On Family and the Architecture of Growth

Since I can remember, I have loved drawing. And yet, over the years, what has defined me is something beyond the process of recording. As life’s challenges approached, my choices in navigation have revealed what is most important. In the face of loss, I found creativity. This creative phenomenon can be traced throughout history, not just in my own story, but in that of wider scopes of communities and civilizations.

Leonardo da Vinci, A deluge, c.1517-18

Leonardo da Vinci, A deluge, c.1517-18

The beginning of hurricane season is a reminder that from loss, we change. We can never get back what has been washed away but have the opportunity to take what is left and redefine our environment. When I was a kid, one of my favorite past times was trailblazing through the woods. My family lived walking distance from one another, and so whenever one place got boring, I could hop on my bike and ride to my aunt’s house, or go see what my grandparents were up to. As an adult, I still live a couple of miles away from where I grew up. This sustained proximity, while not necessarily the same as it was when I was a kid, has been the literal inspiration for the majority of my visual output. I am still learning new things just by having a morning coffee in my backyard.

Family, or the way in which one thing relates to others, is essential to all things we experience in life. To broaden this scope, “family” also refers to anyone who makes up one’s day to day existence. Family is the foundation from which we build all things. In the spiritual definition of “father” and “mother”, we see family as a framework from which all things emanate. Today we can reframe the familial structure while still maintaining the output of raising a complete human being. Is it not extraordinary how humans have evolved to claim an expanded definition of love and family?

I’m not afraid of losing myself in the process of growth. In fact, I am anticipating the discovery of new passions. I am praying to abandon whatever limits I might have and trailblaze through a forest that I have never known. Because I know that in navigating these woods, I have a basis for it all. The basis for all of my work, regardless of medium, is the personal dynamic of my observed relationship between things. 



Architecture is building upon the past, or as Leland Roth so marvelously put it, “Architecture is the chambered nautilus shell of the human species; it is the environment we build for ourselves, and which, as we grow in experience and knowledge, we change and adapt to our expanded condition.” In moving forward, we have the potential to change for the better. Embracing and Learning about the past gives us the foundation from which we build. Likewise, embracing and learning from the present allows us to reflect upon our observations.

The Nautilus has become my spirit animal as I begin building yet another chamber.





Art Talk: Bob Dylan and The Ocean

Last night, I had the honor of giving a talk to the Slidell Art League, an organization of local and regional artists in Slidell (my hometown) Louisiana. 

Visiting Artist Talk, Mia Kaplan

Slidell Art League

June 12, 2017, 7pm

Christ Episcopal Church, Slidell, LA


Good evening, fellow creatives. It is an honor to be here with you to tell you a little about my work, and where it comes from.

It's appropriate that this meeting takes place in a church, for I feel, and maybe some of you agree, that practicing art is a way of life and a belief system for coping with the tides. This practice was something that found me at an early age. My parents met while attending the School of Visual Arts in New York. Like many eccentric artist couples, they didn’t stay married, but remained tied together by two little hearts as my brother and I found ourselves flying between New Orleans and Newark.

 Before I started creating with the intention to understand the world around me, I was entertaining myself one day by colorizing black and white photographs at my father’s photography studio. I was around 8 years old. He came to see what I was working on, and I told him I was not happy with my work because I had trouble staying in the lines. He told me “you know sweetheart, there are a lot of great artists out there who don’t color in the lines.” I’ll never forget the look on his face. He had no question about my potential, and to this day I have both a love of lines and a playful disregard for the rules about them.

 I learned a lot of about the Art World from being a gallery director in my early twenties. A mentor once told me it was like High School with money, though I find that navigating this path doesn’t really have one right way. I did however reach the point in my life where I felt I needed to choose between two paths: that of becoming an art dealer, or of becoming a developed version who I had always been, an artist.

My work, in essence, is about understanding both my interior world, and the exterior world. I think all art accomplishes this purpose without having to think about it too much. In Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he connects his work in music to the stories that connect us as humans, and named a few particular examples of literary works that affected him by leading the way as he followed his own path. In the end, and in his charming dylanesque way, he says that the most important thing he has learned is to not think too much about what it all means. That part is not in our hands.

