From Nanoscapes

Grand Metaphor: Explains Everything

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.

Friendship #5. Friendship: Complicated. Sometimes Messy. Beautiful if you're lucky. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Friendship #5. Friendship: Complicated. Sometimes Messy. Beautiful if you’re lucky.
Puzzle Pieces Parrot: Wild Parrots of the Grim Winter of 2013,. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Puzzle Pieces Parrot: Wild Parrots of the Grim Winter of 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Molecular Biology 115: an original nanoscapes
Molecular Biology 115: An original nanoscape
Herbert Hippopotamidae Papyrus (hippo) from the Genus Papyrus. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Herbert Hippopotamidae Papyrus (hippo) from the Genus Papyrus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Sail or The Unmade Bed: celebrates color and challenges perspective. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
The Sail or The Unmade Bed: celebrates color and challenges perspective

 

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.

Find the Owl Abstract Artfun. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Find the Owl Abstract Artfun
Orange Flying Crystal. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Orange Flying Crystal: One of six

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Painted Stained Glass Horse. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Painted Stained Glass Horse. All of the painted stained glass designs answer the troubling question: What happens when triangles go wild?

 

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.

Conversations Connections. Doodling while on a conference call to connect a friend to a different job. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Conversations Connections. Doodling while on a conference call to connect a friend to a different job.

 

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.

Mosaic Mural by Alice Smith 6th Grade 2017 part of the Grand Metaphor
Mosaic Mural by Alice Smith 6th Grade 2017

 

Yellow Paper Mosaic part of the Grand Metaphor.
Yellow Paper Mosaic uses tiny bits of acrylic paper and medium covered paper.
Minnesota map paper mosaic. After turning 65, I abandoned activities requiring either safety equipment or liability waivers. Make paper tiles with scissors! Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Minnesota map paper mosaic. After turning 65, I abandoned activities requiring either safety equipment or liability waivers. Make paper tiles with scissors!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Climate Crusaders Creatures With Multi-colored Antlers 2. Originally conceived as a bird's eye view of a conclave of creatures with antlers meeting in the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul to strategize about climate change. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Climate Crusaders Creatures With Multi-colored Antlers 2. Originally conceived as a bird’s eye view of a conclave of creatures with antlers meeting in the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul to strategize about climate change.

 

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.

Big Neighborhoods 2: every piece looks better because of the pieces that surround it. Now covered under The Grand Metaphor.
Big Neighborhoods 2: every piece looks better because of the pieces that surround it

 

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.

Big Neighborhood Happy Accident

A Big Neighborhood Happy Accident

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 Invert: Big Neighborhood Happy Accident
Big Neighborhood 2 Invert: Big Neighborhood Happy Accident
Big Neighborhood 2. Big Neighborhood Happy Accident
Big Neighborhood 2.

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.

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Availability:  The original Big Neighborhood 2 has been sold. Prints of Big Neighborhood 2 Invert are available at etsy.

Northstar Watermedia Artists’ Market Begins Today

Northstar Watermedia Artists’ Market at the MN State Fairgrounds

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.

Explore Golden High Flow Acrylics‘ Fern Feet, aka Bloom

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.

Golden High Flow Acrylic Fern Feet at Northstar
Golden High Flow Acrylic Fern Feet at Northstar

 

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.

Orange 4-inch square magnet mosaic
Orange 4-inch square magnet mosaic

Multi-colored Antlers Community

Golden High Flow Acrylic Fern Feet: NOT multi-colored antlers
Golden High Flow Acrylic Fern Feet: NOT multi-colored antlers

Multi-colored antlers: a community

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.

 

Community of Multi-colored Antlers: Antlers 1
Community of Multi-colored Antlers: Antlers 1

First Squiggles, then a community of Antlers

I start with a pencil (Kimberly General Pencil 6-H) drawing, cover it with Liquitex Clear Gesso, and wait 24 hours to paint. The clear gesso protects the drawing from smearing or blurring.

