Final 2015 post--dark, colder and older

In the final days of 2015, I want to post this work that
was also painted this month. I struggle this time of year
with the lack of sun as I get older (January birthday) and
the cold clamps down on the region. But, the sun will
shine a little longer each day now. The cold in Minnesota
is inevitable. And aging, well aging continues each day
too, and embracing it is the best option.

Call it gimmicky, but I am on the search for my word for
2016. It will come to me, just like COLOR did for 2015
and BRAVE for 2014. What is most needed now will
determine it.


Working, Wishing & Looking Away

The two most recent paintings from this week are
lighter and brighter, and more simplified. COLOR
was my word for 2015, and it is feeling great to go
with more color, and not over-think it. As my daughter
Anna said this week while writing magnetic poetry
with her sister, "It doesn't turn out if you plan it."

Looking at these recent paintings I am wondering what
it all means, but as an artist it really doesn't matter at
the time of making. What matters is that I am making,
trusting as I go, and not worrying about what will sell,
or what will be exhibited, or how it will be received.
What matters is being present and knowing that I
am painting something that I wish existed. When that
wish, not plan, but when that wish becomes a reality
after some flow and some struggle, there is satisfaction.
At that moment, am knowing that all is well, and all 
will be okay, and I am in a hopeful state of being. 

Which brings me to something I wrote recently:
Some people will give you the message that no 
matter what you do, how kind or great you are, 
you are still not one of them. Or some people 
just want to point out flaws. Forgive them and 
look away, and find abundant beauty and 
blessings in places outside unhappy groups of 
people. Try not to be sad or bitter, but love, 
because you are loved and imperfect, and 
forgiven. Our time here is short and grace is 
new each minute.


Fresh Art Friday

In keeping with the same compositional format (see
posts below) on 24"x30" canvas, one painting was
finished this week. The other has just begun, and might
be a lighter, brighter painting--or not. Helps to have a
format for beginning (a close up of my shoulder next
to my husband's), and then freedom to explore the door/
wolf/water/space-in-between metaphors as I go. New
stories are forming, and it is feeling fresh.


Beginning a Series of Spaces

With an exhibit coming Summer 2016, a series is beginning.
On October 12th, I posted this photo.

It is a zoomed-in detail of my husband and me overlooking
a lake in 2010, taken by our then 9 year-old daughter
without us realizing it. This photo has fascinated me since
then and recently I started to use the space in between us
from the photo as a take off point for two paintings, that I
hope will grow into more.  And, hello to the wolf, a new
metaphor that is developing.
acrylic painting, 30" x 24"


The Spaces Between Us

At times the spaces in between us are too large and
gaping. Others times the space is small, confined, or
undefined, like where my kids used to share a small
bedroom without closets, or in the tight space of my
claustrophobia dreams crawling through dirt tunnels.

Around 30 years ago, my family went on a river-tubing
excursion in the Minnesota summer heat, my mom, dad,
three little bothers and me. (Now that I think about it, my
parents were young, still in their 30s.) My youngest brother,
Will, had tubes in his ears at the time, and wasn't supposed
to submerge his head. Just as we were about to float down
a rocky stretch of mini-rapids, Will slipped off his tube and
went under--and in went my mom after him. I remember
looking back and being terrified seeing the empty tubes
lightly bobbing toward me. And then, in went my dad to
retrieve both mom and Will. He pulled them up to shore as
the rest of us grabbed their tubes. Now these weren't wild
rapids, but my brothers were little (approx. 5, 7, and 9)
and I was 14. I remember looking at the small bleeding cut
on my mom's leg, and thinking if only the space between 
the tubes had been smaller, I could have prevented it.
(My brothers turned out to have a blast, especially Will.
Risk wasn't my thing then; I've gotten a little better at risk
and not feeling responsible for everything, since then.)

The space in between us is pretty small when raising
young children. It has to be, but now as our daughters are
growing, I am finding more space for myself, and more
space and time for my husband and me. Yesterday as we
walked through our Fall woods, I thought more about the
space in between us, especially with this man who has
walked with me for twenty-two years. Often the woods
are his space, but we walked it together yesterday.

