26 December 2009

Butterfly Garden.

This is a commission from Hunter Gullickson as a Christmas present for his wife Sarah. I've worked with these two for nearly a decade and like both of them very much. It was an honor to make this painting.

Hunter asked for a painting of a butterfly garden. They recently planted a butterfly garden in their yard as a memorial to their son Alasdair who they lost at birth earlier this year. Instead of trying to forget, Hunter and Sarah decided to actively remember and celebrate their sons short life. Hunter told me that they are hanging a stocking this Christmas for Alasdair, and in it would be things for the garden.

This was an intimidating painting for me to start because of the seriousness of the subject matter. I didn't want it to seem trivial. I knew it would have to be a colorful and lush. I was handed me the image of the butterfly, the rebirth of the caterpillar as something infinitely more beautiful. Hunter used the word "celebration". I guess when it came down to it, it was all right there.
This is the type of painting that is the most rewarding for me. When I started this project, nearly a year ago, I expected that most of my requests would be flippant goofiness or challenges to my abilities. I've had a couple of those and they've been fun but I've been pleasantly surprised by how heartfelt and personal many of the requests on this blog have been. People have been very open. I've made many friendships painting here.
Hunter and Sarah do have a healthy and handsome 3 year old son named Simon. Hunter came to our house to pick up the painting and Simon and Theo had a chance to play. Simon's a really good kid. They should be very proud.

Thank You Hunter and Sarah!
And god bless Alasdair. May his memory be eternal.
...the Panda's one year anniversary will be this January 7th. Beth is giving me a new request which will be posted that day. Her last one was, of course, a Panda Licking on a Light Bulb...

25 December 2009

Ice Fishing...

This painting is for Bill Anderson as a gift from his wife Judy for Christmas. I've been sitting on it for a week not to spoil the surprise. Now here it is. The subject I was given ice fishing. What can I say?

I've been ice fishing once in my life. It was when I was in my early 20's. My friend Keith, a high school buddy, and I went winter camping with our friend and ex-high school English teacher Art Froehle. Froehle is a real character and we've kept in touch after all these years.
We stayed in a tiny cabin in the woods and it was really cold that weekend, almost beyond imagination. Cold even by January in Minnesota standards. I remember painfully walking across the frozen lake to the ice fishing house with a bunch of gear. The wind was biting us to pieces and I felt that it would never end and we would never be warm. It felt like hours, and when I think of it, I imagine a version of me still out there in an eternity of cold. Inside the little house was a fire, so it was warmer. Warm enough so that I didn't worry about it being a fire on ice over a frozen lake. Froehle for some reason left Keith and I in there by ourselves to fish (maybe it wasn't big enough for three?) while he would cross country ski around the lake. I'm not certain if we were ice fishing in a "correct" way. Neither of us had any idea of what we were doing. We just sat there holding our poles.
After one a few hours, one of us actually caught a fish ... but it got away... back down the hole somehow. I was secretly relieved because I didn't know what to do with it. It was like a giant active muscular slime tube. Do you let it flop around on the ice?
...But all and all, I have fond memories of this trip.

When I made this painting I thought about what someone would enjoy about ice fishing. It wasn't hard. Sitting outside on a lake in the morning by yourself, how beautiful and peaceful.
Beth suggested I do a painting of the inside of one of the crowded little houses. I thought that would only be interesting to people who didn't ice fish. The outdoors is what an ice fisherman would be interested in.
When I asked Judy about it, she said that Bill usually sits outside on a bucket. That seems like they to do it to me.

Thank you Bill and Judy!
Thank You Art Froehle for the memorable camping trip all of those years ago...

25 November 2009

When a panda offers you a gift certificate...

This is the first holiday season for the Panda...and I'm not sure what to expect. I'm geared up and I'm fast and can handle several paintings in the next few weeks. ...but if you want painting by Christmas ... or Hanukkah or New Years or even Ground Hogs Day order soon. Right now I can do it. I'll give you a timeline if you order.

However, in keeping with the sometimes lazy spirit of the season, I am also offering the option of a Panda Licking on a Light Bulb Gift Certificate. Really. It's easy as can be. You'll barely have to think. You can be hands off and let the recipient choose the subject matter of their choice or you can take this opportunity to spend quality time with that special someone, plotting out the painting together, filling it with all of your tiny hopes and dreams. ...or whatever...

The Gift Certificate is the same price as a painting, $53 US, which covers everything, including my blood sweat and tears and 1st class shipping. I'm putting an expiration date of January 7, 2011 on them because that will be the Panda's two year anniverary. I've committed to keeping this blog going at least until then. And if they can't decide on a painting in a year, someone should probably put a stop to it. Right?

The lucky recipient of the gift certificate will be mailed a handsome card featuring the inspiring new paint-by-number Panda Licking on a Light Bulb logo (as seen above) by artist and designer Nikolas Kouzes. Inside the card will be an official gift certificate and a short explanation of this blog with the info on how use it. On each certificate is a secret code (practically unbreakable and devised by me while in a very lucid state of mind) which will be quoted for online redemption along with their request. The rules will be the same as always. It's one certificate for one painting. Any subject regardless of complexity. Always 3.5" x 5.5" acrylic on wood.

To order a gift Certificate just click on the Buy Now button on the right hand sid of the screen.

To order a painting email me at:
You will then be sent a secure invoice through PayPal and I will contact you with any questions.

I will be posting a new Painting this week...

20 November 2009

An olive tree's Orthodox dream...

Here is a variation on the olive tree painting I made earlier this week. This is a second painting reworking the request from Mary Antonakos on the subject of our friend Diane Katsiaficas. I am very pleased with the original, but when I was writing the blog post for it, I thought of a different approach.
What we have here is essentially the same painting as An olive tree's dream... which I posted earlier this week. It has the same subject matter, the same composition, same basic colors (I didn't even clean my palate), I just decided to force a byzantine style onto it.
One of the things that Diane and I have in common is that we both love, and are heavily influenced by, Byzantine art. Why not reference this?
Here,I imitated elements from paintings of the Eastern Orthodox World that spanned more than 1,500 years. Almost all Byzantine work is about figure, so this is unusual. I poured through several books of Byzantine art studying the sparse backgrounds. (Something I loved doing). Beth was unimpressed by the original birds I put in the sky, so tonight she paged though hundreds of images to find better birds for me to reference. She was right so I changed them. (But turned down her suggestion of adding the ominous black bird that looks over St. John the Theologian's shoulder as he writes Revelations on Patmos).
The actual painting of this came very easily to me. This is a style that I love but have never attempted to adhere to strictly. Very fun for a me (believe it or not)!
One thing this blog does is give me plenty of painting exercise. It 's keeping my art muscles fit. (... where ever they may live).

