Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hand-made Calendar

On the last day of May, here is a page from my calendar made from recycled paintings. The top left is the Irish painting “Meeting on the Turret Stairs” by Frederick William Burton, on the right is my photo of Bunratty Castle. Since both are printed on vellum and slightly overlap, there is a play of shadows with each other, as well as a glow from some of the former painting’s color. On the bottom, the days of the week are printed over one of my Hill of Tara photos.

This handmade calendar comes from daily paintings I enjoyed creating but decided not to keep as finished works. Selecting seven same-size 12” x 18” paintings on Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper, I folded each in half with a bone folder, punched six holes with an awl, and bound the pages together with waxed floss (haven’t tried it with other watercolor papers and although I had book binder thread on hand, I used floss instead.) For some months I repainted sections, some I totally obliterated the original, some I used as a subtle background, and some I left as-is.

Here are some previous months:

I like re-using paintings that just didn’t work for one reason or another. Adding your own photographs or collage or fabric swatches opens up loads of mixed-media possibilities, too.

Tell me about your calendar-making experiences.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Did do a bit of clearing and today I made a rather whimsical item out of recycled materials. It’s a pinwheel, harkening back to those paper or plastic ones of childhood. Do you remember?

The large plastic “wheels” were cobbled from CD players that broke (for several years, I’ve not had good luck with ones for my studio). I cleaned, dried, gessoed, and painted a gray 5-CD wheel and a black 3-CD wheel, added wooden beads in between, and mounted it all on a long screw through a drilled hole in a left-over piece of wood. It took some trial and error to see how the whole thing might work and spin.

Since I was willing to play with it, this experiment turned out rather well. Just need to figure out how to mount it to a wall and stabilize the “wand” part so you can go past it you can twirl the wheels, either in unison or in opposition.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Organizing and Absorbing

Unlike many U.S. citizens this Memorial Day weekend, I’m not going to the beach or outside to bar-b-que but will be snug inside with the air conditioning going. It’s been beasty hot here with highs in the upper 90°s and heat indexes hovering at 104°! This city usually doesn’t reach those temperatures until at least July or August.

Today, I don’t know whether to create or re-organize in my studio. Already, I’ve made a list of unfinished projects littering the floor under my desk. What a bother unfinished works are! You had all this enthusiasm for it initially then you ran out of time, or had to go back to work, or pushed it aside for some other idea and it sits there languishing in a box or a folder with the materials you envisioned for it. I have old paintings, incomplete journals, and bulky unfinished assemblages. The latter are mostly wooden box assemblages or shrines with design problems. Maybe I’m not in love with my original idea and hope to have a strike of inspiration to complete them. One is still too painful to work on even though I have most ingredients; it is a shrine to my friend and supervisor who died over eight years ago.

And canvases! I have many paintings dating back to the very beginnings of my interest in painting, over 5 years ago. Some I cringe looking at and will definitely gesso over for brand new paintings.

But, what a bother. With organization, you make space--physically and mentally. But cleaning, sorting, and tossing takes a lot of time and with stuff spilling everywhere, you cannot create anything new.

While I decide, I’ll tell you about the free demonstration I attended last week at a local art supply store. It was for Golden acrylic paints and I was curious since I am mainly a Liquitex Gal. There was a generous folder packet with fliers and newsletters, hand-painted samples charts, color mixing tips, as well as paint and medium samples in mini-jars. For two hours, a local artist passed around samples of different paints and mediums, discussing their viscosities and uses. Some examples were previously painted on light weight boards. Others were plopped out of a jar with a plastic palette knife with an invitation for us to swirl around. I was intrigued to see sample color charts for interference colors as well a big blob on a board. Having only seen them previously in books, I loved the way they changed colors when you tilted either your neck or the board.

Before the demo, I had only bought a few Golden mediums and some small fluid acrylic bottles. I regarded the brand as rather expensive compared to Liquitex. Once I read their brochures I realized why. They work closely with artists and try to respond to their needs, using their labs to test new products. They allow their employees stock options. They train artists to use and teach their product line. They have a separate foundation contributing to art community.
At the demo, exciting new products called Digital Grounds and Gel Topcoats with UVLS were mentioned for artists working with computers and printers. Digital Ground White is meant for conventional ink jet printers and can be applied to all kinds of porous and non-porous surfaces, including acrylic skins! The teacher promised to hold another demo soon about those. Go here to see more information from Golden:

Holy Cow--When I went to find that link, I discovered another new product: Open Acrylics. Are these people busy, or what?

