Monthly Archives: January 2018


Many of you know that I made a move to North Carolina at the end of August, 2017. I’ve been back in Grand Marais since the middle of October.

I can hardly find the words to tell you how happy and relieved I am to be HOME.

I’ve been finding out lately that a lot of people didn’t realize that I am back. I understand. I work 10 night shifts in a row, and then when I get my four days off, I sleep and make shopping trips to Duluth.

I am in my same house, which I have owned since 1992. I have my same job, same phone number, same PO Box.

Down south, I was bereft of creativity, other than creating some name tessellations. But I didn’t even have internet! I had no studio space, no artistic outlets, no art community… and no time to develop one.

Now that I am home, my mind is overflowing with creative thoughts. I’m painting, writing, creating digital art. I feel so happy.

I just had a wonderful shift at work. I really felt like I was doing good for people who couldn’t help themselves. I had meaningful conversations, and enjoyed interacting with my co-workers. At my job, I feel validated.

I’m looking forward to the next two weeks.

I’m working on the ONE HUNDREDTH episode of Flash Meridian (my online sci fi autobiography). There is a preview up for now, at

The story has become much more about the writing, whereas 18 years ago, it was mostly about pictures. The pictures have taken on a new style, and I am having a lot of fun creating them.

Yes, I said online sci fi autobiography. The story you read has a deeper meaning. Lately, the story deals a lot with how I feel about being home. I love it so much. If you’ve never read it, I think you might be surprised if you give it a try.

Questions from students

Do you think that creativity involves putting your heart and soul into your work? Or is it more like letting your mind flow freely to witness the surprising results of your actions?

Wow, that is an interesting question! Here’s the thing. In my mind, They’re not mutually exclusive. Those things that bubble up through my brain while I’m working ARE my heart and soul. Creativity, to me, is having the ability to translate that “heart and soul” into a visual or written piece that can be then seen or read by someone else. It’s communicating something from my mind to the mind of someone else.

Meticulous planning doesn’t mean more heart and soul. Not to me, anyway. I’d say it’s the opposite.

What in your personal life has influenced you to choose your career?

Growing up with a learning disability, I believe, made me gravitate toward more visual expression. I found what worked for me early on, and stuck with it.

Do you strive to be unique in your creative endeavors? Please explain.

Of course all artists want to be unique. The fact is that each one of us IS unique. There has never been another person just like you or just like me.

Having said that, artists have worked out a lot of painting techniques and solutions throughout history. Art history gives us the visual language to start with. Those influences don’t mitigate our own unique voice.

Imagine if I decided to be unique and answer your questions with a language that I made up. It wouldn’t work.

Having said that, what do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?

We don’t have to motivate ourselves to keep breathing. I’ve been breathing for a long time, and I’ve never once gotten tired of it and decided to take a day off from it.

I may go a Day, a week, a month without painting, but I create art every day. Sometimes sketches, sometimes digital art. Or writing. But even when I’m not making art that you can see, my mind is being creative.

My art comes from the core of who I am. It’s always there.

Were you ever discouraged? If so, how did it it affect your creativity?

Yes, I’m often discouraged! It might feel like I’m freezing up. It might feel like a creative block. It might look like a creative block, but when all that stuff inside me is digested, it will come out.

If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

Would I not be an artist? No. I’m sure I’d do some things differently. I’d avoid some of the pain and difficulty I’ve experienced in life, but then at the end of it, I would be someone else, wouldn’t I?

So, no.

If I were to change things in my past I might make it worse.

If you could become one of your characters/works of art, which one would you choose? Why?

Funny. I did that. Flash Meridian. I created a character and didn’t realize for a while that he was actually me, and I am him.

In thinking about the things that you have created, is there something that you hated but the public may have loved – and perhaps purchased? How do you explain this?

Yes! I hung a painting in a local restaurant. I didn’t like it. I went home and thought about it all night. In the morning, I went to pick it up, but it was already sold.

All I can say is that different things appeal to different people.

Sometimes I create an image that I love, and no one else seems to care for it. That’s when I hang it on my own wall at home.

