November 23, 2017

How does inspiration work for you? Or more precisely, how do you capture a moment of inspiration before it evaporates into memory. How do you let that moment become part of your life or work?

I get inspired mostly by other artists. The challenge is to translate that feeling of liberation and upliftment into one’s own circumstances. Sometimes direct copying can internalise the technique and make it yours. Or trying out another artists palette or brushwork can open up doors in your own work. I find that copying another artists subject matter generally leads to a dead end. I might make one piece inspired by someone else’s take on the world, but until I engage with my own interests and preferences, the work will lead nowhere. Your work needs to be fed by your own experience, that way it will keep growing.

A friend alerted me to a documentary on Dutch landscape designer and garden master, Piet Oudolf. I don’t know exactly why what he does hit me so hard (in a good way), maybe the time was ripe, maybe I needed just this kind of example for my book on new directions in the arts, but he nails it. Oudolf is a vital 71 year old garden artist. His work is making large prairie gardens in urban landscapes. The High Line gardens in NYC were designed by him, as were the Battery gardens, and in Chicago the Lurie gardens, (an ex rooftop parking lot). (tried to reproduce some images here from the web, but they won’t take).


from the Piet Oudolf site     no photo credit found

I guess what grabs me are the expanses of colour, the swathes of moving, living colour- blond grasses interspersed with deep red purple echinacea and sage. Oudolf loves the garden in autumn perhaps more than in summer. And he has opened my eyes to the beauty in black seed pods, died out grasses and plants, crisp faded flowers, the whole range of charcoals, rusts, browns, and silver greys that take over when the summer’s riot of colour has run its course.

Recently, when my painting was at a low ebb and writing wasn’t moving either, I was itching to do something creative with my hands. I look every day at the stack of beautifully coloured wool felt I have in the studio and decided to start on something, anything!!

The little coils I’d already done, they show most of the colours I have.
So with the colours of Piet’s gardens still humming behind my eyes, I started to piece together 10 cm strips of felt. On my bulletin board you can see a pieced felt work I did a few years ago. I was inspired by the middle strip of warm pinks and yellows, set off by the soft neutral squares surrounding it.

So I kept making these felt panels with only a vague idea of wanting to somehow express my enjoyment of the Oudolf gardens without depicting them realistically. Below is the result.

felt panels5 002

hand sewn pieced wool felt,     5 seasons

I wasn’t finished yet and made a new panel, just keeping to the tints in the winter garden. Then I did one for late fall: with the low autumn sun hitting the golden grasses and with some of the most beautiful fall plants in bloom, these colours just sing. The technique also started to evolve, instead of just piecing like an inlay, (see bright orangey triangle between the white and black strips just under here), I started appliquéing the pieces right on top. You can see this clearest in the bottom third of both panels.

And finally, I worked on one just in tints of green and purple. This one is more descriptive, not sure how I feel about that, if I don’t watch out, I’ll be incorporating embroidery and beads and the whole thing will go kitchy. Maybe I’m just frustrated that I can’t get out into my garden now that winter is coming. Anyway, I wanted to show how inspiration from one man’s garden designs sort of came in sideways and started me off on this new felt work.

green purple


Bigger and bolder

November 8, 2017

bold tomatoes

Tomato plant bold     acrylic  50 x 60cm

The painting above was done in a rare mood of utter confidence. I knew where I wanted to go, sort of, and how to get there more or less. The background was a strong but rejected abstract which you can still see almost all of. I worked in big strokes, didn’t go back to fiddle (thank you dearest Robert Genn, r.i.p.) , and left the white lines (mostly) as accents against the dark background. This painting has gotten more appreciation from people who visit my atelier than any other work in a long time. Several are interested in buying.

Anyway, after the previous tomato plant series, and especially the one above, I found myself wanting  more space to ‘spread out’, so I ordered several 80 x 100cm canvasses.  Below you can see the proportions of the size I usually work in when I work big, 50 x 70cm.  The grey area is the extra space I get when I want to work really BIG!.
So I put this  (for me) gigantic blank canvas on the easel and………. Freaked Out!!! painting proportions

At first I tried an underpainting with a large brush and big swaths of colour, but it was way out of  control. So I did the normal thing (for me) and divided it all up into manageable little squares and rectangles (oh great, I finally get a big canvas and what do I do, start working small again!), and filled them in until I got a feel for the whole space. Once I got into it, it was lovely to work large, moving my arms in arcs instead of just a dab here and there with fingers and wrists.

Here is the finished work.

100x80 tomplant

Tomato plant,          acrylic on canvas    80 x 100cm

There is a lot going on in the composition, but it all came together pretty well. It did take a long time, though and used a lot of paint. But it was a good experience and I want to do more like it. For now, the inspiration has wound down some, and I’ve moved on to other things for awhile until I gather enough courage and inspiration to confront another big guy!

The art of life

October 5, 2017

tom plant finals 006

Tomato plant    acrylic on canvas board  50 x 70cm

Every now and then, while painting, something amazing takes place. There is a sense of recognition. It is as if something, though wholly new, also reflects to me a part of myself I hadn’t yet met. I recognise it as ‘me’, and it is almost always a sign that my work is continuing to grow and develop in a direction that makes sense to me, but that I would never have been able to plan for.

It is about taking the next step in total trust, and keeping going when things don’t seem to be leading anywhere. In fact, the best breakthroughs seem to happen after one of those seemingly fruitless periods where every painting seems to be a repetition or failure, and you’re wondering whether to just put those brushes in storage and forget this whole thing!!

tom plant finals 003

Morning light on tomato plant   acrylic 40 x 50cm

This is the inner process of art, where while you are working on a painting you are also working on yourself. It is no coincidence that in my quest to loosen up in my painting, I am pointed to areas in my life which need letting go of. Not getting lost in detail in a painting, means ability to see the greater picture. Suggesting things in a composition rather than spelling them out ad infinitum corresponds to trusting more in life and going forward even when I feel I don’t have enough information. Trusting the process, getting out of the way, taking risks, staying true, being flexible- all about life and art and the art of life.

So these new pieces work on multiple levels. And I’ve been feeling slightly restricted by small formats, so tomorrow I’m getting some BIG canvasses. Stay tuned.

tom plant finals 001

Most recent painting, tomato plant revisited   acrylic   40 x 40cm


Little surprises

September 15, 2017

pastel plums copy

Pastel plums,      acrylic on canvas board

Harvest. By the road, in our group garden, on the paths, it is clear that  summer is over and what was sown can be brought in. I’ve always loved the colours of plums, bright jewels full of stored sunlight. I left quite a bit of the background painting in and didn’t over work this one.

bright plums copy

Bright plums     acrylic on canvas board

The second painting was done over one of my abstracts, and the quality of those glowing colours was kept throughout. Once again, the aim here wasn’t quite ‘realistic’. I like how the abstract and the subject interact.

The next one below represents a breakthrough of sorts. I bought a new brush, a Liquitex Bright acrylic brush.Wonderfully springy and it holds paint like a sponge. I found a rhythm to my painting with this brush, it was like dancing. Once again I stopped before I got too tight with it, and I really like the grittiness of it. It is quite large, 50 x 60 cm.

tomato plant 1 copy

Tomato plant 1   acrylic on canvas board

I thought I’d include one more in progress. I was curious to see how a second painting of the tomato plant would be if painted over a purposely brightly coloured background. It is still in progress, but I wanted to post this stage so you can see how it is set up. I intend to cover most of the bright colours, but still, they shine through in places giving depth and little surprises. I love little surprises.

tomato plant 2 copy

Tomato plant 2 in progress   acrylic on canvas

Art & garden

August 19, 2017

view with café

museum and café buildings with entrance to garden top middle

Gardens and art, art gardens. I’m reading a book about the wild garden of the imagination (it’s in Dutch, not easy reading in any language, author is Kris Pint).

And in the book I’m writing about alternative paths for the arts, gardens and greening projects keep cropping up. Everything for me, after an active career in the arts and graphic design, seems to lead back to the garden.

Yesterday my sister in law and I visited one of my favourite museums, Museum de Buitenplaats in Eelde. Roughly translated the name refers to ‘the outside’. The museum and gardens were designed as a whole, and when I first saw the building and gardens  about 10 years ago, I was already enchanted. Now, the formal gardens have matured, the garden artist’s vision has been realised, though as with all living things, it is still in constant development.

garden view

garden entryway

We went to see a show of the English portrait artist, Michael Reynolds. The paintings inspired me in their application of paint, and colour. Then we visited the gift shop (yummy), and afterwards, finally, the gardens. We ended with a cuppa in the café and a luscious piece of cheesecake. Nourishing on all levels. But the gardens lifted my heart most of all. The formal structure, balanced by playful details and strategically placed sculptures, gives a sense of order and peace. In August most of it is carried by form- in a symphony of greens. Flowers are present for sure, but the riot of flower beds contrasting with the high walls of green hedges is probably at its best in June and July.


glass and metal sculpturee

I think what I love most is to be amazed- either by art, or by turning a corner in a garden like this and discovering a little water feature or sculpture.  The sculpture in the middle of the pond is by Lotte Blocker, I was deeply touched by her exhibition in Zwolle several years ago. How wonderful that her work has been placed here as well. It is perfect.


pond with sculpture

Not shown is a new orchard just planted, with old apple races that used to grow here on this estate 300 years ago. The museum itself is part of a complex of beautiful buildings that are also full of art and sometimes open to the public for guided tours. Though the main museum building is ultramodern, a lot of attention is paid to the history linked with the location. It is a sense-around experience that makes me wish every museum had its own garden!


Eelde museum 017

espaliered pear trees

wisteria pods2

wisteria pods

Black & white

July 29, 2017

prelude and bernardo

There is a book of Juane Xue’s work called , ‘Color is my wealth’. I share this sentiment, as color is the driving factor in most of my paintings.

But lately I’d been craving the feel of charcoal in my hand, the smooth way it goes onto the paper, the play between dark, rich passages, and lighter ones lifted out with a kneaded eraser.  When I was 10 years old, I started out learning to draw with charcoal in my art lessons with Abe Weiner. It remains a medium I’m familiar and comfortable with. The fact that color doesn’t figure in charcoal drawings lets me focus on form and texture. Very relaxing actually. In painting you have to juggle form, value, intensity, all the while keeping an eye on color balance as well.

Our neighbor who keeps his horses in the field behind our house is very ill. Over the past 20 years, we have had so much pleasure from Bernardo, a large Groninger work horse and jumper. I rode him once, and D let me help train him, and taught me to fit him up with all the carriage equipment and harnesses. Whenever D was away, I attended to Bernardo’s sore hoof, and made sure that he had enough food and water. Now his owner is in the hospital, the horse will probably be sold.

I made these drawings for him to remind him of the good things in life, while he lies in pain in a bed far from his home and horses. The second sketch is of Junarla, and her new foal, Juno, quite a character already as you can see below. D bought Juno in a more optimistic time, to have a new horse to train because Bernard is already around 20 years old. I sent the drawings off last week, hopefully they are giving our friend some solace. I guess Juno, now 2 1/2,  will be sold as well.

juno n junarla

Juno and Junarla, ‘Come on mommy and play’  charcoal on paper 18 x 24″

sunlit table

Painting by Juane Xue

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this painter before, but ever since I saw her paintings for the first time, they took my breath away. One critic said that she must mix champagne with her colours, they sparkle so. This is one of a series of abandoned party tables she’s been painting since about 2009. This Chinese woman living in Holland has been painting since childhood. She received a thorough traditional art education in China as a young woman and has been developing her work ever since.


In a book about her painting this one in particular gobsmacked me. That explosion of colour and light right in the middle there with the high cadmium reds, oranges and yellows, wow.

So I decided to copy that one passage, see  below where I’ve masked off the chosen area:

xue copy

I can’t stop emphasising how helpful it can be to just get lost into someone else’s work and copy their methods for awhile. It is like taking on their identity, and it can be very  complex. For instance, what was the underpainting if any, what kind of brush did she use to get this effect? I don’t have much trouble duplicating the colours (though they vary here because of the lighting when taking the photos), but where I learned the most was in copying how it was painted. The detail is there but it never gets fiddly, the strokes are confident yet sensitive. Once again the key is suggestion rather than explaining. I’ve seen her paintings in real life, and up close they are simply thickly applied colour globs and slashes. When you move back, you see the actual subject.  Here is my attempt:

xue copy 007 copy

copy of a detail of Juane Xue’s table painting