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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Find your voice! What are you trying to say?

One of my favorite trees is in bloom again. I don't know what it is (water oak?) Sure wish I knew!
There are scenes that almost jump out and grab you, and you know you have to paint them or write about them. At other times there may be only a vague inclination that you’d like to try something new and so you go with it. Either way you must ask yourself: “What am I trying to say? What am I trying to illustrate or express?

Every painting tells a story or expresses a feeling or impression. You are taking your viewer on the journey with you. Where will you take them and how? What is the most important thing you want to show them? How will you help them navigate through the barrage of color and detail?
These are the seed flowerettes that remain after the red seeds fall out.
They become woody and hard.
Is your message soft or loud? Do you want to jar them from complacency or coddle them into submission? What is your desired end result? Will you think big and dream large or will you softly suppress your message to a whisper? All of these questions should preferably be answered before you begin. Then again, the painting itself may be a question that only the viewer can answer.

Painting, writing, or any art form is anything but dull. The innuendo is everywhere. The subtleties should sparkle with ingenuity and the canvas or stage should reflect your skill and spontaneity. When your story becomes contrived or too controlled people will be aware of it even though they may not know what it is that bothers them.
The Poinciana trees are again in bloom. The hot weather brought their bright red blooms in earlier than usual.
Instead of holding your imagination at bay or choking it with too much control, unleash it. Your knowledge and skill will roam freely and thoughtfully allowing you to tell your story. Where will your journey end? When will your tale be finished?

Someone once said your work is finished when you can no longer find any place to improve it. I think it ends even before that. There’s a fine line between spontaneous freshness and belabored brushwork. Hard straight lines draw far more attention than a small swipe of color that goes a tad too far or is allowed to blend into the background.
Their leaves are fern-like and feathery. The flowers grow in huge clusters like grapes.
Paint is forgivable. Wipe it out if it displeases you or paint over it and smooth out the flaws. If the first layer of paint captures your vision, avoid a second. Let that part stand and embellish around it bringing depth and richness to your scene.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you want to try something new, do it. You can always wipe it out and paint over it. This practice will keep your nerves under control. I know when I do commissioned work I’m always more tense worrying about what the buyer will think and if they'll be pleased. When I paint for myself, the brush strokes are more fluid and unhindered. Above all, enjoy yourself. If you are not, you’re in the wrong business.
This is half of the Poinciana seed pod. The indentations are where the seeds sit and another pod just like this one
covers them until they ripen and open. They are hard, woody, and beautiful!



Thursday, May 21, 2015

What are you waiting for? Just Begin!

"Ibis on a Perch" (looking forward) 11x14 matted/ready to frame
Sometimes the hardest part is starting; applying paint to canvas, words to paper, or bringing to life what only you can see. So you stall. You wait until you are in the mood. You procrastinate by savoring that perfect cup of coffee. Instead of eliciting your muse or the God of creation, you fiddle and fudge the morning away, waiting for inspiration. Not.

In case you haven’t heard, it doesn’t work that way! Action creates energy, energy spawns creativity, and creativity opens you up to receive inspiration. Get those fingers moving! Take those notes. Scribble that quick sketch. Don’t wait until everything is perfect. Imperfection creates “happy accidents” that happen when you're not uptight. Be loose. Quit worrying. Just get started.

"Moonlight Magic" 11x14 acrylic on canvas (my "happy accident!")
One day I was ready for an appointment, but had about 20 minutes to kill. I grabbed my kindle and started reading. Because I was worried about being late, I kept looking at the clock. Believe you me, when I glanced up to see what time it was, the minute hand had barely moved. It was like watching and waiting for a pot to boil. I was amazed at how many pages I was able to read in that short a time.

Progress comes in small increments. You don’t take a giant leap and reach “Go” (as in Monopoly). You take one square, one step at a time. The secret is to keep moving forward. It matters not how far you get in one day. Tiny units of precious time add up. Like the saying, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time;” and in your case, one byte or one brush stroke at a time.

This week, I’m training in a new girl to take over my part time job. The company decided to hire a full time person rather than pay for two part time people. Throughout the day, she kept saying “I’m overwhelmed” right now. She was trying to eat the whole elephant in one or two days. I remember the feeling well. But she’s sharp, she’s tech savvy, and she will learn the ropes, one step at a time.

"First Daffodil" 16x20 acrylic on canvas @ http://carol.allen.anfinsen.artistwebsites.com
Why do we get so impatient with ourselves during the inevitable “learning curve?” As certain as night follows day, what initially takes extreme effort and energy to perform will soon be done by rote. Actions that are difficult in the beginning will become mechanical within a few weeks or months.

Anxiety attacks are commonplace in the beginning. But if you stick with the job and just “do it” rather than stressing out over it, “This, too, shall pass.” The job, the project eventually gets easier. Remember the adage: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.” ― John Greenleaf Whittier
"Dregs of Winter" matted and ready to frame (There will be a spring)
We had a dear artist pass away last week. She lived fully, taught art for many years, and established her own reputation. I don’t think she ever looked back with regret. She lived for today. When you reach the end of your life, never feel that you “missed out.” For better or for worse, “just do it!” Start each day with a dare. Challenge yourself to begin, even if you use baby steps at first. Don’t get left in the dust. When you reach the end of your life, never feel that you lost “what might have been.”



Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fact or Fiction – It All Depends on Your Point of View

(Work in Progress)
Do you believe in fairies? Peter Pan did, but then what does he know? He’s only a child -- a figment of   J. M. Barrie’s imagination. Barrie not only created Pan, but TinkerBell, the most beloved fairy of all time.

From birth, we’re persuaded that make-believe is fun and that magic is real. At Christmas time, Santa Claus is our jolly red benefactor and will reward us according to our behavior. If we’re naughty, we may receive a rock or a token of displeasure; but if we’re nice, our wishes may all come true.


Many cultures playfully indulge the existence of gnomes, elves, and leprechauns. Thanks to The Wizard of Oz, we acknowledge both good witches and bad. We have only to embrace their existence, and our heart’s desire will be granted or impeded. Depending on outcome, we are eager to attribute good luck or bad to whatever happens; and we try, like anything, to avoid the latter.

In futility, we perform rituals, incantations, and exercises to please the whims of the Gods. Our superstitions and practices are sometimes held in higher regard than our own personal faith and greater than our hold on fact or reality.

Favorite stories are often built upon dreams that eventually come true. Cinderella went from a serving girl to a princess at the whisk of a magic wand. Her fairy godmother turned her into a dazzling beauty and helped her gain the adoration of a handsome prince.

The story of “The Elves and the Shoemaker” reminds us that hard work and honest effort are rewarded, and that when we do well, even the “wee folk” seek to do our bidding.

When life gets really tough, though, we pray to the invincible God to bail us out. After all, He’s a God of sympathy and compassion, or so we’ve been taught. But if He doesn’t give us what we want, what then? Why, it only proves what we thought from the beginning. He’s not real.
Many people imagine God to be like a giant Genie or a kind old Santa Claus that winks at our sins and imperfections; a God that will often grant our wishes if only we go to Him. When our prayer requests are not granted, we fall into disappointment. At those times, we imagine that God is an angry avenger who punishes us for our disobedience.

Many people think that the Bible is simply a book of legends and fairy tales. Partly because they see God either as a great imposter or a myth. This conclusion is an insult to those who believe that biblical scripture is the infallible Word of God.

"An Open Book" 16x20 mixed media on canvas (SOLD), but prints available.
Deep down we all hope that God is real, and we want to have faith in Him; but how many of us actually suspend our disbelief and exercise our faith in the omnipotent creator of the world? Why is it so much easier to trust in ethereal beings from the netherworld than to depend on the one true God of the Bible?

So long as faith is lacking in the world, people will continue to rely on horoscopes, signs and wonders for answers, and the world will continue to flounder in darkness. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Puppetry is Living Artistry that Moves and Breathes Under the Master’s Touch


Long before Jim Henson came on the scene with his Muppets, I was putting on puppet shows for my parents. I used a box for a stage with fold down curtains so there was an “opening curtain” and the “closing finale.” A flashlight served as my stage light.

My colorful characters were drawn and colored on paper and then glued onto Popsicle sticks. I could remain hidden below the stage and pop-up my characters for their lines, which I spoke by distorting my voice when needed.

My indulgent parents listened to my made up stories and the retelling of fairy tales and applauded enthusiastically at the end. Years later, when my own daughter asked for a puppet theater, I was delighted. Ironically, today we’re both artists; she the graduate and me a self-taught tutored student learning by the seat of my pants.

Little did I know then that the things I did as a child foreshadowed my interest in the arts and my creative bent for writing script and creating character? Painting came later out of necessity and my abundant passion and imagination.

Today I am honoring the magnificent puppet master, the late Jim Henson, for the joy he brought to so many during his lifetime and his continued legacy. His career spanned several generations and his joy in creating unique and humorous characters made us all laugh.

JIM HENSON
 A Biography

Jim Henson— a television pioneer, an innovator in puppetry, technology and visual arts, and a performer—literally brought to life some of the most memorable characters ever—including the world’s most famous frog, Kermit. Henson’s impact on entertainment, education and culture continues to this day.

Born September 24, 1936 in Greenville, Mississippi, Henson spent his early years in Leland, Miss. Throughout his youth, Jim had an interest in art and, later, television. When he was in the fifth grade, the Henson family moved to Maryland. There he, often with his older brother Paul, experimented with a variety of artistic techniques—experiments which eventually led Henson to the very latest visual media, television.

In 1954, while still in high school, Henson began his television career performing puppets on a local Washington, DC Saturday morning program on WTOP-TV. The following year, as a freshman at the University of Maryland, he was given his own twice-daily, five-minute show, Sam and Friends, on the local NBC affiliate, WRC-TV. Henson along with his assistant, fellow University of Maryland student and future wife, Jane Nebel, introduced many Muppet mainstays—music, humor and innovative technical tricks (such as eliminating the puppet stage and using the television itself as the proscenium).

Perhaps most memorably, the show featured an early version of Kermit the Frog. The success of Sam and Friends led to guest appearances on such national network programs as The Steve Allen Show, The Jack Paar Show and The Today Show. Henson also began making hundreds of humorous commercials for sponsors throughout the country.

Having established a group of talented collaborators, he continued to pursue his career in puppetry and film making. Between 1964 and 1969, Jim produced several experimental films including the award-winning Time Piece, Youth ‘68, and The Cube. In 1969, Henson unveiled a family of characters to populate Sesame Street, the groundbreaking children’s show made for public television. These characters—Ernie and Bert, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, Cookie Monster and Big Bird among them—continue to entertain and educate today.

Sesame Street demonstrated the Muppets’ undeniable appeal to children, but Henson strongly believed these characters could entertain a much wider family audience. After years of trying to sell the idea for The Muppet Show in the U.S., Henson finally received backing from a London-based television producer, Lord Lew Grade. In 1975 production began, and in 1976 the world was introduced to a new family of unforgettable characters, such as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, The Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat, among others.

Hosted by Kermit the Frog, and accompanied by the musical meanderings of Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Band, the Muppets were joined each week by an international pantheon of guest stars, from Gene Kelly and Rudolph Nureyev to Steve Martin and John Cleese. The success of The Muppet Show led to Hollywood, where the Muppets starred in six feature films: The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space.

During the 1980s, in addition to making Muppet movies, Henson brought two remarkably original fantasy films to the big screen, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. These films challenged Henson to create new kinds of three-dimensional characters with advanced movement abilities. The multi-talented staff that helped create these two films formed the basis for what is now known as Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and it continues to set industry standards in animatronics, performance and performance technology. His accomplishments don’t end there, but my words must.

On May 16, 1990, after a brief illness, Jim Henson died in New York City. With his keen ability for drawing together a strong team of performers, artists, and collaborators who shared his vision and creativity, Henson ensured that his work and unique creative vision would continue. Through The Jim Henson Company, his work continues to captivate and entertain a global audience.

My teenage sons idolized Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Here is the Muppet’s version. Fantastic!



Friday, May 8, 2015

Mud Pies, Pottery and Mankind’s Passion to Create

"India Rising -- the Lost"  24x18 acrylic on canvas (based on legend)
Why I didn’t go into pottery, I’ll never know. As a child I loved puttering with clay. Its sensual pliable warmth gave me my first thirsting for creativity. 

In grade school, a classmate and I made some clay figures. Our teacher gave us two empty cubby holes to use, and we fashioned a home for our two families that even included two dogs and a cat.
Our imaginations went wild as we moved our stubby people from place to place. We spoke for them, barked and meowed for them, and created furniture for them to use for meals, sleeping and being together. Our primitive characters came alive under our fingertips and tutelage.

I did some research and discovered the “Daily Mail” and in their “Science & Technology Section” an article on the history of clay works:

“Prehistoric pottery shows that man mastered clay 17,500 years ago - before we settled and became farmers.” That means man actually made animal figures artistically before there is a record of clay being used for functional purposes.

  • “Finds prove that man mastered pottery 17,500 years ago
  • “Pottery may have been invented - and forgotten - several times in human history
  • “Later, technology was used for carving animals - NOT for making cooking vessels
  • “Discovery came from before time when humans settled down into farming communities”

“Earlier theories have held that the invention of pottery happened during the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter-gathers to farmers.

“But our ancestors didn't use the technique to make pots - instead, they created ceramic animals using clays baked in ovens.

“The finds - along with other recent discoveries in China - have forced scientists to rethink the history of pottery. It's now thought that the use of ceramics was invented - and forgotten - several times during history by different societies.

“The new find in modern-day Croatia is evidence of a community of prehistoric artists and craftspeople who ‘invented’ ceramics during the last Ice Age – thousands of years before pottery became commonplace.” As an artist, I find this positively amazing!

"Hey, Coconut, Mon!"  16 x 20 mixed media on canvas
And from the late Robert Genn:

The Big Picture
“In life, in art, a major problem is failing to see the big picture. Individual parts may be just fine but the overall doesn't get off the ground. Together with your individual sensitivity and your own vision, what you're looking for is strength, pattern and character. We're talking art here: 
  • “Go a long way back; I mean a long way--into the other room. 
  • “Small room?--look at it through binoculars--backwards.
  • “Look at it in a mirror.
  • “Half close your eyes and look at it. 
  • “Half close your eyes and work on it. 
  • “If you're working from a slide, throw the projector out of focus and find the compositional faults. 
  • “If you're working from a color photo, run it through a black-and-white photocopier and find the faults. 
  • “If you're working from your head, try holding pieces of toned paper here and there to see improvements by adding color.
  •  “If you're working on location, don't let yourself be tyrannized by the scene. Keep asking, "What could be?
  • “If you're working on location, look through the viewfinder of a camera without taking the picture.” 

 “It's easier to get the big picture in a little picture, so think of your big picture as a little picture and your big picture will fly.”  Well said!


Below:  "Prayer Circles" acrylic on canvas


Friday, May 1, 2015

It’s All About Space

(The wide open spaces of the West -- original photo)
Space – there’s so much of it! We want to explore it, name it, and conquer it. Our curiosity knows no bounds when it comes to defining, understanding and controlling our vast universe.

Personal space makes us feel comfortable and safe. If someone invades that area or gets too close, we pull away. Space helps define the parameters we use in dealing with other people. We use different constraints with family members than we do with friends. The restrictions widen when we deal with strangers or other people socially or in a business setting.

In a crowded room or a queue of people, we may feel confined, but we deal with it. There are checks and balances constantly at play as we learn what is acceptable or tolerable. Sometimes there are no choices like on a crowded bus or waiting in line at the theater. This is when restraint and caution must help us counterbalance the situation.

"Fish Market" mixed media on canvas
Artists must control the space on their canvas and define its boundaries. Space can enhance distance and size, and help to explain shapes, objects and lines. To illustrate this point, a simple drawing of a tree is much easier to define when you focus on the space between the branches and in the background, not on the shapes in the foreground. The detail and the busyness can clutter your mind and vision. When you focus on the large and simple spaces and objects, clarity comes at once. Details should always come later.

Shadows may be defined, by analyzing the patterns of light on the ground. These shapes usually consist of circles or oval shapes between the leafy branches that are cast by the sunlight. Elongated shadows become shapes unto themselves as do the light spaces between them and surrounding them.

