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Category: Mixed media, Painting

The Desire to Paint

The Desire to Paint

I had the opportunity to collect shells in the Bahamas in 2011. This was an exploratory trip to the Exuma Islands which are about 300 miles southeast of Miami. At that time there was not much development for tourists, but was attractive to people who had money to build a secluded tropical home. The island had one gas station and one general store which were not open on Sunday, the day we arrived.

The people on this island are descendants of slaves who were moved there in 1783 by John Rolle, a “Loyalist,” who set up a cotton plantation to protest the Revolutionary War because he was loyal to King George. Upon his death, Rolle, freed his slaves and bequeathed his land to them.

Driving along the main roads of Exuma we saw many colorful old homes and abandoned buildings, some with thatched roofs, some overgrown with vines, but many still in use. I became fascinated with these buildings.

Abandoned house near the beach on Exuma

At one beach we parked next to an abandoned home with open windows and doors where part of the roof had been torn off and sunlight was streaming in through the rafters. When I noticed the house, I wanted to paint it.

This is unusual for me. I don’t often have a strong desire to paint things I see when I travel. We were loading the van to leave the site and I couldn’t get a picture. I kept thinking about the house.  A few days later I had the opportunity to go back and take photos.

Did I get out my paints as soon as I got home? No. I did print out my photos and set them on my work table where I saw them when I was doing something else. And I kept telling myself – “Someday I will paint this house.”

In the fall of 2014, I decided to take a watercolor class in the Life Long Learning program at the University of the Pacific. I had been doing occasional small acrylics in the last year and did one of the house exterior. In the class we were supposed to select a subject and make several small paintings before we did a larger one. I had taken photos of other houses along the road on the Exuma trip, so I used those for the small studies.

I think I tend to be a tight painter whether I work in acrylic or watercolor.

Painting of house along the road on Exuma

And working that way takes a lot of time to get things just right. And I wasn’t used to having the pressure to get things done for the next class. As I recall, I was writing the first draft of my memoir and learning to participate in a critique group at the time I took the watercolor class.



As usual, too much going on.  But I was working on that desire to paint the house.

More on how this worked out next week.






Encaustic Venezuela

Encaustic Venezuela

Twenty years ago today, 1998, I was on my way to Venezuela to collect shells with a group of collectors more experienced than I. In Caracas airport, I was amazed to see almost everyone walking with a cell phone to their ear. I learned later that the people had embraced this technology sooner than we had because their land-line phone system was so inadequate.

While I had signed up for the trip some months before, I didn’t realize I was in an altered emotional state from the events of the preceding three weeks, until I was in the van going to our hotel when the radio started playing the theme from the movie “Titanic”, “My Heart Will Go On,” and I began crying.

My former husband, Ray, had died suddenly of a heart attack three weeks earlier and my sons selected that song for the funeral.

It seemed not quite right to be going on vacation, but the trip was paid for and my sons told me to go and have a good time. I had not cried until now. The song was popular in Venezuela at that time, and every time I heard it, the tears started.

Fortunately, there were no radios on the beach. There were thousands of Turkey Wing, Arca zebra, shells on the beaches along with hundreds of Hairy Tritons, Cymatium pileare. In fact, so many of them that it was hard to find other smaller shells.

The weather was changeable, so I was either hot and sticky, or cold. Many days there was no hot water at the hotel. The beaches were dirty and trash strewn to the extent that I started asking myself, “What am I doing here?”

Ever the scavenger, I picked up all sort of interesting things: buttons, dominos, colored cord, drift wood, sea weed, net shards, marbles, feathers, and eye glasses.

Fast forward to December 2007, when I attended a weekend workshop in Santa Cruz, California, to learn about using encaustic wax. The next summer, after I had gotten the paints, wax, and equipment, I was looking for a subject to make an encaustic piece that was not just a sample. Every time I rummaged in my shells, I reminded myself I should use what I brought back from Venezuela.

Venezuela ’98

I found the words to the song and printed them out in small blocks, along with a few bars of music. My first layer was blue encaustic paint. I floated the words and music across the sky. Into the hot wax I pressed the domino, small shells, buttons, rusty pieces, seaweed, and netting. I penciled in Venezuela 98 across the sky. The encaustic gives the 8 in. x 10 in. piece an “other-world” look.