Since this painting has no owner, I'm going to send it to Diane Katsiaficas. There is nothing better than sending someone unsolicited art. Right?

Thank You Mary Antonakos for starting this ball of wax.

...and thank you to whichever part of my obsessiveness it may have been that made me explore this again.

17 November 2009

An olive tree's dream...

This painting is a request from Mary Antonakos. I've recently had the pleasure of meeting Mary at the National Hellenic Museum where she is one of the curators of Neolaia/Pathos, an exhibition of "young" Greek artists in which I currently have work. When I met Mary at the opening, I instantly liked her and we've kept in touch since through the magic of Facebook.
The subject of Mary's request for me is our mutual friend, the wonderful artist, Diane Katsiaficas. (Diane is the other curator of Neolaia). Mary asked for a of portrait of Diane and Greece. But not a literal "portrait".
I met Diane Katsiaficas a few years ago when I was in school at the University of Minnesota where she has been a professor for years. Both being Greek, we had an obvious connection. (If you haven't figured it out yet, everyone in this story is Greek). Diane Katsiaficas is a ridiculously talented artist and she smiles a lot. That's hard to beat. But when preparing for this painting I realized that I don't know Diane very well.
Since they are close friends, I asked Mary to send me some stories about Diane. Mary talked about visiting Diane's house on the sea near Athens and how Diane cares for the land and the house with her own hands. Mary made the suggestion of a painting that is light and airy using olive trees and birds.
I looked at Diane's website again for inspiration. The image on the home page is an olive tree. I knew I had to use a tree. I liked the idea of flying birds. We are talking about Greece here, so blue has to be the dominate color, right? There you have it.
My painting isn't completely light and airy. I remembered a work of Diane's that I saw a couple of years ago about the terrible forest fires that have recently plagued Greece. I wanted to reference this. (Every Greek I know has some kind of forest fire burning in them, for good or otherwise).
I originally had a full fledged inferno burning in the background but I decided to go back and tame it to a yellow glow. I didn't want this to be a literal burning landscape. I wanted it to feel more dream-like and subtle. I watered down some of the colors on the surface and sanded areas to keep everything from being too well defined.
The way things came out with the yellow halo, it almost looks as if the tree is thinking about the birds. They might only be the tree's dream. Roots and wings.
In retrospect, I maybe should have approached this painting differently. Diane and I both very much love Byzantine painting. I could have made visual references to that... but I can explore that later...

Thank You Mary Antonakos, this has truly been a joy. .
..and hello, Diane!

Here are some links to check out:
I Space : http://www.ispace.uiuc.edu/ (Mary Antonakos is the gallery director here).

29 October 2009


This is a typical Myerly request. One word with no elaboration. I was chatting with Becky Myerly the other day and complaining about disorganized people making my life difficult. (Though I think I may be one of them.) Out of no where Becky took out her checkbook and told me to make her a painting from the word "organize". As always, I'm up for this kind of thing.
This is the fifth painting I've made here for the Myerly family. I met Becky and her daughter Sophia the day after I wrote the first post of the Panda. I was so focused on the blog that I couldn't shut up about it. Fortunately, they were interested.

I've been reading a lot of kids science books to Theo. We recently read Magic School Bus Goes to The Bees (or something like that). In not so many words, it told us that bees are organizational robots. The only way they are able to survive is by dividing up their work and relying on one another. I think we read something similar to this in The Magic School Bus Kicks it with Ants (or something to that effect), but ants aren't as attractive, so bees it is.
I actually made this painting twice. I painted it, was unhappy with it, gessoed over it, and then painted it again with the same subject matter. Why? ...I thought it would look better the second time. Does it? I don't know.
I'm not certain that this painting is as much about organization as it is about obsessiveness. Maybe I sometimes confuse these two things. It would explain a lot.

While I was drawing out the bees for the second time, I couldn't help but think about those 4H bug boards, where they place the Latin names under the stick pinned carcasses in neat rows. Very organized. Different bugs classified by similarities hanging with their own kind. Organization relies on classification and classification effects the way we think about things. If I were to go to the 4H building at the Minnesota State Fair to study a preteen's board of local bee species and find a cicada on it labeled "North American Green Bee", I would make different assumptions about what a cicada is. But a cicada is not a bee?... depending on the criteria for classification. Right? They certainly have things in common.

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that being organized is walking a fine line between rigid thinking, crazy thinking and...well, being organized. Perhaps someday I will be able to walk on that line correctly.

Thank You Becky Myerly!

19 October 2009

A Swan in San Francisco.

This is a new commission from Leon Mott who is back with request for a close friend of the family, Lynn Hart. Lynn lives in the Bay area and loves San Francisco. She is very also proud of her Finnish heritage. This is what I was given.
Different people have different approaches in how they give me a painting request. Some people tell me a story, some give a detailed description, some just offer me a word a single word and ask me to take it from there. I usually like to get the patron to brainstorm with me so we can collaboratively come up with an idea, but not everyone is open to that.
Leon approach, on all four paintings we've done together on this blog, is to tell me about the person the painting is intended for, and let me go from there. This time, however, he came up with the idea of painting the San Francisco skyline with blue and white, the colors of the Finland. I liked this but wanted one more image to really peg the Finnish reference. After some Google Image searches, I found out that the swan was a the National bird of Finland. I realized that a flying swan was roughly in the shape of a cross, the symbol on the Finnish flag. Everything from here fell easily into place. ...But I wanted it to be a little subtle, not too graphic, more naturalistic. I think it does the trick.

I've had some revelations over the past couple of weeks. I've been working on a proposal to try to get an artist fellowship. One of the things I needed to do was write a narrative about my work. I cut and pasted together pieces from the many artist statements I've written over the past five years and tried to make something cohesive out of my old ideas. On the second page of it I mention this blog/project and quickly dismiss it.
The people who I asked to review this ugly first draft called me on it. I've certainly spent a lot of time on this project over the past year. (This is my 31st painting for the Panda since January!). Beth, my wife, read it and her response was, " why do you treat the blog like the ugly step sister?".
Time to rethink this?
I've been relooking at what I do here and have decided maybe there is more to it than I thought. Previously, this was a fun little project to engage people. Now, I'm seeing a strange complexity to the whole thing that wasn't completely consciously intended. I'm also seeing more connections between this and my "personal" work.
When the awesome writer, Karen Lillis, kindly set up the FaceBook page for the Panda, she asked if I wanted any of my other work in the "pictures" section. I told her "no" and that the works live in two different universes. She thought this was funny (probably thought I was funny). I think I was a little delusional. I was thinking very rigidly in my strict separation.
I do think this project does need to remain as separate body of work and keep it's rules and focus the same for it to remain interesting, however, it should be separate but equal. Right?
The Panda is now almost half of what I talk about on that narrative and I'm working out and artist statement for this project alone. ...but I'm not changing it.

