Saturday, September 20, 2014

New Space! New Sign! New Site! New Me!

 I've got a new space for teaching. 

And now I have a new sign. 

It makes me smile each time I walk up  to my "office." 

And, believe it or not . . . 
I have a website and a facebook page, too!

Yikes! What have I done?!

Well, you might as well go ahead and visit my website 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New Space!

I've got a new space for teaching!

It all came about very suddenly.

And just as suddenly, it has become a happy success.

The space is small, but it is ours (mine & my students) to do with as we please. We can paint on the walls, or on the floors (or on the walls and floors).

It's a neat old building that has gone through many transformations.

I'm very happy there. And I think my students are, too.

I love having my own space.
I love having my supplies all in one place.
I love having a permanent display and critique wall.
I love the old tile floor.
I love many things about this new adventure.

But my favorite-of-all thing might be the big gate out front. To get into the building, you push open this big wrought iron gate, and follow the path up the ramp. But the gate . . . look closely . . . it isn't connected to anything.

Easier to simply side-step the whole thing and just walk around. But I never do. I love pushing open that big old gate and walking happily into my new, all-our-own, funky space.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Is SpongeBob an Accurate Measure of Success?

Today in drawing class, talk turned to SpongeBob SquarePants. I was surprised when my students (age 9 - 15) unanimously agreed that SpongeBob was a loser.

What? Wait a minute. Really? I think the show is clever and witty. And SpongeBob himself is nothing if not lovable.

"I aspire to be like SpongeBob," I told my class. "He is honest, and sweet. He finds joy in every detail of life. He is fiercely loyal to his friends. And,"  I finished triumphantly, "He LOVES his job."

"But that's just it," they chorused. "He's a fry cook! A grown man (ok, grown sponge) who's been flipping burgers his whole life. He has no ambition. He's going nowhere!"

I'm certainly glad these young homeschoolers have great ambition. I am glad they are shooting high, pushing themselves further. But are they saying that success is only measured by our careers? That the joy SpongeBob feels is somehow less meaningful because he is nothing more than a fry cook?

I wonder. What is the correct measure of success.

In college, a teacher of mine asked seriously and thoughtfully, "What is success?" He was thinking of his own. Here was a well-known artist, with work in museums and collections around the world, and he wondered aloud how to measure his own success. He had recently completed a series of drawings using permanent marker on Styrofoam. (Have you ever done this? The Styrofoam "melts.") His dealer told him to hide those drawings, to never show them to anyone. "They will ruin your career," was her honest advice.

But a collector stopped by his studio later that day. Upon seeing the drawings leaning against the studio wall, he was instantly moved by them. For him, they struck a chord deep down (and if I remember the story correctly, he bought them all). Turns out, this man had cancer. These strange drawings, melting and warping the Styrofoam, resonated with him in a way that no one could have predicted.

Was this artist more successful for having artwork in famous museums, or is there more success in having made a drawing that was meaningful to only one man dying from cancer.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentines Day at LACHSA

I had hated school. Beginning in 7th grade and lasting through high school, I hated everything about it (except the learning, which seemed there was much too little of). I spent my school days scowling, usually nursing a headache and a stomachache. I never wanted my kid to have to feel that way at school.

And so we homeschooled. Up until 13 years of age, my younger son never went to school. I loved our homeschooling life.

But then my kid said he wanted to go to high school. I doubted the wisdom of it, remembering my own struggles. But off he went. It was a rough start. Then on Valentines Day last year, he told me about what had happened at school that day.

While everyone was in class, someone put a post-it note on every single locker in the school:

He told me, "It was dope."  And I believed him.

I'm so glad my son gets to be a part of a place where this kind of thing can happen.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How to Find Your Horizon, or Eye-Level

Horizon (finding your eye-level)

Try this:
1) sit up straight
2) with your head level, look out at what's in front of you.
3) pretend you are shooting laser beams from your eyeballs; make sure those laser beams are shooting parallel to the ground.
4) wherever your eyeball laser beams hit, that is your eye level.

"Eye-level" is the exact same thing as "horizon."

