Cursed Art

Some pieces are cursed. It’s true. One thing goes wrong and it’s not great, but you survive. But then another and another problem arise and they will not stop popping up until the piece is “finished.”

It will never be perfect. It will never be as good as it should have, but it will be done. you can’t fight the curse, you just have to finish the piece no matter how frustrating. Or it will haunt you. The only way to be free is to finish the piece.


My latest work “High Rise” is cursed. It is nearly finished but I will never be happy with it. First, my model goldfish died. Sad, but understandable. Then weeks of work went down the drain as my substrate failed. OK I can live with that, even if it was the point I should have known it was cursed.

I struggled to finish this piece on time for the Colored Pencil Society of America’s International Exhibition. With the setback, I missed the date and entered two older pieces. I didn’t make it in.

It’s been sitting in my house staring at me. I had to finish it. So last night I picked it up and worked on it for a half hour or so. I put it down against the wall. Then I did what no one should do. I told it. I said “I hate you!” and turned it towards the wall.

There on the back was the largest HOUSE CENTIPEDE ever. Eew! I screamed. I ran. I flapped my arms around girl-ily like you do when you are strangely creeped out by a harmless yet terrifying thing. It was so close to me. It was on my lap! Eew. E-e-eew.

Thank God for my husband @AverageJer for disposing of it for me. If he hadn’t been there, I would have had to spray it with hair spray or throw water on it or some solution that both prevented me from coming in contact with the terrible creature as well as ruining the art.


A blurry photo of the nearly finished work.  I don’t want to ruin it, even if it is cursed.


A re-creation of the situation. Centipede photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons. Paper hearts courtesy of my daughter.



I know what you might be thinking. “Isn’t it a terrible marketing strategy to call a piece of art you are hoping to sell “Cursed”? Why yes, it is, I suppose. I do believe in fully telling the truth and in transparency. I also know other artists all have “cursed” works, and that many of them are hanging in homes right now.

I don’t think the curse extends beyond the work, however. The curse I am speaking of is on the maker, not the viewer. My many years as an artist and 10 years in custom framing have brought me close to a few cursed items. The final owner usually has no clue what a pain they possess. These items are kind of like great kids that come from awful pregnancies. Just like a pregnancy, once the bad stuff is over, some sort of art-parent instinct kicks in and you forget about the process. Soon you’re thinking about making another one.

My drawing kit

Spring break!!! It’s spring break and I’m on vacation in the spring break capital of the world – Breezy Point, MN. There’s a snowstorm coming (again) and we’ve already been to the pool today. Thank god for NCAA March madness and my drawing kit.

I don’t have a studio. I have a desk but it is too small for a big drawing and usually covered with all kinds of crafting leftovers. So I sit on the couch with my pencils and use a drawing board. One nice thing about all this is that I can take my drawing anywhere with minimal fuss.

I have two Global Arts 96 capacity pencil cases. I have velcroed them together. I don’t even try to fit 96 in each – I do two pencils per spot for the most part and for the 96 you are supposed to fit 3.


Here’s a closeup of one of the “pages.” it’s typical except for the blue Pablos – I  needed to bulk up a Blick order, so I ordered a bunch of random blue Pablo pencils. Note the 1″ long Luminance light blue – I keep pencils until I really can’t even try to use them any more.



In the back of my 2 Global Arts folios, I keep all the white, black and colorless pencils. My  other colors are 90% Luminance; 10% Pablos. Here I have some Caran d’Ache colorless blenders, Prisma colorless blenders, a couple Prismacolor Art Stix – Clear and white; some water soluble white pencils for last minute highlights and a  black pen just in case I need it.




Here are the accessories I shove in to the case or bring with in other places. A white eraser, a Kum double holed pencil sharpener (Kum brand from Germany has NEVER let me down), a piece of rubber eraser and one of the most amazing accidents I have come across.


I always like to have a razor blade handy in case I need to scrape away a detail or add a white highlight. Razor blades are dangerous – obviously. I was at a fair where I was helping kids make little magnets of acrylic paintings. We painted on 3 x 2.5″ pieces of paper, then affixed a business card magnet (available at Office Depot or Max) to the back.


I took some business card magnet scraps and put them into a piece of paper randomly.  I noticed my blade stuck in there safely and an invention was born. This little case not only secures my razor blade but also makes it hard to find for my kindergarten aged daughter. Mostly it makes the sharp blade safe from cutting my fingers off at any moment as I reach for something else inside my case.  I am never without my magnetic blade holder and the tool within.




Here’s a close look at my drawing showing some of those white scrapes. I am trying to strike a balance between detail and impression. It’s tough for someone as anal as myself! At least I can take some of the pressure off my drawing by being nuts about my pencil setup!

