dry pigments – handle with care

I have a small set of dry pigment powders, not many, mostly only the colors I prefer to use in my work. I collected them 25 years ago.  Like many other supplies in my studio they sit, put away for months at a time. I tend to use them in spurts when I want to work with egg tempera. And sometimes (more often than I care to admit) I pull them out only to look at them. They’re beautiful. The colors are rich and the powder itself varies uniquely. Take the rich gold which is lightweight and appears fluid-like, while the cadmium red is more granular and textured.

These are the sort of  qualities I’ve learned to note when considering the safety of dry pigments. I have two golds in fact, one heavier and one lighter in weight – does the latter become airborne more quickly? The red has to be pressed and smoothed though never with my fingers. When researching, I note there is much information and some of it  is complicated (oh chemistry). The question becomes how to narrow information down.

IMG_8939I take inventory of my particular pigments and research each one individually. I read long-term hazards of modern synthetic organic pigments have not been well-studied. In other words there is still much we don’t know. I know to be especially careful with cobalt, cadmium and manganese. Avoid lead. Interestingly enough I learn both burnt and raw umber are considered highly toxic pigments and may be carcinogenic (how did I not know this). 

Considering the amount I mix (often less than 1 tsp at a time) and how I use them (mix with egg yolk to make egg tempera), I do understand toxins can be cumulative. Stuff might not be harmful right away but with continual exposure things can add up. I imagine inhaling and/or ingesting small quantities of any one thing – and how that can benefit or hurt the body. I encapsulate each of my pigments in the same way I encapsulate curcumin (turmeric) a supplement, to really get the picture. The visual is a good one for someone like me. I don’t want to be afraid of my materials, I want to be mindful of hazards so I can take precautions.


Pigments can enter the body through skin or mouth through inhalation (dust), ingestion or absorption. Some pigments can cause cancer while others cause skin rashes.

Here are general rules of thumb for using and handling pigments in a safe manner:

  • do not inhale (be cautious of raising dust) 
  • do not ingest (do not eat or smoke while working with pigments)
  • wear gloves
  • wear long sleeve shirt (especially if dealing with a highly toxic pigment)
  • never heat pigments – fumes can be toxic (cadmium dangerous)
  • keep away from small children (and pets)
  • wash hands after handing  (do not answer phone)
  • clean up with care (do not kick up dust)
  • dispose of carefully
  • wear a dust mask (or respirator)

I mention taking an inventory of my particular pigments, I keep that list close at hand. I also know the way I use them. Care and attention are key.


I use numerous sources to gather info – here are two good ones :
The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer 
Baylor University: Environmental Health and Safety for painting and drawing

charcoal and pastel – final work


Here is one good group of students. I know I said this before – they came in, focused, and drew – day after day after day.  Overall, I’d say they were a quiet group. They laughed a bit here and there just to relieve tension, I suspect. They never hesitated to point out which works they liked best and clearly express why.

Our last day of class was no exception. They came in with extra excitement and then we proceeded to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the work. We talked about how the semester played out for each of them.

A challenge I do have is teaching various levels of drawing students in one 2 hour and 45 minute class session. You’ll see examples from all the levels and you’ll note that some of the work might be unfinished.  I teach realism. They learn to look and they learn to put down what they see.


Susan’s Tortoise, mixed media on (we never knew what kind of) paper


Gwynn’s Flower Rag Boogie, pastel on BFK


Gwynn’s master reproduction, a Georgia O’Keeffe, pastel on BFK


Jessica’s charcoal still life on BFK


Sofia’s Glass Bottles on BFK


Yari’s Terrific as Terrific gets, charcoal study on BFK


Fabiola’s Friday Night, charcoal study on BFK


Deja’s Pearly Whites, charcoal study on BFK


Gabriela’s Still Life on BFK


Jennifer’s Rope, charcoal study on BFK


Ehteli’s Absract, charcoal study on BFK


Jennifer’s Great Knot, value study


Sofia’s Accidental, value study


Ehthlei’s value study


Bravilio’s Faint Memories of Freedom, value study


Dustin’s value study

Class is over. Grades are in.

