Ursus arctos horibilis

Ursus arctos horibilis. Acrylic on canvas. 9" x 12"
Ursus arctos horibilis. Acrylic on canvas. 9″ x 12″

Growing up, we spent two weeks every summer hiking in the Southern tip of grizzly country, the Mission and Swan mountain ranges of Northwestern Montana. Crashing through the mountainside bramble towards the high glacier lakes, we watched for the bear signs: slobber on the huckleberry bush, foul-smelling scat full of indigestible berry husks. We wore jingling bells to reduce the chance we might surprise a foraging bear, carried one loaded magnum in case the worst transpired. At the cabin, we devised an elaborate “bear escape” plan, should our homestead become the target of a hungry ursine burglar. Pervasive in our Montana stories, the grizzly bear was (and still is) a powerful and ominous force in the back of our minds. Luckily, we have not yet initiated the bear escape plan, nor required the loaded magnum on the trail! Continue reading

Dynamo I: Nine Blackbirds

Dynamo I: Nine Blackbirds. Acrylic, charcoal, ink on canvas. 40" x 40"
Dynamo I: Nine Blackbirds. Acrylic, charcoal, ink on canvas. 40″ x 40″

I finally “finished” this painting after tabling it 2+ years ago. Sometimes, it takes a long time of living with artwork on your walls, glancing at it every day, before it becomes clear what to do with it next. Now I’m looking back at what I wrote about the work in 2014:

Why “dynamo?” Strictly speaking, “dynamo” indicates a generator of some sort, which converts electrical energy to mechanical energy. I once came across this word in a short story, used to describe a dark forest ravine. I never got away from the imagery of the ravine filled with the energy of frog croaks, insect whirrrs, leaves rustling, water flowing etc. Earth/Nature as limitless battery, endless potential for conversion, transformation and sadly, exploitation … It’s fascinating to observe the world this way and to recreate the exchange of energy in the act of painting, which is itself a form of exchange and re-genesis.

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Lone Pine Mountain Devil

Lone Pine Mountain Devil. Micro pigment ink on drawing paper. 6.5" x 5"
Lone Pine Mountain Devil. Micro pigment ink on drawing paper. 6.5″ x 5″

Lone Pine Mountain Devils – small, elusive amalgams of quadruple-winged bat, squirrel, and lizard – roost in the shade of a tall sequoia. In the latest additions to my cryptozoology illustrations (above and the Ozark Howler), I used toner gray Copic markers to add painterly layers of depth and reduce the work of endless cross-hatching.

One “Red-Head-Little-Mermaid-Girl” or Another Maternity Study

Kirstin. Acrylic on canvas. 8" x 10"
Kirstin. Acrylic on canvas. 8″ x 10″

A mini portrait of my cousin Kirstin, preparing for her first baby, who will arrive in the next few weeks. I first met toddler-Kirstin at a wedding – she was a curly-haired fireball in a white skirt, and we tore it up. Growing up, Kirstin and I sketched gargoyles, invented games with old tools in the garage, pretended to be mer-children, strung wild daisy-chains, plucked handfuls of Indian paintbrush bouquets for Grandma, terrorized our little sisters, hiked in the mountains, and choreographed dances to Disney movies, Ace of Base. The hard, inevitable facts of growing up make these kid memories sweeter. In reflection, these scenes seem to be from a different place – an alternate reality bordered by long hours, long summers, recesses, a cabin in a valley, and family gatherings with Kirstin’s mom’s fabulous cheesy potatoes. Despite the oft-bleak adversity of adult life, not all is lost – when we catch up today, we revert to our goofy childhood selves. Thankfully, we can remember. Mostly, we laugh!

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Rising Figure (Madone noire)

Rising Figure (Madone noire). Acrylic & charcoal on canvas. 48" x 52"
Rising Figure (Madone noire). Acrylic & charcoal on canvas. 48″ x 52″

A shadowed, awakening figure rises, recoiling from an intruding “cloud” of morning light. Like smoke or vapor, an effulgence diffuses in through her open window. Her exterior and interior surroundings take shape in response to obliterating illumination – only enough to deepen the mystery of her tiny bedroom and den, which probably yes definitely has hardwood floors and some random, empty (spooky) tables.

This tableau is a large-format piece from 2008, my last year of art school. Scribbles about the progress of this work (eye-opening to look back on now) include thoughts about form and figure construction, the nature of light, and how to technically depict certain “fantastic” qualities of light.

Chupacabra: The Goat Sucker!

Chupacabra. Micro pigment ink on drawing paper. 5" x 7"
Chupacabra. Micro pigment ink on drawing paper. 5″ x 7″

Chupacabra. Micro pigment ink on drawing paper. 5″ x 7″

Behold the dreaded Chupacabra, blood sucker of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Best encountered at night, the Chupacabra should not be confused with manged canines or raccoons. Enthusiasts may observe the characteristic trio of puncture marks on victimized animals, the carcasses completely drained of blood.

