SO Paint


It’s been awhile since I wrote a blog post. It was an overwhelmingly busy six or eight weeks. I knew that going in. At some point, I wondered if I would get through it, and I did. Everything got done, on time and well. I didn’t get sick either, which surprised me. And I actually did a lot of art along the way.

Some days, doing the art was what saved me.

That, and the love of family and friends.

My youngest daughter, the only one left at home, moved away to college in Washington State right before the 4th of July. She’d moved away once before, to Monterey. But there, I could go visit her. Not so easily up in Washington, and I’m much busier now.

Also, last time she left, people came and stayed with me almost immediately, so I didn’t have much down time in between her leaving and them arriving. Enough for a few good cries, but now I am alone with no long-term visitors on the horizon. Some days, I am lonely. I think that is why I stay so busy – to avoid looking at the alone-ness. I should probably look it more squarely in the eye and ask it what it wants of me.

Other times, being alone feels like punishment. That feeling is some psychological throwback, like my nose is being put in the corner. Most days, being alone has been glorious over the past 17 years since I got divorced. I’ve learned a lot about myself, I’ve supported myself and my four kids as they grew up. Everyone is doing well. There are even grandchildren. Now, I have no one to report to but myself.

Lately, I am conscious of not being part of a couple. Raising kids and working, it was easy to not look that one in the eye, but I find myself longing to be part of a bigger thing. I wonder if I will ever get back to there again because inside me, those were some of the happiest days.

A relationship is like a piece of art. It is like a blank canvas with a lot of unknown, wide-open scary parts. What’s going to happen up in that corner? What if I put yellow on it here? Can I draw and represent that figure the way I want? Each stroke of the brush is a gentle, but deliberate move to mold that canvas into what I see and feel inside. And when it succeeds, it is so joyous. And when it is bad and needs to be reworked, that can be beautiful too. You just keep working on it and putting in the time and attention, enjoying the process along the way. I guess what I am saying is that right now, I am missing the relationship process. I’m out of significant-other paint.


Artistic Literacy – The Importance of Knowing How to Draw


I’m just finishing up a 4-week on-line class by Mary Ann Moss calledSketchbookery. I have done drawing in life drawing classes, on a computer, and as an engineer (technical drawings). It all started when I was almost 30 years old and finally got the chance to take an art class. I’d been teaching technical classes at the University of California Extension and received a discount on taking classes so I used it to take “Drawing on the Right Side of The Brain.”

I had an epiphany in that two-day class. I COULD draw! I had made an assumption that as an engineer, I had no artistic skill. What I learned in that class was the training and practice I had from mechanical drafting classes in high school directly applied to artistic drawing, though the reliance on triangles, rulers and lettering was missing.

The class started us by doing blind contour drawings. Then we moved on to contour drawings. We could peek at our papers, but the emphasis in both blind and regular contour drawing was more on the “seeing” and less on drawing.

In Sketchbookery, Mary Ann Moss kicked it up a notch with us. We were challenged to do contour drawing with a pen, rather than a pencil. This might seem like a small difference, but for me it was huge. First, I had not done contour drawing in years. I felt I had “graduated” beyond that to drawing more realistically, but I had gotten very relaxed in the “seeing” part of the drawing, and it showed in my work. Consequently, for the past 20 years, my art work has relied more on image transfer and collage, rather than original marks.  That’s okay – collage and image transfer are beautiful and legitimate art forms. Getting reacquainted with drawing what I was seeing, in ink, woke up a beautiful space in my art – the space filled with my marks. Second, using a pen meant the marks are the marks. There would be no going back and erasing and adjusting. There is a certain amount of liberation when that thought is in your head and hand as you start to draw.

These past four weeks, I’ve found it so calming to draw this way – draw just the shape and line that I see. There is no pressure to draw a perfect flower or bottle, only the line of the edge that I see. That’s a huge burden to be lifted. I’m in the class with 40 or more people who are posting their work to the share area of the class website. I have no idea of their competency levels, but I’m assuming they fall into a typical bell curve. Yet all of the drawing I’ve seen produced in the class is good. Very good. Some wonky stuff, including mine, but even that is very good. It’s all recognizable. And the wonky part is that artist’s fingerprint on their work – their signature.

Which leads me to my point: drawing, like math, writing,  and reading, is a core competency, or it should be. I wonder if all the people I run into day after day who say “I’m not an artist. I can’t *** fill in the blanks ***” would feel differently about that mysterious art world if they had the ability to draw something they saw in a way they were pleased with it. That would help them understand and not be intimidated by the work of other artists too.

For me, it is absolutely thrilling to look at something, put a pen to paper, and look back and recognize it as the object of my interest. I believe that through simple contour drawing – a pen, some paper and a big heap of quiet time – anyone can draw if they are willing to slowly put to paper what they see. And when you can draw, you are free.



How Do You Want To Be Remembered?
Combined Media on Canvas/Found Materials 6×12 — Artist: Laura McHugh

What do you do with your pieces that don’t sell? 

Here’s a dilemma many artists face: you, the artist, create a body of work – for a show or because you were excited about a theme, material, process.

After days/months/years, you now have 3 to 20 new pieces. You excitedly anticipate the show date approaching, and you price and title all the work. The night before the show opens, you view the hung work quietly, with no one else around. The silence envelopes you and you glow in the beauty you have created. Each piece is perfect. Each piece has a story to tell and an impact to be made on the people who will come through the door in the morning.

As you turn to leave the studio, you shut off the lights and as you set your head down onto your pillow, you reflect on the time, materials, inspirations, challenges and all that has gone into the making of this body of work. You envision engaged attendees to the show in animated discussions with you about your process. You vow to smile nicely at anyone who comments about how the color of a piece isn’t quite right to go with their sofa, and ask for divine intervention should anyone request to change or create a piece that would match.

Morning comes and you have rested. The exhaustion you would normally feel from all the work leading up to this moment is pushed aside by the adrenaline coursing through your body. The time comes for visitors to arrive, and they do! They come streaming in, bounding to see the work and the studio space. They are animated, as you envisioned in your sleepy state the night before. They ask lots of questions, good questions. You reveal yourself and your secrets. You leave them alone a bit to read the titles on the pieces and reflect on their own impressions of the work, then you reengage, making sure you ask that they sign the guest book, which they happily do.

Then they leave. Without. Buying. Anything.  :(

This makes you sad. Somewhat because of the money, but it goes deeper than that. These pieces that didn’t sell aren’t in the hands of someone else so that they can connect and emanate their message, energy, vision to the world. The impact you hoped they would make is fleeting…maybe the people who came to the show and saw the work “got it.” You didn’t stand with them to view each piece, so you have no way of really knowing whether the work was heard and accepted. And if someone bought it, that is no guarantee that they “got” it. Their relationship with the piece is deeply personal and intimate and may or may not have anything to do with what you felt and intended when you created it.

All of that not withstanding, you are now out in your studio/gallery with seventeen pieces that have not found new homes.

What’s a girl to do?  They need to be lovingly and carefully packaged up for storage. Maybe you can put 1-2 pieces in an upcoming show where the call or theme is perfectly aligned. You have an art giveway project – maybe you can leave the art out for people to find. But some of it is too big for this project, or maybe you need to rethink your size criteria. You can seek out venues who might want the art, for sale or as a donation.

What you DON’T want is for these pieces to end up at the thrift store. You buy canvases and other art materials there to make INTO art. Having your pieces end up back there would be complete and utter personal and creative failure …. So what’s a girl to do?

My dilemma, for my art, is that it isn’t necessarily nice. I make it because it comes through me as a message – a commentary on a current situation, an emotion I’m feeling, or even something more political. I haven’t connected with the right audience for my pieces – someone as quirky and appreciative of the subtle messages as I am.

I might give some pieces away because the feedback I get from recipients of art in the Art For Everyone Project is SO satisfying. They all appreciate their new gifts and the stories of where the art ends up are amazing.

But I am also considering reincarnating certain pieces. For example, five small canvases I did as commentary on branding for huge corporations (McDonalds, Girl Scouts, Corona and Budweiser, and Smart Water) were understood and appreciated in the show, but probably will not find a permanent wall to hang on. Like the old masters who painted on a canvas, then drastically reworked the subject, or changed it altogether over the top of an existing work, I may do the same. I’m not pushed so much for resources to purchase more canvases, but I don’t want to store any more art. Flow is an important value and I want to keep the work moving through my creative space. Bundling it up and using precious shelf space is not moving in the right direction for me.

These Corporate Branding pieces may end up with a new coat of paint over the top. I might paint images on them that are “prettier” as an experiment to see if that sells. I will know what is underneath. That message will still carry forward, even if it is covered up by a pleasant painting.

What do you do with your pieces that don’t sell? 

Hooked.   Combined Media (Found Materials, Pen/Ink, Pencil) Mounted on Canvas
24×36 — Artist: Laura McHugh

How Many of These Five Career Qualities Do You Want?

Harvard Business Review (HBR) posted an article today about what people want in careers:

      • Security
      • Freedom
      • Advancement
      • Engagement
      • Balance
For me, all of the above! (You could add over-achiever to that list, I guess.) But seriously, I want to be challenged and busy, and be making solid contributions that leads to acknowledgement of my contributions and advancement.

I’ve had enough years in my career (30+) and I am now delightfully finished with day-to-day single parenting four children, so I find balance is actually quite achievable.

Security helps me relax, knowing I can breathe a bit and risk being myself, bringing my creativity and personality to the table. The more secure I am, the more confidence, which in turn leads to feeling I can be more me.

Freedom means being able to be creative. Being an engineer and also an artist, I go from linear to fluid and everywhere in between. I like a career where I am free to pick the best solution or combination of solutions in the moment, using my gut instinct.

Advancement is room to grow. I value connection and the connection between what I do and where it takes me in my career is important to me. I want to be in an organization that fosters growth of its employees by advancing them, when ready, to take on more responsibility and make bigger contributions.

Engagement may be the most important of these five qualities for me. The older I get the more important it is for me to feel engaged and have a stake in my career, and for me to interact with others who engage with me. I can’t really do my job of EHS very effectively if either party is not fully engaged.

And finally balance. As I mentioned above, I have a much better sense of what balance looks like and I have a lot more time to achieve balance. I have the experience to know that I don’t have to bust my rear end after hours to keep up. I can be effective by working the normal number of hours, and the longer I work, the more efficient I get so that I’m actually down to a 40 hour week. Being an artist helps me so much – getting into that right side of my brain is the most relaxing soothing way to balance out my logical side ever.

Bring me a job opportunity that has 3, 4 or hopefully all 5 of these important qualities and I will be a productive and happy employee!

Engineering the Liberation of Creativity