Thursday, December 31, 2009


Summing up 2009 in one word...abundance... in heart-felt gratitude for my dear family and friends and the relationships that enrich my life each day... in opportunities both in art activities and as one of the founding caregivers opening a new hospital... abundance in life, the many challenges, lessons learned and occasions for personal and professional growth...and finally, abundance in joy anticipating all that is to come in 2010.
Pastel on Pastelbord

Friday, December 18, 2009

From Life or Photo

This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak with the juror of a recent show, of which I was a participant. The juror, a 3D glass artist and gallery owner in Alexandria, had chosen selections for the "Best of Showcase". (My painting was one of thirteen chosen out of approx. 100 pieces.) As the conversation evolved, she mentioned her process in choosing the "Best of Show" works and revealed that she had allowed a few of her "painter" friends to preview the works. One of her friends had been astonished that the juror had chosen a painting (or paintings) that may have been completed from a photo reference.
As a non-academic artist (someone who has not attended a formal art school) and as an artist who knows of many award-winning studio painters who use photographs as inspiration, I walked away from the conversation somewhat bemused. Is a painting created using a photograph as inspiration less valid than one created from life? ...even if the painting is the artist's authentic vision (her own vision, her moment, her photograph, unmanipulated)?
I continue to greatly admire those artists that can prop an easel in a field for hours and paint, or those who can perfectly stage a still-life painting and work for weeks from the same still life (and I have done so myself many times), but admittedly for me, working from "life" and "en plein air" is highly impractical to my process. Honestly, if I set a crate of apples out for 2 weeks to paint them, they would get knocked over during "hide-and-seek" and rearranged and eaten by my children on the first day (ok, maybe the second). I am proud to say, that I am a studio painter who works from my own photographic references. For if I weren't working from a photo-derived inspiration, in the bits and pieces of time I do find to paint; between being a mom, a nurse and the magician who maintains "good order and discipline" at home, I wouldn't paint.
No doubt this debate will continue without agreement. And just as I appreciate and respect the methods of other artists, I am thankful to the juror for choosing work that spoke to her "from the gut" and not a preconception that art created from something other than life is less valid and worthy of recognition.
For me, validity is in the vision, the translation from the spirit, and the courage in doing and much less about the method and process (though I find great joy in the process). The vision is from life, the process in between, merely a vessel on an open road.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Between Paintings

While most everyone I know is fervently creating "small works" for holiday shoppers, I have found myself committed to 2 large (for me), involved paintings; working one pastel (18X24) at home and a watercolor (22X30) in the studio at LibertyTown...and I couldn't be happier.
It might take me a month to finish each, but for weeks, I won't have that unsettling feeling of being between paintings...that short time before the beginning of a new work, where I am idol in planning, allowing time for indecision and self-doubt. I am content in the day knowing just where to start and what to time for dilly-dally.
What could possibly be the same about these two paintings?... repetition of shape and pattern and trapped dark spaces... we'll see how it all works 2010.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Paint On!

In the midst of the season's bustle...pressure for "small works," never-ending holiday demands, countless distractions and set-backs... I am driven to embrace a recently discovered statement (and very fundamental declaration). "If I never sell another painting, win another award, or get accepted into another exhibit, I will paint". I am reminded that something much deeper motivates me and there is a purpose to the work that fills my life (and fellow artists). Whether art serves as a language to communicate with the observer, or as a form of escape from everyday demands, or simply the realization that art is an important aspect in our common humanity, we... I ...feel better having art in our lives.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What a Steal!

Join me for a very special night at the Workhouse Arts Center, Saturday Dec 12th.
Each year the studio and associate artists at The Workhouse help with a fundraising event called the Collector’s Showcase. I am inviting you to attend this event on December 12, 2009 and help me support the Workhouse and all of its programs. Art collectors and patrons buy a $150 ticket to the event where they enjoy wine tasting, music and best of all they get to select an original piece of artwork and take it home from a collection of over 100 pieces that have been donated by artists at The Workhouse.

