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Drawing While On The Road

Drawing while on the road I find challenging and rewarding.  I would like to share my thoughts on time, subjects and materials.  My guiding principle is to make it easy to draw anytime, anywhere and anything.

Drawing While Travelin

Ink & Graphite
Pentalic 3×5 sketchbook
People waiting for the start of the Ben Harper & Innocent Criminals Concert, Les Schwab Amphitheter, Bend OR. 6 Sep 2015


My husband and I have been on the road traveling to see family, friends and the West.  For those of you who know the West, distances are vast.  We can spend the better part of the day driving to get from point “a” to point “b”.  Then there are the necessary tasks such as having breakfast, lunch and dinner.  With the onset of the fall season, daylight hours are getting shorter.  With so much going on, I had to purposely find the time to draw and paint.  I’d like to share what I do.

  • I carry a small 5″x3″ drawing book in my back pocket and a pen.  I tell myself I don’t need to finish a drawing, just get started.  If the book is handy, I am more likely to start a drawing.
  • I use sitting around waiting time to pull out my pocket drawing book and sketch.  For example, while waiting  for my morning espresso to brew, I draw what’s in front of me.
  • My husband and I make drawing part of our look-at-scenary time.  At the end of day, I also sit comfortably and draw what is around the campground.
Drawing While Traveling

Drawings done while waiting for morning espresso to brew
ball point pen
September, 2015
Big Trip


Oddly enough, considering subject matter can be a stumbling block to consistent drawing.  There is so much to see when traveling.  How does one decide what to draw?

When I’m making our espresso, I just draw something near the stove so I can keep my eye on the espresso.  The hardware of our camper is interesting, as are bottle tops, soap containers and shoes.  They all have lines, shapes and shadows to look at and study.

One idea that has helped me in finding subjects is to view drawing as a method of investigation.  I don’t have to worry about composing the next great drawing or painting.  I just need to study what is available like picnic tables, juniper trees, rocks and more rocks!  I’m investigating as I am seeing and drawing.

Drawing while traveling and hiking

Graphite and ink
Pentalic, 5×8 sketchbook
Done during big trip 2015


I think it is important not to let materials be a stumbling block either.  As I alluded to above, I have found pocket size drawing books to keep handy.  I used 5×3 and 5×8 sketchbooks (journals) from Pentalic.  I use them often.  But, any pencil and paper will do.

For drawings that I might want to use as a record of our travels, I will consider lightfastness of the inks and archival quality of the paper.  I use good felt tip pens like those by Faber-Castell or Sakura.  If I’m feeling intimidated by the subject, I start in graphite.  Pretty soon I’ve switched to ink and am deep into drawing.

I like ball point pens too.  Many are not lightfast.  However, pens have the benefit of being portable and easily available.  Plus, I like the feel of the pens.


Recently, I have been following artist James Gurney’s blog.  One thing that has struck me is that it he is constantly drawing.  Have five minutes?  Pull out the pen and draw.

And, so it is.  My drawing goal for this trip is to keep on drawing.  Make it easy.  Make it fun.  Do more!

Drawing While Traveling

Steens Mtn, Page Springs Campground
September 2015


I wrote this post while we were on the road.  However, due to technical difficulties, like wi-fi not being available, I didn’t get it published.  Still, I wanted to share my thoughts and I hope you enjoy them.  Thanks!



The post Drawing While On The Road appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Storytelling with Collage



Here in my River Garden Studio Autumn has arrived and outside

a storm is brewing and wind is scattering leaves everywhere…

but not in my studio.

Window light is ever present, always warming, always clear.



This week I have been glowing in the excitement that Storytelling with Collage, Techniques for Layering Color and Texture, the book I have been working and dreaming about for the last few years has a cover design and has it's own spot on Amazon Books!!

This book has been on my mind and in my heart for so long.

Now it is real, now I can visualize it and now I am even more anxious for it to come out and share it with the world!

Book Cover Design

Here is a new glimpse of my studio. I have made some changes. Now my studio is just for collaging.

Not to work on my computer, (I do that on the dining room table now) and I am moving my encaustic station out to the garage.


Drawers have been organized. My collections all have homes…



Here is a close up of one of the photos that you might see in Storytelling with Collage.  

I am very thrilled that I got to do all the photography myself!!

Dozens of new collages and never before seen photographs fill the pages. 


