Collections Review 2018 Part 3: From Reference Photo

This is part 3 of 3 posts showcasing the 33 artworks that entered collections of friends, family and art-lovers this 2018. These twelve drawings and paintings included here were completed from reference photos, most of which were taken by me. Thanks and onto the Collection Review!


I loved the expansive landscape of Sacramento Valley as viewed from the window of the San Joaquins train. The descending horizontal layers of clouds, horizon, distant mountains and grass struck me with awe and I aimed to capture just one moment of many in California.

Sacramento Valley 8x10” acrylic on bristol 2017


The pine barrens in New Jersey is one of my favorite places. I wanted to capture the diamond shaped bark of the pines with horizontal branches and the roots winding around above the sandy path.

Batsto Roots 7x12” acrylic on paper 2017


I visited Montauk by myself in early Autumn to take pictures for this landscape painting for a friend. The narrow cliffs contrasted with the expansive ocean, and when I visited, the Army Corps of Engineers had just completed a sandbagging the dunes to protect the shoreline. I was struck by the crumbling dunes and fallen sand fencing and aimed to capture the beauty of pale native Montauk sand cascading down the orange imported sand by the Army Corps.  

Sand Crumbling, Montauk 36x48” acrylic on canvas 2017


When I walk through Haddonfield I see a little cement bulldog in front of a few houses scattered around town. I love the bumpy facial folds and the greenish tinge of time left on the surface from years of outdoor exposure. The tiny sculpture is a relic of past times and families who have lived in this town for generation display it proudly at porches and entryways. This painting shows a noble and stubborn dog with a red sheer bow tied around the neck. The painting is a present to a very special multi-generation Haddonfield woman turning 40! 

Haddonfield Bulldog 8x8” acrylic on bristol 2018


The shifting edge of the Montauk cliff juts out towards the incoming cool, bright ocean. The moments right before dawn bring warm tones to the beach, but leave soft shadows. Montauk is nicknamed “the end” and I was struck that, at the right position, the land appears to be engulfed by waves. I wanted to represent the shifting of the coastline by blurring the lines of the scene.

Cool Montauk Cliff 18x20” acrylic on board 2016


Iconic are San Francisco’s cliffs and boulders littering the coast of Ocean Beach. I loved the way the boulders seemed to build up on themselves vertically from the base as the sunset created fluorescent pink skies and lime green earth.

Ocean Beach San Francisco 6x8” acrylic on clayboard 2017


The propellers on the nose of a bomber give the plane momentum to move forward and then fly. In this painting, the propellers of this World War II bomber airplane are cropped out, leaving the painted face baring teeth.

Bomber 10x10” Acrylic on paper 2018


Walking through the Pine Barrens in New Jersey in Spring on an overcast day is reflective, both in mood and on the sandy path.

Batsto Path 6x6” charcoal and conte on strathmore 2017


The grass and rocks form a detailed base to this autumn moment at dusk in Montauk. The bay reflects the cool light from the sky. I was drawn to the light/dark horizontal pattern set by sky, land, water and land.

Duryeas Sunset Montauk 20x16” acrylic on canvas 2016


An American flag blows against a backdrop of pink clouds and blue sky. The flag pole juts out from the lower left corner at an angle as the sunlit clouds open up above it; America the beautiful.

American Flag 12.25x9.5” Acrylic on paper 2018


This is a sunset across Montauk Bay on a clear, still night. I was interested in creating the sense of looking past the horizon and represented the slight gradations of color above the shadowed land. Bright yellow and light purple take the place of sky and water, both of which are painted on top of deeper hues- a sense of the darkness to come.

Montauk Bay Sunset 8x10” acrylic on canvas 2016


The Merced River curves through a line of large evergreen trees in this acrylic painting. The mist from the morning rain partially obstructs the mountains that make Yosemite National Park iconic. I was drawn to the cool tones and subtle shadows cast on the water and sandy bank.

Yosemite Mist 20x16” acrylic on canvas 2018

Collections Review 2018 Part 2: From Life

This is part 2 of 3 posts showcasing the 33 artworks that entered collections of friends, family and art-lovers this 2018. These eleven drawings and paintings included here were completed in one or two sittings from life, not reference photos. Thanks and onto the Collection Review! 


A section of Philadelphia as viewed from the Franklin Institute Steps one hot August day. The vertical buildings dwarf the trees and reflect on each other’s shiny surface. I’m interested in capturing moments out in the city right on the spot.

Franklin Institute Steps 12x16” acrylic on board 2018


Within a contained square in front of an ocean sunset, a dramatically lit wiffle ball sits in front of a horizontal orange band and below a white arch, as a yellow line drives from the bottom of the page to the shadow of the ball. I was interested in  by my son’s growth into adolescence and out of boyhood toys.

Wiffle Ball Sunset 7x10” acrylic on paper 2018


This landscape was painted at Cooper River Park in Collingswood as a demonstration for my students. I use black and white paint on a grey ground to organize the big shapes and apply color on top afterwards. It was an overcast day and the cool colors seemed muted.

Cooper River Park Plein Air 9x12” acrylic on bristol 2018


On a bright, clear day in New Hampshire I set up my pochade box in the shade on cabin one’s deck to capture the scene in front me me. Going to the lake is always a time of relaxation and quiet moments and I aimed to capture that sentiment.

Cabin Two 5x5” acrylic on aquaboard 2018


The light blue sky poked through the trees above cabin one and two. I was interested in capturing the anticipation of sailing the sunfish on the lake and the serene moments of New Hampshire lake life.

Cabins With Sunfish 8x6” acrylic on clayboard 2018


Sunlight streams at an angle at midday in early Spring, and I aimed to capture it hitting daffodils in my backyard garden. I was attracted to the light illuminating the pedals against the dark shadow of the fence, which meet the vertical bands of light between the fence.

