I Could go ON and ON and ON but…

Most of them are just rocks and dirt that people discovered ages ago they could use to paint with. Cave paintings like this one from Argentina have been found wherever there is ochre clay clinging to the rocks, usually near limestone caves. Limestone + water + pigment = fresco. To get these amazing paintings, all they had to do was pulverize some ochre, put it in a hollow reed, wet the wall of the cave, put a hand up and blow through the reed.

Cueva de los Manos, Argentina. Red, brown and white ochre.

Ochre is common throughout the world. I saw brilliant green and gold ochre outside Verona (Verona green ❀ ). I’ve had the chance a few times to go to the Paint Mines not far from Colorado Springs. It’s a spot where Indians dug for face paint, but the white clay there is also good for pottery.

Artists still use these ancient pigments. We draw and even paint with charcoal and lamp black. All of our “earth colors” are really earth colors.

Under the boot and on the toe you can see the color of the pink rock from the Paint Mines that’s in the featured photo.

Other colors were harder to come up with long ago. Red was extremely challenging to produce, and some shades were deadly poisonous. A beautiful non-toxic red — carmine — could be derived from the Cochineal beetle which is found in South America. Carmine made its way to Europe in the 16th century. It was so valuable that the Spanish — who had cornered the resource, obviously — kept its source a secret until the 18th century. The most common red was ferrous oxide (rust). Some very rare and expensive colors are now made synthetically. Artists have benefitted through “better living through chemistry,”

The most beautiful blue came from this rock:

Raw Lapis Lazuli
Padua, Baptistry of the Cathedral, Giusto de Menabuoi

Ultramarine blue was so rare and expensive, its production (obviously) not easy, that for a while it was worth more than gold. For a long time, it was used only on Jesus’ robes. It is Ultramarine Blue — “ultra marine” — across the sea. It is made from Lapis Lazuli and came from Afghanistan to Europe on any of the arduous and dangerous trade routes.

A tube of Ultramarine Blue made from Lapis I bought last year before my hip surgery, and my ultramarine blue watercolor pencil

These days, many of the colors we use are synthetically derived — including ultramarine blue. Paints are less poisonous. Artists’ favorite white, lead white, became illegal in the 19th century and now there are a few substitutes. It’s thought Van Gogh went nuts from eating his cadmium yellow paint in fits of sunflower driven ecstasy.

Like any painter — have favorite brands. For watercolor, obviously, I love Caran d’Ache. I usually use pencils, but I also use watercolor crayons and paints from their traditional box, too.

My favorite oil painting brand is Gamblin Oil Paint. They are made in Portland, Oregon, in a small company, Gamblin Artist’s Colors. The founder, Robert Gamblin, is, among other things, an art restorer who builds traditional pigments, which, of course, I love. One of the main aims of the company is the production of safer paints and solvents. The oil colors and various media are beautiful, easy to use and responsive to my way of painting. The solvents are not only less toxic but also less stinky which is good because the place where I paint has no ventilation other than the doorway to the kitchen.

Well, as I said, I could go on and on and on…


I keep my paints in a jewelry box made by my Uncle Hank.


I am trying to empty out the art room as much as possible. I have HUNDREDS of notecards left over from the Great Art Coop Fiasco of 2016.

If you would like some (5/pack) they are free, except for shipping which is $3 in the US. Most are folded, some are flat, all have envelopes.

Here is what they are :

I can pretty much mix up any selection you want. πŸ™‚

I also have a few of these:

Just a Little Watercolor

Mt. Blanca from Rio Grande Wildlife Area, Watercolor on Paper

I think the image on this blog is LARGER than the picture in real life! Anyway, my first real painting in 3 years. I’d forgotten how painting something you love involves the lover’s perspective, whether you will or not. This has red willows, patches of snow, golden fall grass, cottonwood trees, a snowy mountain and a very well-loved trail. πŸ™‚

Kind of Arcane Post about Painting

I got cabin fever in Heaven and a sudden urge to go to a city. I had no inkling WHAT city, but my friend Lois invited me to Colorado Springs. It’s not the kind of city I had in mind, but it’s comparatively close and the dogs are welcome, and I love my friends, so yesterday Dusty, Mindy, Bear and I drove up to the “city.”

