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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sneaking up on your Left Brain

Watching my students fuss and fidget, moan and groan over a little bit of canvas reminds me of my own process that I will share with you.

When there is a struggle, it is a sign that the left brain is trying to help. It can't - because it can't draw, do relationships or pay attention to any kind of detail. It doesn't like to spend time studying any aspect of a subject matter. And yet it is our dominant hemisphere. Major design flaw in our human species. Right! Put the problem solving side of our brain on the side that can't talk - our right brain, the relationship side, which notices how things fit together.

Instead of helping, our left brain is telling us we are not doing it right (but it doesn't tell us how to fix what we are doing because it can't!).  It tells us we are not getting this painting done fast enough. It's not good enough. No one is going to like it. Maybe we should give up painting (because then the left brain wouldn't have sit still and look - which it hates). And on and on it goes judging, criticizing and generally making us feel like crap!!! Sounds a bit like school.

So, this is my strategy when I paint. Happily I'll be painting along when all of a sudden I will hit a snag. And a little war begins. It's not working, it's not working, how could I possibly be a teacher, I'll never get it right and next thing I know I am tying myself up in knots. The trick is to recognize this is the left brain sitting on a shoulder just like the devil himself might.

Over the years, this recognition is now automatic for me. If my brush is not doing what I want it to, I simply switch to another part of my painting, preferably something with negative space, something the left brain can't recognize. I paint there for a few minutes. My left brain stops its yammering and then, like a flash, I rush back to the problem area and paint again - before my left brain figures out it has been duped. I continue this process and, after a while, I am able to paint in peace because my left brain is all worn out trying to follow me around my painting. I might use my mirror to look backwards to find any parts needing my attention. Getting away from the canvas also gives me a new perspective on what I am doing and where I am going. My left brain does not like these and it is because of this I use my mirror and get away.

If you are getting frustrated - what is it you are trying to do? Are you trying to impress someone? Are you afraid you'll run out of paint? There are no more canvases in the whole world available should you have to start over? Are you hoping to hit the lottery with this painting and make $600,000? Really? Where is the pressure coming from? What is the worst that can happen? You have to start over? the scheme of things that really doesn't sound like much of a big deal.

My favorite quote:  "Frustration is the direct result of expectation." That may have come from Helen Van Wyk. Some of us had the chance to talk to her after we watched her paint and were remarking about how beautiful her paintings were. Someone asked how she could do it and her answer was "I don't expect too much." Thank-you Helen. Always there with brilliant words of wisdom.

Paint just because it feels good to paint. Watch the colors move and change. Watch the painting come to life. If you spend a few minutes on your painting and now you perceive it a dismal failure it is so awful you are going to hell in a hand basket - you might want to rethink your approach to painting and LIGHTEN UP!!

Painting forgives me. It doesn't judge me because I put something in the wrong place. I always put things in the wrong place. It doesn't matter because it is paint and I can fix it! I may not figure it out now but, trusting my right brain is diligently working on solving my painting problems, I know I will figure it out eventually.

Be gentle with yourselves. We always make progress no matter how small. That's enough to be pleased. Is it better than the blank canvas you started with? Then you are making great progress.

BTW - some of my students think I have written this specifically for them. This is to let you know - if the shoe fits......... (insert evil grin here).

Happy (yes!! Happy) painting! - Kathy

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ode to a Lawnmower

Nope, not an art blog. Just a blog from an artist's head. Mine works in strange ways.

My lawnmower.  22 years old. One repair her first year of life by my neighbor's, now moved and dearly missed. Just one. My neighbor was magic.

My terrain is not smooth. Chunks and bumps and hidden sticks, rocks ever changing. She (yes, my machines are "she"), has been a trouper, chugging along suffering through all my abuses and ignorance. When black smoke was coming out of her I called Dad. Conversation with Dad, "Have you checked the oil? Have you ever changed the oil?" A couple of thoughts that never occurred to me. Don't remember having done either of those things in a while. Checking the oil was a great idea!! Down to about to 1/16 of an inch. Did change it then. A much happier mower.

I cut my grass "long" so maybe once every 2 weeks. Especially because I'm less likely to hit one of the billion rocks in my yard. I can pick up fallen twigs and branches forever but there's always one I miss. And she kept going. The wing nuts holding her handle on, twisted off. Guess I was supposed to check them? Mickey moused the missing nuts until I found the old ones in the grass weeks later - no small feat in my 1/2 acre of wilderness. Half the back rubber flap thingy fell off last year. The duct tape wasn't holding it together anymore. Well, half a rubber thingy is better than none, right? And besides, it doesn't bend under the mower when I pull it backwards. Does anyone not pull their mower backwards? So what is the point of having a long rubber flap thingy?