Will I be switching over to Golden? Probably not soon since I have a lot of paint on hand and still love my favorite Liquitex thick body paint palette.

But, it’s always good for an artist to be open to new ideas and new techniques as well as new products. And it’s always good to get your studio organized!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

New Painting

24 x 30
Acrylic on canvas

I love this painting! This is the best thing I've done so far.

Now I understand when asked to name their favorite book, movie, or painting that writers, actors, or artists often reply, "the one I'm working on right now."

Since I hadn't done a large canvas painting in a long time, I challenged myself to begin something I could show in an upcoming June exhibit through the San Antonio Watercolor Group. Instead, I might enter it in their fall juried competition or in a different juried event with the San Antonio Visual Artists.

But right now, I'm so in love with it I don't want it to go anywhere!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Current Exhibit, "Feminique"

Here are four paintings of mine in the current joint exhibit, "Feminique". Pardon the glare but it's hard to get a good group photo since there is shelving just opposite this area and no room to get perspective. My paintings are the abstract works, not the portraits.

Las Tres Lunas (left)
Acrylic on paper, 20 x 16
Canyon (left)
Acrylic on paper, 16 x 12

Emerging (left)
Acrylic on paper, 12 x 16

Blossoms Above Mountains (left)
Watercolor crayon over acrylic on paper, 16 x 12

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Art Workshops in Person or Art Workshops on DVD?

Last fall I attended my first art workshop. To make a long story short, I was greatly disappointed. In fact, I was more inspired by the setting of the workshop rather than anything the teacher imparted.

What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I enjoying the class I’d paid quite a lot for and taken almost a week’s vacation for? After some thought, I realized I had learned more about myself than any painting technique.

Lesson One: perhaps you don’t need a teacher right now. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” goes the ancient saying. Maybe I wasn’t ready. Or maybe I already had learned enough techniques to develop my own style. Of course, I love to learn and plan to be a student for life. But for me, painting is a joy and a creative release and this class was making me depressed. I felt like the only participant who wasn’t understanding or enjoying the exercises.

Lesson Two: take a class only in your media. This was advertised as mixed media class, but it greatly favored those using watercolors. I’d decided not to buy tube watercolors and then have to learn how to handle them in only four days. A member of the Yahoo Experimental Acrylic Group kindly recommended fluid acrylics, but they didn’t lend themselves to the brushes or techniques the artist was teaching and I became frustrated with the differences.

Lesson Three: maybe I don’t have the best personality to take workshops. Watercolor Artist magazine ran a humorous, yet accurate, quiz listing different attendee types. (Read the whole article here: Click here ).

Although I’m not giving up ever attending a workshop, I’m being very selective. In the meantime, members of Experimental Acrylics recommended art DVDs at Creative Catalyst and I ordered two about abstract acrylic painting techniques and another about water media collage. I love the two I’ve watched so far since these very different artists each share intuitive painting techniques I gravitate toward.

So, what kind of workshop attendee are you? Tell me about your experiences.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Taking a Leaf of Inspiration

I’ve become a tree-hugger. Thanks to my sister Maria, who told me she is inspired by them, I have begun to study trees. Even though I had long admired them, before this spring I could not tell one from the other nor rattle off their names. But their leaves have inspired my art for several years.

My Leaf series started with picking up various leaves on my walks. At first, I used them in journal rubbings with colored pencils, reminding me of elementary school art--so easy, fun, and playful. Then, as I got more serious about art, I began pressing them into my daily paintings.

Yellow Diamondhead with Leaves

Remembered Leaves of Summer

My favorite leaves were those big, strong veined ones with a velvety underside. Were they maples? I didn’t know but I knew I’d have to use them in larger works.


Newgrange Leaf


Recently, I learned my favorites leaves come from Mexican Sycamore trees (see Untitled, Newgrange Leaf and Illumination above). They already had a special place in my heart but now my love has blossomed around the whole tree. Mexican Sycamores. Ahhh. Their barks are exquisite camouflage puzzle pieces I’ve collected from the ground and displayed unaltered, as 3-D sculpture. Their tree tops soar 80 feet into amazing blue skies, cloud-dusted skies, or rain-threatening skies. Their roots are lovely, loopy, gnarled abstractions that attract rock squirrels to tunnel nearby. Their leaves begin as tiny fingernail buds that can expand to extravagant 12 inches wide. Their leafless branches shine bone-white in the fall sunlight and reveal a red-shouldered hawk reeling over his nest.

