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Judith Monroe Posts

Dream Job

I’m guessing that some of you think that I have a dream job. I get to make art, go to parties and shows and generally have a good time. Outside of school, there is no one to check up on me, no time clock to punch, no daily grind. That is all well and good, but that means I have a whole other set of challenges. There is no one to keep me on track, no real tasks I must do, not much of a daily routine, except what I impose on myself. Over the years I’ve done pretty well with being self motivated but sometimes I go through times when it gets pretty challenging.

I keep up with classes and teaching responsibilities fine because I made a commitment and people are relying on me to fulfill it. I actually really enjoy working with students and helping them discover the joys and frustrations of photography, especially the darkroom process. I relish the autonomy given to me as a college professor and I pride myself on a job well done at the end of each semester.

artist Judith Monroe art studio
The afternoon light falls across my studio work table in the prettiest way…

My studio practice can be more difficult. It’s actually easier when I have an exhibit scheduled and a shorter amount of time to pull it together. Or when I have to prepare and create pieces to paint on stage. Deadlines have a way of invigorating me. Gallery owners asking for artwork is a fabulous thing. But there can be a lot of time that it’s up to me to drum up the work or find a new gallery to push the exhibition schedule and that is where I have a hard time.

The hardest part of being an artist for me is the marketing and networking and selling aspect. I have no trouble socializing but the business aspect begins to freeze me up. Even getting myself to sit down and write and send out updates to people who have asked for it can be a struggle. I’m not quite sure why I’m telling you all of this, but I guess it’s just part of my new philosophy of not avoiding the taboo. I’m just going to be open and honest and let the chips fall.

But I’ve also been praying for something to change, for inspiration, for more self discipline, and for the strength to rise to the challenge. If you’re the praying sort, I’d ask that you pray for me that way, too. If you’ve got any words of wisdom or encouragement to share, please do. And if you’re willing to be my part time boss, that might be helpful, too.

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Freedoms

I got the nudge to write this some time ago but I have been putting it off. It’s one thing to say that I am going to plunge into the taboo zone and quite another to actually go there. But here I find myself, sitting at my computer and typing…

 

One subject that has come up lately is the subject of religious freedoms in America. It is a truly wonderful thing to be guaranteed the “free exercise” of our religion by the First Amendment but there is some debate on what exactly that means. I have always understood that each of our rights end when exercising them then infringes on the rights of others. It’s perfectly fine for me to have my faith but I cannot force you to abide by it as well. This is one of the most fundamental reasons that those first settlers came to find a new land and establish a new country.

At this point in time, there are many Christians who want to be able to deny business services to certain people because they say it violates their beliefs to do so. There are other Christians who don’t want to provide certain medical services to their employees, again, because it violates their beliefs. As a fellow Christian, I would beg to differ. As Christians, we are called to simply love God and love others, all others, regardless of whether they share our beliefs or practices. We ourselves have been given free will, the ability to choose whether or not to accept God and the Bible, so how is it that we would feel the need to deny this choice to others? I would argue that we all want to be granted the right to choose for ourselves how to live, and to discriminate against anyone in business would be anything but loving.

“Faith, Hope & Love” Photo transfers and mixed media on 24×16″ cradled wood panel by Judith Monroe. Currently available through Xanadu Gallery.

When Jesus walked on this earth, he hung out with the ones in society that the religious people of the day would not have been caught dead with, quite literally. The lowest of the low-lifes, the outcast and the downtrodden, those were the people that Jesus associated with. These folks were certainly not following God’s laws or living pure lives, yet never did he tell someone that serving them violated his beliefs, never did he try to control what choices they had or what they did. He just loved them and treated them with respect, and by doing so he gained their trust and was able to teach them about God.

Never did he force himself or his ways on anyone. When he did have harsh words and anger, it was actually for those who were following the rules and acting as if that made them somehow better than others. We are supposed to be emulators of Jesus’ life, so how can it be that we would try to control others or force them to abide by some rules we feel they have to follow? Why would we not serve them wherever they are with love and respect?

