Painting Some Well Loved Faces

I challenged myself with painting my sons’ favorite stuffed animals as gifts– it didn’t stop there!

Few things are as deeply treasured, passionately cared for, and fervently sought after as a child’s favorite lovey or stuffed animal. I say lovey because it’s not always an animal. Kids latch on to many different types of things that become their “special one”. Blankies, dolls, an action figure, or stuffed creature of some type. They all have two features in common: bringing comfort and sparking something that seems endless in the child’s imagination.

I had the idea to paint my two son’s favorite stuffed animals because they have become so deeply attached to them in the last year. Especailly during the shut-down of their school. They became another family member in our house. It was more than just comfort- the kids were having adventures with their animals, telling them secrets, playing hide and seek, and taking them everywhere with them. They weren’t going many places, so the “everywhere” included the back yard, up trees, on the swings, on scooter rides and so much more. It was like I was watching Calvin and Hobbes in real life. I began with wanting to paint just the two animals as gifts, but soon I was inspired to do mine and my husband’s childhood favorites too. I hope you enjoy reading a little about each animal’s personality that is contained in these lovable little bodies.

Tiggie a.k.a. Hobbes

It is no surprise that I would make a connection to Calvin and Hobbes when oldest son really latched on to this tiger. He was a gift to him at birth, but didn’t become a prominent figure in our house until the last year or two. Originally named Tiggie, he was renamed after my son fell in love with Calvin and Hobbes comic books. Over the shut-down, my son who had struggled with reading spent hours upon hours reading Calvin and Hobbes- and came out at the end at the top of his class for reading skills. (Thank you Bill Watterson!!!)

Tiggie is a reading buddy, gets carried around and tossed in the air by his tail, hides regularly right at bed time, climbs trees, and rides swings in the back of his boy’s t-shirt. He is rugged, sassy, adventurous, and a very loyal confidant.

Ruff-Ruff

Ruff Ruff is a puppet basset hound that is deeply loved by my youngest son. A gift at birth, he has his own homemade cardboard dog house and dog dishes. My son who loves and cherishes all of his many stuffed animals, always makes sure Ruff Ruff is a main feature in whatever he’s doing.

Ruff Ruff gets treats, does intricate tricks, and has birthday parties. He rides to school with us everyday so he can wave bye to his boy. There have been many earnest prayers sent up at bedtime along the lines of “Please God, let Ruff Ruff become a REAL DOG!”

Stay Puft

Stay Puft is my husband’s favorite childhood lovey. Stored lovingly in pristine condition, if you’ve met my husband, you’re not surprised his favorite is from Ghostbusters. Nils had a written schedule for rotating time with his toys evenly. Stay Puft is just as lovable as my awesomely nerdy husband. Thanks to him, my kids are experts at Ghostbusters, He-man, G.I. Joe and Star Wars of course. He loves everything 80s, VHS, and sci-fi. And he takes excellent care if his toys, which is why we are not surprised that his lovey looks better than any of the rest, even though it is over 30 years old.

Stay Puft enjoys terrorizing the Ghostbusters in New York City, aka my husband’s childhood bedroom floor. Other than that, he’s a pretty lovable and snuggly guy. Look at him, he just wants to hug you- when it’s his turn on the schedule of course.

Rosie

This is my Rosie. She was made by and named after my Grammy, Rosemary. She was a woman who loved God deeply, and an expert knitter and crocheter. As a child I loved the 80s cartoon/character Strawberry Shortcake. So my creative Grammy made me a Strawberry Shortcake from her yarn stash. She’s mainly knitted, but her hat and shoes are crocheted. Made with lots of love and care, Rosie has with stood the test a child’s love can give: lots of snuggles, traveling, and of course trips in the washing machine.

She went everywhere with me, even to college. I couldn’t bear for her to get lonely or worried about me. Even now, she rests in my pajama drawer in my dresser, and every once in a while she gets a real hug from me. She’s extra special because I also love to crochet, just like my Grammy.

Appearing here with more color in her yarn, and a few more strands of hair- but a prominent feature in my adventures (along with my brother) from early on.

