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The Rindge Dam In Malibu Canyon Three Fishermen On A Rock Lava Canyon: Early Morning Shadows Along The Colorado Sisters Of The Canyon
Daybreak Over The Grand Canyon Pearly Skies and Oyster Surf at Broad Beach Salmon Seas and Sunset Clouds At Etretat River Rocks

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Discovery - Vistas Of Possibility

The Rindge Dam In Malibu Canyon O/L 10x10


I have driven to Malibu through Las Virgenes Road and Malibu Canyon my whole life.  I had never taken the time until recently to stop the car and explore -- to actually see down the sheer canyon walls. 
All this time and I never realized that there was a dam down at the bottom of that steep canyon!

All of this area is part of Malibu Creek State Park, but this area has been closed to hikers because it is difficult terrain and because of the fact that hikers often did stupid things ending up in having to be rescued.  

Much of the area was part of the Reagan Ranch.  Reagan donated the land to the state and it now is part of Malibu Creek State Park.
Apparently the dam was built by Malibu's historic Rindge family to provide agricultural water supply in the 1920s. 
Today's environmentalists are happy the area has been closed because apparently there are steelhead trout who live in the area.  
The State has been pushing to tear down the dam but there are always a variety of issues to consider so it hasn't happened.

Who knew??


Hope you enjoy my version:

"The Rindge Dam in Malibu Canyon"



I was recently reminded about a quote by Winston Churchill:  "The vistas of possibility are only limited by the shortness of life." 

Painting outdoors has allowed me to begin to explore many more of those vistas of possibility.  I think we are often also limited by our own perceptions.  Finding this dam in Malibu Canyon while scouting painting locations is one such example.  Unless we allow ourselves to see beyond what we "think" is in front of us, we never really see.

I love the fact that I have discovered such lovely "new" places in a world I thought I knew. 

Sure, I have also traveled to places I probably would never have gone in the name of plein air painting, but I have also explored more familiar areas and seen great beauty and discovered newness in the familiar.

I'm also learning to look at things in different ways.  David Gallup's teaching encourages us to explore possibilities in a scene... to use our minds to create or enhance or obfuscate in order to make a painting... not just a copy of things. 

This is a most difficult and wonderful journey to be on.  -- and to paraphrase Churchill ... the possibilities are only limited by the length of the "journey".


Happy painting!

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There are Canyons..... And There Are Canyons

Lava Canyon: Early Morning Shadows Along The Colorado O/L 11x14


Our group of painting friends, the PAC6, is fortunate to have another opportunity to share some of the work we created in Canyon de Chelly.  The upcoming show, at Hillside Fine Art Gallery in Claremont, will host an exhibit of smaller works -- some from Canyon de Chelly and some from other canyons in the West.  The show will be called "Canyons of the West" and will hang in February, 2015.

I had several pretty good plein air studies from my trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, but I wanted to create some new work for the show.

Ray Roberts


I painted a Grand Canyon Sunrise ( "Daybreak Over The Grand Canyon" ) and then I began working on the painting you see above which was based on my plein air studies.  You can see "Lava Canyon" and several other paintings from the canyon on the easel.  Also I usually have postcards or printed papers with inspirational paintings around my easel.  I  use my I-Pad with a notan of a photo I took in the canyon and plein air studies -- trying not to copy, but to get inspiration.   What you don't see on the easel are other artworks I used for inspiration such as Ray Roberts' "Vermillion Cliffs" or George Carlson's most recent painting "Witness Of Time" which will be featured in the Master's Of the American West Show.  I've included a photo of my easel with the block in and the two inspirational paintings by two inspirational artists.




George Carlson

Also influencing me greatly right now is the special weekly workshop on design and composition that I am taking from my mentor, David Gallup.   I have studied with David for five or so years now.  He is an amazing teacher -- so knowledgeable and skilled.    He's not the kind of teacher who tells you which colors to use or how to do it like he does it.  He guides and offers suggestions and teaches us about so many amazing artists -- historical and contemporary.   Through his teaching I have learned to see art differently and to pick and choose which inspirations I think will help ME on MY journey.   Last fall he offered a brushwork and color theory workshop which I have been trying very hard to practice and decide which ideas I like and want to use more of.   Now I'm taking this design class and my head is bursting with thoughts of shape and line and calligraphy.  Once again we hear of great examples...  Alfonse Mucha, Hiroshi Yoshida, Dan Pinkham, Stuart Shills and so many of the other "usual suspects".  Wow......... just wow.


As I painted I kept thinking about shapes, pattern, placement,  line (fast - slow - calligraphy), mood, aesthetic, edges, gradations, contrast and then so much of the elements of brushwork and color theory...   It would be so great if someday this became less deliberate and more intuitive.  But perhaps that will never happen.  In any case, I was happy with the painting I ended up with.


"Lava Canyon: Early Morning Shadows Along The Colorado"


And now I'm excited about painting a small piece of a canyon that I think everyone drives past but nobody really sees or even knows much about.   I'll blog about that later.






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Someone Left A Cake Out In The Rain..... (!!!)

Caballero Canyon Shadows..... (Drowned)

A late afternoon walk into the canyon near my house afforded me a chance to paint these delightful shadow patterns.



"MacArthur Park" is a song by Jimmy Webb.  I always wondered what those words I used for the title of this post meant...  now that I had a reason to look it up, I know.  I decided that I will use it in this post.   The song, "MacArthur Park", was a commercially successful song multiple times after it was released, but it used flowery lyrics and metaphors (most famously, love being likened to a cake left out in the rain).

So -- being a California girl -- and rather unaccustomed to rain -- I often put my paintings out on my balcony deck outside my studio to "cook" in the sun.  I totally forgot that I put this plein air piece from my local canyon outside on the balcony.   I am toying with painting a scene from my local canyon and this was one of several I have tried out, but this was not really what I wanted to use for the upcoming show.  I had finally began working in earnest on some canyon pieces from the Grand Canyon and just plum forgot this little plein air study.  As another song lyric tells us, it never rains in California -- NOT!

The drizzling rains of the last few days have let up and I went outside to enjoy a beautiful brilliant sunset from my balcony deck.  I took a couple of photos and turned around and there was my poor, sad plein air painting melting in the rain.   It was painted on a Centurion Linen Painting Panel.  The panel backing was sagging and droopy and the linen was separated and bubbling up from the backing.  Since I had forgotten it outside on the table for two whole rainy days, I doubt that even a more durable RayMar panel would have survived.  Sooooooo   while I loved my canyon shadows, leaving them out in the rain wasn't a good way to show my love!  It's history!  (But I may be able to use some of the patterning for some shadows in a future piece...  who knows.)

I have to say, though, that we surely need this rain.   We need every drizzly drop and I sure hope we get more even though it means I won't be able to get outside to paint as often. 

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One Of My Favorites....

Colorful China Cove 30x24 O/C


Arena 1 Gallery is a large hanger area near the Santa Monica Airport in Santa Monica, CA.  It is used now as artists' studios and a gallery.  It is a large space and quite nice for exhibits of large work.  One of my art groups, Women Painters West, has had a few exhibitions there and will again in the new year.   This is a diverse group of talented women artists the majority of whom are abstract artists.  I often feel like the odd-man out because my work is very realist based. 

One of my paintings titled, "Colorful China Cove", was juried in to this show by artist-juror, Jim Morphesis.   I love this painting.  I've been enjoying it on my stairway wall for a while now.   It's 30" x 24" so it won't be dwarfed too much by the large abstracts in the show.

If you get the chance, please try to get by the Arena 1 gallery to see the show which will run from January 10 through January 25th.   The reception will be January 10th from 5-7 and there will be MUSIC!   Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 6 pm.



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Vision and Confidence

Salmon Seas and Sunset Clouds At Etretat O/C 20" x 30"


I believe that every artist worth his or her salt needs to be on an continual quest to improve.  There are those who seem to have made it where one might say, "Well, they've got "quality" and they don't need to change."  -But one wonders if they are truly artists if they continually crank out the same thing, painting after painting -- albeit very well received and technically proficient... is that really what we should strive for?


A few weeks back I wrote a post about quality in a body of work.  It wasn't just about fixing a painting to make it better, it was about evaluating a body of recent work to find direction for improvement efforts.   For some, like me, there is always more to learn and improve upon technically and skill-wise.  For others, though, I think there is a need to continually evolve despite what their collectors are used to.  We may not always agree with their direction, but we certainly can applaud their quest for quality work which will distinguish them from others AND from their own pasts.


