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Judith Monroe Posts

Purposeful

I really have meant to post here more often than this, I could offer reasons, excuses, justifications for not doing it but would it matter? I have certainly thought about writing often enough, but it takes a little more than thought to make it all the way here, to sitting down and writing… but I digress.

 

Over and over again I keep seeing things, reading things, that say how important it is for me as an artist (or business person of any kind, really) to tell my story, explain myself. Here I sit, stand, whatever, creating what I create and putting it out there and asking you to like it, to love it, to believe, to put your money where your mouth is – but all the while you need a really good reason to do it. You need me to be clear, to explain why I do what I do and why you should care, why you should embrace me and join me in my journey. 

 

Fair enough, so I’m going to be as honest as possible and some of you are going to think I’m a lunatic. Some of you know it already, but that’s okay, because I’m pretty sure you love me anyway and I love you, too…

 

I honestly believe that I was put here on earth for a reason, for a purpose, that God in all his unimaginable self, created me to create, to be an artist and to bring him glory. (Now mind you, I may not always do a good job of it, but that’s on me, not him, just so we’re clear.) So how exactly does me being and artist bring him glory? I can’t say I always know, but I do know what I’ve always tried to do in and through my work.

 

So much of my artwork is a prayer, searching for peace, for calm, for a sense of feeling that I am with God and in the center of what he wants. It has always been that way, especially when I go out with a camera into some little wild place, trying to put together that perfect composition that feels just so… That feeling of wholeness, contentment, things that I can’t even really put into words, so I use a camera, then I use all kinds of other things, just trying to make my artwork convey that elusive something. 

 

In the studio, when I’m pulling together images and textures and colors, I am once again participating in a form of physical prayer; reaching out to God, trying to reflect back the little glimpses of heaven that I sometimes feel more than see. “Making the invisible visible.” That’s a phrase that I’ve read before about art making Christians and I can certainly relate. This world is so much more than all the physical things we can touch and quantify and while I’m creating, I’m trying to help make a little sense of it, both for myself and for you…

 

So that’s a complete ramble but it’s honest. Next time I’ll try to be a little more coherent. Probably. 

 

 

This is one of my very newest pieces, which I’ve title “Golden Hour” partly because that’s a term used in photography to describe the time of day when the light is low and golden and feels magical. It can be one of those times when our imperfect earth can feel a little bit like heaven, simply because what we see in front of us is bathed is such lovely light that we actually believe, if only for a moment…

 

 

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True Confessions

I’m a professional artist. I create art in my studio, I show it, I sell it, I get to teach at the college level, it’s a charmed life. Sort of.

 

It’s an incredible amount of work – forty hours a week? I don’t even keep track; if I’m not working somehow, I’m eating, sleeping, walking the dogs, going to church or maybe vegging out on the couch at ten o’clock at night. But that’s okay, I love it and I can’t imagine doing anything else and not going on some kind of postal rampage.

 

art in progress by Judith Monroe

 

I live for this, so the true confession? Sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing. Really. Today, for instance, I walked into the studio to paint – I’m working on a deadline coming up incredibly soon – and I really don’t know what to do next. I have no grand plan, that doesn’t usually work too well for me, and sometimes that means I have to grope blindly and just pray for what to do next. I have some notion, sort of, but there are days that those first steps are incredibly tenative and I’m scared stiff that I’m going to screw things up but not working at all is not an option.

 

Of course, stopping to write a blog post will postpone it just a little… but I’ve got a deadline to meet, so here goes nothing!

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In the Woods Artist Reception and Exhibition

Artworks by Judith Monroe and Michelle MacKenzie

 

I am pleased to announce the opening reception for my new exhibit with my dear friend, sculptress Michelle MacKenzie, at the Adamson Gallery in Sacramento. I hope you can join us for Sacramento’s Second Saturday Artwalk on October 12, 2013, from 6 to 9 p.m. The Adamson Gallery features uplifting contemporary paintings and scultures and is located at 1021 R Street, Suite 15,  Sacramento, CA 95811. Our Emerson inspired show runs from October 10 through November 2, 2013.

