Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lifting the Veil

After spending the summer painting with nothing to show for my effort I was wondering if moving to the Northwest had been a good idea. In July I had been here a year. I had moved 2000 miles away from Sedona, a place that had been a home to me for so many years. My people, who are like family to me, are there. There is a beauty and majesty to the landscape that is unparalleled. There is no place like it. The air is clear and dry and the light and the color clears your head and helps you to see more brightly on many levels. But it seems that some inner prompting steered me here. I had to leave Sedona. I found myself in a world surrounded by water and moisture and green everywhere. It is beautiful here but soft in many ways I am so unaccustomed to. It was difficult for me to find my center.  I created a schedule for myself. I made life a series of rituals so I wouldn't have to decide anything. But, it started with things that I knew were good for me and that I could do. The most important ritual was, and still is, my walk on the beach. Each morning, no matter how I felt or what the weather was ---- I walked on the beach. Rain or wind or sun or fog. I walked. I walked without shoes. The one thing I knew was that I needed to be grounded and that was the best way to do it. The beach near my house is beautiful and soft and Puget Sound is the gentle world of the sea. It is clear and cold but calm. The tides come and go but it is quiet. Yet it moves with a wild sea energy. Even in a storm there is no rage in its changes. But there is power and that is sublime. There are trees and bushes and a lagoon and birds and drift wood and old logs as large as cows. There was an eagle who is I spoke to every day. AND-- it was grey. Grey. I was painting with color in a grey world. Perhaps it was time to let color go for a while.

My Sanctuary

When I put away the color it was just to find some enjoyment in working. If we aren't enjoying our art on some level there is a problem. I was out of alignment with the most important element of staying centered, enjoying the process. I decided to do at least 4 drawings a day. The process was predicated on  non judgement. That was the most important thing- and the most challenging. I was not to judge it. The drawings would be non representational.  I used pencil and charcoal. I started. That was the most difficult part. Starting. Crazy. It felt crazy. I felt myself being afraid that this proved that I was indeed insane. That little voice chattered away while I worked. I just made lines. The lines turned into shapes and then areas of tone and I watched and felt my hand move. My hand loved it. My hand loves to draw. I could see that. But as soon as my head stepped in I felt afraid and rather stupid. But--- no---- I vowed not to judge this. I did my first four drawings, pinned them to the wall and went home. The next day I did the same thing. I noticed that I like certain lines. I like certain shapes. It went on. I did this for a week. I had a wall of drawings. They were crazy drawings. But, at the end of the week as I looked at the whole wall I saw that they were real drawings. They had life to them.  I have judged myself harshly forever. My best friend calls it "your mother's voice". She keeps me straight when I say things about myself that aren't kind.

A wall of "crazy" drawings.

"I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me - shapes and ideas so near to me - so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down."  Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keefe. I kept thinking of Georgia O'Keefe. I remembered what she had said about shapes. I had read in her book "Some memories of Drawings" that she put away color until she felt like she needed it again. I was doing that too. And, yes, here on this wall were shapes and lines that I knew, that were so near to me. They were familiar. They came from my hand and ----- the big surprise was---- I liked them! I started to go home happy. It didnt matter if anyone saw these. It didnt matter that they wouldn't go to galleries. All that mattered was that I saw some authentic part of myself in them and that was my goal. I felt a little bit of excitement for the first time in months. This was going to be interesting! I am not insane. At the end of the week a little voice of judgement did make its way into my head as I glanced back on my out of the studio. I heard that little voice say- "These are damn good drawings!". I laughed and felt a little bit of confidence dribble in.  That week was the week that I started to move out of the past. The veil was lifting. Something really great was starting to happen. Thank you Georgia! She is one of my tribe and I am so grateful.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Finding the Tribe