Thank You, Leon, for your triumphant return to the blog.

Here is a link to my new website...of my "other" work: http://www.johnmegas.com/

...and read The Second Elizabeth by Karen Lillis. http://www.myspace.com/eyescorpion

29 September 2009

A Green Rabbit that Speaks Bird.

Molly Fox obviously spends some time in a different world. She she sent me some vital information about that world and asked me to paint something from it.
Here is part of her long request:

There is a hamster who is the founder of the (scholarly research) institute. There's a chipmunk who's his right hand man, he's the administrator and tech guy. There is a green rabbit who speaks bird. They are cute but serious.

This is a lot of characters. I figured I'd better narrow it down because I didn't want to go super miniature. The rabbit speaking bird was intriguing. Somehow translating bird language is part of the research? I don't know, but that seemed the direction to go. It implies an action.
My first reaction was that it would look like children's book. Maybe Frog and Toadish. But, why do all crazy stories have to be geared toward children? I thought it would be more interesting do some pleasing designy thing with this. However, when I made the bird, I instinctively went a little expressionistic and I didn't want to turn back. I landed somewhere strange.
The rabbit is very detailed, the bird cruder, visible sound waves, a stylized yellow sky. Maybe kind of a mess, but I think there is a charm to it. I like the outcome but I feel I should know better.

So far, I've made about thirty paintings for people through this blog and, as far as I know, everyone has been happy with what I've done. ...But this can only go on forever, right? Someone is bound to be upset about the painting I make them. I'm bound to get something wrong or interpret subject matter in a way that they find objectionable. I guess that is just the risk you take. I'll be sure to post any mean comments I may get in the future. (Hopefully not from Molly).

Thank you, Molly! I hope this brings some new inspiration to the mythology you've been creating. ...or at least ...you like it.

21 September 2009

It Could Have Been A Seven Toed Cat.

Several months ago I donated a Panda Gift Certificate to a silent auction benefiting The Bridge for Youth, a shelter for homeless and runaway youth, located in South Minneapolis. Jeremie Holmes was kind enough to support this organization and purchased the certificate.
Here is his request:
Jeremie and his partner vacationed in Key West this last May and wanted something to remind them of their trip. He gave me some words as a guide "smiles, sunsets, love, adventure..." and so on. Nothing very specific.
I've never been to Key West. I started my process by looking up pictures and information about the island. I was instantly grabbed by an article about Earnest Hemingway's inbred cats whose descendants live on his former Key West estate. There are about 50 of them. Many have six or seven toes on each paw. There is a special legal protection extended to them. Really. ...but this wasn't what I was asked to paint.
I quickly found it hard to create a memory for a trip that I wasn't on. If I went too literal, I would get things wrong. Record memories as they weren't. I thought it would be better to make something vague that might provoke memory. Create a mood that may relate to a trip to Key West.
I found some aerial views of the island online that I liked and decided to print them to study. The color ink cartridge on my printer was low, so, they came out kind of washed out and with strange colors. This looked like memory to me.
After painting a very blurry, soft organic island shape, I decided to add lines to suggest buildings and roads. Bustling Key West shouldn't look desolate, right?
I spent a very long time on this painting, working very instinctively, not thinking to much in a logical way, just feeling my way through it.
...I just realized the image looks a little like a single celled organism. I don't know why, but this seems appropriate.

Speaking of trips, last weekend my family and I went to Chicago for the opening of Neolaia/Pathos: new.youth.passion. at the National Hellenic Museum. (I have three paintings in this show.) It was a great experience and the show is very well done...and, more importantly, interesting. The exhibition is running through January 9th, 2010. If you find yourself in the Chicago area, stop by. I love the Hellenic Museum!
Thank you to Curators Diane Katsiaficas and Mary Antonakos.
...and Thank You Jeremie Holmes for this opportunity to paint for you ... and for your support of The Bridge.

29 August 2009

Radioactive Blood.

Niki F wanted a painting for her boyfriend, Gil, as a birthday present... but she wasn't sure what. On her request, I met with her to brainstorm.
Niki told me that her boyfriend is from Minneapolis, likes Grain Belt Premium Beer and Jamison, and rides his bike everywhere. Then she slipped in that he would really like Spiderman to be in the painting, but then she dismissed it. She probably thought that I wouldn't do it. I sensed this was important to him, so, Spiderman needed be present in some way.
I went home and thought about it extensively over the next few days. I was stumped. I decided to post it as a challenge on the Panda Facebook Page. While I got some good and creepy responses, I used Molly Fox's idea of having a scene with the WebSlinger on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge by the historic Grain Belt Beer sign. This painting is completely Minneapolis.
Spiderman was problematic for me because I don't know anything about him beyond the cheaply made 1970's cartoon. Is he tough, listen Bud, he's got radioactive blood. That kind of thing. I could make many mistakes (which I may have).
I didn't want to paint something that looked like the cover of a comic because...well...what would be the point? Why wouldn't you just hang up the cover of a comic book? I can't paint Spiderman as well as the guy who draws the comic.
I went with the postcard gone wrong theme instead. It called for a lot of little detail. By the end I felt like I was painting the head of a pin. Pushed my new painting glasses to their limit.
I used my tiny 0000 sized paint brush (as immortalized in Catharina Jarl's Haiku) extensively on this painting. (Also, like the Haiku, this painting features the Mississippi River).
This is really a complicated subject matter to make small scale. The proportions are a little weird. Spiderman is giant next to the bridge...but really...who cares? It helps the narrative.

This painting marks the end of my summer break from the blog. Theo will start school again next week. It's cooling down. Autumn will soon place it's chubby fingers on our heads one more time.
I will go back to posting at least one painting a week.

Thank You, Niki and Happy Birthday, Gil!

30 July 2009

Waiting for the School Bus... John's Request.

This piece was made for me from my request by artist Cara Lynn Kleid. It was part of a trade. I made her the bonsai painting I posted here last month and she made this awesome piece for me. Here was the request I emailed her:

I wake up at 5:30 every morning to get my son, Theo, ready for kindergarten. I usually let my wife, Beth, sleep because she works longer days than me.
I live in Minneapolis where the days are very short and cold in the winter. Theo catches his bus at 6:40 am. Half of the year it is still pitch black at this time. In January, we walk to the bus stop and it's usually dead quiet, and looks like night, the stars and the moon are out. It's often well below zero and snow may be piled waist high next to the sidewalks. No one is out. Sometimes we are so cold, we jump around. Sometimes we look at the sky and talk about how far away and big things are.
Sometimes it's unbearable to be out there so tired and frozen. But it is also beautiful.

