Commissioned Mural: Process + Technique

I had the incredible fortune to create this for an absolute dream client. They wanted an ethereal landscape with blue jays and I couldn’t wait to deliver.

There was one small problem- we were (and are still) keeping socially distanced and this was for an interior. What do we do?? The problem solver in me instantly got to work. One main issue was that we didn’t have any wall space, so whatever I used had to be strong enough to paint against. I considered masonite panels, but that would have been incredibly heavy to schlep up the stairs- they would have been my first choice, otherwise. Instead, I looked to our local office supply stores and found some lightweight foam core in large sheet sizes and ready for curbside pickup the same day. (Instantly flashed back to my jewelry trade show days, handling giant stacks of the largest foam core sheets for the walls in my booth. Shudder.)

After a wistful “see you later” to our books, I assembled the foam core sheets and clipped/taped the canvas to them.

My tender hearted little helper felt that it was necessary to comfort Herbert about all the changes that were happening in the living room.

He was really only concerned about the lack of pets while I was busy with the canvas.

Soon after, I got to work. I began by sketching out the shapes with a pencil and once I had all the areas blocked in, switched to my usual red hue for developing the birds, the trees, and the branch. It’s my favorite base color because of the way it peeks through after layering blues and greens. I find that large fields of color become more interesting and the later colors are more vibrant. The general shapes are also still somewhat visible, as I continue to layer on top of my painted sketch phase.

I had a painting teacher that taught us to use yellow ochre as the base color for our paintings- we were looking at Vermeer as inspiration. My professor was a fantastic teacher and painter, so I didn’t even consider changing it up when I worked on assignments outside this class, despite the fact that my own style was very different from the Dutch masters. The work never looked right so I was convinced that it was my own lack of ability that caused me to struggle so much. Turns out, my first step was wrong so I ended up battling the entire painting the whole way through.

There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere.

Anyway, on to the mural!

The bird is about 2.5 feet in diameter, the largest one I’ve painted thus far. It was too much fun for it to be the last.

Here’s the finish.

Shop Update

Starling Magnolia

I was able to do a little shop update last night and wanted to talk a bit about this particular painting.

It’s special to me because of the meaning it carries. The magnolia is a valued flower in China, my primary ancestral background, and it represents luck and prosperity. There’s a little European starling nestled within its petals.

I learned about the story of how the European starling came to live in the US a few years ago while I was volunteering at the Brooklyn museum as a docent. The Walton Ford exhibit was breathtaking and came in a moment where I felt homesick for college (schoolsick?) and he used so many of these common birds in his paintings. I would sit in that majestic room, surrounded by these stunningly beautiful yet terrifying images for as long as I could. It was the literal best.

Anyway. The birds.

In the early 1890’s, a well intentioned group of Shakespeare fans thought it would be a lovely idea to release all the birds he had ever mentioned in his work into Central Park. These starlings were one of them. Unfortunately, it turned out that these particular birds were fairly good at surviving; they did it so well that they became thought of as pests due to how aggressive they’re perceived to be and how much they’ve multiplied since.

But at the end of the day, the way I see it is this: the starling was a foreigner wandering around in a strange land. Others even saw them as parasites. But despite the fact that they didn’t choose this place, they did more than just survive.

They thrived.

A message to my 20 year old self.

A few friends and I were sitting around at lunch, in between classes. We were a hop, skip and a jump away from leaving this idyllic, art centered womb, so naturally the topic of the future would find its way to the table. One girl was asked about what she wanted to do and a dreamy smile broke out on her lovely face. A spoonful of yogurt hovered at her chin.

“Paint.” She took the bite and continued. “Just paint whatever I want, whenever I want.”

I gaped at the audacity of this answer. How completely and utterly impractical! How would you pay for food? For anything? I was twenty, fearful and insecure, and didn’t have the emotional maturity to look inward and ask myself why her answer elicited such a negative response in me.

Took my little one back to our alma mater last year and here we are visiting the Nature Lab (not the aforementioned cafeteria).

Decades later, I’m just now beginning to understand. I couldn’t believe that someone could be brave enough to admit to herself what she, and what so many of the wide-eyed, idealistic kids filling the cafeteria that afternoon, wanted. She wanted to create without rules, without assignments, without obligations. Just her art, with her unique voice and point of view.

At that point, I hadn’t created anything for the sake of just doing it. That felt like a luxury for people who were already successful, and I hadn’t earned the privilege.

I do this alot, tell myself – you haven’t done enough. You aren’t enough.

(I’m working on it.)

So for the first time in my life, I didn’t paint for anyone else but me. There certainly was no intention of selling it, despite my dear friends’ suggestions. For the first time in my life, I was creating work that needed to come out and that was the only goal. When that old, critical voice piped up- no one’s gonna want this– I’d snap back- this is just for me!

As it turns out, when one “allows” oneself to create something with this sort of pure intention, the joy that this action brings is palpable to others, and they might actually pay for it. Which I suppose isn’t really the point of this message to my 20 year old self. I suppose the point is, when you create from an authentic place, the well that this creativity comes from can’t run dry. Not only does it become easier to create, opportunities open up because you’re building on important, applicable skills. You get better and better at it, making the earning part of the goal easier to achieve.

But for now, in the wise words of this small child, don’t be concerned about whether you’re gonna sell it, or whether you’ll be super famous and successful for your incredible art. For now, “worry bout yoself.”

Handpainted Gold

I’ve been on the lookout for the perfect gold paint for embellishing my prints. I tried a few reputable acrylic brands and struggled to get that beautiful, opaque liquid gold look. I think their main purpose was to add a glittery quality or a light sheen to other colors but I wanted more.

It was only when I stopped looking that finally found the holy grail of gold paint. Isn’t that just always the way? Holbein’s metallic gouaches are exactly what I’ve been looking for. They mix easily (I custom mixed the shade of gold here) and after adding a bit of water until the consistency was like melted ice cream, the coverage is still amazing.

Looking forward to trying more acrylic gouaches brands to see how they stack against Holbein. Any suggestions?

A little background.

Thanks for coming by to see my work. I really appreciate it!

I studied illustration many years ago but took quite the long hiatus, while I ran my jewelry business full time. Did you know that drawing skills can atrophy? Hoo boy. They sure can, friend.

But I had been drawing, in my mind, for years. I’d look at a landscape and try to picture myself mixing the colors, dragging a line across the horizon. I was too afraid to actually attempt it though, convinced that my skills were too far gone. And let’s be real, they weren’t all that great to begin with. A well respected professor, during a freshman year crit, told me that I could never be an illustrator because it was apparent that I couldn’t see the dimensionality of the object I was trying to represent. That definitive judgement joined the choir of doubt already in my mind and the voices harmonized, effortlessly. 

Although I continued to work towards my goal as an illustrator, the way things were going, I was predestined to fail. So after graduation, I gave it up and moved on to other creative outlets.

When I began to draw again, a couple of years ago, it was for personal practice- I had a new little one and a business to work on. Having a kid, you’re changed forever, one way or another. Something in me wanted to draw again and I knew that if I didn’t try, I’d probably regret it, and my spirit would always feel a little lost. It was evident already that being happy made me a more patient parent, so I wasn’t doing this for me. I was doing this for her, I justified to my inner critic.  

The first attempt was so fiddly and awkward; my sweet, helpful babe grabbed a crayon and tried to improve on it. I hit post anyway; only one way to go from here!