Prescription for an Installation

This week I'm headed to Norman, Oklahoma to install my newest series, Wyld Flowerz, at STASH. Here are the tools I'll be taking with me. Prescription for an Installation Click image to embiggen.

1. Packing tape for keeping boxes closed

2. Painter's tape - the blue stuff - easily removable

3. Extra picture-hanging wire just in case (Many of these items are just in case.)

4. Scissors

5. Wire cutters

6. Needle-nose pliers

7. Hammer

8, 9. Screwdriver & bits

10. Ruler

11. Scraper

12. A pen that writes on (just about) any surface

13. Pencil

14. Eraser

15. Extra D-ring hangers

16. Level

17. Screw eyes, small

18. Screw eyes, medium & large

19. Finishing nails, tiny

20. Finishing nails, small & medium

21. L-pins

22. Common nails

23. Scotch tape

24. Picture hanging hardware, various

25. Blade

26, 27. Dots. They go on the backs of pieces to protect the wall and keep the art from sliding around.

28. Microfiber dust cloth

Not Pictured:

- Art, packed up nice & snug

- Business cards, postcards, other promotional materials

- White gloves

- Measuring tape

- Visual inventory: includes thumbnails, titles, sizes, prices, my contact information, and a place for the artist and gallery to sign at install and pickup. I make 2 copies - one for them, one for me.

- Labels for the wall. Sometimes the venue provides these, sometimes not. This time I made them myself.

Let's do this thing.

To Shaking Things Up

For last year's words belong to last year's languageAnd next year's words await another voice. -- T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Manhattan, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches by Sarah Atlee Manhattan, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches by Sarah Atlee

Happy New Year everybody!

Although we typically toast the New Year with champagne, allow me to suggest the classic Manhattan cocktail as a festive alternative.

How to make a Classic Manhattan Cocktail

The basic Manhattan is very simple:

3 oz bourbon 1.5 oz sweet vermouth dash of bitters

Pour over ice, stir and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and/or orange twist.

Manhattan Tips & Variations

Like any classic, this recipe is infinitely adaptable. I'm certainly not a purist when it comes to tweaking traditions.

For a dryer Manhattan (my preference), use rye rather than bourbon, skimp on the sweet vermouth, add an extra dash of bitters, and skip the cherry. Or at least use a good cherry, if you can get them.

A very Dry Manhattan uses dry vermouth rather than sweet. A Perfect Manhattan uses 50/50 dry & sweet vermouth.

Stirred v. shaken: Personally, I like a shaken cocktail, even when it's de rigeur to stir (as with a mixture that's all spirits and no juice or cream). I like the extra ice fragments and don't mind if things get watered down just a tad. It's a personal choice.

As far as glassware goes, any pretty stemware will complement this colorful quaff. Some prefer their Manhattan served on the rocks, like an Old Fashioned. Again, adapt to taste.

Don't forget that garnish! If you don't have the fancy cherries on hand, an ordinary orange will do nicely. Peel off 1-2 inches of the orange's skin (not the pith), hold it over the glass, and crease it longways to release those aromatic oils. Swipe it around the rim of the glass before dropping it in. (Nice how-to video here.) Using orange bitters rather than Angostura enhances this wonderful citrus aroma.

See Manhattan in Person

Manhattan will be available for purchase in February 2015 at Ro2 Art in Dallas. Join us at For Real featuring Sarah Atlee and James Zamora. Contact Ro2 Art for more details.

UPDATE: For Real has been reviewed by Jenny Block for The Huffington Post! Read the full review here: "A Hyperrealism That Questions Reality With James Zamora and Sarah Atlee at RO2 Art"

What are you shaking up this year?

Let us know in the comments below.

A is for Avocado

Avocados, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 24x24 inches by Sarah AtleeAvocados. Acrylic on unstretched canvas, 24 x 24 inches by Sarah Atlee.

The first time I cut open an avocado, I was about 5 years old. My dad built up the suspense by telling me this was the fruit wherein "God made a mistake!" What mistake? I wanted to know. He showed me the seed inside, explaining that God had made it way too big.

