Chow-Chow and Art (Part III)

Confinement I, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2020, 7″ x 5″, cold wax and oil on paper

My mother’s recipe for chow-chow calls for a pickling brine of vinegar, sugar, ground mustard, mustard seed, turmeric, and whole pickling spices. This is what will preserve the mixture if it is canned properly. The directions tell you to bring this brine to a boil and add the vegetable mixture. Cook for 10 minutes; then fill the jars and process for another 10 minutes.

Some days I feel like I need a brine to pull my art together, to bring the flavors together, to make it what I envisioned. So many days my art time is in snatches here and there. Also, since I usually work on at least three pieces at the time, I may be back and forth studying what I’ve done, what I like, and what I don’t like. I know I can usually fix what I do not like. I can add here or subtract there, but the “fix” doesn’t usually come quickly.

It is a struggle not to just throw the paper away or start sanding on a wood panel. But I always try to remember what one of my favorite instructors, Katherine Chang Liu (, advised: Don’t throw a painting away even if it is on paper. Keep working at it, keep painting till you get it right. It was her way of  challenging me and other artists not to give up quickly, to keep adding shapes, changing colors, making new marks, taking some away.


Once the chow-chow has been processed, you have to let the jars cool—first to hear the ping sound that indicates the jars are really sealed. (And trust me, if you have worked this hard, it is exciting to hear it.) But you also don’t want to store hot or warm jars

This is also the hardest part in art. It is especially true if you aren’t quite happy with the painting. If you believe a painting is finished, you want to show it to the world. But I’ve had more than a few “oh dear” moments when perhaps something appeared that I hadn’t seen before. Once my husband asked “why I put that face in the painting.” Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always a bad thing. But if that is the only thing your viewer’s eye focuses on, they will miss other parts of your creation.


Usually, we first had chow-chow on the table at Thanksgiving. It added a burst of color to the fall meal and reminded us of summer and harvest.

Hanging a good painting, whether in a show or just on the wall, is like that. It reminds you of your hard work and the feelings and emotions behind the piece. More importantly, it gives you the satisfaction of expressing yourself using your own type of language—art language. 

Over the next few weeks I will be transitioning to my blog on my website. Please continue to follow me there.

Chow-Chow and Art (Part II)

Disruption I, 5.25″ x 7.25″, cold wax and oil on paper, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2020

I am still fascinated with my family’s recipe for chow-chow. As I read it in my mother’s handwriting, I realize it is a bit heavy on the cabbage (one gallon), probably because it was easy to grow if they had enough rain. In the mountains of the Carolinas they would likely have added some of the August “pie apples” as my mother called them. These were small and very tart apples that were usually dried.


What am I talking about? I never follow recipes. I already know to want to cut the amount of cabbage. I plan to add cauliflower. And since the mixture is processed, I probably won’t cook it in the brine—at least not as long. I want a bit of crispness.

With a lot of recipes I “follow” an ingredient might get left out or substituted because I don’t have it, or in the case of art it gets changed entirely because something else like a specific color makes more sense. I guess this is what artist and teacher Pam Caughey (Art and Success: calls the “play stage.” It’s an opportunity to explore: taste, texture, color, form, composition.

 With the chow-chow, it is making certain that the flavors are balanced: You would not want one-half the mixture to be just onions or peppers (or perhaps not cabbage). With art (and I am describing my personal process) it is about a certain amount of balance as well. What I love about mixed media is that I can create using the entire crayon box along with their wrappers!


I usually start a painting by drawing, pasting collage elements on the surface, or building specific texture. My beginnings may just be running a pencil over the paper or board or building texture with tissue paper. It is almost always light elements unless I am already emotionally engaged. Then it may be charcoal or china marker (which I can still cover) or bits of hand painted paper.

 On some of the deep wood panels, I build texture with gesso or limestone. Other days I lean on collage elements to guide me into the artwork. If I am putting them down early in process, they are not usually placed precisely, but like the pencil markings are more tenuous like breadcrumbs on a path. When I do put down paint it tends to be either quite colorful or very neutral. In the end, most of my painting are more subtle and quietly expressive.

