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{Artist Feature} Debra Keirce: Painting the Hauntingly Familiar…in miniature!

URNITURE, oil, 12×16.

Debra Keirce is an experienced chemical engineer, a mother, a wife, a full time artist. Her art expresses the places she’s been, the people she’s met, the challenges she’s faced. Her paintings tell stories of a mother sending her grown children out into the world, a creative soul with a burning passion, and an unpredictable journey through life.

Using oil or acrylic paints, Debra paints in a tightly rendered realistic style with classical, fantasy and Trompe L’Oeil influences.  Debra specializes in small and miniature paintings, ranging in size from two feet down to two inches. Part of her process for creating miniature fine art involves the use of magnifying lenses and close range binoculars. She enjoys demonstrating these techniques.

I recently had the privilege of asking Debra a few questions about her techniques, art, influences, and of course favorite indulgences!


Q) You specialize in miniature paintings (smaller than 25 square inches), what led you to start painting miniatures and what keeps you hooked on them? 
A)  I started painting in miniatures when I heard about them from some online art groups I joined in the 1990’s. I really liked the people, and the first miniature shows I went to were such great experiences. I came home so inspired and with a whole new group of online artist friends. I continue to enjoy creating miniatures because I have an established presence in the miniature artist community, including several signature society memberships. I sell well and win awards at the shows. In 2015 alone I was honored with 7 awards, many of them “Best in Show” for my miniature and small format art, in shows all over the US.

So I guess I feel like I’m on a roll… why stop? Plus, shipping expenses are not an issue when you work in miniature. Many artists will avoid certain venues because shipping costs are prohibitive for them. My minis go anywhere and everywhere. I have several in Johannesburg South Africa right now at the World Federation of Miniatures show in Hyde Park!

BLOOMS, oil, 4×4

Q)  How are the tools and techniques you use in miniature different from larger paintings?
In miniature, you really can’t do a drawing transfer. If you do, you don’t have much detail in it. Think about it. If you did a transfer on a 1 inch head, how much could you really fit in that face? So, I paint directly on the smooth (not canvas – never canvas) panel, and all my drawing is done in the painting, with the brush. Also, you really can’t apply typical brush strokes in miniatures. I love impasto highlights and texture in fur, but I achieve these with clay tools, exacto blades, embossing tools – whatever I need to push the paint around and sculpt it into the space I want it to occupy. Most of the painting is done using stipple or hashmark brush strokes. Otherwise, all the same art concepts for composition, color, glazing techniques, etc. apply for miniatures. The goal is not to squeeze the most detail into a painting as you can. The goal is to create a little jewel of a painting that, when magnified many times over, remains tightly rendered and looks like a piece you could hang above your mantel. Miniature paintings can be any subject or style – abstract, impressionistic, realistic, etc.

In this way, I create miniature paintings that fill a niche for collectors who love art and want to collect many different pieces, but have price point and hanging space considerations.

Deb’s studio collection

Q) Your paintings are wonderfully full of many interesting objects that seem to tell a story. Do you collect these objects with the stories/paintings in mind?
I often do. I have several series of painting ideas floating around in my head. (See photo to right of the still life items I have collected.) When I look at them, they are a sort of steampunk collection – Metal and lace and industrial items infused with glass and wood and brick textures. I call my work hauntingly familiar when people ask, because that is what I think of when I look at my collection of thrift shop still life props. I got this idea from Carrie Waller, a wonderful artist friend of mine. I have pictures of various rooms that would comprise my dream home – the home I would love to decorate for a collector. Every one of my paintings has to fit in one of those rooms. So when I collect props and develop ideas for paintings, I think of those rooms and where that painting would hang in them.

WINE LABELS, oil, 9×7.

Q) What led you to found the WAM: Women Artists Mentors group? What goals have the members set out for the group?
A)  I founded the group when I was listening to an “Artists Helping Artists” podcast a few years ago. Leslie Saeta hosts a show with lots of useful tips for artists, and her discussion about starting a mentoring group where the members support each other in their art careers, was something I had been thinking about for many years. Ironically, Leslie interviewed us a few months ago, and you can go to her list of podcasts to see the episode WAM aired on, if you’d like to hear more about us.  
As artists we are pretty solitary creatures. It is wonderful to have a group of like minded friends to consult with. We refer to ourselves as “WAM – Artists with a punch.” That’s because we believe that working together we can be much more impactful than working alone. WAM has many, many goals. But the ones we are concentrating on at the moment include (if you go to our Facebook page at you can follow us to see if we achieve our goals) :
1. Create a Facebook Page. We’ve been posting videos of our studios on the Facebook page. At some point, when we have more followers, we will also create a website.
2. Travel!   We have traveled together to several locations for art related experiences together. These include DC, Charleston, and Tokyo. Our next trip is to Venice in May. Next spring we’ll be in Montana for a group show we are organizing at The WaterWorks Museum there. We are working to organize some retreats as well, and we hope to invite others to participate in those at some point.
3. Group workshop experiences.  In the workshops we will offer all 5 of ourselves up as instructors, but we haven’t worked out the details for that just yet.
4. Inspiring other mentoring groups.  We really enjoy telling others about our experience. Our hope is that other artists will also create successful mentoring groups and do great things. Our next group event is an interview on Linda Fisler’s AMO Art Chat podcast. That is going to happen on May 18th.

2016WorkshopsPosterQ) As if you aren’t busy enough, you also started DebKArt Home Studios! In 2016 alone you have an amazing lineup up of talented painters teaching workshops (Sarah Siltala, Cindy Procious, Shana Levenson, Chris Saper, and David Chiefetz). What was the inspiration to creating your own Studio?
A)  Thank you for asking! is the place to go for people who want to learn more about what Sarah Siltala, Cindy Procious, Shana Levenson (with her assistant David Kassan) – a two for that one!, Chris Saper and David Cheifetz will be teaching. I worked hard to get a huge amount of diversity in this program. We will be learning the glazing techniques of the Venetian and Flemish masters, photoshop for impactful still life compositions, charcoal drawing the portrait from life, capturing a live model’s essence in oil paint, the business of being an artist, posing and photographing live models for photo reference, and mastering focus in still life palette knife paintings. I will attach the poster I’ve been using to get the word out on these workshops.For a few years now, I have been facilitating workshops for others, which led to hosting workshops here in my home studios.

Coming back from The Portrait Society of America conference in Atlanta last year, Teresa Oaxaca was waiting in the airport with me for our plane to board. I told her I was hosting Kate Stone and then Juan Jr Ramirez in the coming months, to teach in my home studios. Teresa suggested I come up with a name to make it stick in peoples’ heads. Of course, I argued I was only inviting friends over to paint. It wasn’t a legit business. I just love being around artists and this was a great way to get to know more of them. Fast forward to Juan’s stay at my home. Juan is a very thoughtful person. So the last day he was here, he asked me to go for a walk with him, and he talked about his time staying in VT and painting with the High Street Painters there. His friend hosted artists in her home studios. By the time our walk was over, Juan had me thinking of all the win/win scenarios if I got just a little more serious about launching this workshop hosting idea into something bigger. I already had the equipment and the routine, so when I decided to do this, things just fell right into place. And because I had attended the portrait conference, I met many of the artists face to face, and I was able to talk with them about coming to teach.

