Sometimes thing work out and give back like a perfectly wrapped present.
Over Christmas break the parents and families of La Paz Community School in Costa Rica banned together and fundraised to buy the Wonderland Set I painted from Beachnuts Theater to place on their new Pre-K thru 2nd grade campus. As a group, they successfully raised the funds and the little theater company that impacted my kids lives so profoundly received $2000 to further its bootstrap program. La Paz received the gift of imagination on their campus. My artwork and labor of love received a second life and chance to lighten the day of all those kids in rural Costa Rica. Win. Win. Win.
The little things that happen when love is applied generously. I love it
It is not an exaggeration when I say I have been painting, painting and painting for the last few months. I have been painting inside and outside. I have had paint all over myself, paint cans, brushes, the living room floor, on old wooden panels, concrete blocks and on canvas. I have painted so much I can’t use my painting apron and some brushes anymore.
My latest and biggest project has been to paint the full set for the Wonderland musical production for Beach Nuts Theater. And finally, now that the production is underway, I can share the real work with you here.
The set consists of 22 4 foot x 10 foot panels and about 6-7 weeks worth of solid outdoor work in buggy, muggy and rainy Costa Rica. I loved every minute of it and mostly I have loved the kids reaction to them. Those kids put so much energy and love into this epically entertaining production, they deserve every amount of joy I can give them back.
The Magic Tree painting starts with a couple of lively sisters, 5 and 8, that love to climb trees and a mom that loves everything these girls teach her. When the family had their kitchen remodeled they all decided they wanted a painting. And of course the girls insisted it had to be a tree.
I am honored to be recruited for the project.
I visited their house, took pictures of their kitchen, noted the colors, absorbed preferences and listened to mom talk about trees, her kids and climbing. The assignment was a tree. I honestly didn’t know what it would look like when I left. But I had some ideas.
I sat down to sketch them out. A magic tree emerged, with a climber, to capture those magical moments and memories the family will always have of their climbers.
For reasons that can only be attributed to my manic painting behavior, I only had sketch paper available, all other boards were being used. When this sketch emerged on regular paper I knew it was what I wanted. I tried to paint over the sketch so that mom could get an idea of colors.
The colors are not what I intended. It is amazing how the colors just don’t match when painted on regular paper and you simply can’t work the color the same way to bring them out – the paper will disintegrate first.
Lesson learned: Always use watercolor paper when sketching an idea for a client.
Despite this, mom liked the composition, but not the colors. To clarify this key point before I started painting, I mocked up a color palette on watercolor paper and a detail of the painting to share with her.
I like the detail so much, I might just finish the painting soon, now that things are settling down.
With these three mock ups in place, mom was confident and gave me the go ahead to begin the 24″ x 18″ painting.
Mom let me post the progress on facebook and I kept her updated on progress. It took two weeks to finish, mostly because I was also trying to prep for my studio party. This painting would have taken about a week otherwise.
Here are the progress pictures:
As I posted these on social media, there were some interesting comments about leaving the climber as a negative space, including from my husband. This posed the question as to whether I should paint the climber or not. I had deliberately left the climber to the end to make sure I got a good balance of shading and color for it.
I asked mom what she thought, and she debated, but we agreed to paint it.
I wanted to paint it. I’m keenly aware that as a painting emerges there is a fear of f**king it up when it is coming along so nicely. There is a balance in that space and it takes a lot of thinking, reasoning and faith to not let the fear control the artistic decisions. I knew some subtle shading would add depth, and made the climber look like a child-like symbol instead of a ghost (in my mind). But it was a difficult space to be in at the end of the painting. Mostly, I had to believe in myself and my vision, not always easy. Mom really believed in my instincts and I’m grateful for that.
In the end, I’m pleased. More importantly, the family is pleased. When they came to pick up the painting, both girls were sure the climber was them. Exactly. Don’t many of us identify with the climber? The parents commented how much better it looked in person (it really does).
And the painting looks even more amazing in the kitchen.
And my first run of prints is gone, a couple sold before I finished the painting and the last two sold at my studio party. A wonderful success.
If you would like to learn more about my commission process and prices, you can visit my Commissions & Services page for an overview or contact me directly.
Limited Edition customized prints (of 25) are now available for $65. Contact me directly for purchasing information.
A tree and climber tend to each other while conjuring private magic.
One offers height, an ever changing maze, adventure, and endless possibility of another world. The other lays hope before her, curiosity and this secret; to understand what lays in her own hands. With each strong grasp and successful push she learns she is capable, again, again, and more.
In a tree’s magic cradle.
Watercolor 24″ x 18″
Original Sold (Commission)
Customized Limited Edition Prints: $65
Did you know that a baby sea turtle isn’t much bigger than a ping pong? And they are dark, almost black. From afar, they could be wet bark and then they move. Amazing. As they grow they stretch that layer thin and the green reveals itself.
Seeing one is witnessing a breathing miracle. The one in Mexico was deadly persistent in its pursuit of the sea. A wondrous role model. Sadly, it didn’t make it. There were many factors against the poor thing, including the crowd of tourists, the daylight, the gentle-ish yet inconsistent surf and the pelicans circling overhead. The survival rate of a baby turtle is about 1% and humans contact lower these chances more. Yes, we can kill them with our love.
It did not escape my daughter, Dana, that this was a and uncommon and momentous event. She drew the experience and then steadily persisted that I paint her drawing.
I’m grateful for sea turtle markings which are like an unique topographical map, and gave me some artistic freedom. Dana wanted a golden head. So gold she had it and though I was challenged by it, I’m thankful to not have to map that artistic decision.