 For the pickled relish, color is not restrained. It is almost certainly a riot of colors: light green, white, dark green, red, even purple. Once all the vegetables for chow-chow have been chopped, my family’s recipe adds salt to the mixture and lets it sit overnight. While it’s true after the chopping a lot of the work has been done, before we cook and seal the mixture, we let it rest overnight to soften slightly.

Sometimes with a painting I am satisfied early on, but inevitably if I rush, I will be dissatisfied with the final piece. I will have this nagging feeling that something is left out or could have been better.  I have learned: It never hurts to let art rests as well.

Chow-Chow (Part I)

When I was young both of my grandmothers made chow-chow in the early fall. That was when here in the South they were harvesting the first cabbage and pulling up the peppers and tomato plants. Both grandmothers made a similar relish called Chow-Chow that my father loved.

My father’s mother died when I was seven, but I was fortunate to be able to watch my other grandmother cook. Having grown up terribly poor and having survived the Depression, she and her sisters, made pickles from almost everything imaginable: peaches, pears, apples, watermelon rind, cucumbers, green beans, cabbage, green tomatoes, onions and peppers. What my grandfather didn’t grow in a garden, she got from her family who lived in the country.

Using and Saving What You Have

I hadn’t thought about this pickled wonder in years because the squirrels typically eat all our tomatoes, but this year we got a few tomatoes and had a lot of green ones hanging when the temperature began to drop. That bit of luck and watching an episode of Vivian Howard’s “Somewhere South” ( inspired me to can a few jars of this relish for the winter. Looking through my mother’s recipe box I found recipe that though unlabeled was clearly chow-chow. Of course, I set about changing it to my liking.

Howard noted in her episode that chow-chow or some version is made in many different countries, and that likely, it is about using and saving what you have. Whatever the pickled relish is called, it is colorful and flavorful, sometimes with a bit of bite. What struck me while I was making the concoction was that the process was similar to making art.

The “Gathering”

Not every artist does this first part of the process the same way. Some almost immediately begin painting. But for me, in this stage, there are no art materials. Those comes later.

What happens here is a gathering of ideas that will eventually mesh into something wonderful, but they must first be explored one at time as if you’re judging for ripeness, taste, or quality.

I am one who carries ideas in my head while I am doing other things. Often, I forget them. So, I try hard to jot them down on a sticky note or whatever is available. At some point my journalistic training will push me to research more. It is then that I might open my journal or a word file on the computer and begin to write.

Sometimes there are words, sometimes pictures, drawings or photographs of a place, or event. As the thoughts and ideas take shape, many get combined. Every once in a while, I know exactly where I’m going. Most often I have to put everything out there in front of me like a list of ingredients. It is then and only then that my ideas merge and coalesce.  

While it’s not a race, it almost feels like a starting pistol goes off.

(Stay turned for Part II. I will soon be transitioning to my website blog. You can follow me there:

Among the Trees

Her Place Among the Trees, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2020, 39.5″ x 29″, Mixed media on deep wood panel

“When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locust,

equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.”

From Mary Oliver’s When I Am Among the Trees

Trees are not cute. We don’t post pictures of them on Facebook or Instagram like we do cats and dogs and rabbits. Probably in conservation networks they don’t elicit as much donations as lion cubs or even bees. Yet we fall in love with neighborhoods or parks or cities because of their large tree canopies. I wouldn’t think of buying a house without trees in the yard. Obviously, many of you are like me: you feel that trees have a special quality—that they are somehow connected to us. Why else when we walk into the woods would we feel such familiarity, such calm, such simple joy.

I was fascinated to learn recently (Doesn’t everyone read a headline and start googling.) that scientist believe trees “talk” to each other via their root network. Scientists reason that they may use “chemical conversation starters” that might allow them to maintain a type of social distance called crown shyness, helping them avoid spreading pests and disease. There was also the discovery by the National Geographic Society of a tree on an island on the southern tip of South America. They believe the tree may be important to explaining where we are in terms of climate change, acting as a sort of “living laboratory” as they track how it changes and adapts in the years to come.

