Archive for the ‘mixed bag’ Category

So often, creative minds get inspiration that has to “get out” in a matter of speaking. After a recent visit to Southern California in the Laguna Beach area, I felt compelled to paint.


After getting my intense impression of this powerful water down on canvas, I had to share this combination video. It directly parallels what inspired me with the resulting piece.

Artists and art collectors often ask themselves or the creative individual “what inspired you?” The truth is, often times, we cannot really put that into words. That’s when the paint brush, composition pencil or interpretive dance studio comes into play.

Our communication method is our art form.

In coming months, I hope to “catch myself” in the act during more of these interpretive moments. Video is a helpful tool to capture what I am seeing, but the story line is what happens after that inspiration.

To anyone viewing or hearing any fresh art piece, interpretive dance or music composition, let us “tell it like it is” in our mind. Looking at things through the lens of interpretation is often organic and exciting. Hence the world of art!


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Any housing market that has a quickly growing buyer pool without available home inventory makes “flippers” take notice. The decision to buy your own “fixer upper” property rather than purchasing a newly renovated home may not be an easy one.

Recently, my husband and I purchased a circa 1980’s home with many original features (including the kitchen.) We dug right into demolition the first week with only two months left on our current rental property to make the new place somewhat habitable.

The original thought was, do all the messy demo, especially removing popcorn ceilings, odor filled carpet and jack hammering floor tiles before moving in. We felt at least 2-3 rooms would have to have all painting done and flooring in so we had a place to put our furniture while we finished up.

Fortunately, no kids or pets live with us currently, so we thought “we can rough it” and considered ourselves weekend reno warriors! My only stipulation as we tore up ALL the rooms, was to keep one un-touched bathroom. Hot shower everyday, etc was a must!

So now, 10 months in, we are about 80% done and still loving our decision. (More “after” pics in coming posts.)

Here are a few pics so you can get a slight feel of the process we went through in the two months prior to moving into our Austin Fixer Upper (wear a dust mask…)


The “before” kitchen had no island and the walk in pantry door was too narrow for my husband’s shoulders to pass through! Black mold was in the back and under several cabinets.

This pile of rubble was the existing kitchen just 7 days after purchase. As you can see, no cooking blog segments filmed here!

We removed a wall adjacent to the master, so the new kitchen would be larger. Took out all the soffit and put in can lights ourselves. Twelve feet(YES 12) of the back of the house was taken out for a new glass slider. We hired two “handy guys” to help us get the header up and shore up the small door we took out. The frame with two center sliding panels went in easily and then later we had a glass company do the glazing on the two stationery panes.

Moving the front door into a better location and taking out the odd chimney, meant demolition of the fire place as well. The oversized stone really swallowed up the 20×14 livingroom, and we had a more contemporary plan in mind. Demo went smooth with a light weight jack hammer and point tool rented at the local big box.


With structural changes done, we hired a sheet rock pro to put in the sheet rock patches and float and texture our new space except for the living room.

Before moving in, we managed to get the concrete floor ground down ourselves. The folks at Deco Prep in Austin, TX, actually delivered a huge floor grinder to our door as well as a high powered vac to suck up the cement dust. After a day and a half of grinding, our living room and kitchen were ready for a micro layer of new colored cement and a bled out white stain in places.

During this timeframe, the four bedrooms had all popcorn removed (myself and a few friends took on this task.) Our sheetrock pro textured those rooms as well and we painted them with friends. A few days before move in, we hired a flooring pro to float our engineered hardwood (hickory) in the bedrooms and hallway.

We opted to add the trim boards ourselves later as we took out all the dated 80’s trim throughout.

We took on one additional huge project to get the dust out before move in – all parallel in timing to the kitchen and bedroom work. Jack hammering the slab to put pipes in the house for the washer and dryer (originally in the garage) had to be done while the dust was flying.

I was glad I had planned out the space virtually first to get a new master bath layout, closet and laundry within the existing space. The 1980’s 84″ repainted cabinet and shell sinks had to go. They didn’t look bad, but open up the cabinet and smell the musty dampness underneath – ugh – and we needed to reconfigure the master to make the laundry room fit in the house.

Both of these mock plans show places to move the laundry room. But the location in the black and white image would have cost almost double since there was currently no water lines in that corner of the house.

Even with jacking the slab ourselves, the plumbing to move the shower and add washer and dryer was over $3500. Important to keep it close to existing water lines! The master sink and cabinetry was taken out and we built all the framing for a new shower area and toilet area. When plumbers had finished we poured sand and patch concrete on top and finally floated a leveler over the repaired floor areas in the master and laundry.

Fortunately we finished all this in conjunction with doing the livingroom/kitchen cement floor, so we kept going in the laundry area so that floor would be done prior to move in day. I would have a washer and dryer hooked up in the first week we lived in the house!

So with a marginally cleanable floor, and fresh paint in the bedrooms, laundry and kitchen we moved into our Austin fixer upper.

Here is the front of the house as we saw it on moving day….and the plan we had for conversion.

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Hiking west Austin has been my hobby for while now. The artistic craggy rocks and tree roots often grow above the ground looking for any rock crack to seep in and look for moisture. As an artist, this added “texture” is incredible.

Take a walk with me…. Great Hills Park Feb 15th, 2015. The trail is dry and dusty.

Dry Trail Feb 2015 - great Hills Park Austin, TX

Feb 2015 – Great Hills Park Austin, TX

Turning a corner on the trail, we see the water source in the park. The winter moisture has the creek hardly moving hoping to wake the plants near her edge. The water is clear and grey is the dominant color, though permeated by hopeful green.

Painting inspiration - photographed Feb 2015

Painting inspiration – photographed Feb 2015

It is a peaceful setting. Hardly anyone on the trail. A great time to reflect on the winter and look forward to spring.


A couple months later, May 2015, I am standing in my painting studio looking at a large 5ft wide by 4 ft tall blank canvas. This painting has to be incredible in order to carry off such a large format.

I browse through my photos saved to inspire.  I happen across the Great Hills Park trail shots and the creek shot. This is it!

From an artist standpoint, I look at the photo in a whole new light. How will I interpret it? I don’t want to create a copy of the image, rather a painting that reflects how I saw the scene as pure poetry at the end of a grey winter. Paint the hope that will bourgeon into a romantic spring.

Starting the base palette

Starting the base palette

I see pinks and mossy green beneath all the grey. After misting the canvas with water, my background roller is moving fast. I can envision some of the end result, which is hours away, and I want to get there…. A storybook scene in the making.

Painting deeb shadows that will sit below the surface layer

Painting deep shadows that will sit below the surface layer

As I paint, I switch to a palette knife for heavy scratch and thicker paint. Mixing heavy matte gel into my paint allows rocks to build up, like the years of compression it took to make the actual boulders – just in minutes instead of centuries.  The branch “fell” in the foreground.

More deep shadows that will create dimension later

More deep shadows that will create dimension later

Rather than keeping the nearly black water, I balance the pink undertone layer with a soft blue grey and start to fill in the rocky ground cover with a large brush and palette knife.

By the end of three hours, a few branches and tree leaves have been added. This is a great place to stop on day 1 so the next top layers don’t get murky.

After three hours...

After three hours…leaning against the work table for a better view

The next day was a series of working sections with more vegetation and variation. The far bank needed a lot of work over the grey shadow layer. Rocks were painted with flat brushes.  Darker colored shapes topped with lighter shades gave them dimension.

Roughly 4 more hours of working, stepping back and “growing” my vision for the poetic version of this February day. With a few watery details creating shadows and glassy reflections, the painting takes on the feel of a watercolor, even through acrylic paints and mediums were the only products used. Blacker shades like raw umber start to showcase the darkest details. A branch is added in the top right corner and it is 99% done.

Details 99% done

Overall 99% done

Just a few tiny details were popped in and my signature added after the piece was hung on the gallery divider wall. My vision of the Creek at Great Hills Park is finally realized. Time to go out for another hike…

Feeling at home in the gallery

Creek at Great Hills Park by artist Deb Otto, feeling at home in the gallery

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So often art imitates life, but on occasion, as is the case with anyone born to follow a certain career path, life is directed by art.

Melanie Hickerson was one of 8 siblings growing up in the “oil patch” of north west Texas. Her mother was an artist in her own right, and encouraged music, dance and painting even though she had given up her creative career with her growing family.

Melanie with her Siblings (left top face)

Melanie with her Siblings (plaid blouse far left)

Melanie’s first memory of her own creative work is of her mom giving her a section of wall in their home to paint how she saw fit. The wall was to be torn out in a few months for a remodel, but Melanie, age 10, put a dragon on it! Years later she depicted this time in her life with a “tribute” to her mom called 1956 (West Texas).


“1956 (West Texas)” acrylic on canvas by Melanie Hickerson

In the painting, the art on the wall replicates the actual piece her mom painted and hung there. Of course the flying parent cooking is her mom and her youngest brother Riley (Demon Boy) shoots underfoot along with Foxy their dog.

So from the beginning Melanie had art in her veins. But, as many children of the 50’s will attest, art did not seem a practical life path. In 1964, her dad said he would help her go to college as long as she did not major in art. After one year, she dropped out and left for love and adventures in California. She never gave up pencil and paints though, and by 1977, accepting that art was in her blood, she had her first one person exhibit in a book store in Austin. She designed a cover and art for an underground newspaper (The Gar) but adventure called again.

Having divorced in ’76, she left for Italy with her school age son and painted small scenes of the Italian ruins and countryside. Hickerson estimates she painted 4-5 of these pieces a week for 7-8 months.


