only dead fish go with the flow

Someone long ago had painted “ONLY DEAD FISH GO WITH THE FLOW” on a sidewalk at the University of Michigan. I don’t know if it was something I walked over once or everyday while I was there, but it was forever etched into my memory.

Struggle against the flow. Go with the flow. Fight. Surrender. I don’t have the answers. Some days it’s one. Some days the other. 

Making art is a struggle. Sometime you find that flow and go with it. The painting comes easy. Some days not.

But I understand the game. “Don’t fall in love with the background!” The “ugly teenager” phase. It’s temporary! The “click” when it starts to come together. And  I know the materials. I feel competent that I can make them do my bidding. No big surprises. And then I started painting with encaustics, and the unknown is as vast as an ocean. I am a beginner here. Any sense of control that I may feel is false. With heat the wax becomes fluid and unpredictable. The lines move. Too much heat and you melt through to the wood panel underneath all those layers. You blow a hole into the painting. And you have to remember what you learned in printmaking – “you can’t go back, you just have to roll with it”. Go with the flow. damn.

I really struggle when I work on an abstract piece. I need the painting to “be” something. I like a narrative. Even if no one else sees it. I started this painting 4 months ago. People who saw it said it was great, but I knew it wasn’t finished. And I was stuck. Didn’t know where to take it next. So I would walk by and doodle on it out of frustration. Carve into it, or draw more lines on it as I explained encaustic painting to visitors. It sat on the workbench and I would glare at it. And then a couple weeks ago I started working on it again, found the story and was able to finish it. finally!


Ophelia” 18″x18″

Of course I have started another encaustic painting. Another struggle. I am letting it sit. Giving it the stink-eye as I pass. In the meantime I’ve been making encaustic monotypes. A printmaking technique that allow me to make quick and easy prints with wax on paper. I had been using thick printmaking paper, but picked up some rice paper after attending the last Sierra Wax Artist meeting and seeing a monotype demo by Barbara Nilsson.  I must say I am really loving the results I get with this thinner paper! These are all 6″x9″ encaustic and graphite.


Photo Aug 11, 1 04 27 PM

Photo Aug 11, 1 41 39 PM


In my ongoing effort to shift my brain’s power balance back to the right hemisphere, I took my first online art class last week.

I say “ongoing”  because first there was this:

I might be called the Technique Queen, but my friend Lisa is the on-line class champion! She is always in the midst of one or two classes. (She also goes to amazing out of town workshops/retreats! I’m only super a little jealous.) So, when my school semester was over in June,  I was jonesing  to paint and get loose after all that time doing the technical work of printing and toning all the photographs for my upcoming solo show.  After seeing all the cool new paintings Lisa had made, I asked her to show me some of the new techniques she was learning. We scheduled an Art Day and I bought some acrylics (but I’m an oil girl!!) and a new canvas. I went to her house on the appointed day and we set up in her backyard. I slid the easel into some shade and tried to groove with this whole we are outside, with all the sunshine and fresh air business (CHANGE! DONOTLIKE!) and she began coaching me in the Flora Bowley technique of Brave Intuitive Painting.

Oh. My. God.

There is no plan! Just start adding drips and layers of paint to the canvas. Rotate canvas. Add more drips, dots, blops. Rotate. Start to panic. Keep adding more paint. Rotate. Finger paint! Rotate. Somehow get on the subject of Joe replacing Steve on Blue’s Clues. Add black paint angrily to canvas. Rotate. Realize you need to eat. Go home only mildly defeated.

Went back a couple days later for another Art Day with an additional two friends who have also been brainwashed schooled in the “let go” “spiral out” painting technique from hell! Flora.

To say I struggled would be an understatement. I am more than familiar with a painting’s “ugly phase” and how every time you start working again on a canvas you “ruin” it. But this was bad. And I was getting mighty discouraged. You are supposed to find and isolate small portions of the canvas you like and paint around them. Keep working until you “see” where the painting is going. That’s all fine and good, but I hated all of it! So I went home frustrated and ignored the canvas for a week.

Then with a full cup of coffee and the music obnoxiously loud, I started to paint again. Found the path and ended up here:

Hmm, not bad. And because I am a known glutton for punishment, I decided to do it all again. So the next time we were in Santa Cruz, I picked up a cheap easel to keep down there and a couple new canvases. Painting outside it much more bearable on the coast!

But this intuitive-no-plan-let-go business was still full of sh just as painful.

This stage isn’t too bad, but what I did after this was just god awful ugly. Insert discouraged artist sad face here.

So I took my canvases home and let them stew for another week. Started painting again and found a plan. Worked on it a second time and here is its current state on my easel:

It isn’t done, but I know what I want to do to finish it. Just waiting on a “paint” day. And then I will inevitably screw it up!


Well, didn’t realize I was going to rant about past paintings, but there it is. And I will finish that canvas and then probably start another one. Why? Because I do see the value and fun in the technique. (I really like the finger painting!!)  And let’s face it, even with a plan I spend half my time pissed off at the painting and wanting to set things on fire, so why not?

And since your finger is probably tired from all that scrolling, I’ll save the on-line drawing class for another post. And it will be full of happiness and joy! Assignments, I like them.