I went to the city on my birthday. On the way back, I was in one of those train seats that faces other train seats, so you’re sitting knee-to-knee with people. Every time you look up, you see the person’s face directly across from you. Mostly, people try to pretend they do not see each other, or willfully divert their eyes, yet sometimes people chat or nod. This young couple, probably headed to New Haven, were very tender toward one another. I asked them if they minded if I sketched them. I had run out of other faces and shoes to draw. Looking down the train isle there was a perspective on just the shoe and ankle of a person here and there. It pays to draw shoes sometimes, I once noticed a man had a gun holster or strap on his leg, just above his ankle. Maybe he was a detective? I don’t know, but on this day, since I had run out of shoes to draw and had sketched the few faces available to me from my position looking down the isle, I began to draw this couple directly across from me. Their hands especially spoke poetry. My own hand shook quite a lot while I drew, since the train jiggled. But I am glad I captured these two young people in love.
Observing and drawing or painting objects as they are is a great way to study color, light, shadow and negative space. I paint quickly with lots of layers until the painting is the way I want it to look. Besides studying people, it is so enjoyable to paint fruit for some reason. I painted this in the dining room of our 1700’s farm house. I felt at the time that what I was painting would have looked just the same way, with natural light coming in from the window, today as it did 2 or 3 hundred years ago. I feel that observing, looking closely at something or someone can be enchanting in a way, because we generally skim by and may not notice how a thing looks, or perceive how a person feels. Stopping long enough to draw or paint a person or object changes our relationship to it, and to ourselves. It’s fun being an artist, it gives you license to stare.
This is a caricature/editorial illustration I did of Queen Elizabeth II a while back. It is not fair to her at all, it lacks her beauty entirely. It does not radiate the way she does in photos or film/tape footage. At the time I made it, the shine had been taken off of her a bit. Windsor burned and the family was in a shambles and, well, Diana’s death brought the royals into hot water. Some of the sparkling enchantment around the British royals had turned to a dull petina. The Queen was not having a good time. At this point,however, I believe I should really do a work which shows her inner beauty. Looking at her life, I’d say she deserves a lot of respect. She’s been honorable, and seems naturally duty-bound, but perhaps saying that is unfair to her as well. Maybe she finds it difficult to be so dutiful, but she does it anyway because she promised. She knew she’d be queen since her Uncle David, otherwise known as King Edward VIII, abdicated, when she was but a girl. She was brave during the war, wearing her gas mask as was required for a certain amount of time each day (unlike Princess Margaret who didn’t bother to put her gas mask on if she didn’t want to). She found out she’d be Queen of England from a treehouse in Africa, when her beloved father died back at the palace. I read that when she flew back to England and looked out the window when her plane landed, she said something like, “Oh. They brought the hearses.” She called all those black limousines “hearses”. They were cars fit for a queen and from that moment on, in a photograph of her as she is descending the stairs out of the aircraft, there is a look of fear, excitement and anticipation in her eyes. That is my favorite photograph of her. She had left England just a princess, only to return and deplane as the new queen, yet to be crowned. Her father had just died and instead of hiding away to grieve, she had to step up for her coronation. What a strange life, to be in that role. Not many get to do that. Hardly any at all. One in a gazillion. I wonder what it’s like for her? As she ages, I like her more and more. She seems more relaxed than she did before. She seems weathered but happier. And she even put her arm around America’s First Lady Michelle Obama (remember that photograph from a few months ago?). I used to be angry at the queen because, I have to admit, my Cherokee mentor told me the queen knew about a plot to end the life of Princess Diana, but that it was not the queen’s doing. I wonder, is that true? We’ll never know, I guess. I can imagine the queen always putting her kingdom first above all, the kingdom and now the Commonwealth being what she was ordained to protect and serve, and she has shown us she absolutely takes that vow as seriously as a person could take any vow. Keeping the monarchy intact might mean she would know things the general public would never know concerning security and secret plots. That isn’t new to kings and castles, as cloaks and daggers go along with royal life. But some say this is silly. Maybe it is. Maybe it is.
