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Archives: September to December 2009

okay, next
Wrestling the laundry beast

It is at those moments of repetitive unpleasantness that the passage of time shows its meanest face; here I am AGAIN doing THIS. I don’t especially celebrate Chistmas, and that is the subject of much writing to come someday, I suppose. But just the same, I spent Christmas morning doing laundry. Now, I don’t really mind doing laundry. I mind going up and down two flights of stairs four times; one long and curly flight, and one shorter and treacherous, splintery, dusty, steep flight into the basement of this building. I mind doing the laundry in the rather disgusting basement. I mind both the commercial washer and dryer that ruin certain articles of clothing I used to be fond of wearing.

I live in a mansion. Cool, huh? A real, honest-to-god mansion. Of couse, it’s been divided up into seven apartments. I think we live in the former master suite. Our rooms were pretty nicely rehabbed a few years back. It’s actually a lovely little apartment, the keyword being little. Our kitchen was built into a closet.

There is a memory from about ten years ago. I am in my old car stopped on Carlisle facing south, waiting for the light to change so I can turn left at Constitution. This would be Albuquerque. Albuquerque I loved. Albuquerque was my healing place. Life was so much easier in Albuquerque. But ten years after the fact, I can still intrinsically feel the restlessness within me. I clearly remember thinking; “here I am AGAIN, waiting for THIS light to change” after running errands that seemed to take up too much of my day. My god, to have a car again to run errands. To drive around easily. This bus thing I am dealing with now really sucks. Driving around these parts, as I remember before my car decided it did not want to be a car anymore, that only sucked a little bit less.

It is the very end of this decade. The aughts. The uh ohs. And I am as restless as ever. Measurements, compilations, quantitative containments... They only drive home the point, whatever the point of the matter at hand happens to be. I could be severely disappointed with things right now, but I am well beyond that. I am just feeling very trapped. There has to be an exit somewhere.

I remember New Year’s Eve 1999. They shoot guns in Albuquerque to ring in the new year. Until about 3:00 am, they do this. You either leave a party early to get home by 11:30, or you stay over all night. It’s not safe to go outside. We stayed home. Again, I clearly remember taking the chance to stand outside under the porch roof to feel what the new century, the new millenium felt like. And it did feel different in some inexplicable way. But wow, did we have no clue...

Y2K was the stolen election. 2001 brought a deep hole to my childhood city. In 2002 we moved here, blind as baby rats, becoming stunned as deer in the headlights. It’s been downhill most of the way since, one disappointment after another until recently. But on this wayward path I have found myself to be resilient as anything, resourceful as anyone, with my core as solid as ever. There is a slight upward swoop. I can’t see it yet, but I can feel it. In this past decade I’ve become a writer, a teacher, a publisher, a designer, a developer, a blogger. That’s got to be worth something. That’s got to take me somewhere. And most importantly, I’m still painting, I’m still creating and learning and growing. I’m still alive.

Brand new shiny decade. Bring it on.

minor chips and beefs
Newly formed, coming into existence

More than thirty years after I began painting, and then attendance at two art schools, one graduation with honors, winning important state grants, three solid resume pages of solo and group exhibitions, multiple publications, various awards, lectures and teaching experience, I was offered a spot in an emerging artist show. Emerging?!? What the hell am I emerging from? The shadows? A cave? The primordial ooze? What?

And okay, I currently live in the most provincial of all valleys located on this side of the Atlantic, and so therefore I have found that all my previous accomplishments do not count for much when it comes to official things that are locally-based, but really... Really! 

And so we bring you a smidge of poetry to honor the moment, although this was written about five years before the issue at hand. Clairvoyance? Or general annoyance?

You decide.

(two verses from...)
On the So-Called Emergence of an Artist

Emerging like a baby chick
all fragility and fluff
saturated with the goo of an egg
a yellow marshmallow puff
albumen sticking to feathers
who sneezed out this stuff?

Emergence, emergency
sound the alarms
the red sirens ringing
we’ve got another case here
it’s best to leave it hanging...

'Emerging artist' is another one of those terms like “woman artist” that gets used so often and for so long it becomes an accepted part of the lexicon. I’m not an English major. Why do these things make me nuts? I politely declined the offer. I am too nice. It was a huge favor they were doing for me, or so it seemed, as I am not of the right pedigree for these parts. And ultimately, beyond my own issues, they were a fairly decent gallery. I know they treat their artists okay and that alone doesn’t happen often enough. 


You have to listen to that little voice deep inside you. Not the crazy ones near the surface, but the calm inner voice that reminds you of your true value and worth. You can hear it in silence. As an artist who has stood the test of time, who has developed a durable flexibility, the outside respect will come. It will return. But it has to radiate from the center.

sort of funny while peeing
My very favorite graffiti ever

I was in the bathroom; that semi-outdoor, climate decontrolled, slightly circular, or maybe it just had a curved wall, bathroom near the cafe at SFAI. No big deal. I was often in that bathroom as it was the only one near the main source of food at school. It was a stark little two-stall place, with those bumpy-textured walls that seem to cover every indoor space in San Francisco. It was a popular spot. And one day there it was; “Beat me, f*#k me, make me take out student loans”, staring at me so eloquently from the back of the door while seated on the pot.

