I’m holding a RAFFLE for newsletter subscribers only, details below. I also talk about a new painting, two people who inspired me this month (a celebrity and an artist), and my Artist’s Vision. Next, I share a joyous plea to be the artist I always wanted; a muse-poem; and three of my articles about pastel techniques.
It has been a very busy month. The creative breakthrough I wrote about last time has not abated. Motivated, I’m in the studio almost every day for several hours. It’s become my new favorite room in the house.
Therefore, I have finished a new painting! It started as a larger study for a multimedia piece using the same source photo, but became a completed work in its own right.
Enter the raffle: give this painting a title! (Soft pastel on archival paper, roughly 45 cm x 60 cm / 18×24″)
This mountain is at one end of Italy’s Piano Grande. Here, the valley is full of yellow lentil blossoms, and a fissure caused by tectonic activity—it’s not a river.
Enter a raffle to win a print of my latest painting! It needs a title, so I’m open to your ideas. To enter, reply to this email with your title suggestion(s). If I pick yours, you win a print! (If you don’t have a title idea, you can also enter; just reply with the word “raffle” and I’ll add your email to the hat. If I don’t pick anyone’s title, I’ll randomly draw a winner from all entries.) Deadline to enter: Monday, September 4, 2023. The winner will be notified by email on September 6.
Put my creations on your desktop, tablet or phone. Download wallpapers by clicking on the images below (fits screens up to 2560 wide). [This is a benefit for people who’ve signed up for my artist updates. I invite you to sign up, too! Learn more here.]
Yes, the bodybuilder / actor / politician.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve been grappling with my determination to succeed as an artist, coupled with my age. Since I have a long history exploring personal productivity, I came to the realization that I need to create a clear vision. Coincidentally, that same day I sat down and watched the first episode of the current mini-docuseries “Arnold,” which turned out to be just what I needed for inspiration.
I know enough about success to know Arnold Schwarzenegger is an outlier. Not only was he talented and determined at a very young age, but he was also incredibly lucky. That said, none of his success would have come about if he hadn’t started with his vision:
“My confidence came from my vision. . . . I am a big believer that if you have a very clear vision of where you want to go, then the rest of it is much easier. Because you always know why you are … pushing and going through the pain barrier, and … why you have to struggle more, and why you have to be more disciplined … I felt that I could win it, and that was what I was there for. I wasn’t there to compete. I was there to win.”
— Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the Tim Ferriss Show Podcast
I am also here to win. Therefore, I wrote the following audacious and determined vision statement:
My Artist’s Vision
To be an exceptional, remarkably successful ARTIST. I will dominate with grace. Nothing will interfere! Nothing will dissuade me. I will not compromise. I will revel in the process. I will see defeats as momentary, and turn them into wins. I will only perform my best. I will make my way and I will meet my goal!
Note: When I shared this with friends, one asked, “what about making money?” Rest assured, when I say successful, that includes making a living creating art. I do not shy away from the business side of my chosen profession.
With my clear vision written, I have begun to speak it aloud to myself, on a daily basis.
Two weeks ago, I discovered the late surrealist painter Remedios Varo (Wikipedia). Originally from Spain, she spent time in France, and the last 20 years of her life in Mexico, where she is well known.
This article on Varo piqued my curiosity with its discussion about her varied techniques, three I’d not heard of—decalcomania, grattage, and soufflage—but also inlay and (ta da!) textured gesso.
Since I’ve been playing with textured gesso, I am curious about other less-common ways I can affect the surface and texture of my artworks. Therefore, I have already received and started devouring the companion book, from the current show at the Art Institute of Chicago.
“There are two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction. When we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry
Truly, I don’t know which way to go, next. My journey has begun.
Blog posts in the last month:
You Always Wanted to Be an Artist – During this process of unlocking myself as an artist, I wrote the following joyous plea to myself. In it, I remember how good it felt to be a creative child, and to be spellbound by both seeing and creating art.
Memento, a Poem – This short poem was inspired by something remarkable. Written in response to a creative writing prompt—anything in 50 words, using the term “gossamer”—I include the back-story, too.
Working Safely with Pastels – A no-nonsense, straightforward guide to working safely with soft (chalk) pastels. I cut through conflicting information, draw on safety data from several pastel brands, and offer an inexpensive, highly effective solution for airborne pastel dust.
Make Pastel Sticks from Broken Pastels – Artist Tip! Did you know you can collect pastel dust and broken bits, and easily re-form sticks with it? Here’s a quick DIY guide on how to make pastel sticks from broken pastels.
Experimenting with Painting on Photos: Pt. 4 – In my fourth set of experiments with painting over fine art photographs, I had fun applying pastels to layers of gesso, textured in interesting ways with a heat gun. Learn about the process and my key takeaways.
I Appreciate You!
Thanks for reading. Feel free to reply to this email with questions or comments. It’s great that you let me keep in touch with you!
Don’t forget to reply with your painting title idea(s), or simply the word “raffle” to enter!
Writer Ray Bradbury titled one of his short stories, “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” a lyrical line that has danced in my head for as long as I can remember. It comes from William Butler Yeats’ poem The Song of Wandering Aengus. Yeats composed three beautiful, short stanzas to describe a life of yearning, striving, and searching, all for an elusive desire.
Like the character Aengus, I’ve carried a lifetime of longing for a single thing: I’ve always wanted to be an artist.
During this process of unlocking myself as an artist, last November I wrote the following joyous plea to myself. In it, I remember how good it felt to be a creative child, and to be spellbound by both seeing and creating art.
You Always Wanted to Be an Artist
Right? So why aren’t you being one? Photography is great, it’s an art, you love it, you’re good at it … But I expect more from you.
Painting, love you long time.
Since your youth, you’ve admired painters. As a teen, you read their diaries and writings, And spent your weekends—not at parties—but at Art museums and galleries, looking at paintings. On your wall, you hung posters and post cards of, yes, paintings.
Then, you stole a book. Sort of. It was the first library book about the Impressionists you saw, And you didn’t return it. (Paying for it later, it still sits on your shelf.) When new exhibits came around, you were there, Eating all the beauty and wonder with your eyes. You looked at every single piece of art In every single museum Available to you, Repeatedly. You made an effort to understand modern art, Even when you couldn’t.
You have always wanted to be an artist. (Also, a poet, a writer, a dancer, even an actor.) But you’ve always wanted to use your hands To make art. To lose yourself in making art. You used to do that, remember? Remember that feeling of being lost in creating. Before judgement, And before insecure people visited their shortcomings on you. (Before the jealous friend made you hide your light, And an ex told you weren’t being an artist the right way—as if! Before you learned how little most artists make, And before, before …) Forget all that!
Remember these instead: Being a child lost in drawing, coloring books, paint-by-numbers, And book-corner animations. Those times when You copied drawings, drew animals from photos; Drew what you saw at church, instead of listening. Drew from sculptures and paintings. Painted from paintings. Photographed paintings…
Set aside persecution, cast off doubt. Step away from the experiences and people That drove you away from something you loved —And still love— Though it might seem hard to find that love Without shame and fear of judgement. But! The creative person inside loves you, and is smiling. She remembers that pleasure of losing yourself By immersing yourself in art.
Remember, too, what you mused over as a child? The things your mind and imagination touched on, Ruminated over, wondered about?
It’s time to touch base with that musing nature again. To be free to meander and Look and muse, explore and muse, Walk and muse, read and muse, Just to look at things, Look look look and muse. Find your muse. To rediscover your many muses, work with them, Let them stir you, rouse you.
After all, you’ve always wanted to be an artist.
I know you can remember that feeling, Finding wonder in the things surrounding you. Light bouncing golden off the pavement, And how it glowed on a wall. The sound of rustling leaves, and wondering, What does the source of the wind looked like? A turn of phrase in a book that carried you, Inspired, into a daydream. That is what it was like, To be lost in creating. It was sensual, magical, mystical, delightful. Remember that feeling. Nurture it. Imagine it! FEEL IT!
You loved it. While creating, time was timeless. You were in the moment, Not in any story Other than the story of the moment.
That moment was golden, innocent, Connected to nothing but self and doing, Doing and ether, ether and mystery, the mystery of how. How the ability came, how the inspiration arrived, How the marks made the results.
Because it is a mystery, it’s a knowing without knowing how. You’ve known it was born in you, never to be taken away, Something that will live in you for as long as you live. And because of your knowledge now, you know it’s Part of ancestry, a thread that goes back beyond history.
