Linnie Aikens Arts and Letters • HeART Haven Studios

 Art by BJ Keith can be found at

"Keithinsky" 36"x36" oil on gallery-wrapped canvas by my mother, BJ Keith.


This painting is an example of what I would call my mother's "cleanse the pallatte" paintings. She's been a professional artist for close to 40 years, and even she would be the first to say she doesn't yet have a set "style."  She is forever creating, DAILY creating, almost obsessively making art.  As she ages through her 70's now, the obsession grows exponentially.  Throughout the past 15 years, she'd get through 3-5 large paintings in a similar genre, LOVES them...invariably says "THIS is what I've been trying to express all this time!"  Then a month later, she's bored with them and experiencing "artist's block".  To break it, she appropriates the style of a master, because she can't stand to let an hour, much less a day, go by without putting paint to canvas.  She reminds me of those Irving Stone books I read about the lives of Michaelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy, or Van Gogh in Lust for Life, or Camille Pissaro in Depths of Glory, three of my all time favorite stories, all signed by the author when I heard him speak in a small reading at Westmont College in the early 1980's.

Her artist's version of "cleansing the pallette/palette" is exemplified in the above case by going to Kandinsky, and in the following case it was Picasso.  

"Kiethasso" 36"x48" oil on gallery-wrapped canvas by BJ Keith.

These aren't really the names of the paintings, but my silly names for them. Unlike mom, I do like words!  I think she spent so many years of having to name the 1000's of metal sculptures she did, that she's sick of it.  Now they're just numbered paintings in numbered collections!


As soon as she's finished with one of these "cleanse the palette paintings," she shoots out of the starting gate, racing through her next series of paintings that "finally express what she's beeing trying to say!"  My God, she inspires me so!  Intimidates me as an artist, yes, but inspires me like no other!


Lately, I have had artist's block...or just fear, whatever.  The result is the same.  A blank yawning canvas.  It stands there, mocking me.


So the lesson for me here, is JUST PAINT!  It doesn't matter what it is, or even if it is any good or not.  Just paint.  Inspiration will come, or it won't, but it surely won't come if you don't paint!  



All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.  No one has permission to use this text, unless quoted and attributed to the author, to write about the art of or artist, BJ Keith.

The Candelabra I created to honor Dr. Steven Cook  1942-2016 on his 75th Birthday and "Re-Birthday"  February 12, 2017


It was 5:30 a.m. when I met Steve.  Oh, I’d seen him over there in the corner of Xanadus Bakery (Montecito, CA) most mornings, gabbing and arguing with the novelists, screen play writers and actors, but this morning he stopped and sat down at my table and said, “Every day I see you writing and drawing in that journal of yours.  So what’s your story?  Do you want to be a writer or an artist or hide in your journal?”  That was like Steve, I'd come to learn; cut to the chase.


It was 1981, and I was finishing up at Westmont College.  I’d noticed him on campus previously only because our family car had also been a circa 1970 Blazer with the same giant Stagger Block tires, only Steve’s was a sooped-up and lifted, sans muffler and roll-barred Chevy beast, which roared into campus each morning.  You’d have to be blind and deaf to have missed his entrance at 7:35 each day!


He threw down the gauntlet, “Enroll in my writing class this summer and let’s see what you’ve got.” This wasn’t idle talk.  It was a demand and a challenge to test my mettle, and I’m not one to back down from any challenge. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.


It was the only class I’d taken from Steve, and it was after I’d already graduated and had been working full time at Westmont, but he became my mentor and the most influential professor and inspiration in my life to this day.  I still have the paper I wrote and had been required to read aloud, “Back Country Symphony,” when he scowled at me long and hard across the wide expanse of the class discussion table in Reynolds Hall and said, “What the heck are you still doing at Westmont?  You should be writing.”


A summer or two later, he and his wife, Terri, moved me into their home, where I lived for a number of years, and Steve mentored me in writing, art, boys and life.  I was one of the very first of what Terri likes to call “Steve’s girls,” but I think she understood that I needed a father figure who loved, encouraged and supported me, because I was a little adrift.  They set me up with a drawing table in my room and a typewriter and told me to write and paint.  He taught me about art history, contemporary art, as well as literature, necessarily including Kafka, Potok, & T.S. Eliott, his favorites in the 1980’s.  He was the first person in my life who really saw me and had shown faith in me, seeing the gifts God had placed in me.


Steve became my second father.  He entrusted me with things that were important to him and while they were in England, the year Ian was born, and he let me drive his truck and take care of his treasured bonsai trees.  I felt so cool in his Blazer, but I must have killed all 20 of those little trees by the time he returned.  I remember being terrified that he would yell at me and turn me out, and I know he was very disappointed, but he taught me the love of a father, and instead of retaliating, he made me Ian’s godmother.


I let him down there too, as it really wasn’t until my early 40’s that I understood the role of a godmother, but he assured me all the while that he’d made the right choice and that my consistent prayers for Ian through the years were the very best way to support him.  I didn’t fail in that at least.


We’re all born into a family, but if we’re really lucky, we’re especially chosen by others to be a member of their family. Steve and Terri chose me.  Well, Steve chose me and Terri probably initiated a big discussion as to why (wink), and then she totally embraced me into the family!  By now, they must have a giant family.


They have guided me through my teaching years, marriage, parenting, divorce and grappling with spiritual, emotional and intellectual issues. Steve taught me to cook spicy breakfasts, and Terri taught me the value of drinking chlorophyll and green tea. I rejoiced with them when Ian learned the first word Steve taught him, “Kierkegaard.”— Only Steve!! I love and trusted Steve because he never minced words, but he did it with love and humor.


I've always related to and appreciated Steve's honest grappling with God.  He was continually a seeker, and while his faith was deep and true, all of the methods and trappings handed him (and me) by others were suspect.  I truly feel God honored Steve's honesty and humility in seeking answers.  It made Steve approachable for those of us misfits and rifraff of modern society, those hurt, abused and disenfrachised seekers ourselves.  God used Steve in our lives in profound ways, and for that I will always feel undeservedly blessed. 


Steve and I still met at 5:30 a.m. on and off over the past 35 years, where he mentored me on my writing and art, and of course, my relationships.  Luckily, I didn’t follow all of his advice on the latter!  He did teach me what to expect and look for in a man and how to value myself the way God did.  He and Terri taught me how to be the best kind of writing teacher and art teacher. One of my last conversations with Steve, after my 26-year teaching career, started with his question, “So are you done hiding in the classroom yet and ready to summon the guts to get out there and be the writer and artist God intended you to be?”


In many ways, Steve and I struggled with the same kinds of demons.  I have no doubt that his challenges and exhortations were as much for himself as for me.  Like Steve, I've been told I was gifted with the ability to write or paint, but instead of taking the risk and putting my own out there, I chose to teach others to do so successfully.  Does this mean we failed in living up to our potential or were/are we doing exactly as God intended with the gifts He bestowed us?  It's a question I will ask Steve when I see him again.


(Steve went on to live with Jesus in December 2016, and while he will be dearly missed, I know I will see him again one day, when we are all whole physically, spiritually and emotionally.  I look forward to that reunion!)


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

Kelvin Grandy Grant Sept. 8, 1958 - Sept. 14, 2016


Yesterday I discovered I'd lost a dear, dear friend and past fiancé of many years, Dr. Kelvin Grandy Grant. I've never met a man more driven to give back to the world—on top of having a doctorate in agronomy and a juris doctorate, he gave his time and heart to teaching young people, establishing several scholarships for others to attend college, serving our country in the armed forces, serving his community as a city commissioner and President of the Farm Bureau, he was a scientist who cared for and understood farmers and was also committed to helping others regain health as a physical trainer. He loved his daughter, Nisaa, to the ends of the universe and back, he and I raised our daughters through the teen and college years together, supporting one another and our daughters through our collective, hard-earned wisdom of learning from our mistakes.