 Here are also some some glimpses of some of the projects I will share in this book… 

_DSC0027 - Version 2


I will guide you through at least nine brand new projects,

so you can create your own version of them yourself. 


Each chapter, the themes, the colors, the words and the images have been

carefully thought out.

You will see how I begin and how I get inspired.

And how I work.


If you pre-order this book now, (or have already), please leave me a comment letting me know by October 24th!

And I will put your name in a drawing for one of my new pieces of art featured in this book.

It will be a surprise collage just for you!




Gifts, oil on linen, 53 x 53

Gifts, oil on linen, 53 x 53


Starting this spring, and all through the summer, I’ve worked on only one painting. I’ve never invested this many calories into a single painting, this much obedience to the act of looking at a particular set of objects. I suppose this can’t be an entirely good thing for a person, but I’m pleased with the results. For me, painting is rhythmic, like factory work—you do a certain amount each day, on a regular basis, and at the end of X number of days you have a painting. This one has been different. Most days, since early May, I’ve put in several hours of writing every morning, first thing, usually from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., which enables me to pay the bills, then another four to six hours of painting, seven days per week. I took much of July off, in the middle of all this, when I went sort of rogue, insofar as that’s possible at my age, and I rode 1,700 miles around New England and into Canada on my eleven-year-old BMW R11050R motorcycle, mostly staying with friends. Then I came home and got back to painting, wielding my brush with the wrist I’d made sore during a couple weeks of using it to twist a throttle. Around four each day I would settle into a chair for a while or go for a run. Writing this blog took a backseat, as did most other things. My absorption with this painting drew me away from a number of other activities, and last week I more or less finished it. I say that provisionally, since no painting is ever finished until you store it somewhere you won’t see it again, preferably in the home of a new owner–or send it off for exhibition. I’ve already entered in in a show at Manifest, so that means it’s done.

This newest painting is an overhead views of a tabletop’s corner, with wedges of Persian carpet beneath, and various household objects strewn at random over the white tablecloth, some like tropical birds perched on snow. I’ve been doing these tabletops for twenty years, probably finishing a dozen of them in all, and I think I secretly hope this one will be the last. I undertook it partly as an effort to complete a definitive version of this personal genre.

I started doing these tables in the 80s after a long obsession with Braque. Inventing this format was my truce with the force of his heavy influence over me back then. I’ve returned to this format again and again, trying to do it better each time, each painting like a new cover of the same song, or an attempt to recall a dream that won’t quite come together and make sense. I think mostly of modernist abstraction when I’m painting one of these, because of the way so many of those painters (Pollack, De Kooning, Motherwell, but especially Rothko and Stella), would paint almost the same image over and over—a fixed template within which the artist would vary certain other elements, especially combinations of color. Stella tried one different set of color harmonies after another in a repetitive grid of his chevrons or quatrefoil puzzles of arching crescents and almond-shaped patches of paint. For these tabletops, my composition is nearly indistinguishable from one version to the next. I gather together a diverse, circus troupe of household objects on the white bedspread (not a tablecloth) flowers and art books, a dish or candlestick, a CD case or a phone, and the objects usually gravitate to the same place from one canvas to the next. Books toward the upper right. Flowers descending from the center top. Something shiny and round down near the apex of the cloth, maybe containing a little shining pool of candy. All of this appears on top of an architecture of downward-pointing, overlapping chevrons, in the lines of the table and then in the V-shaped sections of the carpet.

In the beginning, though slightly less so now, my motives were simple and entirely formal. There was little more to it than the desire to juxtapose concentrated doses of intense color, linked by nothing but the imaginary geometry of their relationship to one another across a field of white. Painting these tabletops, I feel like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, building a mountain out of anything within reach without knowing what he’s trying to visualize, making it over and over and never quite being able to figure out why, with mud and little shrubs from outside the kitchen, mashed potatoes on a plate, molding it all into something he keeps trying to recognize. He looks at it, never quite satisfied but he’s absolutely certain: this means something.


From when I first saw Neil Welliver’s paintings in the 80s, I was captivated by his personal credo of “no going back over.” He would start at one corner of the painting and finish on the opposite corner, with no reconsideration of the first paint he put down. I saw his professed ability to get everything right on the initial strike as something to emulate. Anyone who has practiced photorealism understands what he was trying to do because you are transcribing a photograph. Welliver claimed to do that from his drawing and from memory. And he said his work had roots in abstraction rather than representation.

