Friday Five - 11.18.16

"Be interested in everything. You don't have to adore it. I don't adore hip-hop, I don't think it's great music, but I'm interested, I listen. I watch a lot of new films, I see everything. I still read, I like books, whether they are old books, new books. I'm interested - you gotta stay interested!' - Mel Brooks

I really enjoy the process of blogging. I like writing, sharing, photos, research, basically just creating. But the idea of a long blog post synthesizing tons of information, pictures, and maybe a joke can be daunting. So I'd like to try to start posting a Friday Five post - five things I'm super interested in this week. Not that my interests are so great you should take the time to read all about them and take them as your own - but because the process of sharing is so important and something that I really value. I love hearing about random art, articles, books, podcasts etc that other people are into and I love reading these sorts of posts from others. So here are five of my (not election related) current obsessions: 

The Unicorn Tapestries - The Met Cloisters Museum

I took a quick trip to NYC last weekend and spent the perfect Sunday roaming around the Cloisters Museum. The museum is in Upper Manhattan on the Hudson River in the middle of Fort Tyron Park. It was the perfect fall day, with the perfect company, and some really interesting medieval art. 

The best part was a room with the Unicorn Tapestries (or the Hunt of the Unicorn). It's a series of seven tapestries depicting hunters and noblemen pursuing a unicorn. The tapestries have been a mystery to critics in modern times but they are believed to have been created between 1495-1505. Some historians believe they were commissioned by Anne of Brittany as a gift to Louis XII on their marriage in part due to an A and E that are displayed in each tapestry - but this has also been refuted. 

The unicorn is such an interesting figure and the symbolism of it in the tapestries has also been the subject of much debate. "The original pagan myths about The Hunt of the Unicorn refer to an animal with a single horn that can only be tamed by a virgin; Christian scholars translated this into an allegory for Christ's relationship with the Virgin Mary." Interesting stuff.

There is a lot more information about the tapestries and the symbolism online if you can't make it to the museum - but I'd recommend it if you are in the area. Read more here, here, and here.

Grace Hopper - Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

Grace Hopper, the "first lady of software" was one of 21 people awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom this week! Super exciting to me for so many reasons. Hopper was one of the first female computer scientists, one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 computer, an admiral in the United States Navy and so much more. I painted her portrait for my classroom STEAM stars wall and I'm so glad she is getting even more recognition, albeit posthumously.

Interesting Grace Hopper story: she is believe to have invented the term "de-bugging" after she found an actual moth in Harvard's Mark II computer.  

She is awesome. Read more about her here and here

Math Gender Gap

As a math teacher who has spent three of the last 8 years teaching all girls, this study has been on my mind a ton this week. It found that the gender gap in math starts in kindergarten due to teacher and parents expectations and biases! I know this to be true from my own experience but it's still shocking to see that girls are consistently underrated in math skills when the data actually shows that they start out at the same level of ability. Boys are more likely to be called on to answer or demonstrate, and teachers in study after study are shown to have unconscious biases towards girls math ability.

This is so important for teachers, parents, mentors - everybody to address. In order to close the gender gap in STEM girls need to first believe that they are capable! (and have role models like Grace Hopper :))

Read more here and here

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

I'm reading 52 books this year so people ask me for recommendations a lot. Well, people who read books - so still not like a lot a lot haha but a fair amount of people. I just finished up Daring Greatly after it had been in my pile for months and I can't recommend it enough. I'm always skeptical of the Oprah book club variety fare but this is a revelation in so many ways.

The title comes from The Man in the Arena exerpt from the famous Teddy Roosevelt speech, Citizen in a Republic

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

This quote is at the crux of Browns research that led to her incredibly popular TedTalk on The Power of Vulnerability - and the book is basically a continuation of the talk. Brown defines vulnerability as, "uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure" and through the book explains that in order to have purpose and meaning in our lives, we must have the courage to be vulnerable.

She says, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make,” says Brown. “Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

It seems like common sense but I honestly have felt a shift in my life since I have read this book. I have let myself be vulnerable in ways that I haven't done in the past and I feel so much freer. I could go on but you should just read the book! Or watch the TedTalk :) 


Summer Plans - (and that guy who dissolved in Yellowstone)

It snowed for the first time this year yesterday in Denver (after a 40 degree temperature drop in mere hours) so I have been thinking a lot about summer haha. I love summer - not just because I am off work - but the sun, the water, the mountains, the opportunity to wear backwards hats - the list goes on. 

I've been looking through some of my summer photos (like the ones taken in Yellowstone above in June) and reminding myself that just as winter comes, so does summer and soon enough I will be back out there. 

I've also been morbidly obsessed with stories about the guy who essentially dissolved in a hot spring after falling into it just a few days before I visited. I heard about it at the time but the report was just released so if you're into that stuff... look here and here. 

