Monday, December 22, 2008

Painted Ladies #1

Blue Orchid
Oil on Panel

Monday, December 8, 2008

Holiday Painting Sale

Click to Enlarge

I'm having an 'open house' art sale on Sunday from 11 till 4pm- lots of inexpensive little paintings will be available, as well as some larger pieces for as much as half price. I'll be baking mince pies (yum!) and making a batch of mulled wine to warm everyone up. Here's directions via mapquest.

So I've been 'tagged' by two artists, Nathalie Davis and Carolyn Finnell. Here's how it works: I tell 7 interesting things about myself and tag 7 other people, linking to their blog and tagging them in a comment. I've been racking my brains for days trying to think of anything anyone else might find interesting about me, and I can't so I'm just going to wing it and see what comes out.

Here's to navel gazing (clink glasses with imaginary reader..)

1. Lots of people know that I packed up and left my life - within a month - in the UK in 2005, but only a few know that I made myself a kind of tick list of things to learn on my travels. Surfing was on there, which I tried, and failed at. Turns out I'm much more terrified of the sea than I thought. I still haven't learnt to play the guitar - so if anyone in Tahoe wants to trade skills, I'd be well up for it.

2. I'm not shy. People think I am because I'm quiet, and I used to be when I was young so perhaps I do a good impression. I am often intimidated by loud people, and abhor being shouted at. I won't tolerate bullies and liars. A story I told my younger sister when she was being bullied at school: There was a girl who used to bully me and try to make me feel small and worthless all the time. One day she pushed me too far and I just saw red. I didn't hit her, but I grabbed her by the hair and held her down until the mist cleared. I let go when I saw the horrified face of her cousin. I didn't hurt her, but she was pretty terrified I think. None of the girls spoke to me for a while but the boys thought it was great. I never got bullied again. Moral: If you demonstrate your strength just once, most times you won't have to do it again.

3. Until recently I didn't like the colour green. It was a colour I didn't like to wear, and I wouldn't paint with unless I had to (i.e grass, trees etc) Even now, I tend to lean my greens heavily toward brown, yellow or blue, otherwise I think they look cheesy and obvious. Wales is incredibly green, with all the rain, so landscape painting can fall into a very 'postcardy' trap if you're not careful - and never was one for the 'pretty landscape'. I think my shift in attitude has to do with Taylor, whose favourite colour is green. He's a redhead, so certain greens are delicious on him.

4. I knew Taylor was 'the one' the moment I saw him. That sounds like a lie, but it's true. He was slacklining in a park in Squamish with his Scottish friend Craig, and I just went up to him and asked if I could have a go (told you I wasn't shy!) That's never happened to me before, so I knew it was true. We've been together pretty much constantly since that day in 2005.

5. For years I shunned colour. The majority for my work for my degree was in black and white, and for a couple of years after I graduated, I worked solely in black, white and gray. I just didn't feel like I could express myself in colour, it was a language I wasn't fluent enough in. Even now, when I allow myself the indulgence of monotone, I think my work speaks more directly to the emotions.

6. I'm a chameleon. For someone so fiercely independant this surprises me about myself constantly. I pick up accents, painting styles, mannerisms and fashions faster than I can check myself. When I realise what I'm doing, I tend to re-establish my own personality and absorb these things into myself, with a subtler influence of the new (if I like it).

7. I love learning new things, and this is why I think I'm a chameleon. I like trying on new images and ideas, to see if they mean anything to me, and whether I can use them to understand more, or create better art. I'm also an avid reader - I love words, verbal imagery and recollections of a person's life. I'm curious by nature, and value openness in others - partly because I'm very open myself, and it makes me feel more comfortable to be with my own kind.

Phew! that's it - ok here's my lucky 7:

1. Melissa Gregory
2. Greg Shores
3. Kristen Boles
4. Jeanne Bauer
5. Donald Neff

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Two Oil Sketches

Remember not this sins of my youth nor my acts of rebellion
Oil on Panel

I've done two quick oil sketches this morning, and I'm so excited I had to post them straight away. I loved the echoes of Degas, Schiele and Toulouse - Lautrec's women in this model, (and maybe a hint of Marie Antoinette...? ) and so dressed her up accordingly (just ankle warmers, and stockings for some pictures) I wanted to capture something reminiscent of older paintings, with a distinct stamp of the now declaring it to be contemporary. The model has piercings in her cheeks and belly, as well as the very cool tattoo you can see on her back. The quote is a slightly tweaked passage from Psalm 25 in the Bible.

Untitled study
Oil on Panel

So I'm really feeling the looseness I've been striving for in my painting today. It's exciting, it's like the penny has dropped, finally, and I feel freer. I think it's a combination of the observation skills I learnt with the painting a day project, and regular life drawing with Phyllis Shafer.

