September 26, 2016

The Iris Apfel in Golda Finch

Earlier this summer, I watched an extraordinary interview with Iris Apfel on PBS. Iris Apfel was 94 at the time of the interview and was encouragingly ambulatory and cogent. Actually, she was much more than that. Ms. Apfel, a fashion icon, had amassed a large collection of fabrics, fashion, jewelry and art, which she spoke about in loving detail with a strong sense of individual will. The collection was sumptuous, idiosyncratic yet bold. Here was a woman who most definitely knew her own mind.

What stuck with me most about the interview with Iris Apfel was her modesty with regard to herself and how that played out in her accumulation of the stuff of embellishment. Her reason for the embellishment of both self and environment was to celebrate colors, textures and style despite being physically plain herself.

I thought back on this interview yesterday as I worked on a painting for a book cover. The book, Woodland Harmonies, is an as yet unpublished manuscript by writer and artist Kristina Miller. In consultation with the writer, we decided that the best subject for a color cover was her story about Golda Finch. In the story, this female goldfinch made an elaborate nest, full of all the shiniest objects that she could find. As the story goes, Golda Finch’s desire to embellish her surrounding was on account of her own plainness as a female bird with duller coloring than her male counterpart. For this reason it was somewhat of a challenge to paint, because I wanted to convey the idea of the decorative nest but also did not want to overwhelm the bird in the nest either. So I made certain that Golda Finch herself was adorned but not erased. In keeping with the aesthetic of Iris Apfel, I included small bits of costume jewelry in the nest. I also decided to keep the background gold as well, drawing upon the art of Japanese enamels and the paintings of Gustav Klimpt.

I then did something that I almost never do. I took a picture of the painting while it was still wet on my easel and sent it to my client. That turned out to be fortuitous because she wrote back that although the painting was quite pretty, I had placed a male goldfinch in the nest. How had I done that? I wondered. For some reason I painted in the bold yellow colors and black crest of the male where the greenish hues of the female were supposed to be. I can only assume that I had unconsciously painted in the drab bird's desire to be bright!
  Fortunately because the painting was still wet I could wipe off the black cap on the bird’s head and tone down the feathers to a light olive green. A little glazing tweaked the colors and shading so that the duller bird was offset by the dark portions of the nest and the collected jewels highlighted. The revised version is pictured at right.

September 22, 2016



For the past three weeks, I set myself to my annual challenge of registering a work for the South Carolina State Fair that exists only in imagination. To make this especially challenging I register late and start a complicated and time consuming work. This year I called the painting "Silver Reach." Calculating about a week of drying time, I did indeed finish the work in time to submit it.

The painting, "Silver Reach" features a figure with extended arms. My husband gladly posed for the preliminary sketches. The long format of a figure with extended arms was initially inspired by a relief sculpture found in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. This sculpture depicts a man extending his arms outwards to indicate a fathom - a traditional unit of measurement.

My painting is a somewhat modified version of the fathom because only one hand is fully extended. The other is a fist. I did this for the most part in order to fit the figure in to the allotted forty-eight inches of my canvas, but it also imparts a greater sense of action to the subject.

To make this painting especially challenging, both the background and the figure’s garment were created not by blended paint but by tesselations configured as a mosaic. The background is formed as an opus vermiculatum style Roman mosaic, in units of square tesserae. The interior strokes of paint are smaller and longer, like the glass filati used to make micromosaics.

This is probably the first time that I created a painting in the style of a mosaic. Considering how long it took, it might be the last time!


September 17, 2016

Silver Reach

Back to being an artist! These past few weeks I have been working on a painting in a format that is unusual for me. I generally paint vertical works. I am not certain as to why - perhaps it is because it is the usual format for a book. Or it may be that they appear to take up less space on a wall. So it is was unusual to dream about a very long, skinny painting of a man with this arms outstretched and facing left. In the painting, the man was wearing a white shirt and painted on a background of silver, grey and white tesselations. He was reaching towards small squares of color on the periphery.

I woke up and decided that I would paint this for real. But it would take some weeks of planning. I had to buy the canvas, the heavy duty stretcher bars. I made the canvas 18" x 48", sized it with rabbit skin glue, two coats of primer, and a ground stippled in white, grey and silver. The canvas was so narrow that just a yard of cotton duck canvas allowed room for five smaller canvases. I was able to just fit in two sixteen inch squares and three eleven by fourteen inch canvases.

Since the figure in my dream bore a resemblance to my husband, I asked him to pose in that position and he obliged. Using composite photographs and templates, his visage eventually came in to being. The tesselations in the background and around the periphery of the painting turned out to be much harder edged than I had originally envisioned but I decided to keep them that way for the time being.

Taking a break from the painting, I took an outing and chanced upon a blue, white and grey feather flitting across the concrete walk. I decided to add this to the painting, adhering it with a dab of silver paint. Placed below the figure’s closed hand, it would appear to be an object clutched at and missed or perhaps never caught in the first place. This simple object might turn out to be the most evocative part of the painting - something I didn’t intend or have a hand in making.

I am in the last phase of painting - the figure’s clothes. I am hoping that I can keep the design mostly white and still have it show up against the silver background.