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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015
  thoughts about 2016
I'm home again after an exceptionally fine week of teaching at Cullowhee Mountain Arts in North Carolina. I love this program, guided by the vision and superb management skills of its director, Norma Hendrix. The facility on the campus of Western Carolina University is top notch, and one of the best aspects of the program is that several classes run concurrently during the week. That means all the students and instructors have the opportunity to meet and learn what the others are up to. I taught next door to Lisa Pressman, and enjoyed some collaborative painting and sharing of info between classes. Here, Lisa and I work together on two paintings, passing them back and forth on command from a student we designated to call time. Fast-paced and challenging! (sorry, I don't know whom to credit for this photo...cameras were clicking around the room, and this one made the rounds on facebook.)

The group of artists who came to the advanced cold wax workshop I taught were all very focused, perceptive, and open-minded in their work, including those with comparatively less experience. They were a delight to work with in every way. Lots of good conversations, laughter, and hours of painting.

And then, when it was all over, I set out for the drive home, already tired from the week of teaching. The trip was over 1000 miles through heat, road construction and highways clogged with summer vacationers. To add to the discomfort, the air conditioning in my old Subaru petered out during the trip, and the hotel I'd booked for an overnight stay on the way home was far less wonderful than its website (and price) led me to expect. I wish I'd have flown--and I will next time-- but flying can be exhausting too. I arrived home yesterday around 4pm, too wrung out to do much except watch television for the remainder of the day (very unusual behavior for me.)  I know from past experience that it will take me several days to find my energy again.

In the meantime, I'll attempt to take it easy, but my to-do list will be on my mind-- I leave for my Italy workshop in just over two weeks. After that, I teach in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, then I go back to North Carolina, and will finish out the year with two workshops in Ireland. In all of 2015, I'll have made three trips to Europe, two to North Carolina, one to Ontario, one to Taos, NM and one to Tucson, AZ, plus several more local road trips to workshops and galleries in my area. Travel is enriching and exciting, and going overseas fulfills a long-time dream to see more of the world.

And yet...there are concerns that have come up repeatedly in the past few months of this very busy year. How can I find time for rest and relaxation, along with creative rejuvenation and time for my own painting? How can I keep from becoming overly tired and losing my art mojo? These are questions that many busy artists face, as various aspects of life pull us from our quiet, creative centers.  Though I've resisted this issue for years, I've gradually come to understand the risk of becoming depleted, physically and artistically if I don't take more time for myself.

I've noticed the difference I feel when I do give myself more "me" time--for example, how important the silence and low stress environment was during my recent residency in northern Sweden. I love residencies for this reason--drinking in that quiet, centered time like cold water when I'm parched. I can also find this quiet, inner place when I'm at home, in my garden, on walks, and when I'm in my own studio.

Thinking about all of this, I've started looking more consciously for ways to give myself small breaks for relaxation and reflection. For example, before I left North Carolina after my workshop, I stayed on an extra night in my woodsy cabin accommodations, which I'd had little time to really enjoy due to long teaching days. I gave myself a lovely, quiet day to sit on the screen porch, write in my journal, read, take a walk. I wondered then when the last time I took a whole day off had been. Below, one of the photos I took as I walked beside a little stream that ran along the cabin property. It seems a metaphor for the flow of vital energy, which can only happen when the channel is free of excess debris.

After six years of holding up to 12 workshops annually, and with these insights on my mind, I know it's time to slow down. Not an easy decision; several times a week, I hear from new people that are eager to take class from me, or from former students hoping to return for another session. It will be a challenge not to give in and start adding on classes (please don't tempt me!)  But my firm plan for 2016 is to teach only six workshops total: two with Cullowhee Mountain Arts (venues and dates TBA), two in County Mayo, Ireland in the autumn, and two at my studio (probably one in spring and one in summer.)  The classes at my studio and in Ireland will be cold wax instruction for mixed levels, beginner to advanced (beginners will need to be experienced in some other type of painting.) At this time, I expect the other two workshops, the ones through Cullowhee Mountain Arts, to be aimed at advanced levels only--one for advanced painting with cold wax, and one for advanced painting in any medium, with a focus of developing personal direction in abstraction.

I'll publish full details before the end of this year, but in the meantime, if you wish to join a contact list for priority registration, you may email me for the studio classes, or Una Forde for the workshops in Ireland or Norma Hendrix for those associated with Cullowhee Mountain Arts. (Some classes will involve instructor approval and submission requirements, which have not yet been worked out, but you can still join the contact list.) If you haven't joined my mailing list, you can do so on the contact page of my website or on my Facebook page. By doing so, you'll receive full details of the scheduled classes for next year.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015
  outer / inner
Although I admire and respond to a lot of pure, non-referential abstract painting, my own work has never been in that camp. I've always abstracted from a visual source. For the past twenty years or so, my fascination has been the intersection between the outer, visual world and the inner world of memories, feelings, ideas and responses to my experiences. Almost always the outer,visual input in my work comes from landscape and nature. (You can read earlier blog posts on this topic here and here. )

The exact mixture of outer and inner elements varies with every stage of every painting, and as time goes by, the search for the perfect balance compels me as much as it did when I was just beginning. My favorite paintings are the ones in which I sense a clear connection to my outer source material, but transform it with meaning that arises from my inner vision and intent.

the studio at Ricklundgarden

I've recently returned from an artist residency at Ricklundgarden, in northern Sweden (see previous May/June posts for photos and commentary.) While I was immersed in that spectacular landscape, my paintings were fairly direct references to my surroundings, especially in terms of color and texture. Ice and snow, rocks, lichen, and birch bark all contributed to images that emerged in the Ricklundgarden studio. When I am on an artist residency, and inspired by new and unique landscape, I feel I am taking visual notes as I paint. The beauty and energy in the work I do while on residency lies in its directness and spontaneity. I try to take in and respond to as many aspects of the visual landscape as I can while I'm there. Although the more thoughtful and conceptual aspects of my work are always present to some extent, they play a secondary role during those few precious weeks of soaking up the visual world and responding to it in the studio. There is a free flow to the work that I do after spending time outside soaking up the unique beauty around me. That is enough, and very satisfying. Below are two photos, one of a small work on paper and one of the ice melt on Kult Lake that inspired it.

Kultsjon, 6"x4" mixed media on paper

Now that I'm back in my own studio and working on larger, more developed paintings, though, a new process begins, one of filtering and mixing my visual impressions with ideas, memories and feelings. The paintings I did at Ricklundgarden are now source material themselves--my visual notes. I have them spread out on a table and sort through them often, looking, remembering, and analyzing.

Below is a small painting I did at Ricklundgarden in response to the birch trees that grew everywhere. Especially when I first arrived and the world there was smooth and white with snow, I was drawn to the complex textures, colors and lines in the bark. I played around with these in a number of small works on paper.

Now here are two larger paintings I have done since coming home. My visual source in nature is birch bark once again, but less obviously so than in the smaller work done in Sweden. What have stayed with me are the colors, and the lines that appear on the bark that look almost like drawings. As I worked with line on these paintings, I had the sense that I was drawing maps of my memories of travel in Lappland, the meandering walks and the several road trips that my friend and fellow resident artist, Janice Mason Steeves, and I took.

So, a shift happened that I value in my more developed, larger work--a synthesis of both my inner space as well as what I see and observe became integral to the painting. When this happens, it helps me to know the painting is finished. I'm excited to see what other ideas emerge from my time in Sweden as well as how this particular thread will play out.

Travels in Lappland #1, 40"x40" oil and mixed media on panel

Travels in Lappland #2, 36"x48" oil and mixed media on panel

Sunday, June 07, 2015
  leaving ricklundgarden...
the sky at 1 a.m. this morning....

It's my last day here at Ricklundgarden, the artist's residency in Northern Sweden where I have been living and working for the past month. Along with my friend and colleague, Janice Mason Steeves, I will fly tomorrow to Stockholm for a few days of seeing the sights, and then to Toronto on the 10th. On the 12th I'll start my drive from her place to Wisconsin and home, sweet home.

It's cold and rainy outside, and a good day for getting ready to leave. Along with packing and cleaning, yesterday we also finished writing one of our co-blog posts--an ongoing project in which we have a conversation about a particular topic. This one is about our time at Ricklundgarden.  Click here to read our thoughts.

It's been a very productive time--I've done almost 70 paintings, most of them small and quick, others more developed. That's a lot to take home and contemplate. Here is a photo of my studio taken a few days ago from the little balcony overhead, and the other showing the view from that balcony window.

There is much to consider about this residency, and I know my views about it will continue to evolve after I leave, and gain some distance on it. The influences may be subtle, woven in with other ideas and experiences, or they may be more direct. The mystery and magic of the intuitive process is that from all that is taken in--visually, emotionally, experientially--what persists and takes on the most meaning over time cannot be predicted. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015
  a creative loop
Last weekend, Janice Mason Steeves and I paid a visit to the Swedish city of Umeå on the opposite side of the country from where we are staying for a month at Ricklundgarden (an artist residency in Saxnas.)  While we both love the quietness and remote location of Ricklundgarden, a few days of exploring another location and being among flowers and greenery was very appealing. We thoroughly enjoyed the museums, shops and other delights of the city.

On our return, we stopped at Umedalens Skulpturpark, a sculpture park on the city's outskirts, and spent an hour or so wandering among the works on display, some by well known artists such as Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois and Antony Gormley. The sculptures are scattered around the extensive grounds of a complex of buildings, once a psychiatric institution, and today an office park and school. We had a map, but even so, we had to search for some of the sculptures, and a few fit into the surroundings so well--or were otherwise somewhat concealed-- that we almost passed them by. It was an entertaining sort of hide and seek to find and identify what we could. Some of the sculptures had an interactive element, including one of our favorites...

Cristina Iglesias, Vegetation Room VII, 2000

After leaving this immersion into a sculptural world, we both noticed that ordinary objects around us (trash bins, road markers) suddenly took on the aura of art objects. We had undergone a shift in perception that allowed us to notice the form and presence of things normally unseen.  I've experienced the same phenomenon after leaving the studios or exhibits of certain artists who caused me to see differently, or more acutely, at least for a short time--a particular focus brought on by the artist's interpretation of the visual world.

I've also noticed the same thing with my own work--that after a day of being immersed in painting, I see more texture, color, contrast and detail in the world around me. The act of putting down color and manipulating paint seems to open up my own vision, and I leave the studio seeing through a painterly lens. I suspect this must be a fairly universal experience for those of us who spend hours in the studio. It is certainly helpful for generating continued ideas and direction--a creative loop in which the work and visual experience feed one another.

I am thinking about how creative loop works for me here at Ricklundgarden, where I am surrounded by a spectacular landscape that changes every day with the melting of snow and ice and the gradual appearance of spring. I'm spending time outside every day, and constantly looking out my windows when I'm inside, given the incredible views I have of mountains and lake in a world that never seems to actually get dark (there are a few hours of dusk around midnight to 3a.m.) I take a lot of photos and soak in every visual experience.  But I notice that my sensitivities to the landscape are especially open when I go out in the evening, after a day of painting.

My work is not about the visual experience alone, though--it also comes from the emotions I feel in this remote, majestic place.  The power in the contrast of ice, snow and rock, in the changing weather and the flowing of the water moves me. There is also a sense of mystery about what lies beneath the surface of the snow and ice. Every day that moves toward spring allows rocks and plants emerge that we did not see before. The grounds around Ricklundgarden that seemed so smooth and gently contoured with snow when we first came are now revealing their rugged and stony character, and the accessible parts of the lake shore constantly expand. As Jan and I head out for our evening walks, there is a feeling of childlike play in exploring the woods and shore. There are also bicycles for us to use, which are really fun. I feel about 10 years old when I take one down the road to the grocery or to my favorite waterfall spot down the road.

All of this experience is important to my paintings, which evolve intuitively, based on what I feel about the surroundings here as well as what I observe. As on other residencies in beautiful, remote places, being out in the landscape--walking, photographing, and just soaking it all up-- is the other half of what makes being here worthwhile. The creative loop of allowing the landscape to feed my work, and my work in turn opening me up to the landscape, is a rich experience.

