State of Confusion

As the spring starts to show its face, the crocus have popped up, the peepers are clearing their throats and the grass begins to green. I am reminded of the beauty of where I live and that my Virginia is not the Virginia everybody enjoys or maybe even wants. Thank God for that.

Recently I was asked to be the lead judge and key note speaker, for The Loudoun Education Foundation’s purchase award, for Loudoun County’s, high school senors only, art contest. I was happy to do so and this would be taking place at The Art Institute of America’s newest campus at Dulles Town Center.

With the judging behind me, the award ceremony was to be held on Friday, March 4th at 6pm and all went well. Being one to be on time though, I gave myself the ease of being way ahead of any rush hour. After running some errands along the way, I ended up with some time to waste “literally” at the mall.

It should be noted, my visits to malls are infrequent to say the least. I’ve grown used to small town USA, but here I was and alas, here are my observations. The amount of asphalt allotted for the parking lot would indicate malls to be the most popular places on earth. This one, at about 3pm on a Friday, seemed anything but.  You circle the place to pick your anchor of choice.  Mine began with the letter “N”. I enter.

I can recall a time when going to the fancy department store such as this, and looking at a $100. shirt, you would not see a label proudly stating that it was made in China. Can’t that much money buy you a shirt made, oh let’s say for example – HERE? Or Italy? Silk in this case, on its own right is not that expensive, it’s the designer’s name that drives price and it used to be the brand would drive quality and account for a higher quality labor force. But now we seem to have the old bate and switch going on. Now you can have W-Mart and designer labels coming from the same place. It’s rather disappointing. I move on.

I walked the whole mall. I’m an artist and therefore I observe and what I observed was this. There are stores all selling clothes made in China and the rest seem to sell phones, even if they were not phone stores. By the way, can you tell me why there is a Radio Shack in the mall? As no one buys radios anymore and certainly no one at the mall is going to repair one, let me share with you the reason …. to sell phones.

To this point, I noticed those at the mall were not actually shopping, they were all talking to each other on the their phones. You think I’m over dramatizing? Here you go. I decided maybe with all my walking I deserved some ice cream. So I found Ben & Jerry’s in the food court. That’s funny in of itself, the mall has a mini mall of food.

Anyway, I walk up and there is a young couple in front of me waiting for their order. As both of them were on each of their own phones having separate conversations, the young man behind the counter seemed to be attempting to make a shake of some kind. I noticed him reaching into the freezer to get some milk … ironically “Shenandoah’s Pride”. The Pride is along way from home at this point, trust me. All of a sudden he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, looks at it and TAKES THE CALL!!! Now I have a couple and the only employee, who is being paid by B&J, all on the phone at the same time!! I can only imagine that the couple called in their order.

I looked up at the sky and said, Lord, please get me home to Virginia, as the only state I’m in here, is the state of confusion.

Live artfully,


Discovery for Winter Hand/Feet Care

I’ve discovered something great this winter.  One of our artists, Dora Martin, creates handmade shea butter products.  I’ve used the lotion bar sporadically in the past but never really got into it.  Well, this past winter I decided to see how much of a difference it could make on my hands and feet.  I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for a good lotion that will really, I mean really, keep my hands and cuticles from drying up and cracking.  Well, this is the product.  shea butter productsI’ve been diligent about using it every night before I retire and any other chance I get where I know I’m not going to be washing my hands for a period of time.  Once you start using the lotion bar every day it gets real creamy and easy to apply.  I’ve noticed that it soaks in within just a couple of minutes.  Dora only uses natural beneficial oils and beeswax so there’s no alcohol or water involved to dry the skin.  Rubbing the bar on my hands and feet at night allows the shea butter to really absorb overnight.  I also put an extra little layer on just my cuticles and rub it in.  What a difference it has made for me.  No cracked places under my fingernails, no cracked cuticles and soft heels just waiting for warm summer days and sandals!

The Artistry of the Woven Scarf

There is a lot to be said of the hand woven scarf.  Artists who choose to take on this wonderful craft have to have a certain fortitude and stick-to-it attitude because just warping the loom is an intense and time consuming endeavor.  Yesterday, Anne Sanderfoff-Walker delivered 8 incredibly creative hand woven tencel or tencel and silk scarves.  Just the colors alone can make one drool.  But then take in the actual designs and it’s pretty hard to choose a favorite.  Anne has been weaving for over 20 years yet, each time she brings in scarves I marvel at how unique each one is.

