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Black and white…and shades of gray

September 1, 2015

graphite/charcoal drawing on paper

Having rekindled my interest in drawing, specifically black and white drawing, I have fallen in love with its stark nature, buffered by the subtleties of gray, and with its potential as a medium for expressing ideas that feel documentary, nostalgic, and reductionist.

Some of my drawings experimenting with charcoal and powdered graphite are below. I love the depth of the black against the white paper.

First drawings in b/w

Book cover of Drawing Projects

Recently, I also found a book that is really swell: Drawing Projects – An Exploration of the Language of Drawing, published in the UK and full of luscious drawings and in-depth interviews with artists about their work and process. Here’s a little twist from artist, Gemma Anderson, who says:

The intention is always the same thing…to discover all the shapes and forms that exist in the world, which is ambitious, I know! But the more forms I draw, the more relationships I see and in turn, the more ideas I have about ways in which to draw one thing transforming or appearing as something else.

Nice idea.


And, continuing with the black and white theme, I’m excited to have three drawings in a show coming up this November at the Albuquerque Museum. I’ve been working with the notion of space and place, some of that “relationship between shapes and forms that transform”, described by Anderson above.  These are all small, 6.5 x 6.5 inches, graphite and compressed charcoal on paper.

post25-ABQ Museum show


Is visual art a kind of data?

August 21, 2015
"Calculations" - from my sketchbook

“Calculations” – oil pastel & pencil from my sketchbook

I’m off on a tangent here. I’ll have to admit, I am totally mesmerized by the cataloging of data of any kind—organizing, labelling, retrieving, applying. And I love thinking about why each of us may be drawn to different kinds of art. I gravitate to the abstract in art because I get to apply my imagination to what I am seeing, whether I am drawn into a deep space, intrigued by certain shapes, or am completely taken by certain colors.

I grabbed this delightful (and unrelated to art) explanation for visualization (below) from an old copy of the Association for Computing Machinery’s magazine and appropriated it to “the making of art.” I thought it might be an insightful interpretation of abstract art: giving form to unknown spaces and things not already expressed in objective art or in words.

The goal of visualization is to aid our understanding of data by leveraging the human visual system’s highly tuned ability to see patterns, spot trends, and identify outliers. Well-designed visual representations can replace cognitive calculations with simple perceptual inferences and improve comprehension, memory, and decision making. By making data more accessible and appealing, visual representations may also help engage more diverse audiences in exploration and analysis. The challenge is to create effective and engaging visualizations that are appropriate to the data. (A Tour Through the Visualization Zoo, Communications of the ACM, June 2010, Vol. 53, No. 9, p. 59)

I think we need to be better at making the connection between art and life for those of us who are NOT artists. How can art be appreciated if it isn’t “engaging more diverse audiences in exploration and analysis”? Abstract art can serve as a bridge for stepping into a space that doesn’t have an immediately recognizable reference in the real world—it asks the viewer to make a new association. And that’s another step in the creative process.


“Sentinels” – mixed media on canvas, 36 x 48

Should you try to be unique?

July 22, 2015

Yellow pyramidsI think trying to be unique misses the point of why we make art, music, poetry, etc.—and that is to elucidate or make present in the world some inner idea, vision, sound.  And here’s the thing: We are already unique, so being honest with the expression is a truth about yourself. Striving for difference is, on the other hand, an external reflection. It is recognizing what everyone else is doing and strategizing about how to position yourself in contrast. It’s not about what you see or hear, it’s about being witty or establishing a measurement of your “difference” IQ. The question is not whether to work for “difference” but, instead, to work for your own personal truth.

George Stoll says this about making art:

I like the challenge of making art and my primary motivation is curiosity. I really do want to know what something will be like if I make it. The most satisfying aspect of being an artist, for me, is to spend most of my time working out ideas. From the beginning of mankind, some of us have been artists, and my intention is to contribute to this ongoing and ancient conversation.

And Sharon Butler offers this:

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.

both quotes from Living and Sustaining a Creative Life – Essays by 40 Working Artists

So…be curious and follow your instincts. Unique will follow right along.


oil pastel from my sketchbook

Art geography

July 3, 2015

Oil pastel from my sketchbook–has the feeling of travel for me

Not the art OF geography, not GEOGRAPHY art, but something like the human geography that Yi-Fu Tuan talks about in Space and Place and that I referred to in an older post. I don’t know if “art geography” is actually an established concept, but I am going to assign it some meaning and claim it because it gets at exactly what I am thinking about: the ability of an abstract composition/art work/created image to suggest space and give the viewer a vehicle into another reality. It’s still a relationship to real geographical space, but now imaginary. That might sound a bit obscure, but abstract paintings that “work” for me do exactly that.

A little background: defines geography as “The arrangement of features of any complex entity—the geography of the mind.” So, isn’t it just a small step to extrapolate to art geography? Complex entity?? …exactly!

Acrylic painting on canvas, 46 x 40

Veils, acrylic painting on canvas (two panels), 46 x 40 x 1.6

Here’s some geography of my own making:

Heard of Arnheim?

April 3, 2015

In the distanceI bought Rudolf Arnheim’s book, Art and Visual Perception, a long time ago. I thought maybe owning it (not reading it, mind you, but just owning it) would be like having a back door into understanding everything about art from the inside out—you know, how our ways of seeing art (design, illustration, paintings, sculpture…) correspond to our ways of making art.  He has a lot of thought-provoking nuggets in his book. For those of us who may feel we shouldn’t think too much about our creative process, he would disagree. He says:

Groping in vagueness is no more productive than blind adherence to rules. Unchecked self-analysis can be harmful, but so can the artificial primitivism of the person who refuses to understand how and why he [sic] works.

Hmmm.  And, this:

All seeing is in the realm of the psychologist, and no one has ever discussed the processes of creating or experiencing art without talking psychology.

Unfortunately he doesn’t define what he means by “psychology.” I like to think that most of my art process is outside the realm of formal psychology and is on a less verbal, more instinctive level—maybe because I work abstractly.

There is always a dialogue between me and the piece I am creating. From the moment an idea is conceived until the moment I stop working on it (because it is finished…or so funky that I have to quit), there is a give and take that occurs and drives the development, the evolution of a piece.

I don’t think of it as “a work of art” while I am working on it. It’s more like an exploration in a dark cave—an item to give form to a transitory thought or simply an experiment. Or it could be a response to a texture, a sound, or an arrangement of objects seen out the corner of one eye.


Two pieces from my upcoming show “Cipher, De-Cipher,” opening in May at the Fuller Lodge Art Center, Los Alamos, NM:

Two selections from Cipher, De-Cipher show

Mixed media paintings on paper, mounted on metal panels, 20×20

Another peek into space…and place

March 7, 2015

Selection from a painting about planetary travelI’m still thinking about Space and Place and I want to add a little more to my last post. I ran across another section in Yi-Fu Tuan’s book that talks about mythical space and place. Okay, I like it just for the title!

Here is an excerpt:

…mythical space is a fuzzy area of defective knowledge surrounding the empirically known; it frames pragmatic space….When we wonder what lies on the other side of the mountain range or ocean, our imagination constructs mythical geographies that may bear little or no relationship to reality. Worlds of fantasy have been built on meager knowledge and much yearning….the hazy “mythical” space that surrounds the field of pragmatic activity, to which we do not consciously attend and which is yet necessary to our sense of orientation—or being securely in the world.

That’s what I am after—a fuzzy, mythical space that satisfies a yearning. Art creates possibilities that are anchored in reality, but are not limited by its boundaries.  So, as I continue to fiddle with tree drawings, I’m trying to define the elements of space that says more than just “trees” or “forest.” It is more about hidden spaces beckoning to me. It references childhood memories and an adult search for that experience to be repeated.

Still exploring trees in drawing--these are small, done with graphite and charcoal

Still exploring trees in drawing–these are small, done with graphite and charcoal

About that space and place thing

February 20, 2015

Yepost19-Yi-Fu-Tuanars ago I came across a book by Yi-Fu Tuan: Space and Place – The Perspective of Experience. The title caught my attention. Mostly I wanted to know how I could apply it to my space/place: my roots in rural Iowa, my visceral response to 40’s big band music and Norman Rockwell art, and my chronic desire for the perfect Christmas. I read swatches of the book, put it away, and finally sold it to a used book store. Then I saw it again in a review (approximately 20 years later) and thought “how does this apply to art?” …so I bought it again.

I found a few nuggets:

Art makes images of feeling so that feeling is accessible to contemplation and thought. Social chatter and formulaic communication, in contrast, numb sensitivity. Even intimate feelings are more capable of being represented than most people realize.


Spaciousness is closely associated with the sense of being free. Freedom implies space; it means having the power and enough room in which to act.… In the act of moving, space and its attributes are directly experienced. An immobile person will have difficulty mastering even primitive ideas of abstract space, for such ideas develop out of movement—out of the direct experiencing of space through movement.

Hmmm, how could I translate this academic discussion of space and place into something visual for myself?  Trees? I like the invitation to enter the physical space that is offered by trees in a forest—there is mystery and a sense of sanctuary. Trees have a kind of personality and a frontal view (no matter the direction of your approach). They create a barrier, but also invite you to come beneath their branches into the space they guard.

I’ve been messing around with little charcoal/pencil/graphite sketches to try and get at that “space and place.” Here are some of them:


BTW, I recommend the book!

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