Learning by Example

Mixed media painting of row of trees
Learning by Example: Watercolor and Colored Pencil; 20” x 30”

I painted this to represent a day when I was fourteen and a friend’s father drove us to Cape Cod drunk. There were six adults involved and none of them stepped in to stop the day from unfolding. I learned a lot that day about ignoring danger and staying silent.

The Story Carved into the Paper

I wrote my first story into the paper this is painted on. I used a bamboo skewer to incise the words. The entire surface was covered. Then I wet the paper to prepare to paint the first layer. The painting is 20″ x 30″, so it took a lot of water. The fibers swelled and a lot of the words I had written disappeared. I had no idea if they would come back when it dried.

Elusiveness of Memory

Memory is a strange thing. As I reached back through the decades to remember the details of what happened on a particular day I found some parts seemed crystal clear. Others were very fuzzy. Focusing on trying to remember would often make it harder. Sometimes thinking about something else around that time would pop forward another piece of the puzzle.

At first I thought I could get more pieces from other family members. Sharing stories with them I found they wouldn’t remember the situations I was trying to recall. They didn’t doubt my stories, enough of the details were familiar, but they had their focus on other things at the time.

Layers of Story

When the first layer dried, many of the words were still gone. I hadn’t been able to fit all of the story on the first layer, so I just kept going and carved another layer of words. When I finished the story, I started over at the beginning. Alternating between layers of paint and words.

The words were subtle, but had interesting texture to them. I started drawing over the surface in places with colored pencil to bring more of the texture to the surface.

area of painting showing word texture
Detail of Learning by Example


This is just one of the pieces that will be shown at the Washington County Open Studio tour. October 19 and 20. 11AM – 5PM. I’d love to see you at 6443 NE Brighton St Hillsboro OR 97124.


Map of my Youth

Map of Eastern Massachusetts
Map of My Youth: Watercolor, Ink and Colored Pencil: 20″ x 30″

What I saw in childhood was more powerful than what I was taught. Adults showed me broken ways of navigating the world when I was too young to know the difference. I accepted what I saw as truth. I didn’t yet know how to slay the monsters around me.

That’s what I’ve spent the rest of my life learning.

How did I get where I was?

I started exploring memoir by wanting to write about the Victorian house my parents own on Cape Cod. My sister and I joined my parents in this process at a time where each of our lives had spun out of control. The first question we asked at the time was, why?

So I started there again.  Looking back, what had I learned that set the process in motion?

This is where the story starts in linear time

I spent my childhood in Massachusetts, then went to college in Rhode Island. This is the map of that youth. Complete with the warped navigation markers and monsters.

This is just one of the pieces that will be shown at the Washington County Open Studio tour. October 19 and 20. 11AM – 5PM. I’d love to see you at 6443 NE Brighton St Hillsboro OR 97124.

Finding the roots of a body of work

Painted Tree Branches
Painted Branches: Gouache and Oil Pastel: 21″ x 13″

I started to look back for when my current work began to show at the Open Studio. Not that I can really ever pick a particular point in time since artwork is a spiraling process. Some parts come from one time, others from a different one. Of the work still in my studio, this piece is as close to the source as I can get.

Looking at Media

This piece is done in gouache which is an opaque watercolor. After this series I wanted more translucence and shifted to regular watercolor.

This is also where I started using a latex masque to create white lines to separate areas of the image. I started adding the oil pastel to get more energy in the marks than I was able to with the flat paint. I shifted to colored pencil when I went to regular watercolor because the oil pastel was too heavy.

Looking at Content

This was the start of my drawing trees without leaves. I was working on Maui, many of the trees I was looking at had leaves on them. I just kept stripping them off in my paintings. I was much more fascinated by the shapes of the branches. Whole trees were just too dense and complicated.

Themes Over Time

One of the things about being a mid-career artist is seeing themes move in and out of my work over time. Trees have had my attention in several media over at least fifteen years. It’s not just the shapes and patterns, it’s also all the metaphors of roots, trunks, and branches. They are endlessly fascinating.

What holds your attention?

Someday I have a dream of care-taking a huge tree. Doesn’t seem like I would actually own it if it had been living on the place I purchased for hundreds of years. In the meantime I will continue painting, photographing, and visiting them.

Is there anything that has captured you for many years?

Facing the blank wall

blankwall 618
Location for WA Co. Open Studios 2013

I don’t find a blank page uncomfortable, I have come up with a range of ways to get my artwork started. Facing a blank wall to hang a group of work is another story. I just don’t get as many opportunities to hang a lot of work together due to lack of space.

My working studio is small, so for the upcoming Washington County Open Studio I’ll be in the VisualsSpeak office at 6443 NE Brighton St, Hillsboro OR.

Thinking Like a Curator

A few months ago I joined Alyson Stanfield’s Artbiz Incubator Silver group. It’s a marketing coaching group for artists. Last month I started her ArtBiz Bootcamp. The thing that has stood out for me so far is how Alyson thinks differently as a former museum curator than I have as an artist. I’m just not accustomed to thinking as much about the overall group of work as I am about individual pieces or series.

For the open studio I have a big blank wall. I hundreds of pieces of artwork to choose from. I’m not exactly sure what I am going to do yet. Since I’ve been working on personal stories, I’m looking to identify a story to show on this wall.