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 journa

l 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 leave them behind! 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 Portueguese
  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 Portuguse.

Virtual Open Studios Stop 2: Halal Fried Chicken

I’m a landscape artist but what I love about painting buildings and streets is that those were all built by people and lived in by people and used by people. My art tries to use the physical cityscape to represent and celebrate the people who spend their lives in those spaces and give them meaning.

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I call this painting “Halal fried chicken” and it gives me so much joy. Through many visits to family in Jamaica, New York over the years I have come to love the messy and complex energy of Queens. And it feels down to earth and it feels…real? 

This little grouping with a church, two restaurants, a corner store, and a salon is the perfect example of what I love about Queens. I snapped a photo of it years ago and it’s been stuck in my head like a visual refrain for a long time, long before I ever thought of painting it. Here’s the photo I took in 2017:20170403_105651 (1)

And visually, it’s something completely different from my Somerville, Cambridge, or Boston landscapes. Building and neighborhoods here tend to be more monochromatic. In Queens, every shop, place of worship, dentist’s office, or restaurant has a huge, colorful awning out in front on the sidewalk telling the world what it is.

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When I set out to do this painting, I knew that featuring the awnings and the lettering was going to be the major focal point of the piece, which meant a whole new approach for me. Trying to recreate fonts in paper is interesting, to say the least! Also, I rarely use true to life colors and instead kind of create a palette that works for me. But the signs and the colors are my favorite parts of this piece. It’s also less representational than most of my landscapes, at least of the ones that are of real places. I tried a stylized approach, playing up funky lines and edges and trying to de-emphasize the right angled grid that is so easy to get from a row of buildings with windows and doors. But I did try hard to match true colors for the most part.

I did simplify the names and signs; the Greek Orthodox church on the left had a much longer name, but I only had room for the word “Saint” in Greek. The spelling of “Halal Fried Chiken” is just like that on the real store front. The “My City” sign is actually “My city deli” but leaving off most of the “deli” felt right. 

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I don’t think it’s perfect; I’m constantly wondering if I should have abstracted it further or gone with realistic perspective and proportions. Also trying to match real life colors when they are a series of signs and advertisements rather than colors occurring in nature came out a little weird and off to me? Color balance is something that I usually feel like I do pretty well but this didn’t feel quite right to me in terms of the color relationships.

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I’m still over thinking it–I’ve covered over these yellow patches with warmer orange-y brownish tones. But maybe that was a bad idea?? Now I miss the yellow!

But nonetheless I’m really proud of this piece because it was a totally new style for me and I learned a lot through doing it. It genuinely and respectfully celebrates a place that I hold dear. I think what I love most about it is the energy and sense of momentum that I got while working on it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and any time I was away from my studio I couldn’t wait to get back. It gave me this sense of hope and purpose which was really exciting.

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.

My art business learning process: Artist associations

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Three years ago I started trying to turn the art-making that I’ve been doing on and off my whole life into an art business. And it’s been kind of overwhelming–there is sooo much to learn about every aspect of this process. But it’s also been really exciting! I figured I should start documenting some of this process, both for myself, to keep track of what I’ve learned, and so I can share it with others in case it’s helpful for someone else someday.

At the beginning, I took some basic steps like creating a website, Instagram account, and getting business cards made. Then, I would try to get my art shown but that turned out to be a lot harder. I participated in Somerville Open Studios (that should be a whole other post!) and also had a few local shows like at a coffee shop and the public library, but trying to randomly submit my art to shows I found out about online was a really discouraging process.

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Finally, just about a year ago, I stumbled across something new. Another local artist I follow on Instagram mentioned an artist association she was part of. I had never heard of such a thing, and at first I assumed you had to be some super talented and famous person to be a member.

But I did some more research and I discovered that’s not the case!

