Thursday, July 19, 2007


Here's a drawing/study that I did of Leon, my best friend, a few months ago. It's not EXACTLY what I want, but a good reference. I think I'll probably do it again. He's a happy dog today because he got a shower and a bone. For those of you who don't know Leon's story, and want to, here's the gist:

Leon showed up during our first year living in France. He was abandoned or lost and almost a year old. He smelled too nice to have been gone for long in the wild. For about five seconds he hesitated to come see me, but when he saw I had steak on the way back from the grocery store, he didn't wait long. Leon has had abandonment problems ever since, severe separation anxiety. It didn't help we were going back and forth to the States every three months and leaving him with someone. But he wasn't unhappy, he got walks and had a fine life in the countryside.

Four years ago we came to Holland and that was a major change! No more country. The lake turned into a big sea where you couldn't see the other side and there were dogs everywhere! Along with Leon's S.A. he was also an alpha male and very dominant. We spent the first two years here together working on his behavior (and by we, I mean Me and Leon). It was tough going but with irresistible treats, time, repetition, and patience on both sides we managed to change an aggressive dog into a friendly dog, not to mention better behaved (more or less).

There's still the S.A. A bit better now, I can leave him to go see the neighbor for about 45 minutes, though sometimes not. He's only barking now, not howling as if he lost his best friend (which according to him he does every time) and no more tearing things apart and complete panic. Not bad for a thirteen year old. He goes every day with me to the studio and is disappointed if we don't go. He's there to make sure I don't take myself too seriously and to remind me that I am loved. Someone told me that an animal in the studio is a bad thing for painting karma, but I find it just the opposite. His constant presence is a gift to me. Ok, sometimes I'd like my freedom, but I've come to rely on his companionship almost as much as he relies on mine. This sketch is the beginning of what I hope to be a series of drawings and/or paintings of my buddy. More to come!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Inspiration: Sha Sha Higby

A good friend of mine has asked me who inspired me, so I thought it would be fun to explore this, being that I have a wide range of interests that make my imagination spark. I do wish I knew how to put their images here, but for lack of that, I will put links to their sites/work.

Just off the top of my head comes Sha Sha Higby.
She makes the most amazing life size and larger sculptures/puppets which she uses in performance art and dance. Her pieces are multi-media and nearly impossible to describe, using paper and gold leaf with ceramic masks. Definitely worth a look. Check out her Movies section to get a glimpse of what she does. I was fortunate enough to see her work, though not her performance in Washington D.C. several years back. If I could be reborn as another artist, it would be her. The child in me who has always loved marionettes is absolutely awed into silence and wonder at the sight of her work. It is magical. Her masks are split in the middle revealing more inside and within the "being" she creates are other entities. It all seems so fragile, like gossamer wings of a strange undiscovered insect life morphed with human, like "The Fly" but much more beautiful. There's almost too much information there, but instead of being overwhelming, it makes you want to look closer and see what makes it tick. That these sculptures can be worn and move is even more amazing and she brings them to life in an eerie, surreal dance of sorts, combined with music of the same tone that makes you feel that you are witnessing a chrysalis. To experience an actual performance must be something beyond supernatural. That's just one of the many artist to whom I am thankful for the inspiration.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Art is a language. From now on when I tell people what language I speak, I will respond "Artspeak". Thinking about Gombrich's point about how each of us has images that words conjure up. I can say chair and you might see a different chair from me. When I teach and when I paint, I attempt to turn off that part of the brain that names. It gets in the way. If I say chair, I am no longer looking at the chair in front of me, but "chairness" as I know it. But if I forget the word, or rather put it aside, I can see the object in front of me, the shapes, the lines, for what it is. The Egyptians wrote in images and that is what art is, a return to our ancestry. Not necessarily Egyptian, mind you, but something much more primitive.

Words are wonderful and beautiful in what they can express, but they are limited. Limited in a way that my paint colors are limited to describe the colors and values in the visual world. If I show you something though, then I am showing you show much more than what one word can describe. I'm showing you the world as I see it, as I want you to see it, and you see it as you interpret the world around you according to who you are, the schema inside your head and the emotions you attach to the objects you see. So much more information is implied there. When I create a painting I think about, not just the objects, but what I am saying with the objects, what is my story. In fact, I see myself not as a painter, but as a visual storyteller. The story is mine, but it is also yours.

