Like Hilarious

While visiting my daughter recently, I thumbed through her bathroom literature. (Yes, I know, but things take time, especially after hours on a train, and I am easily bored.)

A New Yorker cover caught my eye. I had the same issue at home but hadn’t read it all the way through. The colorful illustration seemed to represent flowers but was actually inspired by sea creatures. (Of course, I later told my offspring about the flowers and she rolled her eyes, but both of us are used to that.)

In the art news section of the magazine, an announcement seemed placed just for me. (Come on, I know it wasn’t. I’m not that nuts, but there is such a thing as serendipity.) A show was opening later in September featuring the work of Latvian artist Vija Celmins.

Memory yanked me from the tiny cosmetic-cluttered bathroom in a Denver apartment to an easel-forested art classroom in Los Angeles. A striking young woman with cropped dark hair, a trendy skirt and 4-inch French heels (the kind with ankle straps) leaned against the doorframe.

She said samething like, “Hi, if this is Painting 101 (my memory is fuzzy), I’m your instructor. I’m Verna. On second thought, you’d better call me Miss Celmins.”

It only took a minute. I wanted to be her. That afternoon, before my shift at Ontra (a Hollywood cafeteria), I went to the beauty school and had my shoulder-length hair lopped off. (I tried on some shoes like hers too, but the straps cut into my ankles every time I took a step.)

Over the course of that semester, we learned about her local adventures. Her Los
Angeles was so different from mine. Once, for example, she dressed up as a boy and hung out at a waterfront bar with the sailors, fishermen, and dock workers.

So much for being her. I could never do anything like that. I felt brave walking three blocks in downtown to change buses. Still…I wanted to be her.

She gave us the best assignments. They were challenging and practical. From her, I learned to put together bars, stretch a canvas, and prime it. (She had us use unflavored gelatin and three layers of white acrylic house paint. It was cheap and produced a gorgeous surface.)

The best assignment, though, seemed absurdly simple. It was to paint an object. Most students in the class arrived at school in cars. (It was Los Angeles, and ours was a commuter school. No dorms.)

I had no such advantage. My trip involved three or four buses (depending on how far I was willing to walk.). My object had to be small. Very small.

My dad (Charles F. Keck, for the curious) was a high school art teacher. I had always been a disappointment to him art-talent-wise, but when I asked for advice, I became just another student and he was happy to oblige.

He suggested a walnut. We had some in the kitchen, probably leftover from Christmas. I cracked one open. It was very small and handy. Unfortunately, as I later discovered, it was very complicated.

One day in class I was struggling with my ghastly greyish brownish tan-ish oil painting of a gigantic walnut half when I felt a presence behind me. It was Celmins.

That was fifty years ago, but I remember exactly what she said. “Like, that’s hilarious.”

At the time, I didn’t know how to take it. I was embarrassed and feared for my grade. But now, thinking about her wonderful, meditative masterpieces of stillness in that Manhattan retrospective and my own scattershot life, I know what she meant.

It was a walnut. It was a brain. And it was, “like hilarious.”

I will never be her, and that’s okay.


Bad Bad Bad

I signed up for the Art Every Day Challenge, thinking it would be a refreshing break from my writing each day to do a drawing or painting. (I am participating in NaNoWriMo, the Poem a Day Challenge, and Picture Book Idea Month.)

Uh, I signed up for too much. I am not sorry though. So far, I am more than half-way through the 20,000 words I had left to write on a draft of my novel, I have more than 100 ideas for picture books, and I have written 12 new contemporary free verse poems.

As far as the Art a Day Challenge goes, I have gone out to shoot landscape photographs every day. It is a season of transition here in western Colorado. We have had the last of fall color, the first snow, some exciting wind that scoured out the haze, and a spectacular storm with billowing clouds. It would have been a sin to stay indoors, and I use photographs as sources for my other artwork.

I sell some of my photographs on Royalty-Free stock sites including Shutterstock, IStock, Dreamstime, BigStock, Fotalia, Veer, Depositphotos, Canstock, 123 Royalty Free and more, but I do not count my straight digital captures as artwork. I will see if I can post some new art tomorrow. Image

For now, here are some deer we spotted at the Grand Junction Wildlife Refuge near the Colorado River. They were watching us from a grove of cottonwoods. The image is cropped from a larger frame and is more than a bit soft, but I wanted to share them with you.

Man with a Stuffed Owl Fine Art Poster from

Man with a Stuffed Owl Fine Art Poster from

In the 90s, I joined a small group of artists at a nature center on Mt. Washington near downtown Los Angeles. There was a little farmhouse with a kitchen and a small barn that had been donated to the city. The artists were a fascinating group. One had done artwork for NASA and, during the time I know him, flew to Amsterdam to see the Vermeer exhibit. He did gem-like miniature portraits in oil and had organized the group. He also arranged for the space. Another was a prominent just-retired television producer with an outrageous sense of humor and a free-wheeling drawing style. A third was a glamorous Russian painter with an exquisite home in The Hills. Other members came and went. One of these was an artist who drew Pasadena nightclub patrons in bistre on vellum. We met periodically, and I don’t remember exactly how often. I think it was every other week. We each posed for a three hour session. If we could convince friends or relatives to take our turn, that was fine, too. In this picture, you see the couch we sat on. The stuffed owl belonged to the nature center.