I have a feeling most of this group will continue to draw throughout the summer.


the maternal and fetal connect – the placenta

I complete the glands that make up the endocrine system and learn there is also a secondary endocrine system made up of organs (not glands). The placenta is a part of this secondary system. It is a temporary structure that forms in the uterus during a pregnancy.
The placenta, among other things, provides various hormones including oestrogen and progesterone, important in maintaining a pregnancy as well as preparing the mother for birth. Placenta, known as afterbirth, is delivered or expelled from the body.


Mirror image of a cross section of a section of placenta. The umbilical cord shown at lower outer edge of composition. Placenta, from flashcard series. 4×6″

Placenta is Latin for cake and Greek for flat and slab like – think food and nourishment / give and take. The organ connects a developing fetus to the mother’s uterine wall allowing for respiration, nutrition, thermoregulation, waste elimination, gas exchange, fighting infection and producing hormones to support the growing life.

Did you know the placenta develops from the same sperm and egg that form the fetus? It connects to the fetus by the umbilical cord (2 arteries and 1 vein).  Rich in blood vessels it has no nerve cells. It is not under the control of the brain or spinal cord. I wonder what this means exactly? No connection to the brain and spinal cord, then what controls the process?

Today we celebrate mothers. I think about the symbolism of the placenta. Is it like earth  – that sustains and provides? I don’t know, you tell me.

Happy mother’s day – to mine, yours, and ours.


a cicada from kansas city

IMG_8838 (1)

“My mother is on vacation from Minnesota and texted me some of your images at ASU. I love them. I love bugs and bats and anatomy and maps and you have put them all together in the most beautiful way…”

“My husband and I are from Kansas City and are print makers…
…we dabble in collage as well so really appreciate what you are doing.
…Do you have any cicadas? …if you decide you would like some cicadas, I have quite the collection of them and would be happy to send some along for inspiration.”

A few weeks later a package arrives!



This is the one I choose to study and paint. I find two used Missouri maps here in Phoenix – what are the odds of that! I plan on another composition soon.


mixed media collage, 12 x 12″

Krystal shares more:
“….Aren’t they amazing. Right after they shed their husks they are completely white. I sit with them on my hand and watch them turn into their colors, their wings are tiny little clumps and then as they dry they uncurl and form into shape. It takes about 45 minutes and it’s the coolest thing to watch. Each group is a different size and marked differently.
…The orange wings came off small, all black cicadas from last summer. I didn’t keep their bodies because they weren’t particularly interesting, but I had never seen orange wings before. If I find them soon enough after they die and they are still flexible, I can pin the wings out and dry them that way. I am just fascinated with them. Glad you find them beautiful, enjoy.”

Krystal and her husband are artists and printmakers from Kansas City, Missouri.


There’s magic and myth associated with Cicadas, worth looking up if you’re inclined. They symbolize carefree living, resurrection and immortality. They connect to the ideas of spiritual realization and spiritual ecstasy.

Thank you Krystal! Yes, they are amazing.

There’s more to this story, but I’ll save that for another time. I plan to show the Kansas Cicada, along with other studies, in the STEAM exhibition, opening next month at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

3D printing – artists (and arts education) are on it


my 3D self with my 2D mitochondria

A year ago:
I listen to an interview about bio-medical engineering and the printing of body parts. The program discusses the successful printing of ligaments and nerves while noting hollow organs (with volume or space), like a bladder, present particular challenges.

What is three-dimensional  printing? How do they do it? Can I print out a two-dimensional  art work and turn it into a three-dimensional object? I want to understand.


what we see as we enter a student area

Fast forward to last month’s Art Detour:
We come across Andrew, a grad student at ASU’s Grant Street Studios,  who  facilitates  a scanning workshop for the weekend. Before I know it, I find myself standing on a hand-made spinner  (think turntable or lazy susan). I am directed to hold still (for I can’t recall how many full revolutions) while Andrew explains the process to me. This is his make shift area.

Oh! The printing derives from full circle photography! I understand!


Photo process begins.




Photograph process as it appears on the screen.


Andrew explains process.



Andrew photographs the subject (an object), in this case me, in circular pattern, top to bottom.  He collects a file of digital images and directs them through a receiver to build the print.  He re-shoots my feet, he wants to get them right. He explains he wants my printed self to stand firmly and evenly and not tip over. Funny, I want my real self to do the same.


The printing occurs in a form of additive manufacturing (AM) – depositing layers of plastic or resin until the three-dimensional object (a form) is complete. I learn this printer is a type of industrial robot.


An image is being printed from an earlier run that morning. It takes time for the completion of prints.

When I receive my printed portrait (a few weeks later) I ask Andrew if this is the same process they are doing in the medical field with the printing of body parts. My sense is this material is too stiff.
He responds:

This sort of 3D printing is being done in the medical field in town! Dr. Ryan, a recent PhD graduate from ASU, has used this same technology to assist in surgical preparation. Here is one of several articles on it: → Cardiac 3D Print Lab This project in particular is being used for educational purposes. But there are other types of 3D printers that can print in more flexible and organic material. And there is research being done on bio-printing, allowing actual living organs to be printed with real human tissue, but this is still young.

 A changing world indeed. And artists and the arts are moving right along side with it!


my printed self in the nucleus of the cell

Next month I will participate in an exhibition titled STEAM  – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math. The exhibition at the Tempe Center for the Arts will showcase artists who work within some of these parameters. I will connect to the Science with my anatomy work.

Andrew Noble will be giving a 3D printing demo on July 16 from Noon-2pm. Andrew and Dan Collins will have a 3D body scanner in the exhibition from ASU’s PRISM lab.

the self portrait

In a portrait, you have room to have a point of view and to be conceptual with a picture. The image may not be literally what’s going on, but it’s representative. – Annie Leibovitz


In general, this group does not talk very much. But their self-portraits communicate plenty. That’s all I’m saying about this post…


Inner Vision by Gwynn


Neomi’s Self Portrait


The Best Time of the Day by Deja


Self Portrait by Andres


Self Portrait by Jennifer


I Hate Self Portraits by Monica


The Younger Son by Matt


Memory by Fabiola


Self Portrait by Dustin


Una Mujer, Una Nina by Yari



Portrait by Ehthlei


by Gabriela


Through My Eyes, Portrait #2 by Gabriela


Connection by Bravilio


Self Portrait by Nati


Escape by Jessica



phoenix first friday – comings and goings

Someone suggests I film visitors walking through my container. I don’t do it, but I do take photos of groups moving through Cella on First Friday night. I have to say again, I particularly enjoy watching people move through the space. I have a habit of seeing everything as a learning experience and this does become (for me) a social study of sorts.

We are certainly conditioned to move through space. Someone reminds me of a high-school hallway where one keeps to the right. Yes we do, I remember. Even in the chaos of the crowded and busy evening, the majority of people line up, enter on the right side and exit to the left. But there are always those that don’t – follow the path. And even though this is my space, and I want order, I secretly cheer those people on. Rebels too, have a place in society.

There is much about this experience I take with me. Like that I find it difficult to see people come so very close to my work.  I recall every museum I have ever visited and a security guard who asks me to step back. The work invites people to look closely. And people are for the most part, respectful. I have to and do locate a comfortable balance within myself.

I listen to conversations – thoughtful and amusing. You know – people respond to the body (parts) in interesting ways. They do respond.


I grew up in El Paso, a Texas border town, so I’ve always been interested in physical and symbolic transition  and change of space. The phICA (Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art) containers are situated in downtown Phoenix which now is in full reconstruction – noisy and chaotic. For me, creating (a) Cella became the creating of a fine and private place. Of course the agreement is to invite in the public, after setting up, I really didn’t want to – invite anyone in. I like things my way and I enjoy solitude. It works itself out. I learn more about environments and thresholds and change of space and how those things affect ones mental focus and energy. I learn about order and chaos, my space, your space and our  public space – letting things go and bringing them all back in…over and over again.

People. Change.