I told Cara to take any part of this narrative or all of it and do with it as she will. It turns out she told the entire story and completely captured the feeling of it. The rush to get out to the bus stop, the calm of waiting, the haziness of cold early morning, it's all there. If you look at the image closely, you will see that the location of each of my family members is labeled.
The lines of the bus are so simple and confident and loose...it's really hard to draw like that. Plain and simple, her work is really impressive... and she makes it look so easy. Damn you, Cara!

Cara requested that I send the painting I made to her father, Joe, in Florida who raises bonsais. I was pleased when she forwarded me some pictures he had taken of it with his trees.

Thank You, Cara!
As always, check out Cara's website:

22 July 2009

Motorcycle Sappho!

Yeah, you saw it ... and now you're going to have to deal with it. Motorcycle Sappho!

Stephanie Huss commissioned this painting for her close friends Beth and Allison as a gift for their commitment ceremony this coming weekend. Steph requested a larger piece than the usual tiny panda size and I agreed to it. (I like Steph, and I can do what I want!). This painting is an enormous 10"x12". It dwarfs everything else on this blog.

Steph didn't have anything specific in mind. She ran some basic information about her friends by me and then asked if I knew of any women in ancient mythology that ruled the world together. I didn't, but mentioned the ancient Greek poet Sappho who ruled the poetry world from the island of Lesvos (from which the word "lesbian" was derived. Etymology!).

Sappho was a respected and popular figure in the ancient world whose work traveled well outside of the Hellenic world. Very little is known about Sappho and what we have is greatly debated. At one time, Nine volumes of her poetry circulated but now only one complete poem exists, everything else is just fragments. (However, I can watch the complete first season of "Charles in Charge" on Hulu...preservation...). Many of here works are love poems to other women.
I bought a board and was going to do an ancient Greekish looking portrait but that seemed to random. I thought it needed some kind of fresh context. I knew I didn't want it to look like the lurid grotesquely-romantic paintings of Sappho that were popular in Western Europe in the 19th century. Half-naked women leaning against each other lounging by the sea.
I showed the original ancient source pictures I was going to use to Beth (Megas, my wife...two Beth's in this story...) because I know she never pulls any punches with me (even when I'd prefer it). Beth was unimpressed. She burst out with "Sappho should be riding a motorcycle". It was the worst idea I had ever heard. ...but it was kind of awesome... maybe?
I wrote our friend Karen Lillis in Pittsburgh and ran it by her. I thought she would be a good judge on the awesome/yuck factor of this one. She was excited about it. I called Steph and she gave me a big thumbs up. Motorcycle Sappho it is.
I changed the basic style and color scheme of this painting more times than I can remember. I originally approached it with the idea of an ancient artifact... but that seemed too gimmicky. At one point it was more graphic and Sappho looked suspiciously like a cartoon Nia Vardalos. There were scorpions and a cobra for a while. It also went through a darker German Expressionist phase. I lightened it up and made it much less angular and we got what we have now. I like this. I didn't want it to be too ridiculously serious or too much of a novelty piece.
If the couple are not satisfied with it, they can scrape off a couple layers, they are bound to find something they like underneath.

In Other News :
I've recently received an image of the piece artist Cara Lynn Kleid made from my request (see "Bonsai!") and I will post that within the week. It's beautiful and kind of wacky! My favorite combination.

Thank you, Stephanie, and my best to Beth and Allison. I wish you many happy years!

02 July 2009

A Haiku From Sweden And A Dream Of Kurosawa.

This Painting is for Catharina Jarl who lives in Stockholm, Sweden. Catharina is a writer with a very impressive past who currently runs a Haiku Blog called Swedeheart: Haiku from Sweden. The haikus she writes are awesome...and I love the fact that a Swedish haiku blog exists.
Catharina stumbled across the Panda when she was searching for information about Rowan Trees (see The Lucky Tree From Which The Devil Hanged His Mother?). She left some very kind comments on my last post and I replied to her with the suggestion that we make a trade. A haiku for a painting. The haiku she wrote for/about me is being published on her blog at the same time as I post this. Click over and read it.

I'm crazy about it... and I'm glad that she chose to write about her process.

As for her request, Catharina sent me a YouTube link to Sunshine Through the Rain, the first segment in Akira Kurosawa's film Dreams.
In this dream a boy wanders into the woods during a sunny rainstorm, despite his mother's warnings, and witnesses a fox's wedding procession. As you may imagine, the foxes are none too happy...
I decided to represent the narrative of this story but to change the look and approach. I wanted to depart from the traditional Japanese costumes and human "foxes" of the film. Very early on I thought about the Matisse painting "Boy with a Butterfly Net" that I have saw many times over the years at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (which I live less than a mile from). This, along with that Max Beckman painting of a crowd of people and a guy in a top hat, which I don't know the name of, where like ghosts haunting an almost subconscious part of my soul the entire time I was painting.
I also immediatley knew I wanted the strongest colors to include phalo blue (which I made the greens from) and burnt umber. Together, they felt like the appropriate dream colors to me. Lately, I've liked to set paintings up using india ink with a long skinny Chinese ink brush. Just making the lines of everything first. I did that here and ended up misusing that ink brush with acrylic paint for almost everything here. It felt right. I need to be careful. I've been using too many art supplies the way they were intended. Can make for boring stuff if you're not careful.
Be sure to read the haiku on Catharina's blog and ...
if you are a member of the Swedish speaking world check out her other blog:

Unfortunately, I don't read Swedish so I have no idea what it's about.
Thank You, Catharina! This has been fun.

15 June 2009


I'm excited about this painting. It was made on request for artist Cara Lynn Kleid who currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA. I was recently "introduced" to her by the always awesome, Karen Lillis (see Existential German Kitten...), via email a couple of weeks ago.
I've been taking painting requests for about 5 months now and this is my 25th painting for this blog. Often people tell me they want a painting but can't come up with anything. I'm always a little taken aback by this.
"Just pick something, where's the problem?"
Cara Lynn Kleid suggested we do a trade. She gives me a request and I give her one. I was immediately thrilled. I absolutely love her work. ...but then I realized that I would have to come up with something for her to make. I suddenly got it... and I had to sleep on it.
Cara's request for me was a bonsai tree. She told me her father recently had a life change and now spends much of his time raising bonsai trees, doing yoga and riding around on his motorcycle. Check Spelling
I love the weird dwarfish, tangley proportions and bends of bonsais. They look like full size trees but off. Wrong...
This has turned out to be one of my favorite paintings that I've made for this blog. And it fell out of my hands very easily. All of the black here is Sumi and India ink. It's painted right on the gesso which is layered with blue paint. I sanded down to the blue and layered again. The green and brown is watered down acrylics.
The painting came so easily and instinctively, I don't know what else to say.
When I receive the piece that Cara is making for me, I will post it and talk about my request then...
Be sure to check out Cara's work at:
Thank You, Cara.

31 May 2009

A Scientific Icon.

