When life gives you lemons, draw them, 11 x 14 inches dry pastels, graphite on paper

"When life gives you lemons, draw them". (Nikki)

"...the painting has a life of its own. My mission is to bring forth this life". (Jackson Pollock)

"Trust your intuition, it's just like goin' fishin'; you cast your line 'til you get a bite." (Paul Simon)


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Thursday, April 25th, 2013

BlossoMania, 12H x 16W Oil Pastels, using Oil Blending and Glazing Medium on paper

BlossoMania, 12H x 16W inches Oil Pastels on 80 lb acid free, painted with Oil Blending and Glazing Medium.

I’ve been admiring the round masses clumped on the Plum tree branches in our neighbor’s back yard for a week or so now. Yesterday and today, pink swirls in the wind…

Petals are falling, the sky is blue
They cover everything, old and new
If I sit too long, I’ll be covered too!

Plum Blossom Mania, Original size 18H x 24 inches Oil Pastels on 80lb

Above: the finished piece, which was cropped from the original size (left), 18H x 24 inches. Blogging always reveals a different perspective. If I had not cropped the original (left image)  in order to post details here, I might never have recognized that the cropped portion is quite complete, and I’m satisfied with it after only a few hours of work.

I still recommend taking work past  its prime once in a while, a decision best made when there’s a lingering sense dissatisfaction with it. In order to  push a painting’s boundaries and your own to see what’s possible, honesty is key, and making the call is different each and every time. Have a look at work from afar or from photos or blogging, and take breaks often!


Celosia – work in progress

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Celosia, April 19th in progress, 18H x 24W inches Oil pastels on 100% cotton paper

Celosia, April 19th in progress, 18H x 24W inches Oil pastels on 100% cotton paper

I felt as dissatisfied with this piece today as when it was tucked away a month ago, so with nothing to lose, I jumped back in and threw more color around. I splurged today and bought about 40 new oil sticks, and highly recommend the ”Sennelier” brand. Wow, they are so intensely colorful and creamy-beautiful to work with! There is no contest as far as quality, compared to any of the other brands I’ve been using. Tomorrow: the plan is to continue building and removing colors, but not so much that they become muddled. I’m loving the colors – an unusual palette for me.

Celosia, 18H x 24W inches Oil pastels on 100% cotton paper, in progress

Left, March 22nd, 2013, Day 4 in progress

Reminiscent of retro sofa fabric, now that I see it on-screen! Usually leaving page space showing through to create light and brightness, this time I colored the entire page yellow before starting. Adding white did not help brighten areas much, but did muddle colors, helping some flowers recede. Much of the pure color as seen in the early versions has been covered up or removed, but will be re-added cautiously. The style has also gradually changed to more of a Representational/Impressionistic one. To finish, there will be more scrutiny, and fewer emotional responses before adding or removing anything else.

Celosia, 18H x 24W inches Oil pastels on paper, Stage 02 in progress   Celosia, 18H x 24W inches Oil pastels on paper, Stage 04 in progress   Celosia, 18H x 24W inches Oil pastels on paper, Stage 06 in progress

March 20th through 22nd; Days 1, 2, and 3

Colours For Cameron

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Colours For Cameron_24L x 6H x 6D inches cotton fabrics and mixed media Colours For Cameron Colours For Cameron, mixed media on muslin pages

Colours For Cameron, yellow textured rubber ball Colours For Cameron, $1 store green cotton washing mitt Colours For Cameron, purple sequin fabric

Colours For Cameron, 24L x 8H x 6D inches, mixed media on quilted muslin over cardboard pages

“Colours For Cameron” (Canadian spelling!) is composed over five deconstructed heavy-duty cardboard children’s books bought at a dollar store. The Monte head-templates were covered with inexpensive everyday items, so I splurged on unique notions like the $10 monkey button sewn on the ‘Brown’ page, and the cute little cars and tractors that Cameron loves. Some of the fabrics were fairly expensive, but there are enough remnants to make other similar-style projects in the future.

Each page is a quilted muslin sleeve pulled over the cardboard, and colored fabrics divide each page at the base, where they are all sewn and glued together. Rubber letters were covered with various fabrics, and each page has stuffed colored pockets on the outer edge, inviting chubby little fingers to open them..


