Virtual Open Studios Stop 3: Blue Çay

This is a painting that I’m actually still working on and might change later; but it’s giving me so much life right now that I really wanted to share it. It feels personal, almost like a journal or a scrapbook, so I’m not sure if it’s the kind of thing that will resonate with anyone besides me. But I’m still so excited about it that I don’t want to keep it inside.

I’m kind of thinking of it as my covid-19 isolation inspiration board of sorts: what I’m thinking about, praying for, what’s making me happy.

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It’s in the loosely abstracted cityscape form that I’ve been trying to leave behind actually. I did a lot of these collages of sort of city skylines with lots of high rises and sky scrapers, sort of to evoke the idea of a dense city rather than actually representing any real city, and also because the visual pattern of overlapping right angles is something I really enjoy (and often paint fully abstracted too). But sometimes they feel too Coruscant to me and not grounded enough in a real place. So I’ve been trying to try other things instead! But it’s a comforting habit of mine, and I’m being generous with myself and letting myself do something comforting.

The color palette feels really soothing to me too–it’s different for me to do so much blue without lots of brown or orange but I like it.

What is most unique about this painting, for me, is that normally I kind of downplay the text in my collages. I want it to be there more for texture and as a background pattern, not for content. But this time I leaned into the content, giving each building or skyscraper at least one word, providing contrast and energy to the painting but also meaning

IMG_20200423_162708I’m going to go through all the black on white visible words and explain why I picked them. Some are obvious, others not so much. 

Please note: The white on black Urdu text I did not pick for meeting but rather because the black added some nice visual contrast. It’s from what I think is the classifieds section of the New York Pakistani newspaper and most of the text seemed to be the names of businesses when I checked it with Google translate.

  1. Top left: “Coragem” = courage in Portuguese
  2. Chinese characters, second from left. I used Google Translate and it seems this either means “beautiful/livable city” or the name of a specific place/city. I don’t completely trust Google translate but I just like that it has a reference to a city, any city.
  3. 3rd from left: “encontrada” = encountered or met, in Portuguese. I like the suggestion of discovering something new and unexpected.
  4. Below “encontrada” is the word “Bangladesh” in Bangla. My husband’s family is originally from Bangladesh so it’s a word that holds a lot of meaning and memories for some people I love very much. 
  5. 4th from the right: “Sagar” is the name of a Bangladeshi take out restaurant in Queens, New York. Their food is delicious and I really hope they are still in business after this shutdown. 
  6. Next to that is “Nuevos trenes de la” which connects to the “linea roja” further down–from an El Mundo (Boston’s local Spanish language newspaper) article about new Red Line trains. It just makes me happy as very Boston reference–new trains on the Red Line is absolutely big news!
  7. The biggest word, “Çay” = tea in Turkish (it’s pronounced chai). I have a dear friend who lives in Istanbul and I’ve been lucky enough to get to visit her a few times. Every visit has included lots and lots of delicious Turkish tea. I included this word both as a way to celebrate what I love about Istanbul and my friend there (and because it’s one of the few Turkish words I can actually recognize) but also because Istanbul has indirectly inspired a lot of my paintings. There is something about the way the light hits the residential neighborhoods in the very hilly Asian side of Istanbul which has been a sort of visual refrain inside my head and has influenced almost all the cityscape paintings I have made.
  8. Next to “çay” is “Somerville”, where I live!
  9. Below that is “saude” = “health” in Portuguese
  10. And below that is “realiza” = “realize” in Potuguese, but in the sense of “make it so, make it true, bring it to life”
  11. Starting at the left again we have: “ajudam” = “they help” in Portuguese. So many people are helping right now!
  12. Next, “Vocé” = “you” in Portuguese.
  13. Then, the word “kemon” in Bangla = “how”
  14. Above that, “Trabajo” = “work” in Spanish
  15. Next, “Amor” = “love” in Spanish and Portuguese
  16. Next, “mulheres” = “women” in Portuguese. Because we kick ass, right now and always.
  17. Next, “projecto” = “project” in Portuguese. Let’s get to work!
  18. Under that, in Bangla characters, “New York”. I love this because most of the time when I spend time in New York, it’s in a very Bangladeshi neighborhood of Queens. And, especially in these coronavirus times, I’ve been thinking about New York a lot, especially my family members who live there and work in healthcare. 
  19. Finally, “quem” = “who”, in Portuguese.