No wonder you always wanted to be an artist! So now that you can remember, It’s nearing the time to work through what’s happened, One way or another. To pull that thread through the eye, Unravel the knot that blocks its passage, Do what it takes to see your imagination and creation come forth. And, soon enough, it will be time to do the work. So…
Then work through.
Then do the work.
One step at a time, though.
Right now, let’s just remember that ART FEELS GOOD.
After Being Reminded that I Always Wanted to Be an Artist
The night I wrote that, I slept like a baby.
Subsequently, I’ve done a lot more writing, which has taken me back to good memories, times I felt connected, safe, and loved. Conversely, I’ve recalled difficulties, explored why I’ve been stuck, and scribbled or typed raw expressions of frustration. Sometimes I’ve ruminated on the quizzical nature of other people, and their impacts on me.
These forays into the past have often been streams of consciousness, letting whatever-it-is pour out of me, going wherever it will, and carrying me along.
Surprisingly, expressing myself to myself has proven to be less emotionally heavy than I had feared. For years, decades, I’d shy away because I thought something dark would come out.
Instead, I’m finding light. Often I feel energized rather than dragged down, even in the midst of revisiting negative experiences. Within, there is a sense of fortitude and healing.
Best of all, I feel movement, and that movement is forward.
Here’s my poem, followed by the backstory and inspiration:
She lay headfirst on the table before me, A slight and youthful beauty, Gossamer hair fittingly pale blonde, To match her translucent skin. In 15 years, I never saw another With hair so impossibly fine, Floating into my oiled hands, Unbidden, undesired, and yet … A cherished memory; a muse.
For 15 years, I was in (mostly) private practice as a medical massage therapist. Some clients came simply for relaxation, many others for my specialty in pain management. However, my super-rare, very special specialty was in vocal massage therapy. As such, I saw clients with vocal pathologies, resulting from birth disorders, trauma, surgeries, brain tumors, cancers, radiation treatment, and other medical conditions. Further, I worked with professional singers, and folks with speech-heavy professions, like trial lawyers. I did a lot of work around the head and neck.
Now, being a particularly conscientious massage therapist, I was always hyper-aware of getting oil in people’s hair (assuming I was using oil, which wasn’t always the case). This was, unsurprisingly, due to my own experiences. When I went for massages, I’d repeatedly had my freshly-washed hair oiled up by other therapists. Many of them, in fact. I hated it, and could never understand how so many could be so thoughtless. Some of them weren’t just careless around my neck, but they’d purposefully run their heavily oiled fingers through my hair. Subsequently, instead of allowing the oils to condition my body until the evening, I’d have to shower immediately upon returning home, simply because my hair was now an unsightly mess.
Inspiration for the Memento Poem
Fairly early in my career, I practiced medical massage in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C. One day a client came in, and she had the finest, most wispy hair that I have seen, before or since. It wasn’t sparse, just ultra fine and soft. I didn’t know individual strands of hair could actually be so thin. Her hair was shoulder-length, and I wondered if she could grow it any longer, before it succumbed to stress and broke.
Naturally, when this client lay down on my massage table, I was acutely aware of just how fine her hair was. In fact, gossamer was exactly the word that then came to mind. And, indeed, her hair practically floated into my oiled hands, despite my careful attempts to avoid such a fate. Oh, well. I apologized to her, and she said it didn’t matter.
But apparently it did, at least in my memory. Her hair was so remarkable, I’ve never forgotten it. She reminded me of so many beautiful, pensive, even sad paintings of lovely young women, like the one of Ophelia I include above.
And now she’s inspired my little poem, Memento. It’s short, but I hope you enjoyed it!
An announcement: I have been included as a featured photographer by Glass, in an article of curated photographs! 🥳 It was a mild and friendly form of competition, and I am thankful for the honor.
What is Glass?
Glass is an app and web site, where photographers gather to share their work, interact to offer praise and helpful feedback, and—soon—connect in person through worldwide, in-person meetups. It’s one of two social media platforms I use (the other being Mastodon), and I appreciate that it’s non-commercial. Glass also has no algorithm, other than the one you create and control by choosing which photographers you wish to follow. There is a free trial period, then a monthly subscription, which keeps it private and commercial-free. If you’re curious what I’m posting there, see my Glass account.
Every month, the makers of Glass announce a new category prompt, selected from user suggestions. Photographers get busy sharing relevant images. At month’s end, Glass publishes an article of the curated highlights by featured photographers.
