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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!”
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.
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!
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.
The range of new work surrounding me calls for both an exploration (what is she up to?) and a celebration (perhaps she’ll finally finish some of these projects.) It’s no surprise that my two favorite hashtags are #work-in-progress and #artfun. I may deserve a magpie award: lots of projects in various stages of completion.
Fish Parts Mirror
New work comes and goes in stages. The Fish Parts Mirror is part of the paper mosaic family which bubbled up in 2016. It will be a fish-with-a-round-mirror. What’s the hold up? This looks like a simple glue job. But no. The wooden fish substrate has curves and bumps that need to be smoothed out with layers of gesso. Then, the fish parts need to be fitted together. Funnily enough, what fits fine when flat doesn’t fit as well over bumps and lumps. But you knew that.
Coloring book pages in many stages
Where is the coloring book? Coloring pages have been in the new work pile for more than a year. I have lots of pages, but putting them together into a book that makes sense is a lot harder than it would appear. Questions abound:
How big should the book be? This is a two-part question because it refers to size-of-the-page and number of pages.
Should I include full-color versions of each page? Because all of the designs are based on original abstracts, the book won’t look like others in the market. I am cautiously optimistic that some people may be up for the challenge. On the other hand, painting each of these pages would be enormously pleasurable and a potential black-hole-time-waste.
Each design has a story. How much to I tell. Where would it go? On the back of each coloring page? How much — if any — might be interesting, useful, or fun?
Bead Gel, as you may know, contains tiny glass beads suspended in a clear acrylic medium that allows artists to make things bumpy and shiny. High Flow Acrylics do a lot of things that I haven’t explored.
What fascinated me when I got my first sample from the “sale” table at Dick Blick, was that when a blob is dropped into liquid (gesso was my first), the blobs expand and then grow tiny fern feet. I was concerned (was this paint supposed to do that?) and curious. I sent an email to Golden Artist-in-Residence and Acrylic Diva Bonnie Cutts, who kindly replied that yes, the little feet were part of High Flow’s characteristics. She also sent a cool video. I’ve been playing with this stuff ever since.
The images at right are experiments.
New work for holidays
Having made dozens of Flying Pigs and Elephants this year, it’s clear that I love spending “tiny time” with shapes and creatures. The Holidays (all of ’em) are upon us, and it’s time to turn to ornaments. I’m making a few Holiday Stars that will be studded with shiny stuff (stainless steel beads, etc.) Multi-level Stars of David will be shiny with optimism. Unless there is a groundswell of demand, I will make just three three-dimensional Red-Eye’d Bat postcards which will come with envelopes. All are subject to availability. Contact me directly.
I love dots.Tiny circles that swirl around one another and nestle together to make interesting little worlds. I’m always inspired by tiny spaces, and I’ve covered pages and pages of paper with doodle dots. I’ve been painting dots with enthusiasm since 2009. Many of my whimsical creature friends are from the Dot Family including Zavier Camo Zebra, seen at left in his Dot Suit for an Undercover Assignment chasing confectionery bandits at the Big Rock Candy Mountain. But enough distraction —
This is how a dot painting happens…
Dots in the beginning
I always begin with a pencil drawing. Each of my dots is made with a General Pencil 6H, painstakingly going round and round. Selecting the first color is a big decision. I usually begin with red, but I knew that I wanted mostly blue and green in this piece, so I picked a blue and began.
The dark circles that you see are a 2B pencil. I wanted to see whether making dark outlines of dots would make a difference in the end. Spoiler alert: no difference in the end.
Dots get color
I used both watercolor and acrylic in this painting. I love them both, for different reasons, and I wanted to see if it made the any difference in the end. Spoiler alert: no difference in the end.
Dots get outlines
No dot leaves the studio without an outline. In a painstaking repeat of the pencil creation, I outline each dot with Micron pen. I used to do outline with a paintbrush, and for some reason that I don’t remember, I switched to pen. (Note to artists who probably know this already: I just learned that Micron pens are meant to be used like technical pens, and are best used held at a 90-degree angle from the paper AND used lightly. No heavy hand needed.)
Enhanced dots #artfun
Once I began to explore Photoshop (and filters on my phone and in Instagram) I never looked back. If I had a personal hashtag, it would be #artfun, which is something that I have every day.