Category: Uncategorized

Dance to Dance: Finding Art to Mend the Wounds

“This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”                Pete Seeger, written on the drum head of his banjo

Our spirits felt wretched from a weekend that saw American violence and the sour rhetoric that sometimes feels to be our new national pastime. We were in search of an antidote and we found it on a Tuesday, with a day that began with dance and song and ended with dance and song, book ends with art in the middle.

The calendar in our small rented Santa Fe house read the 15th of August. In the Catholic tradition, it is the feast of the Assumption of Mary, Mother of Jesus. For the people of the Zia Pueblo, it is a day of homecoming and festival, one that blends Native and Catholic cosmologies, expressed most profoundly in the Corn Dance. In a spirit of hospitality, the public is welcome to attend as honored witnesses.

So we found ourselves on a beautiful Tuesday in New Mexico, driving down into the desert, to a place where the cerulean blue sky holds the sun, and touches the earth, ochre, sage green, sienna, both sparse and alive. Even before we open our car doors, we hear the beat of the drum, the chant of the singers. Outside the small adobe church, long lines of dancers, outfitted in traditional regalia, youths of the community, stomp, shuffle, step, in a grouping that forms and re-forms, a call and response to the drum and chanters. It is hot and truly, blindingly bright. Some viewers carry parasols; most wear wide brim hats. We lean into what little shade we can find. Later I will discover that I am powdered with dust. But for now, we stand on Holy Ground.

It is almost noon, and the ritual begun hours ago will continue until sunset. Time is altered under the hot sun; we begin to sway slightly, intoxicated with heat and sensation. We are made small under the overarching sky; the dance and chant transfigures and begins to heal the sorrow and hurt. Anointed, we carry the blessing back to Santa Fe.

Back home we spend part of the afternoon at an exhibit featuring paintings by Wolf Kahn. Now in his 90th year, the artist is known for landscape painting and pastels, depicted with bands of unlikely color, abstracted, reduced, intuitively applied. Kahn’s childhood could lend itself to a Hollywood story. It was filled with sorrow, tragedy and the drama of living in Germany as Nazism and Hitler come to power, but balanced with opportunities afforded by being surrounded by a family of culture and means. Eventually he would be taken from his beloved great-aunt and her home in Hamburg, and placed on one of the Kindertransport, part of the British program ferrying Jewish children out of Germany into foster care.

For the second time that day, we are transported. Here in the gallery, we are surrounded by landscapes the polar opposite of the one we visited earlier. Rural America is depicted in vivid oranges, purples, greens, and bright yellow. The dance is here as well, the rhythm in the picture of the birches on the canvas, the stretch of color, the forward and backward of lights and darks, the pulse of brush stroke and line. Another small part of what had been lost and broken returns to our souls.

And finally comes the evening and our adopted ritual of walking to the Plaza after dinner. On the bandstand is the Levi Platero Band, a blues rock band. Hailing from the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, the trio is young, energized, and man can they play! Hate and dismay have no place here, it’s been knocked-out by music and dance. In front of the bandstand, couples shimmy and boogie. Those without partners move with a refreshing lack of self-consciousness. An elder is participating in a three way dance: herself, her walker, and her dance partner, a much younger man. Children toddle into the mix, dogs greet one another in their doggy ways. The Plaza becomes a microcosm of America, folks dancing and hooting, encouraging the young man on the stage to play one more riff on the guitar.

The inky indigo of the sky has flowed down softly, the strings of lights strung high between the bandstand and the small obelisk in the Plaza’s center softens faces. There, beneath the dancers’ feet, we read inspirational words some kind stranger has scribed in chalk, Love Exists. Another piece of our soul returns home.

Love Exists




An Angel Among Us

“Yet within our reach is joy.”

Fra Angelico

Encountering an angel in the museum was the last thing I expected to happen that Friday night. Earlier in the evening, my drawing classes had met for a docent-led tour but now it had ended and the students had dispersed. Before heading home myself I wanted to take advantage of the museum’s extended evening hours for a little research about framing elements used on Medieval and early Renaissance paintings.

