Christmas Withdrawal!

Red and Wild, Copyright 2011 Denise Bellon West

Is anyone else suffering from Christmas withdrawal? My daughter pointed out to me on Wednesday that it’s the saddest day of the year for her – December 26, the day after Christmas.

All the magic stops. Cold Turkey.

Not everyone has a turkey painting they can pull up at a moment's notice!

The happy, fun, beautiful Christmas songs on the radio have come to a screeching halt.

No more Christmas music and jingling bells in the malls.

The happy holiday shoppers have been replaced with half-crazed bargain hunters.

The wrapping paper and pretty presents aren’t under the tree anymore.

The anticipation of having people open their gifts from you has been replaced with a pile of new things to be put away and the used wrapping paper and boxes.

The anticipation of all the fun Christmas/holiday events don’t hold the magical, fantasy feel that they did before December 25.

Magical Vail

We have always had so many fun, family holiday traditions, starting the day after Thanksgiving. For example:

1. Pulling out the pile of our favorite Christmas books to read before bed every night, ending with The Polar Express and Twas the Night before Christmas on Christmas Eve.

2. Watching our favorite Christmas movies, starting the day after Thanksgiving. (Our current favorites include The Family Man, The Santa Clause, Home Alone, and The Holiday. Sometimes we still watch the older, classic ones, like It’s a Wonderful Life and Scrooge and Miracle on 34th Street.)

3. Play games – family time. Ping-pong or playing Apples to Apples.

Do I know my daughter, or what?!! Tom Cruise it is!

How about implementing a set of After-Christmas traditions? Why should the fun end abruptly on December 25?!

Here are some ideas to milk the holidays for all they’re worth:

- Hide some little presents around the house to be discovered throughout the year.

- Stick one in your spouse’s lunch or briefcase, or stuffed down a sleeve, that will be found on that 1st day back at work.

- Stick a movie gift certificate or Red Box certificate in their wallet, so that it will be found the first time they buy something.

- Make a surprise entry on their calendar for a fun event or special date, which will be discovered later. If I found a little note tied to a favorite, warm throw, saying that we had a date to go see a Christmas-light or fireworks display on a certain date, that would make me smile.

Decorated Scrimshaw

- Stick a gift in a glove or tied to a snow-shovel handle – maybe an IOU for a cup of hot chocolate when they’ve finished shoveling next time. Or yummy smelling lip balm to keep them company out there – poor dears!

- Maybe a new, warmer hat inside that ratty old hat. Or new socks magically taking the place of old, holey ones, which they’ll find when they open the drawer at some later date. A little note on top will make them smile.

- Or how about just putting a bow on or tying a ribbon around random items throughout the year that let people know you were thinking of them when you got the item. The FlyLady at is fond of saying that nothing says I Love You like making sure you don’t run out of TP!! I know – TMI, right? Well, I’d be happiest if I was about to run out of Kleenex and saw a new, pretty box with a bow on top! That would definitely make me smile.

Please leave a comment and share your favorite holiday traditions and/or add to my After-Christmas ideas. Ho, ho, ho!


6 (Surprising!) Ways Denise Got her Groove Back…with Knives

My snazzy, talented and oh-so-GROOVY workshop classmates:

Again, if you haven’t read my post on how I lost my groove, it might help to read it first, because it explains why these things I’m about to tell you helped me. (You might also want to see my post about how I got the BRUSH part of my groove back.)

Here are the 6 Surprises I came away with from the KNIFE side of my workshop experience:

1. I have always LOVED the fact that no solvents or mediums are needed when painting with knives; the paint is used full strength, straight from the tube. But Leslie blocks in her paintings with full-strength paint from the very start of her paintings! I had never done that. I had always brushed on mineral-spirits-thinned paint first; then started in with my knives. Doing it Leslie’s way saves me one stinky step!!!

Leslie starting her painting.

2 .  Leslie uses water-soluble oil paints (yes, there actually is such a thing!). Read about them here. I had heard of them over the years and, in fact, I’d had a few tubes of them for years but had never known how to use them nor how they differ from regular oil paints. Answer: you use them interchangeably, and along with, regular oil paints. One of the benefits is that the paints don’t have that oil-paint smell that permeates a room. And they clean up with soap and water, rather than with solvents. One more stinky step eliminated!!!

