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Doing Color Studies

The Value of Color Studies.

Greetings!  I am going to give you a short introduction about why I do color studies, then outline how I devised my own color study project.  Finally, I’ll share with you some of the lessons I learned by doing the studies.

And, I might add, it is the “doing” that is critical!  Some lessons are best learned by doing them for ourselves.

Color Studies

Example of color study set one.

Story Time.

A couple of months ago, I was chatting with a fellow local watercolor artist. She was taking beginning watercolor classes but thought she was ready for more advanced study. In particular, she would like to attend a class on color.

Oh, yes, you might imagine visions of being an instructor danced through my head. I could do this! And then I started imagining how I might teach a class on color. The question “what was useful for me, and how did I learn color” popped into my head.

Why Do Color Studies?  To Learn.

I’m not certain that we ever stop learning about color. But, what has helped me gain knowledge about the properties of color is doing color studies. And, periodically I do lots of them.

Oh, and, they are fun.  The studies are a great exercise for improving skills.  Or, if going through a period of the dreaded “artist block”, try doing some color studies to get the proverbial creative juices flowing.

Color Studies

Example of color study set two.

How I Did My First Big Color Project.

I selected a drawing I had already done. This particular drawing was of a cat and I figured I’d like to do a finished painting or two (or twenty) using this particular cat pose. So I created a color study project for myself.


Here were the rules I used. And, I do believe setting “rules” helps the project stay focused and move along.  Besides, since you set your own rules, they are subject to your goals.

  • Set One: Use the same drawing as the starting point*. Vary the color: select color combinations like complimentary, monochrome, or triads that might be fun. See what happens, see how expression changes with color variation.
  • Set Two: I varied line and shape quality in the design plus varied color. For example, red might appear more expressive if the lines were straight, geometric and angular. However, red might appear sweeter, more feminine if the line quality was curved, organic, and rounded.
  • Do lots!
  • Note:  By the way, if you want to do color studies, you can also make up a simple, pleasing composition of geometric shapes. You don’t need a fancy drawing, just something to get the creative juices flowing.

And, thus, the “kittykitty” series was born.

Color Studies

Color studies: Example of Set Two

What I Discovered.

In other words, these are things I read about in art books but needed to see, feel and learn by trying on my own.

No Bad Color.

I think it is difficult to get a “bad” color combination, though some color schemes might appear more dissonant or discordant; they clash. Sometimes, clashing colors are just what’s needed!

Other color schemes appear more harmonious; they go together.


Color combinations can and do influence the mood of the painting. To clarify, think of blue and you might think of blue skies, or feeling blue, or true blue. How about red: red heart, seeing red, red skies. I think you get the picture: a color within the context of a painting can enhance mood.


Color brightness, or intensity, matters. Bright next to muted or grayed color is beautiful. Gray can be beautiful and colorful.

Color Studies


Color value matters too. I orchestrate color values for “carrying power” – that is you can see the painting from across the room.

  1. To illustrate, yellows read light and, with watercolor, have a hard time with carrying power. It is hard to see yellow from far away without a strong dark nearby. But, when you do, yellow sings!
  2. Reds are tricky because they tend to be in the mid range straight out of the tube. Mixed with its compliment, reds can make a beautiful, strong dark.
  3. Blues tend to be in the darker value range when used full strength. But, it is not always the case. A cobalt blue, for example, never gets as dark as a comparable ultramarine blue. Cobalt blue tends to stay in the mid range


Trying to compose a painting with every color on your palette can be a challenge. One painting almost made me dizzy!  Having one color dominant helps clarify and strengthen the painting.


Limiting color combinations, such as working with color combinations, makes the painting life ever so much “easier”; OK, relatively easier. You can use small touches of other colors to spice up the painting. But, simplifying color does help.

Next?  How About You?

OK, I could probably go on for the next while on lessons learned. Let’s do this instead. I have shared several of my color studies on this page.  Now, if you are interested, how about you?  I would like to encourage you to do some for yourself and feel free to share.

OR, those of you who have been painting a long time and have done color studies, feel free to share your own comments and maybe an image!

Post Script.

No, I haven’t started teaching a watercolor class on color.  The idea still dances around my head.  And, that is why I’m doing this post, to start getting my own “creative juices” flowing for teaching.

Color Studies

More of Set One










The post Doing Color Studies appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Irish Breakfast Tea: Rogue Gallery & Art Center


I’m happy to say my painting Irish Breakfast Tea is currently on display at the Rogue Gallery & Art Center, Medford OR, for their Celtic Celebration.  This painting is one of four that I have showing at the gallery.  My other three paintings are from my Still Life With Toy Pony collection and I’ll share them with you below.

Irish Breakfast Tea

First, The Celtic Celebration.

Art Show.  I’d like to highlight that the Rogue Gallery’s special Celtic inspired art show went on display March 9th, and will run through March 18th.  This special show features works by local artists using a variety of media, from acrylic, collage, oil, gouache, mixed media, photography, and (my favorite) watercolor.