I love to do portraits. Over the years, I did many portraits of the children I taught. It was a big honor when the parents of a child hired me to draw their children. I always wanted them to be themselves, and to be comfortable. I thought my gesture drawing technique really worked well as the sketches are quick and lively, so as to capture the emotion of their gesture as the child sat or stood. I prided myself on being able to do this quickly, especially since it’s so hard for children to hold a pose. Last year I gave a talk at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, MA and spoke of how I had to draw very fast when drawing a child, and I explained how gesture drawing was my way of doing portraits, especially for children. One of my former students was in the audience, one that I had done a portrait of when he was my student. He is now out of college and working as a journalist in Boston. He approached me after the talk and said, “You know, when you drew me, it felt like I had to be still for a long, long time!” I laughed at that, and at myself. Here I was thinking I had shown mercy on children while I drew them, and here he was letting me know that he felt he had to be very still for a long time–the opposite of what I thought was going on! This honesty from him is appreciated by me, and I vow to keep drawing faster and faster and better and better, especially when doing a child’s portrait. Over the years, I kept some of the charcoal sketches, and this is one of my favorites. This is a girl from the 1980’s, posing for me during a portrait session one day after school.
When I was newly pregnant with my first child, I dreamed of a realm where there was only the sound of pure white cloth flapping gently in the wind. I saw there was a tree where the white cloth shimmered, waving in the air. Dark skinned angels, majestic and silent looked down at me with serene expressions from their perch in the tree. The feeling of kindness and calm glowing from them was entrancing. I saw that every few seconds, each of these angels lifted the white cloth as a veil, over their faces, and down again. Over and over, the white cloth went up over their faces, then softly down below their faces. And this is what was said to me: “Every time a baby is born, the veil is pulled up over the face of the angel.” The angels looked at me, right into my eyes. I felt a warmth I cannot quite describe, and a depth of care that comes swirling back into my awareness when I remember this dream. At the time, I woke up so pleased to feel that there were angels who looked like people, but who didn’t speak, and who looked after each soul during the moment of birth, lifting the veil rhythmically, moment by moment as the breath of life blew and blew.
My Cherokee mentor had taught me that “the veil” represents the relationship we humans have with “the Other Side”. There is a something which separates us from knowing, or All Knowing once we are born, or so it would seem. When we are born, it is as if a veil is over our faces, as we are not in that spirit realm anymore, but on the earth where creating an understanding of who we are, and why we exist seems to be a major part of our human experience. That is not to say we are not of the spirit realm, only that to be born is to be “unveiled” here on earth, and yet to be veiled from the realm we occupied before birth. In our new being, our new condition as a person incarnated on earth, we live with a certain mystery surrounding us about time, about future, about the universe, and our place in it. When we die, we have the veil lifted so we may see once again the realm or realms beyond our earth presence. And sometimes during our earth walk, we get a glimmer through that shimmering veil of what we would have called the unknown.
I dreamed one night a while back that I was walking with some people I knew, and I was carrying their new born son. There was an entourage (the family and a nanny or two). I asked the father, “Do you want to carry your baby boy?” and he spoke assuredly, “NO!” I was not sure during the dream why he had said that. The family was all together and all about this new baby, the dream was filled with care over this child and other siblings. The baby was so well cared for in the dream that I did not understand why he would not want to “hold the baby”. It was something I could not figure out both during the dream and after I woke up. I told my friend, his wife, the next day that I just had the most marvelous dream that she’d have a lovely baby boy. I never mentioned the part about her husband saying he didn’t want to “hold the baby” because I didn’t know what it meant and it seemed unnecessary to repeat. It just didn’t make sense so I skipped even thinking about it much. Over a year later, she sent me a message to let me know that in fact, she WAS having a baby boy and it was a complete surprise. I then learned that the baby was to be born via a surrogate. When I realized this, I knew what the dream meant. Her husband had told me they would not be “holding the baby”, meaning they did not “carry” the baby to birth physically.The anticipation for this boy to be born was one wonderfully joyous event for this family and for me on the sidelines. I was so touched by this experience that I had to paint something lively, colorful and full of joy for that baby boy. Somehow he seemed to tell me early on that he’d be arriving. I am humbled by the gift of a hint of knowing, in part because I obviously am still learning to read the signs. I am learning and celebrating life along the way, and this painting represents how happy I am for this family.
Have you ever had a celebrity dream? I often dream of being in conversations with favorite celebrities, and the feeling is usually one of happiness because there is an easy rapport or a special feeling that I know this person well. When I wake up I feel fascinated by the dream, and say over and over, “It felt so real!” and then a certain kind of loneliness wafts in, an estranged feeling, maybe because I have to go do the laundry or some other drab thing, and in fact, I do not have a special friendship with Bono or Johnny Depp. I likely never will! Not on this earth-plane anyway. But hey, you never know… and the thrill of these fun dreams of idealized friendship is worth feeling even the most wretched despair while folding a mountain of semi-wrinkled t-shirts.
