Chat Bots, a Furby, and Going Easy On Yourself

I listened to a podcast on Radio Lab this weekend while I wrestled with my most recent painting. The podcast started with a live audience experiencing chat bots and trying to determine if they where "chatting" with a human or a bot. AI has come a long way and the purpose of the bots is to seamlessly hand off control from the "machine" doing the chatting to a "human" as the problem gets more complex or subject specific. As the podcast proceeded there was an interesting antidote about a Furby. Using the emotional response that a Furby has programed into its system, the tester thought that the same type of response could be used to detect a bot. That is a huge generalization, and it was an interesting segment as they interviewed a man that designed toys for a living.

What I want to get to is the segment where a reporter goes to interview a scientist and participate in a "virtual" session where he moves back and forth between himself and himself as a virtual Sigmund Freud, and himself as his virtual model. He was asked to think of a problem he was trying to solve and ask "Freud" for his advice. The problem he was mulling over was whether or not he did the right thing about leaving his mother, with dementia, in a facility in VA where she has many friends to visit her, or to move her to NY, where it was only him.

He asked his question as himself. The virtual room changes and he finds himself sitting as the virtual Freud, voice changed. He then becomes a Freud-like version of himself. As he sees his virtual self from "Freud's" perspective, he develops an overwhelming sense of compassion. The dialog goes back and forth and it culminates into his seeing his problem in a different light. He caught on that he was in a pattern of cyclical guilt brought about each time one of the people visiting his mother would send an email update. In a guilt infused state, he was constantly questioning his decision to leave her there.

As he relayed his experience in the podcast interview, he was still emotionally affected by this experience. It went beyond the seeing this issue in a different light, it went to a deeper level to seeing himself as a vulnerable human, struck with this guilt loop, trying to do the right thing. He walked away from the experience with not only a sense of ease over his decision, but also a deeper sense of being a human. This was done in a virtual environment.

Can we do this for ourselves and each other in our day to day real human lives? As we lose ourselves in our devices, can we look up more and at each other with a softer approach? We are doing what we can to figure things out, successes and failures.


Listen to the Radio Lab Podcast: More or Less Human -->


What's in the studio...

I wanted to share a couple of different things I have been working on.

 New WIP, affectionately known as No. 88 (until I come across the title)

New WIP, affectionately known as No. 88 (until I come across the title)

I am digging the panels that I have been painting on. I have noticed that this one is even tighter than the last painting I did when it comes to the color squares. They represent the roofs of warehousing that are massive storage sites that sit in the middle of nowhere or on the edge of a community. The inspiration for these pieces are satellite images that show this mix and tension of nature and man.

 Door Tour, Green Door: Palm Springs, CA

Door Tour, Green Door: Palm Springs, CA

This piece is done on the iPad. I have been playing with illustrations more, specifically digital illustrations, and I have been having a blast. I have also been using the Procreate time lapse feature to make little videos on their progress.

Check them out on my Instagram page -->

Alright, back to it and thanks for stopping by. Feel free to leave comments too - I always love getting feedback!


Ananda Hum :: I am Bliss

I started back into the meditation series from Deepak Chopra and Oprah. Specifically, I am doing the series from Gratitude. Day 3 inspired the following piece of art. This was the view from when I live in Pacific Palisades, CA with one of my mandalas superimposed on top. Nature inspires gratitude in me and the light right before the sun setting completely is such a magical time of day,

 Ananda Hum | Beth Ortman Studio

Ananda Hum | Beth Ortman Studio

The following comes from the supporting text with the meditation series:

This mantra awakens the state of fulfillment that is your true self. Ananda is the inherent bliss, joy, and fulfillment of existence. Ananda Hum aligns your Being with this reality.

Process Shots

I want to show some of the process shots that I take as I create a piece. Taking quick photos of artwork unexpectedly helps with composition and color decisions. There is something that the camera does not pick up - maybe it is the micro marks and colors that we pick up - that helps pull me out of the "making" mode and into the "solving" mode.

