To the loyal handful of followers, thanks you make it worthwhile. And to new passers by. thanks for dropping in. It feels good to be sharing my joyful discovery painting mystery tour with you.

Continuing with the  ‘Spirit of Trees’ series, I took on an unfamiliar subject this time-  landscape/architectural. This painting is a lesson in overworking, and why it is so compelling, even though 9 times out of 1o it goes wrong. Below is a version I found ok but too fussy (with the detailed roof tiles). I wanted a yellow tree per se. And I wanted to keep it painterly and fresh. But I kept trying to get the whole thing looser, and eventually, I feel I lost the sunniness of this version. See painting under this one.

grandfather tree sunny copy

Grandfather tree sunny        50 x50 cm acrylic


grandfather tree greenish

Grandfather tree meets the walking dead

In my search to use my own colours rather than the given ones (see that the warm terracotta from the rooves is replaced by greens), I feel I lost something of the warmth of the first version. It kind of looks eerie, like the light before a bad storm moves in.

Between this phase of the painting and the previous one, I had also painted the sky soft yellow, you can see the remnants of that behind the buildings. That move killed it, so I reinstated the blue. You know what?, it began not to be fun any more, yet I’d started it with a wonderful sense of excitement. I’ve learned ( I hope!!!) to stop when the joy goes underground and painting becomes about trying to ‘correct’ something, or ‘get it right’. The fatal flaw in this painting was that I started with a concept (yellow tree) and didn’t listen enough to the subject or the painting.

A few days later, I got inspired by a photo I’d made of two onions on my work table. I took an old painting and drew right ontop of it, then started in painting rapidly, leaving some patches of background exposed. I loved it so much after the initial blocking in, that I didn’t dare to work on it any more.


Onions1 acrylic

So I put it aside and started a new one ontop of yet another old painting. I listened better this time and kept the freshness. It is mostly done, see below.

Here is what I learned, the lessons are particular to my own trajectory toward an intuitively sensed goal of where my truest work lies. So maybe they will be applicable to you, maybe not, but here they are:

  • let parts of the painting remain unfinished if that’s what looks right
  • cherish the roughness, don’t try to paint ‘beautifully’
  • don’t try to have everything make sense
  • follow the painting, not my original ideas about it when I started
  • don’t describe, dance.
  • the goal isn’t to get the subject right, but to get the painting to feel good, true

By the way, I feel that this tutorial taught me more in a few minutes than several advanced painting workshops I’ve taken. And buying a brush similar to the one this woman used was also a revelation! Materials help or hinder so much.

Here is the second onion painting, almost done. It makes me very happy.


Onions2 acrylic

Nicholas Wilton’s most recent post gives food for thought, again. I find his sharings always thought provoking, and they definitely give me insights that help with my work. This one though, hit a nerve.

I happen to be wrestling just now with the part of my book in progress that is about art and livelihood. I’ve found a way to sidestep the money is good vs money is evil discussion by asking, ‘which story do I want my energy to contribute to ‘. It isn’t about money anyway, it is about creating meaning. What image of life do I want to strengthen by giving it my time and energy?’

If I jump whole hog into the art as commodity reality, then I am supporting an economy based on money as the bottom line for determining value. By proxy I am acquiescing to exploiting people and resources to get high profits. I am saying yes to non-ethical long-term negative consequences of short term thinking. I’m using my life to perpetrate a system I don’t stand behind in any way at all.

My heart, unlike Nicholas’s was never wholly into selling my art as a life goal. I wanted a more collaborative, connected, kind of art. I wanted to do good, add value to life, and there weren’t channels for that kind of socially engaged work until just recently.

What I get from Nicholas’s post and from his art, is that it isn’t a black and white thing. There are artists like him, who seem to be able to dance with the marketplace without losing the gift aspect of their art- the aspect connected to the muse, to the sacred, to the greater things. The kind of art that carries a connection with life’s mysteries and large questions, the kind of art that can soothe souls and inspire people to either make art themselves or make changes in their lives to let in more play, imagination, connection.

The danger in approaching art as commodity/product is that this aspect is too often lost in the fray to get the work seen and sold. An artist starting out with all her values intact can easily get overtaken by market values.

I guess this is the essence of my problem with saying ‘there is nothing BUT money in art’, it places art squarely in the marketplace. Seeing the world as it is now, in seeing old systems collapsing and creativity needed for renewal in every part of life, I would ask, do we need more art products? Or do we need artists leading authentic lives, creating from their heart and soul to bring these much needed values into the world? I learn from other artists all the time, that it isn’t either/or.

