Susannah Coffey at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects

Susanna Coffey – Elemental

Oh, how I wish I could see this show! Susannah Coffey was a professor at my alma mater, and I came this close > || to taking a class with her. It was Figure in the Landscape at Oxbow summer art camp, and she was to co-teach it with Dan Gustin, another great professor, but he showed, and she didn’t.

I did attend at least one self-portrait show of hers during my years in Chicago, and it was amazing. You can see her self-portraits here:

“Steve Locke wrote (from the show’s page below) that, “Coffey is painting a new kind of space… She is painting the interference, the attitudes, the obfuscations between the understanding of the self.“”

If you’re in NY, I hope you get to see the show. If you’re not, some night, indulge in a little sumpin’ and stare at her paintings online.

Treasure Chest: Tips for Improving Your Paintings

"Alien Gate" Watercolor crayon on paper 9" x 12" © 2009 Marilyn Fenn
“Alien Gate” Watercolor crayon on paper 9″ x 12″ © 2009 Marilyn Fenn

Treasure Chest

Today I’m participating in a collaborative online project with other art bloggers.  We are re-posting one of our favorite posts from our blogs.  I chose to re-post some notes from art school from way back when, because I find these tips personally useful to review every so often, especially this year when I am exploring various other avenues in my creative process.  Perhaps other artists will find some of these tips helpful, too.

I also recommend that you view the post from the organizer of this project, Seth Apter, on his blog The Altered Page.  It’s a gorgeous, compelling and inspiring piece.

You can link to all participating artists from the Treasure Chest post on Seth’s blog.

Finally, the piece above is a brand new work from my new series, the Hot, Hot Summer of 2009.  So here’s my Buried Treasure:

Class notes from art camp classes with George Liebert and Dan Gustin, Oxbow, MI, summer 1991.

Continue reading “Treasure Chest: Tips for Improving Your Paintings”

Five Free Online Artist Portfolio Sites

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Online Artist Portfolios

Ten Free Online Artist Portfolio SitesAre you an artist with a body of work you’re ready to display online, but you’re not yet ready to make the financial commitment for a custom-designed website? Or are you looking at increasing your online presence as an artist in addition to your custom artist’s website?

Over the next five weeks I will be reviewing ten online artist portfolio sites where you can show your work. I have had portfolios on four of these sites for some time, and I will be signing up the remainder over the course of this review period; I’ll let you know how it goes.

  1. d-ART: d’Galleries at
  3. Saatchi Gallery
  4. MyArtSpace
  5. FineArtAmerica

Bonus: Flickr (Ran out of steam for these reviews after #5; sorry).

Finally, here is a link to a very good article on “Getting Your Art Portfolio Online.”

Tomorrow: Review of free online artist portfolio site d-ART: d’Galleries at


RIP: Ray Yoshida, Painter and Teacher

I just learned that Ray Yoshida, one of the Chicago Imagists and one of my painting teachers at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, passed away this week.

Ray Yoshida

I studied with him in an advanced painting studio for one semester: he once told me my work was “too sentimental.” (Thank goodness!).

I’m sad and very nearly speechless. So, let me just quote from the NYT article:

“He was very important to a lot of people there,” said Robert Storr, dean of the Yale University School of Art and a student of Mr. Yoshida in the mid-1970s in that school’s master of fine arts program. “As a teacher he was mysterious and witty. The mystery would draw you in, and then he would say something funny but with an edge that would make you think — kind of like his paintings.”

And the Chicago Tribune wrote a nice story on the life of Ray Yoshida (09-30-2010: which they have since removed).

But if you want to really get a sense of what it was like to have Ray for a teacher, artist Laurie Fendrich captured it beautifully.

How true. We’ll miss you, Ray.

