Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Maybe I'll Stay Home and Paint

It's the afternoon of New Year's Eve and there is an icy snow that's been falling since 9 a.m. I just finished up an assignment for work and am thinking about going outside to shovel, but the wind chill temperature is 11 degrees, so I'm procrastinating. Even Kodos, the stray, un-neutered cat with an urge to roam, is refusing to go outside.

The city plow has been down my street once already, but there's still a lot more snow and sand than pavement, so my car is effectively grounded. I could always walk to downtown for NYE celebrations tonight, but the wind chill is supposed to drop the temperature down to -10. BRRR!!!

Oh well. It's not how the year ends that matters, it's how the next year starts. And if it starts with painting progress, I'll be happy!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

First Steps

I used to post progress photos of my paintings on MySpace, and I thought it was kind of fun, so I'm going to start doing that here now.

I start my paintings by drawing a one-inch grid on the canvas and printing out the original photograph with a grid overlay, then I use the grids to guide my drawing of the composition. I try to get the relative proportions of canvas and photograph to match up as closely as possible, but sometimes I've had to "invent" the drawing along one edge of the canvas.

I drew this canvas way back at the beginning of 2006, along with the other canvases that I've been working on since then. I like having several prepared in advance. I have since realized that it's best to use a very light pencil, especially with the grid lines, otherwise I have to go back over them with an eraser. I paint in very thin layers, and the pencil can show through if it isn't faint enough. On this canvas, some of the contour lines were penciled in much too darkly, but I'm interested in emphasizing contours in the final painting, so it should work out okay.

The second step is to use a very thin wash of raw umber to block out areas of light and dark and some shapes. I do this very loosely and quickly, not laboring over it at all, doing just enough to help guide me when I apply the color. I started doing this in November 2007, and it's been very useful.

The next step (where I am now) is to work with the original photo on the computer screen and make decisions about color, emphasis and brushwork. In other words: planning ahead! I find it helpful to keep the easel in my living room, next to the staircase, where I have to walk past it every day. It gives me a regular opportunity to think about what I'm going to do next. All of my studio art teachers, at some point in my lessons, urged me to think less and paint more, but that's just not my style.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The question of how I got here came up yesterday, so I figure I might as well blog about it.

I took studio art classes in high school (mostly with M.G. Martin and Nancy Lasar) and college, but my college classes (at Smith) were ultimately very disappointing, since I wanted to learn technique and they didn't teach that. I have a couple of oil paintings that I did in college, and they're terrible. Back then, I was fairly proficient with watercolors, but I had no idea how to work with oils. I stopped doing art in grad school, since I didn't have the time. I went 12 years without doing anything more than doodling, with the exception of a very small canvas I painted for a museum fundraiser event towards the end of those twelve years. That little canvas re-ignited my passion for painting, and it made me realize that a decade of curating and teaching art had taught me a lot about being an artist. As it has been said for centuries, if you want to learn to be an artist, study the works of artists.

In 2006, I felt ready to start painting. I had chosen a thematic subject: scenes of life in Waterbury, highlighting what a beautiful and enjoyable city it can be. I was partly inspired by the work of Peter Poskas, whose paintings of Waterbury are masterful but bleak and devoid of life. I wanted to show the city as I see it and experience it. I have studied a lot of cityscapes by other artists around the world and have noticed that in the past century, the tendency is to show cities as bleak and gritty. I see the city as beautiful and vibrant.

I had begun taking photographs of Waterbury in 2005. I sifted through them and found ten that I thought would make good oil paintings. I prepared the canvases, laying down the initial drawings, then began the first painting, of Ahab performing at the John Bale bookstore. It was incredibly challenging, but very satisfying. My skills had improved so much in 12 years, even without having painted!

The next painting I started was a view of Meadow Street. Frustration set in. I couldn't get the paint to do what I wanted. The colors were flat and bleak. The buildings were ugly. The trees were generic and oddly horizontal. The cars looked like little pink pigs. I decided that I did not yet have the skills I needed for this particular painting, so I decided to set it aside and work on something that would be a better next step after John Bale: Frankies! This composition, like the John Bale painting, had people and only a little bit of cars and architecture.

