Inspiration is No Joke

Sometimes inspiration hits when you least expect it.

I know how I operate:  I am deadline driven.  When I take on a commission I want to know when I need to deliver it by.  Of course, there is always the circumstance when I ask, “When would you like this?” and the answer is “Oh, whenever…”  Let me give you a little background behind my latest commission which I just call “The Joker”…

I am fortunate to have an awesome patron who has commissioned a number of works throughout the years who’s quite flexible with completion timetables.  It’s pretty funny really…sometimes I’ll finish a piece in a month, or two, or maybe a bit longer…About 5 years ago I dropped off a painting to his home in San Francisco and he said, “I’d like to have a joker painting in your style.”  We originally discussed my old-school gouache on wood technique and at first I was quite animated and inspired.  However this faded and I did not feel the same drive to paint this freaking awesome character.  I’ve always wanted to do the joker, why am I suddenly uninspired?  Time passes, I’ve embraced the encaustic medium and I now see my gouache work as a thing of the past.   During that time I have also moved up north to the Sacramento area and met new people.

Speaking of new people, one of my co-workers has a face made of rubber.  One day at work inspiration hit like a lightening bolt as I was talking to him.  I can’t remember the conversation but I do recall rudely interrupting him saying “OMG I HAVE TO PAINT YOU AS THE JOKER!” And the rest was history.

After seeing my friend’s rubber face I had a crystal clear vision in my mind of what I wanted to do.  This new idea wasn’t quite what my collector and I originally discussed but I just had to do it.  I decided to go in the new direction…

This commission was 5 years in the making:  I couldn’t force the painting into a style that I no longer resonated with.  I never forgot about the Joker, he was in the back of my mind and would pop up every now and again.  Inspiration comes out of nowhere and when it does strap yourself in and go along with the ride!

Back in Black (and White)

Mane & Tail no. 1

I am a color nerd.  I am fascinated with color relationships and how they interact with one another.  I am a huge advocate using a limited color palette (if you’ve been in any of my classes you’ve heard me emphatically preach this concept).  I can spend hours painting swatches, color studies, deciphering pigments on the back of paint tubes – oh, I’m a hoot to be around!  “Color Nerd” is a term I learned from one of my teachers, Laura Moriarty, and it just stuck.  That being said…

Over the past few months I have been drawn to explore perhaps the most basic color palette of them all: Black & White.  There’s something to be said about the false simplicity of white and black and everything in between.  I began to truly appreciate the nuances of the mega-monochrome after studying the work of my colleagues, Wendy Aikin and Lisa Kairos, both amazing encaustic artists.  The Grey is a wonderland.  A continuum to see how far one can push and pull the extremes of light and dark.  Grey does not just become the backdrop to a painting – the subject must interact with it, Grey becomes the atmosphere.  

When starting my encaustic “Black & White” series I prepared multiple birch panels.  I limited myself to R&F encaustic colors: Ivory Black, Titanium White and Neutral White (pardon me as I wipe the drool from my mouth).  My only bling was Enkaustikos Antique Gold Pearl which I used sparingly for effect (again, relish!).  The natural color of the birchwood played an integral part to warming up the grey and drawing it towards brown.  The slight yellow cast of the beeswax also brought the Grey towards the light so to speak.  Grey is easily influenced and therefore the array of neutral tones is staggering.

The major inspiration behind this color palette was my desire to paint my horses.


I wanted to keep the colors extremely simple to showcase the raw power, movement and line of the horse.  I wanted the attention to be on the animal.  What I wasn’t expecting was a 50 Shades of Grey love affair to develop within these colors.  You know you’re in love when your painting is complete and you don’t want to stop.  I had to pull myself away from the panel more than once during this series.  “Oh maybe I can just…”  NO!  Put the brush down!  This was the case with perhaps my most popular painting of the series, “Seahorse”.  The warmth of the birch panel fills in the gaps between brushstrokes and reads as brown.  The only colors used in this painting were Ivory Black, Titanium White and Neutral White.

This series has taught me that Grey is subtle.  Grey is powerful.  Grey is sexy.  Let’s see where this relationship goes…

Animal Magnetism

animal magnetism banner


Animals have always been a part of my life ever since I was a small child.  Growing up I had dogs, a cat, an assortment of mice, zebra finches, parakeets, cockatiels, a rat named Sneakers, and two newts if I remember correctly.  My Cockatoo, Angel, is still with me today and will surely outlive me.  My husband and I live with chickens and two very muddy horses named Logan and Rommell (yes, I know…we didn’t name him).  The animal force is strong within me.

