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Title: Soaking Up The Sun

Oil on Canvas 18 x 24 x 1.5" 


When I was a kid my Great Aunt Hazel, my grandma's sister, had this awesome chair, I called it "the cage" it had lots of bars and it curled around and kind of locked me in and I'd ask to be put into it and sit at the table and face right out this very window. I knew when I set up this painting that this was the view I wanted to paint. The distant fall trees are how I remember them, the wood and trim are all from my memory. 


I got some daisies for reference. I knew I wanted daisies because they're my mom's favorite flower and Mother's day was upon us when I started this one. I put them in an old kombucha bottle. Kombucha is basically vinegar, and Aunt Hazel's house smelled like vinegar because she canned everything, so that seemed right. 


Hazel was sharp like vinegar and had a bit of a bite to her. We were all terrified of her, even my full-grown uncles grabbed their beers and moved slowly away, mumbling about things to do when they saw her station wagon shooting up a rooster tail of dust. But she was our glue. 


I honestly should've seen it at that point. The daisies = mom. The chair = me. The vinegar bottle = Aunt Hazel. But I didn't see grandma so I wasn't getting it yet. It took until the final brush strokes to dawn on me. And for me to realize that 3 women raised me if I'm honest, not one. 


So I just kept working, oblivious to this unconscious subtext. I have this rough-hewned table top here that I made years ago that works great for these still-life surfaces. I have tons of light-filled windows here that serve well for these setups. I set up the individual items on the tabletop to get the light and shadows accurate, but a lot of this is one is painted from memory. I paint till it feels right. Till it feels like how I remember it. Even if I've never exactly been there. This is Hazel's kitchen but not exactly, it's like a dream of Hazel's kitchen. That's how a lot of these paintings are for me.


I was busy focusing on the obvious "rules" or if not the rules of painting, the guidelines at least. There were quite a lot of tangents I was struggling with on this one, Not unusual with still life. I just focused on the things I could control, the things that were right in front of my face. Value, drawing, composition, temperature, perspective. All those things that get away from you so quickly.


Then there's the narrative to think about. My neighbor Tom stopped by and we had a chat about the story and he was asking why not center the chair and the water glass? Why not make the sky a brighter blue? Well... tension. For one thing. Composition. For another thing. Narrative. Another. Color Perspective Accuracy is another. Too bright a blue and it'll flatten the painting and it'll look amateurish but that's another lesson altogether. It can also darken it which will weaken your composition. There's a lot to think about. We talked about the story for a while. Like where's the chair that's on this side of the table looking out the window? Nobody has one chair. It's probably there, just out of our view. Whose water glass? Did someone just come in from outside picking those flowers and they were hot and they set their glass down? Or what? The chair, like most things in the room you're sitting in right now, are quite possibly unrelated to current events. Or are they? Maybe it's just an observer. 


If I set up the painting where I put everything in the center with a perfectly blue sky it would get boring to look at in no time. Asymetry adds to the composition but it adds to the narrative. I don't know exactly what the story is. Everyone puzzles out their own story but it adds interest. You can see a different story every time you look at it. I try to add tons of color and dynamic brush strokes to keep them interesting as well. I add and take away elements to make the composition a strong foundation. I build on the values, brushstrokes, and warm and cool colors to do the same thing. All in hopes of adding interest and moving the painting to a more interesting place visually. So while I was focused on all of these so-called rules, this other "motherly" unconscious narrative was unfolding. It's honestly one of my favorite things about the process of painting. I had told my brain it was a Mother's day painting and it did the rest.


The daisies were the focus, this was about Mom, it was Mother's day. But I didn't want any color that would pull focus away, so I thought maybe a glass of water. The first glass was all wrong. It was too short and heavy, it didn't have ice. It didn't feel "right" somehow. I made it thinner and moved it away from the Kombucha bottle a bit. That worked. 


When I stepped back and looked at the painting I got tears in my eyes. I realized that I'd painted a Mother's Day painting more than I'd even meant to. All three of my moms were in there. For the first five years of my life, these three women raised me. 


My mother went back to school to get her Bachelor's degree when I was a baby so she could become a teacher. And then years later when I was in junior high, I watched my younger brother and helped make family meals so she could go back and get her Master's. She took me to class with her a few times. I got my BFA from the same college. 


My grandma and Aunt Hazel were the ones who raised me during those early years when mom went back to school. Both of them also have higher degrees so they encouraged her and supported her decision. My Aunt Hazel was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Michigan. My grandmother always worked and raised my mom on her own as a single mother in the 40s. I always knew that couldn't have been easy during World War II, and I took strength from her strength. 


I've always said that my still life is portraiture. That's how I look at it. Sometimes it's a portrait of an object. It isn't always symbolic of people, but sometimes it is. This time it is, even though I didn't plan it. My mother always says that she couldn't have done it without those two iconic women. And the way I accidentally represented all three of them here, and even myself as the chair in the shadows watching them, awed by them and frankly staying the hell out of their way, is so accurate it shocked me when I noticed it. I love it when that happens in my art. I remember, even as a child being inspired and empowered by them all. How could you not be?

Daisies in a Sunny Window

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