gila woodpecker

Like clockwork, May brings Gila Woodpeckers to the peach tree that sits next to my studio window. The red cap identifies this one as male.  Every year I watch them and wonder how difficult it would be to paint one.

Last week I read that Spring, in traditional Chinese medicine, connects to the element of wood. Hmmm… I have a 14×14″ panel and one fresh egg (yolk). I put my dry pigments out on the table.

Finally in progress, a Gila Woodpecker on a collaged panel in casein and egg tempera.

Spring, the season of renewal, your element is wood. #GilaWoodpecker
#upward #expansive #creative #activity

© All Rights Reserved by Monica Aissa Martinez

one egg a day

“My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”
– William James, American psychologist

Lara tells me her hens lay one egg a day. But not everyday, she adds. We walk into the hen-house and I meet all the chickens. She walks over to the laying boxes and picks up an egg and hands it to me. This is Dottie’s egg.

Dottie’s egg is small and heavy. And while I have painted with fresh egg yolk before, I’ve not actually met the chicken that laid it. Lara and I are bartering eggs for peaches. She has 6 to give me on that particular afternoon. I feel the preciousness of each one. Especially when I take Dottie’s egg into the studio and prepare to work.


I’ve been asked to paint an arm and hand. Between meeting the chicken who laid the yolk I use and because of recent issues with my hand – the task comes with new meaning. I pay careful attention to each layer, each structure.


The painting begins as a casein ↑ until I receive fresh eggs ↓. While I have worked with egg tempera for years, it always feels like something new to me. Each time I use it, it feels like I struggle with it  – until I don’t.


Lara is a fellow artist and Yogi, as well as a masseuse. Before I leave her home she works on both my hands a bit.
Thank you Laura. And thank you Dottie.


The basic ingredients for egg tempera painting are egg yolk, water, and dry pigment.

hand and arm, palmer view – an homage


My hands hurt. Clearer yet, my fingers ache. It’s not the joints though.

I began this life-size hand and arm last week. I set it from the ground up – bones, muscles, tendons, veins, nerves – studying each layer as it goes over another. I prepare the background so as to imply fascia. It’s far from complete.

I paint in egg tempera which I’ve not used in a good while. The size of the composition and the pace I move at work with the material of choice.

I can’t help but be amazed by the structure of our body. The hand is complex and so perfectly set up to allow us to do the many things we do with it. I have a hard time believing it’s all random. As I study – I do wonder who designed the spectacular object.

I lost track of time and painted 5 hours steady yesterday – could be why my hands hurt.

no woman is an island – continues

Monica we are visiting Phoenix and just had a yoga class at Desert Song … and fell in love with your work. Especially the ‘Subtle Female Back Body’. Anita said she loved another work, ‘Handstand’? Could we make an appointment to view your work or give you a call this morning?

Marti and her husband John are in my studio by noon, and when they leave they take 4 artworks (technically 3) with them. In between we talk about their children, dogs, cats, quilt-making, wool, yarn, travel, fishing and of course – Yoga.

They spend time looking at the various large figure studies I am painting. They respond to them and I appreciate the dialogue. As we move through the studio they see and like my recent animal anatomy compositions. In particular they like the 2-sided hanging works on paper (this is why I consider this one work two). They choose the cat and bird – titled Earth and Air.

I talk about the hanging system and how I am playing with ideas for larger work. John explains another type of hook/hardware to me. He wonders if I have any fish images. I do not. They are heading to a fishing store after our studio visit.

Did I mention Marti and John live in Portland, Oregon.


12″ x 12″
Casein, Graphite, on Paper
Print on plexi

This work is collage (with architectural renderings), painted, sanded and varnished. The cat is egg tempera, the bird is casein. I mention the durability of casein. I tell them about it’s earliest known use in Egyptian work. Casein is a binder. Consequently with all that layering they are stiff works of paper and designed to hang in space, as opposed to being framed and on the wall.


12″ x 12″
Egg Tempera, Graphite, on Paper

They also choose 2 reproductions – images I had printed on plexiglass. The originals are  casein (bee) and egg tempera (cat).  Marti likes The Cat and John likes The Bee. I explain the reproductions are also experimental ways of finishing and hanging an image. While all of it can hang traditionally, it can also hang uniquely without framing.


Cat Study
12″ x 12″
Print on plexiglass


Bee Study 
12″ x 12″
Print on plexiglass

My animals will be residing in Portland. Thank you Marti and John. It was good to meet you. John enjoy your fishing and Marti, quilt-making is great work – get into that studio.

The blog posts titled No Woman is an Island acknowledge the people and/or organizations who support me and the work I do.


… and then there were 2

sand paper and casein varnish appeal

This series I painted this summer was experimental. I’ve shown you all the stages in earlier posts, and mostly I thought I was complete with it. The small works have taken quit a bit of my time and attention. Yesterday I took sandpaper to the work and I varnished it. I loved the look. Though it’s not, the work somehow appears more fragile.





The cat is casein, gesso and graphite. I took a sandpaper block to the entire surface, and then went back in to add highlight to parts of the work. I covered the composition with casein varnish. I also sanded the egg tempera rat below and took the casein varnish to it.

I don’t know if you see the surface marks the varnish accentuates.
The work has a soft sheen and almost appears like a painting on metal. But these are 2 sided prepare paper. They hang in space.

I hung one work this summer and saw a number of people touching it. It drove me a little crazy. But now they’re protected. I never met for them to show, I was just playing with materials and ideas.

ratLike I said, this was experimental, I didn’t plan to show the anatomy studies. But as it is the series will show at the Tempe Center for the Arts, in December. They’re varnished, which means they’re now protected. The edges of the paper are also protected. And TCA set me up with cool hangers that I like.


raw @ the tempe library

Christy Brown organizes the Tempe Community Galleries exhibitions. She explains that in conjunction with the Tempe Center for the Arts Gallery’s Smithsonian “Green Revolution” exhibition (which opened last January), all the community gallery shows will have “going green” themes this year.

Raw opens today. The exhibition focuses on the work of three artists  who are choosing to move away from the use of harsh chemicals and synthetic materials in their work, and are instead working with raw, recycled or organic materials. I am one of those artists, as are Joe Willie Smith and Aimee León.

Aimee León
An artist and certified sheep shearer, uses natural raw wool along with recycled industrial materials. The show includes a number of her small and soft – object forms . Most are beautiful tactile vessels. I want to touch them all.


Joe Willie Smith
A multi-media artist and musician includes works in metal.  He works with found objects and repurposed material. He talks in general about finding just the right piece and then in particular about the white form below – how he scratched/drew on it one early morning to catch both the light and shadow of the sunrise.


I have several posts about Joe Willie’s work and our collaborative effort at sound making – which I’ve used as background for all the Nothing In Stasis videos.

Raw includes a number of my paintings and one small drawing. I work with organic material, primarily egg tempera and casein.  I like to refer to my mediums as egg and milk. This work below uses casein as underpainting, and egg tempera as the surface color.


Vital Commotion #4

Delivery and Install
I plan to drop off work and head back to the studio to paint, but when I learn Joe Willie is in the exhibit and he’ll be dropping work off, I wait for him. And as it all plays out we spend the morning working with installer, James Sulac.  Before Christy leaves for the morning she mentions how the work might hang. She asks which side of the wall I want my work on and I tell her. But after Joe Willie arrives and we begin seeing how interestingly things connect, we suggest the work hang in the space mixing together. Below are a few install shots.



I understand we connect in terms of the raw materials theme, but as I look at everything I appreciate Christy’s eye more and more. The organic forms of León’s soft sculpture connects to the light forms and color in my paintings and to [the appearance] of softness in 2 of Willie’s larger pieces.

And you probably can’t tell from these photos (below) but the colors and lines in Joe’s work connect to my use of the same design elements. The acid green of his sculpture (below) runs right through the mid-section of my painting to the left, and is high-lighted by reddish pink points in both works. Joe Willie decides grouping his smaller pieces salon style will enhance the grouping of shapes in my compositions, and vice versa.



I regret not getting shots of another wall where León’s wall pieces hang along side Joe’s and my work, a similar soft glow of lavender and blue shows up. Somehow all the work organizes between fragility and strength.

It’s Raw and you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

vital commotion #6

WHERE: Tempe Public Library
(Lower Level Youth Library)
WHEN: Now to Dec 4th

The Tempe Public Library is located at
3500 S Rural Rd
Tempe, AZ 85282.

As you arrive watch for the Museum marker below, on the corner of Southern and Rural.

For more info on show and for artists’ statements click on  → Raw

3 sheets of prepared paper, 2 sides to each sheet – 1 bird, 4 cats and 1 rodent

“For thirty years people have been asking me how I reconcile X with Y! The truthful answer is that I don’t. Everything about me is a contradiction and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There is a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.”    – Orson Welles (1915 – 1985)

I never liked this first set of 2 cats that I painted. I thought them too sweet. Yesterday I was talking to a friend about polarities, after that conversation I knew exactly what I wanted to do to these small compositions that I was struggling with. It’s the same cat on the front and on the back, taking up the same area on the paper. Maybe I call it Two Sides to Every Story.

As of now, this first one is my favorite. It’s organic. It came to be, out of uncertainty. The cat itself is somewhat modeled after ROA’s work. I set up the skeleton in egg tempera and the cat in graphite, underneath is casein muscle structure. The background came about while I was trying to obliterate it.


mixed media – casein, graphite, gesso, egg tempera


early stage, casein under-paint


early stage, egg tempera


egg tempera

I guess I let go of the self-imposed set up, the idea of one side in pure casein and one side in pure egg tempera wasn’t working. I got another set of designs (below) and reworked them too. The graphite took so well to the prepared paper, how could I not use it. I brought in hard and soft pencils, an eraser, sand paper, a scratching tool, and gesso. And I mixed the casein and egg yolk. The cat above and the rat below, are pure and painterly egg temperas. But their other sides – mixed-media.


egg tempera


mixed media – casein, egg tempera, gesso and graphite

I began all this the first week of May after Carolyn brought me a sheet of prepared paper. The first 2 images in this post are that sheet, it’s the lightest in weight and the most flexible and was the most precious. I was going to paint cats – for the fun of it. Obviously I enjoyed the surface of the paper, and all the mediums. I pulled out all my longer and softer paintbrushes. I painted.

3 sheets of prepared paper – 1 bird, 4 cats and 1 rodent later, my studio is a mess. It’s too hot to have egg yolk lying around, it smells. I’m done for now with the experimenting, drawing a day or a week, thing. Time to pause, look – and reorganize.


cielo / tierra

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.  – Shakespeare


early stage of bird image

I finally complete one set of two paintings on one prepared sheet of paper. This came about because Carolyn gave me a sheet of drawing paper prepared in the way she prefers to work with it. I prepped two more sheets and have been working on several 2-sided design. They all relate to a cat in one way or another. I should note again: Carolyn uses graphite and acrylic wash and does not work on both sides of the paper.



Because I am experimenting I decide I will paint one side in casein, and the other in egg tempera. Normally I mix the two mediums, but I want to know how they each respond to the surface. Both mediums work well, laying bright and smooth. My brushes and my rags like the feel too.

These images are stages of the casein bird. I collage architectural renderings (I found in a trashcan the day I started all of this) onto this one paper and prepare it the same way. I have to adjust things so the design continue to show through. It’s how the background comes to be in this set. Look closely – you see the line work I follow, paint and scratch over.

Casein takes to the surface well – egg tempera even better. I’ve already showed you the cat at its completed stage, (I show it again here below), and here is the finishedl bird which I worked some more, until I liked it.


Bird, Casein collage on prepared paper, 12″ x 12″

I did experiment with a hanging system. I have to finesse it. It’s very possible this work will hang in downtown’s 515’s art space,  in June for there 515 to the 5th exhibit where each member invites 5 artists to show a small 12″ x 12″. Mary Shindell invited me.
pajaro gato

Below is the (egg tempera) cat at an early stage so you can see the collage line work, and then the final image.



car, casein colage on prepared paper, 12″ x 12″

I am thinking about the title. If you have an idea let me know.

Cat / Bird
Una Gata / Un Pájaro  … simple.

Earth / Sky
La Tierra / El Cielo … I like this one.

Earth and Air
Tierra y Aire … I like this one.

Aversion and Attraction … This amuses me.

or … The One That Got Away.

¿rata o ratón?

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Often go awry.     – John Steinbeck

I was not comfortable with the research phase of this composition. And now that I am almost done, I wish I’d painted an alive looking rodent (as opposed to a dead looking one). I loved discovering the small clavicles, the little shoulder blades. and the delicate rib cage.


Every summer I make time, usually 5 consecutive days, to complete one small composition a day. I work from morning to evening.  I like the intense practice that gives way to  creative solutions. I never know how things will turn out, but I determine to complete a composition that balances and appeals to my eye – and to do so rather quickly. By the end of the week, I have a series of little artworks.

In summer’s past I’ve printed, drawn, and done collage. This time I paint. It’s not a week of work though, it’s going on over a month at this point. I will have 6 small paintings on paper instead of 5. I am working steady and quick but this particular time the process requires a different pace.

It’s varies because I am working a bit larger than usual. I work the front and back of a prepared sheet of paper.  The images on each side connect, and I’ve decided material and color have to compliment. I make the egg tempera palette a little different for each panel. Drying time is part of every step. The running themes are the cat (or connection to a cat) and anatomy study, the latter requires research. Consequently I need more than a day to complete an image.

Today I’ve completed a rodent. Never confident the composition would work, I decide today I like the direction it’s taking.  The image at the top of the post is the casein under-painting. I finish below – with egg tempera. I planned to only make 6, I need the other side of this paper to complete that intention. But it’s possible I may continue and finish a few more, the challenge appeals to me.


Common House Mouse (Mus Musculus)
Black Rat (Rattus Rattus)
Brown Rat (Rattus Norvegicus)

FYI – Rodents get their name from the Latin – rodere – to gnaw …


a casein bird and an egg tempera cat

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”

        ― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle


As I play with these small paintings on paper, I am reminded that in the Spanish language the word used for a new-born baby is criatura, which translates to creäture. I’ve studied anatomy for a good amount of time now, and working these small compositions I am most aware of how much structure we share with the animals.  I believe I have a better sense of why a cat is flexible and can jump high, and why a bird is able to fly.

I decide early on when first looking at cat anatomy, that I will make 4 cats. Very naturally, a bird enters this one set up. And because I have one more sheet of prepped paper, I plan to bring in a rodent because I am curious about their bodies and I admire Banksy’s rats.


I mention in the previous post I am experimenting with a new surface. Usually I work with both casein and egg tempera on one image, sometimes using casein as under-paint. In this case the bird is pure casein and the cat is pure egg tempera.  I wish I could give you a better sense of the surface especially in the image below. Texture shows nicely by the  lines I set in and the lines I carve out.  I think of aboriginal weaving while completing the pieces and play that up some.


I want to mention that I deal very differently with these animal studies as opposed to my large figure work. Though I am looking at basic structure, the figure work is a much more subtle study. One more play with animal structure and design and I then I plan get back to the large paintings.

it’s about material – period

The smallest feline is a masterpiece.― Leonardo da Vinci

Last month Carolyn ( who worked out the Creature in Creature Man Nature ) gave me a prepared paper.  She preps a quality sheet of drawing paper on both sides and doesn’t necessarily frame the artwork though she does fix it. I  like how she attaches it right to the wall, with no glass. I experience the direct surface of a work on paper, including edges. Her materials are graphite and acrylic white, black and gray washes and gesso. I use egg tempera, casein, and work with color.

She gives me a small sheet and says – Here, this is for you to play with … it’s small and maybe you won’t think it so precious. You can experiment.  She’s coated both sides with 4 layers of moulding paste. The paper is thick, substantial and has an object-like quality to it. Each side feels slightly different.

Oh, it’s precious all right – I’m not wasting an inch of this. I paint both sides.

The first two works are cat anatomy studies. The same cat takes up the same space on either side of the sheet.


Above, the cat is painted in egg tempera. The yolk and pigment mixture I’ve made glides smoothly across the surface. I enjoy the feel and so play with / rework the design many (many) times.  I don’t feel it’s complete yet.

The cat below, the flip side of the same paper, is in casein.  It takes well to the bit of tooth on the surface. The paint doesn’t glide, it sits different. I do like the quality though. I’ll continue to work materials and composition.


I decide to prepare a few sheets myself.  I use a heavy Arches watercolor paper. I lay 4-5 coats of moulding paste on each side and at the last-minute I decide to collage in architectural drawings that I’ve collected.

I work on a bird (below), all the while considering what the other side might become. Mary ( the Nature in Creature Man Nature ) has invited me to take part in a group show at 515. These are sized for that exhibit, so maybe one will hang sooner rather than later.  I’ll have to come up with an interesting hanging system, that too appeals to me.


Creature Man Nature closed this weekend. It was a good run. We hope to find an exhibition venue outside of Arizona next.

titanium white pure pigment

There is as much white in my work, as there is color. Maybe sometimes there is more.
I mix Titanium White Pure Pigment with pure egg yolk to make a bright white egg tempera paint. Experience has taught me not too lay it on too thick because it can crackle.

I used to make gesso with it too. The titanium white is what makes traditional gesso – white.

Titanium White Pure Pigment
and brittle –
white pigment.

new canvas – nothing is in stasis

..white lines in movement symbolize a unifying idea which flows through the compartmented units of life bringing the consciousness of a larger relativity.
Mark Tobey on his painting ‘Threading Light’

… a long and enjoyable  process.

Above 3 images show details of the same area at varying stages.  Image below, shows another. Both are from the same composition which I’ll show in completion in an upcoming exhibit.

This work reminds me of a conversation I had with a scientist friend. Dave and I were talking one day and in the context of that conversation he announces everything is random.

How can you say it’s all random! 

Because it is.

I didn’t buy it.

Fast forward months later:
I start with a plan to make a painting.  I have a structure in mind – the human body. I work in my usual manner, except a little more here and a little more there…

Enter Stage Right(brain) –  Randomness.

I couldn’t have known what I was going to do. If I had, then what would be the point.

The question … Is it all random? Is there rhyme and reason?  My answer just surfaced.

#mkingart #agr8thing.

inside painting insides

One of the things I appreciate about living in Phoenix is a 118°, hot summer day, in July.
It means I’m indoors, painting all day.

I have time to take this….

and 3 hours later….have it look like that…


Another great thing about hot July days in AZ, is that a museum is one cool place to hang out in. I stopped by the Phoenix Art Museum to catch the “Modern Mexican Painting” opening. Color and texture got my attention. . I particularly appreciated thick smooth, rich colored, matte surfaces.  In some paintings I could see the canvas show through, and in others I couldn’t. I also noted the use of dry brush. So you know…I worked with these elements, this weekend.

Here are a few very small details from a (another) life-size figure study.  I had time to add more layers of information, color, texture, light, and a variety of surfaces.

my obsession with the body, another mental concoction…

“The mind is an instrument created by you to image the Oneness separated into many interrelated parts.” L. Levinson

They say everyone  has a skeleton in their closet.  At the moment, I seem to have several. Though they’re not just skeletons, but entire bodies. They’re whole organizations, made up of many systems. The body is like a landscape of intricate structure, complex and exciting to me. I’ve always been interested in the idea of Identity.  And lately I am looking at body.  I feel obsessed.

The central figure below, is still in progress.  It’s mostly egg tempera now, layers and layers of it. I said before, I want each part to stand on its own compositionally  (like individual milagros).

You can see the completed work in September. I’ll be exhibiting the figure painting, along with a few other more abstracted figures, at the Tempe Center for the Arts in an exhibit titled: Mixing It Up: Building an Identity.