Every time we go on a vacation, I make time to sketch simple, pencil drawings. I always promise myself that when we get home, I will continue to make the effort to find time to draw, only to have life’s ‘other’ responsibilities take over.
We were very fortunate to be able to get away this summer by renting a fully equipped RV Camper Van and driving to Grand Teton and Yellow Stone National Parks. The only time we found ourselves exposed to COVID-19 was when we ventured into grocery stores, something we would have had to do at home too. The rest of our time was spent camping in the open wilderness, hiking, and swimming in deserted rivers.
Being off the grid gave me the time, space and peace of mind to pick up a pencil and drawing pad. Above are sketches of some of my favorite moments in the mountains. I’ve also added sketches from last summer’s stay in the French and Swiss Alps – a time and place that seems so, so far away right now.
COVID-19 has given me time to catch up on some long overdue commissions: Ricky, a well loved red tabby cat, and Morgan and Samson, two German Shepherds.
I first painted Morgan and Samson last year but was very unhappy with the background color. It made the shepherds coat look too washed out. After putting it aside for a long while, I redid the entire painting with a different wash and I am much happier with the result.
“Calling All Bay Area Artists: We Want to Showcase Your Art” read the de Young Museum’s email headline. I took this message personally: YOUR art. We had been quarantined at home for more than a month; our girls were ‘mostly’ doing their homeschooling unassisted; I had a few free shelter-in-place art lessons ready to post; and had just finished an online art course through MOMA New York. I NEEDED a new project.
The requirements dictated that the canvas could be as large as six by six feet tall and artists were encouraged to address the concept of “On the Edge,” an especially poignant theme during the COVID-19 crisis.
Problem one: where was I going to find a 6’ x 6’ stretched canvas??? I ‘needed’ a 6’ by 6’ canvas: social distancing told us to remain six feet apart. Six feet fits the theme. However, a large canvas certainly didn’t qualify as an essential service, and I certainly wasn’t going to pay over 800 dollars to have one shipped – possible within a couple of months. I needed one now.
Spending a significant amount of time on the internet, I found an Instagram post stating that as of the following Monday, Blick Arts would take phone orders from their stores and mail the supplies overnight. At eight o’clock Monday morning, I called and yes, a real person answered. Matthew at Blick Art San Francisco gathered all the necessary materials for me to build a 6’ x 6’ canvas on my own and mailed the supplies by express.
Problem two: how on earth was I going to stretch this sucker all by myself? I worried there would be a crease running straight through the middle, or the cross bars would be too short, or the corners wouldn’t be exactly ninety degrees. Long story short, I managed to prep a 6’ x 6’ stretched canvas all on my own, including priming it with gesso!
Frontline: Six Feet Apart is anchored into the American fabric, within a world context. I used the colors of the American flag: red, white and blue. The background is painted blue, the color of the sky and sea. Blue is also the color of the protective gear worn by Covid-19 first responders, producing a calming effect. White is associated with light, faith and safety. The color red represents oxygen rich blood, energy and love.
I textured a world map as the first layer, with the American continents front and center, showing Asia to the West (left) and Europe to the East (right). Covid-19 has no borders, no race, and no shame.
Next, I painted the lungs. Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, attacking the lungs and making it impossible for the host to breathe in the worst cases. Lungs look like tree branches, and like trees, exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide in reverse.
Lastly, and most importantly, I want the viewer to witness the human face behind the Covid-19 epidemic – the face behind all the protective gear. I want this painting to commemorate FRONTLINE health care workers: true American heroes.
I don’t know the name of the health care technician who collected my nasal swab at the Alameda fairground drive-through testing site. She was friendly and didn’t mind me taking her picture. I do know that I admire her resilience and her strength to confront the Covid-19 virus with a comforting smile on her face.
And, if you look very closely, she bears the weight of San Francisco on her left shoulder.
I decided to focus my proposal for the “History of Travel through Dublin” utility box design on “the wheel” and place it in the time of when cars first made their appearances here in Dublin, California.
