from the front

I learned the process of painting in egg tempera on glass from my friend, Romanian-born artist Cristina Marian, and it’s so much fun I’m going to try the technique with senior citizen artists. Instead of using glass, india ink, and egg tempera paint, I’m using plexiglass, Sharpie and acrylic paint for this project.

I gathered:

  • 8×10 sheets of plexiglass. (Optix acrylic sheets in .080″ thickness $3 Lowes.
  • A broad chisel-point black Sharpie. (I love this pen! Got them on sale, under $1 ea.)
  • A simplified drawing based on Van Gogh’s sunflowers (PDF).
  • Color laser prints of the drawing (flipped).
  • 9×12 (or larger) work boards (I used scrap cardboard)
  • Masking tape
  • Cheap 8×10 frames (with glass removed), found at garage sales, 25 cents ea.
  • Acrylic paint in primary colors (or yellow, orange, brown, green and blue).
  • Paint smocks, paper plates, water cups, brushes, and portable table easels (optional)

In preparation for my 1-2 hour workshop, I:

  • Printed the image flipped, so when seen from the front it’s not a mirror image. 1 for each participant.
  • Peeled the protective sheeting off both sides of the plexi.
  • Taped the 8×10 print-out, with the 8×10 Plexi on top, to a piece of cardboard. 1. Board on bottom; 2. Print-out, face-up; 3. Plexi on top, so you see the printout through the plexi. (I overlapped the tape on the glass by about 1/8″ to prevent sharp corner hazards.)
  • Pre-traced the black lines in the drawing onto the plexiglass with my chisel tip Sharpie. (Participants could do this, but it would take longer/might be difficult)
  • Removed glass from the 8×10 frames and set it aside for my own reuse.
  • The prep process took me about 6 minutes per piece, but I’m fast at tracing!
  • Created an example:

I made the sample as quickly as possible, and it took 10 or 15 minutes. I started with accents and greens, then did yellows and browns. Finally, I painted in the background, and ended with a second layer of yellow over the back of all the yellow, green and brown parts to fill in gaps. It looks messy from the back, but remember, whatever you paint first is what shows through the front of the glass. The last things you paint become background.

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Here’s a jpg of the image I used to trace from. After I did my sample I realized it would be easier to see what you had painted if the printed image had a texture.







When I saw this Kandinsky inspired color study project is popular among primary school teachers, I couldn’t wait to try it with senior citizens. I had no idea if they’d enjoy it, or think it was too abstract, but they loved it, and everyone had a great time. It was exactly the right level of challenge for a 1-hour workshop with a mixture of seniors with varying abilities and challenges.

I find that the seniors I’m working with are more inclined to participate and seem to be less beset with self-doubt if there is some type of structure, and this activity had a nice, clear concept that was easy for people to engage with. Once they get going, the work can evolve and be open-ended. There’s never a wrong choice!

I used:

  • Acrylic paint in 3 primary colors (magenta/red, blue, yellow)
  • 30 3×3″ mini canvas boards purchased at Michaels with a coupon
  • 1 18x 24″ black canvas (Also from Michaels. I think they were on sale, 2 for $8)
  • Double sided heavy duty carpet tape
  • (smocks, water cups, paper towels, paper plate palettes, medium-sized acrylic brushes)

I provided an example of one canvas already painted, so they could visualize the idea. (I was careful not to make it too perfect!)

I had each painter choose 2 primary colors. Then I asked them to 1. Paint a dot in the middle of the page with one color; 2. Add a circle around that dot in the second color; 3. Mix the two to make a third color; 4. Continue alternating until they had covered the whole canvas.

For some, painting one 3×3″ canvas was enough of a challenge to take the whole hour. Others churned out several, and had fun experimenting with color mixing.

The best part was that I was able to quickly mount their mini canvases on a big black canvas, so they could see that the imperfections and uniquenesses of their individual paintings added to the interest of the overall piece. (Hot glue would have worked to stick the canvases down, but I used some heavy duty carpet tape I happened to have handy.)




To purchase works, contact me via form at bottom of page or buy via my Etsy shop.

My most recent series of paintings, oil drawings and prints are on display at Wild Joe’s Coffee Spot, August 1-31. Stop by, have a cup of joe, and visit them in person! These are works I’ve done over the past few months on the theme of Fire and Water. Some are large oil stick drawings, some are small acrylic paintings, and I included some affordably priced framed prints, too. If you purchase a work, I’ll arrange to get it to you in the beginning of September. (If you can pick up at my Bozeman studio, be sure to contact me for a free shipping coupon.)