Pelican Party up for auction for a $150 ticket!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Visual Summary

As an artist, one of my tasks in creating a painting is to simplify and translate the essence of a subject as I see it in that moment on any given day. During my pastel workshop this week, we had a discussion on "simplifying," and as one of my students aptly stated "creating a visual summary". The concept seems "simple" enough. However, beginning painters often become distracted with and jump right into painting the details, forgetting that value and form are the "batter and cake" in a painting; essential for it's foundation, success, and "readability".
So, a few tools and questions I use to know what "detail" to include in my visual summary: 1. Begin with a thumbnail sketch. Value sketches are useful in helping you simplify your design into only shape, value and form. 2. Squint your eyes and look at your image. The values in shape and form are the "cake", everything else just "frosting". 3. Which details (usually line or texture) are important to enhance the visual flow and underlying compositional structure? 4. Is the detail important to overall "readability" of the painting? If not, I leave it out. 5. Much of painting is illusion and "special effects". I will often hint at the detail (usually with texture, a few gesture lines, or direction of the pastel application) without actually drawing it in; the viewer's eyes will fill in the rest. For example: in my garlic painting, I use the line of shadow shapes to create movement and flow, visually directing the viewer through the painting ("readability"). The trapped areas of detail and texture (which are really, just less blended areas) at the buds of the garlic also direct (and pause) visual movement. My goal... to support the underlying armature (see previous posts).

Friday, November 6, 2009

One Garlic [breath] at a Time

As I work, I am continuing to balance the variety of "warm and cool" color along with considering value and color perspective as I define the forms and space: lighter values, intensity of color, and warmth appear forward; darker values and cool colors visually recede. I also enjoy the interplay of lost and found edges that contribute to the illusion of "real" and aid the viewer's eye to travel around the painting.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Healthy dose of reality...I mean realism.

I find creating "realism" in a painting helps ground and settle me in the present. Realism on a 2D surface is nothing but "special effects"... i.e. simply drawing with value and color perspective.
For this "breath of fresh - garlic", I have chosen a neutralized complimentary color scheme of "oranges" and "blues". Considering color harmony, I will keep my palette simple, choosing only a few colors within my color scheme that represent a variety in value (lights, darks, and midtones), softness, temperature (warm and cool colors) and chroma (intensity).
Form and value in painting are built by layering pastel of various hues and color temperature. Most often, I will work spatially, working an area as it occurs in space on the 2D plane. I begin with the most distant space and work towards the most forward space. That said, I continuously go back and make minor adjustments to previously worked areas to balance the colors and values throughout the painting. In general within these spaces, I work from dark to light and harder to softer pastel.
Studying the light as it falls on the subject, I first lay in the darker and "cooler" color followed by the warmer darks. I consider this the foundation darks, followed by the lighter, softer color "on top". By accurately portraying these values, form and depth are created (and thus the "special effects" of painting).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Before the drawing...

Quite a bit of planning occurs before I begin the drawing for a painting. I have found that I am much more successful with a painting when I have organized and done a little prep-work first. Thumbnail sketching is often a part of my initial planning. Small sketches can be great tools to help you simplify the abstract areas in your design, determine a structure for your composition (if desired), better understand the value and shape relationships, and explore possibilities in design before committing to it in your final painting.
A few tips for thumbnail sketching: Keep your sketches small and simple. They should only take about 5 min each to complete. Don't worry about details, just focus on a pleasing arrangement of shapes and values. Above, I am generalizing mass areas and identifying the areas of lights and darks. I ask myself...Do I want to follow a design structure (or armature) for my painting? Where are the areas of lightest lights and darkest darks? How can I use these shapes to enhance the design of my painting? How will I use these lights and darks (and line direction) to create movement in the painting? How will the viewer's eyes travel around the painting (passage)? Do I have (and want) a focal point?
One of the most exciting aspects of painting for me is finding order in apparent randomness, especially in life and snapshots of everyday moments. For this reason, I don't "stage" my still-life paintings. I find order in what is already there. For example, the garlic above was a photo from the farmer's market near my studio in Fredericksburg. Armatures serve as the backbone structure of a painting, will help create a coherent flow, and are a starting point to determine placement of shapes, values, and color. The disclaimer here... not all paintings need to have a structure to be successful and not all compositions lend themselves to structure (i.e. single-object still life, continuous field compositions, portraits, etc), but many do. Above are a few common compositional structures. Again, these structures are simply guides, not rules, and for beginning painters, will provide a direction in helping you organize and be more successful with your paintings.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How to...draw using a grid.

