think it's so cute.  While I was painting it I thought about how little art I've been able to do. This little painting reminds me a little of the last two years!  Sometimes life seems slippery and you really struggle to keep your balance and stay standing.  Sometimes you fall. And baby, that ice is hard! But you get back up and keep struggling to stay upright. Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea to put thin blades on shoes, creating ice skates.  Ice skates make traveling on the ice easier.  Once you get the hang of it!  After you learn the skills it takes to skate with blades, it becomes a graceful way to move on the slick ice.  The blade cuts into the ice allowing the skate to gra
sp the ice.  Once the skater learns the skills required to maneuver, skating becomes a vehicle for movement. Beyond just movement, it can also be used as expression with the beauty of a fluid and graceful dance.
Life is like a frozen pond at times. Sometimes it's though to navigate.  You have to learn new ways to deal with things.  It becomes slippery and how to remain on your feet is unclear.  So you find some skates. Then you learn to navigate the ice and acquire new skills that help you maneuver the once treacherous ice. Things might not be any less slippery, but you learn to work with what you got and make the most of the ice.  I read that ice skating is the fastest way to move--but without will struggle.  So the very ice that slows your progress can become the thing that speeds it, once you learn to work with what you've got! Art is like this too. Once you have the skills needed, you are able to express yourself.  Your medium becomes a vehicle for a fluid dance of expression.  That's not to say there are not hours or practice you must put in to get to that place.  But each hour of practice brings you closer to gestalt.  That state where all the skills become automatic and you can concentrate on the concept and not the process. And that's when the magic happens!
Art (and life) can find you on slippery ice.  A place of uncertainty or fear.  Buy some skates! Learn a new skill or take that skill further. You will fall. You will hurt when you fall.  But you need to get up and try again! Don't let the fall keep you down. Let failure be your teacher!  Be kind to yourself too. Perfection can be our enemy.  I think you should strive to some standard, but Sometimes it's enough to stand on the ice that day.
I guess my message is:  when art, or life, finds you on ice---learn to skate!
Wishing all a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with art!  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Time, Life & Art


To all of you who look forward to a little art inspiration in you inbox, thank you for reading.  But it's hard to write about art when you're not doing any! (Well, that depends on how you classify "doing art" which I will talk about later) So I thought I'd revisit the theme of  "What do you do when your life crowds out your art?" 

Jobs, family & other obligations take up lots of time.  You busily go through your days, that turn into weeks and then years, of no art.  And you are left wondering, is it really important to me?  Because if it was, I would MAKE time for it.  And that's true.  

And it's not.  (It's scary, but that's pretty much how I view all of life!). If only life were all about intention, priorities, will.  I don't know about you, but my life is more complicated than that. I have good intentions, priorities and a fair amount of willpower.  Yet I remain 20 pounds overweight, have a list of unread books and exotic places I've not made it to yet, I'm not a millionaire and have quite a few lofty goals that may never see completion. That's my reality. 

I admire others who can focus to achieve.  Like a laser, they focus their beam of intention to their latest goal.  Nothing deters and eventually they reach their objective.  Then, they find a new focus and off they go.  Achieving the achievable.   And we applaud wildly.  Bravo!  Because we wish we could or would do that.  Achieve the achievable.  And if it's so achievable, why don't we achieve more?  Could it be that that laser focus, that beam of intention -- is NARROW?  They focus.  All else is an unnecessary distraction.  That's the key. A narrow focus. (and all else hinders)

I've realized that while admirable, I have a wider lens.  Yes, I have passion and focus but I'm easily distracted. I have many interests and I view life as a pleasant stroll with detours. Those detours are what makes it interesting!  I'm sure I'm ADHD and that that explains a lot.  I have accepted my inability to stay with a thing for more than two hours without complete tedium setting in.  Can I push through that?  Yes, when I have to.  Another key. When I have to.

Art is not a "have to" for most of us.  After I stopped teaching to care for my dad, I mourned like I had lost a friend.  I love teaching.  And because I was teaching, I was making art because it was required.  When I didn't "have to" anymore, I found I didn't.  Worse yet, I didn't "feel" like making art.  Letting go of all that I was doing before gave me the time and space to do other more important things that needed to be done.  I couldn't do it all.  Something had to give.  I tried.  Unfortunately, in the end it was the art.  Or at least the kind of art I was used to making.

For a while, I just felt very sorry for myself.  Who was I without my art?  I thought it was so much a part of my being, my identity.  Still, if found I really didn't do it when I had the time!  It seemed like an all or nothing proposition for me. Either I was a working artist producing framed paintings for shows and such, or I wasn't one. As though I needed to sacrifice my art because I didn't have the time "to do it right".  I was making excuses.  I wanted to do it my way or basically not at all. I'm complicated. :)  and honestly, I just didn't want the pressure of deadlines. So I resisted art entirely.  For some reason, I thought that meant forever and that I wasn't really an artist anymore. I lacked dedication.  Not hard core. I should push thru.  Use the art to heal. Blah, blah. 

