Friday, December 27, 2013

this one

I'm starting to do portraits for my own pleasure. I feel incredibly lucky to be busy with commissioned work, but I put so much pressure on myself to do them a certain way that I end up being unsatisfied, even when the client is perfectly happy.

I don't know how to break free of that, except to do a whole bunch of work that isn't automatically waiting for approval, even if it's only in my mind.

This was a good start:

I saw the photo on a friend's page, of herself as a little girl, taken by her father. It has the cool liquid light of film from the 1970s, and the expression in her eyes is positively disarming.

I don't think I did the photo justice, but for once I was focusing instead on what kind of painting it would make. This kind of departure is good.

I have been chafing against my own limits for so long, and it finally feels like I'm doing the work that will expand them.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

christmas claw

I almost bought a fake Christmas tree at the hardware store. I seriously considered it, hideous and overpriced as it was. 

I am usually the one to push for a tree, and for holiday decorations in general, but it seems like I am always scrabbling things together at the last minute, suddenly aware that I am the adult who needs to make this happen. We have moved so many times that we have never really accumulated any decorations worth reusing, and this year, of course, we are half-way around the world without even our five Christmas tree ornaments and pitiful strands of tinsel.

So that's why we were at the hardware store, the kids having their minds blown by little mechanical reindeer toys that would repeat exactly what you said to them, while I waffled about buying an expensive Christmas pom-pon.

I decided against it (and against the reindeer too, much to the kids' dismay), hoping instead to maybe find a place in the mountains to discreetly remove a pine-ish shrub. This is how my imagination works, for better or worse. 

A few days later, as we were walking home I saw a parked pick-up truck with its bed piled high with tree-trimmings from some groundskeepers doing work nearby. The workers were nowhere to be seen, and the pile was well above my head, so I hemmed and paced while debating whether it made sense to risk spectacle or personal injury to dumpster-dive our Christmas tree.

But they were conifers of some sort, I reasoned, and they would be free. But they were also wiry and pokey and wedged in tight. After a few tries, I gave up. 

We headed home and I felt like I'd missed my big chance... The mountains were practically delivering a tree to my doorstep, and I'd done worse than Charlie Brown and come home with NOTHING.

So we psyched ourselves up and went back to the truck. This time the workers were there, and I asked, very politely of course, if we could have some branches from their truck. They not only scaled the precarious pile to give us branches, they helpfully trimmed them with their hacksaws and shook out the bugs and dead needles. I thanked them profusely, and we proudly dragged our anonymous conifer bouquet home.

Arranging the branches into a tree-like shape turned out to be a lot harder than I'd anticipated, though, and I broke a sweat on our front stoop wrangling the stems into a bucket that I'd weighed down with a brick.

When I finished, it actually looked pretty good, especially in the front room alcove which is meant for ikebana. I felt kind of proud of making an appropriately hybrid Japanese Christmas tree, and we decorated it with paper snowflakes and origami cranes. 

Just right, I thought. Kind of sculptural and dynamic, even. The perfect little tree for our little house. 

Then, a few days later, Isla accidentally knocked it over, spilling water and makeshift ornaments all over the tatami. 

I did my best to salvage the presentation, but could not for the life of me get the branches arranged in the same way. I had to untangle all the lights, all the tinsel, and wrestle with it anew. 

Instead of looking like a graceful swirl with swooping cantilevered gestures, it looked like a giant green claw sprouting from the wall.

Not as pleasing as the first version, but I was not about to upset the tenuous balance I'd achieved between the sideways branches, the small bucket, and the brick.


And then Auden accidentally knocked it over.

Amazingly, none of the water spilled out that time, but all the ornaments and pine cones and sundry paper creatures came out, and the lights and tinsel again became a game of cat's cradle gone awry.

I considered chucking the whole project. We don't even spend any time in that room, anyway. 

