My interest in gemstones was sparked during a trip to see The Hope Diamond when it was introduced into the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in 1958. My Mother bravely packed her station wagon with Brownie Scouts, and we joined the mobs who lined up to see it. We snaked through the museum through the Hall of Gems, which was filled with what appears in bodice-ripper fiction as “dripping with pearls.” Inspiring and breathtaking.
But ever-so-slightly disappointing. It was billed to the public and to my tiny 8-year-old brain as the largest blue diamond in captivity. Not knowing that the key word was blue, I expected to find a diamond the size of a softball. To my immense disappointment, it appeared to be the size of a quarter.
I missed the career off-ramp to “gemstone cutter,” and now that I’m hewing to my 65th birthday vow of avoiding activities requiring safety equipment or liability waivers, there will be no glass cutting, tile cutting, bungee jumping, and now, no gemstone cutting.
Whimsical wildlife documentarian paints gemstones
It is well within the purview of the Whimsical Wildlife Documentarian to paint gemstones and to apply a 2019 version of Painstaking Exuberance. I have paintbrushes, and I am not afraid to use them.
Multiple advantages of painting whimsical gemstones:
No insurance penalty for using dangerous equipment: paint brushes, even the tiniest, are not lethal unless you are in obscure parts of mystery fiction.
No need to consider the Laws of Physics: I never took physics, so I can plead ignorance.
No need to consider colors that might not exist in nature: in my experience as an artist, nature’s color limitations are highly over-rated.
No need to be limited by cost or size: a real five-pound amethyst crystal would be outside my art supply budget, it would pain my arthritic hands, and diamonds and rubies are out of the question.
No fear of making a costly mistake: the ever-real possibility of dropping and breaking a valuable stone was always a deal breaker.
With her Camouflage nearly complete (she lacks a monacle), Camo Hippo started a business. Moving swiftly, she saw no need to consult with an expensive team of MBA-trained consultants. With so many creatures in danger from poachers, sea level rising, habitat destruction, and forest clear cutting, she has no doubt that there is a rising demand for the services of a Professional Camouflageur.
Camo Hippo Catalog Samples
Inspired by Photoshop Filters and her clients’ preferences, Camo Hippo will use an innovative combination of tattoos, paint, glue, and unique textiles to create what will work best for her clients. She is assembling a team with technical and artistic skills who are excited about working to protect real and whimsical creatures. She expects to be in production by the end of August 2018.
New Hippo Camouflage: Hiding behind Creatures with Antlers
For about six weeks, I was obsessed with anti-climate change convocations headed by Creatures with Antlers who were gathering inside the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul. I painted more than two dozen canvases and paint-on-paper pieces that were birds’ eye views of these meetings. It was time to stop.
With more of these images than I could possibly display (let alone sell), Max-the-Cat, my Model, Muse and Snacks Manager, said “The hippos are coming and they need a place to hide.” Never argue with your Spokescat.
Create Hippo Camouflage: Cut Strips, Squares and Rectangles
With more than enough painted papers, it was almost easy to start. But not quite. I love all of these sheets of whimsical shapes and the intense colors from Golden High Flow Acrylic paint. Finally realizing that I could paint more sheets if I wanted, it still took a while to get up the nerve to begin to cut.
Toolkit: TerraSkin, a tree-free paper that doesn’t stretch that I buy from the always-helpful staff at Saint Paul’s Wet Paint, a paper cutter, good scissors (Fiskars), and a Uhu archival glue stick. Gotta have it: good light and a comfortable chair.
Hippo Camouflage: what could it be?
Think of a Hawaiian shirt on colored steroids, melted crayons (before your Mom noticed that you had done this on the floor), adventures in microscope viewing, or for people of a certain age, a very pleasant acid trip,
Hippo Camouflage: it’s working!
What next for hippo camouflage?
This hippo, who has not yet shared his name with me, is taking the rest of the week off while being coated with Golden Glass Bead Gel and Golden Self-Leveling Clear Gel. He sent a message to two of his friends, noting that hippo camouflage is pretty cool. They will get to Saint Paul next week. They hope to arrive in time for Art in the Hollow, an amazing day of art and music and fun and food in the magical Swede Hollow. June 2. Be there. Rain or shine.
the grand metaphor: every piece looks better because of the pieces that surround it.
Having made abstracts before I could define “abstract” (no art school), I think that I can be forgiven for creating backstories before I could conceive of the Grand Metaphor.
The Grand Metaphor connects the backstories
Friendship: Complicated. Sometimes Messy. Beautiful if you’re lucky gave me an excuse to make tiny, interconnected bands using both very sharp pencils and tiny brushes. Each of these bands looks better because of how it twines with its neighbors.
Puzzle Pieces covers a space with interconnected shapes that invite bright colors. Although they don’t touch one another, they are closely related.