I love these Mexican Sycamores, in all seasons, for all reasons. I love looking at them, photographing them, touching them, searching for their twigs and leaves. They deserve a nature journal unto themselves.

So, if you see me giving a Mexican Sycamore tree a hug or affectionate pat or wandering around its trunk for treasures, you’ll know why.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Dream Boxes

Last month, two friends were having birthdays. One of them is Nancy, a fabric artist, who works her day job in the same building I do. What could I make? Putting my mind on it, ideas simmered for a while. I thought of Jim Croce’s song, “Time in a Bottle” talking about a box full of wishes and dreams, as well as the Langston Hughes poem I’d loved as a teenager:

The Dream Keeper by Langston Hughes

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

What about painting a sheet of watercolor paper and making a box? Warming to my inspiration, I found a box template I’d made a couple of Yules ago, pulled down watercolor blocks until I found a 12” x 18” size that fit perfectly, reached for my favorite acrylic paints, pulled out some fabric remnants, and revved up my rubber brayer.

First, I played and painted and printed in Nancy’s favorite color purple. Satisfied with that page done, I thought Grace might like one, too, so I created another one using my favorite fabric spiral design. That’s too me, I thought, looking at the results and began a different one. Once the three sheets dried, I traced and cut out and assembled them. Remembering previous boxes that wouldn’t stay together with double stick tape or mounting squares, I realized this box needed stability to be opened and closed a lot. Rummaging around my studio drawers, I found a container having six colors and two sizes of paper brads (paper fasteners), so I matched each color-themed box with a suitable colored brad. A paper punch helped with the thick 140 lb. watercolor paper and my first model took shape.

Don’t you think art is like that? It’s a problem to solve and you try this or that until it begins to work? As we work in our studios, are we really scientists, trying yet another theory or experiment?

Anyway, with left-over painted paper from each box, I punched out squares, stars, circles, hearts, and odd shapes. These could go inside the box, I thought. But they seemed a little lost in there by themselves. Hmm... What about some scraps of that neat float-y fabric embedded with glitter? Looks cool. More? How about cutting strips of gold or silver swatches? Nice. The fabrics would be the “cloud-cloth” the dreams would be wrapped in. Ah-ha; I was on a roll now. Write your dreams on punched paper! The vague idea had blossomed into The Dream Box.

The gifts were a big hit with my friends and I had an extra one. For me? Perhaps. Like other artists (and women?), I often put myself last. But once the birthdays were over, I decided we all need to nurture ourselves, so I made this one mine, filling it with the fabrics and painted stars, squares, circles, hearts.

And recently, becoming frustrated with ever getting online at home, I finally wrote down some dreams. Technical dreams, of getting a computer and creating a blog, showing my art.

And guess what?

Since you are reading this, some of those dreams have come true.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

On the Threshold of a Dream (with nods to The Moody Blues)

After a long time of wanting to create a blog, I am finally able to do it. This comes after weeks and months of upgrading computer equipment by researching, learning, trying, failing, learning some more, being curious, and attempting it again. When I was finally successful, I heard the old Helen Reddy song in my head: "If I have to, I can do anything. I am woman!"

Long fascinated with words and reading, I thought my path was to be a writer. As testimony, I have many short stories and novels, some even finished. But a few years ago, art began calling my name.

Protesting, I had many reasons to resist. But the soft voice was insistent, beckoning in various ways. First, when editing a work newsletter, I began putting graphics alongside the articles. Then Mary, from my writing group, invited me on “sketch” outings and I bought some colored pencils. Soon, little drawings and leaf rubbings appeared in my journals. Then, I read “Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World” by Natalie Goldberg and marveled how free she felt painting--unencumbered with her inner writing critic, playfully pushing paint around. Soon, I purchased a cheap tin of watercolors and experimented with my friend. Finally, I signed up for a continuing education class in beginning acrylic painting.

That was it. I finally succumbed to the voice, more happy painting a canvas than writing a chapter. I liked really liked this art stuff. Results blossomed to life with a swirling paint brush. It was still a creative expression, just in a different form.

So now I begin this blog to chart my growth as an artist, to peer out of my shy soul and share my works, to express my thoughts, to interact with fellow artists, to explore new creative avenues, and to release my art into the world.

Thank you for joining me.