Circus Real Surreal: Creating a Book

When writing and Illustrating my own book, I asked myself some questions:

Can I possible push the medium of print on demand?

Can print on demand be an art form?

Over the past year I have been working furiously to paint paintings and produce a printed and digital collection of them. I’m almost finished, but not there yet. Let me tell you about it.

My printing experience started with a career long long ago in cities far far away… I used to be a graphic designer. I am no longer working in the industry, but I still like to design things. I own vintage printing tools. They came in handy for my book project.

My E scale/pica ruler in all of its aged plastic glory. Also my vintage CMYK chart book. Which CMYK percentages would you assign the yellowed ruler?

Desk Top Publishing Programs and Me

The programs change over time but a print book format still has the same parts. Two basic parts of a book are, of course, the covers and the pages. An ebook has the same parts only there is no back cover. For my book I needed to combine text and images. I took a refresher course in Adobe InDesign at a local community college to update my page design chops. I found InDesign to be similar to previous programs I’ve worked on and certainly has modern applications for today’s world. There is a monthly rental fee for the program. It’s less than a gym membership and I think I might be gaining weight with all the computer time, but my book making dreams are being realized.

The back cover above.

Painting for the Book and Puzzles to Solve

In the following posts, I will discuss the creation of the newer paintings in the book. Also, I hope to share some of the stories of how the physical book took shape. I don’t know if I will ever answer the questions I asked in the beginning of this post about print on demand as an art form, but I certainly am having an interesting time exploring the idea.

Happy Creating For Now!

Investigating Dark Democracy


Investigating Dark Democracy • 40hx30w • oil

Good evening and welcome to the viewing of an Investigation of Dark Democracy.
The painting before you is a rendition of unnatural phenomena occurring during a presidential election. Let us take a closer look at the details of this artwork as shadow play shapes history.

A Special Council is called forth to investigate suspicious activity concerning a presidential election. History tells us that at least two presidents have called investigations into their suspected wrong doings “Witch Hunts.”


Uncovering evidence of election tampering requires some intensive Department of Justice (D.O.J.) divination. Let the facts fall into place as the serious moonlight illuminates uncanny evidence in this investigation…


If you will observe, Exhibit A, Kremlin Cybermancy…


It casts a spell of black disinformation trolling the internet, mimicking the multiplicity of Russian nesting dolls.


The creatures of the Malum Lunam (Latin for Bad Moon Rising) come out to play in the absence of direct light until…


Stool pigeons sing…


Skeletons in closets turn up…


Offshore accounts are discovered…


And whistle blowers crow.


Investigating Dark Democracy calls for diligent detective work, a watchful eye for the unseen and calls for the fires of Checks and Balances to stay alight.


Exorcizing this specter of disruption in the midnight realm is perplexing.


Take careful notes! Something meddling this way comes.

To be continued…


The 19th Amendment and the Long March


1.19thAmend 1920

The 19thAmendment and the Long March • Oil • 48hx36w

Your Vote Is Like A Precious Gem!

It Has Value!

I wanted to create a painting that was about the anniversary of the 19thAmendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. As I worked on ideas for the painting, the concept of telling the narrative through the jewelry on the figure became a fun way to approach the anniversary. During the journey of making this painting, I made jewelry props, altered a dress and put a vase of flowers in a boot.

1920 –2020: 100 Years Of Marching

2.19 Boot wrdL

The above image was set up in my studio. I had a great time working from life. I was thinking about the hope people have for change when they march.

Dress For Success


When coming up with concepts for the painting, I first started with the dress. It was a symbolic way of stating the control a government can have over a woman. The flag is represented in an abstraction. I added masking tape and ribbon to the dress to create the stripes and sewed on the blue fabric. I printed out the stars from my printer on paper and taped them to the dress. The chains at the neck were on the dress when I bought it.

Voting With Your Head



I had a great time hunting for my props. The “earring of justice” is a composite of Goodwill jewelry finds.

4. EarringJusticeSML

It is a heavy earring and best left on the table top for reference when painting. JB Weld was used to glue all the pieces together.