POTPOURRI, oil, 7×9

Here’s the thing. There are so many talented artists in the metro DC area. Art leagues and groups have sprouted up all over. But Northern Virginia is not an artsy culture at all. It’s politics, government contracts, information technology. “Art” is what you get at, Target or Home Goods. Don’t get me wrong. There are certainly collectors here and people who appreciate good art. But it’s not a part of our culture the way it is in Santa Fe or Charleston. So, I feel like DebKArt Home Studios fills a need for A-list artists to come and share their expertise with the growing community of artists here who are hungry for their insights. Also, I see this as a relaxed atmosphere where students meet new lifelong friends. One of our groups of students has already got plans to meet up again this year and enjoy each other’s company.

Q) What is your favorite piece of work that you have created and why?
A) I really don’t have a favorite, because I feel like my favorite piece is always the last one I created. I hope that never changes. If I start to feel like I am no longer improving, I fear it may take the wind right out of my sails. I love that you can paint for a lifetime and still have more to learn.

AMBER WAVES, oil, 7×9.

Q) What are you working on at the moment?
A)  I’m working on five different pieces at the moment, but the one that’s closest to the finish line is one I think I will probably call “Amber Waves.”  It is a 7 inch x 9 inch oil painting that shows how subtle color variations of warms and cools, coming from Egyptian glass bottles, undulate over a background of lace. Everyone can invent their own narrative, but I was thinking about the way life sucks you in and pushes you back, like ocean waves. So when you look at this piece, that fold of cloth sucks you into its fold, the large amber decanter (which I picked up on that trip to Tokyo I mentioned earlier) pushes you back, with its steamy insides looking like they might just pop that cork. The detail in the lace behind that pale bottle sucks you in as the pale bottle is almost transparent against the background. The grouping of bottles to the right pushes you back, sort of guarding and stopping entry at that side of the painting. Those were my crazy thoughts as I was composing this piece.

Jennifer Kahn Barlow, LINDOR TREAT, oil, 8×10.

Q)  What is your favorite sweet treat to indulge in?
Lindor Truffles

A)  Of all the places you have been around the world, what is your favorite dessert spot?

 I loved France, because they had the most amazing cheese and fruit plates for dessert. Specifically, Fegersheim in the Alsace part of France, along the German border. French food with a bit of German influence. Of course, I was 6 months pregnant when I was there, so my sense of smell and my and tastebuds were all in overdrive. One day I want to go back and see if it’s as awesome when I’m not preggers!

Thank you for this feature Jennifer! I am thrilled to share my little corner of the art world with your readership. Have an artful day everyone.
For more information on Debra, her amazing paintings, workshops and WAM please visit, follow her on Facebook at and Instagram
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{Artist Feature} Kathryn Freeman: Artistic & Mythical Storyteller Extraordinaire

The Sunday Paper
The Sunday Paper, oil on linen, 36” x 48″

Kathryn Freeman is a narrative painter who combines classical composition with magic realism. Freeman’s paintings have been exhibited in galleries in Europe and across the United States, including New York, Los Angeles, London, Boston, Washington and Baltimore. Her paintings are in numerous private and public collections and she has completed several large-scale public mural commissions including two, three-story murals for the Main Public Library in Jacksonville, Florida designed by AM Stern Architects. Freeman has written and illustrated several books including Mr. Hubbard’s Heart.

Into the Trees
Into the Trees, oil on linen, 36” x 48”

Freeman has been the recipient of an Ingram Merrill Fellowship, an Elizabeth Greenshield Foundation Fellowship, and three Maryland State Council of the Arts Individual Artist Awards. Her work has been reviewed in The New York Times, Arts Magazine, Art Forum, American Artist and numerous other publications. Freeman taught drawing and painting at the Corcoran from 1996 to 2013. Previous to that, she taught at the New York Academy of Art and Brooklyn College. She received her MFA from Brooklyn College and BFA from the University of New Hampshire. She also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Freeman lives with her husband and two dogs and two cats in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

I have exhibited with Kathryn at Strathmore several times, including the acclaimed Women Chefs Exhibition this past fall.  Recently, I had the privilege of asking Kathryn some more detailed questions about her work and influences.

Goodnight Moon
Goodnight Moon, oil on linen, 48” x 48″

Q.)  Your works are all so narrative, do you have a story in mind when painting?
A.)  Yes. I always have a story or a narrative idea in mind when I start a painting. It can be a line from a book or a poem, or even a piece of music. Sometimes it is inspired by something I heard on the radio or read in the news. I usually begin a painting by writing down a few words. Then I draw a few lines on a sheet of gridded paper. The lines are usually the beginning of a space. Then I write a few more words, then draw a little more — a horizon line, a few perspective lines, a rectangle becomes a window, a chair appears and then a figure … I always write about a painting while I am in the process of conceiving it. Sometimes the words become poems and the poems inform the painting, sometimes the painting develops more quickly and informs the poem. I started Stories from the Woods with both words and images to convey what the woods mean to me — the stories … the trees whisper as I walk beneath them. I have always believed there is a close relationship between painting and poetry. I found this years ago and I believe it:

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.”   Author unknown

Chef and Sous Chefs
Chef and Sous Chefs, oil on linen, 32” x 36″

Q.)  Clearly, story telling is part of your artistry as you are also a storybook author and illustrator. What led you to publish?  Do you have plans to publish any more stories?
A.)  I have always loved writing as well as painting. And I have always written stories and poems as part of my process. In recent years I have wanted more from my paintings than a painting can naturally express and I have found myself envious of both music and literature for their capacity to evoke emotion. I tried illustrating a few books but I quickly learned that I am not an illustrator (and I have great respect for real illustrators!). I had a story in my head about a lonely man who loses his heart and goes on a journey to find it. I tried writing it without pictures, and I tried painting it without words. It became clear that I needed both to tell the story. And the story became a book, Mr. Hubbard’s Heart.

I decided to publish it because it is about the need to give and receive compassion in order to feel complete. And because I feel this is an important message, I decided to publish it. I also wanted it to be “pure” in a way that might not be possible through a traditional publishing house. I published it myself which allowed me artistic freedom as well as the freedom to give all the profit from the book toward helping homeless animals.

I am working on a book right now that is about a young artist who is struggling to understand the meaning of love and the importance of memories, while growing into who she is as a person. It will be a collection of drawings and words woven together. I do think my reason for both painting and writing is the same in that I am trying to express something meaningful and truthful about the human spirit.

