A few weeks ago I had a chance to sit with Tyler Nail, the Winston-Salem song writer and music producer, on his Red House podcast. In our wide-ranging conversation we compare notes on making visual art and music, discuss why taking care of your health is a rebellious act as an artist, being purposeful in life and in your creative practice, making tough decisions as a parent and when to let go, the resurgence of tradition and technique in art and music and many other ideas on life and art. Thanks Tyler for the excellent conversation!
You can watch it on YouTube or listen to it on any of the platforms below. And give Tyler a listen if you haven’t already. You can find his music here. Enjoy!
Happy New Year! 2023 is here and I’m off and running (literally and figuratively).
Good things happened in 2022. Thank you so much for your support during the last year. Thank you for reading my writing, following me on Facebook and Instagram, sending me kind messages, buying my work, and sharing my work with your friends and family… all of it helps keep me motivated and supports my artistic practice. Here are some of the things your support made possible in 2022:
I received a NC Arts Council Support Grant to study encaustic painting. I finally got to use this mysterious medium I’d wanted to try for years.
UNC School of the Arts offered me a visiting professor position for the 2022-2023 school year, and I’ve been having a blast teaching in the School of Film.
This week in my studio, we found the tiniest mouse I’ve ever seen. After letting it run all over the place for a day and then have a good rest (it chose to sleep under my husband’s desk for the night), I managed to put it in a jar and release it in the backyard. It predictably broke back into our house a few hours later, so I caught it again and drove it down the road to a more appropriate spot (ie: very far away from our house). I placed it near a mountain of kudzu, thinking that would be a good place for a mouse to go on an adventure.
It made me think of one of my favorite childhood books: Comment la souris reçoit une pierre sur la tête et découvre le monde… I don’t know that it was ever published in English, but the title roughly translates to How the mouse gets hit in the head with a rock and discovers the world!
In the book, a young mouse who lives with her parents underground decides to dig a room of her own. As she digs and digs, she eventually breaks surface and sees the outside for the first time! She goes on an adventure and meets new friends: the sun, the moon, stars, wind, clouds… all sorts of natural phenomena. In the end they all give her a little piece of themselves in a little backpack with compartments for everything. She then continues on her way with the sun so they can make new friends together. As you can imagine, I love her backpack loaded up with all sorts of natural ephemera with a neat little spot for everything. That image has always stayed with me.
You can watch a short video where I share this and show some of the beautiful watercolor illustrations in the book on either Facebook or Instagram.
If you live in the Winston-Salem, NC area, Aperture Cinema is featuring my work all month. Before every screening, you’ll see an interview where I talk about my work and what it’s like to work as an artist in this area. Thanks Aperture!
Last month I shared with you that I started painting people again. You can see the first four paintings of the series below. I’m now working on the fifth painting of six I planned to make. After I make six, I’ll decide if I’m going to continue making them. At this point, I’m loving the process, I’m learning a lot and I see no reason to stop working figuratively in the near future. It’s interesting to note that I was primarily painting people until a semester into graduate school when I began exploring abstraction. This was back in 2002, and over the years every time I tried making figurative work again, it just didn’t feel right.
This time feels different. The way I’m approaching painting the figures and establishing their relationship to the spaces around them, the way I’m layering the paint and using color feels like things I’ve been thinking of for the last 2 decades are clicking.
I’m interested in what happens when the figures aren’t looking out at us, when they look away or toward someone or something off the edge of the painting. The paintings feel like a moment within time, like something has just happened before we were privy to the moment in the painting and it will continue beyond the painting. The people occupy outside spaces that are ambiguous, sometimes deep and three-dimensional and other time more geometric and on the surface of the painting. I’m playing with colors, noticing which ones create interesting optical effects, particularly on the depth portrayed in the painting. The paintings are mysterious and a little weird and that feels like the right place for me right now.
Looking at the image of my studio above and of the painting Pilot Mountain 1 below, you’ll notice similar colors and compositions. Seeing my work from different periods like this together reminds me that I’ve been interested in the same things visually for a long time. I think it’s the subject matter thats most different.
