Friday, July 12, 2019


Etagami flower by Martha Slavin

As an artist, it can be easy to fall back comfortable subjects and ideas in art. If you paint flowers, paint more. If collages are your thing, continue making them. Sometimes, when I'm challenged by someone else's idea, I have to try harder to produce the result I want.

I signed up to participate in Brooklyn Art Library's Canvas Project last year. I received a box from them containing a four-inch sqaure canvas, some paints, a brush and a card with one word on it:


My instructions to participate in the project:
to create a piece that described that word.

To make the piece, I used dried swirls of acrylic medium, acrylic paint, fuzzy thread, tissue paper and words that explained the meaning of ruckus. What I came up with turned out to be one of the ugliest pieces I've ever done. At least I succeeded in creating a RUCKUS.


I sent back my canvas, and a few months later, I received a copy of the book, A Visual Encyclopedia, a Global Visual Interpretation of Words. Inside the cover I found words from A to Z described in paint, collage, colored pencils, and other found materials -- hundreds in all.

produced by the Brooklyn Art Library

I gloried over the book. I've always been addicted to words, something I learned from my sister Linda, who works crosswords and other word games. I've kept a small collection of words such as misanthrope, zigzag, and bumfuzzle that I've found intriguing, amusing or bizarre.

When I opened the encyclopedia, I gaped at the treasure of words described inside such as Argus-Eyed, Claptrap, Inspissate, Moonraker, Scrippage and Zaftig. Words such as Snollygoster, Furuncle, and Vermicious made me head to the dictionary to find out what they meant. Then I asked myself, "How could I have shown what Tellurian means?" Some words seemed easy such as Tiger, Playgrounds, Mountains, or, were they? What about Kowtow, Glaucous, or Dodevahedron? The words themselves are wonderfully playful, unusual, and made me think beyond my usual choice of words. I want to try to describe more of them visually.

A page from the Visual Encyclopedia

As a reward for each artist's efforts, Brooklyn Art Library sent another artist's painting in exchange. I received "Private," a work from Leslie Connito, whose last name sent me on a search for the meaning of Connito (possibly Latin for "to endure or struggle).

by Leslie Connito

With the encyclopedia for reference, I could start my own collection of visual descriptions of words. Which words would you choose?

To see some more of the delightful projects that the Brooklyn Art Library imagines:

To check the origins of surnames, try one source:

Week Two of World Watercolor Month.
My five watercolors for the week:


  1. What a cool project for a lover of words and images--a perfect fit. Maybe something to try at our next Artist's Eye, Writer's Voice retreat in Pt. Reyes in January!

  2. that's a great idea, Elizabeth. Let's figure this out. And thank you for your comments about this post. I had fun writing it!

  3. Inspirational as always! Thank you, Martha!

    1. You are welcome, Sara. Thank you for continuing to read my blog.

  4. Fantastic project by the Brooklyn Art Library, and what a treat to get not only the anthology but another artist's original work. Your daily watercolors are terrific; there's nothing like a daily challenge to hone your talent and confidence. For the past two years I've done a creative challenge with an artist cousin of mine in Boston. During the months of October and May, she does a pen-and-ink sketch and I write a short poem, which we share each day on Instagram. It is always satisfying and surprising!

    1. I love the idea of sketch and poem exchange. Is it viewable on Instagram?

    2. When we started in May 2017, Ellen sketched and I responded with a haiku inspired by her drawing that I posted as a comment. Those can be seen at artmom1022. Subsequently we posted separately, at artmom1022 and tmcdcaldwell. Ellen has since given me a beautiful Shutterfly book of her drawings and my haiku, which I really treasure.

  5. trying to catch up here....Love love love your blog.


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