For me, the reality is, if you work slowly enough there’s no need to glaze or correct or add any depth or complexity to the color you put down. There’s no need to push new paint into old. Most of my painting has strived for that ideal. Van Gogh, in his ability to finish a painting in a day, set the standard for it. Welliver simply flattened the depth of the paint, and also gave himself a lot more time and fewer colors, but his work still had that early-morning quality of a first look at something the light has only now unveiled. I’ve always wanted that and still achieve it now and then, in quickly executed work, alongside the more painstaking images I make.

With these paintings, I did just the opposite, requiring myself to do things I haven’t done in any of the dozen or so previous ones like it. I think I’ve surrendered to the exhausting requirements of this format more completely than in the past. It’s a marathon of effort. When something isn’t quite right it may take me three or four weeks, even more, to admit this, but more than in any previous example of these overhead views of tables, I’ve capitulated to the way it irks me. In this one I’ve been willing to go back over trouble spots until they’re right, sometimes more than twice. Several times, I knew what I’d painted wasn’t good enough, and I kept backtracking, covering up my work with a layer of white and starting over, or simply painting the thing anew on top of the imperfect, dried paint that’s already there, using the failed attempt as a map for the new version, something that peeks through just a little and subliminally strengthens what the eye sees or eases its hue up through the latest color, pentimento-style. The tablecloth represents four or five layers of slightly different white. The carpet shows, in some places, three or four layers of a particular color, or one color on top of another, while in other places you see only the first layer. The catalog of Frank Stella paintings in the upper right quadrant of the painting was more demanding than the candlestick, probably the one object that most resisted my efforts to get it right: days were devoted to getting nothing but the san serif letters of his name to the point where I could leave them alone, with perfection receding gently and incessantly, like the destination of Zeno’s arrow. Like that arrow, I felt completely stalled, but in the end I was happy with the outcome. It felt almost acrobatic, the contortions and care I took with my fingers and arm to steady a few hairs of a brush.

The candlestick in this one was the most rewarding example of my willingness to do something completely over again. I’d spent a week or so on it. I was at the point where no one who took a peek at the painting had a problem with it, but I knew it wasn’t right. The highlights on the silver facets looked disorganized and confusing—it was hard to feel a coherent light source by looking at the complex shining contours. So I got the candlestick out again, set it down in the foyer where I’d originally had it, and positioned it so the highlights converged, like a string of pearls, right down the center front. It was exactly what I wanted. I studied it, took a photograph and studied that, but the other problem with the original version was that it looked golden, almost like brass, because it was reflecting the taupe color of the foyer’s walls, and this new shot had that same yellowish quality. So as I went back over the original layer of paint, in the act of putting down a second layer with a new arrangement of lights, darks and grays, and I modified the color, as I worked, even more toward blue-gray. Some of the old brownish tint remains, showing through here and there, but it’s a minor complexity and gives the dominant silver a slightly warmer quality—making the final version look far more convincing and alive. I changed the candle itself completely, finally seeing what was there: that the white candle was actually darker than the white tablecloth behind it. I can look at something for hours and not see it accurately, and part of the value of doing a painting at all is in learning how to simply be aware of what’s there in front of you, which more or less is the first and last step of intelligence.

The peonies themselves, a particular kind we ordered from Whiteflower Farm some years ago, start as intensely pink buds and fade to a rich peach color as they open, turning an off-white by the time the petals are ready to fall off. They bloom and fade and fall as fast as the magnolias Robert Lowell wrote about in his poem, with their five days of life. These were all early in that arc of color, hardly open, and the flowers themselves flowed from the brush, premier coup. The leaves and stems . . . not so much.

They’re shiny and the veins dent the surface a bit like creeks in a hillside flowing down into the central vein. I couldn’t get it, because the photographs were not crisp and the color wasn’t right. At one point, I thought the leaves were going to ruin the weeks of work that preceded them in other parts of the painting, or else would require me to remove the flowers entirely—they were just wrong, no matter what I did, working from photographs I’d taken in the spring. So I went outside, the plants still dark green all summer, full of foliage, without flowers, and picked a few small stems and brought them in. I stuck one of them to the central strut of my easel above the painting, with a push pin, and began redoing all the leaves based on what I saw. That first day of repairs didn’t help, because the lighting was insufficient in my studio—a room without skylights, plus a northern exposure.