A photo below of an ice formation taken after a day in the studio that involved a lot of white paint...

Below are some of my recent paintings, that come from the idea of what lies beneath the snow and is now emerging, and the visual delights of snow and ice contrasted with stone and ground cover. Both are currently untitled--top one is 10"x8", lower one is 12"x12", oil and cold wax.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
  at ricklundgarden
Two weeks ago today, my friend Janice Mason Steeves and I talked and giggled our way through the Toronto airport (already anticipating a fun trip together) and flew overnight to Stockholm, Sweden. We spend one jet-lagged, lovely evening wandering around the oldest part of the city, before departing again the next morning on a tiny plane to Vilhelmina, in the far northern part of the country. Although we were a bit shocked by the amount of snow still on the ground (knee-deep in places at Ricklundgarden, an artist residency in Lappland-our destination) the striking beauty of the silvery-white landscape soon revealed itself. Within the first few days we were out on snow shoes and loving the experience of being out in the snowy world, with its vistas of lake and mountains. The warmth and green of spring at home has come to seem very far away.

Now I can see it would have been a shame to have missed this end of winter display--the contrasts of dark stone and sheer white tundra, the ever-widening clear water on the mostly still frozen lake, and the first small flowers and birds appearing.  Some days, spring is in the air, the sun is warm and the piles of snow shrinking almost visibly. Others, like today are gray with light snow coming down.  From what we hear, real spring is still weeks away--probably coming near the end of our time here.

All last week we co-taught a workshop in abstract painting with cold wax medium, to a small but dedicated group who made the somewhat complicated journey here. Teaching and painting time were supplemented with other activities which added essential depth to the experience, along with some fun social times.

A highlight for everyone was our day out, when we visited a spectacular waterfall area not too far from Saxnas, called Trappstegsforsen, in the morning.  There were places where we could get right to the water's edge.

That afternoon, we drove to Stekenjokk, a region above the tree line on the road to Norway. The road itself which was closed to traffic at some point, as it is still being cleared of snow. We left the car then and walked through a landscape so sublime, it was like a dream of a smooth, still ,white world.

Now that class has ended,  Janice and I are enjoying the next few weeks as time for our own work and exploration; we have until early June here as artists in residence. I've been working in mixed media on various kinds of paper, mostly quite small, with visual ideas taken from the contrasts and textures of the landscape. I have especially enjoyed working with egg tempera, seen in the examples below. As always when I'm on a residency, I spend a good deal of time out in the landscape taking it all in, and then allow imagery to emerge intuitively in my work.

I'll post more images of my paintings next time. Painting, reading, writing, walking, exploring and visiting take up the days. Gerd Ulander, the director of Ricklundgarden, has been a wonderful resource and host on our various excursions, and she is ever gracious and spontaneous. Just this morning, a ride she gave us to the grocery store evolved into a drive to a vista point atop a nearby hill, and a stop at the local church that features a striking mural of the Good Samaritan story by the Swedish figurative painter Kalle, who spent time at Ricklundgarden in the mid-20th century. We shall miss her when she leaves tomorrow for an extended trip away, but she has helped us to plan several more adventures for our remaining days here.

To be continued...

Saturday, May 02, 2015
  decision making
I'm writing this in a transitional time, organizing and packing for five weeks in Sweden, most of them at Ricklundgarden in the far north of the country. That is where my friend Janice Mason Steeves and I will be teaching a workshop, followed by an artist residency for our own work. The trip is only a few days away now, and as always before a big trip, details and loose ends loom enormously.

My brain is tired from decision-making. Some of the decisions are pretty trivial--the blue sweater or the white one? Some seem more crucial, especially the ones about art materials--how much paper, which tubes of paint, how many colors of pastel? It all gets down to prioritizing space in the limited contents and weight of a suitcase and carry-on.

But of course, it's all in preparation for an opportunity I am thrilled to have, so I need to keep that perspective! And taking time out for my blog is a nice break from all the details of my to-do list.

