Odd studio assistants

Greetings again from the studio. It’s cool today–I love this weather. There’s a cup of hot tea here, and my decidedly goofy studio assistant, Mr. Purrsival, is wound up–he wouldn’t hold still for his portrait. He does enjoy showing off, though–here he is, shooting laser beams out of his eyes:

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A sixteen-pound studio assistant with laser-beam-emitting eyeballs, a supersonic purr, and a really poofy tail, which I have discovered can be useful as a watercolor brush (floofy paws work too)

Other than Mr. Purrsival of the Many Talents, I find several things helpful in establishing a creative atmosphere for working: music is a big one for me. Today I’ve listened to quite a bit of ukelele music by Lil Rev (check him out here: http://www.lilrev.com ). Other days I’m in the mood for Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, or Tom Waits–but whatever mood strikes, music can banish the noise of things other than what I want to accomplish in the studio. Life would be so much less colorful without music–I can’t imagine (nor do I want to) what that would be like.

Having the window open on days like today is usually nice (depending on whether the neighbors’ children are laughing and playing, or–bickering with their siblings)–the birds are chirping or squawking or whatever they do, and the smells of flowers, wood smoke and fresh green things slip through the screens and enliven the studio. Purrsival likes this too.

So…with the music going and the window open, we worked this afternoon and it’s been a productive time. There are about ten or twelve paintings, studies, sketches, etc. in various stages of completion leaning together along the top of my bookshelf. I don’t know how many of these images will be worth keeping. Unless I keep pushing and practicing, and allowing myself to be unafraid of failing (heartily, and often) while reminding myself that failing while I learn is probably okay, and trying to remember to enjoy the process, they won’t get better. Some of these I will stop fussing with, and put away to evaluate (then finish, or incinerate, or paint over) at a later date. If it’s a concept or a subject that sticks with me, I’ll take another run at it when I have the skills to tackle it properly. In the meantime, I started another painting last night–starting with a drawing/underpainting in Burnt Sienna, and then I’ll see what to do next.

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Detail of a new 16″ x 20″ painting with a magical/fantasy theme: first layer, underdrawing

Good evening (or morning, or whatever time it is, wherever you are) and I hope this finds you safe and happy.

 

 

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“Tuesday afternoon…”

Outside this studio window, I see the apple tree covered in beautiful, delicate pink blossoms (thinking if we have an apple for every bloom, we’re in for a lot of apple sauce this fall). The leaves are coming out on the old plum tree, and on the huge oak in the neighbor’s yard. There are many bees–it seems the neighbors’ hives are okay, and the bees have found the apple blossoms. I’m happy to see them. We don’t spray or dust our plants, so drink up, bees! The tulips and peonies are going strong, and the irises and lilies will be popping out next. It’s cloudy and 60s here in the mountains, and although we could use more rain, it is green and lush at the moment.

Here are a couple of the things I’m currently working on:

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Still pecking away at this portrait. Although I’m learning a lot, playing with the application of a limited palette, this will not be a “keeper,” other than for my own reference. That is, in a few years I hope to look at this painting, remember how challenging I found this process to be, and laugh at my early efforts with oil paint. I like what’s starting to happen around the ear, and I think I can see what needs to be remedied, along the lines of form/cast shadows and such…of course knowing what to fix, and making it look the way I want it to with my beginner’s brush-handling, are two different things at this juncture…I’ll keep working.
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A new oil painting: in progress. As with the portrait above, I did not sketch this first, or transfer a drawing or outline to the canvas board…just started in with the brushes. I am attempting to learn to be more confident in my work, to spend time looking and thinking, then applying paint. I like the freer, livelier impression of this work as opposed to the more rigid, tentative brushwork in the portrait of weeks ago.

This week I’m finishing the landscape above, and I hope to complete a small drawing for a show that’s coming up. Those will be posted at a later date.

Back to work–thanks for reading, and I hope this finds you all well and happy.

 

Friday afternoon

Hello from a sunny, cool, and green day in the valley. I’ve been immersed in painting, garden work, helping with a neighbor’s little horse, taking care of our own pets (it’s hard to watch pets get old, as it is with some people), writing, and studying.

