Cinco de Meowo

Cinco de Meowo. Leo at a year old. Quite a bit of difference from the little fluff ball he was last spring.

Our cat Leo is now a year old now.  We got him as a tiny kitten from our son.  He was born a barn cat in the cellar window well.  Now he is a big, slightly pampered feline.  Would rather spend the night outdoors and sleep in his chair during the day.  I worry but what mom doesn’t.  He has plenty of places to hide, some very sharp claws, is a great climber, and a big scary dog who chases away other critters.

Funny how we become owned by our pets.

Leo at a few weeks old. Ready for adventure.
Leo begging to sit in my lap while I paint. Not happening. But look at those eyes!

Delivering the Exhibit

Visual Arts Coordinator, Emily Colucci Peak, helping to unwrap the paintings.

After a week of final framing, I packed my exhibit of thirty paintings into two vehicles and delivered them to the new Cultural Center in Jasper on Friday. It’s always a little more difficult than one would think it should be.  How to layer the paintings without them scratching each other, damaging the frames, or poking through.  Also, so they won’t shift while driving. 

First car loaded. These are mostly the Breaking Bread series so they’re all the same size. The important thing is to not have any movement of the paintings while transporting.
Second car, side.
Second car back. This is the Beach series. A greater variety of sizes, some framed and some gallery-wrapped. Again, prevent shifting during transport.

The Visual Arts Coordinator, Emily Colucci Peak, helped unload and move the work into the gallery.  We unwrapped everything and sat the paintings around.  Then moved them into position for hanging later this week.

Wow, so exciting to be in this new space.  I still can’t believe that the whole building is the final culmination of ten years of work by many many people. 

Laying out the exhibit before hanging.
Another wall of the exhbit layed out.
Third view of the gallery layout. It took a while to determine the order of the presentation.
Final wall of the layout. I can hardly wait to see the actual exhibit hung.

So, for those of you who are interested, the show opens on Thursday, May 6th.  Although there will be no reception due to COVID restrictions, the galleries are open to the public seven days a week.  Free admission and plenty of free parking in the rear of the building.

I will also be doing a demonstration painting on Saturday, May 8th from 10 to 2.

If you’re in the area and would like a private tour, let me know and I will meet you there.  But the staff is very helpful and each painting will have an explanation next to it. 

Thyen-Clark Cultural Center, 100 Third Avenue, Jasper IN 47546

812-482-3070

Hours: M-F 9-5, Sa 10-2, Sun noon -3

Preparing for the big exhibit

Intimate Spaces: Breaking Bread series. Hung on the side of my studio. It sure helps to have all the canvases the same size. At least for ease of framing and wiring.

The good news is that we were able to escape to warmer climates for a brief respite.  After two years of being stuck at home, we had a delightful and restful vacation.

However, upon returning, I had to start scrambling to prepare for my upcoming solo exhibit in May/June.  Fortunately, all the paintings are completed.  The frames were on hand.  So I jumped into the presentation process.

Framing back. Fortunately with gallery-wrapped canvases (where the canvas is stretched around the supports), there is no real need for frames. The sides are painted. The canvases only need to be wired.

All of the Intimate Spaces: Breaking Bread series are on two inch deep gallery-wrapped canvases.  This means no framing, only wiring.  Actually, the process went rather quickly, especially after I bought special wire snips to cut through the plastic-covered wire.  My professional wire scissors wouldn’t work.

Then I began the process of working on the Intimate Spaces: Beach series paintings.  About half of these canvases are also the deep, gallery-wrapped type.  Those went quickly.  BUT….when I began to frame the rest of the paintings. I realized that I didn’t have the correct hardware.  Plenty of Z clips, but no L clips.  They’re on order. 

Wait. Wait. Wait.

Fortunately, they’re due to arrive on Tuesday.  It won’t take long to finish once they actually arrive.  Remember, I’ve been framing my work for nearly forty years now! 

