Journey – with illustrations

People often ask if I’ve always made art.
Truth be told, it’s a bumpy road with indirect routes.

I was about 14 when I drew these – I was obsessed with copying roses, I drew that same rose a dozen times.  One day, I drew my 4-yr-old cousin as he played.

1981-83: High School, Cincinnati, OH

During my junior year in high school I started taking art classes.  This drawing is inspired by a piece my mother made when I was a child; she is also an artist.

My art teacher, Mr. Bush, was great!  I really enjoyed drawing the fabrics he set up.

This drawing won a “Key Award” at the Scholastic Competition in Cincinnati, Ohio

My attempt to draw the isolation and alienation I saw while driving through

My studio area when I was a teenager – the corner of my bedroom 🙂  That colorful tunnel is an idea I’m still pursuing. I’m fascinated by circles and ovals.


My teenaged self-portrait.  The brown mark on the eye is from the acidic tape I used, it eventually burned the paper.


1983-86: University of Cincinnati, OH

In college, I started drawing a lot of landscapes and working with dark charcoal, erasing back to the light.  Ron Tanzi taught us a lot about creating space – I’d never thought about art in that way.  I think my work from this period is expansive and energetic.


Early portrait drawing – we were drawing each other one day in life drawing class, because the model didn’t show up.

I studied painting 101 in 1985-86, we spent the year working in oil.  I thought all of mine were awful.  It was so frustrating.  Working toward mastering skills is different from letting the art happen, and I couldn’t balance the two.

This was my studio then, a room I rented on Apple Street in Knowlton’s Corner.



1986-1996:  Madison, WI

I left school at 21, having changed majors 4 times.  At 23 I was excited to be married and living on our own in Wisconsin – and sad about having dropped out of college.  So I took non-credit classes whenever I could, in drawing, life drawing, oil painting, and watercolor painting.   In Madison, the classes were cheap and accessible, and typically the teachers were way over-qualified because there are a lot of people with MFAs and not many jobs.

Watercolors pushed me to be experimental because they’re difficult to control.

This is my ode to apartment living LOL!

Pen and ink 

This pastel drawing of gourds is the first artwork I showed at an art gallery, in 1995.  I’d started really enjoying pastels, they were an extension of the charcoals I’d done ten years earlier.   Grace Chosey put this and a couple of other drawings in her gallery.  Nothing sold; I was devastated, and took it as a sign that I was hopeless.

In 1995, I went to a weekend workshop taught by Diane Canfield-Bywaters.  It was wonderful!  

Didn’t have a studio space in Madison, we were broke, living in a tiny apartment, and I was working to support us while my then-husband was in school.

1996-99:  State College, PA

Roofs of the apartments next to ours.  Sold it on Ebay, way back in the day!  I always knew the Internet would be a good way to sell art 😉


Small watercolor postcard

My then-husband finished his degrees and we moved to State College, PA, where I started teaching art classes at the local art co-op and at the Penn State student union.  It was interesting to see what people could do well and where they struggled. 

I’ve always thought that everyone can make art – that art is merely another language.   That’s not to say there aren’t genius artists – just that one doesn’t have to be worthy of the MOMA to make a painting. 

It really ticked me off to read the New York Times’ art critic, Edward Rothstein, opining about art as the exclusive purview of geniuses.  So I wrote an Op Ed explaining that just as one doesn’t have to be Michael Jordan to shoot hoops in the backyard, one doesn’t have to be a genius to make some art.  My little letter was published, I was so tickled

I wanted to reach a larger audience with my art classes, to bring more people into art-making.  I wanted make it accessible to everyone, not just something for the elite.  So I convinced the local cable access channel to let me put on an art instruction show.  I solicited donations from art suppliers and talked my neighbors into being my students on-camera.  The results weren’t any good because I just didn’t know enough about teaching.  However, it was a wonderful learning experience for me.

Blue house in Bellefonte, PA

1999-2005:  Chicago, IL

By 1999 we were both out of work, but we had 5 cats and $8,000 cash and no obligations.  So we moved to Chicago because it’s where we’d always wanted to live. 
Soon I was temping at Coca-Cola and taking a (non-credit) Intro to Painting class every Saturday morning at the School of the Art Institute.  Studying at the SAIC was a dream come true! I finally started to feel comfortable with paint.

Bowls, circles, ovals 🙂 In 2000, I joined the Art House co-op art gallery in Oak Park, Illinois, we had a lot of fun doing exhibits!  These bowls are the first painting I sold at a gallery.  My sister played wingman for the sale – she saw a woman looking at it closely, so she approached as though she was going to purchase it.  The woman snatched it away and bought it! 🙂 

The artists of the Art House gallery volunteered at a PADS shelter for the homeless.  We’d bring in art supplies and lead them in making something to pass the time.  The people we talked to were lovely.