These shapes, first called “Squiggles,” are true nanoscapes, abstract designs that have been flowing from my brain since I first picked up a pencil. They cried out to be something more concrete and dignified. Now, to me, they are an overhead shot of a community of creatures with antlers (deer, moose, reindeer, caribou, Springbok, elk, Big Horn Sheep, Markhor, Saiga, Nubian Ibex, Bharal, Addax, Mouflon, Blackbuck, Oryx, Giant Eland, and Jackson’s Chameleon). As always, every piece looks better because of the pieces that surround it.

Antlers’ Pencil Drawing

Antlers Pencil Drawing
Antlers Pencil Drawing

 Multi-colored Antlers 2

Multi-colored Antlers 2
Multi-colored Antlers 2

 

Vast Big Box Project: Art Meets Privacy

Vast Big Box Project

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.

Vast Big Box Project Inspiration Doodle
Vast Big Box Project Inspiration Doodle

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.

Disturbing?

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.

Big Box Project Tiny Prototype
Big Box Project Tiny Prototype

Thanks!

Thank you, Tracie Thompson, for introducing me to the idea of clear gesso.

Valentine’s Day: deliver a nanoscapes’ heart

2017 nanoscapes’ heart

Making an annual valentine is a pure pleasure, and the 2017 nanoscapes’ heart was no exception. Share a an original art valentine with a friend or with your sweetie. Or share a print. Or give a coloring project. This nanoscapes’ heart is an original watercolor ($100, unmatted, unframed subject to availability), a digital print ($25 unmatted, unframed); and the nanoscapes’ heart coloring page is a dollar digital download. They are all at ETSY, and accessible and available quick as a wink.

 

nanoscapes' heart 2017
nanoscapes’ heart 2017

 

nanoscapes' heart valentine 2017
nanoscapes’ heart valentine 2017

 

Coloring page at The Art Shoppe

The coloring page 2017 nanoscapes’ heart is at The Art Shoppe (2.50 per sheet).

Coloring pages have a heart

A Valentine heart coloring page

Drawing the first of the nanoscapes Valentine coloring pages was an unalloyed pleasure, as was painting the original ($100, limited availability at ETSY), and creating a digital print ($25, at ETSY). This 2017 Nanoscapes Valentine Heart is a dollar digital download at ETSY. You have choices: the original watercolor painting (get it before it disappears!), an archival digital print (Epson paper and ink), or a project (the coloring page.)

nanoscapes valentine 2017
Nanoscapes Valentine 2017 Dollar Digital Download at https://www.etsy.com/your/shops/SusanGainen/tools/listings/506928367

My pals have urged me to make coloring books for a decade

Adult coloring books stopped being a trend and coloring pages are now a tidal wave. I was a little slow getting to the coloring pages project, but I’m now at it all the time. I go everywhere with a pad of Bristol paper, 6H pencils, erasers, and a tiny brass pencil sharpener.

A collection of coloring pages

Common advice to writers is “go with what you know,” and I followed it. Making coloring pages based on nanoscapes’ designs lets me revisit the tiny shapes and spaces that I’ve explored since childhood with doodles, and with paint since I took James Boyd Brent’s Splitrock Short Watercolor Class in 2006.

Making a book to my satisfaction is much more complicated than I imagined, so I have made these pages into dollar (plus tax) digital downloads at my ETSY shop in the Adult Coloring Page section. Print them onto card stock. Get our your sharp pencils, tiny paint brushes, or pens and markers. Have fun!

Click to see the pages, then dollar download at ETSY

Click on each image to learn more about Orbs (an original nanoscape), Stacked Boxes, Boxes and Dots, Painted Knitted Metal 31, Demented Dominos, Stalagmites and Curves, Find the Owl!, Terrazzo Molecules, Friendship Bands, and Conversations Connections. There are now 24 coloring pages in The ADULT COLORING PAGES of my ETSY shop. I often add new pages.

30 paintings 30 days January 2017

30 paintings 30 days challenge

California-based artist, author, teacher, blogger, and podcaster Leslie Saeta challenged artists all over to world to a January 2017 30 paintings 30 days challenge. I accept.

The last time I did this challenge, I was lucky enough to be visited by 16 Roosters who promptly invited their friends to my studio and into the book, The Backyard Roosters of Saint Paul. It was a very busy month, and I learned a lot about chickens and roosters.

