Category Archives: Art Making


The Art of Practice

It’s been 1 year and 10 days since I wrote my last blog post. Wait….what? I seriously can’t believe that much time has passed. It’s actually quite a bit unnerving.

I can’t even explain fully why it’s been so long. We’ll leave it at “the last year has been a roller coaster.”

I’ll cut to the present to tell you the opening of Doors of Perception is happening this Sunday! Mike and I worked our artistic tails off to get work finished (procrastination and artist block were definitely alternating parts of the year….), and we’re both excited to see the show finally hanging.

100 64 Squares

One of the pieces I finished was a grid of 64 6″ squares, the largest piece I’ve done to date at 5′ x 5′. I started the project with 100 squares in mind. Such a nice even number, I thought. A challenge!

OK. That’s a lot of blank boards when you see them all stacked in a large box on the studio floor.

Not too far along into the project, after I had to completely redo the first 9 squares, feeling overwhelmed about finishing, I decided that removing the outer line of squares was going to work just as well and would be much more manageable.

Work in Progress Julie Renfro

It wasn’t quite entirely a Plan B-type of situation, more of a course correction.

Art Practice

I learned over the past year that it’s important to have an art practice. There’s discipline involved in going out to the studio, every day, and working. Working. Whether you want to or not.

It’s not always fun, sometimes it’s quite difficult, but you do it anyway to keep moving the art you do forward in some way.

Even if it’s a very small step. If you keep working, even little bits a day, eventually you’ll finish something. It may not look like you originally intended, but it may just be magical enough.

Wow. It’s really up.

Facebook post by Janice Charach Gallery



Also posted in Art Stories, Creative Life, Doors of Perception

The Right Tools for the Job

Baby, life’s what you make it
Can’t escape it
Life’s What You Make It, Talk Talk

Awhile back, I was painting away at something and was feeling really frustrated. I was having the hardest time making the strokes behave the way I wanted them, kept grumbling to myself, making a mark, wiping it away, making a mark, wiping it away. Not. Having. Fun.

It took me a little span of frustration, but eventually I focused on the brush in my hand and realized I was trying to make square/right-angled strokes with an angled brush. Doh! How did that happen?

(Hold your horses, I feel a metaphor coming on…)

A little Art and Life Lesson right there: pay attention to your tools. Are they helping or hindering? Sometimes it’s obvious they are not working, but other times it’s subtle. Pay attention to those little niggling feelings that tell you “something’s not working quite right.” If something is proving difficult, perhaps consider the tool(s) you are using. Are they helping or hindering?

Fabric Background Squares

[ More squares…alternating fabric and acrylic. Experimenting with backgrounds. ]

This past week I needed to cut fabric into 1 inch squares. I actually have a nice pair of fabric scissors, although I can’t guarantee they didn’t get used to cut something else, I’m not my mother. (On a side note: I totally get now why the Fabric Scissors are not to be used to cut anything else but fabric, but as a kid, really? They look like scissors, they cut like scissors, so why not use them on the pipe cleaners you want to cut into little bitty pieces?) Anyway, I went about measuring and attempting to cut nice little squares with my fabric scissors.

Not only was I not having fun, but it took way too much time, and the results … not quite as evenly square nor consistently 1 inch as one would hope.

I’m not someone who sews or quilts, ok? But considering the “right tools” rule (and this time it was obvious), I knew that there had to be a better, more efficient (and more accurate) way to do this. My sister Tina does quilt, so I texted: “What’s the best way to cut a s**tload of fabric into 1 or 2 inch squares?”

Studio tools

[ Rotary fabric cutter = Tool of the Week; Canvas covered boards for experiments; Patti Brady and Nancy Reyner books on Acrylic painting techniques.]

Her answer was a rotary cutter, straight edge, and mat. I had the straight edge and mat, a trip to Joann’s procured a rotary cutter.

Oh. My. Goodness. What a difference the right tool makes! Ease, precision, and does the job it’s meant to do (note to self: pay attention, we don’t need any more stitches/scars on your left hand, and all the digits on that hand are needed). Seems a little silly, but using this cutter brought me some joy yesterday. Honest to God, joy from a rotary cutter. Sometimes, it’s the little things.

Permission Slips

Just words and someone’s signature on a piece of plain paper, nothing special really, but in grade school those magic little slips granted Official Permission, usually to do something fun like go on a field trip. Or, they allowed you to get out of something you didn’t want to do like P.E. (they did not, however, have as much going on as their cousin the Hall Pass, which gave you power to be special and be someplace everyone else was not).

Vacation is one of those few times I give myself permission to let go of the Daily Routine, the Lists, the Shoulds. While on vacation, I shut all that out: open my laptop as little as possible, generally don’t check email, don’t look at my phone/Facebook incessantly. If I want to lie on a couch and read all day, that’s perfectly fine. No guilt. That’s the key, I let myself off the hook and allow myself to ignore all the demands of Normal Daily Life (otherwise, it’s not really vacation, right?)

Of course, coming out of that zone and back into routine can be tricky.

