Monthly Archives: February 2013

I’m Not an Artist – Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 3-Part series.  If this is your first visit to the blog, click on the link to the right to Part 1 to read the entire story.

Almost six years went by before I painted again.  Again my thoughts were how many building paintings could one have.  This led to quite a dry spell.  I would still capture photos of interesting looking pictures whenever I traveled and even captured some of the more famous New York buildings just in case.  At one point, I went so far as to start on another building painting and picked out some colorful buildings in California as my subject.  I got to the point of drawing the buildings directly onto the canvas trying to save effort of drawing it out on paper and then again on canvas.   But after just drawing a few lines, I realized I would have to draw it out on paper first and so just gave up.

At this point, my wife and I had had a very successful trip to photograph the flowers at Keukenhof gardens, an enormous park an easy train/bus ride from Amsterdam.   The tulips had really been at their peak that year on our visit so we had a huge selection.   I had previously used photos from Keukenhof in calendars that I had made.  I decided it was time to show off some of our pictures to others beyond just calendar recipients.  So we had six professionally framed and grouped them together on the wall in our home.


Several years later, I was thumbing through the flight magazine waiting for our plane to take off so I could read my Kindle.  I usually just flip through these magazines with little interest just waiting until we reach an altitude where it is safe to use portable electronic devices and ran across an article about subway art in New York City.  I had been on New York subways before but I didn’t recall seeing any art so this article intrigued me.   But it was this station that stopped me in my tracks.


Ignoring the double ping tone that gave the all clear for my Kindle, I continued to read and stare at the photo in the magazine.  Here was a possible new way to paint: striking colors in random patterns.  But oh no I thought, I couldn’t paint the curves.  I racked my brain trying to come up with an alternative approach to my “tape and paint” technique that would allow smooth curves.  But I just couldn’t come up with a solution.  The colors haunted me though.

When I got home from the trip, I decided to try to find a picture of the subway station on the Internet.  This was necessary because I had failed to take the magazine with me even though they encourage you to take them off the plane.  It must have been the haunting that whispered to me not to take the magazine.

When I found the photo, I printed it out and continued to stare at it.  It seemed to stare back at me taunting me.  And then it hit me.  Rather than trying to reproduce the design in my painting, I would create a design of my own using straight lines.  I also realized that this would be much easier to paint than any of my building paintings: very few lines and no details.  I jumped into the project and in no time was finished.  It was hung in our kitchen, just weeks before we had a house full of guests in town for our daughter’s wedding.


One of our houseguests was to be my sister, the artist.  I was not there when she saw it for the first time but she texted me that she loved the colors and the movement.  Wow movement, I hadn’t thought of that.  That must be some artist term to describe a painting.  Even though I didn’t get to witness it, I was pleased with her reaction.

Could this become a gift idea for my sister?  For me being a card-carrying perfectionist, I couldn’t imagine painting something for a real artist.  I am my own worst critic finding little mistakes in everything I had created; a character flaw my wife likes to point out.  And I knew my sister could find the flaws just as I could.  She of course had the eye of a real artist.  But I was ready to take the plunge.

I decided to make a smaller painting for my sister since she might not have wall space for a 24 X 36 frame.  I also decided to try painting on a hard surface so that I could attach the tape even more securely for making even finer, straight lines (trying to make it more perfect).  Having found a suitable 18 inch square laminate canvas, I thought about making a smaller version of my own painting but thought the small size would diminish the impact of the movement.  I went for a totally different but similar approach.


I wrapped it in brown paper and sent it home with my nephew and his wife who lived with my sister in Arkansas.  I knew at the time she was out in California visiting her grand kids so I didn’t know when she would return and open her Christmas present.  But early one December morning, I got a text from my sister with a picture attached.  She had hung it in her kitchen where all could see it.  I remember joking that she hung it the wrong way trying to deflect the discomfort of her compliments but I don’t think she got my joke.  But she seemed genuinely to like it.  And then it hit me; I had painted something that an artist had liked.  For someone who doesn’t view himself as an artist, I had arrived.

In addition to having three of my paintings hung in my own home, I now have paintings hung in both my sister’s homes and in my daughter’s apartment.  And I still have relatives without any artwork from me.  Better watch out.

One of my frequent statements I make to my wife upon completing a project is, “It took a lot longer than I thought.”  When I sat down at the computer early one morning, I didn’t know where my writing would take me or whether in the end I would convince myself that I was an artist.  I know each of my readers will have to form their own opinion;  I don’t plan to take a poll.  In exploring and analyzing my artistic endeavors over my life, I know that I am not a Van Gogh or a Pissarro, two artists I highly admire. But I am who I am.  And now I know,


I’m Not an Artist – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 3-Part series.  If this is your first visit to the blog, click on the the link at the right to Part 1 to read the full story.