So under the watchful eyes of amused gallery guards, my iPhone on camera mode, I purposefully marched from one painting to another. Here was one of the Madonna and Child, in a gold gilded frame. Click. Jesus with the crown of thorns, more gilding and carved framing. Click. Over there was a series of religious paintings, with (again) the requisite Madonna, saints, episodic depictions from the life of Christ. Click. I photographed one after another, frames that were carved, embellished, painted and gilded, with lots of gold that seem to spill inward from the frames onto the artworks themselves.

Dashing from one painting to another, click, click, click, I focused on the frames, hardly noticing the artwork. Suddenly, I was brought face to face with one of the most transcendent beings I have ever seen. There, in a gallery that I must have hurried through so many times in the past, was the Angel Gabriel.


“Annunciatory Angel”, Fra Angelico, c. 1432 (source:

Okay, it wasn’t really the Angel Gabriel. Rather it was a painting, small in size (at almost 13 x 11 inches, just a bit larger than a sheet of copy paper), by the 13th century Italian friar and artist Guido di Pietro (c. 1387-1455), now known as Fra Angelico. Yes, an angel painted by Brother Angel. And what a heavenly being he created. Hazel-eyed, with a cap of curls the color of marigolds, wearing a rose gown embellished at the collar, cuffs and sleeves with real gold leaf, Gabriel is pink-cheeked and luminous. His face is in profile, a gold halo encircles his head. With his right arm angled up, he points heavenwards with his index finger. Any real space he may occupy is hidden, for around him the very air is infused with a golden atmosphere.

Ethereal and celestial, Gabriel nonetheless seems so solid that it is easy to imagine grabbing him by the upper arm and inviting him to stay for drinks and dinner. But he is the Annunciatory Angel, with gold tipped wings, sent to deliver a divine message, and there is no time to waste on mere frivolities. Who is the intended recipient of his message and where can we find her?

“Virgin Annunciate”, Fra Angelico, c. 1432 (source:

There she is, the Virgin Annunciate, depicted in the companion painting hanging on the wall a few inches to Gabriel’s right. She is Mary, the Madonna, soon to be the Mother of Jesus. “Ave Maria” says the Angel Gabriel, “gratia plena!” Fra Angelico shows her at this moment, head bowed and with her eyes lowered, so as better to hear the messenger. She is indeed full of grace, and the grace has infused the surrounding space with the same golden light that surrounds Gabriel.

I am struck at that moment, while standing in the empty gallery, by the power of art. At the basic level, these paintings are made with pigment and egg yolk, painted on wooden panels, enhanced with gold leaf. Yet they are transformative, and their small size is not really small, but expansive. They grow, traveling through time from the mid 1400s to 2016, filling the gallery with their presence; arriving from a convent in Fiesoli, Italy through a circuitous route to a museum in Detroit; from a monk-artist, to a fellow artist; from Fra Angelico’s paintbrush directly into my heart.


A Christmas Addendum

Several years ago, when I would first hand-letter a Christmas quote and then take it to the local printer to be turned into our holiday card, I used this  “Letter to a Friend”, which was supposedly written by Fra Angelico in 1513. I share it with you this year as a missive of hope and courage.

“There is nothing I can give you which you have not already, but there is much, very much, which though I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this precious little instant. Take peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and courage in the darkness could we but see; and to see, we have only to look.

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their coverings, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, and wisdom, and power. Welcome it, greet it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence. Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts. . .

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greeting, but with profound esteem now and forever. The day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

Operation: DEADLINE!

“I don’t need time, I need a deadline.” 
Duke Ellington



You know how it is. Every time you begin a new piece of art work, especially if you are working towards the goal of an exhibition or a commission, you are going to get right on it and get ‘er done. At least that’s how I think. In fact, presently I have on the calendar three commissions, an exhibition that will be upon me before I know it, and my world famous blog to write, all with deadlines that I am going to meet, any moment now. Really.