I was a lucky girl. Educational grants were still plentiful in the late 1980s. Loans were for only ten years duration, not thirty. Mine cost an affordable $104 a month, and I paid it off in six easy years. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to rub this in, even though it stings. Here, have a nice dab of aloe vera. You’ll feel a little bit better.

However, I do think of the huge burden friends and family of mine have these days; recent graduates and soon-to-be graduates. Some were fortunate enough a few years back to lock into low interest rates, but those who have yet to graduate... Ouch!

Is this still further proof of the stupidification of America? A plot to stupidify America? Now, school is not for everybody. I’m not even all that sure it was for me, being the naturally self-taught type. But education is critical, as much as possible for as many people as possible, in many different forms as possible. And a lot of those forms include higher education. We need as much of “the smart” as we can get in this country, and the sooner the better. But when wages have been falling way behind the cost of living for nearly two decades now, who can afford an education anymore? Who can afford to pay off their loans? Who can afford to be the entrepreneur or the innovator or the artist?

At this very same school, during the very same time period, the indoor downstairs bathroom stalls were painted black so that no writing would occur. But gesso was white. And thick. And the painting department was populous. And we had gesso. Lots and lots of gesso.

just doing its job
When the morning sun pokes me in the eye

Two mornings ago I awoke to the near-solstice sun reaching into our southeastern bedroom window and slapping me across the face. It does that. I’m not a big fan of waking up, although it is preferable to the alternative. Just let me sleep a little bit longer...

I love sleeping. My dreams are strange and colorful and full of things that have found their way into my paintings over the years. And then, being a painter I notice all kinds of unusual things when I’m awake. And two mornings ago, while I was lying there with my face burning ever-so-slightly from being sun-slapped, I stared absolutely transfixed into the corner where the bedpost meets the bookcase meets the wall.

Where the bedpost meets the bookcase meets the wall? Eh, you say? Yes but, the bedpost is the orange of oak, the bookcase is painted a deep aubergine sort of reddish-purple, and the walls are painted a very dark shade of olive green. We didn’t paint them that color, they came that way. I can live with it. But here we’ve got orange, purple and green; the secondary triad of colors, with sunlight creating brilliant shapes and shadows and reflections. It was all quite fascinating, if purely in a visual way.

I commented to the boyfriend that only painters can see this, but as I stumbled out of bed I remarked that photograhers can too. But that’s only a partial truth, because there are all kinds of perceptive people out there, many of whom are not artists. And then there are plenty of painters who don’t notice these things either. I mean, I notice a lot of audio input, street sounds, all sorts of musical elements in daily life, and I’m not a musician. Not yet, anyway. And I have to stop putting that off. But that’s another story. 

Perception keeps us from being bored.

I painted today; more small bloody red abstracts. Yeah, it’s just about that sporadic time of month. Now I’m writing and I have a bit of design work to do in what’s left of the afternoon. The sun is already on its descent for the day. Well, not really. The sun stays put. It’s all of us who are in motion. Even when we're asleep.

leaf notes
Now that they’re all gone

Leaves are my favorite motif. I looooove cats, but I’m not big on cat motifs. But a leaf pattern will get me every time. Don’t know why. Just is.

I had the rare pleasure of travelling recently, and I took the train. The whole train! Or maybe the train took me. Anyhoo, I spent a fair bit of time with my face nearly pressed against the window watching the world go by. How can you get bored on a train, at least in daylight? The best show on earth is out there! Of course, I was the little kid, always quiet in the back seat of the car, fascinated enough by the view so that I never complained. I couldn’t care less if we were there yet when there was so much to see on the way. (This is also how I keep from screaming my head off on the bus.)

This time I took leaf notes. In a notebook with a leaf motif on the cover. Words to evoke visual images to translate into paintings at some point. Here are a few of my notes, as written:

• Stands of grayish bark, orange yellow leaves
• Pale green lime leaves against red bricks
• Row of trees, each a different color
• The multicolor trees. Green one side, red the other
• Ruby red tree, like azaleas on stem
• Yellow tree with green tips – shaped like linden tree
• Red star-shaped leaves
• Leaves – naples yellow tree next to purple madder alizarin
• Super fuzzy evergreens – brown on inside, green on outside

painting by Alexandria LevinIf I have a reference photo of a green summer tree, there is no reason I can’t change that tree into one full of red leaves tipped in yellow. I mean, that’s our job, to interpret through our own personal vision to get to a higher (or deeper, as the case may be) truth. The higher, or deeper, truth is that this tree has brilliance in it. Or time passes and it will become autumn no matter how hard we resist. Or it’s a comment on the concept of stopping and waiting, when once there was go. Or maybe we just want it to have red leaves tipped in yellow, just because, and so we paint it that way.

