Media and Art · Studio

New painting: up from below

Here you go.

I’ve just finished this, and my wee little brain is too fried to talk about it.


up from below, 36 x 52 inches. Acrylic and graphite on paper.


Media and Art · Studio

Today in the studio

Working on this painting (below),  listening to this,  headed to Mass at 12:15. This afternoon I’ll finish some custom pieces, and maybe post photos of how the painting is progressing.  Maybe, blogosphere.  I promise you nothing.

I’ve temporarily given up on the last painting (here, here, and here… see the problem?).

Sometimes a painting flies out of me (figuratively not literally, because that would really hurt.  In fact, if paintings literally flew out of me then I’d probably stop painting, because ew. ).  Sometimes a piece deserves abandoning: once you get started it just does not pull together, and the concept or idea is weak and not worth pursuing.  And sometimes–like this time– the concept is deeply compelling, yet the piece is really hard to get.

The newly abandoned painting was a progression of the one I did for Vinnie.

One night, Vinnie and I were talking about the nature of the universe, and I said that trying to understand the universe made me want to cry.  It was too much, too big, too complex, too indefinable.  Vinnie said that understanding the nature of the universe through string theory made sense to him, and that he found it quite reassuring and beautiful.  Curious, I set out to understand string theory.  And because I am me, I felt the need to process this concept visually.

“But you can’t draw string theory,” said Vinnie. “It’s a concept.

Oh Vinnie, concepts are meant to be drawn, painted, sculpted.  That’s what art is: visual communication where words fail.

Vinnie’s painting, then, was about connectedness; about emotional string theory.  It was about the almost spiritual feeling of being gently connected to another entity within endless planes and dimensions within endless time and space.   To paraphrase Rick in Casablanca,   “of all the gin joints in all the world…”  What are the odds of that connection? What an amazing thing, and yes, how very reassuring and beautiful.

In the second painting  I wanted to explore the multi-planed individual components of Vinnie’s painting further, but……  but I can’t f***ing make it work, blogosphere!    Honestly,  I think the subject is just too emotionally loaded for me at the moment; my feelings about it change day-to-day and moment-to-moment, and so I can’t find clarity in either my head OR this work.  Confused and yet compelled to clarify my thoughts and the work,  I’ve gone at the painting from every direction, and to no avail.

And so……  that painting is out–placed out of sight and out of my mind– and this one is in.  Interestingly,  today’s painting is one I abandoned in frustration once before.  Perhaps there is something for me to learn here:  understanding and resolution will come when they will, and not a moment sooner.

I hate life lessons.



This thing can’t sing

Thing, thing. This thing can’t sing.

Song, long.  A long, long song.

Reverse. 36 x 51 inches, acrylic on paper

This started off even more monochromatic, and I really wanted to love it.  I did.  I wanted to love it in the way a kindergarten teacher really wants to love all the wee little children, but just can’t warm up to that one prickly five-year-old who never smiles and never has anything nice to say.

I loved the more monochromatic version in theory, but it was just so cold.  So, I’ve added color, removed color….added and removed AGAIN, and this is where I am right now.  I want to love it, but it still doesn’t sing for me. Now it’s stuck in the middle, it feels anemic and chilled, and I desperately want to give it a warm blanky, a nice cup of tea, and a place by the fire.

Back to the studio it goes.

And it really doesn’t help that my camera just…well, my camera is useless.

Personal Entries · Studio

Naming the baby

The process of painting is a lot like naming a baby.

Some people have the name all picked out before the baby is born.  The baby WILL BE Joseph Jumping-Geranium Smith.  There is no wiggle room.  Everyone will be told far before the due date of the baby-to-be’s name, and when Joseph Jumping-Geranium is born, no one will even consider that he might look more like a Peter Potted-Petunia Smith. Oh no, no.  JJGS he is, and JJGS he will be.  These are the painters who set out to paint exactly what they will have painted when they are finished.  I don’t think many of these painters are ADD.

Some people pick a likely name or two, and when the baby comes flying out into the world they quickly decide which name the baby shall have.  “We’re thinking Pookie Punkinhead, but we might go with Lola Lemondrop or Suzie Salmonloaf.”   These are the painters who set out with a somewhat solid idea in mind, but there’s wiggle-room.  I sometimes paint this way, but I’m more committed to the wiggle-room than the solid idea.

Then, there are the people who decide that the baby will present the world with its own name upon its arrival.  “Oh!  He looks like he’s laughing!  Let’s name him Isaac.”   Or, “Look at that red hair!  Let’s call him Rufus Henry!” Some of these people might wait and wait for the baby to give some indication of its moniker, and these people live in communes and have children who are called Lalalala or Mine!, until they are five.  It’s all wiggle-room, all the time. In my painting,  I often hang with this crowd.  I just…..  start, and see what happens; see what and where the painting feels like it’s doing and going, and I happily change course until I hit a sweet spot.

Painting is like a relationship.  There is me, and there is the painting.  The painting is always changing; colors and textures popping up in ways I didn’t quite expect.  If the painting is never static, then how can my idea of its outcome be so?