Anyway, the show is coming together. The marketing materials have been ordered.  The paintings will be delivered on Friday, April 30th.  The show will be hung.  It opens at the new Cultural Center on Thursday, May 6th.  Unfortunately, with the COVID restrictions, there won’t be a public reception. But I will be doing a demonstration painting on Saturday, May 8th from 10 to 2. If you would like a personal tour of the exhibit, let me know and I’ll try to meet you there.

If you’re in the area, please stop by. It’s even worth it to make a special trip.  Some great restaurants in Jasper, especially the Schnitzlebank, a German restaurant that attracts guests from miles around (closed Sundays). Plus, there are many other fine restaurants in the area and lots of neat shops downtown.

Address:  Jasper Cultural Center.  100 Third Avenue.  Turn right (North on Mill Street) and then right again (East) on Fourth street. Plenty of free parking in the rear of the building.

Anticipation

Anticipation. Intimate Spaces: Breaking Bread Series, Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24, Kit Miracle

This is the last painting in my Intimate Spaces: Breaking Bread series.  I began planning this series in December 2019.  I thought I had enough material.  The theme was to observe people eating, either together or alone.  Some were family members, others were people in the public – restaurants, picnics, etc.

I had a lot of ideas but unfortunately with the onset of the pandemic, my ability to observe was limited.  I scoured through hundreds (thousands) of photos taken over about two decades.  I laid out about a dozen paintings but towards the end I was running out of subject matter.

This painting is from a photo that I’d saved from several years ago.  It was taken by a friend of mine at a special dinner, Thanksgiving I think.  I’ve always loved this image but could never figure out quite how to capture the scene.  So with his permission, I decided to add it to my series.

It made me think of several paintings of the impressionists who portrayed pets in their work.  Even the formal setting seems reminiscent of that era.  I thought, well, pets are often our dinner companions so it fits with the theme of the series.

The painting was so much fun to do that it almost painted itself.  Some pieces are like that.  I don’t usually paint animals but even the fur of the doggie was fun to paint.  If you can zoom in on it, you will see that it contains many colors and perfectly captures this little girl.

So, it is with a big sigh that I’ve finished this series last month.  Now just to do some framing and I’m all ready to go for my big show next month at the new Jasper Cultural Center.  If you’re in the neighborhood, come check it out.  More details to follow. 

Anticipation, detail 1 Our little friend R. A well-loved, well-behaved companion. Loved painting her fur/hair.
Anticipation, detail 2. A table setting for celebration.

Demonic Easter Bunny

Demonic Easter Bunny, original painting, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8, Kit Miracle He didn’t quite turn out the way I planned.

Let me preface this post by saying it is not to disparage the Easter holiday, religion, or bunnies.  It is more a tale of bad painting.

I purchased this cute little Easter Bunny at an antique store.  It’s not an antique but certainly a mid-century collectible.  I’m always scouring thrift shops and antique stores for subjects for still lifes.  I have a whole cupboard in my studio.  You’ll often see the same items in more than one still life.

This little toy rabbit is vinyl, has lost its squeaker and most of its paint, and is a bit sticky.  I guess it would be after 50 or 60 years.  Well-loved, anyway.

The is the vintage Easter Bunny toy that I used as my subject for the painting. He’s very well-loved but cute. Not quite the way the final painting turned out.

I was taking a break this past winter from working on my big series paintings to paint some seasonal items.  These are sold in my Etsy shops and a couple of local gift shops.  They’re a good diversion from the “hard” work.  So I thought this cute little bunny would be the perfect subject.

Unfortunately, things did not turn out the way I planned.

It seemed the more I worked on the painting, the worse he looked.  Which just goes to show you that effort does not always equal success.  I should know. 

So I hid him away in my studio.  But later showed him to my son who was visiting.  He laughed and loved it.  Said it has a demonic look to the eyes.  (Whaaaaa???)  And that the granddaughter would love it.  She has his quirky sense of humor.  Guess it runs in the family.