 

 
Artis Michelle MacKenzie in her studio
 
Ceramic sculptor Michelle MacKenzie uses clay to express her “celebration of life through art”, with an emphasis on the horse and other animals with spiritual significance.  Michelle concentrates on The Connection, the things we all share as humans, passage of time, family, spirituality.  Inspired by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, she has recently created a collection of animal sculptures that depict the simple truth, beauty and spirit of the wild.  Michelle enjoys sculpting with a mixed media approach, using reclaimed wood panels, branches, wire, nails, and metal to compliment the clay. A grey wolf stands atop a wood stump, a red tailed hawk’s legs and talons are nails and wire, an old shutter door becomes the backdrop for a woodland scene of a grove of Aspen trees that become a white tail deer.  A herd of colorful horses adorned with leaf designs toss their patinaed copper wire manes.  Michelle finds renewal by hiking in the Auburn foothills, the Sierras, or Point Reyes.
 
“When my friend Judith Monroe and I decided to make “In the Woods” our theme for our 2 woman show at Colleen Adamson’s Gallery, I was sculpting primarily horses.  I was excited to commit to a project like this that would force me to stretch and expand my scope.  I decided to concentrate on wolves, birds, deer, and tree horses!  If you’ve read Emerson then a tree horse shouldn’t be a surprise!  I enlisted the help of my friend Phil Myers to construct reclaimed wood panels for my wall sculptures.  These are made from wood salvaged from an old water tower, complete with bee tunnels.  He was also my source for the wood stumps.  Kristen Hoard made the rusty metal platforms for my bird sculptures from old scrap metal.  My intention is to capture some of the wild spirit of the woods, as well as the endearing charm of the creatures who inhabit them.”
Michelle MacKenzie
 
 
Artist Judith Monroe working in her studio
 
Mixed media artist Judith Monroe is always “fascinated with nature and encouraged by faith” while creating her photo based artworks. Taking a cue from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous quote, “In the woods, we return to reason and faith,” she has created a body of images that blend her inclinations toward recording the visual literally through photographs with translating her spiritual inclinations through paint and collage. The result are artworks that appear realistic, yet otherworldly. Though many of her photographs were taken locally, some were captured from farther away, like Yosemite and Sedona, Arizona. When Judith isn’t in her art studio or teaching photography at Sierra College, she can often be found wandering trails in Northern California or farther away.
 
“One of my favorite things is to wander along trails through woodlands, just breathing in my surroundings, listening to whatever birdsong I can hear, looking for what creature just made that rustling sound in the bushes, or finding little fish hiding in the shadows in a creek. Whether it’s a place I’ve never been to before, or a path I’ve wandered many times, I am always eager to see how the light falls through the leaves, what bird I might be able to identify or what animal I might catch a glimpse of. These are the places where I feel most alive, most in tune with God and with nature, and most at peace, regardless of what is happening in my life elsewhere. This body of work is a documentation of those places, memories and emotions. Every photograph is attempt to capture a moment in time and preserve it, like a dried flower or leaf. Not content to only take photos, I collect fallen leaves, make sketches and pull them together with maps or papers, my own journal entries or collected words that resonate with me. Each piece I create embodies a part of my hopes and dreams, memories and faith, an overflowing of all the things I hold dear, poured out as a blessing for whoever would be willing to take it on.” Judith Monroe

 

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1200 square inches

Been working on lots of pieces for my upcoming “In the Woods” show at the Adamson Gallery (next month!)  Today I spent some time on this 20″ x 60″ piece, coloring details with pencils on the photos that nearly fill it. Let me just say that 1200 square inches is a lot…

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Introducing Specimina

This past weekend I painted live onstage for four services at my home church, Bridgeway Christian Church. We have live painters onstage during the whole service (one and a half hours long) semi-regularly, an acknowledgement that our creator God has given us many different kinds of creative gifts that we can honor him with. I also happen to coordinate this fledgling program, now halfway through its first year. We have five painters that rotate through, choosing the various scriptures that are to be taught that weekend, based on what we each have felt called to translate into our own visual language. It’s a wonderful experience for painter and congregation alike.

 

Prayer and meditation are very often a part of my creative process, regardless of the subject or intended audience. I have long now understand that I was created to create and take my calling seriously. Somewhere in this creative process, I felt very much compelled to begin a new series that I have no idea where I can begin to show it, but somehow that has become secondary to the fact that I must create it. The first three pieces were smaller and produced to submit to a specific call for art that they were not accepted for, and I’m now looking for where they will go – I’m sure it will become apparent at some point.

 

When I first sat down to consider what I would paint for the weekend of July 20 & 21, I came to the scripture with an open mind. But when I started reading through Isaiah 59 & 60, it was almost immediately that I realized this would be the next phase of my new series. 

 

I have decided to call this series Specimina (Specimens of Faith,) illustrating basic concepts of the Christian faith with various natural specimens that I have collected. For all of these pieces for Isaiah 59 & 60, I chose a square format as a reference to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, that is described as a cube, and I chose a light palette, to represent how God will be the only light needed both in the millennial Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem.

 

mixed media artwork by Judith Monroe

 

Like Doves to Their Nests
“Look and see, everyone is coming home!.. flying like clouds to Israel, like doves to their nests.” Isaiah 60:4, 8
Not only illustrating the verse written on the piece, a nest is a symbol of home, heaven, and Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom, inspired by Isaiah 59-60. The dove is also used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit, who has put a seal on believers, promising them the joy of eternity with God.

 

mixed media art by Judith Monroe

 

Arise Jerusalem
“Your sins have cut you off from God… Among the living we are like the dead.” Isaiah 59:2, 10 “Arise Jerusalem!” Isaiah 60:1a
In Matthew, Jesus says that God knows when even a sparrow falls, and how much more he watches over each of us, so sparrows have become a common symbol in my works. Death is the true consequences of sin, so there is dual meaning in the dead sparrow here, and Isaiah 59 specifically points to the consequences of Israel’s sin. The ram was inspired by Isaiah 60:7, “The rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars” and can also symbolize how God provided the appropriate sacrifice for both Abraham and for us. Butterflies allude to the new life we have in Christ, as well as resurrection of the dead.

 

mixed media artwork by Judith Monroe

 

Sanctuary
“The glory of Lebanon will be yours – the forest of cypress, fir and pine – to beautify my sanctuary. My temple will be glorious!” Isaiah 60:13
A magnolia blossom, surrounded with pine needles refers to the trees of Lebanon in Isaiah 60 and to the beauty of the earth that God has created as well as to the future glory of Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom. The sparrow is a reminder that God watches over his children, as Jesus told us in the book of Matthew.

 

mixed media artwork by Judith Monroe

 

Joy to All Nations
“I will now have mercy on you through my grace… I will make you beautiful forever, a joy to all nations.” Isaiah 60: 10, 15
As believers in Christ we are co-heirs with Israel and promised a new life in Christ, symbolized here by the butterfly. My personal recurring symbol of the sparrow refers to how God has promised to always watch over me, and I often include it to remind myself of that truth, as much as to share it with others. Nests are a home, another personal symbol that refers to heaven, or can also be a reference to Jerusalem as where God will make his home in the millennial kingdom, fulfilling his promise to Israel.

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Running Into the Woods

I love wandering around in little wild spots, whether it’s on the coast, in the mountains or in the Valley where I’ve spent so much of my life – lately I got to spend time wandering in the desert and I loved that, too. (Wow, yeah, that was an unintended biblical reference, but I’ll leave it, read into it what you will…)

 

photo montage

 

But one of my favorite places to wander is in wooded areas, and especially among the oaks here in the Valley and the nearby foothills. Maybe it’s because when the valley heat is like it is now, the woods offer cool respite, shelter and a sense of mystery. The trees can hide whatever development might exist just beyond and muffle traffic that would echo across an open field. And I’m blessed to live in an area where we have little pockets and swaths of wooded areas, often along creeks or rivers, right amongst our city and suburbs, always there for a quick retreat into nature.

 

So when I sat down to consider a theme for a two woman show with my dear friend Michelle MacKenzie, the woods were practically the first thing that popped into my head. From there, you might say I just led her “Into the Woods…” that became our theme, and even the title of our upcoming show this fall.

