Dec 29, 2010


The holidays are mostly over, I just turned 37, my apartment is complete enough to ignore all ensuing tasks for several weeks if necessary and it's time to make paper. I have two batches of pulp waiting for me at home. I made them a week ago and have been stymied by my desire to make book pages that go together. All my practice at making pages that don't necessarily make sense and somehow I have fallen into my old habits. Well, it would be nice to finally make a whole book. The photo above is a collection of sketches I made after I made the pulp, thinking I wanted to use the Before Coffee poem that I just painted. I felt like there was some promising illustrations brewing there but I couldn't figure out how to be spontaneous with the actually making of pages if I had illustrations all planned out.

Yesterday I went for a long walk in the forest which reminded me of how I most like to live and make art. So today when I sat down to work I went with my first impulse: tracing paper, pencil, and writing about the moments from the walk that were still fresh in my mind. Next impulse: type it up and edit out the fluff. Then it was time to get ready for work but I feel a book beginning to form within me. And I feel like all I have to do is keep following my next impulses. We'll see how it goes.

Birthdays are always a really good time to take stock of ones progress in life and get really uptight or depressed. I had a brief moment yesterday when I thought something was terribly wrong for the fact that I am not redecorating a home I've owned for many years and watching children I reared graduate from college. Then I went into something like Tortilla Flat consciousness. It's a story by John Steinbeck and I read it so long ago I can't tell you anything meaningful about the plot or the characters. But it was the first time my mind opened to the fact that ambitions and success, and not even health or intelligence are what make us happy. Being with life as it is in the moment is the real joy. Of course, in the novel the characters used a destructive amount of alcohol to achieve their bliss, but it left a lasting impression on me that has not translated into such abuses. Instead it just promotes this intense endearment in me toward all my past failures, poor decisions, and lack of worldly ambitions. Then I can appreciate my life as it is without needing to pretend like it is some act of transcendence that I should live so simply.

Dec 21, 2010

Before They've had Coffee.

A woman walking. 
The forest is dark.  
No one has thought the trees 
into existence yet, 
so the woman slips between 
their naked spirits.

Of course the first thing I do upon settling into my tiny apartment is begin a large painting, 30'' x 22''.  But I had several things going and it all works, and is so much fun. Who knew being organized would be so fun? It is distracting having my life and art take place in the same room. It is easy to get side-tracked by the claw foot tub. It is also easy to get sidetracked by the unfinished painting and let the noodles overcook.

This is another one of those paintings that makes me feel like I am finally beginning to make the work I want to make. For as often as I feel that way you'd think I'd be deep into this work, but it runs from me as I chase it. Always the task seems to be presence. If I am present with myself and the materials and let go of ideas, painting is satisfying. All of life seems to be that way and somehow I come up with more and more excuses to think and fret. Oh well. Here's the under painting:

Dec 20, 2010

Getting Settled

The moving-in process is one that grows exponentially. The small space leaves little room to hide from boxes and piles and paintings leaning against the wall waiting to be hung. And I've had to start my kitchen over from scratch which requires constant trips to the thrift store for the occasional find of a necessary tool in good shape. Of course I'm also adjusting to a much longer commute to work, an hour on the bus instead of a 20 minute walk. Aside from taking full advantage of the claw foot tub, I have had precious little down-time. 

The time I have spent painting is reassuring, I really like my new space: lots of light and the parking lot outside, rather than being a drab feature, lends an active energy. This is not a place to hole up and gaze at my own navel with existential questions, but a place to participate in life. 

At some point in my apartment search I realized that I wasn't looking for particular features as much as I was looking for good energy. Apartments that don't have any place for energy to linger were easy to dismiss because I felt so unsettled in them. Ones with stagnant energy were challenging because they felt really good to be in since I am sort of cat-like and gravitate to stagnant chi. But I always had some reservation that made me hesitate to apply. 

The one I chose felt totally neutral. My brain had a few reservations but the rest of me wanted to apply for it very badly. I was hoping for the decision to come obviously from my heart and I was afraid that my eagerness was just impatience. My heart however, was quiet so I had to go on my best guess. I had to decide if I wanted to hold out for the possibility of something better, or follow the energy in me that was trying to say, Now...this is a perfectly good place for you to live your life, you don't need to manifest some dream apartment on a shoe string budget. Well, who could resist such down-to-earth advice? Though, I think I am manifesting a dream apartment, it's just different than I had imagined, probably better, too. 

These photos are close-ups of a window shade I made out of my handmade papers. Individually they look kind of like paintings, mmm....