Throughout history, most inventions were inspired by nature: the idea of forks came from forked tree branches and planes from birds. Not the wheel. The wheel is 100% a 'human' innovation. It took a long time for the wheel to be invented and the first wheels were created not for transportation but to serve as potter’s wheels. The ancient Greeks eventually invented the wheelbarrow, a one wheeled, hand drawn vehicle.
Most people recognize the vintage car as an historical image of transportation. I added an old bicycle to highlight the fact that it was a bicycle mechanic, Henry Ford, who invented the first car using advanced bicycle technology.
To humanize the history of the wheel, I adding one person into the image: a child playing a game with an old tire.
It was the wheel that led to the first bicycle that in turn led to the first car. All three (tire game, bicycle and car) represent a common time period in the history of travel through Dublin.
Dublin has dry, hot summers and is bordered by Mount Diablo and the Ridge. I used the colors purple, burnt sienna, yellow, and van Dyke red against a mountainous background.
The silhouettes provide a sense of bygone days.
I’m very excited to showcase the first five boats, in a series of six, hanging at Nonni's Bistro in downtown Pleasanton. My goal for the boat series is to capture traditional sailing boats and dug out canoes ‘in action’ and cementing them in oil on a canvas for future generations to read. Dugout sailing boats and outriggers are the oldest boats around and continue to be used in many parts around the world for fishing and transportation. The knowledge of how these boats are build and the traditional link they provide with the sea are quickly getting lost with the rapid rise of globalization.
Update: The show was very successful as I managed to sell 7 paintings. Phew!
While driving home today, I followed a car with the license plate “IS 66.” I guessed by the added flag sticker that “IS 66” meant Iceland located at 66 degrees latitude. How appropriate, the day I finished painting Icicle, the Icelandic horse with the 80s punk rock hairdo.
Three summers ago we stayed at a converted sheep farm where Icicle roamed the surrounding fields. Iceland is covered with over 80,000 Icelandic horses. Not bad for an island you can circumnavigate by car in one day – one long day. Why so many horses? Icelanders don’t eat horse meat. Turns out they are mostly used for breeding, exporting and enjoyment. Our girls couldn’t get enough of Icicle; feeding him grass in the cold summer winds and petting his puffed up mane. They even got to ride Icelandic horses, a highlight of our road trip.
It was Icicle’s big hairdo that attracted me to put him on canvas: A kind reminder of our time north of 66.
PEDALS IN THE WIND
“Stop putting graffiti on that box,” yelled a lady as she was driving through the traffic light. This was the second day of painting my third utility box: “Pedals in the Wind.” I tried to explain to her that it was part of the city’s utility box beautification program called “Project Paint Box.” She didn’t buy it.
Her comment made me think about art versus graffiti. Is graffiti art? Is it always vandalism? What is art? What is street art? What is graffiti?
Banksy, an anonymous English graffiti artist, uses stencils and spray paint to spread messages of art and politics on crowded city streets, walls, and bridges. His name and identity remain unknown – graffiti is a crime. However, in 2010, Time Magazine featured Banksy as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Utility boxes have flowered into some of the best showcases for public art. To deter them from graffiti, cities around the world are asking local artists to use them as a canvas for artistic expression – with council prior approval of the design.
The lady that thought I was defacing the utility box with graffiti did return to apologize. She was trying to be a conscientious citizen. That was very brave of her. Street art will continue to spark debate: Is it art? Is it graffiti? I would love to hear Banksy’s take on it one day.
On behalf of myself and the city of Pleasanton, I'd like to thank Bob and Joanne Rossi Becker for sponsoring another box. Kudos also go to Robbie Helms at Valley View Elementary School for coming up with the awesome title: “Pedals in the Wind.”
Meet Lintilla, our newest member to the "Artful Animals" family. Can you guess her favorite color?
Lintilla is a much loved cat who lived a relatively quiet life up until a number of years ago when a small dog was adopted into her home. Forget about sleeping on the big bed. Forget about curling up on the couch for a mid-morning nap. Forget about lying on the window sill to bask in the late afternoon sun. The only safe place in the house, high enough, turns out to be the bathroom sink – her favorite hang out place.
The original photograph is of Lintilla enjoying her perch on the sink vanity; however, this unattractive background has been exchanged with a wash of her favorite color – purple.
Spring air -
and plum scent.
- Matsuo Basho (Japanese Poet)
This portrait is of a Japanese bride, wearing a simple, floral kimono and a delicate flower-motif hair ornament, kanzashi, made of silk plum blossoms. The plum blossom holds a special place in Japanese traditions: it represents spring, a time of new beginnings, and is associated with beauty, purity, hope and the transitoriness of life.
Many came to celebrate the launching of The Red Lantern and viewing of the oil paintings, the basis for all the illustrations in the book, at the Firehouse Theater. Thank you Judy at Towne Center Books for suggesting and offering your space for the book launching party; thank you Julie at the Firehouse Theater for showcasing the oil paintings all month long; and thank you to all my dear, dear friends for coming out to support me this morning.
60" X 48" OIL ON CANVAS
I’m ecstatic. It’s finally here. Seeing my book officially displayed on Amazon, sends ripples down my spine. Thank you to the many friends and colleagues in the teaching and book business profession who read and critiqued The Red Lantern. It has come a long way and I’m proud of the final version.
The idea for this book started with an antique ginger jar. A former student of my had spent the summer at her grandfather’s antique shop in Hong Kong. When she saw the ginger jar, it reminded her of me and she kindly brought it back as a gift with a note: “Ma chère ancienne professeure.”
I had hoped to set the story in Hong Kong with a ginger jar genie. Turns out there are no genies in the Chinese culture. Eventually, the ginger jar got replaced by a red lantern; the genie by the Jade Emperor’s daughter, and the genie’s three wishes became three lantern riddles. It was very fitting to tie the story into modern day Chinese New Year and the lantern festival.
This book is the perfect gift for young children, teachers interested in celebrating Chinese New Year in their classroom, and grandparents who need a souvenir to bring home to their grandchildren after visiting San Francisco’s China town.
Please order a copy of The Red Lantern and take a few minutes to rate it on Amazon.
My first art exhibition was in Middle School when three different projects of mine were framed and hung on the school’s hallway walls. You never forget that feeling of pride, knowing someone liked your work enough to hang it on a wall for all to see.
Soul Searching is not my first exhibition as I’ve been part of group, solo, juried and non-juried shows in the past. However, The Spirit of Africa and the Diaspora feels like my first “coming out” show.
The four African portraits I painted, managed to take me back 30 years, when a college friend, who grew up in Kenya, introduced me to the Swahili song “Jambo Bwana” on her cassette player while cruising through downtown Vancouver. We thought we were being really cool.
I fell in love with Africa the first time I saw the movie Out of Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. This was followed by receiving my first A+ mark for an English composition based on the novel by Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness. Not many years later, I found myself traversing the African continent on our honeymoon, camping in some of the most incredible spots in the world.
My hope was to capture that young, free, adventurous spirit in these portraits.
The Maasai warrior represents strength and ownership. He reminds me of an experience where we met a group of local Batu men while traveling the Serengeti. These hunters were on their way into the desert, carrying spears and poison arrows, dressed in business suits while riding their bicycles – some had doubled up. Maasai had taken their cattle the night before and it was time for revenge. The Maasai believe that God gave them all the cattle in the world; hence they were just taking back what belonged to them. However; the park warden stopped them, at least long enough until we were out of sight.
The Maasai bride symbolizes passage and union. She is on her way to marry, a passing from youth into adulthood, to new beginnings. She is also covered in red: beads, cloth and mud mixed with goat’s blood, a color that signifies union.
The two portraits of Catherine reinforce the importance of friendship. Given today’s political climate, with the rise of tribalism in the West, it’s friendship that crosses all borders, languages and cultures.
Come see the exhibit Soul Searching: the Spirit of Africa and the Diaspora if you haven’t already. Even better, if you have time this Saturday, come and take part in “A Taste of Africa” Festival to strengthen our global community in Pleasanton through dance, music, arts and food.