My work has been exploring the spaces in-between, lately.
Below I am playing with the shapes of the shadows and
the space between us.

In our woods yesterday, October, 2015.

Bearhead Lake, 2010. Taken by our daughter, Anna, without us knowing.


Self-Imposed Book Report, by Tiffany Besonen

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth
Gilbert is a call for creative action, play, and trust.

Shut Fear Up
Written in her girlfriend-at-a-coffee-shop voice,
Gilbert gives many great examples of ordinary people
with "stubborn gladness" hammering out their creative
work despite insecurities and fears. Most memorable for
me is her note to fear, "Dearest Fear: Creativity and I
are about to go on a road trip together. I understand
you'll be joining us, because you always do... understand
this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be 
making decisions along the way... You're not allowed
to touch the road maps; you're not allowed to fiddle
with the temperature. Dude, you're not even allowed
to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old
familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive."
Yes! Fear may be present, but don't empower it.

Stop Complaining. Just Stop.
And here is another thing that shouldn't get much of
your time and attention, negativity and complaining.
Gilbert says, "Of course it's difficult to create things;
if it wasn't difficult everyone would be doing it, and it
wouldn't be special or interesting." She says by
complaining, "you are scaring away inspiration." Good
reminder that the tortured artist image is just an image
that will actually work against you. She who spends less
time with angst has more time to make art. And, art is
what I want to do, right? Yes. Also, EG has the audacity
to suggest that creating is pleasurable and fun, even
sensual. I happen to totally agree, and when it isn't so
fun, I know it will be soon. Complaining and having a
tortured-artist-fit, will prolong getting to the good part,
right? Do we really want things to be easy all the time?
Where is the challenge and reward in that?

Perseverance + Done Enough vs. Perfectionism
Gilbert starts to get to the core of why we make art.
Hint, not to get famous or make money. (Although
she is an example of someone who has gained both.)
She doesn't dig as deep as I'd like into the why of
creation, but most of her point is to not take it all
so seriously. Just do it. Don't worry about whether it
is good or important. Just get it "done enough", she
says, so it isn't just another inspired, but unfinished
creation hanging out there. Gilbert pretty convincingly
tells us that we owe it to ourselves and our inspiration to
follow through, or inspiration will not find us as often. 
Done enough vs. Perfectionism is always an issue with
creators, and probably the difference between the doers
and the quitters. The quitters/non-finishers always have
excuses, but mainly it is because they did not persevere
and allowed their perfectionism (expecting perfect
conditions, perfect materials, perfect timing, perfect
results) to stop them, end of story.

My MFA Dilemma 
I doubt Big Magic will be required reading in MFA
programs, especially since Gilbert says that most MFAs
are too expensive and  unnecessary to actually making
art. While this really is a great thing for me to hear right 
now while I don't have an MFA and probably won't be
in an MFA program in the near future, I have to disagree
with dismissing MFA programs completely. Obviously,
an MFA is required for some jobs (mainly fine arts
professors), but also I believe education (if it's the right
program for you) is an efficient avenue to growth and
transformation. As a teacher, I see evidence of this every
day when students are challenged out of their comfort
zones and then supported and encouraged to new heights.
As an artist, I also want to experience an atmosphere of
support and challenge, in ways that I could never do on
my own. That being said, I cannot sit around waiting for
an MFA to make art; artists always find a way to make
art, as well as find encouragement.

Playful Fox vs. Suffering Martyr
When Gilbert discusses how creativity should be more of
a playful trickster than a suffering martyr, I immediately
got  the image of the fox that keeps showing up in my work.
I imagine my fox playing and creating when Gilbert says,
"I believe that the original human impulse for creativity
was born out of pure trickster energy. Of course it was!
Creativity wants to flip the mundane world upside down
and turn it inside out." My fox has become my inner stinker,
the playful companion who bores easily with my self-pity,
and does not want to stop even when I run out of paint or
time or both. Obstacles like needing sleep or the high
cost of art supplies are nothing to this fox; there are always
ways around, under, or through them.

