Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Deck the Legs with Stripes

Every year, for the last 15 years or more, I have created new ornaments for the family tree. I began...waaaaaaaay back when... with crafting, and I still enjoy the occasional romp with the glue gun and "common" art materials. Of course, those "common" art supplies have gotten a lot more fun with the onslaught of embellishments on the market. For the last couple of years, I have made and taught a class on these "Slide Mount Fairies" and I get a little crazier with each one. This one ditched her fairy wings in favor of some wild, red wire hair and, as she has a peppermint stick for a lower limb, I thought she would be perfect for this week's Artwords prompt: "stripes."

Happy Holidays from Lost Coast Post!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Go Figure

I must admit to an almost pathological fear of figure drawing and I am quite certain this goes hand in hand with an obsessive need for perfection. I absolutely love the human form in art but while in school, I did everything I could to avoid figure drawing classes. I was successful in my quest but inevitably, the need to draw people turned up in other classes and my mortification was paralyzing. If I had to show my pathetic attempts to others, I started sweating and became more than a little sick to my stomach. Afterwards, my paintings and drawings would be quickly committed to the nearest round file, crumbled and ripped so no one else could glimpse my incompetency.

I now have deep regrets about not taking figure drawing. The human form, as rendered by my own hands, is an element I desperately wish to explore in my art. My head is filled with characters and their stories and they are demanding to be given substance. I find it an incredibly difficult task for not only am I impeded by self-confidence, figures with movement and emotion are often best executed in broad, large-scale strokes. I am a detail person. If my workspace isn't three inches square and my tools don't have precision points, I feel overwhelmed.

Things have started to slowly turn around. My recent experiments in magazine image altering and my move to a large-scale journal have awakened that long-suppressed need to draw my own characters. So in the wee hours of this morning, using a magazine image as inspiration, I leapt off the edge into the unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and unknown. I can guarantee there'll be no copyright issues with this one, folks. While my goal wasn't to create a mirror image of my reference photo, it isn't even close...can you believe this is based on a photo of the beautiful actress Charlize Theron??? I have to laugh and perhaps, that is the best indicator of my change in perspective.

I learned a great deal from this exercise...or I should say, I remembered a lot. Old lessons in line and shading resurfaced. See the paper bag in the sidebar? My scientific illustration professor taught me that when rendering objects, at least from a strictly representation viewpoint, lines and shading should typically not be combined. Lines in nature are, in fact, simply the border between light and dark values. Line drawings should only be composed of lines of varying thicknesses (without the addition of shading) and value drawings should only have lines suggested by varying values. I thought this sketch looked much better in pen and ink. I added color and random shading and the impact, whatever that may be, faded.

That said, there is a huge difference between representational art and stylized art. Representational drawing (and scientific illustration) seeks to render a photorealistic image. Stylized drawings seek to capture personality, emotion, and a story. As a stylized drawing, this works O.K. And I am really trying to move away from my illustration roots anyway as they seem to encourage that oft ill-suppressed need for pretty and perfect. So I think I need to work on rendering the individual facial components, but it is a start...a start that I haven't yet thrown up over.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Realizations & Explorations

My journaling as of late has been wild and adventurous as I seem to have finally realized that I have absolute freedom to explore and play to my heart's content. The only limiting factors are time and energy. For so long, I have been concerned with developing a "signature style." I've been obsessively worried about NOT "looking like someone else" because of course, that would mean that perhaps my journal pages were not an authentic representation of my true self. However, I have learned that what makes the pages unique is the thought process behind page construction. I may be inspired by Lynne Perella's page painting techniques or Teesha Moore's characters but when applied to paper with my own mind, heart, experiences, and observations in play, the pages will naturally "look like me." This is one reason I'm sure that generalized techniques are not copyright-protected. The infinite number of variables in play when each person executes the exact same technique results in an infinite number of outcomes. (Keep in mind that I am only talking about the actual physical, step-by-step process involved in a technique; any specific write-ups and/or images created by the artist as well as any unique applications are most definitely copyright and possibly, trademark-protected.)

Sigh! The entire copyright issue is such a tangled mess. Copyright laws have not been sufficiently updated since the rise of photo maniuplating software, collage's surge in popularity, or the advent of altered art. The grey area of copyright law seems to expand on a daily basis like a deep, thick fog enveloping the coastline. I fret endlessly about respecting copyright and because of this, I have almost completely rejected the use of magazine images in my journals. I have found, however, that this closes the door on a wealth of images that could help me tell my tales. So (especially in journals that are for my eyes only), I am slowly, cautiously incorporating images that speak in unison with my own artistic voice. In conjunction, I am exploring ways to alter said images so that I have made a quality effort to make the images my own.

