Tierra del Sol Foundation


First Street Gallery Art Center of the Tierra del Sol Foundation


This post is in honor of “Giving Tuesday.” Sort of, which I’ll explain in a moment. Anyhoo – this day is pretty cool, as it’s all about giving back (instead of consumer-ing the shit out of a bunch of stuff we may not actually need). This marks the 6th year of Giving Tuesday (started in New York by some fine folks at the 92nd Street Y) and it has become a global opportunity to make a difference, instead of merely shopping. It is held on the first Tuesday after American Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday – 28 November of this year. The point, as I understand it, is to donate to a worthy cause and help the world in the process. Every little bit counts, and as most of us have something we care about, if not a few things, we get to make a difference by supporting those whose work is all about making a difference. In other words, even if I only give a couple of dollars to a charity I respect, it will be added to someone else’s couple of dollars, and will eventually pay for progress and positive change. That’s the idea anyway and I believe it.


First Street Gallery Art Center: Various Artist Works


But Giving Tuesday is only part of what I want to share. I recently toured First Street Gallery Art Center in Claremont, CA. The center is part of Tierra del Sol Foundation and I swear – they ought to call themselves Tierra del Soul! I had been told about First Street and had even read a bit online, but I was not prepared for the magnificence I witnessed during that tour. The short explanation is this: this center serves folks with physical and/or intellectual disabilities, by giving them creative space to create their own art. I believe there were 40 artists at work in the space that day – along with about 10 instructors -  and yet it was incredibly quiet. Everyone was focused on the art! And what art is was! I saw people working on paintings, sculpture, drawing, mixed media pieces and a bunch of other things I haven’t yet gotten my mind around. It was overwhelming, in the most beautiful way.


First Street: Artist Helen Rae


And it gets better! The artists at this fabulous center are good, y’all. They are encouraged to sell their works and they earn income from their sales. Lest you think the pieces are sold only from the center itself, let me tell you that some of the artists I met are getting gallery shows around the freaking globe. Helen Rae‘s work is highly collected and demands a pretty penny. I watched her working and was taken by how content she seemed. Here she was, in a room full of people, sharing table space with another artist, and yet she was fine. She had all the space she needed in order to create. I certainly took note of the situation and hope I remember what I saw, especially if I get all whiny about my own creative corner set-up.


First Street: Artist Joe Zaldivar


Another of the astounding artists I met was Joe Zaldivar. Joe was so smiley and industrious! I saw him working and can tell you this – the man is fast. He was free-handing every aspect of the work and I was blown away by the results. I can’t draw a straight line to save my life, but Joe sure can. His pieces are fun and detailed and they really make me happy. Joe is also in demand and showing his work around the world. It doesn’t surprise me, either, as I can’t be the only person who sees his pieces and smiles from the inside out.


First Street: Artist Dru McKenzie


As the tour continued, I met artists who are creating characters for all sorts of ideas (animation projects, games) and I could barely keep the flies from coming in my mouth because I could barely lift my chin up from the floor. The work was that impressive. And so were the artists. I saw human beings being treated like human beings. The artists I met were confident and capable folks who were treated with respect. It was beautiful. I have to tell you – I felt there was well-deserved and healthy swagger in that room. I was in awe. Still am.


So here’s the deal. On this Giving Tuesday, I plan to send a little money to the fine folks at First Street Gallery Art Center. My contribution may only be a drop in the bucket, but as I recently told a friend, buckets are filled by drops. Every little bit, y’all. Every little bit. And I encourage you to honor the soulful intent behind Giving Tuesday and give to a cause that makes your heart smile. If you can give generously, great! If you can give a little, great! Because if you can give anything at all, you are blessed. It’s a wonderful thing – being blessed. It is greater still to know it.


The Freaking Queen



I’ve started watching “The Crown” on Netflix and I’m smitten.


When I first saw “Brideshead Revisited” in the 1980s, I realized I was an Anglophile. Still am. I’ve tried to escape it, but we are what we are, friends. I fell hard for that series then and I’m now falling for “The Crown.”


