Thursday, November 24, 2022

Residency in Truro, MA

 My residency at Truro Center for the Arts in October resulted in some new directions, and new thoughts about my work and processes. That is exactly what I'd hoped to get out of it. 

I developed a practice of making studies, or études, as a kind of warm-up exercise. Read about that in the previous post. Drawing from life and from photographs also crept into my practice, like something basic and essential. I have considered how introducing a recognizable subject into my otherwise abstract paintings might give me a broader capacity for expression. I don't know, but it is something to explore. So far, these house-shape elements, or 'fishing stages', or barns, are in a few pieces.

 I also explored scribbles, for their own sake to see if I had something to say in this vocabulary. Here are a few examples. Perhaps I'll write more on that at some point.

Line of Fire #3, 18"x24", acrylic and drawing on paper

Under the Wire #1, 18"x24", acrylic and drawing on paper


Here is the Real Takeaway

Though I've been examining this idea periodically for a couple of years, it was my time in Truro that allowed a new level of understanding (though it is still a work in progress): I let imagined expectations of other people get in my way. Imaginary or hypothetical people, not real ones. Here are a few of the voices:

Is this new idea consistent with work that people have already seen? 

Does it make some visual sense to them in terms of my previous work (or work that has sold or been shown)? 

Will it look good? Will it stand out? Will it grab the viewer? Does it look like art?

No matter how much I embrace the idea/knowledge that I make my best work when following my own inner urges and curiosities, it is VERY difficult to let go of the urge to please or impress others. I want my work to find 'success' and approval in the world outside the studio. Is that so bad? My guess is that it is perfectly normal and serves a real function. The problem comes when those 'outer' voices - the imagined expectations of others - start telling me how and what to paint.

I am trying to identify the questions and assumptions that may be getting in my way. They are the voices I let in without knowing it. My task now is to identify these culprits so that I can recognize them and put them in their place.

I'd love to know if you experience this struggle between inner curiosity and outer voices, or imagined expectations of others. Please comment.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Studies, Warm-ups, Practice

Many artists have warm-up practices, or do a bunch of studies before plunging into 'real' work. This sounds like an obvious good way to start your painting session, so why haven't I been doing it on a regular basis? I dip into it once in awhile but have not managed to sustain it on any regular basis. Here is a post about quickies. It is almost THREE YEARS old! It is not the last time I engaged with small studies, but still. Here is a video on collage with scraps from almost two years ago.

One of the many things I learned - or re-learned - in my residency at Truro Center for the Arts is the value of this practice. Whether you call them warm-up pieces or studies, the essential aspect is that they are NOT art. They are your playground, a way to warm-up the hand, the eye, the creative muscle that makes visual decisions quickly. You don't have to show any of them to anybody. I don't keep a regular sketchbook as such because I like to work in wet media - paint or collage - and in multiples. I'd have to let one piece dry before turning the page. But these warm-up studies (I'll call them studies, or études) are like a sketchbook.

Do you have a regular practice of working in a sketchbook or doing quick studies? I'd like to hear about it. Please comment below. What is the value of this practice you to? What format to you use?

Here are 'études' from the last couple of weeks here. They are on various papers in various media, and the sizes are around 6x8" or 5x7", varying a bit.

Friday, October 14, 2022


 I was having a minor meltdown the other day, and looked through some notes I had written to myself recently. I vaguely remembered making notes on What To Do in a meltdown. I found this note:

Something about making marks with crayons to see what emerges. Making marks all day on a stack or a roll of cheap drawing paper. Mining whatever is in there, the subconscious, the hand and eye, or the hand without the eye. 

So I got out my crayons (Caran d'Ache NeoColor II) and started scribbling furiously over marks I had made with paint. Layering the crayon marks and less frantic lines in paint drew me back into the process. 

18"x24", acrylic and crayon on paper

18"x24", acrylic, graphite, and crayon on paper

18"x24", acrylic, graphite, and crayon on paper

18"x24", acrylic, graphite, and crayon on paper

 Of course, the Caran d'Ache crayons are water soluble, so they can smear when you paint over them. My trick is to apply a GENTLE coat of matte medium or matte acrylic gel to the crayon marks, CONTROL the smear, and let it dry completely before painting over. For graphite scribbling I like Lyra non-water-soluble graphite crayons. I also use ordinary pencils. You could add colored pencils and paint markers to this scribbling tool box. Avoid Sharpie Permanent Markers (they will bleed through subsequent layers of paint), and oil pastels (unless they are the last layer - they will not adhere to subsequent layers of acrylic paint). DO explore chalk pastels, charcoal (use fixative, outdoors, between layers), and various kinds of brushes with your acrylic paint. Golden High Flow acrylics and be fun to scribble with too, especially opaque ones. You can mix Titanium White High Flow into other colors to make them more opaque and lighten the value. Let each layer dry before adding more marks when using wet media. Work on several at one time.

