Lately I’ve been playing again with crafting in clay. It feels like a side trip, a diversion. I am painting some, but the intensity has given way to this fun craft work that is growing inside. There’s no doubt that I’m a painter, a mixed media painter, a collager.  Today I’m thinking of the talk of “content” which  I’ve heard in watermedia workshops. Beginning painters struggle with technique, skills and learning the characteristics of the materials. At some point along the trip the intricacies of skill building make way for a trek into the wilderness of content. That path  is laden with a longing to express more. It is fraught with bumps, and potholes, and boulders. There is something within that has no verbal expression, it demands visual materials. It is demanding and exacting requiring deep personal investment. I accept the challenge and love grappling with it but sometimes I need a side trip.
And so I have taken off on this spur of clay……..trying for ideas without skills, content without developed means of expression. Backwards. Actually I don’t even want to learn the characteristics of clay, or build any skills, I just want to make things. It’s exciting and scary, a process that’s risky and inviting. For a year or so, I’ve made envelopes and angels and lately a few “altars.”

Clay Mail, Gabfest“Gabfest”

Register to Vote“Register To Vote”

Clay Mail, Triangular Pouch“Triangular Mail Pouch”

Envelopes have been a major force in my work for many years so it makes sense for them to morph from paper and paint to clay and embellishments. I paint them with acrylics, and embellish them with postage stamps and a myriad of other things.

The angels just may be a quirk.  Some of them are funny and kinda charming and definitely not part of my usual serious nature.

 Angel With Beaded Belt




Angel with Blue WingsAngel with Patchwork dressAngel with Orange SandalsAngel With Orange SandalsAngel With Orange SandalsAngel With Orange SandalsAngel With Orange Sandals

Angel With red squaw skirtAngel With Yellow Dress

The way they are developing however seems to prove the validity of working in a series.  I see more and more in them, more possibilities of expression. The clay crafted angels have grown increasingly complex and expressive…….maybe they are on their on their own trip and I’m along for the ride.

THE ALTARS are something else:
The Altars-Good News“Good News”

The Altars-Planting Time“Planting Time”
“Hasten slowly”……..Augustus Caesar


“Hurry? I never hurry. I have no time to hurry.”
Igor Stravinsky

I want to learn to wait, stall my impetuous spirit now and then, I hope I’m learning.
I have no skills to craft a box-shape from clay,  but I am making these boxes to convey my idea of an altar.  It’s okay if it is a crudely formed box; I just want a point of focus to express “altar,” “shrine,” “sanctuary:”  a place of prayer, a place of dreaming, a place of hope, a place of stillness and waiting. Jacob wrestled with God in a dream. When he awakened he made an altar. I think the altar was a rock he had used as a pillow, or maybe it was a pile of rocks, yet it marked the place of a dream, a place of prayer, a place of hope for him. My altars do the same for me. They are road signs along the way of my side trip where I have made confession, presented petitions before God, heard good news,  found shelter, and tried to wait in the Presence of the Lord.

The Altars-Petitiions

The co-op pottery where I work functions under the umbrella of the Carlsbad Area Art Association. There I can buy clay, shape it, get my pieces fired and even use shop tools. Most of the potters own their own tools and have many gadgets to assist in their work. The clay artists work together with a generous camaraderie.  I am learning a lot from them. They contribute to the joy of my side trip.


Studio, 1Today is the day to confess that I am a slob. It’s painful to say that. Maybe I can weasel out of calling myself a “slob,” maybe it is not the right word, maybe it is too strong…… messy sounds better. I’ve always said that I like “relaxed order.”  I do like for things to be in their place, and my studio is lined with drawers and vertical files so I can stow my art supplies in an orderly way.
I used to say about a friend, “She doesn’t need an orderly environment, her head is organized.” I can always find the materials I want. Occasionally I clean the studio, put away all the materials and enjoy looking at my clean white counter tops. But the minute I begin to work, the clean white counter tops disappear, and my drafting table work surface gets busy, chaotic and messy. For many years I felt a lot of guilt about letting the studio get so chaotic; but I have come to accept that the way I work at creating my art expressions has a messy fallout.
I studied with Bob Burridge last summer; he encourages his students to clean up at the end of the day so that the work spaces are peaceful and inviting when you begin to work the next morning.  I love this advice and I want to heed it……….but at the end of the day, I have no energy for clean up,  (just enough to clean the brushes so they will still be brushes the next day and not stiff sticks). The next morning the work area is inviting to me when I can just pick up and continue.   David Hockney has said, ” “Most artists work all the time. Especially the good ones. I mean, what else is there to do?” Well, we could clean our studios!
Studio, 2Noel Coward has said, “Work is more fun than fun.” Somehow when I begin to clean my studio, I get distracted and begin to work. Cleaning is not associated with fun in my mind, but painting-drawing-gluing-tearing-stitching- making things, is fun. I pull out lots of papers and other embellishments when I’m collaging. I need to look for just the right piece so keeping a variety of pieces in sight seems necessary. Chaos develops. I confess that sometimes I do go overboard and get my drafting table so cluttered that I have to stop
and clear the area so I can continue. I’m not exactly proud of my working ways, but they are mine, and I love to work and my work gets done.