I did one other thing that proved vital to my progress: I bought a slender little book called Painting in Oil by William Palluth. I adopted two techniques from that book which have been a great help: creating a sepia-tone underpainting using a raw umber wash (just like watercolors, putting me back in familiar territory!) and using Copal Medium instead of Linseed oil. Copal was the missing ingredient I needed, allowing the paint to flow and glow the way I wanted.

During the course of working on the Frankies painting, I also discovered that sable and synthetic brushes work best for me. While working on the painting of East Main Street, I began to realize that I needed smaller brushes. This September, I bought the smallest brushes I could find at a store in NYC, and they still weren't small enough for certain components of the Shakesperience painting. I've had to hunt down miniature brushes.

So far I have yet to complete a painting with which I am wholly satisfied, but every painting has areas that I think are great, and I can see visible improvement with every painting. I'm noticing that I am usually happiest when I paint. It's relaxing and satisfying and mentally engaging. If I'm too busy with other things and don't have time to even think about painting, I start to crave it. My progress so far has been slow, but I seem to be getting faster and am finding more time for my art. There are four of the original ten canvases left to work on, and I feel optimistic that they'll be done by spring. I've started thinking about the next batch to prepare.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shakesperience in Library Park

I finally had a free weekend to finish this painting. Shakesperience Productions during their first summer performance in Library Park--A Midsummer Night's Dream, way back in July of 2005. I was there with my sister and her baby, who was all of three months old, making her the youngest audience member. They're not in the painting, since they were sitting next to me.

As always, it looks much better in real life (the winter sun doesn't seem to be as good for photographing paintings on my porch as the summer sun), and there are areas that I think look fantastic, and areas that I am not pleased with (but it's time to move on to a new painting).

I made a lot of modifications to the original photograph, removing a number of items that were too distracting or that muddied the composition, and relocating the girl sitting the on the ground so that she was no longer in the center blocking the view. I also changed the color of her shirt from a toxic Irish green to a tan color that harmonized better with the rest of the painting.

The most important element in executing this painting were the brushes. I've been using smaller and smaller brushes. It's the only way to get fine details like fingers and for creating areas of mottled color. I managed to break one of my favorite brushes on Saturday. I was cleaning up and had just finished washing the brushes, then shook them to dry faster and smashed the one brush against the counter, breaking off the brush end. I was SO dismayed! I strapped the brush back onto the stick with a rubber band, so it's still usable, but if I press in the wrong direction, it wobbles.

Next up: a large painting of the Lux Clock on the Green!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Photo Reproductions

The horrible quality of the image I posted last time has been bothering me, so I reshot the image on my front porch. Natural light is great. The image doesn't need any adjustment in Photoshop to be accurate in terms of color, unlike the image I shot using indoor lighting, which doesn't look right even after I adjusted it. Here's the side-by-side comparison:

It still doesn't look as good as it does in real life, but then, that's why you have to see art in real life, not just in pictures.

As the artist, I find it interesting to look at a detail photograph of the painting I'm working on. I'm seeing it differently, so I'm thinking about it differently.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

And It's STILL Not Done Yet!

A month ago, I thought I would certainly be finished with this painting by now. It's maddening. If I could stay home painting instead of having to work, I'd get so much more done and be so much happier! Someday...

Here's a detail of the painting I'm working on. The color is all wrong in the photograph, since I took it using the living room lamps for lighting, instead of daylight, which leaves the photo looking muddy, but you get the idea of how it's coming along. The girl in the foreground has a purse that still needs to be painted.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Still Not Done Yet!

Time just goes racing by when you're busy. I still have a few more sessions to go before the Shakesperience painting is finished (a "session" usually averages four hours, ranging between two and six hours). Sooo close to being finished.... One major challenge has been the small details, particularly in depicting the actors on the stage. I bought the smallest brushes I could find back in September, and they're a big help, but for the faces I really need even smaller brushes. I've been encouraged to swipe a whisker or two from my cats, which is an idea I might very well follow up on.

