Tuesday, September 25, 2018


September. The calendar magically fills itself. Every square displays events. People want the fall color. So I sleep when I can, between work and meetings and celebrations.

I try to keep my eyes open... my mental and spiritual eyes... so that I take in as much as I can... as many opportunities to appreciate the season of plenty... as many opportunities to hug. To make a new friend. To grow.

The time and scenery of life zip past my backwards facing seat in the back of god’s station wagon. I can’t see what’s up ahead, but I know my father is at the wheel, taking me someplace good.

That highway of life has many exits and on-ramps, so the company on the road changes constantly.

We travel side by side, or we pick up a hitchhiker. Someone who needs a ride for a while.

We share our stories, and then we become a part of each other’s story when our paths diverge.

The scribbled notes on September become real life events, and often surprise me, because the chore or obligation I saw as a speed bump actually turns out to be a beautiful excursion or photo opportunity.

Monday, September 24, 2018



I am a Finn, an artist, a nurse, an ordained minister, a writer, photographer, a father and grandfather.  Those words describe me, or describe facets of me.  These are the types of labels we place on the jar of our particular expression of humanity.  They give a clue as to where I came from, how I make my living and what I do.  They don't tell the whole story, of course.  If you read the fine print, I'm also a hard of hearing, dyslexic cat lover.  If I cover the jar with too many labels, you won't see me at all!

Sometimes the labels loosen or come completely off.

My body is a collection of cells that interact with each other, and are contained within a barrier of skin, which is also made of cells.  They all function together to make me into an animated kind of machine, or distinct entity.  One day, even that label will fall off, and I will cease to be that anymore.

So what am I really?  Molecules that cling together for a while.  I'm an idea.  I'm an expression of the universe.  I'm a fleeting thought.  A minute part of a particular, temporary race of beings, trying to say something about my supposed existence before the cells of my body separate again and become part of something else.

But is that me?

Am I my body, or do I just live in my body for now?

kesällä lunta

(Summer Snow) 8" x 10", acrylic on illustration board.

Art Along the Lake


I will be the Artist-In-Residence at Kah Nee Tah Gallery (on Highway 61, between Lutsen and Grand Marais) this weekend, September 28, 29 and 30.

Starting at 11 am each day, I'll be painting and talking with anyone who comes by. I would love to see you there! Starting at 2, I want to focus on a couple of my other projects. The Adventures of Mr. Pumpkinhead is a collection of fables that deal with a variety of topics including dyslexia, dementia, death, adoption, illness, etc., in a fun, kid and adult friendly way. I'll read to anyone who wants to listen! They include digital art, and this time can include coloring, pumpkin carving, and as always, lots of talk. The Adventures of Flash Meridian is my Sci Fi autobiography, and includes topics such as creativity, self esteem and spirituality.

At around 4 pm each day, I will give an artist talk with wine available. This is where I will share the heart of my philosophy of life and art. Please come by if you can, I would love to see you, hug you, talk to you, and hear your story, too!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Saturday, September 22, 2018


This is the art I live with every day. These have been hanging in my house for a long time. Most of them for about 15 to 25 years or more. They went with me to North Carolina and hung in the Melrose house. They came back home again. Each one has a story for me, in addition to the stories they tell for their artists. Since I am a painter, I thought it may be interesting to show you the pieces that I own and love.
Gateway. Stephan Hoglund

This painting told me that people are kind and generous despite my preconceived ideas about them. It came as a complete surprise just before my daughter’s birth, and her birthstone is embedded in the piece.

I was sitting in my parked car ready to drive away when this came with a sudden rap on my window that startled me.

He knew I liked it, so he wanted me to have it. What if every gift was so thoughtful?

Grave. Doug Todd

Gateway. Doug Todd

Untitled. Gina Macy

This painting changed the course of my artistic life. It saw that I was lost, and pointed the way home. Through the pain and loss (which I still feel), and through acceptance to celebration.

Walking Talking Jesus. Musa Abdel-Rahman

A birthday gift. Painted for me. I stare at it day and night.

The Beast Goes Walking. Anne Cervenka

Untitled. Maddee Young


I have a friend that I spend time with almost every day. We drink coffee and talk about life. The big issues of life, like our identity, our spirituality, our families. We talk about the small issues, too.

Last night I learned that she and I have both invented sparkling, shimmering planets, the stories of which we have told to our children. Hers was made of glass while mine was made of gemstones. Is this a common thing? Do people imagine faceted planets?


