A Show of “Reverence & Reverie”


I’ve just finished mounting a show of artworks with the artist Amy Livingstone.  The show is located at the Doll Gardner Gallery (within the West Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship). Here’s our blurb for the show:

Synchronicity brought Robin Urton and Amy Livingstone together, leading to an awareness of a shared artistic vision rooted in reverence for the earth. Drawing inspiration from a combination of personal reverie, sacred mythologies, and the world’s spiritual traditions, this exhibit reflects the sensibility of creating art as a sacred act. The intention of the work is to awaken hearts to beauty and the divine presence woven throughout the fabric of everyday life.

I was asked by the curator of the gallery if I’d be interested in having a show, and my only conflict was in having enough work to fill the spacious walls without taking work from my other 2 galleries. This problem solved itself rather miraculously when Amy called the day before my meeting with the gallery. She was looking for a “sanctuary space” to show her own artworks, but wasn’t expecting for an opening to be just a few weeks away. Her canvas paintings of mandalas and sacred artworks are the perfect compliment for my reverie-inspired plexiglass and panel paintings.  Here’s a photo of the 2 of us at the opening:


Though not a common subject for either of us, the artworks that we are pictured with happen to  be our individual responses to 911 and the aftermath of the Iraq War.  Amy’s painting was inspired by a vision she had on a train returning from a the Day of Remembrance ceremony on the 14th (a few days after the attacks), where she saw 2 hands caressing the earth, lifting it out of the ashes. In my painting, “False Liberator”, the blind-folded angel represents a false savior for a culture she knows little about.  Islamic buildings burn in the background while helicopters fly above the scene.

In an informal talk during the opening, we both expressed thoughts about the healing nature of art, and how creating art in itself can be likened to a sacred act. One of the more memorable questions from the audience was whether we felt that art had as much relevance in these times of economic recession.   Amy referred to a comment of a very young member of the congregation, who said that he felt that “the world would be a gray place without art”.  I responded that, even though fewer people can afford original art during an economic downturn, the need for art is perhaps even greater than usual. Art consoles and lifts our spirits.  Of course, it’s sometimes necessary for artists to find supplemental means of supporting themselves, but it’s increasingly important for us to keep the faith that’s required to continue creating our art, whether the sales support it or not.  (I know that I personally need to create art in order to maintain any optimism in my life, so I hope that when the economy returns I’ll have plenty of art stored up when the pendulum returns!)

One great thing about planning for art shows is that it does force me to complete artworks that were sitting dormant for a while.  In addition to “Primordial Slumber”, which graces the invitation, I also completed another painting that I started some time ago.  Here’s a photo of the latest version of my painting, “Deep River Dream”:


It’s usually the case that my favorite painting is whichever one I just finished, so right now, this and “Primordial Slumber” tie for being the closest to my heart.  This one definitely flowed out of me like a dream.  I started with acrylic on frosted mylar, letting the imagery suggest itself through the paint.  The bird was the first image to emerge, then the swirling sky, the star-flowers, then finally the reclining woman, who seems to have dreamed the entire scene into being.   As the swirling sky met the horizon, it became a river.  I decided to let it the river flow out of her ear.  This may seem too eerie for some, but who am I to argue with the suggestions of  my imagination?  (a preliminary version of this painting can be seen on this earlier post).  The painting was re-worked in oil glazes, then surrounded with a gold-leaf border.

If interested in reading more, Amy Livingstone has written a very enlightening article about the show on her blog: Reverence and Art as Prayer.

Posted by Robin on Sep 15th 2009 | Filed in art shows, sacred art | Comments (0)


ProfileI am an artist, based in Portland Oregon, who paints on layers of glass and makes a living creating websites for other artists.  I’m creating this blog as a means of externalizing my thoughts regarding the creative process, and documenting some of the life experiences that feed my work.  It’s also a way to reach out to other creative people, as a means of establishing a dialogue.




Primordial Slumber


Months have led up to a recent “breakthrough painting” that I feel really proud of sharing with everyone. I feel like a lot of synchronistic events led up to the birthing of this one. A recent impulse led to taking a solo trip to the Oregon coast. As soon as I began walking the path through this particular forest, I felt this was the place that called me here. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is places like this that called me to move from magical Taos, to a place that was closer to my birth.


Soon after discovering this place, a friend from New Mexico came to visit me, and I just had to share this special forest with her. She had the same kind of magical response to it. When she saw this hollowed out tree covered with moss and ivy, she acted on her impulse to curl up underneath it. She settled into this most perfect pose within a minute. All I had to do was take the picture, and I knew immediately it would be a wonderful subject for a painting. In fact, it was SO perfect that my biggest challenge was how I would go about creating something that could rival the photo.


I decided I wanted to work on frosted mylar, as I love it’s smooth, translucent surface. First, I made a very general sketch on an 18 x24 sheet. After getting the basic composition in, I added the first layer of acrylic paint… and then a more specific sketch of my subject with colored pencils.


I decided to begin with glazes of paint, pressing plastic wrap into them to obtain a random texture. Once that’s done, I started adding more textured details using a combination of sponging and impasto texturing.


The detail below shows that at this point I am working in a very abstract manner, allowing the paint itself to suggest the texture of the leaves and moss:


I continue to add more layers, but eventually get to a point when I’m not sure where else to take it. Other than adding more detail, what can I do to bring this in a direction that’s more personal than copying the photo?


It was fortunate that I happened to take a collage class at this point. Creating a small collage helped me to decide that I needed to create a color shift of the branches, changing the grayish limbs to a purplish blue brought out more of the fantasy element that this scene inspired within me. (I make more specific mention of the collage process in a previous post).

Now that I’m on track with what the painting is asking of me, I have more energy to devote to its completion. It also happens that I’ve been asked to do a show and since I’ve decided that this piece will grace the invitation, it creates more energetic fire to stay up til 4 or 5 am for several nights. My creative juices always seem to flow much better in the evening.


I had a lot of fun adding details to the moss and leaves. “God(dess) is in the details”.


I also had a lot of fun with the patterns in her skirt.


I was amazed when I enlarged my photo of Olivia to discover that she had wrapped her prayer beads around her hand. This little detail adds more meaning to the picture. When I contemplate this pose, I think of nesting… resting in the womb of the earth. She feels sheltered, embraced by the roots that wrap around her.


It was hard for me to decide on a title for this painting. I had an idea of what it meant to me, but putting words to it were eluding me, so I queried many friends to see what they thought. It was enlightening to hear how many suggestions alluded to ideas of nesting, the womb, Gaia (mother earth), cocooning, and gestation. The image reminds me that deep within the forest I feel a natural home. Walking through an old growth forest, in particular, I feel awakened to a sense of magic… an awareness of how ALIVE the earth is. This awareness enlivens my senses, brings me out of the doldrum of (too much) activity…. and reminds me of my ancestral belonging.

Posted by admin on Aug 28th 2009 | Filed in Oregon, creative process, nature, painting process | Comments (0)

Five Days of Focus

(my discoveries at art camp)

For the past month, my energy has been consumed by creating websites, teaching classes, and cranking out jewelry and reproductions for art fairs. In the first week of August alone, I did 3 fairs (in Portland, Sellwood, and on the Oregon coast, in Yachats). Summer is the time for this and I’ve met lots of wonderful people through it, but production work is exhausting, so when the time came for my week of art camp at Menucha, I was ready for five days of focus on nothing but art!