I took the challenge from my sister to heart.  For my second painting, I knew that I wanted to use the same painting technique and I wanted to paint other buildings.  I thought if I could find or take a picture of real buildings, that I could use my trusty ruler, proportions, and calculator to transcribe the buildings from the photo onto my canvas.  Just what buildings did I want to paint?


I know I wrestled with this dilemma for some time.  What about a famous building like the Empire State Building?  No everyone would compare my painting to the image in his or her mind of that building and my painting might not be judged so favorably.  And I liked the blend of realism with a touch of fantasy in my first painting that depicted a building but not the detail of a real building.  Knowing how many hours it would take to complete another painting, it couldn’t just be any old building.

I don’t know how the idea came to me but I thought: “How about buildings from Asheville, NC?”  This was a town that was special to my siblings and me; this would make a special painting as well.  But how was I going to get a picture of some interesting buildings?  I searched the Internet for photos of street scenes from Asheville.  I even ran across some paintings of street scenes in Asheville but I couldn’t find a picture of a street with buildings that held any significance to me.

I finally pulled up the Asheville Chamber of Commerce website and although I didn’t find street scenes like I was looking for, I did find a number of photos of individual buildings that held some potential.  I remembered that my painting would have a little fantasy in it and I thought, “I could make up my own street scene and include buildings from different locations throughout the city.”  With this plan, I just had to pick the right buildings.


Having selected three that looked interesting, I next had to decide what color I should paint each building.  My first painting gave me a sense of freedom since it was painted by an artist and had included an orange building and a red building.  Other than scenes like the Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC or the New Harbor in Copenhagen, I didn’t think these two buildings were actually red and orange in real life.


So I picked three colors that I thought would look pretty together and yet provide a bit of fantasy.  Since I had a separate photo for each of the buildings, I had to “scale up” each separately making sure that proportionally they would all be the same size on a single canvas and fit together without any one of them overpowering the others.  Having expanded to three buildings, I also had to grow my canvas size up to 24 X 36 inches.  Thank goodness I loved algebra.

I created my scene on paper as before and then I redrew it on the canvas.  I also discovered on this painting that you could buy painters tape that had a much smoother texture that was designed to leave even finer paint lines.  And finding a canvas that also had a smoother texture, I was all set to produce my second painting.  It was on this painting that I also first explored blending paint to create unique colors, a technique that any artist could probably do in their sleep.  I had not done this on my first painting as I knew I would have to mix up additional batches for touch up and fixing mistakes and I didn’t think I could recreate the same color that matched perfectly at a later time.  But with finer tape and a smoother canvas, I was emboldened to give it a try.  I was very pleased with the outcome.


That fall, I had a couple of business trips scheduled, one to San Francisco and one to Amsterdam.  It was on this trip to San Francisco that we got to visit our daughter who had recently moved there to pursue her PhD in Russian literature at UC Berkeley.  As we were exploring downtown Berkeley, I began to notice a number of unique looking buildings.  I thought what better way to get photos of buildings than to take them my self and as we walked around, I captured snapshots of eight different buildings.


On my return home, I started thinking that my wife would be hesitant to hang a third painting of buildings on our walls and a quick question to her confirmed that suspicion.  But with my best photos yet, I really had a passion to paint one more because I knew I could create a masterpiece.  Suddenly it came to me; since the buildings were in Berkeley where my daughter would be for a number of years, I could paint a Berkeley scene and give it to her.  Problem solved.

I wanted to increase the scale of this painting but stay with a 24 X 36 canvas so I limited my selection to just two buildings.  And since this painting was specifically for my daughter, at least one of the buildings should hold some significance for her.  That part actually turned out to be very easy, as fortunately I had photographed a building that she frequented on at least a weekly if not daily basis.


Confident in the expression that “the third time is the charm” would lead to my best painting yet, I set out on my task.  Returning to my “artist license” that I had used on my second photo, I created my own street scene by combining the Peet’s Coffee shop with one of the most interesting looking buildings I had encountered.  Having become skilled in my technique, I drew out the buildings on paper and then transcribed the pencil drawing to the canvas.


For paints, I decided to keep these buildings true to color.  I chose this path because I didn’t know what my daughter would think if I a painted a purple Peet’s Coffee shop.  (She actually probably would have loved it but for me it wouldn’t be real.)  I also didn’t change the colors because I thought the buildings each had their own natural beauty.  I think I made the right decision.