Rosie is a constant and loyal friend, good listener, and great hugger. A caring face, gentle hands, a bold red dress and striped socks make her the perfect best friend for a creative and sassy little girl.

In a way, this is like looking at family portraits. I can’t help but think about Toy Story- those movies really nailed how toys capture children’s imaginations. I loved making these, and maybe these paintings will make it easier for my sons to carry their childhood with them into adulthood. Personally, I can’t wait to hang mine up!

La Maison Rouge

The Red House- a series of work exploring the jagged side of our lives and the hope that is always underlying.

These are the sort of pieces that boil up. It’s not during the happy or easy times, it is during the times where art is a true refuge and escape for me. When everything- every…single… thing… about everything- is bugging me. Or when the current state of the world is just too much to take in peacefully. For when you feel like you need to let IT out- whatever it is.

This series is about the inner emotional darkness we all face. I don’t want this darkness to be mixed in and confused with the darkness of evil. Think of this more like the darkness of your own room at night. Familiar, sometimes a little scary, but in the end necessary and comforting as a balancing point of your life. Another way to think of it would be night vs. day. Just because it gets dark at night it doesn’t mean it’s bad. (If this is making you a little uncomfortable, that’s the whole point of the pieces. Also, read to the end of this post where I will share some very personal ways that I deal with my own dark times.)

La Maison Rouge

La Maison Rouge, Oils and Mixed Media, Art Box.

This piece is the first of The Red House pieces I created. For a long time it was the only one of it’s kind. I haven’t done too much with it because my husband loved it so much, it has by default become a part of our “permanent collection” of my art that is in our home.

My original thoughts were:

It’s not really snow, but my mind knows what it is, even though it doesn’t really have a name…

This piece is about the storms in the mind that seem to blow around and over us as a blizzard. Completely blocking out the rest of life for a while, giving you a bit of tunnel vision or isolation. Suddenly, it’s quiet, and you see the blizzard is over and the storm has created such intricate beauty you almost cannot take it in.

Fractured

Fractured, 6 x 12, oils on canvas

My original thoughts:

It’s ok if you’re feeling this now. I am too. Don’t be afraid to look down into the crack. Just remember that you are going to climb up out of there when you’re done.

This piece is about the those sudden jagged crevasses that can appear: in our lives, relationships, work, church, or anywhere we thought we were on solid ground– but it turns out we weren’t. This is the main part of looking into what you are avoiding. By confronting it and staring into it, you will see the bottom and be able to climb up and out.

After The Rift

The Rift, 20 x 24, Oils on canvas

Now this piece is about the permanent rift that has occurred. We’ve all done it. Built our house on shifting sands in one way or another. Damaging or unhealthy habits, relationships, patterns, jobs, friends, people… every once and a while (hopefully) you come to understand you are at the point of no repair. Built on a fault line, this was destructive and doomed from the start.

The Bridges We Build

The Bridges We Build, 14 x 18, oils on canvas

That ground seemed so firm and sound. Yet the crack grew and grew. We are more similar than we are different, yet we are suddenly so far apart. The bridge must be made, rickety at first, but the fact that it’s there will mean everything.

This piece is showing the way to move forward. Start taking that action towards repair. Step by step, that rickety bridge will seem more and more sure. Reaching out a hand of peace is almost never returned by a slap. If so, recognize the fracture and leave the bridge to be used by future ones on the same journey.

Finally, the Hope that I have

For the betterment and growth of my art career, I am advised over and over again to not address politics of religion. But at the risk of bad opinions, I find that I cannot share and express this extremely personal part of my inner self without expressing it in it’s entirety. Since we have approached a very personal topic, I feel it is appropriate to share a bit more of my inner self to close the loop.

My paintings over and over again have an undertone of struggle plus hope. There is always hope at the end of the journey, a light at the end of the tunnel. This is usually expressed in the form of roads without end, or vanishing into a sky full of vibrant and expressive swirling paint.

