Wednesday, November 9, 2011


"Compost", oil on panel, framed
When I'm in my studio I sometimes wonder how I do what I do.  I'll begin a painting full of anticipation, hungry for the satisfaction that comes when colors, lines and spontaneous gestures come together and say "aaaahhhh."  More often than not, though, I know I have to bring the painting to a deeper level, so I paint over what has pleased before and keep reaching for something richer.  In this way I am discarding what is no longer needed but building something better from what is underneath.

One of my recently completed paintings taught me how important it is to keep pushing my work until it blossoms.  This particular panel was an unusual size for me, 14" x 17," and in that way alone became a challenge for composition.  For weeks I kept adding new color, digging back into the surface and even washing parts of it away with mineral spirits.  I began to despair of it ever growing into a viable entity.  One day I knew it had finally turned a corner and had become dark and vital in some mysterious way.  Every time I looked at it I felt a nudge of gratitude.

Not long after completing that painting I decided it was time for me to work on a project I had long postponed.  Last year when I was undergoing radiation I received permission from my oncologist to take photographs from my perspective on the treatment table.  The technologists assisted me by placing the equipment where it normally is for treatment, then handing me my camera.  I took several photos but the most evocative ones for me were when the overhead lights were off just prior to being radiated.  When I took out my folder of photos with plans to make work based on that experience, I was stunned to see that my recently completed painting felt like it represented that dark radiation experience.

I titled this work "Compost."  In so many ways I mixed together discarded bits and pieces of color and marks until they became the black gold that helped something new grow strong.  Being treated for cancer was compost for this new work even though it wasn't consciously decided.

I call my genre of work "introspective abstraction" because I've long recognized that my paintings compile and distill my experiences, emotions and the deep thinking I am prone to.  I can't often explain "What is it?" when someone asks, I can only describe how it feels.  "Compost" feels like an affirmation for continuing on this path I have chosen, to paint with my whole heart.

Monday, July 18, 2011

simple pleasures

unobstructed view of grackles bathing

Sometimes it's the simplest things punctuating my days that give me the most enjoyment.  When I walk by the windows at the back of my house, I have a view through the open blinds of the birdbath just outside our back door.  I often catch a glimpse of splashing, and I'm compelled to pause, sometimes for several minutes, delighting in the activity.  Certain birds seem more likely to splash than others.  The mockingbirds, blue jays, grackles and finches are the most raucous.  They'll wade right in to dunk themselves, flapping their wings over and over.  I especially enjoy seeing the blue birds.  The cobalt of their feathers becomes more intense when ruffled and wet.  On the other end of the spectrum, the mourning doves seem reticent to dishevel themselves.  I've come across them sitting sedately in the middle of the bath, calmly soaking in the shallow water.  Or they gather at the edges, daintily sipping water like gently bobbing metronomes.

Most of the time I encounter bathers it is a single type of bird.  Others may be hovering, but it's pretty rare to see two different kinds bathing together.  That's why I was so astonished yesterday to encounter a tiny Carolina wren alongside a brown thrasher, both flapping happily.  Every once in a while I'll be walking by the windows and observe what I think is a bird I've never seen before.  But if I watch until the bath is complete, the large, fluffed up bird the size of small hawk settles down to preen on the edge of the bowl and I realize it's a robin after all.

view through the blind slats of a crow dunking his bread

Even the large crows that live nearby come to quench their thirst.  The only dunking I've seen them do is with a morsel of dried bread they've scavenged somewhere.  As for other species, I've encountered plenty of squirrels taking a drink and once I even saw a cat.  I was a little worried the cat would hang around looking for a meal, but so far I've seen no evidence of that.

The pleasure I get from these small creatures is long lasting.  Smiles carry over into my studio.  I'm thinking one of these days the spirit of a happy bird will most likely show up in painting or two.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


One collection of recipes

Last week I prepared Boston baked beans.  After soaking the dried navy beans overnight, I had to change the water and simmer them for about an hour before putting them into the bean pot with the other ingredients.  As they cooked in their water bath, foam rose from the surface and I skimmed it off with a metal spoon.  My mind leapt out of the kitchen and into my studio.  With beans, the undesirable foam rises to the top.  It is almost the opposite process in my studio.

The preparation for a painting has a certain rote quality to it.  My tools and paints are already gathered in my studio, so I simply choose the size of my prepared support.  My most important task at this point is to cover up that white expanse of gessoed canvas or board, using arbitrary colors.  As I keep adding marks and purposefully chosen color, I cover up what "simmers" underneath.  Experimentation with educing forms, playing with value contrast and making spontaneous gestures in the paint with any number of implements, bring the painting along.  At unspecified stages I scrape or dissolve back the surface until what "rises to the top" is satisfying enough to let it stay.

