Fresh Air.

Fresh Air.

“Sometimes I need

only to stand

wherever I am

to be blessed.”

Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems


I like painting at weddings. I like performing. I like mixing paint and spreading it on a surface with a knife, and I like what doing it so often has done to my ego– all but annihilated it. When I’ve got a job to do, I don’t really have much time to worry about whether I’m all that good at it or not.


Painting without traveling an hour to get there, including my friends and family in the painting, using my own gallery as the background, sharing what I do nearly every weekend with my community, that felt different. My ego noticed. 

Last Friday, I hosted Nashville songwriter Scott Southworth at the gallery for our monthly Gallery After Hours series, and I fretted about it for over a month. Scott is an amazing performer I met at my husband’s work conference. I won’t say what kind of conference it was, but I will say it isn’t one where you’d expect to meet a songwriter. That he could come to the coast for a concert was a stroke of very good fortune.

I fretted for a thousand different reasons– was the gallery big enough to host such a talented singer? Were the venue and the performer an aesthetic match or would people be confused? Would people even come? Should I even do a live painting or was that silly? Where would he set up, outside? Inside? Under a tent?

I tend to spiral in direct proportion to how much something matters to me. Turns out, this mattered. My worries about the event joined forces with worries about the gallery in general that had been brewing– how can I sustain it? Will it grow? What about the slow months? The concert/live painting was the fresh air I needed– not only a break from numbers and spreadsheets, but a reminder that not everything need be directed towards that end, that some of the very best parts of a business, of a life, are what can’t be measured, marked, or filtered. 

Here’s what happened:

1. Scott is an even better performer than I’d thought from watching him on youtube. Not only is his voice captivating, but he’s a natural performer. He interacted with the crowd (there was a crowd!) effortlessly. Even people from the restaurant across the street were enthralled. (We put him inside facing outside. The best of both worlds). 

2. Sharing live painting with my local community felt less like work and more like connection. I paint at weddings in New Orleans so often that I forget that a lot of people aren’t all that familiar (or burned out) on the concept. Instead of commuting an hour away lugging my rolling cart through crowds of French Quarter tourists, I got to paint on my own turf, with the gallery as my backdrop. And all of that is truly lagniappe compared to the very best part. 

3. My ninety-five year old grandmother, who has never seen me paint live, was able to travel all the way from Lafayette, Louisiana with my Uncle and Aunt (who ended up being the dancing stars of the painting). I’m not sure what your grandmother is like, but the very concept of what one is has been distorted for me. Mine is an incarnation of kindness, and I’m still not sure I can fathom that others aren’t also. My Shirley sat next to me the entire night, genuinely marveling at almost every stroke, every once in a while telling me how she’s been around artists her whole life (she’s the sister of my beloved Aunt Catherine, and her father, brother, and son were/are all artists.) To be near her, is to feel loved and important. 

Would this even be my blog without some grand takeaway?

Here’s the biggest take away, and I’m writing it down so that I’ll remember. I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t pick art for your home that matches the sofa. I believe instead in magic. When you pick art you love and connect with, it miraculously goes with whatever decor you have. Of this I am certain.  Maybe classic, country twang isn’t what you immediately think to pair with an art gallery. But, Lord, did they go together. I’m not as much of a storyteller as Scott, but I like to think that’s some of what we have in common. But more than that, I think what I want with the gallery, what I’m trying to work into a mission statement (eventually), is something about authenticity. That’s one of the reasons Scott was such a good fit, why he brought so much life to the space. I grew up on a golf course in suburbia, and I don’t own any cowboy boots, but the art doesn’t have to match the sofa when it’s sincere. 

The next time I find myself full of worry and doubt, I’m going to remember that it usually is just my brain’s way of telling me I care about something, that it matters to me. And what matters usually isn’t making perfect matches or cultivating perfect experiences. What usually matters is finding connection– through art, through music, through grandmothers who think you hung the moon. 

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This Time It’s Personal

My 2017 new year’s resolution was to be consistent with this blog. Specifically, to blog every Monday whether I liked it or not. It only took me until June to stop missing Mondays, and since then I feel like all my posts could be summarized like this, “I’m so frustrated” followed by some modest ranting and raving. 

Being stuck, lost, and frustrated, I imagine, is a defining human characteristic, but this week I want to share something more upbeat.

Last night I got this email from Leanne:

pelican painting Leanne’s husband surprised her with

Denise- I was so upset when I saw that this painting had sold before I had the chance to buy it.  Imagine my surprise when I walked in the house tonight and found that my sweet husband had left me a gift. I’m so in love the painting……and with him!

I can’t wait to return the beach condo next weekend and hang it in its new home.  She’ll be joining a painting of yours that we bought my daughter for her graduation. We are quickly becoming collectors of your work!

I’ve never met Leanne in person, but the painting she references the new one joining is one I wrote about months ago in a post that challenged me and my understanding of vulnerability. After having purchased that  earlier painting, Leanne had sent me the following:

Denise- I am so excited about the painting.  I bought it as a gift for my daughter, Alys, who is graduating from NYU next Wednesday.  I’m secretly hoping she will leave the painting at home when she attends grad school in London next fall.  

Into the Unknown, palette knife painting

The painting Leanne purchased for her daughter

Alys is such a talented and adventurous spirit who loves the arts.  While she can’t draw or paint like you, she acts, sings and writes.  Alys recently signed a two book deal with Carina Press, which is an imprint of Harlequin.  As you can imagine, I am one proud mother.  

The painting and your blog post about it just spoke to me.  It reminded me so much of Alys and her journey through this world.  I hope that when she eventually builds her home/office she will hang your painting and gain strength through its message and beauty.  

I don’t always know where my paintings end up. Part of me imagines them as actual little birds leaving the nest. There might be nothing more gratifying than hearing about where one ended up and a why.

It wasn’t long ago that I was asked to not be so “personal” in an artist’s statement I was writing. It is people like Leanne who remind me that being personal is what forges the meaningful connections that keep frustrations at bay and inspiration in constant supply. Thank you, Leanne. Your timing was impeccable.

I Didn’t Know What She Meant by “Walking Around in Your Underwear.” Until Now.

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“You’ll feel like you’re walking around your underwear,” my art professor warned as we inexperienced undergraduates prepared for our senior art exhibits.

One of my classmates felt the metaphor so deeply that she made it the title of her exhibit– “Walking around in Your Underwear” was a collection of beautifully abstracted pieces. Her paintings were lovely, and I remember wondering how they could make her feel so exposed. Art made me feel less vulnerable, not more.

I was a newcomer to art. I’d never taken a single class until college. I had spent my childhood and formative years pouring every thought (petty and not) into countless notebooks and journals. I never shared my writing with anyone. Art was exposure but not the same as words. It was a different language altogether. Whereas my words left me feeling naked and vulnerable, the art made me feel competent and bold– I made this thing, this thing is big and colorful, look at it, and not at me. So I shared the art and clung tight to the poems and stories I wrote in secret.

The title of my senior exhibit was “Between the Lines”– I had scribbled illegible words into many of my paintings. Because the viewer couldn’t actually read the words (though I saw some noses pressed against my canvases trying) they functioned on the level of design rather than literature. They were safe.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I am just now starting to feel what my art professor described as walking around in your underwear.

My moderate success since I’ve “gone pro” has allowed more people to see my art than ever before. While almost all the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, there has also been a small dose of criticism as well. Which is agonizing. I struggle with it.

Over the years, painting has gone from something new and exciting to something I do regularly, passionately, and devotedly. I am more committed to it than I was in college, and it, in return, has allowed me to take up space I used to think I didn’t deserve. Paintings literally take up space– they are physical things. Creating them involves making literal marks. These very literal expressions remind me of the less literal ways I take up space and make my mark– from kindly and respectfully informing a waiter that he’s gotten my order wrong, to having a difficult conversation with a loved one.

A couple weeks ago, I was brainstorming with a friend for a business she is starting. The next day, I woke up and went to a yoga class during which an image of a woman walking off a ledge kept appearing and reappearing in my mind. She wasn’t falling off a cliff so much as confidently stepping into the unknown. My friend’s entrepreneurship inspired me. And so did my own agency. I was very much the woman I saw.

The painting that is the result of this vision is one that makes me feel vulnerable. It isn’t a bird which might sometimes stand for me or the qualities I want to have (grace, confidence, patience).  It is actually me– my thoughts and my fears. My vulnerability and my intention to keep walking forward despite the uncertainty. Despite the little criticisms. This painting is about taking up space. It’s about moving forward. Even when I feel like I’m walking around in my underwear.


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