Wednesday, October 30, 2013


This is one of the pieces I'm currently working on. I'm very happy with the way it's going. 

I learned recently about a repulsion some people feel towards groupings of holes. It's called "trypophobia." I read the remarks of people who are revolted by this sort of thing (honeycombs, lotus seed pods) and I think it's pretty certain my work would be a "trigger" for them. People who have trypophobia are often told it is not a phobia because they don't fear the clusters of holes; instead they find them repulsive and yet at the same time often feel compelled to look (and sometimes even to search out these images).
I think I feel something of that response, which is why I make my work. I don't feel the repulsion at all, but I do feel an instinctual response when I look at my work, and I do feel that it invites me to keep looking.
When I first learned about trypophobia, I was shocked. I couldn't imagine anyone finding my work (or honeycombs for that matter) repulsive. I don't know why I'm so entranced by the circles I make on tulle fabric, and I don't know why others might find them disgusting.
Petronius Jablonski writes about trypophobia at Here he refers to theories about the reasons for trypophobia: 
"I'm not persuaded by the recent scientific explanation. Trypophobia is existential dread. A hole is a package of nothing, a conspicuous manifestation of non-existence surrounded by existence. It is the physical occurrence of the two most fundamental metaphysical categories side by side. There is no missing link or shades of grey between Something and Nothing. The contrast is bewildering and haunting. It inflicts, at some primal level, the ultimate question: Why is there anything at all rather than nothing? These patterns are metaphysical symbols of ourselves. We are perched on the mysterious ledge of existence, soon to tumble into nothingness. Seeing dozens of holes is like some otherworldly chorus screaming this. It’s like looking into a mirror that shows our essence."
The lines I make on the fabric before I make my images (a step I think of as "preparing my canvas," as painters do with gesso) have something to do with the answer. These lines are made with white cotton thread and they supply both the order and the chaos that underlie the finished work. Making these lines is very time-consuming, as they are sewn by hand. Yet, even if they can't be seen, or can only be seen very faintly, in the finished piece, they are essential to it. I'm still thinking about the best way to say this, but the lines are key to why I disagree with Jablonski's conclusions.
It may be best not to put it into words and to let the work speak for itself.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Invitation to a Beheading my favorite book.  It was written by the greatest writer in English of the twentieth century, Vladimir Nabokov, in 1935. While this novel was written originally in Russian, it was translated by the author's son while Nabokov was still living. Dmitri is really more of a car racer and opera singer than a professional translator, so I imagine Vladimir Nabokov had a lot of "input" into its translation.

The reason I love this book is because it is the best expression of a particular philosophy (my own) that I have found.  Whenever I am worried or depressed because I have forgotten what life is all about, I re-read this book.

It is a difficult read, and requires concentration. Nabokov loves to set puzzles in his novels, and, no matter how well-read you are, when you read a Nabokov book for the first time, you will always find a word you have never seen before and which you should definitely look up (because they never have a perfect synonym and always turn out to be very apt). I spent about a day puzzling over this line:
"Cincinnatus took this opportunity to take up from under the cot, and, with a high, purling sound, which became hesitant at the end, to..." 

I'm proud to say I eventually figured it out.

Whenever I tell someone that this is my favorite book and they ask to see it, they turn it around and read the back. The back gives some information about the plot of the book, and actually gives away the ending, so I scribbled it out on my copy. I don't recommend reading the back of this book (or that of any other novel). But just in case you do, make sure you don't read the last sentence.

Other books by Nabokov that you should read: 
His book on Gogol, which the University of Memphis library has (and which any citizen of Memphis can check out with a library card the University will give you)
The Gift
Lectures on Literature

I have not read Glory, which someone told me was Nabokov's best novel, because I'm saving it as something to look forward to.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Echizenya Morokoshi

A copy of a print by Chobunsai Eishi, 6 Beauties from the Pleasure Quarter: Echizenya Morokoshi (1794-95)

I copied a few of these Japanese prints for practice. The copy is done with ink and colored pencil.

One thing I love about the Japanese masters is way they depicted the fingernails.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My First Coffee Shop Sketch

I've never done one of these before because I was always afraid of angering the person I was drawing. I've been reading Elizabeth Alley's blog and Derrick Dent's advice on doing this, and I finally tried it. He didn't seem to mind it at all.

I'm glad I tried this out -- I will be doing more of these!

Friday, October 18, 2013

It's definitely raccoons in our attic. It's a mother with one or two baby raccoons. We sprinkled some stuff that's supposed to make them go away, but, upon further reflection, I don't think she can take the baby out until it gets older. I feel bad for sprinkling the stuff - it's supposed to be like pepper spray.

Work in progress

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013


I once tried to do a series of portraits of violets. It failed because I took it too seriously- I imagined that the violet had a violet family, and I tried to make a portrait the other violets would recognize and even appreciate. I realized how insane this was when I showed it to my first grade students, and one of them asked me how long it had taken me. When I told her that each violet had taken an entire day, she gave me an incredulous and pitying look. "Really?!"

I think I will finish it next spring, though.


This painting is for sale.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Scene in a Flowery Field

Something I'm working on now, unlit and lit.

But mostly I'm working on oils. I'd like to do some commissioned portraits. For years I thought I hated working from photographs, but today I spent all day painting a portrait from a photograph, and I discovered I didn't really mind it. Maybe it's because oils themselves are so fascinating and still relatively new to me. 

I'm still reading In Search of Lost Time. It's so clearly written by an art historian and for art historians, that I'm surprised it wasn't required reading for my art history degree. It gives you such a strong sense of a time when art was much better appreciated and understood than it is today. 

A scene that was running through my head last night: Bloch's father proudly shows Marcel and Saint-Loup a painting that was made by, he said, Rembrandt. Marcel knew it was a forgery and keeps silent, but Saint-Loup naively asks where the signature might be? Bloch senior brusquely replies that it unfortunately had to be cut off the fit the frame, and hurries the boys out of the house. 

This scene is a great example of Proust's skill -- it seems perfectly lifelike and in character for each of the three men involved. 

We have mice, or squirrels, or raccoons in our attic, and I'm too chicken to go up there and see what it is.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Re-reading Books

I love to read novels, but I find it very difficult to re-read them. The first time I read a good book, I'm captivated. Whenever I'm away from a book  I'm reading for the first time, I can't wait to get back into the world of the story. But when I'm re-reading, it takes some work to get drawn into it that way. 

Right now I'm re-reading  In Search of Lost Time, and it is harder to read than it was the first time, but I am finding new things in it. Like this quote, about a stand of trees that remind the narrator of something he can't place:

 "I could not manage to recognize the place they had, as it were, been separated from... and I had to ask myself whether this whole outing were not just some figment, Balbec merely a place where I might once have been in my imagination, Mme de Villiparisis someone out of a novel, and the three old trees nothing but the solid reality that meets the eye of the reader who glances up from a book, his mind still held by the spell of a fictional setting." 

Which is more real, a well-written novel, or real life?