Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Finished - Winter Sisters

Winter Sisters
11x14 inches, oil and collage papers on canvas

This collage and oil painting of me and my younger sister is about done.  It was great fun to gradually see the image develop, and to imagine the colors of our coats and shoes.  

I honestly can barely remember us at that age, though it must have been about the time when I was questioning Santa Claus.  I recall thinking that the logistics of him flying all over the world were pretty shaky, when on Christmas Eve it snowed, and the heifers broke loose.  When I woke up on Christmas Day there were hoof prints everywhere in the fresh snow, and I decided - at least for one more year - that Santa had visited.  

We believe what we want to believe.  Merry Christmas! 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Another Work in Progress - More Personal

One of the things I especially enjoy about working from old snapshots is the opportunity to really look closely at the images.  I usually work with pictures of people I do not know, but this time I wanted to work with an old photo from maybe 1956 or so of my younger sister and me.

I scanned and enlarged the original, and drew us, simplifying the background so much as to be pretty much unrecognizable.  In the original we were standing on the covered front porch, in front of the wooden door that had an oval window filled with beveled glass.  The sun was in our eyes, and we were dressed in our good wool winter coats, trimmed in fur.  We both wore hats, tied under our chins. The shapes of the door and window behind us are only suggested here by using an old diary page, wallpaper and bits of a Wisconsin map.

Yesterday I started pushing back the paper background, suggesting a shadow of the overhead roof, and adding shadows behind us girls.  I still need to make decisions about the floor, and later when the skin tones are more dry, I need to warm up the flesh tones and deepen the shadows.

Staring at the old photo I remember how much Mother liked decorating the old farm house for Christmas.  I removed the homemade styrofoam-pipe cleaner-felt Santa head that hung on the door from my painting, and the bit of our Flexible Flyer sled that showed.  Clearly the picture was taken in December.  In those early days we always had green Christmas trees, covered with glass ornaments and heavy lead icicles that we kids liked to toss on the tree in a very un-artistic way.  Funny all those memories that return, just from staring at an old snapshot.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bernice Ann

I've been down with a nasty virus,  and I had a week or so of just wanting to make sleeping my full time job.  It seems to be about done now, so I'm back playing around with combining painting with collage papers and wallpaper.

My maternal grandmother, Bernice Ann Adams Tess, was lovely her entire life.  I've meant to try painting her more than once, and decided to start with a photo I have of her as a young girl.  She looks very serious.  I think by this time her parents had separated, and her father was killed.  Her mother remarried to a man Grandma never really liked, so I suppose the serious look is understandable.

I'm still working on 11x14 inch canvas, and adding pieces of old diary and wallpaper samples.  Grandma loved flowers, especially roses, so I wanted to include elements of that in the portrait.  The issue for me is how much to allow the collage elements to show through.  Some of the flowery border originally extended on to her forehead, but I painted it out, since it almost looked like a tattoo to me.  I wanted the background to have a darker value to make her light hair, bows, and white dress pop.  I don't mind it the way it is, but I am still open to adding some blue areas.  I am just not sure, so I'll live with it this way until I decide.  Sometimes it's better to stop sooner, rather than later.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

More Recent Painting

11x14 inches, oil over collage papers
adapted from a vintage  black and white snapshot

I have been painting lots since the weather turned colder. Lately my interest has been centered on vintage snapshots, and finding ways to paint over various decorative papers - primarily wallpaper and old printed papers.  In this one the children's clothing and much of the background is painted over wallpaper with rather delicate patterns, and the patterns disappeared under the paint - more than I originally intended.  But the background pattern still shows through, adding a bit of interest to an otherwise plain area.  I'm not sure of the year of the original photo, maybe the late 1940s or early 1950s?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Coming Along

The collage and oil painting I started last week is coming along. bit by bit.  Yesterday I finished the dress for the woman on the right, and just leaped in and added the background.  I want a very sheer and somewhat plain background that lets the wallpaper and old newspaper underneath show through a bit, and presents the figures out of any specific context.  I hemmed and hawed and stalled, and finally just did it. To my great relief that figures seem to pop much more, and the patterns under the paint do still show, though in a subtle way. 

