Freezer therapy...

Pastel on paper from aeons ago…

Pastel on paper from aeons ago…

Most of us have heard the story of the guy who adopted an ill-mannered parrot. The parrot had a hard life so the guy vowed to woo the parrot into changing with unfailing kindness. No matter what he tried the parrot was incorrigible. The parrot swore abusively, was rude, disrespectful and yet the guy held forth with forbearance. The parrot mocked and ridiculed the very person who saved him. This went on for some time with no effort on the part of the parrot to repent and change. One particularly difficult day, the guy lost his patience and tossed the parrot into the freezer hoping the parrot would cool off a bit. A couple of minutes later he opened the freezer and the parrot sidestepped docilely up his arm.

“Sir,” the parrot said, “I’m profoundly sorry for my ill-mannered behavior after you were kind enough to take me in. What I said and did was rude and loutish. It will never happen again.”

Very quietly the parrot asked,

“Sir, may I venture to ask what the chicken did?”

We drop the friend who is all about themselves, adroitly negotiate the intrusive co-worker, confront the abusive boss, and have at hand numerous ways to leave the narcissistic lover.

So. Why do we let our critic beat us up every time we attempt to make art, write the novel, play the concert, design a building or invent an easier way to install plumbing?

Here’s the news flash. The critic is ours to manage not the other way around, so why do we tolerate the disparaging voice in our head? We wouldn’t consider letting someone talk to us that way in any other situation and yet we do the dance with our critic, and possibly our shrink who is making a lot of money off of a non-existent figment of our imagination.

I’ve read we should give our critic a persona and name. Identify the gender of our critic. Really? In the same amount of time we could make work to get the happy hormones flowing. In the last century we’ve invented as many propitiations to our emotional insecurities as our ancient ancestors did to the volcanos. We’re supposed to eschew victim mentality, yet we let the critic badger us to creative death. Is there a certain cachet if we have an especially cranky critic?

Why spend any time on this dark-side brain candy? The critic only exists as we allow it to. If the critic is ours to create let’s conjure up a well-mannered, cultured colleague. The critic must be trained as we’ve trained our family, friends and coworkers to respect our boundaries. When we need an edit or critique, we can invite the critic in as a trusted collaborator on our terms. Under those conditions, the expertise our critic offers is invaluable. Any other time, the critic should live in the freezer.

Everyone's a critic...

Some of you have already seen this series of photos. One of the top-all-time-favorite stellar moments in the city. What doesn’t show was the week before. The same squirrel vying for attention with the journal I was writing in. This was the second time the curious little rodent showed up and a friend captured the moment. Thanks Sarah @makelemonaide.

Some of you have already seen this series of photos. One of the top-all-time-favorite stellar moments in the city. What doesn’t show was the week before. The same squirrel vying for attention with the journal I was writing in. This was the second time the curious little rodent showed up and a friend captured the moment. Thanks Sarah @makelemonaide.

A couple of artist friends recently questioned the point of spending their studio time trekking outside to paint or draw and expressed feeling pressure to produce “real work” for sale. I spend roughly 70% of my art making time in a studio and can attest inspiration abounds whenever and wherever we have a making idea and decide to act on it.

The interaction with even proximate nature, i.e. sidewalks through a city park, have nothing technically to contribute to the latest studio portrait or abstract. They have everything to do with keeping us alive and interested. Studies show getting out of our comfort zone increases our creativity.

For several years, at my favorite painting park, one goose slowly waddled in as close as possible and stretched its neck until it could look over the edge of my knee to eye the sketchbook in my lap. Stood there. Stared while the goose pals moved on. This happened enough times I could rule out the seeking free food theory - especially after I explained I don’t feed the Wild Things people bread because most of it will kill humans let alone the birds. The goose hung out for as long as I painted and found me every time I went to the garden. I’ve felt sad since it hasn’t been around last season or this spring. Either the goose found a girlfriend, met an unfortunate demise or didn’t like the direction my art making was going.

I’m posting a painting soon of a heron who let me photo and sketch him for over an hour from a few feet away. Then, the beautiful creature literally followed me from tree to tree while I walked through the park. When I left, he escorted me out to the gate. Some say herons can be mean and to take care. I feel companionship. I’m not worried. Watching birds in their natural space can teach us a lot about balance in our lives. Especially watching a heron do Tree Pose for an hour.

Last week, I went out for the first time this very cold spring. Easel set up, deep into the moment. Gradually an awareness of sound, plops at regular intervals around where I was standing, brought me back. My first thought was I don’t want bird poop on the page or down my neck. I investigated and discovered the miscreant was a squirrel perched on a high tree branch pitching rather large, and when they found target painful, seed pods. Aiming. On purpose. I don’t know if it was the same squirrel from the photo op last year saying hello or a stranger squirrel commenting on the quality of my painting. Everyone’s a critic.

The interaction got my attention. I researched the characteristics and behaviors of squirrels to ponder the example they may offer for my art and life. One of the most applicable learnings is squirrels have a lot of fun while they are working hard. Point taken.

These informative experiences are available for all of us if we are willing to be aware and respectful when they occur. Walking the neighborhood, the trees in an area about five blocks from my front door kept catching my eye. Motivated by fresh curiosity about the configuration for a possible painting, I pressed further into the growth and stumbled on a natural area! Thirteen years I’ve walked by. The beauty of the few acres with snow falling sparked a new painting series.

When we venture out in the world, we find surprises. These may become our primary subjects or the energy of discovery may suffuse other work. We develop a personal connection to the image when we make a record with sketches or photos. We own the piece with our whole being and all of our senses contribute if we choose to bring the moment to life again through our art.

If studio painting is your thing, I fully support you and go back to work.

If you have disabilities discouraging you from being out and about, know there are many safe parks with paved walks, easy parking and access. Paint the reflections of apartment windows across the street or the florals in the local grocery store.

If you want to join the conversation or have questions, please leave them below. I’d like to hear from you.

Next, some thoughts on how changing up occasionally in the studio benefits our creative work.

Lightening up...

Winter sketching kit…

Winter sketching kit…

The winter painting kit is much smaller and easier to carry than the warmer weather “haul the whole studio if you can fit it all in the back of a Mini with the back seats down” effort. At the top is a water cartridge paintbrush and Pitt indelible marker. I usually pick one paint kit - the smaller Altoids box of gouache primaries or the watercolor kit with more colors. The cut-off sock cuff slips onto the paint container and fastens down with the rubber band. On site, I pull the sock onto the wrist to serve as a “paint rag.” Completing the winter kit a 3.5x8.25” Handbook. An even more compact choice is a 4.25x3” Pentalic Travelers book, or for real winter luxury, a Handbook 7x10.25.” Everything fits in the secret phone compartment everyone has in a coat or a hip pocket. Add a headband to warm the ears, fingerless foldaway mittens and you’re all set.

Wyeth's at the PAM


Three generations of Wyeth's at the Portland Art Museum. Newell Converse is hands down my favorite of the work represented in this exhibit. He apprenticed with Howard Pyle. His illustrations join many artists of that era - Maxfield Parrish who influenced Fred Machetanz, Minerva Teichert who studied with Robert Henri - in the pursuit of narrating history and their social/cultural experience. 


Stacks, oil, 40 x 18

Stacks, oil, 40 x 18

At school,  a professor challenged us to make a painting a day if we wanted to learn how to paint,  not a wimpy 8 x 10",  a substantial work. I wanted to finish this in a single sitting, however, the format is a bit large to tackle in one day.  Took about six hours over two days to complete this first in a new series of oil paintings, Working The River. 

The goal for the series is to lose the muscle memory of painting in oil since I was 15 and become as free with color as I feel with more recent pastel experiences. I've been tied to a traditional palette in oil and wondering why the pastels are so much brighter when I hardly pick up a brown in pastel. The goal for this series is to abandon all browns, ochres, earth siennas and umbers to create strong browns or lovely grays from clear reds, blues and  yellows.


Does it get better than having fun while you're working?

Photo courtesy of Carlotta Collette.

Tonight was a great evening, the opening of a wonderful show celebrating the history of Oregon City at In Bocca al Lupo Fine Art.  Six of the artists in the show, from left, Gary L. Michael, David Mayfield, Randall David Tipton, Leslie Peterson, Moi and Leland John, photo courtesy of Carlotta Collette. I had a good time hanging out with old and new friends talking shop. The mutual admiration and respect flowed freely, not to mention an abundance of good humor. Times like this I really love my job...


Peeps and I had a wonderful time in Bend experimenting with encaustic collagraphs. Thanks to Ron Schultz for showing me how to use the encaustic to make a printing plate. 

Oil and pastel...

The Big Questions: Is it Finished? Does the work feel Complete? Am I quitting because I’m Tired of squinting at yellow?

Thinking about this for a show submission in June. After seeing a Picasso at the SAM where he used pastel with oil, I made an experiment and enjoy how it’s turning out. A part of me wants to hang the work upside down. The stalks are so tall, when is the last time anyone has looked down into the face of a sunflower unless it was in a vase?