Taking the suggestion from Jason Horejs, owner of Xanadu - Red Dot Gallery, I decided to look beyond individual artworks for ways to improve my overall work product.   I got some good suggestions and then a wonderful friend, Julie, really honed in with a very valuable critique of the overall quality of my recent work.  Her thoughts were insightful and will help me think about my work with renewed passion.

Despite her feeling that I should be self-assured and confident enough to have figured this out on my own -- after all I've been taking classes for years from David Gallup who gives us so very much valuable information in every single class... it is still difficult for me to see my own work as objectively others might.


When I decided to focus less on "stuff" as I discussed in my last post, I was also faced with the thought that I really do prefer traditional realism to pure abstraction.   What to do...   

One classmate, Leslie, was using the paint scraped up off her palette at the end of a session to create texture and form for a painting she was working on.  Another classmate, Ned, was working on a huge cloudscape imagined from a tiny study he had done at Leo Carrillo.  I was intrigued.  I loved some of the things that were happening in each of their work.   I tried to use a bit of both in a new painting I was envisioning. 

Most of my painting "Salmon Seas and Sunset Clouds At Etretat" is pure imagination.  I figured it might be easier not to worry about painting "stuff" if I was playing with clouds.  I wanted to use pretty color so I didn't use any old scrapings on the palette, but tried to mix a series of colors that might look nice together and then I began using a palette knife to apply them on a large canvas to make some interesting shapes.  As each day went by, I'd scrape some paint off and put more on.  I had an idea that I wanted the clouds over the sea, like in Ned's painting, but I also wanted some sort of land mass.  Since there was an exhibit opportunity with a theme about Europe coming up, I tried to think of a land mass which might be recognizable as something in Europe. 

I settled in my mind on Etretat.  I knew Monet had painted there so I looked at some of his work.  Amazingly to me... every view was different, so my end-product land mass was sort of a made-up best guess.  You can see some examples of Monet's vision of Etretat throughout the post above.  I later saw a painting by Courbet at the Norton Simon which was very realistic and decided my "best guess" was okay.


I added in some of the colors of the clouds in the sea and that was that.  Although I was pretty happy with how my painting turned out -- I had achieved what I hoped to achieve, when I thought about how it compares with that of Monet... well, I lost confidence.  I decided not to submit the work to the show about Europe.


When I took my painting in to David Gallup's master class this week and asked him for a critique, I was surprised and pleased to hear that he thought it was one of the best pieces I'd done to date. 

Hmmmm... I sure wish I had more confidence in my own vision.        -- Another thing I need to work on I guess.




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River Rocks -- Looking For Abstract Patterns In Traditional Realism

River Rocks 12x9 O/L


Do you know the work of Len Chmiel?  If not, you should!

For quite a while now I have admired his work.  I can't remember whether I first learned about his work in David Gallup's Master Class or whether I just saw some examples of his work at the Autry Masters of the American West show.  Either way, ever since then I've been hooked.  Although Chmiel started out in illustration and certainly knows his way around good draftsmanship, what I love about his work is the way he seems to be able to take traditional realism and seek out the abstract elements of it to explore and tantalize the eye.  He doesn't paint the "stuff" which so often is what I end up with.   He goes beyond that to find patterns of value, color, and brushwork to convey a feeling about a place or scene.


I feel the same about the work of George Carlson.   They are both artists whose work really inspires me.   Interestingly, it seems that they are good friends and often paint together.



Abstrata - Len Chmiel
A Congregation of Murmurs, Taylor River   - Len Chmiel
Stillness In Moonlight -- George Carlson
Umatilla Rock - George Carlson



















When Eric Rhoads announced that both Len Chmiel and George Carlson would be speakers at the upcoming plein air convention, I signed up right away.  I'm not much for huge crowds and haven't really been interested in attending any of the past conventions, even though some of my friends went.  This time, however, I'm just going.  Can't miss these guys.  Even though I've read Chmiel's book several times, somehow I'd still love to listen to him talk about his work. 

George Carlson is another of my favorite artists and for much the same reason.  I have included a couple of examples of their work on this page.  Do yourself a favor and look up more images ... or better yet go to a show to see their work in person.


Although my "River Rocks" is nowhere near as abstract and interesting as any of Chmiel's water series which can be found in his book, I was thinking of his work as I painted it.


I found the image on Facebook.  The posted photo was taken by Gary Keimig near his home in August of 2012.  I liked the image, thought it would be a challenge to paint and asked his permission to use it.  He readily agreed.  I finally got up the courage to try it and came up with "River Rocks".  I like my result...  It does have some abstract elements, but I know I can continue on this journey going further with abstract elements of realism ... trying not to paint "stuff" but finding interesting patterns and creating a feeling instead.   -- This should be fun!


Oh... and I just found out that "River Rocks" will be one of 8 of my paintings in a group show called "WATER: Precious and Alluring" at La Galeria Gitana in 2015!






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Seeing As A Collector

Swirling Seas 24x24 O/C


Several years ago I bought the book, "'Starving' to Successful" by J. Jason Horejs.   I bought it, but like so many things in my life, as soon as I got it, I put it on a shelf and never got around to reading it through -- much less implementing any of the suggestions in the book.

Finally, due in major part to Horejs'  terrific email marketing campaign, I decided to read it and to include his suggestions in my action plan for continued improvement.  Of course, it turns out I've already been doing many of the things suggested.  That's great.  But I had been feeling like I had reached a stall and wanted to break out.


The initial chapter deals with QUALITY.  Quality is such an elusive and ever-moving target.  We are all familiar with having an artwork declined by one juror and go on to win a prize in another show juried by a different juror.   I do know I'm moving in the right direction though.  I can see that my work gets better every year.  But one suggestion in the chapter really caught my imagination.  I thought it was an excellent idea and have already started to implement it.


I am fortunate to receive fairly regular critiques of work that I take in to David Gallup's Master Class.  But Horejs' suggestion was a bit different than a critique of individual pieces.  His idea related to a body of work.


He first suggested we perform a self evaluation of 5-10 of our most recent works and ask ourselves "What are three things I could do to improve the quality of my work?"  -- To try to see our work as a collector would.  I then realized that much of my work is designed to please me....  It gets better all the time related to composition, value, brushwork, and color but perhaps I am too blind to see it the way a collector might. 


Then he suggested that we ask trusted advisers for a similar evaluation.  We should not ask what those advisers think of our work -- we should ask for three specific changes we could make to our work to improve the quality. 


I began trying this idea out yesterday and found that it is a very difficult task for someone to do.  After arranging for a meeting - a favor (to discuss my artwork) - and offering lunch as a way to smooth the way, I started out with this experiment.  I took in eight pieces of my recent work including "Swirling Seas"   All were landscapes / seascapes / skyscapes -- although some included figures.  Then I read the section of the book about quality to my adviser, who runs a gallery and who has known my work for many years now - even has some hanging there right now.  I got my notebook out ready to take notes.  That's when I realized that this is a VERY challenging task -- to go beyond critiquing individual work and to envision what it would take to improve overall quality of someone's body of work.


It was an interesting afternoon.   It was one that didn't have any great "ahas" but one which will help me continue on my journey to create paintings that are unique and powerful visions that will attract collectors.  

When I returned home and shared my afternoon with my husband, he felt that quality was not my problem.  He would like to see fewer landscapes and more "lively" subjects.  Perhaps genre is an issue, but it's the landscapes that I love, so I will continue to paint landscapes AND to continue to commit to a life-long pursuit of ever-higher quality.

I will also find other advisers, somehow, and try it again and then again.  It's probably something that all of us should be doing on a regular basis even though it turns out to be more difficult for the advisers than I had thought it would be!

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Tangled Color and Playful Paint -- or a "Hot Mess"?

Peeking Through 12x16 O/L


It's amazing how our interpretation of people's words or actions can influence our moods and sometimes change the course of behavior.   This is based on recent events in my "art life" AND on a chapter in a book I'm reading about Monet.   (The Treasures of Monet by Michael Howard)


The chapter is called "Evoking "Mystery":

"... In the early months of 1888, Monet spent several weeks painting on the Cote d'Azur in the South of France.  His paintings, inspired by that landscape, were an immediate success with his regular buyers and collectors, but his fellow artists and the critics were less sure of their quality.  "Monseur Monet is a spontaneous painter," wrote Felix Feneon in La Revue Independante, in July 1888.  "Well served by an overdone bravura of style, the productivity of an improviser, and a brilliant vulgarity, his renown is growing, but his talent does not seem to have made any strides since his Etretat series."

Monet appears to have taken such criticism to heart......
..... Like his contemporaries, Whistler and Degas, Monet's work shows over his lifetime a move from exactitude to evocation -- and thus reveals the influence that Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme had on them all.  ...... Mallarme believed that "everything sacred must surround itself in mystery" and that the purpose of writing was to describe "not the thing, but the effect it produces".  According to Theodore Robinson, an American artist at Giverney, Monet had once used that word "mystery" in connection with his own painting. 


So it appears, that even Monet, with all of his success was not immune to the words written about his work.  It affected what and how he chose to paint.


Now, you ask, what does this have to do with Marian Fortunati (me) OR with the title of this blog post?   Here's how:

If you follow my blog, you know by now that I study with Master landscape and undersea artist, David C. Gallup who is always trying to expand our knowledge of historic and contemporary painters and their methods.  When demonstrating for us or critiquing our work a constant theme is the goal to obfuscate and create mystery in our work through the use of solid design, tangled color and playful paint.  I continually struggle to align my desire for a more traditional realist's look with that of a bit more abstract contemporary look. 


The painting "Peeking Through" looks fairly realistic from 15 or 20 feet away.  I believe I achieved that sharp area of sunlight knifing across the cottonwood trees which are lined up against the distant cliff of Canyon de Chelly.  However, when you get up close to the painting there is a great deal of abstraction through the use of tangled color and playful paint.  I was happy with the painting and proud to include it in among the paintings of our inaugural PAC6 group show at Segil Gallery last month.


One afternoon while the show was hanging I received a call from the gallery.  While we were chatting, the person started telling me how "Peeking Through" was the painting she could see from the spot behind the desk.  She said that she really loved the painting and was always showing it to potential collectors who walked through the gallery.  THEN she said that from far away it was absolutely stunning but when she got up close to the painting it was a "hot mess".


Ummmmm...  I was a bit taken aback ... I was hoping she might have used words like playful color or tangled paint... but that didn't happen.  Okay... you guessed it.  She had said nice words about my work too, but all I took from that conversation was the "hot mess" part.  I didn't think she liked the painting. 


Mind you, this is a person who is a fabulous painter that I truly admire, so her words have lingered with me for several weeks now as I've been working on a large seascape.  I was feeling a bit rebuffed -- off-track.   I'd go outside to paint and couldn't produce anything that I wanted to bring home, much less share with others.  And my favorite parts of my newest painting have tangled paint and playful color too.... lots of interesting texture trying to create just a bit of mystery within a traditional landscape. 


But I kept thinking.... "Am I fooling myself?"  Is this really just another "hot mess"?


Although those words have hung with me, I did decide to go with my own vision and continue with as much of the mystery in paint as I can manage for the large seascape I'm working on.  I put on my "Popeye attitude" and continued on... "I yam what I yam."


And guess what?  
Today she bought the painting, "Peeking Through".   I guess she really DID like my work after all...    (She liked it, she really, really liked it.)   ----. hot mess, playful paint, tangled color and all.

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Nocturnes and a Sunset In The San Gabriels

Sunset In The San Gabriels 8x8 O/L


Seeing In The Dark
As you may remember, I have lately had a fascination with nocturnes.   However, it is difficult for me to go out to paint at night.  Occasionally I get to go out with a friend but that doesn't happen often.  Also it's difficult to leave the family behind in the evening.  During the day they are all out and about doing their own thing so it's easy for me to get away to paint outside.  Not so in the evening. 


So in order to get a bit of advice and information from an expert as well as to have some companions while painting at night I decided to take a nocturne workshop from Eric Merrell.  Eric's work intrigues me.  It's different in a way that goes beyond subject matter and I really like it.  PLUS he is one of the few artists around who offered a nocturne workshop.


