Art for Kids

Julie Fry, who runs the Seattle Chapter of Business Among Moms (, invited me to run an arts workshop today at the group’s monthly meeting at Alki Bakery in Seattle’s Georgetown district.

There were seven children in the workshop, ranging in age from three to eight, and we had a blast.

First we made playdough from scratch, adding lots of glitter and paint for color and shimmer. The kids had as much fun making it as they did playing with it. Then we got messy painting on canvas paper with tempera paints, and gluing googly eyes, feathers, pom poms, and yarn to their pictures.


The children had fun getting messy and interacting with their materials in a hands-on way. The joy was as much in the process as in the finished product. And that’s just how it should be.





Learning How to See

It’s been five months since I joined the Kang O’Higgins Atelier at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The program includes three hours a day of drawing from a live model (Life Room).

I think a before-and-after shot is the best way of showing the merits of such a program, a sort of boot-camp for aspiring and working artists.


This is one of the first drawings I did in the Life Room at Gage (circa September 2014):



Here is the Life Room drawing I did today (February 11, 2015):



Although I’ve been painting for years, I never before studied traditional drawing and painting methods. The Gage program has been a revelation to me. I am learning a whole new way of ‘seeing,’ in which every object is first blocked out proportionately and then rendered almost entirely through contrasts in the value of the light, from highlights to areas of complete darkness. One has to train the eye to distinguish these fine gradations of light and shade, train the mind to understand how light falls and why it makes the patterns it does, and train the hand to translate this chiaroscuro effect into a pleasing, arresting, or thought-provoking composition for the viewer, depending on one’s aim. It also involves the study of anatomy and perspective. It’s a process of training the eye, hand and mind to work harmoniously together to externalize an internal vision.

Just like math or English or music, art is a language, one that is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the existing canon and contemporary society.  Let the conversation continue!

Carpe Diem, Flowers, Art Show and More

I’ve painted a couple of new pictures over the past few weeks. “Carpe Diem” was painted over two days, days in which I felt a sense of possibility. I thought I may be able to eat the whole world, if only for a day.

Carpe Diem

I created this piece specifically for my art show,, “Acrylics on Canvas” at Normandy Perk coffee shop in Normandy Park, which opened August 7 and runs through August 31.

After “Carpe Diem” came “Flowers,” another 12″x16″ painting that is number 5 in my floral/nature themed series.


I hope you enjoy the new paintings!

Series and Why We Love Them

I’ve been drawing images with colored Sharpie markers on blank greeting cards and must have over 50 of them completed now. Here, a series of paisley-inspired designs (apologies for the poor photography):

Paisley Theme Series

What is it that we love about a series?

We like series in movies, in books, in music and in painting. A surefire way to garner sales is to create characters, images, narratives or melodies that carry from one piece of work to the next, hooking the audience in with the first one and drawing them along through the second, third, and beyond.

One of the big reasons we are drawn to the series is familiarity and comfort. Just as people turn to a favorite meal over and over because it’s easy and predictable, so too we like to see consistency in other areas of our life,  including our interactions with others and with our environment. Placing things in a continuum, a logical or at least understandable transition from one idea or moment to the next, appeals to our desire for order, reason, sanity, and peace. Unfortunately, when taken to extremes this desire for the familiar can also lead to laziness, rigidity, and an impulse to maintain the status quo at all costs. This can mean that we close ourselves off to anything new or unfamiliar. We are unwilling to accept or even try to understand change, in ourselves or in our surroundings.

Artistically speaking, however, a series isn’t necessarily static, unless you’re a Thomas Kinkaid type churning out the same cute cookie cutter images time after time. Series can be dynamic and creative, each piece building on the next but not entirely derivative of it. By using a series to create smooth and understandable transitions; by changing incrementally rather than violently and all-at-once, we can move ourselves – and others – from one state or perspective to another in a way that feels logical, safe, and supported.  A series in painting can entice the viewer into exploring and accepting change by showing that the present – however avant garde it may seem at first glance – still contains much of the past within it. Placing a radically new image or concept  in an understandable context or continuum is a good way of helping to ensure an enthusiastic (or at least tentative) acceptance rather than a knee-jerk rejection.




Art School Here I Come!

A couple of months ago, I applied to the Gage Academy of Art‘s Atelier program – a two-to-three-year, full-time, intensive course with a focus on learning traditional techniques in drawing and painting. The Academy is located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in a beautiful old building that used to house the Cornish College of the Arts. Before applying, I met with master artist Mark Kang-O’Higgins, the instructor of the atelier, and was impressed by his work and his philosophy. Mark teaches traditional methods but also encourages students to develop their own voice and style through independent projects. His atelier is definitely the more contemporary of the two atelier programs offered by the Academy.

I was thrilled to receive an email in late June informing me that I had been accepted to the program. Classes begin in mid-September and I can’t wait!

My goal for this program is to get a thorough grounding in the basics of drawing and painting that I can use to enhance my ability to execute my inner visions on paper and canvas. I’m also looking forward to making connections with other artists, exhibiting my work, and exploring career opportunities in the Seattle art world.

One option I’m considering is attending the atelier for a year to develop a good portfolio and then using the work and the connections I’ve made to apply to an MFA program. With an MFA I would be qualified to teach at the college or university level, either as an adjunct faculty member or a professor, a possibility that very much interests me.

On being accepted to the program I decided to try my hand at painting in oils for the first time, as oils are the preferred medium at the Academy. My first attempt, entitled “Monsters,” is shown here:


This painting was inspired by a couple of lines in the chorus of an Eminem song titled “The Monster.” The song is one of my son’s favorites.

