Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In Praise of Women - Eleven Portraits

For Women's History Month:

Lately, I've had a real yen to "just paint" and have had a reprieve between projects. I bought a bunch of small canvases and started a somewhat improvisational process. If you know me, you know I have a thing for women's faces [just look at my collection!]. It got me thinking as I started sketching...

What does it mean, really, to be a woman. To be a positive influence on the world. What might great women - from Cleopatra to Elizabeth I to Florence Nightingale to my Grandma to Gloria Steinam to Hillary Clinton to Lady Gaga have in common?

I decided to create a group of portraits to depict eleven aspects of women. These portraits are not a complete definition of womanhood, but a positive portrayal in paint.

So what are the best things about women? We're tenacious, we're intelligent, we multi-task...

There are the obvious biological components, physical attributes, genetics. Half of the earth's population - or more - are female.

Okay, so beyond being female and having an assortment of specific organs and other goodies.

But spare me two things:
Let's not even discuss beauty - for several reasons. One, it's fleeting, and these days what many call beauty could very well be a concoction dreamed up by a magazine editor or a plastic surgeon.
For another - every society has a different version of how physical beauty is manifest - a face, a figure, the length of your neck or your tiny feet.
Different times called for different needs. To be considered beautiful a generation ago meant straight hair and an upturned nose...the generation before loved curves...many generations before, the ability to lead a team of oxen behind a plow or survive influenza or childbirth was a big plus.

So let's take physical beauty off the table.

I'd also like to dismiss "hotness" as evidence of womanhood. Sex appeal for the sake of being an object of lust or gratuitous sexuality is quite frankly, subjective. And, not in the realm of my sort of definition or thought process. And some of the worst aspects of womanhood can be related to sexuality - as a tool, a weapon - or exploitation - or as victims. Sexuality is a double-edged sword.

A lot of negative things can be said about some women recently. Rush Limbaugh calling a law student a slut, whore, prostitute just because she wants birth control covered by her insurance? Laws that force women to have ultrasounds and listen to heartbeats prior to an abortion?

Perhaps there are false, scheming, money-hungry, sluts. Negative things can be said about men. Or anyone.

There is so much more to being a woman. I'm keeping this light. Positive. What I am trying to create is an ideal picture - and it's my ideal of womanhood. I am sure I've left out attributes.

I am also not looking to re-create a mother, a daughter or a friend or lover by creating this grouping.

Once you get to a certain age, you realize that within a society, people fit into "types." No one is exactly one way or another. It's not complete, but these ideas came from several weeks of painting these eleven portraits. Different faces, expressions, ages. Eleven aspects of womanhood. Of course, the combination of all eleven aspects - in one portrait, so to speak, would create a "perfect" woman.

This collection of eleven small [11x14" each] paintings on canvas creates the combination.

The portraits themselves are random faces - no one in particular, and none are the same. This was an improvisational process.

They started out as line drawings on canvas, then I focused on the faces, using the same color scheme for all of them [you can't tell by the photos]. They were all redheads with green eyes [no particular reason]. As I kept painting, I started making slight changes to colors. I pulled in; keeping the portraits an 8" square and created a translucent background - keeping the original sketch lines painted. The titles are hand-painted. There is a bit of gold-leafing and tiny mosaic tiles "frame" each portrait. Then I created small tiles of gel and translucent and metallic colors; and from junk mail. They're all in gold metal frames. The pics below show them before the tiles were added; the pic above is the completed group. Not a great shot, I admit, but the glass reflects light [and me with a camera].

Here are the eleven - as I see it -
1. Genuine: She is open, a loving friend, partner, parent, daughter, she is loyal, you can count on her, she is sharing and honest.

2. Wistful: She is hopeful, spiritual, sentimental, is positive and forward thinking, respectful of people, animals and the environment. 

3. Expressive: She is humorous and witty, ready to try anything, adventurous, spontaneous, eloquent in her own way and always enthusiastic.

4. Strong: A confident demeanor, independent in thought and deed, vigilant, enterprising and ready to take on any dare.

5. Alluring: She is quietly sensual, in private she is enticing an vulnerable, exciting with a fascinating personality.

6. Sincere: Helpful and kind to others, truly caring about people and causes; altruistic and sweet.

7. Feminine: She is attractive and charming to all, both mysterious and sensitive, she is naturally curious about the world.

