Archive for June, 2010


Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

My character Angelo in Artists&Thieves wants to become an internationally famous installation artist like Christo. But Angelo is small town.

The real Christo was in the small Colorado town of Salida on June 25 to discuss his Over The River project as he has done several times over the last couple of years. We were in Salida to hear him and landed in the middle of the 18th Annual Salida Art Walk as well.

Christo’s Over The River project, one he has already spent three million of his own dollars on, is proposed (more…)

Chinese brush painting: bamboo

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Bamboo is a symbol of summer, always green, sensitive to gentle breezes, sturdy in gale force winds, bending but not breaking. It is a difficult subject to paint. It looks elegant and simple in the traditional Chinese renderings, but it comes with a lot of rules and leaf patterns which require “rote” practice.  Like other subjects in Chinese brush painting, it is the “get the rules down first, then you are free to fly” prescription. It will take me a lot of years to get elegant bamboo with proper leaf arrangements and brush stokes.

In the meantime, I use bamboo practice to experiment with non-traditional colors and washes, and, yipes!, Krylon clear matte spray paint.

Bamboo on fiber paper

This picture I did on a fiber rice paper which is heavier than usual and has strong fibers running through it. It is done with a very dry brush. I put three separate washes of gray ink and yellow paint on it.

Red bamboo

To get the texture on the red bamboo, I put a bath towel under the painting and then put the wash on. The little dots are the way the towel absorbed the wet wash.

To get the bamboo in the moonlight, I sprayed clear Krylon in a circle, well, almost a circle, with a cut-out stencil and then added other squirts here and there. The Krylon is clear so you can’t tell what it is doing until you paint over it. But it covers the white paper so the ink or color does not absorb in those spots. At least that is the idea. It never comes out as predicted.

Bamboo in Moonlight

Chinese Brush Painting: Cat with attitude

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Chinese brush painting is done on silk which has been sized to make it less absorbent or on rice paper, sized  only a little, and definitely absorbent. Rice paper, a general term, is  actually made from various fibers, rice straw, bamboo pulp, reeds, or such. The paper I’ve used, including Sumi-e Japanese paper, comes in very absorbent, extremely absorbent, or “paper will disintegrate in moist air or near running water.”

It’s not like canvas or watercolor paper, steel surfaces by comparison. Rice paper is very greedy. It’s sitting there waiting to suck up the ink and paint. It is not a surface to cover. It is a companion to the creation process, integrated with the ink and color, not a base for the painting. And it dries wrinkled!

Sometimes I can do relatively good things with it. Other times not. The screw-ups go in the trash, usually.


You can see from the state of the paper that this cat was headed for the wastepaper basket. I’m not sure why I saved it. It “suggested” that I’d better not toss it.  I had too much water on the brush. Although the cat does have personality.

I tried it again with less water.  The final cat still has an unnerving attitude, but not so much water haloing it. The winkles in the paper will disappear when it is smoothed (read “glued”) onto another sheet of rice paper backing.


Up next: bamboo

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Chinese brush painting

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

The heroine of my novel is a Chinese brush painter. She existed in the novel before I began to learn Chinese brush painting. After I learned something about it, I edited the scenes in which she paints, but not much. I had the basics right from studying the history of Chinese art.

A Chinese brush painting is a painting made with a Chinese brush. And a lot of practice. And respect for tradition. Its brush stokes come from ancient Chinese calligraphy. (Calligraphy is still considered the highest form of art. The June 5, 2010 New York Times reported that a calligraphy scroll by Huang Tingjian dating from about 1095 CE recently sold in Beijing at auction for $64 million.) Nature is the inspiration, simplicity and energy are valued. (Check out for a current exhibition, February 17-July 4, 2010, Tracing the Past, Drawing the Future: Master Ink Painters in 20th Century China.)

The Chinese brush is made from animal hair such as wolf, deer, or goat, shaped in layers, and tapered to a point. Different hair and layering deliver the ink and color differently.

There are a great many books on the “how to” of Chinese brush painting but I found I could not learn the brush strokes from books. No matter how clear it was to the artist who struggled to write and illustrate the process, it just wasn’t clear without a teacher.

I have an excellent teacher. She is a superb artist, a kind and encouraging teacher who  “dances” the brush to make a painting and wants us all to feel energy in the creation of a work as well as impart a vitality to the painted object.

Occasionally, that happens. After a whole lot of throw away attempts, something will dance onto the paper for me. However, I have, at times, rather quirky views of traditional subjects. Chrysanthemums, symbols of autumn, for instance, drive me crazy.

Chrysanthemum from The Mustard Seed Garden

Here is a traditional example from the Chinese classic The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press, 1992). Originally published in 1679-1701 by three brother-painters in Nanking, it presents the rules and ideals for painting.  I’ve tried for several years to get a decent, traditional chrysanthemum. In class a few weeks ago, I threw away about 20 attempts. I’d had it. I put away the illustrations we were trying to duplicate, screamed silently, and did this flower.

Linda's chrysanthemum

It seemed to me the essence and energy of chrysanthemums. I added a quick rock, and later at home added the yellow wash and mounted it on heavier rice paper. Now I really like it. It was a moment of energy flowing onto the paper.

I repeat, I really like it. My teacher wasn’t so sure. It wasn’t traditional. But hey, it was a “dance.”

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Next up:  Chinese brush painting of a really odd cat with attitude.


Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

My good friend, the artist Maggie Flower, has a great sense of humor and an incredible brain for details. She’s worked with miniatures for many years and developed a flair for organizing unusual images into beautiful scenes, often commenting on nature and its fragility. She recently has adapted her miniature techniques to work with gourds, which actually grow in her garden when she plants the seeds. She’s very patient!

Sea Horse in Kelp

Maggie lives overlooking the Pacific and much of her art involves the sea, small creatures, and our endangered planet. You can see the influence of the sea in these two exquisite gourds.

Maggie starts with a general idea about what she wants to say and searches for an appropriately shaped gourd that will help move the idea along. Exactly how to shape the gourd constantly evolves with each cut. Often it is the inside of the gourd that leads her down a path to the end product. For instance, when she cut into the gourd which became Sea Horse with Kelp, she found a rough and bumpy surface which reminded her of coral.  She carved and textured a forest of kelp around the coral, dyed the gourd, then created a sea floor with shells, a sea urchin and two sea horses.

Nautilus Shell and Octopus

The Nautilus and Octopus had an equally organic creation. When she cut into this gourd, she found long pieces of fiber which reminded her of kelp. She carefully removed and dyed them green and lined the inside of the gourd with them. The outside she dyed, buffed, and redyed to give the “ocean” the look of light. The four nautilus shells and four octopuses which circle the gourd are 3-D paint. You can see her absolute attention to detail in the sculpting of the nautilus shell and octopus as well as the careful placement of the glass pieces around the top. She completed the inside by using loose sand and shells to make a sea bottom.

Both gourds are finished art, inside and out. They are fragile to move with the ocean bottom shifting about. They require careful handling, like our planet.

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Up next: Chinese brush painting

Hanging Boats

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Nancy Rubins has a new exhibit of hanging aluminum canoes at Gagosian Beverly Hills, June 3 through July 9, 2010. Check

Rubins' hanging boats

Every now and then I walk by Rubins’ hanging boats in La Jolla at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego just to see if the cables are still holding them up. Sometimes the boats seem to be slipping earthward, straining against complaining cables. Probably not.

On June 3 I stood at the bottom of the hill trying to get a photo of the boats without trees but had to make do with not only trees but the building and the bottoms of the boats. A wonderfully talkative woman, probably ninety years old, leaning on her walker feeding her lunch bread roll to three pigeons, a raven, and a very pushy seagull, asked me why I was taking a picture of “those” when I could be taking a picture of the sea or the beautiful place she lived, Casa de Manana, right across the street. (more…)

Urban Trees

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Keep Your Wheels Turning, Use the Wind

Does this look like a picture postcard?

You bet it does. At least to those of us old enough to know what a postcard is.

That’s the idea behind San Diego’s Urban Trees. Each year since 2004 an exhibition of 30 sculptures sprouts along half a mile of waterfront. This is Urban Trees Six. the sixth series or 30 trees. They reside in an urban landscape which makes it difficult to snap a photo without pieces of the city in the viewfinder. That’s the fun of it. The sculptures are urban trees. The beauty of the bay and sky can sometimes frame the pieces and generally the eye can focus on the sculptures as they stand and ignore the rest of the stuff. My little camera can’t. Of course, I can crop the heck out of the photo, but that is only half the picture. And only half the idea.

The sculptures exist in an urban setting because they are comments on city life. They are created from many different materials, rusted steel, Plexiglas, laser cut wood, or auto wheel rims like Dale Bolton’s Keep Your Wheels Turning, Use the Wind above. Some rotate like Neal & Tiffany Bociek’s SIC’Emore (doggie tree),

Kinetic sculpture

and Catherine Carlton’s Chemis-Tree.

Kinetic sculpture

Some sing in the wind like Jim Trask’s Bats in Your Bell Tree.

Singing bats and bells

Some make you laugh, some are serious comments like Cathy Ann Janes’ Thank You, an American eagle with US military dog tags for feathers.

American eagle

All worth the walk along the busy embarcadero. The trees are all for sale, if you have to have one. The prices range from $6,000.00 to $45,000.00. If you go to, you can see the pieces in studio portraits and some videos.