Past musings

Where are these places?

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It is so interesting to me to see how people react to my art. People see them differently. They often tell me a certain piece looks to them like some place they know. Yet none of my works are created with any particular place in mind. They are not even something I imagined. I’ve never once created something that even reminded me, at least not consciously, of anywhere I know, not any particular place. Well, that’s not true - there were a few of my very early works that I had tried to recreate from photographs. But I quickly learned that I had much more fun when I just went willy nilly, where ever the fabrics took me, no place in mind what-so-ever. So I am intrigued when someone says, ‘that looks just like such and such ...’.

A woman, once staring at ‘Rain on a Spring Morn’ for a long time, finally said it reminded her of the mountains in New Zealand (which she apparently missed so much that a tear came to her eye!). Another woman saw Hawaii in a miniature. And last weekend, I was told several times that one of my latest works, 'Winter Light Play' looks a lot like Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska. I looked at some pictures on the web and was amazed at the resemblance. I've never been there and I don't recall seeing any images in my large files of collected pics of mountains. Although I certainly may have seen a picture of it at some point in my life.

Years ago, a man saw someplace I’d never heard of called ‘Wolf Mountain’ in one of my earlier works. And just the other day someone saw a print I have of ‘Brilliant Night Sky’ and said it looked like Death Valley. I’ll be. I thought that was a lake, or maybe the ocean. But, truth be told, I had no idea! Which is great. I’m not trying to recreate anything so I am amused by these suggestions.

Sometimes I get a bit abstract, and I might like to work more in that direction someday. ‘Spattered Sky’, one of my newest works, was one of those. At least the sky is, well, very weird. I loved making it! It just happened, like all my works.

Weird sky

I got all excited and brought my husband in to see it. He furrowed his brows, cracked a half smile and said something like, ‘What’s up with that sky? Is that some rare celestial phenomenon going on?’ Well, I sure don’t know! I just love it for some reason. After what my husband said, however, I worried that it might confuse some people (why any artist should ever worry about that, I can’t say). 

Anyway, at the show last weekend, a family came into the booth with a 4 or 5 year old boy. I wasn't in the booth at that moment but I heard from my husband that after they’d all pondered over the different artworks, the parents asked the child to choose a favorite and he chose ‘Spattered Sky’! I was touched when I heard this.

Spattered Sky

Here are a few others of my, perhaps, more confusing or abstract-ish pieces:

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Art is Personal

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The first time I sold an artwork, I had nothing to do with it (with the sale of it, that is). I was 20 years old and the idea of actually selling my art had never entered my thoughts.

I was taking an oil painting class at a local community college. Our instructor had told us all to bring in a black and white photograph that we would reproduce as an oil painting, but in color. I had forgotten all about the project and I arrived late to class empty handed. My instructor was miffed. He handed me a magazine and said,  'Just find something in here'. I quickly thumbed through it, not finding anything in black and white except this one tiny photo of a guy stacking what looked like trash next to a large van while a woman in a winter coat in the foreground looked on. I had to use it since class had already started. 

This instructor of mine painted in very vivid colors. In fact, all the colors he used looked like primary colors. Some artists do this, and many people like it. For me, however, I love to mix colors, and mix and mix and mix. And I generally prefer muted colors, which is what you tend to get when doing a lot of mixing. So, naturally, I did that with this class assignment. I don’t know what my instructor thought. I imagine he was trying to get us to create with a lot of color, maybe even primary colors, but the painting I ended up with still kind of looked black and white, or gray, really. He must’ve been disappointed except that, apparently, a week or so later, a group of people from the art department came through looking for art for a show they were doing in the library and they chose mine (among others).

When I was informed of this, I could hardly believe it. That dumb painting? I wonder if my instructor was surprised as well. Anyway, the show went on for a few weeks. I went to have a look after they had it all set up. Not far from my artwork, was one of my instructor's artworks- something in red, blue and yellow. His favorite colors. The contrast in our works was stark. Art is personal. I’m not saying I knew that then. I can’t remember what I really thought except that I know I didn’t like those primary colors in his work.

