Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Committing to Play

It is a commonly held idea that giving ourselves time to just play, to experiment without a particular goal or expected outcome, is important to making art. [It may be important to living a healthy life, generally, as well]. But many of us, through cultural conditioning, have a hard time with this. If we know it is good for us, then maybe that makes it easier. What are your experiences with play as it pertains to your art practice or to your life?

I feel that my art practice is a some kind of pivot point: there is some Old Stuff I am shedding, stuff I no longer feel compelled to work towards, and I'm excited to explore New Stuff. Though the idea is a bit amorphous at the moment, the thing I feel like chasing is PLAY. Creative play. What does that mean? What does it look like? I have no idea, but for starters I'm going to call it a state of mind. 

A little visual joke on one of my Moving Targets

As a teacher I say all the right words and give good advice regarding the necessity of play and experimentation, but am I really practicing it myself? I don't know if my work has become more work and less play, but something feels stuck or stale or in need of a re-think. 

I would like to commit to a practice of play, of noticing when I am in the playful state of mind while doing creative work, and when I am not. Are there activities that can induce the play state of mind? Are there some that squash it or smother it? (Yes) My working hypotheses are:

  1.  I will make better work if I am having fun. If I am really playing, I will discover more possibilities, more ideas, more ways of executing ideas, and ultimately my work will be better. I might make less of it (which is fine!), but it will reflect my sense of humor and my perspective more authentically.
  2. Cultivating and valuing that play state of mind will enable me to let go of the external voices - the imagined expectations of others - that seem to still be getting in my way (see this blog post).
  3. By learning how to play, I can help others (as a teacher), tap into their own playful side more effectively. Learning to play will help me be a better teacher.

 I do have fun in my studio at times, and I definitely have fun teaching. I just want to pay more attention to the play and fun aspects of it all and see if I can lean into that a little more.  

I would love to hear your thoughts and your experiences on this topic. 

Please comment below.

Here is a post from 2018 about Art for Fun. It expresses some similar thoughts through a different lens.


OK, I do get a bit silly while teaching. That is part of the fun!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

2023 Calendar is Here!

 Putting together images for my 2023 calendar offers a chance to reflect on the work I've done in the past year. As usual, it is various, and to my eyes all over the map. But it's my map, and I am sticking to it. I've decided not to apologize anymore for being "inconsistent" and trying new things all the time. You can read more of my thoughts on that subject here

In the 2023 calendar I've tried to choose images that reflect most of the scope of my 2022 explorations. However, I did find myself favoring the most recent work. I wonder if this is a common phenomenon:  is your favorite work is the work you've done most recently?

Download my 2023 calendar here.

Print it out and enjoy in the months to come. Here is a preview of the first couple of months.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Selling Prints and Products on Fine Art America

 I offer prints and products on Fine Art America / Pixels, which are print-on-demand sites, "FAA" in my shorthand. They are two sites, same  company, practically identical, but Pixels offers a few more products than does Fine Art America.

A few products available from FAA: acrylic print, throw pillow, tote bag, and pencil case

People often ask me if I like the way FAA sells my work. I read this as emphasis on THEY. Are they (meaning FAA) doing a good job for me? They, in this case, are not doing anything to sell my work other than provide a (fabulous, in my opinion) platform and process for me to sell prints and products.

In the question is embedded a little confusion about marketing. A gallery markets your work - they get the potential customers in front of your pieces and try to match buyer with artwork in a satisfactory fit. I see this as a kind of highly-skilled matchmaking. It takes experience, insight, and knowledge to match the right client with the right artwork. And it takes serious curating. A gallery will not show just anything - they will show work (and dedicate resources to) that they believe they have clients for.

FAA and other POD (print-on-demand) sites do not do marketing. They offer a convenient platform for the artist to offer prints and products. It is up to the artist to get the clients to the site. They also do no curating, so the platform is open to anyone.

Framed Print of "Line of Fire #1"

If you have work up on FAA or another POD site and nobody is buying it, it is not because the site is not doing its job. It is because you are not doing your job. Don't give up on POD if your work is not selling. Send people to your POD page via links on your website, social media posts, newsletters, etc., and see what happens.

This is a screen shot of my new website's navigation menu.

I personally love the POD concept. For me it means that people can have images of my work in whatever form suits them, for very reasonable prices. Not everyone who likes my work is in the market for original pieces of art. I love it that they can have phone cases, notebooks, tote bags, etc. as well as fine art prints at a size and price that works for them. It's not for everybody, and it doesn't pretend to be original art.

I would like to hear your thoughts on print-on-demand, and to know what kind of experiences you have had with this kind of platform.

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