The quest: mysterious and weird

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.

Four recent paintings on my studio wall

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. 

Pilot Mountain 1, acrylic and oil on panel, 20 x 20 inches, 2018

Climbing mountains, getting Covid and making drawings

Fruit definitely tastes better when you pick it by vineyards on a hike.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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…
  7. 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.
The Crête du Vars. We were way up there on those rocks.
My son making the most of summer and reading in bed

on process and discovery

Paintings in progress
Three works in progress in the studio

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.

Running the Pilot Mountain Marathon

On Saturday, I ran a trail marathon on Pilot Mountain in North Carolina, a state park 30 minutes from Winston-Salem. These are typical East Coast technical trails with plenty of rocks and roots to navigate and 4,500 feet of climbing. This mountain has inspired much of my work, both paintings and installation, notably Paper Mountain. I’ve also spent countless hours hiking and running and camping here, so it felt pretty special to have the chance to run this event. Here’s my race report for anyone who cares about the nitty gritty details.

The race approaches the mountain on the Pilot Creek Trail, heads up the mountain on Grindstone, then Ledge Spring trail, goes around the Jomeoke trail at the top, back down Grindstone, around the Mountain trail, then back up Grindstone, Ledge Springs, Jomeoke, down Grindstone, around the Mountain trail again, and back out on Pilot Creek trail. Here’s a map of these trails if you’d like to take a look for yourself.

Pilot Mountain 11, acrylic and oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches. One of the paintings I’ve made inspired by my time on this mountain, specifically hiking along the Mountain trail

It was a little above freezing at the race start and got up into the mid forties by the end. I carried a hydration pack with 1.5 liters of water, a small first aid kit, a little baggie of potato chips and gummy bears, and planned to grab most of my food and additional drink  at the aid stations along the way.

The morning of, I had my typical “race breakfast” of oatmeal, scrambled eggs and coffee, and I did my physical therapy exercises to help make sure I didn’t hurt myself. I drove the 35 minutes to race start and after picking up my bib, I did my usual dynamic warmup, ate a banana and drank a bottle of water.

A small group of us gathered at the start and it started to rain freezing rain. There were many more people racing the 20km course, and they stood nearby.  The mood seemed fairly calm and relaxed. The race officially started and those of us doing the marathon ran into the woods. I could hear the freezing rain, but the tree canopy kept us dry. The ground was muddy – as expected since it rained most of the previous week.

I passed some people and was passed by others as we all established our rhythm, and within 15 minutes or so I was basically on my own in the woods. The first section, Pilot Creek trail, is a 3.3 mile section that brings you to the base of the mountain.

I stopped at the first aid station about 30min in, grabbed a cup of water and some Oreos and was on my way to start the first of 2 laps up and around the mountain. I ate an Oreo on the way up Ledge Springs trail, one of the big climbs, and was shocked by how sweet it tasted. I had a hard time getting 2 cookies down, but knew I needed the calories. My belly felt a little off after that, so at the 2nd aid station at the top of the mountain, I drank some Coke which thankfully helped. I grabbed 1/2 a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ran down the mountain.

Of Stones and Earth and Air, oil on canvas, 60 x 72 inches. One of the paintings I made inspired by hiking at the top of the Grindstone trail

About halfway down the Grindstone trail, I took a wrong turn (100% my fault). Luckily I realized I was on the wrong trail fairly quickly, turned around and headed back to rejoin the right trail down the mountain. I lost a few minutes there and laughed it off to keep my heart rate from spiking due to the adrenaline.

One my way around the base of the mountain,  as I stuffed my gloves into my pack, I twisted my ankle hard, but quickly recovered. To me this stretch is mentally the toughest of the race because it’s long and feels never-ending, but I felt pretty good. I ate my 1/2 PBJ sandwich and passed the water aid station, a gallon of water along the side of the trail, and opted not to stop there.

