Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mr. Still, You Make Me Weak in the Knees

Standing in a room filled with Clyfford Still’s canvases can make a person go weak in the knees—their grand, monumental size is awe-inspiring, the brushstrokes broken and jagged, colors all working in a harmonious symphony so lyrical and poetic.  These epic works of art, created by one of the leaders of the Abstract Expressionist movement, had a similar effect on me recently when I had the pleasure of seeing them live in Denver, Colorado.
Among other Abstract Expressionists—Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock—Still is arguably the leader, but least understood.  Still tightly protected his work.  He hated galleries and art critics, retreated from the commercial art world in 1951, and infrequently showed his work afterwards.  It’s unfortunate that such a talent would protect his work so jealously, not allowing admirers or collectors to see his creations.  Thankfully, though, he continued to create during his retreat.
When Still died in 1980, his estate and legacy were given to his wife Patricia.  This included an astounding 2,400 pieces, some of which had never been seen before.  In his will, he intended that an American city house these works, insuring their survival and continued study. Several years ago, Denver received the honor of housing Still’s works, and, on November 18, 2011, the doors to the Clyfford Still Museum were opened.
I couldn’t wait to get inside and be a part of what was hidden for so long.  I felt honored to experience what many people had not—being in a museum solely dedicated to a legendary, creative genius.  My palms grew sweaty just talking to the gentleman at the admissions desk.
The museum is breathtaking in every sense of the word.  Each element was carefully considered—the rough, concrete walls that emulated Still’s jagged brushstrokes, the large, minimal rooms that allowed the canvases of monumental proportion to breathe, and the ceilings, perforated with oblong ovals, allowing natural light in.   The museum’s chronology of Still’s work provides a complete overview of his stylistic evolution, starting with his early landscapes.  Still grew up on a farm and was influenced by the farmers, their tools, and their backbreaking, often bloody work.  His earlier paintings portrayed distorted figures and a much more representational style.  As I walked room to room, the progression of color, form, and scale could all be traced back to his earlier pieces.  The later galleries perfectly present his explosion of scale, lighter color palette, and jagged, peaked forms.  Upon entering one of the rooms that housed a series entitled “life lines,” I felt a shortness of breath.  The blue-black, 16-foot canvas is bisected with an orange line that seems to glow on the surface and is juxtaposed with a predominately orange “life line” painting.  The two together were like a heart beat, harmonious and continual.  I have dreamt about that moment in that room since.  One room housed his works on paper, which were studies for larger works but were arguably completed pieces in their own right.  I wanted these for my house and own enjoyment.
Clyfford Still was a phenomenal, inspiring artist.  Although he guarded his work, I’m glad that his lifelong wish to construct a permanent museum housing his work was achieved.  I’m grateful to have been there and seen this never-been-seen-before collection.  It was an experience never to be forgotten and one that will resonate with me forever.  Thank you, Mr. Still for being a creative visionary and talent.  And thank you for insuring that your artwork can be seen by anyone in the Denver area.  The opportunity is not to be missed. 


Monday, November 14, 2011

Beth Weintraub: Interview with an Artist

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting a dear friend from San Francisco, Beth Weintraub. It was great to see her smiling face and to catch up. We visited a local farmer’s market, did some antiquing, and made wonderful dinners together. She’s a world-renowned talented printmaker who specializes in etching and her beautiful work can be seen at  Oddly enough, in a medium known for multiple prints, no two prints of Beth’s are alike. I am happy to cal her a friend and mentor, and am thrilled to announce her as my guest artist. We will hear about her journey and story during this question and answer interview.
So, without further delay, I introduce to you the visionary, youthful, never dull, Ms. Beth Weintraub.

Q: Why are you an artist and when did you become one?

I’m quite sure that I was born this way, but why I became an artist is a more interesting subject to consider.
In an effort to keep me occupied, my childhood was filled with creative play involving all kinds of crafty supplies at home. Our family basement was a playroom with free reign to paint, draw and construct using anything within reach. During elementary school I fondly recall many YMCA craft days on football Sundays, where we made everything from candles, play-dough figures to elaborate construction paper mobiles; I loved going there. I was also exposed to art of all kinds, in museums from ancient to modern, at craft fairs and antique shops, even architecture, historical ruins and handicrafts during family travel. Clearly my education was designed to teach me that all art and culture were to be revered and highly valued.

