Acrylic Knife Painting

Lately I have been doing my landscapes in acrylic, still using the knife.  The transition to acrylic began with a request from some of my students.  I also like the slightly more posterized look of acrylics for some of my concepts.  Knife painting in acrylic has to be done very differently than knife painting in oil.  In oil I can play with the surface for as long as I like.  I can put down paint, move it around, mix other things into it, pick it up again, put it back down, etc. until I am satisfied.  Acrylics however dry much too quickly for this, forcing me to make a decision and stick with it or pile on top of it.  also, as the acrylic dries it’s consistency changes under the knife which creates some textures that are different from oil.

I like to change it up a bit- trying to do something different with the media forces me to keep questioning what I do and why.  Its part of being an artist to seek out new ways of challenging one’s craft.  It’s a life long process.

“How to” Books

I have discovered the world of “how to” painting and drawing books.  In the past I had always dismissed them as being only for the beginner.  Recently I have been using them as teaching tools in my classes and I have found the information in them to be quite useful in my own studio as well.  I am reminded of the reality of art making: there is no one way to do anything.  Every book offers slightly different opinions on topics like the best way to start, when to use black, how to layer… etc.  Not only do these books hep me brush up on my technique, but they inspire me to try new ways of using a media or approaching a composition.

I have checked out Landscape, by Richard McDaniels, from the library a few times.  This book covered the subject of landscape in various media.  I love the artworks used as examples!  Also this book has a number of fun, playful tips and techniques for making interesting art beyond the traditional approaches.  When I am feeling stuck, this gets me back in the studio.

Painter’s Block

Any creative person knows what it feels like when that creativity is “blocked”.  It is a feeling of anxiety, frustration, and confusion.  The past few weeks I have spent preparing for classes and upcoming exhibits  This means less time at the easel and more time at the computer.  This shift in focus makes it that much harder to go back to the easel when I have a few hours.  The best cure that I have found for painter’s block is to use the time for “play”.  Really good art should always be play, but allowing myself permission to deviate from a structured body of work or theme and experiment still feels a bit like recess.  Today I pulled out my colored pencils and worked them into a few struggling watercolors.  I didn’t worry about the end result or how this relates to any of my other work.  I cleared my brain and just made marks.  An unproductive morning suddenly feels productive.

Writing Daily

I cannot stress enough the importance of writing daily.  Whether it is done in a journal, sketchbook, or on the computer – an artist needs to write daily.  If you have ever had the experience of a profound insight while talking something out to yourself or to another person, then you know what I mean.  (This happens to me a lot in the car for some reason.)  Writing allows for an open stream of consciousness that leads to new ideas.  Sometimes it is really hard and I have to force myself.  I will begin by writing the most mundane things – what I am doing at that moment, what I dreamt about the night before, or what my plans for the day are.  Ideally this will lead to me writing about more complex issues regarding my life and art.  My life and art  are related and interwoven, so it is impossible to write about one without writing about the other.  Regardless, this active attention forces me to discover things about myself and my work.  It forces me to sit back and analyze my habits.  Writing leads to clarity and ultimately better art.  If necessary I often prompt myself with questions such as, “why am I painting this?” or “why did I use those colors?” or why is the painting this size?”.  These questions allow me to look more analytically at what I am doing and why.   This is helpful both before picking up the brush and also after putting it down.  Writing, done consistantly, will open creative doors you wouldn’t even know existed.  It all seems obvious enough but today I was looking back over some of my old journals and sketcbooks and I was reminded of this value.  I wanted to take the opportunity to share.  Happy writng!



A Typical Day in the Studio

Making art is a deeply personal process for an artist, and I would imagine every artist has their own rituals and routines.  Of course, anything that becomes too routine fails to break new ground and so part of the process is always looking for a way to change things up.  In reflecting on my own process, I can take note of the things that have perhaps become to ritualistic and also the things where some new depths could be explored.

I am typically a morning person.  That is when my brain comes alive with energy, ideas, and inspiration.  By sunset I am usually spent and not interested in use of mental energy.  Despite being a morning person, coffee always helps.  I decide over the first cup what I will be working on, what my goals for the day are.  The best place to start is often at my image folder on the computer.  I have hundreds of landscape photos I have taken over the years.  I usually look for one I have not painted yet or have not painted in a while that strikes me in the moment.