Only that’s not how it usually ends up, does it?  Deadlines, whether self imposed or not, are something artists often have a love/hate relationship with. We like to feel that in order to create work we need the freedom of an open time frame, and chafe at the idea that anyone should suggest that we get things done by a certain time. Yet, when we really think about, how much do we manage to accomplish when the hours easily roll one into another, and distractions abound; when Facebook beckons, and the ding of messages on our digital devices entice us away from our work? Yep, just as I thought, not all that much.

So how do we embrace the dreaded deadline and make it work for us? Here are some suggestions:

  • Haven’t been given a deadline for an exhibit or commission? Give yourself one! Use your calendar to mark a finish-by-date and commit to keeping it. Put it in red, with stars around it. Look at it everyday and schedule work time to reach it. If a friend calls and wants to distract you with a playdate, and if it is on your work day, say “no thanks, I’ve got a deadline to meet!” Chances are they do too!
  • Partner with friends to make a deadline a mutual goal. Remember that old tried and true wisdom often shared about making resolutions and sticking to them?  If you tell someone of an action you wish to take, or a new habit you want to develop, you are more likely to do it. Find a friend or two who will hold you accountable, and you can agree to do the same for them. Post your progress on social media to share with your friends and fans! You’ll be amazed at the number of folks who like to follow the progression of the creative process.
  • Schedule regular meet-up dates with other artists for critique of new or works-in-progress as a way to keep to a deadline. Artists who form effective critique groups find them quite helpful for both feedback and staying on track to get projects done. You don’t want to be the one in the group who never has new work to critique or keeps showing up with the excuse, “I just didn’t have time! So here’s that old painting, again, that I bring every time for critique. Do you still love it?”
  • Does the scope of your project leave you feeling overwhelmed, making the idea of the deadline really dreadful? When I am in that situation I have found it more manageable to break up the task into small bite size pieces and give those mini-deadlines. Deadline #1 might be that by the end of the day, the imprimatura will be on the canvas, by day two, the drawing transferred, a week later, the first layer will be done, and so on.  As the old union song goes: Step by step the longest march can be won!
  • Remember when you were a kid and the teacher said if you got your desk work done you could visit the reading or games corner as a reward? Revisit that child in you and reward your deadlines, small and large. For example, if you set a goal that at end of one hour you need to have completed a certain task without distraction, and if you complete it,  give yourself permission to do something enjoyable, like walking to a coffee shop for a cappuccino. When I finish this blog post there is a piece of dark chocolate waiting with my name on it! Talk about motivation!

So face and tackle those deadlines, and when you are done it will feel as though a burden is lifted, giving you a real sense of accomplishment. As for me, I gotta run–a quick look at my red-penned, starred calendar shows that I have a deadline, post-haste to meet: I got to get this blog post published (and have that piece of chocolate)!

This Week in the Studio

Working on trying to wrap up paintings and projects by the end of the year, including beginning a commission, means I got to make and stick to deadlines. Stay tuned to see how I do.

One of my end of the year goals is to complete another self portrait. Can you guess the artist influencing this one?







Building a Painting, Part 3: The Ravens Have Landed!

“Needless to say, urgings by ravens are ignored at one’s peril.” 
James D. Doss

In Part One and Part Two of Building a Painting, I explained how the wooden surface was prepared and why using an imprimatura to begin the painting on a color ground is a good idea. Then I shared how my version of the Nordic forest was designed, transferred and painted in gray and yellow. Next the words Hugin, Minnin, and Munninn were added. Now the urge is on to get those ravens in the painting, and like James Doss said, “Urgings by ravens are ignored at one’s peril.”

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Background painted and ready to go!

I envisioned the background as a painted theater backdrop with the ravens on stage, forming a triad, the yellow band from the landscape to be in the middle. I drew each bird individually, to scale on tracing paper, moving them around until they made a pleasing composition. Like baby bear’s porridge, just right!

A second piece of paper was laid on top of the birds, and another tracing was made so that all the birds are on a single sheet of paper. I’m having so much fun that I decide to go all out with the drawing. Once done, I realize that, Holy Audubon, after all that effort I can’t trace over the top of this drawing. So, what the heck–I do one more tracing, this time leaving out details. I also add a suggestion of a ledge or cliffs and a downed tree.

