Monday, November 30, 2009

Progress on new piece, Day II

(Sorry about the horrible formatting on this post.  I tried to fix whatever Google is doing to it, but finally am giving up  - it won!  Hope you can enjoy it anyway!)

3. 4:22 -I was having a heck of a hard time with her foot so I finally went in the house and printed out a larger picture of it so I could see what I was doing.  It's difficult painting something 10 inches large when my photo of it is only 1".  I just can't see the details I need to!  Here are the pictures I used to paint her foot and hands better as well as a close up the foot as it is right now.  It still needs some work, but it's getting there.

I'll probably get back into the studio Friday.  Tutoring Tues - Thursday as usual.  Also a pleasure!

Fruits and Veggies show at Central Library in Chesterfield

I didn't get out to the studio today until after noon because I had to go to Central Library in Chesterfield to hang a show there.  No worries - I didn't hang any nudes in the library!  They wanted a show of my fruits and veggies.  I re-read the artist statement I'd written for a similar show in Petersburg but realized it was too risque for a public place with kids, so I toned it down a bit.  I was surprised at myself for writing it - it's full of double entendres, but I do remember deciding to go for it - what the heck!  I kinda like the sauciness of it!  Here is is with a couple of fruit pictures:

Dear Viewer,

What could be sexier than fruits and vegetables?  They’re round. They’re voluptuous.  They have beautiful colors.  And they taste great raw.  What more can you ask?  So this summer when I decided to draw a series of fruits and vegetables from Ukrops and the William Byrd Farmer’s Market, I had a real sweet time.  Everyday a new treat would await me patiently on my drawing table, giving me its “come hither” glance, daring me to fondle it with my pastels, acting spoiled and oozing its juices over the table if I waited too long.  I learned to come when called and to sit myself right down when Nature hearkened. 

Ah, the energy!  Oh, the form!  Ach, what colors!  Allowing themselves to be created anew by my delighted fingers in two dimensions.  Lucky they were to have their youths immortalized thus since they usually became too dusty and old to be of further service after their time in the limelight. 

 And now I present them for you, framed and matted by my loving husband - he, too, a part of the passion.  Walnut and maple and acid free mats give new glory to farmers’ markets’ supplies.  May you experience the passion yourself – the color, the form, the beauty – each time you gaze upon the bold ripeness or subtle undulations of form, my gift to you.

Passionately yours,

Susan Singer
September 2007

The show will hang at the library until Jan 4, 2010, so if you're interested, check it out!  

One model's experience

One of my recent models wrote me an email about what it was like to model for me.  She kindly gave me permission to share it on my blog.  I think it will lend even more insight into the process of modeling and how it can be - or at least was for one person!

The picture is a rather prosaic one of the wall in my studio where I do the photography.  On the left is the bathroom.  On the right is my office/storage space with m ladder and red chair in front of it.  (I use the ladder to reach the loft where I store my paintings and blank canvases until I need them.)  The tables are for my students when I hold classes in here.


On my way to model for you, I put on one of my favorite CDs by a friend of mine. I listened to his songs, and let the peace of his voice and words and the friendship and love we share, fill me. I’d also called one of my dearest friends before getting into my car. With the two of them 'beside' me, I felt courageous and calm.

Your studio felt peaceful to me. I love the way it's tucked into the forest like that, and how you initially left the blinds open for me to 'feel' the trees around us before we started. We were in our own little island there together. I curled up in your red chair, and you let me talk. I blathered at first, letting words spill out. Those of course were my nerves, but also I tend to use words to share about myself and feel closer to people that way. Thank you for allowing me that time to get a bit more comfortable.

When it was time to start, I very much noticed the lack of a mirror in your studio. You said that this was on purpose, but it seemed almost incomprehensible to me. Hmm, that could indicate all kinds of things about me.. and about you. How could I model for you without knowing whether my hair was messed up, or my face was too shiny? Am I that vain (or self-conscious)? The good news was that I easily ditched those feelings and moved on.

I had no idea what to do once I stood in front of the lights. I didn't feel horrifically embarrassed, as I'd anticipated I might; I felt more hesitant. Thank goodness for the perfect suggestion of having music! My body flows, moves, dances to music - almost without conscious thought. The selection you made was exquisite... a flowing melodic piece with a good beat. I have no memory of what the music was, exactly; it simply was 'me' for awhile. And I began to melt into it, as all other thoughts disappeared.

I felt so free as I moved to the music. I let go of any remaining shyness, and I danced. I swayed, I moved, I arched. I let the music take me someplace lovely and peaceful. I felt beautiful and loved and loving. Soft, graceful, energized and lithe. You photographed the essence of me, not just my skin and hair. I moved and swirled and was totally myself. I remember at one point you said something like "I should be telling you how beautiful you look, but I'm having too much fun photographing you." I loved that comment, thank you.

I have no idea how long we played like that. At one point I felt like a nymph, a goddess, something wispy and light. I played with the tulle fabric for awhile, but realized that I didn't need it (I'd originally imagined that I would feel more comfortable with it covering me some). It simply became my dance partner for a bit, left to gently pool at my feet when I swirled some more. I finally stopped when I actually started to feel tired!

When we sat down, I was amazed that you had so many photos. I wasn't sure what my reaction would be to seeing photos of myself in the nude, and I was pleasantly surprised. I found myself looking at the photos as 'art', and was thrilled to see the way the light and shadows played on my skin. Some looked like classic paintings to me already! Of course there were plenty of less flattering shots too, but I was delighted to see that some of them were stunning. I had no idea that my less-than-perfect body could look so good.

I felt happy and pleased, and pretty darn proud of myself when I left your studio. I had been so intrigued with the idea of modeling for you, and now I'd finally done it. No need to wonder about it anymore! I am quietly thrilled at the idea of seeing myself become art with the exquisite skill of your hands & eyes. And your heart. Thank you so much!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Artist of the Week

I was exceedingly honored this week to be named Artist of the Week in Slash Coleman's Facebook group, "Manifest Your Creative Destiny".  Here's more:


Slashtipher Coleman Congratulations
Susan! You’re our Artist of the week in our Facebook group "Manifest Your
Creative Destiny" ( Thanks for inspiring us with your
creative dreams, your incredible paintings and your fantastic blog.