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed
Get along with the voices inside of my head

The painting is part of the ‘autobiographical art’ series I’ve profiled in recent posts. I’m still getting used to working with oils. Because the paint oxidizes rather than dries, it’s a very different process than working with acrylics, where the paint dries within minutes of hitting the canvas and can be painted over with impunity. Working with oil-based paint and solvents is messier than working with water-based paints – although thanks to modern solvents such as turpenoid one can now avoid the horrible turpentine fumes. Because of the very slow ‘drying’ time with oils, it’s easy to overwork a section and muddy the colors. However, there is a certain vibrancy and textural quality to the paint that gives the medium a charm and vitality of its own quite different to the plastic qualities and appearance of acrylic paint. I look forward to continuing my exploration of this new-for-me medium.



Heartbreak Hotel


Everyone pays a visit to the Heartbreak Hotel at some point, so I thought the place was worth a painting. The Heartbreak Hotel is one of many stops on life’s highway, though I wouldn’t recommend it as a final destination.

I used the five stages of grief first posited by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, as a stepping-off point for painting the characters in this piece, and then added a few ‘stages’ of my own. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which stage is embodied by which figure. In the 40-plus years since her book was published, Kubler-Ross’ theory of a continuum of grief along which people progress in a relatively linear fashion has been pretty soundly debunked, however, the stages themselves are still relevant as forms of human suffering and the various ways we come to terms with, fight against, or succumb to a great loss in our lives.

This piece is similar stylistically and thematically to other paintings in my autobiographical series. Stylistically I continue to use bright colors and cartoon-like figures and to break the frame up into smaller sections in a non-linear narrative. Thematically I create a visual depiction of a psychological state, or states, of mind.

By the way, I’m thrilled to announce that the Untitled painting in my last post, also part of this series, won third place in the painting category at the City of Normandy Park’s Annual Arts Festival the first weekend in June.


Autobiographical Art



Untitled, 12″x16″ acrylic on canvas

I have a friend who told me he creates art as a way of ‘signposting’ his life. I think that’s a wonderful way to describe the the kind of expressionistic work I often do, so I’m borrowing his word! Signposting through art is a way of processing and making sense of important events or themes in my life. The inspiration for a creative work often lies in the emotions generated by a particular set of events rather than an aesthetic concern, although the two become immediately entangled once I engage with my canvas.  This piece, while entirely a work of fiction (!), is nonetheless inspired by personal experience. It’s a visual snapshot of a moment in psychological time. The division into sections is supposed to indicate the fractured nature of memory, rarely moving chronologically, fixing on one event only to forget another, yet somehow creating a patchwork, a pastiche, that captures much more than the sum of its disparate parts.


Rainy Day Lovers


The name of this 16″x20″ acrylic on canvas painting was inspired by the song “Rainy Day People” by the late, great folk singer Gordon Lightfoot. This painting is a combination of styles for me; it harkens back to a period when my work was more angular and almost cubist in style, but incorporates elements of the softer, more fluid romantic style I’ve moved into in the past year. I find my painting style is influenced by my mood to a large degree. When I’m in a happier, tranquil place, I delve into nature themes and work with color and line. When I’m in an angst-ridden, emotional place my paintings tend to reflect that with an increased angularity, a more agitated quality that is an outward expression of my inward state. I suppose the roots of this style lie in the early 20th century modernist expressionist movement as exemplified by artists including Edvard Munch, Franz Marc, and Vincent Van Gogh, all of whose work I admire greatly. There is also a great deal of symbolism in this painting; from the stylized raindrops to the alley cat, the crack in the sidewalk and the fire hydrant. The meaning of these images is purely subjective; dependent on the interpretation of the viewer.

Stepping Out of The Comfort Zone



Feng Shui
16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas

This painting got its name when my nine-year-old daughter walked by the canvas, took a look, and said, “It’s very feng shui.”

I probably would have called it something original, like “Camellias” 🙂

It’s the third addition to my botanically themed series.

I recently took an eight-week-long art class by the talented local artist Keli Sim DeRitis, owner of the Poggi Bonsi Italian-themed kitchen and home decor shops at The Landing in Renton. Keli taught me some new techniques that I’ve started to incorporate into my work. I’m experimenting now with using glazes; faintly pigmented washes of gloss medium that overlap one another to add dimension and complexity (and gloss!) to a painting. Keli also turned me on to the clever idea of avoiding the time and cost of framing a completed piece by continuing the theme and stylistic elements of the painting around the corners of a canvas, like this:


I love that!

Another local collage artist I admire, Kate Endle, uses a decorative decoupage technique and wide-edged canvases to create a ‘frame’ of sorts that harmonizes well with her quirky and whimsical style. I have a small Endle in my living room with this kind of frame:


In Keli’s class I moved out of my comfort zone by deciding to approach my canvas in a different way. Usually I outline the objects in my paintings with black paint, adding a comic book quality to the whole that plays up my non-realistic, playful style. But in Keli’s class I tried my hand at a landscape painting with no outlining. I haven’t finished it yet, but here’s the work in progress:


I really enjoyed picking up new techniques and meeting other creative people from the community, and plan to take another art class soon.


Wacky Couple

Wacky Couple

This is my most recently completed painting, a quick break from the flora-and-insect-theme paintings I’ve been concentrating on lately, although obviously the flora element is still present in the flowers. I like painting these 16″ x 20″ canvases – a small size compared to my usual paintings – because it allows me to quickly explore themes and create a series. There’s something so gratifying about finishing a painting – and painting smaller ensures a quick payoff!