What is your favorite color? Does this color describe you as a person? Please explain.

I go through phases. Thirty years ago, almost everything I owned was black and white. Then I added red to it for a while. Most recently, I went through a yellow phase.

I’m not sure I have a favorite color right now, but I am being drawn again and again to magenta.

What is the best advice that you have been given?

I found a card in one of my grandfather’s art books that said “Don’t imitate your teacher. Don’t let your teacher make you imitate him. Be yourself.”

How do you define creativity?

Just looking at the word, I would define creativity as creating something. That’s pretty broad, and so is art. So is life, or being a human being.

Do you believe that each person has the capacity to be creative? Why?

I absolutely believe that everyone has the potential to be creative. I think it is born into us like our natural ability to learn language.

I’ve said lately “being you is all the credential you need to be a true artist.”

Finding your artistic voice takes practice, as does refining your mastery of the medium you choose to create within.

Potential and realization are two different things, even though there are some prodigies that just seem to ooze talent effortlessly.

To quote Fred Rogers: “Imagining something may be the first step in making it happen, but it takes real time and real efforts of real people to learn things, Make things, turn thoughts into deeds or visions into inventions”

How did you find your creative niche?

I found my creative niche originally in school, I think. When they first put a crayon in my hand as a child. Maybe it was earlier. Yes, I remember drawing before kindergarten.

It was unintentional. My parents were not creative at that time.

As far as what I’m doing right now, my niche develops organically. I don’t generally try to come up with an idea, they just sort of emerge as I keep hold of the moving paintbrush.

As far as painting fish in trees goes, that came about because I happened to paint a branch that looked kind of like a fish. Little did I know that subject would take on such significance for me.

My creative niche? I kind of fell into it.

Do you think creativity is innate or learned? Explain.

I want to say that creativity is innate. Skills are learned, but that creative urge has to be there driving the learning. Otherwise what is the point?

Who or what experiences have inspired your work?

I’ve been inspired by other artists, for sure. Many of my friends are artists. You don’t have to have your paintings in the Guggenheim to serve as an inspiration.

I’m also very inspired by music and song lyrics.

Have you always wanted to do what you are doing? If not, what made you decide to start?

I don’t really remember a “wanting” to create. I just remember a doing.

Does spirituality and culture play a role in your creativity? Explain.

Oh, spirituality and culture definitely play a role in my creativity. They are the framework of everything I do. Culture defines us. Gives us a viewpoint.

As for spirituality, it’s more a search for meaning than dogma.

How important is education to your creative process?

Education is important because it is a means to an end. There is formal education which validates us with certificates and degrees, and it teaches us to continue educating ourselves after we leave the formal academic world.

So education continues throughout our lives whether we are in school or not.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

Creativity blocks are nothing to freak out over. I deal with them by doing something else. Watching tv. Hanging out with friends. Or “painting anyway.”

I read a book about writing that said when you get stuck, you should write anyway. Even if you write “I don’t know what to write” over and over until something else comes. I guess it’s like priming the pump.

What part of you do you share in your creative endeavors?

I can’t really choose what parts of myself I share. Even if I try to hide things, they seem to come out anyway.

I try to share what is meaningful to me.

Have you had to overcome obstacles (physical, financial, social, etc.) in your creative world? Explain.

Everyone has their obstacles to overcome. That’s pretty much automatic. And it’s in working through those challenges that we have anything to say at all.

In my case, I struggled in school. It wasn’t that I was stupid, it was just that I had a different way of learning. When I was a kid, my teachers didn’t recognize that.

Do you believe that it is important to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.

LOL. Yes and no. Not everyone will like everything you do. Maybe no one will like it. But I believe that if you create art from a genuine place in you… create something that you feel is important… beautiful or painful… worthwhile, then it will find an audience.

Maybe it will take a while. I think of Van Gogh, who couldn’t seem to sell a painting. His success came late for him, but it came.

It’s wonderful to be validated for what you do, but I think I would create art whether anyone else accepted it or not.

Important, yes. Necessary, no.

Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?

