From Painstaking Exuberance

Painted Gemstones: Believe

Painted gemstones: road not taken

My interest in gemstones was sparked during a trip to see The Hope Diamond when it was introduced into the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in 1958. My Mother bravely packed her station wagon with Brownie Scouts, and we joined the mobs who lined up to see it. We snaked through the museum through the Hall of Gems, which was filled with what appears in bodice-ripper fiction as “dripping with pearls.” Inspiring and breathtaking.

But ever-so-slightly disappointing. It was billed to the public and to my tiny 8-year-old brain as the largest blue diamond in captivity. Not knowing that the key word was blueI expected to find a diamond the size of a softball. To my immense disappointment, it appeared to be the size of a quarter.

I missed the career off-ramp to “gemstone cutter,” and now that I’m hewing to my 65th birthday vow of avoiding activities requiring safety equipment or liability waivers, there will be no glass cutting, tile cutting, bungee jumping, and now, no gemstone cutting.

Whimsical wildlife documentarian paints gemstones

It is well within the purview of the Whimsical Wildlife Documentarian to paint gemstones and to apply a 2019 version of Painstaking Exuberance. I have paintbrushes, and I am not afraid to use them.

Multiple advantages of painting whimsical gemstones:

  1. No insurance penalty for using dangerous equipment: paint brushes, even the tiniest, are not lethal unless you are in obscure parts of mystery fiction.
  2. No need to consider the Laws of Physics: I never took physics, so I can plead ignorance.
  3. No need to consider colors that might not exist in nature: in my experience as an artist, nature’s color limitations are highly over-rated.
  4. No need to be limited by cost or size: a real five-pound amethyst crystal would be outside my art supply budget, it would pain my arthritic hands, and diamonds and rubies are out of the question.
  5. No fear of making a costly mistake: the ever-real possibility of dropping and breaking a valuable stone was always a deal breaker.

My first painted gemstone

Pencil on paper, covered with clear gesso. Tiny paintbrushes and Golden High Flow Acrylic. Paints and gesso from Wet Paint (Saint Paul) and Dick Blick (Roseville). Finished with a Micron Pen. #artfun

Painted gemstones. After pencil, paint, and clear gesso, I painted.
Painted gemstones. After pencil, paint, and clear gesso, I painted.                 Painted gemstones. Tiny brushes and more paint.Painted gemstones. Tiny brushes and more paint.
 Painted Gemstone More paint! More tiny spaces! More color! #artfun
Painted Gemstone More paint! More tiny spaces! More color! #artfun


Painted gemstones. More paint and colors. More facets. #artfun.
Painted gemstones. More paint and colors. More facets. #artfun.


Painted Gemstones.More colors into the tiny spaces. Clarified the facets with Micron Pen. #artfun #believeit
Painted Gemstones.More colors into the tiny spaces. Clarified the facets with Micron Pen. #artfun #believeit

Big Neighborhoods: Three sizes to color

Big Neighborhoods 2.1: a really big coloring page

Big Neighborhoods 2.1 is now a challenging full-sized blank coloring page, the same size as  the 22×33-inch original painting. The 22×33 blank page is expertly printed by Apropos Studio on 17 mil DigiScape Smooth 350. This is a wall-covering product, and it is a very smooth friend to paint, pencil, and marker. Order it directly from me: $48 plus $11.00 flat rate shipping.

Big Neighborhoods 2
Big Neighborhoods 2

Big Neighborhoods 2 to color: a really big project

Unless you have a spare work table or dining room, you will need to make a space to color on this piece. Confession: I taped my first big nanoscape to my dining room wall, and drew and painted on it there.

The original Big Neighborhoods 2 is taped to a drawing board, probably the Utrecht 28×38 heavy duty board which is remarkably cheap — less than $20. I have dozens of these boards in various sizes. They have clips, and not terribly comfortable handholds, but they are invaluable for their sturdiness.  Unless you are obsessively tidy (which I am not), these boards become living histories of your projects. The one below has hosted and launched a number of tiny Lost Cave Paintings of Saint Paul. I can see the colors of gesso that went beyond the tape.