Then one day I picked up a pencil and I doodled a bit on my "to do" list. It took five minutes, but Something in me shifted.  A couple of days later, I doodled on a napkin in a restaurant.  And a few days later, on the church bulletin. (Yes, I was listening to the sermon!)  it was through those small doodles that I realized that being creative is like breathing.  I didn't stop being a creative being because I stopped producing.  Does that make sense? 
I'm still a creative being even tho I don't have time for large finished works.  I was still creating paintings in my mind, admiring others work, appreciating the long evening light on the trees and the cast shadows that would be a perfect landscape...if I still painted. (Can you hear the violins?) 

One day I realized I might want to make art that day.  Then I thought "darn, that means I have to drag all this stuff out and clean off my studio table and..." So I didn't.  A few days later I wanted to again, but it seemed like just to much effort, so I didn't.  But I had the desire.  And little by little, I've been feeding that flame again.  My art has changed in the last two years.  In the next few blogs I thought I'd share my thoughts on how to make art when you have no time to make art.  How to make art when your life and circumstances crowd out your desire and need to make art.  I'd like to look at how you find time or focus on art when your life is so full of other things, important things. Let's make art a part of your life, not something on your bucket list. No an all or nothing proposition. Something to feed your spirit and heal your soul.  And about making art that is personal and meaningful without a huge time investment. Art that enriches your soul, but does not add to your "to do" list.  Art that heals, stimulates, energizes, and takes you places.  Art that is flexible and goes where you do.

No matter where you are in life, I'm finding you can always take your art.  Art and life are not separate --and both are a journey.  Slow down and take the time to enjoy the whole of it.  Those detours off the main path may lead to great adventures.  Be open to distraction and allow yourself to go off course.  Who knows what you may find off the beaten path?  The path is over rated!  

Friday, August 15, 2014

When Art Won't Sleep

What I look like after a few nights without much sleep! 
I cant sleep.  It happens sometimes.  I'm tired, but sleep evades me.  Laying in bed, my mind just thinks.  Its what minds do, I know.  But somehow, I always lay there feeling trapped in my mind and on my bed. Thoughts running along without releasing to sleep.

Its like something is left undone. Some tension. Years ago, I quit fighting it and started getting up and putting my thoughts, however random, to paper or typing them.  This seems to stop it and give me some kind of release.  Its like I empty my head onto paper or my computer.  Then, when my head is empty, I am ready to sleep. (no empty head jokes!)

It usually lasts for a few nights in a row until I break the pattern. I think, I have no proof mind you, its just a theory based on unreliable thoughts during sleepless nights, but I think I can't sleep because my creative side needs to be heard.  Does that sound strange?  Or does that sound perfectly logical to you?

So I empty the thoughts in words, of black and white.  Something almost solid. And here's what I usually hear/see: I need to stop and find a space in time to create something. What is so silly is I should be able to figure this out much quicker after all these years.  I guess I'm a slow learner.  More likely I continually underestimated the strength of my creative side and the need to express it. Even after all these years.  Its just not an option to NOT create any more.

It's harder these days to make time or indulge my creative self.  It's like an old friend I need to reconnect with.  But there was a time when that friend was silent and I was afraid I'd never hear from her again.  I'm glad she's back, even if it means I am awake at 2AM.

I will reread this in the morning to see if its just too wacko to put out there!  Whether the creative spirit abandons or calls and cannot be satisfied, I know enough artists to know we all have tension when the creativity is blocked for whatever reason.  You may experience it differently than a lack of sleep.  But take a look next time you feel frustrated and have no reason.  You may need to create to satisfy it.  There is art you need to make.

Tomorrow's going to be a long day.  And I know one thing that will be added to the "to do" list.  Make art.  And then I will sleep.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I've Got Time. Really.

How is your summer going?  Mine is going pretty well!  But it's going.  Really fast.  It's August already and my list of things "to do"and " to enjoy" has hardly a dent in it.  Life keeps getting in the way.  Unexpected things that demand attention. I try not to let them "steal my joy",  but they do steal my time.  No worries, I tell myself, you've got time.  But I never seem to have enough time.  Where does it go?  What do I do with it?

I think sometimes I worship my lists and am a slave to them and to time. Tic, tock, tic, tock.  I make these list and measure my day by how many things get checked off.  How productive I am.  I have many lists.  So much to do!  I mean, that's life, right?  Stuff to do.  People to see.  Places to go.  Accomplishment.  Something to show for my time. You can't waste time, right?  It's gone so fast and we must make the most of it.  Squeeze the most out of every second.

And it is gone fast.  And we do need to get things done.  I'm just wondering about all the striving.  And doing.  Sometimes I feel like a hamster on a wheel.  Lots of motion, but not really going anywhere!  And where should I go?  There are volumes on living a purposeful life and self help.  The seven habits and all that.  I wonder.  If I just work and garden and draw, have a good laugh, is that enough?  

I don't want to be remembered for my clean floors or sparkling windows or even my art.  I want to be remembered for some kindness I may have done. For a comforting word spoken at the right time.  Maybe for my laughter.  For taking the time for others.  And ok, maybe I want to leave behind some decent art :)

Today,  I stopped and, well, just stopped.   Today I put down the list and drew.  I drew my dad.  Brushed the dog.  Picked some veggies.  Sat in the sun.  The world has not stopped because I didn't scratch six things off a list.

Forget the list.  Today, I don't have TIME for a list!  

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Art of Illustrating and Writing a Children"s Picture Book.