Moment by moment progress of a painting

When I was at an opening last week, someone asked me how long it took to paint the painting I had on display. I was a little bit stymied to answer her.  First of all, I couldn't really remember how long it had taken.  Secondly, I found myself curious about why she wanted to know.  I told her I wasn't sure, but she could look at my blog and see it happening if she was really interested.  I thought it took about 2 weeks.  She nodded and said, "Oh, that's good."  I wish like heck I had asked her what she meant!  I've been puzzling over it ever since!  Is it good that it ONLY took two weeks?  Or good that it took a full two weeks?  Or did 2 weeks make it seem like it was then worth the purchase price?  What was there about the time it took to approve of?

I was particularly curious about this exchange because I had recently read an article by someone who took offense at being asked that particular question.  He said he would answer it by reeling off the years he'd gone to school to be an artist then the years he has worked as an artist then the particular time it took to set up and paint that painting, then the time it took to market it.  I found that answer a bit defensive (albeit truthful), so I tried not to respond like that.  I just wish I'd had the presence of mind to find out why she wanted to know!

In case you're wondering the answer to that very hot question, now that I've told you all about it...  I will give you a blow-by-blow sequence of the piece I'm working on currently.  I photographed this model several months ago and have already done one painting of her - Woman in a Chair. It's hanging at Crossroads Art Center where it won 2nd prize.  This picture has a similar feel, but I decided to do it anyway because I love the model's expression and the beauty of the light on it.

1.  9:31 AM - I decided to do something I haven't done before in starting this piece.  The whole picture has a purple/green undertone to it.  I want it to be more complex than just putting purple, green, and brown paint, so I decided to do an underpainting in glowing yellow and quinacridone red.  This is right after I painted those colors on.

2. 9:43 AM - I used a paper towel to smooth the brush strokes and make them a bit more exacting.

3. 11:07AM  - I had to mix up the paint for the canvas before I could begin with the final colors.  That process usually takes about an hour.  Then I painted in the shadow and covered the background with paint.  The areas between the bars on the back of the chair are too light, and I don't like the darker color of the shadow.  I'll work later to unify that color better and to darken the spots between the chair back.

4. 11:19 AM - I darkened the areas between the bars of the chair back.  In that brief time, the light moved such that it fell across the canvas.  It was very beautiful, but distracting as heck!  Most of the year, the light doesn't come in from the south because of the overhang, but the architect designed the building so that it could come in during the winter so I could have more light and more warmth.  I'm not usually in the studio at this time, so I'd never experienced it like this before.  I love learning more and more about this beautiful building!

I decided to take a break for lunch to let the light move away.

5.  1:22 PM - After lunch I decided to tackle the dark parts, so I painted the chair and the part of her body which is in extreme shadow.  In the photo I'm primarily using, I can't really see any distinction between the dark parts, so I printed out a copy that is much lighter so I can make some distinctions so the forms look better.  I also worked to unify the shadow more.

6. 2:38 PM - Foot, leg, more breast.  I swear, feet and hands are SO hard!  I am aware that portrait artists charge more for portraits when hands are involved - probably for feet too.  They are so individual, so unique, so complex.  You can't imagine how many lines and curves and patches of different colors are on this one foot!  Plus she's wearing toenail polish so I had to match that color too!  The close up is not the most finished shot of it, but it'll give you more of a feel for the complexity of it.

7. 4:32 PM - After working on the feet for a while and starting on the hands, I took a break for a few minutes then realized how gorgeous it was outside, so I helped Chris blow leaves with his brand new leaf blower!  Good tools are so much fun!  After an hour of that, I was ready to paint again.  I had definitely needed a break though - my back was hurting and my mind was wandering.  I was feeling tired AND weary.  Not a good combination.  Here's what the hands were looking like at this stage.  Her right hand was starting to look half way decent, but I was definitely struggling with the left.  Ugh!  That's when a break is a GREAT idea!

8. 5:26 PM - I worked on the hands a lot more and got the left one looking somewhat better.  It'll be easier to continue it tomorrow when this layer is mostly dry.  Then I'll be able to get it to do what I want it to do better.

It's been interesting working on this canvas with the bold yellow paint all over it.  I don't particularly like the purple opaque next to it.  I know I'll like it when the whole canvas is covered, and I think I'll like the glow the yellow will cause, but it is distracting to paint with the yellow next to the colors.  I'm curious to see if I'll chose to do this again next time.

So that's the process so far.  She is slowly but surely appearing out of the canvas, semi-complete, though once the whole canvas is covered, I'll do lots of revisions to make things look better and more cohesive.  I'd like to be able to cover the whole canvas at once, but this image is simply too large to work that way.  I do that when it's smaller, but this one is 40"x60".

Stay tuned for further progress!  Hopefully I'll have a good stretch of time to paint tomorrow!  Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Feeling a little bit blue today.  I'll be cooking a ham, mashed potatoes and broccoli casserole later today for my sons and husband.  Small dinner for just the four of us.  I'm missing my daughter and extended family.  We had breakfast with my stepson.  I'm working on drawing a new picture on a large, 60"x40", canvas, but my heart isn't in it.  It's so strange to be at home, mostly alone on Thanksgiving.  I've spent Thanksgiving Day entirely alone before, by choice, before I was re-married.  I gave myself a lot of love that day and wrote letters of gratitude to all my friends.  It was a lovely day.  Being home with family here but with them preoccupied is a different matter.  It leaves me feeling lonely, even though most days I'd be perfectly happy and content to be in the studio with nothing I had to do.  It's odd what expectations add to/subtract from a day.  Disappointment looms when it could otherwise be a perfectly wonderful day.

Tomorrow will be brighter, I'm sure.  All the holiday expectations will be gone, and I'll just get on with it, happy as a clam to be painting all day.

(And, no, it's not snowing today, but I wanted to give a sense of our home, and these are the only pics I have of it lately - March 2009.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Affirmations for the Coming Year

I just turned 50 a couple of weeks ago.  My husband asked me casually what my goals are for the coming year.  Equally casually I told him I intend to do the following:

~ Line up 3 shows in University Museums

~ Sell at least 5 major works

~ Have an article about me written and published in a national magazine.

And then there is the affirmation Chris and I are saying 3-6 times daily:

The goal is for Chris to make $100,000 in a job that brings him great joy and satisfaction and balance.  That job will enable Susan to do her art full time which will bring her great joy and satisfaction and balance as well.  In addition, this situation will enhance and strengthen Susan and Chris's marriage exponentially and bring them and their children great joy and satisfaction and balance!

To be put in place by June 2010.

The second I said the three birthday affirmations and as soon as Chris and I wrote down our affirmation, I knew they were important to hang on to and affirm.  So I'm putting them out here to share with you so you can envision my work hanging in university museums and selling like crazy.  And you can know you'll be reading about my work soon in a national publication!  And you'll see Chris in a great job that he loves earning plenty of money so I can easefully leave my tutoring job and begin focusing on art full time.

I am a strong believer in affirmations.  I know they work.  It's how I live my life.  I'm excited about these.  Sometimes all it takes is the creativity to envision something wonderful happening for it to be set into motion.  Most of you have probably heard the quote which is attributed to Goethe but which is actually from the book The Scottish Himalayan Expedition by William Hutchinson Murray (1951):

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

I'm giggly and excited to see what the Universe puts in motion to make these affirmations come true.  It's so much fun to remember to notice what happens step by fun step to make affirmations be realized.  I'll try to remember to mention the serendipities that occur each day as I become aware of them.  I know that the gift each model has given me by posing for me is a fabulous step towards reaching these goals.  I'm so grateful!

I want my message about women loving their bodies and themselves to be heard by everyone and for us all to love who we are unconditionally.  The planet will be a completely different place when that is the case.

A most extraordinary modeling experience

Yesterday the model for Bling Lady, L., came to see her piece and brought her sister and neice with her.  L had emailed me that she had teased them that they would all be modeling for me as well.  I wrote her back that I would be fine with that.  One thing led to another, and they actually came over here expecting to model.  The neice said she'd told L. she had to feed her a breakfast of mimosas for it to happen!  That didn't happen, apparently, but despite that, they were ready to model - though giggly-nervous and unsure about it.

I'd never worked with three people at a time before, so I didn't have any expectations or vision of how it might work.  I needn't have worried!  These women are so incredibly full of life!  We spent the whole time laughing and goofing off (and, by the way, getting some amazing pictures)!

They laughed a lot and joked about what they were doing and whether to tell their husband/dad and stuff like that.  It took a little bit of time for them to get comfortable posing, though I noticed that they were completely comfortable with each other, naked or not.  Mother-daughter and sister-sister relationships can be so fraught with tension and things unsaid and judgments and all that crap.  I didn't see one iota of that present here.  All I saw was comfort and love and pleasure in each other's company.  I felt so happy being with them, I felt like I was being given an incredible gift to witness such ease and joy.

When we looked at the pictures afterwards, they certainly weren't the shots I normally take that are about the graceful curves and shadows and inward awareness.  I love those pictures.  These I love too!  These women are athletes and are so comfortable in their bodies.  The three of them wrapped themselves up in the tulle, hugged each other, grinned like crazy, laughed, posed absurdly, threw a volleyball back and forth, swirled around in scarves.  L. had just competed in the Philadelphia Marathon - at age 65 - she's my hero! - and had placed well in her age group so she posed wearing her medal and running hat and the "potato skin" they put on the runners to keep them warm at the end of the race.  The sister and neice posed holding sports equipment in a way that had all of us laughing for 5 minutes at the ridiculousness of it.  I'm definitely going to paint that one!  BIG!

The other one I plan to paint has the neice sitting in my red chair with her aunt and mom behind her, all of them laughing and doing "show hands", naked.  It's such a goofy picture, so full of good humor and ease and silliness.  I want to paint it absurdly large - 10'x10' perhaps.  I picture it in the next Smithsonian Portrait Competition.

I'm thrilled to have worked with these woman and for their joie de vivre.  Amazing!!

I'm so blessed to have such fantastic models.  Thank you, Universe, for bringing the perfect people to me at the perfect time.  I feel so led in the work I'm doing.  One thing after another happens that is the perfect next step.  Such blessings!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Now whole, not hole

Now Whole, Not Hole
acrylic on paper, pastel on architect's vellum

I was four years old when I had my operation.  I had a hole in my heart, supposedly the size of a dime.  They sewed the hole up, but they had to cut my chest open and bend my ribs back.  Luckily, I was of course on some sort of drug, so I didn't have to feel the pain.  However, the operation left a scar on my chest, which has gradually faded away over the years, but still remains visible.  My Mom has some sort of odd fascination with scars and is in the process of drawing the picture that you are now viewing.
Andrew, 16

Andrew tells the story pretty accurately, if not with scientific details - the day after he was born, Paul (his Dad) and I took him to the pediatrician's for his check up.  The doctor, a kindly old man everyone would want for a pediatrician, said he could hear a heart murmur in Andrew's chest.  He said it very calmly as if it were the most natural thing in the world, so I didn't worry about it.  I asked what we should do about it.  He said we should get it checked out every so often and at some point might want to have it operated on. 

When we moved to Richmond a few weeks later, we found a doctor who also recommended we keep an eye on it and sent us to a pediatric heart specialist, Dr. Bill Moskowitz.  He was wonderfully kind and helpful the 2-3 times we saw him.  In the meantime, I had no idea if this was a big deal or not, and I was having babies and working and doing life with kids.  When Andrew was 4 and Laura was closing in on 2 and I was pregnant with Dylan, we went for the regular check up to Dr. Moskowitz.  He recommended that Andrew have an operation.  I couldn't see how that was necessary - he was fine.  He recommended that we have a sonogram done.  I told him that I wasn't willing to because it would cost us $500 and we didn't have that kind of money to spend on a stupid test.  He asserted that he needed to see the size of the murmur, etc.  By this time I'd begun to realize that "murmur" is another word for "hole."  A hold in my child's heart.  THAT was probably a big deal.  Dr. Moskowitz was so kind.  He told me not to worry about it, and did the sonogram anyway.  He set up a TV for Andrew to watch cartoons while he did a sonogram similar to what they do on pregnant bellies.  He showed me Andrew's heart.  What a miracle.  Then he showed me where there was a hole between the atria of his heart.  ONE INCH BIG.  In a heart the size of a 3-year-old's fist.  That caught my attention.  I asked what sort of problems it would/could cause/was causing.  He said that it was making Andrew have less endurance than normal for his age.  He said further that as Andrew aged, his heart and lungs would have to work much harder to move oxygenated blood in the right direction and that his lungs would develop too much muscle tissue and that his heart would eventually give out, causing him to turn blue and die around age 36.  With the operation, he would be completely healed.  Immediately.

I asked how soon he could operate.  I had had no idea the severity of the problem.  I'm thankful for that really, because I would have treated Andrew differently, probably in ways that would have stunted his growth. 

The operation was on August 30, 1991, the day before Laura turned 2.  She stayed at home with a dear friend, Elisabeth, while Paul, Mom, Dad and I went MCV to wait.  We were with Andrew when they wheeled him into the operating room.  He was cheerful and playful.  There were about 20 people with us in the waiting room and 100's of people praying for us in the various faith communities our family members were part of.  I could feel the love pouring in.  That was the best part of all of this.  So many people gathered to help us, to offer physcial or at least emotional support.  So many prayers were lifted up.  I strongly believe in the miracle of prayer ever since then.  Andrew received so many cards and gifts, it was amazing!  Much better than Christmas and birthday all rolled into one!

Dr. Moskowitz had three heart surgeries that day.  One was on an infant who was unlikely to live.  Another one was quite serious but likely to have a good outcome.  He said that Andrew's was quite simple - "a bread and butter operation."  I told him it might be HIS bread and butter, but it was terrifying to us.  Later when I saw the baby in ICU, I could better understand the severity of its needs.

After a few hours we were called into the ICU where Dr. Moskowitz told us the operation had gone perfectly.  They had cut open his ribs, pried them open, then put him on a heart and lung machine so his heart wouldn't have to pump.  Then they went into the heart and sewed up the hole then sewed up the heart, stapled together his ribs, re-fastened whatever muscles or flesh there was, sewed up the skin, and voila, he was done!  (I don't think that description would pass for a medical training manual, but I'm sure you get the idea!) 

We walked into the ICU.  Andrew was lying on a huge hospital bed, pale, skinny, naked from head to toe with no covering because he kept kicking it off.  He was unconscious and had tubes coming out of most of his orifices - oxygen into his nose, drainage tubes into his chest, IV into his wrist, catheter into his penis, oxygen meter on his finger.  He was strapped down so he wouldn't disturb any of the aparatuses.  My heart cracked in to seeing him lying there so helpless and frail and at the mercy of technology.

He came to and immediately wanted water.  He was parched.  All we could do was give him foam soaked in water to suck on.  It didn't satisfy him at all and he flailed and fussed and whined and complained.   A few hours later he was unhooked from some of the tubes and was told he needed to walk in order to get everything going again.  I was stunned that they made him walk already.  The next morning he was in a regular room.  2 days later he was sent home.  3 days later he was actually RUNNING around the backyard!  Faster than he ever had before.  I had had no idea that he would get out of breath because of his heart murmur.  He used to run 25 yards then say, "I'm so tired!"  I thought he was a bit of a whimp.  Now, though, he had so much energy and was running all around, ready to play anything!  It was a miraculous transformation.  Stunning.  100 years ago he would have led an increasingly sedentary life and would have died a slow death.  Now, instead, in 3 days he was completely healed except for his scar which healed quickly as well.  No repercussions, no nothing.

Today, the operation would be much less grueling.  Now they can insert a tube which has a camera and clamshell clamp into the patient's upper thigh, have it wend its way up to the heart, then use the clamp to close the hole successfully, then come back out with no other interference at all.  Amazing!  I am so thankful for modern medicine.  And for the doctors who have saved the lives of my two sons.  It is humbling to think of all the sadness I would have experienced had it not been for these miraculous operations.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Flinging the Red Scarf, finished

I just realized I don't have a picture of this piece all the way finished yet.  The changed were small but really important so I'll post the final image as soon as I get a chance.  In this image there is a smear of color in the bottom left corner.  I fixed that.  Her fingers are a bit blurry.  Other stuff I notice.  The last day I worked on this piece I put a yellow glaze over the floor and background which gave everything the most satisfying glow.  I also worked on her foot and buttocks and leg and shoe.  The fingers got dramatically better.  I don't think they are changes you can pick up on a picture on the web, but they make me much happier because the whole piece feels more finished now.  I'm very pleased with it.  I love the model's demeanor and gesture!  So fun!!

Choosing a new image to paint

It's been a lovely weekend with lots of creative things going on.  We had some friends over Saturday night and played some goofy, fun games, including having everyone make a hat out of pipe cleaners and other silly supplies.  Very fun!

