Sunday, December 20, 2009

Art for the Animals Project

This is a blog about the Art for the Animals Project begun by Sheila Tajima and Carrie Jacobson, which encourages artists to visit an animal shelter or rescue, do sketches of one or more of the animals and donate the painting (or drawing). The shelter can use the painting however it wishes, to auction off, to donate to the person who adopts the animal or to a volunteer, to reproduce as note cards or for publicity purposes. The artist receives recognition and a donation receipt for tax purposes. The blog will also post paintings for additional recognition.

Not only dogs and cats are featured, but also horses, a lamb, a goat, a ferret and even a pig. I suppose most of the paintings are done from photos, but it would be more fun to do them on-the-spot from life. Good practice for capturing the essence of something in a limited time.

Of course, you should contact the shelter first to make arrangements. This would be a way to get motivated and also to try different techniques you've been thinking of, such as off-the-wall colors, dramatic compositions, close-ups, abstract brushstrokes or washes, etc. Invite your friends.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Bad Watercolor Day for Hitler

This is funny, assuming you have enough distance between you & the Third Reich:

Monday, November 09, 2009

Trail Tale

A friend & I went out painting last week in a "natural area" near a trail that was being used by hikers, joggers, etc. We didn't have much time, since the sun sets early this time of year, and we were engrossed, ignoring the occasional foot traffic behind us.

After quite some time, I heard a voice from the trail say, "Could you start talking?" I didn't pay any attention, but my friend said, "What?" and the voice replied, "Just say he knows that you're just people."

I looked up and saw a horse & rider on the trail. The horse was standing stock-still, head up, ears alert, nostrils flaring. I started talking in a reassuring tone. I asked if we should stand up so he could see us better, but she said, "No, he needs to get used to weird things." It must have been the silver umbrella facing into the sun that struck fear into his heart. I kept coaxing, and eventually he walked up and sniffed my outstretched hand. Brave boy! He even walked over a wooden-plank bridge when they went on their way.

There have been many books written lately about new ways to relate to horses, from learning about "prey consciousness," learning their language, to Equine Assisted Therapy, to intuitive communication and tapping into collective consciousness by listening to our horses. I think these techniques are the same things we need when we go painting - to create calm, confident energy and a clear intention, to visualize the desired outcome, try looking at things "soft-focus," to silence the inner critic, to be in the moment, be authentic, be patient (and to patient with yourself).

And to be open to the magic of a chance encounter.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Swimming with Keats

In the new movie "Bright Star," John Keats describes poetry in a way that could just as well refer to painting. He says, "The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore; it's to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery."

Mmm...and the colors of our paint are at least as much fun as diving into a lake. Maybe even better. And certainly we are dealing with mystery. The mysteries of light, shadows, clouds, wind & weather. We wonder what the painting will look like, a one-of-a-kind creation under the influence of mood, muscle memory, imagination and point of view. Accept mystery.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sketchcrawl - Saturday, September 19th

Here's a fun idea - a worldwide day for sketching whatever you see. Get together with cohorts, or go it alone, then post your results on the Sketchcrawl website. It will make you pay attention to your everyday surroundings, maybe see things you've never noticed before. It's funny how even a fire hydrant can become a beautiful watercolor sketch. No rules. Take 20 minutes or make a day of it. All skill levels welcome, from beginner to pro. Invite the kids. Use a pencil, pen, brush-pen, watercolors (or those new watercolor crayons), colored pencils, pastels...

Enrico Casarosa is a storyboard artist living in San Francisco, working in animation by day, publishing artbooks and comics by night. Stuck between the gravitational pulls of Italy (his home country) and Japan (a cultural passion). Inspired by a bachelor party pub-crawl in 2006, he got the idea for sketching marathons and started doing it every few months, spreading the word until now it's happening worldwide.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

La Paloma

Pablo Picasso has been famously quoted as saying something like, "To paint a dove, one must first wring its neck." I always thought it must have something to do with his cubist style, but in a broader sense, we all do that when we paint. Even the most realistic, sensitive works are about taking something's essence and turning it into something else - a painting. And, in the end, the painting has to survive or fail on its own merits. Two dimensions and a limited palette (they're *all* limited) is all you get, regardless of how dynamic & fascinating the subject matter that stands in front of your easel.

The payoff is that you have an experience (probably a learning experience), a souvenir and something you can share (even down through the generations). And, of course, the ultimate payoff is your increased awareness and facility. The qualities that you see in front of you eventually become part of you.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Starry Night

We just got back from a trip overseas. As we were coming in for a landing, I started talking to the man next to me, and it turned out it was Paul Davids, who had written, produced and directed a movie with Universal Studios about Vincent van Gogh. Entitled Starry Night, its intriguing premise is: What if van Gogh could return to life in our century...what would he think about the fate of his paintings, all the money they had generated, and what would he do about it?

Davids is quoted in a review from the Edenburgh International Film Festival:

"The film is a little bit of counter-programming against the wave of edgy movies that are being made now. It's very intentionally a family film about love, second chances, hope, optimism and faith, but it does have a strong undercurrent of irony. We wanted to celebrate van Gogh's genius and to give youngsters an impression of the life of an artist."

It won the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at the Newport Beach Film Festival, out of 400 submitted.