So there ya have it - my top fives this week. I will (hopefully) have five definitely new, maybe interesting, possibly math related things to share next week. What are you thinking about this week? Stay interested friends. 

inspiration: ed abbey

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” 
― Edward Abbey

When I started oil painting, portraits intimidated me. The idea of capturing someones spirit on a 2-D canvas was a daunting thought - but once I started I knew I had hit my creative groove. The only problem then and now is grappling with the ever present question of "who do I paint?"

My portraits usually fit into three categories: iconic images, inspirational people, and people that I know personally. Ed Abbey fits into the first two - iconic and also inspirational. 

Ed Abbey was many things but most notably an author and wilderness advocate. His most popular works are  The Monkey Wrench Gang - a work of fiction that has inspired "monkeywrenchers" - non violent sabotage/vandalism as form of environmental protest -  since it's publication and his non-fiction work Desert Solitaire (super recommended) about his time as a seasonal park ranger at Arches National Park.

Sidenote: I reread Desert Solitaire before my trip to Arches last summer and pretended to be Ed Abbey the whole time. (see below) :) 

Abbey was (and still is) controversial and polarizing in almost every aspect of his life. He was married five times, spent nearly his entire life on the FBI watch list due to his anarchist and anti-war views, and was vocal about his critique of public land policies. 

Controversy aside, I feel a kinship with Abbey mostly due to his love of the four-corners area and the passion with which he lived out his convictions. 

I also love a good inspirational quote - and Abbey is up there with John Muir in the prolific inspirational nature quote category. Here are some of my favorites: 

“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.” 

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” 

“A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.” 

“Freedom begins between the ears.” 

“There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere.” 

“Most of my wandering in the desert i've done alone. not so much from choice as from necessity - I generally prefer to go into places where no one else wants to go. I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.” 

“I now find the most marvelous things in the everyday, the ordinary, the common, the simple and tangible.” 

“If it's knowledge and wisdom you want, then seek out the company of those who do real work for an honest purpose.” 

"You can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you'll see something, maybe.”
―Edward Abbey


Read more about Abbey here and here

inspiration: mister rogers

“There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.”
― Fred Rogers

When starting a new portrait, I generally look to those who are inspirational to me in some way as the subject. (I mean duh - who would want to spend hours painting someone who wasn't??) One of my favorite portraits of an inspirational person is of Mister Rogers. 

"You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are."
 - Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers was, of course, the host, creator, composer etc for Mister Rogers Neighborhood for 33 years. But he was much more than that. He was trained in music composition, a trained pilot, an ordained Presbyterian minister, a puppeteer, author, educator and activist. He received over 40 honorary degrees during his life, never did a paid endorsement, was a lifelong vegetarian and still personally answered all pieces of fan mail. 

While all of those accomplishments are incredible - the thing that I love most about Mister Rogers is the message of worth and love that he made it his mission to portray through his show. He purposefully and intentionally created his show to help children deal with difficulties and learn to be comfortable as themselves. I remember watching as a child and feeling the comfort viscerally. 

As a teacher I try to make my classroom and interactions with children display the same sort of "message of inherent worth and unconditional lovability ... encouraging them to express their emotions with honesty." (Saint Fred - The Atlantic) Because, like he said at the end of each episode: 

“You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” 

(and it's true.)

Painting is oil on canvas, 12 x 16 and for sale :) Contact me if you are interested! 

inspiration: georgia o'keeffe

"I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for." - Georgia O'Keeffe
georgia o keeffe

As an artist (and a person) I'm always looking for inspiration. To say that Georgia O'Keeffe is an inspiration would be an understatement. There is a reason she is the most famous female artist and one of the most photographed and written about women of the last century. 

So rather than add to the vast writing about O'Keeffe I'll try to (briefly) explain why I personally am drawn to not just her work, but her life and her spirit. 

"To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage.” - Georgia O'Keeffe

I've only been seriously painting for the last year or so and all that time I have fought a bit of an inner battle over sharing my work. While my constant social media stream may say otherwise, it is difficult to put your work out for judgement. Making anything is an act of courage and O'Keeffe is a great example of living courageously.

O'Keeffe made art her way when female artists weren't as respected as they are now. She was the first woman to have a retrospective show at the MoMA and as her obituary in the New York Times noted, she "raised the awareness of the American public to the fact that a woman could be the equal of any man in her chosen field…she left her mark on the history of American art and made it possible for other women to explore a new gamut of symbolic and ambiguous imagery.”

ghost ranch
ghost ranch

Chimney Rock trail at ghost ranch, Abiquiu NM

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not. ” - Georgia O'Keeffe

I am inspired by O'Keeffe to take time to look at things deeply. To take all the beauty that surrounds me and create without excuses or reservations. 

The New York Times noted that she "would wrap herself in a blanket and wait, shivering, in the cold dark for a sunrise to paint; would climb a ladder to see the stars from a roof, and hop around in her stockings on an enormous canvas to add final touches before all the paint dried."  