Pilot Mountain 1 is available from my shop. It’s one of the paintings inspired by my favorite place to walk and run, Pilot Mountain.
I am pleased to share that I’m now part of the School of Filmmaking faculty at UNC School of the Arts. I’m teaching in the Production Design and Animation departments and am excited to be training the next generation of filmmakers. This semester I teach how to communicate ideas, mood and stories through drawing, as well as color: how we perceive it, how it behaves and how to use it effectively. I am not exaggerating when I say that what I’m teaching is 100% my JAM.
In the studio, after a summer of drawing, I decided to be brave and do something I’ve been trying to do on and off for about 2 decades: integrate the human figure into an abstract painting. I sanded down the paintings I started in the spring (they didn’t feel right) and am working on a new group of works. I’m making six 30×40 inch pieces – a sort of proof of concept if you will. I’m still figuring out what they’re about, but it feels like the right direction for my work at the moment. I’m enjoying the process and am learning a lot. You can see a studio view below.
PS: The shop is open and works are available for purchase now or on a payment plan. You can see available pieces here. And you can always email me if you have any questions about my work, whether it’s an existing piece or a commission you’re thinking of.
Whew! After a trip to France followed by getting sick, I am back in the studio/office.
My husband, our son and I went to France as soon as our son’s school let out in June. We visited family and friends we hadn’t seen since the before-times and went hiking in the Alpes with my brother for a week. We got home after 3 weeks on the road and promptly got sick with Covid – all 3 of us.
I’m starting to feel like myself again though, so I wanted to write about some things we learned in the last month:
Hiking difficulty ratings are off the charts in France. One of my cousins took us hiking near Dijon on the Chemin de Felix Batier. The route we took was marked as Difficult, but we felt prepared since we consider ourselves fairly experienced hikers. We ended up doing what amounted to climbing without ropes. It turns out this Felix Batier character created the trail in the 1950’s to help train alpinists for the difficulties they’d face the Alpes.
Always stop and pick ripe fruit you find during a walk (unless it’s near the ground of course). See the image above of us eating cherries we found along the aforementioned hike.
Stag beetles don’t typically bite unless you accidentally grab them – which is exactly what my son did during one of the climbs on this hike. Luckily he did not fall off the rocky climb. And yes, it hurt like hell. He had the marks to prove it.
Don’t trust the guy at the gear shop who recommends the perfect hike for your family. After telling him what we do and don’t enjoy when hiking and letting him know we had a 9-year old with us, he recommended a hike up the Crête du Vars. Instead of making a loop, we ended up turning around at the summit because we were so terrified by the exposure. When we saw the crest from the bottom, we thought for sure we’d be hiking around it. No, we would be hiking on it. Lesson learned: if you’re so scared that you’re not enjoying the views anymore, it’s time to turn around. Note, this hike was marked as Moderate in the hiking app we used, which is shocking to me given the level of exposure we experienced up there. But I realized that steep (up to 30% grades here) or sustained climbing doesn’t add to the difficulty level in France. It’s the technicality of a hike that matters when rating them.
We survived Covid. I think we caught it on the plane ride back Stateside when a woman near us took off her mask before having a coughing fit for 5-minutes. We’re still tired and needing to sleep a lot, but we are ok. I’m also thankful for Zoom which allowed me to teach a workshop virtually rather than in person when I was sick.
Drawing is the best. We knew this already, but I’ve been reminded again as I make drawings and watercolors in my sketchbook. From taking notes and color references, to practicing drawing skills, to trying out new techniques, to figuring out what to do with a painting, the humble sketchbook is the place to do it all. This summer, I’ve been drawing a lot. And my son is old enough to model without moving too much now too. He even likes modeling! See the drawing below to see what my son has been up to…
I am still afraid of everything until I do it once. I’d wanted to try Paris’ bike share program Vélib since I’d heard about it, but hadn’t had the chance to do it yet. Well after a day of walking around the city with my brother, I decided it would be a good idea to ride the 45-min ride back to our apartment by bike. I hadn’t ridden bikes in a city since we lived in Australia, and WOW I had forgotten how full-on city riding is, especially in a place where there are so many things going on at once. Cars, city busses, other cyclists, scooters, motorcycles, pedestrians, trams… the list of possible ways to get hurt goes on. I almost got squished by a bus (my fault entirely) and was afraid to get hit by the eerily silent trams, but thankfully I made it back to home-base in one piece. And it was so fun that I’ll probably do it again next time we’re there.
I’ve been working on a new group of paintings. The work feels good, which is actually scary because this makes it harder to progress in the paintings. It’s easier to work on a painting when it doesn’t feel right and when things obviously need to be corrected.
Part of the process for me is figuring out the painting as I go. I don’t have a particular image in mind when I’m working, so the process is a kind of searching for the image. As the painting progresses, I slowly discover the painting – a kind of adventure!
To summarize my painting process:
Starting (doing something to activate the white of the blank canvas)
Making some decisions for what the initial composition will be (breaking up the pictorial space into shapes using color and line)
Every layer after that is a series of edits until something gels. This can include combining smaller shapes into bigger ones, changing colors by covering up opaquely or transparently or pulling paint through wet underlayers, making new shapes, changes edges of shapes by accentuating or softening them or outlining them for example…
Over the years, I’ve tried to combine some of the different ideas I explore in my work: geometric abstraction such as my little watercolor squares, plants and the landscape, and a stacking of shapes like these paintings:
In the new group of paintings I feel like I’m getting some traction combining these ideas. The work feels decisive and allows me to work both from life and with abstraction – which is satisfying. I start the paintings looking at a landscape or still life (a house plant in this case) as a reference. I block out a composition in one color – usually a hot pink because I enjoy the dissonance it creates with the colors in the finished painting. Using that first start as a sort of map, I decide what to outline or fill in with color. From there, each layer changes according to what the painting needs and I follow the process I outlined above.
I’m excited to be making these and am curious to see where the work goes as I progress in the series…
If you’d like to be the first to know when this work becomes available, sign up for my emails here.
I took my 9-year old son on his first backpacking trip last weekend. We were out for 2 nights and covered a total of 22 miles, with plenty of climbing and challenging trail surfaces – and beautiful landscapes to reward us!
We started our adventure by climbing Mount Rogers, VA for a few miles until the path intersected with the Appalachian Trail. Once we got on the AT, it was a different feel than any other trail. There are more people – although it’s remote enough not to be swarmed – and there is a palpable mystique. Hikers we met were friendly and encouraging to my son – everyone understood how challenging it is to carry a heavy pack for many miles, especially for someone that young.
On day 1 we hiked 6 miles mostly uphill until we stopped for the night at Thomas Knob, the highest point of the AT in VA. It was cold and windy that night and my son had trouble sleeping because of it. In the morning I showed him the map and possible bail-out options if he was really having a terrible time. We talked about what continuing meant and how leaving early might make him feel, and as we got moving and he warmed up, his spirits lifted and he decided to stick to our plan for the big day ahead. We were rewarded with gorgeous landscapes and the legendary wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.
On the second day we hiked about 12 miles of rolling technical terrain over 8.5 hours. It was by far the hardest thing he’s done yet, and the last hour especially was a struggle, but we made it to our spot for the night at the Old Orchard just in time to set up camp, find water, and make dinner before dark.
On our last morning, after hiking about 1.5 mile, we said goodbye to the Appalachian Trail and finished our hike for about 2 miles on the Fairwood Valley trail. This was mostly downhill and other than a stream crossing, smooth terrain, so our adventure ended a little faster than expected. After celebrating in the parking lot, we drove 2 hours to make it home in time for pancakes and bacon for lunch.
During the trip, I was struck by the variety of landscapes and trail surfaces we moved through: dense forests, rock gardens, mountains, hills and valleys, with all shades of green, big skies, cold and heat and wind… I’m taking all these landscapes with me as I work on a new crop of paintings… so stay tuned.