Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays with the Little Guys

A Little Guy by W. Heath Robinson.

The musician above is from an old sheet music illustration. In it, he's following a lovely, dancing wood sprite. Within the illustration, he's only about 1/2" tall--but what personality and expression!

There are few things I like better than the elf-like, faery-like, Hobbit-like people of legend who are full of character and life.  Include in that the Little Guys, my own label for all the goofy humans drawn over the centuries by artist/illustrators. You can find them everywhere, sometimes greatly caricatured, sometimes with gently exaggerated features, always packed with vitality and infused with some mystery. Hunting for and collecting new Little Guys is a favorite pastime of mine--here are a few of the best.

The Wild Man. A.B. Frost. 

Arthur Burdett Frost ( illustrated many books full of regular humans, and he's probably best known for his pictures of Brer Rabbit. But his versions of little guys are pretty matchless. The sinister Wild Man above is an illustration from the Lewis Carroll poem, Poeta Fit Non Nascitur (which, according to google translate, means: "The Poet is Not Born"). I love his face and that broken symbol of  bad luck sticking out of his hat.

Snow, Real Snow. Honore Daumier.

Probably my favorite lithograph--or image--of all time. Maybe. It is perfection though, not only in the stance and wonder-filled expression of the fellow, but in the absolutely spot-on light and atmosphere of an early, snow-filled morning.  Am I crazy, or is this not the peerless evocation of a universal feeling? Perfect verisimilitude!

And if you do think I'm looney, please just accept this picture as my 
Happy Holiday Peace-Wish 
(via the genius of Daumier) 
for you.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"I Can Do What I Can Do"

Most everything--including making art--has seemed inconsequential to me following the most recent massacre. My mind, along with that of most people, has been filled with sorrow for the dead and the survivors, and despair for this country. Is there any point to sitting in my studio, making an artwork? 

I want a solution and an end to the sickness, but I realize that what I desire most is the end of evil in this country, in this world. That is not going to happen. 

How then, to live day-to-day; to exist with inevitable brutality in the world which we've made, while working toward solutions that may not solve the problem of evil, but will maybe lessen its power?

Study after Reni's Massacre of the Innocents, by Stefano Mulinari

As I've attempted to absorb this latest eruption of malevolence, I am ashamed to say that my mind has kept wandering--wishing for a time untouched by abomination; when people, especially children, were not murdered:
The 1950s or 1960s? Um...that supposed golden time; some say the pinnacle of goodness in the United States? Oft-secret lynchings, the practice of earlier decades, continued the murders during the "Happy Days". Include Richard Speck, the Manson crew, and the perpetrators of the My Lai massacre with those times.
The 1940s? Who would long for the time period of the Holocaust?
The 1920s then? To me it seems a time of great music and liveliness and fun. But the worst school massacre in the history of the United States occurred in 1927, in Michigan. A single perpetrator, 38 fatalities, mostly school children.
 Was there ever a time-period free from this sort of evil? My uneducated guess: No. Does this make me feel better about living in this time? No to that, too.

But we can and must continue to strive for more peace, greater justice, and an easement of violence. We look for ways to change the world, and care as best we can, for all people--especially those most helpless and innocent.  

I'm not smart enough to know what a society can do to mitigate atrocities, but I need some way to continue to feel hope and joy, and to be productive in the world of which I am a part. I don't have a viable choice--despair or checking out is self-indulgence.

I am intelligent enough to know that I have this choice: Not to succumb to fear
Therefore, one:
I reject the seductive, self-destructive urge to watch the "news" 24/7 and will not allow that commercial, greed-driven machine to dissect the details (none of my business anyway) for me and purposefully raise my anxiety further as it explains how much more awful, scary, and treacherous life is now.
I reject the brain-stem desire to obtain "safety"--the biggest mythological Pile of Crap that Madison Avenue and politicians have laid on our culture--by purchasing an arsenal, or putting bars on my windows, or seeking gates and fences or a solitary hundred-acres in avoidance of other people.
And three:
I reject the urge to muffle my normal fear or other emotion with a drug, or a drink, or by buying some bauble, or house, or car I don't need.

  So I turn again to art. Irrelevant? Inconsequential? I'm not thinking so. Literature, paintings, theater, music, cooking--these are mainly acts by man for creation, not destruction. They heal, they teach, and best of all; they remind us of our similarities.

