Thursday, March 27, 2008


O.K., these colors always show up way too neutral when I post them up here, and it drives me berzerk.  So try to imagine them much brighter and more luminous!

Today, after a lot of staring, fussing, adding bits and dismantling other bits, I realized that I've been forcing this little collage much too hard.  I was clinging so tightly to the birdwoman idea, that I closed myself to other possibilities.  But no more!  A couple of little accidents led me to the current image, where this mysterious, ghosty girl whizzes through the pumpkin patch.  I'm going to add one more critter tomorrow, and then it's done!  This tiny painting has taken about a thousand years, but I really like it.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Early Bird

Success!  I arrived at my studio at 7:30 this morning.  It was heaven.  Here's a view from the primo parking spot I scored.  Look at all those other empty spaces!  Anyone who's ever tried to park at the Arsenal Center during a weekday will understand the awesomeness of this picture.
I feel the need to post more evidence of my self-discipline:
And here are my bean plants basking in the early morning light:

This is where I left this piece yesterday (not as bad as I'd feared, but it feels a little predictable and static):

Here's where I got with it today:

I can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel.  At last it is turning into something I haven't seen/done before.  It's hard to tell from the photos, but a lot of the pieces are sewn together now, so the whole image has a kind of layered quality.  Here's a detail:

Now it just needs some kind of resolution.  I might try recreating a different version of the orange fox tomorrow.  He got sort of dismantled today, but I really liked his role in this narrative.  

Here's a new bit of inspiration that I can't wait to sink my teeth into!  Pat Ford, one of my students, translated a collection of early Welsh and Irish tales, and today he gave me his book to read:

Monday, March 24, 2008


Today was one of those blech art-making days.  Just blech.  I was working on my new painting/collage triptyph, and I had to sacrifice some little things I liked for the good of the whole.  The fact that this makes me anxious is funny for several reasons:

1) this is the nature of the beast (beast=painting)
2) I intentionally set up my process so that these moments of sacrifice and revision are inevitable
3) the most interesting and surprising parts of my paintings always arise from these kinds of struggles

And yet, here I am, stewing in my little anxieties and mourning the "trimming" of my beloved pumpkin runners. 

Sometimes my painting anxieties turn to fear.  I am going to nip this fear in the bud by arriving at my studio at 7:30 tomorrow morning, and attacking.  I am going to wrestle the fear to the ground in the early morn.  So there it is, blogged in stone.  The pressure is on.  If you want to drop in and visit, I'll be in my studio at 7:30am, looking crazed and rocking out to NPR's Morning Edition.  

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Still Plugging Away....

On Friday I began the cutting process for this collage piece.  

I played around with possible layouts for a while.  I like this one as a jumping-off point.  I've reached the hump where I feel like I have a whole lot more to do, before I feel satisfied.  My plan is to keep making stuff until some kind of accident occurs to resolve the piece in a surprising way.  I definitely want some kind of vegetation with the foxes on the right.  But what?  I like the idea of the more pumpkin runners.  I don't really like the big yellow dahlia in the left-most panel.  It's too flat and somehow corny-looking.  At the same time, I like the gesture of those tall flowers on that edge.  That spot is ripe for some kind of unpredictable, layered and sewn resolution.

I also sewed this snow bunting in place.

And stitched this drawing on top.

I worked more on these magnolias, all painted in gouache.

And painted this cut-out pigeon to sew on later.  I think I'm ultimately going to leave this piece whole, instead of cutting it into separate panels.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Animal Heads!

Barnswallow Sisters
8" x 8"
Sparrow Sisters
8" x 8"
A week or so ago I posted about my bird-head women series, which is presently waiting in the wings of my studio.  (Figuratively, of course.  If my studio really had wings I'd have enough room for my own flat file, and would no longer gaze so covetously at my studio mate's.)  

But I digress.  

These two little acrylic paintings, which I made this past December, are also part of this series.  This is probably fairly obvious, what with the bird heads and all.  
In any case, in an earlier post I mentioned the fact that I have recently discovered a billion other contemporary artists working with animal heads on human bodies.  This makes a lot of sense; so many folktales, myths, etc... contain human/animal hybrids, and also deal with themes of human/animal transformation.  It's an enormous cross-cultural motif.  My own specific source of inspiration was the Egyptian bird-head god, Horus.  But I also think a lot about the Pleiades Myth, where the handmaidens of Artemis turn into pigeons and fly into the night sky to escape Zeus' "amorous" pursuit.  And the Chinese story of the Crane Wife.  The Decemberists' album, The Crane Wife is a MUST, by the way.  Today, the fabulous Adria Arch sent me a link to an article about a whole slew of other artists using anthropomorphism in their work.  I'm liking this feeling of camaraderie.  Here's the link:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Plugging Along

Here's a new gouache fox and a ghosty graphite-on-vellum fox.  I painted this new guy over the one I made last week.  I wanted to shift the composition a little, and also amp up the intensity of the image.  The old fox looked too serene for my liking.  The ghosty one will be sewn onto the paper eventually.  I like him where he is for now.  It feels right, but also unexpected and mysterious.
I also started these great big magnolias which I intend to finish tomorrow.  This is the start of another Birdwoman painting/collage.  A paintollage, if you will.  I'm going to make this one a riot of magnolias.  And pigeons.  And women turning into pigeons.......You'll see.  
I haven't worked on this kind of enlarged scale for a long time, so I'm excited to explore the ways it could function here.  Thumbelina, anyone?
Here's a little peek at my working process.  My paper is stretched onto this big board so that it doesn't warp while I'm painting.  Right now I'm working on three different paintings stuck together and all mixed up.  This is what happens when I try to be efficient.  Scary!  But this craziness does seem to be working.  I cannot WAIT to cut everything up so I can finally see how things come together.  I really, really, really can't wait.  

I have a lot of things floating around in my head.  Among them are:

Two different articles from National Geographic about animal cognition and evolution.  (March and April issues respectively).
The Pleiades myth.
Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away.
My Wives of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth paper dolls.  (I finally have a plan for them!)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Blog Before Bed

What a wonderful, dizzy, whirlwind week it has been!  Before I collapse into bed, here's a peek at the progress I've made on my latest Birdwoman painting/collage thing.  The first image is the right side of the painting, and the second one is the left side.  I will eventually cut it vertically in certain places and shuffle the resulting pieces around a bit.  

I've been moving the cut-out bunny head around all week, and I think he belongs over there on the right, among the pumpkin runners.  I also painted stars raining down all over the place, the dahlia on the right, and the fox hanging out under the moon.  A few months ago, as I was driving along, I saw a bright red fox crossing the road up ahead.  A few moments later I saw a cottontail rabbit hopping across as well, and I thought to myself, "look out, Mr. Bunny!"  Over the past couple of days this has become my mantra.  I added the fox to create another little subplot in the narrative of the painting.  I also felt like the image was getting too cutesie.  It needed a little bit of potential death and distruction.  Mwah ha ha ha.  

I also added these dahlia's, which were from my Mom's garden last summer.  This particular snow bunting will be cut out and used in another painting.

Check out this crazy tendril AND the warm (as in color, NOT temperature) springtime sunlight spilling into my studio:

Check out this amazing blind contour drawing one of my nine-year-old students did this week.  She was looking at her own face in the mirror:

And here's a delicious quote from Simon Armitage's translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  Perfect for my obsession with all things weather-related.  Perfect for mid-March in New England:

But wild-looking weather was about in the world:
clouds decanted their cold rain earthwards;
the nithering north needled man's very nature; 
creatures were scattered by the stinging sleet.
Then a whip-cracking wind comes whistling between hills
driving snow into deepening drifts in the dales(155).

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pumpkin Runners and Simon Armitage

Today I made these pumpkin runners with gouache.  I really like them.  It was a good, focused morning of painting.

And my tendrils are growing!  Come on, little guys! 

Here are some things floating around in my head:
I'm reading Simon Armitage's recent translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I think I'm starting to internalize Armitage's alliteration.  Armitage: "calling on that counselor to clear his conscience (p.145)."  Me at the end of my Friday painting class: "Chloe and Claire please clean up the crayons."  Scary.

