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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fun Objects, Amazing Students

Back to another session of Observational Drawing at Otis College of Art and Design. I find myself saying it every new session: "These are my best students, EVER."  And I'm saying it again!

Besides the floating pear (it's not finished) this is a rather AMAZING drawing to be coming out of a beginning drawing student. Give it a cast shadow and that pear will settle right down.

And this . . .
She even missed a day of class and still got right down to work to produce this drawing (above). Confidence, willingness, committment . . . look what we get!

And a close up of this one . . . just makes me smile. Besides being a nice use of the charcoal, doesn't it look like that pig is so enjoying a scratch under the chin?

We are so lucky to have use of this room at Otis College. Such a treat to spend my Saturdays in a room filled with fun objects and fantastic students.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Clean a Bone

If you happen to find a bone . . . first - OFFER IT TO ME.

But let's pretend you want to keep your bone. It probably needs a bit of cleaning. Most people think they should boil or bleach it. STOP. Both of those methods are bad for your bone. Here's all you need to do:

1. Remove as much remaining animal matter as possible.

This little bone is pretty clean, but still needs a bit of work.

2. Place the bone in water; leave it in a warm spot.

Beware of two things:  a.) It can get smelly, so you don't want it on top of your refrigerator. b.) It can get smelly, so if you leave it outside some other animal may decide it's a tasty treat.

3. Replace with fresh water often. Keep changing the water until it stays clear.

Beware of one thing: sometimes teeth fall out during this process so be careful when you dump that water. Teeth are the best part and you don't want to lose them.
This is my student's super cool dog skull. It's just about ready.

4. When the water stays clear, it's time to submerge it in hydrogen peroxide. (Bleach will make your bone brittle.) Leave it in the hydrogen peroxide until it's the desired whiteness.

5. Now it should be clean and white, and ready for anything. Even some gold leaf.

"Corpus Delicti, Cat Skull"

Friday, June 8, 2012

That's a Chair

books saved from a library purge

I recently finished reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. It was my third attempt over several years. I love her writing, but at the same time, finishing any book by this writer is a struggle for me. Her sentences tend to flow around me and I get caught up in the sound of it, falling in love with the rhythm and the words. By the end of a sentence, I'm often left in a daze, with no idea what's going on.

But I knew exactly what was going on when Lily Briscoe, an artist in the story, says this:

"One wanted. . . to be on a level with ordinary experience, to feel simply that's a chair, that's a table, and yet at the same time, it's a miracle, it's an ecstasy."

Yes. I understood that. That's it. That's what I want my students to feel. But I think that I won't assign To the Lighthouse for their summer reading.

Otis Summer of Art classes begin Monday, July 9.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How I Spent Mother's Day

Here's how I spent my Mother's Day . . .
. . . drawing tiny fruit. Each piece of fruit is 1-1/2 inches square. The entire sheet is just under 8-1/2" x 11".  Later I will cut, heat, and shrink them down to about 5/8" each.

Believe it or not, spending hours drawing tiny fruit makes me pretty happy.

The only thing that made it even better . . .
. . . taking a long break to lay in the hammock in the back yard while my guys bar-b-cued ribs and bacon-wrapped corn on the cob.

As I lay in the hammock, listening to the birds and the conversation, I noticed how unusually quiet it was in our little section of northeast L.A. - no baseball games at the park, no cars racing down Eastern Ave., not even a police helicopter circling overhead. Everyone, it seems, was at home quietly celebrating their mom.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Too Focused on Results

When we are tense, nothing much good happens. When we are too focused on the result, the result actually suffers. When our expectations of ourselves are too close to the surface, they get in the way of fulfilling the very expectations that we know we are capable of and most need to meet.

Last week in life drawing class, we did quick ink wash drawings. Poses were three minutes only. In that short amount of time, we tried to get to the essence of the pose, with as few lines as possible getting movement, mass, and elegance. There wasn't enough time to worry about whether that swipe of ink was the perfect outline.

In this exercise, if you're tense, nothing much good happens. If you're too focused on the result, you'll never have the faith to leap ahead, jump right in, before time is up.

And to make things even better, we worked on scraps of paper, envelopes, pages torn from discarded books. This artwork was starting out as trash, so what worries could we possibly have?

After an hour or so of those ink wash drawings, we settled into a longer pose. I had dropped my expectations and no longer seemed to care about the perfect figure drawing.

And now, finally, I'm starting to get some results.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Process vs. Mistakes

"Learn from your Mistakes." We've been told this over and over throughout our lives. I've probably said it myself, thinking it good advice.

And while it is true, it doesn't really help.

When I think about the mistakes that I've made in my life, my face starts to burn, my breath comes shallow, and I push those thoughts aside. Mistakes are for moving on from, forgetting, leaving them behind. 

Mistakes are for erasing.

In the continuing saga of my life drawing class, I have been horrified by my mistakes. I've wanted to hide them, they make me nervous, my face starts to burn . . . . And that of course makes it impossible for me to learn from them.

But a couple weeks ago I remembered - I love process. I seem to love the doing more than the final product. So why haven't I been able to enjoy the process of learning to draw the figure?

I love being in the classroom; I love the luxury of three uninterrupted hours of drawing; I love sitting on those uncomfortable drawing horses; I love moving my hand and arm around in front of a big piece of paper; I love glancing back and forth between model and drawing, model and drawing. So why was I feeling so frustrated and defeated?

And then I had it: Substitute the word process for the word mistakes.

"Learn from your Mistakes the Process!" 

And you know what? Last week, finally, after 6 weeks of classes, I started getting it. I started relaxing, and making steps towards some work I could be proud of.