I struggled a bit with getting back into the art routine, but gradually circled around it: cleaned my side of the studio, bought some boards to experiment on (I stumbled on a coupon at Michael’s for 50% off all regularly priced fine art supplies. One day only. That day! The coupon lotto win…), got out some books on acrylic techniques (because I wanted to try creating a faux encaustic effect), read the recipes for that and gathered materials…

And then I gave myself permission to screw up.

All those boards I bought, not one needs to end up a finished piece. They can all be ugly experiments, no pressure to make finished work. Just play. I have a distinct, overall end result in mind for the next iteration of my work, but I’m not quite sure how to get there yet, so I need to experiment. Play.

Studio experiments

[ Testing out faux encaustic recipes. Another tool that makes me happy is the green silicon spatula in this photo. It works so well for mixing thoroughly and scraping the edges of mixing containers (we have one in the kitchen too 🙂 ]

Nobody Knows How to Draw a Poinsettia

There was a drawing instructor at ArtCenter who quickly dispelled the notion that one needs to be able to draw from memory: “nobody knows how to draw a Poinsettia.” Basically, get a photo, or the real thing, and look at it. Or take a photo and trace it. Making something harder (or impossible) for yourself, struggling to create, doesn’t make the art any “better.” Figure out your process, your best/most useful set of tools, and start working from there. If that process and set of tools don’t work, try another one.

Or another one. But don’t give up.

Of course this applies to Life too. I know what tools/practices I need to incorporate daily to make me happy. I know what habits I need to discard and replace in order to live my Art Full Life to the fullest. Not saying it’s easy, by any means (small steps Sparky!), but I can honestly say that this past week has been one of those forward-moving weeks on all fronts.

And I may be repeating myself, but I’m not giving up.



Also posted in Art in Progress, Motivation

Fortune Favors the Brave – Finished!

Who knew making art could be so exhausting? Today was installation day for the Aquarium Gallery window at Ann Arbor Art Center, and after four hours of lifting, placing, touch up painting, and hanging stuff, my feet hurt, the dodgy right knee hurts, and pretty much the whole bod is just plain ol’ tired. But, drum roll please, Fortune Favors the Brave is finally UP!

When I left off in the last FFTB update, I was on to Plan B. Once the panic subsided and a clear (new) direction was forged, it was just a matter of putting in the time. If you read through the previous 5 posts about this piece, you’ll know a lot of ideas got put aside. I’m happy with the finished piece, but it certainly changed and morphed from the original idea (sorry, Ms. Mannequin).

Seriously, can’t tell you how tired I am! I think it’s also the weight of the project being lifted off…now all I have left to do is pick up the gigantic mess I made in the basement.

FFTB-balls ready

[ Green ones got nixed, but lavender, magenta and white pearl ones are part of the hanging items. I learned the hard way that they are fragile and break if dropped (I thought they were plastic) ]

FFTB-thread system1

[ I had to make a diagram for the hanging stuff (of course I did) and used three different kinds of gold thread for hanging. A very subtle effect, but the gold thread glistens when the light is just so. Makes me happy. ]

FFTB-thread system

[ I needed something to hang stuff from, so we bought plastic lattice from Lowe’s. Drilled a hole at every crossing and also evenly between (ok, that was harder than I thought it would be). I ended up not using all the holes (ran out of steam after 60+ and decided “that’s enough”). Each hanging thing had a toothpick tied at the other end of the thread. The toothpicks were inserted up through the hole and then they catch and rest on top of the lattice. Each was then carefully removed, tagged with painter’s tape so I knew where it went, and rolled up so as not to tangle. The lattice was then painted bright pink (thanks, Mike!) ]

FFTB-blank slate

[ The blank slate. Mike contemplates lighting. ]


[ The view from inside. There was a miscalculation somewhere, and the lattice ended up being too wide! Mike had to run home to get some snips to trim the edges (this is the fourth round trip…took us three to get everything here. Good thing we live fairly close. ]

FFTB-balls lined up

[ While Mike went back home, I laid out the ornaments, in the order to be hung. ]


Chrysalis, Julie Renfro, 2009

[ “Chrysalis” is an old piece of mine from 2009 that barely anyone saw. I just felt that it fit the installation somehow and that it would work as a central focal point. I had it on the floor and decided it needed to be higher up, so I stole a little round table from our living room that was about the right size and height…and it was perfect! Honey, do you mind if I paint that table gold? 🙂 ]


[ Finished closeup from the outside. It’s difficult to take photos without getting reflections off the window. I was so tired and my feet hurt so much (needed to be barefoot so as not to mess up the pink furry fabric while standing in the window) that I neglected to take a last set of photos prior to putting the center panel in place.  ]

The cloud photo in the center panel might be familiar to anyone who has read my blog from the beginning. That photo was used in my first blog post, and was taken out the window of an airplane. I was going to put cloud photos in all the smaller frames too, but decided to go with flowers (hate to admit it, but that decision was based on which photos I could more easily access and print…but I do like the end result!)


[ Oval and round mirrors of various sizes were put on top of the furry floor. Why? Can’t remember exactly, but it was an idea that came out of the panicked brainstorming session I had with Mike, when things seemed to be going south. ]

I can’t believe it’s finished! It’s a little anti-climactic, to be honest, but I think it’s the mental and physical fatigue.

On to the next project! After some rest….







Also posted in Art in Progress, Fortune Favors the Brave

Fortune Favors the Brave – Part 5


Two weeks! Two weeks from today and I will have a finished Fortune Favors the Brave for Ann Arbor Art Center‘s Aquarium Gallery. Sunday, June 26th, I will be installing…something.

It was all going so well until three days ago…

A funny thing happened Thursday evening, while working in my basement, merrily humming along with my FFTB piece. It became apparent, dawned on me in a slow swelling of dread, that it wasn’t working.

I had been adding flowers and sparkly things to the side panels, layers of doilies and gold to the center panel. Using gold map tacks, I had placed the little gold squares that had images of the women in my family on to the center gold panel. I had been thinking about outfits for the mannequin, tying and taping stuff to her to get ideas (gold cape? pink tutu? should I sew something myself? how about a pink feather boa instead of a cape?)

Then Thursday night I decided to place Ms. Mannequin into the piece to get a feel for how everything would come together.

Julie and Miss Mannequin

[ Playing dress-up with Miss Mannequin…before, when we were still friends. ]

Pulling a Rabbit

Sorry to report, but she failed her audition. I had Mike come to the basement to get his opinion. Nope, not working.

Her attitude was all wrong (no smile, so serious), she was just so stiff. She didn’t fit the piece, at all. Mike and I talked through various ideas, but it all came down to: the mannequin has to go.


And now that she’s gone, it looks weird and off to have the center panel be all gold.


Now what? Panic, what else. I know you guys have all experienced, Artists or not, at least one time (more likely several) when a Plan B had to be considered. I could have just continued with Plan A, but I would not have been happy. The end result would not have “worked” the way I had envisioned.

The next part is what Mike and I refer to as Pulling a Rabbit (as in a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat). Although, because I have two weeks, it’s not a total Rabbit situation (those usually happen one or two days before something is due). But it certainly felt like I had to come up with something in a hurry.

Plan B

We talked some more, I panicked, bounced ideas around, more panic. But as we talked, the threads of a solid direction started to form. It wasn’t hopeless, wasn’t a total Plan B Overhaul, I just needed to, uh, change direction (a little), start one part over, and completely change the central focus of the piece. No problem!


[ Seriously, thought I was DONE with this cutting and pasting, but the gold had to go. I turned the center panel over and went at it. Unfortunately, this side is not smooth, so in certain light you can see the slightly raised lettering of the word LOWE’S. I’m hoping enough stuff will be on it that you can’t see it. The other end of the cat in the lower right corner of the photo is proceeding to chew on and eat the small scraps of leftover paper. ]

FFTB-large stencil

[ I knew this large stencil would come in handy some day. To be used on the newly collaged back panel. Purchased at Joann’s awhile back with a 50% off coupon. No specific plan for it at the time, but I knew it had potential. ]

FFTB-right panel 5

[ At least the side panels are still progressing. Still debating a couple of ideas for inside the frames. ]

FFTB-hanging things5

[ Final gathering of items to hang. ]

So around 10:00 pm, Thursday, June 9th, a new plan was formed.

In the following days Plan B got underway. I still felt all jelly on the inside at first (what the hell am I doing?), but I worked through it, and now I am really liking this direction. Actually liking it more than before. THANK GOD. I can’t even imagine: what if I had waited to put the mannequin in place? What if I had spent all that time, effort, and money, getting her all dressed up, only to find out she didn’t belong in the piece? Ack, gives me anxiety just to think about it.


Work space, the aftermath of panic.

[ The aftermath of panic mode. ]

A lot more gluing, tacking, stenciling, printing, hanging, placing, lighting to do, but this is it, the last update on FFTB before the installation! Can’t wait to finish, can’t wait to install it, can’t wait to share the final results.



[ The installation will have a central something, sitting on the small round table in this photo. I’m leaving it a surprise. No, it will not be a cat. 🙂 ]

Also posted in Art in Progress, Art Stories, Fortune Favors the Brave

Fortune Favors the Brave – Part 4

“Ok, we’ve got a roll program.”
— Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 Mission

I was going to write the “we have liftoff” quote, but when I did my two-minute internet research I found the above Neil Armstrong quote on NASA’s website. In the above statement, Mr. Armstrong is “reporting the roll and pitch program which puts Apollo 11 on a proper heading.”

As of progress today, my upcoming installation project for the Ann Arbor Art Center, now titled Fortune Favors the Brave (FFTB), has got a roll program. It has come together to a point where it feels more solid and “on a proper heading.” It is in no way, not at all, not even close to being finished, but now that I have all my walls accounted for and in good shape, there is a foundation for some real progress to be made (if you need to catch up, read part 1, part 2, and part 3 posts).

Not to mention I can now have some more fun. I am really pretty sick and tired of cutting and pasting color prints to the six outer panels (three on each side).

FFTB-Walls finished

I have 5 out of 6 of these panels done, but I. could. not. get. myself. to work. on that darn 6th panel this weekend (see blank, pink, panel on the right above.) While I love the concept of “more is better,” there’s usually a point when I’ve committed to something “more” and then the actual follow through gets tedious.

FFTB workfloor

It’s gonna get done, it has to, but come on! Let’s get to painting gold, and sticking things on the walls! I want my beads and glue gun! Glitter please!

Not to mention I wanted to have something more interesting to show you guys, so I was forced to start on some fun stuff (no beads or glitter yet, sorry) so that most of my photos were not of foam panels and the same old patterns (please, Julie, for the love of God show us something else). So I turned my back on that pink panel (temporarily) for you guys. Generous of me, I know. You’re welcome.

Adding Layers


[ Applying some gold paint to the color panels with stencils. They are way trickier than would seem. You have to have just the right amount of paint on the roller, which is to say, not very much at all. And note to Self: do not do an upper body workout (when you are out of shape) the morning of stenciling and painting on vertical surfaces. ]



[ Taking inventory of frames we have that I can use for the walls. Not sure yet what I want in the frames. ]


I was standing back, looking at the overall piece, when I turned to the left and saw my reflection…in company with “frosting” covered boobs! Cool, I thought, I’ll take a selfie with Ms. Mannequin!

Sure, fine, no problem. It will just take a second.

Selfie_with_barbie cake boobs

– Wait, you gotta get the composition just right. Boobs in the foreground, boob silhouette in the mirror, You.
– Look up at the mirror, you dork, not at the phone!
– Um, do you really want people seeing you looking like this? It’s what you look like when you work, but still….
– At least try to smile, you’re looking too serious.
– Eesh, don’t smile like that, try again. And watch your neck.
– Hey, it’s cute that the pink trim on the mannequin’s bustier matches your phone!
– For Pete’s sake, you’re not Kim Kardashian, nobody cares, just take a damn photo and be done with it.

Seriously, Julie, you are down here to work on art, not take photos of yourself. For poor Pete’s sake, again.



I hear you: from selfies with mannequins to taking photos of the trash on the floor…what kind of art in progress post is this? This woman has a serious problem with focus…

I just thought, OOH! that little pile of scraps looks interesting in an abstract kinda way, gotta take a pic. During my image prep for this post, I played with the scraps in Photoshop…short digression, and fun. Seeds of ideas for later…


Gold Paint, Doilies and Foil, Oh My

ANYWAY, back to the actual piece….

I decided on a sheet of foam insulation for the center section (not using Mike’s previous center piece), so we took a trip to both Home Depot and Lowe’s yesterday, ending up with a 2″ thick foam panel from Lowe’s (we tend to help keep both places in business). This time, instead of cutting the 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of foam ourselves in the parking lot, we asked the Lowe’s guys to cut it for us (fear that there may be Home Depot Police may be waning, but you never know, Lowe’s Police could be a whole other thing).

Back at home, after cutting it down even further (hard work!), I gave it a coat of white gesso, a coat of gold paint, and now I’m starting to add some texture as a base: doilies (I had some, but not enough, therefore a trip to Joann’s) and gold foil pieces (a roll of fancy baking foil I’ve had in the studio). It’s all going to get covered up with more gold paint.



[ Haven’t started adding the foil yet, but it’s next. ]

FFTB-in progress

So there you have it, the progress of FFTB so far. Slow going, but progress.

And getting gold paint on my hands in the process is always a good thing.

BTW, per last week’s post, on a few fronts I “tried really hard” this past week, and it’s truly amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. Make a commitment. Be unremitting. Challenge your assumptions about what you can and cannot do, what you have time for.

Of course, yard work did not get done, but art making did. Priorities, my friends, priorities (sorry neighbors that have to look at the front yard, and apologies to Mike the Mailman that will soon have to hack his way to our mailbox).



Also posted in Art in Progress, Fortune Favors the Brave

Title No Longer TBD – Part 3

Several weeks back, as I was walking on the treadmill and staring at the parts and pieces that were the beginnings of my Aquarium Gallery piece, the phrase “fortune favors the brave” bubbled up from somewhere in my consciousness. Had a nice ring to it, but wasn’t sure I wanted to commit (what does it mean exactly?)

Regardless of meaning, it has taken up semi-permanent residence in my head, pulled up a nice comfy chair in a corner, sat down, and waited. Hung around. And it’s been sitting there all these weeks, so I decided to let it stay.

Fortune Favors the Brave.

This is now the working title of the piece.

It’s still a shimmering idea/shape, not yet fully formed (my guest is but a ghost), but we’re going to have a conversation over the next few weeks as I work. I’ve learned that I have to trust my intuition, my instincts, and not get too caught up in “meaning” initially. But you know my guest will have some things to say as she becomes more solid, I’m sure.

[ By Hans Sebald Beham - Private collection, Scan by Yellow Lion 2006, CC BY 4.0, ]

[ By Hans Sebald Beham – Private collection, Scan by Yellow Lion 2006, CC BY 4.0, ]

The above image has nothing, really, to do with my piece, but I liked the drawing of Fortuna (plus, not sure of their purpose, but those shin bracelet thingies with lions on them rock. I think I need some.)

Fortune Favors the Brave - Getting Started

[ Beginning to put things together (finally!) – purple pillow required for sitting and kneeling work on the floor. ]

The Home Depot Police

Even though he said I could, I decided I couldn’t bear to paint completely over all of Mike’s previous hard work (on the panels I’m reusing), so we went to Home Depot to buy the large sheets of foam insulation that would be the base of my piece. This way I could cover up Mike’s panels using Velcro to adhere the foam to the walls, and the foam will allow me to pin things into it (lots and lots of things).

The insulation sheets are 4 foot by 8 foot, and therefore will not fit in our Honda Civic without a little help. After purchase, we stepped outside the store and Mike wanted to cut the panels right there on the cement by all the carts parked against the building. I had brought a knife (stashed away in my purse), but I guess in my mind I had envisioned we would do this surreptitiously out by the car. Not in full public view of anyone walking out of the store. And the Home Depot Police.

As I have noted in other posts, I am a worrier. And I tend to be a Rule Book Follower. Problem is, since I don’t have the Rule Book (that everyone else secretly has), I will make up what I think are the rules. As I’m helping Mike cut the panels into manageable sizes, I’m thinking:

“This has to be against some Home Depot policy. You can’t be allowed to bring a box cutter to the store and start your DIY project right there on the premises. We’re going to get caught. We’re going to get in trouble.”

I hate conflict. I don’t want to get yelled at, or worse taken to the Home Depot Police room at the back of the store to be questioned. Until this moment I hadn’t really thought such a room (or group of burly men) existed, but now in my mind they do, for sure. Lurking in the back of the store viewing security cameras.

So as I’m working through this anxiety, we finally get the panels down to 2 foot by 8 foot and take them out to the car. But 8 feet is still too long, so more cutting needs to happen. I mentally start hopping from foot to foot, and I finally can’t help myself, I say something to Mike to the effect that this has to be against Home Depot policy.

Mike just gives me that look. It’s loving, and understanding, but it’s the Seriously? Look. I’ve seen it over the years, it’s the Just Stop, You Worry Too Much Look (which, I have to admit, is 99.9% true, but there’s always that chance that the Bad Thing, whatever it is, will happen).

He reassures me it’s all going to be fine, and as always I would like to believe him, but, you know, there are rules. And I’m convinced we are clearly breaking them. Mike takes the foam panels to the grass strip at the front of the parking lot, which in my mind is still too out in the open, and I’m mentally hurrying him along. Be quick! Eyes are watching!

But the Home Depot Police don’t come running and yelling from the store, and we get our newly cut insulation panels into the car. We are safe. This time.

And I have to confess … as I was writing this post, the thought came, unbidden, “what if Home Depot reads this?” … honestly, I’m not sure there’s hope for me.

Anyway, work has begun:

Fortune Favors the Brave, base collage closeup

[ Color laser prints of my original collage pieces, Mod Podged to the foam. Not sure yet if the entire surface will be this…I may break it up with something else. But this is just the base work, there will be lots of stuff attached to the walls. ]

Fortune Favors the Brave, in progress view from the floor

The view from my purple pillow on the floor. The left and right panels of this side have the foam attached via Velcro. Center panel with Mike’s painting is yet to be covered. ]


Fortune Favors the Brave - getting ideas

[ Getting ideas using the fake flowers from the original Barbie Cake project. I had covered many fake flowers with glitter…cant’ wait to use them in this piece! ]

Old Work

[ Since I’m reusing parts of older work, I’m thinking I might incorporate some *other* older work I’ve done, hang these small pieces on the walls perhaps? Maybe the whole installation becomes an amalgamation of previous works into one?…just an idea. ]

So the real work has begun! There has been actual attaching of parts and cutting and pasting of things. This is real progress.





Also posted in Art in Progress, Art Stories, Fortune Favors the Brave

Title TBD – Part 2

{ NOTE: I know I’m a day (or two) later than my normal weekly schedule. I did start writing yesterday, but my weekend got away from me, and the writing wasn’t coming as easily. Flying by the seat of my pants, indeed… 🙂 }


The debate in my head went something like this:

Julie1: you can’t do a “part 2” post yet, you haven’t done very much, there’s nothing to write about.

Julie2: but that’s part of the process, right? I want to write about the whole process of creating this installation.

Julie1: well, you’ve really only done a lot of thinking about the piece, not a whole lot of doing. You can’t write about sitting on your butt “thinking.”

Julie2: why not? That’s part of the process…

Julie1: but that’s boring.

Julie2: but that’s part of the process…

Julie1: well, there are no engaging pictures of you “thinking.” You need pictures of something, otherwise it really will be boring.

Julie2: but sitting and thinking’s part of the process…

Julie3: you guys are driving me nuts, just start writing for Pete’s sake…

Anyhoo, the debate rambled on like that for awhile, which I know is not very exciting, and perhaps not interesting to you in the least. But I really do do this at the start (and in the middle) of a piece: circle around it, stare at it, think about it. The basic substructure is up (you can read Part 1 of this series here), so I stare at it as I walk by to do laundry, or while I’m on the treadmill which sits in the opposite corner, or on the stationary bike (not actually cycling mind you) with my coffee…and I’ve been debating choices, rolling ideas around, contemplating:

+ Should I add foam insulation to the walls? Still not sure about that idea…I can pin things into it if I do. Or should I just paint the walls Mike used (although I hate to paint over all that work!) and then glue stuff to them?

+ We know from experience that the Aquarium Gallery window gets direct afternoon sun and the space heats up…a LOT. Mike had fake candles that were partially made of wax, and several of them melted and needed to be replaced. Something to keep in mind.

+ I want to hang stuff from the ceiling, LOTS and LOTS to fill the space. How the heck is that going to work? Dowels or 1″ x 2″ wood strips will probably sag in the middle, so maybe an already built lattice of some sort?

+ What exactly am I going to hang from the ceiling and pin to the walls? That will determine how I’m going to build it up…

Basically, I drive myself nuts with endless options (aka commitment avoidance). In the meantime, I have been prepping parts:

Found Squares from Past Work

[ I did find these unused, unfinished squares from a previous installation that Mike and I created, and I thought they would be a perfect addition to this new work. These squares currently have images of the women in our families on them. Not sure if I will keep the images or replace them. ]

Muriel Renfro - Princess

[ My mother, Muriel Moore (I love this photo). A coat of gesso over the previous color before I repaint them gold. ]


It was random that I found this stack of squares, piled (and hidden) in a corner of the studio, but I’m so happy I did. There are currently 60 of them that need to be painted over with gesso, then a couple coats of gold.

Then I plan to summon my inner 6-year-old self, get out the glue, beads, glitter, and miscellaneous sparklies, and have some fun. That’s the current plan anyway.

Time consuming work, and mindless, in a way, except 1. right now it’s nice to have an art task that doesn’t require a whole lot of decision making, and 2. with these particular squares, I have been treasuring each image as I paint around them, thinking about each person. Some of these women I know/knew, some I have never met, but they are all part of the interwoven story of my life with Mike. A nice bonus to this process.

Grace Moore - the squares are getting gold borders

[ Grace Moore, my maternal grandmother. I’ll have to write a post someday that is just about her…from the little I know, she was a strong, resilient woman. ]

I’m also mulling over ideas for a title. Premature you say? The cart before the horse? Well, giving it a title is one of the most fun parts!  It also might help shore up my decision making process 🙂 A phrase (potential title) did pop into my head last week when I was jogging on the treadmill. But I don’t want to reveal that yet. Still pondering. The piece may or may not even have a meaning. Perhaps it will just be decorative (and weird).

Since I don’t have a solid plan yet, I’m kinda winging this series of posts about process (really? You don’t say…)…so, not sure when “part 3” will happen. Two weeks? Three? But whenever it is, I will have moved things forward and will have more to share. Stay tuned!




Also posted in Art in Progress, Creative Life, Fortune Favors the Brave

Title TBD – Part 1

Gotta love a deadline.

I may be procrastinating on all my other projects, but on one, at least, I have a due date. Can’t get around it, someone is expecting something creative from me, delivery and assembly to be done on a specific date. Three months from today, on Sunday, June 26th, I am committed to installing “something” in the Aquarium Gallery at the Ann Arbor Art Center. The title of my installation is yet to be determined, and the whole concept is still not fully formed, but this weekend I began the process of building this “thing,” this Art Piece, and I thought that, here and there, I would share the process with you. Make you my accountability partners, so to speak (whether you like it or not. Hey, thanks for being there for me!)

To give you an idea of the space for which I’m building something, the photo below is a pic of the Aquarium Gallery installation that Mike did last summer:

Mike Sivak, Aquarium Gallery 2015

It’s a lot of window to fill (about 7′ x 7′ x 2.5′ deep), and, as you can see, I have my work cut out for me if I want to live up to the standard Mike set. Damn you, Mike Sivak…I mean, thanks for the challenge, Sweetheart! (BTW, Tuesday we celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary 🙂

Getting Started

Coincidentally, 10 years ago Mike and I collaborated on a piece titled Feminine Mystique, aka The Barbie Cake. It was for a show at The Gallery Project, during the time they had a storefront space in Ann Arbor. Mike made the “dress” that looked like a frosted cake (it really did look like frosting), and I made the inside of her dress: a lush, sensual, glittery, floral world inspired by the insides of those hollow sugar Easter eggs we would get as kids (another coincidence: happy Easter!)

Feminine Mystique

[ “Feminine Mystique,” aka “The Barbie Cake”, 2006. Featured in the Humor Show at the Gallery Project, Ann Arbor, MI ]

As I’ve been mulling over the idea for this installation for the last several months, I thought of possibly recycling parts of The Barbie Cake. So yesterday I asked Mike (nicely) to get the parts down from the attic (including the floor and walls he used for his Aquarium piece), and to also please help unearth other pieces from that one corner of the basement that is impossible to get to because of all the crap piled up (BTW, I found a mouse nest in the Barbie Cake…probably TMI, but this is the life of an Artist Hoarder).

Title TBD - in progress 1

[ Floor and walls from Mike’s piece, bins of fake flowers, foam insulation for walls I can pin things into…all good stuff. ]

Title TBD - in progress 2

[ The mannequin from Ms. Mystique…hello old friend! ]

Title TBD - in progress 3

[ Pink fur, sparkles and fake flowers from the inside of the “Barbie Cake” – all potentially reused materials for this new installation. ]

Title TBD - Mimi helps check things out

[ Mimi helps inspect materials. ]

Title TBD - work in progress 4

[ I dunno, this dusty aquarium figurine seems like he has to go in the piece somewhere…. ]

Title TBD - art in progress 5

[ Silver mirror balls, gold shiny/sparkly things…of course! ]

The Hardest Part is Done

Getting started is the hardest part. The momentum has begun, the pieces are in place. All the stuff I’ve gathered may not even get used, but it’s there to play with. So much potential! I’m excited. And scared. Over the next three months, a lot has to happen. I don’t want this to be simple, it needs to be complex, “over the top.” Lots of glitter and sparkle is imperative, lots will be going on in this small space.

Title TBD - work in progress!

[ A lot of time will be spent sitting and contemplating…coffee a must. ]

I want people to be compelled to look closely. Weird is good.

The whole thing may work, or it may fall flat. But I’m going to have fun (at least some of the time) either way. We shall see.

Also posted in Art in Progress, Art Stories, Creative Spirit, Fortune Favors the Brave, Motivation

Gold Rush

Keeping it simple and shortish this post. Lots going on in preparation for the Sphinx Medals of Excellence celebration in DC this week, followed by a visit to my sister’s in Virginia. Looking forward to both!

Still Life No. 6 and I are getting along again. For a time there we were not, I didn’t like it, but now I’m loving it again. Art making tends to be rollercoastery like that for me, and thank God the “loving it” part happens often enough lately to remind me that I’m meant to be creating art. Even if just for my own enjoyment.

I also had a realization this past week that was actually pretty significant: until recently, most of my artwork has been the result of “outside” influence. By that I mean, the process was more like having an assignment of sorts. I would be invited to do a show that had a certain theme, and I would set about creating a piece or pieces that fit the show. And there was a deadline, which forced me to work, otherwise I would be letting someone else/the gallery down. Looking back, I was really rather fortunate to be given so many of these types of opportunities early on (being invited to participate, rather than having to apply and be juried in).

But I’ve been “on my own” for a while, and I’ve worked out that creating a new body of work, from scratch, with no one but myself to give me an assignment, is really quite a different sort of beast…it’s way harder! No wonder this last year, art-wise, has been such an up and down struggle! Now that I see this, I think I can step up to the challenge vs. feeling like I’m floundering around with no purpose.

Interesting! Well, to me anyway…:)

Gold, Gold, and More Gold

More Gold Dots

[ Tiny Sun Gold dots put on Still Life No. 6 this weekend. I was feeling stuck yesterday and said to myself “Dots. Come on Julie, you can at least do some dots.” And I did. Sometimes getting unstuck is relatively easy. ]

In case you haven’t noticed, I love gold. I don’t tend to wear gold jewelry much, which is kind of odd, but I love my gold paints, gold beads, gold glitter, gold thread…I even have a Pinterest Board dedicated to all things gold.

[ Thread, wire, and beads currently on my studio table. Been experimenting off and on with some jewelry ideas...that may or may not come to anything. ]

[ Thread, wire, and beads currently on my studio table. Been experimenting off and on with some textile jewelry ideas…that may or may not come to anything, but I’m having fun. ]

[ Container full o' stars. Always a good thing to have around. ]

[ Container full o’ stars. Always a good thing to have around. ]

Art in Progress - gold washes

[ Gold washes allow the underlying pattern/texture to remain visible but add a metallic sheen. ]

Gold Circles

[ Sun Gold circles on top of Royal Gold stripe. Plain ol’ Gold and Antique Gold are two other favorite acrylic paints. The subtle differences in color make for some nice variation. ]

Winter Blues Be Gone

Two evenings ago we had our first BBQ of the season (ok, so we pushed it a little. I was sitting outside with hat, gloves, and a big coat, but we had our BBQ turkey burgers with cheese, dammit). Today was rainy and gray, but there is hope in the snowdrop flowers blooming and tiny green shoots peeking out of the ground in our backyard. A few fantastic, sunny, warm(er) days have been welcome indicators that spring and summer are not far away.

Between the official first day of spring coming a week from today and new understanding of my art-making motivation (or lack thereof), I’m excited to kick some Art Butt when I get back (perhaps not the greatest metaphor, but you know what I mean 🙂


Also posted in Art in Progress, Inspiration, Motivation


“Stop over analyzing. Life is simple.”
— The Holstee Manifesto

You see, a Flying by the Seat of My Pants Operation still…

This is not my usual blog post timeline, but I was in the studio for a good portion of the weekend so that counts for a lot. I would like to be able to say I chose getting paint on my hands over writing, but it wasn’t that calculated. Some times days just roll as they will. It would be oh so nice, but my new Planner can’t account for everything.

The quote at the top is part of The Holstee Manifesto which I have printed out and taped to the wall in front of our treadmill. It’s a wonderful manifesto, and I like rereading it for motivation. The “stop over analyzing” part speaks to me, I need to take that to heart. A tendency towards over thinking and making things more complex than they need to be is part of my makeup, a pattern of thinking and behavior that I’m trying to change. Trying.

Lately I’ve been contemplating the “life is simple” part. I’m not sure I agree with that. I would like to. We certainly can make things more simple by eliminating a lot of the noise in our lives (TV, internet, incessant looking-at-cell-phone apps). Working on that too.

I can also choose how to react to circumstances in my life, not make them Bigger than they are, and work to keep things in perspective as far as my tiny spec of a part in the Grand Scheme of Things.

But in some ways life is very, very complex.

I mean, just physically, we, and all living things, are walking miracles of complex engineering. Think of all that goes on in our minds and bodies to make a day happen in our lives. There’s some serious complexity that allows you to sleep, wake up, hear the birds chirping, feel the sun coming through the window, move your limbs to get out of bed, walk, get dressed, brush your teeth, remember to feed the dog (or your kids), get in a car, and drive to Starbucks so you can order your (complex) latte.

Then add in emotions, trying to be in the “now” and not the past or present (memories and worry), relationships (good, bad, and ugly), shitty days, really shitty things occurring out of the blue, and I’m not sure I could ever call that “simple.” Not to mention all the super shitty things happening to people in other parts of the world.

I realize they are not speaking of life as physical Life/Nature, but in my mind, it’s all wrapped up together in one big, terrible, beautiful ball. But I like the statement, it is nice and clean, and there is something at the edge of my consciousness, perhaps some Buddhist principle I can’t quite recall, that tells me, yes, life really is simple. Some say it all boils down to Love.

So I contemplate “life is simple.”

Art in Progress

For 7 out of the last 10 days, I’ve been in the studio for a minimum of 1 hour working on art. Not too shabby! My attempt at focus, using my new planner (still working at a system, but there’s progress), seems to be helping to create quality blocks of time for art making. I’m not moving very fast (small steps Sparky), but that’s not the point. Creating on a regular basis, immersing myself in creating, is the point.

Testing out some art making processes

[ Experimented this weekend with using stencils to add layers of paint. I love going to sewing and craft stores and searching for tools to use in my art. I learned through a YouTube video that the best way to use stencils is to use a sponge roller and to make sure to get excess paint off the roller before applying. It seemed to work! ]

Some of my time in the studio (maybe a lot more than I want to admit) is spent stewing over what to apply to a surface next. With Still Life #6, the pressure is on because I started with a lovely (expensive) color print from our Epson ink jet printer. Some may say, “well, just leave it alone then”…but I can’t! At this point in the evolution of my work, I still need to go back in with paint, add layers and texture. Add more.

So I stew, and finally just start in one little area. There, that wasn’t so bad, right? And, I can always make another print and start over. That may very well happen. I don’t have a great Plan for the finished piece, it needs to evolve. And it may evolve into a big muddy mess.

Still Life #6 - In Progress Detail

[ I’m loving this corner so far, the colors and layering. This is when I really start enjoying myself, getting immersed, when I’ve taken the leap to start, and then little corners and sections start coming together in a way that I like. You can see the shadow of the butterfly in the base print. I plan to collage the below image over it, create another layer of (perhaps) pristine color print. But we’ll see… ]

The Butterfly - Still Life #6

K.I.S.S. and My Weekly Trivia Lesson

“Keep It Simple Stupid,” aka the KISS Principle. It kept coming into my head as I thought about Life is Simple.

“Simple Stupid” not “Simple, Stupid.”

KISS is a design principle that came out of the U.S. Navy in 1960, specifically the Lockheed Skunk Works. The lead engineer who came up with the phrase, Kelly Johnson, apparently did not place a comma between simple and stupid, although the comma was widely used after the fact. He was not calling his engineers “stupid,” rather:

The principle is best exemplified by the story of Johnson handing a team of design engineers a handful of tools, with the challenge that the jet aircraft they were designing must be repairable by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions with only these tools. Hence, the “stupid” refers to the relationship between the way things break and the sophistication available to repair them.
— Wikipedia

I recall KISS was around a lot as a saying when I was growing up. Coincidentally, Mr. Johnson was born in Michigan, went to school in Flint, and graduated from the University of Michigan! My current backyard…nice!

While I contemplate “life is simple,” I can still try to make mine as simple as possible. Or perhaps, less complicated is a better view from which to approach it. Stop over analyzing. Your planner doesn’t need a rainbow of colored highlighters, three different color pens, and stickies to make it work (although, I have to say, it’s more fun. But don’t get carried away).



Also posted in Art in Progress, Creative Spirit, Motivation