Tulips and Gerbera

Tulips_and_gerberaOil on masonite art board, 8 x 10.  SOLD.

One reason to always travel with a camera: You never know when a still life is just going to appear in front of you.  This bouquet of flowers sat on a table at a friend’s party, and everything about it was just perfect for one of these  quick palette knife paintings.

I’ve also been known to pull out the camera in a restaurant and get a picture of what’s sitting on the table:  salt shakers, candles, wine glasses, flowers.  Once I was in the middle of photographing a spiral lemon peel sitting next to an empty cocktail glass when the waiter came and cleared it all away.  I said, "No–wait–leave it!" and he just looked confused.  "I can bring you another lemon," he said.  But it was too late.  He’d already made off with my still life.

I’ve sold two paintings on eBay so far, and a third is in the middle of its auction now.  The reserve is only $9.95, so there are bargains to be had.  It’s nice to see them leave my attic and go out into the world, and I find that I get immense satisfaction from packing them up and carting them off to the post office.  It’s funny–I have an article due that will pay more than all the paintings I’ll sell this year, but I’m far more interested in this new challenge–painting more often, choosing quick, small, fun subjects, and putting them online.  The whole thing is surprisingly entertaining.

Here’s something else:  most creative people will tell you that they do their best work in the morning, when their mind is clear.  This has never been the case for me.  I am not a morning person.  I spend most of the morning answering e-mails, paying bills, or doing other little jobs that don’t require any creative juice.  I write in the afternoon and into the evening.    And now that I’m painting more at home, I find that the same is true of painting.  I like to get started around 8 or 9 at night, maybe with a glass of wine in hand, a little Monk on my computer’s CD player, and paint until 10 or 11.  I could easily go until midnight if I was really wrapped up in it.

Eleanor’s Egg Cup

Oil on canvas board, 5 x 7.  SOLD.

I did a whole series of egg cup paintings, and this was my favorite.  The more I did, the more loose and abstract they got.   It eventually came down to these few elements:  the egg, the cup, the wall, the table.

This is, of course, Eleanor’s egg. She’s the Rhode Island Red, and her eggs are a much darker brown than Abigail’s.  You’d think that I’d have more fun painting the green and blue Araucana eggs, but for whatever reason the classic brown appeals to me.

It’s tempting to get into collecting egg cups, but so far I’ve managed to restrain myself.  I have just four, one for each bird.


Lemons 9 x12, oil on board.  SOLD.

There’s something so delightful about painting lemons. They have a funny, odd shape and they pick up so much color from the background. I painted this one from life, rather than using a photograph, and I had fun letting them drift out of the frame like this.

The other night I decided to paint some artichokes that I’d picked from my garden.  You’d think that artichokes would be really fun and easy to paint, but the fact is that they’re a real pain. I don’t know why that is exactly.  But I was so dissatisfied with the painting, and I kept fussing over it, and finally I realized that artichokes are hard in the same way that roses are hard.  They look deceptively simple, but getting the curved shape of all those petals to curve exactly right on the canvas is tricky.  And if you get it wrong, it’s very obvious.  A rose either looks like a rose or it doesn’t.  An artichoke either looks like an artichoke or it looks like a hand grenade.  I think mine ended up looking more like a hand grenade.

On the post 8-5 lifestyle front, I am pleased to report the following activities from the last week:

  • Trip to the nursery on a Tuesday.
  • Several hours of gardening on a Friday.
  • Acquisition of an easel that I intend to set up here in the attic so that I can paint more than once a week.

And finally, some observations on the non-day job life from Chris Colin of the San Francisco Chronicle.  He writes about something I’ve always wondered about:  who are all these people out and about during the week, seemingly not working? Don’t people have jobs anymore?

So Chris went around and asked them. I particularly like this bit:

A funny thing about these
swarms of daytime layabouts: They are quietly self-reflective swarms.
Almost all of them admitted to me that they often wonder about their
fellow malingerers. The funny thing is, everyone has an answer for
themselves but is baffled by everyone else. Possibly this is like life

"They can’t all be writing the Great American Novel," said
Joshua, 45, nodding in the direction of everyone else. Joshua recently
left a large law firm to work on his own, hence his mid-afternoon
workout downtown. "I used to wonder who all these people were. Now I’m
one of them."

“Autumn Pears”

Pair_of_pears_2 oil on board, 8 x 10.   SOLD. 

