Small Painting Summer

This may have to extend into the fall. I’ve had such a great time with smaller paintings this summer. It began with the commission of “Connectivity” shown below. There has also been the start of the “Wonder of birds” series, one of which is in the Onimatopoetic show at MIX Ypsilanti for the month of September. A group of 18″ square figure portraits have developed. So many in fact, that I’ve sworn not to begin any new ones until I finish some up. The studio is becoming littered with little figures. 

I had hoped to move toward landscapes and take some with us on our weekly hikes. That just hasn’t turned out to be the case. Both my current visual interests this season and my partner’s bad knee have played a part in that. It hasn’t kept me from working though, and enjoying the result. More images to come. 

  Connectivity, 2016     Acrylic on canvas      Commission

Autumn Clearing Mirror

Mirror Detail

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed working out several designs for wall mirrors. Much more interested in the design process than in production, many have been one-of-a-kind pieces. This is one I created in a few variations.

The Autumn Clearing Mirror has several layers spaced apart to allow for a reflected view of hidden textures. The branch layer is cut from 1/4” thick masonite and given a rounded edge. Both cutting and shaping were accomplished using a high speed rotary tool. The facing branch surface was painted off white, with gold leaf applied to the reverse side. This metallic element is seen in the reflection of the mirror, which extends to the frame of this 25″ square mirror. It is only in the center that a 12″ clearing allows for the functional part of the mirror to be used.

In front of the wood branches floats a stretched and block-printed sheer silk panel. An overall print of fall colored leaves is made by stamping the silk with leaf shapes in acrylic paint. What I loved was that the leaves, the branch shapes and the gold leaf layer all reflected and create an overall appearance that’s dreamy and full of motion. I eventually made and sold several mirrors through 16 Hands where I worked at the time. A lot of fun to design and make.

This design was featured on the HGTV show “That’s Clever” and is shown on the HGTV web site as the tutorial “How To Make An Autumn-Inspired Framed Mirror“.


Autumn Clearing Mirror

Reduce, Reuse…ReCircles

ReCircles wind sculptures are made from a variety of reused items including cookie tins, signs, bakeware, license plates and a variety of other recycled light sheet metals.

For several years I played with designs for a wind sculpture based on concentric circles, held together with swivel spinners. The idea initially was to have sheet metal cut in the shapes I needed. In 2007 I began hand-cutting a few prototypes from light metals I had easy access to.

What began as a make-do measure quickly became an important part of the design as I watched the variety of colors, textures & printed images play off one another.  And ReCircles were born.

 ReCircles continue to be made from recycled materials
and are available made-to-order.

Bell Tower Candle goes into production Summer 2016

Bell Tower Candle, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Leading up to this I’ve created the original model, made a silicone glove mold and an outer shell. Twice. I’m now able to pour 2 Bell Tower Candles and 3 Water Tower Candles at the same time. For me that’s high production! More details and photos can be found at

you had me at ‘Bell Tower Candle’
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A prominent landmark and symbol of the University if Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mi, the Burton Memorial Tower and Baird Grand Carillon is commonly known as the Bell Tower. Rendered here as a hand made soy-blend candle. The Bell Tower Candle stands 10.5″ tall. I have many great memories of the tower from rallys and protests on the U of M diag, to a personal tour and concert played on the amazing carillon bells. Because of the unique shape of this candle, dripping may occur. Always place in a heat-safe plate or dish when burning. Burn time aprox 30 hours. 


I’ve learned enough to know that for most questions relating to the creative process, there isn’t a simple yes or no answer. More common is a continuum of options, depending on other factors. In electrical terms, there are more dimmers than switches in life. Recently I started thinking about the process of making things in similar terms. There is a continuum of craft, and it doesn’t necessarily get better at each end of the spectrum.

A group of wall mirrors I made several years ago illustrates this idea. I had decided I wanted to design a tile mirror – a wood frame with a tile border, surrounding a mirror in the center. I had seen these made really well using various glass tiles, beads & ceramic pieces. Still, I wondered if I’d find something new by making the tiles myself. Without access to a kiln, I was soon rolling out polymer clay and employing various techniques to create the colors and textures I wanted. I love this kind of  work. I found myself doing drawings that I’d then transfer to the clay surface (think silly putty/comic strip transfer). I went as far as making custom cutting tools, like a cookie cutter in the form of a grid to give me a uniform tile size. It was a process lover’s dream. From imagining the final product, I’d worked backwards and made the elements of the mosaic myself, even the tools to make the elements. That’s like…three levels deep into “handmadeness”. Great, right? Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy with the result. In fact I made and sold several mirrors. Even a commissioned wall mirror for a hotel in Hawaii. The problem was that it was a very time-intensive process. I had allowed my love of the various stages of process to influence my decisions. Had I needed this to provide meaningful income, the entire project would have failed. Even though I was happy with the finished product, I’d never be able to get the per piece I needed to cover the time and effort. As it was, the mirrors were pricy. I had strong doubts that, had I done the breakdown of time and materials, the numbers would have made sense at all.IMG_0669

I loved making them though, and I wasn’t relying on them to pay the bills…so no harm/no foul. The lingering problem still bothered me.  I enjoy the market-viability part of designing. Even on the one-man-show level, I like figuring out how materials and technique can work together efficiently. I like making things that satisfy both the look AND the numbers. It irked me that I hadn’t considered time in the mix on this one, and that the process of making them had gotten out of hand. For these mirror, in this form, the numbers didn’t add up. I eventually stopped making them. Would the numbers have worked out if I had just purchased tiles? Probably. After all, the work of making the tiles (and the tools I made in older to make the tiles) would have all been saved. The path to a finished product would have been more direct, a savings of both time and money. But it would have been a different product.

I have no regrets about it. Ultimately I really enjoyed making them. Moving forward, I’ve approached subsequent projects with a new appreciation for the depth of handmadeness, and more consideration for where I want a project to fall within that spectrum. Now I’ll often Stop myself and ask, “do I need to make ALL the parts? Should I really start from scratch?” The answer isn’t always “no”, but before I say “yes” I take a hard look at what it will mean for both the price and the viability of the finished product.

Functional Glass & Wood – Video for 16 Hands

16 Hands is a contemporary craft gallery in Ann Arbor, MI. They carry a wide variety of handmade items, both functional and decorative, as well as an amazing collection of artist-made jewelry. I worked there for about 12 years, and in that time had the chance to work with some truly talented people. Some were the artists and craftspeople we represented, others were the merchandise reps, owner and sales staff she employed. When people don’t have to pretend to love their work, but are actually propelled by their love of it – it shows. The promotion of something you love is easy, so with great stories about the process to make something, or the inspiration behind it, there’s always something to talk about.

When we’d travel to national shows to find new work, it was like total creative immersion. All around you is, at its best, the culmination of the creative spirit expressed through people from all walks of life, all using their particular skills to forge a living. A large part of my job at 16 Hands was to help them do that. What worked online works in person. The things people make have value, and one of my favorite things was to introduce our customers to the possibility of hand made. The story that went along with the item was always important. Put that together with an item in front of them that’s visually appealing, and you have something memorable. People got excited about giving American-made craft. And they should…can you blame them?

I still use the glassware by Fire & Light, and my salad servers by Jonathan Spoons all the time.

If you’d like to contact 16 Hands, they are online at:

Beginning Maker Vlog

My name is Rick. As a painter, I’ve been producing work for about 20 years. I began in oils and moved to acrylic in the late 90’s. Acrylic dried faster with an easier path to a complete do-over when I wanted. Essentially the media was a better match to my natural indecisiveness. My compositions are almost always figurative. I enjoy using the human form for it’s grounding capabilities. It is so tied to our innate sense of recognition, it can be pared down to a shadow, a line, or a slight disturbance in its background, and still effect us strongly. For me the lack of detail and identity is an invitation to the viewer.  I rely on the figure’s stability to act as counterbalance to the expressive marks and color combinations I love. My job as the painter is to reconcile these two elements – the solidity of the figure with it’s active, dynamic environment.

A shaped acrylic painting on mdf board, 2013
Personage no.2, A shaped acrylic painting on mdf board, 2013

As a maker of things, I’ve followed interests of design and construction into projects like kinetic garden sculpture, multilayer wall mirrors, cast paper, found object sculpture, silicone molds and candle making. Some have become fully formed product lines that sold to wholesale and retail markets, others were designed, sourced out and created only to become a one-of-a-kind item. Progress is often at a snail’s pace with these ideas. In fact, after full-time work comes painting, then design & craft projects. What has usually come in fourth is marketing and general participation in art outside of my own studio.

This first post is meant to sum up the intention of the blog. As an artist and maker of things, I’ve found myself going around my studio presenting tasks to myself in a presentation style that I’m not accustomed to otherwise in my life. I’ve never been a teacher,  instructor or even mentor to groups or individuals. And yet, I find the need to have an outlet on various aspects of where ideas come from, how they’re applied, the processes of design and construction, all the way through to small-scale production.

That process is different for everyone. What should come through here is part of my own; confident in some aspects, cautiously exploring others, and curious about the rest. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my studio time and offering feedback on the progress of others. Here’s to making things!