I want to live here.


Inks and gesso and collage on w/c paper 10 X 11″

I want to live here. . .somewhere between the mountain and the sky, the ground and the inside of trees, under green tassels and tree skirts, inside of drawings of buildings that may never be, but ought to.  In this land of maybe and on the terrain of if’s, I can have my own way;  point my feet in the air, stick my nose in the ground, sniff the wild droppings of plants and creatures, and sip the dew off tree bark, while the rest of the neighborhood sleeps.

We played with inks and gesso in the Saturday workshop, thin and thick squirted on and moved around on the paper with various tools and our fingers.  We did two of the same color scheme and cut up one of the paintings for collage onto the other.  It’s such a fun and freeing way to design the page.

My son Andrew is an architecture student.  When he’s home on vacation he litters his desk with print outs of designs.  If they get left behind, I add them to my collage pile. There’s something so appealing about the lines and shapes, simple in their black on white-ness, and yet so complex.  While I try to visualize actual people in them, I make myself a Lilliputian and crawl inside.

It occurred to me that I have many new subscribers who are possibly wondering what I do with these strange little paintings. Nine years ago I started this practice of combining meditation, mixed media painting and writing, and I have never been able to (or wanted to) stop!

For the past few years I’ve been doing it with groups of students who come to explore mixed media techniques and see where their imaginations can take them.  During this entire time I’ve blogged about almost all the pieces I’ve done, so now there is an online inventory of them. All the different topics/techniques can be easily accessed by typing words of interest into the search bar on the right.  Thank you WordPress!

Sometimes I sell the art pieces and make a copy to keep for myself, so let me know if you’re interested.  But normally, after I post on the blog, I print out the text and glue it on the back of the art and put it in a book.  I have boxes of these now. They are my creative experiments, deeply healing and energizing for my art life (meaning my life).


And while I’m on it, you may not know that I have a book about this process called “Conversations with the Muse: The Art Journal As Inner Guide” and a downloadable course, as well as ongoing Artful Muse workshops.

I’m just staring at my computer right now, but it’s more fun than ever, after all these years, to know you’re out there bearing witness and having your own art-ventures!


Sunday Afternoon Sketch Tour


Pilot fountain pen, Pentel Brush pen, watercolor on Arches HP paper

We arrived at the Farmer’s Market in the Sebastopol plaza just a bit before closing of the booths and found these musicians warming up an already warm day with their infectious Caribbean sound.  Lucky us, we found an umbrella with shade across from them, set up our mini-three-legged stools and started sketching like mad, while dancers in the crowd got maddeningly in the way!  I was going for more energetic open lines with the three drummers and finished this much on site.  The  woman was added later from a picture I took and you can really tell the difference – more accuracy and less of the feeling of the moment.


The farmers were packing up their stalls and the musicians moved over to the gazebo stage.  We sat for a few more minutes, sketching in pen and later I added color. The lead musician, Wilfred Marks gave me his card, Dance Kaiso.  Next time I’d like to put down my sketchbook and dance to their music!

Next stop was Hard Core coffee for a caffeine boost, followed by the Antique Society, “Sonoma County’s Largest Antique Collective”.  I thought it might be restful to sketch something that would sit still.  This place definitely fit the bill, and even had furniture for us to sit on.


I found a stool in the back and perched while sketching this scene.  I liked the pillbox hat, the shoes and portrait in particular, but then just kept going. . .


And then it was definitely time to call it a day.  Sketching in public is exciting, because it is so demanding, but quite exhausting as well.  And I can’t wait for the next outing!

I’m using my new handmade 5X8″ sketchbook made by my husband.  The last one had BFK Rives paper in it, which was not the best for the kind of watercolor painting I do.  I’m enjoying the 140 lb hot pressed watercolor paper more.  I’m not going for smooth washes,which you can get with cold pressed paper, and I like the smooth surface of HP for drawing with a pen.  I guess I’ve abandoned spiral sketchbooks (except for using up the ones I have) for good now, since I can sketch larger and use the whole spread which makes a decent size at 8 X 10″, but doesn’t take up any more room in the bag.


Whale Solidarity


We swim in formation, fins linked and tuned to each other.  It feels right that way.  It keeps us on course, finding the feeding waters.  And when one of us gets snagged and goes aground, we don’t shout “oh you stupid!  Why didn’t you stay with us?!”  We circle round, do what we can, form a unbroken ring until . . . the waters rise. Our friend is freed, and we are as well.

Another ocean dream.  I spot a whale, caught in something and grounded on the shore.  As I look up I see a line of whales out to the horizon, a gesture of overwhelming love and solidarity.

The Muse Group lesson is about printing with stamps of all sorts, from linoleum block to vegetables and more.  I carve a whale stamp out of the soft, eraser-like material and stamp a bunch of whales, which I cut out to use for collage.  Other handmade stamps serve for the ocean and shore textures. The swirling gold orb is a dried blob of gold paint (skins) I have saved to use as a collage piece.


Dream Time and The “Good Idea”

Every once in a while I have a whopper dream.  You know the kind.  It feels more real than waking life, except when you try to relate it to someone else in your waking state, and then it kind of falls apart.  I had two such dreams last week and felt compelled to express them through art.  Here’s the first:


acrylic and collaged painted papers on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

The water looks inviting and the moon is so bright. I would like to go swimming tonight. There are rocks to navigate first.  They block my way at every turn and whisper “Not here. Not now. Not safe.”  But I can see others swimming out beyond, and I want to join them. “Not here, not now, not safe.”  Is it a shark fin I see there, or am I imaging?  Are there faces on these rocks, or am I imagining?

