Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two elephants run into a studio

It's not everyday that two large elephants come running into a painter's studio. 

As the painter, curator, and wrangler of the nanoscapes small friends, I am not quite surprised, faintly astonished, and completely grateful. During the next few days, while they tell me their stories, I will paint the Stained Glass and a Glass Bubbles Elephants. In a perfect world, they be finished December 31, making them my 109th and 110th paintings of 2011. 

Each elephant is painted on 300# Arches paper, and is 15 inches wide by 8 inches high.

Stained Glass Running Elephant
Glass Bubbles Running Elephant

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New art in 5 days: nanoscapes neighborhoods

Welcome to nanoscapes neighborhoods, an original watercolor which I painted in five days. It was an extraordinary pleasure to draw and paint tiny details which, when finished, have movement and energy, depth, and almost three dimensions.

nanoscapes neighborhoods
Day 1 - Davy's Gray Outline 

5 days later
nanoscapes neighborhoods
December 6, 2011
7-15/16" x  4-3/4"
$250 - unframed

Click here to see the previous days' work.

Monday, December 5, 2011

3 days in the life of nanoscapes "neighborhoods"

nanoscapes neighborhoods
Davy's Gray outline

3 days in the life of nanoscapes neighborhoods: the 101st nanoscape for 2011 is close to being finished. One more day, perhaps?

neighborhoods is painted on 140# hot press Arches paper, and it is 7.9 x 4.5 inches. Every tiny tile is painted and outlined one-at-a-time, and my new favorite sable brush, Raphael Martora 2/0 is getting a workout.

nanoscapes neighborhoods
December 3, 2011
nanoscapes neighborhoods
December 4, 2011

nanoscapes neighborhoods
December 5, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

Celebrate 100 nanoscapes and paint your own

nanoscapes neighborhoods 2011
a downloadable nanoscape for you to paint

It's official. During the first 11 months of 2011, I painted 100 nanoscapes and small friends. They aren't all published and they aren't all shared, but they are all finished.Click on the link to see the list.

To celebrate, I invite you download this image and make your own nanoscape using your favorite paint, ink, or colored pencil. Ambitious fiber artists -- make a nano quilt. 3-D artists -- build the village.

This image is called "nanoscapes neighborhoods 2011" and to my mind it is a series of rooftops. 

The original image is 7.9 x 4.5 inches. At 300 dpi, you have an almost unlimited range of sizes that you might print. Get the best quality watercolor paper, print, and paint! Find your favorite fibers and quilt! Woodworkers, ceramicists, and metal workers -- build the village!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Still Point Gallery selects two nanoscapes & a small friend for new exhibition

Purple Glaze: A triptich
The Still Point Gallery selected two nanoscapes and one small friend for The Abstraction Distraction, an online exhibition that runs from 11/16/2011 to 2/14/2012.
Trilobite Four by Five
Theresa & Tommy Trilobite

Each piece is part of the new digital family of nanoscapes and small friends. Balloon and Purple Glaze are nanoscapes, and Trilobite Four By Five, is the portrait of small friends Theresa and Tommy Trilobite

PHOTOSHOP IS MAGIC  Having found that the magic I see in watercolors can be multiplied when manipulated in Photoshop, I have the privilege of learning something new and surprising everyday. 

  • New vocabulary with new meanings for words that I already know: brightness, contrast, levels, curves, exposures, vibrance, hue, saturation, color balance, posterize, invert, and on and on.
  • The joy of experimentation. What happens if I posterize! and then invert! and then work through the image choices, one after the other? Sometimes the result is beautiful; other times, I am glad to be able to revert to the original.  


  • Trilobite Four By Five: Theresa and Tommy's portrait is available in a signed limited edition of 20. Each 20x17.9 portrait will be printed on archival paper and signed. 
  • Balloon: The Balloon is available in a signed limited edition of 5 (20x20) for $75 and 5 (10x10) for $50. (click on the link and then on "thumbnails)
  • Purple Glaze: A triptych is a part of "The Glazes," a series of geometric abstractions that allows me to celebrate my life-long love of stained glass with paint and paper, thus avoiding the need for safety equipment. Each 20x13 inch print of Purple Glaze is part of a Limited Edition of 50, signed and printed on archival paper with museum matting.  $75 each. (click on the link and then on "thumbnails."  