This was Grandpa in late January:

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first sketch/layer

Here he is today–I’m still adjusting light and dark, forms and colors. Slow work, perhaps, but I’m learning as I go. Some dreamlike elements suggested themselves, based on certain memories I have, and particular stories I remember my mother telling me. So–as this is a practice piece, and the end result matters only to me, I’m going with it and trying to solve some technical issues in the process:

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still a long way to go…
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detail

Generally it’s improving, but form and expression and certainly color balance still need a ton of work. I’m going to let this dry, then go at it again with glazes and scumbling, dark to light, to try to make it right. There are a few other paintings in progress that I have not shared…a lot of those are so completely experimental, or terrible, I’m going to paint over them and start new pieces over the top. There are currently seven or eight paintings here in various stages of composition (or “decomposition,” maybe–ha!) so I can rotate the work from one to another according to drying time.

Some very interesting things may be in the works…funny, how sometimes events and things here at home end up tying knots with other ‘strings’ from surprising places and distances…serendipitous, startling and sometimes mind-blowing, and hopefully–eventually–sources of inspiration, collaboration, and rich creativity. Say–this week, for me: dreams, unexpected life developments, phone calls or letters present something…then something else in a book brings up a parallel; then it pops up again, from afar, and it suggests to me that Something has quite a sense of humor, and I think if we notice these shifts and happenings, life can be so rich. In this work, this way of seeing and creating, there is no quitting, although things may often become quite confusing or difficult. There is only “do,” “watch,” “make,” “appreciate,” “observe,” “communicate,” “learn,” “love,” (not necessarily in that order, and always appropriate to the situation or ‘thread’ at hand) and repeat: creative process, interwoven with daily life. I consider that my ideal state of being, following the threads and seeing where they lead, and what they make.

 

 

January 23

Good evening…today I’m putting myself through exercises to learn how to handle paint better. I need quite a bit of work to improve my figures, and must learn to model forms in an economical, expressive way; I’m trying to make the marks more confident. Anyway, this is the result of the first session on the underpainting for a portrait of my grandfather, from his dapper photo of the 1920s. I’ve worked approximately ninety minutes on this so far, and I hope that subsequent layers will help rather than hinder the work. Too often I get the value map I want, then–at least with the grisaille method–once I attempt color, I screw it all up. I must not be so afraid to make terrible paintings…wading through all of these is what I must do in order to learn. So here’s part of today’s studio practice.

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Grandpa, first stage of oil study

Sunday January 14

Today I got two paintings ready to go to a local show…it’s a juried exhibit, so no guarantee my work will get in, but I’m going to offer these:

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“Memory: County W, Wisconsin” — Oil on canvas, 8″ x 10″
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“October Fields,” oil and graphite on board (left) and “Memory: County W, Wisconsin,” oil on canvas (right) framed and ready to go

It’s obvious, at least to me, that I need to practice a lot more with the medium, but I’m falling in love with oil paint and determined to become a decent painter eventually. Meanwhile I am enjoying the process immensely.

Best wishes to you all! Have a great day.

January 2018

Greetings! A new year is here, and I hope this finds you well and happy. My studio’s busy right now. I’m working to learn how to paint better, and doing a few private commissions; among them is a painting for a new project from a great band in Iowa…here’s a detail of the artwork:

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Later I’ll post more about that project…the designer’s working his magic to get the CD packaging, etc. ready to go, then I can share more.

In addition to that bit of Autumnal fun, a wonderful Halloween story by Robert McCammon–He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door–and another McCammon book, Tales from Greystone Bay, will soon be shipped by Cemetery Dance Publications. It is an honor to have had the opportunity to illustrate these wonderful stories, and I’m excited about the books’ release; I can’t wait to see the final product. Here are some of my favorite illustrations from the two books:

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Interior illustration for He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door, Cemetery Dance Publications (graphite on paper)

 

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Interior illustration for He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door, Cemetery Dance Publications (graphite on paper)

 

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Interior illustration for He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door, Cemetery Dance Publications (graphite on paper)

 

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Interior illustration for Tales from Greystone Bay, Cemetery Dance Publications (watercolor)

 

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Cover artwork for Tales from Greystone Bay, Cemetery Dance Publications (oil on board, digital)

One more book featuring my illustrations may also be released early this year, although it seems there has been a rather major error at the printing company; the book may not manifest in its expected form. So, we’ll see how that goes…I hope the problem can be solved, and we can share that artwork soon.

Some copies of SST’s edition of our art book, October Fields, are still available from the publisher’s website (sstpublications.co.uk). SST informed me just this morning that forty more copies of this book have sold…thank you so much for the interest in my work, and for supporting a freelance artist!

Next summer I’ll be studying for an intense week with some fantastic artists and teachers. Although I’m a bit nervous about attending this workshop, I hope it’s an investment that will help me be a better painter and businessperson. I’m looking forward to meeting other artists and immersing ourselves in work and lectures, demos and critiques. More on that as things develop…for now, I’m focusing on the process of painting and drawing, and practicing a lot.