She recounted the feeling she had more than 65 years ago, telling her stories to her little boy and girl.

She cried when she told me, and I understood.

Every night, I read to my children at bedtime. We would read the same books over and over and over so that I still have them memorized to this day.

I made up a story about an elephant that wanted to go to daycare, and my daughter begged me to tell it to her every single night... in the characters’ voices, of course.


Telling stories is important. Not for the information they contain. But for the sound of a voice. A voice that is speaking to you, unhurried, as you drift off to the realm of your dreams.

My mother read to me. She prayed with me, and those bedtimes taught me how to be calm and present for my kids. Once in a while, she would fall asleep in my room, her back against my bed. Those were good nights. My cat, Minnie on my bed... my brother in the bed next to mine, and my mom... present.


(Deep Sea Diving)

Thursday, September 20, 2018


My ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. A conversation, a song, beautiful landscape, a dream. Anywhere.

The raw material comes in through various input devices built into my body. My eyes, nose, my ears, my mouth, the nerves in my skin, and also from the amalgamation of that material in my brain’s software.

In addition to the input devices I have already mentioned, parts of my body also serve as output ports. Neurons transmit information in and out. They trigger movement of large and small muscles to manipulate the tools I employ to make my idea tangible in the physical world.

I can transcribe the images in my brain into a form that can be scanned and received into the brain of another human being!

Bits of me then become bits of other people. Without touching, without meeting or even necessarily being alive at the same time, humans implant messages in one another.

We do this through images, spoken or written words, music. Also through touch, and a myriad of other non-verbal ways that we communicate.

Once that information leaves me, and goes into you, it is yours. It is you!

We can’t unsee things or unhear things.

What you do with it is out of my control.

Some people seem to think they can use creativity to escape. That would be like one woven loop in the fabric of my cotton shirt wanting to escape. We are intertwined. We are one thread. There is no escape. There is nothing to escape from, and nowhere else to go.

That’s how I see humanity. The collective unconscious binds us together.

This is not a bleak picture! It’s a wonderful thing to be so connected. And yet we are individuals within the whole of humanity.

My thoughts and my imagination help to make humanity what it is. It is not separate from the rest, no matter how novel, how surprising or bizarre my idea might seem.

So be creative. Be brave. Be kind. To hurt someone else is to hurt yourself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


Bullying doesn’t only happen to kids. It can happen to anyone. Those of us that grew up with low self esteem can be particularly vulnerable when someone in a position of authority disrespects or disregards us. It can be a boss, a romantic partner or anyone that we allow to have more control over our lives than they should. Bullies are not looking out for your best interests. They may say they care for you. They may even say they love you.

They want you to cower and cave. They want to be right, and point out the many ways that you are wrong. They do not have empathy. They say love when they mean control.

I was bullied as a child. When I was in elementary school and Jr. High, I knew I would be bullied to one degree or another every day that I left the safety of the house and got on the school bus.

One day I was being harassed at my locker by a guy named Joe. He wouldn’t let me unlock my locker, and was about to make me late for class. In desperation, I turned and punched him in the face. I unlocked my locker, got my books and went to class, leaving Joe in the hallway crying, his hands over his face.

The image of surprise on his freshly belted face is indelibly etched in my memory. I saw tears run down his cheeks before I walked away, and he did not bother me again.

I’m not condoning violence. I was cornered, and acted in self defense.

That experience gave me a clue that I was more powerful than I thought I was.

Even as an adult, I let people bully me. I once quit a good job because I worked with a condescending tyrant who made my life miserable. By giving in, I was agreeing with them... that they were stronger. Better.

I don’t think it is about strength at all. I think it has more to do with confidence. I’ve seen large dogs intimidated by tiny kittens.

I hope you and I can find the confidence to stand firm and say You don’t have permission to treat (or talk to) me like that.

That is something you can state with kindness and respect. Their tyranny is a dead giveaway that they lack confidence, too.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Slices of Life

I love shooting portraits, but I don't see myself as a portrait photographer. I think I am more of a street photographer or photo journalist. I love to capture slices of life. Real life. Not necessarily people who are dressed up, made up, and posed. I shoot in natural light or living room lamps rather than studio lighting.

Several of my friends don't like the photos I take of them, even though they like my pictures of other people. They seem to have a preconceived idea of what they should look like, or how they think they look best. I shoot you the way I see you.

Remember the first time you heard your own voice on an audio recording? I do. Like many people, I said Do I really sound like that? Actually, I think I said I don't sound like that. My brothers assured me that I did.