I did clean out the gunked up grass underneath after every mow. Yes, I unplugged the spark plug before, no I didn't tip it so everything would run into the carburetor.  No, I tipped it on the side where the gas would spill out! Hello! Does this make any sense designing a machine like that? Clean underneath, dump your gas! Well, I guess 22 years ago gas was still readily available and cheap. Still.

No rain this summer. Great! Decided not to mow until it rained. That was a couple months ago.  Poor mower. There's a hole in one of her fenders. Little pieces of grass plug the hole. I mowed. Hit something really big. Scared the crap out of me. I find the thing. A rock now split in half. Nice clean cut. Not a stone! A ROCK! Couldn't restart because the underneath rim was bent and the blade couldn't turn. Got out my trusty hammer and banged it back into shape. Well, close enough for the blade to still turn. Finished my mowing. The mower was making this really awful rattling sound. Put her back in the shed. Out of sight, out of mind.

We finally had rain! Grass is still burnt up but there are a few shaggy parts. Out I go to the shed. Pull out my trusty old battered lawnmower. I fill her with gas and prime her. There was one summer where I had to press the little black bulb 20 times before the oil would go through - something wouldn't connect inside. But then she got better all by itself. Who knows!! Yesterday she primed great. Pulled her rope. She started beautifully as she's always done. I begin mowing. Hmm....what is that puddle of oil pooling around the top well? That can't be good. Stop, clean up the oil. Check the oil. Yup - 1/4" left. Wonder if that is enough!! Start her again. No smoke coming out but the rattle. OMG! Maybe that will go away if I shut her down and start again. Yup! That worked! So off I go. But I don't have a secure feeling. The rattle (shudder would probably be a better word) comes and goes. And it finally "rattles" my memory. Ah. The rock. Sliced in half. Bent frame. Can't be good. Maybe more damage then I realized.

I keep mowing but my mind is telling me "buy a new one!!!" But this an enduring relationship. Something I could count on for 22 years. With every excuse I can come up with the same thing comes up in my head - I have to buy a new one.

Got her through the yard one more time, a little tense, jumping every time she hit a twig. Will something fly out from beneath the mower and cut my legs off?  After all - that rock didn't do so well! A sad moment putting her away. Probably not sad for her. Now my new mantra is "go to Amazon." Sigh. I find a new machine on Amazon. Not too expensive. Coming Friday. Guess I'll have to begin a new relationship. I'm an artist. I get to be weird. It's OK! I have relationships with my machines - most of them good. I thank them when they work well in spite of me. I have relationships with my trees, the flowers in my yard, my car, my cats and sometimes with people.

So now Miss Mower #1 is immortalized in print. Tribute to a truly great machine. 22 years. Can't wait to cut the grass with the new mower. What adventures await.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Dad's White Petunias - a painting

The color white has always eluded me in paint. It's just white, right? NOT! Ever since I watched my last teacher, Helen Van Wyk, paint a still life in white, I've been struggling with every attempt ever since.

First off, white is not a color and neither is black, by the way. And neither is black and white mixed together. The blacks and whites we find in tubes are essentially flat and dead until they are mixed with other colors. To me, white is the essence of light and light is created by our sun.

Therefore it is warm and we must use a warm color to add life to our white. Warm colors would be yellow, orange or red. I chose yellow to warm my white.

I worked this painting starting with a black and white (no color) underpainting in acrylic to make my application of color easier. Also, it's a great way to set up the composition. Unfortunately, Dad's flowers are in Vermont and I live in Massachusetts so a photo is necessary. Besides, I'm not fond of working out in the hot sun with the bugs. This was something I wanted to study and take my time with.

Over the course of two months I slowly worked with the shapes and the values, establishing those wonderful shadows. Eventually I plopped in the greenery and continued to edit the shapes. This was done by turning the canvas upside down
and sideways at times. Really helps to see what's off.

Eventually, the bitty white flowers were added, more tweaking. At the end I was simply using a #1 round and #1 filbert brush.

I'm thinking - maybe a really large canvas of white petunias? I am very happy with this painting and feel I have finally accomplished the feeling of "white." Thank-you, Helen, wherever you are, for your on-going inspiration. And, thank-you, Dad for having such a beautiful garden.

And the title is "Dad's White Petunias." You can see this painting on my website......

Happy painting!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Woodpecker on My House

For two years now my house has been chosen as a favorite tapping place for woodpeckers. I've hung out shiny things, a plastic owl, things that twirl - but nothing seems to deter them. Last year my house was under constant assault. This year there is only one bird.