The leaf in this post, in its natural fall color, was painted way back in 1998.

creative fun from almost nothing
Traffic lights amongst the urban blight

It doesn't feel at all like December out there, at least not today in this corner of the world. However, in honor of all the glittering lights of the hollerday season...

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 (see below). Read those two entries, and the entry below will be all yours. Use the commonplace everyday to inspire your art!

Visual abstraction from traffic lights
• Create an abstracted piece using only the following elements: The colors green, red, yellow, white and black, and variations thereof. You may also use metallic paints or other metallic materials. Use the shapes of disks, circles, rectangles and arrows, with these forms covering at least 75% of your composition. This can be expressed in any medium. It could even be a beaded sculpture with wires sticking out, or knotted in yarn with buttons. Don’t stop, don’t wait, just go!

• Design a new system of traffic signage based on the questions below.
– What would traffic lights of other colors such as blue or orange mean?
– What new symbols could traffic lights use besides hand, man walking or arrow?
– What different words could there be for pedestrian signals besides walk, wait or stop?
• Include one of these new traffic lights in a scene. Set a particular mood, depending on the meaning of the new traffic signal. 

• Design and/or create a new traffic light for any of the following purposes:
– An intergalactic traffic light
– For the middle of nowhere here on earth
– For the only bathroom in a crowded house
– For a busy kitchen at a popular restaurant
– A traffic light at average dog-height for a dog park
– For a public swimming pool or ice rink
– At a department store during the holiday season
– For a mosh pit. Do they still make these?

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:

carpeting blues
Rolling and heaving vinyl flooring

Let me tell you once more about that place in lived in for 18 months when I first landed in Albuquerque in 1995; the converted office on an alley in a parking lot by a dumpster. I hated that apartment. I loved being in New Mexico, but that apartment was just this side of hell. Of course, the first place in which we lived in Pennsylvania was just as charming in its very own way.

There were the daily dozen water beetles, like big black shiny cockroaches that go crunch. Foot-deep dried pine needles from the dead trees covering everything front and back. The seven-foot tall weed growing out of the asphalt by my worn-out doormat. The bathtub configured so that the water from the shower would drain all over the floor. The disturbingly bright yellow kitchen sink. And the ever-popular dumpster... with the anonymous person sitting inside the dumpster throwing all the garbage out and onto the ground with sheer abandon. The trash truck screeching by once a week at four in the morning to collect the contents of said dumpster. Outside my bedroom window. At four in the morning.

The carpeting that covered most of the floors. I hate carpeting. The carpeting was bright blue. And used. The landlords told me that it was from an IBM office, from a different office building than the one I was now living in. Used office carpeting! They were very proud of that fact. Fine, you live here, I’ll take your house. They had hardwood floors. And no dumpster.

Whenever I have a home studio, I make a point of protecting the floor. Landlords appreciate that, as does the floor. This has meant buying a piece of vinyl flooring, or in my current situation, moving the piece from our previous place so I wouldn’t have to buy a new one.

When I moved my studio into that particular apartment; the converted office on an alley in a parking lot by a dumpster, I had limited carrying ability and therefore bought two small rolls of vinyl flooring, 6x9 foot each, and also a roll of heavy-duty packing tape. I taped them together to cover the floor. I then set up my easel and table and lights and everything I needed.

Within two or three days the first ripple appeared. The ripple grew into a wave. Then it invited friends. Then the whole floor shifted sideways. I pulled and tugged and pinned the flooring down with my weighs-a-ton-almost painting table. Two days later, the whole thing repeated itself. I would trip on my own floor, but in this case I had a good excuse. The easel would rise up unexpectedly on one side. Carpeting would appear around the edges of the room at strange angles. Pull, tug, pull, tug, pull, tug, pin down. Do this every few days for the next few months.

On occasion the dumpster outside my front door came in handy. There went the vinyl flooring. I went back to the hardware behemoth and bought a rug. It’s all about like substances. Like vinyl on hard flooring. Have carpeting? Get a rug. A carpet remnant with bound edges. They sell them at pretty reasonable prices, or at least they used to. It’s all about rug on rug. And having a studio floor that stays relatively flat.

from frugal fridays
Creative gift-a-palooza

And because of the wonderful folks over at Daily Kos; I just wrote my first ever Kos dairy as a guest blogger for the Frugal Fridays column. And then I took the weekend off from the computer.

Because creative progressive leftist folks like to make things with their hands, as do various non-political and right-wing folks, here is an abundance of ideas for making home-made and hand-made gifts for everybody. Click here to read the diary and comments.

minor chips and beefs
I thought I was a noun

Since when is the word woman an adjective? I thought the word woman was a noun, something definite and not merely descriptive. See the woman doctor hawking tampons on the television, designed by a woman gynecologist. Tampons that is, not the telly. That was the first time I heard the term used this way.