Rabbit Summer, oil on linen, 48” x 48″

Q.)  You have lived around the world (New York, Warsaw, London).  What place influenced your work the most and why?
A.)  I think the ten years I lived abroad had a profound effect on my development as an artist. It allowed me to think clearly, unaffected by trends in the art world, and cultivate my own sensibility in response to the world around me rather than in response to the art world. Also living in Poland, in particular, intensified my innate passion for narrative and allegory. We lived there during Solidarity, then martial law, while Poland was still a communist country in which the state tried to suppress free expression. Artists and writers had to express themselves more or less through code/symbolism, so that way of thinking was second nature and quite profound. Also living in Europe gave me the incredible opportunity to spend a lot of time in art museums in cities I might not otherwise have visited. I think in particular of a collection of Matisses in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, that no one in the West had seen at that point in time. As for New York … well, I love New York. I was lucky enough to go to graduate school there and work there for six years. It is like a giant engine of creative energy and it rubs off on you.

Jacksonville Library Murals, Allegory of a Library, 18’w x 36’h
Jacksonville Library Murals, Allegory of a Library, 18’w x 36’h

Q.)  Your extensive murals are very impressive!  What kind of preparation is involved?
A.)  The best thing about painting murals is having the opportunity to work on a huge scale. But there is a lot of preliminary work because once you get on that scale you want to do it right. I always make detailed preliminary drawings and color sketches so that I can scale them up on a grid. For public murals I also do a great deal of research and interviews with the community that will be living with the mural.

Q.)  What is your favorite piece of work that you have created and why?
A.)  That is a hard question to answer. I always feel that I have an idea and an image in my mind and I strive to get that onto a canvas. I never get it exactly and that is what drives me to keep making paintings. So I think the paintings that are my favorite are the ones that are a little closer to what is in my head. A few that would fall into that category are “The Queen of Hearts”, “The Weather Channel”, and a more recent ones “”Moon River” and “Lakehouse”.

Moon River, oil on linen, 48" x 48"
Moon River, oil on linen, 48″ x 48″

Q.)  What are you working on at the moment?

A.)  I have spent the last two months building and priming some large canvases and working on the story I mentioned. This week I finally started sketches for a new painting. The first three words are “mending the tigers”.

For more information on Kathryn and her amazing work, please check out her website,, “like” her on Facebook at, “follow” her on instragram at, and twitter at

Interested in Mr. Hubbard’s Heart?  It is now available on Amazon at  and this month all proceeds go to Kathryn’s favorite DC rescue, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, for their emergency medical fund.

Armchair Blues, oil on linen, 36” x 48"
Armchair Blues, oil on linen, 36” x 48″
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{Artist Feature} Tom Semmes: Making his Famous Artist Lineage Proud

Alley Way, 16x20, oil on canvas.
Alley Way, oil on canvas, 16×20.

Inspiration for painting first came to Tom Semmes from exploring the rolling hills of his Potomac, MD home.  As a young teenager this inspiration was ignited by seeing similar views mirrored in museum paintings and art books.  He was encouraged in his path by his artist grandmother and his aunt, daughter of French artist Eduardo Benito. He emulated the work of Pierre Bonnard on view at the Phillips Collection.

He majored in Fine Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design.  After developing a career in the field of graphic design, he returned to his original passion for painting, studying under Walt Bartman at the Yellow Barn Studio in Glen Echo, MD.

His work is defined by solid and naturalistic form created by the study of the observable world and developed with rich color and expressive brush strokes. His subject matter frequently includes urban landscapes that focus on the interplay of light and shadow and are often reminiscent to that of Edward Hopper. Currently he lives in Frederick, MD, and is enrolled in a three-year Master Painting program taught by Glen Kessler at the Compass Atelier in Rockville, MD.

Rocks at Angler's, oil on canvas
Rocks at Angler’s, oil on canvas, 16 x 20.

I was recently able to catch up with Tom and asking a few questions of my own.

Q) You have such beautiful landscapes! Do you usually paint en plein air or from a photo?
A)  I originally painted “plein air” around the rural landscape I grew up in.  I furthered that exploration in my studies with Walt Bartman, who excelled at painting on the spot in a wide variety of places and seasons. The advantage of plein air is that I can directly observe the subtleties of light and of color that a camera just would not be able to capture. With a photograph, I am limited to just what the photo captured and not the feelings, sounds, and scents that a particular place inspires. The drawback is that you have to paint fast because the light and weather conditions change rapidly. Recently I am painting from photographs, which are so useful in capturing details that would be impossible to render on the spot, but using my experience of plein air to reinterpret the colors that one would actually see. I am considering going back out to paint plein air but picking one view and returning to it again and again instead of trying to capture it all at one go.

Mom, oil on canvas
Mom, oil on canvas, 24 x 18.

Q) What about a certain scenes inspires you to paint it? Are sunny, bright days your favorite to paint?
A)  I am most attracted to bright sun light. I really like trying to capture the reflected light that bounces back into shadow areas. My favorite light is the soft, warm light of early morning. It is something I see every day walking around my home in downtown Frederick.  I love the complexity and surprising contrasts that urban scenes offer.


Discount Liquor, oil on canvas
Discount Liquor, oil on canvas, 16 x 20.

Q)  You seem to have done extensive drawings of people; however, all your paintings lack figures, until very recently. How did you come about this transition?
A)  You are not the first person to point this out. Every time I tried to adding figure to a landscape the painting immediately seemed smaller. The figure would attract so much interest and seem somewhat pasted on and not part of the larger whole. So I have tended to keep my figure drawing and landscape painting separate. Recently I am experimenting with incorporating figures in a landscape, but I realize that it requires a very different approach. I just can’t paint the figure in the same loose style I paint, say, a cloud. It is more difficult and the work takes much longer, but hopefully it will turn out more interesting

Sunny Pond, oil on canvas
Sunny Pond, oil on canvas, 16 x12.

Q)  You are currently enrolled in the Certificate program at the Compass Atelier, what is the best lesson you have learned so far?
A)  I think the best thing I have learned is to keep pushing a work beyond what I think is possible. Very early in the class I remember doing a drawing of a simple still life. It did a passable study with accurate perspective and values. But the instructor, Glen Kessler, kept pushing me to look at every edge and change in value until I had looked at everything in depth. At some point the drawing seemed to just pop off the page with an energy I have never experienced before. Another valuable lesson was how to wash my brushes. Funny that I went to art school and no one every taught me that!

Sun Flowers, oil on canvas
Sun Flowers, oil on canvas, 30 x 30.

Q)  What is your favorite piece of work that you have created and why?
A)  Usually my favorite work is the one I am working on at the moment. If it is going well I feel really attached to it. It takes a few weeks for its allure to wear off so I can see it properly. I still like the painting of sunflowers in store window that I submitted to the Kensington show.  It could help that it won first prize in the landscape category. The painting still has a nice balance between accurate rendering of a complicated subject matter, loose brushwork, and a good sense of light. But, it also seems to be telling a story that can only be ‘told’ in a painting.

