Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Language of Art


Big thanks to YOU the students who made our class possible. Kudos for showing up and working hard on the assignments.

In our busy lives it is so hard to find the time to even eke out a few brush strokes. But by making a commitment to this class you made an important commitment to yourselves and to keeping art alive.

Natalie Goldberg has written many books about how to write. In her best seller  Writing Down the Bones  she suggests that you schedule an appointment with yourself like you would a hair cut or a doctor visit. Put it on your calendar. Then make sure to organize your time so you won’t be late. It’s easy to let this slide because the only appointment you have is with yourself. If you’re late to an appointment with yourself, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Well, yes it does.

Pull-tab IMG_4747When I was a child, milk came in clear glass bottles delivered early morning on our doorstep. Later, at the store, we purchased the boxy wax carton that served well. Now, in the name of sanitation and convenience, milk cartons have been “improved” with plastic safety milk pull-tabs. Now, thousands of these ubiquitous tabs are making their way to the landfill and will take thousand of years to go away.


To draw attention to this blight, I created a bracelet “fashion statement” that really says something.  People always take note of my unique jewelry, which gives me the opportunity to talk about plastic and to encourage action about everything, even about milk cartons.

During a recent trip to Tanzania, I visited a Masai village where the curious fingers of an elder Masai woman touched my bright white bracelet trying to figure out what could be the source and the material of my unusual adornment. I asked our guide to explain that I had made the bracelet out of milk pull-tabs; that they were something that would otherwise be thrown away; that I am an artist who uses recycled plastic in my creations. I was babbling so fast that probably neither she nor my translator understood a word of what I was saying. And, although the Masai subsist on cow’s milk and blood, I am sure that she had no idea about milk cartons or pull-tabs.

I was thrilled that she was interested and was happy that she accepted my bracelet as a gift. It was truly a reach across space and time. She is an expert crafts person who makes elaborate bracelets and neck collars. With mutual respect as artisans, we made an exchange. I now wear one of her fine beaded bracelets and she now wears my milk-tab bracelet. In a gesture of appreciation of art and adornment, the Masai woman and I connected. ART held the moment — through beauty we were able to speak when language just wouldn’t do.


Yesterday, thanks to Barrie and her months of collecting hundreds of tabs, ART held the moment as we circled our hands and celebrated the language of art.

many hands

Wishing you all the best in the new year and beyond.

Keep painting. Stay true.


Let’s Party


After my unfortunate sanfu with the lesson about ribbons, I was delighted to find this apropos clip art image. Yes, let’s party and tip a toast to our artistic accomplishments and to the power of the creative spirit.

During our time together we have explored many ways to look at ourselves and the world in new ways. From thinking about standing on our heads to using a mirror to invert the reflection of our paintings we have discovered a multitude of ways to think about what we do and how we do it.

If you are not familiar with the inspiring poetry of Mary Oliver,  I encourage you to seek her out. Here is one of my favorites:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

If you are looking for thought provoking musings about a variety of philosophical topics check out Brainpickings. You can subscribe to the free weekly Brainpickings newsletter here. Of particular relevance to the question about why art? is this Brainpickings book review about Alain De Botton’s latest  Art as Therapy.




Although it might seem like an impossible stretch— from the silhouettes of hands on the cave walls of Pech Merle to making hand turkeys for Thanksgiving— it is just the kind of reach across space and time that affirms the 30,000 years humans have used their hands to proclaim, I WAS HERE.

These days the humble elementary school hand turkey has gone wild as designers and artists have used the simple form as the starting point for some really creative birds.

You will be amazed at what this artist has done:


The Dordogne region of southern France is home to hundreds of prehistoric caves. Lascaux, the most famous, had so many visitors that they had to build a replica. Human breath creates mold which destroys the delicate drawings. Grotte du Pech Merle is one of the few caves that you can enter that are still the real deal. Although the early visitors probably crawled on hands and knees down the long narrow passageway until they entered the enormous underground site, today it is an easy walk down the stairway that arrives in the cavernous hall.

Drawing of mammoths, bisons, deers, the dotted horse from the Paleolithic are captivating reminders of human impulse to observe and document experience — and those hands, those hands definitely say, I WAS HERE.


In 1962 my parents took me to the Dallas Museum of Art  where I saw Andrew Wyeth’s painting That Gentleman.

