Painting Inside the Storm

December 7, 2013

Yesterday it was so cold I didn’t think I’d make it into the studio, and hadn’t even planned to, but our dog Freia seemed unsettled and chilled by the approaching storm so I took her into the studio where she can sit right by the heater, at my feet while I am working.  I took some other work in there and thought I’d stay with her awhile, but once there I immediately began to paint where I had left off in my last session, pulling out the big canvases that I’d finally had a chance to get to, the paint still mixed and waiting from last time too.  Before I knew it I had plunged back in full force, unexpectedly, and deeply.

When I was at the Open Studios Tour in October, several students came by to interview the artists about our processes.  And one of their main questions was, what is the most difficult part of your artistic work?  My answer is always:  Getting into the Studio.  Distractions, resistance, disconnection.  Getting your body in there, especially when it’s cold and daunting.  Clearing the time.  Suiting up.  Getting there.  Because once you’re in there, the work takes care of itself.  It has its own life and project manager and problems to solve.  It just needs you to show up.

Recently I watched a short video made by my creative friend Maxima Kahn, called Making Time for Art. In this video she speaks about connecting to your art form as if it were the Beloved.  And leads us to ask the questions, what is it that I love about my art form?  What is it that I love about painting?  Why is it important for me to make time for this?  My answers felt clear and profound.  I instantly understood how vital this work is to me and here’s why:  Painting is my connection with the Great Spirit.  It is the place where I am no longer pained by feelings of separateness.  I am in the flow of life, I AM the flow of life, I am back home in the ocean, in the sky, outer space, inner space, in color and light.  This is what I love about painting.  And it is important for me to make time for this because it brings me back to center and balances me (even when the work is frustrating and difficult) with an expanded vision, an acceptance of my own deep feelings and the crazy wonder of being alive.

check out Maxima Kahn’s video, Making Time for Art

In the midst of storms, both inner and outer, personal and professional, creative work has always been my lifeline, I had just never fully articulated the Deep Why. But understanding this helps overcome some of the other kind of resistance that we are up against and lightens up some of the barriers and obstacles to getting in there and getting to work.  The act of painting is healing in itself for me because of this connection with the divine, it is the place where no matter what is going on in the rest of my life or the world, I am okay. It’s my form of worship. It’s where I grok that I am an infinite being and all things are connected. And this feeling and knowingness  strengthens and deepens the more work I do, the more I can get myself in there, storms and all.

I play the piano once a week with friends in an improvisational group. Lately I have felt that I have been stuck at the same level in my piano work, and didn’t have the time to dedicate to it to take it to the next level.  But last month I had the chance to spend some time at Jazz Camp, and had the great fortune to have an extra lesson with Ken French, who drives up to Grass Valley from the Bay Area every year to teach jazz piano at camp.  His enthusiasm and love for music is infectious.  He is obviously connected to a source of never-ending inspiration and that in itself continues to inspire me.

And what I learned was life changing.

Ken French at Jazz Camp

What he basically showed me was how to slow down.  How many times have I heard this before?  Perhaps now I was finally ready to hear it.  He showed me how to learn a new song, a new chord progression, really, how to learn anything.  Slow down so much that you can’t go any slower, get into that uber-slow motion mode, and take as much time as you need for your brain to connect with what you are trying to solve, in this case, how to move your hand from one chord to the next.  He said that if you do this, learning can be instantaneous.  I also noticed that by slowing down, what seems to be very complex and scary (like complicated jazz chords) can be broken down into very simple patterns.  What is unclear becomes clear, what is complex and difficult becomes simple, easy.  One note at a time.

None of this banging it out over and over until you kind of accidentally get it partially right, sort of, and not really knowing how, as has been my method thus far.  I almost cried as I was leaving because I felt somehow it was the secret I had been looking for (without knowing I was looking).  Not really a secret, as it was so simple and available, but the key I needed to unlock the next phase of my musical journey, and bring me back to what it always comes back to, increasing my presence and attention.

And this feeling of having no time was turned on its head.  You just take the time.  As with all things, it is not the outer circumstances that need to change, but our internal response and attitude that can have the most powerful transformational effects.  As I started to slow way down, I immediately felt different, I felt better, connected, in a groove.  I felt more at home.  I felt real.

