It's In the Details

Today I am sharing some images of details in my finished painting of the church I wrote about earlier.  The tall steeple is visible from all directions, and close to a state highway through town. I wrote that the ringing of the church bell sounded as if it is a real bell rather than an electronic version, and that it was likely that someone climbed part of the way into the steeple to pull a rope to ring it. I since learned that the bell is at least rung electronically, but the church member who gave me that detail didn’t know if the sound is an actual church bell or generated electronically. I’m happy not knowing, leaving me to imagine my preference of having an actual bell tolling.

I had already painted the clocks on the steeple with the clock hands at 11:50 PM when it occurred to me that perhaps Midnight Mass culminates rather than starts at midnight. Since the painting was to have people walking toward the entrance of the church for Mass, it was a detail I needed to clarify to avoid the illogic of people arriving at Mass 50 minutes late.

This painting was to include glowing light shining from the stained glass windows, reflecting color on the snow outside. I’ve done this before, but this time it proved to be a particular challenge. I am no expert on stained glass windows, but I do know that the leading in them eventually loosens and the windows sag and can even break apart. One way to halt this is to add some sort of braces on one or both sides of old windows. Sometimes another layer of glass or perhaps even plexiglass is added to support the window, protect it from weathering, as well as adding an insulating layer. When I took my camera to the church, intending to photograph the details of the windows, I found that the outside covering had clouded and I could see no details at all! I went inside, thinking I would take photographs from the inside out, and then draw and paint the details in reverse. I was hampered even in this when I found some windows had been covered on the inside as well. I took photos of the windows I could, and did my best to replicate the style and details even though I was never able to see them very clearly either in person or in the pictures I took.

When I mentioned to my client that I intended to show people walking toward the church entrances for Mass, he asked if I would dress them in vintage 1950’s clothing. The figures would be small enough in comparison to the church that few details would show. But a bit of research on the computer gave me some general ideas of the shapes of winter coats, hats, and hem lengths. All women would surely have worn dresses to church in the 1950’s. I would have liked to add seams to their stockings, but it would have been a detail too small to be effective. I liked the feeling of movement and direction of people walking toward the inviting warmth and comfort of the church, with the subtle shadows pointing toward the open doors.

I can't help but share that this painting sold at a benefit auction last weekend for a winning bid of $10,000 – an astounding figure.  I’m pleased, and especially happy this painting of the old church will ultimately find it’s way “home” and be permanently displayed in the new building when it is completed. 


An electric guitar without strings....

As a watercolor artist, what I’m asked to paint is sometimes astounding. To be honest, what I agree to paint is even more shocking! Still, I have a considerable sense of humor, I’m a good sport, and patient – three qualities I may need in abundance in the coming weeks.  

The local Chamber of Commerce has planned a project to render our town instantly recognizable as the “Ice Cream Capital of the World” to visitors who didn’t already know that official fact. To that end, about thirty 3-D sculptures of single-dip ice cream cones have been ordered. I was the artist of choice for a sponsoring business that picked my name from a list of “volunteers.” The 6-foot ice cream cone sculptures are to be painted and will be placed near each of the sponsoring businesses, so passersby won’t be able to miss the fact that ice cream is BIG in this town.  My sponsor and I are collaborating on a clever design for the fiberglass cone. I’ll admit the shape of this sculpture is limiting to me. It is hard to  see it as anything other than what it is – a very large ice cream cone.  I thought perhaps ideas would come to mind if I were to translate the published dimensions of the cone to a diagram on graph paper.  It will be 6 feet tall overall, 6 inches wide at the bottom of the cone, 18“ wide at the top of the cone, with a spherical dip of ice cream 30 inches in diameter. A friend dropped by and noticed my drawing. She asked, “Why are you drawing an old microphone?” Now there’s an idea! Not a good one, but an idea.

Another project is a fundraising effort of the Art Center near where I live.  This is the third year this Art Center has called for artist volunteers to paint old chairs or small tables that owners no longer want. Donating them for this fund raiser is more palatable than simply trashing them. The resulting colorful and clever pieces of furniture are first shown at the county fair, and then put up for bids in a blind silent auction. The bidding was lively for the first two auctions, and I was well satisfied at the amount of money each of my two chairs brought at auction. Today I'm sharing some photos of the Queen of Hearts chair I painted 

last year. The time I donated brought a good return for the art center. Thisyear I will paint an old lamp table with a small drawer. It is old, and while appealing, it is loose in the joints. So my first task will be to find a way to firm it up. No unique idea for a painting theme has yet popped into my thoughts, but at least it is not shaped like a microphone and is not 6 feet tall.

A third project, also a fund-raiser for an art center, is to paint the front surface of a guitar. This lovely art center is located in a popular lake area with a burgeoning summer population. Painting on a guitar piques my interest. Invitations to be part of this project were extended to 13 artists, probably limited by the number of guitars that were donated. For ease of painting, removable parts will be taken off the guitar before I pick it up. The theme for my guitar will be the historic “roller coaster,”  a much loved and well-known landmark in the lakes area. Boaters on the water hear the nearly constant rumble and swoosh of the roller coaster near the lakeshore during the summer. I chose an electric rather than acoustic guitar, thinking the extra curves and personality of that shape and would better reflect such a wild ride. And yes, I have had many rides on that roller coaster! The instruments are to remain functional after they are painted, and it would be fun to add another dimension by composing an original piece of music to be played on my guitar. Good idea, but unlikely, since I am more of a classical musician.

It would be interesting to mix these projects up a bit. If you ever hear of an offbeat musician performing a song about riding on a roller coaster, accompanying himself on a guitar with a roller coaster paintied on it, singing into a giant microphone – you’ll know what happened.


"Here is the is the steeple...."

A large commission painting of a local vintage church is currently in progress in my studio. As I work on this painting I’m reminded of a toddler’s hand game my mom taught my brothers and me when we were small, and wonder if children still learn this. She had us mesh our fingers with fingertips down, the opposite of the praying hands finger position and then, with fingers still meshed, bring our palms close together. We would then chant “Here is the church,” quickly extricate our index fingers and point them heavenward with fingers tips together as we quickly said, “Here is the steeple!” And the last step, with ours fingers still meshed,  was to turn our hands inside out with all of our fingers sticking upward as we said, “And here are the people!”

Given the size and complexity of this commission, I have had plenty time for “Here is the church, here is the steeple, and HERE are the people” to replay itself over and over in my head.  What was initially a pleasant memory as I worked, has by this time come to be like an annoying melody that is stuck in my head.

The oversized watercolor paper, stapled to an even larger piece of plywood, is really too large to comfortably fit on my painting table. In fact, it doesn’t fit at all! It sticks over the edge on 3 sides, and I need to be careful it doesn’t overbalance on any of the edges and slide off with a crash. The reach to see and paint details accurately in the middle of the painting is a challenge.  It would be foolhardy to set anything on the surface of the painting as I work. But if I set my tools off to the side, moving a brush dripping with water or pigment to and from both my water container and palette has its own dangers. My solution has been to put a large piece of clean watercolor paper over part of the painting and set my water, palette, and other supplies on it.

St. Joe’s Catholic Church is neo-Gothic in style, and in spite of its age and obvious structural issues, still beautiful both inside and out. The very tall, pointed steeple with a cross at the very top is a landmark in this community. The tolling bell at the start of mass has the unmistakable sound of an old, metal bell - the kind of bell that requires someone to climb rickety wood steps or maybe even a ladder into the steeple to heave on a rope to ring the bell.

I’ve long admired this church during the years I’ve lived in this small town. But it was only recently that I learned a surprising thing. The red brick church is not what it appears to be. The church was built of a soft brick that must be covered with a plaster façade. What appears to be brick is actually a plaster coating, first painted red, then white lines painted to give the appearance of white mortar over the entire building. How many miles of painted white lines must have been applied to that church!

Sadly, this church has served its useful life. It is crumbling, and can no longer be saved. It will be razed this spring to make way for a new church to be built. St. Joe’s is not my church, but I share the grief of the congregation that has made this decision. The sadness intensified for me as I visited the quiet church, completely alone, a number of times in the last months, taking numerous pictures both inside and out.

I might have finished this blog with “There was the church, There was the steeple….” But on a numbing, sub-zero day this last week, as I was taking still more photos inside the sanctuary, my friend Kim happened in. She is a member of St. Joe’s, stopped to chat, and pointed out the diagram for the new church, posted in the entry. She told me that the prominent steeple of the old church will be an important feature of the new as well, and It warmed me to notice that the new steeple will look very much like the old.

Today I am sharing a photograph of a detail of this lovely old building.




An hour or two with Glenda Goldberg

Many artists use standard watercolor paper measuring 22 x 30 inches to create full sheet, half sheet, or quarter sheet paintings. If an artist wants to paint on paper  with any dimension greater than 30 inches, one option is to buy a roll of watercolor paper.  But listen.! I don’t recommend buying a roll of paper. I did and it is exhausting.