Dec 13, 2010


Today I am not an artist, mystic or trying to achieve some special feeling. I am alone on the gravely beach in the snow. I am a wreck by the world's standards. Everyone could decide they hate me, that I have a social form of leprosy. My heart would break several times a day but I could still come here and sit.

I have spent the last week moving. Quite a chore, but I really like my new place. It is the smallest apartment I have ever lived in, about 320 square feet. It is well laid out so I was able to set up a cozy living space with a nice table to work on and even a place to make paper in the bathroom. I used to think that I needed a separate studio to work in but now I am content with a system called putting things away. Many artists, at least young ones, do not like to clean-up or put their tools away, they want to be messy and "spontaneous." For some people this truly is a part of their nature, but for some of us it is just laziness. I find that cleaning up and putting away is a good meditative time to keep my work grounded in reality. It is sort of like paying respects to the endeavor.

I came across some old work in the process of moving. This is an ink painting I did while visiting Eld inlet everyday. It is rough but I love it.

Dec 4, 2010

The ground hardened into winter. She walked under the melting sky.

This did not turn out anything like I was imagining, but I like that the unpredictableness of watercolor over acrylic and handmade paper makes things feel earthy. It seems to have the some rusty quality of trees in mossy, wet northwest.

Dec 1, 2010

Each Tree

Each tree, its own asymmetrical song of time.

I've decided to embrace redundancy. It is a totally normal thing for artists to do variations on a theme for whole series and even entire careers. Somewhere I got the idea that every piece I made had to say something different and look very different than my other pieces. Of course then I worried about whether or not there was any cohesive voice to my work. Now I'm going to be content making art about trees and talking about how beautiful they are with little variation. I have already overused the word soft in my writing...why not make it a motif?

Nov 27, 2010


 I do not enter any magnificence only the cadence of rain and the darkness of the gull.

She dove from the power line straight to the ground again and again while the geese flew south.

I have entered the land of I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-doing. It is terrifying, will I ever make another piece of art I can call good again? It is also lovely...forging into the unknown for the stories my heart wants to tell, letting go of the need to make sense and create something that demonstrates my ability to be artistically professional. I have often visited the places I want to go with art, but now I want to live there and stop trying to keep one foot in the realm of acceptable.

Nov 23, 2010


I trace the horizon across the sky and realize I only need to know myself the way an oak tree knows itself. Our branches stretch out in their own patterns, regardless.

Nov 19, 2010


I've been doing a lot of experiments with different mediums lately. Uncharacteristically, I have not been paying much attention to the content of my pieces, I'm just working off-the cuff to get things done. It's helpful to learn quickly but I don't feel attached to any of the pages. Normally I am quite fond of even the most ridiculous experiment. These two are my favorite.

Of course I've also been very distracted lately looking for an apartment. As much as I love the companionship of my housemates, and their gorgeous woodsy neighborhood, I have reckoned with the fact that I am not in my natural environment. Their home is a beautiful rambling house, full of beautiful furnishings, perched on a beautiful hill away from town. Just looking at tiny apartments in my old neighborhood has given me an incredible sense of peace. Being a home-body makes me long for my own sense of order, and being an artist makes me long for more solitude. I tell myself the apartment search is a necessary diversion; when I finally get settled, I can go even deeper into my art. I can't help but notice however, that there are always things that need to be done that distract us. I'm trying to find the middle ground, to accept that I'll have less time for a while, but to make a greater effort to really settle in while I am working.

Nov 12, 2010

Piper's Song

 There was so little to hang on to

 but the stars were there every night,

 she never got over the beauty of rough bark holding the sky,

 and the trees rarely fell.

It was as if her life was a love song between heaven and earth.

Nov 9, 2010

Something I have been trying to learn for many years now is that the best thing to do when I don't know how to do what I want, is to do anything at all even slightly related. I have been wanting to make books lately and as usual I feel overwhelmed by how to combine words and images in a way that will track over several pages. I thought I was on the verge of figuring this out lately and made some promising projects but somehow I find myself at a total loss again. I figured the best thing to do was to start making pages without needing them to go together or make sense. In fact, only a couple have words on them and you can't even see them on the green piece. I'm using Piper Tupelo as a character. She is a young woman who was raised by trees and is trying to figure out how to relate to people.

The under-paintings:

Nov 7, 2010


Experiments...these are pencil, ink, gouache, and acrylic on handmade paper.