Knowing that the skills you grow in one artistic discipline or area of your life can be translated into others, I wanted to take what I learned from Ken at the keyboard into the painting studio and try it out.  I decided to have a Slow Painting Day.  Because I have developed my style as a painter under fairly strict time limitations (being a working mom), I have learned to paint relatively quickly, garnering my forces, splashing the energy and capturing pure feeling on the canvas.  I have seen it as one of the virtues of the work I do:  it’s efficient and non-cerebral.  No time to over-think.  Like speed chess.  Intuition kicks in to override the mind.  But I have been getting messages here and there that it is time to go in deeper. So I decided to experiment with slow painting and see what would happen.

I had a series of iris paintings in queue, as I had to come up with an iris painting for the iris show, which dovetailed so nicely with my new flower obsession and wanting to translate the energies of flowers onto canvas, and also to explore the use of flower essences in the paintings themselves.  So I used the Iris flower essence (I took the drops myself and also added them to the water with which I was painting.)  The essence of Iris, I discovered, is all about creativity and restoring the connection to an ever-flowing source of inspiration.  Which come to think of it, is what you are more easily able to access when you slow down into the present moment.

I proceeded to paint slowly, all day, allowing a different kind of energy to flow, which I noticed to be more delicate and gentle.  I feel like I made a breakthrough into a new realm of painting where I am more aware of being connected to a greater energy source, more grounded and present and responsive to the process as it unfolds. A few of the paintings were quite different from anything I have painted before (still too new and tender to unveil).  And I look forward to seeing what else comes through as I continue these explorations, both in painting and at the piano, remembering to take the time, and just slow….way….down.

Weaving the Universe

July 5, 2013

This past weekend, Denise and I gathered together with 10 amazing women for our first ArtWave Creativity Immersion Workshop.  We explored many art forms and shared many stories, resting, writing, drawing, collaging prayer flags, painting many different ways, discovering the wonders of encaustic.
It was work and it was play and mostly it was being together.  Our theme was water and flow. What I was most struck by when we gathered in this way is the exponential power and potential energy inherent in a group of women, focusing our energy on our creative work.  It feels like anything is possible, and that we are weaving the fabric of the universe with our hands and with our collective creative vision.
This is just the beginning of our exploration of making art together in a circle of women.  If you are drawn to this kind of work, please join us for our next ArtWave workshop this coming weekend (July 12-14, see details at  We look forward to being with you.

Paint Sisters, Denise and Lil




June 7, 2013

Okay, let’s face it.  We’ve all got a lot of stuff going on, difficult stuff.  Do you know anyone who doesn’t?  The world events alone (never mind our personal predicaments), have been collectively hitting us hard, over and over this year. It feels unrelenting.  And it doesn’t really feel like it’s going to get easier anytime soon, the pace isn’t going to slow down, we’re not going to have less to deal with.  It feels like there’s more to come, more dramatic change, more letting go ahead.

I see over and over that the painters who come to my classes are able to take a break from the outer world.  It is a place where they can return to themselves, relax, play, share with others, connect with a creative source that is greater than themselves, rediscover a sense of wonder.  Many of these painters are dealing with incredibly difficult personal situations, medical or financial issues, or they have been long term caregivers and need some place to let all that go.  There is a healing energy in creative work that clears the emotional pathways, and unburdens us from the constant bombardment we experience in other areas of our life.  There is a movement, a flow where simple joy and delight can return, even by just playing with the colors.

This is not to say it is easy to get there.  There is a natural resistance to this place of beingness.  This resistance comes is so many forms it would be impossible to list them all, but I hear it all the time:  “I want to paint (or dance or write or play the accordion) but I can’t seem to get there.”  “As soon as I get excited about this art project of mine, four or five obstacles present themselves and I am unable to make it happen.”  Learning to navigate the waters of creative blockages starts with understanding what you’re up against.  The stronger the passion, the stronger the resistance.  It doesn’t  go away.  You’ve heard of those famous actors who throw up every night before they go on stage? The trick is to acknowledge the resistance and fear and do it anyway.  This takes practice, persistence and mostly, just showing up.  Cause once you’re there, you know you’re going to be like a baby in the bath.  You’ll never want to leave.

The main difficulty is in getting started.  How do you break the inertia and set a new pattern into place?  How do you do it with anything?  One way is to start with baby steps and inch your way in.  Another way is to immerse yourself deeply into a creative space.  You jump right in with your whole body and find yourself working and engaged with your creative life, quickly gaining a foothold in this land that you have longed for, a way to return back to your true self, to connect with your creative flow.  It’s such a relief.

