Toy Offering, Day 3

I usually choose to photograph all my subjects in ideal lighting conditions, but this one just happened to take place in a dimly lit room, and I kind of like the idea of this power exchange taking place in a poorly lit space, because it reinforces the idea that this activity is not sanctioned by an adult.


That being said, it’s a pain in the buttock to have all these diluted tones, and grey flesh. I pushed the orange in the shirt more than was necessary or realistic, just to please my eyes.

I’m thinking it would be either perfect or terrible to have the girl’s right hand on her hip, the way kids imitate their mothers. Especially with that knee cocked to the side the way it is. It might be terrible because right now it’s not exactly clear what she’s saying to him; we mostly decide what’s going on by our interpretation of his gesture. And yet, babies seldom understand what they’re told, so his gesture is unlikely to be an accurate reflection of her command. Which is sweet as well, because babies only do three things: Clutch something, offer something, and beg for something.

Perhaps Offering is the better title. Both the noun and the verb.


Toy Offering, Day 2


I don’t know what it is about these two figures, but I had some trouble “finding” them on the canvas, and so spent most of my time editing limbs, and trying to get the boy to stand up on his feet; he wanted to reach waaaaay out and beseech the older girl with the toy, but I only wanted him to offer it, and we fought a bit over that issue. The older girl wants to be more mature than she is, so tomorrow I’m going to have to enlarge her head a bit to remind her that she’s a baby still, too, in many ways.

I spent some time scrolling through images of toys to find something he could be offering her that is less desirable than the jack-in-the-box. It’s difficult because it has to be less desirable in both of their eyes, as well as in the viewers’ eyes. But I was playing with the idea of its being iconic in the way the jack-in-the-box is. In the end I made up this toy, and I’m not sure, but it might be working. I probably need to tweak the blue plastic though.

I’m also considering changing the title from Toy Offering to The Other One or something like Sacrifice – though not that exactly. Something that brings in elements of how the girl is playing the authority figure, and demanding something from the boy, and he’s willing to give this unwanted item, but not the desirable one; conciliatory, and even generous considering his age, but not sacrificial. However, putting that in the title is less interesting than putting it in the picture.

Toy Offering, Day 1 / Christmas Epiphanies

What a horrible start this one is turning out to be! I unintentionally marked the hours with episodes of Hercule Poirot, and each time a mystery was solved, I threw a little fit at how little I’d accomplished.


I am sure these images of children who might or might not be on the verge of a physical conflict have been stirring my worries about the upcoming holiday season. I’ve been dreading Christmas break just like I dreaded summer break 6 months ago. All those hours and days to fill. But today I found myself whistling Sleigh Ride in the kitchen, and having a revelation:

It is the endless, rancorous, boring, cranky, dark, stuck-inside days of the Christmas season that force us to fill the hours with creative tasks we can do together, and which became the inventor of things like gingerbread houses, caroling around the fire, and clothespin reindeer. We’ve got it all backwards, thinking we’ve got to cram all these family-bonding activities into a few days off. Actually, it is the blank hours of boredom that are the progenitors of bonding moments, and populate our memories with cozy family activities.

Which means that instead of trying to plan ahead to use our time wisely, I can totally procrastinate, and know that when the kids are whining about being bored, and getting into fights over the same toy, and I’m scrambling to come up with something to do with them, we’re actually making the best memories of their lives! Hooray for procrastination!



Jealous Rivals, Day 2 / Eric Fischl

The finger is not threatening enough yet, but these two girls are not destined to be friends.


I’ve been looking at Eric Fischl, and I love his mixture of the familiar and the disquieting. I feel a kinship with his images, although his subject matter is so different from mine. Part of the reason I started looking at him is that I was feeling like some of these images I’m making haven’t yet achieved the level of disquiet that I’m hoping to give them. But I don’t know if I’m just a few steps away from getting there, or if it is the compilations of all the images together that will bring about that change in how they’re viewed, or if it even matters. So far I’m following where they lead, and I’ll have a better idea later. Looking at Fischl’s work has helped me to see why I don’t actually want to declare that something is wrong in too direct a way.

Eric Fischl

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The Beginning and the End, 1988

Fischl came on the art scene after the death of painting had already been declared, and realist painting was long dead and buried and gone, and they had planted daffodils over its grave. He has this beautiful description of how he knew he wasn’t an abstract painter, in Eric Fischl: 1970-2000:

“When I was an abstract artist every painting I did was basically the last painting I could do. It was always such an existential drama to make a picture…. Looking at artists I knew who were abstract painters, I could see that for them the language was totally natural. There was no hesitation; they knew when they should change the size of their brush. I never changed the size of my brush: Why change, what’s the rationale? …It seemed arbitratry to change or mix up any of those things. That’s where realism becomes interesting because I can actually say, I can’t paint a flower with this big fat brush, I have to use a smaller brush.”