During the time that our little art show was up, I came to class one day and my instructor informed me that a woman saw my piece in the library and wanted to buy it.  Whoa!  I was sure he was mistaken. But it was true. Someone I didn’t even know loved my funny street scene assignment and wanted to buy it. A few days later, she came into class, I asked 50 bucks for the thing and she bought it. It wasn't all that  bad a painting. Trying to remember what she said to me … I think she liked the muted colors and she said something about my having talent. Perhaps she thought I would one day become famous.

Making money selling art is rarely that easy. That was a fluke. But it did tell me that, yes, people do buy art. I also realized that art is personal. Even if an artist thinks, ‘no one is going to like that dumb painting’, there is very probably someone out there who will. 

First Sale pic

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A mess is just another creative opportunity

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Every now and then the mess of fabric in my studio gets out of hand and I have a hard time finding anything - scissors, pins, rulers, the iron, last months bills. It is especially irritating when I'm in the throes of creating an artwork and I know there is this scrap of fabric that would be perfect, if I could only find it. 

So, I decide to clean it all up. I try to organize the pieces by sizes and colors, though not very carefully - I have quite a lot of very mixed up scraps. At least I get it all into my baskets and can start fresh. But this can take a awhile, and not necessarily because there is so much to clean up. 

The real problem is that I can't stop creating. 'Oh look at this piece!' I'll say to myself again and again, 'There's a nice mountain (or sunset, cliff, rock, etc.)'. And soon I am combining pieces into new artworks, right on the floor.

Fab scraps1

I usually pick up the largest pieces of fabric first and work my way down to the tiniest scraps. I tell myself I need to get rid of some of these smaller scraps. I may decide a piece is just too bland or has something about it that isn't going to work, like some sort of grid-like pattern or a large, straight line running through it - anything I'm fairly sure I won't want in my artworks. And then it comes down to size. But how tiny is too tiny? Some of my artworks are only 2 x 3 inches. Do I keep it all? No, it's too much. After doing this for nearly 20 years, I have had to let go of many of my scraps or my entire studio would be nothing but fabric storage. Still, I have to decide.

Here's a very tiny scrap, but I saw possibilities ...

Fab scraps2

Here's another one ...

Fab scraps4

The last few bits I am pondering over.

Fab scraps3

Eventually, I manage to get through it all. I'm sure I keep more fabric than is necessary but so far I have (just) enough room. 

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The Resident Mantis

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Praying Mantis

Not sure what this critter has to do with my art but these are the kinds of things that amuse me. This female praying mantis moved into my oregano bush last summer and lived there for at least a month. My husband named her 'Betsy'. We were delighted to have her. Praying mantis' have a peculiar way of checking out their surroundings and if you've ever observed one, you know what I mean when I say it seems as though they are acutely aware of humans and even curious. It may merely be a fear of being eaten but, as long as you don't poke them, they do not seem to be bothered enough to flee. They just twist that bizarrely cute head to look at you and then maybe move deeper into the shrubbery. One time I accidentally knocked Betsy off with a spray of water. She fell 15 feet to the ground below the deck and I felt terrible. The following day, however, she was back in the oregano.

She had started out very small and slim and I had no idea for awhile what sex she was. But she grew quickly and her belly swelled revealing that she was female. A few weeks later another mantis showed up and hung out for several days, maybe as long as a week. We suspected this was a male and this was finally confirmed when we saw them copulating. It was quite a sight! This went on for an entire day and then he was gone. Female praying mantis' are notorious, of course, for devouring their mates after sex but I've read that, actually, undisturbed in the wild, many males get away. We hoped he had. My husband had named him, too, although I can't remember what. Betsy stayed on for a couple weeks longer, growing ever fatter, and then she was gone, too. 

My art always portrays a natural setting of sorts, and so perhaps I can say that, even though I do not render drawings or paintings of the smaller scale life forms of nature (at least not in my fabric landscapes), I know they are there.

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More inspiration

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Sometimes just getting up close can reveal the most interesting patterns. I rarely see my husband, Chris, taking pictures of people, not even of me. Sometimes a nice view causes him to whip out the camera but what I most often see him pointing it at are the things no one else seems to notice. Fortunately, I love this stuff, too, and so together we admire the moss on a tree trunk, a pile of rocks or the edges of a puddle and such things. I suppose Chris could find a close up of a person's skin, hair or eyes also fascinating but, alas, he's not that gregarious.

Rocks and mud on the shores of Lake Tahoe:


Manzanita bark and moss:

Madrone Bark

Redbud leaves in the fall:

Redbud Leaves

Inspiring images can come from unsuspecting places:

Frog and his Skin2

Zucchini skin:

Zuchini skin2

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Back to my Paints

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Painting fabric, at least the way I do it, is a bit of a project. I need to paint outside because my studio is too small and I do not want to mix up the mess of paints with the works I'm creating. It would be a disaster. Each process must be kept separate. Outside, I need to set up my canopy (one of those big white tents you see at art shows). I need to be shaded while I paint. The paints dry too quickly in the sun, not allowing enough time for them to spread which is what I love about these water-based fabric paints. I never know what they are going to do. The colors move and blend unpredictably. It's fascinating.

It has been awhile since I've painted. All the wet (wonderfully wet!) weather we've had this year kept me from painting. So I got the tent up, the folding tables set out and the hose with a sprayer attached in place ... and then more rain came! That's fine. I still have tons of fabric. It can rain and rain and rain.

But I look for inspiration. As usual, I look for it in nature. I peruse photos, I hike around our land. There are wildflowers coming up everywhere now. And the moss is growing like small forests on the trees. New vegetation is fresh and bright. Here is a manzanita putting out new leaves - and they are bright orange!

Manzanita, new growth

Below is Redbud in bloom, behind which are deciduous oak trees now clothed in brilliant green leaves. Behind that are pine trees- the silvery gray pines and deep green ponderosas.

Redbud in Bloom

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Why do I make these 'mountainscapes'?

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"Why do you do this?" This can be a tough question for an artist to answer.

Since this is my first blog ever, I looked for ideas on the internet on what I should write about. One suggestion was to write about why I do what I do, that people interested in my work might want to know what makes me do this. I really had to spend some time thinking of an answer. I never thought about why I do this. I just create what I like. I could give the common reply that I have a need to create - art keeps me sane, it is my spirituality - and those things are true for me, but what I think might be more interesting is why an artist creates their particular images. For that tells the story of who they are as an individual.


Earth Silhouettes - that was the name I gave my collective fabric landscapes when I first started making them. They are a larger picture of Earth. The grand shapes of our planet that only nature could have created. I have become obsessed with making these. I can see now that they reveal a very deep part of who I am.

Me and dad, readingWhen I was about 4 or 5 years old (maybe younger, I'll have to ask), my father started showing me picture books about nature that included scary things like close-ups of spiders and weird sea creatures. I vividly remember the book about how the earth was formed. It had once been a fireball, and was later covered with volcanoes. Over time, it shot up huge mountains, spat out house-sized boulders and carved humongous ravines. It made me nervous. I lay awake at night pondering this unfathomable notion. Earth was an incredible place and I was in shock and awe. Sometimes I wish my father had waited until I was a little older but he did not. There are far worse childhood traumas that people have to deal with so I am not angry. My parents also showed me, in photos and in real life, forest covered mountains, rolling green fields full of wildflowers, craggy coastlines, alpine lakes. As well, my grandmother was a lover of nature. I saw pictures of her in Yosemite and among the giant redwoods in Sequoia National Park. She often talked about the TV shows she watched about wild animals.


All these images must've filtered deep into my thoughts. I remember, even very young, fantasizing that I was wandering through rugged, pristine, uninhabited lands. They were places both peaceful and impressive. I learned to feel comfortable there. Throughout my childhood, whatever else I was imagining, the wilderness was usually the backdrop. I think this helped to form in me a strong connection to the natural world.

There are other reasons why I love making these mountainscapes, other influences and experiences in my life. Perhaps at some point, I will write more on this subject.

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