So I went out the next day, picked more leaves and took some photographs of them in the foyer–in other words, with lighting identical to what I’d used for everything else in the painting, a large window slightly behind and above the viewer’s head. Again I pinned leaves right above the canvas for further reference. It took me five minutes to finish one leaf working from these two sources. I had to be able to see the leaf in three dimensions, how the veins actually sink down under the surface of the leaf and then how the light shines on it as a result: the surface shines, looks polished and the color is almost a blue-green. I woke up uneasy that morning, feeling slightly desperate about whether or not I could really master all this foliage, whether it would ruin the painting as a whole, and after a few minutes I knew I’d found a path, if not to mastery, at least to something that worked. I quit grinding my teeth every time I looked at my work.

In all, this backtracking represents a significant change in the way I’ve approached these paintings, which have never inspired me to be this painstaking. All of this backtracking solved the problems I faced. The candlestick’s transformation surprised me the most. It makes me happier to look at that candlestick now than probably any other spot in the painting. It feels like a little personal coup, a discovery and a reward for dogged determination all at once.


As I worked through most of the summer on this one—minus the three weeks in July dedicated to anything but art—it struck me that these tabletops look like cornucopias, but also like formal altars, for offerings, a sacrifice, some kind of ceremony. I haven’t set foot in a church in decades, but the formality of the white cloth gives these paintings a slightly ritualistic feel. I was ready to name this one Altar of the Everyday, and it made sense: life and death, the sum of all experience, is a gift. We didn’t create it. We didn’t deserve any of it, good or bad, when we were born. It was, and is, a gratuity, all of it. Every day is a gift and, if you recognize that, you have a chance to give something back. You give it your best, as they say, if you’re doing something right. Painting itself is a sacrifice and an offering of time, effort, feeling, hope, with no clear notion of what there is to be gained by giving up everything else you might be doing with your time. You generally gain nothing more than the finished work itself, the outcome of the gift of being able to do it. So I kept going through titles until I settled on Gifts, realizing that most of the objects on the tabletop actually happened to be just that, in an everyday way: things someone else had given to me or our family, or else things I’ve given freely to others, such as the flowers. Even the cow skull. There’s a personal story behind most of these objects, though I had no intention of assembling them for that reason.

As always, I picked them simply because they offered a shape or color I needed to see at that particular place on the canvas. Again, the imperative was formal, perceptual, not something dictated by an idea or concept. In the end, this whole Corner of Plenty, as it were, inspires me with ideas about what the image could mean, yet none of these ideas inspired me to paint it. As I’ve said before, the meaning follows the purely visual invention of an image, not the other way around, as in so much art now, where the work merely signifies an original idea. You find your way to meaning by touch, in the dark, not entirely knowing where you’re going, and when you get there, the meaning may not be anything that surrenders to words, any more than an instrumental song can be translated into a proposition.


As I’ve been doing this painting, I’ve thought about all the influences that converged for me in this series, back when I attempted the first one. As I mentioned, at the time, I’d just emerged from a year of being enthralled by Braque’s mid-career work, the monumental pedestal tables I saw during a couple visits to New York and Washington, D.C.—especially a powerful retrospective at the Guggenheim in 1988. I loved those paintings not only because they were so mysteriously riveting, but also because the French painter had found a way to assimilate his influences into an individual aesthetic that was entirely, recognizably his. He was transforming what he saw into a physical object that had its own mystery and presence, in no small part because of the way he mixed sand into his paint, calling attention to the tactile surface. Objects were still recognizable but they melted and intersected with their surroundings into a new, original whole that, in most of his work, conveys something you can see but are unable to express in words. This something, in Braque, is there from painting to painting and, for me, is unlike anything else in Western art. He found a small niche of utter uniqueness, somewhat Burchfield did in an entirely different way. Yet every great artist has that quality in some degree: that unique quality you can see but can’t translate into other terms.

I had gotten to the point where I knew I couldn’t simply imitate Braque—it didn’t stop me from doing that in a dozen or so paintings. As much as I loved his work, I’d exhausted what I had to learn from his hybrid personalization of cubism. At around the same time, I saw a solo exhibit of large still life paintings by a contemporary painter, Raymond Han, at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica (where I also discovered Charles Burchfield’s work, in a retrospective of his large watercolors.) At the time, Han had done a substantial series of large paintings, most of them of tables covered with a white cloth on top of which were clusters of dishware, flowers, and other household objects. So, at that time, I was pulled toward both straightforward representation and also abstraction, and in this series of my own, I was attempting to reconcile the two in the way I composed these tabletops, as well as the scale I was using.

