• Once Upon A Time...

    Back in September 2014 I wrote here about beginning some figurative paintings for Tacoma General Hospital. They're finished and will be delivered this month. What I am really happy about in these paintings is the success I had in controlling the reveal of the narrative. That's art-speak for how quickly the story in the painting is told. I'll explain...

    Before I began, I visited the location where the paintings will be hung. It's a waiting room in the birth center. There were families there, waiting for news about their sister, daughter, best friend...talking about her pregnancy, challenges that might await her, etc. Some folks were asleep in the chairs. The wait can be long.

    When you look at these paintings, you first see color and pattern, and they have a sort of retro, comfortable feeling. In contrast to the sleek, clean environment of the hospital, they feel worn and familiar. The surface is scratched and abraded. You'll see figures, but not all at once. This is what I mean by conrolling the reveal, or the pace, of the story in the painting. You might notice a figure you didn't see at first, or maybe a dog. The story unfolds only if you take the time to allow it. My viewers will have some time to spare. The stories told are life affirming, about family, and about those simple moments we remember together.

    For me, I just enjoyed switching gears as I painted - approaching the paintings as a storyteller, and then as an artist. I would turn the panel upside down, and work on the abstract design, the color and texture, then I would turn it right side up and make decisions about the figures. Then I would forget that they are figures, and just think of them as shapes, and on and on. I'm having too much fun! I feel so fortunate to be paid for what I LOVE doing. I hope that joy comes through, and brightens up a moment or two for someone feeling unsure about the future.

    (clay models used for figure reference)

  • The Love of Making Art

    Kyle Staver was a visiting artist during my residency at Vermont Studio Center. We had a long talk in my studio there, about art-making. She told me that an artist should engage with her painting in the same way she makes love - fully present and open. Kyle is a charming woman with an irreverent sense of humor and I can still see her standing there telling me to make love with my work. The conversation devolved into a discussion about less than stunning sex partners and we laughed a lot.

    At the time, I didn’t fully grasp what Kyle was telling me - I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant regarding my work. But since then I have caught myself in the act of painting with my head somewhere else. I have also found myself calling a painting done, when I didn’t love it. There have been times when I have settled because I didn’t want to risk destroying parts of a painting I liked. Other times when I just wanted a finished product and had lowered my standards. And still other times when I didn’t have the answers to what was needed, so I just accepted it as it was.

    The only way I will ever embrace my fullest potential as an artist, is to stop settling and accept nothing less than excellence. More passion, less comfort. More risk, less knowing. More engagement, less quitting. Not everything needs to have this kind of attention in my life…I am not a perfectionist when it comes to housecleaning, or even personal hygiene! (Have you seen my fingernails?) But I won’t settle for mediocre in my art. It is my gift to the world, and it’s really all I have of any value, so I’m sure as hell not going to settle for anything less than my best and fullest attention.

    Recently, I finished a painting. It was okay. I didn’t love it. But I accepted it. For some reason, I let it go, even though there was something nagging me about it. I varnished it, waxed it, had it shot by a professional photographer, and included it in a book of my best work. My mentor, Nick Wilton, suggested that I use it on the cover of the book because of it's eyecatching darks and lights. That’s when it hit me…this is not my best.

    So the wax varnish had to be removed, the surface sanded, and back in I went. I let myself get lost in the work. I became so fully present that I was absent - like a clear channel with no interference. I love it now. I’ll varnish it again, wax it again, shoot it again, and re-publish my book. And it will bring me joy. I think that’s what Kyle meant - care for your painting like you care for a lover. Be completely focused, engaged and mindful. When you are, your performance becomes brilliant, and you won't have that nagging feeling that you could have done better.

  • Thanksgiving

    I’m grateful all year round for the many blessings in my life, but gratitude is the focus at Thanksgiving. So I thought I’d share with you the things I am most thankful for in my studio. If you’re a painter, you may see some things you’ll want to put on your Christmas list!

    First, the anti-fatigue mat I stand on when I paint, by Smart Step. Such a life saver, especially if your studio has a concrete floor!!!

