Saturday, January 30, 2016

Day 30 - David Bowie

After painting Marie Antoinette, I was eager to try another 5x5 watercolor using a reference photo.  I opened a picture of David Bowie in Photoshop and increased the saturation, the better to reduce glare and really look inside the shadows.  Then I printed out the photo and traced the shapes of some of the shadows on the paper, primarily to stop my eyes from going OMG DAVID BOWIE and make them break down the face into shapes, colors, negative spaces, relationships.

After that, however, I still had to make the jump.  One can do whatever one likes on a printed photograph; it's another thing altogether to take a brush to a blank white square.  I don't sketch when I do watercolors; I just go.  I took lots of deep breaths, put clean water in my jar, and jumped in.

Here's a look back at the whole challenge:

Day 29 - Marie Antoinette

After enjoying some modest success with watercolors, I decided to push myself to do a larger piece - a 5x5 of Marie Antoinette.  As a rule, I use reference photos, never an illustration or another artist's painting as my source and inspiration, but with an historical figure who predates photography, well, there's not much one can do.  So.  I decided to use one particular portrait of Marie Antoinette, treating it almost like a Master Study so that I could learn lessons about painting in general.

And here's what I noticed.  Like, immediately.  It's much easier (for me) to see shapes in paintings, rather than photographs.  That drove home for me how much I need to keep training my eyes to stop seeing cognitive units and see only the shapes they comprise.

Second - and this is big, too - the shadows all had colors.  Blue gray.  Rusty brown.  Slightly green.  How had I never thought to look for a range of colors in shadows when looking at photographs?!  (This is what happens when you're self-taught: You are always late to the damn party.)

This was super instructive, though, as I'll explain in the next entry.  Meanwhile, here's Marie, or rather "Let Them Eat Cake Doughnuts":

Days 27-28 - Mod Duo

My husband purchased some 3x4 canvases for me to help me reach the goal of completing the challenge, and after spending two and a half hours on a portrait (then pitching it in the trash can amidst a shower of swear words(, I made a decision to pare down and try a mod style, which is not anything I've ever done before:

What amazes me every time I try something new is how quickly I learn things.  Don't make big steps between values on a painting of this type.  Don't go halfway with a lean when you could go all the way with a Dutch angle.  Don't overcomplicate something, thinking that you HAVE to swear and suffer or it can't be done.  It can be.  It's cool.

Days 24-26 - Three More Small Watercolors

Again, I am writing this post after finishing painting 30, because I had neither time nor will at this point in the challenge.  I pushed ahead with small watercolors.

Days 21-23 - Three Small Watercolors

I am writing this entry after the fact, which is probably good, because after I finished the 20th canvas, I had a Serious Crisis.  With a scant few days remaining, I had to create 10 more pieces, and I didn't see how it could be done.  Literally, it did not seem possible.  Despair doesn't begin to cover how I felt.  My husband, who supports me in everything, began to talk to me in slow, quiet, funereal tones about how many more canvases I could realistically hope to finish.  Two?  Three?  I can't tell you the last time I'd felt so dark.

I decided at that point to abandon my theme.  Yes, it's great to read and do research and learn about fairy tales while painting, but there was no time. I was also tired of women being silenced and reduced to their looks.  I started painting warriors.  I wanted women with swords who could fight their own battles and slay their own foes.  I wanted to contrast soft shadows with hard power.

Then I painted Truitonne, from a fairy tale, because I wanted to paint her red trout spots. 

Doing whatever I wanted to do felt great.  Learning things about watercolors felt great.

I began to have hope.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Day 20 - Marriage Bear

It's not news that fairy tales are filled with princes and princesses who have a tendency to get married.  Over the course of this month, however, I've been frustrated that marriage seems to be the ONLY possible ending to any story involving a female human.  Indeed, it doesn't seem to matter how old the female human is; she could be described as a girl as young as 7 in the start of the story, and bam, by the end, here comes a man-Prince, and off they go to the chapel.

Okay, no one usually says a word about chapels, but the rest of that sentence remains true.

This is the canvas that comes out of my frustration.  The tale of Snow White and Rose Red is a tale in which the female characters have a sweet relationship AND get to do things, like repeatedly free an ungrateful dwarf with a penchant for getting himself stuck.  And what happens in the end?  Of course, marriage.  To a bear.  I mean, he turns out to be a Prince, of course, but still.  Couldn't we just have a damn story about girls who do cool things and outwit an ungrateful dwarf?  I bet we could.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Day 19 - Baba Yaga's House

Until a couple of years ago, I had never heard of Baba Yaga, and that is a shame.  Baba Yaga is a figure from Slavic folklore who bears some resemblance to the witch in Hansel and Gretel, in that she lives deep in the forest and doesn't mind eating stray children who happen past (ideally, after making them do a bit of gardening).  Sometimes, wicked stepmothers even send their unwanted stepchildren to Baba Yaga as a means of getting rid of them - permanently.  Baba Yaga, however, is neither all nor always bad.  Sometimes, she can even be helpful.  I still wouldn't ask her to babysit, though.  I'm not sure she has passed First Aid.