None of it’s perfect. Flaws abound. There is truth and there is fiction. There is laughter and there are tears. There is hope and there is abandonment. As long as there is entertainment, I will watch.


On this date in 1940, the future Queen Elizabeth II gave her very first address to Britain on the BBC’s Children’s Hour radio program. She was 14 years old. As good a reason as any to think of that fabulous gal.


And for the interwebz police, I give you this. The painting shown above is indeed based on a photo. It is based on a photo I staged myself, of myself, and not on anything else. Put that in your fucking e-hat and smoke it. Clearly – the interwebz police and I have a history. Word.

And So I Begin. Again.



Yesterday I painted. Those who didn’t just meet me know this is kind of a thing. I’ve tried to pick up my brushes, but the hurt from losing my mentor’s guidance has been bigger than I anticipated. And that hurt is still there. Along with confusion, doubt and a host of other feelings and emotions that don’t do a damned thing to serve me.


So what changed? Well, I was talking with my love-bug of a cousin and she told me about some folk art made by another family member. And then she sent photos of the pieces and I just about flipped. Those little gewgaws are so cool. And I never even knew they existed. I guess I was inspired, not only by the folk art, but also by my dear cousin.


I won’t lie. When I placed myself before that canvas, I felt stuck. I didn’t know what to do and I drew a blank for a few minutes. And then I thought about something Mister told me the other night. He said that if I had gone through some sort of degree program in art, I would have graduated already and (probably) declared myself an artist. Then he told me that I don’t need to keep studying with someone, that I’m already an artist and I already know how to paint. Y’all – if my mentor called tomorrow and said he was back in business, I’d be his first customer. I will always value guidance and instruction. And I will always benefit from those things. But in the meantime, Mister may be right. I am an artist. I know how to paint. With that in mind, I put paint to canvas and did my best.


Today is the first day of Autumn. A new season. A new beginning. I hope I’m starting anew, again. I hope it sticks. I hope that I, like this new season, am reborn. I hope. And then I hope some more.


When this painting is finished, it will be my first without my mentor’s approval. That’s a big deal, for a lot of reasons. It’s bittersweet, to be sure. And it’s good. Like I told my painting buddy Nicole – we’re creators. It’s what we do. With or without a gentle, guiding voice over our shoulders.

It’s a Heat



It started with admiring outdoor art. Actually, it probably started in 1983 when I first saw “Flashdance,” but that’s digging too deep. Anyhoo, I wanted some outdoor art. Indoor art abounds at the new pad, but the outside is a little lonely. I looked to a painting and found inspiration…



So I signed up for a sculpture class at a welding shop. I had built myself a maquette made of cardboard and thought it might be possible to finish the piece during the 6-week class. I hoped so at least.



I got to work and, well, then the US election happened. It was all I could do to make myself go to class. When I got there, the other students were quiet. Maybe we were all heartbroken. I don’t know. Each of us worked on our own projects…



And we plugged away…



Once I had cut the pieces for my planned sculpture, I needed to grind them down to remove the ugly coating on the metal. Did I have to? No. I could have simply left the pieces alone and allowed them to rust once outdoors. But I had different plans. And so the grinding work began. Grinding, to me, is a bit tense. As a safety precaution, one has to constantly apply pressure to the on button of a grinder, which wears out whichever hand one uses. And then there’s the body position. I found that holding myself at a slight bent-over angle for so long led to back pain. Not cool, man. And then, as if my body’s tension wasn’t enough, one night I noticed an odd scent in the grinding room. I looked down and saw my hoodie had flamed up from the sparks being thrown by the grinder. I immediately patted out the flare-up, then looked around to see if anyone had noticed. None had, so I went back to finishing the job. Or as much as I could.



By the end of the session, I had the structure of my piece down…



But I wasn’t finished. And I knew it. I brought the metal home, hid it away and started my research into metal dyes. That’s right. I wanted my piece to have color. (I figured it would rust, too, but the color would only add to that natural process. Right?) Thanks to the YouTuber, I was able to find a product that looked like it would do the trick. I ordered what I needed and waited. Once the dyes arrived, I knew I had to finish grinding the metal. It occurred to me that I could return to the welding shop and pay them for some open shop time, but when I saw how cheaply a grinder could be had, I decided to just get the tool and finish the task at home. For the record, when the grinder arrived, I considered making its case my new handbag. Yes – I like it that much…



So. Even though I wasn’t using a 30,000 degree F plasma cutter, I knew enough about grinder sparks to be careful. So I cleaned the outdoor area of leaves and such and got out a fire extinguisher before setting up my work station. I wore all the requisite protective clothing and earplugs and a face mask. I certainly didn’t want to burn down the house, and I surely didn’t want to burn down a Mikki.



Finishing the job took the better part of a day. But then I was ready to apply the dye. I let it set and then Mister helped me assemble the piece.



I have to tell you – this was fun. Yes, there were setbacks and disappointments. Yes, I nearly gave myself a belly scar from a spark fire. Yes, it took longer than I expected or hoped. But in the end, I’m fairly smitten with this sculpture. It’s my first. You never forget your first…


Don’t Fear the Dark



I’m trying. I really am. In the face of my country’s ugliness and shameful behavior, I’m trying to lift my own spirits and to reclaim my joy. Some days, it half works. Others…


There’s been a lot of loss of late in my little world. Layers, in fact. A great aunt passed away recently, and that has required processing. Processing that will continue, probably in ways I don’t yet know. Two days after hearing of her passing, I learned that my mentor was abruptly closing his studio and would be retiring earlier than previously planned. It was too much.



I spent my last night in his studio thinking of what the place has meant to me. I walked around and photographed the unlit corners that seemingly have nothing to do with the beauty produced there. The paint-splattered sink, the tins of paint thinner (“juice” as my teacher always called it), the random articles on a cluttered shelf. All of it greeted me for years, and now it’s gone.



I won’t lie. I cried several times during my final session there. I cried when I thought about my very first visit, when I decided to be brave and give painting a try. I cried when I thought about how my sweet friend Nicole came to my life simply because our easels were side-by-side one night. I cried when I thought about how my time in that sacred space changed my life forever. As I type this, I look around my home and its walls are covered with art, most of it made by me. When someone asks what I do (I hate that question), I tell them I’m an artist. And I am. Some of what I produce is real crap. It’s true. And some of what I produce is so good it makes me want to cry anew, because it is such a gift to create beauty in this world. And in every inky crevice of my heart, I am fully aware of how very “gifted” I have been on the painting front.



And then there’s my mentor himself. On that last night in the studio, I cried because I was allowed to know him. Because I was allowed to be his student and to learn from him. He is a remarkable human soul and I know what a privilege it’s been to study with him. I have learned more about painting than I ever thought possible. I have also learned – from him – about being a decent person. He is kind and patient and wise. I pray that a little bit of those parts of him have rubbed off on me. Maybe they have. Maybe not. I suppose only time will tell.



So yes – I’m processing a lot of loss right now. And it runs deep. If I could, I would probably crawl into a hole and stay there. But that isn’t how life works. If I were to choose that, then I’d become someone I don’t want to be. I cannot succumb to the loss. I know I have to adapt. All of life is change, isn’t it? It keeps evolving and turning over and over again. For me, I know that if I don’t roll with it, there won’t be much point in waking to another day. And if I know anything about myself, it is that I absolutely love being alive. So roll with it, I must.


For now, I plan to practice self-care while going about the business of living. And I plan to give myself some time to figure out how to move forward with painting. I also plan to wish so much love and joy for my mentor. He deserves nothing less. His life should be lived with gusto, with beauty and with art. All my tears can’t stop me from smiling while thinking that. I am so grateful to have known his teachings and to hear his voice in my mind: Don’t fear the dark.


I won’t, Eli. I won’t.


“Great News!”



This painting is a god-send. Its wisdom is getting me through these days, and its humor helps me smile. Mister and I like it so much, we used it on our holiday card this year.


It’s the second painting I’ve done in this style (see the first here) and I truly enjoy the process. There’s something about turning real people into cartoon characters that gets me going. I’m challenged by the work and I’m terribly entertained as well. Both of the paintings I’ve done in this style have been fun! That’s pretty cool, friends. Fun counts.


I’d like to start another painting along these lines, but I haven’t come up with the text. I’ve got a fantastic photo lined up, so hopefully that will inspire me to find the proper words to accompany the image.


Until then, I get to giggle over this work. I’m super-keen on it. And I love it. Cheers!

Weld, Weld, Weld



Remember when I shared this photo? It’s a cowbell I made in a welding class. I bring it up now because I’ve started a new welding class: Oxy Acetylene Sculpture.


Can I please take a moment to extol the virtues of learning? The other day, well, I was depressed. From the moment I woke until I walked into that new sculpting class. My soul and my mind were heavy. When I arrived at class, I told myself to try and be present and pay attention. Honestly – that felt like the most I might be able to do, given my state of blue. So I paid attention. And I tried to process the information being given. By the end of class, I realized that the act of learning had taken me outside my sadness and had freed me – if only for a while – from my depression. Yet another reason for me to seek new knowledge!


Anyhoo – we’ll see how this class goes and if anything fruitful comes of it. I’m hopeful. And excited, if you must know. Creating is something I was born to do. When I forget that, or stray too far from that purpose, I become disconnected from myself. Those are hard times. Let’s hope this class helps me be in touch with me.


As a treat, here’s a link to oxy acetylene artist Cal Lane’s website. If this chick’s works don’t blow your mind, I don’t know what will. She’s amazing!

Little Painting. Literally.



My painting buddy, Nicole, started it. She came in with tiny canvases so small, I could barely see them. Some are 2-inch squares. Some, I believe, are 1-inch squares. Just thinking about painting on something that small gives my brain a twitch.


But I liked the idea of little paintings. And I wanted to give it a whirl. But I knew I don’t have the lady balls to go as tiny as Nicole’s paintings. So I got some 4 x 5-inch canvases and set off. What you see above is the first attempt. Not very exciting, granted, but a nice learning experience. We’ll see what happens when I get it in a fat frame. After all, a frame can make all the difference.


Kind of like life, right? How we frame things is what tends to matter sometimes. Hmm…

Nicole and Her Tiny Painting



My painting buddy Nicole has been working on a little series. And when I say “little,” I mean little. Just look at the photo above. Trust me when I tell you Nicole has perfectly lovely, ordinary-sized hands. And yet you can hardly spot the tiny canvas she’s holding! I admire the heck out of her, but I have no idea how she does it. The woman must have the patience of the Dalai Lama. I just look over at her while she’s working on those little paintings, and my head starts to ache.


Still – she’s inspiring. And while I certainly can’t pull off what she does, I may have to work on some small canvases my own self. I’ll keep you posted.

In Process



This little painting is something I turn to when I need a break from other works. Or when I finish something and haven’t yet decided what to start next. I’ve been dabbling with it for months on end.


Have you ever started reading a book, and you just can’t get into it? That’s sort of how I feel about this painting. The idea was in my mind for a few years, so starting it was good. Joyful, even. But like a book that fails to grab me, this painting is dulling my senses.


My friend DK once told me that if I start a book and don’t enjoy it, I should put it down immediately and start reading something else, as “life’s too short to read bad books.” She’s the most well-read person I know, so I really had to think about her advice. I’ve yet to heed it, mind you, but I’ve not forgotten it.


So I guess I’ll keep plugging away on this little painting, much like I plug away with books that aren’t my keg of beer. Maybe in the end I’ll be glad I finished. I certainly hope so. Otherwise, what’s the point?