Following After Henri Matisse's Still Life Paintings

The Tate Museum puts it very succinctly, defining the subject of a still life as "anything that does not move or is dead."

Henri Matisse is said to be one of the most influential French artists of the 20th century. Matisse’s use of straightforward color, inventive figuration, and decorative patterns helped redefine many of the formal tenets of painting. Because of Matisse’s straightforward color and form, he is an accesible artist for young artists.

I set up a colorful still life in my studio for my students to paint. They chose either watercolor or acrylic paints but by the end of the class most had ended up with a mixed media painting. We used wet on wet technique in the apples and layering on the quince.

I was thrilled to see the completed pieces completely filling their paper.


Color wheel

I am always excited to show my students the marvels of the color wheel; how secondary and tertiary colors can move on to quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, and denary… The subtlety is beautiful.

We simultaneously worked on a color wheel while we painted layers to a watercolor still life.

After the color wheel is finished, I show the students the brilliant blacks and browns that can be made using three colors.

After the color wheel is finished, I show the students the brilliant blacks and browns that can be made using three colors.


Pleine Air

Last year my art class attempted to do some plein air painting but the weather turned so cold on the day we could have done it that we couldn’t do it. But yesterday proved to be the most gloriously sunny cloudy breeze free gorgeous October day that we finally were able to go outside to paint. We packed our supplies spread out a blanket And the two girls painted for two solid hours when finally one of them flopped over on the grass and said she was exhausted. They work more diligently and ceaselessly than I had ever seen before.

Two days later it was still beautiful and warm, so I repeated plein air with two classes I’m subbing.

Initially I wanted to use tube watercolors but then I’d have had to figure out a palette. The dry cakes of watercolors in their own little case made the project so much easier.


Ribbons of Paint


Abstract Process

I started with an underpainting of loose black movement. I liked it a lot. Then I added color and knew it was an in-between stage. Then I added more. And hated the overwrought angst of it. So I took it in the shower and blasted the thing with water until paint was peeling of willy nilly. And I kinda liked it again. Then I added ribbons of oil paint and knew I had what a wanted. Finally.

Collage of Life

I’ve had this idea for a long time and finally got it set up. I used cold press D’Arches 40 lb. watercolor paper and made a somewhat haphazard grid using masking tape.

To make it easy to transport, I got a little palette and squirted in my finest watercolors. I chose three small Winsor & Newton watercolor brushes; added a sour cream container for water and a few paper towels to the kit.

Maybe the hardest thing to do in painting is to be told, “Paint whatever you’d like.” That tiny square of white staring at you. But people rally and then they pick up the brush, dab it in the color and grow very, very quiet as they immerse themselves in their tiny masterpiece. Maybe the second hardest thing is the sudden surprise of the request, so I’ve been giving people a little head’s up when time permits.

I give a quick tutorial before they begin on how to achieve crisp lines and blurred.

Kids are the easiest. They just know they are good at painting and hunker down to the task without hesitation. Aoife carefully chose a select three colors and as she painted told me, “I want to leave some of the white paper showing.” And she did.

August simply knew when he was done and stopped. Any painter will tell you it’s hard to know when to quit.

Honeysuckle Band played at a venue near us and stayed with us overnight. They too agreed to add to my collage!

One woman who added to the collage, counted all the squares and wondered if I had enough friends to fill all of them.


"And no artsy-crafty stuff!"

A mom called about her two college aged kids getting art lessons from me. She wanted to round out their very scientific background with a little art. I told her I thought I could help.

“But no artsy-crafty stuff,” she insisted; she wanted them to learn how to draw. So in a six week period, I think they learned to see better and draw better, including foreshortening and shadows.

balls in a box with shadows.
just the beginning, I continued to push him to see the depth and variety of shading
Here I think he got it.

Painting Rocks is so Last Summer

My local grandkids and I spent the day together and part of the day involved painting sticks in my studio. (The other part involved bocce tournament and ladder golf competition.)

The best sticks are smooth and free of bark.

We used acrylic paint and I will finish them with a coat of lacquer.

Displayed together like a bouquet

Displayed together like a bouquet

This is fun no matter your age
Bright colors or even black/white/brown looks stunning

Bright colors or even black/white/brown looks stunning


The Journey of a Landscape into the World of Abstracts

Sometimes I review and critique my finished (often framed) pieces and decide they are missing their soul. So I press them to express themselves further.

This is one lanscape’s journey into abstraction. I think it’s happier now.

This was the original landscape which just lacked a little soul.

This was the original landscape which just lacked a little soul.

I flipped the landscape sideways but it still looked too “landscape-y”

I flipped the landscape sideways but it still looked too “landscape-y”

Getting there, but now the blocks bugged me.

Getting there, but now the blocks bugged me.

I like the hide and reveal of this more than the unfinished one above.

I like the hide and reveal of this more than the unfinished one above.

Big A little a

I loved painting my cube art pieces but this one was begging me to take it on a little trip, further from home, further from my comfort. So I popped it out of its frame and set it on my easel.

My initial swipes were a disappointment. But I have learned that the middle of my painting process is generally the hardest, the ugliest, and the most mocking. Right there in the middle I start to hear that satan voice calling me out as a poser. This time stayed true to the general rule- I was severely doubting the finale.

I wanted the piece to reminisce graffiti and I wanted it to be free and easy looking.

