I have had studio space in Old Towne, Petersburg since 2015. It has been an interesting ride. I have watched the businesses in this historic city work so hard to survive and this past summer has been hard on everyone. Sometimes I think all we need is more advertisement. No one seems to know we exist and it is frustrating. The restaurants and bars have their own word of mouth system but the galleries and artists who work in the city are faced with trying to build up their profiles.
I have spent the past two years painting people how live and work in Petersburg and it has been a wonderful experience getting to know everyone. This is a small community, but so many are worried (especially the young) about their futures. In that sense Petersburg is like many other places around the country. Drugs, homelessness, crime, and poverty have settled in among the nooks and crannies of the fourth oldest community in America. First there was Jamestown, second Citie of Henricus, third Hopewell, then Petersburg. Next to Old Towne is Pocahontas Island, the oldest free black community in America. Tear up asphalt and you see cobble stones. There are a few buildings dating to the war of 1812 when Petersburg was the Cockade City, proud to be American. My first studio was in the oldest building in Old Towne, built 1811. My studio now is in a building (built around 1834) damaged by union shelling during the Civil War.
2017 is fast coming to an end. I had my Portraits of Petersburg Show in August at the Petersburg Area Art League. Forty-one portraits were on display filling the main gallery.
What started as little bird paintings I painted as thank-yous for donating to my GoFundMe campaign turned into quite a collection. I could have easily painted a hundred of them and have been broadening the animal subjects I paint.
I’m grateful to have a lot of community support for the portraits and am eager to find another art project to start next year. I have a new show in January to plan for and I have been thinking about printmaking. I used to make woodcuts years ago and have been thinking that might be a new direction to go in addition to my commission work. Perhaps use all the wonderful photos I took in Old Towne and surrounding areas in Virginia for a series of wood cuts. I will keep posting on my progress.
I have been painting and realized August is fast approaching. These are the four portraits that I will be finishing up The next five have been selected and will be on the easel to work on this week. Of the thirty-seven I have done, five are in their new homes and thirty-six are still at my studio. The art show opens on August 11th for Petersburg’s Friday for the Arts and I still haven’t worked out food and music for the evening. There are mailings to be done. Commissions to be completed. Bird painting displays to finish. Did I mention I am also writing a novel? Work, work, work.
gluing down the bird houses on to the table top
my cat thinking this is her new cat bed (it’s not)
display table with cage
some of the little bird paintings
Where would I be without commissions? They make all this possible, and I am thankful for every one of them.
Today I ordered rack cards, post cards, and a rack card holder I want to make a cool stand for. I have already received my save-the-date postcards which I will be mailing out soon. I need to hang up posters and my signs soon. My husband and I eloped so we were spared all the wedding preparations madness people talk about. No one to hang over my shoulder and ask me why I picked that font for the poster.
On Friday the 13th is our Fridays for the Arts night in Petersburg and I am still working on portraits. This will be the last Friday for the Arts at the Art Room Gallery.
The gallery I have called home-away-from-home for eleven months is closing after this month. I am moving all my paintings, easels and furniture out before the 25th. It was great while it lasted.
Along with the portraits, I am painting little bird paintings.
I still have more portraits to paint and I haven’t even begun the interviewing and writing part yet but over all things have been going well. My little file of completed work is getting bigger. I have a well received art show at the Petersburg Public Library. I have two graphic novel stories written out ready for thumbnails (for some one who can’t seem to finish her novel, this is good). And I have loads of travel plans this summer.
Well, I have been working on the Portraits of Petersburg exhibit but missed a week because of illness. I have to prep for my art show at the Petersburg Public Library and will be taking a selection of my portraits plus a few other paintings to hang. Library already has made a flyer and written a press release. Since it is May the art theme will be “mothers” and I want to post quotes from the participants next to the work. Another possibility is famous quotes painted on canvas. We will see.
The flyer looks great.
I still have a few more days to paint some more portraits. Already I started two today;
I am on portrait number 25, but I want to still do more. The impact will be greater with a large group. 2016 will have to be my ‘Year of Portraits”.
Portraits of Petersburg: From January 8th to April 7thGallery visitor: “Wow, these look so much better in person than in a photograph.”
Twenty-one! I counted all the portraits I completed so far since I started in January. Two portraits have found homes already as gifts, leaving me with 19 on display at the gallery for the whole month of April. Of course I have to keep painting and started portrait number 22 and what else do I do this week? Sign up even more people to paint. Naturally. Now that I have over 50 people signed up I want to make it an even bigger project.
You must be willing to suffer for the sake of art.
Here you can see the progression from sketch to finished portrait of local artist Jasmine Mills (instagram@ARTISTJAZZ), completed just in time for display on Friday for the Arts in Old Towne while she has an art show at the Petersburg Area Art League.
The big news is I am going to be showing my portrait art at the Petersburg Public Library next month. The library is asking me to do something appropriate for Mother’s Day and I have something already in mind.
The GoFundMe donations for #PortraitsofPetersburg are still coming in and I am so grateful to have people so interested in supporting this community art project. The lease will be soon up at the gallery and I may be looking for new studio space soon but I will keep painting portraits.
This is the latest painting finished for Portraits of Petersburg. I am running behind a bit but I have another almost completed on the easel today so I think I can get back on track.
The next big hurdle will be keeping my studio space if the gallery closes earlier than expected. The lease was to run out end of June and I had planned on having a show in the gallery on the 10th, June’s Friday for the Arts in Petersburg but now it looks like someone else would like to rent the space. I need to find a new place to work. The GoFundMe page has raised $533.00 so far, for which I am grateful, but I need to maintain a locale in Petersburg if this show is to keep on growing so I have to keep all my options open.
One thing I do love is painting the portraits. They are luminous when you see them in person. So much softer in appearance than in a photo. At first I wasn’t sure if the strong colors straight out of the tubes would work because acrylics can look hard and flat and the crazy mix of colors can overwhelm the features of the person. I want these paintings to look lively as well as capture a likeness even with the constraints of only two days of painting per portrait.
(Ok, maybe I should explain. This sounds like the beginning of an Artist Anonymous meeting.)
I had an idea. It formed over long hours painting Christmas decorations in an old warehouse for historic Old Towne Petersburg in Virginia. The warehouse was old and had no electricity in the beginning. I had to paint during daylight hours, bring my own coffee and food, and dress in layers as the space was in turns too hot or too cold. The city bought the paint and provided the supplies; I provided some creativity and the muscle. Electricity was restored. I could run saws, a coffee maker, a drill. Later volunteers, interns, city employees and work release inmates showed up to help. The Department of Cultural Arts and Tourism provided food and drink and everyone worked hard to finish in time for the Christmas illumination on December 11. Everyone asked who I am and what I do for a living. Somehow Petersburg’s Christmas ‘artist in residence’ didn’t satisfy, prompting an exchange something like this.
Person: “What do you paint?”
Me:”Portraits, mostly, but anything really.”
Person: “Portraits? Can you paint a picture of me?”
Me: “Sure. Come by my studio and I will paint one.”
Person: “How much that cost?”
Me: “It depends on the finished size. If you–”
Person: “Are you any good? I want to see some painting you did.”
Me: uh oh. “I have some painting at the studio.” (I rented my studio space in July 2015 and started working on Christmas decorations in September. Only three months into my nascent art career after burying my ‘drawer’ novels.)
This idea started to take shape. I wanted to paint portraits again. I wanted to paint all kinds of real people from all walks of life and give them the chance to see it up close. I wanted to practice a type of alchemy, where I take paint and canvas from a 2 dimensional surface to a fully formed believable person looking back. I wanted to be challenged, forced to work quickly and move on, relying on muscle memory honed in figure drawing class and studio painting, so I can work quickly yet accurately and still give life to my subjects.
So I came up with #portraitsofpetersburg and asked people in the gallery on a cold day in January to trust me to paint their portrait for a future exhibit. Sandhi Gold convinced her friend Fawn Talbert to pose for me first, on faith that I can paint a portrait.
She brought her friend. More people signed up. In February I had even more sign up. I now had 48 people. Time to figure out how this would all work out.