Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lasting Impressions IV

Since everyone else has shared, I guess it's only fair that I share things people said to me which left lasting impressions as well.

I was raised by a dad who was as loving as a man can be, but he definitely had a prejudice against fat (probably because he was inordinately skinny himself).  He told me frequently as a child to hold my stomach in or I would end up with an ugly belly.  In high school I got into the routine of doing 100, up to 200, sit ups a night to try to flatten my stomach.  I realize that my stomach will never, ever be flat, no matter what I do.  God did not make me that way, any more than he gave me black hair or purple skin.

My siblings were both very thin by nature and are younger than I am, so to goad me when we were kids, they'd sing to me: "Fatty, fatty, two by four, can't get through the bathroom door."  I had the perception that I was fat even though, from looking at pictures, I can see that I wasn't.  I was a normal sized child with a somewhat protruding belly.  I was flattened by their teasing though.  I wish I'd had the self-assurance to get right back in their faces and tell them to shut up - or whatever other childish epithet might have worked!  Instead, I carried the belief that I was overweight into my 20's or 30's.  The reality was that I was 5'6" and weighed 118 most of that time.
When I was pregnant, I was embarrassed to be seen by my dad because my stomach was so fat.  Somehow I didn't think that he'd know the difference between pregnant and fat.  The first artwork I did was of pregnant women.  I think it was an attempt for me to come to terms with my pregnant body and to claim its beauty and sensuality, to love that overly huge belly with its extraordinary life-giving capability.

Later dad told me that once women have babies, they get fat, so I'd better do whatever I could to not let that happen to me.  I did because his opinion mattered so much to me.  Six weeks after my oldest child was born, I started doing aerobics 3 times/week and continued until 3 days before my second child was born.  A bit immoderate, if I do say so myself.

In high school, one of my friends, a boy, told me, "Martin, [his nickname for me], you sure do have a cute butt!"  Ever since then, I've felt cute and sassy as I walk, knowing my butt is cute!

As a young woman of 23, I was entering into the world of mothering and childbirth as my older women friends became mothers.  The husband of one of them was flirting with me in a way that was uncomfortable to me - I didn't like the way he leered at me - but one thing this man said to me stuck with me in a good way - he told me my hips are perfect for birthing babies.  Before that I had felt a bit uncomfortable with the size of my hips which are womanly, so for him to say that put things into a completely different perspective.  It led me to feel positive and hopeful about giving birth, empowered that I would be great at it.  That expectation and affirmation proved true.  I'm grateful for his comment - that one, at least!

A friend of mine told me she hates big aureoles then pointed out that I have very big ones.  Until that moment I hadn't particularly known what aureoles were or that mine were larger than anyone else's.

Mostly I was raised to be pretty oblivious to things of the flesh - I didn't wear a lot of makeup or worry much about how I looked or obsess about pimples or flat feet or whatever - thunder thighs, a fat ass, tiny breasts, too-long fingers, crooked nose - thankfully I didn't get a lot of messages about things that were wrong - or right - about me.  I felt pretty most of the time and believed that my beauty came from within.  I felt beautiful when I smiled and still believe that's true.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I started thinking much about how I look because I started gaining weight.  I have put on 15 pounds in the last 10 years, and I don't feel good about it.  My doctor told me that "women of a certain age" start putting on weight and there's very little that can be done about it.  I'm not yet willing to accept that, nor the inevitable decline into pudginess and invisibility which seems to happen to many 50+ women.  I've spent a couple of several-month-long stints at the gym and am about to start another one.  I like building up my strength and feeling more muscles, but it doesn't help me lose weight.  My stomach now has a roll of fat above it below my breasts.  I am not impressed.  I don't like it.  I guess I'll see if I can whittle it down a bit again.  (Why?  Because I feel bad about getting "fat", no matter how aware I am, no matter how many affirmations I say, no matter what, I am judging myself for how I look, much to my chagrin!)

Of course all of the above are some of the myriad reasons that I'm passionate about women's body image.  I'm trying to heal the negative messages I've gotten, and I'd love to help people become more aware of what they're saying so other people don't get hurt by insensitive, unconscious statements much less by consciously cruel comments.  I think if I had been more secure about how I looked/look, I would have been impervious to what others said about me (though perhaps not my family's comments - who can be immune to those?)  If I had realized that I am not my appearance, none of it would have mattered anyway.  But those are difficult things to become aware of as a teenager.  Heck, they're hard to realize and KNOW as an adult.  I'm still working hard to stay ahead of my own self-judgments and to feel consistently good about myself.

It's a lifelong journey.  I guess I'll just keep on keeping on til I'm there...  Thanks for joining  me for at least this segment of it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lasting Impressions III

A friend of mine's daughter-in-law recently gave birth to a baby girl.  The mother, Sally, has decided that she doesn't want anyone to say anything to the child which has anything to do with how she looks.  Nothing.  Not, "Oh, what a pretty baby!"  "Aw, aren't you cute?!"  "What precious little hands!"  NOTHING.  I felt so put off when I heard that. I was surprised by the strength of my feelings so had to examine them carefully.  I realized that I felt like I couldn't say a thing to the baby without her mother jumping down my throat. But now I'm beginning to understand.  It is SO completely normal for us to comment on a child's looks that I can barely even think of anything else to say to a baby!  Now I appreciate Sally's desire to protect her child from all those judgments - even if they're positive - and to allow her the opportunity to develop her own self image around how she looks, free from the opinions of others.  I don't know if that's possible, but I can see aspiring to it.

Here are some of the comments which people on Facebook shared with me - comments which have stuck with them their entire lives.  Some are positive, some negative.  All, I hope, will help me remember to think before I speak and to notice the judgment inherent in even my most innocuous comment!

     * MIS: My mother told me I could never be happy if I was fat. She was wrong.
  • DS: Boarding school cadets yelling out "Thunder thighs" when I passed by the barracks to the mess hall. It was totally humiliating. It probably plays a role in why I don't like to wear shorts.

