Our First Snow Changes my Palette

snow on branches

I woke up this morning to a deep quiet outside my window. The window was open a few inches (I like sleeping with cold air on my face.) Most mornings, even as late as yesterday morning, I awake to the chatter of tiny songbirds in the lilacs just outside. This morning all was silent.


I looked up at the sky. Gray-blue. Little humps of snow covered the lilacs. Soft. Bare of leaves. And oh — the branches! The black brush stroke branches against a hundred shades of white snow!  I knew my palette was going to change overnight. Just. Like. That. At least for one or two paintings. Black and white. Simple. Distilled to the essence of pattern. Calligraphic strokes against a pale plain sky.

Body of Work


For the last few months, I’ve been working in my studio on a new painting series with the working title, “Mother Trees.” And in the last 6 weeks or so, my work has become more and more intense. The exhibit I am preparing for opens November 20th and my work must be completed by the week before that. Ack!  Sometimes it’s just really hard to make the time to paint! 

Even though my studio is attached to 1+1=1 Gallery, I have to carve out my studio between running the gallery and mounting two exhibits, doing chores around the house, hanging out with Tim and having somewhat of a social life. I have to make painting a priority and sometimes … it just isn’t. And that’s okay.
I’m enjoying the way the season has turned this week — brilliant sunlight alternates with rainy skies and cold, dark evenings. In my studio the sun is lower through the skylight. On rainy days, I’m forced to use the overhead light. At night, I can see a few stars in the black rectangle above my work table. The colors of the season are turning up on my canvases. Darker colors– blacks, metallics, crimson, blood-red, forest greens. Richer for the changing light.
Some days the studio is quiet and I can hear the sound of rain or ravens on the skylight. Other times I listen to music. Depending on my mood it might be a soul/r&b-funk playlist or soulful cello or 10,000 Maniacs.
I’m a little melancholy. I think that has to do with the shortened days, the gathering dark. But even more — it’s sometimes the way painting makes me feel. It’s hard to explain the contradiction of feeling completely in the flow and soul-filled and satisfied, while also emotionally drained by the act of creating art. I’m working on a body of work that lives in my deep gut. It’s a story that’s part of my own story. I am full of feeling, yet I sometimes struggle to get that feeling out onto my paper or panels. Sometimes I step back and think I’ve just painted a bunch of crap. Like, who’s going to want to look at these? Or who even cares? Or I might finish a brush stroke and be reminded of some dark piece of my past and there it is again — the pull towards self-criticism. 
Other times I am delighted. And I know there are people who will come to the exhibit, who will connect with what I’m trying to express, who will find their own beautiful rich stories in the work. And be delighted in turn.
I work in many layers. I work on multiple pieces in the same day because of the drying time between layers. It’s hard to do this with interruptions, so I usually work when the gallery is closed. Yesterday I was so tired in the middle of the afternoon, I took a nap on the floor in the basement, using shipping blankets for pillows and covers.
Charlie slept beside me. So, sleep definitely helps. I went back up to the studio and worked hard. Dancing. Flow. I didn’t want to go home for dinner. 
IMG_9214-impNow I’m adding layers to the stories of forests. Of what’s beneath the soil surface, of roots and generations, of mother trees and child trees and grandmother trees. Of what First Nation people have always known that ecologists are just discovering. Of the way we are all connected. Of the way knowledge passes from one tree to another to another and how humans betray that story with our destructive ways.
Today I paint between customers. Beneath my feet Charlie lies ever watchful for me to decide to take him for a walk. 
This afternoon we are listening to Van Morrison sing In the Garden from his album, No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. I paint inside the music. Inside the words, in the garden, I feel the presence of Nature inside my heart. I am trying to say this. I am trying. To. Say. This thing. Ignited in the daylight and the darkness and with all of Creation. In the garden.

The streets are always wet with rain
After a summer shower when I saw you standin’
Standin’ in the garden, in the garden wet with rain

You wiped the teardrops from your eye in sorrow
Yeah we watched the petals fall down to the ground
And as I sat beside you I felt the great sadness that day
In the garden

And then one day you came back home
You were a creature all in rapture
You had the key to your soul and you did open
That day you came back to the garden

The olden summer breeze was blowin’ against your face, alright
The light of God was shinin’ on your countenance divine
And you were a violet colour as you sat beside your father
And your mother in the garden

The summer breeze was blowin’ on your face
Within your violet you treasure your summery words
And as the shiver from my neck down to my spine
Ignited me in daylight and nature in the garden

And you went into a trance, your childlike vision became so fine
And we heard the bells within the church, we loved so much
And felt the presence of the youth of eternal summers in the garden

Alright, and as it touched your cheeks so lightly
Born again you were and blushed
And we touched each other lightly
And we felt the presence of the Christ
Within our hearts in the garden

And I turned to you and I said
“No guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father in the garden”

Listen, no guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father and the Son
And the Holy Ghost in the garden wet with rain

No guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father and the Son
And the Holy Ghost in the garden
In the garden wet with rain

No guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father in the garden.
~Van Morrison


Artist Date 9 Make an Idea Line

Artist Date 9 Make an Idea Line

Here’s Artist Date Idea #9

Make a Different kind of Inspiration Board — Make an Idea Line

Weekly artist dates fire up your imagination. Get down and whimsical. Do things totally differently than how you usually do. Let your imagination and your body play.  Feed your creative self by filling up the well of ideas.

This week, look around your home office, your studio or wherever you hang out when you are making creative projects, and see if there is someplace you can create and hang a line of ideas. In my home office, I have two idea lines — one is a cable-wire and the other is a piece of leather I had sitting around. I hang ideas on both with alligator clips, but you can use any kind of clip. At my studio, I used what I had around, cotton twine and binder clips. Get creative — that’s the idea with this artist date! You could even draw a line on your wall and use washi tape to hang things “on” it. 😉

Here are some ideas for the line and clips:

  • For the Line: fish line, cable wire, leather cord, hemp or cotton twine, baker’s twine, rusty found wire (the kinkier the better) or just draw a line.
  • Clips: alligator clips, binder clips from office supply stores, miniature or full sized clothespins, washi tape, paperclips (you might need to poke a hole in the thing you’re trying to hang with a paper clip), earth magnets, washi tape, masking tape, any kind of tape

What to hang on the line: anything that floats your boat, that inspires you … your kid’s art, photos torn from magazines, your own photos, bits and pieces of everyday life, natural objects, cards from other artists, tags, lists, things you’ve made, earring singles, fabric scraps, letters, poems, quotes, pages from old books, color studies, textures, snapshots, cool papers, anything and everything that might sparkle an idea when you are just daydreaming or when you are art-making.

Some things from my studio wall will migrate to my idea-line. I like to rotate stuff frequently. Keeps my ideas fresh.

Studio Wall 1 Studio Wall 2


Finding Balance in My Life

Gallery2withKidsPortraitsI haven’t written or posted much on my personal blog this year. There are many reasons, but the biggest reason is that 1+1=1 Gallery is now over 2 years old and is going strong and requiring a huge time commitment from me. I love having the gallery. I haven’t been happier for many years and it feels like I finally — in my 60s — have found what I am on this Earth to do.
One of my challenges continues to be finding balance in my life. Most folks who have started their own businesses know, that you pretty much have to work 60 hour weeks or more in the beginning. It’s equally as important to me to create my own art, have a successful gallery and teach art to children and adults. 
I am gradually figuring out how to say no. How to be more focused when I am working as a gallery owner vs. working as an artist. How to spread out and limit what I want to do with what I can do. It’s working pretty well. You may not see new posts here often, but when I do post, it will be because I have something to say.
On running an art gallery: the most labor-intensive task is definitely managing the gallery. When we started, we were just the two of us — it was a way for us to show Tim’s exquisite furniture locally and for me to get the word out that I made art for my whole life. If I wanted to take the day off to hike in the mountains with my camera and Charlie, I just put a sign on the door, “Closed for the afternoon to go make art.” We weren’t worried about being fair to 14 other artists, which is what we took on when we moved to our current location. We are expanding to representing a total of 18 to 20 artists in the next two years. That’s a lot of responsibility to promote and sell their art, and to help them in their careers. We’ll be looking for a gallery manager next spring!
1+1=1 is not just a fine art gallery. We are a gathering spot. A warm, welcoming space where visitors feel included no matter how much or little they know about art. A place where children and adults practice creative expression in classes and art gatherings; a place where new artists have a chance to be exhibited and learn to work with galleries and promote themselves professionally. And lastly, a place where locals can listen to experimental music and jazz performances in an intimate atmosphere.
Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to this blog and reads and comments. I will try to be more regular about writing. Thanks for sticking with me.
Fine art exhibit at 1+1=1 Gallery