Original nanoscapes were a jump-off point for a new watercolor painter. I saw my artist pals who could get the spirit of trees, flowers, and mountains with a few whooshes of watercolor and realized that I could never achieve anything resembling their work. I also realized that plein air (outdoor) painters had to share space with insects and humidity — two things that I have dedicated my life to avoiding. Turning indoors and turning inside, I found shapes and spaces and their connections at the tip of my pencils and brushes, and never looked back.
The Genus Papyrus, a group of mosaic creatures who answer the question “What do watercolor artists do with leftover paintings?” They cut them up and make mosaics. The Small Friends’ Research Institute supports research in the Genus Papyrus, and continues to look for good habitat for these creatures: 3 parrots, a hippo, a horse, a cat, and a pig. They are wonderful examples of The Grand Metaphor because each piece fits neatly next to its neighbors.
The Sail or The Unmade Bed celebrated the brightest colors that I could create with watercolor and challenges perspective. Note: achieve Bright Water colors with lots of pigment and not a lot of water. Thank you, Russ Dittmar, Watercolorist Extraordinaire.
Find the Owl is simply #artfun. Tiny connected shapes and spaces intertwine to create a whimsical boulder hiding an owl.
Orange Flying Crystal is part of a series of six crystal paintings. Inspired by quantity time spent looking at the ceiling at Dulles Airport, these paintings began as doodles and grew into flying crystals that look as if they are ready to leap off the page.
Painted Stained Glass answers a question that may have troubled you for years: what happens when triangles go wild? The menagerie (family) of stained glass creatures who have stopped by my studio to sit for portraits and tell stories includes: a camel, cats, elephants, flamingos, frogs, hippos, horses, kangaroos, LLLamas (their spelling), parrots, pigs, roosters, a seal, and a warthog.
Conversations Connections began as a doodle on a postcard. Several professional pals spent time on conference calls trying to figure out the best way to network our friend into a different job. She didn’t get the job, but I was inspired. One of many pieces that began with a General Pencil 6H drawing. What a pleasure it was to fill in the tiny rectangles and squares with watercolor. A tiny Micron pen (several) made the tiny lines around each piece.
Paper Mosaic came to me at a perfect time. When I turned 65 I abandoned all activity requiring safety equipment or liability waivers, thus, no tile cutting, no glass cutting, and no bungee jumping. Paper mosaic — creating tile from paper and acrylic paint and mediums — can be done by anyone at home. I taught the 2017 6th Grade Graduates of Alice Smith Elementary School to make paper mosaic. They made this one as a gift to the school and it hangs in the building.
Creatures with Antlers may have the longest backstory. The Pandas and Frogs from the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul decided to expand the metaphorical footprint of The Forest to accommodate creatures from around the world who were being displaced by climate change. The “creatures with antlers” series was originally conceived as birds’ eye views of conclaves of creatures with antlers (including the Jackson’s Chameleon) who were strategizing about climate change. This story became much too complicated to tell all the time. I’ll get it into a book someday.
Big Neighborhoods are three 22×33 paintings that are joyously self-indulgent, and, perhaps the clearest example of The Grand Metaphor. Watercolor and more watercolor.
Shameless Commercial Conversation
In a perfect world, everything would be available with one click. I apologize. Contact me directly to talk about images that you like or ideas that you’d like to explore. For example, paper mosaics can cover a wall and The Sail can be 5-feet long. I look forward to hearing from you.
I was searching through images from the past few years and found this image, Big Neighborhood 2. I opened it in Photoshop, hit “invert,” and now celebrate the one-click Big Neighborhood Happy Accident.
Big Neighborhood 2: part of a series
This painting is part of a series of nanoscapes abstract paintings and paper mosaics whose tiny shapes and tiny pieces come together with two purposes: to create joy and to spark conversations about what it means to be in a neighborhood.
In these “Neighborhoods,” as in life, each piece looks better because of the pieces that surround it. Creating each tiny piece is unalloyed pleasure, and a meditative practice.
I have done this work in watercolor, acrylic, and paper mosaic. I was fortunate to be able to work on a collaborative, colorful and inspirational mosaic mural project with the Class of 2017 6th graders at Alice Smith Elementary School in Hopkins, MN. If you are in the neighborhood (Hopkins), drop by and see it.
Creativity and the Happy Accident
The creative happy accident can flow from:
A thought. A gesture. A sunrise. A sunset. A crazy cat. A beautiful bug. A sound (or lack of sound). A “mistake.”
Lucky artists’ preparation for the Happy Accident
Have an open mind. Have good tools and take good care of them.
Learn how to use and manipulate your tools. My one-click Happy Accident is the direct result of my constant exploration of Photoshop’s features.
Have a camera or sketchbook handy. Don’t be embarrassed to stop and sketch.