Here's how the Shakesperience painting looked before I started working on it. All of my paintings start out with a grid drawing. I'm experimenting with doing a first layer in an umber wash. For some compositions, it's very helpful. For this painting, I think it wasn't really necessary.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Building Suspense

I'm crazy-busy with work right now, averaging 12 hours a day (my legs are getting cramped from sitting at my desk so much), but every time I walk through my living room, I find myself pausing to look at my as-yet unfinished painting of the first Shakespeare in Library Park performance. It's coming out great. Since I'm still relatively new at this, every painting presents new challenges. And, with every painting, I get better and better.

The last time I worked on was at the weekend. I started painting the actors on the stage, but I had to stop for a few days to let the paint dry before finishing the actors (at the moment, most of them haven't got faces, and at least one is missing an arm). The audience is still an empty void, surrounded by a rather lovely green lawn.

This weekend, I'll finish the actors and start on the audience. If my work-schedule lightens next week, I might actually finish soon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


After much nagging, pestering and some good advice, I'm finally giving merchandising of my art a try. Marketing my own work falls outside my comfort zone, so please forgive my awkwardness and buy some stuff!

Postcards, prints, mugs and other items are available through cafepress (click here to view).

Once I finish a painting, I will add its image to the store. If you would like a specific product that is not included in my store, just let me know, and I will add it.

Another Idea

Here's another scene that I think would be fun to paint. I couldn't get everything in the frame with a horizontal photo, so I had to take a second, vertical shot as well. I think as a painting it would work best horizontal, but for whatever reason, I really wanted the water bottle in the scene as well. Maybe as an anchor, since most of the view is looking out over the edge.

After I was done with lunch, I accidentally knocked the empty water bottle off the balcony. I'm always knocking over my drinks. At least this one was empty, and it didn't hit anyone. In fact, no one seemed to notice it fell.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In the meantime...

Still haven't had a chance to get back to painting. Maybe next weekend.

In case you're waiting to see what I do, here's what I've done so far:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Coming Soon!

I'm going to figure out how to make prints of my paintings available, maybe in frames, maybe as cards. Something like that. Soon. Before you finish your holiday shopping!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sadie's Back!

I didn't know just how much I missed my car until the mechanic called this morning to say that she was ready for pickup. The lingering depression I've been in since my accident lifted instantly. When I was in the mechanic's office waiting for the key, I was almost as excited as I was when I first bought her five years ago. With all the body work she's had, my car is as beautiful now as she was then. :)

Now that my depression's gone, I feel like being artistic again. Time to start painting!

Hmm.... I've noticed before that I can't paint when I'm depressed. I wonder if that's true for every artist, or have there been artists whose best work was done when they were depressed? Is the same true for other types of creativity? I would guess that melancholic poetry is best written while depressed, and maybe some music as well?

Monday, September 22, 2008


I went to the MET a couple weeks ago to see the Turner exhibit (the artworks were spectacular, the curation was mediocre) and also did some wandering around the museum, discovering a painting by a really fantastic artist, Alberto Pasini.

I love the realism coupled with the clean, sharp quality of his painting. He has just the slightest bit of an outline to his forms, lines that aren't there in real life, but that help define the forms and give the painting a fresh, clean quality that really appeals to me. I suppose that isn't too surprising, given that I collect prints and comic books. I suppose I have a preference for the visual qualities of traditional print styles--forms defined by outlines and enriched by inner color.

I'll have to add Pasini to the list of artists who have influenced my own art. And I'm going to start "hunting" for more of his paintings to learn from.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Summer Summary

Had lunch with my favorite uncle today--we caught each other up on what we've been doing. I realized that this has been a very eventful summer for me (and I hope it's done being eventful now!).

I replaced my roof, which was scary, climbing up that high on a ladder.

I got bit by Kodos, an unvaccinated cat, and very quickly learned an awful lot about rabies in cats (he's fine, I'm fine, and he instantly learned that biting is a very very bad idea--SMACK DOWN!!!).

I had the vet cut off my cat Tyger's leg.

My car got smashed by a total jerk at the bottom of Walnut Street in April and had to get a new front bumper, hood and side panel.

I finally had my house-warming party, one year late.

I started a very cool new job and had to quit the teaching job I've had for five or six years.

Last weekend I did some creative driving with my car, and now it's getting a new rear suspension, rear bumper cover, antenna, tires and a few side panels.

I think those are all the major highlights. Like I said, I hope that's all there is this year.

