Category Archives: Paintings in progress

A baaaaaad case of the uglies…

A baaaaaad case of the uglies…


With apologies to my subject, who shall remain nameless (she hasn’t figured it out yet, or if she has she’s not talking’) girl, you need some work done on your face!

My day at the studio was shorter than I’d planned, but I did manage to figure out the color palette for the lounge chair. I’m definitely beefing up the chroma in this series because I want the colors to really sizzle (chroma is another term for saturation or intensity, and is one of the three primary characteristics of color. The other two color characteristics of color are value and hue, which I’ll discuss in a later post).

You know how in bright sunny places people often paint their houses bright colors? I’ve always heard that the reason is because paler colors tend to get lost in the bright surroundings, and since these paintings are intended to represent bright and sunny places I want the colors to be vivid and bright as well. 

I painted some of the lightest areas of the chair, just to see how the blues I’ve chosen will go with the flesh tones – there will definitely be a variety of blues, greens, and turquoises in that chair to represent the varieties of light and shadows that are present.

The paint on the flash areas I painted yesterday was a bit too tacky to work in today, so I moved to the face.

(Note: While you can work on already-painted areas when they’re tacky it requires using enough medium in your paint to re-moisten the previous layer. Since I want thick, juicy paint, I’d prefer to let those areas dry a while longer so that I can paint without medium. If you paint without medium over a tacky surface it can get slick and you loose the surface “tooth” that grabs the paint and holds it in place.)

As often happens at this stage in my paintings the face needed to be redrawn. This is where measuring proportions is crucial to me. I use the old holding a paintbrush at the end of my arm technique to measure the relative sizes of various parts of the body, to ensure everything is in the correct proportion. (There’s a nice short article on how to measure using a paintbrush here.)

Yeah, I had squished her face down to almost two-thirds of its correct size, so working form the chin up I re-measured everything and made rough brush marks to build a roadmap for reference.

To remind you, here’s where I was with the face when I left the studio yesterday:

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And here is our subject after measuring and building a roadmap:


Lovely, isn’t she?

This might look like a hot mess to the rest of you but to me she is a thing of, well, perhaps not beauty but she does have all her streets and highways identified, as well as elevation gains and losses.

You’ll just have to trust me on this.

Later in the day she got a little easier to look at…


At least now she has a discernible mouth and nose, and the width of her face relates to its height correctly.

By the time I decided to move on she had achieved this state, ready for the next assault…er…painting session.


A fun challenge for me is going to be figuring out how to show the portion of her face that is deep in shadow. Those teeth are going to drive be bat-poop crazy at some point, too.

Once I got to this point I felt I had the face blocked in enough to let her dry a bit, so I moved to dessert, next.


And boy was it good!

Aloha, and have a great weekend!

Back to business…

Back to business…


Today was a glorious day for me because I GOT TO PAINT!! Hurray!!

So many things have been happening in my personal life that I thought it would be another week or so before I could get back to the studio full time, but the planets aligned and the gods smiled and the priestess conjured up the right ghosts and I was able to get back to my work.

I was VERY eager to get to the studio this morning. There was this painting waiting for me, yes, but there was something else waiting for me in the studio that I cold not wait to get my hands on. THIS:


NO, it is NOT a mouse, it is the teensiest, tiniest itty bitty kitty in the world, and her name is Coconut.


Wittle, er, ahem, LITTLE Coconut was rescued by my studio mate’s friends’s dog, who came trotting into their house with her in his mouth. He was holding her oh-so-carefully, apparently, and laid her on the ground. She was tinier still, only days old, with her witt, little eyes shut tight. The dog’s name was Mango, so of course they named her Coconut.


They brought her to Taryn, my studio mate, because they knew she would take extra special care of the wee kitty. And, as you can see from the picture above, that she is indeed.

I tried to feed Coconut this morning and she was very difficult to manage. Apparently while feeding her you also have to provide her some paw stimulation so she can pretend she’s kneading and suckling her mom. (Mosura does this to me on a regular basis, so I am familiar.)

So there you go. Your unbearably cute photos for the day. And you didn’t even need to go to Facebook to see them. I live to please.

(Thank you Taryn for the photos, and the kitty.)

I thought that Coconut would be a distraction in the studio but she sleeps about 23 hours a day, so I was actually able to get some work done.

I began the morning learning how to paint flesh again (remember, if you paint every day you won’t have this problem – do as I say, etc. etc.)

