explorations in limited palettes and fan mail

 Well, hello!

This is what working all the time and taking a class and trying to have a social life does to you. That, and the lack of sustained attention that unfortunately comes with the Internet. 

Here are some new(ish) things! The first three explore a limited color palette, using ink and a bit of watercolor. At the top we have a forest spirit of sorts, and evolution of Beastie. Lately I've been liking headdresses, and his has typically been the bones of small animals. He's also been clearly affected by the aesthetics of Sword & Sworcery, with his trigon. This was done using India ink, red watercolor and some black gel pen for the details. 

Below is a painting using much of the same materials, although I think there's some Payne's gray in there in addition to the red. The circles are vaguely Mucha-esque, and were created using a compass. The figures are a take on the medieval figures with their big black robes. 

Next is something I thought of while listening to Grimes' "Visiting Statue" off the (perhaps aptly named) album Visions. I actually had a whole music video mapped out, but as I lack the funding and the willing victims participants to make music videos, I had to make due with a still image. The challenge of this one was to lend a thick, opaque, sculptural look using water media, as well as working on a gray ground. I started by coating a piece of (white) paper with a mixture of white gouache and Payne's gray watercolor, and layering more of that mixture until I got a good ground. Then I painted in the figures and the landscape, and finished with a mixture of white gouache and yellow watercolor for the constellations and circle shapes. I also emailed a copy to Grimes' fan mail, just for fun. 

Finally, we have a painting with a more traditional palette. This came from the idea of the Manitou, an Algonquin concept of an innate spirit present in all things, including people, animals, plants, rocks and even machines. Specifically, it's a reference to Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron off the coast of Ontario, which means "spirit island." The image is just something that sort of popped into my head, of a big sleepy creature-island supporting lots of nature and people. It looks a bit sad, but it's really just sleepy. I'm really happy with this one, and I'd like to find a nice frame for it. 

neon medieval nausea

Holy crap look at these

These are different, right?

Technically, they aren't done. They were created to serve as backgrounds for figures, and are painted in acrylics (although the black is actually India ink), because as much as I dislike acrylics for most things, they are really awesome for a few things, like fluorescent colors and flat areas of color. They also dry quickly and are water-based, which means that oil paints can be applied on top. So these are going to be populated with some medieval-style figures doing mysterious things. As those medievals are wont to do. 

These were inspired by the spiritual landscapes found in manuscripts like the Ebbo Gospels, which are 1,200 years old and incredible, as well as by landscapes in video games like Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery and VVVVVV. They are, I guess, kind of an evolution of Angelus, which was the initial endeavor into this concept. 

Also I've been really into geometry lately. 

I have, admittedly, warmed up to acrylics a bit. They might be fun to use as backgrounds for oil works, and they're nice to use like watercolors in washy, watery ways, too. The fluorescent paints (the pink and orange, in this case) are fun, too, but may cause retinal damage. The third one from the top was literally painful to complete. 

This is the order they go in. They seem to have a loose sort of narrative to them, though nothing too specific. The narrative element will become more apparent with the addition of the figures. It starts with a vision, moves onto a meeting, undergoes a journey, and finds a solution--that's the basic idea, anyway. I prefer to leave these things open ended. 

Currently, these have figures sketched out on them, but here they are in their pristine state. Don't look too long at that pink one, though. 

more monotype

Looking through this series again, I really like it. So here are some more, including some of the white-pencil drawings. The white pencil, due to the fact that it gets blunt, required constant sharpening to maintain the level of detail that could be achieved by the ink pens.

So here is more of Little Apocalypse! From the top down:

Where You Grew Up: This is the second piece of the series, done in pencil. This is where the second protagonist hails from, Where I Grew Up being the first piece. Unfortunately, that one, done in ink pen, is embarrassingly out of focus and its rather charming (if I do say so myself) details can't be seen.

What Happened to the Homestead: I imagined this as a place the protagonists passed by, maybe camped out in, some wholesome home left to decay in the dust, full of photographs of people long dead. Again, something about disintegrating Americana speaks to me.

