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Holding the tension

September 7, 2016
Little 3D boxes waiting to be finished in a 3D piece I started a long time ago

Little boxes waiting to be finished in a 3D piece

I don’t know where I came across this phrase: “holding the tension,” but when I saw it I was in the middle of trying to figure out a title for my solo show at a local gallery (Blue Lily Atelier) in October.

I was writing down everything that popped into my head: seeking stasis; fault lines and fractures; disrupted paradise; lurking on the edge; finding the edges; disturbances; shifting sensibility; reverberation; etc.

The work I’m showing is from a series called Fault Lines, and that’s what I ended up using for the title.  But holding the tension really sounded good. The series is a reflection of the uncertainty of all our taken-for-granted foundations, whether they are physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. Fault lines typically refer to geological faults, but, for me, they easily extend to our life experiences, which is why holding the tension seemed so appropriate.

Fault Line pieces

Two of the paintings in the show (each 10.5 x 10.5, mixed media on paper)

As I was working on some new pieces for the show, I thought about how important it is for us, as artists, to keep renewing the creative tension that challenges us when working. For me, it’s important to push my boundaries a bit and stay on the edge of what’s comfortable by exploring new ideas, new materials, and new processes. Or maybe just pushing the familiar a bit further by trying a different color than I normally would choose, or using a different tool to apply paint, or turning a painting upside down just when I thought I had it right side up. Little changes sometimes make a big difference in my perception and motivation….


The problem with being consistent in artmaking

June 19, 2016

color pencil sketch from my sketchbook


Being consistent doesn’t necessarily go along with exploring different processes and ideas.

I have a show opening in a few weeks, and I’m trying to finish up a couple of pieces to fit with the ones I have already painted. Being faced with the issue of consistency in the work, and wanting to reject it AS an issue (art critics, beware!), I waited a long time after I started these two pieces to work on them again. I’m doing something I love: making marks and isolating shapes with layers of paint. But I keep asking myself whether these will fit well in the show because they are starting to look different from the other paintings in the series. Basically I have had to remind myself of why I am painting in the first place: I’m exploring ways to paint the ideas lurking in my head, to butter the canvas with colors I love or that interest me, and to satisfy the urge to create.

Apparently I don’t think consistently either since my work hops around a lot and at any given time I have five or six active sketchbooks (when I can find them all).

I think painting is a microcosm for life. It’s a process and it has its own logic, if you even want to label it as logic. It works best when you are immersed in it…not measuring it or comparing it, but appreciating it in the moment of experience.

Here’s how the two pieces are evolving so far:

Number one: The starting point for this painting is on the left and the “right now” point is on the right:

Working painting - two steps

I’m hovering on the verge of done with this one (mixed media, 36 x 36” on gallery-wrapped canvas).

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Number two: I’m right on the verge of YIKES with this second one below, starting point on the left and and current point on the right (mixed media, 36 x 36” on gallery-wrapped canvas).

Working painting - two steps

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Here is one of the earlier paintings in the series (one of the “troublemakers”):

P. S. eternity

P.S. eternity (mixed media, 36 x 36” on gallery-wrapped canvas)


Today I’m taking a break and painting the guest bathroom cabinets at our house…and I’m being very consistent.


The What and the Why

March 16, 2016
Bars and blocks

oil pastel from my sketchbook

There’s a post that popped up on my Facebook page that struck a chord for me.

It’s a clip from Michael Jr. Comedy.  He’s talking about the underlying passion of what we do in our lives—what drives us, interests us, motivates us, makes us do what we do—and letting that underlying passion appear in the outcomes.

The “what” and “why” example in the clip applies so well to artmaking.

Link to Michael Jr. Comedy on WHAT

Click on the picture to play the clip

I think, as artists, we often have a lot of “what” going on, but at times we would be hard pressed to come up with the “why.” Beyond the fact that much of artmaking is a nonverbal operation, we often find it hard to put words to what we do when writing our artist statements or in talking to people who are interested in our work. Sometimes there’s not much “why” on a conscious level to keep us invested.

After watching the clip, I had to think about why I make art, and it turned out to be pretty simple:

  1. The color red. I love it. I love painting with it, coloring with it in oil pastels (especially that!), and basking in it wherever I see it (yes! to Cadmium Red Medium). Maybe I would expand “red” to just say “color.” Color pulls me in; I want to work with the subtleties of color and the “in-your-face” aspects of big, bright colors. Where else can I do that except in making art? (I do have a fair amount of red clothes, so…)
  2. I get to explore ideas about living in an urban environment, the reductionist drama of black and white imagery in drawing and collage, the mystery of making marks on canvas and covering them up in layers of paint—all speaking to my esoteric viewpoint of the world. Art doesn’t have to make sense in the usual fashion, especially abstract art, which is what I do.
  3. Because it’s hard to translate the “in-the-head” stuff to a visual object. I like that challenge.
  4. And then there’s curiosity, drama, and mystery…all components of the process.


A painting I’m working on that started as a demo during a recent presentation:

post30-studio shot

Yesterday I added some bright red bits. I’m contemplating my next move.

From blank canvas to finished painting

February 23, 2016

Bars and blocks2I’m always interested in how other artists tackle the problem of the blank canvas. I know some artists like to do thumbnails before they start a painting, or, I assume, in the case of artists who work more representationally, they know what they want the composition to look like before they start. Then it becomes a matter of plugging in colors, etc. to create the image they are aiming for.

As an abstract artist, I like to say that I work intuitively. I create possibilities on the canvas that suggest a direction, whether it is the color, the shapes, the transparency, etc. that invite me to add or develop different areas.

Awhile back my son helped me shoot a time lapse of me painting an abstract. I wanted the challenge of a time limitation to create something on canvas without a “plan” in hand. Believe me, this is a lot of fun! …and enlightening about how we create our own obstacles when we paint sometimes. With a block of time defined for making a painting, I made a lot of quick decisions.

Here’s a movie of the time lapse he created:

Here’s the painting after two hours:

Sentinels after time lapse

So…I didn’t really like or dislike the painting. It sat for several months. Hmmm. I thought, “I should do something with that. It is a lot of canvas to just be sitting around” (it’s 36×48 inches). I don’t know about you, but I like letting things percolate for awhile until I get an idea of what I might want to add or change on a particular piece. First I turned it upside down:

Sentinels rotated

Then I began adding some little points of interest. I am particularly drawn to stripes and checks, or any odd little shapes that introduce some different colors. Also, I am in the midst of a series of “mark-making” pieces in which I create spontaneous scribbles that look like they should be readable. My idea is that we each have a “mark language”—making marks that are unique to us as individuals. So I have been adding those to my recent paintings.

Here’s where I ended up: some marks, some new shapes, and a few things retained from the original painting.

Sentinels finished

In case you didn’t spot them right away, here are the things I kept from the original piece:

Sentinels with marked places
I like to snap pictures of paintings as I work on them. When I look back, I sometimes wish I had stopped at a particular point—I liked that stage better than the finished product. But mostly I find it’s helpful to remind me that nothing is fixed in stone…I can always paint more, cover up more, or start over!

What to say??

December 8, 2015

Bars and blocks I

I am busy revising my artist statement again. It’s always a work in process because I am trying to put into words something that is basically in my head (or mind’s eye?). I’m trying to be concise and clear in what I say. I always want to know: What do other artists have to say about their work? Do they try to express the thing that’s itchy in their brain? Do they try to find the right words to describe their process, their content, or their desire to create?

I have found a swell book: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life (2013). Since this book is a compilation of interviews with artists, I get some thoughtful answers to my questions. It’s a good read.Cover of the book "Living and Sustaining a Creative Life"

Here’s a bit from artist Sharon Butler in the book:

From my early monk-like devotion to painting alone, to a cross-disciplinary embrace of digital projects, writing and abstract painting, my art practice has changed tremendously and unpredictably over the last 20 years. Recently I’ve concluded that I’m better off following my instincts, no matter how non-linear or disjointed they seem. For me, the process is always going to be (a little) more important than the tangible product or conventional success. Had I maintained my early vision of a hermetic painting life, churning out series of nearly identical paintings year after year, I would never have discovered my love of writing or had a child, both of which have made my life enormously rich, if also heartbreakingly complex. At 53, it seems easier to plan and navigate the years ahead, but perhaps the future will bring equally unexpected opportunities and challenges. You never know.

…oh so true…follow your instincts!

* * * * *

Here’s a painting I’m working on…just trying to decide whether to cover some of the spaces up so that it’s more “comfortable” for me, although I’m quite in love with the phthalo blue wash that is the bottom layer. I’m kind of stuck on this piece because it doesn’t look so much what I’ve been doing most recently, and that little voice questioning consistency pops up. Sometimes the paintings just have their own direction…

No title just yet

No title for this piece just yet

36 x 36 x 1.6, mixed media on gallery-wrapped canvas

What Matters Most

November 27, 2015

post28-Yupo2I think abstract art often fits within the description written by James Hollis in What Matters Most:  Living a More Considered Life. Of course he’s talking about life purpose, but I think it translates well to abstract art:


The maturity and differentiated capacity of ourpost28-Book Cover personality depends on respecting ambiguity [my emphasis], without which we would never grow, never question, never move out of the old uncertainties that once offered comfort, but in time only ratify ignorance and oblige constriction.

Isn’t this a cool idea for looking at any art? Treating it as an opportunity to flirt with uncertainty? I think so.


One of the things that I am working on right now is refining surfaces on 12 small (6 x 6 inch) cradled panels. I like these little panels because they seem so manageable and interesting when put next to each other. That’s not exactly how I am feeling at the moment, but I started with a lot of enthusiasm: gessoing each one black, adding tar gel and fiber paste to create a texture…then white gesso floats here and there. A little blue wash…some other colors to a few.  Now I am trying to figure out what to do next. I want to suggest the passage of time by eroding and adding to each one—I’ll have to see how these turn out.

post27-work in progress


November 17, 2015

post26-triangle study

Definition of outlier:  A person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set.

I think it was John Sloan, the painter, who said that all “great” artists are standing on the shoulders of all of the other working artists in the world. He also said “Consistency is the quality of a stagnant mind.” I take two things away from that: It’s okay to be influenced by what other artists are doing, recognizing that we are ALL influenced and supported by the vision and work of others. And, having that as a base, we should feel pretty good about exploring unpredictable approaches to making art.  In other words, outliers really have something in common with everybody else (why else compare them??), and they stand out because of some characteristic that makes them unique. In artmaking, those unique characteristics get folded into styles and content choices of the next generation of artists.


I’ve been working with different ideas in black and white drawings—a result of starting a series (some of which were in the MasterWorks of New Mexico Spring 2015 show and some in the Albuquerque Museum Miniatures and More exhibition that is still showing) experimenting with charcoal and powdered graphite. It seems like the possibilities are endless! But I am having trouble finding the perfect paper to work on. I’ve tried different smooth drawing papers (around 80-100 lb. weight), hot press 300 lb. watercolor paper, off-white Canson papers for ink, etc., and I can’t get just the right surface to create the deep blacks that I like. Hmmm. I’ve also been messing with ink washes and gesso washes to see what that adds. I haven’t decided if I like them or not. I’ll keep experimenting. Here are a few of the latest (all small, about 6.5 x 6.5):

post26-Composite bw 1

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