Pilot Mountain 7, acrylic on panel, 20 x 20 inches. One of the paintings I made inspired by hiking along the Mountain trail

I passed the fourth aid station at the start of my second loop up the mountain, had some coke again since it worked well to keep my stomach settled and grabbed a half banana to eat up on the steep Ledge Spring climb. Just after starting that stretch of trail which is a series of steep rock “steps” for almost a mile, my left inner thigh threatened to cramp, so I tried climbing leading with my right leg each time. After a few steps, I realized I’d quickly fry that leg too, so I went back to alternating legs up each step, but focused on engaging other muscles. It worked and I was able to very gingerly make it up the climb without fully cramping.

Another coke from the aid station at the top and I took a gel with me for the loop around the base of the mountain. On the loop, my right inner thigh threatened to cramp, so I resorted to taking very small steps as I climbed and hopped around the rock gardens along the trail. I ate some of the chips I had brought with me, hoping the salt would help. It didn’t help fast enough, so I quickly downed the gel and that did the trick. My pace felt pretty good on the flats and descents and I eventually made it to the last aid station just before heading back on the Pilot Creek Trail. I walked to drink a cup of water and had another gel to make sure I didn’t “hit the wall” on the last few miles. Other than stiff legs, I felt ok, so I decided to pick up the pace on this last home stretch. I caught and passed a group of 3 men about a mile from the finish and happily kept them at bay. They were chatting as they ran, so I think I was working a lot harder than they were, but I’ll take it!

As soon as I popped out of the woods I saw and heard my husband and our son cheering for me, and felt a surge of emotion as I ran up the grass to the finish. I did it! I was greeted with a finisher’s medal (and I’ve never been so proud to receive one of those) and a bowl of chili and cornbread which I ate as I walked around in a daze.

The race promoters put on a great event, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging trail marathon. I’d also like to take a second to thank my husband for supporting all my training and for being generally awesome. Thanks Tim!

Pilot Mountain 10, acrylic and oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches. One of the Pilot Mountain paintings I made over the years, this one specifically hiking along the Mountain trail

Winning a NC Arts Council Grant!

I’m happy to share with you that I was awarded an Artist Support Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. With this award I’ll have the chance to study encaustic painting and to equip my studio to practice this ancient painting technique.

Encaustic is a painting medium made of beeswax, damar crystals and pigment, which is melted and fused onto a rigid support such as wood. I have wanted to try encaustic for years, so I’m super excited to finally learn it. Plus I get to use a blow torch!!! (Yes mom and dad, I promise I’ll be careful.)

This medium has been in use for millennia. Ancient Egyptians used it for portraiture, and the medium is so long lasting that some of those paintings are still with us. Encaustic painting is such an old technique that it predates oil painting and even tempera. It’s a versatile medium that can be combined with oil painting, watercolor, collage, sculpture and even installation. I’m curious to see where it will take my work!

So thank you N.C. Arts Council, Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, and ArtsGreensboro for this award!

You can read more about the grant program and the winners here at Yes!Weekly.

encaustic icon from Saint Catherine's Monastery
A 6th-century encaustic icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt.

This project was supported by the N.C. Arts Council, a Division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, and ArtsGreensboro.

How I painted Chosen Path, a commissioned artwork

This morning I installed a new painting in a collector’s home. This painting has been a wonderful project to work on, so I thought you might like to hear about how it developed.

The painting was commissioned by a filmmaker as a wedding anniversary/holiday gift for his partner who is a neurologist. The client asked me to combine stills from one of his films with illustrations of brain cells by the 19th century artist/scientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, one of his wife’s favorite artists. He trusted me to come up with something using all of those images as references and was open to the finished painting being abstract rather than looking like any of the photos he sent me.

To make the painting, I ended up layering image after image to find new overlapping shapes.Then through a process of finding and combining shapes and playing with color, the painting emerged. It was a fantastic project to work on.

If you’d like to commission an artwork, you can learn more about the process here or email me to start the process.

chosen path painting
The finished painting: Chosen Path, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 30×40 inches

40 hours installing an art exhibit

Last week, with the help of a whole team, I installed my latest exhibition at the Sechrest Gallery of Art at High Point University. The show includes a 19-foot tall painting installation as well as a 19-foot tall mountain of paper cranes with an approximately 12-foot square foot print. There is also a monumental video projection and a collection of paintings. Below is the video showing all 40 hours of the installation process. Read on for a breakdown of what happened during that time.

