Art in the Park 2018 - Gallery in the Park

Art in the Park 2018 - Gallery in the Park

The innocent notice about Art in the Park is how it all began. Art in the Park?! The thought of it took me back to the many years I spent strolling through the booths set up along the Columbia River at Howard Amon Park every July. The park was just a stone’s throw from my childhood home in Richland, Washington. And that’s when that lightbulb thing happed, that idea in my head (which is how most adventures and misadventures begin in case you didn’t know - so be careful out there). I thought to myself, “Self, there’s an art show in your hometown and you’re an artist! You should apply and see if they will let you participate. Wouldn’t that be something?!” And I did. And they did. And it was.

Before I knew what was happening, I was planning an art exhibit, watching Youtube videos on how to participate in one of these events and purchasing an enormous tent and all the myriad accouterments that go along with it. At night, when I lay my head on my pillow, a million thoughts bounced between my ears. In an effort to avoid overwhelming you, I will sum it up like this, “You’ve made a terrible mistake!”

The rollercoaster of emotions began; elation, excitement, panic, uncertainty, fear and plain old terror! If you are an artist or a performer, you understand. Your work is such an intimate part of you. Putting it on display is, to quote an artist friend, “like standing naked in front of the world.” So, out went my battle cry and, thank God, the troops rallied. The artwork had to be completed, dried, varnished, framed, priced, wrapped and boxed up for the four-hour road trip across the Cascade Mountains in our little teardrop trailer (along with the tent and table and cashbox and . . . you get the idea).


It seemed for a while that I existed in a cloud of questions. “What should I charge?” “How should this be framed?” “Is this one finished?” “How does that Square thing work on my phone?” “How long do you think it will take to set up the tent?” “How should the art be arranged in the tent?” “Does the nose look weird on this one?” (The answer to that question is always ‘yes.’) “Will anything sell?” “Will people like my work?”

And the answers to some of those questions still allude me but I learned one thing. You learn things by doing things you’ve never done. You grow when you stretch yourself to do something you think you’re not ready to do, something that scares you. Succeed or fail, you never know what you are capable of doing unless you make that jump into the unknown. Sometimes you just have to lay your fear and modesty aside and stand naked in front of the world! (Or perhaps just start with your hometown like I did.)

“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” - Eleanor Roosevelt

“I would have made a lousy stripper. I’m just not very comfortable exposing myself.” - Robin Wright

A tardy word of thanks: This post is dedicated to the friends, family and my patient teachers who are also my friends. They supported me not only with words but with elbow grease and their valuable time. I would still be telling myself “You’ve made a terrible mistake!” if not for all of you. (Without you, it would have been.) And to my husband who believes in me and loves me unfailingly. And also to all the old friends in my hometown who stopped by or offered words of encouragement. It meant more to me than you will ever know.

Go Big or Go Home


“Six months ago.”  I muttered to myself.  “Six months ago Tannis gave you this freakin’ awesome canvas for your birthday, and there it sits.”  I continued, in part scolding myself but also trying to evoke courage.  In a way, to dare myself forward into unknown and untried territory.

I had just happened to mention to my art buddies one day that I wanted to start painting bigger.  The little 8x10 panels seemed too restrictive, like that bra that’s too tight and just keeps digging in deeper, stuck in a rut that you hope won’t be permanent.  I was sure the Monet within me would be released (and normal blood flow restored) if I started painting larger.  I would be set free from the tiny, cramped formats of my past. 

Spurred on by the exciting opportunity to show my art in my hometown of Richland, I took the hulking beast canvas into my hands and tore the plastic wrap from it with purpose and confidence.  I knew I had to act quickly before I started overthinking the bold move I was making.  (Like “You have no idea what you are doing.”)  I flipped my hair back triumphantly and opened my easel larger than it had ever gone, cinching the large canvas tightly into submission. 

I mixed a pile of paint and grabbed the largest brush I had and began to smear and swipe the paint on until every bit of the intimidating white had disappeared (this took a great deal of time and physical strength).  At last, I was ready to begin my painting.  With my composition map taped securely above the canvas, I stepped back into a lunge and extended my brush forward.  (I may have said something like “On guard, you scalawag for I am your master!” but conversations like that, when there is no one about, should stay in the studio.) 


No longer imprisoned by the little panels of my past, I moved forward with renewed enthusiasm.  Was it easy?  Absolutely not.  Did I mix many tiny piles of paint only to realize I needed mountains of it?  Repeatedly.  Was there a pain that moved down my hand and arm and then up my neck to my brain.  Yes.  Ouch. 

However, something amazing happened.  The greens were beautiful and the foreground shone with warmth.  There was a mood of peace and tranquility in those vines formed of pigment and arm pain.  There was a touch of mystery and the anticipation of something wonderful . . . just ahead. 

