By susangainen

Whimsical Wildlife Documentarian. Abstract Painter. Writer. Teacher. Explorer.

Peace Owl Progress and an explanation

Peace Owl Progress

Part of the reason to document the Peace Owl day-by-day is to demystify my creative process. It really is one bit at a time. One piece at a time. Every piece looks better because of the pieces that surround it. That’s the rule.


November 26
Peace Owl Progress: November 26


Peace Owl Progress November 27
Peace Owl Progress November 27

Peace Owl Pushback

Grateful, I am for kudos and for criticism that Peace Owl has generated.

Recently, one of his fans noted that he was “becoming decorative.” I think that she was saying that the background, comprised of Peace Owl’s best friend Mr. Magpie’s ribbon collection, is distracting. A fair point.

Why is this important?

Birders know that owls are very difficult to locate in the wild, because they are notoriously expert at blending into their backgrounds. Peace Owl is no different. His work requires travel — lots of travel — and participation in lengthy (sometimes tedious) meetings. Having a safe and comfortable nest is critical to his effective participation in the furtherance of World Peace. He is fortunate that Mr. Magpie continues to create safe spaces for him around the world.


Peace Owl Progress

Peace Owl Progress Nov 16
Progress for the Peace Owl is very important.

Peace Owl Progress

I began making the drawing for the Peace Owl during the week before the election, and completed it on November 10, 2020. In what is now a treasured habit, I covered the completed pencil drawing with clear gesso to prevent smudging.

CLEAR GESSO Looking back, on a bitter sweet moment–I can’t remember if I knew then that Tracie Thompson had died. She was an extraordinarily gifted artist and teacher, and always willing to share her encyclopedic store of information. For me, it is her instruction to use clear gesso that was, and continues to be, the gift that keeps on giving. Tracie lives in all of my paintings.

Why the Peace Owl came to my studio


Piano Owl
Piano Owl from the Parliament of Owls lead the Official Owl Support for the 1918 Migratory Birds Treaty Act.

Some weeks ago I was visited by a representatives of the Parliament of Owls (the correct collective noun for owls, of course.) They were concerned about the Trump Administration’s attack on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which prohibits taking (including killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transport) of protected migratory bird species without prior authorization by the Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By the time we had developed a series of protective promotional materials, the Owls had won. The Peace Owl appreciated the quality of our  collaboration, which is why he arrived at my studio ready to work.

Peace Owl Technical

Once clear gesso dries, it leaves a “toothy” surface that absorbs acrylic inks. My favorite brands are Golden High Flow Acrylic, Daler-Rowney, Liquitex, and my new discovery, the incomparable Ziller Inks. (As if I discovered fire — Ziller was founded in 1894. Again, I’m late to the party.) Their colors tick a very  important box for me — BRIGHT COLORS.

I now paint on Senso linen panels from Jerry’s Artarama  that I cover with white gesso. What a pleasure to work with..

Peace Owl Plain
At the end of a long week, a completed pencil drawing with its Clear Gesso covering. November 10, 2020.
Peace Owl Progress Nov 11
Very exciting to put down the first paint shapes! November 11, 2020.
Peace Owl Progress Nov 13
So fascinating to see the owl’s shapes coming alive. November 13. 2020.
Peace Owl Progress Nov 14
I cannot tell you how pleasant it is to sit at my painting table knowing that there are shapes to fill in with bright colors. November 14, 2020.
Peace Owl Progress Nov 15
Look! He has feet (talons). November 15, 2020.
Peace Owl Progress Nov 16
Progress for the Peace Owl is very important.

A Flamingo has a T-Shirt

Flamingo T-Shirt benefit for artists

Since 2009, dozens of flamingos have visited my studio, to sit for portraits, to tell stories, and to eat my snacks. They appear in The Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul, watercolor and acrylic paintings, coloring book pages, and paper mosaics. Now they have a new Flamingo Friend on a shirt and The Flamingo T-Shirt is delighted to represent his friends.

Buying the Flamingo T-Shirt

The folks at Liquid Screen Design created a 3-week pop-up shop for artists to present and sell their work on T-shirts. Each limited edition shirt is $20 — $10 for the artist and $10 for production. The shop runs from 6/15 to 7/6/2020 features the Stained Glass Coloring Card Flamingo. Click here to order. Check out the rest of the shop. You’ll find designs from many artists.

Flamingo T-Shirt 2020

Cave Painting Flamingos Cheering the Shirt

Flamingos Cheering the T-Shirt

The 3-11s: 3 cats and 11 flamingos,
an internationally acclaimed acapella group,
cheer the T-shirt.

Three Cats & 11 Flamingos, and international acapella group, support the Flamingo T-Shirt.


T-Shirt Backlash

For anyone following the adventures of my small friends during the past nine years (cats, Robert the Tap Dancing Rooster and other birds, insects, elephants, horses, a cow, two warthogs, some dinosaurs, and hundreds of other creatures), there should be no surprise that this t-shirt production has caused some commotion.

The rising tide of public opinion in screeching, screaming, whistling, tootling, roaring and other noises demanding their appearances on t-shirts is overwhelming. Have no fear for my neighbors. I live in a land (apartment structure) that is sufficiently insulated to protect the outside world from the Noise of Whimsical Creatures. Whether the Small Friends Research Institute, which sponsors and supports my Wildlife Work, will get into the T-shirt business is not for me to say. Its management is in the hands of the Creatures Themselves.

Sourcing other images 

Introducing Starry Nights

Starry Nights celebrate tiny spaces

It’s no secret that I love to make tiny shapes and spaces. Starry Nights came to me in a dream (I think), and with an electric pencil sharpener, tiny brushes, and three kinds of acrylic ink (Daler Rowney, Liquitex, Golden High Flow Acrylic), I can’t stop.

Mona Lisa Marble

Mona Lisa Marble Cat is painted on canvas with acrylic ink. Her favorite painting is The Mona Lisa, whose eyes famously follow the viewer around the room. Mona Lisa Marble Cat’s eyes do the same. Although she has been diagnosed with “wandering eye,” she prefers to believe that her eyes are those of her idol.

Mona Lisa Marble Cat

Red Star

Tiny shapes make great movement.

All Red Star
The Red Star. Acrylic Ink on paper.

Winter Starry Night

Winter Starry Night was selected for the 2020 Saint Paul Winter Carnival Fire and Ice Festival. Hosted by the estimable A to Z Gallery in Lowertown, it is a tribute to Minnesota’s favorite season.

Winter Starry Night is part of the Starry Night Collection that tips its hat to Van Gogh and long ago acid trips.
Winter Starry Night is part of the Starry Night Collection that tips its hat to Van Gogh and to long-ago acid trips.  













Square Star

Sometimes a star is just a star. This particular painting took me through a difficult election season. Acrylic Paint on Paper.

Square Star made as an election distraction
Square Star, a small acrylic painting on paper, was a distraction during an election cycle.

Cat in Neighborhoods Inspired by Max-the-Cat

What a difference a day makes to a cat: October 28

Setting this cat in a bunch of neighborhoods is NOT like setting a cat among the pigeons. He is there to remind us all that we all look better, perform better, laugh more, and do our best work when we are surrounded by those from whom we can learn, which is a corollary of “every piece looks better because of the pieces that surround it.”

I finished the pencil drawing on October 28, covered it with Liquitex Clear Gesso, and started to paint on October 29.

Cat in Neighborhoods Final Pencil Drawing
The pencil drawing is finished and the Cat in Neighborhoods is covered with Clear Gesso to prevent smudging.


Cat painting begins: October 29

The Cat emerges. Using a Princeton brush, Golden High Flow Acrylics, and Daler Rowney FW Artists Acrylic Ink, I began to paint. Bit by bit. Piece by piece. Space by space.

Cat in neighborhoods after one day of painting.
Cat in Neighborhoods gets its first paint.

Cat details

The Neighborhood Cat is on a 16×20 stretched canvas. His face, yet to be determined/designed, makes him part of the Clowder of Cats. “Clowder,” as you may know, is the collective noun for “cat.”

As you might imagine, Max-the-Cat — model, muse and snacks manager — is the Model for the entire Clowder. Some of the original clowder paintings are for sale. All are available as prints ($25) or cards-with-envelopes ($4 each). Contact Billed through PayPal.

Spokescat Max: Model for the Clowder
Spokescat Max is the model for the Clowder of Cats.

Eggroll Queen Cafe Show – Susan’s Friends & Neighborhoods

Friends and Neighborhoods

If you remember the Underground Music Cafe and the other names under which this Falcon Heights treasure has been over the years — rejoice. It is now the Eggroll Queen Cafe. It’s here. It’s now. And it has Life Affirming Blueberry Waffles and Eggrolls the Size of Burritos.  AND LIVE MUSIC.

The Flamingo from the Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul will welcome you in the doorway.

Flamingo from the Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul
Flamingo from the Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul

My Friends and Neighborhoods show is almost ready to come down. That it took nearly a month to figure out how to get these images onto a small enough PowerPoint is a miracle. You may miss the show at the Cafe (it comes down on October 20), but here are the images:

Eggroll Queen Cafe Show


Color storage: perennial problem

Color storage: what to do?

A mad obsession with paint colors creates a problem: storage. No surprise. I have a history of color storage issues.

Crayons out of the original box

When my color choices were among 24 Crayola crayons, the problems were about corralling the stubs. My Mother was not keen on crayon bits all over the house. Crayons ground into carpet are just not nice. Fortunately, during my Prime Crayon Years, the box held just 24 crayons.

Crayola 24 Pack
Crayola 24 Pack

Yarns by type and color

When my color choices were among a zillion colors of yarns, the solution was to bag and tag them by type (crochet cotton, other cotton, silk, acrylic, multi-color, wool), by color, and then by function (crochet, needlepoint). Many bags. Many many bags. I finally learned to put them into more-or-less clear bags for easy-ish sorting.

When I gave up needlepoint, I de-yarned myself, and gave the yarn and a ton of fabric to the amazingly creative beatrixjar.

Paintbox simply chunky from bloglove knitting
Paintbox simply chunky from bloglove knitting

Paints: tubes, tubs, bottles and more

When my color choices are among paints, I’m in trouble. Having begun as a watercolor purist (no acrylic touched my lips), only to pile onto acrylic and acrylic mediums, acquiring colors with abandon, I have created a massive paint-and-mediums pile-up in my living room studio. There are watercolors, acrylic paints and mediums, acrylic inks, airbrush paints, gesso in many colors, glass paint, glitter paint, and so many more.

My studio mates do not complain. Phil and Max run, walk, and jump over everything with dignity.

Tub of acrylic inks 2019
Whose idea was a 9×13 pan?

Como Fest Saturday’s Fastest Art Fair

Head to Como Park

Como Fest at the Como Pavilion in the park on Lexington Avenue. Saturday July 13, 2019.  10 am – 2 pm

What could be better? Local artists under the Pavilion Roof. Free Parking. Near the Como Zoo.

New work

Introducing customizable birthday greetings for a new baby. Get it on ETSY.

Welcome Baby Customizable 13x19 customized archival print. $30.
                                                        Welcome Baby Customizable 13×19 customized archival print. $30.


New Original Cats – Acrylic Mosaic
One of a Kind $60 each

Gerald asked for a leopard outfit because he loves dots
Gerald asked for a leopard outfit because he loves dots
Camo Cat believes that his superpower is invisibility
Camo Cat believes that his superpower is invisibility

Found Art Sparks Imagination

Found Art Found Treasures

This found art turned up when I put things away after the Mystery of Cats Art Festival. I hadn’t seen it in two years, and its simplicity was striking. After having spent seven months creating intense and dense patterns for new cats, the plain shapes in this piece have an appeal. I painted in some blanks and now call it “possibly finished.”

The plan

With luck, I may create a really big (22×33) painting with solid shapes, one with a combination of patterned and solid shapes, and a few small pieces. I’d also like to make something like this in three dimensions. Creating a new dimension expands the meaning of “found art” and circles back to one of the goals that I set years ago as a protege in the WARM (Women’s Art Resource of Minnesota) mentor program: Work in 3D. (Note: WARM is going strong; the mentor program is on hiatus.)

Found Art Inspiration
Found Art Inspiration

Finding Possibilities

Having been making paintings since 2009 and having limited ability to dispose of anything — I suspect that a serious sort-and-organize project will unearth plenty of found art possibilities.

From Vandalism Art is the Best Revenge

Art is the best revenge

Murdered Honda CRV
Murdered Honda CRV

Two bits of random (non-lethal) auto injury made me realize that Art is the Best Revenge.

Two weeks ago, my beloved 1999 Honda CRV was murdered in a hit-and-run. She was legally parked on Lake Street in Minneapolis, and was collateral damage to the work of an Evildoer, who smashed a car into mine.

The estimable staff at Bobby & Steve’s carefully explained the damage. GEICO, my insurance company of 37 years, said “Totaled.”

Cars near me for $1000

Mazda at the Dealership: Art is the Best Revenge
Mazda at the Dealership: Art is the Best Revenge

Acting like any 21st century gal, I took the $1100 insurance check, Googled “CARFAX, cars near me for $1000,” and went to Luxury Imports Auto Sales, North Branch, MN. Waiting for me was a 2003 Mazda Protege Rustbucket. “I have purple duct tape,” I said, and declared that it would become an Art Car.

Mazda Art Car with duct tape
Mazda Art Car with duct tape





Based on a favorite stained glass design that I often paint, I made a plan. I started researching rust management, auto painting, and industrial glues that could attach a plastic bib covered with recycled plastic bits. Why not make the stained glass designed out of recycled colored plastic? How will I do that? Why not learn something new every day?

Add injury to injury: a broken window

Glass bits of inspiration Art is the best revenge
Glass bits of inspiration: Art is the best revenge

Two days after first parking in my underground locked garage, either a random vandal or a heretofore unidentified Force of Nature attacked the Art Car and broke her passenger-side window. This is not something that you want to encounter before your second cup of coffee.

Again, Art is the best revenge

Tiny glass bits were everywhere. Beautiful tiny glass bits were everywhere.I had never noticed how beautiful tiny bits of safety glass could be.  After calling GEICO, the police, and the glass company, I scooped up as much as I could and made yet another plan: Embed glass bits into paint. I can’t wait to work them into tiny random shapes, whimsical wildlife, and as-yet-unimagined art pieces.

NOTE: As many of you know, when I turned 65, I abandoned activities requiring safety equipment and liability waivers, which means no tile cutting, no glass cutting, and no bungee jumping. I am making an exception for working with glass bits: the glass is pre-cut and tweezers don’t count as safety equipment.

Glass Bits Red: Art is the best revenge
Glass Bits Red: Art is the best revenge
Green and Black Glass Bits: Art is the best revenge
Green and Black Glass Bits: Art is the best revenge









Artists find inspiration everywhere.