I can remember learning to cook when I was barely a teen.  I loved the chemistry of mixing ingredients together, and with the application of heat, they were transformed into cookies or casseroles.  It wasn't until much later in my life when recipes often became mere guidelines or suggestions, not something to be strictly followed.  Sometimes my results were less successful than I'd hoped, but every new attempt gave me pleasure.

There is definitely a correlation between experiences in my kitchen and my studio.  I've learned to wing it more and more in both places, but in my studio there are never any recipes.  Certain parameters underlie the process, but there is an enormous amount of trial and error since I have no fixed idea of how the finished painting will look.  It is with the "heat" of my own passion for making art that an alchemical action takes over.  When a painting is complete there is no remembering how it arrived before me.

"Artifact" is an 8 x 8" oil and cold wax on board

"Rain" is 24 x 18", oil and cold wax on board

As I grow as an artist, I still rely on the basics I learned years ago, and like preparing tasty food, I use the best ingredients I can afford.  But something mysterious intercedes when I am in the midst of creating, and I feel directed towards a conclusion.  Like some dishes I prepare, some paintings I make are not as successful as others.  But there is always the next one and the next one... no beans about it!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

reinvented studio

Reinvented studio space
Since last fall when I took time off from painting on canvas and board to create some one-of-a-kind greeting cards, I've been realizing that I really enjoy looking down at my work on a table  This gives me a different perspective than when my paintings in progress are hanging on the homesote wall I use as a prop for keeping the work upright.  The recent art workshop I attended reinforced the insight that I like working on my smaller paintings on top of a table.

My studio was already cluttered with assorted stands and shelves to accommodate my palette, supplies and oil paintings as they dry, so I didn't have much hope for adding a table.  I had a counter high stand near the window, though, and I figured I could work on that, especially if I kept the small works on moveable sketching boards that could be shifted from stand to nearby chairs or floor space.  I was happy with this change when my husband Danny reminded me that months ago we had been given a really sturdy workshop table by a friend who was dismantling her pottery studio.  I didn't dare hope it would be possible, when he went to the barn where the table was stored and came back to announce the measurements:  6' x 3'.  I just knew it would never fit, although I still tried to figure out a way.  My last ditch idea was to have it project out into the middle of my studio, decreasing my walk around area, but this was actually the best plan.

I began clearing the floor, and Danny got the power drill, screws and the photo our friend had provided, and in about two hours we had the base upright, awaiting the table top.  I asked if he could find a couple of long boards to use across the bottom supports to create a storage space underneath the table.  He went one better and cut out a piece of used plywood to fit snugly around the uprights.  I now had a large, strong area to store materials on.  I was able to empty three deep shelves in the closet that are now the perfect space on which to dry paintings, out of the way.  With the addition of my new work table I was able to take away the cumbersome drying rack and the sculpture stand I had been using to hold my paint palette.

I now have a more purposeful space that will allow me to have many more paintings in progress at one time.  And the bonus is, in reinventing my studio, I reinvigorated my dedication to working harder than I ever have.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Level II

"Rolling Right Along" was finished right before I attended the latest workshop

In early April I attended a Level II oil and cold wax workshop in Asheville, North Carolina, taught by Wisconsin artist Rebecca Crowell.  Last June I took her introductory three day workshop, learning an array of techniques for incorporating cold wax medium into my paintings.  In the months following the first workshop I continually experimented in my studio and was gratified by my new ability to deepen my painting surface and energize my underlying concepts.

The Level II workshop at first seemed like a review of previously presented material, but each day I realized I was writing copious notes on the demonstrations. I was especially stimulated by the power point presentations Crowell delivered during each day's lunch break.  The material presented would quite clearly have been less useful to me in the earlier stages of my work with cold wax.  Rebecca Crowell is not only a superb artist, but she imparts knowledge with skill and generosity.  Her presentations on Visual Thinking and Form and Content were invigorating additions to the workshop.

I experimented diligently for three days, trying to make the most of what was offered, yet I know the best is yet to come.  It will take me a while to assimilate all the stimuli generated in the intensive classroom environment.  I believe in time lapse absorption, as the capillary thinking of my peripheral thoughts and new ideas cohere with the vein of my current work.

These are casual photos of works I began in my workshop and finished in my studio

My artwork arises from my life's observations and experiences, layered like an old wall.  The process of working with oil paint and cold wax allows for the strata of built-up color and texture to be scraped back or etched into, revealing new meaning, like half-remembered dreams.  Each painting has a past, much like human life.  Our experiences create character or even scars, but we grow richer and deeper from all these layers of life.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Rome sidewalk

South Carolina sidewalk

Paestum museum
It has been weighing on me for a long time.  Why am I so captivated by the weathered exteriors of old walls, concrete walks, or abraded floors?  It doesn't matter if I am strolling up town or visiting another country, my eyes gravitate towards the effects of aging on manmade surfaces.  I am infatuated with the lines, forms and layered colors evident in places that have been worn down by motion or the weight of time. I am one of hundreds, if not thousands of artists who are attracted to similar themes. 

