Goat dreams and painting stories

Painting nearly every day has accelerated my skills and ideas. I can’t sleep some nights, thinking about new work–where will it go next? How can I expand the ways I express what I see and process? How is hope holding me back and how can I dive in further with movement, color, story, compassion? More creatures have been coming to me in my dreams again, which I take as a good sign.

Goats in particular have showed up. The goats that were previously on a vacant lot on Belmont Street in the middle of southeast industrial Portland have seen so much in the past 10 years! Since relocating, me and them (them to North Portland, check it out!) I have only briefly thought of them until recently, but I love that they have now become a symbol of change, perseverance and reflection of the city to me. I want to know what they dream about. I have conjectures.

Its never been enough for me to paint random abstraction–if that is even possible. Everything seems to be fueled by something: emotion, physicality, scarcity. I want to convey chronicles. Perhaps its the photo-journalist in me. I am interested in stories that vary from the norm–divergent points of view. I struggle with painting more than a few paintings in a series. I move quickly as I learn and soak up what’s happening in my environment for better or for worse. I’m trying to be brave–trying not to be afraid of figurative painting, or work with a message or pictures not turning out how I expected. Exploring and celebrating these ideas instead of wanting to be somehow different creatively, has pushed my work. I am enlivened by the possibilities. I’m looking everywhere. I’m listening.

Official Brooklyn Sketchbook Artist and a Narrative Direction

A few months ago my sister purchased for me one of the most thoughtful gifts–a simple sketchbook. But this sketchbook was connected to much more than artist encouragement. This sketchbook was part of the Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook Project. Already accepting submissions for volume 17, the Sketchbook Project was started in 2006. Anyone can participate–purchasing the 5×7 sketchbook from the Brooklyn Art Library website secures the project’s funding and a place in their library of over 50,000 sketchbooks and 30,000 artists. There’s even a 3-wheeled classy book-mobile which tours the country with the most recent volume. There’s a whole community of creative people submitting work, which is digitized and searchable on their website, with various themes each volume. I chose ‘Ships in the Night”, just because I love the idea of a random, yet meaningful connection. You can find a link to my digitized sketchbook here when its available (6-8 weeks) but also take a quick look at some of the highlights below.

This sketchbook, in addition to many recent global events, has me thinking more in terms of narrative drawing and painting lately. I have been painting a series of agriculturally influenced aerial photography and human infrastructure related to land and water use. But the ideas that came about in my Brooklyn sketchbook were more connected to the covid-19 shelter-in-place orders, BLM protests, federal agents threatening my friends in Portland and New York and recent narrative artists I’ve been following, such as Henry Taylor, Amy Sillman, Susan Rothenberg, Danny Fox, Jaune Quick-to-see Smith and many folk/outsider art creatives. The following drawings below are a glance at the kind of work I am starting to create in my studio now. I have become attached to the phrase “Damage Good”, which comes to me as an ironic viewpoint and critique of governmental control, lack of trust in ordinary citizens participation in democracy, new materialism and capitalism. I have also been reading a series of books about Egypt and Libya. In one book, called The Return, by Hisham Matar, there is a story from 1911 of Italian soldiers taking over a Libyan village, burning the houses and pouring concrete into the wells. These stories and more have become the basis for some full-fledged paintings I am working on–which hopefully will be up on the blog in a few months. Until then be well and stay safe.

New Stay Home Work

Often I am afraid to do the work I really need to do.

But I keep returning to my craft and I never stop working at it. I have often felt art is a secret super power that everyone possesses. A power that can help us stay open, stay young, be curious, heal and work through problems. Especially during difficult times and uncontrollable circumstances, being creative helps me stay grounded and connected. There are so many ways to do this (drawing, painting, writing, sculpture, building, gardening, fixing, cooking, body movement and/or music to name a few) and a person can start any one of them at any point in their life. It is facing the fear and criticism of actually creating something that is the first hurdle. Making space and time for yourself is the second.

“What will come out or change if I embrace myself as a creative person?” I think that is the most important part. Your voice and your significance are what people around you may fear. To keep you from creating they will make fun of how ‘bad’ your drawing is, or how silly we look if we try something new. What is so threatening about being open and supportive? Why is it so detrimental for adults to make mistakes or be ‘in progress’ humans? Is it that our opinions may be challenged? That we find out we don’t know half of what we thought we knew? We’re not ‘experts’? Our assumed roles and rules questioned?

For these reasons, showing the work is also hard. I do it here to convey my belief that everyone can exercise this secret potential. All of our work, play and expression can be influential on many levels.

That said, I realize how very fortunate I am to be able to have the resources to be and stay healthy, housed and relatively safe at this time. Many do not have this privilege. This acknowledgment spurs me on even further to try to work through fear, apprehension, and doubt, even if sometimes I don’t know what the ends will become–the opportunity to work and create that I feel everyone (including non-humans) deserves as much as health, clean air and water, fresh food and habitat. Below is a gallery of some of the work I have been engaged with.


My Drawing Studio

Positive and negative. Space. Time. Good and bad. Self-indulgence. Self-criticism. I have been investigating these contradictions, observations, theories and judgements in the past couple of months. Not just within a context of art gallery talk, but within my own confines of living. I got into the habit somehow (perhaps this voice just got louder and louder) of listening to my sub-conscious mind all the time, which can be tricky when faced with an internal dialogue of repetitive tapes: put-downs, false information and self-protection strategies which no longer serve my real being. However, when I really took time to listen to those tapes I noticed everything was a judgement made to survive the perceived gauntlet of life in this primordial space–friend or foe, safe or dangerous, acceptable behavior or unacceptable–mine or other peoples’. Everything became good or bad. In the buddhist sense, now, I can’t say it was good or bad to listen to that torrent, but I can say its been an exercise in compassion. Things in life just aren’t that simple and my life has been anything but linear. Its risky to get stuck listening to that judgement voice, but maybe for a little while it helped me realize I am not that voice. I am not those put-downs. I may not be able to ever know if something that has happened is good or bad, because how do we know if, in the future, it will be?

Here’s the door that leads to a continuation of life which includes ups and downs, or “peaks and valleys” as my mom says. Here is where I get to choose to explore what’s next and throw down the backpack of all those judgements I brought with me. In a particularly intense, amazing moment in New Mexico once, I wandered out into the high desert and got caught up in a small detail of rocks on the ground. After awhile, I noticed the sun was getting high and hot on my back. I stood up and lost my bearings. The wind had blown my tracks away. The scrub junipers all pointed different directions and had different opinions about which way was home. I looked at the bag of things I had brought with me–which contained nothing of use for survival in the desert such as a compass, water, extra cloths and the like. A thought occurred to me then, “Why did I bring all this stuff?” Why do we bring it all with us when we can rely on one tool most of the time: openness.

I’ve been learning a lot in Eugene and have continued on a not-so-chartered course around my world. But its a course I have maintained steadily and still believe in. One that recently lead me to an amazing drawing class and a monthly event called “Draw-a-Drag-Queen”. I’ve been using an old National Geographic book about birds for a sketchbook lately and have been enjoying the results. Thanks to Unbound Sketchbook ChallengeFarce Family , Tropical Contemporary, Lane Community College Arts Program and the University of Oregon.

Six Weeks to Spring


I am finding inspiration everywhere lately. During the Gaelic festival times of Imbolc, part of celebrating the end of Winter and the coming of Spring is to literally clean your home, but also to clean out your mind. This makes way for new things–ideas and purpose–to grow, much like prepping the soil of the garden. What do we want to plant? What would we like to tend? I have been turning the soils and feeling the cold dark earth warming in the afternoons and it is a very exciting time. Already, since trying to free my mind of clutter, I feel the brave, hyper-green, delicate seeds germinating and sprouting within. Running, biking, walking, weeding and not obsessing about the future have helped clear the way and I am grateful.

I’ve been recommitting myself to art, through learning about biology. It is stirring the sediments. Photography has been the main focus lately, but fun methods of collage, blind contour drawing, and street art have also been stirring the pot. I have been enjoying photographing specimens through the microscope in the lab immensely! I joined social media on a new level with Instagram, @lifeofspencepnw, which is not something I thought I would ever do. However, I have found many friends, new artists, adventurers, authors and over-all bad-asses who are currently positively influencing me more than I could have imagined.

Below is the tentative draft of my art-busy-ness cards. I received feedback from several friends and it looks like I’m heading off to print these soon. Much like Everett Ruess and Jean-Michel Basquit, I want to live life a little more boldly and authentically. Perhaps walking right up to Jimmy Chin, Chris Jordan or heidi k. brandow  or one of the thousands of Women Eco Artists of WEAD and have a grand conversation! Something in the past I have always been too shy to do.

Groundhog Day falls around the same time frame of Imbolc, halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Apparently this year the groundhog did not see his shadow, and it is predicted that there will be an early Spring. With all that I have experienced so far in 2019, I can hardly wait to explore “what else will happen?” What can we make happen together?

New Year: an·i·mus /ˈanəməs/ noun: Motivation to do something

Fires in California, fishing on the Rogue and McKenzie Rivers, backpacking, family reunions in Niagara Falls and Crater Lake, Eukaryotes, drinking directly out of the McKenzie River, sleeping collages, military ships, Clear Lake, native plant care and wasps nests. A new job, a new apartment and meeting new friends, in addition to catching up to good old ones. 2018 did not lack excitement.

Lately I’ve been studying biology and navigating academia. I want so much to link science and creativity in my artwork. Artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Chris Drury, and herman de vries inform and inspire this connection. The natural world is our ‘real world’. I love trying to understand how it all fits together. Studying parameciums and bacteria connect me, while simultaneously feeding my creative loves–bringing me back to why I write, take pictures, make films, play music and learn. Seeing my own cheek cell in the microscope reminds me of why natures’ rights matter–we are made up of the same basic units, which all need to be nurtured and protected. I am still striving towards the ultimate goal of being able to drink out of every river before I die, and not have it be the cause of my death.

Some inspiring books I’ve already read this year include Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work!”, “Be a Free Range Human” by Marie Cantwell and “Artists Land Nature” by Mel Gooding and William Furlong. Cheers to another year of a creative life and recommitting to who and what we love.

Winter Short

Good afternoon all! I realize its been some time now since I have reached out and set some words and photos out there. It has been an interesting year so far. I am in school for Environmental Science…. perhaps not what you thought from an “artist”, as we are not supposed to co-mingle. Yet, this is my favorite part about life. I love investigating all the sides, all the angles… where are people coming from? Where am I coming from? I want to learn more about our natural world, in order to greater inform not only my art, but my life choices. I want to get closer to the Earth. I want to see more and feel more and understand more.

Slowly things are changing, in that academia and policy makers are realizing it is going to take everyones’ ideas, scientists and artists, to solve the magnitude of environmental problems we have created and are perpetuating. I want to be on the working side of this and contribute as best I can. Taking a cynical track, opting out of society (there is no “opting out” all the way, even being ‘off-grid’, as our lives are intrinsically linked to one another), waiting for the apocalypse… these things are unrealistic and will not help us solve the complicated woven degradations happening minute by minute–social justice and nature’s rights.

Currently, I haven’t had much time for “art” in a traditional sense, as far as creating for a specific show, but have still been very creative, with new habits, food and journaling. One thing I am excited about is math. Another is chemistry. Yet another, is the garden and my new meditation practice. How does one fall into a meditation practice? I needed to pick up an extra school credit for the semester and one particular teacher graciously allowed me to pick up the class two weeks late. I am so very thankful that I am on this amazingly frustrating journey! Alone, inside my mind, is a confusing place without very recognizable compass points. I am working on sorting them out. Where is North? Recently, I sat still (mostly) for 35 minutes. It is a new record for me and all I can tell you is its actually helping. I notice now I am less apt to be reactionary when life somethings get thrown my way. I am also more calm, although quitting coffee, cleaning up my diet (no processed foods) and cutting back to two drinks a week really helps. Maybe all this isn’t what you thought you’d be reading in an art blog. But isn’t all of what we do going to influence our process? Isn’t it all process?

The following gallery is a sample of the last couple of weeks. I have been drawing and painting small sketches in my journal with my left hand–another investigation in opening and humbling my heart. Thanks to Lynda Barry’s book Syllabus for inspiration. A highly recommended read. P.S. I like what happened to my “chemistry” sketch when I uploaded it–not sure why it got imposed on itself like that, but I appreciate the dynamic!

NaNoWriMo and When We Begin


First off; November is National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWriMo). I love the name. My sister and friend are both participating and I was spurred to try it. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. My sister has succeeded in hitting her word count but I am only at about 25,000 words. Even though I may not beat the clock and finish my novel in a month, I feel great about trying and I am happy with the huge chunk of novel I have to work with now. I am confident that I will finish it before the year is up and I have really enjoyed the process–which to me is the whole point. More about the novel and a sneak peak, coming soon.

This post is actually about my new song. My husband and I spent 5 months this summer living in our jeep in the national forests of Oregon. We now have landed in a town for school and work. The transition to living in the woods to living in a city has not been easy, to say the least. We are struggling with the amount of light pollution at night, the general loud noises of a city, the rush, the bustle, the push. Even though there are some fun/awesome things about the city–the university, the library, good restaurants and new friends, I haven’t missed it much. That said, adversity always makes good art, and I am happy to be writing novels and new songs. While working on my novel, I have written a new song called ‘When We Begin’, about driving in from the wild woods to the city for a job. Before we found a place to live, we found jobs in the city. We would drive into town for work from wherever nice, quiet national forest camp we stayed the night before. Every morning the commute was heart-breakingly beautiful and surreal. Treed, dark woods, heavy fog, the sound of varied thrushes and flickers to florescent highway lights, huge, bright, logging truck traffic, loud beeping of construction and sprawling, ugly chain stores. If I never see another Carl’s Jr. billboard or Kentucky Fried Chicken or Walmart semi-trailer I would die happier. The world does not need these places, by the way. We wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t there. But we will miss shimmering lakes, cold clean fast rivers, dense forests and a diversity of wildlife and plant-life. This song is about all that.

In the meantime, now that we have found a room in town to rent, to cut down on the driving, I have been trying to make the most of being here. Even though I have visions of running away again to the desert, I am trying to appreciate the new friends we have made, the opportunity to go back to school, and the ever present challenge of making money, yet staying sane. I am trying to keep up on projects that really matter to me in my heart. I really would like to record a music album and if I work for that, and work at the practice, I just might get there from here. Below are the lyrics to my new song and a Soundcloud clip. Good luck out there.



Waking, to make-believing,

At the alchemy of dawn.

Fallen leaves are love letters to Spring,

This is our luxury.

Steady now, with the brights on,

Don’t know how to respond,

Unabridged from a wild place,

To squared-off blocks and fast pace…

In the early hearts of when we begin,

Pushed to the rush and the dust and the din!

Today , I don’t know where we are.

These one-act plays, I can’t bare to watch.

Straight traffic lines and florescent lights,

I’ll never get used to it again.

In the tender hearts of where we begin,

Pushed to the rush and the dust and the din!

I’ll never get used to it again.


CARTM Art Show and Fundraiser

Over the weekend in Manzanita, OR, I had the opportunity to show some of my recently created found object/trash art pieces. I participated in a fundraiser for CARTM, a unique non-profit, located at the town dump, which acts as a recyclery, thrift store and artist haven. Manzanita is a fun, open, liberal small town on the coast that I have been frequenting for over 10 years. Its programs like these that give me hope for small towns and small communities who really care and want to make a difference. I have seen organizations in cities with similar successful programs, SCRAP and the ReBuilding Center in Portland, for example. Another exciting example is The Art of Recology in San Francisco, where they have an actual artist-in-residence program at the waste transfer station. But this is the first time I have read about a smaller town just up and making it happen, with a goal of “zero waste” for the town.

The art opening on Friday night was filled with inquisitive folks. I had several conversations with people about the town itself, as well as Portland’s growth (Portland is only two hours drive away) and its effect on the coastal economy, summer crowding and particularly the strain on small towns’ ability to handle tourist waste. I felt a similar vibe with some of the people of Manzanita, as compared to folks I have met and grown to love in small town New Mexico. An ability for an artist and other working folk to make a living in these towns depends upon a certain amount of tourism, but hopefully not too much to ruin the overall cohesiveness of the town and the feeling of local ownership. P.S. People seemed to like my tie, which turned out to be an excellent conversation-starter; I found it that morning at our dispersed camping site–a broken strap from a Parr Lumber delivery, which had “Parr Lumber” printed on it.

The show had a diversity of pieces, from sculptures to mobiles to painting and reclaimed fabric arts. What I especially appreciated about the work in this show is that each piece seemed to tell a story about the life of the artist, as well as educating and inspiring people to think differently about what is possible to create out of trash. I appreciate the role of artists and storytellers in this way because maybe we can convey messages to people in a curious, hopefully non-threatening way. By showing our work and being open to criticism, uncomfortable conversations, yet ultimately rewarding ones, maybe people can get ideas as to what might be possible changes for them. It is difficult to live one’s life entirely from trash, although whole neighborhoods are devoted to it out of sheer poverty and necessity, but it is much easier than we think to glean objects of use and start to think ahead of time to “reuse” before “recycle” comes into the picture.

Camp Tree Life

I am intrigued, yet saddened by our most recent camp spot. (See my previous post about the meaning behind this photo project.) After picking up trash bags worth of crap from this site, including burned shoes, bottles, diapers, metal chair parts, shell casings and tin cans, it was actually quite nice. Well used, but not well loved, my husband and I tried to make it better.  The past few weeks, I feel I have been inadvertently training my eye to catch all the little trails of history people have left in the trunks of the trees at these sites. How, for example, did I ever find a small nail, holding what appears to be old wires in a tree facing the river, not even near to where someone might put up a tarp, tent or even festive lights? Why is this even there? I can’t really blame boredom for some of the peoples’ actions, although I guess I did a fair amount of mucking about in my teenage years. I still don’t ‘get’ vandalism, or really even leaving trash anywhere. I admit, sometimes I feel like I just go for the negative by scouring the camp spots when we arrive. Once I find the disturbing, yet curious defacing, document it and process it, I find I can relax into the place and try to remain emphatic about the people that were there before me. Sometimes all I can think about is “what is wrong with people”, like when I find a not-so-hidden ‘swatstika’ burned into the trunk of a tree. But other times I wonder how many lanterns have hung off such strategically placed nails and what events have been witnessed by all the living things there. We all try to reconnect to something out there… whether its our families, our youth, ‘rewilding’ ourselves or just plain old fresh air.