I worked on the thigh that I had begun last week, and I realized I was getting tighter and tighter with my brushwork – smoothing everything out. I tend to do this when I haven’t painted for a while – I don’t like it, but I just couldn’t stop myself. That’s why the thigh on the left looks like this:


See how there are no discernible brush strokes? I don’t consider myself a photo-realist, so I usually aim for a looser surface, with livelier brushwork.

Yeah, well, I can fix that, but I knew I had to move on. I took a little break with Taryn and we talked about an upcoming event, Maui’s Open Studio event in February, in which we will be showing (hopefully, for me) new work. When she reminded me that we need to get to planning, I realized that I have very few weeks left, so I sat down and furiously painted in the other leg. IT has some brushwork, yeah man! It is a long way from finished but you’ll see the difference, here:


MUCH better. Perhaps I should have Taryn remind me of our deadline everyday before I put brush to canvas!


I quickly blocked in the other flesh areas, and tomorrow I will give them the once over, and hopefully loosen up the brushwork on that other leg.

For sure I will be doing some serious kitty cuddling!







Man in red speedo and sweater walking over boardwalk leaving beach, bright blue sky

And… and I’m… I’m real…

And… and I’m… I’m real…

“Pinocchio: And… and I’m… I’m real. I’m a real boy! 
Geppetto: You’re alive! And… and you are a real boy!”

Back in March I wrote a two-part post about coming to grips with calling myself an artist with a capital “A.”  Without going back over the all the angst I have felt over the years I can tell you it was directly related to my use of photography as the basis for my subject matter.

I thought I was a hack, and I didn’t want to be a hack. I loved to paint people; not necessarily portraits, but people doing everyday things. I loved the Impressionists, but I just couldn’t see myself hiring a bunch of models and posing them in ways that emulated everyday life (I didn’t have the budget or the interest, really). So I continued to base my slice-of-life paintings on photographs – first old photos of my family, and then, increasingly, on photos I took myself.

At first I would manipulate the images using the technology I had on hand: a copier, tracing paper, my sketchbook, pencils, and scissors to copy, cut, and manipulate the images. Then I discovered photo-editing software and that made it a hell of a lot easier, but it increased my level of guilt for having “cheated” somehow.

Oh lordie! I was raised a Catholic so the guilt thing was a bottomless pit!

To try to alleviate my guilt I searched years for evidence that the use of photography made me no less a “real” artist than those who painted entirely from life. I suppose if I hadn’t fallen asleep in all of my college art history classes I would have learned about the use of photography and saved myself all that grief (I still fall asleep in darkened movie theaters — a habit that severely disturbs my husband – but I digress).

The first book I found (this was waaaaaaaay before the internet so I was searching libraries and book stores) that made me feel somewhat better was Beyond Impressionism: The Naturalist Impulse by Edwin Becker and Gabriel P. Weisberg. I studied that book like a hawk, bookmarking pages and showing it to everyone I could corral – I wanted the world to know that, “hey, lookie here – these painters used PHOTOGRAPHS!”

It was a form of validation.

Another, more recent book that made it to my shelf in my search for validation is David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters (2002). In it Mr. Hockney (somehow I can call Eric Fischl Eric, but Hockney is British, so he will always be Mr. Hockney to me) analyzes Old Master’s techniques and claims that in order to obtain some of the spectacular accuracy in their paintings they must have used optical aids, such as camera lucidas and camera obscuras.

The fact that there is controversy regarding his theory makes perfect sense to me. I have had that same damn argument going on in my less-than-scholarly brain for decades. “Using photos and aids = bad! What about talent, technique, and plain old skill?” vs. “using photos and aids = ok cause they don’t make a painting by themselves – painters make paintings and these are just tools, much like my pre-technology copier and scissors.”

Shut up, brain!

Then in late 2012 The San Jose Museum of Art in California produced a show of Eric Fischl’s art entitled “Dive Deep: Eric Fischl and the Process of Painting.” I didn’t see it. I should have. Some of you may know he is one of my painting heroes, not just because he uses photos as a basis for his work, nor because he uses technology to help him do so, but more because he is a painter’s painter – he paints with big, juicy brush strokes that tell you just how much he loves to move paint around on the canvas. I also love that he is so transparent – he is so generous with his knowledge and his processes – seemingly ego-less.

There is a nice short video clip from an interview he did for the exhibit in which he discusses his process, and talks about (oh how I love him for this) how ironic it is that he now uses the very newest forms of technology to help him produce one of the most primitive forms of expression.

LOVE that perspective.

My self-esteem has come a long way since the mid-70′s when I was nodding off in Art History classes, and while I am not ashamed to say that I take, manipulate, use, and sometimes even PROJECT (gasp!) photographic images onto my canvases, I still somehow want to stand up and shout “I’m REAL!” whenever I come across evidence that new or old masters have used photography or other technology to create their work.