 

 

I’ve always photographed alot on my wandering in the woods, so I have lots of imagery and of course, I’ve been shooting even more over the past few months preparing for this work. And now I’ve finally starting putting work into a physical form, diving into the deep end, so to speak, with a large 3×5′ reclaimed canvas. (See the previous post for more on that.)

 

These things always happen in several stages, first with sorting through photographs, then starting to envision how things might come together, picking through papers and dried leaves and ephemera. Then adhering the first layer to the substrate, adding texture, starting to add color with pencils and wax pastels, all interspersed with general staring and mulling of the overall composition – this time said mulling included going through a two day cleaning fit – the creative process can be a funny thing.

 

colored pencils

 

At some point when I feel I’ve worked enough details with fine pointed things like pencils, I dive into the painting process, working again in layers – generally transparent – adding more collage layers as planned or inspired. At this point pencils and wax pastels can come into play as well, always after waiting for the last layer to dry.

 

painted

 

At some magical moment it all starts to look right – I try not to envision too much before hand, because that’s when I really screw things up, but more I try to keep my ideas very general. With this piece I was keeping the color palette in my head (which I’ll try to keep for the whole show) and then follow the cues of light from the base photographs.

 

finished

 

I’m calling this “New Day” but more about that another time…

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Old vs New

I’ve been looking at all the artworks I have in my possession with a critical eye lately. Sometimes pieces come back from galleries or exhibitions and they haven’t sold, they’ll get rotated from one gallery to the next, come back to the studio, go back out; it’s all part of how the business works. Sometimes a piece that doesn’t sell in one place sells right away in the next. Sometimes it takes a couple years for the right person to find it, and I’m ok with that.

 

But sometimes a piece has been around for while and I start to look at it and realize that maybe it wasn’t as wonderful as I first thought it was. (Or maybe I wasn’t sure but I put it out there anyway, see my last blog post on that…) And then I have a new question, what to do with it now? When I start looking at a piece of work that I really don’t feel good about putting out in public, then I have a couple of options, at least with the way I’m currently working. 

 

Summer Song 2008

 

First, maybe I can fix what’s bugging me about the piece. Maybe it just needs some minor tweaking to make it stronger. Or maybe it needs some major tweaking. I’m in the process of re-working a piece just like that right now. “Summer Song” was one of my first large mixed media artworks and I really liked it for a long time. But it didn’t quite seem to connect with anyone else. And then I started looking at it with a more critical eye and realized it didn’t seem quite right to me, either. After some more mulling, I decided I still really liked it, but I just hadn’t finished it yet. So I pulled it down off the wall and started working on it again. It’s almost finished, but I think it needs just a little more tweaking. And I’m really feeling much better about it now, so I’m happy and I’ll put it out somewhere again soon, I’m sure.

 

Summer Song in progress 2013

 

But sometimes there’s nothing that I like about a piece. Years have passed and it just bugs me more and more and I’m sure as heck not putting it out in a gallery. And then it starts getting in the way. We’re blessed to have a good sized house and I’ve got a great studio space, but it’s not like I have an unlimited warehouse to store stuff. And certainly not things I’m not happy with. And I start to eyeball the potential of a new substrate that I wouldn’t have to pay for, because it’s sitting right there in front of me and just needs a coat of gesso to start over again. And that’s the place I’m finding myself in when I’m looking a some older works around here right now. 

 

Small things are somehow easier. Most of the time, my emotional investment is less with a smaller work and because they have lower price points, they’re more likely to find that right person. So if a smaller work hasn’t sold after a couple or three years, it’s most likely because it really wasn’t up to par. I recently gessoed over a couple of smaller pieces and they’ve become new vineyard works in the wine country. I have no doubt that they’ll find new homes and we’ll all live happily ever after.

 

gesso covering old work

 

But I have a couple larger pieces around that I’m feeling the same thing about and it’s not so easy. A large work generally entails much more work and effort and emotional investment. The higher price point means they sell much slower but I’m used to that, so I’m more patient. And then I start looking at it… I have a couple right now that there were things about them that I was never completely in love with but I put them out there anyway. Then the things that bugged me start bugging me more and today I gessoed over a large 3×5 foot piece. 