 Completed painting: "   A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

Completed painting: " A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

Once the primary area blocks were defined, I started adding the white gesso. I am find that using a panel instead of paper forces me to think of the white areas as the highlights. Normally with paper and water color mediums, the paper is the white. Kill the white and it kills the luminosty of the work. Immediately. And it sucks to have that happen.

 Process for the painting: "   A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

Process for the painting: " A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

The images above show the topography mapping and then the build up of white. I am painting straight onto the panel, so the gesso sinks in and I have to build layers of white on white to get the luminosity. I can seal the whole panel when I am done. Painting on the wood without the sealant gives a nice affect when the color bleeds into the wood grain.

 Process for the painting "   A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

Process for the painting " A Shallow Estuary (Earth Day 2018)

I added the blocks of colors based on a grid, which I decided to highlight more. The mandala (inspired mandala) is then encircled with a pattern of more white, letting the wood be a major star of color, texture, and composition.

12" x 12" | watercolor, ink, gesso, graphite on wood panel | ©Beth Ortman 4/2018




Just Breathe has been my mantra lately and a reminder to myself as I journey onto a new path with unknowns around every corner. As the anxiety of the unknown threatens to overwhelm me, I just have to let it go. Anxiety is the face of fear. I won’t abide feeling like I am helpless. I remind myself that I am not in control. The less I try to control the immediate, better doors open for the long game. And this is all a long game. I will keep whispering “let go”.


Artist: Pat Steir

A friend of mine recently sent me some videos from the artist Pat Steir. How had I not even heard of this woman? Her work is beautiful, and the way she talks about her work and abstract concepts are magical. Man, this woman is amazing. She is so eloquent and so clear on her vision - her abstract, yet concrete vision. That is so hard to do. I love the work and the way that she talks about her work. There is an accessibility that she brings to it when she highlights how gravity and chance take over after she makes her decision.

Don't listen to me, though, just her:

"These paintings are made by gravity. Weight. Weight and gravity." Her series, based around the word Kairos means 'chaos', but she expands and builds on that and adds, "Choosing the opportune moment. But it can also mean, time. Timing. Which is different from the opportune moment."

Thank you Wendy for introducing her to me and sharing your work with me as well. See Wendy's beautiful art >>

New Travel Palette (or I dream of outdoor sketching supplies)

I just received my Whiskey Painters Standard Palette that I purchased from and I wanted to show it off before I got paint up into the nooks and crannies. I will do a follow up once I start using it, but this thing is small and impressive, so I wanted to give my first impressions.

 Whiskey Painters Palette

Whiskey Painters Palette

The overall size of this little booger is 2.5" x 3" x .5". Yes, the total height is only half an inch. It is super heavy and it has a ring under the bottom to hold on your thumb if you need to. It is sturdy and the weight is evenly distributed. It comes with the 8 pans, though I believe you can buy more 1/2 pans. I did buy a set of full pans from the same company, but I cannot get them in the middle tray. The bottom of the full pan is too wide for the track. I do have a package of half pans that I have set aside to order, so I am going to try to get four more in there. The pans themselves are a bit thicker than pans I have ordered in the past for other palette experiments. I will still use the full size pans for other colors or gesso, as they have a good weight to them and I trust they won't blow around. (I paint outside most of the time and though I have a slightly enclosed balcony, wind can me an issue.)


 Size Reference: A Sailor Standard 1911 Fountain Pen & an iPhone 5S

Size Reference: A Sailor Standard 1911 Fountain Pen & an iPhone 5S

The photos above show the overall size reference. The pen is a Sailor 1911 Standard (in Fresca Blue in Rhodium Trim) and the phone is an older model 5S (I like the smaller size and have been holding off on getting one of the larger upgrades).

The center metal strips come out and essentially hold the pans in place. You could also get some magnets to glue to the bottom of the pans and leave the metal strips out completely. The full pans fit on the outer tracks, not the middle one, but you can't put the metal runners back in. So magnets are the best option if you want to fill all of the tracks or to add the full pans in on one or both outer tracks.