  • TE: ‎"I just don't want you to turn out like me."
  • EBS:  Don't smile so widely. Your teeth are too big.
  • SBG:  Your nose looks like you ran into a parked car.
  • DB: It is amazing to me that we only remember (for a LONG time) the negative comments. (Me too, btw.) Did we ever receive positive ones that we simply don't remember, or that we somehow discounted?
  • HV: ‎"Vaughan, you're a physical degenerate!" (Said by my 7th grade coach in front of the entire 7th grade.)
  • SBG: I remember lots of positive stuff.
  • BK:  Beauty runs deeper, who knows why one would say unkind words about anyone's body unless they are insecure about themselves. Here's a funny one: Junior yr. (only girl in the class) on the chalk board it said, "Bobbie belongs to the itty bitty titty committee." I said whoever wrote this might want to erase it before Mr. Hartman walks in or you'll be doing tour duty all weekend. In which it was promptly erased. As if that guy or anyone of em would have ever rocked my petite supple beautiful breasts.
  • One word sums it up confidence in your skin. Btw, the Man I married, my best friend had a childhood accident at the age of 5, 60% of his body was badly burned. I still feel in love!!!
  • BS: ‎(in an admiring tone, not crude,) "You have hips good enough to birth my children!" I was 17, dancing to the Rage at a house party, and didn't know until that moment that I was particularly "hippy"... and so the instant realization was accompanied by a surprising sensation of pride. I knew I lived in a culture that considered hips a negative, in the media, at least and so, I felt transformed and liberated.
  • KB: ‎"When you came down the stairs, you took my breath away." Said by the man I was smart enough to marry, one new years eve....uh...20 years ago.
  • HV: I my case, it took until I was about 45 and started ballroom dancing to realize that teacher/coach must have been rather bitter about himself and that he was wrong.

    Teachers say they want to change lives...

    ND: “You have the moves of a great dancer.”
     (Overheard)  “She’s built like a boy.” 
    ELM: In your mouth a few minutes, in your stomach a few hours and on your hips the rest of your life. AND You are going to end up being a middle aged fat woman gone to pot!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lasting Impressions II

The 99th Monkey left the following stories about what people said to him which left a lasting impression on him:

Since I never went to summer camp as a young kid, gym class in 7th grade was the first time I ever had to undress in front of other boys. The different genital sizes were glaring, and the word we were using back then was "meat." My best friend told me once that "you have no meat."

In contrast to many women (I'm assuming), apart from that one comment, I can't remember ANY comments from ANYBODY about ANY part of my body, EVER! Oh, I just remembered--in my 40s I developed a belly, and my mother once said, "What do you have, a tumor in there?" She now has Alzheimer's, and I lost weight.

Another man shared a story about shared showers in high school and his experience there, then went on to share other, more positive experiences:

The communal showers in the male dorms at [my boarding school] were a hard place for me. Experiences, not of words, but of others scoffing and laughter about my body are harsh memories from those days. Not everyone, but a few who fit into my category of jerks.

A more positive experience of a doctor who asked me as a 14 year old about my body's sexual functioning. It was fine. A moment of confidence building.

But the greatest impact has been in my relationship with my wife. We have the kind of love and intimacy which has been so affirming. We are both overweight 50-somethings. But she has so intentionally lavished love on me (and I on her) that the gift our bodies are to each other is life and perspective transforming. Simple words like, "I love your body," "Your body gives me so much pleasure," and "I love the way your body does ...," are so affirming. I think this is part of what life and love are about. We have found partnership, and part of it is the physical connection we feel in each other's bodies.
I had thought, when I asked this question, that most of the responses would be from women.  Somehow I keep being surprised when men respond as strongly to my blog as women do, but they are making it very clear to me that men suffer from the same types of body image issues as women do.  I think it used to be more of an exclusively female issue, but the media has begun to show impossibly fit men as much as they do women, leading men to have horribly impossible expectations for themselves just like we do.

Interestingly, when I look at this beautiful picture of the man's abs, I know it isn't what most men look like or could look like or even should look like.  This man has a very unusual physique. 

But when I look at a similar picture of a woman, I immediately think that's what I should/could look like.  I wonder what that's about?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lasting Impressions I

A couple of days ago I posted a question here on the blog and on Facebook asking,

What is the statement someone made to you about your body which left the most lasting impression?

I have gotten some very heartfelt responses to the question.  I'll post them here in the next few days.  Some of the statements were hurtful to the recipients.  Some were affirming and positive.  When I look for a common thread, what I notice is that the person who made the comment was expressing his or her judgment about the other person's body.  It may or may not have been True.  But the speaker apparently thought it was.  And the recipient took it as the Truth, thus the lasting impression.

Here's the first one.  (And thank you to the woman who shared this.  I believe we all heal a bit when we read about other's experiences and realize we weren't the only ones who hurt, who thought we were "less than", who took on what others told us.)
Oh, that one's easy.  (And it could explain a lot!)  When I was a young girl (8th/9th grade I'd say), I had a best friend who lived next door to me.  She was as shy as I was, but somehow she was "cuter" than I.  More people liked her, she had more friends than I did.  I used to try to "be" like her. 

I will always remember a comment my dad made to me one day.  He always believed in telling me "the truth" (his truth, but I sure didn't know that back then).  I remember the comment vividly - I even the room we were standing in.  Dad said, "Quit trying to act like Catharine.  You look silly.  She is sexy, and you are not."

Even today, I can't believe that he said that to me.  I'm sure he didn't intend to hurt me or make me feel small; it was simply his version of the truth.  He may have thought he was helping me 'find' my own niche and what was right for me.  Or perhaps he simply didn't
want to see me as sexy (I wasn't back then anyway, but that's beside the point).  All I know is that I was destroyed by that comment, for years.  I'm 49 years old today, and I STILL remember it vividly. I figured out along the way that it was his OPINION, but it still hurt. I felt like I could never compare, that my tall gangly body was not attractive.  (It didn't help when Catharine's mom said once around the same timeframe that I looked "stately".  Hello.... what pre-teen/young teen wants to look STATELY??!)

Yup, the "You're not sexy" comment made me pretty much decide that my body didn't measure up by any standards for a very long time. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Anna Rexia Halloween costume

This costume is entitled Anna Rexia.  This is the Plus Size version.  Need I say more? 