When I go the let-the-baby-name-itself route,  remnants of earlier ideas are often visible, and  lines or shapes or colors I put down when I had a different path in mind  now glow through and assert themselves.   Incorporating them into the newer incarnation is a puzzle that is joyful to solve; these old fossils are like gifts to a new painting. They’re found money and they’re always welcome.

Final painting will not include large, brown dog.


Media and Art · Personal Entries

Sea Creatures

We’re headed north today, and there’s no time to post.  I have so much to do.   Gag and bind the children and tie them to the roof of the car, drug the dog….. There’s no end to my travel preparations, is there?

Karen will be caring for The Damn Cat.  Bless her.  We were going to bring the cat north with us because…..well, because I’m insane.  TDC isn’t litter-trained, however, and so we purchased a harness and leash for him, so that he could safely go outside while we traveled north.    It went about as well as you’re imagining, and my only regret is that we didn’t record the fabulousness that was Matt’s already slightly unhinged cat flying completely off his hinges.

When I called Karen to see if she could keep an eye on TDC while we are away, her words were:

“Sure.  I’ll take the cat.”

I took this to mean that she wants to take the cat forever, literally.  She quickly clarified,  insisting that she only meant she would “take” responsibility for caring for TDC while we were gone, but I didn’t hear her because I didn’t want to.  They will be so happy together.

Also, you might notice the new header.  It was a quickie I threw together from this painting, which was a collaborative piece I did with Matt several years ago.  While I worked on a series related to mapping, Matt drew his own maps of Lake Norman, complete with fish and the underwater mines for which the lake is famous.   I cut up those drawings which weren’t precious to him, and collaged them into a painting.  While I’ve had several offers for this painting, I will never, ever sell it.

I love this piece, and it hangs above my fireplace.

Sea Creatures (collaboration with Matthew Stein), acrylic on paper, 30 x 42
Media and Art · Personal Entries

A toe in the pool of prepubescent crazy

We have two weeks of stuff to cover here, so let’s all pipe down and focus, shall we?

We have field trips with insane preteens,  a class mural,  swearing off dating forever and ever until I die and the pixie haircut which accompanied this decision,  and a graduation or two.   Where shall we start?

Although I’ve worked myself up into quite a state thinking about the haircut and the swearing-off dating,  I’ll start with the mural because it gives you something to look at.   Complaining about my bad attitude towards dating has no visual hook.

This year, as I have in previous years, I offered to do a painting with Matt’s class.  The idea is this: I provide all the materials, and guide the kids through the process of creating a large-scale collaborative painting.  I provide the steadying adult voice of reason, and they make all the decisions and do all the work.

After much brainstorming and voting, the kids decided to paint an amusement park scene,  anchoring the painting with a horizon line and a roller coaster, and setting the scene at night.  They would all add their own elements to the painting, and each would also draw themselves on the roller coaster.   They worked together to come up with a strong, cohesive theme, and I was impressed.

Which is why I’m so, so baffled about how we ended up with this:

Click to enlarge this fabulousness: 5th grade Amusement Park, 4 ft x 7.5 ft. Acrylic and watercolor on Arches paper.

An amusement park with an erupting volcano, under attack from nine space ships, three dragons, two bears, and many, many zombies.    I had no idea how much time zombies spend at amusements parks.

I’ve learned some things about fifth-graders:  They’ve dipped a toe in the pool of pubescent crazy.  They like to draw very, very small.  Their collective goal is to out-funny one another.  They don’t do collaborative. They erase each other’s preliminary drawings, and this goes about as well as you’re imagining it does.

1.  This, blogosphere, is Tiger Woods on the moon, in a bikini.  His golf club is floating away, and that’s why he’s shouting, “Nooo!”   “Let’s draw all his girlfriends, too!” Said the fifth-graders. “Nooo,” said Ms. Stein.

2.  This pretty little clock and the things drawn around it are the work of a very sweet autistic boy who joins the class for much of the day.  The kids collectively bossed him about his clock being off-theme.  When he left, they all started drawing clocks.  I urged them to erase their clocks, and they took this to mean that they should erase anyone else’s work that they didn’t like.

3.  Bears!

4. “Honey, what is that?” I asked.   “A volcano,”  she said. OK.  By this point I had realized that artistic coherence was a pipe-dream.

4.5.  “I’m confused about why you’re drawing ice cream cones in the sky.”   “I like drawing ice cream cones.” Later, these became ice cream cone rockets.

5.  An upside-down zombie paratrooper with an ice cream cone instead of a parachute.   This drawing was explained to me at the time, but because fifth-graders all talk at once, all I heard was, “MS. STEIN HE ERASED MY CAN I PAINT NOW ZOMBIE PARACHUTE FAIRY ROLLER COASTER FALLING HAHAHAHAHA BEARS!!!!!”

6.  This family of zombies did not make sure they were securely belted in before the ride started.  Luckily, they are the walking dead and so their fall can’t kill them.

