Category: Painting Process

There’s something fishy going on here…

Muskellunge Brewing Company Fish painting menuThe irony is not lost on me.

I am known most for my paintings of cats, so taking a turn and painting a series of fish paintings is a bit, well, ironic.

I suspect that my cats rather enjoy the paintings, however.

Why did I paint a series of fish paintings?

It all started a couple of years ago when my friend Frank asked me to design a logo for him for a brewery that he was, at that time, in the early stages of developing. I had made a drawing of his cat Musky, named after the Muskellunge fish, and he wanted the fish in that drawing to be part of the logo.

Cat drawing with Muskellunge Beer

Here is the logo:

Muskellunge Brewing company logo

After designing the logo, Frank asked me to create an art sign with the logo on it:

Frank is a scientific sort of guy. He came to brewing beer through the science of it. Working in the pharmaceutical industry for years, he developed a keen awareness of scientific methods and chemistry, and he began brewing beers in his basement. He decided to extend his basement hobby into a professional endeavor. Fascinated by various species of freshwater fish, he named each of his beers after a different fish.

In keeping with his fish theme, Frank commissioned me to paint a sign for each of his beers and the corresponding fish to serve as a menu board in the taproom of his brewery.

I enjoyed the creative challenge of painting actual species of fish in my semi-abstract contemporary folk art style. It was a challenge, simulating the textures and colors of fish using my bright colored palette, and also doing the lettering in my layered technique. (You can see the in process photos for each painting on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds.)

The brewery and artwork were recently featured in this article in the Akron Beacon Journal, where I talked about the creative process:

“I have a technique of laying the paint and that makes an interesting texture and that’s what these are,” BZTAT said. 

BZTAT is known for creating colorful pet portraits in pop art and contemporary folk styles. Freshwater fish presented a particular challenge. Freshwater fish aren’t exactly known for their bright colors, which the artists uses. Silver gray anyone?

BZTAT describes freshwater fish as “drab.”

“I am constantly challenging myself to make not just a portrait and not just a pretty picture for somebody but also something that could stand on its own as a valid artwork,” BZTAT said. “And the fish are kind of a new challenge for me which I’ve been enjoying. I’ve never really painted fish before.”

Not to say she and fish are strangers. She grew up in a household with fish tanks and exotic fish, and loved watching them.

“They are just interesting visually,” BZTAT said.

Muskellunge Brewing Company‘s taproom opened this past week to rave reviews (Follow Muskelluunge Brewing Company on Facebook and Instagram). The beer, and the fish painting/signs were a big hit! If you are in the Canton area, I hope you will stop in, sample some of the finest craft beer in Ohio, and see the artwork. The brewery is located at 425 5th St. NW Canton, OH 44702.

I would not recommend that you bring your cat, though…

Life is an Adventure!




Coloring outside the lines is not all it is cracked up to be.

Child Drawing - Coloring outside the lines“Coloring Outside the Lines” has become a rallying call phrase to all of those who break the standard and do not follow established norms. The suggestion is that coloring outside the lines, as in children’s coloring books, is an admirable thing, and that trying to get children to color inside the lines is a bad thing.

Not so fast.

Although I admire the spirit behind the “Coloring Outside the Lines” concept, I also recognize that children developing skills around coloring is more complicated than that.

I have been a Teaching Artist for preschoolers for the better part of a year now, and seeing different children attempting to master fine motor skills and reasoning skills, it compels me to take pause with the rallying call.

We need to teach children these skills, because the mastery of holding a crayon and learning to use it to represent things in our daily lives is important foundational learning.

We need not admonish teachers or the “establishment” for educating children in this endeavor. They are required to teach these skills for a reason. Children who do not develop good fine motor skills struggle in many other areas of education. Following directions and learning to cooperate with expectations are also important skills. Children need to be able to color within the lines in order to move forward in their education.

I am not sure where the rallying call came from. My guess is that it originated with famous people who were creative prodigies that demonstrated creative pursuits beyond their childhood teachers’ understanding, and thus felt shamed for their unwillingness to settle for simple fine motor skills. John Lennon was known to be a creative prodigy who demonstrated a range of behavioral difficulties in school because his teachers did not know how to support his creativity.

I think the key here is that we need to support each child as we teach them skills. Shame is not a good teaching tool for any skill. Children need to learn to master skills that may not be natural for them without feeling bad about themselves. Support and positive guidance can help them try things that are hard without shaming.

It is not an all or nothing thing, however. Although children need to learn things that are tough for them, they also need to explore their natural proclivities. There is a balance between creative exploration and skill development. The two need to go hand in hand.

As we mature and become adults, we often lose that creative exploration side of the balance, and feel like we are missing something. We have focused so much on skill mastery and “following the rules”, we lose sight of personal growth and individuality. It is this phase of life where the “coloring outside the lines” call has resonance.

If you have spent your life trying to be obedient, following all the rules, and “coloring inside the lines”, you can reach a point where you feel that you have lost a sense of self. It is here where you need to try different things and break out of confining activities that no longer have purpose. Coloring outside the lines can be liberating at this point.

The important thing to remember is that, despite certain activities being important to our development as human beings, they may lose their purpose as we grow into new phases of our lives. Freeing ourselves from them can be as important as mastering them were in our youth.

Regardless of whether we color in the lines or not, we are important and of worth.

When I was a child, I loved to color in coloring books. I enjoyed coloring inside the lines, and I enjoyed the process of finding ways to make my pictures unique, despite their uniformity. My classmates may have had the same picture to color, but mine always had to be more vibrant and more colorful. I also enjoyed drawing my own pictures and coloring them.

I was identified early on as a creative child. I learned to do as I was expected, but I was also encouraged to do more than just that. My family and my teachers encouraged me artistically and helped me find ways to explore life through creative activities. it is that kind of support, I believe, that all children need, whether they are artistic or not.

American Eskimo Spitz dog pet portraitI rely on that early learning each time I paint the portrait of someone’s pet. Although I follow certain tried and true paths in my process, I also explore each painting as a new adventure. I both follow and break rules as I go. I defy standards, using a painting technique that diverges from what most artists do, but I only do that because I explored and found different ways to do things to meet my goals.

I couldn’t do that without having a basic understanding of the rules in the first place.

Each time I go into a classroom to teach, I always challenge myself to be supportive as I encourage children to try new skills and attempt new strategies. I feel the balance as I engage with each child, guiding them in following directions to do the task at hand, yet also giving them a sense of value and self worth regardless of accomplishment. I find that they appreciate their accomplishments more this way than if I were to shame them for not following a direction.

I think I do the same thing with myself as I paint a painting.

Striking that balance is what the adventure of art, and life, is all about.

Life is an Adventure!




What’s on BZTAT’s Easel? A custom pet portrait of Rosie and Jake!

Border Collie and Springer Spainiel contemporary pet portrait painting by Artist BZTAT
Painting by Artist BZTAT

“Sure! I can do that!”

I have a habit of saying that sometimes when I probably should not. When one of my best collectors asks me to do something special, though, I want to give it a try.

I am a fine artist and not an illustrator, so I make it clear to patrons that I make the decisions about what goes into a painting, not them. Still yet, when a special request gives me a new artistic challenge, I am willing to try to incorporate different ideas into the composition.

Brewskie butt cat coffee cup whimsical painting by Artist BZTAT
Painting by Artist BZTAT

Recently, some friends who have commissioned a number of my paintings in the past paid a visit to my studio. They were drawn to a painting of my cat Brewskie Butt that was hanging on the studio wall. There was just one problem. They were dog people, not cat people.

“Could you paint a portrait of our Rosie and Jake with a coffee mug like that?” they asked.

“Sure! I can do that!”

The project turned out to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated.

Border Collie
Springer Spaniel

First of all, Rosie and Jake have completely different facial profiles. Rosie, a Border Collie, has a bouncy cheery look, while Jake, an English Cocker Spaniel, has more of a droopy dog look. They are different sizes, as well, so balancing them on a long horizontal canvas was not easy.

The coffee mug presented challenges too. I needed to have it look as though it was in front of the dogs and resting on a table. Making this look plausible wasn’t easy. Getting the proper perspective and color for the mug took quite a few trials and errors.

I added the window behind Jake, because the Rosie side was active and dynamic, but the space behind Jake seemed empty and dull. I went back and forth on the shape and color of the mug, too. I finally settled on a shape that worked best with the dogs in the back, and on an orangish yellow color that brought it into the foreground. (Warm colors tend to advance to the front and cool colors tend to recede to the back in a visual plane.)

I added a touch of orange to the background by adding a sun to the landscape in the window, tying the foreground and background together.

You can see the entire work in progress progression in this slideshow:

The final painting turned out quite spectacular and fun. Despite the challenges, I enjoyed the process of painting the portrait, and I was very pleased with the end result. I guess Rosie and Jake’s family was pleased too. They have already hung the painting over their kitchen table so that they can enjoy their morning coffee with their beloved pups!

Border collie Springer spainiel contemporary pet portrait installed


Life is an Adventure!