It's been a very busy summer.  I apologize for the lack of posts here!  I have them in my head but no time to blog them.  I will get back on my schedule and be blogging again soon --

In the meantime, I've posted a link to a review I did for Empty Easel and Craftsy.  I think it was published two weeks ago, so the 50% offer on the class is over--sorry!  But I recommend these classes.  Good instruction for the price. 

Thanks for reading and enjoy this amazing summer!  Above all, make art!  

Empty Easel Craftsy Course Review

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Watering Weeds

I'm a gardener.  Every year, beginning in the earliest months of spring, the war on weeds begins.  Weeds are hardy little buggers.  Among the first things to emerge from the frozen earth, weeds signal the end of winter - long before the more desirable perennial and food offerings I've planted make their appearance.  Does a weed think "Gee, if I get a head start I have a good chance of holding this piece of earth over that pampered cultivated crap that human plants!  Can't she see the beauty I bring to the landscape?"  I'm very sure it does think that.  If weeds had brains.

But weeds don't have brains, they have a millennia of natural selection on their side. Weeds have something better than brains.  Weeds have  (millions?) of years of practice being weeds.  Adapting and multiplying.  Leaving seed that may be buried for eons only to be unearthed by some act of God (or my hoe) to rise again.  Sound a little like a horror movie?  Ah, "Return of the Weed".

Weeds are tough.  They tolerate very little water or too much.  They thrive on neglect and despise rich soil.  And weeds...well, weeds also propagate.  They are so efficient at seeding themselves that it boggles the mind of the humble gardener who just wants to grow some food, for Pete's sake!   

As you can guess, I've been weeding.  And weeding.  And even weeding some more.  I'm not a fan of weeding. But I find a satisfaction from ridding the soil of those nasty weeds, leaving tidy garden beds.  For a week.  Tops.  Leave weeding for two weeks and you have a problem of epic proportion.Why despise the weed?  They are just trying to survive after all!  But weeds crowd out desirable plants by multiplying magically somehow, so well that they actually take over the space and choke the garden plant.  A weeds roots greedily take up the nutrients in the soil meant for the plants that we grow to nourish us.  Essentially weeds rob other plants of the things necessary to grow and thrive.   

To help the plants I have planted reach their flowering glory, or my table as nourishment, I wage my war on the weed.  And I ALWAYS weed before I water.  I just can not water in good conscience, the weed.   Watering weeds is encouraging them to stay--and bring others. Watering weeds doubles your work load. "Oh, just this week?"  I might hear myself say.  "Those few small little weeds will not cause much trouble."  I can water them just this once and pull them next week.  Well,  I'm here to say that I have gone back out the very next day after watering only to find I need a machete and flame thrower to destroy what was a mere day ago just a tiny little weed!  NO! No watering weeds.  My mother always said "if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing well" or, don't water your weeds.  

As I was weeding yesterday I was thinking about a few comments in some social media threads I had read.  The general idea was that practice makes perfect.  We all know that saying and I'm sure we all understand its truth.  But what struck me as I was weeding out invasive plants that thrive in the fertile soil I cultivate, was that bad habits are like weeds.  Eager to fill the empty spaces and take over my carefully tended plot, bad habits can crowd out good intentions or lessons learned.  And once planted and heaven forbid, watered, they become monsters that are not easily dealt with.  

It is not enough to just fill a canvas.  While practice makes perfect and Malcolm Gladwells idea of 10,000 hours is admirable, this is only true if you practice good technique. 10,000 hours of practicing incorrectly means you have become very good at doing it wrong! So my thoughts are as simple as my vow to weed before I water.  If you are working hard at your art remember that you will not get better practicing the wrong things.  No, practicing your skills correctly will make your work better.  Doing the same wrong thing over and over will only water the weed.  

But if you are a novice gardener, how do you identify a weed?  How does the budding artist know if they are doing it right?  Well, good teachers can help with that. (wink, wink). But so can a book, video, or another artist whose work you admire.  The great thing about art is that you never arrive.  You are always on a journey to learn.  Your work is never finished and your painting never perfect.  There is always something to learn. And just like the garden, you must continually work to keep the weeds at bay. Keep your practice free of the things that want to crowd it out.  And remember, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Is Art Like Riding A Bike?

Last summer I bought a bike.  I haven't really ridden much since I got rid of my old bike.  No time, other things to do.  But I've always loved to ride.  There is something about riding a bike.  (and swinging on a swing--)  I love being outdoors riding with the wind in my face.  So what does riding a bike have to do with art?  

Well, I hadn't ridden in quite a while.  But I was never worried that I couldn't ride again.  You know the expression "its like riding a bike-once you learn, you never forget."  So I hopped on and off I went.  Have you ever taken a few months or maybe a year (or many ) off from doing art?  Did you forget how to do art?  No, it's like riding a bike!  You might be rusty and a little wobbly, but it all comes back to you.  You might need to ease in by exercising those creative muscles slowly back to their former strength.  Your physical muscles have memory and so do your art muscles.  They will return with some work.

And what happens if you take a fall?  I recently took a spill that hurt my ego much more than my body. Joggers and traffic all witnessed as I stopped short and went over the handlebars.  I have a nice imprint of the skid resist sidewalk on my thigh, a sore hand and other minor injuries.  But what hurt more was being witnessed!  I haven't talked to a biker yet who hasn't had an accident.  Get back on the bike!   Staying in a safe gym on a stationary bike takes me nowhere.  I may get exercise, but there is no scenery!  No sunshine and blue skies.  

