Monday, April 13, 2015

portrait gallery

My folks came for a nice long visit over the Easter holiday, and to show them around and to celebrate Jason's birthday, we took a day trip to London -- where I selfishly promoted my own agenda of going to the National Portrait Gallery:

My dad (who is also an artist) and I were especially taken with the studies on display, where the ground of the canvas was exposed, and the garments only sketched in around the beautifully modeled head. It was such a marvelous trompe l'oeil, and made me see how truly bizarre it is to describe a three-dimensional image on a flat surface. 

I could have stayed there all day, marveling at the rich tones and impossible fabrics, and the fact that many of those subjects were gazing out at us from over three hundred years ago. Can you imagine? It's only paint, arranged on canvas, and yet the fact of that singular human is preserved through all that time, its skin still luminous, its presence still eerily close. 


Thursday, March 5, 2015

one layer

I still don't quite know how to paint.

Most of the time I start with an underpainting, intending to just block in some simple values and shapes, but then I get carried away and immediately start fine-tuning. Then, when I go back in for a second layer, I realize I'm trying to imitate what I did in the first layer and it inevitably comes out forced and stiff.

A painter friend suggested that I just stop after the first layer, then: why fight it? Why finish it? 

So this piece I intentionally did in one sitting, aiming for broad strokes and minimal fussing. 

I especially like how that background turned out -- the creaminess of that color! 

Jason has been saying from the beginning that my studies are usually more interesting than my finished pieces, and I always thought he was just, you know, saying that, because they just looked half-baked to me. But I'm finally starting to see his point. 

The funny thing about confidence, I've realized, is that it doesn't arrive from somewhere else just in time for you to try something new and bold. It is borne out of risk and practice, and must be tended daily. 


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

cart before the horse

Lately all the dreams I've been having take place in Japan, as though my brain is finally getting around to sorting it all out... Funny how there's a lag time.

Last summer I collected pottery shards from the Kamo River, intending to make little studies of each one, so in love with the bright blue and creamy white. 

I finally got around to it, but it was mainly because during the course of unpacking here in England, I found a frame I really needed to fill.

That's the truth of my motivation... I might not follow through on a meaningful and profound exploration of the allure of Kyoto and the pieces I couldn't take with me, but here is a bright pretty frame that needs something inside it right now. 

I am not a conceptual artist. Pretty comes first. 


Monday, January 26, 2015

the only rule

I am suddenly the busiest I've ever been with portrait commissions, which is of course both exhilarating and terrifying. 

I feel like the girl in the story of Rumpelstiltskin, I explained to Jason: I have told people that I can spin straw into gold, and now I have to find a way to actually do that. 

So I distracted myself by doing a quick study of him, instead.

Infuriatingly, when I don't pressure myself to produce something amazing and perfect, I get the very quality of fresh brushwork and bold colors that I'm after when I want the thing to be amazing and perfect. 

Forget the straw, forget the gold; the only rule is work.


Friday, December 12, 2014

the costs of complicity

Haven't been writing. It's all been building up inside.

I've been grieving so hard this mess in the States... the most recent murders of unarmed Black men and teenagers and boys, the white cops who killed them not indicted, the whole system so corrupt and racist and despicable. 

12 year-old Tamir Rice, shot dead. How can I honor his life? How can I fight against what led to his death? How can I even look at his sweet young face?

So I obsessively check Twitter, get in protracted fights with strangers over FB, draft insane letters to Obama and to Congress, and despair that anything I could do would mean anything. I try to work and it feels indulgent and pointless. I am spinning, spinning, trying to contain all of this conflict, desperate to render it, sort it out, amend the wrongdoing. I have to do paintings about guns, about sugar, about prisons, about lynchings, about most white people's complete fucking inability to comprehend the problem. 

This blog is an inconsequential as a hairpin. I haven't been writing because it feels indulgent and pointless. And then I am angry at myself for overthinking it and allowing myself to be paralyzed by guilt, and for mistakingly believing that I cannot grieve and take action at the same time.

Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Michael Brown, Vonderrit Myers, Dontre Hamilton, Cary Ball, Oscar Grant, and far too many others: I want to memorialize you, I want to paint your portraits. I want to celebrate your human existence. I want to join the chorus singing BLACK LIVES MATTER, until they do. 

"All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity."  -- bell hooks


Saturday, November 22, 2014


The last project for my collage workshop was to incorporate handrwriting:

I have just a meager stash of collage materials (I will never quit you, Brown Paper), but had a surprising collection of handwriting samples. In the past I would have been reluctant to use them, though that feels completely silly to admit... Why get protective and hoard-y about bits of paper? They're speciaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllll.

But this turned out to be the funnest assigment for me: I was protective about nothing. In fact, if there was a bit that I liked too much and was trying to work the entire composition around, I deliberately covered it up. 

That sounds kind of silly, too. WHY AM I SO PROTECTIVE ABOUT PAPER.

But every time I covered up something I thought defined and anchored the whole piece, the whole piece got better. Like Annie Dillard says, sometimes you have to take out a wall. Sometimes it is the bearing wall. 

These quick little pieces are a good place for me to practice this. 

So many of my paintings have suffered because I was protecting them -- couldn't push them past that layer that was supposed to be just a warm-up layer but had some interesting little bit that I got weirdly attached to and wouldn't want to cover up. 

But here, all the truly interesting bits happened in the covering up... I hope that lesson translates from paper to paint. 


Saturday, November 15, 2014

what the paper will do

Another assigment for the online collage workshop was this sweet little accordian book:

It has been very good to keep my hands busy with collaging. I am too impatient to paint these days, feeling all flayed open and distracted. But collage takes somehow less brain power and is more immediately gratifying.

It's good to crank them out, it's good to have deadlines. This is the benefit of school and classes of any kind: stop being precious and do the work. 

I like it, despite its clumsiness. It's a strange story in an unlikely little diary.