I started painting in kindergarten. Finger painting was just the best. All those gaudy colors, the cool, slimy feel of the paints, the pure freedom of it all.
When I was maybe ten I got a paint-by-numbers kit for Christmas from a spinster “aunt” who worked in a local department store. I was so excited I could hardly make it through the interminable Christmas dinner. After the food, I took my shiny new paint kit to my room to check it out. There were three little canvas-covered boards, with lines showing where the paint should go and numbers showing what paint to use. This was the real deal – this was oil paint, liked real painters used! I chose the picture of a horse in a pasture.
Then…. yuck! The colors they wanted me to use were ghastly: brown, olive green, and other turgid tones. But wait! There were other colors in the box. I decided to make the horse bright red. I tried to stay in the lines suggested for each color, but I quickly abandoned that and started smushing different colors together, more or less within the general outline of the horse. Wow! I discovered I could make a jazzy green by mixing some taxicab yellow and blue. The red on the horse looked better with a little white mixed in. I tried shading some shadows. Yeah, I thought, this could be fun.
One night when I was about thirteen I woke up, hot and sweaty in the Denver summer, and noticed that my bedroom’s closet door was blank. White. Like a canvas or a panel. The next day I found a can of black enamel in the garage and started thinking about a design. I was captivated by the heroic characters in the mythology books I was reading, so I did my first interior decorating job. The large monster I painted on the door didn’t thrill my parents. I wish I had a picture of it now - in my memory it was magnificent.
When I was in college I decided to take a painting class – the only art class I ever took after elementary school. The painting studio was wonderful, with beautiful cool light and the intoxicating smells of linseed oil and turp. Not to mention that the teacher was a cute young Englishwoman, bubbly and bright and probably just fresh out of grad school. I grabbed an easel near the back of the room and somebody showed me how to stretch a canvas and prime it. I had a sketch to work from, and I took infinite pains shading the different parts of the design. I found that I had patience for the painting process and a feeling for the end result that kept me gnawing at it until I felt it was done.
For quite a few years after college, life got in the way of painting. I never stopped, but I put it on the back burner. I spent the next decade living and traveling throughout Europe, Asia and South America. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, I helped remote northern Thai villagers build water systems and bridges. Later, I worked as a construction laborer, surveyor, house painter, building inspector, soil tester on drilling boats in the North Sea, and freelance writer. Since my childhood in Colorado I’ve loved the mountains and have traveled to Nepal many times to unwind on long Himalayan treks.
I’ve always loved folk art. I'm attracted to handmade things that reflect a culture, whether it's an antique oriental rug from central Asia, American folk art from the Amish country or carved figures from South America or India. Folk art has a timeless quality that I love. Folk art objects play a dramatic role in some of the Toy Portraits paintings. There is a wonderful circular quality about painting an object or toy someone made by hand. The older the object, the more it seems to breathe when painted on canvas. The challenge is to animate the object, bring it alive, make it leap off the canvas and burrow inside your mind. But I never just make a painted copy. The colors, the expressions and the strange essence of the thing itself are always my own.
My itch to paint breaks out when the sun goes down. I love daylight and the outdoors. I drink up color like a sponge. But my art brain kicks in after dark. I paint at night. All kinds of things happen under those bright lights in my studio.