Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Beginnings – A Ring of Hope in the New Year

"Twigs and Twitters" 11x14 oil on canvas
The bells are sounding, balloons are dropping, fireworks are exploding. A chorus of “auld Lang syne” rises on the crisp air. Couples kiss, and a glimmer of hope glazes every eye. Old things are gone, but not forgotten. The New Year is upon us.

Remembered are the things we’ve done that need a “do over.” The mistakes we’ve made that haunt our thoughts. The angry words spoken now hanging heavy on our list of regrets. Perhaps next year will be better, we think. If I just try harder, maybe everything will be all right.

The problem is we can never get better on our own. No matter how hard we try, alone we usually fail. Some people add prayer to the equation which gives them strength. Others need the encouragement of family or friends. Alone, we may cave in or hold a pity party in our honor. We may sink into depression. Together we become strong.

No wonder groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have a buddy system to keep each other on track. They also look to a higher power than their own. There is no shame in depending on others, especially God. There is no dishonor in failing to achieve alone what you desire.

(First lay-down of acrylic paint on 11x14 canvas) Decided to eliminate egg-beaters!
Self esteem is increased when we refuse to give up. It is strengthened when we get back up after we fall and try again. I’m battling my own problems. My eyesight is not as good as it used to be and the monovision contact lenses I wear make it difficult to see perspective and detail accurately even with the aid of glasses. Arthritis in my hands is making it increasingly difficult to paint or draw a straight line. I don’t have the mastery and control I once did.

We all have challenges we need to cope with and problems that arise each day. The New Year’s lighted torch can inspire us with hope as we overcome discouragement. Like Olympic runners who keep their eyes on the goal, we must keep our dreams and hopes in clear focus. If we falter, it’s usually because we take our eyes off the prize. 

When I give my “pep talks” I’m usually the audience I have in mind. Of all people in the world, I need those words of encouragement the most. If my words can help others, too, then I’m pleased. 

I wish you a happy and successful New Year, dear friends. Don’t give up, because I’m counting on you to show me the way!
(Work-in-progress) More layers of paint.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Perfect Gift was Laid in a Manger Bringing Hope and Forgiveness to a Lost World

On Sunday, we shared a Chinese meal at a popular restaurant with our dear friends before they went their separate ways for Christmas. After dinner, we took turns opening our fortune cookies and sharing out loud the good advice and bits of wisdom inside:  “Procrastination is fear of success” and “Find a peaceful place where you can make plans for the future” were a couple of them.

Every table was full; and by the time we left, people were standing in line waiting to get inside. The lack of English speaking skills and the décor reminded me of the classic “Christmas Story” where Ralphie and his mother have an ongoing battle over his wanting a rifle for Christmas. “You’ll shoot you’re eye out,” she warns him, and eventually he almost does.

After having their Christmas turkey devoured by a pack of neighborhood dogs, the family ends up in a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The Asian staff tries to cheer them by singing: “Deck the Hars with Boughs of Horry – rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah rah rah rah”

The laughter afterward brings the family around to seeing the brighter side of every situation. Perfect families and picture perfect Christmas’s don’t exist except in the pages of Better Homes and Gardens or in the homes of Martha Stewart wanna’ be’s. So we need to grasp what joy we can and accept the rest: the torn Christmas wrappings piled on the floor, the store-bought pies, the scorched gravy and lumpy potatoes.

That first Christmas wasn’t perfect either. The straw was prickly, the stench of cattle surrounded the manger and the birth pangs were painful and real. But on that night, the hope of the world was born and unconditional love was wrapped in swaddling clothes when God became flesh. Forgiveness and mercy were given a name “and you shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins.”

The chasm between God and man was narrowed for “Christ the Lord was born.” From that point forward, faith bridged the gap that separated us from God; and fear and hopelessness were banished forever by “the light which shines in darkness.”

Merry Christmas everybody and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Let's Illustrate a Book -- I can dream can't I?

