Then and Now

Happy 2023! According to Larry David, I’m way past the statute of limitations in saying “Happy New Year!” But according to me, we have the entire month of January. How about that, Larry David? (2023 Julie is coming across very spicy!)

Did you read the Twitter thread of newspaper clippings from 1923 detailing what people thought life would be like one hundred years later? Now, in fact. There were a few that were spot-on, like the prediction that some women would be shaving their heads and some men would be wearing their hair curly! Others still have not come to fruition (but the year is still young!) like cancer being eradicated, gasoline being replaced with “radio”, and women blackening their teeth as a fashion statement. I’m sort of into that last one. Coffee and red wine stains, be damned! I’m blackening my teeth!

All this got me thinking- how has art evolved in the last hundred years? Would the prominent artists of 1923 be shocked? Impressed? Jealous they didn’t think of that first? According to, here are the top ten artists of 1923:

  1. Pablo Picasso
  2. George Bellows
  3. Robert Henri
  4. Childe Hassam
  5. Joseph Pennell
  6. Henri Matisse
  7. Ernest Lawson
  8. (Richard) Hayley Lever
  9. Auguste Rodin
  10. Frederick Carl Frieseke

Just for fun, here are a few of their pieces beside art from modern day artists.

I think there’s a lot to be said for artists that paved (maybe mosaiced) the way. Surely the Picassos and Bellows of last century would be excited about the innovation and creativity happening today. Less excited about smashing cake and soup onto famous masterpieces, I think. But if they took a look at Janet Hill, Kelly Reemtsen, or Jeff Koons how could they not be delighted about how art has evolved? Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and while art changes all the time, it continues to touch and change us in the best ways.

Here’s to an artsy 2023, friends!

Advent Art

This Christmas season I am focusing a little more on the Advent themes than I have in the past. Before, it was a nice tradition: lighting the candles each Sunday at church as a sort of stretched out countdown to The Main Event. But I heard a couple podcasts about Advent and it got me all fired up about what it really means to live these weeks in intentional anticipation. The last thing any of us need is to add more stuff to do around Christmas though, right? So I’m not going nuts. All I’m doing is writing the week’s theme on our family fridge calendar and a corresponding Bible verse. And I’m just generally trying to be more aware of hope, peace, joy, and love on a daily basis.

Once I thought about these four things as they relate to art, different artsy vibes came to mind right away. In my mind, hope is vibrant and big. Peace is quiet and soft. Joy is bright and untamed. And love is sweet and red (cliche, right? I don’t know what to do about it. Red=love. Ask Taylor Swift. She knows.). Here are four pieces of art that I think communicate these themes:

Letting Go But Not Giving Up by Mia White McNary. I found this while I was searching for the perfect painting that encapsulates what hope looks like to me. When I saw it, I thought, “this is it!” Then I read the story behind the painting, and no wonder it inspires hope! Read the story here. Warning: it’s a tearjerker! Happy tears though. Hopeful tears!

Every Morning the World is Created by Lucy Campbell. If hope is an adrenaline rush, “peace like a river flows.” This little girl is totally at peace with her situation and it’s written all over her face. The birds (doves?) seem to sense her calmness. Her soul is still even as she is racing along on the wolf’s back. I think it’s so beautiful.

Let Me Tell You a Story by Alejandra Pinango. Like hope, joy is bright and wild, but a little more playful in my mind. Just like this painting. It reminds me of a bustling city that’s full of kind neighbors and fun events! I’m imagining lots of great murals and concerts and crazy classes here like pirate-themed Zumba or SUP pottery!

Red Poppy by Georgia O’Keeffe. Leave it to Georgia O’Keeffe to provide a painting that (to me anyway) communicates love. Obviously love is a common theme in all kinds of art, but I like this poppy because it seems to represent a universal love. It could be romantic, or friendly; a love for nature or penguin Christmas ornaments or Hallmark Christmas movies. It just says “love” to me.

How are you seeing Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love play out in your life this holiday season? Is there any art that brings these themes to mind for you? It’s a great time of year to be looking for it. It’s everywhere!

The Annual Nice and Easel Gift Guide

Actually, this isn’t exactly an annual guide. I did give some artsy gift suggestions in this post in 2020, but then didn’t last year and now sort of wish I had so this could be the third annual N&E gift guide! Anyway, let’s say this is an annual Nice and Easel tradition. Yay! I love Christmas traditions!

