Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fire and Art

What is on my mind today….Fire….and art….

Around here the summer season cannot be complete without the good….and the bad….company and forest fires. This year is no exception; we have had wonderful visits from friends and now we have smoke. Last year, Bozeman was basically free of the smoke, but this year, the smoke is worse that I can ever remember and closer to us.  There are fires all around Montana.

Tuesday August 28th a fire started from a lightening strike about 18 miles from our home and studio. Now, that sounds like a long way away, doesn’t it. No, actually a fire can travel miles in a single afternoon if the wind is blowing. Today, Friday, August 31st, the fire is only 8 miles away or less. The beautiful forest right behind our house is now empty of campers. All the trails and campgrounds and canyons are closed, evacuated. The fire has dipped down into Cottonwood canyon west of us and those homes have been evacuated also. It now threatens to extend into the Hyalite Canyon, creek and reservoir. Our canyon, Leverich, would be next.

We first noticed the new fire while driving home from town, I was admiring the billowing clouds in the south, when I suddenly realized that those pretty clouds must have been directly above fire. FIRE! My head went into a tail spin! That fire is really close to our place! Oh no! Flash backs of other times in my life that were dramatically traumatic, threatened to engulf my emotions: the 2009 explosion of Montana Trails gallery in Bozeman resulting in 28 of our large paintings destroyed and the death of our dear friend, Tara Bowman; the 1978 war and bombing in Afghanistan with 200 students and 40 teachers fearing for our lives; Pakistan’s revolution in 1976, again being fearful and scared for my life and the life of my students and friends. These are times that I experienced as major fear factors in my life and these memories tend to come flooding back when I get scared. It is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, my dear artist friend and excellent Counselor, Dorothy Dacar, assured me. Just knowing that, calmed my nerves and organized my thoughts. Start packing.

Fire is beautiful when contained and controlled. Wasn’t it our first light in the dark, our first way of controlling our heat and the first way of cooking our food? Fire is good…. Right? It is the most basic of instincts to love fire and fear it as well. 

 Our Campfire
Watercolor by Susan Blackwood

Well, ironically, (prior to this fire starting in our forest so close to our house), this year I have been teaching workshops on painting the expressive glow of flames from a candle, lantern, or campfire. I have another one scheduled for October 4th and 5th, 2012 in Greeley, Colorado.

 Demo on the flickering flame.

There are many beautiful paintings of glowing light that tug at our hearts. Several artists have powerfully portrayed the controlled burning of the prairies. I have seen wonderful paintings of forest fires that put an ache in my heart. Art to me needs to communicate emotion; flame and smoke really do that.

Many great current artists come to mind. Brent Cotton has captured the fine art of glowing light in many of his paintings. I am reminded of other paintings that I have seen: The beautiful portrait by the fireplace; the young woman with a lit candle; the translucency of our skin as it glows when close to a lantern. Morgan Weistling has painted powerful paintings of people with candles. Artists for years have been looking at flame with awe and art in mind. The knowledge of how to create that glow on paper or canvas can be transferred to any subject from landscapes, cityscapes, people, animals, florals and still lifes.

So there it is, art and fire. Now, I will get back to my packing in preparation for the possibility of evacuation and I may even do some painting today.  Stay tuned.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Dog's Art

As you might know we have a dog named, Zoey who is a 40 pound part Golden Retriever and part American Eskimo. 
She is a grazer; she likes to take her time eating and often goes back to her bowl several times during the day to finish her food. For years we noticed that she would eat
in a perfect straight line, like eating rows of corn. Whenever she stopped eating, the food left in the bowl would be neatly eaten up to a perfect line, the rest of the food would be untouched. This in itself was fun, amusing and amazing. An organized dog; is that possible? 

To catch you all up to date on her progress, here is an update and a bit of a review.

This is the straight line pattern of eating that Zoey has done for nearly 12 years of her life….. This in itself is unusual for a dog.

But lately, I have been noticing that her pattern has changed. 
Sure once in a while she still likes to eat in a straight line, but suddenly I am noticing a more creative side. 
First it was abstract with a nice pattern.

Next, I noticed that her creations were getting more representational

Basic Sun Fish

THEN!!! I noticed this and how much it looked like a face! 
So, it is titled "I Love People" and she does.

WOW, to my surprise and delight I found this in her bowl!
I am sure it is a self portrait, since she is an orange dog with pointed ears like a fox. Or it is a portrait of her cat Rocky…  This was done on my Birthday…. Thanks Zoey.

I know what you are thinking…. no, I did not touch these little masterpieces and no, neither did Howard. I am having fun finding art in her bowl!
These are photographed just as she left them. I stand right by her as she is eating and when she walks away from her bowl, I quickly take it up before Mack, our other dog can gobble it up.
Mack is a great appreciator of Eatable Art. 

I must admit, Zoey is curious as to why I get so excited about her food bowl and show Howard and anyone else that is in the house at the time. 
Some artists just don't know how good they really are! 

Here are the latest works of art.  
Although my favorite is still her self portrait above, these are pretty cleaver also.

This one is complex. It is either the Lockness Monster rising out of the water, or a sail boat with an anchor. I am not sure and Zoey is not wanting to discuss it. 
She figures, if I can't see what it is, then why bother talking about it. Artists are so sensitive.

An easy shift from her straight line art to…… The Man in the Moon surrounded by little tiny stars. Art done simply is often, like a poem, the most effective.
This one is very easy and clever!  It is obviously a fish with air bubbles. This fish is probably a bottom feeder.Very good Zoey!
Several of our neighbors now have chickens….Zoey was obviously inspired by all of the chickens and so she created a chicken that is running….. probably away from her! 

Notice that she gave the chicken space to run across her bowl.
Below is a close up.

Note the excellent way that she did the face, the beak, the comb on top, the tail feathers, the eye and the cute dot that represents the colored tip of the wing. And the chicken is running! Amazing!

At first I wasn't so sure what this was, but Zoey was patient with me. Then upon close inspection I saw it! It is a flower with leaves!

Here is a close up. Notice the excellent way that she did the petals! It must be a Blackeyed Susan flower because the bud, just below the flower, is black. I think she did this just for me! 

Note:  Just in case you are all worried….I am not going crazy, nor am I in the early stages of Alzheimer's. I must blame this on my parents, they taught me to find art in everything! Zoey's art in her bowl is like looking at clouds and finding figures and animals. Join me in the fun… a child again and Enjoy! 
What's in your pet's bowl????

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


As artists we are so connected to those people that love and collect our art. When they respond with their hearts, it is a connection that fuels our fires and drives our spirit to
create at deeper and richer levels. Thank you so much, all of you that love art and all of you that love it enough to bring it home. 

Here is a beautifully expressive poem written by one of our collectors, Judy Bowman from Great Falls. She feels our paintings so deeply.  This poem really expresses her heart as she made a decision to purchase one of my husband, Howard Friedland’s paintings at the Western Masters Show about 2 weeks ago.

Our home is warmed by your art;
Each piece hits a different chord -
All music to the ear unsung,
But to the heart....concertos, sonatas, chorales.

Stories behind each painting:
Delight and surprise with three.
Betty's Coop?  Susan's mom was dying.
Mother had gone home in February.

The fellas are a blessing.
Are they brothers on opposing sides?
Should a cello accompany their visit?
We praise God this with us abides.

And Howard's? We've longed to own one.
Sunlit Pasture's harmony struck separately.
Gary said, "Judy, buy it."
God shines through........I weep.

By Judy Bowman

This is the painting of Howard’s that she and her husband Gary bought.
 Sunlit Pasture    12 x 16 Oil    by Howard Friedland

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Gosh, I love to teach!

My new classes started recently and I am thrilled to be working with so many wonderful artists, new and old friends. But I didn’t always want to teach. Actually, originally, I was terrified of teaching.  I find it so interesting that the very thing that you feel so afraid of….. one day stands up and challenges you to try it. God is like that! That was how I ended up teaching artists and absolutely loving it. 