At this very moment, I’m putting the final touches on at least two paintings to offer for a local juried show…I hope they’ll be accepted. My studio assistant, Mr. Purrsival, is a harsh but fair critic, and a wonderful companion to me while I work:

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Purrsival, providing some feedback from a different perspective

That’s all the news from our studio for the moment. Let’s hope 2018 brings good things, better things: intelligent leadership? peace? understanding? tolerance? better care for the planet and animals? a greater appreciation for the good in life, and help for those who have little? —hope, then.

Be well! More soon from our place in the mountains.

March 17, 2017

Greetings from the Santa Cruz Mountains–I’ve been even more of a hermit than usual lately, hanging out here at home and working on a few projects. One of them has just been announced: SST Publications of Birmingham, U.K., has offered our art book, October Fields, for pre-ordering. It’s an honor to be included in SST’s Art Book Series; my volume is #5 in the series, which has also featured Daniele Serra, Keith Minnion, Tomislav Tikulin, and Vincent Sammy–what great company! Scott Thomas, acclaimed author of ghostly tales and an artist, himself, has written the introduction for this book, and gracious colleagues and associates have been generous in providing blurbs or reviews.

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From SST’s website: “This book features artwork rooted in the earthy, the mysterious dark, the dreamworld–it’s Autumn work, smelling of smoke and following secret, twisted pathways.”

In addition to the art book, I’m working steadily on artwork for a lovely volume from Cemetery Dance Publications, which I can’t wait to see finished…the story is written by one of my favorite authors, and it is deliciously spooky. When these projects are complete, I will return to personal work and keep at that, unless more publishing jobs present themselves–I’ll always be happy to illustrate for new books if they’re a good fit.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those who celebrate it. I probably have a measure of Irish ancestry, but I think it’s more likely largely Scottish and Welsh…so I’m going to celebrate the day with artwork, poetry, some time spent in the garden this afternoon, and good music. Rain’s approaching, and by Monday we’ll be soggy again, so I’m determined to get out and soak up some sun today.

May you all be blessed with good health, good fortune, and happiness on this fine Friday.

Wednesday 2/15

It was sunny today! The ground finally dried out enough that I could work in the yard without slopping through muck. A few spots are still sticky with mud, but I was able to mow and rake, prune a few things, clear the drainage area and pull weeds…that bit’s easy, as the ground is so soft. There is still much to do, but I feel much happier today having gotten to play in the dirt, and it is nice to have this place better tended. The daffodils are starting to bloom, the plum trees are flowering, and the acacias are heavy with bright yellow fragrant flowers…they make me sneeze, but I like them anyway.

All the outside work had to be done soon, as it’s supposed to start raining again tonight. After a short break I got to paint a bit more — below is one study that is nearly done. I am learning a lot, even though the work isn’t ‘pro’ yet…all part of the process, and it won’t get better if I don’t keep at it.

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Adding color…nearly done with this study (still wet)

That’s it for now…hope this finds you all well. More soon!

 

 

February

The twisted old plum tree has suddenly developed buds: seems like they appeared overnight, but maybe I wasn’t looking close enough…they snuck up on me. The tulips are growing, and the snowdrops are blooming. The hyacinths are getting ready to flower — they smell so great, I hope they have a chance to do their thing before the rain beats them up.

Rain: after a long drought, the Santa Cruz Mountains are getting hammered with it. Our yard is basically a marsh, and although I joke about starting an alligator-and-rice farm (“Grain & Gators?” or, how about my father’s idea, “Bayou Basmati?” I like that), we’re lucky, so far: no landslides or severe flooding or downed trees here, but we don’t take anything for granted, and keep a close eye on things. This morning my brave partner decided to tackle the commute to his job over the hill. He and our trusty car made it partway, but he had to turn back after driving past landslides, downed trees, and — finally, encountering a flooded roadway that was unsafe to drive. The good part of all that is that he’s back, and safe working from home. A break in the storms is coming, then we’re to get another soaking — last I read, three to four more inches of rain. Considering the damage already done to the roadways, homes, and the considerable number of landslides, I’d say it’s a fantastic time to hunker down and work, enjoy evenings by the fireplace, and be glad that we have a well-stocked pantry and lots of candles, and a generator, and some cats (they are great lap warmers and good company).

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Old truck: work in progress, first layers

So, I’m doing that — working, and being grateful. It’s been slow, though. Energy is in short supply lately, and at times it’s daunting: I have all these ideas swimming around in my head, a deep love for the work of being an artist, and I am very happy here in the mountains with my partner in life: he is the best. Last year I was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis (TSC) and Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM): these conditions affect primarily the skin, lungs, lymph nodes, and kidneys. You can read about it here if you are interested ( https://www.thelamfoundation.org ). Apparently part of having LAM is dealing with fatigue; although my husband and I still hike, and I get routine things done fairly well, day-to-day, sometimes I’m frankly stupid-tired. My approach to dealing with this is to work more, rest when I absolutely must take a break, and pare art projects down to what I’m most drawn to do. A couple commissions that were slogging along are done at last, and I have been working to get my head straight and my body rested enough to plan, with clear head and strong intent, where I want to go next. Right now there are two nice projects brewing: a beautiful book project with Cemetery Dance Publications, and another from a publisher in the U.K., which I hope will soon be announced. I’m working on oil painting, and writing more. I’m continuing to work as an illustrator, but obliged to be very selective in the commissions I accept. A sense of urgency and peace, determination and resignation, go with all this.

Back to work, here–time to do it! I hope this finds you all safe, healthy, and happy. We’ll post more artwork soon…in the meantime, take care.

July

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Good afternoon from our spot in these mountains, where it’s full summer–it’s dry, and although the creek is still running, it is a bit low. Our apple tree, durable green soul, is laden with fruit; perhaps this will be the year I make apple cider. The roses are blooming profusely, and the sage and the lupine are also flourishing.

Above is a detail of a much larger graphite drawing that will appear in an upcoming publication…it’s a bit gruesome–more so than a lot of my work–but the tale for which this drawing was created is raw, in-your-face, and bloody. Believe me, it could have been a much more graphic illustration (I did consider it). The full image is in a different format than most commissions I am given, as well, so it was an unusual job and great fun to do. I’ll post more about this when I can.

The past few months have been great in most ways. My companion and I have been enjoying visits with family and friends whenever we can; we have been hiking longer distances again, after a break. It’s the season for summer fruits and veggies, so we have been relishing those. I’m determined to get back into doing yoga. Last year I enrolled in an excellent class as a beginner, and–for several reasons–haven’t gotten back to those sessions. I miss it, so must learn to keep up the discipline on my own. I’ve been wanting to get things in general settled: sorting and organizing materials in my studio so all the projects in progress–all in different media, both personal and commissioned–can be done in an orderly way, and culling stuff from the house that I no longer want or need. I’ve been going through my own head, with a similar approach…it’s all house-cleaning of a sort. Some articles suggest that a messy work space indicates particularly high intelligence–so I’m reluctant to admit that I prefer things to be aligned, dust-free, sorted like-with-like, allowing lots of empty table and desk space, so things have room to happen…but there it is.

There are several private commissions in progress right now, and one wonderful book project has just been set in motion, which will be announced/published in the first quarter of 2017. I hope by this Fall that a project which has been in the works for quite a while will finally be announced…it’s exciting news for our studio, and I look forward to sharing that with you. I’m also working on oil paintings; there are currently eight of them in progress, in various stages of completion and with decidedly various levels of success. I am falling in love with the process and the medium, and hope to spiff up my portfolio and get some nice jobs in the coming years…maybe find some gallery representation and/or an agent along the way.

Here is one oil sketch I’ve been working on as part of my study:

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Rusty water tank – Mt. Diablo Hike

I’d best get back to the work at hand, but one last bit of news: a cat has shown up at our place–so friendly, it seems that he’s been abandoned. We’ve looked at bulletin boards, missing pet posters, etc. and we’ve found no one so far who is claiming or looking for him. He’s getting taken care of now, and it seems he will stay with us–my husband’s rather fond of him, too. Kitty has had most of his shots, and will have the last of his vaccinations when he’s neutered later this month. He loves to hang out with me in the studio, and follows us when we’re out in the yard…he has a huge purr, and is talkative; he is happy to sleep (usually upside-down) on the rug here while I work. He joins a neighborhood cat, Purrsephone, a beautiful, feisty tortoiseshell kitty who spends a lot of her time here at our place, and with a kind neighbor lady who also feeds, shelters, and grooms her. This is Mr. Purrsival, Morale Officer and Spider-Catcher for Rowan Studio, shown on the job:

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Until next time, please be careful out there; be kind to yourselves, and each other; and don’t forget to slow down and enjoy things…savor life.