A Saturday in Chicago

The SO (Significant Other), who has been camping out at my place in Michigan since the inception of the Great Pandemic, had occasion to make the trek to Chicago for some business so I tagged along to our other campsite aka the Chicago pied-á-terre. On Saturday morning we took a 1.5-mile walk to one of our favorite places, Hoosier Mama Pie Company for a decadent (in my case) and healthy (in his case) breakfast. It was a stupendous day for a walk; here’s a look at Lake Michigan on our way.

In the afternoon we hopped on the El for a trip downtown to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the most incredible exhibit in a long, long time–quilts by Bisa Butler. Quilts, you say? Since when do quilts qualify for a months-long exhibit at one of the top museums of the world? Well, here’s a little history for you and I hope you end up even half as amazed as I was after taking in this mind-boggling work. Below is the Museum’s summary of the artist and her work:

Bisa Butler’s vivid portrait quilts bring to life personal and historical narratives of Black life. She strategically uses textiles–a traditionally marginalized medium–to interrogate the often overlooked histories of her subjects. The sale and subtle detail of her portraits convey the complex individuality of the people represented. Together, Butler’s quilts present an expansive view of history through their engagement with themes such as family, community, migration, the promise of youth, and artistic and intellectual legacies.

Although Butler’s finished works are exclusively fabric, her methods remain interdisciplinary: photographs inform her compositions and figural choices, she layers fabrics as a painter might layer glazes, and she uses thread to draw, adding detail and texture. The artist’s extensive range of influences includes family photo albums, the philosophies of AfriCOBRA (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), Romare Bearden’s collages, Faith Ringgold’s quilts, and Gordon Parks’s photographs.

Butler made her first portrait quilt, “Francis and Violette (Grandparents)”, while earning a master’s degree in arts education at Montclair State University, New Jersey. Trained as a painted at Howard University, Washington, DC, she shifted to a textile-based practice to add vibrancy and dimension she found lacking in her paintings. Fabrics also offered her a practical way to pursue artmaking during her pregnancy and after her daughter was born, when oil paints and thinners proved too toxic. In turning to textiles, Butler was also connecting with her family history; she had learned to sew at a young age from her mother and grandmother. In revisiting these early lessons and joining them with her formal studies, she found her artistic path and has created a body of work that resonates across media and time.

Below are descriptions and photos of some of the pieces I liked best, although every single one of them was emotionally moving and loaded with insight into Black life experience. She references music in every one, which is noted in the description. These are each separate “galleries” containing the description and the photo. Click on the left-hand image to start the gallery for each one and read the complete text of the description.

If you have the luck to be in Chicago before September 6 2021 do your best to take in this exhibit. You won’t regret it!

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The Artist’s Reward

Box in perfect condition

The “unboxing” as it’s called today. Flawless arrival in Massachusetts.

Upside down, but contents in perfect condition.
What more could I want??
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It’s a long way to Martha’s Vineyard

Because it took me an exceptionally long time to complete this commission, I’m going to attempt to give you as many details as possible so you can suffer along with me. It all started quite innocently when a long-time friend of mine somehow brought to my attention a photo of Martha’s Vineyard. I looked at the photo and thought wow, that looks like something I painted 30 years ago, back when I didn’t care all that much how accurately my paintings portrayed reality. So I sent her this:

She got all excited and wanted to know if I would sell it because she knew somebody (boyfriend, it turned out) who would love to have it and his birthday was imminent. Unfortunately, scrupulously honest person that I am, I said I couldn’t sell it because I painted it from a photo I didn’t take and I respect copyright laws (of course I do–I’m an artist, right?). That prompted her to ask would I do a commission from one of her photos? In the meantime I looked up the photo source of this painting which I still had from those 30 years ago, and it turned out to be Menemsha Harbor on Martha’s Vineyard, the very place she had been talking about. I got a slew of emails with more photos of “MV”, and proceeded to Photoshop™ them until my eyes turned red, trying to get a good composition that simultaneously wasn’t ridiculously complicated. We both agreed on one particularly attractive version (after I digitally tore down a few houses, sank a couple of boats, rearranged some trees, and demolished the gas pumps on one of the piers). To make it even more interesting, we both agreed that a winter scene would be a fun thing to have since almost every depiction of Martha’s Vineyard is of summer and tourists.