Autumn Fog

Nov 3, 2010

Oct 30, 2010

Oct 28, 2010

Shadows of Leaves

This is an experiment I did painting in watercolor and gouache over acrylic on handmade paper. I’ve always been more at home using water media that oils but the first time I painted in oil I felt like I had arrived home. The vibrant colors and smooth blending made me feel like I was creating much more substantial, expressive pieces. Previously I was mystified as to why I was in art school at all. I hated drawing from life, painting in acrylics, and I really didn’t see my self as a watercolorist. Oils seemed to put everything in perspective. Acrylic isn’t really paint, I decided…it’s anti-paint. Drawing from life is not an end in itself, it is just a way to collect information for oil-paintings. 

Since then I have had to admit that I don’t like using oils as much as watercolor, I just like the effect. This was an experiment to see if I could bridge the gap between the qualities I love about various media. I used anti-paint to make a more vibrant, textural drawing and then I used watercolor and gouache to make a real painting over the top. Of course the handmade paper also seems very promising to me, partly because I love any excuse to make paper and partly it makes me feel like I am creating an artifact or story more than I am transposing a picture onto a wall-ready surface.

Oct 22, 2010

Oxygen and Iron

Autumn has turned grey and every live thing goes soft. Each branch, each particle of air feels to be rusting and in my heart oxygen and iron carry more weight than gold. The tiny birds flit from one branch to another. The clouds cover us.

Oct 5, 2010

Showing Work

As I have mentioned, the transition from making art at school to making art out in the world can be challenging. There were always at least two shows a year through school that I could participate in and I was starting to miss showing my work. I didn’t want to submit to galleries though, until I felt I had a strong portfolio of pieces I had finished on my own, post-graduation. I liked the idea of showing in alternate spaces like coffee shops, but I hadn’t made an effort yet and was concerned that I was just avoiding the risk of rejection. Then a co-worker mentioned that OmBase yoga studio in Hillsdale had an artist wall. I looked it up on their web-site and was suddenly motivated to send in a submission.

It was a relief to know that my motivation was still intact. I used to do a lot of yoga and knew that the community has similar values as I do. Just knowing that made the opportunity feel more worthwhile and approachable than other venues.

I showed my work there last month and it was a delightful experience. The owners of the studio are really supportive, genuine people, and I received some wonderful feedback on my art. I also learned some of the things I need to do to be more prepared next time. In school I learned all about making portfolios, business cards, etc. But there is nothing like actually submitting work and encountering the need for those things to drive the lessons home.

I didn’t sell any of the pieces but that wasn’t so much the point. Ultimately I do want to sell work. I know some artists can get very attached to their work, but the more I like a piece, the more I want to have it out in the world. For my first show, I was happy just to get my work out in public and learn about the process. I'm sure that I will grow a lot when I take the risk to submit work to venues I know less about, but it was nice to learn that sometimes the comfortable path is easy because its the one I belong on.

Oct 1, 2010

Sep 27, 2010

Page One

Here is page one of the story I am painting. It doesn't look anything like the watercolor contemplations that served as inspiration but it does look like the kind of art I first set out to make when I went back to school. I like the way it looks but am wondering if it should be more legible since it is a story.

The rain is heavy this morning, warm and sensuous on my skin, each drop plummeting into mud. The sky is dark, an eerie blue, the deep brown tides swallows a turbulent creek.

Certainly not a traditional story, more like a haiku story which is, of course, an oxymoron.Here's the under painting:

Sep 24, 2010

Rembering to Listen

One thing I've noticed about cultivating any kind of personal or spiritual growth is that its really easy to ride to crazy places on any improvements. I get really quiet and content with the as-is and it feels so good I am inspired to get involved in new and exciting things and forget to practice being quiet and content with the as-is. It's not really a problem, but it was good to spend a moment making some ink and watercolor meditations the other day. This one I did on handmade paper that I gessoed in the middle. I feel a little sad when I gesso an entire piece of handmade paper because then you can't see the paper anymore.Painting with watercolor on the gesso was strange but I liked it. The piece feels a little too faux-Japanese-calligraphy to me, but Sumi ink can do that to the best of us.

Sep 21, 2010


This is another attempt to make book pages in the style of my watercolor meditations. The words were a few of many interrupting my dot meditation on the right. I weeded them out from the normal nature poems I have going on just to do something different. I've started another as an actually story that will have several pages and I'm pretty excited about it. It's painted with oil on gessoed handmade paper. I love to look of it, especially the edges but I have to be much more aware of the surface as I work than I do when I paint on wood. 