Fire and Water (my bio/artist’s statement of sorts).

I come from a world of beautiful, ordinary, safe things. I grew up in a rural area south of Bozeman, a fourth generation Montanan. After my dad retired from the Navy in 1969, Mom and Dad resettled the family in Montana. They bought an old farm house where we lived out a 1970s version of an idyllic pastoral life.

My lifestyle there included half-heartedly weeding the garden, gathering eggs, picking berries, watching Six Million Dollar Man-era TV shows, reading, listening to The Beatles and The Monkees, singing, playing guitar, throwing rocks in the creek, fishing, swimming, building forts, making mud pies, tagging along on trips to town (Bozeman’s trendiest boutique, Jay’s Hallmark, had exotic things like strawberry lip balm) and waiting at the Buttrey’s fountain counter with a lemon Coke while Mom did the grocery shopping.

My sisters, brother and I spent hours around the kitchen table, talking and playing games after meals straight from the Betty Crocker cookbook (interspersed with handed-down recipes for venison, trout and game birds). We considered store-bought foods a delicacy, with Pop Tarts being the ultimate. Since my dad was an electronics specialist, we weren’t really farmers or ranchers and I was envious of our neighbors, who were the real thing. While we were listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Prima on Dad’s reel to reel tape machine, they were listening to Tammy Wynette and Tom T. Hall on the radio.

My favorite activities were reading, drawing and riding horses. While my sisters played pinochle with Mom and Dad, I would entertain myself, using library books as reference, to draw horses on the same freezer paper that Mom used for wrapping deer steaks. Those days, I would draw anything just for the thrill of seeing what my pencil could reproduce: beer bottles, cigarette packages, pictures from magazines, anything that would sit still long enough for me to examine its form and shadows.

At some point I lost interest in drawing for the sake of drawing, though. Growing up in my rural Montana bubble, I was shocked to discover that not everything was pinochle, horses and berry pies. Awareness crept in. The angst of the nuclear age weighed on me. I began to feel compelled to look for subjects that told some kind of truth.

As a young teen, my truths were dramatic (I drowned Ophelias by the swarm). Later they became more mundane (my penchant for painting shirts and bathrobes compelled my college advisor, Hal Schlotzhauer, to guess I was copying Jim Dine, though I’d never heard of him until then).

Lately, my subjects tend to combine aspects nostalgia and peril. As much as I love landscapes (in fact, I tend to buy a lot of them) I never really feel like they tell the whole truth. I feel like around the corner from every beautiful, safe thing is something frightening or depressing. My sister, Jana, always says, “If I could draw, I’d draw nice things! Can’t you just paint something pretty?” I can, sometimes I try, but… those little flames of worry keep sneaking in.

So I give you Fire and Water. This series is a two-fer. It began when I started using vernacular photos of bathing and boating subjects as reference for simple oil stick drawings. The subject satisfies my craving for a peaceful lost world, and I love the strange quirks that happen to figures and shapes in back-lit photos.

But the truth is… I really seem to want to paint things on fire. Ironically, for a person who avoids adventure and excitement, I’ve always loved fire. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there’s something going on in this theme. People posing with oblivious smiles while danger lurks all around them. How can they not see it? Is it possible that they don’t even notice?

Maybe this comes off as a sophomoric fancy, like when young boys go through a stage of drawing plane crashes. But this is the way I see things: beautiful, ordinary, confusing and scary.

Marla Goodman, August 2016



This was my second 1-hour painting activity at a senior care facility.

Last time we used medium-sized brushes and acrylic paint to color pre-prepped tulip drawings on canvases, so this time I wanted to try something more free, with bigger brushes. I wanted to encourage the painters to really go wild with their brush strokes so I modified a project I’d found that uses adhesive vinyl letters to spell words, which you paint over, then peel off, so that the letter remains white.

Supplies: (Cost for 12-16 participants was ~$25, but I already had paint and boards)

  • 1 50-sheet pad of 11×14″ acrylic paper (doesn’t warp or wrinkle when you paint on it.)
  • 3 packs of cheap adhesive vinyl letters (I got 3″ vinyl letters at Walmart near the mailboxes. Make sure they’re die-cut in the shapes of the letters, not just printed on square sheets.)
  • A roll of painter tape.
  • A tube each of red, yellow, blue and white acrylic paint.
  • Art boards (to tape the paper sheets on. I re-used 12×18″ plasti-core sheets, but cardboard or any conveniently sized stiff material would work)

Faced with a short class time, here’s the prep I did:

  • Cut the 11×14″ paper sheets in half to 5.5″ x 14″ sheets
  • Tape the four edges of the paper down to art boards, overlapping the tape about 1/4″ onto the paper along each edge.
  • Create an example
  • Sort through the letters before class and put letters for words (we did LIVE, LOVE and LAUGH) on wax paper to temporarily hold them.
    (I got more mileage out of my letter sets by using an Exacto knife to make extra As into Vs, which we needed more of.)

