The years that I’ve been showing this artwork have been sprinkled with moments of serendipity – moments when someone appears in my world and becomes part of it. This painting started with one of these moments. An email arrived in my inbox while we were on vacation in Tahoe in late July (2016) from someone named Charles, who lives with his wife Susan in Cambridge, MA. Their son and his family live a few minutes away from where I do. While they were out here for a visit, Charles saw my two paintings at the Marin County Fair. He took pictures of the art and of my name and then looked me up.
The initial request was for information about paintings I’d already painted, which soon turned into a request to paint the hibiscus flowers that grow in their garden as a birthday gift for Susan.These plants have been living – for 30 years (!) - in containers that are set into the spaces in the ground during the summer and brought inside for their cold, snowy winters. Sounds special enough to have their portraits painted! They wanted me to combine flowers from both varieties with plenty of leaves and some buds for interest. I gave him some pointers on how to take pictures to send me. As the photos came in via email I realized I was going to need to do some work collaging together something that would make a Life in Full Color painting. I jumped in to Photoshop after the Sausalito Art Festival. The composition was a puzzle to sort out. I landed on the main flower right away. It was taken at that lovely three-quarter perspective. But the red flower was a challenge and piecing together the background took some doing. After two versions that weren’t quite there, I started to get worried that I was going to be able to pull this off. But the next day I was greeted by an email from Charles with more pictures – including of the troublesome red one – taken in full sun. The missing link had arrived! And I went back to work to create an image that - I was told - had “nailed it.” Whew! Painting was uneventful (thankfully). Painting so many of these “fuzzy backgrounds” has paid off – they are becoming easier – and more fun to do. The leaves, as always, give me fits – so I get them done before the treat of painting the flower. I made a shift in the color of the flower, at their request - to match the actual flowers. In the full sun, digital cameras show things more yellow.
I listen to Pandora a lot as I paint. So many of the pieces on the “mood music” stations are pretty uninspiring, so when this lovely one, called “Tuesday’s Child” by a Canadian guitarist named Jesse Cook started playing, it caught my attention right away. I looked to see who the artist was and for the first time after just hearing something on Pandora I bought his album. It’s Nuevo Flamenco music – creative, emotive and I find myself bouncing in my seat as I listen to some of the songs. (if I painted standing, I’d be full-on dancing!). The music and these flying, swirling petals had me think of the dancers skirts and gave me an idea for it's name: Flamenco.
Charles and I exchanged emails starting in July and this was our only mode of communication until the morning in October when he called to say they were on their way over. This was first time we’d heard each other’s voices. It was nice to share our home and the room that is my studio with them. Most importantly, I was happy and relieved they were pleased with the painting! We talked about the name and I played for them Jesse Cook's vibrant, soulful music. They agreed the name fit.
I’ve come to see painting a commission like this as a journey of faith - both for those who I paint for, and for me. We all take a risk – especially when we have never even spoken to each other before. I am so grateful that there is a part of us that is willing to jump in with each other in this way. It brings a certain preciousness to our time together – when they came here to meet me, and the painting I did for them for the first time.
Thank you so much, Charles and Susan!
FlamencoSpecial Occasion, Tropical
This is the story of this piece I completed December 2012. David and Cindy are wonderful folks who are collectors of Life in Full Color. They found my art through the exhibit at the California State Fair in 2008. It was there they saw and bought Lunch on the Terrace. The next year they came to visit me, thinking they were going to take Blossoming Hope with them and ended up with Rhododendron Raindrops instead! A couple years later, I made arrangements for them to buy Paris Roses from its original buyer, my friend Victoria Bentley. So, they have three originals of my work! Wow! Dave emailed me early in the year to ask me to save some time and big paper to paint something to honor Cindy's birthday on 12-12-12. Cindy has been asking me about painting roses - (specifically Double Delight roses) and lavender for a few years, so this is where our thoughts were. AND, it was to be a surprise! What a wonderful thing for me to hold on to all year, knowing this special project was in the works. In October Dave sent me over 200 images that he had taken over the summer of their garden: Double Delight roses and lavender (the "right" kind - sometimes called English or French, but not the Spanish type!). He also included photos stealthily taken of Cindy working in her garden and some of honey bees on the wrong kind of lavender. He suggested a few ideas of where I could take the painting. I was inspired to cover all the bases he suggested, Cindy in her garden, of course the roses and lavender and then add in a few bees. Using all the Photoshop skills I gained working at Light Rain, I carefully removed the background from the roses and lavender from a few of the images (see above and below). I plucked three bees from yet other images and layered all this over my favorite image of Cindy in her garden, dead-heading her roses. I loved the way the light was hitting her and that we could just see a bit of her face. This is the first real-live human I've painted! Yikes! Dave and I went back and forth with a few iterations of the composition. I decide to keep her blue garden bin in. I loved the color that it brought and it's a little unexpected, plus it keeps it "real." She's doing something quite ordinary in the midst of the splendor of the plants that inspire her. We settled in on this composition here below. On a 29"x41" sheet of Arches watercolor paper I got to the drawing. As I was making all the shapes of the lavender, I got a bit anxious. I've never painted such detail on such a large scale. I painted it as I always do, the background first, then the hardest to the easiest. This meant that after the background came the lavender! I used a couple of new (to me) pigments: Cobalt Blue-Violet from Daniel Smith and a lovely mauve-y pink called Janet's Violet Rose from American Journey for the purple parts. Since the painting is large enough to actually portray the lavender buds and flowers, I had to actually paint them, not just suggest them with splashes of paint. It was such a discipline to stay with it. I'd paint for 2 hours at a stretch and get about 2" or 3" of a stalk painted! Whoa, Nellie! This was work! In the end I had to take a break and paint a rose or two before finishing the lavender. I often make things hard on myself! Now, Cindy! Painting her body and clothes was fine, but I'd blurred the source image to give it that background feel, so her features were hard to read. I had the inkling that I needed to take it further. I sent a photo of just her face as I'd painted it to Dave and he confirmed - it didn't look like her and it needed to. I went back to the un-blurred photo and spent an entire evening fussing on that bit of her profile and getting her hair to be more realistic. I wanted to strike the balance between too much detail for a person in the distance and, well mush. I was incredibly relieved when he said I'd gotten her. Finally to finish the roses, paint the leaves, and surprise water drops (forgotten I'd drawn those in!). My family and my watercolor groups (all three of them) shared in my process and progress with the painting. They were so anxious to see it done too! Dave had asked for it to be finished by December 1. I finished it up by the morning of Thursday Nov 29th (which happened to be my birthday). I took it in to Light Rain to capture it and then shipped to Dave's framer. It arrived on the 30th in time to get it framed for her birthday. I'm just so humbled to have been part of such a momentous gift. I'm moved by Dave's love for Cindy - and by how he must be inspired by her to express it like this. It's a remarkable way to honor someone you love. I'm so grateful to have been involved in this celebration. To be able to create something like this, inventing the composition, doing the "mock-up" in Photoshop, having the skill and determination to paint through the complexity and detail and to paint a person - and have it look like her - all this was not possible until now. Life really does prepare us for what is next. I would love to paint more tributes like this! Thank you, Dave for giving me this opportunity. I'm so happy and honored and grateful. Happy Birthday, Cindy! Thank you so much for letting me share this story and these images with you! Please let me know (of course!) if this gives you ideas about something I could paint for you or your loved ones!