I no longer feel like I'm making horrible mistakes. Instead, I can look at what I've done, even my most alarmingly awkward figure drawings, and be happy because I am learning from the process.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Pocket Full of Snails

Today Donkey and I went for a walk in the amazing Debs Park. It is one of our best kept secrets here in northeast Los Angeles.  I've been there many times, even had a family birthday party there last year, but each time I go, I wander a little farther and am always thrilled by what I find. It's my new favorite place.

At the park, walk up the road to the pond (or follow one of the many paths through the trees). Stand in the shade and check out the view. This is as far as most venture. But keep on going. The paved road is mostly shaded and follows the crest of the hills northward soon leaving the graffiti behind while many small hiking trails wind their way among the hills giving spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Arroyo Seco, and downtown Los Angeles.

Benches are found in unexpected and strategic places and there is even a well maintained picnic area far back in the park.

After another fabulous walk today, we left the park and I desperately needed something cold to drink. I found a little burger joint and went in to get a soda. Donkey waited outside. I hurriedly reached into my pocket for some crumpled dollar bills. And I laughed at myself, feeling like a little kid just coming in from playing all day on the hillside.

You can see a finished snail in my shop

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How to Stop the Circle of Doubt

I came home from my life drawing class last night frustrated and defeated. So defeated that I wanted to throw up my hands and give up on all my current creative pursuits. Felt like such a poser. "Whoever said I was good at this? Not me!"

Pulling myself together enough this morning to sit at my work table and make something, I sorted through the bits and pieces and came across this:
Donkey is the name of my Golden Retriever

I don't know how much it really helped, but it certainly gave me a moment to get out of my head and stop the endless circle of doubt. (Donkey is the name of my Golden Retriever, I talk about him here.)

And then in floated my teacher's words from the first day of class: "Most of you will want to quit around the middle of the semester, some of you will disappear." Guess what? Next week is the middle of the semester. Maybe I'm not so terrible. Maybe, in fact, I'm right on track.

I think I might make myself a name tag with this "My Donkey is _____" scrap of paper. Then, next week when I'm frustrated again (and I know I will be), I'm going to pause, read my name tag, stop the circle of doubt, and get on with it!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Becoming a Student Again

I tell my students that drawing is scary.

But on Tuesday nights, I remove my teacher's persona, and I become the student. It's hard.

I'm taking a life drawing class at Otis. My teacher is my colleague. And I'm exposing to him (and all the world) a huge gap in my knowledge.

In a life drawing class we draw from a live nude model. Everything in a life drawing class feels vulnerable, including me.

When I walk into his class I need to be willing to be terrible. I can't be there with anything to prove.

Drawing is scary, I tell myself.
But in the end, it's just charcoal on a piece of paper.
And I'm better for it.

(These drawings are 3 to 5 minute poses from our second class meeting.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Family of Charcoal Drawings

Most of my classes are for older students (high school and above) who are working on portfolios for art college admissions. But sometimes I also teach younger people.

I don't know about you, but when I was 9 years old, I was still drawing goofy hearts and rainbows. Look what 9-year-olds are up to these days . . .

In this class for homeschoolers at Excellence in Education, I have a whole family - including Dad! They are a talented group.

We meet for only one hour, once a week. And again, my students amaze me.

Note: I apologize - when photographing the work, I did not have the youngest son's drawing with me, or I surely would have included it!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Thrills of the Public Library

I love my library. I can get almost any book and keep it for weeks on end, free of charge. It's rather amazing. 

I also love the little unexpected pleasures that come from sharing books with thousands of people all across the huge city of Los Angeles.

A while back, I read The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N by Leo Rosten. As I finished the last page, I felt pleased and satisfied. Not quite ready for the book to be over, I slowly turned the end page and found one last perfect word:
My reaction, exactly.
More recently I was reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Lots of great insight about art making and the obstacles we encounter. A good portion of the book is about what the author calls "Resistance." It describes the self-sabotage that seems a part of most artists' lives. The reader cannot help but instantly recognize instances in their own life where resistance has played a major role in keeping success at bay. Here is a page that really got me thinking and examining the role of resistance in my life.

Let me zoom in and show you what else I found at the bottom of that page:

Apparently, I wasn't the only one examining their life.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Storytelling at the Long Beach Playhouse

In July and December, I was lucky enough to be included in a story telling contest at the Long Beach Playhouse (in Long Beach, California). The stories had to be true, something that happened to the teller, and told in less than 6 minutes.

July was my round of semi-finals, in which I placed second, allowing me to continue on to the finals.

My qualifying story was about my mother's final days with brain cancer, and her surprising final words. It was wonderful to tell that story in public and huge thanks for my friend Wendy. She was my coach and made all the difference.

So there I was, riding my scooter to the bus stop ...

For the finals on December 29th, I chose a story as different as I possibly could - a funny story of my adventures one day when I found myself in the role of "the crazy lady" on the city bus. (See what I looked like when I returned home that day from my crazy bus trip.)

. . . I fell hard. On my head . . .

Not sure what I'm talking about here.

What a great experience! But, ah well, I placed 2nd again.
Whatever the outcome, I was proud of myself for pushing to do something new, (as my friend Jason says: for showing up and saying Yes!) that I had serious doubts about several times, on the verge of cancelling my participation at one point. My favorite part of the whole thing, which I would not have wanted to miss for the world, was my husband's beaming, smiling face as I returned to my seat after my tellings.

People commented that I looked comfortable up there on stage, acting out my crazy-lady adventures. I admit, I was nervous, but I realized that standing up in front of my students - acting out my excitement and love of drawing, often spontaneously and helplessly breaking out into song - all those years of teaching had prepared me well.

(Thanks to Pam and Sherry for the photos.)