I think creativity is both part of human nature and something to be learned. I believe we are born with the urge to create, much the way we are born with an urge to reproduce.

What you end up doing with that urge is is what will drive or inform your creative endeavors and ultimately your career.

What made you decide to follow a creative career choice (though possibly risky) rather than something more stable?

I actually chose both. After I graduated from high school, I graduated from Bible school, then went on to art school, and then nursing school. I use all of these in my life now for personal and financial reasons. Diversification mitigates that risk.

What is your inspiration? How has personal experience influenced your creativity?

My art is my commentary on my personal experience, thus it has pretty much influenced it 100%. I’m not an artist who is trying to report what the north shore of Lake Superior looks like. I’m trying to show you my inner landscape.

What is your favorite creation? Please explain why you selected this one.

Of all the fish I have painted, swimming amongst the branches of trees, there’s one particular one that I like best. I don’t know why, but it is the fish that I included in the header of my blog. In my eye, that one just looked right. I think that one was probably really easy to paint.

What do you wish to accomplish with your art?

I’d like to make money, of course. But far more than that, I want to connect with people… engage them in conversation, and most preferably, inspire them to find something that they are passionate about, and the confidence to express that in their own way.

How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additonal work?

I never really know that until it sells! At that point, it’s finished. But anything left at my house, or that comes back to my house after being in a show, is subject to change.

Have you ever been faced with negative feedback? How was this reflected in your work, if at all?

Yes, of course I’ve had negative feedback. Lots of it. I have to ask myself if it is constructive, and if it is, it’s an opportunity to improve.

If that feedback is uninformed, then I have a different kind of opportunity… and challenge.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion or preference. That’s why not everything looks alike.

What impact do you think that commercialism and the media has had on your work? Is this good or bad?

Yeah, I like to sell paintings. The thing is, I can’t paint with that thought in mind. It spoils everything. I lose the joy of painting and I make paintings that I dislike. So I do my own thing, and when I have finished paintings, I hang them in public and see if anyone feels the same.

Are you a fan of cartoons? If so, what is your favorite one?

I like some cartoons. Comics. I even took a college class in comics. Comics can make you think… they can make you feel things.

My favorite is Calvin and Hobbes. I relate to it so much, and I know that a lot of people do. I like The Far Side. Another one that I used to read back in the late 1980’s was Ernie Pook’s Comeek by Linda Barry. It ran in the free paper in Charlotte.

What is playing in your CD player/Ipod right now?

I made a new playlist! THIS IS GOSPEL (piano version) by Panic At The Disco. GO TO HELL (piano version) by Go Radio. ALREADY MINE by Us The Duo. PURE WHITE SOUL by Cheralee Dillon. DEMONS by David Ford.

These are the type of songs that inspire and move me. I have a personal story attached to each of them.

If you had to be any of these things, which would you like to be? a) a member of the opposite sex, b) a clock, c) a pair of shoes, d) a duck

A member of the opposite sex. I want to be human!

Making Faces

When I first started learning to use Adobe Photoshop, I got bogged down with the clicking. I would try to select things, and it was just very cumbersome. It hurt my head after just a short time, trying to realize some artistic vision in the medium. Over the years, I have developed a certain facility with the software, as well as an artistic style born out of that practice.

My go-to tool is the polyagonal lasso. I start with a completely black background, and then I “cut” my shapes out of it, kind of like a wood block. Then I cut, fill or adjust that selection.

I don’t know if this is a common way to work in photoshop or not! I only know that I’ve developed the habits that work for me. Sometimes I think I am fairly proficient at using the program, until I see someone else using it. Then I say “How did you do that? What did you do there?”

Some of these faces appear in my sci-fi autobiography, THE ADVENTURES OF FLASH MERIDIAN.

Some others appear in my blog THE ADVENTURES OF MR. PUMPKINHEAD.

I drew this purple unicorn…

Then I decided to draw myself as a unicorn!

ArtsCulture outtakes

Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?

I enjoy all aspects of painting. So much of the process is invisible. Feeling something, being inspired, thinking it through… when I start the application of paint to a surface, there’s still all that invisible stuff going on in my head. So I guess I’d say the element I enjoy the most is the creativity.