Voting With Your Heart

6.19 BroochPntL


The “19thAmendment Brooch” was a very lucky find. The pink glass “gems” were perfect! I ordered the lettering on-line and pieced the jewelry with wire and glue. I wore it to the art reception when the painting was on display.


Voting With Your Hands

8,19 RINGS pintL

The concept for the rings was to have V-O-T-E spelled out using charms or rings with the letters on them. I found these rings in a store in Los Angeles called, “It’s A Wrap.” The store sells used clothing and jewelry from movie sets. Lucky for me, they had multiples of this ring! So I went home to attach on the “VOTE” charms I had bought at my local craft store.

9.Voter Rings Hand

The best way to celebrate the 100thAnniversary of the 19thAmendment is to go out and Vote! Bling It On!

Talking Head Taffy


Talking Head Taffy • oil • 48hx36w

Have You Heard the News Today?

Talking Head Taffy is about news media, political polarization and disinformation. The concept for the representation of news media took many forms in the thumbnail stage. I was thinking about the polarization of news media outlets, and the history of how news is communicated. Then I came across this self-portrait by Gustave Courbet called, “The Desperate Man.” His angst called to me.


Send In the Clown

I’ve been working on a  series for years called, Circus Real Surreal. I decided my circus could use a taffy stand. Listening to Joe Jackson’s song, “Sunday Papers”, where he sings about an obsession with the news (I’m paraphrasing) “mother rolling her spastic eyes – why should she go out when the TV’s on?” This teased my vivid visual imagination, thus, causing poor Gustave (whites of his eyes exposed) to become part of the display.

Below: Portrait of Desperate Clown in progress.


Dressing to Sell Taffy

The central figure is a sales girl holding out taffy to the passers by. Her uniform was inspired by the uniforms employees wear at Hot Dog on a Stick. Below is the drawing on canvas in progress. My daughter kindly posed for me in the crazy outfit I scrounged for at the Goodwill. The outfit was not the exact colors I wanted so I improvised. The reference photo is taped to the canvas.



TVs and Radios and Cell Phones, Oh My!

The news comes to us in different forms and formats. The top of the display with the taffy pull emulates a television screen, below are large radio dials and in front of the speakers are the monkeys are holding cell phones … all getting their news.



Yellow Taffy

Historically there have been news outlets that report the news as accurately as possible and there have been news outlets that slant the news. Yellow Journalism was an inspiration for the prominent color yellow in this painting. While creating the taffy I thought of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art paintings of paint strokes, which always reminded me of taffy.


Color My News Red White and Blue

The sales girl is separated into red white and blue colors. She is part of the center white line of the composition. The stripe starts at the top of the painting with the clown and follows through to the bottom of the painting with the newspapers.


The text and photos of the papers differ in color from the right and the left of the composition. This is an interpretation of the spectrum of political idealism –  red (right conservative) and blue (left liberal). The white in the painting is the middle ground idealistically.


Think Before You Swallow

The monkeys are a nod to the Buddhist term, “monkey mind” – which stands for an unsettled or confused mind. The costume is of an organ grinder monkey.  Organ grinders were street performers who played music and had a capuchin monkey tied to a string who’s job it was to do tricks to get the attention of the people walking by.


Each monkey sees the world through its own tinted glasses. They are looking at their cell phones and choosing their preferred color of taffy. Each monkey is at the extreme side of the propaganda machine. Neither is looking for that center area that is thorough investigative reporting and professional journalism.


“They wouldn’t print it if it wasn’t true.” – sings Joe Jackson sarcastically from the song “Sunday Papers.”

The Mary Jane 2


“The Mary Jane 2” oil on canvas 40hx36w

The Plant that Medicates and Intoxicates

In California, my home state, medical marijuana was legalized in 1996 and recreational marijuana was legalized in 2018. Examining the arguments for legalization inspired this painting. In my painting an aerial dancer hangs from a hemp rope. She is wearing a costume that reads Mary Jane on the legs, THC-CBD is on the torso and Medicinal and Recreational on the arms.

