Friday, April 27, 2018

Approaching the Canvas with Confidence

Last weekend was the much-anticipated "Art of the Portrait" conference in Reston, VA, and this year the Portrait Society celebrated its 20th anniversary. I'm so honored to have been a part of it, as a faculty member and a competition finalist.

Thursday night's "Face Off" demo kicked off the event with all the energy and excitement it's become known for. Fifteen artists gather around live models and paint for three hours, while attendees can encircle the room and watch and learn, visit with each other, and ask the artists questions during breaks. I absolutely love being part of the Face-Off, and this year I was in a prime spot, painting famous artist/author Virgil Elliott, alongside two of my favorite badass women artists, Rose Frantzen and Elizabeth Zanzinger.

Above: The final portrait of Virgil, 16x12", oil on Raymar L64 quadruple lead primed linen panel.

The finished paintings get auctioned off to raise funds for scholarships for the next year's conference. I love that it's for such a good cause, as there were several dear ones in attendance this year (including my sister!), who were there because they earned a scholarship.

The following morning, I made my main stage debut alongside my dear friend Quang Ho, and we were privileged to paint the beautiful and incredibly prolific Adrienne Stein. The topic of our demonstration was "Approaching the Blank Canvas with Confidence." So, instead of giving you a rundown on the whole weekend (which could take a while!), I thought I'd make this post about "painting with confidence", and share a few of the things we addressed during our talk.

I haven't always been a confident artist. To some extent, I agree with the statement, "Fake it till you make it." Everybody asks if I was nervous to be up there painting in front of 800+ people. The truth is, I was a little nervous (and baby boy starting kicking like crazy when he felt my heart racing, ha!), but as soon as I was on the stage, I was completely fine... and even if I hadn't been, I would have "faked it" till the nerves went away. As is always the case months before a big event like this, I lost a lot of sleep on nights prior to my arrival here, thinking about what I was going to say. But once I was up there, brush in hand... I felt very much in my element, doing what I love, and getting to share it with my extended art family. So there were no nerves -- only joy!

Look at that crowd!

(Photos above provided by Emily Olson and Adrienne Stein :-))

I think there is a direct correlation between confidence and self awareness, or what you might call mindfulness. How well do you know yourself? From a technical standpoint, do you know what your tendencies are (both good and bad)? For example, I tend to make noses too long. So I try to be mindful of this every time I start a portrait, making sure to take some extra time observing my subject in order to nail those proportions. On the flip side of this, sometimes we dwell too much our weaknesses, rather than our strengths. This is a confidence killer! Definitely work on improving your weaknesses, but be sure to capitalize on the things you're good at!

I can offer some practical tips on approaching a blank canvas (I talk about this in my DVDs). Here are just a few:
- Tone your canvas to get rid of the "big scary white."
- Do quick sketches first to "warm up" and become acquainted with your subject.
- Draw your design on with vine charcoal, which is very forgiving and can be easily wiped off.
- Or... don't make a mark at all at the beginning but rather, look a little longer at your subject until you find something that really grabs you... then go for it.

I think confidence can often be connected to your physical and mental health, or your energy level. I am always more confident when I've had a good night's sleep, and when I'm consistently working out and eating healthy. We tend to think of art as a sedentary activity, when in reality it requires the mental clarity of a surgeon and the physical stamina of a marathon runner!

Setting realistic goals for your painting. I know I'm not going to paint a masterpiece in 2 1/2 hours. And I know I'll have different goals for demonstration pieces than I will for studies that I create in the quiet of my studio or at a life drawing session. So instead of biting off more than you can chew, i.e. "I'm going to make a beautifully finished head in three hours," think about taking smaller steps at a time. "I will try different cropping than I'm accustomed to," or "I will only use four colors," or "I will get the likeness using broad strokes/big shapes and no specific details," etc.

The biggest point I can make about this topic is that we must banish fear from our vocabulary. Fear doesn't serve us in any way--in fact, it weakens and paralyzes us. We must learn to channel that fear and turn it into something positive, such as excitement or gratitude. One of the best things I've learned from Quang is this: there are no wrong decisions in painting, except to never make a decision. Inertia is the fundamental enemy of artists.

