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! :-)


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Healthy Summer: Painting and... Crossfit

August already... it has flown by, but this summer has been a good one. I kicked the season off with a trip to Dallas in June to teach a sold-out portrait painting workshop. I was in Texas for a full week and painted almost every day, either for private commission work or for teaching demos. It's amazing how daily practice creates momentum and catapults you forward in your skill set! I wish I could say I painted every day ALL summer, but unfortunately that was not the case. When life gets crazy, you just have to adapt and find ways to make it work, even when you lose your inspiration or feel tired and unmotivated.

Demonstrating for students in Dallas, June 2017 

"Hathor" - 16x12" - oil on panel - finished class demo

Something that has helped me work through this regular conundrum of high/low moments in my art is that I've started attending Crossfit classes 4-5 times a week. This sounds random and unrelated, but hear me out.

I have spent the last 10+ years of my life focusing so intently on my art career that I can't say I willingly gave 100% to any other effort (except for my family, of course!). I suffered with horrible chronic back pain during my first year and a half of motherhood. But because I was so worried that if I stopped pushing myself to paint regularly, my career would dissolve--I didn't put time or effort into getting healthy. Instead, I kept painting, suffered through the pain, and tried to accomplish two things each day: keep my kid alive and do something--anything-- art or business-related.

I have since learned that life requires more balance than this crazy cycle I put myself through. I started Crossfit two months ago, and I'm completely hooked.  Steve says I talk about it way too much, but it's hard not to talk about something you're excited about! It's the first time in my adult life that I've pursued something just for me, free of expectations of making money or using it in some way to further my career. I like the challenge of doing a different workout every day, and just trying to become the healthiest, strongest me I can be. As a result, I actually end up being a happier and more loving wife and mom. Sometimes my shoulders hurt after a hard workout, which makes it tough to hold up a paintbrush(!), but I just laugh about it and push through.

It doesn't hurt that my gym is inside an airplane hanger and boasts a great view of the front range! Also, the instructors are awesome. :-) Check out MBS Crossfit here

Here's how Crossfit has actually helped my art:

  • Because the bar is set SO high, I'm learning to show myself some grace, all while pushing myself harder than I ever thought possible. In my art, I am my own toughest critic. Both of these disciplines--Crossfit and painting--require a healthy balance of gentleness and grit.
  • Being new to Crossfit, the learning curve right now is exponential. I haven't experienced that kind of "newness" with my art in a very long time. The excitement of learning all these cool skills (like power lifting and climbing a rope), has renewed my hunger for learning to paint. While that hunger has always been there, sometimes it gets pushed aside by commission deadlines and mundane responsibilities. I'm giving myself permission to more regularly attend painting demos or watch instructional videos, to keep asking questions, and to keep experimenting with new techniques and subject matter.  
  • The daily practice I mentioned earlier... it's true of both fitness and painting. Just as we must exercise our muscles every day in order to grow strong, we artists must also keep practicing the skill of direct observation.
  • Being healthy makes you capable of doing so much more! I can hike ten miles with a 20-pound pack (holding art supplies, of course!) and the payoff is I get to paint at some pretty amazing locations that most artists wouldn't bother trying to get to.  

One of my plein air paintings in an early stage, at Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

As summer continues, some of the challenges I set for myself remain unresolved. I can't really do pull ups yet, and my power cleans are not good (as evidenced by the grapefruit-sized bruise on my thigh). Certain paintings sit abandoned in my studio, waiting for the work to resume at a future date when time and experience have helped me find the solution. Whether "failed" or "successful," each piece is propelling me forward in my comprehension of the visual world and making me better at my craft. And, each failed rep at the gym makes me stronger and more determined.

Artists are human beings... sometimes weird ones who struggle to find balance in life. Our work is a reflection of our culture, our experiences, and our hearts. We pour ourselves out like an offering in each new creation, and when a collector takes home one of our paintings, they are taking a piece of our personal journey with them, which includes both the ups and downs. I'm thankful for my collectors, and for everything I'm learning this year. And of course, I'm always thankful I get to do what I love.

I'll post the new work soon!


Monday, July 10, 2017

Epiphany: On Music and Breaking the "Rules"

This post was recently published on the OPA blog, but I thought I'd also share it here. :-)

I am a professional artist, but what some people don’t know about me is that I've played piano since I was eight years old. I was classically trained all the way through college, with a major in art and a minor in music. I took all the music classes: ​ ​ theory, aural skills, counterpoint. I even took voice lessons and sang in ​the ​choir. I loved music with a passion that rivaled my love for art… it was that big a part of my life.

But there came a point when I had to choose, because I couldn't devote 100% of my time to both. These art forms each demand much more of a person when it comes to choosing a career path. I chose painting, and the music gradually diminished from my life.

Recently, however, I’ve returned to playing piano once in a while just for fun. Since I've played some of the same stuff over and over for the last 15 years, I decided to order some new sheet music to freshen up my repertoire.

At first I was excited to play through the new material, but I quickly realized that the music was just "ok". Honestly I got rather bored playing through these lovely but cliche arrangements of popular songs.

This made me realize that I have changed. I'm not a student anymore, but a person who is capable of taking something and making it my own. And as a recovering rule-follower, it has taken me years to realize that I can do this. The possibilities are limitless.

Now I know why my high school piano teacher was pushing the "Fake Books" on me, but I never wanted to try them. Now I know why jazz musicians can really let loose, and why improv performers can take an ordinary tune and turn it into something amazing.

What does this have to do with art? Well, as with the music, I am arriving at a similar place in my painting. One can spend a lifetime playing scales or painting color charts, and working solely on technique, but at some point, we have to break away and start becoming artists. We have permission to use our imagination and just roll with it. Let the art carry us on an unexpected journey. Those of us who struggle with perfectionism will constantly hear voices in our heads telling us to play it safe, and do things the comfortable or traditional way. Follow the "rules" because they are time tested.

But that is ridiculous! I have the vocabulary, and I’ve had it for years-both as an artist and a musician. Why did chord charts always scare me? Because it meant I had to take something and be "original" with it! Why does breaking away from classical art scare me? Because it means I am forging new territory and I have to own it.

I've been having conversations with other artists about ways that we can break away from traditional molds. Here are a few ideas:

  • ​Glaze an area down to improve the value structure and overall design.
  • Eliminate or add elements either from another reference source or from your imagination.
  • Do an entire painting in only one color family.
  • Choose unusual subject matter (I am currently starting a series on people working out at the gym!).
  • Go through stacks of old studies and paintings and analyze why they worked or didn't.
  • Drastically change some of them to see if your problem solving skills have improved since you first painted them.

The list goes on and on but I’d love to hear what you have to say about this. How are you successfully ​"breaking the rules" in your art?

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

Above: This piece is the first in a series that explores subject matter outside my usual repertoire. I'm excited to see where this goes!

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