contemporary collage paintings
the process
Leslie Avon Miller

My life flows when I'm in my art.

Jean De Muzio

Monday, March 30, 2009

The First Question: Blog Reader’s Answers

Knowing, 6 x 6 collage by Leslie Avon Miller
I have been away for a few days. Looking over these answers again has been touching. As artists, it is clear that our creativity is a portal to something bigger than ourselves, to something of profound meaning and value. I just can’t synthesize these because every one is a precious gem. So here they are, in no particular order, and with a touch of paraphrasing. Breathe in the beauty, the soulfulness, and the exquisiteness of the connection each creative person has to their own creativity.

#1 What is it that you get back from your art?

Acceptance of myself and my art
Permission to just be
License to live a different kind of life
Balance in my life
A spiritual feeling
The older I get the more making art changes to meditation
Being in the flow
Writing is the greatest thing for me; it has taken on a life of its own
My writing resonates
A sense of playfulness
It provides solutions
A coming together, a flowering
I make money
Impetus to keep making art
An outlet for my creativity
The ability to solve problems
A sense of community that sustains me
Opportunity to learn new things
Sense of accomplishment
Calms me down
Teaches me patience
Teaches to accept and enjoy many forms of art
Outlet for expressing my emotions
A way to work out problem and to share
A great adrenalin rush
Feeding of the heart and brain
My brain becomes engaged
I feel blessed
A chance to express one’s deepest beliefs, joys and dreams
A way to get in touch with the visible world around me
Art and creativity is way to express myself in the world
Connections with others
A sense of purpose
A feeling that art is food and medicine
A part of my soul
A secret thought
A new color or texture
A surprise
Regenerative energy
Creativity creates a bigger pool of creativity for all of us
Art is the path to wisdom
Pure joy of creating
Deep satisfaction
Pleasure in completing a quest
The amazing sight of giving new life
Joy, clarity, fulfillment
Deeper understanding of my inner and outer life
Increased appreciation for the world
A constant dialog with the work
Gratitude to be alive

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The First Question

Messenger 6 x 6 collage by Leslie Avon Miller, collection of Kathleen Botsford

This is my answer to the First Question: What is it that you get back from your art?
My art gives me something to strive for; being the best artist I can be. My art gives me something to ponder; what am I saying with my art? My art gives me technical problems to solve. My art allows me grow as a person. My art allows me to express myself in the world. My art makes me feel truly alive. My art compels me to get up early and work hard. My art gives me compassion for myself and others. My art gives me humility. And one artistic expression has lead to another, which is a gift I did not anticipate. My art has been a connection to many other like minded people. My art keeps me connected to the sacred. My art is a deep part of the meaning I experience in life. My art allows me to express my passion; for life, for art, for the process of being alive. My art lets me claim myself. My art piques my sense of wonder and curiosity. My art is something that is all mine and as such really says “I am here. And I love being alive.” My creativity allows me to accept myself, and be appreciative, instead of looking around and saying “if only I could have what she has.” My art lets me take my creativity seriously and makes me take myself lightly. And it is just so much fun!

I am going to a workshop this weekend, and will be able to check my blog for comments. Early next week, I will post a synthesis of your answers to the First Question. If you have posted answers at your blog, or you have not yet connected with me and want to, please let me know. The artists that have written or spoken with me have been thoughtful and fun to talk with. Most have reported gaining some insight into their own process. And the interesting thing is that the insights continue after the call or email. Once you open up a dialog with yourself about your art, you find your art has a lot to say to you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Inspiration Can Be Found in the Oddest Places

Untitled 12 x 12 collage painting by Leslie Avon Miller
I love to be inspired. It’s a delicious emotional state of being. When I’m inspired, I get going, getting doing, and I enjoy it a lot. As a visual artist I am constantly looking at all kinds of things; the way a crack in the sidewalk makes an interesting line; the way a rusty piece of metal on a ferry has taken on the imprint of the door that comes up against it; and even socks can inspire me. Socks? We were shopping in our local warehouse store, and a display of ladies socks caught my eye. They were in groups, and just like a color fan of paint chips, they were arranged in a perfect array from light to dark, but with close values in the warm earthy neutrals that I love. You get to see what I mean, because of course I had to bring them home with me. And I vowed to scan in an image before I started wearing them, so I could use them for color reference.
I tear pages out of magazines; usually they are my magazines, but I have been known to ask a friend for a particular page. One page that has always held my interest is of an old armory store which has been converted into an upscale contemporary dwelling. I love the old, cracked concrete ceilings. I keep these pages in big three ring binders, which appropriately enough, I call my inspiration notebooks. I have three volumes now. Another magazine page that inspires me is a contemporary dining room. I particularly love the exposed drywall, complete with nail heads, and a perfect wash of darker paint to look like natural aging and use. It is a perfect neutral color, and one which I reference a lot to start a painting. In combination with the aged wood warm color, the stark dark black picture frames and the white of the flowers and candles it is a great starting off place for a contemporary painting.
Last weekend this painting came to a place I am calling “maybe it’s done.” That means I leave it alone for a while and see what I think as I ponder it. It occurred to me it is partly inspired by the socks, the old concrete, and the dining room set up. I didn’t look at any of those images when I made this painting, but the inspiration was probably an influence.
I am trying to become a better art photographer. I asked Kurt to look up art photography advice on the internet. He came back with a report that people use Photoshop or other image programs to adjust the colors. So I will try that. I notice that here at home on my lap top, the colors looks okay on my blog posts. At work, on a different computer my images look yellow. They are not yellow. They have warm tones, but there is no out and out yellow. So, if my header and this full photo of the painting look yellow, maybe it’s the monitor? Or what? I think issues of photography and creating digital images may have to be a whole separate post, or series of posts…. and I don’t have the answers. Do you?
Update on the four questions: People continue to respond, to send emails, to speak with me, to post answers on their blogs. I have answered the questions myself - at least twice. So I will continue to gather the responses and start compiling what has been said to create a few posts so you too can find out about what artists are thinking. If you would like to participate see the two previous posts. If you have posted your answers on your blog, please let me know. I will create a set of links so readers can find your answers as well. I hope we all find inspiration today!

These just had to come home with me.

This is great texture.

I love these colors.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Four Questions

In Common Purpose, collage by Leslie Avon Miller, collection of Michele Cronkhite

What is it that you get back from your art?
What is it that you give to your creativity?
What gets in the way and frustrates you in your efforts to create?
What are your biggest hopes and dreams for your creativity?

I am currently discussing these questions with artists from around the world. It has been so much fun to connect with people! If you like, please post a comment about your responses to these questions, send me an email, or contact me to set up a time I can call you and we can talk by phone. My email address is leslie avon miller @ (remove the spaces).

So far, the answers are heartwarming. Art means so very much to us. I think as artists we are tapping into our life purpose, authenticity, passion, healing, legacy, and so many important values. We are making our marks on this earth, and saying “I’m here.”

What I hope to get is a sense of the value of art for each of us. I hope to understand how artists honor that value. I hope to get a sense of the issues that artists grapple with; getting studio time, getting unblocked, placing monetary value on their work, time management issues, what ever they face.

And the question that has been especially fun is the one asking artists to identify their biggest hopes and dreams for their art and creativity. That’s been so enlightening, for the artists and for me.

My plan is to synthesize this information and do a series of blog posts. No one’s specific information will be shared. The posts will be generalized and I hope, will open further discussion. As artists, some of us benefit from discussing our process and hearing about the process of others. I know I do.

I have also spent quiet time answering these four questions for myself. Meanwhile, I had a good afternoon in the studio yesterday. I think my own creativity is being stimulated by talking with other artists. In the studio I made collage papers, stumbled on a new use for a familiar material, and created background papers. I had so many ideas for the workshop I am developing that I spent half my time writing in my ever present notebook! When I head over there this morning, I expect everything will be dry and I can get started. Kurt also made me a table for sanding. I make such a mess when I sand a painting. This will allow me to have a separate work surface for the mess. When I am on a roll, I don’t want to slow down to tidy up!

Monday, March 16, 2009

What is it that I want from my creativity? And what does my creativity want from me?

A Red Moment, 6 x 6 collage by Leslie Avon Miller

I love to create my art. I am also enthused about creating posts for my blog. And I enjoy the connection here in blogland with all of you. I become interested and entertained when I read your blogs, experience the talent you have when writing, see the art you are making, or see the photos you capture and post. Being someone who loves to cook, I also enjoy the recipes. I love to travel vicariously through your blogs, and read the prose, poetry and essays that provide a look at life in our times.

I find the more I create, the more I want to create. The more I have ideas, and pay attention to them, the more ideas come to me. It is a great cycle. My creativity thrives on my attention! What is it that you get back from your art? What is it that you give to your creativity? What gets in the way and frustrates you in your efforts to create? What are your biggest hopes and dreams for your creativity?

