Tag Archives: art

Ladylike Artist: Agnes Martin


Alexander Liberman, Agnes in her studio. 1960

It was in an attempt to escape the crowds at MoMA that I came across Agnes Martin’s work. I saw a gallery in the back with no one in it, and like a moth to a flame I was drawn to it’s promise of isolation. In the calm emptiness, in almost silence, I looked at her minimalist canvases hanging before me and was able to let out the deep breath I didn’t realize I was holding in.

If I had not seen her work in person, I don’t know that I would have spent any time considering it. It’s hard to understand their meditative calmness looking at the small scale reproduction on your screen. Hard to perceive the slight changes in the colored stripes floating across the canvas like you can when the painting is in front of you, filling your peripheral. Some things you just need to see in person to fully appreciate them and I would argue that her work is a part of that category of things.

I found it as no surprise reading more about her and her work that she was inspired by buddhism and what she called the ‘abstract glories of being’; happiness, joy, beauty, and innocence. The evidence of that influence is obvious when you encounter her work. The impact of experiencing her paintings that day at MoMA did not really hit me until a week later when I found myself staring out at the clear evening sky, mindlessly waiting for the dogs to come back in, when I realized the subtle bars of color lowering themselves over the horizon were an Agnes Martin painting come to life.


Happy Holiday 1999 by Agnes Martin 1912-2004

Agnes Martin, Happy Holidays. 1999


Agnes Martin, Untitled #5. 1998

To learn more about the artist:


Ladylike Artists is a weekly feature on my blog where I write about a female artist that has inspired me.  My interest for learning more about woman artists peaked when I realized that art history rarely talks about them, saving their stories and work for specialized classes and books. There are more woman artists than we realize!  I hope their stories inspire you to ignore whatever boundaries are stopping you from pursuing your passion.

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Ladylike Artist: Dorothy Draper

Dorothy Draper, unknown.


Since I am in the midst of completing a few big home improvement projects it seemed fitting to crush on the pioneer of American Interior Design, Dorothy Draper, this week. Not only is she credited with starting one of the first American design firms but she is also a woman who started and ran her own business in the 1920s. That business, under her guidance turned into an empire. Her style become a classic and she revolutionized the way we decorate our homes today. She dismissed the norm of ‘period rooms’ and blended various styles with bold color to create a space unlike anyone had ever seen before.

Although my own more conservative and quiet style is far from her bold stripes and daring color combinations I have always been encouraged by her famous quote, “If it feels right, it is right.” She wasn’t worried about faux pas or technicalities and in her regular column in Good Housekeeping Magazine she encouraged women to adopt her attitude to have fun decorating their homes to fit their individual styles.


As always, thanks for reading.


To learn more about the artist:


Ladylike Artists is a weekly feature on my blog where I write about a female artist that has inspired me.  My interest for learning more about women artists peaked when I realized that art history rarely talks about them, saving their stories and work for specialized classes and books. There are more woman artists than we realize!  I hope their stories inspire you to ignore whatever boundaries are stopping you from pursuing your passion.

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Ladylike Artist: Sally Mann…

Sally Mann, photo by Liz Liguori

Sally Mann was one of the first photographers I was exposed to, one of the first photographers I could name to describe and recognize their work as being theirs. She was one of the first artists I felt I could actually have a conversation about which encouraged me to talk about her work.

Her work is easy to talk about in that it has a depth to it that continues to deepen the more you explore and discuss it. Her images are captivating but slightly uncomfortable. They challenge you to ask yourself, “Why is there this un-easiness? Why do I feel like maybe these images were not meant for me to look at?” Even her landscape photographs give you that slight feeling of trespassing.

Sally Mann, David. 2005

As a photographer you tend to photograph your surroundings, yet I struggle with photographing my children. Or maybe it would be better to say it this way, I struggle to share those photographs with others. I am not talking about the silly snap shots or videos that are shared with family, but these moments where I realize that I am not just capturing a snap shot. The image has crossed over that mythical hard to describe line into something more, something that could be art. Although my intimacy with my subject is what has allowed me to capture the moment, that intimacy has also made me incredibly protective of the image and of the subjects.

Sally Mann, Damaged Child. 1984

It could and probably is this completely differing approach that captivates me about Sally Mann. She photographed her children in those serendipitous moments and instead of hoarding and guarding them, she openly shares them with a world. A world that has often been very critical of how she has allowed her children to be seen. In her book, Holding Still, she talks about involving her children in the final selection process. She always gave them the power to say, “No, I do not want anyone to see that.”

My own children are still little, too little to offer permission or to even understand what it would mean to hang an image of them in gallery. Maybe when my children are older, when time separates the child I experience in my day to day from the one in the frame, I can have just enough of the detachment required to objectively consider them as something more.

As always, thanks for reading.


To learn more about the artist:

Ladylike Artists is a weekly feature on my blog where I write about a female artist that has inspired me.  My interest for learning more about women artists peaked when I realized that art history rarely talks about them, saving their stories and work for specialized classes and books. There are more woman artists than we realize!  I hope their stories inspire you to ignore whatever boundaries are stopping you from pursuing your passion.

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The Beginning…

Today is the official start for my year long Artist Residency in Motherhood!!!!!!

I have been thinking and wanting to do this since I first heard about it over a year ago. At the time I was working full time and waiting for kiddo number 2’s arrival. I really liked the idea of the commitment but I lacked the courage so I pretended like I would do my own version of it which was code for “i’ll make a lot excuses so this never happens.”

I did dip my toes in the art making occasionally. Drawing became a great outlet in the weeks leading up to kid2’s arrival. After kid2 arrived she sometimes would take a nap at the same time as her sister and I would run to my studio as quietly as I could and then just stand there. Not sure what I could actually accomplish in 20minutes (or at all) I usually ended up trying to organize something or cleaned while promising myself that next time I would do something more creative.

It was thrilling.

Then I did what I am really good at doing and completely discredited any shred of creativity I was foolish enough to think I had. Awful stupid things that I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough at if I heard anyone else say them filled my head. The worst of them… ‘Grow up Ren, stop with this foolish art stuff.’

In Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly she calls it Shame Gremlins. And dirty little gremlins they are. She talks about how the more vulnerable you feel the worst the gremlins become… the lady knows what’s up. Every time I would even think about the potential of doing something art related the gremlins would spring to action, propelling down from the rafters shouting their war cry ‘REN SUCKS!!!!!’ The more I tried to ignore them the dirtier they played, knowing exactly what to say to shut me down.

Not to be all ‘This book totally changed my life..,’ but this book is totally changing my life.

I feel ready in a way that I just haven’t before. I am also tired of letting the gremlins run things and ruin something I really love doing, and that’s showing up in the studio to make art. 

What was going on while I was writing this post, seemed more accurate to chose the shot where none of us are looking. (This is also the reason for any spelling or grammatical errors in this post)

As always, thanks for reading!



You should check out:

Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly… Don’t forget to support your local bookstore if you can 

-Artist Residency in Motherhood’s website 




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It’s Probably Silly But…



Despite moving into our house a year ago we still have a number of boxes yet to be unpacked. Most of those boxes are filled with books, including a lot of books that I still haven’t read. Shelving to hold our library is in the planning stages but until that project is done they wait in boxes.  Looking for the next book to read requires a bit of a hunt, in my latest dig I was happy to find Instant: The Story of Polaroid sitting on the top of one of the boxes. I had received the book as a gift right before we packed up our library 2 years ago.

The book itself feels and looks like something made by Polaroid. I was surprised to find it was published in 2012 despite it’s 70s aesthetic. I usually just fold over the corner to mark my place but couldn’t bring myself to bend the stiff pages. The author, Christopher Bonanos, clearly dove deep into the history of the iconic company and it’s creator Edwin Land when doing research for this book. Yet he was able to use all the nuances and side stories to support the over arching theme without forcing in tangents that are interesting side bits but do nothing for the main point.  It’s an approachable and easy read while still explaining some pretty complex ideas. Bonanos style of writing holds on to the complexity of Land’s inventions while keeping it comprehensible.

The story of Polaroid is familiar, one that repeats itself in many American success stories. A quirky young man with an unique mind and passion for inventing changes the world with their way of thinking and creates a multi-billion dollar business in the process. I was surprised to find that Polaroid got it’s start trying to solve car headlight glare using polarized lenses. That they were already a well established company inventing technology for the war when Land came up with the idea of the instant photo. An invention that without argument changed the field of photography and American culture. Even more surprising was fine art photographer Ansel Adams’ involvement from the beginning.



Ansel Adams, Window, Bear Valley, California 1973, polaroid type 55

Curious about how this new technology would shape the field of photography Ansel Adams asked to be a field tester for the cameras and film Land designed. He sent back detailed notes to Land to be used as part of their research. He would also show up in person to talk with the inventors about ways he thought things could be improved upon or just to see what they were working on. This story within the story stood out to me in a way those types of stories always do. My insecurities about following where my own curiosity leads causes stories of others seemingly fearless pursuit to make an awe inspiring impression.


All of us have our own story involving a polaroid. Mine involves spending hours as a kid arranging my stuffed animal collection into various poses in order to take their portrait with my polaroid camera. I remember dragging a rocking chair into my room to make the photos look more professional. The instant polariod made my pretending seem more real. I was left with a tangible product of my imagination. Sadly those stuffed animal portraits are lost but I do have some of the polaroids I took when I was a kid. They were photos I took without my current set of self conscious baggage. I wanted to take a photo of my brother drinking his pepsi so I did without wondering what my brother thought, or what anyone else in the room thought, or what I would do with the photo once I took it, and what the photo said to the viewer, or why it is important to capture that moment, or any of the other existential bullshit lines of questioning I hide behind. I wanted to take a photo of my brother, so I did. I wasn’t worried about whether or not it was good or if someone else would think it was silly. I just did it.

As I get ready to dive back into the studio I hope to take the ways I was inspired by Instant and the childlike pursual of art of my younger self with me.

As always, thanks for reading.


If you feel inspired to pick up a copy of Instant: The Story of Polaroid check out your local bookstore first!

Stuff You Should Check Out:

The Impossible Project is keeping the Polaroid film alive having bought the last polaroid film factory right before is was shut down. Not only do they sell film but they recently released a new instant photo camera.

– This great article from New York Film Academy about some of the most famous artists that used Polaroid in their work.

– And from Polariod’s website where they announced the latest camera, Snap Touch, in September. A digital camera that can print instantly.




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Traveling between universes…

How do you illustrate the power and emotion of growing up with divorced parents? The struggle of trying to live in two parallel universes? The transition of going from one parent’s house to the other?

Since moving to Maryland I have made a few trips to see my family at my dad’s house. Part of the route is the exact route I traveled every other weekend as a kid to visit my mom. It’s strange to be 28years old, with my own daughter in the back seat, driving the same route. The route is super charged with memories that pull me in reluctantly, flooding me with moments from all of those car rides. I am equally as moved by what has changed and by what has stayed exactly the same 10 years later.

I have always played around with the idea of making work about the duality of being raised with divorced parents. To illustrate how it felt to be raised in that setting, to make the conversation focus on the children of divorce. Not to shame parents who got divorced, or to some how make my own parents feel like they failed me in some way, but to say, ‘Hey having two birthday’s wasn’t as exciting as I wanted it to be,’ or express how frustrating it was to have someone ask if me and my sisters had the same mom, or how hurtful it was when I would say no and they responded with ‘Oh so then your actually only half sisters.’

Confession: I do want to shame those people because that’s actually just a turd thing to say to a kid. They are my whole sisters because love doesn’t play by your genetic technicalities.

For now the idea will continue to muddle around in the back of my brain, it will either continue to take shape or just float around as a fragment of an idea. I’m finding that is how my brain works, it needs time to really flush an idea out. It doesn’t like to be rushed. I remember hearing that Louise Bourgeois would spend 10 years from initial idea to finished piece. They would start as sketches, then become small hand-held clay or wood models, then slowly become bigger and bigger until she felt she had found the right scale. Of course she had multiple ideas being flushed out at any given time but all of her work followed a similar process.  In the mean time landmarks of my route between universes have started to show up in sketches and doodles, becoming the subject of my recent exploration in india ink. I don’t know where either this subject matter or this new medium will take my work but I’m enjoying exploring both.

As always, thanks for reading.


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Kindling for the Fire…

On Deck at Pea Patch Island. Diamond State Vintage Baseball Team 2011

This week has been an exciting one for my little studio. After a lot of consideration and months of second guessing I decide to use some of the money I generously received as a graduation gift almost a year ago to buy an Epson Film Scanner. Although nerve wracking, it was inspiring to invest in a piece of equipment that will allow more freedom in my studio.

My goal is to one day have a studio equipped to support my pursuits in various artistic mediums. With an extremely small budget for equipment and materials, my studio will continue to grow slowly. I have a pretty good idea of what I want my studio to look like and have been slowly adding pieces that are making it more of a reality. Things that allow me to continue to pursue art.

Diamond State Baseball. 2011

With a film scanner I feel more encouraged to use my collection of film cameras. Its easy to get the film developed (the next addition on the photography side of the studio will be the chemicals needed to develop my own b+w film) but well outside of my budget to have the film scanned for me. The frames aren’t always consistent on every roll of film because of the type of camera’s I am shooting with so there is the concern that the film will be cut to a standard size which could cut through the middle of one of my frames. So the rolls of film just sit. At least they did until this past week. I’m starting with scanning all the photos I took while attending my dad’s vintage baseball games. I hacked my 120N Blue Holga to use 35mm film to capture one of their games at Pea Patch Island in Delaware. Another game I took my Agfa box camera along and played with the framing options built into the 85 year old camera. I like the diversity of using the various cameras and the lack of control that I have beyond pressing the shutter and hoping for the best. I like that they force me to stop trying to take control and to just focus on what is in front of me. To finally see the fruits of those labors is exciting and rekindles the passion I have for going out and capturing the world.

This is not the start but the rekindling of something great… a fire that my insecurities and fear prevent from burning for to long.

As always, thanks for reading.


Check out…

Diamond State Baseball 

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Closet Feminist…


From the series Teenage Vendetta where I unknowingly explored feminist themes.

From the series Teenage Vendetta where I unknowingly explored feminist themes.

I never considered if I was a feminist or not until I was called one by a male professor. Well, he didn’t call me a feminist exactly. What happened was this, during a one on one critique in art school he was looking at my work and said, ‘Look, I get it. You have this whole feminist thing going on.”

Immediately my blood began to boil. Just because I’m a girl attending art school I am automatically doing the whole ‘feminist’ thing? Feminism had nothing to do with my work!

Or so I thought.

I was working on a series of still lifes for my advanced studio class. My idea was to show what it would look like if a girl in her mid-twenties was to take out her frustrations from the cruel reality of the world on her childhood barbies who made her believe the world was a pink safe place where dreams come true. One of the images is of three Barbie heads on spikes in a heap of Barbie parts. I was trying to reflect women’s experiences through my work, which is the most basic definition of Feminist Art and the Feminist Art Movement.

I had a feminist thing going on. Yet why did it feel so insulting to have someone identify it as that? Did it only feel insulting because it was an old white male saying it? What if it was one of my female instructors?

At the time I was doing the work I was unaware of what Feminist Art really was. I knew women burned their bras in the 70s and I knew about Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party which was explained to me as ‘a bunch of vaginas on plates that she was calling art.’ Sure, I am all for women’s equality. One of my biggest frustrations as a kid growing up was being told or treated like I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. It’s still one of my biggest frustrations. I just didn’t understand how a bunch of vagina plates were supposed to make the ‘Man’ treat women with more respect. I wrongly grouped all of Feminism in with my mis-understanding of one piece of art work.

I wasn’t alone. I can remember other female students being equally insulted by automatically being grouped in with feminist art just because, we often wrongly thought, we were women artists. Many of those female students were unaware of what they were even being associated with.   Even the famed photographer Cindy Sherman has tried to disassociate herself with the feminist art movement. Art History 101 mentions the feminist art movement in passing, as the beginning of performance art. If you really want to learn about feminist art or about any women artists in any time period you have to take a special topics class. (But that is a rant for another post.)  The more I learn about feminism on my own the more I realize many of my ideas are feminist in nature. It shouldn’t be an insult to be associated with these woman that forced the male dominated institution to take them seriously, to consider women as serious contenders in the art world. I’m not sure I would be able to dismember Barbie and photograph the doll’s head on a stake and get an ‘A’ by an old white male artist if it wasn’t for their work, if Womanhouse never happened.

Yet, I still find myself stuck in an identity crisis. I am leery of being called feminist or having my work associated with feminism because I feel like I am just being grouped there by men that don’t know what else to do with women’s art. But on the other side of things I really enjoy being married and want a lot of kids that I can stay at home with. I am hesitant to openly share how excited I am by those things because then I am not feminist enough, just another poor weak woman giving in to the male dictated role of submissive wife and child bearer. What is even more confusing is that I do not think loving wives and stay at home mother’s are weak or unable to be feminist. I could say that its just in my head but I have had to many conversations with too many people that have re-enforced that this is a very real way of thinking in our society. When I tell people that now that I have graduated college I am excited to have kids and be a mom, I am asked why I even wasted my time and money going to school. Sharing future plans my husband and I are making, the conversation’s focus is always on what I am giving up for his career.

I could follow the old adage ‘who cares what other people think, just be you.’ But if we are all honest, it matters what other people think. It matters how we are seen by our society and our peers.

Maybe I let it matter too much.


As always, thanks for reading.



Check it out:


Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party

More from my Barbie Series


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Fighting to put in the hours…

IMG_3306As much as I hate those awful e-cards that find them selves shared on Facebook and re-pinned incessantly on Pinterest, sometimes they have meaningful insight written on them. Insight like, “Don’t compare your first chapter to someone else’s last.” It’s easy to do, especially as an art student when we are surrounded by images of artist’s final chapters. When looking at the volumes written solely about one particular artist it is easy to forget that they, like most artists, did not have their first solo show till they were 40 years old. It’s easy to read about the years these now iconic artist spent being ignored or criticized without accepting that it is a very real possibility that it will happen to you. To forget that still today not everyone likes the work of the great artists whose names have come to represent entire periods of art history.

It is these facts that are often forgotten when we hit those roadblocks, when what we thought was great is met with negativity and disapproval. They are forgotten when we are forced to come face to face with why we are doing what we do, the question of who all of this is for. It is in those moments of self-doubt, when walking away would make sense to anyone looking in at the situation, that determines whether or not you will ever put in your 10,000 hours. Because it is not just about putting in 10,000 hours of practice, it is about putting in those 10,000 hours in spite of the obstacles that will inevitably present themselves.

I write as if I have overcome the desire to walk away, as if I have come to terms with the fact that not everyone is going to like what I do or who I am. Right now I am inspired, I am looking forward to the future, the fight of getting in my 10,000 hours to be great at what I do. But in the back of my mind is always that little voice that whispers lies that I have to fight daily to ignore. The whispers of all the things I have failed at, the whispers of all the things I will fail at, the whispers of all of my faults as a human. Paying attention, even slightly, to that voice creates a tornado of self doubt that consumes both my brain and heart, leaving me with the feeling that the dream was taken away from me a long time ago and I have only been clutching its memory.

Every time the tornado hits, it becomes easier to get passed it, to see it for what it is. That does not mean that I will not spend the rest of my life battling it, for I surely will, but it means I am ready to battle it. I come out of each battle wanting this dream even more, even more determined to figure out how to make it work, how to be better. In the movie Train Robbers, John Wayne’s character says “You’re going to spend the rest of your life getting up one more time than you’re knocked down, so you’d better start getting used to it.” We have to get used to getting back up, remember all of the times we have gotten up in the past, so the next time we get knocked down we don’t lose hope, we know that we are only getting closer to achieving our 10,000 hours and our dreams.

As always, thanks for reading.

– r.n.a.

To listen to the Malcom Gladwell talk more about his 10,000 hours theory go here.

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