Fundraiser exhibit for ffac, February 2014

One of the great things to come out of working on Factory Farming as a subject has been meeting some very interesting people. I recently met with Katie Cantrell executive director of the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition and SF based photographer Caroline Schiff who is working on a project to photograph and tell the stories of rescued farm animals in Sanctuary Stories. Caroline recently had a successful kickstarter campaign to fund her travels and work, and her amazing kickstarter video is well worth watching. We are working together to organize an art show/fundraiser in February 2014 and hope to bring more news soon when we find a suitable venue.

I recently also came across the work of British artist Mishka Henner who uses publicly available satellite images of feedlots in his art. Will images such as these still be subject to the ag-gag laws of Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa and Missouri which make it illegal to take undercover videos or photos of farms? Ted Robertson writes that some proposals would brand activists as terrorists. I think we all have to start worrying when measures such as this are on the increase.

grey painted square background, in the center, large adhesive black numbers 6 and 7 almost filling the space. The numbers have a white rectangular background

67 square inches, 6 x 6 inches, oil on canvas, 2013

67 square inches is the space an egg-laying battery hen has to live in for its entire life.


Live Painting at the Americas Cup, piers 27/29 SF

Art in the Park, Americas Cup 2013, Fran Osborne, San Francisco

Art in the Park 2013

Until I received an email reminder yesterday, I’d almost forgotten that today, Saturday August 31st I’ll be live painting with about 40 other artists at Pier 27/29 on the San Francisco waterfront, as part of an Art in the Park FREE event to accompany the Americas Cup. There are no races today but plenty of sailing activity out on the bay, so lots of interesting things to paint. I saw some of the amazing craft in the competition from the Bay Bridge two weekends ago and suspect it will be a very interesting and challenging day, and allow me to catch up on the juicy details of what seems to be a rocky start fro the competition. All so very different from my first experience of sailing, which happened to be in the very UK waters where the Americas Cup first began in 1851, establishing itself with the phrase ‘There is no second.’

Anchors away!

Soon after leaving university I went for a weekend of sailing in the Solent in the UK with a boyfriend and his friends. The boat owner and skipper of our voyage was a father to one of these friends and bore a striking resemblance to Robert Shaw in the film Jaws. He had a similar knowing look in his eye, could scream instructions like the best old salty dog and of course would down huge jugfuls of gin and tonic almost continuously. We spent our first night in Lyme Regis harbor and rowed ashore in a very dodgy dinghy not so that we could sit and watch the sunset but so that we could go on a huge pub crawl. The town has very steep streets and I still don’t know how we managed to drink so much and find our way back to the jetty, and row back in our dinghy without being eaten by a Great White. Despite my imagination running wild about never seeing my family again, the weekend was so magical that I can still remember every detail. My land legs took some time to return but the raw, red face and stark white neck I’d acquired from too much sun, an oilskin zipped up tight and no sunscreen, held on stubbornly for another week or so. Every time I think of sailing, I remember that weekend and will probably find it echoing around my head on Saturday, though the Americas Cup, Art in The Park is naturally a much more glamorous affair.

Free Lunch and an Artists’ Lounge!

Today is a FREE event, with lots of art activities for families. As participating artists we have our lunch provided and maybe coffee too, and there’s even an ‘artists’ lounge’. Such luxuries are rarely available for our usual outdoor painting sessions and so I’m determined to make the most of them, and curious to know if they will improve the end results, or simply get in the way. Updates to follow shortly …

Factory Farming and the 50 x 50

Sanchez Art Center, Pacifica

Fran Osborne, Free Range Pigs Grazing, animal husbandry, freedom, animals

Free Range Pigs, grazing

Cow at Tilden Park, Beef cow, free range farming, animal husbandry

Cow at Tilden Park Farm

Downer, Beef farming, Factory Farming, Fran osborne

Factory Farm Beef Cattle

Factory Farm Hog, animal confinement, Fran Osborne, oil painting

Factory Farm Hog

Fran Osborne, Factory Farm Dairy Cows, confinement, oil painting

Factory Farm Dairy Cows

Factory Farm Hogs, Fran Osborne, oil painting, farm animal

Factory Farm Hogs

Free Range Cjicken, fran osborne, Oil painting

Free Range Chickens

Free Range Chickens, Oil Painting, Fran Osborne

Free Range Chickens

Chickens, Free Range, Fran Osborne, oil painting

Free Range Chicken

Free Range Cows, Tilden Park, Fran Osborne, oil painting

Free Range Cows

Title list

Yesterday I installed my 50 panels for the 5th annual 50 x 50 show at the Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica, opening on Friday 23rd August. I am at the end of what has been a grueling and emotional process. The idea is a simple one, and requires that each artist produce a 6″ x 6″ work, every day, for 50 days. The 2013 show is juried by Lonnie Lee, founder of the Vessel Gallery in Oakland, and will display work by seventy artists.

Oh my. The challenge is indeed mightier than it seems. The fifty panels are displayed in a 7 x 7 grid with the fiftieth one placed to the side, along with the usual bio and statement. The idea of doing a small piece of work every day appealed enormously at first but I always seemed to be behind schedule, did not begin on the appointed day, and probably spent too long making the whole composition make some kind of sense. 

My theme is Factory Farming, and builds on work I’ve been doing at a much larger scale earlier in the year. I have to admit that I did feel uncomfortable hanging my work amidst a range of sunny landscapes and abstracts. The central panel with “67” refers to the space a battery caged hen has for its entire life – 67 square inches. I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan but want animals to be reared with compassion and respect. If we are to continue eating meat, then we can encourage higher standards by limiting our consumption to pasture-based and free-range meat and by eating less of it. Come along to the Sanchez Art Center on August 23rd for the opening reception and download my title list and thumbnail images here: Title list

If you are at all curious about this process then consider applying next year and challenge yourself to grapple with the many questions the project might raise for you.

Coyotes in the hills and pigs in muck

As an antidote to East Bay Open Studios, I ventured south on the recommendation of a friend, in order to visit Coyote Hills Regional Park for an afternoon of relaxed painting and gazing. The landscape in all directions is incredible with views of the shimmering salt flats at the end of the bay. The marshes on either side of the hills reveal exquisite color and on the very sunny day that we were there, the endless, subtle color shifts were utterly absorbing and hypnotic. The shots below are only from my phone but when I do return again, I’ll post some more serious paintings and sketches. Before we got to the magic of Coyote Hills however, we had detoured very slightly to visit a few kindred spirits of the land … who you also can meet if you scroll down.

Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fran Osborne, 2013

Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fran Osborne 2013

Salt flats at Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fran Osborne, 2013

Looking south at Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fran Osborne 2013

The romance of Ardenwood

Huge swathes of the east bay were fertile farmland until the seepage of urban sprawl swallowed it all up. Now Ardenwood Historic Farm is a little oasis of heaven in Fremont, where families and children can wander at will and Thursday-Sunday visitors can chat with docents in period dress engaged in traditional farming practices and tour the house. The farm is still operating along traditional lines and at weekends this includes a functioning blacksmith’s shop, outdoor cooking and train rides.

Shakespeare’s Forest in Fremont

Ardenwood was named after the forest in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ and even had its own little railway station back in the day. We had a magical time exploring its 200 acres. In addition to pigs (who were having a mud bath during our visit), chickens, turkeys and rabbits, there are sheep and goats galore as well as peacocks and pheasant, doves and a few cows.

The amazing 4-H program

We wandered around and talked to a very self-assured teenager tending two pigs through the 4-H program. Established around 100 years ago, this organization teaches leadership and communication skills through the rearing of livestock and other creative projects. Now I know why all those teenagers were hanging out with their pigs, goats and sheep at the Alameda County Fair last year.  Long may it continue.



As we left the Visitor’s Center, a mother yanked on her son’s arm “Come on!” she yelled, “We don’t want to miss McDonald’s do we?” Oh my.

Vending with Rtystyk at the Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival

But is it art?

As darkness descended and the night began Scott Stulen, the curator of the original Cat Video Festival from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, began the evening’s proceedings and the collective laughter began to roar out.

We all knew, as Stulen comments in this PBS review that ‘It’s OK to like this’ and whether it’s art or not was not the point at all. What I appreciated so much about this event is that it began with a formal institution like the Walker Art Center responding to a private and hidden fascination with cat videos. They took a risk and treated the genre seriously, engaging the public in a dialogue, curating a compilation of the material, and in the process created a popular festival model that is spreading. People love to share, celebrate and express their creativity, and they love to do it in large groups in public spaces.

Vending lessons

My friend Rtystyk Shavers was such a great partner on the day and taught me so much about festival presence.  We were manning our booth, promoting East Bay Open Studios for ProArts and doing ‘cativities’ for festival goers young and old. What a day! He is a brilliant creator of audience participation and set up a table where everyone could join in and contribute to a funky cat painting on canvas. You can see some of his own amazing work here, and catch him doing more live painting at the Oakland Art Murmur as well as the Malcolm X Festival coming up in Oakland at San Antonio Park May 18th. This painting was created by many, many hands and the calm, smiling guidance of a very generous artist.

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The other ‘cativity’ was one I’d learnt as a volunteer at SFMoMA, making block prints from cheap styrofoam. If you draw a design and then go over it with a sharp pencil, you can create a printing block that lasts for a few prints, like these happy festival goers.

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According to NPR 6,000 people showed up and the day is expected to raise about $50,000 for the East Bay SPCA. Let’s hope they do it again next year and if you want to check out the videos again, the Walker Art Center has a dedicated youtube channel for you!

Purrrfect … The Oakland Cat Video Festival


I’m really looking forward to representing ProArts and participating in the amazing Oakland Cat Video Festival coming up on May 11th. I know it doesn’t sound like a normal event for a Saturday in downtown Oakland but you might just get inspired to go along and join with the expected crowd of 5,000, who will be celebrating all things feline and watching cat videos projected onto the Great Wall of Oakland between Telegraph and Broadway at West Grand.

You’ll have fuurrrrn

According to a piece by KQED, when the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis organized the first Cat Video Festival in 2012, 10,000 people showed up to enjoy the curated selection of internet cat videos and share the collective experience of watching them projected onto a big screen. Gems such as ‘Henri Paw de Deux’ will be shown along with many other videos that you may or may not have already seen. If you really want to cheer yourself up now, the hilarity is already available on this dedicated #catvidfest youtube channel but I’m pretty sure it will be even funnier with a crowd. Number 17 is one of my favorites.

There will be food. comedy and an aerial performance before the film show begins. I’ll be at a ProArts table facilitating cativities for all ages so hope to see you there.

‘Making the Brush Behave’ among the free spirits of the Albany Bulb

One of my favorite places to find peace of mind and inspiration in the East Bay is the Albany Bulb. Last Wednesday my most treasured spot there had some great new graffiti art to marvel at, and though a dog walker mentioned the snakes in the grass, I couldn’t wait to explore.  I’ve been reading a little book called ‘Making the Brush Behave’ (irresistible title) by Eliot O’Hara from 1936, and wanted to try out some of his exercises. As I looked around I could see so much to paint I didn’t know where to begin. The view towards Mount Tamalpais is always fascinating because as the light changes and the sun comes in and out, the distant range of hills seems to almost be alive with color. If the weather is calm, sounds of walkers and dogs echo around and the jolting freeway seems a million miles away. Pretty much a blissful time is always waiting here.

Albany Bulb Art, Fran Osborne

Albany Bulb Art, April 2013

On Wednesday however, the graffiti was beginning to whisper louder still and I couldn’t resist looking more closely. This litter bin was a great place to start, being so simple and striking. It was even signed by the artist, Feral, or was it Feraz? Anyway I liked his graphic style on this old, rusty oil drum with just a piece of chalk or soft oil crayon?

A little further on, this snake began hissing and I swear I heard that hyena on the left begin to laugh and snigger.

Albany Bulb Art, April 2013

Albany Bulb Art, April 2013

This guy just wanted to talk and talk and I had to sneak away when he wasn’t looking. You know the kind.

Albany Bulb Art, April 2013

Albany Bulb Art, April 2013

Don’t get me started on this dude …

Albany Bulb Art, April 2013

The art was new, it was loud and it was exciting. The wind was absent and the sky streaked with high cloud. The water of the bay lay calm and flat and I was finally ready to follow Mr O’Hara’s instructions (!!??*#) with a big fat brush.

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One of the magical things about using watercolor is how it changes as it dries. When you add a blob of paint with a quick, satisfying sweep and sit and watch it dry, everything about the hue and intensity of the color and the way the paper shines through the transparent pigment is a little miracle of chemistry. If your paper is rough then this can become an essential element in the process too.

Trees at the Albany Bulb, 2013

Trees at the Albany Bulb, 2013

What Mr O’Hara points out over and over again, is that confident strokes are essential and so I’ve started to really simplify shapes even more than I did before. This line of trees for instance, is painted in a few strokes of connected color, twisting the brush quite quickly to get the raggedy edge of foliage. I’ve learnt to start at the place I want to be the darkest (in this case the right side) and as the brush loses more color and the stroke becomes fainter, it can create a sense of distance. I took the sketch below straight to the studio when I got home and washed out the middle distance a little, repainting when it had dried. I wish I could do the same with the sky but I don’t think it would work because the pigments are staining. There’s always so much to learn as you inch forward with watercolor and at the Albany Bulb there can be an audacious freedom around that speaks volumes if you can tune in.

Albany Bulb, looking towards Mount Tamalpais, Waterclor, fran osborne

View from the Albany Bulb, looking towards Mount Tamalpais