If I had to choose just one today I think it would be the tencel and boucle silk, hand dyed, peachy, pink one.  This scarf has a wonderful weave and the little nubs from the boucle yarn make the texture so interesting.  Then there’s the color.  Anne hand dyed the yarns so the color is rich and lively yet pure spring.  "Boucle silk scarf"

But then my eye goes to one that is chartreuse and turquoise – “really” you say.  Yes, it’s just scrumptious.  To make it even more interesting the weave is a twill block using the Fibonacci sequence.  fibonacci green scarf What I notice is that woven in this manner the chartreuse color comes forward and the turquoise recedes.  Fascinating  .  .  .  .  I can’t even imagine figuring out how to weave the sequence and twill at the same time.   Of course, if you are as talented as Anne is, I’m sure it all comes easier.

She doesn’t stop there.  Also included in this selection of new scarves are a few very intricate, finely woven patterns in true blues and reds.  Red in Diamond design    curves in blue

Oh the choices -  I love them all!


New Contemporary Work

We would like to share something new and exciting at Live An Artful Life Gallery. Over the years, Linda’s textile work has not only graced Live An Artful Life Gallery, most notably with her colorful contemporary silk scarves, her work has been exhibited and won awards at textile shows around the country as well. Truth be told, Linda’s passion for textiles as an artistic medium is vast and now she has made the ultimate jump to fine art.
Linda with artwork
Linda has now merged her complex process of working with silk and screen, into a fusion of fine art. The result; dramatic, fresh and unseen before. Abstract patterns ascend, depth is felt and color appears with movement. During our recent visit to Art Palm Beach we searched for anything remotely like her work and found nothing. In fact, I would say that the only other medium nearing her motional effect, is very high end glass.
Each unique deep panel has been hand mounted and wrapped around all four sides, thus offering a three dimensional quality.Linda with Big Bang Each is signed and titled. Live An Artful Life Gallery is now proud to represent the contemporary fine art of Linda Neel. I personally invite you to visit and enjoy the work of this emerging artist!

December, the low stress, high quality way

The holidays this year got off to a hectic, step all over Thanksgiving start by the box stores. The mad house of pushing and shoving to buy that seventh flat screen TV and the other odds and ends of our tech inflicted lives, has become newsworthy. But you’ve been smart and have been coming to The Plains, where you freely and conveniently park and always are able to find your car quickly for the return trip home. You casually stroll down our brick sidewalks without a care and the speed in which you do so is in sync with your smile in knowing your blood pressure is not a boiling kettle.

A rumbling tummy is not met with being elbowed by hordes of the great unfed and a civility calms your taste buds as much as the great food you enjoy.  Not overwhelmed by over advertised brand choices, you instead have select quality choices offered in a way that make your list seem accomplish-able. “Ah, this is satisfying” you say to yourself.

Not having run a marathon, you enter a quaint shop with a meditative name – Live An Artful Life.  There, what you touch is real – not virtual.  It is hand made by artisans, one by one – not machines in massive numbers and it is made in America – not from a far off foreign land.

The gift you then give, is the kind of gift you would give yourself and well, you often do. Because the other things you find are just that, things. Live An Artful Life appreciates you, as do the many artists and artisans who create the special items we offer you. We strive to make your holidays and the gifts you’re giving unique and most of all pleasurable ….. and fun!

December, the low stress, high quality way.

Live An Artful Life!

Artful Holiday Table Settings

There are just those types of people that not only love to entertain, they are good at it. But then there’s the masters of entertainment, who know the right setting can take a simple dinner and make it so very special. One such person is Catherine Boswell, who recently join with Live An Artful Life® to show the simple secrets all of us can use to get our party started.

Catherine Boswell, Red & Gold Table

First up, is picking a theme for your celebration. While there are many reasons to celebrate, including life itself, even the holidays can have a theme within a theme which dictates color, texture, your actual table setting and most of all, your center piece. Thanksgiving could be traditional or the theme could be THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Christmas could be very tradition or the theme could be a winter wonderland.