Every year, I get a box of these fat, ripe pears in the mail from a relative on the East Coast.   I always save a few and take them with me to paint on Wednesday night.  Before, I had always done them on canvas, but this time I experimented with slick, gessoed boards and I really liked the results.  The paint slides around on the board, and it’s easy to push around with palette knives and these silicone color shapers, which a friend calls "paint pushers."  This is really the first painting that I did in this style, but there have been many more since then.  I’ll post more soon.

And in the spirit of paint pushing, I’ve made this my first eBay listing.    

See all my auctions here.

Why paint?  Why sell them on eBay?  Read about it here.

Why I Paint

Peas_paintingFive years ago, I took a drawing class.  I had a simple idea:  I wanted to be able to sketch what I saw in my garden.  I had kept a garden journal on and off for years–in fact, that journal was the inspiration for my first book, From the Ground Up:  The Story of a First Garden.  But a garden journal needs illustrations, and I wasn’t up to the task.

I had always seen art as a mystical process that required some special kind of genius.  You either had it or you didn’t.  But to my surprise, I found that it is actually possible to teach someone to draw competently.

It makes sense, really. A hundred years ago, art and music were practical, work-a-day skills.  A well-educated person was expected to know how to pick out a tune  on the piano or do a decent sketch of a flower or a building.  Art is another one of those handy skills that we’ve lost.  But sit in a class for a few weeks, and pretty soon you’ll know how to draw an apple.  Once you can do an apple, you can do a house or a bird or a pair of pea pods.  And then you’re off.

The same is true of writing, really.  An art student can learn perspective, shading, negative space.  A writing student can learn how to assemble a scene and how to construct a sentence.  Both require a great deal of humility, and a willingness to scratch it all out and start over again.  And the most important thing that an artist or a writer can do is to simply show up every day and do their work.  It’s like running.  You don’t lay around dreaming of the day you’ll win a marathon. You just get up in the morning, lace up your shoes, and hit the pavement.

So now I’ve moved on from drawing to oil painting.  It’s not a medium that lends itself to gardenLilies
journals, but I continue to paint what I find in my own backyard:  fruit and flowers, chickens and eggs, leaves and seeds.  My painting teacher is Linda Mitchell; every Wednesday night she opens her studio to a group of women and we get together to swill cheap red wine, tell gossip, and get a little painting done.  I’ve found that painting is good for my writing. It gets me away from the computer, and it forces me to set words aside and exercise a non-verbal part of my brain that otherwise wouldn’t get used much.

(It’s also interesting to note that the cover of From the Ground Up is an oil painting based on a photo I took of my garden in Santa Cruz.  It’s a lovely little painting; I bought the original from the artist after the book came out.  The artist is Joan Griswold.)

But what I also love about painting is that painting is a hobby to me.  It’s not my job and it’s not the thing I was born to do.  Because of that, I get to do it when it’s fun and not do it when it isn’t fun.  I get to admire other people’s art without thinking, "I’ve got to figure out how to paint like that."  I get to go to galleries and museums without thinking, "My art should be hanging on these walls."  I have no goals or ambitions or burning desires related to painting that I know I must gratify so that I won’t someday leave the planet unfulfilled.  If I got bored with painting and never did it again, that would be fine.  It’s wonderful to have something that I can do in such a relaxed, not-attached-to-the-outcome way.  So wonderful that I’m thinking of setting up an easel in my attic so that I can paint in between Wednesday night classes, an act that would no doubt give my painting teacher a heart attack.  She’s been trying to assign us homework for years to no avail.


BUT–after five years, the paintings have started to stack up–literally.  They sit four or five deep on a row of bookshelves that runs the length of my office.  I invite my friends to take them home, but still they stack up.  I’ve been inspired by a group of painters who are posting small paintings on their blogs and selling them on eBay, allowing them to generate some income between (or instead of) gallery shows, and giving them the pleasure and daily practice of completing smaller works as they finish larger, more complicated paintings.  (To find out more about this movement, visit Duane Keiser or the Daily Painters Guild.)

So I’m thinking of selling some of my small paintings on eBay (and my blog), too.   It’s not easy making a living as a writer, and sometimes the expense of oil paints and canvases can be a little hard to swallow on a freelancer’s income.  So I figure that anybody who buys a painting would get a piece of original art to hang on the wall, not to mention the satisfaction of helping to keep me in paints and brushes, and away from that dreaded day job, for a while longer.

I’m mulling it over, and going through my paintings in search of eBay-worthy work.  I’ll keep you posted.