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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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.

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

“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!

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

One From the Vaults: Seated Figures

Imaginary Figures. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 36" x 48"
Imaginary Figures. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 36″ x 48″

A larger painting from the same time that I was working on “Man With Drapes” and other figurative work inspired by Egon Schiele and some other artists I was thinking about a lot at the time. In this one, my approach was high energy but I admittedly wasn’t thinking through the content, and was not referencing any real models. I think the goal of this piece was more or less to figure out a way of working.

Untitled (Absence Study)

Untitled (Absence Study). Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 16" x 20"
Untitled (Absence Study). Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 16″ x 20″

After all these years
Does the ocean seem any wider?
Can your thoughts go back that far
Across the tracks and shorelines?

And all the times you crossed
Did you make the crossing for me? Was it real?
I guess there is no difference now, where the water’s so deep, and
Your feet can’t touch the sunken sand

River Dogs

River Dogs. Acrylic on canvas. 14" x 11"
River Dogs. Acrylic on canvas. 14″ x 11″

My parents have always raised Golden Retrievers as family pets, pretty much becoming third and fourth children. In our family, they are hunters, rough-housers, mattress hogs, spoiled brats, and friends.

Painting from a photograph on this one, but trying to keep it as lively as possible with light, natural color quality and vibrating brushwork. I started with a pastel lavender under-painting and I’m slowly building up the other colors around it. Water is always challenging, but a great exercise in color and motion.

Mega Kicks!

Er qi jiao
Er Qi Jiao. Acrylic, ink, graphite on canvas. 8″ x 10″

O Feiyue shoe, how can I express my love for you? These paintings are about the ubiquitous canvas and rubber martial arts shoe. My goal is to have four of them to arrange in a set. I have gone through so many pairs of these things since I started martial arts training, wearing holes into the soles on cement, replacing material with duct tape and random extra shoelaces, clumsily teetering around while wearing a fresh pair.

I suppose these qualify as a type of still life, but the Feiyue shoe does not like to be still. No, the shoe demands the dynamic! In accordance with the shoes’ wishes, the paintings recall Kung Fu kicking techniques. An appropriate set title is thus, Mega Kicks! These shoes were made for kicking, and that’s just what they’ll do. And, one of these days, these shoes are going to kick all over you. This post is done.

Xuan Zi. Acrylic and graphite on canvas. 8" x 10"
Xuan Zi. Acrylic and graphite on canvas. 8″ x 10″

“Wild Things” to “Lisa Frank-enstein” – Dynamo II: The Epic Journey

Dynamo II. Acrylic, charcoal, aquarelle, collage on canvas. 36" x 60"
Dynamo II. Acrylic, charcoal, aquarelle, collage on canvas. 36″ x 60″

Migration, exchange, transformation, and natural cycles all take central roles in this new large piece I just finished. I’m feeling good about the final composition/content, which seems to be a sort of “Lisa Frank-enstein” multi-phased inner tube journey through dream territory, symbolism, and imagination. The loon and the salmon both make epic journeys during their lifetimes, interacting in a larger wheel that mills out change, promotes adaptation and learning.

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Dynamo I: All My Relations

Dynamo I (All My Relations). Acrylic, charcoal, ink, collage on canvas. 36" x 36"

Here is where I’m leaving this painting for now. Dynamo I is the first stage of a three stage project I’m doing on large canvases that emphasize nature, color, and increasingly concerned with the concept of “energy exchange” – in natural systems and in organism interactions. There is a little bit of my bio-nerd coming out in this theme … 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.

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 this 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 …

I finally put the “legs” on this painting last night, which means I painted the canvas sides, and I’m ready to table it for now and see where the next two canvases go before I decide that it’s work ready to show. That being said, it’s neat how complete the piece feels when the sides are actually filled in … :)

Dynamo Closeups

Just a couple quick photos from painting session a few nights ago. The sheen from my acrylic extending medium gives some unexpectedly rad effects on collaged cutout embellishments … Qué rico … Publishing from phone for first time … XD

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Time Warp! / Looking Back

Early figure work, approximately 2008. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 48" x 36"
Early figure work, approximately 2008. Acrylic and charcoal on canvas. 48″ x 36″

And now for a post about art from the (not so) distant past … Six years ago, I was in art school stretching my own humongous canvases, spending hours and hours pondering and journaling on the perilous possibilities of form, content, and the place of painting. This is a piece I’ve been living with ever since. I think I’ve shown it maybe three times, but for the last several years it has occupied a lonely place in my bedroom. I recently re-hung it on a wall, where paintings belong.

Reconsidering this painting now, having lived with it for so long and having hauled it through at least four different apartments, I have a very physical connection with it. When I was making it, I was really focused on the process, and color/composition work often were placed on the back burner. I was muddling through this sort of “constant revision” approach where I would begin something but refuse to become committed, obscure it, and start again, with the result being a sort of time warp where you can see the flux of several different sketches without a necessarily recognizable “finished” product. Adding to this, I think this particular piece was based on live models, but every 120 seconds or so they would change position, adding to the time lapse effect. This way of working I think was a precursor to my concept of “progression” or “progressive” painting, wherein the process is paramount and the “end” of the work is slippery.

However “unfinished” it was at the time, I haven’t touched it in several years and I think I can say that I probably will not return to anything on this particular canvas … So be it … Let’s call it done!

A Total Ecology of Painting

Work in progress. Acrylic, charcoal, compressed ink on canvas. 48" x 48"
Work in progress. Acrylic, charcoal, compressed ink, aquarelle on canvas. 48″ x 48″

“Wandering” / “Exploring” / “Essaying” / “Probing” … These are just a few ways I could characterize my approach to painting, especially when working in a relatively larger format. I don’t rely on a lot of planning but rather sort of let my process guide me through the work. In this piece, there are several overlapping sketches and paintings … you can see the initial stages in my previous post “About: Color.” I work through these quickly at first and then slowly consider what is emerging, making decisions on the fly. In this way, the different levels of the painting tend to merge and present themselves all at once, which for me is a potent way of tying time together and presenting this work as an idea/process that may suggest something pointed or simply observe in a non-linear fashion. I often feel my role in a painting, and certainly in large works that fill my entire scope of vision, is that of the explorer, as ready to discover as I am to make formal decisions about the direction of the piece. Central to the way I work – and to the practice of painting itself – is the idea that whatever happens remains visible … Decisions made in the past remain in existence and are presented all at once to the viewer, which separates painting from most sculpture, video, performance, etc.
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Color Calisthenics no. 2 / Zamioculcas zamiifolia

Color Calisthenics no. 2. One hour color study of Zamioculcas zamiifolia houseplant. Concentrated ink stick, aquarelle, acrylic on mixed media paper.
Color Calisthenics no. 2. One hour color study of Zamioculcas zamiifolia houseplant. Concentrated ink stick, aquarelle, acrylic on mixed media paper.

Continuation of series of color “calisthenic” exercises. Finding it easy and freeing to refuse commitment and have fun with the possibilities. Focus of work here is exaggerating unlikely colors perceived in the subject and extending their range using wide artistic license and some imagination. Trying not to get too hung up on details, suppressing analytic sensibilities while working the surface. Side note: Zz plant is toxic to kitties meow.
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Color Calisthenics

Color Calisthenics no. 1. Acrylic, aquarelle, ink on mixed media paper
Color Calisthenics no. 1. Acrylic, aquarelle, ink on mixed media paper. 40-minute exercise.

An artist friend, Anna, told me – making resolute eye contact – that I need to electrify the apparently drab color palette I have allowed myself to succumb to. We were having an “art day,” which means we get together on her covered patio with Molly, her incredibly cute dog, chat for awhile, have a coffee, spend way too long getting our works space and materials set up, and try our damndest to advance our current projects while sort of cheering each other on. Anna was flinging colors around on a silk canvas in wide bars so vivid you could have mistaken it for a black-light luminescence poster we all know from our teenage years or stoner friends. I, five feet away, was scribbling blue ink into a tiny patch of bare canvas and diluting it with medium-heavy titanium white, carefully planning which color will come next, wincing at the surface like a math problem. I wasn’t having any fun with that, and predictably, I found myself staring at the colors an hour later and wondering how I had come up with such a stereotypical, elementary pairing of orange and blue without much else going on. Anna was right, I think, as she hands me a white wine spritzer (choice Art Day drink – or we are just women-around-thirty). My color capabilities have become flabby. Glug.
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