Springtime Hope

We continue to get sparkles of springtime here. There’s wind, there’s cold, there’s springtime sunshine, there’s chill in the air, there’s blowing dust, there’s warm currents. The times of bright sun shining down on the bare treetops, some which are not so bare, continue to convince me that we will soon have days of uninterrupted sunshine. That’s the way it is here in the desert southwest. It’s one of the many things I love about living where I do. I can’t quite image myself living with real winters and coping with days and days of snow. These days of transition from what many wouldn’t even call winter into uninterrupted sunshine entice me, remind me that lasting sparkling warmth is near .

The studio is my refuge; there I can zone out, tune in to what’s happening on the inside of me, wrestle with it, attempt to dance with it, put it down in color and texture and shape. Sometimes I teeter along the edge between words and imagery. It brings to remembrance a quote from John Muir: “The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls.”

Thirty in Thirty

Painting thirty images in thirty days, fascinating challenge. Today I’m posting the latest few. There may be another small batch, if I get the finishing touches on them today, but getting them photographed and posted will take longer. I can get the best photos when I take the works outside and use my camera, so I know I won’t get that done today. I seem to fall in love with the work when it comes together, but sometimes when there’s been a wrestling to get my ideas to manifest themselves on the paper or panel, and I’ve had to do some serious pursuit, the love develops without the same passion. Right now, I’m truly in love with “Opening.” The blue/ochre/rusted deep colors, layered over old Bible pages and Greek text with suggestive containment in distorted circles, drops of power expressed in a triad of red touches make me think of an ancient wall embedded with a convoluted, rich history of events. The poignant angled ridges of built-up color give a roughness to the wall with the contrasting rusty streaks of color over smooth metallic gold paper. High in the composition and off-center the “Opening” breaks through to light and joy and beauty. A pot of geraniums catches the light; the exquisite organic life of red blooms and cool green leaves with dark shadows falling on a ledge offers the expression of newness and liveliness opening through the ancient, historic, rough wall.Opening -2                                                                         OPENING
                                               (watermedia/collage on paper, 14X11)

The Earth Is Full                                                        THE EARTH IS FULL
(watermedia/collage on paper, 15X15inches, (sold)

EARTH ANGEL: An angel is like an arrow of light cutting through the dark.(sold)
(smoked, embellished clay)

Earth Angel-listen closely                                   EARTH ANGEL: Listen closely and you will hear angels
silently cheering you on.
(smoked embellished clay)…..(sold)
Earth Angel-The pure joy of angels....            EARTH ANGEL: The pure joy of angels is like fresh air for the soul.
(painted, embellished clay)…….(sold)










Thirty and Thirty

I must say the thirty days of September have been flying along and my works and I have been flitting along with them. I think I will actually have 30 new works, maybe even a few extras! Two or three are larger pieces which have been developing alongside of the smaller ones. I’ve been saving the finished pieces in the studio, not consigning them out to galleries, so I can look at them altogether. Although they seem to be a hodge-podge without much of a focus, I can see clearly that they are mine. In the early days when I heard concerns among fellow artists of “developing a style,” seasoned artists advised that it shouldn’t be a “concern.” A “style” would develop naturally over the seasons of practicing the craft of expression. I have found that to be good advice. My ways of expression have truly become mine. Some of the works continue to pursue ideas that I have been exploring for some time: newness, beginnings, strength, endurance, words, fragility. Others have landed on the papers without much context. Maybe they are invitations to explore new realms.
Because tomorrow is “change around” at The Artist Gallery here, I plan to hang many of them. It will give me a new view of them, grouped together on a wall (I don’t have space in the studio to hang them all). So, “take note” if you who want to see what I’ve been doing. These are some of the latest:
Autumn Cycle                                                                
                                           (acrylics on cradled panel, 10X8X2 inches)

(acrylics on a cradled panel, 10X8X2 inches)

 Afternoon Peace                                                             AFTERNOON PEACE
(acrylics on a cradled panel, 8X10X2 inches)…..sold
Clothed in Splendor                                                    CLOTHED IN SPLENDOR
(watermedia/collage on paper, 18X14 inches)

Gether Up                                                                    GATHER UP
(watermedia/collage on paper, 14X9 inches)

Earth Angel                                                 EARTH ANGEL, WITH STAMPS
(painted clay)



Playing in a “series”

Clay Mail Grouping A

Clay Mail Envelopes
(painted and embellished clay)

In April this year, I posted a blog about working in a series. I have strong emotions (opinions?) and a powerful commitment to my way of working with an idea until I have made it my own. The exploration continuum has taken me deeper into visual expression than any efforts to capture new imagery with each creative session. A rich and meaningful poignancy has mounted up over years of probing around, into, and through a series.

Within the last couple of years I have unbuckled my work from schedules, commitments to others, to classrooms and students and from shows and festivals. Released from the avenues of work, what I am now doing in the studio romps, mostly, in the fields of play. Skipping out of my painting studio often and showing up at the co-op pottery studio surprises me with a compelling invitation to play.  With an archaic childhood memory of mud pies returning to my consciousness, I have tossed clay up in the air, pounded it with force and rolled it flat. Drawing shapes, folding, patting and pinching clay harken to the girl that hasn’t entirely disappeared from my persona. Though I’m surprised, no one else finds it unexpected that I would continue to play “in a series.”  These recent years of playing in the dirt have yielded numerous envelopes, probably more than a hundred angels, and a myriad of boxy pieces I call “altars.” Staying with a series of related pieces indeed seems to be my way of expression and I make no apologies for “sticking with it!”
Group 2Clay Mail Envelopes
(painted and embellished clay)

I haven’t made any clay envelopes in a while, I don’t know if that series is over or not. I think it may be meshing with the clay angels. I call the clay angels “Earth Angels” and have included some of them on the “Clay” page of the website, and a few more here.
3 AngelsAngel Duo




Word AngelAngel with rabbit fetish

Angel with rusts and browns Earth Angel-bird with bird fetishes, detailBelow is a smoke fired angel that I embellished with an envelope, making me wonder if the angels are meshing with the envelopes. I liked it so much that I have begun to experiment with cutting a place in the body of some of the angels and putting an envelope there. I will post more of the continuing playful series of Earth Angels on the “Clay” page when they are finished.
smoked, contrastDSCM3614, detail

Working In a “Series”

Several days ago I spoke with an artist visiting The Artist Gallery in Carlsbad, NM where I live. He talked about his works in acrylics, his techniques, and his imagery. He referred to himself as a “streaking” artist, which he described as streaking from one thing to another. He enjoys trying new things and his interests are widespread, in subject matter and in technique. He was quite surprised when I told him, I seem to be more of a “pedantic” artist, dwelling in one series of images for long periods of time, and although I use a wide variety of techniques there is definitely an “HGwinn” quality about them. When I told him my “Envelope Series” contains well over a hundred images, he was stunned. I wonder how he would have responded had I told him about Mark Gould  who now has over 900 images in his series entitled “My Neighbor’s House.”

My Neighbor's Houses #808 “MY NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE 808”
acrylic painting on panel,24×30 inches
Mark Gould, artist

                       For me it is rare (but it does occur) that I complete an art piece and  feel it is  a full expression. When I finish a painting I commonly feel both content with the completion and a question in my mind about parts of it. Could I have done that shape better? added or reduced the amount of texture? Have I brought a wholeness into the design? Are the compositional details coordinated? Is the content, the imagery, compelling? Is there more to express?
In the late 1980’s when my daughter went off to college, we communicated mostly by letters…..now called “snail mail.” It was in the days when there was no email, cell phones were barely being heard of and long-distance phone calls were costly. It wasn’t long before I was aware that we were communicating more clearly through the written word than we had during her adolescent high-school days. I was loving to find an envelope in my mailbox with her return address on it. Soon envelopes and letters began to turn into imagery showing up in my mixed media paintings. Today the “Envelope Series” has nearly 200 pieces in it and has morphed into the “Cliff Gifts Series.” Tiny packets (envelopes of a sort) are packed and secured into the painted/collaged cliffs of this series.
Cliff Gifts Series-Amber CanyonCLIFF GIFTS: AMBER CANYON
mixed media painting, 20X13X1.5 inches
Helen Gwinn, artist
The Cliff Gifts Series currently contains more than a hundred pieces. While it seems to be waning in my focus, another series, “The Nests,” is developing. These images of freedom, of nurture and refuge are important elements for me to express. Although birds and nests have been important symbols throughout my days of painting, they are now dominant and demanding my attention.
mixed media on panel, 16X12X2 inches
Helen Gwinn, artist


Nest Series: Different ViewpointsNest Series: Different Viewpoints
(acrylics on paper, 29X21, framed: 36X29 inches, simple mahogany frame)

Tangled, knotted
Flitting, flying,
Soaring, stalling
Serious and silly thoughts
Stammer through neural corridors.
Some syncopated concentrations,
Stunned, dazed and daunting,
Twirl themselves
Into fractal rhythms,
Threading along tracks of consciousness.


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.


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


The intuition hides out in a part of my thinking that doesn’t have reliable words attached to it. It doesn’t even operate within parameters that I can get a grip on. It is beyond reason, above rationale, outside of calculations, without logic, and yet it holds innumerable gifts. It is generally dependable, that is, if I’m willing to go with its peculiar ways, and be okay without knowing in any logical fashion where it is leading me and be okay with trusting it even when I can’t put the ideas in a list, in a box, or arrange them by color, size, direction, texture, shape or line. “Intuition” is a word I hear people use when they talk about knowing something without having learned it. I remember when my son was quite young he could often provide answers to mathematical problems without knowing how he arrived at them. Intuitive knowing isn’t arrived at through conscious reasoning or manifested through deductive process. It has a spiritual quality, an insightful way about it and often the intuition is loaded with emotion.  Many Christians, including me, believe intuitive knowing is a gift from the Holy Spirit.
“Operating intuitively” is the way I choose to think about the way I create. Whether I’m journaling, painting, collaging or shaping an assemblage, I START with materials that I select without any rational process. For a painting, I like to brush paint on paper or on a gessoed panel with free flowing strokes with no thought of what the final product will look like. I may choose a favorite color, or some colors on my palette that are suffering from neglect. Or I choose colors that seem to match my mood, or the weather outside my studio window.  Maybe what’s floating in the atmosphere prompts color choices: could be peace, tension, sadness, expectation, joy, hope or some other emotion. After a few layers of paint I often select some papers from my huge collection and glue them into the composition.
Below are several different STARTS with notations about how many layers of paint have been intuitively applied to the paper:
ONE LAYER:ONE LAYER                                               TWO LAYERS:TWO LAYERS

FOUR LAYERS:FOUR LAYERSI continue to add, intuitively, to the surface……adding a variety of strokes, stamping patterns on the composition, dropping in some texture (pumice gel, opaque flakes, tar gel, sand…..) Eventually what I see on the paper may call to my more rational side. A more representational image may begin to develop. Possibilities are wide open……….the composition begins to “tell me” what it wants to be! I listen, I ponder, I asses. Rarely is there one direct way to completion.

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)