Positive from Negative


Unfinished paintings making positives using negative space.

“What do you do with everything that is cut away?” she asked Tilman, thinking now about the negative space of stone sculpture, the stone that is discarded, thinking too about how she had thrown away huge pieces of her own early life…”
from The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart.

 With both my only parent and only sibling ill, there is a lot of sadness in my life right now, weighing me down, making it hard to focus on anything—even art. But because art keeps me sane, I have turned to it in bits and pieces, usually ending up in a mess of color and movement. For days I let these paintings on paper lay around, but this past week I decided to find out what if anything was important in these painted, collaged pieces.

So I started with grey paint and the basic rules of visual composition, reminding myself that positive space was the primary focus of a picture and the negative space was the background or the space between objects. I had always thought of negative space as quiet space, but obviously less important than the positive shapes.

But the more I painted, the more I wondered: Should there really be a difference between positive and negative space in importance? Can you have one without the other? In order to tell a complete story, don’t you need both? None of the pieces that are pictured are finished or may never be, but the exercise reinforced to me how critical negative space is in my paintings and how it can highlight the positive.





Effort Not Attainment

“It’s about effort, not attainment.”

“No Going Back,” 14.75″ x 14.5″, Mixed media on deep wood panel


You know how you hear something, but don’t fully take it in. Then some time later, you finally really hear it. Yesterday in yoga class this happened. As encouragement the instructor said, “Its about effort not attainment. I wish I could tell you I was focused on my yoga practice, but all I could think about was my art.

You see, rarely do I start a painting, complete it, and know it is finished. And many times I “beat myself up” because I can’t just get an idea and execute it perfectly. Many times in many paintings I make two or three tries and not just at one area, but two or three entirely new beginnings.

The one pictured above may not be finished yet, but has been “completed” at least four times—wrong colors, image not right, texture not right. It started in my journal, went to paper, went to board, went to board again with numerous changes between. During my session with Katherine Chang Liu in April, I shared this “problem.” She immediately dismissed it as a “problem” and encouraged me never to give up on a painting. She said she continues to work until she knows it is right.

Art can be “play” because it is so engaging, but it is also work that requires study, skill, and most of all effort. Namaste.


































































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?


When is a Workshop…Well Not a Workshop? Part 3


I would like to share work of all the artists I met, and I might over the next year. But there is one more for now—Katalin Ehling. I was particularly in awe of this artist whose work I saw daily as I entered the room. Katalin was using hand stitching on organza as her line and applying to her paintings which told incredible personal stories of home and place.

For about 40 years she worked in batik and has also done encaustic monoprints. The hand stitching she produced was so fine I thought she had used a machine, but this was a skill she learned from her mother. You can visit her website at: http://www.katalinehling.com/

When is a Workshop…Well Not a Workshop? Part 2 Surrealists


My mentoring week with Katherine Chang Liu also included “programs” that she developed for the group. For an hour each morning we viewed and discussed contemporary art. I found myself really enjoying the work of the surrealists, which was definitely not the case before. Perhaps what made me appreciate this art even more was the work another artist in the mentoring sessions—Judith Visker.

According to her bio, Judith had a career as a nurse before studying art. She painted in stylized representational style for a long time, but is now “more concerned with where the materials take me, with color relationships, formal design and surface quality.” She has exhibited in museum shows, galleries and exhibitions and has won awards. She is the Gallery Director at The Wham Art Center in Surprise, AZ where she has her studio, shows her work, and teaches classes. She graciously allowed me to share a few images. You can find more at her website: http://www.judithviskerart.com/



When is a workshop…well not a workshop? Part

I just spent a week in Arizona working with Katherine Chang Liu, an internationally recognized artist and teacher. Katherine calls what she does mentoring, not a workshop, partly because she does not demonstrate techniques.

Katherine does not dwell on an artist’s deficiencies, instead she identifies each individual’s strengths and guides them by building upon these strengths to form their personal visual language. Her ability to discover the essence of each artist’s work was amazing. At least in my own personal case, it was positive reinforcement.

Although my work space was totally mine to organize and set up, I was fortunate enough to be near two incredible abstract artists, Nancy Dini, and Jackie Roliardi. Nancy was working with texture and Jackie with shapes. Observing the various artists and how they worked was an added benefit of the week. You can find Jackie’s work at https://jackieroliardiart.artspan.com/

Over and Over

Changing just one thing can make a difference.

Over and Over, 18" x 24", Mixed media on paper
“Over and Over,” 18″ x 24″, mixed media on paper

You know how a tune gets locked in your head, an “ear worm” they call it. I am particularly susceptible to any kind of “worm” whether a tune or a behavior. I seem to get locked into action or inaction.

I have been trying to discover how we free ourselves from repeating behavior that we know isn’t good for us, whether it is obsessing over a problem or just painting in the same way we always have. One suggestion was to change just one thing. In my yoga class the instructor often says something similar. She suggests moving the right arm out as you lift the left leg or putting the arms in front rather than behind in “child’s pose.”

I normally paint on deep wood cradles with a highly textured substrate. So I decided to paint on paper. It appears to me this one change has made me focus more on markings, which may well be a good thing.

Oh, I guess I did change two things. Instead of my classical or new age music, I listened to a bit of country. Go figure.

Perhaps you might try changing just one thing in your art or your life—or two?