Category Archives: Behind the Painting

Artist rant

When I was in kindergarten, I drew a totally kick-A picture of cops shooting a bank robber with what appeared to be laser beam guns (my dad watched a lot of Star Trek around me, ok?) (Jean Luc Picard > Captain Kirk any day.) and the creativity just kept on comin’. All my friends told me to be an artist. It wasn’t until I was like, um, 6, that my knack for bucking the system kicked in and I set out to be anything BUT what everyone said I should be. Possible career choices included 1. An architect 2. A little underwater bubble car driver that worked for big oil 3. An archaeologist 4. A police officer in New York City 5. A journalist 6. A preschool teacher 7. Someone in the Air Force–didn’t matter who. 8. A forest ranger 9. NOT a mom, ANYTHING but a mom. 10. And certainly nobody’s wife, because I do what I want.

And God, who invented bucking and systems, in His infinite wisdom, led me to where I am today, effectively fulfilling 100% of nothing whatsoever on my dream job list.

I’m a little bummed about the underwater bubble car, but He didn’t give me the math smarts to engineer a deep sea oil rig, or the dedication to become an architect, or the guts to pursue police-officer-ing, or the superhuman capabilities it takes to wrangle 25 4-year-olds for 7 hours. (*shudders*)

But He did let me be a good drawler. In sixth grade I owned art contests, and I earned mad cash drawing pencil-on-construction-paper portraits of my friends ($1 per portrait; approximately 3 hours worth of sketching and erasing.) In high school, I just stopped, because, teen pregnancy.

In college I had a drawing teacher who showed me the light–and that light was that everything I had been doing up until that point was wrong. Drawing got hard, yo–but I loved it even more. 80 years and a grazillion dollars later, I finally got my degree in graphic art and design, had another baby, and successfully did nothing whatsoever relating to my field for the rest of my life. Except draw and paint whenever I felt insane.

Over the years I’ve been encouraged to do several projects to earn money with my talent. Some of them have been beneficial, others…not so much.

Here are some things almost every artist would like you to know:

  • I’m not gonna draw you a tattoo.
  • No I will not spend $70 in supplies and eight hours of my time painting a wall-sized Frozen mural in your child’s room for $100.
  • No I will not sell you this original painting that took me 3 months to complete for $20.
  • No I will not show you how I did it, unless you want to sweat blood at two o’clock in the morning every morning for 90 days.
  • No I will not paint you that thing you saw on Pinterest for $20 because it will take me 2 hours alone just to tear apart the crappy wood pallet I had to hunt down and pay $20 for. If it “looked super easy”, then you do it.
  • If you think you could have done the baby name sign yourself for $20 then you should have done the baby name sign yourself.
  • I can draw easily in a certain style; in other styles I can draw with much effort and concentration; so, if you want a pair of canvas shoes adorned with a realistic-looking painting of Iron Man, it’ll cost you more than my ink doodle of a smiling onion, and that’s not cheap either because I am seriously attached to that cute little onion.
  • I’d rather set myself on fire than paint giraffe print on an entire piece of furniture, paid or not.
  • $25 per person for a painting party where I include all supplies and over 3 hours of instruction IS MORE THAN REASONABLE.
  • Unless you are tight with an artist–and I don’t mean tight like you waved to them at the PTO meeting two months ago–don’t ask them to paint something for nothing. It’s rude.

I don’t say any of this to be arrogant–but you’d be surprised at how many people–who don’t even know me that well–expect me to drool over the chance to make what amounts to half minimum wage by painting stupid crap for a corner of their dining room that’ll be in a garage sale by next spring.1 word: BALLS. Another word: ETSY.

Rant over. Caps lock: off.

God gave me a gift, but he didn’t give me a ton of time, so I want to use both where it counts. Here are things that I have felt most called to do and so fulfilled in doing them:

  • Painting rainbows and Spidermans on faces.
  • Art camps for underprivileged children who have never ever painted on a canvas before. The way their eyes lit up, you guys…ohz.
  • Painting with random kiddos that originally came over to my house to play with my kids, but inevitably end up at my table full of art supplies, and well, I can’t say no because they are just so sweet.
  • Art sessions for kids which includes a gallery night that usually eats up all my profits and then some, but makes both the children and their parents feel so special: LOVE it

It’s my path you guys. Some artists sell still-lifes of fruit for thousands of dollars. Others will so very gladly paint Elsa’s giant mug on your kid’s wall. Even more will giraffe-print the shit out of your thrift-store dresser.
I don’t want to turn away anyone who wants do art with me. I’m no expert but I love what I do. Friends won’t walk away painting like Van Gogh but I hope that they will feel relaxed and cared about, and proud, and also covered in paint and gesso and charcoal and modge podge.



Here’s what I like: my garden, for two weeks in June. The birds that live in mud condos all around our house get really pissed at me for doing it, but every evening I go out and fill up a whole stinking bucket of blackberries and I feel like a farmer–and also Elijah Kelley in 2007’s Hairspray, because I can’t help but sing Run and Tell That while I am picking blackberries, and now neither can you, if you know that song and you pick blackberries.

My singing is only interrupted by Merrick, who murmers softly every five seconds, “That is one giant, juicy temptress.” And then of course I have to stop singing for a moment and laugh my head off.

Though he cannot be bothered to look at the camera, he has generously decided to show me part of his haul.

Though he cannot be bothered to look at the camera, he has generously decided to show me part of his haul.

I have been trying to paint a little bit to keep from going off the cliffs of insanity. My current goal is to find a way to create large-scale paintings without having to step foot in Hobby Lobby. So I got a canvas dropcloth for $5 at Lowes and went all inaccurately-colored rainbow-at-sunset on it:

I call it "Inaccurately-colored Rainbow At Sunset".

I call it “Inaccurately-colored Rainbow At Sunset”.

If all goes according to plan, I will be stretching this canvas on a beautifully handcrafted frame (a future courtesy of my loving husband) and hanging it in the baby’s room at the new house. It’s bold, but I might as well embrace it rather than set up some gentle pastel-and-gray color scheme which is sure to be ruined immediately the obnoxiously bright paraphenalia that babies come with anyway.

Next painting, though, I will stretch and prime the canvas before painting it. I should have done it with this one. I got too eager.

I need Caleb to get poppin’ on those future stretcher bars. I’ve got a million more ideas and the wall space to support them…the perfect storm.

art and whine

I’m down for the count this morning since apparently scrubbing my own shower yesterday for the first time since um, probably Russel Crowe was born, sent my temperamental uterus into a midnight hissy fit from which there was no escape. I spent hours in Braxton-Hicks hell and Caleb has placed me firmly on couch arrest. So I’m taking most of today off and over-sharing with you fine people instead of cleaning the house my mother will see (and smell!) in 2 days.

This whole fourth kid adventure has been an eye-opener. I’ve always, always had super easy pregnancies up until, well, I didn’t. My last 2 babies didn’t make it at all, and this one–while still superbly healthy in every way–has been giving me a run for my money for reals.

Cue the violin:

I don’t even recognize myself. It’s safe to say I’ve become the world’s worst pregnant woman. I’m exhausted, I’m cranky, and I’m starving–but only for french fries smothered in grease and salt. My legs and belly ache, my hands and feet swell, and I get winded after a 2-second trip to the bathroom–which, incidentally, happens 800 times a day.

I’m a measly 22 weeks and I’m toddling around like I’ve got a 5-year-old in my stomach. Bonus: I’ve (shockingly) only gained 7 pounds. Not-bonus: I’m measuring too humongous and this is supposedly a cause for concern. Doctors are like: “Cha-ching! That’ll be $300 for your fourtieth ultrasound. Thanks, and don’t let the ovary cam hit you on the way out!”


Second online rant of the week: over.

My contribution to our house-building endeavor:

This sink right here.

This sink right here.

I might go pick up one more just so we can cross 2 bathrooms off our list. Well, 2 bathroom sinks. Not including drains and faucets. So really I’m not a ton of help to Caleb at this point, but I can sure enough bargain hunt on Craigslist and that can be worth its weight in porcelain if I play my cards right. What does that mean? I have no idea. But if you come visit my farmhouse one day, you’ll have me to thank while you’re washing your hands in that bad boy.

Art and stuff: not a whole lot going on in this department. I did a couple of small projects this month and then I just sort of…quit. Merrick wore me down earlier in the spring with a request for an authentic pirate painting. He wanted me to help him create canvas magic with a realistic-looking Jack Sparrow. It started well: I let him cover the background with the color of his choosing. I sketched and erased and sketched some more. Merrick stroked in some dreadlocks:


Then I did a light wash of color, some more sketching and VIOLA! I was done with what was, I thought, a Caribbean masterpiece. But as it turns out, Merrick had very specific ideas and was ready to get his paint on. So I tried to plainly outline what I thought he might like to lightly fill in with a delicate paintbrush. Instead, he globbed on about 4 tubes of the thickest paint in my possession with a brush so large it practically qualified as a broom. Also, the good Captain needed a hat, not a lameballs bandana. What was I thinking?



It was so hard not to go straight Martha-Stewart all up on that kitchen table, what with the very conspicuous plastic brown turd on Jack Sparrow’s head, but I restrained myself to some light shading. The bottom line is this: Merrick got the picture of his dreams, and I know nothing of pirates.

In keeping with the swash-buckling theme (but not really but what do I know?), Merrick next decided to paint a volcano. At this point, he had realized that any input I had to contribute was only unhelpful and useless:

“What about palm trees, Merrick? Green leaves?”


“Want me to help you with your lightning?”


“Isn’t lightning white or yellow? Not black?”


“You really wanna do black lightning?”

“Black is cooler, mom.”




It did end up awesome, and we now have official decorations for at least one kid’s new room. Custom, hand-painted pirate-themed artwork? Check!

I paid $7.99 for a 2-pack of canvas at the store, plus what probably amounts to $10 in paint. You can’t beat the cost for 5 hours of creative thinking and color mixing. Plus, the sense of pride my kids get from a finished product of (mostly) their own doing? Freaking priceless.


Workin hard or hardly workin.

Learned an interesting lesson today by accident.

Merrick is home sick from school. He’s slightly head-achey but not dying, so I gave him a tiny cup of coffee and threw him some scrap paper and let him have at it. He diligently cut and stapled and ripped and folded and taped for about two solid hours, hard at work constructing first a house, then a car, and then an apartment building. He kept asking me to help him, and I honestly meant to do just that–but there was the laundry, and the dishes, and then of course my own art to attend to. I left him pretty much alone to his own devices there on the living room floor, despite his persistance in asking me to get all up in his posterboard koolaid. And you know what?

He built his own apartment building complete with doors and windows and support walls and a roof, all completely without my help.

The takeaway here? Sometimes us moms and dads just need to back the funk off, at least when it comes to art and creativity. Is it perfect? No. Did he figure it out on his own? Sure did. Is he proud of it? Yes indeedy. And I? Am proud of him.

Workin' hard, or hardly workin'.

My little engineer in the making.

Art in the garage.

Art is over.

5 weeks–gone. This past month sucker-punched me and everything went by so fast. One minute we’re reading about the quiet talent of folk artist Horace Pippin, and the next minute I’m trying to convince the kids (and myself) that spray-painting on buildings is, in fact, bad. (We ended up working on black foamboard. It’s kind of like a wall, right?)

We covered Pippin, O’Keeffe, Chihuly, Van Gogh, and Banksy–yes, Banksy. My hope was to not only touch on the mystery artist himself but to explore the overall concept of street art–so often graffiti is used to express political or societal views. Sticking it to the man is always fun and sometimes called for, but I wanted the kids to see that they could use art to spread messages of hope and kindness all sorts of other good stuff and junk.

We barely scraped the surface, because of this:

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We took up too much time in art class doing art.

For this starter street art project:

  • I got some foamboard. Get this crap on sale or use a coupon because it is not cheap.
  • Then I took chalk and traced the kids laying in crazy positions. It doesn’t have to be a perfect trace because you’re just looking to have a general shape.
  • We got acrylic paint (the thick gooey kind, even though acrylic craft paint might work just as well) in all kinds of bright colors, and started filling up the shape inside the lines. Some kids went all b-a-n-a-n-a-s and some kids were all kinds of methodical and geometric. The idea was to make it look kind of like graffiti, but I am not in the business of shutting down creative genius in progress. If a little girl wants to draw herself with eyes and hair and a pretty pink dress, then by cracky that’s what I’m gonna let her do.
  • I let them use a number of objects to get the paint on–brushes, brayers, rollers, brooms, and this weird-looking thatched tape that I found in my garage that probably belonged to my husband and I wasn’t supposed to touch. Think texture and patterns and just overall awesome mess-making.
  • Then, if they wanted to, they wrote words in graffiti-style handwriting that described themselves (funny, cool, silly, awesome, etc.)

They came up with some pretty cool finished products.

Banksy wasn’t totally kid friendly. His art definitely carries a message and I only ended up showing them about 2 examples of his actual work.

I get it–freedom of expression–it’s a beautiful thing. But can we not use it to encourage and uplift? Just something that’s been on my mind. I wanted my students to see the potential in that, but we didn’t go as deep as I would have liked. So because there was so much left unsaid, my next session–Spring of 2014 (as long as I’m not in between homes)–will focus on street art: sculptures, murals, street performances, etc.

Should be awesome.

Treasure Map Project

My house is one massive hunk of pestilence if I ever saw one.

And I hate head lice with the white-hot intensity of a thousand burning suns.

We’ve done 2 treatments each on my head and my kids’ heads with Lice MD, which doesn’t burn or smell–but it is for real some greasy oily sticky gooey mess. And if it doesn’t do the trick, my next step is to look into actual napalm. We’ve nit-picked every night and we’ve washed all the things, and hopefully, hopefully, we’re in the clear.

Both Mia and Merrick have been battling some sort of freak fever that comes and goes with suddenness and violence and I am just plum worn out from bleach-wiping every conceivable surface of my home in a futile attempt to keep everybody healthy.

The dogs still smell skunk-tastic. My parents will be here for their bi-annual visit and I’ve decided that the house will just not be clean. I’m gonna leave crap everywhere–scrap papers, beautiful “drawings” that my children have done, various art projects that would be homeless outside of my kitchen. The paint splatters in the sink. This is the place we live, in all its colorful, germy glory.

Anyways, because my kids still climb walls in sickness and in health, and because I love The Goonies, we decided to make a treasure map.

This was a fun thing to do with my kids. They thought I was a totally rockstar when I busted out with fire. Everything else, they could pretty much do themselves. Folks, it doesn’t get more pinteresty than this.

Forgive me if I didn’t take pictures of all the steps because I’m forgetful like that, plus this is by no means hard to do. You will need:

  • paper (nothing too thick, because it will be difficult to achieve a nice old worn-out look. Any size will do, depending on how big you want your map to be. We used some butcher paper from a roll we bought at Sam’s.)
  • a lighter
  • acrylic craft paint: red, brown, and like a burnt sienna color.
  • black ink (If you don’t have any, some slightly watered-down black paint should work.)
  • paper towels, paint brushes, water, and a hair dryer.

First, we burned the paper along the edges and also we burned a few holes in the middle.

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Next, we took the paper over to the table and laid it flat. We dipped our paper towels in water and squeezed them out a little bit, then dabbed the paper towels in the brown and burnt sienna paint, and rubbed the paper towels along the paper, covering every inch of both sides. (Dry the paper on the first side with the hair dryer before moving onto the back side.) The idea is to not get too heavy with the paint–use just enough to add a little watered-down color. Using the paper towels helps because it spreads the color well, and you won’t have any obvious brush strokes. (P.S. I’ve heard of dipping paper in tea. While that does tint the paper slightly, it does not give it that uneven, old, weathered look.)

After we blow-dried the back side, we started on the ink. (We used Higgins.) We got a tiny paintbrush, dipped it in the ink, and started making our drawings and dots and letterings and whatnot–anything you might think your map might need.


Then we took the red acrylic paint and painted the “X”. Also we flinged some “blood splatters” because really, what is a treasure map if it is not soaked with blood?

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Finally we blow-dried the whole thing again, stood back, and marveled at our creation:


He has the key to One-Eyed Willy.

Oh The Messes We Will Make

I’d like to say I’m not totally obsessed with this fall’s art session; that I’m not excited about the thought of ordering canvasses in bulk; I’m not at all giddy about watching the kids break in new paintbrushes.

But I am all those things. This fall session is going to be awesome.

We’ll create. We’ll dream. We’ll get up close and personal with flowers and junk like Georgia O’Keeffe. We’ll learn from the courage and honor of Horace Pippin. We’ll cry over the heart breaks of Van Gogh. We’ll figure out what’s up with Dale Chihuly’s pirate eye. We’ll make our town smile with mystery art like Banksy’s.

We will have paintings and sculpture and heart. We will think outside the box and break out of our bubbles. We will do serious art and we will love every stinking minute of it.

And gallery night? Well I’m starting to wonder if our town’s local library will be big enough to display all the awesome stuff we’ll do.

All my students happen to fall in the kindergarten through 4th grade range. I think back to my public elementary school art days, and I’m not sure I had the opportunity to use much more than color pencils and construction paper. But these guys will be spoiled as far as supplies go. I’m so stoked.

They may not paint a realistic still-life of a bowl of fruit (they may not paint anything that looks like much of anything to anyone), but if I can get them to open up artistically; to love and appreciate a variety of works from all kinds of artists, both traditional and non-traditional; to bubble over with ideas and enthusiasm; and to take pride in their creations–then I will have met my goal.

I’m so excited.

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