I had learned about the Arts at Menucha programs through Susan Schenck, a student from last semester.  She was solving a color theory assignment with a remarkable collage technique that she said she learned from a class with Linda Berkley.  I knew Linda some 15 years ago when we were both “artists in residence” at Anderson Ranch Arts Center, in Colorado.  I decided to take Linda’s collage class offered through the Arts at Menucha program.  The workshops are located along the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, in Corbett, Oregon.  The name Menucha has Hebrew roots, meaning something similar to “place of still waters”, and the motto of the Menucha community is “Sacred Space, Purposeful Work”.  The place lives up to its motto, as the environment encourages both creative and spiritual growth.

tree-womb-thumb tree-womb-bw-collage

One of my primary intentions in working with collage was to use it as a means of working out compositions for my paintings.  My first experiment was to try to resolve a nearly completed painting of a woman curled up at the roots of a mossy tree. (I’ll share more process photos of this as my painting reaches completion in another  post, since there were many steps involved in its creation before the collage exploration).  One of my dilemmas was that I felt that the painting was too similar to the photograph I had taken for its inspiration.  I wanted to add some more abstract elements, but didn’t know which direction to take it.  Linda suggested that I create a small thumbnail drawing of the painting, then do a quick collage using black and white paper, followed by a color collage of magazine scraps:

tree-womb-collage tree-womb

The operative word here was “quick”, as she wanted to push me towards my own expressed intention of making more spontaneous choices.  When she said I had “5 more minutes” to finish my color collage,  I hadn’t even found all the colors I needed to complete it.  It was partly from the frustration of not finding the right color that I ended up creating the purple branch that surrounds the shape of the figure.  This part of the painting originally had more grayish tones.  When I changed the branch to blue-purple in the painting, there was an “AHA” moment, in the realization that what it needed was a more saturated color in this area.  I feel that it brings out the yin-yang relationship between the upward-reaching (cool) blue branches vs. the downward flow of the (warmer) mossy green branches.

On the second day of class, it was suggested that we create a collage based on a thumbnail sketch of something drawn from observation.  Linda gave the example of using a plant in the room, looking out the window, or going outside into the landscape.  I decided to go outside since we were in such a beautiful natural setting.  I found a tree that interested me and made a few small thumbnails, followed by a longer study.  I then went about painting papers in the color scheme that I’d conceived (instead of hunting for specific colors in magazines).  Originally, the tree was going to be in blues and purples, with a reddish sky.  I started with the sky but was disappointed when I tried to build the tree with the blue papers.


By the next morning I had another idea when I saw some textured paper sitting on the top of my stack of collage materials.  It was actually a monoprint made with inked aluminum foil.  I didn’t have enough of this texture to complete my design, so I brought it to the copy machine, creating a range of values and magnifications of the texture.  I tinted the ground in green, to differentiate it from the roots somewhat.  I later added a photo of an owl (after creating another collage which included an owl).  It seems to complete the piece, suggesting more of  a narrative.

Our next assignment was to collaborate with a student in the writing class.  We were asked to give one of our collages to the writing department, where it would be randomly paired with a student. We were also given a randomly selected piece of writing to respond to.  We had 5 students, whereas the writing class had 4, so the teacher also participated.   I later found out that the poem that was given to me was by the writing teacher, Ann Staley.

“Ars Poetica” (on the nature of poetry)

It was all fading,
the dream hitchiked to Kansas.
Hot water, eyes closed -
everything too fast.
Six unknowns,
the refrain.
Lovefest in a sacred place.
But, of course,
the fragments in the desert:
broken down truck &
3-legged table,
bicycle tires, mismatched:
what is abandoned,
reclaimed by attention
and her cousin, purposeful work.

I took my direction from the dreamy feeling, and particularly the phrases, “eyes closed”, and “Lovefest in a sacred place”.  I had brought an image of a painting by one of my favorite artists, Odilon Redon, so I decided to quote it in my collage.   The suggestion of a desert prompted me to create a turban from magazine fragments of cloth.  I then made use of my painted papers and xeroxed fragments of my monoprint texture.  I played with putting a pressed flower in the corner opposite the face, but couldn’t commit to it, so off I went to the copy machine again.


At this time, I discovered that the laser copier was also capable of making color copies and reverse images, so I decided to play with a symmetrical composition.  The idea of adding an owl came from the fact that I had a dream that an owl flew at my face.  The dream occurred the morning I left for Menucha, and since I had a difficult time removing the owl from my face, I decided she had a strong desire to be included in my experiments.  I first painted the owl on vellum, then photocopied it in a few sizes to find the right relationship with the composition.  This is, for me, one of the most wonderful aspects of  using collage: the fact that you can choose to move things around, which is not possible once you’ve committed to an image in painting.


The pressed spray of Queene Anne’s lace flowers ended up being a “nest” for the baby owl crying for its mother.  (I realize that I need to add some color to differentiate this from its textured background). If I end up making a painted version of this collage, the 2 dreaming figures will have clasped hands holding the nest. They may transform into a man and a woman with similar features.

On the fourth day, we displayed our collaborative collages and writings where the rest of the Menucha community could see them, in the cafeteria.  My collage was placed underneath Ann’s poem.  Coincidentally, I found that the collage that I gave to the writing class was paired with a response by the same writer (Ann Staley).  Since my collage was not signed, she had no indicator as to its orientation, and ended up responding to the image on its side.  Once I saw it totally divorced from its relationship to my painting, I also saw it with new eyes.  I’ve included her poetic response below:



I was particularly struck by the fact that my absent figure became a rock, and that she even made mention of “who is missing from this collage, and why are they missing?”  I also contemplate the scraps and bits I didn’t use, and the fact that they might be reincarnated into yet another collage or painting.  Perhaps I’ll continue the process and create another collage based on her poem.  Maybe this time I’ll consider the presence of the wind.  Perhaps this is just another new beginning.


With 1/2 day of my class remaining,   I decided to make use of the leftover copies of the dreaming faces.  Again, I played with symmetry, this time creating a triangular composition.  The effect is a bit more abstract.  It takes a moment to even recognize that these are mirrored fragments of a person (it’s difficult to discern the gender, which is my preference).


Now home, I continue to play with my collage experiments by cropping and changing the hues of some of my compositions in Photoshop.  I went with the intention to finish some unresolved paintings, but instead came back with more ideas to generate into new paintings.  I also feel that I have found a new way of working, and a few more tools to explore.

On the morning that I left for art camp, there were a couple other dreams that bear mentioning.  In the first place, I knew within the dream that I was at Menucha , as I was surrounded by a group of people when the owl flew at me.  Although the owl would not get off of my face, I wasn’t horrified by it.  As I struggled to remove it, I told the others to throw some water on its head (I have a vague memory that someone at the center had instructed me to do this if ever the situation should occur, as if it were a likely possibility).  I then went out to my car and found a blue bird flying in it.  At this point, I remember  that that earlier in the day I’d seen a bird on my palette, on the table next to my easel. It was a dream within a dream… not too disimilar to the process of creating in collage.  I still ponder what it all means and what the birds have to say to me.  Rather than answering the question, I prefer to suggest the mystery.

a few updates

An artist named Belinda Subraman recently combined my artwork with poetry and music in this video that she produced, titled “Whose Cries Are Not Music”

Poetry by Linda Bennbinghoff, music by Ken Clinger, with reading and production by Belinda Subraman.

Rate and/or comment this video on YouTube

Also, my work was selected to grace the cover of a new book!


Ghost Symptoms: Break The Spell And Be Well (Paperback)
by Kelly Kiernan Ray

Amazon Link

Ghost Symptoms explains how experiences such as emotional trauma and spirit interference affect the human energy field. I enjoy the personal tone of Kelly Ray’s story-telling of personal transformation. I wasn’t very open to the idea of spirit attachments before reading this book, but now understand that it may very well be a common occurrence.  Even without this interest, the personal stories, case studies and historical perspectives makes this a very good read. I especially find the “Claim Your Space” technique very helpful for grounding and clearing my energy field.

Other things on the Horizon:

If you are in Portland, check out my upcoming art classes on my events page. It also includes local galleries where you can see my work in person.

The View From Where I Stand


Here I am, trying to get a better view of the Oregon coast from my perch.  It looks like I’m enjoying a morning brew, but that’s actually my camera I’m holding.  For the most part, I enjoy being behind the camera instead of in front of it (though I tend to enjoy photos of the back of my head, blurry, or sometimes caught in a spontaneous moment).