The same goes for your art.  Do you fear being witnessed?  Afraid to paint in public or show your work?  Afraid to fail or hear critical comments?  Just as every biker will experience an accident, every artist will have a critic and a painting (or many) fail.  Just understand and accept that it's going to happen.  Knowing this takes some of the sting out of it.  Others have gone before and done the same.  Get back to the art!  There are experiences out there you won't know until you get out of the studio! 

What are your goals?  At first, I wanted something to get me out of the house, give me some exercise and relieve some stress.  After that initial period, my goal was leisure and pleasure.  Soon, I amped it up for cardio.  Now, I'm riding with others and it is a lifestyle change I hope carries into retirement since you can ride at almost any age.  Biking is an activity many take up as they get older.  It's much easier on the knees but can still give the benefits of other forms of exercise.  

When I look back on my growth as an artist, I noticed those goals changed over time also.  I took classes to get out of the house and away from a toddler.  Mental health was the key here!  I enjoyed it and did well.  Then I amped it up and began to show and join art groups.  I began to teach and win awards.  Today, I'm finding other artists to interact with and have realized that my art can be taken anywhere I go in life and during any stage and any age. I may not be doing my art for the same reasons today, but it is something that enriches my life.  

Exercise helps us with balance, which we lose as we age.  Riding a bike is great for this since you literally balance the whole time.  Excercise helps relieve stress and gives us a feeling of well being.  I notice my art balances me too.  I sometimes don't realize how much balance art brings to my life.  Art is an outlet for me and if I neglect doing it for myself, for fun, I become unbalanced.  Exercise and art balance you mentally and physically.  But your Art can become unbalanced as well.  When our focus becomes the finished product and not the process.  Or when we paint for sales or ribbons. Maybe we get in a rut and don't challenge oursleves.  By exercising our creative selves and getting out of our comfort zone, we find balance.

Equipment.  Enough said?  Do we need another reason to shop?  First it was the bike. Then came the  stuff.  My husband teases me about my biking gear.  I have the helmet, gloves, glasses, clothes and heart rate monitor.  I didn't get it all at once.  I added to it as I found the need.  But I'll tell you what, I'm glad I had that helmet and those gloves the other day!  My glove looks a little mangled and while I didn't hit my head, it reminded me how quick accidents happen.  You need to be prepared with the right equipment!

If you are just starting to make art, take a class and invest in some good materials.  It certainly makes the job easier and art making is hard work!  You need the right equipment.  Why make it harder with limited skills and sub standard tools?  You don't have to buy the best.  But you are making ART, you are an artist!  It is important.  Whether for your mental health, personal enjoyment or to show, make the best art you can with the best materials you can afford.  Having said that, a standard 2B pencil and a sketch pad is really all you need to make art.  But you can make a lot of different marks with a lot of different pencils!  

Give yourself the gift of making art.  I started riding again for the reasons I stated above.  But right away I noticed when I rode my bike I left the responsibilities and care of others behind.  For a time, I was alone and in my own world.  I was enjoying this time carved out of a busy life, just for me.  That's the mental health.  I was relieving stress but also getting much needed exercise.  I don't need to go into the health benefits of regular exercise.  I'm sure, unless you live on another planet you've heard.  Physically and mentally, it is a win, win activity.  

Making art is another win, win activity.  Have you ever noticed that you lose track of time and go into a "zone" when you are creating.  Studies show that making art improves cognitive function and memory and reduces common symptoms of dementia.  It strengthens problem solving and critical thinking skills. Creative activities reduce stress and depression.  Creating increased blood flow to the brain by 10%, especially to the pleasure centers, similar to falling in love. Studies on people with chronic illness show that helps balance their loss and gives them relief from the illness for a time.  Making art produces a meditative effect.  Heck, making art is just good for you! 

So, I hope you either get your bike down out of storage or dust off those old art supplies.  Preferably both.  If you are already actively making art, think about how you can change it up and exercise a different muscle group by joining a group, having a paint date with a friend, taking a class, buying that new easel.  Keep it fresh and fun.  But above all, do it for you!  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Learning to Draw and Paint Flowers

I'm starting my series on Flowers in Watercolor.  This is the first one explaining how to draw a cup and bowl shaped flower.  You can read it at Empty Easel.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Time With Dad


So, along the lines of the Bloom Where You're Planted post, I've found a few new blooms on the bush.  Some time with an old friend painting in the park was just the ticket last week.  Angela and I have been painting together for many years, since I moved here almost thirteen years ago.  She, a speedy oil painter alongside me, a slow watercolorist.  We both like to paint the same things and always enjoy each other's company.  But these last few years we haven't gotten to do it much at all.  Hopefully we can do this with some frequency since we both found a little time in our busy schedules.

It's funny, I had almost decided to just give art up entirely.  Gasp! Art for me has always been a joy and an outlet. Other times when I had a rough patch I may have quit painting for a time, but I never felt as though the artistic spirit had left.  Maybe it took a backseat, but I knew it would return, front and center.  And it always did.  Before.  It's hard to explain.  But as time dragged on and I just didn't enjoy it, I figured maybe it had run it's course.  That happens, right?  There are other things.  Pursuits and interests I haven't gotten to yet.  Maybe I would find a new passion?