Over the past few years, I have taught many beginning artists in various workshops. I have found that one of the most difficult and frightening aspects of starting a painting is the drawing. For most of us, being confident in the initial drawing is critical to how we will feel about our work at completion. So in teaching a workshop (whether it be watercolor or beginning in pastel), I just can't get around the first class: where to start with a drawing and how to design and craft a painting. Over the next few blog entries, I thought it would be helpful to post a few tips I follow that will help beginning artists be more successful in their paintings.
For students who have never drawn, creating a grid is one useful way to help you determine size, angle, and foreshortened relationships and perspective. If working from a reference, your first step will be to find the right proportion for your enlarged sketch (grid). I do this by laying the reference to the lower left corner of piece of sketch paper (large enough to fit your working surface). Draw a diagonal from the lower left corner to the top right corner. Any place on this diagonal that you draw 2 perpendicular lines, the rectangle will be proportional to your reference. This is the area you will use as your format for the larger painting and the area that will correspond to your grid.
Admittedly, there are many ways to make a grid. I will typically divide the paper and reference in half, 1/4 point and 3/4 point both vertically and horizontally. The one rule... the grid should be the same in both your reference and your enlarged paper. You can further divide you grid as many times as necessary. My goal here is to simply create an accurate line drawing to work from while painting. I will often revise my drawing as I go to fit what works for the painting. Most of the drawing is done with value and form in pastel. However, if my initial proportions are off, then I will never be able to accomplish what I want with value and form. Tip: I will place my reference in a sheet protector and create the grid on the plastic with a sharpie. This way, I can take the photo out later and see it without the distraction from the grid.
Once I have a drawing I am confident in, I will turn the paper over, cover the lines with graphite (for a watercolor) or hard pastel. Then I will lay the sketch paper over my painting surface (pastel side down) and retrace my initial sketch. Only the pastel sketch will be left on the surface and I am ready to start, almost...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Art and Life

I am considering a number of titles that seem fitting for this painting: wild perseverance, solidarity, resolve, fortitude... Just as a subject for a painting is chosen from moments in my immediate world, so is the interpretation- of challenges, triumphs, struggles, and lessons- some stated, some silent. Art does not happen independent from life.
Did you know- a little sunflower trivia? Wild sunflower seeds are adapted for living and can remain viable for as long as 10 years. Sunflowers are also eager to cross species and form hybrids. A bee transferring pollen from one species of sunflower to another could be unwittingly creating a new hybrid by swapping genes. Forming these unions is how sunflowers can spread and thrive in extreme environments, like salt marshes and sand dunes. Ornamental and industrial breeders take advantage of this pliant attitude to create new colors, sizes, oil content and seed size. A domestic sunflower is also known to sometimes bend to make contact with its own pollen, where it self-pollinates.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"just stop the art"

Seriously, how does one go about "stopping the art"? Painting has been my addiction for the past 6 years or so. Though despite my addiction, I have been able to maintain a job, some healthy relationships and find joy in many other things. However, when I am not creating art, I am often thinking about art. The thinking about art has always been there ever since I can remember, only the "doing" began about 6 years ago. So, how now, after a daily commitment to creating, can I just stop...? The concept saddens me. Finding "balance" in life is such an illusive quest.
the poppy
(and dark places)
Watercolor on Aquabord