But, you know, as I think about it, for the past three years, there's been big stuff happening pretty regularly. Mostly good stuff, but still big stuff. My life is not quiet. I love the quiet days, though. I love being able to spend three days in a row doing nothing but reading in the sun or sleeping late on a rainy day. On the other hand, I get bored without new challenges, and life is for living!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I've been trying to reserve my judgment of Palin until I had more information. I really disliked her first speech, where she riled up the emotions of her listeners, guiding them into disliking and distrusting Obama without giving any actual solid information about him, or any solid reasons to vote for her.

The first thing to truly disturb me was an article in the NY Times that quoted the email she sent to announce the birth of her very oddly named child Trig (isn't that a horse's name?). She composed and signed the email as if it had been written by God. That's just creepy, bordering much too close to a psychosis. Her insistence that she has no doubts about her ability to be president is also unsettling. Is she arrogant or just naive?

The latest worrying thing is her statement that she would be willing to go to war with Russia over Georgia. What a stupid and extremely dangerous thing to say! If you go about declaring that you're willing to get into a fight with a particular person, the odds are good that they will want to fight you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Sketch (sort of)

I keep seeing things that might make good paintings. Here's one of them:

I like the way the figures of the women contrast with the hard straight lines of the subway architecture. If you look carefully, there are four women waiting by the tracks. The interplay of their positions and their forms is great. The woman closest to us, in the yellow shirt, is looking and leaning slightly to the right. In the opposite corner of the image, there is a woman in a green top who is turning to the left. And then there are the two women leaning up against the post, one with her back against it, the other resting her arm against it in a heavy contrapposto. I could not have posed them better!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Damage Report

The claims adjuster visited my car today. Not including anything they might find after they take it apart, the repair cost is $4500 (of which I pay $500 for the deductible). He estimated 13 business days to do the work. 13 is the key number. 13 days to repair. 13 years that I've had car insurance. I was jinxed!

The mechanic claims it will take a week to a week and a half to repair. Dunno why his time estimate is so different.

New discoveries were made in broad daylight: the rear bumper cover was torn. I suppose that probably happened when I whipped around 180 degrees right next to a stand of trees and shrubs.

I had been estimating that I was maybe three feet away from being crushed, but now I think it might have been more like six inches.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Off On A Tangent

I've been meaning to start this blog for a few weeks. Thanks to my wipe-out, I had the time today to get it started.

Last night I was driving from Suffield right shortly after Hurricane Hanna (downgraded to a tropical storm) started drenching Connecticut with rain. I later learned that there were tornado sightings around the state at the same time.

Just before Route 20 merges onto 91-S, there’s a very sharp curve in the road. I usually take it in the left lane, but last night I was in the right lane. I’ve driven this road numerous times, so I instinctively slow down as I approach the curve. I thought I was going slow enough last night, so I was very surprised when I suddenly felt my car sliding to the left (on the tangent). I tried to regain control, but wound up fishtailing, wiggling about the road, briefly returning to the right lane before sliding all the way to the left.

I’m not entirely clear on the sequence of events, nor am I entirely clear on exactly everything my car did. At some point after I slid onto the grassy median, my car spun around at least once and my cell phone, which had been on my lap, went flying very fast and hard to the right. I had a brief observational thought: “Crap, this really sucks,” overlaid with abstract feelings about being embarrassed to be in a second accident this year and feeling like an idiot for not having gone slower into the curve. I think I was also mildly surprised that I didn’t flip over when I hit the median.

I could see a wooded copse approaching rapidly, and then I could 91-S getting closer and closer. At this point, there were only two things left to do that I could think of: pull up on the emergency brake, and then go limp to minimize the number of broken bones. I was 100 percent certain that a massive collision was about to occur. Interestingly, going limp also meant that my brain turned off. I guess it’s some sort of defensive action. When I pulled up on the emergency brake, I scraped the back of my hand, but it took an hour before I even noticed the pain. In a crisis situation, the brain focuses on elements involved in avoiding death, and completely ignores minor details like injuries. My fate was in the hands of God, there was absolutely nothing I could do. I believed that I was about to suffer severe injury or death, so my brain suspended its processing of information.