The painting drew many to the museum — there were long lines with stanchions and velvet ropes to control the crowds. Was it because curious onlookers wanted a glimpse of a painting of a black man? Mind you it was a simple scene of a black man seated, in dusky light, a moment of repose.  It’s of Wyeth’s neighbor Tom Clark. To me it seemed a radical move for the museum to buy a painting of a black man especially at a time when segregation still existed in the South. I remember water fountains with signs for whites only, for blacks only. This was 1962, years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Perhaps it was the shock to the public that the museum had purchased the painting or maybe, it was, as I would like to think, that there was tremendous interest in seeing a masterwork by a great American artist. Either way there were people, lots of people waiting for their turn to view the painting.

The line moved slowly in a kind of reverential prayer and when it was my turn I stepped up in front of the painting to gaze with wonder not only the power of the image but the incredible finesse of the brush work. Something in my young heart was deeply moved. At that moment I made a commitment to art. I made my pledge to become an artist. That an image could have such an incredible impact on me and the people who had come to the museum was something that I too wanted to accomplish. On that day, at age twelve, I knew that wanted make something that would make a difference — to make art that would shine a light on injustice in the world.


I visited That Gentleman in the 80’s and again in 2012. Each time as I have stood before it, with welling tears, I have confirmed my commitment. Museum staff reports That Gentleman is one of the most beloved works in the collection.

In 2012, my husband Richard Lang and I were invited to give a lecture about our beach plastic project at the Dallas Museum of Art. To present our work  just steps away from That Gentleman was a giant step towards realizing  the commitment I had made that day in 1962.  I never could have imagined that 50 years later picking up trash from our little stretch of Kehoe Beach would shine a light on a devastating global environmental problem and would take me to Texas.

Lists of 10. These days there are lists of the ten best for almost every category: album covers, train excursions, hairstyles. So it was easy to find the list for the 10 iconic American paintings everyone should know.

Christinas-WorldChristina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

okeefepoppiesOriental Poppies by Georgia O’keefe

Four_freedomsThe Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell

snapSnap the Whip by Winslow Homer

american-gothic-large4American Gothic by Grant Wood

nighthwkNighthawks by Edward Hopper

inthecarIn the Car by Roy Lichenstein

No.5_1948No. 5 by Jackson Pollock

george-washington-gilbert-stuartLandsowne Portrait of George Washington by Stuart Gilbert

church-twilight-in-the-wildernessTwilight in the Wilderness by Frederic Church

There are many lists, many tens. What are your ten most favorite? most iconic?

On my list Mona Lisa stands heads and shoulder above. And that is how you have to see her today. Because of safety considerations she now resides behind a hermetically sealed glass enclosure in a large room where all the paparazzi can snap a pic. No one gets a quiet audience. No one can really commune with her.


Fortunately in 1967 I was able to be alone with this painting. At a time before the guards, the protective enclosure.  It was just me and Mona in a small gallery, face to face.


I am so grateful for the art in my life — what I have been able to experience and express.

I am grateful to my art forebears from those first hands on the cave wall to the hands that made the first hand turkey. I say YAY to I WAS HERE and to I AM HERE.

I am grateful to you my students for giving me the reason to write this blog.

With all of the catastrophes in the world we are so lucky to be able to continue to find real joy in life—the creative moment gives us the best pleasure we can imagine.

Wishing you and yours a life full of thanks and full at Thanksgiving. Wishing you and yours light, lots of light for Hanukkah.


Take a deep breath.
Raise your shoulders up to your ears then let go, letting your shoulders drop.
OK, now do it again.
Big breath.
Raise your shoulders to your ears then let them go.
If he can do it, so can you.


We get so engrossed while reading the computer screen or so focused when working on getting that brushstroke just right that we just forget to breathe.

So yes, now, right now.

Stand up!
Stand out!
Change your perspective and your relationship to your brush and paper.

Take a cue from Jackson Pollock in action.


Connie Smith Siegel’s Spirit of Drawing is filled with sensory awareness exercises and lots of photographs of artwork done by workshop participants. Plus, she presents samples of  full page spreads so you can take a look inside. Click on this page here to enlarge.


There are many sizes of sets of Caran d’ache watercolor crayons from the basic set of 10 to the glorious set of 126. Hey, Santa, it’s on my list!