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rough Water

Rough Water
Pastel on Ampersand Pastelbord
I found this type of continuous field composition very difficult to organize into some structure. Which I guess is the point...why would I need to "organize" continual movement? My desire to classify everything into some visual order is a concept very hard for me to push aside when painting. And yet, I probably breathe the easiest, when seeing a subject too grand to classify: millions of leaves and dappled light in the forest, endless water in a seascape, thousands of wildflowers. In the presence of grandeur, the eyes rest and the spirit is quiet.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Open Water

Before moving to Virginia, I lived in southern California. Somehow, living near the beach, the water begins to draw you in. There, I discovered "open water" swimming. When surrounded by motion, the ocean feels alive, every drop moving with some unified purpose.
My intention at this early stage...simply to capture the perpetual movement of the water. My next challenge, organizing the movement.

Black Bear

We're Going on a Bear Hunt
We're going on a bear hunt,
We're gonna catch a big one,
What a beautiful day,
We're not scared.
Oh ,oh! Grass,
Long, wavy, grass.
We can't go over it,
We can't go under it,
We've gotta go throught it!
Swishy swashy, swishy swashy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brown Bear

This week I am working on a commission for a couple of bear "portraits." Honestly, I don't really think of myself as a wildlife painter, but I just love doing them (and do many of them). Who doesn't love a cuddly teddy bear?
If you ever, ever, ever
meet a grizzly bear,
You must never, never, never
ask him where
He is going,
Or what he is doing;
For if you ever, ever dare
To stop a grizzly bear,
You will never
Meet another grizzly bear.
Mary Austin

Thursday, September 17, 2009

And the word is...

...Chair. Seriously, how could 10,000 people be inspired by the word "chair"? But I guess they were, including me (or at least if not so much the chair itself, by the negative space, shapes and shadows around the chair). You can check out some of the submissions for the project. The opening for The 10,000 People Project will be in Atlanta, Georgia at the Art House Gallery on Dec 11th from 7-10pm. There will also be a book published with 1000 of the entries.
The Space Between
Watercolor on Aquabord

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The 10,000 People Project

Last October, just for fun, I joined a project hosted by the Art House Coop in Atlanta, Georgia. The concept... 10,000 people would receive a mystery word in the mail and then create a piece of art using that word as inspiration. I was intrigued by the idea, potential, and possibilities. Then I received the word...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Afternoon Thugs

Afternoon Thugs
Watercolor on Aquabord
6X8 (2)

Monday, September 7, 2009

From There 2 Here

As part of the Torpedo Factory's 35th anniversary celebration, Target Gallery presents From There 2 Here, an exhibition featuring artwork from three regional art centers that were inspired by the Torpedo Factory's groundbreaking concept. The participating art centers (including LibertyTown) are similar in design to the Torpedo Factory in that they have open studios and galleries inside of re-purposed architectural spaces. LibertyTown was an old plumbing supply warehouse in Fredericksburg converted to 30 or more unique studio and gallery spaces by the vision of Dan Finnegan.
My Pelican Party was chosen for the exhibit and will be on display in the Target Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia from September 10th- October 18th. The gallery will hold an artist's reception September 10th from 6-8PM.

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Afternoon Thugs" in Progress

"We fritter away our lives with detail...simplify, simplify." Henry David Thoreau
That statement describes my life well and is easy to recognize but difficult to do [in a painting].
Above, value is doing most of the work simplifying the forms and capturing the essence of the figures. Subtle contrasts create strong light allowing the light and shadow to describe the figures. I kept the palette simple, leaving color vague and earthy. I chose pigments that when mixed would make strong heavy darks, and alone would vary the temperature, transparency, intensity and texture of color in the shadows. Burnt Sienna, Brown Madder, Ultramarine Blue, Manganese Blue, Thalo Blue, Alizarin Crimson.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Two Portraits: Simplified and Unpolished