Can’t stop drawing! The ravens are now drawn on a single sheet of tracing paper.

I flip the drawing over to prep the tracing paper. But before I begin, I get the impulse to see how this reversed composition might work in the painting. Much to my surprise, I find this composition more to my liking and decide to go with this view.

The line drawing after it was reversed, resulting in a more pleasing composition.

To make the transfer, I rubbed the reverse side with graphite and then used odorless mineral spirits to dissolve the graphite. Once that is dried, the drawing can be flipped right side up, placed on the board and the image traced.

Detail showing using graphite on the reverse side of the tracing paper.


Almost done with the initial shading with graphite.


Using odorless mineral spirit to dissolve the graphite, making a transfer surface.


The line drawing is evident with the graphite on the back. Once traced, the image will be transferred on the board.

With the image now transferred on to the board, I can begin putting the first layer of paint on the birds using a blue-black hue, thinned with medium.

The ravens are beginning to appear, like magic!

Cliffs, rocks and the fallen tree are in place and adjustments made to the background. Time to let things dry before the next layer is added.

Here’s the first layer with the birds, cliffs and fallen tree.

Next in Building a Painting: The work continues with redefining the subject matter and adding details and fine tuning.

This Week in the Studio

I’ve been working on, you guessed it, another raven painting! This time I will use the raven as a stand-in for the mad monk, Savonarola, best known as the force behind the “bonfires of the vanities”.


And, of course, there’s been the grand run-around– dropping off artwork in Pontiac, going to Frankfort for an opening reception and the like. To find out where my work is on display, visit News and Views or to see in the real, stop by River’s Edge Gallery in Wyandotte.


Color My World

Artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons.

Al Hirschfeld

I’m about to admit to a not-so-secret secret, a guilty pleasure I feel no guilt about, and just the thing that takes the sting out of summer slipping away, making the shortening autumn days more bearable. My secret? I have my very own Time Machine. It’s yellow and green and it can teleport me to the past, put me down in the present, or slip me forward in time. My time machine is a brand new box of crayons!


In elementary school, we usually got the 8 crayon set. If we were lucky it was Crayola brand, with the recognizable yellow box, the flap that lifted to reveal the crayons in a row, like soldiers, alert and waiting for our commands. They stood, sharp and unbroken, the enveloping paper not yet torn and discarded. They represented the magnificent drawings that were the future. They were the perfect partner to our coloring books, like Tom and Jerry, only better. Teacher told us to write our name on the box, cautioned us not to break the crayons in half, to make sure they got returned to their proper place, and never rip off the paper covering. There was something pure and holy in that experience.

What a lucky day, birthday or Christmas, when in place of the 8 crayon box there was the 24 crayon box or even better, the 64 crayon box that came with–oh, be still my beating heart– a sharpener! Round and round went the crayons in the little plastic sharpener, small slivers of crayon shavings everywhere.

And the smell that is so recognizable that it cries out: CRAYONS! To this day, when I open up a new box of crayons the first thing I do after admiring their perfection is to lift them up to my nose, close my eyes and inhale deeply. There is magic in that smell, the perfect art perfume.

Written on the side of the crayons were names like Maize, Blizzard Blue, Thistle, all colors now retired, and new names added that are as fun to say as to use: Purple Mountains Majesty, Jazzberry Jam and Timber Wolf. As society’s expression grew to reflect the country’s diversity, the names of some of the crayons changed; the funky peachy color that was called Flesh and a reddish-orange color known as Indian Red were justly renamed. Thank goodness, because how can the multiplicity of the beautiful colors that make up the human race ever be confined to only one or two crayon colors.


Eventually our brand new crayons became broken and worn, and they were tossed in boxes and bags, melted for other art projects, or just neglected until they were thrown out by parents and teachers. I have such a box in the studio and classroom, and regardless of their state of being, their immediacy and simplicity makes them the perfect drawing tool. The bonus is that they play equally nice alone or with other art media. Often I like to combine them with mono prints, such as in my piece, “Comin’ Thru the Rye.”