I think it's that way with photographs. Sometimes you don't know what you really look like.

Next big thing

For Amber

I had lunch with my goddaughter today. She and I have both struggled with the thought of what to do next... looking for our next big thing. Maybe all people think that way.

Many years ago, I was painting trees. Old growth white pines, in particular. I hung one on my bedroom wall to look at it for a while, without a paintbrush in my hand. One branch looked like the shape of a fish with its mouth open. I noticed it, the way I often notice inadvertent forms in my paintings.

It went to a show, and came home again. I asked it why it didn’t sell.

This unwitting fish in the branch taunted me until I painted it in there. I liked it. And I painted more fish in the branches of trees.

Some of my friends were dubious.

Why?, they asked.

I answered that this area was built on lumber and fishing.

Einstein’s quote came to me again and again... Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

The personal meaning for me was that I happen to have a wonderful dyslexic brain. Even though I felt out of place in the world for most of my life (like a fish in a tree), there was a tremendous gift in it. I wasn’t stupid, as I had believed. I was just different.

Over the next several years, I became known as the guy who paints fish in trees. My next big thing. But I didn’t plan it. It just sort of happened.

I think it’s the trying to come up with our next big thing that keeps us from finding it. If we just do what we do, our next big thing will come out. It will find us.

And so when my paintbrushes get fidgety, I pick them up and see what they have to say. When I pick up the moving pen, I make sense of what is in my brain and my fingers.

I begin to analyze myself in a loving, non judgmental way. I sort out the noodles in my head one by one and make sense of them.

I believe that the purpose of art is to express what it means to be a human being. To give form to those thoughts that make us different than a chicken or a cat. And different from each other, too.

I don’t worry about writer’s block, or painter’s block. If I’m not painting, then my mind is digesting something. Just as with our guts, anything that goes in, will eventually come out again. Transformed. Unrecognizable.

So trust yourself. Trust your gut, and your fingers. Your next big thing will manifest itself.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

syksyn värejä

Fall Colors. 10" x 13", acrylic on illustration board

I sometimes take the gondola to work. I float over an expanse of maple trees, and look down on the Poplar River. In the fall, the hillsides turn red until brown takes over. The color doesn't last long, and I love seeing them at their peak as I ascend the mountain.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Keep off the grass

pysy poissa nurmikolta

The thing that distinguishes me from other artists in my genre is that I can do something nobody else can do. I can paint from my perspective.

I watched a video today where a guy went to Giverny and made a tutorial on Monet’s palate and technique. He did a beautiful painting in the style of Monet. I loved watching the process, and the beautiful picture that resulted. But it’s not a Monet.

I live with the intent to send a message, so yes, I paint with the intent to send a message. Many messages. If I want to tell people to stay off of my lawn, I’d probably write the words “KEEP OFF THE GRASS.” That’s pretty direct. When I’m painting, the messages are not really like that. They require some participation from the viewer. They are not directives. My goal is to connect. To communicate nonverbally. To validate and encourage.

The message?

You matter. What you feel matters. Your joys and your sorrows matter. As I said, you have a unique perspective that only you can communicate. But we all feel happy and sad. We all have strengths and limitations. So your unique experience will resonate with someone else.

We’re just enough alike as humans to understand, and just enough different to be interesting. Or inspiring.

You don’t have to try to be unique. You are already unique.

A dear friend said to me the other day “I’m nothing”.

I was shocked. Not only is she unique, she’s one of the most interesting people I know. I can’t understand how she doesn’t see it. If only she could see herself the way I see her!

I learn about myself when I paint. I’ve often said that painting is meditative for me. It is. Time seems to stop, and while my hand applies paint to a canvas, the fingers of my mind rifle through the file cabinets in my brain. With no effort... no intention, details are pulled from the folders, and I remember that I know something I haven’t accessed for decades.

Sometimes people criticize my art because they don’t understand it. I mean they don’t understand the motivation behind it. Not all art is pretty. It can be ugly and poignant. It can be ugly and beautiful at the same time!

Sometimes they criticize my art in a constructive way that helps me to improve it, and that is a wonderful thing.

Sometimes I criticize my own artwork, or just paint over it.

And sometimes I am hurt by the criticism.

But nothing is going to appeal to everyone. So that’s just something I have to accept. One person criticizes a painting, then another person buys it.

To put your work out there is to invite criticism.