Woman doctor. Woman artist. Women artists. Dang!

The adjectve is female. Female. So biological sounding, so clinical, sexual even. Blood and mucous and ooze. Bone, sinew, cramps, muscle, fat, all kinds of shades of red, fibroids and other strange masses, aging or even worse; intuitive, dark, mysterious... oh no, can’t have that! It’s not acceptable. Nope.

Concerning showing in female-only exhibits... It’s okay by me if the theme of the exhibition, the subject matter of the art being exhibited, relates to being female. Otherwise, it’s just silly.

Woman artist. Man musician. Dog animal. Flavor lunch. Leaf tree. Air sky. Brilliance lightbulb.

I am an artist. I also happen to be a female artist, among other descriptors, although most are pretty much unnecessary in my book when it comes to being an artist. Other labels may be necessary for other things, but not for this. Oil Painter is good. I could go by that. But I am not a "woman artist". Period.

adventures in paint
Stranger things have happened

What did we used to sing way back when? Stranger in the night, than in the daytime...

unfinished painting by Alexandria Levin Anyhoo, I thought I would show you this. We took a rather not-so-good photo, just for you to see. It’s a very unusual start to a painting for me. It’s half a trip. Tomorrow I go into it for the second round until it’s once again too wet to get into without making mud. Then it will sit and dry to-the-touch for a week or so. I think some folks would stop at this stage and call it done, but I want lots of layers and complexity. It’s not enough right now. I think it’s maybe related in some way to this painting. This is the second painting in the new series discussed in Keeping azaleas company in the October archives.

See those linear marks? I want more of those gray painting paddles, but they are pricey. So, I think for now I am going to try messing with assorted erasers, which are not at all pricey, but are made of a similar material. If I continue to like working with rubbery paint applicators, then I am going to eventually get a set of the official pricey painting paddles. That’s not what they are really called, but I like calling them that. Paddle is such an enjoyable word.

I wasn’t feeling well this morning. My mind was awake, but my body was groggy even though I just woke up a few hours earlier. However, I made myself paint for two hours. Good music helps. And I started another azalea; not an exciting beginning stage, but good solid groundwork nonetheless. And the first painting in the other new series (which needs a name, or do I have one already?), which I thought was done, wasn’t, but now it is. It is dark and red and jagged and is exactly how I feel at times.

Yes, painting is work. It’s really hard work. But if there is no element of fun, or wonder, or bliss, or communing with whatever it is you call god, then what’s the point?

creative fun from almost nothing
Unemployment blues... and pinks

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 (see below). Read those two entries, and the entry below will be all yours. Use life circumstances to inspire your art! Lemonade out of lemons and all that...

Pink slip
• Design and/or create a real pink slip that can be worn for the occasion. Is it elegant for going out in style, or bizarre for leaving them guessing, or is it seriously uncomfortable and ill-fitting for an unhappy exit?
• Design and/or create something involving the abstract concept of the pink slip (maybe like a banana peel, only pink). Think about other meanings of the words pink and slip.
• Get a bunch of used slips from the thrift store and dye them pink. Create an installation piece utilizing all these pink slips.
• Do an abstraction based on the sound of the words pink and slip (just about now, the word slip is losing its meaning and becoming very strange to me). Do one piece that is about 90% in different shades of pink, another that is equal parts pink and one other color, and as a challenge, one with absolutely no pink at all.

• Do a portrait of yourself as being very small in a large space.
• Do a series of increasing smaller self-portraits.
• Do a series of things getting increasingly smaller in any two or three-dimensional medium.

Loss, rejection, panic, falling apart
• Portray a realistic scene of what actually happened, including any of the above mentioned emotions.
• Portray your feelings of loss or panic in a purely abstract way, with no representational objects depicted at all.
• Think about the push and pull of rejection that results from being let go from a job that you wanted to leave anyway. Express these mixed emotions with a hybrid of styles and/or materials.
• Create a two or three-dimensional portrait of yourself as literally falling apart in pieces. Then do a similar portrait of yourself as reconstructed with bandages, rubberbands and/or tape.
• Create scenes of anything falling apart and/or being put back together.

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:

painting by Alexandria LevinThe painting to the right is called Unemployed Cap. Funny story... although not at the very moment, which was during the spring of 2001. The boyfriend was working at a restaurant that had just issued new caps to their kitchen staff. I saw this thing sitting backwards after he brought it home, and there was that face, grimacing right at me. I had to paint it! No problem. He planned to wear his old hat for the few weeks I needed to do the painting. Meanwhile, this restaurant was going on a firing spree of all of their long-term employees... because brand new hires could be paid much less. He was out of work for nine whole days before beginning his next job somewhere else. Nine days! Imagine that! Ahh, the good ol' days...

fake ladybugs
They congregate while fall is slipping away

I thought I was in a wonderland. I wandered into my office/studio one afternoon a few days ago and there were ten, count ‘em, ten ladybugs. Then there were 15. The next day there were 30, and then 40. They were wandering the perimeter of the moulding that separates the wall from the ceiling, some going left, some going right. A few daring bug souls were coming down closer to my level. I found one low on a window covering. I scooped it up onto a fingernail, but something didn’t feel right. The grasp was not so gentle. They were not red. They were a burnt orange color, and had stripes along with the dots. I looked them up, these curious interlopers. They had come in to hibernate for the winter. And more were coming.