8. Knowing: She is thoughtful and serene, wise and perceptive listener, discriminating and intelligent.
9. Nurturing: A giving partner and empathetic friend, attentive to those she loves, she is protective as well as compassionate.

10. Natural: She does not artifice to glow, she is demure, tolerant and calm with subtle touch and grace.
11. Creative: she has a lively and disciplined imagination that works for her, she is inventive, nimble and playful and clever.

This is a preview - the entire collection and individual pics will be posted on my site soon. Please email me if you are interested in seeing details.

I hope my little paintings reflect the best in womanhood. I'm looking forward to your feedback!

This is a bit of a departure from my mosaic portraits, but painting is fundamental to all of those. The collection is currently at my home studio - they will be hanging in my studio/gallery in Richmond, VA later this week!

To see the rest of my work, please visit

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"We're All Free" - A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

Do you ever wonder where you get inspiration - ideas that compel you to create?
I'm new to Richmond, Va. When I arrived, the Spielberg people were all over downtown - the capital area filming a movie about Lincoln. Lincoln seemed to be everywhere - galleries propped paintings of the president out front, Lincoln stuff everywhere...Lincoln fever.
I chatted with my niece who told me she had a "thing" for the president - her husband thinks she has a crush on him...and then I looked at the mini poster hanging in my studio of Lincoln... and thought. Why not.

Silly me, I thought creating a portrait of the 16th President would help me "fit in" in my new surroundings.

I grabbed an image online, a canvas and started the process. A lot of people who see my work ask me HOW I do what I do, so I'm sharing through photos. I took pics at every step of the way in the process - from the seat in front of the easel.

<-----Here you can see the image and my starting point. I draw with pencil and then start filling in with paint. I don't always paint, unless I really need to see how shadows are going to play. The green was the original idea... it changed later.
And here, is the painting done. I didn't paint a background. ----->

<---Idea generation - let's put a "flag" design in the background. I started with red. Originally, I was going to fill the entire background with photos of random people.
Now, I drew a circle...a "halo" --->
around Lincoln's head and added white and blue stripes, following the curves of the red stripes - within the halo.  Cutting all those little pieces of paper was really hard.

<---I added a "stripe" of people above and below the white and blue stripes.
And here, I filled in the halo's --->
background with sky blue pieces. And, I started on the shirt, and the tie. The tie is made up of pieces from my Dentist's appointment reminder postcards. I'm telling you, I save everything paper.

<--- I was a little stumped here. I decided to make the entire background sky blue - to have the halo just floating behind.
I used a variety of grey shades ---> of paper to fill in Lincoln's face. Most of them have text, but some are just texture - there is a lot of time and effort made to sort all of the junk mail in grey into shades, making sure all the tones are right.

<--- I wasn't totally happy with the
blue. I wanted to make it more homogeneous. So, I added some random shapes of blue tissue to tie it together.
And then some random white  ----->
tissue on top of the blue pieces. It's hard to see in the photo.

<---I used greys for shadows in grey for the hair, beard and coat. It didn't make sense to make this composition even MORE complicated or busy, the black also mimics the original resource photograph. I cleaned up ---->
the paint, details and coated the entire thing with a water-based lacquer. And now, it's done and looks like this!

We're All Free

I was trying to get this done in time for President's Day, but things don't always go to plan...
as any artist will tell you. The reason I added all the little people - of all colors, ages, shapes and sizes within Lincoln's halo - is to represent the President's dedication to Emancipation. and his belief in freedom for all people.
We're All Free

  • As always, my art work is all hand done, mosaic "tiles" are created by upcycling a variety of paper - from junk mail to calendars to postcards, etc. All materials used are water-based, acid-free and non-toxic. For more information, please visit my web site.
  • While I was working on this piece, I kept humming a song from the musical "Hair"
 "Four score
I said four score and seven years ago
Oh sock it to 'em baby, you're sounding better all the time!
Our forefathers, I mean all our forefathers
Brought forth upon this here continent a new nation
Conceived, conceived like we all was
In liberty, and dedicated to the one I love
I mean dedicated to the proposition
That all men, honey, I tell you all men
Are created equal.

Happy birthday, Abie baby,
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday, Abie baby,
Happy birthday to you!"
You can listen here -[Happy Birthday, Abie Baby] [warning, some very explicit language]

I'd love to hear your thoughts!