There is a juried show of small works at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, MA, with the subject being the egg. Initially I wasn’t particularly intrigued by drawing an egg, although I liked the idea of tackling the incredible surface of the shell. There are probably hundreds of entries, so I have no idea if my piece will be accepted, but I didn’t really enter anticipating acceptance. Rather, I saw it as motivation for making another picture, and with a deadline. My inspiration came from a beautiful della Robbia-style egg cup that belonged to my maternal grandmother, Isabel Finley Bell. I say it is della Robbia-style because the flowers are raised and on a base of iridescent white and blue. I’m sure Luca della Robbia was not into egg cups (although you never know) but my Granny’s cup reminds me of his style.
I decided, the week after Christmas – the one week of the year when I don’t have to do anything and when I try to take the time for myself after the onslaught of the many have-tos of the season – that I would do a pastel per week. I am way, way, way too slow to do a drawing/painting a day as many people do. (A pastel that covers the entire page is called a painting but I still feel it odd to name pastel pieces that way.) So I thought one per week would be doable. So I started a painting of a bizarre set of Russian nesting dolls that accidentally came my way, but I just couldn’t get it to a point where I was happy with it. I kept trying to decide whether to keep working on it or abandon it. This took a lot longer than a week.
Then along came Valentine’s day. (So, yes, it was more than a month on the damned dolls.) So I thought I’d make a pastel for Isabel. A break from the dolls and an opportunity for something upbeat and fun. I thought it would take me 2-4 hours. It took a lot longer, of course – what did I expect from my egregiously slow self.
It’s been way too long since I’ve done any drawing. I did do a sketch this summer and have been to my neighborhood sketching group here and there, when it’s been warm enough to meet outside. But none of that really counts.
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Tonight the organizers of the show at the A. P. E. Gallery, Observing Ourselves: 50 Women’s Self-Portraits, had an artists’ talk. Six artists were on the panel and many others who contributed to the show, including me, were in the audience. The six panelists, who included the organizers, Jane Lund and Rachel Folsom, talked about how their portraits came about. Then the question was asked of the audience about why the show was so popular. Lisa Thompson, who runs A. P. E., said the show was immensely popular, with people revistiting it, people who knew people with pieces in the show, but also many who just walked in off the street. Of course, when you have dozens of artists, you have all the people associated with them coming to see the show. But that doesn’t quite explain it. Click title to continue reading…..
So the portrait is done and delivered to the gallery. I find that I have a very different feeling about it than I would if it were a still-life, or a portrait of somebody else, or just about other subject matter. Part of that stems, I think, from it feeling rather strange to portray myself. I have never taken or even thought about taking a “selfie”. It’s just not something that ever comes to mind. I guess it feels a bit narcissistic and that feeling flows into how I feel about this self-portrait, just a bit odd.
In some ways how I feel about it is similar to that feeling one has sometimes after a conversation, of wanting to say, “That’s not quite what I meant,” or “I’m not finished – I have more to say.” I haven’t done a self-portrait before, so I don’t know if everyone feels that way.
We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life. All that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.
I have been crazy nervous about this self-portrait. Part of it is just the fact that it feels so exposing to do a self-portrait Certainly I’ve never thought to myself that I’d be doing a one. I can’t decide if I’m glad Jane asked me to do one or not. The jury’s still out – I see-saw from liking it to being really uncomfortable with it.
But I’m loving working on it as if it’s my actual job. How jealous I am of those who can do this full-time. I remember watching the documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, where he would kiss his wife goodbye in their kitchen and head out with his bag to go lie down in the driveway, let it rain all around his silhouette, then photograph the dry spot where his body had been. I thought then, “I want his job!” Well, maybe not the lying down in the drive part. But I am calmer and generally so much happier after after a day of drawing than a day of work or even just a day of “leisure”.
My first reaction to being invited was, of course, that it is a great honor, especially when I look at my fellow exhibitors, and also a great responsibility. And then very quickly, not panic, that’s too strong a word, but the weight of having to come up with a way to present myself that felt true to who I feel that I am, not gimmicky (I hate what I think of as “gimmick art”), and allowed me to use pastel in the way that I love, with intense color, and so that, up close, the pastel application is beautiful on its own, as if each inch of the picture is a tiny abstract painting. All-in-all, a formidable task.
So this little toy gun, and I do mean little, is marked “REPLICA”. Phew! I thought this gun, which is less than three inches tall, might be the real thing. (No, not really.)
It does beg the question of why someone would want a really tiny replica. Something to fit well in the hands of really tiny children? Something convenient to carry to scare off those accosting you, hoping they won’t notice it’s too tiny to hurt anything larger than a gnat? OK, I’m out of guesses.
OK, there are a few parts I like in this picture, in the shiny part on the front of the barrel, where the turquoise, gold, white, and purple-black swirl together. And on the base and trigger guard and body, in the front, where the reflections allow so much color in those tiny areas.
But I made this pastel, 9″ x 12″, struggling the whole time because the size is just too small to really allow me to have freedom with the pastels, to create beautiful, abstract areas of color within the representational picture. So I decided it would be a study, not a final product, a study for one in a series I have planned, American Still Life.
Today I gave up the charcoal pencils and two pastel pencils I was using, trying to channel Jim Dine, for my Sennelier and Girault pastels, still in just a few colors, yellows, golds, blood red, and black/gray/white. I’ve never been able to limit my palette before. I’m not sure I always want to do that, but I like it in this picture. I think it’s the Dine influence, still a bit there, letting me do that.
Pastel is definitely my medium. I just love its richness, despite the nuisance of the mess, it often feeling like I’m drawing with a broomstick, the difficulty of framing and preserving them, etc. The richness and texture and depth of color trumps all that. In the background of this picture it is thick enough, even on this Strathmore pastel paper – no grit – to let me smoosh it around, my absolute favorite place to find myself with pastels. People often can’t figure out why I use Senneliers, because they’re so soft, but they do that smooshing thing so nicely. I love them.