Comin' Through the Rye
“Comin’ Thru The Rye” etching ink, soluble wax crayons

Lest you think crayons are just for kids and students, think again. I’m not the only artist that finds crayons a handy medium for expression; even the great Pablo Picasso used crayons to draw. In fact, at a recent art auction in South Africa, a crayon drawing by the Maestro fetched 3 million Rand, or about $220,000 US dollars. Think about that the next time you tape a crayon drawing by a young budding artist to the refrigerator.

So let’s celebrate our creativity this season by treating ourselves to a new box of crayons and going on a little time travel. Go a bit crazy and get yourself the big box with the sharpener, spring for bling and get some glitter crayons, or try out some of the many different shapes, colors and types of crayons that are out there. I can’t wait to see how you color your world!

This Week in the Studio

Spending time working on paintings for the 2017 November Exhibit at the River’s Edge Gallery. Never too early to get behind!

Next week I’ll return with a post about building a painting, as Munninn, Hugin and Minnin are coming along nicely and my painting about Thought, Memory and Desire is just about done.



A Letter to a Student of the Humanities

The calling of the humanities is to make us truly human in the best sense of the word.

J. Irwin Miller


It was several months ago when we first met, me presenting the whys and hows of our pledged encounter, you unsure and doubting of your decision. I could sense that you wondered if this was the best way to spend your time, together two days a week for several weeks, sacrificing a portion of your long awaited summer. Not everyone in a commitment such as ours sticks it out and many fall away. But you, you stayed all this time, and aren’t we both the better for it?

You began our relationship only wanting to know how to get what you desired, that perfect affirmation, that A+ grade. Oh, I sensed your skepticism when I explained that our journey was bigger than that, that we were going to spend time exploring what it means to be human. I wanted, and still want, more for you— for your third eye to open and for you to view yourself and the world differently.

So I’ve played Scheherazade, telling stories about how a grouchy Renaissance genius sculpted, from flawed marble, an enduring symbol of pride for a small city-state. How that same artist not only depicted the moment of animation of the Biblical first man, but how he also slyly showed Eve already formed and tenderly sheltered in the Creator’s embrace. That led to a discussion of time as being experienced simultaneously, in the present now and the far distant past, and that led to more talk about physics, time, and creation.

There were stories of an artist whose tortured sense of self meant his actions kept him away from the one thing he truly longed for— to love and be loved; and how he turned that ache into paintings and drawings and all kinds of wonderful things like stars that spun in the sky and planets whirling and whirling and whirling.

We looked at a painting that showed the fate of a teacher from Ancient Greece, a gadfly, who insisted his students question everything. I joked that whenever anyone asked me what I did for a living that I answered that I corrupted the youth of Detroit, and we laughed, because you understood what that meant; we all agreed that I shouldn’t face the same end as Socrates, and I remain pretty confident that I won’t.

Like giants we stepped from continent to continent, and like time-travelers we went from prehistoric caves in France, to Imperial China, to revolutionary France, and back home again before we took off on another world tour. All creative doors were open, and if sometimes the folks we met were different than us, that was okay too, because they were honest and interesting and very human.

Then one day we stepped outside the classroom to visit our local museum. It was there, in front of a painting that you had first seen in our text book, by an artist who had been sorely misused, who dealt with her pain and injustice with story, legend and paint, that you said the very words every humanities and art teacher longs to hear from her students:

“Art is about more than just paintings and drawings, isn’t it? It’s about things that happen in real life.”

It was then I knew that, although our time together would shortly come to an end and other commitments would soon take precedence, and in time you would turn to others in your quest for knowledge,  at this moment you really understood what I was trying to show you. You understood that art is not a frivolous pastime or a casual undertaking; that to study the humanities is to connect to others through time and space, and to truly see you need only open your third eye, and your mind and your heart will follow.

Wishing you much wisdom and continued insight, I remain yours truly,


Gone Fishing

Benny Andrews said: ”I take a lot of vacations. Little ones, a couple of days. It’s like coming up for air, when I’m preoccupied with my work.”