So I resolved to just give it a year.  If, after a year (plus the past year) my attitude had not changed, I would just move on.  In the meantime, I didn't force it.  I left it alone almost entirely.  I have never done that in 25 or more years!  But I guess I needed a break.  And time. Time to give priority to other things. 

The second bloom to open was this recent nagging thought that I need to sketch and paint my dad.  One of the things I tell students is to paint what is around them.  Anything and everything!  Still, I really was in no mood to paint or sketch beyond my obligations until the last few months anyway. But time, that measurement of minutes, hours, days, months and years.  It changes things.  Time moves on and you can't stop it.  Once it's gone, it's gone.  I realized I had an opportunity in time.  Time with my dad.  How could I best use that time with my dad?  As I thought about that, it was pretty obvious what one of the opportunities here is!  Bingo! 

And so, as time marches on, I have so many opportunities.  Small gems hidden, barely visible.   The task is to mine these gems each and every day.  The other night, it was fishing.  I sketched him and painted as he watched my husband fish.  The painting was awful because of the paper in the journal I used, but what a time we had!  We roared with laughter while my husband "fished" his lure from a bush!  The other was a sketch done from a photo I snapped the other day because I loved the light against a dark window.  

So, as I think about fathers day I realize I've been given a gift. It's not the new inspiration or the art spirit come back that is the gift.  It is this time with my dad. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How to Paint an Orange Using the Color Wheel Method

Have a fantastic Memorial Day Weekend.  Paint some fruit!  

New on Empty Easel:   Learning to paint an orange using the color wheel method.  This is the latest in my tutorials on the online art magazine Empty Easel.   Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I Lied or Bloom Where You're Planted

Late Jonquils and Blue Bells-detail of a failed painting!  
A failed painting.  I had a teacher who, during critiques would come around with two right angles of a matt and find the one place your painting worked!!  It was humbling, but it did teach me that there is some good in every effort!  

It was an honest lie.  When I said I gave up teaching, I was telling the truth.  Then a few days later I sat down to write another watercolor tutorial for Empty Easel, when I realized--I'm still teaching!!  (Empty Easel is an online art magazine I write watercolor articles and occasionally motivational pieces for. I will have another article here this week--do check it out!) I guess you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but where there's a will, there's a way??  How do you like that for mixing up proverbs?! So I guess I'm still doing what I love, just in a different way.

Another thing I realized is that by writing for E.E., I have begun to bloom where I'm planted.  I'm sure you've heard that expression before.  Sometimes we can't always control our situation, but we can always use the talents we have in the situation we find ourselves.  Sometimes it take some creative thinking to figure it out and sometimes we just naturally fall into it, like I did with E.E.  I love to write.  I love to teach.  I began writing for E.E. several years ago as a guest writer, which then turned into a regular thing.  So when I decided to give up teaching in a classroom, this was already in place. It combines three things I love: art, teaching and writing--and I didn't even realize it!

My intent for this blog has always been both to teach and encourage.  So I lied twice!  I haven't really used this blog to teach as much as I could.  My focus has always been more to encourage the creative spirit.  Yet a lot of what I do as a teacher is to encouraging people in their art.  Helping them get over the:  "the work must be perfect before I can value it" and the "I will never get the hang of this skill, so why am I doing it?"  And I share my personal artistic struggles here, not to complain, but to possibly come along side someone else out there who may be struggling as well.  It helps to walk the road together or to know others have the same experience.

The wonderful thing about the internet, like this blog, is its ability to reach so many. I have heard from people all over the world through it's reach.  The downside for me is the lack of personal interaction.  I'm a huge "people person" and I love to communicate face to face and look you in the eyes! The internet is a much larger audience. In fact my readership has tripled the last year alone.  I have people in the US, Canada, Australia, France, the UK, Bulgaria, Ireland, Germany, China and Mexico reading this blog! (hello to each and every one of you out there!) Just this week I received a response from someone in Bangalore--how fun to have friends and fellow artists from all over the globe!

That means I can encourage a larger audience to live a more creative life as well as teach in a huge classroom!  Really, the sky's the limit for what you can find and learn online anymore. I'm not sure I even really grasp its reach or potential.  That's an exciting thought for a creative person --unlimited potential to help people make art!!

So thank you for joining me on this journey.  In the articles on Empty Easel are some basic "how to" watercolor lessons that are part of a series I've been doing.  (you can search my name on E.E. for back articles) Coming up I am doing a series on painting flowers in watercolor.  This combines two things I love-- the fluid nature and vibrant color of watercolors with the delicate beauty of flowers!  

I hope you continue to learn and be encouraged by this blog.  Thank you for reading and do let me know when something I write helps you as you make your art.  Remember, each of you has something unique to say.  And it's your job to say it as no one else can.  Lets live a more creative life!   


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Color and the Split Primary Palette

In a new tutorial for Empty Easel coming out this Thursday, I recommend making a color wheel and chart to help learn and understand the colors in your palette.  Here is an explanation of my personal color palette (tho I use professional grade paints) with a little more detail on color theory.  Enjoy!