With Catherine, her tables are first grounded and by that, we mean you build off a foundation, that being the table cloth choice itself. She not only loves the use of fine fabrics, but loves even layering fabrics based on the shape and dimension of your table. Be it solids or plaids, florals or stripes and rectangle, round or square tables, there is absolutely something for everyone’s budget. If you are handy with sewing, your talents can add that extra touch, but even mixed pre-made pieces can achieve your goal.

With your foundation set, it’s time to start thinking about your centerpiece.  A well done centerpiece should in a sense tell your table’s story and most of all, be fun! Catherine relies on simple things to accomplish this. First is always looking at what you have, but inexpensive craft store items, combined with natural goodies from outdoors can all make your table come to life.

With your theme, foundation and story all in place, you can now add in your place settings. Here Catherine likes to mix things up. Bringing the unexpected in makes it all more fun. Dishes can be of one set, added to chargers of another and even napkin rings can not actually be napkin rings, but rather something that will work as one. The most important thing is following the continuity of your theme.

Finally there are the accents. These are the things that help connect your theme from place setting to place setting. It could be leaves laid about on a fall table that pick up on a centerpiece made of branches and leaves. Tea lights or candles and such can add to the sparkle and luminance to everything. This is all about fun and sharing an intimate time with family and friends … just add food, beverage and serve!

… and remember to Live An Artful Life!

Red & Gold Table

Here is the Red and Gold Table.   Catherine chose a beautiful red pot as a center piece accented with twigs that she painted black then hung with our Pear Ornaments from Claudia Zeber-Martell and accented the base with our two 5 Pear sculptures.    The cloth was a beautiful floral printed burlap which she then added this red and gold plaid overlay.  The chargers were inexpensive and purchased locally.  The dinner and salad plates are from our stock of glassware by Fire & Light.  The napkin rings are actually Dogwood Blossom hooks by our iron artist, Greg Price.  To add to the ambiance are 12  little candles from the gallery’s candle stock and last tiny dried leaves were dropped about from our tree on the street!

Blue & White Table

The Blue & White Table featured mix and match blue and white china from Crest Hill Antiques and Tea Room right here in The Plains. Catherine made a chartreuse tablecloth with napkins to match.  She then tied the napkins with sheer ribbon with a couple of blue beads tied to the ribbon.  The centerpiece is a blue & white pitcher with cut fall leaves and berries from her yard.  The tumblers are part of our Fire & Light collection.  Notice how she placed the spoons in the bowls to add just an extra touch.  She also added some red leaves on the table for a natural look.

Winter Wonderland Table

The Winter Wonderland Table had a wonderful centerpiece of white flocked twigs in a glass vase surrounded by our crackle lavender candles.  The tablecloth was a delicate white with a ruffle at the bottom.  The place setting consisted of plain whited dishes with lavender salad and  bowls from Fire & Light.  The napkin rings where lavender glass bracelets acting as napkin rings.  Again, notice the placement of the flatware which is very creative and adds interest to the table.  Also note that one orange maple leaf was added to each place setting for color contrast which really makes it pop… Tom’s idea!

Farmland Table



Last and probably our favorite was the Farmland Table.  The centerpiece vase, the dinner and the salad plates were all created by our pottery artist, Sandra McKenzie Schmitt.  Each dinner place has a different flower relief and the checkered salad plate each have a different bird on the edge.  They really are wonderful.  The tablecloth is a simple burlap with fringed edge.  The pewter vessels acting as drinkware were from Crest Hill Antiques & Tea Room.  The flatware is tied in the center of the salad plate with raffia.  The centerpiece vase is a mix of cut fall branches, berries and greens.

Detail of place setting

Kids, Creativity and You!

Kids, creativity and you! How’s that for an opener? We don’t have kids, but I was one once and certainly a part of me still is. Kids have wonderful imaginations. Do you know why? Because they have so little reality to screw with it.

A child’s happy little brain is like an Easter egg hunt, always in a fun game of finding and collecting new interesting things. They haven’t learned about currency or bills or cluttered their developing minds with phobias and responsibilities. Nope, its virgin territory, open to creativity.

I meet adults all the time though that want to be creative and they often tell me this with such desire, that it actually comes across as though they’ve been defeated. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, I can’t make a stick figure, I can’t find the time and the best one of all, I’m just not creative. So here’s the thing. I usually then draw out of them a time when their creative life was zapped for one of responsibility. Where the kid was told, often prematurely, to become an adult or they lost it to the “burden of the responsible man – or woman”

Here’s how it goes. There’s a boy, he playing fireman. He’s got the bright red fire truck, the hat and runs around the house making siren sounds. Now ask yourself, is his motivation one of daring and community service or creative enthusiasm? At say 6 years old, does he want to run into a burning house or does he like loud trucks with ladders and white dogs with black spots?

At some point we all grow up and have to put out life’s fires, but we also often have influences which can suppress our creative desire, often with dissatisfying results. The best one is being told about “starving artists” and never told about the many who live quite enjoyable and fruitful creative lives. There are not just a few you know? There are hundreds of thousands of professionals and they don’t just paint, they make movies, create websites, design clothing and houses. They dance, they sing, are musicians or are creative thinkers. Past that, there are many that just want to be creative.

Yet it’s interesting how many gifted people I meet, often very educated, but also creatively unhappy. Creativity is all about freedom of the mind. It’s the freedom to explore and really about the only place left without rules, regulations, compliance and oversight. This is one of creativity’s most shinning reasons to exist and I’ve proven time and time again to those that don’t think they have it, that they indeed do in some form or level. But it has either been suppressed or now buried in responsibility.

Creativity is also not like an on off switch. It’s like anything learned. It takes enthusiasm, which kids have boat loads of and it also takes practice. Use it or loose it. But it also takes understanding of self expression. You may think you want to draw, but baby you really need to dance! Or sculpt or write, but the important thing is not to suppress it and then to explore it. In short some have fun.

Adults by their very grown up nature are results driven. We can’t help it, we’ve become responsible and I am certainly not implying that responsibility is a bad thing. That would be missing the point entirely. I am saying that you need to allow yourself to turn that off to have a little fun. Our grown up nature to be too results driven can set us up for failure in leaning new things, especially creative ones. We become carrot and stick driven over smile driven. Having something make you smile can be quite a carrot.

So using something like drawing as an example, think how long it took you to learn how to use a pencil. Don’t think a few days. You started very young making a mess with it and having a blast. Then a teacher taught you how to draw … I mean write. Big A, little a, big B, little b and so on. Get it? All that is, is drawing. It’s straight and curvy lines placed in understandable positions. It took you much longer than you think and yet I see people take one painting class, using a paint brush, which is hundreds of times harder to use then a pencil and come out saying, I found I wasn’t creative. What? Give yourself a break with new things, let it be fun first and if you have kids and really want to be creative yourself, take lessons from them. They know how to make it fun and they’ll be happy you joined them.

Live An Artful Life


Creativity to me is an absolute blessing, but productivity may be its angel. As I have been highly creative all of my life. Thankfully, I’ve been productive too and as an artist, I want to share my philosophy in understanding of the roles of both.

One question I am constantly asked is, “When do you work?” I think it is an interesting question, because it’s the type of question only an artist would be asked. But I always have pretty much the same answer and it’s often met with some amazement. “Monday through Friday, unless I have to cut the grass mid week and then I might paint on the weekends a bit too.”, after all, I’m self employed and can easily do so. I may go on to say, “On occasion I’ve started painting as early as 4AM and I’ve painted as late as 10PM”, but it doesn’t have anything to do with mystical creative urges that only come during a full moon. I’m just being productive.

With that, many will say, “You actually seem to work a regular work week.” Well imagine that? You see, no matter what I’ve done, I’ve always intended myself to be successful and busy doing what I love. Productivity is not some ugly side of creativity, but let’s also make no mistake about what productivity means. For me, it means diligently working at my craft and for my customers. It doesn’t mean waiting for that mystical creative bug to bite and it certainly doesn’t mean banging out paintings. I never bang out paintings. I collect my ideas, funnel them down to paintings whose time it is to come alive and then paint them one at a time. Placing everything I have in my soul as an artist, into that one work of art, through to its completion and I am methodical about it. Do I give myself time to breath? Yes, even during the painting process. I also give myself time to focus on my business and goals. But there’s no mistaking, this is time management, more than creative management. It’s all I can do to faucet my creativity, I have plenty of that. But we are all limited on time.