But I want to make a case for the alternative to seeing art, like everything else in this society, as a transaction.






Colour beyond vision

March 14, 2014

Purple apple

Purple apple,   oil on canvas board

This is the painting started in February. It features a beautiful CD cupboard Rende made. Plus, to the left,  the arm of a couch he made for us a long time ago.

The challenge for me in this painting was to keep the spirit of the first inspiration. There are some unresolved areas in it still, but in all the painters I admire, this is true. If you try to get everything too ‘finished’, or ‘right’, the life goes right out of it. It is a balance of honouring the first moment of vision, and working on it to enhance that rather than take it over with what the mind thinks it should be. That is why there is a magical element in creating. It is a letting go so that something unexpected and uncontrolled may enter, just as much as a skilful manipulation of technique.

No way was I going to lose that cocky little purple apple. The other fruits gained more conventional colouring, but I left this as a reminder of the worlds of colour just beyond vision. And that a painting can be anything you want it to be.

Here are the first stages of this painting:

A friend recently commented on my paintings and recognised the 37 minute one (see previous post) as a turning point. It feels that way to me as well. I’ve done 2 more and intend to continue at least for awhile.

What painting fast does:

  • It launches me out of attention to detail and forces me to concentrate on large forms
  • Painting quickly encourages me to mix on the canvas instead of the palette, resulting in fresher colours
  • Not having time to constantly correct or blend strokes leaves the rendering rougher but fresher
  • The painting tends to capture the essence of the subject rather than getting lost in surface details
  • Painting fast is scary to the perfectionist in me but it forces me to let go enough to really risk
  • Accepting the ‘mistakes’ is liberating  and prevents focus on ‘getting it right’
  • It silences the inner critic because it feels like it is just a study, not a ‘finished’ painting

Painting fast is scary, but it shoves me so far out of my comfort zone that change is allowed to happen! I’ve been striving to loosen up ever since I picked up my painting again 2 years ago. But it is hard to not go on repeating familiar habits, and you rarely reach new ground without some kind of aha! or shock. Once I had something jolting enough to shift my perception – with permission, a workshop leader slashed a great stroke of thick paint on a landscape I had been stuck on. My perception changed, but on ce I got back to my studio, I didn’t know how to get to that freedom on my own. It is a process and you need to have patience.

Having to get a lot of things down on the canvas in a limited time, you have to choose what the priorities in the painting are. And then you set the timer and paint like crazy, picking up gobs of colour on the brush and just getting them down in approximately the right places, then moving on to the next area. It is very intense to work this way,

I’m outside my comfort zone most of the time. But that seems to be the magic zone where the painting can come alive in its own right without me imposing all kinds of preconceived notions onto it.

(See Cat Lupton’s recent post on Losing perspective, for a personal musing on the kinds of decisions that are made in a specific painting, both artistically and historically) .

The last point in the list, accepting mistakes,  is probably the key to how I need to approach painting from now on.  Up until now I have been caught up in making beautiful paintings or simply getting things to look right. All of this is necessary but doesn’t create living work. I am not discounting my more precise, realistic work, but a lot of it didn’t have the potential to soar, and I sense in this new step, that the work is taking on the capacity to surprise, and delight me. And to somehow bypass the overly concerned,decision making, limited, directing, left brain part of me.

And obviously this has implications for my life outside of painting. How could it not? These are important developments which can’t help having impact on how I think and live. If, in the world of the canvas,  I can let go, accept mistakes, accept things as they are, delight in imperfection, follow my intuition, let the world speak to me without imposing my view of things, wouldn’t that mean a gentler, less worrying, more relaxed me? With or without paintbrush in hand. 🙂

Mango and eggplant  - Oils on canvas board

Mango and eggplant – Oils on canvas board

Still on the journey in paint here.  This one is a continuation of “Anne’s kitchen series’, the first one was Pears in sunlight a few posts back. My friend Anne’s (and her husband Jim’s) kitchen in Pittsburgh was a place I felt instantly at home. Visually, I loved the richly decorated ceramic bowls from all over the world, and how Anne loaded them with whatever fruit and veg were at hand. The bowls regularly caught the sunlight streaming in from the windows.

My challenge here was to keep the spirit of the first sketch I did with oils directly on the canvas. I loved it and for awhile didn’t want to do anything to it at all.

'Mango and eggplant' sketched in

‘Mango and eggplant’ sketched in

Painting is continually teaching me. In this case, the sketch was telling me it was fine just as it was. That in a sense, that first spontaneous response to the subject was already enough. That the loose, unselfconscious sketching in, which part of me says is ‘not finished’ and messy, is actually lovely in its own right. If you don’t compare it to an image of a finished work, it has its own appeal. And many artists,the Impressionists come to mind, have used this thinly painted rendering as their style.

The reason I returned to it and began to develop it anyway was because I loved the richness in colour of the original scene. So I went for that but promised myself I would do everything I could to preserve the freshness of the sketch. I’m happy with the outcome because, although it looks ‘finished’, I worked on it with the same looseness and enjoyment as the first stage.  It was very different from working on this one below, which made me tense throughout, trying to get things ‘right’.

Classic still life Jan 27, 2013

Classic still life Jan 27, 2013

What my painting is teaching me as I move out of an overly perfectionist, into a more playful, inexact rendering, is that I don’t have to try so hard. And that some things do really take care of themselves, I don’t have to plan and control everything. I don’t have to explain every little detail, I can leave room for people to fill in their own impressions, both in the painting and in relationships.
I can play and experiment to see what happens without worrying so much if it is ‘right’.  Things can be suggested, other areas can be left raw, the process itself has an intelligence I can trust.  And this applies to life off canvas as well!

Cup in sunlight

March 28, 2013

Lian's place series- Cup in sunlight

Lian’s place series- Cup in sunlight    oils on canvas board

This is fairly large format. The aim was to not correct too much, to keep the painting fresh, and to not be rigidly tied to depicting reality.

Every week I go to a Tai Chi lesson in the attic studio of our Tai Chi teacher Lian Ong.  Often, while performing the slow, hypnotic movements of the form, my eye strays to the little lounge where sunlight streams in and lights up the yellow and orange soft furniture.  I’ve started bringing my camera because of the visual richness in this little space- there is a small wooden glass-fronted cupboard with a hodge-podge of beautiful little ceramic cups, for one. I placed one of them on the floor for this picture.

This tranquil space has found its way into several works of mine already, and there will be more to come.

Here is the original photo.



 Book of Hours  Oil pastel collage SOLD

Book of Hours Oil   pastel collage SOLD

I’m feeling quite good because I’ve sold some of my art to a friend. Obviously it is heartening when someone likes your work enough to want to give it a place in their lives. But a lot of the satisfaction also comes from the fact that this has been accomplished without Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any promotional effort at all.

Because, after a long career as an exhibiting artist, I have chosen to now work outside the gallery system, and i don’t make a big effort to profile as a selling artist on the web,  I don’t sell much art. But when I do, it is usually a rewarding personal contact that leaves me feeling valued, and the buyer feeling happy to be walking away with an original creation which somehow has connected with his/her soul.

The people who buy my work also pay 30-50% less for my art than comparable work by other professionals who do work with galleries.

You might think that artists sell their work for the gallery price only during the exhibition. But the gallery owner will usually ask you to agree to pay the same commission on work that they’ve shown, even if you sell it privately later. I suppose it is to prevent friends from waiting until the show is over so they can buy directly from the artist and avoid paying the commission. However, most exhibiting artists choose to sell at the gallery rate to avoid having different prices for the same work.

In a recent BrushBuzz ( a great source for painting tips and marketing for artists), was the post, ‘The myth that Good art sells itself’.  I would argue that good work, combined with several other factors, eventually finds its way to the people who will value it and pay for it.  It isn’t that you can sit back and wait for the work to sell itself, of course that isn’t effective. But I’ve found that there are rules operating far outside the normal ideas of promotion and selling which often work in my life. They aren’t linear-‘if you do A, then B will happen’,  but operate sort of sideways. For instance, when I am working hard and consistently on one area of my art like my painting, I’ll often get a commission or sale from another area like calligraphy or instrument decoration. It is as if all that energy being put out there by focused effort somehow calls forth a response, but don’t ask me how it works. 🙂

Tuscan landscape-  oil pastel  SOLD

Tuscan landscape- oil pastel SOLD

Creating community

May 24, 2012

Group dining together (Source)

The issue of community has been up for me recently, it is always a concern of mine, but something has changed.

Our international online artist’s group is doing a joint project called Space, Place and Story. We were all asked to answer several questions about what ‘home’ meant to us, and how the place we lived in affected our art.

In answering these questions my usual story surfaced, of feeling displaced here as an internationally oriented American in provincial northern Holland. And the feeling of loss I carry around with me having left several communities behind in the states and in Scotland, so far not being able to recreate an intimate sense of community locally.

It turned out that many in our group were dealing with similar feelings of being an outsider.

As my contribution to the project grew, primarily through some compassionate and perceptive questioning by one of the project leaders, Sibylle, my ‘usual’ story began to change. I saw how, though it had been uncomfortable, the breaking down of my professional identity here in Holland had made way for a deeper, more inclusive kind of art sensibility. I’ve been infinitely enriched by being here in another culture.

In a little book called, ‘The Community of Kindness’ from Conari Press, there is a story of how a woman always used to spend her childhood summers at a lake where other families would come year after year.  That ended when she reached adulthood.

‘The experience of being part of a community can be so powerful that iits absence feels like a deep wound. That’s useful because the pain reminds us that it is important to be connected to others. But at the same time, we can get stuck looking backward, mourning what is lost or even  trying to reconstruct something that cannot be put back together again.’

This, and the project with my artist’s group are opening new perceptions for me of what community could mean if I stop trying to recreate what I’ve lost, but look instead to what is here. The truth is, that in searching for my fixed idea of a close knit community of like minded people, I may have overlooked some of the many chances for connection that I have closeby.

Realizing this has also opened up a question about how my art could relate more to the issue of community and connection, and I’m asking myself, ‘Is there a way to enhance this?’

It is difficult to be a professional, and even more difficult to profile as a professional, and still keep a beginner’s mind.

The term ‘beginner’s mind’ comes from Shunryu Suzuki’s classic book,’ Zen mind beginner’s mind’, and it refers to the open mindedness needed to experience life anew each moment. It is also about the humility needed to refrain from the, ‘I know this already’ attitude, and to keep learning.

In the most recent period of my ongoing oil painting journey I reached the point where I have some handle on the technique. And I’m at a cross roads as to where to go after the last’ bottle series’ painting.

I could keep repeating more or less successful bottle paintings, but that doesn’t light my lights. And I was already beginning to feel restrained by the realism. My original inspiration to paint again was Elizabeth Blackadder”s oil paintings, and they play with simultaneously touching realism lightly and letting it go.

Blackadder painting, ‘Still life with Chalice’

Blackadder still life

I really miss that student state of mind I had at art college. We’d get an assignment and just leap in to see where it would take us, experimenting all the way.

So I am trying to retrieve that and break away from what I’m already doing to see what I can do.

OK, now the hard part. Do I show my process here? As a professional who certainly intends to sell some paintings further on down the line, do I risk creating an image of myself as an amateur by showing my failures along the way? Or do I put all that aside and share my journey honestly, trusting that when I settle on a direction, it will be strong and convincing enough to attract serious buyers?

I like sharing my process, that is how we inspire and learn from each other. So this morning’s experiment is in the post above, ‘Dirty painting’.

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This is a large format painting compared to most of my work. It is 50 x 50cm,  around 20″x 20″.

After working with this theme for months  now, I realized a short while ago where the underlying fascination with light shining through coloured glass might come from. I recently remembered a phrase of Michael Ondaatje’s from the English Patient I wrote down about 20 years ago intending to do a calligraphic artwork with it. I never got further than a sketch, but the image of the ‘glass curtain’ has never left me:

The next day he heard snatches of the glassy sound as he lay once more covered in cloth. A noise out of the darkness. At twilight the felt was unwrapped and he saw a man’s head on a table moving towards him, then realized the man wore a giant yoke from which hung hundreds of small bottles on different lengths of string and wire. Moving as if part of a glass curtain, his body enveloped within that sphere.

The figure resembled most of all those drawings of archangels he had tried to copy as a schoolboy, never solving how one body could have space for the muscles of such wings. The man moved with a long, slow gait, so smoothly there was hardly a tilt in the bottles. A wave of glass, an archangel, all the ointments within the bottles warmed from the sun, so when they were rubbed onto skin they seemed to have been heated especially for a wound. Behind him was translated light – blues and other colours shivering in the haze and sand. The faint glass noise and the diverse colours and the regal walk and his face like a lean dark gun.

From The English Patient, by Micahel Ondaatje

Below is a detail-  the green glass is old and full of little bubbles,  I applied light green with drybrush to create a haze that imitates the effect of the countless little bubbles in the glass.  I love the mosaic of colours in the right half of the painting and hope to expand on that effect in the next one.