Shifting Media

In November, my husband developed an allergic reaction to all solvents I used in painting with oils.  I tried painting oils outside, but my husband’s allergy symptoms immediately re-emerged.   Not wanting to harm him or the environment, I have approached this new development as an opportunity to do some experimental work in mixed media and in new subject matter.

I am exploring work in acrylics, watercolor, charcoal, pastels, graphite and  inks.  Below is a piece I recently completed that combines watercolor, pastel and graphite.  This piece was a created over a few weeks time and emerged from my intuition.  The words of a poem, titled Treadmills Windmills, spins out of the blades of the windmills.  The poem was inspired by a comment my son made while visiting my studio.

Treadmills Windmills, watercolor, pastel, graphite on paper, 13 x 24

Treadmills Windmills, watercolor, pastel and graphite on paper, 12″ x 21″

I have been thinking for years about starting a new series titled “Air.”   Air is a vaporous substance to try to bring to life on paper and ideas have been forming in the back of my mind for years for this series.   But I have been afraid to start.  Until now.  I realized that painting in oils felt heavy and serious, and leaving oils feels freeing and reflective of my essential self, for now.

Peek a Boo

Peek a Boo, pastel and charcoal on paper, 15″ x 24″

Today I finished Peek a Boo in pastel and charcoal.  I painted this painting for the fun of it.   I love the interplay of light and shadow on the sheep and the grasses.  And I had a great time painting it over the Thanksgiving holidays.

I am fortunate that I have experience in and comfort using many mediums from ink and graphite, to pastels and printmaking.  I look forward to discovering what emerges next from my heart and hands.



Mystery Reaction Solved

Last month, my husband developed symptoms of an airborne allergy. For three weeks, we tried to determine the cause. He tried ruling out certain foods. He called his doctor. The symptoms improved when he traveled for a few days, but upon returning home, the symptoms returned. My studio is located in our home, but it didn’t occur to me that creating art could be the cause of the problem.

Wallace Studio

Wallace Studio

The allergy was concerning, but not debilitating. He continued to work and the average person couldn’t see any change from outer appearances. But he was uncomfortable and we knew that something was wrong.

My husband teaches English as a second language. He went to his morning class and a student from China looked at him for 10 seconds and said, “Allergy.” My husband agreed. She then said, “Paint. You paint?” To which he replied, “No, but my wife does.” His student said, “In air,” and advised him to see a doctor.

My husband later recounted the story to me. I knew immediately that his student was correct.  I had recently switched to a stronger medium exactly when his allergies started to appear.

Chalk Dudleya

In painting Chalk Dudleya, I used Gentileschi Amber medium.  This medium creates a depth and richness to the painting, but also caused an allergic reaction.

I stopped painting and my husband’s symptoms dissipated within a few days. I asked him, “Who is your student? Is she a doctor?” My husband didn’t know her background, but the next week he learned she was a doctor– a surgeon.

I hoped that my husband wasn’t allergic to all mediums, so after his allergies disappeared, I painted Bush Poppy (see below) in my home studio using Galkyd Lite.  Galkyd Lite is a medium used by art instructors because it is supposed to be less environmentally harmful than other mediums.  Within two days of using the new medium, my husband’s allergies began to re-emerge.

Bush Poppy, oil on canvas

Bush Poppy, painted in two studio days using Galkyd Lite.

Years ago as a student in art school, I also developed allergic reactions to painting mediums. I tried painting with only Poppy seed oil as a medium, but the paintings lost their luster. So I began painting practices that I thought were relatively safe: after painting for the day, I stored fresh paintings in the garage; I immersed my brushes in mineral oil and covered the paint on my palette with plastic wrap and sealed it in a ziploc bag. All solvents are tightly closed in glass jars.  I didn’t use mineral spirits to clean my brushes, only baby oil. My studio windows were always open and I ran an air purifier on while I worked.

Despite my best practices, my husband developed a sensitivity to all painting mediums. My studio is now reserved for work in pastels and charcoal, ink and watercolor. When I paint in oils, I will paint outside. I am lucky to live in Southern California which has a mild climate that allows me to work outside year round. I can’t stop painting in oils, I love them too much. I am hopeful that moving the act of painting in oils outside will be a blessing in disguise. And, until I get an easel for outdoors, I am painting pastels in my studio. See below.


Launch, pastel on paper. This is a “thought drawing” I created after learning that painting in oils in my home studio is no longer a healthy option. For more examples, go to

Pastel Portrait Demonstration Tomorrow

I will be demonstrating pastel portraiture tomorrow evening (May 12, 2014) at the Orange Art Association’s monthly meeting.  Stop by the Community of Christ Church at 393 S. Tustin Street, Orange, California at 7:15 to watch the demonstration.  I will be drawing from a live model.  I hope to see you then!