This request comes from actor, writer, and visual artist, Steve Sweere. Steve asked me to make a painting of Charles Darwin in the style of a Russian Icon. I did that...kind of.
I was thinking about the icon of King Solomon gesturing toward a tiny church suspended in mid-air. In his icon, Solomon is pointing to his truth. He is upholding the Church. In my painting, Darwin gestures toward some half-evolved prehistoric aquatic animals eating one another. This is the carnal truth this version of Darwin is upholding.
I stole this unusual fish-chomping image from the cover of a Penguin Classics edition of Darwin's Origin of Species. The painting on the cover actually shows a much larger scene which includes a short necked dinosaur biting the head off of a long necked dinosaur. Talk about a perfect visual representation of natural selection. I guess we now know why we have no more long necked dinosaurs.
Anyway, I think the style I used for Darwin ended up more Byzantine Slavic than it did Russian. The grotesque aquatic animals are more 19th century Victorian clip art. I did, however, incongruously paint the background red because that translates to "Russian" ... right?
Well, the painting is what it is and I'm happy with it.

Here is my narrative:
Imagine a 19th century Russian monk iconographer who is largely untalented and obsessed with Western scientific thought. He decides he must make a painting of Darwin in an outdated and foreign style. All of his friends in the monastery are confused but try to be encouraging. They hang his odd "science icon" in a corner of their living quarters where no one spends much time. It's by the closet, just above where they keep the hats. One day the Czar comes for a surprise visit and all of the monks are filled with excitement ... but the mood becomes a little uneasy when he notices this icon ...
I'll let you image the rest.

Thank you, Steve!

25 May 2009

Soon, We Will All Be Real...

I imagine this to be the last page of a children's book. Or the second to the last page. This is where the Man-Fairy turns Pup-Pup and White Monkey into being real "lovies". The last page would have them frolicking in a field of clover with a shy fawn and friendly but grumbly badger.

A couple of months ago I donated a gift certificate for this blog to my five year old son's elementary school fundraiser. Just last week I heard back from Ellie Feldman who was the lucky one who won it. (She probably thought she was bidding on the spa basket).
Ellie wanted a painting of her two sons', Ethan and Toby's, "lovies". She provided me with plenty of pictures and I took it from there. I painted them in front of a blue background, but then decided I needed some kind of context. Something to build a story from is more satisfying. So, I went with the Pinocchio-Velveteen Rabbit toys longing to be real scenario. There is a sweet sadness to this that still, as an adult, gets to me.

Beth drew her own suggestion for this painting. As you can see, her idea was to have the "lovies" patiently waiting for a table at the Red Lobster. While I loved this idea, and considered it for a little while, it seemed just too random. I could imagine the Feldman Family's confused looks as they opened the envelope. But who knows, maybe the Red Lobster is special for them. I doubt it (though it is a fine establishment).

On a similar topic, someone was kind enough to start a fan page on Facebook for this blog. Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to post some of the preliminary drawings that I (and Beth) have done for these paintings on it. Some I actually think are more interesting than the paintings and some display moments of really bad judgement on my part. I'll let you decide which is which. Check it out...you don't want to miss that...right???

Thank You, Feldman Family, for supporting the school and giving me an excuse to paint "lovies"!

11 May 2009

The Dragonfly In The Ether.

Lately, I have been meeting my friend Nick Kouzes for coffee once a week before work. We meet at the Spyhouse on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. We started doing this with the excuse of discussing my making a painting for him. Kouzes also makes art and works as an art director for a marketing company. I told him I would make him a painting in return for him helping me design a card for myself. (I'm not so good at that kind of thing). He agreed so we, in theory, are discussing that as well. Instead, however, conversation usually digresses into swapping stories about the Greek characters that we know in the community.
Kouzes asked me to do a painting that visually addressed the connection between analytical thinking and creativity. We discussed this some (in between speculating on Costa's wresting career in the old country). I told him that when I paint, I go through phases of just letting it fall out of me and then going back and measuring and balancing everything. I'm usually very analytical at the start, with a very specific plan, but I then I ruin that plan, and go back and fix things in a different (hopefully better) way. I'm part scientist, part chimpanzee.
We talked about ways to visually represent this; different quadrants of the surface representing different kinds of thinking through different kinds of mark making That kind of thing.
However, I chose to approach this painting like a poem. It turned out to be the Dragonfly in the Ether. This idea did not come from my analytical mind. I looked there but all I got was over used symbolism. So, I coughed the dragonfly up from my gut.
As you can see, I used a different wood then usual. A few weeks ago, I visited Leon Mott ("Axis Bold As ... Something", among other commissions) to see the guitars that he makes and rebuilds. He kindly gave me a piece of padukah and suggested that I experimented with using it for a painting. I thought it would work for this one. It was a thin piece, so I made a back frame to hang it from instead of the simple hangin' hole I usually drill in back.
I also broke my own "acrylic paint only" rule and used india ink for all the black to get a different effect. I opted not to put down any gesso at all. I sanded down parts after I painted to make the background less defined, more hazy.
I don't know if any of this worked, but I feel I need to start moving it and doing some things differently. I don't want to make the same painting over and over, again. I don't want to end up at booth at the mall drawing funny pictures of Barbara Streisand and Jamie Foxx. But this is "Paint-on-Demand", so maybe that's where I should be.

I've had some questions as to why I haven't posted Beth's "Axis Bold as..." painting yet. Well, she hasn't finished it. She told me that she thinks painting is boring. (She has a point). If Beth doesn't finish soon, I'll post the unfinished version on that entry. It has a rattle snake in it.

Efharisto poli, Nick. ... And thanks for the wood Leon.

01 May 2009

Donovan Imagines Himself Made Holy At His First Communion.

Pattijo Verdeja commissioned this as a gift for her son Donovan on the occasion of his first communion. She wanted me to paint something having to do with how a child might relate to this experience. I agreed but had no idea where to begin.
I know very little about Catholicism, so, I decided to seek advice. I contacted Fr. George Byers, in Lourdes, France and asked if he had anything that would help me. A few weeks back, I made a made a painting for Fr. George (see St. Augustine and the Jackass) that was commissioned by a devout woman in Minneapolis who loves his blog bloggingLOURDES. After seeing that painting, Fr. George immediately contacted me to tell me how much he liked it. I found him to be a kind and interesting man and, half kidding, asked if I could consult him for future paintings that involved Catholicism. "Of course", he said. He really came through for me here.
I emailed and asked Fr. George to write a couple of sentences about his first communion. Instead he suggested a painting along with reference images. He did the work for me, so I went with it. He suggested an image of the boy from the waist up with crossed hands and a glow around him as seen on images of the Guadeloupe. (I thought that his suggestion to reference the Guadeloupe was amazing, I didn't tell him that the family was Mexican. Of all the Catholic images to pick). He also suggested the image of the Eucharist glowing within him. These were great ideas. And since they came from a Catholic priest, obviously appropriate for their church. I added the dove and lily on top for good measure.
I think painting children is very hard. They often end up looking like small adults. Children have odd proportions that I have troubles wrapping my mind around. Big heads, narrow shoulders, short arms. I don't know how much this actually looks like Donovan, but I think it's close enough to understand that it is a symbol for him. Many times, even photographs don't "look" like the person. Look at Facebook pictures. You'd think all of your friends were models.
I would like to wish Donovan the best on his first communion. I hope it is a beautiful and spiritually rich experience.
And of course my greetings and thanks to Fr. George for his collaboration. (I may call on you again).