My Crossfit coach said something profound one day at the start of what everyone know was going to be a "destroyer" workout. He said, "When it gets hard, don't dwell on that part. Instead, approach it with a spirit of gratitude. Be thankful that you get to be here, and that you can move your body like this." Yes! This is so true of art as well! The instant you switch your mindset from "This is hard," to, "I get to do this!", everything will change for the better.

There is so much more I could say about this, but I'll close with this:  Art is meant to be seen. Most of us can agree that we are inspired by the courage of others when they step out of their comfort zones and allow the world to see them for who they really are. But the thought of us doing this ourselves makes us squirm. I love what Brene Brown says in her book about vulnerability, called Daring Greatly. When she needs to muster some confidence, she prays a "vulnerability prayer" that goes like this: "Give me the courage to show up and let myself be seen." (Another great one by this author is The Gifts of Imperfection. I've been so inspired by these books! Check them out).

We'll never confident until we become comfortable with being uncomfortable. As Quang says, "I like not knowing where I'm going. I could be at the brink of disaster or at the edge of something truly great."


Monday, March 5, 2018

Dirty Brushes & Dirty Diapers: Finding Balance in Painting & Parenting

As promised, I will continue answering some of the questions I received a few weeks ago when I posted about my upcoming demo at the Portrait Society of America. Since some of you will not be attending the conference, I thought I would address the questions here on my blog and social media. 

Today’s question is from @suzizef. She asked, “How do you juggle painting and motherhood?” 

I have written extensively about this, especially in 2014 and 2015 when I was a brand new mom. If you’d like you can search my blog archives for some of those posts. However, since my daughter is now almost four years old and we have another little one due in August, our family dynamic is changing and I can answer this question from a slightly different perspective than what I had four years ago. 

"Motherhood" - 30x20" - oil on linen (2016)

In short: both jobs are extremely important, difficult, and rewarding. When I first had my daughter, I was still taking on occasional commission work and creating new paintings for my local gallery. But I cut WAY back on all of my other outside commitments, so that the only things I had left to focus on were my family and my art. I realize when I look back that this was a wise decision, because it helped me zero in on what mattered, and to excel in these areas. The worst mistake you can make as a parent or an artist is to stretch yourself too thin. When this happens, you quickly become stressed and resentful, and the quality of your work suffers across the board. 

During the first couple of years as a new mom, I painted whatever I felt like, which usually meant painting my daughter. I’ve lost count of how many pieces I’ve done of her in her short life so far, and the truth is, I’ve only sold two or three of them. But I wasn’t painting them for money; I was using my art to help me process all of these new life experiences. It was a very healing time. Motherhood caused my art to become exponentially better. For example, when my daughter was a newborn, I painted her from life at least once a week. Sometimes I scraped the painting (children still move in their sleep!), other times I saved it, but what mattered was that I was using this time to practice working from life. I was home most of the time, and since I lived and worked around Cece’s sleep and feeding schedule, I couldn’t hire models or go to open studios. I learned to manage my time a whole lot better than I had before becoming a parent. When your painting time becomes a fraction of what it used to be, you don’t waste it scrolling through social media! And most importantly: I found my real voice as an artist. I was no longer painting to please a client or a gallery, but was simply painting for the love of it. My very best work is that which is deeply personal to me.

Above: one of the 3-hour life studies I did of Cece during her nap. She was three weeks old in this one (6x8 inches, 2014). 

As Cecelia got older, we put her in a Montessori preschool 2-3 days a week, which gave me much more freedom and time to paint. Gradually I was able to add some “extras” back into my life, such as volunteering at my church, visiting more often with friends, hosting parties and game nights, and working out at a gym. I had to be careful not to let these things take up too much of my painting time, but I managed to find a happy balance of “painting days” and “parenting days.” I felt like I could be a much better mom because I had been given the gift of time to myself. Admittedly, I am NOT one of those helicopter moms who have to spend every waking moment with their child. Cece is a GREAT kid, but I just can’t be around anyone that long, not even my husband or daughter. I need time and space alone to think, pray, and create.