ENJOY these works and all of the beautiful pieces in The Abstraction Distraction!!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chain Links: a new nano-D

Chain Link 2011
I have a worktable which has been a bad storage solution for so long that I feared what might turn up after excavation. Recycling an old tv, which took up a third of the tabletop, opened the door for a Domestic Archaeological Expedition.

I found long-forgotten treasures.

Among them was "Chain Link Fence," an original postcard painting from 2006. Cropped, copied, flipped, reversed, and inverted, it is magic for the morning.

It is part of a group of nanoscapes called nano-D, for work created at the intersection of geometric abstract watercolors and the magic of the technology of Photoshop.

Signed Limited Edition of 20. Chain Link 2011: 10w x 7h. Archival matt. $75. 
Available through the nanoscapes website under nano-D in Portfolio.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gregory Blackstock: an inspiration

Blackstock's Collections:
The Drawings of an
Artistic Savant
GREGORY BLACKSTOCK: An inspiration Part of my inspiration for my image-a-day project is the work of the autistic savant and genius Seattle artist Gregory Blackstock. He is a draftsman, an artist, a compiler and chronicler of everyday items, animals, birds, airplanes, tools, and much, much more.

Blackstock can look at an item once or twice, and reproduce it exactly. That he is autistic, and has found national and international markets for his art is tribute to its power and is one of the wonders of this world. His is a genius that I admire.

Please look at this jaw-dropping work, and think about purchasing Blackstock's Collections for an artist in your life..  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Missing from an artist's toolbox: a lawyer on retainer

Tall Cat
The "small friends"
Tall Cat, the small friends' Spokescat, recommends a blog post from the small friends blog: Missing from an artist's toolbox: a lawyer on retainer.

Whether you are an artist, a writer, a filmmaker or a musician, a key element of your gear should be an attorney on retainer who understands your business as an artist.

Why? Unless you are an expert on contracts, copyright, trademark, licensing, tax, business law for small businesses or any of the other problems that lurk around the edges of your artistic life, you might not know that you need a lawyer until it's too late.

My own lawyer, Blake Iverson of Friedman Iverson, saved me from one of my "bright ideas," which could have sparked potentially embarrassing, tedious and expensive litigation.

When I launched susan-cooks, I wanted the blog's wallpaper to be a photograph of some of my 800+ cookbook collection. Blake said "NO!" and pointed out that the copyright holder of each one of those books could have sued for infringement. While not a likely scenario, I have slept better for having avoided it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Inspiration: a beautiful balustrade

Interior stairwell
Comfort Suites
Atlanta Downtown
Convention Center
Eyes wide open, I wandered past the elevator on the lobby level of the Comfort Suites Atlanta Downtown Convention Center, and saw a beautiful marble stairway with an elegant balustrade. Photo op. Inspiration piece.

Interior stairwell
Comfort Suites
Atlanta Downtown
Convention Center
Google was completely unhelpful in my search for the history of this building, which was converted, redesigned, refurbished for either Comfort Suites or a previous owner. I'd be curious to know more...

Thanks to Vickie Brown, Ray English, and Marvette Colbert, the wonderful and talented staff at the career office at Georgia State University College of Law for inviting me to speak to part-time students on "2nd Career Law Students" and for selecting this hotel with its inspiration pieces.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Creativity: Have paint, will travel

The Great Leafy Bunny
of New Hampshire
Whether you are planning a winter vacation or plotting your summer 2012 adventures, I hope that you are inspired by my friend Rachel Zelkind, who inspires me every time art and travel come together. Bring your gear!