As it turns out, you can easily vacuum them up. And out they went, bag and all. So much for being the queen of the ladybugs.

You can look out the window at almost any deciduous tree. It’s a good leaf autumn, our second in a row. And it is speeding by while I am caught up in more necessary details than I care to repeat. I was riding in a car the other day, running errands with an associate, and the trees out there were stunning. I took countless pictures with my mind. I stared them down, those leaves. I am attracted to things in transition, as much as I love the stillness of other things. Or maybe it’s the still moments of things that are in the process of change.

And of course, the color. Especially the tipped leaves; where the tree is green, but edged in yellow or orange or red. Or the ones that have the audacity to be three colors at once, not including shades of trunk gray and brown. I am imprinting these color notes on my brain. I will write them down in a notebook. They will someday appear in new tree paintings. Right now I’m still on azaleas and this new short series mentioned below; “it’s fun being a girl”. These two will take me through fall and early winter.

painting by Alexandria LevinI am overdue for a jubilee year. For a well-earned sabbatical. A year to just be. I try to notice as much beauty as possible through the petty annoyances and paperwork and reoccuring headaches that clutter too many of my days. It’s a shame though. Fall is my favorite season. And it’s almost half over.

When thinking about starting this blog, my goal was to have at least four or five entries a month. Bing, we’re at four. Opening month was pretty good at eight. This month, I’ve got a lot of ideas, but not so much spare time. I look out the window at this very moment; the sun is going down (or we are turning over) and the sky is pink, while the leaves are darkening yellows and greens in the fading light. It’s quite stunning. In the early 90s at this date I would be preparing for the Day of the Dead celebrations in San Francisco, or the Rooms for the Dead art installations. At a younger age, I would be putting together my Halloween costume. Next October, next October, yes, next October I will write about these. I will post photos.

Meanwhile, that's "Orange Pumpkin Trio" gracing this post. Happy Halloween! I'll be ignoring it this year. Meanwhile, forty fake ladybugs have been vacuumed up, and eleven new ones have taken their place. They think they are going to hibernate in here. They are not. Me neither. See you in November.

Keeping azaleas company

This is crazy abstraction — Interpreting something rooted deeply in the physical realm into something purely in the visual realm without using anything pictorial, and then trying to explain it in the language realm. Word language. Like these words in particular. 

Reach a hand deep inside. It doesn’t have to be yours. Grab an internal organ. Squeeze as tightly as possible. Then twist either left or right. It doesn’t matter which direction. Bleed. Turn the red faucets slowly on until there’s a steady crimson flow. Get queasy. Bloat. Heart palpitate. Add whorls of gristle. Bake an assortment of potatoes. String lumpy garnets on a frayed piece of mucosal twine. Howl. Howl at the streetlight, the lamp light, the refrigerator light. The moon has taken her leave.

Completely deplete.

Take that canvas-covered panel you found behind some neglected drawing pads. Choose a few of the trusty old brushes, a pair of shiny new painting knives, that wide synthetic brush someone recommended you try and the rubbery paddle-like thing the boyfriend lent you. Titanium white, a few shades of red, ivory black, permanent green for contrast and some long-forgotten metallic maroon oil paint that smells a bit odd. Go for it. Leave it alone. Let it dry to the touch and then glaze the whole thing down with alizarin crimson (maybe) and go back into it again. And again. And again.

Do ten of these, one for each toe, with the variations being; application and selection of color, differing tool usage, and two canvas-covered panels vs. eight smooth panels.

By the way, don’t ever let anyone criticize you on the first day of a painting, or criticize your painting on its first day of being. ‘Cause if they are, then they are really criticizing you. Or maybe, they are simply criticizing themselves and you just got in the way. Something like that. You need the freedom to start without pressure. Any marks you make in the beginning will only enrich the whole painting in the end.

creative fun from almost nothing
The beach is always better off-season

Choose a word or concept. List all the things you can think of concerning your chosen word or concept. Write it down so you can see it all. Here are some examples for the word; beach (nature version).

Beach elements – Horizon line, ocean, sea spray, foam, sand, beach grass, bubble holes, bird tracks, seabirds, fish, water.
Beach concepts – Sound, color, power and rhythm of the waves, tides and the moon, ancient seas and fossils, salt, infinity.
Found objects – Driftwood, seaweed, shells, pebbles, stones, sand dollars, starfish.

Visual interpretations – Transpose the sound, color, power and rhythm of the ocean as it laps or crashes to shore.

• Use ribbons, wires, string and other fibers to visually describe the sound of the ocean, either in a fiber piece, a sculpture, or a room-sized installation. Work with your choice of a limited range of beach colors.
• For 2D artists (turn us sideways, we disappear) - Do a piece similar to the above using line instead of the ribbons, wires, string and other fibers.
• Working with the colors of ocean waves, create a piece that does not actually depict waves, but feels like waves.
• Create or depict a powerful wave-making machine. Make it appear rusty and salt-bitten, but strong nonetheless. Another option is to make or portray a wave-making monster that is responsible for the workings of the shoreline.
• Think about the rhythmic pattern of the waves. Do a piece that is visually based on the same sort of rhythm.

Here are some other beach-inspired ideas that you can use as a basis for artistic creativity. Use any of these ideas and concepts in creating artwork. You may also combine anything from below with anything else that may be on your mind to make something original.

• Sand: Rocks and shells becoming sand. Colors of sand, wet and dry. Sand as a material.
• Seabirds: Motion, swoop and call. Bird tracks and other footprints, evidence.
• Waves: Salt, seaspray, pieces of rainbow in the crashing wave mist.
• Sea creatures who come near shore: Sharks, crabs, fish, seals.
• Color, pattern, texture, line: Shells, stone, driftwood, seaweed.
• Material and design: Starfish, sand dollars, shells, driftwood, beach pebbles and rocks.
• Meaning: The star in starfish, the dollars in sand dollars.
• Science: The push and pull and churn near the shore, ancient seas, geologic history found in fossils, fossils as design elements and the idea of fossils, the whole body of a sea creature as an art form.

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:

while pondering the hibernating thermostat
How did it get to be October already?

Tomorrow morning I paint. Today I worked on some postcard layouts for a client, did some research, made some calls, sent some emails, and felt slightly not well (you don’t want the details, and anyway I’m not that kind of writer yet). Still to do - this very thing here. And send some more emails, post a video page for an artist friend, deal with a small paper pile and make dinner. Pizza. Why on earth am I making and/or eating pizza when I have the “feeling slightly not well” thing going on. ‘Cause I want pizza.

Let me tell you about my pizza. I am highly intolerant of wheat. Mostly of eating wheat, but I won’t even collect vintage Pyrex with the wheat pattern. Wheat. Bad. Spelt. Good. Spelt is an ancient form of wheat, but I can digest it; my body recognizes it as food. This summer I have begun expanding my spelt baking repertoire, out of both frustration and creativity. I’m even baking my own bread now. Like it already being October of 2009, how did that happen? Things happen. The earth travels. So I found this wonderful spelt crust recipe online. Do that, add pizza sauce from the can, sauté lots of mushrooms and shallots in olive oil, slice up lactose-free mozzarella sticks, sprinkle with oregano and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Eat! Seriously enjoy! Until last month it had been 12 whole years since I had me a pizza.

So, tomorrow morning I paint. Azaleas. Any possible way I can paint them, for awhile anyway. Lots of pink and green; not exactly October colors. I’ve got panels for a dozen of them and I can prepare more if I feel like I’m not done with painting azaleas. These are an extension of the trees I am painting these days, my “strange forest”. Funny azaleas. There are four so far in various stages of being done. One looks like a flat bubblegum footstool. That will change. Two are already gorgeous. I want beautiful and odd.

Did I have a point? Am I pointy? Sometimes you just have to schedule in the truly important things. And tomorrow morning I paint.

creative fun from almost nothing
About the nature of creativity and inspiration

Inspiration is like sleep. It cannot be forced. It arrives when it desires. However, we can help allow creative thoughts and ideas to make an appearance. Although for some it is easier than others, tapping into the flow of creativity is inherent in all of us as human beings. An infinite amount of creative energy is out there waiting to be collected. It is just a matter of making space for it; quieting the noise and clearing away the clutter in our minds.

There will come a time when you can reach into your sources of inspiration under almost any circumstance, but at first it will help to be in a relatively quiet space with no distractions. Cleaning out the excess stuff that is making a mess inside your head can easily be done on a short-term basis, long enough to let in a few sparks of inspiration. Use basic visualization techniques, where you let yourself clearly see the process. Here are a few visualization suggestions for clearing your mind. Just imagine:

painting by Alexandria Levin• A fan outside one ear blowing all the unnecessary things out the other ear
• A jumbo eraser eliminating that which needs to be gone
• A bunch of colorful ballons carrying off the excessive stuff into the far reaches of the sky, until you can’t see them anymore
• A set of brooms sweeping it all away, which is my personal mind-clearing tool. See my 1997 painting to the right called The Desired Effect.
• A flock of birds carrying the clutter out an open window

Of course, you may come up with your own images, but feel welcome to use any of the above ideas to start. Once the mind-clutter is gone, either pictorial-thought or word-thought will automatically come on its own, or it may need a little help. Below are some visualization ideas for tapping into the flow of inspiration:

• Put out your empty cupped hand and scoop it up from the nearly infinite grains of sand at the beach.
• Hold out your cupped hands and let it fall from the sky.
• Collect it in a cistern on the roof, or through a funnel placed on top of your head.
• Tap into a tree, bucket at the ready.
• Dip a bowl deep into a river, the literal stream of consciousness.
• Get aboard the train of thought and ride it for all it’s worth.

See what you get. Do something with it. Watch for next month’s creativity exercises as fun examples of what you can do with wonderfully odd and strangely practical ideas.

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:

R.I.P. slides
About digital images

For awhile there my whole life was about slides. My “day job” by design was freelance, and only took up some days. But those hours were filled with slides. There were times when the dang things were up to my elbows. By some path of accident or fate I fell into the speech support circuit, long before PowerPoint. I did production - translating rough layouts into mechanicals that were carefully calibrated with rubylith and ink and translucent triangles. For slides.

I freelanced so I could paint. No work gig today? Studio time!

Slides were also the thing for artists to present their work with until very recently. I saw grant applications that just last year were still requiring slides. Slides were a fact of life for visual artists for the longest time. I personally haven’t had any since 2005. And I don’t miss them.

I work with digital images now, for myself and for the other artists that I assist. There are a lot of misconceptions that need to be cleared up, for both artists and the folks requesting images. So here are the basics:

First you need to know what the image is for, the desired end result. Print and the web (or screen) are two very different beasts. If the image is to be printed you will need it to be in CMYK mode. This stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These are those tiny dots that laid over each other just so create all the colors. Those dots are measured in DPI or dots per inch. Minimum resolution (quality) for print is 300 dpi. Images for print are measured in inches (in the U.S.). And the best format for a print image is a TIFF, but ask your printer what they think is best. To summarize for print:

• CMYK mode
• 300 dpi or higher resolution
• A measurement of the height or width in inches
• TIFF image

If the image is for the web, or any other screen viewing situation, you will need it to be in RGB mode. This stands for red, green and blue, and is similar to how colors are processed for television. Instead of DPI you will now have PPI resolution, or pixels per inch. Images for the web or screen are measured in pixels. 72 ppi resolution is standard for the web. It is high enough for good screen viewing quality, but low enough to make lousy copies if printed out, and of course, low enough to be quicker to appear on the screen or send through email. And the best format for a screen image is a JPEG. To summarize for web or screen:

• RGB mode
• 72 ppi resolution
• A measurement of the height or width in pixels
• JPEG image

New paintings on alexalev site

painting by Alexandria LevinThere are 21 fresh new paintings now posted on the alexalev site, which is my oil painting website. This has been my major project this past week. Updating a few pages is a breeze. However, I decided to completely restructure the bones of the site. Now it’s all XHTML and CSS updated, and it’s much happier in code world. I’m one of those odd artists who also likes math-related things. That must mean I’m ambi-brained.

Not all the paintings I’ve done in the past year and half are on the site. Only about half of the tree paintings are up, and I like some of the ones that are not there. I didn’t do as many critter paintings this past year as I usually do. I am having a serious drought of resources, although I am going to two flea markets in October, and hopefully I will then find some well-loved and neglected stuffed animals that inspire me.

oh crap
Support the Handmade Toy Alliance

I was having a rough day, one of those try to get a lot of errands done, but hardly any of them actually get done kind of days. Plus I fell and my whole left side got covered in bark mulch. But I was running a bit early too. Weird. So I ventured into a thrift store I had never been to before. Yay! I love a good thrift store. This was to be my treat for persevering through the frustration.

And there on the front door it was... A note making mention of a new law, and because of that law they would no longer be able to sell used toys. Halp! I paint used toys!!! The more used, the better. Where am I going to get my subject matter? Illicit yard sales and outlawed flea markets? WTF? Well, here is what happpened and it seems to have affected the used toy market as well...

Big multi-national corporate businesses outsource manufacturing, toys then get re-imported back into the U.S. that, oops, are poisonous or otherwise unsafe, and who pays for this greed-derived irresponsibility? The small independent artisan toymaker who is not only creating jobs here at home, but is also creating things of wonder and handmade beauty for children. Items that have never posed a threat to kids in the first place are now illegal to sell, all because of prohibitive costs for testing for toxicity that are beyond rendundant. These folks can explain it better than me, plus there is a super-easy petition to sign: (this link may no longer exist)

Yeah, it’s an Action Blog entry. Thanks! I mean, who are they going to come after next? Oh yeah, visual artists. Look up: Orphan Works.

notes from the notebook
Newtown, we have a problem

Out here on a humid corn farm. It’s beautiful, albeit tepid and damp in the climate department. So nice to get out of the stinky city. Cicadas and clouds. Hawks circling in the background. Dragonflies and butterflies in the foregound. I’m staring down a ridge of trees in the near distance. Maybe I’ll draw them. Maybe not.

Here on a figure drawing day with a small group of friends, a casual drawing group started by the boyfriend. It’s his passion, this figure drawing thing, and he’s amazing at it. But it’s his passion, not mine. We can be such different kinds of artists, although completely sympathetic to each other’s type. I am usually a solitary creature. I don’t do drawing groups. And I am just so not in the mood to draw the wonderful model posing for us. I knew I wouldn’t be.

On the other hand, I have not only done, but blissfully enjoyed, installation and other such more interactive and multi-dimensional group art projects. So maybe... just maybe, my problem is with drawing. And the funny thing is, I can teach drawing and teach it well, but I just don’t like doing it that much. And figure drawing, well forget it. Not for me. I can entertain myself for awhile with color pencils and abstraction and working out ideas for larger paintings, but it’s just not really my art, or anywhere near my reason to be. I’m such a painter. An indoor, solitary, turn-up-the-music painter. And maybe, just maybe, that is not a problem, despite the gang I hang out with on occasion. Plus, somebody has to be the designated driver.

website update update
Let’s make things as complicated as possible

I was preparing to update my painting website this coming week with 21 new images. So the other day I went to go look at the coding I built for that site just to see where I left things off. This is the second site I ever built, it’s a few years old and I knew it was a bit of a mess behind the scenes. Last winter I took great leaps forward in site development, and since last spring I have taken to checking my HTML code against the W3C validator. So I checked two sample pages from my painting site, and after fixing a few minor things in the code, they came up clean. Yay, validated! But just the same, my CSS files were a mess. Untangling them and renaming everything could take eons. Or I could just build from scratch. It’s not necessary, but like an overstuffed closet with who knows what going on in there behind the closed door, it’s bugging me.

And so just in time for the launch of this blog, I am going to deconstruct and then reconstruct my painting site. Good timing, huh? I’m not redesigning it though, no way, uh uh. I’ll let you know when the reconstruction is done.

more discontent for your pleasure
Paintings that never made it out of the sketchbook

In my first apartment in Albuquerque I lived in Nob Hill, which I called Nob Lump after having lived on the real Nob Hill, which is an honest-to-god hill, in San Francisco.

sketch by Alexandria LevinI lived in a dump (a dump on the lump)... seriously, I lived for 18 months in a converted dentist’s office on an alley in a parking lot by a dumpster. I had a work-only studio downtown in what I called the ugliest building in Albuquerque, which was on North Second. I wish I took photos, because it has since been somewhat de-uglified. My then studio-mate was cool. He introduced me to the music of Café Tacuba. After about six months I moved my studio into the dining room of the apartment because I get a lot more painting done at home.

Nob Hill is a mile or so north of the airport. One day they changed runways. Or maybe they were doing repairs or something, I don’t remember anymore. What I do remember is that one day it got very loud. And shaky. And it did this over and over again with only a few hours break in the middle of the whee hours of the morning. Airplane bellies flying directly over my humble fake-adobe abode. Ever try shouting at an airplane? They don’t hear you. This went on for months and months, and did not make for a happy neighborhood.

I was still painting on stretched canvas at this time. And I was still sketching out some of my ideas as well. I was also doing all these water disaster paintings during this period (see the allegoricals section of my painting site). It was going to be a whirlpool, a whirlpool of airplanes flying into some kind of undefined center. The painting never made it out of my sketchbook. It exists only in color pencil with notes. And in the back files of my mind, of course. The title... “The Sound of our Discontent”.

hello world
I paint, therefore I blog

You have caught me during the summer of our discontent; one of an odd number of seasons of discontent that seem to string themselves along like so many misshapen pearls, and yet I still manage to wear them. I have never felt this trapped, mind you that about a third of my chart is in Sagittarius, the sign that sings Don’t Fence Me In, a lament, a sad lonely howl against the sirens and buses and car stereos playing really truly awful music. In high school I thought I was this trapped, but high school had an end, a deadline. I knew I was going to graduate and when. Between my general intelligence and the low level of expectations our school system set up for us, it was a given. A light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel deadline was looming, so really, I was not as trapped then as I feel now.

On the other hand, I create like crazy. My mind wanders far and wide. This only gets better with age. I have a demanding muse, and she gives and gives as long as I let her (and if I don’t let her, I come down with one illness or another). I am rich in this way.

When looking into moving to Philadelphia from New Mexico it seemed like this would be an artist’s paradise. And it is... for other artists, but not for me. I will be writing a lot about this. And wait a minute... isn’t New Mexico also an artist’s paradise? Well, yes it is, but I’ve lived there twice already. Next place will be someplace new.

Some show I was in a long time ago needed a statement from me. Most do. And I was in one of those moods I get into from time to time. So I wrote what I think what was one of my best artist statements; “I paint.” I’ve been painting since I was 17. I’ve been writing since I was 15. Painting has been more consistent in my life, but writing has always been there just the same. ‘Nuff said. For now.

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