Monday, December 26, 2011

Sarapiqui River

charcoal on paper
15 x 19

I just finished this piece which is the Sarapiqui River in Costa Rica at dusk. I took some progression photos so viewers can get an idea of how my charcoals are done.
The first photo is a view of my set-up in my studio, drawing table with all my implements on a small side-table on the left. I mostly stand when I work, sometimes sitting for the more detailed drawing.

This is how I start. First I tape the paper down to the size and shape I want, then I usually cover the whole piece of paper with powdered vine charcoal. The only time I wouldn't do this is if I need some pure white areas, then I would cover everything but that area. Next, (below) I take a chamois and various erasers and loosely "carve" away the light areas, so I get the structure and values started.

Now, (above and below) I go back in with hard charcoal sticks and pencils to get the really dark areas. The paper wants to show through so fingers must be used to really mush the charcoal into the paper to get dark blacks.

The finishing can take a lot of tweaking with all the various charcoals and tools to get the right balance of light and dark, good edges and smooth fades. Below is the finished piece. This piece is all masses and not much line; I will post another piece soon showing more of the drawing techniques.

On another note, Happy Holidays!! Don't feel neglected if you did not get a card this year, I didn't send any out. Today, December 26th, it was 50 degrees here!? I had a nice hike with my sister and we saw a wonderful thing, a Townsend's Solitaire. This is a bird that is fairly unusual in Minnesota, it is auspicious to me and made me so happy to see it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Two Trees

Charcoal on paper
20 x 26

This is a piece I just finished... I wondered about posting it because it feels strange to me, like I didn't do it. The view is out in my woods, a mere skiff of snow dusting the ground, twilight and skeletal...
On another note, I just returned from a fantastic birding trip to Costa Rica! - Saw many wonderful things - birds, mammals, butterflies, frogs - in rain forest and cloud forest.
The coffee there is amazing. Our bird guide's parents own an organic coffee farm which we were lucky to be able to visit. I had no idea all that is involved in producing coffee, and how potentially hard it can be on the environment. I highly recommend anyone concerned who also loves coffee to buy from them, they have a distributor in the US. - The coffee is out of this world - really!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Last Swan photo

Seward, Alaska
charcoal on paper
12 x 16

Swan Update: The top photo may be the last picture of the single swan that remained on the pond this fall up until 2 days ago. I was getting worried about it as the ice was beginning to freeze - some days it needed breaking so the swan could get water. Luckily this has been an extremely mild fall so far, and the muskrats are doing a great job of keeping the pond open somewhere. Last week seven swans flew over the pond low, circling and calling, and still our swan didn't leave to join them, very unusual. So it really seemed like it could not fly for some reason. Four days ago I had someone from the Trumpeter Swan Society out to assess the situation, and we had decided that as soon as the ice was hard enough to walk on we would catch it and release it at Rebecca Park, where they keep the water open all winter for swans who stick around. Then yesterday it was nowhere to be seen; same today. I hope it was finally able to fly and made it to some open water, it will probably remain a mystery.

The charcoal of Seward, Alaska, was done last fall, after my birding trip there. I was looking through my work for pieces with a water-theme, I am thinking of submitting work for a show that is about water. This piece reminded me of today's weather, damp and spritzy and chilly.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New (old) easel

I just returned from a few days in Stockholm, WI, where, along with visiting the Maiden Rock Bluff SNA, I picked up my new (old) easel! (above, left). I have wanted a "real" studio easel for awhile now. I have been using my Julien Plein Air easel, made for portable use and painting outside, in my studio for over 5 years. It is a bit flimsy, (above, Julien on R) and the legs splay out, good for tripping on. My new (old) easel was given to me by my good friend and artist Barbara McIlrath, I had been looking on Craigs list for half a year or so now, and finally had the idea to ask some of my artist friends if they had or knew of an old easel that needed a good home. This beauty was given to Barbara by a teacher at one of the colleges in Minneapolis. I couldn't imagine anything better than having an old workhorse of an easel that was used by many students. Unfortunately I had to cut off almost 3 ft from the top, as my studio is tiny and the ceilings are low..... hard to do, but once done it fit right in. I did some sanding and nailing and WD40ing and it's good to go!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

