An artist in the house is a rare treat. Yes, you who are artists and those of you who have an artist in the family are spoiled by  this continuum of creativity bursting about you. As a designer I am of an artistic nature. I think in artistic expressions, react to artistic stimuli, and make decisions based upon aesthetic sensitivities that I inherently have.

But these weeks being visited once again by our dear friend and respected artist Federico Leon de la Vega and having him painting on the patio and in what we fondly refer to as the estudio-garage, we are surrounded by the unique scent of solvents and products peculiar to his trade of oil painting and the genius of his ability to express his observations on canvas.

Canvases scattered about with partially  completed masterpieces, ideas started and left to dry or waiting for further inspiration while others begin and take shape in varying degrees of completion. A mountain standing on end about 4′ long by 3′ tall, a lemon rind un-peeling in an abstract interpretation of the bright yellow fruit. A still life of citrus lemons and blue pottery creating a classic combination of color.

But in addition to this wondrous collection of colorful and dramatic paintings surrounding us is Federico’s ongoing project of  Mind Your Calligraphy which continues to grow and expand on this very compelling subject. As any of you who have watched the YouTube video by the same name know by now, this fascinating, universally important subject about cursive touches so many imperatives in our lives. ejercicio-preparatorio-2-federico-leon-de-la-vega

Based upon his passionate observations on the subject and translating those observations into paintings illustrating the concepts and precepts that frame this topic, Leon de la Vega is compiling an exciting body of work and references to bring this more to the fore. His recent invitation to speak at the TED-X Talks in Albuquerque this fall are a further step in bringing this essential topic to the attention of those who can make a difference.

Here are two new paintings depicting inspiration from handwritten music scores. Federico met with a client who has a great love of music by his magnificent glossy black grand  piano commanding attention in the corner of his sunroom.  The two began discussing how handwritten music scores, like cursive, allow the individual the quick personal freedom of jotting ideas on paper that can later be transferred to printed, digital means. And in fact those simple personal writings of notes on paper become quite valuable as they are uniquely and spontaneously penned by the hand of the artist. What could be more personal? The two men focused on Gershwin as they further discussed their mutual enjoyment of music, the unique appreciation and connection of expression through handwritten musical creations. Resulting from this conversation, the composer became the focus of these two abstractions of Rhapsody in Blue.  Gershwin diptych




As we explored the hidden pockets at the Renwick Gallery (see last week’s blog) where upcoming exhibits were concealed by various obstructions and drapes, we made some interesting discoveries. We peeked behind a barrier where another exhibit was in the process of being installed. There we spied a variety of objet d’art and standing amidst, in the center of the disarray,  was what appeared to be a draped Grandfather’s Clock. My cousin who had previewed the show informed us that it was in fact the drape that is the art – it is not a drape – not fabric – but an exquisitely crafted art piece  of its own accord. P1150073 The ladders and other tools of the installation unintentionally supported the amazing trompe l’oiel effect. It was not a piece under cover at all – but the cover formed to suggest that there was a statuesque clock beneath it WAS the art!

At the opposite end of the staircase that we ascended is a rotund space dedicated to the history of the Renwick. 20160618_114404_resized Here we found the story. It is a story of passion for the arts, dedication to preserving and presenting, offering to the public these rare opportunities and during its life it has been confiscated and re-purposed for wartimes, protected by Jackie Kennedy and preserved under the official order of Lyndon Johnson that it be returned to its original purpose to be “Dedicated to Art” as a the unique exhibit space it was designed to be. 20160618_114310_resized

Read along the wall and you will learn about Powers’ Greek Slave 20160618_114122_resized and look up and you will be dazzled by a permanently exhibited Chihuly chandelier dangling with droplets of green glass that looks like it was dispensed from a frozen yogurt machine – soft and spiral, layers of iridescent and luminous forms.

The exterior is also fascinating to examine up close. It has whimsical and interesting details of relief and components, modern wave patterns all topped off by an unfortunately “tacky” sign beneath the upper pediment of the entry facade. P1150085 Oh well…

Please make the Renwick a must see when next in DC.

WONDER at the Renwick

June 19, 2016

At 4 years old my teeny cousin, Katherine whom I nicknamed Katie-belle, took my hand as we ventured forth with great discovery stepping down into the carport of our beach house. With commiserating whispers, like the two adventurers that we were that night, we exchanged queries about where we were headed and what we might find and she said ” I Wonder…”

“So what?” you might say. What’s such a big deal about that? Well the concept of wondering, being able to ponder with amazement at what might result, was astonishing to me coming from the mouth of such a young child.

When we returned upstairs to join the group, I was eager to share my amazement about her simple phrase, “I wonder.” I exclaimed  “She wonders!” Repeating it incredulously about 5 times!

Today she is a dedicated grown-up pursuing exciting adventures in education as she navigates the University system and teaches students with a creative approach that captivates and engages beyond their expectations.

What is wonder? What is wonderful? Yesterday I visited the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. . The current exhibit is called WONDER. P1150084It truly is a wonderment for all ages. This architecturally magnificent building designed in 1859 by James Renwick, in the then chic Parisian Second Empire Style, is the elegant backdrop for a most progressive and creative collection of present day modern artists’ works. Diverse examples, of spectacular displays using simple materials,  brought to life in forms unexpected – of grand proportion and thrilling magnitude. Although my learned and previewer cousin had introduced me to the exhibit in advance, it captivated and engaged beyond my expectations.

This grand yet intimate edifice welcomes and encourages close observation of both itself and its contents. The spectacular main staircase, centered upon entry, presents a brilliant coral red carpet installed with a curvy,  serpentine migration up to the second level. Ooh – if copying is cool and emulating is the greatest form of compliment – I will be looking for an opportunity to specify a similarly whimsical installation. P1150052

Glittering overhead, spanning the entire length of the staircase, is a rectangular chandelier of mirror-like stainless steel punctuated with little LED lights blinking in random patterns. P1150066 The glitz and bling make such a striking, formal, contemporary statement in this expansive volume that it startles with joyful contrast. The artist, Leo Villareal of whom I had heard in advance, was originally from Albuquerque – where we now call home. A remote desert origination transplanted into the fast pace of the urban centers of the east coast resulting in this shiny experimentation with light, form and wonderfully reflective surfaces. Villareal melds basic high-tech coding to use his own algorithm of the binary system 1s and 0s communicating to the lights when to turn off and turn on – yet sequences that are never exactly repeated .P1150064 It’s not just your linear code of characters that is read on a screen –  here it is an artistic experience shared by all who look up in this gallery’s exciting exhibit.

Straight ahead, through the massive opening to the next exhibit hall, was the wispy fishnet-like rainbow of woven warm-colored fiber representing both  wonder and danger. Artist Janet Echelman’s inspiration is from a map of the energy released across the Pacific Ocean during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.  A natural disaster so devastating that it shifted the earth on its axis and cost us a fraction of a second in time. Surreal? Sci-fi? No, it really happened.  Beauty and grace depicting a horrific event. P1150063 Large scaffolding at the end of the room suggests the manual installation that was required to suspend this wondrous drape catching light and glowing with golden aura. P1150068

The lower level still had wonders to explore starting with the magical woven willow saplings – creations of artist Patrick Dougherty. He has wound these great lengths of supple branches to form Hobbit – like holes of imaginary forest habitats. P1150056 We were at once drawn into these cozy nurturing cubbies of what appeared to be nature – not forms created by man. Nature. Organic and raw, elegant and graceful winding toward the far reaches of the very high ceilings. Like a sculptor who says that the stone dictates what it wants to be and how he carves it – Dougherty knows that the long willow branches have a true will and bend their own way challenging him to work with them toward that goal of partnership with nature. The beauty is in the end result.  People of all ages wandered in and out, peeking through window-like openings pretending to be exploring an enchanted forest of wonder.

Next – stacked index cards- really? P1150061 Have you ever experienced Tent Rocks?  8-24-12 Placitas lunch, Tent Rocks Heather, Tricia, Zeke 044Have you ever looked upward and around and through the magnificent forms created by nature eroding the earth’s strata revealing layers of color and creating spires of rocky towers? It is a magic land just south of Cochiti in a very unexpected pocket of nature’s magnificence in our Land of Enchantment. And the spires that artist Tara Donovan created with stacks of index cards – an overwhelming accumulation of millions of index cards suggest grey spires replicating nature’s wonders in the canyons among the spires of the Tent Rocks. P1150062 It’s as though a photographer captured this natural formation in black and white.  Donovan’s interpretations are tones of grey as a result of the stacked white index cards with slivers of shadow sucking away light in between each of them. Clustered and staggering in height, the “Untitled” towers are inviting to walk amidst and pass between, winding around them like a  tourist or explorer or perhaps inhabitant in ages past and present as they have stood for ages.

Snap out of it and see what is glowing like a fine fiber sail in the sunset in the next room. Stretching upward and crossing midway are thousands of incredibly fine threads woven from small hooks on the base. P1150059How could a human working only by hand – without computer generated machines digitally fabricating such perfection create this finished piece that we are studying with such wonder? How can this fine tedious seemingly impossible count of thousands of threads be executed with such grandeur and grace by one mere mortal? gabriel-dawe-plexusa1-wonder-renwick-gallery-washington-designboom-03 The artist Gabriel Dawe transcends our ability to comprehend the exactness of his beautiful accomplishment with extraordinary patience, precision and creative foresight to imagine the end result and bring it to fruition.  It is a wondrous, luminous sculpture of rainbow colored threads inspired by the skies of his native Mexico and current home in East Texas. The fine weavings also inspired by his Mexican heritage are interpreted, stretched and exaggerated here reflecting the light and spectrum of color from its base to ceiling. P1150060

We missed a couple of early installations of WONDER but were thrilled by today’s adventure. We had many opportunities to wonder…wonder how the artists conceive of their fantastic ideas and actually build their dreams to share with the world. We wondered what it takes to spark that creativity and passion that requires commitment and demands such unfailing determination. We wondered about those who collect these talents and curate these exhibits for the joy of so many. We wondered about the practical side of marketing these concepts to support the artists and this amazing  accommodation started so many years ago by a true visionary William W. Corcoran.

My next blog will trace the history of this wonderful architectural treasure, the Renwick, and share more of the day’s discoveries that you might visit and experience as you tour my birthplace – our Nation’s Capital.




Fe Fi Fo Finishes

June 4, 2016

I have resisted faux wood porcelain tile, without good reason, just for the sake of installing something new. I have believed that it is great for a Long John Silver’s fast-food place attempting to convey the look of a wharf, fish shack etc…it is also good for a grocery store produce department – again, trying to depict a grower’s market with barn-wood floors while all the time being easy to maintain and virtually indestructible. But for a home (unless it too needs to be indestructible), chic restaurant, office lobby – I find it way too cold and faux. wood grained porcelian tile generic

Furthering the disdain for the material is poor specification and poor installation. Having grout joints accentuate the tile making even less believable than it already is – is the worst.

But as usual, if you wait long enough the trend will either fizzle or bloom and bloom it has- check out these really fun porcelain pieces of plank in colors – yes colors on purpose to exaggerate the idea!!! Now this is a trend with which I could have a little fun!!! 20160604_075109_resized

The first generation of the faux wood porcelain planks took themselves too seriously and so did the designers who used them (except in the smart applications aforementioned and perhaps an ultra contemporary beach house desiring an ease of maintenance flooring material). Not to mention, they were not the finest examples. But with all embracing this trend and using it everywhere – walls, floors etc…I found myself in boxes of cold wood-like tile – fun? I think not. wood-grain-porcelain-tile-floor-wall-bathroom-atlas-concorde-etic

The evolution of the product has advanced its aesthetic and applications. Inserting shocking contrasts weathered-wood-look-porcelain-tile-kitchen-floor-abk of grain and color just for the sake of design. Yay!!

So yesterday we had an all-day continuing education marathon. It was comprised of several independent  courses on a variety of interesting subjects well delivered by entertaining and informed speakers, a trade show of great design sources, a lovely lunch, and finishing with a festive cocktail hour. During the course of cruising the trade show along all the vendors’ displays, I stopped at a familiar one presenting tile of all manner – including wood-grained porcelains. I engaged in conversation with one of the reps and specifically about the tired over-use of this trend. We were in perfect harmony regarding our agreement on this subject.  While there I did admit a straying from the natural integrity of the materials that I generally embrace when recently I specified a vinyl wood flooring material in a residential application. This particular installation was prompted by the desire to have the look of wood flooring but with the resilience, durability and soft cushion that this unusual product offered. We had wet area conditions right off the pool area where traffic patterns to the restroom and kitchen were constantly traveled by adults, kids and dogs. The pliable product installed with a tight tongue and groove detailing and the remarkably beautiful faux wood-grained finish had great color, texture and dimension. To further belie the true content of the material, we placed stunning hand-knotted wool rugs on top of it making it more believable to the eye of the beholder. We have successfully fooled everyone to date while offering a water and dog toenail impervious, super easy to maintain floor!!!

So there is a time and place for nearly everything…just don’t settle because the trend is set-forth. Take each material and make decisions for the right materials in the right places – and never shy away from having a little fun!!! modern-porcelain-floor-tile-uonuon-14-ora-italiana-1


By total coincidence but perfectly timed for the segue from the  last couple of  week’s topics,  we attended a couple’s cocktails and canvas painting party last week.  Artistic expression and the fear of taking the leap has been facilitated by these social gatherings centered around painting and wine. You’ve heard of them, if not yet participated in one. This clever pairing has taken the country by storm. The model is to have an instructor teach a group of friends to copy a pre-selected subject and create their own interpretation on a canvas all the while losing inhibition by imbibing in a glass of wine or cocktail. Actually multiple glasses of wine and cocktails! The more the merrier! P1140371 - Copy

And merry it is. It’s fun and freeing. It’s creativity within boundaries but with enough encouragement and pretty much lack of judgment to produce some very successful finished products.  And this is where we found ourselves last Sunday afternoon. Operative word there, we. P1140384

Yes, I had attended several of these fun-filled events in the past – all women – always entertaining. But this was quite different as it was designed to be couples – husbands painting right alongside their more willing spouses were encouraged to let loose and copy the sunflowers.

Unlike other like-kinds of parties that I had attended, this gal started off each person’s canvas with a faint charcoal-transfer outline of the preliminary placement of the centers of the sunflowers. This was intended to get everyone started on the right track but also said loud and clear – this is what we are painting and deviating from the plan, changing the format or grouping was not encouraged. P1140376

That said, it was just fine that we all pursued the same clutch of gorgeously impressionistic floral explosions with bold brush strokes and colorful blotches of paint tying it all together for a happy theme. Most if not all of the men and perhaps a couple of the women had never tried their hand at painting. This might have been the first attempt at artistic expression that they had ever experienced. I know that was true for my husband!

The setting was fabulous in a private dining room of our local Greek restaurant with brilliant sunlight streaming in through the entire wall of west-facing windows illuminating large format photos of Grecian isles, ancient structures, classic white buildings with cascading brilliant pink bougainvillea set against the piercing blue sky and surrounding sea. A big screen TV mounted high in the far corner featured the very muddy Preakness followed by the Blues and San Jose dashing about on the ice. P1140374

But the attention soon turned to the canvases in front of each budding artist. Primed with cocktails, we donned aprons, selected our seats and set to work in front of our table-top easels. The paints are acrylic, water-based – easy to apply and also to clean-up during or after the session. . As the first splotches of color were applied, the comments began to fly around the room. From whining about how difficult it was to complaints about the blossoming results, the room became animated with commentary. P1140386

People began getting up and viewing others’ progress. Compliments and comparisons were a flurry as the instructor made her way around the room aiding those in duress and adding touches here and there. It was hysterical. Everyone was having a blast, creating their own interpretation of the offered subject and seeing it take shape before their very eyes by their very own hand and all the while amidst lively conversation and milling about the room. Seeing the finished products all so similar yet each very different is the marvel of this exercise.

One enthusiastic participant went out into the dining room and requested participation from restaurant patrons in the way of their leaving their tables and coming into the gallery of all of our redundant sunflowers and voting for their favorites – this added to the hysteria as they made their picks, voiced their critiques and the “artists” received their accolades. P1140402

Dinner followed taking this group of new-found friends to the dining room where everyone ordered from the menu and continued the convivial conversations into the evening. But I learned today that Don doesn’t care if he ever picks up a paintbrush again – he didn’t discover a hidden passion nor exceptional talent. He has no love for the process nor the results, but thoroughly enjoyed the party!!! Woo Hoo!! P1140406 - Copy





So for those who take the leap and delve into their artistic expression (reference last week’s pattisays…) – those who DO IT instead of critiquing “I could do that” –  are exploring vast depths of their awareness, sensitivity, and personal signature through a piece of art. But that same freedom of expression has been cultivated in society beginning with scribbles,  and the fundamentals of handwriting. From scribbles, scribble to basic block alphabetic B_after to the loop de loops of beginning cursive, ejercicio-preparatorio-2-federico-leon-de-la-vegathe lessons encourage and open doors to very personal and individualistic communication.

Most of us are all painfully aware that cursive is no longer taught in many schools. We are so seduced by technology that we are not selective about  what to save and what to advance beyond in this evolution. This conscious evolution may have a devastatingly regressive cost.

What is the danger?

The classic final question and answer in Beauty Pagents is something like “What is your wish for the world?” or  “What is the most critical issue facing  the world today?” Some might say “Global warming.” The truthful seemingly naive response we have heard for decades is “World Peace” or parodied version “Whirled Peas.” All kidding aside, this certainly is an important and noble quest – the root of which in today’s technology is “Nuclear War.” Yes, if we have nuclear wall everything else is moot. Education, clean air and water, whirled peas, nada. Well, shy nuclear war, another great issue facing our world today is the loss of the brain to hand expression via tool we take so for granted, handwriting.

Handwriting is a tool, yes. A tool to communicate private notes, grocery lists, love letters, instructions to the sitter and thank you notes for deeds so appreciated. Not to mention rough drafts for non-digital scratchings of the most intimate and possibly important historical communications on the planet.  A good friend is examining this troubling fact through his own artistic expression. Please visit the video Mind Your Calligraphy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mO7ctV05Js where Federico Leon de la Vega

explores the neurological results of this modern-day tragedy that has the potential to change civilization as we know it. Not to mention loss of certain very specific brain functions of human evolution!

The artist must train not only his eye, but his soul. Wassily Kandinsky

Without the basic form of  flowing handwriting – the motion with an ease of fluid, natural motion to convey one’s thoughts, ideas, emotions, needs, and desires, we erase a portion of the brain’s function. We erase the personal expression offered  and made available by the human connection between our thoughts and our hands – our tools. The control our hands to artistically pen calligraphy – unique to each individual  – is a priceless piece of evolution.

Returning to the artistic expression…Plein air painting and field studies for scientific research might be the last vestiges of our need to communicate and connect through nature. If not free from technology,  perhaps in concert with the tools of technology. Taking a digital camera, phone or tablet into the field while painting on-site or using the technology to process what is discovered and/or captured in the scientific field studies might be those last vestiges.

We know why, so let’s think about what influence we might have to continue the art of cursive. How to perpetuate the evolution of that which is oh so personal a form of expression and that has such a powerfully effective and essential connection to our brains.

Like Kandinsky observed – it is the soul of a person that is expressed through artistic media. And there is nothing more intimate than the seemingly simple connection through individualistically personal script. f4426e761a5ab09c179a23e22301df58-1000



Fear of entering the world of artistic expression. The pressure to perform. The pressure to create something worth the exercise. Many people will not take that leap and experiment with their creativity due to undue self-imposed pressures. Are YOU one of those people?

NIKE says “Just Do It!” What a simple yet powerfully motivating mantra!

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. Pablo Picasso
picasso 20151105182332-picasso-art-artist-pablo

How many times have you witnessed or even thought this yourself? The common reaction to expressive, primitive art or art that deconstructs to simplicity is often “I could do that.” The style belies the complexity of the mind that created it – it belies the creativity of the artist behind the work – it belies the significance of the work.

Anyone who has tried to emulate a seemingly simple rendering of an image knows that it is not as easy as it seems. And the seemingly simple image is usually NOT that simple. Texture, color, detail or lack thereof, not to mention control of the composition, is deceptively difficult.

As Picasso explored his artistic imperatives, he experimented with what he knew as formal renderings ultimately deconstructed and manipulated to convey different perspectives and interpretations of his subject matter during different periods of his life experiences. Composition, color, manipulation of reality – artistic interpretation. Easy peasy? – not so easy.


But it is not about copying anyway. That has been touched on in my previous blog about The Art Forger. It is about the spontaneity or the planned conception and evolution of the original piece. The spark of creativity and ability to express it – in whatever medium.


Rachel Housman paints fanciful interpretations of landscapes of the southwest.

And it’s also not only about great, recognized art – but anything that is expressed by the individual – it is that connection that is the magic behind one’s view of the world. A reflection of their thoughts and experiences and desires.

I surmise that is it about allowing yourself the freedom to keep it simple. Not to over-work it. Like a child – as Picasso references…just keep it simple for starters. Distill whatever it is you want to express…pare it down.

Peggy Zuris painted passionate interpretations of the world around her. Bold colors and brushstrokes applied swiftly with a purpose. Michelle Chrisman sees the world with similarly bold strokes and exciting colors applied with great artistic expression.

A human being is essentially a spiritual eye. Whatever you really see, you are that. Rumi

Artistic expression is an extension of the person – it is a reflection of their being – who they are. And the great fun and joy derived from having a gallery and presenting various art pieces to the public is knowing the artists behind the work. Not to mention it is a happy place to be surrounded by joyful expressions that make you smile.


Virgin de Zapopan Acrylic on Canvvas Caresse Kruithof de Chavez




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