Monday, November 12, 2012

Time Flies

Just the other day, a friend of mine who writes a blog about the various places she and her family live thanks to her husband's career mentioned that she hadn't written a word since their recent transfer to Australia. It made me realize that I haven't written anything for a fair piece either. It's funny how life gets in the way like that. I find that making art and writing take second place in my life to actual activity. If I have a choice between gardening or painting, I will choose gardening 95% of the time. I was made for motion. I am bad at holding still. Most importantly, I like having my hands in the dirt. I'm not particularly good at landscaping. My creativity doesn't seem to extend that far. I am, however, very good at growing flowers. Beauty fascinates me no matter what dress she is wearing, but I am most comfortable in her presence when she is wearing overalls and a floppy hat.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

Most years, I get a great calendar from one of my friends for Christmas. I'm easy to please. I like everything from kittens to landscapes and most points in between, but in 2012, I got screwed in the calendar department. I started out ok with a freebie from my mechanic featuring classic cars--yes, I love the romance of the vintage automobile almost as much as I love kittens--but my husband liked it so much that he swiped it for his office and left in its place some cheeseball excuse for a calendar from our insurance company that offers monthy health tips and crappy photos of people exercising. I know I could have gone to the dollar store and got a decent replacement, but 2012 was one of those years that was half spent by the time I really thought about my calendar. So, with 2013 looming large, I decided to treat myself to a birthday present that will make up for the great calendar debaucle of 2012. Thanks to George Rodrigue, I am going to have calendar happiness for a whole year, and I plan to mat and frame some of my favorites for life long enjoyment. Happy Birthday, me!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Free Falling

Summer has begun to fade into autumn here in South Louisiana. Though I won't be expecting the brilliant fall color I experienced in Wisconsin, I am looking forward to milder temperatures, mums in my garden, and candy corn in the stores. Fall is by far my favorite season. I loved harvest time growing up on the farm, and I loved going back to school and seeing my friends after a hard summer's work. These days, I look forward to the harvest from my garden and my fruit and pecan trees, and to meeting my new students. Unfortunately for my blog, fall is a busy time for me, so I don't spend as much time either painting or writing. I don't mind that much though since I am so caught up in the business of enjoying my life.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Stopped Chasing Carrots

I have long admired and coveted this painting by my good friend Carolyn Phillips, so when my husband and I made our latest move to Houma, I decided to treat myself to a house-warming gift. It's not just the fact that the rabbit looks like he would feel like velveteen if you touched him, though that was a big part of my attraction to this piece. The thing that makes me really appreciate art is when it tells a story. OK, I'll be honest, it's when it allows me to make up a story. The story can be simple or complex, deeply meaningful or just silly.

By the time we moved back to Houma, this painting was telling a story that I could relate to. When I look at this painting, I see a rabbit who is the subject of a great experiment. For years this rabbit has been leaping and running, trying to get the carrots that dangle just out of his reach. Now and then, he gets one, but that just makes him want more. In the background, a group of observers watches. Then one day, the rabbit says, "The hell with it," and just stops chasing the carrots and adopts a position of rest. This could be a metaphor for my life and probably for the lives of many others. During my 20s, I spent a lot of time and energy chasing those proverbial carrots. In my 30s, I wizened up a little and realized what a waste that was. Society can look on through their little window all they want, but I am focused on getting my zen back these days. What I like most about this painting is that every time I start getting a little crazy and start thinking that I should be working harder, chasing down success a little more vigorously, I have this plush bunny to remind me that carrots aren't all they're cracked up to be. It's wisdom straight from the brush of a good friend and truly talented artist.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Wine is Not Enough

This past week I learned what it feels like to be a sitting duck. Growing up in Wyoming, I learned how to deal with just about every natural disaster known to man. I know what to do in event of blizzard, tornado, flash flood, prairie fire, and even the occasional earthquake, but nothing in Wyoming really prepares you for a hurricane. Out there, we build our houses to stand up to wind that regularly gust to tropical storm force, we dig storm cellars to hide in in the event of a tornado, and we build on the sides or tops of hills in case of flood. Since Louisiana has no hills, and the storm cellar would just flood anyway, I have to say that living here leaves me feeling both exposed and unprepared at all times.
Thankfully Isaac passed over us here in Houma without much ado, and I was as prepared as I could be, so this hurricane was a non-event for us. That doesn't mean that I wasn't at maximum stress level. I discovered, however, that my cats have three levels of storm alert just like the weather channel.
Sarah = high alert
Bonnie = aware
Petey = comatose
I suppose this only makes sense since Petey is Cajun born, Bonnie is from Vicksburg, and Sarah is a Yooper. As for this transplant, I need to either take lessons from Zen Master Petey or lay my hands on some Xanax before the next storm.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Cat in Asian Art

Everybody knows that the Japanese love Hello Kitty, but there are two lesser known feline icons that I fell in love with during my time in Asia. The first is Maneki Neko, the Japanese beckoning cat. One of the first things you learn when you move to Asia is that you do NOT beckon people to you using a palms up gesture like we do in the West. Thus, Maneki Neko is not waving to you from the counter at your local Chinese restaurant; he is actually beckoning good luck into the establishment.