I will be back to add my review once I get it all inked up, watercolored, and art abused to give my final impressions. So far though, the quality is pretty amazing. I did buy this on Amazon, so I will share that link below. The price seems to fluctuate as I bought it for $49.00, but now I see if for $29.00. The change in price sucks, but the product is worth the $49.00 and it is a steal for $29.00. I currently use a Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Half-Pan Paint Metal Compact Set (12 colors size). I love it and it has my most used/loved watercolors in it. I pretty much us Schmincke Horadam exclusively. The new palette is for my inks and liquid watercolors. 

If you have used this palette or have another fav set up, let me know. I would love to hear about the artist tools you use or have created... Altoid tin watercolor palette anyone??


Links to the Products Mentioned Above:

Whiskey Painters Standard Palette (link to Amazon)

Schmincke Horadam Aquarell Half-Pan Paint Metal Compact Set / 12 half pans (link to Amazon)

Sailor 1911 Standard Fountain Pen (in Fresca Blue in Rhodium Trim from Anderson Pens (they are a great company and have awesome customer service)

Also pictured is one of my fav watercolor brushes, Escoda Kolinsky-Tajmyr Kolinsky Sable (links to Dick Blick)

Spring in LA

This weekend I worked some more on a new piece. Everything felt like it was coming together and I was meant to be in this place, in this seat, working on that painting. The wood, the colors, the filling in, and even the fussing over. The sun was out, and the blue skies felt like they were witnessing everyone being alive. As spring is opening its door in LA, the smells are different. The seals at the marina are bitching at each other and making way (or not) on their docks as they insert their dominance over each other.


So, this painting reminds me of when I painted back in school. But it is also everything in between. The years of drawing, the marks, the paintings that never made it out of the room they were painted in until I moved and destroyed them. The new work combines my weird sense of color, the precariousness of watercolor I have come to love, the gesso that allows me to celebrate history in its ability to build on a transparent base. I have gone through a period of quiet and a slowness getting back into my groove. I will keep showing up as I know that is the key, even when it is hard, because, like spring in LA, showing up opens the door to the subtle changes and smells of a leap of time.



Work In Progress (WIP)

I have been working on a series that has been evolving from an exploration of maps and topography of the California terrain. For now, I want to talk about the progress of working on the wood panel again (I started my painting career doing large panel paintings) using watercolors and gesso. The wood has such a tactile surface. I am leaving the wood to show through and am adding the gesso to create my white. I have been working in inks and watercolor lately, so this new series has me replicating the white of paper with gesso and gouache. 



My source material is the topography maps and a lose interpretation of Yosemite Park. The other material is in the form of satellite views of some type of industrial storage facility. This mashup of man and environment is something that is super stimulating to me and it allows me to look at this as a beautiful painting while taking these serious and consequential issues to the foreground.   


Materials used:

Dr. Ph. Martin’s watercolors - I am using them for their brightness and their viscosity as they are a bit thicker and almost gel like in their consistency. 

The panels are 12” x 12” wood panels from Art Alternatives. I am going to do some more research on wood panels to see if I will continue to work with these (or even go back to paper). For now, they are working out great and I can seal them with Golden’s matte medium. 


Using the wood panels as a surface for this exploration is a great support for the environmental impact of man on our natural surroundings. I have been looking at the question of “What is a natural disaster?” Since that is such a human centric question and it comes up when nature impacts man, even to the benefit of the land, air, and water we need to live off of.  



Painting on Wood Panel

This last piece I created was bringing back the wood panel. It has been awhile since I painted on wood. I love the feedback the surface gives. 



I started with some of the typographical map elements I have been exploring and used both ink and gesso to build color, opacity, and visual history. I had the blue palette and I knew I wanted white to be the hero in addition to the wood, but I needed to add the pink. It feels like Palm Spring colors to me. I added the “stitching” patterns to enclose the mandala shape. I want to continue to play with making my white while not using paper, but still keep the light that I get from watercolors.