I liked changing the painting from my original vision as I went. Many of my favorite artists work without any idea of what they are going to paint (Squeak Carnwath, Jo Ann Mace, Shannon Richardson) They all have different techniques but what I admire is how they respond to the painting as it develops. Occasionally I get glimpses of what it is like to be  totally responsive with a painting and I love it. I don’t think wanting to work with a set story or poem has to mean having a plan but I haven’t quite figured out how to get the same spontaneity with words involved. Luckily, I can experiment all I want. 
A couple of my co workers are really inspired by the story of George Clooney. Apparently he had many rejections before landing any work as an actor. This didn’t phase him at all because he was enjoying the rest of his life so much. My co workers were inspired to revamp the old What would Jesus do? to be What would Clooney do? As useful as that is to me while I work to develop my art I have found it even more useful to ask myself, What would I do if I weren’t uptight? I have not mastered this but it is making my life and art much more enjoyable.

Sep 19, 2010

Trees Before Rain

I can't seem to decide if I should make the hillside more yellow or not. Either way I like this painting. I decided to do a landscape without any text because I thought the words were distracting me from getting to know trees as much as I'd really like to. I have to admit when I first finished the painting I was a little appalled at how soft and beautiful it is, I thought I had totally lost my edge and would deteriorate into an artist painting things only to match people's couches. Well, that's just ridiculous. I have become a softer person, of course my paintings would follow suit. And there is no possibility that I will ever get a grasp on the latest trend in couch colors, so I think I'm safe.

Sep 15, 2010


Since I been listening more attentively to my heart I've noticed that I am living my dreams more than I am striving to attain them. Previously I thought I needed to be a more ambitious person, to really assert myself to make my dreams happen out in the world. It was exhausting and a roller coaster of exhilarating successes and depressing failures. When I stay focused in my heart though, I realize that my dream of being an artist isn't about showing in a gallery or seeing my work on coffee cups in Target as much as it is about experiencing the beauty of life deeply and creatively. Well, that's already happening and has been for a long time. I feel really lucky that I have the chance to pull inside and actually enjoy my dream unfolding instead of missing it entirely while I impatiently try to drag it out of myself into the world. I still have material concerns to address about finding or creating the sort of work that will support my art more fully. But those will always exist no matter how much worldly success I encounter. It's simply our nature to always improve and refine our lives. I feel though, that if I stay focused on my heart and its deeper dreams, that I will find a more natural and fulfilling way to address the surface complaints.

This painting is one I started a year ago, I got stuck with it and just couldn't figure out what to do. Usually no matter how lost I am in a painting, there is always one thing I know I need to change. I change it and it frees me up to see the next thing I need to do, so I can avoid getting stymied. But sometimes I get attached to passages in a painting that don't work with the whole thing and then I get stuck. One nice thing about it in this instance is that, after a year, I figured it didn't really matter if I ruined the painting or not so I felt free to be really spontaneous. I really like how it turned out, though it doesn't seem to photograph well. Photographs really flatten space, but since my painting is already flat I find it weird that the space in the painting has been flattened by the photo.

Sep 13, 2010

From the Archive of my Youth

Strange and wonderful things are happening to me lately. It is as if there is a gnome inside my head who suddenly woke up and decided it was time to clear the place out. I feel like I can focus more, and be disciplined with my time without being inhumanely ambitious. 

I also feel a complete loss of mystique about being an artist. This is wonderful. I don’t feel like I have to be on the edge to be legit and I don’t feel like a pipe dreamer for wanting to make a living at it. It seems perfectly natural now that I should want my livelihood to come from the things that I do well and enjoy. Everyone should have that. I used to think it was a choice to be an artist, that I had romanticized it and was looking for fame and escape from responsibility more than a legitimate field of work. I do alright at my current jobs, but I don’t use up the entirety of my soul while I’m there.

Another lovely realization is how much I love to write and how much  I have to say. I think I finally sense how I can talk about issues that are important to me without feeling like I am being overly righteous or afraid of sharing too much personal information in the wrong place.

I have suddenly come to terms with my 20s, too. For the last few years I’ve really been struggling to accept the choices I made during that time. I seem to think I should have been developing worldly skills, advancing in a career, saving money, finding a mate (or at least having a constant string of amorous lovers.) After I made the commitment to go back to school and follow my passions I felt really disheartened that I had so little in the way of resources to get by with. Now, I look back at my 20s and see what an interesting and rich time it was. I was a nut! I spent my time hiking in the parks, painting enormous paintings in my tiny apartment, writing poems and reading at poetry open-mics, having occasional and ridiculous romances, waking up every morning to do yoga and meditate. What is so wrong with all that? Sure I was lonely and miserable a lot of the time, but I was always trying to find happiness and connection, what more could I ask of myself?

The paintings in this post are all ones I made in during my fateful 20s. They are mostly 3-4 feet wide and 3-5 feet long, tempera on banner paper. I like the idea of posting more of my old work to appreciate how I spent my time during that decade, to see it as the precursor to the work I'm doing now rather than a waste of time.