I did a city thing. I went to an art supply store and bought “classic” gesso and a painting panel. The gesso is the sizing, or background, a painting is painted on. The gesso makes a surface that paint adheres to and, I’d even say, likes. Classic gesso is made with rabbit skin glue, gypsum and marble dust. It’s what the guys painted on back in the day, like several hundred years ago. It is different from most of what oil paintings are painted on now in that it absorbs the oil paint and makes a reflective surface. I don’t know, but I think the transition from fresco to oil painting may have led artists to want oil paintings to do what buon fresco can do. Buon fresco is painted on wet plaster rather than dry, so the paint becomes part of the plaster. Since gypsum and marble dust are crystaline, the paint reflects light.

Back in the day, painters painted on panels not canvas or linen. Sometimes canvas or linen was glued onto a panel, but most of the time they painted on gessoed wood.

The gesso requires work to prepare, and I don’t know how it will come out. I’ve been painting on pre-gessoed panels and discovered that I don’t have to glob on the paint ala the impressionists. There’s nothing wrong with the technique, but I like frescoes. However, fresco is an enormous project that requires more space, skill and muscle than I have. Anyway, I like the intensity of oil paint. I’ve gotten a bit of the best of both worlds with oil paint on the pre-gessoed panels, but this gesso — if I make it right and apply it correctly to the panel — might be even more fun.

This painting has both oil paint IN the gesso and ON the gesso. It was very interesting to do. It was the first oil painting I’ve done that wasn’t just paint slapped on a surface, and it was an accident. It was meant to be a different painting completely, but I realized about halfway into it (or what I thought was halfway into it) that the painting I was doing should be a watercolor, so I trashed this and got a piece of paper. πŸ™‚ Then, later, I got this panel and tried to paint the sofa as practice. It came out so cool and surprising that I just went with it. πŸ™‚



Oil paint on pre-gessoed panel



Sibling Rivalry

I loved my brother and respected his talents. But…of all the rocks I’ve painted, people like the one with his cartoon character on it most. It’s almost as if he’s back. I hear our art teacher saying to me, “Why are you always hanging around the art room? You don’t have any talent.”

That is not true.

My mom, “You’re the writer, Kirk’s the artist.” That was that, pure and simple. My reaction against this was instantaneous and visceral. Art is not just ONE thing.

For the most part — between us — my brother and I didn’t have any issues over this. Our work was very different AND different people liked his work from those who liked mine. My brother liked my work. In fact, he was my biggest cheerleader — up to a point.

When my work sold, paintings sold, he wasn’t too happy. He should have been since he was always hitting me up for money, but… He got over it. “You’re an abstract expressionist,” he said.

I had to look that up.

“The thing about your paintings, Martha Ann, is they’re not on the public pulse.” That was true.

I have never had any interest in drawing comic strips. I don’t enjoy them very much and to draw the same thing over and over again in order to advance a narrative (that’s the new way to say “tell a story”) seemed tedious. Why not just write the damned thing? But my brother’s comics were hilarious. I have a decent sense of humor it’s more situational than it is a world view.

Still, my brother wanted to do conventional paintings and he did some. I felt his imagination kind of died in that kind of work, but he was hoping to sell them for big bucks.

That led my grandma to say that which was never to be spoken, “Kirk’s a cartoonist. I think Martha Ann is the fine artist in the family.”

My mother’s face paled. Kirk’s reddened. I was pleased, but I looked down at the ground. The taboo had been broken.

Between us it was really not about whose art was better. I helped my brother paint cells for the animated cartoon and he taught me to make paper and sharpen my linoleum carving tools. Really that’s the point. I painted this rock so that Leafy could wander around Colorado Springs (where my brother lived most of the time).


He'll wander around Colorado Springs on this painted rock. :)

Leafy Wanders, my brother’s cartoon alter-ego.



Quotidian News from the Back of Beyond

Twice a day Dusty T. Dog and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog unfurl their inner-puppy and they wrestle and play. Never in the yard, always in the living room.

Since she ran away, Bear has been odd. I think she scared herself. She’s been more needy, more attention seeking, more destructive. It’s a situation where I wish I could have a one-to-one conversation with her, but she’s a dog. She’s a dog that clings strongly to a routine, too. And now that summer is FINALLY here (my subjective summer) and I’m doing different things, spending time with humans, painting rocks, trimming dead-heads off flowers, taking her for walks at random times, she’s uncomfortable, too.