Sunlit Daffodils 12x12” charcoal on strathmore 2018


The orange tones of the shiny brass stand out from the forest green backdrop while a deep blue vase showcases bright yellow flowers above. This oil painting is part of an effort to experiment with oil paint and represents a traditional still-life.

Brass Teapot and Flowers 8x6” oil on panel 2018


Lime green and magenta curve through the leaves of the queen secretia heart clipping placed in a water jug against a baby blue backdrop. Created in response to the US deregulation of environmental standards, this painting is part of a houseplant series which are little meditations on how important our environment is to our lives. Plants add beauty and remove toxins and carbon from the air. 

Wandering 5x5” acrylic on aquaboard 2018


Sunlight streams through checkered curtains above three succulent plants in a wooden box on the window sill, as captured one day in my studio. I was interested in capturing the warm glow entering through the window that the plants and the artist look forward to.

Studio Plants 5x5” acrylic on panel 2018


Dusk is usually quiet on the dock, and nothing is better than observing the warm band on the horizon reflected in the clouds and the lake. I like to work quickly but deliberately when painting outdoors, and acrylic paint on slick clayboard did the trick.

Sunset Winnisquam 6x8” acrylic on clayboard 2017


Lines from the tablecloth run up from the bottom of the painting and point to bright pink flowers in a blue vase. I love how light that shines directly on a surface pops- on the vase, the pedals of the roses, and even the reflection off the floor molding. 

Rose Perch 12x9” Acrylic on bristol 2017

Collection Review 2018- Part 1: Portraits

This is part 1 of 3 posts showcasing the 33 artworks that entered collections of friends, family and art-lovers this 2018. The ten paintings included here are portraits painted of people or animals from reference photographs I took or provided by the client. Thanks and onto the Collection Review! 

Shalom  10x8” acrylic on canvas 2018


A dark green background with a hint of red underpainting frames the smiling figure. Shalom’s arms are crossed across his white suit as he gazes as the viewer smiling. I was interested in playing with complementary colors and framing, and I aimed to accentuate the white hair/suit connection.

Bam Bib Baby 12x12” acrylic on canvas 2017


The baby stares directly at the viewer with her arms out to her sides, as babies tend to do, but I cropped the curled fist in the lower left corner. The bib says, “I love clean air,” which was not in the original reference photograph but was ad libbed as a statement against the US administration’s stance on coal energy.

Graham 10x10” acrylic on canvas 2017


This portrait portrays a chubby faced toddler in the car seat holding a stuffed animal. I was interested in playing with both warm and cool hues of the primary colors to depict how the cool light coming from the window played on one side of his face as the warm car light hit the other side. 

Kyle 10x10” acrylic on canvas 2017


This frontal facial portrait is sharpest at the area of focus, the eyes and nose, and gradually soften to the ears. I was interested in capturing a moment of pleasant connection.

Saleh 16x12” acrylic on canvas 2018


In this three-quarter portrait a man in a suit gazes at the viewer while standing in front a low wall overlooking the city of Jerusalem in darkness. The flash used in the reference photograph illuminates figure with a slight silhouette. I was interested in capturing the proud man before the city.

Nude Bath 20x16” acrylic on canvas 2016


A lone female washes nude in the shallows of a lake at dusk. A quiet moment with small vertical brushstrokes representing the slight movements of the water and sky.

Singing Girl 5x7” acrylic on paper 2018


This young girl squats and slightly leans forward towards the fire poker she uses as a microphone. Her stage is the fireplace, her costume is a blue leotard and the playful scene is complete with white jellies on her feet.

Brown Chicken 10x8” oil on canvas 2018


This chicken portrait is a three-quarter turn bust with a solid bright yellow background. When taking a video of the group this chicken pushed her way over to me. I was impressed by the eagle-like stare and flowing feathers. I chose to capture the moment she searched me for signs of a treat, which I did not have.

Black Chicken 8x10” oil on canvas 2018


The profile of this black feathered chicken is set against a lime green background. The eye is pointed to the viewer while the lower body and tail trail off the canvas. I aimed to capture the curious and open nature of this pet, since she sang gently and stayed interested even though I did not have a treat to give.

Grandmom at Mom’s Wedding 3.5x2.5” oval, acrylic on paper 2018


This tiny portrait was painted to be placed in a floral antique frame and given as a Christmas gift. The reference photo was taken from a group shot of my smiling young grandmom posing with my parents on their wedding day. I wanted to capture her joy, as well as her signature wig.

Community Arts Center Exhibition and Collaborative Fellowship 2018

Two years ago I set out to paint realistically. I knew I had to create many, many paintings to build my skill, so I decided to choose a subject that was meaningful to me. So I chose my family.


Tree portrait is the third portrait I painted but it was the first I thought had accurate proportions and believable facial coloration representing both the five o’clock shadow and cheek skin-tone.

detail of Tree Portrait

Within the fellowship exhibit titled Imaginarium, my aim of many of the portraits was to focus on accuracy of line, proportion and colors. In the process I started to experiment with introducing emotions in the sitter [blog discussing my choice to favor one emotion over another], such as Mom (8x10 inch), my toddler son in Cautious Curiosity (10x8 inch), Michelle Love (16x12 inch) and most of the charcoal portrait drawings, such as My Love (18x12 inch), Grandmom in Kitchen With Flowers (24x20 inch) and Mom (8x10 inch).

I needed more photos, especially photos to use as reference. I went to my parents house to look through the physical family albums. I started taking pictures with my phone of the photos that I thought were interesting. World’s Dad (10x10 inch) is one example. The dotted design on the side edge of the album page is in the painting as is the light reflecting off the plastic. I liked how this reflection created a distance between the person in the portrait and the viewer.

Cabbage Patch Smile which includes the reflection off the plastic album page.

Cabbage Patch Smile (20x16 inch) has the same feel. It is a painting of my brother one Christmas morning. The reflection of the light off the plastic left me with a dream-like impression. That works because I don’t remember that specific Christmas morning but it still seems to bring back memories.