Anna Rexia Plus Size Adult Costume
Code: DG4503X
Price: $35.99
Quantity in Basket: None

No Bones About It- This Dress Will Spark Some Conversations!

Anna Rexia Skeleton Plus Size Costume includes 100% Polyester Dress with Glitter Screenprint, Headband, Choker Neckband, Removable ''Anna Rexia'' Badge and Ribbon Tie Belt.

Classical Beauty

It's been tough getting into the studio lately because I've been so darned busy, but last week I got to paint after my jury duty was over on Monday.  I began work on a new piece from a photo taken of a new model.  This woman has been quite athletic all her life, I believe, and she has a classically shaped body, which is why I call the painting of her Classical Beauty.

I painted the picture using the medium Galkyd and the techniques which Rob VanderZee taught me about.  I grid the painting the way I normally do, but then I laid in the first layer with less precision, blending the boundaries between body and background. 

 Then I worked with some complementary colors to make the colors richer and more luscious.
  After toning everything down, I brought it back up by using opaque colors on the highlights where it's especially light.  I'm really enjoying the glow of her skin and the soft roundness all over.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


While up at Rob Vander Zee's in Alexandria last Wednesday, I worked on a new piece.  It's of the same model as for Classical Beauty.  She has such a graceful way of comporting herself.  Many, many of the pictures turned out beautifully.  This is one of my favorites.  I haven't had a chance to touch it since last Wednesday, but if I get off the computer soon enough, I can get out there and play for a couple of hours now before meeting Chris at the gym!

I didn't get off the computer quickly enough, but I did get to the gym.  One for two!
I found a website the other day which deals with some of the same issues I do, so some of you readers may be interested in it.  It's called Adios Barbie.  I haven't had time to peruse it as much as I would like to, but it has some interesting info.  Their most recent post is a video clip of a talk show called New Day NW.  The woman who is featured has a young son (4-years-old now perhaps) who likes to dress up in girl's clothes.  He began enjoying sparkly things when he was 2 and was in pre-school.  She talked to the pre-school teacher and the director of the school as well as to a therapist.  She asked the teacher to make sure no one made fun of her son because she wanted him to be able to express himself fully, no matter what form that took.  On Halloween the boy wanted to dress like Cinderella.  She alerted the school.  The teacher called every adult associated with the school and asked them to please not say anything untoward to the boy.  Several of the "macho" men, janitors, etc., asked if it would be OK if they dressed up as fairies that day.  The teacher said it would be fine as long as they weren't making fun of the boy in doing so.

The mother, Cheryl Kilodavis, wrote a book called My Princess Boy about her son and their experience with him loving to dress up.

On the one hand, I applaud the work she and her husband are doing to provide an accepting environment for her son.  It's high time kids were able to be themselves without being bullied for it.  On the other hand, I found it surprising that she would have made an issue of it whatsoever when the kid was only 2.  In my experience, it is VERY normal for 2-year-old boys to dress up in whatever is at hand, definitely including pretty shiny sparkly things.  I know lots of boys who did that til kindergarten when it became socially maladaptive to do so.  I think that's the age when kids became aware enough to tease others about it.

So perhaps the woman was absolutely right to start early and educate her son's school about acceptance.  Perhaps the boy will feel OK wearing girl's clothes for the rest of his life thanks to her efforts.  Or perhaps they've made such a big deal about it (going on TV, writing a book, alerting so many people NOT to say anything negative) that the kid will identify as someone who likes to wear girl's clothes whether that still fits him or not.  I found myself feeling uncomfortable with the extremes to which they were going.  AND, given the option of his being tormented for it, think it's a good thing they did.

The bullying that has happened lately which has caused so many young people to take their lives is horrible.  It saddens me and troubles me.  I'm moved by the awareness that is growing around it.  It would be amazing if people were able to become gentler and kinder as a result of their growing awareness.  I guess ultimately, Mrs. Kilodavis was just trying to let people know her son has a right to be himself, no matter what guise that takes.  That's a wonderful thing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

There are no Ugly Women - Only Poor Women

A friend of mine sent me this information and picture in an email.  I want to thank  him sincerely for getting my blood going.  I'll comment below the picture.

There Are No Ugly Women - Only Poor Women 
This Proves It...

The photo below was taken at a competition in June 2008 involving 9 women for best makeover.

They had every possible beauty treatment available to them over a period of 12 hours before the contest.

Look at the before and after photos.

Conclusion - there are no ugly women only poor women.

The woman 2nd from the left won the contest.

OK, so I realize the women now look like gorgeous, sexy beauty queens.  Just like Miss America, right?

But I am offended by whomever thinks these women are more beautiful or somehow better than they were before just because they've gotten themselves glamorized and are showing their breasts and standing provocatively and have died their hair and have their long luscious locks cascading over their shoulders.

TWELVE HOURS to look like that?  I have many other things to do with myself than spend 12 hours in a salon getting made over to look more like Barbie.
The messages I get from the two pictures:
Glasses make you ugly.  Long hair is sexy.  Sleeveless dresses (probably black) with low cut fronts make you look more like a beauty queen.  Lots of lipstick and big halfmoon smiles win prizes.  Dark hair is not in.   Putting your hands on your hips and swaying back a bit is sexy.  Pulling your hair back makes you ugly.  Dull colored T-shirts and flat chests are not attractive.  Don't wear overalls.

I understand the fun of going to a salon and getting pampered - I love massages more than most, and I do feel better when I've gone from drab frowzy hair to a haircut I like - but I am troubled by the message this picture and the writer are sending.  I recognize that lots of money made these women look more like models, but I think the problem isn't that people are poor and can't make themselves up like that - I think the problem is that we would even THINK that these women are how we want to look! 

Authentic beauty which comes from within and a real smile which comes from the heart can move me to tears and leave me with a smile on my face all day, but seeing just another woman made up to look like a Barbie doll leaves me unimpressed.  It's like the difference between a lovingly-prepared meal and a McDonald's Happy Meal with a plastic toy.