With help from rest home activities staff, I gathered

  • portable table easels ($8 ea. online)*
  • smocks
  • water cups (We used urine sample cups! ha ha)
  • paper towels
  • paper plates as palettes
  • 1/2″ to 1″ size acrylic brushes.**
  • A blow dryer to speed drying time

*You could do without easels, but I think they help to prevent people from dragging their arm across the wet painting. **Acrylic brushes have stiffer bristles than watercolor brushes, making it easier to control acrylic paint, which is thicker than watercolor. It can be frustrating to paint with brushes that are too floppy, too ragged, too big, or too small for a particular project.)

How it went:

  • Helpers handed out easels, brushes, water cups, paper towels and art boards.
  • We asked painters to select a word, and they placed the letters according to their taste.
  • I showed my example and explained that we would 1) use big brush strokes of different colors. 2) fill in the whole area with paint. 3) paint right over the black letters 4) later we’d peel the letters off.
  • We passed out palettes and painters picked 2 primaries of their choice and white.
    (i.e. either red and yellow, red and blue, or blue and yellow, plus white)
  • I demonstrated how loosely you can paint, and how it was fine if wet colors mixed.


It took the group the full hour to get their whole 5.5 x 14″ sheet painted. I encouraged painters to mix any colors they liked and to keep going until they covered all the white within the blue tape. I also reminded them to dip their brush in water to make the paint spread easier. (“Yes! You’re doing it right!” “Yup! Paint right over the letters.” “Would you like to add another color?” etc.)

After the first person’s painting was complete, I dried it a bit with the blow dryer and returned the painting so the painter could pull off the vinyl letters. For some painters, I started the corners of the adhesive. Everyone was surprised and delighted with the effect.

All of the painters really enjoyed removing the adhesive letters and masking tape to reveal their finished work. Nobody complained that theirs turned out badly! It was a lot of fun. You could modify this project to ask people to think of inspiring words ahead of time and use their own words. You could also do a short phrase on a canvas, as shown in blog posts that inspired me to try this activity. Sponge painting, spatter painting, spray painting, cotton ball painting, etc. would work just as well.

Their finished works can be displayed individually or in groups.

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I just started leading some art activities at a local senior care center. The class meets once a month, for one hour, so it presents some challenges: What can a group of seniors, who may never have painted before, complete in a single 1-hour class?

I set two initial goals:

  1. Get people to dip paint brushes in paint and put it on the canvas.
  2. Have them leave with a sense of accomplishment.

I thought for the first class it would be a good idea to give them something to start with, so there wouldn’t be anxiety about a blank canvas. Since tulips have been going wild this spring, I chose tulips as the subject. I prepped the canvases with a neutral background to ensure that the result look would look complete (this is a step the participants could have done themselves, but there wasn’t enough time for a multi-step process).

What I did for prep ahead of time:

  1. Buy cheap canvases and acrylic paints (red, yellow, blue, white) using half-price coupons at a craft store. (Cost of materials for 16 was about $50.)
  2. Download and print a good (not over-complicated) stock photo of tulips.
  3. Quickly sponge a neutral ground onto the canvases using a thin wash of acrylic paint and let it dry. (Blow dryers work great if you’re in a hurry.)
  4. Quickly carbon transfer the lines to the canvas, using a dull pencil or similar dull pointed implement. (I made carbon paper by rubbing powdered graphite on the back of a tulip print-out. You could use carbon paper.)
  5. Darken the lines on the canvas with a black sharpie.

With help from rest home activities staff, I gathered

  • portable table easels (They cost about $8 ea. on line)
  • smocks
  • water cups (We used urine sample cups! –Unused– ha ha)
  • paper towels
  • paper plates as palettes
  • 1/4″ size acrylic brushes.

(Acrylic brushes have stiffer bristles than watercolor brushes, making it easier to control acrylic paint, which is thicker than watercolor. It can be frustrating to paint with brushes that are too floppy, too ragged, too big, or too small for a particular project.)