Although I’m an abstract and illustrative artist sometimes I find myself struggling with the seen and seek permission to break through the literal. Why do I need permission? Why do I feel like my painting must look like what is? That makes me laugh. I insist there is much we don’t see. I’m very interested in making the invisible, visible. And yet, I struggle. It is a human bind.
Every choice is very deliberate in art making, even when it seems arbitrary. This turtle tested the balance between symbols, color, memory, relationships and art. Because in part, it had to be a turtle as you and I know it while more fantastic to satisfy my child and the child in all of us.
Dana is happier with the turtles progress now. The water has pulled in the ideas she was exploring in her drawing. She notices this. She feels seen, she feels important. I have had a small moment of connection and motherly victory. I'll take what I can get. I get a lot of eye rolls and sighs these days too.
I also washed the head in some deep yellow because she suggested a golden head. I'm really going to have to think about the head now. I'll look at some pictures, but as I write some ideas are forming.
So much of painting is looking, studying, thinking. I often take long breaks and photos on my cell phone so I can just look. Before I had my studio, I used to prop my painting at at the end of the bed before I went to sleep, just to look at it and make decisions for my next painting session.
Her original drawing has a nest of eggs. She has told me not to include it now. Honestly, I'm glad to not include it, I knew it would be challenging to design. It will let me focus on the other elements more thoroughly. I think it will also reflect the experience of seeing the turtles more acurately. And in some way, that makes it more magical for me, and less scientific. Is that weird? The turtle just appears and we don't know where it comes from now.
For me, There is a point in painting, when a the painting goes from being a painting “of something” to a reflection of my viewpoint, where I and the painting merge. At this point I internally say “Now, this is me, now I'm heading somewhere,”. It is as if I and the painting are making our ways towards each other.
Ironically, often when I'm done, I laugh and think I must be a little insane. I don't mind being crazy as long as it makes me laugh.
It is interesting to me how the practice of art is a melding of personalities and roles. The artist is the giver and the receiver is the subject or client or both. But somewhere in this process, I feel I’m gaining a very precious gift and our roles are reversed. I am grateful.
My daughter wants me to paint her turtle drawing (this is absolutely necessary since I finished Daire’s Dragon).
Daire’s dragon in many ways reflects him. It is all energy, desire and a frenetic wanting of everything without compromise. My son is 5, almost 6.
This turtle is calmer and more grounded, like my daughter. We saw baby turtles in Mexico this winter and large green turtles laying eggs in Costa Rica a couple years ago. It was magical, of the real life kind, both experiences were awe-inspiring. Unlike a dragon, turtles are a real life story. She draws what she sees and learns, she is very scientific and loves the natural world.
When she saw my progress, she was clear she wants more stimulating colors like the dragon – a golden head for example. This surprised me a little. She wants, in many ways, more of me in the painting. She also expressed the knowledge that I was only just beginning, and had confidence the end would be a lot different. She pays attention that way.
What I’m noticing is that through art, the giver and receiver express their relationship and that relationship matures in the process. It is very intimate and so wonderfully human.
I feel this in all the paintings I have done for others, but witnessing it being expressed from my daughters point of view is very touching and expanding. She is 8 almost 9, and really defining herself as a person. In doing so she is also defining me as her mother. She is making sense of me.
And this is in part what this painting is about, a mother making sense of her daughter and her daughter doing it right back.
Something we will do for the rest of our lives I suspect. I am grateful for it.
I breath fire, water and stars on rainbows in the moonlight. Who says it can’t be so? I will turn them into air.
Watercolor 18″ x 24″
This is not a perfect painting. By far, it is a lesson in the art of imperfection. The wobbly line, the chaotic scales, the tail that swells and recedes, the messy colors and shadows, and my incredible frustration with everything about it.
(As I painted this the paper popped off its board, rolled up and buckled. I was too in love with the dragon to stop and try again.)
There are so many mistakes hidden in this painting and there are many, many lessons.
It is not a cartoon, not “high art”, not digitally enhanced or animated and very likely not what you think but maybe what you somehow know is true.
It is my son’s wholehearted and exuberant belief that he can have everything including the “impossible” and “magical”.
And like him, weneed impractical, imperfect, uncompromising magic. Yes, you do. Because life is only explicable to a point. That blank space, the “I don’t know”, the “science can’t explain”, is where magic thrives, and this dragon lives folding her wings welcoming us to understand this:
We are creatures of magic; the everyday act of living.
As I worked through the frustration of this very not perfect yet uncompromising painting I began to believe this as well:
I’ve been sporadically working on my son’s Dragon and have some in-progress pictures here. I was inspired by a picture he drew with passionate energy. The post has been a lovely vignette of an enchanting kids painting in-progress (written with a touch of sarcasm).
I could scream
Maybe I did. I can’t remember clearly. There was a rush of something – maybe adrenaline – that clouded my vision, my heart beat accelerated and a trembling wave of shock radiated from my chest. Thinking rationally – gone. Control of my hands – gone.
The watercolor has a mind of its own! I can’t control it! Oh My God! Its running all the way into the green! The yellow! Oh no the yellow! All the hours in this painting lost. Where are the Q-Tips! They aren’t working! F*ck Watercolors!
I dropped the Q-Tips and brushes.
I. Must. Walk. Away.
I hate this painting
It is so trite and cliche. I’ve seen it before, not original, definitely done somewhere else by someone else more skilled. A kids vision. Not sophisticated. I’m stealing his vision because I have no vision. I’m an idiot in over my head. The rainbow is too much, I can’t handle it. This is taking me too long.
I love this Painting
I love the story. I love my son. I love the way this painting has pushed me. I love the crazy colors. I love that Daire made the lower jaw bigger because when the dragon closes his mouth you can’t see how big his teeth are. I love that he breathes fire and water and stars. The dragon has no arms. Poor little arm-less dragon, I love you.