Coming from America, my current painting, that I'm referring to "Chilli" for the moment, has different connotations than perhaps in another country, Mexico for example, though that is perhaps not so different given our rich mix of Mexican community. I grew up with Mexicans in California so I don't start thinking right away of Texas chili, so there is the local interpretation also. Point is, there are multiple layers in what I'm saying, it's not just about the chili, the food, but what it means to you, what it reminds you of, the smells and emotions you connect with it. That's one of the reasons I'm doing this series on food/cooking. First, because it has a connection in my life, I love to cook.

Food is a big part of my life, not less so for having married a Frenchman. Living in France made me realize even more the connections we make with food, and with one another through food. It is yet another creative process and in a way I'm attempting to marry the two, painting and cooking. In fact, I've become a better cook since I became a painter. Something about the process of intuition and putting things together. Before, I was completely ruled by my recipe books. Little by little, I changed recipes and now I just look at stuff, and think about how it will taste together and the colors mix.

Cooking with a Moroccan friend, I learned a different way of combining tastes and that influences my food. Now cinnamon, nutmeg, and curry play together in my chicken dishes, as well as others. Her language has become mixed up in my language of food. Maybe that's where we've gone wrong, in trying to understand each other, different cultures, different beliefs, we've all defined it into words that, instead of being diplomatic, become weapons. Perhaps we've identified the wrong tools of mass destruction. But then, tools are weapons only depending on the wielder of them. I can use a hammer to hit a nail or I can use it to destroy an object. Images are the same. Will we ever understand one another? I suppose nothing is simple for us humans. In the meantime I go on speaking a language that I am also learning, hoping that I am telling you something, a secret, a feeling, a taste, a place. Let's meet on the canvas in the world without words.

Friday, July 06, 2007

First Light

Here I am, bright and early! It's 5 am, first light is bringing out the grey outlines of red brick buildings, making them a grey-blue brown. This is a special moment for me always, when nature begins to waken while many are still toasty in their beds. Gives me a feeling of new beginnings, peace, hope and a sense of wonder.

Early morning memory: I'm six. Picture wide-eyed golden blond-turning brown and sun-kissed. Ok, my eyes aren't so wide at this moment because it's early... and I'm wearing a heavy cotton night gown. Probably one of the red, green, and white ones that we got every Christmas, only it's Spring. I'm in this magical farm house that has a stairway to nowhere if you open the closet door. Looking out the window, everything is covered in dew, the grass is a grey-green, the barn in front that same grey-blue brown, only a bit more reddish, I think. There is the goat house on my left, light-grey in this light because it's white. Definitely I'm not quite awake, and a bit afraid because I've woken up in a strange place after being in my own bed the nite before. My stomach does a few flip flops. I must hurry because the day has begun for my uncle who has begun his chores, which we will accompany him in today. But just for a few seconds, I have this moment, while my sister is not quite awake in bed, looking out the window at a new beginning, the unknown, and the experience is thrilling in calm way, like a slow gathering hummmm....

This is the moment I like to begin painting in. I wake early in the morning and rush to the studio, just to keep this feeling. The world is a bit more awake by the time I get there, but not yet in its full speed. I think of moms packing lunches in brown bags and kids sleepily forcing their limbs to dress, brush teeth and grab school bags. Actually, this is just background music. Things are still fairly quiet and I don't yet have to plug in my music box. I can spend a few moments contemplating the previous days work, seeing what needs improving, what needs developing, feeling my space take me in, recognize me and envelope my spirit. It's been waiting and it enlarges me. The first stroke, no, the idea of the first stroke, is intimidating. Once there though, time is erased and there is only seeing and unfolding what I see on the canvas. This is why I come to the studio. This is why I get up early. This is why I breathe, breathe in this moment, as morning light spills out touching everything, bringing color, definition, life, a resurrection of all that was lost in slumber in the night. Begin.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Morning Song

It's been raining non-stop here. Summer storms mixed with constant rain, and just a peek of sun at times. Nonetheless, at 4 am, with the first light you hear the blackbird joyfully singing away. No complaining about spending the night out in the cold and wet, but a "here comes the new day" cheerfulness. One could learn a lot from the blackbird.