Tall Silo of Iowa
Because I travel often for work and always take paint and paper, I have named my painting kit "The Rachel" in her honor. It  consists of three Daniel Smith Travel Kolinsky brushes, an Arches Paper block (postcard, 7x10 or 9x12), 4 or 5 tiny tubes of watercolor, a small pencil, an eraser, and a pencil sharpener, and it fits nicely into my carry-on. Also, it goes right through TSA security.

It helps that I will only paint indoors and know how to ask the hotel concierge nicely for better light in my room by saying: "I am a painter and a reader, and the only good light for either activity is in the bathroom. Can you help me?" That strategy has not failed yet.

Rachel, on the other hand, paints outside and she is always prepared:

In her car:
"I have in the car a chair of some sort at all times." She also has a three-legged camp stool that can attach a day pack, which can be used for sitting and can also act as a little table. Not surprisingly, she always has a paper palette pad and a spray bottle for water. The rest, she says, "is just a few tubes of paint." The chair, she emphasizes, is a must, and the camp stool can go on walks, which is good, because she hikes.
When traveling in San Miguel, her chair-substitute was an upside down bucket. "It's portable and stuff can be put in and carried. It really makes sense," she says, and it is not uncomfortable. To her, "It looks more natural on the street than sitting in a chair."

Wherever you go, and whatever your art -- Bring Your Gear!!!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ohio-Tennessee Glaze: new nano and new tool

Tiny Tines Work in Progress

Trilobite: Four by Five

In the spirit of cooks and their knives, carpenters their hammers, and gardeners and their tools, I find that Photoshop is my new favorite creative tool.

Roller Coaster Work in Progress 1
Roller Coaster Work in Progress 2
During the past few weeks I have begun to explore Photoshop C-4, taking a single image and playing with colors and spaces, making small friend Theresa Trilobite into  Trilobite: Four by Five. I spent time in Photoshop yesterday with Roller Coaster, an unfinished watercolor that creates beautiful patterns, and with Tiny Tines, a work in progress based on part of a large salad fork.

O-T Glaze #1

O-T Glaze #2 (flipped)

O-T Glaze #3 (rotation 1)
I face a dilemma now.

Ohio-Tennessee Glaze, the new nanoscape which I began on a Pass the Baton trip to University of Akron and Vanderbilt law schools, is finished in its life as a watercolor. It now presents a delicious Photoshop challenge: which way does it look best? Let me know what you think.

O-T Glaze #4 (rotation 2)

Admittedly, this is not a bad problem to have.

But between you and me and the mouse, O-T Glaze has not yet really begun its Photoshop journey. In these four images I simply (I can say that now) flipped and rotated the original without changing any of the colors. Options: color, no color, textures, posterizing, and much, much more...Can't wait.

Commerce Note: Prints of Trilobite Four by Five are available through imagekind.com your choice of sizes and framing options.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Last 5 Pencils and Crayons

Some favorite things
I posted the the last five Pencils and Crayons this morning. Creating an image-a-day began as a lark with last October's pumpkins, and quickly became a commitment, a discipline, and a joy.

Some of the months' images were obvious (leaves/November; Hanukah candles & snowflakes/December; basketballs/March; raindrops/April; corn/July; heirloom tomatoes/August), and other months were a creative leap (lost left-handed gloves/January; missing socks/February).

THE LLLAMAS  To introduce the LLLama Families in May, I needed to sit down and write their stories. This was fair. For more than two years the 30+ LLLamas had been nagging me to take them off the shelf and get them out into the world. After being posted to Facebook, they embarked on a world tour, leaving behind SpokesLLLama Rainbow. They will return to the small friends' site in January 2012.

Glenda Diva Gecko
Undersea LLLama
Celebration Rhea
SMALL FRIENDS  When it was clear that the LLLamas would have their day in the sun, the other small friends who had been lurking on the nanoscapes website and in my studio finally put down their collective feet, and demanded both a month (June) and a website of their own. The nanoscapes and small friends had an amicable divorce in early June, and the small friends have their own website, blog, and The Small Friends Research Institute.