But I'm incredibly stubborn, more so than those torqued-out branches that resisted every single combination of physics and prayer that would allow them to just please stand vaguely upright for another week or so.

Our tree now looks like this:

It's not even a claw any more; I don't know what that is. It's a motley mess. It looks like exactly what it is, which is a bunch of  scraggly branches wedged into a small bucket, weighed down with a brick, and incongruously bedazzled with gold stars, red bows, paper ninja weapons, and pine cones. 

But it absolutely cracks me up every time I see it. 

This is what it feels like to be in Japan: awkward, haphazard, intermittently sparkly, occasionally knocked over and rearranged. 

I don't know if the kids will retain an authentic memory of this tree that I fashioned for them out of random trimmings destined for the chipper, but I already know that I will be telling and re-telling the story of my most unique and unforgettable Christmas Claw for years to come.

Merry Christmas to you! 


Friday, November 15, 2013

the seed of its own healing

This post has been languishing in my "drafts" folder for almost a year. I don't remember why I didn't post it, but I'm sure I meant to, because NEW FINISHED PAINTINGS, holy shit. I also don't know why I feel compelled to do things in chronological fashion -- vestiges from the perfectionism that is as stubborn as it is perfect? -- but all the sudden I can't go forward without catching up.

Last winter, in Providence, I had about10 different canvases going at once, all in this diluted wash-y experiment:

"The Seed of its Own Healing"
16 x 20, oil and mixed media on canvas

I was just dousing the surfaces with layers and layers of paint, seeing what would happen to the composition with every subsequent application, and more than a little inspired by my friend Kozuki Watanabe (whose work not only vibrates with color intensity and off-kilter compositions, but also bears the most poetically potent titles I've ever seen).

I loved discovering the interaction between the layers, seeing how far I could push the paint.

 "A Human Instrument"
16 x 20, oil and mixed media on canvas

I had tacked up a quote from Francis Bacon about "preserving the accident" in a painting, something I'd been mulling over for years but hadn't been able to actually do in practice. These pieces felt like such a relief to me for that reason -- they were a complete departure from my heavy-handed and overworked markings of the past.
And also I did not know how much I loved chartreuse.

The hands I drew years and years ago -- I found them stashed with some other collage material, and thought the spidery lines of India Ink fit nicely with the contrasting fields of color. I pasted them on with an oil gel medium, and the ink stayed true while the paper went beautifully translucent.

I marvel at the way hands are so immediately, humanly, expressive. Their language is intuitive, inherent, elegant.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Here's what I've been doing with my scraps of time: scraps of art!

I can't help it, I love these colors so much.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

reading the air

I'm in the familiar bind of carrying the creative momentum of recent months forward into a new setting, which always seems easier from the going side than the arriving side.

 I want to keep painting with the same gusto I mustered over the summer, keep going with the delft and the patterns and the layers. But I am still sort of shocked and disoriented, and can't account for why the brushes won't work, why the paint won't move.

I listen and listen to people, waiting for the words to make sense, waiting to feel settled and acclimated. But the explanations I want, the connections I want, are maddeningly out of reach. I assume automatically that my art suffers because of this disorientation, but what if art is actually the way through it?

I feel scared, reluctant. Still struggling to find a rhythm in these days. I want to paint, but then I want to shop, decorate the house, write letters. Everything is all jumbled together and resists being sorted.

But I must commit to making art, and not trouble myself so much about what will come of it. I don't even need to deliberate about what to put IN... it's just going to happen.

Five hours a day is short -- I have to start in right away if I want to paint, and even then I'm working up to the last minute before I have to pick up the kids. How will I get anything done this way? There's so much I want to do -- that ever-present ache -- and I can't get organized to actually do it. These little scraps of time, scraps of art... how can I commit when as soon as I get warmed up it's time to stop?

My mind is jumping around so much, overfull, focusing on nothing, like a dream I can't quite remember. I can't wait for the world to stop rushing in , I have to close the doors. Trust the quiet.