I pulled everything up toward the viewer, as Braque does, tilting my image so that the tabletop was almost parallel with the surface of the canvas, so that the objects, on a 1-to-1 scale—almost appeared to be attached to the surface of the painting, though I had no interest in trompe l’oeil. I wanted the objects to be almost touchable, seen from above, and yet I also wanted their outlines to create an abstract pattern—the painting would have a certain character as simply an arrangement of flat patterns even as it worked as a realistic, large still life.

Meanwhile, I was instinctively picking objects for their physical qualities and grouping them: squares floating in one half of the image, circles on the other side, with a few things at the border representing both squares and circles. I’d picked the Kandinsky book because of its white cover and simplicity of the images on that cover, as well as for the shape of the typeface in his name. Yet looking at the image as I painted it, I realized I was arranging simple geometric forms the way he did, against a negative space. The polarity between angles and curves, circles and squares plays against another polarity between natural forms, flowers and fruit or vegetables, as well as the cow skull, versus the manmade objects: books, the tray, the candlestick and the candy. The candlestick and candy are both angular and round, a synthesis of the different shapes. None of this has any overt meaning; there’s nothing consciously Pythagorean here, but it was a way of establishing regularity and order in what appears to be a random scatter of discarded things on a table, a life in flux caught as the owner has stepped away from the scene to do other things.

There’s an intimation of a narrative, the story of a life—which would be mine, obviously—and it could be glimpsed there, especially in the face of our grand-daughter in the phone and in the candle from my daughter’s wedding at the Memorial Art Gallery, with the gracious permission of Grant Holcomb, who generously allowed us to hold it there. No one had suggested a wedding there before. But the painting isn’t intentionally a narrative: that aspect is just a byproduct of my groping toward a sense of order and beauty through my formal preoccupations. The hint of narrative adds another sense of depth to the image, and I’m happy it’s there.


Most of all, I want Gifts, and the other vertiginous tabletops I’ve done, to convey a state of mind somewhere between lucid everyday observation and a dreamlike disorientation. Looking almost straight down at the corner of the table gives it the look of a boat’s prow, slowly descending into view from above, the opposite of what you would see if you were standing on the boat and looking down at the water, Titanic-style. It’s more as if you were on a bridge above it and gazing at a canal as a barge floated into your field of vision. The white rippling cloth seems to cleave upward as objects float into view, each one self-contained, like a separate memory, against the empty cloth. In a traditional still life the background recedes from view at the top of the painting. Here it offers a backstop only a few feet away, beneath the things in the foreground, higher up. The background is more intricate and colorful than anything else in the painting, and the white middle ground offers the only real respite from the detail and color of the things sitting on top of it and the carpet behind. In a typical still life, the distance between viewer and object shrinks as the eye moves from top to bottom, while here it’s just the reverse. The way this inverts everything and creates a dizzying new orientation for things is probably what brings me back to this format again and again. It dislocates what you see from where you expect to see it. Of all the painters whose work I’ve loved, my fascination with a few paintings by Chagall, in my teens, probably has the most influence here. They were four he did to show the state of being in love: The Promenade, with Bella floating in the air like a helium balloon attached to his hand, The Anniversary, where he’s the one who floats over her head and curls his gaze around to look her in the eye (with its Persian carpet on the wall), Over the Town, where they float together in the air, and Double Portrait with Wine Glass, where he rides on her shoulders. All of them are under the sway of Cubism and yet create their own alternate world, without gravity, with compositions that allow him to do what he wanted with color, but without losing the crisp lines and flattened forms that make them surge with energy and delight. It’s the defiance of gravity, the sense that what you’re seeing is untethered and hovering that reminds me of the almost upside-down feeling of the tabletops and the sense of freedom it gives me.

Catching up


I’m emerging from a tunnel of work on a single painting I began in May and finished last week, so I’m only now catching up with what friends have been up to over the summer. Rick Harrington moved back to the Northwest, where he grew up, and is now living and working in Portland. I was sorry to hear he was going to be on the other side of the country, probably from now on, but I hope to keep in touch, and I also hope he keeps exhibiting at Oxford here.