Adding Color: the point of no return

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Chrysanthemums, color, May30th, upper left detail Chrysanthemums, color detail, May30th, upper central Chrysanthemums, color detail, May30th, upper right

Chrysanthemums, color detail, May30th, left central Chrysanthemums, central color detail Chrysanthemums, central right color detail

Chrysanthemums, work in progress; see previous post. Above: color details of 85W x 45L inches graphite, colored charcoal / dry pastels on white 100% cotton

When working with a large format, it’s easy to overwork the smaller areas. They’re like little compositions on their own. The trouble is, they may seem successful close up, but may not contribute to the overall balance and flow of the larger piece. Above are some examples, where I’m now reluctant to change what needs to be changed…but I will. Back to Art 101: It’s absolutely necessary to stand back often and study the entire composition from afar.

When you throw in a factor like color, there’s no turning back. I had a specific purpose for this drawing though; to fill a wall space in an otherwise fairly monotone, contemporary room. After much deliberation I kept with the original plan, which was to create a look similar to a black and white photo where one color highlights the main subject only. It was time to dive into the unknown.

It’s obvious that introducing color has compromised some of the original spontaneity, so to recapture some of that energy, I carefully try not to disturb what’s left of those livelier marks, and enhance some with little sparks of color. Isolating red, and only red to the central main flower sapped all the attention, so I’ve added more colors to it and the surrounding elements than initially planned. To continue risks ruining what is working, but there is no satisfaction in quitting, especially when the leaves on each side of the main flower look like wings! Back to the drawing board…(but not for much longer).

June 26th update: Hopefully those leaf-wings are no longer dominant! Now, after a period of study,  just a few more strokes of primer in the right places may bring out more depth around the main flower.

June 26th, left detail June 26th, central detail June 26th, right detail

Chrysanthemums: work in progress

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Chrysanthemums, 45L x 85W x 3D inches, graphite and primer on 100% cotton, work in progress

Chrysanthemums, 45L x 85W x 3D inches, graphite, charcoal and primer on 100% cotton, work in progress

Detail of Chrysanthemums using primer with graphiteRather than priming the fabric first as usual, water and primer are painted to enhance the graphite while the composition works itself out. It’s been all about getting lost in the improvisation and surprise! Grass blades are implied by the buildup of thin streaks throughout, which also serve to balance and energize the work, plus add slight cubist effects.

This is will hang in a contemporary-style room. If color is used at all it will be limited to red, yellow and green areas near the large main flower. Parts of the surface may be left raw, so to set the finished piece, the entire back will be primed and the front will be sprayed with fixative.


The chaos of this past year, moving to Oregon from Texas, has truly put my artsy artist’s statement to the test; that ‘creativity is an attitude toward life’. I’m accustomed to creating chaos in my artwork, then resolving it. With too many move-related priorities and unfinished renovations, no wonder I’ve felt increasingly disoriented. The good thing is that observations never stop, even if the focus on art-work has to.

Upper left detail Left central detail Upper right detail

Stepping Stones

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Zen Garden #01, 48 x 36 x 2, Nov. 2000, mixed media on canvas, 3 in. box frame, sold1.Prickly Pear Cactus, acrylics pins around 48 x 36 x 2 in. canvas, 3 in. box frame, Nov. 2000 - sold2.

Alpine Meadows, Acrylics using palette knife on foreground flowers, 48 x 36 x 2 in. canvas, 3 in. box frame, sold3.The Evolution of Communication, 48 x 36 x 2 in. acrylics on canvas, computer keys and handmade tiles in frame, 2000 - sold4.

While I was in Portland two weeks ago, starting the Texas-Oregon relocation process, I completed five new Zen Gardens, filling a request for one. All five are smaller, slightly different versions of ones made previously. Four are shown in thumbnail images below.

The very first Zen Garden was created in 2000 as part of a four-painting commission. The ideas established in that set foreshadowed new routes to trying methods I hadn’t before, like enhancing my paintings with 3D elements. That set is also the origins of the “box frame” design that I’ve used on several other paintings since then, where each main canvas is mounted on a wood platform, framing the work with about four inches of extra play-space.

Whereas some frames have the effect of abruptly ending a composition, this type of frame enables space for the subject to continue, softens the edges and adds an interesting twist to the overall impression. When items related to the main subject are placed in that area it adds dimension, not just in the physical sense, but also in the conveying of any abstract or symbolic stories beyond the presentation of the main painting inside.

Because of the challenges acheived in those paintings, 1) a series was born that I’ll continue with for the rest of my days. In Prickly Pear Cactus, 2005 acrylics and pins on 8 x 10 in. canvas, sold but will take commissions for other versions2) Prickly Pear Cactus, pins were applied around the main central frame, then painted. The smaller canvas done during 2005 (left) borrowed this technique, and the same principle of attaching things to the main frame can be used with any number of objects.