The second icon of feline fame in Asia is Tamasiro. The story goes that the original Tamasiro was a kitten that someone left on a Japanese subway train. The kitten was adopted by the engineers and has lived on the train ever since. He has also a hugely successful cartoon marketing tool. My favorite thing about Tamasiro? While it is considered incredibly rude to beckon with a palm up, it is apparently just fine to flip someone the bird---look closely at the purple slippers.

It was really interesting being a cat owner in Korea. In Japan, cats are somewhat revered as a general rule. In China, they are hated and despised---unless battered and fried. Koreans are still trying to come to terms with the domestic cat. Some see them as rodents to be poisoned like rats. Others are adopting them as pets following the Western model that many Koreans try so hard to emulate. Most Koreans who visited my apartment were both fascinated and terrified by Petey and Bonnie. Even my vet was a little awe struck on the first visit. "American cat very big!" I had to stop myself from saying, "Yes, and I'm not even from Texas."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

In Addition

Years ago, a decorator friend told me that people should move their art around at least once a year. Otherwise, they sort of forget what they have and start to take the pieces for granted. This is never a problem in my house. Right now, several of my own pieces, along with a few pieces of my furniture are on display at Southdown Plantation Museum. This gives me a great opportunity to try out different pieces in different places and to finally get to some projects that I have been putting off since we moved. I just finished reframing a piece by Laurie Ceesay titled Blue Bob and added it and another called Pele to Sarah's room. I should be ashamed to admit that these are $5 Walmart frames that I painted and sanded to add a vintage feel to the contemporary pieces, but I am not. I change the frames on my art as often as I change the pieces themselves, so paying frame shop prices is not an option for me. (Not to mention, it makes the art harder to swap out if it is professionally framed.)

In this same vein, I just finished reading Wendy Rodrigue's latest blog, which offers a much more eloquent explanation of why artists are a decorator's worst nightmare. It's a great story, with great photos. The only thing missing is a cat (insert smile and wink here).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Art & Decor

Event Horizon

In one of life's odd little twists of fate that wind up making things interesting, over the years I have developed a taste for contemporary art but vintage decor--and then I went and married a man whose tastes are traditional, traditional, and beige. Decorating a house is a difficult task, but decorating it to suit two people with such opposing tastes can be downright snarly.

There was one thing I was certain of about our house in Houma before I ever set foot on the property. I wanted a green guest room. Ok, really I wanted a green bedroom, but I knew there was no way I would ever get John to go for it, so I had decided to live vicariously through the guest room. I painted the walls a color called Lemon Grass and hung up lace curtains first thing because these two things remind me of my grandmother's bedroom, and what could be more vintage than Grandma's house? I then proceeded to fill the room with my mom's collection of turquoise glass and my own collection of turquoise and white garden statues. In the end, the room looked great, but the walls were bare. Thus came to be Event Horizon. One thing about making your own art, you can always dream up a piece to suit any room. I think this one even feels a little "vintage" but still contemporary enough to comply with my one decorating rule: For a room to work, it must contain one thing that is totally incongruent to the rest of the room.

Of course, in the end, all of my careful planning and effort are upstaged by the most perfect accessory any room could ask for: a sleeping cat. I love how she centers herself exactly with the throw pillow.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, John hates the room. He says the green is too bright and looks like a color you would see in a hospital or mental institution. Good thing I chose that soft yellow for the master bedroom....

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Surreal Life

I really enjoy reading the blog of New York artist Joanne Mattera--mostly because her life as a professional, big city artist is the polar opposite of mine. If you were to attend a reception for an event where her work was being shown, you would likely enjoy catered delicacies and champagne. In my world, you could replace those with homemade goodies and lemonade. Mattera and I live in totally different worlds. This was really brought home to me a few months ago when she asked a question on her blog that went something like:  How do you cope with it when someone else gets the award/exhibit/job you wanted? A lot of people weighed in on this with various methods of coping with disappointment, but not a single one of them suggested what seems to be the obvious answer to me. All of these people were focused on how they would deal with their own negative reaction to being passed over. That's Mattera's world.

