Posts Tagged: Paintpushers

Why Paint? and Exciting Happenings from the Studio

Someone encouraged me recently that as an artist I should be noticing that I notice what I notice. I’ve been noticing lately the many reasons why I paint. There are so many reasons NOT to paint…but, why have I chosen to dedicate so much time and energy to the practice of painting?

Why paint?

One reason that I paint is that it is a sensory experience for me. I experience the vibrancy of the colors flowing out of the brush across the canvas and the feel of the lines pouring out as thick paint moves across the surface.

But, creating art is also so much more than that for me. When I am creating, I take the time in quiet to listen to my own internal landscape and translate it to the canvas. I allow what’s inside to flow out through my hands. I process my world in a healthy and life-giving way.

Painting is meditative and centering. It is a time for me to sift through what is important and what needs to fade away. Sometimes it is a safe place to wrestle with unknowns and mine the depths of my life experiences-the good, the bad, the gifts and the tragedies.

“Centering Within #19” installed in client home

I take this long, hard journey deep inside my thoughts, my heart, with brushes, pigment, water, and time. I paint this inner excavation-down through the layers past all the junk that gets in the way. I take these sensory, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual journeys time and time again through the years.

The finished painting is not the journey. The journey encompasses so much more. But, the painting is an important by-product of the internal processes. Maybe it’s like the postcards sent to friends and family along the way while traveling?

“Centering Within #19” installed in client home

But, so what???

So, I’ve taken these journeys…why could that matter to anyone else?

Isn’t it self absorbed?

A giant waste of time?

Downright selfish?

A waste of precious resources?

A waste of art supplies?

Who really cares?

How can a few more paintings in this world make anything different?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg hinting at issues that creatives battle against.  They are only the beginning of the thoughts that can and do haunt or stop our creativity from flowing into our world.

“Centering Within” wall collection installed in client home

But, still I paint.

Because I can. Because it is part of me being alive in this world. Because it keeps me healthier. Because I am human. Because you are too. Because art reminds us of who we are. Because it helps us all to heal. Because it activates our senses. Because it reminds us that we all have stories. Because it builds community around us that helps us survive the perils of life. Because we all have the task of figuring out who we are in this world and what kind of life we wish to create. Because we are all in this journey together.

Precious Flow, Resting in the Shadows, and Harmony Shift on exhibit in Chicago, IL

Freedom Multiplied, Space Between and Freedom from the Core on exhibit at Semeiotic Gallery, Chicago, IL

Exciting Happenings from the Studio

I have three exhibits available for viewing the next couple of months. Freedom from the Core is on view at the Becoming Free Semeiotic Gallery in Chicago, IL. This gallery space is a beautiful and historic church building in north downtown Chicago. The exhibit will be on view until October, 2019.

Nuances of Freedom is on view at Harvest Vineyard in Ames, IA. They will be hosting an Artist Talk & Reception on September 15, 2019 from 12:30-2:30 pm. Come join us at the Harvest Cafe if you’d like to hear more about my work.

My professional painters group, Paintpushers, is holding their yearly group show, MoveMent, which is on exhibit at the Ankeny Art Center in Ankeny, IA until September 26.

Nuances of Freedom installed in Ames, IA

Final Art Fairs of 2019

Finally, I have my last couple of art fairs of the year this month. This weekend I’ll be Rockbrook Village in Omaha, NE and on September 22 you can find me at the Octagon Art Festival in Ames, IA. This will be my only Iowa art fair this year.

Five Steps to Nurture Innovation

The Paintpushers group at “Light & Dark” art reception Heritage Gallery Des Moines, IA

What kinds of problems are you struggling to solve on a daily basis? What areas of your life and work need innovative thoughts? A recent problem I was invited to solve by one of my artistic communities, the central Iowa based Paintpushers group, was to create two paintings with the theme of “Light & Dark” for our yearly group art show. I was given a couple of canvas sizes to choose from and a deadline for completion and exhibition. And, then time, to contemplate and create.

Light & Dark Paintpushers Art Exhibit

Step One- Ask Big Picture Questions

Often times when we are faced with big problems to solve and looking for truly innovative ideas, the project can seem so overwhelming it is hard to even know where to start. I started my creative process by asking myself big picture questions like “How do I visually represent the vast concepts of ‘Light & Dark’? How do I put color, line, and form around such abstract concepts? What comes to mind when I think about light and dark? What do they represent to me?” These big picture questions are a good place to start while grasping vision for innovative ideas, but only the first step. 

