The Side Eye (almost finished)

I’ve been avoiding the studio (or, going to the studio but not really accomplishing anything). I have this commission that must be finished tonight so that I can hang it at Christopher’s in the morning, to replace one there that is being delivered to its home in NY. As I’ve written before, the music from Hamilton is my savior in these moments, propelling me along, keeping me moving and focused on the painting in front of me rather than drawn toward my phone to check an email or text or social media. 
Back when I worked in a cubicle, I would listen to music all day (I think it was my only way of coping with an environment so counter to my core). I would keep it low so as not to bother my neighbors, but Natalie Merchant, Dead Can Dance, Morrissey, and the Smiths would offer some solace in a world of inboxes and fluorescent lighting. One day, a friend who worked in a cube next to me said something about all that gloomy music I listen to, and I was like “…you think it’s gloomy?” It honestly never occurred to me that it was sad. (Or that she could hear it. I suppose it’s good that I’d lost all of my goth stuff by that point.)

When I was much younger, I was a bookkeeper for a region of stores for a large corporation. (How in the hell I was ever entrusted to balance anyone’s books is beyond me.) I would sit at my desk with my earplugs in (they weren’t buds, yet) and R.E.M. cranked. The earlier stuff. Over and over and over, day after day after day. Sometimes I’d throw in some Church just to shake things up, but old Stipe & co. allowed me to function in such a hollow existence. 

There’s a lot that I don’t like about NPR, but there are a few shows that have some pretty good content, and when I heard that Stipe & Bill Berry would be on, I made a mental note. Realizing that this week marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Life’s Rich Pageant made me want to go out and buy some arch supports and denture creme, but this was a good and insightful interview about each song on an album that was all pretty much about death. 

And it spawned a blog post (for my canvasmajor site), so I sat and typed this out instead of painting. 

Welp, looks like I’ll be back tonight. Hamilton is cued up. 

The Side Eye, on the Easel

IMG_9484A bit of a departure from my usual type of subject, but her expression made me laugh.  Sometimes with commissions, it takes a while to find (or take) just the right photo; but not so, with Lucy.  The side-eye is an expression that she is known and loved for.

Just need to do all that hair which falls between the black shadows and the lighter highlights, which is most of it (she’s black, so it will get darker).  I may also need to emphasize the other eye a bit, but hoping to finish this up by the end of the week.

Clay and the Swissy Snooze

Christopher’s on Mass Ave in Cambridge is one of my favorite restaurants; not just because the food is always local and great, but because the artwork they exhibit on the walls is always local and great.  So, I was happy to have my work among those accepted for a 6-week stint, there.
36 x 48"
I needed to focus on creating larger work to fill the spaces on the brick walls.  I had a couple of larger Swissy paintings off to the side in limbo while I finished some commissions.  Many people don’t have the wall space for a 36 x 48″ painting, and I find myself painting a lot of smaller pieces that leaves me yearning for a larger canvas to cover.  So, needing to fill the walls at Christopher’s gave me the permission to put the smaller canvases aside while I finished Clay and then Osa.

I ended up spending so much time on Clay and his couch-zonked slumber that I didn’t quite get to Osa, but Clay is done.


Knock Knock

IMG_6840When I received the email inviting me to participate in a show at Blue Mountain Gallery in NYC, I was a little perplexed.  I work almost exclusively on canvases sized 36″ and up, and here was an invitation to a small works show with a maximum size of 12 x 12 inches.  To be perfectly honest, I would have dismissed it immediately if it wasn’t in Chelsea.

I had been thinking about doing some large, close-up faces on old wooden window frames, appearing as giants peering into the room, but was still working out the logistics.  I thought a smaller prototype of this concept may be a fun idea for this show, but I wasn’t sure how to find a window a foot wide or smaller.  So, I made one using a shadow box, a hardwood panel, a saw, a dremel, and some stain.

I still needed the face, though, and was asking visitors during Somerville Open Studios to submit their best shot, when a friend came bounding in to my studio with a postcard made by a friend of a friend of his face —  a super close-up of a wide-eyed, creepy, mustachioed smile —  which he plastered all over his friend’s house while he was out of town.  Man humor.  It was perfect, and I was grateful to her for thinking of me and my project.

