One of the benefits of a long-term relationship with a watercolor society is access to show opportunities all around the state.  This particular one is not divided by region, as are many now with WSNC who has divided its state into four sections to better serve artists in all regions, but one featuring its members who have won top prizes or been juried consecutively into their annual juried shows, thus earning the title “signature art member.” A signature member has the right to sign his or her name with the watercolor society’s initials after it. Yours truly has two societies after her name.

This show brings together what the title suggests, the cream of the state of NC’s watercolor artist crop, into the Cary Arts Center on 101 Dry Avenue–inside the curve at the school property, actually. The room is beautifully outfitted to hang paintings with gallery lighting and wonderful windows.

This coming Friday on July 25th from 6:00-8:00 p.m., the artists and Cary town folk will mingle at a reception which will serve finger foods and refreshments as a part of the Town of Cary’s Final Friday, and so the public is cordially invited to attend.

Some 50+ works will be on display at the Cary Arts Center for the month of August, until the 23rd.

The painting of mine that will hang is Whiff of Opium, a still life of luxury items: perfume atomizers, blown blue glass in a copper hanger, an art glass bottle with swirls, and a wonderful medicinal opium bottle I found in a thrift shop. I love assembling items to paint–no matter how intuitively you pick and join them, it seems they eagerly comingle to tell a story you did not consciously intend. I asked a friend to tell me if he liked the picture, or what he liked about the painting, if anything, expecting a hurried yes or no answer from him.Whiff of Opium Watercolor painting

Instead, I received a bonus. He stepped back from the picture, considered, and then started pouring out treasure.

“I see a woman here who seems to be shallow, to live on the surface. She loves beautiful things, the rich life, and yet, there’s more to her. She’s a famous celebrity I know, who was drawn into the dark side, used drugs, and drugs eventually lured her away from even the beautiful items that she loved, and ended her life.” I looked at my own watercolor again. Sure enough, behind the dark bottle for opium, was a dark slice into her reality. We looked at other of my paintings and found others that had the dark spot–some that friends and visitors had commented on over the years about that very thing. Subconsciously, it was there.

The message was not intentional, a fact I much prefer. Having viewed art in museums in a variety of countries, I have seen propaganda art–or tendentious art, I might call it–and to me, that loses on all levels. Maybe that’s just the problem: it flattens all its levels into one and turns into an in-your-face message. If my paintings have a message, I want it to be truth that is discovered. I prefer authentic art, based on a person’s loves and passions, and not a preaching platform–whether religious or political. In a lot of ways Whiff of Opium was experimental. The watercolor medium is a non-dimensional one, so you are taxed to find new ways of showing things like the glitter on the hanging material on the back of the painting. Reading the painting from afar as one does the impressionists works best here. If you are interested in more of my ideas about the subject of art, do please visit my website, http://www.joriginals.net where you can read blog articles from different months and my philosophy of painting in About You and other places.

And so I do hope you will come by and visit the show sometime during the coming month. I wouldn’t mind if you came just to see my picture, but there are many beauties to feast the eye on there. Come just if you’d like to rub shoulders with us artists there; come on out this Friday evening. I think you’ll be glad you did!

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Pt. I, Build Suspense White-Hot Intense  I’M ON THE FIRST STEP, I WANT MY–!

Finishing Dean Koontz’s book, Deeply Odd, was a roller coaster read, or a hide-under-the covers read, if you will. Couple that with a phone call from a friend the following morning saying she woke in the night face to face with a hairy black spider she brushed frantically away, and you have awakened some nerve endings. Seeing no black spider carcass increased her teror. How scary is that, she said. Then she couldn’t sleep, because the very thought of a missing spider struck fear into her heart. Her terror transferred to me. Image and Possibility were enough to pump my adrenalin, even though I hadn’t seen the spider. It could happen to me; maybe it was meant as a warning. I looked at my pillow, lifted it, and looked behind the bed.

The two events conjoined to reveal and deliver writing craft strategy, whole. How did it do that, you ask. Wait, wait, don’t be impatient. I promise I will deliver the secret, but before that’s done, I must divulge the name of the very best book explaining how to write a novel I ever read and followed: The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. Many years later, a book on writing craft better than all others popped up on my electronic device, which completed my education on the secret to writing that I am sharing with you. This book was not just about suspense, but–. TMI, too soon. Now that four balls are circling in the air, hang on. I will explain what the first two events share in common.

One mystery writer actually announced in public at a reading that she hated suspense. I hate she confessed, because that was her sterling lack, imho, lack of suspense. Progression through her books just kind of happened in a flat, plodding way, and the mysteries unraveled in the heroine’s hands as she followed clues in her lackluster style. Dull. I still fervently believe that the driving force in any novel, writing, or even poetry, is suspense. What else makes you turn a page, than good, strong suspense? You must know what happened. Did the heroine get out of that burning car? Was she all right, afterward? Who killed M, and why? Is he still around? Am I in danger? What made him do that? Burning questions have to be answered. As for my friend, did she call for an exterminator? Did she change all the sheets? These cascading questions signify the investment of personal involvement.

So, let’s break those examples down. Dean Koonz’s craft in creating suspense is exactly the same that my friend gave me in her call. Koonz and my friend painted a picture with words that lingered, an image that threatened or portended threat. They said, ‘something’s coming.’ Now Dean Koonz is a master of suspense and I embarked on a path of discovery by reading his novels. My friend, unwittingly, created the perfect picture of horror or suspense: a lost black spider near your head. So I have a picture and a process. Don’t worry, I’m going into further detail about both, right now. I promise. A believable person, innocently proceeding with life, encounters the unbelievable or is being set up for a horrible experience–we are brought in on the experience all at once, like my friend, or a little bit at a time, like the novel.

At first the two events, finishing Koonz and my friend’s black spider, seen in tandem, presented only a puzzle. Dean Koonz and a spider. The novel wasn’t about one, but that’s not to say he hasn’t written a novel involving a spider. Then the reason for my blinding light experience became clear. I remembered specifically searching writing craft books for how to develop plot which I later interpreted as suspense. I read and read. None of the how-to’s proved helpful. They outlined what to do with the plot you already had, but they did not tell how to create suspense from nothing. Frustrated, I began an intense internet search on how to plot. This migrated to suspense building. None delivered answers that created excitement. I stepped up my wordplay. These answers lacked the oomph, tightness, and intensity I wanted. (I talk to myself, did I tell you?) So, when my right brain supplied the word ‘intensity’–the master key emerged. Intense. I looked up the word. “Intense–occurring or existing in a high degree; very strong; violent, excessive, or vivid; as, an intense light.”

Intense meant stretched to the max, strenuous, urgent, fervent. Intense meant strong emotion and firm purpose. All right, I needed a craft book that taught me how to make my writing intense and all those other adjectives. No craft writing book turned up one specifically. Instead, all over the internet popped up Dean Koonz’s book entitled, “Intensity.” That settled it. I had to have it. If a writer of Koonz’s stature had written a book entitled “Intensity,” I bet it was intense. I could learn from the master. I bought his book, read it, my tongue hanging out the whole way. This began my love of his work. That, and one more feature of his books I won’t reveal until later. If at all.

Yes, if you dared name a book Intensity, you had to stand by it. Intense, it was. Suspenseful, it was. And would you believe, it taught me all the things I needed to know about how to build suspense, step by step. Upon writing this article about the process, I began to remember telling ghost stories at camp and striking terror into my friends’ hearts. One saw terror in their widened eyes, constricted lips, their white, gripped knuckles. One hid under her sheets. One ran out the door. I was good at making my friends’ mamas mad, but there’s a downside to everything.

You’ve heard the old adage about the ticking clock, I’ll bet. If you want to move a book along, create a deadline, increase the pace. Have your characters running against the clock. So as a writer, you think, increase the pace. Suspense is all about the ticking bomb, tight deadlines, and racing cars. It’s a Schwarzeneger movie or a Dan Brown thriller with cars racing up the Vatican steps.

All right, we now have the principles. First—start with somebody you can empathize with, and second, relate something terrible that just happened, or better still, is about to happen, or better even than that, both has and will. The third thing, then is to increase the pace, right? Wrong.

Instead, the third thing to do is the opposite of speeding up. It’s, Slow Down. Slow down? Surely that old brain has tricked me again. Everyone will laugh me to the curb and back. Slow down. Then the flashback picture of camp days and the scary story I told and embellished, the one about the former occupant of our room who had bitterly fought a friend, got so mad that he cut off his toe, and the man died of gangrene, so now he haunts the former friend’s descendants or anyone who enters his room, returned to mind. “I’m on the first step, I want my toe.”

And immediately you return to those days in a flimsy cabin, the night black around you, ADeadlyProvenance_FinalDraft5 (1)and there you lie in the dark without a weapon, sweating, crickets and frogs creaking, and you imagine a disembodied spirit walking up from the swamp, wanting his toe. Maybe you lie in the antebellum house of your childhood that actually claims ghosts as inhabitants, where there are more steps for him to climb, and the slow creak of stealthy pressure on old wood rubs every nerve raw. The same story works with a tweak here and there. Worse still, you have to go to the bathroom which is outside the cabin in the dark, where the Thing is lurking. Or it’s all the way down the hall in the antebellum house, and you have to go past those stairs.

You lie there, waiting for the next floor board to creak, for the whisper, for the scratch against the window. You  slide further under covers. “I’m on the 6th step, I want my toe,” the storyteller goes. Oh, God. Wait. How did I miss hearing the second, third, fourth, and fifth step? Was I not listening? Did he skip the warning? Is he playing tricks on us? No he’s not consistent; he’s not fair. Oh God. And then you remembered the back story, how the person who stayed in the room you were in died, but maybe he didn’t, really. Maybe he lived and turned psycho, went to a madhouse somewhere, and now, he’s escaped and visiting you. Don’t those people sometimes take to the countryside and find their way back to the one thing they obsessed on? “I’m on the seventh step, I want my toe,” the storyteller says, his voice grating menacingly, a sharp creak emanating from the stairs again, and you scream. Was that a laugh you heard?

See how I’ve caught you? Not by speeding up, but by

steadily, eerily



so you can hear the sweat drop

listening, ears keened  to the silence

the silence pregnant with evil

wavery red like eyes

malevolent forces

gain on you

through no fault of your own–

a door slams–

you jerk–

is it the  wind?

an accomplice?

you leap up

move deliberately to the door

to the hallway

that hides another door  you know is there  but he doesn’t

where you are either safe

or a sitting target

while menace

crazy evil

irrational motives near you–

you hear a slurp

a pant

an “8th step–I want my toe”  and

you, nearly crazy with fear—

Ohmigosh, I have reached my article limit, and fear I will have to make you wait for installment two in the series, I’m on the Second Step, I Want My– ! From Intense to Suspense and then, Victory. You can’t be upset with me. I gave you what I promised so far, didn’t I? And with it, the fourth principle, which is to interrupt the anticipation yet again and again, making you more and more demanding and needing an answer. Withhold information, always withhold something crucial. Don’t blab it all out! Now, just pretend you’ve laid the book down on the table because an important stranger has knocked on your door, and you must find out what he wants. Do come back, however—oh, and don’t unlock your door for the stranger, even if he must use the bathroom or the phone, or God knows what. Even if your husband is there with you. Remember, I warned you. Don’t. And by the way, building suspense this way works in any genre. The fear principle just hypes up the romance, or whatever. You want to know what I know, don’t you? I hope I’ve done this in my book, A Deadly Provenance (http://www.amazon.com/A-Deadly-Provenance-ebook/dp/B00D4ANOZQ/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370089422&sr=1-1-fkmr2&keywords=books+by+Joanna+McKethan). Read it and tell me, will you? And look for Installment Number Two on Plotting. Coming Soon.

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Aquarius National Watermedia Exhibition 2014, Southern Colorado Watercolor Society to Exhibit My Watercolor

“Congratulations, your painting, “Crab-Net,” was accepted into the Aquarius National Watermedia Exhibition 2014,” Jan Steers, the Shows Chairperson of the Southern Colorado Watercolor Society, writes me. What wonderful words to hear from an organization I have wanted to exhibit in ever since I began painting in watercolor and exhibiting my work.

This painting is the picture of summer fun, centering as it does around the most colorful and lively of creatures, the N.C. blue- shelled crab. Learning how to maneuver with the crabs and pull the teeming, gyrating mass up from the water was an experience like no other. Had I not seen these creatures up close and personal, I would never have believed the vibrant colors they sported. I remember the frequent pulls and the workout it gave my shoulders as though it were yesterday. Nice of a friend to bring a newbie into the arena. I gave out a little early, as I recall. Oh, did I mention that blue-shelled crab taste delicious?

‘Crab-Net’ (http://joriginals.net/paintings-for-sale/sea-escapes/crab-net-watercolor/Crab-Net) was



fun to paint, as well, in one of my two favorite media. For all that it was a difficult subject, as entangled as the crabs were with all their multitudinous parts, and as many concentric spiralings as happened in the net’s weave, in the metal clamp, and the outher rim. I have always loved to paint the subject of weaving, and prefer a puzzle to keep me inspired. If it wears me out or makes me crazy, well, that’s just part of the challenge. Painting in negative space–a necessity in watercolor since the white that remains in the finished painting is the white of the paper beneath–is always a challenge. A bit like patting your stomach and rubbing your head simultaneously, you must get the move of what lies beneath, as well, even when it turns in the opposing direction from the action on top.When I took off for my painting and writing sequestration last year, I worked on this piece as well as a book. I kept seeing new patterns emerge in the drawing phase, and so I would erase portions and re-do the pencil lines, once to introduce the metallic inner circle, the radiant vortexes of the simple trap. In a circular pattern, all the spaces between are wedge-shaped and organic, so working them together correctly was tricky. The subject emerged entwined in spirals of knotted twine which revealed more holes in the net than it did crabs. String has always fascinated me and is such a simple thing to outmaneuver cranky crabs, as fisherman from time immemorial have known.

‘Crab-Net’ just took a trip to Texas back in the spring (http://joriginals.net/texas-hill-country-foray-for-the-arts/) when it was accepted into an 18-state and Washington, D.C. Regional show, Southern Watercolor Society’s, of which I am a signature member. This became the occasion for a fun trip and seeing relatives in their part of the country. The 29 x 37 matted and framed work will exhibit September 27, 2014 through January 3, 2015 in the National Watermedia Exhibition at Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center, 210 N. Santa Fe Avenue, Pueblo, Colorado. An awards reception will be held on November 14, 2014, from 5-8 p.m.

Colorado’s Southern Watercolor Society is not looking forward to having my painting in their exhibition nearly as much as I am. Who knows–maybe we will be needing a trip to Colorado for my birthday and can attend the Awards reception. Whether or not one wins anything other than the juried acceptance into the show, I find it exhilarating to rub shoulders with my peers in other states who create in the same media, find new friends, and make new opportunities. And I would be remiss not to mention my local watercolor society, The Watercolor Society of North Carolina (WSNC) and its group of wonderful members whose input has helped me along the road over the last few decades.



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