Celebration.  The art show is part of the Gallery’s Celtic Celebration which culminates in a special fun filled evening, including singing (!) on, you guessed it, St Patrick’s Day.  By the way, if you’re local, they are having a singing contest, so go for it!

Celebration Time.  This unique celebration takes place on March 17th from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.  For more information, and they do have more information, please see their website.  Lets see…art, music, food, friends, what could be better?

Business Hours.  The Rogue Gallery and Art Center is located at 40 S. Barlett St. in Medford, OR.  Their hours are as follows:

10am – 5pm, Tuesday – Friday
11am – 3pm, Saturday
5pm – 8pm, every third Friday

Thank You.  Here’s an extra special personal THANKS to the Rogue Gallery and Art Center.  They have selected the image of Irish Breakfast Tea to use for their publicity.  Its a thrill to see my painting used as the gallery’s post card!  Thanks!

Artists.  I’d like to share with you the list of participating local artists.  They are Jennifer Bagwell, Rachel Barrett, Lynette Elita, Christina Cannon, Ashley E. Clasby, Carol Cochran, Suzanne Etienne, Joyce Feigner, Cynthia Flowers, Kim Hearon, Mary Hoskins, Jennifer Ivey, Mary Ann Macey, Claudia Marchini, Anna May, Susan Murphey, Richard Newman, Jody Palzer, Terri Regotti, Patrick Ryan, Red Thompson, Greg Thweatt, Doug Wallace, Karen Wallace and yours truly.

On a personal note, I think we are fortunate to have such a wonderful gallery in our community.


I am thrilled to say that “Irish Breakfast Tea” won two awards:  People’s Choice and Staff Pick.  The Gallery selected my painting to announce the Celtic Celebration in the local newspaper.  I am so pleased!  Thank you!

Still Life With Toy Pony

Then, About Irish Breakfast Tea.

Impetus & Inspiration.  I think it is appropriate that the impetus for creating this painting happened to be the gallery’s “Celtic Celebration”.  Though, I must admit, intention was to show this last year…but life happened and its this year instead.  To explain, I had been toying with including symbols from different cultures in my artwork and the Celtic Celebration gave me the motivation to get my ideas down on paper.

The Tea Cup.  Regarding the image, the tea cup is one that my Mother gifted to me.  This happened to be one of my Father’s favorite cups, though he used if for coffee not tea.  It is green, white and gold.  Using shamrocks as decorative trim seemed natural and appropriate.  I remember in grade school wearing the green leaf, or class made versions, on St. Patrick’s day.  Since then, I’ve associated the shamrock with Ireland.

Still Life With Toy Pony

Celtic Knots.  Wanting to include more Celtic symbology, I added my favorite Celtic knots.  By doing a search on the internet, I learned how to draw a Celtic knot.  Perhaps out of curiosity, I wanted to know how to draw my own design rather than trace or stencil the knots.

Triple Spiral.  Adding a triple spiral, also known as a triskele, was natural; I love spirals.  The triple spiral alludes to our spiritual nature.  I liked the shape and found a nice place for it on the end of the tea bag.

The Title: Irish Breakfast Tea.  I’d like to share with you the inspiration for the title.  It was another gift from my Mom.  She once sent me a sample of loose leaf tea and I found the Irish Breakfast Tea to be particularly pleasing.  So, even though the title might seem obvious, it has special meaning to me.  Plus, I think it just sounds good!

Still Life With Toy Pony

Still Life With Toy Pony At The Rogue Gallery

I’d like to highlight that I have other watercolor paintings showing at the Rogue Gallery and Art Center.  You may see three versions of Still Life With Toy Pony in the member’s portion of the gallery through the end of April.

I recently talked memory drawing with examples from the Still Life With Toy Pony.  I’d like to refer you to this blog post to see more about Toy Pony.




The post Irish Breakfast Tea: Rogue Gallery & Art Center appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Nature Sketching & Journaling - Table Rock Hike Saturday, May 6

Memory Drawing: An Essay on a Form of Memory Drawing With Examples

Thinking About Memory Drawing.

I have been thinking lately about memory drawing. The topic was sparked by one of the books I’ve been reading about drawing by the director of The Arts Student’s League of New York City. The book is “The Visual Language of Drawing” and is by James L. McElhinney and several of the instructors at the League.

Memory Drawing: Still Life With Toy Pony Series

“The Natural Way To Draw”, Kimon Nicolaides.

At one point in the book, Mr. McElhinney mentions the 1930s instructor Kimon Nicolaides and his approach to teaching drawing.  As a point of reference, the book  “The Natural Way To Draw” is derived from the teaching notes of Mr. Nicolaides. James McElhinney lists some of the exercises that Nicolaides had student do and it includes  “memory drawings”.

