Introducing a new (irregular) feature: From the easel of…
(Also, where I’ve been lately)
See those pretty painted toenails in the image above? Well, yes, thank you, I DO like the color. However, as you might have noticed, those pretty painted toes were NOT at the beach as they should have been. Instead they were lying in wait to be sprung from Maui Memorial Hospital, where they had spent at least two days attached to their owner’s legs, which were attached to their owner, who was recovering from surgery to repair a broken femur.
Yes, “OUCH” is an appropriate reaction.
My docs had warned me that I was in danger of breaking my femur, as one of my most active lesions is on the left femoral neck, which is just below the femoral head, which is the tennis-ball like thingie that fits into the hip socket, which is a pretty important thingie to have intact. I was supposed to see an orthopedic surgeon BEFORE the damn thing broke, and unfortunately finding said surgeon was the first roadblock I’ve encountered since entering the Maui healthcare system. NOT ONE surgeon’s office called me back or would even admit to having received my doc’s referral. I guess with all the crazy helmet-less, shoeless scooter riders around here they are kept pretty busy, but geesh, at least answer my phone calls, will ya? I don’t even own a scooter. Yet.
Sure as shooting my crystal ball-toting medical oncologist predicted the future – on Friday, November 23 my sweetie took me to the emergency room in extreme pain, and they confirmed that yes, indeed, I had fractured my femur. Not at the neck, but just below the neck, which is called a pathological (meaning no apparent trauma or reason) subtrochanteric fracture of the femur.
Fancy, isn’t it? HA! Not as fancy as my Aloha-decorated walker is fancy…
To make a long and painful story short, I’m now laid up, with some extremely high-tech stuff going on in my hip, namely a rod and pins holding my femur together with my femoral neck and head thingie, and I’m restricted to no exercise, no walking without a walker, and very little walking even then.
I AM BORED OUT OF MY MIND!!!!!!!!!
Oh, excuse me, did I say that out loud?
Anyway, that is my latest excuse for not posting much, and it’s a doozie if I say so myself. But now the pain is under control with the help of some very fine medication, and I’m getting antsy not being able to go to the studio.
So this is the perfect time to introduce a new feature I have been fiddling with in my mind: (drum roll, please)
From the easel of…
“From the easel of…” will be an occasionally-published series where I spotlight one of my students and their paintings. I was going to say careers, but not all of my students have as their goal an actual career as painters. Many come to me just because they love to paint and want their painting hobby to give them as much pleasure as possible, which to them means doing it as best they can.
But some have made careers, or at least part-time careers, out of making art, which is truly exciting for me to watch!
Some of the students I will be featuring had never picked up a paintbrush in their lives; some had finger-painted as children; others had been painting quite a while. ALL of them made significant progress, and while I won’t claim credit for their awesome talents, I will say that I was at least in the room with them for a significant time while they made their art. That counts as something, doesn’t it?
So heeerrrrrrrrrrrre we go!
Ain’t that just a swell picture?
I met my dear friend Margaret Parkinson (on the right in the marvelous red shawl) and her partner Karen Creason (polka dotted socks and red converse) many years ago when I picked up a painting of theirs for a show that my friend Nana Bagdavadze and I were having. The painting was a wonderful double portrait Nana had done of them and it was to be her signature piece in the show.
Nana had told me beforehand that Margaret and Karen were a little nervous about letting the piece out of their home, and after meeting them and seeing the painting I understood why – the piece is gy-normous, heavily framed, and precious beyond belief — one wrong move and I could destroy their very heart.
That may sound odd, I mean it’s just a painting right? Well, right, but at the time it represented the commitment and love, the dedication and devotion that these two have for each other and the life they’ve made together for the past 37 years. And because Margaret and Karen are precious beyond belief themselves. (I mean just look at them. Am I right?)
But this is a story about Margaret and the paintings she does, so I’ll get on with it.
Margaret started taking my oil painting classes back in 2006. She had been a student of Nana’s prior to that, and when Nana moved to Washington DC I “inherited” Margaret as a student.
When I first saw her work I knew that I could help her with her technical abilities — composition, brush work, color mixing, and drawing. Margaret didn’t begin painting until her mid-fifites and she, like many other artists who come to painting later in life, hadn’t been trained in the basics. But what Margaret lacked in technique she more than made up for in tenacity and passion.
(Those are the keys, folks. As Betty Edwards says in Drawing of the Right Side of Your Brain, anyone can learn to draw. But to truly express yourself you’ve got to have courage and a strong will to succeed. Margaret had both in spades.)
Here is one of the paintings that Margaret made before she came to my class – obviously Margaret had great passion for the subject. It is a tribute to the commitment she and Karen made to each other, 36 years before they were able to legally marry.
Margaret painted like hell hath no fury. She always wore the same smock which I can visualize perfectly if I close my eyes. She has this fabulous long, thick grey hair that she wears twisted up and secured with chopsticks, and at the end of a painting session her hair would be falling out of her bun and sticking out all over the place and her smock would be covered in fresh paint and she usually had paint on her cheek and often on her lips. The time that passed between her taking her seat at her easel and the moment I had to reluctantly call class to a close was completely lost to her – she got into the zone and never stopped.
In those days Margaret was painting passionately, but her passion wasn’t being expressed in her paintings. She did the usual — loved ones, commissioned portraits of kids, family portraits, animals. Her technique got better, slowly. She improved her understanding of color mixing and brushwork, slowly. Her skills in drawing were still not supporting the level to which her painting skills had risen, however. Her figures were rigid and stiff, her backgrounds were over thought.
I introduced Margaret to an age-old technique for transferring an image to canvas called “gridding.” Gridding comprises dividing your image into squares, dividing the canvas into the same number of squares, and then drawing what appears in each square on the image into its proportionately correct, corresponding square on the canvas. It looks like this:
The gridding technique saved Margaret a lot of time getting her subjects onto the canvas, and in the process her actual drawing skills improved.
And then one day a couple of little pigs came to visit the studio.
A little backstory for you: Margaret and Karen are more than animal lovers – they are animal rights activists, supporters, rescuers, givers of time and money to animal rights and needs. In the early 1980’s they established a private foundation to support their belief that non-human animals have the same rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that human animals do. Margaret and her wife Karen don’t just espouse their beliefs, they embody them, living a vegan lifestyle and volunteering not just money but their time, energy, and passion to such organizations as Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, Pig’s Peace, and Farm Sanctuary.
Margaret brought a photograph to class, one taken by a volunteer at Pig’s Peace, a sanctuary begun as a refuge for the castoffs of the pot-bellied pig craze. The photograph was of a piglet named Sophia who had come to the sanctuary as a frightened, anti-social little girl. She was immediately adopted by Baily, a blind pig that took little Sophia under her wing and showed her the ropes.
Margaret had already transferred the image to her canvas, and was itching to get going.
I remember we were having a conversation about color – what palette should she use, how could she best represent the relationship between the pigs, and I told her something like, “look for the colors within the colors, and then, exaggerate them. You know, if you see pink, paint Pink with a capital P.” And then I’m sure I walked away, probably to check on another student, without truly understanding what had just been unleashed.
The next thing I knew there were colors flying everywhere!
PURPLE! GREEN! TURQUOISE! MAGENTA! LIGHT BLUE! DARK BLUE! CRIMSON!
Without having to worry as much about getting the drawing perfect Margaret was free to experiment with color, and hoo-boy, did she ever! She was excited about the possibilities that had opened up for her by looking beyond the local color of a subject and developing her own signature palette, and the results were simply stunning.
Margaret had found her voice, and a vocabulary for her work that now is one of its most unique and expressive qualities. She continued to experiment with color and its ability to convey shape, form, and texture and perhaps most important, her emotional connection to her subjects.
And no, you cannot buy “Best Friends” because I did, as a Christmas gift for Richard. It now has pride of place on his bookshelf in our new home on Maui.
Now the time has come for me to shut up and get out of the way while you see for yourself how far she has come.
The thing is, Margaret’s paintings now are such an expression of who she is it’s difficult to imagine that she ever painted any other way. She and Karen have embraced life head-on since they met 37 years ago and formed a life together that celebrates the beauty in all things. Unbridled joy is the term that suits them best, I believe, and serves as an apt description of her approach to her painting subjects as well.
Margaret has gone on to develop a very successful career as a painter, primarily of her beloved animals, but also of the human animals in her life. Her paintings are in demand by animal lovers across the globe and she frequently donates her work to the groups and sanctuaries that protect and enhance the lives of animals, including Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, Feral Cats Spay Neuter Project, PeTA and Farm Sanctuary.
100% (yes, you read correctly – 100%!) of the money Margaret receives for her work goes to animal rights and welfare causes. SHE TAKES COMMISSIONS, and loves the stories behind each painting she does, which are expressed in the works themselves. She paints for auctions and other fundraising activities for animal rights and welfare organizations, and for her own pleasure.
Here are Margaret’s own words, in her Artist’s Statement, about her work:
Margaret Helen Parkinson paints because the process makes her happy and painting is a way of examining and expressing her core values.
Margaret paints animals—human and non-human. Non-human animals show us the essence of life because they lift us from the familiarity of being human and direct us to life itself.
Margaret’s paintings speak to the spark of life that is the same in a cat, a goose, a pig, a chimpanzee, a hawk, a human. Each species is different yet at its essence all life is the same. Margaret strives for an honesty that celebrates commonality.
Margaret paints in watercolor and oils. She has studied with several teachers, believing that each teacher provides a specific view and facilitates unique insight into creativity. Her teachers include Molly Hashimoto, Nana Bagdavadze and the fabulous Gini Lawson.
I SWEAR I did NOT add that “fabulous” word before my name. Really!! You can ask Margaret!
Anyway – Margaret and Karen are two of Richard’s and my dearest friends. We were honored, and lucky enough, to be standing at the bottom of the Seattle City Hall’s steps on December 9, 2012, to cheer them when they were among the first same-sex couples to be legally united in marriage, which, coincidentally, was 36 years to the day that they made a commitment to each other on a beach in New Zealand.
I am honored to have contributed to Margaret’s painting success in my own small way, and more than honored that she and Karen call me friend.