Because I worked Big Neighborhoods 2 in watercolor, I painted on a flat surface, so the taped piece on the board sat on my painting table and I stored it vertically on my easel. You can see it taped below. The little Panda peeking out from under the easel is one of the Pandas of the Hidden Bamboo Forest of Saint Paul. It can be worked vertically with pencils, markers or acrylic paint.

Drawing Board full of life
Drawing Board full of life
Neighborhoods 2 Closeup
Neighborhoods 2 Closeup

The blank really big page: make it your own

The Neighborhoods 2 blank coloring page looks like this. It is printed on 17 mil DigiScape Smooth 350 by FiberMark. It is incredibly smooth, and the paper — a wallcovering product — is a friend to paint, pencil and marker. Order this by clicking here.


Big Neighborhoods 2 Coloring Page
Big Neighborhoods 2 Coloring Page   


Big Neighborhoods: Two smaller sizes

Big Neighborhoods 2.2

My comfort zone is tiny spaces, so I love working these pages in any size. Big Neighborhoods 2.2, is 12×16 inches, and requires a steady hand and your choice of markers, sharp pencils or pens, or a double-zero brush. ($22 plus flat rate shipping). Order directly from me: $22 plus 5.95 flat rate shipping. Printed with archival inks on 90# double-sided mat card stock.

Big Neighborhoods 3.0

Big Neighborhoods 3.0 is the tiniest version, just 8×10″. It requires a very steady hand, very sharp pencils, fine-pointed markers or double-or-triple-zero watercolor brushes. ($10. Free shipping Shipped flat). My comfort zone is tiny spaces, so I love this image. Printed with archival inks on 90# double-sided mat card stock.


Big Neighborhoods 2 in the New Year

Big Neighborhoods 2
Big Neighborhoods 2: each piece is waiting for its Micron Pen outline

Big Neighborhoods 2: nearly finished

Big Neighborhoods 2 passed an important milestone for the New Year. Each piece has color. All the watercolor is from tubes, from watercolor cakes, and from colors mixed on my palette. Careful and organized watercolorists might scream in pain if they knew just how random and unreproducible  many of these colors are.

Painstaking Exuberance 2.0

Big Neighborhoods 2 (22×33) extends a version of Painstaking Exuberance, my description of my most comfortable artistic process. I make a pencil drawing. In the past, perhaps because I was less sure of what I was doing, I would cover the pencil with Davy’s Gray, a very light watercolor, that would set the pencil and give me a launching pad for adding color. I’ve learned to skip that step and go right to color. Beginning with the brightest red, I add colors randomly, and finish each tile with an outline.

Using an easel

Yes. I have an easel. It is a storage and viewing tool that I rarely paint use for painting. Why? Three reasons: (1) watercolor drips; (2) arthritis in my shoulder makes standing painting uncomfortable and unproductive; and, (3) Max-the-Cat, who perches in Purrniture with the best view of my painting table, takes a dim view of the easel. The last time I tried to use it, he tried to climb up my leg and leap to the easel’s shelf. I surrendered.

Fave Brush: Raphael Kaerell #2 Flat

Unlike smaller pieces which I make with 00 brushes, each tiny tile here was made with a Raphael Kaerell #2 Flat brush.  This line of brushes is synthetic sable. It is tough and strong, and grabs a lot of paint.

After I take a deep breath, each little will get a Micron Pen outline. Perhaps black? Perhaps green or purple. Not a bad decision to make on the New Year.

Coming soon: coloring page

A blank 22×33 version of this painting will be available soon (next week).

Big Neighborhood: work-in-progress

The Big Neighborhood is 22×33. It’s like a city map or an aerial view of a city. When all of its colors are put together, I hope that it represents that the best of us are better for living among all kinds of people. If I work very very hard on it, it might be finished in time to hang with the show “Connections,” at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, which will hang on December 30.  If it doesn’t make it into the show, it will be on hand for the artist talk (date TBA).

Big Neighborhood: start with red

After taking a very long, deep breath, I started to paint on it. First blocks are the brightest red watercolor on my palette, of course. Having determined that this will be a random collection of blocks, I will work color-by-color, spreading them out all over the piece.

Why isn’t this made out of tile?