Jesus did not consider his rights to be more important than others, but instead he actually gave up his rights to help all of humanity, to sacrifice himself out of love, not because we followed the rules or because we deserved it. If we are to truly follow his lead, we should also be humbly and lovingly serving people, offering them whatever help we can, not because they are following some set of rules but because this is how we share the love of Christ.

“Faith, Hope & Love” at Xanadu Gallery

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Art in Church

Butterfly, freedom, mixed media
“Freedom” by Judith Monroe. Photo transfers and mixed media on cradled wood panel, 42×42″ available through silent auction at Bridgeway Christian Church, contact for details.

Every so often I paint on stage at church during the weekend services. People who know me have gotten used to hearing me talk about this aspect of my creative life, but a lot of people are a bit surprised at first. I attend Bridgeway Christian Church, a fairly large church in Roseville, California, not exactly the kind of traditional church I was raised in or that many people think of when talking about church. We certainly never had artists painting in church when I when I was growing up, so how did I get to this point?

Several years ago, Bridgeway had a year of learning about different styles of worship, and it was during that year of teaching that I first saw artwork created as part of a church service. As a visual artist, it was incredibly exciting and touched me in a deep way. That same year, I was interviewed for a video and then invited to paint during worship for the first time. It was a frightening, exhilarating and wonderful experience and within a year or so more, I was coordinating other artists to regularly create on stage during our church services.

More recently I was one of the artists onstage during another special teaching on different expressions of worship and I was asked why we create visual art on stage during our services. I was able to give a really brief answer, but I thought it would be good to give a more in depth answer to that here.

The first reason that I paint on stage at church is simply that I am a visual person, that is just how I was made. When I read the Bible and pray, I see images.  When I remember, it is primarily in pictures and flashes. When I plan what to do, it is again in imagery – I truly envision things. It can be so bad that I have caught myself walking or driving and realized that I better pay attention to the real world around me because I was seeing something completely unrelated in my mind and I wasn’t as present as I should have been. Conversely, when I want to really focus on a thought or concept, sometimes I have to close my eyes because the visuals around me are too distracting. So images are my language, the way God speaks to me and I speak to God, and how we interact with each other. My art is most naturally a conversation between me and God.

butterfly, mixed media art
“Be Transformed” by Judith Monroe. Photo transfers and mixed media on cradled wood panel, 42×42″ available through silent auction at Bridgeway Christian Church, contact for details.

But that only explains why I create images, not why I do it on stage in front of thousands of other people over the course of a weekend. Why subject others to my conversation with God? Because when I am on stage at church, I am available as another tool for the Holy Spirit to use to reach other people. As surely as I am more often sitting in church and not up front, there are so many other visually oriented people sitting in that room when I create there. In fact, the first time I came to Bridgeway with my family, they had incorporated children’s drawings of the Christmas story into the the Christmas program and I was so touched that it brought tears to my eyes.

I cannot count the times that people have come up to me after a service and had them tell me how my artwork had touched them or spoken to them in a powerful way. I have had people tell me that God has spoken to them very clearly through art I was creating, while others have simply said it was wonderful to have visual arts on stage, as that is how they relate to God as well. And any time people are coming forward to talk, there are undoubtedly more who were impacted but did not come up to tell me so. It is always an honor and a blessing to me to know that I can be a tool for ministering to others in my church as well as in a traditional exhibition.

Finally, people often ask what happens to the artwork after the service is over. I will always take works painted on stage back to my studio and give them the finishing touches that all my artworks get: fine tuning, painting the edges and varnishing. Artwork will then usually be on display at the church and available for purchase through a silent auction process, with proceeds directly benefiting the church. (I also receive a percentage, just as I would with a gallery.) It’s always a joy for me when someone has been touched deeply enough to want to live with a piece of art, no matter how or where it touches them.