Looking back through my artistic journey I begin to see how animals have played a larger role than I ever realized.

I have always been attracted to what animals represent.  I see the freedom of a bird in flight, the power of a horse and especially the personality of chickens.  There are mixed feelings whenever I paint from my flock.  Love, comic relief, joy, and at the same time sadness because we’ve seen so many come and go.  To me, these mixed feelings convey the duality and complexity of animals.  There is a preciousness and “untouchability” to these creatures.  It’s something we take for granted while we live our very human day to day lives: sitting in traffic, buying groceries, pumping gas…but I digress.

Willy's DaydreamChoosing the right medium is important to portray the personality of the animal and at the same time evoke the emotional response in the viewer.  It’s a 2-way street.  When I work with colorful acrylics and collage my goal is to spotlight the whimsey and ridiculous of animals.  The feeling I am going for is the nostalgic childlike response to seeing an animal up close for the first time.  Unconditional love.

Fly Me To The MoonMy progression into encaustic has led me to a more technique-driven and intuitive way of painting.  I allow the medium to help dictate movement in the subject matter while keeping a “loose rein” so to speak.  My animals today have evolved into semi-abstracts with understated, monochromatic color.  One aspect that this continuing collection portrays is the fleeting moment that we connect with.  A bird lifting off in flight, a stretch, a glance and then it’s gone.  There is an untouchability in animals and we have to let them go, but we covet the connection and search it out.

I constantly say that “art is a journey”.  The transitions between styles, inspirations, techniques, materials, etcetera will always happen.  When a breakthrough occurs it’s like a spotlight flips on.  I feel that each of my paintings I’ve created has led me to this moment in my career.  Perhaps it was the controlled chaos of encaustic that was the missing link, or the confidence to “give up” the high-intensity color, or maybe the subtle message of the animal itself.  Whatever the turning point, the spotlight is shining on the path and I am falling down the rabbit hole, freely and with anticipation of what’s to come.

me & romps 1

The “Holy Grail”

I would like to think of myself bravely standing on top of a carved stone lion’s head.  The updraft emanating from below causes my hat to flutter.  I dust off my jacket and extend my leg into the air.  As I lean forward into the limitless abyss I think to myself, “There’s no turning back now…”

Well you know, not all of us have a cheat sheet with step-by-step instructions to the Holy Grail. Sean Connery is not bleeding to death back in the musty temple and you know what?  That leap is scary!  So I ask you, “What’s the dream? The pie in the sky?  The ultimate goal?”  I think the un-asked question that accompanies this is “What’s the hesitation?”  As an artist, you might be able to guess what my Holy Grail is.  Let me give you a snapshot of my leaf of faith…

I am a 34 year old artist.  I also work at an art store.  This year will be my 15 year anniversary.  I have also been professionally painting for a little over 10 years.  Do the math.  I know – I just know – that if I devoted 100% of my time to my craft I would be unstoppable.  Don’t get me wrong – working at the art store has been an amazing journey.  We’re a family at the store.  I’ve gained confidence and work experience.  Where else can I be surrounded by art supplies, work with my best friend, AND have health insurance?  I am also afforded time off to paint, show and teach.  Pretty cozy.

About a year ago I taught a watercolor workshop for the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society called “Kickstart Your Creativity”.  This workshop was incredibly introspective and I posed questions to the group to help them recognize and break through creative blocks.  One exercise was called “Dream Big”.  In one or two sentences they described their ideal artistic dream.  I wanted them to be very clear about their goal so I wrote my dream on the white board as an example.

“My dream is to create art full time and in doing so – support myself financially ABOVE AND BEYOND my means and with complete confidence.”

my dreamI gave them a whole evening to mull it over, word it just right, and share with the group the following morning.  This turned out to be one of the most difficult assignments.  Why?  Why is it so hard to simply define a dream? We put so much crap in front of our dreams that we forget why we, as individuals, were put on this planet.  We also become comfortable with where we are in life and the dream remains just that – a dream.  This discussion led into what I call “Comfort Zones”.  Comfort zones are what?  Comfortable!  Why on earth would you want to leave?  The tricky thing about comfort zones is they are also a safety blanket.  My biggest comfort zone?  Working at the art store.

So here I am, standing behind the registers, with an inspirational-sayings magnet rack across from me.  Most of the magnets are pretty sappy.  They would pair well with my “Hang in There” poster of a kitten hanging from a branch.  One magnet stares back at me: “LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR”.  In all capital letters no less.  Yeah, yeah I know.  I get it.  JUST DO IT.  For Pete’s sake I taught a workshop on this!  I stare back at the magnet from behind the registers, silently judging myself.  Oh good, a customer!  I wave to the next person in line, “Hi, I can help you over here.”