Then… last summer, my husband and I realized it was probably time to think about having another kid, especially since Cece was starting to ask for a “baby brudder!” I used the summer to paint, hike, and explore as much as possible, because I knew getting pregnant and having another baby would “set me back” in the independence department and I’d be essentially starting over. Ok… maybe not starting over. Doing it again, but with more experience and wisdom under my belt this time around (hopefully)!

Cece is now a spunky almost-four-year-old who loves Minnie Mouse, butterflies, Trolls, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, Frozen, coloring, putting stickers on everything and everyone, writing and spelling her name, the moon, macaroni and cheese, and cookie dough ice cream. And she melts my heart every time she says, "Mommy, I wuv you so much!"

I am now 16 weeks pregnant. I still have a very busy teaching and painting schedule leading up to my due date in mid-August. But I am taking good care of myself, continuing to be mommy to Cecelia, and learning that balance is about getting rid of the unnecessary and fiercely holding on to what’s important. Right now, for me those things are: family, faith, health, art, and art community. I have a very supportive art family here in Denver, and in a way, they are coming alongside me on this journey.

I have NOT figured all this out. There is something new to learn every day. But I can tell you a few things I have learned, or am continuing to learn, about finding balance in parenting and painting. 
  • Attend first to your soul. I’ve tried “toughing it out,” and believe me, this never bodes well. It usually ends in some kind of breakdown. Maintain your spiritual and mental health so that you can withstand the pressures of art and parenting.
  • Take care of your health. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve started doing Crossfit. I’m going to continue with it through this pregnancy, and hopefully I’ll be able to avoid the chronic postpartum back pain I suffered with Cece. Keeping in shape and eating clean will help me bounce back, and to spend less time at the chiropractor’s or struggling to get out of bed, and more time doing the things I love.
  • When you feel frustrated, change what you’re doing. In art, that could mean switching medium or subject matter, or putting down the brush and picking up an art book instead. During my first trimester, I had very little motivation or energy to paint, so I did a lot more writing instead. 
  • Be okay with accepting and asking for help. Seek out a therapist or counselor if necessary. During the past few years, in addition to receiving some excellent counsel about art and life from trusted friends, I have also listened to dozens of audiobooks. Half of them were art books (biographies, marketing advice, philosophy), and the other half were “self-help.” I wanted to keep thinking about art and growing as a painter, but I also wanted to rid my soul of the personal chaos I was always experiencing. Many of books I read changed my life, and included the “Boundaries” series by Cloud and Townsend, books about the Enneagram and personality typing, and “big picture” works by Timothy Keller about the purpose of God, marriage, and work (I highly recommend “Every Good Endeavor”).
  • Show yourself grace. As artists, we are constantly bombarded with the message that if we’re not productive at all times, or doing something to promote our business (e.g. sending out email campaigns, posting on social media, teaching or volunteering, entering shows, etc.) , then we are not going to be successful artists. You know what? Success is relative. And if you have somehow managed to check everything off your list, but are burnt out and miserable, then I wouldn’t consider that success. Give yourself a break once in a while, and you’ll be amazed at how much more productive you’ll become!
  • At the end of the day, remember that these little children whose lives we are shaping, are what matter more than anything else. This will often mean putting down the brush when tiny hands are shoving a book into your lap. Yes, read that book. She's little today, grown up tomorrow.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Need for Art

Art is a calling. Some of us also choose to make it a career, but it’s not a career in the traditional sense of the word (i.e. work till you’re 65, retire with a good pension, take up golf…). I have no desire to retire at a set age and live out my days on a yacht or a golf course. My wish is to make money from my art so that I can keep creating art for the rest of my life.

Sometimes I think it would be easier to have a 9-5 job working for someone else. If you run your own business like I do, you probably understand that the marketing and self promotion side of it can be tough, sometimes awkward. It’s hard to put yourself out there and actively promote yourself and your product. With artists, it can be even harder because our product is so utterly personal, an extension of ourselves. We make a painting, and there is only one in the world like it. It is completely unique. And once it has been realized to the best of our ability, we give it up to someone who will love and cherish it, so that we can go on making more.

