Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Art Thought: Someone is Knocking at the Door

I wonder when to follow an established style and when not to.  My current painting is beginning to look like a Thomas Hart Benton painting.  Should I follow his style as I try to solve problems within the piece?  Should I ignore this style? Should I let Thomas Hart Benton in to my party?

1/2 Hour Later:  OK.  So I figured out that I can use THB to get down the structure in the painting.  After all his painting style captures shape and value really well. The area where the greens sprout out of the bulb was tricky to document, especially since the onion is growing so fast. I can use THB style to capture the structure of the onion and then go back in after it has dried and rework it in the style of Mark Granlund.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

From Finland to My Living Room - A Painting of the Old Family Farm

I was introduced to, an online auction site, the other day. I checked out their site and found beautiful fine art pieces and antique furniture.  Many of the paintings I saw were older paintings from the era of a painting I have in my house.

My mother was moving out of her house this last year and when I was helping her downsize her possessions, we came across a 1912 painting of the family farm in Finland. My father was born on this farm in 1932 and his mother sold her part of the farm in 1934 to move here to Minnesota. I visited the farm in 1972 when I was eight years old. To this day, the farm is still in the family and has grown to be quite large.

The painting is on canvas and, I assume, painted with thinned oil paint.  I thought of removing the painting from its frame to observe it more closely, but the back was sealed tightly with old masking tape and nails.  I don't know how old the frame is.  It is a manufactured frame molding - newer than 1912.  I didn't have the heart to disrupt the packaging.  It is painted on a thin piece of canvas that sits loosely in the frame, only supported by a piece of pressboard. From my dated recollections, the barn on the right in the painting looked the same in 1972. The house has been changed and the outhouse was still there when I visited as a child.

Having moved to the States in 1934, my family does not have a lot of ties to our relatives in Finland, but we do occasionally communicate with them.  The internet has made that much easier.  This painting, a landscape painting of a wooded lakeside and a carved moose are three of our connections to this past life of a distant family.

The painting on my living room wall has a faded ink signature. It is hard to read. The first name looks like Elma. But then I looked at the bottom of our carved moose and discovered a name there of Irma Luin ja Ossr(?)  It looks like it could be the same person.  The story is that the moose was carved in 1949, while Irma was rehabilitating injuries from WWII.

I'm thankful to have these connections to my family from another country. I'm hoping some might read this and share more information about this artist in the family whose work has traveled to another continent.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oil Painting: Ultimatum

Title: Ultimatum
Media: Oil on canvas
Size: 18" x 24"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Demos from Last Week's Art Classes at Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio

Here are some demos from last week's classes.

In the Watercolor Wednesday class we learned how to make strong color with only one layer of paint.  This is a small demo painting of some pencils bound by two blue rubber bands. Class will be held again this Wednesday and anyone can come on any Wednesday, as it is pay as you go.  For more info:

Here are some pencil drawings of an orchid, from the Botanical Drawing class on Thursday nights. We were learning about shape and shading.

We also learned about negative shape and positive shape. and did some shading exercises.

All in all a fun week of classes at Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio.  Up coming classes include a Flower Painting class and a painting event on painting like Arthur Dove.  For more class info, go to:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Watercolor: Blue Flag Iris

I just completed this year's botanical piece for the Minnesota State Horticultural Society.  Society members can receive a signed print of this blue flag iris when pledging to the annual campaign.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Oil Painting: Beets

Oil Painting on cradled board
8" x 10"
Mark Granlund

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Oil Painting: Red Potatoes in a Blue Bowl

Red Potatoes in a Blue Bowl
6" x 6"
Oil Paint

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wednesday Watercolor - Demo: Painting Glass Objects

Here is the demo created at last Wednesday's Wednesday Watercolor Whatever! class. A student wanted to learn how to paint glass objects - so I made a small still life with glass vases and I taught how to paint glass. Fun evening.  Two more nights for Wednesday Watercolor Whatever! - August 13 and August 27.  Come on down and learn how to paint with watercolor.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wednesday Watercolor Whatever! Demo on Shadows

This is a demo I created during last nights Wednesday Watercolor Whatever! class.  We were looking at shadows and dark areas in compositions and how to handle them.  In particular, we were looking at the difference between creating shadows on a white paper background versus shadows and dark areas within a painted area.  It was a fun exercise.  There will be no Wednesday Watercolor Whatever! next week, but we will meet again on Wednesdays in August.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Watercolor: Blue Flag Iris Commission for MSHS

My annual commission for the Minnesota State Horticultural Society this year is a blue flag iris.  Here are some preliminary images.

The drawing of the final composition on tracing paper

1st Stage of a study for the final painting

Final image of study for final painting

1st stage of final painting

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Art Thought: Drawing as a Way to Cultivating Mindfulness

I have been reading some articles lately that have me thinking about mindfulness. It seems that we humans have a hard time being mindful of what is around us and our proper relationship to our surroundings.  It greatly saddens me to see what is happening to our planet.  The environment is rapidly changing and might eventually not harbor life as we know it, including us.  And this is being brought on by not being mindful of how we live in relationship to our surroundings, the very thing that sustains us.

The human condition is such that we have an ability to think in the abstract, and thus, focus on the future or the past.  If we are living in the past, we react to the present situation according to our regrets from a situation in the past.  If we are living in the future, we react to the present situation in accordance to our hopes and fears of what might be, not according to what is needed in the moment.

Mindfulness is the act of living in the present moment, being open to what is, not what has been or will be.  It is a very hard state to achieve, at least for me.  Throughout the day, most people have a running monologue in their head. Often we are reviewing what happened the day before or earlier in the day, thinking about alternate scenarios, wondering if we did the right thing, etc.  Or we are thinking about the future: the list of things that need to get done that day, dinner plans for the next day, what to do on the next vacation, etc.  What happens when we stop listening to either our regrets about the past or our concerns of the future?  What happens when we simply are?  Well, that is the goal of meditation, to simply focus on the body, its processes, and allow acceptance to seep in through the quagmire of untrained thought. Mindfulness is slightly different.  Mindfulness is more outward oriented.  It is the act of seeing without judging, of relating without prescribing, of being open to what is without trying to control it.

To answer the question above, the other day I tried to remove everything from the past and future from my mind. Did I find mindfulness?  No. I found fantasy.  As soon as I was able to clear out the past and future my mind filled in the void with thoughts of things that could not possibly exist.  Suddenly, I was chasing down a murderer, I was solving the JFK assassination, I was conversing with sprites, I was... well, I wasn't doing anything, really, just passing time

How can drawing help achieve mindfulness? Drawing is a process of being in the moment.  At any given moment you are concerned only with the mark you are making on the paper. Ah, but now you've got me.  We are not only thinking about the mark we are making but we are also concerned with the marks we made previously and the marks we will make in the future.  How else could you have a composition that is consistent?

Well, yes, you've got me there... wait a minute.  No you don't.  While being concerned about the marks you made previously, you are not focusing on the past, you are responding in the moment to how those marks exist, in the present, on the paper.  You are adjusting and changing so that in the moment it represents the shapes, lines and values you want.  And as for preparing the paper for future marks, yes, there is some of that, but really, you are only concerned about the current marks and if they are where you want them.  The future will tend for itself.  As any drawer knows, lines don't always end up where you expect them - and often that's worth keeping.

I have embedded the following video in my blog before because I love the process of this drawing.  It is completely in the present moment, completely about making marks (and nothing else) and its incarnation is found in the act of dragging graphite across a surface - the most basic description of drawing.  This is Tony Orrico making 1 circle proto.

So the question is, how can drawing be a process that cultivates mindfulness?  If drawing is a process that is most concerned with the present moment, perhaps there are ways to expand this process beyond the paper.

While drawing, artists ask several questions in the moment.  Here are a few examples:
  • Is the line dark enough or light enough?
  • Is the line curved enough or should it be straighter?
  • Are the shapes in good proportion?
  • Is the shading representing the surface?
When drawing, we are always asking questions that are answered by attention in the moment to physical action.  We are answering questions not with words, but with actions.  I had a painting teacher in graduate school who would approach your painting and ask a question by taking a brush and painting on your canvas. Some people felt violated by him changing their painting.  He would not paint for the student or improve a failing area, he would simply place a stroke of paint in a certain location that the student would have to respond to.  Often it was a question that could be phrased as: "Do you think your values are dark enough?"  But the way in which the question was asked, the student was given a marker by which to judge their answer throughout the rest of the painting process - and the teacher didn't have to keep coming around and asking the same question. The teacher did not seldom did this, but it was a great way to get the student to observe more accurately and bring him into the moment.


I believe that there are ways that we can take the mindfulness skills we are learning while drawing and apply them off the paper.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Wednesday Watercolor - Whatever! Demonstration Pieces

Here are a few demonstration pieces I created during the Wednesday Watercolor - Whatever! class last week.
Jade plant in a cup - showing how to create value by using different varieties of the same color, i.e. yellow cup is created with cadmium yellow and yellow ochre

Still life created by painting an under-painting first and then layering color over it

Votive candle glass - darkening by adding opacity.
Come by Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio next Wednesday night at 6:30pm and paint with us!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Oil Painting: Bowl with Residue

Bowl with Residue
Oil Painting on canvas
9" x 12"

This took awhile to complete.  The residue of spaghetti sauce was much trickier than expected and getting a bowl round just takes time. Here are previous stages of the painting:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Oil Painting: Violin

Still Life: Violin
9" x 12"
Oil Painting

This is an oil painting of my grandfather's violin.  My grandfather used to play the violin, accordion and coronet (trumpet).  I do not remember him as he died when I was one years old. But I do have his instruments and even took lessons as a kid on the coronet. The violin, when I received it, was in pieces.  I had it repaired and now use it in still lives, as I do not know how to play it.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Oil Painting: Clock on Books

Still Life: Clock on Books 
9" x 12" 
Oil Painting 

This is a painting I created from a still-life created for an art class at Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio. It includes a violin that belonged to my grandfather, an African violet donated by a student and some old art books about 14th Century French paintings.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Good Art and the Moment of Learning

I have been making and teaching art for more than twenty five years.  So, I might ask myself, what is it about making art that is of value? Or, what is the most important aspect of art to teach in order to have people continue painting, drawing and writing? 

It comes down to this: within the creation of each art piece there is a myriad of decisions that need to be made in the moment.  As an example, when painting a watercolor of a tulip, my first decision is what paper I am going to paint on.  Then I have to decide do I sketch with a pencil or a very light painted line. How big will the final painting be?  These are all preliminary decisions before I even paint.

OK.  But let's say I have been painting for years and I know that I like to paint botanicals on 140 lb. Fabriano hot press paper.  I know that I like to sketch lightly with a pencil and not erase.  I know that the final size of my painting will be a nice frameable size of 12" x 16". Still, when I start painting I am figuring out, in the moment, proportions and ratios of shapes within the subject.  I am figuring out how to mix the color exactly as I want it, or as I see it on the tulip.

This is a tulip.  No?
OK. But let's say I've been painting a few more years and I have limited my palette to just eight colors and I only add a couple more if the flower is an unusual hue. I now know how to get the colors I want without much effort.  As for proportions, I have figured out how to take casual or more exacting measurements of different shapes and the overall object to have a realistic representation.  At this point, proportions are not a decision as much as following through on a process. Yet, I still have to figure out how to represent edges as in front or behind each other - in the moment.  I need to still figure out the slight variations in the value of color created by changing my water/pigment ratio to represent atmosphere or the roundness of the object in space. And on and on...

It never stops. There is always something more to learn and explore.  Once I have mastered working with the medium, then I might think about content and how to push it to impact people more.  I might want to think about adding different media or translating what I've learned to a completely different medium.

Each piece of art is a series of decisions: moments of learning. As you approach each decision there are innumerable directions to take: make it more red, more blue, less yellow, etc.  The more complex the piece the more decisions and moments of learning there are represented in it.

This is a tulip with more "moments of learning" than the previous image.
The first image (above) took me three minutes to create and I had to make several decisions in the moment as to how I would draw this tulip.  How many points on top were enough but not too many?  How thick should the line be?  How long and thick should the stem be?  Should one leaf be in front of the stem and one behind? Many decisions, yet not as many as in the second image.  The second image (above, but not as above as the first) was created in stages over a three day period. Color decisions alone in the second image outnumbered all the decisions of the first image. The drawing in the second is more exact and there were many decisions in the representation of the frilled petal edges. Some decisions were incorrect and had to be changed.  Other decisions were correct -- but that didn't make them any easier.

What happens in the moment of learning? We become more accomplished while finding our direction in our limitation. Let's return to our images of a tulip.
This is a tulip.  No?  No.
This is not an image of a tulip.  There is no known tulip in the world that has these proportions, yet, we accept it as a tulip.  Why?  Because it is close enough.  Close enough we say, "yes, that is close enough -- jagged top, two basal leaves and a stem -- couldn't be anything but a tulip."  This is a tulip to a five year old.  AND, if this child never looks at a real tulip again she will always draw tulips like this until she dies (poor thing).  How sad that the actual beauty of a tulip would not be understood beyond this simple representation. How sad that the subtle convex and concave playfulness of a pedal edge as it dips under the bloom will not be seen, much less understood. The color variations from the base to the tip of the petal, and its subtle representation of the structure and growth of that petal, will be trampled upon and smashed into the ground never to be considered. In this dullards world, a tulip is a rose is a begonia is a hosta...
This is a tulip.  Yes?  Yes, weren't you paying attention?
In a moment of learning we begin to see differences.  Correction: in a moment of learning we see differences.

The more we practice seeing differences the better our art will become.  This is the image of a tulip after practicing seeing differences for many years.

Look familiar?  Were you paying attention?

Here are the benefits of artistic moments of learning:
- you will see differences in things
- you will practice comparing and contrasting
- you will discover how you perceive things of this world
- you will discover how you do not perceive things of this world
- you will come to see beauty in small things and large
- you will inadvertently apply these new skills to other parts of your life
- your life will change

Yes, that is what it all comes down to: if you make art, your life will not stay the same. You will begin to apply these skills to other parts of your life. You will question and examine.  You will see differences between what you used to do and what you do now.  You will see differences between who you are and who others are. You will question how society goes about its business. You will see more beauty in the world and others. Why? Because eventually you will perceive everything as more complex than you saw it previously. You are no longer five. You will begin to see the interconnectedness of things and how they are structured. You will get hooked on this ever present discovery of difference.  You will seek out experiences that teach something new, at least to you.  You will be propelled forward to find your own path, your own decisions, your own life. 

Then the day will come when you will sit down to paint and you will have an epiphany.  The painting you are about to create will be pregnant with the full meaning of your life, it will define your existence, your generation and the world in which you live. All of your experiences will be throbbing in your fingers as your brush mixes the pigments. Your heart will be transferred into the paint as it nears the paper. Then two hours later you will crumble in a heap, exhausted from creating the dullest, least interesting painting of your entire life (poor thing).

What went wrong? Good art is built brick by brick upon the moments of learning -- upon the myriad of minute decisions that make up a piece of art. Good art is not built by who we are and who we have become somehow magically appearing on the paper. Can the subject matter be about self? Yes. Can the art be about a specific personal experience?  Yes. But it still has to be based in the moments of learning found in production, not the preconceived finished product. Some people call this "play." Some call it "process." I call it "Stanley."

Previously, I stated that we "become more accomplished while finding our direction in our limitation." This is exactly it: moments of learning (decision making) increase our capacity to create strong art, yet we have to stay inside these moment to be effective. To think that we can make good art without focusing in the moment while painting is folly. 

In the same sense, how do you make a good life without focusing in each moment? That is for someone else to answer -- dammit, I'm an artist, not a psychologist, Jim!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio: The Future of this Small Art Teaching Studio

In the next three months I hope to purchase the property next door to me with the intent of creating a small one-room schoolhouse setting with gardens for teaching art. The new Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio will be approximately 18 feet by 19 feet and will be surrounded by gardens of native and hybridized plants.  Classes will be held to a maximum of eight to ten students, depending on table arrangement. Jack-in-the-Pulpit will not be offering children's classes or camps - only classes for adults (and the occasional interested teenager). Some may ask what is the profit of such a small art school that is so limited in its offerings?

I created the educational department and ran the art classes at the Como Zoo and Conservatory from 1994 - 2004.  I raised over $500,000 in grants for arts and environmental classes. We ran camps and had more children's classes (and birthday parties) than can be counted. I understand the fiscal realities of the large art centers that seem to be popping up in every Twin City suburb - to make a go of it you have to have children's classes, have large beginner classes, receive grants and still need the support of your municipality.  Yet again, Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio will not be offering children's classes, will not have large classes, or write for operational or program grants from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council or anyone else.

Why will Jack-in-the-Pulpit not run like most other community art schools/centers in the Twin Cities?  Quite frankly, I find this model of creating arts opportunities onerous.  It is a treadmill that drives one down back alleys and dead ends in order to keep the money flowing.  It is a non-stop revolving calendar of events and activities that needs to be fed.  It is a model based on financing that neither provides a living for teaching artists or takes students much beyond hobbydom. Once your programming gets on this treadmill it needs to grow to keep up with the overhead - or else live off of someone else's largess. In the latter case, largess often comes with stipulations and is not sustainable for the long term.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit looks to circumvent this treadmill by focusing on only a few media and genres of art.  It will focus on only one essential audience: adult learners.  The purpose is to be personal, to shift with the individuals who are coming to learn art, to meet the students where they are at.  Two examples of this is:
- This winter some students taking watercolor class realized how important drawing skills are and asked for a class on drawing.  The class began two weeks after the watercolor class had completed
-  This summer, the Wednesday Watercolor - Whatever class will allow students who cannot afford the weekly fee to barter for the class - a pot of soup, or whatever, for an evenings lesson

I will write more later about the individual and creativity and how to best foster this. But, I wanted to take this time to put out there in writing what I am interested in doing with Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio, my approach to programming, and my hopes for the future.  I hope to take this project down a different road than what has been seen in the Twin Cities arts education scene: nothing large, something personal and responsive in a beautiful natural environment.  

