cleaning the studio...

...and other adventures in art

talisman three

Another Iceland drawing (see this post for the first two).  This one, though done with drawing materials, feels like a painting to me.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (III), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper

Talisman (III), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper, 53″x79.25″, Photo by R.R. Jones

As is usually the case, the scale of these drawings seems important to me, so here is the obligatory studio shot with my yellow ladder included for scale reference.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, studio photograph with drawings on wall


I don’t normally engage in magical thinking, but I do believe in the power of art. I needed a talisman, for personal reasons, so I edited my two recent large landscape drawings to add doors to the buildings. I felt that I need an entrance to that stark world. The titles have also changed, Iceland/Ísland  to Talisman. There’s a third drawing for this series in the works.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (I), Charcoal, Chalk, Wax, Pencil on Paper

Talisman (I), Charcoal, Chalk, Wax, Pencil on Paper, 45″x49″, Photo by R.R. Jones

The drawing below has already appeared on this blog, sans door.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (II), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper

Talisman (II), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper, 46″x66″, Photo by R.R. Jones

in the beginning

I get asked all the time how I go about starting a painting.  Do I work from a drawing that I then copy onto the canvas?  Directly from a model? Or from photos?

Do I sketch first on the canvas?  With charcoal? Pencil? Paint?

Truth be told, I don’t have a single “method”. I try it all. Sometimes I work directly from a model, sometimes from photos, sometimes from both, or neither.

One thing I almost never do is work on a painting from a preliminary drawing. I draw, regularly, but I don’t draw to turn the drawings directly into paintings. There is not a direct and linear path from one to the other. I draw because drawing is a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself, and needs nothing else to recommend it.  Drawing is full of its own challenges and rewards, and it has the capacity to inform all my work.

At the moment, I’m drawing Iceland, so the title of this blog post, “In the Beginning” seems to relate.  Iceland is a landscape in the process of coming into being, and so it truly is “In the Beginning”. This one is charcoal and chalk on paper, and it’s a largish drawing, 46″x66″.

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Talisman (II), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper

Talisman (II), Charcoal, Chalk, Pencil on Paper, 45.75″ x 65.25″, 2014

12×12 (x12)

This piece is currently in a show at the Cabrillo Gallery titled “12×12 (x12): An Open Invitational 2014.  As you can guess from the title, all pieces in the show are 12″x12″ (x12″), which makes for a cohesive show.

A trick of the eye makes this piece appear to be more vertical than square, but it truly is exactly 12″x12″. It is encaustic on wood panel with a rust-patina metal frame.

The horizontal bars are not welded into place so they can (or could) slip out of the frame. I like the idea that the piece could mutate at a later date, outside of my control. Those bars remind me of pick-up sticks from the childhood game, though the piece is far from playful.

at the barn

I’m still in Iceland, trying to dissect the landscape by considering just small portions of it at a time: the colors and shapes of the pebbles on which I’m walking, the yellow dandelions growing amidst the black volcanic rock.

The landscape as a whole continues to elude me in its enormity. Here’s a photo, but imagine that this landscape surrounds you 360º.

Photo of Iceland landscape by Barbara Downs

Looking at the landscape, what grabs my attention every time is the insistent and ever-present horizon line, but my efforts with that may have to wait until I’m back in my studio with large-scale materials at hand. I have ideas…

In the meantime, I made the happy discovery of a can of outdoor acrylic paint that is very close to the color I’ve been using in my studio on the large-scale figurative paintings.  It also happens to be the color of this barn at which I’m working, and I have a generous pile of cardboard too.  I’m in my element, surrounded by mixed-media supplies. I started some pieces while thinking about the horizon line, but they turned into more of a meditation on my immediate surroundings, echoing the colors and shapes around me.

Photo of a barn by Barbara Downs


Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Barn-Horizon (I), paint, local pebbles, chalk, cardboard

Barn-Horizon (I), paint, local pebbles, chalk, cardboard, 2.5″ x 23″, © 2014 Barbara Downs, Photo by Barbara Downs

Original artwork by Barbara Downs, Barn-Horizon (II), paint, chalk, cardboard

Barn-Horizon (II), paint, chalk, cardboard, 12″ x 17″, © 2014 Barbara Downs, Photo by Barbara Downs

mother’s day

Because today is mother’s day, I’ll post photos of some of the pieces recently completed or in progress in my studio right now. I’m still working on images of babies and children, as I did last year with this encaustic series, In Memory of Childhood. In the process of drawing all these kids and babies, I’m marveling over the odd proportions of babies’ heads and bodies and the changes as they mature from babies into kids into adolescents.

These baby images are, in my mind, connected to my ongoing series of large-scale figurative paintings. They have the same sort of closed forms and curved bodies, and have an internally-focused feeling to them. From left to right, they are: chalk/mixed-media on paper, 26″x40″;  encaustic on panel (the upper half of a vertical diptych), 24″x36″; and oil on canvas, 48″x60″.

These three are largish oil paintings, almost as tall as I am, and they are perhaps finished and perhaps not.  They are all oil on canvas, 60″x58″.  See my previous post for an in situ photo showing the scale more clearly.

When my teenage daughter saw the baby painting, she said, “Mom! Do NOT put that in my room when I’m asleep!”  (I have to admit, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me until she said that, but what a great idea!)  The scale is slightly disconcerting, but the size serves to remind me of how large a baby looms in one’s life, regardless of their tiny size at birth.

I have to consider these three smaller drawings finished because the paper cannot be worked anymore.  They are all Pastel/Chalk/Charcoal/Wax on Paper, 32″x30″, 2014.

Happy Mother’s Day, to my own mother and to all my fellow matresfamilias!


In my last blog post, I hinted that I might paint some faces, and I have indeed done so.  I’m not so interested in painting faces on the large-scale figure paintings because a face grabs all the attention. But I am certainly interested in faces, so here’s the first one, oil on canvas, 60″ x 58″, as-yet-unnamed.  More to come…

canvases in the studio of Barbara Downs


I finally have my studio back in some sort of working order after Open Studios. I’d like to thank everyone who visited me during that weekend. I truly appreciate the conversations, comments, and questions. In case you thought you saw the natural state of my studio, this photo should correct your misconception…

the studio of Barbara Downs

The large-scale paintings are down, the plastic sheeting is back up on the walls, the mess is encroaching, and there are two sets of canvases waiting in the wings. The canvases gessoed with buff titanium are a strange size, 58″x60″, and one wonders why bother paying extra for a custom size when it’s so close to square. But that off-square is important! It seems barely off-square, but that 2″ makes it 120 square inches smaller than a square canvas.

I don’t yet absolutely know what I’m doing on these two sets of canvases, but they will be oils, not acrylic.  One set is possibly going to be very large faces (to make up for the lack of faces in my large-scale paintings). The other two are being considered for the start of a series based on the Icelandic landscape. I’ve gone to Iceland several times over the past few years and, though it’s a cliché, it’s true…I find the Iceland landscape overwhelmingly-beautiful and inspiring.  But that’s another post entirely!

open studios today and tomorrow

Open Studios 2013

October 5-6, 11am-5pm
Mission Industrial Studios
2573 Mission St., Santa Cruz

 Barbara Downs in her studio with large-scale figurative paintings

My studio and my studio clothing are clean, so it must be time for Open Studios! If you’re in town, please stop by and visit me today or tomorrow.  I have several of my large-scale paintings up, and am also showing sculpture, encaustic, and drawings. Be sure to visit the other ten fabulous artists at Mission Industrial Studios while you’re there!


My daughter took this panorama shot of my studio today, showing my preparations for the upcoming Open Studios.  The photo is deceptive, it makes the space look like an L-shape, which it’s not.  Although it is a large studio, it is not this huge!  Come see for yourself, at Open Studios: October 5-6, 11am-5pm.

The studio of  Barbara Downs with large-scale figurative paintings and other artwork