I haven’t been on a trip to the coast since I did a show in Yachats last Summer.  Even then, I didn’t have enough time to thoroughly enjoy where I was (being too concerned with managing my booth), so I decided this time it would be something I would do just for the experience of feeding my need to travel.  It’s also a tme for image-gathering.  Being in unfamiliar places always brings out the photographer in me, and this trip was no exception.

At first I felt disappointed that it rained throughout most of my trip.  I went for clarity, and what I got was rain.  In an ironic way, this is exactly the right circumstances for clarity because it tends to make me more introspective.  And of course, there is a beauty to it as well.  In fact, sometimes it’s what you don’t see well that makes an image all the more poetic.    cape-perpetua

Here’s my view of Cape Perpetua.  It was drizzling on and off, and when I got to the lookout, the rain clouds opened up just enough to see below.

I had a dream about the coast before I decided to travel here.  I was looking out at a magnificent view of the ocean.  In the dream, the light was dazzling as it reflected on the waves. My dreaming self asked if I would be able to muster the courage to jump if I had to… and the answer that came back to me was YES.  I knew when I awoke that this was not any kind of death-wish, but the clear recognition that I have the ability to pursue my dreams… and to survive whatever circumstances arise.  It was this dream that encouraged me to take a one-day intuitive painting workshop  (An Artist’s Life, with Diane Hoff-Rome)  in Monroe (between Corvallis and Eugene).  From there I decided to visit a friend in the coastal town of Florence… then to travel up the coast to Cannon Beach before returning to Portland.

In retrospect, the workshop had more to do with learning to trust myself (or jump into the ocean) than I had realized.  We spent much of our time drawing or painting with our eyes closed.  This is an odd shift for me.  I have a hard time letting go of control, but when I do, it is indeed liberating.  And I was actually surprised that some of my favorite drawings were those I had done with either my eyes closed, or using my non-dominant hand.  Double-blind drawings (not looking at the view or the paper), combined with using my non-dominant hand was a bit too much of a stretch for me.  Perhaps I need to give up control incrementally (like learning to swim in a pool before I dive into the ocean).


Though I had to work fast with this landscape, it did have the general feel of the scene that I viewed from the studio window.  The second image simply began with a gesture, instead of anything seen.  The archetypal image of trees are within me, however… so it’s no surprise that this is what my hand spontaneously creates.

monroe-tree tree-hug

Later in the trip, my friend, Jackie, snapped this photo of me absorbing the energy of a giant tree.  It turns out we both have a special attraction to old-growth forests. Once we entered the enchanted forest, we were in another world…


While we took plenty of pictures of the ocean, we were even more entranced by the more intimate spaces created within the wooded landscapes bordering the beaches.  We succumbed to our elf-selves, taking pictures of trees, roots, moss, mushrooms, leaves…



A kind stranger offered to click a pic of the both of us, adding her own unique twist:


Back on my own, I stopped at many of the look-out points and a few parks.  My favorite beach entrance was Oswald West, between Manzanita and Cannon Beach.  You are required to walk 1/4 mile through an ancient forest, along a river path, before you reach the beach. If you are a fan of mossy tree stumps, like me, this is the place to go (if you believe in fairies and tree spirits, you’ll probably find them here too!)



The cavern created by the hollowed out roots of this tree became my meditation spot.  To give some perspective as to size, I could stand completely erect beneath it.


Once I found the spot at the beach where I most resonated, I asked the ocean for any guidance that may come.  The first word was “Paint!”  Looking at the birds circling in the sky, I heard, “Fly!”… Looking at the waves, I heard “Flow”, and watching the surfers attempt to ride the waves, I thought, “Wait for the wave, then throw yourself into it!”

So those are the lessons of my journey.  Now is the time to apply them to my life.

Showing Off My Students!

I’ve finally figured out how to get the pics off of my camera phone, so I’m waaaay behind in updating some of my students’ artworks!  Here’s some samples from current and past classes.   (I’m so proud of everyone!)

Intuitive Painting and Collage

These are from a class that met for 4 sessions.  Students combined textural painting techniques, image transfers, stencils (and gold-leaf in some cases)

donawhite-sacredheart donawhite-madonna


“Dynamic Still-Life Painting” (Spring Semester)


martyvase christine-flowervase claire1 chris-flowervase

“Get Started Painting” (Spring semester “In Process” Shots)

reyna-girl-ptg reyna-girl-w-flower

douglas-baby-ptg betty-crocker1




“Interpretive Landscape”

Winter Semester (”Get Started Painting” class)

Simple Still-Life, Winter Semester “Get Started Painting” Students

Portraiture, “Get Started Painting” (Winter semester)

I forgot to bring my camera the day that my class played with the subject of portraiture.  Tony  (a student who is an experienced watercolorist, but new to acrylic painting), sent me this photo of a painting he began in class, but finished at home.  The assignment required working from a small photograph, making artistic choices to alter the original.

Mixed Media Inspirations

My blog entries have been a bit sparse lately.  I went through a period of being overly busy with creating websites, then with planning classes, now I’m building walls in my basement studio, and won’t be getting much done in there until the building and re-organization is through.  When I find myself overwhelmed with clutter, it’s time to make some drastic changes, and Spring is a good time for this.

I’ve decided to share some images of mixed media artists whom I find inspiring.  I look to other artists when I’m needing a little jump-start on ideas, so I hope my students and web visitors might find some inspiration in these as well.  I’ve included the website links so that you can feast your eyes on more. (You can also click on images for a larger view):

Teesha Moore:,

I just can’t get enough of Teesha Moore’s art!  She creates her collages primarily within the pages of her journals.  She details her process on her website.  To simplify, she first lays down a wash of either watercolor or acrylic, then adds collage elements, then uses water soluble artist crayons. Finally, she draws and writes with markers and gel pens.  I personally love the way the words become a visually important part of the work.

Anahata Katkin:,

Anahata is the creator of my favorite note card company, PaPaYa!.  She explores painting, collage, and digital media in her personal artworks.  I love what she says within her statement on her bio page, so I’ll include it here:

“To me the beauty of so much of the mixed media and journal arts movement is the personal quality of it. How it is often born out of necessity in ones life and continues through a series of impulses, triumphs and challenges. My own artwork is gritty and often unripe. And I like it this way. I like that what I want to do feels just out of reach. That there isn’t a pressure to perform and yet there is great satisfaction in the making of things…and the sharing of things. I guess that’s my own little irony. I try very hard to create artwork for myself and nothing more. And when I succeed in getting out of my own way- I share it with the rest of the world. That’s my formula.”

Cheri Lee Charlton:

I “met” Cheri Lee on MySpace, and was immediately taken by her seductive use of materials in her mixed media artworks.  In particular, she has a series of paintings created on doileys (using watercolor, acrylic ink, graphite, charcoal and markers), which integrate fairy-tale like images with slightly erotic connotations. Of her work, Cheri says, “The surface of a painting has the capacity to seduce.  I seek to make art that addresses that very human desire to be seduced; art that provokes the viewer to acknowledge that sensual place between desire and fulfillment”.

Erica Steiner:

Erica Steiner is another artist who seduces viewers with the surfaces of her work.  She uses her painting to explore her “affinity for beauty, for ornamentation, for excess, and the more turbulent psychic territory that lies beneath”.  She is influenced by a wide range of contemporary, folk, textile and religious art, including “traditional Indian and aboriginal painting, psychedelic art, graphic design, Japanese landscape painting, medieval Catholic illuminated manuscripts, Victorian imagery, art nouveau and more. The work is rendered primarily in oil and gold leaf on canvas, in series of thirty to forty paintings, painted in many layers, over time”.

