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Revamping The Muse

I’ve had something on my mind, lovelies.   It’s been there for a little while now, and it’s been creeping forward into my conscious mind slowly, and now it’s in my line of vision. I need to unpack it.

When I started Sparking The Muse, I drew many different thumbnails for the logo, to figure out which direction I wanted to go. The catalyst for the design I ended up using (the Muse being sparked by the artist’s paintbrush) was a fountain in the lobby of the building where I used to go to pay rent for my apartment, back in Glendale, California. It was a wall fountain, made with a slate or stone slab, with water flowing down it into a basin. There was a white marking on the stone (lime, maybe?), in a triangular shape. And in that, I saw the Muse’s face, with the triangle shape being her flame. And MY Muse was sparked by THAT! So I designed her, drew her, painted her, scanned her into the laptop and finished the details around her in Illustrator. I was ecstatic!! She came out exactly right!!

I made her skin white, without much thought about it.

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I have mostly drawn or painted white figures in my works of art. No sit-down pondering about it, no purposeful design to it. I am white, myself. I grew up in a small city in the northeast populated by mostly white people, in a Catholic parish, where everyone else was pretty much white and Catholic, too. Not much diversity where I was raised, back then. I’ve since moved back, and it is much more diverse than when I was a kid—thankfully! But even when I moved to California as a teen, where there was LOTS of diversity, and I met and became friends with all kinds of people, I still drew and painted mostly white figures, without much thought about it. But I feel a strong call to be more inclusive of diversity, because I think we are coming to a tipping point on how discriminatory our culture is, on how white culture is dominant, and privileged, and that’s mostly who we see represented in the media. I feel strongly that we ALL need to be represented on this world stage. This is making its way into my artwork: “Our Humanity > Our Differences”, “Kinder, Gentler, More Badass”, and “Crecer” being recent instances of this.

And in feeling the above, I looked at my Muse and I remembered what she represents to me, and what I hope she represents to people who see her. I want the art that she inspires in me to spark EVERYONE’S Muse. Then I saw her white skin. I started to feel like she didn’t truly represent everyone…and she needs to. And as a logo for my art, I want her to be universal. I want EVERYONE to feel like her spark is meant for them, as well.   Also, she’s a supernatural being, and a creation in my own mind, artwork in her own right, so her skin can be any color I want to make it, not just from among our realistic, earth tone skin hues.

I figured that she IS fire, and the base of a flame is blue, and the mass of the flame is pale yellow, gradating to a darker orange at the edge. I made her face blue, to reflect her being a fire being. I also changed her eyes to make them look more at you directly, and softened/deepened their shadows.   And I fell in love with her again! I love the contrast between the blue and the yellow and orange of the flames of her hair.   I love the softness of her eyes now.   I also removed the curlicues because they felt too busy and had no real purpose. The whole composition is cleaner and simpler. The the text stands out better now. “You, Ignited”. And I believe it is clear now that “you” means all people, not just ones that look like me.

Love & harmony…

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Our Humanity Is Greater

Sometimes the world gets shaken up by things out of our control, and we don’t know how to feel, or we don’t know what to do with the feelings we have. We remain in a confused state as we still try to function in our lives, because we must function. We feel horribly disempowered, empathy for others whom don’t know personally, wishing desperately that we could do something to change situations for the better.   I think that’s why we are drinking in all the superhero movies we are lately—we can vicariously right the wrongs through will, alone, when we watch them. Not so, in the real world. The real world takes more cooperation with one another, and when divisions seem all the more evident and rife within the structure of our world, it seems like we’ll never get to the point of calming down and discussing what can be done.

The issues have been there a very long time, but it seems to be ramping up this year, probably because it’s an election year.   We have seen the shootings, the bills passed that take away civil rights, the terrorism, the hate crimes, the rampant fear-mongering…It makes you dizzy. It knocks the wind out of you. It scares the hell out of you. It makes you wonder what will happen down the road. What will happen next?

So we do small things, to make ourselves feel better. Random acts of love. We talk to our loved ones. We post memes that we agree with on social media to make us feel better, hoping that our friends will feel the same way and say supportive things (which doesn’t always happen—all too often we get into arguments instead). We sign petitions. We make donations. We call our Congress people, hoping if enough of us do it, they’ll vote to make the changes we want them to. And we make art. We voice our emotions through song, performances, words, images. This is what I did.

After one of the latest shootings, I came home with an idea. The overwhelming feeling I had was that what we have in common is greater than our differences. I drew a human head, with features—eyes, nose, mouth, and ears—but representing different races and genders. I drew the head with four quadrants, each one having a different race and gender, but all being part of the same human. Different, but united.

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I wanted to say something along the lines of, “What we have in common is greater than our differences.” But that seemed really bulky and clumsy. I looked up words in my thesaurus for “in common”…and couldn’t find anything more satisfactory. I had the idea to replace “is greater than” with the mathematical symbol for “greater than” (>), so I did that. Finally, I came up with “humanity”. Our Humanity > Our Differences. Clean, succinct, perfect. I found a font that fit the image, something that looks like it was written by a human hand.

And so I’m putting this image out there, because this is what I believe. Our differences are something to be proud of, that make us who we are, but not at the expense of neglecting to see that our humanness is what we have in common. We all eat, sleep, breathe. We all have the capacity to feel profound joy and immense pain, and everything in between. We are all just trying to walk whatever paths we are on. Let’s remember our shared humanity. It is only by doing this that we can even begin to sit down and solve our issues with one another.

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In Memoriam

Hello, lovelies…yes, it’s been awhile.   I’ve had some personal upheaval in my life, which has made me have to put aside working for a while.  But now I’m ready to get back to work, and part of that is telling my story.

A few months ago, my mother passed away from dementia. She was diagnosed eight years ago, but in reality, she’s probably had it much closer to twenty years.   I don’t want to get into a lot of detail about what living near this disease has been like, but, honestly, it’s been part of my life for many years and it has shaped me, and therefore, my art. I tend to concentrate on the magic, the pleasures of life, the choosing of happiness and being present here and now, while I am here, and that shows up in my artwork.   With the spectre of the disease being hereditary, I have to choose positivity or else be crippled by what-if’s for the rest of my life, which I refuse to do.

Part of what has kept me busy these past few months has been organizing my mother’s east coast celebration of life (we had three, for all three states that she had lived in). And part of that included painting her portrait to display at the services. One of the things I’ve started doing when someone close to me experiences the death of a loved one, is draw a graphite portrait of their loved one and give it to them in a frame when I go to the service, so they can put it up then, and then have it for themselves afterward—it’s something I can do for them that I think is meaningful. Of course, when it came time, I had to do my mother’s portrait. I wanted to continue that tradition–for my father, my sister, and for me, but a painting, not a drawing, since it was my mother. I tried painting in oil, but that would have meant using a drying medium so it would be dry and frame-able in time, and I wasn’t happy with how that affected the texture of the paint, so I scrapped that idea for the time being. I decided the fastest thing I could do was to paint it digitally. I drew a sketch of her in pencil in my sketchbook, then scanned it into the laptop.

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Then I started painting in layers in PhotoShop with my graphic tablet, using various photos to make a composite. I liked her eyes in one photo, her smile in another, the angle of her head in another, and her hair in yet another. The disease had changed her physical appearance dramatically, and I (as well as my father and sister) wanted her to look like she did the way we all remembered her. Happy. Confident. Shining.

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Part of the charm of working digitally was that I could work anywhere. I even finished it up on the plane to her west coast service (yes, welcome to my head!). There was a point where I wasn’t quite satisfied that it looked exactly like her. One day, working at a table in the lobby of the building I was modeling at later that day, I realized that you could always see the inside of her upper eyelids because she’d had eyeliner tattooed on the outside of them, and I put that in. And I nudged her mouth up a few places, teeth, gums and all, and BOOM! That was HER! Such small details, but they snapped the picture into place and made it look EXACTLY like my mom.   I looked up and said, “Do you SEE this??” I think she might have. She would have been jazzing over it.

This is my mother, Christine…

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At her celebrations of life, the people who had known her best and longest said it looked exactly like her. Her eyes and smile were infused with her spirit. That they felt that, means the world to me, and gives me many warm fuzzies and tingles. It means, for those who hadn’t seen in her in many, many years, in a way, I helped them see her again. It means I still remember the mom I grew up with, despite the dementia taking over the last several years—an accomplishment, believe it or not. It means I did allright by her. And that’s all I ever wanted.

Merry Meet
Merry Part
Merry Meet Again, Mama…

Commission Love

Recently, I finished a commission for a friend of mine. It was a baby picture of her no-longer-a-baby son, a pencil sketch.   Because I was doing it realistically, I did a study for it beforehand, just to learn the lay of the land, with all the complex shadows that the reference picture had.   When she saw it for the first time, she smiled really big, completely happy with the portrait of her baby.

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Sometimes I am not merely copying a picture but doing a composite of more than one picture. I take the qualities I can see in different photos and put them into one composition. This is what I did with Scout, a Jack Russell terrier that my friend asked me to paint as a gift for our mutual friend (whose dog Scout is). Because it was a surprise, I had to glean pictures of Scout from her Facebook page. Luckily, there were lots of different angles that helped me get her body type, spots and coloring just right.   We settled on a composition and theme, with her camping, a canoe and river in the background, since her family loves to go camping and canoeing with her.   I did a digital painting, to work within the budget that she had allowed for the painting, and then printed it.

Scout

I also did a composite with a double cat acrylic portrait I did of Humo and Lenny, another gift for a friend’s friend. My friend wanted to go a step further and make the cats be dressed in some way that clearly illustrated their personalities. Never having met them, she sent me pictures and told me that Humo was the grouchier, older cat and Lenny was the younger sidekick. So I made them Jazz Age gangster portraits, in frames. Humo (on the left, below) is chomping on a cigar and looking archly at you. Lenny (on the right) is just gazing at you earnestly, almost smiling, happy to be there. Talk about fun!

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I have to say, I absolutely love being the conduit that brings that joy to people. I love making them happy by showing them their loved ones in artwork.   It’s so much fun to come up with a concept that they are excited about, and then to work towards that end result. Watching them develop is about as exciting as it gets!

If you also would like to get in on the joy extravaganza, please do contact me to discuss portrait options. Now is a perfect time if you have holiday gifts in mind!   A custom portrait is something magical that they’ll enjoy every single day!

Spread the magic with me, lovelies!

Blood, Sweat, Tears…and Happy Accidents

As an artist, you have these grandiose ideas of what you want to do.  You see it in your mind’s eye.   You dream about it, day and night, you figure out how you can make it look like you see it looking in your head.  You try different things.  If you’re lucky, you can make it look like that.  If you’re really lucky, you’ll have a happy accident—not what you intended AT ALL—and have it come out even better than what you see in your head.

I’m going to share something with you now that is a vulnerable piece of me, the artist (looks around, then in a stage whisper): I don’t always have it together.   Artwork doesn’t always come out accompanied by the sound of flaming trumpets with heavenly light shining down.  In fact, that’s pretty rare.  More often, there’s a ton of blood, sweat and tears that goes into each creation—stuff that you don’t see in the finished product.  But it’s there.  And it gives those pieces a strength, an integrity that easier pieces that you can knock off in an afternoon don’t quite have.   They mean a lot to me.  Whenever I look at the finished product, I don’t see only the finished product—I see the story behind it.  The long, sometimes painful, behind-the-scenes process that I went through to birth this image.  But like any mother, damn, it feels incredible to hold what you made in your hands!

When I was trying to come up with ideas for my website, I had a conversation with my partner and the idea of a stage came up.  I fell in absolute love with the idea—YES!  One stage, where the art, the news, the bio, the contact info came when you clicked on each menu item.   It fit with my performer theme, it fit the concept of an art website, it was organized well—it was a perfect idea!

The execution, on the other hand…not quite so perfect.  I came up with a sketch of an outline for the stage—very whimsical, kind of Art Nouveau.  I was happy with it.  I scanned it in, recreated it in Illustrator and PhotoShop, built a digital image of the stage, had my web guru put it up on my site with a “coming soon” graphic.  And I sat with it.  And I sat with it.  And…yes, I sat with it some more.  And I realized that I’m not as happy with it as I was originally.  I like it, but I’m not in love with it.   And for something that represents my art to the world, I damn well better be in love with it.

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So…back to the drawing board.  Literally.  I am now drawing sketches on illustration board for a new stage.  Less whimsical, more realistic, more solid, more lifelike, more painterly—I want to do it in oils, just like I painted my logo in oils.  I may do some detail work with collage elements, if I can find or come up with things that speak to it.  But I am EXCITED!!   I’ve been working on some collages lately (in order to advertise for an upcoming workshop that I’ll be teaching), utilizing paint, found objects, pen and ink as well as pictures and paper glued on.  And it’s such a rich medium, brings so much depth to a piece…it’s seeping its way into my consciousness, my work.   This, I love.  This happy accident is completely fortuitous.  And I think this one’s going to work very well.

You won’t see it, but hidden in the heavenly spotlight shining down, there will be blood, sweat and tears on the floor of that stage.   And it’ll be all the more gorgeous for it.

See you onstage, lovelies!

Introducing…Rosie!

Greetings, lovelies!

We have NEW ART!   We are so, SO happy to share it with your fabulous selves!!

Allow me to introduce “Shiny Rosie”.   Ain’t she a beauty??

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Rosie came to me a few years ago, in some random dream, on a Friday.   She was performing a musical comedy act onstage, with whiteface and smeared lipstick, and she was BEAMING.  She was ecstatic to be doing what she was doing.   Her “shininess” was what really stood out to me, what I noticed most strongly, in the dream.  When I woke up, I felt her dynamic energy and the memory of this stayed with me throughout the day.   In fact, I heard a song on the radio on my way into work and the way the singer was singing the song was EXACTLY how she had sounded in my head, in the dream.   I even knew her name was Rosie.  That’s when I knew I had to paint her.

She was drawn and painted that very weekend, very simply, in oils on illustration board.  Painted by feel, not by thought—very different than how I normally work.  Usually I am quite stage manager-ly, rather left-brained, in how I make art.  But this was incredibly right-brained, very much about the process and feeling my way along (I want more green here, and maybe a bit more orange here).   And I cherish Rosie as one of my most special works, because she was born of magic.

Recently I decided to add her to the cast of characters here at Sparking The Muse.  She IS a performer, after all.  I scanned her, cleaned her up ever-so-slightly, and added the text in Illustrator.   And she IS so happy to see you!

From her creation on, she has served as inspiration for me, to let humor and happiness pervade throughout my days.   It is my fervent wish that you find her just as inspirational.  Her happiness is palpable! She is infectious in her optimism and contagious in her laughter.  I hope you come down with a good, shiny case of Positivity!

“Shiny Rosie” can be found at Society 6.   From prints to cards to tee shirts to laptop skins, there’s something for everyone!

Run like a bunny!   Fly like the wind!   Go and discover what’s waiting for you.

See you onstage, lovelies!

Getting Past The Ugly Stage

So, lovelies, I have a little story for you about persistence paying off…

I just finished a commission for a friend of mine—for her friend’s birthday, she wanted a pet portrait of her friend’s two cats, Humo and Lenny, in vintage mobster apparel, in acrylic.   Ooh, how fun!!   She sent me pictures to draw composite sketches from and we ironed out the details of how she wanted them to look.   I sent the sketches to her, to which she suggested changes, and after said changes were made, she approved.

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And then it was time to paint.

Have I mentioned that acrylic has previously been my Achilles’ heel?   I’ve done assignments in acrylic in art school, but my medium is really oil paint.  The way it dries slowly and you can take your time manipulating it, softening and blending…mmm…it’s so lovely!   But acrylic dries super fast and so you have to go in knowing what you want to do, then do it before it dries within seconds.   Not exactly a selling point for ME, because I move slow.  But I said to myself, I’ll rise to the challenge (I kind of had to, since I’d agreed to it)!   And plus, isn’t it about time I learn to master painting in acrylic?   It’s just paint, fer cryin’ in the night…Who’s the artist here, anyway?

And so I began.

One thing that is really handy to remember is that these things all go through The Ugly Stage…

You simply have to remember that this is just The Ugly Stage and it will pass.  It will start off looking blotchy, uneven, pasty, unblended, raw, monochrome…something you would not want to show anyone, that you can’t even imagine unveiling with pride.

You get this…

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And this…

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And these…

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But just breathe and keep going.  The more layers, the more shadow and highlights, the more details, the more rendering you do, you will see it begin to take shape.  Slowly.  Oh-so-very-slowly.  But it IS taking shape.  And you’ll smile, and begin to hope.  Then you’ll feel the momentum build and begin to get excited.  And every part you finish that looks good, you’ll laugh and say, “I can’t believe it’s turning out so well, when it was looking so ridiculous yesterday!  I nearly gave up painting altogether yesterday!  But now!   Lookit that!!  Wouldja lookit that??”

And then, suddenly, you get this…

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This, you are proud to show!

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Humo & Lenny, Mobster-Style.  Acrylic on illustration board.  12” x 16”.

 

Want a commission done?  Sparking The Muse does them!!   Talk to me

See you onstage, lovelies!!

Vaudeville Cats and Throw Pillows Now at Society6!

We are SO EXCITED, lovelies!!

ALL THREE Vaudeville Cats are now available at Society6!!

Society6 is an online store where you can buy products with Sparking The Muse artwork on them.  You order, they process and ship to you directly.  Yes, it’s THAT easy!

Sophie and Magic, as well as Bix, have been added to the store, and are available as:

-Framed or unframed art prints

-T-shirts

-Hoodies

-Stationery cards

-iPhone cases

-iPhone and iPod skins

-Laptop and iPad skins

-And now, THROW PILLOWS (Society6’s newest item offering!)

Aren’t they adorable??

AND our very own Sparking The Muse logo is also available as art!

Step right UP!  SEE the spectacular Sparking The Muse store over at Society6!!

See you onstage, lovelies!

Fall Happenings

Fall in New England means a lot of preparation before the rains and snow settle in.  Making sure your tires are not bald, making sure leaks get fixed, putting away the summer clothes and breaking out the sweaters, winter coats and long johns, battening down the hatches when hurricanes come along, making sure you have enough propane for heating, cooking, and hot showers…It’s an education for one who’s lived so long in Los Angeles.   In addition to fall prep, I was also doing Fall Bazaar prep, for my first arts & crafts fair as a vendor.

Here’s the story…

Recently, Sparking The Muse became a vendor at the American Legion Fall Bazaar, in Seekonk, MA.

It was quite an endeavor to get ready for it, as I had no display materials or sales supplies as of yet.   Hello, startup costs, how ya doin’!   I had gone to the Scituate Art Fair to get ideas for table displays, and one artist stood out, having had her prints set up in small faux suitcases with botanical print exteriors, the kind you see at places like Michael’s.   Oooh…I fell in love with the idea!  Looked all over for either faux or vintage suitcases I could revamp, but nothing that came up was exactly what I had my heart set on.   I finally found a trio of hinged wooden boxes with suitcase handles at a local woodworking shop—score!!    I painted the suitcases, the outsides being different, lighter colors than the insides and the handles.  Then I put on these cute little travel stickers I found online, just like they did in the old days.  It also fit extremely well with the concept of vaudeville cats, traveling from show to show.

Suitcases in progress…

I got material for a tablecloth, for suitcase lining, and for a swag, a binder for email signups, a business card holder for my cards, a cashbox, pads of sales receipts, a table for holding my laptop, an iPhone and the Square so I could accept credit cards, and bags with handles.  I had a banner made with my logo on it.  I made sure I had 100 prints in stock, all in their little plastic envelopes with my STM stickers that I made on them, telling about the artwork, the cats, and Sparking The Muse.  I was going to have magnets to give away with each purchase, as advertising, with my website on them, but the manufacturers made an error and the corrected ones didn’t come in, in time.  I love my UPS Store rep, Anthony, who sent back the magnets and got the right ones for me (not in time for the event, but I appreciated the outstanding efforts he made).  My partner Martin helped me sew a hem on the tablecloth, and the swag, since I’m no seamstress.   I found silk flowers in my old apartment decorations and used them to pretty up the swag.  I piled the suitcase lining in the bottoms of the suitcases, because A) I ran out of time, and B) it looked pretty that way.   I was psyched, and I was ready.  Huzzah!!!

I arrived at the hall and began transporting stuff in and setting up my table.  I’d also brought matching hats—a boater to match Dancing Bix’s hat, and a bowler to match Cabaret Magic’s hat.  I put them on the table between suitcases as decorations.   I was completely happy with my little table!

Behold…

I’d taken a workshop from the Center for Women in Enterprise about doing trade shows.  One thing they stressed was DO NOT SIT ALOOF AND READ BEHIND YOUR TABLE WITHOUT TALKING TO ANYONE.  That is the kiss of death to any sales you might get.  NO ONE is going to want to approach your table if you are stand-off-ish, no matter how great your wares are.  So…I stood up and engaged people.  I began to tell them the story of the vaudeville cats…briefly, and gauging interest as they listened, or just listened politely and smiled and moved on.  If they stopped and seemed interested, I talked longer.  If it wasn’t their cup of tea, I let them move on with a smile.  Many people were interested.  I gave my card to a number of people, let them know I do pet commissions, and was happy to have the experience in talking to folks about my art.

Then some dear family and friends came by and bought some of my prints.  I used my sales receipts and my Square and my bags.  My heart melted at their kindness, first to come out and then to buy some art from me.  I was so appreciative!  I am appreciative of all the family and friends who have bought prints thus far, and in the future—you start with the kind souls who know you and want to support you, and you branch out from there.

I did make some observations…people at other tables who had smaller price point items and a variety of items sold those items.   I think I might have sold more to others whom I didn’t know if I had coffee mugs or mouse pads or cards to go with the prints.  Lesson learned—have a variety for people to browse through.   And a variety of art, as well, to spark interest.  People who may not be cat people might be interested in other pieces I might have.

In short, doing the Fall Bazaar was a WONDERFUL experience. I am going to switch up my inventory and do some more fairs as soon as I can to augment my experience, and spark some more folks.  Many thanks to Angela and Marie, who informed me about the Bazaar in the first place!

 

See you onstage, lovelies!!

Cabaret Magic!

Wilkommen!  Bienvenue!  Welcome!

Time to experience a little “Cabaret Magic”!!

Magic, the third in the Vaudeville Cats series, performs a cabaret act, complete with bowler and cabaret chair.  She was VERY inspired when she saw Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in Cabaret

Once again, three different prints to choose from–available with red choker and skirt, purple choker and skirt, or uncolored choker and skirt.

Real Magic and her portrait…She thinks it’s the cat’s pajamas!

See the cats’ antics at http://www.vaudevillecats.blogspot.com.

Sparkingthemuse.com is coming soon, but while our website and its store are under construction, prints of “Cabaret Magic” ARE available!    Each print is $22, unframed, measuring 4.5 x 6.5” in an 8 x 10” mat.   Contact Sparking The Muse to order your very own vaudeville cat!

Do sign up for Muse News as well, so you will be the first to know when Sparking The Muse’s website goes live!

See you onstage, lovelies!

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