Category: self portrait

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







A Road Forward and Back

“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross…” 

Nikos Kazantzakis

As a Mid-Century Modern, I remember the time before Al Gore created the internet and what it meant to be stuck in a bind because a missing piece of information was needed to complete a project, research an idea or learn an artistic technique. Myself, I’ve used the “www” to learn the history of saints (for my mixed media relics), the anatomy of bees (a painting I am currently working on) and formulae for oil paint medium (still referencing). How was knowledge ever transmitted prior to the 1990s?

Well, yes, it sometimes involved trips to the library and searching through the stacks for the right book, crossing your fingers that someone else didn’t take it out before you. Subscriptions to art magazines were another good source, with their “how-to” articles and tips and techniques. But far and away the very best way to know the ins and outs of a thing was, and remains, having a mentor and teacher.

Lucky the students whom the fates conspire to put the right teacher in their path at the right time. When I went back to college, itched by the possibility that I might find a place in the arts, my teacher Jim Pudjowski encouraged me to go to graduate school at Wayne State University. There professors, with manners direct and no nonsense, encouraged, pushed, advised, counseled and otherwise helped launch me towards my lifelong vocation, each adding, bit by bit, to my artistic formation. Best of all, although it has been over 16 years since my graduation, I can still call upon any of them with a question or request for feedback or artistic advice.

A teachable moment.

In the classroom I often tell stories of my own trials as a student and the different techniques and philosophies learned from my teachers. Once, at an exhibition opening, I had the great experience of having one of my prior teachers and a former student visit at the same time. After introducing them to each other, we got to talking about the lineage of teaching, tracing tradition backwards from the student, now an artist herself, to me, to my professor, who then shared who his teacher was, and who his teacher’s teacher was and so on. A veritable genealogy!

It’s lovely to stand on the road and look both forward and backwards, feeling that as a student and a teacher, you are part of a grand lineage. That thread is something that the digital universe, with all its access to information, just can’t duplicate.

This Week in the Studio

I’m still working on my small rondel paintings and am making fair progress on those as well. Hopefully I will have a completed one to post next week!



I, the Juror

Remember that all is opinion.

Marcus Aurelius

Next week I take off my artist beret and replace it with my juror’s cap, as I once again adjudicate the spring exhibit for the Downriver Arts and Craft Guild. I will speak to the assembled membership, offer a quick critique for each of the pieces submitted, (a modest number easily covered in the time span allowed), and select a winner. Over the years, the event has trans-morphed in the Marty Arty Award, no prize money but bragging rights for the year. It’s a fun evening of repartee and storytelling and I enjoy the event immensely.

That’s not normally how things work when serving as a juror, especially when prize money is on the line! As the artist entering the competition has guidelines, oftentimes so does the juror. Sometimes the host organization will request that everyone has at least one piece selected, or cap the number of pieces chosen because of the size of the venue, or limited the number of awards one artist can receive.

Once the parameters are known, selecting the work can begin. I’ve heard it said that picking the strongest and eliminating the weakest is the easy part, and I have found that to be true, more or less. It’s the work that falls into “good” art category that offers the challenge. Among the many things I look for, here are 3 to consider:

  1. Original and creative interpretations of the subject matter, without falling back on gimmicks. When I was member of the Colored Pencil Society of America, one juror summed it up this way: When everyone else is doing cats, you paint the rhino! And please, only use glitter if it is integral to the work.
  2. In one word: Presentation, presentation, presentation. It hard to look at the work if the frame is askew or the picture has fallen down behind the mat. As an artist I’ve done the wham, bam, thank you ma’am approach and more often than not I end up more sorry than pleased.  In a related note, I  am always appreciative of mastery of media.
  3. I experience a visceral reaction to the work. When work engages me on an emotional level, one that I keep going back to over and over again, I know that’s a keeper. Then I set aside my subjective reaction and concentrate on analyzing which of the principles and elements of design went into the work to make is successful.

Keep this in mind as well. Don’t think too much of whether or not a juror accepts your work; last time I checked we are only imperfect people passing judgment on other imperfect people. Seriously, don’t take any of this too seriously!