The Studio Journal is on a short summer hiatus and will be returning soon. In the meantime, I am working diligently in the studio and classroom, painting, teaching, creating and enjoying, now and again, our hot and beautiful Michigan summer.

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Progress on “Thought, Memory and Desire”.

I just want to share this image with you as I continue making progress on my latest work. These “rogues” keep caw-cawing me to step up my pace and get things done! Jeez, I’m flapping my wings as fast as I can!

Thank you to everyone who has come out to view artwork at my various exhibits this summer.  Your support means the world to me!


Build a Painting, Part Two: All Hail the Imprimatura!

When making a painting, only one thing counts: what you do next.

Walter Darby Bannard

In Part One on how to “Build a Painting”, I began where most building projects begin, at the ground level. I described my intention and motivation to complete a painting based on Odin’s Ravens, exploring notions of memory, thought and desire. Then I shared the techniques and materials that I used to transform a wood panel into a ready-to-use paint surface.

Using a short-napped roller to give an even texture.
Adding the ground to the sealed panel.

Now that the panel has dried to a bright white, and the surface has a subtle texture from using the roller, it’s time to paint the imprimatura, the first paint layer. This very thin underpainting is applied to the white canvas, almost like a stain. It provides a middle tone that helps establish value relationships from dark to light and it also provides a layer for light to enter the painting and refract back out. Traditionally, earth colors like sienna, umber and ochre are used.  However, in many of my landscape paintings, I use a cadmium red as the imprimatura; the warm orangy-red hue adds a complement to the greens of the land and the blue of the sky, making the painting luminous.

The cadmium red imprimatura imparts a glow
The cadmium red imprimatura imparts a glow in this older work, “Michigan Skyscape: Emmet County, Summer”.

In the current painting, I hope to capture a similar glow. So onward with the cadmium red, thinned with Gamsol Solvent. This is only a thin layer; don’t be fooled by its intensity. (Oftentimes, I take a cloth to wipe off some of the paint.) There is something very visceral in covering the surface with RED and I always feel gleeful at this step!


Painting the cadmium red imprimatura.
Painting the cadmium red imprimatura..


Now that’s red!

In my mind, I can envision the black birds against a background of yellow sky in a soft misty gray Nordic forest. Before I paint the background, I sketch the forest so that I know approximately where to paint the various hues.

The drawing on tracing paper to determine the background composition.

For this layer, I mix a string of grays, cadmium yellow, a touch of cobalt blue and white paint. In order to build a painting that is stable it is necessary to work the paint layers “fat over lean”, so I modified the paint with Gamsol and a small amount of linseed oil. And away I go!

Yellow and grey, with a smidge of cobalt blue at the top.
Yellow and grey, with a smidge of cobalt blue at the top.

Still visible is that cadmium red peeking through. Can you see it there, particularly at the bottom? At this point, I am enamored of the painting; it reminds me of one of the Great Lakes. I toy with the idea of completing another version of this as an abstracted lake-scape painting, even going so far as fetching another canvas from my storeroom. In the end, I remind myself to stay on track! Still, it haunts me.

Remember my idea to incorporate the words, Minnin, Hugin and Munin in the background? Using clear contact paper, I cut out the letters to use them as a mask and place them on the dried paint surface. I’m almost ready for the next layer.

The words are cut from clear contact paper to serve as a mask.
The words are cut from clear contact paper to serve as a mask.

Next Up: Painting the forest and punching up the yellow in the background.

This Week in the Studio

IMG_8774A gift comes my way in the form of this fantastic fish bone, complete with the tail still intact. I can already imagine how I am going to use it in one of my mixed media pieces. Thank you Leah for knowing I would want this treasure!

IMG_8916I attended the opening of the Michigan Fine Arts Competition at the Birmingham-Bloomfield Hills Art Center on Friday and was floored to discover that I had garnered the President’s Award. The funny thing is that in the past I had entered this particular piece of work in the annual exhibit and had the same artwork REJECTED! Go figure!


Build a Painting, Part 1: “Ground Level”

Well begun is half done.


