I was at once angered and inspired, and I blogged about it. I was mad. Really mad. And then inspired. I envisioned a 10-foot-by-10-foot installation made up of various sizes of canvas covered with a design of tiny boxes and dots. The boxes were to be the cell phones, and the dots were to be the data being collected. I imagined that I could pour all of my anger, frustration, and fear into these canvases, that people might get excited about the effect this gizmo would have on society, and — and …. I wasn’t sure what would come after that.
DRTBox anger recedes, recycling begins
Breathing deeply, I recognized that I have limited capacity for high-decibel anger. (There is too much to be upset about for single-subject high-velocity fretting.)
With my anger receding, I could focus on recycling. I covered some of the penciled and painted canvases with white gesso as a base for new projects.
One canvas retained its dots and serves as the background for Belinda the Beaded Elephant. Standing on a field of little boxes, she absorbed all of my anger and most of the active-keeps-me-up-at-night the concern about privacy, spying, and personal space. She is the CEO and Principal Advocate for “Free the Fones,” an international non-profit working on a long list of privacy, internet, and e-commerce issues. Please reply to her appeals for money, time, and fresh vegetables. She eats 15 pounds of every day.
It may get to 1 degree today (February 8), and I am optimistically registered for the Spring 2019 Saint Paul Art Crawl. Just planning for April 26, 27, and 28 is a harbinger of Spring.
The Show Gallery – Lowertown
I am honored to be at The Show Gallery Lowertown Saint Paul. Its mission is to create accessibility in the arts and unite artists of all abilities. Since opening in 2015, The Show Gallery has exhibited work by over 250 artists from the Twin Cities area. Exhibitions feature work by artists of all backgrounds, training, and ability levels. With 10+ exhibitions a year, special events like the St. Paul Art Crawl, and a selection of fine art and gifts in Rebecca’s Gifts, there are many ways to engage with The Show.
Big Red – a new avatar
Big Red, part of a large family of roosters who thanked me for creating their body parts. He is thrilled to be part of the 2019 Saint Paul Art Crawl, and is looking forward to meeting the pigeons hanging out in front of the Union Depot, which is a block from The Show Gallery.
New Art for the Art Crawl
The art crawl plan is to bring a mix of new creatures (the roosters and the hippos have been lobbying for selection), and new tiny neighborhoods, which have allowed me to focus on small-but-unequal spaces. Requests encouraged. Commissions accepted. Looking forward to seeing you in April.
No sooner had I made the abstract neighborhood slide show, than the clamor from the creatures who want to go to the Crawl became — distracting. It’s not enough that Two White Cats are Plotting to Take Over the World (an homage to their heros: Pinky and the Brain), but at least three roosters have been roped into an Avant Garde Runway Competition. It’s very busy in my house.
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.
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.]
The Blue Cat from the Clowder of Cats has been nagging. “Where is my portrait? Why can’t my legion of fans get copies? What do you do all day? Nap??!!??”
While others have accused me of allowing my affection for cats to get out of hand, the Blue Cat will have none of it. “You are ignoring my public!”
The prints are easy to find at ETSY. They are digital prints made on Epson paper with archival Epson ink. Each is printed on 8-1/2 x 11 paper and is unmatted. If you are in Minneapolis, call ahead to see if prints are available at The Art Shoppe at Midtown Global Market (612-965-8581).
Chatting with Very Blue Cat
“Clowder,” as you know, is the collective noun for cats. Similar to “convocation of eagles” and “battery of barracudas,” it means everything and evokes something that you are not quite certain exists. As a fan of mystery fiction, I am partial to “murder of crows,” but that is for another day.
The Very Blue Cat is part of a Clowder of Cats which I paint in Saint Paul Minnesota, and model on a photograph of Max-the-Cat, the model, muse, and snacks manager.
Very Blue Cat is purr-snickety, and complains a lot. He always wants more and better food. (“I like BIG shrimp.”) The sun, which travels around my home studio onto a staircase, onto windowsills, and, for a good part of the day, is in front of a sliding glass door, provides insufficient sunshine-vitamin-D. Or so he says, not realizing that my condo earned architectural awards for use of sunlight in the Frozen North.
He has strong opinions, urging farmers to grow more catnip, and ice-cream makers to create cat nip ice cream. Were he an interior designer, his clients would have only very soft pillows for naps, which would be rearranged (and fluffed), hour-by-hour as the sun moves through the houses. I would wonder who his clients might be? The humans? Or the Cats?
While sitting on my porch, he has long conversations with local squirrels, and one of his best friends is Barky-the-Squirrel. Between Barky’s barking and Very Blue’s cat-like chirp-and-growl, they keep local birds on their toes.
Purple-Feathered Yellow-Belly Clyde and his family are honored to appear in Leslie Saeta’s 30-in-30 Day 2 painting challenge. Clyde and his family are climate refugees from windy Southern Kansas. High winds and dense dust storms finally made life there intolerable for this heavily-feathered species. It had become way to hard to fly in one direction, and the high winds make nest-building close to impossible.
Clyde and his family were welcomed by the Pandas and Frogs of the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul. Their temporary shelter is in the Southern end of the Forest.
But it’s never enough. Unlike humans, who are throwing up barriers of all kinds, they opened the Forest to any birds and animals that can make the trek to Saint Paul. Some of these migrants are comfortable in the occasionally frozen Upper Midwest, and others will find the adjusting to the climate difficult.
Making a safe climate space
With energy and optimism, the Pandas and Frogs accepted the challenge of making safe and comfortable spaces for newcomers. Fortunately, the Forest sits atop a thermal vent, and with some crafty science and engineering, parts of the Forest will be made quite warm and welcoming for tropical and subtropical species.
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.
Max-the-Cat commissioned a new portrait to commemorate his most recent achievement. He is now a Brown Velvet Belt Feline Hypnotist Extraordinaire. His penetrating gaze creates an unbreakable bond between cat-and-human, cat-and-other-cat, cat-and-insect, and cat-and-vacuum cleaner. He bends everything to his will, which serves him in the Hierarchy of Interests: Food, Most Comfortable Seat, Food, and Silence.
Using Olympic-level concentration, Max’s training regime included hours of focused staring, with eyes fixed on a tiny speck of dust. He applied astonishing attention, gazing at individual leaves on a now-bare tree. Did his constant attention cause the leaves to fall? That’s someone’s dissertation.
Perfecting the Ritual of Insistence
He applied his vision, perfecting the “Ritual of Insistence,” in which a cat sits on a sleeping human’s stomach, with his or her head as close as possible to the human’s face. Deep gazing (and sometimes other activities) compel the human to get out of bed and feed the cat. Inexperienced cats use kneading, slapping, nose-nipping, and projectile vomiting to wake the human. The Brown Velvet Belt Feline Hypnotist Extraordinaire uses the power of the mind.
Brown Velvet Level
Among those who care about these things, there was some consternation about naming the top-level belted Feline Hypnotist “Brown” instead of “blue” for “Blue Ribbon” or “Black” for “Black Belt.” The truth is that the organizers and perpetuators of this competition also own a fabric store. Some years ago someone made an astonishingly large incorrect order of non-returnable brown velvet. They have donated yards of it to theater companies for velvet tree trunks, supported brown velvet bunny artists, and they continue to look for new uses for this beautiful fabric.
How the portrait was made
Max posed. Susan Gainen photographed with her IPhone and transferred the photo to her desktop and into Photoshop. With some adjustments, including cutting his image from the background and adding a sponge layer, Max emerged triumphant.