All posts by Uncommon Canvas

The Uncommon Canvas is an art blog featuring self-taught artists, visionary art environments, unusual places, and art made with non-traditional materials. It also includes art project ideas.

A Quick Update!

Hello friends & art lovers!

I finally set up an Instagram account for this blog. Follow @theuncommoncanvas on Instagram. It’s an easy way to stay up to date on posts, especially if you are trying to cut down on e-mails. I don’t know about you, but my inbox has been flooded lately! Of course, I will still send out the blog post updates vie e-mail if you are subscribed and prefer that. (I only send about one e-mail per week and only if there is a new post up.)

I will be posting additional content on Instagram, including artists not featured on this blog and book recommendations. Find me there and let’s connect!

One more thing! I should also mention that we have a new artist submission page here. After receiving many e-mails from artists about their work, I decided to create this submission form to make it a more streamlined process. If your art falls along the lines of the work shown on this blog, I would love to share it if it seems to be a good fit.

Take care and stay well!

Featured Artist: Marlon Mullen

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MARLON MULLEN is a painter living in California. He has been a participating studio artist at NIAD (Nurturing Independence through Artistic Development) Art Center in Richmond, CA, since 1993.

NIAD is a visual arts program located in Richmond, CA. that promotes creative expression, independence, dignity, and community integration for artists with disabilities. Mullen is on the autism spectrum and is mostly non-verbal. As with many disabled artists, his art serves as a way for him to communicate and transcend barriers.

NIAD describes this in more detail:

“He certainly has his own understanding of meaning when it comes to words. Specifically regarding the content of his paintings, he has not verbally communicated at length his intent or fascination with the images that he copies. However, his paintings are sufficient in informing us of the nuances of what he sees.”

Mullen works from found photographs or art magazines (Art Forum or Art in America) which he transforms into obscure, bold colors and shapes. His art has been shown at many notable galleries and has been included in several exhibitions. His work was featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennial as well as in SFMOMA’s SECA Art Awards exhibition.

Mullen’s work is represented by JTT in New York and Adams and Ollman in Oregon. He is a great example of an artist who was able to overcome obstacles that normally prevent inclusion in the art world.

“Just a few years ago, the idea that artists with developmental disabilities working in progressive art studios could develop serious careers as contemporary artists seemed idealistic and almost unattainable…These contemporary icons of the progressive art studio movement, however, demonstrate the great promise of inclusive culture – highly original ideas and fascinating new paradigms for understanding and defining art-making.”

– Disparate Minds: Marlon Mullen and Helen Rae (February 2019)

If interested in learning more about his work, please visit JTT (for purchase inquiries) or NIAD. NIAD has a long list of other talented artists to explore. Below is a video from SFMOMA showing Mullen working in the studio. Enjoy!


Image credits (top to bottom):
#1 Marlon Mullen, Untitled, 2018, acrylic on linen, 36 x 24 inches
#2 Marlon Mullen, Untitled, 2018, acrylic on linen, 36 x 24 inches
#3 Marlon Mullen, Untitled, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 41 x 48 inches

Please note that all images are copyright © of the individual artists and used on this blog for educational purposes. Selling, printing, or repurposing artwork without an artist’s permission is not nice or permitted.


The Magical Realms of Aleksandra Apocalisse

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Aleksandra Apocalisse is a self-taught artist living in Portland, Oregon. Originally from the USSR, she lived most of her life in New York until moving to Portland in 2015. She studied behavioral neuroscience and has a broad and interesting range of experience including working as a circus arts teacher, science teacher, a counselor, and an organic farmer. She is currently a full-time professional artist working with acrylics, watercolors, and pen. Her prints are available for purchase on Etsy at ApocalisseArt, and she is a vendor at Portland Saturday Market.

Aleksandra describes her art below:

“For me, art is more than just a passion or a career. It is my therapist, my teacher, my guide, my meditation, and my truest form of communication. My artworks are, for the most part, bits of my subconscious mind in their attempts to become conscious content. I often get lost in my works, as I immerse myself in ineffable themes and ideas such as death, attachment, connection, the trap of memory, and many more. I like to incorporate in my artworks literary ideas and song lyrics that touch me. I am also greatly inspired by any rock, leaf, fruit, tree, mountain, pair of eyes, or body of water that I happen upon.”

More information about her artwork is available on Aleksandra’s website: www.apocalisseart.com. There is also a great article about her life and process here.


Image credits: (from top to bottom):
Aleksandra Apocalisse, Ghosts
Aleksandra Apocalisse, Cosmic Heron
Aleksandra Apocalisse, Cosmic Bear

Please note that all images are copyright © of the individual artists and used on this blog for educational purposes. Selling, printing, or repurposing artwork without an artist’s permission is not nice.

In The Flowers: The Art of Annie Randall

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These beautiful hand-printed cyanotypes were created by the self-taught artist Annie Randall. Annie lives in Bristol, UK. Her work explores the relationship between humans and nature, and the deep need for humans to reconnect to the natural world. Her art delivers an important message – especially during these times. Here is an excerpt from the artist’s website:

“Much of the work shown here was created during the coronavirus lockdown, where the world quickly came to a halt, and our personal worlds suddenly became much smaller. Undoubtedly a difficult and tumultuous time for many, our interactions, smell, touch and feel became restricted. It highlighted humanity’s need for these sensations, both with people and nature.

We’ve become observers of nature, fearful of the unknown, yet equally destructive in our path. Multiple narratives (colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism) perpetuate this relationship, which permeates into the intimate relationships with each other and ourselves. We’re taught to be individual, but we’re intrinsically social just as multiple animals and plants communicate with one another for sustenance and support. My work questions these toxic relationships that we have with the natural world and ourselves, so that we might be able to conjure new connections, and develop a deeper appreciation and awareness of our place in the living world.”

Annie uses her sketches and photos to create digital negatives for her prints, which she then places on cotton paper and leaves in the sun. The above artworks are printed on handmade paper made from recycled t-shirts. (You know we love seeing artists creatively reuse materials to create their work!) Her process is described in more detail here.

In addition to cyanotype prints, the artist also creates pencil sketches, and sometimes works with watercolors and oil. Her work can be purchased on her website: www.annierandallart.com. Annie is donating 10% of the proceeds from the sale of her artwork to the Free Black University Fund.

Best of luck to you, Annie, and thank you for letting us share your artwork!


Artwork credit (from top to bottom): 
 Annie Randall, Plant Head
Annie Randall, Moon Face Flowers
Annie Randall, In the Flowers


Please note that all images are copyright © of the individual artists and used on this blog for educational purposes. Selling, printing, or repurposing artwork without an artist’s permission is not nice.

Anna Zemánková

 “I am growing flowers that are not grown anywhere else.” 

Anna Zemánková from “The Dawn Drawings of Anna Zemánková” by Jo Farb Hernandez in Raw Vision, No. 14, Spring 1996. 40-45.
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Anna Zemánková is a self-taught artist known for her beautifully abstract and imaginative botanical drawings. Anna (1908-1986) was born in Olomouc, Moravia (now the Czech Republic).  She loved making art as a child but was told to focus on more practical pursuits. She became a dental technician, married an army officer, and devoted her time to raising her children. 

From the outside, Anna’s life appeared full with the busy activities of family life, yet she often felt like she was missing something. She still carried sorrow from the loss of her first born son and began to feel more depressed about the state of her life.

In her early 50s, needing a positive outlet to manage her depression, she turned to art again. One of her three sons was a sculptor, and he happily encouraged her to channel her sadness into art. He helped her buy art supplies and from there her creativity took off. She worked on her drawings in the early morning hours while the house was quiet and still. In the 1970s, Anna expanded her exploration of art, adding collage and embroidery.

Over the years, Anna hosted art showings or “open house” exhibitions. Her work gained the recognition it deserved after being viewed by French painter and sculptor, Jean DuBuffet. (DuBuffet coined the term art brut.) He included several of her pieces in the Collection de l’Art Brut Lausanne, which is the world’s most notable collection of outsider and self-taught art. Zemánková was also included in a show at Hayward Gallery in London in 1979. Since then, her works have been widely exhibited and cherished by many collectors.


More info and artwork images can be found at:
Cavin Morris Gallery
annazemankova.org


Please note that all images are copyright © of the individual artists, collectors, or gallerists and used on this blog for educational purposes. Selling, printing, or repurposing artwork without an artist’s permission is not cool!

Recycleart Sculpture Garden

Nathan Nicholls 4 of 12 Recycleart Sculpture Garden
Nathan Nicholls 12 of 12 Recycleart Sculpture Garden
Nathan Nicholls 5 of 12 Recycleart Sculpture Garden

Recycleart Sculpture Garden is located in Waldoboro, Maine. It was created by the late self-taught artist and welder, Nathan Nicholls. Through his art, Nathan encouraged others to think twice before throwing an object away. There is not an object out there that Nathan could not recycle into a beautiful artwork. He welded nails, tires, bike parts, and broken farm equipment into sculptures of owls, flowers, frogs, and cats. Even the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland makes an appearance in his garden.

Nathan was originally from Massachusetts. He moved to Maine after his teenage years. He took on odd jobs, from harvesting blueberries to repairing lawn mowers and motorcycles. The latter job introduced him to the beauty of scraps and discarded objects. Inspired by these objects, Nathan started making sculptures in the 1990s. In 2003, after his mother passed away, he began devoting even more time to his art in order to comfort himself. After many years of creating art, his 5 acres of land is now covered with sculptures.

Nathan passed away in 2014, at the age of 52. His family is working to preserve his artistic legacy. They are in the process of figuring out how to ensure the safety and longevity of his art, especially during the Maine winters. Ideally, it is best to keep an art environment as the artist left it but this leaves the risk of the artwork being destroyed. We hope they come up with a solution that works for them because his sculptures are truly unique and inspiring.

For more information, please visit the Facebook page for the site.

Featured Artist: Kevin Sampson

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We recently returned from a trip to Mystic, Connecticut, where we got to see the work of Kevin Sampson – an incredibly talented self-taught and community based artist living in Newark, New Jersey. His work is currently on display at the Mystic Seaport Museum as part of their artist residency program. 

During the summer of 2018, Sampson stayed on a boat docked near the museum as he and the staff worked on preparing the exhibition. Community members and museum visitors were invited to learn about his work and process.

Read more…

Visual Treats

Here is a round-up of a few artists that we came across this past week. Of course, they all feature birds, which we know is an obsession that needs to be reined in a bit. But you must admit that they are beautiful.

KOWHAI WATERFALL Visual Treats
Kathryn Furniss, Kowhai Waterfall

The above painting is by a self-taught artist from New Zealand, Kathryn Furniss. Her colors are so pleasing to the eye. She works with acrylics and ink and gets her inspiration from the New Zealand landscape, flora, and birds. More of her work can be viewed on her website.

“I use birds to tell stories or portray feelings…birds connecting the past with the present, being a spirit, past loved one or guardian of the other.”

– Kathryn Furniss, from her website
Summer j hart flowers for sleeping Visual Treats
Summer J. Hart, Flowers for Sleeping

This lovely owl was made by Summer J. Hart, an artist from northern Maine. We love Summer’s art, and are happy to promote a young and emerging artist from Maine. Please check out more of this work on the artist’s website.

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Jon Langford, Cuckoo Bird

Jon Langford is a musician and artist who is originally from Wales. Jon has called Chicago his home since the 1990s. He is one of the founders of the punk rock band, The Mekons, among other notable groups. His original artwork and prints are available through Yard Dog Art – one of our favorite galleries located in Austin, Texas, specializing in folk, outsider, and contemporary art.

Please note that all images are copyright © of the individual artists and used on this blog for educational purposes. Selling, printing, or repurposing artwork without an artist’s permission is not cool!

Featured Artist: Jo Atherton

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“Like the pottery archaeologists use to define human cultures of the past, a layer of plastic will signify our own throwaway society. What will these discarded fragments say about us?

– Jo Atherton

Artist Jo Atherton is the perfect example of an artist using non-traditional materials to create art. We also love that she is bringing awareness to environmental issues.

Atherton creates her art from discarded materials collected along the UK coastline. Using the energy of the sun, she makes gorgeous cyanotype prints (also known as sun prints) of the items. She also weaves tapestries from the items that she discovers.

Atherton believes that we can learn a lot about our past through these washed up objects. Some of the items she finds are 30 years old or more, like old plastic toys. It’s interesting and sad to see what happens to these items when they are no longer loved or needed. In the artist’s words:

“I weave strands of stories to engage the public with sensitive environmental issues in ways that distressing images of marine wildlife cannot. My creative practice has become a useful conduit to explore single-use plastics as most of the flotsam objects I work with are commonplace in our homes.”

Her images are stunning and beautiful, yet they also serve as reminders of the disturbing amount of trash, mainly plastic, that is accumulating in our oceans. The artist cannot solve the issue on her own, but she is doing a great job of bringing awareness to the problem. Through her process, she also recycles items that would otherwise be garbage into meaningful artworks.

Atherton’s work had been widely exhibited. She teaches flotsam weaving workshops, and is also a creative advisor to University College London for their plastic-free campaign, among many other things. More information can be found on her website: joatherton.com.


Image Credits: Copyright © Jo Atherton, joatherton.com.

Featured Artist: Pamela Smith

“Painting for me is like traveling—openly going into the unknown not knowing what to expect.”

– Pamela Smith (From an interview with Vermont Art Guide)
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Pamela Smith, Girl on White
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Pamela Smith, Zimmy
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Pamela Smith, Aretha

We recently came across the work of Vermont self-taught painter and sculptor, Pamela Smith (1950 -). Her works of art are playful, bright compositions made with crayon, ink, and gouache. The whimsical influence of folk art is seen in her paintings.

Smith is best known for her life-size sculptures of the Madonna, which she created, often alongside her daughter, in order to honor and celebrate motherhood. She displayed her multicultural Madonna sculptures in the front window of Folkheart, a store in Bristol, Vermont, which she and her partner, Slim Pickens owned. (Yes, that’s the correct name!) Seven of her Madonna sculptures are part of the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum – one of our favorite art museums.

More of her work can be viewed at Northern Daughters, which is a contemporary art gallery in Vergennes, Vermont. There are several other talented artists to check out on their website.