Bill Stephens has been on the road this summer, heading east to a retreat and then west to travel around the mountains and do sketches of what he was seeing. He’s creating notebooks that are a nice combination of text and image that he ought to try selling, a little touch of Basho on his journey. The line drawings in ink are assured and fresh and calming. With an economical use of line he puts me wherever he was from one day to the next. I’ve posted one of them above.

Bill Santelli is very busy, showing his work both here in the next Oxford Gallery show and right now at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ArtPrize is an open international art competition decided by public vote and expert jury. It awards grants to 25 recipients, and has as well as offering a Fellowship for Emerging Curators program. The $500,000 competition runs from September 23–October 11.

My friend Rush Whitacre is teaching now at Washington State Community College, and he’s recruiting people for a fantastic tour of Italy next March: 10 days and six cities, Rome, Florence, Venice, Assissi, Sorento and Pompeii. You can learn more and sign up here. If I had the money to spare, I’d already be signed up.

Jim Mott is still on the road, as far as I can tell. He’s usually off the grid as he makes his way across the country and stays with his hosts on one of his itinerant painting trips. He ought to be somewhere in California by now. Send some images of what you’re doing, Jim, if you see this.

Why “Psychological Androgyny” Is Essential for Creativity

Why “Psychological Androgyny” Is Essential for Creativity

“Creative individuals are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other one, too.”

Despite the immense canon of research on creativity — including its four stages, the cognitive science of the ideal creative routine, the role of memory, and the relationship between creativity and mental illness — very little has focused on one of life’s few givens that equally few of us can escape: gender and the genderedness of the mind.

In Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention (public library) — one of the most important, insightful, and influential books on creativity ever written — pioneering psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi examines a curious, under-appreciated yet crucial aspect of the creative mindset: a predisposition to psychological androgyny.

In all cultures, men are brought up to be “masculine” and to disregard and repress those aspects of their temperament that the culture regards as “feminine,” whereas women are expected to do the opposite. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role stereotyping. When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.

Illustration by Yang Liu from ‘Man Meets Woman,’ a pictogram critique of gender stereotypes. Click image for details.

Csikszentmihalyi points out that this psychological tendency toward androgyny shouldn’t be confused with homosexuality — it deals not with sexual constitution but with a set of psychoemotional capacities:

Psychological androgyny is a much wider concept, referring to a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender. A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities. It is not surprising that creative individuals are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other one, too.

Citing his team’s extensive interviews with 91 individuals who scored high on creativity in various fields — including pioneering astronomer Vera Rubin, legendary sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, philosopher and marginalia champion Mortimer Adler, universe-disturber Madeleine L’Engle, social science titan John Gardner, poet extraordinaire Denise Levertov, and MacArthur genius Stephen Jay Gould — Csikszentmihalyi writes:

It was obvious that the women artists and scientists tended to be much more assertive, self-confident, and openly aggressive than women are generally brought up to be in our society. Perhaps the most noticeable evidence for the “femininity” of the men in the sample was their great preoccupation with their family and their sensitivity to subtle aspects of the environment that other men are inclined to dismiss as unimportant. But despite having these traits that are not usual to their gender, they retained the usual gender-specific traits as well.

Illustration from the 1970 satirical book ‘I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl!’ Click image for more.

Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention is a revelatory read in its entirety, featuring insights on the ideal conditions for the creative process, the key characteristics of the innovative mindset, how aging influences creativity, and invaluable advice to the young from Csikszentmihalyi’s roster of 91 creative luminaries. Complement this particular excerpt with Ursula K. Le Guin on being a man — arguably the most brilliant meditation on gender ever written, by one of the most exuberantly creative minds of our time.

Gallery Talk at FireHouse Gallery, RCC

Please join us at RCC’s FireHouse Gallery on Friday, October 2nd at 2pm for a talk by Willamette University Art Professor James B. Thompson.

Thompson’s work will be on display at FireHouse September 29 – October 24.

Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1951, James B. Thompson earned his BA degree from Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1973 and his MFA degree from Washington University School of Fine Arts in St. Louis, Missouri in 1977. A Professor of Art and faculty member at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon since 1986, Thompson began his teaching career in 1976 at Washington University School of Fine Arts and has since formally taught Art as a faculty member at AHA-ILACA in London, England, National University of Ireland in Galway, Ireland, Ripon College, OSU-Cascades, University of Alaska, and Tokyo International University America.