Turns out, an artist association is a type of organization in which artists pay an annual membership fee (the lowest I’ve seen is $50 but it can be much higher) which usually guarantees them a spot in 1-2 gallery shows per year as well as the chance to submit for several other shows with discounted submission fees. There are usually other benefits too–like free or discounted access to workshops and artist talks.

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Photo credit: Michael Flanary

The other useful thing is that most of these organizations have newsletters (which you don’t have to be a member to receive) that have all kinds of useful info about upcoming shows you can submit art to, classes, films, and talks, and art related grants or fellowships to apply for.

So, last winter I researched a few different artist associations in my area and decided to join two of them: Brickbottom Artist Association and Cambridge Artist Association. I’m not going to lie, this was mostly because they had the cheapest annual membership fees and were the closest to me geographically.

Brickbottom Artist Association is a really cool place–a former factory building in Somerville which is now a collectively owned live-work space for artists. I’m an affiliate member, meaning while I do not have a studio there I can still participate in some of their shows. Their main event of the year is Open Studios in late November, but I also got to participate in one or two other themed group shows. The annual membership fee is $50, and while there are minor additional fees for submitting art to shows or participating in Open Studios it’s still by far the most affordable option in the area and you get great value for your investment. Furthermore, everyone I met there is very welcoming and eager to meet new members. If you are an artist just starting out and you live in or near Somerville, I really recommend joining the Brickbottom Artist Association.

I also joined the Cambridge Artist Association. They have two gallery spaces and have more shows overall than at Brickbottom. They have a couple of member shows a year (that every member can participate in) and also have frequent juried exhibitions (meaning someone looks at the submissions and chooses what they want in the show, rather than everyone being automatically included). They also have a lot of different types of events. For me, the most helpful have been a collaging class I took there which actually gave me a lot of useful tools and techniques to apply to my own work, and a group critique session they have periodically called Feedback Forum. Membership is $85 annually, and the various other shows and opportunities tend to have higher fees than at Brickbottom, but there are also a lot more opportunities available.

In addition I signed up for the mailing list of a number of other organizations in the area, because there is often info about shows and opportunities that are open to anyone, not just members:

I’m sure there are many more in the greater Boston area but I’m still learning about it myself. If you know of a great local organization that I missed let me know!

In conclusion–artist associations are a thing! And anyone can join them. If you are just starting out but have art you want to show and hopefully sell, I really recommend joining one or more of these organizations because it is so helpful for meeting people and getting your work out there. And of course, if you live in a different area, there are probably a completely different set of artist associations available. But now you know it’s a thing, so you can do some research!

Do you have questions about artist associations? Insights or information that you want to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or via email.

New studio and new paintings!

 

I’m a little late announcing this, but in July I started renting a shared studio space! It’s been amazing to be no longer working from home and having the extra space to spread out all my materials and scraps of paper while I’m working on a project. I’ve been busy and productive since then which feels SO good. AND I have lots of new exciting collage paintings to show for it!

I’ve been doing more newspaper collage cityscapes as well as branching out and experimenting with more abstract pieces. For a (mostly) complete list of my new pieces, check out my portfolio here.

This weekend, November 23rd and 24th, I’ll be showing off my new paintings at Brickbottom Open Studios. The Brickbottom Artists’ Association is a very cool live/work space for artists in Somerville. I’m an affiliate member, meaning while I don’t have a studio there, I get to show my paintings there when they have events.

The event is from 12pm to 6pm both Saturday and Sunday at 1 Fitchburg St, Somerville. There will be dozens of artists showing their work all around the building, as well as musicians and dance performances happening in the lobby. I’ll be set up in the hallway on the second floor behind the elevators! I really hope you can stop by–it sounds like a very fun event and I’m excited to have an opportunity to show off work that I’m really proud of.

As a teaser, here’s a triptych of Somerville Ave that I just finished:

Somerville Ave Sunset, mixed media on canvas. (11 by 14) x 3

 

Squares! Squares! Squares!