When my car finally came to a stop in the middle of the median, I assumed the engine was dead. I tried to start up the car, but the engine was still running. The gear shift was in neutral, although I don’t know when that happened. I turned the engine off and got out, shaking tremendously. I was absolutely amazed that I wasn’t dead. I walked around the car and was amazed that the only damage I saw was a broken antenna. I could see grass and mud wedged into the edges of the hubcaps. I couldn’t pull any of it out, it was lodged in so firmly.

It was pouring rain, so I was standing in wet grass holding an umbrella. Next I realized that there was a youngish guy walking towards me across the median. He had been driving behind me when the wipe out happened. He said it was the most incredible thing he’d ever seen. For him, it all happened in slow motion (not so for me!). He seemed certain that I was airborne, about a foot off the ground, at one point. He agreed that it was surprising that I didn’t flip over. He also kept saying things like “I thought you were done for,” “You are the luckiest person in the world,” “Your angels were really looking out for you” and “You should go to church tomorrow.” He also pointed out the assorted things (signs, trees) that I very nearly impacted. His intention was to be a Good Samaritan, making sure I was okay, waiting with me until the police arrived. And he did call the police for me, which was good. But I think he also made me more stressed out.

The GS noticed that my front passenger tire was leaking out the edge of the hubcap (there was bubbling in the mud), so I knew that I at least had a flat tire in addition to the broken antenna on the opposite corner of the car. Next he pointed out that the rear passenger side tire was pointing slightly inwards. Not good. The GS asked if my insurance company covered towing and flat repair. I didn’t remember, so I tried calling them. That took a while, getting through their phone system. Turned out I don’t have Roadside Assistance, but they offered to hook me up with a tow truck anyway. The tow truck company demanded my credit card information in advance, and said it would take 45 minutes for the truck to arrive.

In the meantime, the GS and maybe someone else had called the police. They took 45 minutes to show up. Three cars total eventually arrived. The first trooper greeted me by asking “How are you doing?” I was tempted to be snarky, but kept my response to “I’ve been better.” Eventually he asked me if I was injured. When a different officer gave me the accident report number and a verbal warning to not speed again, I nearly lost it when I assured him that there was absolutely no need to warn me, I would be the slowest driver on the road for a long time. After the other two state trooper cars arrived, one of them directed me to drive my car over to the end of the median, alongside 91, to make it easier for the tow truck. The car handled very well, all things considered. I later learned that both passenger side tires were flat and the rear suspension is messed up.

An hour after the accident occurred, a tow truck showed up. The driver told me to go get in the cab, and he loaded my car onto the bed. When he asked me where I wanted to go, I explained that I had no idea where to go. After some discussion (it was like a bad date), I agreed to go back to his place. Back at his place, he gave me the spiel about why I should let his auto body company do the repair work on my car. He dropped me off at Dunkin Donuts, where I drank a hot chocolate and waited for my dad to come get me. There was no way I was going to drive a rental car that night. In fact, while I was waiting for the tow truck, I was thinking seriously about giving up driving entirely.

While I was riding in the tow truck, I got a phone call from the tow truck driver summoned by my insurance company—he couldn’t find me. I told him I had already been picked up, and he told me I had better call in to cancel my tow request. This was more than an hour after I had called the insurance company. So much for them. The tow truck that did get me must have been summoned by the police.

I eventually got home five hours after the accident. I almost started crying, I was so happy to be home and to not be dead. When my neighbors started making noise, I thought it was a wonderful sound, instead of being annoyed. I took a hot bath, after which I was finally relaxed enough to realize that I was starving—it had been 11 hours since I had eaten lunch.

When I woke up this morning, I was fine until I remembered that I had almost died, and then I was shaky again for a few hours. I’m wondering why I haven’t broken down in tears. I cried right away when my car got hit back in April. I almost cried a few times last night on the median, but stopped almost as soon as I started. I can only assume that I was “coping” very well. I’ve been in a few high-stress emergency situations, and every time I go into fully-functional mode, suppressing emotion, becoming highly efficient and focused on making everything okay. I’m wondering if that’s why I didn’t cry last night, because I was holding myself together to get through the crisis efficiently. More importantly, I’m wondering if I’m still doing that, if I’m stuck in that mode, if I’ve got a major melt-down crying fit on the horizon.