 

Day 1:

Measure/Cut/Attach the wire mesh to steel beams about 25-feet up

Tie fishing line to the mesh

Prep wall with masking tape to install 63 sky paintings in a grid

Day 2:

Tie fishing line to mesh

Prep wall with masking tape for 63 paintings grid

Lay out all sky paintings on the ground to arrange them for installation

Rebox paintings in order they’ll be installed

Start installing sky painting grid

Start attaching paper cranes to fishing line

Day 3:

Finish tying last remaining fishing line

Attach paper cranes

Interns start on this day: explain the work and each person’s job

Finish installing sky painting grid

Day 4:

Attach paper cranes

Hang all other paintings in the exhibit

Begin lighting mountain

Day 5:

Attach paper cranes and refine shape of mountain

Finish lighting mountain

Install largest painting in exhibit

Trim fishing line

Light all other paintings

I shot 1 photo per minute over the course of about 40 hours over 5 days, using a GoPro Hero 3+.

This exhibition is at the Sechrest Gallery of Art at High Point University, NC
October 25, 2021 – December 17, 2021
Opening Reception: October 28, 5:00-7:00 PM
Gallery Hours: Monday through Friday, 10am – 5pm

To see more details about each artwork or for purchasing, visit the gallery shop page.

THANK YOU to my partner Tim Bowman, the team of interns, Emily Gerhold and High Point University for supporting this exhibition.

From floods to Legos to skies – Evolution of a project

A couple of years ago after heavy rains and flooding, I noticed a strange sight while driving over the Yadkin River: a forest under water. The river had overflowed and the trees were standing in a few feet of water. Downed trees and branches were violently shoved up against still-standing trees. I was struck by the sheer power of the water overflowing its river banks and the dissonance of seeing a flooded forest.

 

This image stayed with me for a while and I collected branches which I made into little piles and bundles in my studio. I imagined a huge pile of tree trunks pushed up against a gallery wall and spilling out onto the gallery floor, the pile’s size dwarfing viewers. On an adjacent wall I imagined a wall size video projection of water slowly filling the screen to the sound of water running continuously.

 

Over the course of the next two years I made drawings and prototypes and kept running into the same problem: no matter how elegantly executed, the log stack and running water video created a feeling of dread. I couldn’t reconcile the sense of anxiety the pieces would likely provoke in viewers with my desire to create an immersive and elemental kind of experience in a gallery. Climate change is very real and frightening, but I refuse to subject viewers of my work to feelings of anxiety. As artists we are responsible for how our work affects people, and ultimately I want my work to feel vital and uplifting – even when the work deals with environmental concerns.

 

I sidelined the log pile and running water video ideas and turned to my watercolors to play and think. Watercolor is my “go-to” for figuring things out and generating ideas. I made piles of small playful mixed media drawings and wondered how they would look in a large scale if I made hundreds of them to cover a gallery wall from floor to ceiling – transforming the logs and water ideas to something less heavy-handed.

 

To prototype this idea, I made a hundred and twenty eight tiny drawings with watercolor, ink and colored pencil, and I installed them on a piece of foam core as if it were a tiny gallery wall. I then photographed this maquette with Lego mini figures as viewers to picture how it might feel on a monumental scale. It worked.
lego art gallery
In the spring of 2021, I was asked to exhibit my work at the Sechrest Gallery at High Point University, specifically my large-scale installation Paper Mountain and its companion piece Sky Project. The gallery is big. Even after installing the mountain of paper cranes and filling a wall with the Sky Project video, there was space for more work.  I knew I wanted to include some of my paintings, but there are two twenty foot-tall walls on one side of the gallery. One of these was perfect for a painting installation like what I had prototyped, but it needed to be different. The work I had made for the tiny gallery was very active work, and this needed to be more quiet because it would be near Paper Mountain, a twenty foot tall floating mountain of paper cranes. The painting installation couldn’t detract from Paper Mountain and ideally should complement it.

 

I wanted to make something that would be monumental as I had imagined with my Legos, and it also needed to uplift and encourage minds to wander. I decided to try skies for their universal and poetic quality, and made some prototypes in different painting styles and with different papers. After settling on the type of paint and the application, I found the perfect paper – heavy enough to lay flat on the wall even when coated in paint, the right size and excellent quality. It’s called Yupo, a polypropylene paper that is unpleasant and difficult to use with some mediums, but perfect for this particular project.

 

The project in its current form uses loosely painted skies to create a sense of air and space. The paintings will be hung in a grid 19 feet tall by 17 feet wide, covering one of the gallery walls near Paper Mountain. I’ve named it The space between the clouds.

 

I’m curious and excited to see how The space between the clouds will look installed. I’ll have to arrange the paintings onsite because my studio isn’t big enough to lay them all out at once, and I look forward to that part too.
The High Point University exhibition opens Thursday October 28th and is up until December 18th. The space between the clouds, Paper Mountain, Sky Project and a collection of paintings will be on display at Sechrest Gallery of Art.

 

You can support this project and see images of the work in progress on Buy Me a Coffee where I’ve been fundraising to cover the cost of paper and paint for The space between the clouds.

 

Sponsoring an art project?

Sixty-three paintings of skies that cover a 19′ x 17′ gallery wall – This is the latest project I’m working on. The project took different forms as I worked through my ideas over the course of the last year, but now it’s finally happening: actual paintings to install on an actual wall. I’ll share the story behind the project as it develops, but first I wanted to ask you:

We’ve gotten used to the concept of sponsored athletes, but what about sponsored artists?

I’m not talking about huge corporate sponsors (although I wouldn’t turn that down). What I’m talking about is micro donations so that anyone who wants to support my work can chip in to help make this new project happen.

So what I’m asking is “Would you sponsor this project?”

I’ve teamed up with Buy me a coffee, a platform for crowdfunding through micro donations, and I’ve set up my page with different ways to support my work. You can support the project with $5 or more or you can become a member and support my work with a monthly or even yearly sponsorship.

In this project I am making many smaller parts that as a whole, will create a very large artwork. Your support is also one part out of many parts that will make this project possible.

Everyone who contributes will be credited in the exhibit and on the project page of my website.

Take a look at my page to see the ways you can support my work, and I’d be super grateful if you could share on your social channels and email. Thank you!

The cost of materials (polypropylene paper and acrylic paint) to complete this project is $500. I install the exhibit (this project along with Paper Mountain, Sky Project and other paintings) at Sechrest Gallery at High Point University on October 16-22, so I’m setting a deadline to finish these particular paintings by October 8th. I always plan to finish the actual making of work at least 1 week before installation because this leaves me time to do the myriad things that need to be done before a show goes up.

a small sky painting to test out the materials and the idea… The actual project paintings will be a larger 20×26″

Big skies, beginnings of a project

Big skies… this is the working title for a new project I’m working on. I announced last week that Sechrest Gallery at High Point University invited me to show Paper Mountain, Sky Project and a group of paintings for a solo exhibit in the fall, and installation for the show starts exactly 90 days from today. Because I want to make a lot A LOT of paintings between now and then, I decided what this exhibit needs is a wall-full of paintings – sky paintings to be specific.

So I am making 50 sky paintings that will literally cover one of the gallery walls.

The paintings will be hung in a grid 19ft tall and 17ft wide.

I’ve decided to use acrylic on Yupo, a polypropylene paper. The acrylic dries relatively fast compared to oil paint, so I can easily stack finished paintings as I work. As for the Yupo paper, I like how slick it is to paint on, and I know that it will sit against the wall rather than buckle.

Why am I using paper rather than wood or canvas to make these paintings? I want the images to sit flat on the wall rather than jut out into space like a panel does. I don’t want the objectness of a panel.

I’ll share with you progress on this project as I go, so stay tuned for images as I figure things out.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with an image of a sky I particularly like. This is Field and forest with red, one of the paintings from my Tiny Landscapes collection. I enjoy being able to see some of the underpainting of the sky… bits of pink and gold glimpsing through layers of sky and cloud. This little painting is acrylic on wood panel and measures 6×6 inches.

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