I think most of us wonder how people come across the really good ideas for painting.  In our own search for the “Good Idea”, creative ideas get scared off all the time!  Nevertheless I thought I’d give it a try with my Monday Muse group, because they’re always game.  The home-play assignment was to identify some kind of idea for the next painting, with no specification as to what form that might take, and no pressure for it to be a Good Idea.

Lo and behold, and bless their hearts, they all did it.  Here’s what they came up with:

*those bright colored, jewel toned former mansions described in the book Havanna Bay, and all the places I’ll never go.

*autumn leaves abstracted and uniquely painted

*the Canadian Group of 7 landscape painters and a picture of a naked painted lady

*the persistence of life and the need to embrace it.

*Motherwell’s layered collages

*the juxtaposition of machinery and natural forms

*and mine, which was the dream

Each person did a mixed media painting inspired by the idea she had voiced.  There’s something about articulating the idea to others, or even writing it in a journal, and then following through with the painting that opens the door to more (admittedly random) ideas.  So I say beware, because new ideas come rushing in a swarm.  We have to be ready with that net!


Fool’s Day Parade


Faber Castell Pitt Artist pen, brush pen and w/c in 8 X 5″ handmade sketchbook (BFK Rives paper)

I ventured out with two other sketch-loving-fools. Carole and Suzanne, to capture the Fools Day Parade action in Occidental on Saturday and try to crack the code of how to sketch a parade while everything/one is in movement.

Two of us situated ourselves at a picnic table bench outside a corner store and right behind these four fools in wigs while waiting for the parade to begin.  They were actually relatively still or at least would return to a pose frequently.  The blue and the pink wigs required special paint which was added later – Daniel Smith’s Electric Blue and Holbein’s Opera.


And finally the parade, which consists of the town’s folk in fool costume (a quirky version of Halloween) walking down the street to the music of the Hubbub Club musicians.  They were momentarily held up long enough for me to sketch Snow White. I spotted our third sketcher, Carole, standing in the middle of the street, oblivious to traffic, sketching madly. . .and rescued her!


Now we’re standing up in the crowd waiting for the “coronation” of two children as King and Queen of Fools (for 5 min.) by the grand wizard.


Accompanied by His Imperial Nothingness clown, who was also holding his accordian, which I didn’t have time to sketch. . .


A fool eating lunch and enjoying the open mic concert in the Arts Center.  By this point the marine winds were blowing through town and we were grateful to sit down inside to sketch some more and put some paint on the sketches while listening to local talent.


Grin and Bear It


acrylic, gouache, pen on w/c paper

Grin and Bear It.  I have no doubt that each person looking at this art piece will find his/her own meaning, and it will be odd.  It’s an odd piece, so let me explain.  I introduced a new lesson in Muse Group which involved making a mask, not one to be worn, but a 2D version.  I passed out pictures of indigenous mask art as ideas and suggested we go for a primitive art look.  The students had no problem with this and each produced a totally unique version of their own tribal mask.

Since I have spent some time in British Columbia and seen a lot of First Nations totem art, I chose this image.  As I progressed I got more and more creeped out by the image and in fact committed a totally uncool act (for a teacher) when we showed our pieces at the end.  (my finger pointed down my throat, get it?)

But I truly believe that in the quest for truly original art making we must at times step over the threshold of easy-on-the-eyes and into the land of grotesque.  And so I proudly share this breakthrough piece with you, and hope it doesn’t give you any nightmares. Perhaps you will even recognize it as a spirit guardian .


Spring fertility pageant


acrylic, cheesecloth, collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

St. Patrick brought us here, he and all the Irish with their green, to welcome us into spring with all things a’buddin and a’bloomin.  This fertility pageant makes our noses run and skin itch even while the feet skip to the beat.  While the earth is procreating, we dash here and there, wondering about our own part in the drama. 

Do I lie down amidst the heady scents or start a new project.  Do I answer the call of languor with a long nap or jump into a new self help regime?  The apple blossoms are doing their sexy dance in the breeze, so what do I do now?

I’m finally getting caught up on posting some pieces from the Muse Group.  I changed the text from cherry blossoms, which were blooming 3-4 weeks ago to the apple blossoms which are popping out now.  The dance of spring continues, with Easter coming this weekend and rituals of cleansing and rejuvenating.  It’s very heady stuff.  I’ll do some sketching and some weeding in the garden and enjoy my nap this afternoon when the blossomy scent captures me in its mystique.

The lesson involved cheesecloth used in a variety of ways.  First we pressed it into the wet paint, then painted over it, placed the wet painted cheesecloth down to print with it.  Lastly we dried the painted cheesecloth and, twisting and turning it, used it for collage texture on the painted surface.

In conversations with the Muse I mix paint with vision, collage with story, word with meditation and prayer. And out of the mixture comes a release of energy and healing and a lightening of the load of everyday living. You'll find most of it here, where I've been showing up for the past few years, along with collectible paintings, travel sketchbooks, figure studies and an invitation to join me in art play and discovery!

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By Susan Cornelis


All images and text are the original copyrighted work of Susan Cornelis unless otherwise attributed.


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