topiary cats

topiary cats

Sunday, June 17, 2018


Carey and I had a painting date last night to get us both moving.
I have not really had the motivation to paint, and I still don't, but I forced my way through this one.
Started last night and finished today; it took a lot longer than I hoped.

I needed to do a low-stress easy painting, and I thought that might help me get my painting vibes back, but it didn't this time.  Sometimes that does work though.

9x12 pastel (all Unisons) on Mi Tientes.
I am still making friends with smooth paper.

Some progress shots.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Spare Floor & Poster

This past Sunday the dance teams performed in the annual street fair.
Then they went to hang out at the studio's street booth.

In front of the booth were 2 spare bits of floor from the studio so the kids could show off, do dance stuff, and hand out flyers.

Daya enjoyed handing out flyers:

I left her there to do her thing, and she had rehearsal after.

When Daya got home I opened the door to see this:

Ms. Rysa gave Daya one of the spare floor bits.  Daya asked if she could have it...and she got it!
There has never been a child so excited about a piece of spare floor.

Daya carried it home on the subway by herself, (it is big and weighs around 30lbs!)  so now she has a good story about Carrying Weird Things on the train and getting really strange looks from everyone.

She is very proud of this.

As soon as she got home she scrubbed that floor front and back, put her jazz shoes on, and practiced turns.

This is a good question since we have wood floors and that's what is in dance studios right?

The spare floor is made of something called marley and is (apparently) better for practicing turns because it is less slick than wood.  The studio doesn't use rosin on shoes because it messes up the floor.  One of the floors there is wood but the other floor is this marley stuff which is apparently special dance floor material or something.

Now Daya has a marley floor from the studio to practice turns.

I have been on painting break since May was so crazy.  I did 2 paintings and a poster for the studio.  It was ;printed on metal and was presented by the teachers to the owner as a 10th anniversary gift.

The image was a collaboration.   I added some design input and put the whole thing together in photoshop.  It was a lot of work but it came out nice and they love it.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Facing Major Fears

I have a fear that it is time to face.


I was told by everyone when I was growing up- including an eye doctor- that I would not be able to drive, that it wasn't an option in my life.  And that's why I came to NYC and stayed here, and that's ok I don't regret it.

But driving- and not being able to do it- has left me with a feeling of being trapped.
I wrote a bit about it here.

As I get older this bothers me more and more.  And it's really a major head-thing to get around.

I found out in 2006 that I could get a drivers license and I did. Everyone was wrong who said I couldn't.
And I haven't driven since that test.
I don't know how to drive.
I'm REALLY SCARED because I don't trust my eyes.
I really only have one that works, my right eye is Moral Support Only.


I went to the eye doctor this week and since my license is up for renewal, I asked him about the vision form and if I can renew. He said yes but it has to be a restricted license.

He filled out a form for me which I have mailed to medical review in Albany.
They will send me a letter back and I have to bring that to the DMV.

It is a restricted license in that I can only drive in daylight, but that is better than nothing.

I sat myself down and said--- Jessica, your eye dr says you can drive and the state of NY says you can drive so why aren't you?

I answered myself that I really don't know how and I'm very scared because of my eyes.

To which I said, 'You just need the right teacher. You need someone to spend a lot of time with you and work with you.  Someone used to working with people who are scared.  Someone who will be able to make any adjustments you might need and be very patient.  Not a driving school, you already did that and even though you passed the test, it wasn't enough.  So you need to find someone who can spend a lot of time and knows how to teach."

I looked on craigslist AND I FOUND SOMEONE.

He teaches driving privately, is used to working with nervous people, and he will spend as much time with me as I want.  I told him about my eyes and he says it's fine!  So I'm probably going to be his best client for a while, and I'll figure out the money.

Tuesday is my first lesson!!!


Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Releasing Paintings

I released a painting and I'm sad about it.
I should not be sad about it, and I didn't think I would be.
Nor do I have any clue why I am sad about it.

Recital was yesterday and we raffle off stuff for fundraising.  I donated a painting...this one:

Dusk in Auridon
9x12 pastel

Someone named Paul bought a bunch of raffle tickets and was so! excited! about the painting-- I didn't meet him but one of the other moms told me.

And I love making other people happy with my art!

Releasing the painting was absolutely the right thing to do, some paintings need to go out into the world and it sure wasn't doing anything in my home.

Now it will be loved and appreciated and it made someone happy.
What is better than that?

So why is it surprisingly bittersweet?

