Wednesday, February 5, 2020

James Tissot at the Legion of Honor

I went to see the Tissot exhibit at the Legion of Honor. I learned a few things.

Whenever I see old masters' work I'm always struck by the drama and the contrast; how dark the work is. With Tissot, I feel like I learned something about light, especially when I saw the later works. I don't know if his eyesight was going, but in the second Prodigal Son series he seemed to be concentrating much more on light and other aspects, rather than the obsessive focus on fabric that he had in the earlier pieces.

And I guess everyone else has known this, but it's finally sunk in. I've seen in many paintings over the years from Rembrandt or whomever.
So where the light is hitting is where the detail of lace or texture goes. Intense color near it. All else can be sort of dull in intensity. Highlights can be their own thing.

And I've always had trouble with this concept. I tend to see local color more than light. What I mean by local color is I'm sitting here looking at my fire extinguisher which it is a dark red overall, and yes, it has some shadows on it and some highlights, but generally I think of it as a red fire extinguisher.

When I took photography classes I remember how startled I was with how my prints and negatives turned out… So different than how I was seeing it.

I went to art school but I'm pretty much self-taught. I learned most of my technical stuff from looking at the old masters in museums, book and in art history classes. I don't remember my painting teachers talking a lot about color in painting. Maybe I wasn't listening. I do know color theory. I focus more on composition. I've studied how to mix my paints and how to desaturate them. I have a few tricks of my own for color.

But when I paint I render an object. I find it upsetting when I can't see all sides of the object. Always an irritant when landscape painting when one might be too far away to get a good look, so that you understand what you are painting.

After I render the object with drawing and flat color, and then I start looking around for shadows and reflected light and highlights. I add layers on top.

That's a different way of working. The masters compose the picture around the light and then everything else takes care of itself.

However in modern life, since we don't live with candlelight anymore, the light does seem to be a little more even than in those old paintings. And perhaps they were all just using a convention.

Tissot did some interesting violent cropping such as this piece with some horse heads barely in the frame on the top right (a detail here)—which seemed very modern. I like to do some violent cropping myself. The best part of this piece is the lovely lighting on the floor with the ribbons and the rug stuck in the doorway.

I wish that museums prohibited phones and cameras. I found myself waiting while people carefully framed their photo (which is going to come out with too much glare on it anyway). I had to wait because everyone had to take the stupid photos and barely glanced at the piece. That's my pet peeve, because when you look at art you need to allow for an honest physical response from the art. If you're listening to an audio device or taking photos you'll get a different experience.
(I took a photo too.)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Creativity, cartoons, comics

As an artist, I feel that none of the ideas I come up with are really mine, and this feeling only gets stronger with time.

To get ideas, one has to put in the work, but then the idea just drops into your head. Just appears fully formed. Sometimes I know I have to wait for the idea. Paintings maybe more about actual brushstrokes and style, but most art forms need a good concept.

I've noticed that when I try to create music, the ideas seem to come from the air. (As long as I put in the work.)

Recently, I found this also happens trying to create cartoons.

I'm working all the time: watching the news while taking notes, reading the news, looking at memes and comments, and writing down every possible idea. I watch the nightly comedy shows to learn how to craft a joke. I see how they news topics and spin them into a joke in each style.

More often than not, the ideas I go with are the ones that just popped into my head while I am cooking or doing something else. These ideas seem more elegant, more classic and not as forced as the idea I struggled over.

When writing taglines, I try to focus the original concept. And try to make them read well. If they make me chuckle, they’re done. Often, the longer I work on them, the better they get.

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The award-winning journalist who was nice enough to edit Ladybird: My Eight Lives, Gabrielle Banks, told me the book was really too dark for children. I listed it for older children.

When I was a kid, I didn’t read comic books. I can’t remember ever reading Superhero comic books. I borrowed some Betty and Veronica comics from a friend, and I liked them, but they were not that interesting characters.

(My sister gave me some Charles Addams books when I was so young that she had to explain some of them to me. The Addams family was pretty twisted and that was quite comforting. 
We had Mad magazine, and we always had New Yorker magazines lying around. We had Eloise and Madeline  and lots of other books.)

During the time my mother was trying to get her divorce, I developed a love for one comic book, a really sad comic book called Sad Sack. It featured a soldier, a lowly private, who everybody hated. He was always getting in trouble. Art the end of each chapter, he got kicked by his sergeant. Pathetic really but the only comic book I liked.

Maybe there are some gothic children or other children that are very dark like I was.