Is this how we spend our days, we humans? We wake up in this world that has air and water and light for us, a world that grows food for us to eat! What a marvel! And then we worry and worry and worry.


Monday, October 21, 2013

stop worrying, love the bento

I had a gig as a part-time teacher* at a kindergarten here seven years ago, and I got to see the exquisite and tyrannical cuteness of the bento first-hand. There really were fish cakes stamped into flower shapes, adorning rice-ball bunny faces with pink ume cheeks and black nori whiskers, joined by adroitly flayed cocktail wieners and that non-edible decorative sushi grass. That shit is real.

(*had nothing to do with "teaching")

I would eat with the students, and marvel at their little zig-zag cut cucumber slices, their broccoli spears topped with a smattering of sesame seeds, their tiny patterned foil cups filled with coiled noodles... and they would make fun of me for my unabashedly boring leftover curry..
But, come to think of it, they made fun of me for just about everything. Aren't kids delightful?

So I had some trepidation about this lunch-making business. Getting tips from cookbooks specifically for bento is like taking a crash-course in master-chefsmanship... learn to prepare tiny portions of savory and aesthetically appealing finger food, nutritionally balanced and artistically nuanced:

Roasted eggplant slices interspaced with prosciutto! Glazed grilled salmon and bite-sized chunks of boiled kabocha! Apples sliced like an MC Escher drawing!

Gorgeous little hors d'oeuvres. For your child. FOR LUNCH.

I flipped through the pages of that cookbook thinking my kids will not eat any of this.

But first, before I even got to the cooking part, I needed some things:

ALL THE THINGS. Are needed.

I can't even tell you how many different stores I went to for the proper napkins and little cups and pouches for little cups, but it was a lot, and I broke a sweat in all of them because the kids take my price-tag-reading and decision-making-face as a cue to escalate to full-on feral monkey mode.

But we made it out eventually, and everything is safely gendered and color coordinated, despite the hodge-podge of assorted cartoon personae. 

To the kitchen, then, for my first attempt:

Fortunately the majority of the bento is supposed to be rice, and it's not hard to dress it up with some furikake. The fried-chicken was store-bought (cheating, yes), then sliced apples, clementine wedges, cucumber slices -- salted! that's the trick -- and some green beans, blanched, then simmered in miso paste.

This is not going to become a cooking blog,  where I take well-lighted pictures of food I made in my impeccably tasteful house in order to make you feel bad about your life, heaven forbid -- I only need to illustrate my story to show you that my children ate these vegetables. My children. Who usually eat cheese crackers and hot dogs. After a week in Japanese Yochien they are willingly eating green things.

Attempt #2 was leftover chicken piccata, rice cooked in dashi with carrots & mushrooms (followed this recipe, more or less), gomae (sesame spinach), and some more cuke & apple slices.

I'm crediting peer pressure mainly, and also the utter lack of fall-back comfort food, as the reason my kids will even try this stuff. But I have also realized my own complacency in our previous lunch habits. I don't want to be all insufferable about it, but learning how to cook vegetables in a way that tastes good to my kids is a skill I didn't know I needed until I was forced into it. Having a toaster oven helps, too.

I did not expect to like making bento; I was only hoping for a grudging tolerance. Believe me, I have deeper issues about Japanese food in general that need to be resolved (how desperately I miss good bread, for example), but I'm giving myself permission to feel a little smug in my success on this front.

Don't expect cocktail wieners cut to look like octopi with little sesame seed eyes, though. I have some snark to maintain.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

bona fides

I have been trying for years to get myself to draw every day.

I have little spurts of productivity and discipline, but then I misplace my sketchbook or I’m tired or I’m caught in that sneaky trap of fear and self-doubt. Then I see my friend's drawings, which she’s been doing for years, about her daily life and experiences, and they are so AMAZING, and I chastise myself for not drawing every day and doing something amazing too.