22 April 2009

The Songbird that Aspired to be Shin Hanga.

The Myerlys' now have the official Panda record with this being their fourth commission.It was painted as a birthday gift for their friend Emily. The only direction that I was given here was the word "song". Not very specific.
They told me that Emily recently graduated from college with a music degree in voice.
Naturally, my original idea was to do something opera inspired. I thought of popular operas that I love, Puccini's Turandot, Verdi's Aida, Janacek's House of the Dead. But these are all so tragic (almost to the point of absurdity). "Here is a ridiculously dramatic painting of two lovers slowly suffocating in a tomb, Happy Birthday!". I felt this was not the proper direction.
I google imaged the word "song". I was most interested in the picture of a song bird which came up between a photo 90's shock rocker Marilyn Manson and a photo of a group of cheerleaders. The bird seemed to fit the best. I liked how bright yellow it was. It could be corny but with the right colors I figured I could work through it.
I started this painting in a completely different direction from where it ended. Originally, our bird was in a city, with an old apartment building and telephone poles in the background. But it looked akward and didn't seem to be about songs at all. I painted a piece of paper blue and covered the building with it and asked Theo, my five year old son, if it looked better with or without the background. He told me that when it is all blue it looks like the bird is singing. but when there are buildings, it looks like it is screaming. So I made it blue.
In the last couple of paintings I've introduced phalo blue to my pallet. Usually, I'm pretty minimal with colors. I use ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, some kind of pale yellow, and white and mix all the secondary colors from there. Why do I need to waste my money on green and browns when I can just mix them up? Well, early on in this project I added a burnt umber (for the Flemish Feast) and stopped mixing my own blacks and now have this goofy extra blue, which can be beautiful, but takes over a painting easily. Here it is mixed with ultra marine to tone it down.
With the taking away of the background, I realized the way to go was faux Japanese. I consulted one of my favorite art books which is about the Shin Hanga, the new Japanese print movement of the early 20th century that combined traditional printmaking techniques with a Western influence. I stole some my composition and the sky from it.

Originally, this post was going to be called Nichola Tesla is Singing in his Grave because in the first draft of this entry, I marveled at how antiquated telephone poles and electric wires seem and how that great electrical scientist would be in disbelief to find out that they are still in in 2009. But I painted over the poles and wires so it doesn't make much sense now...

Thank you, Myers and Emily.

15 April 2009

Axis: Bold as ... Something.

Leon Mott is back! If you've read previous posts, you will see that I've made paintings for both his girlfriend and for his mother. This is the third in the trilogy. It was made as a birthday gift for his dad. (Leon is quickly becoming one of the world's great patrons of lil' art).
He originally gave me some info about his dad, he is a psychologist at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in DC and a Sufi, and told me to go with it. Then he changed his mind to go with a more personal request.
The 1967 Jimi Hendrix album Axis: Bold As Love is a favorite of Leon's father. Leon recalls his dad giving him a copy when he was twelve years old. Leon referred to this masterpiece of psychedelic experimental rock as the soundtrack to his relationship with his father. It's a very unusual soundtrack. (The strangest part may be the dubbed in interview on the first track in which we hear Jimi abruptly leave in a UFO).
The other guidance he gave me was a link to the Martin Guitars website. Leon's father's first meaniingful guitar was a Martin D-18.
So, I decided to do a variation of the Axis: Bold As Love cover art. The cover has a faux Hindu painting of a vishnu-like Hendrix amongst a pantheon of gods. Instead of the many armed Jimi Hendrix on the cover, I made a a many necked Martin. I kept the color scheme the same because I didn't want to lose that late 60's rock poster feel.
I was careful when painting the guitar. Leon is a craftsman who makes and repairs guitars and knows their anatomy inside out. I'm sure mine is riddled with weirdness...but it looked alright to me.
One funny thing I realized, again, is that when I paint inanimate objects, they come out looking organic. I'm not very good with straight lines. When I make a building, it usually looks like it just sprouted from the ground. I've decided to go with it rather then fight it. It's more interesting.
Beth decided that she is going to paint her own version of this one. She has never painted anything before in her life. Her painting has all the same elements but they are arranged in the way she thinks I should have painted it. (Plus hands holding lit zippos). When she finishes it, I will post it here.

Thank You, again, Leon! I hope you have a large family.

Oh, and today is my birthday...and my favorite present so far is the flu.

07 April 2009

St. Augustine and a Jackass.

This is a mysterious commission that comes from a woman in Minneapolis. She commissioned it as a gift for Fr. George David Byers, a Catholic Priest in Lourdes, France. She asked for the gift to be anonymous, and I respect that. I enjoy a certain element of mystery.
The only direction I was given with this request was the link to the popular blog that Fr. George keeps. It's called "bloggingLOURDES". She also told me that he refers to himself as a "jackass". This concerned me. I imagined that he may be some kind of "wacky" priest, with theological subtleties of an 80's prop comic. Father Gallagher. But thankfully that is not the the case.
The donkey-thing comes from a quote from the popular 4th century pillar of the Western Church, St. Augustine,"You are a jackass, but you carry Christ". This is good with me. When it comes down to it, we are all really jackasses, right? Certainly, I'll admit to being as assy as they come. (Ask the people who have to live with me.)
On his blog, Fr. George is very open and well spoken. Do I agree with everything he says? No. I'm not Catholic. I do think he is a good writer and respect that he's not afraid to speak his mind. And I am honored to make him a painting.
This painting came very hard to me. It took forever. It is painted over my completed first attempt. This first work was awkward on many levels. I tried to put a bunch of "Catholic-looking" stuff in it to make it interesting. Doves shooting lasers from their beaks and the like. The colors were dark and the proportions off. It looked like a baroque nightmare. Now, I kind of regret not keeping it for novelty and laughs. My donkey came out far better in this one anyway.
Thank you, mysterious-patron-lady and I hope you like it, Fr. George.

This blogger has also been send a couple of gift recently from readers. The Myerly Family kindly send me a small tripod last week. (They must have gotten tired of seeing my slightly out of focus pictures). And about a month ago, Rowan Keenan sent me this cute cat picture that she drew for me. If I ever need help with this project ...
Thank You, everyone.
see bloggingLourdes:

Silly? What is it.

This is a third Myerly request. This painting was made for their dear friend, Maria Smith, as a birthday gift. I was given only one word to guide me, "silly".
What do you do with that?
I decided to research the origin of the word. I was happy to find this awesome etymology site: http://www.etymonline.com/.
It seems that the word "silly" has gone through some significant and odd changes over the past thousand years or so. Previous to the 13th century, the word held the meaning "blessed" or "pious". It later evolved into "harmless" (c. 1280), "feeble-minded" (16th century), and "stunned, as by a blow" (late 1800's). Now it just means "silly".
"Silly Putty" was copyrighted in 1949.
I decided to go down the "feeble-minded" path (as usual). The term "feeble-minded" made me think of those crazy old Phrenology charts. Phrenology, for those who don't know their 19th century pseudo-sciences, was a study in which a person's entire head was measured to determine many different traits, such as their intellegence and the strenghth of their character. The thought (as far as I understand it) was to show which parts of the brain were the most developed by how big the corresponding part of the head is. (Did they realize that we have skulls?) The charts labeled parts of the brain with words like, "benevolence", "hope", "self-esteem", and "immorality". This all seems funny in retrospect until you find out that this was taken quite seriously and used to study the differences between races and ethnic groups. Nazi stuff.
In searching for information, I was surprised to come across a website for an organization that still believes in the benefits of the study of phrenology. Strangely, it seems to take a self-help angle. Now, this is "silly". I would link it here but it creeps me out a little. And you never know what people will believe...
Anyway, in my painting, all of the attributes boil down to just being "squirrely". Nothing wrong with that.

Here is a link to Maria Smith's very personal blog: http://www.mariamou68.com/

27 March 2009

An Irish Dancer.

This is part two of the Myerly Family request: Irish Dance. This one is for Sophia Myerly who is very much loves traditional Irish dance and studies at the Rince Na Chroi school in St. Paul, MN.
Unfortunately, don't know much about anything Irish. However, years ago, I used to frequent Kieren's Irish Pub where I would often order chips with curry and a Guinness after getting off work (which sounds delicious right now). Sometimes I would stay late with friends and listen to the Irish bands that played there. I also saw a great number of Celtic knot work tattoos in the early nineties and have always liked the Pogues, but somehow I feel these things don't give me a true understanding of Ireland.
She sent me a link to the Rince Na Chroi website and I checked out several galleries of photos of dance performances. I was immediately impressed with how amazing every one's hair is. (Then I got suspicious and googled "Irish Dance Wigs". That explained it.) The effects of hair bouncing up and haloing the head is quite stunning. It made for an interesting visual image. Because of the nature of Irish dance, in photographs, the performers appear to be standing still, levitating while their hair is going crazy. I consulted some You Tube videos to understand exactly what was going on in those pictures. It looks like magic.
I made this painting as a composite of several dancers. After trying more elaborate backgrounds, I decided to go simple and abstract. There is a tiny hair of mine stuck in the lumpy white of the background that I left. It was hard to get out and not very noticeable. So, if I ever get lost and someone needs a DNA sample of me to reunite me with my people...

As a side note, I've recently become aware that the subject matter of the paintings here seem to be changing. This is the third painting in a row with a human figure. Where have all the animals gone? I'm not sure if it is the requests or how I'm relating to them.

Check out:

20 March 2009

Prayers Rise As Incense.

Last January, I went to liturgy on the morning of my Name Day, January 7, for St. John the Forerunner, as I try to do every year. Afterwards, when I was about to leave, I was rounded up by some people I had never met to get coffee and koulourakia in the Fireside room. I had no where to go, so, I joined them. Usually, I'm pretty quiet about what I do and prefer to hear other people's stories but the day before I had just made the first post for this blog. And it was my special day. I was so excited, I couldn't stop blathering about myself and the blog. Luckily, they were interested (Or humored me).
This painting is for the Myerly Family,,who I am pleased to have met that day. They are members of St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis, as am I, and are kind and observant Eastern Orthodox Christians who travel a very long way to go to church. God bless them.
They gave me a couple of requests last week and this is the first. Though on this one, I deviated some from their request.
Their request was one simple word, Eucharist. (or, rather, a complex word). No elaboration. I didn't really know what to do with it. I took it and meditated on it hoping I would be handed the beautiful gift of an idea. It didn't happen. I realized God was going to make me work for it, as always. Free will is problematic.
I went literal. I started this painting as a scene of an Orthodox Priest serving communion, but it wasn't working. Too static and the subject matter seemed so intimate. I felt wrong portraying this in a tiny format.
Half way through I changed it. Here, the Priest is censing the church, blessing the icons and the people and the church. The abundant incense rises like prayers. I can think of all kinds of ways that this applies to the eucharist, but I'll let leave that to be contemplated by whoever wants to. And maybe the connection isn't there.
I may have been a little off the mark for the subject of this piece, but I think this is a pretty good painting. I don't think this photograph does it justice. Some of the paintings here don't look as good on the blog as in real life. (It's hard to shoot small glossy paintings). However, there have been a couple of exceptions that I think look better as a digital image. When this happens I feel a little like I am cheating. But maybe all of this is in my mind.
It's hard to have a good perspective on what I'm doing; to detach myself from these paintings. Only after a couple of weeks looking back do I have a decent perspective. But not always. Sometimes, when I'm working on a piece and I have the luxury of time, I will hide it from myself for a week or two and try to see it again with new eyes before completing it. I often put paintings in front of a mirror when I'm working. To see the image reversed brings out what is really there as opposed to what my mind has come to believe I'm doing. Or turning them upside down might work.

Anyway, I thank the Myerlys, again. I wish them a beautiful and meaningful Lenten season.
Their second painting involves Irish dance. It will be up soon.

13 March 2009

Shellae Doesn't Remember Her Dreams.

I'm back to the blog after about two weeks of not making an entry. I've spent this time working and reworking some larger paintings for a couple of show possibilities. But, I'm pleased to be back blogging and I feel refreshed with a new perspective on what I'm doing here. I'm getting looser and channelling a weird tiny painting energy.
I've been sitting on this painting request for about two weeks, so I've had time to stew and revise in my brain. It is for my friend and coworker Shellae Mueller. She is very kind and has been spreading word around about this blog (maybe more then I have). She's a blog evangelist. So, I wanted to make her a painting.
Shellae couldn't think of anything for a long time, then finally one day she started talking about dreams and how she doesn't remember them. She is certain that she has them but they are always forgotten by morning. (The only exception is the occasional nightmare that sometimes involves a clown, but I was told, "No Clowns").
So with that, I am left with the project of painting a dreamless sleep. Easy, right?
I didn't want to use black or eerie images. I wanted something light, so, I decided use the wood for what it is and drill holes. It turns out, these are where her dreams are escaping. They lead to ether. Maybe when she gets this painting she will plug them with tiny things to try to stop this. I would suggest wet tissues.
Thank You, Shellae.

I have three more orders lined up and will be painting and posting quickly over the next couple of weeks so keep checking. Really.

27 February 2009

A Tibetan Buddhist and her Border Collie.

Leon Mott has come back for more. This time it's for a gift for his mother on her 60th birthday. I'm honored. The only information he gave me was that she loves her Border Collie and that she is a Tibetan Buddhist. He wanted me to run with that. I instantly thought that this was an awesome request, and a challenging one.
I spent a lot of time reading cliff notes versions of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and looking at pictures of Border Collies, which I guess are great herding dogs. My original idea was to have a Border Collie herding animals into nothingness to illustrate the transitory nature of the physical world. I began painting this on my tiny wood and quickly realized that this was not going to be effective in small scale. I needed something different. I emailed Leon and asked if his mom liked Tibetan art. He said "yes" and mentioned "thangkas", which is a type of Himalayan Buddhist iconography. I had never heard of them before, but after seeing a few images I was taken. I thought I could maybe borrow something here with the style. The symbolism was so dense in these paintings that I knew I had better keep my fingers away from it unless I really wanted to study (which I still may well do).
I was very unhappy with my initial painting so, even though I was nearly finished, I gessoed over it and started new. This is the first time I've done that in this project. I turned the block vertical and began again, this time using a flattened perspective and bright colors. I outlined almost every object in the painting and stole landscape elements from the thangka paintings. (Funny enough, I often use a flattened perspectives and dark outlines in my own work but with a Byzantine reference. It's strange I didn't jump on this first). I avoided using images of the Buddha or a Bodhisattva because I don't know what I'm doing with the religious part. I'm not Buddhist. It didn't seem sincere to me.
I'm not expecting anyone to look at this painting and think it was stolen from a Himalayan monastery, but I think some of the aesthetic is there.

Part of my reason for doing this project is to open myself up to working in ways that I wouldn't normally work and to expand the bag of ju-jus that I pull from. I don't want to get constipated. This painting was a great experience.
Thank You.

23 February 2009

Birds Flying Quiet and Vague.

My five year old son is often with me when I paint. His name is Themistocles, but usually he goes by "Theo" for short (though my father prefers the diminutive "Themistoclaki"). Sometimes Theo sits next to me and paints as well, but usually he works on something else. He always does a lot of gluing and cutting projects but lately he has favored stringing plastic beads that, when finished, he tries to sell for $53.
Theo often wants to keep the paintings I make for this blog. When it comes time to send them out, he sometimes pleads with me to give them to him instead. I've told him that I will make one for him when I have a little break. I didn't have a line up of orders this week so this seemed to be the time.
I asked him what he wanted and his immediate response was "birds flying".
About a week ago, the two of us went to pick up Beth, his mother (who I happen to be married to), from work. As we were waited for her in the car, we watched a huge flock of birds as they flew in circles above the buildings.
"I wish we were all birds", Theo said, "then you and Mama wouldn't have to go to work and I wouldn't have to go to school". Having the mind of a child, I was instantly sucked in and imagined us just flying around all day in bliss. It sounded beautiful.
When Beth got into the car and Theo repeated this, she reminded him that birds actually do work. They have to make nests and hustle for food. Sometimes the mothers have to leave their babies in the nest alone for long periods of time. Beth is obviously more sophisticated than I am. I agreed and pretended to turn it into a lesson for Theo.

I had a dream a couple of nights ago that that someone was ripping off this blog, making the same paintings that I have made and writing similar entries. It turned out to be Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. I got an order to do a painting of the Philadelphia skyline. Since I'd been there and had a feel for the city, I decided (for some reason) that it would be perfect to paint all of the buildings in yellow and brown. After I finished, I checked John Edwards' blog and he did the exact same thing! Jerk.

I wanted to make this bird painting quiet and vague like Theo's imagined bird life. I consulted him throughout the painting and he kept asking me to add more birds. So I did (within reason). Why not? On this painting he was the boss. He seems happy with it now.

In other news...
I've found out that it takes about two weeks for acrylic paint to start molding in a "Sta-Wet" pallet. Just a white fuzz. It's not revolting and doesn't smell but I think it would add a strange texture. Maybe there is a use for that.
So far I've received one drawing from the suggested "Bend in the Wire" drawing exercise. When I get a couple more, I'm going to find a place on the blog to post them. So, please start drawing and don't be too critical or shy. It'll be better that way.
This week I have an order I'm excited to paint. It involves a Border Collie and Tibetan Buddhism. Really. We'll see how it goes. It should be up by the weekend.

17 February 2009

Existential German Kitten Earnestly Considering What It Means To Be Good.

Karen Lillis is writer who currently lives in Pittsburgh, but from what I understand, she has lived almost everywhere. I've just read her recently published novel The Second Elizabeth which is a beautiful piece of writing. It reads like long, rhythmic prose poem and is incredibly introspective and a little hypnotizing.
Karen Lillis is also the person who gave me the term "Paint-on-Demand" which is what I'm using these days when describing this blog. I love it. It's to the point and ridiculous.
I wanted to make a painting for Karen. I emailed and suggested she close her eyes and think of what she wants to see and to not over think it. In about two minutes I got and email back that simply said, "Kitten being good".
That's not what I expected from an experimental writer. But it did make me think about how cute kittens are always depicted as being mischievous. Actually, cute everything. Mischievous is cute when it's not on your watch.
My Aunt Katina had a picture hanging in her kitchen of about a ten year old boy hiding in a doorway sneaking a cigarette. The boy had big eyes and it was painted in soft colors. This is one of the few things I remember about her apartment in Athens where my family visited her when I was a preteen. Kids smoking was cute in Greece in the 1980's. Cats destroying screen doors and and knocking over food is cute to Americans always.
So, how does a kitten be "good"? My only real answer was "use the litter box". By strange coincidence, my family adopted a large long haired cat this week (someone told me he is a Maine Coon?) and my greatest hope for him was that he knew where to put his poop. Luckily, he did.
I started this painting as a more straight forward cute cat picture with pastely colors and soft lines like the Greek smoking boy. It looked like something you might find in the bric-a-brack section of the Salvation Army that was made by Hallmark decades ago. Unhappy with that, I sabotaged it the next day and gave it a German Expressionist edge. I made it harsher with stronger colors and sharp unusual angles and took away some compositional elements to make the room emptier. In this version, the cat seems to be having some existential woes. Maybe he himself is contemplating what "being good" means.
Here is a link to where Karen Lillis' The Second Elizabeth can be found.
-or for more Lillis info-