Then we have Summit City, another of the three cities they pass through. These cities are populous centers of the new country, the one that's struggling back up after whatever apocalyptic event (take your pick) happened. If Valentine City is the hedonistic center, this one is the center of learning and spirituality, built high up and full of aerials and towers, spanning the peaks of mountains, hard to get to. The third is Oil City, which I'm not posting, but that one's an industrial center, sludgy and dirty and ruled by profit. I guess the cities are kind of like city-states, each one with its own set of values, ethics and cultural traditions.

Finally, we have The Road Out, in which the protagonists leave an unnamed settlement for the wilderness. They're done. They are so freakin' done, man. This is the second-to-last piece (there are 10 in total), and immediately proceeds Our House. They've left the problems of society and make off on their own. This would be the view looking backwards.

Anyway, if you're wondering, all of the monotype prints I've posted were achieved the same way. I started by mixing ink(s) and applying it with a brayer, which is like a rubber paint roller, onto a Plexiglas plate. Then I sprayed mineral spirits onto them for the blotched effect. Finally, the inked plate was lain onto a piece of damp paper and rolled through a press (which is quite a nice workout) and hung up to dry. The scenery was drawn on later. I started with the darkest ones, like The Road Out and Where You Grew Up, lots of blacks, browns, greens and some oranges, which evolved into browns, then blues, and then lighter colors. I was kind of just playing around at first, but the pieces slowly evolved into a story, and the pieces sort of fell into order.

monotype & me

When I was in college, an ever-increasing amount of time ago, I took a few (2) printmaking classes. I learned something. I'm a painter, through and through. I'll never have the discipline (some might say neurosis) to be a printmaker. The painter's philosophy is "Eh. I'll paint over it. No big." You don't get that luxury with printmaking, and everything must be planned out from the get-go. Make an error? Start over. No room for improvisation.

Fuck that.

See, the other good thing about painting is that while the equipment ca be expensive, no really special materials are required. Paint, canvas (or fabric) stretchers, media and brushes. You can use wax or freezer paper in place of a palette, and that's about it. No zinc plates, no nitric acid baths, no asphaltum or hard ground, no lightboxes, no photosensitive purple goop requiring darkroom access...you get the idea.

To date, as a result of the classes, I can aquatint, dry-point etch, silkscreen, and monotype. I owned a pretty large silk screen for a while, but ended up selling it--something I partially regret (I would have been able to make so many awesome T-shirts) but can rationalize due to practicality (no darkroom). I have a lot of odd prints stacked away somewhere, and I barely ever look at them. Except for these.

These three monotype prints were created by simply rolling colors across a Plexiglas plate and spraying it with mineral spirits, then printing the results. It ended up being a 10-piece series called "Little Apocalypse," which more or less detailed an indeterminate apocalyptic event in America's heartland and the aftermath. It tells loosely of two unseen travelers wandering through the wasteland until they find a place they can call home. The structures were later drawn on with pen (as seen in these three) or white pencil (on the darker images).

These three, from the top down titled Our House, Valentine City, and Storm Country, are the best photographed of the ten. I'll have to re-shoot the others one day, so that the world can know their glory. Our House is actually the last of the series, and is an underwater biome that the two protagonists share at the end of their journey. The photo is out of focus, but I love it and so had to include it. Valentine City is sort of a debauched urban area, full of advertising and consumption, but also great beauty (and perhaps the beginning of my fascination with lurid pink). Storm Country is sort of an image of bereft Middle America, where prospecting promise has dissolved into dust.

Storm Country, though, lives on. It, and another, poorly photographed print from the series, inspired a triad of oil paintings currently in the works. Something about the fresh-faced optimism of golden America combined with some tragically radioactive future dystopia really spoke to me. Big surprise, eh?


A while back I posted this painting under the tentative title The View, which I didn't like because it reminded me of that talk show with Barbara Walters, and I'd like to keep her as far away from my artwork as humanly possible. I also posted this on deviantART. It's kind of a silly place sometimes, and I'd like to see less "artistic nudes" if you know what I mean, but I've gotten to see the work of some interesting people and gotten friendly with a few of them.

Anyway, on dA, I told people to suggest new titles and today I got one. The lovely and talented Lolita A GoGo suggested The Valley, based on the landscape and the V shape between the two skullheads. Since the landscape is based on where I live (in a valley), I thought it was perfect. So this painting is now officially called The Valley.