Can we please start to pay attention to what really matters?

Comments to this post:
  • CA: I loved your blog entry about this, Susan. I think 12 hours of making-over must have included squeezing them into a big plaster mold and then glazing them with some kind of plastic material. Processed People. They all look identical now. Fabulous, all we need is one day to remove our uniqueness. GROSS!
  • DB: Funny, I think that they look beautiful before and after. They just... don't look like the same women. I notice their lovely warm smiles and eyes in the "before" photos. I kind of ignore the glitz factor in the "after" photos, and still see beauty. I certainly don't expect any woman to look like that on a daily basis, but it sure would be fun to 'dress it up' a notch (or 10) like that for a night out.
  • DL: I suspect that I would look ticked off and tired if were to spend 12 hrs being picked at, plucked, painted and styled. There's something to be said for dressing it up a bit from time to time but not at the cost of authenticity and an entire half day of my time. Loved the blog entry!
  • EK: The Before women are people I want to get to know. The Afters, not. (Revealing my prejudice against glamor, I guess.) The one time I came closest to a makeover -- a simple "do" at the beauty parlor for 8th grade graduation -- alienated me from myself to the point of tears. I'm wondering if an "improvement" from overalls to overexposing Barbie dress might have the same effect.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Querry for you to answer should you feel so inclined...

What is the statement someone made to you about your body which left the most lasting impression? 

It can be either positive or negative, affirming or destructive.  I'm curious to learn what sorts of statements we carry around with us which affect how we think about ourselves and our bodies.

I would love it if you would respond to this blog by leaving a comment (anonymous or not), or you can write me at  Thanks for helping me learn more about the loads we carry and the things that light our way.

If you give me permission, I will include your comments in a future blog post.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jen Davis: The Fleeting Glimpse

I saw this link on a friend's Facebook page.  link  It's to Jen Davis' exhibit which is coming up at Hollins in a week or two.  I hadn't heard of Jen Davis before, but her work looks very powerful.  It looks like she photographs herself, clothed, without wavering from the lens of the camera.  She is heavy and seems to be addressing issues of being overweight and acceptance in today's society.  I'm sure you can see why I am drawn to it!  Powerful stuff!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In addition to working on Carol and Space using Galkyd and the new method Rob VanderZee taught me, I've also been working on a second piece which I started from scratch during the class.  It's of my friend Lynn, a 66-year-old woman who is going to be climbing Kilimanjaro in February!  She and I go walking a couple of times a week at 6:30 in the morning - not my favorite time of day, but it's worth it to have the time with her.  She's so inspiring.  Until she got Plantar Faschitis, she was running marathons regularly and doing 1/2 triathlons, and she still coaches many runners on the Richmond scene.  Between her and my 91-year-old dancer friend Frances, I have fantastic mentors showing me how to age with vim, vigor, and vitality.  I am a lucky woman!

The top picture on the left is the first approach at the piece. Obviously I didn't grid the image.  I just sketched it in semi-carelessly then threw paint on the panel (it's on 1/2 in. gessoed plywood).  The image on the right is after I refined her feature considerably and gave her a bit of an Afro inadvertently.

The bottom image is as it stands now with her features more refined and the background with more paint on it. 

This Galkyd stuff is weird to work on.  It's thick and viscous - sort of like painting with honey.  The brush drags across the surface, making it difficult to get nice details.  It's not my usual style.  There's a lot to learn from it, but I don't think I'll adopt it as my primary working method.

The other issue is that after working with it for a while, my heart starts pounding quite a bit for several hours.  That is very uncomfortable.  I work with my air cleaner on (a heavy-duty one made for just such purposes) and open the windows overnight, but anything that has that effect in such a short time period can't be good for me!  Maybe there's something else out there that has some similar pros but fewer cons.

At any rate, it's definitely interesting learning something new and trying it out!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In May 2009, I did a piece I entitled Carol and Space.  It was one of my earlier pieces, and I liked it quite a lot.  Chris didn't like the "space" part of it - he doesn't tend to like the space I leave in some of my paintings, but I do - I like the compositional aspect of it, and I think it allows the viewer to have space to think about the body being presented.  It works for me.

But somehow the piece didn't work well enough for me to decide to show it at Sacred Flesh.  It didn't feel strong enough.  The model's body is quite exquisite, especially considering that she is 57!  It is smooth and sleek and very trim.  And difficult to paint, actually, because she has so few curves!  It was difficult for me to show the curves of her body because the planes are so flat.  Someone with more flesh on her bones is actually easier to portray.

When I decided to take a class with Rob VanderZee the weekend of the opening of Sacred Flesh, I wasn't sure what to work on.  I decided, finally, to bring Carol and Space and see what happened.  Rob taught us a painting technique which allows for a lot more interactions with chance than I normally have in my paintings.  He uses a medium called Galkyd Lite by Gamblin.  He mixes it in with his paint then smears the canvas with it quite liberally.  After it dries for about 15 minutes, he splashes turpenoid on the canvas which causes drips and sprinkles and all sorts of serendipitous messes.  He has been doing it for years, so his "messes" are fairly controlled.  Mine weren't!  Here's what the canvas looked like after a couple of hours of working/playing on it.  I like what I did to her body.  I think it looks more interesting.  The addition of green to the shadows is successful, and I think the strokes are more interesting.  The background is definitely interesting, but I wouldn't say I exactly like it!  (The glare comes from the medium - it dries extremely glossy, to the point where it's practically like polyurethane on furniture.  I'm not sure I like how plasticky it is.  It feels very unnatural.  But it's fun to play with and learn about.)

I brought it home at this point and sat with it a few days before going at it again.  This time I lightened up the background and eventually added some spirals and other designs to try to unify the background and figure a bit.  I like this better than the previous rendition, but it didn't feel complete.  At this point, I went into Adobe Photoshop to try out some options.  I tried adding other images of the model to see if that would balance it better.

 I think they're somewhat more interesting, but they don't do it for me still.  It's difficult to balance two things in a painting - I told Chris it's like having two candlesticks.  They're pretty enough, but they don't make for a very interesting composition.  These two images are a bit more interesting, but don't completely work for me.  I think the juxtaposition between forward facing and back showing are interesting, but ultimately neither worked for me.

