Sometimes, as artists, we are more productive during or right
after difficult times in our lives. And then, we wonder. Would I be
an artist without distress and discomfort? Does drama follow me?
But the truth is that difficulties will come, and we all need ways to
survive and deal with them. As artists, we have this additional
language that emerges from the subconscious to help ourselves 
and others. My current project is taking on a new direction with 
recent diagnoses of cancer among friends, and needing 
reassurances of safety after a horrific school shooting.

Below is a sneak peek at my current project, a collaboration with
poet LouAnn Shepard Muhm. My job is to create rather large
translucent bowls out of sewing pattern tissue paper and various
hardening agents--still experimenting. LouAnn's is to write poems
against fears, assurances that our fears will not win. Next, I will
paint a poem and an image inside of each bowl.

This project is being partially funded by a
Minnesota State Arts Board grant,
and is inspired by ancient incantation bowls.


Ewe Dreaming?

Seemed to start a new direction in my painting last week
with "Morning Dreaming", and it is as if I got into
the head of the ewe in "Ewe in the Morning". 

Morning Dream, 2012
acrylic painting, 24" x 30"

Ewe in the Morning, 2012
acrylic painting, 24" x 30"


What are your best memories of Summer?

Summer smells, sounds, colors & light,
textures, and tastes bring back so many
childhood memories. The sweet smell of
alfalfa was always such a contrast to the
hundreds of raw scratches on my legs
after a day of making hay bales. And who
could ever forget the leg-sting and then
exhileration of jumping into the cool lake
after a sweaty day of throwing bales that
each weighed more than me?
Now that Summer break is coming to an
end, I want to post these two recent paint-

Rooted, 2012
two canvases, 12" x 30" each
acrylic on canvas

Rested, 2012
12" x "30", acrylic on canvas


Old Ewe, New Dance Tricks

Maybe this ewe can learn some new tricks.
My experience last weekend in Liz Sivertson's
painting workshop at the Grand Marais Art Colony
was fabulous. I rarely come home from a workshop
with truly useful nuggets.
NUGGET 1. Stand up, stand back, and don't get
too picky too soon. The process of painting is a
lot like a dance. I usually prefer to stand up while
painting, but I think I may be learning how to relax
and enjoy the big brushstrokes without tensing up
and forcing the detail to happen too soon. As Liz
said, "It stops holding together if you focus on the
details too soon."
NUGGET 2. As you paint, jump back and forth
between the negative and positive space. The
background and the subjects define each other.
Painting often forms from this push/pull process
of the positive and the negative. Sculpt away at
12" x 30", acrylic on canvas
(not titled yet)
NUGGET 3. Memories are powerful painting tools.
Liz Sivertson explained how having objects, smells,
sounds, textures or tastes that she associates with
certain memories in her studio aide as references
when painting, much more useful than photographs.
Although I didn't have memory-inducing objects as I
painted this alert lamb (below), it was inspired by my
memories of watching childhood lambs grow. The
bony lamb legs formed, and then I was taken back
because it was as if my 11-year-old daughter was
peering at me--such innocence and curious energy.
Little does the lamb know that it is next in line for its
tail to get snipped off. Oh, why do I shatter sweet
moments like that?
12" x 30", acrylic on canvas
(not titled yet)
Liz Sivertson's Paintings: http://www.sivertson.com/artist.php?id=21&catID=6
Grand Marais Art Colony Workshops: http://www.grandmaraisartcolony.org/workshops.cfm


