Your Three Words – A New Kind of Resolution

Falling While Sitting

Falling While Sitting

Happy New Year!!

And, no, those are not your three words.  I have a little story to tell that starts out sounding kind of maudlin, but if you bear with me it could change your life.  Seriously. How’s that for an opener?!

About five years ago my mom passed away and it was left to me to write the obituary. Writing an obit. has an unusual side effect: the author begins to reflect on how  he or she wants to be remembered.

“Oh great,” you say. “She wants me to start off the New Year thinking about my own mortality. How uplifting!”

OK, let’s look at this concept in a New (Years) Light. I realized those five years ago, that what I wanted was a kind of “Life Mantra.” Words that would define not only how I want to be remembered, but how I want to be thought of now. Words to live by, so to speak. This mantra turned into three words that I thoughtfully chose. Each word defines who I am. My words are verbs, so that I can continually act upon them.

I’ll reveal only one: Create.

I Create: Painting, Writing, Meals, Knitting, Art, Interiors, Books. No limits. Ever changing. “Create” can have so many applications. It’s a word without boundaries.

I repeat my mantra often; on dog walks, falling asleep, waiting in lines, etc. I can change the order emphasizing one word over the others on certain days. Some people may call these words “goals, intentions, or resolutions.” Use whichever term makes you comfortable. I like the words “intention” and “mantra” as they imply a deeper and more personal concept. Goals are awesome but they seem so specific, with an endpoint: run a marathon, lose ten pounds, get into a gallery, paint more. The words I’m speaking of are open-ended and ongoing. More than a resolution, they reflect who you are and who you want to be.

Magic happens when you focus on your “intentions.” They come true. Dozens of people have used my (unrevealed) three words countless times to define my work, my actions, my life.  Intentions can also help to clarify your life daily. When given choices of how to spend your time, your “three words” can guide and influence your decisions.

Now it’s your turn to pick your own three words to start off the New Year. Here are some helpful guidelines:

• Pick words that resonate and will last.  Your mantra defines you.

• Verbs give you purpose. Choose verbs so that you can continually act upon them.

• Write the first three words that come to mind. They may be important (and surprising).

• You can change your words. Try them out for a day or two and see how they fit. The important concept is to start the process.

• No word or concept is too grand or too small.

• Keep your words private.

• You can pick more than three, but three is a good start.


May your 2013 be filled to the brim with these three words:

 Joy, Love and Creativity!!








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Beauty, Silence and Prayer

Richard Serra “Sequence” currently at the Cantor Museum, Stanford University

Today I revisited the Richard Serra sculpture, “Sequence” at the Cantor Museum on the Stanford Campus. It is a monumental, awe-inspiring work made of ship steel plates that twist and curve to form elegant and stunning spaces. At every turn there is an unexpected shadow casting the warm rusted steel into darker, deep browns, or the cool cement ground into rich dark greys. This play of light within the maze-like structure creates shape upon shape of triangles, circles, semi-circles rectangles, squares, and as you walk through these shapes you become part of this incredible space, literally appearing and disappearing around each twist and turn.

When I visit this installation it feels like going to church. For me the space is that powerful. I enter it with a degree of awe and I listen. Ian Roberts explains this best in his book “Creative Authenticity.” He says, “In the face of beauty we are silenced, because beauty expresses silence.” He goes on to say that, “A work of art is like a visual form of prayer. The depth of the artist’s attention, the prayer, is what we respond to…Our response comes from the power of the prayer that contributed to the making of the piece… Authenticity results from the depth of the artist’s feelings, and this is the key to how much silence, consciousness or attention the art reflects.”

I find Ian’s comments fascinating on so very many levels, however for this post, what strikes me is the truth of the “silence” that a great work of art imparts. When you go to a museum and you see a painting that you fall in love with, may gasp at, or may not even really like that well, but you see it and you are drawn to it. And you stand in silence. How much silence may determine how much of that artist’s energy you continue to feel/sense/absorb as you study the piece. Ian implies, and I totally agree, that the greater the work, the more silence comes through.


I feel so lucky to have this installation so close by to repeatedly visit. Let me know what art “silences” you? Where’s your art “church”?


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An Introduction to Melinda Cootsona of Paint Happens

Melinda, Beckett and Toaster


I love oil paint. I love the gooey textures and the thick, rich colors, and, yes, the smell. Unlike watercolors, I can change any stroke at any time; the entire painting experience is dynamic.

I also love to teach painting. My desire is to inspire others to create, and find their own “voice” and vision in their art. I’m happy to share all that I have learned about painting, creating and the “business side” of the art world.

Melinda Lomax Cootsona is a native of Northern California. She attended the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in Oakland where she received her BFA in Interior Architectural Design in 1981. She worked full-time in both the Interior and Graphic Design fields for over twelve years “from furniture systems to album covers.” She also taught design for two years at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, and now regularly teaches oil painting classes and workshops out of her studio in Menlo Park, CA.

Melinda’s work was originally influenced by the early California Impressionists, and particularly by the Northern California group called the Society of Six. She painted loose, vibrant landscapes, often in the “plein air” style, and learned about light and color and how to “bend the rules”, from observing nature, as well as workshops with Ted Goerschner, Jerry Turner and Leslie Rich.

Melinda’s work currently focuses on Abstracts and Abstract Figurative paintings, “after painting one too many Eucalyptus trees.” She is influenced by the Bay Area Figurative artists both past and present including William Rushton and Linda Christensen.

You can see more of Melinda’s work at her website:, and at The Studio Shop in Burlingame, CA,


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Nothin’ Like Shoppin’


“Rings” 12″ x 12″ oil on canvas

Don’tcha just love getting new art catalogues in the mail? Good solid lunch time reading.  This whole blog is going to sound like a plug for Jerry’s Artarama so forgive me, it’s just that they have some really exciting new stuff. I’m sure you can find many of these items at other stores as well, I just happened to see them first in the current Jerry’s catalogue  (Back 2 School Sale on the cover).

Arches Oil Paper: This is a totally new product by the venerable company who has been making superior watercolor paper for decades. A paper that can take oil paint. It comes in sheets, pads and rolls and is definitely “in my cart!” I can’t wait to try it!

Jewel Plein Air Bristle Brushes at 19 3/4 long! It’s not the brush, but the length that makes it unique. Stand back from your painting! I’d love to get this product in every student’s hand.

Ampersand Cradled Panel FULLY PRIMED TOP AND SIDES: These panels are awesome, but have never been primed on the sides before. You either had to tape them off to protect them from paint, or prime them yourself, or somehow varnish them. Now these cradled  panels are “good to go” right out of the package. AND Jerry’s current price on them is excellent. Time to stock up!!

Several Studio Storage Items: The following may not all be new, but the pricing on them seems more reasonable than usual.

Creative Mark Space Station: A rolling cart with eight drawers. Pretty Handy  $79.99

Creative Mark Space Rover: A rolling Canvas holder for small to medium canvases, and it has two levels so you can “stack” canvases and double your space. This one ain’t cheap: $259.99, but it would hold a lot and save space.

Dryden Art & Canvas Keeper: This one IS NEW! Very cool and reasonable in my book. Store 12 Gallery style canvases or 24 traditional canvases on this floor rack on wheels. $134 for what seems like a very nice, space efficient organizer.

I have no affiliation with Jerry’s but I just had to announce that Oil paper and Ampersand’s new panels. The paper alone could change the way some artists work.

Happy Creating!

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The Dance of Avoidance

Girl On Ottoman 42 x 36

They say the true artist has to create. The artist has no choice. Artists speak of being virtually driven to the studio. One, or two days away from their artistic endeavors and by the third day they are almost mad.

My response to time away from the studio is a little different. I can handle not painting for slightly longer than three days. I can go for about a month. There are lots of ways to rationalize this absence and I have found them all. Do any of these sound familiar?

#1 “Taking a Break”

I am taking “a break” from manic creativity.

#2 “Studio Clean Up”

This is actually pretty necessary for me every now and then. However, if I’m still cleaning after three days, it’s cleanliness “next to avoidance”, not “godliness.”

#3  “Studying and Absorbing”

Visiting museums and intense review of all art magazines and books, including “Elle Decor” (you never know what painting may be hanging in Travolta’s Bedroom).

#4  “Broadening Horizons”


#5 “Blogging”

Hey, it’s creative writing.

#6  “Establishing Goals”

This last act of avoidance comes towards the end of the infamous month, because, frankly, by now it’s all getting a little scary.

Admittedly, I cannot function without creating something for more than, well, about three days: writing, knitting, woodcuts (creative band-aid application), or at least a computer graphic design project. When I’m not painting, my cooking (another creative outlet) also improves. New vegetables, spices and herbs are discovered, to the delight of my husband and the dismay of my son.

However, at the end of a month of paint deprivation it can get quite nasty. My mind starts filling up with thoughts. Not, unfortunately, beautiful painting visions, but random, junk-food kind of thoughts. Concentration becomes difficult, and it feels as though the world is in my head. The “flakey-artist” syndrome attacks full blast. This distraction is actually quite real. Just ask my family, who will repeat questions several times before I “hear” them. My deaf ear is not intentional; it’s just that my brain seems overly crowded.

There are deep ironies in the Dance of Avoidance. Firstly, I love to paint and when I’m not painting I’m always thinking about painting, and I pretty much only want to paint. So why on earth would I want to avoid painting?

Secondly, the longer I sidestep my studio, the harder it is to stand in front of that easel and begin again. And I’m fully aware of this painful process every time that I break away from painting.

I don’t have good answers as to why the Dance of Avoidance seems to overtake us all at some point. I think it has something to do with the universe working in opposites: “What’s seems hard is easy, and what seems easy is hard.” (It’s true, just think about it!) These breaks may also be a “re-fueling” of sorts. The artist may be absorbing new material, colors, textures, emotions, or approaching a shift in subject matter.

I do know this about the Dance. If you truly want to be a full time artist, you have to stay on the Dance Floor. If you look back at my “Rationalization” list you will see that actually everything on it is related to creativity. Everything keeps me in that Creative Ballroom. A day cleaning the studio is still in my “Job Description,” and even knitting is keeping those creative juices flowing. (Actually, I strongly believe in “cross-training” creatively, but that’s another post!)

As I write this post, my month of painting drought is coming to an end and all of the above rationalizations have been checked off and now written about. There is nothing left to do. I can avoid the white canvas no longer. The palette and brushes beckon. I know the first paintings will be difficult and messy, but the work will get easier as I proceed. My crowded thoughts must be released as I begin again on the artist’s journey.

Madness is averted once again.


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Dear Teacher…

Girl in Chair, 36 x 36

Have you ever wanted to hand a letter to your art teacher and let them know your thoughts? I have had so very many students tell me of their horrendous experiences with thoughtless teachers. I’m certain that we have all shared in some of these experiences.

I think my favorite teacher horror story is my sister-in-law, Annie’s, tale of her drawing class. She got up the courage to attend a local drawing class. When she entered the room most of the students knew each other and no one greeted her (sound familiar?). The subject matter was a cow skull – no easy assignment for a first timer, geeze. The short of the story is that after much effort by Annie to sketch a skull in graphite, the teacher looked over her shoulder and exclaimed, “You’ve gotta be kidding, right?” This is amusing in the shock of absolute lack of empathy, understanding, or even good manners!  It’s like a TV moment; you’d see it in a sit com, but no one would believe that it could happen. Except anyone whose taken a lot of art classes. (It’s ok to laugh;  Annie quit the class, and has gone on to paint beautiful paintings!)

I’ve heard of teachers painting on student canvases without permission, ruining their work, even completely covering their work. And, much like Annie’s experience, I’ve heard of critical comments by instructors that have literally paralyzed student creativity. Like the breaking of a horse’s spirit.

An artist may be a brilliant painter, but not a good teacher or communicator. Artists may take up teaching for all kinds of reasons especially in today’s economy. Ultimately there should be only one true reason to teach: to inspire others. A teacher must have limitless compassion for the student and a true desire to see that person create joyfully. If you don’t have that kind of commitment to the student, you should honestly stay in the studio and continue to create your own work. Students tell me that I have endless patience, but I never feel impatient. Patience never crosses my mind. I am too focused on what is best for my student to consider any other option. Admittedly, I teach very small classes so I have an advantage here, but any good teacher should have similar intentions.

So, I have written a letter from Student to Teacher. Feel free to copy it if you wish and use it at will. Hand it out on your first day of class. Adapt it as appropriate. And let me know any of your own stories, good and bad, about “Art Class.” My next blog will have a letter from Teacher to Student….stay posted!

Dear Teacher,

I am so excited to be here in this class. Excited, nervous and scared. I have always wanted to create and I am now finally getting the chance. The art store was a small piece of heaven on earth: colors and textures and blank papers full of potential. I have all of my supplies and can’t wait to begin.

I hope I fit in. I don’t know any of these other students and they are probably all really good. I can see that you know many of them and they all seem to be friends. Please introduce me and make me feel welcome. Please ask that your students each share in the creative process.  I am nervous and don’t want to intrude.

I know this may sound silly, but it took a good deal of courage to come here. By being in a class, I will be creating in front of other people and exposing my work (my self) to judgment.  I am not a weak person, but this idea scares me. I am not confident in my abilities as an artist and I am not ready to be judged by others. Please give me words of encouragement, as the slightest doubt of my ability may crush my spirit. You will know if this happens, as I will not have the courage to return to class.

I’m ready for what ever you tell me, and your choice of words really, really matters. I respect you as an artist and I know that you are talented and knowledgeable about your craft. Your praise means more to me than you will ever know. I will remember your words for years to come. I realize that my work needs criticism in order for me to grow as an artist, but please be gentle and mindful of your comments. I will remember your words for years to come.

Thank you for your patience and generosity of spirit in sharing your knowledge. These qualities are paramount in a teacher. If you are patient with me I will absorb your knowledge as fast as I am able.

I am ready now to create.

Yours truly,

My Creative Self




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