What I came up with instead is the following:

I didn't really mean to come up with the green on the left, but once I did, I liked it.  It adds a different, more interesting element to it.  I have no idea how it'll look when I'm finished, and I guess I don't care very much actually.  I've decided that this picture is all about experimentation and play.  The results don't matter to me very much.

Here's the day's result from having painted the figure onto the right hand canvas.  The body is obviously not finished.  Her arm looks gigantically out of proportion.  I've checked it several times and will check it again.  I think it might look better once I do the left hand side - don't know.  I'll find out.

I've prepared the green side of the canvas - or am working on it.  I have a few versions of it.  Here it is next to the first half:
I think the green is too bright.  It definitely adds a different feel to it!

Tonight I showed my students what I was working on and they were very curious about the technique I used to make the drips and drops and all so I worked on that canvas some more.  Here's how it's looking now.  I've toned it down and added a couple more layers of paint.  The Galkyd is NOT a nice thing to use, though.  My heart is racing from the fumes.  I don't think this can become a permanent part of my repertoire.  Not nice stuff.  I am not willing to cause myself an illness from my art.  I like how this looks, though.  It's definitely a fascinating medium.  I'm a bit loathe to go back into it and add the figure because this is so fun like it is, but I'll do it anyway so I can complete the piece.  Maybe over the weekend I'll have time...

Friday, October 15, 2010

I've been so honored since my show went up by comments people have sent me about the exhibit.  I think I might be striking a chord with people, and it makes me very happy.  Thank you to each and every one of you who has taken the time to go see the show.

Here are a few of the comments which have been written about the show:
The first is from John Bryan's Blog   (Thank you, John!)

The female nude has of course been a constant theme forever in the art world, and it’s great when you see a fresh take on that theme as I did on 10/1/2010 at “Susan Singer’s Sacred Flesh” exhibition at the Visual Art Studio.

The big, bold, oil canvases are both realistic and naturalistic. My favorite is a 4x6-foot work entitled, “Mother and Daughter,” in which one holds a racketball racket and the other a volleyball.
 This next one was posted here on my blog, and I love it!
Hello! I have never heard of you and don't even live in Richmond, but I happened to be in town this weekend for First Friday, and came into the studio. It was powerful-it really spoke to me and I love love LOVE your sacred flesh exhibit. Please keep up the good work--you are empowering women all over the world.
-17 year old Abigail from Fauquier County
This next comment is from a pastel artist here in town whose work I admire very much:
Hi Susan,

It was a treat running into you Friday night; I had no idea your work was in one of the galleries.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing so much of your work hanging together in one place.  It was VERY IMPRESSIVE!  Love, love, love your self portrait and the technique you used.  I was also drawn to the rich color in the pastel, (sorry...don't know the name of it), that was hanging on the wall facing the entrance; it was on the far left.   It was such a great idea to have your models thoughts displayed beside their paintings.  It added another layer of interest and quality to your exhibition.  I think the exhibit not only shows what a wonderful artist you are but it also shows what a warm and caring person you are.

I'm sure I will be going back for another look!

Bonnie Carter

And this from a woman I didn't meet, but whom I hope to meet soon:


I attended First Friday's Art Walk last evening, and I still keep thinking, what an amazing art exhibit!  I have never been more moved and inspired by an exhibit before.  The stories made each painting come to life. As a woman of 27, I found the model's statements tremendously enlightening and realistic.  I left the gallery with a new set of eyes, studying the human female forms I would have otherwise ignored as they filed through the galleries and down the sidewalk.  

I am the youngest of 4 girls and was raised by a powerful independant woman that instilled confidence and self respect in us.  Despite this confidence, I can still relate to the vulnerability and feeling of exposure and insecurity that nudity evokes-- it is the purest and most unedited version of ourselves.  It caused me to reflect on my mother and her three sisters and with their discomfort with themselves as their forms have taken new shapes as they have entered new phases of their lives.  

I am writing to you to thank you for the experience and also inquire about hosting this exhibit at my design studio at 1657 West Broad Street in the Fan Gallery.  I am a member of NAWIC (National Association for Women and Construction) and would love to invite this group for an evening of wine and cheese and your amazing work.  

Thank you again for your work!     


I am thrilled by the opportunities which are presenting themselves as a result of this exhibit.  It's exactly what I hoped would happen.  I believe very strongly in the message I'm trying to convey - that our bodies are worthy of love and acceptance - and am delighted that others are getting it.

There were also two women who got in touch who teach dance and would like to collaborate with me somehow.  One woman, Khalima, has asked me to teach a class in nude self-portraiture.  I am very excited about that possibility.  My mind is racing with thoughts about how to teach it.  I think I'll combine authentic movement and journaling and expressive forms of drawing more than skills-based drawing.  The students will have a chance to tap into their feelings about their bodies and to express those as well as to draw their bodies as they really are.  I have a feeling those might be two different images!  I'm very excited about the class and will post details when we figure out exactly when it will be.  It feels like this is the kind of work I am meant to be doing!!!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

About a month ago, I wrote about a woman who had contacted me about possibly licensing some of my artwork to sell for her company, Wendover Art.  I decided to go ahead and license the work to them and see what happens.  We had a flurry of emails back and forth as we figured out which images to use, then I took the pieces to a company, Staples Fine Art, where they scanned the pieces - lots of hurry up, then wait!  The huge show, High Point, is happening this week, and I'm curious as heck to find out how my pieces are faring - if they're being picked up or not.

Barclay Butera is the designer who saw my ocean scenes and color studies and thought they could be the next big thing.  According to the woman who works at Staples, Barclay is very "trend forward" - i.e. he has a very good sense for what will be popular next on the marketplace.  He is focusing on blues and whites this year.  Hearing that (about "trend forward") made me giggle - I did these pieces a few years ago - just think how trend forward that makes me!  Actually, though, I think that's how it is with artists - they express what is in the culture which others might not be attuned to yet.  Often it takes decades for the rest of the world to catch up - that's probably one reason artists sometimes don't sell so well in their own lifetimes - people can't appreciate their work yet.

Below is an article from Home Accents Today about Barclay Butera's line at High Point this year.  I'll highlight the parts which I think have to do with my artwork.


Barclay Butera Lifestyle and couture lines to debut new products and styles in High Point

Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, October 8, 2010

New introductions from Barclay Butera for this month's High Point Market include lamps, rugs and wall décor, and new style category debuts for the Barclay Butera Lifestyle line, showing in HBeach Wicker Chair, Barclay Butera LifestyleBeach Wicker Chair, Barclay Butera Lifestyle (HFI)istoric Market Square (330), and the Barclay Butera Home couture line, showing in IHFC Interhall (400).

Barclay Butera Lifestyle debuted at the High Point Market this past spring with a presentation of more than 300 SKUs in a new 15,000-sq.-ft. showroom. Developed in partnership with HFI Brands, Barclay Butera Lifestyle offers retailers "aspirational designs at an attainable price point." New to the brand's Town, Country, City, Plantation and Modern Beach style categories this fall is Classic Beach, 30 new SKUs of accents and furnishings in crisp blues and whites.

Rugs and portable lighting from new partnerships with Merida and Bradburn Lighting Gallery, and additions to Butera's wall décor collection with Wendover Art Group, will also be showcased in High Point.

With sustainable rug manufacturer Merida, Butera has created a collection of natural woven rugs in designs and colorways inspired by men's haberdashery. The collection from Bradburn includes more than two dozen floor and table lamps to accent Butera's Town category, in mahogany, reds and golds, and his Beach category, in hammered silvers, whites and blues.
Barclay Butera  

and Bradburn Lighting GalleryLamps from the Barclay Butera Lifestyle collection, developed with Bradburn Lighting Gallery
"These two crucial partnerships will round out our product offerings perfectly to allow key retailers to showcase a floor to ceiling Barclay Butera Lifestyle showroom," Butera said. "We have been very blessed to have aligned ourselves with the leaders in each respective industry and look forward to sharing our beautiful collections with our retailers this market."

Bradburn invites market attendees to a party Sunday afternoon from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. in its showroom (IHFC G270) to celebrate the launch of the new collection.

Barclay Butera Home, the designer's couture line, will introduce the Park Avenue Collection in its Interhall showroom. New designs feature a tailored mix of rich tweeds, sleek pin stripes and lush velvets layered with animal prints, accented with a new collection of hand-painted linen pillows for The Hearst Castle Collection. A new extension of Butera's wall décor collection with art partner Wendover Art Group will also be showcased in the Barclay Butera Home showroom.
"I have always been a lover of the timeless color palette of black and cream awash with muted blues, greens, grays and silvers," Butera said. "By using these tones in an unorthodox way -- crocodile, zebra, leopard on top of classicPlantation Beach Chest, Barclay Butera Lifestyle (HFI)Plantation Beach Chest, Barclay Butera Lifestyle (HFI) fabrics -- I was able to achieve the perfect balance of chic with a dash of wild, which was truly a labor of love to create."

The new wall décor collection, Park Avenue, adds more than 60 SKUs of artwork with a look reflecting "a sophisticated mix of modern sentimentality with a transitional appeal that is perfect for many residential and hospitality projects that are looking for fabulous alternatives for wall décor."

Later this fall, Butera will introduce accessories, candles and home fragrance through a new partnership with Zodax. In addition, the designer said 2011 includes plans for a new project from Barclay Butera Entertainment as well as a new licensing category, B Home.

I don't know anything about this whole business of home decor and am not used to having paintings be called wall decor, but I'm finding it fascinating.  There's so much to learn!
Wish me luck!  If these sales go well, it may be the thing which will enable me to move from doing art part time to working on it full time.  That would be an incredible gift and one for which I would be completely grateful.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Elizabeth Berg's Home Safe

Elizabeth Berg is one of my favorite authors.  She writes books for women (at least I would describe them that way).  They're beautiful, poignant, and tell stories about ordinary women's lives.  I like reading them because they're simple stories yet contain complex emotions which she actually allows her characters to explore.  I just recently listened to Home Safe on CD and especially loved the following passage.  It was written by a woman who was taking part in a writing class which the main character was teaching.  Ella, a simple woman who works in a nursing home, wrote about a room which has meaning for her.

"My turn!"  Ella says.  She smooths wrinkles out of the page before her, a lined page from a yellow legal tablet, covered with loopy script, and in a loud voice begins to read:
My meaning is in the shower room at the home where sometimes I help wash the ladies in D ward.  They can't do it because they are too far gone so we have to do it.  They have purple spots and brown spots and their bosoms are all long and saggy like those balloons they make dogs out of.  Their stomachs have big folds.  They have it is like little piles of blue spaghetti on their legs.  That is their veins.  Sometimes they laugh in the shower but this one, Mrs. Lundgren, every time she has a shower she yells and tries to scratch and pinch you.  She doesn't understand and so we have to tell her it is a shower it is a shower we are cleaning you up.  But she yells and even sometimes she screams which you think you're going to get in trouble even though you are not doing anything wrong.  Their hair gets flat like a drowned rat and then you have to comb it for them which they also can't do that and if you put a ribbon in oh boy they love it.  We don't have enough ribbons for all of them but some of them do.  It is only yarn anyway.  Why the shower room is meaning to me is because it is always interesting to see someone naked and I like it more than the activities room which I have been there too long.  And also I like the shower room because I like when they do things I do too.  The supervisor always tells us, they are not so different from you and me, you know.  If you learn that, you can learn compaction, and that will make you a better health care worker.  Which I am.

(Obviously that passage is written from the point of view of someone who doesn't write correctly - that's not Elizabeth Berg's style!)

What I love about the passage is Ella's description of the old women's bodies - "bosoms all long and saggy like those balloons they make dogs out of."  Wow.  Powerful description.  And "they are not so different from you and me, you know.  If you learn that, you can learn compaction (compassion)."  That says it all.  So beautiful.  Thank you, Elizabeth, for your compassionate, beautiful prose.

My favorite of her books is Talk Before Sleep.  It's the story of a woman who is dying of cancer and the friends who surround her on her journey.  She has a wonderful, loving husband, but it is the women she loves who are most important as she dies.  I read it at a time when I didn't have a man in my life, and the women in my life were showing me just how blessed I was to be a woman (a new concept for me at the time!).  They were showing me the power of women's friendships.  This book shows that so beautifully.  I sobbed at the end from the power of love portrayed so fully.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Saturday Stroll October 16th Three for One!

This Saturday, October 16,
the Visual Art Studio will be offering a noon time (12 noon - 1 PM)

An autographed Sacred Flesh Catalogue
A box lunch from Cucina
The opportunity to hear Susan Singer talk about Sacred Flesh, her exhibit of female nudes which is currently on display in the gallery

All for the amazing price of $38!



A box lunch from Cucina
The opportunity to hear Susan Singer talk about Sacred Flesh, her display of female nudes which is currently on exhibit in the gallery
For $12

Saturday Stroll will continue along Broad Street until 4 PM, with most of the galleries being open for your viewing pleasure. 
My Son the Doctor  will be providing lively music at the Visual Art Studio beginning at 1 PM.  All are welcome.  There is no charge.

For more information about the exhibition, see Susan Singer's website.
To sign up for Saturday's luncheon, please contact Anne Hart Chay by Wednesday, October 13th.  804.644.1368 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              804.644.1368      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Lunch options are listed below.  Please peruse them and let Anne know your choice when you call her.

 Lunch options:

Cucina Fine Foods & Catering BOX LUNCHES   Choose either a Sandwich or Salad Box Lunch

box lunches served with a choice of side salad and a dessert.Choose a Side: roasted red potato salad with dill, pasta primavera in balsamic vinaigrette or curried cous cous & wild rice pilaf with almonds & apricots
Mesquite smoked turkey with spinach, artichoke and cream cheese on ciabatta
Roast beef with cheddar, lettuce and herbed mayonnaise on sourdough
Chicken salad with red grapes, almonds and lettuce on croissant
Roast chicken breast with roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella & fresh basil on ciabatta
Grilled eggplant and red peppers with goat cheese on ciabatta
Dijon shrimp salad with oranges, ginger, water chestnuts & lettuce on croissant
Black Forest ham and Swiss with lettuce on sourdough
• Vegetarian wrap, roasted red pepper hummus with lettuce, cucumbers & sweet red peppers

Salad box lunches served with flatbreads and toasted pita chips and dessert combination. Dressings packaged in separate containers.
Classic Greek salad with kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and feta
Mixed greens with tomatoes, cucumbers, apples and almond
Caesar salad with grilled chicken and garlic croutons
• Dijon shrimp salad with oranges, ginger and water chestnuts on bed of field
Mediterranean Medley Chicken salad with curried cous cous and wild rice pilaf
Chicken salad with grapes and almonds on bed of field greens with cucumbers & plum tomatoes

Special Thanks to Cucina, located in the Museum District, for their assistance with this Luncheon.
More info about Sacred Flesh

      In today’s society, the media seems to be in charge of creating the image people have of the “perfect” woman’s body.  Singer hopes to crash through the belief that a woman must be tall and rail thin to be beautiful.  She presents women who are beautiful because they feel gorgeous.  They live authentically within their own skin and feel great about themselves. After viewing her show, Singer hopes that people will look at women, including themselves, in a new, more accepting, compassionate way.

     Singer writes about her work, her process, art, and her thoughts about women’s body image frequently on her very popular blog, Exploring Women’s Bodies, at
Please visit  or for more infomation.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Erect Nipples

I followed a link on Facebook to watch a video on YouTube which someone had recommended.  It was completely stupid, a real bust, so I looked around while it was playing.  I saw a link to a page about breasts so I decided to click on it to see what it was about - i.e. if it might be something for this blog.  It was a picture of 15 actresses whose nipples were showing through their clothing.  The captions to the pictures were things like the following:
Packing tic tacs, smuggling peanuts, flashing high beams, pimping wingnuts – there are many names for this common yet captivating phenomenon. When a woman has prominently erect nipples clearly visible through her clothing, the room takes notice – whether with a stifled snigger or a lascivious leer. And when those women are actresses – babes with some of the hottest chassis on the planet – the whole world stops and stares. And who can blame us? We wonder whey these lovely ladies don’t take preventative action – but then that’d be spoiling the fun. Here are 15 of the best pokies on the planet.
I don't normally read smut - I know it exists, of course, and I rant against it, but I found it interesting to actually read some and to see how denigrating it is to women - no surprise, I know.

The writer queries, "We wonder why these lovely ladies don't take preventative action."  Well, most of the pictures were informal, grabbed by the paparazzi while the actresses were going about their daily life, not dressed up for the spotlight.  I would wish that people would have enough common decency to allow people their privacy rather than spreading such pictures for the world to see.

Then there's the question of what is so lascivious about nipples?  What would make someone "snigger" or "leer" at them?  Everyone has them, men included.  So what if they show through a shirt?  The question could be asked - what is so weird about that?  My anklebone shows through my socks sometimes.  Should I worry about lascivious leers if someone should notice?  Occasionally my shoulders are exposed if my sleeve slips up.  In China, the feet were the most erotic body part by far, causing women to have to bind their feet to keep them child-size and the women incapacitated for all intents and purposes.  It is so strange the way different societies make certain body parts into fetishes.  We seem to have chosen nipples (in this article at least) and condemn women for having the audacity to allow theirs to stand erect (an uncontrollable occurrence - kind of like goosebumps).

I am disgusted.

And fascinated.

And curious.

And appalled.

I would prefer to be able to wear whatever I want however I want and not have others judge me.  What a concept, huh?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sacred Flesh Opening, Part III

In the last post I was talking about the Opening for Sacred Flesh and how it went.  There were more stories to tell...

Susan gesturing to "The Bliss of it All", photo by Susan Hribernik

First, though a funny picture Susan Hribernik took - perfect placement of my fingers, wouldn't you say?!  Silly, silly!