Artists are a different breed. It is true. Sometimes that reality is exciting and rich. Sometimes it alienates us and seems like a curse. Without some support and understanding I don't think we can really reach our true potential as artists. We communicate with our work and we need to be acknowledged. When I look back on my life I can name a handful of those people who appeared in my life and understood. They were artists. The first was when I was ten. A ninety year old woman who had been a sculptor.  I still have her tools and count them as among some of my most precious things. She gave me clay and actually praised the results. No one had ever done that. She made me believe that I could do it. She changed the course of my life. This photo of her hangs on my office wall. She was the first and there have been others since then. These people have appeared in my life when I least suspected it would happen. Some are mentors, some where teachers, some came from the pages of books and the walls of museums. Some become life long friends. It doesnt matter what role they take. I have known when I met them that there was a spark, there was something important there. There was a connection. And, I have to say that in my life they were all serious working artists whose work was very far ahead of where I was. In short, these people raised the bar. Just knowing them made me aspire to being better! They helped me to feel that I could! Having those people around me has been one of the most important elements along my journey of making art.

Julia Weder 

When I moved to Port Townsend I met one of these people. I met someone whose work knocked me off my feet. I couldn't believe it. I had never seen work like this. It isn't that I wanted to paint that way but seeing that work I knew I could reach deeper. Along with it was fear. Part of me despaired that I could never be that good, that powerful and free in my work. Her work is so authentic, so unique. What I did come to really understand at a deeper level is that we have our own individual voices. No one can paint like you or like me. We are who we are and that is where we can really find our power as artists. This person has become a very dear friend and of course all we talk about it art and life. They are the same.

My days go so much faster than they ever did. Now getting to the studio is what matters most. I have simplified my life and have found myself spending less time with acquaintances. This sounds a bit arrogant but time is limited now and I have so much work to do. When I am not in the studio I am still in that place of my art. It rolls around in me all the time and needs space and focus. My artist friends know that and we can share that with each other. Now I cherish my artist friends more than ever. We go through similar challenges in our lives. We understand! My mentor, Adele Earnshaw taught me much about being a professional artist. We met in 1986. She was my first watercolor teacher. She is a world renowned painter. I respect her immensely. She has worked for years in the arena of wildlife art, in a man's world, and not only held her own but excelled. We have been are very close friends for almost 30 years. I count her as family. I learned a lot from her in those early days and I still do. One thing that she told me was to keep a list by my phone of excuses when someone ( non artist) calls and wants to go to lunch. "You don't have time for that! " Adele would say, "You have to paint!". She would call me and say, "Are you painting?". I learned the ropes of galleries, framing, marketing and discipline. Most of all she loved to say "Paint, Paint, Paint!!". I in turn have told that to my students for the last 30 years too!  I have told her often and I know it is true that I would not be where I am without her support. Then there are those great artists whose work we love but never meet. I have been to museums all over the world. I have seen the work of those great dead painters and those great ones who still grace this planet with beauty and power in their images. I need to see that work. I need to know that I have a tribe. We need each other, no matter how that plays out. It raises the bar. It also keeps us humble.

I am so grateful to all the artists who have shared so much and made such amazing work and who have stayed true to themselves. I am grateful to have a tribe!

"The Last Roses", 2008

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cracking Open

I have made art from the time I could walk. I am not sure why I drew so much but it could be because I didnt have paint. I had pencils and paper. Mostly I drew horses. They were very exact and careful. My father gave me these plastic bird model kits. I don't know if they are still around but they were great. You put the plastic pieces together and then painted the bird. Wow. I loved those. There were also paint by number kits of course. Oh, and I also had these mosaic kits where you glue glass chips on a board to create an image. I spent every night watching TV with my parents and doing craft kits. My Father's store was next to a craft shop and to me that was better than having him next to a candy store. Homework wasnt important in my house so I got to "make art". I know, it wasnt exactly art but in my mind it was art. I have never been without "making" since then. The older I get the more grateful I am for that. I started my art career after college as a production potter and sculpted. I have done weaving, embroidery, printmaking, and painting in every medium. I still am a silversmith and love working with a torch. It is in my DNA. It isn't talent and I cringe when people say that I have talent. I see that I have just always chosen to make art. It is so much of who I am. Perhaps I was fortunate that I had a life that allowed me to do that. I chose not to have children and I think that decision was the trade off in my life.  I have no family and loneliness is a frequent visitor. But, the richness in my life lies deep in some inner place of all the making of all the objects and images. An astrologer once told me that my art was my spiritual practice.  When he said that I knew he was right.
As I struggled with painting last summer I knew that if I didnt do my practice I wouldn't make it. So my decision to just draw was a way to drop the struggle of needing to make "good paintings" that would go to a gallery and that people would like-- blah, blah, blah. It is such pressure and when you are barely able to deal with making your bed it is too much. I was getting to the point where I was tired of Me. I was tired of getting up each day feeling anxious and depressed and confused. It was turning into an old song that goes around and around in your head. This was the time. This was the place was a turning point.  I had to dive into someplace new. Struggle had become a way of life and it was time to stop. I made a commitment to spend the end of the summer, the fall and winter just drawing. Not only that, but I made a commitment to make no judgements, to sell no work and to use no color. Making no judgement was and is the most difficult. The first drawings I did were charcoal on newsprint. I made just lines. I felt nervous. There was nothing to hold onto, no image to create. I went forward from the little ink line drawings that I did everyday into larger work.

This was the first one. I am not sure what happened but it spoke to me. I liked it! I saw pieces of it that were familiar on some deep level. It felt like me and yet was apart from me as if it had its own life and energy. There were all these egg shapes and then I got it. The words that immediately came to my mind were " Cracking open". This drawing was the one that seeded all the work since then.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Morning Meditation

Last spring when I was struggling to get back to work and to be healthy I decided that if I didnt have the energy to paint I could start a very small daily ritual of making marks. Actually I decided that one mark a day would be a good start. The marks would be with Sumi Ink and brush. I would make no judgement on anything I did. It was only a meditation, a spiritual practice. I cut up small pieces of rice paper and everyday when I arrived at the studio I would sit quietly, close my eyes and settle in. When I opened my eyes I would make one stroke. That line would then whisper a word or two to me. I wrote it on the paper along with the date. It was about how I felt that day. I wanted one mark for one day. It was a practice of accepting where I was and how I felt for one day.  It took only a few moments and was done. Somedays that was all that I had the energy to do.  It was very powerful for me and it was the beginning of working in a non representational way that was very simple and very easy. It was the first step towards abstract work. It was the first step towards allowing myself some space and ease in making new art and in making a new life . I was letting some deep part of me be acknowledged.

 I still do this sweet and simple meditation and have a vey private and beautiful little stack of drawings that are only for me.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Out of the Woods

It is only when I look back on the past year that I can see that there is a rhythm and a pattern to this journey. I am certain that it has always been that way in my life but I see it a bit more clearly.  I think that there is something to be said for getting lost. Again, it is a cliché. I don't recommend it to anyone, but through all the doubt and pain and searching I can see that I did the right thing. Actually it felt like the only thing I could do and now I see it was part of a process that really has a life of its own. When you can only put one foot in front of the other you have to trust that things will work out and that you will heal. What I learned above all things is that making art and living an authentic life are the same thing for me. Finding a new life after a difficult time is the same as finding a new way into my art. Of course the work would be different, I was different . Authentic art is about being honest with yourself about who you are. Period!
After the "Woods" paintings I found myself in the same place with several of the paintings. It was the same pond in the woods. It was getting redundant and felt flat. I spent a few weeks not knowing what to paint. I messed around in the studio. I studied the work of contemporary painters. Diebenkorn was the first contemporary painter who really spoke to me. I was blown away by what he did to landscape. I wanted a looser approach but didnt know how to do that.  If I was going to work I needed to change things up and take some risks. I needed to throw away the constraints of rules and actually everything that I have ever learned or taught to my students. In experimenting with different mediums the only thing that I did that felt right was drawing. I spent about 2 months working in oils to figure out how to draw with a brush.

"Across the Meadow"

If anyone tells you that doing abstract work is easy don't believe them. It is the most difficult work that I have ever done. I worked for three months with nothing to show for it. I had to regroup. It was exhausting and I worried continually about my need to sell work. In that desperation I went back to the thing I do best and that is drawing. I needed a comfortable place and drawing has always been that. 

I decided to put away the paint, and just draw. No color, just line and tone. Now this felt good!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Into the Woods

I have always loved the Robert Frost poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". Often the words will just come into my mind. "The Woods are lovely dark and deep". Those words are like a whisper in shadows at dusk. I love the deep, dark silence of woods. I love the bright jewels of light that filter into the woods. I love the silhouettes of trees, haloed by light of so many colors. As a child I rode my horse through acres of woods in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I rode in all seasons and always alone. Those experiences have informed my life and my art. My paintings have been about trees and water and light coming through woods for many years. Last winter when it was so dark here and I knew I had to work or the dark would take me under all I could paint was woods. This is not a bad thing. I don't believe the poem is about death as some do. To me it is about rest and peace and comfort and renewal. I painted the woods because I knew it. I worked in pastel without reference of any kind on about 15 paintings. I didnt have the energy to find a place to paint or even to go out and look for "places to paint". So I painted the woods as I remembered it. I painted it still and soft and like a cocoon, a place of refuge. Resting in it gives me strength.

We are afraid of the dark in so many ways. The people who love us are afraid of the dark in us. I have frightened and lost people who have known me all my life in the last 2 years. But, to me, in going deep we know parts of ourselves we have never seen. Some parts are not what we want to see. But in reality by asking myself what I love, what comforts and nourishes me and holds me close I can find acceptance of who I am. Nature has supported and nourished me for my entire life. It is glorious! And for me, it takes me home, keeps me safe and heals me. To me the woods are more than just lovely, dark and deep. They are sublime.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Two of my pastels were just accepted into the Northwest Pastel Society member show. I am only submitting work which I really like. Both of these pieces were a step forward in my work in the last year.

"Garden Dance"

"Spring Rising"

Struggling to understand Struggle

Struggle doesn't seem logical. I like logical.  I want logical. I want it all to make sense but then again, I want magic. I want mystery. There is the conflict.  I know that "letting go of struggle" is the road to happiness. Or so they say. Great!!! OK, I will do that! Right. The truth is that all the self help knowledge in the world doesnt really tell you how to do that. I was struggling to get my health back, deal with a new home in a grey and wet part of the world, and live with the grief of loss. Twenty years in Sedona, Arizona had somehow burned itself into my consciousness. It is a world of sun and light and color and air so dry that your hair dries in 10 minutes. So, here I was in a new dark world. Artists are very affected and informed by the world around them, we all know that. I found out that the dark winter made me depressed, Great! One more thing to deal with. I didnt have any answers short of pharmaceuticals, which I really didnt want to do. The one thing that I did know was that painting was really all I knew that I really had. To say it is an anchor is a cliché. But for me, it is. No matter how I was feeling I went to the studio. For the first time in my life I have a studio that is not in my house.  In my rush to get settled I bought a house with no studio. Talk about buyers' remorse. It was the worst of times, those first months here. I was ready to turn the living room into a studio and work with what I had when I ran into an artist whose work I knew from a gallery in Sedona. For some reason I asked him if he knew of a studio for rent. He said that he did. There are times in life when one 3 minute interaction changes your life. I found my studio. I really couldn't afford it but in some ways I couldn't afford not to do it. It was the best thing that could have happened. I actually had to get up, get dressed, get into my car and drive to town. When you are depressed that isn't as easy as it sounds.  I made it a requirement. Even if I didnt work, I went. But I knew I had to do it. It was a struggle. It was there that I started to find myself again. It was slow and it still is but that is the hard part about healing. Oh, and let me add that another requirement was and still is a walk on the beach every morning , regardless of weather. That is the food for my soul. It was the most important part of my day and that was the only other thing that I knew for sure.