Denise and I are offering two immersion creativity workshops this summer.   They are samplers of many different mediums, painting, writing, encaustic/mosaic, fabric painting, meditative drawing.  This is to give you a taste of a variety of art forms so that you can find what feels right for you.  Spending the whole weekend in a group working in this way immerses you into an artistic space where you can explore your creative work, renew your spirit, take a break from the outer influences that keep you busy and spinning.  If you are drawn to join us, save your place soon.  We are looking forward to taking the plunge with you!

(For more info on ArtWave summer workshops visit

Flower Medicine

May 4, 2013

Last weekend I flew down to southern California to spend the weekend with my dad, and while I was there I visited the flower fields in Carlsbad, which is about five minutes from my parents’ house in Oceanside.

My high school friend Leilani picked me up at the airport and we stopped at the fields on the way home.  We used to see these fields from the freeway when we were growing up, they were part of the background landscape of our southern California girlhood, stripes of brilliant color marking every spring.

Now the fields are a tourist destination, an attraction like Disneyland, (okay not exactly) but it was crowded with visitors from all over the world, all ages, and what we noticed right away was that everyone was smiling.  There was happiness everywhere.

The colors were so bright and uplifting that you could not help but feel a sense of wonder, and feel the flower essence, their delicate energy as a  balm soothing our collective spirit.

And the sheer splendor and power of the expansive color, fifty acres of ranunculus stretched out before us, along with a rose garden, a green house full of orchids, and a sweet pea maze. I have been sustained by this infusion of flower essence ever since.

As an artist I am often asked about what inspires me, and I always say it is the colors themselves, forms in the natural world, but I am also attuned to the delicate energetics and medicinal properties that flowers (and other natural wonders, like trees, gemstones, animal spirits, not to mention deep space nebulas) offer to us as messengers of a divine order and mysteries too vast to comprehend. Thus we must just gasp in awe, our burdens washed away for a time, refreshed with a much needed feeling of simplicity and lightness of being.

“Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars… and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful. Everything is simply happy. Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance. Look at the flowers – for no reason. It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are.” -Osho

Cascade of Change

April 5, 2013

Like almost everyone around me these days, I seem to be in one transition after another, an endless cascade of change.  Part of this is that I am expanding my painting classes, sharing a new teaching space at ASiF Studios.  We’ll be having an Open House on Saturday so you can see the new place and see demos and take free classes in painting, drawing, mosaic, encaustic, ceramic, jewelry, etc.  I will be offering new classes, and as you can see they seem to be constantly morphing as we work out scheduling and find out what works best.  I am offering, for the first time, a Painting and Poetry class on Tuesdays, which is a sweet combination of writing and painting to open the flow and turn attention to our rich inner life.   I am also trying out time-slots on both Fridays and Mondays for abstract painting classes.  Meanwhile the Abstract Laboratory at my home studio is still the place to be if your desire is to paint big and juicy in true AbLab style.  In the midst of getting all this going, I admit I have not been painting much. I have been walking and writing and visiting the river whenever possible, but now I feel myself about to launch into a new direction of painting work, and I am excited to get going on it.  I crave in-depth immersion, long hours in the studio. And after a rather distracted, dreamy and introspective winter I am wanting to work, and to work hard.  Spring is upon us, and it’s time to get moving, riding this wave of change and using all of our creative prowess to navigate these swiftly flowing waters.  Art is such a healer.  I look forward to working alongside you soon.

Since January I have been walking and writing and taking photos every day. I have been enjoying this exploration of woodland trails, visiting our beautiful river, noticing the tiny changes in weather and vegetation, so much that it has taken over a good part of my creative life.  It is quite a different discipline than painting and yet it is all part of my artistic process, as I feel it is leading me to the next level of my understanding and development as a painter.

Changing artistic disciplines is a great way to overcome blocks and plateaus that come in the natural course of creative work. It can give a fresh perspective, reinvigorate the creative flow and renew the spirit.  What I am learning on a daily basis by studying the light and color of a wildflower or river pool is sure to inform my work on the canvas.  My work with poetry and language has always been a big part of who I am and how I express myself in the emotional realm which is so different from the wordlessness of painting.  We are complex creatures, and we are dealing with so much change on a daily basis that the more art forms we have at our fingertips, the better, so that we can process and stay attuned to our inner life. So if you are feeling inclined or somehow drawn to try something new, I encourage you to allow yourself this true artistic freedom, trusting the flow.

This painting is by writer and painter, Henry Miller

To see my daily poem/photos visit: