JenArt, Still-Life

Our next assignment for the “Mitchnick Gang” was to work with, “UGLY PAINTINGS FAST and STRONG… to get into risk taking mode…and get energy flowing…” Nancy set up individual still lifes, at eye level, with various light sources and we went to work.

Although I heard her words, there is something within me that prohibits the sort of frenzied painting I interpreted as her meaning. A few times I have tried this, it usually turns out looking like a preschooler attempt and gets scrapped. I realize that is whole point of this type of exercise–right?–to move through and past your comfort zone so that you can make successful paintings.

Why am I so tentative– wanting to plan every detail, before even placing a single stroke down? I’m sure it comes down to a myriad of things: past teaching styles, my own slow, methodical nature, not wanting to waste precious paint, energy, time, etc. I’m sure the best answer is somewhere in the middle — a compromise if you will — Well, isn’t everything in life a compromise — when you really think about it?

Later that week I sent Nancy a note regarding my ideas for the painting and mentioned my thoughts on being a “fast” painter. Her response was most insightful, as always.

“You don’t have to go faster, you just need to simplify and get all the parts of the painting to hold together more beautifully and count (this is not easy… it is the abstract nature of all painting) different artists knit it all together in ways that have to do with their own vision and being… it is something you have to want to do… (not just get a clear image of what you are seeing… but build a little world where the absence of one part would have the whole set up fall apart… and not to many extras either… what is fine and necessary… sometimes a pretty bit is just in the way and has to GO… this really is work!

“The different bits need to depend on each other. It is another way to think… to make a painting that is always a pleasure to look at, the balance is mysterious… as you work towards this you may feel it in your spine, one thing for sure is to work seriously in connecting all the shapes and forms and SPACES… The space is still PAINT YOU KNOW… it is not nothing… it counts as much as an object… even if the observer never notices… we have to notice… All the elements have to connect and interact and hold together. All at the same time. Otherwise it is skillful and decorative and shows what you can do, but that’s IT! …it doesn’t always go anywhere or give you a base to build on… or simplify from.

“It’s bad news and good news. And one never stops learning… each body of work sets up new problems…and that is why it is so interesting and compelling… and never ends…


For some reason I can’t even remember the light source painting from class, but I went home and put together a little composition of my own using a bright table-top desk lamp as my light source. I raised it up a bit, so I didn’t have to deal with too much perspective.

Painting with Attitude

Inspiration, JenArt, Life, Oil, Still-Life

The name of our class was Painting With Attitude. Each week we were treated to new “Nancy Notes”– a bit philosophy, a bit about art – a bit about our upcoming class assignment. Here are a few of my most favorite nuggets from the third week of class.

Get The Paint On“…

20” x 20” Oil on Canvas

…You’re going to paint with strength and vigor…and not be afraid of making a mess of it…I hope we don’t have to get drunk like those dreadful painting parties….”


“The way paint gets onto the canvas…attack… advance…softly… intensely brave…capable of being reworked.. scraped off and put back..but mostly with intention, force (light or heavy), fearlessly, serenely, but NOT tentative and weak…Or so thin that it’s barely there…

We have to go back…It is your nervous system that you need to connect to, your touch, your aggression that so many of us don’t allow ourselves. It isn’t easy to make gentle work that is strong… all the forms depend on each other… There is a way to be in the moment, conscious, where every mark does something…

One of the tests of a good painting is ‘how long can you look at it?’, Hang your work on the wall…if you get tired of seeing it after a few weeks or notice you never look at it…Well?

What makes the art we love so possible to never get tired of… has to do with the state of the artists mind as the work was being made …the kind of connections that were happening between the eye, and the hand and the mind.

“Why are mistakes so scary? Why does getting it ‘right’ mean only how it looks and not how it feels? What happens when it feels great but looks a mess? What do you have to do to make the paint alive and as necessary as the picture you are trying to copy? How do you the means and the subject to be equal to each other?

“When it works is it Magic?”

“How can you stand it when it is strongly painted but ugly?”

Can you leave your comfort zone? How far? A little tiny bit… a jump off a cliff? NMM

Painting Again — Finally

JenArt, Life, Oil, Still-Life

This Fall, I was finally able to find a good class fit at the BBAC and begin taking a painting class with an incredible instructor, Nancy Mitchnick. Before class started, I researched Nancy and was blown away by her credentials and was a bit intimidated, but the second I met her, I felt I had met a kindred spirit and knew immediately that I wanted to be friends with this incredible woman!

Nancy is a well-known artist originally from the Detroit area and was part of the “Cass Corridor Artists” in the 1970’s. She has taught art all over the country, including CalArts, Bard College, and Harvard.

Of course it wouldn’t be my life if I didn’t have some kind of accident. Two days before class was to begin I misstepped, in my own house this time, and fell really hard on the step that separates our dining room from the living room. Again, my bad knee hit first, then my right arm, then my head hit the corner edge of the wall. I was all alone, the boys were out joy-riding. My head was bleeding profusely and I just sat there crying holding my head. Thank goodness they came home within a few minutes, I was too shaken up to move. Once I was “fixed” up, I began to wonder if the universe was trying to tell me something. Afterall, this was the second time, in a row, that I had a bad fall just before art class was to begin. I thought about cancelling — again, but decided against it. “Universe be damned — I was taking that $%@#ing class, and you couldn’t stop me!”

And, I’m so glad I did! Our class was very small– just four students, all women, plus Nancy. It was the perfect size to get to know each other and become more than just a “class”, we became Nancy’s “Gang of 4” as she would often refer to us. Each Wednesday, I was truly excited to see what Nancy had in store for us! Of course coming from mostly an academic setting, Nancy was a task-master, very different from what we were used to at the arts center. But I loved it and felt like I was back in college again — only this time I was doing what I truly loved!

One of the best parts of the class wasn’t the class at all, it was receiving Nancy’s Notes via email a couple days prior to class. At 72 Nancy had accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience, not only about art, but life in general, and her weekly notes were a little peek into her brain– rambling and unorganized — but always thought provoking. I usually had to read them a few times to weed out the nuggets! They’re so fun that I’ve actually kept the collection.

One of our first assignments was to paint some type of material or fabric. My in-class attempt was terrible, so I scrapped it and painted a piece at home. The fabric I chose was a colorful zip-up sweatshirt/ jacket that I bought at an art fair years back. I hung it and using a picture frame mat I visually cropped the subject into an interesting and manageable size.

Work In Progress

Greek Vase & Dummy

Drawing, JenArt, Pastel, Still-Life

This is a second still-life piece from the Intermediate Drawing Class at PCCA.  I did the initial drawing in class and then finished up the detail work at home. I used a large piece of drawing paper, vine charcoal, and compressed charcoal for the shading. I then used a subtractive eraser technique on the vase where you first lay down all the darks and then use an eraser to create the lights and highlights. I did this for the decorative frieze, the body of the man and spear, and the vase highlights. Then, I used a pencil to draw in the details of the man. The last step was to add color using hard and soft pastels.

Vase & Dummy
Vase & Dummy

Pitcher and Fabric

Drawing, JenArt, Still-Life

I am taking Intermediate Drawing this summer at PCCA. Even though I love color, I thought it was a good time to go back to basics and work on the foundation. It’s been nearly 20 years since I took a formalized drawing class, so I’m well over due!

The summer classes are small and intimate and it’s a good time to get one-on-one attention from instructors. Plus, it’s always a bonus to steal away a few hours of “me time”  since the kids are out of school.

Our instructor is Stephanie Kent, a young lady with a BFA from Kendall School of Art & Design and Wayne State University.  We are working on still-life pieces in the studio and then completing them at home if we wish.  I don’t always complete the pieces, but this one I really wanted to finish.

Stephanie arranged multiple pieces on top of a dark blue fabric cloth. I liked the contrast of the smooth white porcelain pitcher and the surrounding dark heavy twisting-turning of the fabric. The first step was the drawing. Getting the proportions and elliptical shape of the pitcher took time. From there, I drew the cloth folds. Next I used our value scale to figure out the lights and darks and assign a specific pencil – ranging from 2H to 6B.

At home I completed the pitcher and began shading the fabric. I have not had any experience drawing or painting fabric folds and knew it would be a challenge. I began with the darks and moved to the lights. It took a lot of trial and error, erasing, and re-creating until I was satisfied with the final outcome.

Pitcher & Fabric_Pencil_2014
18″ x 24″ Graphite Drawing from Still-Life

Red Jacket

JenArt, Pastel, Still-Life

Red Jacket was a still life assignment in class.  I usually don’t care for painting a still life subject, but this one I was eager to paint. I love Red and Jackets! I must own 20 or 30 (much to my husband’s chagrin!) I began the painting in class and then finished it up in the evening at home.

Adding more life and movement into the piece with the shadows and blending really made it start to “pop”. Not quite sure about the orange heels though! They were actually more of a gold color, but I like the contrast of the two bright colors against each other.

I originally saw my Mom in this painting. The jacket is something she would wear and the mum – she loves flowers. I was not to surprised when she saw it and loved it! This one’s for you Mom – Enjoy!

10"x 14" Pastel Still-Life on Canson Pastel Paper
10″x 14″ Pastel Still-Life on Canson Pastel Paper

Bowl & Flowers

JenArt, Oil, Still-Life

Bowl & Flowers is a still-life practice piece. My main purpose here was working the shadows, especially on the concave bowl. This is a complete learning experience, and I know that it will take time.

Obviously, I am a complete novice with oils, but want to include all my paintings to reflect my journey. Hopefully, 10 years from now, I’ll look back and laugh at this and see how far I’ve come!

I Do

JenArt, Oil, Still-Life
I Do
18″x24″ Still-Life Oil on Canvas

After 16 years, I decided to try my hand at painting again. I knew it would be a challenge, but one I felt ready for. After a couple of practice assignments, I completed, “I Do”. During class, a wedding dress and a few other objects were set up as a still life. I chose to focus only the dress. First, I painted the background, then drew the subject using a paintbrush. After putting in the lights and darks, I used a fan brush to blend the two. I named the painting, “I Do.”


Acrylic, JenArt, Still-Life

In 1997 I took a painting class from a local artist. I was way out of practice and this was my first experience with painting using anything but cheep high school tempera paints. I didn’t know anything about acrylic paints or still-life and was surprised how difficult it was to get into the swing again. A bit more difficult than “riding the proverbial bike.”

I’m somewhat of an impatient person and usually am pleased with my artistic results fairly quickly. So, after about 6 weeks of disasterous results, when the class ended, I put the paints away for a long time.

This is the only painting that I salvaged from that class, the others were not worth keeping.  The image photographed poorly, but it is the only one that I have. I do like the way the lights and darks play off the curves of the mannequin representing the shadows and highlights.

12″ x 18″ Acrylic Still-Life on Canvas Board