The Language of Color
Let’s begin with some basic color “language”.  Color has a vocabulary all its own and we will use these terms as we go forward, so let’s get familiar with them.
Primary Colors: Red, Yellow and Blue.  These colors cannot be mixed from any others and are the primary colors that all others are mixed from. 
Secondary Colors: Violet (purple), Green and Orange.  These colors are mixed from two primaries. Red and Blue = Violet.  Blue and Yellow = Green.  Yellow and Red = Orange.  That’s simple enough, right? Now let’s get a bit more complicated.
Tertiary Colors: Red Orange, Yellow Orange, Blue Violet, Red violet, Blue Green and Yellow Green.  These colors are just secondary colors with a little more of one primary color than the other. 
The twelve mixtures above, or shades, or “hues”, are what you will find on a common color wheel.  Color mixes can go on forever, but these are basic hues that all others are derived from.
Split Primary Color Palette
The six colors on my supply list make up a split primary color palette, meaning they have a “warm” and “cool” of each primary.  Yes, color has a temperature! A “warm” color is one that is a mix of warm hues—red, orange, yellow.  A “cool” color is one with a mixture of cool hues—blue, violet, green.  So while you may think of all reds as “warm”, (and it is in general), different hues of red may be “cool”, depending on their color “properties” or mixtures. (It is hard to find a tube paint that is a “pure” primary color.  Most are a mixture of colors that give them their specific shade or “hue”.)     
Let’s look more closely at what I mean.  The reds we will be using are Cadmium Red and Alizarin Crimson.  (these are the names for Winsor Newton student grade paint.  (The paint list, with their temperature, are in my previous article on Empty Easel “Watercolor Paint 101”) Cadmium Red light is a bright orange/red color.  When placed beside Alizarin Crimson, you can see it has a bit more yellow in its mixture.  Cadmium Red is a “warm” red.  Alizarin Crimson has a more violet color, meaning there is blue in its mix.  Alizarin Crimson is a “cool” red. 
In Yellow we have Cadmium Yellow Pale and Cadmium Yellow Hue.  Now place those colors side by side and Cad Pale has more green and is therefore a “cool” yellow, while Cad Yellow is clearly a little more orange and therefore a “warm” yellow.  (Yellow may be the hardest to distinguish because it is so light)
And last, the blues.  Ultramarine Blue leans to violet, while cerulean leans to green.  Ultramarine is “warm” and Cerulean is a “cool”. 
Why Use a Split Primary Color Palette?
That’s a good question, and the answer is complicated.  For now let’s keep it simple!  The simple answer is:  it helps simplify mixing color, keeps color mixes vibrant, and mixing color helps us learn about color relationships.  A limited palette also helps keep color harmony in our paintings.   
With this color palette you can mix any color without making “mud”.  “Mud” is a term for cloudy colors that lack vibrancy.  Mud happens when all three primary colors are present in the mix. Basically, by keeping colors in the same family, we mix the color with two, not all three primary colors. (this is the part where most students eyes glaze over and things get a little muddy!  No worries!  Just remember the color mixtures and it will click later!)       
Color Charts and Wheels
Below is a color wheel I made using the split primary color palette.  I labeled the “temperature” and the divided the wheel to show the divisions (color family) used to mix clean, vibrant secondary and tertiary colors. 

The next example is a color chart of the mixtures you can make with these six colors.  I suggest you make a color wheel and a color chart.  By making a wheel, you will see how to mix your secondary and tertiary colors and will have a color wheel to refer to.  Making the color chart will show you which color combinations create the color you are looking for.  Notice how the colors are uneven on the chart?  This is because I mixed the color on the paper.  I find mixing on the paper helps me see the possibilities of a mix.  You can also see which colors don’t work together and avoid making those mistakes on your painting.  There are times when you need a muted color and times you want bold, clean, vibrant color.  With your reference charts you will be able to see what color you want and how to get it.  Both the chart and the wheel are useful when learning to mix color and as tools for future reference.

As you can see, you can make any color of the rainbow with just these six tubes of paint.  By limiting your colors, you will understand color better by mixing and eliminate the need for tons of tubes of paint!  While you may want to add a few tubes as you learn, for the most part, my palette has remained the same for over 15 years!  The more paints you use, the more likely you are to make that mud.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Garden Wall- Glacier National Park

Recently, I sent a painting to my son who is in college in another state.    Since he lives in an apartment, I did not trust it to make it to his door, and if it did, I did not trust it to stay there on a college campus!!  So I sent it to my other son who lives close by. As luck would have it, the package went missing!  I felt my heart drop.  I even cried at the thought of never seeing it again!  "What's that about?" I thought.  I guess I never realized how attached I am to some of my work.  They are a little like children in a way.  We conceive an idea, give birth to it and then painstakingly bring it to completion.  There is one way they are different--I have a whole lot of them!  And, some I don't like nearly as much as others!  But I know you understand what I'm getting at.  Some of my paintings are very important to me.

I've posted this painting before.  This painting is a plein air watercolor I did in Glacier National Park just outside the hotel where my son worked that summer.  We went to see him for a few days and had an great time.  I am such a lover of nature and Glacier is, well, I cant describe its beauty!  I got up early one morning to paint while the guy's went fishing.  It was sunrise and the lake was glass, the air still and the view was breathtaking.  Fish jumped, wild life went about their business as tho I was not there.  It was so peaceful and the painting practically painted itself.  I was really pleased and my son told me how much he liked it.  That Christmas, I gave that painting to him. 