Don’t be afraid to try. If your idea doesn’t work as you imagined or planned, begin again. Recycle your creative materials. Paint over the canvas (that’s what gesso is for); rework the clay; melt the glass shards; rip out the knitting. Cut things up. Make collages. Use glue. Find a hammer or electric staple to make new surfaces. You, too, may have a Happy Accident.
Availability: The original Big Neighborhood 2 has been sold. Prints of Big Neighborhood 2 Invert are available at etsy.
While the world is distracted by exploding apartments, health care, and dastardly Russians, Climate Crusaders with Antlers have been busy identifying issues and creating strategies that they can employ to influence humans to stop climate change.
Climate Conferences in the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul
What better place to gather outside of the watchful eyes of Climate Deniers than the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul? Long a place of respite and quiet for its native Pandas and Frogs, the Forest is now a hive of activity.
The Pandas’ Climate Crusader Agenda
When two Pandas first appeared in my studio in December 2013, they offered to sit for portraits and tell their stories if I promised to keep the Forest’s location a secret. As a proud citizen of Saint Paul, and a highly-morphinated post-shoulder-surgical patient, I agreed. Since then, I’ve painted lots of Pandas, and even more portraits of the Frogs who live in the Forest with them.
The two Pandas returned to my studio in December 2016, and they were disturbed. Very disturbed. Climate change, political strife, and deforestation was displacing creatures by the thousands every day. As currently configured, the Hidden Bamboo Forest couldn’t possibly accommodate these refugees. Undeterred, the Pandas and Frogs decided to expand the footprint of the Forest by harnessing the Power of Imagination, and by recruiting some of their pals to help. Four of their best LLLama pals from the world of Meet the LLLamas are planetary scientists, who are hard at work developing the terra forming technology necessary to make Mars habitable for humans and LLLamas. The Planetary Scientist LLLamas have taken a leave of absence to expand the Forest.
[Updates will be forthcoming. All of these images are for sale. Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for sizes and prices.]
Celebrate the magic of watercolor with Northstar Watermedia Society’s members. Artists’ Market runs from May 19-21 at the Fine Arts Building at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Every artist begins with a tube or a block of paint. Every artist’s work is different. Come to be astonished. Enjoy free parking.
Learn how to add this feature to your work. On Sunday May 21 at noon, I will be present a demonstration focused on this feature of Golden High Flow Acrylics, and showing off the powerful colors of this line. I will also (again) thank Bonnie Cutts, our Golden Brand Artist in Residence, who reassured me that the fern feet were an actual feature of this paint that I’d picked up from a discount table at Dick Blick. I thought I’d gotten a bad bottle.
Paper Mosaic: Not Ceramic
The other part of my Sunday demonstration will be a step-by-step guide to creating mosaics from paper that look like ceramic tile. In my demo kit: gesso, watercolor and acrylic paints and mediums, TerraSkin, Golden Self-Leveling Clear Gel, offset spatula, scissors, and a heavy dose of imagination.
Multi-colored antlers did not appear in a fevered dream. Rather, in late April, I began a deep dive into Golden High Flow Acrylic which became Multi-colored Antlers.
High Flow is is magical paint that makes my favorite effect — fern feet (above) — and it has a double-plus-fabulous bonus of providing beautiful, clear colors that work as paint-from-a-brush, in markers, as a glaze, and anything you might imagine.
Inspired by a disturbing NPR piece about a very modern product called DRTBox that can scoop up data from up to 10,000 cell phones at once, I began the Vast Big Box Project. In the Inspiration Doodle, I imagined tiny boxes and circles representing individual cell phones, and even tinier interior dots showing the data available to DRTBox.
What is DRTBox?
The Hacker News reports that it is cell phone surveillance technology that can track, intercept thousands of cellphone calls, and eavesdrop on conversations, emails, and text. The Intercept.com/surveillance-catalog lists one version at $100,000. This is not a tool for a home-grown, backyard-basement hacker. This is a tool for law enforcement.
Law enforcement can buy it. Evildoers can probably steal the technology or build something that can mimic its functions.
Questions for discussion
Scooping data from thousands of cell phone users is disturbing. Why? or Why not?
Just because you can, should you?
If the data that I put onto my cell phone boring and innocuous, what do I have to fear?
What if my boring cell phone is hacked by a Genuine Evildoer, not a basement hacker?
Do I want law enforcement to step in?
What is the Vast Big Box Project?
Beginning with blank canvas, a General Pencil 6-H, and a Mobius+Rupper Brass Wedge Sharpener, each part of the piece will be covered with tiny squares and spaces and even tinier shapes to indicate scoopable data. I will cover the pencil drawing with Liquitex Clear Gesso, which will seal the pencil and prevent smudges, and give me a paintable surface. I expect that this will project will fill a wall, presenting an overwhelming image of the length and breadth of this disturbing scoop-ability.