It looks like tile. Why isn’t this tile? As some of you know, for my 60th birthday I gave up everything that required safety equipment. Conspicuous among the activities that I abandoned were cutting tile and bungee jumping.

Big Neighborhood December 20
Big Neighborhood December 20
Big Neighborhood Close-up December 20
Big Neighborhood Close-up December 20


Painstaking Exuberance

The Big Neighborhood is a nanoscape, an abstract painting made with Painstaking Exuberance (PE).  PE paintings begin with a pencil drawing which is sometimes followed by a Davy’s Gray outline (not this one). Next, I fill in each small space with color, and, sometimes outline each small space with a Micron pen or paint outline. The minute-by-minute focus is on each small space and its bright color. In the end, the riot of color speaks for itself.

Connections coloring book: tiny spaces

Since 2006, I have celebrated connections within the tiny spaces in paintings called nanoscapes. My friends and fans have been after me for years to make coloring books, and as with so many things, I’ve realized that resistance is futile. Now all I need is a printer who can create a book at a price that my pals can afford. Suggestions? Use the contact form at the end of this post.

Celebrating connections with painstaking exuberance

Almost by accident, I created a consistent body of abstract work that reflects my interest in connections among and between people, their neighborhoods, and their cities: true nanoscapes. I use painstaking exuberance, a four or five-step process, to make each one. I begin with a pencil drawing, continue with a Davy’s Gray watercolor outline, then paint between the lines, and outline each shape with paint or Micron pen. Sometimes the fifth step includes a paint or ink outline of the complete piece. I love and celebrate every single step.

2007 Kaleidoscope 1: early connections
2007 Kaleidoscope 1: early connections

My earliest watercolor paintings were all about tiny spaces, complex designs, and bright colors, and were reflected in the business name: nanoscapes & other visions llc.  The first paintings (8×10 inches or smaller) were shown at the now-closed Rosalie Wahl Library in Stillwater. It was a very tiny library, and the very tiny nanoscapes looked great on the walls.

Some of you know the story. No sooner than I had acquired the business name, and other pieces of a corporate entity, than one of my pals said “Honey, I love your work, but I can’t put a postcard behind my sofa.” Although they maintained their tiny designs in small spaces, the nanoscapes got bigger (16×20, 22×33). In 2009, whimsical creatures arrived and took over the studio, and integrated some nanoscapes’ designs into their bodies. I am returning happily to true nanoscapes, and most of the coloring (or painting) pages are inspired by paintings I’ve done or plan to do soon.

Pages coming in tandem with the First Unitarian Society “Connections” show

On December 30, 2015, I will hang a show that is focused on “Connections” at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis‘ elegant space on Mt. Curve. It is an honor to be there, and I am inspired to collect and showcase paintings from the underlying and unifying theme of so much of my work: connections. The show will be a combination of old and new connections-themed pieces with a handful of creature paintings that incorporate abstract images and link my old, new, and forthcoming work.

Some samples as work-in-progress:

Boxes Coloring Page WIP: a city? neighborhoods? connections all!
Boxes Coloring Page WIP: a city? neighborhoods? connections all!




Friendship: Complicated. Sometimes Messy. Beautiful if you're lucky CP#2. All about connections.
Friendship: Complicated. Sometimes Messy. Beautiful if you’re lucky. CP#2 All about connections.
Friendship: Complicated. Sometimes Messy. Beautiful if you're lucky. CP #1. All about connections.
Friendship: Complicated. Sometimes Messy. Beautiful if you’re lucky. CP #1 All about connections.


Mr. Klimt the First: Inspired by Conversations Connections
Mr. Klimt the First: Inspired by Conversations Connections.
Painted Knitted Metal 1: Honors my artist friends Carolyn Halliday & Karen Searle who knit with wire. An astonishing act of connection.
Painted Knitted Metal 1 Honors my artist friends Carolyn Halliday & Karen Searle who knit with wire. An astonishing act of connection.


Island Fortress: mash-up and connections
Island Fortress: mash-up and connections


I hope to see you at the show. Watch this space, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms for information about the show’s reception.  Also, I promise to create a genuine artist newsletter in 2016.