    Excellent quality, cradled, birch panels, delivered to my door at an exceptional price by American Easel, Salem OR. And in the greater Seattle area, you can also check out Matthew Olds, for beautifully crafted panels, installation and other services at Hold Studios.

    Golden Artist Colors are well known, and their product line is amazing. Another thing to love about them is the technical advice at your fingertips through their YouTube videos, and even an expert to call toll free when you’ve really f’d things up (800) 959-6543. But this year I discovered and fell in love with another very high quality paint product that I use almost exclusively now (thank you, Nick Wilton) The paint is so sexy, like thick, heavy cream, and can be used on all kinds of surfaces. They dry to a beautiful matte finish and have unbelievable pigment saturation. These cel-vinyl paints come from Cartoon Colour Company in Culver City, CA. I have to caution you though, their website sucks and makes it very hard to order. Just sayin’.

    And last but not least, Montana Black empty paint pens that I can paint/draw with. Filled with Golden High Flow Acrylics, these are really fun to work with.

    There’s more…that big ‘ol, green shirt I wear all the time, the 13” trowel that paints better than I do, blue shop towels, an amazing group of artist-friends all over the world (you know who you are), and music. I'm not even sure I could paint without music. This is just a short list. I hope yours is even longer.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  • Finding Meaning

    I don't always start an abstract painting by thinking about its meaning. I start with color, pattern, and shapes that I find intriguing. My intention is to explore. I play with the paint and move it around on a smooth wood panel with a variety of tools. Sometimes inspiration comes from music, or a poem, or just a feeling in my heart. Sometimes the feeling changes and I go in another direction.

    The minute the first mark is made, the "conversation" is begun. What I mean by conversation is the back and forth between me and the painting. If brush strokes were words, most of mine would be what if? Curiosity makes for an interesting conversation, where new ground can be explored. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who thinks they know it all...they are not curious, they have all the facts? That can kill a painting in the same way it can kill a conversation because there is no room for discovery.

    Staying curious and willing to experiment means that you are open to possibilities. I think the Zen term for this is "beginner's mind." Of course, beginners make a lot of mistakes. Ah, mistakes...what an interesting word. It suggests a thing that we shouldn't have done, a turn that we shouldn't have taken. I don't think so. In fact, I think mistakes are necessary. 

    They are the stepping stones on the path to success, right? We build on them. We learn from them. In my painting, the wrong turns, or mistakes are what make the finished product interesting. Can you see the layers of shapes and forms that make up a sort of "history" in this image?

    If I knew from the start exactly what I wanted to paint, there would be none of this. No surprises, no discovery. 

    During the process of painting, and sometimes after the work is complete, I can step back and find meaning in the work. I see how shapes or patterns might represent intangible concepts, such as thoughts or emotions. These may mean one thing to me, and yet another to you. There is no right or wrong. Sometimes, there is just a "feeling." When you listen to beautiful music, you don't ask what it means, you just let it wash over you. These paintings only require an open mind - simply enter the painting and see where it takes you. Maybe it doesn't need words...

  • Healing Art

    Over the last two decades, research on how the arts enhance health has increased exponentially, and more and more hospitals are including art in their facilities. The research makes the argument that the effect of beauty is not only on the mind, but on the body as well. As an artist, I love the idea that my work could have a therapuetic effect on someone in pain.

    So I was thrilled when Tacoma General Hospital invited me to propose some site-specific art as part of their expansion and renovation. They are looking for paintings of families  with children and dogs at the park, having fun together.

    They like my older figurative work. However, I have been painting abstractly for the past year. I have learned so much from those abstract works, but as I started working on sketches for figurative pieces, I found myself reverting to an old approach. I would sketch a rough idea, shoot photos for reference, and work from those photos. The problem is that the photo would often dictate too many things and the painting would feel lifeless - realistic, but lifeless. I decided to change my approach and just work from my imagination. I have certainly drawn enough human figures over the years that I don't need a photo to know how they move. 