In my world, I get to celebrate the success of others. If the person is not someone I know, I might send an e-mail or a card saying Congratulations! If the person is someone I know, I will call them up and invite them out for lunch or a cup of coffee to celebrate their achievement. There are two darned good reasons to behave like this. One, doing something nice will make you feel good about yourself and help you get over your disappointment. Two, the person who you are nice to is going to remember it and be more likely to give you a leg up in the future if they have a chance. My mom was always fond of saying, "What goes around, comes around." I try to remember those words of wisdom and always look at disappointments and rejections as a chance to build up not only my own character but a stockpile of good karma.

Personally, I'm glad to live in my small time art scene, but I greatly appreciate the glimpse that Mattera' blog gives me into her world. She tackles a lot of tough issues that arise in the art world straight on and often has very insightful and wise words of her own to share--not to mention the fabulous photos of art. If you don't believe me, take a look yourself:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What makes good art?

Installation at an outdoor mall where John and I stopped to have lunch on one of our trips to Seoul.
The other day, my husband and I stopped at my local art supply and framing shop on the way home from lunch so I could pick up a couple of things I needed to complete a pet portrait. A few days earlier, I had been there and noticed a really wonderful painting of a pug that I was told was done by a local high schooler. It was bright and a little abstract and showed a tremendous amount of budding creativity. So when my husband stopped near the door to admire a painting, I assumed that was the one. Of course I should have known better. He had stopped to admire a pastel of a collection of tire rims. He commented to the owner, "I am not sure about the subject matter, but this is wonderful technique." So I went over to have a look. I was not impressed; just as he was not impressed by the pug when I pointed it out to him. I didn't like the rims because they looked like something I could do on Photoshop. He didn't like the dog because it was too "artsy" for him. What is the moral of this story?

Art is as much about the viewer as it is about the piece itself or the artist. My husband is an engineer and appreciates technical skill and realism. I am a humanities instructor and appreciate creativity and originality. Given, there is some art that is just hands down good, and hardly anyone can argue the point. I mean, really, who has ever looked at Michelangelo's David and said, "Wow, it just doesn't move me." But, in general, people look at art from their own personal perspectives and either see something in it that touches them or not. This is why artists should never feel bad if someone doesn't care for their work. Not everyone comes at it from the same place.

One thing that John and I do agree on when it comes to art:  we will not be hanging any toilet seats on our walls. We both had a good laugh the day we found this unique attraction in Seoul's historic district. And, hey, maybe that is what the artist intended.

Monday, August 20, 2012

She don't lead a glamorous life...

Trash can featuring raised inlay apple.
I would like to say that I spent my weekend doing something glamorous and exciting like going to a gallery opening or a charity art auction, but the truth is I spent it tearing down a rotting arbor and helping my husband blow insulation into the attic of his shop. Oh, the things we do for love! By the time we were finished, I was wearing a thin coating of fuzzy recycled paper that left me looking a little like an oversized, sweaty, cranky teddy bear--and I was the lucky one feeding the bails into the grinder. Was it worth every minute? In a way, yes. My husband is a woodworker, and I am supportive of this hobby for three reasons. First, I have great furniture. Second, I believe that we all need some sort of creative outlet to keep us sane. Third, he is supportive of my hobbies and interests--and I am sure he has been to an art event or two that he enjoyed about as much as I enjoyed installing insulation.

Some years ago, John and I had a joint exhibit that was attended by many friends, co-workers, and complete strangers. One of his co-workers stopped to chat with me and asked me a really honest question. She said, "I understand why John builds things. It's functional, and it's a good second income for him. But of all the things you could spend your free time doing, why do you paint?"  My reply was:  "Because it's cheaper than therapy and healthier than booze." And, I was being completely and utterly honest.

When I paint/draw, it takes me to my zen place. The rest of the world melts away, my brain shuts off, and I am totally relaxed and out of myself for awhile. Sometimes when I finish a piece or stop for the day, I look at the work and think to myself, "Did I do that?" I used to joke with my husband that it was like being possessed, and it is, but in a good way.

Woodworking is more than just a second income for my husband. It is what takes him to his zen place. We all need that to stay sane in this world, so if the price of his sanity is spending an afternoon coated in cellulose, I say:  Bring on the dust mask!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Trip Down Memory Lane

For some reason, I was reminded this weekend of the lovely sculpture park/walking trail along the coast of Geoje Island near Jengsunpo that features ocean themed sculptures and a variety of beautiful blooming plants. I enjoyed many a wonderful stroll through this park with friends, and though it may sound absurd, these photos make me homesick for a land that I wasn't even born in.

If you wonder how the large tinker toy shaped object at the back of the last photo is related to the ocean, it is because you never lived in Korea. It represents the giant concrete versions that are used to form erosion barriers along the Korean coastline.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Model Behavior

My quilter friends all tell me that "cats love quilts."  Well apparently this one also loves a good drop cloth because the only time I have even seen her sit in this chair is when a freshly laundered drop cloth is draped over it to dry.