My intention this week... try something different, hopefully interesting, somewhat unconventional [for me], and non-floral. So I am beginning 2 "loose" study portraits [of my in-laws].
My challenge... simplify the figures as somewhat abstract shapes, use value and color to describe light and dark forms, vary the "lost and found" edges to give the illusion of depth and light, and connect shadow shapes to create unity.
My realization... the subject doesn't really matter, the principles are the same.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I found out this week that I have been selected to have 2 full pages of work published in the next volume of Best of America: Pastel; along with many very noteworthy artist and artwork. Funny how self confidence (or lack of) and fear of rejection can sabotage great opportunities; I chickened out entering the watercolor edition after seeing the work chosen for last year's edition. Good thing I didn't look at the work in the pastel category before entering.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shades of Pastel

Flourishing Above the Surface
Soft Pastel
I am thrilled to have this painting accepted into the Shades of Pastel National Competition. The juror for this show is Richard McKinley, a nationally-recognized master pastelist. I took a bit of a gamble entering, and only entered one painting. Usually, I think jurors look for groups of work that are mature and cohesive and then select one or two to show. I had finished this painting just in time to enter, but really no others like it at the time. The exhibit is hosted by the Maryland Pastel Society and will run September 26th to November 7th at the Strathmore Mansion in Bethesda Maryland. Opening Reception will take place on October 4th from 1-3PM.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kid's Art Safari at LibertyTown

A few things I learned teaching art camp this week.
1. It is impossible to be toooo silly.
2. 6 and 7 year olds love to smile and laugh.

3. Children have wonderful imaginations. Want to know all the possibilities of creating a map collage (and what to do with it)? Ask a 6 year old.
4. Plan plenty of "extension" activities. Art exploring can be very exciting.
5. It is physically impossible for 6, 7, & 8 year olds to sit still, not talk and giggle, draw silly faces, and not skip. Something like "exploding heads" may result.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


I am still reeling a little from the opening at Bistro Bethem on Monday. Mirinda and I hung the show that morning into the afternoon and hosted the reception later that evening. Below are a few pictures from the day.

Wine well deserved.
Thank you to all the art patrons in Fredericksburg (and Stafford) for your support! Now onto art camp for eleven 6-8 year olds, Yikes! Did I really plan both of these activities in the same week?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

One more for the show...

After contributing so much time to the poppies, I just couldn't let this one go. A few days ago, I pulled it off the shelf. With fresh eyes it was easier for me to see what small changes I needed to make and did. Funny how just a few touches can make such a difference in a painting (or maybe it was the fresh look). I am much happier with it now and am reminding myself... the process is more important than the product and I am always learning. Thank you all for your kind comments and encouragement.
Full Glory
Watercolor on Aquabord

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Work @ Bistro Bethem, Aug 10th- Oct 4th

The posters are up, cards mailed, most of the artwork done (except for a little varnishing, framing, and a few small details), and we have an article "Applause" on page 3 in Fredericksburg's Front Porch Magazine. Maybe I can catch my breath before the Opening August 10th.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Light in Spring"

Light in Spring
Soft Pastel on Pastelbord
A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here
A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That silence cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.
It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.
Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:
A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.
Emily Dickinson

Friday, July 31, 2009

Settling In...Tulips

Toward the end of a painting (before I start the next one), I am the most unsettled in my life in art. For so long I suppressed the creative spark I felt since childhood. Life just happens and we become so focused on our daily responsibilities. I guess I still hold a little fear that a lag in creativity will stifle that energy. So I am usually about 2-3 (sometimes 5 or 8) paintings behind (at least in my mind). Though reason says I should really take a break after such a long stretch of painting, I am eager to begin and settle into the comfort of the next painting. A little fear of idleness pushes me on.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Making progress... This should be my last painting to complete before the show in August. I can see the light...