The  picture I got the most questions about during the evening was "Yes, this is me."  A lot of people were surprised I had included a naked picture of myself in the exhibit, but I told them I would have felt like a hypocrite if I hadn't.  How could I expect others to allow nude pictures of themselves to be displayed if I weren't willing to show one of myself?

Others were very interested to know the technique I'd used to create it.  I've written about it before on this blog, but for those of you who haven't read it - I occasionally do "blow out" paintings - emotional pictures done in a flurry of feelings when no other modality will help me let loose of them.  They have not yet proven to be paintings I would show in public, but they're important for me to do - incredibly helpful.  I guess it's like someone going out and hitting 100 golf balls to let go of the stress of the day.  At any rate, I have some of these blow out pictures in storage, so when I was needing a canvas, I decided to get creative and paint on top of one of them.  Well, not paint - draw, with pastels.  The surface was very rough so the pastel didn't go into the crevices.  I sprayed the surface many times with fixative to get the pastel to stick to the canvas then sprayed it again when I was finished to seal it (hopefully).  It's still a somewhat fragile surface, but that's OK.  Life and everything in it is transitory.

Another piece people liked a lot was Flinging the Red Scarf. I think they like the energy in it and the attitude of the model as she strides off the stage.

The third painting that people asked me about a lot was Mother and Daughter Jocks Bound by Caution.  If they hadn't read the text that went along with it yet, they wanted to know why the tape was there, and if they had, they wanted me to tell them more about it.  They could understand the women's feelings about being shown naked in public, and they could understand my frustration at having to alter the piece so late in the game, but I think pretty much everyone agreed that the piece and the message behind it are stronger for the tape.  I agree as well.
I had another encounter I wanted to relate from the evening.  I stood in the middle of the room most of the night so I would be accessible to anyone who might have questions.  Sometimes I would go up to people to try to strike up a conversation.  One such time I saw three young men, maybe 18-20 years-old, gawking at the pictures, looking around from their tall selves in amazement.  It seemed to me like they were wondering why anyone would paint women like that?  I asked them what they thought.  They said they weren't sure they liked it because of how the women looked and they wanted to know why I'd painted them.  I told them that I thought it was important for them to know what real women look.  One of these days if they get married, their wives will probably look like one of these beautiful women, and it would be great for them to know that.  The one kid shook his head, "No way, man!  My wife is gonna be hot!"  I told him she might be at first, but that as she aged, her looks would probably change - just like his would - and she would become beautiful in a different way.  I have no idea what those guys went away thinking, but if they went away thinking then the project is doing it's job!  It's interactions like that that make me do this work. 

Sacred Flesh, Part II

Lara O'Connor was so great Friday night!  Not only was she bold enough to be one of my models, she also signed her name to her text, AND she spoke at the Artist's Talk, AND she even recorded the talk!  I am a very blessed woman to have models as amazing as she is!  (And they all are.  Bold, courageous, supportive, etc., etc.  I could tell you stories....!)

Here is the link to the  Second part of Artist's Talk.  I haven't had a chance to watch it yet because I'm working all day today.  It's about 8 minutes long.  Enjoy!

Lara O'Connor talking about modeling for me.  Picture by Susan Hribernik

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sacred Flesh Opening, Part I

Susan enjoying herself tremendously during the talk.  Photo by Susan Hribernik

  The Opening for Sacred Flesh was absolutely wonderful!

photo by Susan Hribernik
Around 5:10 people started arriving for the Artist's Talk which I began at 5:30.  It was wonderfully gratifying to see so many familiar faces there as well as people I didn't know but who had received a card from the gallery and were interested in it.

photo by Lara O'Connor

I spoke for about 20 minutes about my intentions, the project, how I work, why I do what I do, then a couple of the models, Frances Wessells and Lara O'Connor, spoke about their experiences modelling for me, then folks asked questions. 

Here's the link to the first part of the talk which Lara O'Connor filmed - thanks, Lara! - link to Susan's Artist's Talk

Susan and Frances Wessells, photo by Susan Hribernik
photo by  Lara O'Connor
After the talk, folks hung around for a little bit looking at the paintings and reading the texts.  I was so glad to see them lingering in front of the paintings, reading what the models had written.  Many people commented to me how much richer that made things.  Thank you, models, for taking the time to give viewers such a gift!

Lara O'Connor and Susan, photo by Susan Hribernik
There was a lull in the crowd around 6:30 for about 15 minutes then things picked up and didn't stop until 10 when people were still trying to come in!  Anne estimated that we had over 1200 people come through.  That's a lot of people!  Lots of people I knew, but many more that I didn't - students from VCU, middle-aged couples out for an evening of art, people out for a good time, groups of teenagers wanting to see what was up.

There were several incidents that moved me.  At one point I saw a group of 6-8 teenagers clumped together in the middle of the room gesturing and smirking and laughing uncomfortably.  Those are the kinds of groups I love to talk to.  I went up to them and said, "I wonder what you're thinking about the art or if you have any questions?"  One girl, who seemed to be the spokeswoman, asked me why I paint naked women.  I looked her in the eye and said, "I don't like the way the media portrays women and how they make me feel about my body, so I paint gorgeous women who don't look like Playboy models so everyone get start to see that beauty goes way beyond those images."  She looked at me, appraising what I'd said, and nodded slowly.  I looked at the other kids.  One young man said, "That sounds about right to me."  "Yeah, that's cool."  They asked some other questions and seemed genuinely interested at that point.  I find it wonderful to talk to kids and address their discomfort by giving them helpful information.  As Chris observed, I was in teacher mode. 

At that moment, someone tapped me on my shoulder.  I was rather shocked when I turned around and had to look up to be able to see my son, Dylan, bowing and flourishing a rose!  He and four of his friends had rented a Zip Car in Williamsburg so they could come to the Opening.  It was one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me.  It was terrific to see him and to see/meet his friends from W&M and from Maggie Walker.  So incredibly nice of them to come.  That was certainly one of the highlights of my evening in a night full of wonderful events!

The photos in this blog are by Lara O'Connor and Susan Hribernik who were generous enough to take them then send them to me.  Thank you both so much!