Now then, my copy of “The Natural Way To Draw” is stuck away in storage. However, when I was starting out on my drawing and painting path, I read through Nicolaides book. At the time, I did not have access to a life drawing class and was struggling to find a way to start developing my artist’s skills. When I reached the memory drawing exercise I thought “Aha! This is something I can do anywhere, anytime!” And, so I did the exercises, or  at least my version of Nicolaides memory drawing. I would say that memory drawing lead to my eventual “Peggy” style drawing which is a blend of memory and imagination.

The first “Still Life with Toy Pony Drawing, March 2009.  I drew this version from life and imagination.


From time to time fellow artists have asked me how I come up with my designs, especially for series like “Still Life with Toy Pony”.  Oddly enough, that is a hard question to answer.  But, drawing from memory is a start toward explaining the process.  If such a question interests you, please read on.

Other times, people just like and enjoy to see the drawings and paintings.  In which case, the narrative about memory drawings may not be so relevant.  Instead, I hope you will find the works shown here interesting and enlightening.

What Is Memory Drawing?

So, what is memory drawing? Its a way of drawing without direct observation; that is to say you are not looking at a model while drawing.  So, this is what I learned and remembered from Kimon Nicolaides’ book.

Sidebar: Disclaimer!

Disclaimer time first, though! I ought to mention that this is how I interpreted the lesson.  If I read the book today, I might interpret it differently.

Memory Drawing Exercise.

In any case, here is the gist of the exercise: draw something you see during the day from memory; not from life. You might want to set aside say 20 minutes a day to do this type of drawing. Maybe you draw a car door handle, or a person opening the car door. Another idea might be to draw a person you meet on the street, in a coffee shop, or on a bench at a bus stop. And, the subject doesn’t have to be people. It might be a cat crossing the street; a horse in a field, or a plaster cast angel in your neighbor’s yard.  Or, it could be a still life arrangement you find or set up.

Memory Drawing, Still Life With Toy Pony Drawing 60

This is drawing number 60 of the Still Life with Toy Pony series. By this time, I was drawing exclusively from memory and imagination.

How I Did It.

Back to my personal experience and perspective. My routine has been to go out and do a jog most mornings. I have been doing this for years. After reading Kimon Nicolaides book, I thought I might pay attention to the people I pass while jogging. I would look at someone then try to remember an impression of the person.  Then, I would set aside 20 minutes after breakfast and get to work drawing the person I’d seen while jogging.

Results:  What I Learned.

As you might imagine, at first the figures were stiff. The label “not very good” would have been appropriate. But, what I learned was that I became better at the memory drawing over time, especially if I saw the same person doing the same action – say walking down a beach.

I would like to share what happens. Each time you see someone doing the same action, you take better mental notes. You see “what the legs do”, in other words the shape legs create while they are walking. Another day, you notice how the arms swing naturally while a person is walking. Next, you might notice the tilt of a head or how a jacket bunches up at the elbow. Each little observation becomes a mental note that helps you with your next memory drawing.

Oh, and, yes, the first memory drawings I did are stuck in storage along with my Nicolaides book.  But, the process took!  I still do this type of drawing when I start a series.

Drawn from Memory and Imagination

Variations on a Theme: Drawing #22

Life Drawing.

Now, for those of you who like to draw from life, remember this is an exercise. And, life drawing is a form of memory drawing. Consider this, drawing from life is “look, remember, draw, look, remember, draw” and repeat. Unless you are doing a blind contour drawing, it might be said that you are doing “memory” drawing pretty much anytime you draw from life. In this case, you are holding a bit of information in your memory for a short time rather than the time I took to do my 20 minute memory drawing.

Abstract Drawing.

Since I mentioned life drawing, I thought I’d talk about abstract drawing for a paragraph. Drawing from memory is one way to “abstract” the essence of the subject.  You simplify; you remember the main movement, gesture, color, or shape.  That something that you remember can become a point of departure for a stylized, abstracted design.  The memory of people, nature or things observed in life becomes the source of inspiration, improvisation and intuition.

How Memory Drawing Influenced My Artwork.

So, how did this memory drawing have an effect on my artwork? After awhile, I found that I saw interesting shapes while drawing. I gradually freed myself from trying to recreate my subject and started experimenting. Drawing became a type of dialogue between me, my memory, my drawing and my imagination. I can best describe the process as a “push and pull” type of drawing: pushing lines and shapes one way; then pulling them an opposite. I work this way until I gain traction and the drawing emerges on the paper.

Memory Drawing: Design 4, Still Life with Toy Pony

Variations on a Theme.

This type of “seeing, remembering, exploring” drawing is perfect for variations on a theme. That is to say, you start from what you see in life, then draw variations, allowing memories and imagination to influence your drawing. If you get stuck, you might go back to drawing from life.

For me, this was a great way to get started on developing my drawing skills. All I needed was a sketchbook, a pencil, a kneadable eraser and off I went. OH, yes, you may erase. I did because it helps to push and pull the drawing into shape! And, another rule I employed for myself, don’t give up until you have given the drawing a serious try!

“Still Life With Toy Pony” Series.

OK, nice, all these words.  But, how about results?  I have attached some of the drawings and paintings from my “Still Life with Toy Pony” series.  The series was started by a drawing from life.  As I started working variations, I worked from memory, then I transitioned to imagination.  Imagination, in this case, might be said to be a modified form of memory drawing too.  I incorporated what I remembered from the original still life plus all sorts of other ideas that popped into my head while drawing.

The “Still Life with Toy Pony” series marks a leap forward in my drawing, composition and painting skills.  I’ve worked on it periodically over a six year period.  And, who knows, I may yet re-visit the theme!

Still Life With Toy Pony Design 32: Memory Drawing

How About You?

Do you do a form of memory drawing?  What are your experiences?  Please feel free to share and add a comment.  Thanks!

Update, February 13, 2017.

I found more about drawing from memory on a website:  Studio Rousar.  Artist Darren Rousar has written a book titled “Memory Drawing”, plus he has several exercises and insights available for you.  His exercises are different from mine and, incidentally, I thought I try a few out myself.  Thanks!



The post Memory Drawing: An Essay on a Form of Memory Drawing With Examples appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Paintings Showing At Downtown Starbucks

Starbucks In Ashland, OR.

Showing at Starbucks has been a goal of mine since I painted my first “coffee cup” series painting some nine years ago!  Finally, I have just the opportunity to do so!

Starbucks Show

Three paintings showing at Downtown Starbucks, Ashland, OR.

I am pleased to say that I am showing three of my paintings at one of our local Starbucks coffee houses beginning Sunday, January 29th 2017 through April.  There are two Starbucks in Ashland and the specific location of the coffee house is at 120 East Main Street, downtown Ashland, OR.


Most importantly, I’d like to extend a special thank you to Wanda Pepin of Art2Business (Artist Services LLC) for coordinating this venue for me.

Business Hours:

You are invited and welcome to come by during normal business hours and enjoy the paintings.  Business hours are as follows:

  • 5:30 am to 7:00 pm Monday through Thursday;
  • 5:00 am to 8:00 pm Fridays;
  • 5:30 am to 8:00 pm Saturdays;
  • 5:30 am to 7:00 pm Sundays.

Purchasing Information:

All paintings showing are available for you to collect.  To purchase, please contact Ms. Wanda Pepin, Art2Business (Artist Services LLC) at phone number 541-261-9794.

My prices include the matting and framing.  Shipping and handling costs are extra, if necessary.  Feel free to contact me either through the contact page or by leaving a comment below.  Please be aware that the prices are good through the end of the show at Starbucks.  I may increase prices at a later date in the future.

Should you have any additional questions about the paintings, feel free to comment below or send me an email.

About the Paintings.

Starbucks Show

Old School, New School.  

Watercolor; $800 Framed; 2015; Inventory #445.

“I am amazed at the growth of personal digital media in our society.  Laptops, cell phones, tablets and digital books are so common place. In this painting, I wanted to portray new media next to old media.  Two friends are at a coffee shop and they are enjoying a reading break.  Old school is reading a traditional hard cover book; new school is reading on her laptop screen.  As an echo, I added two different kind of coffee cups: the old school porcelain cup and the new school paper cup.”

The Watercolor Society of Oregon juried accepted Old School, New School into its 2015 Spring Aqueous Media Juried Exhibition where it was awarded fourth place. 

Starbucks Show

Coffee Break Conversations.

Watercolor; $800 Framed; 2015; Inventory #444.

“I had a moment of inspiration while visiting a niece in Athens, GA.   To explain, my niece, husband and I were having coffee in a cafe and noticed two young couples came in.  The couples sat down to a table and each of them immediately brought out their smart phones.   The three of us looked at each in awe and amusement.  You see, it seems that the people on the other end of the line were as much a part of the conversation as the people at the table.”

The Watercolor Society of Oregon accepted Coffee Break Conversations into its 2016 Spring Aqueous Media Juried Exhibition.

Starbucks Show

Cafe, Espresso & Daisy.  

Watercolor & Acrylic; $800 Framed; 2008.  Inventory #212.

Café, Espresso and Daisy is one of a series of paintings exploring the theme of coffee and an espresso café.  The daisy was inspired by a particular arrangement I saw in a Portland, OR, café.  The cups, chairs and composition come from my imagination.  I tipped the table top up for fun and because of the shape.  “Café” is the French spelling for coffee.”

I have had the honor of having Cafe, Espresso and Daisy in two Juried shows:  Associated Arts of Ocean Shores 2008, Ocean Shores WA; and Collective Visions Gallery 2009, Bremerton WA.

Thank you and Enjoy!

Most of all, I do hope you will go by the Ashland Starbucks downtown and see these three paintings.

Stermer-Cox Showing At Starbucks

Three Paintings At Starbucks, Downtown, Ashland, OR.