Now the women's faces need layers of warmer glazing, and the shadows round their feet need deepening.  This is the point in a painting that gets tricky for me, since I rather like how it has turned out so far, but don't want to do anything to spoil the results.  No guts, no glory. 

I'm still thinking of a good title. and am leaning toward stealing one.  Maybe I'll call it The Three Graces.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


It is Thanksgiving, cold and snowy.  At our house we're staying in, enjoying our warm and cozy home, reading, petting the cat, listening to radio music, and later on enjoying a chicken dinner.  It's just silly to even consider a turkey for two people - though when I indulge in nostalgia, I miss hanging around the kitchen and snitching pieces of crispy turkey skin and stuffing from the roasting pan when Grandpa, or Dad, or even my brother was busy carving the bird. 

I am looking forward this afternoon to returning to a piece I've been working on.  It's from a photo I found at my local consignment shop,  of three mature women, friends, standing with arms around each other.  I love their happy faces, their long flowered dresses and roomy coats.  I suppose that's nostalgic for me since I remember my grandmothers wearing clothing like that.  I'd like to call it The Girls With Grandmother Faces, after the Fannie Flagg book, but that's probably copyright infringement.

I enlarged the old photo with the scanner, printed it, and then drew the image on a gessoed canvas.  After that I added bits of wallpaper from a discarded sample book, and some old newspaper, and coated the entire thing in clear gesso, to provide tooth for painting.  The fun part comes next, and I am thankful to have lots of time available to work on it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

25 Local Artists You Should Know

Raven's Wish Gallery/Studio in Janesville has carried my work for several years, and this month I have a piece in the current show, 25 Local Artists You Should Know, which runs through the end of December.

framed, 16x20 inches, mixed media collage
Our Sled - $150

Owner Alicia Reid had a reception, part of downtown Janesville's Meander on Milwaukee promotion on Friday evening.  Most of the artists were there to meet and greet and say a few words about their work, and she had cookies and wine available to tide us over until supper.  Some people stopped in to make paper snowflakes that later were used to decorate Val Saxer's studio window on Main Street. 

These photos show most of the artwork, though I missed a couple that were on free standing walls.  Apparently a couple hundred people stopped in Friday night, though I did not see any little red "sold" dots on the pieces the next day.  Perhaps shoppers will think it over and then return to make some of the featured local artists very happy.  I hope so.

Here's the list of artists currently featured in the Raven's Wish event:

Karolyn Alexander, from Whitewater
Su Beck, from Beloit
Kurt Buggs, from Janesville
Clarice Chicks, from Janesville
Linda Davis, from Janesville
Tony Di Nicola, from Janesville
Nancy Belle Douglas, from Janesville
Claudia Fitzgerald, from Janesville
Gary Gandy, from Janesville
Karen Gilbank, from Janesville 
Connie Glowacki, from Janesville
Stephanie Holznecht, from Janesville
Susan Hunt-Wulkowitz, from Janesville
Marek Kossiba, from Beloit
Barb Mathews, from Janesville
James Richter, from Janesville
Allegrea SBR, from Janesville
Harold Rotzoll, from Janesville
Valerie Saxer, from Janesville
Kathleen Ward, from Edgerton
Dan Wuthrich, from Beloit
Adam Zellmer, from Janesville
Jack Zellner, from Janesville

Monday, November 17, 2014


Distracted - that's me.  I've never been especially good at keeping a razor sharp sense of focus, and now that notes in the mail - the postal sort of mail and the electronic sort - keep arrive telling me about deadlines for artwork, year-end dinners, meetings for groups, and so on, I find myself losing track.  This is despite two or three calendars and piles of small notes to myself.

There is is nagging feeling, am I losing it?  This week I had an event on all my calendars for Friday evening.  I did my hair and actually applied lipstick, and with my coat on looked once more at the invitation, only to see that the event was scheduled for Wednesday night.  Of course the invitation only listed the date, not the day of the week, or I might have caught my error  earlier. 