Today we went to the Craft and Design Show sponsored by the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.  It is one of my favorite things to do each year.  I absolutely love to see beautiful crafts, skillfully done.  They make my heart sing.  I feel like I'm in the pristine air of a beautiful forest high in the mountains with a crystalline creek running rapidly by.  I came home feeling inspired and fed spiritually.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

When I got home I came to the computer to try to choose my next image to paint.  That's not an easy process!  I have a lot of beautiful pictures but none was jumping off the screen in my mind, so I had to go through about 400 pictures to see what captivated me.  I look through the images then open then in Adobe Photoshop so I can crop them and adjust the color (if necessary) and otherwise play with them a bit.  Then I print them out in color then apply a grid over them and print them in B&W so I can draw them on the canvas more accurately.  I have three images I'm excited about right now.  Very different ones.  One is of a new model which is always fun.  I've written emails to each of the models with the photos attached to ask them if they're OK with my painting the pictures of them.  One has a bit of face on it and I want to be especially sure that the model is comfortable with that, though I don't think she's recognizable.  It's her comfort level that is of tantamount importance, not my desire to paint a particular picture, no matter how gorgeous it is!  Once I hear back from them, Chris will make the canvases and I'll get to start!  I have to work Mon and Tue this week so we have a couple of days to make the canvases.  Wed - Mon I have off so hopefully I'll get a good start on one by then!  So exciting!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Good news!

I just found out that I won 2nd prize at Crossroads Art Center here in Richmond for my piece Woman in a Chair (not the one in the red chair that I just finished).  The opening is tonight from 6:30 - 9:30 and is most certainly open to the public!  I'd love to see you there!

Several friends of mine are having shows there tonight as well: 

Adele Castillo will have a display of her work and the work of her students.  The focus is on color.  My sister, Sarah Abernathie, will have some work on display in that show. 

Linda Hollett will have a show with Gary Lou Upton which is about their time in Egypt.  Both artists have spent much time in that fascinating land, and this show will be a display of the work they've done of it.

The link above will take you to the webpage for the gallery to give you more information if you would like to attend the opening or see the work sometime during the next couple of months.

Crossroads is a VERY cool place to check out if you haven't been there before.  There are over 100 artists with booths where they display their work - sort of like an antiques mall.  The work is quite varied, so if you're looking for new art for your home, it's a great place to go.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Garrison Keillor opines about Viewing Pictures of Naked Women

A friend of mine who reads my blog sent me the following article by Garrison Keillor from the Op-Ed page of the NYTimes.  Maybe I should send Keillor a link to my website?!


Published: November 18, 2009

I was in Chicago with time on my hands and the sweet woman murmured to me — you know how this goes — “Would you like to see the Art Institute?” and I was thinking No No No God No, and I said, “Sure. Fine.” “You wouldn't rather do something else?” she said. “No,” I replied. That’s the correct answer when a woman asks you about art. Yes, absolutely, ma chérie.

What I’d rather do is watch a couple of welterweights whale on each other for 10 rounds or a lanky blonde dance as she peels off her long white gloves and unsnaps her garter, but it’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, so into the citadel of art we go.

I’ve been here before. The sweet woman loves galleries and French impressionists and the sunny gardens of Pierre Bonnard. While looking at them, she is likely to say something about color and texture. But I am an American man and color and texture are not my strong suits. And so I staked out my aesthetic at the start. I said, “I see no reason to paint flowers. You can buy fresh flowers. Still lifes are only an exercise. And abstract expressionism is for the lobbies of big insurance companies. The true calling of an artist is to paint women and the greatest challenge is the naked female form. That’s what separates the true artists from the wallpaper-hangers.”

I said this in the room that houses some rather erotic Georgia O’Keeffe flowers and “American Gothic” with its squinty lady, and I spoke on behalf of American men everywhere. At the age of 67, I have stopped apologizing for looking at naked women. I don’t stand directly in front of a nude and stare at her, lest I be taken for a pervert. I stand in front of the painting next to the nude and sneak sidelong glances, but nonetheless I am moved by her. Deeply.

A man gets to say what he likes. In Chicago, the city of the big shoulders, he does. In New York, where men have exquisite thin shoulders and glossy skin tone, they are more into texture. I glanced at a plaque on the gallery wall, something about “his work references as a multifaceted narrative structure that re-contextualizes the ambiguity of alienation and aims at disrupting the viewer’s habits of perception.” Well, pardon me for living, but I am fond of my habits of perception. I stroll past the spatter art and angst-ridden photography and junk sculpture, and when I see a naked woman, my heart leaps up.

Is a man’s heart not supposed to leap? Should it squat instead?

Rubens did big naked porky women who could lie on a man and smother him, and many artists have done pale, cold goddesses, but I want a sweet woman bathing or reclining on a couch, someone I’d like to know. She makes my heart sing.

She reminds me of beautiful naked moments from real life — skinny-dipping in the Mississippi, intertwining underwater on Oahu, sitting in hot water in the big round iron tub on the deck in Utah, the sweet woman lowering herself gingerly into the water, slowly, slowly, as her delicate anatomical parts feel the heat rising — and coming from fundamentalist people in a cold-weather state, nakedness means more to me than to, say, a Southern Unitarian.

We hiked around the Art Institute and didn’t discuss texture. I saw a couple of nude women and other women who looked as if they were thinking about undressing, and then we went back to the hotel and, for some reason that now I forget, we went and sat in a steam room together and admired each other’s multifaceted body and got recontextualized and so on and so forth and that’s what happened to me in Chicago.

What does this have to do with health care reform and America’s enormous indebtedness to what used to be known as Red China before Republicans became reds? Everything.

Politics and policy mean more to those who love life itself. We want government to stave off lawlessness and war and chaos and economic misery so that we can wholeheartedly enjoy the pure goodness of life which, when you come right down to it — and I come right down to it as often as possible — is a naked woman lowering herself into hot water that you yourself are sitting in, waiting.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"I just want to put you in a bubble!"

Wouldn't you think it would be enough for Dylan to have to go through major spinal surgery and having to learn to walk again?!  Then this happened...

It was a few weeks after Christmas, and we were taking down the Christmas tree and putting away the ornaments in the attic.  Dylan was walking by now with one cane, I believe, but mostly he was trying not to use anything.  He was clear about being independent and able to do things himself.  Going with that thought, I asked him to bring me a box of the ornaments and hand it to me in the attic (the door was about chest high so he just needed to hand it up at an angle so I could reach down and get it).  Unfortunately there was stuff on top of the box, including a damned glass paperweight.  As he handed the box up, the paperweight slid down and hit him in the mouth, breaking his tooth.  Naturally he cried, both from pain and shock.  I jumped down out of the attic and went to him to see what had happened.  When I saw that his tooth had broken, I scooped him up and carried him to the bed, crying, "I just want to put you in a bubble!"  I knew at some level that nothing terrible had happened and that he was basically OK.  I broke down in sobs and couldn't stop crying and holding him and rocking him and telling him I wanted to put him in a bubble.  Poor kid!  He told me he was fine and not to worry, he'd be alright.  I tried to explain through my tears that I knew he was OK and would be OK and sorry to cry like that.  I knew I was finally letting out some of the tears I couldn't shed while he was in the hospital and needed to be cared for so tenderly.  My sentiment was real - I wanted so much to protect him - but my emotions were clearly way out of proportion to the event!

Finally I got hold of myself and explained to him what was going on - that I was having feelings about his operation and I knew he'd be OK and I love him so much.  I asked him to try to find the piece of his tooth that fell off so we could take it to the dentist then did all the correct parenting things like call the dentist to make an appointment, throw away the stupid paperweight, then finish putting the boxes away - after making sure Dylan wasn't traumatized by the event - he was more worried about me and my reaction than he was about himself.  Poor kid! 

Here's what Dylan wrote about it a month or two after it happened:

I was putting a box away in the attic that was partly open, and though I didn’t know, had a paperweight on top of it. As I was putting the box up, the paperweight – a glass, heavy paperweight – fell from the box and hit my tooth. At first it was just like, “Whoa, what happened?” Then it was pain and then I realized that a piece of my tooth wasn’t there. Then I was like, “Whoa, ah, ah…!” But then I relaxed a little when my mom started crying, because I had to show that I was a little more relaxed. My mom kept on saying, “I want to put you in a bubble so you won’t get hurt!” That got really annoying. I told her I was fine, then she made me go and finish cleaning the house.

Dylan, 10

Monday, November 16, 2009

Flinging the Red Scarf, Days 3 and 4

Sunday I didn't have the pleasure of working more on Flinging the Red Scarf, but I was able to paint on Saturday, so I've made good progress.  I was able to paint her body Saturday, then today I refined it and re-painted the floor which need some refinement as well.  I'd love to be painting right now, but the light has changed so much from this afternoon that I feel like I can't see well enough to do so.  Darn it!  Hopefully I'll get to it later.  I'm happy with it so far.  I want to lighten up the shadow a little bit so her body stands out more in contrast, and I need to make her upper arm match the skin tones of her leg.  Then I just need to clean up some edges, and I think I'll be done.  It's being a fun piece to do!

Sunday I had a lovely day photographing a new model.  We put on some music and away she went!  Some models like moving to music; others seem to feel more comfortable stiking a pose and holding it while I photograph them.  I love learning about the differences of each person.  I'm looking forward to doing some paintings from this batch of photos - there were some lovely ones!  We'll have to make a new canvas soon!

This coming weekend my son Dylan is going to be in Richard III at his high school.  I'm really looking forward to watching the performance.  Their plays are always excellent, and of course it's an added thrill to see him act in them!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Flinging the Red Scarf, Day 2

I have to go to work today to tutor - quite an unusual thing for me to do on Friday, but since I took Tuesday off to celebrate my birthday, I'll be working today.  But I couldn't bear the thought of giving up a whole studio day, so I managed to get out here early this morning.  I re-worked the background to maket he colors work better then spent the rest oft he time working on the scarf.  Clearly this piece is mostly about the scarf, so it's got to be good!
When painting this morning, I was astonished to find out just how huge a difference the different kind of brushes can make!  I began working with a large Isabey hogs hair bristle brush. I used it to apply the background.  It was perfect for the large strokes as well as for getting doing some detail work since its edge is sharp.  I used it to apply the first layer of paint to the scarf as well.  Then I had details I needed to get to so I started using a Taklon brush from Utrechts.  It was so smooth!  It allowed me to smear on just the right amount of paint and to blend it perfectly.  It gave me so much more control and ability to get the paint to do just what I wanted it to do.  It was wonderful to have the right tool for the right job!

Sunday I hope to get time to paint the body!

This afternoon I'll be taking a couple of pieces to Crossroads Art Center here in Richmond to enter them for their monthly show.  I'll be showing Woman in a Chair and perhaps Beauty with a Veil. I haven't decided on the second one yet, but I'd better figure it out soon!  I have to be at work in 35 minutes and have to change clothes, eat, pack the paintings, and get there!

Have a great day!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scar Series - My Son's Back

Besides painting and drawing pregnant nudes, naked men, and female nudes, I've also done a series on scars.  

Back in 2002, when my youngest son, Dylan, was 10, he was an intensely skilled athletic young boy who played soccer exceedingly well.  Then one night he quite suddenly began to lose the loss of his legs.  We took him to the emergency room immediately where he was operated on within 8 hours of arrival.  A couple of days after the surgery, he asked me to take a picture of his scar so he could see what it looked like.  The moment I saw the picture, I knew I had to draw it.  For me, art is a way of processing my feelings, and I certainly had myriad feelings about his surgery.  The doctor's first analysis of the situation when he looked at the MRI was that Dylan had cancer and was going to die and they had to operate immediately.  Thank God he was mistaken.  It was a cavernous hemangioma - like a birthmark - in his spine which had started to bleed and had blocked the nerves and begun to cause them to die.  The surgeon was able to cauterize the capillaries so that they stopped bleeding.  It won't happen again and couldn't have been avoided or predicted.  Any of us could have it happen.  Normally when it happens, it's in the brain and causes massive brain damage.  I am so thankful his mind wasn't affected.  I grieve for the loss of his outstanding athletic ability, but am grateful every day that his mind is intact and his spirit is extraordinary.  He has handled it beautifully.  Scar series is a testament to all the people who have had tragedies happen to them and have come out the other side triumphant.

Here's what Dylan wrote about his experience for his college essay this fall:

The questions have always been inevitable.

“Why are you in a wheelchair?” a fifth grade friend asks tentatively as I roll around the recess area where I was once king. Where I should still be king. “It’s complicated,” I answer evasively. “My legs just stopped working during the summer.” I’m already tired of this question, though I do understand their curiosity. I continue more cheerfully, “But I should be able to move on to crutches soon!”

“Why do you have those crutches?” a fellow fifth grader asks as I lower my safety guard stop sign to let her cross. Why indeed? Doesn’t everyone want to know just that, including me. Why me? I had mapped out my entire future: I was going to be a soccer player (famous of course). Now what will I do? But no, that type of talk will lead nowhere that I want to go. “There was this thing in my back,” I begin, “a cavernous hemangioma, which suddenly began bleeding one night and stopped the flow of nerves to my legs.” Seeing a confused look on her face, I try to clarify. “Basically, I had surgery on my back, and now I’ve got to learn to walk again.”

“Whoa!” a friend exclaims in the ninth grade locker room as we’re changing. “What is that crazy scar on your back from?” This is my favorite question, and you can usually tell my mood based on my response. If I’m somber, you get the regular old story. If I’m hurried or worried, then you get the short, version…something along the lines of, “I had back surgery when I was ten.” However, most of the time I respond with whatever comes to mind. The possibilities are endless. “Actually, I got that at my camp last summer,” I begin ambiguously, mind racing to create today’s story. “You see, I was at Shiloh Quaker Camp. Well, as I’m sure you well know, Quakers eat only oatmeal; that was actually the only food we had while I was there,” I continue, following that much loved Quaker stereotype [Thank you, ©Quaker Oats Company]. “As you might imagine, a diet of exclusively oatmeal provides a breeding ground for temporary insanity. One night, I woke up to find my crazed counselor standing over me and a knife in my back. They have now added chewy bars and oatmeal cookies to the menu. Anyway, that’s how it happened!”

“If you don’t mind my asking, where does your limp come from?” an actress asks me as I relax with my theatre troupe after the performance of our one act play, Degas C’est Moi. She continues, “Sorry if that’s awkward, but I really liked your acting, and I noticed you limping, so I was curious.” It’s hard to find anyone more unperturbed by social boundaries than actors; I guess that’s one reason I love them. “I had this thing in my back when I was younger that stopped my nerves and began to paralyze me from the chest down. They were able to get rid of it, but not without making me limp when I walk.” And messing up my sense of feeling and making it harder to control my bladder, but I leave that out for my recent acquaintance.

“Are you okay?” my opponent asks as I pick myself up off the tennis court. I brush pollen off my hands and knees and check scrapes for blood as I pick up my racket. My weak left foot had dragged and caught on the court as I lunged for the ball. “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks though.” I answer, “Your serve, right?”

«¿Por qué cojeas?» one of my students asks me with a concerned look on her face. We are hiking around the dramatic rock shelves surrounding the mountainous Peruvian city where I’ve come to volunteer this summer. My first day, and my student already noticed my limp. «Pues…» I begin hesitantly, unsure of the Spanish for much of what I want to say. «Cuando tenía diez anos, de repente no pude caminar. Yo necesitaba aprenderlo otra vez, y no lo aprendí perfectamente,» I say, telling her the same story that I’ve shared with so many others. Wherever I go, people will ask questions, and I’ll always strive to be ready with an answer.

“Why,” one of my shorter friends asks exasperatedly, “are you so darn tall?”


I'll post more stories and pictures from Scar Series in the days to come.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Flinging the Red Scarf

I'm not sure the first picture shows up very much.  It's the sketch done with pastel pencils on the 32"x40" canvas.  The next picture is obviously now that I've gotten some paint on it.  What you're seeing is just the shadow, wall and floor.  Next time I have time to paint I'll work on her body and the scarf.  It's a way fun piece!  Quite different from anything else I've done.  As Chris commented, it isn't really about the body.  I agree, but I think it still says a lot about the model and perhaps how she feels about herself.  Check out those gorgeous red high heels!
Time for sleep.  Have a good night!

Starting a new canvas

Today was studio day, but I didn't get started until very late.  I had a PT appointment to get my darn lower back worked on.  It's been tense and tight for about a year now and doesn't seem to want to let go of whatever it's holding on to even though I assure it frequently that I'm ready to relax and let everything go!  I wish it would take me at my word.  Ouch!

After that appointment, I decided to get my hair cut - it's been about 14 weeks and looks it!  Shaggy dog style. I found a nice place and enjoyed the attention.  Tomorrow is my 50th birthday so I decided to treat myself a little bit in advance!

When I got home, I went on the computer to try to find an image that excited me because I'm ready for a new canvas.  Chris already made me a canvas - he made one the wrong size the last time he made one, so I had it prepared.  It's hard to try to fit an image to a canvas - I don't think that way.  I like to choose the image then make the canvas to fit it - otherwise I feel so restricted!  I looked at one image of my 89-year-old model, but I don't really like how the composition works on this canvas.  I was looking and looking and got a bit way-laid organizing my pictures - 4 years worth of pictures take a LONG time to label and sort out!  Sometimes I get a tad bit obsessive when I start doing something.  That used to be my brilliant excuse for not cleaning the house or working in the yard - when I'd get started, I wouldn't stop because I'd get so carried away - better not to start!  Thankfully I've married a man I work well with - we keep each other reasonable in such things so now I have a clean house and a pretty yard!  What a concept!

I finally found a picture I like. It's of a dancer wearing shiny red high heels striding out of the picture flinging her bright red scarf behind her.  Only her back half is in the image.  It's very fun and energized. I've been wanting to paint it for a while.