The Independent Newspaper: 'Soul Searching' Exhibition Opens at Harrington Gallery
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “An artist’s studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it.”
The curator of our local museum recently emailed me requesting a visit to ‘my studio.’ Disconcertion soon took over from initial excitement as Grandma was sleeping in ‘my studio’ – it also doubles as the guest bedroom.
I prefer a neat, organized space. There isn’t much room in ‘my studio’ to make it chaotic and messy: it has a light table, desk, easel, good lighting, storage shelves and a twenty year old carpet I don’t care much about – the paint stains blend in well. It’s a place for me to make art.
Picasso filled all the rooms in his home with different art projects. When he ran out of space, he just moved to a bigger house. I’d love to take over the living room, but we do need to live somewhere.
A local artist Kaethe Bealer lives and paints on her boat. I also can’t stop thinking about the artists who lived and created at the Oakland “Ghost Ship” warehouse that went up in flames not too long ago. This is after all Silicon Valley where some of the most successful technology companies started out in a garage. The guest bedroom – it‘s not such a shabby place to be.
Would I like more space? For sure: especially at the growth rate of my canvas sizes – the bigger the better. However, for the time being, I’m content to paint in 'my studio!'
Artists create series of paintings whether it's a variation on one theme, like Degas' ballet dancers; or different versions of a single subject, like van Gogh's sunflowers.
Monet had many variations of water lilies but also did series on one theme: haystacks, Rouen Cathedral and poplar trees, to try and capture different lights at different times throughout the day or season.
Last spring, I decided to start a series on boats. I figured if I had to spend a lot of time painting the same subject, it better be something that inspired me: I love to sail and I love boats.
While traveling through places like the stilt village in the middle of Lake Nokoue, West Africa, I was in awe at how well young boys navigated dug out canoes with makeshift sails of sewn together rice sacks. I dug up some old photos from our visit to Benin and begged dear friends, Evan and Diane, who are currently sailing around the world, to email me images they had taken of ‘interesting’ boats. Et voila, I was on my way prepping six canvases for my ‘sailboat’ series.
Like so often in life, the progress on the ‘sailboat’ series got interrupted as a new opportunity presented itself. A dear ‘mom’ friend, Catherine, who is actively engaged in promoting African culture in our community, asked me if I was interested in painting five paintings for A Taste of Africa Festival 2017, a celebration of diversity, arts, culture and global citizenship. Well, du huh! Off course I was not only honored to be asked but thrilled to start another series, this one on African portraits.
Again, I dug through photographs of our trip across the African continent and begged dear friends, Chanan and Maria, who live in South Africa, to send me photos, images, anything that portrayed the richness of the African culture. With the help of Catherine, we managed to narrow the selection down to five.
Now, all still needed were the right sized panels. I headed off to Michael’s and bought five of the largest, pre-stretched canvases available. I wanted my African portraits to make a big impression. The lady at Michael’s did ask if they would fit in our car and I confidently convinced her that yes, we had a station wagon, no problem. Well, to make a long story short, it did not fit and Kim, another dear ‘mom’ friend came to the rescue as her husband placed the canvases in their truck and drove them home. It takes a village.
I guess I now have to give each series a name. Keeping with tradition of labeling paintings as Untitled I or Abstract I, I will call the Maasai Warrior Getting Ready for his Wedding: African Portrait I and the two boys sailing their dugout canoe: Boat I.
"SH&T always rises to the top." This is the second year my art has been rejected at a local, juried art show. My initial reaction was one of disappointment. You'd think they would make an effort to support local artists? I know they try; my work just has a lot more growing up to do.
An experience like that does make you deeply empathize with Vincent van Gogh. I can't imagine how this man dedicated his entire life to art, without ever selling a single painting (except for one). To constantly put yourself out there, only to have your ego crushed over and over again.
My family told me not to cut off my ear. It would do me no good. They also kindly reminded me that "CREAM always rises to the top."