Media and Art · Personal Entries

I like liberty!

“Why don’t you guys come up for dinner?”  Karen asks.

“Oh, that would be great, ” I say.  Karen’s Dad is in town, and it will be nice to see him. ” What can I bring?”

“A ring.  You can bring a ring. ” says Karen.  “A solid gold ring, with the Bells of Canterbury on it.”

“Piece of cake,” I say.

“And I want the bells LIFE SIZED–“

“Oh honey, I was going to run to Canterbury to get you the ACTUAL bells, and mount them right on the ring for you.”

“Well,” says Karen, “that would be nice!”

I am thoughtful when designing my pretend, ridiculous jewelry.

“Or!” I say,  “Or!  Maybe the Liberty Bell, instead?  It’s closer.”

“Ohhh, I like liberty,” says Karen.

“OK, then.  I’ll go get the Liberty Bell, and I’ll mount it on a ring for you and bring it to dinner.  Anything else?”

“Yes,” says Karen, “I want the word ‘LIBERTY’ written on the ring.  On the outside.”

“No problem.  In big letters?”

“Yes, an inch high.  And, I’d also like the poem from The Statue Of Liberty inscribed on the inside of the ring.”

“The ‘bring us your poor, your huddled masses‘ poem?”  I ask.   I need to be clear about what poem it is that I’m inscribing.

“Yes.  That one.  The whole poem.  On the inside.”

“Sure!  I can totally do that!  Anything else?”

“I want all the ‘i ‘s’ dotted.  With diamonds.”

“OK.  So.   Gold, Liberty Bell, the word ‘LIBERTY,’ the huddled masses poem, diamonds for the dots over the ‘i ‘s’, by dinnertime tonight. Is that all?”

“Yes,” says Karen.  “And I’d like you to deliver it on a white horse.”

“Naked, a la Lady Godiva?”

“Yes.”  Says Karen.

“And your price range?  What’s your budget?”

“Five dollars.”

I think that’s fair.


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.



Dutch friends, new bling


Aquamarine and sapphire pendant, about 1 1/4 x 7/8 inches

My mom loves the Netherlands.  She loves the wide-open green flatness, the canals, the skinny city houses,  the Noordzee, and the spring flowers.  But most of all, she loves the Dutch.  There was never a Friday when she left the office without her Dutch coworkers making sure she had plans, never a moment when she didn’t feel welcomed and included.  While she’s enjoyed the people most everywhere she’s worked around the world, the Dutch became family.

After years spent living and working in The Hague,  my mom has come home for a job in San Diego.  It wasn’t an easy decision to make.  While there were many compelling reasons to move back to the States, it was so very hard for her to leave her friends; her Dutch family.

As my mom readied herself for the move to San Diego, her beautiful friend Susanne emailed–on behalf of all the Dutch friends– to ask me for ideas for a parting gift.  I suggested they take her for a tattoo, but the Dutch are way classier than me: they opted for jewelry, and ordered my Aquamarine Waterfall Pendant.

aquamarine and moonstone Waterfall Pendant

And that would have worked out just fine, if my mother wasn’t so damn full of damn opinions.  Luckily, her Dutch friends know that she’s a veritable opinion piñata.

Mom asked that I use a stone she already had  instead of the aquamarine cabochon (above) my design called for.  Her stone was a big, gorgeous, faceted aquamarine she had purchased from a British friend in The Hague  shortly before he died (we’re going to call that the new aquamarine from here on).

The challenges? The new aquamarine wasn’t interchangeable with the stone in my design, and a new design was needed to account for the stone’s unique attributes.  I did, however, need to keep with the two-stone look of the pendant I had been asked to make.

Where the original aquamarine cab in the design was all about watery relaxation, the faceted aquamarine was all sparkle and glamour, and just didn’t work well with the laid-back moonstone cabochon of the original pairing.  I opted to pair the new aquamarine with a gorgeous cornflower blue, flower-cut sapphire.

Another challenge was the cut of the new aquamarine: the stone was incredibly deep--half as deep as it was wide– and I needed my design to creatively account for that depth; to allow the face of the sapphire to be on the same plane as the face of the aqua, without looking awkward.

My  solution: A medieval-looking b0x setting,  stones set with prongs to keep them open and airy.

I hope all of my mother’s Dutch friends love what I came up with, I’m really pleased with my design, and my mom loved it.  After gasping, she declared, “I’m going to get mugged wearing this!”

And that is high praise from the Bling Jedi Master.

*Thanks Mom, for the image!



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.


Personal Entries · Studio

New camera: a photographic orgy

Have you noticed, my ducklings, that I haven’t posted any photographs in ages?  That’s because my camera died.  But!  A new one is arriving tomorrow, and then there will be an orgy of photography going on at the Vaka Design photography studio.

You know, I’ve noticed that when I use profane or graphic language in my posts, my views plummet.  Obviously, the language causes the site to be censored in searches and by the blog rolls which pick it up.  This time I didn’t even mean to be profane, and I’ll totally get censored anyway.  This time I was just being accurate.


1.   wild, drunken or licentious festivity or revelry. 

My mother is flying in from the Netherlands today;  from the land where  Dutch veins run with lager, thoughts of legal prostitution, and THC.   So yes, some drinking during the photoshoot is likely, and between Karen and my Mom?  Jeesh!  I’ll be the only sober voice of reason to be found, and that’s saying something.  Things have deteriorated badly when I am the voice of reason.
Licentious?  Not strictly so, but I will make that camera my bitch.
2.   uncontrolled or immoderate indulgence in an activity: an orgy of spending.
We have a huge number of pieces to photograph, and while I’m eager to post my own,  I’m excited for you to see what Karen has been working on.  Dude has seriously found her groove, and is churning out some very pretty stuff: pierced and layered silver pieces, some which look almost medieval. 
Brushed gold, diamonds, silver, white gold, earrings, necklaces, bi-metal pendants, lions and tigers and bears.
There is nothing moderate about all the awesome we will be shooting with my new bitch.
3.   orgies, (in ancient Greece) esoteric religious rituals, esp. in the worship of Demeter or Dionysus, characterized in later times by wild dancing, singing, and drinking.
Nope, not applicable.  Unless we find a young Greek guy named Dionysus, give him a glass of wine and allow him to be our eye candy, a la Madonna’s twenty-four year old boytoy, Jesus.  That might be a religious experience. 
4.  Informal. a boisterous, rowdy party.


 To describe my upcoming photodocumentation of new work  as an orgy of photography is grammatically precise.  I don’t care what the fucking censors say.



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).