I dip my ladle into the collective unconscious and I bring up something that we share. All of us. The creative impulse that makes a painting, kind of freezes that moment in time. The oil pastel by Anne Cervenka that hangs on my wall, Musa’s painting that hangs over my bed, my painting on your wall. The buried mosaics of Pompeii, and ancient petroglyphs hold messages for any viewer with eyes to see. An expression of beauty, longing, what it means to be human. It doesn’t need interpretation or justification, but those discussions can be a lot of fun and enlighten the conscious mind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From Heather's wedding 8/2008

Adoption Story

Twenty two years ago, Holly and I were on our way to San Francisco because our daughter’s birth mother had gone into labor.

We had a few hours layover in Las Vegas, so we took a taxi to the Luxor to get something to eat. We called our hotel and found out that Maddee had been born.

We went into a bar to see if we could get glasses of champagne to celebrate, but they didn’t serve champagne by the glass. You had to buy a whole bottle.

So we were standing at a crowded bar, and the tv was on.

You know when you’re in a loud place, and you say something loud to the person next to you, but right at that second the whole place falls silent and everyone can hear you?

Bob Dole was a guest on Crossfire. Their logo was CROSSFIRE in squares, and to me it looked like Wheel Of Fortune.

So in that conversation lull, l said, in a loud voice Bob Dole wants to buy a vowel!. I even had my had up like I was holding a pen.

Maybe you had to be there, but it still makes me laugh.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

More random thoughts

I think I first knew I was a creative person when I first knew I was a person. I never tried to be creative. I didn’t always see it as a good thing. The creative kids are the kind of annoying kids. The kids hunched over their assignments... those kids who understood the assignment... got annoyed at the goofy kid. And the teacher who assigned the work did not have patience for someone with a completely different learning style! I was more work for them. I was a behavior problem. Best to remove me from the area until I learned my lesson. And that is how I learned nothing. From them. What I did learn was how to escape. How to give up. How to compensate. That’s where creativity comes in.

Inspiration comes from almost everywhere. Latent memories surface after being dormant for a lifetime. They present themselves and I examine how a comment from my kindergarten teacher played a part in shaping who I am today.

I think flowers are pretty, but I’m not inspired by them.

I paint in acrylics because they are opaque, they dry quickly and they are not too expensive.

If I struggle with an idea, I just don’t do it. The images are lined up in my arm, waiting to be extruded... funneled out my fingers (my arm, as I have said, is the GI tract of my brain).

My biggest obstacle to creativity is expectation. I just want to do my thing. I don’t want to transcribe your idea of a good picture. I tried that. My painting didn’t look like what my friend had in his mind. Imagine that. I hated it and he hated it.

So I don’t really do commissions.

When I am creating something, I feel like a kitten playing. I’m mesmerized by the colorful thing, and I don’t notice that I knocked your cup over or pushed the pen onto the floor.

That’s not true. My kitten doesn’t think, he just acts. Everything is a toy to him. I’m thinking the whole time I paint. I’m not necessarily thinking about painting, though.

When I paint, I feel relaxed. Free. I feel like myself.

Not that I always like what I produce. If I don’t like it, I paint over it.

While I hope people like my paintings, I really want to be remembered for being generous, open, and for helping you see, accept, express and love your own soul.

Water Under The Bridge

vettä sillan alla

I stood on the bridge over South Brule River the other day. I had been out to lunch with a friend, and we saw a lot of beautiful things on the drive.

We kept stopping to enjoy the details along the roadside. I was leaning over the side of the bridge trying to take a picture of my reflection which was faceted by the moving surface of the water. It made me think of a book I had read years ago called WHEN THINGS FALL APART.

My own image fell apart in the reflection, but the pieces didn’t go far. They kept coming together and falling apart again. That’s what life is like. It’s fluid. We have expectations, both short term and long term. Things don’t always go the way we expected them to.

This morning I was talking to a coworker about how we walk into the future backwards, only seeing where we’ve been, and never really knowing what’s next. She shared the beautiful allegory of Plato’s Cave with me.

All of a sudden, my hat fell off, and dropped into the river. I hadn’t seen that coming.

I went to the other side of the bridge and waited for it to go sailing downstream without me, but it didn’t appear. So I climbed down the embankment and found my cap moored along the riverbank.

All those moments that slide past our view from behind turn from unexpected to water under the bridge. Nothing stays. The scenery always changes, and moment to moment, we change with it.