Granted… unlike many of the products that small business owners wholeheartedly sell and promote, art doesn’t promise “results” such as weight loss, a healthier heart, clear skin, or better social media skills. So what is the big deal? Unless you’re investing in the big guys like Koons or Morikami, art won’t make you rich; in fact, it will cost you something.

But seasoned collectors know a secret the rest of the world has yet to learn: that art is an actual need. The walls and shelves of these collectors are teeming with life, energy, and countless stories. If you’re ever lucky enough to walk through a home like this and hear some of those stories, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. Every painting or sculpture, and the artist behind it, has a story. Collectors buy art because it speaks to them on a personal level and helps them better tell their own stories. Art fulfills that deep and unquenchable ache we all have to be surrounded by beauty. Have you ever been inside a house devoid of any original art? It’s quite soulless. But a house that has been thoughtfully and lovingly filled with good and beautiful things truly feels like a home.

So, I would like to take this moment to express my gratitude towards all my collectors, past, present, and future. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your story. I hope to contribute more beautiful art to the world and to your homes for many years to come!

P.S. If you have purchased my work in the past, I would love to see a picture of it in its new home! Feel free to email me at And be sure to check out my website,, to see my latest work.

Below: Photos of my collectors and painting subjects with their art, either purchased or privately commissioned.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

All About Models

On April 20, I will be painting a main stage portrait demo alongside Quang Ho at the Portrait Society of America's 20th annual "Art of the Portrait" conference in Reston, VA. I recently posted about this event on my Instagram account, asking my followers if they had any questions they would like me to answer during our demonstration. While the official theme for the demo will be, "Approaching the Blank Canvas with Confidence," there are infinite things we could talk about, and we only have two and a half hours! So, in an attempt to address some of the questions I've already gotten from Instagram, from people who may or may not be in attendance at the conference, I've decided to answer some of them here on my blog in a series of posts leading up to the event.

The first question I got was from @daphnecoteartist. She asked: "What kind of process do you go through with the model?"

Big question, right? There's no way I can cover that in a short little demo. So here you go, Daphne! Let's talk about models!

There are many different kinds of models. We usually think of professional/fashion models when we hear the term, but for our purposes, anyone can be the subject of a work of art.

Art models: These are the models I work with the most often, as they are paid professionals (both men and women) who can find and hold an interesting pose for a long period of time and are comfortable working clothed or nude. When I am posing a model for an alla prima portrait or figure study, here are some things I try to keep in mind:

- Lighting. I prefer natural (north or shadow of the day) or cool (4500-5500 kelvin) light. This brings out the natural colors of the skin. If I'm posing a model for a class or demo, I usually light the model at a 45 degree angle from above to allow for the traditional "Rembrandt" lighting, which is great for seeing light and shadow on a head. However, if I'm just experimenting in my studio or painting a person for fun, I like to play around with the lighting and try different angles. Lately I've been a fan of frontal lighting, which makes it harder to see form (i.e. no deep eye socket shadows), but can be very flattering for younger models.

- Pose. I look for something with interesting diagonals, which might include a turn or tilt of the head, tilted shoulders, graceful hands, etc. The model is usually going to pose for anywhere from 2-4 hours, with short breaks every 25 minutes. Ideally they know their bodies well enough to work with me in choosing a pose they know they can hold without passing out or having all their limbs fall asleep. The most experienced models work through the pain and work out the pins and needles during breaks! :-) If you are unsure about how to pose a model, or are new to figure drawing in general, I highly recommend Andrew Loomis' book, "Figure Drawing for All Its Worth."

- Clothing/Background. Sometimes we are given choices in these things; sometimes we are not. Either way, I try to be flexible and work with whatever the model has. If the model walks in wearing sunglasses on top of her head and giant hoop earrings, I might find that inspiring and tell her not to change a thing. Or, if that's not working for me, I have a variety of accessories I can contribute to create different looks. Very often, the model will have multiple clothing and accessories of her own to choose from, so pick whatever excites you. You can design the background around the figure; the color doesn't matter as much as the value choices you make, and background shapes, if any.