Looking Towards the End of the Night 24×24 2018©Melynda Van Zee

Step Two-Research and Drawing Connections

Over the early months of the project, I let my mind drift around the concept of light and dark. I thought about the concepts of light and dark aesthetically, philosophically, emotionally and spiritually. I read current news reports, ancient scriptures, art history books and novels. I wrote notes in my sketchbook along the way. I spent time drawing what felt like random abstract shapes in my art journal. I had conversations with artists in my Paintpushers group. I worked on other paintings for different shows. I interacted with my friends and family. I went to yoga and took walks. Basically, I call this the “marinating phase”. Like a good steak, ideas need time to marinate. Ideas need time for the thinker to research and to draw connections from a variety of sources.

Darkness is as Light 24×24 2018©Melynda Van Zee

Step Three- Live the Wrestle

My thoughts around the topic grew deeper, actually more confused. “Is one painting all light and one all dark? Do they each have elements of both? Who am I to try to paint Light & Dark? What wins Light or Dark???” And, now I was sinking down into the messy middle…cross pollinating ideas, the sorting and eliminating concepts. I referenced my own experiences and I looked for the universal connections. For example, I know that I have personally experienced light notably masked by grayness/darkness-a light marred by dark shadows. I know, too, that this is the experience of humanity-a universal experience for all of us. I know that each of us gets to choose where we will focus in the midst of these complicated realities-will it be on the light? Will it always be on the dark? Will it be with eyes open wide to the reality of both?

“Light & Dark”-work by Melynda Van Zee and Charlotte Redman

I started wrestling through the emotional and spiritual roadblocks to solving my problem. I asked myself “How do I let despair, anger, evil win and block out the light? Do I pretend that everything is sunshine and roses putting on a false front of uber happiness that is unsustainable? Can I acknowledge the beautiful, tumultuous experience of having both light and dark simultaneously appearing in my daily life often times at a mock rate of speed as I do something as simple as scrolling through my social media feeds? And, how on earth, might I somehow be able to translate these larger questions through paint?”

“Light & Dark”-Paintings by Kristin Aulwes and Jacque Hudson

Step Four-Commit to the Work

As I was working through my own personal, “why and how” questions, my fellow Paintpushers members were asking themselves similar questions. I find it kind of fascinating to watch this process of corporate creativity and innovation. What happens when you take a group of visual artists with numerous personalities and life experiences and ask them to commit to exploring the same topic-in this case creating two pieces of work with the theme of Light & Dark? What happens as each individual artist lives through the wrestle of how they might interpret these concepts with their own media, personal symbols, textures, and color choices? What happens when we all finally commit to doing the work and start creating? 

“Light & Dark”-Paintings by Rob Romero and Jeff Rider

For at some point in the innovation process, the creator actually needs to commit to the work. Decisions start to be made. Tools come out- in our case…we begin to draw, sketch, paint, pull brushes out, uncap paint pens, order canvases, commit to size of panels, pay fees, sharpen pencils, fret, and plan. We apply the paint, pencil, and charcoal. We start with 1st layers, obsess, stare, avoid, research more. We add more paint, take photos, turn work upside down, paint over, look at it from across the room, and complain about the process to anyone around us. And, then we finish. We declare a painting complete. We photograph and varnish and sign and title and add wire to the back.

“Light & Dark”- Paintings by Mason Howerzyl and Chris Vance

Step Five- Share the Work

But, then this creation, this innovative solution to a problem, this personal interpretation of a theme, needs to be shared, needs to leave the safety of the studio, needs to make its way into the world and the artist needs to let it go. What happens when a group of creators come together and shares this new body of work corporately imagined, but executed in the privacy and quiet of individual studios? My answer to this question is growth-growth is what has happened. Growth and transformation and innovation-new ideas and images have been welcomed into the world. 