That said, my "look" is decidedly eclectic in recent weeks as I probe yet another path in my "style quest." I saw this altering idea in Karen Michel's The Complete Guide to Altered Imagery and again in Bernie Berlin's new book, Artist Trading Card Workshop. Essentially, it involves altering magazine images with gesso and a medium of some kind. The concept is to use the magazine image as a "skeleton" for a new image. I used this technique on a large face photo and managed to make it into something more surreal and mysterious (it looks nothing like the original as I really pushed the boundaries of her facial structure given what I had to work with.) The ultimate application of this process is to use it as a comforting springboard into creating completely original figures and faces. (My next installment will delve into my rampant phobia of figure drawing...)

The quote on this page is from a play entitled "Defying Gravity" written by Jane Anderson. This theater piece is about the Challenger shuttle diaster in 1986 and its effect on 6 characters and one passed soul (Monet). I had the pleasure of seeing students from my son's school perform this wonderful work about a week ago and I'm still mopping up the tears...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I have been in an art-making frenzy the last couple of days. My fingers cannot fly fast enough to keep up with the ideas brimming in my head and spilling over into my dreams.

It has been so very hard to even think of studio time in the past few months. Among other things, I am challenged by chronic, severe migraines; in October, I lost 26 days to these monster headaches, 24 days in November, and so far in December, 9. This is an ongoing battle the neurologists and I have waged for the last six years with only moderate success. The headaches make me extremely sensitive to light, nauseous, dizzy, and so on. Daily chores take on a whole new dimension of difficulty, much less art-making. But when the fog and pain lifts, especially after an extended period of time, my mind switches gears and inspiration blooms. Perhaps while I am laid low, my brain secretly continues to comtemplate, ferment, and imagine on another level. When all the plans and schemes are ready, I and my brain emerge from the haze and begin. Whatever the reason, the result is fruitful and fabulous art time.

I am continuing to journal, exploring new forms of image altering and following story threads, old and new, that have wound themselves about my mind. Last night, I started a large-scale visual journal (think atlas-sized) entitled "The Alchemist's Journal." I am fascinated by alchemy and see it as a metaphor for personal transformation, artistically and otherwise. This new journal will weave fictional and autobiographical elements as my art and life evolve and intertwine. It will be way too big to scan so I will have to see if I can manage decent photos with my digital camera.

The little art piece featured in today's entry is executed on a 5 by 5-inch canvas board. I actually dreamed this image while struggling through a pounding headache; perhaps my unconscious was puzzling through the whys and hows of life with migraines. In my waking life, I decided to turn the dream image into something positive, a bit of inspiration for future days. Ironically, the little pharmacy label was lifted from one of my headache medicine bottles. How nice of the pharmacy to contribute to the cause! Along with tiny watch parts and blueprints pulled from my stash, I found the most perfect accompaniment in the words of Placido Domingo. What a delight when it all falls together...

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Sky Fire

As the evening sun prepares to sink into the Lost Coast horizon, it throws up a fiery display that catches my eye and my breath. I grab the camera, step out onto the balcony, and capture a winter sunset in all its glory. What an incredible way to close the day...I will never tire of this sort of beauty.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Fly Free

Birds are a tremendously popular image nowadays; from nest to egg to tiny songbird or mischievous crow, birds have great appeal. They are beautiful in voice and body, adventurous and resilient, silly and serious. Of course, I am particularly attracted to birds in hats. After all, everyone knows that the perfect hat is an essential addition to a smart-looking wardrobe.

This a tag I created for a tag swap. The little bird stamp is from Kodomo Inc and I just love it! Just a simple bit of art to grace today's blog entry...I'm crazy busy with art teaching tonight, tomorrow and next week so not much time for chit-chat or "free play" art. However, after next Monday, I'll be free to fly off on my own tangents! Can't wait! My journal is calling!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Behold Bright Hope

"In this world, darkness is plentiful - war, poverty, sickness, hunger, hate, death. Sometimes...nay, inevitably, our life paths will take an unhappy turn. The road will become gloomy & sad. Don't let the dark consume you, child! Look up, up, up and the night clouds will part. A brilliant moon hangs in a sky strewn with innumerable pinpricks of starlight. Take these heavenly wonders as reminders that no matter the depth of the dark, light waits beyond. Trust in this & you can endure and conquer."

