Sunday, September 26, 2010

Exploring Other Media

Since I didn't have my painting gear with me while I was vacationing in Washington, I got creative with my camera instead. In fact, I became so energized and inspired from my trip that I'm planning to try my hand at mixed media and clay, too. Fun!

Yet, some people have told me that I have to stay focused in order to master painting, which is why I've shied away from other media for many years. So now I want to take a poll: Do you think it's better to focus on one medium or to explore a variety?

Refreshing the Spirit

You know that amazing feeling you get when you're really hot and thirsty and you finally get a long drink of cool, fresh water? That's just how my soul feels after vacationing in Washington and Oregon for 10 days. The reason for that feeling was all the fantastic art I saw everywhere -- in galleries, on the street, in museums. After a tough summer struggling with my painting, I sure needed to feed my creative spirit, and this trip did the trick. 

Coming home, though, I wondered why it took flying 2,000 miles across the country to do it. There is plenty of great art right here in Cincinnati where I live. I think I just haven't been making enough effort to get out and see the shows and exhibits that have been happening all around me. So I've decided to make a commitment to myself to keep fueling that fire with regular trips to see art.

Got any other good ideas? How do you stoke your creative fire and feed your artist's heart?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Why Blog?

A friend recently asked me why people bother with blogs. Well, I think the responses to my previous post say it all. Thank you, Joan, for letting me know that what I've shared was useful to you. I'm delighted to be of service! And thank you, Leslie, for telling me about your awesome radio show idea. I'm looking forward to joining in, and my mind is spinning with other ways I could use this technology for art and in my day job. Great ideas, inspiration, knowledge sharing - that's why I "bother" with blogs!! ; )

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why Go It Alone?

Making art may be a solitary endeavor, but being an artist doesn’t have to be. In fact, artists have always benefited from the company of fellow artists. We need people to share our ideas with, to help us develop our concepts, and to allow us to see our work from fresh perspectives. And although we can meet some of these needs through the internet, I know of no better way to achieve all that than face-to-face contact.

A little more than two years ago, I had the good fortune to be invited to be part of a new group of women artists who intended to meet regularly to discuss art. Two friends and artists---Monica Achberger and Marcia McMillen--had decided it was time to realize a longstanding dream of theirs to create a contemporary “salon,” which is partly how we arrived at the name of our group: Salon 11.  Meetings take place one Monday night a month, sometimes at restaurants and sometimes in a member’s home or studio.  We’re a very diverse group in terms of art-making styles and subjects, encompassing a couple of seasoned professionals as well as various stages of emerging artists. One of our members is also a professional musician!

What I love about the group, in addition to getting a monthly creative jolt and making some wonderful new friends, is how much I learn from the other artists. Quite often, our meetings revolve around discussing a topic, but we have also invited guest artists to join us (we buy them dinner so we can pick their brains), gone to art exhibits and lectures, and watched art-related films. We’ve even had some “let’s all try a new medium together” events and some “let’s all do a themed project,” such as our Cezanne-inspired still lifes. 

If you feel like you could use some consistent real-time interaction with other artists, I would encourage you to put together a discussion group like ours. I asked my fellow members to help me identify our secrets of success so I could share a few tips with you, and here’s what we came up with:

1. Create a vision before you start. What do you want to get out of this? Should it be all women, all men, or a mix? How many members do you want? (We think 10 is the max for our purposes.) Then carefully select who you’re going to invite to be part of your core group. You only need two or three to get started because each of them will probably know at least one other artist who will mesh well with the group. And by the way, you don’t need to be friends when you begin--feel free to reach out to artists in your community whom you would like to get to know. As Marcia says, the law of attraction brought us together naturally!

2. Make a commitment. Believe me, we have plenty of fun and laughs and socializing at our meetings, but one of the main reasons the group works is that we are all serious and committed to advancing our art careers. This is not just a social outlet for the members--it’s an opportunity to learn, share, and support each other’s work. This is intellectual stimulation in the pursuit of art. Because we take it seriously, we all make an effort to show up to every meeting unless something really important keeps us away.

3. Pick people who have something to offer and are generous enough to share it. Most of the discussions are generated within our little core group, and we’re able to keep that going because every member has both artistic and other professional experience she is willing to share. Marcia is an expert on branding and marketing, and Monica has done a ton of PR work for various organizations. Tina has studied art history in depth, Maureen has her finger on the pulse of art competitions and local galleries, and on it goes.  