This statement rings like a major fire alarm in the halls of Art Academia. It’s roaring ablaze because it comes from a place of high regard, and it’s so, so true. We can’t help being people, and the most important thing we can do is to create something from it all in a way that brings us peace and allows us to spread peace. To have this wonderful relationship to ourselves where we are the eternal ball of clay, and we are in capable hands, with no burden of proof needed. Fret less, do more.

 I began my current trajectory in painting and sculpture by unlearning what I learned. I decided to start by spending more time out in the woods near where I grew up. Many of the relics from my childhood were lost in Katrina, but I noticed that somehow the wildflowers came back with no difficulty. I started to notice that nature just keeps going, in spite of the devastation, and so I painted my childhood home as told through the triumph of our landscape. These are from Big Branch Marsh, Bayou Paquet, Bayou Liberty, and Bayou Bonfouca.

 This past weekend, my family took a camping trip to Fort Pickens Beach. It turns out, my relationship to the sea is defined by the process I undergo in overcoming my fear of being eaten up by a shark. This fear exists in a place that is sort of logical...I mean, there are sharks, and people have been eaten by sharks before...at least that what I’ve read on the internet...but this fear also exists in a place that doesn’t make any sense in the largest picture….what are the chances, really, that the shark knows I’m there? What are the chances that he will indeed smell out the remains of the tuna sandwich I just enjoyed?

And so, I have decided that my fear of the shark is nowhere near as important as my desire to jump in the ocean and play in it for hours. I hope you all will find this connection between living life, and making your art, if you haven’t already.

 Thank you all for having me this evening.


Click here to see more of my Louisiana Landscapes.

And Here's Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize Talk - a good listen. <3

Art Installed: Jewel Toned Paintings Inspired by the Darkroom

Today's install is courtesy of Ann Connelly Fine Art in Baton Rouge, LA.

Ann Connelly has been in the art consultation business for well over 20 years. She represents contemporary artists whose focus leans towards botanical abstraction. 

Her latest install features three of my jewel toned paintings on paper, which were framed by the gallery's framing experts, hung over a fireplace in a newly designed living area. I usually don't get excited about art matching the furniture, but I have to comment on how much I love the velvet pillows and orange table, that make this otherwise monochromatic space a design jewel.

Art Installed: Jewel Toned Paintings. Image courtesy of Ann Connelly Fine Art.

Art Installed: Jewel Toned Paintings. Image courtesy of Ann Connelly Fine Art.

When Ann shared this picture on her Facebook page, a commenter asked if these were linocuts or lithographs. I guess the printmaker in me is alive and well - I do think in terms of layers and building imagery like a printmaker, which is why I studied Printmaking in combination with Drawing at the Memphis College of Art way back when. 

As I was working on these, I was reminded of the times I used to help my father process photographs in his darkroom. He owned a photo studio in Clinton, NJ., and I loved being in there with his music blaring while we would process pictures together. He would sit at the enlarger and ask me to hand him the paper, make the exposure, and then hand it back to me so I could then place it in the baths of developer, stop, and fixer. The red darkroom lamps cast their light on every surface, making the experience feel like a dream, and when we finished our work, the door would open and the rest of the world, with all of its bright lights and demanding colors would come flooding back in. The darkroom was like our refuge back then.

These pieces are NOT prints, or photographs, but are done the slow way - painting by hand. The monochromatic tones were masked off to set the stage for the drawings (which I did from some of the paper sculptures I have in my studio) in paint using a variety of brushes and even sticks to create the lines of the work. 

I hope you enjoy them! To see the rest of my jewel toned paintings from this series, visit my page on Ann's website

Palette Study: Observing life as an open-ended mood board.

A large part of my artistic practice is based on real-time observation and recording. When I first started painting landscapes regularly in 2008, I was using it as a way to reset my mind. All that gets accumulated over the years, in my case all that I had learned about art and being a working artist became a burden to the person within me who just liked to make things that felt right without concern about who "likes it" or not. Particularly in school when I was asked to write about the concept for bodies of work before I even started making them, I struggled. 

Later on, I came to understand why writing is introduced in the beginning of the creative process as a planning method for organizing thoughts before action, but of course not everyone goes through the front door of thought. In fact many artists who I relate to on a personal level share my method of reflecting upon creation. This process of creating a statement based on an amass of actual experience presents quite the challenge, because I could easily work from photos and make an entire body of work about Tokyo without actually being there, but I believe being there and working through the experience of being there makes the quality of my work more authentic, and it is my belief that we need authenticity in our lives - not just vibes, but a true understanding of what makes the vibration what it is. So what happens if I make a shift in my way of thinking about how things should or shouldn't happen? Do we all arrive at the same result when experiencing a person's art either way, or can YOU tell the difference between surface work and the deep stuff?

And so I carried around this conundrum when it came to mood boards...rejecting the idea of collecting stimuli that was not taken directly from personal experience. How much easier it would be to collect images of things that already existed from all over the world instead of relying upon myself to create a personal palette from observational scratch. Maybe I chose the long way around with my rules and such, but in doing so, I can tell you what's growing in my back yard because I've been there studying it for years. I have become quite the expert in documenting the subtle temperature changes in color found in the landscape as seasons change, the corresponding palettes and blooming cycles. So it seems that I have been creating mood boards all along - but in reverse! I'm delighted to share with you a brief synopsis of my findings, in the form of these swatch palettes, with selections of my favorite colors from each time of year.

October/Fall Palette. Marsh painting from Big Branch Marsh NWR.&nbsp;

October/Fall Palette. Marsh painting from Big Branch Marsh NWR. 

Autumn is about letting go of all the beautiful things we relished in Summer, embracing the natural transition of life into earth. My favorite colors in Fall are actually the ones that play between the crisp, soft blues on cold days and the golden wheat, chestnut, and deep earth tones that create a wonderful foundation for their evergreen accents. Without a foundation of these yellow ochres, raw siennas and burn umbers, we wouldn't have the same appreciation for the rest of life's colors.

January/Winter Palette. Painting of trees in my backyard in Lacombe, LA.

January/Winter Palette. Painting of trees in my backyard in Lacombe, LA.

Winter palettes are distinct from Fall palettes because they largely represent the evergreen population which gets so much play during the holidays versus the bold changes that occur when leaves change, but my favorite thing about Winter is moments is when I feel so c-c-c-cold, and then the sun comes out. So while the color palette is rather stark - icy ultramarine blues, muted bark tones, and deep cool greens, there is that wonderful hint of peach which represents the sun hitting the bark of the cold trees, and this peach becomes more prominent as the year continues. 

Spring Palette. Painted from the gardens in my front yard which house a variety of lilies, wildflowers, grasses, jasmine, and a Japanese Plum.

Spring Palette. Painted from the gardens in my front yard which house a variety of lilies, wildflowers, grasses, jasmine, and a Japanese Plum.

There is no time of year that rocks the world of minty greens, sunshine hansa yellow, corals (remember the peach?) and plum hues like Spring. A lady I adore once described her friend's style as "fauvist at heart", and I think that's really what Spring is all about...pastels balanced against their bold complements. 

June Palette. Painted from Bayou Liberty in Slidell, LA.&nbsp;

June Palette. Painted from Bayou Liberty in Slidell, LA. 

When people discuss hallucinations from heat of the dessert, I can relate from my own sphere. It doesn't take an ounce of peyote to feel the electricity of a hot summer day in the swamps. All of the colors are on fire, with perhaps a little relief in the delicate summer blooms, but Summer is and will always be the most passionate palette in my book. My favorite colors from this time are the deep cadmium yellows and reds, the cobalt and prussian blues.

In between the changes throughout the year, there is one thing that seems to remain consistent, and that is the colors that happen at dawn and dusk each day. When mixed with these seasonal palettes, we experience a complex harmony in our environment.

And so this idea of studying nature is not new, but following the path of studying these small changes has given me an appreciation for details that I had missed when I only knew the surface, and a deeper connection to life itself.

I'll leave you with this look at the seasons according to artist David Hockney, where he documents the same path from his hometown at different times of year, and how he used his love of painting these changes to influence how others see the world.




Another Year of The New Normal: Adapting to Inspirations and Technology

Embracing the Leap

A week or so ago, my LinkedIn profile informed me that I was celebrating another year at Mia Kaplan Studio. I can still remember the moment I decided to make the leap into the unknown, having had a salaried job during the day and painting at night, working in a place that was ok but far from my dream, and finally reaching the point where I decided that I needed to make some drastic and serious changes.

I quit, I jumped, and I admit there was panic at first, fear that "living the dream" was but a masked nightmare that involved rolling around on the floor screaming in simultaneous terror and delight, unsure of which feeling was real, like falling in love before the lights turned on. It wasn't until I learned how to chill out, and looked around to discover that I had survived, that I got behind the wheel of my ship and found the patience to learn how to navigate my new life. 

My "new normal", as I lovingly call it, was created by making a list of what I wanted each day to be like: waking up surrounded by people I love, having positive working relationships based on shared values and a common goal of making the world a little more delicate and thoughtful. I shifted my focus to conversing primarily about things that mattered to me, and worked hard to become a listener.

The Internal Work

This internal work took years, and is best described as a shedding of skin, an undergoing of rediscovering things I had forgotten about myself. On occasion I would assist my husband on his photo shoots, and one of our subjects was a gifted jeweler named Katy Beh. The photos were for an article being written discussing rituals, and we photographed her at home writing on yellow steno pads. Each morning, she told us, she would write without any specific goal, just to empty her mind, and I found this fascinating, much like my own process with sketchbooks in the morning. So I tried it at times when it wasn't appropriate to draw, I simply wrote whatever was on my mind that morning. It was cathartic, and deeply satisfying to empty my thoughts onto the pages and move on. My new writing ritual turned into the inspiration for the yellow notebook page patterns used in "Flowers for Peggy".

"Flowers for Peggy". Painted Aluminum Wall Sculpture. Photo:  Cedric Angeles

"Flowers for Peggy". Painted Aluminum Wall Sculpture. Photo: Cedric Angeles


The second major change I underwent was unexpected. My cousin Scheherezade in Los Angeles convinced me to join her on a couple of Angelino escapades, two of which were an 8-hour white tantric yoga workshop, and a five day transformational training program called M.I.T.T. (Mastery in Transformational Training). I was just going at first because she asked me to go, expecting nothing aside from my hopes of being good company for her.

It is hard to illustrate the effects of these experiences, but when I was referring to the rediscovery of things I had forgotten about myself, these experiences provided such insights. I had forgotten about the special powers I have had since I was a kid, powers I feel that we all have of clear intention and intuition, but for whatever reason I stopped trusting these powers. So I took them back! 

Managing Inspiration

Here's how it happens: you're walking along and suddenly something grabs your attention. It speaks to you. It could be a thought or an image, or the way pine needle trees grow in my case. The thought of managing something so organic as coming across and collecting fleeting moments of inspiration might seem like a buzz-kill, but I see it the way many people have connected to shopping, as a "retail therapy" of sorts whose transaction involves no salesperson or intermediary.

It IS possible and even considered normal among workhorse creatives to develop a system for collecting thoughts, and lately I have expanded my repertoire beyond the sketchbook and yellow steno pads to include technology. Apps like Evernote are an example of how technology has entered the picture to assist in the creative process by allowing one to collect and categorize information, and even share it with others. I was not into the idea of "mood boards" at first, but to manage visual information and reference, Pinterest is like having an endless supply of cork boards to find common threads in a big picture. It wasn't until I added a bunch of pins of my work to my Pinterest page that I was able to see a large volume of my work at once, and it helped me understand what I was doing. Furthermore, Pinterest suggests similar pins to complement imagery, which is revealing to see how something so personal fits into the aggregation of everyone else's imagery. My favorite discovery from Pinterest was the popularity of my line drawings for boards about tattoo ideas. Maybe I missed a calling as a tattoo designer? 

The External Work

So I find myself currently in an external phase, having renovated this old mental house, I have been working lately on physical projects. Using technology as just another tool in my workshop. After all, we live in a time where 3D printers can print a bust in marble using fifteen photos of a person. We are not so limited by our physical capabilities, but by our belief in our own potential as human beings. There are less limitations between our ideas and our output now more than ever.

#OWNIT & #WAYSTOGROW Campaigns for Intuit Quickbooks.

On this journey, I have acquired an unexpected love of Math for the harmony it creates, and thus I love and use the new Quickbooks self-employed app to keep my business in order. I use it because it makes a lot of sense for my business type as a freelancer, and instead of sitting behind a computer, I can categorize things and even send invoices on the phone while sitting out in the woods. Really. I have done this many times.

So I suppose it isn't quite unreasonable to imagine, but a delightful happenstance that I was recently part of one of their recent campaigns for web advertising. I'm not going to write much more here, as there are now six videos. They asked me all sorts of questions about my approach to business, and how I give back to my community and balance personal life with business life. 

Just in time for tax season, right? :) Hope you enjoy them.