Now back on with the artist beret and an update for this week in the studio:

Me and Mondrian, continuesWill this painting never end?? Only 12″ x 12″, this self-portrait, and its companion piece, feels like it is taking FOREVER to complete. Yet, I think I see a light at the end of the paint tunnel and if the Muse is agreeable, I hope to begin the final act: cleaning up the Mondrian inspired background and redefining the hat and shadows therein. Finally, an oiling-out and then off to the photographer for documentation. See, almost done!

Sealing the wood.
Sealing the wood.

Going forward: I am in the process of prepping cradled wood panels for the next painting project, a multi-step procedure that begins with sealing the wood before adding the ground. Since it takes a couple of drying/curing days between every step, this will take a week and a half easily to complete. Stay tuned!








Everybody, Let’s Mise-en-Place!

What do generations of chefs, from the late Julia Child to the reigning celeb-chefs, know that can help artists make the most of their studio time? Three simple words:


Mise-en-place is a French phrase meaning “putting in place” and refers to the system of prepping and gathering all the tools and ingredients needed to complete a recipe, and in the larger sense, run a restaurant. If you’ve seen any cooking shows you know what I’m talking about. Those little bowls, all lined up with the spices, the pre-cut chunks of meat, the neatly diced vegetables, all close at hand. But more than that, it is what enables a kitchen to run smoothly, in the midst of intense activity and chaos.

And that relates to art, how?

Mise-En-Place is a concept I introduce to my students (and it is so much fun to say!). What a delight for a teacher to see, without prompting, when a student takes the approach to heart. Here Jenna is doing mise-en-place before class last night:

Jenna's palette
Jenna uses a mise-en-place approach in getting ready to paint.
  • Allowing herself plenty of time to gather her materials, arriving before class begins.
  • Reviewing the “plan” for the session, in this case going over the goals of the assignment.
  • Arranging her palette, paint, water and any other anticipated supplies within reach.
  • Removing all non essentials such as coats, backpacks, books, from her work area.

By attending to the mundane details first, she is developing great work habits that make her painting time so much more satisfying. Once she is in the zone, she doesn’t need to stop because she can’t find the yellow ochre, or a rag to clean her brushes, which allows for greater creativity and spontaneity. Only a beginning painter, I have faith that Jenna, and my other like minded students, will develop into accomplished artists!

I would love to hear what you do to prep a session in your studio! Comment below or send an email!

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.

Julia Child
Studio Update: The Mug Shots
Realized belatedly that I didn’t take a photo of the profile view, but here is this week’s progress on the forward facing self-portrait. Will this painting never end?
Detail: Mondrian and Me in progress
In progress
Detail: Mondrian and Me in progress
oil on canvas


Well, hello Anders!

Using the Zorn Palette
ochre, mars black, cadmium red, titanium white

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not, and I repeat, NOT, a figurative painter. I went down this path when my beginning painting class had an assignment to paint self-portraits. The search was on for a color palette that would use a straight forward, limited number of colors. It was down that path that I met the man of my dreams. Well, hello Anders, new in town?

Anders was Anders Zorn, a Swedish born painter (1860-1920) and contemporary of John Singer Sargent. He was a highly successful (read wealthy) artist, well-known for his portrait  of society swells and full-figured nudes (though to the best of my knowledge, not nudes of society patrons!) and self-portraits. But that’s not what sent my heart all pitter-patter. It was his limited palette:


  • Titanium White
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Red
  • Ivory Black

This four-color palette produces skin tones that can be supplemented with umber, sienna and cool reds, extending the range even further. The simplicity of this system means the painter is not overwhelmed with choices, and the mastery of mixing these colors feels attainable.

detail of self portrait Mondrian

Self portrait with Mondrian

This week I was finally able to return to working on two self portraits (using the Zorn palette) and here’s a peek of where they are at now. I’ve added alizarin crimson and Mars black, and of course cobalt blue for the eye color. I am jokingly referring to these works in progress as my mug shots–

PS. I have a certain reluctance to share them at this stage of painting because they are so unfinished. Yep, the face is too wide, the ear too high, the hair needs to be added to better frame the face, and let’s not even talk about what has to happen to the hat! Putting works-in-progress out for public viewing is like taking and posting a selfie when first getting out of bed, before teeth brushing and shower. I’m sure some folks look divine; I’m not one of them.