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Led by the Spirit

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know I have opinions about all kinds of things. In other venues, like this blog, I have been more circumspect about my opinions because I have been told repeatedly that business and religion and politics need to be kept separate. Maybe my faith can be mentioned in a polite manner, since it informs my artwork, but absolutely, under no circumstances ever should I mention politics because I could offend someone and then they may not want to buy artwork from me. And it’s all about business, right?

Well, I’m going to wade into dangerous territory. Can I be blunt? I’m about to break another rule (always appear successful): art isn’t exactly flying off the walls around here and what the heck, I’m just going to be honest and tell you that if you’re offended by my religion and by my politics then you’re probably offended by me, period. What is my art but a product of all that I think and believe and am? So either you’re open minded enough to like my art despite all of the things that make me who I am, or you’re not into my art. Or something like that.

After all that I’m going to disappoint you and not talk about politics at all right now. (It’s bound to come up sooner or later, have no fear.)

First I have to tell you about my faith and how I got to this point.

I grew up in a family and a church that put way too much emphasis on rules but I managed to be attracted to the love of God nonetheless and asked Jesus into my heart pretty young. (Totally weird way to put it, but how else do we talk about it?)  As a teenager, I went to see a movie with a young man, which was strictly verbotten, and I realized that it wasn’t actually a sin. I knew that disobeying my parents was wrong, but there was nothing inherently wrong with the movie theater as I had always been taught. This was a seminal event that led me to question everything I had been taught. If they were wrong about this, what else were they wrong about? Eventually I decided that if it was in the Bible, I would take it, but if it wasn’t (and theaters certainly are not) then I would toss it. I have lived by that basic premise ever since, if imperfectly, because I am human after all.

However, after I was married I had had enough of churches and most people in them, as had my new husband, and we avoided them whenever possible. He joined the Army and we moved first to Alabama and then to Germany and it was while we were in Germany that I had the most amazing experience of my life, nowhere near a church.

At that point in time I worked as a graphic artist for the Army, doing things like designing flyers promoting the Officer’s Club and such. Like most offices, the Department of Morale, Welfare and Recreation was a great place to hear what was happening,  in our case, in what amounted to the small town of the Army post we were located on. There was talk of satanic stuff going on around post, and a couple of my fellow believers were scared to death. This was around 1990 and new age religious ideas were prevalent; Shirley MacLaine had a hugely popular book about things like out of body experiences and it was a period of searching and questioning for me as well. Not content to let other people tell me what to think, I was looking and comparing things to what I knew was in the Bible and making up my mind for myself, thank you very much.

So one morning, in this environment of questioning and fear from other Christians, I started questioning as I began my morning routine of getting ready to walk the dog. “God, are you really there?” And the craziest thing happened. I got an answer,”Been here the whole time, just waiting for you to come back.” Wait, what? Wasn’t that a rhetorical question? Apparently not. Just to be clear, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but there was absolutely another voice in my head, no question about it. At this point, you might just write me off as a crazy person, and that’s fine. Or you can play along.

God and I had quite the conversation that morning, all during walking the dog and getting myself to work. At one point I asked whether or not I should be afraid of demons and the like. A car drove by and I coughed on the exhaust. “Nope, it’s just like that, my spirit is in you and will repel the evil ones as naturally as your lungs reject that exhaust.” I thought that was totally cool.

I can’t remember everything from that morning but I remember getting to work and excited telling my friends that I had been talking to God. They

“Attraction” Photo transfers and mixed media on 12×12″ cradled wood panel. $350 Contact for purchase details.

looked at me and smiled and nodded. As you might be now, and that’s okay with me.

Not long after that, I had my first prodding to speak. One of the gals I worked with was getting into some dream experiences and telling me things about it. Talking to God about it, it was clear that I had a message to give her. “Things are not always what they appear to be.” Uh, yeah… I’ll pass on that, it’s none of my business, thanks. But I couldn’t pass on it at all. Telling her that simple thing was my job and if I didn’t tell her that I would simply feel like I was going to explode until I did.  It was her business how she responded and that was perfectly clear to me, too. So I told her and I didn’t explode and heaven knows, maybe she just racked it up to the crazy woman she worked with who had apparently gone totally round the bend.

