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Archives: January to April 2010

all wrapped up and no place to go
The dilemna trifecta

This isn’t an art blog. It’s a where-the-hell-does-the-time-go blog. April zipped by in a flurry of graphic design overload. Which ultimately is a good thing right now, because that is paying better than anything else I could conjure up. I somehow found space for the eight paintings I retrieved from a gallery that prefers very traditional stuff in the southeastern Pennsylvania vein. I guess my landscapes were too, mmmmm, interpretive for the clientele. Now I have to find space for the seven paintings that just arrived from the exhibition in Maryland. This wasn’t a commercial venture, but I was still hoping some of them would sell, partially so I wouldn’t have to find the space for them once they were back here. All wrapped up and no place to go.

I always called this the dilemna trifecta for artists; money, space and time. Space, or lack thereof, makes time for me to do other things... But it’s frustrating. The other day it came to me all at once – the bodies of work I want to do when I have the space. I will also need the money to free up the time and pay for the space. I have the inspiration. It comes to me in great floods and has for years, decades even. For this I am indeed fortunate, but it’s been a long drawn-out argument with the universe. If you want me to create all this, then give me the resources. Somewhere along the way I bought into constriction. Or maybe there is a constant balance, an equilibrium between poetic grace and suckitude, which supercedes anything I try to do to improve the situation with my own powers and abilities.

On the other hand, if pendulums swing, oooooh, it’s going to be good.

I still have a running list of more essential things to write about on here... But you can’t wait until you achieve perfection before starting something. You will never begin. That’s why I write rambling artist thoughts for you to read in the meantime. That’s why I allow myself to paint odd things in strange modes using large rubbery paddles on small masonite panels. I’ll never become any good at something new unless I go into it head first. In a small space on a limited budget. With an overabundant imagination. Heh.

when food is rude
The things we paint

Omigosh, I am so very busy this month. Busy with actual real live paying work. Busier than I have been in a very long time. So far this month I have had only two days in which to paint. That’s a good thing right now, as frustrating as it can be. Next month, not only will the bills be easily paid, but money can get saved too. Yay!

I want to paint. I want to paint all kinds of things. The azalea series is now done. I am on the last of the period paintings. I am doing a few random trees and landscapes, still stretching my abstacted wings... but I am really beginning to miss the representational work. I needed a break for awhile, but the break is coming to an end. Meanwhile, no painting of any kind for me until the end of this month.

The deeper, more meaningful things I meant to write about – They are all in scratch form. Being scratchy. And I promised someone else I would be a guest writer for a community blog, but fortunately they are in no rush.

Like most serious artists, I make all or part of my living doing something else. Sometimes that something else is completely unrelated to being an artist. And sometimes it is related. We are Siamese if you please. Many artists I know are in arts administration, teach, paint murals, do commissions, paint houses, assist other artists or model. Some of us are in graphic design. I have been painting since 1975, and have been in the graphics field since 1980. The graphics field. The design meadow. It’s a good way for an artist to make a living and/or supplement other arts income.

Chayote on Blue Ear Muff by Alexandria LevinI had this teacher, well, not really a teacher because the only thing I ever actually learned from her is how idiotic art school can sometimes be, but I had this teacher who was obsessed with the fact that I freelanced in graphics production while I was attending SFAI. She often made it very clear to the whole class that I was a sell-out because I cut rubylith and inked straight lines and pasted-up type for a living. There was no logic to any of it, but I was not the debater then that I can be now. Her favorite students waited tables. As I remember, she had a terrible sense of color. She hated narrative and allegory and symbolism. Me, I live for this stuff.

The painting in this blog entry is called Chayote on Blue Ear Muff. I think this might have been the very last painting I did while still living in New Mexico. It turned out to be so very rude, but it wasn’t meant to be. Not at all. I just really like sculptural fruits and veggies and other things, such as rawhide bones. They are interesting to paint. Ah, but chayote squash, the undersides of chayote squash are genuinely rude. I also think they are very funny.

I recently hung this painting behind a door that is usually open. But when the door is closed, there the painting is, the only thing hanging in that particular corner of our small living room. When I am out of words for the idiots I sometimes encounter, I say "pick up a chayote squash and gaze upon its underside". I should carry one around.

creative fun from almost nothing
Be quiet out there!

This monthly feature on developing unlimited creativity is best referenced from the two original creative fun from almost nothing entries from the archives; September and October 2009. Read those two entries, and the entry below will be all yours. And now that we are opening the windows again... Use ambient sound to inspire your art.

Ahhhh, street noise – Lawnmowers, leafblowers, jackhammers, helicopters, busses, cars, idling trucks, honking taxicabs, wailing sirens, and trains click-click-clacking on tracks. And that’s just in the first twenty minutes of paying attention.

• Invent descriptive words for how any of these sounds sound and create a cityscape using these new words. For example; bdm-bdm-bdm-bdm and pheeeeeuuuw. Take these two new words and incorporate them into a city scene, with the letters as buildings, vehicles and so on.

• Create an abstracted street scene completely from your visual interpretation of the noise you hear on the street. Instead of a building being made of brick, its surface would be a sound-pattern reflective of what is heard on the street.

• Listen to construction or street repair noise. There’s all kinds of interesting sounds echoing out there. I’m listening to some right now. They’re tearing something or other up around the corner. There are hums and rhythms and screeches, all waiting to be translated into something visual. Do a sculpture or installation piece based on the sound of street construction.

• Illustrate something overheard in conversation among strangers on the street.

Every month a new creativity lesson is posted. See the archives for the full series. See September and October 2009 for further explanation on how to use the exercises.

Go to Painted Jay Publishing for the whole book:

giving the door a fresh coat of paint
Portals into other worlds

Right now there are four soaking wet paintings in my little studio. There is only space for four paintings to be worked on at any one time. And oil paintings need time to dry between sessions. I usually work them to the point where if I were to continue, they would become mud. Mud does not make for good paint. Therefore, I have time. Not tons of spare time, but some time nonetheless. So other things get done.

Azalea #11 by Alexandria LevinI recently decided my portal website needed updating. It was created during the spring of 2007 and was still in its original design; which felt very fresh and clever then, but not so much now. What is a portal website? A website dedicated to doors and gates and entrances? Sort of. Way back when I was registering my very small publishing company as a URL name, I thought maybe I oughta register my own name as a URL too, you know, just in case I became famous or something. So I did, and that site became a portal to all my little worlds; where someone who placed my name in a search engine would find passage to some of the things I do in one place, such as paintings and lyric poetry and graphic design and the books and this blog...

The portal site re-do went live yesterday. It looks so very different than before. On the right side on three of the four main pages I have a column of painting details that were color-shifted to fit the mood of the site. The painting in this post is a detail of Azalea #11, but here it is in its original azalea coloring. Go look and see:

And now I’ve got other things to do, and before you know it the four wet paintings will be dry enough to go back into. I would like to add more illustrated lyric poetry to the site. It’s overdue. Next month I hope to write here about having such a tiny studio, and also why painting in alla prima does not suit me; two things hinted at this time around.

little square booklet
Yay for exhibition catalogs!

Eyeless Rabbit by Alexandria LevinIt's a rare occurence these days – being in an exhibition. I used to have overlapping exhibitions, half a dozen a year or more, before moving here. As said before, I'm in the wrong place. I didn't think there was such a thing as a wrong place, but it seems there is. However, when I listen to the quiet inner voices, they say this is only a passing phase. When we move along, the exhibitions will return, and there will be plenty. Meanwhile, I paint for me. This down time is giving me the opportunity to experiment with varying levels of abstraction. Studio time is good.

Child's Play
March 5th to April 9th, 2010
The Galleries at CCBC Catonsville
800 South Rolling Road, Baltimore, MD

The painting in this post is "Eyeless Rabbit" and is part of the exhibition.

From Nicole Buckingham, exhibition curator for Child's Play: "The poignant representations of plush toys by Alexandria Levin present a moment of stillness, the beloved toy in the absence of the child. Eerie and endearing all at once, they provide a narrative open for the imagination."