Patti Brady:

Speaking of rich surfaces, Patti Brady wrote the book (literally) for creating surfaces with acrylic paint and polymers.  Patti is the Working Artist Program Director for Golden Artist Colors. As such, she has had the opportunity to thoroughly explore all of the gels, pastes, and mediums that the company offers, and she’s developed curriculum for acrylic classes for artists and art educators world-wide.

Patti’s book, Rethinking Acrylic: Radical Solutions For Exploiting The World’s Most Versatile Medium covers contemporary uses of acrylic.  It’s richly illustrated with her own and other artists works, and includes much technical info which should be helpful for the experimental artist.

Darleen Olivia McElroy:

Darlene was also featured in my previous blog entry Acrylic Image Transfers, where I included a video of her demo of how to create a gel transfer.  Also check out her blog, The Queen of Glue!  She has recently posted about her inspirations with rust, background surfaces, and links where you can find vintage images to use in collages.

Darlene states that, “creating an art piece is like reading Turkish coffee grounds - a story becomes revealed as one looks at the surface, texture and color. Moving around the canvas, one can see the past, present and future of the creation.”

Heads up: Darlene (and co-writer Sandra Duran Wilson) is currently writing a book, Image Transfer Workshop, that will be published by Northlight Books. It is suppose to hit the shelves in July 2009.

Gary Reef:

Gary Reef is an Australian contemporary artist, who explores mixed media to learn about textures, patterns and layering, and the exploration of his own symbology.  The images above were created primarily through the use of multiple stencils.  “Scratching, carving, digging, sanding, hammering, multi-layering, rubbing, dropping, burning, splattering would be some words used to describe my art practice….the rest, well it comes from the Heart!”

Click here to see a video of Gary working on one of his stencil paintings.

(To view some more artists who work with stencils, please visit my post, Stencils, Stencils, Stencils!)

Kathryn Kendrick:

Kathryn considers herself to be intuitive/folk artist. She combines painting, collage, and assemblage in her mixed media artworks.  Of her process, Katie says, “I don’t have any clear ideas where I’m going when I begin a painting or project and I feel most comfortable with that. Doing projects that have a theme are challenging for me as they come less naturally. I feel most connected to higher self when I am in the process of creating, and am more interested in the process that the product.” There’s lots more inspiration to see and read on her blog.  Looking back through her pages, it reminded me that I could not complete this post without including Jesse Reno!

Jesse Reno:

Jesse Reno’s is a very prolific Portland artist.  His many-layered artworks combine acrylic, oil pastels, charcoal, and pencil on wood or canvas.  Entirely self-taught, Reno decided early in his career to forego formal training. “He generally works on five to ten canvases at once, apportioning equal time to each, in the interest of allowing the thematic content to germinate organically. Open as the artist is to the unfolding of subconscious content, his paintings emerge as pieces of a dreamlike mythic narrative.”

Paula Snyder:

I discovered Paula Snyder when she commented on my last blog post, On Being an Artist in a Bad Economy.  Of her process of working with mixed media, Paula says, “I jokingly think of myself as a multiple personality.  If I had to use the same materials and the same techniques with every piece of art I create, then I feel I might as well be making sandwiches at the local fast food place.”

Anastassia Elias:

Her site is in French, so I confess that I don’t know much about this artist.  She several series of paintings and collages, but I was particularly impressed with the way that she is able to create pictures from torn pieces of colored paper and text (click images to enlarge them so that you can see the text in these collages). To view more of these, go to her website, linked above, and visit the “collages dechires” section of her Portfolio.

Susan Tuttle:

Susan Tuttle recently published a book on mixed media called, Exhibition 36: Mixed Media Demonstrations and Explorations (Amazon link).  “Within the pages of Exhibition 36, readers will enter a virtual art exhibit featuring thirty-six mixed-media artists whose collage, digital, assemblage, altered and repurposed art adorn the walls and pedestals of this unique gallery. The artists are “present” throughout the exhibit, answering questions, sharing their thoughts, talking about their work and offering instruction.”

Sara Renae Jones:

I was particularly interested in Sara Jones’ series, “Outwitting Our Nerves”, which incorporate watercolor and graphite on vintage psychology book pages printed 1921 (if you click to enlarge the images, you can read the text, which is well-paired with the somewhat eerie imagery).

Please respect the copyright of the artists.  These images are provided for inspiration only.  I’ve asked for permission from all of the artists (a few haven’t replied yet, but I’ll remove their images if not allowed).  If you borrow an image for your own site or blog, please also ask the artist for permission.

On Being an Artist in a Bad Economy

An Intimate Interior, by Robin UrtonI just found out that I sold this painting, “An Intimate Interior” at the local “Love Show” (the 4th annual show of this theme, put on by the Launchpad Gallery).  It’s not a new painting, but it fit the theme perfectly.   I’ve had little time to paint in recent months, given my multiple-hat approach to eeking out a freelance career.  I’m generally more attached to my newer works, so it’s easier for me to let go of a painting that’s been with me for a while.

Pricing is one of the more difficult aspects of an art career because no one wants to sell themselves short, nor do they want to out-price the market so that no one can afford their work.  I’ve never heard a really good explanation for how to price one’s work, and I don’t create the kind of art that can easily be priced by the square inch (or square foot, if I were creating large-scale works).  Nor can I price according to time spent on a piece (as if I could actually keep track of that, since I’m in an altered state when the work is flowing… and when it’s not, no one can pay me for the time spent thinking about and mulling over ideas).  The truth is that I have pieces that I spent literally months creating and others that came pretty quickly, but sometimes after a dry spell.  For me, it’s always a matter of emotional attachment, which is a hard thing to quantify.

The main thing I ask myself when I price my work is “what is the lowest amount that I can feel okay about selling this for”… and then add whatever percentage the gallery takes.  And since galleries typically take a 40-50% cut, I always feel better if I can give the customer a good deal by not having to outsource.  But I’d never get any exposure without public walls to hang my work on, and some venues (such as the Launchpad) are really something to support.  They’re the good guys, are also struggling to keep their doors open, and I’m glad to be a part of this group effort.

As much as I try NOT to be affected by all of the bad news about the economy, it’s hard not to be nervous as an artist trying to make my way on a completely freelance career.  Not that it was ever easy, of course.  It takes courage to even think about making a living as an artist in a good economy.  Perhaps that’s why I wear my three freelance hats as an artist, teacher, and web designer.  I’m not brave (or crazy) enough to rely on just one.  These days, I think it’s important to have several marketable skills to survive in a creative field.

When I went to art school, no one really bothered to prepare us for the cold facts of making a career in the arts.  I went into it in a completely naive manner, knowing that I wouldn’t be happy pursuing anything else.  In retrospect, there really isn’t that much that they taught me that I couldn’t have learned on my own.  At least not in terms of technique.  I think that I had the assumption I was going to get some kind of mentoring.  That didn’t happen.  No one told me how to mix color, what mediums to use, or much of anything about the practice of painting.  Nor did they prepare me for how to present myself to galleries, how to professionally photograph my work, apply for grants or residencies… in short, how to be a professional artist.

Fortunately, I’m a self-starter and figured out my own way with the materials.  Whether I intended to or not, I always found myself working against the grain.  In undergrad school, most of my teachers came out of an expressionist background, so the best advice they had to offer was to “let mistakes happen” and use big brushes.  This ran counter to my nature.  I painted carefully, painstakingly, with small brushes.  For the most part, they congratulated anything that was abstract and bold and warned against creating “illustrative” art.  Representational art had a hard time unless it had the bold brush-stroke to go with it.  That simply wasn’t me.  For whatever reason, I simply couldn’t let the paint drip.  I had a need to tightly control my expressions whether this was a good or a bad thing.  It’s only now that I realize that I am no less expressive because of my particular orientation.  I’ve made it work for me, and now that I’ve formed my own style, I can let it loose when I need to… and sometimes I REALLY need to drip paint!

I entered a completely different universe when I started graduate school. I wasn’t quite ready for the level of art theory and intellectualism that spewed the halls of Cranbrook.  I simply couldn’t get what I was doing to fit neatly into any of the current post-modern theories.  I hadn’t developed enough artspeak to defend my thoughts about what I was doing through my art. My ideas about “art, nature, and personal archetype” seemed nakedly naive, and I felt completely vulnerable when faced with critique dialogue.  I can’t say I produced my best work at that time, as I felt too vulnerable express myself fully.  It was only later that some of my chains fell off and I’ve started to really step into my own identity.

So what does all of this have to do with the tough economy? Well, it’s hard to feel courageous about creating art in an economy that few of us have faith will be able to support us.  I spend a lot more time in front of a computer these days than I do in front of a canvas (or plexi, panel, or whatever substrate I’m working on).  And let me tell you, I know it is sapping the life out of me.  This is a bit of a confessional post, but sharing my feelings helps me to exorcise my fears when I’m in the midst of a non-creative slump.  I have stagnant months where it’s very difficult for me to create because I’m too preoccupied with doing the things that are more reliable for paying bills (especially in the winter, when the bills are higher, and my basement studio is a cold and unwelcoming place).  For me, it’s always better to express something than to silently allow these feelings to grow.

There’s a huge part of me that would love to throw away my computer and live in some third-world country where I can live cheap, preferably in a warm climate.  Wherever I go, I’ll meet a new set of challenges.  There is no escape from the need to support oneself.  Anywhere else is not a better place than where I am right now.  Wherever I am, I want to be of good use, to provide services that are needed.  Art is only one of my skills, no more elevated than teaching or producing web designs.. though it is the one that provides me with more of a sense of inner ease (or to put it another way, if I don’t create art, I am not at ease).  I think this is true for most artists.  Whether we can find a way to make a living through it or not, we simply need to do it.  For most of us it’s enough to create and to surround ourselves with our creations.  For myself, I also need to let those creations go, preferably making part of my income from the endeavor.  There’s a huge part of my self-identity that is wrapped up in that equation of making my living through my art.  Perhaps this needs to be evaluated further, but there is satisfaction in knowing that it’s of enough value to someone else that they are willing to pay for it.

Here’s my prescription for any artist who wants to sell art during bad economic times:  Don’t equate how much you are able to sell your work for as any kind of qualifier for how good the work is.  In general, it might be best to paint more small artworks that you can feel okay about selling cheaply (if this works for you), or to sell only your reproductions if the originals are too prescious for you to part with (if that works for you).  In general, it’s a good idea to let your creations go so that someone else can enjoy them, and give yourself some mental space to create more.  Most of all, enjoy what you are doing.  The myth of the “suffering artist” is certainly one to let go of.  Let yourself be a channel for the creative spirit that moves through you, and don’t concern yourself too much with what the current trends are.  First and foremost, be yourself.  Know that art is needed as much now as it ever was… whether people are buying it or not.  If you put your heart into your creations, it will always have a positive effect…. on you, as well as those around you.  It’s all part of the Love… Feel it, and reel it in!

Posted by on Mar 2nd 2009 | Filed in Portland, art, art community, creativity, selling art | Comments (1)

Acrylic Image Transfers

Transferring images can be done with photocopies, some magazine images, inkjet or laser prints.  I suggest using a high contrast laser image for your first efforts because I think the results are more reliable, but the options are open for trying practically anything.  In regards to imagery, try whatever you have a strong connection to.  Winter skies hold a fascination for me, with the filigree of naked branches against a sky.  Many people have an attraction to vintage photographs, or ephemera that comes through their hands regularly through magazines. Other ideas: family photos, scientific illustrations, clip art…

I’ve been intending to do some videos of the acrylic gel transfer that I’m using in my mixed media class.  I’ve noticed that there’s already plenty of artists doing this on YouTube, so I’m including some of the best ones I’ve viewed here. There’s so many ways to do image transfers and I haven’t tried all of them yet.  It can be a little tricky, so practice, practice, practice! .. and have fun!!

Gel Medium Transfer
In this demo by Darlene Olivia McElroy, the artist uses a magazine image, transfered with gel medium, a brayer, and water spritzer. You can also do this with a laser copy (high contrast recommended). The brayer can be substituted with the back of a spoon, and water can be sponged on if you don’t have a sprayer.

Check out some of Darlene’s amazing artwork on her site:

Injet Transparency transfer onto fabric (Quick Method!)

This one uses gel medium with an inkjet transparency, transferred onto interfacing:

Inkjet Transparency Transfer Onto Acrylic Painting

This method takes more drying time than the one above. Artist Jane DesRosier adds transfer images to her acrylic painting  using her inkjet printer, transparency film, and matte medium, but discovered later that her gel medium transfers worked best (see part 2, linked below)

Part 2 of this process shows that drying time is very important:

Jane’s website:

Thick Acrylic Gel Transfer

Here’s another way to do a gel transfer that requires a thick slather of gloss gel or soft gel medium, dried face down on glass.  Takes a bit longer, but very effective!  (Hint: you can probably speed drying time with a hair dryer)

Part 2 shows the completion of the process, the cleanup and lifting stage:

Posted by on Jan 17th 2009 | Filed in art, art classes, creative process, mixed media, photography | Comments (3)

California Journey…

My partner and I took a short trip during Christmas through the New Year to visit family in California.  Getting out of town was not an easy thing.  I was down with a bad cold, the car needed work, and a snow storm had just hit Portland, bringing record snow fall, the likes of which we haven’t seen for something like 40 years.  I’m not kidding.  It took us 5 hours to travel from Portland to Salem, which is usually an hour drive.  Portlanders had been snowed in for days, so the first break in the storm saw a crowd of anyone with chains willing to travel south.  We broke a chain just outside of Portland, so we (courageously or foolishly) pulled through the Sisiskou mountain passes with just one chain.  It was pretty scary, and we’d heard that two 18-wheelers had jack-knifed into each other the previous day, sliding into the ravine.

After driving for 20 hours (normally a 10-hour trip), I was very happy to settle in to spend Christmas with my sister, Beverly, in Ukiah.  I really enjoyed spending some time with her family (which included my bro-in-law, Steve, and my favorite nephew, Warren).  My only regret is that I was still very much under the weather at that point, and forgot to take any photos!

California beach children By the time we arrived in Carlsbad (near San Diego), my congestion had lifted and the weather was practically balmy.  We stayed with my partner’s brother, Matt, his wife Danielle, and their 2 beautiful children, Isabella and Ian.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take some photos at the beach.  The kids are so involved in whatever they are doing, whether it’s playing with each other or making pictures in the sand…. and I even got a few that may inspire some paintings.  Another wing of Christo’s family joined us a day later (Niko, Amber, and their 3 kids), so the house was full and quite rambunctious.

While we enjoyed the New Year in a nearly tropical setting, Portland continued to be hit by snow and rain.  I was quite happy to miss it.  I even started to think about a more permanent southern migration, but I haven’t lived in Portland long enough to say it isn’t working for me.  I’ve actually got a great set up here: a terrific house, membership in a cool co-op art gallery, web clients, a teaching job at the community college… and a neighborhood that feels like home.  The main thing is that I need to remember to leave a couple of times during the winter (next time, before or after a storm, not during).  I also think it’s time to consider the art market in California.  I’d like to get some gallery representation, or even just boutiques to sell my prints and jewelry.   On my next visit I’ll focus more on that.  This was a time for connecting with family.

Child's pendant choker I was really glad that I happened to bring some of my pendant jewelry with me to give to the girls in the family.  What surprised me was that the boys were interested in having pendants too.  In addition to the give-aways, I sold several pieces which actually helped pay for this trip!  Also, when it came to adorning the pint-sized Telullah (Niko and Amber’s daughter, at right), it was clear that the large glass pendant was overwhelming on her, so I created a tiny pendant just for her.  This encourages me to start a new line of children’s necklaces (or for adults who prefer smaller jewelry).  The cool thing is that the necklaces are adjustable… and for some reason, everyone really digs them, so I’m happy to have something that people can’t seem to get enough of!

On our way back up, we visited with Christo’s niece, Sunya, her husband Randy, and their kids in Fairfax, California.  Tao, Satchum, and Inua were just as photogenic (and eager to get in front of the camera).

Mama Sunya with Tao

I created a slide-show from my trip, which I made mostly for family members.. or anyone who’s a fan of pics of beautiful children (most of them on the California beach).  Click link below (or any of the images on this page):


Posted by on Jan 9th 2009 | Filed in children, photography | Comments (0)

thoughts on teaching / collage inspirations

The image above is a painting created by Jutta Reichardt.  It illustrates the use of an acrylic image transfer, acrylic surface techniques, and stenciled gold leaf that I introduced to my Mixed Media class, taught through Portland Community College last semester. Jutta produced some really amazing work during the class, and I wish my camera didn’t keep running out of batteries every time I wanted to photograph my students works! In this particular piece, Jutta was inspired by learning about a pioneering woman journalist, Nelly Bly, who was famous in her day for traveling around the world in 72 days.  She also revealed the conditions of the working class around the world, and exposed mistreatment of people with mental illness.  It seems to me that having an intense interest in a subject (any subject) can propel the work to its own successful conclusion.

I’m sort of relieved to be on a teaching break til mid January.  It’s good to have some time to get back into my own work more fully, to listen more carefully to what drives me personally… which in the end, I think will make me a better teacher.

I love teaching, as it re-awakens my passion for disseminating information about art.  After all, if making art were just for myself, it would be a pretty selfish thing, wouldn’t it??  The truth of the matter is that the desire to create is both selfish and selfless.  I create because I must, because I am an endlessly frustrated human being if I do not have an outlet for all of the images and thoughts that pour through me.  Whenever I give myself to my creative expression, I return to the most sane aspects of my self.  I become more grounded in my experience of practically everything.  It improves my relationship to myself, to others, and the world around me.  Teaching can also be a very connective experience, and it gives me great pleasure to see anyone grow in their confidence in expressing themselves.

The catch-22 about teaching is that creating art is not merely about having a handle on technique.  Yes, techniques are important.  They are the tools we use to express ourselves visually.  But it’s having a connection to our personal vision that’s most important, and that’s a very difficult thing to teach.  To some extent, we can learn it from example.  I give my students a lot of examples of what other artists are doing, in terms of both subject matter and technique, which I hope might be inspiring to their own works.  This is the reason I’ve posted so many articles on this blog related to various art inspirations (see index for these articles here).

I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of what the class experience is about is providing a space where students are given permission to allow their creative selves to emerge.  I give specific assignments related to using colors, surface techniques, image transfers, etc… but it’s mostly a matter of giving the students a place to create where they feel encouragement, gentle direction, and the immersion of being with others who are also creating, which becomes a large part of the learning experience.  I think that artists need a combination of experiences which include the isolation of working alone, the creative atmosphere of learning from others, as well as a number of other life experiences that provide the ideas that feed their work.

I strongly suggest some form of journaling to record one’s thoughts (both visually and verbally).  Sketching, doodling, or photographing things of interest to you are all helpful in gaining access to your personal sources of inspiration.  Your process of journaling and what to include in it really depends on what ignites your creative furnace.  You might also enjoy gathering things from walks in nature… or gathering ephemera from old magazines, thrift store finds, etc.  If you enjoy textures and patterns, you might collect cloth, lace, or decorative papers that can later be collaged into your works.

Susan Tuttle, Exhibition 36: Mixed Media Demonstrations

I personally enjoy a mixed media approach to creating art, simply because it opens up the range of possibilities.  Practically anything can become fodder for creative exploration.  I enjoy books that provide lots of ideas for how to bring ideas together, giving the reader permission to try anything.

I occasionally check on the blogs of other artists to see what they are creating, and I just found out that an artist I’ve been following has just released a book about exploring collage.  I’ve just checked it out on Amazon, and this looks like a really good one to get my hands on, so I’m spreading the word:

Susan Tuttle’s new book is called Exhibition 36: Mixed Media Demonstrations (Amazon link)

Susan is offering a free book in her contest for those who mention the book on their blog.  I could really use this book to add to inspiring ideas for my own art as well as teaching, so I’m hoping I have a good chance of winning the book! (see this page of her blog for details on this, if you’d also like a chance at this).  While you’re there, check out some of Susan’s amazing mixed media art.  Here’s an example of one of her assemblages, titled, “I Went to the Woods”:

(Update: I didn’t win the book, but trying for it gave me the idea of occasionally reviewing art books that I think are particularly inspiring.  Look forward to seeing some art book reviews in the future).

Posted by admin on Dec 15th 2008 | Filed in art, art classes, art community, creative process, creativity, mixed media | Comments (2)

the fruits of solitude

I’ve been craving a bit of solitude lately.  Speaking of this need to a friend, she offered me her place for the weekend, while she was out of town.  After sharing houses for years, this small break was like heaven for me.  I decided to make it into my own little creative/spiritual retreat.  The focus was to read, write, walk, paint and meditate… and nothing else.   I highly recommend this to anyone who feels overwhelmed by the pressures of the everyday.  Whatever it is that engages you with your higher self, focus on nothing but this for a day, a weekend, a week… whatever you can afford to give yourself.

At the outset, I decided not to judge whatever I produced.  This is time for me, not for pumping out salable artwork.  Sometimes the pressure of that is itself debilitating.  I wanted to flow with whatever came up for me.

I started the painting above a little before the retreat, but brought it along to have at least one thing that already had a beginning.  It was the freshest thing in my studio.  It began with star-shaped flowers…. then the swirling sky.  I started to see a bird in the sky, so I painted that.  Then I saw the woman.  It’s not finished, but I sort of like it this way right now.  When I come to a place where I don’t know what to do next, I stop.  I feed my senses with something else until the next step announces itself.  I read, walk or I paint something else.

I was at a loss about what to paint next.  Mostly, I give myself too many choices, so my biggest dilemma is making a decision.  I got up to make some tea and looked at Joy’s walls for a little while.  I found myself staring at a madonna image.  Mind you, I’m not a religious person (in the traditional way, at least), but when a little voice in my head told me to “paint myself as the goddess”, I decided to do it.  The result is less goddess than peasant, but there’s something I like about it.   One problem I had was that the only mirror I had with me was a two inch magnifying mirror, so I can’t see my whole face in it.  I can see one eye, a nose, my lips in isolation… but could not see the whole at once.  So I decided that was my challenge, to figure out how to make them work together. I struggled with the proportions.  I’ve finally come to a place with it that I recognize myself, though there is some odd distortions.  It still needs some work, but I don’t want to overwork it. I want to leave it partly unfinished.

(When Joy came back, she was surprised, and told me that she put that madonna image up for me, and wondered if I would see myself in it).

I started a couple other little paintings which are still in their beginning stages.  In both, I started with a textured background by pressing plastic wrap into wet paint.  It was easy to see trees, branches and leaves in this, so I took out my oil pastels and started to define these shapes.  Not too surprisingly, a river formed in both of these paintings as well.  The image of water and trees is something that bubbles up in meditation frequently these days.   I visualize this body of water (a stream or river more than an ocean).  At first, I am only aware of the reflections on the water.  The water reflects the sky and shadows of trees above.  I feel gently pulled into it.  It’s like I am on an invisible boat.  I don’t have a body, but I sense myself being pulled along the river.  I am lost in the motion of ripples, the reflection, the shadows.  This is the archetypal landscape of my soul: water, trees, sky…

I realize that I want to paint from the source more frequently.  To go outside and paint what I see in the reflections of the water.  But it was a rainy weekend, so I decided “the source” was whatever I could pull out of what I saw in the paint.  These are timid beginnings so far, but I see the potential already.  Again, I like looking at the work before it’s been fully realized.

Another thing I thought about painting (but didn’t) was a pomegranate, based on images that have come up in both meditations and dreams.  But when I opened the fruit, I was confounded by the complexity of hundreds of seeds.  I decided to do a photographic study instead, to help me decide how I wanted to approach the subject before I try to paint it.  The night before I went out to purchase the pomegranate, I burned a candle that overflowed.  I picked up the wax and realized that it also resembled the pomegranate, so I posed it with the fruit, which seemed to emphasize the sense of oozing.  I ran the image through some Photoshop filters to see how different colors affected the image.

In my dream during this retreat, I was eating the pomegranite seeds (sharing it with Joy, who was sharing her home with me).  I looked down on my plate and was surprised to see that the seeds were glowing like little light-bulbs.  I knew it was about embracing the feminine archetype… to learn about and hold this power… and to realize that my connection to this world is through the senses, to embrace that also.

Local Victory: a renewal of the victory garden

Last Friday, I attended the opening a show at the Launch Pad Gallery in Portland.  I was inspired by the quality of the art as well as the appropriateness of the message. Rebecca Shelly’s theme is one that fits our current economic struggles, suggesting that growing our own food can help lead to more independence as well as community-building.

Here’s a clip from Rebecca’s artist’s statement for the show:

In World War II, our country created “Victory Garden” posters to market the idea of growing home gardens to help with the food supply shortage. They proclaimed that people could fight for the war in their own gardens. Once again, we might be faced with this dilemma. Today, these posters instead of growing vegetables to help fight a war would support a local economic structure. Instead of the term, “Victory Garden” I feel that “Local Victory” would be more fitting today. It is similar to the slogan, “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

I was really drawn into these paintings.  When you see them in person, you are more aware of the abstract qualities inherent within the works.  The piece above, for example, has some really wonderful sections which, when you zoom into a closer focus, makes you more aware of the fact that Rebecca is really a master of abstract form.  I learned later that most of her artworks are much less illustrative than this particular body of works.

Another thing that’s not easy to see in the photograph is the fact that this painting was created in two layers.  The bottom layer is watercolor guache on paper, whereas the top layer is acrylic on acetate.  The employment of separate layers also helps the viewer to be more aware of the relationship between “positive” and “negative” space in the work.

Rebecca Shelly, childhood garden photo
One of the things that I learned from reading Rebecca’s blog is that some of the artworks in this show were conceived from photographs from her childhood.  She was raised by parents who grew their own food.  She mentioned to me during the opening that she grew up with the illusion that this was a common experience for everyone, to find out later that few people actually shared this experience of growing up with a close relationship to the earth. In the blog, she credits her father’s gardening journals as one of the impetuses for this body of work:

“I grew up working with my parents in the gardens, but I have not focused before on why they chose to grow certain things. My father chose to grow things to maybe influence growth of other plants or to distract insects. Some varieties worked better than others and with organic gardening there isn’t much time to make mistakes. Once something worked, he would keep working that or try something different the following year. His journals were a way to look back and document what worked and what needed to be changed.”

Of the early photographs, Rebecca  notes, “These are what I consider documentation of my childhood rather than just a nostalgic image. I am not commenting on how wonderful it was, but more how interesting this was for a child. At an early age I knew how things grew, and the work that needed to go into this.”

Just as interesting as the works themselves is the way that the artist chose to display them.  By incorporating the framed artworks into a wall-drawing of posts and shadows of plants, Rebecca created an installation that brings the viewer into the narrative of the garden.

Rebecca also included 3-D props of plant shapes which occupied the floor space in front of the artworks.  On these, she wrote statements and questions that might help the viewer to consider their own relationship to food.

Ben Pink, the founder and curator of Launchpad Gallery, mirrors Rebecca’s concerns in his statement about the show.  Problems such as “rising food costs, mono-cropping, pesticide use, loss of genetic diversity in food stocks and reliance on fossil fuels to transport foods hundreds if not thousands of miles from the farm to the store; Shelly sees the modern-day Victory Garden as a small, yet potent way to meaningfully address these issues, but also as catalyst for relationships, a place to re-connect people with their local community and truly create a sense of place.”

In addition to artworks inspired from the images of her own childhood, Rebecca also directly borrowed from the imagery in the WWII posters which were a campaign to encourage Americans to plant victory gardens, as a way of supporting the war effort.  She combined the imagery with collaged text from gardening books of the same era (click to enlarge any of the images on this page):

These smaller paintings in the exhibit echo the didactic tone of the 40’s propaganda posters, yet she pushes beyond the earlier war-effort message to one which is contemporary to our own times.  The mixed-media and layered approach brings the viewer into the artwork in a more intimate way.  What was before a message of pedantic pronouncements becomes, under her skillful hands, more of an invitation to participation.

I couldn’t help but to relate the timing of this exhibition to the victory of our recent American election.  Living in a politically liberal community, there’s an air of excitement about the changes to come.  Despite the plight of financial and housing markets, there’s a charge of optimism for change.  Though its only a small part of the solution, we see many of us who have already taken up the cause for organic gardening.  A walk through any Portland neighborhood will reveal that many of our neighbors have become urban farmers.  There’s also a taste for bartering and a large population that supports bio-fuels and bicycling.  Perhaps one of the answers to these difficult times is a backward glance at the ways of the past.

Here’s some more installation photos from the show:

Rebecca Shelly with children

I thought it especially poignant when a group of young children approached the artist to ask her questions about the inspiration for her mixed-media paintings.  For me, this brings the message of her work full-circle.  The work is inter-generational, inspired by her own experience growing up in the garden.  Now she shares this with others, including the new generation that is emerging.

In addition to the artistic contribution, Rebecca is starting up a project that involves giving away starter plants to people who may want to begin gardening but may need an introduction to the concept:

“Sometimes I think people want to have a little push to do something. That is why I want to give free plant starts to people…. Already, I have received a great amount of interest in this project. A gift is great and when that can continue to give and inspire, that is probably one of the most amazing things an artist can offer.”

Rebecca Shelly, Victory Garden posters

In order to make the work MORE available to the general public and in keeping with the propaganda roots of this project, Rebecca has created accessibly priced limited-edition posters of some of the work in the show (click image at left to view these posters).  They are available through Launchpad Gallery.  The gallery is located at 534 SE Oak Street, Portland, OR.  The exhibit continues through November 29th. (view the gallery’s website for hours, or call for an appointment: 971.227.0072)

View Rebecca Shelly’s body of abstract paintings at her website:
Read her blog:
Local Victory Blog:

Masters of The Dynamic Still Life

Early in my art career I had a resistance to the still-life genre, perhaps because my college professors created pretty boring set-ups of mangled mannequins, bicycle wheels, broken chairs and all sorts of uninspiring material. I’ve always been more inspired by working from my imagination or a symbolic narrative.  However, since I’ve started teaching art, I’m forced to acknowledge the fact that (1) it’s difficult to teach imagination; and (2) learning to “see” and paint what you see is of great value.

A still-life is also a great starting point for the imagination to interpret what it sees.  Setting up objects creates a perfect situation for studying the effects of light, shadow, and color… and the fact that you have the opportunity to arrange and rearrange the composition allows for more freedom and control than practically any other subject.

Before beginning on a still-life, I feel that it’s a good idea to look at the masters of the genre… those that were able to transcend the subject of “objects on a table” into a work of personal and subjective relevance.

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906): “Apples and Pears”

Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials. He is one of the first artists to be spoken of when referring to the idea of the “dynamic” still life.  If you look closely at almost any of his paintings, you will notice that he chooses a rather precarious balance to his themes.  There are a few things to notice in the example above.  First, the horizon line is only slightly tilted, so that there’s a feeling of stability, yet not quite stable.  The plate is also tilted, and the fruit look like they might easily fall off the table.  This isn’t completely obvious to the casual observer, but even these slightly unstablizing factors prevent the composition from becoming totally static.  I’ve added a detail of the painting to help the student see the texture of the paint.  It also serves as an idea of abstracting the image further.

Cézanne’s explorations of geometric simplification later inspired Picasso, Braque and others to experiment with ever more complex multiple views of the same subject, and, eventually, to the fracturing of form (cubism).

To view more works by Cézanne, visit this link.

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903): “Still Life Fete Gloanec”

Paul Gauguin’s artworks are frequently characterized by an intense color palette.  His most famous artworks were interpretations of an idyllic life of peasants in Tahiti. His still-life paintings are less known, but were consistent with the rest of his work in that they tended to simplify the subject and key up the colors into somewhat unnatural hues.

A Post-Impressionist, Gauguin’s bold and colorful paintings significantly influenced Modern art, especially artists Matisse, Picasso, Braque, and Derain (including the movements of Fauvism, Cubism, and Orphism among others).

To view more of Paul Gauguin’s artworks, visit

Vincent Van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890): Sunflowers, Irises, and Lemons

Vincent Van Gogh’s artworks span the subjects of landscape, portraiture and still-life.  He worked at a feverish pace, producing almost 900 paintings between  a span of 9 years (1881-1890).  He painted quickly, deliberately, and almost always from live subjects.

“I can’t work without a model. I won’t say I turn my back on nature ruthlessly in order to turn a study into a picture, arranging the colors, enlarging and simplifying; but in the matter of form I am too afraid of departing from the possible and the true.”

Van Gogh firmly believed that to be a great painter you had to first master drawing before adding color. Over the years he clearly mastered drawing and began to use more color. His early works were shadowed by the dark color themes of Dutch realism, but after viewing the works of the French Impressionists, his color scheme shifted to the tints and tones of a brighter world.  In time, one of the most recognizable aspects of Van Gogh’s paintings became his bold use of color.  The energetic use of line and brushwork is also a trademark of Van Gogh’s work.

To view more of Van Goghs drawings and paintings, visit

Georgio Mirandi (Italian, 1890-1964): the muted still-life

Morandi was the master of monochromatic compositions of subtle power.  He tended to emphasize the shapes and profiles of his objects with gentle shifts in color, unified with an even-handed, brushy application of paint.  He preferred matte surfaces and neutral colors. Boxes and bottles were stripped of labels and sometimes painted white or gray to destroy reflections and homogenize the materials, reducing them to essential forms. In this way, his still life paintings became studies in abstract geometric archetypes.

To view more works by Giorgio Morandi, visit this site.

Georgia O’Keefe (American, 1887-1986)

Georgia O’Keefe’s studies of natural forms are generally viewed less as still-lives than powerful expressions of abstracted realities.  She did occasionally set up objects on a table, but more often there is no reference to man-made forms in these paintings.  Sometimes (especially in the case of her bone-studies) she would float the subject agains an expansive sky.

Wikipedia says, “O’Keeffe has been a major figure in American art since the 1920s. She is chiefly known for paintings in which she synthesized abstraction and representation in paintings of flowers, rocks, shells, animal bones and landscapes. Her paintings present crisply contoured forms that are replete with subtle tonal transitions of varying colors.”

Patrick Chi Ming Leung (born in Hong Kong 1953; resides in Canada)

I actually know very little about this artist.  I discovered him by wandering the web, researching artists of the still life.  I immediately recognized something very powerful in the way that he abstracts natural forms into circles, lines, textures, and shapes.  It makes me realize that it’s possible to push the possibilities of each, simultaneously !   I’ve enlarged a section of the above painting in order to focus on what is happening, at a spatial level.

I’ll soon write to the artist and see if I can gain any insight into his process and thoughts (and to obtain permission to use his image).

For more images by Patrick Chi Ming Leung, visit gallery site.

Joseph Plasket (Canadian, 1918- ):

Another discovery from browsing the web, Joseph Plasket actually has quite a renowned reputation and I’m surprised I hadn’t come across him before.  Joseph Plasket comes to us from Canada.   He’s a gem (and I want to meet him!)

What I appreciate most about these compositions is that the still-life subjects are rendered in a lively attention to detail, seeming fairly realistic, yet slammed against the plane of rectangles, squares and octagons.  It’s as if two planes of dimensional space have intersected or collided with each other.  Brilliant!  In some ways it goes further than the discovery of Cubism by Picasso.  Picasso smashes space up into a bucket of glass and puts it back together into a less recognizable form.  Joseph Plaskett has performed a trick on our perceptions also, but it seems a friendlier place to me.  It’s the kind of world that I would like to step into, with all of its pure hue, elegant shapes, and colored light.

I love how he can take the same basic forms and, combining each with a different light and temperature, creates completely different atmospheres!

Reflections on Turning 90, by Joseph Plasket:

“The ecstasy I feel as I survey  work I have done I want to share with the world – not the whole world  which couldn’t care less, but my private world, which is my country, Canada. An aged painter cannot help but accept the fact that his work belongs in the past. Younger painters have leaped into the phenomenon called contemporary, where it would be foolish of me to try to enter. But I can claim my own phenomenon, the existence of a public that loves and is moved by what I do, and this public even includes my peers some of whom are young and contemporary. I now paint works that I would previously have not been capable of painting, works that take me by surprise and leave me in a state of wonder and amazement. When I see older work that has stood the test of time (not everything I do does) I cannot recall how I have done it. At a certain point the painting seems to have painted itself without my help – what I have called the “eureka” moment when a sudden daring intervention has worked a miracle.”

In my personal opinion, the worlds that Joseph Plasket has created is just as contemporary as anything else I’ve seen.  I see that he has fractured the world into 2 planes: the receding objects on the table, and the flat plane of the table, which has a shifted perspective.

To view more paintings by Joseph Plasket, view his gallery webpages.  Here’s another, with more :


Note: Most of my posts related art instruction, art history, and classes are being posted on private pages, instead of within the main frame of this blog.  Here’s an index of the class-related pages I’ve created so far. You can also view them on the sidebar, under “Pages” (between categories and blogroll), arranged in alphabetical order:

Painting Subjects

Staging a Simple Still-Life

Masters of the Dynamic Still-Life

Contemporary Botanicals, Mixed Media

The Interpretive Landscape

The Interpretive Portrait

Mixed Media/Painting Techniques:

Textured Backgrounds

Acrylic Image Transfers

Combining Pattern and Realism

Color, Space, Repetition

Golden Inspirations: Gold Leaf Painting

Stencils, Stencils, Stencils

Color Theory:

Mandala Color Wheel

Color Wheel Masking

Creating Harmony in Color

Color Shift from a Photographic Source

Posted by admin on Nov 9th 2008 | Filed in art, art history, creativity, modern masters, nature, painting process, still-life | Comments (1)

America Wakes

Though I was pretty elated on Tuesday night, it’s taken a few days for the news to completely sink in.  Everyone I knew was practically holding their breath until the results were official.  Yes, the odds were in our favor, but after the shenanigans played on recent elections, it was hard to believe that the will of the people would actually prevail or that democracy was more than a slogan used to either win votes or attack other countries.  After 8 years of lies and complicit coverage of the news, it takes a while to believe that the ideal of government “for the people and by the people” could ever be a reachable goal.

Though I don’t normally talk about politics in my art blog, it seems appropriate to take a moment to comment on this great moment in American history.  I dreamt last month of actually meeting Obama, and having a conversation which revealed how much he cared about people (in the dream he was concerned about me, specifically).  Though he has been handed an impossible job of turning around a nation with problems deeper than history has known, I believe that with his intelligence, heart, and mindfulness, he will choose the right people to help us move in the right direction.  I am also hoping that I will soon be able to wean myself from my daily addiction to political blogs.  The more art I create, the more hopeful I become.

(illustration by Barry Blitt, published November 9, 2008)
Copyright 2008
The New York Times Company

Posted by admin on Nov 9th 2008 | Filed in politics | Comments (0)

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