Tuesday, February 22, 2011



Insanity's an illness
and I am a carrier.
It must be contagious, you see.

All of my family and
all of my friends,
All seem to catch it from me.

One is on Prozac,
another's in therapy
Someone else is as nuts as can be.

I am the sane one...
or AM I the sane one?
It must be that I am the key.

I make all the trouble.
I drive them all crazy.
I shouldn't be out roaming free.

It isn't their fault, though
They didn't choose it, no,
'Cause I know it is all about ME!

                                                                      written by Rose Altom

The Beginning of "Informalitea"

Today I am doing research for a new painting. I want to work on a still life that has been on my mind for some time.  I remember years ago, as a young military wife, the formal teas that I attended at the commander's houses.  You were required to wear dress, pumps and white gloves to the tea, (REALLY!  It wasn't THAT long ago!) and you had to mind your P's and Q's. (That's manners and attitude.  I always had a problem with the attitude part.)  I did hate the formality, and it was years before I could look at a good cup of tea  and enjoy it.
So in my mind is a tea laid out to enjoy.  "INFORMALITEA". I want to express my feelings of sheer joy at the freedom to enjoy that tea without worrying about holding the cup wrong, or saying something impolite.
Now, I will be honest, and mention that my biggest flaw is procrastination...or maybe it is blank canvas-itis.  I am petrified that my wonderful, brilliant creative ideas will NOT BE PERFECT.  I usually talk myself out of it before I even get started.  So here and now is where I will talk myself into producing art that doesn't have to be perfect.  My reason for painting this particular piece is to express joy.
Back to my research: In looking through a few historic still lifes, I came across a fascinating painting done by Juan Sanchez-Cotan.  He was a Renaissance painter in the late 1500's, early 1600's, and a lay brother in the Carthusian monastery.  His painting, entitled "Fruit Still Life" (I THINK that it can be seen in the San Diego Museum of Art, but don't quote me on that!) is an oil on canvas and features a few pieces of fruit and veggies on a window sill.  What fascinates me is that he was following a strict geometric structure, he deliberately chose to line them up, and you can feel the discipline and order in the painting.  So simple.  So FORMAL!  According to the text, Sanchez-Cotan was paying homage to neo-Platonic theories of proportion and harmony.  Now, most of this makes very little sense to me, nor do I much care about his worship of Plato, EXCEPT...he chose to hang some of his veggies from the ceiling to gain order and the proper composition.
WELL!  I care very much about composition, because I really want my paintings to make some impact.  I have studied the Golden Mean, and algebraic theories, but my mind refuses to get it.  Usually I follow a pyramid design, or the Rule of Threes.  The fact that Cotan used a rather unique way of getting his composition right really makes me think...can I use the same 'trick' of suspending items to paint a whimsical, informal piece?  In my mind, it is the perfect solution to emphasize the fun aspect of my 'tea party'.  I am off to do some sketches, and see what happens!

"Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion.  You must set yourself on fire."                        ---Reggie Leach

This painting is called "Grandmother's Bean Pot" and it is one of my earlier still lifes done in oils.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I bought a new sketchbook the other day.  When I opened it up to draw on that very first page, I just couldn't do it!  That blank page was so daunting...I just knew that if the drawing wasn't perfect, the whole book would be ruined.
It DIDN'T occur to me at that time that I could just tear the page out if I disliked it.  I never thought that it didn't have to be perfect.  I just knew I couldn't put a pen down on that first page.
Eventually, I flipped to the middle of the sketchbook and proceeded to draw.  It occurred to me, however, that I must be a 'half-empty' kind of gal to expect that first drawing to go wrong.  That is  NOT what I want to be!  I still can't bring myself to make a mark on that first page, but at least I know what I need to work on - my attitude!  I think that first sketch will be a 'half-full' glass...

"Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed."     --Anon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I was inspired to sketch pineapple today.  I envisioned the tropics...the WARM tropics...with swaying palms and slanting sunbeams.  And for a little while, I almost felt the end of winter.  Drawing gives me possibilities.  When I pick up that pen, I can build a chance at something different.  I have often thought that I would like to be a children's book illustrator that could bring to life another world.  One of my favorite books as a child was 'The Borrowers' by Mary Norton.  The illustrators were Beth and Joe Krush and they used a rather Victorian style of drawing that brought to life a whole new world to me.  Because of those illustrations, I began looking at my own world differently.  I started drawing tiny little details that might have been from that 'Borrower' world, and expanded those into illustrating my own world.  My favorite thing today is to draw a tiny detail from nature and blow it up big to show the importance of even the smallest of creatures, and the smallest of plants in our world.  I LOVE to draw!

"I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose."                                                           ---Woody Allen

Friday, February 18, 2011

Artist's Heart

I need the gentler moments,
No crisis every day
To grow and be creative
And find my artists' way.

Van Gogh could use his anguish
To fuel his passions' fire.
But me, I need tranquility
To find my heart's desire.

Da Vinci found his calling.
Picasso,  Rembrandt, too.
But I struggle daily to find my place,
Scared to know, afraid to do.

Art's a mirror of yourself,
The soul a door, the heart a key.
Exposure means taking a risk
What if it's NOT for me?!

I need the peaceful moments
To calm my fears and start.
It's all inside, each stroke, each line,
I'm an artist in my heart.
--written by Rose Altom

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I love painting birds, and drawing them.  This little sparrow caught my eye one day in late fall.  He was fluffed out to keep warm, and hopping from branch to branch in a joyful way.  On the days when I let stress get to me, I find that watching the birds makes me peaceful and gives me perspective.  They seem to have that minute-to-minute love of life that I want to adopt.  One of my favorite art exercises is to sit outside with my sketchbook and do 20 second speed sketches of the birds, trying to get a feel for their movement and capture the attitude.  You really get to know the shape of a variety of backyard birds that way, and spending time with nature is always healing and calming.  I do tend to take my love of birds a bit over the top, however.  I collect porcelain birds, and they are everywhere I can find to put them.  I have a duck planter that holds pencils by the phone, and an odd looking turkey that guards my toothbrushes.  At least 70% of the paintings and prints in the house are birds.  I have an Audobon bird clock in my studio that does bird calls at the top of the hour.  It drives my cats and husband NUTS!  Especially that owl hooting at midnight....really LOUD.  I just remind them that it would be a lot more difficult around here if I collected elephants.  Can you imagine what the clock would sound like then?!

"The truth is that life is delicious, horrible, charming, frightful, sweet, bitter, and that is everything."                  ---Anatole France


I just love the specialty magazines that have come out in the past few years.  It is so inspiring to see what other artists are doing, and it is encouraging to see them prosper.  One magazine that I bought a few years ago was ART DOLL, and I was delighted by the artist who made plastic gourd dolls with porcelain clay faces.  This year I decided to try my own version of these dolls, and made 'APPLE HEAD EXPRESSIONS'.  I wonder how many facial expressions I could do in fake fruit?  Hmm... They really do freak out my guests to see them lined up in the kitchen staring and smirking at them! 

Monday, February 14, 2011

                     Happy Valentine's Day! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011


An artist should always try to surround themselves with like-minded people, to stay inspired and encouraged.  I am especially lucky in that I am married to an artist, though he might not think he's so lucky!  Put two artists that close in proximity, and you get a rather volatile mix.  Sometimes we are both REALLY moody.  Sometimes we are both really feeling creative.  Most of the time we are out of balance, but any way we are, it seems to work.  Today, I am devoting my blog to him...Michael.  In particular, I will talk about his creative process, and how jealous I am of his focus!  I keep hoping that it will rub off on me.  So far, no luck...
He spent 28 years as a military officer,  a real live Alpha male.  They are not usually easy to get along with, but I met him  when I was only 17, he was only 18,  and he has always been especially gentle with me.  He learned a lot of really good habits in the military.  He learned to focus on the job and get it done, and then move on to the next job.  Nothing was too big or small to learn if it got the job done.  When he retired a few years ago, he applied the same focus on learning how to carve.  He needed something to do, and he had always wanted to carve, so he JUST DID!  Amazing! 
In the past few years, he has carved wood, alabaster, marble and granite.  He started carving wooly mammoth ivory jewelry for me, and it turned into a jewelry business.  He carved turquoise.  He carved Ostrich eggs. He continues to move forward, looking every day for a way to grow.  This month, he even published a book on Southern humor.  He sells his e-book "Breakfast at the Dixie Cafe" through Barnes and Noble at this site if you are interested:
and search for "Michael Altom"
He has started a second book, and is taking notes for a leadership book as well.  Talk about hard to live up to! But he has FOCUS!  He gets up in the morning with a plan, and he doesn't deviate from it.  He closes his studio doors, requires exclusion during his creative process, and he works on that one thing until it is done, learning from each mistake.  I make a mistake and run away for a few days from the project.  He simply takes a break, thinks about it, and works through it.  Or he scraps it and moves on.  I try to learn from him that determination, that focus, and that self-confidence will get it done.  I try NOT to be frustrated that I don't have the same Alpha personality that makes it possible.  