How did you start making art?/Why do you make art?

I don’t remember my first piece of art. One thing that often comes to mind, still, is from kindergarten or first grade. We were painting egg cartons, and were told to use two different colors, one for the inside and another for the outside. I used two different yellows. A girl got mad at me and said I was doing it wrong. She couldn’t see that one of the yellows was lighter than the other. She told the teacher, but the teacher believed that my yellows were different.

I have very few memories of a teacher having a positive response to something I did.

I make art for the fun of it, and for the stories I can tell. I make art because it is satisfying.

I paint, partly, because people want me to. Venues want pieces to show. I paint so that I can sell them. That is just a fact of life.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by beauty. That’s subjective. I’m inspired by justice, and by injustice.

If I showed you one hundred of my paintings, I’d have one hundred stories to tell you.

I’m inspired by struggles. My own struggles where I’m looking for answers or resolution, and by rooting for others who struggle.

How has your practice changed over time?

My practice has changed a lot over the past thirty years. I used to paint in mostly black and white. They were self portraits back then, with an air of resentment or sadness. You know how young artists can be. I thought my feelings were deep and unusual. That old tedious existential angst.

Just for fun

In addition to painting, I love to create digital images. Without consuming medium, I can experiment with shapes and colors, moving the pieces around in a different way than pushing paint with a brush. This series was a more minimal offshoot from the Name Tessellations I have been making for a while, some of which are online at

After making some based on zig zag lines (the triangles filled the negative space), I blended the original line into the background. Here are a couple of examples:

Then I tried it with names:




Like a fish in a tree

I struggled in school from the very beginning. I couldn’t understand how the other kids knew what to do in class. I was given the same instructions as everyone else, but it seemed I didn’t have a clue as to how to proceed.

On top of that, I had a short attention span.

And none of it was interesting.

Reading was difficult. Math was impossible.

So I felt stupid. The other kids picked on me, and I didn’t think any of my teachers liked me.

I started kindergarten in 1965. Back then, there wasn’t much help for kids like me.

“Timmy is capable of doing much better,” the report cards read. I dreaded parent-teacher conferences and report cards. I dreaded going to school every day. For me, school wasn’t about learning. It was about surviving the week and making it to Friday afternoon.

Sometimes I got sent to the principal‘s office. Her name was Mrs. Young. She seemed nice enough. I don’t remember anything she ever said to me.

I don’t think my teachers knew what to say to me either.

I knew that the other kids were better than me. What a disappointment I must have been to the teachers who had had my brothers in previous years.

In junior high, I took remedial math. I never memorized my times tables, other than the ones, tens, and elevens up to nine.

When I added or subtracted numbers, I saw the number as a shape in my head with points on them for counting. I did multiplication the same way.

When I got to 10th grade, they made me take algebra 1. That was a 9th grade course. They let me pass it with a D-, and I never took another math course. Now I wonder how I graduated from high school.

Colleges have always accepted my high school transcripts. I have a feeling they don’t read them. After all, I have a diploma.

Arithmetic continued to intimidate me. I didn’t need to take math in Bible School or Art School.

After I finished my prerequisites for Nursing School, I was told I needed to take a math aptitude test. I said, “I might as well quit now, because I can’t do math.”

After living so long with my dyslexic brain, I had learned to compensate for my difficulties with learning. So much so, that now people are surprised to hear about my learning disability. I prefer to call it a “Teaching Disability.”

I like to read, but I am a very slow reader. I get tired staring at words on a page. If I am at all tired, the words bounce around on the page so much that I lose my place.

I got through Nursing School by reading the text book chapters aloud to myself or to a fellow student who lived next door to me. I let my Mac read text to me aloud.

Writing is completely different. I get lost in writing. It’s a creative expression like painting. It is painting with words, and I love that.

Until recently, I never talked about being dyslexic. It was something to be ashamed of. It made me feel stupid. Out of place in the world like a fish in a tree.

But there are gifts, too. My daughter and I have persevered through the difficulties (they are still there). Like me, she is creative, telling stories through video.