The Sanctuary

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Bridge from the Past

I don't think I can really forget the past work I have done and focus on "New Work" completely. Having made art for so long I do believe that everything I have done in the past is part of what I am doing now. It is true in art as it is in life. Every decision, every experience we have all goes into our Today. I began my career as a potter in 1972 and I believe that work carried it's spirit into my painting and sculpting and my jewelry design. It is all connected. Different medium, still the path of following the thread.
As I worked to settle and find a new life here I went to my old friend, pastel. Several years ago I had a run of working exclusively with the medium. I taught, wrote an article for Pastel International Magazine and exhibited the work. It was a productive time. As is my way, I switched to oil suddenly and spent 12 years learning how to put down paint with a brush. I didnt touch a pastel during that time.  I can only serve one master at a time and oil paint was a harsh master. Painting in oil has always been like a troubled marriage. I kept at it a long time and it was difficult for me. It was always hard!
So, when I arrived here alone and compromised physically and emotionally I needed comfort and most importantly--- I couldn't handle any more struggle in my life.  I just didnt have the energy. My fatigue was so severe that I could barely get into the studio let alone struggle! I wasnt even sure I could make art again. Or, let me say, art that had strength and meaning for me. As it turned out pastel was the soft and kind partner that I needed. It was comfortable and familiar.  It was like an old friend. It didn't make demands, just offered some peace and enjoyment. Ahhh-- It was good. I could only work for short periods of time and with pastel I could stop at any moment, and know that at least, I did some work.
The most important thing I learned from that first year working here was ----- I love to draw! I love to hold the medium in my hand! My hand likes to move freely and it has its own energy, like a dance! Bottom Line-- I love making lines and marks.  I had forgotten. It nourished me and helped to bring me back to myself. And, the interesting thing was how different the paintings were from those that I did all those years ago. Like life, our work grows and evolves and has a life of
its' own.  
"Garden Dance", 1998

"The Hidden Spring" 2014
The first painting in a new world

Thursday, October 15, 2015

And so it Begins--

Today seems like a good day to start this blog (again). I began a few years ago when I was traveling a lot as a sort of "Life on the Road" journal. It failed, I didnt write and it didnt seem that important. What has always been important is my work. My 45 years of making art is the thread that holds my life together and the older I get the more I see how true that is.
The last few years have been rocky to say the least. I have lost my parents, a marriage, my sweet and constant canine companion, a home that I loved, and have had health issues. And all of this as I moved to a new place where I knew no one. But, almost without being conscious of it---- the piece that held me together when I thought I wouldn't make it was making art.  So, this blog will be about a transition. It is a transition from one way of being in the world to another. When I faced the reality of the changes in my life in the last few years I also faced a host of demons. They were regret, remorse, guilt, loneliness and sadness which is no big surprise. But, I think if we grow as conscious human beings we face loss and pain in very deep and meaningful ways and can come out the other side knowing ourselves in a new way.  In my life it is a time of facing myself and really seeing who I am at a deep level. It is a time of growing into my life in a new way and facing a life that is richer and more authentic.

It is logical that my work would change. Being in pain cracks you open. It takes time to get through it all but what emerges is a deeper understanding. I see myself in more honest ways and in that cracking open much has fallen away. There is less time to "get on with it".  In my transition through a dark time to now what is really underneath all of it is an opportunity. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. There is no more time to think about making art that is authentic, that speaks my own individual voice and no one else's. There is only time to do it. This blog will chronicle that journey of making art that comes from my inner place. This work is not about the natural world (out there) that I love so much. I have spent years painting the landscape. It has been my muse and my sanctuary. I wanted to tell people through the art about how beautiful the planet it. But for the past year I have felt lost in finding my way back to painting. Nothing I had done before made sense now. There is the pressure to "paint what sells" but I couldnt find my way back to that.
When I arrived in Washington I started to see contemporary work like I had never seen before. This part of the country reflects a different aesthetic than anywhere I have ever been. It opened my mind. I started to study artists whose work seemed to be from another planet. Morris Graves shook my world in such a strong and peaceful way. He, among other artists that I "discovered"showed me what "authentic" really means. This blog is not about that, although I will share some work by other artists that inspires me. It is about my investigation into that realm of making art from an interior space. It is a realm of emotion and inner expression. I don't understand anything that I am doing and that is the first step. Moving forward without knowing where it will go takes a level of trust that is daunting. It is a journey of  non-judgement. I have no idea how "Good" any of it is. I don't know what that means anymore. It doesnt matter now.
So, I share this journey for those who may be facing a similar adventure in art making or for those who want to. Here we go!