7.  Several things are happening in this part of the picture.

a.  A dragon is heating up some pizza.  The dragon was drawn by child A, and the pizza was drawn by child B.  Child B did not discuss the addition of pizza with child A, and child A was not pleased.  Pizza made a mockery of the dragon.

b. Medusa and Frankenstein are getting married.  I have no idea.


The kids, somehow, came away from all that lovely planning with the message, “Go forth and draw twenty-three different pictures!  Make it as random as you can!”  Amused, shell-shocked, baffled; halfway through the first day I caught Matt’s teacher’s eye.

“Wow,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.

“I know!”  She said excitedly, “this is the best they’ve worked together all year!

Teachers are not paid nearly enough.





Really, I’ve been so sluttish in my blogging,  I don’t know how you can stand it.  I’d be quite disgusted with me if I were you.

Things have been a-swirlin’ in my head;  swirling and swirling, around and around, never slowing enough to gel.   Not swirling in a random way, but in a swept-up, powerfully rushing, churning, spring-melt river kind of way.

I’ve been painting again.

His river runs through me. 43 x 52 inches. Acrylic on canvas

When I decided to switch mediums –to make my painting amateur and my metal professional– I hoped that one of the consequences of this decision would be that I’d become a better painter.  Painting is costly for me; it takes a lot out of me because I care so much.  Add to that the pressure of necessary professional or academic success in painting, and it was not a tenable way of life.  I remember one of my painting professors, Michael Simpson, telling my class, “I need you all to dig deeper.  Except Katie.  Katie, don’t dig so deep.”  I’ve always been an advocate of ripping myself to shreds if that’s what it takes to do a job right.

In taking the pressure off of my painting by switching to metals in order to make a living,  I hoped to reduce the pressure on my painting and make it less costly and more of a joy.  And in that  joy I hoped to paint better.  But building a business takes everything, and I’ve been happy to rip myself to shreds to do that job right.  There hasn’t been energy to paint.  I haven’t thought in painting,  I haven’t dreamed painting; where would I find the extra time and energy?

And then, suddenly, I did.  As running a business becomes more familiar to me,  the newly freed-up brain power has spontaneously returned to painting.   Not painting for the sake of an assignment or a degree, not painting for the sake of furthering a career in painting, but painting for the sake of needing to purge my mind of its visual thoughts.  Visual metaphors, visual equations, visual understanding of the world.  People often say artists create to become immortal, and that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.  Artists create because they have a insanely strong compulsion to communicate in an aesthetic language.  To process, to understand through doing, to solve puzzles they didn’t realize their minds were struggling to complete.

I don’t know what I think of this piece, and it’s not at all what I thought I’d end up with.  There are components I’d like to keep and work with again (the lines, the concept), and components I’d like to lose (contrast, the darkness).


Monsterbling Contest!

It’s time for the Monsterbling Contest! Yay!

The lowdown: Submit an image of a monster between November 5 and November 15, and may the best monster win.

Draw it, collage it, paint it, Photoshop it.   Sew it, build it, sculpt it and take a picture of it!   Use whatever medium you like, and send me an image of it when you’re done.  Keep it simple or make it a masterpiece; sophistication is not necessary, and I hope to see work of all levels of expertise.  Scary monsters, funny monsters, sad monsters…..all are welcome.

The prize?  A 14k gold, handforged sapphire necklace: the Roman Sapphire Necklace.

It’ll be like the necklace below, but you know, with a sapphire.  A pretty blue sapphire. It will be so pretty you will cry, and so I will send the winner some tissues with their pendant.  I’m still waiting for that stinker to come in, but I will have the necklace done by the time the contest begins, and I will post it then.  That’s why I’m not taking entries until November 5th: because the rat bastard sapphire hasn’t come in yet.

L: pretty sapphire which is taking its sweet time getting here. R: The Roman Pendant

Monsterbling Contest Rules

1. Email entries to:   Entries will be accepted from November 5, 2009 through November 15, 2009.   I will announce the winner on November 18, 2009.

2. There is no limit to how many monsters you may enter into the contest.

3.  All work must be original and your own.

4.  All ages are invited to enter, but if you are under the age of 18 you may not enter without the permission of your parent or guardian.

5.  The winning entry is decided at my personal discretion with the help of friends and a bottle of Chianti.  The winner is final.

6.  Let’s keep our monsters PG-Rated, ok?

7.  The prize necklace is not for resale.

8. Entries must be in JPEG format or included in the body of the email.  Please include your full name, and the email address where I may reach you to confirm shipping information should you win. If you are unable to be reached within 3 days of winning, you forfeit your win. Your last name and email will be kept private, and this information will neither be shared nor used for solicitation purposes.

9.  Images may be posted on this blog or on Vakadesign’s Flickr page, and by entering your image into the contest you give Vakadesign permission to make public your monster image in this manner.

10.  By submitting an entry to the Monsterbling Contest, you agree to these rules and understand the spirit of this fun, friendly competition. You will not hold me responsible if you lose this give-away,  or appeal for a new decision.  This is a give-away everyone, so let’s not get all hard-core.  If I am asked to clarify any of these rules, I will do so on the Monsterbling Contest page of the blog.

Monster questions, anyone?