That was a long time ago, but maybe you’re starting to get a better picture of what is going on now. I’ve had other things to tell other people over the years and now it seems like I need to start a new chapter and start writing things.

Don’t think that everything that I write here is like that, it actually doesn’t happen that often, but writing this post is definitely one of those things. Maybe it’s for you, maybe it’s just for me to get it out into the open. Up until now, I have been very careful who I told this stuff to, but I guess it’s time to start being a little less careful.

Peace, my friends. And feel free to tell me what a crazy person I am below.

 

P.S. It was still years until I went back to church, but I did. And the people I go to church with are pretty cool, just FYI.

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Telling Stories

Last time I wrote about how I know when a piece is done, probably not really giving an adequate answer for many people, but basically, I just know when I know. Which brings me to the piece I think I just finished. Mostly. I’m pretty sure, but maybe it will get a little more. I’ve actually got a couple brand new pieces on the tables right now, getting ready for painting live at church this next weekend, but I digress…

So now that the piece is mostly done, the next question is, “What does it mean?” Now this is not often a question I get when I have created a lovely landscape or a beautiful butterfly, but when I create more unusual imagery like dead things and nests with roots and snails with wings, people want to know what in the world is going on in my brain. Fair enough.

Most of the time I can give them an answer, too. But every once in a while I am also wondering what in the world just came out of my brain and why. You see, I have learned to create artwork in a sort of semi-conscious state, just sort of letting things flow and come together as opposed to planning and figuring everything out beforehand. Anyone who has spent much time with me can tell you that I often do not plan a lot of things. I like being spontaneous and really only make reservations for things like motel stays because I learned a long time ago that if you don’t, especially traveling on the Fourth of July holiday weekend with a dog, that you can drive really a long way before you find a place to stay, and then it may not be a place you ever want to stay in again. But again, I digress.

Revelation - mixed media artwork by Judith Monroe
“Revelation” by Judith Monroe, photo transfers, ephemera, acrylic, wax pastel and dried pressed pine needles on cradled wood panel (42×42″) $2700

My artwork has a tendency to come together without too much conscious thought and then afterwards I have to ask myself what I was expressing out of the recesses of my brain, or what came flowing from the Spirit. And so it happened with this piece I have pretty much just finished. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it this time, and I started asking other people what they thought it meant, because it obviously means something. I started with the people I live with, and the best I got was from my daughter who said it made her feel safe. That was pretty cool, partly because my daughter doesn’t think I’m insane, but because safety is a big deal for her.

So I decided to do what anyone in our digitally connected world would do and I went online to see what people would say. I posted the image and basic question on Facebook and Instagram and I got a lot of great feedback. The main topic of conversation was what the antlers on the house meant, and several people felt that the antlers were protection and some expressed a sense of comfort from that. One person pointed out that antlers often symbolize spiritual authority and regeneration and can be a reference to God. I dug around some more and sure enough, in traditional Christian symbology, a stag is a symbol of Christ.

When I first created the image and it had just the antlers on it, I had felt the antlers were like a crown and I had connected it in that way to God and Christ. This is the kind of thing that can happen, I find myself using an old symbol in a new but congruous way, which is why I trust in my subconscious method of art creation. I guess you could say that this is a picture of my house, since our Christian faith is an important part of our lives. Or you can make up your own story for it, I’m fine with that, too.

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Are we done yet?

Work in progress in the art studio of Judith Monroe
Playing with a photo of the piece I’m working on lets me experiment with different ideas before committing to them on the panel itself.

“How do you know when you’re done?” People often ask me that question and I usually give them some flip response, “Sometimes I don’t!” It’s true, it can be hard to know when I’m done creating a piece of artwork. Sometimes a deadline is pushing at me, so I can’t just keep going. Sometimes it’s easy to tell, the piece just feels finished and I happily send it off into the world, confident of its completion. And then there are times that I really struggle with knowing when a piece is done. With the nature of my process, adding layer upon layer and usually obscuring at least part of what lies below, it can be hard to know when to stop.

