Category Archives: Inspiration


Floating With Purpose

Pay attention, there are Metaphors and Life Lessons all around us, even when cruising at 6mph on a canal last renovated in 1918.

I’ve written before that I am very inspired by nature, especially being on or near water, so it’s no surprise that our trip last week on the Erie Canal would be in some way rejuvenating. The canal is man-made, yes, but still we were on water and surrounded by trees and sky much of the way.

Inspiration, ok, but I hadn’t anticipated that the trip would also be magical.


I would think that, in this day and age of instant gratification and non-stop chatter, many people might find that slow of a pace boring, if not painful (BTW, 6mph was the max speed, we very often went slower), but I was so happy just to sit and enjoy the water and watch the trees, birds, and (sometimes) interesting houses along the way. Sure there were also not-so-nice parts, with bridges and cars and noise, but even that was just a change-up on the overall journey.


[ Except for one morning of rain, we had mostly beautiful sunny days with picturesque clouds. ]

On our last day we only traveled for a couple of hours in the early morning, but that short, magical morning on the canal (pictures towards the end of this post) brought to mind a few metaphors/life lessons:

  • Traveling forward slowly is ok. Relax. Small, incremental adjustments in direction will keep you on course.
  • Keep your focus on the beauty and texture along your own path. Life (houses/people/Other/Not You) exists on the other side (of those trees), but that’s their business.
  • You may at some point get stuck moving in circles (literally, stuck waiting in a lock and having to do a 360 degree “donut” so as not to run into the other, larger, boat in there with us) but eventually the path (the lock door) will open and forward momentum will be regained.

A little cheesy, perhaps, but true.

Below are more photos and some inspiration I will cherish. For anyone interested in details, we rented a houseboat with Mid-Lakes Navigation and traveled west from Macedon to Spencerport and back.

Thanks to Captain Mike Mouradian for bringing us along!



[ I drove the boat for all of like 10 minutes the whole week. And by driving I mean keeping it relatively in the middle of the canal. ]


[ The magical bits tended to be at the edges of the days, early morning and evening. ]


[ Taking photos of interesting structures and textures along the way. ]



[ The Galley restaurant in Fairport had a wonderful kitschy interior. This photo feels like an abstract painting. ]


[ Title: 2 birds and 3 clouds. ]


[ As I said, magical mornings and evenings. ]



[ Leaving a lock. The first “test” drive we took was so much fun! But running the locks ourselves (we only had two each way) was a tad stressful. But in a good way 🙂 ]


[ The walls of the locks were old, old concrete, wonderful texture and you could just feel the history eeking out of the surfaces. ]


[ Our last day we left Fairport early to return the boat to Macedon by 9am. The mist on the water and the sunrise made for one of the most memorable 2 hours of my life. Magic. ]




[ Me and Mike in Spencerport. Photo courtesy of Mike Mouradian, our captain for the week. ]


Also posted in Creative Life

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

I always thought that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. You sign onto a process and see where it takes you. You don’t have to invent the wheel every day. Today you’ll do what you did yesterday and tomorrow you’ll do what you did today. Eventually you’ll get somewhere. Every great idea I ever had grew out of work itself. If you’re going to wait around for the clouds to open up and lightning to strike you in the brain you’re not going to make an awful lot of work.

— Chuck Close

The title of this post has been running through my head all week. Galaxy Quest is one of our favorite movies, and this phrase is a repeated line from the film (a cult comedy that parodies TV shows like Star Trek and the obsessed fans that follow them).

Never give up, never surrender! For me, an inner battle cry that came after the fact, a reminder that I succeeded in getting through a pretty thick and sturdy mental brick wall.

It’s all well and good to remember that all it takes are small steps, Sparky, but I also have to have faith that if I keep working at a thing, continue to push forward, prod and poke at it, kick it if need be, something will eventually give. “Show up and get to work” as the artist Chuck Close said (side note: I love that his website is divided into Work and Life, and both are his art).

Sometimes it’s harder than other times to dig yourself out of a hole, climb over that giant wall, bust through that obstacle in your way.

But don’t. Give. Up.

Studio - Sept 2016

[ The studio is once again a happy place, clean(er) and hey, you can see surfaces! Not only that, I have a flat surface big enough to lay my latest project down. Three coats of gesso. Progress. ]

Grand Declutter and Organize Project, Cont.