Unlike some of her Western counterparts, Baba Yaga travels through the forest in a mortar (yes, that kind of mortar) with a pestle (yes, that kind of pestle).  She lives in a "chicken house," which is to say, a hut that stands on either one or two chicken legs, depending on whom you ask, and she has a fence made of bones, with after-dark lighting provided by various skull-lanterns.  When she sleeps, she stretches all the way from one end of the hut to the other.  Some say her nose touches the ceiling, but I don't know.  I don't think it's a good idea to sneak in and find out.

For this canvas, I wanted to paint Baba Yaga's house, which I find to be a charming visual, but I knew that meant painting lots of the surrounding forest, so I decided to start there.

Hey, maybe I'll do some kind of 50s mod trees!

Oh, maybe I won't because I don't want to do a 50s mod house

This will be included in the auction that starts February 1 to raise money for the Innocence Project and the Chicago Bond Fund!  YaY!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Day 18 - Molly Whuppie

I have long known the story of Jack and the Beanstalk (of course), but no one ever told me there was a similar tale, a Scottish tale, with a female protagonist called Molly Whuppie.  Indeed, Molly Whuppie is another example of the type of tale called The Heroine Saves Herself and Her Sisters, which I didn't know about until this month either.  SO MANY THINGS I DIDN'T KNOW.  I blame patriarchy. And my next door neighbor, for no particular reason.

In any case, here's a little girl who DID hear the tale of Molly Whuppie, and she is inspired by Molly's courage and cleverness.  I wanted to make her completely absorbed in her play, oblivious to our gaze, because that's another thing every girl should get to have.

This can be found in the auction to benefit the Innocence Project and the Chicago Bond Fund, which starts February 1!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Day 17 - The Three Keys

This piece took more time than anything else I have done for the challenge, but I am pretty darn happy with the result.  I hope you can see the slight smile tugging at the corner of her mouth (as they say), because this is a tale from Zora Neale Hurston's Men and Mules about why women have power over men.

You'll find this on the auction site!  If you don't know what auction I'm referring to, you will find out on the auction site!

Are you getting the vague feeling you should GO TO THE AUCTION SITE?  Mm-hmmm.  I'm getting that feeling, too.

Day 16 - The Bird Husband





So . . . there are some things that scare me because they seem either hard to paint or easy to screw up.  One of these things is the sunrise.  It seems ridiculous to be scared of a sunrise, though, so I made myself paint one on this 6x6 artist panel, inspired by "The Bird Husband," which, like "Boo Hag," is a tale in which the protagonist marries a supernatural spouse.  I love the way this turned out, even if the Bird is kind of a jerk who ought to be a lot nicer to his wife.

This will be available in the auction starting February 1!  Here's the link!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Day 15 - Truitonne

This is the halfway point canvas.  EVERYONE REMAIN CALM.  But then calmly order pizza and throw a bunch of confetti in the air. 

In my many readings of the many fairy tales, more than a few of which resemble Cinderella, I encountered one in which the wicked stepsister is called Truitonne, because she has big red spots on her face like a trout.  From the moment I read that, I could not seem to rid my brain of the need to paint an actual trout.  Since I couldn't work out how to put a fish in a dress and have her look cute, I turned the fish into a fantasy conveyance to take Truitonne to the ball.  It's her signature conveyance, her vanity plate, her pumpkin-cum-coach with a twist.  The black hat is an homage to Truitonne's greasy black hair (because yes, somehow the morally questionable stepsister almost winds up being ugly on the outside, too).

Again, this is not available in my shop because it's going into the auction that will run from February 1-8.

Day 14 - She Knits Until He Falls Asleep

I have learned oodles of fascinating things about fairy tales during this art challenge (because fairy tales are my theme, of course), and one of those things is that THERE ARE EXACTLY 1.2 JILLION-GA-DRILLION  FAIRY TALES.  Seriously, it's like finding out that there are 484 kinds of wine I've never heard of: Confusing and exciting, all at the same time.

One of the new wines - which is really an old wine - involves a whole school of tales in which somebody marries someone who's not quite human.  The bride/grooms don't realize this, of course, because the new spouses are able to appear perfectly human, depending on the time of day.  So maybe your bird husband only visits you at night, when he seems like people, or your witch wife looks human all day, but after you fall asleep at night, she sneaks out to do her witchery.

This is definitely the scenario in Boo Hag, an American folk tale in which the wicked wife never gets to say a word in her own defense.  Her husband goes and assumes she's going to hurt him, and then he kills her.  It's really not nice at all.

Here she is, chatting with him and knitting in her chair while he falls asleep.

This is not available in my shop, because I will be listing it in the auction that will run from February 1 - February 8.  (More details and a link as soon as I have it!)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

An Idea for an Auction

Okay, so I've been mulling an idea for several days now, and I would like to gauge your interest and hear your thoughts.

The Idea

I set up an online auction for my January contest paintings.  Proceeds do not go to me, as income; they all go toward justice (see more below).  

The Risk

For me, this idea is exciting and terrifying.  I am already setting aside 30 days of intensely concentrated work so that I can improve my skills, but this would reframe the results of my efforts.  I would, in effect, be donating my life for 30 solid days - my all-nighters; my self-doubt; my tears and triumphs; my shitty lukewarm dinners and troubled sleep; my eight or 12 or 14 hours on a single canvas; my vulnerability, as I get up each day and place my work out there, to be liked or not liked or ignored.  All of that is something I'm happy to donate, if I can raise a respectable amount of money, but I can predict with absolute certainty that I'll feel damned stupid (and not a little sad) if 30 days adds up to $50 or $100.

The Charity Catch - It's Political

As an individual human being with my own convictions, I feel intensely drawn to support both the Innocence Project and the Chicago Bond Fund. The former, as you probably know, works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, usually based on DNA evidence.

Me in my Innocence Project shirt.

The latter pays bail for people charged with crimes in Chicago.  Does this mean I want to donate a month of my life to help criminals?  Not exactly.

Bail basically undermines the presumption of innocence by incarcerating people before they have been convicted.

As the web page for the Chicago Bond Fund says, "High bonds are justified by the idea that they keep us safe, but setting monetary bond undermines the very idea that safety should govern release or detention decisions. Someone who is not dangerous should be released regardless of their access to money; likewise, someone who is truly dangerous should not be released simply because they can pay bond. Our current system makes wealth, not safety, the primary determinant of whether someone is released while awaiting trial. Add to this the fact that 70% of pre-trial detainees at Cook County Jail are detained for nonviolent offenses and that Black defendants are generally more likely to be given cash bonds and have bonds set at higher amounts than white defendants, and the merits of money bond become hard to identify."


The Questions

  • Should I do this?
  • Would you be inclined to help me support either or both of these causes by purchasing art?

Days 12-13 - Diptych

Prior to this challenge, my favorite fairy tale was "The Juniper Tree."  (Now, it is "How Geirald the Coward Was Punished," as you may know if you have been faithfully reading.  Gold stars, green clovers, and blue diamonds if so!)  The Juniper Tree belongs to a particularly gruesome class of tale, formally known as "mother killed me, father ate me."  Yeah, I know.  That's gross, not to mention dark AF. 

I have often sighed at the grim characterization of stepmothers in fairy tales.  I understand that they are competing for the most limited resource imaginable: One inheritance, which is essentially destined for the father's biological child/ren.  I understand how jealousy and fear can bring out the very worst in human nature, even when not combined with the evolutionary, biological, and emotional drive to ensure the success of one's own offspring.  It makes sense.

What doesn't make sense, however, is saddling your own daughter with the notion that she killed her half-brother, which is what happens in "The Juniper Tree."  That's just selfish, and rather horrifically so.  It was an odd delight, then, to re-read a version of "The Juniper Tree" in which the stepmother is tempted by Satan.


Given the role apples play in the story, the presence of Satan feels particularly evocative.  So.  As part of a project to reclaim wicked stepmothers, I created this diptych, in which the stepmother is tempted by Satan.

As a diptych, they want to hang side by side

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Day 11 - Hansel and Gretel

The other night, I decided - because why not - that instead of a traditional canvas, I should complete one of my paintings on a a license plate.

See how it says 1873?  That will be important in a second.

I cleaned it, applied some clear gesso, and decided to take advantage of the panoramic dimensions to create Hansel and Gretel in the woods.

Painting trees on a license plate is NBD.  Painting children, on the other hand, was a surprisingly BD.  Don't try this at home unless you have lots of time to negotiate raised shapes.
I decided to dress Hansel and Gretel in clothing from 1873, because the license plate told me to.  I think the fancy fancy emphasizes how very out of place they are, and how ill-prepared for what lies ahead.
To finish out the composition, I added a bird, eating Hansel's crumbs.