New Worlds #1: watercolor complete

New Worlds #1

Made with Watercolor, Micron Pen, and Painstaking Exuberance, a technique from my earliest watercolor days.

Painstaking Exuberance: a history

Using Painstaking Exuberance, I get to wallow in my lifetime comfort zone of tiny spaces when painting the large and small geometric abstracts that I have called nanoscapes.

Following on decades of doodling, in 2006 I began to make images with (1) a pencil drawing, (2) topped with Winsor & Newton Davy’s Gray,(3) watercolored between the lines,(4) painted over the lines with watercolor, and (5) finished with a painted an outline for the piece.  Knowing just a little about the history of art and its trends, schools, and other ups and downs, and that often artists’ work is celebrated and categorized after they die, I took matters into my own hands. I named this 5-step method the School of Painstaking Exuberance.

During the past two years, Painstaking Exuberance has changed into a three-step process: pencil drawing, painting between the lines (arm the Double-Zero Brush!), and then either paint or Micron Pen for outlines inside the piece.

New Worlds One
New Worlds One


Boxes Dots and Bridges

Boxes Dots and Bridges

Some time before the Fractured Glass Marathon, I painted a new member of the Bright Box Family, which I’m calling “Boxes Dots and Bridges.”  Were this just for people familiar with the Twin Cities, I’d have called it “Boxes, Dots and Skyways.”

Puzzle Maker’s Choice: jigsaw, tile saw or paint brush?

Puzzle Pieces Work in Progress

I understand the addictive quality of working out a jigsaw puzzle, and have myself uttered the plaintive cry “Just one more!” when my parents were trying to call me to dinner or send me to bed.

There are no jigsaw puzzles in my house today: Too much space is devoted to painting. Max the Kitten, who has already walked into wet gesso and spilled water onto a nearly-finished painting, would be drawn to puzzle pieces like a moth to a flame.

Having a “no puzzle policy” hasn’t kept me from making puzzles, though. Typical puzzle maker’s tools are either jig saws or (for the really ambitious) tile saws, however, my puzzle-making tool is a paint brush.

This work-in-progress puzzle is made with a 6H pencil and a Raphael Martora Sable #0 brush that I bought at Wet Paint in Saint Paul, MN.

Further reading: 11 Reasons To Do Jigsaw Puzzles


New Obsession: Tiny Random Shapes

They started with a watercolor doodle, but after a week, they became a celebration of Tiny Random Shapes, and, perhaps, a modest and harmless obsession. The original paintings are all watercolor (lots of pigment, not a lot of water) painted with a Raphael 2/0 brush.

First Green 
First Green became digital Purple Leaves
cool stuff at zazzle
Tiny Random
Tiny Random #2 (digital)
Bigger Tree (7.5 x 10.5″)
Tiny Tree (Original 5×7″)
zazzle postcard
Tiny Bubbles (8×11) zazzle postcard
Tiny Bubbles Inverts in Photoshop (zazzle postcard)
Tiny Green Out the Window (Digital)
Wrapped Kimona (8.5×11″)
postcard at zazzle

By the end of the year, I will have put all of the 2012 Image-a-Day project paintings onto postcards at If you see an image that you would like on one of zazzle’s zillions of products, or on fabric or wallpaper at spoonflower, contact me directly at

7 Palms juried into Savage Arts Council 2010 Juried Arts Competition

7 Palms
7 Palms

The Savage (MN) Arts Council jury has accepted 7 Palms into its 2010 Juried Arts Competition.

7 Palms is the signature piece in my small group of “not quite botanically accurate landscapes”  which includes Up North 2 and Como Reflections.

At 14″x5″, 7 Palms is also one of the first nanoscapes that was bigger than a postcard.

I have been working on 14 Palms off and on for a year…

Not Up North #2
Not Up North #2

Not Up North 2 is 6″x6″.  While my travels in Northern Minnesota are limited to Two Harbors, which is just north of Duluth, I imagine a beautiful place.  This may be an image from before the last Ice Age.

Como Reflections
Como Reflections

I do, however, live very close to Lake Como in St. Paul’s Como Park, and I love each and every tree, rock, shrub, bird, turtle, and fish. At 4″x7″, Como Reflections is from the nanoscapes’ post-card era