3. Leslie premixes her paints on her palette. At first I thought I’d never bother with this, but I have already seen myself evolving into doing a bit of premixing. Never say never, right?

Leslie's palette of pre-mixed colors.

4. I already had several painting knives, but I ordered the knives that Leslie wanted for the class (3 of the first 4 on the left). I wanted to make sure I had the right sizes for painting small, which was going to be a new experience for me. When the knives came, I was happy that they were thin and flexible. I knew that my flexible ones were the most maneuverable and, hence, the ones I used the most. I also discovered that my favorites are the teardrop shape with a pointy tip.

3 of these were bought for the class.

5. Before this workshop, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would need to start painting with acrylics. So, I was poised to spend loads of money on a new batch of paints: namely, Golden Open acrylics, because they “feel” and act like oils. I would probably still ruin lots of brushes, probably even more of them, but at least I wouldn’t need to use solvents anymore. Or fill the house with the smell of linseed-oil based paints. I’m so happy that I can stay with oils now!!!

6. Leslie and Dreama both sign their paintings by “drawing” their signatures into their paintings. They each grab a pointy utensil (Dreama uses a rubber tool; Leslie uses a wooden skewer) and sign into the wet paint. This is so fabulous! It’s pretty much impossible to sign a dried knife painting, over all the hills and valleys and ridges of paint. I’ve always said that it takes me as long to sign my paintings as it took to paint them! Now, if I can just remember to do this while the painting is still wet.

One of Leslie’s thought gems that hit home with me was when she reminded us to enjoy the process. “If you pre-plan your painting, you’ll never get there. You’ll worry and fret and try to paint it now the way you envision it as the final painting.” She is right on.

So, overall, I feel like I’ve been launched into the stratosphere with my art. The planets have aligned. I feel free! The shackles have been removed. I’m Michael Jordan with a brush!

Onward and upward – Buzz Lightyear, eat your heart out! Or hold on tight.

What am I forgetting? What other things make the whole painting experience easy and fun and streamlined? And un-smelly?

The 6-Step Guide to How Denise Lost Her Groove

"Pegasus" Copyright 2012, Denise Bellon West

My most recent knife painting, “Pegasus.”

Let me just say that I LOVED doing this painting! After all, it’s an oil; I LOVED the colors; I LOVED the subject (an animal); I loved that much of it was done with a knife…but here is The Rest of the Story.

First, before I get into the hows and whys of how the Painting Workshop I took (run by 2 lovely and talented ladies, Dreama Tolle Perry and Leslie Saeta) affected me so profoundly, you need to understand my circuitous path from frustrated watercolorist to impassioned oil painter to disgruntled oil painter to…add your own adjective. Here’s how it evolved:

1. In the beginning, I was a full-time watercolorist for 10 years. I didn’t enjoy the process very much (people will tell you that watercolors are THE most difficult medium to master – I didn’t get the memo), but I loved the end results, which made it all worthwhile! Then one day I finally felt worthy enough to tackle the medium of the Masters and took the monumental plunge into oils. Wait a minute – are you kidding me???! I waited 10 years before learning oils???! I thought there was supposed to be some magical, scary, extremely special thing about them. But they were the easiest thing I had ever done!!

My Almost-Still-Usable, but Ruined Brushes

2. I learned pretty quickly, though, that although I loved smearing the oil paints around, I had no patience for the rudiments of the medium. Case in point: I ruined pretty much every paint brush I ever touched, because I couldn’t be bothered to constantly swish my brushes in the solvent every time I wanted to change colors. At the end of each painting session, I would look at my sorry brushes, all jammed full of paint and with the bristles splayed in every direction, and try several methods, all toxic, to clean the paint out. Of course they were beyond the stage of being cleanable (kind of like when you discover that you can’t get white socks clean anymore after you’ve been wearing them around the house all week – I keep trying to teach my husband this). So I was left with having to paint with my now-worthless brushes. Or to keep having to buy new ones all the time (ahem).

Goin' Fishin', Copyright Denise Bellon West

(I taught myself how to paint with a knife with this painting. It was pure desperation. I was visiting the in-laws, standing in their laundry room, and I had brought only the 1 painting knife I owned and some paint. The rest is history.)

