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Monday, January 26, 2015

A Second World Under the Surface

I'm often asked where my ideas come from, particularly when I do things like this latest piece, where I used a photo of a very real subject and took it one step sideways. How do I think of these things? What does the collar and key mean?


The truth is, I usually don't know. I know the feeling behind the art, but very little beyond that. There's always a story going on in my work, yet it's rare that I can say what it is. 

This is what it's like to live with the brain that I have: it seems that the part that invents my dreams at night - the part that had me driving my car across a lake, the part that sent me riding on a horse that shrunk with every step, the part that let me tape a small diamond to the back of my shirt and then fly like a bird until the tape loosened and the diamond was lost - doesn't ever quite shut up when I'm awake. I don't know if other people are like this. I haven't asked. But I will look at something here in The Real World, and my brain will instantly show me the Other World, an altered version where strange and beautiful things are happening. One step sideways.

I don't ask for that to happen, it just does. I "see things" when I'm driving, when I'm looking at photos on Facebook, when I'm walking around town, basically all the time. It has been like this all my life. I almost never know what's happening in those ongoing stories in my head, but there is a sense that it's all part of the same alternate universe, one that lurks just under the surface of our own. Scrape at the ground a while and maybe magic wells up from underneath.

The moments when I'm able to capture fragments of that world are when I'm happiest as an artist. But what it all means? That answer is, and should be, different for everyone. I know, on an emotional level, what most of them mean to me. I'm more interested in learning what they mean to someone else. 


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

New Class! Making Art out of Snapshots

Pretty much everyone who learns to draw, here in our modern world, starts out by drawing from photos. And pretty much everyone gives up because, let's face it, copying photos gets really darn boring after a while.

But what if you could transform your snapshots, instead of just copying them?

This was a boring, blurry snapshot. Now it's a whimsical little painting in watercolor, pen, and Crayolas.

That's what you'll do in this fun mixed media class for beginners and up. Get out your overstuffed image libraries and start a new adventure.

I'll show you how to:

Choose a picture to work from
Pick out the Good Parts of the shot and ignore the rest
Use a grid to get accurate proportions no matter what size your art is
Have fun with colorful media like watercolors, pencils, acrylics, and even Crayola crayons!


Class is five Tuesday evenings, Feb. 10 to March 10, 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Dancing Goat Coffeehouse, 699 7th Street E, St. Paul -- right by Metro State University.

Tuition $75; limited to six students. Email me here for a materials list, or bring your own existing art materials if you prefer.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Eternal Art Student

That's me. Yesterday I was in Derek Davis' class, not teaching but learning.

Sketch of Maisie, pastel pencil and watercolor, 6 x 10"

This was what I did to warm up before class began. It's the only finished thing I have to show for my 3 hours; the rest of the time I was observing, sketching, and working out how to begin the little landscape I now have in progress.

After a year of mostly working on paper, it's both good and scary to pick up my oils again in earnest. I will always be a student; everyone who's committed to anything, in any field, is by default a student for life. Doesn't matter if it's art, medicine, golf, or dog training. 

The dog, by the way, is named Maisie. She belongs to Derek Davis, and before class she was curled up in this cute little pink chair they have at the Old Town Artists studio. I just had to sketch her, and I'm pleased with the results. I didn't get a lot of detail, but I think Maisie's youth and sweetness is there, and that's what I wanted most.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Adventures in Teaching Art

I'm looking for a new place to teach on a regular basis. 

Meanwhile, I've started working with individual students again. These are things I did as demonstrations last night for one of them, a vibrant and creative woman whose confidence got eroded away by the same currents that get to us all sometimes. I broke out the watercolors and crayons, because it's been my experience that the road out of I'm Too Scared goes right through the playground.


The student in question has been caught in a quandary: She's an abstractionist at heart. She makes these bold, joyful, colorful compositions that look accomplished enough that if I saw them on a gallery wall, I wouldn't question it. 

But she wants to learn to draw what she sees. So, how to learn the intimidating drawing part without losing the joy of the thing she truly loves? I decided the answer was: Start playing with the abstract forms and patterns in the world around us. I have a collection of photos of this kind of thing, so I printed up a few and that's what we did. The bird above was a demo about applying watercolor in an imprecise, fun way (relating to the way she already uses color, but watercolor is a new medium for her). Below, I got the crayons out and did a much more abstract demo from the shapes and colors of a branch of fall leaves. This is that crayon-and-watercolor thing you did in grade school, and yes, that's regular old Crayolas I was using.


For an artist who'd felt as if there was a great wall between "abstract" and "real", this was a revelation and freed her up to find subject matter in the real world, without having to make it realistic.