So a sincere Happy Easter to all my friends and fans out there.  And for those of you who share an off-kilter sense of humor, I present this little Demonic Easter Bunny to you. 

A day at the zoo

Building anticipation at the zoo entrance. As you can see, it was quite chilly when we began our tour.

It was spring break around here this week so grandma and grandpa decided to take the grandkids to the zoo for the day.  We selected Monday as it was supposed to be overcast, mild and no rain.  (Rain was predicted for most of the rest of the week but didn’t really happen.)

Due to COVID, the zoo has limited visitation so we bought our tickets online. They were timed to allow only a certain amount of people in at a time.  It’s been several years since we’ve been to the zoo and one of the grandkids had never been.  He was really excited.

The drive to Louisville was as much fun as the visit.  Our conversation went like this:

Boy (age 5) I can’t wait to get to the zoo!  I want to see the zebras!  His normal speaking tone is about 90 decibels.

I stared at the sun and it didn’t blind me.

G (grandparents)  Don’t do that.  You could hurt your eyes.

A little while later

B I just stared at it for like ten minutes and I’m still not blind!

DON’T DO THAT!

The conversation proceeded along those lines until we began counting water towers and cell phone towers.  The grandson is a very chatty child so when we were talking, his response was, Be quiet!  I’m trying to talk here! Which threw us into more fits of laughter. 

Meanwhile, big sister (age 11), Stop talking.  I’m trying to read.

We finally made it to the zoo.  Parking was fine but no one was leaving alternate spaces.  As we waited a few minutes to go in, I realized that everyone else in the area seemed to have the same idea to visit the zoo.  Whole carloads of parents and kids poured out.  I have never seen so many strollers and wagons in one place.

These giant birds were part of the Wild Lights exhibit which appeared throughout the zoo. There were dragons and penguins, giant shrimp and flowers of every kind. There must have been a few hundred of these on exhibit.

Entry was organized and we were off.  I didn’t realize until we got there that they were hosting a Wild Lights event which featured giant creatures, imaginary and real, and plants, in beautiful colors of every kind.  Unfortunately, the lighted parts were only for evening tours but it was still pretty spectacular.

I’m not quite sure what this imaginary creature was supposed to be but it was still neat to see.

The route for guests is about a mile and a half, downhill the first half and uphill the second half.  It thinned out a bit but not much.  Unfortunately, several of the animal exhibits were closed which was disappointing.  No snakes, lizards or porpoises.

These beautiful pink flamingos made quite a splash.

We stopped for a break about half way through with snacks and drinks we’d brought.  Then started heading back on the second half of the route.  Grandpa got tired and took a shortcut to the top to wait for us.  The clouds never did appear so the day really warmed up. 

I felt rather sorry for this jaguar but wouldn’t want to meet him outside the fence.
At last! The zebras! Someone was soooo excited! (And you can see that we’ve peeled off our jackets.)

The second half had loads more animals (those that weren’t hiding).  Snowy owls and snow leopards.  Lions, zebras, giraffes, gorillas, rhinoceros, and lots more.  Saw the seals and a manatee.  B I dropped my toy in the tank by accident.  It was my favorite. 

The beautiful carousel had an amazing variety of animals to ride. Most went up and down but the outside animals were stationary. A good way to end the day at the zoo.

We finally made it to the top and found grandpa sitting by the carousel.  The kids both had to have a ride.  Then for the requisite visit to the gift shop and looking for the “cheap toys” as the grandma behind me remarked.

B I LOVE THIS ZOO!

We didn’t even make it to the highway, about seven minutes, before he was fast asleep.  The whole day – beautiful sunshine, fresh air, LOTS of walking – tuckered us all out.  Early bedtimes for all.

Trees in the neighborhood

Spring is in the air down here in Southern Indiana.  The temperatures are warming.  The spring flowers are blooming.  Our yard and fields are showcasing daffodils and spring beauties.

Earlier this week I was in the woods planting some small saplings of native trees.  These are free from the state DNR.  As I was locating the new plants, I looked around at all the other trees in the area.  In the many years of living here, my boys grew up knowing how to identify trees by bark, leaves, the wood and even the smell of the wood.  But I realize that many people have never had the opportunity to explore the woods with some knowledge.  So here are some of the trees in our own woods with names that will be familiar to you.  By just the bark. 

Let’s see how good you are at identification.

Sycamores are an extraordinarily beautiful tree, especially in winter. The upper limbs show bright white against the rest of the drab forest but the lower trunk has a shaggy, peeling bark. They have very large leaves and little fuzzy seed balls. I can never see sycamores without breaking into our state song, Back Home Again In Indiana…. Now you can’t get that out of your head, can you?
This is a very large sugar maple in our front yard. In autumn, it hosts a beautiful display of reddish leaves. Actually, there were several of these trees on the property when we moved here. As you can see, the poor tree is nearly done with interior rot. We have never sugared but I imagine it was popular in the day. It was the host to a pretty neat tree house when the kids were young.
We were delighted to find a whole little grove of shagbark hickory in our woods when we moved here many years ago. It has a very distinctive shaggy bark. (Thus the name.) The nuts taste like pecans. If you can get any. The squirrels and other critters usually harvest everything.
Young locust on the left and mature locust on the right. A rather shaggy bark, these elegant trees can be found on most old homesteads. The wood was often used as fence posts as they seem to be resistant to rot. They have a small leaf so there isn’t anything to rake in the fall. They also have the most beautiful creamy white racemes of flowers with a heady perfume in the spring. The bees love them. They’re the tallest trees in our yard towering over 80 feet. They also propagate by underground runners so they might appear anywhere nearby. I don’t know if these are black locusts or honey locusts but I still love their stateliness.
This hackberry tree was a real puzzle to us when we first moved here many years ago. It has a very knobby bark and tiny whitish/green blossoms. It seems to reseed well but I don’t know if that’s an advantage. The young one on the left has more pronounced knobs but the mature one on the right is also still knobby. A good shade tree, it stands about 60 feet high in our yard.
The native dogwood tree bark reminds me of a puzzle with many interlocking pieces. These days they’re under attack from an imported disease but so far, they’re holding their own. A beautiful understory tree with large white blossoms in spring, they go unnoticed the rest of the year.
This crab apple was given to me as my first Mother’s day gift many years ago. It has a glorious display of pink flowers each spring. It’s progeny has been shared with many people. As you can see, the woodpeckers have been having a go at it as well but it’s still hanging on.
The cedar tree is often thought of as a trash tree but they are quite handy to have. We have used them as fence posts, bird feeder posts, and built an arbor out of cedar logs. We even had some milled to use as benches. They have a lovely red variegated color inside and a wonderful smell.
Wild Cherry with some problems. These trees have a very dark bark and are messy. These are not cherries to eat but contain cyanide so they can be poison to livestock and animals.

These are just a few varieties of trees on our property. I haven’t included the red and white oaks, river birch, ironwood, hazel (a bush, really), sweet gum, pines and more. What is native to your area?

How to improve your art skills

One of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. Many artists explore a subject in a series of paintings of the same subject. Van Gogh did at least twelve paintings of sunflowers.

I’m often asked, “How do I get better at my art?”  Hummmm….well, I have several suggestions.  They aren’t anything new but maybe they’re new to you.  In no particular order.

Make a LOT of art!  Studies have shown that students who create a lot of art eventually get better, especially compared to those who seek to create one perfect painting or poem or story or pot.  Like almost anything else, the more you do, the better you get.  This is the time to explore.  Try new things, new styles, new subjects, new mediums.  Just make a whole lot of it. Don’t worry if it’s any good yet.  Just do it.  The old adage that practice makes perfect applies here. While you are testing new things, your mind will begin to make connections and build on what you have done before.