Curiosity, The Best Meat
Finally, toward the end of Big Magic: Creative Living  
Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert gets to what I consider
the really meaty stuff. My inner-fox devoured it up and
wanted more. EG says if you are fascinated by or have an
interest in something, pay attention. "It might seem like
nothing, but it's a clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will
lead you next. Then follow the next clue, and the next,
and the next." This is some of the how of making art. Life
is not boring, look around. "And since creativity is still the
most effective way to access wonder, I choose it."

Vulnerability & Fierce Trust 
Then it is time to let go of your work and share it with
others, and in my opinion it really isn't art if it isn't
shared, becoming more than just yours. It is scary and
there are no guarantees that it will be well received.
"Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work
anyhow, because fierce trust knows that the outcome
does not matter." If you truly want to make art, it does
not matter how it is received. IF I TRULY WANT TO

Unbound, 2015, acrylic (including metallic copper) on canvas

Tiffany Besonen is an artist and art teacher who lives in rural Northern
Minnesota on a century old farmstead with her family. She teaches 
grades 3-12 Art in the Nevis School District, and has exhibited her 
work throughout the Midwest and at the SOHO20 Gallery in New York 
City. She writes about the challenges and joys of art-making.


Movement In Between

"In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed 
and the first of that which comes; so with present time."
Leonardo da Vinci

August 2015 Camping Trip. Rocks and lines of foam downstream from Gooseberry Falls, Mn:


The Space In Between

Space In Between, diptych, acrylic paint and paint marker on canvas, 16" x 8"

My individual work seems to thrive best when I find 
places to observe the 'space in between', the space 
that connects. Doors in my work began when I was 
at a workshop at the Minneapolis College of Art and 
DesignWhile the aged doors and historic architecture 
of the MCAD campus was interesting, it wasn't until 
I opened the doors and sketched the thresholds that 
the spaces came alive. The 'space in between' of a 
threshold isn't inside or out, here or there, but a 
connection of the two. Undefined, unnamed spaces 
intrigue, yet scare me. Grief is also an in-between 
space like that, vague, scary, and confusing. At MCAD 
and later at home, parts of the elusive fox appeared 
in the open doorways, a tail here and a snout there. 
Sometimes the fox seems like my unseen and unheard 
self, sometimes kinetic energy, but always whispering 
for me to follow. 

Grief may be a thread through my recent work, but also 
the energy of hope and acceptance is present. Now, the 
negative 'spaces in between' the doors and foxes are 
yielding these colors, great abstract shapes, and active 
lines that speak to me. My new work seems to be 
especially saying something about joy, freedom, and 


Out-Doors Installation, a call for doors in memory

I am currently starting a new project about "The Art 
of Grieving" (I know, I am always such a ray of 
sunshine) and looking for donations of old doors. If 
you donate a certain door in memory of someone, I 
will paint the door a color that you associate with 
them--still working on the details and want your 
input so it will evolve naturally and collaboratively. 
The color has to feel right for you, so I'll work with 
you on that. The doors will become free-standing 
(with feet staked into the ground), and placed in 
arrangements in various temporary "Out-Door" (our 
14 year-old daughter gets credit for that clever 
name) installation sites in the Minnesota landscape, 
possibly the Nemeth Art Center front lawn (Park 
Rapids), our alfalfa field (rural Menahga), possibly 
the Little Falls Mill Ruins, etc. Eventually, some of 
the doors may also be shown alongside a collection 
of my large paintings in an exhibit. Many of my 
recent paintings have metaphors related to grief, 
hope, and acceptance running through them, so I 
want to have some conversations about these 
important topics. If you want to donate in the 
memory of a specific person, or just want to 
donate a door, please comment below, or contact 
me via my e-mail address on my about page.


Summer of Awkward, In Progress

In progress, paint marker on acrylic painted canvas

The painting above is in progress, one of those things
that can go in many directions yet. The vertebrae of the
fox tail is becoming exposed and that has me realizing
that my fox and crow are metamorphosing, somehow.

