I live in a neighborhood where almost every house has a dog or two, all ages. I can think of five pups under two years just within a short distance from my house. There are lots of woods, land, lakes around so a great playground for dogs and children. Most mornings we get our puppies together for some playtime before work time. The dogs are so free and affectionate as they tussle and bite at each other.

Romeo is growing up fast. He’s now four and a half months and about four times the weight he was when I brought him home. We just finished our first round of six obedience classes. Up until the last class he was giving me a hard time, often sassy at home when working on training and only wanting to play with the other dogs in class. But with some help from the instructor, Bob Ottenbrite, Romeo aced it. No one was happier than me. The change came when I trusted myself to tune in to my dog’s mind, communicate directly, expect the best and guide him with my mind.

But you know, that not’s a bad way to approach everything, with an open mind. Dogs are born with a pure mind. People are as well. It’s only we who change that.

I learn so much from having a dog in my life.

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What’s the story


Here I am trying to explain the unexplainable. Not easy but interesting to try. Abstract art is non-verbal communication, not about words. So how does one interpret an abstract painting much less paint one. Where does one start, anyway.

One of my students in Baddeck said her painting instructor suggested she tell her story in her painting. Wanting to work with abstraction, she didn’t feel this helped her get started. She did find, in the workshop, that just making a “mess”, allowing the paint to express itself, she was able to create a more satisfying painting, one in which she felt a connection.

I’ve been thinking about this. When painting yesterday, I realized it is not my story I am telling but the painting’s story. In my work, I come to this through the back door. I start with personal images. For this, I use actual photos of people important in some way in my life, screen print these images onto the canvas, and then react to these photographs with words and paint. Only then do I feel like I am painting. For this, I  take the message from what I see, listen to what the painting wants to say, what story it wants to convey. It is often not at all what I thought it would be. I don’t have a plan. It’s not about me. There is nothing of me left. Just paint. The story the paint wants to tell.

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Beautiful Baddeck


Came home Tuesday from a week in beautiful Baddeck, Cape Breton. I was teaching a four-day workshop on abstract painting. There were seventeen students, presenting a full spectrum of art experience and age. I brought along my teaching assistant — my four-month old puppy, Romeo. He was very helpful and, except for some occasional puppy outbursts, extremely good.

Having had such a long career focusing mainly on abstraction (never wanted to paint anything else, although I could if I necessary), I really enjoy passing along any bits of insight I may have.  I’ve come to the conclusion that abstract painting centers around composition. Without a good strong composition, nothing works. Color, forms, images all need the tension and balance of a good composition. A good composition is not a formula. But it is about focus, how the story is told. It’s the framework upon which the other elements rest.

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There has been so much talk lately about minimalism, paring down, purging, simplifying. I too bought a book on decluttering, organizing. When first reading it, I felt enormous anxiety. Get rid of my precious memories: photos, books, clothes! No way. But then I did some purging, cleaned up my closet a bit. I must admit, I enjoy having a tidy closet and a tidy kitchen. I haven’t continued as I prefer to spend the time painting when I can. And otherwise I am with my puppy or reading or out and about. But the idea of being orderly sounds good.

Then I read an article that challenged the idea of simplicity and order. Chaos, the author believes, fosters creativity. When talking to a friend about this, he added, “chaos fosters creativity in the search for truth.” My studio is a mess. Always. No matter how often I clean it up. So I suppose that is good. Creativity is more important to me than tidiness.

I’ve always thought of art as the search for truth, absolute beauty. But then who is to judge what is true, beautiful. There are so many ways to approach art, so many possible conclusions. Of course, I like what feels most honest to me. So perhaps truth comes in the form of integrity. Certainly beauty does.

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Because of the Duck


(“Because of the Duck, no. 13″; 12″ x 12”; oil & collage on canvas)

Because of the puppy and the fact that I will be teaching in Baddeck, Cape Breton for a week in September, I had to move my upcoming exhibit at the Secord Gallery in Halifax from October to November. The pressure of creating a new body of work for the show was too much. I like to work under pressure; I like to work without pressure; I like to paint. But . . . .

My painting is going well. I’m very excited about my new work. If things look good, I just push them further until they look exceptional. Good is not good enough! If all continues to go well, I should have enough paintings dry enough to exhibit in November. I’ve been concentrating on medium to large size paintings. Not as large as they were for the Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, but still large enough to let me do extravagant arm gestures. Small paintings are hard because they are limited, but often that limitation is what makes them exciting to work on. But not right now. Maybe next week.

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According to Proust, “Artists are people who strip habit away and return life to its deserved glory.” I’ll go along with that! Definitely I’m very familiar with the stripping habit away part. When a painting feel too “easy”, too “good”, I know I need to go further. Not let habitual means of solving painting issues take over, try something else. And if that doesn’t work, try something else yet again.

The one thought dominating my mind this morning when working was how so much of my process is an accident. The real challenge is knowing what to do with that, those accidents, what possibilities happen when you let them.

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You’ve heard of sound bites, right. Tidbits of sound. Well, I’m into painting bites. Tidbits of time to paint. It’s working though, doing some good work in the very tight time limitations I have now. Concentrated time; concentrating mind. When I go into my studio I may think I will work on one thing, but end up doing something entirely different. A different idea, color, energy pulls me. Having so little time and so much desire to paint, I just let it happen. It is very fascinating, the not planning part. And seems to be rewarding. But I always have to wait until the next day to be sure. See what I did the day before. Somehow things, i.e., paintings, magically change overnight. Strange how that happens!

Having a puppy puts a lot of demands on my time. He’s an easy pup, as puppies go. But I have had a hard time getting him used to spending time alone in his crate. Although I enjoy my time with him, I need time to work and do things other than play with him. He’s learning, slowly. I hope.

I’m realizing as well how important solitude is to me and to creativity in general. I just have to teach Romeo how important it is.


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