You could do without easels, but I think they help to prevent people from dragging their arm across the wet painting.


Getting started:

We set up each painter with a canvas and easel. I offered blank canvas, or just a neutral ground as another option to start with, but everyone chose the ones with lines.

Helpers passed out brushes, towels and water cups. Each artist got a color copy of the tulip photo for reference.


I gave each painter a palette with a dot of red, yellow and white paints, explaining that I’d give them blue later. (If people requested to blue, we gave them blue, too! But I thought people would feel more successful in general if they began with colors that all mix together without making mud.)

  • I demonstrated on a palette how you can mix the color with your brush.
  • I explained as needed that dipping your brush in the water occasionally makes the paint flow better.

This was plenty of activity for one hour. Painters enjoyed the process of choosing, mixing and applying colors. Some needed encouragement that it was OK to go ahead and paint. (Yes, dip the brush in the paint, and then put it wherever you want! Yes, mix any colors that you like! No, you don’t have to stay inside the lines, but you can if you like!)

I did a lot of encouraging and remarking on color choices, “I see you mixed some white in the red to get that pink,” etc.

Since it wasn’t very opaque, the black lines showed through, which gave a nice effect.

After completing her painting, one woman said, “I’m proud of myself!” which absolutely melted my heart. A few others said, “I messed mine up” which is harder to respond to. My responses were things like, “You tried something new,” “You mixed some really nice subtle colors,” “Wow, look at that bold red!” “You took on quite an adventure!” etc.

Overall, as a first experience it went well. The lines may have resulted in some people feeling frustrated with their dexterity, but I think that some are always going to be a little timid, and it’s OK to just say, “You did it!” …as cause enough for celebration.

People seemed to enjoy their own works more once they saw how interesting the whole group was, with everyone’s individual choices and experiments. The activities staff hung them on wide ribbons in sets of three to display them.

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Last fall my daughter married her sweetheart. My job was to create activities to keep reception guests busy until the bridal party arrived. Since the bride and groom met as puppeteers at a local children’s theater, we decided on puppet-making as one activity.

The trick was to think of a way to make puppets quickly, without a lot of mess.

I settled on pre-making sock-puppet blanks. It went pretty fast, using Dollar Store socks, recycled cardboard, hot glue and a few sheets of pink felt.


I included in the station:

  • the sock puppet blanks
  • double-stick carpet tape (for attaching eyes, etc.)
  • child’s scissors
  • sheets of colored foam and bits of colored felt
  • bits of fake fur (I cut them ahead of time — I didn’t want fur everywhere)
  • google eyes in a variety of sizes
  • colored pompoms

I left a couple of example puppets at the station, to help people visualize.

The portable puppet stage was made of 4 art canvases ( 36×48″ for the front panels and 24×48″ for the wings).I used cheap ready-made stretcher frames and stapled the canvas on, but you can also get big canvases on sale a craft stores. We installed the hinges so the wings fold backward, but the front folds forward — i.e. a W shape — so that it could fold flat to carry.)

I was so thrilled to see people actually making puppets and playing with them!


So here’s what I’ve been up to since I last posted.

A moment of gumption that struck me as I drank my coffee one morning turned into a thing, thanks to unprecedented support and participation.

One of my favorite hobbies is making things happen. In my many years as a publicist, the thing I like best is taking an idea and making it a reality, just by getting the word out. (Similarly, it breaks my heart when there’s a really good thing, but nobody knows about it.)

In this case, the “if you build it they will come” force was strong.

One January morning I was sitting drinking my coffee and I thought, what do I want to do this year?  I started thinking about a discussion I’d had with my friend, Cristina, about collaborative art shows. At the time, I’d come up with a lot of themes that might tie together disparate art styles, and one of them was “Three Story Houses.” I figured everybody’s got a house, and a story, so the theme might spark a collection of narrative art that could engage viewers.

Within minutes of remembering that conversation, I decided to create an event and invite my artist, artist-leaning and art-curious friends to participate in it. I did it right then, on my ipad. I created a logo, a name, an event, a half-hatched scheme without leaving the couch.

IMG_1756-on white

I told people I would provide everyone with a substrate upon which to make their art on the theme, “Three Story Houses.” They would make something, and in a month’s time, we would all get together, see what we made, and decide from there what to do with it. Was anybody in?