This the "journal page" I created on the 8 by 10-inch canvas board that I featured in my background tutorial (entry "Art's Foundation.") I did darken the final background just a touch more so it would have more blue than green. I created a little owl gal similiar to this in a previous journal page and just had to create another. I guess this would also serve as my entry for the ArtWords topic, "birds."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Be Rare

This is an art journal entry I created today in a local coffeehouse. I go journaling "out on the town" with my dear friend, muse, and art partner, Ellen, every couple of weeks. It is a time of great conversation, excited sharing of our most recent art adventures and planning & scheming about future collaborations. I recommend that everyone try art journaling out in the world. It offers fantastic lessons in supply, space, and time limitations as well a new and different environment to inspire journal entries.

This is perhaps my favorite journal entry to date. I walked out the door this morning with a head, a background, and a color scheme in mind. She turned out just as I envisioned her. Don't 'cha love it when that happens? And even more delightful, I finally have a direction for a book I've been planning on a make-believe circus family. Yes! It only goes to show that inspiration will strike when it is meant to if you are patient and faithful to your original vision.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Art's Foundation

I get asked a lot how I do my backgrounds for my journaling and I must say I never think about it too much. I just layer, layer, layer and work over the paper or canvas until I end up with something that satisfies me. I typically don't proceed in an extremely predictable manner; as soon as I think I've discovered my "signature technique," I change things up and develop another look. I do, however, go through periods of time where I do stick with a fairly regimented method and so I thought I would break down this particular technique for you all. I am currently using this technique on canvas board; lighterweight foundations would buckle badly under all the moisture. Secondly, I am NOT priming the canvas with gesso so the colors can really get into the grooves of the canvas.

Step One: Wash the canvas with 3 acrylic paints mixed with water to a runny consistency. I like to apply the colors just touching and then tilt the board to help the paint run together in places. Let this dry or encourage the drying process with a heat gun. Once dry, seal with one application of mat medium. Let dry again.

Step Two: This is basically a repeat of Step One, using the same colors but in a slightly thicker consistency. I try not to cover up any particularly interesting patterns that have started to appear. Let this layer dry just a bit and wipe off some excess. This is not an exact science. Relinquish some control and let the background tell you where it needs some help and where it is coming along splendidly. Once you wipe off some, let it dry completely and repeat with the mat medium. These repeated layers of mat medium help gradually fill in the tooth of the canvas board so I have an easier time writing on it later.

Step Three: Lightly sponge on the same acrylic paints, adding some more intense areas of color. Work a section at a time and blend gently as you go. I typically load up three makeup sponges with wet paint and hold them all at once in my left hand between my fingers. Then I can work faster, changing out colors as I need to blend the colors together. Once the paint dries, I also sponge in some dye inks that are similiar to the paint colors I have chosen. Inks are transparent so they will accent the colors but allow the layers to show through. I let this dry and add yet another layer of mat medium.

Step Four: Here I add in some torn bits of a complimentary tissue with decoupage glue. I LOVE tissue and use it in almost everything I do. Since I finish off the back of my canvas panels as well, I wrap the tissue around to the back just a little. I'll cover up the ends with a piece of decorative paper when the piece is completely finished. Let this dry completely before you move on. If you rush things, the tissue will bubble up as you apply moisture over the top.
You can choose a tissue that clashes with the background, blends in or lends itself to the future subject matter of the piece. Add mat medium again and let dry.

Step Five: Wash around the edges of the canvas with a darker color (contrasting or complimentary) and wipe off the excess. Finish off with a final layer of mat medium. Note that mat medium is not intended as a final sealer (or so the bottle says). I simply use it to turn the canvas into a more suitable writing surface since I like to use colored pencils, markers, and crayons in my journaling and canvas is a lot bumpier than the usual watercolor paper I use in my regular journals.

Here's an "oops!" that happened with this piece. The dark color I chose for the edges completely stained my tissue into oblivion. See the dark blue beneath? To "fix", I simply layered on more of the same tissue. This gave it even more depth and I liked the result. If something happens like this, don't panic! All is not lost! Take a minute and think about what you can do to bring the look back in line with your original vision. Or the "oops!" may turn into a "whoo hoo!" and your background technique will metamorphize yet again. This phenomenon of welcoming the "mistakes" as delightful accidents makes the creation of backgrounds an ever-evolving process.