In 3) Alpine Meadows, I learned to use all the qualities acrylic paints offer by watering down the consistency for the distant mountains, then sculpted the flowers and grasses with a palette knife on the lower portion. Finally, the theme of 4), The Evolution of Communication has intrigued me ever since, but I still haven’t fully pursued the possibilities. This is the perfect means to learn about Art History hands-on by attempting to recreate it in some form, then to share that adventure and ideally, inspire interest in the topic at the same time. Two old keyboards have been collecting dust in my studio closet for a number of years, yet to be disassembled and incorporated into a new series of work with similar associations.


Some of our peers advocate that if we don’t concentrate our efforts to learn one medium well, we will never excel in any. They are right of course, in many respects, but scores of artists are not content with singing just one note. Some simply cannot. To be fair, what works for one does not work for another. Each of the above paintings are examples where a combination of skills and different media in one piece can be very effective. I’m here to say that integration is possible! It’s a longer, meandering road..but it is possible.

Zen Garden 09-02, 30L x 15W inches, mixed media on canvasThere are so many different paths artists can take, long and short term; opportunities every day. There are endless kinds of subjects, ready-made and unconventional materials, always something to start or finish, new methods to explore, and an overabundance of ideas to attempt in one lifetime. Self discipline is the order of every day, either to start working or know when to stop.

My philosophy is that doing something, unless naturally in need of rest, is better than doing nothing. However, being overly ambitious in too many areas is also how I, along with millions of other artists end up with a variety of different kinds of art (or just stuff!), and the arguements endorsing one type of study come into play. Should we restrain ourselves when it comes to making “stuff”? Why is consistency given more support than variety when it comes to showing and selling art?

Whatever choices we make; whichever direction we take depends mostly on the intention for the finished products. Who is it for, do you want it to sell it, where, how, and how quickly? Was work done as a personally cathartic process, as a lot of art is? …or is it just a thing with no emotional attachments or brainy messages? Artists who support themselves by offering a range of services, satisfied and busy enough by word-of-mouth sales, do well jumping from medium to medium. If the hope is selling work through galleries and art dealers though, what some call “too many voices” are apt to be a disadvantage.   Zen Garden 10-02, 18L x 24W inches mixed media on canvas

In one of his recent articles, Robert Genn writes sensitively about multi-media artists. While he supports that “for artists, exploration is like oxygen” and that ”the nature of our game is to be distracted by our muse”, he also recommends that artists must present consistency in our approach if gallery exhibition/sales is what we pursue.

When a gallery represents an artist, they expect an overall consistent look and a clear statement. Where venues sell a number of artists’ work, the ambiance cannot be one that resembles a yard sale. If potential buyers view too many styles, subjects or media in one place or by one artist, they tend to lose interest, resort to window shopping, and walk away empty-handed.

Zen Garden 02-02, 30L x 15W inches, mixed media on canvasI can relate to that: the effect is like standing in the toothpaste isle at the pharmacy, where the senses are bombarded with colorful packaging, alluring titles and fine-print promises. Assuming beforehand that the choice would not be anything but simple, there have been times when I’ve said ‘forget it’ and gone back another day. With art sales though, you don’t want buyers to come back another day, because it may not be your art they choose then.

Gallery owners and dealers do not do us any favor if they display too much variety in typically limited spaces, so Mr. Genn has an excellent suggestion: bring art done in different medias to different galleries.

He also says to keep working no matter what.

Artists have a strong sense of mission. Periodically it needs reevaluation, and with that bigger picture clear, we create the way as it unfolds before us. If we are serious about selling, we first need to become familiar with what we are best at, what we love, what works and what doesn’t. We need experience in order to learn – that takes time – and there’s no getting around it. Experimentation is fundamental to this profession, but if it’s intended to be sold to others and by others, simplifying the look and clarifying the purpose of our art is crucial.

Zen Garden 02-03, a squished version of 02, 18L x 24W inches mixed media on canvasA viewer at one of my exhibitions commented, “You’re all over the place, arentcha?!” As disturbing as that was, it’s true and I needed to hear it, eventually concluding that I do need to clean up my act, but at the same time this is how I work. This is how my stuff works. Every so often there are paintings or a series of works that encompass all that’s been learned and all that I’m capable of; breakthroughs that define a solid new direction or validate the existing one. The commissioned set of paintings described above were like that, and their significance is still an influence on today’s work and will be on tomorrows’ too. They verified that I’m on the right path even though much of the time is spent off of it, experimenting. I call it serious play and paying attention… “playing attention”! Once in a while the bits and pieces come together in one big rewarding “Eureka!”.

Zen Garden #10 almost finished

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Zen Garden 10, 40 x 60 x 3 inches mixed media on canvas

Zen Garden 10, 40 x 60 x 3 inches mixed media on canvas.