Years ago in 1975, I followed my former husband to the exotic country of Pakistan. (Yes, the world really is my play ground ). The Lahore American School had hired my husband and I knew that I could find a way to be useful, too. In the meantime, I had great plans of painting and sketch my way through the country. Ha, the school had other ideas. They knew that I was an artist and figured they could talk me into teaching once I arrived. Little did they know that they would have to work for it. Once I got wind of the plan, I avoided them all. One day at a Friday night party they cornered me.

Three days later I was the new art teacher for Junior High, High School and Adult Educational Classes for Lahore American School.  I knew nothing about teaching, just loved people and loved art. The Superintendent of the school handed me a stack of useless books on making lesson plans and said that I started on Monday at noon. That was the longest weekend of my life. I agonized over what and how to teach. Finally I devised a lesson plan that centered around the concept that art was all around us and in all of our daily lives from the clothes that we wear, to the magazines, tools, etc. From that point on, everything we did that year was centered around that concept. Sure they learned to draw and do lots of artsy stuff. But what was really happening to them….. their fear of art and fear of lack of talent disappeared.

As they melted into artists, so did my heart. I fell in love with helping people find their artist within themselves. I was so hooked and still am to this very day. Those kids, from all over the world and their parents that studied with me at night, opened a world to me that is incredible. Through teaching I learned to express the inexpressible world of art. I brought all of my learned art training from the deep subconscious up to the verbal conscious. No longer would I stand in front of art and say I like it or not like it. Now I can expound, in great length, on the whys and why-nots of a painting. Thank you Lahore American School for pushing me off the safety zone.  Thank you wonderful students for helping me become a teacher and loving it! I am so glad that I took the challenge, it has changed my life and my career! From that time on, I have taught all over the country and the world and loved every minute and every student!

And it keeps getting better!!!!
This year my artist husband and love of my life, Howard and I will be teaching workshops
separately at the Fredericksburg Artist School in Fredericksburg, Texas!  We both have taught classes and workshops for decades (giving away my age again) and love it. We will never stop learning and passing that on to other artists. This time we have an exciting opportunity for our students to attend either of our workshops and also attend the Opening Reception of the incredible Salon International Exhibtion at the Greenhouse Gallery in San Antonio, not far from Fredericksburg. Artists from all over the country and world rendezvous each year at this Opening Reception to swap stories, ideas and admire the masterpieces selected for the show. We meet new artists and old friends, magazine editors and publishers. What an amazing event to tie with our workshops.

Oh, and by the way, I did paint in Pakistan! While I lived there for 3 years, I had a terrific studio, painted every morning for 4 hours and had three solo shows of my paintings. The last show was a complete sellout! Now that is a great memory!

Teaching is exhausting. It takes tremendous energy to give to my students all that they deserve and more. There was a time in my life that I leaned so heavily into teaching that my painting time was almost snuffed out. Then there was a time in my life when I stopped teaching. Neither was a good plan…..Through the years I have learned that I can balance my painting time and my teaching time. Both are necessary in my life. I love giving back what I have been given for all these years.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Close up and Personal

For over a century now, thanks to the invention of portable tubes of paint, artists have been packing up their painting gear and heading to the big bright outdoors to paint plein air. Winter, spring, summer, fall…. Daytime and nighttime …… I must admit I am hooked, too. I started painting on location as a little girl with my family. My dad would lead us to the greatest nearby spots to paint and sketch… and I continue to this day with my husband, Howard Friedland, and many artist friends….. I love it! From our back yard to the exotic corners of the world, it is all calling to me to paint. What a thrill to be standing at my portable easel, smelling the air, feeling the breeze ( hopefully not too windy ) and gleefully accepting the challenges of painting plein air.

Howard just finished a painting depicting one such outing. He wrote a great description of that afternoon to include on the back of his painting. I thought you would enjoy his adventure and his painting. Here it is…

Bear Market by Howard Friedland                                                             10 x 12 Oil

Grizzly Encounter
written by Howard Friedland

The bear depicted in my painting “Bear Market” is a Grizzly that I saw
“Close Up and Personal” as they say.

A few years ago, a couple of artist friends and I were painting in Glacier National Park.
We had just set up our easels behind the campground at Many Glacier, a spectacularly beautiful area of the park. We chose a mountain scene that was visible beyond a nearby creek. The other two painters set up along the bank of the creek and I chose a spot about ten feet back.

