Month: May 2016

Stop, Drop, and Clean????

Space for the Spirit to breathe.

Rainer Maria Rilke

This past winter my sessions in the studio could best be described as a blitzkrieg affair, with me dashing in whenever possible, averaging only 3-4 hours per visit. Not ideal, I know, but I believe that you do as much as you can, when you can, and that by piano, piano, piano, things slowly get accomplished.

Work area before Spring cleaning.

With this approach it meant that my time had to be maximized: visiting with office neighbors kept to a quick hello, eating with a sandwich in one hand, paint brush in another, getting down to work ASAP and, except for cleaning the  brushes, not accomplishing much in the ways of house (er, studio) keeping. Oh, the occasional swoosh of the vacuum now and then, and emptying the trash every session, but not much to write home about unless you count a quick scrawl in the book shelf dust. With the conclusion of the winter/spring semester (and, yes, sigh, summer session is now underway) there’s the urge to do some late spring cleaning in the studio. Part of the that was the need to corral the clutter, and really clean the floor surrounding the easel (are those cracker crumbs at my feet? Oh, surely not confetti!?). Another part of urge to clean lies in the much-needed psychological lift I feel when I organize my surroundings. Like Rilke noted: “Space for the Spirit to breathe.”

I know artists who have said that the fact that they can constantly and instantly see what’s on hand, and thus they don’t need to look through drawers and files to find anything, aids them in being more creative; they find both comfort and efficiency being surrounded by their “stuff”. However for me, my mind thinks better and my spirit feels calmer and I am more focused when my environment is somewhat organized.

Ah, breathing space!

Now please don’t think I’m a regular Clean Martine. When deeply involved in a studio project, organizing is not a priority. Once I’ve determined what color palette I’m using, and what brushes and tools are needed, I leave everything out within reach. Only once the artwork is done do I truly tidy the work area. While I clean and regroup, putting caps back on the paint tubes, returning pencils to the drawer, scouring out my coffee mug and errant eating utensils, my mind wonders and wanders. I daydream, plot and plan my next creative undertaking. It’s a lot like the feelings I get when doing the annual yard clean up at home before the garden gets planted.

Now as I am going into the summer season, I feel ready to give expression to the artistic seeds that have laid fallow all winter. My supplies are replenished, my brushes clean, my studio feels in harmony. In regards to my spring cleaning at home, please don’t ask. I just now found my missing shoe buried in a pile of sweaters and I swear I can hear mocking sounds coming from the closets!

This Week in the Studio

Happy to announce that work delivered for jurying in the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors (DSWPS) latest show proved fruitful. I had two mixed media sculptures accepted into the exhibit, “Soliloquy”,  June 10-30, at the Anton Art Center, 125 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens, MI 48043. Opening reception Saturday, June 11, 1 – 3 p.m. Then the works travel to Crooked Tree Art Center September 17-November 19! Huzzah!

Nest 7 - Upward Bound

The Pathway

Well, Aren’t You Just Like Michelangelo!

“I live and love in God’s peculiar light.”


When my son, the Heir Apparent, was a youngster he asked me who I liked best: Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo or Leonardo?  What a clever boy! (Indeed, I wondered how to casually let slip to the other moms what a genius my son was.) Yet a small niggling thought made me hesitate. I couldn’t recall sharing a single story, children’s book, or television program about these particular artists with Andrew. So I asked the precocious tyke where he learned about these giants of art. In the way that only our children can humble us, he sighed deeply, rolled his eyes and said, “Mom, they’re not artists, they’re Ninja Turtles!”

Well, there went my bragging rights on the playground.

I often retell that story and from time to time, I wonder how to answer the “who do you like best” question. All these years later I still answer “Michelangelo”.


Jacopo del Conte's Portrait of Michelangelo
Jacopo del Conte’s Portrait of Michelangelo:

I think it’s because I relate to Michelangelo Buonarroti in ways that I can’t with the other big guys. Based on what I’ve read about Michelangelo, he had shortcomings that were beyond my understanding. By most accounts, his personal habits were slovenly enough to cause comment (and this was at a time when everyone’s hygiene, was shall we say, a wee bit on the stanky side.) He was antisocial, paranoid and had such a quick temper that one of his nicknames was Il Terrible. (His other well earned moniker was Il Divino.) He was a complicated individual living in a complex, volatile society. Still, here are five reasons how most of us artists, not just me, can relate to Michelangelo:

  1. Family

We hold family dear but let’s be honest, sometimes when you are trying to accomplish something artistic, doesn’t their wants and needs get on your nerves a tiny bit? Although he never married, Michelangelo understood trying to balance work and family obligations. After receiving a letter from his father asking once again for assistance, Michelangelo complained that he didn’t have the time to take away from work to deal with family issues. Inspite of his annoyance, Michelangelo continued to lend considerable help when needed, just like we find ourselves doing.

2. Dealing with the Boss 

Adam_na_restauratieWe’ve all had to navigate the expectations of a boss or client. Imagine dealing with the demands of a Pope, at a time when Papal authority was absolute, literally, “do or die”, and then multiply that by nine! Yep, from 1505 on, Michelangelo worked under nine consecutive popes. One, Julius II, had the temperament and ambitions that matched the artist, earning Julius a similar nickname, Il Papa Terrible. One can only image that their encounters were like the Clash of the Titans! Think about that the next time you are asked to modify a piece, or change direction on a job. After all, it is likely no one recently told you knock off the tomb idea and go slap some paint on a chapel ceiling.