All dressed up and nowhere to go except the reclining chair in front of the TV news, to eat carryout pizza.  I guess it could be worse.

I recently paid fifty cents for this little snapshot, bought because I liked the way the child's attention was called away from her mother and the two dogs.  Did someone call her name from inside the screen door?  I like the mystery of it.  I also like the symmetry of the image, the mother with the large dog (a boxer?) and the child with the small spaniel.

I decided to try painting the image on a spare 11x14 inch canvas.  I gessoed over an old acrylic painting, covered the canvas with gray acrylic, then drew in the figures with charcoal.  After spray fixing the drawing, I used soft gel medium to adhere bits of wallpaper from a sample book and some decorative papers I bought on a trip to Italy.  The entire thing was coated with clear gesso, to create a ground for further painting.

After that, it was a matter of using oil paints to create the image.  It's not so easy to see here, but I painted thinly so that the designs and floral elements from the papers peek through a bit.  If I had been smarter I would have added the underlying papers first, then drawn over them.  I guess we learn a little something every time we try a new technique.  I'm not sure if the background colors will stay as they are.  The pink in the upper right was supposed to echo the pink roses in the wallpaper, but it attracts too much attention for my taste.

I think I'll let it sit and dry for a while, then see if I want to change it any more later.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Colors of Oaxaca

Oaxaca has been a place I have wanted to visit for a long time, and we just recently spent a week there to experience Dia de los Muertes - the day of the dead.  I had read all sorts of things online, in library books, and I had watched films about the event.  Nothing prepared me for the carnival of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the week we spent there.  It was magical, amazing, and unforgettable. 

I'm just posting a few photos to give you a taste of the celebration, the families and most of the the colors - even vehicles on the street.  It has been an adjustment to return to the bare trees and gray skies of Wisconsin in November.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Riverside Park, Janesville, Wisconsin, 2014

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Indian Summer

This weekend we're experiencing that sweet time of the season, Indian summer.  The leaves here in southern Wisconsin are almost past their prime, and some trees are already bare.  We're lucky different trees lose their leaves at different times, and especially lucky that there are so many oaks here, since they keep their leaves the longest.  I was at the final farmers' market on Saturday, and particularly noticed the ginkgo trees, which have turned gold.

Every October we take a drive in the Kettle Moraine to see the colors, and to find a supper club for an evening meal.  It started after my grandmother died, about ten years ago, at age ninety-nine.  her birthday was October 13, and she loved to drive near Holy Hill, and then go out to eat.  Grandpa had worked as a mason on Holy Hill in the 1920's when they were first married.  Anyway, we started going out for a drive and a meal and as way to remember her, and we've continued the tradition.

I haven't spent much time in the studio, mostly because I know once bad weather settles in I'll be living up there, but I did spend some time collecting and altering papers to use for collage, and I put together this little six by six inch one last night.  Fall colors seem to have crept in.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Paula, for Julia Kay's Portrait Party

8x10 inches, oil on paper

For the past few years I have been a sometimes participant in an online painting group called Julia Kay's Portrait Party.  I painted this small oil for that group.

It's a large group of people, although a fairly small number of participants are active at any one time. I tend to paint about one portrait a month, although there are people who create one each and every day.  Some paint, some draw, some use collage or mosaics, some use digital media.  All are interesting because it is clear that there are endless ways to approach a portrait, and almost always the result says as much about the artist as it does the subject.

I stay with the group, even though I am often put to shame by other people's skill and unique vision, because I believe that it is good practice to paint lots.  I believe that quantity eventually leads to quality, and in my case I think my portraits have improved since I joined. I know for sure that I enjoy rubbing shoulders with this large and diverse group.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hunting Pictures

Last week my husband and I took an early autumn vacation to Canada.  We flew to Calgary, then boarded a train, traveled thirteen hours to Kamloops, where we spent the night in an old but prettily refurbished hotel.  Then another twelve or so hours on the train through the Rockies, alongside Thompson and Fraser rivers filled with salmon returning to spawn and die, to Vancouver.  We spent a couple days there before flying home to our disgruntled kitty.

The entire time I kept trying to capture a little of the beauty I saw speeding past with my little "point and hope" camera.  It's hard shooting through a window, although sometimes I elbowed my way to the open viewing platform where folks with pricier gear set up shop.  Sticking my head out in the fresh air, I imagined how giddy dogs feel when they push their heads out open truck windows, ears blowing back, tongues flapping in the wind.

Anyway, today I visited my local consignment place and found a little book called Natural Histories: A Bestiary, by Jules Renard.  There are charming pencil drawings by Toulouse Lautrec that accompany word sketches of turkeys, geese, swallows, squirrels and many more animals.  But the first little essay charmed me completely, and spoke to my need to travel, to take photos, and to paint.

The Picture Hunters

He jumps up early from his bed and sets out only if his mind is clear, his heart pure, his body light as a summer garment.  He carries no provisions.  Along the road he will drink fresh air and inhale wholesome smells.  He leaves his firearms at home, content with keeping his eyes open.  His eyes serve as nets in which pictures are caught.

The first one he snares is that of the road, showing its bones of polished stones and broken veins of its ruts, between the hedges laden with blackberries and small wild plums.

Then he catches a picture of the river.  Whitening at the elbows, it sleeps under the gentle stroke of willows.  It glistens when a fish turns up its belly, as though a piece of silver has been thrown in; if a light rain falls, the river has goose flesh.

He picks up the picture of the moving wheat, the toothsome clover, the meadows hemmed in with rivulets.  He seizes in passing the flight of a lark or a goldfinch.

Then he enters the woods.  He did not know that his senses could take in so much.  He is soon impregnated with scents, he misses not a single muffled sound, and his nerves attach themselves to the veins of the leaves so that he may communicate with the trees.

Before long he is vibrating to the point of discomfort, he is in ferment, he is afraid, he leaves the woods and follows from a distance the peasants returning to the village.  

Outside, he stares for a moment, with eyes ready to burst, at the setting sun as, on the horizon, it divests itself of its luminous garments, its scattered clouds.

Home at last, his head full, he puts out his lamp and, before going to sleep, delights in counting up his pictures.

Obediently, they appear again as his memory calls them.  Each one awakens another, and the new ones constantly join he phosphorescent band, like partridges that, all day pursued and divided, come together in the evening, and, safe in the depth of furrows, sing and remember.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Summer's End

Labor Day weekend has always meant the symbolic end of summer for me.  Since I was a Walworth county farm girl, that meant the fair.  The end of August seems to me to be the perfect time for a rural fair, since now is the high season for produce.  I still enjoy wandering through the agricultural building to see boxes of dented seed corn, onions, apples and various squashes.  Then there are the tall tall stalks of corn, and the giant pumpkins.  I also like looking over the floral displays, the little centerpieces all centered on some theme.  Who makes centerpieces any more? I didn't see what I used to enjoy when I was a child, row upon row of gaudy gladiola spikes and giant dahlias.  Perhaps they were in another building I missed.  There is a lot to take in at the fair.

I went on opening day, before the midway opened.  It was sunny and not too hot, perfect really.  Lots of buildings still had judging going on, at least in the open class areas.  The 4-H  judging was complete, so all the art projects, woodworking, posters explaining electrical circuits or the life cycle of bees, sewing projects and plates of cookies already had ribbons or stickers.  But the adults were seated anxiously on park benches, watching panels of judges make hard decisions.  Hearts ready to be broken were worn on each sleeve.

My parents never let me take animals to the fair.  Mother said something about not wanting me to sleep in the barns, but I don't think anyone ever does that.  I suspect they just didn't want the hassles of transporting an valuable animal to the week long event, and the daily responsibility that entails. Still, I think I might have liked fussing over a cow, learning to show her. 