Ideals to Action

Seated figure (study). Conté crayon, charcoal on heavyweight paper. 14" x 17"
Seated figure (study). Conté crayon, charcoal on heavyweight paper. 14″ x 17″

Finally finished this figure study I started ~ 14 weeks ago. This work captures the naked likeness of my favorite model, hanging out in the sunny corner of my makeshift studio space. Since completing the study, I have moved on from this composition to a few other rapid figure drawings/paintings, which has been great practice in formal figure drawing skills. During a recent chat with the model pictured here, the topic of school words came up. I have not the faintest idea about my university’s motto(s) or words; in the past eight years I’ve attended six schools and feel decidedly disconnected from any alma mater. In contrast, his school experience was more Hogwartsian, and part of the university’s legacy is in its words: ideals to action.

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Thunderbird

Thunderbird. Ink on drawing paper. 6.5" x 8.25"
Thunderbird. Ink on drawing paper. 6.5″ x 8.25″

The Thunderbird is an enormous avian cryptid resembling a vulture, sometimes depicted with reptilian or Pteranodon-like features. Reports of Thunderbird sightings and encounters extend back centuries. In the ancient world, giant mythological birds were referred to as Rocs. This cryptid’s name draws from American Indian legends of a large spirit bird (Lakota: Wakį́nyąn) associated with thunder, lightning, and the cardinal direction West.

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Returns

Base painting for Returns
Base painting for Returns

Another semester of nursing school is slowing down, which means I’m finding oodles of time to catch up on my oft-neglected creative projects! I’m celebrating my return to art with some abstract work in this playful piece.

This is a re-worked old abstract piece that I got sick of (see left), looking at it for a few years hanging in my bathroom. The colors were too muted, the paint accumulation too thin. In the end, I let remnants of the old piece peek through the new one.

Fjellhytte (Mountain Home) Still Life

Fjellhytte Patio Progress
Fjellhytte Patio Progress

Emerging darkly from the petrified air, a wooden plaque carved onto Smokey The Bear warned fire danger was “extremely dry, extremely high.” No campfires, no grills, no cigarettes, no huckleberries under the desiccating pines of Northwestern Montana. Grandma had texted (expertly, with many emojii) “we can’t see our mountains!” The drive up highway 83 this year, approaching our mountain refuge, was brimming with smoke. Flowing downwind from blazes in Idaho and Washington, the roil blotted out Montana’s Big Sky, tainted the Sun and Moon with toxic orange, and sent Glacier Park road-to-the-sunners scrambling back to the drawing board, travel guides and gas station free attraction brochure stands. Continue reading

Study: Eros Bendato Screpolato

Study. Charcoal on heavyweight drawing paper. 14 x 17"
Study. Charcoal on heavyweight drawing paper. 14 x 17″

This monumental cranium, titled Eros Bendato Screpolato (Bandaged, Cracked Eros) by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj has rolled onto the front lawn of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (now referred to as “The MEE-yah”). Our plan to sketch a naked human in the drawing studio fell through, so we spent an afternoon on the wet museum grass, sketching Eros’ bandaged cranium in bronze instead. Continue reading

“Percy” in Primaries

Percy. Acrylic on canvas. 8" x 10"
Percy. Acrylic on canvas. 8″ x 10″
My grueling Summer semester is almost over, meaning I can soon dust off my easel and re-connect with my other journey of art! Here’s Percy, the family pet of my friend Emily’s brother. I had lots of fun with texture and color on this one… I’m getting pumped to paint more animals in the very near future!

Angry Fupa Cat, terminé

Monster portrait. Acrylic and graphite on heavyweight paper. 11" x 14"
Monster portrait. Acrylic and graphite on heavyweight paper. 11″ x 14″
Graphite plan for feline portrait

Monster Study #1. Acrylic and graphite on heavyweight paper. 11" x 14"

No longer unfinished art as of 5/21/15. This cat face was a nightmare! It feels so good to peel off the tape and see the crisp white borders and put a little signature at the bottom :) Satisfaction. At left: progress on cat portrait… The graphite plan and under-painting. Layer-by-layer glazing approach helped build up colors and thicker surface of the final painting. The biggest challenge here was getting the paint cat to resemble the real cat – minor variations in face structure and lines have a huge impact on recognition, just like on human portraits!

Life Drawing in the Home Studio

Study, Pregnant Woman. Charcoal and conte crayon on drawing paper. 14″ x 17″

First live model session in my home studio setup was very successful. I kept thinking this must be one of the only occasions during which one can acceptably sustain eye contact with another human for more than a minute. Or even several seconds.

A Sense of Place

In-progress Portrait. Acrylic on canvas. 11 x 14

Truth: it is hard to find time for painting in the crush of full time work and full time school. Fortunately, another truth exists: the harder it is to find time to paint, the more I want to do it, and I fantasize about long hours with my easel, surfaces, brushes… Knowing my capacity for hedonism, I shouldn’t worry about losing my craft. But starting this piece, I was more than a little wobbly getting back to the process. For now, this is just an under painting, and I’ll be working on layering in richer color, more exacting line work, a truer depiction of my friend in the foreground. The stiff, scary Chucky Doll face I unintentionally rendered will need to be worked over. The distinctive bridges in the background create movement and ground the portrait in Minneapolis and the Mississippi. Continue reading