inks and gesso

There’s Always a Way

There’s always a way. . .


ink, gesso, watercolor pencils on 10 X 10″ w/c paper

there is always a way around or through or behind

a zig and a zag to sidestep an enemy

pointers to show you the way

but look for their subtle shapes

follow them through narrow spaces

make yourself ever so small and silent and inconspicuous

there are clouds to hide in until the landscape clears enough for a bold new direction.

there is always a way

I am a champion of intuitive thinking and decision making, a Piscean, always willing to float in murky waters, swim in different directions, hanging out until an answer presents itself and feels right.

Sometimes of course this is very frustrating. I admire those who seem to know who they are, make well considered plans and carry them out successfully, especially artists who set a direction for their art and stick to it, at least for a while. I am always a bit surprised at my own successes and reluctant to take any personal credit because they seem too external.

The real delight for me is to see what happened on the paper or canvas when I was just busy trying to get the right color on my brush. Ironic then, that I would find myself in the teacher role. But I am willing to jump into the murky waters with other artists and see what shared revelations may occur. That’s what my Artful Muse courses are about, along with lots of mixed media materials and technique fun.

A new Monday Muse Group starts September 12 and there are a couple spots open at this point if you’re interested in joining. In the October 8 and November 12 mini-workshops we’ll be continuing the exploration of the Japanese esthetic Wabi Sabi.


On October 8 the focus will be finding natural ways to apply inks, graphite and charcoal to paper, making marks with sticks and more.


On November 12 we’ll be exploring natural textures and paper overlays. For more information about all my courses visit my website and contact me with any questions!

Black and White hold hands


inks and gesso on w/c paper 10 X 11″, workshop demo

There’s teeth in this one, a snarl through bared teeth, a jagged fence, a bit of slime. I am dying to get away, but held in place with a fascination at the bizarre beauty of the scene unfolding.

Go ahead and take me to the edge where all the action is, where sea meets land, nature meets city, good meets evil, and life unspools in alternating increments of stress and peace. Black and white are always holding hands and taking turns.

Wet some shapes on the paper, squirt on some inks. Tip the paper. Add gesso and scrape through it, picking up some wet ink with a notched scraper. Move the fingers in to smooth some passages, mixing gesso with ink.  Now meet the image which has appeared.

This was the first exercise in the Wabi Sabi workshop, to let the inks talk.

The Quest for Beauty


“Chrysalid II”, inks, gesso, pencil, collage on canvas 24″X24″

In his book Wabi Sabi: Further Thoughts, Leonard Koren shares the quest for beauty that led  him to explore more deeply the wabi-sabi way.  In his definition of beauty he writes:

By “beauty” I mean that complex of exciting, pleasurable sensations-ostensibly emanating from things – that makes us feel more alive and connected to the world.  Often these feelings are accompanied by a compelling sense of truth, goodness, and/or love.

I can’t think of a better explanation for why I paint! But it goes beyond that to an honoring of life, with all its natural processes. Wabi sabi is a celebration of the roughness and unevenness of life as it unfolds in bumps and starts, one forward and two steps back. I imagine the gnarled old apple tree in my garden that wears its age with the grace and originality as I aspire to. The rusty garden implements, the grasses draping over my walkway, and in my studio – the torn paper and textured surfaces I love to paint on.


Gone Aerial


acrylic inks on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Believe it or not, this started out as a demonstration of an inks and gesso “rorschach”. I folded the white paper over along the “zipper line” of the bird, creased it, then squirted ink and gesso on one side a bit randomly.  Next I folded the paper over again and smooshed the paint so it transferred to the other side. All the rest is the outcome of whatever nuttiness possessed me at the moment as I charged ink from the dropper into lines of water.

Not surprising, this tapestry of fields (the vineyards on the flatlands below my home) or the mountains (which separate us from Calistoga and the Napa Valley). Also not surprising that I would try to go airborn, but feel the weight of my somewhat leaden human body weighing me down!

Wabi Sabi: Imperfection

Ring the Bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

-Leonard Cohen


Inks and gesso on 10 X 10″ w/c paper

Today I immersed myself in a contemplation of the Japanese esthetic of wabi sabi. In particular, the beauty of imperfect things, like cracked pottery and gnarled old trees.

My instructions to myself read something like: Strive for simplicity. Get in and out of the painting in 15-30 minutes. Allow the murky and undefined, the random and the clunky. Breathe deep and try not to overthink it.


I had fun dripping inks on this gesso textured surface.


and scraping out and toweling off and rolling on, with a bit of charcoal line suggestion. The title of this one will be “What is that growing on your roof?”


And when I was done, I had such a lovely torn piece of paper towel. In celebration of imperfect beauty I glued it onto another piece of paper for another start. I might break the 15 minute rule and play with this one some more. These “cracks” are letting a lot of light in!

If you’d like to join me in this pursuit of wabi sabi, on June 25 and 26 I’ll be teaching a weekend painting workshop at Sebastopol Center for the Arts in Sebastopol, California titled “The Visual Poetry of Wabi Sabi”.  For more information and to contact me, visit my website.



inks, gesso, collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

What are we saying with the thrusting of our skyscrapers? It’s a dicey brand of supremacy. But nevertheless one which I’ve lately become intrigued with, from my vantage point in the bucolic countryside of northern California. My son, the California boy turned Manhattan based architect, has charged my imagine with structures of consciousness-bending design and detail. How can our structures reflect the designs inherent in nature so that we can live more harmoniously?  Curvy ceilings, living roofs and glass walls that bring the outside in! Oh yeah.

The art lesson here above as my favorite, inks and gesso moved around with water and a sense of adventure. The cityscape came right out of National Geographic and found the sweet spot on the page where it appeared to be either rising out of or being swallowed up by the mountain.  You pick which.



Higgins Black India ink, Daler Rowney Genesis Green ink, gesso on w/c paper

A flutter of wings

A heart with strings

The Monday Muse group came together yesterday for a new beginning on this joint exploration of wild-and-wooly art making. I thought we’d “do inks”, squirt them into puddles of water shapes, letting them blend and granulate.

There are Saturday workshops coming up with a couple openings.

On February 13 we’ll be having some spray paint fun: using our acrylic paints and inks in spray applications.

On March 12 we will paint out from collage pieces for some dynamic results.

For more information and to register, visit my website.

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!

Instant transfer


acrylic inks and gesso with image transfer on w/c paper 10 X 11″

For years I’ve been doing image transfers in two ways: 1)transferring the image onto clear contact paper with gel medium, and 2) dry gel transfers directly onto the paper.  The latter method requires several hours of drying time, if you want to ensure success.

But lately I’ve been experimenting with instant transfers using the thinner matte medium and found a wonderful video on the Golden website with tips on how to make this work. A black and white image transferred onto a painted surface creates a surprise contrast or a bit of mystery.  And now I can do it in a couple easy steps without waiting.  Rather than tell you the process here, I’ll invite you to check out the video and give it a try yourself! The Saturday group had great success with it.