Studio, 3I like this quote from  Henry Brooks Adams: “Chaos breeds life when order breeds habit.”  Hopefully life is indeed “breeding” in my studio.
On the “Collage”  and “Paintings” pages of this website, I’ve posted some new life that recently developed out of the chaos in my studio.

Good-bye Cobalt Teal

The Cliff Gifts Series: Shelf CanyonTHE CLIFF GIFTS SERIES: SHELF CANYON

Startled and unsettled barely describe the prospect of being without one of my precious colors, “cobalt teal.” What New Mexico Artist hasn’t relished the azure blue skies here that so inspire us? We use that exquisite color, not only to express the sky color but also for thousands of other ideas and symbolic images that are intrinsically a part of our identity.  The tints and shades of “cobalt teal” have held a vital place on my palette.  Not long ago, one of my students even called it “Helen’s Turquoise.”
Recently I was in one of my favorite art supply stores and purchased a jar of “Cobalt Teal” of GOLDEN ARTIST COLORS paint.  I was startled to learn that the color is being discontinued in all of their lines of paint!
A few years ago, GOLDEN ARTIST COLORS had to discontinue another of my vital colors, “Quinacridone Gold.” It was replaced by “Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold.” The new color is not the same, it is a near miss that I have learned to use. Though I wasn’t sure I would, I have indeed survived, thrived even. I suppose I will again survive this drastic change, but I am disturbed and unsettled that now I have to use “Teal” or some other substitute color rather than my beloved “Cobalt Teal.”
I am reminded that Carole Barnes once told her students to temporarily eliminate a color when they become too dependent. It can be a challenge to stretch ones creativity. I ask you, what would Carole do without RED? and what am I going to do without “cobalt teal?

GOLDEN Cobalt Teal Replaced with Teal
Cobalt Teal Teal
Dear Customers of GOLDEN Cobalt Teal (all product lines):
Due to the pigment being discontinued by the manufacturer, Golden Artist Colors, Inc. has found it necessary to discontinue the existing Cobalt Teal across all color lines.
We recognize that this is a very valuable color for many artists and for that reason we worked diligently to find an alternate source of pigment, but were unable to find one that would give us the clean color artists love. As a result, we felt it was important to retain and replicate the color space as closely as possible. After several trials, we landed on a blend that will be called Teal. This new color Teal is a very close match to the existing Cobalt Teal in the masstone and is a bit stronger as a tint.
While losing the original Cobalt Teal will be disappointing for many, we feel that the new Teal will serve most artists quite well and as a side benefit, it will be a less expensive Series 3 color. The new Teal will start being available in art stores sometime in February or March.



Oftentimes words are a marvelous aid to finding my visual images. When I am working to externalize in visual form what lies hidden within, words can assist me.  At beginning points, at stopping points, at questioning points, at stymied points, I stop and write, the words help me find my message. The process produces a variety of results: clarification, motivation, new perspectives, correction, challenges, hope, direction, excitement. Sometimes the writing consists only of word lists. Recently the following list developed in my journal/sketchbook:

opening, revealing, reaching, mysterious, ridges, cliffs, rocky, hard, harsh environment, energy, life was held protected by cliff walls, softness required protection, vulnerability held close, interior is complex, intricacy, reverence, worshipful, private, bound, prepared, restrained, valued, meditative, contemplative, private joy, personal peace, rare grace, more exposed in the world, emerging, carrier, enveloped…….

mixed media, 14X12 inches

“Always give your ideas time to take hold. Keep your dreams alive.” (I’m not sure of the source of this quote)

I journal regularly. Often I’m sorting through my ideas as I write so some of the work is done before I go to the studio to paint. My journals and my sketchbooks overlap. I write to myself about my ideas in my journal and sometimes that writing includes a sketch. My sketchbook contains sentences and paragraphs along with drawings, sketches and pasted scraps of papers which remind me of my thoughts. I recommend keeping journals, visual journals, and sketchbooks. They are a rich source to supply your visual works with expressions of your authentic self.

Deep Canyon                  The Cliff Gifts Series: DEEP CANYON
                             watermedia/collage, 15X28X2 inches
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
Mary Oliver

Sacred Encounter

On one of my routine early morning walks up the Ocotillo Trail I noted a cluster of walkers standing in the trail ahead. One person raised a hand of caution and directed my attention off to the side of the trail. A night hawk, a Whip-Poor-Will, was on the ground not far from the trail. She was difficult to see, for her coloring was the same as the rocks and dirt where she nestled. Eventually when I could see her I joined the awestruck focus of the little group of reverent spectators touched by God’s amazing creation.
Day after day, I could barely wait to walk the trail. Hastily scribbled signs were stuck to the gate at the trail head: “Please leave your dogs home!” and “Keep dogs on a tight leash?”and “Bird nesting near trail.” Mother Whip-Poor-Will episodes were better than the movies. Sometimes we had to look for a long time which caused fear that she had moved away from us. Sometimes she was very close to the trail, sometimes under a bush or near her favorite rock.
One day, a friend and I stood for a very long time watching her breathe, open her eyes and close them again. Suddenly we were stunned when a tiny yellow fluff ball popped out from under her soft brown breast. The miraculous birth had taken place! The mother bird barely seemed to notice when two more tiny babies moved from her warm protection into the hazy morning light and joined in an awesome ritual of newness. For days the playful dance of the wee birds continued. We gasped as they moved farther and farther away from Mother Whip-Poor-Will.  She seemed uninterested in their antics yet always ready when they ducked back under her breast for solace. Amazed and dazzled by this encounter with God’s creative force, we watched, hushed by sheer wonder.
Near The Trail“NEAR THE TRAIL” (mixed media)

