It’s an uphill battle


This painting is another in a series of small walnut ink paintings I made for my friend Doug Rees. It’s from a larger painting I created one sleepless night while in the midst of a self-pity party. Felt like everything in life was just one big heavy bundle that I was trying to tote up a steep and barren hillside.

One of the things I hate about getting older is that things don’t seem to get easier—life is full of burdens, griefs, and sadness that you have to continually carry around with you, and the climb is steadily uphill.

But I suppose the view from high on the rocky mountain of existence takes in many things.  The bundle of the old woman’s back also carries treasures and trinkets of joy.

Artist on vacation

Looking across the Strait of Juan de Fuca at 6 a.m. Canada was just a low dark stretch across the water.
Looking across the Strait of Juan de Fuca at 6 a.m. Canada was just a low dark stretch across the water.

Californians wanted to know: Why are you going to Port Townsend in March? Isn’t it raining enough for you here?

We left California in a rainstorm (rare for California), and arrived in Port Townsend in a rainstorm. I don’t mind the rain. After having lived under the grimly sunny skies of California for the last decade, it’s nice to once again see a sky with some kind of personality.

And boy, the sky showed her colors the first day we were here. Big clouds stretched from horizon to horizon. They poured rain, hail, even a bit of snow, and I painted and painted all morning, trying to capture the light, the clouds, and their movement over the water. I’m not used to painting skies. In California I rarely look at the boring blue; if I lived here, I think I would only paint skies.

We’ve got a great hotel room; it’s a carriage house suite actually. Painting in front of the picture window is like plein air painting, only warmer and with a cup of tea.

Watercolor done on Strathmore postcard.
Watercolor done on Strathmore postcard.

Later in the morning, the clouds broke up a little. But Canada was still a long, low spit of land across the Strait. That evening the sky cleared and we realized that the clouds had been hiding mountains—ranks of huge, gleaming, snow covered mountains.

The end of art?

Puppet Goddess <p> Watercolor Copyright Margaret Sloan 2009
Puppet Mistress Watercolor

This painting started out as a meditation on three young women I know who are entering their college years at what may be the worst economic time in recent history. They are all artists, although in different arenas, and they all want to pursue a life in the arts. I have no doubt about the talent of these three young women. It bubbles out of them in everything they do; they are incredibly creative, innately talented. They simply glow.

But all is doom and gloom in the world these days, and bad news begs the question: Is this the end of art? The end of being able to make a living from your art? Will my  young friends find a world where they can profit from their lights?

Of course I worry that the storms of reality may derail their (and my) dreams of making it as artists. So this painting is a charm for them (and for me). We’re all hiding under our umbrellas right now, but really, we should be looking around, letting the storm entertain and inform us, and making better art in response.

If the silver lining to this economic train wreck is brought by a half-naked Amazon making marionettes tap dance on our heads, so much the better!

BTW: There’s a good op-ed piece from the New York Times (The Boom Is Over. Long Live the Art!) about the effects of the bum economy on that rarefied world where artists hawking pickled sharks and embalmed calves become high-end darlings of people with more money than God. It’s an interesting read, if just for the historical value of seeing how the last few downturns in the economy affected that otherworldy land, and that, for the health of art, this downturn might not be a bad thing.

Painting hands

hands playing flute

These are the hands of William Bajzek, a very fine Irishflute player from County Santa Clara (that would be in California).

When you play the wooden flute, you feel the flute vibrate through your hands and the air rush up through the finger holes. A well-made flute feels nearly alive in your hands, ready to start singing at barely a breath of air. When I watch William play, it seems to me that his hands as well as his ears are listening to his flute.

monochromaticstudyI’ve painted this image in watercolor 8 times. The first 6 paintings were one-color value studies, painted on Biggie watercolor paper, 2- up. I was trying to understand the way the values moved across the forms, and how to manipulate the paint. With watercolor especially, you need to have a plan, a framework around which to build your spontanaity, and I’m trying to figure out that plan.

I’m posting just one pair of my favorite one-color studies. I think it’s nice as one color, but I have a color piece in mind.

The first time I tried to use color was disastrous. Lesson learned: start with light value colors first, and progress to dark values. Also, be very careful with staining color, because it’s nearly impossible to remove.

I’m not entirely happy with this first color version, although it has a freshness to it. But the cheap paper buckles unattractively. And I’d like it to be a little tighter, less impressionistic, although I know that is the style in watercolor right now. Somehow I’d like to combine freshness and control in my watercolors.

If you’d like to know more about woodenflutes, you can start at