I am inviting all of you to share with me what you think, and how you approach your creative work. If you would like to dialog with me in an informal interview process, either by email or by phone, please contact me. The purpose is to become more aware of the successes, the trials, and the joy of being a creative person. You might also benefit by telling your story. Sometimes that results in insight or greater clarity. So if you are interested, please email me at leslie avon miller @ g mail (dot) com. (Remove the spaces). I look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Beauty of Small Things

Small Gestures, 6 x 6 collage by Leslie Avon Miller

First morning light subdued by high overcast backlights the forest out the east windows. Coffee is made and we slide into premium seats and become immersed in warm water under the morning sky. No conductor is apparent yet the symphony is in full swing. At times this is the most contemporary of music; the beep, beep, beep of a back up alarm sounding bird song in stereo, along with the harsh squawk of the Steller’s jay. In other movements, the lead soprano sings the refrain “pretty birdie, pretty birdie, pretty birdie” accompanied by the caw, caw of Raven, and percussion of the woodpeckers. The backup singers are peeping in a variety of tones and notes. The mourning doves softy inquire “who, who, who.” We observe the local mallard duck couple coming in sharply for a landing on the neighbor’s pond. They have been fondly named Fred and Ethel. Overhead, a couple of Canadian Geese honk as they whoosh by to land in a near by cow pasture.

The sky darkens and Winter gestures with a light snow fall, looking like spilled powered sugar on the frozen patio table, and melting in the warm tub water. I notice the garden rhubarb buds red, the first color in the vegetable garden. Talk turns to power tools. Yesterday we had a field trip to another artist’s studio, having been generously invited for a lesson on stretching large canvases. A planer is required; available in small, medium and fancy. The efficient spiral cutting head is explained to me; envision a rolling pin, with three spiral stair sets of cutting heads, called knives or blades. This is the superior device, with the largest price tag. “Perhaps” I think, “I should sell some art. Power tools are so appealing to the resident woodworker.”

Meanwhile, back inside we have poached eggs and grapefruit, watching a warm fire luring the cats to sprawl and doze. The hummingbird feeder has been filled and hung, awaiting the first visitor of the season.

I planned to write of beauty today, the beauty of art, and creating. Perhaps I have. My morning has been about the beauty of small things, and everyday moments, of nature, companionship and a perfect Sunday morning.

To see rich vibrant colors painted on silk depicting large exotic flowers and other elegant subjects, I suggest a visit to the web site of Karen Sistek. Some of her images have been transferred to lovely jackets. I tried one on during our studio visit, and found the jackets as comfortable as they are beautiful. Karen and her husband Rick shared with us their process for stretching large canvases. And to see contemporary work, I invite you to visit the blog of a new follower of this blog, artist Ian Macleod. His blog is new, and filled with visual posts of his work. I'm off to the studio.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Our Creative Dance

Untitled Collage 6 x 6 by Leslie Avon Miller

“Our creative selves need plenty of sensory stimulation to feel inspired…” –Donna Watson.

Isn’t this the truth?! That’s part of what goes on in the blog world. We post things for our ongoing show and tell - grown-up version. We tell about trips to galleries, bookstores, art openings, urban streets, the sea, the mountains, or anywhere we see inspiration. We post photos of our creative spaces, show work in progress, and talk about colors that stimulate the eye. The blog world is an artist date on-line style! When I find work I love by an artist I “discovered” I often go back again and again and again and just gaze at the work. I can become almost awe struck with the beauty I see. What a gift is it to be alive, to be creative, and to allow myself to feel the satisfaction and challenge of creating a work of art. It must be the same for writers, musicians, chefs, decorators, scientific researchers….anyone who faces a problem to solve and applies their creativity to it.

Today I was reading a book called Creative Authenticity by Ian Roberts. He wrote “We need to look at other art. We need to study it and react to it. We’re not trying to reinvent artistic expression. Artists, as artists, are moved by art as much or more than by nature. Artists see subjects to paint based on how they have assimilated the art that has moved them in the past. There is of course a melting pot of influences.”

One use of notebook jottings is to go back and revisit the compelling symbols, and ideas I have had from the beginning of my artistic exploration. It can also be useful to review work from our past. When I do this I see that I have always done mark making from the very beginning, some of them much like the calligraphic marks in my current communication series. I have always been drawn to neutral colors, although I have also painted using more saturated colors. From the beginning I have often used warm earthy colors, or sparse but soft blacks and whites with just a hint of a third color for contrast. I have used grids, lines, geometric shapes and little specks of flung paint most often with organic edges. Texture and minimalism has been with me as “mine” from the very beginning. Can you find in your work elements you have consistently used in your authentic voice?

Recently in a notebook I found the following note to myself “Make the places where colors and shapes come together complex – scratch, dot, line, and value changes.” Thursday is a studio day for me, and I can hardly wait to get in there, roll up my sleeves and dance with my creativity!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Interview with Guest Artist Donna Watson!

Imprint mixed media collage by Donna Watson

Donna Watson

It is my pleasure to bring you an interview with one of my favorite artists, Donna Watson. I have had the opportunity to study with Donna on two occasions. I took a work shop with Donna several years ago. It was a brief version of her week long workshop. So when she taught again in this area about a year and a half ago, I took that one too! Donna spends a lot of time helping her students clarify their own unique style. I benefited from getting clear that I am a value painter; an artist who uses neutral colors. Donna encourages her students to attach personal meaning to the content of their work, to work in a series, and think about the statement their work is making. Donna kindly agreed to answer some questions about her art and source of her inspiration for Textures Shapes and Color.

You have been an artist most of your adult life. What has being an artist given back to you?

I have been an artist for 30 years. I began painting in watercolor, after completing a Master’s degree in deaf education and teaching deaf children for 4 years. But I do have early memories, as a child, of drawing and painting whatever was in front of me. So, I have always been drawn to artistic activities, whether it was making a wreath, or my own jewelry, or clothing. Whenever I saw something I liked, my first thought was always, “I can make that.” I tried many different mediums in my search for an outlet for my creative urges. I have read that first borns are driven to be high achievers, to strive for perfection. That sums me up pretty well.

What is the source of your creative inspiration?

Over the years, my studio has become a place of refuge---a sanctuary where my creative activities sustain and rejuvenate me. My goal is to evolve, grow and become a better painter (to my eyes and own judgment). One source of creative inspiration for me is when I find an exciting artist or new body of work. I love to go to galleries and look at art books--- and all sorts of artwork can turn me on--- pottery, quilts, assemblage--- can all be quite creative and inspiring. Our creative selves need plenty of sensory stimulation to feel inspired, and keeping an open mind can lead to new creative ways. I have been through a number of transitions, moving from painting transparent watercolor landscapes to my current work which includes acrylic, collage, and assemblage. I have figured out what I like and don’t like in my search for my own personal expression. I combine found papers, hand painted textured papers, fabric, or digital imagery with acrylic paint. I may also attach rusty metal, weathered wood and bones.

What one book would you recommend to fellow artists and why?

A book I would like to recommend is ART AND FEAR by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
On the back cover there are 3 questions: What is your art really about?
Where is it going? What stands in the way of getting there? These questions occur at each stage of artistic development and this little book is very helpful at answering them.

One of the strong elements of your work is color. Can you tell us about your color choices?

I love texture and subdued colors. Black and white is a huge turn-on for me. I also strive for balance and unity in my work. Content is very important. Currently, I am interested in the passage of time, and what remains. This may be the physical effects in nature or the psychological effects on memory or identity. With the passage of time there is a transience depicted with traces, layers and recollections. I try to take what is personal to me and make a more universal connection.

If you were to walk in an antique/junk store, what kind of find would be exciting for you?

I love textures, text, circles, dots, numbers, and letters. I take my own digital images of some of my favorite collections of bird nests, fossils, seed pods, rocks. I have an obsession with collecting things. I even love to collect unusual boxes to keep my collections in. There are so many things in an antique or junk store that would excite me--- old chart maps, old tool handles, rusty hinges, yellowed book pages. Because I am half Japanese, anything Asian would really excite me.

You have recently opened an Etsy store. What kind of work will you feature there?

My recently opened Etsy store is called Watson Studios. I have some very small collages on wood or canvas featured there. I also have a website at

My thanks to Donna for her sage guidance to her students (me!) and for taking the time to be interviewed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Notebooks and Pens

Life Lessons, collage, 6 x 6, by Leslie Avon Miller

I am a notebook person. I am also a pen person. The good quality of the paper, the flow of the ink, and the feel of the pen in my hand please me. I think this is because I am an idea person. And the better the ink flows on the paper, the better I can keep up with my thoughts.
I like to collect quotes in notebooks. Sometimes I keep track of colors I mix in the studio. And when I experience loss, disappointment or struggle I need to write about it, privately.
I must have oh, a dozen notebooks at any given time. For a while I tried to keep different notebooks for different subjects; one for recording my dreams, one for quotes, one for art ideas, and so on. But I’m not able to keep track of an idea long enough to find the appropriate notebook. So now I record little bits of everything in all my notebooks. And that is working for me. It seems to be more important to me to have something to write in than it is to have a tightly categorized notebook.
In 2007 I experienced a difficult time creating my art. I can see now that it wasn’t exactly a creative block; it was more a time of transition. I kept a journal during that time, on my laptop. I really struggled. My art was unrecognizable as mine. I was lost.
Looking at my notes from that time I see that I maintained some sort of forward momentum despite the difficulty I was experiencing.
I made a list I called “What I am Doing Right.”
- continue to think
- wait a while if I am tired
- stop and look at the painting before I proceed
- creating a lot more time to paint; like a job. Great!
- using good colors
- thinking some more
- continue to experiment
- continue to look at lots of art
- continue to nurture my own artistic voice
- seek authenticity
- have fun!
In another notebook I recorded this quote; “To write is to locate my own address inside my head.” – E. M. Broner.