So how’s this for an exercise in meeting one’s demons head-on – in the interest of my own transparency, and since this is a blog about my workday, I thought I’d share some of the the work that happens outside my studio, before I ever lift a canvas onto my easel. (Please refrain from laughing at my pathetic use of PhotoShop when you see these.)

The main subject photo:


Another, similar photo from which I “stole” the feet missing in the first photo:


The final composition on which the final painting is based:


These three images ended up, collectively, as this painting of my brother: “Baby Oil and Iodine.”


For the next painting all I wanted to do was to skew the perspective, so it was a much simpler process: open photo in PhotoShop, play with perspective in “skew” mode, and click Save.

Original image:

Last Man

Skewed image:


Finished painting:


In this example I removed a third bridesmaid from the middle of the image


to make this painting:

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Finally, a more complex example, which will never be made into a painting. Not only did I combine a couple of images, I also started experimenting with location and backgrounds, and it just never felt right, so I put it aside.

First, the original image I thought had elements of an interesting painting:


Next, another subject (happens to be me – the man above is Richard, my husband):


Experimenting with combining subjects, deleting background, adding backgrounds and I still couldn’t make this one work well enough to try to put it on canvas.





So there you have it – I’ve no more secrets – yet. Well, maybe one or two, but really, there is no way that I could make the paintings that I want to make if I didn’t have the kind of technology we have available today. It just makes things so much easier and faster. And I really, truly, would prefer to get this part of the work over with as quickly as possible (as you can see I am not exactly an enthusiastic aficionado of photo-editing) so that I can spend more time doing what I really, truly, love to do, and that is pushing paint around on the canvas.

Aloha for now, and let’s say it, all together now…

I. AM. REAL!!!


P.S. There is an excellent article, actually a review of the catalog for the exhibition Illusions of Reality: Naturalist Painting, Photography, Theatre and Cinema, 1875 – 1918 at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2010, on the “Naturalist School,” as it was called in the first Paris salon in which paintings of this ilk appeared, which you can read here.



“Big Foot” day two…

“Big Foot” day two…


No offense to my model, but in trying to come up with a working title for this painting I just can’t get beyond “Big Foot.” I mean, that’s a really big foot, ya know?

There are some other “Big Feet” paintings around, some of them famous, some not so. For example there’s ”Dead Christ” by Andrea Mantegna:

Andrea Mantegna

Edouard Manet’s version, “The Dead Christ and the Angels”:


His “Dead Toreador” has pretty big feet, too.


Uhm, I’m noticing a theme here, which was not my intent, but there seem to be a lot of dead big footed people painted throughout art history. At least that’s what you get when you google “Images – foreshortening.” So I hereby declare that I will only depict very-much-alive big feet in this new series.

One more, by Annibale Carracci, “The Dead Christ:”


Sorry for the diversion but I really did find it interesting just how many paintings of dead people came up while I was looking for examples of foreshortening. I guess it’s because most of them are lying down, (duh!) which forces the issue somewhat. When you look at the human body and one part is close up and the other farther away some part of it is going to be foreshortened, i.e. appearing larger than it actually is, in relation to the other parts of the body.

Hence, “Big Foot” here. That foot is huge in relation to the head, for example, because the view is from below, and at foot-level.

I’ve used foreshortening a lot in my paintings, mostly because I like presenting the figure in ways that create some tension. And it’s challenging to get it right, to make it believable.

OK, back to today’s work. That foot changed positions twice today – I had decided in the middle of the night (yawn) that I should let the foot fall a bit to the viewer’s left, in order to introduce another angle into the paintings, and to make it look a bit more relaxed. So I changed it. Then I changed it back.

I decided there were already enough angles in the painting, and that I needed that straight-up-and-down foot to anchor those other angles to the picture plane. The vertical line created by the upright foot provides some relief to the other crazy angles caused by the straps and legs of the lounge chair, the arm and other leg, and the uplifted face.

Speaking of crazy angles, the legs of the lounge chair as I sketched them in yesterday were causing me some grief – I knew I needed to find a way to differentiate them from each other else I’d be terribly confused when I got around to actually painting them in detail. So I blocked them in with my favorite shadow-purple, and a little white, to help define them and mark where the shadows were.


Once I knew that they wouldn’t be (as) confusing later I moved on to (gasp) flesh.