We made progress this week, which has really helped forward momentum. I know you’re dying to hear all about it, but here are the highlights: we borrowed a power washer and cleaned the front and back porch (fun!), hung/moved art around the house (exciting!), donated four boxes of stuff and gave away our mannequin (now we’re talking! although saying goodbye to Ms. Mannequin was a little hard…)

LOVE square

[ All you need is Love. Mike’s sister was giving Love away and I took it. I love my Love lights. They are a happy addition, like my pretty pillows. ]

Forward progress. And the studio! Heaven help us, you can see the floor. And surfaces! It’s once again a place I want to work in, which is a huge step. I actually made time to do art work this past week.

No, wait, I actually wanted to make time to do art work. That hasn’t happened in a while. And that’s what brought to mind “never give up, never surrender.” That spark came back, and I just had to have faith that it would. Eventually. If I kept working at it.

Looking forward to the week, to working on my big art piece (aka experiment) in progress.

Keep going. Don’t give up.


Also posted in Creative Life, Motivation

It’s Not White, It’s Gray

I’m sorry, hate to bother you, but have you seen my Discipline? It seems to have wandered off somewhere, and I can’t find it.

I’m not entirely sure what happened last weekend in regards to my regular blog post, things kept coming up to pull at my time, but there was also lots of inner turmoil and that nagging, grudging homework’s due feeling.

And then Discipline went missing! It’s not just the blog that slipped, so I’m just hoping it comes back, and soon.

Perhaps I can coax it to return, with treats or something shiny.

Pillows for the Bed

When in doubt, clean something” is still my go-to for when I feel stuck, but my runner-up may now be “go buy some pretty pillows for your bed.” I never really got the whole idea of spending good money on a bunch of pillows that serve no purpose other than to look nice on top of the useful pillows, but I have to say, my recent IKEA purchase makes me very, very happy.


That and changing up the color of our room to Light Pelican Gray.


Bedroom_before and after

I know, right? What happened to all that “no white walls” earlier? Mike said this was our “first white room” to which I clarified that “it’s not white, it’s gray.” I couldn’t live with a white room, but a very, very, very pale gray, now that’s different.

I do love our “new” gray/white room and happy IKEA pillows, Mom’s quilt hanging on the wall. It’s very peaceful and calming. Its little makeover is part of an ongoing Grand Declutter and Organize Project.


Take a Step Back and Really See

There are many reasons for being stuck creatively and/or barely having the energy to create, but Mike and I decided that at least some of the reasons have been all the “cleansing” projects that needed to be done, the visual clutter in various parts of our home and studio. Walking by or through these (and ignoring them) just sucks the energy out of a person, often without you being aware of it.

I won’t lie, part of the problem is being able to make decisions about keeping or throwing things out, and if the two of us are doing it together, well…exhausts me just to write that.

But that aside, I think the things we surround ourselves with – the art or the clutter, the things we actively look at and the things we ignore – can greatly affect mood and well-being (which for me is ironic, as growing up you could never see my bedroom floor for all the clothes heaps).

We have been slowly taking steps to address the Problem Areas, change the rooms, the corners, the tops of tables, that are not, well, making us happy. Painting the bedroom, moving art around, getting rid of old things that no longer have use or meaning, buying pretty pillows. Like spring cleaning only on a bigger (slower) scale.

The Backyard Bench

Part of the changing/moving/cleansing is also taking the time to enjoy the spaces we create, appreciate the garden in summer, enjoy taking a rest on the upstairs couch on a day when the windows could be open and the breeze drifts through, sit on the front porch swing in the evening light.

And in the morning, before we get to the next item on the Grand Project list, I make the bed and place my pretty pillows just so. A simple task that has become so…satisfying.

But you know, I think I need more.





Also posted in Creative Life, Motivation

My Summer Vacation 2016

I Wish I Could Have Known Earlier That You Have All The Time You’ll Ever Need Right Up to the Day You Die

That gets my vote for the Best Title of a piece of art: William T. Wiley, watercolor and ink on paper, 1970. It hangs in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art which we visited during our recent California Adventure. The newly renovated museum was one of the highlights of our trip.

It’s been ten days since our return home from the vacation that took forever to come and then whooshed by in the blink of an eye. It was a fantastic getaway. I was inspired by many things, had some wonderful experiences with family, found joy in nostalgia instead of sadness, ate a very large amount of Mexican food, and created many new memories in the place where I was born.

California vacation. Salt Creek Beach.

[ The “California Girl” goes home. Salt Creek, Dana Point. My beach experiences this time were a little different from those of my skin-abusing youth. ]

I always said I wouldn’t move back, but dang! The weather in California, the sunlight (even if I didn’t want to sit in it) and blue skies, the brightness and clarity of the light (unless you’re in certain parts of L.A.) and the vistas…I loved being able to once again see great distances, whether it be to the ocean or the mountains.

Inspired by Art

I won’t bore you with a blog version of a vacation slide show (ok, maybe I will just a little), but I did want to share some inspiration I brought home with me.

At SFMoMA, in addition to being introduced to William T. Wiley and his work, we saw so many pieces by artists whose work I love and admire. If you get the chance, GO.

San Franciso Museum of Modern Art

[ Standing in the SFMoMA lobby, looking up. ]

CA16-gerhard richter close

[ Gerhard Richter, detail, SFMoMA ]

Chuck Close - close up, SFMoMA

[ A Chuck Close portrait, detail, SFMoMA ]

Elliott Hundley detail at the SFMoMA

[ A new artist for me, Elliott Hundley. This detail photo I took doesn’t do the work justice. The piece is a 3D collage/assemblage, with round-headed pins holding pieces on and away from the surface. Just wild and beautiful. ]

Richard Serra installation, SFMoMA

[ Me and my niece, Emily, next to the Richard Serra. ]

Inspired by Landscape

Laguna Niguel CA

[ Morning routine at our AirBnB home in Laguna Niguel: sit out by the pool with coffee, wrapped in a blanket, and watch the sun rise. ]

[ The Strands, Dana Point, CA. Many hours spent on this beach way back when. ]

[ The Strands, Dana Point, CA. Many hours spent on this beach, way back when. ]

Driving on Interstate 5, north of Los Angeles

[ Driving on Interstate 5, north of Los Angeles ]

The rolling hills north of Marin CA

[ The rolling hills north of Marin. We were actually stopped in traffic when I took this photo. ]

Goat Rock Beach, CA

[ Driftwood sculpture on Goat Rock Beach, near Jenner, CA. The Russian River meets the Pacific ocean here. ]

Monterey CA

[ Cormorants hanging out in Monterey. ]

Drive to Carmel, CA

[ Looking out to the ocean on our drive from Monterey to Carmel, the normal fog bank sitting out there like a wall. ]

Inspired by Nature

[ Due to the drought in California, many home and business landscapes are now entirely succulents. Some very interesting shapes, textures and colors. ]

CA16 - succulents3

CA16 - succulents2

Muir Woods

[ Visiting the redwoods at Muir Woods ]

Monterey Bay Aquarium

[ Jellyfish exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. ]

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium


[ Beach grass in northern California. ]

CA-Jenner wood

Into the Swing

The last day of July. Remember when summer seemed to last forever? Sigh.

Today at Ann Arbor Art Center, I uninstalled Fortune Favors the Brave, and Mike installed Let Them Eat Cake in its place. Mike is exhausted (know the feeling), and I am…hmmm…happy FFTB is down and done and a little sad it’s gone. The heat from the window was brutal on the collage, and although the color was surprisingly in good shape, the paper pieces had really shrunk, wrinkled, and were beginning to peel off the foam backing. I couldn’t reinstall it somewhere if I wanted to!

We found out during our trip that, for a show we are in, fall 2017, all the artists have 21 feet of wall space to fill. Wait, whaaat? TWENTY ONE FEET.

Time to clean up that newly empty art studio and get to work!








Fathers Day

Sunday morning in Virginia. Sunlight dapples the new backyard patio, the heat of the day is beginning to climb, but it’s still cool enough to be sitting in my jammies and slippers (at almost 11:00 a.m. mind you). I’m sitting under one of the biggest, most beautiful, magical trees I’ve encountered in my life, surrounded by family, each quietly doing their own thing.

At this moment, in this place, Life is very, very good.


[ Marvin Wallace Renfro in his Merchant Marine uniform. ]

Our dad always had a project going, and his kids seem to have inherited the trait. Scot is creating a little art for the back fence of our sister’s yard, Tina is digging up the area in front of it where a bench will sit, just a small part of the much bigger project of redoing the whole yard. My art installation awaits me in the basement back in Michigan, at a point that made me happy when I stopped working on it late (late) Friday night (enough done so that I can enjoy this time away and not be in Full Panic Mode when I get back).