3. Find Success Where Others See Failure

Michelangelo's_DavidOkay, who hasn’t been told at least once that an idea or process won’t work; admit it, you bowed to the naysayers. Imagine if Michelangelo had listened when everyone said that a certain piece of Carrara marble was too flawed to carve. In fact, two other sculptors had tried, both abandoning the marble due to imperfections and leaving it exposed for over 25 years to the elements. Michelangelo saw the possibilities in the stone, and with a firm belief in his own skills, he undertook the commission from Opera del Duomo, and produced one of the world’s most recognizable sculptures, the much beloved David.

If Michelangelo could turn an unusable block of marble into something magnificent can’t you and I find success when we are confronted by small challenges in our artistic practice? Darn right, we can! Now hand me a chisel!

4. A Bad Beginning Doesn’t Mean a Bad End

We all have moments that we are less than proud of, particularly if we had an impetuous youth or fell under the influence of someone who had something other than our best interest at heart. Did you know Michelangelo began his career as a forger, carving and then passing off a sleeping cupid as an ancient Roman sculpture? Some suggest that Lorenzo de Medici was behind the scam in selling the work to Cardinal Riario, and that Michelangelo was equally duped, while others believe Michelangelo was complicit in the arrangement. Either way, the fraud was uncovered; but like a really good fairy tale, Cardinal Riario ended up being so impressed by Michelangelo’s talents that the rest, as they say, is history.

No way am I suggesting that committing a misdemeanor is the way to jump start a career, but learning from past mistakes seems a worthy lesson. Speaking of learning, this takes us to one of Michelangelo’s most endearing virtues:


5. Keep Learning Until the End

Michelangelo,_pietà_rondanini,_1552-1564,_05It’s unlikely that “Ancora Imparo”,  a quote attributed to the 83 year old Michelangelo, was actually ever uttered by him. He may not have said the words, “I am still learning”,  but he lived them. He considered himself a sculptor but he learned to master painting. At age 74 he was called upon to supervise the ongoing work at St. Peter’s Basilica, a project he continued to work on for the next 14 years, right up to his death at age 88. Two days before he died, he was still working on his final piece, the Rondanini Pietà. If the great Michelangelo could keep learning, who are we to assume that all we need to know, we know?

So now’s is your turn. Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo or Leonardo? Turtles or artists, you decide!

Note: all Michelangelo images from

This Week in the Studio 

IMG_2099 2Took a break from studio work to tie up the flotsam and jetsam of the winter semester and prep for summer teaching. But not all was work, as we managed a couple of days away for some R and R. Of course, every adventure has to include art! Here is a photo from a visit to the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s exhibit on Maurice Sendak’s classic masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are, because inside every artist is a little bit of a wild thing!



To Be or Not to Be (an Artist), That is the Question

“An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.”

Charles Horton Cooley

My name is Martine and I am an artist.


“Hello, Martine”

Yep, that’s me alright; I admit it freely. And I ain’t sorry. However, there are times when I do wonder, as any reasonable person might, why.

Why be an artist when the financial rewards are so slim?

Why be an artist when you must decline invitations and limit social gatherings because you need the time to create?

Why be an artist when you must forego the friendship of certain people because their demands, craziness and drama, however exciting, detract and drain you from art making?

Why be an artist when there are hundreds, no thousands, of other artists out there, making art more accomplished and innovative than yours?

Why be an artist when you can find programs and websites and technologies that will  produce “original” artwork for pennies on the dollar?

Well, as we say in Italian class: Perchè? Perchè! Why? Because!

True, most of us aren’t making enough money selling our work to support a flea. If we are lucky we find jobs in art related fields, or otherwise we work at something to pay bills. We may occasionally sell a piece or two. So if we set aside financial reward as the mark of success and look to the success of a task well done, to the best of our abilities, then why not be an artist?

Instead of thinking of all the times we say “no” to social invitations, perhaps we should see that those “no-s” are the times we say “yes” to our creative spirit. When we are so fortunate as to be able to say yes to spending time with our Muse, that gracious being, then why not be an artist?

There will be relationships that impede our artistic undertaking. We then wish those individual peace and Godspeed, leaving space to open our artist arms to those who feed our souls, encourage our undertakings and provide us with needed emotional support. With such folks in our corner, why not be an artist?

Out in the great big world there are artists more accomplished in technique, salesmanship, and luck than you. If you know that you are doing your best work, find joy in the process, and create something that resonates with another human being, then why not be an artist?

Technology and some markets provide cheap labor, producing an inexpensive product that looks like original art. Accept that it is not your job to try to undersell either them or yourself, and somewhere there is someone who can’t live without your work. With such knowledge, then why not make art?

How fortunate as artists to be given both the creative hunger and the means to satisfy that desire! You will always find plenty of reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t be an artist. Like a newly found shiny penny, flip the excuse over and see the answer to the question: why be an artist? The answer: why not?  Why not indeed!

This Week in the Studio

Slow week in the studio as we  wrapped up the Spring semester and began plans for the Summer sessions. Still–made progress on the Mondrian inspired self-portrait, and worked on the honey comb  and pineapple rondel.

IMG_3186 bees, in progress