Here are some fun gift ideas for the artists, art-lovers, or just random Secret Santa office people you hardly know:

These make me so happy every time I see them. They are bright and fun and I assume everyone wants one. Be a hero. Buy somebody a fake balloon dog. $12.99 on Amazon.

Wine with a fun label, artsy label, or personal-to-them label. DaVinci can be found just about anywere, in any variety for about $16 if you like this one. Otherwise just peruse your local wine shop and pick one that catches your eye. Dry January is just a thing everyone talks about doing, but doesn’t actually do, so it’s the perfect gift!

These paint pens are so fun! We used them for decorating pumpkins this year because I’m so over carving. How do we still have all our fingers after years of haphazard pumpking stabbing?! I really feel like we’re pushing our luck. Instead I made a pumpkin portrait of Adrienne’s stuffed fish, Phillipe.

Knobs. I know this doesn’t sound like a great gift, but hear me out. There are beautiful knobs (I think we’re supposed to call them “hardware”) out there. It’s a surprising gift, it gives a boring desk or dresser new life, and it’s perfect for your minimalist friends who don’t want another thing laying around the house. I got my girls knobs last year and they at least pretended to like them. Check Etsy, Amazon, or Hobby Lobby! These pictured can be found here.

These have nothing to do with art and maybe don’t belong on my blog, but come on. Who doesn’t love tiny hands? And (shockingly!) very few people own them! Help your loved ones have THE BEST YEAR EVER. Guaranteed to happen with tiny hands. Buy them here.

Here are a few other ideas that may be helpful:

  • An art museum membership.
  • A gift card for an artist to paint them a gift of their choosing (stair mural, anyone?)
  • A portrait of their pet (we have one of our late dog, Allie and both our guinea pigs!)
  • A portrait of their home (I hired an artist to paint my parents’ house a couple years ago and it was a huge hit!)
  • Tickets to the interactive Van Gogh exhibit (or, the Monet interactive exhibit, or… I hear a da Vinci version is coming too!)
  • Fun pens and stationary (let’s bring back the written word!!)
  • Gnomes. Give the people what they want!
  • Ice Cream: Why aren’t we giving more ice cream as a gift? With a nice ice cream scooper? Yes, please!
  • A kintsugi kit: Remember when I tried to do kintsugi and it was an epic fail? Update: I tried again and it worked! It’s true, anybody can do it, even slow learners like me!
  • A mini inflatable tube guy. Like the ones at car dealerships that wave and dance? But mini. Check Five Below. I gave Molly one a couple years ago and it is never not funny to see on her desk.

I hope this is helpful! Have the happiest Thanksgiving, a productive Black Friday, a meaningful Advent kick-off, and a delightful long weekend!

Three Artsy Things New to Me

I’ve been hearing about so many cool artsy things lately, you guys! I can’t wait to tell you about them:

First up: my friend, Scott Magie, is a talented filmmaker, and Friday I was able to go to the debut showing of his new documentary, “Creative Icons.” What a treat! The show (it’s the first in a five-part docuseries) lives at the inspiring intersection of creativity and faith. It features interviews with all kinds of creatives (writers, illustrators, choreographers, etc.) and explores how faith inspires their art. At its core, “Creative Icons” highlights God as Creator and points out that if we are made in His image, then aren’t we also made to create? I loved hearing artists’ thoughts on this topic, and of course celebrating Scott and his film, a piece of art in and of itself! Check out the trailer at the Creative Icons website.

The second super-cool thing I learned about recently is the art of ebru. This is the Turkish tradition of dropping paint into oily water, forming a picture, then transferring it onto paper. As if painting wasn’t hard enough, the Turks were like, “let’s paint on water and then MOVE the artwork onto paper!” It sounds impossible, but when it works, it works! Look at how beautiful this is:

You may want to watch this video too. I think it’s so therapeutic! Until you try it, I’m sure. These things are always harder than they look. (Artists everywhere are like, “duh.”)

With Christmas right around the corner (eeeeeek!) there is one more art form I recently learned about that I want to share with you. Furoshiki is a Japanese gift wrapping technique using cloth rather than paper. The wrapping can be as fancy or as basic as you want (or as you can manage if you’re me.) Afterward the cloth can be used to wrap another gift, made into a little tote, or (my favorite idea) whipped into a wine carrier. How cute are these gifts?

And, since I’m all about the video links today, here’s a link to a furoshiki tutorial. It looks like it works best with rectangular gifts, which this very bad wrapper always aims to buy anyway.

If you watch the “Creative Icons” trailer or attempt ebru or furoshiki please tell me your thoughts! I love hearing from you!!

