Brush Care and Other Life Lessons

At some point in the last two years, I gave up on my brushes.  Perhaps it was my grueling new public studio schedule, perhaps it was the fact that I had begun to use nylon brushes almost exclusively, perhaps it was some of the textured surfaces I was painting on (brick, paperboard, coroplast), but my brushes were wearing out at an alarming rate.  I began to buy cheap ones in bulk and threw them away within weeks.  The faster they wore out, the less inclined I was to take care of them in general.  I indiscriminately scrubbed on vast acrylic underpaintings with tiny, delicate nylon flat brushes.  I left paint-choked brushes drowning in water overnight because I was eager to go home at the end of the day.  Sometimes, I would save the chipped and battered handles of my casualties in the vain hope that I might take up macramé in the future; they did have quite an interesting patina by the time I was through with them.  The way I figured it, having to buy more brushes seemed an acceptable loss given the artwork I was making. . .

However, at my first meeting with my new art teacher, we talked about brush care, and something clicked in my mind.  Why was I entrusting my work to inferior, damaged, poorly-maintained tools?  Since when did I accept unnecessary waste as a natural by-product of my work?  While a skilled musician can usually make even a poor instrument sing, would it not be preposterous to simply allow that instrument to deteriorate out of carelessness?  Since when did carelessness become a part of my method?

I have been carefully cleaning and drying my brushes lately, contemplating which ones to use for various tasks, reintroducing bristle brushes and even sturdy utility brushes, and in the process, I am learning that I can get far more mileage and variety out of my tools, that I had been limiting their myriad possibilities, that they can sing for me in ways that I had forgotten or fully ignored.  The task that I had begun to think of as futile or tedious has become meditative instead, and this simple change already seems to be influencing my work, my wallet, and my life.

Walls to Walls

Walls to Walls opened with a well-attended reception at Lowe Mill last night and the artwork will continue to be displayed at the Arts Huntsville Gallery in the Von Braun Center until October 28th.  The exhibit features the canvas work of six Huntsville muralists, R.F. Daniel, Andy Winn, Robert Bean, Jahni Moore, myself, and Logan Tanner.

The above photo shows all six of us with the one-of-a-kind triptych we worked on together at the reception, "Underwater Moonlight", which is up for bidding until the show closes.  All proceeds will be going toward building an outdoor classroom at Lowe Mill.

That is the official information regarding Walls to Walls, but I would like to add a few personal thoughts as well.  There is always more to any exhibit, event, art show, or performance than the plain facts. . . the moments of anticipation, the hard work, the laughter, the publicity, the set-up, the personal feelings and hopes and thoughts, the long hours, the people one comes to truly love and respect throughout the processLooking back on this show will always fill me with a great deal of pride. . . there is no greater compliment to any artist than being in a group show with extremely dedicated career artists whose work one has admired for years, and there is no greater assurance than to know that there are organizations like Arts Huntsville made up of people who truly love and want to work with artists (people who help us load and unload our cars while sweat pours off our brows in 91 degree Alabama heat and schedule TV and radio interviews with equal enthusiasm. . .)  After a successful reception, all I can feel (beyond the aches in my muscles from carrying stacks of prints and canvases and stretching as much as I can to reach that one nail in the middle of a brick wall) is overwhelming gratitude.

Contemplating Year 10


As July gives way to August, I try to stay focused in the face of the most excruciatingly hot months of an Alabama summer, look forward to the pleasant fall days that always come along to quench them just at the right moment, and remember that nine years ago this month, I was preparing for a September art show-- my very first.  

When I began painting that summer, I was a fresh graduate from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, working as a waitress at a German restaurant, and my mind was full of dreams and post-college concerns.  School had been a defining feature of my life for so very long that I felt lost without it, but also too tired and anxious to go back.  I would give myself a year to work, to rest, to pull myself together, then give graduate school a try.  The life that I was imagining for myself was that of a writer and professor in Germany, so despite being a reclusive, sensitive kid who drew and stared out the window most of the time, what would happen next was not part of my original plan; art managed to completely consume my thoughts and life decisions, constantly reshaping my course for me.

About four years ago, I wrote about how my mother always said that it takes a decade to master something.  Since I wrote that post, I became a full-time artist, opened a shop and studio, painted two large murals along with my usual canvas works, and added myriad events, receptions, galleries, and honors to my CV. . . and here I am, entering my 10th year of making art.


Somehow, I do not feel content to simply let this year come and go as usual.  If it is to be a proper milestone, it ought to be memorable and transformative.  If I am to celebrate a decade at the easel when Summer 2017 rolls around, I owe it to myself and the people who have encouraged my work to make a few new investments in my career.

So here is the plan for Year 10:

1)  Art Lessons-- I am mostly self-taught, but finally feel humble enough to know what I need help with, not to mention mature enough to accept constructive criticism regarding information of which I was simply not aware.  At this point, I have admitted to myself that this is as far as I should go alone.  I am now reaching into uncharted territory and want a guide.  I look forward to working with two artists whom I admire in the near future.