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Motivation – What Gets Me Going & Keeps Me Going

Motivation – That Which Keeps Me Working.

Hi!  I have been wondering how personal motivation contributes to overcoming artist block.   Put another way, I would like to examine what motivates me and keeps me plugging away at my art.  By looking at what motivates me, both positive and not so positive, I might learn something about making art and life in general.


I was thinking  about how to tackle this idea of motivation.  During a little brainstorming session, I asked myself “what gets you out of bed in the morning?”  Perhaps not such a good question after all since the first thing that popped into my brain was “coffee”…and then maybe some more coffee.

Motivation; Study: Egg Not Fried

One motivation – learning something new to me. “Study, Egg Not Fried” done in acrylic during Gabriel M. Lipper’s still life class.

List of Motivators.

Pulling back from my personal narrative for a moment, I started wondering what might be some things to motivate people to make art and be “artists”.  Here’s a few of the ideas:

  • Money… as in income, award or the joy when someone purchases our work.
  • Prestige and fame; this can be local or on the big scale!
  • “Talent” – being good at something.
  • Discovery – examining the world around us.
  • Because we love art so much we need to try it ourselves.  In other words, learning something new.
  • Oh, and because a parent or parents were artists.
  • Maybe we have art materials and wanted to play in order to see what will happen.
  • To maybe “touch the gods” – that is to say that we begin to understand the Masters of art by experience making art ourselves.
  • The process of putting paint on canvas, engaging oneself in the act of drawing and painting is deeply satisfying.
  • And, then on the negative side
    • If not now, when?
    • What will I feel like if I never get around to the business of drawing and painting?

Motivation Defined.

Come to think about it, how do we define “motivation”?  In my mind, I’m talking about the inner, personal reason(s) to do something.  I checked the on-line Webster’s dictionary and it said pretty much the same thing; its about the reasons we are caused to act.

All of the reasons I gave above have influenced my motivation to draw and paint at some time or other.  As circumstances change and evolve, motivations change.

Current Motivators.

So, what is my current motivation to draw and paint?

  • If not now, then when?
  • Understanding and discovery.
  • Fun; that is to say being in the groove and focusing on the act of drawing or painting.
  • Mastery.  I really want to be “good”, or improve.

I came to the realization that this is what motivates me today indirectly.  It was while looking at Diego Velasquez’ portrait painting, Juan de Pareja, that the light went on.  There is so much to learn and experience in this world of drawing and painting.  I have just begun to scratch the surface and I want to learn more!

Motivation. Study, Asparagus

“Study, Asparagus”; Acrylic. Another study done in Gabriel Lipper’s class.

About the Paintings.

Local artist Gabriel Mark Lipper gives mini workshops at Enclave Studios and I jumped at the chance to take one.  It is a still life class that he titled “Classical Drawing, Vicious Painting”.  The title alludes to the painting fast and furious approach to still life painting. Put another way, “direct painting” – or lay the paint down and move on.

My usual mode of painting is layer upon layer; more of a sneak attack that takes a LONG time.  Its been a fun and interesting challenge to try to paint more directly.  I am definitely out of my comfort zone.  But the class fits the personal motivation of learning something new and challenging.

What Next?  Goals?

NPR had an article about a writing assignment that changes lives.  It talked about writing down what motivates you (me) and linking it to goals.  The article sites research that shows that this can be a powerful method for achieving personal goals, etc.

So, I’m thinking, the logical next step for me is to work on updating my goals.

How About You?

Please feel free to share your thoughts on what motivates you and how you link it to your goals.  Thanks!



The post Motivation – What Gets Me Going & Keeps Me Going appeared first on Margaret Stermer-Cox.

Artist Block – Don’t Worry, Its OK; It Happens

Part Of Artistic Growth.

Experiencing a bout of “Artist Block”?  It’s OK, it happens to many of us and even some of the greats so there is no reason to quit!

I hope by sharing with you that this is a perfectly normal, of not frustrating, part of artistic growth, then you and I can get through the dry spell with our creative minds intact.

Contemplating Artist Block

“Kitty & Coffee Break in Warm Colors, Study” Contemplating Artist Block…

Maybe You’re Immune.

OK.  First before I get too carried away I’d like to say this: maybe you won’t have this problem of artist’s block.  Its not a foregone conclusion or inevitable.  Maybe you’ll groove through your artist’s life without experiencing “artist’s block” or a period of diminished productivity.  Perhaps your artistic process or natural inclination prevents this problem.  If so, ride the creative wave and have enjoy the experiencence!

Not So For Me.

Or, perhaps you are like me.  From time to time, I have a dip in productivity and nothing seems right.  It happens and its frustrating.  Which reminds me, I ought to define what I mean by artist’s block.

Artist Block Defined.

I looked up the definition of “artist block” on line, naturally.  The “Urban Dictionary” defines it as follows:

“Also known as an ‘art block’, a usually random occurrence in which one loses inspiration and motivation to draw.”  By MonElisa, September 15, 2007

Not So Random – Feelings of Inadequacy.

