Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Well Designed Environment Part I: Art in Our Living Space

As a young artist, it never occurred to me to imagine my art in someone's home. Art was art for art sake, and that was it. If I did consider it in a space it was the traditional white cube of the art gallery or museums.

As an adult homeowner, and someone who made their living selling wholesale fabric to interior designers, my thoughts on art in a residential space changed. I started to think about what I kind of art I wanted to live with and how it impacted my well being.

This month's blogpost starts a series called The Well Designed Environment.  I've gathered a group of experts to share their knowledge and expertise on the subject. Topics include: Art in Our Living Spaces,  Nuts and Bolts...Working With an Art Gallery, Nuts and Bolts...Working With An Artist to Commission a Custom Art Piece, and for those of you who own a business...Nuts and Bolts...Art in the Corporate Environment.

I met George Lowell at the University of Iowa in a sculpture class.  George was one of those students who everything he touched turned to beauty. His small scale sculptural rooms where full of history, and memory, small tableaus of a space in time. 20 years later, I find it interesting to see how he has translated his small sculptures into real life living spaces. He makes his home and business in Chicago, IL.  Please meet George Lowell...

George Lowell

"I hate to think of art in terms of decorating but 
it is difficult to  deny its importance in an interior."

Artwork is a great way to mix it up!

One of my signature design moves is to use unexpected pieces in my interiors.   Mixing styles is a great way to add your own personal touch to your space and keep things interesting.  

Old world pieces mixed with ultra-modern.


For example I love to use a tradtional-old world piece of art in an ultra modern space.  The contrast creates visual interest and makes sure you won't have a one note space.

Color is one of a designers biggest tools.

Color is one of a designers biggest tools and it plays a key role in the overall feel a space evokes. Art is a great way to add pops of color as accents or repeat a dominate color already used in the space.

-George Lowell of George Lowell Interiors

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mother Nature's Crazy Wild Party!

My daily environment aka studio.
Everyday, I take my two dogs Stella and Henry for a walk.  I use this morning ritual as a chance to get out of the house and studio. It is my time to look at the world around me, change gears from office work to more creative endeavors.  Since I am "klutzy" I am always looking down. Have you ever noticed the the bases of trees?  Especially how gnarled and scarred they are?

Gnarled base of an Oak in my yard.  Notice the moss.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that I should look up. 

The top of the old Oak in front of my house.

I live in a neighborhood filled with 100 year old oak trees. The property I share with my family has 9 Giant Oaks living on the outline. The size of these "Old Men Oaks" is AMAZING!  They dwarf my house.  

The middle.

And here it stands in front of my house.  

Last Monday night, we had a storm!  A crazy, big, lightning, and huge water gushing from the sky sort of storm.  The following day, a wind roared through my neighborhood, and took out several trees.

I feel like I am wandering through a war zone.

Instead of quiet, peaceful quiet...My days and nights are filled with sounds of trucks and chainsaws. 

A friend on Fb said it feels like..."Cleaning up today after Mother Nature's crazy wild party... She's like a shitty roomie... Partied without us and left us to clean up"

Perhaps we are the shitty roommates and Mother Nature is giving us a hint. You know the drill...

Another FB quote:  Global Weirdness

Most of you know I keep my politics to myself.  
I do have some things I hold dear.  
I believe in art.
I believe in being who you are.
I believe in being a good roommate.

"The Heartbeat of It", 12"x12"x2", acrylic, Dura-Lar on cradled panel, 2014 copyright Mary Zeran

Friday, May 30, 2014

To Work Large, You'll Need a Big Brush

"Long and Lean #1", 57"x25", acrylic on Dura-Lar, 2014 copyright Mary Zeran

Have you ever made a brushstroke that is 5' long by 6" wide?  If you haven't, you should.  

Working that large is like harnessing a wild horse...exhilarating and scary, all in the same breath.  It feels dangerous, naughty, out of control.  If you are a woman of my age...(which will go unstated for that matter.),  life has gotten a lot less "naughty".  Taking risks in the studio is about as far as I go anymore.  

This is one of my favorite brushes.  It is a 2"wide, angled, synthetic bristled.
It has a soft feel and is used for painting trim or edges.

One of the mistakes a lot of artists make when trying to create large marks, is to use a small brush.  Like everything in this world,  big marks need big tools.  

There are quality artist brushes on the market, but if you are just starting out, house brushes are great.

By this photo, you can see that I am some what of a pig when it comes to my brushes.  

True confession...paint gets on my ferrule. I don't always get it all cleaned off.  Some of my handles are caked in days, weeks, and months of paint.  That is just how I am.  I admit, I love some of the historical gunk.  