4.  Ensure dedicated leadership. Someone needs to step up and take the reins so that the group stays on track, overall and during the meetings. Marcia is our leader, keeper of the schedule (we try to plan topics at least six months out), reminder of meeting times, and discussion facilitator. But she happily welcomes the other members’ contributions, so no one person is responsible for it all. For example, we all contribute ideas for future topics and organize guests and outings.

Generally speaking, what happens in our studios happens in the confines of our own hearts, minds, and hands. But there’s no need to live our whole artistic lives going it alone. Maybe it’s time to reach out to your fellow artists and start up a discussion group. Like me, you’ll probably be amazed and delighted at the amount of inspiration and motivation you get from this activity.

And if you're already in a group similar to ours, we'd love to hear your secrets to success!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

2nd Annual Milford Paint-Out

Nancy Achberger, on behalf of OPAS, organized another hugely successful paint-out yesterday in Historic Milford, Ohio. More than 45 artists turned out to participate, and the weather was perfect for both the paint-out and the wet paint sale along Route 50 in the late afternoon. In the photos (top to bottom) are Nancy Nordloh Neville, Marion Corbin Mayer, Monica Achberger, Michelle Walker, and finally Michelle Walker, Nancy Achberger, Chuck Marshall, and Ray Hassard.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Ugly Teenage Years

A funny thing happened on the way to a finished painting the other day...

Seriously, I was out with my good friend Ray on a miserably hot day. We both got cranky, and we were both ready to throw in the towel on our semi-finished paintings. But then I plunked down on a stump next to Ray’s easel, and suddenly I could see exactly what was wrong with his painting and how to fix it. I blurted out to him (he's so patient with me!) that the values and colors on the upper half of the painting were completely different from the lower half, making the two halves seem disconnected. Within 20 minutes or so of what looked like wild-abandon-Ninja-artist-pastel-sticks-flying-through-the-air, he had transformed the whole value pattern, unified the color scheme, and was well on his way to yet another great painting. Then he turned to my painting and showed me exactly what was wrong: All my values fell in the medium to light range, with no darks to anchor the composition. And again, once the lightbulb went on, it only took a few minutes to solve the problem so I could put in the final details.

Ray and I had a good laugh about this because it’s a common problem Ray likes to call “the ugly teenage years.” In other words, you’ve usually started off with a nice baby (a good design) and have developed it into a charming adolescent (with value, form, and color)... and then you hit that horrible stage when nothing seems to be working and you just want to quit. It’s just like an awkward teenage on the verge of adulthood, no longer cute and cuddly but not a compelling, mature work of art either. And quite frankly, you just don’t know how much more time you can stand to spend with this strange thing you’ve created that suddenly has a mind of its own!

The lesson--Ray reminded me--is to never give up. Expect to encounter that awkward phase and be ready for it. Calmly step back and evaluate the basics of design, value, color, and so on. Chances are good you’ll soon see what it will take to bring that painting to beautiful maturity. And by the way, the answer is almost never more detail.

So now I’m curious: What are your tactics for seeing a painting through the ugly teenage years?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Something Different

To tell you the truth, I've been in a bit of a funk lately. No real reason why. Just not motivated to do much, art wise. Maybe it's this dreadful humidity that has come to Cincinnati way too early this year!

But since I don't have much to share these days, I thought I'd let you know about a little something that I enjoy that has nothing to do with art. This is a great little website, actually six sites in one. It's one of those pay-per-click sites, meaning that every time you click on the big pay-per-click buttons in these sites, the sponsors donate money to these charities. It's also a great place to shop for really cool affordable gifts. I keep it as a favorite on my browser and click all six sites every day. Just makes me feel like I did something good. I have a feeling you'll like the causes, too!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ya Know...

Turns out plein-air painting is like any other skill. If you don't do it regularly, you get really, really rusty. Really.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cabbages and Kings

My new friend Greg and I had a great time painting in Miamiville this morning, and my friend Mike and I braved the wind and cold for a good morning of sketching in Rowe Woods last week. Today Greg found a very cool little garden full of cabbages and purple iris, and I painted a wonderful old house dappled in sunlight. It was awesome as always! 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Herb and Dorothy

Earlier this week my Salon 11 buddies and I watched a delightful documentary called Herb and Dorothy. It's the story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, that legendary New York librarian and postal worker who have managed to amass a literally priceless collection of Minimalist and other late 20th-century art on an extremely limited budget. They sacrificed so much to build their collection but they're completely devoted to collecting.