Everyone’s brain is different, and everyone’s challenges in life are different. That makes each one of us unique. Special. If I could go back in time and change myself, I wouldn’t.

In my nursing career, I talk a lot about “self actualization.” What I mean by that is that everyone deserves to be given the opportunity to be the best them that they can be, taking into account their limitations and their strengths.

24″ x 36″

30″ x 40″ (in progress)

The Gift

For years, I’ve had Einstein’s quote on my blog: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I spent most of my life thinking I was stupid.

This was reinforced by my 2nd grade teacher who told my mother “I don’t believe Timmy has the ability to learn.”

We didn’t have words like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but I struggled with a learning disorder. This continued on through high school and college.

I believed that all of my four brothers were better than me in every way. They ate their vegetables. I was a picky eater. They did their homework and got good grades. I never memorized my times tables. They played instruments in band. I quit trombone on my first day of 7th grade.

Schoolwork was difficult for me, and I didn’t really see the value in it. I was described as a “happy go lucky” kid. I liked to socialize with my friends and create art.

None of my teachers found a way to connect learning with creativity. I don’t believe that the problem was that Timmy didn’t have the ability to learn, it was that Ms. Feldsenfeld didn’t have the ability to teach Timmy. If I had only known that art was math, and that language could lead to expressing myself with words, I think my life could have unfolded very differently. Sooner.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself. My life has unfolded at my own pace, and I’ve slowly gained some of the confidence that I was lacking as a kid. The past is the past, and it’s made me who I am today. I am still learning and growing.

I want to instill confidence in kids today, and sometimes my art gives me opportunities to do that. I have mentored kids over the past 25 years, and it has been exciting to see them go out and do wonderful things as adults.

We all need someone to encourage us. To believe in us. especially those kids who feel out of place in the world, like a fish in a tree.

Take heart. It’s not every fish that can scale the heights. You have a unique perspective from the treetops, even if you don’t exactly fit into the school of fish in the pond below. What makes you different? That is your unique gift. There is nothing wrong with you.

Test for Dyslexia: 37 Common Traits – Dyslexia the Gift

From an interview

I believe that our brains are wired in certain ways. We each have our our gifts or talents. Some people just seem to know how to play musical instruments. I know several gifted self taught guitar players. So there seems to be something that is born into us. I also believe that we can learn and master new skills. You’re good at what you practice. So from an early age, art was what I did. I’m not saying I’m the world’s greatest artist, but over many years, I have developed a familiarity not only with painting technique, but also with that invisible part of me that wants to communicate something. I’m not so unique, and yet within the human race, which makes us alike, we each have a unique voice. We all experience life on planet Earth in our own individual way… from our own perspective. So I do what I do to show you what is unique about me, but also to relate to you.

Together, my voice joins with your voice, and those of the ancient cave painters… great painters, sculptors, writers that have been celebrated by society, and everyone that has followed through on a creative urge, to express what it feels like to be human.

Mostly, I paint alone in my studio. I paint quickly, and while I do, my mind is very active. That part is unintentional. Memories come bubbling up from my distant past, or my brain comes up with answers to current questions. That’s why I say painting is meditative. Time in the studio passes very quickly.

The way those thoughts surface is similar to how the paint lays itself onto the canvas.

Sometimes I paint in a social setting. Friends come over and hang out, or I’ll do a demonstration in front of a group. When that happens, I tend to verbalize those thoughts that come with the process.

My grandfather was an artist and an art teacher. I didn’t live near him, and didn’t really “discover” his art until after his death.

I was born in Michigan, which is where I later attended art school. I graduated from High School in Liberia, West Africa. These experiences laid the foundation for what I do now, but I really developed as an artist right here in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

This is where I developed confidence and intention as an artist.

I think it is essential to have a viewpoint. Art is communication. It is language.

The meaning that compels an artist to create is the meaning that will resonate with the viewer. What has a specific meaning to me may strike a chord that is specific in you. Our individual experiences stem from greater themes that run through all of us. That’s why popular music is popular. You sing about your break-up, and I apply your song to my break-up.

It is the role of the artist to be the voice of their generation.

Throughout the first half of my life, I learned the mechanics of drawing. I hadn’t connected drawing with expressing until the Grand Marais Art Colony hosted a show called PROUD FLESH, that I discovered that I could tell personal stories through the images.

Art doesn’t have to be pretty to be beautiful or poignant.

It made me feel vulnerable to tell such personal stories and have them hanging on a wall for everyone to see. But it was liberating.

Fearless art appeals to me. Bold, abstract paintings tend to draw me in, maybe with a mid century vibe.

I have a studio in my basement where I have created my paintings for the past 25 years. I like it because I don’t worry so much about getting paint on the floor. I have a big sink and adequate lighting, so it works for me.

I guess I am moved by my memories and the emotions I find attached to them.

As I have said, my mind wanders when I paint. The recollections influence what flows off the brush, though that information would not be obvious to anyone but me. Still those people, places and times are embedded right in the paint. It’s hidden. Sometimes intentionally cryptic. Or so I tell myself. Once in a while, strangers look at my paintings and then surprise me with what they saw. My daughter, on the other hand, generally knows exactly what I was thinking about at first glance.

I believe art is going the easy route. You can “create a painting of your profile picture with just one click.” But that isn’t art, is it? Is it? I’m not sure. The art of a programmer, maybe.

The urge to create is so strong in artists that I think it can go any and every direction.

When all the digital files are erased, and aliens visit our vacant planet, the drawings at Chauvet Cave will still be there. After all the cities topple.

I paint quickly, usually in bright colors. I use my old worn out or misshapen brushes, and find myself digging through my art box for one with a point on it.

The local newspaper described my style as “casual, creative fearlessness.” That’s at least something to strive for.

Art is communication. You can learn all the rules of painting, but if you have nothing to say, who cares?

I general, I like a more energetic and expressive approach. I like to see the process in the painting. Like showing your work in a math problem.

I like to see the brushstrokes.

Inspiration comes from everything I have seen or heard. Everything I have experienced in this world or in dreams.

When I am painting, I feel like myself. When I am in that mode of focused creativity, I’m free. I’m not thinking about whether anyone will like what I produce. I’m just making decisions. Playing. I don’t have to justify it.

I guess I am most proud of the Fish In Trees with the cobalt sky. It’s kind of the classic version of that theme. I’m proud of it because it was an original idea that came to me organically, and has taken on more meaning than I realized it would.

The original idea for this came about because a certain tree branch reminded me of a fish with its mouth open.

As it turns out, there are many instances of fish in trees in the world.

More compelling to me than the Amazon flood plains or mangrove swamps, though, is that feeling of being out of place.

A friend told me about a book called Fish In A Tree, which is a novel about someone with dyslexia. That is the most powerful interpretation for me. I think we all feel out of place sometimes.

Paint, brushes and canvas are things I need for painting. But the medium isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing is imagination.

There are so many components of art that I love. The inspiration or idea which leads to creating the piece, and then, maybe my favorite part, is when a painting goes up on a wall. It goes out into the world and has a life of its own.

I’ve always made art. I do it because I am an artist. It’s my identity. My form of expression. It’s the way I interpret the world, and stay sane.

Because I Can

I talk about my paintings being my fingerprints that I will leave on the world after I’m gone. My hope has always been that they will touch someone. Touch their spirit, and maybe inspire them to create something. I hope they at least communicate something from my mind… my imagination. I’m not so unique. The things I think and feel are shared by many, I’m sure. Having said that, I have a unique voice in this sea of unique voices called humanity.

Once in a while, and this is what makes it all relevant and worthwhile, I hear from someone out of the blue, who related to my work. (I call it “work,” but it feels more like play).

Without me there, one of my paintings speaks to someone I’ve never met, and we find that we are made out of the same stuff. We think similar thoughts. And a connection is formed.

Art is a language that can transcend age or gender. What a beautiful thing.

A fish swims up to another fish in the treetops and asks “Why are you swimming way up here?”

“Because I can.”