What's slightly irksome though, is that these weren't done from life (I took photographs). I tried to paint when the model was here, and I painted this horrible, muddy, stodgy piece of crap which is now of the studio floor, destined for the bin.

I think there are a few reasons/excuses for this: a) I was using a scrap of unstretched canvas, which despite the extra primer, was still really absorbant, and b) I was feeling a bit overwhelmed to be painting a figure from life, despite the fact that I've been drawing from life for weeks now. It's weird, sometimes I worry so much about the model being comfortable/warm, etc., and that I want to produce something quickly that does them justice, that I just lose it. I think I'm over this stuff with drawing now, so hopefully with practice I'll be able to relax enough with a brush in my hand to achieve the same loose painting from life.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thought for the day...

It's never too late to be what you might have been.
George Elliot

Charcoal Drawings 8

This is white charcoal on black paper - a really interesting exercise we did in class recently. You have to kind of put your brain in reverse - pulling out the highlights instead of the shadows. What I'm enjoying about these studies is that it's really challenging me to rethink what I 'know' about drawing, and I'm learning so much through the process of experimentation, doubt, failure and success (not necessarily in that order).

Something I was thinking about today was how hard, even in an academic environment, it is to not to contrive a narrative of some kind into my drawings. I do have something of an active imagination, it must be said - I have very vivid dreams and nightmares, and my brain rarely stops for breath, so to speak. Maybe that's a female thing, maybe an artist thing, or both. I've talked before about my habit of anthropomorphosising inanimate objects I paint in still lives - same thing.

Anyway, I thought this model had a kind of medieval quality about him, with the beard and earrings, which lent him a kind of dignified authority - like a king or a warrior from ye olden days. I liked that idea, it gave the drawing an energy I think. We were drawing a female model who fell asleep today, and the character was completely different. I think it's important to tap into what's going on around you to channel into your art - as long as it's stuff you can handle. Sometimes I think that kind of sensitivity can make you vulnerable if you're not aware how much you're taking in.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Painting Study

I so enjoyed painting this! It's a study for a large oil on canvas - part of a new collection I'm dreaming/obsessing about right now. I want to integrate elements of design and drawing with painting. I'm also into the idea of big hair and kooky hats for these...such fun! My classmate Kristin Boles posed for this, such a pretty girl - and willing to let me mess up her hair in a cross between Amy Winehouse and a 60's Prom Queen..much back-combing and hairspray to create this huge style - Thankyou Kristin!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Charcoal Figures 7

As yet untitled
Charcoal heightened with white conte

As yet untitled (Detail)

Available for purchase, please contact me for a price

Just in case you guys thought I'd forgotten about my commitment to do thirty drawings before I picked up a brush again - I haven't, I've just been too busy and preoccupied to post them!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Colour Theory Excercise

I'm learning so much by doing research and preparation for the class I'm going to teach - so many gaps are appearing in my knowledge, it's a little unnerving. I am able to take a step back from my ego and say to myself that this is all part of the process of growing as an artist, but I can't help feeling that the shaky foundations upon which I've built my craft all need to be ripped out and replaced. This is OK though, a bit of updating is long overdue, and I think I'll come out the other end with more confidence.

The process really started back in April, when I did the workshop with Carol Marine in Santa Fe. She took us through some colour theory and a practical application of its principals. I realised with a little shame then that I have very little real knowledge of colour. I work intuitively, and this gets me by - I kind of 'knew' how to mix colours, in a really basic way which I couldn't explain. Carol's demonstration was a real eye opener, and the resulting works I did with my new visual vocabulary were by far the best paintings I'd ever done. There were still problems with my technique though - I was still flying by the set of my pants really, and today I found out why.

I painted a colour wheel for the first time today.

I've got a degree in art, and have spent the past 15 years making a career from painting, and I can't believe I somehow missed out on this really crucial lesson. I know a lot of artists I can engage in mutual bitching sessions about the quality of art education - both in Britain and America, and yet nothing really makes up for the idiotic ethos many art schools uphold regarding basic skills. So much emphasis is placed on being the most shocking 'artist' that people like myself who actually want to learn the traditional skills our forebears spent their lifetimes perfecting, don't get the opportunity until they leave school - and find a workshop taught by someone who cares enough about art to pick up the 'creative baton' and run with it some more.

And whilst I'm ranting, I would like to point out that the lack on instruction we had as regards health and safety practice in the studio, was not just ignorant, but dangerous. I'll be the first to admit that my cavalier attitude to safety is probably hard-wired into my personality (I'm also a rock climber) but when we were introduced to oil painting on the good old foundation course at Parc Menai - we were never warned about the perils of inhaling turps, or the cadmium and lead in our paints. We didn't have good ventilation, and weren't told that eating your lunch or smoking with oily hands was perhaps not a good idea. I realise that common sense should have prevailed, but excitable 17 year olds rarely think about their own mortality in that way.