And so, my little window face was started.  The title “Knock Knock” refers not only to the obvious, but to the dichotomy that.often exists in the interpretation of many (most?) of my human faces. The joking face becomes a creepy one, the expression of fun becomes one of shock, of fear; and children are drawn to paintings which repel adults. Which is it? That depends on the viewer; which serves as a reminder that there exists in us all a range from lightness to darkness which goes so much deeper than mere lighting and shading

It’s now hanging in the Invitational Small Works show at Blue Mountain Gallery on West 25th Street in New York, through July 29th.  Delivering it, I had the opportunity to see the other work being exhibited and I am thrilled to have it hanging among such quality.

What Exactly Do I Do?

As Somerville artists ramp up to Somerville Open Studios, promotions go out, studios are scrubbed, and websites are updated.  Aaaah, Spring in Somerville.

It was an email from my studio building that got me thinking.  Building maps are going in for their annual update, and we need to make sure our info is correct, including “a VERY SHORT description of WHAT kind of work you do.”  Given the examples provided, “very short” is assumed to be a max of three words.


Can I really say that I paint faces?

One of the very best talks on artist marketing that I attended had us think about three words that best describe our work.  My notes are, of course, filed in some undetermined location, so I’ll take a new stab at it.  I paint big faces.  Oops, that’s four.  And not just faces.  Some have no faces at all.  Mostly, they are expressions.  In oils.  Unfortunately, ‘expressionism’ has already cornered the market on any artistic phrases using the word “expression.”  And I definitely have nothing in common with Expressionism.

“Portraits in oils” doesn’t convey that I do both people and dogs — never mind that I don’t want them to be seen as portraits so much as paintings.  Paintings of expressions. Then again, to anyone who has known a Jack Russell terrier, the painting to the right is truly a portrait of a Jack.

OK, so portraits without heads, faces that are not portraits; some human, some canine, some a little of both. The only thing they all have in common is that they are paintings (rather than sculptures or photos or encaustics or fabric or…).  In oils.  But “Oil Paintings” doesn’t tell you anything at all about what I do, does it?

Portrayals.  In oils.  Portroils.

Oh, fine.  Portrayals in Oils.


Red, White, and Blue

FullSizeRenderThis is not what it was supposed to look like. I was having fun with an expression of lightheartedness.  Mapping out the lines & colors, it took on a more serious expression of shock, but I thought that when I started in on the more refined brushwork, the true spirit of it would emerge.  Wrinkles in the forehead, the curl of a lip corner.  But it never did.

Honestly, I can’t quite tell if I never painted the true expression or if I did but just can’t see it here.  I look at it and I just see the state of America 2017.  I examine eye corners, looking for a hidden wry smile.  Nope, not there.  A diligent artist would go back and fix it.  OK, what lines and shading did I get wrong?  Let’s correct that.  But no, I must get back to Baxter in the snow.  He must be finished by Sunday.

Look what I’ve done.  I’ve projected my disgust with my country onto a perfectly good face.  Complete with red, white, and blue.




On Vulnerability

Last week, I attended a conversation between Krista Tippett (many know her from NPR’s On Being) and poet David Whyte which centered around the theme of vulnerability.  With Tippett’s recent Civil Conversations project, vulnerability was approached more as an experience of engaging in political discussions with those whose choice we don’t understand, but the word itself casts a wide net.  I don’t know that they had planned to keep coming back around to it (it wasn’t advertised as such), but that theme just kept circling and landing, which says a lot about where we are as people who long to understand.  Perhaps those who don’t wish to understand don’t experience such vulnerability.  Or just refuse to expose themselves to it.

Artists don’t necessarily have any special claim on vulnerability; we all know it well.  But artists must repeatedly expose ourselves to it, as we pull things from our own subconscious to create something unique and then put it out there for all to see.  And judge.  Not only are we revealing our soft white underbelly, but talent is such an objective concept.  Some will see our work and, regardless of its quality, cock their heads, scrunch their noses, and think Oh.  Well, that’s…  interesting. 

I’ve always been a hypersensitive sort, but oddly not so about my work.  Wait.  Let’s make that “but oddly not so about my finished work.”  Some of the in-process stuff is enough to make your eyes water, and you would forever think me a crude artist.  More specifically, once I get the black / darks done and start mapping out color placement, it’s not well-crafted, by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ve had some classical training in painting with oils, and so I was taught the process of applying the opaque underpainting, putting in the darks, and building layer upon layer over that until you get to the highlights, balancing solvents carefully so as not to allow a layer to dry more quickly than one below it.  But rules are for schmucks, and so I just do what I want to do (which changes with each painting).  I have a decades-old clipped quote from a Boston Globe, yellowed and taped to the top of my oldest easel, which reads “Paint as you like and die happy.”  Words of wisdom from Henry Miller and that, I obey.

Doing commissions, I text progress pics to the client, and at this stage, where I’ve just mapped out colors but haven’t gotten to any real brush work, yet, I’m just apologetic, promising that it will get better.  Certainly, this stage is best contained to a private text than exposing my soft white underbelly to public nose-scrunching.  But, my optimist self started this blog to allow the viewer/ client / future buyer a window on my process, and so I need to be true to that.  Here is what I have accomplished, this week:





It will get better.  I promise.

Baxter, sketch


Once a painting of Baxter was commissioned, I started following his goofy and lovable expressions online, to get a better feel for his personality.  A true snow dog, he is happiest when surrounded by the white stuff, and this painting will show him in his true glory, snow capping his head and muzzle.  Now that the basic outline is done, I can’t wait to get the paint going.

He is absolutely a dog after my own heart.

Newman, done

img_3922One of the things I love most about painting time in the studio is the aural input.  I’m a podcast person because it offers an endless supply of options for someone with many  different — OK, scattered — interests, allowing my brain to receive all kinds of information while my eyes and hands are busy with productive matters. I can listen to a class on updates to herbal approaches to Lyme disease, or literary short fiction, or interviews with great thinkers, or the intricacies of distinctions between different personality types.  After the election, my go-to became Stuart McLean’s stories from the Vinyl Cafe on CBC.  Having spent much time in my childhood in the eastern provinces (and adult vacations returning to ancestral territories of Nova Scotia / Cape Breton), it became a respite from the cruel reality I heard all day on news radio. Ban on muslims?  At night I would chuckle as a small neighborhood in a Canadian village welcomed a dark-skinned family from across the globe and slowly realized their erroneous misperceptions in hilarious ways.

After exhausting the episodes, I transitioned back over to political reporting (especially the deeply informative ones like Intercepted).  In a couple of hours, though, I’d find myself craving something different, and so I downloaded the cast recording of Hamilton.  Remember that theory I had recently where I found that I had to work for a couple of hours before hitting my groove?  Yeah, a couple of hours is about the time each night that I switched from shady conflicts of interest in the White House and the deconstruction of our democracy to Hamilton.  At the opening beats, my foot would tap and I’d be off, bopping and singing at the easel as Hamilton meets Burr and forms relationships with Lafayette and others (yelling “Hercules Mulligan” on cue — how do I not remember him from history class?) and gets married and joins General Washington and defeats the British and writes the Federalist Papers and and…

I find it interesting that in these times, as we witness mocking disregard of the Constitution and the attempt to deconstruct our government, and wonder if the Great Experiment could in fact fail, I turn to the times of its inception; the hopefulness of its creation and the revolution that was the catalyst of it all.

Anyway, in the meantime, Newman was completed.

Newman, on the Easel

img_3856Newman is one of the funniest dogs that I know.  He’s got that dopey complacency that I so love in the big, houndy boys.  Newman is the type of dog that doesn’t understand the physics of leashes and legs, and will get himself completely tangled up, but just keep walking, anyway, unfazed.  So, when his human requested a painting, I was thrilled…  but unsure which expression to capture.  Like me, his dad enjoys the dopey humor in some of his expressions, but he’s also a very proud dad, hanging pictures at the office and all, so maybe we should stick with something a little more flattering?  Newman shares the trait with almost all other hounds of extreme focus on food, and while I was baiting a lab mix with a morsel of stinky tripe, I caught Newman in my peripheral vision with the most dreamlike expression.  So I snapped a quick pic and went “Aha!  That’s the one!”  His dad agreed.

Many more layers to be added and blended, but he’s off to an OK start.