Turning Art on Its Head

Poll: How do you feel about the Piet Mondrian painting hanging upside down for the last 75 years?

A) What a travesty! What idiot could make such a mistake?!

B) Heehee! Hilarious! It’s like playing Hotel California backward- it makes sense either way!

I think you guys know which camp I’m in. How can we not laugh at a snafu like that?! It’s a good, old-fashioned blooper. What’s next? Bach’s Brandenberg Concertos were backwards? The blueprints for the Taj Mahal were upside down? The Hope Diamond is really cubic zirconia? I turned my computer upside down to see if I felt differently about Mondrian’s New York City I. Nope. Then, I left my computer right side up and did a headstand. Still nothing. The painting works either way!! Mondrian was more genius than even he knew!

What do you think? Don’t let all the blood rush to your head figuring it out!

Here are some other paintings I think are every bit as good upside down as they are right side up:

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Red Canna: Upside down it’s less climactic and more volacanic, I think.

Dali’s Metamorphosis of Narcissus is trippy no matter which way you spin it! (Note: In my opinion, almost all Dali’s paintings can be flipped and make just as much sense as they do right side up!)

I think this looks even MORE like a Picasso when it’s upside down!

Monet’s bridge looks a little saggy flipped upside down, but I think it gives the painting a dangerous, “are we going to fall in this pond?!” feel.

Here’s to looking at things from a new angle, friends! Have a wonderfully topsy-turvy day!

Going for the Gold

Kintsugi (golden joinery), aka kintsukuroi (golden repair) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum…


I determined to try the art of kintsugi. I heard about it a long time ago, then again in a fiction book I recently read. It’s beautiful, it’s functional, it’s exotic and practical. What’s not to love?! And… it even seemed like something I could tackle. Not like the time I tried to make my nephew a croissant crab….

But like something I could actually do and it might turn out. My research began on YouTube. Then I read all the articles. Then I did all the supply research and made my purchases. Here are some of the blurbs from YouTube and the aforementioned articles: “Shockingly easy!” “Four easy steps:” “Anyone can perform kintsugi repair.”

Here are some blurbs from me as I attempted kintsugi: “What the heck?” “I thought this was ‘shockingly freaking easy!” “I DID hold this for four minutes! The internet lies!”

Here is my BeReal from try #1. In my head it turned out beautifully.

So, I’m awful at it, but my gosh- I think it’s beautiful. Here are some pieces done by people who got it right:

Isn’t it lovely? I love the philosophy behind it: that things are redeemable, that broken things can be repaired. A vase, a bowl, a person? Maybe they’ve been shattered, but they can be put back together and beautiful, only beautiful in a different way than before. It makes me a little weepy, to tell you the truth. It makes me think maybe I should give this thing another try.

Bonus ArtPrize Post

I can’t resist one more little ArtPrize post. One thing I love about this event is there are always new artists, but there are several artists who enter every year, giving a familiar feel to new pieces. It’s fun to see an exhibit and know without looking at the placard who made it. Here are a few last year/this year pictures.

Did you go to ArtPrize? Did you have a favorite exhibit? Comment below!

ArtPrize 2022!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: ArtPrize is my favorite event in Michigan!! Great art packed into a great town? Yes, please! This year certainly did not disappoint. Please enjoy these pictures of (just a few of) the awesome installments we saw. And if you’re looking for a challenge, guess which one received the Artist-to-Artist award (answer at the bottom).

Carla and I knew we were off to a good start when we loved the very first ArtPrize exhibit our eyes landed on. These bears are made of nails! Also, pro tip: the Gerald R. Ford Museum is my favorite place to park during ArtPrize.
This cat is made of Swavorski crystals! It was on a rotating stand, which really gave it a je ne sais quoi vibe. It can be yours for the low, low price of $20,000.
I assure you, there are some pictures coming up that aren’t animals. Just… not yet. This artist had an entire series of jungle animals… all drawn with Sharpies!! Brilliant! (Says the girl who bought herself a 20 pack of Sharpies and put them in her own stocking last Christmas.)
You guys. This eye is a DRAWING! Kaylee Yang did this with colored pencils. The detail blows my mind! She’s definitely an artist to keep an eye on.
I knew right away my kids would love this one! It’s so sweet and whimsical. Zoom in to see the little dog pilots and their slingshot launchpad. Everything about this makes me smile!