She got it! I love when that happens.

keep your eyes open
When street art is good

As winter fades into the slush and melt of early spring, the trees of a certain city park in Cape May, NJ have been guarding against the lingering chill by sporting knitted sleeves; branch warmers, if you will. They must go shopping overnight. Or more likely, the knitwear is brought to them. Some folks are outraged, but most are not. One comment on a news website stated that such things, such visual surprises, delight the spirit and generally make the day go better. Anything to bring about more smiles. I know. I’m a cranky girl these days. And I’m all for public knitwear in unusual places.

Delray Beach Halloween street catLast fall I was in South Florida for my niece’s wedding. The day before the wedding I was visiting with a friend in Delray Beach who had moved all the way down there from way up here. This was on Halloween. We were wandering around the pretty streets and I was snapping photos when we came across this cardboard kitty face on a little traffic roundabout that had been festooned with homemade holiday decorations. I love this cat. If you know who created it, let me know.

This is contemporary folk art, and I say that as high praise. Someone creates something; it’s funky, it’s colorful, it’s fun. Sometimes there is deeper meaning, sometimes it is just for amusement and a sort of wild beautification. This is the stuff you don’t notice if you’ve got your face nose first into a PDA or other such device. The world out there is around us for a reason.

creative fun from almost nothing
Finding inspiration in being uninspired

In honor of cabin fever...

This monthly feature on developing unlimited creativity is best referenced from the two original creative fun from almost nothing entries from the archives; September and October 2009. Read those two entries, and the entry below will be all yours. Use your lack of motivation to inspire your art!

• Boring, bore, board. Bore holes in boards. You could spend all day just drilling holes, but that too could be boring. Seriously though, you could make some interesting designs with holes in boards, or make something out of found pieces of twigs and branches where insects have bored holes, or maybe create something out of pegboard. You could weave things in and out of the holes in that very same piece of pegboard. This should keep you out of trouble for awhile.
• Try to make the most boring piece of two or three-dimensional art that ever existed, using at least ten different colors and/or five different types of materials. Make sure that there is absolutely nothing interesting about it. This is more of a challenge than it seems.
• Do a portrait, or a series of portraits, of people and other creatures yawning in boredom. Give them that glazed-over look.
• The syllable -dom is a suffix referring to domain. So as there are king-doms, maybe there could also be a bore-dom, the domain of all that is boring. Depict a scene from the Land of Boredom, or if three- dimensionally inclined, create a royally boring installation.

Dull lackluster beige dust
Very much like an apartment we lived in briefly, the rickety one where I wrote some of the earlier chapters of the book; Creatively Unblocking Creative Blocks [revised in 2014 as 'Drawing Out the Muses'].
• Try working with raw pigment, metallic powders and other dust-like materials. Don’t forget to wear a face mask; not the costume type, but the breathing type of mask.
• Do a two-dimensional piece about dust storms and dust devils. Dust devils are small tornado-like wind vortexes, usually found in hot, dry, sunny areas. We once saw a dog chasing a dust devil across a field in southeastern New Mexico. Now, that was entertaining! Not boring at all. Oops.
• What is the true color and texture of being uninspired? Can it be found in beige-gray vinyl clutch purses, dull mauve pile carpeting, baby blue polyester dust ruffles or pale orange plastic countertops? Create an abstract piece that is at least 90% in three of the dullest, most uninspiring colors in your opinion.
• Portray a bleak terrain, a place where once was some sort of opulence, now gone dry for lack of use such as a half-dead shopping center.
• Collect old plastic beads, costume jewelry with missing rhinestones and broken clasps, silk scarves with stains, bent sequins, and create a wearable piece or a whole outfit that epitomizes long-faded glamour.
• Take one or more shiny objects or materials and scratch most of the sheen out of it. Create something with these materials on the theme of the lackluster life.

Every month a new creativity lesson is posted. See the archives for the full series. See September and October 2009 for further explanation on how to use the exercises.

Go to Painted Jay Publishing for the whole book:

neither large nor small
It’s medium!

Every now and then there is a painting crisis, like how to deal with finishing wooden frames to get a nice satin veneer, or how to package and ship large paintings, or varnishing, omigosh, varnishing which is not easy, nope, not if you want to do it right. And for awhile there, I was in a medium conundrum.