When I start a painting that I know is destined to leave, I am never sad about releasing it.
I'm happy to do so.
I have sold paintings before that I didn't know would go when I painted them, and I wasn't sad about them either.  I was happy to see them go.

I do have paintings I will never sell, I think we all do.

And there isn't anything particularly personal about this painting.  It doesn't have any particular significance.  I knocked it out in 2 hours last December while on vacation.  It is from a screenshot from Elder Scrolls Online.

And before anyone says, oh just paint another- yeah I could but it is highly unlikely I will.
I don't make duplicates of my own work.  It doesn't feel right to me.  Besides, I already painted this image.  There are others waiting.

Being an artist is really weird.

(I asked Carey if she ever experienced this and she said yes.  Of course she understood.)

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Aesthetics of Painting and Photography

These are just some thoughts that are my own opinion and perspective as a painter about painting and photography, why they are different, and why no one seems to know they are different.

They are both art forms, but they are different media and not necessarily interchangeable.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself "Why is it so hard to photograph a painting?"
Because we all know it is.
Because a camera can't get everything.

A good photograph does not necessarily translate into a good painting.
This is something that people learning to paint from photographs often discover the hard way.

The other day on Facebook someone posted a photo as reference for a portrait commission, asking for advice.  It was a very nice professional photograph, and it would make a terrible painting.

This situation is so common.

* Lighting.  Lighting in a painting is so important, most especially in a portrait.  You want good lights and good shadows.  A well-done professional portrait photograph is fully lit from all angles.  This is great for photography and awful for painting.

*Composition: As a painter we really have to think about what makes up a good composition. It needs a focal point, it needs shadow and light, it needs to convey something unique. A snapshot where you can see someone's face is just that- a snapshot.  A painting wants to be more than that.

Paint can do things photography cannot do.
When working from photographs, information is lost. A camera has one eye and so we have to know about and correct lens distortion.  Additionally, a painter must choose what to focus on and a lot of that is done in edges.  Paint can capture subtle details that one generally does not see in photography.

Look at these paintings, none are mine.

She is so good it is sick.
This is representational painting at its finest.
This is painting aesthetic, this is what paint does.

She is also so good it is sick.
I don't think a camera could ever replicate her work.

IMHO Jeremy Lipking is one of the top 5 greatest living painters.

I have had the pleasure of seeing Jeremy Lipking's work in person, and I assure you, it is drop-dead amazing in a way that no photograph of his paintings can ever convey.

And his work is photographed by the best of the best.  It comes close but the real thing just blows you away.

Your painting looks like a photograph!
Painters don't really say this to each other. People who don't really understand painting say it, and it is a nice compliment, well-intended and appreciated, but if another painter said this to me I would think something was wrong with my painting.

Because the intention of most representational painting is not to look like a photograph.
The intention is to look like real life.
That's why we work from life. That's why we observe so closely.
That's why we study.

A photograph is the interpretation of real life through a camera lens.
A painting is the interpretation and representation of the real world through the human eye.
It is more direct.

The skill set needed to create the painting is much different.than a photographer's skill set.

Have you ever said to a musician playing live music, "Wow, you sound just like a recording!" ?
Probably not, and this is the best way I know of to sum up why "It looks like a photograph!" is....., well, I love when people like my work, and I truly appreciate when people make the effort to compliment, but if you really want to appreciate a painter's work, maybe leave photography out of it.

A photograph is NOT the highest attainable standard to represent the real world.
The real world itself is.

A good representational painting does strive to be lifelike- as compared to the real world, not a photograph.  Even if we do use a photo reference....believe me, all that working from life practice and training gets used.  I can tell, for the most part, when someone has faithfully rendered a photograph and they have never worked from life. It .... looks like a photograph....and in this context that's not really a good thing because they have copied all the errors the photograph may have had, and the lighting is flat.

So this is a bit long and congrats if you made it to the end.
Truly, nothing makes me happier than making someone else happy with my work.  And it is always good to be gracious and accept a well-intended compliment for what it is.  But now you have some insight into the mind of a painter who would never say that to another painter, and why.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Happy, a Medieval Dog Portrait

Here is a portrait of Happy.
Happy was Cathy's dog, he passed on a few years ago.

I'm going to see Cathy today, and her brand new house that has been in the works for YEARS.
This painting is a housewarming gift for her.

9x12 pastel on pastelmat

Lots of Panpastels, Mungyo semi-hards, pastel pencils, and Senneliers.
Inspired by The Hours of Mary of Burgundy, c 1477.

The copper Panpastel and iridescent Sennelier is hard to work over...actually you can't layer over it at all except with Senneliers, which are very soft.