The final stages of paintings are often finished as they hang on a wall. As seen  in a realistic room setting,  it will be easier to spot a clearer  path for the eyes to follow and make the composition more interesting. Some colors need to be re-enhanced to add more depth and definition.  The texture continues around all 3″D edges. All paintings in the Zen garden series are wired to hang in any of 4 orientations; vertically or horizontally. Below: details of left central portion as seen in the above .

Zen Garden 10 details

Zen Garden #09 and #10

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Zen Garden 09, 48 x 21 x 2 inches Mixed Media on canvas

 Zen Garden 09 work in progress, 48 x 21 x 2 inches Mixed Media on canvas

The perfect painting in a room can elevate the atmosphere of the whole floor, and sets the tone for showing off the entire house. With selling the house in mind, I’m trying to choose a decent painting for our living room, but the only one that really looked good there was Zen Garden #2. It sold, so I decided it’s worthwhile to make two more for the series - even though painting walls is the order of the day.

Zen Garden 10, 40 x 60 x 3 inches Mixed Media on canvas

Zen Garden 10 outline, 40 x 60 x 3 inches Mixed Media on canvas

Painting is always meditative, but I find it especially so when creating pieces in the Zen Garden series. This kind of work does not present the same kind of emotional concentration or intellectual challenges that other paintings do. There are few struggles and hardly any decisions to make, except to find cooperative materials. Once the outline is accomplished it’s pretty straightforward compared to other forms of painting. The outstanding difference is that each stage in these 3D paintings requires time and patience to allow areas to dry before proceeding. The Zen Gardens can be drying in stages while other work gets done too, and the multi-tasker in me is quite happy to be accomplishing many things at once!  

Liquitex Blended Fibers, $12.99 U.S. (are not even metric) for 237 ml - compare quantities and deceptive pricingArt supplies are expensive. Most will last long enough to justify purchases, and much of the time you get what you pay for, but some items are ridiculously overpriced. Keeping material costs down is essential so they aren’t reflected in the final price, but quality should never be compromised. Still, there are ways to get around any dilemma, and there are alternatives for everything.

When I started the Zen Garden series ten years ago using modeling paste and textured gels, jars were about $15 for 250 ml. Since then I’ve experimented with various unusual materials, and shopped everywhere to compare prices. It’s still more economical to purchase brand-name products in larger quantities – if you can find them. There are some fun mediums available now too, like gel with tiny glass beads in it. Prices for art supplies do not seem to waver over time in either Canada or the U.S., so I reserve the brand-name mediums to sculpt the rocks and highest quality paints do the finishing touches. Here I’ll share a few of the trade secrets I’ve discovered over the years, and you can create your own Zen garden painting.

Textured paint is the best base for Zen Garden mixtureAs a base for the raked sand mixture, it’s worth purchasing a large 2 gallon (7.58 L) pail of textured paint. I purchased Behrs at Home Depot in Canada, and it looks like Ralph Loren has the market cornered in the States. Watered-down drywall plaster can be used also, but I recommend attention to how heavy the piece may be when it’s finished. Mix in copious quantities of white glue, large containers of white or light-colored acrylic craft paints, and anything water-based that will extend the liquid mixture and bind well with the dry ingredients. Sand, even popcorn kernals and/or rice can be added for texture. Other objects can be incorporated too…just use your imagination. For example, and this is my most valuable secret, unscented kitty litter from the dollar store, the non-absorbant kind, looks exactly like tiny stones and is light in weight.

Zen Garden details: applying mixture with a knife, sculpting rows

Zen Garden 09 details: applying mixture with a knife, sculpting rows

Highest quality materials are reserved for finishing surfaces and sculpting rocksThe mixture can be put in a ziplock bag with one corner cut out, but I discovered that it’s more efficient – however messy – to spread small portions out onto the surface with a knife and hand-mold it. Keep a wet cloth handy to wipe your hands and the utensil often.

Drywall plaster makes nice-looking rocks, plus it cracks well for a parched-earth look, use sparingly because of added weight. Wood filler is a lighter alternative, much less expensive than professional brand gels and mediums. Modeling pastes do not lend well to sanding or carving when dry, but wood filler can be sanded and re-shaped. Wood filler costs about $6 US for 32 ozAlso, if it dries out completely, chop it up, add water then seal the container for a day or so. This is where you can experiment with whatever helps acheive 3D effects. Art, craft, hardware, department stores and dollar stores carry generic brand basics, so it’s worth researching and shopping around.
When it’s all dry, rocks and other details are outlined and painted with pure colors, then all covered with a coat of primer. The colors are all reapplied to further enhance rocks, then brushed white, skimming across the entire surface. This process is repeated until you are pleased with the results by a final coat of white with remnants of the layers of colors poking through underneath. As far as acrylic paints, you do get what you pay for, but price differences are mostly due to pigment quality and viscosity, which, until final stages is not really an issue. Inexpensive acrylic craft paints are perfect as a filler (only).