The point of this photo is to see all the different sized house painting brushes I have.  On the right, you can see a 9"pad painter. Paint pads are a fantastic studio brush. Note: they are hard to wash, but WORTH IT!

If you think my brushes are large, take a look at these artists. 

Source:  Fabienne Verdier:

This photo is amazing from the sheer idea.  Paintbrush as industrial tool.  Painting as manual labor.  Painter as "worker".  Let's be honest, painting is hard work.  This photo just amplifies the notion to another level.

More Verdier courtesy of

I've always been hugely inspired by Sumi paintings and Asian Art in general.  I love how there is an element of spontaneity and "being in the moment".  I also love the connection to nature and the land.  When I look at the above photo, I'm wondering if the size of the brush would force an artist to be "one with the brush", focusing on the activity instead of any other distractions. This sort of work speaks to me of collaboration, with the brush, the ink, the movement, and your environment. Wonderful.

 shinichi maruyama, found via livingdesign.

Jackson Pollack always spoke about painting as a dance. This photo of Shinichi Maruyama working is a fantastic example of painting as performance, a collaborative dance with the pigment.  This work seems to be attempting to harness nature.  

I love considering how the whole act of making art is the art, not just the finished piece.  What do you think about this notion?

I hope you enjoyed this post. Remember to share it with folks you think might be interested. Keep making art and being creative!  You deserve it! 

While we are at it,  Summer is coming on fierce here in the Midwest.  I have a couple more workshops to teach and then I am on my annual Making Art Summer Vacation!  

For those of you in the Chicago area,  Saturday the 31st of May is the registration deadline for the  Paint the Music:  Intro to Painting on Dura-Lar Workshop. The class is on Saturday, June 7th from  1-3pm at the Hairpin Arts Center, 2800 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647.  If you are in the area, I would love to make art with you!  Go to this link to register.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Eye Candy

The Beauty of It All #, 16"x20", acrylic, Dura-Lar on paper , 2014 copyright Mary Zeran, photo credit: Mark A Tade

If you could be in my studio right now, 
the word that would come to mind would be...


I've been on a crash, color, theory, course to discover 
and decide what the palette will be for my next series.

My study started when I started using Quinacridone Magenta.  

A lot of my pinks, oranges, and reds
just didn't... feel right.
Tooo salmony. 

I'd also run completely out of good greens.  
All I had left were some strange, dark, phthalo green tones 
that felt odd in a way that made my skin crawl.

As I explored the difference between organic and inorganic pigments. 
I realized I was asking myself...
Cadmium Red Medium or Quinacridone Red?

Hansa Yellow Light, 
Hansa Yellow Medium? 

All this exploration makes me excited to get started 
making "raw materials".  

Can you guess which colors I will choose?

Want to try making the my color wheels?  The divine Miss Patti Brady has written a great article titled "Color Mixing...You can't get it unless you do it!  Not only is doing a color wheel fun, it was relaxing.  Smushing paint and mixing color is like adult finger painting!

While we're at it.  

Workshops at Cedar Rapids Museum of Art have been a complete joy. 
 I've had the chance to work with some really amazing women.

The next workshop will be all about printmaking. 
We'll be using Gelli plates and metallic Golden Open Acrylic paint. 
Think jello and shiny.  Register at this link

My work has been featured on an international collage blog.  

Read the rest of the article at this link.

Thanks to Beverly and Chad at Artifex Studio,  First Bancorp of Southern Pines, NC 
added 3 of my pieces to their Corporate Collection

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Developing a Visual Language or Symbols

The Beauty of it All #4, 16"x20"x acrylic, Dura-Lar on paper ,2014 copyright Mary Zeran
On a recent trip to Mexico, I was reminded how important symbols are.  Perhaps, you were lucky enough to grow up in a family that made things and had a "visual language" or perhaps, symbols were part of your culture.

A fantastic collection of masks at The Museum of Popular Art in Merida, Mexico

Isn't it funny how all those pictures can mean something to a certain group and nothing to others? In Mayan culture, a Jaguar is the symbol of courage.  That bad kitty is the sort of animal that gets in your head and tells you bad things. When something is in your head saying nasty stuff, you need a lot of courage, right?

In my own life, that Jaguar has begun to have a lot of personal meaning.  I like to think of him as my "inner critic" telling me I suck, or can't do things. When he shows up, I know I'm about to have a challenge presented in either a mental, emotional, or physical way.

have courage...

As many of your know, I grew up in a family of folk artists.  When I see textiles, embroidery, and surface decoration, I have an instant understanding of  the images and symbols. Abstracted florals have been a huge tradition amongst the women artists in my family.

Traditional clothing from The Museum of Popular Art.
A painted box by my Gramma Mary Virginia Knight.
Rosemaled box by my mother Margaret Zeran.

Each time I pick up a brush or my scissors I am abstracting the language of my family.  Immersing myself in flowers, trees, and all the colors of nature brings me closer to my family and their traditions. 

How about you?  What sort of visual language did you grow up with?  Do you have artists in your family or artists in your community that taught you their visual language?  Can you see the language in your own work?  I'd love to read some of your answers in the comments section below!

Life in the studio has been so exciting lately.  I have a solo show up at Luther College in Decorah, IA.  This place has special meaning to me because we used to travel there often to look at Rosemaling and buy boxes for my mom to paint on.  Go to this link for details.

Special thanks to David Kamm of Luther College for this wonderful chance to share my work and to Decorah Newspaper for the nice writeup.

I have a three person exhibit in Chicago at Hairpin Arts Center coming up in May.  Go to this link for more details.

Grafix did a nice feature on my work for their newsletter.  Go to this link to see the  article.

I've been working on some "How to Videos" with the folks at Grafix. Katie has put together a very nice video of me painting on Dura-Lar plastic film. 

We've answered the burning question "How do you glue this stuff?" with this video.


Workshops are going full swing.  The students in April's "Collage Start to Finish" workshop are such fun people.  If you missed this workshop, I'll be hosting an all day "Magic Metallic Monoprinting" class on Saturday, May 3rd from 11-3.  To signup go to this link.

Right now, I'm in the process of scheduling Fall workshops and 2015 slots. I have a few Summer spaces open.  If you are interested in having me come teach in your area, send me an email at maryzeran (at)

Thank you as always for visiting my blog.  Your support is so important! I wish you creativity in the next days, weeks, and months. If you enjoyed this post, please share!



Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Squished Paintings: Part II

All About Red #1, 11"x8.5", mono print, 2014 copyright Mary Zeran, Private Collection

When I decided to give myself a 6 week, in studio, artist residency, it never occurred how tired I would be.  Bone tired...

As usual I've bitten off more than I could chew.  I thought I would be able to devote all my time to two online classes and get a commission piece done?!?!...  Silly, silly me.  Turns out my brain is really only capable of learning one new skill at a time. So what did I do?  I opted to complete the commission piece. While it was being framed I picked up my brayer and started printing.

I've always used Dura-Lar as my printing plate in combination with acrylic paints. I use a really soupy, heavy paint sort of approach which produces lots of squishes, blobs, and smushy marks. I like that, but I wanted to get a more delicate line. During Linda Germain's online class I feel like I my mono-printing skills took a huge step forward. Not only did I learned how to make and use my own gelatin plate. Linda spent some time demonstrating proper brayer techniques, how to cut stencils, and some stamp making techniques I hadn't seen before.  really amazing stamps. Post class, I feel like I have so much more control over the medium and some nice prints to boot!

As most of you know, I love bold, bright color. By the time I hit week 3 I had used up all my yellow.  I took a huge color departure. Instead of switching to Golden Open Acrylics for the rest of the class, Linda suggested I work with the color I had. What a great exercise! At first I fought the idea, but then I did what I was told and the result was some great exercises in value. Those of you who work with bold color know, it can be easy to use the color as a "crutch", and that many a bad composition has been saved by a fabulous color combination.

All About Red #2, 11"x8.5", mono print, 2014 copyright Mary Zeran

All About Red #3, 11"x8.5", mono print, 2014 copyright Mary Zeran

All About Red #4, 11"x8.5", mono print, 2014 copyright Mary Zeran

Onward...over the next few months, I'm focused on making collage and painting.  Nothing like doing something else to invigorate you mentally and make getting back on track a little cumbersome. As I struggle to find my feet again, I am excited to see how this new information informs what I do in my regular work.

Being an artist and art educator can sometimes feel like you have a split personality. I finding that both endeavors require a lot of attention. As many of you know, this blog is more about art education. If you want to see the rest of the prints, go to my tumblr blog. I also have an instagram site. That site shows images of studio life ie: my natural environment.


While we are at it. Registration for my workshop "Collage Start to Finish" at Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is now open. Spaces are filling fast, so if you are in the area, sign up now at this link.

I've have a solo exhibit at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and a three person exhibit at Hairpin Art Center in Chicago coming up in April and May. I've added a new feature to my website titled News. Go to that link for details.

Thank you as always for stopping by! I hope you are having fun being the creative person that you are meant to be. If you enjoyed this post, please share.