These pieces are no different, though the swirling paint is depicted in grays, blacks and whites. That is because this world of the Red House is a little more grim, darker, more about the times that are not so easy. Even though the colors have been zapped for this series, the hope is still there, the message is the same. From time to time we need to peer into our own dark room, but we have the ability to flip the light back on.

For me, the main component of this hope and light is my personal faith in Jesus Christ and the resurrection from death, the forgiveness of sins, and the restorative healing and redemption that is offered through Jesus’ death on the cross. This is the ultimate light at the end of the tunnel. Though this life is full of constant struggle, trial, hardship, pain, suffering, confusion and a general lost feeling– through knowing Jesus and what He has done for me, I know that through it all I can continue to have hope. I hope and trust that God is guiding us, leading me personally through this journey called life, and calling me to heaven at the end of my time. God’s providence is evident to me every day, and the more I seek him, the more I am found every day. The swirling paint often depicts this overlying hope I have of a greater plan, a higher calling, someone who actually knows what is going on. Without God I would be lost. Just as I cannot envision myself as anything but a crazy oil painter, I cannot not physically, mentally, spiritually see how I exist without faith in God.

I will close with saying that I am not sorry if this offends you, after all, you read this far! I hope you can see this for what it is, a personal expression of my inner thoughts. This is not telling anyone what to think or believe, but simply sharing more into how the works came to be. If you’d like to hear more about either subject, please contact me directly and i’m here- real as ever- to build bridges and see that we are more alike than we are different.

Feeling Surreal

I’ve been working out some thoughts on canvas over the past few weeks, that have turned out especially dreamlike and surreal. Here they are, with my brief thoughts and explanations:

(Up) Rooted

Do you ever feel untethered yet secure at the same time? This image came to my mind after viewing pictures from the horrible land hurricane that came through Iowa this week just north of where I live. There is a picture of a little girl sitting on an uprooted tree in her yard, leaning against the roots, peacefully reading her book. To feel security in uncertainty is a wonderful paradox and I can relate.

(Up) Rooted, 8 x 16

Pitfalls

Landmines. Pitfalls. Open wounds. Old scars.

This piece is about the road of some of our relationships and how we must navigate to sustain them and carry on with hope for a peaceful future.

Pitfalls, 18 x 24

Beneath the Pitfalls

A view of what it looks like underneath the street full of pitfalls. It’s actually not too bad under there.

Beneath the Pitfalls, 12 x 24
Pitfalls and Beneath the Pitfalls. Pitfalls is 18 x 24, Beneath the Pitfalls is 12 x 24.

Illusion of Control

The illusion of control. This year has called it to the forefront for pretty much everyone at once. At times I feel like time is just clipping on and we are along for the wild ride, despite the boxes we try to contain it in. We are a small part of the bigger picture, but that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of how things look from where we are.

Illusion of Control, 16 x 20

Studio Tips and Creativity Boosters

How to make sure your space (small or large) is ready for you when you are.

Construction shot and current shot of my studio at my home in southern Iowa

I’ve been lucky enough to have an art space to call my own since May of 2012. At that time, my husband and took a leap and rented a studio in a co-op and rearranged our schedule for me to go there on a weekly basis. Before then, I had a variety of setups in our home, ranging from a tiny 2 x 2 coffee table to a whole spare room. I encourage you to make a dedicated creative space- in other words- if you have to keep clearing everything up off the kitchen table to eat dinner, the setup can be a barrier to your creativity. If it IS and MUST BE the kitchen table- how about a cart where you things are stored efficiently next to the table. Making setup and cleanup as easy as possible. Whatever the space you have or can carve out, these tips will help you make the most of your creative time and space.

Keep it Cleaned up

Nothing kills creativity faster than having a bunch of “chores” to do in your studio before you can create. We’ve all been there- you have an idea, ready to start making- but your space is cluttered, nothing is put away, you can’t find your materials, and on and on. Every night (I usually work in the evening/night) after I am done working, I spend 5-10 minutes cleaning everything up and putting things back in their place. Brushes cleaned, rags hung up, trash in the trash can and so on. Seems rudimentary, but if you can’t even find a space to set your sketch book down, it’s going to be hard to get to work! Speaking from experience- if I get lost in cleaning up, I tend to lose steam on my creative idea.