One night, none of them wanted to make anything.  They just wanted to talk.  After a while, I got bored and started sketching them – just fast, loose sketches.  Everyone loved their sketches – and urged me to do more and to sell them.  I was floored, and thrilled.   Here’s the one I drew of Jerry at the first session, and me drawing artist Roberta Miles at an Art House event.

I’ve drawn a couple thousand people.  It’s so satisfying to serve, to make art useful to people in a way that’s personal and meaningful to them.



Pastel from a park outside Chicago  (sold) 

Acrylic on board, 9″ x 12″?  (sold)


I think of this house as my first reasonably competent landscape painting.  It’s an oil.  It was so hot that day, I was dripping!  The missing piece of the photo is because BACK IN THE DAY I used a flatbed scanner to capture images, and I made a mistake on this one somehow (and I sold the original years ago).

Chicago River (sold)

I also drew a lot of nudes at the Palette & Chisel Academy in downtown Chicago.  Really fun place, long tradition of art.   They have life drawing marathons on Memorial Day and Labor Day.  I remember this gal had a terrible sunburn.




I played the violin for the West Suburban Symphony Orchestra for a couple of years – I loved that!  In 2002, the president of the orchestra planned a multi-media Halloween concert and wanted illustrations, like “Pictures at an Exhibition”. I didn’t have a lot of time, nor money, for these paintings and I wanted them to be large.  So I used tempera paint on the bumpy side of masonite 2′ x 4′ panels.  I decided my paintings should be tributes to famous painters – the one on the left is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in the style of Lichtenstein.  The one on the right is “Starry Night on Bald Mountain”.  I painted four others, but didn’t document them. 

In mid- 2003, I became pregnant with my twins and stopped making art completely because my joints were so painful and my thinking was really foggy.  Plus I was worried about exposure to toxic chemicals in art supplies.  I barely picked up a pencil for the next five years.


2008 – present, West Lafayette, IN

When my twins were in nearly ready for kindergarten, I volunteered at the Imagination Station (a local children’s science museum) and painted several murals.  It felt great to start painting again.  I resumed drawing quick-sketch portraits, and painted a couple of murals for friends.

I found the life drawing opportunities in town and started working with them.  One of my favorite pieces ever came about because I had two sketches laying on the floor and it seemed they might be talking to one another.  I call it “You Can Marry Her Now, But You’re Getting Her Later”

Also in 2010, I worked on a space mural with the students at Lake Village Elementary School.  My goal was for the students to lead the project as much as possible and do the actual painting themselves.  It saddens me when children’s murals are polished and sophisticated.  I know that means adults did 90% of the work, leaving kids just the task of filling in shapes. I’d rather see kids’ ideas, even if they are clumsy.

Another exciting event in 2010 was when I had the chance to study with Shane Wolf, an artist from Cincinnati who is now a world-famous big deal.  I attended two of his workshops at Manifest Gallery, in Cincinnati, studying portrait and figure drawing.  It was an amazing experience!  These are two of the drawings I did there.

In 2011, after my divorce, the artwork just poured out. I had met the owners of “Something Special” gallery when I was doing portraits at a Christmas event that was a total failure (some events are like that) and they wanted to work with me.  Talk about luck!  So we scheduled my first solo art show to open April 1, called “I Want Candy”. I made 18 pieces in 6 weeks for the show, and sold most of them.


“I Want Candy” was an exhibit where I worked in the styles of famous artists.  Sort of like my paintings for the orchestra, 10 years earlier. 

My idea was that if some of history’s best artists got on a bus and traveled to my town, these were the things they’d see and the way they’d paint them.

Next I drew and painted a whole bunch of Lafayette landscapes (all of these were sold)



Not sure where the idea came from, but I started entering my artwork in the Indiana State Fair – and was thrilled to win some ribbons for my drawings and paintings!

2012: Purdue

One afternoon I was sitting on the sidewalk, working on a drawing, and it hit me how stuck I was.  Was this it?   Was I just supposed to crank out a couple dozen competent landscapes a month?  What about pushing my skills?  Tackling my weaknesses?  Connecting to a deeper meaning in art? 

About a week later I had a long conversation with my friend Kristy, who told me about her plans for going back to college.  I was very excited and the next day I logged on to Purdue’s website to find that very day was the application deadline!

So I went back to school to finish my BA in Fine Art.  It was wonderful!  I was able to study a lot of art history, take design classes, and also take graduate painting classes.  This is a painting I made in my 3rd year – it took me 4 years to finish, because I had to vary my credit load in order to work and take care of my family.

At one point I was taking Design 105 and Art History 383 at the same time.  As I was working on the classic “3 black squares/1 red” design exercise, I also happened to read the Delacroix quotation “A true draughtsman must be able to draw a man falling from a third-story window before he hits the ground”.  Well – here ya go!  Minimalist version!


When we were learning how to use Photoshop I made this one – I call it “Venus II:  Electric Bouguereau”. LOLOLOL

While I was at Purdue I started teaching “Paint & Party” events.  When I’d taught art to adults before, I was sad to see how frustrating it was for them.  So I loved the idea of helping people make one nice painting in a session.  I don’t just tell them what to do – I show them how to use paint to express themselves.  I respond and dialogue with them in much the same way we do in art school.