Sea Farer, 24" x 18", pastel on paper

Sea Farer, 24″ x 18″, pastel on paper

One artist’s tribute to Virginia Tech shooting victims

Artist Elizabeth Wallace had never been to Blacksburg and had no connection with Virginia Tech, but her work became a special part of the school’s effort to “never forget.”

Click on the link below to watch a recent news segment about the portraits:

via One artist’s tribute to Virginia Tech shooting victims.

“Quietly and with little fanfare, Elizabeth Wallace did something beautiful.”  –Cynthia Grilli, artist, figure painter, teacher.



Helping California look like California

IMG_4938I am passionate about painting and gardening and I especially love planting native plants in my California yard.   Native plants reduce water use considerably and attract and support bountiful wildlife.  Best of all, native plants are beautiful and trouble free.


Agave parryi var. truncata and lupine

We removed our lawn a few years ago and added California native plants to our backyard.  We are in our fourth year since planting the natives and the yard has never been more beautiful.

Since the restoration project, we’ve reduced our water use considerably.   It feels good to know that my yard will not need water especially now that California is experiencing drought conditions.

Almost as soon as the native plants were installed, we saw more birds, butterflies and wildlife in our yard.  We’ve seen California quail, roadrunners, bobcats, deer, and hummingbirds galore.  I spotted this new hummingbird nest in our plum tree last week:

hummingbird nest Spring 2014

hummingbird nest Spring 2014

We planted a Coast Live Oak tree about 20 years ago and it produces thousands of acorns every year.  We gather the acorns and have started a small nursery.  We hope to nurture the trees to further maturity, then have them planted somewhere in the 240 acres of open space run by our homeowner’s association.  I am currently overseeing the planting of hundreds of new trees and drought-tolerant plants on our homeowner association property.

Querqus agrifolia seedlings

Querqus agrifolia seedlings

We have clay soil in our area and native plants will suffer if they are watered during the hottest months of summer.  Through trial and error, I have learned which native plants will be most successful for the average southern California gardener who lives in the foothills.  I have selected the following plants due to their hardiness in difficult garden conditions and beauty.  My top 20 list includes:

Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon), Rhus (lemonadeberry), Cercis occidentalis (Western redbud), Ceanothus ‘concha’ (California lilac), Ceanothus ‘yankee point’ (groundcover California lilac), Arctostaphylos ‘Howard McMinn” (manzanita), Berberis ‘Golden Abundance’ (Barberry), Hesperoyucca whipplei (yucca),  Salvia apiana (white sage), Salvia leucophylla (purple sage), Salvia spathacea (hummingbird sage), Dudleya pulverulenta (chalk dudleya), Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass), Aristida purpurea (purple three-awn), Vitis ‘Roger’s red’ (grapevine), Baccharis pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’ (coyote bush), Sissyrinchum bellum (blue-eyed grass), Rhamnus california (coffeeberry), California carpentiera (bush anenome), and Plantanus racemosa (California sycamore).

Below are some oil paintings I recently completed that feature the California carpenteria, prickly pear, coast live oak and buckwheat.   I plan to continue painting images that depict the spectacular nature and beauty of California chaparral plants.

California Carpenteria, "bush anenome" oil on canvas 11 x 14, copyright 2014 elizabeth wallace

California carpenteria, “bush anenome” oil on canvas 11 x 14, copyright 2014 Elizabeth Wallace

Shadow Cactus, prickly pear, 24" x 30", oil on canvas, copyright 2014

Shadow Cactus, prickly pear, 24″ x 30″, oil on canvas, copyright 2014

Live Oak, 30" x 24", oil on canvas, copyright 2014 E. Wallace

Live Oak, 30″ x 24″, oil on canvas, copyright 2014 E. Wallace

Emerging Buckwheat, 24" x 30", oil on canvas, copyright 2014 E. Wallace

Emerging Buckwheat, 24″ x 30″, oil on canvas, copyright 2014 E. Wallace

Then They Leap

Have you heard the old garden adage about how flowers and shrubs grow after they are initially planted?  It goes like this,  “First they sleep (first year growth).  Then they creep (second year growth).  Then they leap.” (third year growth).

After receiving five inches of rain two weeks ago, my garden is leaping.

Bush poppy, purple sage, agave americana, verbena de la mena and more.

Bush poppy, purple sage, agave americana, verbena de la mena and more.

The native plants are flowering and supporting insect and animal life.

verbena de la mena with butterfly

Verbena de la mena with butterfly.

My hardscape is more natural and is softened by native shrubs and flowers.

Pool shaded by oak tree, coping with blue-eyed grass and purple three awn, concha ceanothus overhanging red pool wall

Pool shaded by oak tree, coping with blue-eyed grass and purple three awn, concha ceanothus overhanging red pool wall.

My passion lies with California native plants and their pristine beauty especially since they only require water about once a month.

Flowering chalk dudleya

Flowering chalk dudleya.