I’ve heard you out there in WWW-land asking, “Hey, Martine, what does it really take to build a painting?” I’m glad you asked! I want to invite you to see my process, start to finish, mistakes and all. I’ll explain my intention for the work as well as technical aspects, as I take my traditional landscape painting in a new direction. Andiamo, let’s go.

The Intention

My goal: a painting based on the idea of memory, thought and desire. Central to the painting will be Odin’s ravens Hugin and Munin, (Thought and Desire). Every morning they leave the Norse god’s side and return at the end of the day, recounting all they have seen in the world while on their sojourn. I’ve added a third raven, basing his name on the Norse word for Memory: Minni or Minnin.  Memory, Thought, Desire- a pretty powerful trio.

Because memory, thought, and desire often seem to be hidden from us mere mortals, I want to embed those words into the background. This will mark a departure from my usual style; I don’t usually use text in image based works. In addition, I like the idea of using metal leafing on the finished artwork, so I will need to paint on board rather than canvas. With all this in mind, I buy a cradled maple wood board from the local art store and set about preparing it for oil paint, choosing 24 x 36 inches as good size. Like Baby Bear’s rocking chair, neither too small nor too big.

Preparing the Panel, aka The Substrate

Using Gamblin PVA (think of it as a thin glue), I apply several coats to the panel, front and back, in order to seal the wood.  A not-to-be missed step, this protects the painting from wood discoloration and protects the panels from the linseed oil and moisture changes which may warp the wood. The 1″ sides are covered with painter’s tape that will be removed after the painting is complete.

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Gamblin PVA is used to seal the wood panels.


Once the layers have dried the panels are coated with Gamblin Oil Painting Ground, thinned with a small amount of Gamblin Gambol Odorless Mineral Spirits. The ground will serve as a primer for the oil paint. For this step, I start in the center of the panel and use a rubber trowel to evenly and thinly apply the ground over the boards.

Scoop out the ground for the painting.
Scoop out the ground for the painting.


Spreading the ground with a rubber trowel.
Spreading the ground with a rubber trowel.


After spreading the ground with the trowel, a short-napped roller is used to even things out and to give it a nice texture. I love this part!

Using a short-napped roller to give an even texture.
Using a short-napped roller to give an even texture.


I lightly sand the now dry boards and apply an additional coat of ground. (Gamblin advises letting the final layer dry for about a week). Time to give them one more sanding, then I can admire my handiwork. I must say, there is a certain satisfaction in all of this preparation that is missing when you buy ready made off the shelf!

Sanding the board between layers of ground.
Sanding the board between layers of ground.


Note: for a great tutorial on the process visit How to Prime Ampersand Wood Panels. Or if you prefer video, here’s one from Gamblin describing the process.

Next Up: Part 2:  Applying the imprimatura and working on the drawing for the background.

This Week in the Studio

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I am about as done with these Mondrian inspired works as I’m going to be– or so I think! Can’t wait for them to be dried to the touch so I can oil them out and send them on their way to be photographed.

IMG_3289I continued to add paint to the bee rondo–slow going but I am determined to see this multilayered project through to completion!

In other news, two new exhibits are up and running and I got the notification that one of my favorite 3-D pieces, Of What Sappho Sings, was selected from 600 entries for the Michigan Fine Arts Competition at the BBAC. Details for all the shows can be read on my webpage Views and News.

Write On! Life Lessons at the Tip of a Pen

Calligraphy is a kind of music not for the ears, but for the eyes.
V. Lazursky

IMG_3270Once upon a time, most of my artistic output was as a calligrapher, using the medium to create both fine art and in practical applications. Now, once upon a year, I return to the Land of Calligraphy, on the Isle of Italic, surrounded by the Sea of Ink. There I complete Certificates of Completion for the special needs adults at a school where my husband teaches. This year, as I bent to my task, it occurred to me that lessons learned from the end of the nib have parallels in other parts of life. Here are five life lessons that came to mind:

Things Take More Time Than You Think

There were only 11 certificates to complete, first and last names. I was certain that the task would be accomplished quickly. Still it took me a good three-four hours to finish. Howsacome? as Dad likes to say. Because the task was not only about the actual writing but also included the gathering of supplies, setting up the work station (the importance explained in a previous post, Everybody, Let’s Mise-en-Place!), doing the rough drafts, double checking the final product, and so on.