Thanks, Lolita!

an artist you should know: Henry Darger

Henry Darger (1892-1973) is usually one of the first artists mentioned when what is known as Outsider Art is brought up. Outsider art, also known as art brut, is art produced by people with no formal training in art, and no connection to the art world. The result is usually visually jarring, particularly to people who are ensconced within the institutionalized art world, and intensely personal, often having a narrative and symbolic system all its own.

Darger was born in Chicago, and his early life was characterized by hardship and loss. His parents had both died by 1905, and he lived for the rest of his adolescence in Catholic boys' homes and institutions, where he faced what they would have called "treatment" or "discipline" in those days, and what we would call "horrible child abuse" today. Modern research shows that Darger may have had Asperger's Syndrome, which in his time was unfortunately not recognized as it is today. In his later life, he lived in the same apartment in Chicago for over 40 years, until his death, working menial labor in a Catholic hospital until about ten years before his death, and attending Catholic Mass regularly. He was, in his own way, deeply concerned with the wellfare of children, and his work reflects this. Darger and his one close friend, William Shloder, discussed founding a "Children's Protective Society," which would adopt out orphans to loving families, but this never came to fruition.

After his death in 1973, Darger's landlords found his life's work in his apartment. It's a book, fully illustrated, called The Realms of the Unreal, and covers several storylines, totaling at 15 volumes and 15,145 pages. To put it in an extremely simplified way, it tells the stories of an alternate world in which children, namely the inspirational Vivian Girls, the victims of child labor, rise up against a draconian regime to restore peace and harmony. He provided two endings, one with the Vivian Girls triumphing and one with the Vivian Girls in defeat. He also wrote an autobiography (5,084 pages--comparatively light reading), another, unfinished piece of fiction that weighs in at over 10,000 pages, and kept a daily weather journal.

To create his images, Darger traced images found in newspapers, magazines and ads, sometimes multiple times in one scene, as seen in the top image, and he also frequently used collage, collecting old periodicals for source material. He seemed to like the Coppertone Girl in particular. He worked with watercolors, and seemed to have a natural talent for it. His scenes are typically large and epic, and feature little girls engaged in full warfare with grown men. His work can be disturbingly violent, too, showing the terrible tortures inflicted upon the girls by the evil villains. It's interesting to note that Darger focused on girls rather than boys, and even more interesting to note that though the child characters are ostensibly female, some of them have male genitalia.

I personally love Darger's work. I love its raw psychology and the fact that Darger was not interested in academic art, but was making art for himself and only himself. There's something nice about that, and refreshing. And Darger seems like a real sweetheart, too. Caravaggio, for instance, is one of my favorite artists, but he was probably a real asshole. And everyone knows how misogynistic Picasso was. Darger, on the other hand, stuck up for the children, saying that each one had a right
"to play, to be happy, and to dream, the right to normal sleep of the night's season, the right to an education, that we may have an equality of opportunity for developing all that are in us of mind and heart."

everyone loves adorable skullheads

...I mean, why wouldn't you? They're always smiling! I'm tentatively calling this painting The View, but as that's the name of a fairly odious daytime talkshow, I'm not sure if I can commit to it. Hopefully something better will come to me, but for now, that's it's name. Actually, though, in speech I rarely call any of my paintings by name, and would refer to this one as "that one with the skullheads and the red floaty trees." Something about calling my paintings by name in a conversational setting seems pretentious to me.

My camera, in other news, is working when it feels like it, and thankfully felt like it for the shooting of this painting. My current hypothesis? Gnomes.

a new home addition

Back from the madness that is the holiday season, I've finally completed some more large paintings. Also, my broken camera decided it was tired of being a drama queen and now works again. I hope this is foreshadowing of the rest of my encounters with technology--that if they break I can just ignore them for a while and they'll fix themselves without requiring effort or money on my part.

Actually, more than likely, my luck with technology has all been spent up and my next blog post will be scanned in at the public library after I had to write it on a typewriter.

So! Onto the artwork. The two seen here are additions to the Home collection, and are finally finished after much deliberation. On top we have The Storm Gatherers. This is one of the rare instances when I've made up an image to go with a title, rather than the other way around. The title comes from a Henry Darger piece, which is actually titled A Storm Gathers but, like I often do, I read it wrong and thought it said something cooler. The end result is this painting, 44 X 46 inches and about three thousand pounds of stand oil glazes. It features a theme I've been liking lately, which is an organized group of small girls, who seem unassuming but who are probably up to something nefarious, in this case, summoning a storm with the help of lightning rods, weather vanes and a barometer. A similar clutch of these girls can be seen in The Harvest. Most of the girls are based on photographs of me when I was little, and the outfits are actual clothes I've owned, namely ballet recital costumes and summer dresses. Stylistically, this painting echoes The Discovery of a False Moon in its glazy, open field-setting.

Then there is Outlands, whose bizarre size (8 X 18 inches) was dictated by the size of the fabric on which it is painted. This fabric was not purchased, but rather came from an old skirt of my mother's, so I didn't have the luxury of choosing a reasonable size. I wanted to do this painting for a long time, but couldn't find small enough stretchers until recently. Also, although I like the way it came out, I don't recommend painting on old fabric; it gets fuzzy and when gessoed (gesso'd?) the fuzziness ends up as stiff lumps and detail work is very difficult. There is also a hole in the fabric, which is hard to see but obviously not ideal, and overall the fabric is worn and not as structurally sound as new fabric. But I still like it. The figures are taken from photographs of my mother (in the white shirt, center) and some friends from her Brownie troop on a field trip in the early '60s. Like the ones used in the Huntington paintings, the photos are kind of weird and don't have a feeling of being in a specific place.


Here are some drawings I did sometime in the spring. They are all about 5 in. X 7 in., ink (pen) on paper. Extremely. Meticulously. Rendered. I don't know how long these tiny things took me. I mainly worked on them during downtime at the old coffee shop. Which gives you an idea of how business went there.

All three are based on real places, and are in effect an iteration of my current interest in landscapes and memory as place. This is, in effect, how I remember those places. Certain features remain prominent, or are made more prominent, and others have been erased entirely. I wasn't interested in recreating a realistic record of the place (though, when I compare these to the images in my little head, they could be considered accurate renderings. Don't make fun of my brain.), or an image that would be instantly recognizable to others. I was more interested in capturing the feeling of the place. That is not to say, however, that these are entirely impulsive pieces; the images as I see them in my head have quite bright colors, but I left them out of the drawings for the sake of the compositions, since color would overwhelm the delicacy of the lines.

Hopefully I'll be able to post some actual paintings sometime soon. They just take so long.

in which we are introduced to hoodies and deer

Due to the fact that I have not yet installed a decent photo editing program onto my new computer, I can't upload the new photos of the newest (complete) paintings without their having a weird white space where I've cropped the pictures. So here is the latest of the old photos, a painting called The Protector. As we saw in The Discovery of a False Moon, there are some floating trees. Unlike some of the other symbols, I don't really know why I like the floating trees so much.

The figure on the left is a Hoodie. I started drawing these hooded silhouette girls about a year ago, and they are essentially symbols of myself--shorthand self-portraits, I guess. The deer-headed man is my dad, because I associate him with deer. Disney's Bambi was my favorite movie as a child, and Bambi's family structure basically mirrored my own at the time. Therefore my dad has antlers. I also was under the impression that Bambi started life as a girl and grew up to be male. Anyway, deer and hoodies, as well as some other symbols, show up later in the body of work that includes The Discovery of a False Moon, the Huntington paintings, and Croton Point, that is collectively called Home. The concept behind Home is memory and personal symbolism, or the way that children, and later adults, use specific images and objects to inform more nebulous aspects of their lives. For me, for example, deer with antlers are symbols of my father. Home is still in the works, with a few more paintings planned. I seem to have three veins in which I work: the Home style, sort of soft and faded, with dense patterning and natural settings, the medieval style that has broad areas of jewel tones, and a bright pink and glittery style that I haven't unveiled yet (mwahaha) that I'm calling the "trashy" style. There are similarities between the three modes, and the symbols found in Home appear in the others, and I think to an extent they each reflect an aspect of my person.