Some of the other portraits in this exhibit are less about the person and more about an idea, such as Bam Bib Baby (10x10 inch). This is a portrait of my niece but I added a message on her bib which is a reflection on the current administration’s aim to bring coal production back in the US.

In addition, I am. I am. An Artifact of Prior Races (14x11 inch) is the title of a painting with two photographs of my family. The black and white photograph is of my great grandmother and her children and the other is of my son as a baby lying on a blanket. The title is a reference to a passage in Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree I was reading towards the end of painting this series. The passage, which ends with this phrase, reminded me a lot of what I am doing in painting this family album.

I am. I am. An Artifact of Prior Races painting on the left.

High Seas Navigator (24x36 inch) also tells a story. The painting includes my son dressed up as a ship captain holding a Fisher Price telescope in one hand and world map in the other. He’s standing in front of a window with a coastal scene on one side and a wall with a drawing he actually created of Battleship NJ above a house. This painting acknowledges my fear of being a parent in an age of sea level rise.

The last portrait drawing in this series was created from a grainy black and white photograph of my grandmother holding my mom in front of their Westville house in the 1950s. I kept the simple value structure for the composition but switched the faces to mine and my son Eli as a baby. I did feel a bit like a 50s wife while my son was young. I did all the housework, cooking, babycare. It was the absolute best and most challenging experience of my life.

Self-Portrait with Eli (via 50s photograph of grandmom and mom)

The last portrait that I painted for the Imaginarium exhibit was Dadda Sleepin (12x16 inch), which shows my husband in the first years of fatherhood and law school. It is painted in oil instead of acrylic. Acrylic paint is fantastic, but this upcoming year I’ll be working more in oil paint. I’ll also work less from photographic reference and more from life.

Dadda Sleepin


The second part of the Fellowship is a collaborative project which I ran with the Spree campers. It’s based on the idea that people in portrait paintings are in a space or an environment, and the objects included in that space helps to tell a story. Spree campers, pre-k through 6th grade worked together to create a diorama of the CAC. They set the scene, created the characters, in the form of self-portrait mobiles, and included objects that help to tell a story about their experience and feelings of the Community Arts Center.

Each class, seven in total, were introduced to the the project by meeting in the Duke Gallery to discuss the exhibit of my portrait paintings. We silently walked around as a group to view the exhibit. Each camper was asked to stand in front of the painting they wanted to talk about and whichever painting had the most campers in front of it, I used Visual Thinking Strategies to help the campers tell the story.

Just as the portraits in the exhibit tell a story, each Spree camper added to the diorama to tell their story of the Community Arts Center. Campers were introduced to a variety of open-ended materials that created the space and objects of the CAC. The result is a testament to the camper’s active involvement in the many treasures in the gallery and garden to which the campers feel a connection.

I’m very grateful to have been selected for this fellowship. Thank you to Paul Downie and Tracy Buchanan and everyone at CAC for offering this interesting fellowship and for selecting me. I want to thank my wonderful husband and critique-helper son who have supported me through the process.

Imaginarium and “You and Me at the CAC” diorama will be on view in the Duke Gallery at the Community Arts Center until Friday, July 20, 2018. Gallery hours are 9am-7:30pm Monday through Friday and 10am to 2pm Saturday. 414 Plush Mill Road Wallingford, PA 19086.

Painting Family With a Story

A new opportunity has sparked a change with how I think about and paint my family portraits. Let me give some context. This Summer 2018 I’ll be participating in the Collaboration and Exhibition Fellowship at the Community Art Center in Wallingford, PA alongside Philadelphia printmaker and teaching artist Martha Knox

Half of the Fellow’s responsibility is to mount an exhibition in the 3000 square foot Duke gallery that will be referenced by the campers throughout the Summer. The other half of the Fellowship is to design and run a collaborative project with the Summer Spree Visual Art campers that is linked to the artist’s exhibit. This will be the second official Summer for this fellowship, although there was a piloted version with Gregory Brellochs in 2016. Last year’s fellows, Jessica Eldredge and Carol Gannon, designed projects based on the theme “Metamorphosis” that dealt with the idea of the shifting appearance of paper through dyeing and collage and paper-making respectively. The theme and collaborative project I have planned will the subject of a future blog post. This post is focused on the progression from representing the figure in portraits to representing an idea.

Adolescent Freedom 10x10” acrylic on canvas (2017)

Grandmom in Kitchen with Flowers 24x30” acrylic on canvas (2016)

Mom 8x10” acrylic on canvas (2016)

On the whole, to fill the 1500 square foot wall space with a cohesive show, I knew I needed more portraits, a few of which are pictured above. When I applied for the fellowship I had ten portraits in the family portrait series and knew I could complete the remaining ten paintings and five drawings by the deadline. Previous to committing to exhibit 25 portraits by June, I had set out to depict the figure accurately so as to learn how to manipulate acrylic paint. 

Painting is a skill that can be learned, and when I started painting with focus in 2016, I didn’t know how to mix colors that could represent all the subtle planar shifts of the face. In fact, I had no sustained formal artistic training. My artistic background is a lifetime of amateur, do-it-yourself activities in all forms, from sculpture to sewing to baking. I was a creator of things in pretty equal measure pretty consistently, and became a generalist of sorts. In fact, in college I graduated with an Art History degree which is a generalist’s heaven. Most subjects are touched upon when considering art movements of the past- religion, math, science, sociology, psychology, history, art, etc- albeit in a more shallow form than if each subject is studied in depth. If I wanted to paint realistically I had to study in depth and focus systematically on learning the skills to paint.

First portrait in February 2016 of Eli as a toddler. I knew I had some work to do to improve my skills.