I walk through the dairy and beef barns, but I have grown to look forward to the goats.  We never had goats, but I like their gregarious nature.  Many of them seem to look forward to their visitors, and sniff and delicately nibble the hand that isn't feeding them.  Almost all seem to enjoy having their ears scratched, pretty much like my cat does.

Then there is food.  When I was a child I looked forward to hot buttered sweet corn, at the tent with salt shakers suspended by strings for easy access.  These days I don't bother with the corn, but head straight to the cream puff stand.  The one I favor is in the row with the 4-H building, the fair office, and the agriculture building.  The stand is ancient, wood clapboard painted white with blue trim, and it looks like it has been there since the 1920s.  Actually they sell eclairs, brownies and cream puffs, but I am a cream puff only woman.  No drizzled caramel or nuts, please.  Just a sweet pastry filled with whipped cream and dusted with powered sugar.  Wear light colored clothing when tackling one of these babies - the sugar shows less when you've finished.

Alas, I think I am too old for rides.  Maybe if I had a wee child in tow I might, but I don't.  I have to enjoy all that going round in circles vicariously. In truth, my stomach might not be a strong as it used to be, especially after eating a cream puff.  I just wander the midway, nodding at the carnies, and taking pictures when I can.

The fair is a fine way to usher out summer.  The sweet thing for me now, is that I do not have to go to school on Tuesday. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Collage and Paint

11x14 inches, collage and oil on canvas

This is another painting that incorporates collaged papers in the background, under the oil paint.  During the summer I go to a community figure drawing studio on Monday evenings, and this was based on a sketch from one of those sessions.  The model is usually brightly lit against a dark background, and I wanted to make the dark areas interesting without being distracting, so I adhered prepared papers and bits of wallpaper samples before I laid in the dark paint.  I rather like the effect. At some point I may lighten the top of the pillow o which the model is resting her arm, just to make it stand out a bit more - but for now it is done.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rainy Days and Mondays

Dang - it's raining again on Monday, the day that, at least during the summer, I like to drive to Whitewater for figure drawing.  But the rain today has been noisy with rolling thunder and constant.  It is one of those gloomy days where the lights need to be switched on to read or do any artwork, and I'd just as soon be asleep, thank you.

But I did spend a few hours up in my little studio working on a piece that I started about a year ago, and had no trouble abandoning - more than once.  It's turning out to be a mixed media piece, although when I originally planned it I thought it would be acrylic with gold leaf.  I'd done a series of 8x8 inch acrylic paintings with gold leaf backgrounds, and I wanted to try the same technique with something larger.

So, I drew out three seated children reading together from a flea market snapshot, and quickly realized I was in trouble.  I had primed the canvas in red, and started the under painting in black and white, and I knew that I did not know how to work out the background.  What to do?

Nothing.  I put it aside for several weeks and on a winter workshop day I hauled it out and dutifully worked on the value part of the painting some more. But the love was not there.  So, once more the painting leaned against the wall in the studio, neglected but not forgotten. 

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Then I had an idea. I had done a 11x14 inch nude study, with collaged papers in the background, glazed over so there was an interesting pattern behind the figure, but subtle.  Why not try something like that with the painting of the children?  I couldn't like it any less than I did already, so nothing to lose but some time.  So, I hauled out some of my bags of printed papers, wallpaper samples and the like and used gel medium to paste them down.  Then I used burnt sienna acrylic paint to tint some clear gesso and went over the whole thing to unify it.  Suddenly that old lovin' feeling began to return.

Now I am using water soluble oil paint and painting in the figures.  The background will be mostly dark, and I hope the patterns peek through.  We shall see.  But at least I'm moving forward.

What a relief!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Little Validation

Gothic Gazing
5x7 inches, oil on paper

I have an art friend who has told me, more than once, that "validation is for parking passes."  In other words, it is important to feel satisfaction with your own work, and not be dependent on positive strokes from other people.  There probably is wisdom there, but I couldn't help but be excited to receive an email from the Wisconsin Regional Art Program (WRAP) that my wee painting received an award at the annual state show, held this year in Wausau.  