Seeing Red

The agony and the ecstasy of Red. I have a love-hate relationship
with this color. Last fall, I attempted to paint with Red, and ended
up with what looked like a pink carnation massacre. But now, I
think I may be ready for Red. It is pretty widely reported by many
studies that people respond strongly to Red with increased heart-
rate, increased speed & strength, as well as increased anxiety
or exuberance. Responses vary with color intensity levels, the
amount of the color, as well as the individual.
While digging for more facts about the color Red, I am getting
both history and science lessons.
  • According to the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), because of its high visibility, Red has been the color named first most often by civilizations as they developed words.
  • Red has the longest wavelength that can be seen by the naked eye, fatiguing and irritating if viewed for too long, yet energizing in small amounts.
  • Recently Starbucks made the news with their decision to phase out 'natural cochineal extract' (crushed beetle blood) as the Red dye in their strawberry drinks and baked goods.
  • According to Victoria Finlay, author of Color: A natural history of the palette, natural cochineal extract has been used for centuries to make Red dye, still used in Cherry Coke (additive E120) as well as in cosmetics, food, beverages and fabric dyes. Cochineal extract of the Americas is a much more intense Red than that of its European relative, the Polish Cochineal.
  • Unlike hummingbirds who can only really see Reds, most insects cannot see Red.

Detail of recent painting

Recent painting, 24" x 36", acrylic on canvas


6 Ways to Make Art with Abandon

Since October 2011, I have been painting like a wild woman.
There have been some breaks, since I do teach full-time
and don't want to ignore my family--but this has been
an incredibly productive time. Now I am reflecting on
this time and hoping to continue these productive habits.


Well, don't go out and get one. But that is what got me
started in October. A tumor was found, and I waited 5
weeks through many tests to find out if it was cancerous.
In the meantime, I painted as a DISTRACTION from
the stress and didn't over-think it. It was medicine for
anxiety, but after I found out that I don't have cancer,
painting became a CELEBRATION that I get to live.
Turn the lights down, music up and make art.

that your adult mind says are silly, childish, cliché or over-
done. They continue to be fascinations for good reasons.
Your fascinations are what keep showing up in doodles or
day dreams, documentaries you can’t help but watch,
websites and books you are drawn to, what you love to
photograph, what you talk and think about. Fascinations
are sweet, delicious carrots that we too often ignore as we
take life too seriously and do what is expected of us. At
some point a few years ago I stopped painting sheep and
pears. Was I tired of explaining to people why I was
fascinated with them? One of the biggest problems with
ignoring our HEALTHY IMPULSES is that we develop
unhealthy, self-destructive kind of habits instead. Also,
keep in mind that current fascinations are the most direct
path to new ones, like my new bird fascination.
Ewe meet bird!

I See You, 2011

3. SIMPLIFY THE PROCESS. Okay visionaries,
stop making it so overwhelming. For those of us who
are fortunate and unfortunate enough to have studied art
in college, art-making feels complicated. It does require
higher level thinking, but it is what artists do. And if we
don’t do it, we are not too pleasant to be around. One
way I have simplified the process is enjoying each small
step. One day I will enjoy the simple pleasure of mixing
colors and playing with color schemes. The next day I
will sketch. The next I will use those fabulous colors
that I mixed to combine my sketches into an image that
seems like it is magically appearing on canvas.
SIMPLIFYING anything involves not getting
overwhelmed with the big picture. Progress happens
with breaking it into doable pieces. Most people know
this is the only way that overflowing storage room will
get organized, but it is also the only way that my over-
flowing imagination will be productive.

Don’t wait for the lightning bolts to give you ideas or
to shock you into action. Don’t wait for the perfect
conditions or other people to encourage you to make art.
MOVE. Create your own friction, and there will be sparks.
If you have read anything by Twyla Tharp, Julia Cameron,
or David Bayles & Ted Orland (I recommend all of
them), then you have heard the news. The more art you
make, the greater the odds of creating masterpieces. Art
is not about perfection anyway. Most art is about being
vulnerable, imperfect, and communicating something
from our depths. Choose to work WITH ABANDON,
NOT PERFECTION. Since perfectionism is paralyzing,
it will never help you to be very productive. More is

