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Marginalia—a seque…

August 10, 2018

I didn’t know that “marginalia” was the name of a practice that I love—writing comments in the margins of books that I am reading. I thought it was just a great way to dialogue with the author. A few thoughts, a few questions, maybe even some challenges.

Andrea Eis, Getting what one wants, from the Marginalia series

So, imagine my amazement, when I discovered an article by artist Andrea Eis who created a whole body of work around marginalia. Her story is quite interesting, and it made me want to find out more about it and how it might relate to artmaking.

I found Edgar Allan Poe talking about it:

“In getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of pencilling suggested thoughts, agreements and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general….All this may be whim; it may be not only a very hackneyed, but a very idle practice; — yet I persist in it still; and it affords me pleasure…”

Okay, it definitely contributes to stimulating ideas. I don’t know if Poe used it to foster his own writing, but it made me think about how I go about painting. And I wondered how marginalia relates to conversations between the artist and the person looking at the art if, in fact, it can. Hmmm.

I ended up compromising in how I explored that idea and instead, went back to my sketchbook where I have my own dialogue with paintings in the works:

Images from the artist's sketchbook with notes on the progression of the painting

I take pictures with my phone and print them on my little Sprocket printer (tiny pictures with adhesive backs). I write all kinds of things around the pics—”reduce this, move that, get rid of this color…” I’m figuring out where I want to go with the painting and how to get there.  My question is: How can marginalia happen with artmaking? …and where? …and with whom?

Here’s the final painting (turned again):

acrylic painting by the artist

Mapping the strata VI, acrylic on canvas, 48×36



Aren’t we always collaborating?

August 3, 2018


small oil pastel drawing

Oil pastel from my sketchbook

I like the idea of collaboration. It softens that hard idea that we need to be isolated and unique in the work that we create. Kind of the long-suffering artist image.

Collaboration is usually thought of as a team effort, mostly in a business setting. But, for artists I interpret the concept much more loosely. It is timeless and can be a conscious or an unconscious act—a kind of creative brainstorming engaged in with another artist intentionally, an influence from another artist, or a more formal process that is defined by planning, scheduling, and execution, needing a host of players.

Focusing on unintentional collaboration, we, as artists, step into a flow created by those who precede us—not limited by them, but pulled in by resonance with what they have created. The flow also contains other information: stimuli, environment, relationships. Strictly limiting ourselves to the visual, however, we might respond to paintings , sculptures, drawings, etc. for reasons we are not able to articulate, yet are influenced by.

THAT’S the collaboration. Each of us is a building block in interpreting and expanding the world. We try to anchor it, depict it, hold it briefly by representing it in a concrete form.

“Exposed to scrutiny, the myth of the solitary genius artist rarely holds up and much more often falls away to reveal a web of collaboration, influence, and exchange.” Lewis Bush

A well-known example of a long collaborative process is the painting Reconciliation Elegy by Robert Motherwell. A gigantic painting reinstalled at the National Gallery of Art in 2016. The concept for the painting started in 1974 and it was hung as a painting at the gallery in 1978.

“The photographic album and the comments by Robert Motherwell and his studio assistants presented here make up a journal [Reconciliation Elegy, published by Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1980] which records both their collaboration in the creation of the artist’s monumental painting Reconciliation Elegy, as well as how the painting itself was a collaboration between its intended placement—a commission for the National Gallery’s East Building—and the artist’s humanism. The story is simple and direct; but their common struggle to keep the great painting alive and personal is also complex and poignant.” E. A. Carmean, Jr.

picture of the installation of the large painting Reconciliation Elegy by Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell, Reconciliation Elegy, acrylic on canvas, 120×364, 1978

Another fascinating technical collaboration is part of Evelyn Rosenberg’s process in creating art:

“Evelyn works with the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC), located at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico where, in 1986, with the support and cooperation of the Center, she developed the technique for creating the detonographs. The technique, which uses a sandwich of explosive material and metal sheets placed upon a clay mold, forms the basis for her art.” You can get her book to learn more.

Evelyn Rosenberg, Regenesis, 96×120, stainless steel, brass, and copper, 1998

And here’s a collaboration in which I participated: a painting done by a painting group I belonged to a couple of years ago, all of us jumping in with ideas and paint brushes (and other stuff):

collaborative painting done by artist's painting group

WAG 2, mixed media on canvas, 30×40

Not only were we surprised and delighted by the outcome, but it was a great fun to do.


Some things recovered

July 27, 2018
Small sketch from artist's sketchbook

A quick study in oil pastel from my sketchbook

…It could be an idea you’ve stashed in a sketchbook and forgotten about, or an article that you cut out of a magazine because it caught your eye, but you saved it so well (!) that it was lost. This week I found two forgotten things that caught my interest all over again. An article from 1991 about an incredible artist, Elmer Schooley (1916-2007), who painted these immense and intricate paintings, basically for himself.

Schooley’s paintings are so large and dense that they invite total immersion. He said, “My paintings are not a performance—they are a wrestling between myself and the emergence of the subject matter.” (To read a little more about him, go here.)

Elmer Schooley, My Golden Age, oil on canvas, 84×94

That’s an engagement between artist and process that I like a lot. It’s a brave act to find what works for you and make THOSE paintings.

The other artist I “recovered” is Jonathan Borofsky (b. 1942), who, again, created out of a passionate interest, but this time in his own “dreams, fears, and emotions which continually chronicle his daily existence.” This description is from Dean Sobel writing about a show of Borofsky’s drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1986. I got it from the program for the show (found the program again this week).

Jonathan Borofsky, Berlin Dream at 2,833,792, charcoal on paper, 58 1/4 x 73 1/4

More recently (2002) Borofsky has said, “Every artist’s work is their self-portrait. That’s true whether it’s Mondrian [putting] one box of red, next to a box of white next to a box of blue and balancing those boxes. It’s still a self-portrait of the inner working and the inner soul and the inner feelings of the artist. Some of those self-portraits are more abstract than others. Because I’m an ongoing work myself, my artwork becomes kind of a record, an ongoing portrait of my life.”

I wonder if Borofsky and Schooley were aware of each other. I think they would have had a great conversation.

Here’s a painting I’ve just finished (I think)—it led me through a lot of twists and turns, but I’m happy with where it finished.

Mapping the strata VIII, acrylic on canvas, 48×24


A short note about my long absence from my blog: A lot of changes have been happening, including spending the last year building my new studio. It’s done! …and I’m back to work.

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!

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