The paper is thick and it arrived rolled tightly in a box. It has excellent memory and strenuously resists all efforts to unroll it and whack off a chunk to paint on. I’ve tried weighting the leading edge of the roll with 25 cans of soup, beans, and juice from my pantry. The minute I start to unroll it, the end of the paper manages to lift like a wave nearing shore and those cans start surfing.

Recently I decided to sneak up on that roll of paper to lop off a mere 16 inches for a painting that will be 15 x 33. My 85 year old mom was here to help me, and I told her to be nonchalant when I brought the roll of paper out, as if we were just going to admire the surface of it and do no cutting. Our ruse didn’t work, and we manhandled that paper 15 minutes to cut what I needed. Whew! And that was only the first hurdle.

Like many artists I wet the blank paper until it has absorbed enough water to be limp, then staple it to a “painting support” such as Gatorbord, a lightweight foam board with waterproof paper on both sides. This presented the second hurdle. Gatorbord is sold in sizes for standard watercolor paper, and my curly paper was a bit too long.

With a bit of thought, I came up with a Rube Goldberg solution.  I abutted the edges of two pieces Gatorbord, wet 4-inch wide strips of watercolor paper, and stapled them over the joint on both the front and back surfaces. Voila! The paper shrank as it dried, pulling the joint tight and solid. But when I wet the curly piece of paper from that argumentative roll and stapled it  to the board, the added pull on one side as it dried tugged at the joint until it is angled slightly. Consequently I’m painting in a bit of a valley toward one end of my painting.

Rather than being impressed with my resourcefulness my artist friends started ribbing me, addressing me as “Glenda Goldberg.”  And as I painted on my paper- that- turns- a- corner, I started wondering just who Rube Goldberg was and what he did that causes us to remember him and invoke his name.  You might be curious too.

Rube Goldberg  n. a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation – Webster’s New Dictionary

Have a look at to learn more about Rube Goldberg  and see an art gallery of what he did to make his name an entry in Webster's Dictionary - an entry as a noun that is defined not as the man himself, but as something remarkable he did.

So after that bit of research, I’m proud to be called Glenda Goldberg. And even though one end of my paper and support are a bit uphill, it works. Thanks Rube!


Dancing in my studio.....

“Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

An artist friend sent the above quote by email, and it made me smile. But wait - was she trying to tell me something? As Queen of the 11th Hour, I recognize that I’ve missed many opportunities because I was not on the dance floor. Likely my dress still needed to be ironed and I probably didn’t even have my shoes on.

One of my goals has been to keep my work before the public more than on my own studio walls. That has worked pretty well.  And I’ve managed to stay somewhat fit by moving my paintings from one venue to another to keep it visible. (Do I really need to pay for gym time?) The bare walls in my studio, normally lined with paintings and crowded to capacity, are all but naked. It fairly echoes in there, and I realize I could easily use at least twice or even three times as much finished work as I currently have available. I’m not on the dance floor.

So when a new opportunity presents itself, one choice open to me is to create new work. Where is my Queen of the 11th Hour Tiara when I need it!

If that is not possible, I may need to retrieve a painting I have displayed in one of three galleries where I show my work.  Which is better? Spend my time painting or driving?

The number of opportunities for artists at all levels is impressive. Taking advantage of every one of them is not for the faint hearted. To have a body of strong, consistent work on hand is a challenge. Most juried shows require that the work submitted be finished within the last two years.

Meshing the submission deadlines, notification and delivery dates, and the different length of shows is daunting. I resort to the use of various colored markers on an extra calendar to plot which combination of shows and competitions are possible for specific paintings.

This last summer two friends and I collaborated to hang 54 paintings in a 5-week show at an area gallery. When we removed our work, my paintings went directly into a month-long show with another artist friend. Then I distributed the remaining work between the galleries showing my work on an ongoing basis.

Since then I’ve submitted work to four different juried shows. It remains to be seen if my work will make  the cut, but it often does. If so, my paintings must be shipped or delivered to arrive at specific times, and plans must be made to retrieve the work or prepay return shipping when the show is finished.

Today I submitted images and text in hopes of having my work included in an upcoming book. This exciting possibility is the result of an email contact on my website, suggesting I apply.  

What is the point? Well, I find that I am at least slightly competitive. When I anticipate entering paintings in juried shows and competitions, I feel the drive to be more creative. That results in better paintings. Simply having a painting selected from a field of entries and displayed in a show is satisfying and gives an artist visibility, often before a new audience.  Having a juror single out your work for special notice is instructive and gratifying. Even an “Honorable Mention” lets me know I’m on the right track.  And, of course, winning a cash prize is the ultimate affirmation.

And now I’m going to Rhumba in my studio for the entire day. the next time an opportunity comes my way, I plan to be on the dance floor before the music begins.

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