Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Lesson In Flower Arranging

Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.

Whenever I'm at shows or markets, people ask how I make my collages. I know all the rage now is Live Video, but I've not advanced to that as yet, so here is my step-by-step for a piece that I recently finished.

Usually I make collages of animals, which I paint and add paper to. I save a ton of photos and clippings that serve as inspiration, and I had run across a bunch of flower bouquet photos I have and thought I'd take a break from the animals. I reinterpreted one of the bouquets in paper and paint a few months ago. I had gotten good feedback on Instagram which I use as a sort of barometer, so I thought I'd do a few more.  Here is the first one.

So, here's my process:

First, I looked through my color clippings. Whenever I see color combinations I like, I cut out the magazine page, or get a sample of the fabric, or take of photo of the outfit.  I find that if I just make note of the colors I don't remember the precise shades that attracted me. This is a nice combination of pinks, whites, reds, and yellow from a catalog. I love using red and white -- those colors always look classic but also fresh, clean, and energetic. And red and pink is my all time favorite color combination (at least today it is). This is a comforter/duvet cover from the catalog.

Next I found a photo of a flower bouquet that I thought I could recreate using this simple color combination.

 I made a rough sketch in paint to create the composition and make sure the proportions were correct. When I paint in oil, I usually do an underpainting but since most of the canvas will be covered with paper I didn't see the need for this step.  Based on the photo,  I divided the flower parts into the 4 basic colors, deciding that the stems and leaves would be white.  

Next,  I put in a little bit more detail for the flowers to further clarify the shapes and where the colors would go. Whenever I'm teaching drawing and painting I suggest that students concentrate on making shapes instead of trying to capture the actual object they are drawing. With this bouquet of flowers there are lots of roses, peonies, tulips, and ranunculus, all with different leaves and stems -- which can be totally overwhelming to capture on canvas. However, if you look at each part as just a shape (instead of a particular flower), your brain forgets the roses, peonies, and ranunculus, and you make circles, ovals, and lines.

After I got the shapes right, I started to add the paper. I have a HUGE collection of papers, and keep them fairly organized according to color. So I grabbed a stack of pink papers and scraps and started pulling out pieces I wanted to use. Not as simple as it sounds --  I have particular shades of pink in my head; a soft medium bubble gum pink for the background -- in paint, and a fuschia hot pink for flower parts.

I finished off with the papers, including the whites and creams for the leaves and stems.

To finish and pull together each flower, I add another layer of paint, outlining the shapes.  I then added a really basic vase in a great neon pink, and added a yellow table (including a shadow using yellow paper), as well as yellow centers to the flowers. You can see how this paint step really differentiates the flowers and stems from one another and pulls the piece together. 

I usually come back a day or so later to look at the piece with fresh eyes and decide if I need to make any changes. If it's done, I cover the canvas with a water based varnish to make sure the paper doesn't start to come unglued later or tear, as well as give the painting a glossy finish.  Voila.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.
Anatole France

Any of you that know me, have seen my paintings, or any of my Facebook or Instagram posts know that I am crazy about dogs.  I always have been. You've probably heard the phrase, "The more I know people the more I love my dog", from Mark Twain. Enough said. I was never a girl crazy for horses like so many females. (Usually a preteen phase, horses are a symbol of power). It was always, always dogs for me.  I considered being a veterinarian when I grew up but I was afraid I'd have to see too many hurting animals so I changed my aspirations. One summer I returned from sleep away camp and my sweet mother had painted dogs all over my bedroom furniture. I was thrilled.