In a couple of days, I will post the "journal page" that I created on top of this particular background.

Friday, November 17, 2006


"Unfurl those wings, sweetness and test the air. A cool breeze is blowing, a soft, uplifting current waiting for you. Yes, the weight of the world is pressing down upon your soul. Yes, those personal demons can be tricky. There are many struggles in all our lives - this is oh so true. But no matter how heavy your heart, your spirit can fly. A deep breath, a glowing sunset, a bird in her nest, babies beneath her feathered breast...each little treasure discovered is a bit of hope uncovered. Each new look at the everyday reveals miracles and joy and beauty, simple but glorious things that lighten the load. Now stretch for the stars, dear one, and let your worries drop away, scattered in the wind. Like the universe, your potential knows no bounds, no bars, no barriers, if only, if only, you believe."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Fall Fancies

Autumn has hit California's northernmost coast in all its windy and rainy glory. While I enjoy the lazy luxury of summer, I love these cozy days inside, listening to the rain upon the roof and the mating symphonies of the tree frogs that gather on my back patio and the adjacent cow pasture. I love skeletal trees and the last, tired leaves that scatter with the arrival of wild, twisting breezes. The winter storms aren't yet raging in off of Humboldt Bay, those often scary meteorlogical events that make both windows and power shudder. Winter also brings the inevitable holiday chaos and so autumn is the calm before. It brings the year's impending end into focus and the new year's arrival to mind. My art seems to flow more easily in autumn. I settle into the inviting warmth of my little studio, both comforted and inspired by the weather that blows beyond my apartment's threshold.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Still Here... post and art coming soon. It seems like an eternity since I've posted...uh, OK, it has been an eternity but time just seems to slip through my fingers like sand between parenting and art teaching and the health stuff. However, my art life has been full and rich in my absence from blogging so I'll get some things scanned in the next couple of days and create a more elaborate post. I also have a digital camera now (thanks Josh!) and that will make posting art soooo much easier!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Finding My Voice

I've been absent for a while from my blog for the best of reasons: I've been immersed in a frenzy of new art-making that has completely absorbed my attention and thrilled me to the core.

In the last couple of years, I have experimented with a wide variety of visual journaling styles, trying to find something that felt natural and authentic. I've studied many how-to and eye candy texts; I've browsed plenty of web pages of most of the big names in the industry. However, my own journaling always felt like a chore. Sigh! "I guess I'd better do another journal's been weeks, months...oops, my last entry was a year ago." And so it went. I journaled in fits and starts because I hadn't yet really found my voice or better yet, I hadn't listened carefully enough to the voice in my head, whispering insistently, trying to guide my head, heart, and hands.

Finally, I just sat down with the names of all the art journalists I admired and asked myself one simple question: "Which artist's work sang the loudest to me?" The answer was immediate: Teesha Moore. There was not a doubt in my mind. Teesha's whimiscal style delights me, inspires me, and most definitely speaks to me. I decided to listen to that inner voice for a change.

While I have long played here and there with the "Zetti" style, I've avoided applying it to such a major component of my art like journaling. I didn't want to be a copycat, a mere imitator. I thought that eventually I would develop a look never before seen in the art world. Something that I could claim as completely, totally, absolutely my own. I waited...and waited...and waited for inspiration to strike like lightning. Everything I tried seemed to have some tiny component of another artist's work and so I rejected it, drastically changing course over and over again. Well, I tested out many paths but made little progress. I struggled to journal consistently. The pages felt forced. I felt tremendous pressure to create something meaningful and/or beautiful. I would start a journal and within a week, or even a day or two, my energy would fizzle, leaving behind a grand but sad collection of unfinished journals and a backlog of thoughts, experiences, and feelings left unexpressed.

At the beginning of August, I had my epiphany. I decided there must be a reason I kept coming back to Teesha's pages. I decided that I would begin with Teesha's work as inspiration and move out from there, seeing where MY mind, talents, and interests took me. I radically changed several things about the way I journaled. I set aside every "fine" art supply I owned and turned instead to the art tools of my childhood: crayons, fat markers, cheap colored pencils as well as some more modern playthings like gel pens and blow pens. I dug up every weird and bright color I could find. I pulled out all the papers I have handpainted and rejected the heavily pre-determined scrapbook papers. I turned my back on every rubber stamp I own and dusted off my box of hand-carved images. I started perusing my collection of Dover copyright-free books. It all came together effortlessly. Something seemed to click in my brain and my excitement felt limitless. I studied Teesha's work some more, decided what technical elements I would borrow and what I would adapt to represent my personal vision.