It seems to me that every project, in and out of the studio, always takes more time than first envisioned. When I am honest about that, I can give myself enough time (read: DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE), so as not to feel frantic and rushed. So let’s do ourselves a favor and be realistic about the time needed, and then double it. After all, I don’t remember ever saying, “Whoa, I have way too much time for this project!”

Be in the Present Moment

When you are in the Zen of scribing, your attention is on the letter you are writing, the word you are composing, the stroke, the spring to the serif, the pressure of the pen on paper, the ink that rests on the nib. I have found that the only additional input that I can negotiate is listening to classical music. In fact, once when I was listening to an audio book I started transcribing the story I was listening to rather than the text I was copying. Oy vey!

To be in the present moment, at the easel, in the studio, home with kith and kin, elevates the ordinary to the sacramental. Sure it’s not an easy task, especially for those of us operating under the illusion that we can multitask. Still, as we scribe, so we thrive. At least that’s the official word.

Ink Happens

Plan, plan and plan some more–mix the ink to the right consistency, clean the pen, rule the paper, practice the font. Still, in spite of all, sometimes ink happens and the inkwell spills, usually when you are almost done, and then, gasp, the moment of horror when your realize all is naught, zip, zero, nada.

Oh jeez, is that not a metaphor for those times in our life, artistic or otherwise, when the Muse, in a fit of mischief, places us in such a state. We are then presented with the challenge: give up or go on. You know how we are my friend; we sigh, cry, clean up and solider on. So, hand me a clean piece of paper. Let’s make this happen!

There Ain’t No Eraser, Baby

You might find that your letter forms are not spot on and the lines of text are not entirely straight. The materials used in calligraphy are often indelible, and cannot be removed, or in some cases, even covered up. In other words, not every undertaking will be perfect and you are going need to deal with unerasable mistakes. Sometimes you can rethink a splotch (“Does this look like a bird? A little bird picture would be good here, right?”), adapt a misplaced mark (“That letter “p” just needs an extra curly-q to make it look okay.”), or worst case, you may need to start over (“Oops, I just wrote “Bib” instead of “Bob”! Do you think Bob will really mind if I change his name?”).

It is glorious when everything clickety-clacks along, but when things happen that can’t be undone, on the page or in life, identify what can be fixed, or figure how you can adapt the mistake, or recognize the need to discard and begin anew.

Above all, don’t be concerned about getting it all perfect; that’s never going to happen. Trust me, you can relax and let that worry go.

Find the Rhythm in the Black and White

There is beautiful rhythm that occurs when the white space between and within the letters are in balance with the black shapes of the letter form. A tilt in either direction throws things off-balance. Think in terms of black/white, yin/yang, light/shadow, you need the balance of both for wholeness. Balance is my biggest challenge in life, balancing my studio practice with the business portion of art; walking the middle way of commitments to family and friends and the need to create; maintaining the poise between work and recreation. In other words, finding equilibrium and harmony and a sense of centeredness in the daily dealings of life.

So that’s it, my lessons learned this week, found at the end of the pen nib. Maybe later I’ll share the lessons learned while running a race, just as soon as I clean up this ink spill.

This Week in the Studio

A great week in the studio, feeling productive.

I have begun a new painting, 20 x 30 inchesFullSizeRender 24, oil on board, title TBD. This is a new direction and it will be interesting to watch where this takes me. Here is the background with the words Minnin, Munin and Hugin (Thought, Memory, Desire):

I also was able to oil-out one of the self portraits, one of my favorite steps in painting, and I am pleased with the results. Once dry, I’ll deliver it to the photographer for it’s “official” photograph and share it with you then.

Speaking of self portraits, I’m back to the Mondrian pair, repainted the red rectangles (already repainted the other colors). Next will be to touch up the black grid, let them dry and then oil out the canvas.

Finally, I got another rondo, the ammonite (spiral shell), fairly completed.