Sunday, February 28, 2010


I'm in my Portland studio today, doing a couple of blogposts, and working on a portrait. At home in Woolwich we are on day three of no power. High winds on Friday knocked down trees and powerlines. So we've been flushing our toilets with water from the stream, heating with the woodstove, cooking on the gas range, washing dishes in the snow, and reading by candlelight. It's felt very good to be off the grid. I'm thinking of making this a practice - no radio, no TV, and no computer for one day a week. Ahhhhh....

Thursday, February 25, 2010

You Are Getting Verrry Sleepy...

Tadanori Yokoo

It's been raining for the past 2 days and I have been so tired that I've actually felt drugged. I had a good night's sleep last night, but even so, I am struggling to get out of my chair in front of the fireplace! Today I plan to take a break from drawing, and create some fabric designs using Lisbeth's snowflakes so I can send them to Spoonflower for printing. A good rainy day project! What's the weather like in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Please, Art Gods! (help me to) Tidy Up My Point of View

Oh, the commissioned portrait. I am glad for the work - I need to earn more of an income than my teaching brings in. (New York artist Tilly Strauss writes about art and money here. It's an important topic! And it's almost taboo, isn't it??) But...(yes, here comes The Big But...) is not the same as a portrait done with no expectations from the model. Even when there are no expectations from the model, a portrait brings challenges that are absent from other genres. It's THE HUMAN FACE! We all have one, and we all know when it looks skewed. I was just discussing this yesterday with a student in my Mixed Media Portraiture class. He is a landscape painter and this class is his first experience with portraiture. I challenged him to approach the portrait the same way that he approaches landscape. But, but... he protested. Yes, there's always that Big But when it comes to the human face. (Did I just write that??)

But what? I ask him (and myself...)

But, I want it to look like the person!

But, I want it to look like a person!

But, what if I'm honest and draw what I really see? I don't want to offend!

But, what if they don't like it?

But, what if I feel so bound to the sitter's expectations that I can't draw at all?

But what if they love it and I hate it?

Art for money. Do the rules change? Do I wear a different hat? What am I complaining about? That I don't have total control? Is that it? Is it a control issue? Why not see it as an opportunity to collaborate? Here sits this beautiful expectant woman (not the pregnant with baby sort of expectant, but the pregnant with ideas and hopes that I will make a portrait that will please her sort of expectant...)...a friend of mine for many years, who wants to give this portrait to her husband for his birthday (which is coming right up, and speaking of but(t)s I really need to get mine in gear and finish this...) and she wants it to be a happy portrait. And she wants to look blonder than she looks now, in the dead of winter. These seem like simple enough requests. The happy thing, though. Not so simple. When people sit for a portrait they may start off smiling, but soon they can't hold the smile any longer, and they start to talk. It's like a therapy session. They talk about happy things, and they talk about sad things. And guess what. The face changes. Alot. And if this were not a commissioned portrait, I would be drawing those changes, and the portrait may start to look a bit sad, or pensive...
I've often had people tell me that my portraits look intense, or sad...
So what to do. (I have to tell you that with scarce few exceptions, I intensely dislike portraits that are drawn straight from smiling photographs. BORING! What's the point?)

After drawing for an hour or so, I took a bunch of photos of my friend smiling, in between her telling me about some profoundly sad things that are happening in her life, because she wants this to be a happy portrait. And I have the challenge now of feeling confident that I can keep this portrait alive and interesting as I work from photos to resolve it. My friend lives on a bay, and the imagery in the silkscreen on the wall behind her resonates with her, so I will work more with that. I will also add some day lilies - her favorite flower. She has incredible gardens...

I just need a shift in attitude. No problem, right? Just something to help me to shake my Big But...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I teach at MECA in Portland on Tuesday mornings and like to first grab my breakfast here. I can get a good Schwarzbein meal (I carried in my own blueberries...) and enjoy a book for a few minutes. Luxary. My Dad loved diners, and I always think of how he would have enjoyed this one. It's a classic!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Amazing Ahmed

Ahmed Alsoudani is a friend of mine from my days at MECA - he was a painting major who graduated a year ahead of me. We were in several of the same classes, and we even took a trip to Vinalhaven together with a couple of other folks from the print department to meet Robert Indiana, in 2004. I want to tell you some of my memories and impressions of Ahmed, so you can know you read it here first, before his biography comes out, and indeed it will, because...
Ahmed is now an international ART STAR!!!
(Go, Ahmed!)

So without further ado, here is a sort of free write, sort of open letter to Ahmed:


A wall of raw and distorted figures as I come up the stairs to the third floor and hear you tell the professor in your thick accent that one of these figures, the one with the open crying mouth, is your mother. I am fascinated - I have not met you yet. We are soon placed in the same silkscreen class, and I learn that you are from Baghdad. Baghdad! The war is just one year old, and your family is still there. Wow, intense. You refuse to follow the instructions for the assignments - to the frustration and amusement of our professor, you do your own thing. You hit it off immediately with my eccentric friend Carlo Pittore, who we've invited to come into the print department to speak about his Mail Art. I am touched by this.


Pungent cologne and large ragged scars like flames licking across your forearms. I wonder, what happened? What happened? You won't talk about it. You come to school exhausted and tell me that you have not slept because you are putting yourself through school by working the overnight shift at a youth center, and at a nursing home. You tell me how you dance and sing silly songs for the old men in the nursing home, and how they look forward to you coming in, and how they love that. This makes me love you. You are the same age as my oldest son, but you seem older. You seem very old. And then, very young, as you ask me if I think you have a chance in winning the heart of the tattooed beauty in our art history class. You like her sooo much, do I think that she would go out with you? You miss your mother,
and I am a pale
(literally and figuratively)
You brag that you do not do the readings required for your academic classes and I, being the type A, follow the rules achiever, am aghast. How can you pass? You tell me that you read just the first page, and early on in the class you raise your hand and share about this bit that you've read, then settle back and are quiet for the rest of the class, and it seems to all that you are up to speed. But how do you do the exams, then, Ahmed?? I ask, incredulous. Oh, I just wing it, I know how to write about most anything. And it's true, you can write about anything. You know more about the history of our country than any of us and put us all to shame.
But then! You come and ask me for help with the art history final! You've done none of the readings, and I say, gloatingly, aHA! Your system failed you this time, Ahmed! And I'm tempted to let you suffer the consequences, but give in, as you beg, and give you the info you need to complete the exam.
(I hope you remember this now that you're FAMOUS! :^)


There was that day in the elevator, just after graduation, when I said, I noticed that you were not on stage to get your diploma! and you said that you did not want to attend, because your family could not be there, that it felt too sad, that you didn't want people feeling bad for you. And then you showed me your grades - you were livid because you'd received a B- in painting.

A B MINUS! You said, indignant. Outraged. How dare she!
I am a better painter than she is!
I reassured you that most likely the grade had nothing to do with your painting skills, and just maybe had more to do with those little details you liked to ignore, such as those pesky reading assignments, and putting in your required studio hours at school (you preferred to work at home). Professors take note of those sorts of things when grading, Ahmed! But, boy, were you pissed. (This is something that I admire about you to the point of awe, Ahmed. You have confidence in your work. You told me that you never submitted work to juried shows because you did not want to be rejected. Not that you feared rejection, but because you knew how subjective that process is, and you already knew your work was good. You wanted people to come to you for your work, not the other way around. Bravo!)
So I convinced you not to confront your painting professor that day and urged you to go talk to your advisor, and you thanked me later, saying that you and he talked for over an hour, and that he put it all in perspective and told you that in the scheme of things, it would never matter.
And was he right!
You went on to Skowhegan, and then to Yale. Next thing you know you were showing in NYC, and London, and Berlin, and the rest, as they say, is history.
ART history!

P.S. Hey, Ahmed, If you ever come back to Portland, look me up! You always wanted me to do your portrait, but we never managed to get it on the books. We'll make it happen!


Sunday, February 21, 2010

House of the Rising Son

I just love this gold and blue - such a fresh and happy color combination!

My impromptu portrait of Andy created with debris from the floor. The blue buttons were the remaining two left on one of the straps that wraps around his kneepads - he completely blew them out! Time for new straps!

Every weekend I document the progress on my son Andy's house. What a huge and amazing project! Andy is building this house for his family after work and on weekends. That man has energy...

Friday, February 19, 2010

A February Afternoon

Indoors, outdoors. Baking bread, gathering kindling, building a fire. It's all art, isn't it?