For me, it was a chance to play again and do things I'd never otherwise have done. I like my abstracted leaves well enough to want to make more, and there's no way it would have ever happened if I hadn't needed to help someone else learn to play again. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Maybe it's a Crow Kind of Monday


I'm in Florida and utterly exhausted after a couple weeks working at Mount Dora Olive Oil Company (don't get me wrong; it's a lot of fun! It's just been a lot, a LOT, of work). 

So I'm also working on a dog portrait, which is great, but I need to do something just for myself, and I think maybe this photo will be the start of that. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Brown Drawing Paper, Part Two

About three years ago I posted about working on brown paper, and to this day that's the most-clicked post on my blog. It seems a LOT of people are looking for information about it.

I still like Rives BFK Tan (technically, it's printmaking paper) more than any other paper I use. But these days I use a lot more watercolor on my Rives paper. Also, in the time since I wrote that previous post, I've discovered Micron pens.


The fine black lines you see in these three pieces are all Micron pen. Lightfast, waterproof, great for mixed media work.


If you make art you may have found that, when you scan a thing you created in watercolor, your scanner kills the colors deader than a doornail. Your greens and yellows turn brown, your oranges get burnt, it all goes sideways, and there's not much your photo-editing program can do to fix any of it.

For reasons I do not understand, this problem is much less pronounced with watercolors on tan paper. You'll still have some shifting but for the most part your art will look like your art. And the shifts that do happen are things that you can at least somewhat improve in Photoshop.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

French Paper, Fine Watercolors, and ... Crayolas?


Last night I did Monster Drawing Rally with Midway Contemporary Art. The challenge is knowing I have only an hour to do whatever I'm doing. So if it's fast and loose, I'll give it a shot, and this year I added Crayolas to my supply kit. 


Sparrow in pastel pencil, watercolor, pen, white Crayola, and white acrylic. I did a quick loose sketch with pastel pencil (erasable); followed that with the pen; used white crayon on the areas I knew I wanted to be lightest/sunlit; added watercolor; then put white acrylic touches on the very brightest spots, because white crayon on tan paper = lighter tan, not actual white.


Yep, that wax-resist thing with crayons and watercolors is still just as much fun as it was when you were eight. I recommend it! The goldfish painting is the same technique as the sparrow, just with some orange crayon added for the smaller fish. Oh, and the paper is Rives BFK Tan, my favorite thing ever to draw and paint on. It's made of pure cotton fiber and is heavy, velvety and not prone to buckle much when wet.

If you couldn't make it to last night's event or weren't quite fast enough to snap up one of my four pieces (they went fast!), you can follow me on Facebook where I'll be posting several small works like this over the next week or two, at the $35 Monster prices.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Art featured on Twin Cities Live!

Nicole Kappus Solheid of NKS Artsource asked me for a few things she could use for this feature, and I was delighted. Here's the link to the show segment. My art that got featured is the Fox in the Henhouse set, which I made a poster out of as well. I have a lot of originals for under 200, many of which are at Art of the Holidays at Minnetonka Center for the Arts right now.

Click here to order a print on paper, canvas, or metal!
I really appreciate Nicole and the Twin Cities Live people for not only showcasing local artists, but pointing out that original art is well within reach for most people. I've bought many pieces of original art, and I mean good original art, between $20 and $100.

For the higher-value originals, artists even offer layaway, an option I plan to use when I have my own house -- and thus have a place to display a Josephine Geiger stained glass window.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Heeere, Chick Chick Chickiieee

Clarabelle, 8" x 10", original available, 295 unframed/350 framed. Click here for prints of her.

"Heeeere, chick chick chickiiieeee" was the dinner call, when I was a kid. We had a coop full of Rhode Island Reds, and it was my job to take care of them and collect the eggs. I've liked chickens pretty much all my life, and I've found Barred Plymouth Rocks very fun to draw and paint.

Matilda in the Forget-me-Nots, 10" x 8", sold. Click here for prints of her!

These three -- Clarabelle, at top; Matilda (sold), center; Proud Thomas, below -- are all 8 x 10" creations in watercolor and pen on pure cotton printmaking paper.

Proud Thomas, 10" x 8." Click here for prints of this piece.

As I write this post, the only one I know for certain is still available is Clarabelle. Thomas went to the Holiday Sale at Minnetonka Center for the Arts and I don't know his status at the moment.

If you're thinking it probably takes a Really Long Time to draw and paint all those stripey feathers, you are correct! The effect is really wonderful, though, so I do it anyway.

You know, I really ought to put together a class on Making Chicken. :-D

Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Sparrows 6 & 7


Happy Sparrow 7, above, and 6, below. Both 10" x 8" mixed media on heavy, 100% cotton paper; available, 300 each unframed. These are the result of me putting a banquet out of the little rascals all summer -- pretty pitchers of water and dishes of seed. I'm aware they're an invasive species but since they're here anyway, I am enjoying them.