In art school, the first time around, I was taught to mix the classic one-third medium. This is made from equal parts linseed oil, damar varnish and turpentine. When I arrived years later at my second art school on the other coast, it was pretty much the same thing, although many students by then were turning to the pre-made medium Liquin. I know lots of people who just love Liquin. I am not one of them.

It was when I moved to New Mexico that I began that above-mentioned series of painting crises. Suddenly everything became difficult. Not the act of painting itself, or what to paint or where to show my paintings. It was all the stuff surrounding painting in the studio; all the preparation and finishing things that we have to do. I wanted to do them better than what I was taught in either art school.

Without going into all of the research I did, partially because I’m being lazy here, and a bigger partially because, I think you should do your own research since that is how you’ll find other interesting things along the way, I’ll keep it short-ish. And that is one hell of a sentence, now isn’t it?

I was looking for an all-purpose, simple, and most importantly, archival medium for oil painting. As a result of my travels through the classic books on painting such as; The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer and Oil Painting Techniques and Materials by Harold Speed, among a few others, I came to the following conclusions:

• Odorless Mineral Spirits is a fine replacement for turpentine. Turpentine is very hard on your lungs.
• Stand oil is flexible, archival and will not discolor with age.
• Varnish should not be used in a medium. It is too shiny, and way too inflexible. Varnish is meant for the final protective coat on a painting, but should not be used within a painting in my opinion. If you use varnish within the painting, as part of the medium, and then you varnish the final painting, when the day comes to clean the varnish, or remove it, you will also end up removing layers of the painting itself. Not good.

I use equal parts stand oil and odorless mineral spirits for my medium; the kind that is sold in art supply stores. I add them to a small container, and then let the combination sit for at least a week, turning it over and around on its side daily. Then I’m good to go and my paintings are happy.

big snow
Lots and lots and lots of snow

Earlier this afternoon I went outside to take pictures of the snow on the trees and shrubs out in the back of our huge old divided-up mansion. There’s a shared backyard and parking lot and carriage house, and for some reason it’s lower than everything else on this half of the block. The snow came up over my knees when I tried to walk through it. And that made me laugh.

After I came in and shook off the cold and snow, the weather turned to light flurries, as sort of a closing chapter to this episode. Was it a storm? It was so peaceful, it couldn’t have been a storm. Why do they call it a storm? Well, okay, it was a storm elsewhere, but from where I am it just looks like the winters I remember growing up. They say we got nearly two feet of the stuff, and this time I think they may be right. My two feet were having an interesting time of it.

Snow quiets everything but the creaks in the upstairs floor. At first it visually calms a city, but then the snow gets dirty, melts a bit, refreezes, turns to ice and becomes nasty. There is beauty, and then it gets all messed up. I remember as a young child in Flushing, it didn’t take long for the snow to accumulate black flakes of incinerator soot. City snow was spotted.

I am finishing up my last roll of film. My brother recently gave me his old digital camera, so I need to start reading the instructions and begin using this gift. As said after the last big snow, I really want to take photos of snow-covered meadows and farmlands and the edges of forests and streams and such places, but that is not to be for this year. However, I have the backyard and a few trees along with other urban flora, and they are sudsy with freshly fallen snow. They will do just fine for now. And there will be a fine batch of snow paintings in plenty of time before the start of next winter.

Snow flakes. Singular hexagrams. It's pretty cool. And very cold.

creative fun from almost nothing
Mmmmm... Breakfast!

In honor of the meal that's wonderful any time of day...

This monthly feature on developing unlimited creativity is best referenced from the two original creative fun from almost nothing entries from the archives; September and October 2009. Read those two entries, and the entry below will be all yours. Use the commonplace everyday to inspire your art!

• Do an abstract piece based on the breakfast table, but have no more than a 20% recognizability factor. Use all or some of the colors of the items on the table. Do not add any other colors that are not on the table.

Lemon Nest by Alexandria LevinCitrus peels
• Collect and dry citrus peels from anytime you eat a piece of any kind of citrus fruit. When you have a bunch and they are dried, make something out of them that is at least 80% citrus peel.