Visual Poetry exhibit featuring Andrea Cross Guns and Trudy Skari, both Helena artists.

Artist Date 8

Artist Date 8 Color Hunt

Here’s Artist Date Idea #8

Color Color Color! Go on a color hunt. 

Weekly artist dates fire up your imagination. Get down and whimsical. Do things totally differently than how you usually do. Let your imagination and your body play.  Feed your creative self by filling up the well of ideas.

This week, take your camera with you for a color-hunt-walk — rain or shine — choosing “color” as your focus for the day. If it has recently rained, notice wet colors are more intense! For us in Helena, Montana, we are coming to the end of winter and approaching spring. The colors outside are still mostly muted neutrals and sky blue.  About this time of year I start craving the bright yellows of daffodils and other garden flower colors. I love taking walks with my camera and setting myself a specific visual goal each time. This week I’m going to go on a color hunt with my camera and hope the colors sink into my imagination then flow out through my paint brushes onto canvas.

Here are some ideas for a colorful artist date:

  • Even in winter, when the colors of your surroundings seem to be all about low-key and neutral … turn your thinking around and try to find some intense colors in the midst of the drabs. Remember to look down at the ground when you are hunting for colors — look up too!
  • take your camera to an art supply store. Do closeups of colorful materials in such a way that the photos look almost-abstract. Hone in on colorful patterns like the embroidery floss display in the photo at the top of this post
  • Look for just one color on your color hunt. Try to photograph as many variations of that color as you can. Back in your studio, see if you can duplicate those shades with your chosen medium.
  • Set yourself the task on your color hunt, of finding many examples of color harmonies such as complimentary or analagous colors. Or cool, warm, saturated or desaturated colors.
  • Limit yourself and your camera to a progressive series of color photos of the color wheel. Pick a color to start with (say, green) photograph something green. Next look for blue … then purple then red and so on. Limiting yourself forces you to really look while you are walking, for specific colors.
  • Paint each toenail a different color (yes, even guys can do this — just get wild and have fun)
  • Replace one of your home’s lightbulbs with a different color bulb — notice how it changes everything in the room!
  • Walk around wearing a wild color of glasses. Ignore the stares. They’re just jealous. lol

Above all else have fun on your artist date! Add your ideas in the comments, too. Cheerio. Pip-pip and all that!

Here’s a small gallery of March (late winter) shots from previous years  — with muted grays, blues, tans and yellows. I love Montana winters partly because of the subtle color palette. Still … right about now I’m craving brights like the embroidery floss photo at the top. Here’s to the coming Spring!


Okay … did it. Took a walk today to do a colorwheel color hunt. Started with purple on my back porch. Found every color but I really had to hunt for a good blue. 😉


Artist Date 7: Stretch It Out with Yoga


Here’s Artist Date Idea #7

Ever feel like your creative self and your brain are just in a flump? (that’s code for floppy grump) or … that you’ve hit a roadblock with your creativity? Or maybe all is good and you just want to keep the gears well-oiled. This week’s artist date idea is all about stretching it out — stretching your brain, stretching your body, stretching your soul.

For this week’s artist date, spend at least an hour or two doing some form of yoga. The body is part of the mind and spirit and by stretching your body, practicing mindfulness … you will feed your heart, your spirit and creative self. 

Here are some ideas for a YOUga artist date:

  • Take a free introductory class at a local yoga studio
  • If you aren’t into yoga, or want something different and challenging, try Nia or Oula
  • If you already have a regular yoga practice, figure out a way to take it beyond your usual thing: introduce someone else. Attend a different yoga studio and learn a different style. Think about it this way instead: do your daily yoga practice, warmups and stretches with the goal of stimulating that deep creative well inside you. Let the peace and relaxation, or energy and focus flow through you. No matter what the feelings will flow into your art-making eventually.
  • Watch an online yoga video to learn something new and/or practice in the comfort of your home
  • Practice outside (weather permitting) or somewhere totally unusual: your living room or your office, your front porch, or in the employee break room. Maybe you’ll start something!
  • Bring a yoga bolster and pad to your art studio
  • Show someone else how to do what you do

Above all else have fun on this week’s artist date! Add your ideas in the comments, too. Cheers


Falling is Easy – Staying in Love takes Work

NaomiCristianWeddingBest066-imp I had the wonderful and memorable privilege three years ago today, to participate in a wedding ceremony of a very dear friend and young woman whom I already loved and respected, but whom I have grown to love even more over the years. Oddly enough, she left shortly after the wedding to live in Chile with her new husband and daughter and I have not seen her since then. I miss her mightily. So do lots of other people who saw her through some trying times, and helped her learn and grow into the amazing superhero mother-wife-woman she is today.

Naomi Cristian and Amiyah

This is a young lady who endured some of the worst childhood trauma I can imagine, yet whose heart keeps expanding wider and wider — like a perpetually blooming rose. She is beautiful although she sometimes thinks she is not (don’t we all go through that?) She is a loving, attentive mother with a strong bond to her child. She loves her husband with all her being, and she knows what it meant that day when she promised to love him through thick and thin.


I witnessed their marriage at the courthouse and helped them write their vows. Along with many other people who helped them both along the way, I talked to them about the things they’d stumble upon as the years go by. Money issues, cultural differences, language differences, child rearing philosophies, boredom, times of inequality, communication problems.

We all also reminded them to notice and look forward to JOYS that would be theirs because of their commitment.

NaomiCristianWeddingBest001-impNow, three years may not sound like a long time to some of my readers … but for this couple, as for any couple who marries in their teens, it is a great accomplishment. Today they celebrate three years of promise. Three years of growth. Three years of growing closer together in spite of differences in culture and language and upbringing. Three years of loving their daughter and being a family. And three years of welcoming others into their lives, of stretching their comfort zones and what they thought might be their limits.


So, Naomi and Cristian, I salute you for coming this far. I salute you for going beyond what you thought you were capable of. I honor and respect you for sticking with each other, for being kind to each other, for apologizing, for making repairs, for building a new life together, and for always. always. always remembering what brought you together for life.

All my love,

Artist Date 6 Visit an Art Museum


Meditate on Some Art

Here’s Artist Date Idea #6

I love having a world-class art museum in our small city. Without the Holter Museum of Art, there would be a huge hole in the community. Whenever I can, I make a point of visiting, or drop by for a few minutes on my way to work. It’s the perfect artist date by yourself.

Openings of art exhibits are great fun, but sometimes I do more socializing at an opening and less focused deep-looking. When I’m alone at the museum I take the time to really see the art, meditate on just a few pieces. I’m glad the Holter’s exhibits have long runs, because when it’s art that really intrigues me, I go back again and again. And I see something different every time I go.

So, for this week’s artist date, check out your local art museum. Plan to have at least an hour or two so you can really spend some time looking deeply. 

  • If you live in or near Helena, and haven’t spent my time at the Holter, you are missing something huge! Go there.
  • If you live elsewhere,go to your local art museum. If your town doesn’t have an art museum, perhaps you can plan a trip somewhere close by that does. Or go to an art gallery.
  • Instead of just walking through the exhibits, on your artist date, try sitting and contemplating one piece for a longer period of time. If there isn’t a bench, sit on the floor.
  • Check out the other parts of the museum the public doesn’t normally see. Ask if you can see the permanent collection. Introduce yourself to the curators, find out what’s coming up, sign up for a class or a tour. Make the best of your community’s art museum. They are there to be a resource. As artists and creatives, an art museum is like a home away from home/studio.
Holter Museum of Art Corvid Exhibit

Kids learning about corvids and sketching, during the Larry Blackwood exhibit at the Holter in 2014