Friday, August 17, 2012

If you don't have anything nice to say...

People who know me and know how much I love the humanities might be surprised to learn that I started out my academic career as a biology major. This was mostly because my parents wanted me to "get a real job" in a field where I could make a decent living. I had always loved plants, so I figured I would go into botany when I got to university. Alas, it was not to be. My love of art, history, and especially literature was too strong, and I decided to pursue an education that was actually interesting to me. For the most part, I have always been glad that I made that decision.

A lot of times, when I meet new people, they will tell me that their child is interested in the arts, but they don't want him/her to pursue it because of the lack of job opportunities. Then they will ask if I regret my career choice due to lack of opportunities. I don't. If you are in the humanities and open minded, there will always be opportunities. There is only one thing that has ever really made me regret my decision. The humanities--art especially--is a very competitive field, and perhaps due to this, there seems to be a much higher ratio of really ornery people that you have to deal with. I noticed it a little during under-grad, and by graduate school, I felt like I was living in the world of Mean Girls. Since entering the working world, I have met a lot of really great people who are dedicated to promoting the arts, but I have also met a lot of artists, professors, gallery owners, etc. who seem to devote their lives to putting other people down and just generally being jerks. I've also met a lot of snooty, pretentious, fake people. So I always wind up telling these people, that what their child really needs to be if they want to be an artist is thick-skinned. They also need to have the good sense to ignore the mean people and to seek out the kind, genuine people who became artists or writers because they really love their fields.

Having said that, I am including a link to an interview with an artist who I have not met in person, but I love what he has to say about the field: Mr. George Rodrigue.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No Easel.....No Problem

I do almost all of my drawing on a flat surface. Don't ask me why. It's just more comfortable for me. So when I was working on this piece and decided that it needed to be vertical for part of the process, I didn't have the standard artist's easel to turn to. Instead, I put this folding step stool that my husband built for my short little person to a new use. I always tell people that if you need a problem solver, you should turn to an artist. We are good at creative solutions!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Artist's Statement

I really hate writing my own Artist's Statements for exhibits. It's not that I have difficulty writing. As an English instructor, I've written many such statements, not to mention cover letters, letters of recomendation, etc for colleagues and various other professionals. The problem is that when it comes to my own work, what I really want to say is:  "I like to draw cats." 
The truth is, I love animals. I especially love cats and their graceful, spineless poses. I like drawing pictures of my cats because it makes me happy. I like doing animal portraits because it makes the owners happy. It's hard to translate that sort of simple joy into a statement that sounds intellectual and academic. One of these days, I will write a statement for an exhibit that is totally honest and complete. My little 8 by 10 frame will contain a piece of paper that says in big, bold letters: I LIKE TO DRAW CATS.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Louie and Garfield

What I really love about doing portraits for two animals that live in the same house is the "conversation" that seems to be going on between the two pieces. In this case, I imagine Louie saying, "So, how exactly do you rate that you get to sleep anywhere you want?" and Garfield replies, "Shove off dude, I'm trying to sleep here." Or maybe Garfield doesn't reply at all, but the on going contest between cat and dog continues.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paint Brushes and Power Tools

John and I just beat the rain on our way back from Southdown Plantation/The Terrebonne Museum, where we spent the morning installing Paint Brushes and Power Tools--an exhibit of art and woodworking that will run through the end of October, with a reception being held September 30 from 2 to 4.

Southdown is one of several beautiful antebellum homes in the Houma area that has been converted into a museum. Unlike most of the homes, which have been lovingly redecorated to show visitors what life was like in the era of the Southern plantation, Southdown is a museum dedicated to preserving various aspects of local history as well as promoting the arts and local culture. It features a room dedicated to Mardi Gras, one celebrating the history and culture of the Houmas tribe, one to sugar cane, etc. It also contains this beautiful rotating exhibit room. The new director, Rachel Cherry, is a dynamic individual who has devoted herself to improving the exhibits and to bringing new and interesting exhibits into the museum on a regular basis so that it can be regularly enjoyed by locals as well as tourists. John and I are honored to have our work displayed there and hope it will encourage other local artists to share their work with the community as well. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Go Saints!

