Do it Anyway

I have only “been” an artist for 14 years. Yeah, I did art from time to time since I was a kid, and sometimes for money, but it was back in 2008, when I inherited money from my Aunt Martha, the Evil X had hit the highway, and I built my art shed that I had a dedicated place to work. Never before in my life had I had such a space. In my Denver apartment in the late 70s and early 80s, I quit sleeping in my bedroom and slept on the day bed in the living room so I had a place to work, but even that felt like a compromise.

The art shed was tiny. 8′ x 8′. BUT it was wonderful. It was another world, just a few feet from my house, but it felt far far away.


In there, one rainy day, I did my first oil painting (since high school — 40 years!). Here it is. It was the first time I primed a canvas with black gesso and worked toward light. In so many ways it was a huge breakthrough, act of defiance, a definition of self and an affirmation of the truth of who I am. I don’t think I’ll ever give away or sell this painting. It’s 12′ x 9′

I got a new brush and the canvas from my step-son and his wife for Christmas, one of the best Christmases of my life, for the gift, somewhat but mostly for the whole thing. She is from Germany and her Christmas custom (open presents on Christmas Eve) is the same as my family’s. So we had great German food, opened our presents, drank hot chocolate and watched a Star Trek movie. Really, what could be better? Before that I took them up to the Lagunas where there was snow on the ground. THAT made Sandi’s Christmas. ❤️

The next Christmas I participated in my first town craft show and I sold one — to my next door neighbor’s wife as a present for her husband. It was a tiny painting — 5 x 7 — of, you got it, a cow. There was a herd of cattle across the street and they liked looking at my yard. Cows are social animals and anything they get used to belongs to them. My dogs and I, only some 8 or 10 feet away from them, were theirs. I loved that. I got to watch them all the time. Here’s that little painting. I figured little paintings didn’t take much paint and didn’t take much time and I didn’t know what I was doing and I was learning. This wasn’t on black primed canvas.

The cow below was my favorite cow because of her pretty markings and because she hung out in front of my house the most. She had a calf. The canvas is 8 x 10.

In the next few years, I joined an artists guild, showed my work twice a year in their guild shows. When I sold this one for $300 I was stunned. I titled this, How I Spent my Summer Vacation. I didn’t have a good easel or really enough room in my little shed, but I did it. It’s a scene about 1/4 mile from my house in Descanso, CA.

Descanso Falls. 24 x 36

Over the next few years I had paintings accepted in a couple of juried shows. It was amazing to me. And why? I was fighting inner enemies.

My high school art teacher had told me I had no talent and ridiculed my final project — an oil painting of White Sands National Park in New Mexico — in front of everyone. “You shouldn’t hang out in the art room,” he said. “This place is for people with talent.” He just echoed what my mom alway said, “Art’s a dirty word and I don’t want my kids to be artists.” I wasn’t going to touch oil paints after that. In the mid-70s I was the staff artist for the Denver YWCA and did watercolors and drawings. My one woman show in 1981 was gouache on paper. I used pastels and acrylic. In 2006, I went to school to learn fresco. But I wasn’t touching oil paint.

In reality, there’s nothing more difficult about oil paint than any other medium. I think it’s easier than a lot of things — for me a lot easier than pastel. The more I got into it, the more interested I became in the way paint is made. I discovered the paints made by Robert Gamblin’s company in Oregon for a couple of reasons; they have a beautiful consistency AND he is a professional restorer. I’m fascinated by the restoration of old paintings. I learned a lot from “him” — particularly about studio safety and alternatives to some of the dangerous shit that can come along with painting. His company offers a huge range of non-toxic colors and solvents that are almost odorless. A couple years ago I discovered other paints — from Natural Pigments, and they fascinated me because they were made out of dirt and linseed oil the old-fashioned way. I wrote about that a LOT on this blog. Still, I wasn’t trying large paintings. I did one but I learned how much paint that takes and how expensive it is. I figured I was still learning and yeah…

Today I went out to get my mail and there was the beautiful literary and art magazine that comes out of Creede, Colorado, published by the Creede Arts Council. Creede is a sleepy little old former mining town until summer when the summer residents swell the population. Its setting is stunning. It has a small theater that presents good plays most of the “open” season (meaning clear roads). Good restaurants, etc. It’s arty which is great. Every year there is a studio tour that centers on Creede.

Creede, Colorado

Every year I submit something to their beautiful magazine. Last year they didn’t take my submission, but in other years they have. This year they did. When I opened the envelope this morning and saw my drawing filling the back cover, I was blown away and very, very, very happy.

My mentor, Lilliana Bava Briaco, says doubt is “part of the territory,” and I imagine she’s right. For me it’s been a very hard fight against the voices in my head and the voices in my memory. At times it’s been so powerful that I quit (for a while) then had to start again. I’ve always known who and what I am, but it means so much when something I’ve done that took courage is seen by others as I have seen it — like this drawing. That’s huge to me, But, doing the work is the best part, no matter what. I’m really grateful to have survived this far, that I have found allies who see my work. And maybe, most of all, for the absolute miracles of line, light, time, vision, and paint, those great teachers. ❤️

The featured photo is me at age 10 trying to paint a tree with the oil paints I’d gotten for Christmas that year.

14 thoughts on “Do it Anyway

  1. Fascinating to read of your artistic journey, Martha, and your paintings are truly impressive. Your bovine friends are full of life and light, and your picture of Descanso Falls is so vibrant and inviting I want to walk into it and dangle my feet in those gleaming waters. And congratulations on the publication of your beautiful picute in the Willow Creek Journal – I can see exactly why they chose it.

    As your mentor rightly says, doubt goes with the territory, as creative people are often prone to crises of confidence. But you clearly have a great talent, and it’s true that with the support of good teachers and mentors it’s always possible to overcome the demon doubts and thrive again. 🙂

  2. Everyone (artists to cooks to how you fold socks) is their own worst critic. I love your art! Congratulations on the magazine – a whole page – WOW!

  3. love reading your story, and that your painter is emerging despite the naysayers of the world. keep up the good work. Love your cover drawing of the wind!

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