This is the third and last post about the sculpture I am exhibiting in the Aquarium, a micro gallery in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan, pictured above. To read part 1, go HERE. To read part 2, go HERE.

I knew I had only two and a half hours to hang the sculpture in the Aquarium and wouldn’t have time for things to go wrong, so I rehung the whole thing, entity, houses, lights, and fan, to practice and make sure it would go up smoothly.

The grid, entity, lights, and fan went up easily and took very little time. The houses were recalcitrant. As I wrote in Part 2, the houses are suspended with mono filament which is glued into the houses. At the other end the filament is wrapped around wooden pegs (cut from a dowel and painted white) that have a hook on one end and a slit in the other to make adjusting and locking of the length of the filament easier. When I was rehanging the houses a bunch of them had the mono filament slip out of the peg’s locking slit and unraveled off the hangers. It was frustrating, but it was better happening at this stage rather than later, when I was hanging the piece in the Aquarium. I restrung the unraveled filament on the hangers and added white artist tape around all the pegs. The tape made the pegs more visible than I like, but it held the mono filament in place. The pegs are great, but I will probably change the way the houses are hung in the future.


The hangars (9 plus an extra just-in-case).

I tried to take some photos, none of which turned out very well. It was late, the sheet looked weird, I couldn’t get back far enough to get everything in the frame, etc., and I was tired and I still had to pack it all up.


After the failed photo shoot I took the whole thing down again, re-tagged all the pieces, and readied everything for transport. I wound the mono filament of each house around a dowel and packed each one into individual plastic bags. I taped all the hangers I made for the entity onto a piece of plexiglass. I laid the 4 parts of the entity in the back of the car. We packed a drill, tape, ink, paint brushes, a sheet (on which to lay everything on site), screws, eye bolts, S-hooks, a light timer, blue tape, the fan, pencils, markers, extra mono filament, and gesso into a tool bag. Some things were necessary; some were just-in-case.

The next morning Matthew and I drove everything to the Aquarium. At the back of the Aquarium are white wood panels which we removed. We hung the grid from the ceiling of the Aquarium with eye-bolts and S-hooks. I hung the entity and the houses from the grid and removed all the tags.


Matthew mounted the lights and the fan and hooked the lights up to a timer so they would only illuminate at night while I went outside and trimmed away the vines that were overhanging the Aquarium glass.

We put the panels back up and it was done. It took less than 2 hours.


We went back that night to see if the lights were working. It’s difficult to photograph when it’s dark outside, but it glows exactly as I hoped, with a blue light that feels thick and murky.


A last note about the lights. Somewhere in all this I questioned my lighting choice. I liked the effect I had with the blue LEDs (see Part 2), but I began to wonder whether I needed to try and attract more attention. I thought about having white, lightning-like flashes, I thought that maybe the color of the lights should reflect different moods. I experimented with Phillips Hue lights and the Thunderstorm For Hue app. I tried random, slow flashing lights. I experimented with a lot of flashing lights. I had lights changing color. It was fun and interesting, but it was all wrong. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should, and like the wrapped houses, the flashing and color changes changed the essence of the sculpture. The steady, blue, LED bulbs were right.

I’m happy with this sculpture. Everything came together brilliantly.

The Ann Arbor Art Center staff were wonderful through all this — from trusting that the  weird little maquette I showed them (see Part 1) could become something much more, to being being available while we were hanging the finished piece. Nothing But Blue Skies will be hanging in the Aquarium through November 26, 2016.



This post, the second about the sculpture pictured above that I created and am exhibiting in the Aquarium Gallery in downtown Ann Arbor Michigan, is about putting all the pieces of the artwork together. To read Part 1, which is about constructing the pieces, go HERE.

So….. the Aquarium Gallery isn’t 8 x 8 x 2.5 feet; it’s closer to 6 x 6 x 2.5 feet. But at this point in the story I didn’t know that yet.

Usually before I start a project that is dependent on specific dimensions, I make sure the info I have is correct. This time I decided to be trusting and go ahead with what was posted on the Aquarium Gallery’s website. So my husband helped me build the grid structure from which my sculpture was to hang. We used wood boards and garden wire to create a grid that was 6 inches smaller (both in depth and width) than the Aquarium.

IMG_4737.JPGI started putting together the main body of the sculpture. I laid the sticks out on the grid, then wired them together with lock wire, making three separate sections.

IMG_4739.JPG I painted the grid white. We hung the grid from the ceiling and I hung each part of the sculpture from the grid with lock wire.

IMG_4743.JPGThen I began to wonder… is the window *really* 8 feet wide? It just felt so…. wide. I sent an email to the curator asking for confirmation. She was happy to check and measure the space. We discovered the Aquarium is 75 H x 70.5 W x 30 D (inches), so closer to 6 feet wide and tall, not 8 feet. I was a bit disheartened. And I was annoyed at myself for not checking the measurement in the first place when it was so important. Luckily I had plenty of time before the exhibition.

At least the depth was right. I decided to leave the grid hanging from the ceiling and cut its width down to size later. I put tape on the grid to indicate the new 6 foot width. I first tried to rehang the parts as they were and make them fit into 6 feet, but it wasn’t to be. I ended up taking the whole stick structure apart and starting over.

A couple of days later I had the new structure. The silver lining in all this is that the new piece is much more what I had originally envisioned; less skeletal and more like a mass, an entity, than my first structure. It was now four interleaving parts instead of three.

img_4756Hanging the houses came next. I had 30 wire-wrapped houses.

img_6692-2I tried hanging a lot of houses from the grid with lock wire in different configurations. I tried hanging just a few houses. I tried hanging one house. Nothing was right. The houses and the entity fought each other; I felt like I was working with two different sculptures. I wanted the houses to feel vulnerable and small, but wrapped in wire they were strong and confident. No matter the number of houses, or where I hung them, they were wrong. The entity didn’t feel at all menacing with the houses so fortified.


img_4767So I unwrapped one of the houses. Laid bare it felt vulnerable and small, and the sculpture came together in my head: I needed 9 naked houses in a suburb-like grid hanging under the downward facing arc of the entity.

I hung a sheet to simulate the Aquarium Gallery’s white walls, nixed the lock-wire for hanging the houses, and tested a few houses with taped-on mono filament line. It began to look as I had imagined when I first thought of the piece: exposed and vulnerable houses huddling beneath a somewhat menacing entity.

img_4783I drilled holes in the tops of 9 houses and glued in mono filament.

img_4787The Aquarium is simply a large window, so I knew there would be no daytime control of light, but at night I wanted the window to have a murky blue glow. I did a test with one blue LED bulb to see if I could get the effect I wanted. It worked. It was coming together really well.

IMG_4815.JPGRemember the 8 x 8 x 2.5 foot vs. the 6 x 6 x 2.5 foot problem? I needed to dismantle everything, cut down the grid and rehang it all to make sure it would still work.

So I tagged all the pieces (at the hanging points on the sculpture and grid and the corresponding hanging wire) and took everything down.


img_4832My husband helped me hack off both ends of the grid and re-attach them and the wire mesh at the right dimension.

img_4836I re-painted the grid where it was needed and we hung it in our garage so I could put it all back together again, really test the lighting, and take some photos.

Coming next, Part 3. Putting the sculpture back together, testing the lights, the fan, and installation in the Aquarium.

In October I will be installing a hanging sculpture in the Ann Arbor Art Center’s Aquarium Gallery. The Aquarium is an 8 x 8 x 2.5 foot street-facing exhibition space on the side of the Art Center’s building in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan. So far all I’ve been working on is prep, which always seems to take the longest. I hope to start constructing the artwork later this week. It will be made of sticks, wire, and glass beads, and possibly glass tile and paper, depending on how things go together and how it looks as it progresses.

I mostly concoct things in my head and then build. I rarely create any preliminary sketches or maquettes, but this, being a site-specific piece, I constructed and photographed a maquette for the Art Center to get an idea of what I wanted to construct for the Aquarium. Here’s the maquette:


It might be obvious, but the final sculpture will be a lattice of sticks from which a number of little houses in wire cage-nests, and strings of glass beads, will hang.

I use sticks in a lot of my sculptures. I gather them periodically and let them dry in my basement. When they’re completely dry I remove as much bark as possible with a putty knife.


I wanted to paint the sticks for this sculpture. After removing the bark I sealed the sticks with Golden GAC 100, then primed each one white. I thought I could save time and use an inexpensive spray paint primer, but when I had gone through two cans of spray paint and had not completely covered the sticks, I gave up on the spray and went to gesso. If I had used a higher quality primer spray paint I might have had better luck. Anyway, I know gesso works, and after two coats on each stick I had a wonderful matte surface.


Next was to paint all the sticks blue. I wanted the sticks to have a very smooth, matte feel so I used Molotow Urban Fine Art spray paint, cerulean blue. I used one and a half cans to paint all the sticks. I touched up the few places I missed with Golden High Flow Acrylic paint, cerulean blue hue. It’s a close color match, but not perfect, so I painted and dabbed the acrylic paint onto the sticks where needed; essentially feathering the paint into the Molotow color to make it blend in. After the color was completely dry I applied matte Liquitex spray varnish.


Hanging houses in cage-nests are integral elements of the sculpture. These houses are the same wooden shapes I use in a number of sculptures and are cut from 2x4s. They are sealed with GAC 100 and painted with tinted gesso. I used Daler-Rowney FW process cyan ink to tint the gesso. After three coats of tinted gesso I started wrapping the houses with .041 inch stainless steel lock wire. I’m starting with 30 houses. I may need more or I may use fewer; time will tell. This afternoon I ran out of lock wire with 6 more houses to go, so I’ll be going shopping at Harbor Freight tomorrow morning.

I applied the varnish to the sticks this morning and will let that dry overnight. It’s been so hot and humid here; the layers of primer, gesso, and paint took longer than usual to dry.

A bit more prep and I will be able to begin putting it all together.




Excerpt 11 detail open 1

I have a hard time referring to the three dimensional artworks I create as sculpture. “Sculpture,” in my mind is synonymous with Bernini. Flesh and emotion expertly hewn out of marble. My work is more like building. Constructing.

No matter the designation, I find this three-dimensional creating immensely satisfying. My thought process is different, more expansive, than it is when I am drawing or painting. I have to think of all the angles the object can be viewed from. I think about physical voids and empty space. I get to figure out what raw materials will work best for what I am trying to build. I love that some materials submit gently to my manipulations, and that some resist. I also find the fact that the work takes up space, that it actively occupies, gratifying.

I finished my latest construction, Excerpt #11 Reactor, two weeks ago and brought it, along with two other pieces, to Toledo last week for Gallery Project’s upcoming exhibition, Re:Formation. The patterns on the sides of the base are derived from photos of the buttons and dials on the walls of nuclear reactor control rooms. I used glass beads to represent the beautiful cyan color of a nuclear reaction.

Excerpt 11 diag 1Following is what was involved in the building of this piece:

This structure is composed of birch plywood (1/4 inch for the top house-shaped part, and 1/2 inch for the base). I buy sheets of plywood at Lowes or Fingerlee Lumber. My husband, Matthew, cut the boards for me on his table saw.


Assembly of various sculptures. Tops for both Reactor and Red Stag. The City is on the right. The City originally had an island associated with it, but I abandoned that idea.


I used Titebond III wood glue for plywood assembly. I sealed all the plywood with Golden GAC, then gessoed the sealed wood. (3 coats of regular gesso for the base and interior of the top, and 1 coat of regular gesso followed by 2 coats of sandable hard gesso for the top’s exterior. I used sandable hard gesso on the outside of the top to achieve a very smooth surface.) I painted the inside and outside of the top, and the outside of the base with 3 coats of black Speedball ink. I buy my inks at Blick and through Ziller. The roof is attached to its base via glued square dowels (hardware store purchase).


Glues, ink, gesso and GAC

The top of the sculpture is completely separate from the base. The two pieces are held together with 4 aluminum cubes that have SETA Big Bumps on two sides – one side of the cubes stick to the top, the other to the base. I purchased the cubes at my local Alro Metals outlet store, which has a retail shop full of off cuts. I love to go there and look for materials.


SETA Big Bumps, aluminum cubes, plywood

For this sculpture I used carbon steel wire and copper wire. I buy wire at various local hardware stores, building supply stores and The Bead Gallery. Carbon steel wire has a mind of its own and is very springy. I coiled it around itself to create the interior wire ball, then threaded dowels through the wire ball. I glued the dowels to both the roof and its cube. Then I wrapped more carbon steel wire around and through this top house shape. I drilled holes in the base, poked the carbon steel wire into the holes and bent the wire ends inside to anchor them. Then I wound the wire around the base. I wrapped copper wire around some of the carbon steel wire. This both held the carbon steel wire in place and evoked a less static feel to some of the wire. There are glass and brass beads (purchased at The Bead Gallery and on Etsy) threaded onto some of the wires, both the wire ball inside the top and outside the structure.

I created a paper pattern and used it as a guide for drilling divots into the sides of the base, then glued brass beads and inert brass primers into the divots with Weldbond.

For transporting, Matthew constructed cradles for the base. The base, along with the plinth for The City, rode in our car roof box. The top of Reactor, The City, and Excerpt #6 rode in the back of our car. As The City is too tall to sit upright in the car, Matthew constructed a surface for it so it could ride at an angle, clamped in place.

After delivering the sculptures to the gallery space in Toledo, I re-assembled Reactor and adjusted its wires.

The space Gallery Project has rented for Re:Formation is gigantic — an abandoned department store with super high ceilings and massive pillars. Gallery Project was still planning out the show when I delivered my artwork and nothing was placed or hung yet, so my sculptures looked a little forlorn. We will transport the sculptures to the exhibition’s second location in Ann Arbor after it closes in Toledo.


The Toledo space for Re:Formation

Toledo: August 1 – 30, 2016 Opening Reception August 5th, 2016, 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Ann Arbor: September 9 – October 16, 2016, Opening Reception September 9th,, 2016, 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm


I have to admit that I’m more excited than I thought I would be at having artwork in the background of a single scene in a TV series. And yes, I fast-forwarded through every episode of the second season of Netflix’s Bloodline to find my paintings.

My artworks’ five-second cameo came about when the set designer for the series licensed one-time use rights for three of my paintings through Box Heart, the gallery I work with in Pittsburgh. The artworks used on the set are digital reproductions as the filming was done in Florida. In my fast-forwarding I found two of the three. I could have missed the third, or it could be used in a later filming, or it may never be used.

One-time rights licensing isn’t terribly lucrative (Box Heart bases the fee on a percentage of the retail value of the artwork and I share the proceeds with the gallery), but it’s great to have my art out “working” for me. Is this a good thing? Does it make the original less valuable? More valuable? I don’t know. I do know that right now this managed licensing is one of the ways I can benefit from the art I create beyond selling the original.

And it’s really fun seeing my artwork on TV.

Image above: screen shot of Part 21, Season 2 of Netflix’s Original series, Bloodline. Artwork pictured: Station and Bloodlines.


Xi Wexin at the UMMA, from Instagram #umicharts

This past week I went to see the exhibition, Xu Weixin: Monumental Portraits, at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. All of Xu Weixin’s paintings at the UMMA are about 8 x 6 feet, hence the Monumental of the title. On exhibit are paintings from two of Xu Weixin’s series: Miner Portraits, and Chinese Historical Figures 1966-1976.

Some of the paintings from the Chinese Historical Figures series are hazy and out of focus, some sharply defined. The Miner paintings are a little more loose and painterly than the monotone Chinese Historical Figures paintings. All the paintings are devoid of background. At first blush all the artworks have the feeling of photography.

I have dismissed artwork that feels too much as though it is merely a copy of a photograph. I’ve also dismissed artwork that is big just to be big. I have to admit I was expecting both from Monumental Portraits. But the Miner Portraits and Chinese Historical Figures are neither. Close-up, with the brushstrokes and thickness of paint evident, the portraits begin to feel off-balance, reflecting the forgotten lives of the miners and the turbulence of the cultural revolution. This feeling of off-balance in Xu Weixin’s artworks, coupled with their size, seems to amplify the paintings and the stories they tell. It makes the subjects of the paintings and the lives they lived seem close and hugely real.

This exhibition is atScreen Shot 2016-05-07 at 4.01.36 PM the UMMA until May 29, 2016: Xu Weixin: Monumental Portraits, February 20–May 29, 2016





Village, 28 x 46 inches, Acrylic Ink on 140 lb Fabriano HP, 2013

This spring a new Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse opened in Ann Arbor and their architecture/design firm purchased three of my Lost Empire artworks for one of the restaurant’s dining rooms. A couple dined there at the end of May, saw my artwork, and subsequently purchased two different paintings from the same series. This is all really wonderful, and I could write about the serendipity of these events all day, but this isn’t about serendipity. This is about the couple requesting more information about my artwork in general, and more details about the specific paintings they now owned. They were pleased when I told them I’d send them a written narrative to go along with the paintings.

I am always thrilled and flattered when someone wants to hear about my artwork, but I find talking about my art difficult. If the talking is impromptu I tend to ramble and repeat myself, and, although I’m OK at giving prepared talks, I find them daunting. Writing about my artwork is much easier for me. No rambling or forgetting a salient point. In this case it gave me a chance to think and write not only about my art in general, but also about two particular paintings, one being Village. Here’s a paragraph from the Village narrative:

At its core, Village is an imaginary portrait of a single hillside. A tightly built town nestles in the shadow of a walled fortress, itself in the shadow of a ghostly, ancient cathedral. Time progresses; rural houses and viaducts give way to apartment buildings, factories and urbanization. Skyscrapers reaching to the top of the picture plane are specters of a city far in the future. Wallpaper-like orange flowers from a past nobody remembers float carelessly by. On top of everything are the flora, fauna and citizens that inhabit this hillside, (now, in the past and in the future); alternately blissfully living together and aggressively attacking each other as they move from birth to death, transforming themselves and the environment on which they exist.

And so is Village as interpreted by me. But that’s my narrative of my artwork, and although I like when someone wants to know my thoughts, I’d rather my artwork not be tied solely to my interpretation of it. Sometimes what others see in my artwork surprises me, and is as interesting —if not more interesting — as what’s in my head. I love when someone finds my artwork intriguing and creates a meaning for it all their own. So even though I was thrilled to write about Village in detail for its new owners, I hope they let the painting inspire its own narrative for them as well. And I hope it inspires new interpretations and new meanings for anyone else who sees it hanging in its new home.

Photos of my artworks in Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse here(News from May 2015)