That is how I want to live my life. 

Photos: Left  Right

"I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” - Georgia O'Keeffe

I think about this quote a lot - especially on planes (ha) But seriously, I've made a great effort the last few years to acknowledge fear and keep going. I would never have some of the amazing experiences that I have if I allowed fear to rule. And because of that, one of the greatest compliments I can receive is that I am brave. 

Georgia was brave - brave in her art and her life. She lived the way she wanted to and did the things she wanted to. She made the backseat of her Ford Model A into a painting studio, she took a rafting trip down the Colorado river at 74 and painted until she became blind - (but then she started sculpting!) She was always evolving and paving the way for so many women and artists to come after her. 

There are so many things that are inspirational to me about O'Keeffe I could ramble on and on but her work and photographs are (of course) the main inspiration. So here are a few of my favorites, some paintings I'm working on, pictures from a few visits to the Georgia O'Keeffe museum in Santa Fe and Ghost Ranch (one of her homes) in Abiquiu, and a short video if you're as much of a fan girl as I am! Enjoy and be inspired :)

Photos: Left   Right

ghost ranch

Photos: Left Right

Photos: Left Right

ghost ranch

She once famously said of Cerro Pedernal (pictured):

"It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it." - Georgia O'Keeffe

If you've made it this far check out this video from the O'Keeffe museum (that I have watched in its entirety all three times I've visited) :) 

My First Portrait - Kurt Vonnegut

"Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something" - KV

People often ask me how long I've been painting - or what my training is. They are surprised to find that I just started painting portraits about 14 months ago on a whim. I've been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut for as long as I can remember and was inspired by the above quote to do more than just create, but to try something new. So I found the photo below and got to work. 

My process is fairly simple. I start with a regular canvas usually from Michaels or somewhere similar and pencil sketch a photo that I like. I start with the face itself, and fill in colors/shapes without regard for any details. It's important to use several shades of a color rather than immediately try to lighten or darken with white and black. I add in those last.

I usually stop there for one sitting. I paint fairly fast and the first layer could be only 30 minutes or so of work. The next day or two (or hour) I start in on more details, but with the same basic idea of colors/shapes/variation in tones. The only real difference is I'm using a smaller brush and - duh - smaller brushstrokes result. The process of building the facial expressions is my favorite part. 

The last part of my process is generally more details and sometimes an unexpected element (like the red below) depending on what I'm working on. The whole process could take as little as a few hours or as long as a few months! I tend to come back to paintings a lot and I've used the same basic process since I started. 

This was my first portrait ever and the first printed canvas I sold through the store after getting the site up! You can too - here :) 

Stay tuned for a more in depth look at paints, brushes, mediums etc! (and maybe another gif!!) 


Mt. Rushmore (Earth) Day

Last weekend I decided to take the day off to celebrate Earth Day! I had recently been looking at maps for fun (I do this a lot) and found that Mt. Rushmore was only 5 1/2 hours from Denver! I had never been so... woo weekend road trip to South Dakota! 

I drove through a whole lot of nothing until I got into the Black Hills. The nothing was so worth it. The Black Hills are beautiful and driving up to Mt. Rushmore is gorgeous.

Background on Mt. Rushmore (just in case): it's a National Memorial governed by the National Park Service. It was conceived by a South Dakota historian to bring tourism to the area. It is now visited by over 3 million people annually, and is the number one attraction in South Dakota - where tourism is the 2nd largest industry. 

Originally the historian Doane Robinson wanted the sculpture to be of Western heroes but Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor, wanted it to have a national focus which is why the Presidents were the final design. They began sculpting in 1927 and finished the four faces (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln) between 1934 and 1939. The original design sculpted the Presidents from head to waist, but due to a lack of funding work ceased in 1941.

Amazingly, sculpting 60 foot heads in blocks of granite for 14 years produced no fatalities. 

There is no entrance fee to the Monument, but there is an $11 per car parking fee. This allows you to park in the parking garage for the year. 

After walking down the Avenue of Flags, I spent some time taking in the view above the amphitheater. Then I went on the fairly short hike closer to the mountain. One of the first stops on the hike is a cave with a great view up George Washington's nose. 

It was a beautiful day for a walk.

The hike is all wooden paths and stairways (lots of stairs) in the trees.

Future Mt. Rushmore face.

After the hike I stopped at the dining hall and got some ice cream. The big draw is Thomas Jefferson vanilla, apparently modeled after his famous ice cream recipe, but the mint chocolate was too tempting. (and didn't cost extra like TJ vanilla!)

I had painted Mt. Rushmore earlier in the week and (of course) brought it to take pictures with the real thing. 

It was a beautiful place and once in a lifetime experience (60 foot President heads!) I definitely recommend if you've never been, or haven't been as an adult. 

PS - my Mt. Rushmore is for sale :) Make me an offer if you love Presidents as much as I do!