Try this next time you're at the beach:
1) stand facing the ocean
2) look where the water meets the sky
3) we all know that as the horizon, but now think of it as eye-level
4) slowly lower yourself down to the sand, but keep your sights on that horizon
5) notice how the horizon moves down with you
6) lay down on the sand
6) where's your horizon?

It's still right there, in front of your eyes.
The horizon moves with the level of your eyes. An immovable horizon would require you to look up at the horizon, as you lowered your body to the sand.

No beach nearby? How about the desert? Here's the view of my drive home from Las Vegas last weekend:

And there's the horizon, straight out in front of my laser-beam eyeballs. And look - the highway comes to a point on my horizon-eye-level. Notice how incredibly WIDE the highway looks at the bottom of the photo, and how incredibly QUICKLY it narrows to a point as it goes back in space. This is a classic example of one-point perspective

Here's another example:

All the parallel lines are going back to the same ONE POINT on the horizon (hence the one-point perspective.) Even the lines of the truck. Check it out! Place a ruler over your screen and see where all those lines go: the truck, the road, even the brush at the edge of the road's shoulder.  

Everything on this long ride through the desert is zooming towards the same itty-bitty spot on my horizon. Why "my" horizon? Because it's my eye-level. Your eye level (you being taller or shorter) is different than mine. 

My horizon is mine. Your horizon is yours. (Think about that, and I dare you not to get all philosophical.) 

And one more amazing thing about the desert views. . . atmospheric perspective! 

The atmosphere creates the feeling of space.

More in a later post, about why horizon/eye-level is important, and about using both types of perspective to your advantage in any drawing (not just landscapes). For now, practice shooting laser beams from your eyeballs. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Secret of Art School Admissions

I'll tell you a secret: 
It's not as difficult to get into a private art college as everyone likes to pretend.

Getting in is relatively easy. Staying in is what's hard. 

When I was an admissions counselor, 80% of the students who came in for advice already had a portfolio that was acceptable to be admitted. 

But I rarely told them that. 

I would critique their work, pushing them to work harder to improve, and sending them off to rework their portfolios. Why? Because art schools want dedicated people. 

The student might go home after that admissions visit and decide it's too hard, or they aren't good enough, or they can't bear to have anyone look at and critique their work. Well, that's not the student we wanted.

Art school itself is hard and stressful. Students are pushed to their limits, physically, emotionally, creatively. Teaching technical skills is easy; teaching students to push through their barriers is not.

Art Schools want fearless students, artists who are unafraid of their talents, and also unafraid of their weaknesses. Your portfolio doesn't need to be perfect, but it should be fearless. 

Creating an atmosphere in admissions that makes the school seem really hard to get into is helpful for weeding out the students who do not yet have the mindset for a demanding program. 

Good schools want dedicated students who will be successful after they graduate, and as alumni, will make their college look good. They want students who are ready to work hard and slog through the tough times, spending the entire 4 years (and 4 years' worth of tuition) at their school.

Work hard on your portfolio. The hardest you've ever worked before. It's good practice. It shows something about you as an artist. And last but not least, the stronger the portfolio, the more $$ offered in financial aid. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Trash Heap Inspiration

I love to walk the empty hills and forgotten, half-finished roads of my Los Angeles neighborhood. I can take my dog off leash, and it is peaceful.

The urban views are great, (hmm, maybe a photo class field trip in the making) but what I most adore, is my beloved "Trash Heap." 

A relatively quiet day at the Trash Heap. The city comes by regularly to haul it away.
I can't help but be a little disappointed when I come across a recently emptied spot.

Two places along the hillside roads have become common illegal dump sites for the most wonderful variety of things. I know I'm supposed to be outraged, but I'm enamored. From construction material to children's toys to love letters, I've found it all.  Sometimes I bring things home to use in the home or garden:

These glass blocks came home with me. They are now book ends.
I considered taking home this angel head,
but when someone else created a "City of the Angels" art piece by tangling it in the fence, I left it there.
And some bamboo came home to replace a broken gate.
I bring home inspiration for my artwork, too. I'm currently working on a series of paintings based on papers found at the trash heap.
"Wishes; 1 - 100" oil on wood panel
This is from a child's first attempt at writing numbers 1 - 100. Dated on the back of the paper, saved since 1992, and now dumped at the trash heap. It seemed too special to pass by. A treasure map of sorts. See more of my artwork here.

