Thursday, March 29, 2012

Birds with Teeth

 Blue Bird with a Bowl. Watercolor, approx 2 1/2" x 3". A little watercolor sketch done for a friend a few years ago.  There is something about teeth that inspires me, and I especially like giving teeth to birds. It's one of those things that I suspect does not inspire the rest of the population.

 But, there are lots of these toothy birds in my sketchbook.  When I was a kid I thought it was a little creepy and fascinating when Daffy Duck showed his teeth. Maybe that's where this comes from.  But I also thought it was weird that Disney's Goofy had human-toed feet.

Been partial to this little crabby bird for a long time. I even made some greeting cards featuring this image. That pretty much clinched it--I'm alone in my partiality :)

Thanks for checking this out anyway!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


This raven lives in my neighborhood, and this morning I snapped this pic through the window.
 I am obsessed with ravens. If that makes me a bird nerd, so be it--shoot, I know I'm not alone.  
Back when Mesa Verde was deserted by humans in the winter, we'd head on up there, sit high above the spooky ruins, and watch the ravens. They'd flip and soar, sometimes silent, sometimes clacking noisily, often coming close enough to peer at us sideways through the snow-filled air.

Ravens in Denver are rare, but recently a pair took up residence in the neighbor's giant Blue Spruce. This is the other. I managed to get out the door without alarming him/her. Don't pretend to be good at photography, but I like this pic of the raven looking like a hot-shot. I can't help anthropomorphizing them--I'm a painter, not a scientist. And while I've yet to paint realistic ravens, they inspire my muse like no other animal.

 Pema Chodron, in The Wisdom of No Escape*, talks about the need for humans to become more like ravens. She writes:  "The wilder the weather, the more the ravens love it. They challenge the some point they just let go into the wind and let it blow them away. Then they play on it, they float on it. Hardy, fearless, playful and joyful...they've had to develop a zest for challenge and for life."

That fearlessness, joy, and zest for challenge would be a great change from the suspicion and immobility we've allowed the "news" to create in us. Ravens are fortunate--they don't indulge in fear addiction. We're lucky too, though--we can choose to refuse it.

Peace be with you (and thanks for reading)!

*Check out Pema Chodron's book. It's refreshment for the world-weary in all of us.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Eyes and Q

 Been doing lots of big paintings with eyes, and lots of little studies of eyes. Thought a break from that kind of work would be a good idea, but ended up doing eyes on an envelope I'm sending off.

 Then started messing around with acrylics and letter stamps on a scrap of watercolor paper. More eyes. This close-up makes me hungry--icing on a goofy cake or something.

Q. Mixed media, approx. 4" x 6".  
Just wanted to play around without a specific focus. I need to do that more often, and I had a lot of fun with these experiments.
It's not easy to see on this photo, but there are lots of layers of ink and acrylic washes under thicker paint, and quite a bit of whitewashing over all that too. It's sort of a mix between my older illustrative style and the newer acrylic style that's emerging.

I get a kick out of the singular ways that paint appears on different surfaces--it's always a surprise.
This eye's a bit more naturalistic, done on a smooth, gessoed board. Not nearly as hunger-inducing.

Well, there you go--nothing deep or philosophical about this post, but hope it was enjoyable. 
Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Trio of Carnival Punks

My versions of Carnival Punks. I started making these because of a memory of a carnival game. Didn't know what those little dummies you threw a ball at were called, but I wanted one when I was a kid so bad I dreamed about them.

We once had an amazing amusement park in Denver called Elitch Gardens. Full of old, paint-peeling wood buildings scattered among huge trees and gardens, the place was both creepy and beautiful. What a place for a little kid on constant sensory overload!

It was like a permanent fair, or so I thought. As the illustrator Trina Schart Hyman once wrote: "Everything changes, and nothing is safe." Elitch Gardens was torn down and a housing development stands in its place.

At night, the adults would go to the ballroom--The Trocadero--and dance.  We kids would run around and explore the dark places between the arcades, ride through the spook house, or try to win a novelty prize.

But what I really ached for was one of the Carnival Punks you threw the balls at.
They were hand painted, canvas, "knock-down dolls".  Ugly things that had much more appeal (to me, anyway) than the cheap, prickly-haired stuffed-animal-prizes. I recently discovered that I'm not the only one who appreciates these. They sell--for a lot--on the internet, under various monikers. And many artists are re-creating them.

So is that what artists are mostly about--resurrecting memories and losses by making them anew? Kind of a sad thought, really.

Thanks, as always, for checking this out!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Bizarre but Compelling

Someone once called my art "bizarre but compelling". I took it as a compliment.
 Now, Facebook is bizarre. It is also compelling. Not sure that I mean that as a compliment.
I do have a Facebook art page--in it are lots of my pictures without much text. It's a place to go and quickly see what I make in a variety of media, and new works are posted often.

Will you like it?