I haven’t done encaustic since that summer, partly because I can’t ventilate my studio to use those materials, so I need to work outdoors. And life began to get more complicated the next year.

From what I’ve seen, I think doing encaustic well requires a well planned idea of what you hope to achieve. I used to work that way when I was weaving tapestries, but I don’t have that focus these days.

Erasing the Rules

Erasing the Rules

I stepped into another world last Sunday. My son and his family escorted me to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA). We took BART from Dublin, California to a stop two blocks from the museum. The last time I remember being in the city was in 2002, when I had to get a visa for my shelling trip to Brazil.

We had lunch at a nice breakfast and lunch place that we found between the train and the MoMA. It was interesting to see sleek, high rise buildings next to older ones with all sorts of architectural decorations on their upper floors.

The museum has seven floors. I suggested that we start by seeing the exhibit I had come to see, the

Painting with Grey Wing, 1959 Robert Rauschenberg

work of Robert Rauschenberg, titled “Erasing the Rules.”

I had heard about this exhibit last summer when it was at the MoMA in New York, and scheduled to come to SFMoMA in November.  For me this was a must see.

I first saw some of his work in Cincinnati in 1970. I’ve seen pictures of his work from time to time, but I had not seen the actual work. Of course, you never know if going to see a show will be worth the effort until you have made the journey. I was not disappointed Sunday.  It is a fabulous exhibit.

The exhibit has paintings, drawings, assemblages, collages, videos of his collaboration with dancers, diagrams of how he planned what he wanted to make – on and on it went from section to section. There was so much it was overwhelming.

This man worked large. And small. He used everything – cardboard, fabric, metal, wood, stones, rope, zippers, newspaper, transfers, photography, silk screen, oil, enamel, ink, watercolor, crayons, car parts, even mud.

He was mixed-media before anyone knew what that meant. After about twenty minutes, I concluded that I am putting way too many interesting items into our trash or recycling bin. It took us about two and a half hours to work our way through all his work that was shown.

Of course, there is a book of this huge exhibit. I couldn’t pass it by. It measures 9 ¾ in. x 12 in. and is 1 3/8 in. thick, with 412 pages. It details how his career developed and contains items that were not included in the display.

Now, I can read about what I saw and remember how each piece looked. I can study his composition, which I find hard to do while I’m walking through a museum.

I didn’t take photos, but Jeremy did, and you can see them on my Facebook page. If you live near San Francisco you should go see this. But hurry, it closes on March 25.

Riding the train back toward home, I was mentally going through my stash, recalling the materials I have in abundance that other artists are not using in their work. Those are the things I should play with to see what they will do. Forget the rules. Improvise. Ask what if . . .?


Thoughts about Entering Art Shows

Thoughts about Entering Art Shows

This time of year local art associations send out Annual Show notices to those on their email lists. I remember the ritual of deciding what to enter, getting it ready, and taking it on the receiving day to the designated place. It was fun to see friends working the tables, or bringing their own entries.

The second part of the ritual, which happened occasionally, was picking work up that was not chosen for the show. But this all changed when electronic entry became common.

Electronic entry makes things so easy to enter shows. You don’t have to haul things about. You can easily enter shows all over the country without shipping your work. No tags to fill in and secure to the back of the frame, no multiple copies of inventory lists.

Of course, you don’t get a peek at the competition as you drop off your work.

I used the electronic entry for several years with good success. But I noticed that something about the art shows changed. One year, at one local show more than fifty percent of the selected items were photography, and the remaining pieces were all the other mediums: oil, watercolor, pastel, drawing/graphics, 3-d, and sculptural.

Another year, photos in the newspaper of the Best of Show used the digital entry photo which appeared to be violet, but when I saw the item in the show it was a graphite drawing, and the frame gave it a whole different feeling.



And I found that my work was being

accepted less often, especially if I entered

one of my sculptural baskets like this:

So last year I didn’t enter anything in the local shows. But I did enter this basket in the California State Fair, where you still take the work to be seen by the judge. It was accepted and won a Second Place ribbon.


The last time one of the local groups had their annual show at Stockton’s Art Museum I didn’t enter, but I went to the opening. The judge selected the winners of prizes based on the digital entries. He never saw the actual work.