This painting belongs to a series of art pieces I have entitled “THE GIFTS.” Most of the pieces in the series have little gift packets which contain mysterious literal gifts: passages from scripture, musical score, beautiful papers, postage stamps, medallions, quotations from life’s spiritual seekers, meaningful symbols of faith and/or tiny natural objects such as feathers, stones and shells. They are hidden from view but their mysterious presence is intended to impact the composition.
Selecting colors and textures for this piece caused a sense of worship to develop in my spirit. It’s a sensation I often experience as I work. The sensation of worship runs the gamut of emotions from doubt to exhilaration to peace and joy. Time disappeared as my focus intensified, trusting the Spirit, choosing symbols to include, deciding on shapes and brushing on the paint, for I hoped to commemorate the sacred encounter I describe above.
“NEAR THE TRAIL” has an overall shape I associate with a worshipful place, a sanctuary. Eggs often symbolize new life or new beginnings and they do for me too, along with other varieties of newness. The delicate green leaves in the upper part are an additional symbol of newness and growth.
The art piece includes a portion of Psalm 139 handwritten from my memory. It contains the question: “Where can I go from Your (God’s) Presence?” and its answer: “If I ascend to heaven, You are there and if I make my bed in the pit, You are there. Even if I take the WINGS OF THE MORNING and settle at the most remote place, YOU ARE THERE. Your hand guides me and your right hand holds me fast.”
Near The Trail (detail)NEAR THE TRAIL (detail of gift packet)


Art and Soul Critique Group

I will be a guest artist for a two day session with the Art and Soul Critique Group in Albuquerque, next week on August 10, 11. This is a new experience for me and probably it is for them also. All of the members are advanced painters. I’ve been thinking about this delightful opportunity as I have painted in my studio over the past few weeks. What direction shall I go? They have asked for individual critiques and a demo. It will be a pleasure to see their recent works and talk to them about what I see. Looking at art is eye candy for me even when the images are disturbing or challenging.
I “go at” making art from a myriad of starting points so what shall I demonstrate? I can’t guarantee that I will reliably  arrive at a finished work in the time we are together.  Commonly, I have a selection of works-in-progress in my studio; oftentimes as many as 20 of them. I put one on my drafting table, work for awhile, set it aside and work on another,  set it aside and work on another.  I work with the hope that from time to time one lets me know it is finished.  Historically that happens. This is a selection of “starts” I have in the studio:
Starts 2
The one below intrigues me, it has possibilities. It has several layers of paint and a layer of collage on it  so far. I could easily add another layer of paint. A good cruciform design is developing. It has some good red which is making me think of the fabulous geraniums I have on my front porch.  The text in some of the collage papers is too strong, it needs to be knocked down some, so I will plan to  glaze some color over those papers, maybe even obliterate some of the text.

TASSO StartOften a work-in-progress “draws me in” during one of the sessions when I have worked on it,  gripping me and not letting  me quit until it reaches completion. It is exceedingly rare for me to start an image and progress in a linear/rational direction from the beginning to a finished painting.
The one below interests me also, maybe because of the red in the center, but this one is way too mushy for me. It needs a lot of work… will be a painting eventually. Sometimes I have to get tough when I’m coaxing the papers along: “You dirty rascal, you WILL give me a painting, I’m not letting up, I may have to let you rest but you’re a special work-in-progress, and later on we’ll continue to work! Count on it!” I’m reminded that Katherine Chang Liu says she sometimes wrestles her paintings to the ground!
Mushy start
I will probably gather up a stack of these works-in-progress to take with me and trust that one will make it to completion as I work on it in the presence of the critique group. Perhaps we will paint/collage together and a dialog will develop about what I’m doing on my image and why and what I hope to accomplish.
I plan to share with them one of my favorite quotations from Robert Rauschenberg: “I like to have the maximum lack of control so things can happen that I can’t think of.”  It’s the thinking part that often obstructs the creative process.  Accessing the non-rational, non-verbal, creative, intuitive, spiritual part of the brain feels like “the maximum lack of control,” but I have learned that it is a trustworthy process. It allows something powerful and creative to have control and extraordinary things happen.
I hope to encourage the painters in their individual approaches to painting. If they don’t paint the paintings they uniquely have in them, who will enrich the world with those paintings? Ingrid Bergman said, “Be yourself, the world loves an original.” She right! After all, “ART IS ART! and everything else is everything else!” (Ad Rhinehardt said that.)