Q: From where do you draw your inspiration?

The connection between what I see, what I feel and how I create new imagery is an elusive and internal function. The way my hand and body move dictate the kind of shapes I like to make the most, but this gets repetitive fast, so I often seek out visual stimuli that is farthest from my own natural style. I like to look at high design elements in furniture, I look at the fabrics, the colors, the wood, the way it’s assembled. I examine surface textures in concrete, asphalt, metal, even food, plants, and skin. I get inspired when I see obvious decisions that were made in the process of creation.

Q: Do you work in your studio every day?

I spend time in my studio nearly every day. My best working hours are between 10am and 4pm. After that I’m often wasting materials. I do keep to a rather regular schedule; it helps to be available and focused during the same workweek as everyone else as well as allowing me to plan for doing my non-studio tasks around my most productive creative time. I’ve been told this approach is like that of an athlete; it makes sense.

Q: What factors motivate you to create?

I think I just have an urgent need to make stuff. The need to use my hands and either alter, fix or make something in its entirety is at the core of my personality.  I’m the queen of customization and I enjoy being different.
As a result, I strongly feel that every effort should be made towards achieving originality. I always hope that my work doesn’t appear derivative of any other artist or designer. I don’t always succeed but I hold integrity as the highest ingredient for my personal goals.  I see other artist’s work that motivates me, but I never ever wish for anyone to compare my work to another’s.
Conveying that urge via paper and ink is irresistible.

Q: How do you handle the business side of being an artist?

I am naturally good at some aspects of business, like marketing, time management and project development. The areas where I don’t excel, such as bookkeeping, graphic design and office administration, are dealt by other people who are good at those things and who hopefully like what they do. I don’t try to learn everything and handle it all myself. No matter what, business is collaborative. I have to trust others to help me. That part isn’t easy and of course, it costs money. I also have to trust that money going out will be met by money coming in. A gamble, I know but it gets easier.

Q: What are the best and worst parts about being a full-time artist?

The worst parts are silly, ego-oriented things. People’s attitudes towards artists are often minimizing – as if it isn’t really a job or a business. Some people ask me ‘what I really do’, or I get the feeling they assume I’m either broke, or given money by my family.
The best part is having a well-equipped romper room under my own control.

Q: What do you consider to be key factors in the success of your career as an artist?

The ability to express my intentions, explain the value of what I do, and follow through with promises has greatly helped me. I know I get more business because I am reliable, timely, and able to confess my shortcomings. People have a hard enough time spending money on non-utilitarian items, much less something they can’t see in advance. I have to be able to help them feel like part of the process, often from long distance. Communication is key.

Q: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I fantasize about working on only 4 projects a year. If I were to divide the planet into quadrants, each section would get one allotment. Such as one commission, one museum exhibit, the sale of a single piece from my studio. The challenge for me is not to be bored with that, or concocting a few such complex projects that it’s all I can handle.
Also I’d like to be invited by aliens to travel with them by space ship, indefinitely.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Blue Ridge Series

Blowing Rock, NC                                                                                                              

Growing up, my family took a lot of annual trips to the mountains of North Carolina.  No matter what time of year, it was always beautiful—driving around on the Blue Ridge Parkway, admiring the blooming rhododendrons, rolling hills filled with cows, and ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the gorgeous fall foliage.  Once on Main Street, we would park for the day and walk around the town, poking into stores that looked interesting, eating at family-owned restaurants, and finishing the trip with homemade ice cream and waffle cones. Thinking about those trips brings back a wave of nostalgia.

Even as an adult, my mom and I take the same trip to Blowing Rock and set aside a day for exploring.  We wander through antique stores, hoping to find that perfect piece of stained glass, taking a long, leisurely lunch, and most importantly, enjoying each other’s company.