It's been quite a year, or with a tip of the hat to one of my favorite songs, The Grateful Dead's "Truckin,"  --- What a long, strange, and extraordinarily fun trip it's been. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Balloon Sampler 2011: miracles of Photoshop

Balloon Sampler 2011
5x7" Balloon Post Card Painting
I have been using Photoshop primarily for storage and organization for my watercolors for the past few years, but this afternoon, I stumbled into the 21st century and began to explore its astonishing capabilities.

A quilt with sampler blocks
As someone who spent half a lifetime looking at samplers in which quilters and needleworkers practiced stitches and alphabets, and created ever-more complex quilt patterns, I felt a kinship with their energy and gratitude for this amazing tool.

Beginning with a 300 dpi scan of a 5x7" watercolor on 140# paper, I copied the image over and over again, experimenting with posterizing, gradients, channels, filters, curves and more. I created a 22x22 blank square and then dropped in each of the copies, re-arranging, adding, and deleting. When I ended up with a 3x4 row image, I deleted the excess blank canvas, added a signature, and I was finished.

Making a quilt or a piece of needlepoint can take weeks or months. Beginning with a finished painting, which, admittedly took about six hours to paint, the Photoshop exercise took about an hour.

This was way too much fun, and I look forward to learning a lot more about Photoshop, and multiplying and manipulating the color and energy inherent in original nanoscapes.

Balloon Sampler 2011 is available in two limited editions of five each, signed and numbered through the nanoscapes website:

  • 20x20 inches, matted:          $75.00 
  • 10x10 inches, matted           $50.00

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stained Glass Cat: a creative conundrum

Stained Glass Cat
Stained Glass Cat will be a new small friend, but her roots are with the nanoscapes' Fractured Glass family. She has brought me to the brink with a creative conundrum: is she finished?

Because the Fractured Glass technique is in my comfort zone, I began work on her when I needed a break between identifying and painting new small friends and tackling new nanoscapes projects.

Now that all of her "glass bits" are finished and "grouted" with watercolor, she might be finished. But perhaps not. I might paint a "fractured glass" frame or add a horizontal line to anchor her. Or maybe not.

This eerie feeling -- hesitating before making a paint stroke -- may be as close as I ever get to what I imagine sculptors and gem cutters feel before making a critical cut. Will it work? Will it do what I want it to do? Will it do something better? Will it cause the entire enterprise to fall flat on its face?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

small friends, nanoscapes and 9/11

I made my very first batch of jam right after the Towers went down in 2001. I began with Laurie Colwin's Plum Jam, filling jar after jar, making batch after batch. I kept this up for about three years with jams, pickles, Onion Relish, and Barbecue Sauce. During that time, I always had 6 cases of jars in my car -- in case of any emergency that couldn't be handled by the dozen cases that I stored in my house.

Time passes and people change.On this 10th anniversary, I turned off the radio and tv, and got on with what what I do now, which is to paint with watercolors. I paint geometric abstractions called nanoscapes and whimsical creatures called small friends. Instead of fretting about an anniversary attack that had been strongly suggested in the media, I made two new paintings, and nearly completed the Stained Glass Cat.

Both Mama & Baby Elephant and the Two Squirrels are painted on 140# Arches Hot Press Paper. They are experiments and not for sale.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stained Glass Cat: progress report

First color
September 6

Friends and fans of nanoscapes may remember the Fractured Glass paintings that I made in 2010, and that there was a magical moment in each painting when the loops and whirls began to come together inside the image. It has happened again with the Stained Glass Cat.

Throughout this work, I have used a new brush: a #1 Rafael 8408 Martre Kolinsky Sable France which I purchased from Wet Paint in St. Paul, MN. It holds a lot of paint and gives me a lot of control, too. 