Mom in the tank

[ Among his many projects, my dad built a tank for the grandsons. It was made of plywood, PVC pipes, and duct tape, had a steering wheel and wheels, but it was “manual,” so you had to have one or more people on the outside to push it while someone else sat inside and drove it (in the very loosest sense could you “drive” it, there was very little actual control of the direction, just forward and vaguely right or left). A tiring enterprise to actually play with it (especially when you had to get it back up the slight incline of our street), but the grandsons thought it was the coolest. Who else has a grandpa that built them a tank? I took this pic of Mom when she and I had to get the tank off the street. She drove, I pushed, and then I made her wait there while I got the camera. ]

Dad was not always the easiest person to get along with (a big understatement, but we’ll leave it at that for now), but I owe at least half of my creativity and love of making things to him.

Marvin W. Renfro (Marty) was an architect, and to this day, although I have little occasion to look at them, I love looking at blueprints: all that detailed, intricate line work and hand lettering, the faded blue texture of the background, the leftover smell from the process of creating them (ammonia apparently), the thick rolls of them in tubes, waiting to be unfurled on a big table. The original drawings were cool, but the blueprints were cooler (reminder this is from the 70’s, I’m sure copies now are all digital and don’t smell much like anything). If you Google “blueprints” and click to see images, the array of all that beautiful line work is just….oh my (also, I don’t know what this says about me or my search history, but at the top of my results are two blueprints for the Starship Enterprise and two for the Bat Mobile…what?)

On beach outings when we were little kids, along with all the towels, chairs, buckets and sand scoopers, Dad would bring a big normal-sized shovel. No little sand castle building for the Renfros, let’s dig a 6 x 6 x 6 foot deep square hole in the sand. Make some stairs out of sand to get into the hole and a little bench down inside to sit on, and voila, a cool (literally) little beach playhouse (magical as a kid, but my adult self thinks this might have been a tad unsafe, imagining myself, Tina, and our friends all buried alive in the tragic Doheny Beach Sand Playhouse Incident of 1972).

Also an instructor at Orange Coast College in southern California, Dad’s architecture students adored him. He would lock the door to the classroom promptly at 7:00 am (yes, in the morning), not tolerating any students that couldn’t bother to be exactly on time to his class.

Each semester he would bring home all the students’ matted, final drawings for grading. We would spread them out in our living room, on the floor in a big circle, propped up against chairs and the base of the fireplace hearth. He would let us help grade them, pick the ones we thought were the best, the ones deserving of an A grade (his students might not be so thrilled to know his daughters helped grade their work). It was very clear which ones outshone the others, and I now think these sessions were great little lessons in line work, composition, and color.

When I decided to go to art school, Dad said I had to go to the best one around, ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena (much to my mom’s chagrin, as she was the Living on Planet Earth Finance Person in the family).


[ Dad was a big reason I went to ArtCenter. My graduation present was a welding kit (another story). My friend who knew welding said I could have built a bridge with the “kit” dad bought. Couldn’t be a small set of gear, not for his daughter! Had to be the biggest and best. ]

While my current art is linked more closely with my mother and her quilting, I know there’s a little bit of the architect in there too. And Dad’s belief that I should, that I could, get in to the highly competitive ArtCenter altered my path in a way that, in more ways than one, landed me squarely where I am today (all the art skills and life lessons aside, I met Mike there).

Thanks, Dad, for passing on your creativity, instilling in me a love of building/making things, instilling in all of us an attitude of No Project is Too Big/Wacky/Out There, and helping me to believe that I could, that I can, strive for and reach the best [insert Dream Thing] out there.



Also posted in Creative Life, Creative Spirit

Unfinished Business

You know, in September when I started this blog, I thought that one of the side benefits of writing about my art making would be that it would force me to make more art. OK, not “force” but, you know, apply a little pressure. Some small amount of persuasion to be creative on a more regular and more productive basis since there were people “out there” reading what I wrote (well, theoretically anyway).

If anyone is keeping score out there (and seriously I have my doubts that anyone is paying that close of attention, but if you are, then cool! and thank you) you’ll know that there are a few art projects I’ve written about here on this blog that, well, have sorta kinda never come up again.

Hate to admit it, but I have lots of “works in progress” that aren’t really progressing much, with the exception of Fortune Favors the Brave, which has been my focus lately (deadlines take precedence, that’s my excuse).

I have let some work languish, and I feel badly about that. I got bored, frustrated, disgusted (that might be a little harsh, maybe “displeased”) or some combination of those.

(On the positive side, at least the projects in question didn’t necessitate purchasing a small kiln and all sorts of other expensive supplies that never got used…a story for another blog post…)

Love Letters

Remember the Love Letters to myself? Back in December I wrote a post about letting go, and in it I included a bit about this series of small, quick, fun pieces I was creating and then mailing to myself (if you didn’t read the post, then this will sound sad, and it kinda is). I started these 3″ squares in November, with the idea that I would create one a week. At the time I wrote about them I had completed four.

To date, I have done twelve. If you do the math, although you don’t need to because it’s obvious, there should be a lot more than 12 by this point. And it’s been weeks since I did the last one.


I do love them hanging on the studio wall, pinned up with gold map tacks, and I do love the idea of hundreds, creating a big sparkly quilt on the wall. But I don’t know, Life happened, they stopped being fun, and I lost my momentum.

Still Lifes

Then there is the Still Life series. No. 1 was finished at the end of 2014. No. 2 was finished early 2015. Numbers 3-5 (that I wrote briefly about at the end of this post) never actually became real, physical pieces. The beginnings of one are on the computer. Does that count? As for Still Life No. 6 (mentioned here and here, back in March)…I just sorta stopped. Frustrated. Not liking where it was going.


[ Still Life No. 1 on the right. Still Life No. 6 unfinished on the left. ]

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

Bear with me, I’m weaving a metaphorical tale here, but if you get bored just look at the pictures and jump to the end…

Right along with the story of the quince bush we tried to kill, we have a Cecil Brunner rose in our backyard that has a mind of its own and is finally flourishing after 15 years. Not only that, it’s blooming in its original spot in the garden and not the place we supposedly moved it to (evidently we need to learn more about digging up plants).

We planted the rose, in honor of my mother, next to a huge tree stump that had been left in the yard by previous owner(s), figuring that it could climb and cover the stump eventually. It never really did well, had a couple random roses bloom eventually, but then we had to remove the stump before it just fell over and demolished the fence (and potentially a car in the neighbor’s driveway next door). So we moved the rose next to the studio, put up a trellis on the side wall for it to climb.

A few years back the rose by the stump came back. Just a couple rosey tendrils with thorns, no flowers. We stuck a decorative iron thingy over it, not having the heart to kill it or move this new version. It existed like that for a few years, not doing much.

This spring, not sure what happened (we certainly didn’t help it along), but all of a sudden there were shoots that sprung up over 20 feet, resting in the lower branches of the pine tree! It was like Jack and the Beanstalk.

I was just going to cut it back, but because we are lazy people, the next best solution was to buy a trellis and just let the new shoots hang over it.


That photo above is a miracle. Fifteen years to get all those flowers! (Hi Mom!) (the bush by the studio did bloom for a couple of years, but a really cold winter killed all the branches, and it had to start completely over from scratch…no flowers on the new iteration yet).

So what has this rose to do with unfinished art work? I see it as a lesson in tenacity and perseverance. Fifteen years to get this amazing, flowering, climbing rose. This is what we envisioned on the tree all those years ago.

The plant just kept doing its (latent) Jack and the Beanstalk Enchanted Bean Thing underground, year after year. I need to just keep at my Artist Thing. Hunker down in my element, keep working. Give the art work time. Abandoning an idea is ok, but don’t quit just because the work becomes tedious.

If you want the end result you envision, hunker down and do the work. It will take time.


With the Love Letters, I think it’s not just boredom, it’s a lack of commitment, not being in it, totally, for the long haul. I know what I want the end result to look like, it just takes a consistent time commitment. Even when it’s not fun. Either that or make it fun again, but if I want that wall full, I need to commit to that end goal.

With the Still Lifes, I’ve actually been thinking about them a lot, working out ideas on how to make them more interesting to me and also better. Thinking about what the end pieces will look like, trying to up my game, and figuring out how to get there.

Also, I now have another deadline! 🙂 I’ve been invited to participate in a group show, in a new (to me) gallery, in summer/fall of 2017. I’m super excited about it, I envision my Still Lifes hanging there, but I will need actual pieces to hang on the walls, so…

I just have to keep at my (sometimes Enchanted) Artist Thing.