For me, its probably not so random.  If I were honest with myself, I might look to feelings as the source of the block.  I can be plagued by feelings of “not being good enough”, “I should be better”, “there is too much to learn”, etc.

Or Avoidance and Perfection Dramas.

Another problem for me is work avoidance and there is usually a cause.  Usually its because, well, drawing is hard pretty much all of the time.   Perfection is an additional issue that causes work delays for me.  You know, the attitude that if its not perfect then its not worth doing.  Killer attitude that one don’t you think?  Nothing like making it nearly impossible to succeed.

Commitment Issues.

So, I am working through a slow period.  I’m having trouble completing paintings.  I tease and chastise myself about having commitment issues.  The problem is that I commit to a course of action for about 30 seconds until doubt comes in.  When I think about it, I realize I’m looking for the “one true path” – a sort of perfection that doesn’t exist.

The question for me becomes what to do about the artist block?

Even Picasso Was Blocked – At Least Once**.

Before I move on answering the question about what to do, I’d like to share an antidote with you.  Did you know that even prolific painters, such as Picasso, have periods we might call artists block?  I was surprised when I read about Picasso having a crisis and not being able to paint.   The way he worked himself out of it was by writing.

Working My Way To The Other Side.

As I am working myself out of my artistic slump, I find the fact that Picasso also struggled re-assuring.  Though my inner drama queen was kinda hoping I was the only one who ever suffered in this way.  Darn…its so common.

So, now that I’m among friends, what to do?  The artist block problem needs to solve itself.


On anything, on everything but just work!  Its our job as artists to get on with our work even if it doesn’t seem to measure up to whatever expectations we impose on ourselves.  Oh my!  Doesn’t that statement say something about my current work situation?

Lets see; note to self:  work without judgement; just work and work a lot!  I’m thinking that ought to be a good personal mantra.

Draw and Paint Anything & Everything.

For me, that means drawing and painting daily.  It doesn’t matter if the results are creative or good.  What is important is practicing, discovering and learning.  And, yes, the results matter too because they can be learned from and lead to starting again.  And again, and tomorrow, again some more!

Perhaps there may be some other things you and I can do to get past the block.   I would imagine the source of the block may hold the key to breaking through to productivity again.  For example, sometimes my paintings take forever and a day to complete.  The process can be tedious and it can be hard to maintain interest.  What if I tried starting and completing a painting in one session, for example?  It would shake things up and get me out of my comfort (and sometimes boring) zone.

Take Aways.

Picasso had artist block at least once so we’re in good company.  And, he got over it and was prolific.

Recognizing that artist block is normal can be step one to overcoming the block.  Next is understanding what part of the process is the stumbling block.

What Next.

I’m laughing at myself because I started this particular blog post about a month ago.  Do you suppose my artist block has creeped into my writing as well?  Could be.

Today, I had a thought and last week I had another thought.  Maybe I’ll talk about what motivates us to draw especially since motivation or lack thereof can influence artist block.

Or, maybe I’ll write more about things to do to get over artist block.  I think its nice to have some ideas to work on in the near future.

Feel Free To Share.

What about you?  Please feel free to comment about your own situation.  Have you ever had to deal with artist block and how did you feel?

Contemplating Artist Block

“Kitty & Coffee Break in Muted Colors, Study”
Still contemplating Artist Block…but making progress

About the Paintings.

The two paintings were done back in 2011.  They were color and design studies based on a drawing done from imagination.  The person and cat could be anyone, though I think it captures how I feel sometimes.  I’m thinking about those quiet contemplation or “space out” moments over a morning cup of coffee with a favorite cat.

Please enjoy.

Selected Related Articles.

*Artist Block, Urban Dictionary

** Picasso, Master of the New Idea.  Marie-Laure Bernadac and Paula Du Bouchet, 1993; Discoveries – Harry N. Abrams Inc, Publishers. New York.  English Edition.  Page 91.

Art & Fear; Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making.  David Bayles & Ted Orland.  1993.  The Image Continuum Press Edition.  Santa Cruz CA & Eugene OR.

“Advice From Artists On How to Overcome Creative Block, Handle Criticism, and Nature Your Sense of Self Worth”,  by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings Website, 2014

Art Blocked? The Anatomy of Art Block, by zack-sr on DevianArt, December 15, 2007




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Travels To Asia; Paintings of Souvenirs

Connection To Asia.

I have traveled to the continent of Asia twice, once to Japan and once to Saudi Arabia.  In this blog post, I’d like to tell you about my travels and share some souvenirs.

Asia - Japanese Souvenirs

“Taka Geta” – wooden clogs and “Netsuki” replica (rabbit)

Converging Events.