Also in progress is the 'Summer of Awkward'.
One of my favorite quotes of my daughter from
earlier this year:
Me, "So, what did you do before the game?"
Anna, "We just walked around being awkward."

She cracks me up, but it really is how we
walk through most of our lives, awkwardly doing
the best we can. While acquaintances think we are
predictable, the truth is that we are all slowly
changing and we could go in so many directions.

With a teen, a tween, and Dan and me in our 40s,
awkwardness prevails and today I decided it must be
embraced, not avoided. We do like to make fun of
ourselves, which makes it all the more bearable.
My family and friends inspire me to move forward
through my own awkwardness, try new things, and
laugh at myself as I go. It is most comfortable (and
least awkward) to do what I already know, but
constant comfort is very unsatisfying and
unproductive. Isn't it?


"Copper Moon"

"Copper Moon" (Each 8"x8", acrylic on free-standing thick canvas.)

Finding acceptance and awe:
"There's no way to know what makes one thing happen and 
not another. What leads to what. What destroys what. What 
causes what to flourish or die or take another course." 
C. Strayed


Making Peasant Memories

Yes, peasant.  Although, pleasant too.

I am asking my family to make lists of free/inexpensive
things they want to do during the Summer of 2015.
While I'd love a family trip to to London and Finland,
we (and our budget) need to appreciate "nearby
subtleties--the everyday, heart-twinging beauty that
quietly begs to be heard". Yep, quoting my own about
page. In Northern Minnesota in the Summer, heart-
twinging beauty is easily found, but it is also a time to
learn the satisfaction of manual labor "passed down
from generations of farmers." Another quote of myself,
from a 2008 post about Spring. Am I getting too lazy
to write new stuff? My farmer ancestors would be so
disappointed. But, don't judge, just love. (Hey, I may
have just created a new quotable quote.)

There are a slew of well-intended lists on mommy
blogs, telling us how to be the perfect parents in 10 
Steps to an Enchanted Summer for Your Young 
Royalty. (Do not desperately look for that link--made
that up.) And how much like failures will most of those
parents feel come September? I clicked on something
yesterday and was lead to an online class (only $150)
for parents to learn how to have the best summer ever
with their kids. Really? Is there a formula? I should,
instead, sell giant cardboard boxes for $149 to those
parents, The Box of The Month Club.

Pulling weeds and picking rocks may not be
enchanting, but necessary lessons in earning fun
and relaxation, and experiencing the satisfaction of
seeing progress---and, understanding they are not
royalty. Although, a totally free walk through the
woods is pretty enchanting.

Landscaping, last Summer, and making peasant memories. 


Fresh Art Friday

Fresh today, May 1, 2015
Tuning In, 11" x 14", acrylic on canvas panel



Seen, Not Heard, 30 x 24", acrylic on canvas

Recently I had laryngitis, which as a teacher is a challenge,
and as an irrational person makes me paranoid of another
thyroid tumor. When your literal voice is gone, it is
frustrating, but a good time to just listen. As an artist, I
spend a lot of time trying to 'find my voice' like any
other artist, but how often does that prevent me from
just simply listening and learning from what is going on
around me?

This painting above may be done, or maybe not. (Is any-
thing ever finished?) And, not sure that will stay the title.
Today, I have the urge to rip the binding off the fox and
crow, but this idea of not feeling heard is an important
topic. And, perhaps the fox and crow are simply teaching
each other to listen. Often when we aren't feeling heard,
it usually is because others aren't listening and/or we are
ineffectively communicating. It is all an interconnected
web of give and take.
The connection of the fox and crow, above, feels like a
mystery right now--why is the binding on the crow and
the fox connected? When I sketched an idea for this more
than a year ago, I called it Hearing You Not Being Heard,
which at the time was probably about the connection
between the creatures, a metaphor for noticing and
helping each other find our voices. Today, I think it is
just as much about listening.
Lifehack's Kevin Kaiser says, "Creative individuals would
rather be authentic than popular. Staying true to who they
are, without compromise, is how they define success even
if it means being misunderstood or marginalized." When
I read this, it strikes a chord, but I have no interest in being
being a tortured and misunderstood artist. Maybe Kaiser
misses the mark a bit. Yes, we must be brave enough to
not need acceptance by the majority, and maybe I am not
strong enough to accept marginalization. Or, maybe
finding your voice is just as much about listening as it is
about boldly creating and communicating. Helping others
find their voices so they are not too marginalized is all
about the connections that bind us. As I learn to find my
voice, I am not comfortable with others being unheard,


Making Honey, our daughters' blog about kid-driven creativity

Through their eyes, and now, in their words.
The blog Making Honey is now totally theirs.