Here are a few examples of last week's scribbles:

Black High Flow Paint applied with a brush. Spray paint on the left (black)

Black spray paint, turquoise crayon

Paint scribbles applied with brush and palette knife

This feels like Scribbles Part 2. You can see some of my 2021 scribbles on this page, along with some stripes and florals. One of the many themes or explorations I seem to circle back to is this layering of marks. Great way to loosen up, and lots there to discover.


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

More NOT Making Art

A few images from my studio. I am exploring new ways of putting things together, trying materials that are new to me, and explicitly not making 'finished work'.  Tomorrow I will be delivering a truck-load of work to the Kent Museum for Art at the Kent in Calais, Vermont. It's a good time to clear the decks and start something new.

The following four images are papers and canvas tacked to the wall:

This is an un-stretched canvas tacked to the wall.

This is another un-stretched canvas tacked to the wall.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Time for NOT Making Art

How much studio time do you give to experimenting, exploring, not trying to make art? In last Friday's zoom workshop, 5 Ways to Get Un-Stuck (you can still buy the recording here), I got a lot of questions that implied a need to make finished work out of everything we do in the studio. While I am demonstrating "mashing sh!t together" or practicing 5-minute paintings, some of the questions are some version of: What Happens Next? How Do You Finish It? How Do You Make This Into Finished Work?

The implied belief is that we are wasting our time/materials/resources if we are not working towards a product, a finished piece. This belief, so ingrained in our daily lives, is probably one of the most challenging habits of mind to break. And yet I know that if I am trying to make good art, I make mediocre contrived, superficial art. When I get absorbed in a visual inquiry, absorbed in process, allow myself to go "off-topic" or make a mess or try combining ideas to see what happens... this is when the good stuff shows up. 

The practices I demonstrated in 5 Ways to Get Un-Stuck do not result in finished works. That is the point. They are designed to remove the pressure or goal of The Finished Piece so that you can practice being in the mindset of inquiry and experimentation. Practicing the mindset is, to me, a worthy goal. It is worthy of our time and materials. You can always paint over, re-use the paper-canvas-board whatever your substrate is. And if the cost of paint holds you back, use cheaper paint for the experimental practices.

Here are a few of my mash-ups from last winter; they are 11"x14" on Bristol

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

New Pinterest Board

 I've just created a new Pinterest board on the use of neutrals and bright colors together. Take a look here. I love pushing the ratios of neutrals to brights. How little bright can you get away with and still have it sing? How much bright can you get away with, and not have it "too busy"? 

Here are a few examples of my own work in which I'm focusing on this kind of palette:







Thursday, June 9, 2022

Jane's Art Basics - beginner's color mixing

Mixing colors is fun, meditative, and it can be very satisfying. Many color mixing instructions have you making systematic color charts, with small swatches of each color. They look great, they make you feel like you've accomplished something, and they are useful for reference. 

Shades (dark) and tints (light) of Permanent Green Light

Another way to get to know your colors is to choose one color, and mix it with white and colors that are adjacent to it on the color wheel, or "analogous colors". Also mix it with different versions of the same color. In the following video I start with turquoise out of the tube. I mix it with another turquoise (deeper, darker Pthalo Turquoise), as well as white, green, and a couple of yellows. Try this with any color.

You can try out color combinations in your sketchbook in a non-systematic way. Here is a video in which I put together colors in a kind of 'mood board'.


If you are just beginning a painting practice, I recommend getting as many paints as you can afford. Start with at least a few high quality paints, such as Golden, and supplement with more budget-friendly paints. Include, if possible, two different versions of each primary color: red, blue, yellow. Here is a little article on Color and Paint, which you can download for reference. It includes color recommendations.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Commitment to Process - Getting UN-Stuck

Commitment to process is an important key to getting unstuck. We have a habit of focusing on results, setting expectations, and making judgements accordingly. We want to know how things will turn out; we want to avoid uncertainty by planning, so that we get it ‘right’. While this habit of planning for results is essential for most activities in our lives (I don’t dispute the value of planning!), it does seem to be one of the main reasons that we get stuck as artists.  