Here's what I wonder, why don't they pick more cheerful art in hospitals? Maybe it's the lighting, I'm sure that has something to do with it, and the overall decor. Ok, I know, it's a Hospital, but, couldn't there be some sort of community group who pushes for funds to make it a happy place to be? But then, you'd have to define happy and please everyone's tastes... I guess it's too hard. There is artwork in the local hospital here, most of blending in with the walls. While you wait, you have magazines to flip through or you can stare at the walls. Suddenly you notice, hey there's something on the walls. Oh yeah, art. And it would be nice to have a sort of explanation. Who's art, maybe educate people as to the kind of art. Or are people just mostly took sick or wrapped up in themselves to enjoy it? Well, maybe I'll see what the exhibit schedule is there and see if I can arrange something sometime. I know that in DC there's a great program with art at the Children's Hospital. My dear friend, Ron Paul, was working there when he passed on. Of course, there's the monetary angle, who's going to administer such a thing, etc. Deserves looking into.

That's the thing, trying to combine all my ideas and get my work done too. I'd like somehow to marry this idea of community and art with my own personal painting goals. Might not be this year though, as I've still much to learn and produce! In the meantime, I'm rolling this thought around in my brain, art as healing, art as a medium for health in society.

Here's a a really great site I just found that has some of the same thoughts:

and here's another one I keep having the intention to do something with:

and, while I'm at it, I don't want to forget someone who is outstanding in her efforts of combining art and community:

So it's out there, opportunity to get involved, heal, help with art! It does take time and it does take effort. I'm the first to say I'm guilty of not taking either one. But it's on my back burner and I hope I can get it to the front soon! It's all in tune with a philosophy of community and helping each other and we all have something to give. Even if it's just a simple song at first light.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Free Admission

Good morning! So nice to have this way to wake up. Not a coffee drinker, or tea for that matter, so a little grapefruit juice and I begin to verbalize, slowly... Yet another rainy day here in the Lower Countries, but it's ok for grisaille. Actually, that's one of the reasons I'm working this way. You only really need good sunlight when you add the color! Of course it is good to have light to check out the values.

It has occurred to me to explain to you all a bit of what I'm doing. About a year and a half ago I began learning painting with a friend. If you read the archives here you can see a bit of history there. I'd done a bit of oil painting in college with a good teacher, but didn't pursue it as I got into textiles. I did enjoy it but I think the truth is that I didn't want to work that hard! I was putting myself through school with a full time job and just barely making it. No regrets though, because the textiles took me on a wonderful journey and in the end I was working hard because I loved it anyway.

When I got here to the Netherlands, I started drawing more and more. Mostly it was to improve my textiles but it took on a life of its own. But there came a certain point where I knew I needed help and had to set aside ego and go get it. I've been a self-educator for a long time and still believe strongly in that and continue to read like mad to learn, but sometimes it is just better to see what someone else can show you and cut a few roads to the main one you want to go down.

Long story, but I decided oil painting was a good idea. Part of it was also because I could see that it was more marketable than textiles. But that is something I've let go of now. Money should never be mixed with the idea making good art. If you have to live on it, ok, that's another kettle of fish and you should think of the best way to do it well and be prosperous, but if you can, don't think about the money while you're making it. Think about beauty, think about fun, think about making art, but think about the money and marketing after. Well, it's my mantra, it doesn't have to be yours.

Back to the story. So I began learning the basics all over again. I've been teaching art for a while so I figured I had that down, but no. Realist painting really won't forgive anything halfway. Sure I knew one point and two point perspective on an elementary level, but that wasn't, isn't, enough. I'm still wrapping my head around that. And value and hue and chroma...all of it. It's quite a challenge. The biggest difficulty for me though was to let go of this tendency to get involved in detail. My friend calls it "looking only partly". I get so fascinated by the small intricacies of each object that I forget to look at the whole picture. This, I think, is finally starting to sink in. It took so long because, well, I'm stubborn. I have my ways and, I suppose because I'm older, am a bit stuck in them. Not that I wasn't always so. It's ironic because I see myself as very open, and yet when it comes to changing habits, it is a struggle.

The best part of learning painting is how it has helped me to view life. One, not looking partly. Looking at the whole picture. I know of a few, more than a few, politicians who could benefit from learning this one rule. Also, that you just can't force life. Creativity, life, has it's own speed, it's own path, and jumping ahead only means you have to eventually backtrack or lose your way. (Though sometimes losing your way is one way to find it.) Best of all about painting is that I'm always learning and know I will keep on learning with this medium for the rest of my life. What a wonderful challenge, exercise, meditation. Painting is a key and I'm using it to unlock all the doors and secret chambers that lie hidden in my mind and in my world. I'm planning on leaving them unlocked, so feel free to drop in for a visit. Admission is free.