I spoke at the Irvine Ranch Water District Board meeting last week about water conservation.  I presented our goals as a homeowner’s association for re-foresting our slopes in native trees and shrubs:  to save water; to prevent slope erosion; to protect property and to defend against inevitable future drought conditions.

I mentioned the irony of channeling fresh water to the ocean while at the same time considering building a desalination plant to extract fresh water from the ocean.   A desalination plant is currently under construction in Carlsbad that will cost taxpayers $1 billion and will only provide about 10 percent of their water needs.

morning beach

Morning beach scene, Santa Barbara.

Surely it would be less expensive to save the fresh water we receive during our rains?

The board members said that building water catchment systems is expensive and land is scarce, but that they are trying to expand the size of their reservoirs.   They mentioned that they will soon begin a rebate program for homeowners installing rain barrels.  You can go to the IRWD web site and see their goals for 2014.  They have been working for decades to encourage water conservation in Southern California and have made a lot of progress.

The Irvine Ranch Water District is offering $1.50 rebate for every square foot of grass you remove.  Grass lawns are the most thirsty of all landscaping choices.  Remove your grass and a world of flowering beauty and wonder awaits.  You will save money and get to watch your flowers and shrubs leap!

purple sage, encelia, aloe striata

Purple sage, encelia, aloe striata, Anna apple tree, flagstone patio and decomposed granite pathway.

Water Conservation Wish List

I was visiting Iowa a couple of weeks ago and realized that I am addicted to California.    I love the way the Pacific ocean infuses the air with gentle moisture, the chaparral’s scent of sage, the unique flora. The way the little curly-cues on the heads of the California quail bounce when they run to hide in the bushes.

California Quail

California Quail

I am trying to expand the California-ness of California by growing native plants in my own yard and by re-foresting the 240 acres of slopes and open space with native plants and trees in my surrounding community.

California poppies, blood orange tree in background

California poppies, wooly thyme, avocado agaves, coast melic grass and a blood orange tree in the background.

My neighborhood is surrounded by 200 acres of undeveloped land, but recently the city and a developer began to lay the groundwork for a 900-unit housing project.

I spoke at city council meetings to encourage the developer to reduce their footprint and reduce their impact on the open space.  After many meetings, the developer agreed to plant native plants in the community including Coast Live Oak trees, sycamores, manzanitas, ceanothus and a host of additional native plants.

Ceanothus concha, California lilac

Ceanothus concha, California lilac

The developer is also required to restore prickly pear habitat on its remaining open space.  Prickly pear is extremely fire resistant and provides a home to the rare cactus wren.  Below is an oil painting of a young prickly pear emerging after a 2007 wilderness fire in our area.

Prickly Pear, 20" x 16", oil on canvas, copyright 2014 E. Wallace

Prickly Pear, 20″ x 16″, oil on canvas, copyright 2014 E. Wallace

I hope, too, that the developer will install solar panels on the new homes and build underground water storage systems, and also install water permeable surface materials to replenish groundwater with our rainfall.

Our yards are required to “drain to the street” and the excess water pours into storm drains that lead to the ocean.  We need to change this system somehow to begin to save more of our rare fresh rainwater.

Downpour, February 28, 2014

Downpour, February 28, 2014, water draining off homes and driveways–millions of gallons heading for the storm drains that lead to the ocean.

A few years ago, our neighborhood received about 20 inches of rain in one week.  The rainwater flowed toward the ocean, flooding the community of Laguna Beach on its way there.  We should build more reservoirs to catch and store the water and prevent flooding down stream.  All new housing developments could be required to build water catchment systems to better manage the water and install water permeable materials in the sidewalks and streets.

Rain droplets on lupine leaves and bud.

Rain droplets on lupine leaves and bud.

My wish list:  That our policy makers accept that we have extreme water scarcity in our area and work to make changes in the infrastructure to preserve the water we do receive.   These changes include:  1.  Stop promising unlimited water supplies to new developments.   2.  Require new commercial and housing developments to install cisterns, drought-tolerant plantings, and water permeable building materials.  3.  Adopt a policy of water independence and incentivize homeowners to install rain barrels, cisterns, drought-tolerant plants and water permeable building materials.  4.  And finally,  implement a dynamic pricing system for water in which prices rise during drought conditions and fall during wet periods.

Diebenkorn Show Ends February 16, 2014

IMG_4841This life-sized concrete Tyrannosaurus Rex stands near a Brontosaurus gift shop off the highway on the way to Palm Springs.  It’s worth stopping and exploring.  The Tyrannosaurus is in good humor.
Richard-Diebenkorn-02I traveled to Palm Springs last weekend to see the beautiful show “Richard Diebenkorn:  The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966.”  It is a wonderful show of Diebenkorn’s brave and bold style and masterful composition.  This show is worth the trip to Palm Springs if you live near the vicinity.

Goodbye Palm Springs!

Goodbye Palm Springs!