A practicing, professional artist since 1973, Thompson has established a formidable nationwide artistic reputation over the past thirty-eight years as one of the most thoughtful and intriguing painters, printmakers and educators from the Pacific northwest region of the country. Thompson’s work has been featured in numerous international and nationally recognized art exhibitions at prominent museums and galleries throughout his career and is included in public and private collections throughout the United States and abroad. A number of public and private entities have commissioned Thompson to create bodies of art works for their respective institutions. Exhibitions in both solo and group shows brought the attention of publishing houses that subsequently reproduced selections of Thompson’s art works as book covers published in several editions. Thompson has received numerous awards, honors, fellowships purchase prizes and grants as an artist and educator.

FireHouse Gallery, RCC

214 SW 4th St, Grants Pass


Pushing paint

High Falls, Bryce Ely, oil on board

High Falls, Bryce Ely, oil on board

There’s a great show in its final days at Oxford Gallery, abstractions from two artists whose work took me by surprise. The invitation card didn’t convey how effective their best paintings are, and, as usual, the work was powerful insofar as I was mystified by what exactly enabled their imagery to succeed. I’d seen Phyllis Bryce Ely’s work before, when it won an award in the Memorial Art Gallery’s biennial Finger Lakes Exhibition in 2013. I admired her style without finding myself arrested by it as I walked around the exhibit back then. This time, I found myself coming back many times to particular paintings, seeing more as I stayed with it. Her work hovers right on the cusp between representation and abstraction. It’s always a distillation of a landscape, often involving swirling or falling water. This time, moving from one painting to another, I was reminded of both Charles Burchfield and Arthur Dove, yet her work departs from both influences. Where these two earlier artists were more concerned with careful depiction of a heightened vision of nature, Ely wants to create and convey a quiet energy by giving priority to the paint itself, making visible the way it flows from her brush, creating line and form with the edges of her strokes and slightly unpredictable modulations of tone that flow from the brush as it moves. (Many artists try to paint this loosely; it takes a gift to make it work as consistently as Ely does.) It gives her a special affinity with the subject of moving water–her paint seems a slow, loping doppleganger of the rushing flow it enables you to see. She’s very much in your face about how she pushes paint around. It’s the first thing that meets the eye, before your eye resolves the paint into a scene. Her most effective work looks as if, with Welliver, there’s not much “going back over” for her. So she’s also in a zone between what’s spontaneous and what’s calculated, and yet despite this irrevocable quality in how she applies the paint, the effects are often amazingly evocative–she’s still rendering a scene, with subtle effects of depth and distance, inspiring you to feel there’s more detail in the image than is actually there. With so much emphasis on the surface, and the quality of the paint, you still have a distinct and subtle assurance of a hazy, glowing light source. Or to put it in layman’s terms: you clearly see the, uh, sunlight. It’s remarkable. She makes you imagine more than she requires herself to show, which is the magic of painting at its best. Her technical mastery, from one painting to another, conveys a vision of nature in turbulent motion, but going nowhere in particular, an illuminated world giving a cold shoulder to the eye that eagerly takes it in.

IMG_7549Todd Chalk, of Buffalo, has included some of her latest work–I counted three different personal modes. Some are more conventional abstracts. One especially powerful and effective small painting represents a glance upward through bare branches into an illuminated sky–it’s one of the best pieces in the whole show–and, finally, a series of square watercolors on yupo paper. I confess I’d never heard of that paper before, but it sounds like the perfect support for the green-minded crowd: synthetic, yet recyclable and “100% tree-free” as a promotional website puts it. I love it when artists explore unusual materials, and in this case, the qualities of what seems to be primarily an industrial paper made her intricate, small abstracts fresh, crisp and vibrantly colored. Watercolor on waterproof paper suggests an unconsummated tension as paint and paper fail to merge. She puts that romantic suspense to use: by keeping all the pigment right on the white surface it adds a special intensity to her beautiful explorations of color. Chalk has created a suite of improvisations with color and form, composing intricate Klee-like inner worlds as layered with overlapping tones as a looping song. For an artist thriving and innovating into her eighth decade–if her listed birthdate is true–these paintings offer hope for all of us embarking into the final third of our lives.

The Elements of Southern Oregon: An Art Exhibit

I am in love with Southern Oregon in general, and Jacksonville in particular. The art in this exhibit portrays elements of our region—both natural and man-made.
There’s nature: I walk the Jacksonville Woodlands almost every day when I’m in town. The Manzanita, the oak, the pine—all have become like neighbors. Each time I walk a trail, I notice a new detail: the vein of a leaf, the spread of a petal. These paintings celebrate such details. Heres a sampling: 

“Acorn Falls,” 12 x 12, Acrylic & Charcoal on Canvas

“Milkweed Sings” 12 x 12, Acrylic & Charcoal on Canvas

“Thistle Dreams,” 12 x 12, Acrylic & Charcoal on Canvas

There’s the man-made: I often sketch places and spaces I enjoy in our region—from coffee shops to vineyards. These vignettes capture an element, too: a flower pot, a sun umbrella, a window. I like to use quick sketches to highlight everyday surroundings. Heres a peak at a few of those watercolors: Lucky & thunder at Applegate Lake (a man-made reservoir), under the umbrella at Pony Espresso, and overlooking Dancing vineyards….

And Ill also be showing other paintings I have created in Southern Oregon that don’t necessarily portray its subject matter. But since they were “born” here, they, too, are elements of this region I’m happy to call home.

The art reception will be held on Thursday, 8 October, from 4:30-6:30. The show runs through the January 6. 

Pioneer Village
805 North Fifth Street
Jacksonville, OR 97530 

Walt’s muse


There was a fantastic two-part bio of Walt Disney on PBS recently. It’s worth the time if you have a chance to see it. Here is a near-quote from the broadcast about a time in his life I considered one of the most interesting moments in the story:

Underway was Cinderella. . . he seemed wary of fully investing himself in his film. Yet he left most of the hard work to his staff. Disney was . . . beginning to wear down and he kept a trained nurse in the studi0. Hazel George showed up every day to massage his back and his hips . . . she becomes one of those very few figures in his life . . . with whom he could talk. It wasn’t a sexual relationship but she was one of those figures with whom he could say anything and everything. It was difficult to say he had any close friends with whom he could share . . . he thought I’m never going to make anything as good as Snow White.

She suggested he attend a model train convention in his home state of Illinois . . . so he goes. The ride transforms him. When he arrives back home, Walt Disney was building these trains with his own hands. All in the zest for invention, for creating fantasies . . . Walt was happy to have the good reviews of Cinderella, but it was no Snow White as far as he was concerned. He builds a scale model of the old Marceline (his impoverished childhood home) barn for hours designing a (railroad) track and the engine. It was the toy he never had as a little kid, something that was pure fun and a pleasure to do. There was more in that train than just fun for Walt. When Salvadore Dali visited . . . Dali was taken aback. Such perfection did not belong to models. “It was comfort and salvation. I can’t control my workers. I can’t control the larger stage, I can’t control my company. . . but this is a world I can create down to the smallest details, down to the tunnels under my wife’s flower bed, that is mine and safe. I want you to work on Disneyland he told one slightly confused artist, and you are going to like it.”


Artists of the Rogue Valley Then and Now - Saturday 10am

Artists of the Rogue Valley

Then and Now

Tales from the Collection

Saturday September 26, 2015 10a-12n

Peter Britt, Dorland Robinson, Eugene Bennett, Bruce Bayard and Ann DiSalvo.
Everyone knows that Peter Britt was a photographer, but did you know that he was also a painter? Learn about the early artists, and also contemporary artists of the Rogue Valley at the next Tales from the Collection event on Saturday, September 26 from 10a-noon at 106 N. Central in Medford.
The Rogue Valley has a long history showcasing local artistic talent. SOHS has the paintings that Britt created from photographs, Dorland Robinson’s moody, subtle works, and artifacts from Eugene Bennett’s studio. Dawna Curler, SOHS Archivist Pat Harper and local artists Bruce Bayard and Ann DiSalvo will talk about art created in the 1800s through the 2000s at the next Tales from the Collection event and also explain how the Rogue Galley has played such an important role in the region. Free and open to all who love history.The Library and Archives at the SOHS History Center will be open for free research from noon-2p following the Tales event.

Southern Oregon Historical Society
106 N. Central Medford | 541-773-6356 |