Stay tuned, see what happens. If nothing else, it will be interesting.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

10 Minutes 'Til Sleep: NYT Crossword Puzzle

If I am not drawing ten minutes before falling asleep, then I am working on a New York Times crossword puzzle.  I have a year's worth on a calendar.  As you can see, I'm already on July 15 of this year - a little ahead of myself.

10 Minutes 'Til Sleep is a series of ink drawings created from my bed just before going to sleep.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

10 Minutes 'Til Sleep: Ceramic Bulls

Sleeping at a friends house, I had a wonderful pair of battling ceramic bulls to draw.  They are two separate bulls that were posed battling each other.

10 Minutes 'Til Sleep is a series of ink drawings created from my bed just before going to sleep.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

10 Minutes 'Til Sleep: Lamp with Wonky Top

It is a swing arm lamp and the finial on top is very wonky.
10 Minutes 'Til Sleep is a series of ink drawings created from my bed just before going to sleep.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Drawing: Red Pepper in Ink

I've been busy drawing lately. This is an ink drawing of a red pepper that I had previously made a painting of (see here). Obviously, you can't tell its red.  You'll have to trust me on that. You'll also have to trust me when I say that the image is slightly blurry because the ink bled on the paper, not because the scan is wonky. It gives the original an interesting look.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Oil Paint: Beer Bottle Top

This is a 3.5" x 2.5" oil painting on canvas. At a birthday party/house warming party, a friend gave me a bottle of home brew.  It came in a bottle with a metal clasp corking the bottle.  The stopper is white with a pink gasket sealing the bottle.

I am enjoying making these small paintings.  I am currently working on a 2" x 2" painting of a bottle cap. They are quick and need to be simple in composition to work well. The internet gave rise to the ACEO, which stands for "Art Cards Editions and Originals." The only rule to ACEO paintings is that they are 2.5" x 3.5" in dimension. You can now find these small white canvases sold in art stores.

I continue to work on larger works, too. But they take longer and the small paintings give followers an update on what I am doing more often than the larger works.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Oil Paint: Salt and Pepper Shakers on Old Gesso Surface

A 4" x 4" oil painting on panel. The gesso on the panel is from an old recipe using hide glue and plaster. It is old school and I love the surface it creates.  Sometimes, with the new pre-gessoed panels I find the surface too slick. The pre-gessoed panels are spray painted with a latex or chemical based gesso that has additives to make it sprayable.   This allows for uniformity and efficiency.  Having painted on this old style surface, it feels to me like a fresco.  The paint draws into the gesso instead of sitting on top of it - almost as if it stains the surface. I can see how oil paint can layer (glaze) and create depth into the panel instead of paint building up on top of the surface. Very fascinating.  I will be experimenting more with this substrate as I can find the time to make more panels.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Oil Painting: Red Pepper Top


Here is the first stage of a red pepper painting I began a little while ago. This is a 4" x 4" oil painting on a panel. This first stage was the simply putting down the red paint and then wiping it away with a scraper that looks like a brush with a rubber tip.


This is the completed painting. I thinned down the paint and made washes/glazes of red over the red areas and then glazed a green over the areas I had wiped away with the rubber scraper. The green areas ended up being about three layers of glaze to get the color and detail that I wanted.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Oil Painting: Apple

This is a small 4" x 4" oil painting.  This was a very satisfying little diddy of a painting.  It's one of those paintings that reminds you to buy new brushes.  I was having a hard time with some of the details and realized I hadn't bought new brushes in quite awhile.  Just another reason to run to Wet Paint and catch up with some friends.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Roddie the Rooster

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Studio does not have a mascot, but Roddie the Rooster has been a central part of our still-life displays that we work from.

So, I sat down the other day and made a quick watercolor portrait of Roddie. I hope you enjoy it.

Roddie was the present of a friend and I have had him for a few years. Originally, I was going to repaint part of him, and then my friend would paint another part of him.  We would pass him back and forth until he was completely repainted in our two varying styles. We never did lay a brush on him.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Watercolor: Clementines in a Bowl

Clementines in a Bowl
10" x 7.5"

Watercolor: Potted Plant

Potted Plant
11" x 8"
on Strathmore 140lb paper

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Watercolor: Balls of Yarn

A painting I completed this weekend.  Watercolor on 140lb paper, 12" x 6".