- You have options! I try to remember that just about anything can be changed, including my lighting (I can move it), my vantage point (I can move myself), my palette (I can decide the scope of my color choices), or the model (the pose, clothing, and accessories can all be adjusted).

- Photography. Always ask the model's permission before snapping away, especially on a cell phone (for some reason it feels unprofessional to me, although I understand that it's usually the only camera we have on hand). If you plan to finish the painting from photo references, I think it's important to tip your models to compensate for some of the time you would otherwise be paying them for. Often, such as when working with professional ballerinas, I hire models with the sole purpose of using photography to make studio paintings. In those instances, I pay a generous photo rate which is higher than the hourly life session rate, because I usually end up doing more than one painting from the shoot.

Above: Jessica is one of my favorite Dallas-area professional art models. Here we are with a live three-hour demo I did of her in a workshop, and below is a large studio painting that I completed months later in my studio from reference photos, taken with the model's permission.

"Native Daughter, Modern Woman" - 42x24" - oil on linen panel - available. 
Studio painting with a professional art model, based on a study done from life

Above: "Crystal Seated," 14x11", oil on linen panel (Available through Saks Galleries). This is a good example of a painting done from life, with a professional nude model. With her permission, I took a reference photo of her face and feet to finish the photo in my studio, as three hours wasn't quite enough time to bring it to the level of polish I was hoping for.

"Elegant Lines" - 20x24" - oil on linen - private collection.
This painting was based on photo references of professional dancer and fashion model Kayla Giard. Dancers especially have busy schedules so if you can get them to pose for a life session with you, it's a special treat!

Family and friends: This is a big one. If your experience is anything like mine, there are some dear ones in your life who love and support your work enough to be your guinea pigs throughout your career. Others don't want anything to do with it! Getting family to pose can be like herding cats. Everyone is busy, scattered about, and doing their own thing. I've been successful a few times during visits back to Wisconsin in getting sisters or sisters-in-law to pose for me. But usually it requires some intentional effort and time. A couple of my dearest friends from college have modeled for me throughout the years, including Laura (below), who volunteered herself and her children as models for a breastfeeding themed commission I had a few years ago. No matter how difficult it is to round them up for paintings, I'm grateful when my loved ones pose, as the resulting portraits are very special to me.

"Nurturer" - 24x30" - oil on linen - Collection of the Museum of Motherhood, NYC

Color study for "Daddy's Girl" - 9x12" - oil on linen panel - collection of the artist

Above and below: You may recognize these two: my husband and daughter. I painted them first from life while they were watching Sesame Street, then took some reference photos to do the studio painting above. I wanted it to have the same feeling of immediacy that the sketch did.

"Daddy's Girl" - 20x12" - oil on linen - collection of the artist

"Victorian Window" - 18x12" - oil on linen - available through John C. Doyle Gallery
This painting is of my beautiful sister in law Lindsay, who posed for me at her home.

"Being Sixteen" - 42x30" - oil on linen
I painted my youngest brother, who posed in his room with his guiter (and dirty laundry :-)) when he was a teenager (he is now 22 and about to graduate college!). 

Self portraits: I've written about this here, here, and here (I'm sure there are more posts somewhere), but the fact remains: if you are short on models, money, energy, or time, you can always paint yourself. Sometimes I might have a concept in mind that I want to try out, and I'll use myself for it first. This doesn't always work... I mean, I could never pose with a sledgehammer like Jeremy did (keep reading below to see which painting I'm referring to), but self portraits are great for experimenting with lighting, color, design, and much more. Or, if you're a new mom and can't leave the house, paint yourself with your baby like I did back in 2014. :-)

"Proverbs 31:17 (Self Portrait at 29) - 24x18" - oil on linen - Collection of the artist