Well, it happened. Defying my usual expectation of 5% participation, out of the 35 or so people I invited, nearly ALL OF THEM said yes, they’d do it! So one January day, I ended up driving all over Bozeman, delivering cheap 12×24″ canvases I’d bought. My front porch was a hive of activity, too, as labeled canvases awaited their keepers.

I figured, well maybe half of these people will actually DO this, so we’ll end up with maybe 12 or 15 paintings. Even six would be cool. 


It turned out that all but one of the people who accepted the invite showed up at my house Feb 21 with art in hand! (Okay, one of them didn’t get his done until after the deadline, but still pretty impressive.)

So, we ended up with 29 pieces of art (one person did two!) and they are all cool, and they all represent unique approaches to the theme.

At my February party, I asked everybody to give me their input on where we should hold a public show. I got a lot of great suggestions, but one of my own dreams was to make sure the art could be seen by a lot of people who weren’t actively looking for art. I didn’t want it to just be an Artwalk event where tourists and wine-guzzlers wandered by. And I didn’t want it to just be a one-night underground thing, where only the hip in-crowd saw it. And I didn’t want people to have to pay to see it. I mean all of those things would have been nice, but I wanted more.

My dream was for people who might not otherwise seek out art to get a surprising little goose of stimulation.

So, I did some calling around, and my friends Ryan Cassavaugh and Ron Gompertz  agreed to my pleas that the Verge Theater and Wild Joe’s Coffeespot, respectively, would bookend a crazy little series of pop-up shows in places where people might not expect to see art.

I scheduled shows and art talks throughout April and May 2016 at rest homes, a school, and I’m in the process of nailing down appearances at an engineering building and (please, God) a bowling alley! It looks like publicity from the premiere show & reception, April 9 at Verge Theater might spark more pop-ups before the final public show at Wild Joe’s, June 1-30.

So that’s what I’ve been up to.

If you’d like to catch one of the shows, check out the Calendar at Community Art Bozeman, or see my post about the opening at Verge April 9.

Here’s a sneak peek at my own “Three Story” story, “Truths, Secrets and White Lies.”

Three Story Houses submission-lr8



So, I have this site where I’ve been putting cartoons. You may have seen some of them here and there. I haven’t quite committed (yet) to posting regularly, or making them the same size or quality, but at least I’m putting them all in one place. I named my web comic Tepid and Oversteeped because that’s pretty much the story of my life.

I was digging on old hard drive for some lost technical illustration bits when I ran across this short essay I must have written at some point after my dad’s death of pancreatic cancer in 1998.

Eating for the dead

That fall when he was in the VA hospital in Helena, I walked to work dazzled. The wings of the pigeons flocking above me in the pink morning caught the sun and lit up with silver. Suddenly this world that he would leave and I would inherit seemed too radiant for me to bear. I scrubbed my motherʼs floors, desperately.

Three sisters and Mom and I in the same motel. I dreamed all night that the phone was ringing. When it rang a 5 am, I knew the sound, and lifted the receiver. After the tears, we tried to eat salads, soda crackers. We thought we should. It all tasted too sweet. Our conversation crackled with girlish electricity. I kicked up my heels in the Salt Lake City airport to make my sister smile. Our private jokes were a secret language that said what team we were on. The grief team.

But as the months went by, the shimmering unreality that had enbalmed my world during his illness faded a bit. The first searing moments of seeing a television show that he would have liked, or a book that I would have recommended to him turned to months when I seemed to be picking up little bits of him everywhere.

Driving down the middle of the road, like I always do, I would remember thatʼs the way he drove. That was my inheritance. That and two large cans of tomato juice that Mom said she would never drink. I never could seem to drink it either. So I kept the cans, full and heavy. Solid, like his arm.

I never touched another person who felt so heavy, like living granite. In Salt Lake I touched his fevered shoulder through the navy blue of his hospital gown. It was strange, he still felt so strong, so near death.

At the grocery store I see things he liked: Those waffle wafer cookies with the crisco-like filling between. Dreadful, dreadful sweet, but I buy them anyway. I have to see the birds and learn the things he ran out of time to learn. So I eat the wafer cookies, read boyish adventure stories and drive down the middle of the road.



Later, my friend John Akre made this animated film based on a conversation we had about food and death. We both contributed illustrations.


I thought twice before posting this because it seems insensitive to my friends with mobility challenges. (I mean, not to understate the hardships of plague sufferers…)

I just thought the idea of “the walking cast of self-doubt” was kind of funny. On most days I feel very lucky to be at the pronounced limp stage. But hangnail days are the best!


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