Apply lots of watered-down colors, choosing the light source from the start, making rocks look real and more 3DZen Garden #10 (above and left) is already quite heavy, so about 1/4 of it will be painted rocks, keeping the sand patterns to a minimum. There is enough mixture that could dry out if it’s not used right away, plus it’s great to make multiples while all the mess, materials and utensils and are out, so I’m doing two simultaneously. There may even be enough for 3!

The neccessity of work, especially if it’s at home, seems less like a chore if you dangle some kind of carrot for yourself every day. Sometimes having too much to do is more exhillerating than exhausting. Each day, though work as an artist can be considered by others as play, the energy, motivation and circumstances are unpredictable..  It takes self-discipline  to find a way to go with the flow and still get work done. The good thing about this occupation is that it is flexible in every way. The creative compulsion seeps into every other activity, and there is almost no way to not add a little something extra.

2D Pine Cone

Monday, April 12th, 2010

    2D Pinecone, diagonal 24 x 24 x 1 inches, acrylics on woven canvas

2D Pine Cone, diagonal 28 x 28 x 1 inches, acrylics on woven canvas, gallery wrapped sides painted, signed on the back so as not to intrude on the design. This is the 2nd attempt with larger woven canvas strips, hanging diagonally on a superimposed blue background.

More often than not, allowing some imperfections to show through says “a human made this”. Still, quality ought to be the result, and it wasn’t working (see version #1 below). The crooked pattern on the first woven canvas was impossible to correct, which I tried over and over many times. Then I made pine bristles from threads pulled from the sides of the canvas, painted various shades of green: time consuming and experimental, and also not successful, so I started all over with a new rewoven frame, above.

2D Pinecone, 24 x 24 x 1 inches, first pieceLeft, April 8th: 2D Pine Cone, first version

There were second thoughts about opting to go the imperfect route in the weaving process right from the start. The canvas strips are not all the same size, a deliberate choice, and I assumed it wouldn’t matter, but the pattern of scales relied on the woven accuracy. The color combos are interesting, but things should be a bit straighter.

  Phase 01, weaving folded, ironed canvas stripsWoven canvas strips, 24 x 24 inches2D Pinecone, first phase of painting

March 6th and 7th: 2D Pinecone, 28 x 28 inches, woven canvas strips, acrylics. Work in progress shows 1) weaving and 2) a very rough paint-sketch on the primed canvas.

Workshop: Cartoons to “Cool!”

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

 Frog Asana - pen on foolscap, Helianthus - pen on paper, At The Alamo, and Adam - graphite on paper

Cartoons to “Cool!” Drawing and Illustration: How to take your abilities less seriously so they can seriously improve.

Cartoons a) use basic geometric shapes b) eliminate unnecessary details c) simplify lines and d) exaggerate key characteristics and the most obvious features of a subject. The same principles translate well to creating representational work also. Participants will learn to portray these basics in a favorite image, then have time to complete a more realistic drawing in the afternoon.

Where, When, and Sign up at: Oxide Gallery, Denton, Texas - Saturday, March 27th 10:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. If there is enough interest, a second workshop will be held Sunday, March 28th as well. Participants are welcome to sign up for both days.

Fee: $50 10:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.     For ages: 16 – 100 yrs old, any skill level  (if you are 15 or 101 you will still be considered eligible)    Min. – Max. # of participants: 5 – 15      Supplies: A variety of supplies will be provided, but also bring any of your own supplies that you want to work with. We will work partially from a still-life arrangement which you may choose to finish, but also bring favorite pictures, photos; images of any subject matter. Select one in particular that you hope to accomplish, or have a clearer direction toward finishing (in the manner you choose) at the end of the day.


Quote from The Zen of Seeing – seeing/drawing as meditation, drawn and hand-written by Frederick Franck:

“How, I am asked, does one draw animals cows, horses, birds? Since for me each new drawing is an adventure for which I cannot predict the outcome, is always — in a sense – my very first one, I can give no recipe.”

I’ve been asked to teach drawing since ‘way back, but with the philosophy that we are our own best authorities when it comes to creating anything, I’ve never felt even half-qualified to “teach” anything. It was a recent conversation with a couple of other artists, that propelled the energy to commit to this workshop. There are many ways to approach learning - specifically, how to draw - as many ways as there are individuals. 

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