LINK:   Inez Ibis Flies Again, the story of a courageous ibis who never gave up

It’s not easy illustrating a children’s book. It’s even harder to get published, especially if you’re both writer and illustrator. That goal has been on my bucket list for years! When I was simply a writer, I had many stories published in leading children’s magazines of the day. The bug to illustrate came later with my book: “Inez Ibis Flies Again; the story of a courageous ibis who never gave up.”

Inez still lives in my neighborhood after eleven years, and she still limps; but she has born several clutches and never seems to lack for a mate. When I see her struggling along as she forages for food, my heart goes out to her. But up in the air she soars with the best of them, free and unhampered by her disability.

Today in my blog, I’m featuring my illustrations and some accomplished idols: names like Harriet Peck Taylor, Syd Hoff, Ben Sowards, Richard Clark and Charley Parker.

Harriet Taylor’s interest in coyote lore began with a young coyote who lived in the foothills near her home. “It used to follow me on hikes with my dogs,” she says, “and once even touched noses with them.”

Most of her books include Native American Lore and nature because “If people can appreciate the beauty of the land, they will perhaps want to protect it.”

Harriet’s Coyote story is based on a Wasco Indian legend about the origin of the constellations.  
Harriet Peck Taylor's Web Site

Syd Hoff wrote many of my children’s favorite books such as “Danny and the Dinosaur.” 
I liked Hoff’s simple drawings and felt his style was more likely to become mine.
Syd Hoff's Web Site

Jane Yolen has also written several humorous dinosaur books that are full of fun like “How do Dinosaurs say Merry Christmas!”  

Yolen has found a unique way to teach children about dinosaurs in a fun way by making them almost human and bringing them into a child's world.  Jane Yolen's Book

And I can’t forget Charley Parker who is a master at creating dinosaur cartoons.
Charley Parker's Web Site

Christmas Oranges was retold by Linda Bethers and illustrated by Ben Sowards. His realistic and tender pictures remind us of the old masters in their detail and magnificence. Based on a true story, the action takes place in an orphanage many years ago.

The next book has its origins in Minnesota and dear to my heart. My husband was born there, and is a full-blooded Norwegian. The expression “Uff da” is Scandinavian for “Good Grief!”

Born in America, my own second generation Swedish grandmother had her own version of uff da when she said: “ooh ha.”  A little Scandinavian history helped me see that what she was really saying (or meaning) was “uff da.”

The illustrations and the humorous tale, written by Cathy Martin and illustrated by Richard Clark, keep us laughing and turning pages.  
Uff Da on Amazon

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What Every Woman Wants: Baubles, Bangles and Beads -- or is it?

"A Joyful Heart" pastel on bristol board, matted and ready to frame
I may be the odd woman out, but jewelry is not my cup of tea. Topping an outfit off with a smashing pair of handmade earrings is more my style. Gaudy and expensive jewelry is not.

I prefer an understated look. I was never into ruffles which make me feel silly. I prefer simple classic lines that enhance my comfort and put me more in touch with the person I am.

We all have different tastes, likes and dislikes. We are each uniquely created. In the same way that our fingerprints and eyes are not alike, so our preferences in food, music and clothing vary. The same goes for artwork. None of us will ever see the same thing. One painting may draw us, the other may repel. That’s how the “power of the purse” works, and why certain things appeal to a broad spectrum of people while another is less popular.

"Tansy's Pride" pastel on bristol board; matted and ready to frame
The buying public is also fickle. Discrimination is often based on current trends and popular opinion. Someone once said “We are a nation of sheep.” In most instances we are.

Still, there are ways for an artist to move past that shallowness. We can acquire a “universal” appeal that extends beyond the bounds of personality, culture, and tradition. Certain subjects have broad appeal such as family, love, hope, fun, dancing, merriment, shared experiences, and familiar landmarks. I’m sure there are many many more.

A mother and child will usually arouse warm sentiments. A child learning or experiencing something new for the very first time is another appealing delight. Animals and especially pets touch a soft spot within almost everyone. Suffering, pain and sorrow strike a chord that vibrates the very soul. Any action whether joy, hate or anger that captures the human condition can be related to by many people.

"Broken" mixed media on canvas SOLD, but prints available
The skill of an artist in relating these universal truths to others in a way that is visually exciting and moving can make the experience have even more impact. Familiar shapes and hues arranged in such a way as to lead the viewer on an eye-opening or emotional journey is another way of revealing our shared humanity.

When the common things that surround us are portrayed, others can relate. Illustrate the simple beauties of the earth and in the eyes of the viewer their value is elevated and appreciated. Patterns and textures that replicate nature’s vast chromatic surface add another layer of “simpatico” that reaches out to others.

Wise use of space or sparseness of color may also emphasize loneliness, emptiness, or baroness in a way that detail and color could not; emotions that most of us associate with loss, devastation, and tragedy which we all experience at some point in our lives.

The more universal appeal your artwork contains, the greater the chances that you’ll be successful.
"With these Hands -- Hope" oil over acrylic under painting

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Nail it Down, Make it Clear, Let it Happen!

"Swamp Angel" oil on canvas 16x20
The title: “Nail it down, make it clear and let it happen” is good advice whether you’re a fine artist, a performing artist or a writer. If you don’t nail down those ideas, they may scamper away forever. A brief note, a sketch, a few notes on a blank staff or a melody that gets stuck in your brain are sure to bring your thoughts back for testing.

Good ideas need to be tested. Either they blossom or they don’t. If they seem to go nowhere, they are probably just wisps of imagination. If your idea sticks and mushrooms into viable substance, it may explode later in a magical way.

When you're ready, take that sketch, that idea and develop it on paper or canvas. Make your vision as clear as possible. What your inner eye sees must be understandable to others. Giving your idea clarity becomes your first draft or your “working model.” Once you have it nailed down and visibly clear, you’re ready for the next step.

"Reggae Night" acrylic on canvas
At this point, being fluid is the key. If you’re too rigid, your efforts will become stiff and unbending. When that happens, your idea may become trite or stagnant. Freedom to float around the edges and let your inspiration lead you is crucial. Gut instinct and the willingness to take a risk or a daring leap is what separates a good artist from a great artist.

Acting or creating in a daring way is scary. You’re thinking, “Am I on the right track?” “What if this turns out to be a bad idea?” What will other people think?”

Self doubt is your worst enemy. Fear can keep you from discovering what’s just under the surface and within your grasp. Don’t get “stuck on stupid!” Believe that you are just as good as the next person in bringing a conception to fruition. Obviously training and skill assist you in this journey and make it easier to bring your passion to life.

When I started my artist blog, I wanted it to be different. Sure I was interested in featuring my art and enticing people to go to my online galleries, but I was in hopes of more. I wanted to inspire other artists, especially beginners with high aspirations, to overcome their fears and succeed.

My initial purpose was to motivate people not only to be better human beings, but to trust in their own inner voice. 

It’s sad when people give up. Even those who have become a success often give in to self-induced doubts fearing that they’re not good enough to be “up there.” 

 If you can hold on until you get past those dark days, there is usually a light, a glimmer of hope at the end.

What a shame to give up just weeks, days, hours, minutes before the light dawns and you see your way clear to turn your dreams into reality. Plant your feet on a solid foundation, dear friend, and hold on for dear life!
(Joseph Campbell's quote inspired this painting) "Release -- My Trail of Tears" 30x24 mixed media

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Natural Wonders can Supply a Tapestry of Beauty

"Seedlings from a beechnut tree"
I’m a saver, a scrounger, and a lover of nature. If there’s an unusual seed or leaf out there it ends up in my house.

We were in Phoenix for my grandson’s wedding, when a black twig caught my eye as we were walking. My son thought it was a twig of seeds from a beechnut tree. Although they were black from the cold winter mornings, the pods had dried perfectly, showing a split that revealed the empty seed pockets inside. I brought it back home in my suitcase. It still adorns a table in my living room.

A few months ago, I spied a large palm frond. The leaf is usually trimmed while it's still growing on the tree, and the remaining woody husk continues to grow and harden. The one I found on the ground had already bleached out in the sun and the green had long since disintegrated. 

I took it home and brushed off the dirt and grit, sprayed it with Raid and left it for a few days. After washing it off with water and drying it again, I began my search for the face that was hidden inside. The shape was a little off, but I turned my woody palm into a Florida panther which will one day hang on someone’s wall.

"Florida Panther" for SALE on Etsy" (16 x 21)
Another piece of palm is awaiting its identity. I know from experience that many coats of paint are required to satisfy this thirsty wood. After its features are complete, I will seal both front and back with coats of varnish to give it sheen and a long life.

If I had my “druthers,” I would decorate my home with accessories only from the natural world of nature. One of the most enchanting Christmas trees I've ever seen used a long-needle pine and had only pine cones and bright red velvet bows on its branches. The students who decorated the tree could not afford expensive ornaments or trim and had used what the surrounding terrain had provided. The tree was simple and elegant. The smell from that pine was a gift from Heaven!

One February, when we lived in Phoenix, I dragged home the woody branches of an old Joshua tree that had died in the desert. I loved the way its branches told a story of strength, dignity, and endurance. I placed it in my flower garden by the back fence. When I shared this story with friends, they had to see it.

(Gazebo and butterfly garden completed by the Garden Club for the community)
When I showed them the cactus that I had embellished with pride and an artist’s vision, I saw their faces slump. Their expectations were higher than the reality they saw. “Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.” We must remember this as we put paint to canvas to reveal our inspiration and imagination. Nothing is ever what it seems to be. We all see things through our own prism of experience.

I’m always saddened by people who rush by and can’t see the color and richness that abounds right under their noses. A car commercial showed the manufacturer's pride and joy racing over the Sahara desert. They wanted you to focus on the car and its tremendous speed and agility. 

As for me, I scanned the rolling hills of sand, the flowing ripples of each dune. What I saw was a masterpiece of serenity, texture and rhythm. The car I barely noticed.

Some people may never give your artwork the nod. They don’t know that you struggled and nursed "your baby" into existence and new life. They may view askance at your efforts to capture a singular shape or a few grains of sand on a canvas; skillfully layering it with values of monochromatic color and harmonious blends. 

We keep painting because that’s who we are. We convince ourselves that the joy of overcoming will one day triumph. But what if it doesn’t? My friend, what better way to spend your time than in pursuit of perfection? The brush grows lighter with use. The joy of creation is mother’s milk to the suckling artist. We indulge. We drink. We become.

(My next acrylic on canvas will be titled: "The Cook" using Amelia as a model)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Enjoy Someone Else’s Wild Dreams until Yours Manifest

When my oldest son was still in college, he mailed me a book called: “Russian Lacquer, Legends and Fairy Tales, Vol. II, by Lucy Maxym. At the time, he was in Russia performing with a musical touring company from the university.

He wrote in the inside cover: “Dear Mom, I saw these Russian lacquer boxes in Sitka and couldn’t help thinking of you. Even the smallest boxes are very expensive, so I thought this book was a real deal, plus in it are over 20 fabulous fairy tales. Notice the similarity of “The Flying Ship” to the movie Baron Von Munchausen.”

I still enjoy looking at the paintings. Imagine! Each detailed masterpiece is done on the lid of a black lacquer box! That fact alone is inspirational. The breathtaking beauty and precision of these compositions makes you realize the incredible patience that is required for something as lasting and valuable as a well-thought out painting.

My son goes on: “Maybe you could put together a few favorite stories from these and I’ll illustrate them.”

At the time, he was an up and coming artist, majoring in advertising. I was not yet an artist, but was working as a freelance writer. Shows you how quickly life and the roles we play change over time.

Today he is a consultant and science teacher after being nominated Teacher of the Year by his peers. My son was right about one thing, I am lifted by these illustrations. I can literally spend an afternoon examining each scene and reflecting on the stories behind them.

I am also intimidated by their detail and the enormous energy that went into each design. It is good to aspire. We need to spend time viewing the classics and the masters-of-their-craft to see what we can learn from them, but not at the expense of our own promise.

Some of us are more detail oriented than others. We each have limitations of one kind or another. But unless we plant the seeds, the illumination will not germinate. How many dormant seeds do you have lying beneath the surface?  When was the last time you watered them with the necessary nutrients to help them grow? We need to recognize that practice, time, and a valiant effort come before success.
  1. Define your dreams.
  2. Note your progress no matter how small. 
  3. Compare this year’s work with the last. 
  4. Adjust your attitudes and eliminate negative thinking. 
  5. Construct and re-structure your goals; each month if necessary. 
  6. Look at the big picture. Baby steps are magnified when you see them altogether.
This blog was first published on Dec. 17, 2013. I chose to repeat it today!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Balance and Harmony Keep a Composition or a Design in Check

"Victims of War" acrylic on canvas
I know an art teacher who also owns an art store. One day he showed me his paintings that were hung around the entire shop near the ceiling. He used these in classes for examples and demonstration.

“My paintings used to go so fast, I couldn’t keep any hanging,” he said. “Now I can’t sell any of them.”

The paintings were stunning landscapes of Florida scenes and of the Gulf; traditional compositions that once “brought a hefty price,” he complained.

Today “wild is in.” Even the works of amateurs are being bought up if they are unusual, colorful, and a tad weird. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the times and our confused and undisciplined society. Anything goes as long as it entertains and dazzles the eye; fads that may in time become the new “norm.”

Finding the right balance is a real dilemma every artist grapples with. Keeping one foot in the real world and the other in the solid traditions of the past is a struggle. When you allow yourself to push against the outer limits, or by way of contrast show restraint, a judgment call must be made based on each artist’s level of experience and training.

"Prayer Circles"  mixed media on canvas
I enjoy the humor that many artists use to invite people into their perspective. There are so many fearful and chaotic events happening at home and around the globe to cause anxiety. Some “comic relief” is healthy and relieves stress. Conversation pieces that cause laughter rather than thoughtful reflection may be just what the doctor ordered.

Tactile paintings: pop art, half art and half craft invite us to touch and examine. Critics lament that this practice degrades and gives real works of art a tawdry and cheap appeal. But they are selling none-the-less because they’re affordable and fun.

Trends come and go. What is in fashion today may be gone tomorrow. Artists must learn to adapt to the changing scene and create a unique and appealing style that sets them apart from the rest; keeping in mind that the classics, the centuries old tried and true methods of the past have weathered the test of time and will endure.

"Moody Blues" mixed media on canvas
Vibrant color is a significant part of this new genre. From the book: “Color Design Workbook” by Adams Morioka and Terey Stone, the authors’ state: “Color is a visual language in and of itself; it can attract the eye and focus attention on the intended message in the work. Color can be used to irritate or relax, encourage participation or alienate.

Advertiser Josef Albers remarked that “Whether bright or dull, singular or complex, physiological or psychological, theoretical or experiential, the persuasive power of color attracts and motivates.”

Also from the book: “As humans, we seek balance, especially in terms of color. For example, when exposed to a particular hue, our brains seem to expect the complementary color. If it is present, the combination looks vibrant. If it is absent, our brains tend to produce it to form a balance.” 

These very reasons alone explain why one painting is chosen over another. Although people see colors in different ways, they almost always choose that which is pleasing to the senses. With knowledge and experimentation, you too can be a part of those who sell on a regular basis.

"Cafe' Costa Rica" acrylic on canvas

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Know the Territory and Use Benchmarks to Map your Progress

"Sea Swirls" 24x18 acrylic on canvas
If you live around water or near the ocean, you’re probably familiar with channel markers. They warn you about shallow water and keep your boat in safe passage until you reach the deeper water. Sometimes these signposts protect wildlife such as manatees. Every year many of these creatures are killed or scarred for life by boat rudders and propellers.

In life and in business, there are also markers of achievement and professionalism. You often hear motivational speakers talk about the importance of “channeling your mind and your energies” to achieve success. The term “harnessing” your mind was used in much the same way to encourage previous generations to aspire to great heights.

Beginners are impatient to “get to the top.” They often take risks to get their work out there and to get noticed before they have mastered basic techniques. Those who have made it often say “don’t play it safe.” They recommend breaking rules and boundaries in order to draw attention. But it’s one thing to take risks, and quite another to go beyond the guiding principles that have already been proven for success.

“But don’t achievers push beyond the boundaries in order to stand out,” you may ask? “Do you always do the safe and predictable thing or do you gamble on your gut instincts?”

Most educators advise “Until you know and understand the territory and the essentials follow the recommended procedures until you’ve mastered them.” After that, you’re on your own. Only you will know when that time comes.

In the weather business, forecasters use benchmarks to compare past turbulence with current patterns. For instance, in November of 1976, they had a “long drawn out winter,” similar to what is happening today around the country. A benchmark is a standard used to measure activity and progress.

Professionals can use benchmarks to track their own personal improvement. Self confidence and instinct increase when you tackle difficult projects and complete them to your own satisfaction. Others you respect may also provide insight and suggestions that add to your level of skill and mastery.

Observing how “others have done it” over the years can serve as an example. Even copying to learn is a great lesson in self-mastery and enlightenment. The masters can give you a blueprint for success. If you study their early paintings and compare them to later works, you’ll see how they nailed down the rules first and then they were ready to fly!

"Sea Swirls #2" work-in-progress
Until you know the subject and the fundamentals stay within the tried and true methods. Once you’ve mastered them, you own them. They are yours to stretch, push, manipulate, and wow.
"Sea Swirls #1" work-in-progress

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Light Reveals Truth, Darkness Provides a Contrast

"Hibiscus Glory" 16x20 mixed media SOLD; prints available
I was intrigued by a recent study about people’s fears. It was done broadly (worldwide) to see if there were any differences in race or culture. The conclusion was that what people fear most, no matter who they are or where they come from, is darkness.

I wondered if fear was a part of us at birth or if it’s simply human nature to fear what we do not understand or that which is unknown? For whatever reason, the study concluded that most people, most children all around the world fear darkness.

As a Christian, this set my spiritual wheels turning. Scripture declares that every person “that comes into the world” is born with the light of Christ in his heart. (John 1:9 KJV) It would only make sense then that coming from our creator God “trailing clouds of glory,” as Wordsworth put it, we would be afraid of the dark which has always represented evil.

Believers hunger and thirst for light in much the same way that all living things reach for the light. A seedling pushes through the dark earth in search of the life-giving light of the sun that will nourish it and feed it as it grows. Even the lowest of animal forms seeks out light for warmth. On any given morning in Florida, my sidewalk is filled with lizards that crawl out of their dark havens to warm themselves in the light.

Snakes slither from their dark holes in much the same way. They become intoxicated and lethargic as they drink in the warmth of the sun seemingly blinded by the brightness. You can walk right by them and they barely notice.

Darkness is often used as a reference to evil, and good is portrayed as light. Darkness can also be seductive and intriguing. It is more difficult to ignore sin and temptation in the darkness. We are deceived into thinking that darkness somehow hides or “covers” our sin.

Light reveals and exposes truth and evil. No wonder we run from the light when we feel guilty or “bad.” No wonder people, especially children, fear darkness because it leads us into the unknown and may cause us to do bad things.

Darkness also has its own beauty: a starlit sky, the moon glowing through wisps of clouds, the skylights of a city sprinkled across the landscape. Darkness provides contrast. In a painting it’s all about light. The tiniest glow of light against a dark canvas looks even brighter. If the whole composition were light, the objects would appear flat and uninteresting. It is the contrast in color and intensity that gives a painting life.

How an artist handles the play between light and darkness, shadow and changes in value tells you a lot about his or her style. Some creatives like subtle changes and soft values. Others passionately splash color boldly and provide luminous eye-popping light that defines shape and creates depth. In this way darkness can define space and provide a backdrop for light making it glow with luminescence. 

The subject of the composition and its treatment determines whether evil is present or perceived. The color red may also indicate evil if the images are coarse and vulgar. A red rose may also appear holy and beautiful if the petals are delicate and soft. Treatment has as much to do with how evil is perceived as darkness itself.

Study the Masters and see how they contrast light against darkness. Analyze your own reaction to it to see if the painting registers somber, illuminating, inspiring or degrading. Your response indicates the power of darkness to reveal the essence of goodness or of light.