I remember trying to find something in the show that was outstanding. A piece that had that WOW factor. There was one piece that had me trying to figure out how it had been created, but over all I was not impressed with the show.

The group’s gallery director walked by and asked me how I liked the show, and I didn’t really have an answer. I said something like “I’m still looking.” As he hurried away, he said he thought it was the worst show they had ever put on. I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment.

I think digital entry is a wonderful improvement over slides and hand-carry to enter your work, but I also think the actual work should be viewed when the awards are selected.

When I was at the art museum in Albuquerque last November, I saw a number of original works by artists in the 1960’s including Feininger, de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. Seeing work by these artists in books had not left a positive impression on me. Standing right in front of them made all the difference in size and detail. I could see and understand why their work has been preserved.





A Seven Arm Starfish

A Seven Arm Starfish

Seven Arm Starfish

Three years ago I went to an art demo at the local art league where we were shown how to make a shape or texture on a canvas board to give dimension to an abstract painting. So I came home and textured-up two canvas boards hoping to produce a piece for an annual show.

I did some painting on each one. On one of them, what I expected to be a lily of some sort, soon looked more like a starfish than a flower. I thought, okay I can do mixed media and add some small real shells to the piece. I also put in a second starfish embracing a scallop, which will be its dinner.

So I’m painting along and decide to add a few red beads, because the fresh-dead starfish I had found on my last shelling trip had raised red bumps on its arms. I also added some highlights with small pieces of foil that I had torn off a container I opened at breakfast.

I wanted to add some dark areas behind the big starfish so it would stand out. The texturing I had started with was covered with a coat of matt medium as the demo artist had done, saying that the acrylic medium would allow the paint to be removed for highlights. Every time I tried to add another layer of dark paint, the brush would instead pick up the layer I had just put on.

Frustrated with the process, I decided to try a stencil effect using a rubbery scrap of those things you put under rugs so they don’t slip and slide. It didn’t work so well as a stencil, because the rubber absorbed the paint. I liked the color so much I decided to adhere the rubber mesh to the painting with a clear gel medium.

Then, I wanted to add a few more red beads. They were in a narrow glass tube that had been my mother’s. The cork in the tube crumbled when I opened it the second time, and I found myself trying to separate the cork crumbs from the beads. After a few minutes, I thought, why am I standing here picking out the cork? Just throw it on with the beads—no one will even notice!

At some point in all the above, I had actually looked at the starfish and counted the arms. Seven. The starfish I collected in the Bahamas has five arms. Was there such a thing as a seven-armed starfish? Google informed me there was. It is called Luidia ciliaris, it lives in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea, and it is red.

The painting didn’t get accepted in the show I entered. I never got around to working on the second textured board. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get around to doing something with that this year.

Two Shells

Two Shells

At the time I moved to California in 1978, I had been weaving small tapestries for wedding gifts. When I attended the annual Conference of Northern California Handweavers I saw complex pattern weaves, luscious chenille scarves, and innovative and experimental hand woven items which gave me new ideas for weaving projects.

With my family, I visited beaches north and south of San Francisco looking for shells, and I’d come home with pieces of driftwood. I wanted to incorporate the driftwood with woven fabric to make wall pieces.

The problem with driftwood is that part of it is interesting but the ends tend to be ragged and ugly. I wanted to be able to improve those ends, so I took several wood carving classes through the Livermore Recreation Department.

Of course the classes were set up with definite projects to learn to use the gauges properly and safely. So before I got to the driftwood, I made samples and a finished relief carving. A relief is where a shape is carved out of the background piece of wood. The second class was for 3-D carving where you are working all around the shape.

Two Shells

A broken whelk shell and a broken Tulip shell from Florida were my models for this woodcarving.

Carving is the opposite of painting, mixed media, or collage where you add on layers of paint and ephemera to make an image. Carving, whether in wood, stone, or a rubber eraser to make your own rubber stamps, is all about taking away particles to reveal the image.


Learning the skills to carve is about reversing your thinking as much as learning to handle the sharp gauges.

By the time I finished the two wood carving classes the type of weaving I was doing had changed, so I never refashioned any driftwood, but if I want to I can probably do it.