Artist have always painted trees. Emily Carr, a Canadian artist and writer, involved in the St. Ives group, painted “Tree Trunk.” Van Gogh has many famous tree paintings including “Cypresses, or “Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background”or “Olive Trees With Yellow Sky.” Egon Schiele’s “Four Trees” were painted in autumn as well as Paul Gauguin’s “The Tree-Lined Road.” And the once again popular Bob Ross’ first episode was “Happy Little Trees.” Perhaps artists paint trees just because they are there, but I don’t believe that. Humans have always been intertwined with trees, whether for fuel, housing, food, shade, or comfort. I think artists just recognize their importance.

On the other hand, artists are probably more like the late poet Oliver. They may have always painted trees because “they give off such hints of gladness.” And on so many days, especially recently, they save me as well.

Scattering the Night

Scattering the Night 4  7″ x 5″ one of four mixed media with cold wax that are studies for larger pieces


We get up early at our house: 5 a.m. It’s still dark outside with just a faint hint of light coming through the backyard. But depending on the season, within a half hour or more the light creeps through outlining shapes and structures.

Getting up this early is our choice. It is time to construct ourselves— to have an hour to ourselves before the grandsons arrive. Until this past spring it was just another hour before they headed off to school. Now, of course, during the pandemic we are school most days for the youngest.

One day they will not need a sitter (but likely I will).  I can only hope I still awake at an absurd hour: this absurd hour . This hour where I can glimpse the dark shapes of trees and houses and then stare in awe as the sun begins to “scatter the night and make the day worth living (F. Scott Fitzgerald).”



Moving Forward In Isolation

What Happens In Between,” 26″ x 16″, Mixed Media on Deep Wood Panel

Finding Creativity

Creativity is challenging for some of us during this period of social isolation.  Others seem to be flourishing, and I have to admit I am a bit envious. It’s not the silence that bothers me; it’s the “what ifs,” since I tend to go to worst case scenarios.

Fostering Innovation

However, yesterday I was reminded that solitude and isolation is not all bad—even for extroverts.  It often fosters unexpected innovation. I regularly read a weekly blog called “Brainpickings.” In the latest blog the author, Maria Popova, described an extremely productive period in the life of Sir Isaac Newton. Apparently, during the middle of the 17th century there was plague in England. Cambridge University students were sent home. (So this really isn’t the first time humanity has suffered through social distancing!)  At his mother’s farm Newton, obsessed with mathematics, explored and began his explanation of the revolutionary idea we call gravity. While isolated at the farm, Newton also developed the mathematics of calculus.

Moving Forward

While I don’t expect to create a new direction in fine art or develop an entire new series, I am continuing to work and study: viewing art in museums virtually, taking workshops (love the free ones), and even pulling out some older paintings and working on them from a new perspective. So perhaps there isn’t quantity in my days, but I believe there is quality in what I’m creating and learning.

If you have other ideas about moving forward, I hope you’ll share them.

All Dried Up

It’s that time of year. Spring. You know—in with the new, out with the old.

Checking the studio supply cabinet, I found ten jars I didn’t recognize. Lined up in front of me, I have to ask: when did I buy that? It can’t have been ten years ago.

But you know how we creative types love to experiment. We tell ourselves unless we try things out, we won’t know if  we like them. (Which is true, but don’t I understand moderation.) For good measure, I also tell myself that a new brush or paint could make all the difference in my painting.

Today I spent the afternoon trying out various supplies with a hodge-podge of found objects from paint trays to pill packaging to test out the types of texture and markings they would make on board, heavy paper, and Japanese paper. Can you believe I had four—no five kinds of gesso. Who knew they made so many? (Well you did of course.) And then there were tubes of dried paint.

Where does all this lead? Hopefully to extra space on the shelf and to well, shopping.  You know, just a little paint…and maybe more gesso.

It’s Always Good to Give Back


“Spilling Over,” 30″ x 20″, Mixed Media on Deep Wood Panel

Artists are asked several times a year to donate a piece of art to charity. There are different opinions about whether an artist should or should not donate. I believe generosity is particularly important in today’s climate.

But if you are an artist, there are a few things to keep in mind before you decide.