Making some marks, the first layers, with no plan.

Of course we can plan out a painting go through the steps, and get the result we expect. Some people can. When I try to do this my result is not satisfying. I feel like I've missed it, and the painting looks - and is - superficial. At times in my early painting career I tried following instructions in a book. I knew instinctively that it would not result in something that felt authentic, but allowing the benefit of the doubt and figured I'd learn something. I didn't. Well, I did learn that I was right about it not feeling authentic. Following step-by-step instructions that focused on a particular result was not a satisfying endeavor. It lacked something essential to making real art. Does this sound familiar?


For me it takes periodic RE-commitment to process to stay connected authentically with my work. The tendency towards planning and results orientation is tenacious, and it creeps up unnoticed until I get stuck. I have a few tricks for getting back into my groove:

I am offering a short Zoom session on 5 Ways to Get UN-Stuck to share with you my favorite practices that get me back to a focus on process. See details and sign up here.


Painting 'parts' that I will use in collage.

"Letting Loose", mashing things together

Trying to put together an awkward arrangement

Making a bunch of marks with my fingers

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Meltdown

 I got this comment in my May Survey, and I feel compelled to address it:

For me, it's about playing and have fun; hanging out with my intuition. In the only workshop I've taken with you you, I clearly remember you saying fun and play are NOT what making art is about and went so far as to say we should EXPECT to have a meltdown during the course of the workshop. Unfortunately, I listened to you, had my meltdown, worked seriously, with great industry and felt the joy leak right out of me. I've wondered how you sustain your art life doing it this way; it seems painful.

In my in-person workshops I do address the issue of The Meltdown. The Meltdown is when you are frustrated with your work; you look around, and eveybody else in the workshop seems to 'get it', they are just chugging along and their work all looks great. Yours looks terrible. You start to feel that you've wasted your time and your money being here, you are out of place, who do you think you are trying to be an artist? You are ready to throw your brushes, or whatever down and  exit.

When the Meltdown shows up, eat a chocolate chip cookie.

My advice, such as it is, is to notice the meltdown, notice that your feel frustrated, and let it be. Give it a time limit. OK, I agree to feel like sh!t for an hour. After an hour, I get to pack up and leave if I want to. Fine. I don't have any advice on avoiding the meltdown. In my experience, just noticing it, giving the meltdown its space, has a way of making it dissipate.

I have also noticed that students in my workshops have fewer meltdowns when they know about it ahead of time. They might have mini meltdowns, but expecting some moments of frustration has a way of making them less important. And they have fun.

It admit that I cringe a bit when someone arrives at my workshop saying "I just want to have fun".  I hear that as "I'm not here to push myself" or "I expect this to be all fun and easy". Learning new things, being challenged IS fun with the right attitude. But most of us have moments of frustration and uncertainty in a workshop environment, and I just want people to set their expectations appropriately.

Making art IS about play and it IS fun, but that is not all it is, usually. If you are always playing and having fun, with no angst or frustration, and you are also generating images that really speak to you, that you find compelling, then that is just GREAT! Congratulations. Most of us also have moments of frustration and occasional meltdowns or at least self-doubt. Learning how to navigate these skillfully is part of the process.

One more thought: art is a LOT more fun when you have facility with your materials and techniques, and you have a fluency in composition. I don't mean you "know the rules", but that you are able to SEE the visual content of your own work. So in teaching and learning skills, I hope that affords us all more fun in making art! 

Thanks to the anonymous contributor to my May Survey. I am sure there are others who have the same questions.



Thursday, May 12, 2022

Workshop Preferences - April Survey Results

 Abstract Composition and Mixed Media Techniques were the stars of the April survey. No surprise there. Composition is the #1 topic people ask me about. But 'mixed media' was a bit of a surprise. I guess I mix my media, but I call myself a painter. To me it's all painting, whatever the techniques are.

The next question was about composition workshops:

Here, the "composition boot camp" won out. I can do that. I have done that. And it is hard, not all that fun, and you do learn a lot. 

Once you have a handle on abstract composition, then what? What else do you want from your work? Take my May Survey to let me know what else is important in your art practice.