Make it easy.  Make it easy to make art.  Do you have to clear the children’s homework from the dining table?  Drag out all your equipment and easel every time you want to paint? Find a space where you can keep your materials at hand.  Set up a corner in the bedroom to work.  Use a portable screen if the clutter annoys you.  Keep a sketchbook next to your TV chair.  Or in your purse or pocket.  I’ve often drawn mini-sketches while waiting for dinner or in the theater.  If your materials are nearby, you’ll be more likely to use them.

Don’t worry if it’s any good.  So many people worry about if their work is any good.  Stop that right now!  Refer to the first suggestion.  Just do it.  Do a lot of it.  ALL artists make some really bad paintings.  That’s Okay!  That is what preliminary work is for.  Try it out.  Maybe it will be brilliant. Maybe it won’t.  But you will have learned what works and what doesn’t.

Copy other artists.  Yes, I recommend studying other artists, your favorites perhaps.  Go to the museums or the library or even review their work online.  What do you like about their work?  What don’t you like?  Try making a few copies in the style of the artist. How does that feel to you?  Does it feel natural or awkward?  Look at what attracts you most.  Their subject matter?  Style?  Brushwork?  But do NOT EVER try to pass off someone else’s work as your own.  That is dishonest and plagerism. You won’t feel comfortable about it and you’ll be found out eventually.

Do a series.  A series is a group of artwork of, perhaps, the same subject or style or theme.  This helps you to dig deeper.  Find out what attracts you to this subject.  Van Gogh painted twelve sunflower paintings.  I’ll bet that he got better at them towards the end.  Monet painted thirty haystacks, 250 waterlillies, and over thirty of the Rouen Cathedral. Different angles, different times of day. 

My concluding advice is just keep at it.  Don’t let anyone discourage you. Only you know what you are learning.  If you have tried it before, try it again.  You’re in a different place and time.  Perhaps you have more skills and knowledge now.  Just keep moving forward. Good luck!

What I’ve been listening to in the studio

It’s no great secret to anyone who knows me that I read…a lot!  But I also spend a lot of time in the studio.  I listen to the radio, mostly NPR or music.  Play some favorite CDs.  Yes, I’m of that age. 

But one of my favorite things to do is to listen to recorded books.  And my particular favorites are biographies or tales of heroic deeds or periods of history.

We don’t have the high speed internet to listen to podcasts, and audio books take awhile to download.  But we are blessed with a fabulous library with an extensive recorded book collection. 

Listening to these recorded books doesn’t seem to interfere with my painting.  However, I often recall the book that I was listening to as I painted a particular painting. 

I got into the habit of listening to recorded books when I had a fifty mile commute.  Also, they are very enjoyable while driving on vacation.  Although once the family was enjoying the audio version of The Green Mile when we discovered that I’d only taken out the first volume.  Very disappointing.

So, these are a few of my favorite recorded books for the past year, mostly biographies or historical.  I listen to fiction as well but this is the short list.  And I don’t hesitate to stop listening to a recorded book if I don’t like it.  Life is short and there are just too many other choices.

The boys in the boat [sound recording] : nine Americans and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Olympics (2013)  By Brown, Daniel, 1951-  I found this true story of a bunch of working class and farmer’s kids who competed in the rowing competition in the 1936 German Olympics fascinating.  They didn’t know anything about rowing and were one of the least-likely teams to reach this status and to go on to represent the United States. From the University of Washington, to winning the national competition, to Germany and back home to pre-war America, this is a story you’ll not forget soon.

Benjamin Franklin [sound recording] : an American life (2004) By Isaacson, Walter. This twenty-plus set of CDs is a daunting project but worth it.  Franklin was so intelligent, industrious, and sociable. His influence on a nation in infancy cannot be overestimated.  He lived a very long time which is why the recording is so long.

Steve Jobs [sound recording] (2011) By Isaacson, Walter. I had wanted to read this book for a long time but didn’t have the time or patience to do so.  Actually, I really just wanted to know more about what made Steve Jobs tick.  Frankly, I didn’t care for him very much by the time I finished the audio but it was interesting to learn about the early days of the digital tidal wave.

Cronkite [sound recording] (2012) By Brinkley, Douglas. Walter Cronkite was a television news staple to those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s.  People trusted him.  I was too young to remember when our family first began watching the nightly news but I certainly remember him for many significant moments.  News stories dealing with a man landing on the moon, the Vietnam war, civil unrest and so on. As Lyndon Johnson said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Becoming [sound recording] (2018) By Obama, Michelle, 1964-  I wasn’t sure how I would like this but it was very refreshing.  Read by the author herself, she was pretty open about not wanting to get involved in politics but followed her husband in his dreams.  What I really enjoyed was learning about the security details and life behind the scenes in the White House.  How does one actually raise a family in this environment?  Very commendable.

Educated [sound recording] : a memoir (2018) By Westover, Tara    I didn’t really know much about this book but had noticed it on the best seller list for a long time.  Written and narrated by the author, it presented a lifestyle that I had never really considered.  Very isolated, home-schooled by parents with some “eccentric” beliefs, the author managed to gain an outstanding education eventually.  I later watched an interview with Westover.  We should expect to hear more from her in the future.

This is just a short list of my favorites and recommendations of recorded books from the past year. If you’re still stuck at home, or if you have some long trips planned, you might wish to check out these options.

How Long Does It Take?

After the Dinner Party. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30. Kit Miracle this is the final version of the painting. I’ve tweaked a few things. I didn’t like the shape of the wine bottle, added a few more highlights here and there. The whole idea with this type of impressionism is that the brush strokes are clear and bold. Your eyes will fill in the rest. I think this makes a much livelier painting than if I had meticulously smoothly brushed all of the shapes.

One of the most frequent questions that artists get is, How long did it take to paint this painting?  I’m not quite sure why people ask this question.  Are they trying to gage how much per hour that I’m charging based on the price of the painting?  Maybe.  Is it worth more if it takes more time?  I don’t know.

My flippant answer is, Thirty years and a week.  No artist reaches a professional level without a lot of work.  This is actually true for most professions.  Some people may have a little extra edge in a skill, maybe eye/hand coordination, color discernment, perfect pitch, but most people get where they are by plain hard work. I think this is true for athletes, musicians, artists, chefs, frankly nearly everyone.

I painted this painting After the Dinner Party in my Breaking Bread series pretty much in one day.  But that number is deceiving.  There was a whole lot of work required before I even began painting.

First there was the canvas prep.  I purchased the gallery-wrapped 24 x 30 canvas.  Then sanded it, applied two coats of gesso allowing for drying and sanding in between. I like a textured canvas so you will notice that in some of the photos. All of the canvasses in this series are primed with a greyish/greenish color. 

Then there was the time to sort through the hundreds (thousands) of photos that I had to select the one that I wanted to use.  Then to decide what I wanted to keep in and what to take out or move or change.  I did two small NOTAN (black and white) sketches, two large charcoal sketches, and a preliminary watercolor painting.  I noodled around with the idea of placing a bouquet of flowers in the background.  Which lead me to paint two possible floral candidates.  In the end, I did not use them as I thought they didn’t add anything to the painting set up.  Finally, I sketched the full painting on the primed canvas.

THEN….I could begin the actual painting part. 

I started in the morning with the colored outlines and painted in the larger areas first.  I pretty much worked all day until late evening.  Once I’m on a roll, I’m on a roll.

You can see the step-by-step at this link.

It takes time to achieve a certain level of skill in nearly anything.  Larry Bird shot 200 hoops before school every day and was known throughout the NBA for the hours he dedicated to conditioning.  Even after decades of success, Norman Rockwell agonized over the details of his paintings.  How many hours a day do you think Yo-Yo Ma practices his cello?  (He estimates over 10,000 hours every five years which is five hours every day.)

Next time you admire someone’s artistic skill (or other skill), keep in mind that the final product is just the tip of the iceberg of work behind the scene.  You can do it, too.  If you wish to work at it.