Here are some progress shots:

Oregon Trail

Daya has been playing the very retro game Oregon Trail in school. (from 1990!)
Last night she was telling me about it, and she showed me the site they were using at school.

So obviously I had to play immediately.
Daya was telling me how hard it is, etc etc etc, then she went off to dance and I went off to Oregon.


Friday, May 25, 2018

Area of Bruise

Daya has a bad bruise on her forehead due to a series of unfortunate events resulting in hitting the same place three times over a couple of days.

It is a large round bruise and it hurts.

So she did what anyone would do... she calculated its area.

(Which is 2 inches. With a diameter of 1.5 inches...)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fabulous Pencils

I got a swag bag a while back from Jerry's for their plein air contest.
Since I have been back to figure drawing, my focus on drawing has gotten a nice reboot.

Anyhow, in the swag bag there was a Jerry's Jumbo Jet charcoal pencil, a black one.
I pulled it out the other day and remembered how nice it was.
THEN Jerry's posted a sale on these pencils on Instagram, so I went and got the Sepia, Sanguine, and White.  That's the full range.  They are probably around an HB in hardness, which is good for those of us who go too dark too quickly.

Jerry's is doing another plein air event in July, not a contest this year, but there will be swag bags and I must get one! :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


My grandmother was born 100 years ago today!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Figure Drawing

Some figure drawings from today.
I worked 11x14, charcoal, didn't feel like carrying my large papers around.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Why My Eyes are Stupid

I'm not even sure why or how I got to this article, you know how reading one article on the internet leads to another...but it is a seriously good explanation of why my eyes might be so bad without a genetic history of vision problems.  And why Daya's eyes are fine.

And also why my eyes are much worse than my sister's eyes, which are also not great but not nearly as bad as mine.

I know my mother smoked a lot when I was little, and it wasn't a new habit. It it is also likely she smoked more during her second pregnancy (me) than her first.

*****Looking up the link between smoking during pregnancy and the effects on vision returns a TON of research directly linking my specific eye issues (and others) with cigarettes. Being born cross-eyed (strabismus), high refraction index (bad nearsightedness), abnormal blood vessels (yes) retinal issues (thank goodness not currently but my left one detached when I was a kid), I have ocular hypertension too from all of it because pretty much my eyes didn't develop properly due to the cigarettes and everything is wonky.

I always wondered why, always suspected some factor about my mother's pregnancies, and there it is.

Though I don't come from tall people I am a good 2" shorter than the next shortest person and that's almost certainly from the cigarettes too.

Being short I don't mind..... but my eyes.... it really has been and continues to be a big struggle and has massively affected my life in many ways.

Oh, I know it could be worse... AIDS, crack, heroin, fetal alcohol syndrome..... but it still really stinks.  Especially because it's bad enough that I can't drive.

I think my mother knew, and maybe the cigarettes were something she hid from everyone. While I was growing up she was constantly bringing up how she did everything right and perfect when she was pregnant. In hindsight, and knowing her inability to accept responsibility for anyhing, of course she would want to constantly proclaim her innocence and make sure someone else got “blamed”. She always tried to say it was my father’s fault because his mother had glaucoma in old age.  He rejected that. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Maz, a Medieval Cat Portrait

9x12 pastel on pastelmat.
Maz was Ginny's cat, she is another mom at the dance studio.
I got to use my gold Senneliers and my gold panpastels.

Inspired by the Hours of Mary of Burgundy, a book of hours c 1477.

Some progress shots:


Pan pastel underpainting


Background done, pans senns, unisons.
I used a lot of mungyo semi- hards for the cat too.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ballet Cures Intestinal Parasites

Last night I collected Daya from class.  She was in good spirits and told me her legs were much better after ballet. 

Actually, what she said was that ballet is the cure for intestinal parasites.

I understand this needs explanation.

Daya and I have been playing The Long Dark, one of my all-time favorite games- and in her game she contracted intestinal parasites.

So that means that everything wrong with her, every single complaint, is due to intestinal parasites, including the muscle shock she sustained on Monday from parkour.  This will be the case until she fixes it in her game.

This morning her legs still hurt- they are gradually getting better but I guess the intestinal parasites multiplied overnight again.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

16 - 8 = 12

Daya says May is a bad month.  She has been saying this since May 2.
In April she was saying how May was going to be a GREAT month.... well, I guess it has time to turn around for her.

Her school is offering parkour after school Mondays from this week to June 11, and of course Daya wanted to sign up.  She went on Monday and had a blast...and by the time she got home she couldn't walk.