The weekend of the workshop was the weekend the temperature was over 110 during the day.  We met at Eric's house in the late afternoon.   Eric talked about his work and showed us lots of wonderful examples of both his field studies and his studio pieces.  We stayed there at the house reviewing this work while he talked about how he takes notes about his feelings and the mood of the scene.  He showed us studio pieces that were based on his field studies.


He also helped us with our lights.  We attached filters over the lights he had suggested we purchase. 


We drove to the Cobb Estate about sundown.  I was so absolutely surprised to see how many hikers are still out in the fading light.  Amazingly there were hikers on the trail until quite late at night.


Eric took us to an area surrounded by trees, hills and trails.  As light faded, he helped us see the shapes and shadows still there in the night.  The moon is an amazing light that castes beautiful shadows.  It was clear that at night there is quite a range of values.  Color, however, was not as clearly seen.  The filtered lights did help with seeing the colors on the palette.  They didn't help at all with seeing color in the environment. 


It was all quite challenging.  I tried like mad to see color but I couldn't.  Also every time a hiker went by with a headlamp or flashlight, I had to shield my eyes so I could still see the surrounding fields and trees. 


Eric did a demo both nights.   I thought it was interesting that he uses chipboard to do his field studies.  It underscores his feeling that these are studies... not finished paintings.   He talked about color temperatures when doing nocturnes and demonstrated it in his demo. 

I tried using the chipboard each night.  The chipboard really sucks up the paint, but I sort of liked using it.  While painting my own study, I had to fight my inclination to use color that I "knew" rather than color I could see.  Since I really couldn't see color, or temperature most of what I painted was my best guess.


Here are the two studies I did during the workshop -- they are pretty sad.    However, I really enjoyed Eric's workshop and I think his advice will help me with future nocturnal adventures.  I've decided, though that I will use my nocturnal studies as experiential and if there is anything I like about them when I see them in daylight, I may use them to do studio paintings -- but I'd never use them as final products.



The painting you see at the top of the page was started in about a 15 minute window while we were waiting for dark.  We were standing in the field talking about equipment and color temperature and seeing in the dark when I looked up and saw the most magnificent light on the mountains and across the field.  I sat down and put as much down as I could before it all disappeared.  I finished up at home.

Sunset In The San Gabriels



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September Moonrise

September Moonrise 18x14 O/L


So Much To Learn

Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying.  I will never be able to achieve all I want to... but hey, I guess in a way that's what life is all about isn't it?  Continually learning -- always setting new goals.  Well, at least for me that's what it's all about.


I must admit, though, that there are times when I get pretty frustrated. 


Lately I've been working on nocturnes.

I took a great night painting class from Eric Merrell and discovered that you can see almost NO color in the dark.  (duh!!).   It was a great class.  There were several rather hilarious moments of stumbling around in the dark while trying to see color in the landscape and on the palette.   I'll write about it on the next post, as I am still assimilating the information.  Sometimes (actually... most of the time) it just takes me time for information and skills to sink in and make sense before it manifests itself in the work that I do.


September Moonrise

I created this painting from the view from the balcony in front of my house/ bedroom studio.  I am extremely fortunate because I have wonderful views from both sides of my house.  

While working on it, I tried hard to apply interesting brushwork and color like  David Gallup continually demonstrates and explains.  (I so wish I was a faster learner...)

The front of my house faces the hills and canyons of the Santa Monica Mountain range.  I once (only once) walked from this side all the way over to Will Rogers State Beach Park.   It took all day and I had to call my husband to come pick me up.  But although it was really a dumb thing to do all by myself without telling anyone, I was glad I did it.


The back side of my house overlooks the San Fernando Valley.  -- Yes, we are lucky to live here.


Sometimes the moonrise is absolutely spectacular and calls out to a viewer.  This larger studio piece is my attempt to share the silvery glow of that September Moonrise. 

September Moonrise was one of two of my artworks selected as part of the inaugural exhibit of the Valley Arts Alliance at a new venue called the San Fernando Valley Arts and Cultural Center.    John Paul Thornton juried the work which is included.   Since our Valley has very few public arts venues, many different arts groups support this venture. 

Quite a few city dignitaries are expected at the grand opening this Saturday, October 25th between 5:00 and 9:00.  If you wish to go to the grand opening, you must RSVP.  (See the attached invitation for details.)

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