Children:  I often get asked how I work with children, especially for commissioned portraits. In a perfect world, the parents would let me paint their kids being completely themselves, as in "Innocence" (below). It was an artist friend who volunteered her two daughters to model in their dance attire, and I was able to make several wonderful paintings from photographing the girls dancing freely, un-posed and uninhibited. Most of the time though, parents have an idea in their head of what they want - usually a more formal portrait with the child in their finest little dress or suit coat, looking sweetly out at the viewer. This is always possible but requires a level of earned trust between the artist and the sitter. I try to get to know the children I paint by spending some time with them, asking them about themselves, and showing interest in them as people. Children light up when you give them your undivided attention! And surprisingly, children as young as 5 can sit very well for a color study from life, as long as you are talking with them the whole time. Once I've gotten a good little life sketch of my subject, I take several hundred reference photos. The children usually start out rather stiff and forced, and by the end they are tired... but there is a sweet spot in the middle of the shoot when they loosen up and start enjoying themselves. That's where the money shot is!

"Innocence" - 24x12" - oil on linen - private collection

Artists: Artists often make great models, because they already understand what it takes to pose for a painting, and the patience needed to design a strong piece of work. The downside: they would probably rather be painting!

"Portrait of Artist Michael Mentler" - 12x9" - oil on linen panel - private collection

"Judy in Blue" - 18x14" - oil on linen panel 
One of the best artist portraits I've ever painted. Isn't she fabulous??

People who have never posed before: This is, hands down, one of my favorite model "categories," because I love working with people who are brand new to the experience of collaborating with an artist! It's always a really fun and interesting experience, plus I get the privilege of having truly original work, in the sense that no one has ever seen this model in a painting before. Because figurative work is relational at its core, I find that people who come into my life, take the time to get to know me (and vice versa), and eventually become my friends, make for some of the best models I've ever had.

The tricky part is overcoming a person's [understandable] aversion to looking like a narcissist. Some people think the concept of posing for a painting is kind of weird, until they warm up to the idea. If they happen to be mutual friends with someone I'm close to, such as my twin sister, I will sometimes ask her to ask them on my behalf... that way, they have time to think about it and don't feel put on the spot when I approach them myself at a later time.  Or, I might be lucky enough to discover that someone is genuinely interested in the process and will volunteer to participate!  Either way, if they are going to be a part of my life, they have to know that I'm an artist who loves to paint people, and they might get asked to model at some point. :-)

"Autumn Song" (12"x12", oil on linen panel, available through John C. Doyle Gallery)

Above: The model for this painting is Corinne, an extremely talented singer and musician at my church. Because she is such a creative type, she jumped at the chance to model and made for one of my favorite collaborations ever! She has also become a very dear friend.

"One More Rep" - 12x20" - oil on panel - available

Above and below: Since I spend a lot of time at the gym, I started asking coaches to model for me. Andie (above) and Jeremy (below) had never even thought about modeling before but they were both really fun to work with.

"Strength and Stormclouds" - 24x36" - oil on panel - available

Commissions: I would consider this a subcategory of people who have never modeled (you can get some insight into my process here). Sometimes the client has a long family history of portraiture, and they are quite used to having paintings done of themselves or their loved ones. But in my experience, clients are usually brand new to working with an artist and find it helpful for me to explain the entire process in detail, so that they know what they are getting themselves into. Of course, my approach to commission work is different depending on the client and their particular needs/wants. I do commissioned alla prima head studies, if they are willing and able to pose for 3-4 hours. But usually, they don't have that kind of time. In that case, I ask them to sit for a very brief color study (20-30 minutes) and to pose for photos, which I take myself. Always, we are chatting and getting to know each other, and I am observing their unique facial expressions, gestures, and personality, with the eventual goal of bringing those characteristics into the final portrait.