I hoped that Ladybird: My Eight Lives would help children (and adults) develop empathy for their pets. I believe that all animals and possibly insects, have feelings and inner lives, and can feel pain. We just learned that trees communicate through their roots and through the air with other trees.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


Maybe I am done with this large painting. Maybe it needs more work.
This one was fun. 
I let myself make up the scene. I almost never do that. I am into copying reality. I usually need a real sample to paint from, or a photo.
Feels like a breakthrough. I draw political cartoons almost daily, have since November 2016, and a lot of those scenes are made up. Sometimes I’ll use a reference photo to get started but many times I don’t. And my last book, Ladybird, featured a lot of drawings from memory or imagination. So all that work has now fed into my paintings, which is exciting. I’m on a mission to get more naïve it seems.
About halfway through this painting, I searched to find a real table lamp like what I had started… and I found some similar but not quite like mine. And of course I found some alligator photos, none very good.
Maybe there's still too much distortion but I think it's ok. The painting looks different in every kind of light. It really glows an unearthly green under the track lights.
Before starting, there was a lot of anguish. What sort of animal felt right? What sort of room? I knew I wanted something dark and green for some reason. And kind of retro.
I am trying to let these newer paintings remain on a more unconscious level. So I am calling this series "dreams". The feeling comes to me and I have to figure out what the feeling looks like as a painting. 

green painting with couch and alligator

Alligator Dream 

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Receiving Feedback

Just finished my Fall Open Studio event that took place last weekend. It was fun. Everyone I ever met showed up at 3pm on Sunday, so that was kind of a mad house. I apologize to those who were waiting around to talk to me or purchase artwork.

I showed new paintings. Many friends, collectors and attendees, took the time to give me serious, considered opinions about their feelings and thoughts about the work. It is so valuable to get feedback from so many people on artwork that is so fresh. I received lots of title suggestions and some ideas of other avenues to explore.

I have been working intuitively and not really sure where I am going...each piece informs the next one. I just try to be clear about what feels right. Since the work is conceptual, it’s helpful to know if viewers are getting the feelings that I put into the work.

I may make some slight adjustments to the pieces and to future work based on these comments. It was a valuable opportunity to get so much feedback. Thank you!

This one is not quite will get some toning and a bit more work...


Monday, October 9, 2017

Website design

Aack, was just going to update some carousels on my site and the plug-in software I used has been discontinued. Yikes. Time to learn some jQuery fast.

Well, I didn't actually learn it, but I found some code and customized it, and it's sort of working. Needs to be better and more modern, but that's for a later day. Websites are constantly going out of date these days.

I don't enjoy coding but I really enjoy when I can figure out how to make it work. It's very much like a brain game. A big puzzle.

Just finished this grizzly bear really has to be seen at full size...and I'm still trying to finish one more big painting by Saturday!

ps. I can see that my website is not working in all browsers.  Oh, more coding puzzles to solve.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Insufferables

In 2009, friends and I started a rock and roll band called The Insufferables, and the band endures. We practice regularly at a music studio at Hunters Point Shipyard and we have played all over the bay area. We recorded 2 EP's, available everywhere (such as Spotify, SoundCloud, iTunes, etc.) and are trying to figure out how to record a full length album. We have at least 12 songs that are ready to be recorded and we think they are pretty good songs.
I play rhythm guitar in a primitive way, sing back up and write songs for our singer Keith to sing. Sometimes Gene, the guitarist and also a prolific songwriter, will let me write lyrics for his songs (that Keith sings).
Like cartooning, design, or painting, songwriting is just another art form. It requires a concept to be refined. The music and everything is subservient to the concept.
I read a self-help book recently called "The thing that's holding you back" and the thing was emotions locked inside that have not been fully felt. Seemed like a good idea for a song. Since Keith had to sing it, I wrote it as an Outlaw-country-Waylon-Jennings-type of song. (The rhymes are not very sophisticated but I am proud that I was able to say what I wanted to say and have it make sense for Keith's stage persona.) The band, also including bassist Ram and drummer Kevin, worked up a great version of it. Sounds awesome. Here are the lyrics:

No matter what I did, I was never good enough.
No matter when it was, life was always sort of rough.
I traveled way out West to get away.
I traveled way out West.
No matter where the trail,
The thing’s on my tail.        
It’s going to finish me soon, 
I attract the teeth to match my wound.