I know why I am on planet Earth and what my purpose is.  I wholeheartedly believe in my creative abilities.  But do I?  I can’t help but think that the large percentage of my time in front of a register means that I am not in front of my easel.  I haven’t taken the leap yet.  I have not cannonballed off the lion’s head.  So what do I do?  I bought the magnet and now it’s on my fridge, silently reminding me that I can do it.  It’s a start, but before I take that “LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR” attitude you might just see me leaning over the lion’s head and shouting into the abyss “Does the net have health insurance?!”

If there’s a Will, there’s a Way

quick studio

You can paint anywhere no matter the space.  If there is a will, there is a way.

Recently my husband and I made a big move up north toward Sacramento and let me tell you that moving can be a bear.  During this time I’ve been working on a piece that I need to submit to the Triton Museum of Art and the deadline is fast approaching.  My studio is packed in haphazardly labeled boxes scattered around the house and I have no idea where I put my blowtorch.  After a preliminary unpack I was able to gather what I needed to complete this painting.  Let me tell you how much of a relief it was to be using a limited color palette!

Our new house has a delightful little cinderblock porch with an overhang that I was able to set up underneath.  I gathered a few tables, found my extension cords and set up an impromptu encaustic studio.  One thing I failed to mention about our new home is that it is close to a water nature preserve, two ponds and levy, so I quickly became familiar that the mosquito population quintuples around 4 pm (note to self: pick up Deet and Citronella candles at the store).

It is easy to want to just cannonball into a painting but you need to have a space set up where you can successfully paint–and by successfully I do not mean painting a beautiful painting.  What I mean is that you don’t have to go digging around for what you’re looking for to make the next brush stroke.  This can be a frustrating and time-consuming activity that is not at all creative.

I was impatient to begin working so I had my extension cords crossed everywhere, my fuses were blowing and I was beginning to feel the pressure of needing to complete this piece.  When my husband walked outside and saw how frustrated I was he said, “Why not just take a couple minutes and get yourself set up?” What a novel idea! If only I’d practice what I preach.  I did just that and rearranged my cords, drew power from another room, and cleared my head a little bit by refilling my water.  I also grabbed an additional table and organized my tools.  When I came back to my painting I was stepping into a much more “successful” creative space.  I set up a couple of my dining room chairs as an easel to raise the height of my painting and it worked out perfectly.  After these minor adjustments which only took a few minutes I was able to get much farther on my painting than if I had just kept fighting through my inconvenient slap-dash studio space.
encaustic at annies
How can I stress the importance of having an effective area to create?  If you work at your dining room table then clear it off!  Put the piles of mail somewhere else, clear away those dirty plates, and put down your painting tablecloth so you are inspired.  If you live in a studio apartment you can make a small corner of your room your workspace.  If you like working large then work it out!  Is there a spot outside where you can set up a large painting and drop off?  I’m sure you can find something if you want to paint badly enough.  I needed to complete another piece to submit to a show so I hauled my traveling encaustic studio to a friend’s house and set up outside next to her roaring air conditioner.  Not the most ideal working space but I finished the piece and that’s all that matters!

I teach classes at a variety of venues and every classroom is different.  I need to adapt to each space to make it a successful teaching and learning environment for my students and me.  When I do private lessons at someone’s home very frequently do we spend a few minutes organizing their studio space: if they are right-handed we move the majority of their supplies to the right side of their easel or worktable, we will select a limited amount of brushes to work with from the overflowing brush bin.  We will put away the miscellaneous paint colors that we will not be using and only have the color palette that we will be working from in front of us.  Simplify your space and only pull out the tools which the current project requires.  This will streamline your creativity and is as equally important as learning new techniques.

fb studioThis is the way I do it, it is not the only way.  If you have ever seen photos of Francis Bacon’s studio you might say to yourself, “How on earth did he ever get anything done?!”  Well he did!  He created a plethora of amazing, inspirational, and edgy work.  His version of a successful studio is on the opposite end of the spectrum.  On a side note Francis Bacon is one of my favorite artists of all time but I could never work in his studio.  The photo on the left was taken by Carlos Freire of Francis Bacon in his studio, 7 Reece Mews, London.  Everyone is different and everyone works in different environments.  This photo is a perfect preamble to my next point:  Having an effective studio space and having a “pretty” studio space are two different things however they are not mutually exclusive.  Let me help you prioritize: It is more important to have an effective studio space than one that looks good in Better Homes & Gardens.  Get yourself a working environment first, then you can break out the wicker baskets.  Your studio is ever changing.  You have permission to change it whenever you want to make it a more creative space for you.