North Shore paint-sketches



Tide Pool

A promised post from my North Shore trip. I went up to the Shore (of Lake Superior) in Late September with some painter friends for a week of painting and companionship. It can be so helpful to be buoyed by other's energy when you are feeling low, and when the weather is volatile! These three tiny oil sketches were done in under an hour each as a warm-up and to start getting a handle on the experience of color and atmosphere and mood.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Swans, continued

I am getting concerned about the two young Trumpeter Swans on my pond (above). Mid-summer, the parents and two of the Cygnets were gone one day, and have not been seen since. It is very unusual for the parents to abandon their young - what could have happened? I was worried from the beginning that our pond was too small to sustain them all, maybe they tried to walk on to another larger body of water and for some reason the two remaining were unable to follow.... My fear is that these two have never learned how to fly?! They need quite a bit of surface water to run on and to take off from, and our pond is really small, especially at this time of year. On top of that, it is surrounded by 6 ft. tall native prairie, and if they took to land thinking they could run there to take off, they would have a hard time with the grass... I check on them daily; they are always there, just poking around for something to eat, slowly swimming away when I get too close. I have never seen them fly or attempt to. I finally contacted a person with the swan program at the Park District. She thought maybe they could be slightly malnourished, so I have started throwing out corn. If they are still around when the ice starts to freeze, we will have to catch them and release them in the Swan Refuge at Lake Rebecca Park, in Wright County. I need a happy ending.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Here is a photo of some of my work installed in the barn at the McIlrath Farm for the recent Fresh Art Show. I wanted to send out a thanks to everyone for their support, especially Barb and Rob for hosting the event at their place and inviting me to be a guest artist, my sister Mary for coming and helping out, and Holly and Harriet for their continual input and art-support.
And of course the weather, for being not only cooperative, but beautiful!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sense of Place

(top) Branches charcoal on paper, 13 x 16
(middle) Dawn Birds charcoal on paper, 13 x 16
(bottom) Trees/Clouds charcoal on paper, 13 x 16

These three pieces will be in the upcoming show Sense of Place, which will be at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts from October 13 - November 3. This is an exhibition of landscapes in a variety of media and styles representing both traditional and contemporary approaches to this enduring subject. The opening is Thursday, October 13, from 6 - 8pm.
For more information about the Minnetonka Art Center go to

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fresh Art Fall Show

Bird Tree
charcoal on paper
16 x 20

(double click to enlarge)

This charcoal is one of the pieces I will be exhibiting at the 2011 Fresh Art Fall Tour in Pepin, WI, this Friday - Sunday, from 10 -5 pm. Check out the web-site for more information including a tour map. I will be at site#14, Barbara McIlrath's studio. This is a wonderful chance to see some great art and the beautiful fall colors of the Mississippi River bluff lands at the same time - I hope to see some of you there!

I just returned from a week painting on the North Shores of Lake Superior. I had a great time with some dear friends and painters; I will post more on this after the show.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Whooping Crane

I was very happy to see a pair of Whooping Cranes in Minnesota today!! These birds are the tallest in North America and were once on the brink of extinction - in 1941 only 16 individuals were left. Now there are just over 400 in the wild. Sorry for the poor quality of the photo - they were far out in a marsh.
Here is some information on these particular birds, thanks to Dan Tallman's Blog:
Eve Szyszkoski of the International Crane Foundation Writes -
"Based on the band numbers, these two birds are an adult breeding pair, both four years old. They nested this year near the Necedah NWR but abandoned their nest on May 4. Two eggs were collected (one infertile, one fertile but addled). They have a history of moving into Minnesota in the summer or fall and will most likely begin migration from Minnesota. One was raised and released using the ultra-light release method, and one was released using the direct Autumn Release method. They have been together for about three years now."

How cool!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


charcoal on paper
20 x 26

This drawing and three others of mine, as well as wonderful work by other PAN artists, are on view at the current PAN show at the Phipps Center, in Hudson Wisconsin:

Project Art for Nature, led by River Falls based artist Vera Ming Wong, consists of approximately 27 artists and illustrators from many areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin. To highlight nearby gems of prairie, forest, river and wetland, PAN artists create artworks focused on individually chosen natural areas in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Visiting the sites regularly throughout a two-to-three-year cycle, observations of seasonal and cumulative changes in native plant and animal communities spark curiosity, reflection and creative responses. The participating artists share their sites and insights into both nature and art with one another and, through exhibitions and related educational programs, with the general public.