“Light & Dark”-a wall of paintings by guests of Paintpushers

The process of innovation is fraught with ups and downs, sideways maneuvers, emotional upheaval and uncertain outcomes. But, for each of us that undertakes the creative process, we transform a bit of who we are in the process. Taking invisible concepts like “light” and “dark” and making them visible-that is what artists do, but the process for how we actually do it is sometimes quite a mystery to the artist themselves while in the middle of the process and almost always to those around the artist.

However, this process does not need to remain a mystery.

Remember these Five Steps to Nurture Innovation…

  1. Ask big picture questions

  2. Research and draw connections

  3. Live the wrestle

  4. Commit to the work

  5. Share the work

“Light & Dark”- work by Andrea Van Wyk and Sarah Schroeder

I read so much about how our culture is deeply in need of innovation, but I fear we have much to learn about where true innovation comes from. The worlds of education, business, government, health, science all have deep needs which will take innovative thinkers to solve.

“Light & Dark”- work by Kristine Clemons and Emily Kobliska

How does change, transformation, and innovation happen in our communities and businesses?

Discussion during “Light & Dark” Paintpushers Group Show 2018

What if artists become the teachers of innovation and problem solving?

Artistic community of Paintpushers

What if artists would teach other people this process of corporately imagining new things- how to ask big picture questions, how to research and draw connections, how to live the wrestle and commit to the work?

“Light & Dark” Paintpushers Group Show 2018

What if artistic communities become the model for sharing explorations and incubating innovative ideas together?

Polk County Heritage Gallery Des Moines, IA

And while the Paintpushers “Light & Dark” show at the Heritage Gallery for 2018 is now history, the process we took to achieve the innovating work in this show is something we can repeat over and over again in the many arenas of our lives. And, it is a process you can adapt to your own problems-your own situations in need of solutions and innovative answers. 


Collaborative Painting for Paintpushers "Collision" Show  36 x 36 Acrylic on Canvas Artists Chris Vance & Melynda Van Zee © 2016

Collaborative Painting for Paintpushers “Collision” Show
36 x 36
Acrylic on Canvas
Artists Chris Vance & Melynda Van Zee © 2016

Dear Creative Heart,

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a collaborative painting for our yearly Paint pushers show. I attend a monthly critique group with artists from the central Iowa area and once a year we create an art show together. The goal for the show this year was to pair two artists together to collaborate together to create a 36 x 36 piece of art. Each individual artist was also to paint 3 10 x 10 pieces of work to hang alongside of the collaborative piece so that viewers could see the individual styles. We could also create individual smaller works to be hung on walls with the work of all contributing artists blended together.

First layers on collaborative painting

First layers on collaborative painting

At our monthly meeting in April we drew names out of a hat to decide which artists would be paired together for a collaborative work. I drew the name of artist Chris Vance and we began the collaborative process this fall. Chris typically paints on wood panels so he provided me with the 36 x 36 wood panel and I began the piece by laying down line work with polymer medium. I added a thin glaze of fluid acrylics in turquoise and golden yellow colors and then made myself stop and turn the painting back over to him.

In the middle of the collaborative painting process...

In the middle of the collaborative painting process…

After he finished his first layers, we traded the piece again and I set to work adding multiple layers of translucent fluid acrylics. When finished with my layers, I gave the piece back to Chris to add the final details.

Collaborative painting by Chris Vance and Melynda Van Zee  10 x 10 paintings on the left by Chris Vance 10 x 10 paintings on the right by Melynda Van Zee

Collaborative painting by Chris Vance and Melynda Van Zee
10 x 10 paintings on the left by Chris Vance
10 x 10 paintings on the right by Melynda Van Zee

Friends- Collaboration can be a very useful tool for your work. To let someone else interact with your work while it is being created…to give up control…to release a specific outcome…to not know the final direction…to interact with changes as you go…to wrestle with variety of techniques or art supplies…to face the challenge of colors or vision for a piece…to work with someone else who is not you with different viewpoints, skills, technique, ideas…this is the world we live in. Working together makes us stronger, brings new energy, stretches our flexibility muscles, teaches us new skills, and helps us to see our work in new ways. Collaboration may not be without anxiety or frustration. It will probably push us out of comfort zone. But, I encourage you to look for opportunities to collaborate in your world. If we as creative individuals are going to face the challenges put before us in this generation, we are going to need the skills to collaborate with a wide variety of individuals across our cultural landscape.

With Passion,


“Collision”, a Paintpushers collaborative showcase, hangs from now through Jan. 2 at the Des Moines Social Club with purchases made possible through the Viaduct Gallery.

“Collision”, a Paintpushers collaborative showcase, hangs from now through Jan. 2 at the Des Moines Social Club with purchases made possible through the Viaduct Gallery.


Creative Community

"More Nuanced" 12 x 12 Acrylic on Canvas ©MelyndaVanZee 2015

“More Nuanced” 12 x 12 Acrylic on Canvas ©MelyndaVanZee 2015

Dear Creative Heart,

Many years ago when I was a young mother I sat on the cement floor of my basement with a lone sketchbook I had desperately dug for in the back corner of my closet. As the blank page stared at me, I wept. It had been years since I had drawn anything. I had a college degree in education and art but I had no idea what it was that I “drew”. I hadn’t painted in years (other than projects like stencils on the kitchen wall). Maybe all my creativity was gone…sucked out and dried up by the everyday demands and activities of my life? Maybe my brain would never work that way again? How would I ever figure out what ART it was that I did? Maybe I would never make “real ART” again??? 

I have no idea what I drew on that blank page that day. I may have drawn nothing at all. I do know that I was in a place of painful creative frustration, possibly desperation…I was alone, facing my creative fear, staring at the blank page in utter disbelief that I had let myself dig such a big creative hole in my life and not sure I would ever really be able to emerge from such a place. Over 15 years later, I still remember that moment like it was yesterday.

It is with gratitude that I now look back on that period of my life. I’m so thankful for the many people that showed up in my life and who became encouragers for my creative journey.

My encouragement for you today…you don’t have to do this “creative thing” alone. 

Creativity doesn’t have to work that way. 

It doesn’t have to be that hard. 

Find someone-anyone… my creative friend who can be an encourager. Surround yourself and your creativity with support. While much creative work is done in private, there is so much you can learn about your creativity in community. When you share your work, allow others in a supportive environment to critique your work, find teachers to show you new techniques, or share tips and experiences with other creatives, your own creative work will start to grow and transform. You will find new energy for your work and inspiration to keep returning to the work when things get bleak or challenging. 

Not every experience of creative community is going to go smoothly- when you hang out with other creative people you start to see each others mud and muck- insecurities can surface, pride and jealousy can rear their ugly head, feelings can get hurt, but each of those experiences are teachers. They refine you and do not define you. In my experience the joy far out ways the challenges. You may have to step out of your comfort zone to find your creative community. You may find your creative community locally or you may have to reach out to a broader area depending on your creative specialty. You may gather with your creative tribe in person or connect through the power of social media or technology. 

Dear creative heart- make work of finding your creative matter what your “creative thing” is. If you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “Well, I don’t have a creative thing?”, it is high time you figured out what it is. If your creative thing has been buried away, it is time to resurrect it. I’m a firm believer that everyone and I mean everyone is born creative. It may take on many different forms and we may express it in different ways. It may be covered up with layers of pain and shame, but it is there and one of the best ways to help you discover the fullness of your creative gifts is in community. 

With passion,


I’m thrilled to be able to spend this upcoming weekend with two of my creative communities. 

Artists and Authors on the Square (Dec. 3-5, 2015) during Pella Tour of Homes, 836 Main St. Pella, IA. I will be gathering with one of my creative communities who I love to hang out with and who have known me for a long time.  Join us as we share and celebrate the creative activities of artists and authors in the Pella community. I’ll be sharing a brief presentation at 12:00 pm Saturday sharing tips and techniques for acrylic painting.
And, “Buy Local ” friends!
For more information including time and location,
visit Artists and Authors on the Square.

Paintpushers present “Local Color” (Dec. 2-Dec. 27, 2015) Des Moines Social Club, Des Moines, IA Reception Dec. 4, 2015 5-9 pm. 
Paintpushers is a professional artists critique group who I meet with once a month in Des Moines, IA. Once a year we create a show together. For this show, each artist has created multiple pieces of new work (7-12 pieces of 12 x 12 affordable works) exploring the theme of “Local Color”. Meet the artists in person on Friday night, Dec. 4 from 5-9 pm. For more information , visit Paintpushers on Facebook.