No matter where I went, trouble was always there to greet me.
No matter who I met, it was always the same story.
I traveled way out West to get away.
I traveled way out West.
No matter where I go,
The thing seems to know.        
It’s going to finish me soon, 
I attract the teeth to match my wound.

You can never run.
You can never hide.
If you were bitten
The thing lurks inside.

No matter what the pain, the past’s never gonna hurt me.
No matter what it is, the thing’s never gonna kill me.
I traveled way out West to get away.
I traveled way out West.
No matter where I ride,
The thing’s by my side.        
It’s going to finish me soon, 
I attract the teeth to match my wound.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Geeking out on estate planning

The artists at Hunters Point Shipyard started an estate planning group. Motivated by the fact that some of the artists are getting older (and you never know...), and the fact that we still have a lot of art. We worry about what’s going to happen to it. No one wants to leave a mess for their heirs.
But it’s our life’s work. To us, it’s priceless. It’s the story of our life, like a journal, but better. Naked feelings right there on the canvas (even if most people can’t see them). Everyone hopes that his/her art will live famously on in some a museum, or at least a loving home somewhere—we hope it will avoid the rubbish bin and the Goodwill/Salvation Army store situation. (Even if it’s rescued, the work could be damaged.*)
Early on in my career some gallery guys told me to save everything. That was not good advice for someone like me, who even kept her grade school reports and high school diaries.
One of the first recommended tasks it to start an inventory.
Screenshot of Inventory list in InDesign (without images)
blue: destroyed  |  pink: question  |  red: sale, gift, auction
I had a list in Adobe InDesign of all my paintings—a very long list—but I added numbers…each starting with a year. I used my college transcript to try to recreate that period. (My list also has notes for major life events such as who I was dating, where I was living, whether it is an important work, etc. I plan to add more ‘story’ for each piece.) Here’s part of a page of the list.
Then I added the numbers to the digital file names. This felt amazing because the work lined up in the order in which it was made. Which is how I think of it…which piece led to which…so that was exciting to see. Here’s a pix of part of the still life folder:
Digital files lined up by date
Digital files lined up by date

(The inventory number needs to be added to the back of each painting.)

The next step was to add a photo of the work to the list at relative sizes. Now the list becomes very, very long. Too long to print out.

The process brought up a lot of emotions. Proud about some old work. Horrified and ashamed that I had destroyed some really good work. Ashamed that for some long-gone pieces only have a bad photo exists. Have no idea what to do about my slides.  Felt guilty that my series are not similar to each other. It’s been strange to look over everything but I feel somewhat energized by the process.

What shocks me is that there is all this artwork memory. For example, I can remember the making of each painting, with love, that I may even have destroyed, when at the same time not a soul knows about or has seen it. Yet I am so involved with it emotionally. It has a title, a photograph usually, and a place on my list. It’s like a secret friend.

I had a secret life all these years.

I make this art alone. Often there is a struggle to work something out—I almost never give up. Sometimes the process is easy. Usually I feel like “What am I doing? I can’t pull this off.” Some pieces make it and some don’t. Some get destroyed later. But it’s all very important. And no one knows about it, for the most part.

Painting days are lost days. Much of my life is these secret, lost days. Painting feels like work. But it has to be done for some reason.

Some pieces leave to go to a new home, which is a wondrous thing for which I am always grateful. Can collectors know the feelings that are in the piece? I guess making these pieces helped me deal with events in my life. I know that when there were very strong feelings, the work came out better. I guess these are my little helpers.

My next steps are to re-photograph art, organize the studio, and start collecting work that I can give to auctions. Since I’ve destroyed bad work, I’ll give good, older work. I will put an explanatory note on the back. I will find out which pieces friends want, when I pass, and make a “tangible assets” list for a Living Trust.

I also lowered prices.

*I worry about my work out of the studio. I rarely exhibit in cafes and restaurants because I worry about the work getting damaged. I am often horrified when I see where the piece will be installed. (Sun, danger of getting splashed or kicked, smoke damage, whatever.) One of my pieces lived on a dusty sun porch with the dogs. A major piece is right next to the refrigerator a few inches off the floor. A beloved piece was crammed into a strange space while the living room was filled with schlock decorator art (which they probably paid more for). It still looked good. It takes a good piece to look good in a bad spot!

But often my art ends up in a great spot in a loving home or office. Then it’s safer than it would be in the studio where I am liable to paint over it.

**Another task to be solved is that a lot of work exists only in slides, which have not yet been scanned, and even when scanned, don’t look very good.

***Another task is the mound of drawings which are somewhat sorted but way too numerous.

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