Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Favs!

One of the things I love most about social media is being able to find and share inspiring stuff with my art friends - quotes, paintings, music, etc... But I have this tendency to share things on Facebook, and then months go by, and when I try to find that quote or image or video that I posted a while back, it's virtually impossible to find in my feed. And that's kind of a bummer, because I like to revisit that sort of thing - get re-inspired, if you will. SOOOO, I had this idea to do a post of favorites here on the blog every Friday, so I can find all that inspiring stuff later on, all in one place. Every week, I'll include some inspiring words, and maybe a favorite painting, and if I happen to see an awesome video or hear some great music, I'll throw that in too.

So here goes. My Friday Favorites - first edition. Enjoy!

Favorite Words:

Last week, Robert Genn's newsletter for artists included 8 Rules for Painting, based loosely on Neil Gaiman's 8 Rules for Writing. I liked the painterly take on things, but nothing can take the place of Gaiman's original 8 rules. Even if you aren't a writer, these apply to your art.

(If you can't read this, click on it for a larger version - I uploaded this as a larger image so you can download it if you want)

My husband would tell you that I've pretty much mastered #7. Hehe... The rest are truth with a capital T.

Favorite Painting:

"Winter's Loveliness" - Edward Harrison Compton, 1904

I discovered the work Edward Harrison Compton, as well as that of his father (Edward Theodore Compton), through Facebook a few months ago, and I'm in love with the work of both of them. They were both mountaineers, and they could paint mountains like no other. And snow. This one is beautiful, not only for the tight values and color, but for the emotional component as well. Sigh...

Favorite Video:

I know, I shared this a few months ago so it's old news, but I love it so I'm going to share it here too. The voiceover for this video is just so inspiring. It's not about whether you live out of a van or in a big house, or have a job in an office or not, but rather about making sure you're doing the things you love - the things that make you feel alive.

35 from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Some of my favorite words, from the video (you can read the whole thing here):

"I try to collect moments. I step back and watch the movie that is my life for just a second, because it’s easy to miss the good stuff, the magic, when it happens. But I try not to. I try really hard to realize it when it’s amazing, and even when it’s not."

"We all have dreams, but they don’t mean much if we don’t act on them, if we put them in a drawer we label “Someday,” for when we think we’ll have more time. I try to get out there, to go to amazing places, to have incredible conversations with incredible people. I think it all adds up somewhere. And when it does, you’re not doing something. You’re being something. And what I want to be is happy, and excited, and inspired."

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


"Winter's Hush"
Oil on Panel

I've been in a bit of an art funk lately.

Have you ever had times like this, where you just aren't feeling super excited about your work? Producing a lot, but just not feeling the love for anything that you’re churning out? I seem to visit this place a few times a year, and while I can usually give myself a pep talk to remind myself that I’m probably learning something, it’s still frustrating to put in the hours and not see immediate results.

I’ve devoted a lot of space on this blog to being disciplined, setting goals, building up brush mileage, and just putting in the time to get where you want to be. The left-brained engineer in me wants to think elbow grease is the solution to just about everything. But the artist in me knows that I don’t have it quite right, and so I have a confession to make – I’ve had it wrong.

Art isn’t all about putting in the time, or being disciplined. It can’t be. Sometimes, it’s more about tapping into your intuition. It’s finding that point where technique doesn’t matter so much as looking deeper into your soul, and trying to translate that gut feeling you have about your subject onto the canvas. It’s passion.

Sometimes, the more hours you put in, the more frustrated you get. And when that happens, you need to give yourself some space - breathe in, breathe out, and really feel what you’re trying to do.

I’ve had a crazy month, with deadlines and travel and general life chaos. The weeks that I’ve been home, I’ve been painting like mad. Most nights, I put the kids to bed and hit the studio to squeeze in a few more hours of painting. I’m tired, but I’ve gotten a lot done. I've knocked out some larger studio pieces, done a lot of marketing work, checked stuff off the to-do list. 

I've been nothing if not productive. But I haven’t been excited about any of my work.

Normally, even if a painting isn’t my best, there will be something about it to get me excited – I’ll be into the brushwork in a certain section, or something I’m trying to do with color, or changing it up with design. But lately, I’ve been feeling lackluster about everything. I step up to the easel with a checklist in mind. “Block in 30x40, paint sky, paint water, touch up trees.” When the studio turns into a production line, this happens – inspiration runs and hides.

So, I finally realized this a few days ago. As I scraped the painting I worked on all weekend, it hit me like a ton of bricks - I’ve been doing, not FEELING.

I know that sounds like an artsy-fartsy thing to say, but it’s critical. To me, it’s often what separates an amazing piece of art from one that is simply well-executed. The work we drool over in museums and books? That’s inspired stuff. Look at a painting by Sorolla, or Payne, or Sargent, or Levitan, and you’ll see the work of a man whose work transcended technique. You’ll see a work of art that has soul. Yeah, those guys knew how to paint, but they also knew how to get you right in the gut with the emotion of a scene. When all is said and done, that’s what makes a master. That’s the stuff that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you look at an amazing piece of art.

Discipline is essential, but in the end we learn good technique and put in the hours so that when inspiration hits, we have the skill to translate that feeling into a painting that sings.

So, how do you get there when the studio looks like an assembly line? I’m still working that out for myself, and I think it will be a life-long project for me, but it starts with making some space to reflect.

When I realized what I was doing the other day, I stopped what I was doing, looked around at the chaos, and realized my painting marathon was doing me no favors. I cleaned up my studio, I went for a walk in the woods, I did some yoga. I sat quietly for a bit and thought about what I want to do with my painting - not in a technical sense, but in an emotional sense. What do I feel about the landscape that I want to say with my paintings? How would I like them to affect other people? Then I reminded myself to get out of my head, and to paint intuitively. I slowly started something new. I spent a lot of time reminding myself to chill out, to breathe in, to feel. Will it be a masterpiece? Probably not. But I’m already more excited about what I’m doing than I was a few days ago, and that’s where I need to be to do my best work.
“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn't nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.” 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Art and Motherhood – The Ugly Truth (and Why it Doesn’t Matter)

My first solo show - look at the cheeks on that girl!
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about juggling life as an artist with motherhood. To this day, it remains one of the most viewed posts on this blog, and I’m still getting emails and messages from female artists who want advice on how to handle it all. I think I still believe everything I had to say on the subject back then, but I've been thinking about it a bit more lately, and wanted to share a few more ideas (a few ideas, which, incidentally, have resulted in the longest blog post ever – oops!).

Everyone out there has probably taken enough workshops or classes to know that it seems like 90% of art students are female. Why then are the top tiers of the art world so male-dominated? The 2013 Prix de West show boasted 101 of the top Western artists in the United States – only 10 of them were women. Oil Painters of America has 47 master signature members listed in the current directory, of which only 6 are women. This is not atypical. It seems that the higher you go, the lower the percentage of female participants (I'm not complaining, just observing - I look at these numbers and see opportunity, for the record).

Why? I think a lot of it has to do with a few complicated issues that surround motherhood. Many of the women I’ve spoken to who are top tier painters in the Western US either don’t have children, or set painting aside while they had children and started again when they were older. I can’t even count the number of women I know who gave up painting when their kids were young.

I realize this happens in the corporate world too, but it seems more pronounced in art. There’s something about art that makes it seem like a hobby to those around us, and lacking a real office and paycheck and benefits, many women let their art take the back seat to the demands of motherhood and family.

Me? No way! I love my job more than I can tell you, and I intend to stick it out. I think about this stuff a lot, because I think being aware of the issues that face females in the arts is the first step in making sure I can overcome them. That said, I’m going to share a few of the ugly truths I've found about juggling art and motherhood, and try to address how we can handle some of them. In the next few weeks, I plan to follow up with a super positive post about why being an artist is the best job in the world if you’re a mom.

So, here goes, the ugly truth:

UGLY TRUTH #1 - Some people won't take you seriously

It’s taken me a long time to admit that this is true, but experience has shown me that it is indeed – there are people in the art world who will discount your ability because you are a mom.

When I worked in engineering, it was not uncommon for me to sit in a meeting and be the only female in a room of 30 men. The profession was wildly male-dominated, but in the end, I NEVER felt like anyone discounted my ability because I was a woman. Why? Because engineering is mostly objective. It’s numbers and solutions, and if you do the job right, you do the job right. I came into art expecting the same and finding myself disappointed, because in the end, it’s subjective. It’s a different animal.

I have worked with gallery owners and show coordinators who didn't think I could perform because I have young children. I have worked with people who flat out told me that they didn't think I could paint enough because I have kids. It was really tough to hear at first, and in my initial shock, I tried my best to prove them wrong.

My response now is the opposite and I urge you to do the same – I will NOT allow myself to work with anyone who thinks I can’t perform because of my children.

My favorite person to paint with.
Here’s the deal – I have two children but I’m very prolific. I paint just as much as most of my male friends who are painters. I’m committed, and I'm confident in my ability to produce. I work with five galleries who KNOW I’m committed, and know I will give them what they need. They are supportive and wonderful, and I enjoy working with each and every one of them.

I learned the hard way that trying to prove yourself to someone who has an incorrect assumption is a waste of time. The negativity is a major energy suck, and you don’t need that when you step up to the easel. So, the takeaway? Recognize when someone is not taking you seriously, and move on. The art world is also full of wonderful people who WILL take you seriously, and that’s where you want your energy to go. Work with those people!

UGLY TRUTH #2 - Plans? What plans!? Ha!

When you have kids, be prepared for your best-laid plans to fly out the window. They’re going to get sick or injured the day before that big deadline, and you’re going to tear your hair out about the fact that you can’t seem to keep a reliable studio schedule. It happens – be prepared for it.

Here’s an example of how NOT to do things (learn from my mistakes!)… I usually try to set aside a couple of my best paintings to enter in the OPA national show every January, since I know better than to think I’m going to paint a masterpiece when I have a deadline looming. This year, I made the mistake of agreeing to sell my two favorite paintings a couple of weeks ago. Checks were basically in the mail and I figured, “well, might as well sell them, I have two weeks to come up with a couple of new ones – I can do that easy!” Then my 4 year old got the crud and I spent five days taking care of a sick kid and husband and feeling ill myself, and suddenly, I had nothing to enter and was once again trying to fight the losing battle of painting a masterpiece up against a deadline (while exhausted, nonetheless).

Trying desperately to paint with a sick kid in the studio.
So, recognize that your schedule will not always behave the way you think it will, and prepare for that. If you have a show entry due, make sure you have those paintings set aside weeks in advance. If you need to supply paintings for a gallery, make sure you give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to produce. And when in doubt, always paint more than you think you need to. Every once in a while someone will come down into my studio and exclaim that I have a lot of painting inventory, and ask if I’m going to take some time off. The answer is always NO, because it never fails – the minute I get that inventory built up, a gallery will need new work, or I’ll get invited to a show, or someone will want to see a grouping of paintings. I know better than to think I’m in control of the hours I spend in the studio, so I always err on the side of overproducing, and somehow things always end up just right.

UGLY TRUTH #3 - You will feel inadequate

This is more emotional than anything, but the reality is this – when you’re trying to juggle an art career (maybe ANY career) and motherhood, you will have moments when you feel hopelessly inadequate. I try my best to prioritize my life such that I feel like I’m giving my all to my kids and my art, but every once in a while I have a major meltdown about my failure to do both. I feel like I’d be a better mom if I wasn't working so hard. I feel like I’d be a better artist if I weren't constantly taking care of my two little ones.

That’s not necessarily reality – the fact that I do something I love makes me a better mom, and the fact that I have two hilarious fun-loving kids in my life makes my art better. But sometimes in those dark middle-of-the-night moments, I feel like I’m failing at everything.

Sometimes, I look around at my art friends tearing it up on the show circuit and think to myself, “if only I had that much time to travel!” Sometimes, I look around my not-so-clean house and think to myself, “if only I could have a couple of days to catch up on cleaning up around here!” And sometimes, I have to say no to the zillionth volunteer opportunity at my daughter’s school, and I think to myself, “oh my gosh she’s going to grow up and wonder why I wasn't the mom who was always helping out at school!”

But everyone can think of “if onlys” if they try hard enough, and giving into these thoughts is giving into negativity. The minute I find myself thinking an “if only” type of thought, I acknowledge that it exists and it sucks and then I choose to move on. Usually, this means taking action. Instead of moping around, I get painting, or I do some business work, or I write a blog post, or I clean the kitchen, or I play with my kids. I get moving, and I usually get positive. And when the little stuff doesn't work, I get outside and leave it behind on a mountain bike ride or run. It never helps to focus on what if.

And know that you can’t do it all, and that you will have to allow certain areas to slide. I would love to have a spotless house and a home-cooked meal three times a day – it’s not going to happen if I want to spend the right amount of time on my kids and my art. Right now, I should probably be taking down the Christmas tree (in February!!) instead of writing this blog post. That’s reality and that’s okay, as long as I’m focusing on the things that matter most.

The little guy, showing me how it's done.
In my doubtful moments I have to remind myself, logically, that there’s a reason I’m doing this. I’m choosing to be an artist for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is my conviction that being a good mom to my daughter includes modeling how to chase what you love. I remind myself that while I may not be at the school every day, I DO spend time every day laughing with my kids, and talking to them, and appreciating them for who they are right now, and those moments are worth more than anything to me.

UGLY TRUTH #4 - You will not be able to do it alone

I don’t care how good you are - if you want to make it as an artist and be a mom, you’re going to have to get some help along the way. I used to think that since I work “part-time” and my job is fairly flexible, it was reasonable to assume that I would be mostly responsible for childcare and keeping our household running. It’s taken me a long time to realize that I can’t do it all. This is NOT a part-time job, and I can’t handle it all without some help. I’d say that this year more than any other year, I finally learned that if this was going to work, I was going to need to ask for more help from my husband, and from others, and that I had to be okay with accepting that help.

I owe every minute I get to paint to a supportive husband, awesome helpful family members and friends, and the fact that my kids both go to a school where I know they’re learning and thriving every minute that they’re out of my sight.

I get four days a week to paint for 5-6 hours while my kids are at school, but art is a full-time job – do the math, and you know I’m going to be behind. Sometimes my husband steps in and hangs with the kids for an afternoon while I catch up. Sometimes my in-laws spend the day with Owen and I sneak into my studio. Every once in a while I meet up to plein air paint with friends, and depend on a supportive friend to get my kids from school to swim lessons since I won’t be home in time. I attend most openings by recruiting my mom to babysit. I managed a painting trip to Telluride this winter thanks to my sister, who took on my two energetic kids for an entire weekend. I love these people and owe them so much. I know my kids thrive in their presence, which allows me to do my job without worrying – and that whole not worrying thing is HUGE when you’re a mom.

Chances are, you won’t get much painting done when your kids are in the house (if you do, can you tell me your secret??). Find people you trust, and places you’re confident your kids will thrive, so that you can find the space to do your job without worry. And if you have a partner, make sure you’re really allowing them to be a partner – don’t try to handle everything on your own. (If you want to read more on that subject, pick up the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg - it's an excellent read.)

I love these guys!
So, there you have it, some of the truth as I see it, and some suggestions on how to handle things. My intent here wasn't to be a downer, but to be honest and forthcoming about my experiences, with hope that it might encourage someone who might be struggling through a similar issue. For what it’s worth, I think most of these issues are universal, and my advice probably applies to ANY artist, male or female, kids or no kids. If you have any of your own suggestions, or advice, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

The good news is that it’s a great life - I wake up thankful every day. Sometimes it’s chaos, but it’s beautiful chaos, and I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Perfect Practice

"Ten Below"
Oil on Panel

No one will deny that brush mileage is one of the best ways to get better at painting. You can know everything there is to know about painting, but if you don’t paint all that often, you won’t know how to put paint on the canvas effectively enough to communicate your ideas. If you've heard of the 10,000 hours rule, you know this is probably the case for getting good at anything – simply put, most experts have put in the time.

But time isn't the whole story - most experts also know how to practice effectively, how to push themselves to the next level. If you practice the same thing over and over, you won’t get better no matter how many hours you put in.

So, what makes us improve? For me, it’s the idea of perfect practice, working thoughtfully on targeted areas. In the book “The Talent Code,” Daniel Coyle describes this kind of practice like this:

“Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – makes you smarter. Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them – as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go – end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it…. The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn't help. Reaching does.” 
- Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code

Practicing this way can be a slow, tedious process. You make mistakes, you think deeply about things that aren't working, and you try to apply different ways to correct those mistakes. It doesn't always happen overnight, but after a while, the things that were challenges become second nature. You get better.

For me, this means that I no longer set quantity goals for painting. Sure, painting 100 paintings a year is a good goal that will get me in the studio on a regular basis, but does it matter if I’m painting the same thing over and over? Now, I focus on stretching my abilities in a number of different ways. Here are some ideas:

Paint Something Outside of Your Wheelhouse

I’m all for painting your passion. I love being outside, so I paint landscapes. It’s different for everyone, but I guarantee you’ll paint your best when you paint what you love. That said, it’s easy to get complacent when you always paint what makes you comfortable, so it’s good to step outside of your comfort zone and paint something completely different every once in a while. For me, this means adding some architecture or wildlife to a painting every once in a while, or doing some figure painting in the studio to work on my drawing. For a figure painter, this might mean heading out to do some plein air. Either way, you’re developing skills that you don’t have, and it’s making you stronger.

Focus on Your Weaknesses

In order to improve, you need to think critically, identify some of your weaknesses, and then work on those things. I painted the painting above when I felt I was getting a bit too tight with my studio work – I set out a panel and told myself I was going to work on thick paint and softer edges, and ignore everything else.  The goal wasn't a masterpiece or show painting, but rather a skill set. Working on those soft edges is like playing scales on a piano – I’m working those little muscles that I need in order to commit that skill to memory. If you have a tough time with clouds, go paint cloud studies. If you struggle with drawing, get a sketchbook and a pencil and get to work.

Change It Up

Are you comfortable painting small studies on location but clam up when it comes to painting something big? Or do you love the comfort of your studio and lose focus the second you get outside? If you run out of one color on your palette does it send you into a panic, or can you go with it? It’s easy to get comfortable with painting certain sizes, or in a certain location, or with a certain set of materials. But if you want to grow as an artist, you need to work on the edge of your ability sometimes. Work a little bit bigger outdoors. Do something in a different format. Use some different colors and see what happens. If you can handle a few changes, you’ll be more versatile as an artist, and your paintings will improve.

Get Uncomfortable

I’m all for plein air painting in the summer when the weather is perfect and the light is stunning, but I’m not gonna lie - I don’t get as excited about getting out there the rest of the year! Last year, I decided to just paint, no matter what, and learned a valuable lesson. I painted on cloudy days with flat light, and I learned a lot about greys. I painted in the snow, and learned a lot about brevity. I hauled my painting stuff up a lot of trails in a backpack, and learned that sometimes you just have to paint what’s in front of you when you get there. And when I got back into my studio after all of that, I had a whole bunch of new skills, and a new found appreciation for the coziness of my nice warm studio. Sometimes, it’s good to be uncomfortable. Say yes, even when you don’t want to.

What are some of the best ways that you implement “perfect practice” into your art?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Big Picture

"Monarch Lake Summer"
Oil on Panel

I don't spend too much time worrying about what my art is saying. I just try to get out there, find something that inspires me, and attempt to paint what I feel. Nothing complicated, nothing all that profound - just trying to make something beautiful.

And if you were to ask me what my biggest goal for my art is, I would probably think for a few seconds and then tell you that all I want to do is paint some really kick ass paintings someday.

Sure, there are some shows I'd like to be in, places I'd like to paint, items I'd like to add to my resume, but those things are secondary to the big goal, which is just to eventually make some really good art. Take your breathe away good, you know?

But that sounds kind of vague. Like, what constitutes a really good painting vs. a mediocre painting, or just a sort of good painting? I feel like it's one of those things you just know in your gut. It's not technical, it's emotional. But it's also really subjective. So, my big goal turns out to be a bit nebulous.

I was reading a really good book this week - The New American Road Trip Mixtape by Brendan Leonard - and this quote stopped me in my tracks when I read it:

"All my life, I had listened to great songs and read great books and watched great movies, and some of them moved me to the point of tears welling up, chills, the hair on the back of my neck standing up, some sort of physiological reaction to incredible, created beauty. Some song by some band or section of dialogue in a movie, or passage of writing in a book that would resonate with me so deeply that I would think just for a second that maybe it was all about me, about all of us. And all I wanted to do in my life was make one thing, one piece of art, a book, that did that for someone. Maybe for everyone." 
- Brendan Leonard, The New American Road Trip Mixtape

And BAM! There it is. THAT'S what I want to paint someday.

Leave it to someone else to state it so much more eloquently than me.

(If you need something to read, pick up that book, btw - it's an excellent read)

Monday, January 06, 2014

2014 Workshops

Just wanted to take a moment to announce a few workshops I have planned for 2014, both here in Evergreen, Colorado. For updated class information, you can also check the workshops page on my website.

Landscape Painting On Location
Workshop Dates: 5/14/2014 - 5/16/2014
Location: Center for the Arts Evergreen
United States

Contact Information:
Stephanie Perkins - Coordinator of Education, CAE

This workshop is for painters who want to develop an understanding of the fundamentals of plein air painting, with an emphasis on simplifying the landscape and selecting only the most important elements in the landscape to support the artist’s concept. Topics discussed will include how to effectively capture light, atmosphere and mood in paint while using strong composition and color harmony. We will be painting on location daily. Each morning will begin with a lecture and demo, followed by painting on location, and a critique at the end of the day.

From Plein Air to the Studio
Workshop Dates: 9/9/2014 - 9/12/2014
Location: My Studio - Evergreen, Colorado
United States

Contact Information:
Stacey Peterson

This workshop will focus on how to effectively gather reference material while painting on location, and then use that material to convert field work into a studio painting. We will spend the first 1.5 days painting on location outdoors, then go into the studio and use our reference materials (studies, sketches, and photographs) to create a studio painting. Common issues that come up when converting plein air studies to studio work will be discussed in full. Demonstration outdoors and in the studio will be used to illustrate the process of producing a studio painting from outdoor reference. For more information, contact Stacey at

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Favorites

As final farewell to 2013, I thought I'd share some of my favorite music and books from the year. I don't know about you, but I get a lot of inspiration from what I listen to in the studio, and what I read in my free time, and I love to hear what other people are loving too!

First, here are my top 13 studio songs of '13. As I was putting together this playlist I realized that a few of these songs came out before 2013, but I didn't discover them until this year, and they got so much play in my studio that I'm including them anyhow. It's my blog, so I can make my own rules, right? (You have to have Quicktime running to make this playlist work, fyi. I've also included song links below, in case it doesn't work in your browser). 

Miramare - Sons of the East - EP
Amsterdam - The Weatherman
The Truth Is a Cave - Through the Deep, Dark Valley
Bloom (Bonus Track) - Woodland - EP
Red Hands - R.E.V.O.
I Will Be Blessed - Every Kingdom (Deluxe Version)
She Lit a Fire - Lonesome Dreams
Just One - We Are the Tide
Shake It Off - Shake It Off - Single
Home - From Here to Now to You
She - Paper Hearts - EP
Only One - Only One - Single
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) - The Lumineers (Deluxe Edition)

My favorite two albums this year were The Weatherman by Gregory Alan Isakov (who put on an absolutely breathtaking show with the Colorado Symphony in November), and Through the Deep Dark Valley by The Oh Hellos (who I'm going to see play tonight to ring in the New Year - yay!!).

As for reading, I read a ton of books this year and can't really remember all of them, but a few stand out that are worth recommending. Here they are:

Favorite Art Book - E.T. Compton by Sibylle Brandes

This guy was a mountain climber and it shows in his paintings - he could paint mountains like no other, and this book is full cover to cover of beautiful images. I just wish it wasn't in German so I could actually read it! I also wish there were a book about his son, Edward Harrison Compton, as his paintings are even more amazing.

Favorite Outdoor Adventure Book - Be Brave, Be Strong by Jill Homer

I stumbled on this book in the kindle bookstore and bought it on a whim, and I was so inspired by Homer's telling of her adventures riding the Great Divide mountain bike race from Canada to Mexico. I've since read all of her books and am addicted to her blog - she writes as though she loves the landscape as much as I do, and I'm always inspired by her strength and persistence.

Favorite Psych Book - Mindset by Carol Dweck

I don't know how I ended up reading this book, but it was fascinating to me. I've always thought I was a fairly positive "you-can-do-it!" kind of thinker, but reading this really exposed a lot of the prejudices I have about myself (I'm a clutz, I'm bad at sports, I'll never be good at xyz). Reading through the ideas in this one made me realize that my thoughts were determining my outcomes in some of those areas. An interesting read for anyone, and I thought it was eye-opening as a parent too.

Favorite Non-Fiction - I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

This was a bestseller this year for a reason. If you haven't read it, go read it. The autobiography of an amazing girl, I also found it interesting as an account of Pakistan's history and culture. I didn't know much about the country prior to reading this, and it was fascinating to read it through the eyes of a young girl.

So, there you go - my recommendations from 2013. Do you have any books or music that stand out for the year for you? I'd love to hear suggestions from everyone!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 in Photos

Once upon a time I was really big on making all sorts of goals and tracking them every year, and for a while it really worked to keep me motivated. My goals have gotten a bit more nebulous over the years - I pretty much just want to paint better paintings, and get out more. As a landscape painter, it's my job to get outside and find beautiful places, and I take that pretty seriously. The more I paint outdoors, the better I get, and if I can't paint outside, getting out there to bike or run or camp is just as useful. Sometimes, just being out there and watching time go by is the best way to learn how light hits the landscape, or how things really feel.

So, in lieu of tracking a bunch of resolutions and goals, I put together my favorite photos from each month of 2013 as my little review of the year's adventures. These aren't necessarily the prettiest or best photos I took, but rather those that remind me of some of my best times this year. What was your favorite adventure this year?


This shot is from a two night hut trip with friends up to the Sangree Froelicher hut near Leadville, Colorado. I love the 10th Mountain Division huts. We trek in on snowshoes with our stuff on our backs, and get to experience a few days in the backcountry in the stillness of winter. Unless you want to camp in a snowcave, it's an experience you just don't get any other way.


In February, Nate and I took a grown-up vacation to San Diego for a few days. It snowed a couple of feet at home while we were gone, and I was happy to be able to hike along the beach every night and see views like this. I'm 100% mountain girl, but I can do the beach for a few days, especially when it's this pretty! I didn't bring my paints and kicked myself the whole time - next time, I guess?


We spent a few days back up in Granby over Spring Break in March, mostly skiing with the kids. It was nice to go back and visit the place we lived for four years. I miss the wide open views and big skies above the mountains - Evergreen is so forested that you could never find a view like this. This photo doesn't do this scene justice at all, but this is the moon rising from the deck of my in-laws' house in Granby.


Nate had a business meeting in Scottsdale in April, and plane tickets were dirt cheap so I decided to tag along for the weekend. I rented a mountain bike and explored the trails for hours every day. It was fun to ride in the desert - things are a little bit more prickly and unforgiving, but I love this part of the country and it was fun to get out on two wheels. There were a couple of days that I didn't see a single soul the whole time I was out, and it was kind of eery but also amazing to be so alone out there. I didn't get any decent photos, but I'm including one of my bad cell phone shots anyways, since I had so much fun.


Once again, a bad cell phone photo, but still my favorite from the month. I went down to Fredericksburg, Texas in May for the OPA national show, and went for a jog through the neighborhood by my hotel the night I got there. This was just a random empty lot between two houses, but I love it. I lived in Texas for a few years and this - the flowers and green and thick air - reminds me of some of my better times down there.


I was planning to just include landscape shots here, but I'm breaking my own rules for this one because it's hands down my favorite photo of the year and it would be dumb to pick something else. This is my superhero-obsessed son in all his glory, surveying his kingdom on a camping trip to Twin Lakes near Leadville. I love my kids so freaking much.


I spent every weekend in July in a different mountain town, so picking my favorite was a bit tough, but my trip to the Tetons for the RMPAP show was one of my favorite times painting this year. I took thousands of photos up there and they're all pretty, but I think Taggart Lake here is one of the prettiest places I've ever been. Pretty enough that we hiked up there with painting stuff three nights in a row, anyhow!

July Bonus

I'm including a bonus picture for July, because this one just makes me happy. I broke my wrist mountain biking at the start of June and was pretty devastated that I wouldn't be able to ride all summer. This was the first easy ride I took after I got my cast off and got the go-ahead to ride again. I was just plain giddy to be out there riding my bike at sunset - best feeling ever.


In August a bunch of artist friends and I spent a few days painting up at Broome Hut near Berthoud Pass (another 10th Mountain Division hut). It was so much fun to be out there dawn 'til dusk painting and laughing with good friends. And the views weren't too shabby either!


September was another month where I spent every weekend camping somewhere in the mountains - we spent a lot of time in Crested Butte, and I finally got to ride some of the trails after painting there for years. This isn't the prettiest picture I have, but it reminds me of one of the best days of the year, riding the 401 with my husband. This was by far the prettiest trail I've ever ridden on a mountain bike, and it was so much fun to be riding singletrack up above 11,000 ft. And it might have been awesome enough to convince Nate that mountain biking is fun after all, so yay for that!


This picture is another that might not be the most impressive, but it's another one with the best memories so it makes the cut. This is a shot from the top of Evergreen Mountain, my favorite local mountain bike ride. I'm up here all the time - one of the reasons I love where I live is having these places so close to home.


I had to deliver some new work to my Winter Park gallery one weekday in November, and it seemed kind of like a waste to do all that driving there and back, so I tossed my snowshoes in the car at the last minute and ended up climbing up to the divide above Berthoud Pass. I love the views from this area - still seems like home.


We headed down to Telluride after Thanksgiving so I could deliver some new paintings to the gallery there and do some plein air painting. I spent three days painting snow and it was awesome - kind of wish I had had a week. One thing I always forget about winter is that the days are so short, you can't produce as much as you can on a summer painting trip where you paint from dawn til dusk. Maybe I should start painting nocturnes? Anyhow, this is just a random view from the top of Telluride Mountain. Pretty rough, huh?

So, that's it. 2013 in pictures. It was a great year - I got out a lot and visited a lot of awesome places with great people. What more can a girl ask for?

Monday, November 11, 2013


Oil on Panel

I don’t know a lot, but it seems to me that this much is certain - life is messy.

No matter how hard you try, there are things that don’t go your way, things that don’t fit into a tidy box of how a perfect life should look. Some days – some seasons – are hard. And sometimes, life can be so heartbreaking that it’s overwhelming. But through all of this I find my life punctuated by moments of sublime beauty – moments of goodness that make me thankful to be a living, breathing part of this world.

I lost my sister a couple of years ago. She was far too young to die, and the whole thing was unexpected and awful, and I miss her. Since then, I've found myself more purposefully seeking out those moments of beauty. In darkness, I suddenly felt more gratitude for those infrequent glimpses of perfection that seem to make the messiness of life so worth it. I found solace in music, in art, in climbing the hills around my home, in the easy smiles of my kids. And as I immersed myself in those things, it seemed that things got better, bit by bit. I stumbled along, gathering up these happy moments like beads on a string, until I had created something that had started to resemble a normal life again.

It might be a piece of music that brings tears to my eyes, a masterful painting that gives me goosebumps, or a sunset that stops me in my tracks and makes me still. It might be nothing more than a good laugh with friends or my children’s warm hands in mine, trusting. It might just be the way raindrops ripple across the surface of a mountain lake on a summer evening.

I drink these moments up, greedy.

I wish I could capture these things in paint. Someday, I want to transcend the mundane details of sales and technique, and translate that gut feeling though pigment and color. I might be working on that for the rest of my life, but that challenge is what makes me love what I do.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Taking the Leap - Revisited (YET AGAIN)

I was organizing some photos on my hard drive the other day when I came across this picture of me from my engineering days. Hard hat, fire resistant coveralls, and a full gas mask – ready to inspect a distillation column in a chemical plant in Baton Rouge. I've posted it before, but it cracks me up, so you get to see it again:

Every time I see this photo, I am SOOOOO THANKFUL that I’m an artist now. BEYOND thankful, honestly. So thankful that sometimes I think I should frame it and hang it in my studio so that I have a daily reminder of how thankful I should be.

Because the girl in that photo was miserable. Really, truly, miserable.

For starters, this is what it looks like when I’m on the job now:

Big improvement, right? But that’s just gravy. Even when I’m stuck inside in my unfinished dungeon of a basement studio, I still feel blessed.

I realized the other day that I’ve actually been doing this art thing for a living now longer than I was an engineer. My job has become so much like eating and breathing that I don’t normally give it much thought – it’s just ME, it’s what I do.

But less than ten years ago I was a ball of stress, agonizing constantly about what I could do for a living that would make me happy, or at least less miserable. I went through a phase where I was going to go back to school for physical therapy, another where I was going to be an accountant (oh my, it’s embarrassing to even admit that), and another where I was convinced being an art teacher was the way to go. Art was my thing, even back then, but it took me a long time to decide that I was going to hang it all up and paint for a living – mainly because I was afraid.

See, I’m a closet security freak. I used to make a lot of “safe” decisions. I picked the sensible school, the sensible major, the sensible job, the sensible place to live, and figured since I was minimizing risk, everything would turn out well and life would be great. BIG surprise when I found out that the sensible job in the sensible place was pretty much awful! All of the sudden the floor dropped out from under me, and my perfectly planned life seemed like a big mistake.

Since then, Nate and I have both quit our jobs and moved around a lot, just trying things out. Some things worked for us, some didn’t. Some choices we made were kind of dumb and we laugh at them now (buying a house in Highlands Ranch – I’m talking to you!). Some things were wonderful surprises (moving down to Evergreen when we thought we’d be up in the mountains forever). Sometimes it was scary, a lot of times it’s stressful, and it’s always completely ambiguous this way - there is no road map when you decide to strike out on your own. And I’m not gonna lie, the art paycheck is lower than the corporate one was. Essentially, nothing is all that secure for us anymore, but I love it.

I love that I get to wake up, spend time laughing with my kids, then spend the hours while they are at school doing what I love. I love the process of creation. I love that even the business side of my art is an ever evolving process. I love that I don’t have all the answers. I love that sometimes, I can go hike to a crazy beautiful place with some good friends, laugh the whole time, do a painting, and call it work (okay, I confess - I usually feel sort of guilty on those days). And while Nate might not always love his job as much as I love mine (lawyers, accountants, and contracts, oh my!!), I think he loves the challenge of creating a business too. It’s a constantly moving target – always a challenge.

It’s not for everyone – this sort of job takes a lot of self-discipline and motivation, and pretty thick skin. Well, REALLY thick skin, actually. But in the end, I've gone from a very sensible, structured life, to something that resembles constant chaos – a beautiful mess, if you will. I’m never caught up, there are no guarantees, and sometimes I have to work really hard to stay positive when things are slow. But I think it’s good. No regrets.

I look at some of my blog posts about taking the leap from years ago, and I want to tell my younger self that it worked out okay. That it might not be how she envisioned it, but it works, and that she shouldn't be so freaked out about everything. That she should just breathe, and try to be more authentic.

Back then, this was my favorite quote, and I think it still is. It’s how I try to live my life:

"What we have is based upon moment-to-moment choices of what we do. In each of those moments, we choose. 
We either take a risk and move toward what we want, or we play it safe and choose comfort. Most of the people, most of the time, choose comfort. 
In the end, people either have excuses or experiences; reasons or results; buts or brilliance. 
They either have what they wanted or they have a detailed list of all the rational reasons why not." 
~ Anonymous

I found this one more recently, and it speaks to my inner security freak:

"Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem more afraid of life than death."  
- James F. Byrnes

So, there it is. I took that leap a while ago and it’s all right. It really is. And if you’re thinking of doing the same thing (or you already have), I hope you’re in for an awesome, wild ride.