I think this is really profound – to define art as a language and listen to people.  I feel so proud of their art!  It’s amazing to see them appear on the canvas.

I’ve done hundreds of parties, with thousands of participants. 



The last thing I did before I graduated from Purdue was take Basic Painting.  Again.  This was at least the third, if not the fifth, time that I took Intro Painting.  I’ve always thought that the basics of art are so vast and complex that it takes a long time to achieve competency.  And I knew the teacher was great with color theory.

Here are some copies I made for an assignment:

This is a pixilated copy of an older painting – our assignment was to pick out the most essential color for each square. 


I call this one “Oh Come All Ye Megabytes”.  It’s acrylic, about 24″ x 26″ and was inspired by Purdue’s “Dawn or Doom” symposium about artificial intelligence.  

Still fascinated by circles and ovals, I painted a lot of bowls while I was at Purdue


I also made time for some other events.  In 2013, a local charity (“CASA”) was holding a fundraiser in conjunction with the Indiana Bar Association.  The idea was that the Bar Association needed a piece of art about our local courthouse for their collection of courthouses around Indiana.  So they decided to have a contest, and invited local artists to do a painting of the courthouse so they would have a bunch of paintings to choose from.  They hung everyone’s paintings in a nice exhibit with a lovely reception, and CASA retained a commission on the paintings that sold. 

I offered two pieces – one was a conventional drawing of the courthouse.  A local business purchased it, I was so tickled.  It’s the one on the left, below.

The other piece is unconventional;  it’s inspired by Dali, I call it “The Persistence of Politics”.  I sold it a couple of years later, to a delightful lawyer.


The following summer, I was invited by the Athens of Indiana Art Gallery in Crawfordsville to participate in the art exhibit and contest for the Montgomery County courthouse for their bar association, and they DID pick my drawing!  So now I have a piece in the Indiana Bar collection.  Here it is:

I also did some figurative work at Purdue.



In 2015, a bunch of us painted fiberglass bears as a fundraiser for the Greater Lafayette Museum of Art.  Mine is based on seeing Monarch butterflies migrate back in 1995.  We happened to be hiking on a trail in Wisconsin (without a camera, of course) when thousands of Monarch butterflies came through.

In 2016, I complete two projects for the Otterbein Public Library.  This painting in the clerestory shows children (my twins, actually) playing with light.



A group of religious leaders planned a memorial for the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and asked for an artist to participate by illustrating the theme of their event, which was sunflowers.  So I painted this live, starting as exploding buildings and morphing into sunflowers.


In 2017, I participated in a plein air painting fundraiser for the Caterpillar Company’s anniversary.  I painted this engine during their employee picnic.  My painting was chosen for an honor, which meant I could select a charity to receive their donation.  I chose NICHES.

I painted a series of murals for the Veteran’s Administration retirement center in West Lafayette.  They are  4′ x 8′ and I used acrylic paint:


The second VA mural was really challenging – I wanted to place this lovely family at the Monument Circle in Indianapolis.


(When the VA came to pick up their paintings )



In the summer of 2017, I did a lot of portraits for Big Car Collaborative, as part of their “placemaking” in Lafayette.


In 2017 and 2018 I made many emotional, abstract paintings and collages inspired by politics.


So I decided to create an installation piece called “At the Table: Red and Blue”.   In 2018, I created “At the Table II:  White and Black”.  Then “At the Table III:  Your Plate”.

Red and Blue  – TAF


White and Black – Athens of Indiana Art Gallery

The following summer I invited the public to create at Your Table – a Spark Placemaking event in Indianapolis.

Athens of Indiana Art Gallery

I have been very fortunate to do several projects with the Athens of Indiana Gallery in Crawfordsville.  Here’s their talented and passionate Executive Director, Diana McCormick


I taught a preschool art class for Athens, and we had an exhibit of the students’ work.  Our theme was that children belong at the table, too.

I also teach workshops at Athens – this was a portrait event:


 “Plastic Ocean, Paper Fish”



Portraits of Coworkers



In 2022 I started experimenting with Procreate.


Helen Bass Williams

In 2022, I was chosen to paint the official portrait for Professor Helen Bass Williams, who was the first Black professor at Purdue University.  She taught French, counseled students, and helped establish the African-American Studies program and the Black Cultural Center.  Her portrait is entitled “To Love and To Learn”

In 2023, I completed a series of portraits for the Bob Rohrman Toyota Auto Group in Lafayette.


In June, 2023, I competed in Art64, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Our challenge was t o paint a 16” x 20” piece on a predetermined subject in exactly one hour.  This was my piece in round 1 (which I won).  I was defeated in round 2 by the artist who later won the competition.  Fascinating experience!



Here are some more landscapes I painted and sold in 2023.