But my neighbor is going to help me put up a fence in the side yard so Bear can no longer dive through the lilac hedge and that will be a very positive change in both our lives.

That’s the dog report for today…

Night before last and yesterday I hid my first few rocks and waited to see what would happen. The woman who found the tiger was THRILLED. Lots of people WANTED to find it which made me happy.

I hid the two cute ones at the playground in the park near my house — the bluebird and the turtle — and this was my reward.

I love giving away my art and this is really, really sweet. ❀ I have a couple to hide today.


On the side is a verse from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the poem “O Me! O Life!” The scene is the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Sand Dunes ❀

Running Bunny with Carrot

Country Mouse



Things are not done in a “jiffy” here in the San Luis Valley. It’s far between places, for one thing. Yesterday my neighbors and I went on a studio tour. It began in the mountains, up above Creede at a place called Bristolhead and wandered its way down to South Fork, some 40 miles southeast. We thought we could see many of the studios on this tour between 9 and 1 and fit lunch into that time frame. That turned out to be impossible.

2017 STST Map

In winter many of these places are deserted except for the diehard, year-round residents. In summer they have a small population (and economic) explosion. There are large, multi-million-dollar fancy houses up there. It’s a different world from my year-round, salt-of-the-earth little town.

I bought a print. I would love to have bought the original, but it is out of my reach. The artist, Angela Hague, is an older lady from the east coast. She greeted me at the door as if she knew me. She exclaimed about my white hair. She said, “I paint from the New York School of Painting” and explained her painting philosophy to me — a painting philosophy another artist friend had tried explaining to me before. It was a little easier to understand what is, to me, a rather arcane philosophy, when I was surrounded by hundreds of very colorful paintings. She constantly repeated, “The subject matter is not important. What is important is the push pull of the colors on each other.”

Every artist has a “thing.” My thing is not to have a thing, but I know that’s a thing, too. And, subject matter matters to me. In the painting I bought the two “things” — the push/pull of color and the subject matter — come together in a very powerful and beautiful way.

Angel Hague Print.JPG

Walking Toward the Light by Angela Hague

Their house is adobe, built on a hillside, very dramatic and filled with little artistish details.


The tour Β — and my recent trip to Taos with my friend, Perla — has made me rethink this artist thing. It’s a crapshoot, but for many of these people a lucrative one. It’s also made me think about what I do when I paint. I wonder if all painters are the same — there are paintings that are “outside” paintings and paintings that are “inside” paintings. I will also always be a representational artist. I don’t get — or do — abstract work. Reality is abstract enough for me. My house has my paintings hanging in it — six of them. Three of them are also paintings I will probably not hang in public or ever sell. They are paintings that represent moments in the internal landscape of Martha.



Once long ago (1980?) I was this sick and for this long. It was over a Christmas and New Years, so my mom was really angry with me for being ill. “You always get sick at Christmas!”

It began when I was out for supper with a friend. When we met up, I was fine. We went to the bookstore next door to the restaurant, and as I was standing looking at a book by Nikos Kazantzakis, I began seeing rainbows around the words in the title. I knew what was coming and just kind of relaxed into the weirdness of it. I managed work — I was a paralegal at a large law firm — Β the next two days, then we had Christmas holiday. I spent the next day in bed, and the next, and I would have spent the next but it was Christmas Eve.

Toward the end of the illness my boyfriend’s parents called from Chicago to ask me to meet them in Aspen to ski. “You don’t even have to buy your lift ticket, honey,” said my boyfriend’s dad. The boyfriend was in Saudi Arabia teaching English.

I couldn’t go. I knew it would be great, greater than any ski vacation, that it would make skiing great again, but I wasn’t strong enough. I knew I’d have a relapse.

I had to turn it down. I couldn’t even feel remorse over that I was so tired of being barely able to breathe, think, anything.

Exactly two weeks after the initial rainbows, I was well. I got up from a nap and started painting. This was extraordinary because I had not painted in that way ever in my life. I had an odd collection of media, too, and ended up painting with watercolor, acrylic and linoleum printing ink. I did three paintings that afternoon.