This is my first time reading Gawain, though I did recently read a compilation of lost Arthurian Legends.  How did I miss all of these when I was a kid?  They are hilarious, absurd and psychologically amazing.  The idealization of characters and places, all of the hyperbole, the moments of savagery, reveal so much about the early English male psyche. They also connect quite strongly to some recent conversations I've had with some male friends about their own internal struggles and their perceptions about masculinity.  Also, like many fairy-tales, the forest is a central part of the story.  The adventure begins when characters enter the woods.  The dreamy enchanted world in Sir Gawain reminds me of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  So I've started rereading that as well.  

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Spring Cleaning

I spent a significant amount of time last Thursday organizing my studio.  The clutter had become oppressive, and it was necessary to take action.  I even went through and sorted all of my photos!  I share my space with another artist, so things can get a little bit cramped at times.  But our studio is beautiful and light-filled, and I love it.  It's also kind of a fun challenge to find creative ways to maximize the space.  Here's a peek at my newly organized drawers:

so tidy!  I can finally breathe!

During my cleaning frenzy I found this snapshot of my mom and stepdad posing in their pumpkin patch.  I don't remember them intentionally coordinating their outfits, but it's definitely something they would do.  I'm going to add pumpkin runners to my new Birdwoman collage.

Here's a picture of Fred, the praying mantis that lived in the garden last summer.  He's perfect for my new piece as well!

I spent a ridiculous amount of time on Friday making little micro-adjustments to bits of my new painting/collage.  I gave this rabbit more contrast and cut off his body:

I decided that I'm really in love with the snow bunting, so I tried to find a way to make it work:

This last one is my favorite.  It's so strange, and I think it successfully captures the moment of transformation I'm going for.  

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I am loving this unfinished painting I'm making with acrylic and cut rice paper on panel:
I collect old photographs of strangers that I find on ebay or in antique shops.  For the past few years I've been playing around with these images in my work.  I've tried recreating the photos in gouache in several of my paintings, but I haven't loved those results.  This past summer I worked with Middle School students at the Arlington Center for the Arts, building a faux Egyptian tomb.  I liked drawing Horus, the bird-head god whom Egyptians believed would guide them into the afterlife.  This past December I started playing around with this idea of the half human/half bird,  combining field guide pictures with people from my photo collections.  I loved the results: these sort of absurd domestic deities.  They also feel like an exciting homage to the original photographs, without being reproductions.
I've put this series on hold for a bit, while I focus on my other ideas.  In a related story, I have also recently discovered that a billion other contemporary artists stick bird heads on human bodies.  Almost every new person I talk to about this series tells me about yet ANOTHER bird head artist.  This brings up an interesting point: when, as an artist, do you bail out of an idea, when you discover that it's "already been done"?  I've been thinking about this a lot lately.  On the one hand, I feel that we should just embrace the fact that there are no new ideas and make our art with reckless abandon.  At the same time, there are times when another artist's work will inspire me to abandon an idea.  Not in a bad way, but because I feel too influenced by the work, like my authenticity has been tainted.  But my bird head women came about in such a personal way, and making them is so gratifying to me, that I don't question their authenticity.  I think it also helps that I became aware of these other contemporary bird head artists AFTER I was already enamored with my own images.

Here's what I did yesterday:
Ahhh! It looks like the bunny's going to get mauled!
I made these critters to cut out and collage onto the Birdwoman series I've been working on.  I played around with their arrangement:
This rabbit is too light.  I'm going to give him some more contrast later today.

I think the snow bunting may be the wrong choice for this image, which is supposed to represent the woman transforming into the bird.  More color contrast between bird, drawing and background may make the illusion more readable.  I used a red cardinal in the last piece, and it was much more successful.  The background is very purple-gray.  Perhaps a yellow bird is the way to go....gotta love that basic color theory!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Monster Post!

For blogging purposes I have traded the convenience of my tiny but slightly crummy digital camera (that fits in my pocket!), for the superior quality of my more unwieldy Canon Digital Rebel.  Check out the color quality.  So worth it!
Here's a peek at what I've been working on for the past couple of days:

The bean plants, snow bunting and moon are painted directly onto the background.  The little drawing on vellum, the button and the luna moth will be sewn on somewhere later on.  Eventually the painting will be cropped like this:

Then I will cut it apart in places, rearrange the pieces, sew some of them back together, and sew on some other creatures.  

I also redrew this image today.  The first version is on the left, the new one is on the right.  I had a little mishap with a pair of scissors and the original, during which I cut all around the edge of the drawing.  It looked way too static, so I drew this new version which better captures the ephemeral quality and movement I was going for.  

Check out the little tendril reaching up for the bars of the cage!  

Here are some new discoveries and delicious pieces of inspiration from the latest edition of New American Paintings (Northeast Edition):

Naoe Suzuki, Splendor of Amazing Boys, Girls and Animals #1 
mineral pigment, graphite on paper
41" x 82"

Suzuki is a Newton-based artist who shows at Judy Ann Goldman Fine Art, Boston MA.  I'm definitely keeping an eye out for her next show!

Kako Ueda, Octopus Head
hand-cut wa-shi paper
12" x 31"

Ueda is a NY-based artist showing at George Adams Gallery in NYC.  

Kako Ueda, Tree of Life
hand-cut paper with acrylic
49" x 22"

Ueda's paper-cuts make mine look really, really crude!  Ah well.  I still like them.  And I feel inspired to improve my skills!  Here's a peek at one that I've been working on:

I stained this piece of rice paper with watercolor and cut out the magnolia tree silhouette with an x-acto knife.  I've been experimenting with cut-paper forest images.  I'll post some examples of this work tomorrow.  I've put the series on hold for a little bit, while I dig deeper into some of my other ideas.

On another note, here's another bit of inspiration, drawn by one of my eight-year-old students in Arlington. I can't get over how much I love this picture.  Check out those searching lines and the variety of marks! 

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Birdcages Conquered

Huzzah!  I finished the birdcages in this new piece!  I also added another little tent in there too.  Next week, while I wait for my beanstalk plants to grow a bit more, I'll add some constellations and raining stars.  I'll put in some critters and nests and things later on, once I start painting their beanstalk forest home. 

I also divided this background into three sections and started painting in some bean plants.  Each section will eventually be cut out and then cut into separate panels.  This is confusing to explain, but I'll post the progress here and it will all eventually make sense.  Basically I am trying to replicate the accidental inception of Birdwoman.  My hope is to create a whole series of forest transformation paintings/collages.  Here's a detail of the plants I painted yesterday:
I am also reading Dani Cavallaro's critical study, The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki (McFarland & Company, Inc.).  There's a great chapter on Miyazaki's film, My Neighbor, Totoro, which I wrote about in my last post.  The following quote from Cavallaro particularly relates to thoughts I have about my own work, and also illuminates some new avenues of thinking: 
A particularly important sequence, encapsulating Totoro's ethical message, its grasp of child psychology and its approach to the humanity-nature relationship, is the one in which Mei and Satsuki join three Totoros in a nighttime dance around a newly sewn garden patch to help the seedlings sprout.  The sequence is both a ritual and a game.   The young girls' ability to take part in this ceremonial practice alongside the forest's magical creatures encapsulates one of the film's principal messages: the intimation that children tend to retain a connection with the Other, primordial world that does not respect rigid codes and fixed patterns of meaning (69). 

On a completely different note, I have five paintings hanging in the faculty show at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, in Watertown MA.  This one here is an old friend, Froggy Went A-Courting (and He Did Ride), that I painted in 2006.  My newer work, Fish Rain, is also in the background:
I've been hesitant to show this painting with my other work.  My representational skills have improved a lot since I made this piece, so it pales a little in comparison.  For example, the stars, which cover the entire surface, look quite a bit like dandruff.  But I do like the piece, especially the frog eggs floating in space!
Some of my favorite pieces in this show include these big charcoal oil stick drawings by Deb Putnoi:
And this sculpture by Michelle Lougee:

And this crocheted piece by Adrienne Sloane (viewed looking down from the balcony above):

There are a whole bunch of other great pieces in the show as well, and they fill the space beautifully.