Not too long ago, the Vogels donated--that's right, I said donated--their collection of nearly 5,000 pieces to the National Gallery of Art (where, incidentally, they spent their honeymoon!). Because the National Gallery can only display a small fraction of the collection, the pieces are being divided up and distributed to museums in all 50 states in the U.S. Herb and Dorothy feel that because they were able to collect art using income from their government jobs, it's only fitting for the collection to return to the American people. Their generosity is almost incomprehensible.

But perhaps even more striking is the Vogels' connection to the artists they have collected. The Vogels have as much passion for art as any artist I've ever known. When they become interested in an artist, they get to know that person personally. They discuss the work, encourage the artist, and provide support with their money and enthusiastic feedback. Of course, the gallerists don't like the way the Vogels buy direct from the artists, often at lower-than-gallery prices, but the artists all want to be in this acclaimed collection.

The film is fantastic and so uplifting. It's a love-of-art story. It made me wonder if there are more great stories about collectors out there. Please share your thoughts.

PS The Vogels did not want to accept money for their collection, but the National Gallery insisted on providing a monthly stipend for them so their retirement years could be more comfortable. But the Vogels aren't interested in taking vacations or moving to a bigger apartment. They're using the money to buy more art!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gallery News

I just wanted to share some great news with you about a couple of new galleries. First, there is a new gallery opening in the O'Bryonville area of Cincinnati called Greenwich House Gallery. I'm very proud to be represented by this wonderful and spacious new gallery, so I'll let you know when the official opening happens. It should be sometime in the next month or so.

If you happen to be in Union Square in Manhattan, there's an exciting new gallery there, too. The Sankofa Gallery is a beautiful space right on the square, featuring exquisite work by painters Sam Adoquei, Jeanette Christjansen, Usha Sharma, Musette Morgan, Cidny Klein, and Nao Otaka. As you may recall, Sam recently published a truly thoughtful and inspiring book for artists--How Successful Artists Study--so now you can see even more of his work and that of several other talented artists. Find out more at

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New Work

Okay, dear friends, I'm ready to share some of my new work. Although in some ways these are a continuation of what I've done before, there are some aspects of the work that are new to me. And because of that, I'm finding it challenging to evaluate it. Please let me know your thoughts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Finding Time to Work

I have a day job. I have to do something to pay the bills, and I'm thankful to have the job I have. But lately, in addition to my day job, it seems that I've made a million other commitments to do other things as well. The result? No time or energy to paint, no new paintings. And I'm really ticked off at myself because three people have asked me for my portfolio in the last couple of months, and I have nothing new to show!

I'm in conflict. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

This happened once before, and my solution then was to institute Sacred Saturdays. I put everyone on notice that I was not available to do anything on Saturdays because I would be in the studio. It worked beautifully. People just automatically started inviting me to do stuff on other days, and I felt good about claiming my own time.

So it's high time for me to bring back the Sacred Days, but this time I'm going even further. I'm putting my friends and family on notice: Saturdays and Thursday nights are now both sacred. Come summer, Saturday mornings will once again be devoted to plein-air painting and Thursday evenings to studio work.

This is it. I have to get serious and put my studio time first, just like it was a "real" job... which it is!!!

How do you handle time conflicts?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Art and Climate Change

I'm thinking about doing a project, and I'm looking for artists who make art that addresses the issues of climate change and global warming. I'm interested in all kinds of art -- two- and three-dimensional, traditional to conceptual. If you know anyone who might fit the bill, please let me know. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Competitions Worth the Fees

Skimming through Facebook the other day, I came across an artist complaining about the high cost of entering competitions. Like many artists I've heard, he felt that art competitions are scams--a way for the organizers to "rake in the cash." Having been the organizer behind many such competitions, I want to assure you that most competitions don't make money and really aren't organized for that purpose. Quite often, they barely break even.

This may come as a surprise to some artists, but competitions actually cost the organizers quite a lot of money to run. There's the cost of advertising the competition to artists. There's the cost of paying the judges, maybe even flying them in, putting them up in a hotel, and feeding them for a few days. There's the cash awards. If there's an exhibition with an opening, there's usually promotion fees, invitations, caterers, valets, and more to pay. If there's an online component, there's a web designer who'll want to paid for his or her services. The list goes on and on. And the organizers are committing themselves to paying for all of these items before they've ever collected a single entry fee!

Now that you've seen the flip side of competitions, you may be thinking that a $10 entry fee is actually quite reasonable. But what about those competitions with big $25, $50, or even higher fees? Well, the organizers often use the entry fees to communicate a message. A $10 fee says all artists--pros and amateurs alike--are welcome. Higher fees are often used to let artists know that the contest is for professionals only. And there are a variety of valid reasons why organizers might want to limit the participants in this way.

When all is said and done, a competition is an invaluable chance to see how your work stacks up to your peers' work. If you get accepted into a show, it's a fantastic opportunity to gain exposure. If you win an award, you walk away with some cash in your pocket and a huge bonus to add to your resume. And if you're really lucky, you might even find a new gallery representative or land some other major coup. So how much is that worth to you?

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Finished Project

Look - it's art as furniture. I needed a headboard so I created one by painting, and I'm much happier with this second attempt than my first try. I used acrylics and beads. Finding objects around the house that I could use for stamping was the most fun part!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Art in the 21st Century

Despite my near addiction to PBS channels, I have somehow managed to miss most episodes of their great series, Art:21 Art in the 21st Century. The good news, I just found out, is that the entire series is available through Netflix. You can even watch episodes instantly on your computer screen. (They also have Simon Schama's excellent series, The Power of Art, another fav.)

If you go for Episode 1, you'll get to hear photographer Sally Mann make this fantastic statement about art: If it doesn't have ambiguity, don't bother.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Respect

As of yesterday, I have a new respect for all you non-representational artists out there. It's a lot harder than it looks to design and create a truly interesting, engaging painting out of pure imagination. I learned this by trying to do it myself. On a very large canvas. I'm now heading to the art supply store (in a snow storm, no less!) to buy a very large jar of gesso and a few more tubes of paint. My next attempt will be much simpler.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Book

Looking for some solid advice on developing yourself as an artist? My friend Sam Adoquei has just published a new book called How Successful Artists Study. Sam is a fantastic painter and teacher, with a long and successful career in both areas. His book is full of insightful, thought-provoking advice for artists of all levels on how to move forward as professional artists. Some of the topics he covers include the stages of artistic development, finding a mentor, drawing, color, style, taste, and so much more. It's also loaded with dozens of wonderful paintings by Sam and many other contemporary and historical masters. I recommend adding this book to your art library by contacting Sam directly through his website ( or ordering from Amazon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How Do You Make Your Art Personal?

I had a really interesting conversation with my dear friend and art guru Tina last night, which brought up a lot of questions in my mind. We were talking about the qualities that make some works of art feel really personal, as if they came right from the artist's heart. What are those qualities? When I think of the pieces that move me the most, it's rarely the degree of realism or the technical proficiency demonstrated by the artist. But what are those elusive qualities?

This brought us to another point of discussion: What questions should an artist ask herself or himself while painting, especially when finishing a painting, that will make the work truly personal and meaningful? Obviously, the questions What did I want to say with this? and Have I effectively said it? must be asked. But what else?

I'm curious to hear your ideas!!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

When Technique Becomes Gimmick

I think we all enjoy discovering new techniques, and when we find one that yields great results we love to use it again and again. It's especially easy to do with watercolors because that adaptive medium lends itself to so many innovative paint applications. Personally, I'm in love with the palette knife--I can find so many ways to use it to add texture to my oil paint.

Awhile back, though, someone said that my reliance on palette knife work had reached the point of being a gimmick. What?! Me?! Gimmicky?! I was mortified to think that my work was becoming cliche. I immediately stopped using the tool I loved, and pushed myself to explore other techniques.

Recently, however, I picked up my beloved palette knife once again, only with a new depth of meaning. Without going into a lot of detail, I feel that this tool and the ways I'm using it actually contribute to the content and message of my paintings. The technique has purpose beyond making the surface look more interesting. And that, I've decided, is what will keep any technique from becoming a gimmick.

Friday, January 22, 2010

To Life, To Life, L'Chaim

Artists are natural-born observers, and from our observations we make art. But that doesn't mean we can sit on the sidelines, only observing. We have to immerse ourselves, dive in, get dirty, wade through all life's many complications to make truly great art. Barbara Kingsolver says it best in her new novel The Lacuna when she has Frida Kahlo say these words: "[An artist] needs to go rub his soul against life." 

All that life has brought me I'm thankful for. I've rubbed my soul against it, and I'm ready to make some art. You?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Words to Ponder

I just wanted to check in with everyone and say hi! Still working on setting up the new apartment and studio. I'm going to need better lighting. Any ideas? And before I go, here's a good quote to consider:

A sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on to canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is, in itself, a living thing.
--William Dobell