I chose this piece for reassignment.

This is where I assume failure.

This is where I assume failure.



Close up “Big A, little a”

Close up “Big A, little a”

Close-ups of the finished piece

Close-ups of the finished piece


Free Time and Breakthroughs

This art semester, my young students have been pushed; rather than only colorful easier projects, I have been instructing them in harder skills of drawing. On this day we had a little time left at the end of the class and a little paint still on the palette; “couldn’t we pleeeease just paint something for fun? Pleeeease.”

I thought of all the times my greatest breakthroughs have come from just messing around with the colors, so i caved.

They made blues more beautiful than the blue straight from the tube, they learned that a little green added to the blue makes a lovely teal, they learned that you can put different colors on the brush at the same time and if you stop in time it produces a rainbow effect. And they learned that it is exhilarating to make the discovery all on your own.

The quick paintings turned out to be whimsically beautiful.


upside down drawing

When your mind can’t figure out what it is drawing, it simply copies the marks and places them fairly accurately. My students had great success.


Portraiture from the heart

Aoife saw me sitting at the dining table just resting, me and my broken arm, when she came and sat in the seat nearest her paper, crayons and pencil and told me she was going to do a quick sketch of me. Like, that’s kinda what I needed right then and she was capable of getting it done.

She formed the eyes with her toilet paper roll; with a quick swipe she captured the bottom of each eye. Then critiquing for a second, she decided the mouth was too low into the chin so she erased it and moved it up. the nose too needed an adjustment toward the center.

Then the hair, with a flourish, she drew each strand finishing with, “those are your ears;" then she slid it over to me knowing I would definitely want to take it with me; it was that good.

The thing about 5 year olds that would be worth preserving is the absolute confidence in the perfection of her creation and the sure knowledge that you will appreciate the gifting of it.


New Colorful Abstract Process

This new abstract genre is full of layers and layers of mixed media. I use watercolor, acrylic, china markers, oil pastels, Crayola II sticks, regular No. 2 pencil, colored watercolor pencils and gesso. All this is layered onto D’Arches 140 lb. watercolor paper.

The beginning is always easy, it’s the middle that gets me. Right there in mid process, I wonder what in the world I am doing, why in the world I thought it would turn out. And then I just keep going.

The funny thing is that in the end, you can not even see the beginning layers. But I know they’re there.

The end result is my new love.

Raw Unfiltered

Erin took up beekeeping and gifted us honey and lip balm. Now, because the jar is so gorgeous, we hate to break the glittery gold seal to enjoy it.

Andrew was given all kinds of beekeeping supplies, beekeeping books and membership in the local bee keeper’s society.


Pottery 101

Looking for the address we passed two really cool looking modern homes; as we whizzed by, I joked about wishing the class was there. We had to do a U-turn and lo, that was the address!

Andrew and I signed up for a pottery session and made slab bowls. I am ready to do more.

Linocut Prints From Styrofoam

A great “upcycle” for styrofoam meat trays is to use them in place of linoleum boards for creating a template for printing.

The one little problem I encountered was that a lot of meat trays are already compromised; they have dimpled or stamped bases, or the glue to hold the absorbent paper in the tray does not come up. So, I had to work around those imperfections to cut out a flat smooth piece of styrofoam.

We used linoleum block printing inks and two brayers- one for inking, one for rolling the paper on the styrofoam template.

This ended up taking a full two hours to complete with a break in-between printing to wash off our styrofoam and brayer to switch colors.


All Pumpkins, All Month

I had my students paint pumpkins with watercolor. Just before the weather turned too cold to be outside we sat outdoors and painted. We worked on blending in colors wet in wet.

Next class we switched to acrylic. As always, I wanted them to fill the whole canvas. And I added a lesson on depth perception in painting.

Practice makes Perfect

I know definitively that when we practice and apply; we learn. I know that.

I homeschooled my seven children to great glorious futures, and I did it by showing up every day, teaching math everday, teaching grammar everyday, teaching science everyday… and then one day they were bloomin’ geniuses.

But I just could not, would not apply that same principle to my painting, which I knew was just plain foolishness. Alas yesterday came. As I sat in my studio, I realized I was out of ideas, out of photos, out of inspiration. So I decided to plod through a practice and application of an art lesson.

No, these aren’t amazing but I learned a lot. I differed the underpainting color and saw how it turned the bright day to a cold day. But it still holds that practice perfects.


Fall Art Project for ages 4- 13

I promised my grandchildren a day with bonfire, hotdogs and s’mores but evening was a long way off. So I set up the paints and gave each of them a little 3” X 3” canvas. Everyone practiced the pumpkin shape and size once on paper and then lightly drew it on the canvas.


Museum of Fine Art, Boston

It is fabulous that kids (and adults too) are given permission to copy masterpieces sitting right there in front of it. Drawing boards and sketchpads are fine most anywhere. Paints and easels are permitted with prior permission. Watercolor in the courtyard only. But no solvents, pens, markers, charcoals and pastels, harsh chemicals or spray paints allowed which seems more than fair.

A fascinating place in the Museum of Art, Boston is the restoration room. I could stand there for hours. I find the minute careful detail work fascinating. There is a viewing window to watch the process without disturbing the craftsmen. I can only imagine how many audio books a restorer can go through in a short time.