My Environmental Scientist husband is probably going to read this with some relief, and wry smile, as he has been horrified at my appalling ignorance of safety in the studio. He built me a great ventilation box which attaches to my easel (thankyou Carol, again), and gently reminds me about safety when I'm caught up in the moment. I'm very stubborn though, and it takes some tact and patience on his part. I'm coming round to the concept of altering my practice to accomodate good healthy habits step by step. So much is ingrained in my artist behaviour that it's really hard to maintain my motivation when things aren't organised like they were. I've just moved into a new studio too, and I feel like a cat padding round and round until I'm ready and comfortable to work again.

I'm not going to start painting in gloves though - old habits die hard and I can't bear the lack of contact with the wood of my brush. I also refuse to wear a helmet when I'm climbing. I know that seems stupid to some people, but I've actually given up the type of climbing where it's most likely I'll sustain a head injury.

I've always been a very tactile artist, enjoying the mess and chaos of the creative whirlwind. The trick now might seem to be to find a balance between intuitive chaos, and considered, skillful markmaking.

The colour wheel was fun, in a slighty nerdy way. I'm not very adept at left-brain activities, but I find the challenge stimulating if it's on my own terms. The turquiose I was finding it impossible to mix in Santa Fe just came right out, and now I know how to mix it and many, many other really beautiful colours, I can feel the creative block I've been fighting with for the past few months lifting....right , I'm off to paint - yipee!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Charcoal figures 6

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted on here! We've been moving house, and had no internet for ages - but all's almost back to normal now. I have a lovely new studio looking over the Carson Valley. It floods with glorious sunrise light in the morning - my favorite time to work.

I've also been attending a figure drawing class with Phyllis Shafer - a real treat for me. It's a much more academic class than I've ever attended, and I feel like I'm getting something of the classical education I always dreamed of. It's really helping me to loosen my drawing style, and I feel like I'm learning to look and make marks from scratch. I think I've said before that I regard my art career as a lifelong apprenticeship, and taking this class is a humbling reminder of the skills I have which need refinement.

I'm going to be teaching a class at Lake Tahoe Community College in January, entitled 'Discovering and Developing Creative Imagination II'. The course is an exploration of the creative process, including sources of inspiration and developing an idea. It is an introduction to art through two and three dimensional experiments in drawing, design, ceramics and sculpture. I'm really excited about teaching again - it's been a while! If anybody is interested in taking the course, you can visit the college website: the course code is ART 105.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Charcoal Figures 5

Charcoal drawing

Click on image to enlarge

I think this drawing really captured what I intended - so I'm happy about that. It's funny, looking at yesterdays's drawing (Tension) compared with today's, I can really see how stressed out I was, and how it channeled into the image. I meditated and did Yoga this morning before I started drawing, and I'm glad I did because some of that peacefulness came through.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Charcoal Figures 4

Charcoal on Paper

Click image to enlarge

Normally I nag Taylor about his shoulders - draw them back, stretch! He thinks Yoga is hilarious, and despite the fact that he can't touch his toes he can pull off a full Lotus with no effort or training - frustrating for the likes of me who has to work really hard towards stuff like that. Taylor's got classic climber's shoulders: big for his frame, prone to round forward, and susceptible to injury and aches.

In this case, however, the question mark physique is perfect. The tension through the arms and fists is emphasised even more by the angle of his torso. My next piece will be the 'release' of this pose - I'm looking forward to the challenge.

I'm sold on the paper by the way - I first tried this drawing on the cheaper paper and the way the charcoal skidded around the surface was really frustrating after the nice tooth I was using yesterday. I 'chalked' it up to experience, and started again.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Charcoal Figures 3

Charcoal on Paper

(Click on the image to enlarge)

I've been experimenting with different papers, since the charcoal behaves differently on different surfaces. I'm going to have to get my head around the cost of the nice paper, as I did with the museum quality painting panels - I start tightening up when I know the surface is expensive. When I was at art school, we were encouraged to be experimental with our materials - and that meant dumpster diving, using found materials and recycling older works. The freedom of expression, and willingness to let go (and maybe get in wrong) is so much easier working on an old fag packet, or a napkin in a bar than on a sheet of $6 paper - which I know isn't that expensive in the scheme of things, but if 10 drawings end up in the bin....that makes me take a bit more care.

I guess it's a similar principal to what I was writing about in my last post - if you're thinking about failing/falling, then you probably will. Hmm.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Charcoal Figures 2

Equilibrium (ii): Breathing is Balance
Charcoal on Paper

The title comes from two sources: an older piece I did in 2004 named Equilibrium (below), which depicted a woman half falling half flying through a crazy mass of marks and brush strokes. It was created during an unsettled time of my life when I was striving to find balance amidst chaos and transition. The best I could do at that time was steer into the skid, so to speak.