Q) What are you working on at the moment?

Sunday Hikers, oil on canvas
Sunday Hikers, oil on canvas, 10 x 8.

A)  I am still working on a large landscape of a view from Sugarloaf Mountain that features people. It is taking quite a while. Also, I am working on a small work of a view of the door to a liquor store near my house.  It has a  strong angle of light and deep shadows.

For more information about Tom and his fantastic works, please check out his website, and “Like” him on Facebook at North Pointe Studio.

Cloudy Reflection, oil on canvas
Cloudy Reflection, oil on canvas, 16 x 12.
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{Artist Feature} Kara Bigda: Simplicity in Watercolors

Inspired by the simplicity of everyday life, Kara K. Bigda enjoys rendering paintings that capture the light through interesting yet quiet compositions while celebrating the design, patterns and surface textures found in her subjects.  “While my style and skills are ever-evolving, my interest in finding the beauty in everyday objects and places, as well as a drive to improve stays constant.  In the midst of this artistic journey I hope that my paintings will bring people the same joy that I have had in creating them.”

The Gourd, 8″ x8″, watercolor on aquabord

Award-winning artist, Kara has always loved to draw and make art.  After graduating in 1991 from Amherst College with a concentration in Studio Art, she worked for five years in the insurance industry before obtaining her M.Ed. and teaching Art in the Quabbin Regional School District.  In 2008, Kara resigned from Quabbin in order to create art full-time, experimenting with many different media before committing herself to the beautiful transparency of watercolor.

Kara works and lives in West Brookfield, Massachusetts with her husband and 2 dogs.  She continues to exhibit her work in various local and national juried shows.  Her website is

New Braintree Winter, 6″ x 6″, watercolor on aquabord

I have admired Kara’s work online for some time now and I have a huge affinity for New England artist!  Kara was so generous to let me pick her brain and ask a few questions.

Q)  Of all the media, what made you choose watercolor?

A) I’m not really sure.  I’ve just always been drawn to it.  I like the challenge of controlling a medium that can be somewhat uncontrollable.  The serendipity of what occurs when the pigment, water and surface all meet, is exciting to me.  I’m also fascinated with layering the paint in translucent washes so that each layer shines through; I find planning this process fun.  Finally, I just love to paint.  The act of applying paint to a surface is peaceful, almost meditative to me.

Tickets, Please, 6″ x 6″, watercolor on paper

Q) You have some great series of paintings that seem to run the gamut from fruit, to pitchers, to sweets, to barns, to Fisher Price toy people.  What is typically the impetus to start a series?  Please don’t leave out the story behind the Fisher Price people.

 A)  Thank you.  I think I’m most often driven by light and design; however, I’m also kind of into what’s easily accessible (truth be told!) Ha!  All the things that I love and that surround me usually become the subjects for my paintings.

I’m drawn to simple arrangements and dramatic light.  It seems that windows appear quite often in my paintings, as they are an important source of light for my set-ups.  They also add dynamic verticals, horizontals or diagonals to a composition.   Fruit, pottery, sweets, barns/architecture . . . well, they’re the things that are always handy, and it helps that I love their lines, form and textures.

Oh . . . and the Fisher Price people . . . they were my favorite toys as child and painting them has given me the perfect opportunity to purchase them on eBay and play with them again!  (Under the guise of “work” of course.)  I also LOVE using all those colors!

Value #3, 8″ x 8″, watercolor on paper, mounted on cradled board

Q)  Your handling of glass especially is exquisite; do you have any words of advice for others tackling the tricky subject of glass and translucency?

 A)  Thank you.  I find painting glass, great practice in exercising the fundamentals of drawing.  What I mean is, I am forced to really focus my attention on shape, value and their relationships to each other.  Because really, with whatever we are drawing or painting we are creating an illusion of depth and form on a flat surface through the use of shape and value.  This is very basic when painting glass, as it’s all abstracted shapes.  I also like using a surface that allows me to pull out color and put color back down throughout my process.  I find this way of painting lends to the realism of a piece. (I use Fabriano brand paper (esp. soft-pressed) and Ampersand aquabord).

I guess my advice would be “Turn off your brain and its preconceived notions of what something is `supposed’ to look like and only rely on your eyes, focusing only on the shapes and values and constantly comparing them to each other.”  This is actually core to any drawing from observation.  (Also, if you are rendering from a photo, turn it and your paper upside-down, your brain won’t try so hard to make sense of the shapes).

This Little Piggy, 12″ x 12″, watercolor on cradled aquabord

Q)  What does a typical day look like for you?

 A)  Oh boy . . . I like to be in the studio by 9:00 or 10:00 am and working through until around 5:00 or 6:00 pm when my husband comes home.  I’ll often work at night until 9:00 or 10:00 pm.

I do struggle though with budgeting my time between painting and all the prep that goes with it (setting up a still life, photographing, editing, etc.), and the marketing, blogging, social media (easy time-killing distraction!!), business side to painting.  I want to have a stricter schedule that would allot certain days/times for each task, but I’m just not that organized.

(Oh . . . and sometimes I get distracted with housekeeping chores or napping at around 2:30 pm.  Those are the days I work later into the evening).  😉

Backlit Birches, 50″ x 40″, watercolor on cradled aquabord

Q)  What is your favorite piece of work that you have created and why?

A) Hmmmm . . . I’m not sure, probably the large 40” x 50” birch tree forest painting I did over the summer.  It was a real departure for me, and very challenging and I think it came out well.  I’m also excited about the size of the piece.  It has me thinking larger for future work.  Because this painting forced me to grow as an artist, it’s probably my favorite piece.

Holiday Greetings, 14″ x 18″, watercolor on aquabord

Q)  What are you working on at the moment?

A)  I’m working on 4 commissions for Christmas (all on aquabord), and an 18” x 24” aquabord of a building.

For more information on Kara and her amazing works, check out her website above and “like” her on Facebook at

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{Artist Feature} Hillary Osborn: Abstract in the Representational World

Marsh at Old Dam Rd. Oil, 24×36.

Hillary Osborn’s paintings have an underlying sense of design and balance.  Influenced by Fairfield Porter and Richard Diebenkorn, Hillary is primarily a plein air landscape and still life painter.  One of the major challenges while working outdoors is the constant movement of nature. She finds stability and order of design within that chaos and change. She looks for the abstract in the representational world.

Eel Pond, Woods Hole. Oil, 30×30.

Childhood summer vacations were spent either on Cape Cod where her family history is traced back to the whaling trade on Martha’s Vineyard or up in Muskoka Canada visiting family and her great Uncle Lowrie Warrener’s studio and cottage. Warrener was a well- known Canadian abstract modernist painter (1900-1983). After ten years of painting in Provincetown and exhibiting her work in New York City, Hillary Osborn and her husband Doug Rugh, also an oil painter, moved to studio/gallery space in 2008 at the historic Queen’s Buyway building on Palmer Ave in Falmouth Massachusetts.

