Monthly Archives: November 2014

Roots vs. Wings: How Art Gave Me Both


IMG_5538Art saved me. It has that power. Not that I was in trouble — I wasn’t. I got in enough trouble in my youth, true enough, but it’s not that kind of saving I needed. I needed to be saved from the mundane, to have a outlet and a language in which to express myself. I needed the language I call art.

As I was thinking about my beloved road paintings that I’ve been writing about recently, I got to thinking about “the roads not taken.” We all have plenty of those, I think.

I was brought up in West Michigan, in a wonderful but conservative, Dutch Reformed family that I love with all my heart. But my soul — my soul is Brazilian, like Carmen Miranda at Carnival. (But with much fewer people, because at heart, I get my energy by being alone. You get the idea.) Still, my little soul was not conservative, Dutch Reformed at all.


West Michigan is a great place, because I believe you blossom where you are, but Carmen Miranda isn’t a really a beloved figure here. It is a place that values conformity and following the rules quite a bit. This was always confusing for me. At 16, I broke into tears — I mean a full-on ugly cry. When my mom (and also my favorite person on planet Earth) asked me what was wrong, I sobbed, “I love you and Dad so much, Mom, but I don’t want to grow up to be like you, with kids, church on Sunday and, well, so traditional. It’s just not for me.” My infinitely wise and calm Mom said, “So, don’t. You get to choose. Choose what fits you; choose something different.” I remember all the dramatic wind of my teenage sails falling away and thinking, “I can do that?” Which became, “I can do that!”

But much as I might not like it, that darn Midwestern Dutch DNA was deeply ingrained in who I am, and it reminds me of roads NOT taken. The time I went to Mexico to study art, secretly hoping I would end up moving there, but no, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around not having a steady job and being that far away from my roots. That anxiety that came as part of my DNA package. Couldn’t do it, and worse, I found I didn’t really want to. After my six-week study program was over, I came home.

There was the dream I had to spend a year traveling Europe picking grapes in October and finding odd jobs here and there. My longest trip there was 10 weeks and prepaid; no finding work along the way for me.

There was the invitation to hop on the back of a bike in Ethiopia and travel on that bike to Cape Town with a very handsome man. I wanted to be the type of person that could do that, to sleep under the stars in Africa, but all I could think was black mambas also sleep under those stars and god knows what else — oh, there’s that anxiety again. But I was in Ethiopia. I was there for two months that year and have returned eight times. In that way I have always been true to myself.


So I choose a life my mom has always described as roots and wings. But the roots have never interested me to paint; it is the wings I always turn to. I paint what that road from the back of a bike might have looked like, but I view it from the safety of a truck. In my Goddess of Wine series, I paint the absolute carefree spirit. That series was greatly influenced by Josephine Baker, who just looked so damn celebratory and free of any anxiety. Yes, I want to paint that. My inner Carmen Miranda. I paint from the perspective of being always barefoot with the wind in my hair.


I am so very at peace with who I am and the roads I have taken that have been far greater than I could ever imagine. But in my art — well, there I get to explore any world I wish to create, and then you, my viewer, in turn get to bring your inner world, secret fantasies, roads traveled or not, to my art and let it remind you of whatever it is that makes you smile, whatever floats your boat.

In that way, the art collector gets to have as much fun as the artist herself. Note: I am also a art collector. Art can save you, too, help keep the mundane at bay, even if only as an art owner. Go enjoy art today, go smile at the roads not taken and the roads you have taken. Insert yourself into that piece of art and have a flipping ball. In fact, be the belle of that ball. Own it, my friends, and I’ll keep creating!

Realism vs. Abstraction: Not So Black-and-White


Day 1

My dad called me the other day.

“Mom showed me your recent drawing on Facebook — my daughter’s got talent!” he exclaimed.

The drawings in question were a response to a “B & W Challenge,” where I was supposed to post a black-and-white photo every day for five days. I desired to really challenge myself, so I opted to do five black-and-white drawings instead of photos. I did these works in a more realistic fashion than my paintings.

When my sweet Papa — who has always encouraged me and always praised my work and meant no harm at all — said this of the drawings, I was a little bummed.

Why? Here’s the secret: I want everyone to know what I did in these drawings was, for me, easier than the work I do with my paintbrush every day. I felt disappointed in my dad’s words because I know most people who have not studied art think, “The more realistic, the more talent.”

Yes, making art that is realistic does take talent, but not imagination, and imagination is hard. Copying from reality is easier than doing a work of art that includes your feelings and personal interpretation and is more abstracted. Say what? Yup, it’s true, and here is why: When I do a realistic work, I am copying what already exists. I look at the photo in front of me and render it. The information is all there. I don’t have to use my imagination at all, just the skills they taught me in art school. Please understand that I’m not saying it doesn’t take skill to work realistically, I’m saying it doesn’t take creativity and imagination. I’m saying it’s a skill that can be taught. Imagination can only be exercised, but not taught.

In college, there were the inevitable people who wanted to skip all the rules and move right into abstraction. I understood this. I, too, admired most painters who abstracted in some way, who were “painterly” in their approach, with a kind of freedom that hyper-realism doesn’t allow for.

But I found quickly the abstract works by students who had not yet learned the rules lacked something; frankly, they lacked a lot. That knowledge goes deeply against that old saying “My kid could do that.” Abstract work done without skill doesn’t show up in your local museum; you can tell the difference. I remember thinking in art school that if I wanted to move into work that was more abstract and expressed more how I felt about something than what a camera might record, I had better learn the rules first. Learn the rules — then break the rules, from a place of knowing.

It is the breaking of the rules that we modern artists spend the rest of our artistic journeys working on. It’s the exploration of ourselves in the backdrop of the idea or scene. The reinterpretation of what exists. What exists is already there; it’s your artistic interpretation that you must invent, and invention is hard.

Thank you for coming along for the ride on this wild journey of artistic exploration; learning the path wouldn’t be the same without you, the viewer. And next time you hear someone say, “My kid could do that,” please do hand them a canvas, paint and brush and invite them to try, while reminding them: “But your child did not do this, and this artist did, after much study and work.”*

Cheers to the artistic process, the breaking of the rules, and the magic you find in between the two.

*Before I sign off, I have to add that when I shared my disappointment and explanation with my dad, a former art student, he said, “I know all that, honey. I love your work — I just liked the surprise of these drawings!” Fair enough, Papa, fair enough!

Day 4

Day 4

Descriptions of the drawings:

Day 1: Cow …

Day 2: … and more cow!

Day 3: Bull

Day 4: My hubby took this mans photo in Ethiopia several years ago, and I have wanted to draw him ever since. I loved his quiet dignity and kind gaze, along with lines on his face that tell a story he was too young to be in a position of telling.

Day 5: Another photo my sweetie took of a compelling face, this one from Italy. In America, we seem to have a problem with age, but I think we are wrong. It is these lines that compel, that tell a story of where we have been, what we have learned. These are the faces I most enjoy drawing. Faces with history.