Be Sure You Know the Charity

If the charity is not one you know, use your computer and find more information, their rating—or better yet talk to a friend. You want the charity to be reputable since you will donate a piece you love.  The artwork can certainly be a few years older than the work you display in exhibits, but be certain it is among your best pieces and in your current style.

 Ask How Your Work Will Be Displayed

Will this be a private event, an online auction, or a gala? Will it be in a conference room or a gallery? Will you be allowed to attend and meet the potential buyers? Again, a piece that is good quality will get the attention of more donors.

 Don’t Expect A Large Tax Deduction

The person who buys your artwork gets the large deduction. An artist can only deduct the cost of materials, according to the Center for Art Law, because the IRS considers the art a “self created asset.”

However, there are other benefits: increased exposure, the ability to experiment, and new connections.  Artwork Archive featured artist Anne-Marie Zanetti who basically created her career by donating to charity. According to Zanetti, the ability to experiment without pressure allowed her to develop her skills and make contacts.

You can’t deny that artists thrive on exposure. It is how we get noticed by collectors and galleries. Agora Gallery’s advice blog stressed that if there are good opportunities to connect with collectors, galleries, and other artists, then the donation becomes a “win-win.” I would add that wisest charities understand this and make certain it happens.

Did I forget feedback? Sometimes you will get praise directly from individuals and buyers, but it always helps to keep your eyes and ears open. Is there a crowd around your artwork and much whispering? Is the press asking you to pose in front? Still, all feedback should be considered carefully.

Let Your Heart Guide You

Certainly, be pragmatic because art is a business—and a passion. But there are times to lean toward the heart.  As I said earlier, choose an artwork that’s really good, one that you love. Donate that piece. You can never go wrong.

A Little At the Time

Continuous Thread, detail, 16″ x 20″, Mixed media collage on deep wood panel

It all started with a piece of hand-dyed fabric made during a workshop in Ohio almost 10 years ago. Months ago I pulled out the box of fabrics I had made and was immediately drawn to the pattern—lace-like, cellular-like, web-like. And then in one of my braver moments (since I usually hesitate about everything) I glued it down to a blank surface. From there the beginning, simple unadorned, but already connected.

A little at the time, I added paint, a piece of a torn calendar, and words from a newspaper clipping (remember those) about the weather. I don’t believe I thought about the time factor while I was painting, but subconsciously it must have been there, why else the weather and the calendar, why not Shakespeare. Oh yes, there is a tiny bit of him as well.

I added more paint and more texture to pull these elements together, but then I left it for months before returning to finish it just a week ago. I found some more of the fabric, a little different piece with circles that seem to fit my musing. Lately, I so often find myself wanting to pull everyone and everything together ( as I know they should be) or alternatively, to escape entirely perhaps using those tiny circles to skip away from reality. But no matter, “Continuous Thread,” is finished.

The title of the piece was borrowed from Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. In her book she refers to stories and novels following not chronology but rather “the continuous thread of revelation.”

That seems perfect for visual art as well.

Finishing A Painting: It’s Not Magic

Yesterday I spent four hours finishing a painting for a show—finishing a painting that some would say was already finished.  I’m not really complaining since I am delighted to have been chosen for the exhibit, but the task is certainly not glamorous and likely not one that a collector or even exhibit curator thinks about (unless they are also an artist).

By finishing a painting I don’t mean putting leaves on a tree (not to negate something I can’t do well). What I mean is checking the sides for marks, sanding a few spots, repainting those, repainting again when I miss one, waxing, then finally wiring (and making sure the wire is heavy enough for a large painting on board).  Our social media posts seem to only show us smiling with several brushes in our hands and painting with bright colored oils or acrylics —not furiously trying to match a paint color or see through dust spattered glasses with hair tied up on our head.

Finishing a painting is a pretty mundane task, and I’m willing to bet not many artists have assistants to do this. But it must be done and is part of completing a painting for a show or collector. Sometimes I fuss and worry too much over highly textured areas, wondering if I should smooth them down more. But everything most of us do is by hand so it will probably never look perfect. Of course, this isn’t the only routine task we perform. That’s for another blog.

But sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t show more “real” work pictures (no I’m not brave enough yet) or at least put our glasses and work cloth in the frame (that I can do).