The first of a triptych that was commissioned by a friend for her new home in New Orleans. It was a totally open ended commission, which made it both fun and challenging. I knew that my friend prefers non-representational art, so I focused on creating a lot of texture and subtle symbolism. This particular piece is layered with obvious New Orleans symbolism, a cat to my stamp on the piece, and swirls that remind me both of the shape and the chaos of hurricanes. All three pieces were finished with a metallic glaze which makes them nearly impossible to photograph, but really fun to look at.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Charity Case

During the time I lived in Wisconsin, I must have seen 100 deer pass through my yard. They are beautiful, graceful, and majestic creatures, but I never really felt compelled to draw one. Then something happened that changed both my mind and my life.
I got sick--really, really sick. My doctor told me that the excruciating pain in my lymph nodes, the night sweats, and the inability to do more than feed my cats during the day was due to mono "which was going around."  I couldn't figure out how I could have gotten mono, but I trusted my doctor and believed that a few weeks of bed rest and lots of fluids would have me right as rain.
Instead, a few weeks later, I was suffering from a whole other round of symptoms. To make a long story short, a few months, hundreds of tests, and five doctors later, I finally found a doctor who was willing to ignore the test results and make a clinical diagnosis. I had Lyme's disease. In fact, I was well into Stage 2 of the disease. I already knew that I was allergic to two of the antibiotics most likely to cure my illness, and it didn't take long to establish that I was also allergic to the third. Thankfully, my doctor has seen this before and prescribed a book that detailed a regimen of herbs, vitamins, and lifestyle changes that would help my body beat this ugly bacteria into submission. It took a few more months, but I went from laying on the couch wishing I would die to sitting at my window watching the deer graze in my backyard.
Stage 2 Lyme disease is defined by the fact that the bacteria has begun attacking the nervous system. My doctor informed me that while my neurological damage was mild, it was irreparable. My short term memory is shot all to hell, my sense of direction comes and goes at will, my balance is no good. Some days I can't string a sentence together. Other days I walk into door frames or bounce off of the furniture as I make my way through the house. Just yesterday, I went to get my hair cut, and on the way there, I was overcome by a moment of disorientation, so that I had to pull over and wait for it to pass. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, but when I experience them, it is like being drunk, I am suddenly very tired, and sometimes I forget where I am and where I am going. Because of them, I no longer leave the immediate area surrounding my home by myself. This is my life since Lyme's.
The above drawing is also part of my life since Lyme's. I joined a support group for people who are suffering the long term effects of this misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mistreated disease. A fellow member put together a charity auction to help fund research. The auction was in Minnesota, so I wanted a subject that would sell well there. This drawing isn't fabulous. My hand-eye coordination was still off at the time, and frankly deer just aren't my thing. But, sometimes you have to step out of yourself and do something for someone else, for a greater good maybe.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Portrait of a Lady

One of my all time favorite animal portraits: Lily the Cat who lives with my friends Garrett and Dean. Some cats are cute, some are graceful, some are silly, but they all have attitude! Lily is famous for scaring off door to door salesmen and missionaries and for committing assault and battery on catnip plants. What can you do? 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I recently completed this 4 by 4 portrait of Molly for her owner's 90th birthday gift. Though I will always choose cats for my own work, I love drawing portraits of all kinds of animals for their owners. There are two reasons for this. 1) People love their furry companions and are almost always happy with the portraits. 2) Each one turns out differently. I usually draw from a photo, so the challenge is to make the portrait look like a piece of art--and not just a copy of the photo, while still looking enough like the pet for people to have immediate recognition.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ain't Life Funny?

When we first moved to Wisconsin, I planned to use one of the upstairs bedrooms as a studio, but the moment the first drop of paint hit the carpet, I was banished to the basement. I cleaned out all of the junk, painted the walls with cheerful colors and Pollock like splatter finish, and made my husband install some daylight bulbs. It turned out to be a nice space to host open houses for myself and other artists in the community.

Our current house doesn't really have a space for me to have a dedicated studio, so I am taking a page out of Miriam Schapiro's book. Since we rarely use the dining room for dining....

Now if I can just keep the paint off the carpet...
The good news is that we also have a well lit breakfast room and a screen porch. Maybe I'll just take over the whole house.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Sage Kitty finds a home

There are some images that I come back to over and over. This drawing of Bonnie sleeping in my laundry is one of them. I've flipped it around, put it on different backgrounds, etc, and I always love it. It is a classic cat pose. I put this one on gray-green background and called it "The Sage Kitty Takes a Nap."  I love when I can work a pun into the title. Last week, the Sage Kitty went to Houston to live with my next door neighbor's daughter who is a flight attendant, cat mom, and rescuer of strays of all kinds. Sometimes it makes me kind of sad to see my drawings go, and this was one of those times. On the other hand, it makes me happy when someone loves a piece so much that they want it for their home. Making art is an emotional investment. Maybe that is why I give most of the money I make from my drawings to animal shelters. It motivates me to let them go!

As an addendum: this is not the exact photo that I used for the drawing. That particular photo features laundry items "of a sensitive nature." I should also note that much like my two Burch style paintings, the first Sage Kitty was a practice drawing with heavy stylisitic influence by another artist (maybe Da Vinci--I don't remember exactly thanks to the holes Lyme's bacteria has punched in my memory) and was never intended for sale. However, the Fates apparently did intend for it to be traded away in return for a shelter donation.
Ahhhhh....warm laundry!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Get a Real Job!

Growing up in Wyoming, I dreamed of becoming an interior decorator, but my parents said, "There is no work for decorators in Wyoming. You will become a teacher."  In high school, when I fell in love with art, they said, "You can't make a living as an artist. You will be a teacher." So, I went to college, got a Masters in Humanities--because I can't stand little kids and knew I didn't want to work with them--and got a job teaching. I have to admit it: I love teaching. I love the Humanities, and I love sharing my passion with other people. However, my parents didn't consider one very important factor in guiding my education. They never considered that I would spend almost my entire adult life living outside of Wyoming. They never imagined that I might partially pay for grad school by selling paintings of magnolias and pelicans. They never dreamed that I might find actual work as a home stager or sell my drawings in a gallery.

Sometimes people ask me if I wish I had pursued art as my career or if I wish I "could make a living as an artist."  The answer is quite frankly, "No." Some people are blessed to make a living through their art. Some of us are blessed to have lives that inspire us to make art. I am one of the second group. All of the places I have lived have influenced the work I produce. So have all of the things that I have done. Working in museums and cultural centers, teaching cultural geography, and studying interior design have all helped to make me the person I am and to provide me with a wealth of experiences that express themselves in my work. More importantly, I never feel pressured to create a work. I draw when I am inspired to draw. For me, this is life in perfect balance.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Horse of a Different Color

After two years in the frozen North, my husband and I received word that we would be moving back to Houma, LA so that he could open an office for his company deep in the heart of Bayou Country. This was excellent news for me. To be totally truthful, I never really cared for Wisconsin. I could never get warm, but I did manage to get Lyme Disease and thought I was going to die, and the wildlife destroyed any hopes I had of having a garden--the chipmunks even tunneled into the green house I bought to thwart the deer and devastated my hopes of a fresh salad.

On the flip side of the coin, I love pretty much everything about the South: the heat, the food, the people, even the wildlife. (Thankfully gators don't care for lettuce.)  Houma has changed a lot in the twelve years that we have been away. It has just about doubled in size, there are a ton of chain restaurants and big box stores, and the little independent gallery where I used to show my work is long gone. There is an art guild, but it is mostly nice retired ladies who paint watercolor magnolias, and I learned my lesson in WI about involving myself with groups of nice retired ladies who paint!

The good news is that there is a market for art in this area, and the locals seem to really want to buy real art made by real people. I've already had a few word of mouth sales and commissions, so I hope that is a trend that will continue. I have a house that needs redone from the floor up, a garden that I can putter in all year round, new friends to make, old ones to reconnect with, and fire ants to poison.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cats: Love 'em or Hate 'em

It's a funny thing about cats. Most people either love them or hate them. Few people are indifferent. I was reminded today that the following is one of my all time favorite stories about artists and cats. The Blue Cat is also one of my favorite works of art featuring a feline. It goes to show you never can tell!

Beating the Blues

Most of the time, I wind up creating blue, purple, or green backgrounds for my cats. I've always been drawn to the cooler side of the color wheel, but living through a Wisconsin winter made me long for things to hang on my walls that would create a sense of warmth and sunshine. So, I went to the paint store and bought the brightest tube of yellow they had. This was the first time I experimented with blending the charcoal into the wet paint, and I love the swirly effect I wound up with. Yes, that is an official art term by the way! Often used to describe Starry Night and The Scream....

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Other People's Art

The second good thing to come out of moving to Wisconsin for me (after adopting Sarah) was meeting quilt artist Laurie Ceesay. I love meeting other artists and being inspired by their creativity. Laurie gave me this piece as a gift for my birthday, but I also own 4 other small pieces that I purchased from her, and I have given some of her work as gifts.

I have met a lot of artists who have said things like, "Why would I hang other people's work in my house?" "Why would I buy someone else's work?" or my personal favorite, "I like your work, but I could do that myself." This is not an attitude that I share. I am a proponant of art and the Humanities in general, and I believe in putting my money where my mouth is when I can afford to. Not only do I have a wonderful collection of beautiful things for my home, but I get to give really unique gifts that are much appreciated AND I have wonderful pieces that call to mind the friends who made them and the good times we shared.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Summer of my Discontent

Moving is hard. I titled this work Seokurum Summer: Identity Crisis, but I always refer to it as The Summer of My Discontent. I painted it the first summer we lived in Wisconsin. The first few months in a new location are always fun for me. It's like being a tourist. I check out all of the shops, all of the museums, and all of the restaurants. I decorate my house and make plans for my garden. Then, reality sets in. Moving to Wisconsin was particularly difficult for me. In Korea, I had an amazing group of friends, all of the work I wanted teaching English, and a glorious foreign country to explore. When I moved to Wisconsin, I found myself with no friends, no job, and not enough sweaters. I decided that for the first time in my life I would devote myself to making art, and I quickly discovered that this simply was not enough to make me feel fulfilled. I was unhappy and disconcerted and felt like my life had been totally turned upside-down, but one really good thing came out of that period:  this painting. It is one of my favorites, easily in the top three, and I would hard pressed to part with it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

And now a word about that engineer...

Sarah wrapping John around her little paw.
The man who keeps me grounded and one of the creatures who give me wings. Whenever I need honest criticism or a slice of humble pie, all I have to do is ask my husband, "What do you think of this drawing?"  Sometimes he says, "I like it, you should keep it." More often, it is, "I don't like it," "I don't get it," "It looks like a 12 year old did it," or my personal favorite, "You should paint over it." (He actually loves the purple cat that is partially visible in the background and won't let me sell it even though I have had offers.)  His comments might seem harsh to some people, but I truly value his opinion and his honesty. He is always supportive of my endeavors, but he is not my personal cheerleader. I think all artists need someone like him--I suggest finding an engineer, no one can shoot down an artist's ego like an engineer--to keep at least one of our feet firmly in reality. Because of him, there is really nothing that anyone else can say about my work that will hurt my feelings, and quite frankly I think that all artists benefit from having someone to tell them when what they have produced is crap.

The most important thing though is that even when he doesn't appreciate the cats I draw, he obviously shares my adoration of my models, which in the end is far more important to me.

Monday, July 16, 2012

You've Got to Have Thick Skin

This is one of my favorite "art stories" to tell. Shortly after moving to Wisconsin, my husband and I decided to participate in a local arts and crafts fair (he is a woodworker, and his boxes and small tables sell well at such events). A browser walked up to our space and flipped through my prints. She got sort of a sour look on her face and then announced loudly, "I don't like your cow." My ever so eloquent response was, "Huh?" After a few seconds of recovery, I said, "Ma'am, I don't draw cows. I believe what you are looking at is a bighorn sheep." She replied, "Well! I still don't like it, your drawing is very bad if I thought it was a cow, and I just don't like your work." All, I could say was, "Well, thank you for stopping by to support the arts anyway." Of course I was thinking, Good Lord! I hope she is not like this at every booth!

Now, I could have been upset by this encounter, but instead I made a purposeful decision to be amused instead--plus now I have a great story to tell! It is not my fault if a person doesn't know a cow from a big horn sheep, and in all fairness, I don't think they have bighorns in WI. Also, I am uniquely prepared to deal with people who don't like my work because I live with an engineer!

As a side note, I have only drawn a couple of bighorns. I was inspired to do so after seeing them in the wild in my home state of Wyoming where they are reintroducing themselves to the hill country. They are majestic, powerful creatures, and I hope to get the chance to see more of them in the future.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Valhalla I am coming!

And then we moved to the land of ice and snow--otherwise known as the Upper Peninsula of Wisconsin. Moving home after living overseas for four years is a brutal awakening. Moving to rural Wisconsin after living in the bustle of Geoge-Do was a lot like hitting a brick wall at 80 mph. To soften the impact, I decided to do something that I had always wanted to do:  adopt a kitten. Before, I had always adopted strays or adult cats because I felt they had the greatest need, but kitten-sittin' for my friend Ellen in Korea had increased my desire to experience the sweetness and cuteness of kitten parenting for myself.  I knew I would have to narrow the field or I would come home with more kittens that my husband could survive, so I went to the Menominee Animal Shelter and told them that I wanted a gray kitten. It was one of those random choices that makes a person believe in fate. Their were only 3 gray kittens. One of them was a "special needs" creature. She had been brought in by a good Samaritan who had found her on the road side, having either been hit by a car or thrown from one. Her little face was battered and she required daily meds to help her recover from her wounds and the resulting surgery. Her name was Sarah, and she was the most precious thing I had ever seen. John and I picked her up that evening, and he immediately nicknamed her Scar-face. It turns out that adopting Sarah was about the smartest move I could have made at that time. Nothing takes you out of yourself and forces you to focus on things other than your own woes than having to care for another living creature. She is not the most clever of my three, but she is the absolute sweetest and goofiest. In my opinion she is the best thing to ever come out of Wisconsin--far better than cheese or the Packers!

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Creature of Habit

In the Western world, we value creativity, imagination, and uniqueness above all else in our artwork. While living in Korea, I got to experience first hand the concept of "cultural art."  I learned that in the East, there is a whole different take on things. Throughout Asia, artists are producing the exact same images over and over again and they are the same images that their grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers created. One artist explained why this is. He said that traditional Korean (and Chinese) artists believe that the original great works of art were given to the original artists by "the spirits" and that these images were perfect. To duplicate these images exactly is the highest form of art that can be achieved.

I bought this woodburning at the tower in Pusan because I was born in the year of the tiger. It was one of many that were nearly exactly the same. Every time I look at it, I am reminded that there are ways of thinking about art that are completely different, yet just as valid as what I was taught.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wine, Women, and.....Paint

You meet the most amazing people when you live overseas. My Korean "art group" from left to right: Ellen Plaskon; language specialist, runner, author of a great blog, and mom to an energetic toddler from the East Coast. Petey; supervisor of paintings. Kayoko Knowles; elementary teacher, marine wildlife photographer from Japan. Joy Miranova; English teacher from Bulgaria. These were great times!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Importance of Being Honest

One thing that makes me cringe is when someone asks an artist, "How long have you been an artist?" and the artist replies with a cliche along the lines of, "I have always been an artist." I have news for this artist: we all paint or draw as children, that doesn't make us all artists. Making art requires both technical skill and aesthetic intent. Like music and literature, art is a tool that humans use to attempt to understand themselves, their place in society, and their place in the grand scheme of things. It is not until we reach that point in our lives when we realize that we are in fact searching for deeper meaning and understanding in our lives through our creative pursuits that we can say we have truly become artists.

I still don't generally refer to myself as an artist. I often laughingly tell people, "I'm not an artist, I just like to draw pictures of cats." (although my cat drawings are often highly expressive of what is happening in my life at the time) My work is an act of evolution that began with a mindful decision. It continues through a process of education and experimentation.
How long have I been an artist? I'll let you know when I get there.

A Professional Opinion

My first year in Korea, I was lucky enough to be visited by my good friend (and fellow cat-mom) Carolyn Phillips, currently the chair of the art department at Chowan University. I was thrilled when Carolyn presented me with this painting titled "Lying" as a hostess gift. We had a wonderful time touring Geoje Island and visiting Pusan. Also during our visit, we spent a good deal of time discussing art, and Carolyn encouraged me to continue drawing and developing my personal style. She continues to encourage me in my artistic endeavors and is a valued friend.

After her visit, I realized how important it is to be in contact with other artists who encourage, inspire, and provide constructive criticism. Since then, I have actively sought out other artists which has led to wonderful friendships that have greatly enriched my life.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Real Life Bonnie Curl

My 13 year old calico from Vicksburg, MS. A diva if there ever was one, and the model for most of my drawings. Bonnie means beautiful in Scottish--and she knows it!

And then there was art...

...and it was good--or at least I really, really liked it! This is still my favorite cat drawing. I call it The Bonnie Curl.

Walking Away a Winner

A second cat in Burch's style (minus the distracting patterns) confirmed my love of vibrant colors and made me realize that while I appreciate her work, I do not want to create folk art/tribal style cats. They look too stodgy to represent the graceful, elegant creatures who share my home and enrich my life. Fortunately, like the students of yore who learned from copying the masters at the Louvre and then went on to do their own thing, after these first four pieces, I knew exactly where I wanted to start with my own work. I wanted something as simple as a Picasso line drawing, as colorful as a Burch, and with the movement of a Marc or Bonheur. No sweat (+:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Learning from the Masters

After the second drawing, I knew I needed to sort out my approach to color. I also knew that this was going to be an essential step in developing my personal style since I suffer from Deuteranomaly. No, that is not a book in the Bible. It is the inability for me to tell red, dark pink, and orange apart. I also have trouble with black and navy blue which occasionally leads to mismatched socks, gloves, and the occasional purchase of a sweater that doesn't match the shoes I thought it would go with. Once again, I turned to a favorite artist for inspiration. I have long been a fan of Laurel Burch's colorful cats, so I decided to paint a cat in her style, sticking with the blues, purples, and blue greens that I can easily distinguish. What I learned from this was that I loved the combination of vibrant colors, but the pattern was overwhelming to me. I knew I needed to simplify.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Exodus...sort of

After the first drawing, I knew that I wanted color for the second one, so I chose a vibrant blue for the background and drew Bonnie in her "I am an Egyptian goddess" pose. I knew I was on the right track with this as I liked the color and texture I was able to add to the background with the paint, but I still felt a little like I was lost in the desert without a guide.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Petey and Bonnie asleep in the sun on our balcony in Korea. Who wouldn't be inspired to create art?