Painting is the passage from the chaos of emotions to the order of the possible.”  -Balthus

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.”  -T. S. Eliot



A Trio of Tractors

For reasons unknown, my mind was racing wildly in the wee small hours of the night. I found myself at one point back in Umbria (of all places) painting a tractor (of all things). My husband snored softly as the moonlight sought to pierce through the curtains and fill the bedroom with light and dancing shadows. It was no use fighting it, my mind was taking me on a late-night memory tour and sleep would have to wait. I let myself be transported back to one morning in Italy following another night such as this one.


I had stumbled, sleep-deprived, from my bed into the cantina where I was met with a cheerful “buongiorno” and a hot, creamy cappuccino. Things were definitely improving. I pulled up a chair next to my friend, Tannis. “How did you sleep?” I asked her glumly. “I woke at 3:00 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep.” She replied smiling (the kind of smile you make when you’ve moved beyond weariness and exhaustion to touch on madness). “Sounds about right.” I replied. More than one double cappuccino later, the sunlight began to stream over the agriturismo we called home for the week and an air of anticipation and excitement filled the space. After a request by our instructor not to wander too far, artists wielding backpacks and easels poured from the little cantina on a quest for subject matter and inspiration in the Italian countryside.


Some found the distant spires of the Orvieto Duomo, others found a farm cat curled up in a flower pot and there was even one artist who encamped within the pasture gates where the horses roamed, their tails swishing.  I had not ventured far down the farm road between the various buildings before I heard a sound over my right shoulder. “Psst.” And it was then I saw the blue tractor peaking from the darkness of a small shed. I thought of the others artists who were no doubt painting the Umbrian hills or the terra cotta-topped stone farmhouses. In spite of all the lovely scenery, I knew I had to paint that tractor. As I placed my pigments on the palette, I glanced up at my waiting subject. “Well, it is kind of pretty, for a tractor.” I reasoned. Some time later, our teacher strode purposefully in my direction to offer some instruction and lament about the game of hide-and-seek he was reluctantly playing with his students. From beneath his wide-brimmed hat, he looked at the beginning I had made and then at the tractor. He got it. After a few tips, he scanned the horizons and headed off in search of his missing students. I thought the blue tractor was just a passing fancy. However, the following day I found yet another one sitting in a shadowy corner of some outbuildings. I’m pretty sure he was dreaming of motoring over the hillside, pulling little wagonloads of olives to be pressed. I sat on my campstool in the middle of the dusty road and sketched, trying to capture just a little of his poise and personality. “Another tractor?!” The other artists questioned later. I didn’t understand it myself so how could I explain it? On my last day in Umbria, I set off to wander the property before aperitivo. As I ambled around the building where I had been sleeping each night (or at least trying to sleep), I came across a tiny garage built into the foundation. There in the purple shadows rested a little yellow beast.  What could I do? Resigned, I headed inside to retrieve my sketchbook and gouache palette.

Finally feeling myself drifting to sleep, I came to realize that entwined with my memories of Italy; the laughter shared with free-spirited artists, the steaming pasta with rich, wild boar sauce, the shuttered stone cottages, the hillside vineyards, the olive groves, the spongy tiramisu and the late-night limoncello toasts, there exists also – a trio of tractors.

Painting is just another way of making a diary.” – Picasso

Pictures must not be too picturesque.” – Emerson

A Sense of Place


“Paints, brushes, palette knife, canvas panel, solvent . . .   paper towels!” I exclaim silently (or perhaps aloud). Only the cedars lining my driveway know for sure. And, seconds later, with an apple held firmly between my front teeth, I’m heading south on 305 en route to the Winslow Art Center. I screech to a halt in a narrow parking spot after circling like a hungry eagle for 10 minutes. And for my next trick, the supplies that took four trips to load into the car will be carefully balanced on my person in an attempt to make it to the Art Center in only one trip. And with the aid of a nimble pinky finger, the toe of my boot and my right hip, it’s up the stairs and in the door.

The smell of oil pigments and coffee permeates the room as I search for a clean spot to stash my gear. From experience, we have learned that all it takes is one minuscule blob of paint to infiltrate your entire being. A smear on your elbow will end up on your face, your bag and sometimes only places your husband will question later. As I wrestle the metal easel into submission and claim my space, I notice that everyone is still wearing coats and hats. Hilary has launched into a lecture about the dangers of space heaters and extension cords. Tannis is standing quietly at her easel, probably wondering what is taking everyone so long to set up. Gigi makes a passively aggressive comment meant to inspire people to put away their own chairs. After a few years of this, I can’t help but smile at her determination. Diana pushes her knit beanie back off her face and makes a not-so-passively aggressive comment about the choice of music. Martha, the owner and operator of the beloved art center, is on her way out the door with a cell phone in one hand and a set of brushes in the other. Who knows if she will be speaking English, French or Italian but what you can be certain of is that she is probably wearing a smear of paint above her left eyebrow (usually ultramarine or cad red). Somehow she manages the balancing act between instructors and students, classes and workshops both at home and abroad.

As I dig tubes of paint out of my bag and squirt the creamy colors onto my palette, I spy the instructor in the corner. He’s sitting on a tall stool with a cup of coffee in his hand, one hiking-boot-clad foot swinging casually. It’s a rare moment when someone isn’t asking him how to mix a certain color or what kind of brushes he uses (amongst other things). I glance up at him while I’m arranging my brushes and conclude that he’s either contemplating some art concept or else where trees get their mass or perhaps the motion of the tectonic plates. Someone forgot their palette paper and wants to borrow a sheet. Joanne is offering intimate advice on the best use of one’s time when the power goes out (which is a regular occurrence on our little island). She answers our shocked looks with a pleased smirk, “What?” She says shrugging her shoulders. “I’m Italian!”

Eventually, the room falls into a quiet hum of creativity. Amidst the concentration, there are quiet conversations. Someone’s daughter is coming to visit next weekend. Another person had to put down a beloved pet.  And then it’s silent besides the sound of a brush clanking in a solvent can in time to Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing. As the day wears on, artists stop to stretch sore muscles, to offer advice, or refill coffee cups. One person is pleased with the morning’s toil; another scrapes their canvas cruelly and begins again. Abba’s Dancing Queen pops from the scratchy old iPod and singing and dancing spontaneously breaks out. Perhaps someone has something to celebrate and a champagne cork takes flight. And then it’s time for cleaning brushes and packing up. And it’s, “see you next time” and “nice painting this week” and “I hope your mom gets to feeling better.” And as I trudge to the car with all my gear, feeling tired and dirty and most of the time a little discouraged, I know I’ll be back. In spite of the clashes and challenges, this is a place filled with artists – a place charmed with the spirit of creativity, inspiration and kinship.

If you have a sense of your place in the world, that’s the best preparation for anything.” - C. Wilson


Nancy vs. The Barn

gouache barn 1.jpeg

As I lift this proverbial pen to write my first blog entry, the blank white format stares back at me in silent, taunting mockery. (Well, it’s silent anyway.) As I begin this challenge, I’m reminded of another time when I felt myself both in dread of and drawn to a challenging task.   It all began on the first day of a painting class some time back with a photograph of a small and seemingly simple object. A barn.

The assignment was to choose a photo from the stacks on the table and, over the course of the class, we would complete practical exercises using this same photo each time. I sorted thoughtfully, careful to avoid winding streams, complicated city scenes or, heaven forbid, anything depicting a human form. I thought I had chosen an easy photo with simple shapes and obvious values. Little did I know that this barn would make my life a misery for many weeks to come and leave me scarred by said structure for months. As I tried in vain to complete the assigned exercises, the barn turned away just enough to skew the previously simple perspective . Next, its jaunty roofline lost its geometric balance and the innocent tree that once framed it loomed overhead like a big shapeless blob, destroying the entire composition. Regardless if I drew my palette knife, pen, pencil or brush, it seemed to dodge and parry with me until I stormed from the room in frustration.


My blame fell squarely on the demon barn and I vowed never to attempt one again until an unusually cold and windy day in Cheney, Washington many months later. I had set out optimistically that morning to find something to paint.  I looked at the colorful kite-like tents and assorted trailers, the picnic tables sprinkled beneath the black pine trees and then I saw it. Across the highway it stood, looking all charming and sweet. It was almost as if it spoke to me. “Nancy, look what a cute red barn I am! Do you see my precious little white trim and quaint situation in a pastoral, grassy field?” And then it blinked its lashes seductively. (Well, maybe it didn’t do that but it was being very alluring.) The doubts surfaced in my mind, the memories of that impossible barn from my past, how easy it had seemed! I dropped my camp stool and gouache kit to the ground viciously and began setting up to paint. “Listen here, barn, I’m not afraid of you!” (But I really was.)

As I slipped in my ear buds and began mixing my colors, the cold wind and noisy traffic slipped away and it was just me. Just the barn and me. I wasn’t sure what would happen, if it would slap me around again or if we could be friends. I took confidence in the fact that surely I knew more about barns than they knew about artists and that gave me even more courage. Some time later, when I was roused from my quiet battle by my husband peering over my shoulder, I stepped back and looked at my painting (stepping back almost always helps). And then I looked at the barn. And then I looked back at my painting . . . and smiled.

Always seek out the seed of triumph in every adversity.” - Mandino

We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” -B. DeAngelis