From Vine Arts Center

Holly Tree Memory

There once was a holly tree

Holly Tree Memory
Holly Tree Memory

There was a holly tree outside the kitchen window in my first “running away from home” apartment. It was tall and wide — kind of dumpy, actually. Bright and green all winter long, it was a high point in an otherwise dreary Washington DC metro winter. Its berries were beautiful. Red and redder than red.

This Holly Tree

I hadn’t thought about that tree for years until This Holly Tree emerged from a stack of “gotta finish this” paintings on my easel. What was left to do? Add the red berries. Done.

Life in the Holly Tree apartment was more or less carefree (except for the general angst of 20-year-olds, my parents’ consternation at this unconventional (gasp!) living situation, my then-boyfriend’s draft status, and my stolen VW Bug.)  This Holly Tree channels the memory, employs one of my favorite nanoscapes designs (tiny random shapes), and makes a shameless pitch for a skinny space on the wall. The original is for sale (5×15″ matted to 8.5×20″, $100) at the Vine Arts Holiday Sale (December 6, 12-5), and from me directly, thereafter. I will have prints, matted to 11×14 for $30 each.

Tiny random shapes on TerraSkin™

Each tiny random shapes piece begins with a very sharp General Pencil (6H) and a deep breath. Sometimes I make them in an order (spirals, straight lines) and sometimes their order is random. I drew This Holly Tree on the most wonderful paper called TerraSkin™ which I buy in sheets from Wet Paint in Saint Paul. TerraSkin™ is a tree-free paper made of 75% calcium carbonate and 24% binder. The combination makes a paper that is very smooth and buttery. Watercolor puddles and dries, making almost translucent color. Because the paint isn’t absorbed (it sits on top of the paper), watercolor paintings need archival spray for protection.



Mapping Minnesota: art project-in-progress

Sometimes when I’m crazy-busy, I need a project that calls on a different part of my brain than the one that lets me make making tiny triangles for painted stained glass or tiny random shapes, another of my favorite images.

Tiny Random Shapes Cat Face
Tiny Random Shapes Cat Face
Tiny Triangles Cat Face
Tiny Triangles Cat Face

Minnesota Maps

Having often sorted through kitchen tools in search of art-making objects, it was easy to spot a map of Minnesota cookie cutter that had been sitting on top of my stove for 14 years. “Pick me!! Pick me!!” it shouted.

Using Golden Brand Light Molding Paste mixed with acrylic paint, I made one tiny map, and then three more.

What to do with them?

Four Minnesota Maps

It’s a long way from a single tiny Minnesota map to a project that could be called “Mapping Minnesota,” which would be substantially larger than three inches tall.

At an organizing meeting for The Space Between the Words, a multi-media show by local artists of the Art Salon For Fertile Minds, the amazing Wendy Houser Blomseth (photographer and Encourager), shook her head “yes” when I said “I’ll make a map of my maps.” Thanks, Wendy.

After having made a 5×10-foot Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul installation for the October 2014 WARM Mentor-Protege Show, I no longer fear big spaces or big-piece challenges. Now I need to find a strong substrate for this project.





Make more and make a big map

17 Minnesota Maps
17 Minnesota Maps



Gridwalls & a window into my past

Thanks to my pals at Vine Arts Center for pointing me to Accent Fixtures, one of my favorite stores in Minneapolis, and saving me a road trip to Hudson  WI and ton of money.

I need a gridwall

One of the great joys of The Art Business, is finding new (to me) tools, techniques, and ways to display and sell my work.  The combination of seeing a gridwall-well-used at Powderhorn Art Fair and having one at the Walker Cat Video Festival persuaded me that I needed at least one gridwall for art shows.

Success! In one quick trip to Accent Fixtures, I got 2 gridwalls, 2 sets of gridwall feet, and lots of gizmos with which to hang stuff on them. Each gridwall was $20, and they fit nicely into The Art Car.

Gridwall at Cat Vid Fest
Gridwall at Cat Vid Fest










Look through the grid and see some of my past

Look through the grid and see a set of vintage car ads that hung on my office walls from the long-ago days when I worked in the car business.