You might think this an odd subject for the middle of December, but two events converged in my life.  Next week is my oldest sister’s birthday and I needed to create a birthday card for her.  My sister was a high school exchange student to Japan back in the early 1970s, so I usually create a birthday card using souvenirs she sent me.  This is my way of honoring her gift and sharing a connection.  I am including two “cards” that I’ve painted.

The second event in this convergence is a blog post by Candace Rose Rardon titled “The Geography of Connection: A Second Call Out for Your Stories”.  My brain saw “call out” in the title and it caught my attention.   Ms. Rardon talks about travel, connection, and stories.   In this call-out, readers are asked to share stories and connections if they have to the continent of Asia.

Oh, and, she creates cool, artistic maps!

Asia in 1990.

Well, in 1990 I traveled to two different countries in Asia: Japan and Saudi Arabia.  At the time, I was an officer in the United States Army and my travels were duty related.

Sendai, Japan.

I made my trip to Sendai, Japan in early 1990 with a team from the 6th Infantry Division (Light) out of Alaska.  We were to participate as part of IX US Corps in an exercise called “Yamasakura XVIII” with the Japanese Northeastern Army.  It was fun and enlightening.  During the day, we participated in the exercise.  During the evening and time off we participated in social events or explored Japan.  The intention was to foster good will between the two Army’s.

Regarding connections, I met many Japanese people.  We exchanged gifts, shared meals, drank Japanese beer and enjoyed each others company.  I didn’t speak Japanese and they didn’t confess to speaking English…though I’m betting they did.  When traveling, I have found that it is best to be polite and on my best behavior and Japan is no exception.  I would believe that most adults understand some English but are reluctant to speak it.

We did have translators, but during social time, they were over-committed.  Instead, all of us, Japanese and Americans alike, shared our smiles, photos of families and gifts.

Asia: Japanese Souvenirs

Asia: Japanese Hat Dancer Souvenir

No Photos, Just Souvenirs.

All of the photos I took while in Japan were destroyed.  I’m not a good photographer and the 1990s  was a time before digital cameras and smart phones were readily available.  OK, like the amateur I am, I accidentally exposed ALL of my film.

However, I did bring back souvenirs, most of which are in storage.  But I have left a few on display around my home.  Periodically, I like to get them out to use as subjects for a still life set-up. I am including a study I did of a “Japanese Hat Dancer” that given to me.

Such gifts were typical and I treasure them.  I was taken by the kindness of people who did not know me.  For the brief period of time we shared a wonderful camaraderie…and lots of good Japanese beer and Sake.

I was saddened when I heard about the Japanese earthquake close to Sendai in 2011.  The Sendai I visited was such a fascinating, cosmopolitan city.  After scanning the recent news on line, I understand the people have rebuilt their city.  It wasn’t the first and I imagine not the last earthquake or tsunami.

In the Desert, Saudi Arabia.

Later in 1990, I travelled to Saudi Arabia as part of a transportation unit out of Kentucky. We were part of the XVIII Corps (US Army) deployment to Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  During the deployment, I was a transportation officer and worked in transportation operations.  Our unit worked primarily in the northeastern part of Saudi Arabia.

Because of my work, I did not make a personal connection with the people of Saudi Arabia.  Were the situation different, I would enjoy connecting with the people of Saudi Arabia, particularly the women.

I did see a fair amount of the desert.  I grew up in the desert Southwest of the US.  Our desert is vastly different from the Saudi Arabian deserts.  Granted, I only experienced the  Saudi desert from October to June.  However, the vegetation seemed sparse in compared to the deserts of SW New Mexico, my childhood home.

Still, beauty can be found anywhere.  The colors of the desert have there moments.  And, oddly enough, I did notice the birds, particularly the shore birds.  I don’t know how prevalent they were, but there were some puddles and salt lakes – or at least I think that is what they were.  Stilts, avocets, and I think flamingoes were among the birds I saw, though the flamingoes were from a distance.  I did see camels wandering the desert.  That’s something I don’t see every day!

No Photos, Just Memories.

Oh, I did take photos.  You might have guessed, they’re all in storage.  And, they’re mostly about trucks and soldiers.  Come to think of it, another wonderful experience with camaraderie of fellow soldiers.  Lots of personal connections and memories, but not so many photos.

I did some drawings and, guess what, they’re in storage too.  My favorite was of an Army truck… perhaps you can imagine one.

Asia: Japanese Souvenirs

Wooden Dolls and Clogs

Travel to Asia – Excellent Experience.

Whenever I travel, I feel my life experience is so much richer for having seen and encountered people who live differently.  Realizing that I have only visited two countries in Asia, isn’t it fascinating that they bracket the continent?  One to the east and one to the west – or near east and far east.

What about you?  Have you traveled to Asia?  Please feel free to share your story in a comment.  I would also like to invite you to go to Ms. Candance Rose Rardon’s blog and read other stories about travels to Asia.




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Angel of the Deep On Display

Angels Show.