"Taylor" - 50x36" - oil on linen - Commissioned Portrait

"Joan" - 16x12" - oil on linen panel - Commissioned Portrait (alla prima)

More Q&A coming in the next blog post. If you have any more questions about working with models, please leave them in the comments here!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Adventures and Accolades

2017 has been quite a year. As the new year approaches, I inevitably look back and reflect on all the changes that have taken place and what I've learned from this past year. I'm very thankful to have received several notable awards and accolades just this past month. For those of you who have been following my journey on social media and here on this blog, you know that this kind of recognition means a great deal to me. I've worked really hard to get here. While I do acknowledge the existence of "talent", I believe even more in the relentless pursuit of one's passion. To me the biggest compliment is not, "You're so talented," but rather, "Your hard work is paying off."

So... maybe some of the hard work is paying off. And the affirmation drives me to keep doing better work than before, to make a painting that is even better than the last. I know, it's a little crazy. Like a dog chasing its tail... I'm never going to reach perfection, whatever that looks like. But in my opinion, it's still a worthy pursuit.

Earlier in November I flew out to Saint George, Utah, to attend the OPA Western Regional and opening reception and weekend festivities at Illume Gallery of Fine Art. Much to my great surprise, the juror, William Schneider, awarded me with the top prize (gold medal!) for my self portrait, "Silent Snowfall."  

Knowing my chances of ever becoming an Olympic athlete are...well, zero... this was probably the only time in my life I'll ever wear a gold medal around my neck. It felt pretty good.

But the best part of the trip to Utah was the hiking. I got explore Zion National Park, and Snow Canyon State Park, for a glorious day and a half before heading home. During those contemplative moments of hiking and painting, I enjoyed reflecting on God's goodness and how He cares about the smallest and biggest moments of our lives. I looked at the world with a renewed sense of awe for its beauty and the fact that I get to have a place in it, even if it's short and probably insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I'm grateful.

So why has 2017 been different? I've definitely had a lot LESS time in my studio than in years past. But I'm trying to become more patient when I'm there, a better listener to the work and what it needs. I've also had more freedom within my work to experiment more, try things without the hindrance of fear, and to be okay with it if it doesn't turn out. Part of this is because there's been less financial pressure on me, thanks to my hubby who ROCKS at his job (!), but it's mostly because I'm finally listening to the right advice and learning to be more nurturing in my craft.

Over the course of the past few weeks, there has been more good news. My self portrait also received a second place award in the Portrait Society of America's Members Only Competition, and my peony still life, "Spring Bouquet," won 8th place in the still life category. There were over 1000 entries this year!

"Vintage Tutu" was awarded First Place (out of over 2000 entries) in Southwest Art Magazine's annual "Artistic Excellence" competition, landing it a full-page editorial in the December issue (see image below). Today I was told that this same painting will grace the cover of a prominent publication... to be announced next month (my first cover!)!

Finally... and I'm still giddy over this... prominent artist and good friend of mine, Quang Ho, invited me to join him on the main stage at the upcoming Portrait Society of America's "Art of the Portrait" conference in April for a portrait demo entitled,  "Approaching the Blank Canvas with Confidence."  We'll be painting in front of 800+ people! Of course, this is old hat for Quang, who is a beloved regular at this event, but for me it's going to be nerve-racking and awesome.  I can't wait! So... if you are still on the fence about coming to the Portrait Society this year, maybe I can convince you to join us. It's going to be a blast!

Finally... the last thing I want is for this post to sound like a brag fest. For those of you who feel like every day in the studio is a struggle, and you enter every online, regional, or national show that comes up... I have been there. So. Many. Times. For years I threw my paintings towards every opportunity for exposure, hoping something would stick, only to realize that I wasn't being smart about it... or patient. I've learned to wait for those rare and special paintings that really sing, and enter THOSE in juried shows and competitions. This year I've only had two or three outstanding paintings, but I'm very proud of them, and judges and collectors are taking notice. Everything else in my studio - the hundreds of figure studies, plein air pieces, and unfinished paintings... will either have their day, or will never see a collector's wall. And that's all right. What matters is that as artists, we are continuing to challenge ourselves and grow. If you make exceptional work, people will start to notice. :-) Happy painting!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Rest from the Noise

Okay, it's been a while since I've posted and I'm going to be vulnerable with you.