In 2009, I started a blog about kid-driven art. I wrote:
"Some of my best memories from this summer spent with
our daughters was when they were exploring, inventing,
and creating... and I was there, not micro-managing
them! Now, while getting my Art classroom ready for the 

school year (I teach Art to grades 3-12), I am thinking 
back to our summer moments of "making honey"--
those sweet (and sometimes sticky, messy) moments of 
kid-driven brilliance. I thought I'd share some of these 
creations to help other parents with ideas, but also as 
a way to keep making more memories with A & J. 
Childhood is so short. Our time together is so short. 
So, let's make honey!"

In 2013, our older daughter started contributing her ideas
and photos, and now in 2015 our younger daughter is
starting to add to the blog too. Since they are older now and
Making Honey is about kid-driven creativity, it's fitting for it
to be totally by them--through their eyes and in their words!

A few images from the past:

"Coldzilla Wreaks Havoc", A's first totally independent post in 2013.

J's Barbie Art Show, what to do with small drawings.


A's Fairy Village, winter drawings.
A and J Make a Fairy Village, in the summer flower garden.
Came upon A constructing a ladder from sticks and string.

A and J's Idea Books (sketchbooks).

J painting a frame with a cousin.

J went on a photo-walk with the painted frame.


Authentic and Intense COLOR

Resolving to be authentically and intensely COLORFUL
in 2105!

After I stepped outside our back door and snapped
this photo the morning December 31, 2014, I
decided my word for 2015 has to be COLORFUL.
It is time to embrace more actual and metaphoric
color--noticing it, using it in my art, encouraging it
in others, and simply not yielding so much to
inhibitions when authentic color is needed. No,
this doesn't mean more swearing... although
when I am overtired, watch out.

Authentically and intensely colorful? It is in me,
as well as my family, friends, and students. As in
the photo, nature teaches us about timing and color.
Intense color is this breathtaking and uplifting
because it contrasts the ordinary. We don't get this
drama every morning, but we can notice it when
it happens and is needed. Had I kept looking
toward the gray western sky, I'd have missed it.
Glad my word of the year isn't OBLIVIOUS.

I secretly love the color gray, and could mix varied
gray paints all day long. Concrete floors, gray fuzzy
rugs, shiitake grey counter-tops--just about any bold
and vivid color looks great next to these. Sometimes
we are the gray, sometimes we are the glowing
yellow-orange center of the sunrise. Timing. Some-
times we are the gray fox, sometimes we are the
red. Contrast. CONTRAST could just as easily be
my 2015 word too. There really is no enjoyment of
color without knowing the contrasting gray or
some darkness.

In 2014, my word was BRAVE. And it was a year
to be brave and vulnerable in the face of challenges
and opportunities. I have written a lot here about
how making and sharing art requires courage and
vulnerability, as does living. To put really authentic
work out there, you have to be vulnerable. In 2014,
I made a lot of art and shared it. It also was a year
of intense grieving, for our family. There was a
contrasting need for BRAVE beyond the opportun-
ities I predicted. So now I wonder, why is COLOR
needed? It will be another year of challenges and
opportunities, I'm sure.

Brene' Brown said once in an interview, "One
of the most painfully inauthentic ways we show
up in our lives sometimes is saying 'yes' when
we mean 'no,' and saying 'no' when we mean 
'hell yes.' I'm the oldest of four, a people-
pleaser -- that's the good girl straitjacket that I
wear sometimes. I spent a lot of my life saying 
yes all the time and then being pissed off and

We get to choose to watch the sunrise.