An Artist’s Bookshelf – November 2018

It’s Election Day…

Despite the divisive political climate of our nation these days, I choose to celebrate with a smile over the simple and awesome right to cast my vote. In that spirit, I’ve collected a few works for my bookshelf that are inspired by my gratitude for my home country, as well as my growing interest in all things creative. Here’s what I’m reading in November:

It Occurs to Me That I Am America edited by Jonathan Santlofer – The editor compiled the works of 50 well-known writers and visual artists for this collection showing “the variety and diversity that is America now.” I’m hopeful this book will be not only a good read in and of itself, but also a catalog of creatives for my further investigation.

Abstract City by Christoph Niemann – Since my last bookshelf entry in which I mentioned Neimann, I read his book Sunday Sketching. I loved it–I didn’t put it down from start to finish–and it looks to me like Abstract City features similar visual playfulness and clever writing. On the cover? One of America’s iconic structures–the Chrysler Building in New York City–being used as a pencil.

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer – His book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of my all-time favorites. For me, it captures the deep and personal pain caused by the events of 9-11 in a way that completely touches and wrings my heart. Not only that, the book is an experience, complete with quirky photos that parallel the story. Once again, Safran Foer makes Tree of Codes an experience, this time in a more tactile sense since each page appears like a censored letter. It reminds me of Newspaper Blackout, which I read earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed.

Exercise your rights. Cast your vote. Join me in appreciating our colorful and creative homeland and the contributions of our fellow citizens!


Artist Date: “Art Attack” – Nov. 2, 2018

Featured image: Works by Ashley Mary

I discovered the artist studios of the Northrup King Building last spring through “Art-a-Whirl” and fell in love with the environment—with the creative energy pulsing through all four floors of the hundred-year-old warehouse. It was a thrill to return for “Art Attack,” another special weekend when the artists open their studios to the public.

I’d like to shake the hand of anyone who has managed to see everything on display and for sale in that building. I managed to get to two floors and maybe a couple dozen studios of the 200 tenants. It comes as no surprise that I was especially drawn to the color-rich, abstract/impressionist works by the following local artists:

  • Megan Bell – I was first taken in by her choice of colors, which she says are inspired by the “colorful big skies, lakes, woods and prairie lands of my home state of Minnesota.” Her compositions, though completely controlled by her hand, remind me of the effects of pour painting.
  • Anna Dvorak – As an abstract landscape artist, Dvorak uses gorgeous hues of turquoise and green and gray to achieve striking impressions of horizons. I love the experimental spirit of her work, embracing how the paints “interact and intersect.”
  • IMG_2205

    My favorites by Anna Lowenthal Walsh

    Ashley Mary – Whimsical shapes. Vibrant colors. There’s a happy and playful, yet very complex, feel to her work. I’m not surprised that her aim is to “put the goodness back into the world” through her art. It shows.

  • Anna Lowenthal Walsh – I’m especially in love with Lowenthal Walsh’s bold geometric designs: stacked blocks and a pattern reminiscent of a log-cabin quilt block. I used to knit the latter; now I’m eager to try the design again on paper or canvas.
  • Katrin Schroeder – From a distance, Schroeder’s work may look like very clean and traditional still lifes. However, upon closer study, one notices that she throws some interesting drips into her portrayals of tidy flowers and applies the palette knife quite wildly to her landscapes.

It’s so fun to explore the work of others as I chart a course to my own destination as an artist. My list of “influences” only continues to grow.


Artist Date: Finger Painting – Oct. 11, 2018


The end result of my “finger painting”

There’s nothing like an art class to strengthen the bond of friendship. In that spirit, my friend Sara and I made plans to take an art class together, eventually landing on “Adult Finger Painting” through Robbinsdale Community Education.

Finger painting conjures up images of stick figures and really basic shapes, but grown-ups have taken it up a notch making it all the rage in their adult circles. After spending a couple hours with our star instructor Kris Holtmeyer, I must admit that I’m totally on the finger-painting bandwagon, too! Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from trying my hand—including my fingers, of course—at it:

Draw upside down – I’ve heard of this being done, but I don’t recall ever doing it myself. I chose to use a photo of a bird as my model, but I fear my drawing would have hardly resembled a bird had I tried to actually draw a bird. By turning the photo and my drawing upside down and dissecting it into quadrants of basic shapes, the finished product turned out okay.


It all began with breaking the canvas into quadrants, then drawing the picture upside down.

Find the tool that works for you – Kris brought a grand collection of acrylic paints and latex gloves—that’s all a finger painter needs to put a concept to canvas. But she seemed to know that some of us would gravitate toward other tools beyond our fingers. Though I depended on mine for the background, it felt more natural to add thicker textures with a palette knife.

Fall in love with white – I heard it over and over again in the instructor’s critiques of our work: try adding white, use more white, fall in love with white! And what a miraculous “color” it is indeed! White created light, depth, contrast, etc. Kris suggested that no one needs more than four colors in his or her paint collection: the primaries of red, yellow and blue, as well as the biggest tube of white one can find.

With other art classes, I’ve often left feeling defeated and not at all impressed with what I take home as a finished product. Add to that the bill of supplies, and I get especially woeful. But this finger painting class was altogether different. I’m eager to keep at it!

Art & Halloween: Pumpkins & Parades

Halloween is not a holiday I care to celebrate. It’s dark. It’s gory. It’s based on rituals and beliefs that certainly aren’t mine. However, I couldn’t help but take notice of these fun Halloween-related and art-related posts in recent days. Not dark. Not gory. Just more great ways to get creative!

Masterpiece costume parade – Wow, oh wow! This video blew my mind the first time I saw it. There’s something very surreal about seeing something that’s generally still and flat become a moving, part-of-your-own-world form. How fun would it have been to develop and don these costumes?!?

Mandala pumpkins – Watch out craft stores, when fake pumpkins go on clearance this week, I’m making a run on them! I haven’t drawn mandalas, but thanks to the influence of artist Lisa Congdon and the inspiration of Marshallese weaving, I’ve tried my hand at similar designs. Now to apply that practice to a 3D object, such as a pumpkin!

Toilet paper pumpkins – I remember my mom making something similar with her homemakers group some years ago: pumpkins made out of toilet paper rolls. I thought it was super silly at the time… now I want in! Next step? To collect some funky fabrics, as well as some sticks from my yard (and to watch for some super sales on the ol’ two-ply!).

Gratitude pumpkins – There are the big pumpkins we choose to carve, then there are the ones that are just cute or cool also taking up festive residence on our front porch. This year, rather than watching them rot with the rest, I’m going to start a new tradition: making gratitude pumpkins for the much more important holiday of Thanksgiving. I have the perfect little white one on which to jot down the people and things and experiences for which we are grateful. Maybe I’ll even use some unique hand lettering on it to help exercise my art muscle!


An Artist’s Bookshelf – October 2018

Once again, I’m traveling the “mixed media” route when it comes to my learning more about artists and artistic practices. Here’s what’s on my bookshelf, screen, etc., this month:

“Abstract: The Art of Design” series on Netflix
In short, this series is so cool! The first episode is about Christoph Niemann, a German illustrator who has many New Yorker covers and several books to his credit. I love the observation he makes at the beginning of the episode: given how it’s produced, the show is both by and about him; Niemann’s illustrations actually sew the documentary together. It’s hard to explain but so worth a look. I can’t wait to follow Niemann’s work from now on and to check out the next artists featured in the series. 

The Creative Call by Janice Elsheimer
This book was described to me as The Artist’s Way for Christians. It promises “creative renewal” through readings, journaling, and other exercises focused on getting closer to God and, at the same time, discovering what He designed me to be and do. I look forward to seeing how this book will speak into my artistic endeavors and their intersection with my faith.

Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity by J. Scott McElroy
Like The Creative Call, this book and study guide duo is focused on harnessing the spiritual capacity of art. “Collaborate with God,” reads the back cover of the study guide. What I specifically like about this collection is how it offers real-life examples of other people who have attempted this and, by all appearances, who have done it well. I can pray to add myself to their number.