72Bearsad72  72BearHappy72

The California State Grizzly Bear: Lows and Highs

“Mary Jane” hangs in front of City Hall doors. There are shadows of plant like shapes indicated behind its semitransparent frosted glass doors. The composition is cut in half where the doors meet. To the left sits Medical Marijuana Bear on top of a stone pillar. To the right sits a stoned Recreational Marijuana Bear. The writing on Mary Jane’s arms state the dualities of her uses.


Mary Jane Hangs Out on Respectable Street

Mary Jane is suspended in the air – high? – or tied up in knots over legal complications. At the date of this post, federal law does not recognize the legalization of marijuana. Individual states have different laws regarding medical and recreational use. It’s very confusing, however, more roads are leading to Respectable Street.


Cannabinoid molecules and the Law

There are many chemical components to marijuana (113 so far), but the most debated are CBD and THC. THC is the chemical that creates the ‘high”. Different percentages of THC and CBD must interact with each other to create various results. These two components are a central part of the argument around legalization, therefore, they are at the core of the figure in my painting.


The plant that medicates and intoxicates has a long history with many civilizations. Not until the 20thcentury has it been under the scrutiny of law. I recommend looking up the history of its illegality as well as the scientific research published about Cannabinoids.

Feed Me! Monster or Marvel?

The plant in the pot is inspired by the play “Little Shop of Horrors.” I wanted to explore the idea of growth, a plant, the making of state laws and the federal government. It seems that there is a potential for many different things to grow with the legalization of weed in the U.S.A.



Faith and the Fiddler


Faith and the Fiddler 40hx30w oil

The concept for this painting started as an entry to a Norman Rockwell exhibit. Entrants were asked to submit works based on Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings. My concept for “Freedom of Worship” was the image of a fiddler dressed in the Stars and Stripes standing in front of a quilt with symbols of religions of the world. I turned in a concept of the poster version of my painting, (which I will post at the end of this article). I got a rejection notice from the Norman Rockwell Museum… but that didn’t stop me.

I will be displaying the working process of the painting in this post. Let’s get started! Below is the embryonic version I turned into the competition. Since then I’ve had time to think…


What does a fiddler and fiddle look like? What does my character wear? I need to feed my head with images. Here are a few.


Here’s Johnny!

I got inspiration for the fiddler from the song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” by Charlie Daniels. It is a song about a fiddler, Johnny, who out plays the devil in a fiddle contest. The wager is a golden fiddle. Johnny wins the fiddle and shoo’s the devil away. The song is the eternal struggle of good against evil with great fiddling! (When I think about where his golden fiddle came from, it would be unwise for Johnny to play it.) The figure in my painting isn’t anyone in the song. He is playing for a higher purpose, though.


Drawing on canvas using charcoal stick.

“Playing Fiddle”

Here are some ideas I played with in fiddle/music symbolism. Some form of music or chanting is often used during worship. There can be a golden light as a symbol of spirit. Mostly, I liked the idea of the golden fiddle and the golden rule. All religions have some sort of, “treat other’s as you want to be treated” saying.


The “logo design” for Golden Rule from my sketchbook.

The writing on the wall …

The fiddler stands in front of a brick wall with the words “Golden Rule” painted on it. Perhaps one needs to practice the Golden Rule to get it right, like practicing a beautiful instrument. Consider the “Golden Rule” to be all inclusive … practice it on people different from yourself.

Here are a few thoughts about brick walls: To come up against a brick wall is to encounter an obstacle or difficult problem/ Unsuccessful conversations result in feeling like one is speaking to a brick wall/ A wall divides/ Beautiful music can be heard beyond walls. I’m sure you can think of more…


This image shows the underpainting. When looking at my reference photos, I saw a lot of blue in the bricks, so that’s where I started. 

It’s an American quilt

I wanted to illustrate that the United States is a country with many religions. The first idea I had was placing the fiddler in front of a church with a stained glass window with religious symbols. I liked the stained glass idea but felt that was too European. The idea of bricks for the church wall stayed, but the glass was replaced with a quilt. I felt that it was more American and that the concept of “Freedom of Worship” was woven into the “fabric” of our country.


Work in progress with props.

