I No Longer Ask Why

“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” George Bernard Shaw

"Not Intended For Ground Contact," Mixed media on deep wood panel, "17 x 23"
“Not Intended For Ground Contact,” Mixed media on deep wood panel, “17 x 23”

You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” George Bernard Shaw

 A couple years ago I a wrote asking art lovers to respond with specifics about a piece of art, not just “beautiful” or “wonderful” or any other single word adjective. Part of me would still like more, but I have decided I was wrong—wrong to ask any viewer to explain their emotions or feelings about a specific piece of work. (Let’s face it sometimes I don’t want to have to explain even to a juror what my painting is “about.”)

Instead, I am now content to just “like.” I have come to understand as one blogger Ralph Ammer puts it, “art is a mirror for artists and viewers alike.” When we as artists have put all of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions into a piece, our story is told. Our view is registered. For the viewer, the reflection begins when they stand before the piece or see it online. And often their emotions and thoughts are so personal and complex, they may feel there is yet another story to tell—or not tell.

So, I no longer ask “why.” I am just grateful that they are art lovers and that I have the opportunity through my paintings to touch someone or trigger a few thoughts.





Where Am I Going?

“Mending Fences,” mixed media on board, 11″ x 20″
Journal entry “Mending Fences”


Sometimes I just put paint on paper, moving it here or there, adding a bit of this or that. Sometimes it works out. Most of the time, not so much.

Of course, that’s not true for everyone. Plein air painters produce their best work onsite. And I’ve seen some other wonderful painters who seem to start with one element and just take those twists and turns in the road one at a time until bang—they are in New York or Los Angeles.

If I do that I’m in the middle of no where in Iowa (and yes, Iowa can be lovely), but it’s probably the middle of winter. And while it may be beautiful, it has no focus. I’m one of those artists who needs to have some idea of where they are going, just a bit of a road map. Otherwise, I wander off tract. I see that nice tree over there or perhaps a lovely lake and take a hike. I know that many artists do studies, and I’ve done a few. But the best method for me seems to be a middle ground.

I’ve found that working on ideas in my journal helps me solidify placement of elements, color, markings. With a few little things worked out, I can concentrate on the idea behind the painting and on the emotions and feelings. Hopefully, this produces better strokes, more complicated markings. Doing this also helps when I am in a period that I feel stuck. “I am working,” but because it is in a journal, “I am not exactly working.” Somehow this frees me.

This method has its drawbacks. I can’t be as spontaneous. And don’t think it doesn’t mean I won’t have to redo a painting—but it is a place to start and a way to keep on track.

So what’s your successful method?


A Whisper Can Be Powerful

I’ve learned that small and quiet can be powerful.

“Water Timpani III: Whisper,” 10″ x 10″, mixed media on deep wood panel, https://www.artfinder.com/product/water-timpani-iii-whisper/

It has been a couple of weeks since I hiked the short trail into High Falls at Dupont State Forest. You could hear the roar long before you had any view, a view that is spectacular. But the truly powerful moment for me was a tiny whisper.

When we got to the base of the falls, we sat and I looked at the rocks and water flowing just at my feet. The crowd of people around me disappeared. That soft, playful gurgle over rocks at your feet can be just as magical and engaging as a waterfall plunging 60 vertical feet.

Small and quiet can also be powerful—because powerful is about your heart and mind.


Purple Deceiver

Where paintings take us

“Purple Deceiver,” 16″ x 20″ x 3″, mixed media on deep wood panel, https://www.artsicle.com/artist/art/purple-deceiver/details

On an early morning hike just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, my husband and I noticed a purple mushroom. Several photographs later, I thought I might paint a simple abstract landscape, but alas, paintings take us “where they want to go” sometimes. And this one took me many places.

Before I started anything, I really wanted to identify the mushroom. I was so excited when I found the name purple deceiver, but a few minutes later a less amusing name appeared: purple cort or cortinarius iodes. So I stopped there because I really wanted it to be a purple deceiver and to take on the complexity that denotes a con artist. After all, this little beauty had definitely misled me. And being here in the middle of a political season that will not be discussed, but can certainly be defined as full of “deceivers,” I decided that no matter what, this painting was “Purple Deceiver.”

Nothing about it is particularly clear. Everything is suggestive.

When Words are Boundaries

“Setting Boundaries II,” 11″ x 14″, mixed media on canvas paper,  https://www.artfinder.com/product/setting-boundaries-ii-3ee0/

For someone who spent a lot years working with words, I find that many,many times what I tried to say was not what was heard. Then every once in a while, I stop and say nothing, and my silence is taken as acquiesce as if I don’t care. When considering the vitriol of our current elections, I can’t help but wonder if the Saxon derivation of much of our language has somehow imparted a measure of staccato belligerence into our speech.

Words are certainly powerful. They can divide us or bring us closer together. They can draw a line in the sand that can’t be crossed—at least not without anger and resentment. Of course our world would be less civilized without some verbal and physical boundaries, but the question is whether those boundaries can be crossed to pull us together as communities. Clearly we can’t do this without the appropriate words. Learning how to communicate what you mean and what you feel is not something that happens when we reach some magic age. We must continue to learn, change, and occasionally question the wisdom of our boundaries.

Looking Ahead

“Looking Ahead,” 8″ x 6″ x 2″, Mixed Media on deep wood panel

This small piece started with a demo of a photo transfer. I can never bear just to throw something away, so my boy with the hat began to tell his story. He’s not looking at the camera. Like most children he is looking ahead—to tomorrow, to next week, to when he is big.

Sometimes I think I put too much in a painting. Wanting to keep the focus on the image, I only put in some texture and a horizon line.



What’s Next

This photo illustrates the beginnings of one of my four-sided paintings— just a bit of paint, some texture with wood and cloth. We’ll see where it goes.

Ann Patchett in her essay on writing, “The Getaway Car,” admits she does not always know what is going to happen when she begins writing a novel. She carries the story around in her head for a long time before putting words to paper. She is not a novelist who works from an outline or who knows what every character will do.

I work in much the same way. I start with an idea, and I carry those shapes, colors, and emotions around in my head. Until I begin to put paint and textures to board, I am not sure where the painting will lead. I know if I put in the work, something will eventually happen. If it doesn’t work the first time, then it will by the second or third (though I may use a few naughty words).

Luckily, I enjoy the journey (or the making) as well as the promise of a satisfying and lovely destination.