I was lucky enough to grow up with a Golden Retriever who was my constant companion. We got him when I was about 4 years old and from then on I refused to go to bed without him.  I would build half a nest on my bed with all of my dolls and stuffed animals, and he would curl around me to form the other half of the nest. He always stayed until I was asleep, then got up and checked on everyone else in the house. He kept a nightly patrol sleeping for a while here and there between checking on us. He lived until he was almost 16, two years after we began giving him daily shots for diabetes. I spent my entire childhood and teens with him and I was in college when we finally had to put him down. He had been with me for my whole life. He was as much a brother to me as my biological human brother.  He was an integral part of my childhood and influenced the person I am today. He taught me about love, play, sharing, loyalty, obedience. He let me dress him up, attended my tea parties, listened as I read books to him, was often a student in my made up classroom, wrestled with me, let me play hair salon with him, tried my cooking, listened to my boyfriend problems. I became a forever dog lover because of him. (Even now as I write this I am getting teary).

*(If you want to read a fantastic dog novel, read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.)

I am slowly making my way through several dog manuals, trying to paint each breed. No matter how many paintings or prints I have of different varieties of dogs, someone always asks for the breed that I don't have. So I'm trying to correct that. Here are a few:


Great Dane







  Bassett Hound


I've parented various animals since our Golden Boy but I didn't fall truly head over heels in love again until we adopted Rufus, not coincidentally another Golden Retriever. He's my third child, the one I have had more time to just sit and look at and fall in love with over and over. My boys are 15 months apart and their early years are a blur of diapers, constant motion, messes, and physical exhaustion. I simply did not have time to ooh and aah over them for hours on end like I do with Rufus.

Rufus has again reminded me of the wonder of these creatures. He's a beautiful specimen, and also silly, affectionate, and so very, very sweet. He has spent many hours lying next to me in bed when I am not feeling well. He is so happy when I get home in the afternoon, or greet him in the morning, or offer to take him for a walk. He smiles a huge smile, wags his tail like mad, and turns in circles, leaning on me the whole time, as if I've just offered him the greatest gift in the world, for the first time. He loves my cooking, never disses a movie I want to watch, is perfectly happy to hang out and read magazines, isn't constantly calling me to "come here!", tries to help me with many chores like gardening and making the bed. He respects my choices, doesn't hold grudges, doesn't talk back and never tries to make me feel bad about something I've said or done. He even loves doing yoga with me, although he sometimes hogs the mat.

And he makes me laugh every single day.

Besides their kind demeanor, I'm fascinated by the variety of dogs out there. What an imagination someone had when he made this world!! Tall dogs, short dogs, floppy eared dogs, dogs with ears that stand up, shorthaired dogs, lush long haired dogs, black, red ,white, grey dogs --or a combination of all of those colors in one dog. Spotted dogs, blue eyed dogs, smashed face dogs, racing dogs, hunting dogs, crime solving dogs, show dogs. Dogs that howl, those that yap. All of these parts are interesting and wonderful but to me the quirky partss are what I love the most. Here are a few.

Rufus loves to sit in the Frog Dog position. It never fails to make me laugh even though I've seen it a hundred times.

There are other quirks. A friend once came over with a Boxer puppy, who played in the yard with Rufus. Although she was tiny, she kept trying to pin him down -- to trap Rufus on the ground and stand over him with her legs on each side. "It's what Boxers do," my friend said nonchalantly.  It was really funny looking; they actually like to pin down their playmates. Which came first, the Boxer dog or boxer fighter person?

This is Bailey and apparently this is a Dachshund thing, to be able to balance that short compact body on his rear end (have also seen Basset Hounds do it):

And this is a friend's whippet.  Again, this is what whippets do, apparently. Is she double jointed?

This is how she sleeps. Can she make herself any smaller?

What does your breed do?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

World Travel

First we eat, then we do everything else.
M.F.K. Fisher

One of our Resolutions for last year was to begin an Around The World learning experience, primarily through food, with our family. I got the idea from an interview on NPR with Sasha Martin, who began this practice -- in much greater depth -- with her family, who were a group of picky eaters. She also missed the traveling she had been able to do before settling down into family life and wanted a way to recapture the intoxicating feeling of new discoveries. I heard the piece on the radio (where I get so much of my information -- am I living in the 1940s?) and immediately loved the idea. Our family eats dinner together most nights and this sounded like an interesting and doable thing we could take on, even during a hectic school year.  And, I LOVE a theme.  Just as important, it could be a learning opportunity for my kids. My husband and I have both lived abroad and I knew it would also be a way of relating our own experiences and stories with our children. Lastly, a food related project could not make my husband happier. It reminded me of the Julie/Julia project and going through the whole cookbook A to Z . Sasha Martin's story can be found here:

