The Shadow Knows but I’m Not Painting It

Light and shadow are a painter’s stock and trade and not my strength. My paintings are, in general, kind of flat or would be if it weren’t for perspective. Light and shadow have been studied and systematized which is good because they are explainable. I just got so bored learning about them that I didn’t learn about them. It isn’t that they aren’t effective in a painting, they’re beyond effective. They’re necessary. Where I live now, however, they’re pretty furtive things. The light is so bright and absolute in this high valley, that shadow has to retreat into the, uh, shadow. I get the fundamental idea and apply it, but…

I haven’t been much of an artist lately but I’m hoping that’s going to change soon. Yesterday, tired and mildly under the weather from the vaccinations, I decided to get down and dirty with printing note cards here on my printer. I did OK with two, one of which will be my Christmas card. I could see how, at this point, a person would say, “Well damn, I need a laser printer!” and there would go the savings won from printing at home. I have a really nice inkjet printer, but so far it hasn’t done a great job reproducing my paintings on any of the stock I’ve tried though it prints photos beautifully. I got a sample card stock set from a fancy paper company and ended up very disappointed. I could see me heading out to the big world of expensive things and buying photoshop, a laser printer and a good camera for this thereby defeating the whole economizing gambit. I’m telling you; the Man is keeping me down.

Over all, the system is pretty nice for drawings, even colored drawings, and a nice thing about this option is that I can print custom cards very easily. Still, it’s not painting.

“Color is a power which directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” Kandinsky

I know you’re all concerned about how I’m doing with my two vaccines in one day — no big problems except a little tired and loss of appetite which is only supposed to be a side-effect experienced by kids. OH well. As they said in the beginning, “We really don’t know,” and that’s the truth.

I was thinking of my blog earlier this morning, and a line from the movie Naked Lunch went through my mind. The William S. Burroughs character says, “We all live boring lives, but some of us write reports about it.” That was his explanation for why writers write.

Summer’s Finished


Yesterday I pulled out the Scarlet Emperor Beans of Song and Story. Five or six unripened pods hung on the frost-killed plants and are now in the window with the basil and the solitary green tomato remaining on the vine. It’s OK. When a hard frost comes at the end of August? That’s traumatic for plant and person, but in mid-October? It’s “God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world.” I ended up with a large soup bowl of dried beans — way more than I will eat in a lifetime. I stewed down the large, mutant tomatoes and froze the product for sauce which in all likelihood I’ll never use but you never know.

On our walk yesterday we heard cranes in every direction but didn’t see any. It’s OK. Several flocks of geese flew over head (where else would they fly?). It was a sweet, silent — except for geese and cranes — cool walk on a lovely October day.

My interview the other day was fun. Since I started this, and became aware of my own style as an interviewer, I’ve been trying to think of WHAT an interview is supposed to be. I’ve BEEN interviewed. As an interviewee, I tend to remain focused on the questions I’ve been asked. My interviewees start with the question I’ve asked and then riff on from that. I’m no help to them in keeping focused. But, in the case of the interview I did Friday which was with an artist talking about his work, I’m not sure “focus” is the big thing. I think I’m writing to bring a person and his work alive in print. This isn’t information.

Last night at 11:30, when I WANTED to be asleep but a heavy, well-lit tow-truck roared in front of my house for about 45 minutes accompanied by two large pick-ups, I thought about journalism. I’m writing the kind of stories you would find in the Sunday supplement of yore. Fluff. Human interest. I kind of laughed to myself because the last thing I want to write is anything serious. No. Not interested.

And what’s “serious” anyway? A guy welding whimsical animals out of old machine parts is pretty serious in its way. We talked about why art, of course, and agreed. “[People] say too much in front of a painting,” to paraphrase a character in Artemisia. The thing about my interviewee — and about me — is that we’re never going to be famous artists, which is, in my view, a real break. We could do the best work ever done in the entire world EVER, and it would make no difference at all ever to anyone except maybe to the person who bought it and to us in the process of making it. We shared briefly about some of the strange things people — including fellow artists — have said to us. I’m not sure any of that will go into my story about him. Probably not since the “what is art?” question is fundamentally unanswerable.

I have more than an hour of talk to work through. One topic that interested my interviewee was where the ideas come from. I didn’t really respond to that because I wanted to hear what he had to say. Basically he talked about inspiration, the idea that the gods breathe ideas into the artist/poet. “Tell me, Muse, of the man who sacked the City of Troy.” Some artists don’t believe in inspiration. I do. I do a lot of writing, drawing and painting that isn’t “inspired” because there are skills involved in this stuff, but the best times are the inspired times. Inspiration isn’t just fun (intoxicating) all by itself, but it pushes an artist which is why the NON-inspired work is so important. A person needs to be ready for inspiration. My interviewee’s work shop was filled with stuff that clearly fed inspiration, but had no direct relationship to his work. Notable to me was, of course, he decorated with old skis. Not just old skis, but Head skis from the late 1960s, a few years before I worked for Head on the finishing line (that’s what it was called), but skis I recognized from my own first years on the hills. Of course, I was enchanted.

And, in my studio, are two pairs of old skis. Why? Because skiing — Alpine or Nordic — is the best, most inspiring, thing I’ve ever known, and THAT is saying a LOT. So, as October winds its way into November, and November dawdles into December…well…

A Little Progress and Seasonal Changes

Yesterday I printed notecards here in my very house with my very own printer. After experimenting and learning that black and white cards look better printed here than they ever did with the company I was using, I went after it. I’m getting a better product at less cost, AND it makes it possible for me to print custom orders and assortments in small batches. It isn’t so much that the company I was using is expensive — though I think it is — it’s that it was a huge gamble and sometimes a sizable investment to order from them. I still have a lot of cards I will never sell, flowers. I took a shot on them that didn’t pan out.

Color, however — more learning. The card stock I got for this first experience is too heavily textured for nice color printing. My printer is up to it, but I need smoother paper.

As I worked I kept thinking of Erich Fromm’s observation that in medieval times the producer really did know his/her market, how much he/she could expect to sell and for how much. It made me think that we are not all living in the same era whatever the calendar says.


Yesterday I spent some time with my beans, standing in the little arched bower of their crazy tall growth. I told them how great they’ve been all summer in spite of it having been — for their human — a very strange summer. “You are an inspiring example of constancy,” I told them, noticing that on the ground, a young bean seems to have come up. Huh? It’s not impossible, but I hope that’s not the case because there is no way he/she can winter over, though in warmer climes they are perennial plants. For the most part the beans look tired and done. I’ve been harvesting for the past month and have a very large soup bowl filled almost to the brim with dried beans.

Another amazing plant has been a Genovese basil plant I started from the little leaves and stems that come in a small plastic container that they sell at the store. I rooted it, planted it, and it has grown to be the biggest, strongest and most flavorful basil I’ve ever grown. Two nights ago it was supposed to freeze. I went out to bring herin and found she’d sent down a root powerful enough to pierce grow bag and into the ground a good six inches. She is a dauntless and determined basil plant. I realized then that I can’t bring her in. To repot her and protect that root would demand a really big pot, so I took cuttings.

I know that all this is just what plants do and that humans have depended on it for thousands of years, but it still amazes me.


I’ve had a painting — or something — in the back of my mind for a while, trying to figure out how to do it and what it would be. It’s a dog painting, but this time the dog isn’t Bear.

Yesterday — it rained all day — very strange, And one day of rain is about my limit and by late afternoon I was all “Rainy days and Mondays…la la la.” I went into the studio to consider the whole thing. For some reason, it’s never a rainy day in the studio, even when things don’t work out. I decided to sketch it even though ONE thing I learned from “Rainbow Girls in Wheatland, Wyoming in 1957” is that sometimes a sketch is all (all?) a work will be. It made me a little hesitant to draw because I (think) want to paint this scene.

It’s kind of a “wet” scene, too, so pencils seem just too hard, and too dry for it to capture it. But a rainy day will drive a person to dangerous lengths.

During the time I was cleaning out my journals, I found one that is really a sketchbook. There were only a few pages that had been “journaled” so I ripped them out and saved the book. The paper seemed just right for the project I was thinking of sketching, so I pulled it out and drew.

I have had some amazing experiences out there with my dogs. This is my dog, Molly (half-Aussie, half-Malamute), blue merle, up in the Laguna Mountains (3/2000). There was about 18 inches of snow at the top — about 5500/6000 feet. You can see in the drawing what a snappy dresser I was back in 2000, taking skis up to the mountains to carpe the diem. It snowed in Southern California, a lot sometimes, but it melted quickly. We skied down about 1 1/2 miles to the pond which was in a completely different season. It was spring there.

The pond sits at the top of a ravine (it’s a small, dammed farmer’s pond kind of thing) and the air currents from the Pacific run right up that ravine. They were carrying snow = moisture. When the fog from the ocean hit the pond, which was warmer than it was, it drifted toward the water in beautiful veils of mist.

A little higher, the fog hit the Jeffry Pine trees and coated the needles in ice and then further up, snow.

Molly and I went back and forth from winter — about 1500 feet above the pond — and back to the pond several times. It was an amazing moment.

And drawing Molly? Wow. I could almost feel her beside me.

Right now, I don’t know if it’s ever going to be a painting. The ephemeral experience might be best depicted just like this, and maybe no one needs to see this image but me (and you!). I don’t know yet.



September — ahhhhhh….. The Sainted Scarlet Emperor Beans have already given me 3 beautiful seeds and there could be more, depending whether frost is lurking around the corner. Yesterday, thinking about freedom, I thought about limitations. As an artist, I find liberation in limitations. Maybe that’s a paradox, but the limitations tell me what I can do, what is possible. For now I have abandoned the Rainbow Girls in Wheatland Wyoming, 1957 because I don’t know what it is. I can’t see it any more. Maybe I will see it down the road (ha ha). I hope so because I really love the idea, but I’ve learned not to force anything. Moments like this are as important as moments spent painting because sometimes you just DON’T KNOW.

And I don’t know…

Limitations are directions. It’s like a maze. If you hit a dead end here, you go another way or you stop and reconnoiter. A long time ago, after I’d had my one person show in Denver, and I felt that, for then, I was done, I started doing linoleum cuts mainly because I was terrible at it and there was only so much I could do with linoleum. I had been inspired by seeing Picasso’s linoleum cuts in the National Gallery. It was fun not to have any sense that I could possibly do well. Ironically, I kind of did do well, but it was a different kind of doing well. When I came back from China I did some more (featured photo) and cheated a bit (features on the baby’s face).

But right now my limitation is I will soon be having house guests, one of whom will sleep in my studio, so the challenge is to renegotiate the space so there’s somewhere for him to sleep.

In Covid news, it seems that the hip problems are really gone. THAT was a long battle there. 2 1/2 months, but this is fine. It’s in time for all the important things — fall cranes and later, if it snows, Langlauf.


Just now I was packing up a painting I just framed — not one of my favorite paintings but it has some merit and some people like it very much. So, if I get a chance to exhibit, I will exhibit it. As I packed it — knowing I’m not crazy about it — I thought of how I honored it anyway. I tried something and had joy in the attempt. That’s a WHOLE lot, and, out of my not-very-large income I provided materials for it to exist.

Then my mind wandered to an open show I hung a few pieces in last year. I respect my work very much and I respect the work of other people. I can’t judge what goes into their work, but I can’t imagine it’s anything less than goes into mine. This is irrespective of whether I like what they’ve done or not. As I struggled with the painting to get bubble wrap between it and the sides of the box it hit me.

I really hate being disrespected. Doesn’t everyone?

Last summer when I went to pick up the paintings from the show (a three hour drive each way) the people who ran the museum/gallery/school whatever it was said, “Oh yeah go get your stuff.” I had carefully boxed each piece and left the boxes there assuming that they’d take the show down and put the work into the boxes and get ID from the artists coming in to claim their work. None of that happened. I would have done that, at the very least brought the boxes into the gallery for the artists — but maybe I was the only one with a long drive? I don’t know. I certainly would have ID’d the people who came in to be sure the paintings they were taking belonged to them or they were representing the artist? Maybe I would’ve thought the work was shit, but that would have been irrelevant. I would have felt that the facility owed the artists respect if for no other reason than that for 6 weeks they’d had a show with no effort on their part.

I was angry.

I thought today also about my “friend” Perla, the talented fabric artist. Sometime in the next couple of weeks Colorado Central Magazine is going to run an article about her and her work. The article was my idea and I thought, “This is great. Perla will get publicity and I’ll get to write an article. The timing is perfect; right before a fiber art festival in the town of Salida where the magazine is published. Perla participates in that show.” I queried the article, got an OK, interviewed Perla, wrote it, sent it to Perla to review, and I submitted it. It was sent back for “more personal” stuff.


I got Covid and my brain hurt a lot; I suspected I was contagious and my ability to focus was registering in the negative numbers — if that’s ever measured. I texted Perla and told her what the magazine wanted but also said I wasn’t up to another interview. I asked if we could do it in writing. Sure no problem. I sent her questions (6 or 7) three weeks before I needed the responses. She immediately answered, “Good questions. OK.” I never heard anything back. I thought, “Well, she said she liked the questions and would get back to me. I’ve already put at least 8 hours of my life into this. This is for her benefit. Why should I chase her down?” I didn’t care much at that point (as I was still sick) if the article ran or not.

Then, the magazine wrote and said, “We really want that article.” I pondered contacting Perla again about it and decided not to. Why?

I felt totally disrespected. Because I want the byline, and I hate leaving things unfinished, I did research and a rewrite. All is well, and Perla will get the publicity, but she’s lost a friend.

But respect. I’m a ridiculously gullible person, and I don’t notice these things quickly, but when I do? How do you deal with this kind of thing if it happens to you? I won’t deal with the gallery, but a friend?

I’ve also realized (today) that what has disturbed — disgusted — me most about Old 45 and all of that still going on is his and his followers’ total lack of respect for our government, for the people in this nation, for institutions that have made this the world’s oldest continuous government (it is — our government existed before anything anyone would call American culture), disrespect for education — everything. It’s personal to me just as the disrespect shown my work by that “gallery” and my “friend.” I realized today that the reason I used to beat up the kids who beat up my brother was that; they did not respect him. Wow. 70 years old and now I know the Red Button of Martha Ann Kennedy.

Teaching People To Draw

I can’t. I’ve tried, even making “educational” videos to demonstrate the process, but nothing has ever succeeded in teaching anyone to draw. I couldn’t teach the kids (though they would draw if we played the drawing game — an important message about how to draw which is forget you’re drawing but never mind). I haven’t been able to teach anyone else. These efforts and these failures led me to remember my college drawing classes — probably the only formal drawing classes in my life. We did everything; blind contour drawing where you look at an object and draw it without looking at your paper to see if you’re getting it “right.” Value drawings where you only draw the shadows, no lines (which is valid since stuff isn’t made of lines). All this was just unfathomable to me, but I did it. The classes I liked best were the timed gesture drawing in life drawing classes which were just a naked person on a stage and me with a giant news print pad and a timer. The goal was to capture the motion and the life of the figure without getting every line in each eyebrow. These are normally used as warm-ups but for me they were the whole point. BUT there was ONE class where I learned something about how to draw. I can share this method, but did it “teach” me to draw? I can’t say it did, it just made me a better human being.

I was standing very close to a piece of drawing paper using a number 3 pencil to draw a couple of tiny figures. My teacher stood behind me and watched, then, utterly frustrated, she ripped the pencil out of my hand and said, “Wait!” She returned with a little can of black tempera and a can of white tempera and a 1 inch brush. “Now DRAW!!!” She didn’t say anything about how, she just told me to do it. Then she said, “Get some decent paper.”

That was a life changing moment. Everything I needed to learn as an artist happened right then and there. Risk it. Risk something. Risk certainty. Risk control. Risk. I felt a sense of freedom I had never felt before and I never lost it. In that moment, even though I could draw already, I had the key.

I’ve thought about why it’s so hard — impossible? — to teach. Now I think it’s inside each person, talent, maybe (I don’t know what that is) and the drive to represent the world in images (I believe it’s a drive), but more; the willingness to pick up a large brush and risk. In my teaching attempts that’s what I’ve seen. I think a teacher can teach technique and the use of materials, but somewhere in there a person has to be ready to risk something. I can’t even explain WHAT a person risks because I’m not ever risking anything. To me the danger has always been not doing it. That’s the risk. I WILL get stuff wrong. I have told my “students” “Don’t worry about making mistakes. Just draw. Look at what you’re drawing and draw.”

Completely useless, unconvincing instruction.

I look at the work of some artists and see they are not risking much. I can see that in the fact that their paintings — beautiful paintings — are feats of technique. They know how to do what they want to do, and they do it over and over and over. I respect that. Other artists push against something and I hope I’m one of those. Is it better? No. It’s just…

The other day Ancestry informed me that based on my DNA I’m 60% more likely to take risks than other people. My first thought was, “That’s fucked up. Risk taking isn’t a DNA thing,” but then I thought, “Martha, what do you know? Maybe it is.” There are people who are reckless risk takers (my brother) and there are people like me who take different risks, more measured risks. One thing I could never understand about my immensely talented artist brother is why he would risk himSELF and sacrifice the possibility of making art. Pondering the differences between us I make a division between recklessness and risk; counting the cost.

I choose. One day in the mountains of San Diego County with two dogs a couple of women stopped me on the trail and asked if I wasn’t afraid to hike alone. “There are mountain lions up here.” I knew that but I figured the greater risk was missing out on a beautiful autumn afternoon hike. We all die, anyway. In my mind, solo hiking was not dangerous, but it was. I also figured my dogs were decent insurance against a cougar; at least they’d warn me. Here are the dogs who were with me that day. Ariel, my wolf dog, and her little Aussie/Chow sidekick, Matilda.

So teaching drawing. I tell my “students”, “Don’t be worried about getting it wrong. You will get it wrong.” I think for many of them it’s a risk they don’t want to take. They might take risks in other places, but not there.

I’ve been working on the Rainbow Girls in Wheatland Wyoming for more than year now and I still don’t have it right, but what difference does it make? It will matter when I start the real deal because I’m not using a forgiving medium like oil paint, and everything I’ve had to buy for the project has been expensive for me. Money is probably the biggest risk here.

In art, what you get from making mistakes is knowledge. To draw, a person has to fuck up. There’s no other way to learn. It is a risk.

I’m kind of happy to know that there is a DNA contribution to this, though I’m sure environment has a lot to do with it, too. Do I think it’s a good thing? I don’t think it’s good or bad, but it is informative.

Eureka!!! (More on the Rainbow Girls in Wheatland…)

Ballet Practice, Edgar Degas

Having a “Covid Day” — no energy, lots of hip pain. Decided to see what I could learn about using pastels (in my case, Conte Crayons) over gouache. I found this ^ 😃. What an affirmation! It also has some similarities to the composition of my painting — not the same, but not totally different. Kind of a mirror image.

Then I watched a little video about “how” and it’s just as I thought, and the best part was the lady ended it, “I wanted to show you just how fun it is to use pastels with gouache.”

Degas’ use of pastels has always amazed me [ I suck at them (but maybe I’m learning?)] I read about the shop where Degas’ pastels were made then saw it on a Waldemar Januszczak documentary. It’s still there. “La Maison du Pastel” You can read about it here. Here is their online shop.

Artist Brains…

One of the ideas of God I got in American Baptist Sunday school that I loved as a kid was that God made — carved? — each one of us individually for a purpose. However and whatever we were, we were meant to be that way and, therefore, worthy of respect as God’s handiwork. That is a beautiful notion and I’m not sure I ever fully let go of it.

Over the last few days I’ve read some interesting articles — one came my way accidentally and the other I found more-or-less on purpose. The first dealt with the role of gossip in human interaction; the second dealt with research into the “artist brain.” The two articles — actually more than two — shared as a theme the idea of belonging.

I don’t like gossip. I’ve seen it destroy organizations. It destroyed the artists coop to which I belonged soon after I first moved here. The article explained that gossip is not all bad because it’s a way humans have of establishing identity, belonging and territory, in other words, establishing who is “us” and Who is “them,” a way of reaffirming bonds. Somehow that all seems obvious. I read the article not so much out of a feeling that I needed to learn about gossip, but because it showed up on Social Media and I’d just attended a tea party where gossip was a primary feature. I understood what was happening (the “meta” message?). We hadn’t seen each other in a month or so and were catching up, not only on the news, but on “us.” As I read about gossip I thought, also, about social media. It’s brought the whole gossip mode of human interaction to a new place, given it a new importance, and it threatens the stability of this nation.

The other article(s) I sought brought me some pretty disturbing information/speculation (not sure). I began thinking about “Rainbow Girls in Wheatland, Wyoming, 1957” more than a year ago. Maybe even seven years ago when the memory wafted through my mind and captured my imagination. I wrote about it here “Going to Billings with Hank, Mom and Kirk.” In that post I wrote about the wonder of seeing Aida performed in Verona. The scene in Wyoming has been like a friendly splinter in my mind.

Anyway, the articles were about research done into the minds of visual artists. Apparently science has found differences between artist’s brains and, uh, other? normal? brains. Two basic differences came out in the articles. First, and most disturbing, is a chemical similarity between the brains of visual artists and schizophrenics. Second, there is a structural difference:

In a study published last year in NeuroImage, researchers looked at the brains of art students and non-artists using a brain scan method called voxel-based morphometry. This type of scan helps scientists look at specific brain structures, and the images from the brain scan look like this:


When the brains of the individuals in the two groups were compared, it was discovered that artists have significantly more neural matter in the parts of their brain responsible for visual imagery and fine motor control. Specifically, those who were better at drawing had more grey matter in the precuneus of the parietal lobe. Unsurprisingly, this region has been linked to creativity and being able to manipulate, combine, and deconstruct visual images. There were additional increases in grey and white matter in the cerebellum and the supplementary motor area, both involved in fine motor control.


There’s also the old song about being an artist and being mentally ill. I read just one article (didn’t want to pursue it) on this topic saying that new “discoveries” connect the brain chemistry of artists to the brain chemistry of schizophrenics. The voices told me not to go into this too much 😉

The popular perception of creative thinkers and artists is that they often also have mental disorders—the likes of Vincent van Gogh or Sylvia Plath suggest that creativity and madness go hand in hand. Past research has tentatively confirmed a correlation; scientific surveys have found that highly creative people are more likely to have mental illness in their family, indicating a genetic link. Now a study from Sweden is the first to suggest a biological mechanism: highly creative healthy people and people with schizophrenia have certain brain chemistry features in common.”


The title of this article is, “The Mad Artist’s Brain: The Connection between Creativity and Mental Illness.” Well that sets it up…

It’s been “proven” that artists have higher rates of mental illness than do “normal” people, but is it a result of their brains or is it a result of the objective challenges artists face in society that non-artists don’t? Is it the result of the way non-artists respond to artists which, I can tell you, is a little strange or, worse, the way artists often respond to OTHER artists? No amount of friendly gossip in the world is going to make artists “belong” with all of these objective obstacles.

I laughed to myself then I thought, “What is it that makes people curious about this at all? Do we smell weird or what? Why is it even interesting? Why am I even READING about it?” At that I took my “extra” gray matter into the kitchen and warmed up left-over enchiladas.

We might not fit in even with excellent gossiping skills; we might smell weird or something, but damn. Without visually creative people I think our world would be greatly diminished. Being an artist is not a pathology, however much science might like to study “it.” Among all the bizarre “determinations” of “science,” they’ve also determined that we can’t help it, which is good. First, our “weirdness” gives the “normals” something to worry about and to keep them busy, and we give the world new ideas, paintings, sculptures, innovations, and visions.