Take the piece I’m working on now, for instance. It has a long and storied past. Underneath lies a completely different painting, something that came back to the studio and then I decided I could do far better if I started over from scratch. It’s pretty easy to paint on top of something, once you get over the emotional part. I know, some of you just gasped at the horror of me obliterating an artwork, but most painters I know do this sort of thing, they just don’t tell you. We just gesso over the old piece; gesso is a like paint primer, and it’s always the first layer that I put on my wood panels. When I gesso over an older piece, I’ve got my texture already in place and I work like I would after the layer of texture when starting with a fresh panel.

Back to the work at hand: this piece is already the second set of imagery on this panel, painted live during a couple church services and put on display for a while, as is normal. But at a certain point it just didn’t feel right to me. I don’t know how else to explain it. I certainly felt happy with it when I finished it and put it out there, but then I saw it again after not seeing it for a while. And it just didn’t sit right with me. Pretty soon, the feeling grew and became a bit of a nag. When the opportunity came, I brought the artwork back home to my studio.

At that point I just let it sit in the studio, out in view where my subconscious could work on it. I don’t know about you, but my subconscious is a busy little creature, working on several different projects in the background until it gets tired of being ignored. As I was finishing up my most recent set of live paintings, (more on those soon,) I felt the strong urge to tackle this one. Mind you, I have several of other things sitting in the studio waiting for me to get back to them, but sometimes certain things just need attention right now, thank you very much. So I got to it.

It’s funny how this sort of thing works. I could tell you that the border was feeling too overwhelming in this piece, so I felt like I needed to work with that and then it felt like it was missing something, so I’m working on adding to it now, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be changing more than I thought it would but I try not to think too hard about these things. And yes, my mind works in run-on sentences because one thing just leads to another and if I didn’t go with it things would get boring.

And I’m sorry, but I still don’t know how I know I’m done. Sometimes I really don’t know, but I have to stop sometime. Usually.

 

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Artist Trading Cards

Once a month I get together with other visual artists at my church (if you’re a Sacramento area believing artist, contact me for an invite!) We’ve been doing visual meditations on scripture when we get together and I was inspired to suggest that we start making artist trading cards based on those meditations. So we gave ourselves the homework of creating artist trading cards and bringing them back to trade with each other this month. Tonight is the night we get back together again, so today I made my cards. (Note to my students – yes, I procrastinate, too!)

I am so happy with these cards that I didn’t really want to let them go, so I have scanned them at high resolution, allowing me to do other things with them later. I’m not exactly sure what that will be yet, but I’ve got ideas percolating and time will tell which ones really work out. At any rate, I’ll start with sharing them here, along with the scripture that inspired them below.

“Rush of Wings” Ezekiel 3:13, mixed media artist trading card by Judith Monroe

 

“Sweet as Honey” Ezekiel 3:3, mixed media artist trading card by Judith Monroe

 

“Whether They Listen or Not” Ezekiel 3:11, mixed media artist trading card by Judith Monroe

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel— not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.”

And he said to me, “Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. Go now to your people in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.”

Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound as the glory of the Lord rose from the place where it was standing. It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against each other and the sound of the wheels beside them, a loud rumbling sound. The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord on me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed.

Ezekiel 3:1-15

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Seeing Visions

“High Hopes,” “Moving On,” and “Mobile Home,” by Judith Monroe (photo transfers, ephemera, color pencil, acrylics & wax pastel on 8×8″ wood panels)

Sometimes images just come to me, like visions given to a prophet. That is how these shoes with nests came to me, after seeing the call to artists for Inner Soul, a show with shoe themed art. Somehow the juxtaposition seemed fitting. In a way, some people have only their shoes for a home, if they even have that. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to write about this but there are no easy words for the subject of homelessness. The very thought that some people have no home or place to belong simply makes my heart ache, so the least I can do is to donate three pieces of artwork to help promote awareness and support for those less fortunate than I am.