Keep your materials out where you can see them

I find it really helps spark ideas if I can see my materials. Now, this follows the first tip, because while I think you should have them out, I think they should be organized to be visually pleasing and also clear of the spot where you need to sit and work. For example: keep your brushes and paints in a container or cart where they are visible and easy to access. If you don’t have a lot of floor space, use storage that is clear plastic so you can see through them. I keep my canvases stacked safely where I can easily see what I have and their sizes. Keep your pencils and sketch book at the ready, and prioritize materials you use the most by making them the easiest to access. Having to move things around to get to what you want can kill that precious creative energy, not to mention waste time. It doesn’t have to be expensive- hit up the thrift store because let’s be honest, most of the stuff is going to get paint on it anyways, right? Most of my organizational materials and studio furniture is free or repurposed- I like the look of the wooden old boxes for storage, and I love things with wheels on them! Paint carts are my friend, and I can move them to where I need them at the moment. (The carts pictured- I think they are both from Ikea, but I have seen similar ones at Target and Michael’s.)

Make your space as functional as you can

Think of a carpenter’s workshop, where all the tools are hung nicely, ready to be grabbed. Take some time to look at each area of your space, and consider what you use it for most often. If you can, hang tools specific to that task around where you can grab them quickly and easily (and just as easily put them back when you’re done). This will make your time in your space more efficient because you won’t be looking for tools, and you won’t have to spend time dealing with clutter.

Make it comfortable and fill it with things that inspire you

Do you have to slump over your table because your chair is the wrong height? Is you space just too hot or too cold? Does it feel sterilized and controlled, or warm and welcoming? Consider these questions, and make adjustments- even slight adjustments can really make a difference. Add a rug to protect the floor and make it feel more welcoming, find a new stool that doesn’t hurt your back, move your table so the fan can blow on you without blowing your materials around, and so on. Then, add some inspiration: photos, ideas, images, notes, whatever inspires you.

The goal is to feel like you’re able to be transported- if even for a short time. Easy to jump in, get to work with inspiration and materials at your fingertips.

Earthly Dreams and Tactile Skies Virtual Gallery Show

Everyday for the month of June, I will share here an image and explanation for each of the 30 pieces in my show, Earthly Dreams and Tactile Skies that was shown at the Art Center of Burlington in May. I hope you enjoy it and come back each day to see the new piece! Pieces will be posted by 10am each day. I’d love to hear your comments below on which ones are your favorite. Enjoy!

Kismet and Profusion Of Choices, 2019

Painting Explanation: Kismet and Profusion (Of Choices)

Kismet and Profusion Of Choices, 2019
Kismet and Profusion Of Choices, 2019

Kismet is another word for destiny- which is depicted here by the warm sky, turning to a dark red swirling center. All of our lives have a certain destiny- ever evolving and changing. It is always before us in the distance- at times ominous, other times hopeful- but always inevitable. Our lives will happen and end and this is inescapable.

What we have is an infinity (profusion) of choices before us, which is depicted by the vast sands, full of paths and journeys. Victories, pitfalls, joys, pains, memories, dreams and nightmares are all laid out in the millions of choices we make.

Though there are many options, they all lead us to our eventual destiny in the distance- or maybe it is not as far away as we think.

Image inspired by this photo by my good friend who travels the world, Wayco Beckman:

Glimpses from the Other Side

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to work from my good friend Wayco Beckman’s photography for many years. Over the years, many pieces have sold and gone to new homes. But this year, we were able to gather enough together to create a unique art show that combined Wayco’s photos with the paintings they inspired. The result was a very unique art experience: viewing the beautiful photography side by side with the paintings, as well as a backstory with each exotic photo.

Through his work, Wayco has the opportunity to travel to places many of us could only ever dream of visiting. He takes his camera on his journeys, and has an impeccable eye for catching scenes that are both enchanting and transporting.