The Protector is oil and neo-megilp glaze (yes, that is really what it is called and I have no idea why). Neo megilp was called "atmosphere in a bottle" by a painting teacher of mine and she was quite right. It creates a soft, filmy glaze and it dries fast. I love stand oil, but the speed at which this stuff dries is amazing. The patterns on the figures were traced from a piece of wrapping paper.

So as soon as I can figure out/feel like getting the other pictures together, I'll put them up. Till then...

fabric & me

I've always liked patterned fabric. I have, currently, an overflowing grocery bag full of scraps of old clothes stuffed in the back of the terror-jungle that it my closet. I've made a few quilts with them, starting from the traditional patchwork squares to the one I'm currently "working" on (quotes signal that in this context, "working" means "leaving it sitting on my dresser for the past six months") is more of a landscape, complete with silver raindrops (old curtains left over from when my room was space-themed in middle school) and elephants. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that I like patterned fabric because for me, it evokes memory, the way that old clothes and blankets do.

For a while, I was in the habit of painting very intricate patterns in the backgrounds of my paintings. You can see some of them in the Woods series that I discussed earlier. It was, to put it bluntly, a pain in the ass. So one day in the summer, I stretched and primed these three canvases--er, non-canvases. Huntingtons I and II are primed with clear gesso, which I don't recommend as it dries to a weird, sandy sort of texture that is difficult to work with, particularly on a small scale. It can also fog up the fabric itself. Croton Point is primed with acrylic gloss medium, which s nice and smooth and wonderful. (Note: If you choose to try this, be sure to coat the front and the back of the cloth several times with the priming medium, as fabric like this is much thinner and has a more open weave than canvas.) They are quite small, the largest of them being only a foot square.

Painting on fabric is really fun. For one thing, the painting surface becomes part of the image, and you can fade it in and out of the painted areas with a pretty nice effect. These are all based pretty literally on photographs. Huntington I (Shadows), top, and Huntington II (Starfields), center, are taken from photographs of my mother and aunt as kids with some of their younger cousins. They're weird photos, in that little square 1960s format, taken by kids in strong summer sunlight, lending them a strange and spontaneous sort of quality. Croton Point, at the bottom, is based on a photo taken by me, of my friend and his now-ex-girlfriend, about two years ago. The weird brown animals are my own invention. Fittingly, my mother brought me the fabric samples of the Huntingtons, and the green piece I bought at a vintage shop in New Paltz. These are the first paintings in which I dealt with memory as a place, and I took a fairly literal approach, using photographs, which are what people commonly use to preserve memory.

an artist you should know: Marianne North

I happened upon Marianne North by chance one summer in high school on vacation with my mother in a rented beach house in Sea Isle City, NJ. There were a number of books left behind by other renters, and one was A Vision of Eden: The Life and Work of Marianne North, written by North herself, chronicling her life from her birth in Hastings, England in 1830, her world travels, and the end of her life in 1890, as recorded by her sister, Catherine.

Originally intending to be a singer, North's voice failed and so she turned to painting plant life of the world. She traveled with her father until his death in 1869, and then took a world tour, recording the flora of the areas in paintings. In 1871-72, she lived in a hut in the Brazilian rain forest and painted. By 1878, she had been to the Americas, the Caribbean, India (where she cataloged plants sacred in Indian literature and religion) and Japan, and several places in the South Pacific. She contributed significantly to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (The North Gallery, as her area is called, is in the east section of the garden, not the north one). In addition, several species of plants are named in her honor.

A Vision of Eden is quite long and detailed, and I have to admit I haven't read it in its entirety, but the images were so lovely I, um, had to steal it from the beach house. North's style is somewhat strange; her only formal training came from "a Dutch lady" who evidently gave her private lessons, which North describes as giving her "the few ideas I possess of arrangement and colour [sic] and grouping." And there is something slightly unschooled-seeming in her work, but North is talented enough that the work appears fresh and youthful while still retaining an intelligence about the subject, instead of being naive and purely decorative. The bright, saturated colors, the strong, ambiguous light source, and the uniform crispness of her subjects gives the paintings a slightly eerie, otherworldly quality which somehow reminds me of the work of Italian Surrealist painter De Chirico. Her body of work includes detailed close-ups of plants and animals, as well as broader landscapes and buildings. Although they are, in some ways, simply recordings of the natural world in a time before photography, and certainly color photography, they are also deliberate and dreamlike compositions that speak not only to the exploration of the natural world, but of Marianne North's unique vision of that world.