I overheard one of my students saying “My phone is my
life!” If you are over 30, you probably have a more tense
relationship with computers, cameras, and at&t
customer service. Remember this. Artists have been
the first to EMBRACE and reinvent technologies through
the ages. And in this age, digital technology is an art tool
as well as a platform for sharing your work. Make it
WORK for you. Sharing my work on this blog and
knowing that it is often viewed by my friends on their
smart-phones keeps me motivated to keep painting and
updating. Also, I have been amazed at how simply taking
digital photos with my smart-phone or camera enhances
the painting process. Analyzing the photos of in-progress
paintings has been an important part of my painting
process for the last six months. And, if I want to try a
color in a painting without wasting paint? Thank you

6. TIME IS ON YOUR SIDE. You know how those
scary fitness people tell you that lack of time is not a
good excuse to skip exercise? WELL, that is as true for
art-making. Yes, art-making is time-intensive, and no one
likes to be interrupted, but daily 30 minute spurts do
wonders to keep enthusiasm for life and art-making alive.
I discovered this in November. My life was busy, but one
or two 30 minute painting spurts a day led to getting large
canvases done over a week or two. I didn't like getting
interrupted, but the time in between increased the


Blank Canvas in May

Since this one is closer to home, I want to make sure that
everyone is invited to the Friday, May 4th, 5-7pm reception
for my shared exhibit with Dawn Rossbach at the Blank
Canvas Gallery, Main Avenue, Park Rapids. (Next to the
new Necce's Italian Ristorante.) Yes, there will be appetizers!

My painting "I See You Too" and five other recent, large
acrylic paintings will be on display May 2-29.

Oh yeah, I also have stickers of my work to share with
anyone who comes to the reception!


Phase 4 & 5, From hating it to "Did I do that?"

Detail, I See You Too

Phase "almost done"
I See You Too
30" x 48", acrylic on canvas

I got a lot of painting done today, and moved through
a couple phases. Today one of the phases included
wanting to quit many times. The stage when self-
doubt is greatest, and I have all of the typical self-
dialogue. "I hate this. Why do I make art? Why can't
I actually enjoy math and be an engineer? This music
is annoying. Maybe an engineer would like this music.
Or a lawyer. Lawyers dress so nice, and don't usually
have to worry about getting paint on strange places
of all their pants... Ah, no one is forcing you to paint.
In fact, only a few people would notice if you'd stop.
Jerks. Why wouldn't they notice? Oh yeah, they are
busy being engineers and lawyers."
It seems like I am teetering on the edge of completely
destroying it and becoming an engineer (impossible)
or a lawyer (maybe) one minute and then somehow it
forms and I witness it taking on a life of its own. Like
Erkel, I say, "Did I do that?" These are the satisfying
days. Because of course I realize I did do that, and
I know it wasn't as easy as I want it to look.

(A special thank you to the engineers and lawyers. Not
sure why I think about you on days like today, but you
help get me through. I do appreciate what you do, 
especially because I can not do it. We are all in this

Phase 3, Sheep Eye Anatomy Lesson

A detail of the eye progress yesterday.
Still need to add the lashes and more detail.
  Painting opportunities were pretty slim at the end
of this work week, but appreciating every minute I get--
and concentrated on the eyes of I See You 2 yesterday.

Sheep eye trivia:
Sheep pupils are rectangular, widening vertically
in height with varying light. These pupils allow
expanded peripheral vision to spot predators


I See You 2

I am hoping to take daily photos of my current
challenge, a 30"x 48" canvas of a sheep and black
bird that I started yesterday. So far the plan is to use
inverse colors and in the opposite direction as a
smaller version done last November, I see you.

Phase 1, 30" x 48" canvas
(The awkward phase that I don't usually share.)

Since October, I have found the camera to be one
of my best painting tools. I paint a little, then take
photos. These photos help me to step away
from my distorted view in front of the canvas and
decide on the next moves with color and compos-
tion. Also, I can try out new colors and contrast 
on the computer, and not waste paint!

I See You, November 2011
24" x 30"


To make art is to be vulnerable.

There are times when subtly and silence is golden, and
others when it is tense. Times to speak up. Times to stay
silent. I am still learning how to accept and embrace all of
the above, while not second-guessing myself so much. It
will always amaze me how making art is such a great
metaphor for simply living life.

Silence, 2012
acrylic on canvas, 24" x 36"
I have never claimed to be a great speaker. I enjoy some
writing, and my art always communicates in a way my words
can not. I suppose if I got more satisfaction from expressing
myself verbally, art wouldn't be as essential. Here lies the
tension in both talking about art and teaching it... I have to dig 
deep when explaining the necessity of making art and putting
yourself out there. I know the necessity of making art in my bones,
but explaining that verbally is especially challenging. I suppose
this is why it is so important for my students and my own children
to see my work as it develops through all of its awkward stages.
If I expect anyone else to take that leap and be a little vulnerable,
then I too have to show some courage. 

Art is not about self-indulgence, like some who dare not make
it would like to think. For me, selling the product of someone else
is so much easier than putting my own work out there. But, as
most of us know, not doing art when you are an artist isn't
a good option either. To make art is to be vulnerable. But then
to truly live, is to be vulnerable--end of story.


Marimekko muses



This time of year I crave to be bathed in the color and
patterns of Marimekko. For more than 60 years, this design
from Finland has helped us escape tundra-states-of-mind.
I speak and read very little Finnish, but somehow the
vintage Marimekko fabric designs (and some of today)
speak to me. Sometimes in whispers, most often in jubilant
yelps, Marimekko designs tell me something about
where my ancestors came from, and always make me

What I have learned from Marimekko:
  • Great design is uplifting.
  • "One must stand out from the rest." Armi Ratia
  • Don't be afraid of color. Be aware of its power.
  • "Tension between simplicity and excitement." Fujiwo Ishimoto
  • "My most important mentor: Finnish nature." Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi
  • Tell your story.
  • http://us.marimekko.com/unfold/designers


Layered processes

This week I shared some images of my work from over
the last nine years with my students. Also, I dehydrated
this pear andreassembled it to share with them. I was
trying to give them insightinto the creative process, how
ideas are born. Of course, there isn't a formula--but I
will say that for me it is extremely layered. Layers of
memories and experiences. Layers of images and
forms. Layers of ideas, failed attempts, and patience.
(I've learned to save failed attempts, because they
often point to the next step or are useful years later.)

Eight years ago I create a layered pear just like the one
above by dehydrating cross-sections of a pear and then
reassembling it. At the time, I was suffering from
dehydration during pregnancy. Carrying that dehydrated,
layered pear around the house over a few months, I
wondered how it could influence my next step of art-
making. In April 2004, our bundle was born and my
energy was restored. That layered pear led to four years
of creating pear-formed sculptures out of sewing pattern
paper, wire, and beeswax--and a solo show at the
SOHO20 Gallery in NYC. Ideas usually start small,
but they often grow in layers and sometimes get bigger
than I ever thought possible. (And yes, that also pertains
to children, now bigger than I ever thought possible!)
Nest, 2005
Sewing pattern paper, wire, beeswax, basswood log
New York Mills Cultural Center
Sewing pattern paper, wire, beeswax, vintage ironing boards
Soho20 Gallery, New York City


An idea of scale

This shows the size of the painted pears next to an actual pear.
This photo also shows the metallic copper paint that I used in
these paintings.



Symbiotic, 2012
acrylic on canvas, 24" x 30"
Hopefully this looks more effortless than it was... 
some kids simply require more effort than others. 
Started this three weeks ago and just may have 
come to some kind of a conclusion today.

Maybe recent bizarre dreams are influencing,
and complicating, my work. I am reaching some
kind of territory that is a little uncomfortable--so
that must mean that learning and growing is
happening, right? Or perhaps my jeans are just
too tight.


Veiled & Grounded

Veiled, 2012
acrylic on canvas, 24" x 30"

Grounded, 2012
acrylic on canvas, 24" x 30"