Which is kind of a problem.

Something had to be wrong, it isn't like Daya to be out of commission after physical activity.  But apparently she was landing jumps improperly from heights and the shock went all up her legs and she is in significant pain.  She knows what she did wrong and how to avoid it in the future, but in the meantime she has a lot of muscle shock.

This is a problem because she still has to dance and recital is in a few weeks.
I gave her 4 advil before class last night and told her she just has to get through it somehow.

When I picked her up after class she was distraught.  Crying.  Also in a lot of pain. Apparently Ms Shauna reduced a part of the dance- for Daya- from 16 turns to 8.  Daya decided it was a personal failure on her part.

The truth is that her series of 16 turns wasn't quite "there" last week either.  Even though Daya really has been practicing a lot, and she was excited about it.  But it is better to do 8 clean turns than 16 sloppy turns.

Still, Daya was distraught about it. She is taking it hard, but the truth is that she can't be doing that.

Ms Shauna was nice enough to talk to Daya for a minute after class, and I'm glad I was there too.
This is where I had to remind Daya that she is only 12 years old- and dancing in a class with girls who are 14, 15, 16 years old.  At this age, that's a HUGE difference in development.  She can't really expect to be at the same developmental level as a 15 year old, even if they are in the same class.  So what if she can't pull off 16 clean turns- YET- she still gets to do 8.  This is very difficult stuff!! The fact that she's even IN the class- for the second year, too- is a major accomplishment in itself.

She is judging herself against girls who are older and have been dancing longer. She thinks she should be there too but the fact is that she's simply just too young to be there yet. 

Just because a child is advanced in some areas doesn't mean they are advanced in all areas.  In general, kids who are advanced are also behind in other areas.  I'm not worried about it because it's just part of growing up, and again, she's only 12 years old-- no 12 year old is emotionally mature- but she'll be fine.  It's just a matter of time and age.

The truth is that if Daya wants to pursue dance seriously, she has to toughen up emotionally.  So that's how I approach this stuff.  In that world, no one cares how you feel.  Seriously, no one cares.  People get moved all the time.  They get roles, they don't get roles, they get rejected, they have a role then lose it... that's what she is signing up for as a dancer.  You don't get to have an "off" day when performing. You don't get the luxury of emotion affecting performance.  Add a good amount of physical pain into that, and that's what being a dancer is about.

The irony is that if she was in Ms Shauna's place she would be exactly like Ms Shauna.

There is a lot of cool stuff happening this month, so I hope Daya's legs stop hurting (she has to get through class tonight as well) and her mind flips around to better thoughts.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Number Four

Well, Daya killed another pair of pointe shoes, and she needed a fitting. So we went over to Bloch because she wanted to switch brands.

It's a nice store and they spent a lot of time with her.  Dancers know their shoes and I just stay out of it because it isn't my thing- and I'm clueless about it.  I understand it though, because I'm like that with paint.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Figure Drawing

I went back to figure drawing, finally.

Starting up again has always been a goal of mine through all of Daya's too-young years. And then it has been a matter of money, as it is $20 to go and that can add up fast. But anyhow I'm making it work out and it was good to draw again.

 I love the versatility of simple tools... Charcoal. Graphite. Conte. Getting back to life drawing is something I just really need to do. I wish I hadn't had to take such a long break but there's nothing I can do about it.

I was a little late so missed the warm-up poses, and I am so rusty...really out of practice. But my last 2 drawings are ok enough I guess. I need a lot of practice. Next time I go I'm taking my Derwent XL Charcoal blocks!!

Friday, April 27, 2018

My Idea of Hell

Daya lost a hairpiece for dance...her duet.  And it is a hard one to match color-wise.
We both felt awful, so I told her teacher I'll go look for something in the Garment District- which is where the original hairpiece came from- since I'm over there all the time anyhow.

On an intellectual level, I understand there are a lot of people whose idea of heaven would be going through every shop in the Garment District looking at fabric and buttons and brooches and ribbons and appliques and trimmngs and sequins and God knows what else.  All the things one could possibly need for their creative fabric endeavors.

I understand people come from all over the world to do this; I have seen them.  They look happy, excited, in sewing/fabric/things-fabricky-heaven.

Since I am deathly allergic to anything sewing and fabric related, I am NOT one of these people. Thus, it is a sad fact that I don't really appreciate the Garment District. At all.

Which is why the 2 1/2 hours I spent yesterday combing through every single trimmings store- the big ones and the holes in the wall- was sheer hell. I went to easily 10 or 11 places before I stopped.  Ms Victoria said she found it somewhere in a bin in a hole-in-the-wall shop...she *thinks*.