Gridwall Under the Stairs

Reclaim & recycle new techniques into new flamingo art

3 flamingos on a round
3 flamingos on a round
Painted Beaded Flamingo at Vine Arts Center
Painted Beaded Flamingo at Vine Arts Center

A wooden flamingo is born

In 1996, a now-shuttered lumber yard in Saint Paul cut the flamingo from a piece of plywood, made a dozen sets of bookends, a random kidney-ish shaped piece, and 24 8-inch rounds. I painted and beaded the flamingo, and the rounds have aged like fine wine in a stack under my stairs.

New life for the flamingo

After standing tall in my bathroom for 16 years, the 5-foot tall beaded-and-painted wooden flamingo had its last public outing at Vine Arts Center during the 2014 Northern Spark Green Way Glow.

It is now a pink gesso-covered Cave Flamingo which was part of my Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul installation at the WARM (Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota) Mentor-Protegee final show, Beyond the Surface, in late 2014.

WARM Installation 2014
WARM Mentor Protegee Show 2014: Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul

New life for the wooden rounds

Two years ago I bought a dozen 12-inch round sheets of a fine artist paper whose brand is lost in the mists of time. They sat comfortably in the package until I decided to use gesso, the key ingredient in Cave Paintings, to attach the round papers to the wooden rounds.

Wooden rounds meet tiny Flamingos

How this piece was made:

  1. I used gesso to attach the paper to the wooden round, and trimmed the excess.
  2. With a spatula, I splodged gesso onto the paper, and then pressed it with the Ax-Man Gizmo #2, a tube with wire mesh that makes a scaly-sort of pattern. I let it dry overnight.
  3. I sponged color onto the now-patterned gesso. I recommend acrylic paint (as opposed to watercolor), which won’t move an inch when you cover it with acrylic medium. I learned this lesson the very very hard way (subject of another post when I’m over my disappointment.)
  4. Having made dozens of tiny flamingos as ornaments, bookmarks, and gift tags, I am surrounded by them. Three volunteered to be encased on gloss varnish for this project. I glued them onto the round, and waited patiently while the glue dried. (Really? Why are you telling me this? Because I have a life-long history of being too quick to move on to the next step, and I want to save you from the abject misery that will follow a string of bad words.)
  5. Inspired by Dar Bunde, an amazing artist-member of the Northstar Watermedia Society, I used Liquitex Gloss Medium because I want this piece to be SHINY!!!!! I poured it on and set to to dry overnight.
  6. I painted the sides with acrylic paint and covered the sides with gloss medium
  7. I attached a hanger on the back so that this can hang on the wall.

Cats and Hippos: celebrate everything!

Cats and Hippos celebrate everything and they will help you do it everyday.


December 2014: Mad creative dash to make tiny creatures: ornaments? gift tags? just for fun!

Most often I’ll use 300# Arches paper, but lately I have started to recycle some of the dozens of original paintings from the nanoscapes’ Image-a-Day files. In 2012, I was busy making tiny abstract paintings and turning them into digital magic. While appreciating and purchasing the digital images, my customers almost unanimously rejected the tiny original abstract paintings which I had carefully framed. I have a lot of them, and they are all made on either 140# Canson or Arches postcard blanks or from 300# Arches paper.

One Cat from an Image-a-day
One Cat from a 2012 Original Image-a-Day

After cutting out the creatures, I’ll paint them with watercolor and then get out my tiny plastic offset spatula to add one or more of the following Golden Acrylic Medium Products: (1)  Glass Bead Gel (the miracle of the century: tiny glass beads in acrylic medium), (2)  Self-Leveling Clear Gel, Iridescent Stainless Steel, Black Gesso, and Black & White Mica Flake. I love “shiny and bumpy” and these acrylic mediums make that possible.

I remain grateful to Bonnie Cutts, the Golden Artist-in-Residence, for introducing me to these products at a WARM Mentor-Protege event in June of 2013. I learn something new everyday that I work with these products.

Artist alert: Should you have the chance to take one of Bonnie’s workshops, sign up and go!

Old watercolors never die

Paper Mosaic Hippo
Paper Mosaic Hippo

In the spirit of the Genus Papyrus (the paper mosaics, including a horse, a cat, a pig, a hippo, and several parrots), I am recycling these tiny paintings into new creatures. Think of it! The fun of creating new images and the delight of freeing up storage. A win! win!

Cats and Hippos are just a few of the Celebration Critters: pandas, pigs (lots of pigs), parrots, frogs, and hummingbirds!

9 Who? Me? Cats
9 Who? Me? Cats




8 Hippos
8 Hippos

Find them!