Places Between, Species Within: Project Art for Nature's fourth cycle unfurls with a show of new works, by both new and renewing artists, at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin. Exhibit Dates: 19 Aug – 25 Sep 2011; Opening Reception, 26 Aug, 6:30-8:30 pm. Round Table Discussion with Exhibiting Artists, 25 Sep 2011, 2:00-4:00 pm. Check the Phipps website for gallery hours, For more information about Project Art for Nature and participating artists, please visit

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Swan Family

I just went out to try and find the swans; I wanted to get some more photos before they leave. The babies take 3-4 months before they are ready to fly, and are protected by both parents until that time. It can be surprisingly hard to find them through the thick-mosquito-ridden cattails. Amazingly, all four are still around! I love their quiet presence, so different from Canada Geese. An interesting note - the 1975 edition of Minnesota Birds by Jan Green and Bob Janssen lists Trumpeter Swans as extirpated from Minnesota - what a happy success story!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Show at the Phipps

I am part of the group PAN - - and we are having a show at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson WI. (Double click on the above card to see the fine print. ) The show is based on ecologically important sites around Wisconsin and Minnesota region. My site is Lake Pepin and the Maiden Rock Bluffs SNA area, I will include some of my charcoal pieces. It should be a great show and I hope to see some of you there, the opening is August 26th, from 6:30 - 8:30.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Trumpeter Swans

The Trumpeter Swans have hatched four chicks on our pond and I have been watching their progress. They are superb parents; every time I try to sneak up through the cattails for a look they are on me and herding the little ones out of view. I snapped this quick right before they disappeared into the weeds.

Monday, July 11, 2011


charcoal on paper
20 x 26

I will be participating in Tangle Town Garden's Garden and Art Tour on Saturday the 23 of July - everyone is invited! The event is from 9 - 4 and there will be a great party afterwards. This a wonderful chance to see some of Minneapolis' best gardens and art by local artists. The gardens will not be announced until the day of the tour ( to protect the owners from early birds, etc ?) , but I can say I will be in a lovely garden with lots of shade and ponds. The tour is a fundraiser with proceeds going to help fund public art and garden projects in the Twin Cities. I was invited to participate by Swan Song Gallery. For more information contact me or I hope to see you there!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake
oil on canvas
6 x 8

It is hard to find time to post in these summer months. Last week I went up north to Voyageurs National Park for some painting, birding, and being. The top photo is the house boat which we rented and moored on a 6 acre island, becoming a wonderful home base - luxury camping! The weather was fantastic and I managed to get out painting quite a bit, doing small studies of views from the island (above).

I like these words by artist Charles W. Hawthorne:

Do studies, not pictures. Know when you are licked - start another. Be alive, stop when your interest is lost. Put off finish - make lots of starts..... Starting with a note of truth in a piece is the important thing - the first color you put down influences you straight through. Do not put things down approximately - you will take a wrong thing and unconsciously key everything to it, making it false. Never mind if your whole canvas in not successful. If one spot is successful, it is enough. Do a bit of truth.

One more thing, the Trumpeter Swans on our pond have had cygnets - four small grey fluffys swimming around!

Monday, June 6, 2011


Cormorant Rookery photograph

Last week I went birding in North Dakota. Almost June and I was wishing I had my down jacket! This is a photograph of a Cormorant Rookery seen from the road on the way to Lake Osakis, right off Interstate 94. I love the spangly nest forms against the sky.

This Friday, June 10, 5 - 9 pm I will be participating in the St. Cloud Art Crawl. I will be set up in Falcon National Bank, 1010 W. St. Germain, along with the other artists who were awarded Individual Artist Grants. I hope to see some of you there.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I have been out in the woods painting some the past few weeks. Last week I set up and after working an hour or so I took a break to look at the spring ephemerals and found a bunch of morels about 10 yards from where I was working! Over a couple of pounds this season so far.
I have been painting trees and trying to figure out the color of bark - is it grey/green? reddish/brown? slatey/violet? Ochre, rust, light eggplant? They all seem to be present and I was having a really hard time. So I started going up to the trunk and putting dabs of the colors I was mixing right on the tree to try and match it. Pretty silly I know, because from where I was set-up, the atmosphere and changing light would greatly affect the perceived color.....

Monday, May 9, 2011

Trumpeter Swans

This photo was taken at the pond in my back yard. A pair of Trumpeter swans has been hanging out and they look like they are making a nest! How cool. Trumpeters are the largest North American waterfowl and they are the largest swan in the world. By the 1930's they were nearly extinct; thanks to the Endangered Species Act there are now over 5,ooo in the world. It sure would be fun to watch some cygnets (baby swans) grow....

Friday, April 22, 2011


charcoal on paper
17 x 21

After applying and getting rejected for the last four years, I was just notified that this year I have been awarded an Individual Artist Grant by the Central Minnesota Arts Board!
A much needed and appreciated career and ego boost. The work I submitted with my application was my recent charcoal pieces, much of which I have posted here over the past months.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


charcoal on paper
17 x 22

I am back from the southwest and have been so caught up in picking up the pieces of my life that I have been remiss about posting..... It's a cold and sleety day in Minnesota, but here are two hopeful poems from my favorite book of love poems called "The Ink Dark Moon":

in the word
is usual today.
This is
the first morning.

Even though
these pine trees
keep their original color,
everything green
is different in spring.

- Izumi Shikibu

Monday, March 28, 2011


Oil on canvas, 12 x 16

My time is winding down here in Arizona...... sad! It has been a great couple of months. I found an organic farm where I have been getting eggs and produce, and they also have goats. I have been doing some goat studies in oil - I love the fur patterns and the shapes of their bodies and especially their personalities. Other news is that after many years of trying to see an Elegant Trogon, I finally saw one yesterday! Made me cry. I wish I had a photo to post, but mine is just a small red and green dot. Check it out on google images, a pretty amazing bird for America, looks like the tropics.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Arizona Critters

Collared Peccary, aka Javelina; White-Nosed Coati up in a tree; Black-Throated Sparrows ; these are some of the critters I am seeing around my place. The Javelinas raid my bird feeder every day. I go out to try and scare them away, but they just look at me and resume munching down the seeds. I believe Coatis are in the raccoon family, they are a bit larger with very long tails - cute!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hiking Chiricahua Monument

Yesterday I went with a couple of friends over to the west side of the Chiricahuas to hike in the Monument area. It was a fantastic day, like walking through a fairy-land of wild rock formations. The second photo is called "Punch and Judy", for obvious reasons. The last photo is a shot of the canyon from the top, we hiked down about 10 miles to the visitor center.
I have to admit I am doing a lot more hiking than painting....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Southwest - My view

I am in the southwest for my annual winter sojourn. The views in all directions from my place are spectacular - it's hard to get working because all I want to do is sit and look, absorb. I was talking to my artist friend Harriet about this and she gave wonderful advice, she said

"You are living in the painting. Be that."

I received some good news last week, I have been accepted into an art group called PAN - It is a group of Minnesota and Wisconsin artists who share a combined interest in art and nature/conservancy. Check out the site for more information. The group puts on a couple of shows a year, I will be posting upcoming information on my Blog.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Deep Woods

charcoal on paper
20 x 26

I am reading "In Praise of Shadows" by Tanizaki again. It is a little slip of a book full of beautiful insights on culture and the psyche. I was thinking after my last post about light, that shadow is equally important and powerful, and I decided to post this interior-woods-shadowy piece.

"So benumbed are we nowadays by electric lights that we have become utterly insensitive to the evils of excessive illumination."

Thinking of this as I am getting ready for my annual southwest sojourn to Portal, AZ, which has arguably the darkest night sky in the lower 48.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Morning Pines

charcoal on paper
26 x 20

Sometimes it just seems like there is a lot to be sad about, like the recent shootings in Tucson. I came across this quote that I wrote in my journal (but I forgot to note who wrote it) -

"Nature reflects light, which fills the entire world."

I love this, both in the literal and the metaphoric sense. I wanted the first piece that I posted in this new year to be filled with light.