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

After all the Bits; The Complete Painting

 Saint Francis and the Cranky Birds. Acrylic on door panel, approx. 11" x 44". Private collection.
Have used portions of this painting in previous posts. There's a close-up of his face at
Since I'm still working on a couple of large paintings, I have nothing newly complete to post. Hence, a short entry.

Everyone always told me that acrylics are easier than watercolors, but I didn't listen.  Despised acrylics back in high school--they were gooey and stretchy, way too transparent, and they stunk.  But Ruth Fiege got me working with matte acrylics a few years back.  It was a good surprise.  They must have improved since the dawn of plastics. These acrylics don't stretch like snot, they are nicely opaque, and the smell is very mild. 
And obviously, from this sketch, a painter can change things up quite a bit from the initial idea. Now St. Francis doesn't look like he's wearing a bowler hat.

The things I learn if I listen.  Thanks, Ruth! 
Btw, check out and follow her eclectic and informative blog--you won't be sorry.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I Hate Labels and Rules in Art

 Saint Francis and the Cranky Birds (detail), acrylic on door panel, 11" x 43".
I love black in artworks, and black outline has always figured strongly in my work. Thinking about it, there are so many reasons why I love it; coloring books were a favorite of mine as a kid, as well as all the old cartoons of the 1930's that hit television in the 60's. But as a young artist, I used to be very self-conscious about loving it and using it.
I hate labels in art.
I remember a teacher once dismissing an  ink-outlined watercolor as "just a tinted drawing". What?!? That one's still stuck in my craw.

 Clock Tower in Springtime (detail), acrylic on paper, (9' x 12").
When I did this work a few years back, I was not thinking of any particular artist, but looking at it now, I can see the influence of Van Gogh. But the artist who came to mind first when I was thinking about this post was Millet, whose works I love beyond any of the fine artists (ugh--there's a label!) of the past.

 Shepherdess Knitting, outside the Village of Barbizon. J.F. Millet. Pastel over black conte crayon.
Look at that beautiful black, overlaid with color. No, I'm not saying it is a coloring book or a cartoon--it's just beautiful, and it doesn't need any kind of label!

And I hate rules in art.  
 I remember a teacher once telling the class that "an artist should never use black." That stuck in my craw too, and it rankles me still.  It is amazing to me that, even after the art upheavals of the late 19th century, people still want to make rules for other artists. And I hear/read 'em all the time, and I'm sure you do too. Labels and rules make teaching and comprehending art easier, and I know I'm guilty of  same--I taught too long not to have made mistakes. But I wish I hadn't made them, and I'm sorry I did!

House with a Well at Gruchy. J. F. Millet. Pastel over black conte crayon heightened with pen and ink.

I'm painting what I want now, but I know that all the labels and "art rules" I heard as a student, and still hear in conversations, have affected my artwork, and my appreciation of other's work. And that makes me mad--because I wonder how many artists out there struggle with those ignorant, judgmental, Ruling Voices that do nothing but add stress to an already difficult-enough profession.

Oh well, enough, already.
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Variations: Art Expressing Music

 I am excited to have a clutch of my artworks chosen for the upcoming Variations: Art Expressing Music show at the Maude Kerns Art Center in Eugene Oregon.  Their site:
These five pics are details of the works--a pretty mixed cross-section of the works I make. The one above is acrylic on canvas, and it's 4" x 12". 
If you are interested, I've linked my previous posts about each, where you can view the whole work.

 This one is a mixed media collage, also 4" x 12", on canvas.

 Saint Cecilia is acrylic on wood panel, 6" x 12". Private collection.

 This little blue horn tooter is a 7" x 5" acrylic on canvas. Private collection.

A detail from a 12" x 30" acrylic on canvas.

I don't paint what I don't enjoy painting anymore, and while I love painting saints, having my odder works chosen as well really made my day.

Thanks for checkin' this out!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Random Sketches and Thoughts

A sketch from a memory of my teaching days. Believe it or not, when I think of a typical student pose, this comes to mind. I'd look out over the classroom after giving a demo, and most of the kids were concentrating like this--they were funny and great characters!
The other night someone asked me if I missed teaching. Not a simple answer to be had but:
I downright miss the students, and their constant activity, and their goofy conversations. I miss teaching them new drawing techniques and learning even more from them--they were amazing instructors who taught me a lot and pushed me to consider art ideas of which I'd never thought.  (I miss their music recommendations, too.)
It was the Best Career, inextricable from my artwork, and I'm lucky to have had that opportunity.

 When I think in my sketchbook with a pencil, these are often the kinds of drawings that happen. Thinking with pen or marker produces a very different result. Not sure I could count the times I did this sort of seated figure as a foreshortening demo for students.

I love music and musicians and making up strange costumes. This little guy is on his way to becoming a painting. At this stage I'm having uninterrupted time to sketch and paint, and that was definitely not part of my life as a teacher.
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