2)  Plein Air Painting-- This is something that I have become interested in during the past three years to the extent that I need to turn it into a habit.  My outdoor paintings tend to be vivid and expressive enough to be positively liberating to my mind, so while I will not venture to spend hours outside in the heat, when cooler temperatures greet me, I will be ready.

3)  The Checklist-- I have a notebook in which I now record all sites where I would like to paint and subjects that spark my interest, and my goal is to be diligent about pursuing these ideas and adding new ones. 

4)  Juried Shows and Competitions-- I occasionally enter these, but I feel the need to pay more attention to them and try to enter a few more.  I would still like my own work even if it never won anything, but I feel that this would keep my skills sharp and generally be a useful career move. 

5)  Health and Wellness-- I had a health scare this year that sucked up about two months out of my life and a lot of money (and I still do not know what hit me). . . it was highly unpleasant, but it reminded me that if I am to have a long career, this might be a good time to re-evaluate my habits.

What do you think?  What does it take to really master a skill or topic?  Naturally, I do not expect to ever have to stop learning or exploring or practicing, but what else might I do to really make this year count? 

#Draw365 28-34

There have been a few setbacks in my #Draw365 project this week, but there have also been a number of little triumphs that make this group of sketches interesting.  The main setback has been my lack of time, but looking at these sketches, I simply do not feel like complaining.  I did one drawing on my porch, another in Decatur, AL with my friend Ann, and sometimes those late night sketches of the lamp or the cat or a pile of fruit are full of valuable lessons about patience or lighting or how to frame a composition.  My attention to nuance and subtle handling of the pen in some of these sketches really encouraged me to keep going no matter what.  If I felt I did not have time for a full sketch, I only used half the usual spread; in the case of the last drawing, I worked on it over two sessions.  I cannot be upset with myself that I "skipped" a day, because I still took my pen out and drew on both days.  I have made it past the first month, and I am simply going to march on.  Enjoy!

Still Life Paintings

I have done a few abstract still life paintings in the past (chiefly florals), but never gave the genre much thought-- its potential for story-telling and powerful symbolism, or the way a still life might liven up a larger composition.  After my artist friend Kate suggested setting up a still life a few month ago, I became intrigued by the concept in a new way.  My most recent pieces are very personal, filled with objects and colors that either say something about me or have sentimental value to me or my Mom...I have only just begun to explore the potential of this traditional genre, but I am enjoying its possibilities quite a bit!  Several of these pieces will be on exhibit October 21st at my 1892 East show with Ann Vann and at my solo show in November at the Church Street Wine Shoppe!

#Draw365 21-27

27 out of 365 sketches have been completed as of today-- almost a month's worth of daily drawings in my Moleskine!  This week, my focus has been on variety.  The first sketch was done in a restaurant where I had to work quite quickly, the next two were done in a dimly-lit room, the fourth was drawn on the Square on a beautiful fall day, and the last three drawings were done from photos.  Architecture, sculpture, interior scenes. . . I am trying to do a little bit of everything and let my sketches go wherever my whims lead.  The personal diary aspect of the project has taken on a prominent role.  Looking ahead, I suspect that I will start to pay more attention to the overall composition of the pages and try to do more concentrated studies of smaller elements or details, but I am trying not to set too many rules or limits on this project.  My goal so far has been to make drawing a habit again and to enjoy exploring, and I certainly intend to keep it that way!

#Draw365 14-20

This week, I ran into the issues that usually stop my #Draw365 efforts in their tracks-- lack of time, exhaustion, being on the go quite a bit.  I did not allow any of those things to stop me this time.  Some of my sketches have been done fairly hastily. . . some quite late at night.  The beauty of #Draw365 projects is that it does not really matter how "good" the sketches are, when they were completed, or what the artist has chosen to depict-- the point is simply to create, freely and daily, and to make art a part of one's life.  Each sketch is a reminder to make time for quiet reflection every day, no matter what.

On Architecture

In my last post, I mentioned my budding interest in architectural subjects.  In fact, my most recently completed piece happens to be of the tower of a law firm on the corner of Jefferson Street and Holmes Avenue (down the street from my studio).  I find buildings and architectural detail highly challenging to paint in some ways, but that has never stopped me from happily working to portray interesting light conditions or completely abstracting already curious geometry based on my thoughts or emotions.  At any rate, the abundance of beautiful and fascinating buildings in my town has been providing plenty of tempting fodder for my art. . .

#Draw365 7-13


Here are this week's #Draw365 sketches!  I find myself exceedingly fond of drawing buildings and delight in seeing my sketches grow increasingly complex.  I have made it to 13/365. . . already I am thinking about new subjects to draw and imagining what it will be like to reach 365/365.  I even picture continuing to do a drawing a day for the rest of my life and having a box full of little sketchbooks to flip through.  Enjoy!