June 2023’s category was “Rural,” and there were many interesting submissions selected for the curator’s favorites. If you’re eager, you can jump to the rural photos below.
Miss Flower Child, or: How I Learned to Stop City Living and Love the Country
Frankly, Rural is one of those categories that’s right up my alley. Despite spending most of my first 20 years in urban areas—Frankfurt, Bangkok, Washington D.C., we also lived for three years in the Virginia countryside, close to the Shenandoah River. I was a young person then, three to five years old, and formed my earliest memories among shady woods, rolling hills, deer, bears, lightening bugs, chipmunks, salamanders, spiders, and foxes.
As an aside, do you know that horrible song, “What Does the Fox Say?,” by the Norwegian band, Ylvis? I know what the fox says. Likewise, so does anyone who has lived around foxes during mating season. Evidently, Ylvis didn’t do their research!
Anyway, our family spent a lot of time in national parks, picnicking, camping and hiking. Similarly, I did all the usual Girl Scout activities. At about nine, I discovered the early albums of John Denver, a champion of rural. I was in love.
Perhaps I should explain the heading above. I was born in Germany, to German parents, who were among the very first hippies in Frankfurt. Fittingly, it was the Summer of Love. They’d married, but weren’t ready to be parents, or to stay together. I was eventually adopted away by a wonderful American couple, who’d been living in Germany for some years. Decades later, after my (adopted) dad died, mom told me that they would privately refer to me as their “little flower child.” (Comparatively speaking, it’s turned out that I’m a burner, rather than a hippie, but both are non-conformist.)
Cosmopolitan, with Rural Roots
People are often surprised to learn that my adopted dad was the son of sharecroppers, grew up picking cotton in Arkansas, and went on to travel to over 200 countries during his career as a diplomat. (It’s a story!) Conversely, mom grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of a stylish divorcée, but her roots were Pennsylvania Dutch.
Naturally, we got even more rural goodness visiting relatives. I remember riding in the car on long road trips, with my nose practically pressed against the window, looking at all the scenery passing by. Soon enough, my brother and I were trampling farm fields, wading in streams, exploring woods, and poking around abandoned houses and barns. Further, there were feral cats, butterflies, horses, praying mantis eggs, owls, earthworms, newts under river rocks, and birds nests with eggs.
Ah, the joys of childhood. Be that as it may, it befuddled me that Arkansans might think me weird for wanting to draw designs on my face, with makeup pencils. Didn’t they understand artists? NO? Well, I was there to teach them … at the ripe old age of eleven.
Unsurprisingly, with all that exposure to nature, I came to deeply appreciate its sublime beauty. The wilder, the better. For that reason, my personal mantra became, “I want the world to be wild, and I want to be wild in it!” (If only that could have come true…)
Rural in Europe
Following my childhood, I have spent 22 years living in rural locations as an adult: on mountains, near rivers, and among farmlands. In fact, the last place I lived in the US was West Virginia. Almost heaven indeed, save mountaintop removal and illiberal politics.
Now that I reside in Germany, I am surrounded by about 420 kilometers of vineyards; roughly 70 km north-south and 6 km east-west. With mountains in view, I’m again in heaven. Yes, the US has more remote wilderness than Europe. Nevertheless, with houses gathered in villages, towns and cities, there is still plenty of European countryside: great forests, amazing parks, and drop-dead gorgeous vistas.
I’m lucky that my German husband loves to show me some of the beauty Europe has to offer. I take my camera virtually everywhere we go.
My Featured Photograph
For example, on a recent trip to Italy and Switzerland, I shot the photo that was included in the Glass article. This is it:
That one won out over the others of mine, which I’d also tagged as “rural.”
More Rural Photographs, by Other Glass Photographers
I like sharing the limelight, so here are other photos from the Rural prompt, this time by fellow photographers. There is only a little bit of overlap with the Glass featured photographers, and I felt these deserve more eyes, too.
Please see the captions for the photographer’s name, and a link to more of their work. I have included these by permission.
During this process of unlocking myself as an artist, I wrote the following joyous plea to myself. In it, I remember how good it felt to be a creative child, and to be spellbound by both seeing and creating art.
A no-nonsense, straightforward guide to working safely with soft (chalk) pastels. I cut through conflicting information, draw on safety data from several pastel brands, and offer an inexpensive, highly effective solution for airborne pastel dust.