For this entry, which came on my birthday, I chose a less exciting celebrity dream to record, but it is important. I believe I was not feeling well in my sleep and so the celebrity dream took an odd turn. This is in no way a reflection of the celebrity. It’s all mine. Okay, so I was dreaming that (and go ahead, analyze it all you want!) I was asked to help Rosie O’Donnell with a new tv show. There were a handful of us. A few of the others were big-time publishers from big-time children’s publishing groups (so I wondered if in fact this was a psychic dream telling me that Rosie is working on a picture book for children, with say, Random House?). Rosie was talkative and fun, but she had rules and even “meditation hour” when everyone was supposed to whisper back stage. She wanted us to be able to sing show tunes or fun songs at the drop of the hat. She asked me if I was willing to do that and I said, “Sure, but I’d need some voice coaching.” And then she asked me to sing Glenn Miller’s song,”Chattanooga Choo Choo” which I did. I woke up with a blasted aching headache and that “Chattanooga Choo Choo” stuck in my head all day! So I have to admit it wasn’t my favorite celebrity dream, but I do wish Rosie well, and let’s see if she comes out with a children’s book in the next year or so!
At twilight, it will be no longer day, and yet not quite night. You can feel yourself slip into the mysteriously enchanting moment of something other than “ordinary time”. It feels as though something has happened. And it feels as though something will happen. And it is true –a day has gone by and night is beginning. Yet it is more than that, it is a moment in time which seems somehow unbound by time itself. The ancients recorded that G-d’s first action was to say the words, “Let there be light”. That moment of the day when light dims and time becomes “other” is followed by the moment of creating light for ourselves, in imitation of The Creator. I have always been swayed by the power and beauty of this symbolic observance of time, and of light, and of creating.
When I was in my late twenties I studied with a rabbi at Tufts University in Boston. I participated in the ritual of Shabat, each Friday at sundown. I felt there was no better place to be than to be observing the mystery of time beginning when 3 stars are visible in the sky after sundown. And when I was learning about the High Holy Days, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, and ending with Yom Kippur, I was at a service sitting quietly. The rabbi called me up. I had no idea why she called me. I walked up to her in front of everyone, and to my complete surprise, she allowed me to open the Torah to begin the service. I will never forget that moment. Opening the Torah was something I cannot describe. It was as if all time rushed into my being.
At sundown tonight, Rosh Hashanah begins. There is a beautiful book for children I want to recommend today by author April Halprin Wayland. April is a true poet (I illustrated her fantastic book GIRL COMING IN FOR A LANDING, a novel told in poems) and she has written NEW YEAR AT THE PIER, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. This book is my favorite book for understanding what happens during the days of Rosh Hashanah, leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The shofar sounds, and sorrows from days gone by are tossed into the sea. It is a beautiful book and I recommend it for everyone! Go to: www.aprilwayland.com
This is a painting I did several years ago, in New York City. It is a painting from life, and this model was a great subject. I was taught by artist Fred Gregory, my undergraduate painting teacher years before, to paint from life quickly and to wipe away whatever you did, then start with a new pose and paint quickly. I do believe sometimes we were all wiping away our best efforts. But he didn’t want us to get too precious about our work, which is a good thing because it keeps you feeling good rather than static and stuck. Sometimes I regret not saving a figure study, and sometimes I did save one such as the one above. In this painting, I allowed a figure study partially wiped away, beneath the musician, to remain just a little. It made me smile because often when I’m creating, I feel this joy and mysterious sort of urging, as though a great force of love and life is behind me, helping me to create. I began to feel I was capturing the essence of an artist or musician’s muse here, and maybe the painting was showing me what I have always believed to be true, which is that when you truly ask for help, it arrives. If you go into a creative effort with a good feeling inside and a confidence that you will be helped in your process, more good feeling rushes up to meet you. How you feel inside is so important. I realize that when asking for anything, how we feel inside is key. Approaching any work or creative action, maybe any action at all, with joy seems to activate more joy. Feeling good emotion seems to build more good emotion. Expect a muse to arrive, in fact know that already a muse is there, waiting for you to begin creating. Our guides and muses are there waiting for us to meet them, a brilliant and loving universal source of life energy is waiting for us to tap into it. You can just feel that behind you, a whisper at your shoulder.
After posting the “What do you have in your hat?” sketches of NYC’s Finest at Precinct 10 (see below, illuminara entry for September 14th), I decided to post the rest of this work. I hope Michael Petrillo NYPD at Precinct 10 will know how grateful I am to have his comments on this site and how proud we are of all the officers at Precinct 10. We’re glad to hear updates on promotions, etc.! I hope the officers like the drawings I did of them, and if they’ll let me, I’ll return to make new sketches.