Next year marks 25 years of painting sales for me. I was 33 when I started selling my art. With a lifetime of creativity and business behind me and a desired career as an artist in front, I knew just being creative wasn’t enough. Being creatively productive was a must. Everyone that works has to balance life and artists, especially ones with a desire for success, are no different. If you want to be successful at anything, you must apply yourself. It is work, but if that which you apply yourself to is what you love, it will not feel like work and that to me is one key to a good life in general.

There are many creativity people in the world, but there are also creative impostors who may call themselves artists without actually producing anything but chatter. My wife Linda mentions to me about the occasional gallery visitor, that would walk around with a friend, going from one artisan piece to another saying, “I could do this, I could make that.” Linda now (lovingly) says to them, “But you never will.” She knows productive people don’t talk about it, they do it.

By the way, this is done in sport and she doesn’t do this in defense of the gallery. She does it for the many artists that use their creativity in a productive way. They passionately enjoy seeing their vision come to life and enjoy it becoming part of someone else’s. They don’t call themselves artists as some sort of badge of creative honor. Others call them artists because of what they create and in fact, many artists have a hard time even calling themselves artists.

If you are creatively inspired – create. If you are not motivated to create, you are not creative and to be an artist, you must create. If you are creative and want to do so as a career – manage it as you would any other business. All businesses have to be creative, artists just make creativity their business. As well, all businesses have to be productive and career artists must be too! Just as you apply yourself to become a better artist, also take time to learn productivity. You’ll be happy you did.

Studio Talk: Bruce Cameron

A few weeks ago, woodworking artist Bruce Cameron dropped by our home to pick up some large logs of a cherry tree that was damaged during one of our recent storms.  You just don’t let material like this go to waste.  In turn we decided to pay a visit to Bruce’s shop to say hi and pick up a few things he made for a project Tom was working on.  Visiting artist’s studios, or in this case, a woodworking shop, gives us greater insight to their creativity and a more casual time to chat.

During our visit we found him working on a bench.  Bruce loves to create items that are in keeping with the wood.  For example, the bench will have the bark left on the edges, so it will look like it’s just been plucked from the forest.

Serving tray with natural edge

He often uses that same technique of keeping a natural edge when he creates many of the wonderful cheese/cutting boards you see in the gallery.

In the one pictured here, he has separated the cherry with an inlay and the natural edge appears on the on the left of the photo which would be the top of the tray.

Bruce retired six years ago and personally built his own workshop at their Blue Ridge mountain home.  He has had a passion for woodworking for more than ten years.  His workshop is three floors, allowing him to also store and dry the wood he has collected.  Bruce often finds unusual pieces of wood and has fun with the creative process of matching just the right wood to each project.

Linda, Godiva, Bruce in the workshop

We have a beautiful redwood tray in the gallery now, made from wood he reclaimed from his son’s old deck.   The wood was used to build the deck in the sixties and was covered with layers of paint, thus masking the wood’s true identity.   Running the wood through a planner not only creates a board to your desired thickness, it strips away aging to expose a new surface and it turned out to be redwood!  What a find!

Bruce lives with his wife Joan, who is an archeologist and two, four legged shop helpers, one golden lab and one black lab.  We also spent time in his home seeing the furniture pieces he created, which included a wonderful sideboard with unusual “deer” type legs and large scale dinning table.  We may incorporate some of these types of pieces at some point, but until then, Bruce provides us and only us, with unique, one of a kind pieces, both functional and handsome and they make great gifts.  So treat yourself!

Live An Artful Life,  Linda

Additional examples of cheese/cutting boards created by Bruce.

Oak and cherry board

Cherry cheese/cutting board

New Gallery View

Now well past its three year birthday, Live An Artful Life Gallery has past that critical time in every new businesses’ life of survival. We opened Live An Artful Life Gallery at the lowest time in our country’s economic history since the great depression and happily did so on a few sound principles. First, we believed in ourselves. Second we believe things could only get better and third, we believed in you. We believed that if we offered an unique experience, that you would support our vision of creativity and you have. THANK YOU!

As time has gone along, we have added to your experience and continue to do so with made in America, artisan pieces that help everyone Live An Artful Life. In the coming days you will be seeing more changes and enhancements. We have now also added GALLERY to our name, which further represents to the outside, what is going on inside.

Gallery View

We hope you will visit Live An Artful Life Gallery again soon to see that our vision is hardly a static one. That is to say, if you were here just a week or so ago, we promise you will see something new the next time you arrive.

Best, Linda and Tom Neel