With both of us working several jobs, school, sports, volunteering, youth groups, and friends, we realized that our "world journey" could only be comprised of one night a week with dinner from that country and whatever other related info we could find. So one night in early January (2016) we began. With A. My husband and I threw around several countries -- Armenia? Afghanistan? My husband's family is Middle Eastern, and we wanted to eat something totally different from any of our usual influences. We settled on Argentina. This was the first week after New Year's. The kids went back to school on Monday (and us to work),  Tuesday the kids were involved in a Chopped Junior cooking competition, Thursday I had Book Club. A normal busy week for us. So Wednesday was the night we began.

John and  I decided to split up preparing the meals as much as we could, knowing that sometimes I would do the whole thing and sometimes he would take over. I began cooking late Wednesday afternoon. I made cookies, "Alfajores", which coincidentally I had recently made for Christmas packages but were given no Argentinian reference and named something else. Also, steak with Chimichurri sauce, and sausages. Also I made ham and cheese Empanadas which were ridiculously easy...The kids did their research and were surprisingly enthusiastic-- each couldn't wait to give his 3 page report (single spaced, typed -- not really). We found music to the Tango and John and I tried to demonstrate. We had taken ballroom dancing lessons before our wedding 16 years ago but never got much further than the Foxtrot, although we saw the Tango demonstrated. Let's just say that my close friends call me "Elaine" -- our boys didn't learn to tango on this night.

We are now in late February, a year later and just finished our journey a few weeks ago. We have only missed a few weeks of meals here and there, and decided to take last summer off.  From Argentina we went to Belgium and ate a version of a beef stew. I am extremely proud to say that a few weeks after this meal, the food section in the newspaper featured a "Carbonnade a la Flamande", and one of my sons pointed out where it was from. I have to admit that I pushed Belgium because of the chocolate, and I happily bought a big box of Godiva chocolates to bring to the project. Dessert has always been a requirement of this undertaking.

Next was Cuba, which included Mojitos for the grown ups and Tres Leches cake, along with Mojo marinated pork, black beans, and tostones.

There are not many countries that begin with "D". Denmark was the obvious choice, but the night before our family meal John realized that Denmark foods are mostly bread -- yum --and seafood -- which three of us don't eat. What "D" country is left? Djbouti!! We laughed a lot at this meal, we had barely heard of Djbouti but we sure had fun saying it. Every time one of us mentioned it, someone else would say "What did you say about my booty?!!".

"E" was for Egypt, which included Tabbouleh, Olives, Baklava. "F" was France (obligatory dessert:  Chocolate Mousse), followed by Germany -- Schnitzel and a Creamy Cucumber Salad. I've realized that cucumbers are almost universal. Hungary included Chicken Paprikash, a pea dish called Borso Fozelek and a Hungarian Shortbread. India came next and we hit a restaurant for time and ease. Japan followed -- Chicken Yakisoba and a Japanese Cucumber Salad; then, Korea, Laos (Lao Minced Meat and Herb Salad, Egg Rolls, and Sticky Rice); Morocco:  Moroccan Carrots, Couscous, and Khobz [bread]. We passed on the Kaab el Ghazal (gazelle horns), stuffed Camel Spleen, and steamed Sheep Head.  For now.  Next was Norway (Noregian Kjottkake Meatballs and Potato Gratin; Oman --Madrouba (chicken and rice), and Peru Huancaina Sauce, Ropa Vieja.

Qatar was next. We proudly told about Richmond's art school, Virginia Commonwealth University, and its Art Program there, we pondered the correct pronunciation of the country -- KaTar or Cotter? By this time our boys had stopped printing 8 or 10 pages of information ("Relevance, boys, relevance!!), and they started reading facts off their phones. One of Raine's facts included a favorite food of Qatar including Camel Balls (we did not prepare these for our meal), and that Qatar-ian men could turn their heads 360 degrees to stare at a woman. (WHAT???). Rye always concentrates on the sports of a country, and he told us that Qatar had beat Australia in a handball tournament in 2013. Another talk on relevance of information to our project.

Russia followed -- the vodka was great (for the adults) but we were not so crazy about the cold Beet Soup; Switzerland -- Fondue!!! Taiwan was a wash as we ended up at a Vietnamese restaurant by mistake. This was toward the end of the school year and we were a little burned out on our exercise, which is when we decided to take a break for the summer. We had a redo and tried Turkey. U ("no, we are not doing the United States") -- Uzbekistan, and then Venezuela when September arrived.

Soon we were at W with only a few weeks to go until our project was complete. John has recorded photos of the foods and meals, and I have been intermittently painting our meals  -- here are a few that I've started. Maybe I'll put together a book and give to the boys to remember this time. Although the exercise has been a little tiring ("African food -- again??" and "Let's just GO OUT"), and the research about the countries has become a little sparse, we are not finished with this exercise. We've learned a lot, tried a lot, and are officially Explorers of the World. Our boys have requested our next project -- each state of the U.S.:   Peanut soup, anyone?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Family Fun

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
Oscar Wilde

Growing up, my parents dressed up in costumes at any opportunity, and were big practical jokers, and my brother and I inherited those traits. We all love an excuse to dress up.  My parents always had a dresser full of different parts and pieces -- wigs, hats, boas, masks. Once, my dad got ready to leave for a party with an Uncle Sam hat on, rubber snakes coming out of it, wearing a hospital gown and carrying a briefcase--even he didn't know who he was supposed to be--but he was excited about what he was wearing and ready to go.

One of my childrens' favorite stories is when I was about 16 and my brother 19, the summer after his first year in college. There was a huge masquerade party with half of the town invited. As we "Came Of Age" in the 1980s, I dressed like Joan Jett and he was Sting. I had spiky black hair and high heels that I could barely walk in, even when I hadn't had a couple of drinks. We spray painted my brother's hair gold and he wore tight rock and roll clothes. We acted like a couple of hooligans all night. My parents had declined the invitation for the party, preferring to go out to dinner instead. The event was outdoors and really crowded, and very hot, as it was August in Virginia. At one point during the party two people showed up in long black robes and rubber masks that completely hid their faces. Everyone was talking about them because no one knew who they were--this was a small town--who was crashing the party? And no one could believe they could stand to wear those hot rubber masks as the humidity was crushing. The one dressed like the little old lady came up and pinched me at one point and asked me if I was old enough to be drinking beer. I'm sure I said something rude to her. They were the talk of the party, and eventually left quietly. The next day we filled in my parents on (some of) our exploits and talked about all of the costumes.

Skip ahead about 4 months. It was Christmas Day, and we had just finished opening all our gifts. My mother asked if I'd opened a box with a new purse in it. When I told her I hadn't she told me she must have forgotten it, and sent me up to her closet where she hid all our gifts (of course I knew that, so very few of the gifts were actually a surprise). I opened an old hat box, looking for the forgotten purse, and I pulled out -- 2 rubber masks.(!) oh no oh no oh no !!!!!!  What had they seen me doing at the party?.. I started yelling for my brother, and my parents realized their gig was up.  Flies on the wall, in costume.

Many many costumes and excuses to dress up have followed. Then I had children and making their costumes took over interest I had in dressing up myself. But several years ago, a new excuse for creative costuming has emerged.

We started a new tradition of flying to my brother's family 's house for Thanksgiving.  We always arrive late at night and he picks us up with a cooler full of our favorite beverages. The first year we flew to Austin, and he wanted to demonstrate how he had become a "real" Texan. Head to toe in jeans, cowboy boots, a ten gallon hat, and yes, even a Bolo tie (I hadn't seen one since the 80s)! And we promptly got into his pickup truck.  That was the first.