I was told the award is the Aaron and Ruth Bohrod Memorial award.

 First established in 1977 by well known Wisconsin artist Aaron Bohrod, this award is now a memorial award honoring Aaron Bohrod and his wife Ruth.  It is currently sponsored by Katherine Schmitt and her sisters.   It is given for "outstanding excellence in painting" and active participation in WRAA.

I'm not entirely certain  that my painting should be mentioned in the same breath with Aaron Bohrod, but I am thrilled that this year's judge liked the painting well enough to recognize it.  I will admit here, that I like the painting too.  I spotted these two young men at the Art Institute a while back, peering intently at the iconic Grant Wood painting, and I surreptitiously snapped a photo (no flash). It tickled me to see two people who looked more likely to be skateboarding than gallery gazing so wrapped up in what they saw.  It's dangerous to pigeon hole people. Anyway, the contrast between the two boys and the pair in American Gothic appealed to me.

 There is a cash component as well, which will offset the cost of traveling to Wausau to attend the show and awards ceremony.  It should be a fun weekend, viewing the other paintings, seeing art friends, and enjoying a short road trip to central Wisconsin.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


6x6 inch collage, in my sketchbook

Unbelievable, July is nearly over.  When I was teaching July was the only month that was reserved just for vacation activities - camping, biking, gardening, or whatever was good.  I don't do much of any of those things any more, except a bit of gardening, and that has been curtailed because of my stiff and sore knees.  The  flowers that come back on their own every year are still a source of joy, though. The bee balm has been glorious this summer, as are the lilies.  I try to cut some most every day and bring them inside to enjoy.

This summer has mostly been about the series of cemetery tours that I've been leading in connection with a local group that is restoring the chapel that was built around 1900.  My tours, which highlight interesting people from Janesville and the surrounding area, and old headstones and monuments, is free, although the chapel restoration folks are there every time serving cookies and water, and accepting donations to help pay for the new roof, foundation work, and stained glass window restoration.  The tours, which have been well attended, are fun to lead, but take lots of time to research, plot out, time and rehearse.  I finished writing the last one this week, and I look forward to not having the constant deadline hanging over me. My last tour is August 9th.

I'm also nearly finished with an online workshop centered on composition in connection to collage.  The teacher does work I admire, and I very much enjoyed a one day workshop with her last summer.  I'm not so sure that I'm getting as much from the online lessons, maybe because they were very specific, and there were a lot of them.  So many of them, in fact, that I had trouble keeping up.  That, plus the limits the instructor placed on the materials we could use, began to wear on me.  The class lasted five weeks, and I'm still not finished. I only post some of my completed assignments, because I just used whatever paper I want, which it not what the instructor had in mind.  The little collage at the top of this post is an example.  I just I just have problems following directions. Surprise!

My other summer art involves the community figure drawing studio at UW Whitewater.  I've miss a couple, but the sessions I've attended were great fun.  Thing is, what do I do with stacks of drawings of undraped models?  I suppose I must just look at it as practice, and not worry too much about the drawings, some of which I quite like.

I try to get out and socialize when the opportunity arises.  I spent a week in Kewaunee and Door counties recently, visiting my dear aunt, who is 85, and my brother and sister-in-law, who are a few years younger than I am.  It was fun visiting, going to art galleries, and driving the convertible with the top down.  Seems like there aren't all that many days in the year for doing that sort of thing.

Carpe diem.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Gimme a Hand

I've been researching and writing a walk in one of our old local cemeteries, partly because I find it interesting, and partly to get people interested in local history as it is preserved in old headstones and monument.  There are, of course lots of symbolic carvings on old headstones, weeping willows, Bibles, lambs and doves, eagles and shields, anchors and sheaves of wheat.

But in Oak Hill, the oldest operating public cemetery in Janesville, the most common symbols are hands.  Clasped hands.  Hands pointing heavenward and hands reaching down from heaven.  Hands with Bibles, and hands grasping flowers.  Today I just wanted to share a few of them, because I find them so fascinating and lovely.