I look forward to settling into our new home and fine-tuning my studio 2.0.  It’s a huge change and it gives me the opportunity to exponentially grow in my art career so I am thankful.  If I can move a 3 bedroom house, an art studio, 2 horses, a cockatoo and 2 house chickens then I have faith that I can find my blowtorch and finish this painting.  Piece of cake!

“Life Gets in the Way”

A polite way of saying, “I don’t have time.”  Sure we all need to go to the store, vacuum the carpet, and handle life when something gets thrown in your face.  Doing what you love usually takes a backseat to “life”.  Let’s break this down…

When you think about it, what is life worth living for in the first place?  I would imagine that you would try to spend as much time as possible doing what you love.  Whether it’s being with family, growing a garden, building dollhouses, sewing cat outfits, whatever it is that gives you joy.  In my case, painting and creating art is what I love to do.  And I mean love, like from the bottom of my heart kind of love.  I just know it is why I was put on this planet.  My role on this rock hurtling through space is to create and in doing so inspire others.  Pretty simple huh?  Well if you look at it, it is.  We just complicate the crap out of our lives .  Life is about choices and this morning when I sat down to the computer thinking about how many weeks past since my last blog post I made a choice.  I commonly hear the phrase, “I don’t have time to paint.”  This usually gives way into a recitation of all the incredibly important life-threatening chores that has monopolized their time.  I’ve got to say, it’s kind of irritating to listen to.  Here, let me give you a few examples from a real-life situation:

A:  “What have you been working on lately?”
B:  *sigh* “I’ve been wanting to work on this big piece for a show that’s coming up but I haven’t had the time.  My landlord wants to move back into our house so we have to find a new place by April WITH our horses.  There’s nothing that’s affordable in this area so I’m just looking on Craigslist everyday.”
A:  “Oh man.  Tell me about this piece you’re wanting to start?”
B”:  “It’s going to be a wild self-portrait but I’ve been working a lot so I haven’t had anytime to paint or even develop the idea and it needs to be done next month.  I’m totally freaking out because I also need to buy a new car ’cause mine is dying so now I need a new car AND a place to live AND I need to finish this piece.  Oh, and I need to do my taxes.” *sigh*
A:  “When’s your next day off?”
B:  “Tomorrow but I can’t do anything because I have to clean the house ’cause it’s a mess THEN I have to go back to work the next day.”‘

Kind of draining isn’t it?  It’s hard to be in a conversation with Eeyore.  I’ll let you in on a little secret:  I’m person “B” and I am moving with my caravan of animals, looking for a new car, and figuring out this life-changing piece of art that’s due next month.  Come on, Jaya, pull up your big-girl panties and pick up a brush, who gives a crap if you haven’t vacuumed in a week?  This is life, it’s going to throw you blows in a whirlwind of chaos.  How do you deal with it?  Make a choice.  This is easier said than done…

Excuses!  Excuses!

One of the major blockages to doing what you love is bum bum BUM…chores!  If you look at it, a lot of those mini-crisis situations can be put into the chores category.  I’m not talking about driving someone to the hospital or dealing with an exploding septic tank – I’m talking about chores.  Have you ever read the book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?”  It starts out with a child giving a mouse a cookie, then the mouse needs a glass of milk.  To drink the milk he’ll need a straw and to wipe his face he’ll need a napkin, etc etc…Should I paint or do the dishes?  If I do the dishes I’ll need to unload the dishwasher.  If I unload the dishwasher I’ll need to clean the kitchen counter.  Pretty soon you’re deriving a plan on how to re-paint the house.  Does this sound familiar?  I made a choice to write a consistent blog meant to inspire others to create and it’s not going to write itself.  Wallowing in whatever chaotic situation you’re in or getting pissed that you can’t find the Windex isn’t going to make it any easier.  This is only expended energy that could have been used to do something that is creatively productive.  The trap to watch out for is using chores (a lot of what people call “life”) as an excuse for why you’re not doing what you love.  This is a pretty scary something to look at under the microscope.  Why aren’t you doing what you love?


Vanilla or chocolate.  Sweater or jacket.  Cadmium red light or naphthol crimson.  Take out Susan or Karen.  Buy a house or rent.  This job or that job.   What if it’s wrong?  What if you can’t go back?  What will the neighbors think?  This can be frightening.  It’s so much easier to get wrapped up in that comfortable downy blanket of BS instead of taking the leap into the unknown.  Trust me, I’m pretty good at the BS.  Paint something on your day off or mow the lawn.  Even for something as simple as picking up a brush the same drama will show up.  You want to fluster someone?  Call them out.  “How’s that piece going?” See what they say.  I like to cut them off if they start to waffle, “GET ON IT!” Expect a deer-in-the-headlight expression.

I understand that there are these little paper things that come in the mail called “bills”, and I’m pretty sure you need a roof over your head, and clothes on your back, and food in your stomach.  Do what you need to do but remember why you’re on this planet.  I doubt it’s to sit in traffic thinking about how gas is on the rise and how you can lower the interest rate on your credit card.

Life is chaotic.  It’s not going to stop being chaotic.  How do you live with chaos.  What makes life worth living.  Do it.  Now if you’ll excuse me I have to check Craigslist…

Abstract Choices

Cactus Flower by Frank Krause / Final Abstract Study by Jaya King 24″ x 36″

So you’re inspired by a realistic image be it a portrait, landscape, flower, bowl of fruit, your grandmothers shitzu, whatever.  How do you go about abstracting something realistic?  Last month I was inspired by a photograph that a friend of mine took of a cactus flower.  I knew immediately that I wanted to “abstract” this image.  After my “Wax With Whimsy” workshop at Wax Works West earlier this month I was inspired to explore an abstract workshop idea.  It’s still in formulation but I thought that using my friend’s photo reference would be a perfect example of this process.  After the hustle and bustle of the holidays I found a window of time to do my walk-through so I plugged in my hot plates and turned on my space heater.

In my mind there are 2 essential components to a successful abstract and I think of these before even picking up the brush…

1materials.  Color:  LIMIT YOURSELF!  I am wholeheartedly a fan of the limited color palette.  Before buying every color under the sun it is imperative to learn how to work with a simple palette of colors.  This will teach you color mixing and harmony, two key ingredients to strengthening your artistic sensibility.  I ask myself, “Can I simplify my color choice further?  What can I do without?”  I leave the rest of the colors in the drawer.

2.  Composition: Vertical, horizontal or square?  You do not need to match the composition of your reference photo.  In fact, it is an interesting exercise if you play with cropping.  How would you turn a horizontal into a vertical or visa versa?  What I look at even before I begin painting is “where is my negative space?”  Negative space is where the eye rests.  I consider negative space to be just as important as the subject matter itself.  Where is your focal point going to be?

Put it together:  In the case of this demonstration I selected a mix of malachite green, quinacridone magenta, titanium white, pthalo blue, indian yellow, cadmium yellow light, mars yellow light and Mile’s Conrad’s sunset orange.  I decided to keep the horizontal format and have my cactus flower “burst” towards the left of the painting.  This way I can demonstrate an apples-to-apples abstract so you can see creative process side-by-side with the reference photo.

abstract process(1)  I tone my background with transparent colors that I’ve diluted with wax medium.  The piece begins as a sad homage to 80’s spatter paint, oh 90210 where have you gone?  It’s pretty messy in this first stage:  drips and disjointed brushstrokes layering together in a vague semblance of my reference photo.  I continue layering in this fashion, periodically sealing in color with an isolation coat of wax medium, until I see a solid composition form around my focal point.  The colors are fun to move around with the torch but I keep in mind that most of these initial layers are going to be lost.

(2)  When I want to reign in those crazy disjointed colors I begin block in my negative space and reassert my focal point.  In this second photo you can see how I’m using the purples and greens to fill in the gaps.  I am using more opaque colors to add body.  It is also important to consider your brushstrokes.  Notice how my strokes have direction to create movement?  An out of place brush stroke can awkwardly draw the eye off course.  Would a blog post on brushstrokes just be way too technical?  Perhaps not as technical on my future post of how Green Gold differs from brand to brand…ahhh, the color nerd in me.

(3)  Compared to abstract painting I usually fall into the “realist” category.  When you look at my paintings you can see – that is a person, that is a cow, that is a house.  For me, abstracts are a way of flipping a real object inside out.  It is an exercise out of my comfort zone.  In this step I was able to catch myself veering off into realist territory.  I started to get a little more “literal” with my cactus flower and buds at this point so I remind myself that I’m painting an abstract.   I use my torch to release some control.  The flowers melt into themselves and become more of a color suggestion of flowers.  Phew!

(4)  I still feel a lot of busy-ness happening so I tone down my malachite green and make a commitment to my negative space.  You’ll notice that a lot of my initial layers have been covered.  I cannot express enough that art, especially abstract art, is a process.  You’ll create something, you’ll sacrifice it.  In this case I sacrificed some background color.  Remember, it’s all for the greater good!

incision(5)  One of the joys of the encaustic process is carving, or “incising, into your painting.  This reveals hidden layers and creates effects that you can’t get if you’re just applying paint.  There is a delightful sculptural appearance that is easy to get lost in.  I could paint a layer then scrape it away until the cows come home.  This is a close up image of the first incisions.  They create an even stronger sense of movement and there is an interesting contrast between the sharp lines and bold background strokes.  I finish this step by painting color inside the incisions and scrape away the excess.  Now my lines are a multicolored textural element.

Encaustic is a process that can move quickly because the wax cools so fast.  You can immediately layer upon layer because you are not waiting for paint to dry.  Encaustic and abstracts go hand-in-hand which is probably why you see so many of them.  To stand out in the crowd it is important to have your own artistic voice.  To strengthen your abstracts I suggest practicing realistic techniques.  To strengthen your realistic painting I suggest practicing abstracts.  Go figure!  When you sit down to a blank canvas and you plan on painting an abstract, the best advice that I can offer is to release whatever preconceived image you have floating around in your head.  It’s ok to have a plan, be more ok with letting go of it.

Once Upon a Time…

The Chicken That Saved the DayAs 2014 drew to a close I sat in the break room at work doing what I usually do on my afternoon break:  check my e-mail.  I like to think that there is some philanthropic duke somewhere out there just waiting to send me a check for a million dollars “By golly, she’s the one!”  So while I hold my breath waiting for that to happen I enter as many competitions that I can afford to in the meantime.  One fine day in late December I received an e-mail letting me know that my painting “The Chicken That Saved The Day” was accepted into Incite 3: The Art of Storytelling and I couldn’t help but let out one of my patented high-pitched squeals.  I ran around the corner to my boss’s desk and began jumping up and down waving my arms in the air.  This was a signal to him to stop whatever he was doing and pay attention to me.  Reluctantly he put down his keyboard and leaned back in his chair, “Oh God.  What now?”  After I jump-yelled-air-punched at him he was able to make out “Chicken…Book…Competition” and gave me a high-five.  Now let me describe why this competition was different from any other I had entered…

chicks_n_tomatoesOnce upon a time there was a chicken named Chickey Penny and she lived with 15 other chickens in the backyard of a little house in San Jose.  She was an “aracauna” and had brown feathers with willow-green legs.  She had ear “tufts” and a beard.  She was also the smallest in the flock and the other girls would peck at her.  All of Chickey Penny’s feathers on her back and tail were plucked clean except for one which stuck straight up like a little flag.  One day a girl and a boy moved into the little house and met the flock.  Chickey Penny jumped right up on the fence to say “hello” and it was love at first sight.  Every day when the girl got home Chickey Penz would run up to the gate and try to squeeze through the bars to welcome her home.  She also knew that there was a brown paper bag inside the house that had the most delightful of snacks so soon Chickers just waltzed into the house to help herself.  She quickly learned that the house was a much nicer place to live than in the coop with the other chickens.  Instead of being pecked she was petted and got to sit on people’s laps.  “I much prefer this flock, this will do quite nicely!”

Eventually the boy and girl moved to San Martin with chickens in tow.  Chickey Penny did not ride with the other chickens, she rode to her new home on the girl’s lap while watching the California hills roll by.  When the sun would set and bedtime drew near she would walk down the hallway announcing to everyone that it was time to go to sleep “BAAAACK BAK BAK BAK!”  She would roost on a towel behind the pillows andme and chicks wait for the boy and girl to come to bed.  As the girl would fall asleep she would stroke Chickey Penny’s feathers and she would stretch her neck across the pillow and purr.  Chicks loved the country life and was especially helpful re-dispursing leaf piles throughout the yard.  Seasons changed and years passed.  Christmases came and went and she even put up with wearing painstakingly made ridiculous holiday outfits.  Chickers lived to be 16 years old and was the best friend the boy and girl could have.

One day the girl decided to paint a portrait of her feathered best friend.  She wanted this painting to be special, something that really conveyed Chick’s spirit and especially what she meant to her and the boy.  She knew even before picking up a brush that this would be her favorite painting.  Finally after weeks and weeks, she stepped back from the easel.  “She’s done!” The girl knew that she wanted to share this painting with the world.  She wanted everybody to know about Chickey Penny so she started entering the painting into book competitions.  Years passed and every once in a while Chicks would be in a local art show.  She was happy that people were able to get up close and personal with the painting but it wasn’t enough.  She kept submitting only to receive, “Dear participant, thank you for your entry but we regret to inform you that…”  Until one day in late December with the New Year peeking around the corner…

tom_n_chicks…”The Chicken That Saved The Day” was accepted into Incite 3: The Art of Storytelling and will be roosting on the world’s bookshelves later this year!

Congratulations Chickey Penny!


Every once in a while a commission comes my way and I’ll get really jazzed up about the subject matter.  A gal was flipping through matted prints of my acrylic animals during my last show.  After a while she showed me a photo of her pup, Viola.  I’ve always wanted to paint a French bulldog – I mean, how can you not love that face?  We exchanged information and I was crossing my fingers that she’d commission a painting.  I was excited to get a message from her later that day saying “Start!”

Getting readyI am notorious to take forever and a day to complete commissions so it was quite unusual for me to begin gathering materials as soon as I got her message.  From the photo she sent I selected my colors and prepared my canvas.  The only question I asked her was “What is Viola’s favorite color?”  Our animals have favorite  snacks, sleeping spots, tv shows, windowsills to sit on and music to sing along to.  Of course they have favorite colors!  Viola’s favorite colors were soft pink, purple and a touch of peacock blue.

Materials:  12″ x 12″ deep canvas, decorative collage paper, red colored pencil, matte medium
acrylic brushes: very small round, 1/2″ wide bright, 1″ wide bright
acrylic paint:  dioxazine purple, Pthalo blue, titanium white, yellow ochre, cadmium red light.
I always get my materials from University Art Center in San Jose – shop local homegrown businesses and keep our art supply stores around for the long haul!

STEP 1:  I covered my 12″ x 12″ deep canvas with a variety of collage paper in the pink family and glued them in place using matte medium.  Matte medium is a wonderful glue and sealant in addition to being a superb painting medium.  I then stained the collage paper with a glaze of dioxazine purple and Pthalo blue.  I also made sure to cover the sides of the canvas at this stage for continuity.  When everything was dry to the touch (which only takes a few minutes) I sketched Viola with my red colored pencil.

STEP 2:  Dioxazine purple and Pthalo blue make a lovely violet.  Using this combination I blocked in the shadows and darks in varying degrees of saturation.  Viola’s eyes being the darkest point in the painting begin to establish them as a focal point.  I use the matte medium to increase transparency where needed.

STEP 3:  Now I add the highlights by mixing yellow ochre and titanium white.  During these beginning stages I am using my 1/2″ wide brush to keep the brush strokes loose and bold.  It’s so much fun to get the paint on the canvas that sometimes I start to get lost in the details.  By using a bigger brush I can keep myself on track.  I am a sucker for complementary colors – I just love how the yellow and purple play off each other.

STEP 4:  One of the many things I preach in my classes is “Change your water!”  I use a big water bucket so I need to go to the sink less-often.  It’s funny though, changing your water is a refreshing way to clear your mind for a few moments away from your painting.  I’ll usually change my water before I begin the next phase of my project.  In this case, before I flesh out the muscles and the detailing the rest of the fur.  P.S.  STILL using the 1/2″ wide brush…

The final touches…Here is where I use a hint of cadmium red light.  This is a powerful, warm red and I use it sparingly in her ears, nose, around the eyes and in her toenails.  Now I use my smallest round brush to mix a variety of muted tones to add detail.  I am such a fan of using “limited palettes” as my color schemes.  You can’t help but have color harmony if you limit yourself to a few select colors.  I can easily jump between color combinations and tweak by increasing one color or another.  Here are some examples:
Etcetera!  Etcetera!

In my mind, the eyes are the most exciting element in any portrait, animal or human.  They are my dessert and I like to save them for last.  I’ll know the painting is complete when the eyes are perfect.  The highlight is vital – placement, intensity and color all have to be thought out.  If the highlight is in the exact center of the pupil the painting can look like a bad family photo before red-eye was autocorrected.  If there is no highlight then the subject tends to look a little zombie-ish.  I take my highlights very seriously.  With Viola’s eyes finished I add a flourish of a bow for personality and composition.


When I unwrapped her for my client I could see a wave of emotions on her face.  She held my hand and said, “It’s her!”  I’m so glad that I was able to paint this pretty little girl and capture her personality.  Thanks, Viola, for being as adorable as you are!

A Day in the Life…

This post is inspired from one of my co-workers, Jenny, who asks me questions on how I organize myself and how I start my day.  Believe me, I take my creative time very seriously.  Let me give you a quick weekly briefing:  Five days out of the week I work at University Art Center in San Jose and factoring in commute time I’m out of the house for about 11 hours.  Usually one of the remaining two days of the week is spent teaching.  Time is precious and here is an example of how I spend my day “off”.  Enjoy!

angel-breakfast6:30 – Wake up.  If I treat myself I’ll lay in bed and cuddle with my girls until 7 .  Let the girls out of the bedroom and into the backyard.  Turn on the classical station, make coffee, slice up strawberries into some cereal, turn on computer.  Have breakfast with my umbrella cockatoo, Angel, while reading e-mails.  I have included a photo for those who are unfamiliar of what it’s like to eat breakfast with a bird while trying to type on your computer.  Spend a couple hours getting computer stuff out of the way, this includes reading about upcoming competitions, checking out any interesting art articles, social networking, and updating my website.  Angel sits on my lap and I give her scratches with one hand and type with the other.  She talks to me with her limited vocabulary:  “Apples, Happy, Angel, Hi” and I repeat what she says back to her (I am very well-trained).

9:00 – Let girls back into the house because they are standing by the back door.  Head out to the field to say hello to the boys.  Throw some hay into the feeders, change the water, put on fly masks, rake up manure.

9:30 – Let girls back outside, make a chores to-do list.    I allocate one singe solitary hour of my day to household chores and one hour to studio chores.  My list might look something like this:

Clean floors
1 hour studio
Sweep back patio
Water plants
Organize desk
Clean kitchen counters/stove
E-mail Joe Blow
Organize studio

The trick with the to-do list is to be ok if you don’t get everything done on the list.  I start some laundry and spend exactly 1 hour house cleaning.

girls-roosting10:30 – I repeat this practice with my studio.  There is always something that can make my studio more efficient.  Whether it’s straightening, organizing, building a fixture, going through some old canvases, or just plain cleaning the windows, I spend one hour making that room better.  I let the girls into studio and they roost on my area rug.  While in the studio I think of my art project for the day.  Do I work on a commission?  Do I practice encaustic?  Do I prepare a sample painting for an upcoming class?  Do I paint something for myself?  I figure out what I want to do and begin to gather materials.

11:30 – NOW MY DAY BEGINS!  Since it’s gorgeous outside in the fall I arrange my workspace on the back patio.  I put a chair near my easel and Angel perches on top of it.  Maybe I’ll set up my IPad camera to record what I’m working on, I might have a notepad nearby to take notes on my process.  Now I start to play.  The afternoon is devoted to art and I delight in having my animals around me while I paint.  In between paint layers I’ll give Angel a scratch and discuss the apple situation with her:

“Oh good, I’m glad there are apples.”
“Yes, thank you for letting me know about the apples.”
“Really?  I had no idea about the apples!”

1:00 – Figure out a quick lunch and continue to work.  If I’m lucky my husband is at home and puts a plate of food next to my palette. If my husband is not at home I stroll down the road to the little taco truck on the corner.  The girls roost around the yard.  I throw them some tidbits from my lunch.  Angel watches them gobble up the treats.

2:00 – Check on boys, refill their water buckets.  If it’s hot I’ll spray them down.watering-Romps

2:30 – Put Angel  back on her cage so she can have some food and water if she likes.  She promptly climbs down to sit with my husband on the couch. Continue working.  If I’m outside I adjust my easel periodically because the light changes.  Change my water, refresh my palette.

5:30 – Head back out to the field and tuck the boys in for the night.  Hay, water, take off fly masks and apply scratches.

6:00 -The light is fading and the wind is picking up so I begin to close up shop.  I find that if I try to color match this late in the day to something I mixed earlier in the afternoon I end up with an off color.  If I plow through this (knowing full well that the light is completely different) I make color errors and I am fixing rather than paining.  This only applies when I’m working outside in the natural light.  I dump my water, put my paint tubes back in their bucket and bring the painting into the studio.  I thoroughly clean my brushes in the sink with my favorite brush cleaner:  Master’s Brush Cleaner.

The rest of the evening – Have dinner with all life-forms in the house, usually while watching a cooking show.  I can paint ’till the cows come home but put me in a kitchen and you’ll end up with cereal or PB&J if you’re lucky.  So I live vicariously through the cooking channel.  Everyone’s ready to go to bed so I cover Angel’s cage with her blanket and turn out the lights.  By this time the girls are already roosting on their towel behind my pillow.  As I drift off to sleep I think of how I’m going to continue on the art project I worked on today.  Or what color I’m running out of.  Or that I still need to move those boxes out of my studio.  Or that I should really build those wood panels.  Or…