3.  So, eventually I decided to paint only with knives whenever I painted outdoors or when I traveled. This way there would be no need to have to clean brushes all the time, which would mean way fewer things I had to pack and much less time spent cleaning brushes – a chore I abhorred!

4. Next phase: Without cross ventilation in my studio, it did no good to leave the window open while I painted. I was asphyxiating myself with all the solvents! I decided to use my “odorless” mineral spirits only at the beginning stage of each painting, and to do that part outside or in the garage. I tried to use knives for the rest of the painting, but found myself longing for a brush at times. Okay, most of the time. Oh, who am I kidding? All the time!

5. This is when I morphed into my signature brush/knife/finger-painting method of painting – kind of like my nutty method of playing ping pong (emphasis on the word “playing”), where you use a combination of hands and paddles, walls, ceiling – anything immediately available that might keep the ball from touching the floor! It’s absolutely exhilarating, and I highly recommend it!

6. But, alas, I found myself putting off painting as much as possible when I was at home. This meant that I would pretty much paint just once a week, when I went downtown to paint with my Studio 208 group.

Next, I will post about the surprises I got from my painting workshop…or How I Got My Groove Back. Meanwhile, have any of these things happened to you? Have you done any morphing over the years? From what? Into what? Leave a comment, and we can commiserate with each other.


FRESH New Paint Palette

Pretty picture time – the last push of monsoon moisture to pass through here. I’ll throw it in before I have only snow moisture to show.

Sedona Monsoon Moisture

In getting ready for a painting workshop in Pasadena, California, last week (more on that later), I decided it was high time that I spruce up my palette, especially since I didn’t have many of the paints the teachers wanted us to use.

But, the real reason I needed to do that sprucing? Oh, alright. When the dust settled after our move, and I finally found where my palette had been hiding out, I discovered that most of my paints were almost completely dried up.

(This would not have happened if, like normal artists, I squirted out fresh paint every time I painted. But I would never paint if I had to do that!!! Instead, I invented a method that I have used for years. It involves using a bead-storage case, squirting out pounds of paint, literally, and covering them with water at the end of every day. In the morning, I pour the water off on a plant outside. Read about it here.)

This is the frightful mess I discovered after our move. Yuck!

My Earthy Color Palette

My Reds, Blues, and Greens

So, what would any sensible artist have done in the ensuing months?

Let’s just say that I’m not one of those.

Instead of cleaning everything up and loading fresh paint, I decided that I would fight my way through what was left by digging holes in, around, and through the dried-up globs of old paint!

So, how did this work for you, Denise?

Well, maybe not extremely well. But, hey, I’m a busy girl! I have no time to spend an hour making things easier for myself (what’s the phrase? Short-term pain for long-term gain?). What a silly question.

If I couldn’t find even the teensiest bit of soft paint left in one of my blobs, rather than squirt out a bit of fresh paint, like any normal person would have done, and let’s not forget would have been admitting defeat, I would do whatever I had to do to try to mix the color I needed!

They don’t call me The Tenacious Painter for nothing! (I know, you’re thinking of some other terms that you don’t need to share with me.)

“Let’s see…how can I make brown out of blue and yellow and white? (The answer, of course, is YOU CAN’T! You will always end up with some version of green!)


I decided that, while I could easily get away with painting a brown horse green, I got into trouble when I tried to paint, say, a slice of bread green. It probably wouldn’t be a very big seller. Discretion, after all, is the better part of valor.

Some like to call this artistic license.

Any time we artists screw up, we get to use that license. And women can even throw in the “woman’s prerogative” thing.

Alright, alright. I spent that stupid hour and cleaned out and loaded my palette with fresh paint.

Here is what my old color palette used to look like, freshly loaded:

Nice…but not very inspiring…unless you’re a landscape painter – which I am NOT! (It’s taken me 5 years to figure this out???!!)

But here it is now, with my GORGEOUS new colors (and I have more, waiting in the wings).

Voila! These ones are bright and happy and make me want to dive into a painting! Who knew that I was shooting myself in the foot all these years, using boring colors?! (I know this will surprise you, but I found myself always trying to mix the fun colors I craved, using those ugly colors. FYI, it doesn’t work!)

Next, I will post a picture of my first FRESH painting.

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Random thought:  If “sept” means 7, then why is September the 9th month? Saw this question explained in this article.  Hint: it’s all Julius Caesar’s fault.

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Here’s one more: Did you know that the plural of “cul de sac” is “culs de sac”? Throw that one around at your next social gathering! Here’s how you would use it in a sentence: “Well, what a coincidence – we both live on culs de sac!”

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And so goes the Art of Life.


Light from Above…or from Home Depot

A sunset winetasting at Page Springs Cellars – Page Springs, Arizona.

A nice way to end a beautiful weekend…

It was an especially good weekend, because wonderful hubby installed my new studio lights for me! (See my last post about this here.)

This is the BEFORE picture of my studio. Hardly any light. Certainly not enough to see what I’m painting – which could actually be a good thing!

Then, voila! LET THERE BE LIGHT!!!

I now have “daylight” fluorescent lights over both sides of my studio.

It would be nice to have more storage space and painting space, but I’m not complaining! I think I can make this work for the next year, until my new studio is ready for me.

Until then, onward and artward! Oh, one more thing: my random thought for the day.

Have you ever noticed that you’re taller when you wake up than when you went to bed??? IT’S TRUE! (If you want to know how I discovered this, just ask…)


For the Love of Birds

Denise and New Friend, Millie

Some of our new friends here have birds – LOTS of birds! We were all out in the backyard, and one of the birds, Millie, would not let us ignore her. She kept hollering out, “Hello, Millie! Hello, Millie!” They said that meant, “I want to be over there with you guys!”

So, Millie was brought over and she sat on my shoulder. But what Millie really wanted was the rice crackers that were on the table. (I guess they really do love crackers!)

Millie ate cracker after cracker. She would hop over to the table, reach her beak into the bowl, and grab a cracker. Then back up onto my  chair to eat it.

She was a very messy eater.

I gave her owners some of my “Tenaysha” notecards, which they loved!

Tomorrow I’ll show a picture of my studio here in Sedona.

Too Many Rules

Here’s the only rule I want to follow (I made up this rule): Always start with a pretty picture.

Storm over Flagstaff

Takes my breath away…

Okay, down to business. I have finally come to accept that I’m just not a rule follower. It’s not that I want to be bad or buck the system; it’s just that I cannot seem to make myself do something that I don’t find interesting, exciting…or urgent.

Just ask my school teachers. I don’t care how important an assignment was (to them), I could NOT make myself do it. Well, until it became urgent.

The only things I loved were English and Math, so I aced them. And I remember a Biology class that was pretty exciting once. It was the day we poked our fingers and found out our blood types. I was a star, because I was the only one with AB blood in the whole class!

Oh, and Driver’s Ed was fun (this was back in the days when it was part of the curriculum). My driving teacher was “Mr. Fisher,” one of the school’s coaches (Steve Fisher, who went on to become a winning basketball coach; read about him here). Anyway, one of the drivers in our car hit a tree one day. That was pretty exciting. Dumb, but exciting.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. I have tried and tried to blog like I’m “supposed” to (to promote myself and my art business). Like that’s been working… Boooring!

All I really want to do is what I want to do. IS THAT PROFOUND, OR WHAT?! And now, allow me to go be myself.

My blog is aptly named, “The Art of Life.” So don’t be trying to fit me in a box. There isn’t a box big enough to fit my enthusiasm for life and the excitement I feel through my eyes for all the visual stimulation around me!!!!!!! You have no idea.

DING! That’s a happy little fairy tapping me on the shoulder, freeing me. I’ve been fighting myself for so long…and now…I think I’ll go paint.

(Picture the Jeopardy music here, for the time lapse…) Here’s what I came up with: my version of a happy little jig:

Have you broken through some chains in your life? What’s your advice to others? Please leave a comment – it’s easy!

Sedona Hummingbird Festival

Full disclosure: I LOVE HUMMINGBIRDS!!!

I’ve been waiting a year for this festival, and it finally happened last weekend. Totally fun!

My feeders have been up since March. They would have been up in January, but who ever heard of HUMMINGBIRDS and WINTER and SNOW being around all at the same time?!!!

H. Ross Hawkins, Ph.D., who founded the Hummingbird Society, wanted everyone to put up feeders and/or plant flowers that hummingbirds love in order to entice the hummers back to Sedona along their journey next year.

I did, and here are a few of my visitors. (Sorry, I haven’t learned what kinds of hummers these are yet. There are 5 or so different kinds that come here, and then there are the males, females, and juvenile males and juvenile females of each species – and they all look different!) AND THEY MOVE AROUND REALLY FAST!!!

Here’s one with his head down:

And here he is with his head up!

To tie all of this in with my art, here’s the bag I carried with me to the festival each day – to hold all my stuff. I painted this in 1994!

If you know what any of these hummingbirds are, please help me out with identification! Otherwise, HONK IF YOU LOVE HUMMERS!

Who Shrunk the Mona Lisa?!

The Mona Lisa

I re-watched The Da Vinci Code the other night with my husband. I had picked up the special 2-disc set from the library – one disc was the movie and the other had all the special features. Since the movie was so long, we watched the 2nd disc all by itself on the 2nd night.

Wow! It was chock full of terrific information from Ron Howard, Dan Brown, and others. Really worth watching this batch of special features – it runs almost as long as the movie itself!

The thing that particularly interested me was all the discussion about seeing the Mona Lisa, up close and personal. In addition to relating their personal experiences of being in the Louvre, alone, and their surprising encounters with the Mona Lisa, they all commented on how small the painting was.

I had the same experience after seeing the Mona Lisa there in Paris several years ago. But my experience was a little bit different from theirs.

You see, one of my special childhood memories was of seeing the Mona Lisa in Washington, D.C., where I grew up. I remember the field trip my class took to the National Gallery of Art and seeing the famous painting.

(Now, since I had never considered that maybe I got this wrong and maybe I just thought I saw the actual Mona Lisa when I was a little girl, I checked. And sure enough, I DID! Read about the special loan here.)

I was still a teeny little person at the time, so, to me, the Mona Lisa was big! I remember her being displayed at the end of a room and me being able to walk right up to her, single file. She and I were about the same size.

Fast forward about 40 years, and I finally got to see her again in Paris. Imagine my utter shock when I saw that she had shrunk!

Instead of seeing that big painting that I had remembered, I saw a teensy little painting, on a faraway wall. To add insult to injury, I also had to peer over about a hundred heads to see her. Not at all what I had expected!

Later, when I saw the Billy Crystal movie “Forget Paris” (not the greatest movie, but worth seeing if only for the Doberman scene! And you’ll be singing the Toyota jingle in your head for days afterwards), I could totally relate.

There’s a scene where he goes to visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. He is in the back of the crowd, doing a popcorn imitation. All you can see is his head popping up out of the crowd to catch glimpses of the painting. Hilarious.

Probably everyone who sees the Mona Lisa wishes they were brave enough to do what he did. Read about how to avoid this predicament here.

Did you think the Mona Lisa would be bigger when you first saw her? Did you try the Billy Crystal bit? What’s your experience?


The Move, Part 3 – Settling In

I should start with a big OMG! Now I know why people hate moving.

We had the easy part – not to be confused with easy…or comfortable. After all, we had to spend the first few days without heat or hot water. Or furniture. All we had was that inflatable bed. And a pile of afghans and coats.

Ahh, the inflatable bed again.

We borrowed a heater from the neighbors and awaited the moving truck in a couple of days. He arrived exactly on schedule!

That driver was good!!!

I’ve heard so many people say the words, “We just moved.”

So? Someone moved. Big deal. So what. That’s nice. I’ll put your new information in my address book.

But I finally understand what the words actually mean!!! OMG! I am so grateful that I put my foot down and INSISTED we have the movers pack for us.

Mind you, we’re pretty tidy people; we don’t accumulate clutter (exclude my studio from that statement). There is a place for everything, and yada yada. But, here’s the big but…

My advice to anyone getting ready for a big move, out of state: I DON’T CARE IF YOU HAVE TO MORTGAGE YOUR HOUSE, SELL YOUR FIRST CHILD, anything they want – DO IT!!! It was worth every penny…and my husband and daughter finally agreed with me, once they saw what an ordeal it was and how many billions of boxes we ended up with.

Where to start???

Like I say, we had the easy part. And I am happy to say that with everything I unwrapped, I was happy to see it (i.e. we didn’t move any clutter)!

Go to for some excellent tips and guidelines for moving.  Very, very helpful.