So with that history, you can understand why the painting was so important to me.  And why I was so upset when I thought it was lost forever.  As luck would have it, this story has a happy ending!  We are still not sure what happened, or why it went missing for a few days when everyone said it had been delivered, but it did eventually reach its destination and my son now has possession of the painting!! (sigh of relief)

Not every painting I do has this kind of importance, value or sentiment.  That's one of the reasons I like plein air painting.  You are really recording an experience, not just painting a scene.  Some paintings don't work, but I have a memory of the place I will never forget just because I spent that time there.  If you think about it we engage almost every sense when we plein air paint.  We smell, hear, touch, see and sometimes taste the scene we are painting.  We spend time recording what we see, but we remember much more.  It is an experience.  You don't get that in the studio.   

Almost losing the painting made me realize I really love every part (well, maybe not the wind or bugs) of painting plein air!  Being in nature and drinking in the scene with all my senses, sometimes I even paint a painting that has great value to me.  I may not have the flexibility to travel to far flung places to paint right now, but I can still have that experience close to home.  Sometimes a little painting done in the back yard is as refreshing as one of a grand expanse away from home.  And the apple orchard is blooming up the street too... :) 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Taking the Time and Having a Plan

Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad.

It always comes back to drawing and the human form.  If you ask me what interests me most, what captures my imagination and moves me to capture it, it would be the figure and the portrait.  The more I work at it, the more I appreciate the intricacies and wonders we humans are. Living, breathing, moving or still--I am always amazed!  Young, old, every race, either sex, I am fascinated at how we are all the same and so very different.  

It has also been the most challenging thing to learn.  The portrait for sure.  I'm not sure I will ever be satisfied with that skill set.  But then, I have to admit I am not as committed to things as I ought to be.  (Sigh).  
Recently at lunch with a friend, she told me of her determination to master the skills required to draw the figure.  She went about it in a very intentional way by finding a teacher who taught a method she believes will be a good fit for her.  She then set aside the time ( usually my biggest obstacle) and even rented co-op studio space -to be around other like minded (serious) artist and have a place to set up and work without interruption. Now I call that commitment! 
While I'll admit to not having that drive at this place and time in my life, I did fit in a class last winter. Concentrating on one thing until it's mastered is a valuable use of your time.  Like my friend, I spent time each class concentrating on one area of the anatomy. Hands and there is a challenge.  Such hard working parts of the anatomy!  Lots of moving parts.    
While my work was not as ambitious or dedicated, it's clear that to improve your skills you need a plan and to set aside the time to reach your goals. Even small goals, like improving your understanding of one part of the anatomy.  

Some of us can take grand steps forward and some of us only baby steps.  But any move forward is still a move forward.  So whatever you are able to do at the time, well, that's a gift you give yourself. Thank you, to my friend Deborah, for reminding me of that! 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blessings at Easter

Easter is my favorite holiday and spring my favorite season.  With spring, I come out of my winter dormancy with a flurry of activity!  Its been a busy week as I get ready for Easter and the post I had intended, didn't happen!  This is what you get instead--Me wishing you and yours Easter Blessings! 

(this is an older painting, done from life.  It is pastel with a watercolor underpainting on sanded paper.  The trouble I have with underpainting...leaving any!  So while I like this, my vision for it was not what you see.  And that means there is an unfinished painting hanging around in my head!)  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spring is Here! (or-You Can't Keep a Good Pansy Down!)

The pansies have arrived!  Like the primrose, I can't resist their cheery colors and delicate flowers.  This is a quick sketch in my new Global Arts Watercolor journal.  The paper is rough and really seems to help me stay loose.  We will see how the journal stands up to others I've used-stay tuned.  

Spring is here! 
Well, it says so on the calendar anyway!  It's slow in coming, given the winter we had, but I can see the ground after the snowiest winter on record in 100 years!  (Don't check that--I'm prone to exaggerate!)

As a creative person, I've been called sensitive.  "Artsy".  I guess I fit the stereotype.  I think it takes sensitivity to create.  It's from the well of my sensitive nature that my best paintings are done.  I know that's true of many creatives, so I'm in good company.  It brings joy to create.  It is sometimes cathartic to create.  And sometimes, its impossible to create.  
This winter mirrored my mood. I've been in a long, cold season artistically.  An artistic "winter", if you will. Sometimes life screws with your ability to enjoy or even make art. Yes, I can still produce a painting, but my desire to paint for pleasure was gone.  It's happened before and will again. There are reasons of course, none of which matter, but you know it always comes back to the metaphors for me.  And they always seem to tie in with nature and the seasons.  

With all the change, I found that I needed to give up something I loved, teaching. Teaching has always been as great for me as it ever was for my students, many of whom I now call friends.  Five years ago when I was caring for my mom who had cancer, teaching classes and the women in them were a source of encouragement, support and joy.  It kept a "normal" to my life and helped me cope.  Caring for my dad has been different.  I tried to continue teaching, but this time my heart wasn't in it.  I realized I needed to quit for a while.  I need all my energy for other things. It's another season in my life.  But even seasons that are particularly long and harsh eventually give way to the next. Change is a constant. My head was OK with all the change, but my heart took a while to follow.  It was a struggle to bring head and heart into peaceful coexistence!

 I find my mood lifting with the tender shoots pushing through the cold earth.  Do they struggle and force their way or are they pulled up by an unseen force through the soil?  It doesn't matter.  What matters is that they do it!  The spring bulbs signal the return of spring.  The hope of warmth and color and the gradual end to the long cold white winter. While this happens every year, it's sweeter after the long, cold, record breaking winter much of the country experienced.  Its true that we value something more when we have to wait for it.  Like blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures!  A change of season. And peace within.

Now we move into a new season.  As the weather gradually gets warmer and I see the first shy color of spring peak out (spring always seems shockingly colorful to me after winters muted tones) --it's all new again!  Is it the first spring I've ever seen?  No.  But it is never the same, is it?  It never feels the same.  Never looks or smells exactly the same.  (I love the smell fresh cut grass!) It is always somehow a delightful surprise.  There is growth and change in the landscape.  And yet, what has been before and will be again, is also new each time. Somehow, it always feels like the first spring. Alive. Fresh. Full of possibilities. And small joyful paintings of spring flowers.

All this, because we experienced the winter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Think Spring! Think Harder!

65 degree's here today.  Tomorrow, sleet/snow mix with a weather advisory...So, I thought I'd cheer myself with another go at the Primrose.  I like this better than the last one.  I always love the rough paper.  I feel it somehow keeps me looser...?? Maybe its a mental thing??  Enjoy!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mixing Color

Here is my latest tutorial on Empty Easel Online Art Magazine.  This lesson shows the ways you can mix color with watercolors.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Think Spring

It's here!  At least at the grocery store...Every year they come to the stores and I buy them.  I can't stop myself!  They signal spring to me and they come to the stores long before they bloom in the yard, at a time when I am tired of winter and longing for the colors of spring.

I tell myself "no more", but I don't listen to me.  I succumb again and again to the vibrant colors that call to me after a long and colorless winter. When it warms I plant them in the yard. Then they bloom the next year--bonus!

Painting the same thing over and over need not be boring.  As you become familiar with a subject you can experiment with different ways to paint them.  These little works were all done in spring through the years.  Each is different and I like them all for different reasons.

 Primary Primrose 2014
I did these in my sketchbook this year.  Its hard not to get detailed and fussy when working small.  I got wrapped up in the beauty of the leaves and noodled them to death.  I love the shapes, pattern and blue green of the leaves.  I don't have long periods to paint these days, so I was a little rushed, but it still screams SPRING!  I like others I've done through the years better, but at least I got my brushes out!  Good for my mood, cause it's COLD here and I've been a little lethargic!

 Enjoy--and think spring!!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


sketch for finished painting
This is Charlie.
Charlie is a rescued beagle mix owned by my next door neighbors.  The first time I met Charlie he lifted his leg on my foot!  I thought my neighbor would die!  Dogs do that, usually not on my foot, but I was not put off. Since then I have built a relationship with Charlie. I watch Charlie when his owners go out of town.  Charlie and I chat when I garden.  Charlie comes to the fence to visit my menagerie of dogs and flaunt his freedom.  

Charlie has a blanket he throws up in the air and runs under when he wants to nap!  Once, while watching him, I came over to let him out.  He was under his blanket and never even moved when I called his name!  I confess to panicking and pulling up the blanket to see if he was alive.  Never even lifting his head or opening his eyes, Charlie merely wagged his tail, thump, thump against his bed! The little devil!  Charlie is a character and a half! 

This is a painting my neighbor commissioned for her husbands birthday.  It's always easier painting a face (or dog) you are familiar with. We included his blanket and name tag with his "cute" ears and tilted head!  

Happy Birthday neighbor!  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Art as a Way


This year has barely begun and I'm already behind by my usual standards!  Last year I started the year off with 30 paintings in the 30 days of January.  It was so much fun, but a lot of work!  This year I decided to take stock of my artistic ambitions and goals.  Basically, I decided not to have any.  No pressure.  Just art and creativity for the sake of the art and creativity!

I've been pondering this for some time now.  What one saw my art?  Would I still make it?  What if...selling my art or winning awards didn't validate my art?  Would I still create it and work so hard at it?  And what if, I could do anything I wanted with my life, my time and my money?  Would I still make art?  I bet you can guess the answer.  How would you answer?  

For my first post of the New Year on my Facebook page, I posted the quote that sums it up.  I'm making that my mantra this year.  To create for the sake of creating.  It's been a recurring topic of conversation for some reason.  Maybe God is reinforcing something in me?  When we remove the need to have an "acceptable" finished work of art we can focus on the process.  If we let go of our judgement of the end product and just enjoy the creative flow while we make art, the art itself is not the focus.  What??  Take the focus off the end result?  Sort of like living in the here and now---you've heard the phrase "living in the moment"?  Well, create in and for, the moment!  What a concept! :)

 What would happen if this year you painted for the joy of it and did not to judge the outcome.  What if you kept the value in the doing, in the act of creation.  My best work always has an element of excitement and wonder during its making.   What if we shift the focus to the joy, beauty, motion-- and all the other things that happen as you create? And what if, we let the art become...a way?
I think its a plan.  I'm pretty sure it's going to be a good year!