What a perfect way to express the differences between artists! He could have spent his whole life thinking he was missing something, but instead he followed his inclination for realism, and it paid off.


Eric Fischl became the realist painter who fleshed out what David Salle and Julian Schnabel, Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman were doing in the neo-expressionism movement. He said,

“Modernism has always allowed painters from the realist tradition to be part of each movement… Balthus was included with the surrealists, David Hockney with the pop artists, Philip Pearlstein with the minimalist painters, or Fairfield Porter with the abstract expressionists. There’s always one realist because they address the issues in their work, but they’re still connected to this other tradition. They justify the avant-gardists’ program because they become the dialectic.”


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Sleepwalker, 1979

Fischl became a rockstar in the art world with “Sleepwalker” and “Bad Boy”. He was setting out to prove that painting was not dead, because it still had the ability to shock.

Yet these paintings do so much more than discuss which images, if any, still have the ability to provoke. They open up a whole dialogue about the presence of beauty in a realistic image, and the psychological private life of children, and their location in suburbia gives Fischl the ability to talk about people as they really are, without their cultural aspirations standing in the way.

When I talk about this, I call it being ‘at home’.

Fischl is definitely in my artist’s family tree, but given the fact that he’s still making paintings today, he would be my artistic father or grandfather. Yikes! I should be trying to meet him!

For more about Eric Fischl, take a look at:



Days 1,2 and 3 of an Unnamed Painting / Edwin Dickinson

Days 1, 2, and 3 of an in-progress painting, which I really don’t want to name Shopping Mothers, or Escape Plan, or even LowCal Beverage, although I quite like the idea of that one. I think it’s funny the way the boys are intent on breaking free from their carts, while the mothers are engrossed in reading packaging. They each inhabit their own private spaces both with their gazes and their thoughts, except for the boy on the right, whose eyes and thoughts are entirely in the other boys’ space.

Looking at these images I find it odd the way that so much happened on the canvas on the first day, when I was in the studio for 6 hours, while days 2 and 3 seem to have made such minor progress, although I spent 5 and 3 hours on those days, respectively. Probably I feel exhausted by this image because I’ve been painting plastic for three straight sessions. But it doesn’t help that day two was election day, and day three was the day after we learned the results, so my spirits were not conducive to freedom. Edwin Dickinson said you can only produce a quality painting by functioning at the height of your enthusiasm, so perhaps I should have stayed home while I was in a funk. He told his students to paint as though they were jumping onto a moving train, and I love the energy I have to fill my chest with just to imagine making that leap; it puts me in a great place to work from. Maybe I should get an image of a moving train to put up in the studio. At any rate, this painting needs to be set aside for a week or so, until I’m inspired by it again.

It could also just be the repetitive plastic.

Edwin Dickinson

Edwin Dickinson was a Symbolical painter,


The Rival Beauties, 1915

who was among the early American painters of the premier coup (first strike) method.


View of Great Island, 1940

This was an intense session of spontaneous painting, born in Europe in the first half of the 19th century. It was an all-out attack on nature, which invited painters to test their skills en plein air (in open air). The method migrated to the US in the 1860s, but did not receive critical endorsement for decades, because critics considered the paintings too unfinished. The approach was incorporated into the curriculum of institutions like the Art Students League, where Dickinson learned the technique from William Merritt Chase.


Coast at Wellfleet with a Wreck, 1930


In America the premier coup also signified democracy and individuality, speed and intuition. It can be seen as the origin of gestural abstraction which then ushered in the era of Abstract Expressionism.



Jetty, Point Lookout, 1953

Dickinson earned a living as a painting teacher who earned the unbridled adoration of his students. One of his lessons which makes sense to me is what he called a ‘color-spot’. He focused on color masses in the visual material, and tried to break students from the habit of knowing beforehand what they were looking at. There was often a reference to unnameable color, or no-color color, which was an attempt to rid students of their conventional knowledge when looking at an object.


Cove, Wellfleet, 1946


Dickinson told his students to paint as if seeing an object for the first time. This resonates with me, as I often find that my drawings will be wrong when I am thinking too much, rather than recording faithfully the abstract shapes my eyes are taking in.


Nude with Pine Cones, Marie, 1939

Dickinson is definitely in my artist’s family tree. The feeling of my premier coups are not very similar to his in stye, but I feel like my figures are not very dissimilar. That’s a fun discovery from an artist I just got turned on to!

If you’d like to read more about Edwin Dickinson, here are a couple good links: