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?


 I got really hooked on art in junior high and high school. Unlike a lot of people, I was lucky enough to attend a secondary school where art was both appreciated and well funded. I left high school not only knowing about things like perspective and color theory, but also about the Great Masters and how to throw a pot on a wheel. In college I was too busy to do much other than pick up what art classes I could fit into my schedule, and when I graduated, I found myself too busy with teaching to make much art. I was living in Korea the first time I decided to draw a cat. There were several motivating factors behind this decision. For one thing, our apartment needed art, and I wasn't interested in decorating it with some overly done and overly copied Chinese brush painting. I wanted something personal. Also, I had a lot of time on my hands as a newly minted ex-pat wife, unemployed for the first time since grad school. What I didn't have was my own personal style, so I decided to take a page from art history and try to teach myself by "copying" the masters. Of course, being an academic, I have strong feelings about intellectual property rights and didn't want to flat out copy anyone, so my first cat was heavily influenced by the style of Franz Marc, but is partially posed from  "the world is too much for me" pose so frequently adopted by my models. What I learned from this: I love charcoal, I love the graceful lines of cats, and I needed some color in the next piece! Also, I really like the results of using charcoal to draw on a canvas that has several layers of acrylic paint on it.