Fish Fails

After a successful catching, drawing and release of a sunfish from Lake Nokomis last year, I have been very compelled to draw fish. I am no ice fisherman, so I have been without access to said fish for what feels like at least 9 months.

Some of my fish ideas involve goldfish. I have hesitated to get into all of that because I have had fish before and aquariums are a lot of work! Not to mention the days of keeping goldfish in a bowl are long gone. Apparently they like 10-20 gallons EACH, can grow up to 6″ and eat things like spinach and peas. Yikes.

My dream was a bowl or a 2-5 gallon little setup. I thought maybe I could get smaller fish like guppies to keep it simple and be a responsible fish parent. My vision just doesn’t go with guppies.

Goldfish are ubiquitous, everyone has had at least one. Everyone knows them and most people (even if you don’t want to admit it) feel they are kind of a “throw away” pet. Like if your kid gets one and overfeeds it accidentally, you can get a new one for a couple bucks. I feel that for my drawing ideas I need that part -be it right or wrong – of the symbolism of the goldfish.

Ironically, that means I can’t buy the 4-5 fish I want and put them in a tiny bowl. (I totally have done this as a kid! It would be so nice and easy, too. I had no idea it wasn’t very nice.)

So I invested in a nice tank, set it up first and then when it was ready, bought a couple goldfish to begin with. Unfortunately for everyone, they passed away. After a couple weeks – one minute they are fine swimming all over the place happily – the next, belly up.

I thought I was doing a good job too – a nice set up with filter and changing a percentage of the water out often.

So I didn’t get to realize most of my ideas – even in reference photography. I got a few good ones, but nothing as philosophical as I would have liked.

Some times a project becomes “cursed.” This isn’t the fish’s fault – I believe they would not blame me for what happened.  Some projects just begin on a bad foot and never recover.

So about six layers and more than ten hours in to my drawing, the “fawn” colored Stonehenge I was using began to break up. I don’t know if it was the age of this paper or it’s softness. I find this color of Stonehenge to be much softer than other colors. One patch in the right half of the board had fuzzed up as well as a spot on the middle fish. I thought I could work through it, but then in my next background layer, I discovered the paper just would not hold the necessary layers. I had about four layers on the background and needed at least one more in most of the jar area.

So I started over. Ouch.

Here is how far I got and a close-up of the paper coming apart.



Hopefully I can use this as an experiment in varnishing at a later date.

New Year, New Series


Okay, so I made these last year. I got sick of framing and then lugging around framed pieces to art shows. I am not totally convinced a good colored pencil piece needs the protection of a glazing. I use light fast colored pencils and acid free paper. They should last for a long time even in the sun.

So I mounted some Stonehenge paper on to some cradled boards using an acid free bookbinding glue. I drew on these. I sealed the drawings with some UV protective varnish. Viola! No frames, beautiful art.


Maple Leaves 1


This is a fun new series, and I am exited about it. So far I have 8 10×10″ pieces. I bought some 6×6″ and 10×22″ boards and have tons of photos to work from. I have been photographing nature close up for about 5 years and so far have about 20 good compositions cropped from these photos. I am trying to be more loose and abstract with these squares while still suggesting the nature items they depict. So far I am happy with the results!

I don’t plan on abandoning my main series of still lives, however. I am hoping “Curio” makes it into the CPSA “Explore This” Exhibition and I am planning a new fish piece for entry into the CPSA 22nd International Exhibition. 2014 will be the year of squares and fish. Maybe some fish squares. I need to catch and photograph a few. Lucky for me I live in the “City of Lakes.” Unlucky for me, they are all frozen solid. I guess I will stay inside and knit for a while instead.

Artful August (and Everything After)

This is my first year doing outdoor Art Fairs and they have been really fun so far. I am particularly excited to be at the Loring Park Art Festival this Saturday and Sunday August 3rd and 4th. It runs concurrently with the Uptown Art Fair and Powderhorn Park Art Fair. There are shuttle buses among the three sites, and I recommend using them! The Uptown Art fair is more decorative / upscale, the Powderhorn is a little more earthy and I think Loring is right in between which should be perfect for me.

Last month I had Art at St. Kate’s which was a great experience. I am hoping to have double the great experience and have been working especially on new art to hang in my booth. Along with printing cards and giclees, I am framing small works and making sure everything is priced and labeled. It is a lot of work.

It is very exciting as well. I am already looking for more art fairs to participate in. I’m wondering “What’s next?”

The answer, of course is the League of Longfellow Artists’ LoLa Art Crawl on August 24th and 25th. I will be at Forage Modern Workshop this year, a block from Leviticus Tattoo. So, pretty much we know where any money I earn there is going.