Across the Ravine

Across the Ravine

Cincinnati is a city of hills and valleys and I lived there from 1966 to 1971. I was learning to weave and I was also painting. After a year or so, we moved across town into a two-bedroom duplex. There was a painting class one evening a week at the nearby library. The instructor encouraged us to paint on location around town, and I tried it a few times.

Across the Ravine

I had been painting in oils when I lived on the east side, but I started to use acrylics in the class because my oil paintings often looked muddy when I finally finished them. This is painted on the smooth side of Masonite board.

I believe this painting is oil because when I look closely at the painting, I notice that the buildings appear to be drawn in with the brush. When I did painting at home, I did careful drawing of structures and items in a still life, and the edges would have been sharper.

This landscape didn’t get muddy from reworking it because it was done on site.

As I recall, this was along Harrison Avenue and I set up my easel on an empty corner across the road from the scene. Looking at the painting today, I find it hard to believe I painted it plein aire.

Of course this was before I had children, and times were different.

Sunny Meadow

Sunny Meadow

When I lived in Cincinnati, before I had children, I tried some plein-aire painting.

The small church we attended was on a road where you would often pass cows grazing close to the road. Behind the church a meadow was easily accessed from the parking area. I took my acrylic paints and easel out there one afternoon to paint some trees. After some time, I noticed dark clouds moving into the area so I added them to the scene which was almost finished.

Sunny Meadow

In the painting class I attended at the local library one evening a week, we were encouraged to try adding texture to our canvas board before we painted. This was in 1967.

Looking at this painting now where it hangs in my dining room, it appears I gessoed the board and sprinkled it with bird seed—we had a parakeet—and then scraped the seed off after it dried, because the texture under the paint is little round empty holes.

The little holes where the seed had been, creates a sparkly effect in the trees and grass because there is a light blue under painting on the entire board which is seen where the brush hits only the high parts.

The dry brush painting I did to complete the landscape also benefits from the texture where several layers of paint show through the strokes.

Lightening Whelk

Lightening Whelk

Lightening Whelk

I went to college as an adult starting in 1984 at the community college in Livermore, California. I took several art classes toward my minor, to balance out the math and history requirements.

The assignment I enjoyed the most in the 2D – 3D Design class was to take one object and show it from many different angles using line and shading techniques.

Since I was skilled and comfortable using pen and ink, I chose that medium and a favorite shell as my object. I used a whole shell and two broken ones of the same species. This provided me with lots of angles, nooks and crannies.

The Lightening whelk, Busycon contraruim, is found in the sand near the low-tide line from North Carolina to Florida, and Texas. I’d picked these up on trips to Florida in the 1970’s. This shell is unusual in that the opening is on the left side, whereas most shells have the opening on the right side.

Conchologists are people who collect and study shells, and we have a quarterly magazine and members from all across the country and other countries as well.

This week I’m seeing many beautiful and unusual shells at the annual Conchologists of America convention being held this year in Key West, Florida. I have not been to Key West, although I have been to Florida many times, and I’m excited to be here for a week.

In between tours of the island, programs about all things shells, silent auctions of shell related items, special events,  and parties, I plan to pick up shells on the beach.

I hope that wherever you are, you are enjoying your summer.

First Snow

First Snow

Writing about snow at the end of July during a hot summer in California’s Central Valley, and many regions across the country, may seem out of place.

But imagine looking out your window seeing huge wet snow flakes landing on the roof across the street, clinging to red maple leaves still on the tree in front of that roof.

My husband and I had a second floor one-bedroom apartment in a four-plex in an older neighborhood in Cincinnati in 1965. In the middle of the day, snow started falling unexpectedly (to me), and soon produced the image described above.

The black tree—almost bare of red leaves—was striking

First Snow

against the white snow accumulating on the roof. It was all I could see sitting in our living room.

Two years before I had seen a well-known artist demonstrate his watercolor painting technique for producing scenes for greeting cards. He painted on pellon, a non-woven interface material I used in sewing. I had a stash of pellon.

This was a perfect opportunity to try out what I had seen. Painting on pellon produced a watery, dreamy effect that captured the mood of the afternoon.

Maybe I should try painting on pellon again soon.