Starry Night is available from Amazon and from its own site.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Pegasus, my last remaining wolfdog, died of lymphoma recently. I knew there was nothing we could do. I'd felt the hard lumps under his jaws, but he seemed so healthy otherwise that it came as a bit of a surprise when, after a few months, he stopped eating and drinking. In the midst of a heavy spring blizzard, we said goodbye. He was ten and a half years old.

One of the things that helped ease the pain was the routine of feeding the other dogs. I'd go out to the shed as usual, pretending that he was still there with them.

Routine sometimes has a bad reputation among painters, but it's definitely part of the process. The sun comes up every morning, we breathe in, we breathe out. Part of our purpose is to avoid stereotypes, but habit can be like a tuning fork, reminding us to pay attention. Is it possible to make a habit of freshness, originality? Look at those colors, the depth, the softness. It won't always be there like it is now.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Low-Budget Travel

Painting outdoors is a relatively low-budget activity, and you can do it without going out of town. I like the idea of planting a vegetable garden and using it as a subject for painting as well as for food. Painting your pets is rewarding, whether or not you end up with a finished's the increased awareness that counts. The look in their eyes, the poise & strength, the shadings of their coat, the shape of the eyes...

But sometimes you do want to travel. It's refreshing, inspiring, enlightening, you can visit museums, friends & family or your ancestral homeland, and experience completely different food, people, art, architecture and landscapes.

There are ways to make it less expensive. Don't buy anything in an airport, go to grocery stores instead of restaurants, fly standby off-season, camp out, or go where the dollar will buy more (like South America instead of Europe).

Here are some websites that are devoted to traveling on a shoestring:
No Budget Travel is a blog with all kinds of information & recommendations.
Couch Surfing facilitates finding (and offering) a free place to stay.
The Hospitality Club has a similar purpose.
There are also sites for inexpensive rooms or apartments. Try AirBnB or Free Rentals (the rooms aren't free, but listing a rental is).
And The Simple Dollar gives lots of general advice about saving & managing money (I've used the "make your own laundry detergent" recipe, which is fun & effective).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I recently came across this, writtin by John Stoehr in the Charleston City Paper, on the topic of the arts and the way they have changed since we all got linked up online:

"These have characteristics that challenge the old guard of established arts professionals... These characteristics include participation over presentation, collaboration over competition, amateurism (in the best sense of the word) over professionalism, and process over product."

That's as good a definition of guerrilla painting as I've heard anywhere...and since "amateurism" means doing something for the love of it rather than for the money it makes you, that's as sound a reason as any. You want to learn something, enjoy the colors, do justice to your subject and to your own perceptions & feelings, but it doesn't have anything to do with making money from it.
He continues:

"Grassroots creativity is an old idea (Walt Whitman exulted the inventive potential of diversity), but the difference now is scale.
Ninety-five million Americans are applying the ideals of Web 2.0 to the real world, including their approach to the arts."

Hmmm...makes you wonder what that might look like.
Probably something quite different from what we grew up with...

"This can be troubling to institutions like art museums, says Nina Simon, a consultant and author of Museum 2.0 ( In trying to serve what MIT media professor Henry Jenkins has aptly called the emergence of "convergence culture," museums are increasingly afraid of "losing control."

John Stoehr
Charleston City Paper
Charleston South Carolina

I like to think it will bring more beauty. Like the lamplighters in The Little Prince, lighting their lamps as dusk falls in different parts of the world. Like a dance.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Artist Corps

Artful Innovation: Obama and Arts Education
The concept of an "Artist Corps" is an interesting part of President Obama's education policy. Of course, if artists are to teach, especially in inner-city schools, they'll have to be trained in *that* job as well as being trained artists.

It would certainly help to keep kids interested & engaged at school, and this interest might overflow into their other classes. Their awareness would be enhanced, they might create mental connections that they otherwise wouldn't and see solutions & possibilities that they hadn't thought of before. A real open-ended endeavor, likely to pay dividends on down the road. Sort of a jump-start to teach kids they can make things happen, take criticism, change things, express themselves and their world, make effective decisions, interact, concentrate, participate...and that sometimes there are no wrong answers.

Yes we can.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Waltz of the Colors

Last month we had a benefit sale for 1+1, the charity that the Guerrilla Painter started for rural development in Latin America. There were all kinds of things from Bolivia & Peru for sale. One of my friends, who had been to Bolivia, was commenting about how she liked the oddball things: antique aguayos (hand-woven woolen pack-cloths) and a lantern from the silver mines in Potosi, where she had actually been inside a mine. She remembered how amazing it was to see the miners, working hard and smoking cigarettes inside the mines and using these lanterns, which burned up oxygen which was already scarce enough at over 13,000’ altitude. Obviously, when she looked at this little lantern, she saw something different from what most people saw.

This is what happens when we look at our surroundings for things to paint…we see things differently from anyone else. Sometimes we end up looking for subject matter similar to what we’ve seen other people paint, but this conventional wisdom can often result in uninteresting paintings and frustrating experiences. It’s more work to see things with fresh eyes, and it’s hard to value our own vision sometimes, but isn’t that what painting is all about?

I happened to be in Denver yesterday, standing in a parking lot near a highway, waiting for a few minutes. I focused on a highway sign and the cars going by. I wondered how I would paint such a mundane scene, and then I noticed how colorful it really was. Blocks of bright colors interacting, like a dance.

One palette, many visions. You choose. Austere or rich, or a combination of the two...traditional or edgy, ambiguous or vivid...

"In self-trust all virtues are comprehended." - Ralph Waldo Emerson