Once I have a picture chosen I often do a quick sketch in my sketchbook, but not always.  If I don’t quite feel ready to dive into a painting, I may tape down some paper to do a pastel drawing.  This gives me a chance to play with color relationships for a while.  As I work I often listen to podcasts.  I listen to a wide range of talks and interviews on science, art, literature, philosophy, news, etc.

Eventually I get to painting.  I select the size canvas or panel I feel is appropriate for the image.  I usually put down a base coat of acrylic that is colored the compliment of whatever color dominates the photo I am working from.  Then I put on my apron and gloves, lay out my paints and medium, and get to work.  A painting sometimes takes hours, sometimes days.  I work from back to front, blocking in the sky first, then middle ground, then foreground.  I use a large painting knife.  Once the canvas is covered I switch to smaller knives and occasionally brushes to build any desired detail.

When the painting is complete to my satisfaction, I sign it and leave it to dry.  I clean off my palette completely.  If time permits I will sit back and think about the painting and write about the experience of painting it.  Over the next few days I will pass it several times.  Sometimes I will change my mind and decide it is not finished after all.  But usually I allow it to be as it is and move onto the next thing.

The Colors of Winter

Winter is an exciting time for painting.  Yes, summer is full of bright colors, lush greens, and dramatic florals.  But winter offers some unique color situations as well.  In winter, the colors are cooler and the air seems thinner.  More importantly, when the snow falls everything is reflective.  The white snow and shimmery ice pick up all of the colors of the sky.  White snow is never really white as the surounding landscape bounces off of it.  These subtle reflections allow for so many possibilities beyond the standard earth and sky relationship.  I am fascinated and inspired by the season in exploring the colors of winter.


Image: Winter Colors, oil on canvas, 24″ x 36″

Wolf Kahn

Wolf Kahn is one of my absolute favorite artists.  I am drawn to his simple, brilliant colors in landscape.  He works in both oil and pastel to create whimsical yet powerful images.  This library book currently sits on my coffee table.  I might just have to buy it.  There are some fascinating essays about Kahn’s life.  The author, Justin Spring, helps provide perspective to Kahn’s evolution as an artist.  This book is full color and is truly stunning.

Wolf Kahn, Justin Spring, Abrams, NY, 2011

Currently Reading

I am working my way through Color by Victoria Finlay.  This book explores the historical background of colors.  I have thus far enjoyed the histories of ochre, brown, black, and white.  Finlay does a nice job balancing between history and anecdote to make it an entertaining read.  The book is dense at times, truthfully this is my second attempt at it. None the less, I find it well worth the effort.  For example- I didn’t know yellow pencils were painted yellow because the graphite originated in China and the color yellow made them look “oriental” .  I also just finished a section on how white lead paint was used in the early days for both painting and makeup.  As we now know,  many pale young women died of lead poisoning.

Color, Victoria Finlay, 2002, The Ballantine Publishing Group


I have finally started working larger.  It was time to explore my landscapes on a new scale.  The larger size allows me to loosen up a bit and have a wider range of mark making.  I am still using a painting knife regularly, but I now incorporate brushwork as well.  These can no longer be “alla prima” paintings and now I must readjust my work habits to paint in multiple sessions.  This means planning more carefully how the surface is built so that I can allow for adequate drying time.  This also means putting an unfinished painting aside for a week.  The downside is the anxiety I feel about just wanting to finish the thing.  The upside is that it forces me to sit back and take more time evaluating the painting in progress.  Transitioning into a new way of working is always challenging, but that which is challenging always inspires growth.

iPad Paintings

So I recently acquired an iPad (thanks Ben) and the most useful tool I have found on it so far has been the Sketchbookx Application (this is the free version).  It is a drawing and painting application that allows me to select brush size, opacity, color, etc.  There are pencil and marker tools as well.  I am still learning all of the different things I can do with it.  There is definitely a digital “look” to the finished product.  However, it’s useful for sketching out ideas or studies quickly and easily.  As an artist, it is always fun to try new tools and see how they integrate into studio work.  Another option I have toyed with is importing pictures of in-process paintings to this application and playing with ideas for the next step.

October Afternoon

20″ x 24″

acrylic on canvas


This is a bit of a departure for me, but I am having fun with my acrylics.  I have been using brushes again and playing with a loose, painterly approach.  Obviously a lot of autumn in my recent work- how could I not be inspired by the season?  This piece feels particularly personal to me.  I recall the afternoon I took this photo vividly. One benefit to working from photos is being able to relive the memory in creating the painting.


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I just wrapped up a 3 week class on Impressionist style landscape painting at the Cedarburg Cultural Center.  Being on a bit of a break from my regular studio work, I felt like channeling my inner impressionist yesterday.  Working from photographs I took at Peninsula State Park earlier this month, I whipped up some autumn paintings in acrylic.  I tried to force myself to stay loose and intuitive with the paint.  I tried to relinquish some control of mixing and detail.   I had fun and  I know that this will certainly inform my work going forward.  The classes I teach inevitably change me as an artist for the better.

On Teaching

This photo was taken in Peninsula State Park last weekend.  I was up in Fish Creek for a class on acrylic painting at the Peninsula School of Art.  At Peninsula they format their classes as multiple day-long workshops.  This format is incredibly beneficial to the students because they are literally on an art retreat.  They have the time to become immersed in what they are doing.  It is a retreat for me as well.  I feel fortunate that I was able to spend the weekend talking painting with a group of passionate art students.  After class I took this walk in the park to reflect on the day and its lessons.  Also, I just had to grab some photos of the changing colors for my reference library!

This month I find myself teaching more than I think I ever have.  In the month of October I literally have at least one class every day with maybe a few exceptions.  Granted, this has lead to a slow down in my own studio work.  However, so much energy dedicated to talking about painting is giving me a chance to reflect and refocus.  When I do return to art production I know that it will be with a clear head.  I am spending this time reading, writing, sketching, and of course teaching.  My schedule will lighten by mid November and I look forward to winter months cooped up in my studio.  It is sort of a cliche’ to say, but I learn so much from my students and I cannot wait to implement the lessons I am learning to my own work.

Pastel Landscape Process

Inspired to do a larger pastel piece, I worked on a 22″ x 24″ sheet of red Canson paper to create this drawing.  I took photographs along the way to illustrate the process.  First I began with a simple value focused watercolor underpainting.  It’s important to not overwork this step and stress the paper.  In landscape, I almost always start with sky.  Once the sky is established it is easy to build in front of it.  I may have to tweak colors in the sky later for cohesiveness, but I shouldn’t have to do much.  The most difficult part of this piece was the large expanse of grassland.  It was hard to be consistant without it being too boring so I tried to vary of the colors and marks.  However in doing so I walked the line of making it too “chunky” and imaginary.  After  a few days work on this piece I am happy with the end result, the balance of warms and cools, of ground and sky.

Reflections on an Art Fair Summer

When the festival season is over for me (in 2 weeks) I will have 9 festivals under my belt.  By far the most I have ever done in one summer.  There has been a huge learning curve and I have tweaked my display at almost every show.  I have also kept notes on which festivals I will do again next year and which ones I won’t.  I had good festivals and bad festivals, but there is more to it than sales.  There were festivals this year I did not sell a thing at- but I am still considering returning to these festivals next year because it was good exposure, an art educated crowd, or just plain fun.  Next summer will likely be more concise in terms of my festival schedule.  I may also branch out a little further into Illinois or Minnesota.  Fellow artists have proven to be a priceless resource in providing pointers and recommending other shows.  Even when I was not selling I was learning, making connections, and gaining exposure.  This weekend is Mount Mary Starving Artist Festival (which will be a very different kind of show for me).  Following that is Hidden River the 14th-16th.  I will stay cautiously optimistic about these coming weeks!

Little Paintings Continued

I have been focusing on making mini 5″ x 7″ paintings on panel.  I enjoy the quick discovery of new color compositions.  Also, the finished piece take on a more intimate, precious feeling as a miniature.  Many of the images are repeats of compositions done before.  I often intentionally repeat the same scene multiple times in different mediums or at different scales to see the contrast in impact.  Many of these pieces will be available for purchase at upcoming festivals.

Little Paintings

Today I am beginning a series of small 5″ x 7″ paintings.  I am doing this for a few reasons.  First and most importantly I feel great artistic freedom in making these smaller works as simple but provocative color abstracts.  I envision this as being a possible wall at my next solo show coming up this September.  With the Mount Mary Starving Artist show also in September I need some smaller inventory.  Finally, my recent 20+ Paintings Class in Fish Creek has inspired me to return to small for a while.  Working small allows me to figure a lot of things out.  There is a sensitivity and a simplicity to the landscape when broken down to be contained at this size.

These are the first round of prepared panels.  I work on masonite.  I begin by gently sanding the surface.  Then I apply 2-3 coats of gesso.  Finally I apply a base color.  Here I have used red, orange, and yellow.

Cedarburg Plein Air Event

The Cedarburg Plein Air Painting Competition is taking place through June 24th.  Artists from all over the country have come to Cedarburg for an outdoor painting event.  Finished work will be delivered to the Cedarburg Cultural Center and will be put on display for a  reception and sale Friday, June 22 from 5-7:30pm.  Works will remain for sale throughout that weekend.

I had a nice morning painting in a park called Herman A. Zeunert Park, just off of Hamilton Rd.  The only downsides were a lack of shade and an excess of goose droppings.  The sight of a large rock cliff across the lagoon was too tempting a view.  I have driven past here numerous times and have wanted to paint it  I am drawn the the various textures and colors of sky, tree, rock, and water.  I enjoyed my painting time today and am rather satisfied with the final piece.  I think I wil try to get out there once or twice next week also.



Opening at Woodwalk Gallery

This Memorial Day weekend was the season opening reception at the Woodwalk Gallery.  My work is represented at the gallery along with numerous other artists.  This is my second year with Woodwalk, and once again they put on a great show.  Food, drink, great weather, art, and lots of people made this a fantastic event.  Sadly I could not stay long as the 3 hour drive each way makes for a long day.  It was totally worth it though.   I got to talk to fellow artists like Pamela Anderson and reconnect with old friends like Julia Bresnahan (my high school art teacher).  Big thanks to Allin and Margaret for including me in there gallery! For more info, visit the Woodwalk Gallery website:


Art on the Walk

Ahh.. I had forgotten how fun art festivals could be.  I woke up this past Saturday morning around 6:00am and groaned when I heard the thunder.  Oh how I contemplated not getting up!  Who is going to show up to an art festival in a thunderstorm anyway?  But, like they say in Wisconsin, if you don’t like the weather- wait twenty minutes.  In this case it was three hours….

I drove to Menomonee Fals for Art on the Walk.  I set up my tent and display in a thunderstorm.  My expectations and spirits were low for the day.  By 11:00am however, the sun was out an so were the crowds!  While I didn’t see the sales I had hoped for this day, I had a great time talking with people.  It was a fun and easy festival so the lack of sales was something I could live with.  I will probably do it again next year!


I feel very fortunate to have been included in MARN’s recent Painting Salon.  The show is hung at MARN’s headquarters at 5407 W. Vliet Street.  There are six artists represented, including myself.  Other artists are Ann Baer, Fred Bell, Jim Zwaldo, Michael Davidson, and Katherine Rosing.

We were treated to a full weekend of art conversation.  The show begain last Thursday with a private curator night.  Area curators along with special guest curator Scott Speh were invited to come and talk to us about our work.  I received a range of comments and found the experience incredibly useful and thought provoking.  Friday night was a public reception which was fun, social, and exciting.  Finally, Saturday morning peers and public were invited to come critique the work.  We had a small but thoughtful group.  Again, I left with a head full of ideas.

I know that this experience will change my work.  Plans are already in the works for a new series and I am fired up about the potential.  Maggie Sasso, who curated this exhibition, did a remarkable job of hanging the work and putting together a successful event.  The show will remain on display through June 16th.

To learn more about MARN: