Fragility (in art and life)

New Artwork

“the quality of being delicate or vulnerable.”

IMG_6447Inspired by my mentor teacher, Stacy, and the advanced art classes I co-taught with her last semester at Leland HS in San José, I decided to follow along with their course and create my own lino print. This process is not for the faint of heart and requires patience, planning, and precision for best results. The students learned about reduction printing this semester: a form of relief or block print in which the artist creates a multicolor image with different layers carved into a linoleum block. I used some of Stacy’s video resources and her knowledge to figure this out since I was not familiar with using this medium with more than one layer (examples at end of post).  

Reduction printing on a lino block taught me a great deal about the fragility of this medium and how to embrace the embedded challenges. Below I document the process, however, I wish I could have captured the struggle on video. Carving into a lino block can be difficult and eventually altered my original design a bit because of the limitations of the lino cutters and my lack of precision. I only cut myself one time, surprisingly, but came close to a few more (thank you to Stacy for the safety tips and wood base that held my lino block).

In the end, I’m happy with how the 16 prints turned out, the intention is apparent even if they are not exactly what I planned for. Each is uniquely itself and captures the fragility of this entire process (carving, inking, aligning, printing). Christian saw the saga unfold; he initially pointed out how he could visually sense the fragility of both the printing process and the subject (hummingbird feasting on a flower). Reduction printing is metaphorical to how nature or life, in general, is fragile, vulnerable, delicate. We can plan or design our path forward, but there is a greater force that might align or alter it differently than what was hoped for; this can be tragic at times or just slight enough that a different, not so bad opportunity arises. Whatever the case, it is humbling to remember how fragile my life is, my art is, and the lives around me (adults, babies, animals, birds, fishes, plants, etc.).

Here’s my process unfolded if you’re interested in how I created these prints.

Step 1: Design Sketch/Plan; think of composition choices, decide how many colors/layers, plan for applying lighter colors first.


Hummingbird feasting on sage plant, design for my reduction print

Step 1: Carve first layer after transferring sketch to block (reverse design so relief print will transfer in the correct orientation); print green layer.

I decided to create 20 prints, each varied. Some were more lime green. The image above got a little blue smudge but was my only example left of the layer on its own.

Step 2: Carve second layer (take away areas where I want the green to remain on the print); print pink layer.

The challenge really begins here when I have to align my pink layer to my green layer. A few were little off and look kind of trippy now after the other layers are on.

IMG_6438 copy

Second layer (pink) printed on first layer (green)

Step 3: Carve third layer (cutaway areas where I want pink to remain); print turquoise layer.

Here’s a view of my work station after I printed a bunch of the third layer onto the first and second colors. I mixed my own colors with block ink (using a palette knife); they are applied with a brayer (the roller tool seen below).


Step 4: Carve fourth layer; print dark purple layer. (Also, make ongoing design decisions, to keep certain areas one color or the other; and try not to break the skinny block pieces off so much…)

At this point (or maybe last step) I realize that I did not carve away the tiny white areas I intended to in my original design (the eye, lower belly, wing highlights, etc.). I slept on it and after a few days decided to go for a fifth layer and use white paint to hopefully create those finishing touches.

Step 5: Finicky and dreadful; carve away entire design except for the white parts; try to print white parts (image on right was my test, I ended up carving away more after prints 1-3).

In the end, it worked out okay. However, rolling on the white ink was difficult because there was barely any of the block raised to ensure a smooth application. I discovered that it came out best when I didn’t put as much pressure on it; I tried to quickly stamp this fifth layer on. 20 prints later, 16 with all layers (other four acted as the demo quadrant seen above). Apologies for the photos, they are not the best due to the lighting and my lack of caring to edit them :/ – enjoy!!

To compare a single layer block print, here are some prints I did of some CA poppies. I made them into cards earlier this year (with the help of Christian 🙂 ). This design was carved into a pink, rubbery-like block; it was way easier to carve into than the lino. I added colored pencil to a few of them.

And here’s another example of one layer block printing I did for a group of friends. We have been going to this house in Mendocino County for the past few years for our “Jughandle Retreat” (named after the nature reserve that is in walking distance from the house). I taught them how to make prints one of the nights there and they took the good ones home ;)…I kept the leftovers for fun.

The single layer prints can now be made over again, while the reduction print of the hummingbird is no longer duplicatable. If you read through this and want one, let me know, I’m thinking about selling them soon.

Valley Health Clinic Bascom Mural Project

New Artwork


The volunteer mural project is now over. 7 straight days, 43(ish) hours (plus 10 or so for design sketches and revisions), of working on the 22’ x 10’ wall was both physically and mentally challenging. I was completely absorbed by this project and time became more abstract than normal. By 6:15PM on 2/15/19 (the last day), part of me knew I needed to do more – maybe one more bubble or bright piece of coral. It’s such an interesting experience creating a giant piece of art that I can’t just casually keep working on at my own pace. There was a timeline, a goal to have it complete, so the space could be used again for the families who frequent the waiting room. It was art that wasn’t created for me, but for other people to enjoy and to interact with.

It was great to see and hear reactions from the staff at the clinic; I received very encouraging and kind words daily. I truly feel like I made a difference in this community. I wish I could be a fly on the wall to see and hear the clients/patients’ reactions to it. My hopes are that it enhances their experience while at the clinic, yet, I’ll never truly be able to measure any sort of impact. I guess that is the nature with public art.

Check out my instagram for in-progress shorts: @renae.patrice


The overall goal of this mural was to promote literacy and brighten up a space in a local health clinic. I first found out about it through a professor and advisor at San José State. Fortunately, I had the time and energy to contact the coordinator and commit to taking on this endeavor.

This particular clinic off Bascom Ave. in San José serves low-income families and partners with a bilingual team from Stanford to promote literacy and school readiness. A study is being conducted with some patients in which participants are receiving interactive texting strategies they can use to help their young children learn to read.

Stanford has initiated a few other mural project interventions at “safety net” clinics in which they revitalize the waiting rooms to bring a message of hope rather than despair. The vulnerable population that typically utilizes these types of local Silicon Valley clinics are often struggling with poverty and other disadvantages. Bright, colorful, inspiring murals bring a minute change that is needed in the usually sterile, white wall spaces. They promote interaction between children and their parents and encourage speaking, reading, and counting, among other things.

Unfortunately, many low-income health clinics’ walls and floors are often barren. Through this artistic and community-driven effort, these places can transform into a safe, inclusive, and educational space, healthy for families and the health workers who serve them daily.

Other mural work going on through Stanford’s affiliate clinics:

New Year, New Artwork

New Artwork

Happy New Year! …18 days later…


I’m already enjoying these new beginnings of 2019. I finished my teaching credential (preliminary) at the end of December, and officially filed my paperwork at SJSU this week! (Yay!) Now I’m starting to look for art teaching jobs around California – San José greater area, Sacramento…maybe even LA.

Last year, I seized the opportunity to add on an MA through the Interdisciplinary Studies major at San José State University. I will finish that this spring semester, focusing on metacognition (or thinking about your own thinking) within art education. More to come on that topic…

While finishing my Master’s degree, I will continue to substitute teach around San José and helping out at Drawn 2 Art’s studio in Los Altos. I’m “shopping” around at this moment (within the public & charter school systems) and getting a sense for how different schools function. I’m both excited and nervous about the new opportunities coming my way; however, I am most grateful for the experiences I’ve had so far in my student teaching and relationships I’ve made through SJSU’s teaching credential program. My student teaching experience last semester was particularly amazing, and I’m a little sad I can’t finish the semester with those students.


I had some time off to work on art once I returned from a 5-day trip to Florida for Christmas. I did a few other things, but for now here are some of my favorites to share with y’all:

This painting was made for my sister, Jenn; she wanted something for her office wall. Acrylic on loose canvas – about 46″ x 22″.

Ode to the hills of California….

These cat portraits are for my boyfriend’s sister, Hanna; they are basically her children. I was going for that retro 70s/80s portrait feel with two angles of the cats. Conté crayon on black paper, 8.5″ x 11″.

Works/San José Gallery had an open call for artists to enter portraits in the form of a square. I had 4 mini canvases (4″ x 4″) and used them to create an autobiographical portrait of me and Christian to celebrate our love, squared. This painting was particularly challenging, but I think I more or less captured our gazes and expressions. It will be on display in the SJ downtown gallery from Jan. 25 – mid-February.

Upcoming Art Shows!


SVOS_D2A_May2018SVOS_D2A_May20182Chosen Family Art Show

Life has been full – ups and downs – but feeling strong and focused as of late.

While wrapping up my first phase of student teaching high school art, and working towards a masters in art education, I’ve been pursuing my own creative interests. I’m participating in Silicon Valley Open Studios during the first 2 weekends of May and will be selling some of my paintings, pottery, and prints at the art studio I substitute teach at – Drawn2Art in Los Altos.

Facebook Event  SVOS Artist Page – Renae McCollum

Also, during the month of May, one of my latest paintings will be part of Social Policy‘s art show “Chosen Family” in downtown San José. That spot has some great coffee/tea and food if you’re in the area. Opening reception is May 4th, 7PM-10PM.

LandEscapes12_SanJoasis_backyard sunset_web

Title: LandEscapes 12 – My San Joasis

Dimensions: 16″ X 20″
Artist Statement
Relocating to San José was challenging at first because of the drastic change in lifestyle I had to make from living abroad in the Netherlands and elsewhere in California before that. I felt like I couldn’t connect and did not plan on staying for more than one year. However, things change – I changed. The resistance to putting down roots was softened after I found love and a community.
After almost 4 years of living in the area, I can genuinely say I’ve made this place my home – My San Joasis. This painting is a vibrant portrayal of my backyard view. I think it captures the essence of how I’ve made a little oasis with my partner and exhibits the gratitude I have for our space and the family we created.
It’s part of a series of acrylic landscape paintings I call LandEscapes. Ultimately, these works of art were created to remember a connection I had with the earth and to escape into the beauty that I know won’t be around forever.

Weeping Land, revisited

New Artwork, Uncategorized

I recreated my Weeping Land piece and donated it to local nonprofit gallery Works/San José‘s for their annual auction fundraiser. The last day to bid is this Saturday, Dec. 2 by 6PM. If you’re in the area, please check it out – there are so many great artists who have something showing in the gallery.


My artist statement from the show:

Being a curious individual, I often ask myself questions about the intricate designs of the world, observing and appreciating the detailed environment around me. In the past four years, I have been turning these explorations into my own creative interpretations.

The acrylic painting series I’ve been developing lately is called “LandEscapes”; in it I focus on natural landforms, utilizing bright colors, contrasting values, and line. Through these paintings, I hope to bring to light environmental elements that are around us, allowing space for viewers to feel a familiar connection to the earth.

The flagship of the LandEscape series was the inspiration for this artwork you see today – a new reincarnation of the original piece “Weeping Land”. I wanted to express how nature is greatly affected by human development and exploitation. As I was creating this, people everywhere were feeling the results of some awful natural disasters: hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires. I weep for them, I weep with them.

But I also challenge us all to face the realities of climate change and to get involved to make a needed difference in our communities.

80% of proceeds from this piece will go to support the great things Works/San José is doing; 20% will be sent to help with California wildfire relief to the Community Foundation of Sonoma County.


Here’s the original I did back in 2012:



Words from the Tao te Ching



I appreciate the Tao te Ching and reading through the wisdom it holds. I think this passage below is especially poignant right now and is what I wish would take shape in the minds & actions of our political leaders. If only…

When a country obtains great power,

it becomes like the sea;

all streams run downward into it.

The more powerful it grows,

the greater the need for humility.

Humility means trusting the Tao,

thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:

When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.

Having realized it, he admits it.

Having admitted it, he corrects it.

He considers those who point out his faults

as his most benevolent teachers.

He thinks of his enemy

as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,

if it nourishes its own people

and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,

it will be a light to all nations in the world.

Reflecting on a Saturday afternoon, I thought I’d share these thoughts of mine with you:

I’ve been working through some personal things in the past month of this new year and as January comes to an end, I’m feeling better and trying my best to get rid of things and thoughts that don’t serve me. Daily I’ve been setting aside time to: pay attention and be fully aware of my body (through yoga & meditation); shut off the mind from tangential wandering; breathe intentionally and focus on mindfulness. There is no need to worry about the future and the uncertainty it brings, instead enjoy the now and hold on to the gratitude and wholesome thoughts. Patience, remember, for this too shall pass.

Trying to remain above the cynicism.



Movin’ On Up

New Artwork, Uncategorized


Yin and Birds – Digital Artwork by Renae McCollum 2016

This artwork represents how I’m trying to see the world. My world, and all of yours. A place full of balance, freedom, peace and justice. It’s hard to imagine it though, and even harder to believe in it. I realize it’s just a dream, but perhaps a dream we all have in common? I can only hope.

Deep down I have to trust that all of humanity is rooted in the same desire to live in harmony with one another. We are all just a bunch of living, breathing organisms sharing the same resources and creating systems to “deal” with our surroundings. My hope one day is that we collectively can find a way to live respectfully and peacefully with each other AND with our own planet – to stop exploiting and abusing each other and our natural resources. It’s more than tolerance, more than acceptance, but real support, understanding, and unity. We have so much more in common than we realize…but I know it’s hard at the moment.

As for now, I can only keep the hope alive through art and music and kindness.

Perhaps Curtis Mayfield’s song “Move On Up” is the best thing for everyone to listen to right now. Such a gem 🙂 We’ll Move On Up…Enjoy!

Hush now child, and don’t you cry
Your folks might understand you, by and by
Move on up, toward your destination
You may find from time to time

Bight your lip, and take a trip
Though there may be wet road ahead
And you cannot slip
So move on up for peace will find
Into the steeple of beautiful people
Where there’s only one kind

So hush now child, and don’t you cry
Your folks might understand you, by and by
Move on up, and keep on wishing
Remember your dream is your only scheme
So keep on pushing

Take nothing less, than the second best
Do not obey, you must keep your say
You can past the test
Just move on up, to a greater day
With just a little faith
If you put your mind to it you can surely do it


LandEscapes 6 – you rock, rock.

New Artwork

Well, here it is, the latest of the series – inspired from Castle Rock S.P. in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Got my hands on a new acrylic pen…and new acrylic paints – courtesy of Riley Street Art Supply in Santa Rosa 🙂

Stay Tuned for more as the journey continues.


Also, I became a member of a gallery in San José to explore the local art scene. It’s called Works/San José and they happened to be having a member exhibition called Vote Your Subconscious. I entered a small piece from an earlier LandEscapes blog entry. It will be on display until Sept. 11 and is tucked away, right next to a lively painting of the Donald. Contrasting beauties I guess…I’m grateful to have my escapism from this crazy world sometimes.

On Becoming a Naturalist


The Master has mastered Nature, not in the sense of conquering it, but of becoming it. In surrendering to the Tao, in giving up all concepts, judgements, and desires, her mind has grown naturally compassionate” -Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

I have found a new balance and blend, or maybe more like a bridge between my most beloved worlds of nature + art. I’ve learned new methods of thinking and ways of how I can contribute positively to society. I’m embracing not knowing it all, but instead staying curious about everything. I’m developing shapes, forms – bigger ideas- before bogging the conceptualizations with details. It’s all happening…

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. – John Muir

In late June, I went through a week long immersion course at Sagehen Creek Research Station (just north of Lake Tahoe) to become a California Naturalist. To answer your questions of why, what, and wait what?, please read below. 🙂


Well, the reasons varied, but I initially went due to my sense of adventure and wonder. I wanted to learn more and gain skills to become an educator; I wanted to get away, to rejuvenate and reflect on how beautiful life is. I also wanted to connect deeper to this place I call home. I ended up meeting some of the most genuine, interesting, experienced, curious, kind, and amazing group of people – including my cohort of 15 + the teachers and leaders of the course. They all collectively made this experience a worth while professional (and personal) development week off.

What is a naturalist?

During that week, we were trained on how to share knowledge and interpret science on an empathetic level in order to inspire the blooming of more environmental stewards. We were given tools to essentially pull apart and deconstruct ecosystems, in order to build them back up again with our words and stories for better understanding. I like to think of it as a training on connecting people to place.

Naturalists also observe nature by drawing or photographing and journaling about their observations. I doubt my nature journals will lead to breakthrough discoveries and they might not be published like the great John Muir, but it’s a useful tool to really pay attention to a place.

Yes, there really are classes for this. Check out the UC website if you’re interested and want to learn more:

What did you do?

I stayed at a the research station for 7 days, 6 nights. This lively, serene, secluded place is about a 20 minute drive north of Truckee, CA and is owned by UC Berkeley. I had class most days from 9AM-9PM with breaks and deliciously catered meals in between. It was like adult summer camp. 🙂

We had a terrific professor of hydrology lead us through the entire course with brilliant guest speakers occasionally dropping by in our outdoor classroom. Some classes occurred while on nature walks, including geology, botany, and the search for beaver dams along the creek. We visited other places two of the days, including UC Davis’ research center (TERC) at Sierra Nevada College and learned about the natural history of Lake Tahoe. We also learned a great deal about the research that’s going on around the lake and around Sagehen’s experimental forest.

I recommend picking up the California Naturalist Handbook. It provides great overviews on geography and biology of CA, and highlights some challenges we are facing now with global warming.

We were also introduced to a cool app called iNaturalist. It’s a community for nature observations and has some great information on it. I also recommend checking this out if you take a lot of pictures of nature and are sometimes curious about what something’s name. I still have some observations to post for Sagehen Creek station, but my username is “renae” if you want to find me on it.

What now?

It was sad seeing the week end. It’s truly incredible how quickly I connected with a group of strangers from different walks of life. I’m very grateful I met everyone I did and learned all of the information that I could grasp in such a short amount of time. I was very inspired by my classmates’ passion for the environment. On the last day, we all presented what we will be doing for capstone projects upon the completion of the course. All 14 projects I heard about were quite impressive and I know these individuals will make positive differences in their communities. I hope to carry my own project out within the next few months and to begin volunteering with some local parks.

Although I slightly dreaded driving back to San Jose and returning to work, this week gave me the creative and inspiring boost I needed. Thanks to all of my fellow naturalists and our fearless leader for making these memories!

Stay curious 🙂



LandEscapes 5 – more rockscape

New Artwork


I’m almost done with this next painting in my series. It’s based off a striking rock I met while hiking in Utah about 5 years ago. If you look closely the rock that looks like a face also is comprised of figures. There are some final touches that still need to be done, but I thought I’d share my newest creation.

Next up, I’m moving on from my red rock pallet and will transition into some more aquatic and forested landscapes. Stay tuned!