Back in 2016 I started painting. The first portrait I chose to make was that of my son Eli as a toddler, picture above. The photograph is appealing to me because his chubby face is pointed toward the viewer while his eyes are focused on something behind us. The sun is shining directly on his face and his cheeks and mouth are slightly raised in a squint but his eyes are clear from shadow and shine light brown. The painting I completed did not capture any of these interesting qualities besides the averted gaze. As a result I painted many portraits and landscapes to improve my skills. I painted what I saw, systematically mixing paint each time I made my palette, looking actively at the relationships of line, value and color. I visited museums to study great paintings. 

Photo reference for Cautious Curiosity

Cautious Curiosity 10x8” acrylic on canvas 2018

Then this January, two years after the first portrait, I felt content that I could reliably get the results I was after. Coincidentally the painting that aroused this confidence was another toddler portrait of my son, titled Cautious Curiosity, pictured above. The skin tone is natural and is set against a solid complementary blue background. Select key areas of the face such as the nose, lips and the right eye are painted in sharp focus while the less important areas of the cheek and hair are fuzzy. For the painting, I was drawn to the hands perched against the turnstile while his face is alert and engaged in that direction. The boy is not in a rush to enter but appears to be taking in the scene. My mood influenced the facial expression in the painting. I was listening to political and history podcasts that deal with current events while painting this portrait. As a result I notice more anxiety in the painted boy’s features than the photograph. The eyebrows are bit more raised and the eyes a little more open. Yet I welcomed these changes and decided to exploit this new direction in the remaining paintings needed for the exhibit.

Photo reference for Grandparent portrait

Work-in-progress shot of Big Grandmom and Grandpop in front of Yosemite Falls 12x12” acrylic on canvas 2018

Because of the fellowship deadline, I have planned out a dozen or so portraits ahead of time. I’d like to express specific emotions in the figure of the portrait, as in Cautious Curiosity, or to prepare ahead of time any additions and changes, as in the portrait of my grandparents pictured above. In this painting they are taken from the white corner they occupy in the photograph and placed in front of Yosemite Falls, a place Eli and I visited last Spring and that is one of many National Parks marked for federal funding cuts. Surely I substituted the Georgia Tech lettering on my grandfather’s sweatshirt and inserted National Parks with the emblem in the center. Now, this portrait represents my smiling grandparents while at the same time creating context to their joy- which I have decided will be from experiencing the wonders of nature together.

As a result of this exhibit, I’m working on a dozen portraits and all have a figure removed from the original time and space of the photograph to make a statement. I’m still experimenting with the boundaries of this, and I’m having lots of fun in the process. How does the Oscar Wilde quote go? “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.” I may be trying to toy with this idea.

The ViewMaster 12x9” acrylic on paper 2018

December Art Challenge

The last month of 2017 brought an impromptu art challenge that was so exciting to work through and that pushed me to produce work I’m proud of. The ten day challenge: one acrylic painting in one session without using any black paint. You know what? I painted eleven.

Sometimes when I get stuck I create a challenge. In November I noticed I didn’t go into the studio to paint as often as I would like. Partially finished paintings lined the studio walls and I was not doing much to finish them. Some paintings are almost finished, such as two portraits (Mom with Cindy and Curiosity, Eli Toddler) and a landscape (Yosemite Mountain Mist). It’s always easier to pick up the brush and start to paint if the day before I’ve painted some. So, I primed some bristol board with tinted gesso paint, created a sharp edge with painter’s tape, and got to work. Below are paintings of Maine rocks and shell and the photo of the porch at Lake Winnisquam.

Square: Maine Rocks and Shell 12”x9”

Winnisquam Porch View Dusk 7.5”x11”

I completed six landscapes. I’ve been fortunate to visit some spectacular places this year, and I took a few photos with the aim to explore the location further with paint. One photo I turned into a painting is from a trip to Yosemite National Park in California with my son this past April. While we hiked I was struck by the dramatic elevation of mountains surrounding the valley. We were especially interested in the force of Yosemite Falls and the greenish water rushing over the rocks of the Merced River. There are many more photos in the queue to paint, but I’m glad I completed Yosemite Falls, Barclay Farms at Sunset, a pile of pipes at Margate Beach, a view of the porch at Lake Winnisquam in New Hampshire, Brigantine Beach sunset, the first snowfall in the farmlands of southern NJ, and Sacramento Valley as seen from the train. 

Yosemite Falls 11”x8.5

Tipping Point (Barclay Farms) 7.5”x11.5

Margate Piping 9”x12”

Brigantine Sunset Beach 8.5”x11”

FIrst Snow 2017 Farms SJ 9”x12”

Sacramento Valley Train Ride View 9”x12”

Since the plan was to complete each painting in one session, the still-life setup included a tablecloth or a cloth napkin that I love. I chose a few festive objects to put with it, like the Hanukkah jelly doughnut I was ready to eat, to keep it timely. Painting from life, as opposed to from a reference photo, offers more variations of colors and gradations in value- I’m always surprised. Life painting is something I will develop further in my painting. 

Hanukkah Roses and Tablecloth 12”x9”

Sufganiyot and Menorah 6”x8”

Jade 8”x8”

This painting exercise may not have lead to the completion of those almost finished canvas paintings I saw hanging in my studio. Instead, this challenge has allowed me to work with paint without thinking too much about the end result. I felt like each painting was an experiment and when I finished it it felt done. I learned that thick paint can highlight sections, and that sketches of thin paint in the base layer work when left untouched on the finished painting. Working without any pressure is necessary when pushing the boundaries of knowledge, which is what I’m doing each time I set down to paint. This painting challenge got me back into the studio and re-energized my love of solving the problem of how to create recognizable scenes with paint.

Holiday Art Sale Success

December is holiday season and marks the end of a year and the longest of nights- but this December also ushered in my first Holiday Painting Sale! I’m so glad that each special painting is in a good home. I’ll say a few words farewell to each of them! 

OCNJ Dunes 2017  9”x12”

The dune grasses in Ocean City, NJ were healthy on the cloudless day I set down to paint outdoors. The bright sun reflected back and the sand appeared stark white. I am drawn to the contrasts in nature, and I love how the smooth, bright sand contrasted with the textures in the dark grasses. Painted entirely on location, 28th Street Ocean City, New Jersey.

Lake Winninsquam Cabin 1  7.5”x11.5

When I think about New Hampshire I picture a lake with layers of mountains leading into the distance. Often the sky is bright blue and the clouds are stark white and puffy. I felt lucky to capture a photo of an overcast New Hampshire day with no rain. The whole landscape cools and shapes unify. Painted on location and from photo reference August 2017.

Margate Beach View 8.5”x11”

During sunset, the clouds and surrounding sky are often a rainbow of colors. On the beach in December the sun circles low before setting, and on this day warm pinks appeared at the horizon above the ocean. I am drawn to the contrasts in nature and loved how sections of the clouds were both almost black and white. Photo reference taken December 2017. Painting is part of a series in the December art challenge of one session paintings using no black paint.

Blue Trail Curve Delaware Water Gap 9”x6”

After hiking to the top of Mount Tammany in New Jersey, we started our descent down the blue trail. The trail is aptly named because on an overcast day the rocks lining the walkway appear light blue. I am drawn to contrasts in nature and I love how the rust-colored brush sits against the trail and the distant trees. Photo reference from October 2016 hike.

Clouds Above the Highway 11”x8.5

This past Summer, I captured many photos of isolated and bulbous clouds in the skies over NJ. In this painting a lone cloud hovers above the ground and appears to mimic the bend of the highway directly below it. I loved how the setting sun brought a rainbow of colors to surrounding sky. Painted from reference photo taken June 2017

Cooper River Park Sunset 8.5x11”

This sunset over Cooper River is close to where it meets the Delaware River. I love that the fleeting light left a rainbow of color to hover above the horizon and the sun’s rays to catch the clouds to create a set of spotlights to meet the heavens. Painted from reference photo taken June 2017.

OCNJ Sunrise 8”x8”

On this morning, the dawn light hit the beach at a low angle which illuminated some dune grasses. I’m drawn to contrasts and loved how the horizontal bands of sand, plants and clouds sit above the vertical sand fencing. Painted on location and from photo reference September 2017.

Garden Clippings 9”x12”

Nothing says calm to me like fresh herbs and flowers. In this painting, fragrant sage and wildflowers adorn a vase and a solo marigold flower rests in a ceramic dish my son made. I am drawn to contrasts and I loved how the colorful flowers, leaves and ceramic dish sat against the monochrome NY Review and table in the afternoon light. Painted from life June 2017.

RollerCoaster Politics + The Role of Art

A guest and Sonya Clark (right) during the performance of Unraveling, Saturday, 11.4.17. (c) Jenny Graham-Hougah

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts hosted a forum on Art and the Election 11.3.17. I was attracted to this artist talk because I, too, have been wondering “What is the role and responsibility of artists and art in helping a community process new realities?” This is the first line announcing the event, and it’s a real hook to artist in these tense political times. We’ve all been processing daily the new realities that a forceful administration throws into the public sphere and the divisiveness within our society this causes. Some Americans feel justified and protected that their concerns are being addressed. Others are horrified with the rhetoric and policy eliminations taking place in the oval office. Most people in the room that night was the latter. I sat taking notes so I could capture what these two artists - Sonya Clark and Amos Kennedy - had to say about how they came to make such meaningful artwork.

Brooke Davis introducing Art+the Election 11.3.17

Sonya Clark and Amos Kennedy talked for two hours with Brooke Davis Anderson- PAFA’s new director of the museum, and an audience of around fifty. Slides of both artists’ work currently on view at PAFA Museum flipped behind the speakers. Amos’s prints are overlapping posters with slogans of influential voices from the past, such as a poster with the word “NO” as said by Rosa Parks. Sonya Clark’s Unraveling is a partially deconstructed Confederate flag where the performance of unraveling the Confederate flag with visitors is the aim of the artwork. The mood was mellow and the artist shared their thoughts and feelings freely.

Amos Kennedy Posters in PAFA cafe. “I wanted the curators to put them up like the police were coming and they had to get out in a rush.” (c) Jenny Graham-Hougah

The takeaway for artists who want to raise awareness about current issues is to get others involved. Collaborate. Sonya Clark considers the Confederate flag a permanent monument that can’t be taken down like other the Confederate statues around the country. Sonya says the Confederate flag must be unraveled one thread at time. The power lies in working to unravel the flag with others. At first, she unraveled the entire weave of the flag in her studio so there were three piles of thread: red, white and blue. But since racism is a social problem, it can only be solved socially. Deep thoughts arise when people slow down and work side by side, and she noted psychologist Ben Warner’s research noting the power in bodies working side by side in a common goal. Amos adds never to give up to this sentiment.

The buzz I hear all the time is to paint what you know. Sonya and Amos use their training- textiles and printmaking respectively- to open a dialogue around racism in America. During questions, Sonia turned to Amos and said “we deal with racism everyday, everyday.” Sonia relayed a gripping story from her childhood at a DC amusement park riding The Rebel Yell. Amos gives voice to statements of the past so people today can discuss them. Sonia works to talk side by side with people while physically taking apart a symbol of racism. It seems from this talk the purpose of artists in these charged times is to engage people in a dialogue about controversial issues. Sonya Clark and Amos Kennedy have done so at PAFA this Fall and I’m grateful.

Guest and Sonya Clark at PAFA in Philadelphia unraveling Confederate flag one thread at a time. 11.4.17  (c) Jenny Graham-Hougah

Outdoor Painting Is Easy and Cheap

The magazine Plein Air Painting boasts of being the most circulated artist magazine in the world. At first I was shocked that Artforum or Art News, which publish articles about museum and contemporary gallery shows, did not lead the art publishing market. But now I totally understand why Plein Air Magazine leads the way. It’s totally accessible to everyone.

Painting outdoors on the beach <3

To be clear, plein air painting means painting outdoors.

I’ve recently started painting outdoors and it’s transformed the way I think about painting. Outdoor painting is different than painting a landscape in the studio with set lighting and all the time in the world. Painting outdoors means just that: bringing the paints, brushes and canvas outdoors and setting paint to canvas. 

But painting outdoors is easy and cheap and open to any age, any skill level and with minimal investment. Fancy brushes, easels and a variety of paint colors are not necessary to completing a compelling and interesting painting. 

“Thermal Expansion” 9x12” acrylic on paper, 2017. OCNJ outdoor painting, with Atlantic City on the horizon.

One painting set-up I’ve used is a wooden board with a nail as my easel and a shoe box lid lined with wax paper for palette. Honestly, it works just fine! 

Invest in two or three brushes of varying sizes and shapes as well as paint of the three primary colors plus black and white- and you’re out the door.

I let my own internal clock determine when I’ll go outdoors to paint. Each time of day brings it’s own shadows and shapes and each season shifts the colors in the landscape. I know one day I’ll get up at dawn to capture the brilliant colors of the sunrise. One day.

Sure, outdoor painting can begin simply by mixing paint and pushing it around the canvas to see what happens. This is a valuable experience to grow as an artist but does not consistently lead to a finished painting.

Pushing paint around without a plan at Cooper River Park in June. Great experience but leads to inconsistent results when painting outdoors.

To reliably make a finished outdoor painting, planning is necessary. There’s a process I use that can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour to prepare. 

It includes five steps: (1) Plan what large forms in the landscape to include, editing out information that would detract from the overall painting. (2) Draw a three or five value thumbnail. Value studies break shapes into light, middle tone, and dark regions. (3) Consider the focal point and composition of the canvas. (4) Complete an underpainting using the value study as a guide. (5) Add color to the underpainting. 



Adding color and details

I use this process for my own outdoor painting sessions and I teach this sequence in my classes. I love it because I won’t get lost in the details of the landscape or the changes of the outdoor environment. And at the same time I’m free to use my own vision and perspective to create a unique painting. Each time.

I still like my studio landscapes but now I’ve found a new, accessible way to advance my craft.

Downtown Montauk at Dusk, 8x8” acrylic on paper. Painted in my studio and not outdoors

An Extended Look

Practice makes better. That phrase gets me through the painting phase when each part of the painting doesn’t work and I’m totally frustrated. Each mark I make is a learning experience, and I know I can always paint over it. I figure by painting many portraits from photos I will improve my rendering of the form, be able to create a likeness faster, and learn the techniques of working with acrylic paint. But there’s another boon of using photographs as a reference for a portrait: I get to choose the expression.

I learned this fully when I painted my sister a few months back. I used a photograph I took when she was in high school or college, I don’t remember when exactly, but it was during that phase when you look at the world (or just your younger sister) with a “what are you doing! I’m mildly amused” expression. When I found this photo I took it out of the album and put it in the pile assembled in my studio. 

I started the portrait seeing and wanting to express one side of that sentiment: dismissal. I nearly finished it before putting the canvas into my closet. Months later I pulled it out and saw malice in the slightly raised eyebrows and upturn of the upper lip. That is not the direction I want to go in this portrait. I set to rework it and in a few days I transformed the portrait into a kind of exaggerated expression of love. I kind of liked how she is surrounded by hearts, even the shape of her lovely face is heart shaped, thanks to her widow’s peak. When I finished I compared the two portraits as I take photos as I work. The comparison is drastic, especially when viewed on either side of the original portrait. 

I’m so glad to have gone back to this painting. Every failure leads to gains, and, even if the final portrait isn’t a success, the realization that I can shift an expression so dramatically from one photograph is an epiphany. I’m excited to try telling stories in some of these portrait, using family photographs as a figure reference. I know I’ll be frustrated and question whether each decision is correct, but practice will make better.

Michelle 16x12” Acrylic on Canvas 2017 (c) Jenny L. Graham-Hougah

New Family Album

I’m creating a family album, but instead of photographs it’s of drawings.  I’ve been scrolling through my pictures and am picking out a select few that make the cut.  I just finished a portrait of my husband, and it’s a picture of him - he’s got his hand on his chin as he looks at me and smiles.  I remember when it was taken.  My son was sitting with me at a table in Maine and we were joking around when I got this shot of Ethan.

I’m most interested in that expression.  Yes I want it to look like him, but what I’m really interested in is that look of genuine happiness.  I love to remember these moments.

Detail of Eli

With my son it’s different.  I tend to be drawn to more contemplative, introspective pictures.  I guess I like to imagine him and his inner state.  My son’s at that age now when you take the camera out he’s got a smile painted on his face.  What I really want to do is figure out a way to connect the smile with the emotion.  I might just draw a few and see what happens.  :)

With the rest of my family it’s been fun searching.  I’ve taken lots of photos at family gatherings through the decades and there’s many photos that capture a picture-perfect smile.  I can pick those out right away.   But I’m on the look out for the let-the-guard down, expressive shots.  

mom, Acrylic on canvas, 8x10”

So I’m on the prowl for the four leaf clover in my photo storage.  I come back to these photos year after year and look hard at them.  We all have select photos like these.  Where the love and kindness and contentment of my loved ones shine.  Those are the images that I really want to capture and draw so I can have my own kind of family album.  

Charcoal Portraits: Commission Now For the Holidays

If you’re anything like me, your phone is filled photos.  I love capturing exciting events and intimate moments, and I smile when I look at these pictures.  But I rarely print any of my photos.  I’m changing all that by building a collection of portraits of the people I love, drawn from photos taken at special moments.  

My charcoal drawings highlight the person and eliminate the excess noise from the original picture.  Unlike professional photography, these drawings are tied to specific memories that are cherished and loved.  

Learn More Here

I use vine and willow charcoal sticks as well as black and white charcoal pencil on toned Strathmore 400 series paper.  Finished walnut frame with acid-free white mat and UV non-glare plexiglass with wire hanger attached available, so the portrait could arrive ready-to-hang.  (Frames through Brooklyn-based framer Art To Frame.) 