Hillary holds a master’s degree in fine arts from UNCG in North Carolina and attended the New York Studio School, studying under Graham Nickson and John Dubrow.  She is an artist member of the Copley Society in Boston.

I met Hillary this summer on Cape Cod when I visited her amazing gallery.  We immediately struck up a great conversation and I was left with so many questions, as I had to leave to catch a bus.  Lucky for me, Hillary generously answered my questions a couple months later.

Rachel’s Garden. Oil, 14×11.

Q)  What led you to pursue an artist life?  How did you choose oil painting to be your medium of choice? 
A)  My high school art teacher, Janet Taylor, encouraged me to study art in college. She gave me a book on Degas and entered my work into competitions. It was a subtle influence, but just what I needed at that time in my life. Oil painting was something I took to while I was at UMass. I signed up for a basic color class where we had to paint in the style of Cezanne. My painting was so naive at the time, but I was hooked on oil painting right away.

Q)  Can you describe your working habits?  How do you choose your subjects (landscape or still life)?
A)  Working habits: I am in the studio 3-4 days a week year-round and outdoors most other days in the spring summer and fall. I like to exercise before I go to the studio so that I am energized for painting. A cup of coffee or tea also helps.

September Wind. Oil, 12×18.

My subjects are often the landscapes near where I live. I like the familiar. I try to let them choose me. The key is to pay attention all the time. When I work in the studio I am not as rushed for time so I like to play with composition and use the still life as my subject.

Q) How does living on Cape Cod influence your work?
A)  I summered on the Vineyard as a child. My grandparents grew up there. It feels like I belong here on Cape Cod, close to the ocean. It is what I know; what is familiar.

Yellow. Oil, 12x9.
Yellow. Oil, 12×9.

Q) You share a studio and gallery with your husband, Doug Rugh. What are the challenges and advantages to working so closely together?  Do you collaberate on many projects?

A)  We are rarely in the studio together. We divide our time between plein air painting, managing the studio/gallery, and time with our kids. We pass the baton (brush) to the other one with both work and family life. We rarely collaborate on paintings, but we do talk quite a bit about what we are each working on. If my husband needs a model I am always happy to sit for him.

Q)  What’s your favorite piece of work that you have created and why?
A)  My favorite paintings are the ones that show me something personal and subtle.
Still Marsh. Oil, 8×14.Q)  What are you working on at the moment?


A)  At the moment I am working on a large cranberry field landscape that I painted en plein air a few weeks ago. The bog was just starting to turn color but the trees were still a rich sap green. The sky was clear and you could see quite far into the distance.

For more information on Hillary, check out .   If you are on Cape Cod, go visit her gallery in Falmouth, MA and and

Pink, Lemon and Lime. Oil, 20×16.
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{Artist Feature} Karen Merkin – Love of all that is Detail

"Waterfront Reflections," 16 x 20, oil on canvas.
“Waterfront Reflections,” 16 x 20, oil on canvas.

Karen Merkin’s fascination lies with the the use of color and the subtlety of light and shadow on those colors.  She is especially intrigued by reflections and patterns of light on glass, particularly in windows and doorways.  Painting everyday objects with attention to fine detail is Karen’s specialty as her recent oil paintings are in the photo-realistic style.  Karen attributes her love of detail to her childhood, as her favorite gift was always a new box of 64 crayons which she used to copy pictures of objects from books.

Painting has been a part of Karen’s life for over 45 years.  Throughout her adult life, while working full time and raising her daughters, Karen

"Dewdrops," 8 x 10, oil on canvas.
“Dewdrops,” 8 x 10, oil on canvas.

still found ways to incorporate her art.  When her children were young, she started a business selling her painted designs on needlepoint canvas. She created several alphabets to produce custom work for stores and her original designs were sold in a national needlepoint catalogue.

Now that her daughters are grown and she has more time to devote to painting, Karen has immersed herself in her painting practice.  She has enjoyed studying with fabulous artists, such as Walt Bartman, Nancy Tankersley, and Christine Lashley, Alyssa Monks, and Glen Kessler.

I recently caught up with Karen and was able to ask her some more pointed questions about her artistic career.

"Doorway Reflections," 14 x 11, oil on canvas.
“Doorway Reflections,” 14 x 11, oil on canvas.

Q)  What has been your artistic journey so far?  How did you begin your art career?  What led you to oil painting out of all mediums?
A)  My husband has been my most enthusiastic supporter. He is my photographer, my framer, my business manager, and my head cheerleader. He got me started painting by introducing me to the various mediums. I started with oils, but disliked the toxic fumes. Then I tried acrylics, but didn’t like how quickly they dried. In the last few years, I’ve been using water-mixable oils and am pleased with the results–slower drying like oils, and the ease of cleanup with water.
About a year and a half ago, he encouraged me to push beyond my comfort level to enter juried exhibits and art shows. In fact in my very first show, I won a first place in portraits!  Some great feedback from family and friends, several awards, and a number of sales, have given me the confidence to keep going.

"So Much Yarn, So Little Time," 11 x 14, oil on canvas.
“So Much Yarn, So Little Time,” 11 x 14, oil on canvas.

Q)  What about the photo-realistic style appeals to you the most?
A)  The highest praise I can receive on my painting is when someone tells me my image looks so real they feel they can reach out and touch the object. I’ve always loved to see a painting that is so realistic, I wonder if I’m looking at a photograph or a painting.

Q) How do you choose your reference material?
A)  I usually work from a still life or from photographs. I might see a reflection in a store window, or a play of light on an everyday scene, or a candid look on one of my grandkids, or a display of fruit or vegetables at a farmers market; then I’ll grab my iPhone and take several shots to work from.
“Peek-a-Boo,” 12 x 9, oil on canvas.

Q)  What’s your favorite piece of work that you have created and why? 
A)  My favorite paintings are those of my grandchildren. They are a true labor of love, but also my most interesting challenge–not only to produce a likeness, but to interpret a personality.

What are you working on at the moment?

A)  I’ve been working on my largest painting to date at 24″x 30″. It’s called “Cello In The Park” and I’m working from a photo we took this summer at a farmers market in a park in Portland, Maine.

For more information about Karen Merkin’s art, visit her webpage at and like her on Facebook.

"Looking Through A Window," 12 x 24, oil on canvas.
“Looking Through A Window,” 12 x 24, oil on canvas.
"Red Chevy Truck," 11 x 14, oil on canvas.
“Red Chevy Truck,” 11 x 14, oil on canvas.
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{Artist Feature} Lis Zadravec: Making Colored Pencils Sing

Blowing a Kss
Tammy-Princess-Moviestar. 15×15, colored pencil on paper.

Narrative Portraiture, drawing people into stories, is where artist Lis Zadravec’s brilliance lies.  Rather than just creating portrait likenesses, she approaches her art as a writer creating a character.  Inspired by the look and staging of old oil paintings and illustrations poured over in books of our childhoods.  Lis studied at the Corcoran School of Art and she works in the modern-century medium of colored pencils.  Having worked as a cosmetologist and makeup artist, she loves the precision of a pencil point and the layering of color and wax. For each face Lis wants to create 28 translucent layers, like skin.  No, she wants to make real skin!

Born in Washington DC, Lis began taking art classes at age four.  By 10, she was painting in the adult program at the Corcoran School of PercipienceArt.  On the collegiate level, she studied again at the Corcoran as well as at American University, Montgomery College and with artists of the DC Color School.  Respected for her teaching as well as her artwork, Lis co-founded Crossroads School of the Arts in Herndon, VA, and has taught in many venues from Northern Virginia to upstate New York, children to adults.  Lis expresses her goal as this; ‘We all have been given the directive to multiply our gifts. I can think of no better way than to share mine while watching more art be created than I’d ever be able to do myself.’  While making her art, Lis has raised two children and built a teaching business.  She has ambitions in both her artwork and writing projects. She says, ‘A well-trained artist is a person who can do anything.’ 

I met the super talented, energetic Lis at many Montgomery Art Association shows and JKBLOG finally gave me a chance to ask her some more intimate questions about her work, process, and journey.

Snow Magic. 10×16, colored pencil & ink on paper.

Q:  Your primary medium is colored pencils, how did you begin with this medium?  What about colored pencil appeals to your the most and what is the most challenging?

A:  In college at the Corcoran, a teacher invited Jody Mussoff to speak to us. Her medium was colored pencils. Her subjects were lively and relevant. So I snuck out of poetry class one day to a third year figure drawing class, the guy sitting next to me shoved me 4 pencils, red, blue, yellow and brown. He said, that is all you need. It is 35 years later and I haven’t looked back. There was a time I felt I should be doing oil paintings. After all, I went to art school. There was a long time that colored pencil work was not accepted as Fine Art. But that is changing and the colored pencil community worldwide is making strides to change that. I love pencils. There is nothing they can’t do. They are pigment in a stick with pencil point precision. They can be referred to as paintings when they are done now. They are accepted in almost all venues now.

Fascinations. 24×18, colored pencil, ink & gouache on paper.

Q:  Portraits, landscape, still life, you do them all…what is your favorite and why?

A:   I did a still life in college and got my only C ever in art. I tried a landscape and my mother said, “Please go back to painting people.” Actually those aren’t the reasons. Faces have just always interested me. Expressions, gestures, they tell so much. I use people to tell my stories. And we can always get good at things we don’t excel at. You know the J.S.Sargent quote about a portrait being a painting of someone with something wrong with the mouth. Well, I vowed not to have a mouth or a hand stump me and I practiced. I was the art-nerd in high school who would draw one eye and have my friends guess whose it was. If they could, I succeeded. I watched Andy Goldsworthy in “Rivers & Tides” building and re-building his cone made of rocks five, six, times, till the tide came in when it was done and covered it. I watched him stay calm, not curse. Just rebuild. I would have been screaming, I would have given up. But that is how an artist works.  In my own medium. I have re-started a portrait, yes, seven times! Portraits just happen to be the work I care to do again and again.

Q:  Have you always wanted to be an art teacher?  Which is your favorite age group and class?

InGirlhoodsBriefRespiteA:  I had no idea I wanted to teach until I started teaching. I started with 18 students over 4 classes in my home and moved on to teaching at a Charlotte Mason method school, continuing education for adults, summer camps, home-school co-ops, even co-founding a school of the arts here in Northern Virginia. I teach all ages from 5 through adult but I think my favorite age is the 8-12 year olds. There is an age before the teen years, where the student has begun to develop the ability to see as they will as an adult. And they believe in themselves. They believe they can do anything and are at a highly teachable place in their life. If an impression is made at this time it will likely stick with them through teen years and carry into their adult life.

Q:  What’s your favorite piece of work that you have created and why?

theconversionA:  My favorite piece is always the piece I am working on at the moment. It is the culmination of all the skills I have attained to that point. It holds the promise of perfection. I am always looking for perfection. It is hard for me to stop messing with a piece. I sometimes have to have a deadline, an upcoming show, in order to put it in a frame. I will go back to it again and again making changes and trying to get parts better and better. Sometimes the surface I am working on doesn’t want to take anymore and then I have to stop before I damage the paper. I always say I am not just drawing skin, I am trying to make actual skin. I just brought “The Conversion” home between shows. I looked at it with my daughter and said, “You know that is very impressive. Sometimes a piece makes me very pleased in that way.

Looking Back. 10×9.5, colored pencil on paper.

Q:  What are you working on at the moment?

A:  Then there is the next piece. I just finished my ‘Kensington piece’ for the MAA Kensington Labor Day Show which requires a piece about the area to enter. I am finishing two other pieces for upcoming shows. But what I am working on next is a piece that will be broken into a detailed step-by-step article for inclusion in a book being developed by Ann Kullberg, who has a magazine and sells books and teaching materials in the colored pencil field. This book is specifically on colored pencil portraiture and includes a ‘Dream Team of featured artists, the best internationally. I am honored to have been chosen to be one of these top featured contributors.   

For more information about Lis and her artwork check out her website, and like her on Facebook.

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{Artist Feature} Debra Halprin: Watercolor at its finest

Yellow Tulips for Card
Yellow Tulips, 18″ X 24″, Acrylic

Debra Halprin’s love for art began as a child while living with her grandparents in Belmar, New Jersey. Her grandmother, Ceil Grayer, was a well known local artist and art teacher. She was a student of Edgar Whitney and her work was greatly influenced by his style.

Debra began painting 16 years ago when she was pregnant with her daughter, Molly. She previously worked with stained glass, but due to the toxic fumes of the solder, she decided to look for a more benign way to express herself artistically. In 1997, Debra began taking watercolor classes with Firouzeh Sadeghi. Firouzeh’s love of art and her students heightened Debra’s interest in watercolor and since then Debra has concentrated her efforts in water based media.

The Red Door Store for Web
Red Door Store, 16″X20″, Watercolor

oday, Debra is an award winning artist whose work has been accepted into numerous juried exhibits, including the prestigious Philadelphia Watercolor Society’s International Exhibition as well as the BWS MidAtlantic Shows. In addition, her portrait “Little Miss Molly” was accepted into Touchstone Gallery’s Regional Juried Exhibit entitled “The Human Form” and awarded Second Place by Dr. Anne Goodyear, Assistant Curator at the National Portrait Gallery.

Debra’s works have been featured in articles in The Washington Post, The Gazette Newspaper, Washington Home & Design Magazine, Washington Spaces Magazine, Montgomery Insight and in Palette Magazine.

I was recently able to ask Debra a couple questions about her amazing work and work habits.

Girls Day Out II

Q) You have such a wide variety of subject matter. What came first and how did your style evolve? What do you enjoy most?
A)I started in watercolor and took lessons with Firouzeh Sadeghi. Firouzeh was a wonderful instructor and I very much enjoyed my classmates, many of whom I still paint with today. Firouzeh would present the subject matter in class and as a student, I would follow her instructions. I was particularly adequate in rendering people and animals. I created several portraits and from there I started getting requests for commissioned paintings.

By the Bay at Cafe Monet for Web
By the Bay at Café Monet , 16″X20″, Watercolor on Canvas

Q) The Estate portraits are so unique. How did that start?

A) I began rendering estate portraits at the request of Kensington Realtor, Gary Ditto. Gary met me during the Kensington Labor Day Art Exhibit several years ago. He saw my work and asked if I would paint the homes that he was asked to sell. He would then give the estate portrait to the seller as a memory of the home.

Q) What about watercolor appeals to you the most?

A) Watercolor was the first medium I learned. I enjoy the transparency of the paint and the way that one is able to layer colors. It creates a very clean soft appearance. I have also come to enjoy working with liquid acrylic, which gives the same transparency however, it appears more vibrant and once down it’s there to stay.

Morning at Monet Card
Morning at Monet’s, 34″X44″, Watercolor

Q) What inspired you to start your giclée printing business along with your career in art?

A) Once I became comfortable with the works I created and started to exhibit my art I found that offering giclée prints was a way to sell my images at a lower price. These giclée prints were very popular and I could sell them at a quarter of the price I would sell my originals.

When the woman who created my prints retired I looked for another company to create my fine art reproductions, otherwise known as giclée prints. I was unable to find someone who could do this with an artist’s eye and a reasonable cost. So, I bought the equipment and learned the process. Once other artists found out I was creating my own giclée prints they asked me to create theirs as well.

New York at Night for Web
New York at Night, 26″ X 36″, Acrylic

Q) What’s your favorite piece of work that you have created and why?

A) Hmmmm, good question. I don’t have many. I’d say that My favorite piece of work which I created may have to be one of my newest, “New York at Night” There is something about the feel of this painting that really attracts me. I love the color and the contrast as well as the perspective. It’s a captures a happy memory of a wonderful weekend in the City.

Q) What are you working on at the moment?

A) I am currently working on a piece inspired by the Gustav Klimt portrait, Woman in Gold.  I call it Molly in Metallic. With the intricacy of the piece it will probably take me two years to complete.

For more information on Debra and her works and giclée printing services, check out her website

Bassett Hound Acrylic 16X16 by Debra Halprin
Count Bassie, 18″X18″, Acrylic


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{Featured Artist} Sage Chandler: Art that is Bold, Colorful, and often Clucks

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Chixxx for Sale, 8ft x5ft

Sage Chandler is one of the most fun, upbeat people you will ever meet and her bold, colorful paintings often reflect her charismatic personality.  Sage paints to reflect her experience of life, to appreciate that which captures her attention- an object or moment of significance- and to illustrate her commitment towards that subject.  In her painting, Sage aims to express her sense of the boldness of the world; be that boldness a tone of flesh, a striking gaze, where a roof-line meets the sky, or an insect with bright red eyes. She dares herself to question color and reality as she knows them, and to push the qualities of a subject which captured her attention, so that others might feel her experience.  Sage’s paintings are responses to emotional devotion: to subjects, to objects or to moments that, for some reason, gave her pause.

Her bold paintings usually start with an enthusiastic ZING! of an idea, directly tied to composition, then evolve into the intended subject in which color is a secondary subject. Painting is a synthesis of her captivation with life; the fun, joy and sometimes hurt and mystery that comes with it. Accurate translation of a human subject’s personality, or an object’s mood, loose technique, and simplicity are her primary goals.

I studied with Sage for many years in the early 2000s at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA and just recently reconnected with Sage and had the lucky opportunity to ask her some more in depth questions about her art.

evening out- 48x24
Evening out, 48×24

Q)  You paint a variety of subject: still lives, landscapes, and portraits.  Which is your absolute favorite and why?

A)  Portraiture- and figurative painting-  capturing figures in motion is just downright fun to me– and getting an accurate portrait involves not only the technical skill of capturing a true resembelance of someone, but also capturing their emotion.  If you do a portrait well, as an artist, you really learn about your subject’s personality in the process.  I figured it out awhile ago…. basically, if it does not have an eye, I am not particularly interested in painting it.

Q) How does living on a farm tie into your work?

A)  Well, one look at my website section ” still life and animals ” that’ll be obvious…. we have chickens everywhere…. when I’m lazy or not knowing what to paint… the easy route? Just take a looks at whats walking or clucking by at the moment (chuckle.)  But, the farm critters I paint are fun too because I love to play with color- not only do you get something live in action, but you also get the movement of feathers, and lots of color to mess around with.

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Life’s a beach, 9×12

Q)  What is your weekly painting regime?

A) Totally scattered- lately not much, definitely not enough or as much as I would like to be painting.  The bad news for my painting is that I have a full time very busy job involving a ton of travel.  The good news is, I travel to some really beautiful and exotic places, so I have tons of wonderful reference photos to work from.  For the past few years I’ve been to Geneva every couple months or so and as a result have wound up with a fun little cows in the Alps series- likewise I have a ton of great portrait and figure reference material from far flung places in Vietnam, China, Guatemala, etc…


Cock Tease  5.5 ft tall x4ft wide
Cock Tease 5.5 ft tall x4ft wide

Q) What’s your favorite piece of work that you have created and why? 

Oh boy! Trick question. I don’t think I could pick any one.  I love the paintings I have done of family- for the obvious reason that painting family brings you even closer to people you already love.
I have this one little chicken painting that holds a special place for me- I was very sick with Lyme for about 3 years- it got so bad I couldn’t even hold a paintbrush for about a year. As I got better, and was so rusty at painting, I needed something simple to paint. By no means is it a very good painting, but while painting it I was so profoundly aware of the appreciation I had of getting well, and my true *need* and love of painting, that I found myself in tears several times painting that one funny little chicken.
Then there’s Deb…. as I got better and stronger, and wanted to get back to BIG challenges again, I started in on a series of whacky people with chicken paintings… (the chickens bc I felt I still needed something “easy” in the composition, if I were getting back in to portraiture and figurative painting). My painting “Cock Tease” (I love tounge in cheek, micheveous titles) was SO much fun. My awesome model Deborah L was a TON of fun to work with. We played around with all kinds of whacky outfits and poses, using a big vase to sit in for where I’d eventually paint a chicken. The resulting painting is an awesome mixture of movement, a story, and color. Finding the turquoise and purples in her skin, versus all the reflections in her latex clothes was a total blast. Shes a strong, confident woman, and making sure I had her mucle tone and movement right was clutch.  All the flying feathers was just added pure thespianism drama!