• Depict a breakfast scene as viewed through the half-lidded fog of being not quite awake so early in the morning. This would, of course, be a semi-abstracted work.
• Depict one, two or three simple breakfast objects in a foggy, not-quite-awake still-life.
• As more of a challenge, create a three-dimensional breakfast object in any medium, with the same half-asleep vision as above.

Rush hour
• Do the same as in the Fog exercises above, but replace the hazy daze with the rush and zip of some modern breakfast scenes. You may also apply this sense of speed to any singular breakfast object, or a series of such objects.

• Make a batch of pancake batter and divide it into a few different bowls. Add a few drops of food coloring to each bowl, so that you now have bowls of different colored batter. Next, make multi-color pancakes with the batter. (We did this once at a youth-run youth group conference. We also colored the butter that day. Pounds and pounds of blue and green and gray butter.)

The painting above is called Lemon Nest (©2001). A lemon living the luxe life before being peeled.

Every month a new creativity lesson is posted. See the archives for the full series. See September and October 2009 for further explanation on how to use the exercises.

Go to Painted Jay Publishing for the whole book:

first month of winter down
Way too many bits and pieces

I’ve been feeling not too well on and off since Thanksgiving; heart palpitations for weeks, an extra nasty and linger-y cold, a stomach flu of some kind and a swarm of headaches. Yesterday was the first day of the previous five without a headache. It had gotten so bad, that I can actually feel the relief of not having a headache. However, while making chicken soup last evening, I cut my finger pretty badly. I’ll be okay. I’m the self-healing type, as long as I’m allowed to take care of myself.

The other day, in my booth of a studio, it was all odds and ends. I’m framing a few pieces, while trying to work in a minimum of space. Things get juggled with great frequency. There was sanding, drilling, hardware-ing, gessoing, frame finishing, wrapping, varnishing, painting, washing brushes... Yes, there was some oil painting in there. Sometimes, often, I feel it is medically necessary to keep painting.

Eight days ago, the news broke about the earthquake in Haiti. I hear 7.0 and I am brought back in an instant to the 22nd floor at the corner of Bush and Sansome on October 17, 1989, as if time and space were no barrier to anything at all. The next second all I could think was, oh no this is really bad, knowing about how most buildings in Haiti were constructed. If Kobe was awful, this was going to be so much worse. And as we all know, it is beyond devastating. So we do what we can to help our fellow human beings during times of distress. Over at Daily Kos I learned about Shelter Boxes, and I gave what I could. If you are reading this in archives years from now, there will still be a desperate need for Shelter Boxes somewhere on this wobbly planet. Shelter Boxes are home in a box. They are built and equipped for ten people to survive for six months or more in relative comfort and dignity.

Shelter Boxes save lives. They are saving lives right now.

Learn more and donate here: and

Among tools and blankets and the tent and water purification tablets and a cookstove, among all these essential items and more are included crayons and coloring books for children. Children need to color to heal. Children need to color to grow and thrive. I love how they recognize the importance of this. It is one of the reasons they have my support. There are so many wonderful organizations doing amazing work to help where it hurts. Do what you can when you can.

creative fun from almost nothing
Pillows billowing by the willows

In honor of the fat new pillow I bought last week (it's cheaper than a chiropractor)...

This monthly feature on developing unlimited creativity is best referenced from the two original creative fun from almost nothing entries from the archives; September and October 2009. Read those two entries, and the entry below will be all yours. Use the commonplace everyday to inspire your art!

Sleep and dreams
• Portray a scene from one of your dreams. Do this in any medium, in anyway you like, to best express the dream.
• What do pillows dream about while you are sleeping? Portray a pillow’s dream or a pillow dreaming.

Pillow fight
• Portray a pillow fight. This can be the classic pillow fight involving people, or maybe it is a scene of pillows fighting among themselves. Work in any medium, in any format, and without restrictions.

• Make pillowcases for your bed pillows with scenes from actual dreams you have had. You can also portray something that you wish to dream about.
• Design a new type of pillowcase for a bed pillow. Think of function and/or aesthetics, such as a pocket for tissues or with a surface pattern you would like, but is not available in the stores.

• Do a painting, drawing, maquette or an installation piece based on pillows behaving in un-pillow-like ways. Work with one of the following ideas:
– A typically cold, hard structure made mostly of pillows, such as a bridge, a locomotive engine or a castle
– Warrior pillows, soldier pillows, hunting pillows, bully pillows, pillows being anything but warm, soft and comforting
– Pre-historic pillows
– Space pillows

Every month a new creativity lesson is posted. See the archives for the full series. See September and October 2009 for further explanation on how to use the exercises.

Go to Painted Jay Publishing for the whole book:

urban wildlife
Where we get some of our stories

In an instant there was a massive shadow swooping by my peripheral vision. What on earth could that be? I looked out the window to my left, and there was a hawk sitting on the closest branch of the maple tree. A few feet to the right was a squirrel on the trunk of the tree, frozen as winter stone. The hawk kept turning his head in every possible direction, while you could see the squirrel envisioning all kinds of horrendous things in squirrelese. And in the bare split of a second that the hawk glanced the other way, the squirrel took off.

For a few minutes there I thought I was about to have an Animal Planet moment.

Of course I would have watched. And then I would have thought about that squirrel for days, and what he must have been going through minute by minute. Explicitly.

For twenty years I mostly painted figures. I was never a big fan of the figures-in-space thing; those paintings of people doing nothing but sitting or standing or even floating there. There are some gorgeous paintings in that mode, but it’s just not for me. I have to tell stories and I love metaphor, so there needs to be symbolism, my own symbolism with my own interpetations. But just the same, I was a figurative painter for a long time. This came to an abrupt end in 1996. Quite simply, the stories I had to tell were of an intensity that the human figure could not convey without a certain level of obviousness. Like stepping sideways or through the looking glass, deeper truths could only be expressed in anthropomorphic allegory. That is the best I can explain it.

Beyond that, I also zoomorphize objects. Places have spirits. Everything I paint has a soul, and this makes perfect sense to me, being something of a pantheist. I don’t paint what I know exactly, for what would be the point? I paint what I need to understand further.

I understand the hawk needs to eat to live. And the squirrel needs to live for its own purposes. I take no sides. I only have fascination and some degree of empathy for each of the creatures. This particular squirrel got away, and eventually somebody else got eaten.

it being winter and all
There’s no storm like a snowstorm

Supposedly 23 inches of snow fell. Having had an especially nasty cold all week I did not venture outside to explore. But looking out the window I would say it was a foot of snow at the very most, at least in my corner of the city. I wanted to take pictures. I really wanted to get out into the countryside and take lots of pictures, but between my cold and our serious lack of a car, that was not happening.

Azalea #3 by ALexandria LevinI’m still painting azaleas, it so not being spring. I will be done with the azalea series about the time the real ones are starting to think about blooming again. Nothing happens on time. Well, almost. The abstractions I am also working on are still on time, but I am painting them in the waning months of my experiencing those things first hand, before they get relegated to the biohazard bin of unpleasant memories. All those autumn tree and leaf paintings were done in the spring and summer of last year. Most of my New Mexico paintings; backgrounds and primary subject matter alike, were painted in Boston, San Francisco, Pennsylvania...

I have been wanting to paint snow landscapes for awhile now. It will probably be spring before I finally start the series of ten or a dozen or so snow paintings I plan to do. They will be treated the same way I have been with the landscapes, trees, azaleas, period abstractions; as playful explorations with paint and brush and paddle and composition to see what else I can possibly do. I can keep very busy this way.

The boyfriend is the art historian of the two of us. I’ve got the basics down, but he knows and loves all the details. I have other passions. But through him I have discovered many painters I never would have known of otherwise. A few years back he introduced me to the work of John Henry Twachtman, and I fell hard for a few of his landscapes. From him I was inspired to paint snowscapes, and although I have yet to do my first one, they are on their way. The panels are being prepped as I write this entry.

The night it snowed, as the flurries were finishing up their work for the day, I was watching the sky through the bare branches of the neighboring trees turn from a grayish-violet to that ethereal faded rust of high-pressure sodium vapor. We find our beauty where we can get it.

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