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

 

Getting ready for open studios

I registered for Somerville Open Studios for the first time this year, and I can’t wait! It takes place the first weekend in May (May 5th and 6th), and I have a lot of paintings to finish before then. I am always most productive when I have a deadline though, so I’m looking forward to seeing what I can accomplish.

So far this winter I’ve finished two new construction vehicle paintings and started a third. Now I’m trying to decide whether to keep on going with my construction vehicle series or take a break and try something else!