Saturday, December 30, 2017

Progress of an Artist

Okay, so before the year is over I do have some art to share. Today I went back over the entries I've done in this blog and I noticed that I skip many pieces of art that I do without ever posting them on here. I've never had a New Year's resolution before, but I'll make an exception this year and hope that next year I will do a better job at keeping my blog updated with my art as I continue to create new pieces.

About a week or two ago I had a conversation with my friend who is very integral to the support system of my pursuit of a career as an illustrator/artist. He has been immensely encouraging and he asked me "why is it that you work on so many projects that are indirect to your attaining a job as an illustrator instead of just getting to the part where you actually just sit down and illustrate a story so you have that for your portfolio?" About two days later my mom asked me the exact same thing, only in much more urgent tones.

I had the same answer for both of them. I work on all these other projects because I feel that they will lead me to a better developed artistic style and mastery of technique. They help me practice concept development slowly. Rather than forcing myself to work on a story and be inspired by the same set of characters for an extended period of time, I am training myself to be inspired constantly but instead of being limited by a storyline, I am only limited by a set of parameters much wider so as to train my brain to create images without overloading it with too many limitations at once.

I think back on the summer I interned at some Stop Motion Animation studios. All the people that I did end up getting close to who gave me a small window into their perception of their job basically told me that because they're working on a collaborative project that is not their own, they feel constricted artistically within their job and prefer to work in lower stress studios where they have ample personal time to create their own personal projects at home so as to have artistic freedom and expression of their own.

I think that experience and knowledge has led me to almost fear being trapped in such a job. An illustration job where I feel trapped by someone else's imagination. It's like that compass in one of the Pirate of the Caribbean movies. It only takes you where you want to go, but it can only do it when you know EXACTLY where that is. Right now I'm in a state where I'm not certain of what exactly I want to achieve as an artist, and maybe I'll never find out and continue to work on my own projects occasionally selling something here and there. Which would be fine. But I hope that my vision will crystalize and take me to an end game, a new beginning of a career that I will love.

This Christmas I worked on some ornaments for my family to give as gifts. I'm going to post one a day so as to not visually overload my post. The one below is an image that I did not create myself, I must admit. I really like ships but I'm not very savvy in drawing them yet, so I looked onto the cover of a book I am currently reading, We the Drowned. This exact image is on the cover of the book and I really liked it, so I simply copied it. This is one of the baby steps I sometimes take to learn to draw something new. I copy it. After copying enough of the same thing I begin to get a better sense of my own take on the object of my art and while I may use references from photos, I still create my own image. Not this time though. Although I did use gold leaf, and that was not part of the book cover, which was black and white.


Thursday, December 7, 2017


Life has had many changes in the past 5 months since I've been back from Russia. I got pregnant and found out recently that I'm going to have a son. My husband and I did our first gig together at the Dusty Monk playing as the Gipsy Pirate Octopi after planning on it basically since the month we met.    We had an art show with some of the Citizens Warehouse artists. And of course other life things happened in between those events.

About three months ago I started painting a very special painting for a friend who was gracious enough to offer to use his beautiful home to host our wedding. I promised him a matryoshka of himself in March of this year as a thank you for hosting. But as I continued to make matryoshka of other friends and family, my paintings became gradually larger and more and more complex.

Originally I started painting small pieces, just 4 x 4 inches, with only one central figure and some ornate folk designs.

This was the first first in the series, 4x4"

After doing a few more I ran out of the small scraps of watercolor paper I was working with and found a larger piece of watercolor scrap paper and immediately I added architecture because there was space for it.

This was the 6th in the series. 6.5x7"

But this was the only scrap of watercolor paper I had in that size, so the next painting I did had to be on a larger sheet from a pad. I did three at 12x16" and each time they seemed to be more time consuming.

This was 9th in the series. 12x16"

When I came around to painting the gift I promised to Chris Stamos I wanted outdo myself. Partially because I wanted to show him my gratitude because I love my husband very much and our wedding was so beautiful and all things related to it I want to be beautiful, including the gift that I give to our friend for opening up his home to our celebration. Also, after seeing what I can do in the painting above I wanted to do something even better, I want to evolve as an artist, even if I am doing Matryoshkas, I want each one to be better than the next. 

I worked intermittently because so many things were happening, I was already in my first trimester and it proved very difficult to work on anything during that time as I wanted to sleep most of the time. Also, I had to spend quite a bit of time rehearsing with Tony and practicing the accordion on my own as well. But finally I finished my latest masterpiece!

10th in the series, 15x20"

Monday, October 9, 2017

Artistic Analysis: a Farewell to an Old Painting

Wow, it's been a long time since I wrote my last post! I guess I got busy. Trying to work a side job in education and develop an artistic career at the same time makes it hard to keep up with social media. Last weekend though, I did get to stay in my brand spanking new studio during Open Studio Tours and work on my latest piece while visitors trickled in and out.

I sold a painting that I did a long time ago, in 2010! I loved getting rid of it. Although it is one was of my favorites, it has been around a long time and I hoped that someday someone else would take over its care.

This piece is called Jealousy and I painted it right after the following small occurrence: I was hanging out with a friend who'd recently broke up with a girlfriend of his whom I never met. Suddenly, for the first time ever, she decided to visit unexpectedly since the break up. He never told me about her, because we'd become friends only recently, and so I had no idea who she was, but I could tell that something was wrong due to her pensive manner and her carefully observant glances of me. I just couldn't understand what the problem was. After she left, he explained to me what was happening and it all made sense.

So then I made this drawing/painting, and although I did not set out with the intention of depicting this event, it turned out that the image closely resembled the situation. On the left is a little child like spirit, representing carefree joy. Next to the child is a lady who has wild hair, and a fun polka dot dress with unusual blue lip stick, she is a symbolic representation of myself at the time. Next is a man with a long orange beard who seems awkward and lost, that's my friend, he didn't have a long beard but he did have reddish hair and large blue eyes, and he did feel awkward and trapped. Lastly there's a lady who seems very prim and proper and has a bit of a judgmental expression on her face. That's my friend's ex-girlfriend.

Some other details: there's a glass of juice labeled so in Russian, standing on the table between the child spirit and myself, I think that is representative of innocence in contrast to the bottle of vodka, labeled so in Russian, standing between my friend and his ex, which I think represents some darker, heavier emotion. Also, something you can't see in this image but is evident in the original, is there's a snake that slithers along the bottom of the entire painting, and I think this snake represents the poisonous nature of the relationship my friend described to me after his ex left.

None of this analysis was in my conscious mind while I made the image. It was only after I was done with it and showed it to my friend that we were able to analyze and come up with all the parallels.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Revisiting Old Sketches

About a year ago my husband bought me some watercolor pencils as a gift. It set me off on a large portrait spree and I used them to draw/paint 6 pieces from live subjects. I did close studies of the people I was drawing and I loved using the pencils because I haven't used pencils since I was a teenager and always thought of it as an inferior medium because it was so simple to use. But being older and wiser I realized that easier is not so bad. I like it when things are easy sometimes, it's like a bonus in life.

It is a very rare occasion for me to sketch and one day I had a brand new watercolor pad sitting in front of me, 15x20 inches and I though, what the hell, why not try to do a quick self portrait study but not worry too much about being realistic. I ended up with an expressionistic portrait of myself that I rather liked. It took me about an hour maybe a little longer to sketch it and I put it aside and never looked at it again.

A week ago I opened that pad planning to use it for the my next piece and saw the old sketch. I didn't want to waste the paper and didn't want to detach it from the pad either. It's a block pad and helps keep the paper from warping when getting it wet so I decided to finish the painting. I started off with just a blueish face. After brushing water over the pencil I added a pattern to the background imitating wall paper using a fabric pattern I have from some curtains I made a while back.

In the spirit of coming back to old things I decided to revisit gold/silver/whatever... leafing. I used this medium a lot during college. I loved the reflective texture and the meticulous process of applying the adhesive, laying the leaf and brushing off the excesses in intricate patterns. I thought this would be a visually impressive but an intellectually simple way of adding something to the piece.

While applying the silver leaf I had much time to contemplate the piece. I think perhaps this is one reason I love the tentative, time consuming mediums. While doing something that is repetitive I have plenty of time to think of things and come up with ideas that may improve either my art, or life in general. In this instance I remembered that all my portraits had unrealistic colors. I always started my portraits with a color scheme in mind and for each color in the scheme I would assign a value, so that instead of using a grey scale for shadows and highlights, or just a value scale in a similar color range I would invent my own value scale using different colors.

In this painting the scale from darkest to lightest is as follows: blue, red, yellow and white.

For the past few months I considered this practice and recognized that in many paintings this sort of approach would be defined as the underpainting. After adding various hews to create depth and represent any reflected colors an artist might add a layer of skin tones. I've been basically dreaming of the day that I could accomplish this level of complexity. This painting having taken me very little time thus far was a good candidate for experimentation. And so I took a peach colored pencil and simply went over every part of the skin and added a thick layer of what was the closest color I had in my collection of pencils to my own skin tone. I was very pleased with the results.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Artistic Process

About three months ago I had a freelance job for a lady who lives in New York. She is a costume designer and was working on costumes for Disney Land in Tokyo, Japan. She provided me with very detailed, photoshop generated mock ups of the costumes she designed and I was to paint them on paper. She later explained to me that I was simply filling in a small portion of her artistic process. First she would design the costumes and plan their colors. Then I would use her computer mock ups and swatches to create the colors on paper. It turns out that the costume makers would use my drawings for color matching rather than the computer generated mock ups because the computer screen shines light through the image and it makes it very hard to interpret the colors in the real world. So my work basically made her imagination's ideal easier to interpret for the costume makers. Then the costumes were going to be made using white material. Then adjustments and remakes would be made. And then, finally, the actual materials would be used to make the actual costumes.

Sometimes one of my paintings for her would take about 20 or more hours to finish. It wasn't because I was slow, but because it was painstakingly time consuming to mix the right shades of colors, check with her via text and photos weather or not the colors were correct and often times repainting the same vestige 4 or more times until I would get the color right. She had something like 60 of those kinds of images, if I remember correctly. I did not get to paint all of them, but I painted quite a few, I think about 16 and it was very time consuming. The incredible thing was that I was not even providing her with a finished product of her brain child. I was only one cog in a big wheel of an artistic process that led to the eventual completion of the project. After working for her and getting insight into her very intricate and time consuming process I came to a realization that there really was no cutting corners when you wanted to get a thing done right.

I've always been under the impression that I should learn to make my paintings quicker. I like to have intricate details, but I should somehow accelerate the making of the details by figuring out some way where they're suggested rather than carefully depicted. Now I know that if I like to have intricate details I should come to terms that those details will take some time to create and it's okay that it will take many hours, because that's how long a thing takes to make if I want it done the way I envision it in my brain. I think my latest piece really shows growth in my willingness to do what I endeavor to accomplish. I've certainly done other paintings in my life that took as long and were quite intricate, but I think this has a larger diversity in depth and pattern and I hope that my next pieces continue to improve.

This current work has taken me at least 30 hours to paint if not longer. A very basic run down of my process is that I choose images to reference when I decide to paint something. Then I combine various elements and use those images when necessary to look at. I use many rulers, compasses and right angles. I switch from tiny to larger brushes and back to tiny ones depending on the size of the surface area I am painting. Sometimes I look at a book of my favorite artist to help me with technique or to simply inspire myself when I'm making decisions on what direction to go to accomplish the best result.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

From Russia to the USA

I started this piece while I was living with my grandma. She has this photo of herself in her 40s that she really likes and she wanted me to paint her when she was still young and beautiful.

I wanted to paint her in her own apartment, using the things that surround her in her daily life and add elements of the house she spent 20 years building in the country side which she has now sadly sold 10 years ago and never stops regretting it. Originally I planned to use her tablecloth from her apartment and paint cherry blossoms and a yellow wooden house for the backdrop.

The design didn't seem as interesting as the scene that presented itself to me in her very own kitchen so I chose to simply surround her with what she lives with now. That way overtime, when she looks at the painting it won't have to hurt her with painful memories of a regretful decision to sell her house.

Boris Kustodeev is a painter revered in Russia for his depictions of beautiful and flourishing merchant wives. One of the most famous of his works and one of my most favorites as well is titled a Merchant's Wife (very original).

I saw it last year during my trip to St. Petersburg and I've wanted to paint something along its lines for a long time now. My painting from today is my first of its kind and I hope to make many more in the future. I love the abundance of the table setting, the picturesque background and the lavishness of the lady's attire. I especially aspire to the depth of Boris Kustodeev's designs.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Back to Art

I've taken a few days since my return to visit some friends and spend some time with my husband and his lovely little daughter. Today I'm mentally preparing to go back into painting starting tomorrow. To get myself motivated I'd like to share this drawing I worked on during my stay in Russia. After I worked for a costume designer in New York, I ended up meeting her on my way to Russia. I spent the night in her home and she was very kind and welcoming.

She gave me a gift of some paintbrush markers from Japan. I've never used them before so I went to town with them in my free time when hanging out at my grandma's. This is a scene from the fairy tale "the Terrible Revenge" by Gogol. In this scene a guest at a wedding at the start of the story suddenly turns into a shapeshifter anti-chirst and everyone witnesses his sudden transformation and the guests become terrified. Using the markers really helped me get away from my usual precision and be more quick and gestural in my strokes.

I've wanted to illustrate this entire story for many years now, but I've still some other work to finish before I can truly invest myself into this series. I have to finish all the Matryoshkas of my friends I've promised them I'd make.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Back at Last

I am so happy to be back home. After staying away for almost two months coming back felt strange. I saw my home with new eyes and I loved seeing it again. I felt the heat and it was brutal. I saw Fourth Av. and it was empty. I thought about the masses of people in the streets of St. Petersburg, especially downtown. I thought of the metro in rush hour and wondered how we were all able to walk in different directions without walking into each other every second, like a bunch of babies playing bumper cars.

At the end of May a gentle white flower blooms called "Under Snow". It usually grows in the forest under the melting snow. I'm not sure how or why it's in this snowless field.

I have often wondered the same thing when walking on the U of A campus between two periods, I think that's usually the 10 minutes before the hour. Everyone is rushing, no one is checking the street before crossing it and bikers and skateboarders are flooding the same paths as the pedestrians in all different directions. Somehow no one ever seems to get hurt and I think the human brain is amazing for being able to navigate through such chaos.

My grandmother can never take a walk without sitting down on a bench for a rest. Here we're sitting in our neighborhood in one of the small refuges from the city. You can pretend you're in the country when you sit here.

St. Petersburg was beautiful because of the pretty buildings, lush summer foliage and aromatic spring time blooms of lavender, cherry blossoms and fresh leaves sprouting on the branches that smell of the gentle green color. St. Petersburg was home because of my grandmother that I know and love and the strangers whose faces I understand with their open frankness and meek soulfulness. Tucson is home because of the large support network of friends and family I am so fortunate to have and because I know where the yummiest food is, where my friends play the best music and where people I know and love show their art.

I wish my grandmother didn't live by herself. I am sorry to leave her so far away where she has no family and most of her friends are already dead.

I am so happy to be back home.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

From Cold to Hot

I've spent May and most of June in St. Petersburg. The warmest it's been here during those two months is 70 degrees, and that was only for one day. I wore my summer dress only once. Some time at the end of May the central heating system in our building was turned off for the summer because the temperatures had reached 65 degrees in the day and at night it did not drop to freezing anymore. For a week the weather seemed to be warming up. Suddenly it dropped down to 48 degrees in the day and no one turned the central heating system back on in the building. It was REALLY cold for an entire week.

At home I wore woolen socks, a sweater dress, a large cotton sweater and a woolen scarf wrapped around my head. I found a Soviet Era space heater in my grandmother's closet. It was made of a bright red plastic on the outside and I was afraid that it would melt if it got really hot. I'm not sure why I thought this, upon reflection I recall that I have plastic space heaters at home which work just fine, although now I question the choice of material. Unfortunately the old space heater was missing a prong in its socket.

I think that if I could add up all the days that were actually warm in the city, they would amount to one full week. And if you counted up the days that I could spend entirely without wearing a coat, it would probably amount to two days. On the 21st, in the evening, I will be in Tucson. I really missed the heat.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Saying Goodbye

I walked out onto the balcony today, on my grandmother's flat on the fifth floor to hang up her laundry. The air is fresh, a cool breeze is blowing and the sun is shining. A beautiful day. Aroma from the lavender is floating all the way up to the fifth floor. It must be pungent down there, on the ground. The radio plays songs from the Soviet Era, the 90s and some contemporary stuff I've never heard. My grandma is fixing a cabinet door she's been waiting for me to come and fix for many years now. I was supposed to fix it today, maybe she'll let me finishing the job. She's upset, she's mad, she knows I'm leaving in less than 48 hours.

View from my grandma's kitchen window on a rainy day (June 2017)

I'm drinking my coffee and crying. She saw my tears fall, she said nothing. What is there to say. She lived through the WWII blockade. She moves on, she can't cry, life does not care for tears. Tears do not feed you, tears do not fix things. I remembered my feeling of love for this country. I've been away for so long that I forgot. But now I remember and I can come back home and carry the painful, aimless love with me.

Marsovo Field and blooming lavender on a sunny day (June 2017)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Stuff about Russia and Me

I'm coming to the end of my stay in Russia. This trip is culminating with much time spent with my grandma. We spent so much of this trip waiting for doctors and worrying about possible surgeries that this time we have left together since the results feels like stolen freedom. In Russian we have an expression "torn off the leash" meaning we've been pent up not doing much and now we're going wild with all the sudden freedom we have. So we've been doing all the touristy things that people do.

The first time I visited since leaving was in 2008-2009, during the christmas and new years season. I spent a month with my grandma in the cold cold city and I remember then she went all over town with me and did a bunch of sight seeing and theater going. It took me 7 years to finally make it out again and last summer my grandmother hardly did anything with me. She seemed much more feeble than she did in 2009 and I had experienced my mother's decent into disability by then.

My experience of taking care of my mother and the hardships she faced whenever going outside of the house, and the stress it caused me to take care of her made me fear going out with my grandmother last summer. I was afraid that her personality would be difficult, like my mother's. I was afraid we would clash. I was afraid she'd be extravagant and embarrassing and I avoided going out with her.

This time a friend gave me some very good advice. I was complaining one day that my grandmother sometimes embarrasses me by the things she says or the things she does and it causes me to tension around her because I try to contain her outrageousness by reproaching her. My friend told me I should not worry so much about what other people might think of my grandma when she says or does things I don't like. Even if her behavior is offensive, it's not my fault and not my business to do anything about it.

Sleeping security guard on the train to the village (Summer of 2016)

I started to mind this advise and it really helped me to enjoy my grandma's company a lot. Besides, I  later realized that while she is a bit extravagant even in Russia, in her own city, the things she says are not as outrageous as I think. For me it's just culture shock. Certain conversations publicly unacceptable in my experience in the US, are normal and acceptable in Russia.

Another sleeping guard on the train to the village (summer, 2016)

Of course we all know that in theory when it comes to any country or culture, there are going to be polar opposites in some aspects. It's weird to experience these polar opposites suddenly and come to a realization that what you thought was your culture, is actually not something you can understand or accept anymore. What I mean is, because I'm Russian and because I've spent a certain amount of time growing up here and living with my Russian mother in the US as well, I have a belief that I am culturally like people in Russia.

I didn't anticipate that being here for two months would cause me so much internal turmoil. Turns out I only speak and look Russian, but many things are lost on me as far as ways people interact and things they say and value. Often times I've been truly upset by things and it's been a journey of acceptance and coming to terms with two very different worlds where things are different and yet the same.  It's funny to leave at the end of two months because I feel that it is now that I've finally come to terms with all the cultural differences and clashes and have overcome my culture shock. I leave with a bitter sweet taste of affection for this place that used to be my home.

Sleeping passanger on the train to the village (Summer 2016)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Feminists in St. Petersburg, Russia

So something that has been bugging me about my communication with people in Russia is the sheer amount of complaint against the government and the system and the colossal lack of action to create a better reality. Many conversations I've had with younger locals have gone somethings like this:

Local: May I ask where you're from?
Me: The US.
Local: Wow, you're lucky! I'm planning to go to (whatever other country) soon.
Me: Why?
Local: The government is no good, there's no opportunity, the economy is bad...

While everyone is complaining and masses desire to and many leave the country, no one is taking it up to do civil actions to attempt to make a change in the world around them. This passivity and the idea that going to a new country will magically make things better has made me very upset and I felt suffocated with the silent acceptance of what is clearly wrong in the world around.

My sense of distress led me to reach out to a woman I know through a mutual friend who is involved in activism with LGBT rights in Oakland. She is also a Russian immigrant and has spent a year in St. Petersburg as an adult studying in the university recently. I asked her if she knew of any people here taking concrete actions to better their environment. She led me to a group of feminists by the name of "Eve's Ribs".

I attended a lecture given by a lawyer regarding women's rights in the work place. Her focal points of discussion surrounded discrimination, women's vs. men's salary, and harassment. An example was brought up of discrimination in a recent case where the plaintiff was a stewardess and the defendant, the national airline, Aeroflot. The plaintiff complained that Aeroflot gave salary raises and international raises to younger, thinner stewardesses. All older and heavier stewardesses were restrained to national flights only and were on a different pay schedule from the younger more "attractive" ones. 

Aeroflot argued that the weight of the stewardesses effected the cost of operating the plane because it needed more fuel and even brought an actual monetary figure of loss per kilo per year! Also, they said that stewardesses who were thicker were less effectual in their job duties because they would not be able to walk down the isles since they'd be snagging the seats as they walked. Judges ruled in favor of Aeroflot, they did not think there was valid discrimination.

There is also a list of jobs, like about 600 of them, that women are simply not allowed to have in Russia because "they're bad for their reproductive system". A woman in the audience told us that she was part of a law firm that took action and set a precedent for battling this list of jobs. A woman who worked for the law firm and had no desire to take on one of these jobs actually went and applied and after being denied on the basis that she was a woman, the law firm took the case to court. This action created a lot of buzz in the media and eventually led to the firm taking on a real case with a woman who wanted a job she was not allowed to have. The woman won and got her job.

I asked if there was a constitution that made discrimination against the law. The lawyer said, yes, but in Russia it is considered to be in bad taste to bring up the constitution in a court of law. If a lawyer brings up the constitution to make a point everyone decides that it is time to stop listening to that lawyer and no one takes them seriously from that point on. I was also told that most of the cases are decided before they're even heard. Bribery is still ruling our country. If a high profile case is won by the plaintiff, it is often to their detriment. Some men recently won some case and soon there after a bag of money was dropped into their possession, they were caught by the police and spend some years in prison for theft. They were framed.

I learned a lot about the state of affairs in Russia during this lecture. But I was very happy to see that there was some people willing to speak of what is happening and to call it out for its injustice rather than just sit around complaining and wishing they were in a different country. There is still fear, and a lot of it, though. After the speaker told me that the judicial system is rigged, she asked that the person who was recording the event do not post the recording publicly and repeatedly alluded to the fact that she really shouldn't be saying the things she said about the courts. This was very disconcerting, for how can change be brought forth if people fear speaking out?

Change is happening, but it is happening slowly and carefully. Activism is treading lightly in St. Petersburg. The lady in charge of organizing the event told me that only recently the "feminism" was distasteful in her midsts and it has been a battle to simply get things rolling, but things are rolling and hopefully they will grow and flourish.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

More from Russian Ethnological Museum: Russian Section

As promised yesterday, here are more costume photos. Today's collection is from the Russian people's traditional clothes.