This was titled “Music in the Air” Clever art, clever name!
The picture does not do this exhibit justice! We talked to the artist for a while and he told us he went to Egypt in 2020 (but HOW?!) to see the pyramids. When he came home he created this replica of the tomb with moving parts and everything! He and his wife of 50 years painted it together, confirming my suspiscion that couples who create together, stay together!
This wall of origami flowers puts my cootie catchers of fourth grade fame to shame. It was featured in the Amway Hotel in the same spot the dictionary dresses were last year! Paper alley, is what we’ll call it from this year on.

That’s a wrap on ArtPrize 2022! It was a blast as always. There were tons of talented artists from all over the place, but I was excited to see so many representing Michigan! Keep on creating, artists! I can’t wait to see what you come up with for ArtPrize 2023!

Answer: If you were playing along, it was the clay pots with scenes that won the Artist-to-Artist award. And rightly so. They’re done by Brad and Bryan Caviness out of Greensboro, NC. “Slay with clay” is their motto! (Not really. But it should be.)

Favorites: Extended Family Edition

Well, I wore jeans yesterday. And a sweatshirt the day before that. It seems summer is inching toward the door, but not without a good-bye. This Labor Day weekend was one of the best I’ve ever had. My whole family was up north and even though it seemed every house on the lake except ours caught the Northern Lights, my days were just as bright and thrilling. In large part because my whole family was there AND a handful of my beloved cousins, aunts, and uncles. Some of whom I haven’t seen since before Covid. It was a happy, happy reunion.

We celebrated by letting the patriarchs (my dad and his brother) make us a pancake breakfast. Delighted chatter bubbled and bounced, a dozen conversations happening at once, but you know I managed to ask a few people about their favorite art. As per usual, they all reserve the right to change their minds or add to their list at any time.

Amy: Amy didn’t hem or haw. “The first thing that comes to mind is The Pissing Boy in Belgium,” she laughed. (We were all a little giddy with togetherness.) The statue is aptly titled Manneken Pis (Dutch for “Little Pissing Man.”) She appreciates its humor, but semi-seriously noted there’s more to it if you think about it. The boy commemorates our basic need for water and relief. Repeat. Our cousin Tom chimed in to inform us the statue is in honor of a little boy who reportedly saved the town when it was on fire by… using the fire as a urinal. The statue has become a symbol of perseverance. Through war, theft, vandalism… still he stands. For over 400 years the boy has been peeing before tourists and Belgians alike, refreshing the people with his unassuming posture and cool, clear stream.

His expression is so chill. It says, “I’m just going with the flow.”

Tom: Tom loves the fine arts. He is a writer and dancer and appreciator of all creativity, so I was not surprised that he had an answer at the ready: The Kiss by Auguste Rodin. “It is romantic and sensual. The subjects are only focused on each other. Nothing else exists to them in that moment.” The statue depicts a scene from Dante’s Inferno, in which a woman falls in love with her brother-in-law. The sculpture was scandalous when it was first unveiled. Many argued it was too scandalous and tried to ban it, but its beauty along with Rodin’s talent, could not be denied. Rodin ended up making multiple versions of it for the many art collectors (and finally) museums who recognized the piece as passionate and skillful rather than obscene.

Like Dante’s Inferno, this piece is hot.

Amit: I was unfamiliar with the artist Amit mentioned as one of his favorites, so he pulled up some of Alex Grey’s work and passed his phone around. None of us knew of him (except my brother who immediately recognized Grey’s work from Tool’s album cover.) What a fantastic treat to learn about this guy (and over delicious blueberry pancakes, no less!) His work is intricate and a little trippy. We all loved the tree shown below, leading to a sidebar conversation about other trees in art. Is a penchant for colorful trees genetic? It would seem so.

If it’s possible to like something while also feeling a little uncomfortable, Gaia nails it for me.

Jamie: Jamie is an architecture and interior design person. She loves buildings and structure and the aesthetics that go with them. She has a fantastic eye for beauty, which not everybody does. Me, for instance. (I’m looking at you, entire collection of Goya paintings. Are you beautiful? Ugly? Both?) Jamie always, always knows if something is lovely or not. Here she is holding her favorite paintings du jour: the one on the right was done by our grandma and the smaller one on the left is one she found at a thrift store to feature by our grandma’s painting. Jamie loved how beautifully the gold background of the thrift store painting complimented the few bits of gold in our grandma’s.

Jamie: My personal color professional.

As with my friends featured in the last post, asking “what’s your favorite piece of art?” initiated fantastic conversation within my family. Everyone chimed in! Comments like “I don’t care for impressionism.” and “I prefer 3D art.” and “We just went to a great art museum in Denver!” swirled around like steam off our coffee and warmed me just as much. Family, friends, art… all my favorites!

Art Favorites: Friends Edition

Did you know the Mona Lisa has her own mailbox? She gets thousands of love letters from fans every year! In this second installment of “Favorites,” I asked some of my favorite friends what their favorite pieces of art are. They aren’t sending fanmail to these artworks as far as I know, but we sure did have fun waxing poetic about our favorite pieces!

Kate: Kate verbalized a problem we all face with art, “I seem to love everything I see.” Same! The struggle is real. But when push came to shove, she was able to name a few pieces that hold a special place in her heart.

Kate saw each of these pieces in person. Don’t you think there is something about seeing art in real life that connects us to it forever? Kate said seeing David birthed her love of art. “Standing next to the beautiful marble sculpture knowing that one of the greatest artists in the world created it, evoked such awe and appreciation for me I will always remember it.” At the Vatican, upon seeing School of Athens, she noted that “next to all the other pieces of artwork the detail and brighness of Raphael’s paintings really spoke to me. They were just so much above the other artists.” And finally, one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. “The color that Van Gogh used in this painting evokes happy and even calming feelings for me and it means even more because of my passion for working with flowers.” Kate evokes happy and calming feelings too! To see some of her incredible flower arrangements visit her website here!

Suzie: Suzie knows a lot about art. She is married to an art teacher, has two artist children, and is an amazing artist in her own right. You remember her from the incredible butter sculpture at my birthday party last year.

Suzie emailed me the picture on the left, done by an artist I’d never heard of, but now love for all time (Bright colors! Animals! Yay!) She learned of Monika Forsberg from a puzzle Forsberg designed, proving art does not have to be a huge financial investment or hanging in a museum. Art can be in pieces on the kitchen table! The puzzle, for instance, is (in Suzie’s words) “colorful and fun and almost musical to the eye.” Suzie actually replicated one of Forsberg’s paintings in her kitchen so she can look at it every day. (I told you- she’s an artist!) She also sent a picture of this piggy she loves because it’s “simple and unpretentious.” We all agreed the pig is adorable (I told her I especially love its ear. So sweet!) Thank goodness Suzie rescued it from her parents’ “give away” pile!

Carla: You know Carla from other blog posts because she is always game for exploring art with me! Stay tuned for a post on ArtPrize when we visit later in September! I knew she’d rise to this challenge not only because she loves art, but because she is a champ at any version of “Favorites.”

Carla’s mom has a replica painting of Ginevra de’ Benci in her home, so she already had a soft-spot for the portrait. Then she was able to see the original at the National Gallery. She said when she spotted Ginevra, “it was like seeing a familiar face, oh- I know her!” She added that like her mom, she could stare at Ginevra’s glowing face and unique expression for hours. The Bean (and big, interactive pieces like it!) is also among Carla’s favorites. Cloud Gate acts as a mirror for different people all the time, so it’s constantly changing, which is awesome. Plus, who doesn’t love being part of an exhibit? Incidentally, the third art piece Carla mentioned as a favorite is also interactive: Patrick Dougherty’s Standing Room is a stick structure at WMU, where Carla often passed it, went in it, and admired it. Carla loves nature and art, so it’s no surprise she has an appreciation for the marriage of the two!

Moriah: I love that Moriah pointed out lots of people feel art is only for those with an “eye” for it, but art is for us all! It’s personal and important and not right or wrong. I used to feel this way about wine. It turns out the finest wine is…. whatever tastes good to the drinker! Likewise, the best art is whatever a person thinks is best! Isn’t that the beauty of it?

Moriah noted Monet’s garden paintings and how they make her want to breathe deeply, which made me smile because she is a yoga instructor and of course paying attention to her breathing. 🙂 I’m so happy she brought up Monet’s gardens, because I mostly remember his lilypads when I think Monet, but how stunning are the colors in this painting of his garden? The vibrancy makes me want to crawl into the canvas and stroll around. Moriah also noted da Vinci’s exquisite ability to draw the human form, and isn’t that the truth? Has anybody since da Vinci been able to capture humans so intricately? Incidentally, the hands pictured above are believed to be “practice hands” da Vinci drew for Ginevra de’Benci!

I have to tell you, I sent these friends a casual text one afternoon asking for their favorite artwork and the loveliest text thread bloomed. If you are looking for a great conversation with your friend group, let me suggest asking “What’s your favorite piece of art? PLEASE DON’T FEEL OBLIGATED!” If your friends are half as awesome as mine, they’ll deliver!