The Silence Of Ancient Surfaces, 32"x48" oil and mixed media on panel

Interestingly, the brain fatigue from making so many choices seems very similar to what I generally experience at the end of a painting day--when I am often more mentally fatigued than physically. While I am perfectly able to continue putting down paint, my brain can take no more. Even though the choices I make while painting are intuitive and spontaneous for the most part, choices are still being made below the surface of my awareness. Somehow, these intuitive moves seem to be as consuming of energy as those pondered more consciously (and there are plenty of those as well.)

I'm often amazed at the number of decisions required to "make something out of nothing", to go from a blank panel to a finished work. Especially in process-generated abstraction, in which the journey shapes the work, every step along the way is a choice of direction. Countless decisions are made, over the course of one day, and over all the days it takes to complete a painting. Including of course, the final, difficult one of knowing when the work is done.

As with any project (including packing for a trip) the decisions begin broadly with choices of panel and general concept, and become more and more precise and fine in the stages of editing and revising. I have always been picky about the last phase--the fine-tuning of my work.  Adding bits here and there, standing back, living with it all for a few days to see what else might need a small tweak. I love this stage, when it seems that any small changes are all for the good. For me, this time for making small adjustments is crucial in order to feel the work is truly finished. I'm looking for the point at which nothing more needs to be added or deleted, and then I call it done.

The painting posted above, The Silence of Ancient Surfaces, is one I recently brought to completion. The final details, a series of dark markings with charcoal across the surface, brought a satisfying depth that I had felt was lacking before that step.

Now I'm smiling, thinking back to my packing-for-a-trip analogy. Today is the day for fine-tuning. Musing about the decisions involved in painting make packing seem pretty easy.

I'll be posting from Sweden next time, with photos and tales of the trip. I hope you will follow along!
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
  thoughts and dreams
Recently my Swedish friend Asa Bostrom published an interview with me (conducted by email) on her blog (click here to read.)  She asked excellent questions about topics such as my studio practice and how I would describe the intersection of creativity and spirituality. I was really pleased to have my words available to both her Swedish speaking and English speaking followers. As far as I know, it's the first time my thoughts have been translated into another language.

Asa has also been very instrumental in organizing the upcoming workshop at Ricklundgarden (an artists' residency in Northern Sweden) that my friend Janice Mason Steeves and I will be teaching in just three weeks. I met Asa when she came to my workshop in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, Ireland in 2013. (I love the international aspect of all of this!) When she brought up the idea of a workshop in Sweden to me then, it seemed like a fantasy rather than something that would actually take place. In talking with Janice about it back then, one of us would often say, "Do you really think that workshop in Sweden is going to happen?" In took Asa's persistence in finding a location and helping with many planning details to see the idea to realization. And of course, there have been many hours of work for Janice and myself as well--an awful lot of them at the keyboard, where neither of us prefers to spend our time. But all of it worthwhile; we are both now excitedly anticipating our time in Sweden.

Ricklundgarden, Saxnas, Sweden

Looking back, it seems that many events in my teaching life have begun as ideas that seem like dreams at first. Then, through many rounds of decision making, number crunching, and countless emails dealing with endless details, they have grown to reality.

I am thinking about this now, midway through teaching a workshop at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos NM--a beautiful, historic adobe home that was visited by many Modernist painters, writers, and intellectuals of various sorts, starting in the early 1920s--Georgia O'Keeffe, DH Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Carl Jung, and Martha Graham among them. Today it is a lovely inn and conference center, steeped in the history of its famous owner and her visitors.

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has been in my thoughts for a long time. About ten years ago I was in Taos for a day and took a look around the house and grounds. I was impressed by the atmosphere and character of the place, and stories of its visitors. As I left that day, I thought, "Someday I want to come to a workshop here." That seemed a rather impossible dream with kids still in school, and finances tight.

the classroom at Mabel Dodge Luhan House this week

And yet, this week I'm not just attending, but teaching a workshop there. I feel so grateful for everything that has allowed my dreams to move forward into reality--even those hours at the computer, and the stress and uncertainties of planning. The time, gritty details and hard work are not the stuff of dreams, but they are the necessary groundwork.

Taos Mountain 



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