The next year, Chapter 2. He showed up at the airport in a black suit, dark sunglasses, and a sign with our name, looking like a chauffeur. Just like Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy.

Last year my mother and I decided to take our turn, so when we picked them up at the airport at Christmas we were dressed like the Beverly Hillbillies, complete with a misspelled sign with their name, and took it even further by blacking out our teeth. I wore a blond wig that looked like a curly perm and a pillow under my wife beater tee for a big belly. His plane ended up being late so we sat in the airport looking like fools for an hour and a half. My Mom and I laughed at each other for the entire wait. For the rest of my days I will never forget the look on my brother's face when he realized who the country bumpkins were-- it still makes me laugh.

(An aside: when my Mama first appeared that night in costume I was quick enough to catch a video of her, with a memorable statement that she spontaneously came out with. All of her grandchildren, et al repeat this statement every single time we see her. My oldest son even took the video and put it through an Auto Rap app. I'm sorry I've been forbidden to show it here).

We have just returned from their new home in Florida, from Thanksgiving. We assumed that my brother would be in costume, but we decided to catch him off guard, and arrive in costumes ourselves.  I bought some black hats for my boys, my mom found a couple of old calico dresses and  rush-ordered some bonnets from Amazon. The pilgrims were about to arrive!

We did surprise him, and puzzled quite a few people in the airport when the group (some of who looked like Hasidic Jews) greeted and stood with the surfer dude.

Anyway, here's what I've been working on this week.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

And speaking of politics...

“Was the dementia of old age a blessing in disguise? No more thoughts. No more damage inflicted. No more memories of damage survived.” 

― Janet Turpin Myersthe last year of confusion

If you've followed any of my stories about my teaching art to Dementia patients you might think we do more chit chatting than actual art projects. The truth is, we just do a lot of chatting while doing projects. I am truly interested in their stories, histories, and opinions. I often ask for advice as well. More importantly, I ask a lot of questions, especially about their pasts, to help them dig up memories about themselves and recall their pasts. 

I am not particularly political, and often avoid political discussions if possible because they often lead to fights. In general I also think most politicians are liars and cheats.  Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Veep and House of Cards. And I've listened to too much from the current political race. The reality(unreality)-show like atmosphere of today's candidates (one in particular) sickens me, and that's all I'm going to say. The other day while working with my Dementia patients, they got into a political discussion, and FINALLY, I walked away with a laugh.

(Note to some: by laughing  and gently making fun of what they say and do I am not in any way mocking or minimizing the seriousness of Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. These friends are self-deprecating and often make fun of themselves. I spend a lot of time building their confidence and there is a big difference in laughing AT someone and laughing WITH someone. As Jimmy Buffett once said, "If I couldn't laugh, I'd just go insane").

Here's how the discussion went (names have been changed of course). There are about 4 or 5 women, all in their mid to upper 80s:

Mrs. R: What about the election coming up? Are we going to vote?

Mrs. S: When is the election? There must not be much publicity about it because I haven't heard a thing about what's going on...

Mrs. H: Can I vote for Ronald Reagan?

Mrs. L: I feel like I should know something about this Donald Crump person...

Mrs. L: I remember Eisenhower.

Mrs. S: Is Eisenhower still alive or is he dead? Didn't he just die?

Mrs. L: Wasn't Eisenhower a big political person? 

Mrs. S: He was President I thought.

me: So what do you all think about the ones running for President now?

Mrs. S: Yes, well catch me up on that. Who's running?

me: It might be a woman -- Hillary Clinton is running.

Mrs. S: YES! I will vote for her! That would be more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

me:  What about Mr. Trump?

Mrs. L: I don't care for Mr. Trump.

Mrs. S: I don't know Mr. Trump.

Mrs. L: He must be old.

Mrs. S: Who, me? I don't feel very old.  How did you all get into this?

Mrs. L: We can't get out of it either.

me: Mrs. M, who do you think will be the next President?

Mrs. L: Of the United States?

Mrs. S: Who's the other one running besides Hillary?

me: Donald Trump

Mrs. S: Is Donald Trump a woman?

and so on...

Remember the movie Trading Places -- the huge Eddie Murphy laugh when he says, "It's just so ridiculous!!"

Friday, August 26, 2016

I Love Libraries

When an old man dies, a library burns 

to the ground.

This is an old African proverb. 

One of the women I work with in the Dementia area of the retirement home passed away last week. She was one of my favorites, 93, and I had worked (played) with her for 4 years.  She had lived her whole life in Richmond. Because she repeated the same details in her stories, I knew they were true.  I love to hear stories about Richmond's history. I was born here, but moved when I was 2 and a 1/2. In college several of my closest friends were from Richmond, and it seemed like such a rich and glamorous place to be from, especially after growing up "a country mouse". I've been living here for 20 years now, so I guess I can say I'm from Richmond (unless I'm talking to a Richmonder), and the city truly becomes richer and dearer to me as time goes on. I live in a historic neighborhood in a 100+-year old house and someday, someday, I'll take the time to research more of the history of my home and neighborhood.  It's comforting to know so many other people have walked these streets, lived in these homes, had their own adventures.

So, I naturally get the elderly Richmond residents to tell me their stories. The woman mentioned above had plenty of tales to tell. She grew up in Oregon Hill, on Cherry Street. She spent her childhood running around in Hollywood Cemetery -- it was her playground. She walked to the old train station (now the Science Museum) to feed coffee to the troops as they came in on the trains, during World War II.

My favorite story she used to tell was about when the Altria Theater was being built -- to most Richmonders it will forever be The Mosque. The theater is beautiful, Moorish in decor, and used to have a bowling alley and pool. (Maybe it still does.) You used to be able to take a tour of the inside. I'm not sure if that's still an option. When this woman was young, she watched for months as the building was being constructed. Suddenly, she said, one day construction was halted. Because the workers found QUICKSAND. Apparently it doesn't occur only on Gilligan's Island. She wasn't sure of all the details, or how it was overcome, and eventually they continued the construction.

She told me she spent her whole life on Cherry Street, until she got married in the mid 1940s, when she moved to the West End. "Where did you live?" I asked her.  
"Next door to The Mosque".  
The West End.

One day we looked at old photos from the height of the Thalhimer's and Miller & Rhoads era, presented to us by the Valentine Museum. She and several other women told stories of meeting friends "under the old clock", and then having lunch together in the tea room, listening to the piano being played. They all wore dresses with white gloves. In one photo, the woman I've been talking about pointed to someone in the photo and said, "I think that's me." Probably was. 

Old Is Beautiful:

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Not Frida

The MOST important source of inspiration for painting ideas is our own lives... and what we like most.

I do a lot of commissions of animals, mostly dogs. Have animals ever held such high esteem with
their people in history?  I know my dog is the sweetest person I've ever met.

A friend has me doing a series of animal portraits, for his wife, of all the pets they have owned together. That have died. Individual paintings of each. This includes about 4 dogs, and maybe 9 bunnies. (They don't presently own any bunnies, but have 2 dogs). His wife is a good friend of mine, fairly eccentric, and almost always dresses in black. So I've kept the paintings subdued, not adding too much color. A bit of a challenge.

I never knew any of their former pets, but I know their present ones. Both of their dogs are pit bulls, as nice as they can be. One of them, Frida, has that pinky coloring around her face, with white fur, and she is beautiful. Every time I'm at their house, I take pictures of her, I just love her pink face.  So when I saw an image of another pit bull with the same sort of face, I decided to paint it and add paper as I do with a lot of my paintings. I colored her in pinks and navy as I was thinking a lot about that color combination. Guess who she ended up looking like? Yep, Frida.  So because I am only painting their deceased animals, I decided to call the painting Not Frida. But I still think of Frida when I look at it. Here's Not Frida: