Visit Smithfield Art Center Show through October

Smithfield Art Center Show through October

It’s been going on for a bit, but I wanted to let you know I’ve got When the Improbable Happens displayed in the lovely Smithfield Art Center Show through October. This is the same painting that I did for the Richmond Art Works and shared with you in an earlier blog.

Take a stroll through the quaint town of Smithfield and stop by the Art Center (319 Main St., Smithfield, Virginia). There are many amazing artists displaying at the Art Center as well as many who produce their work there.

For a fun Saturday morning, you may also enjoy the Smithfield Farmer’s Market just up the street. They offer fresh produce, meats, meals, and a vendors of all sorts from honey to quilts.

Still Going Strong Or Equal Time

After all these years of thinking about a comic strip or cartoon panel I am finally going to do it. In the 1980’s, my family included young teens and I have dozens of ideas I kept in a folder. But before the internet one had to sign on with a syndicate.

At that time working at the Daily Press newspaper as an illustrator and raising 2 kids was all I could handle. Several years later For Better or Worse beat me to it.

Fast forward to 2020 and the teens are still teens, but now they are my grandkids. And yes, internet and social media has changed the world, but people have not changed that much. I’m thinking with a little updating my originals are still relevant.

What has changed is that the only group left that one can still make fun of any more are older people. They, we, can still be degraded, or even thought of as children.

Which leaves a void.

I don’t feel dumb, stupid, or irrelevant.

I am still active as are my friends.

Perhaps it is time for me to put on my thinking cap and create my own version of life in the 20’s. It will be multi-generational and include people with disabilities. And I also hope that if it is not ha ha funny that it will at least provoke some thought.

Keep your eye out on my website and my Facebook page and if you feel so inclined share my work with your friends and ask them to share as well.

Now all I need is a title. I’m open to suggestions.

And here are few of my past ideas … Enjoy!

Baby Cartoon Wedding Cartoon

How My Dance Series Started

Among most couples I believe one is a dance lover and the other, well, not so much a dance lover. I would bet the former is female. My husband, Luke, could have, with no intention to do bodily harm, broken every toe on my feet in an effort to make me happy on the dance floor. So I finally had him begrudgingly sign up with me for private ballroom dance lessons.
 
For three years we learned everything from the jitterbug to the tango.  We attended exhibitions and dance socials. We danced and danced.  We got to be pretty good before we moved on to learning tai chi and then yoga.

The movement of the dancers was of great interest to Gloria, the painter.  Here my dance series started.  Once I learned the correct posture, forms, and positions of the typical dancers, it was not much of a stretch to render them on paper and canvas. Gown colors were interchangeable as were the fore and backgrounds. Who knew that the waltz could be performed on the edges of cliffs that dropped off into raging Maine rocky coastlines. Or fluttered on hilltops in the spring.  Or shimmied in the shallow shorelines of the mid Atlantic. All in elegant flowing colors – especially a touch of red.

The painting style for my dance pieces ranged from fairly static in my early work to a much more abstract looseness as I got more comfortable. The evolution in style mirrored our growing comfort on the dance floor itself.  Funny how my paintings can be so similar to our real life.
 
When I began my dance series, I thought I would enjoy the movement and the color and maybe some folks would find them agreeable. I had no clue there were so many romantic art collectors out there! Trouble is they still want them, but I am no longer inspired!
 
Dance Studio 22.5x30 - My Dance Series Started

Ramblings on Been There Done That

I have recently been working on the fifth iteration of a painting that has never been to my liking. I would show the progression to you from the first to the last evolution, but I am afraid that I would be embarrassed if I see the first couple tries were much better than the last. It has happened before. 

I get into these situations because I have not really done my homework. Just because I have reached a comfort zone in any of the many themes I have explored, does not mean that I will continue to be able to achieve the same emotional involvement I used to have.

Comfort zones involve the ability to do anything, not just painting, with less physical and mental effort.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of the work continues to meet my personal expectations.

We are not talking simply experience levels.  Creativity is different. If I intend to continue to paint a theme, I know I must change something. Change could involve my approach, my technique, maybe my canvas size, maybe even changing the medium.

But you all know what happens. By the time the public catches up with you, and trust me that takes a while and lots of pieces of art, boredom has already set in. The series continues in its same way because of many factors including (and quite high on the list), the ability to sell those works or to win awards with them.

I cannot criticize those artists who have to sell their work in order to continue to paint and make a living doing so. I have been there.

The problem – boring repetition, same ole color palettes, even same sizes all leads to worrying that you will never again do anything new and exciting. You remember how great it felt even when you were stumbling around learning how to paint. Then embarking on a newer series and seeing that evolve. Then after many years it seems the excitement well dries up.

People suggest changing media- try oils or go back to watercolor or what about ceramics, clay, 3D and sometimes it works for a little while. Great artists do it. Paul Simon cut Songs of the Capeman, Neil Diamond The Jazz Singer, McCartney an Oratorio.

I created a small 3D shoe series, some black and white paintings, and a few collages using computer parts. I will publish my cartoon series called Equal Time. I am now blogging as well (as you are now reading).

But there is a part of me that feels that there is something else -a painting something else- out there that I am meant to do. The activist in me wants to make a social or environmental statement, but my skin is too thin. So I hold back.

Well, take these thoughts and we can all stick them where the sun don’t shine. However, something positive is bound to happen. I have to make it happen. So l will persist. Stay tuned for how that something might happen. 

Not my mother's shoes

My Courtroom Art

 
Defendant in courtoom art

Courtroom art is not for the faint of heart.

The court room artist sits cheek to cheek with other voyeurs on a hard wood bench trying to capture likenesses and actions of the participants in real life morality plays called trials. There are incredible consequences for the defendants as well as their family and friends who, while absorbed in the proceedings, cannot help but rubberneck your work.
 
It is quiet enough to hear a pin drop while the air in the room actually feels tense with human drama. (A respected national artist who used markers elicited groans from the court staff because of the squeak-squeek of the markers on paper).
 
Most artists have the luxury of a studio area complete with the tools of the trade close at hand, their personal choice of music, the ability to put your brush into the water bucket and get a cup of coffee or taking a break, all their reference material nearby, and best of all no deadline that is mere hours away including transportation.
 
The courtroom artist generally works in black and white on medium-sized sketchpads.  During a break they may run to their diy office in the closest restroom to quickly apply watercolor pigments if that is in the assignment. The pressure to create a piece of art that will not appear to be done by a 5 year old is intense.
 
I was a courtroom artist for several years.  I wielded my art whenever there was a particularly gory case being tried in a venue in which cameras were not allowed. Think dismemberment or other inhuman forms of human behavior. Or spy trials like the Walker family. Or big money and well known community figures. Human interest in the vein of if it bleeds it leads.
 
Getting a court assignment was always a challenge and many times a panicky challenge. Every time was like the first performance of an actor in front of a paying audience. Can I do a good job? Will my seat let me see the main players:  defendants, defense, prosecutor, jury? 
Judge in courtroom featured in courtroom art
 
The judge was easy.  The judge always faces the crowd from an elevated position.
 
While you are considering who could do this awful thing to somebody else, you also have to concentrate on making that nose long enough but not too long.
 
Lawyers and judge

Getting the painting job done.

I learned a few interesting things to help me do my job. The most important one was that everyone tends to revert back to their common positions. Lawyers especially. If the lawyer stood with both arms folded and then they turned to address the jury or acknowledge the defendant, they would inevitably return to the folded arm position. Thus as an artist I would start a very quick sketch and when they changed positions flipped my page and start the next one and then flip back when they came back to the first position. That resulted in many starts on many pieces of sketch pad paper. When I finished for the day, I would choose the sketch that I felt was the best of many.
 
Last year a young filmmaker visited my studio.  He seemed to think we could work together on a project and consequently my art is in the “Innocence Files” (you can find the series on Netflix).  They asked if I thought I could possibly produce courtroom art that would look as if I were in the courtroom at the time of trial. I would use photos they would provide.  Of course I always rise to a challenge and said, “Yes.”
 
The reference material could not have been more difficult to work with. The little girl who points out a suspect in the courtroom is from a photo of an extremely sweet little girl in her backyard. The dates of the trials were near 30 years old and the pictures of the varying actors were from varying dates. The actual court rooms were seen through doors with windows.
 
I have never been more inventive in trying to produce an actual scene in my life. I did the best I could and I hope the results were OK. I felt that if I could do this assignment, then frankly, I could do anything.  Okay, anything except conjure up mechanical or technological images. I just don’t do things geometric or shiny. In retrospect, drawing images from the description of witnesses or victims of crimes came pretty darn close. But they had to relive horrible events and I merely had to interpret them into someone that could be recognized. Which did happen.
 
Witness in Courtroom

How My Music Series Started

Now that the novelty of staying at home has worn off, I can honestly say screw cleaning and organizing! Even the idea that I will actually do any of it, including cooking from scratch, is gone. So I may as well just sit in the sun, read, and blog.

Life in the time of Corona Virus comes close to what I imagined life in a retirement village without the socializing might be like.

I wake up late, have breakfast, read the newspaper, and amazingly it is almost lunch.

I don’t have to run errands. In fact I am told not to by authorities and family – although I have joined the masked brigade at Costco.

Maybe now is a great time to tell you how I started my music series.

Letting Loose Jazz After Midnight 36x48 from my Music Series

Letting Loose Jazz After Midnight 36×48

For years I dabbled in watercolor and my subjects were from my environment. I took a class while Luke was at Duke University. There I learned the variety of colors and tones I could make from French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber to Payne’s Gray. I painted boats, barns, beaches, etc. That worked for a while. As did all my drawings for the Daily Press. A subject for another time.

Then I launched into acrylics because I was too impulsive to plan my moves to achieve my painting goals. Besides oils messed with my asthma. With acrylics, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to paint and repaint and scratch out and gesso over.

It was the 1980’s and I had campaigned for women’s issues. This led me to think about doing art related to women of accomplishment.

But who to paint.

I didn’t personally know anyone outside the newspaper industry. I finally decided on JoAnn Falletta, music director for the Virginia Symphony. I knew about her and how well-liked and well-respected she was (and still is today!).

So how difficult could it be to ask her if she would be my first subject. A lot. Well it was difficult to even get in touch with her. I left messages at her office that were never answered but I persisted.

Eventually one evening I got a call from Long Beach, California and it was JoAnn on the line. I tried to impress her with my art credentials and I guess I did not appear to be a total deviant. She invited me to take photos of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra onstage at the Chrysler while they rehearsed the Buckner Fourth. No flash of course. This predated the ease of the iPhone camera so I tried to be unobtrusive with my non-digital, old school film Nikon.

Not so easy when I really wanted to be a part of the orchestra. Even behind the violins, crouching on the floor,I just wanted to do nothing but be a voyeur. But I had a self-assigned job; To capture a diminutive conductor guiding a hundred instruments played by a hundred professional musicians.

And me with a film shutter speed of 400 using only available light so I could not freeze frame. When JoAnn waved her baton the camera captured the motion, the sweep of the baton through space.

When I finally developed the film I saw photo after photo of blurs and darkness. Very little detail and little to work with or so I thought. However the loss of the crutch of detail forced me to use whatever my imagination could generate to fill in the blanks.

Motion became my signature.

Joann ConductsAction and emotion grew more important than defining my subject.

My work with VSO lasted several years. My series began and ended with Ms. Falletta. But it was my start. I carried the blurriness of motion into other subjects including other musical forms like jazz and bluegrass, and then sports, and people in the street. Even now when I find myself leaning towards harder-edged realism I look back at those early paintings and tell myself that just because one learns how to technically achieve painting realism, maybe it should not be one’s ultimate goal.

Enjoy the Show

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had prepared and hung a lovely show of my paintings at the James River Country Club.  Sadly we were social distancing before many folks were able to enjoy the show.  So I thought I’d share my own commentary with each painting for everyone to enjoy from the comfort of your own home.  All of these paintings are currently available for purchase.  If you are interested, please contact me and we can make safe and socially distant arrangements.

Blues Guitar and Horn 23.5x29.5

Blues Guitar and Horn
23.5×29.5

I have been painting jazz musicians for many years.  My first renditions were more delineated.  As I got more comfortable with the subject matter and how musicians held and played their instruments, I have gotten more willing to create more abstractly. I wanted the emotion, color, and essence to attract the viewer rather than the specifics.

End of Autumn 24x36

End of Autumn
24×36

I am from New England and though this painting has a particular reference to Maine, it could be anywhere in the north. It is called The End of Autumn, because I see and feel the chill, and some iciness, along the shore. There is considerable texture in the painting because underneath, it is another painting and maybe even a third!

Bass Player 30x24

Bass Player
30×40

Another paint-over. When I find myself getting a bit too “tight” meaning the images are too delineated for my taste, I live with them for a while and then I paint over them. I added a musical score collage and random brushstrokes.

Break From Fishing 24x24

Break from Fishing
24×24 

I has a solo show in Manteo. NC in 2019, and I wanted to have a painting that reflected the waterfront. But I found myself “over” boats and marine scenes.  Instead I used my made-up young musicians along with a few added items from a photograph my friend Cyndi took for me.

Dalmatians 11x14

Dalmatians
11×14

I have never owned a Dalmatian, but I know a cute pose when I see it. These two had such a bond I could not resist painting them.

Dance in the Garden 48x36

Dance in the Garden
43.5×32.45

This is one of my larger paintings in a series of dancers that endured for many years. Luke and I took ballroom lessons for 3 years.  It was a great time to not just experience the dance, but to see others actually perform. As always, the background becomes whatever I want it to be.

Dancing At the Festival 24x30

Dancing at the Festival
24×30

I have painted women for decades and my ladies all seem to move and wear colorful garments. This painting, like many others, includes imagined or made up figures.  They’re based on my feelings at the time of the environment and the relationship of the women. The hula hoop looking circles of color are added to create more visual action.

Man With A Horn 20x16

Man with a Horn
20×16

I am still playing with this piece. Particularly the hat area. But not right now. The horn player is based loosely on musicians I saw and photographed in New Orleans.

At Least I have My Phone 30x24

I Still Have My Phone
30×24

My thanks to the young woman in Hampton who let me photograph her sitting in a shop window.  I loved her clothing, pose, and the fact that it genuinely reflected the young people in my family with their “devices”

Jittery Jazz 24x16

Jittery Jazz
24×18

This painting has at least two paintings beneath it. When things don’t work sometimes one must just destroy the painting to make it better; either by just painting a new version on top of the old or gessoing the whole thing and starting from scratch. I usually chose the former. He has a 50’s flair that reminds me of “the Fonz.”

Letting Loose Jazz After Midnight 36x48

Letting Loose the Jazz After Midnight
36×48

A large painting that I literally attacked. Keep throwing paint on until I finally evolved some forms that resembled musicians. There are many other ways I could have handled the design and colors but I will save them for another day.

Qualifying Time 22x28

Qualifying Time
22×28

My family has always cycled. Luke and I did a lot of tandem biking as well as bike tours that go inn to inn in New England and Barbados. These riders are racing.   I used my brushstrokes and sometimes brush stem to add choice of color so that you, the viewer, would feel the motion.

Sax, Horn , Guitar 30x30

Sax, Horn, Guitar
30×30

Another expression of my feelings watching musicians in the clubs on Bourbon Street. I did a quick sketch while we were inside one of the clubs.  Al Hirt actually signed my sketch!

Seaside Park 24x24

Seaside Park
24×24

I grew up near Long Island Sound in Connecticut and after school we would all troop down to the beach and the seawall. There really wasn’t much beach so this is improvised as well as my placement of a Tidewater oyster boat.

Sketch Artist 30x24

Sketch Artist
30×24

It is quite uncomfortable for me to draw in this sitting position, but others are not as stiff! Doing preliminary sketches is the best way to formulate an idea. I have spent too many hours trying to fix the unfixable because it was just a bad design.

Musings about Oceanview Amusement Park

A while back I was working on a commission for someone who asked me to paint her parents circa 1941 at Oceanview Amusement Park in Virginia Beach. I did enjoy getting all my research together and doing preliminary sketches. I enjoyed the stories through photos of the sailors who were deployed from Norfolk during World War II. They spent free time at Oceanview Amusement Park. The colors and movement of amusement parks and fairs have always interested me as an artist. When I worked as an illustrator at the Daily Press, I had the sad opportunity to watch the tear down of the iconic wooden roller coaster. I believe it took three times for the explosives to finally work. It was an end to another chapter in local history.
 