Stained Glass Cat is 15x22 and painted on 300# Fabriano Extra White paper. When complete, the Stained Glass Cat will join her family in the small friends website.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Vulcan's Victory: An inspiration from a great collaboration

Clement Haupers (1900-1982)
Vulcan’s Victory, 1960’s,
Collection of Minnesota Museum of American Art
Gift of Mrs. Benjamin Grey, 1976.
By the end of the 2011 Minnesota State Fair, I will have served as a State Fair Foundation Volunteer for 6 of the Fair's 12 days. I was lucky to have been assigned to the J.V. Bailey House and to the tiny exhibit, Fairs, Circuses, and All Things Fun, which is a collaboration between the Foundation and the Minnesota Museum of American Art. As the MMAA is currently looking for a home and its collections are in storage, it is a special treat to be able to see these paintings and sculptures.

My favorite piece, Vulcan’s Victory by Minnesota artist Clement Haupers, is an inspiration on many levels. It celebrates one of my favorite events, the St. Paul Winter Carnival (ice palace, bouncing girls, and fireworks), and it has a secret linked to Minnesota’s great agricultural tradition imbedded in its frame. Really? When Haupers made the frame, he used egg flats to echo the shapes and bursts of the fireworks. 
Egg Flat Frame

Many visitors have been intrigued by this painting, and there was much speculation about how Haupers achieved the look of stucco on this three-dimensional frame. Was it plaster? Plaster-of-Paris? Very thick paint? Stucco?

Having gone directly to a grocery store after seeing this frame, I learned that egg flats are not the egg cartons in grocery stores; they are made to hold 30 eggs. Nonetheless, I am inspired once again to create my own frames, and to look for unusual materials to do that. What inspires you?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Stained Glass Cat: in progress

Stained Glass Cat Day 2
Yes. I love stained glass. Yes. I think that any work with glass is magic. No, I will never work with glass because it requires safety equipment for cutting or being a heat-resistant human who can work with the temperatures required by melting and fusing.

But wait! I can paint. Adding to the nanoscapes' Fractured Glass and The Glazes, this small friend Stained Glass Cat is based on a needlepoint pattern that I have carted around for 30 years. When complete, it will be for sale through the small friends website.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Pencils & Crayons of September: image a day

Pencils & Crayons of September

An image a day. In 2010, as an artist at the Hopkins (MN) Farmers Market, I was inspired by the farmer vendors to paint pumpkin post cards. After posting a pumpkin-a-day on my Facebook page in October, I could not stop.

By February 2011, the Post Card Project had moved from postcards to large sheets of Arches 140# paper. While most are seasonal, I also introduced the LLLama Families and the small friends, a group of whimsical creatures. The geometric abstractions called nanoscapes and the small friends are now in separate websites.  

Month-by-month: January (lost left-handed gloves), February (missing socks), March (basketballs and a Shamrock), April (raindrops), May (introducing the LLLama Families), June (introducing the small friends), July (corn), August (heirloom tomatoes), September (pencils & crayons), October (pumpkins), November (leaves), and December (Hanukah candles & snowflakes.)

Will I continue with an image a day? Yes, but I will begin in an organized way on January 1, 2012. I have lots of projects to complete between now and then: a calendar, the small friends alphabet, the Lives of the LLLamas, and more! I am also committed to the work of the Small Friends Research Institute, which is dedicated to the discovery and documentation of new whimsical creatures. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A new series: The Glazes

Glaze of Many Colors 12x16

Purple Glaze 123
20x13 limited edition / $75
In the spirit of my life-long affection for stained glass, I spent part of the previous two months working on a series of paintings that pay homage to the form. Unlike my Fractured Glass paintings from 2010, which focused on tiny details made by 1/4-inch virtual glass shards, the Glaze Paintings celebrate the colors and mimic larger pieces of glass.
Blue Glaze 7x10 $100

Orange Glaze Post Card NFS
Glaze of Many Colors and Blue Glaze are painted on 140# Arches hot press paper and they are available at the nanoscapes website. Purple Glaze123 is a limited edition of 50 printed on archival paper with museum matting available through the nanoscapes website and at etsy.com. The Orange Glaze post card is not for sale.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fresh artist's palette: sign of the new school year

My watercolors
Signs of the new school year are everywhere.

