Monday, September 17, 2012


As I think back to my very first art experience I remember sitting with my dad and watching him sketch, paint or carve various art projects.  In the short 8 years I had with him one of my fondest memories is of him teaching me how to draw a tree.  I think that is why to this day I enjoy working up my ideas in pencil first. When working from a photo I like to make a black & white copy of it.  This helps me see the subtle transitions between the lights and darks and their shapes.  Black and white photos flatten out the image more to show us the shapes of the shadows and spaces around and on the subject.


My daughter Katie is Program Director for Fenner Nature Center in Lansing so I have access to great nature photos of plants and wildlife.  This piece was painted for the silent auction last year at the Fenner Apple Butter Fest.  In the spirit of this I created this painting of a cardinal on an apple branch.  This is my own composition.  When I sat down to compose this I thought about my negative space and creating a path for the viewer to follow through the piece.  If a branch catches your eye and leads you off the canvas then there should be something to pull your eye back onto the piece and help your eye travel through and around the composition.  I did this with the position of the branches, leaves and even the shadow apples.

I used an analogous color scheme on the painting.  I wanted it to feel warm and vibrant like a fall afternoon.  Analogous colors sit next to each other on the color wheel.  I used the Cardinal and the apples as my main color and then built my scheme around that. I always have my color wheel close at hand.

Please feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions or just want to share.  Have a great painting experience!

An Artist's Birthright

Welcome to my blog.  As my first post, I would like to tell you a little bit about me and my “Art Birthright”.
I was born to creative parents in December of 1952.  My father was an artist all of his life and my mother was a talented seamstress.  I did not have a relationship with store bought clothes until I was living on my own. Both of my parents shared their talents with me, but unfortunately I hate sewing!  I did learn to sew and I can make alterations, but I avoid it as much as possible.

My father, Bernard James Tonning, was chief designer for American Seating Company until his untimely death in 1961 at the age of 42.  Even though I was only 8 years old when he passed away, I have never forgotten his easy manner, his kind heart and his laugh.  I treasure my memories of the art lessons on a Sunday afternoon, as he always had projects for us at the kitchen table.  It might be building models, painting pictures, drawing, or singing by the piano while he played.  He was an extraordinary person, as is my mother, who is still with us and going strong at 83 years young.  Even though his time with us was short, his influence was strong, passing many talents to me and my siblings.

With this quick glimpse of my life as a child, you can understand how I came into my artist’s birthright, but without the encouragement of my father, I struggled with finding my art soul for years.  It wasn’t until I had a family of my own that I decided to go back to school and get not one, but two art degrees.  One degree is in Fine Art and the other is in Commercial Illustration.  At this point I had played with many medias, but China Painting was my favorite and so the next phase of my art life began.  From 1996 through 2006, I traveled across the country selling my art and teaching seminars on porcelain overglaze painting, also known as “China Painting”.  I held the office of President for the World Organization of China Painters from 2005 through 2007.  My final hoorah as president was the successful organization of an International show and convention for porcelain artists at DeVos Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But life takes us in many directions and often dictates what our next role is to be, and life was telling me now that I was to move in a different direction.  On a summer day in June of 2006 my life changed forever when my 1st grandson, Ethan Blake was born to my daughter Kate and her husband Scott, and what should have been the happiest of days, quickly became very serious.  We found out that Ethan was born with severe disabilities as his brain had not fully developed in the womb.  Within the first 24 hours all of the specialists told us that he would not survive and that if we did get to take him home, he would not live to his 1st birthday.  With a broken heart and a lot of soul searching, I decided to put my career on hold.  My husband Michael and I had been living in the Chicago area, but decided we needed to move back to Michigan to stay with our daughter’s family and help with Ethan’s care, which was around the clock.  While we had been told that Ethan qualified for nursing care, we didn’t get our first nurse until he was 15 months old, so Kate, Scott and I traded 4 hours shifts.  Their house was small so Michael and I bought a beautiful home that was much larger and we moved everyone in with us.  We still all share in his care, along with the help of his wonderful nurses.  Ethan turned 5 this summer and while he is unable to speak or walk, he communicates with us with big smiles and loving eyes and our lives have been changed forever.

And now I feel it is time to move to the next chapter of my life.  Because we have help with Ethan’s care, I’m heading back into my home studio in Owosso, Michigan.  My plan is to set up an acrylic techniques class, as well as water media and china painting. My subjects are mainly nature, ie: flowers, nature scenes and animal portraits.  And back to the birthright…both of my children have inherited the art gene, but it hasn’t rubbed off on my husband, Michael! :)

I hope to keep this blog updated with class schedules, projects and maybe some mini lessons, and I hope that you will follow me as I share “An Artist’s Birthright”.

P.S.  Ethan Blake Woodhams died March 30, 2013 and my life will be forever changed for having loved and cared for him!