 

It felt weird but okay, I think as I start to transform it into a whole new better work, it will feel better and hopefully cathartic. And it’s not on the wall buggin me anymore.

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A little insanity in the studio

studio shot june 5 e

 

I know this may come as a shock to some, but this isn’t always an easy job. Sure it’s glamorous sleeping in late and walking down the hallway for my commute to work, or taking a road trip to the desert (guess I should blog about that, too) but most of the time I’m a working fool like anyone else.

 

studio shot june 5 c

 

I’m driven by this insane idea that I was created to create and I know from experience that I can be pretty miserable if I don’t, but I have to temper all that with making money through sales and making sales means someone has to actually like what I make and here’s the worst part – I don’t even always like what I’ve made. Okay, that may be a bit hyperbolic; honestly I only love a small percent of what I create, but I know people only buy art they love, and  I want all of my art to sell, except maybe the pieces I love the most… And the insanity creeps in again…

 

studio shot june 5 a

 

So here I am, working away in the studio, producing a baker’s dozen of artworks and I’m not loving them. I want to love them, I do, and I can find things I like about most of them, but really sometimes I’m just not feeling it.

 

studio shot june5 b

 

Most of the time it’s just because I thought I knew how things were going to turn out, but then they don’t turn out that way. Another revelation: I can be as surprised as anyone about how a particular piece ends up. I guess there must be artists out there who know exactly what a piece will look like when they’re done, but I’m not one of them. And most of the time when I think I know, something else happens. I know, crazy woman acts like she doens’t know what she’s doing…

 

studio shot june 5

 

Yeah, that’s what I said, insanity. Before this blog post, maybe you thought I was at least sort of like the rest of the world but now I’ve gone and made it public. Please don’t report me to the authorities, because then they may lock me up and not let me play in the studio anymore and have crazy conversations with myself while I create.

 

studio shot june 5 f

 

At least my dogs don’t think I’m crazy.

 

studio shot june 5 g

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Beginning – sort of

 

Once upon a time I had three art related blogs – yes, three is a lot for one little artist to keep up with and I have fallen down on the job. But I’m getting back up. This will now be the place I will post, and the only place. Except Facebook. And Instagram. Okay, the only blog. If you want to delve more into my history, you’ll have to follow these links: Wanderings, Tree Stories, or Visions. I’ll leave those up, at least for now, because there’s apparently no easy way to import them here & it would be a shame to just delete them. Onward and upward…

 

artworks in progress in Judith Monroe's art studio

 

So this is what things are looking like in the studio today – just finishing up three new pieces on life, death and heaven. I’ve been having some interesting discussions with different people about the use of dead bird imagery and have gotten various reactions. 

 

Just for the record, I never kill birds. It shocked me to learn that some people might even ask. I love birds and I happen to think that they are quite lovely, even often in death. But I would never hurt one. It’s actually amazing to me how often I find dead birds, really – or now some of the people close to me will alert me when they find them. My mom even put one in her freezer for me, then brought it when it was more convenient. That’s how I know she loves me… or that’s why I am the way I am… 

 

But back to the imagery – death is very much a fact of life and also a big part of my spiritual beliefs, which I can’t seem to keep out of my art, and I see no reason to keep them out of my art. But I’ll try not to hit you over the head with my faith, either. (Like that would help anyone, anyway.) The dead birds symbolize death, and also reference a Bible verse in Matthew that talks about how God knows when even a sparrow falls, so how much more he watches over each of us and cares for us. (That’s also why you’ll see so many little birds in my work in general.)

 

The nests are a home, and I look at Heaven as my final home. Death is the door to Heaven and that is the connection. Flowers and plants connote growth and the little sprout in this piece is new life. The other two pieces have similar imagery and I imagine I’ll get into them here at some later date. I created all three to submit to the annual art & faith juried exhibition at the White Stone Gallery in Philadelphia, which I entered last year but didn’t get into. Maybe this year… 

 

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