I call this group of drawings my Elyria Park Series. Most of them are pastels on Canson Mi Tientes paper. I liked the rough, textured side in mid-tones. You can see others on Zazzle. I have some on Red Bubble, too.

Mailbox In Snow Stock Photo – 7586 | BIGSTOCK

Mailbox In Snow Stock Photo – 7586 | BIGSTOCK.

Sold a copy of this snowy mailbox image on BigStock today. I guess I’m not the only one who’s having trouble inserting pictures into posts here on WordPress. It just started recently. Sorry about the inconvenience of having to click on the link to see what I’m talking about here. I hope they fix the problem, or at least explain soon.

It’s still relatively warm today, and we will probably go for a walk before the football games and cooking begin. We don’t have cable, and we don’t get FOX up here. The local signal is too weak, so poor Alden will miss the morning game. As for the cooking, it isn’t much. I will put our turkey breast in its oven bag this afternoon and we’ll enjoy the scent upstairs as I write.

I would be discouraged by my paltry progress on my novel, but it has been a good month. I have the whole thing plotted out. I know what it’s about, so I know where to begin. That means I will have to redo the first chapter, but I know how to do that. The characters are shaping up and the conflict has defined itself and expanded. I’m hoping to make more progress today. The book is up to a little more than 21,000 words now. I plan to have it finished by the end of December. Okay, I’m not going to “win” NaNoWriMo, but on Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for this wonderful month of community and support.

Yesterday, I signed up for the January conference in New York. I’m looking forward to attending with my daughter. We had so much fun last year. You can see some of the pictures I took of Manhattan in the snow on Zazzle. I changed most of them to black and white and added a little grain. I took them with a point and shoot I can carry in my pocket. The advantage was great, walking around in Midtown, tourist that I am, without my big SLRs. The disadvantage was color noise and fringing. I really love the way the black and white worked, anyway. It captured the feel of the winter city.


Making a Mess for Your Soul’s Sake

Chartreuse Abstract Watercolor Background Stock Photo 84285301 : Shutterstock.

I have fallen in love with a new kind of art material. (This happens to me often.) It is called Yupo. It isn’t really paper. It’s actually a kind of thin white plastic. I love it for watercolor abstracts. I can wet it completely or selectively, and then let one or two colors run where they will. I let it dry, use a wet sponge to wipe off the passages I don’t like, and then add more. It is a very spontaneous and joyous way to work.

In a way, it is like writing a first draft of a novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). You can let the material take you wherever it wants to go, and then, later, go back and rework the parts that don’t fit.

The link leads to a vibrant piece I did in almost pure chartreuse. I sold a copy of its digital image on Shutterstock today. My dad, a California Scene Painter and amazing watercolor craftsman, would roll over in his grave. He hated that color as much as I loved its outlandish French name.  If you want to see more of this series, they are all on Shutterstock. Some of the originals are available on Absolute Arts.

Autumn Snow on the Grand Mesa Posters from

Autumn Snow on the Grand Mesa Posters from

Yesterday, while taking a break from my writing, I uploaded some pictures I took this fall. This one was shot on a spectacular October day. Alden and I drove across what locals call “the Stinkin’ Desert” to Delta, where we ate breakfast in our favorite truck-stop style cafe. I like my poached eggs really hard. I know that’s weird, folks, but they got it just right. This was an auspicious beginning.

The sun was shining and it was quite warm in the valley, so we were afraid the recent mountain snow had all melted away. There was, as it turned out, no cause for fear. As you can see, the snow up near the Grand Mesa Visitor Center was absolutely gorgeous.

Now, of course, the autumn leaves you see on the aspens in the background are long gone. Down here in Grand Junction, the skies are leaden. It is perfect weather for processing and reflection. That’s the way the creative process, works, after all, at least for me. I take in new experiences like a glutton, swallowing them whole while they are available, and then, in times like this, after the fall colors and before the stunning silences of winter, I make them my own.

Conductor Print from

Conductor Print from

Sold a copy of this print on canvas today. I painted the original from a sketch I did on a scrap of paper I had in my purse. We were at a concert of the Grand Junction Symphony. I did the painting as a demonstration of how to use a sketch at a workshop for kids at the Western Colorado Center for the Arts. The style is spontaneous and expressive. Though painted just a few years ago, it represents a return to my early figurative expressionist style. Paintings in this style were shown and sold in California under the name Gene Armstrong from Holly Wood’s (not kidding) gallery in Montecito and elsewhere. I often worked from small sketches. I enjoyed sketching people at produce markets, the beach, Stearn’s Wharf in Santa Barbara, the charming Miramar Hotel in Montecito, and on bus stops. Those paintings were done before I spent years in life drawing groups, so recent expressionist figurative works like this one are different.

Enhanced by Zemanta