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.
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.
I’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.
Top left: “Coragem” = courage in Portueguese
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.
3rd from left: “encontrada” = encountered or met, in Portuguese. I like the suggestion of discovering something new and unexpected.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Next to “çay” is “Somerville”, where I live!
Below that is “saude” = health in Portuguese
And below that is “realiza” = realize in Potuguese, but in the sense of “make it so, make it true, bring it to life”
Starting at the left again we have: “ajudam” = “they help” in Portuguese. So many people are helping right now!
Next, “Vocé” = “you” in Portuguese.
Then, the word “kemon” in Bangla = “how”
Above that, “Trabajo” = “work” in Spanish
Next, “Amor” = “love” in Spanish and Portuguese
Next, “mulheres” = women in Portuguese. Because we kick ass, right now and always.
Next, “projecto” = project in Portuguese. Let’s get to work!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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:
Now I have two more newspaper collage works in progress and I can’t wait to see where this goes!
I’ve been trying something totally new lately–I’ve been collaging with paper and acrylics to create some mixed media pieces that I’m really excited about. I started working on this painting in the beginning of February and I had a specific goal in mind…but the painting had other plans, and I’ve learned if I want to create anything successful, I have to let it do what it wants, not what I want.
It turns out changing directions multiple times, and teaching myself a whole new technique, is very time consuming so this one took me a lot longer than usual to decide this one was done. I had so much fun with it though, and I felt like I was learning so much that now I’m starting another mixed media piece to see where it goes!
I forgot how much I love painting outdoors! For most of the year, I paint indoors and work from photographs for my landscape paintings. And I always enjoy that just fine. But during the summer, when I have time and the weather cooperates, I work on paintings from life, outside, on site. I’ve only been able to do a couple like that this year, but it’s always a great experience.
Last month I did a small palette knife landscape of the beach at Arlington Reservoir, which is a popular summer destination for kids and families. I had so much fun talking with the kids who came up to me to ask me about my painting, comment on the colors I was using, and tell me how they thought I could do it better. Then while I was in the process of packing up, some sand got kicked onto the still wet paint, which actually ended up adding a really cool texture and color and the perfect amount of messiness to the finished piece.
Currently, I am working on a commissioned piece on campus at Tufts University. One of the days I was onsite working recently was freshmen move-in day, which was a lot of fun–so many enthusiastic new students and their parents to talk to! This is a larger piece which will take several sessions to complete, so it feels like a chance to be an ongoing part of the community.
What I love about painting on site in a public place is that it’s a unique opportunity to interact with strangers in a very positive and warm way. I’m sure there are people who don’t like my paintings, but usually the people who stop to talk to me are the ones who do like them. So it’s always encouraging to have positive feedback from strangers. But it also makes a connection–the fact that I’m painting bridges the gap of silence that is usually present between strangers (at least in Boston). People ask me for directions, talk about what they like about the place where I’m painting, or talk about their own artistic experiences. For me, all those conversations and interactions get embedded in the painting itself in some way. The finished result feels like a collaborative work, rather than something I created out of my head, in isolation. When I look at the painting, I see something layered with experiences that much more fully sum up the sense of place in the landscape than a mere two-dimensional image. I also imagine and hope that for the passersby I get to talk to, seeing me painting in a location helps to deepen their experience and appreciation of it as well.
For me, on site landscape paintings of urban spaces are special because they both celebrate specific settings and communities, while also helping to create a sense of place and community.
The weather has been so rainy that I haven’t been able to paint outdoors yet this season. I’ve still been working from photographs I took last year, which result in seasonably inappropriate finished work…lots of fall and winter over here, oops!
I just finished one that I love–of sunshine glowing through fall foliage, inspired by a photo I took on Tufts’ campus last year. I’m proud of it partly because it’s the largest canvas I’ve worked on since I was in college (2 feet by 3 feet)–but also because it shows that I’ve finally vanquished my fear of painting leaves and trees. For years I avoided painting trees and especially fall leaves. I thought I just couldn’t do it well so I shouldn’t try. But I’ve realized that I was just being a bit lazy…once I faced up to just doing the work and paying attention to the detail, I really enjoy it!
In other news, I also started an Instagram account just for my paintings and process, @cara_paints. Once I do start painting outdoors, I’ll be documenting it there! I can’t wait to stop painting fall things and instead paint what’s around me now.
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.
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!
Finished painting. I am at peace with the world, and my shade of blue. For the moment!