The paintings lack formal titles, and are instead referenced, in the book, by caption. I abridged them and updated some of the place names. Anyway, top to bottom: View of Mt. Kinchinjunga, Darjeeling, India; the "quicksilver mountain," Tegoro, Malaysia; an old red cedar, Manchester, MA; rubber trees in Sri Lanka.

land scape land


There was a time when you couldn't pay me to do a landscape painting. They seemed like the default painting subject, after vases of flowers and bowls of fruit. Even the standard naked lady was more interesting. I grew up in the Hudson Valley in southern New York, home to the Hudson River School of painters, who, in the romantic period of the nineteenth century, sought to celebrate the sublime by painting immense landscapes of the area, and of other grand vistas around the USA. Needless to say, they were the subject of many a school trip. So maybe that was what turned me off to landscape painting. There is also, to be honest, something distasteful to me about the macho, plein-air painter swaggering around the countryside.

To be fair, though, when you live in a place as beautiful as the Hudson Valley, I suppose landscapes become part of you.
Even if you don't live here, landscapes are part of you.
There are, after all, landscapes everywhere.
Even inside your head. Especially inside your head.

It's something I've been thinking about--the landscapes that exist inside the psyche, how feelings and memories can be imagined and depicted as places, and how places or images of places can evoke certain feelings. Typically, for me, these places are represented by images of the natural(ish) world, usually involving trees and expanses of land. Lately, I've been particularly liking fields. Particularly fields bordered by dark trees, which is likely owed to the fact that all the fields around here are bordered by trees, this being the deciduous-forest-covered Eastern seaboard. Around here, woods are the normal natural state, and fields are something of a break from that. There may be a psychological reason for this, too, with fields representing the known and the visible, and the woods representing the unknown and the hidden (something that may have informed the Woods series as well).

The top image is a painting I made in 2009 called The Discovery of a False Moon. It is based on a photograph I took on a field in New Paltz, NY, where I went to school. It was daylight, and the clover was blooming. There was a university building across the street with a clock that lit up at night, and at first glance resembled the full moon. Lots of stand oil, very shiny. Next is a typical view off my back porch in early September. You can see the Hudson River in a small silver sliver (say that 5 times fast) near the middle. Next is a shot of Croton Point Park in Croton, NY. The park sticks out into the water, and there is a big artificial hill that is actually a capped garbage dump. Since the soil is not deep, no trees can grow, and so the land on the hill is completely different than the surrounding land, this big, arid bump surrounded by woods. You can see the normal ecosystem across the water. The last two shots were taken about a week ago in Rockwood Hall, which is part of the Rockefeller Preserve in Sleepy Hollow, NY. Early evening, as the park was closing and all the deer were out. They look up for pictures if you call them.

What I like about all of these images is their composition. It's classically bad. If you notice, they all have a horizon line in just about the middle of the image. Apparently, you aren't supposed to do that. But the photographs came out that way unintentionally (swear). And anyway, that's how vistas are seen by humans--there's above and there's below and they meet in the middle. Therefore False Moon and other, later paintings have a horizon line than generally bisects the painting. Later landscapes also have the phenomenon of the floating trees, which I will get into later.


I just begun my Galatea painting--by begun I mean it's a series of sketchy lines on canvas that make sense only to me. It owes a bit to both images (bottom two, above and below: Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau). Stylistically, I suppose it's a bit more similar to Moreau, with the primary focus on the Galatea figure and the dark background. Or, it will be. We can only hope. It's something of a departure from what I've been doing, as well as from the things I've been looking at in terms of reference material. Much more ornate and flowery. But it's also the first painting I've done with such a blatantly classical theme; it somehow, therefore, seems appropriate. Or maybe it just seems that way to me.

And seriously, isn't Redon's cyclops like the cutest thing EVER?

The images preceding the Galateas are the kinds of things I've been liking lately. Kind of a faded memory, old family photograph, memory-blending-with-imagination-type thing. Vast and unknown landscapes of the interior and exterior alike.

Something like that.