This is what I found:

I have no idea what the old one looked like, and I just had a really blurry picture to go off, and her teacher's guidelines.  So after texting Ms Victoria, I bought 2 of these for her to see in person...and she thinks they are the same one and they will work!

I am so relieved I don't have to go pack and go through bins and bins of appliques again!

Monday, April 23, 2018


Competition was this past weekend...again. We were there Saturday and Sunday.
Everyone did a great job, it's very difficult to do what they do.  I'm proud of Daya and I'm proud of the whole team.

There are some very notable differences between our studio and some others that were there.....while we do compete, our studio isn't about getting trophies (even though we get a ton of them). It isn't the Studio of Egotistical Awards.  I love the studio so much.... it is run by people who care about people and dance as an art.  The teachers also are very careful to not have the kids dancing in inappropriate costumes/songs/choreography, which we see a LOT at competition.  Even our kids have commented about other studios' numbers being really inappropriate! I have seen some nauseating things at competition. And a lot of it is cheesy and silly to be honest.

What isn't cheesy or silly is the stage experience and the judges' critiques, which are important.
And it is fun for the kids, so it is worth going to, once or twice a year.

The parents aren't insane either.... we are of course supportive and proud of our kids, but I don't think any of us qualifies for Obnoxious Dance Mom.  Thank goodness. I wouldn't have Daya in a studio like that anyhow.

And we saw some really obnoxious people, and there was some extremely not-cool behavior towards us from other studios- backstage and in the stuff/waiting/changing area.

These moms come in with huge trunks that open into portable wardrobes.  I call them wardrobe forts.
They bring changing tents. (we used jackets and a couple of moms holding a bedsheet)

These dance moms are mean, entitled, snobbish, and their entire identity is their daughter's dancing.  A group of them literally started setting up at our studio's table as if we weren't even there.  Their kids are mean backstage too. One mom had a jacket with...I forgot the kid's name so I'll invent a name... TANYA'S MOM in big letters on the back.  I'm not kidding.

I told Daya I need a jacket that says DAYA'S MOM in huge letters so I, too, can be a good dance mom.  She was appalled, rightly so.

If I ever did something like that I think Daya would move out.

Invading Studio's
Wardrobe Fort in a Trunk

Well anyhow, two dances were invited to compete in August for an invitation-only event for highest scoring numbers only.  Daya was in both those dances.  I'm not sure yet if we are going, still waiting for everything to be figured out.

Daya and Ms Victoria

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Things that Take Time

I'm still going through the sadness of loss, and there is nothing for it but time.
I still just need time and space. There isn't anything to talk about, and I don't want to talk.
There isn't anything to do either, except to know things have been much worse and keep doing the things that I do. My dreams are usually bad now, but hopefully that will pass too, in time.  I'm taking it slow, allowing, and giving it space.

I have my next Topiary Cats series.  It is a very good one.  My easel is all set up, I even have the ideal paper ready to go, I just haven't been able to start yet.  I could keep doing these forever probably, or as long as the ideas keep coming. And they don't seem to be stopping.

Stefan Baumann has been hugely inspirational to me. I listen to him a lot. He is good for me.
I have a lot of growing to do, and I'm so slowed down artistically by circumstance but at least I'm working, I never gave it up.

I also took almost all the paintings off my walls and retired them. By that I mean I literally took over 100 paintings off my walls.  The bare walls looked strange.  This past weekend I put the stack of new work up that has been sitting on my drawing table.  But there is still a lot of empty space on my walls, and that is ok, I'll just put new work up there to fill it.

Today I also decided to get back to figure drawing.  Drawing New York has regular sessions, and l'll start going.  They are a good group- I have been out with them a couple of times before.  Plein air is great but I feel unbalanced without figure work.  I miss it terribly.  It has always been a goal of mine to get back to it once Daya was old enough.  And I have a lot of time while she is in dance.  Plus I need to get out and do something around other people. I need to force that into my life.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Topiary Cats: The Gravity Towers

I started this series at the end of December. There are two of them I was unsure of and was going to re-work a bit, but then I decided to leave them as they are. Originally I wanted to name the series Jenga Towers, and I submitted a use form to Hasbro, but the first response was a corporate runaround so I decided not to bother.

All are 8x10 pastel on Richeson sanded paper.

Artist Blocks

Sky Blooms

Moon Pool

Glass Tower

Falling Dust

"What Should We Do?"
(Return of the Venus Fly Cats)

Ice Float