So, when I thought about my new line of imagery, what better place to be inspired than the mountains of NC?  I set aside a day to explore and get back in touch with a place that has a lot of memories for me.  Unfortunately, the weather was horrible, dipping down into the 40s at times, with a lovely dose of sideways rain and heavy winds.  Even with these uncooperative weather conditions, it was a wonderful and inspiring trip.  I decided to wait out the heavy downpour and stopped into Storie Street Grill for a hearty sandwich and dry place to relax.  Luckily, the rain stopped as soon as I finished and I decided to get out quickly to explore.  I didn’t want to take any chances!  The weather was cooperative as I walked around Main Street, exploring the park, taking pictures of anything that was inspiring.  The azaleas and rhododendrons were in full bloom and everything was so lush and green because of the recent rains. 

I popped into a candle shop where two ladies were making vibrantly colored candles.  Some of them were plain and traditional while most of the shop was filled with decorative ribbon candles.  They were extremely enthusiastic and told me everything about their candle making process.  After spending some time there, I moseyed on up the street and stopped into an old favorite.  What trip to Blowing Rock would be complete without a trip to Kilwin’s Chocolate, Fudge, and Ice Cream Shop? You can literally smell the house-made waffle cones 3 blocks away—it’s intoxicating.  They also make their own fudge.  After having a filling lunch an hour before, I still couldn’t resist getting a waffle cone filled to the brim with mint chocolate chip and toffee ice creams.  It was delicious.  Every last bite!

After exploring the main strip, I ventured to The Blue Ridge Parkway for some flora and botanical samples.  I literally drove around for hours, stopping on the side of the road, picking up rocks, pinecones, tree limbs, flowers, and ferns.  If it looked interesting, you can bet it came home with me.  This was the highlight of the trip.  Running in the rain, forging for inspiration.  It reminded me of my flea market days in California, foraging for handbags.  After driving, stopping, and picking for hours, I had a carload of cuttings and knew that I had enough inspiration to get me started on a wonderful, new line of images. 

I was stoked to get started and get back to my studio and begin studying the shapes, drawing them out on paper.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

DIY: How to Stretch a Screen

I’ve been stretching my own screens for a long time now.  When I first started silk screening over 9 years ago, it didn’t take long to realize how expensive a pre-stretched screen is at any art supply store.  To cut down on my costs, I started stretching them myself.  It takes some extra time, but, once you’ve got it down, it’s a cinch!  With a little practice, you can knock out some screens in no time.

What you will need to get started:
Screen Mesh
4 stretcher bars
Duct tape
Staple gun

1. Assemble your 4 stretcher bars. I usually get mine online at

2. Lay out your screen mesh. I get my mesh from Most of my drawings are highly detailed, so I order the 200 mesh count screen. The higher the thread count, the higher the detail. Place the assembled stretcher bar on top of the mesh. It's a good rule of thumb to leave about 1-2 inches of mesh all around. You'll end up trimming off the excess in the end, but it's important that you have enough mesh to hold onto while you're stretching the screen.

3. Leaving about 2 inches extra, cut your mesh with a sharp pair of scissors.

4. Once your mesh is cut, while holding the mesh and stretcher bar together, place them perpendicular to the table.  Begin stapling the mesh to the bar, starting with the middle, top side.  Flip the bar over to the bottom, middle side and repeat.  Do this to the 2 sides as well.  Work your way out in the same order—top to bottom, side to side—until reaching the corners.  As you work your way out, begin pulling the screen taunt.  You do not want any slack in the screen!

5. Trim off the excess mesh.

6. Since your stretcher bars are wood, you’re going to want to duct tape the wood so that it won’t warp each time you wash the screen out. Duct tape the stretcher bar area—top, bottom, and sides.  You’re going to lose a tiny bit of screen area, but that’s okay.  Make sure to get the underside of the screen and all 4 corners.  Trust me, you’ll be thankful that you did when it comes to drying your screen.  This will insure that no water will get in and you can print confidently, drip-free!

Now your screen is ready for you and your artistic vision. Good job!