In this piece, by contrast I'm trying to evoke a sense of tentative balance by means of focus and discipline. The latter half of the title comes from a piece of advice my sage husband gave me when we were slacklining on the beach recently. Slacklining is something climbers often do on rest days. You stretch a length of 1" webbing between two trees, and attempt to walk/jump/turn/whatever on it. It's a bit like tightrope walking, with a lot more play in the line.

I've found that I can walk on the slackline much better this year, I think in part due to the yoga I did all winter. The discipline of breathing exercises really helps me to clear my mind - and if you're thinking about breathing, you're not thinking about falling. This has helped my climbing too, as you can imagine. So when Taylor said to me, "Breathing is balance..." it made so much sense to me, and the alliteration makes it easy for me to remember...or was it "balance is breathing"...? oh well, I think they're interchangeable anyway!

Equilibrium (2004)
Mixed Media on Paper

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Charcoal Figures

Untitled Nude (i)
Charcoal on Paper

I've set myself a task - to produce thirty life drawings before I pick up a brush again. I've neglected drawing in favour of painting for a long time now, and doing the Black & White show at the Truckee River Gallery reminded me how important it is to draw.

I love drawing figures, so this should be a really fun task. I tend to look for drama in a drawing, so I set up the lights to almost obscure the model's face and any detail on the upper body. I'm drawn to the idea of transcendance in this image, the blurring of boundries and identity - of finding something more universal, or archetypal.

When I was at art school, we discussed the difference between being naked and being nude. In my understanding, being naked implies a vulnerability - being stripped of clothing, exposed. Whereas a nude person wears their body like an expensive dress - confident, in control.

Burning Man 2

Ah broken promises...well better late than never! Here's some more photos from Burning Man...

I'm sure there's hundreds, nay thousands of pics of people standing in this sculpture..

These gigantic sculptures were made entirely of cables - pretty amazing eh?

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Oil on Canvas Panel

Wow, I haven't painted in a couple of weeks and I feel rusty. It's amazing how much the daily painting improved my technique, and confidence. Also, I'm not so keen on these canvas panels any more, I'm spoiled by the lovely Ampersand panels Carol Marine introduced me to.

These tomatoes were given to me by Naomi Nickerson, manager of the Truckee River Gallery in Reno. She grew them herself, and I think the shapes and colours are great! Thankyou Naomi!

I'd also like to accept and pass on The Arte y Pico Award - and publicly thank Carol Marine for the honour. I was utterly chuffed to bits to receive this little stamp of approval from someone I regard so highly. Here's what it is:

The Origin of The Arte y Pico Award and Rules if you choose to accept. You might be interested in the origin of the "Arte y Pico Award" The designer of the award puts it like this..."The Arte y Pico Award has arisen from the daily visits that I make to many blogs which nourish and enrich me with creativity. In them, I see dedication, creativity, care, comradeship, but mainly, ART, much art. I want to share this prize with all those bloggers that entertain and enrich me day to day. Doubtlessly, there are many and it will be hard to pick just a few."

The Rules:
1. You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award through creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community, no matter of language.
2. Each award should have the name of the author with a link to their blog.
3. Award winners have to post the award with the name and link to the blog of the person who gave them the award.
4. Show these rules and the paragraph (above) explaining the awards origination.

So here's my picks:

1. Bonita Paulis A hugely under exposed artist whose work I love, and deserves to be famous for her beautiful and vibrant pastel work.
2. Penny Shrawder A very talented and wonderful person, whose spiritual approach to art and life makes me smile all over.
3. Underground Artists Three Tahoe artists who make diverse and beautiful art.
4. Matt Moffett A really cool artist I met at Carol Marine's workshop in Santa Fe - get your blog online Matt!
5. Nathalie S. Davis Another cool artist I met in Santa Fe!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Black & White Show at the Truckee River Gallery

The Dream
Charcoal on Paper

I will be exhibiting two large charcoal drawings in this themed show - The Dream, and A New Perspective.

A New Perspective
Charcoal on Paper
35 x 17"

Artists Reception
Today - Saturday, August 30th from 4-7 PM
Admission free

I love working in charcoal - it's my first love, artistically speaking. In fact, the majority of my work in art school was either just charcoal, or a mix of paint and the black stuff. I spent three years wondering around Bristol with coal miner's hands, a smudgy face and black ears (from taking my earphones on and off whilst I was working - The Carmina Burana was a favourite at that time)

It's interesting to revisit some of that early work, I think you can see some of the roots of my climbing art in there, as well as the more recent self portraits. Although my older work was driven in large part by the philosophical and theological texts I bent my head around at that time, there were a great deal of personal issues I worked through with my art. All of the drawings were huge, around 15 feet mostly. Here's a couple of examples:

InTimate Illusions (1997)
Charcoal on Paper
15 x 7 feet

Soft Liquid Joy (1997)
Charcoal on Paper
15 x 7 feet

The Truckee River Gallery is located at 11 North Sierra Street, #100 next to the Century Riverside. Summer hours include an expanded schedule, and the gallery is now open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Parking is available on the street (metered until 6 p.m.). The gallery also validates parking for up to one hour in the Galleria Parking Garage located at First and Sierra Streets.