Project Trip: Montauk NY Dusk/Dawn

I was fortunate to visit Montauk NY to research for the series I’m currently working on: Dusk/Dawn.  Montauk is on the eastern tip of Long Island NY and is very pleasant in October.  The temperature is mild, the beaches are empty, and the plant-life is still in bloom.

Sketch from Shadmoor State Park on a beautiful October day. (c) Jenny L. Graham-Hougah

My time was well spent.  My trip consisted of getting to the beach before dawn to catch the beginning light until after sunrise, hiking around state parks, visiting beaches during the day, and observing the changes of the bay from sunset to dusk.  

Yellow Dawn Ocean, work-in-progress on the easel. (c) Jenny L.Graham-Hougah

The colors of dusk and dawn are these brilliant oranges and reds, light blues and violets, and super bright yellows.  This time of day is so great because these vibrant colors play on the surface of the water, clouds and surrounding land.  Just under that surface is the absence of all color.  

Bay Sunset Montauk 8x10” acrylic on canvas. (c) Jenny L. Graham-Hougah

I use palette knives of various sizes as well as large and small brushes to create these scenes.  Water and clouds are the most interesting to include because both constantly change with the shifting winds and the angled light. 

Studio Shot: paint and paintbrushes (c) Jenny L. Graham-Hougah

The process for this series starts with reviewing the photographs and sketches from the Montauk trip.  Then I develop color studies, sketches, under paintings and smaller works to gain a deeper understanding and ability to render this vibrant time of day.  The goal is to create a handful of larger canvases with scenes of dusk and dawn at Montauk, NY.  More to come!

On Becoming a Painter pt 2

I’ve been developing plans for a painting career, and in the process, I realize my life has changed since I’ve become a painter.  And I’m loving it.  Here’s just a few ways.

Visibility.  Sharing the artwork and the process via social media, struggles included.  I’ve relished in the community that sprouts up around the creative arts.  (See facebook and Instagram.)

Instagram feed

Painting.  Creating meaningful artwork in my own studio.  I’m drawn to the vulnerability and rawness in portraiture and am currently painting individual portraits of my family.  (See studio.)

Travel.  Visiting interesting art exhibits and museums.  Research in the visual arts, at least for me, includes at least 50% of looking and thinking about great art related to my particular goals.  (See Portrait Gallery and Whitney’s Human Interest).

Preferred means of travel: train

Exhibit. Sharing my artwork with the artist community.  I’m learning to put myself out there and create work for regional exhibits and competitions.  (See My First Three and Nude Figure)

Record.  Writing about and documenting my process helps me see where I’ve been, what I’m doing and where I’d like to go.  This has helped he me develop my vision and create meaningful goals.

Journals and laptop

Independence.  Scheduling a timeline to complete goals and projects.  Art journaling helps me focus on the whys and hows.  I grow and keep myself true to my individual plans and artistic dreams. 

Not the Usual Theme

I created a different type of portrait this time.

Morning Wash, acrylic on canvas, 20x16” 2016

Photograph by Albert Arthur Allen

This scene shares one moment in a secluded lake before dawn. I worked from a photograph because the relaxed pose of a live model would lack the inherent activity of bathing in the chill of morning.  For example, the woman’s shoulder blades push down her back and her hips push slightly forward as she reaches for her hair.  I selected a set of black and white figure studies from the 1920s by Albert Arthur Allen to work from, mainly because the woman’s spontaneous connection with nature lacks the sexualization that pervades much of contemporary nude photography.

Morning Wash was created for and submitted to Nude Figure Juried Exhibit at Wayne Art Center, October 19 - November 20, 2016.

Whitney Human Interest

This private museum’s portrait collection is something.  In the Whitney Museum of American Art’s description: 

“Drawn entirely from the Museum’s holdings, the more than two hundred works in the exhibition show changing approaches to portraiture from the early 1900s until today.”

Such a fun show.  Funky, dynamic and a joy to explore.  

From Whitney exhibition:

“Through their varied takes on the portrait, the artists represented in Human Interest raise provocative questions about who we are and how we perceive and commemorate others.”

My First Three

My first three juried shows opened me up to a whole new world of engagement within the arts.  In college, I was an art history major, not an artist.  I loved history and sociology and literature, and also sewing quilts, creating collages, and painting.  I never introduced myself as an artist. 

And aside from a few Women Caucus for Art group exhibits, I never showed my artwork publicly.  

That all changed with my involvement at Markeim, a local nonprofit art center in Haddonfield.  There I taught art classes for years and started helping more in the office.  Naturally when the question came to me in Fall 2015, “are you putting anything in the New Jersey Art Educator’s exhibit?” I answered sure.  

NJAE awards wall, Oct 2015

Mom’s support!

Mist, Acrylic on canvas, 11x14”

I received honorable mention for Mist (Juror Matthew Feinstein) and received some nice constructive feedback from coworkers and friends.  It was fun.

When Markeim’s 60th Anniversary exhibit came around with the inevitable question I created a spin on the “Diamonds Are Forever” title with my acrylic painting Minecraft is Forever. 

Diamonds Are Forever winners wall, December 2015

Mincraft is Forever, acrylic on canvas. 20x16”

I received 2nd place for Minecraft is Forever (Juror Sarah Diamond) and met interesting artists along the way.

Then I found an open call for the William Penn Charter Tricentennial Juried Exhibit. Many regional artists participate in this once-every-three-year show, and I wanted to be a part of it.  I gave Mist a second life at the show.  My takeaway was that some artists are professionals.  These artists have vision and share it visually.  They carve a space within their lives for being an artist.  Or at least that was my impression, and it hasn’t left me. 

As I grow in my newfound profession I continue to challenge myself by submitting to exhibits.  Some of my work might be accepted, and some not.  It’s an exciting time, full of challenges and opportunities.  I hope to keep learning from each one of them.