And it is life-giving to initiate the best thing one's hands can make. It is life-affirming to seek joy--or catharsis--in a creation by another human being. What I produce may not be on the scale of an author like Taylor Caldwell, a composer like Scott Joplin, or a painter with the vision of Van Gogh, but I will strive to create; since I want from others the peace, humanity, and enlightenment of their minds and works.

And when even all that is not enough, there are the words of Diodorus (through the pen of a great artist), which have comforted me since first reading them:
"I can do what I can do, live by the values and the truths I have been taught, by the virtues and the justice I know, and surely He will remember me though all the world goes mad."
- Taylor Caldwell, Dear and Glorious Physician

Mary and the Boy Jesus. Oil on board. Private collection.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Real real

 Recently, I've been experiencing a bit of nostalgia for my former life-as-teacher. That was a powerful experience. While I taught, I also worked at painting for galleries, and at illustrating for children. It all helped pay the bills and allowed me time at home with my kids during the summer.
 A corner of my drawing room at Grandview High School.

So I don't buy into the philosophy that one can't be a Real Artist unless it's a full-time occupation. Accepting another person's definition of "real" or "artist" only limits one's potential adventures, and puts a damaging-- pretty ridiculous pressure--on a creative spirit. People can easily do without pompous label-makers, but hey, we've made pretension a way of life in this culture.

  The goofy little piece above was done during my last year as an art teacher--a demo about making a small art object in limited time--and about having fun.  If I taught anything, I hope it was that the joy is in the making. Using one's hands to create anything provides an experience and a peace that comes close to meditation, and the effects last and last.

Don't get me wrong--my current freedom to paint all day is great, and I am thankful, thoughtful, and earnest about making and selling my art.
But the vast majority of my time spent with students was more rewarding--in a much deeper way--than using my time to make art for sale. I forged great relationships and received a valuable education from the students.
 I'm not planning on returning to the public classroom--definitely finished with that phase, but not the appreciation of it. I value that day-job more and more as time goes on, and wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My First Ever Etsy Store Over!

Moon Visits Bird. Acrylic on wrapped canvas, private collection.

This goofy little painting reflects my long fascination with the Man in the Moon. He's appeared numerous times in my illustrations and paintings--even in my one-and-only published short story.
I was experimenting with color combinations in this one (who says blue and purple don't match?).

Got a sale going on at my Etsy store. 30% off everything in the store until December 10th.
As an added bonus (in appreciation for all of you who follow my blog) send me a message on Etsy--before you purchase--that you read this and you'll get free shipping, too. (I'll instantly reserve it for you and delete the shipping cost.)

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

26th Annual Fine Art Market Show

Pink Quail, Amused. Acrylic on oak wood. 3" x 8".

Last year was my first year to be part of The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities Fine Art Market Show and Sale. Very happy to be included again this year, I'm offering an eclectic bunch of works from landscapes--large and small--to oddments of all sizes!

The show features nearly 100 Colorado artists. Everyone is welcome to attend the
Opening Reception: Thursday December 6, 5:00-9:00 p.m.
Last year's reception was classy and fun--something you will enjoy if you like to see original fine art in a wide range of media, size, and price.
A portion of all purchases benefits the Arvada Center galleries!

The Fine Art Market Show runs December 7-16 at:
 The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard
Arvada, CO  80003
Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Helpful Warning

Marley's Ghost, or Ebeneezer Scrooge's Door Knocker. Mixed media on wood.

Dickens' A Christmas Carol will  always be my favorite Victorian ghost story. And I'm resigned to the fact that Marley's Ghost, which terrified me as a kid, will always be an obsession. That spirit still gives me the chills, but also provides the reminder I seem to continually need:  That "mankind is my business".

And thus, the Holiday Season begins.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Different Ground, Different Result

The landscape in the previous post was begun with a cadmium red ground--that is fairly comfortable for me. But I'd painted this new board black, and it required in an alternate approach, varied brushwork, and a leap of faith. 

"The artist himself is often surprised at the finished work of art. He cannot tell 'how it happened', nor could he repeat the feat at someone's bidding."
-John F. Carlson 
Carlson is right, but in my case, replace "often" with "always". All I can do is write down the sequence which follows, and I hope you find it interesting.

The little house that stimulated the idea.
 Isolated houses buried within trees provoke my need to commit them to paper or canvas. It's a deeply subconscious allure shared by many artists. There's mystery held within walls, and my response to that mystery ranges from vague fear on one end of the spectrum, through curiosity, all the way to comfort and nostalgia at the other end. 

The process:
Using a watery purplish-pink, I brushed in a loose composition, simplifying the house and dispensing with the photo. In my head, I felt that I was pursuing a path similar to the sequence that led to my painting of the previous post. Very wrong I was.

(Sorry about the color in this--it's a cell phone photo.)
My main objective was to keep the painting fresh while still being experimental--I hoped to avoid repainting, over-glazing, or fussing with it.
Keeping in mind that the process is a chase, by allowing my thoughts and brush to scramble over the black surface I discovered some peculiar and exciting methods I'd not used before. 
Of course, some of the process felt familiar, but I'd be a liar if I denied the bit of fear present. I fought the trepidation by telling myself I could always paint black over any mistakes, and start again.
 House at Dusk. Acrylic on board, 8" x 10".

The end product did please me, but the best thing? It had more to do with process than product; more to do with discovery than rote method; and had an unexpected--unpredictable--result.

If I was a different sort of artist, I'd remember all of this by repeating the process again and again (the only way I'm able to retain a sequence), and nail the method. I'm remembering the feeling though, of the unexpected, and the process is calling.
Thanks for reading--I appreciate the visit!

Friday, November 9, 2012

A New Landscape, an Historic Treasure, and a Great Book

September. Acrylic on board, 8" x 8". Private collection.

One of the best things about being an artist is the time when you finish a painting and know that your exploration resulted in a treasure. The adventure and discovery are always my favorite parts of the process, and most times I like the end result, but once in awhile the final work excites me as much as the progression leading up to it. This is one of those times. The inspiration follows:

A photo I took in 1982 of the DeBoer Mansion in Denver. It has fascinated me for years and was the main resource for the painting.

I don't want to digress much into the controversy surrounding this historic building, but this is Denver--infamous for its penchant for destroying historic and/or beautiful properties and replacing them with crap.  This amazing building was nearly demolished, and saved only by a compromise that has left it surrounded by new construction. You can read about that by clicking the link:
and see photos of the stunning interior and history here:

I'm generally not interested in painting portraits of houses or people, so the likeness or historical significance of the building was not part of this process at all. I simply loved the look of the architecture, and used it as my jumping-off point.

What did interest me was approaching a landscape with thick, black outline, and using a strong, dark, foreground to frame the scene.

My all-time favorite landscape-painting book will always be Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting, by John F. Carlson. It is packed with what Carlson likes to call "generalities" (observations, really) that open up an artist's eyes and options--with none of the strident, limiting rules found in the how-to books of less-confident artists. If you love that sort of thing, you'll eat this book up!

I'll leave you with this detail.  The painting will be part of an upcoming group show, details here:

Hope you like this artwork.  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nature, Sparks, and Fire

Nothing renews my faith like nature. God is everywhere, but the line from the natural environment to the Creator is direct.
Not gonna lie, election day made me restless. So I got out of the studio for some exercise, and found some peace and beauty at the canal that winds its way through the city. It has always held mystery and adventure for me--it's the place I went as a kid to scramble around and find snakes, frogs, and salamanders. My mom would wait at the front door for my return and yell, "If you have a snake with you, go right on back and let it go!" Most times, I had to go back.

 Yesterday, exploration--as usual--trumped my lame effort at exercise. But it was a gorgeous day, and my camera-eye was wide open. Found this creepy bug-faced root hiding beneath the bank.

I should spend more time drawing out of doors, but I'm about as good at that commitment as I am to exercise. Just getting outdoors though, has a great effect upon my art and spirit.

At the end of the walk, this beautiful old house came into view. 
A lonely building buried in the trees--even better than snakes and frogs!

A small detail of my latest painting--inspired by the weird way autumn creeps into the trees almost without notice. Hoping to finish this artwork today, now that there's some relief from the politics.
Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of my favorite poets. He loved to draw as well, and was totally in love with the natural world.  I'm heading up to the studio, and will leave you with some of his words:

“All things therefore are charged with love, are charged with God and if we knew how to touch them give off sparks and take fire, yield drops and flow, ring and tell of him.”
-Gerard Manley Hopkins

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Greeting for a Visitor

 Saint Mary at Ephesus (detail). Mixed Media on 6" x 18" canvas, private collection.
A traveler, recently home from an overseas vacation, told us about St. Mary's house in Ephesus, Turkey. Thinking about St. Mary as an older person, years after the death of her son, waiting for and welcoming a visitor, inspired this portrayal.
 The house in which St. Mary spent her final years. This photo provided a bit of detail for the work.

 Before I attempt any painting of a holy person, I like to do a session of Centering Prayer, learned from Father Thomas Keating and his amazing book, Open Mind, Open Heart 

Emptying my brain of its clamor and distractions and being open to receiving guidance is my goal with Centering Prayer (even when I'm not beginning a painting).
After that period of prayer, I sketch the face or the composition of the new idea--
usually with a new sense of calm and assurance.

Sketch of the face of St. Mary, graphite.

Saint Mary at Ephesus. Mixed media on canvas, 6" x 18", private collection.

Legend has it that St. Luke, the patron saint of artists, painted several portraits of the Mother of Jesus. I imagined him arriving for a visit and receiving this warm welcome from her; a greeting I long for as well.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Change in the Weather

Saint Francis and the Freshening Breeze. Acrylic on deep canvas, 6" x 12" x 1". Private collection.
Saint Francis of Assisi continues to nudge me. One night last week, the sound of rising wind awakened me from a deep sleep. It escalated into a pounding force against the house, and blew all night long. In the morning, I began this work, translating that mighty wind into a peaceful and pleasant breeze. Nonetheless, it heralds a weather change.

I like the rough and scruffy look of the paint, and am especially happy with the scroungy-baroque-acanthus border. Acanthus leaves remain a favorite motif.

 Preliminary sketch for Saint Francis and the Freshening Breeze. Pencil on paper, approx. 3" x 8".

In the previous post, I talked about enjoying the discovery and the play inherent in the process of putting paint on the surface. Every artist is different, but I'm not big on planning things out too much. I do sketch often, and sometimes roughly draw out an idea before committing it to canvas.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Chase, Play and Discovery

This detail (a yet-to-be-titled Saint Francis piece) is a work-in-progress on canvas. It is maybe 50% complete. I've a few ideas about what's next, but I'm open to both experiments and curve-balls. Those are just the things to keep me at it. 
Will I love it when it's done? Hope so--but I don't need to know that now.

The appeal of an artwork to any individual is of course, an individual thing. Why can one person be infatuated with a work that makes another turn away in disgust, and makes still another fellow yawn with boredom?

I love the blog, Muddy Colors, because 13 different artists contribute, and their posts are almost always fascinating to me. A recent post by Donato Giancola ( ) is particularly thought-provoking. It speaks to the process of painting, and is helping me to understand why certain works trip my trigger, while some are dreadfully uninteresting to me.

The canvas above is on the painting table right now.  I'm poking and scrubbing away at it, and having a great time.  It is at the stage where anything might happen, and the enjoyment is coming from the fact that there are still unexpected discoveries waiting to bushwhack me.

Lonely Little Ghost Owl (detail). Acrylic on wood.

Lonely Little Ghost Owl is a finished work, one that evolved in much the same manner as the Saint Francis above. It threw me badly--because of the wood surface, but I messed about with it, was blind-sided by it, and eventually finished it. I like it very much, probably because it was never a planned-out artwork, it isn't perfect, and the process of painting it was a gratifying play/work combination.

Thanks for checking in!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Bit Battered, but Lively

Jack O'Lantern. Acrylic on old book cover, 5" x 7". Private collection.

Sort of a prize-fighter pumpkin, this guy's face has some character.
The piece got misplaced for a few years.  After searching and giving up, I came across it at the bottom of the Halloween-decoration box in the store room.

 A total experiment with light, this was painted on a canvas-y, and very grimy cover of a book that fell apart. Playing around often yields the best result--in this case the piece was painted direct, without a prelim sketch or a pencil drawing.  When the surface doesn't cost much, this artist feels more free to just jump in. 

(I was reading a book about the draft riots in New York at the time, so maybe the personality came from that.)

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Concrete Deal

If you're like me, and you love viewing tangible artwork in welcoming settings, please visit the two amazing Colorado galleries that represent my work:

Creator Mundi
Founded in 1987, Creator Mundi is a peaceful and friendly place offering quality, culturally authentic, sacred art of great variety!

Address:  2910 East Third Avenue (between Fillmore and Milwaukee)
                Denver, CO 80206 Free parking behind the gallery.
Gallery phone:  303-322-1901
Gallery e-mail:

 San Pascual. Tom Sarmo. Acrylic on canvas.

Founded in 2004, Willow is a friendly, relaxed place bringing fun, funky, and original art to historic downtown Littleton!

Address:   2400 West Main Street (SW corner of Prince and Main Streets)
                  Littleton, Colorado  80120
Gallery phone:  303-730-8521
Gallery email:

Another Round. Tom Sarmo. Acrylic on oak wood.

Thanks for supporting handmade arts, small business, and artists everywhere!

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Peaceful Cross

 Peace in the Night Time. Mixed media on wood, approx 9" x 15". Private collection.

Nearly every year I get to create a theme-based artwork representing my friend Fr. John, a Capuchin Friar. It is among the artworks auctioned at a fundraiser for the Capuchin Province of Mid-America. 
Check out the gala site at

The loose theme this year was a "mission cross". I really love doing this sort of work as it is always fun to see how different artists approach the same theme, and it's a learning opportunity for me to think up a unique concept.

My challenge this time was to "invent" a technique I'd never tried before. I found a pre-made, birch ply cross and applied a variety of media--including ink, graphite, and acrylic paint. I wanted a quiet yet cheerful artwork that had a true hand-made quality about it.

The foremost mission of the Capuchin Franciscans is carrying on the work of Saint Francis of Assisi; to serve the poor and downtrodden. In doing this, they provide a great service, example, and challenge for all of us. They are the most peaceful, joy-filled people I know.

Crux Gemmata, illuminated manuscript (8th century).
The primary inspiration for my version.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Witch and a Mummy

 Playing around a bit this past week, trying different techniques and making some new Halloween decorations at the same time. The great thing about taking time off from serious production is that I always learn something for use down the road. I generally can't get that by hacking away at consequential work.

 Only one of the great benefits of my few years of teaching elementary school was that I got a lot of practice making bulletin boards. So butcher paper paintings like these became the standard for my classroom.

And now it's great relaxation to grab cheap paper and just draw and paint without thinking about sales or who out there might like them or not. And I'm usually happy with the results of a calm day of painting this way.

Both are acrylic paint on brown paper, approximately 25" x 25" or so. They're up in my front window, and I'm thinking on a third for the last windowpane.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

An Art Sequence: Los Muertos Traviesos

 Los Muertos Traviesos (detail). Mixed media on wood.
The upcoming show, HoliDay of the Dead, got me excited to make a brand new piece, instead of sending an existing work.  When the art was complete, I began examining my process; especially after reading about several other artist's "creation sequences". Below, I offer mine; for this piece; for what it's worth:

 For me, it's almost all about daydreaming, night dreaming, and sketches (not necessarily prelims). I just float along and try not to force anything at first.  I sketch whenever there's down time, and they are mostly stream-of-consciousness doodles.  Those above are an example of that--the fellow on the lower right must be a favorite, because from him has sprung many artworks.

 Here he is on the left, in a different iteration (
So a guy with stripes became a guy sort of wrapped.
Wide Awake and Fast Asleep. Mixed media on wood. (
I loved his fellow--he made me want to do the new artwork in a similar fashion, so my motif and my media choices were made!
Sketches specific to the project came next.

I've been obsessed with the Danse Macabre, by Saint-Saens, since I was eight,
when (the beautiful) Miss West played it for us in music class. Recently, I've been listening to it over and over, and reading lots of Victorian ghost stories as well (I tend to get locked into things like this often).
Therefore, when I was invited to do a piece for the show, ghosts and graveyards were already dancing in my head.  Above is the first sketch, done on a tiny sticky-note pad at the kitchen table.

 Then I stumbled across a wooden plate-type disc at the Goodwill store. The round format, along with my love for pattern made me re-think the composition. There were many boring prelim sketches--this is but one.
Impatience hits along with confidence, and I jump right into the final. Sometimes that's a mistake, but luckily, not this time. I developed the composition right on the wood, and repeated elements from the center pic for the pattern. 
(I lightly penciled in a very rough placement for the figures, then inked them in. I keep the pencil rough so that I have a lot of flexibility--tweaking as I ink is one of the greatest joys within the process.)

Establishing the darks helps me know where to go with the rest.

 This is right before the color and lighter value application.
Los Muertos Traviesos. Mixed media on wood, approx 12" in diameter.

Here I've painted out the streak-like elements, as my wife pointed out that they looked too much like stalactites. She is almost always right!  Making the sky solid and then adding stars instead was a happy choice. I added a touch of color using acrylic paint for the highlights, and it's ready to be shipped!

And what a great dinnerware pattern, don't you think?

These works and more are now available for purchase. Prices are at my site:
Thanks, as always, for the visit.
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