That November, my daughter was able to come home for Thanksgiving.  This gave me the opportunity to give it to her as a late birthday present.  I wish I could have captured her expression on film when she saw it for the first time, I can just picture the glee.  We snapped this picture of it hanging in our entry hall later.   Knowing that she would have to take it back on the plane, I engineered and built a wooden case with handle that just fit the painting.  I was struck when I finished the case and realized this was just like a real work of art, one so valuable that it required its own custom carrying case.


I am happy to say that my daughter has proudly displayed this painting in a place of prominence in each of her apartments in Berkeley and now in Pasadena.  And for each of her moves, she has used this carrying case to protect it from damage.  Anyone familiar with her website and blog, Krugthethinker, might recall seeing the painting sneaking into view in a photo of whatever was being featured.

That fall, I also traveled to Amsterdam.  By 2004, I had been to Amsterdam 14 times and had always enjoyed seeing canal houses.  Having developed a love of Amsterdam and these canal houses, I knew this had to be my next painting.  My last full day in the city, after I had completed my work, I walked canal after canal.  I can’t begin to imagine how far I walked.  I captured a number of photos of possible scenes to paint.   Before the sun set, I realized I had almost overlooked probably the most famous canal house of all, the Anne Frank House.  More canal hiking and good fortune; being the end of October the tree in front of the house was almost leafless.  I took several different perspectives before my hike back to the hotel and my trip home.  These photos lay in waiting.


The next year, in conversation with my oldest sister, I found out she was teaching her class about the Diary of Anne Frank.  She seemed very passionate about the subject and mentioned how she would love to go to the Anne Frank House.  I recalled my photos from the previous fall in Amsterdam and thanked my lucky stars for remembering to photograph the house where she and her family had hid.  What better birthday present than to paint Anne Frank’s House for my sister.

By now, you know my routine almost as well as I do so I won’t repeat the details of its creation.  I must say when my sister was in town in the fall, I had the perfect opportunity to give it to her.  Fortunately this time, I captured it on film.


But did four paintings mean I was an artist?

I’m Not an Artist – Part 1

People that know me well enough might not agree with this statement.  I hope that by the end of writing this that I will have convinced myself that it is not a true statement.  For those of you who do not know me as well, I will let you be the judge of the validity of that statement.

I guess the real basis upon which this statement can be made depends upon how you define the word artist.  I’ve never actually looked up the definition.  Maybe I always had a general idea of what an artist was and I knew I wasn’t one.  To me an artist was certainly someone who made a living creating art.  But I also knew that an artist could create art without being paid for it and it could still be considered art.  So in defining an artist, I need to understand what art is as well.   Not surprisingly I’ve never looked up that definition either.


My idea was that being an artist or creating art took talent, creativity, and skills, all of which were traits that I did not recognize in myself.  At an early age, I recognized that I did not have the fine hand motor skills necessary to draw very well.  Whatever I attempted to draw, the outcome little resembled what I was drawing.  Even trying to learn to write cursive letters was frustrating because I never could form my letters or words to look as pretty or as graceful as the letters on the classroom wall chart.  And this was something that everyone had to learn how to do, artist or not.  Fortunately, I realized after grade school, that I could return to just printing letters and words and other than signing my name, I have not even attempted writing in cursive letters in over 40 years.


This lack of hand motor skills possibly led to the development of my appreciation for all things precise: straight lines, perfect circles, smooth curves, goals I could never achieve on my own.  But with the aid of rulers, compasses, and protractors, I could overcome my limitations and draw things.  At an early age I can remember spending hours drawing two things mainly: cars and home floor plans.  I didn’t know how to draw in perspective so everything was two-dimensional.  This wasn’t a problem for drawing floor plans since I only drew top down images and my cars were always pictured from the side.  But I used to love to come up with unique layouts for the house dreaming one day I would design homes.  What fun!  And it wouldn’t even seem like a job.

In high school, when I was trying to figure out what to study in college, I actually took several tests designed to help someone identify their interests and abilities and match those with potential career opportunities.  According to the instructor when I took the test for whether or not I could be a good architect, I failed miserably.  When presented with a series of figures and asked to pick which would be next in the series, I never selected the appropriate answer.  And on top of that, he said that most homebuilders just built spec or “cookie cutter” homes and rarely hired someone to design a “one off” home.  My dream career was crushed.  When I asked what my tests did show, he said I had a strong interest in science, which I realized I did and which has led to a fulfilling and successful career of over thirty years.

So I wasn’t an artist, I was a scientist and I was proud to say that.  But somewhere in the recesses of my mind, a love for art was dormant waiting to be discovered.  It tried to first blossom in college when in 1977 I took a photography class.  Being a chemistry major, I enjoyed learning the chemistry of developing film and the mechanics of printing photographs using darkroom techniques.  But it was my assignment to photograph “poverty” and my instructor’s comments that my photos merely showed trash and neglect that dashed my hopes of taking artist photos.  I guess I learned it was more than just recording images on film in a part of town where poverty existed if I wanted to capture poverty in a photo.  It was many years after I took this photo in North Memphis before “the art” in me began to resurface.


I have been fortunate in my professional career to be able to travel internationally and on many of these trips I would visit art museums.  I loved seeing the beautiful paintings by many well-known artists and I was intrigued how an artist could paint such realistic looking paintings.  Some were so real, it was difficult to distinguish from a photograph.  These were real artists who definitely had the talent and skills to create striking art.  I would also occasionally visit modern art museums on these trips and I remember thinking two things.  One, just what was it that made modern art “art” and two anyone could that, even me.


My first attempt at creating art grew from an appreciation for a painting I passed daily at work on my way to the cafeteria.  I was drawn to a modern painting of a couple of buildings.  Maybe this was a resurfacing of my adolescent love for architecture.  I admired the interesting colors and the straight lines and I thought, “I could do that” and I am going to try.  I knew aspiring artists often developed their skills painting other artist’s paintings.  But I knew I couldn’t sit in the hall at work all day attempting to paint this painting.  So I took a digital photo of it and took it home.  You can even see a reflection of me in the glass.


I decided to make my version of the painting the same size as the original so I could judge how well I achieved my goal.  I printed out my photo and began to measure the dimensions of each of the features.  Knowing that I needed to accurately translate the building’s dimensions from an 8 X 10 photo to a 16 X 24 canvas, I pulled out my calculator and determined the proportions necessary to “blow up” the scale.  Using a ruler, I drew all the straight lines on a piece of paper to allow for any necessary corrections and then once I had the 16 X 24 drawing on paper, I redrew it on the canvas.

I knew with my hand skill limitations and my desire for precise straight lines that I was not going to be able to paint straight lines either.  So I used blue painter’s tape to block off a section at a time for painting.  I didn’t even try blending colors; I just used the paint right out of the tube.  While this can be a slow, tedious process, taping and painting and repeating, it allowed me to achieve my goal.  And I thought a fairly true rendition of a real piece of art.


It was actually my wife that gave me the confidence to hang my painting on the wall.  For many years, she had been creating art and we had multiple paintings and quilts of hers hung on the walls in our home.  I felt safe since she had gotten numerous compliments on her art.  However, I was anxious as to what my sister would think, as I viewed her as a real artist, having trained, studied, and created art her whole life.

I don’t recall her exact comments but I know they were positive and encouraging.  The comment that I distinctly recall is that she urged me to paint another of my own creation.   I remember thinking, “Boy, you don’t know what it took for me just to paint this one which was only a copy.  Now you want me to create the design as well.  Wow that will be tough.”  But I was motivated and I was very pleased with the outcome of my first painting.  Even though this was just a copy, it was art.  But wait a minute, didn’t I say I wasn’t an artist?

Welcome to this new blog!

Whether you came to this site intentionally or just happened upon it by chance in one of your Internet searches, I say welcome again.  For you as a visitor, you have probably explored a multitude of similar blogs.  For me, this is a whole new experience.  I have twice been the guest author of another blog,, but I have never created one of my own.  But that is exactly what I hope to do at this site, explore creativity.

By the domain name you probably are wondering, “What is up with that?”  I must first explain that I have been a professional scientist for over 30 years and have intently focused myself on pursuing mostly scientific endeavors.  Only in the recent past I have begun exploring my own creativity.  And what I am finding is that there has been a spark of creativity within me my whole life.  Only through some hard reflection have I come to recognize this, but I am finding that I like it very much.  So here is where it will be discovered and expanded.

I cannot promise you will find something new here on a regular basis, but hopefully at least a frequent basis; I am, after all, still a professional scientist years away from retirement.  But I know that just getting to this point I have discovered a number of things about myself.  My hope is that through your reading here, you will get to know me better and if you are able to relate to my stories then maybe you will also learn some things about yourself.  You’ll find at times I like to use cars, planes or trains metaphorically in my expressions, so I will say in closing, “climb aboard; let’s go for a drive.”