So to let you know just how complicated and detailed a task I set myself up for, let me say that I spent an inordinate amount of time gridding out tiny details onto the 24″ x 36″ canvas, including a bunch of houses that measured maybe 1″ wide. I have photos to prove it. Here we go (click on a photo to see in gallery mode):

If you made it this far, I hope you aren’t as exhausted as I was by the time I finished this painting. Without a doubt, it is the most intricate, detailed painting I have ever done. I’m happy with it, my friend loves it, and…who knows, maybe someone else with a cottage on Martha’s Vineyard might some day decide they would like a personal painting of their own little piece of heaven on the island?

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Christmas in April

I am a patient person. This blog post should prove it. Never one to nag, just suggest…and it finally happened. My promised Christmas present from two Christmases ago finally took an actual physical form:

What finally got the designer (I claim no credit other than constantly questioning the actual designer’s wisdom) to get the project underway by agreeing to devote one day a week to the project. Paintings had been accumulating over the years and were stacked against the walls to such a depth that to reach any particular one required moving and relocating several others. A big pain in the patooty, if you ask me. Which you didn’t. But anyway, I think he (designer and promiser of grand Christmas present) had been dragging his feet because both he and the artist (me) thought this would be a way bigger undertaking that it turned out to be. We managed to knock out the actual assembly in a few hours over two days.

What isn’t evident in the photos is that the room itself now has a lot more space in the center of it, and the corners of the room are now accessible. All the small stuff has been removed and/or rearranged so I can just walk right up to it. Not a problem anymore to get my 6-foot tall canvas rolls out of the corner. Christmas in April has made me quite happy!

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A good line…or two

The previous owner of the barn where I board my horse stopped in yesterday to say hi.

ME: You look GOOD!

HIM: (after a sly pause) I’ll pay you later.

ME: (with a sly smile) I don’t come cheap.

HIM: (with wicked smile) I’ve heard you don’t come cheap.


Anyhow, those weren’t exactly the lines I had in mind before yesterday, but rather these. The background for Sky Pads 32 finally “evaporated” its paint thinner medium enough for me to draw on it. So here’s what the game plan looks like now.

Sky Pads 32 with Tombow water soluble ink drawing over poured paint background.

I was thinking about using a fixative to hold the background in place because it’s not quite dry enough yet to paint over it. But then I decided to leave things as they are for the moment because the fixative might “fix” things that didn’t need to be fixed. We’ll see how it goes in the next few days.

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Sunshine to the rescue

It’s been cold and snowy, wet, dreary–way too long here in Michigan. I’ve had drawings completed and canvases stretched for the next three Sky Pads paintings prepared and waiting for weeks now because I need warm sunshine to get the base coat of poured paint onto canvas.

The devil is–always–in the details. In this case, it’s pretty simple. I pour a very thin diluted coat of oil paint as a base coat onto the stretched canvas. Sometimes I use a couple of colors, other times more. The important part to me is that the colors mix as they are poured and then divide into patterns as they roll off. Since I use a variety of toxic stinky media to thin the paint it’s a necessity to do it outdoors. Which particular medium I use and how long it takes to dry can also affect the character of the “wash” on the canvas. Here’s an example of one from quite a while back, done on a really hot day:

Sky Pads 26, poured paint background

You can see all the striations as the paint pigments separated out of the medium. The faster it dries, they more they separate. Hot days are the trick.

I knew this time around that I wanted something a bit more subtle for Sky Pads 32, so as long as I could snag a day warm enough to at least be comfortable outside, I could pour the paint and not worry too much about how fast it dried. I also decided to use a medium I swore I would never use again because it was so slow drying that it never really did dry. I had to put fixative on it to keep it from getting mushed up with the next coats of paint over it. We’ll see later if I regret that decision this time around. In the meantime, here’s what I got after I poured my lovely blue streaked with white yesterday:

Preliminary paint pour for Sky Pads 32

I knew from past experience that considering the weather I probably would only be able to get this nice texture from that less-than-ideal medium. I really like it–nice and subtle.

