Friday, December 28, 2012

I Call it Possum, You Call it Opossum

I love it when my friends think of me in their travels.  I don't want the usual gifts.....scarfs, postcards, magnets.....  No, bring me something different and really unique to the area.  So I am completely grateful for my world traveler friend who brought back an Australian Possum skull and then lent it to me to draw.  What is the difference between a Possum and an Opossum?  Well, here in the USA we call the marsupial an opossum.  But Down Under they are called Possums, or if you want to be really accurate,  Phalangeridae.   But really, the two are not the same.  Scientifically the American O/possum is called Didelphimorphia.  They also do not look the same.  The Phalangeridae (Australian) has more forward pointing teeth like a squirrel, while the Didelphimorphia (American) is more bat-like in its dentition.  

  Australian Possum          American Possum  
 When I first started to draw this small skull (it's only about 3.5" in length) I was really interested in its teeth and how they articulated and wanted to draw this in profile.  I was also interested in the way the hinge of the lower jaw seemed to sit in the region of the eye socket.  This is so unlike other skulls that I'm familiar with.  To make sure that what I was seeing was infact correct, I called my local Natural History Museum and spoke with the scientist there.  He told me that while it looks like the hinge (think TMJ - Temporomandibular Joint) sits in the region of the eyeball, it actually sits outside that area.  But that drawing didn't turn out very well and ended up in the trash.  That was actually one of the challenges of working with such a small skull and worrying about its fragility.  Tendons break down the lower and upper jaw seperate so it kept falling over and I didn't want to fuss too much with it.   Too much information????  Well I won't add more, but for me, very interesting. 
So instead, I set the skull up as if you were looking at the Aussie Possum from about this angle
I break the drawing down in to 3 distinct stages.  Working in charcoal and white pastel on a fawnish color Mi-Tientes paper, Stage 1 is the basic outline of the form itself and noting the light and dark regions.  The paper is the middle tone.
Stage 2 is more developed.  I'm also going to continue to make corrections --and will continue to throughout the whole process.
And finally, stage 3 is the finished drawing
Hope you like it!
To see more of my work please go to

Monday, December 3, 2012

Long Term Investments

(This is a reprint from my blog at

I read a great article in the NY Times a few months ago about the Herman Miller Aeron Chair and design for the long term.  There was this great little section that I'm going to quote.  "If you ask John Berry what the biggest obstacle is to innovation and creativity in the design of furniture, he would have to say, "It's the stock market. The drive on quarterly earnings causes companies to be very uncomfortable investing for long-term benefit. And good design should have a long-term view." .... The bankers boxes full of ideas that didn't get made in the Herman Miller archive are living examples of furniture and objects and tools that never happened".  The emphasis is mine.  It was those three sentences (and a Tarot card reader that I met at a dinner party just a few nights later who told me to take more risk) that really got me thinking about creativity and what stops and starts us.  
Often it is the case that we get known for a particular style of work and our clients and patrons expect us to continue along that path.  That is the "voice" they expect to see.  And as an artist, it's pretty nice when we have a good body of work that sells regularly to repeat and new collectors.  But that very stability can make us afraid to break out and try other ideas.  It's that short term "quarterly earnings" that can end up controlling how and what we put out.  And I understand this very well as I come from a family that is fully invested in the market and banking.  Quarterly earnings keep things moving along.  So it can be very frightening to introduce new works that aren't part of our known repetoire.  It feels like starting all over again.   In fact, it is actually a bit of starting over again.  What if our base doesn't like or appreciate what we are doing?  What if they think we've abandoned them by trying something new.  They might feel like their purchases are not quite as valid.  Is that worth the risk to us???  To them???  And even though I tend to be rather risk adverse, I think it is.
As artists, we are inherently creators and inventors.  We try new materials.  We try them in different combinations.  We are naturally curious.  I think that staying with the same type of work and never trying something new because of the fear that those quarterly earnings won't be as consistent can be a little bit like slowly dying.  
I want to be known not only for beautiful work, but work that has integrity.  By that I mean I want my collectors and future collectors to know that what I undertake is done with thought and understanding of the materials I use.  That they will last.  That I'm not resting on my laurels.  I won't abandon what I do because I love painting what I paint, but I also want the freedom to explore new ideas and materials and see what those efforts produce.  So, between the article on the Aeron chair and interaction with the Tarot card reader, I'm gingerly stepping out.  I realized it doesn't have to be a total revamping, but maybe a new tact.  I hope people will like what I'm creating, but if they don't, I will be that much more informed.  I'm excited to see what happens.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


In classical art, abstraction is the structural foundation of the work.  You might not notice it, but if you were to make a pattern of just the three average tones - light, middle and dark, you would see a more abstract version of the work.

Poster Studies are similar except that instead of just doing them in three general tones, I flatten the subject and paint the color and correct tones.  I find them very evocative.