Now remember, I haven’t painted in a while, and as I’ve repeatedly told my students, when you don’t paint every day (do as I say, not as I do) you have to learn how all over again. Luckily it’s a bit like riding a bike, the skills come back fairly quickly once you actually get back to the studio. But I did have a moment of hesitation when I began, and said as much to my studio mate, which, emotionally, is much like confessing to your mother that you’ve been smoking crack. No one wants to admit that they’re terrified of doing something they’ve done A THOUSAND TIMES BEFORE!

Luckily, she said “you have NOT forgotten” and I got over myself fairly quickly.


I worked a bit on one leg, put in some darks here and there, and then could not help myself for one more minute and headed over to that (big) foot. I got a very thin layer of paint down and I tell you, I cannot WAIT to tackle that sucker tomorrow!


Here’s what I ended up with at the end of the day:


Til tomorrow, then, Aloha!


P.S. I did find some big feet in some of Eric Fischl’s paintings. This one is “The Bed, The Chair, The Sitter,” and it seems that both of these folks are very much alive.



Painting in paradise…

Painting in paradise…


Today was my first day actually painting in my new space on Maui – hurray! FINALLY!! I have spent the first 6 weeks of living here getting our condo settled and undergoing every fathomable medical test my new doctor (whom I call the Wizard) could think of! I have been poked and prodded and put into tubes and smashed into machines I didn’t know existed, all to give the Wizard a baseline from which to begin new treatment. I appreciate her thoroughness, absolutely adore her, but I am extremely grateful that yesterday was the last test (MRI) I have to undergo for at least a while. (Those MRIs are the LOUDEST and NOISIEST test yet – you’d think they could do something about that, wouldn’t ya?)

Mahalo to Taryn Alessandro for generously allowing me to sublet part of her incredibly inspiring studio — it is filled with her mixed media paintings and books, and the most varied and unusual (for me at least) supply of paint and mediums, found objects and collections I’ve ever seen. It’s like a playhouse for artists! You can see what Taryn does with this array of materials in her multi-layered paintings – see her website at:

But back to painting – for I actually picked up a brush for the first time in months — and while it took me a while to actually touch paint to canvas, I did, in fact, begin a painting I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. Actually, it is the first in a series I’ll be doing, inspired by photographs taken of a reunion weekend with some of my besties from college – thank you Delta Gammas for the fun, and the photos. (Don’t worry – identities will be withheld to protect the guilty.)

While I am going to be experimenting with smaller sizes in this series, this first painting is still fairly large – 48″ X 36″ — slightly smaller than my last series of 60″ X 42″ canvases without compromising the impact I’m looking for.

Since this is a blog about my day in the studio, let’s begin where I began – getting the canvas ready.

This is an off-the-shelf canvas so it’s quite a bit lighter, hence more maneuverable than the custom canvases I’ve been using. I was able to haul this around without breaking anything, although at one point I made a hellavalotta noise when I hoisted the top of the canvas into the ceiling fan.

In the past I haven’t done anything to protect the edges of the canvas, I’ve usually painted them black, or just ignored the paint swipes and blots. For these paintings I want a clean white edge – there’s something about Hawaii that makes me want to “lighten up” — black just seems way too heavy. In order to keep the edges clean and not have to do too much touch-up later, I taped the edges with masking tape.


(Note to self: buy green “frog” tape for the studio – it adheres better and prohibits bleed-through better.)

You really have to burnish regular masking tape down, so I went over it with a clean cloth and pressed very hard.

Next up – I projected the photo onto the canvas – this took a bit of doing as it was already light out when I arrived at the studio, but Taryn showed me a darkened hallway and it worked fine.


You can see from this closeup example that I don’t spend a lot of time trying to be precise at this point – I’m really just trying to build a bit of a roadmap for when I begin to draw the subject with paint.

In this case once I got the canvas back up onto the easel I realized that I had positioned the subject too far down on the canvas, so I had to completely redraw it in a higher position. Ah well, technology isn’t always perfect.

I use burnt umber for laying down lines, mixed with a lot of mineral spirits. Why burnt umber? I dunno – always have used it and it seems to work. It’s fairly neutral and doesn’t bleed through the subsequent layers, so I use it. It also thins nicely, and erases well when wiped with a rag dipped in mineral spirits.

So, here she is – first of what I hope will be a fun series. Paintings of one paradise done in another.


Til next time…


P.S. If you missed my Aloha Holiday Sale newsletter, please comment below, tell me you’d like to subscribe, and I’ll send it to you. It contains news of my last commission, ideas for giving art for holiday gifts (with a GREAT sale price on my prints), and you can earn a chance to win one of my “Surf and Sand” prints.

P.P.S. Does anyone who was present at the weekend in question recognize the DG in the painting?