Wednesday, September 28, 2011


If you spend the night dreaming about being awake all night, is it the same as actually being awake all night?  Because it sure feels like I didn't sleep much.  Aside from the busy dreams, the coyotes were singing at around 2:30 am, which causes a chain reaction.  Pono, who wanted to sing with them, ran from window to window, desperate to join in.  Only problem with that is Pono doesn't know how to sing, so he growled and barked instead.  He did finally remember he had a dog door.  That way, he could go outside and wake up the neighbors, too.  I am certain that the neighbors are glad we have a dog door. 
Please come and play with me.

Last week brought some storms and fun skies to the desert.  I was running around with my new camera, trying to break it in.  Pono was in the bathroom, hiding from the big, bad thunder.   
In the studio news, I have been busy at work on the most recent series of abstractions.  So far, I have about ten of these new paintings.  These paintings, along with my most recent paintings of the desert, will be on display for the Hwy. 62 Art Tours this October.  I will be opening my studio doors only on the second weekend of the tours, October 29th and 30th from 9 to 5 pm.  For those of you who live far away, I will try my best to have the new work up on my website in time for the Art Tours.  There is also going to be a sneak preview of my studio on Friday, the 28th from noon to 5 pm.  I hope you can make it!
"Closeness."  Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches.  ©Karine Swenson 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The mid-week wonders

"Pretty Please?"  Oil on canvas, 10 x 8 inches.  ©Karine Swenson 2011
"When you start working, everybody is in your studio - the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas - all are there.  But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone.  Then, if you're lucky, even you leave."  ~John Cage

Gearing up for the Open Studio Art Tours next month.  I will be showing the last weekend of October this year: October 29th & 30th from 9 to 5 pm. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Full Time Art

"Privacy."  Oil on canvas,  24 x 30 inches.  ©Karine Swenson 2011
 What does an artist do all day, anyway?  I mean, it's a life of leisure, isn't it?  You work for yourself, so you don't really have to work if you don't want to, right?  Right.  Riiiiiiiiggghhhhht.  I wish it were like that.  An artist doesn't have a boss to oversee daily activities, or to tell you what the priorities are.  Which has both benefits and drawbacks.  Sometimes, I think it would be helpful if there was an authority figure to tell me,  "this is the most important thing you should be working on right now."  Or maybe if there was an accountant to do my books for me, that would be helpful.  Even if I had a marketing director to design my website, blog, postcard, mailings.  That would be helpful, too.  I could hire people to do all of those things, but I can't afford that right now.  No, this is a real business, where I have to keep an eye on profits, expenses, time management, productivity, and all of those boring, real-world words that you hear in any other business.  Those responsibilities are mine and mine alone.

An artist usually doesn't get paid sick leave.  Paid vacations.  Health benefits.  Workman's comp.  No.  If I take a day off, that day is one more day I am not producing art, or marketing my art, or looking for a gallery, or updating my website.  There isn't another person there, in the "office," finishing that one painting for me.  Or framing that last pastel.  I find it really hard to take days off.  I think anyone who is self-employed will tell you the same thing.  Especially the first years, when the business is just getting going - those are the crucial years of any new business.   I consider the time in my studio to be the most important part of my business, but if I just paint, and ignore all of the other responsibilities, I will never sell art, and consequently, never make money.  So I must get out of the studio, as much as it pains me, and take care of the business end of my work.  Being an artist is no different from any other job, since it embodies both the things I love to do and some of the things I detest.  (Bookkeeping, for one!) 

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well, because I hope to dispel some of the misconceptions about what artists do.  I once overheard someone at an art festival say, "I think I would like to be an artist, because they only have to work on the weekends."  Oh, really?  Really?  She thinks that the day before an art festival, I simply pull about 20 paintings out of my left ear, wave my magic wand to load them into the van, and then work the weekend and go home.  Sleep all week long.  Repeat.  Well, if it were that easy, that would be pretty cool.  Anyone would want a job like that!  But I don't think anything in life is as easy or effortless as we would like it to be.  I often wonder where these ideas about being an artist come from.  Why does the word artist conjure up mythological ideas about a lifestyle that could only exist in a fairy tale?  I will never understand.  If any of you can shed light on this for me, I will be grateful.  

I am not writing about this to complain, or to make anyone feel sorry for me.  I love being an artist.  I love those days when I know I need to go in the studio and spread paint on a surface.  It is a remarkable way to spend my time.  I wouldn't trade my life for another life, even if it meant paid sick leave.  Even if I have to get another job, to help me pay for my life as an artist, I will always consider myself an artist first and foremost.  But it is not a fairy tale, and, try as I might, I still haven't figured out how to pull paintings out of my left ear.  Now, I have to go and take care of some of that "business" stuff.

Have a fantastic week, you dear things! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday, Already?

Roadrunner.  Oil on board, 9 x 12 inches. ©Karine Swenson 2011
 As it turns out, I have nothing to write today.  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Desert Morning

This morning, just before sunrise.  A few drops of rain fell on me while I took this.
I am almost adjusted to Pacific Time.  At last.  I still wake up at 2:30, but now I find that I am usually able to go back to sleep.  I've also managed to get back into the studio.  New photos will be coming soon.  I have also re-opened my etsy shop, which was closed while I was out of the country.  I will continue listing new art this week.  Here is a link to a painting I listed right before I left:

The thirsty antelope ground squirrel.
 I can finally say it:  It's good to be home.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Return

One Moment.  Charcoal on paper, 14 x 11 inches.
 Back in the desert once more.  When you've been gone a certain amount of time,  things all seem to have shifted slightly.  Or perhaps it's because you have been gone, you have shifted, and so the way you see familiar things is new.  Dry heat instead of wet heat.  The green here seems dusty and faded - bleached.  The house and yard feel neglected, despite the care of a dear neighbor.  The stack of mail, overwhelming at first, is nearly sorted through.   The air is sweet smelling, after the olfactory onslaught of the city.  I welcome it.  I would write the proverbial "it's good to be home," and in some ways it is.  In other ways it feels unfamiliar and empty.
The face I was overjoyed to see.

I still wake up in the wee hours.  I stay in bed, tossing, thinking if I lay there long enough, I will fall asleep once more.  But I do not.  I finally get up and watch the sun come up.  I gaze out the window, waiting for the familiar rabbits, jackrabbits and quail to make their morning appearance.  They come every day for the water I put out and to nibble on my carefully watered garden.  They have learned ways to sabotage my fences and chicken wire, in my absence.  Part of me is disappointed that my flowers are in some fuzzy bunny tummy, but another part of me can't help a small smile.  If I were a rabbit, I would eat them, too, especially the lemon yellow flowers that are now nothing more than brown sticks, nibbled to the bare.  Here is the first rabbit of the day, cautiously hopping to the water where a small finch splashes.  The rabbit is too skittish to actually take a drink, and has already left in a hurry.  I don't remember my windows being this dirty.  Maybe it rained.

I finished reading Musa Mayer's book Night Studio, about her father (the painter Philip Guston) on the airplane.  A worthwhile read, especially if you are an artist or if you live with one.  It illustrated quite well how obsessive the urge to create can be for an artist.  In this passage, Ms. Mayer writes about what her father put her mother through:  "His work habits were erratic, consuming.  No moderation there, either; no regular schedule for her (or me) to count on.  Often she'd barely see him for days when he was working late at night.  He would paint all night long, sleep in the daytime, and hardly see the two of us."  For me, the most compelling chapter was the last chapter of the book, where Mayer struggles to come to terms with being the daughter of an artist like Guston. I won't give anything more away, in case you read it.
Untitled (the helmet).  Charcoal and pastel,  7 x 5 inches.
Time to return to the studio.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The dogs of Bangkok

It doesn't take much walking around in Bangkok before you notice the stray dogs.  These dogs are known as "soi dogs."  Soi in Thai means side road.  These dogs are most likely community dogs, which means that they tend to stay in the same neighborhood, and often, people in the neighborhood feed them.  In the past, city authorities controlled their numbers by euthanization, but that practice was abandoned with the arrival of the SPCA nearly eight years ago.  The SPCA ran a campaign declaring that killing the dogs went against Buddhist beliefs.  Since that time, the numbers of soi dogs has steadily risen.   Sometimes, the dogs seem healthy and normal, but more often than not, they will be mangy, scabby and limping.  One of the dogs we see frequently near our closest subway stop has severely infected eyes.   I won't write too much about these dogs, but if you are interested, you can read a really good article about Soi dogs here.
It's hard to know if this dog's eye was infected, or if it had been damaged due to some kind of trauma.
The good news about the soi dog issue is that there is at least one organization taking action to help.  You can visit their website by clicking here.  Even though I know these dogs don't have the pampered life that our spoiled dog Pono has, most of them do seem to be fairly well-fed.  I have seen traffic stop for a dog in the middle of the street, although I am sure many of them do get hit by cars or motorbikes.  It is also common to see a dog, stretched out flat in the middle of the sidewalk with a flood of pedestrians spilling around it.  Regardless of how we might perceive the lives of these dogs, they do know how to endear themselves to us.  That is one skill dogs - even scabby strays - seem to have mastered.

About 30 seconds after I took this photo, this dog stopped, right in the middle of the street, and had a nice big poop.  I was too surprised to photograph that.

There are stray cats here, too, of course, but dogs seem to be more ubiquitous.  Most of the cats I have seen were near the temples.  I don't really have any good cat photos to share with you.  Instead, here are some photos of an opportunistic raven we saw, while eating spicy food last week at a little outdoor restaurant.