For the past couple of months I’ve been trying something really fun and different: Instead of working on large scale paintings I’ve mostly been doing a whole bunch of small, 10 inch by 10 inch, square paintings. Some are newspaper collage, some are just regular paper collage, some are abstract, and some are just whimsical. It’s been an extraordinarily fun way to try new techniques and test out new ideas in a low stakes way. I don’t have to worry if it’s a masterpiece or not, it’s just an experiment! It’s like throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. And if it’s a failure…it’s not that big a deal! Literally, because they are tiny. Ha.

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I’ve tried some things that I would normally consider silly, like my fire and ice painting with tissue paper–totally off topic for me, but I had an absurd amount of fun turning tissue paper and paint into flames and ice:

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Any the skyscrapers floating on the clouds–that’s just a visual pun and Star Wars reference that I wanted to do, so I did it. No larger point about anything intended.

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And I would never have tried to do a Boston skyline–too overdone! But the colors and reflections caught my eye in a photo I saw and I just decided to give it a try.

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I’ve had a couple of super ugly failures that I finally gave up on and turned into something else and they’re still not there yet–but I think they’ll get there!

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I’ve learned a lot and tackled some things I definitely wouldn’t have if they’d been full size paintings. One of my main goals for my art this year is to push myself in new directions. And these little paintings allowed me to challenge myself by not taking myself too seriously, which has been amazing–and hopefully something I can bring to my regular-sized paintings!

Newspaper collage cityscapes

For a long time I’ve had this image in my head, of a city–Mass Ave in North Cambridge, to be exact–where all the buildings were made up of words in different languages: Somali, Bengali, Haitian, Spanish, Portuguese, Amharic, Chinese. And I wanted to create that image. To somehow, imperfectly and clumsily, show my love for the diverse and messy and exciting community where I used to work in North Cambridge. And more generally to show my support for immigrant communities in cities everywhere who work so hard to literally and figuratively build cities and communities. I had this sense of longing, a need to make it happen. But I left it alone because I just couldn’t figure out how to make something that felt right, that felt like it had any integrity, that wasn’t forcing something to happen.

I started collaging, with paper and acrylic paint, and I could feel myself getting closer to satisfying the quiet buzzing in the back of my head. Finally, one day, I went out and collected newspapers from immigrant grocery stores all around Somerville and Cambridge. I didn’t get all the languages I wanted, but I found Bengali, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese. And I went to the public library to get Chinese and Spanish. And I started to collage with them and it feels so right and so exciting.

My first attempt felt hard and messy and all awkward and rough edges and painful and I kind of hated it but also…it came out better than I had imagined or planned it!

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We Built This City, mixed media with newspaper and acrylic. 18 by 24 inches. SOLD but prints available.

My next one was a long time in coming since some life stuff happened (new baby!) but I love it too, in such a different way:

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Now I have two more newspaper collage works in progress and I can’t wait to see where this goes!

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Work in progress
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Work in progress

New Etsy shop inventory

20181102_142147 (1)I have redesigned and reorganized my Etsy shop! It’s now called “CaraPaintsShop” and instead of selling original paintings I’m now stocking it with notecards and prints of my paintings. There are prints of my most popular paintings in a range of sizes, although I can always place custom orders for prints of other paintings or in other sizes not currently in stock. The notecards are 5 by 7 inch size and they are available either individually or in packs of 7. I’m really excited about it, especially since both prints and cards make great gifts!20181102_142256 (1)20181102_142305 (1)20181030_11113920181030_105633

 

 

Photos from reception at the YWCA

 

 

This month, August 2018, my paintings are on display at the YWCA Cambridge, where I’m Artist of the Month. I’m calling this collection “We Built This City”. I had an opening reception for the show on Sunday, August 5th, and it was so much fun!

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The reception was a wonderful opportunity to connect with people through my art.
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My favorite wall of paintings.
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The digger wall!
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My wonderful husband Tay was in charge of snacks!
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My kids came too!
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Thank you to the YWCA for hosting this show!