I can't say I mind the oversized seed inside this oversized berry. Removing the seed (using the pleasing knife-strike-and-twist maneuver) reveals a void so obligingly concave that it's just asking to be painted.

In India it's called a butter fruit, in Taiwan a cheese pear. The English epithet alligator pear was corrupted from its ancient Nahuatl name ahuacatl. I call it my favorite afternoon snack.

Sarah's Happiness on Crackers

1. Slice one avocado in half lengthwise and remove seed 2. Using a large spoon, scoop the two halves out of the skin and into a bowl 3. Drizzle with EVOO and balsamic vinegar 4. Add cracked pepper to taste 5. If you're me, take a photo of these beauties 6. Mash (if desired) and enjoy on crackers

Or are you hankering for guacamole? Illustrated Bites has a simple recipe, along with a handy visual guide for slicing avocados.

Update: Like your chips & dips more on the surreal side? PESFilm has an alternate guacamole recipe for you.

Read more about the avocado on Wikipedia.

See Avocados in Person

Avocados will be available for purchase in February 2015 at Ro2 Art in Dallas. Join us for a two-person exhibition featuring Sarah Atlee and James Isaac Zamora. Contact Ro2 Art for more details.

UPDATE: For Real has been reviewed by Jenny Block for The Huffington Post! Read the full review here: "A Hyperrealism That Questions Reality With James Zamora and Sarah Atlee at RO2 Art"

Boundaries, Bracelets, and Biz Coaches - In Gratitude, Part 2

It's November, home of my favorite holiday! This month I'm spending a few minutes each day writing about something for which I am thankful. Here is the second batch. Sushi White Plate, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 inches, 2012 by Sarah Atlee. Private collection.

Sushi White Plate, acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 inches, 2012 by Sarah Atlee. Private collection.

Alyson Stanfield, Art Biz Coach

Do you have a person in your life who believes wholeheartedly in your career? Who cheers your successes? Who's not afraid to ask you to ask yourself the tough questions about what you want out of life? Who can teach you to wield the tools of success? I do: Alyson Stanfield, the Art Biz Coach. Read her book and begin your journey.

My Artist Network

Earlier this month I attended Alyson Stanfield's Art Biz Makeover event in Golden, Colorado. It's not often I get to spend time with such an energetic, motivated group of artists. You know what I love most about working with these folks? Realizing that we're all in this together. We share many of the same challenges, and we celebrate success together. In a business like this, it's so important to know that you are not alone.

The Egg Timer

This friendly little gadget is my near-constant companion in the studio, whether I'm writing, painting, or working on business tasks. It's a tiny piece of decision-making power that allows me to stop asking "What do I do now?"

Looking for more ways to improve your productivity? Check out the Pomodoro Technique, Timeboxing, and Willpower.

[Benny voice] BRACELETS

Learning New Things

In 2013 I taught myself how to make friendship bracelets. At the time I was working on a series in response to growing up female in the 80s and 90s. I remember friendship bracelets as these cool things made by cool girls and you had to hope that a cool girl would make one for you, so you could be cool too, but she didn't, so it's a quarter-century later, and now I have the power of the Internet. I AM THE COOL GIRL NOW.

You can be the cool girl, too: Friendship bracelet basics, endless bracelet patterns, how to do anything.


When I put a task down on paper, that's when it starts to feel real. That's when I make a promise to myself to honor my responsibilities. And while I'm at it, why not have some fun with stickers? My list should be a happy place.

Lists can be happy places


You see this beautiful website? See how easy it is to move around and find what you're looking for? Thank Jason Ormand, my rock star web designer.

A long, long time ago, on a server far away, there were iterations of that I coded from the ground up. No more. Web design is not my area of expertise. My time is better spent doing what I do best - making pictures. So I delegate. Try it on, it's so roomy!

Boundaries Around my Creative Time

This is something all artists (really, all independent workers) must face. Making pictures is the most important thing I do. Why on Earth would I want to do dishes or go to the grocery store instead of painting? Because sometimes I let the minutiae of daily life distract me.

All it takes to correct this pattern is giving myself permission to let the small stuff go. After all, is anyone going to remember that I did the dishes today? Nuh-uh. If I use that time to create a beautiful object that a collector brings into their home, that's time well spent.

Orange, acrylic on canvas, 4 x 4 inches, 2014 by Sarah Atlee. Private commission.

Orange, acrylic on canvas, 4 x 4 inches, 2014 by Sarah Atlee. Private commission.

What are you thankful for? Express your gratitude in the comments below.

Read Coffee, Sleep, Paper - In Gratitude, Part 1 Read Monkeys, Quilts, and Toilet Art - In Gratitude, Part 3 Read It's the Little Things - In Gratitude, Part 4 Read Bonus Gratitude!


Preparing a Canvas for Acrylic Painting

4x4 canvases 1 edited I work almost exclusively in acrylic on canvas. For larger works I use unstretched canvas hanging it over a dowel rod, much the same way you would display a quilt or tapestry.

But for my smaller works I use Blick Gallery Profile pre-stretched canvases.

Side note: Everyone who's been through art school has learned to build their own stretched canvases. I used to. Now it's more economical for me in terms of time and labor to order pre-made canvases in batches of 4-8. Want to learn to build canvases yourself? YouTube's got you covered.

canvas brand

Why Bother?

When someone buys my painting and takes it home, I want them to know that they have purchased a quality product that will last for decades to come - not something shabby that will fall apart in a year. The value of my work is more than the paint I've put on the canvas; it's in the care I've taken to ensure that my collectors enjoy living with my art. Prepping a canvas before painting is just one way to demonstrate that I care about my client's experience.

The preparatory process also prevents small problems that, added up, can really interfere with the final product.

Step 1: Corners

4x4 canvases 2

I buy these Blick canvases because they are very well-constructed. However, the corners do tend to come loose, and sometimes the canvas has been trimmed unevenly. (Not true of hand-built canvases; see note above re: economy.)

See those flappy edges? Even if I paint over them those are still weak spots that will get worse as the painting ages. I want to nip that in the bud.

I glue down those corners with Golden Heavy Gel.

golden gel

I apply the gel undiluted to the corners of the canvas, both on the sides and the back, and press those flaps down hard. Any gel that squishes out gets smeared over the raw edges to seal them. It doesn't matter how much gel ends up being visible because I'm going to paint over the entire thing. I let them dry about 30 minutes.

canvas corner 1

Step 2: Sizing the Back

The canvases you see pictured here are very small - 4x4" each. This next step is much more important for larger canvases.

In most cases, a pre-stretched canvas will be primed on the front side only. Priming the other side strengthens the canvas and helps ensure its longevity. Also, the tighter your stretched canvas, the less likely you are to bump against the underlying stretchers while painting.

With a stiff brush, I wet down the back of the canvas. I make sure to get that water as far under the stretchers as possible. On a larger canvas, I follow up with diluted gesso. I brush both vertically and horizontally to work the water and gesso into the weave of the canvas. You'll notice right away that the canvas gets tighter. It will loosen a little after drying, but will be stronger for the additional gesso.

Step 3: Gesso Coat

I buy canvases pre-primed, but I like to add an additional thin coat of gesso to front and back before painting. The manufacturer's acrylic primer can sometimes resist initial paint application, causing the paint to bead up on the surface. Gesso is chalkier and will soak that first coat of paint right up.

canvas gesso coat 1

Or maybe a super-fun and interesting thicker coat.

canvas corner gesso 1

A little sanding may be in order on your stretchers. Nobody likes splinters, right?

Step 4: Rock Out

Now she's ready to go.

mckinney underdrawings 2 edited

The Finished Product

three 72 500

Orange, Kiwi and Apple. Acrylic on canvas, 4x4" each, 2014 by Sarah Atlee Private commission

What are your tips for prepping before painting?

Let us know in the comments below.