P.S. More on Burning Man as promised tomorrow....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Burning Man Experience

Joe being filmed wiring the electric sheep

I just got back from the Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert. Yes, I'm home early...I went out last week to help a group of Welshmen build a sculpture which was commissioned by Welsh TV company S4C. My friend Joe Roberts is one of the two artists making this sculpture, and he invited me along to help out. It was fun, and great be involved with a totally different kind of art project, but the conditions were just too much for me in the end. A day long dust storm with winds of 50mph, along with the arid desert heat just finished me off.

Joe in the Dust

I did stay long enough to see the city - Black Rock City, the third largest in Nevada, temporarily - take shape, and see some of the most amazing and innovative mobile artworks I've ever seen.

The art project we were involved with is called 'Man Gwyn Man Draw', which is a Welsh proverb meaning the equivalent of 'the grass is greener on the other side'. The sculpture / installation, satisfying the most obvious of Welsh stereotypes (!) is a herd of sheep headed
towards a giant wheatsheaf with mock flames coming out of the top.

The faux flames

The sheep are constructed as kind of 'cybersheep', out of steel, fleece and plastic. They have lights inside them, and motion activated voice recorders. I'll post more pictures of the finished thing in the next few days.

Sheep heads

The TV show will air in November, and hopefully I will be able to post a subtitled version on this blog (it's a Welsh language production)

Here's a bit I wrote in my journal whilst I was there:

Burning Man 2008-08-24

The wheatsheaf structure

Today is day 4, and there is a dust storm. It’s been crazy so far, what with building the sculpture and the challenges of heat, time and limited materials and resources. The guys did an impressive amount of preparation for this project – having componants such as LED’s and voice recorders designed and manufactured in advance, as well as welded steel structures and fleece sheep coats. There is still a huge amount to be done on site though – 17 sheep need to be made from steel strips: drilled, riveted, bent into shape. It’s a lengthy and repetitive process, requiring cooperation, patience and hard work - far removed from my creative process.

It looks to me like they’re going to get this thing finished in time, but they’re not so confident. The heat of the day is oppressive, too oppressive for hard manual labour, so jobs need to be done in the shade. The actual site of the installation is about a 10 minute bike ride from camp, in the middle of nowhere at the moment.

The city is growing day by day, and other weird and wonderful installations are popping up around us. A giant Hummer is being constructed nearby, and the industrial lighting they use to work at night is almost enough for us to work by. There’s also a temple being made out of wood, which I haven’t been close up to yet. It looks phenomenally complicated. It’s a real eye opener how much work these people put into their camps and artworks, for no profit apart from the pleasure of making. It makes me feel slightly ashamed of my increasingly career driven artwork. Many of these pieces will be burned at the end of the week, like the temple – and this again reminds me of how attached I am to my work, and how driven I am by my desire to sell my work to buy the things we want to furnish our life with – a house, kids, a garden…It’s hard in the ‘real world’ to separate the necessity of the fiscal with your creative drive, unless it’s something you do on the side, as well as your ‘money work’. I guess this kind of event presents people with the opportunity to be childlike in that sense, making for the sake of making, with no other reward than the reactions of other people to your artistry.

The people I’ve met so far are quite odd, as you would expect in a place like this. My social ‘antennae’ feel malfunctional, and I’m not sure what people are saying to me. I think we’re the ‘square kids’ here: we’re not naked or outrageously attired, and that singles us out as outsiders. I think we might be regarded with suspicion. It’s like the reverse of what normally happens in society – the strange and unusual folk are alienated from ‘normal’ people, and are regarded at best as quirky individuals other people secretly want to be a bit more like, and at worst, as freaks of nature people are frightened and resentful of because they’re so far from the norm, and it’s imagined they might be depraved and insane, and capable of anything. Actually I’m starting to think that might be the case, there’s certainly a lot more deviant sexual character to this festival than I imagined. A quick look at the program of events is a shocking experience already.

A frankly overdressed burner (but I love pink!)
More tomorrow.......

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Two Commissions

Reflections on Pyramid Lake
Oil on Canvas

I had two commissions to do recently, and ended up painting them at the same time. I set up two easels, and shared the same palette - a big glass one on a table top. I just found it easier to to work on both together, as they both needed time for layers to dry so it worked out well.

This first one is for Russell Lindsey, who contacted me after seeing Pyramid Lake painitngs on my blog. He's putting together a touring exhibition of paintings inspired by Pyramid Lake, Nevada. For this he is collecting works by contemporary artists, and antique works he is finding through galleries and the internet. It's a really intriguing project, and I'm flattered to be asked to contribute to something which will serve as a historical documentation of a landscape so precious to certain people.

Russell wrote to me about his thoughts on the title of the exhibition:
"Pyramid Lake Reflections," since it has several levels of meaning: an image given back, like a mirror; a thought or idea formed as a result of meditation; deep consideration of some subject matter. "

Pyramid Lake is part of the Native American Paiute Tribes' Reservation land, and is a located in the stark desert mountains of Nevada. The name of the lake comes from the impressive pyramid shaped tufa formations which protrude out of the water.

I'm pleased with the painting, it evokes a sense of calm I rarely accomplish in my work - despite the fact that I deliberately chose a day when a thunder storm was brewing.

Martin & Vargas
La Vinya - CD Cover

Martin & Vargas are a band I saw in Tahoe recently - they were playing on the sandy shore as the sun went down. They are actually a threesome, two guitars and a cello, playing "a mediterranean blend of Spanish and Flamenco guitar". I couldn't help wanting to sketch them, so I just did a few quick ink drawings whilst they were playing. They came over in their break, and asked me if I'd consider doing a painting for their CD cover.

They had obviously been thinking about it for a long time, and knew exactly what they wanted. I was a bit nervous at first, to be honest - trying to paint what someone else has in their 'minds eye' is notoriously loaded with interpretive land mines. I sketched out a composition based of their ideas, tweaked it a bit, and hoped for the best.....

Fortunately they love it! Yey!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Looking Up (working title)

Looking Up
Oil on Canvas

This is the painting I mentioned recently that I was working on. I know it seems quite different to the recent fruit paintings I've been doing, but there doesn't seem enough room to really let go with the paint like this. My Kokanee paintings have more of this character - some detailed, realistic sections, surrounded by wilder, more chaotic markmaking. It makes me think of the eye of the storm, a little pocket of stillness amongst the drama. I used to have a recurring dream when I was a kid, which this reminds me of.

Looking up is a working title, as I'm still not sure what it's saying. We're 'living' with it for now (ie it's visible from almost anywhere in the house) whilst I make some decisions about it - I'm sure it's finished now, but it's quite loaded emotionally so will take some time to name. It's in the lounge, and it's much huger than I thought it was when it was in the studio.

I used a combination of brush, palette knife and foam pad to paint this piece. I wanted to create texture and light, in a slightly surreal, dreamlike way. I wanted to create something which expressed both ease and awkwardness, confidence and insecurity in the same complicated individual. It's physically a self portrait, but the ideas and intentions are more universal.

Paintings can often reveal something quite intangible about the artist, something not easily communicated in words. That's a big part of the appeal of painting for me, and the challenge of writing this blog about the processes involved in realising something so linguistically slippery, is an education every day.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Oil on Panel

So here was a fruit I hadn't seen before...a pluot - here's what Wikipedia says about them:

A pluot (pl├╝-ot) is a tradename for a fruit developed in the late 20th century by Floyd Zaiger.[1] In the United States, the fruit is known by most regulatory agencies as an interspecific plum.[2] It is a complex cross hybrid of plum and apricot, being ¾ plum and ¼ apricot in percentage. The pluot, like the aprium, is derived from the half-plum–half-apricot hybrid called the plumcot.

The fruit's exterior with smooth skin closely resembles a plum's. Pluots are noted for their sweetness (due to a very high sugar content), their intense flavor, and juicy pulp. Pluots are also rich in vitamin A.

I was looking for more dark red fruit to paint, and came across these in the supermarket. They're a bit more 'engineered' than I like, a bit too perfect, but they are a cool heart shape and I like the colour.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Finding beauty in chaos

Finding beauty in chaos
Oil on Panel

"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star."

Friedrich Nietzsche

This is my piece for the Tahoe Lost and Found project, which my friends Melissa Gregory and Becky Bell (TAMC) are organising to raise money for Angora Fire victims. Everyone around Tahoe can tell you where they were when they first saw the fire, mesmerised and horrified as we all were at the time.

Taylor and I had been fishing at Hobart Lake on the Carson side of the mountain, so the first we saw of the smoke was the pretty sunset as we descended towards Carson City. I had been taking photos of the burnt trees in that valley - the trees made for very dramatic, black vertical repetitions, with diagonal shadows cast down the steep hillside. The imagery appealed to my more abstract leanings, and I took lots of cropped photographs before we descended a little further and saw the smokey skies for the first time. I wasn't sure at first what we were seeing - a hazy sky brought on by the blistering heat? But it quickly dawned on us that the haze was indeed yellowish smoke, and the hot pink sky behind it was disappearing.

We got home to Tahoe after dark, and from our deck high above the basin we could see the Angora fire raging. The mountain was on fire, and the glow illuminated the night sky. We could see individual trees bursting into flames through binoculars, spiraling upwards with ferocious speed. It was like the horror film you can't stop watching.

I did the abstract paintings the next day, but they are so black I don't know if I'll ever show them. I used to do a lot of very dark work, back in my student days. I try not to engage that side of myself these days, inspiring as it can be to plough the less colourful aspects of my imagination.

I think this painting has enough hope in it to show the world. As far as the theme of the project goes, 'Tahoe: Lost & Found', I think it fits somewhere in the 'found' category - finding beauty in chaos.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The ole' apples and pears

Apples & Pears
Oil on Panel

"The painter who draws merely by practice and by eye, without any reason, is like a mirror which copies everything placed in front of it without being conscious of their existance."

Leonardo Da Vinci

It's funny how even when you might imagine you're secure enough in your career choice that a small knock or two can wreck your motivation to paint. I've had to really talk myself back into the studio again after a series of confidence shaking events, and yesterday I finally began a new big painting. It's a self portrait, a reluctant one, because I had the concept a while back but wanted someone else to be in it. It didn't work out that way so I had to take a picture and work with that. Hey ho. I've also just had a small surgery on my chest, so can't really stretch or lift for fear of ripping my stitches so that's hampered me a bit too.

Today I felt like I needed a 'warm up' so I got into the fruit bowl again, and came up with a little pun which led to a painting I'm quite proud of. I needed a side story - even a joke would do - to motivate the still life, in advance. Most often, the title or anthropomorphism comes during or after the painting, but this time I needed an 'in'. There's always some dialogue between the objects or people I paint, which is open to interpretation by the viewer. Today, the simple pun using cockney rhyming slang was enough stimulus to initiate the painting, and the dialogue evolved by itself. For my American readers, 'Apples and Pears' is rhyming slang for 'stairs' i.e "I'm off up the ole' apples and pears, I'm knackered."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


This was actually done at Valhalla during my residency - I've been too busy to post much work lately. I was showing my work at the Art, Music & Wine Festival at Squaw Valley last weekend, and it always takes longer than I think to prepare for it.

I swore off outdoor shows last year, and somehow managed to convince myself that it would be ok to do just this one....well, will be my last unless I take the plunge and invest in a proper heavy panel set up. Taylor and I made concrete weights for my tent, and I thought I had it wired so that the wind wouldn't destroy everything, but that was just wishful thinking on my part. A huge gust hit with a woman inside my booth, screaming "I didn't do it, I swear!" as glazed paintings smashed to the floor from both sides. We ran in, trying like cheap entertainers spinning plates, to catch all of my precious artwork as it flung from the walls like a scene from The Exorcist. It was rather stressful to say the least, and my husband is a saint.

It rained on day two, the tent leaked, and the resolution was complete - never again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Marji Gallery, Santa Fe

Here's my work at the Marji Gallery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe!! Very exciting to be hanging my work in such a cool place. You can see two of my Kokanee paintings in the photo - the two blue ones.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Two Apples

Two Apples
Oil on Panel

This is the first painting I did at Valhalla, using this gorgeously vibrant combination of turqoiuse and red.

I'm still enjoying the studio, but have had no visitors for two days and it's getting a little frustrating. The forest service owns the property Valhalla is on, and they decided for no reason that I can find out to padlock the gate so people can't drive in. I signed a contract already to be there so I'm kind of stuck now. They had a wedding on at the Great Hall on tuesday which might have been fun but it started as I was leaving. There was a memorial on yesterday, and since I paint by the open window, it was is if I was in there. It's hard to stay motivated painting in the middle of a funeral.

I painted a piece for Tahoe Lost and Found yesterday. This is a project my friend Melissa Gregory and Becky Bell are organising to raise funds to replace library books burned in the Angora Fire last year. They have asked local artists and other creative souls to contribute a piece which sums up for them, the experience of the massive fire which destroyed almost 200 homes in the Angora area of Lake Tahoe. The piece will be auctioned at Valhalla later on in the year. I'll post my effort tomorrow, and explain a bit about it then.

If you would like to submit work for the art auction, visit for more details.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Residency at Valhalla

I'm the 'artist in residence' at Valhalla Historic Monument this week. I've got a beautiful little studio looking out over the lawn and the Great Hall, with french windows. There's a huge stone fireplace behind me, and it reminds me of being in Wales. It's amusing to me that American tourists come in to the studio just to look at the dry stonework - beautiful and rustic though it is - they're pretty common where I come from, in fact most of the houses I've lived in are about the same age as this! I really get a perspective on how 'new' America is at times like this.

A little bird came and sat on the tree you can see poking through the window yesterday - I feel so close to nature in there. I'll post the painting I did yesterday later, the bright apple one you can see in progress in this photo. I don't want to leave this studio already, they'll have to evict me by force if I stay too long!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

All at Sea

All at Sea
Oil on Panel

I did do a painting yesterday, but I wasn't too happy with it so I didn't post it. I ordered new paints and used them for the first time - not too successful really. It could have been that my heart wasn't in it too, because today they worked great. Sometimes if I don't paint first thing in the day, I just can't change gears well enough to start later on.

I went to a farmer's market in the morning over in Gardnerville, to look for 'props'. It's a great excuse to buy beautiful fruit, some of which I have no idea what they are. I managed to only eat a cherry yesterday, but today I weakened quite spectacularly. I was busy arranging the still life for today, moving the peaches here and there, standing back, move the cantaloupe, change it's angle....I picked up the plum and before I thought about it I had juice dripping down my chin. It was divine. Organic fruit that hasn't been tinkered with or prettied up is just so much more delicious than crappy supermarket fruit. I will eat all the fruit I've bought, I just want to paint it first!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ray of Light

Ray of Light
Oil on Panel

I'm really enjoying the translucence and opaque qualities of these fruit still lives. It's a great challenge to capture light coming through something, but funnily enough, the cantaloupe slice was the easiest part of this one to paint - a few strokes and it was done! I really had to stand back and make myself not touch it again, partly refusing to believe it had worked so quickly. The apple was another matter though, steadfastly refusing to take shape, and threatening mud at every stroke.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Oil on Panel

I sat looking at this one last night wondering what to call it, and it occurred to me that the cantaloupe slices looked like boats navigating their way around rocks in still waters. Yes, I had drank a glass of wine, but I stand by the comparison today.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Radishes (i)

Dance of Life
Oil on Canvas

Just got back from a weekend in Yosemite! I'm very inspired but didn't even pick up a pencil while I was there, I just didn't know where to start. I just wanted to take it all in without having to decide which tiny frame to focus on this time. I took photos though, and plan to return for a painting trip maybe in the Fall when it's a bit cooler.

It was a little disconcerting going back into the studio after the huge landscapes I've been painting in my mind for the past few days. Every amazing thing I saw, I tried to imagine what kind of composition I could use to capture it, and what brushstrokes I'd use. I started out by finishing off my Kokanee painting, which was finally dry enough to work on. I used traditional brushes for the majority of it, and then went in with the wide foam wedges right at the end. I love the marks you can make with those things, and it's a real physical sort of process - straight arm, big sweeping gestures. All the rhythms are already there in the underpainting, so it's a case of feeling where more definate directional marks should go, to create an excitingly musical composition. I call it 'The Dance of Life' - after all the fish are spawning!

Radishes (i)
Oil on Panel

I've been wanting to paint these guys for ages - one of the other artists, Pam, on the painting course in Santa Fe did a fabulous one of radishes, and they've been on my mind ever since.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Oil on Panel

I'm really happy with this painting! it was kind of complicated and simple at the same time, like a jigsaw. I really enjoyed making the space between the cherries, it was like a journey. I'm really keen on the black cherries and red apple, the darker reds just suck in the light and create amazing shapes which are almost silhouettes. The title refers to the feeling of deja vu I keep experiencing with these cherry paintings, I think my mum had a an LP with a picture of some cherries on it when I was a kid. My paintings are often littered with memories and people I've known.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cherry Heaven

Cherry Heaven
Oil on Panel

I was really into the idea of warm and cool colours for this painting - and I'm kind of pleased with it, but I feel like it's a bit confusing to the eye. I was at the farmer's market a couple of days ago when I found these cherries - 'Bing Cherries' they're called. The two different colours looked great in the bowl, and on both the blue and the pink coloured tissue so I thought I'd experiment. The great thing about these little paintings is that I do feel like I can experiment, it's not so committing as a big expensive canvas with thick paint on it. The big kokanee I'm working on, however, does feel a little pressurised. I'm happy with it so far but I keep finding other things I have to do so I'm procrastinating a tiny bit...part of that is genuinely having to let the layers dry so the colours don't get muddy - I want it to be really saturated and fresh looking.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Iris (ii)

Iris (ii)
Oil on Panel

I started on a big Kokanee painting today. I think it's going to be weirder than I though going from 6 inches to 6 feet. It's fun though, and I think the precision of the smaller works will help refine my looser big works - and the big work will loosen my small works. That's what I'm hoping anyway. I painted some little cherries after I'd laid down the colours and shapes on the big canvas. I definately felt less 'linear' after warming up with a 4" brush. I'll post the cherries tomorrow and maybe some of the process of the kokanee if I'm feeing brave.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Iris (i)

Iris (i)
Oil on Gesso Panel

I saw so many Irises in Santa Fe that I had to have a go at painting them - so beautiful!