Elements and Poetry

My work is about the detail, the many stories found in the image and in the paint itself. Reaching that point of artistic integrity where I can declare the work as done involves many small decisions and lots of problem solving. To contemplate the entire process of painting a big work would be very daunting indeed, so I have learned to think instead in terms of elements. Certain aspects of a painting will have similarity, a repetitive nature to them, such as the deep background behind all the rest of the elements of the work. Each section of that background is similar thus part of the same elemental group, yet each is unique too in content and small details, however through consistency of colour, brushstroke, or style, they become visually linked to create a cohesive movement. In this way I break the process of resolving an image into manageable steps, yet in doing so I still have to think about the entire work for as in a Calder mobile, change in one element will ripple through out the whole.

To me painting or drawing is about using a very specific kind of language, one of visual words to share my experience with others. Painting is like writing poetry, a search for the perfect movement of sound and syntax, colour, tone and line, to give a shimmering new life to the everydayness of the common word.

Space Time Theory

Fewer options exist in the immediate than in the distant future. A blank white sheet of paper holds infinite options for the artist. As a work develops, lines and movements are found on the page and it becomes more defined. There are greater options in the beginning than as the work progresses. Choices now, medium, composition, etc all influence the outcome and each choice immediately begins to narrow the distant future . When I start a new work I always have a concept in mind. As the work progresses through the stages of sketch, to larger surface, to rough outline, broad strokes of movement, fine details, the concept grows and shifts as my relationship to the work shifts. Many times I don't know the whole story when the work begins for there are so many options to work through but as the finished piece emerges into the now, it becomes something solid and concrete, much greater than the initial impulse. And once it is hung on the wall, it becomes much greater again as the options once more become greater in the future of the minds yet to contemplate.

Another Reality

This is the third lesson in the Art of Visual Expression Basic class

When I was first introduced to the concept of Negative Space I was blown away. I kept trying to sneak into a room and catch my own negative space, but obviously never did. Negative space is the space an object occupies and to the artist this concept is very significant, for to define an object in space requires attending not just to the subject of the work but to all of the space surrounding that subject. I often paint in the negative, meaning I paint around the 'subject', thus using the background to expose and develop the subject. This way of thinking is critical for watercolour and pencil works. The only way to have light in a work that uses the paper surface as white is to remove all the other white from the work so that darkness creates the light. 

Awareness of the space an object occupies also gives visual information about its relationship to other objects. The still life is an excellent way to explore negative space for to do a still life study demands paying attention to how objects relate in the composition. We tend to see objects separately rather than see the overlapping nature of all objects in three dimensional space. The line of one is broken by the line of the next. Thinking in the negative takes practice because we tend to think in the positive, i.e. seeing the object rather than the space it occupies, but to master this other way of perceiving reality is a huge step in the art of visual expression.

Magic 101

This is the second lesson in the Art of Visual Expression Basic class

The artist/painter is like the magician, creating illusions on a flat surface. It is important to remember this because it is easy to get caught up in representation rather than expressing an experience in paint. Magritte's "This Is Not A Pipe" is a wonderful reminder to be conscious of the canvas and paint (or paper and graphite) as physical realities which have been manipulated to give the illusion of something else, (or not as in the case of pure abstract art). Succeeding in expressing in drawing format what you see in reality comes down to learning about the medium and its limitations, and then, as you develop an intimate knowledge of this (ie practice), the gap between what you see and what your expectations are of the drawing narrows until you reach that marvelous achievement of artistic integrity. 

Lines on paper create illusion. It takes only a few simple strokes of a pencil to give the sense of depth on a flat plane. The diagonal and the horizon line are two of the most powerful lines in any representational composition because our mind interprets these  movements across the page in a very specific way. It is actually very difficult to not imply depth in a painting if these lines are present. Because we humans are conditioned to interpret these specific types of lines as depth, once understood, it becomes quite easy to trick the eye and create the illusion of objects in space all on a flat piece of paper....magic.

It Starts With The Line

This is the first of a series of lessons from my Art of Visual Expression Basic class

It starts with the line, drawing is about finding the line in what it is you wish to record on the paper. This sounds so obvious as to seem silly but is anything but so. Try it out and you will be surprised at how it shifts your sense of seeing things. Go and look for lines, take a pad of paper and a pencil and just collect lines, not attempting to make a full drawing, simply pulling lines across the paper with the pencil. Do it again and again, take your pad of paper with you everywhere and collect lines whenever you have a moment, a car, a coffee cup, vitamin bottle, curve of your friend's nose, the apple in your lunch. This helps to develop a link between what the eye sees (the outside) and whatever it is that caught your attention (the inside) and then bringing that back outside onto the page. It is about teaching your mind and hand the skills needed to do what you want to express visually and this needs repetition (the same way a toddler learns to open and close the cupboard door by doing it over and over again.) The ability to pick out the line simplifies drawing, which is really what drawing is all about, simplifying and choosing from the myriad of visual information experienced in every glance. The art of visual expression begins with finding the line, be it a study in abstraction, portrait or landscape; it is where I begin with every drawing or painting

Pink Rocks

Out in the forest yesterday, I found a good spot to make a sketch of the moss overhanging a small broken rock face. A study of light and dark, deep forest of cedar trees, light movement across the moss and rocks. Thoroughly engrossed in the work, suddenly I heard a sound and looked to see a large pink rock careen off the lip of the overhang and smack into the base of a nearby tree, just a few feet away from my perch. It was a pink rock, the same colour as the rock I was perched on, very different from the green and grey of the overhang. Where did it come from? No pink rocks anywhere, except for this new one and the one I was sitting on. Two pink rocks, clean of the centuries of debris on all the others. No gremlins in the cracks tossing them out at interlopers. Massive mountain above. Perhaps it was wise to not remain much longer, perhaps there were three.


In an adult drawing class I teach we discussed the artist as kin to a magician and that a drawing is a flat piece of paper covered with lines which can create an illusion of an object in space. How great or minimal that illusion is a personal decision made by the artist. Learning to draw or paint is a process of taking in what is seen, processing it internally and then putting it back out onto canvas or paper. Often times, especially in the early stages of learning a new medium, what is internally perceived as the expected outcome can be considerably different from what actually gets out onto the page. As an artist becomes more familiar with the limitations and qualities of the medium, the gap between the expected outcome and the actual image narrows. This balance between the outer experience, the inner process, and the creation of illusion on a flat surface is a personal struggle I work through with every detail within every drawing or painting I create. Within every part of the painting I strive to achieve an integrity, a union between the medium, the subject, and my internal process.

As I shared this with the class, one of the students blurted, "And that is when you know it is finished." The comment startled me for I had not thought of it in that way, but it is true. It is when I reach that sense of integrity that I know a work or that part of a work is done. However a painting is a system, like a Calder mobile, when one part of the painting is changed it can send ripples throughout the entire piece, thus a new level of integrity needs to be established with a touch here, a daub there, but I always know when it is done. 

"Experience changes memory" Dr Garry A Flint taught me many years ago, and so it is with my quest for integrity as an artist.


The other day someone asked me if I had reached a place in my life where I could say I had found contentment. The question startled me and I muttered something about contentment being like happiness, a transitory experience. But the question lingered.

A long time ago, after a day of struggling miles up switchbacks clogged with sun-softened snow, I came upon a patch of dry ground beneath a large tree at the base of a rocky ledge. Even though I had traveled only half of the distance planned for that day, I set up my tiny tent and after a meal consisting mainly of instant rice and powered tomato soup with a few chips of dried meat tossed into the mix, I looked out at the first few stars and knew the night would be cold enough to freeze and the trail would be better at least for a few hours the next day, and that meant I would probably only be hungry for a day or so before I made it to my next food drop. As darkness crept in, I settled into the comfort of my sleeping bag and enjoyed the feeling of tired muscles relaxing, celebrating rest. In the dim light of my lone candle as I lay on the shoulder of Mount San Jacinto and within a few feet of the Pacific Crest Trail, I wrote three words into my journal, "I am content."

Yes, I have reached places of contentment. Then, like now, they are often a part of the struggle.


To take a painting that I have sweated on, leaned over for days, weeks, a month and more, something that became a constant in my life, and put it under glass in a frame is a bitter-sweet experience. No longer will I be able to touch the surface, feel the shifting layers of paint, be so close as to see the gleam along the edge of lines. Can't read whatever thoughts were penciled onto the back, no longer that personal connection between me and that piece of paper.

The other day a beam of sunlight struck the growing stack of framed paintings leaning against the wall. The paint glowed in that magical way, the same way paint glows in the light of a gallery. I was flooded with such emotion, tears came to my eyes. What it will be like to see all of this colour surrounding me, so much greater than I. 

What is "Journey" about

"Journey" will be exhibited at the Revelstoke Visual Art Centre during November 2014

Journey is about everything. A trail through the forest, living and dying, moods and emotions. Journey is about seeking out a visual language to express these things. Journey is about paint, about the illusion created by painting on a flat surface and using this illusion as language. The image, the familiar, things slightly odd, pushed a bit this way or that, movement and flow, repetitive patterns, interruptions and shifts, all become the medium that creates the journey. 

Getting Ready for "Journey"

"Journey" will be exhibited at the Revelstoke Visual Art Centre durning November 2014

The frames for my show are made from dead branches collected in the forests near my home, the very same forest where I gain much of my inspiration. Each frame has been handcrafted by my husband and speak very much of the journey in their making. Like the forest, none of them are perfect, none lay square. They bend this way and that, weaving an individual pattern as they did while growing. These frames are one more step along the way to "Journey"