More of these can be found at  and available for sale at

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mushrooms Galore

I've just posted a bunch of mushroom paintings for sale.  Mushrooms are great....I used to collect them with my Dad and then make mushroom spore prints to help identify what they were.  Much more interesting and safer than just tasting and hoping for the best!  Ink Caps, one of my favorites, is found in many gardens and woodland settings.  They are really tasty in the young stage but not so much as they get old.  I'm told, also by my Dad, that the "ink" from these old mushrooms can be used to write and draw with, but that it won't last long and the "ink" is fugitive.  I will have to test it and get back to you.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How to Critique

A critical review or commentary, especially one dealing with works of art or literature.
A critical discussion of a specified topic.The art of criticism.
tr.v. Usage Problem., -tiqued, -tiqu·ing, -tiques.
To review or discuss critically.

[French, from Greek kritikē (tekhnē), (art) of criticism, feminine of kritikos, critical. See critic.]

USAGE NOTE Critique has been used as a verb meaning “to review or discuss critically” since the 18th century, but lately this usage has gained much wider currency, in part because the verb criticize, once neutral between praise and censure, is now mainly used in a negative sense.

On Critiquing
For those who want a critique or want some feedback on their work, like all polite conversations, there are rules.  The first would be obvious, and that would be for the artist to say that they are open for critiquing or need advice on a particular piece.  In other words, the artist needs to invite feedback.  A simple and good example might be from a glass artist who asks for feedback on the lighting and stand she had created.  It is a good question and really asked us as a group of visual artists to think how a glass piece looks under different conditions.   It was to the point and was asking us as the viewer if what she intended was working.  Lastly, the critique should be NEUTRAL.  It’s about an object, not a person.

When asking for a critique it is helpful to have a format and this is what I would like to address now.
On Asking for a Critique
·      Be specific in what you want critiqued.  Is it colour?  Is it composition? Is it the drawing?
·      Give some backround so the critique can be given in context.  For example, if you are working on warm and cool relationships, state that so the audience knows what to be looking for.
·      Stay open.  Critiques make us vulnerable.  But as artists we know that they are valuable.  But some information is more valuable than others.  Don’t feel that every thing offered is valuable or correct.  But do stay open the ideas.
·      Before asking for a group critique, ask yourself if you would rather have feedback from a smaller group or just an individual. 
·      DON’T ask for a critique from a group just to hear nice things.  That is not valuable. 
·      But it is perfectly OK to say, “I would only like to hear something nice.” But understand that that isn’t a critique.

·      On Giving a Critique
·      Remember a critique is neutral.  It is between praise and censure.
·      Address what the artist wants critiqued.
·      Be considered in your response. 
·      Ask questions.  While the artist may ask for a response in a specific area, you may not have enough information yet to offer a good critique.  For example, if the artist is saying that she isn’t sure if the particular colour is working, you might ask what the theme of the work is about?  What led to that colour choice? And then would another colour of the same temperature possibly work? 
·      If you don’t know the answer, say so. 
·      Remember that just because you see something a certain way doesn’t make it the right way.  Like the category above, stay open.
·      Remember to say what is working. 

Finally, I would like to add what Robert Glenn wrote on11/18/2011
How to Critique Yourself”

Yesterday, Michelle Lonsdale wrote, "I'm currently in my second year studying Fine Arts at a university. I'm working on a research assignment investigating artists' self-critiquing methods. What thoughts, beliefs or rituals do you use while critiquing your work?"

Thanks, Michelle. Your question is such a valuable one. With all the current running off to get things juried and critiqued by others, self-critiquing might seem an unpopular sport. It isn't. The acquired ability to critique oneself is the fuse of great art and the silver bullet of the pros. While all artists work differently, here are a few thoughts:

Quality develops when the artist and the critic are honed into a functioning co-op within the same skull. The "ritual" is to pry the artist away from the critic. The artist can be flamboyant, egocentric and prejudiced. The critic needs to be patient, humble and strict. A split personality may be the price you have to pay to see your work through fresh, unsullied eyes. The operation doesn't hurt--much.

Divorcing yourself from the preciousness of your efforts and seeing your work as it really is takes time and mileage. This means "alone time" in your working area. I'm sorry, but my observation has been that no quality work or strong direction will arise in environments where consultants are readily available.

On the other hand, a valuable ploy is to constantly upgrade and rethink standards of excellence, most often done through books and other media. This doesn't mean your style will be influenced by the exposure, but rather you may improve by association with those you admire. "You're only as good as the company you keep," goes the time-honoured expression. The mere act of holding onto great works or seeing them in museums magically transfers a sense of timelessness and creative soul. Fact is, you will not generally improve by misguided staring at your own efforts.

Not surprisingly, when you switch from creation mode to critique mode, you tend to lose the magic of inspiration and substitute a more pedestrian, mechanical approach. A checklist is valuable. In serious sobriety you need to write and follow your own list. I use a series of varying questions: Meaningful subject? Strong patterns? Middle tones? Interlocking gradations? General gradations? Echoing shapes? Flowing design? Alluring counterpoint? Lost and found? Focal point? Big and small? Overall simplicity? Complex shapes? Visual depth? Interesting surface? Arial perspective? Sophisticated colour? Natural believability? What could be?

Best regards,


PS: "Think of and look at your work as though it were done by your enemy. If you look at it to admire it, you are lost." (Samuel Butler)