So now I'm headed out to the studio for some evening time to finish drawing her on the canvas.
Tomorrow is my birthday! I'm turning 50.  My family has asked what I'd like to do, and, since I'm turning 50, I've been explicit in telling them!  No reason to make them guess!  Chris and I are taking the day off tomorrow.  He's going to make me breakfast in bed then we'll go to the Architecture Museum here in Richmond, then lunch, then Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens (lunch there probably) then maybe we'll go to a movie or roller skating or something else fun.  We'll buy wood for canvases and maybe stroll around Carytown - in other words, whatever the heck seems like it'll be fun! My sons are going to celebrate with me on Wed when they're going to cook dinner.  My older son's gift to me is the gift of time - it is truly precious to spend time with him so that's a wonderful gift.  I hope I'll see my mom, etc. later in the week since her birthday is the 18th.  Maybe we can celebrate together.

I've decided that birthdays and celebrations should be totally fun and playful from here on out!  Just like life should be!!  So there!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Woman in a Red Chair - finished!

I think Woman in a Red Chair might be finished!  I might decide tomorrow when I see her in the light of day (as opposed to under artificial light now at night) that there's more to do, but she's certainly mostly finished.  I'm so pleased wtih how she turned out.  If she weren't so large (40"x60"), I wuld say she practically looks real.  I'm excited about the skin tones which have about 15 different hues in them and therefore make them more realistic looking.

This image has spoken loudly to me ever since I first saw the photograph. I don't know why exactly, but it really resonates with me. When I asked the model if she were OK with my drawing it, she was quite hesitant at first.  She felt like it captured her too purely, that anyone would know it was she.  I had to respect that, of course, but the image stuck with me.  So much so that I drew it in my sketch book just so I could try to shake it out of me.  It had hold!

And still didn't let go - though I tried hard to!  So I asked my husband to photograph me in the same position.  We waited until the same time of day, set up the lights just the same, then I had him pose in the same position so I could get everything just right, then I sat in the chair.  He did as good a job as possible taking the picture, but when I saw it, I was very disappointed.  It just wasn't the same.  My body is not the same size as the model's so I fit into the chair differently.  My hand, though in the same pose as much as I could manage, didn't look right.  The model was right - this pose was her, not me.  So I set about coming to terms with not drawing it and to finding a different picture to paint. 

The next time I saw this model, I told her about my trials and tribulations and even showed her the drawings I'd made.  At that point, she said, "Oh, for heaven's sake!  Go ahead and paint it!"  I was so happy!  I hope she's still OK with it now that it exists in the world. I hope I honored her in the way I represented her.  I find it such a beautiful authentic present image.  She looks relaxed, present, real. 

Below I've included close ups of the picture so you can see the details.  The colors don't show up quite right.  I don't think there's any way to do that given the differences in monitors, etc.  I'll put it on display somewhere sometime.  In the meantime, it'll be in my studio for anyone who wants to come see this gorgeous woman and her compatriots!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

New work from Friday

Friday I didn't particularly feel like working more on Woman in a Red Chair.  I had felt kind of crappy the night before and was worried I was coming down with something, so I decided to not push it in the studio. Of course, once I got in there, I completely forgot I'd ever felt anything but great!  It's so healing to paint and draw!

I have been storing up some photos that I thought would make good smaller pieces done in pastel because they're not quite complete enough for large paintings, but they're terrific for studies.  They're a bit like my color studies in that they're simple.  I don't think they're quite finished - I can see some areas that need work still - but it felt good to work in pastels again.  I don't draw very often anymore, but it sure feels good when I do!

A model's response to being photographed and painted by me

Below is what one of my models wrote about my photographing her.  Her statement is accompanied by all the paintings I have done of her to date.  She has been an incredible inspiration to me!   It is women like her who are the reason I am doing this work.

Nudes – An Act in Self Love

I am happy to say that after many years of therapy and spiritual work I am moving fully into loving myself. My work is not done, however. I still have areas where I resist loving myself completely and unconditionally, like the way I have rejected my body. I want to love and accept her just as she is, even as she inevitably changes. I am challenged by her size and shape and the sagging reality of aging after years of trying to escape life using food and neglect. Losing almost 30 pounds in 2008 has been a major step toward loving this body and taking better care of her. Continuing this care is an evolving story that I do not know the ending to….beyond that it inevitably ends. I intend that the story unfold full of unconditional love and joy. I want that to radiate through me and to do that I continue to clean house. In 2007 I did a workshop with Arjuna Ardagh at Omega Institute where he had us sit beside a pillow and place our animal bodies on the pillow to speak to us from its innate wisdom. We would switch places as we assumed the role of our natural animal bodies and then our regular consciousness. My body’s first statement to me was, “You tried to kill me.” My response was, “I know, I am sorry.” My second statement from my body was, “I am here for you no matter what.” I wept.

I know my body deserves better from me than I have often given her. I must fully love her as she is and take the steps to care and tend her with love and acceptance. It is time to transform. So I begin and continue in stops and starts. I wish to give myself the gift of health and body ease while not rejecting the largeness of me, while not falling into the right/wrong of social conditioning that says I have to look a certain way to be acceptable. The Universe has given me such gifts as I take this journey. I have found an amazing young lover who sees me and accepts me as I am completely. He does not look to change anything about me and in his love of my uniqueness I learn to give that to myself as well. In intending more love for myself and taking actions toward that intention the Universe has given me a living example of unconditional love. His care and delight for this body opens doors in my soul to let the light of more self acceptance in.

When my friend told me of Susan Singer’s work I quickly accepted the chance to be photographed nude. A little over a year ago I would have refused and avoided the truthful lens. As I review the amazing pictures Susan has taken I revel in my enjoyment of this body I see so fully exposed. She generously shared all of the pictures with me on disks so I can see each and every angle. Some shots are certainly more becoming than others. The hardest ones for me to see are of me standing where the realities of gravity decorate my body with sags and ripples. I am still working on fully loving the sagging. As I continue loosing weight the sagging will likely become more exaggerated. Sometimes I see the fat laughing Buddha and smile thinking, I am that. What Buddha will emerge next? The roundness that I find becoming will diminish and I will need more acceptance of whatever emerges. I work to accept what I am in each moment. Susan’s camera gave me the opportunity to continue my journey of self love and acceptance. Her tender professionalism made the shoot easy and delightful. I am so grateful for this amazing experience. Thank You and Bless You Susan!