Archive of Notes from Art School

Sketch of cells Colored pencil 6" x 6" © c. 2004-5 Marilyn Fenn
Sketch of cells Colored pencil 6″ x 6″ © c. 2004-5 Marilyn Fenn

I started this art blog* to put all of my notes from art school online in one place — mostly for my own convenience, but if anyone else benefits from my clumsily compiled notes (often with no real date), that’s good, too.

I’ve back-dated these posts, back to the beginning of when I started my first art blog, with a range (so far) from 3/20/05 – 4/20/05.

If I find more, I’ll add them on with back dates in 2005 as well.

*Note: referring to ArtNotes, which has been combined with my first art blog, which together have now been combined with my website.

The Essence Lies in the Visual Meaning

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series SAIC Class Notes
Copy After Leonora Carrington's "Juan Soriano de Lacandón," 1964 at the Art Institute of Chicago Pencil 7" x 5" © 1991 Marilyn Fenn
Copy After Leonora Carrington’s “Juan Soriano de Lacandón,” 1964 at the Art Institute of Chicago Pencil 7″ x 5″ © 1991 Marilyn Fenn
Class notes from SAIC, 1991

The image must communicate something special which appeals to the senses through the way they are presented.

Abstract concepts help to provide visual meaning (aside from subject matter).

The subject supplies literal meaning.

The essence of a work lies in its visual meaning.

Drawing Masks as Analogies for Self

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Class Notes
"Sketch of Sulka Mask, Melanesia, 1900-1910" Fiber structure covered with pith, feathers and pieces of wood Drawn at the Field Museum, Chicago Pencil on paper 7" x 5" © 1991 Marilyn Fenn
“Sketch of Sulka Mask, Melanesia, 1900-1910″ Fiber structure covered with pith, feathers and pieces of wood Drawn at the Field Museum, Chicago Pencil on paper 7″ x 5” © 1991 Marilyn Fenn
Class notes, from Advanced Drawing Studio with Barbara Rossi, SAIC, 1991

Basil, switzerland – Folk Museum – tradition of Carnival prior to Lent; also South Am., Mexico, New Orleans.

  • Plant form growing out of nose
  • Animal head-masks
  • Pig-tail nose
  • Skull-mask – design fashion

Masks of Mexico

1. collection of Donald Cordry shown at Smithsonian.
2. Mexican masks in Chicago Collections at SAIC (6-7 yrs. ago)

Types of masks:

  • Heads w. spikes/thorns/claws/teeth: all in one form.
  • Bird as nose, under eyes. Airplane as nose?
  • Masks w/horns, then horns as abacus beads.
  • Eyes as eyebrows. Post and lintel for eyebrow.
  • Devil masks.
  • Snake curled as nose or trunk or anteaters tongue or those things that you blow.
  • Skeleton as eyebrows, nose, nostrils, mouth opening.
  • Over bull-like face.
  • Hair for tongue, cork for nose, antlers for ears (sense of arms).
  • Pelvic bones of animal as face.
  • Also looks like gas mask.
  • Polished wood looks like plastic, like Darth Vader.
  • Lizards as eyebrows.
  • Crucified Christ as eyebrows, nose and mouth.
  • Turtle back mask. Painted red face with real hair – second mask to snake nose area.
  • Elephant suggested in huge bead form from Africa.

Prepare to do self-portrait substituting one or more features for an analagous form – develop 20-40 ideas, several visualizations for 1-2 final drawings.

Go to Field Museum to look at masks. Draw for analogies & what you respond to.

Portraits of Chicago artists at State of Illinois Center (43 portraits). Patty Carroll.


Self as house? Bugs, beetles as eyes?

Retablos – devotional pictures painted on tin. For people who have experienced a miracle cure – how they got healed (in churches after person has gotten healed – story of the cure). In show from Mexico – Fine Arts Center Museum catalog.

Early Ren. narratives.

Start Where You Are. Move On from There.

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Class Notes
Copy after Chagall's "Birth" The Art Institute of Chicago Pencil on paper 7" x 5" © 1991 Marilyn Fenn
Copy after Chagall’s “Birth” The Art Institute of Chicago Pencil on paper 7″ x 5″ © 1991 Marilyn Fenn


Class notes, from Advanced Drawing Studio with Barbara Rossi, SAIC, 1991

Purpose of the class: development of personal resources, more inventive with how you represent things; more significant to you.

Look at modes of representation, both Western & other.

It happens by doing it all the time – TOTAL COMMITMENT!

Start where you are. Move on from there. Maximize your good points, push them further.

*Sketchbook or journal – most important tool!

Collector and assessor of your own experience. Watch yourself watching the world.

Things occur as they occur.

Keep note of the visual experiences that strike you.

Keep a picture file. Xerox things from books that impress you; take photos.

You can’t will your experiences, but pay attention to them after they’ve happened.

Subjective-objective experience of the world.

Every day – several pages.

You should probably date when you took a picture or saw an image.

Everything you hear that really strikes you.



at Hirschhorn:

Balthus – Golden Days; mirror as dagger? Dress as the shape of a chair, fire; vaginal forms.
Like Piero della Francesca – face, hair. Contrast between sensuous life and intellectual life — sensuous form larger, more illuminated. Drapery like armor, face in the cloth. Woman as vessel. Even negative shapes become references.
Nude woman as Christ figure; intellectual figure as Mary Magdalene?

at Met:

Master of Barberini panels; architecture as backdrop for sculptural figure with loads of drapery-fabric as stone.

National Gallery:

Death of a woman. St. Claire – very weird. Great weird spidery hands.

Grunewald: Christ on cross & St. John

Do 20-minute sketches in museum for 2 hours.


Make composition with original object – use analogies, incorporate into a composition. – any kind of space – highlight original form.

Make composition with original form and identify best analogy or pun, drawing original form while suggesting second form. Visual metaphor in one form.

Take detail of painting from museum – look at it for analogical form underneath the structure — rework into large drawing. Can be abstract – make other form more strongly present.

Look for masks where features of form are transformed into analogical objects — xerox or draw them (look at books or in museum) where one form is substituted for another – like full figure is substituted for nose, eyebrows, etc. & put in sketchbook.

How to Build a Stretcher (Strainer)

How to Build a Stretcher (Strainer)

  1. Select wood with good, straight endgrain, straight (not bowed), few knots, no critical knots.
  2. Cut all pieces to length (2×4’s & 1×6’s) on miter saw.
  3. Set table saw to 15 degrees – rip 2×4’s in half (??”), rip both halves of each piece of wood.
  4. Set table saw back to vertical – rip 1×6’s in half or thirds.
  5. At dado saw, attach fence w/clamps, set height of blade to depth of miter-corners (1/4″ or so), dado out groove on inside side (bottom side) of each end piece.
  6. Dado out grooves for cross-braces. For large strainers, dado out grooves for cross-braces to fit into each other, 1/2 depth of each cross-brace.
  7. Miter corner on miter saw.
  8. Cut corners on table saw. Cut 2 square pieces.
  9. On band saw, cut corners in half, long way.
  10. Using pneumatic staple gun, glue, & corner braces, assemble pieces. Long staples in ends of pieces. Short staples for corners (first) and cross-braces (last).
  • 2 8ft. 2×4’s will make 1 strainer @ 5’x6′ (32′) or 3 strainers @ 2’x3′ (30′) w/2′ left over (minus the blade kerf).
  • 8 ft. of 2×4’s = 16′ of stretcher bars
  • 3′ + 3′ + 5′ + 5′
  • 3.5′ + 3.5′ + 4.5′ + 4.5′

Disclaimer: these are transcriptions of hand-written notes from 1991 which I never put to use, so don’t hold me to it!  Other standard disclaimers apply (i.e., use caution around saws; be especially careful when ripping wood; wearing safety glasses; etc.)

Want to know the difference between a stretcher and a strainer?  Read “Stretchers and Strainers: Secrets of the Trade” from Golden Paints.