I want to be amazing, but I don’t want to allow myself to practice. I want even my sketchbooks to be amazing (so I can show them off and impress people and become famous and never again experience fear and self-doubt — that’s the narrative, isn’t it?), so I don’t ever give myself permission to make mistakes, not even in a sketchbook. I want to make marks, but I am terrified of making stupid marks. The self-consciousness is paralyzing.

I read once that Egon Schiele was such an amazing draughtsman that he never used erasers — if he didn’t like his line, he threw away the entire drawing. But mostly he just nailed it.

I have the same yearning for a certain quality of line, for an ease and a naturalness. When I make stupid marks they betray me; they expose me.

But when I look at other people’s work, I LIKE the rough edges. I like when things are not so tidy, when I can see some of the process, some of the decisions they made. I like the vitality in that. So why am I so intent on killing that vitality in my own work?

I  have spent a lot of years trying to make art the way other people make art, mistakenly believing that imitation will yield satisfying results. And then I compare myself mercilessly when I don’t do what they did. All the while I’ve been ignoring the very thing that makes my work MINE. And I don’t know what that is, but I know it shows up if I just do the work.

I have been very deliberate this past year about dismantling my perfectionism.

I had been feeling like I was on the verge of a breakthrough for months on end and instead I was just getting totally blue-balled, feeling as though there was a wall, like a literal wall, between where I was and where I wanted to go. I had no clue how to get around it. “Just do something different!” I would scold myself. Then I’d try something different and it would be so pitifully meek and half-baked that I would give up immediately and despair about being any kind of artist at all.

In the superb little tome Art and Fear, the authors write about that feeling of yearning, which is often what compels artist to make stuff in the first place, and how it can corrupt what you’ve made immediately after you’ve made it. Because you’re still yearning. Like being painfully hungry and just drinking hot water.

So part of my breakthrough was the realization that each single piece is not going to be IT — the satisfaction of that yearning -- it’s just part of it. Each piece leads me closer, and each piece contains the seed of the next piece. So that’s why I have to just keep making stuff and not worry so much about whether every single canvas is resolved.

But I keep looking for the line.

What I need to do instead is allow the line to be the record of the search, not its object. How I think, how I see, how I keep turning something over and over in my hands and in my head in order to figure it out -- these are what make me an artist.


Friday, October 4, 2013

same river twice

Hard day, good day, hard day... brain weaving a pattern from the din of information.

So unbelievably tired at the end of the day; snapping at the kids, feeling guilty, always trailing behind, instead of marching, decisively, ahead.

More than once already I have wanted to bail on this adventure. It's getting easier bit by bit -- we have water pressure now! and a table! -- but it's still hard for me to imagine the coming winter and the rest of our year here. It's simultaneously a big deal and not at all... we're just going about our lives and our work, with the usual frustrations and successes. And yet, I'm indulging in self-pity, needing some recognition for the work I'm doing, because it feels like a magic trick every time I coax dinner out of the meager provisions in our fridge. I am flummoxed by the grocery store, vexed by uncooperative children who expect toys and treats just for breathing Japanese air.

I have been retracing old steps, stitching this city together from a dream. I am looking for the street that connects to the alley that leads to the cafe next to the charming gift shop... was that it? Do I also expect to find the person I was then?

I used to love rummaging around at used bookstores, searching for collage material. Yesterday I went to one in our neighborhood and browsed briefly through the offerings out front, a haphazard stack of mildewed books and periodicals. It didn't enchant me with possibility like it did before, it just looked like the remnants of someone's hoarding, coating my hands with filmy dust.

So, I had to get that out of the way, I suppose. Now I can allow this experience to unfold in real time, unbounded by my expectations. The kids and I ride our bike all over town, observing, piecing things together in a new way: here's the giant tanuki, there's the mossy little waterfall, here is our fox shrine. "We're meambling," Auden says as we coast slowly, letting the narrow streets lead us this way and that.

I want to force things to come together, to make sense, to be easy. I takes all kinds of reminders to slow down and see what's right there: delicate things, easily overlooked, like tiny maple leaves in a layered canopy, filtering sunlight.


Friday, September 27, 2013


We've got a sweet new ride:

Buses & trains are fun and all, but THIS is freedom.

I used to marvel at the women biking around with multiple children strapped in to bike seats -- the Japanese Minivan. Now I AM THAT MAMA, god help me. And god help you, too, if you're walking or biking toward me.


Monday, September 23, 2013

upon arrival

So. The way to get to Japan is:

Headphones, coloring books, a very small amount of sleep... deconstruction airport luggage delivery pose focus...

And suddenly, we are inside a tiny garden which is inside our house, on the other side of the world.

Kyoto smells like incense, cigarette smoke, laundry soap. Fish.

But, you know how you can't quite put your finger on it... Something vaguely medicinal? Something like damp tatami?

Everything is a jumble of memories... streets, sounds, words that surface before their meaning. It's overwhelming. How can I tell a coherent story? At least we are now sleeping through the night.

The streets are unbelievably clean. Our neighborhood is a labyrinthine network of narrow passages, the thing that so enchanted me before, this quiet, fragrant maze.

 I am almost compulsively visiting familiar places, routes, habits; eager to be oriented, I suppose. But it's more like I have to reconcile the notion that I could go back to those places... which I can't.

We played in the river today: the kids build guilelessly with rocks, while I contemplate the origin and the history of each one.

What I remember about this city is that its magic worked whether I was willing to believe or not, and I was transformed by it despite myself. Only a fool would get the same magic trick twice!

It's funny -- I'm at the same time more confident and more humble now than I was before. I used to try to maintain an aloof separation from other foreigners here, which is of course the mark of any insufferable gaijin. Now I won't conceal my curiosity or my magnanimity. Big, wide smiles! Knowing nods, which really mean, I don't know anything more than you do. I swear.

I was in a terrible mood the other day, wrangling whining children through the hubbub, resentful of the food I don't like and the language I can't fathom, and a little voice inside said, Don't waste your time feeling this way.

And I continued to have my quiet fit for a few more hours, but I knew it was right, that voice, because the sun was warm and we finally got a refrigerator and we discovered how to tease koi fish with pebbles, and there will be a rhythm soon, and I will feel silly for having wasted entire mornings fighting against the current.

But that's true no matter where we are.


Friday, August 9, 2013

in the bath

I've had the idea for this painting in my head for more than year. 

At some point last spring, I took some pictures of the kids in the bath, and loved the look of them: their perfect little bodies, so busy in the water.

I kept putting it off, mainly because I was busy with portraits, but also because I kind of knew that it was going to take something that I didn't have right then. I was aching to break out of my usual fussy, dense, perfectionistic line-making, but at the same time my stomach would tie itself in knots when I thought about having to render a likeness -- whether it was someone else's kids or my own. 

So, as clear as this idea was, and as much as I wanted to try it, I waited.

After we packed up shop in Providence and came to Michigan for the summer, I was sure I wouldn't have much time to paint. But I brought several canvases with me, just in case, and as soon as we got here, I sort of threw myself at them... taking an hour here or there to just slap some paint on. This is what I had been doing all winter, I realized -- experimenting, playing, learning. 

All those little steps, all those half-finished canvases! I had been assuming that any breakthrough in my work would happen dramatically, all of the sudden, in one flourish. So I wasn't looking for it as it unfolded quietly, one afternoon after another.

I've had very few pieces come together as effortlessly as this one, and as closely to my original vision:

"In the Bath," 24 x 30 inches
oil on canvas

It's funny, because the substance of this breakthrough, which I thought for sure would express itself as unbridled passion and furious productivity, has instead manifested as an almost accidental patience.

At the beginning of the summer, a painter friend wrote to me, Your art will come when you're ready.

It was a huge relief to read that, because I usually fall into the trap of thinking that I'm only productive if the paint is hitting the canvas, and dismiss everything else as extraneous. I focus all my attention on arriving, and resent the entire journey. I want to KNOW, and then DO.

Clearly, I've had that backwards.

First I do, then I know.


Friday, July 19, 2013

to study

Last summer a friend of mine gave me some simple advice about how to approach painting:

Take it easy, he said.

I was in a horrible mood, grumpy from a day of fighting with paint, so I did NOT want to hear it. I was determined to learn things the hard way. 

But of course he was right, and I think I am just now catching on. 

I used to feel too rushed to do a study for each portrait, and the result was that I would put more pressure on myself to get it right the first time -- ironically creating more work by incessantly "fixing" the places I'd messed up. 

Now I really see the value of the study, not least because that's where I take it easy:

And that feeling of looseness and spontaneity might be more important than getting the nose just right.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


A few weeks ago, my dad & step-mom's peonies were in full bloom. My dad brought in some of the blossoms, which usually topple under their own weight if they bloom on the bush. They are so blousy, so ridiculously extravagant with all their petals, that I had to attempt a painting:

oil on paper, 8 x 10"

I think I did a better job on the vase than the blossoms, but I still kind of like the look of them, mucked up as they are. It's a real trick to be deft and daft with that palette knife...


Monday, July 15, 2013

the lake

Our camera of eight years bit the dust not long after we got to Michigan. It was a good excuse to do some plein air painting at the beach:

If I were going to do justice to the lovely Lake, though, I would need a few more panels of just water in the middle there.

It was great to free up with the palette knife some more, and to work quickly before the light changed.

I think the Impressionists did their work after the advent of the camera -- they were free to paint a loose approximation of the scene because they no longer had to render things in exacting detail.

We've since gotten a new camera, but for me, photographs can't compare to haphazard blobs of paint arranged on a canvas.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


When we buy a bag of clementines, we put them in this turquoise blue ceramic bowl, and they sit there looking gorgeous, and every time I think, I have to paint those colors together

So, I finally did:

oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches

I did it on a whim, using mostly palette knife, and finished it in one sitting. It was incredibly satisfying. It has all the looseness and serendipity in it that I want for my portraits. There's this really magic thing that happens when I'm uninhibited and unconcerned -- the paint has such life and freedom in it. I can never get that feeling when I try too hard. So, I either need to treat everyone's faces like bowls of fruit, or I need to do all my painting at the end of the day, with only an hour to go.


Monday, June 24, 2013

then again

Speaking of time capsules... all of my artwork is turning out to be an accumulation of years and bits of inspiration and ephemera. I do have a special fondness for geological phenomena, so maybe it's an unconscious nod to layering on a planetary scale.You know, it's like, The Way Things Happen.

This is the partner of piece I posted recently; I started them both together, so it's only fair that they evolve together, too: 

"Then Again" 
12 x 12 inches, oil and mixed media on canvas

I think it's done.

(But did you know the Himalayas continue to grow a centimeter every year?)


Thursday, June 20, 2013

time capsule

I was going to write something about how packing things into boxes during a move makes each box an unlikely little time capsule.

I thought of it when I was taking apart my drafting table: loosening wing nuts was like reading a log of all the other times I have taken it apart and packed it away. Songs and conversations and the kids just the way they were at that moment -- it all gets lodged into the things I'm packing up, like an entire exact snapshot of my life, revealing later the things I don't see right then, busy as I am with my screwdriver and sharpie.

And, to accompany this witty and poetic something about time capsules, I was going to put in a photo that Jason took in the midst of our packing, of Isla, gracefully contorted in a wee box and taken from above; her sweet little face the very specimen I most wish I could preserve.

But I couldn't find the picture anywhere (and OH, I looked). It's probably on the hard drive of the big computer, the one that got packed away and stayed behind, and that's just it, isn't it? That's just the rub.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

where we go from here

Two semesters of school swallowed me up. Only 4 classes, and they weren't even that hard. I think this is why they leave college to the young and childless.

I came up for air twice... once around Thanksgiving and once briefly during spring break (not really a break). Some days going to classes felt like a relief from all the overthinking that goes into my painting (and my parenting, too, for that matter), and other days it felt like a yawning drag to sit still for two hours at a stretch and take notes and write essays in bluebooks. I enjoyed it for the most part, though, and got along famously with my professors. Probably because I am closer in age to them than to my fellow students. 

I don't know how to tally up yet another random year in the patchwork medley that is my higher education; but while the outcome of getting an art degree remains somewhat undefined, there are two things I know I got from taking classes this year:

1. permission to make mistakes
2. I'm so glad I'm not 19

Both invaluably valuable, those.

So, things got intensely local for a while there... there was energy in the hive and for the hive, but anything outside of a 10 mile radius, I did not know about or have the time to find out. Or that could just be what happens when you live in Rhode Island. 

But here's a kid with some long-term vision, or, as he puts it, "I'm a distance-seer."

And when distance calls, you get dressed...

And you learn to speak the language...

And then you take apart the furniture...

... and put everything in boxes and get ready to go.

So, yes, distance...


How could we say no?

Even as hard as it is to pull up our nascent roots here, to maintain the momentum that gathers no moss, it is also unspeakably good to imagine navigating again the enchanted city of Kyoto, whose moss is composed, cultured, cultivated. We shall borrow hers, then.

Countdown to leave Providence has begun, and we have a lovely summer in Michigan ahead before we go abroad, so of course I am a jumble of sadness and nerves and utter giddy delight. How can it be true, this life?

It's less like stacking cards -- carefully, one on top of the last -- and more like flinging the deck and jumping on whatever lands face up. We keep moving: I keep making amazing friends and I keep taking classes and I figure that it amounts to something, somehow, but how do I hold it all? How do I assemble it and make it useful? Maybe it's less important where we go, and more important how we go from here.


Friday, April 5, 2013

if you're willing

This painting used to look a lot different. I think I started it when Auden was a baby, five years ago. (Wait, what? Rumination on time's passing, etc, etc) The last time I worked on it was a year and a half ago.

Mostly I'm of the mind to stop messing with a piece after a while, because IT'S DEAD ALREADY move on. But this step was not so much about resuscitation as it was about completely starting over in the spirit of total experimental abandonment. So for that it was okay to use a canvas that was already worked on and overworked on. In fact, it was sort of perfect for what I've been trying to accomplish, which is, of course, layers upon layers:

"If You're Willing" 
12 x 12 inches, oil and mixed media on canvas

I blotted out most of what was there before, which was extremely satisfying, but I like how you can still faintly see through to what's underneath. I collaged in those ink-drawn hands -- which I made in Japan years and years ago -- because they seemed to fit & give a little focus to the piece. And probably because the original had hands in it, too. I like them hovering near the periphery though; I've been wanting to explore with compositions that are a little off-kilter, with objects framing negative space in the middle instead of the other way around.

I feel pretty excited about the new directions I'm going in, so even if this piece & the others don't ever get resolved, it's been really fun to keep pushing them. If I am willing, indeed.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

more generations

I painted this portrait of my step-grandma, age 93, as a present for my step-mom on her birthday.

I thought and thought about how to write that out -- isn't there a less clunky way to say that? Less distancing terms for these women who are not my biological family, but whom I love and cherish with my whole heart?

I was always reluctant to use the word step-mom, at first because I was just a punk kid too caught up in my own drama to appreciate my dad's new marriage, and more importantly, the actual person who was his new wife. But later, after mellowing out (some), it still strikes me as an awkward way to describe a relationship. 

Doing this portrait made me appreciate them all the more, the people that they are. Families who come together after divorce or death have to do double the work sometimes, and my stop-mom and step-grandma have always been gracious, generous, and kind. As I painted this portrait, I was struck again and again by how beautiful she is -- how our lives accumulate within us over time and intersect with others... how we create meaning, and meaningful bonds.

It was an honor to paint her; and it's funny that I made it as a birthday present, because I received such an amazing gift in doing it.


Monday, March 4, 2013


I always joke that Jason and I both got a mini-me... Auden looks just like him, and Isla looks just like me. But then I looked at these pictures of Jason's paternal grandmother, and the resemblance took my breath away.


She's Danely all the way. Thank you, Grandma Lois, for passing on these lovely genes.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

as promised, pink

A long time ago, I promised I would paint in pink.

My palette has been so murky for so long, it was positively shocking to use pigment straight from the tube.

I've been diluting the paint with turpenoid to do these block-y color washes. No canvas is being spared.

With the paint so thin, they dry quickly and I've been able to do lots of layers one right after the other.They're all evolving dramatically, good practice in not staying too attached to any one layer. Except this one... I'm too attached. 

It's terrible -- the ones I like too much, I unintentionally stifle by protecting them.

But it's good, too, to see that. To work in batches, and evaluate which ones are successful and why. Often it's the ones I don't like that change the most and pull ahead in the end. Not that I have any idea where the end is.

To the process! To color!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

heave, ho

Move your limbs. Open your ribs like blinds.

Reach, keep reaching. Accept that you will never get there.

THERE is an ego destination.

Do not think too much about blogging. Blaaahhhhhggging. It is quicksand.

Let the words fall out; quit with the editing and sorting. There isn't much in there, it seems, but sometimes you miss things during the first round. Go, look again. It could just be that you're tired. Or forgetful!


Everything feels like I'm holding back, like a wide space that I can't quite enter. Thoughts are jostling, constant, but none among them has any substance. The real words, the real painting, the real expression, is just beyond the periphery. I'm distracted, insisting on diction when the real meaning is in the melody.

Ten days ago the blizzard Nemo sculpted fantastic drifts in our back lot, and we went out with shovels to build. The snow was pristine, elegantly scooped out under trees, rising in smooth waves along garage walls, arriving at perfect ridges. Something about those shapes was so compelling, so inviting: I took Isla's hand and we charged in, needing to be part of it. But of course, as soon as I entered that space, I changed it. My wanting it, ever at odds with my having it.

So it is with painting.

I worked on a new portrait the other day, and I could tell that it wasn't going to flow. So, some days it does not flow. Do I push through, clunking? Or do I clean my brushes for the day, and sew instead?

I pushed, I fussed, I made some kind of progress. Is that progress, the fussing? Is it only progress when I like what I've done? It's hard to let it be unfinished.

The cure for self-conscious markings: more markings. I can't untrample that snow, but oh, how perfect that drift was, and how it pulled me.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

brother, sister

I painted this brother & sister pair in December, commissioned as a Christmas gift for their mom:

I love doing these as gifts, they're such a unique and meaningful surprise.

And dad got amazing-gift-giver status of all time.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

girl with a pearl

More experimenting... this time with a cool palette. I wanted to emphasize the pale skin & bright blue eyes of this little pixie. What I love most is that candy-pink pout, though, just look:

I mixed some soft grays for my darks, and cool beiges for the lights, even though I was worried they'd come out too chalky. It was good to push myself beyond a straight rendering, into a more interpretive color scheme. I feel silly that this is such a challenge for me -- it's easier to paint EXACTLY WHAT I SEE. But that's also where I get very rigid and perfectionistic, so, maybe easier isn't the right word.

I've realized that my power as a painter is in deliberately omitting things. I'm striving for simplicity, efficiency -- how much can I strip away? -- but also an excitement & vitality in the colors themselves. I want something unexpected but still harmonious.

It's amazing how much practice goes into doing less.