    So I got out my clay and made my own figures for reference, which is cool because I can look at them from any angle, light them, and create shadows, and they are gestural - not too realistic. This gives me more space for play, and I don't get too cought up in details.

    From these little models, I worked on some rough sketches in a couple different palettes, keeping it loose and remembering the important lessons learned from the abstract compositions.

    They loved my proposal and I will be making four figurative paintings for the hospital. I am fortunate enough to have my paintings included in healthcare facilities such as  Mayo Clinic, Swedish Medical Center, Group Health and Providence Medical Center, and I am honored to add Tacoma General Hospital to that list. It gives me great joy and a sense of purpose to know that my work may have a healing effect on another human being during a time of stress. 

  • Inflorescence

    I have always been inspired by nature, particularly flowers...and I'm not the only one! Many artists work themes of nature, and it's fascinating to see how they uniquely approach a similar subject. Wouldn't it be fun to see a gallery filled with art inspired by the plant world, and showcasing the diversity of several artists? That was the impetus for a group exhibition I am curating at the Kirkland Art Center this fall. Please join me for the opening reception on Friday, September 19th, 6:00 - 8:30 pm.

    "Inflorescence," the name of the exhibition, means a group or cluster of flowers growing from a common stem. Like the architecture of inflorescence, this show will be an arrangement of works growing from a common theme. And the works are stunning. Participating artists are Fred Lisaius, Jean Bradbury, Lisa Conway, Patty HallerLiz Tran, Stephanie Hargrave and yours truly. Here is a peek at the kind of work you'll see. Just click on the image to go to the artist's website...

    In addition, I am thrilled to announce "From Art to Vase," a hands-on floral workshop with Debra Prinzing, on Saturday, October 4th 1:00 - 3:00 pm at KAC. Participants wll take inspiration from the pieces featured in Inflorescence and use the works of art as the starting point for their own creative floral arrangements. Debra will cover the basics of floral arranging, principles and elements of design, color theory and eco-friendly techniques. Each participant will select a specific work of art that informs their floral palette, structure & scale, proportion & form. A wide array of locally grown botanical elements - flowers, buds, berries, branches, grasses, twigs and vines, will be available to work with.

    To register for the "From Art to Vase" workshop, click here.

    For questions about registering, please contact Anna Braden, KAC Exhibitions, by e-mail at abraden@kirklandartscenter.org or by phone at 425.822.7161 ext. 102.

    Debra is the author of several books including Slow Flowers, The 50 Mile Bouquet; Local, Seasonal and Sustainable Flowers, and The Abudant Garden. She is an outdoor living expert  who is a regular guest on radio and television as well as a contributing writer for publications such as Sunset, Country Gardens, Organic Gardening, Alaska Airline Magazine, and Metropolitan Home.

    "Inflorescence" runs from September 20 - November 25th, with an opening reception on Friday, September 19th, 6 - 8:30 pm.

  • The Art of Rejection

    I've been writing a lot lately about vulnerability, authenticity, etc. These are pretty juicy topics, no? Inspiration for these writings usually comes from some intense feeling. So in the spirit of keeping it juicy, I am sharing a few pages from my personal journal...

    "Low Road" acrylic on wood panel 12" x 12"

    "This morning I feel stupid. Why do I enter paintings in juried shows?  I get excited about a new painting, and I want to share it, I guess. I'm happy if it gets accepted and has the opprtunity to go out into the world and be seen. Like a proud mommy, watching my little one go out on her own and interact with others, hoping I've raised her well, and that she will be embraced by her peers. If you are a parent, or even a dog owner, you might know the awful feeling when your little one is not getting along. It feels like a part of YOU isn't being accepted, or embraced. 

    My painting was accepted into an exhibition and I was completely happy, looking forward to the opening and to seeing all the other works as well. I had really forgotten about the dreaded prizes...1st, 2nd, peoples' choice, honorable mention. When I arrived at the opening and remembered the juror would speak and announce awards I got all screwed up in the head thinking about it and it took the enjoyment out of seeing the show. As she spoke about how she looked for the artist who had clearly 'found his/her voice,' and whose work was authentic and unique, I started to think that she meant me! I would be recognized, because she could see how I've poured my heart into this work - the culmination of decades of painting, soul searching, grueling self inventory, education, hard work, inspiration.

    She did not see that. At least not in MY painting. What should have been a lovely evening ended with me pretending to have a good time, while questioning if I will ever have any hope of success in this confusing world of art. Is the painting even any good? Finally, asking myself, what can I learn from this? Could the painting be stronger? Probably. Do I suck as a painter? Of course not...many talented artists have had their best works rejected. Do I need to adjust my thinking? Um, yes?! 

    There are many possible reasons why this juror did not choose my work. Maybe she just wasn't ready for my awesomeness! The Beatles, JK Rowling, Kurt Vonnegut, Sylvia Plath, all were rejected at some point and told they should find a new vocation. I love thinking about Thomas Edison who said he finally succeeded because he had run out of ways to do it wrong.

    So, I guess I'll look at this perceived rejection as more of a 'not right now' message and ask myself what I can do better. Perhaps entering every local show just because it's there isn't my best move. There is a place for me, and my work, and it's my intention to find it, and to be prepared for that 'yes' when it comes - to keep my heart open.

    So if you're an artist, writer, musician, photographer, chef - whatever - you and your work are worthy. There are opportunities and people just waiting for you to show up. There is nothing more hope-dashing and heart breaking than rejection, but the advice I am giving myself is, get over it...move on. Let it go, and let it help you to move in the right direction. Don't let your entire sense of self worth ride on one dismissal, or two, or three, or a hundred. Let yourself be inspired to do your best work, put it in front of the right people, and never, never, never, give up. And remember to put as much (more!) focus on the work you love and your belief in yourself.  

    "To persist in the face of continual rejection requires a deep love of the work itself." ~ Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist

  • Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

    I have written about my experience in the mentorship group with Nick Wilton a couple of times now (see links at bottom) In June, we had a second group retreat at the ranch in San Juan Bautista, CA.

    One of the beautiful things about a group like this is the community we have formed. I want to share some of that with you. It's a beautiful thing to have a group of inspired individuals who stay in touch and want to support you in your work - no matter what your line of work might be. Kerry Shroeder is one of the artists in our group, and here is a post she wrote about our experience. 

    No matter what kind of work you do, this type of support is invaluable. If you are a CEO at the top of a corporation, or business owner, who do you talk to about your worries or decisions? There is no one above you, and you can't really ask for help from your employees. Without an advisory board, or mastermind group, or coach, you're on your own. It's one thing to have goals, but another to have a team gently guiding you when you get off track.

    Anyone can form a group like this, and there is help out there to get started. Jennifer Louden is an author and life coach who offers an online course on forming your own mastermind group. Read about it here. What a great way to stay on track, be held accountable, and feel supported! As far as I can tell, this idea goes back to Andrew Carnegie, and Napoleon Hill, who wrote, "Think and Grow Rich." If you haven't read it, here's a little background. 

    So while the mentorship program has come to a close, it has a built-in sustainability through the relationships formed, and the support we share. I hope if you're feeling alone in some area of your life, you'll consider asking for what you need, and getting that support in place. That's the frst step.

    Just for fun, here are some pics of my posse at our June retreat...

    There was painting time in the studio.

    Time for collaboration. 

    Wonderful meals.

    Long discussions about art.

    Spontaneous dancing on the deck.

    Quiet time.

    And just plain old togetherness.

    Here was my first post about the mentorship program, and this post was about our first retreat as a group.

  • Wedding Commission

    "Marry Me" 48" x 48" acrylic on panel © Susan Melrath

    These days a wedding can be quite a production...needing an event planner, professional photographer, caterer, website. And people who marry once their careers are established often come to the table with two of everything - toasters, blenders, serving trays, and furniture. This was the case for Jan and Eugenia, who shared a beautiful home long before the wedding day. Wedding guests, of course want to give the newlyweds a special gift that will be remembered and this happy couple had a very creative idea.

    They commissioned a large painting (4' x 4') for their home, and guests were able to contribute to the cost of the painting, and sign their names on the back at the wedding reception. These contributors will never be forgotten since their signatures will remain on the back, commemorating the special day.

    Jan and Eugenia were terrific art directors, giving me just enough direction and plenty of freedom to do my own thing. They determined where the painting would hang and sent me a photo, and we decided on a size and a color scheme that fits the room. (I wrote about the process in this post) They created their website on Wedding Wire, and linked their gift registry to my PayPal account. Guests could contribute in any amount they chose with just one click. And they did! 

    I sent Jan and Eugenia photos of the work in progress, and with just a minor change request, the painting was complete. Using Photoshop, I was able to show them how the painting would look in their living room. I love a collaboration! Especially one like this where everyone wins - guests don't have to shop for a gift and yet their contribution will never be forgotten, the newlyweds get a piece of original art, custom made for their home, and I get the privedge of painting it. 

    Congratulations Jan and Eugenia, and thank you for putting your trust in me. 

  • If I Only Had the Nerve

    Hey Harajuku ~ acrylic on panel ~ 30" x 30"

    There is a very large, graceful shape in my painting. It's painted on a 30"x30" wood panel. It took me a long time to get that shape just right. But sadly, the painting isn't working. But...I'm invested in that shape. I spent hours on it! The rest of the painting is not even really noticeable. I don't know what to do with it. I stare and stare...no answers come.

    I distract myself with other work. I need to send some emails, clean up my desk, make some lunch. But the painting...it just sits there. It won't paint itself. I ignore it for a very long time. Finally I add some little details around the edges. It doesn't help - this painting has more fundamental problems...structural problems...energy problems...spiritual problems. Damn it. I need to deal with that painting. Be brave...jump in and do something courageous...anything...just don't let it sit there and die. 

    I put the painting up on the wall in front of me. I start sifting through the mental notes  on design, color theory, etc., searching for an answer. Nothing.

    I look at my palette. Damn that red is luscious - almost electric. Hey - I felt something there. Was it fear? That red is exciting. To hell with theory, I'm painting! I dip my brush in red and apply the fucking paint. What's so hard about that? Oooooo - it's scary! What am I doing?? I don't even know, but it's fun!! I turn on some salsa music and make it loud. A little bachata step in between brushstrokes. What if I use my woodcut tool to make some deep marks in that panel? I am emboldened by the music and feeling carried away by the excitement. Red to pink, pink to gray, gray to black. The woodcuts are exquisite. The painting is inspired.

    Wow. Was that it? Just follow the feeling?

    Hell yes, that was it. Why do I spend so much time trying to make things work that really need to be changed? (because I think too much) Why do I tip-toe around the edges of a problem instead of facing it head-on? (because it's easier) 

    I am learning.

    I'm slow. 

    But I'm learning. 

    And sharing my lessons with you.

    Painting requires audacity, grit, fearlessness, nerve...and a dash of recklessness. Don't settle for nice, good, okay, fine. Go for transcendent, fantastic, sublime. It's never too late.

    "Yeh, it's sad, believe me, Missy, When you're born to be a sissy Without the vim and verve. But I could show my prowess, be a lion not a mou-ess If I only had the nerve."

    PS: This painting barely saw the light of day before it was snatched up by a collector. It will be on it's way shortly to it's new home in Los Altos, CA.

  • Vulnerability

    I have been the lucky subject of a talented, extremely creative photographer, James Arzente, who is working on a series of artist portraits. It’s a strange feeling to be the subject and not the creator. I think vulnerable best describes it. But that’s okay, because I am getting more and more comfortable with vulnerable. It takes courage to put yourself  and your work out there, to be exposed, but vulnerability connects us to others because we are letting ourselves be seen. If you’re interested in more about the importance of vulnerability - check out this TED talk by Brene Brown, an expert on the matter. Or just enjoy this beautiful poem, written by Victoria Erickson...

    Strength In Being Seen

    I see you standing there with a mouthful of poetry

    yet a head full of doubt.

    You are sharp yet softening

    while needing to be split open

    and poured out.

    So let go.

    All the things you now carry

    all weights that pull you down

    all the beauty you'd forgotten

    any flame burned out.

    Tell me

    what awaits just beyond

    the edge of your ache.

    There's relief

    in the speaking.

    And there's strength

    in being seen.

  • I Do

    I do commissions, and the one I am currently working on is for a couple who will be married soon. Jan and Eugenia already have their home, their furniture, their toaster oven, their serving platters, and what they really want is a BIG painting for a focal point in their living room. 

    Since both of them are technology savvy, they were able to build a wedding website with a gift registry that allows their wedding guests to contribute to the work of art. The wedding websites are pretty common today, but the idea of having guests contribute to a painting commission is unique. I think this could become a "thing!"

    We decided on a palette to fit the room, then we measured and determined that a 48" x 48" painting would be just right. So, the work is underway and when complete, will be unveiled at the wedding, where contributing guests will have the opportunity to sign their names to the back of the painting. I'll be following up later with the finished work, and how you can commission a painting like this too! Here is a sneak peek at some details...

  • Open Studio!

    I will be participating in the Snoqualmie River Arts Tour of open studios on Saturday and Sunday, June 21 and 22, from 10-6. This is a truly lovely drive through the Snoqualmie Valley, with stops along the way to see some mighty interesting work including encaustic painting, cast glass sculpture, carved stone sculpture, photography, woodcut, watercolor, pastel, jewelry, metal sculpture. This is the friendliest bunch of artists you will ever want to meet and they are looking forward to sharing their stories with you. You can download a map to follow here, or drop me a line if you would like me to mail one to you. Here’s a little peek at my studio. Be sure to check out all the other artist’s work as well!

  • Embracing Uncertainty

    My Vermont residency ended nearly a month ago, and I am finishing up the collection of paintings that I worked on there. The paintings have taught me a lot. I began all ten at the same time, tried to be playful and just let them develop naturally. But, at one point I found myself trying to control them, and make what I thought were beautiful marks. This made them deliberate, predictable and boring!

    In the past, when I came to this point, I would look at other art, trying to find inspiration. But alas, the answers are not there. I’ve learned that they are in me - in the art itself. To give myself a reset, I decided to try an exercise called “process painting” where you paint with no concern for the product, just the experience…pure expression…unburdened by the pressure to produce or succeed.

    My friend, Angela calls this her “what the fuck mode.” Here is how she describes it… “What the fuck mode” means, to me, that I'm taking myself less seriously and that maybe I'm letting up on the harsh self-criticism. Pretty hard to create with a gun to your head, eh? I realized that's kind of what I used to do to myself. Nick used to say to me when he observed me angrily scrubbing my panel at the sink, "try to give it a decent audition before you yank it off the stage." It was hard because I hated every single mark I put down. What others did I thought was cool. If I did it, it was dumb, lame, obvious, etc.

    I found a sheet of heavy paper around 8’ long, and painted imagery from a dream. This is an interesting exercise, as there is no reference except the scraps of memory left in your head from the dream. You think you know what it all looked like, but when you try to put it on paper it’s not so clear. I didn’t allow myself to judge it, or stop to edit, just let it all come out and followed the brush.

    Allowing oneself to embrace uncertainty is exhilarating! I came back to the paintings with a fresher, less calculated brush stroke. Letting go and allowing myself to be curious made the paintings much more exciting. Below I will share the dream painting (don’t judge!!) and a series of photos showing the progression of one of the ten paintings. Maybe you can see when the shift was made in the process.

    Dream painting - that's me and my cat in the rowboat...don't ask.

    "Closely Held" 30" x 30" acrylic on panel

    “Closely Held” was selected to be part of Kirkland Art Center’s 2014 Exhibition. More on that later.

  • Gratitude

    photo by Howard Romero

    Congratulations! You have been selected to receive $1000 from the National League of American Pen Women for this year’s Mature Woman Grant in ART. Your application resonated with us because we so understand the duality of a woman’s role as mother and artist, and the difficulties of pursuing our artistic excellence while raising families.

    I might frame that letter.

    As an artist, if you put your work out there and ask for grants and support, you most likely receive a lot of rejection letters. So when one of these gems comes across your desk, it is a mighty fine feeling. The money is great, but honestly - the fact that someone believes in you and thinks your work is compelling enough to offer support - that is such an honor. The NLAPW is a non-profit with 55,000 professional women artists, writers and musicians as members located across the country.

    The letter goes on…

    I was particularly impressed that you have been accepted for a residency at Vermont Studio Center.  I am delighted that we will be helping you achieve that. While we don’t require it, I know that the Pen Women would love a follow-up to hear about your time spent there and what you bring away from the experience.

    If you’ve been following my blog posts, you know a little about that experience and how I spent my time. Back home now, I can look back on the past month and see that I arrived in Vermont with an emptiness where there should have been inspiration. Painting for so many years in a bit of a vacuum, alone in my suburban home studio, I was trying to give everything to my work, balance it with family obligations and motherhood, and neglected feeding myself in the way an artist needs to. For me, that means connecting with other creatives, allowing time in the day for reading poetry, listening to music, singing, dancing, playing with new mediums, doing things differently, doing things for love - not money, following hunches, following my heart, star-gazing, smiling at strangers, reaching out to get to know people, learning something new, day dreaming, celebrating the spiritual in my life, inviting the unknown, writing, saying yes! to all of it.

    I reconnected with myself this past month - with the things that are important to me. I think following one's heart is an act of love and self respect. I feel more like me. This authenticity spills over into my work and my life. A new body of work has begun. The paintings I am creating are sparked by the poetry of resident writers, who now feel like family to me. Capturing “the feeling” of a poem is my intention. The development of a personal, visual vocabulary that reflects the emotional landscape in a written work is the driving force. My cup is full.

    So thank you, to the NLAPW, and to the Vermont Studio Center, for allowing me this transformative gift for which I am so grateful.

  • The Sweet Art of Sugaring

    Sugar on snow. Sugar sand. Mud season. Sugaring. New vocabulary for me. In the countryside, all around the Vermont Studio Center are families who gather in the evenings to boil. They are sugaring, and bottling, in warm shacks in the woods. I was lucky enough to be invited to join the Lehouillier family in Johnson, VT one evening as they worked and shared their process of making maple syrup with me and a handful of artists from the residency. 

    Rick Lehouillier shows me the backflow check valve on the tap which is placed in a hole drilled into the maple tree. Times have changed since the first people made a custom of collecting this maple water. Long before the settlers came, they understood it's energetic and nutritional value. Using a tomahawk to make a tap hole, they would attach a wood shaving on the bottom, channeling the sap towards a bark container. They boiled the sap in clay pots to make their syrup.

    Inside the sugar house the smell of wood smoke and burnt sugar is intoxicating. Rick shows me where the fresh sap is pouring into a stainless steel vat and lets me peek in. He offers me a taste, and it looks and tastes just like water. Once it has had some of the water evaporated from it, it starts to taste sweet with just a hint of maple - they call this "concentrate."

    The boiler is heated with wood and must be kept very hot. Inside, the concentrate is cooking down to a thick, golden distillation. 

    Mr. Lehouillier is checking the thickness here, looking for the perfect viscosity. 

    The sweet, sticky syrup goes through a series of filters to catch the "sugar sand" or granules. Here, it's oozing out of the cracks between filters. Once filtered, it gets bottled.  The color of the syrup changes with the weather. Light colored syrup is called "fancy" but the locals know that the darker the color, the more flavor. 

    Thanks to the Lehouillier family for generously sharing all of their knowledge and for taking the time from their busy operation to indulge a bunch of visiting artists.

