one medium to another

This week and last I worked on a commissioned project for a friend - a design concept for a mosaic tile piece that will be installed in the floor of her swimming pool. She asked simply for a monogram of her and her husband’s shared initials and two mermaids, intertwined with one another to express their love and connection.

jk mermaids project start.jpg

The first design I sketched and painted was a good test of whether or not I was up for the challenge and proved to me the degree of difficulty in creating an image in one medium (in this case gouache on paper) which must be conscious of its eventual medium (tiles of varying shapes and hues under water). I spent a bit of time studying mosaic tilework in pools, attentive to the way sunlight lifts and water shifts its collective brilliance; also the manner in which each piece of tile is laid in connection to its surrounding tiles, building patterns and a familiarity of image at a distance. I studied monograms and returned to my typography books, sampling several fonts and arrangements. Having never tiled in my life, I acquired as much of an understanding of the subject as I estimated would be helpful (unfortunately only a peripheral scrape), but at some point I would love to study the craft in greater depth while experimenting with its multitude of elements. Yet time is time, only so much given.

As I progressed in the project, I was reminded of how skilled my mother was at designing for craft. She painted a richly layered scene of ocean, beach, sunset, rainbow, and three seagulls that became a stained glass window in our dining room. She also designed her own headboard, a drawing transformed into a wood carving of a fiery sun with a handsome face. In almost every room of our house my mother had installed her creative charms. I only wish I could go back for reference now, not only to study her methods and results but to reinvigorate nostalgia, to touch things that were once there and are now lost.

Before diving into a second design, I spent more time talking with my friend about what colors interested her, what colors would dance in the sunlight and water. I created a range of blues, greens, and purples with accents of gold and bronze. We also decided on a different style of monogram, Gatsby in nature, that would make the letters ring harmoniously. I added stronger details to the mermaids to incorporate and balance the color range and attempted a more precise, mathematically coherent presentation. Overall, the biggest challenge for me was painting the image and in a painstaking color-by-number fashion. Naturally, I am a messy painter: impulsive, dramatic, and heavily romantic. I paint what I want to paint beckoned from a dark and dreamy place, some fantastical figure the supplier of its source. The colors and designs I choose take shape and evolve as I go. Here instead, I was required to take my time, measure and plan things out, and carefully calculate several moves ahead of myself. As much as I love being assigned to a task, this particular endeavor, at times, made me want to scream. I felt the hot pain of being caged, my swollen limbs sticking out uncomfortably from between the bars. Though I was determined, and whenever I’d completed some portion of the image or lettering successfully, as a relief the reward was grand enough to alter my attitude.

jk mermaids 2 final.png

Looking over my finished design, I am highly critical of it, taking note of a thousand things I could change and do better, but give me a month, and perhaps I’ll come back to this painting with more merciful eyes. This was an exercise to build endurance and a test to prove (and push) limits. This was a test of joy and joy is always striated with suffering, a pattern in the glasswork sometimes difficult to familiarize or understand, but when we pull away and let the light get down to it, we may see the intended connection, the dance of two lovers in the sea. I can only hope this concept will be a guide in some way for my friend to have constructed, by far more skilled artisans, the perfect symbol of her affection and devotion. And I will run off now and paint something messy and wild - some imperfect symbol of my own.

blue to black

Two summers ago, my family and I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. Transfixed, while at the same time swept away in awe, I found this a place of unparalleled beauty: panoramic views of the Pacific, wide-open concrete spaces, and meticulously-kept exhibits. My favorite section of the aquarium belonged to the jellyfish, a fantastic array of species that danced and tangled, bloomed and unbloomed in their startling-blue tanks. Later, when I went back through photos I had taken, I noticed how the blue background of the tank lent the perfect contrast, amplifying the jellyfish’s vivid details, and how when I switched the photo to black and white, the jellyfish became the center of an other-worldly, strangely selective kind of attention. In black and white, the jellyfish began to harbor secrets, to tell only what they wanted to tell, show only what they wanted to show. Parts of them naturally became part of the dark and other parts shone luminous and wild, entirely dominant of their existence.

Lately I have thought a lot about exhibition and how we open ourselves to others, how we tell our stories, how we unfold the rawness of our secrets with complete abandonment and full vulnerability. On social media it is, when felt to be artificially expressed, called performativity. But what is it called when in captivity? What are the stories of those kept under a bright light for the pleasure of onlookers? What experience is the consciousness of those forced on display so that we may tell a story about them? What are the stories of those kept in the dark? I think about the stories inside of me and how much I wish to bring them to light, to paper, to exhibition. But lately I feel my body, my head, my heart sucked deep underwater, twilight zone to midnight zone. My ambitions, my stories, my confessions are bright whispers in captivity. And it is here that I must listen more intently, respectfully, more lovingly than ever I would if given the broad facts of daylight.

This week I am continuing to learn and experiment with the basics of cyanotype, a UV light-dependent photographic printing process that is at the same time simple and vast in technique, style, and subject. Sun Art paper is a great place to start and has helped me gain a partial though definitive grasp on how sunlight and variable densities, textures, and shapes interact with one another. 

Something which thrills me about photo processing is the gamble: you can never be sure what you’re going to get. You can never be sure what the image is going to say to you and what it will keep to itself. There is a shared silence, and it is here where love dances back and forth, blooms and unblooms; it is here where we must listen, eyes closed and hearts unfolded, to whispers shining out of the dark. 

Here, we dominate our existence, our story.


silhouettes in space

This week I have listened to “Rupture” by The Cranberries I don’t know how many times. A lot! I often do that - listen to a song over and over and over as some way to understand every particle of it. Today I am working on a silhouette painting part of an ongoing series I’ve loosely titled, “blank portraits”. I never know how long a series will go on, how long an obsession will go on, how long a need a desire a love a pain an expression will go on—but like a song I love so much, I listen to it again and again, let it play me, until I am finished with it or it is finished with me. Until there is no other way to understand it. Until it becomes part of the space and work around me and within me, returning to haunt me, silent as a shadow, as and when it pleases. Then, as all wonderful things do with time, it does something funny: it changes. And I love it wholly anew.

painting for a friend

It is my greatest pleasure to make things for people. When my grandmother first taught me to crochet, I made friendship bracelets adorned with buttons and charms for all my friends at school. Today, I am working on a painting for my friend, Jenni. We share January birthdays and recently celebrated with friends at her house. Delicious foods and colorful, animated company - so much fun! Jenni is one of the truest and kindest people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. Who brings you homemade birthday dessert late at night or salmon soup when you’re sick? Who will encourage your health and happiness and enjoy to see you thrive in this life? I am so lucky to have such a wonderful friend as her. For this painting I used black and gold ink, gouache, and paper (I dyed blue flowers with watered down gouache). I sewed the flowers to the watercolor paper with sequins and beads.