I've had a lot of noise in my life lately. There is, of course, literal noise, such as the little voice from the back seat that calls me out when my mind begins to wander and says, "Mommy, you need to talk to me!" and who requires 3-year-old conversations throughout the day about puzzles and rain boots and Dora the Explorer. I don't mind that noise - it is a sweet time right now and oh so fleeting. But I will admit that when I'm in the car by myself I shut off the radio and soak up the silence.

No... the loudest noise in my life has been coming from within. It manifests itself in an insipid string of lies that speak to me in the first person, saying, "You're not doing this right. No one really likes your work. You must not be cut out for this. You're failing as an artist and a mom. You're a terrible friend. All these things you're doing - teaching workshops, acting like you know anything about anything... you're a fraud." I could keep going but I don't want to depress you.

Anyone else experience that terrible inner noise? That voice that won't leave you alone, that constantly undermines your confidence and your motivation to keep striving? 

Well, I've dealt with it most of my life. But I've been reading a book lately (another recommendation from my wise and dear friend Linda), that is helping me to decipher the clutter and open up room in my mind for God to breathe fresh life into my art and everyday activities. With His help I can learn not just to ignore the noise, but banish it for good. The book is called "Unseen: the Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed," by Sara Hagerty. The title alone made me uncomfortable at first. I mean, my whole vocation revolves around being "seen". I'm an artist. My work is meant to be noticed, considered, appreciated, acquired. My life too, has become public because so much of it is rooted in this thing that I do, this gift that I share with the world. And my personality type (I'm an INFJ and an Enneagram 3; look it up!)... well, this just reinforces why it's so hard for me to let go of both my inner thoughts and my public image. Claude Monet was very concerned with his audience's perception of him. The same man who described his water lily paintings as a "haven of peace" is also known to have slashed or kicked holes through hundreds of them in his rage over the work not meeting his standards. I haven't resorted to violence toward my art yet... but I can relate.

I'm beginning to realize that "hidden-ness", though very hard to attain in this day and age, is something I desperately need more of in order to be grounded in my personal life and in order to continue making art that matters. My natural impulse is to communicate what I'm thinking and feeling as directly as I can, because it feels good to let it out, and to find others who relate to my experiences (hello? Isn't that why we enjoy all those likes and comments on social media?).  But as I grow older and [hopefully] wiser I am hiding more things in my heart.

The constant demands of inner and outer noise often rob me of my purest moments for creation. I began to unknowingly grapple for peace this past summer every time I retreated to the mountains to hike and paint. I thought I was getting a good workout and hopefully a good painting, but the more I cared, the less satisfied I was with my results. On the few days when I retreated to the quiet landscape, with a mind that was actually open to my Creator's prompting (even if there was still some noise -- the key was to be open), I came back truly refreshed in my spirit, and it didn't matter whether or not my painting had turned out. My soul was fed.

So my goal for the next few months is to enter a season of rest (yes, even with the holidays approaching!). Less self-inflicted pressure, more openness to creative possibilities. Less noise, more quiet listening and meditation. I think it's important that quiet hidden-ness becomes a regular part of everyday life. For artists especially -- if we don't slow down, we will burn out.

My husband wisely planned a vacation for just the two of us this past month. He knew that if we were only gone 4 or 5 days, we wouldn't truly decompress. So we spent 9 days in Maui... and it took at least the first half of the trip to really unplug and let go of our regular performance-driven habits. As I relaxed, I felt less pressure to paint, and so I painted better. The letting go of expectations gave me greater freedom to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings.  This, I think, was a good first step. I hope I can carry this new mindset into everyday life as I return to responsible adulthood here in Colorado.

Below are some of my paintings from Maui. I lived in a swimsuit all week and gorged myself on seafood. It was healing. I hope these paintings inspire some of the peace I felt while making them.

Above: 8x8", painted on location at Ho'Okipa Beach. 

Above/Below: 6x8", sunset at Ho'Okipa Beach

Above/Below: 10x8", Wailuku, HI. 

Above/Below: 8x6", moonrise over Kihei, at Kamaole Beach Park III.

All paintings are available. Email me at if interested! :-)

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