Stay tuned for more Trash Heap Inspirations and Adventures..

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Getting Back in the Studio

July and August are hectic months when I rarely get into my studio. 
July is Summer of Art at Otis College of Art and Design. Long, intense hours of teaching. But it's my favorite teaching assignment and each year I find myself saying: "That was my best group of young artists, ever!"
I say it every year. And every year I mean it!

Summer of Art student work. Final project: "Object with Meaning"

Summer of Art student work, final project
Summer of Art student work, final project

(To be honest, I haven't always said that. A few summers ago several students and parents pushed me to believe that I was DONE with teaching. But that's a 'nother story.)

And then, August is camping at the beach.
Camping at the Beach - nothing better
Summer of Art and camping are over now, and I'm back in my studio, relaxed and ready to work. 

After a slow start earlier this week, the inspiration is now coming fast and furious. I'm finishing a series of paintings, and have plans for a new series. An unexpected installation piece is taking shape on my studio wall and on my work table there's a long list of thoughts and projects. Pretty cool.

They say you can't wait for inspiration, you just have to get in the studio and get to work. Put pen to paper, or brush to canvas, or camera to eye, and begin. Something will happen, that's the promise.

And then, there are those days when inspiration is everywhere. When it's easy and you can't turn it off if you wanted to. When, even in the bathroom, sitting, thinking of nothing . . . 

Inspiration in a bath mat
 . .  .  a ragged, dirty bath mat catches your attention.

Nothing else to do, but go back in the studio, and be thankful for inspiration, no matter what the source.
Angry Frilly Fish Puppet

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I'm Not Looking for Friends (Part II)

I've been in writing groups, critique groups, and volunteer organizations. I join these groups to do work, not to make friends. I have something to offer; the group has something to offer me. I'm not looking for someone new to chat with; I don't want to help anyone solve their problems; I'm not interested in their issues. Be my friend, or don't be my friend - it makes little difference to me. (From the Part I post)

A few months ago, I joined a critique group through the Los Angeles Art Association and Gallery 825.  Critique is work that I love. Difficult, fulfilling work. This new group was a rough start for me. Not because the critique was difficult, but because other people seem so much more interested than I in sitting around and making friends. Why do I get so impatient with that? I just want to show up and get down to the critique (or writing, or whatever!)

But sometimes friends just happen.

At a gallery opening, I found myself standing next to Jane from my critique group. Empty plastic wine glasses in hand, we had nothing else to do but chat. A gallery opening can be its own type of work: standing around, pretending to be cool, while desperately checking out anyone who is giving the slightest glimpse to your artwork on the wall - exhausting. But I tried my best, and Jane and I talked.

Then, a few weeks later, she asked if she could take my picture.

And darn it all, I made a friend in spite of myself.
Jane's good, huh? Check out more of Jane Szabo's photography at her website 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Homeschoolers taking pictures at Union Station

So, I led a photo walking tour in downtown Los Angeles with a bunch of homeschoolers. First stop was Union Station.

We introduced ourselves, then I said, "Go take some pictures."
(Ok, I said more than that. But not really.)

And they did. (Go take pictures, I mean.)

After a while, we regrouped and looked at some of their shots.

We huddled around our cameras.
We "oohed," we "aahed.

We discussed.

We held a mini-critique right in the middle of a train station.

Then I said, "Go take more pictures."

And they did . . . .

And just like always . . .

. . . they amazed me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'm Not Looking For Friends (Part I)

I've been in writing groups, critique groups, and volunteer organizations. I join these groups to do work, not to make friends. I have something to offer; the group has something to offer me. I'm not looking for someone new to chat with; I don't want to help anyone solve their problems; I'm not interested in their issues. Be my friend, or don't be my friend - it makes little difference to me.

I joined a writing group. I wanted to spend time writing. I love to write. And I recognize it as work. Writing is good, hard, fulfilling work. Writing Group:  Is it 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night? Well then, shut up, and commence to write. But Wait! What happened?
I said I wasn't looking for friends.