"When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece."    ---Anon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Out of bed at the crack of noon.
Trip over cat.
Pose in front of bathroom mirror. Think: "Rubens would LOVE to have THIS as a model!"
In the kitchen, pick up apple from fruit bowl.  Put it back. Think: "This will look really good in a still life." Eat cookie instead.
Trip over cat.
Doodle on envelope while renewing Artist Magazine.  Doodle on telephone book while calling local Art Guild about workshops.  Doodle on notepad while thinking about writing a book on doodling.
Wander up to studio.  Stare at blank canvas and think of polar bear in snow.
Pick out 28 cool colors of oil paint, 20 brushes, charcoal pencils, then find out am out of turp.
Trip over cat.
Watch Food Channel. Consider starting line of abstract pizzas.
Talk to wealthy high school friend on phone.  Check internet to see if phone will melt like a Dali watch in the microwave.  No?  Maybe phone will look better as cubism...
Check Oprah for art inspiration...switch to cartoon channel.
Trip over cat.
Head for bed.  Wake at 2 a.m., inspired by a dream to paint a cat. 
Trip over cat. Think: Edvard Munch must have had a cat when he painted "The Scream".
Go back to bed.
It snowed quite a lot last night.  Rather reminded me of a painting I did last year that started a rather heated argument about why I painted the snow blue.  I tried to explain that while the SNOW wasn't blue, the shadows were, but to no avail.  He was adamant that I shouldn't have painted it blue and hated the painting.  I sure wish that the people who LIKED the painting would be just as loud in their opinions!!!  I sold the painting, and it has been one of my more popular greeting cards, but I still think about the snow, and hesitate to paint it.  Why do I allow people to cloud my judgement and my own aesthetics?  I think that I will paint green snow next time!  Or YELLOW!  How is that for realism????  HA!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Well, I was supposed to teach a class in tribal doll making, and for the second time in a month it has been canceled due to snow....first, snow in Missouri, where the class was supposed to be held, and second, snow in Tennessee, where I am at this moment becoming snowbound.  My talented mother will be teaching the class, and truely, she didn't really need me to be there at all, because she is an amazing teacher in her own right.  Have fun at the class, all!  I will be missing you!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unfinished Paintings

I  have decided to be brave, and admit to a real problem of being unable to finish most of my paintings.  Initially, I blamed my first art teacher.  She was a good and a bad teacher in that she encouraged my natural talent, but when I got close to finishing a drawing, she would take it away from me and finish it herself 'so I wouldn't ruin it'.  Today, I realize that she had some real issues herself, and she passed them on to me.  That doesn't really resolve my problem, however.  I thought that visually blogging it out might help.  So I am showing you all some of the paintings that I can't finish because I think they have potential, but I am afraid I am going to ruin them.  What do YOU think?  Do you think I should get back to them, or throw them in the fires of art hell?

"The nut doesn't reveal the tree inside it"    --Anon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Blind Contour Line Drawing

I was at a gun show the other day (long story, but it was NOT for the guns...it was for something much more interesting.  We were looking for fossils...)  Well, in Tennessee, they take their guns very seriously, and I was getting bored, bored, bored.  I brought out my sketchbook with the intention of doing some quick portrait studies, but had difficulty getting anyone to stand still long enough to get a likeness.  Out of frustration, I started doing Blind Contour Line Drawing, and LOVED the results!  Actually,  I got so amused I started giggling and my husband had to drag me out of the building.
This type of drawing is by far the most fun to me.  You just set your pen down on the paper and look away to the subject, and don't look back until you have finished.  You end up with an abstract, EMOTIONAL drawing that captures the essence of the subject.  I love every contour line drawing that I have ever done, and I love the fact that everyone can do it.  To me, it is the first study that you should do to really get to know  your subject.  I learn to see things in a different way and I really can CONNECT.  If any of you out there decide to try it, and want to share, I would love to see it. 

"Art does not come from thinking, but from responding."   ----Corita Kent

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Need some spring weather!

I know it is a little early to wish for flowers and warm weather, but I was going through my photos from the past summer and couldn't resist putting a picture on of something to look forward to.