It’s got a south facing window, a large closet, a sink in the next room- and it’s all mine.  

I love having a studio to call my own!

current fav position

From a few months ago when I painted with long hair and studio lighting.

When I paint, all I need is a spot by the window- on the floor, a stool or standing.  I mix my paints on a 20x12” stained plywood- I use a warm and cool tone of each primary color plus black and white.  I go with the flow so I’m sure I’ll tweak my setup and process, but for right now- 100% content.

5 Qualities to Great Portraits

Sometimes I post about work I’m creating or my art development.  This bit of news shares some research from a gallery visit.

The entire National Portrait Gallery shocked me.  Before visiting the museum my idea of a portrait was a likeness of a person.  No big deal.  Just get the turn of the nose and the right shading around the eyes and it is an individual we can recognize. 

Waiting for it to open, June 2016

But after I left, portraits became a sort of portal into another person’s soul.  I know how strange that sounds.  But I spent all day alone with portraits where really talented artist were able to record more than just a person’s facade.  It’s like they were able to record a connection to someone’s situation or someone’s emotional state.  

I walked around the rooms like a kid at a water park - happy to invest the time for the thrill of a new experience.  Because it takes effort to gain appreciation in something.  The portraits tell an interesting story unique to each individual. What I found has changed the way I view my own portraiture process and the vision I have for each portrait I create.  

I’ve thought about the 2016 Outwin Competition and what makes the portraits in this exhibit so intimate.  Here are five reasons to describe why these portraits are more than mere representations to me. 

1. Connect with the Viewer

The sensation connecting with these portraits is like when you catch eyes with a stranger driving through a town you’ve never visited before. 

Jenny Miller by Claudia Bican. Graphite 2014.

John from De Puro Corazon series by Gasper Enriquez. Acrylic on paper. 2013.

detail Gilden Snowden in Her Detroit Studio by Donita Simpson. Pigment Print 2014.

Eugine #4 by Joel Daniel Phillips. Charcoal and Graphite 2014.

Sedrick, Sed, Daddy by Sedrick Huckaby. Oil on canvas 2014.

It doesn’t happen often.  The connection is the intimacy of strangers who are openly curious with no need hide how they’re feeling. None of these people are actors.  I get the sense that they are experiencing something, and that the artist valued it and was able to package it for us viewers to share in later.   

2. Details matter 

You don’t see much abstract handling of any of the figures in this show.  Each drawing, painting and photograph realistically depicts the figure, face, and surroundings.  Power shines through these portraits because the artist painstaking recorded the minute details of shadow, glare and everything in between.  Because it’s a package - a portrait, and it’s only as complete as the sum of all the parts.

Portrait #138 (David Hockney) by Brenda Zlamany. Oil on panel 2014

3. Subtly of Expression

Harvey and Teddy by Paul Oxborough. Oil on Linen 2014.

Agnes by Michael Meadows, 2013 Graphite

Johnny Jones by Marti Corn. Pigment Print 2013

There are no politicians in this exhibit.  The people here seem to be meeting us on their ground.  Thanks to the artist.  How the artist did this I can only guess.  Perhaps through observation, hard-work, and talent.

4. Placement is Key

American Prize by Tim Doud. Oil on Linen 2014.

I love the placement of the figure in this portrait.  It’s so playful it reminds me of the way people dress their dogs up for Halloween - down to the listless body draped over the chair and slack expression.  The composition helps with this effect.  The horizontal stripes of the hat butt against the vertical stripes of the shirt, which leads our eye to the horizontal stripes on the sleeve which brings us full circle around the face and the patriotic leis.  The neutral tones of the man’s face and chair are at either corner and help with this movement.  These direction markers are not just fun but make picture beautiful.

5. Personality

Walking though this show I got to appreciate that each artist has her own filter.  The Outwin Competition is full of realistic images of people in rooms that look like the world around us.  The artwork exhibits unique layouts, cropping, and representations of the individual.  

In sum the takeaway from this exhibit is that no matter how well an artist represents the world, the outcome is the result of her choices. 

On Becoming a Full-Time Painter

It was a tough decision, but I decided to cut out teaching and administrative work to make room for painting.  I’ll go back to teaching again soon. I can’t imagine not sharing project ideas with kids, or working with them as they develop their plans and then hearing their thoughts after it’s complete.  Gosh, even writing that leaves me wistful. 

But the shift ignited October 2015 when I held true to a resolution to do a portrait of the people closest to me.  At the time, I imagined I would whip out my sketch pad hanging with friends and family- like I was in college again or something- and do a few 20 minute sketches.  The reality I fell into was to take a bunch of photos of a person (like my son in his new suit!!), pick a shot and paint it.  I liked the process and result, so I made one of my husband, and grandmother.  I carved a few hours from morning until I went into work to mix my acrylic paints and set paint to canvas.

One painting turned into the next.  I got complements and people started asking me to paint a portrait for them.  A friend asked me to paint her son in his football helmet and my father-in-law to paint his father from Israel.  

May 2016 is when I thought why not.  I could try my hand at becoming a professional portrait painter.  I love how a facial expression and body language can share so much about a person.  While painting my grandmother I was literally going down memory lane painting her fantastically large wig.  Her hair was such an integral part of her personality.  Subsequent portraits I realized the power of capturing a personality in the details  Like the way a person holds an intimate object like glasses. Or the way jewelry falls with the weight of gravity against the body.  Even a strong expression captured in a portrait grabs a loved one.

I love my decision to take the leap over the huge abyss of uncertainty.  I’m figuring out the details of running a business, checking off the list as I go: LLC (check); PO Box (check); business cards/website/readings/exhibits/and/research/more/and/always/more… 

BUT it’s all worth it.  Because the one thing I am confident in is that I can persevere to paint the likeness of a particular person.  

Through portraiture I’ve realized that we really are so alike to one another, and that is a very comforting feeling. 

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