He sits at the corner of the house tapping at my fascia board, watching out for me and my trusty hose which hangs ever ready on the deck. A few gentle taps. I try to shush him off and wave my arms as if I am making some spastic attempt to fly. But he laughs (I know he does) and taps some more. Does he understand I cannot fly? Does he get some kind of evil woodpecker joy from annoying me. Is there some special sound my house, and my house alone, makes to attract mates for him? Should I feel honored that my house is the chosen one?

I go to terrorize him with my hose but I have unhooked it from the faucet to redirect water to my veggie garden. A few drips come out. Pretty sure I look like a damned fool to him. His eye twinkles. He laughs. He does his woodpecker shriek and off he flies. Gotcha' again!

Friday, July 15, 2016


Write? But I'm a painter. Exactly.

With lots going on in my head and my life. There's the yard work, the taxes, buying groceries, aging parents, two cats that have issues with each other. And the car, the computers, the iPad, the internet. Students, classes, dentist and other doctors. Get's really busy in my head. Add a new woodchuck to my long list of critters finding my garden Eden itself. Oops! I have to clean the pond filter. Where are all these flies coming from?! Don't forget getting gas, getting groceries (yes, I know I've already said this) all over the state of Massachusetts because the ones I need are never in the same stores. Why is this not working (add any number of things here - lawnmower, snowblower, iPhone....)! What does it mean, Google, that I have blocked URLs?!!!! Can I inject my computer with an unblocker? WHAT?!!!!!

And I don't have kids like most of you do! Can't imagine having to deal with one more thing. And I know there will always be one more thing.

So I write. Every morning with my cup of coffee. A half hour to 45 minutes every single day for the last 10 years. Can't start a day without writing. What do I write about? Absolute, completely mindless dribble. No, really! In my "morning pages" I can threaten to annihilate my neighbors who allow their dog to bark for an hour at 5 in the morning (of course I would never annihilate them but I do get an evil sense of pleasure writing about it). I can report on the list of groceries I bought at Trader Joe's. How many rabbits were in the garden; what marvelous or hilariously stupid thing I did yesterday (oh boy do these take up a lot of my writing space); rant about insurance, the internet......everything! What I write is of no importance or consequence. I can write "I" as many times as I want without being self-conscious of being narcissistic. I can write blah blah blah blah blah a million times across 3 pages of my college ruled notebook. Completely, totally, mindless dribble (or is that drivel? or drizzle?)! Hell! I can even make words up! What is important is simply the act of writing. It never has to be read - by anyone including me.

It all started with Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Julia sets up assignments that contribute to opening, discovering our artistic selves. Those selves that always seem to end up on the back burner while we take care of our jobs, our spouses, our children, our pets, our cars, our homes, our parents, etc., etc., etc. Have to, Have to, Have to takes the place of creating, resting, reading, slowing down long enough to replenish our psyches. Once our day starts it's like being sucked up into a tornado. 'Round and 'round we go until we crash down at the end of the day empty and depleted.

So, the very first assignment in Julia Cameron's book is to write 3 pages every single morning. Not to be read by anyone, nor criticized, nor thought about. Just write. Well! 3 pages was a hell of a lot of writing at first! And there were mornings I did write blah blah blah blah......for most of my pages. But after awhile I started to look forward to the writing. Sometimes ideas would present themselves, sometimes the past would poke its creepy head into my pages. But it didn't matter because no one was ever going to see these thoughts. No one would be pulling my writing apart because I miss-spelled a word or didn't organize my thoughts so someone else could understand them.

And that's the point. I can be as crazy insane, dopey, duh, pissed off, or a rage maniac. It's not all bouncing around in my head like the balls in a Bingo machine. OO! there's a thought! OO! there's a though!! OO! there's another thought! Or - holy crap! where did that come from!!!!!! My head is calmed down, opened up and emptied leaving room to paint a painting! or write a book! or solve an simple day to day problem.

It's a weight off. I can bitch, moan, scream, swear, drop f bombs all over my pages and it's all OK. I shut off my inner critic and say "screw it!! (insert f bomb here)."

Sometimes, when I hear how overburdened some of you are, feeling trapped and alone, I think how maybe writing your thoughts, horrors, anxieties, humor, darkness and light might help ease your paths somewhat. Get yourselves a fat, college ruled notebook (the 10 subject kind) and a box of your favorite pens. Give yourselves, your creative spirits permission to be creative. You might find that masterpiece or that book you've always dreamed of.

And so, thank-you Julia Cameron for giving me permission to write, no talent required.  Happy painting!