I begin by cutting cold press watercolor into several sizes and painting a variety of colorful backgrounds with watercolors. After a brief but unsuccessful effort to work in a bound watercolor pad (the pages fell apart), I began punching individual pages to fit in a paintable binder. This way, I can work on a flat surface and in whatever orientation suits my fancy. I use Dover images for the head of my characters and draw my own bodies, often in elaborate costumes. Once the character is drawn and embellished, I doodle around the page border and think very briefly about the title of the page. I journal all around the image, sometimes covering up my entries with more painting or coloring. From time to time, I pull from my box of clipped letters, words and phrases to add a ransom note look.

Yes, Teesha's influence is evident: striped body parts, funny headgear, bright color schemes. However, I use nothing from Teesha directly such as her collage sheets or rubber stamps. In fact, the only stamps I've used are some tiny letter stamps from Hero Arts if I wish to give my character a name. I discovered that I am incredibly content with my own drawings and handwriting. In fact, it feels refreshing to go back to where I began. The little girl with a pocket full of Crayolas and some typing paper has finally been able to emerge once again, this time with a few new tools but the same old unbridled joy for art. I think as time goes on, these pages will evolve into something that perhaps has shades of Teesha but that screams "Michelle!" I don't feel the least bit guilty about using Teesha's work as a launching point. Art has a long, storied history of artists beginning with the inspiration of other artists to find their own, unique vision and voice. In fact, that approach was encouraged (and many times required) in all of the world's major art academies.

The pages have been pouring from me. It is almost hard to keep up with. I complete a page just about every day (unless I'm busy with lesson plans or other work). Then I sketch out the page for the following day. It is difficult to walk away from the studio but it is thrilling to have that overwhelming desire to return. I cannot wait to see where this path ends up!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Suffocation of a Renegade

Here's "ME" in the center, surrounded by the swirling, encroaching, suffocating piles of "My Stuff"...I did this mini-journal entry after one of my various adventures into the mountains of papers, fabrics, doodads, dohickeys, and thingamabobs I have bought and hoarded in anticipation of future projects. Every time I launch into one of my organizational sprees, I feel exactly how this journal entry looks: A bright, happy artist filled with potential brought to her knees by the crushing stacks of stuff that already has a look of its own. All that stuff is color-coded, obsessively neat, and artfully displayed but inside me, chaos and conflict reign.

I think the need to hoard is an age-old instinct leftover from the caveman days when food was scarce and every scrap had to be tucked away for the inevitable lean times. As agriculture developed and the need to wander miles for food was eliminated, humans still felt the itch to hoard. Fast-forward to 2006, and I am scratching that itch raw. I know there are plenty of artists out there scratching along with me. The problem is that hoarding is actually counterproductive to the artistic life. Instead of filling us up, it fills up our homes and simultaneously starves our creative wells.

When the great masters of the Renaissance painted, they didn't wait anxiously at the local art supply store, hungering for the latest shade of indigo blue or the latest set of cool sketching pencils in a fancy tin case. Leonardo didn't spend his time thumbing through the most recent sales catalog, dog-earing page after page of alluring new products. He simply painted. He got down to the business of art-making rather than wasting countless hours patronizing art-making businesses. And when you gawk at his art, you don't point to a speck of paint and say "Now there's that shade of burnt umber he purchased at "Oil Paints R-Us." Back then, the artist commanded the supplies and they bent to his or her will, product names & trademarks disappearing into the canvas as the art emerged. Looking at trends today, I really feel that, more often than not, the artist creates after the supplies have supplied the inspiration. Creativity is at the beck and call of all that stuff: "I see something new and cool....oooh! Got to have that! Don't know what to use it for or how but it is the latest, greatest, and hottest! I'm sure I find something to use it for!" "Aaaah, now I need it in every color and derivation." And so the stash gains a life of its own.