So, since this is a pretty boring picture up till now, I’m going to do something I rarely do, which is give you a peek at what the actual subject will look like. Here’s the drawing that I will be projecting onto the canvas–if the medium ever gets stable enough to let me do it.

Small ink drawing for Sky Pads 32

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A little New Year’s surprise

Way back in 2017 I blogged about a photo of one of the small Aquabord™ paintings I do while I’m in my booth at horse shows or expos. I like to do that so I can attract people to watch a painting happen and thereby engage them in some conversation. This one is called “Seahorse” and it sold quite a while ago. Okay, be patient, there is a connection to be made a couple of paragraphs down.

My horse Charm stars as a body model in this painting.

So here I was three years later with a special request from a long-time friend of mine who owns a company called Lamou Design. Lamou makes custom tables, serving trays, coasters, and such, with personalized designs which can be either your own photo or chosen from a huge selection they have. My friend, Ann, had a client who wanted to gift someone with a tray featuring horses. Just my luck that the client didn’t have any source material and neither did Ann in her vast library. Good thing she knew just who to turn to!

I sent her a bunch of high-res photos of what I thought would make great images on a tray, and the client picked one titled Dodge, which featured two horses playing on a little hill.

“Dodge” (as in avoid, not as in automobile!) watercolor on Aquabord™. This one also sold a long time ago.

To return the favor, Ann made me a tray using the Seahorse photo I had also sent, because she thought it would look super cool on a tray. It landed on my doorstep a few days ago.

The amazing thing is that the original painting was only 5″ x 7″. Yeah, I had a hi-res photo, but still…to enlarge it this big and have it still read as the original watercolor that it was, that’s kind of amazing. The image is actually printed on the baltic birch wood from which the tray is made, not printed on some other substrate which is then applied to the wood. This process lets the grain of the wood show through a little bit and I think it adds interest to the ultimate image.

If you like this idea, to see a lot more of their work search “lamou” on Etsy.com or search “lamou” on Facebook. Or use #mylamou. You might even want to special order something for yourself!


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Sky Pads 30, final version. A bit more depth, a bit more contrast.

Below is the previous version for comparison. I guess your preference would be determined by your appreciation of floating versus more grounded. In the previous version everything was more or less untied from any kind of anchor. In the final one you can see somewhat more clearly where the water line is as the stems reach out of it, and below the line the stems disappear into the murk with a sense fading into it. Although I love purple, there was too much for my comfort in the semi-final, so adding some transparent blue and yellow took care of that.

My goal was to finish this one by the end of 2020. Done! Now all I have to do is frame it. Wood is painted and ready, so, any time will do.

Second to last version, original background plus vegetation…

Since we’re at the end of the year, here’s a look backwards at the very first paint pour for Sky Pads 30–If you have a sharp eye, you’ll notice that I ultimately decided to turn it upside down.

Sky Pads 30 background. Mostly blue and yellow.

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Sky Pads 30, part 2

original background plus vegetation…

I did say a long time ago that I was going to leave the background “as is” on this one. But…now that I have the plants themselves in place I need to accent a few spots on the background so the stems can believably sink into the water. It shouldn’t be a big deal, and as soon as that’s done it will mean this painting is done too. My goal was to finish it in 2020 and I will!

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What’s your favorite light flavor?

Okay, so I wasn’t totally happy with the color scheme of Sky Pads 31, but I didn’t want to paint over it. So I didn’t. The photo in the original post was taken in a “daylight” setting, which brightened everything up and made the colors appear somewhat harsh, at least in my opinion.

So, I decided to photograph it as it would perhaps appear on someone’s wall, out of bright light but bathed in the warm lamp light of incandescent bulbs. (I know, who uses them anymore? But a lot of the LED’s come in various flavors, including warm light).

Such a difference a color temperature can make. I decided to leave the paint alone, and if anyone should decide they were going to purchase this one I would insist they take it home and put it in the intended space before coming to a final decision.

Here you go, after on the left, before on the right.

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