Also posted in Art in Progress, Creative Life, Motivation

Memorial Day

For several hours yesterday I worked on a blog post, but I just couldn’t get it to a point that I liked. I tried, really, I did. It now joins half a dozen others in an unfinished state. But since it’s a long weekend, I figure starting from scratch today with another post still counts as “regular.” Right?

Pink Geraniums

[ Spring cleaning and planting continues. I can’t get over the vibrant color of these geraniums! I did nothing to the photo, no filter or saturation. That pink is amazing! ]


[ Wave petunias, in this particular color, are a staple flower in my garden every spring. ]

Photos in the Attic

I was up in the attic today going through old family photos, looking for a collection that my oldest brother is searching for. Some day I will find them, dammit, but after an hour digging through four boxes, sweating in the heat, I gave up. Soooo frustrating because I know we have them!

Not sure how it happened exactly, but I ended up with all the family photos and albums after my parents passed away, and unfortunately they are not in any way close to what could be called an organized state…at all. I have some of the original photo albums that my mom put together when my brother, the first child, was born in 1951, along with baggies of loose photos, albums with no covers, and several of those horrible sticky albums from the 70’s that in hindsight were a really bad idea (the photos can not be separated from the albums without damage).

Way back when, in the days of buying rolls of film, you thought twice (or your parents reminded you) about wasting film. Since you paid for every photo that was developed, good or bad, you tended to keep them all (at least our family did). There are blurry photos in the albums, photos with fingers over the lens, and, if those aren’t bad enough, sometimes near duplicates of those really poor photos.


[ Snapped this photo of a photo while in the attic. I am the photographer, and we are somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico. My sister does not look happy. My dad never let us take photos of just places or things, you weren’t allowed to take a photo unless there was a person in them (don’t want to waste film!), but apparently he didn’t remind me about fingers in front of the lens… ]

The Times Before

Of course, as I was digging I found all sorts of other cool photos, waves of memories flooding my brain, transporting me from the hot attic back in time, bouncing me from one decade to another, one family vacation/Thanksgiving/Christmas (ooh that one ended badly) and back.

Some of the photos really made me wistful, nostalgic for all those times before: before family or friends left (just out of our lives or off this plane of existence), before the fighting and divorces, before school (where you learned how mean people can be), before people changed (in a sad or bad way), before the place in which you grew up lost all its empty lots and rolling hills to houses…


Another photo I found while digging…the above photo is of my dad in the Merchant Marines. Memorial Day is to pay our respect to those who died in service, and my dad did not, but I’m betting he knew men that did. I asked my oldest brother Scot about Dad’s service, and he wrote:

Dad was in the merchant Marines and then when war broke out in the pacific he went into the Navy and was a lieutenant junior grade. His ship was a troop transport and they delivered ground troops to Iwo Jima – then they brought home what was left over after the battle. Aunt Jane told me that dad was never the same after that.

I wish I had known my dad before the war. I wish I could ask him if he had made friends while on the ship, ones that perhaps did not return home with him. I wish I could ask Aunt Jane how he was different after that, what change she saw in him.

My parents were not ones to tell stories, about themselves, their childhood, anything about their parents/siblings. All I have are the photos. After we moved to Michigan in 2001, I learned, for example, that my maternal grandfather was born in the upper peninsula of my new home state! How could I have not known that? I don’t remember now the sequence of events that led to that knowledge, but it certainly wasn’t my mother telling me. How cool is it that I moved to the state where her father, George Moore, was born?

Generally, and I think about this a lot, I wish I could ask both my parents questions, have some real conversations that I couldn’t have, or didn’t think to have, when they were alive. There are so many photos in the attic of people I don’t know, but that my parents knew, or they were my relatives! Who were they? and what were their stories?

Memories and nostalgia on Memorial Day.

In my digging I came across the photo below, one of my favorites from my childhood. My dad used this photo as evidence that he was the one that started me and my sister on a path to be dancers. I absolutely love how ecstatic my sister is. Such joy. Plus, as is true with almost all our photos when we were very little, Tina is dressed in t-shirt and pants, and I am in a pretty, frilly dress.

Sorry, Teen, I don’t know the story behind that either. I think I was the lucky recipient of some nice hand-me-downs, but If I could ask Mom, I would.



Also posted in Creative Spirit

Mother’s Day and Garden Wonders

For awhile I was angry whenever Mother’s Day rolled around.

My mom passed away in 1997, three months after Mike and I were married, and it just seemed unfair to have all this seemingly forced celebrating when I myself no longer had my mom. The anger and resentment have slowly diminished over time, and while the day is no longer quite as big a deal as it used to be (in my immediate family), my sisters are mothers, my friends are mothers and grandmothers, and they all deserve to be celebrated too. There are all sorts of moms out there to be celebrated, those that are alive and those no longer with us.

I am so very grateful for Muriel Jeanne Renfro and all she gave to me. Whether passed on through DNA, through her guidance, or through her example, I am me because of her. She is an ever-present influence in my art, and I would not be doing what I do if not for her.

I miss her terribly, and love her dearly.


[ My mother at my graduation from Art Center College of Design. ]

Spring Cleaning Continues

We spent a good portion of today outside, cleaning up the backyard. If I were to attempt to get up off the couch at this moment, my body would protest (OK, enough with the spring cleaning, this hurts).

I know I probably mention the weather way too much, but these spring days are simply the best. Today I took to noticing and treasuring the beauty in our own backyard, and thought I would share:

moss covered rock

[ This moss covers just one rock in our backyard path. I’m not sure what the new growth is (technically) but the feathery green moss has these delicate orange stalks with bright green, uh, things at the ends. Amazing. ]

milkweed seeds

[ Milkweed seeds found on the ground, left from last year, survived the winter. The engineering of these seed filaments, and their pattern, is very awe inspiring. ]

red tulip

[ A tulip in our front yard. We did not plant any tulips, ever, but they have appeared over the years and seem to have multiplied in our front yard. I had never noticed the beautiful yellow and black pattern at the center of the flowers. ]

yellow flowers

[ So much of our garden is either leftover from previous owners or “visitors” from who knows where. These yellow flowers are flourishing in the back of the yard. We did not plant them, but I love them. ]

fountain marbles

[ The marble and glass mosaic orb at the top of Mike’s fountain. Love all the subtle selfies reflected in the lower marbles. ]

golden cat

[ A golden cat, serene and sun drenched. She is from Mike’s Aquarium Gallery installation and now graces our backyard. ]

selfie in garden globe

[ Weird, but I liked this extraterrestrial-looking selfie (of sorts) in one of our glass garden globes. ]


[ We took a trip to World Market today and bought an umbrella and lights. I LOVE sitting here at the end of the day, listening to the water fountain, the birds singing, the neighbors doing what they do….Life is GOOD. ]

This weekend has been about gratitude, appreciation, and noticing/paying attention…to the memory and legacy of my mother and to the wonder and beauty in my own backyard.

Also posted in Creative Life

Seek and Ye Shall Find

A couple of days ago we went looking for inspiration, a change of scenery, and instead we found a giant, rainbow-colored shock of a gift. We had one of those Life experiences that are so out-of-the-blue but that feel so perfectly timed and “meant to be.” Let me tell you a story…

For several years, Mike and I have taken a trip to Chicago for my birthday. I waffled about going this year. Perhaps someplace different instead? Or maybe we stay home, since we are spending so much money on our big trip to California this summer. I decided fairly last-minute that, what the hell, we needed to get out of our house for a couple of days. Congress Plaza Hotel, dear old friend, here we come.

About four hours after leaving Ann Arbor we are in Chicago. About an hour after that we are at the Art Institute, looking at our old favorites. But the inspiration isn’t really manifesting like we had hoped. Perhaps it was the crowds. Or that there was nothing new for us. I was temporarily excited that there was a Martin Puryear exhibit, but then disappointed that it was mostly drawings (although beautiful) and not more of his sculptures. I like Van Gogh, but the exhibit on his “bedrooms” didn’t sound appealing (and all those people to navigate…I know, we’re sad).

Eh. Well, the deep dish pizza dinner was worth the drive. Perhaps Friday will bring something.

Indeed it did.


[ If nothing else, just walking around Chicago is always energizing. Love this city. I can always count on finding interesting textures and architectural elements. ]

Glass, metal, concrete floor in a downtown Chicago doorway

[ Purple glass and metal circles on the floor of a doorway. ]

A view out the window.

[ A blurry photo taken with my iPhone, out our hotel window, looks like an abstract painting. I only increased the saturation and contrast in Photoshop. Love the blue accent of port-o-potties at the top left. ]

A Fortunate Happenstance

Bear with me, I want to share the randomness of the path we took to get to our “meant to be” moment during this trip.

On Friday morning, the only destination we had in mind was a bookstore I found online, Sandmeyers (Some shopping on the Miracle Mile perhaps? Not in the mood. Contemporary Museum as usual? Hmm, current exhibits don’t sound like our cup of tea. Natural History Museum? $38 each!!! Uh, no.) From our hotel window, we could see this big, icy blue and white square in the park. I thought it was tile, Mike thought it was perhaps three-dimensional, but it was really too far away to tell.

We decided to take a closer look at the blue tile thingy on our way to the bookstore.

Blue square out our window.

[ From our hotel window. What is it made of? ]


Turns out, the floor and a small stage are painted wood pieces screwed to a substructure (it had rained, so it was shiny from the water). The colors and pattern are beautiful. I looked it up later, and it is a 100 percent recycled, open-air dance floor designed by Chicago artist Dan Peterman, part of the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park. The annual Chicago SummerDance is held here.



Mystery solved, we continued walking south to the next point of interest (the bookstore is still a little further south and west). On a hill at the end of this garden area stands a statue of a man on a horse, General John A. Logan (internet trivia for the day: apparently, we have him to thank for pushing Memorial Day to be a holiday).

General Logan

[ The path to the General. Color saturated in Photoshop. ]

Statue of General Logan, Grant Park, Chicago.

[ Mike and the General. ]

Looking south from the hill where General Logan permanently rides, a huge block of brightly colored cubes sits in the middle of an expanse of bright green grass. We still had a half hour to kill before the bookstore opened, so we meandered in the direction of the brightly colored cubes.

Artists Monument

[ Mike took this photo after we had already spent much more than a passing minute looking at the monument. The figure standing next to it is me. ]

As we walked closer, it seemed that each square of color was intersected by whitish columns. I thought perhaps it was corrugated, like cardboard. Once up next to it, you can see the white is actually a list of names etched into the plastic. The whole piece is entirely covered in an alphabetical listing of names. The plaque next to it says it’s called Artists Monument, by Tony Tasset.

I must have seen an artist name I recognized, I can’t remember now, but as I was standing near the S listings, I randomly looked for Mike’s name. Why not?

Mike Sivak's name on Artists Monument by Tony Tasset

I cannot adequately describe the feeling of finding “Mike Sivak” listed on one of the yellow squares. WTF???!!! This, of course, had me trotting over to the Rs to see if my name appeared there. One could hope. Although, it happened so fast, it was just a “let’s take a looksy why not” impulse that turned into a “holy shit!” moment.


Julie Renfro at the Artists Monument by Tony Tasset.

[ And it was just TOO coincidental that we had a rainbow umbrella to match…not to mention my shoes. ]

Then, of course, we spent time walking around looking for the names of our artist friends (the bookstore opening time came and went). We found many! This was just too cool, too much fun! Where did the list come from? How did ours and our friends’ names get on it? Why did some not? The date on the plaque said 2014. This had been here for two years!!?? Really?

But it actually hadn’t been in Chicago for two years. The story gets better…

Turns out the piece was created by Tony Tasset for the Whitney Biennial…wait, what? 2014, installed at Pier 45, Hudson River Park, New York, NY. Our names are on an art piece that was in the Whitney Biennial (let you in on a little secret? I’m feeling slightly hysterical and uncool about all this, but I can’t help it, I’m going to wear my yes-I’m-almost-52-but-acting-like-I’m-12 badge proudly).

You can read more about the Whitney installation in this interview with Mr. Tasset. He reveals that being in the Whitney Biennial was “a personal ‘white whale,’ an aspiration that he pursued for a quarter-century” which for me makes the artwork, and our finding it, even more special. The installation includes almost 400,000 artist names on it, but as Mr. Tasset says about the work, “the Artists Monument attempts to include all artists but this is a symbolic, utopian gesture. It would be impossible to include everyone who calls him- or herself an artist.”

It was just so shocking to, in such a seemingly accidental way, come across our names in a public setting, on such a large-scale artwork, a piece that has existed, been out there, for two years. How surreal is it that this surprise encounter happened?

What a great gift of encouragement. A gigantic reminder that, somewhere along the way, I found my tribe.

And, I’m sorry, it’s just really F***ING COOL! 🙂 Happy birthday, Julie.

Snowy drive home

[ In contrast to the rainbow colors, the view on the drive home. Contrast bumped up in Photoshop. Rain on the drive down, snow on the way home. Spring in Michigan! ]

Also posted in Creative Life, 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, Art Making, Motivation