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Creative Process

This blog will follow the process of my current project: a series of three 5' x 9' figure paintings called "The Feast of Venus". I'll be posting the preliminary drawings and oil sketches as I complete them, and possibly add some commentary along the way. I have just begun this project and am working on the first painting in the series which has the working title "Stirring the Pot". All images on this blog are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The difference between what I have here and the way it looked in the previous post took me about three hours- and I don't suppose many people can tell the difference between the two! I spent a lot of time reworking the right hand of the figure on the left and trying to get just the right slouch.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I worked on this yesterday, developing the figure on the left.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

This is an unfinished study of one of the still lifes on the ground plane in the front of the painting. I bought a huge (and expensive) pile of vegetables and set up the still life on the floor of my studio. It was very weird to paint somthing so far below eye level. It's difficult to paint a still life with fresh produce. The beet greens, which looked incredibly exciting when I first set them up, wilted in about two minutes; I had to keep spraying water on the turnips to keep the color from fading and after about two days they started to sprout. It took me a week to do this much and by then everything but the broccoli and potatoes had wilted. I started teaching a landscape class, but kept the still life set up hoping I would get back to it. When even the broccoli turned yellow I took it down and marked where it had been with masking tape (still life R.I.P.) so I could try to set it up again later. I like what I have though: it has the right movement and flow and the turnips look like firm breasts.

This is the oil study for the composition. I wish I had started this blog 3 months ago when I started this study and recorded all of its stages. It began with just colorful abstract washes, then I put in the the soup ladies. I keep adding to it as I work out various sections of the composition through drawings and oil studies.

My friend Gabrielle posed for this study.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I hired someone I know to pose for this study of one of the figures peeling potatoes.

I'm thinking about the rest of the painting, what other groups of figures I want.

This is the first oil sketch. It is unfinished; the green wash is part of the underpainting.

I decided to focus first on the group of three women working on soup, since this idea captured my imagination the most powerfully.

I work from my imagination and, with the aid of a mirror, often use myself as a model. The mirror is particularly useful when I need to study the position of a hand or the details of a pose.

In The Beginning...The Feast of Venus

When people ask where I get my ideas the answer I generally give is that they just come. Some ideas arrive all at once; others seem to push slowly -yet relentlessly - into my awareness. This idea was one of the latter.

For a long time I have wanted to do a painting that captured the poetry of cooking. Cooking for me is an activity that makes me simultaneously alert and relaxed. To use a hackneyed term -“centered” I'm surprised not to see “cooking meditation” listed with “sitting meditation” and “walking meditation” on websites offering spiritual guidance.

As an artist I find cooking loaded with metaphor and poetically resonant moments. Sprinkling salt into a large kettle of boiling water, for example. The gesture feels like the performance of an ancient blessing - steam rising like a prayer.

Many acts of cooking have poetic force: to carve architectural shapes out of raw vegetable matter is to make art out of life. When I dice carrots or slice celery into a series of translucent arches I always think of Vermeer’s “Lace-maker"and how, under the guise a simple domestic scene, he reveals a mystical geometry.

And then there is cutting meat and sharpening knives: violence and change and blood.

And baking, well, there is a lot to say about that; baking is the subject of the second painting in this series, so more on that later. For the curious, the third painting in the series will be the feast itself.

But cooking and its metaphors are only one of the motivations for this piece, or series of pieces. I like to update mythological themes so I thought I would do a modern Feast of Venus which would be a celebration of women, women of all kinds, shapes, and ages, doing what women love to do, which is to talk to each other. And I also wanted it to be about women and food; I imagined how women would eat if they were free of all their inhibitions and restrictions and obsessions with food: what would genuine enjoyment look like?

Eventually I put the two ideas together and decided that before the feast there must be cooking; with that the idea came to be about how women create themselves: a “history painting” about women’s history and also about creativity itself.

The sketches on this post were the first ones I did when I began on the idea. This stage of a painting is quite difficult: it is as if you can hear music playing very faintly and far in the distance. You want to transcribe it and strain every muscle to listen; at first you can only catch fragments of phrases.