Friday, September 07, 2018

What comes out

hattuni putosi joelle

I keep telling you that the words and the pictures come from the same place. That is really true. The process is also the same. It’s like driving a car. Sometimes I am going to the store to buy bread. Because I’ve run out of bread, and I need more bread. Other times, a friend and I will get in the car and go for a drive. We don’t have a particular destination in mind. We just go out and see what we come across. I usually bring my camera and am often surprised at the photos that come out.

There are times when I pick up the pen because I need to complete a particular assignment. A school paper, a cover letter, a home study questionnaire, a nursing note. I pretty much know in advance what I am going to write. Other times, I pick up the pen and just start writing. When it is done, I am often surprised at what came out.

Sometimes I pick up the paint brush and say I am going to paint this tree. Or I have an idea to paint a lake scape where the clouds look like cats. I have a picture in my mind of what the painting will look like.

Other times, I just grab a color and start painting. I choose another color, and another, building up layers of paint. I just play like that for a while, with no expectation. Sometimes I am really surprised by what comes out.

That kind of exploration… That kind of play is where I discover new techniques and ideas. If I think they are successful, I incorporate them into my more deliberate painting practice.

I’m not always running errands. Sometimes I find a puddle and just splash in it for a while.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

There is nothing wrong with you

Sinulla ei ole mitään vikaa

Punishment never worked on me. I was punished by many people over the decades of my childhood. Misinformed people who thought they were doing good in their self-righteousness when they were actually damaging children like me. I don’t have warm or happy thoughts about the army of disciplinarians in my past. They were not my friends.

I don’t remember much nurturing outside of the home. School was a place where I had to be on guard. I knew I wasn’t good enough to please any teachers or school administrators, so I just went into survival mode, and waited for the last bell that would set me free for the evening.

At church, I was judged and warned. I was constantly told I was not good enough and had to change. I had to keep a list of my failures and my faults, so that I could beg for forgiveness later. I was taught not to feel good about myself, and that all the people outside of the church were on their way to hell and wanted to take me with them. I learned those lessons well.

But I was also able to unlearn them.

People comment on the fact that I am friends with my kids. I think that is a wonderful thing. I’ve heard people say your kids don’t need you to be a friend. They need you to be a parent. To discipline them and set limits for them.

You can be both a parent and a friend. They don’t need to fear you to learn from you. You don’t have to be serious or stoic all the time. You can protect, provide and teach your kids and enjoy them at the same time! You can play and love and teach them to express all of their emotions by recognizing and accepting all of yours.

Older people are not better than younger people. They’re not smarter. They don’t know everything. Anyone and everyone can be your teacher. No matter who you are. No matter how powerful or respected you think you are.

Everyone is different, so everyone has something to teach you.

Learning disability? That’s not a fault. Not a fault of yours, anyway. I call them teaching disabilities. There is nothing wrong with you. Mental challenges? We all have those. Behavioral problems? That’s communication. There is nothing wrong with you.

There is nothing wrong with you.

There is nothing wrong with you.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Low Tide: Remix 30" x 40"


acrylic on canvas



Monday, September 03, 2018

difficult easy

vaikea helppo

As a little kid, I was drawn to abstract art on my first trip to the DIA. By the time I was in art school (next to the DIA), I was frustrated at my inability to produce abstract art. Later, I was envious of people who could create it.

All I really needed to do was to give myself permission. It really was that difficult easy. Seriously. It was easy difficult.

It wasn’t that I had to find something, it was in letting go of something.

I had the idea that art was supposed to look like something. The more a drawing or painting looked like the real thing, the more realistic or photographic it was, the better it was.

I thought that if I didn’t reference something tangible, people would wonder whether I could draw... or think that I couldn’t draw.

And yet I admired abstract images and wanted to make them.

I have a friend who is a singer/songwriter. She would sing songs by James Taylor, The Indigo Girls, etc. in coffee shops or restaurants, and people loved it.

Sometimes she would go to a more alternative club and perform more alternative, edgy music. I don’t know the actual words to describe it. She told me she did the coffee shop stuff to make money, and the darker, more raw stuff for herself.

That’s kind of what it’s like for me. I do like to do paintings of trees and animals, and people like to see them. But I do the abstracts for me. Those are journeys into color, shapes and textures that are expressions of feelings... nonverbal things. They are not bound by rules of perspective, shading or other components that may make a painting of an object right or wrong.

I’m not so unique, as I have said. So those more personal expressions will probably strike a chord in someone else.

Someone recently looked at one of my new abstract paintings and asked “am I supposed to see something here?”

I answered, “you’re supposed to see paint.”