  • April in Vermont

    Vermont Studio Center - main building; view from my studio window

    So, what am I doing here? Well, not exactly what I expected. I am painting of course, but I wasn't expecting to be writing so much. For some reason words are flowing and I'm just letting them come. Staying open to what ever comes up, without too much judgement and pre-planning. This work doesn't have to be hard. You don't have to carry the weight of your efforts into the studio every day and suffer in order to make meaningful work. In fact, play and rest is important to the creative process. 

    So I keep lots of fun materials on my table to play around with.... 

    and after lunch I take my nap on the empty model podium (don't tell anyone)...

    and I write poetry....



    I thought I had sealed up all the cracks so that

    nothing could get in


    I guess I missed one

    a wisp of fresh air

    an aroma catches my attention

    (it's so familiar - what is that?)

    that crack is now a gaping ingress

    sunshine, sustenance

    passion, poetry

    the whole world rushes in.


    and play with new ideas.....

    On top of all that, yesterday was lunch with Kyle Staver and last night she presented her work...which was enough to make me want to pack up my brushes and quit - but only for a brief moment. Her work is breathtaking and she is a lovely person.

    And then there's karaoke...more on that later. 

  • Vermont Studio Center Residency

    I think I died and went to heaven. I am in the company of 50 painters, sculptors and writers. I have a bright warm studio, and fresh meals prepared for me daily. Reading poetry has taken the place of cooking. Writing instead of laundry. Daydreaming replaces grocery shopping. 

    having dinner with a painter

    drinks among sculptors

    breakfast between two poets

    pinch me - am I dreaming?

    The conversations are amazing. (and you can't throw a rock here without hitting a poet. I LOVE poets) For example, this morning a writer was telling me that the story she's working on began in first person narrative. She was deep into the plot when she realized the narrator just didn't have the insightfulness or awareness needed to tell the whole story. She had to go back and change the voice. Then, of course the whole damn story changed. As a painter, this is all too familiar. We fall in love with shapes that must be painted over and sacrificed for the good of the painting. Only by letting them go do  whole new worlds of possibility open. Since we're all talking about the creative process, we understand each other.

    This is my tribe, and I feel so blessed to have this opportunity.

  • Mentorship Artist Retreat

    There are seven other artists in the mentorship program I have been writing about. I finally got to meet them as we traveled from all over the States and Canada to spend a long weekend together on a cattle ranch in San Juan Bautista, CA. The ranch has been in the family of one of the artists for generations. 11,000 acres of rolling hills, ponds, wildflowers, old oak trees. The ranch house was heated by woodstoves and gently worn by decades of family gatherings. Think Bonanza - spurs, guns, animal hides, cowboy hats and boots. Tap water straight from the spring that was the cleanest I've ever tasted. We drove around the property in a Swiss Army jeep. We packed it with wine and hor's d'oeuvres and drove to the top of a hill to watch the sun set. One of the artists is also a chef and runs a restaurant and catering company. She brought an employee who prepared gourmet meals which we enjoyed in between painting, hiking, napping and talking about art. We painted in a barn studio a few hours each day. We wrote collaborative poetry around a fire in the evenings. The best way I can describe the experience is to say that it filled me up. It was heavenly. Here are some pics...

    The land.

    The studio.

    Ferris Martinez and Nick Wilton.


    Happy Hour.

    Beth Sogaard's amazing food.

    Ferris keeping us warm in the studio.

    Happy painters.

    New work.

    Farmhouse kitchen dinners.

    Evenings around the fire.

    Our gracious host.

    Next up...heading to Vermont Studio Center where I've been awarded a fellowship for a month-long residency. I am packing and shipping supplies now and arrive there on March 30th. More on that later!

  • Philadelphia Opening

    I love Philadelphia. It's gritty, historic and well...it feels like home. My opening was beautifully curated by Bluestone Fine Art Gallery, supported by the local media, and attended by locals, friends, and family. I wish I had taken more pictures of friends but I did get one good shot with my mom who came in for the "artist's reception" on Saturday.