Soon after we put our first brush strokes on our canvases, I heard my friend Tom English yell out “BEAR! BEAR!”
Just then, I looked up and saw a grizzly bear ambling up the stream in our direction.
Immediately, I pulled my canister of bear spray out of its holder and pointed it toward the bear with my outstretched arm. The other painter with us did the same. At this point the Griz was no more than 20 feet away. My heart was thumping out of my chest! I knew, if he wanted to attack us he could have just leapt and been on us.

He sniffed at us for a while (it seemed like an eternity) and proceeded to continue ambling up the stream, which thankfully turned away from where we were.
It wasn’t until I knew we were out of danger that I realized, rather than whip out his bear spray, Tom whipped out his camera and took several photos of the bear.
What was he thinking?!!!! 

Anyway, Tom was nice enough to share a photo of our encounter with the Grizzly bear.

I decided to paint this painting to remind me of just how close, this Close Up and Personal wild experience was.

Howard Friedland

Here is another painting of Howard’s
Bull Market by Howard Friedland                                                            8.25 x 14.75 oil

NOTE: Howard’s painting “Bear Market” and “Bull Market” are heading to the stellar invitational American Miniatures Show opening February 11 at Settlers West Galleries in Tucson.  In a few weeks you will be able to see all the paintings on line at
 It is always a fantastic show!
See more of Howard Friedland’s paintings at

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Sunday, January 8th, was a very special day for many reasons. I will tell you why in just a moment.

For 40 years I have been a professional artist, 32 years as a watercolorist and the past 8 years as an oil painter. During that time, I have done hundreds of shows and created hundreds of portraits. I love painting people. Many, many of these portraits have been commissions and it has been my highest honor to paint loved ones for a family.

In December I met with a couple, Valerie and Cam Gould, that loved portraits! Their home is filled with paintings and sketches of generations of their family members. They asked me to paint a portrait of their daughter, Christie. She is now 25, however, they wanted a portrait of her when she was three years old. Out came the albums of photos and we had a great time looking through images of the little tyke and settled on one image.

Like many commissions that dig back into the past, there are always challenges. Sometimes the photos are faded or damaged, or in black and white. The photo that we chose this time was a terrific image of her little smiling face, but it, too, had a sizable share of things that needed to be changed. For starters, the size of her entire body was less that 1 inch high, but the light wrapping around her face was priceless. When I tried to enlarge it to see her face, I realized that the photo became grainy and out of focus. (When this is the situation, I am so grateful for the years and years and thousands of sketches that I have done studying faces.) in the old photo, she was dressed in typical play clothes and sitting on bright colored inflated balloon bags. The setting and the clothes just didn't do her face justice, so using the inspiration of her little face and her body position, I set out to create a painting that would ooze with charm and innocence.

We found photos of her in a darling timeless dress and decided to have her seated on the old brick steps of her childhood home. By softening the background to colors found in nature, I created a portrait that let her darling face reach out to all of us.

Now, getting back to the big event of last Sunday. From the very beginning, my clients were very excited to host an unveiling party for this painting. Never before, in all the years of my painting and drawing commissions, have I ever been honored with an unveiling of my work at a client's home! I thought that perhaps a few of their friends and neighbors would stop by, a lovely thought and I was very pleased. This event was set for Sunday January 8th.

On the 8th, Sunday.... Howard and I arrived at the Gould's early in the afternoon to set up the painting and to my amazement, it wasn't going to be a small gathering....there were beautiful plates of food and candles set out all over! 60 friends and neighbors had been invited to this gala catered event. As the afternoon slipped into evening, more and more people arrived. It was a huge success! Everyone was thrilled to see the painting. What an honor to have my work presented in this way. It reminded me of the royal portraits through the centuries and how they were always presented at an unveiling for the court. I felt like a rock star!

A big huge thank you to the Gould's for trusting me with this awesome commission and for hosting that incredible unveiling! We all had a great time! Sunday was a great day of connecting with old and new friends.... and old and new memories.

Christie by Susan Blackwood
20 x 24 oil