I'm sorry we never seemed to get our corn rows lined up parallel, finding our way back to one another, as we'd always told each other we would.  Just 2 weeks ago he'd told me that he would always love me to his dying day.  My heart breaks now.


I know he'd be upset that all of this didn't fall on a year or month or day that was a multiple of 5, an endearing OCD personality trait of his. Well, dear one, we were connected for beautiful 10 years, so perhaps this will have to suffice.


I will deeply miss his "just do it", "hard work and clean living" mantras in our conversations. I am a better person for having had Kelvin as a close friend for so many years. (This is a painting I did of him a number of years back, now willed to dear Nisaa.) I will miss you, Maize Farmer.


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.


Wisteria Arches in Formal Gardens at Westmont College


The blooming of the wisteria arches (there is a set of three of them along this center walk of the formal gardens at Westmont College, if you look closely enough) always causes me to pause and contemplate the notion of growth and blooming.  These arches are in full bloom about 3-4 times a year, if we're lucky, and the rest of the year they're in various stages of barreness to greenleavery. If I miss the metaphorical lessons the first, or even the second Spring bloom, I have at least one more opportunity to reflect on and grow from the experiences in my life.  It's my responsibility to take the time to do that, and I believe God uses these lovely arches as my periodic reminders. I must have needed lots of reminders as there were four opportunities this year!


For better or worse, I'm blessed to have this view from my desk at work.  Why do I work here instead of paint full time?  I have a day job for several reasons.  1.  It provides me regular income for living, canvases and paints, as well as the all-important health insurance at this stage of my life. 2.  It gives me a tangible opportunity to help this case, students attending college at a school I believe is vital to our society...developing intellectually extraordinary, globally engaged, thoughtful leaders for the next generation. While my role here is indirect, it is is one of the small branches on the vine, and I pray that I bear fruit as well.  3.  It keeps me engaged with the current art world as member of the Westmont-Ridley Tree Art Gallery.  I take classes now and then to push me from remaining stagnant, and force myself to keep considering how my art communicates that which I hope it will express.  4.  It keeps me connect with people, in particular, people with a heart for God--a support system, yes, but more so an intellectual and spiritual ongoing discussion that keeps me less focused on myself, which being an artist can foster if left to myself, as is my natural inclination.  


So back to my moment of blooming wisteria reflection, I now see that what I am to learn or recognize today is that instead of bemoaning the fact that I can't paint full time, I am very blessed to have this job, and that perhaps I am meant to always have at least a part time job for all of these reasons.  My challenge is to keep remembering this and use it and other experiences and learning to push me in my art for God's glory, for as this lovely garden reveals, God is the ultimate creator.


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

Response to the play "The Bechdel Tent"- Shown in Porter Theater Gallery in April 

“Fringe Fesitval”.   SOLD 


Here was my accompanying Artist Statement on this one: 


The Bechdel Tent (the name of the play, which inspired this work)


The “Bechdel Test”: A gender bias evaluation tool of a work of fiction. When tasked to consider if movies pass the “Bechdel Test”, once again women are imprisoned in a smoke and mirrors house of never ending reflection on their identity, constantly searching for hints of subjugation, disrespect and dismissal. One wonders if the result cannot but help produce refractions and distortions of each gender.


It’s fascinating looking back on the process of a painting.  This one in response to the theme of a play.  I only had one choice of canvas; a large discarded canvas with these blue vertical rectangles of graduating values inside a red line. I looked at the canvas and first thought was that the colors jarred my senses and I couldn’t think until I painted over it.  I took the soothing buttery color and washed it over. I got the sense of mirrors emerging, and thus the idea was born of using reflections to illustrate my interpretation and feelings about the play.  I added the pixelization very lightly to tie in the digitization of movies, the media on which the “Bechdel Test” was originally performed.  Again, I was pushed out of my comfort zone, went through periods of sheer dislike of my painting, pushing through that to so many “ahas” that will stay with me and influence other works, no doubt.  A great, nerve-wracking, heart-stopping, thrilling artistic roller coaster ride!!


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.



I discovered the beauty of the Firescape Garden at the far end of my morning dog walk...a lush composition of greens, blues and orange hues of succulents and other drought-resistant plants, and theoretically, plants that were less prone to burn.  It was just across the street from one of the Montecito fire stations, after all.  I’d wondered if this was a fun project taken on by the firefighters here.  It is quite lovely and striking. 


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

Sheffield Resevoir, Montecito, CA


“What am I meant to be doing now?  God, am I pursuing the path to which you’ve called me, or am I off wandering around in the wilderness, however beautiful it may be?”  These are my musings lately in the early morning hours as I walk my dog before work.  As the morning awakens and the foliage lines and colors become clearer, I expect my own inner clarity to realize as well, but it doesn’t.  I dearly miss teaching art, but there are so few jobs available, and then there is the unspoken sentiment that I am somehow too old to hire at this stage.  It seems that our society only values the young now, which makes me sad.  I’m young!  55 is not old!  I dearly love making art, but I work so long and hard all day long, that I come home sometimes too exhausted to paint.  “Am I where I should be, or doing what I’m supposed to be doing?”  There’s that idea again.....”supposed to be”.  I lived for far too long a life of “supposed to’s”. Torn between supporting myself in this town and creating as I was meant to create sometimes feel so at odds.  And so I spend my few minutes before work praying, questioning, willing----asking for direction for the future or contentment for the present...... and I observe the beauty around me and am thankful.  Tonight, I look forward to getting home to paint!

Thankful for this beautiful dog-walk created out of an old historic landmark of a reservoir in the hills.  This “passive park” is a lovely combination of drought resistant, indigenous plants, natural looking water runoffs and subtle reminders of the beautiful dam and reservoir that was once here.  What subtle reminders will I leave behind to enrich and enhance the lives of others one day?


(I’m beginning to see a theme in my blog entries lately!)


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

"Moonlit Lotus"  First Place in Juried Show, Casa Art Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA


Lotusland, in Montecito, CA, where I lived for over 20 years, is my magical place.  I've visited several dozen times and while I know just about what's around every bend in the garden, I am always enthralled by the prehistoric to fantastical foliage and the creative whimsey interspersed throughout the areas. Walking through the dragon trees and the prehistoric cycads, some of which only grow in Lotusland, transport me to a different world. I've done a number of Lotusland inspired paintings, and each one, while holding a touch of reality, the plants take on a life of their own, often larger than life, they become characters in a world of brightly colored whimsey and dance.


I’ve been entering art shows lately, for exposure yes, but also because they stretch me.  The ones that have a monthly theme force me to create from a theme, which sometimes stretches beyond the boundaries of the style in which I am painting at the time. As an artist I like to be stretched and inspired by new ideas, so art shows create exercizes for me. An idea might beg to be expressed in new ways from that which I am most comfortable.  Each time I learn more, about myself, about a medium, style or communication.  I love that element of mystery and discovery.  It’s like beginning with a problem to solve, and while not knowing exactly how to solve it, I jump in with all feet, heart and mind to tackle it. The journey is always enlightening!


This particular exhibit was a fundraiser for an orphanage school and had a lot of visitors this First Thursday.  As I wandered around and talked to people and enjoyed the art, I discovered that my painting had won first prize in the show!   No one paints for prizes, but as an artist I get so engrossed in my work that I often wonder if it’s really any good or just kidding myself! This small affirmation went a long way to encouraging me to keep painting.  In the end, however, I paint because I can’t NOT paint!  Life and paint, they run out at the same time....


All photos and text used in this blog are copyrighted by Author of this website, unless otherwise indicated, and permission is required to use any image or text.

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