Oh, yes, and one more thing…


What color is it?

Artists use color in a variety of ways.
Representationally- the actual color of the object.
Decoratively- to enhance or interpret a composition.
Emotionally- to express a feeling.
Symbolically-  to express an idea.

As my husband and I sift through our collection of beach plastic the first differentiation is color. 40-some years ago, during our college years, the pedagogic pattern in most art schools, came from the Bauhaus. Johannes Itten (1888-1967) was an instructor at the Bauhaus school and was famous for his treatise on color, The Art of Color. His great question “What color is it?” sparks our reverie as we glean plastic from the beach. What green is it — olive, forest, mantis, teal? What blue — baby, navy, cobalt, ultramarine? Color exists in context and is influenced by what color it is next to. Is it blue-red, orange-yellow, or green-yellow? The question of “What color is it?” is often asked. We answer, “Red, yes, but which red: purple-red, orange-red, light red (Pink).” So we’ve tried to answer the question with this series titled Chromas. The colors are just as we find them. Simple pieces of color put together in a considered way are the basis of how we go about our work. Colors are like musical tones, keys on a keyboard and when placed compositionally together become like a song. For more about our project visit






Joseph Albers in his series Homage to a Square created hundreds of paintings that explored the relationship between colors — what makes something appear to recede? to move forward?

josef-albers-study-for-homage-to-the-square-c-1954  Albers_DownloadedFile

Claude Monet says, “It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” “When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you own naïve impression of the scene before you.”



Unfortunately, I was unable to find a secure link to the Luscher Color Test site. There are many online tests that claim to be authentic however, there are many that are not. For fear of unleashing a raft of spam, I am not  sending a link.  The book is long out of print. There are used copies for sale on Amazon and eBay.

Names of all of the Crayola colors here.


What is the question?


Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Not only is Gauguin’s painting a masterpiece the title holds its own mystery.

This summary is from the NYU database.
“The piece should be viewed as a text from right to left–a suggestion imparted by the
artist’s own letters–with the various figures representative of questions relating to
human existence. In this light, the babe at the far right signifies newborn life. The
figure of questionable sex whose back is turned to the viewer and who appears to
inspect his or her underarm could be understood as the beginning of an individual’s
realization of gender. The apple-picking male and the girl to his left who sits eating an
apple reenact the fable of Adam and Eve and the quest for knowledge. The old woman at the far left of the frame sits on the verge of death, unclothed as a parallel perhaps to the babe on the painting’s far right. As one examines the painting, the questions that make up the artwork’s title-“Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?”-invite the viewer to contemplate the meaning of life with regard to the symbols Gauguin has left for us.

There is the provocative final question, memorable last words. When Gertrude Stein was being wheeled into emergency surgery her last words were spoken to her long time companion Alice B. Toklas. She asked, What is the answer? When Alice did not reply, she says, In that case…what is the question? Stein’s final words have guided my own quest.

In college, in Contemplation of Being, a philosophy seminar, I encountered the mind-bending questions of Zen Buddhism. I was intrigued by the idea of the koan as a question or as a statement the meaning of which could not be understood by rational thinking but may be accessible through intuition. After an intensive weekend reading for the class, in a flash of creative insight, I understood the structure and inner workings of the koan and made ones of my own- with words and images that became my book Happy Day You  published in 1970 by Grossman Publishers, New York.





And, there is the question that I come to every Friday morning…

What am I doing here?

Ways of Seeing

The way we see is the way we have been taught —                                                                              new learning can teach us new ways to see.
This idea was eloquently expressed by John Berger who wrote about it in his seminal book Ways of Seeing that was based on a 1972 BBC TV series. Now thanks to YouTube you can view the entire series.

The thumbnail or quick sketch is a perfect way to use those in between moments when traffic was good and you arrive early for an appointment.  A travel satchel or fanny pack can be put to use to carry some 4″ x 6″ pieces of paper, pencil or charcoal, eraser and a cardboard stump for smudging and blending

The spontaneous and quick is at play. The ideas collected while out and about can be brought home to your work table to be refined or enhanced with a swish of color.

Now is the time- not later.
Get to the essence of the thing- bold moves and fast.
When in doubt simplify.
Say “Yes” often. Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!

Daylight savings time ends on Sunday November 3. It will be time to turn the clock back one hour and it’s time to change the batteries in your smoke detector.