Next Saturday (after the July 4th holiday) is the silent art auction benefiting Joshua’s House, a facility providing hospice care for the homeless in Sacramento. I’m praying that you can join me in helping to provide comfort and dignity to those among us who are homeless and terminally ill. You can learn more about Joshua House and how it came to be here.
Inner Soul – Silent Art Auction – Saturday, July 8, 2017, 5 to 8 p.m.

Hosted by Uptown Studios, 2415 23rd Street, Sacramento CA (916) 446-1082

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Ready, Set, Show

I’ve been so preoccupied this month with creating artwork, that I have forgotten to keep all of you updated on it! I’ve been working on a new Specimina set for the 20/20 Show at Kennedy Gallery in Sacramento. It’s been an exciting thing, coaxing these little gems into existence, and I’ve been documenting it along the way, so you can watch for a video of the entire process soon. You can see most of the bits and pieces of the process by viewing my videos on my Facebook page.

 

I’ve just finished the varnish, and all that’s left is putting on the hanging hardware, signing and then scanning them all. I’ll be delivering them all next week and then I hope to see you at the opening reception on Thursday May 11, from 6 to 9 p.m. This will be your chance to get first pick, so you won’t want to miss out on that night! There will also be a reception on Second Saturday May 13, from 3 to 10 p.m. that is always lots of fun. The Kennedy Gallery is located at 1931 L Street, Sacramento, CA 95811 Phone: 916.400.4272

 

In this series, I’ve focused more on the little things than I think I have in the past. I am continually collecting natural treasures: the remnants of a bird’s egg, a dead moth caught on the car grill but not too damaged, a cedar cone. Things that probably most people would walk past without a second glance, but that I am utterly fascinated with. I see these things as tiny messages, meant to be reminders of something much bigger, so I photograph them, store them, and incorporate them into works of art that pay homage to the item itself and to the bigger things they point to. I call this ongoing series of artworks “Specimina” or “Specimens of Faith.” Hidden in these works are layers of mixed media, including ephemera, photo transfers, color pencils and acrylics, a careful viewer may also find layers of meanings that speak to both our physical and spiritual worlds. May you enjoy the voyage of discovery as much as I do.

 

Several of the Specimina pieces in various stages of completion. (There are twenty-five in all.)
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A Flurry of Activity

A few weeks ago I was asked to submit to a popular annual Sacramento show called the 20/20 Show. For this show, several artists are chosen to exhibit twenty small artworks all on the same theme. I was honored to be among this year’s chosen artists with my Specimina works. The exhibit is in May and each artist has to produce twenty five artworks to fill in spaces when pieces sell. I attended the reception for this show last year at the Kennedy Gallery and the excitement was palpable. I am truly looking forward to participating in this year’s exhibit.

 

As I have been working on my 20/20 series, I have been posting  videos of my progress in my studio on my Facebook page. As usual, I started with priming the panels with gesso, then adding acrylic texture to them.
The next step in the process is choosing all of the images for the series and printing them all out, then I decide what to collage as a background to each image and adhere it onto the panels. Once that is done, I coat the images and then transfer them onto the panels, which is the step I just finished yesterday.

 

The next part of the process will be to use color pencils to enhance the details of each image and start the coloring process. Then I will add acrylic paint in transparent layers, possibly more collage elements and wax pastels. I’m never entirely sure what exactly I will do until I get to that point in the creative process.

 

I’m pretty excited about this series, as I recently took a bunch of new photographs of some pretty cool and interesting creatures, some of which are included in this series. I am planning on putting a video together of the whole process when it’s done, so you’ll be able to see the entire project come to life. In the meantime, here’s the state of my work table at the moment.

 

My entire twenty-five panel series on my work table in my studio.

 

Mark your calendar for the Second Saturday Reception for the 20/20 Show on May 13, 2017, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Kennedy Gallery, 1931 L Street, Sacramento, CA 95811. I look forward to seeing you there!

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