Virtual Open Studios Stop 1: Sun hats

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I’m working on a series of blog posts about some of the paintings I had been hoping to show at Somerville Open Studios this year. We’ll start with this newspaper collage of my kids at the Public Garden.

This painting is very special to me for several reasons. Last summer, I had a day off and took my kids down town to the Public Garden to ride the swan boats. It was a really special day, and I took some photos that I love of my kids standing by the pond in the Public Garden. I decided to try painting this one, since I enjoyed the combination of tree, water, and buildings, and I’ve been wanting to do more Boston skyline paintings, but I wasn’t sure whether to actually include the figures of my kids or not. I’ve never been able to successfully incorporate figures into a landscape before, and so I didn’t want to mess with something good.

But I took a risk on the figures and it came out so much better than I had hoped! I love the interplay of the shadows and sunshine, and the clear distinction between foreground and background. And I’m super proud of myself because I managed to get the shading on the kids hats right just by using lots of tiny pieces of paper in different colors.

Here are a series of photos of my process.

First, I filled in the sky, which is usually how I start my paintings–somehow it feel very grounding. Ha!

I also decided to try to keep the pieces of paper all a similar shape (triangles) and size, which was some feedback that I had received from other artists that might strengthen my work.

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With the original photo for reference:

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Added the Hancock tower and other buildings, trying to match true colors more than I usually do. Next, filling in the grass, the leaves, and the shadows in the water.

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Oops I ran out of paper in the colors I needed, better prep a bunch more!

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Very tentatively adding the first figure, ready to cover it over if it ruins everything. But maybe it’s not ruining everything??!

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Figure number 2–hey this is kind of working!

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Almost done! Adding in light and dark patches into the background to increase contrast and depth.

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Feeling triumphant! I was able to incorporate a number of things I had learned in other paintings and also take some risks, but in a way that felt really satisfying. Some things that worked: Making choices about my paper texture (cutting with scissors rather than tearing) and size and shape and keeping those consistent. Choosing a color palette in which I am very strong–mostly blues! Keeping it small–this canvas is only 12 inches by 12 inches. I think it also helped that I have already done a few different paintings of the buildings in the background, so I didn’t have to kind of learn new material there. Also it helped incredibly to not have to try to convey faces in a non-distracting way with paper–just doing the back of their heads was a good choice.

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In some ways this painting reminded me of an oil painting I tried to do, from my imagination, of my brother and myself, back when I was in college. It was supposed to be kind of symbolic; I was trying to convey this sense of, “we’re siblings so we’re a team, we get each other, you and me against the world”. But the painting was basically a terrible failure (eh, I’m being dramatic, it was just kind of lame) and since then I’ve always shied away from subject matter that was too personal, it seemed that caring too much suffocated the painting. But this collage painting of my two kids, also a brother and sister, somehow felt like it completed a circle a little bit, and healed a little bit of something inside me that was always telling me I couldn’t do it; couldn’t paint things or people if I loved them too much. I struggle to put it in to words–this is why I paint, I guess. But yeah it felt so good and I feel so grateful.

In search of the perfect blue

I’ve been having a lot of fun working on this project. It’s acrylic on canvas, based loosely on a photo I took last spring of apple blossoms against a blue blue sky. I’m usually not as comfortable working with acrylics–I always forget that you can’t mix up a large batch of one color before you need to use it, because it will dry, or that you can’t easily work wet on wet the way you can with oils. I loved acrylics here though. They worked well to create a bright, flat background blue and allow for bright contrasting colors layered on top, without having to wait days (or weeks!) between layers like you would with oils.

They also make it easy to cover up mistakes. I first painted the sky and started adding trees and flowers when I realized I had totally the wrong blue pigment.

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But then I painted over everything with a much better blue–this time I mixed ultramarine blue and phthalo blue instead of just using ultramarine. Finally getting the blue just right gave me a ridiculous sense of satisfaction!

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Finished painting. I am at peace with the world, and my shade of blue. For the moment!

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