Minnesota State Fair opening day --  Hooray!
Relentless tv ads for school supplies – Make them stop!
Artists’ fresh palettes – Huzzah!
The Biggest Crayon Box
from My Childhood

Although I am no longer a student, the school calendar appears to be part of my DNA. Perhaps it harks back to getting the biggest box of Crayola™ crayons that my parents could be persuaded to buy, but re-setting my palette just before school starts seems like the right thing to do.

Artists are lucky because we can mark a new year or a new project by setting up a fresh palette. Washing out the old colors, introducing new colors, and bringing back standards and favorites are a group of unalloyed pleasures. A fresh palette celebrates possibilities and sparks creativity.

NEED FOR COMPACT STORAGE  Because I travel to around the country to present Pass the Baton lectures to law students and lawyers, I need a portable watercolor infrastructure that takes up minimal space and slides through airport security. At home, I have a relatively small worktable, and need to keep my colors within easy reach. Just as I used to organize crayons by color, I set my palettes by color groups: yellow, green, blue, orange, pink, red, purple, brown-black-gray, and metallic.

LOADED WITH COLOR  With seven Dick Blick small folding plastic palettes loaded with 150 small blobs of individual watercolors packed in a plastic makeup bag, I am ready to go. Three Daniel Smith Autograph Kolinsky Travel Brushes, a 6H pencil, an eraser, and a small pencil sharpener fit into the bag. Although one set of screeners looked closely at the travel brushes which unscrew to reveal the brush inside, I have never had a security-screening issue with this kit.

FRESH PAINT and FRESH IDEAS  I paint every day and can’t wait to bring fresh ideas to works in progress and to start on entirely new projects. Reset your palette and go!

Friday, August 5, 2011

nanoscapes for August: 31 lost heirloom tomatoes

nanoscapes' 31 lost heirloom tomatoes
It is August, and high time that Minnesotans were able to tuck into local summer tomatoes. As a person who is ridiculously fond of all tomatoes, it is hard to pick a true "favorite." How am I supposed to decide when the choices are big ones, small ones, tiny ones, on-the-vine ones, with colors including red, yellow, orange, and wildly striped or beautifully blotched heirloom tomatoes?

While celebrating all of delicious tomatoes available today, it is also a time to lament the heirloom tomatoes whose tastes are lost to us. Although there are many seed savers and dozens, if not hundreds of vendors of heirloom tomato seeds, there are, indeed, lost tomatoes. To honor their memory,  nanoscapes celebrate 31 lost varieties of heirloom tomatoes: one for every day in August.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Banish Blank Pages With Solid Geometry Inspiration

Spaces With Stripes 1
In the beginning...
It is one thing to paint every day (which I do), but quite another thing to imagine that I might have a Great Inspiration every time I pick up a paintbrush.

Spaces With Stripes 2
Instead of gazing endlessly at a blank sheet of paper, I often pick up a pencil and begin with a doodle sparked by a memory of Solid Geometry which creates an opportunity to explore of light, intricate spaces, and color.  Solid Geometry was my only beloved area of mathematics, and I am never surprised that while filling in the spaces that I both learn and have fun. 

Spaces With Stripes 3
While starting with random spaces may not be an inspiration for plein air painters or artists who focus on pristine and precise  representational work, I find is useful for experimenting with new colors, papers, brushes and techniques. 

I learned this technique from Russ Dittmar, who also taught me how to coax brilliant colors out of watercolor when he suggested: "lots of pigment, not a lot of water." When I taught this to a group of young students at the R.H. Stafford Library in Woodbury, MN, they jumped in with enthusiasm. Leaving no blank paper in their wake, they filled in the spaces and the space around the spaces.

Spaces With Stripes 1, 2 and 3 These three paintings took me through a "break" during July 2011 when I left the search for Great Inspiration to the rest of the world.  

Each Spaces With Stripes is painted on 7-3/4 x 7-3/4 inch Arches 140# hot press paper.  Each original: $200.  A signed and numbered limited edition matted print called Three-in-a-Row is $100.  (Matt size is 36x14 inches.) Find them all at the nanoscapes' website.