Brooke, 11x14
Brooke, 11×14

Q)  What are you working on at the moment?

A) I’m doing a wedding commission- not the type of painting I usually get excited about, but as soon as I think something negative like that- bang! I find all kinds of neat movement and fun aspects in the scene to pick up on.  I like a good challenge- sometimes you find that in an unlikely place… doing something you expect to be run-of-the-mill, and making it become something both the client and you think is great!

For more information about Sage and her stunning works of art, checkout her website at


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{Featured Artist} Sara Leibman: Artful Storytelling

Broken Tree Site
Broken Tree, Oil on panel, 18”x20″

Sara Leibman is an artist, lyricist and, most of all, storyteller.  Sara uses her art to tell powerful stories – stories about women’s struggles to keep their identities, stories about children lost to gun violence, stories about the wreckage man can make of the earth, and stories about the beauty the earth still offers us.  Sara’s visual medium of choice is primarily oil paints, but she sometimes incorporates other media, including collage and yupo paper into her work.

A few years ago, Sara began storytelling in a more concrete fashion – by writing lyrics and poetry. Her first song idea came to her in a dream, and the next morning she wrote the lyrics to “Bitter Sun,” a heartbreaking lament about the struggle soldiers endure to retain their faith. On many occasions since then, Sara has woken in the middle of the night and scribbled down the words brought to her in dreams. Sara has participated in many art shows and her paintings and collages are currently exhibited across the country in dozens of collections. She was the featured monthly artist in October 2014 for the Women’s Caucus for Art, and has won several awards for her paintings.

Recently, I was able to convene with Sara and ask her some detailed questions about her art and inspiration.

Guns and Bones (site)
Guns and Bones, Mixed media collage, 40”x30”

Q) Your recent painting have great power and narrative to them.  Where do your ideas and inspiration comes from?
A)  It’s tragically easy to find inspiration for my newest art collections, “Women/Identity” and “Borrowed Time.” I get very frustrated at how quick we humans are to use modern technology to harm the earth and each other, but how slow we are to understand that we must change with the times. That comes out in my paintings and collages. I poke fun at religious and governmental leaders who feign piety while enforcing rules to keep girls and women from becoming active members of society. I paint lovely and dramatic landscapes that, upon closer inspection, show the effects of climate change – a tree full of cherries broken in a spring ice storm, an out-of-control forest fire, a recently dried up river. Gun violence, and the nonchalance with which U.S. residents view the epidemic of shootings in our schools, on our streets, and in our public spaces, is also becoming an important theme in my art.

Pam & Bruce Web
Pam & Bruce, Acrylic on panel, 10”x8”

Q)  How did you arrive at your tree carving collection?  Have you ever exhibited them all together?
A) My “Tree Carvings” series started when a friend commissioned me to paint a tree for her husband and baby daughter for Valentine’s Day (treescapes were my specialty then). I wanted to make it personal, and decided to “carve” their names into the tree trunk with a little heart. She loved it and so did lots of colleagues in her office. I suddenly had a week to complete eight paintings for eight different couples. Then, I started getting commissions for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and even family reunions. The small paintings (8”x10”) cost less than sending flowers and last much longer.

Pussy Riot Witch Hunt Site
Pussy Riot Witch Hunt, Oil on canvas, 24”x30”

Q)  How does your music interest tie into your art?
A)  I’ve always been better at expressing myself on paper than orally, and since I could hold a pencil, I’ve been an artist and a writer. Over the past twenty-plus years, however, I’ve been a practicing attorney and most of my writing has been confined to legal documents. While briefs and memos can be surprisingly creative, I found it was getting harder to find inspiration in the same old topics day after day. And, then one day I woke up with some lyrics in my head and wrote them down. My songs follow the same themes as my art – guns, war, religion, death, world destruction – but they’re usually more hopeless than the paintings. I like to view them as melancholy, but friends tell me they’re just depressing.

The main problem I have with songwriting is that I’m not the slightest bit musical. I can’t compose music and I surely can’t sing or play any instruments. So, while I’ve written lyrics to dozens of songs, I’ve only been able to get a few put to music and recorded. I’m constantly on the lookout for a collaborator – someone with the music and voice but lacking the words. I know he or she is out there and we’ll be perfect together.

Mom Web
Mom, Acrylic on panel, 8”x10″

Q)  What is your weekly painting regime?

A) I wish I had a weekly painting regime. I have a small studio in my house, and I paint whenever I can. Even if I’m busy with other things, I manage to paint when I’m loving the piece I’m working on. Starting a new painting is always difficult – a blank canvas can be so daunting. I listen to music when I’m beginning a piece, but when I’m deep into the painting, I listen to books (mostly fantasy and historical fiction) on Audible. I can get lost in both and find I’ve missed lunch and dinner and still don’t want to stop. And, of course, when I’m doing commissions, I paint to meet the deadlines.

Women of the Wall Site
Women of the Wall, Oil on canvas, 36”x48”

Q)  What’s your favorite piece of work that you have created and why? 

A) Many artists will tell you that picking a favorite painting is like choosing a favorite child. While I truly love my children equally, I do have one art piece that I love above all the others. It’s called “Women of the Wall” and it’s one of those pieces that came together exactly as I envisioned. It’s about ultra-orthodox Jewish men who spend their days praying and finding rapture in God at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but who also throw stones at women who dress immodestly or who try to pray equally with the men. The women and girls in the painting are portrayed as paper dolls that the men have tried to shove into cracks in the Wall, just as they do with prayers written on little scraps of paper. The painting is not completely bleak, however, because the paper-doll women are spilling out of the cracks holding hands, and the men will not be able to contain them for much longer.

Favorite Wife Site
Favorite Wife, Oil on canvas, 48”x60”

Q)  What are you working on at the moment?
A)  Sometimes I let paintings I’m not satisfied with sit for a few months while I work on commissions and other things. I stare at them periodically and try to figure out what’s wrong, and if I think the problems can be fixed, I put them back on my easel. That’s what I’m doing now. I have two paintings that are supposed to be part of the “Borrowed Time” series – one of a flood and the other about “stand your ground” laws – but I stopped working on them last year. I’m trying again and I think the flood painting is slowly turning the corner, but the other is hopeless.

I’ve also been talking to my twin sister, Rachel, who lives in San Francisco and is also an artist ( about combining and adding to our individual collections about earthly disasters. She’s created some really cool collages about (literally) Biblical-proportion disasters, including the Flood and the Tower of Babel, so if we can find the time, we’ll put together a joint exhibition that will make people scared to leave their houses.

Inferno (small)
Inferno, Oil on canvas, 24”x48”

For more information about Sara and her work, please visit