Exploring climate change in 30 days

Since I came to Minnesota in July 1992, the state has lost an entire climate zone. Asking “How do you lose a climate zone?” I looked for it, but it appears to have moved to an undisclosed climatic location. One result of that change, though, is an influx of whimsical birds who have moved to Minnesota to avoid cataclysmic weather events in their previous locations.

Whimsical bird refugees

Minnesotans have a history of generosity and of welcoming refugees. With some of the birds unused to life on the frozen tundra, the Pandas of the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul welcomed them into the Forest. As you may know, The Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul is located over a thermal vent, which keeps it at a constant bamboo-supporting temperature.

Max-the-Cat, who schedules portrait-painting appointments with whimsical creatures who visit my studio, tells me that the January schedule is full of birds who are new to Minnesota. I can’t wait to meet them.

First of 30 paintings in 30 days

Max cleverly scheduled the new birds for later this week, so it seems right to honor the new year with a nanoscape — a floating molecule in a stacked box pattern. Abstract molecule makes me think that I should have paid attention when I had opportunities to look at stuff through microscopes. Or not. This way, meaning no disrespect to actual science, I can just make it up.

30 paintings 30 days January 1
30 paintings 30 days January 1

Celebration! St. Paul Winter Carnival Show

2016 yields to 2017 with Celebration!

Happy to announce that Celebration!, an original acrylic painting, will be in the 2016 Saint Paul Carnival Fire & Ice Show. Thus, I’m able to end the otherwise troubling and weird 2016 with good news and to begin 2017 with “Celebration!”

 

Celebration!
Celebration!

How was it made? How did this happen?

Thanks go to the Fabulous Bonnie Cutts, who confirmed that a-bought-from-a-sale-table bottle of Golden High Flow Acrylics really was supposed to make little fern fronds. Although the effect was cool, I’d never seen it before, and, typical of me, thought it might be defective. Not so. The fern-fronds are a signature of High Flow Acrylic.

I covered four 5×7 and one 12×16 boards with white gesso, and dropped High Flow colors while the gesso was still wet. Watching it make patterns was like watching a series of tiny miracles. No microscopes needed.

I waited until the gesso was dry, dabbed some Golden Glass Bead Gel onto the boards, and waited for that to dry. I covered each board with Golden Self-Leveling Clear Gel and let that dry. With my handy tube of  that most superior of adhesives, E-6000, I glued the four small boards to the big one. The frame — shiny red, and who doesn’t love shiny red? — came from Goodwill as plain dark wood. It got serious sanding and lots of coats of Gloss Sunrise Red Rust-oleum. A pint of shiny red paint goes a long way. The large board, popped into the frame in reverse, is held by shiny red clips.

Golden High Flow Acrylic Fronds
Golden High Flow Acrylic Fronds

Fire & Ice: Opening Reception January 21, 6-10 pm

To cap a very busy day (this is the day of the Women’s March on Minnesota), the Winter Carnival Art Show Opening Reception will be at the AZ Gallery, Saturday January 21 from 6 to 10 pm.  Join us!

Fire & Ice: Winter Carnival Art Show
Fire & Ice: Winter Carnival Art Show

Crisp fall day inspires Pink Spring

Spring in Minnesota

Spring is an elastic term in Minnesota. Does it begin with the spring semester (in January)? With the last snow? With pink spring flowers and plants? Since 1992, I have walked to the mailbox in a snow storm on two separate April 15ths. Fun fact: July is Minnesota’s only snow-free month. My favorite sign of spring is the day when I can walk without looking at my feet to spot hazardous stray patches of ice. Certainly not in January or February. Hardy in March or April. Usually in May.

Pink Spring Acrylic

Pink Spring will always remind me of the crisp fall day that I painted it. Returning to the Image-a-Day regimen that I began in 2010, I used two colors of acrylic paint and finger tips. It is a true “nanoscape,” an abstract painting celebrating tiny shapes and small spaces.

It is 12″ high x 4″ wide. Original $45 plus shipping (subject to availability). Print 9″ high x 3″ wide. $20 plus shipping. Contact me directly  at susangainen@comcast.net.

Pink Spring on a crisp fall day
Pink Spring on a crisp fall day