Join me....

I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Airstream Block Print Ready to Travel

Readers know I rarely use this blog as a sales 
platform - I much prefer to share art stories and insights,
HOWEVER this fun art story does end with a sales
pitch so beware; you are forewarned if you want to exit now.

Remember my little block print where I shared the carving and re-carving of a design I wanted to get right?  We were about to leave on a month long camping sojourn when I had an idea of what to do with this little jewel.

Matted in ecru, it fits perfectly in any 8 x 10 frame. I tucked a couple in our camper to take on the road.  My plan was to gift it to folks who were friendly and fun, enjoyed camping AND had an airstream.  (I'm not prejudiced but it is a take off on the airstream, see?).  I was going to take a chance, leave my comfort zone and meet some strangers.  

We were pulling out of Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas when I spotted a vintage Argosy camper (great history here), it was the shape of an AS but painted orange and cream...very cool.
We set up camp in Villa Nueva State Park in New Mexico and guess who pulls in?  Yep the beautiful Argosy with an adorable young couple and their gorgeous 3 little girls.  Bingo.  They had driven from CA to OK to acquire said RV and were just getting their feet wet.  They had an evolving plan to gut the piece and redo it.  Maybe a year of travel... We chatted a couple of times and they were sweet enough to stop by on their way out.  I thought they needed my little art piece and I hurried to retrieve my gift.  So sweet they were in receiving and...even better Momma (aka Melanie) is an interior designer!  Rave Interior Design  Can't wait to see where they hang it!  What a fun encounter - I'm anxious also to see how the Argosy evolves.

Feeling good about this beautiful encounter I was primed for my next recipient (at Ghost Ranch.)  We were in the campground when I spotted, not too far away, an older, shinier, larger model Airstream (I'm not up on knowing models and years).  Fairly soon a truck returned with a bike and a handsome young man.  I plotted and somehow we ended up in a really great conversation - he was leaving NYC and traveling (with all his worldly possessions) to CA where he might look for work.  James is a builder/designer and his airstream is also a work in progress.   You've got to check out his blog. He invited us in and as I looked around (think bachelor pad on wheels) I mentioned something was missing.  Without skipping a beat he answered, "yeah, a woman!"  Nah, I said "Art."  So I gifted him print #2.  His bio and his plans are as inspiring as Melanie's and her family's are.  Gee.  I wish them so much luck and good fortune.  

So the sales pitch:

I'm only going to mat 50 of these puppies and they are signed and numbered and ready for your recreational vehicle or to give to a friend.  Email me at and I will tell you how to pay via pay pal and get yours in the mail.  Oh, price: only $15.00 and $5.00 for shipping.  My husband declared me crazy but I do not want to eat these!  Fun to think where they might end up or who might check out my web and want a bigger painting.  (My first sale went to a really lovely photographer who had it Fed Ex'ed to her campsite in CA.) So there.  

Almost....I got a little carried away and you know I have a thing for "prayer flags."  Well a friend suggested the obvious so lookey here:

Camping prayer flags ready to bestow blessings far and wide.  The symbols represent the night, the plant growth, the camper folks, the critters and of course, the day.  Sending love and good vibrations across the land appropriate to each.

I am NOT making 50 of these and as colorful as they make my studio look it will be hard to part with any of them....hand printed, machine sewn, 15 feet of ribbon to hang....ready to age outdoors or in; pure joy!  Only $35.00 per set and $5.00 shipping which is about 5x more than you can buy imported, flimsy Tibetan prayer flags for.  But hey, this is art, each one lovingly handmade.

In fact, I can't wait to hang mine during our next trip out...can't imagine having anymore fun meeting folks than we did this round but you never know.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Georgia O'Keefe & Abiqui

“You paint from your subject, not what you see…I rarely paint anything I don’t know very well. It was surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.” 
― Georgia O'Keeffe

Ponder that quote for a moment and then come with me to Abiqui, a small rural village 53 miles north of Sante Fe, part time home of Georgia O'Keefe from 1950 until two years before she died in 1986.  If you have read anything about this artist you will recognize my photos for she loved this home and her rare, late portraits were made here.

Abiqui is so small that my husband and I stumbled upon it thinking we had taken a wrong turn.  We didn't even know it was the O'keefe home until we returned several days later under the auspices of the Home Tour which loaded into a van at the Abiqui Inn on the highway.  To visit the house is to understand much of her work.  It took her a determined 10 years to wrestle the property away from the Catholic diocese and another 3 to restore it to her liking.  She wanted it in part because it had "water rights" which meant that (still today) every Monday for 2 hours water could flow in and through her property allowing her to have a garden which bore the fresh foods she craved.

Georgia was clearly ahead of her time as her kitchen still has the early yogurt makers, food dehydrators, juicers and fresh herbs she insisted were better for one's health.  Her furnishings were spartan but utilitarian.  Once again I felt I walked on hallowed ground as the docent brought the artist to life for us.

Well into her eighth decade O'keefe climbed the ladder to her roof (and bid guests do the same) to watch the sunset and gaze upon her mountains.

This is the (in)famous black door she painted (flatly) many times.  She drew little distinction in the shadows except she did accentuate the stepping stones you see along the side of the wall.

If you have seen the cover of an old Life magazine with a story about her, you will recognize this exact corner where she was photographed sitting under the antlers (which she said she received from a native American Indian friend.)

We were asked not to take photographs indoors, a pity because it was fascinating to see.  As we moved from space to space it became so real that I would not have been surprised to see Ms O'keefe perched in the next room.  

Once again we were treated to several comparisons of the scenes from which she painted.  Here we see the exact two cottonwood trees she rendered in the oft seen painting the docent is holding.Standing outside the resemblance was clear, the pair being only slightly larger from growth.

I had to take this shot as it tickled my fancy to know that Georgia and I shared a common love of rocks and that neither of us can resist picking them up.  She had several collections both inside and out and it did my heart good to know that I was not alone in my compulsion to gather and display.

So my patient husband turns to me in the middle of a long highway and asks a very pertinent question:
After all this Georgia O'Keefe immersion,
what are you taking away for your own work?
Right to the heart, huh?
So here is my answer:
1- Simply (then amplify) - She did not paint every single pebble and dimple in the landscape.  What is the jist here, she seemed to ask, paint it clearly.  She often flattened it all out in an abstract sense (see quote above).
2- Zero in on one area - She was adept at focusing on one small area of something (like the center of a flower) ignoring the surroundings.  Look intimately at one detail.
3- Paint the same thing over and over again.  Exploit the subject.  Try it again and again to wring every bit of nuance and meaning one can from that same object.
4- Consider that inanimate objects have personality.  What is the message or feeling of that pair of trees or that mountain top.  She seemed to treat them as alive and communicative.
5- Finally, paint whatever has meaning to you.  Not what sells, not trending colors but whatever it is that you are willing to spend hours thinking about and repeating.

Those were my lessons...and easier said than done.  But verbalizing them will help me to remember.  And if I need extra help I am certain I still have some of that magic red dust in my shoes and backpack just waiting to be sprinkled around the studio.


Friday, May 4, 2018

Georgia O'Keefe Alive at Ghost Ranch

"The winds blow hard and dry on the high Sonoran
desert. I have red clay coating the insides of my lungs,
my snot is red ochre, my ears are lined with the dirt of ancient
buttes and my skin resembles that of a lizard.  
But like holy water from the River Jordan, this dust immersion has
transformed me.  It is Georgia's soil and I have come
to breath it, bathe in it and let my soul absorb it in any way that it can.  
I've made my long awaited pilgrimage to the land that O'Keefe loved
and painted --- I have seen the light."

Thus began my notes a day after arriving at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.  My pilgrimage had begun in Winston Salem with the "Living Modern" exhibit at the Reynolda Museum.  I then gazed upon a crown jewel by her in the Crystal Bridges Museum.  We even camped at Palo Duro State Park where she loved to paint.  Now I was excited to spend several days at Ghost Ranch where O'keefe lived and painted for parts of every year from 1934 until frailty demanded a move to Sante Fe in 1984 (where she died at age 99 in 1986.)  She was a unique artist, a demanding, coy person with a wide streak of adventure.  She played it all by her rules and definitely close to the vest.  I was fascinated by her life and times and wanted to learn more.

If I had a fear of the place being too Disney-esque, it was quickly dispelled as we (finally) found the right hand turn which marked the entrance to the property.  Despite its wonderfully presented web site, Ghost Ranch still has that modest, rustic appeal that makes you believe those cattle rustlers (whose ghosts still haunt one of the cabins) could still be lurking on the grounds.  Now a site for education and retreats, the place offers several O'keefe themed "tours" as well as archeological and environmental ones. (The site has some of the oldest dinosaur fossils in the nation and has supplied several on-going study "blocks" to prestigious institutions. There is also a small but well presented museum that was built around one such 8 ton block so that visitors can observe the paleontologist working to uncover the remains of inhabitants from 225 million years ago. )

I signed up for everything with O'keefe's name attached and will share some of the highlights. Ironically we were there in time for an unexpected wave of cold and windy weather (and we were camping!) so both guides were more than creative in accommodating the challenges.  

It would take four hands to count the last time I was on a horse but....we were off to see the sun set over the lands Georgia painted, and to see them from her own backyard.

Since it was going to be too windy for our "guide" to talk en route we got a good education before leaving the barn of some of the sights we would cover.  No matter, I was thrilled just to be there.

    We had hiked up to this formation the day before but it was amazing to see it from a different angle (and very difficult to photograph on a horse that rarely stopped!)

The holy grail!  When O'keefe was able to acquire property on Ghost Ranch she built this home.  It is now owned by the O'Keefe Museum (along with the Abiqui home) and according to the estate terms no one is allowed into it for 100 years.  Word has it that Juan Hamilton (her assistant and executor) is softening and tours may be allowed soon.  The only downside (IMO) is that the traffic will surely change the face of the ranch.  So I was thrilled to be on a horse which meant I was high enough to peer over the wood fence and snap a photo.  Sacred moment.  

The sun was going down (in a cloudy haze) but the flat top mountain in the background is a landmark which can be seen for miles.  Pedernal Mountain is an icon for O'keefe lovers and since it was in her backyard she painted it many, many times.  In fact it is said she commented:

“It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me.
God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”
-Georgia O’Keeffe

(And it is where her ashes were scattered according to her wishes.)
The next morning we ventured out on foot with Karen who did an excellent job of teaching us about the geological landscape, the climate, the history and the plants on top of delivering a very thorough lesson on O'Keefe and her work.  Karen knew all kinds of lore about the ranch and it's past visitors (Lindberg's family came often) and protected every single struggling plant by showing us how and where to walk on the fragile red clay crust.

Look closely and you will see that the painting copy Karen is holding is exactly the scene before us, with the exception that a few of the tree scrubs are now larger.

Karen designed this walking tour so she spent hours tracking down the exact angles Georgia O'Keefe viewed something to paint it.  O'Keefe was of little help as she rarely named her work (and then called it something like "red hill with white top") and didn't leave many discerning notes.

We all marveled how just a slight turn could reveal the image and how little had changed since O'Keefe saw them herself.  It was fascinating to stand in a 360 degree theater of wonderful image and try to imagine how she narrowed her field down to a particular section.  Why did she choose this (or that?) we asked ourselves, what attracted her attention here...or here.  Naturally the artist in me was itching for a day to go out and try my hand.  But even if the weather had permitted our time at the ranch was coming to a close.  The best I could do would be to snap some photos and hope for studio time to tackle them.

So here is but a few I brought home to stimulate ideas.

I had one more stop on my pilgrimage and that was a tour of her home in Abiqui (a village so small that you meet elsewhere for a shuttle ride up so that cars won't disturb the residents.) My head was already spinning, I wasn't sure how much more I could take in but I was not about to miss the finale!
It was time, meanwhile, time to digest some of what I had learned.

Stay tuned.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Crystal Bridges Sparkles Brightly

When something takes your breath away
it is hard to talk about, you trip over your own words in a rush of
enthusiasm and excitement.  That's how I feel now  trying to share 
our experience of Crystal Bridges American Art Museum
in Bentonville, Arkansas.

When Alice Walton decided to build a museum dedicated to American Art she set the staid art world on fire by purchasing some very expensive and highly collectible pieces.  There was a wave of disbelief and outright snobbery when connoisseurs discovered these jewels were headed to Bentonville.  As in Arkansas.  Really? The torrents of criticism and horror only fueled Ms Walton's goals.  Fortunately it was this bro-ha-ha that put the locale on my radar and as soon as I had the opportunity I headed in that direction.  I will never do it justice so please, just see it for yourself.

When Walton shared her plans with the family (heirs to the Sam Walton of Walmart fortune) they urged her to use the land near their hometown referred to as "the farm."  She wasted no time in hiring famed architect Moshe Safdie who sketched out his ideas on a napkin during what he thought was an interview.

Work began in haste taking 5 years, 45,000 cubic yards of concrete (all poured at night and then hand sanded), 20,000 feet of heartwood red cedar and a temporary rerouting of the Crystal River which now flows through the design.  Attention to the setting was paramount as art is distributed throughout the many acres of wooded land.  (They even bought, dismantled and reassembled an entire classic Frank Lloyd Wright home on the grounds.)

I'll try to share just a few of my "wows" about this incredible museum:

1- the building and the outdoors are seamless.  You never feel like nature is far away. You know that claustrophobic feeling you sometimes get in a huge museum when you feel "trapped" and can't find the exit?  Not here.  Gorgeous trees, water, sky and even artwork is only a glance away.

2- the collection is alive, well and growing.  Obviously there is a "permanent collection" (so large that much of it must be archived in underground vaults) but staff is committed to bringing in new shows and cutting edge experiments.  As Art & Design put it:

       "The collection has an appealing aesthetic populism, which is to say that different paintings provide points of entry for different levels of sophistication, and their groupings offer the immediate means to sharpen that sophistication as you move from work to work."   

even the Washington Post calls it "the most woke museum..."  enjoy the review here.

3- Alice Walton's mission of bringing art education to the masses is clear throughout.  I found the wall explanations, the art labels, and the computer screen interactives to greatly enhance the experience.

Docent talks were scheduled daily and often...I took advantage of two where I also learned (following a crowd of active students) that any school within a three hour trip of the museum could request and receive a free trip (meaning the museum will pay for the bus, the driver, a substitute teacher if needed and lunch on the grounds for any class of visitors).  So far 47,000 students have come via this offering AND they are cooperating with a U of Arkansas study to tract and document how such exposure to arts impacts the students overall education.  Incredible.

from one of the specially curated shows on black & white art
Another special show was called "Soul of a Nation, art in the age
of black power."  The many-paged guide to that show offered
stories, photos and even a reading list for further study.

4- plan multiple days.  Silly us.  Scheduled just a one day visit.  (Did I mention that Walmart pays the entry fee for everyone?) Realizing we'd never see it all my husband and I parted ways to cherry pick to our hearts desire.  I took two tours (one on "Women in Art." The collection has a higher percentage of women artists than you will find elsewhere).  Thus I did not get through all the galleries and barely scratched the outdoor trails.  Hubs reports the outdoor trails and art were amazing.  I would have liked two full days and could have enjoyed three (yes, I'm hard core).

sculpture, that's me inside it to give some scale!

a contemporary room of art on cloth

5- eat, drink, learn and be merry. Probably forgot to mention the huge on-site library where you are invited to study or research and the entire wing of classrooms for teaching.  Oh my. And I once had a goal of eating (!?) in all the major art museums of the world.  So decided to try "Eleven" for lunch.  Limited but very creative menu in a lovely glass-lined space overlooking the river.  No disappointment.

But the real treat was later on...tired feet, sore legs, brain on overload, I still didn't want the day to end.  I noticed that "Eleven" was dressing up in white linen and an "afterwork" crowd was slowly gathering.  Yep, we shared a bottle of wine and an appetizer while reviewing our day.  We were both impressed over how friendly and open all the volunteers and employees seemed to be.  It was a "come back" for both of us.  

As our adorable, chatty waiter was discussing wines, he paused to ask how we had heard about the museum.  He had lived in Bentonville most of his life and here we were from NC and headed out west.  Well, I confessed, my interest was piqued when all the controversy arose about the crazy Walton heir gathering up all the best art to take to the "middle of nowhere" in Arkansas.  He could have been offended but he laughed.  "You know," he said, "that story has been the best advertising ever.  Alice is an amazing woman, she comes in here like any other guest.  Isn't this a great place?"

I have to agree with him.
Put it on your list.

PS - I forgot to tell you why the restaurant was named "Eleven."  It was because the museum officially opened on November 11 in 11 a.m.  So...11/11/11 at 11.  Fun, huh?

Friday, April 20, 2018


Not to belabor this test tiles theme...
it takes a while for an old dog to learn new tricks!
One last post on testing,
one last post on block printing.

In my experimenting with block prints I revisited one of the first ones I cut: a baby airstream.  I was (sorta) satisfied with this piece UNTIL I entered "testing...testing" mode and began to actively consider early pieces as "trial runs."  I still loved the image but knew I could do better.  So, I decided this was a "test tile" and vowed to try again employing the things I now had learned.

I revisited my original image and enlarged it while also giving it a border which I felt added to the design.  You see it on the tracing paper which I flipped to imprint onto the rubber block.  I decided that the "white spaces," the place where the rubber is removed, should be slightly more interesting than a deep cut that leaves no impression.  So I made my cuts to resemble a sun in one corner and imply a tree in another.  I knew if I hated these additions I could remove them later.

Now that the block is cut it is time to ink it up.  Can you see the sun and the tree suggestions?

I press the paper on top of the block and smooth it with my finger tips so that the ink adheres.

Time to carefully pull back the paper for the result.

Not too shabby!  I like it.

Testing with another paper:

Very nice.  And this is where I will rest and go over it with a close eye to see if any lines need to be removed or if any other papers should be tested.  I'm anxious to try this on fabric as well.

Happy trails to you!  I think the "test tiles" proved their worth.  This has some exciting possibilities.  And all from a couple pieces of rubber and the patience to rework until satisfaction is reached.  I think "test tile" will be my new buzz word for a bit longer. Thanks Maggie, the lessons was much needed.  So if at first you don't succeed....


Friday, April 13, 2018

Block Prints Require Testing?!

Ever since I met Andy Farkas, learned about his
craft and (swoon) acquired one of his prints, I have been
anxious to try printmaking.  Of course I dream of starting at the top
 but for once I decided to start at the lowest
 possible level of dabbling: the rubber block print.

Remember when I showed you how easy it was to craft a print out of the styrofoam tray under your fruits?  The next step is to carve from a rubber pad or a piece of linoleum.  So having had success with styrofoam I knew it was but a few short steps to Farkas-quality, right?

The top two carvings are done on small rubber-ish pads and then glued to a piece of wood to make them easier to handle.  The bottom pink pad is uncarved, look for these at Michael's or any art supply store.  The carving on the bottom right was done on linoleum, a much harder surface to carve but still easier than wood, plexiglass or metal.

Now remember my haunting lesson on test tiles?  Well, there needs to be an entire chapter on test tiles in the world of block prints....but I didn't take that class, did not read that book so I learned that lesson the hard way: experience.

These are the tools used for carving.  One was inexpensively acquired at a craft store, one was a bit nicer and bought at an art supply store and the fancy one on top was inherited (with a sharpening stone) when a friend weeded out her notions.  

Draw out a design and move it to tracing paper so that you can see how it fits on the block.  Remember that what you carve will be reversed when printed so you can flip it over if you want a different orientation.  Transfer to the block either with tracing paper or, on the rubber, going over the design with a very soft pencil and then rubbing that mark onto the accepting surface of the rubber.

Now the fun of carving.  Slow and patient.  It's almost meditative.  Two very important things to remember: you can't easily put back something you cut off AND your design will very likely change slightly as you carve away.  Spend some time thinking about what will show up as ink and what will show as paper.  You can see very faint lines in my paper drawing reminding me what to cut out.

Water soluble printers ink is used and I use a foam tray to roll it out on.  With a brayer (a rubber roller) ink the design.  You may upend the block to print or place the paper on top of it.  I tested both.

This makes it easy for me to use my fingers (or a clean brayer) to press down and be certain that the ink has made contact with the paper in every spot.  Then the paper is peeled back for the reveal:

oh yuck....not a very smooth print but something I have learned is not unexpected with a first run.

So that is just one reason "test tiles" become important...I can see that either I did not ink up enough or I missed the smoothing part.  So above is another test.  On the L I put the paper on top of the carving, on the R I turned the carving onto the paper.  Hard to see the difference on this photo but there is some change.  Notice anything else?  

I don't like my blank parts...they are too smoothly carved out and leave no tell-tale lines which would be more interesting especially around the stars.  I dug too deep in my judgement.  And?  look closely.

Where the mountain intersects the moon is a triangle that missed being carved out!  And ditto for the mountain edge on the far left.  How many prints did I make before I noticed this?  Luckily I can go back and re-carve between prints.

Thank goodness I "tested."  Another interesting test is varying the paper used to print on.  Some are so stiff they don't meet my needs at all, others too flimsy to last.  Finding the right paper is crucial and  one should save that for the last test so that you do not use up all "the good stuff" on bombs.

different papers, note the clean brayer in photo

Like Goldilocks and the three bears, this one is "just right." I made a mental note that I prefer the "white space" to be more interesting in future blocks but otherwise this printed well on the paper I used.  

So I'm like a reformed addict: test! test! my friends...and test again!  no, this is not the end of the story.  For someone who hates "do overs" it is ironic that my word "festina lente" implies a bit of slowness as one gathers steam.  When I explained Maggie's test tile approach (last weeks blog) to a friend, she summed it up nicely: "She goes slow so she can go fast."  Yes! Onward.