Speaking of fabric, here are a few “materials” I either bought, had or created for visual reference. It is so much easier for me to actually look at things rather than make them up. I bought the hat on-line – it’s a beautifully crafted hat made of straw. There was no way I was going to find the shirt from my reference photos and I didn’t want to duplicate it. So, I bought a shirt at the Goodwill and improvised using my limited sewing skills. I couldn’t find material with the stars I wanted, but found a blue field with dots I could place stars. The quilt behind the painting was from my linen closet and helped me look at the dimensionality of a quilt.

First Amendment Serving Souls


To make my point about worship and the First Amendment, I needed it in my painting. I decided that my fiddle player needed to be wearing a dive bar t-shirt – perhaps one he’s played in? I created a logo design – which went through many transitions! I drew the design onto my fiddler’s t-shirt, making it part of the center of my composition.

Holy Hootenanny!

Here’s my poster! As part of my “Circus Real Surreal” series, I’ve been creating posters to hang with or independent of my paintings.

Now go forth and practice the Golden Rule!


Creating a Surreal Frame



In April 2017 I plan to exhibit my painting and poster series together in a local coffee shop. The painting and corresponding poster will be hung side by side. The paintings have no frame, but the posters need some sort of support. I decided that just framing the posters in a black gallery frame was ok, but didn’t push the idea of the circus further. Where’s the fun in that??? A surreal poster demands a surreal frame.


Doodling Frames


To get an idea for the frame I got reference images and began to draw some fancy frames. I began to edit down the design because the decorative frames are very busy and would take away from the poster. This creative process took quite a while to shape up. Other factors where, basically, how much work did I want to put into each custom frame, cost per frame and building four of them in a relatively fast manner.


The frame design got pared down to decorative elements on the top and bottom of the poster frame. To get a more surreal feel, frame elements would be floating in pieces around the poster. I liked the look of the poster popping out of the frame like a box frame, so the decorative elements and their base would be applied to the back of the existing frame. Also, the frame elements would be drawn and scanned in my computer and manipulated in Photoshop. Then the pieces would be glued onto foamcore and cut out – which also called for shapes that were not too complex. I’m pretty skilled with an exacto blade, but remember, I need to make four frames for the show.

One order of Surreal plus Time Management, hold the melting clocks please.

Basic wooden 20h x 16w frame with print about to become “surrealized.”


I purchased black foamcore that I found conveniently precut to fit under my 20×16 frames. (Lucky me.) I centered the wooden 20×16 frame onto the foamcore backing and marked where it fit. The foam core was still a big rectangle, so I curved out the top and bottom corners to soften the black portion of the frame. Next I needed some decoration.


I used Mod Podge glue to adhere my printed frame pieces to the foamcore. Use a thick, good quality printer paper. I used Epson matte photo paper. It didn’t buckle with the glue. Then I put a coat of Mod Podge on top after my pieces dried to add a varnished look. Then I cut them out and attached them to the foamcore. I used both double stick tape and a liquid glue. I don’t care for things slipping out of place and the double stick tape stays put instantly, but I feel that the liquid glue makes a better permanent bond. When I glued the pieces down, I had the frame sitting in place on top of the foamcore so there was no mistake about the fit.

Here is the front without the frame.



I laid the framed print on its face and placed the foamcore surreal frame on top of it and stapled it down. Then I put tape on top of the staples so that they wouldn’t scratch my wood frames when they are stacked. Note that I cut out portions out of the back of the foamcore. I needed to do this so I could see where the frame was in order to staple the foamcore to the back of the frame.


Presenting: The finished surreal frame…. Ta Da!!!





Truth and Deception Circus Poster


Have You Read the News Today?

News could be real. News could be fake. Facts could be facts or they can be alternative facts. I’ve made none of this up, creative as I am.

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth.

This poster is based on a painting of the same name. If you would like to read about the oil painting, click on my blog post “Truth and Deception.” I was playing with the idea that everyone has their own version of the truth. The doves are metaphor for this idea. In this poster, I have steered towards the prickly problems of politics. (Notice cactus in the background of image.) However, finding out the truth is part of our personal lives and not limited to the political circus of today.





Untamed Pharmaceuticals Poster


The Artwork

This is a poster from my oil painting of the same name. If you scroll down to my previous post about the painting, you will notice I have flattened out the illustration and changed some colors in it to be brighter for a more commercial look.

The Message

The poster series is called “Circus Real Surreal.” Over the years I have developed several paintings and posters that are designed to tell history using imagery, symbolism, color and words.

Stay tuned for more amazing historical facts from the 21st Century!circuslogowords

Untamed Pharmaceuticals


“Untamed Pharmaceuticals” 40hx30w oil

My post will be a not so brief explanation of how I composed the oil painting. Included are details or the painting and working drawings. I used the image of a tiger tamer, as a metaphor for battling a pharmaceutical industry that is guilty of predatory pricing and releasing highly addictive prescription drugs to the public. To turn the metaphor idea into a painting, I used a live drawing from a model, a study of a man in a Ruben’s painting, photo references, poetry, an oil study from life set up in my studio, and visual influences from an art exhibit I saw on Samoan tattoos.

The Man with the Tiger Tattoo

I chose this drawing from a live model to start thumbnails. His arm and hand on the green towel seemed strong visually to me.


I worked out various compositions with a tamer and whole tigers. They were too literal. One day I was doodling and thinking, tiger and tail and I came up with the tiger balloon in my sketchbook.


My sketchbook ideas morphed into the composition in the painting. I sized out my canvas based on the proportions of my preparatory sketch (below – notice it is a mess of cut out tracing paper ideas) and put down the drawing in charcoal on the canvas.


The life drawing has no detail on the man’s face. I knew I wanted him to have red hair (the model had reddish blonde hair) and some sideburn chops or some facial hair to make him tiger-like. I had just gotten a book on Rubens at a library book sale and found the head I was seeking, whiskers and all. Below is a study from my sketchbook from a painting called “The Four Philosophers” by Peter Paul Rubens. The profile if the man in my painting is more tiger-like.


If you’ve been reading my posts, I often mention that coincidence and me are pals. I couldn’t quite figure out the outfit of my tamer. I had an idea but couldn’t find reference photos. Oddly enough, I found references for the shirt, vest and armband in photos from an article about a drummer in my husband’s Modern Drummer magazine!

An exhibit I saw at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles, CA, influenced the tattoo design. There were beautiful photographs the current day people of Samoa posing to show their tattoos. They were very intricate and also seemed in harmony with the shape of the body and underlying musculature. I hoped to emulate some of that in my tamer’s tattoo.


The purple teardrop earring is a memorial to singer and entertainer, Prince, who was battling chronic pain and became a victim of an accidental drug overdose.


Fearful Symmetry

“The Tyger”, by William Blake is the poem that inspired the artwork on the box. I had a good time arranging the words to look like an old poster. Poems are cool.


While working on the painting, I kept seeing tigers everywhere. Putting gas in my car, there is a small sticker of a tiger on the pump. Going to the post office, the new stamps are of wild animals, the featured one is a tiger. The background prop of a T.V. show I’m watching is a tiger poster. The most abstract tiger was an orange wine glass with tiger stripes at its base that was in the clearance section of a plant/ gift store I go to. Just the other day, (now that I’m done with the painting, but writing about it) I checked out a book from the library about a writer and flip to a photo of him standing next to a fake tiger. So far, I haven’t actually seen a tiger balloon, but you never know.


Predatory pricing, ballooning costs, holding a tiger by the tail, an addiction sneaking up on a person… images and phrasing that came to mind while painting.

The Symbolism of Water

First, I had to hunt for the right pitcher at my local thrift stores. When I got a pleasing “circus-like” pitcher (The decorations were a surprise, really) I set it up with the glass in my studio. It is way easier to paint what is in front of me, than to make things up.


To me the water has a double meaning: A symbol of purity or cleansing and a vehicle by which one takes to swallow dangerous prescription drugs. I guess that leaves the glass half full or half empty depending on your perception.

I’ve written enough, time for you to ponder. Maybe take an action. Vote. Read poems. Write letters. Create art. Hold a Tiger to your heart.