Find these and many more new small friends for $7 each at the Art Shoppe at Midtown Global Market (all year), Vine Arts Center Holiday Sale (December 13 and 14), Banfill-Locke Holiday mART (until December 20). Want one made just for you? Contact me directly. ( or 651.917.0219).

Susan Gainen’s new work for December shows

Lost Cave Paintings At Home in the Hall
Lost Cave Paintings at Home in the Hall


November has been part recovery-from-the-WARM-show, exuberant creative energy for upcoming holiday sales, and quiet examination of the ultimate artist question: “What next?”

The Lost Cave Paintings are in the hall just outside my front door, waiting for their next adventure.

Tiny new work

Returning to the World of Tiny, and in prep for five December shows (locations at the end of this post), I have made new work. At the crossroads of mesmerizing high-wire tiny details and the creative tedium of packaging, I made dozens and dozens of one-of-a-kind tiny ornaments. They are painted and embellished paper and will make tree ornaments, party favors, and gift tags.

Today is Thanksgiving, and the pigs in the image below are glad that they are not turkeys and hope that they can be on someone’s tree soon. If you can’t get to any of my shows, you can find some ornaments and other pig products at zazzle.


Holiday Pig Ornaments

Hanukah or another spelling?

A group of Menorahs celebrate Hanukah, and remind me that it’s time to search my house for candles-bought-after-the-holiday or to buy new candles. I have four Menorahs, so it’s hard to fake. Find some images at


First Wood Round Pencil Only
First Wooden Round Pencil Only

The first project for the new year

Combining old materials (wooden rounds cut 17 years ago from the same plywood as the Giant Flamingo) and new-ish 140# paper rounds, I’ve begun a series of RoundWorks that I hope to make into a show in 2015.

Shows in December

DECEMBER 18 — 11 A.M. TO 2  P.M.
DECEMBER 13 (10-5) DECEMBER 14 (12-5)
DECEMBER 6, 2014  10-5
DECEMBER 4 – 20, 2014


Friendship. Complicated. Sometimes messy. Beautiful if you’re lucky.

Friendship #5 at Vine Arts Center's Member Show
Friendship #5 at Vine Arts Center’s Member Show

My newest family of paintings comes under the umbrella of “Friendship: Complicated. Sometimes messy. Beautiful if you’re lucky.”  I made the first one in late April 2014, and I’ve been working on large and small ones (in between working on the WARM Project Lost Cave Paintings) ever since.


Some who have looked at  this work have suggested that it might be brains or kidneys or traffic jams or swarms of bees.  I prefer “Friendship. Complicated. Sometimes Messy…

Small Victory

Friendship…#5 made the first cut in the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Competition, but it wasn’t juried into the final show.

Consolation and a gift

Friendship #5 and some smaller pieces (above) were beautifully and artfully hung by Jack Mader at the Vine Arts Center’s Get Behind the Work #2 show.

Friendship #4.
Friendship #4.
Friendship #2
Friendship #2

Gourds & polymer clay: new techniques

It is important to learn something new every day, and my head if full of new stuff from two classes that I took on Saturday and Monday. Gourds & Polymer Clay: different tools and techniques. New for me. Huzzah!

My Gourd Pin from Kristin Treuting’s Workshop
A Gourd Pin

Gourd Art and Kristen Treuting

Water Movement” is a three-artist show at Vine Arts Center. Kristen Treuting‘s unique and beautiful gourd art is part of this show, and in her workshop, she let us loose with wood burners, lovely inks, and glue guns to create our own gourd art. Thanks, Kristen. (Note to cat owners: Some cats find gourd pieces very enticing. Hide your work.)

Polymer Clay and Layl McDill

Layl McDill is a gifted, visionary, and whimsical genius with polymer clay. Last night she conducted “Clay Play” with Silly Millies for mentors and proteges in this year’s WARM (Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota) Mentor program.

Canes and Canes
Tulip Fingers

Having had a deeply disappointing encounter with polymer clay years ago, I had always been curious about how to make the intricate designs actually work. Layl showed us that “noodles and blankets” were the secret, and the designs and figures that we all made were vastly different from one another, and all wonderful.

I can’t wait to incorporate these designs into my paintings.

NOTE: Layl McDill is my WARM Mentor in the current Mentor-Protege cycle. I am deeply grateful for her enthusiasm and encouragement. If you check out her work, you’ll know that she will never, ever tamp down my whimsy.