I call this "Hansel and Gretel; or, License to Survive," because that's what they do.  They face abandonment, betrayal, fear, and a CANNIBAL (for the love of Pete), and still, they survive.  So can you.  So can we all.

As ever, this is available in my shop.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Day 10 - Rapunzel

I tried another watercolor ATC, and it failed, so then I tried a third, and it succeeded. YAY.

Here's Rapunzel, midway through having her hair chopped off by the witch:

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Day 9 - Gretel Born of Fire

I am always too scared to play with watercolors, but this is a challenge, so why not be scared?!

That's "Gretel, Born of Fire," which is of course from Hansel and Gretel, but by way of one of my favorite poems, "Gretel in Darkness," by Louise Gluck.  Here's an excerpt:

"No one remembers.  Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you.  I see armed firs,
the spires of that gleaming kiln -

Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest."

Day 8 - Red Goat

It took me an unbelievable amount of time to paint my Day 7 canvas.

Like, maybe that shit paints itself in the place where you come from, but in my house, I needed all of the hours allotted to me plus a few that rightfully belonged to my next door neighbor, as a result of which, I had to keep it simple on Day 8, if only for my own sanity.

Perhaps you have noticed (as a worldly individual) that in fairy tales, there are often feats that must be accomplished, usually in sets of three.  A fine Romanian gent named Fat Frumos, as one example, must bring the King the milk of a red goat.

And thus, RED GOAT!

This, as ever, is in my shop.

Day 7 - The Queen Fights Her Future Husband

I've read a lot of weird-ass fairy tales in the past week, but I've also found shining treasures buried deep inside the earth.  My absolute favorite by miles is "How Geirald the Coward Was Punished," which I will now summarize, because the Wikipedia summary sucks raw eggs through a straw.

Rosald, our hero, is the eldest son born to a poor knight.  As a teenager, Rosald meets Geirald, who is the same age, but who has the better fortune of being born into wealth.  Geirald longs to travel the world, but he needs a traveling companion, so he says that he will pay Rosald's way if Rosald will give all credit and glory for any accomplishments to Geirald.  Rosald agrees, and his parents give their blessing.

Along their travels, they first encounter a band of 12 robbers who refer to each other with color names - Blue, Red, Green.  Reservoir Dogs, anyone?  Geirald wants to flee, but Rosald comes up with a plan to go to higher ground and roll rocks down onto the robbers' heads.  The robbers are defeated, and Rosald gives the credit to Geirald, along with a ring from one of the robber's hands.  Geirald wears the ring everywhere they go, much to the admiration of everyone who sees it.

As the fame of this accomplishment spreads - two men defeating twelve dastardly robbers! - Geirald and Rosald appeal to a nearby king to stay the winter in his keep.  The king agrees, provided that they slay a pesky giant in his kingdom who has killed 50 knights.  After commissioning a special weapon for the purpose, Rosald single-handedly kills the giant, cutting off its head as proof.  Keeping his promise, he gives the head to Geirald to present to the king.

Word of these heroics spreads to the unmarried queen of a neighboring kingdom, whose subjects keep insisting that she take a husband.  She comes to a feast at the king's keep and asks if Geirald will fight one of her pages to demonstrate his skills.  The king approves, but Geirald becomes convinced that the "page" is going to be a valorous knight who will kill him.  As Geirald makes preparations to flee in the night, Rosald convinces him to stay by saying that Rosald will switch clothes with Geirald, fight the page, and give Geirald all the glory.  Geirald agrees.

When the time for the battle arrives- and this is the part that makes me want to jump up and down as if the whole world were my trampoline - it is not a page who appears to battle Rosald-in-Geirald's clothing, but neither is it a knight.  It is the Queen herself, disguised as her page.  The battle is mighty, but Rosald eventually prevails, and afterwards, he slips away to give his clothes back to Geirald. Pressed for time, however, he forgets to give Geirald back the ring stolen from the robbers.

Geirald appears before the king to receive his accolades in the torn and soiled clothes of battle, and as his prize, he asks for the hand of the Queen in marriage.  The Queen, who has just slipped back into the stands, thinks that while the clothes are the same, the man looks slightly different from the one she just fought.  When she also notices that he is not wearing the ring, she withholds her consent, asking that Rosald and Geirald fight each other.  Rosald throws the fight, but the Queen sees through that and asks for one last challenge, in which Rosald and Geirald both fight two knights of the queen's choosing.

Rosald cannot save Geirald from this final test, nor indeed can Geirald save himself.  Instead of appearing on the field at the appointed time, he hides under his bed.  The Queen calls off the fight and marries Rosald, impressed not only by his courage and his skill in battle, but also by his willingness to keep his promise, even at the cost of her love.


Here is The Queen, Battling Her Future Husband.

This is, as always, available in my shop.