Now this may be an unpopular statement (and its just my personal opinion so don't send hate mail) but I feel that the scrapbooking phenomenon is a lot to blame for this trend towards creating for the supply and not for the artist. At least it started there and has spread like a virus to other artistic arenas. How many of us can look at a project and say "There's that paper from_____" and "There's those stamps by______"? When you lean heavily on products that are so predetermined that they are instantly recognizable, a little bit of the recognition for the artist is sucked away. While I love to look at and admire Lynne Perella's style or Claudine Hellmuth's collage work, I don't want that to be all people see when they look at my work. Throughout traditional art history, the artists that came before were used as inspirational springboards into the unknown. I want to leap forward into uncharted (or at least, less tested) waters, not into the same old stagnant pool. And quite frankly, I'm tired of only seeing the popular trends in other people's work. If the first thing that runs through my head is the catalog or company that stars in an artwork, that work is diminished in power. Instead of making the soul front and center, the product butts its head into the process and in many cases, just simply takes over.

This is really an age old struggle. Popular and mainstream sells. There is comfort in the familiar. And the familiar can be beautiful. But the familiar and beautiful aren't typically the bastions of breakthroughs and new paths. Most of what becomes considered pretty and popular was once regarded as odd and even ugly. The Impressionists were blasted by the critics after their first public showing. Now Impressionist art is considered to be one of the most sublime developments in art history.

I long to be a renegade. I look at my collection of embellishments, rubber stamps, and scrapbook papers and I don't see me looking back. The key is to incorporate those products cautiously into work that is predominately determined by just little old me. Serendipity papers, hand-carved stamps, altered photos, personal drawings and paintings: All of these things can sing for my artistic self when brought together in harmony on the page or canvas. And as a bonus, using personally-created imagery, handmade embellishments, and neutral supplies (like paints, inks, mediums etc) help the artist more easily avoid entanglements in the web of copyright law. Collecting new techniques is a far more useful and enlightening venture. Don't get me wrong: I love all that I have collected but often, I now try to repaint, pull apart, tear up, and otherwise crush the easily recognizable, at least in my personal work. I put on another hat when I teach in a product-driven setting but my private classes are all process-driven. I'm interested in nurturing artists, not art companies. I want to enrich my life, not impoverish my pocketbook. This is a battle I think I'll be waging for a long while but if I persist, eventually MY style, taste, look, and story will rise above the stuff.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

The Newest Family Member

You never know what is going to flutter down from nowhere, land at your feet, and steal your heart...

Last weekend, my son was out, wandering around our apartment complex, looking for something to do on yet another muggy summer day, when he found a new friend...or perhaps, this little friend found him. A dark grey & white cockatiel with a bright yellow head and orange cheeks flew down from a rooftop, landed on the ground and walked right up to Daniel. It climbed onto his outstretched hand and rode his shoulder home.

I was, all at once, surprised, dismayed, and intrigued by our feathered visitor. We already own a cockatiel named Maxie, a sweet drab-colored hen who loves nothing more than cuddling, kisses, and neck scratching. She creates noise & mess enough and yet, there we were, suddenly hosting another bird. It posed quite a dilemma: one bird is really all I feel equipped to handle but as Daniel argued, there really was no leaving it outside. Cockatiels are domesticated birds (everywhere but their native Australia) and they don't last long on their own in the wild. In addition, there are several rather vicious children that roam the complex, all of whom have a reputation for torturing anything they can get their hands on. It seemed somewhat fortuitous and wondrous that this lost soul chose my son to approach. I did insist that Daniel post signs asking people to call and identify the foundling but other than a gentleman looking for a wayward yellow parakeet, no one came forward to claim him. And so, in an instant, we were adopted by Milo (as we have named him.)

Milo is very different from Maxie. Besides being at least four years Maxie's junior and dressed in much more flashy feathered finery, Milo is not as personable. He will climb onto an offered finger only when he sees fit and otherwise will peck and nip until the human flees to protect tender flesh. In the first day or so, Milo ate and drank as if he had been on his own for weeks. When he wasn't hungry or thirsty, he slept, balancing on one leg and head tucked under his wing. In general, he tried to stay out of Maxie's way, who seemed both annoyed and excited to have a new companion. The guidebooks say that cockatiel hens establish themselves as the dominant half of a cockatiel partnership and Maxie wasted no time in proving the experts right. She is content to eat, preen, and now, after a period of cautious introduction, even sleep next to Milo. However, the minute Milo strays into her personal space, she warns him off with a hiss and a half-hearted nip at his tail.

Milo spent a week slowly adjusting to his new home and roommates. His days were fairly uneventful and we simply let him be, admiring him from afar and donning a garden glove when we needed to move him and he was being stubborn. And then, Milo decided he was happy and rediscovered his voice, much to our astonishment and delight.

Female cockatiels are generally not singers. Maxie is no exception; her vocalizations are limited to short, sharp shrieks. In the first week of Milo's residency, that was all we heard from him as well. And then, one morning, he began to sing and chatter and entertain. It seems obvious he has had training. Daniel and I were treated to "pretty bird" followed by a devilish wolf whistle, monkey noises, water dripping, low growls, a chattering sound, a hawk's call and little tune that sounds oddly like the Rice-i-Roni commercial ditty. Milo mixes his noises around, recombining and rearranging as he pleases and aside from the shrill hawk's call that could shatter glass, it is all extremely amusing. In a way, we feel honored that he would decide to share his talent with us. And so, plans are underway to fund a new, larger cage and clean-up/caretaking chores have been assigned. Milo is home.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Lost & Found

As many bloggers seem to do at one point or another, I've returned from a posting hiatus necessitated by "life events" that consumed my time and energy like wildfire. The school year is over (finally!) and my son & I are basking in the glory of lazy mornings and days without driving here and there on one academic errand or another. Of course, the appointment book is filled to bursting with things postponed until summer so in reality, the next two months should be busy.

I often go "off the grid," especially when it comes to my art life. It isn't that I lose interest; I constantly dream and scheme about new and ongoing projects. It's not that I am unsure of how to proceed on those projects. It is just too easy for the chaos of life, both expected and unexpected, to insert itself between me and my studio. Laundry mountains, health obstacles, money issues, unavoidable chores, random worries, parenting challenges: All are effective and constant intrusions.

Oddly enough, I often journal about "not" journaling and use such an entry to spawn a new, highly-energized cycle of art-making. But somewhere along the line, I inevitably get derailed and it can be very difficult to rediscover that enthusiasm that carries me from one project to the next. It is sort of like trying to get a bicycle or old car up a steep hill: A running start is essential to conquering the peak but trying to establish that momentum halfway up is next to useless. This sporadic art life of mine has also been the subject of countless New Year's resolutions: "This year I will draw/paint/write every day." "This year I will submit for publication." "This year I will follow through on all those broken resolutions from previous years." I will launch into an art-making frenzy in the beginning but, depending on the distraction, will gradually or suddenly, put my art life into hiding so more pressing matters can take center stage. Days, months, and even years of art-making time have been lost like ghosts on the wind.
However, as this journal entry quips, it is never too late to be found. I inevitably take a run at the hill again, make it up and over, and race forward toward my vision of how a "real" artist lives: Balancing the necessary nonsense of everyday living with the deep need to create and sustain my soul on a steady diet of play, exploration, and discovery. And I try not to kick myself too hard if my artistic roadster stalls at the bottom yet again. I try to remind myself, that instead of sitting there and tossing the keys out the window in resignation, I can always get out and start walking. Step by step I can move closer to my goals; Day by day, I can see more possibilities realized. Inch by inch, I can look around me and find that I really have made more progress than I give myself credit for. Moment by moment, I discover that the artistic life I desire so much is already within reach if I just allow myself to live it without guilt, unreasonable expectations, and self-doubt.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

The Play's the Thing...

How often do you play at art? I mean really play? True art play isn't making art for swaps, sales, or shows. It isn't developing techniques to fuel teaching schedules or book deals. It isn't opening up the latest bestselling volume from the hottest or latest artist on Somerset Studio's editorial board. When I use the term "art play," I mean the kind of art-making that leaves you breathless. Think freeze tag, hopscotch, jump rope: Time in the studio to imagine, experiment, improvise, and leap far beyond your box without a single thought of deadlines, guidelines or headlines. This is play that reaches back and reawakens the wild abandon of the child.

As with many childhood games, art play is often more fun with a playmate, a kindred soul whose energy and enthusiasm fuels your own. This past Friday, a dear friend and I met for an "Art Play Day." We played in paint and inks until our bodies were covered in a rainbow of tiny flecks and splatters. We let serendipity take the lead. We discussed not a single teacher, trend, or technique. We used the most basic of materials, let our hair down, donned aprons, and let things fly. In the process, we discovered that our very souls took flight. We were free from the self-imposed pressure to create something pretty or useful or important. We cheered, we gasped, we shared, we simply played until we sank into our chairs, exhausted and utterly, completely in bliss. It was a good day. It refueled our passion for art that serves only ourselves, art that says nothing and yet speaks volumes about letting go and rising up.

Note: The above serendipity paper was created with sprayed dye inks (metallics & brights), mini bubble wrap, string-wrapped brayers, and an everyday drinking straw.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Nothing to Fear but...

I am in the process of learning to swim after 30 some years of living with an intense phobia of water, especially water where the bottom is beyond sight. This Wednesday evening, I will be climbing into 12 feet of water and tackling that fear head-on. I am a person torn. Part of me is thrilled to take on this challenge, having waited so long to purge this particular demon from my soul. The calm pool awaits my plunge away from fear and into freedom. There is another side, however, that is much more primal and controlling. It grabs hold of my body, even when I'm standing next to deep water, safe on solid ground. There is seemingly no reasoning with myself when I am in that other place and I shake, gasp, and cry in protest of my planned leap into the unknown. It is a test of wills, raging inside me. I can imagine the future if I choose to leap and yet, I am blinded by the terror of the now.

It all comes down to trust. I have a great teacher, someone who is patient, understanding, attentive, and careful. I trust that he will not let me drown. But, more importantly, I must trust myself. I must move past what I fear and trust that something wonderful lies beneath, even if I cannot see it.

In some small way, art journaling is often like this. When I sit down to journal, the white page rises up to meet me, blind me, scare me into not proceeding. I stare at it, frozen, not by the emptiness but by the fullness of possibilities. I am afraid of getting lost in the page, of losing my way in my quest for the great entry, the perfect image, the innovative technique. I am afraid of letting go of the edge and falling where I may. And yet, paradoxically, that is exactly what I must do if I want to land anywhere meaningful.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Soul of the Thing

I read somewhere that when people are asked to name something they consider to be great art, da Vinci's Mona Lisa takes the first prize ribbon almost every time. And given the amount of people that pack into the Louvre each day just to catch a glimpse of Ms. Lisa from behind a sea of heads desperate to do the same, it seems da Vinci has a hit on his hands. But why?

I am of the mind that it isn't for daVinci's command of the human form or his mastery of value. Quite simply, Mona has a soul.

Henry Ward Beecher wrote that "Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his nature into his pictures." I think this is the very thing that makes something a "work of art." The technique is just the icing; the soul of the piece is the cake. Canvas, paint, paper, clay, metal, wire, ink, fiber: these are the substrates the artist loves and manipulates into a form. And like the golem of Jewish lore, the artist breathes life into that form with her enthusiasm, pain, insights, joys, triumphs, and faults. Sometimes, the kiss of the artist's soul is only recognizable to the artist; it is hidden away in journals and sketchbooks or supplanted by new, improved "golems." Sometimes, the work grows and becomes something more. It gains a life of its own beyond anything the artist could ever imagine and perhaps ultimately, it is protected by bulletproof glass in the world's premiere museum.

When I make art, I am not looking to create a masterpiece; I am hoping to create a life, an image that has a voice and a presence. The life I craft is not always pretty. In fact, most often it is ordinary, humble, quiet, and unpretentious. Sometimes, it is even ugly. Regardless of appearances, if I am successful, the work will be an extension of myself, a little piece of my soul that I offer up for viewing. Success can be hard to gauge though; Sometimes, the artist may think the soul is missing, that a misstep in technique obilterates the message or meaning. However, others may recognize the soul there even if the artist has given it up for lost. We must be careful not to let vicious inner critics blind us to what we have accomplished in even the most minor of works.

When a child draws, he or she doesn't see the crayon line that is too fat to be a neck, the smudge of jelly that serves as hair, or the arm that bends at an impossible angle. There are no ill-conceived perspectives or ill-proportioned features. There is simply the "thing" and the joy that created it. There is the twinkle in the eyes and the mystery that plays about the mouth. This is what draws us in and fills us up.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Well, I have decided to leap blindly onto the electronic bandwagon and try out blogging. I'll share my art and my random thoughts & observations on trying to live an artistic life. I'm hoping that this experiment will encourage me to write more enthusiastically and prolifically. The more daily wonderings I can generate, the more material I'll have to explore in my art. And sometimes, it is just helpful to document everyday struggles and triumphs, transforming the internal into something external. That, after all, is the job of the artist, no matter the media or medium.
This journal page, from 04.28.06, is the beginning in my exploration of wabi-sabi inspired art journaling. I am experimenting with spacious layouts, textured backgrounds, muted color schemes, and the use of of as little pre-copyrighted and/or strongly pre-determined imagery as possible. Many pages draw on observations of the natural world as a springboard for journal entries.
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