Rebecca Crowell is an internationally known artist whose work is a rich exploration of external deterioration.  On reading my recent post about my visit to Atlanta and my attraction to the faded floor in the gallery, she commented "My own work is inspired by such things as sidewalks, floors and old walls...sometimes I wonder, why make art at all when these things already exist in such perfection? (except I can't help myself!)"

Lost Wall #1 by Rebecca Crowell
This is a heady subject to explore.  If I'm tempted to answer Rebecca's rhetorical question I would suggest that it is through her eyes and her process that she gives the world a new appreciation for nuances of color and light that are inexpressable in any other way.

When I open my eyes to the beauty in what is cracking and peeling, I am also investigating my own life.  My art making allows me to internalize what my eyes see and my introspection explores, so that what remains on my finished painting is an expression of my Self, weathered by my experience.  Perhaps in enjoying and emulating the manifestations of decay and stress, I can allow myself to get beyond some unattainable perfection in my own life, or my own paintings. 

"sidelong memory," mixed media on canvas, Carol Beth Icard

"Incantation," oil on board, Carol Beth Icard

"oh happy day," oil on board, Carol Beth Icard
The transitory nature of our world includes not only weathered surfaces wrought by decades, but the kaleidoscope in nature that changes moment to moment.  When I look at the clouds in the sky, the pattern of birds on a wire, or a silhouette of bare branches against a sunset, it all goes into my thought process as a painter.  But what remains on surfaces, like the wonderfully layered walls in Pompeii, or the painted design on a tired floor, attracts me for its very perseverance. It gives me courage and is inspiration for my own endurance.

Monday, January 31, 2011


approaching the megalopolis

 Last week my friend Linda invited me to join her on a road trip to Atlanta.  We planned on visiting an exhibit at the Fulton County Library which included one of her wonderful painted scrolls, as well as exploring several art galleries.  I love looking at art and seeing what the galleries are showing, but I also anticipated the inspiration I would uncover in viewing what was on display.  I've often felt really "charged up" by visiting galleries in other cities, and come back to my studio with new vigor.  There is something about observing and contemplating either historical or contemporary art that just gets the juices flowing.

After seeing the show at the library, we headed to The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. The work on display was diverse and thought provoking, but what I responded to most was the outside of the building.  There is a section that felt like ruins, yet is truly beautiful.  Just the way the trees hugged the old walls made me want to stay there awhile, but we had a lot more to accomplish and had to move on.  

This view appeals to me on so many levels. I see the "writing on the wall" and the "black doorway" (a series I painted from 1996 to about 2005). But I also really like the subtle colors and the sign in the background, (which reads We Will, We Will, Feed You) gets a Queen song rocking in my head.

Moving on to a variety of other areas of the city, we stopped at no less than 7 art galleries.  One after the other of the galleries left me feeling sort of empty.  I couldn't get excited about what I was seeing.  Except at one gallery where I received permission to photograph their floor! Yes, the artwork was pleasing, but I was most moved by the peripheral sights. 

By the end of the day I did come away with gratitude for seeing some extraordinary works at Timothy Tew Gallery and Alan Avery Art.  And the exhibition of Scott Bellville's drawings at Moca Georgia was psychologically provocative.  But I realized, on reflection, that I don't have to look at art to find inspiration.  The way my eye perceives shapes and the way my mind makes metaphors and meaning out of seemingly innocuous objects, is what becomes important. 

do you see the angel in the washcloth I dropped in the shower?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I feel as though I lost a good bit of my life in the last few months after I heard the words that rocked my world.  "You have breast cancer."  First came the total disbelief and shock, then the floundering in a sea of emotions, until I was rescued by my daughters, sitting on either side of me, shoring me up with their caring, steadfast love.  All this in a matter of moments.

Art making took a back seat to the path I was prescribed.  My body and thoughts of my future were all I could manage to think about.  Surgery for a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy were to prove that I was very, very lucky.  The words "no invasive cells" were an incredible gift.  I had "passed go" and could proceed to radiation treatments.

I have now completed 30 visits to radiation therapy and am left to heal, in body and spirit.  The whole experience has been traumatic. But I am so grateful for the doctors, nurses, and technicians at Spartanburg Regional Hospital who, without exception, treated me as an individual they cared about. I feel humbled and honored by the incredibly kind support given so freely by my husband, my daughters and some very special friends.

I expect that I will make paintings that help me process my experience, but right now, feeling great joy at being finished with my treatments, all I want to do is create paintings that are filled with the light and joy I have in my heart. 

Celebration flowers and ringing the "I am finished" bell all made me cry.  What comes now is a daily appreciation for my life.

Bethan's flowers

Marcia's flowers

Ringing the bell!
 My daughter Bethan took the photo of me ringing the bell.  She was with me at the radiation department for every treatment, and I will miss our time together very much.