Through the work of weekly writing, I formed deeper friendships than ever would have been possible from chatting around a cup of coffee. There's no denying that despite my best efforts, that writing group - those four people - became my friends.

I'm in a new critique group. Critique is work that I love. Difficult, fulfilling work. And again, here I am, not looking for friends . . . (to be continued).

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sometimes I Get Sad

Sometimes I get sad and lost.
Sometimes I can't remember what I'm doing, or why I'm doing it.
Sometimes I just feel sorry for myself.

But then, I get to go back to work. And I remember how I get to spend my Saturdays surrounded by young people doing amazing things. Then I remember how I have a job that knocks my socks off, gives me goose bumps, makes me suck in my breath . . .

. . . and still allows me the time to go in my studio to do my own art work. . .

. . . then come home to a dog sleeping with his little pillow . . .

Sometimes I can't remember why I was ever feeling sorry for myself.

L.A. ArtCard

A long while back, I came across . This guy will send you a blank postcard. Your job is to create a work of art on the card and mail it back. Fun idea and I wanted to participate. Then I sort of forgot. Today I got an email announcing the first ever ArtCard Book. Check it out. Did you see my piece? Try again, don't blink this time. (Hint - there's fruit.) Anyone can participate in this project. Go ahead. It's fun. And just think how cool it is for the mail carrier on this guy's route!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Digital? Bah! Humbug!

Yesterday was the last day of my photography class at UrbanHomeschoolers (UHS). And we did what any good photography class should do . . . we played with balloons!

In this class of homeschoolers, I didn't get as much technical information across as I had originally planned for. Today, if you asked my students about aperture, depth of field, shutter speed, or light meters - they probably wouldn't know much more than when we started months ago.  But ask them to share their photos and discuss their work - watch out!!

They used digital cameras, cell phones, tablets - anything that takes a picture. If you know me, I'm not a willing participant of the digital world. I don't own a cell phone. I'm not a fan of the digital camera. I still do most of my shooting with film. My opinion of the digital world runs more towards Bah, humbug. And Harrumph! I'm not on Facebook. Perhaps you've even heard a Look-How-Digital-has-Ruined-Everything rant from me.

But this group of kids, using only digital technology, produced work that awed and inspired me. They had an incredible eye for composition. There was a flare for the dramatic, and just as often, a sophisticated subtlety that pleased me to my core.

How did they do that? With such ease and confidence?

Ok. They're homeschoolers. A big part of homeschooling is about following the child's interests; it's about exploring; it's about going forward with confidence even if your path is not along the accepted norm. As homeschoolers, it seems they could do nothing less than step out into the world (or neighborhood, in this case) and bring back something amazing for me to see.

But they also showed me that there just might be something to all this digital mumbo-jumbo I have come to hate. They showed me that the abundance of images they've been surrounded by in their short lives has helped them create an understanding and a sophisticated dialogue that I do not think would have been possible "back in my day." And the ease of the digital camera (or cell phone, or tablet) allowed an instant leap forward, where content could rule.

With each new session of classes, I'm full of plans, brimming with information and technique I'm eager to share, full of goals about what I want to teach and where I want each student to be at the end of my class. I teach a lot of different classes in a lot of different places to wide range of ages, abilities, and learning styles. But always, ALWAYS, my students surprise me by teaching me something new. I never needed to be convinced about the great advantages of homeschooling. But I did need a big shove in the direction of appreciating the digital world.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Down By the River

Today, Donkey and I went down to the river. The Los Angeles River.

I've lived in the Los Angeles area all my life.

I was an adult before I realized that there was such a thing as the Los Angeles River. And it took several more years to realize that all those "washes" running through the neighborhoods of my childhood are actually creeks and brooks feeding into the river.

There are parts of the river, within a few miles of my home, that are truly lovely.
I even met a man fishing. 
They say the carp caught here are remarkably clean. He confirmed that they're good eating. They're going on the bar-b-q, he said.

The river is fast becoming one of my new favorite places. And, as always with Los Angeles, the city is never far behind. Which is OK by me.

At the end of October, I'll be spending a day with a group of homeschoolers, down at the river, making art.

Info about the river (past, present, future) can be found at
Friends of the Los Angeles River.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Woman to companion, as they exited the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in downtown Los Angeles: "It's exhausting, all of this art, isn't it?" 

My weary head nodded in agreement as I headed home.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The How of It

Art college for the fine artist is all about the why of it - theory and critique. It's all about figuring out why you are making art.

In art college, very little is directed to the how of it. No one taught me how to prepare a canvas or organize a palette of colors. No one showed me how Rembrandt or Rubens painted.

Now, it's time to learn the how.

I'm taking a painting class that is the exact opposite of the painting classes I had in college. This one is all technique and no content. No one cares why I'm painting; they only care how.  A hard mental switch, and a slow process of painting. But I'm happy. (See the finished painting here)

The underdrawing on my carefully prepared wooden panel

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Parents, Friends, Grown-ups

Drawing "class" at Otis
Found in the photo archives of the Los Angeles Public Library

Many parents, friends, and otherwise grown-ups have said, "I want to take a class with you."

Was that you? Maybe you were caught up in the excitement and only half-kidding, but I do have a class or two for you:

This Saturday, September 8, begins my next 10-week sessions at Otis. These are observational drawing classes, beginning and advanced, taught on the campus of Otis College of Art and Design in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles (near LAX). Open to students of all ages, (high school and up) these classes are billed as "Portfolio Development" for people working towards art college admissions. But people take my class for a variety of reasons. For some, it's their very first drawing class ever; sometimes older students are looking to change careers to the art/design field; I've had others who for years have taken art classes in their spare time, with no intention of attending art school; and still others who are putting the finishing touches on their admissions portfolio, working up the courage and the mind-set for art college.

It doesn't matter to me what your reason for taking my class; I'm just glad you'll be there. And if you grown-ups are worried about it, I guarantee you won't be the oldest student I've taught.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Living Without a Cell Phone

My teenage student opens her eyes wide. I have just told her that I don't have a cell phone. She stammers. "But . . . but . . . but . . ." She can't understand. "What if you need to talk to your mom?"

I am touched. What if I need to talk to my mom? She implies that her mom is important to her. What would she do if she couldn't talk to her mom? Call her for advice? Hear her voice when she's sad, or unsure, or afraid of the choices she needs to make? I want to say, "My mom is dead." But that's not the point. I could say, "I will talk to her later," or "I like to get letters."

Out of the frying pan into the fire. Take the bull by the horns. My mother, during a particularly bad time in my life, wrote me a letter full of these types of sayings. I loved her for it. There were no cell phones, and I was half a world away. She was as helpless as I in the situation. A letter arriving on a cold cloudy morning, with her familiar script on the white envelope. I held it cradled in my hands and read the address - me, in a foreign country. I soaked in the return address - her, in a familiar and warm and sunny place. My bedroom window faced a neighbor's pasture, then trees on rolling hills. All I saw was cold snow falling and a smoky room from endlessly lit cigarettes.

Somewhere, in a cardboard box in my closet, or maybe under my bed, I have my letters from my mom stored away. Somewhere, I have her advice tucked away safe. I can talk to her later. Yes, that's what I can say. That's what I can do.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

So Worth It

July is pretty crazy for me. I work almost every day of the week, on my feet for 7 hours, commuting at least an hour each way, no air conditioning in my car. (Last Thursday it took 2 hours to get home!) I arrive home with just enough energy to eat dinner (provided by my son - YAY son!) and then fall asleep before my head hits the pillow. The other night, my dreams were about being exhausted.

Sunday is my recooperating day, and boy do I need it. Though by late Sunday afternoon I always start thinking about my classes again.

But it isn't with dread of the coming Monday. It's with eager anticipation.

I actually start looking forward to it all again. I forget the commute, the tired feet, the exhausted brain.
Instead, I remember the thrill I get when a beginning student pulls together a drawing like this . . .

. . . and I remember the look on that student's face when she realizes that she can do something that she didn't even know was in her.

And I can't wait for tomorrow when I get to see her finished drawing (see up there on the top right?) even though I already gave her an 'A' and there's no reason to go that extra mile except that now she knows that it's worth it.

So worth it.