But what next, really? I met my goal of becoming a CPSA Signature member in just three years, which is amazing to me.  It will remain a goal of mine to enter their International Expo each year. The Colored Pencil Society is great, and pushing myself to enter their shows has helped me really hone in on what I want from my art.

I have a full time job, and its a good job. I have a daughter who is becoming older and so will have more and more activities to be brought to. Right now is not the time to become more serious about my art career. Loring Park could be a bust. Something is different, though. I feel ready.

In the past five years, I have come to find that having a goal is extremely important. I began with the goal of submitting to the MN State fair every year. I’m 3 for 7 which isn’t too bad seeing as they accept only one sixth of entries. (According to last year’s 2012 data.) Then I decided to join the Colored Pencil Society and enter their shows. That went better than I hoped.

Another goal was to do one art fair a year. This prevented me from needing a tax ID. This year my goal was to try several art fairs, and so I have a tax ID and am collecting sales tax. That might not sound exciting, but to me it is! Goal reached!

So I need a new goal. Winning a prize at the fair or the CPSA show could be attainable. It would be great to actually sell an original drawing. How does one measure success as an artist? These days we certainly don’t skyrocket to fame; there are far too many of us. Money? I might as well quit now if that’s the case. Maybe success is in making people laugh when they walk into my art fair tent. I think I’ve achieved it in that case.

This fish has a goal, to get back to the lake and bite at fewer suspicious worms. Meanwhile, I have a goal to get back out fishing to catch some more subjects; fish and agate.



I just finished entering my latest drawing into the MN State Fair Fine Art competition.

This is “Curio” 11×13″ on Stonehenge.


I used Neocolor II in conjunction with my Luminance colored pencils for the first time. I had been inspired by Ranjini V’s beautiful still lives which use them, and also recently the Colored Pencil Society of America disallowed their use in their International Exhibition, which intrigued me. If these things aren’t really colored pencil, what are they?

It turns out they are water soluble crayons. Caran D’Ache now calls them out as “wax pastels.” They really are big, soft crayons. They layer over colored pencil beautifully. Being water soluble, they go on and one can then use water and a paintbrush to create a watercolor effect. The more I try water media the more I dislike it, so I’ve been sharpening the Neocolors and using them as crayons. They are very highly pigmented and also very “slippery”, so I have found they work best for me at the very end of the drawing.

I thought this would be a good candidate for the MN State Fair Fine Art Show because it tells a story. I hope the judges agree. Either way, entering the MN State Fair Fine Art competition is a yearly ritual for me. It’s worth the effort just for the sneak peak at the show that artists earn by entering. I highly recommend this show for MN artists and anyone at the fair.

A Special Thanks

One question I get a lot is where do I get the toads, frogs and turtles that appear in my drawings. (The snake is my pet carpet python.) The answer is, from the wild. I capture (or have been given by awesome friends) all of the toads, frogs and turtles in my drawings. Sometimes I only capture them with my camera. This is especially true with turtles. They are quick. I really would LOVE to have a frog or two at my disposal, because I feel like I need more frogs in my art. By far the easiest volunteers to find are American toads.

The toads are my favorite to draw. They have such pouty looks on their faces. They are short and stout much like myself. When it comes to catching them, it’s pretty easy. Turtles are fast and can disappear into nasty pond water in seconds. Frogs you have to chase, and more often than not – plop! – they’re gone into the deep.

Toads are pretty easy to find. I have a few spots I can go find one 50% of the time. Tonight I was at my parents’ house and I thought “I wonder if there’s a toad behind the garbage can?”


This guy was next to the garbage can, staring intently down at a bug he was going to eat. He was easy to grab, though he puffed up and tried to pee on me right away. Here’s a pro toad hunting tip – hold it by the sides until it pees, because it’s going to try to pee on you.

We had a quick preliminary photo session tonight where I tried my newly made light tent and tried to get as many angles as I could of this toad. He is very green and has very red “warts.” I didn’t have the props I wanted to do a complete photo for a major drawing, so I took a bunch of photographs of the guy in different positions. Tomorrow I will grab a couple props and do another photo session. Tonight he is in a 20 gallon aquarium with some tasty earthworms. Toads eat surprisingly well in captivity. Then Thursday he will go back into the “wild” of suburban Minneapolis.

I would like to thank my “volunteers.” I couldn’t do this without them. I try to treat them well and provide as many gross bugs as I can gather. I try to keep them for as short a time as possible – many time hours instead of overnight. I try to be respectful of where they live and release them exactly where they are found.

This summer I hope to catch a leopard frog or wood frog for an idea or two I have. There are many fairy tales about frogs; I just need to find a prince willing to star in one for me.

This is a special thanks to those critters – most of them now back in the wild – for posing for me. I am sure it was stressful, but you can tell all your friends now that you are a piece of art. I hope the accommodations were to your liking and I thank you for putting up with me.