"Belly Dancer" 11x14 acrylic on canvas (with jewels)
When I created the “Belly Dancer’ I wanted her hair and costume to create movement. In order to achieve this, her hair had to move in the same direction as her hips, and her skirt had to swing in the opposite direction. Faded, extended color from both gives the feeling of motion. The space between her arms and around her body help to define that movement.

When my children were taking piano lessons, their teacher taught them about phrasing. Phrasing is like taking a breath between sentences or musical phrases. Phrasing helps to define the music in much the same way that space defines a painting.

Once your center of interest has been chosen, everything within the painting must draw the eyes to that point. The space on your canvas may also help you control eye movement. The adage “All roads lead to Rome” applies to the spaces, shapes and values of color on your map or canvas. “All roads lead to the center of interest.” If they do not, something is wrong with your composition.

(Belly Dancer - work-in-progress)
Gauge how your eyes travel and what they are drawn to. Too many colors and lines, or too much light may scatter your vision and allow your eyes to fly off the canvas. Fix it! There must be no distractions. Your composition must hold together and have continuity of purpose and direction.

White space on a page allows the reader’s eyes to breath or rest. In a painting, at some point, the viewer’s eyes must rest on the center of interest. That rest gives him or her pleasure, and keeps them from getting bored or wandering off to another painting that may better hold their interest.

A highway divides the "Great Salt Lake"

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Snark Hunting in a World of Sharks


I grew up listening to stories by Lewis Carroll. My favorite poem was “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from “Alice in Wonderland.” My aunt, who was only six years older, read it to me so many times that she ran from me whenever I had "the book." Finally I was able to read the poem myself.

Alice’s weird meanderings after she fell down the rabbit hole have enlivened my own imagination. When Disney’s version came out, I took my children to see it. The Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire cat seemed even more frightening on the big screen.

Carroll not only had a vivid imagination, but he knew how to entertain children. I remember being terribly disappointed when I finished reading the book and discovered that Alice’s wild ride through Wonderland was only a dream. In fact, the scenes seemed so real to me that I refused to believe they didn’t happen.
Another of Carroll’s creations is a poem called “The Hunting of the Snark.”  It’s like sending someone on a wild goose chase just to get them out of the way. A Snark was an imaginary animal at fault when a goal was illusive, hard or impossible to achieve. When things went wrong, you could always blame the Snark.
At the turn of the century the term “snarky” had been coined to describe someone who was sharply critical and who found fault at every turn. Today, we might describe that kind of person as paranoid and always hunting down imaginary enemies or creating made-up obstacles (so they have an excuse for failure). What does paranoia look like?


We all have a bit of the Paranoia in us:  fear, suspicion, mistrust, obsession (with our own weaknesses or others’ greatness). If we’re not careful our Paranoia can turn into hysteria: panicky, overworked, nervous, frenzied, and finally madness. Not a place anyone wants to end up.



Enjoy part of Lewis Carroll’s poem:
The Hunting of the Snark
Fit the First
            The Landing

"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
   As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
   By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
   That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
   What I tell you three times is true."

The crew was complete: it included a Boots—
   A maker of Bonnets and Hoods—
A Barrister, brought to arrange their disputes—
   And a Broker, to value their goods.

A Billiard-marker, whose skill was immense,
   Might perhaps have won more than his share—
But a Banker, engaged at enormous expense,
   Had the whole of their cash in his care.

There was also a Beaver, that paced on the deck,
   Or would sit making lace in the bow:
And had often (the Bellman said) saved them from wreck,
   Though none of the sailors knew how.

There was one who was famed for the number of things
   He forgot when he entered the ship:
His umbrella, his watch, all his jewels and rings,
   And the clothes he had bought for the trip.

He had forty-two boxes, all carefully packed,
   With his name painted clearly on each:
But, since he omitted to mention the fact,
   They were all left behind on the beach.

The loss of his clothes hardly mattered, because
   He had seven coats on when he came,
With three pair of boots—but the worst of it was,
   He had wholly forgotten his name.


If you’d like to see how the poem ends, find Carroll’s poem and go Snark hunting!