Ruins in Piazza Navona circa 1978 by Melanie Hickerson

Commissions and murals paid for plane tickets back to the US in ’78. By 1980 she finally started the education she wanted, graduating with an MFA in 1985 from UT in Austin. She had another successful one person show at the edgy Data Gallery, then she taught at SWTSU (San Marcos) and Laguna Gloria (Austin.)

Common with many artists, Melanie yearned for more opportunities and creative energy. She described it as “wanderlust.” So in 1986, off she went, this time to NYC with her son.

Following some exhibits in commercial galleries, she eventually joined the Ceres gallery (also called the NY Feminist Art Institute) targeting women artists at a time when they were just not shown as frequently as their male counterparts. She was active on the Women’s Caucus for Art and worked as an artist for the City of New York. Many grants, commissions and also teaching made her 12+ years in NYC a challenge and an adventure, contributing heavily to her artistic growth.

I asked Melanie how the art world for women artists changed from the 80’s (possibly in NYC or Austin) to today…

According to Melanie, “The art world has IMPROVED a lot, but less so than banking for example. Tradition has had tremendous influence in the art world plus subjectivity  and women still get less than 15% of spaces and jobs (except administration) overall. In the 90’s I participated clerically in gathering stats on women in galleries, museums, universities and we came up with about 5%. Nevertheless, nowadays it isn’t just assumed that a woman artist is present only to stretch canvases for the guys.”


Melanie Hickerson 2015

By 1999, Hickerson returned to Austin in her home state once again. She was finally universally defined not only by herself, but by her family and fellow Texans as an artist.

With thousands of pieces attributed to her pencil and brush, Melanie continues to teach at ACC in north Austin and shares her love of the world and life. I asked how these young artists differ from her early years…

Melanie relates, “The young artists coming up now have such a different perception of art. They are much more engaged in multiples, not a one-of-a-kind concept. Reproduction materially as well as electronically. That is a big question. The internet is so new. The digital world is having broad effect. One thing is for sure, we need more art, for the culture and for the individuals in this culture.  The taste, or experience [of art] is in danger of becoming so homogenized that the individual disappears. Like the disappearance of nature. Opportunities to quietly contemplate, experience, are more rare. Opportunities to connect are changing but it is a “noisy” (crowded) world. ”


“Me and My Mom” acrylic on canvas by Melanie Hickerson

As far as Melanie’s creative mother…  A work Melanie did of her mother’s final days in the nursing home before she passed on will be featured in a 2015 exhibition at the Austin City Hall February 27th sponsored by the Cultural Arts Division, Economic Dept of the City of Austin.

2013 Mom in NH by Melanie Hickerson Austin TX

“Mom in Nursing Home 2013” acrylic on canvas by Melanie Hickerson

Melanie has focused primarily on portraits in recent months, capturing so many others as they follow their path through life. Maybe those of us who have a creative path notice the paths of others just a little closer.


Colorful Portraits by Melanie Hickerson – acrylic on canvas






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Not everyone looks at a space the same way. Someone who lives there everyday may see small imperfections as well as function issues. A visitor who has never been in the space sees a big picture and bases an opinion on first impressions. So how are both the constant and occassional visitor visually enticed? Abstract art.

Texture, light, color and scale make abstract painting relevant in any living space.

Long time California artist, Elise Tysick has a great overview here of why abstract art is so sucessful:


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Tom Shelar Headshot
We are proud to announce the newest addition to our art gallery, the work of painter Tom Shelar. Born in the mountains of North Carolina, he was an early fan of racing at age six. His parents, also racing fans, often took Tom to the local drag strips. His fond childhood memories of visits to the race track is what influences his work today. He often paints classic cars, but also enjoys painting farm inspired paintings. Tom also passionately loves wildlife, which he also thematically injects into his body of works.

Texas Reflections – 2014


Self Taught, Tom has been painting for over 30 years. His work has been featured at the Hall Gallery in Lexington, the Frame Gallery in Winston Salem, North Carolina and the Revolution Showroom in Highpoint, North Carolina. He also has a number of private collectors, eager to scoop up his latest works.

Wet Windshielf

Wet Windshield – 2014

Tom pushes the depth of his work and also creates 3D pieces that incorporate objects. Currently in our gallery, you can find two pieces that exhibit his unique approach to 3D art. One piece features an actual vintage bucket and facet head. Another painting of a ’57 Chevy has a real headlight. Tom found the headlight in a junk yard, researched the year, and then he painted the original car completely restored! His work definitely evokes a sense of nostalgia, capturing moments of the past in a very genuine way.

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Mill & Leaf Coming Soon

Full steam ahead here at Mill & Leaf! We’ve got our team working hard to design and shape up our space. Shipments keep coming in and the todo list just gets longer and longer, but we’re excited to announce that our opening date is coming up on us very soon! Be looking for a soft opening coming this weekend in the Arboretum.


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