For my personal work, I am still searching for a realistic, but looser style. I know folks think that I already paint in a loose fashion. But I want to do it in a more confident manner. I want the brushstrokes, colors ,and shapes to carry the painting rather than the reality it is based on. If that sounds confusing, it is because maybe I am. I think of Jackson Pollock and how he would throw house paint on his canvases flat on the ground.  I try to think of how much excitement there was in that approach, but then I think about how much my back would hurt if I painted that way.
 
Having said that I would like to paint larger canvases despite the fact that I have nowhere to put them and most people are downsizing. Corporate world do you hear me? Tired of your prints that look like wallpaper samples? (Is that too mean?) Let’s talk. Meanwhile I continue my search for a new fresh series. Maybe I need to take my camera and do some exploring. But I think I will wait till it warms up.
Oceanview Amusement Park

Ramblings: My Miserable Painting Day

Artists know that we can really mess up big-time. Sometimes we just have a miserable painting day.

And it happens much more frequently than we’d like to admit.

The other day I decided to attack a painting that I had done several years ago.  While the painting was pleasant to look at and interesting to a lot of people, it lacked what I would like to see  my work represent.  In other words, it lack the wow factor. 

I looked at the painting for a long time,  I realized I hated the design.  I kind of liked the colors.  I found the figure was fairly well done, but it was overall just pedestrian.

In retrospect, I should’ve taken photos of the painting throughout the whole course of the day to document all the stupid decisions that I made.

To start, I thought the figure was rather lonely so I enlarged the figure.  When she still didn’t have a life, I gave her a partner. That didn’t work, so I added another figure.  But three figures weren’t any better than one smaller one. So I kept on doing what I tell people not to do –  rework some things without really thinking about the design, the shapes, and the color.

There was no sense of movement left.  I should have just left it or gessoed over it so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.

But now I still had paint on my palate, my water wasn’t terribly dirty, and I wasn’t at a point of true exhaustion. So now I sit staring at a painting that is a whole lot worse than the original.  I am kicking myself.  I know I will paint over it and be frustrated again. I never learn.

Having said all that, I do understand that failure is part of the learning process. Some attempts are never meant to succeed. I still wish I had the presence of mind to photograph the whole process. Time sometimes lets those closed doors open again. New insights?

Old work sometimes includes little gems one can build on. But if it is all painted over it is gone. 

jittery jazz revised - not used for my miserable painting day

Ramblings: Brilliant Creativity

Out in the March done with brilliant creativityI think there is a general misconception by the public that people like me, who tend to get involved in what we loosely called creative pursuits, simply plod along.  We engage in brilliant creativity.  We progress from one brilliant idea with a beginning, middle, and end,.  There is a pause and then we go to the next brilliant idea.

Well obviously every idea isn’t brilliant, but when we are in our inspiration phase, sometimes we feel that it may be creating the best work we’ve ever done. However, the pauses can be a lot more lengthy.  During this intermission, we feel not just uninspired, but scared to death that there will be no more brilliant ideas! The best we can hope for is to regurgitate the things that we’ve done before, the tried-and-true and perhaps the successful (monetarily speaking.)

I say we and I probably should not. Because this is just the way I feel.

So this was a lengthy lead into the feelings I am having right now.

I can always go back to painting the themes that people seem to recognize from me. But that is playing it safe. And you don’t learn and you don’t excel by playing it safe.

But then a painter, like myself, sits back and says,

  • All right so how do I not play it safe? 
  • What do I do differently?
  • Do I change my theme?
  • My subject matter?
  • Do I change my technique?
  • Do I get more rigid or more exuberant?
  • Do I paint larger or smaller?
  • Do I tell a story or paint a feeling?
  • Do I paint more abstractly or with more representation?
  • Is the best really yet to come?

I don’t know those answers right now, but I have to believe that the best is yet to come.

Fear not! I will continue to paint, because I can’t not paint.

And you will be the first to know if I succeed in becoming inspired again. And it may be in the realm of technique and approach.

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