I’ve had the joy of getting to be inspired by his photos, and i’m always suprised at how the feel of his photo also gets translated into my paintings, even though I do not know the backstory until after i’ve painted it. It’s true inspiration/muse magic if i’ve ever seen it!

We had a great reception and I was very grateful to all those who came out and shared their thoughts and comments with me. The show itself is displaying 10 years of work for me, a true passion project. I will continue to work from his photos for as long as he will let me- in fact my two recent paintings are both from his photos.

Many far and away expressed interest in sharing the experience. While I will always stress that viewing artwork online is no where near the experience of viewing it in person, I understand that is not always possible!

Without further ado, I give you the online version of our show!

Painting Explanation: From That Fiery Place

That Fiery Place (2018) By Annie Swarm Guldberg

From that Fiery Place

The Fire is inside the house but it is not burning it up. It is also expanding and growing out side the house, swirling in the sky. To me, this painting is about that passion or drive that we have- at times burning us up inside. When it has a chance to get out, it only grows and becomes more fervent.

For me, this passion is art. It has always been art, and I hope it always will be. I shouldn’t say always, because I wasn’t born doing art- it was only through my schooling that I discovered my passion for art, specifically oil paints. I remember some passion driven art pieces going all the way back to a cotton ball and crayon creation in preschool. I had such a vision for what I wanted to make with the materials! (It was an alien ship). This continued, but flitting from medium to medium until my mom found a box of oil paints being thrown out and brought them home to me to try. It was love- true, burning and fervent. That was 20 years ago and the passion has only grown. It has not consumed me but spread into the atmosphere around me.

Painting is my fire- what is yours?

This painting is available for purchase here.

Painting Explanation: Flooded

Flooded, 2016

The waters begin to rise.  You panic.  You rush around, trying to stop it.  You pray, you plead, you fear.  But they continue to rise.  And rise.  And rise some more.  Until you can struggle against it no more.  It is happening whether you like it or not. And finally you slow down in exhaustion and acceptance, and you breathe.  You peacefully remember that your head is still above water, and you can still breathe.  And that is a blessing.  

Sooner or later, the waters will recede.  Your life might be unrecognizable from where it was before, but does it matter? You are still in there.  And once the waters drain, you will be able to see, if only a little at a time, what you should do next.

My son with Jackson Pollack

My Toddler Could Paint That!

Overheard more than once at one contemporary art show or another: “My toddler could paint that!!”

A few years ago I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum while they had their  Rebels show, which included (among many others) Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Camille Pissaro, and my idol Vincent Van Gogh to name a few.  I was in absolute awe in viewing in person many of these paintings that i’ve idolized as an artist and art lover over the years. 

When sharing my awe over the show, I heard comments in different forms, about how simple some of the art seems, and how “anyone could do that” sort of idea.  It really struck me at first, and I almost got trapped into that sort of thinking.  

Years of trial and error are behind any great piece of art.

What you don’t see when looking at these works that seem simple- is the background for the artist.  All the trials, all the experimenting, all the failures to finally come across that one great idea.  For many artists, it’s more than just trial and failure to find success.  It’s a deep, inner obsession that consumes the mind.  That leads them to keep searching and struggling- sometimes at great cost to their careers,  families, or mental health.  Sacrifices for the inner drive-that they might not even be able recognize or name until it happens.

I recently made a discovery in my studio- a much easier way to paint what I have been trying to paint for years.  And it’s so easy and fun, i’ve decided to start teaching the method to those interested.  And i’m sure i’ll encounter students in my classes that might be tempted to think “wow, it’s so easy”.  But I hope they will also see that artist behind the concept.   It’s one thing to look at someone’s idea and repeat the concept.  

Without experimenting and failures, yes it does seem simple.

Make sure you consider this the next time you are tempted down the path of thinking of a form of art as easy or simple.  Sit down and try it yourself.  And you’ll see, probably immediately that it’s not as easy as they made it look.  And consider and respect all the background work that was done to lead up to that one big great idea.  

My son with Jackson Pollack
My husband and my then toddler with none other than Jackson Pollock behind them. And my toddler is being a toddler.