I’m pleased to say my latest watercolor and gouache painting “Angel of the Deep”  will join other artworks in the Fourth Annual Angels Show at GoodBean Coffee in Jacksonville OR for the month of December.  GoodBean Coffee is located at 165 S Oregon St in historic Jacksonville, OR.

Angel Of The Deep by M. Stermer-Cox

About the Show.

Hosted by GoodBean Coffee Company, Hannah West Designs and Southern Oregon Artists Resource, the Angels Show features artwork by local artists using a variety of media.  You are invited to see the display of fine art daily during normal business hours (6am to 6pm).

Opening Reception.

The show’s special opening reception is on Saturday, December 3rd, from noon to 4pm.  If you are in the area, your are heartily invited to come in and join in the festivities.  You will be able to meet many of the artists while enjoying stories of angels and, naturally, the artwork.

Angels Show Quote by Hannah West

About My Mermaid-Angel.

I created my mermaid-angel design just for fun.  To explain, I enjoy seeing what my imagination can come up with once an idea pops into my head.  I have a dialogue, so to speak, with my pencil, paper and paint.  We work together until the crazy idea of a mermaid-angel starts to take shape. And, the more I think about my subject, the mermaid-angel in this case, stories form in my head.

Consider this, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to be at home at sea or in the air; to swim, or fly?  My mermaid-angel can move between air, land and water, which I think would be exciting.

And, what would a mermaid-angel do?  I think of my mermaid-angel as an empathetic care-taker and protector of the oceans and all the sea creatures.  I can see her helping turtles, dolphins and other animals caught in nets, for example.

A Little About the Painting.

This is one of the few paintings I’ve done where I use gouache along with watercolor.   I had a moment of inspiration, a “what if I do this” moment.  So, I pulled out a tube of gouache and started painting away.  Fun!

For those of you not familiar with gouache, it is an opaque watercolor and mixes well with “regular” transparent watercolor.  I used it on the wings and on the figure’s skin.

Oh, yes, I framed the painting and you may purchase my mermaid-angel during the show for $275.  Happily.  *Update!  My “Angel of the Deep” is sold!  Thank you Hannah West and GoodBean Coffee!  (Woohoo!)


Please Stop By.

I do hope you will stop by the Good Bean Coffee this December and see all the festive angels.  I’m closing with the official publicity poster for the Angels Show.  Thank you Hannah West for permission to include the poster!

Angels Show




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“Mermaid With Net At Night” At The “Icons” Exhibition

Mermaid As Icon

I am pleased to say that my painting “Mermaid With Net at Night” is showing at the Rogue Gallery and Art Center in Medford, OR.  To clarify, it is one painting among over 60 works of art in the Annual Member’s Exhibition.

Mermaid With Net At Night by M. Stermer-Cox

Most of all, if you are in the area, I invite you to please attend the artist’s reception on Friday, November 18th from 5 to 8 pm.

Should you miss the opening reception, you may see the exhibition through December 21st.  Plus, you can see the exhibition multiple times if you wish!  If you might like more information about the exhibition, including location and hours, please see the Rogue Gallery and Art Center’s Website.

To explain, every year the Rogue Gallery has a Member’s Exhibition from mid November through mid December.  For fun, creativity, and consistency, the show has an assigned theme.  So, the theme for this year’s member exhibition is “Icons”.

I’d like to share with you the show statement by the Rogue Gallery is as follows:

” Icons as signs, symbols or personalities can signify the eternal, a particular time, or the ephemeral. In the 2016 Annual Members’ Exhibition, over sixty artists present their icons using a variety of media and styles”.

I like that the gallery encourages a broad interpretation of “icons”.  I can hardly wait to see how other artists interpreted this particular theme.

Icons, Symbols or?

I had a difficult time with this particularly theme.  In my mind, I kept seeing Byzantine era icons.  So I tried to brain storm for new ideas.  Then, I had the problem of deciphering what is a symbol or icon.  Or, how about the word “iconic”?  Iconic women of myth?  Or modern day female icons?  Or, really are they symbols or metaphors?

As you might imagine, I can twist my brain in knots for a long time over the entire “icon” theme.  Do you suppose that is why the gallery gave artists a year to think about the theme?  So, yes I’m still thinking!

Icon or symbol, regardless, I am happy to have my mermaid share gallery space with so many other fine works of art.

Artist Statement

My own artist statement about this particular “Mermaid with Net At Night” is as follows:

“What can be more romantic than a mermaid alone at night?  I imagined that a mermaid in today’s seas would find lots of debris, some being quite useful.  In this case, she is examining a net.  Is she using it for herself, or is she caught in the net?  I expect that the story might go either way.

I like to think that my mermaid is protecting her fellow creatures of the sea.”


Now for a little bit of technical data, I painted my mermaid with watercolor and the image size is 10×7.  I have enclosed it in a white mat and black frame.

If you would like to collect my mermaid, you may purchase the painting through the gallery for the next month.

And, naturally, you may always contact me if you’d like more information!

In the meantime, please enjoy my painting and thank you for your time!




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