In the Studio 4/4/18

Heading Out #587, oil on panel, 12" x 12", 2018     Collection of Gregory Harris

Spring Happenings
Happy April, friends. I recently completed this painting, Heading Out #587, in anticipation of early morning summer swims in Lake Michigan. I love/dread the initial chill of entering the water. My entire body wants to shrivel up into a tight ball against the cold. But I endure it because it gives way to exhilaration as I warm up and swim out into open space.

Below, I share an interview with me last month in VoyageChicago magazine, plus a couple of things I've been up to in the studio.

You can always keep up with my latest work at And you can order giclée prints of a selection of my paintings at

My previous newsletter is here.

VoyageChicago Interview

I'm pleased to announce that VoyageChicago has published an interview with me in which I talk about how I started as an artist, my swimming, and my current life in the studio. 

My studio mate, the brilliant photographer Caitlin Ruby Miller, took this portrait of me. Earlier this year, VoyageChicago featured Caitlin, who studied to become an opera singer, but found her passion for photography soon after finishing college. Her clients are mostly opera singers, actors, and musicians. Caitlin's affinity for performance saturates her photography.

Pollution into Paint

My friend John Sabraw plunges headfirst into epic art projects. The first I remember were the massive, wall-sized banners he painted and hung from the exterior of Northwestern University's library as a part of his MFA thesis show. John is currently the Chair of the Painting + Drawing Department at Ohio University, where he's teamed up with a professor of Engineering to study and clean up toxic runoff from abandoned coalmines in southeast Ohio. 

They've figured out how to extract iron oxide from pollution in local streams, and use it to create artist grade paints. Gamblin, one of the best manufacturers of oil paint for artists, has created an experimental limited edition of paint from John's iron oxide, and named it Reclaimed Earth Violet. To learn about John's Kickstarter and watch a video about his project, click here.

John sent me a tube of Reclaimed Earth Violet. I've been testing it out.


Reclaimed Earth Violet is an opaque reddish-maroon. Here, I've taken the paint (middle color) and added Titanium White in three steps, and Mars Black in three steps, to create a monochromatic scale. 

Below are two paintings in progress in which I'm using Reclaimed Earth Violet. The opacity of the pigment presents a challenge in the painting on the left in that the sky is so utterly non-luminous. I'm puzzling over the impenetrability of sky in relation to the play of light and dark in the water. They seem disjunctive, and this discombobulates me. But it also feels true. One of my greatest pleasures in life is swimming in open water, yet like so many of us, I live with a thrum of anxiety over our planet's (and Lake Michigan's) long-term health. It seems poetic to use detritus from the cleansing of one body of water to express concern about the health of another body of water.

The painting on the right is not as far along, so I'm still figuring out its direction.

I'll post the completed paintings in my next newsletter.


I made a sign for the Chicago "March for our Lives" protest on March 24th. Because I made it in my studio and it took most of a work day to create, I thought I'd share my process.

Gun violence is a horrific problem in my city, so I wanted to incorporate the design of the Chicago flag in my sign. I also wanted to honor the students who organized the march in Chicago.

Once I came up with a design I liked, I drew and cut out a six-pointed star, shaped like the stars in the Chicago flag. (For a history of the Chicago flag, here's a good link.)

I didn't have a protractor to measure the precise angles, so I eyeballed them in my sketch.  A bit lopsided, but endearingly so, I think:


I traced four stars across the middle of my foam core board, then filled them in with a red Sharpie.

Next, I drew out the letters and filled in the light blue stripes with a paint marker. 

Finally, I filled in the letters with a black Sharpie. 

March 24th was a truly cold and windy day in Chicago, but an estimated 85,000 people showed up to listen to Chicago's articulate teens and young adults speak about how gun violence affects their lives and hear their impassioned calls for effective gun laws.
Photo credit: David Travis
Here I am in the cold, wearing the orange scarf, and holding the sign behind my friends Deirdre Hamill Squiers and Alison Cuddy. The collective energy, intelligence, and creativity of the day generated hope and optimism for all of us.

Peace to you and yours.