Tuesday, February 24, 2009

FACE TO FACE With the past.

Recently I had the delight of going to The Vanity Fair Portrait Exhibit at LACMA in Los Angeles featuring 100 years of VF photo portraits. Great show.

It reminded me of the old days before my portrait career when I was a Hollywood makeup gal fixing the faces of stars.  See first image upper left from Vanity Fair. That's me shooting the breeze with Shelley Winters and Carroll Baker in curlers, hers not mine. I was part of a Vanity Fair 1995 mega shoot with Herb Ritts and Annie Leibovitz in 1995. And when I say mega, consider this; 210 people to shoot and one dog, 1,276 dresses, 295 bras (!!!), and 662 pairs of high heels. It was a HUGE crew in hangar with a helluva crowd to feed for lunch. I really miss craft services still. Someone swanning around offering you a custom-made eggwhite omlette and frappa-whappa coffee at 11 a.m.! 

 I know I earned way more money then than I do now. Hey, like Naomi Campbell I didn't get out of bed for less that $10,000 a day. 

 But my art was washed off at the end of the day and rarely stood the test of portfolio time, let alone a careless cup of coffee or  ciggie (models ALL smoke) smearing my perfectly applied lips. Happened ALL the time and used to really tick me off. Drink through a straw please! Forget someone crying through my perfectly curled fake lashes. That would send me DUO Glue  frickin' nuts. I don't care what caused the tears.  Makeup people aren't always treated that well. I used to HATE being called "THE MAKEUP GIRL", that I can tell you.

You are the first to arrive and the last to leave  and LOW on the roll of credits. Just look at movie credits.  Makeup people are way down the list. But if you mess up what is in your makeup chair at 4 a.m., the WHOLE day's shoot can go to pieces. 

I haven't looked at my old portfolio and magazine covers/clippings for YEARS. Kind  of turned my back on the whole darn thing after an illness made me leave my agency and eventually devote myself to "painting" art. 

But I suddenly and unexpectedly had this huge sudden sense of pride at the VF show at LACMA that I had once done this. Been part of this crazy world.

It has been so rewarding going back through the old clippings. My old life. Face to face with my past comparing notes on how my art is today compared to then. How much I know now that I didn't know then.

Can I say, (I hardly dare) that I really didn't realize how good I was as a makeup artist? That I really was artistic with all this goop. I hardly dared call myself an 'artist' in those days.

Ahhhh....sweet reunion of sorts. Certainly got me thinking...

Makeup by Johanna Spinks (bottom two images). All images Copyrighted.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I have come to realize recently I need to do rainy day paintings, even on sunny days.

Paintings that you do along side your commission work, to keep your juices flowing. Not for any reason, galleries, shows, etc., other than the rainy day principle of saving money in the bank. Except this is the bank of creativity! 

I find this new discipline gets me marching into my studio in the morning, hair flying, teeth gnashing,  raring to go like an  old Porsche engine. 

This is one I finished today
 12"x 10". Oil on linen board.

I allow myself to work in rainy day mode, trying not to feel guilty, for only for a couple of hours and then I move on to the work I am supposed to be doing that I AM very grateful for. I am finding I am all fired up once I hit that portrait I am supposed to be painting. And just like that old Porsche engine, it all runs super smooth. Better in fact than before. I feel I am being more productive actually.

By the way, I really like old Porsches. There is a dinosaur of one sitting in my driveway. Well maintained,  (like me?). The seats and carpet are cosy teddy bear brown. Good on a rainy day. Think Snuggle Fabric Softener. 

Images copyrighted.

Friday, February 20, 2009


I had the pleasure this week of doing a public portrait demo for members of The Camarillo Art Center, Ventura, CA.,  painting my favorite model, the very talented young actress Cassie Y. She brings so much energy and beauty to the room. We like each other a lot and have worked together a- plenty.  I would book her more but she is always darn 'acting-up-a storm'.  I find her 'energy' quite delightful in an L.A. alfalfa sprout kinda way.

When THIS demo was being arranged, the subject came up with the organizer as to WHO would be my model?  Couldn't I just do....? Why? Really?

Well, I don't think I really explained myself that well with hindsight so apologies for that and with respect, let me now explain why my choice was important for me...

The beauty of blogs, n'est ce pas? (Getting ready for France chaps!) 

When I demo, (or teach in my class at LAAFA), I talk SO much, that I look for a face that I know somewhat and that I can easily put on my canvas. This is because I feel a teaching demo should be just that. For the purposes of teaching. Not me delivering a masterpiece quietly with  IPOD headphones on, or music playing, with no step by step instruction to the assembled group. The chances of a masterpiece are very slim in the first place!!

You always have a 50/5o percent chance of a success or a disaster on the very best painting day in your quiet studio. Forget a public demo. The pressure is on.   Until you do public painting, you won't know this pressure. It is called the FEAR OF FAILURE in public. Easier going naked for Playboy. At least you know what you are working with. 

I prepare for my public demos and my classes BIGTIME every week. I bring props, (THINK PINK headscarf on this demo), handouts, teaching aids, whatever I can think of to make it a good art lesson. Hell, I will even wear candyfloss if it helps.

I talk a mile a minute, wanting to share what I have been given. I believe in this in such a heartfelt way. Play it forward. This is THE reason why I started teaching in the first place.  Certainly not to make money!

I choose to think pink not green $$. Although pink is nice in Playboy. Especially fluffy ostrich  feathery stuff.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stinky paint rags..

Wish I looked like this when I paint but alas I don't.  An artist has two sets of clothes, one set with paint on, the other set with paint about to get on them.

Come see how my rags hold up tonight. I will be doing a public portrait painting demo in Camarillo, CA., featuring the beautiful Cassie who is a favorite of mine.

And look how cheap this is??? NON-members of The Camarillo Art Club  can get to see all my secrets for just $5 as special visitors. Secrets which have cost me THOUSANDS to learn. Who could resist that if my clothing issues don't appeal.

And BTW, the artist pictured here is one of my favorite painters, Elizabeth Vignee Le Brun in a a self-portrait.  How the hell did she paint so well (look at her skin tones, blue veins and all), look like that, and have NO access to a shower??  Her rags might look swish here but I bet they were pretty stinky.

Camarillo Art Center
3150 Pondersosa Drive
CA 93010
$5 for non-members
Doors open at 6.30 pm

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I returned to my teaching class today at LAAFA (portrait painting  from the live model and still life from the live still life!) after another smashing weekend workshop with the remarkable Mr. Everett Raymond Kinstler, N.A., ( at The Arts' Student League of New York, my sixth February there in as many years studying with him.

Oh what joy it is to watch this great man paint. I feel so grateful.  One of his teaching tools is to do a super quick value study to show the point of painting on a mid-value dried ground rather than virgin white, judging how values RELATE mixing from a mid-value wood palette. He has very few rules in his workshops but NO  white paper palettes is one of them. 

The exact same color/value is used on both sides of the canvas from the same soup of paint,canvas  divided down the middle. One can  see clearly how quickly form can be built up on the mid-value side, using the dried toned canvas to create sheer silvery grey halftones.

I decided today to do such a mini- demo in MY own teaching class for the first time. I have always found this mini-demo each time with Mr. K. a great reminder of what it is all about. "Search for the middle", as John Singer Sargent's teacher Carlos Duran advised him to do in his early atelier days. Not that I will ever be in that category of painters but I can search for the middle using this approach.

Students and other artists are often resistant to this idea I find. Come to class with wet grounds colored day-glo green (no thin transparent silvery grey halftones  possible now using this wet ground) or just stick to using that wedding dress white canvas. 

 I had one old timer insist I was out of my mind toning the canvas ahead of time.  Sacrilegious to good painting. I think he thought I was out of my mind about other things too. Actually, safe to say, the guy didn't like me at all. Still doesn't.

Fine by me. I am fastidiously holding my ground no matter what. Just as well as I never looked good in virginal white even in my Madonna mimicking 80's days.

I post a head study done from this weekend's workshop in NYC, 18x24, three hours,  along with my mini-class value demo today taking a leaf out of the estimable Mr. K's large teaching book.  

All thanks to him and the middle.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I heard recently a major museum is doing a show of those retro  'paint by number' oil paintings that you buy in a cardboard box complete with little tubs of garish paint as small as pill boxes and a few K-Mart quality brushes.

I think this is a really good thing. I have always been intrigued by these kits and even did a couple when I was a kid. The painting appears like magic before your eyes. They are quite marvelous really if you don't want to be bothered spending a lifetime on the annoying skills needed to really paint. Sucks that one has to learn to draw and paint and color theory is for the birds.

I was reminded of this magic on a very recent trip to Raleigh, N.C., for a portrait artist meet/greet with scores of reps hosted by my  Southern portrait agency.

All was just lovely. Basically a weekend long portraitfest to sell yourself and your portrait work. Nothing wrong in that! Lucky in these times really. Chit-chat flowed along with the wine and southern charm until I got to the afternoon 'paint from life' session. There I was painting in front of 25 of my peers, some of THE  very best portrait painters in the land, and being watched by artists who chose not to paint, and oh, only about 40 agency reps from around the country.

It suddenly dawned on me, one false move of the brush, and there might be no more bookings in my future. You are only as good as you last head study let's be honest. And a bomb in front of this crowd would be of Titanic proportions. I have often been told I look a little like Titanic Kate Winslet  ( I wish!)  but I didn't want to be at the helm of this collision. The pressure felt a little 'on' to be honest to avoid the artistic iceberg that could possibly be ahead of me.

I started out pretty good, but then lost my navigation, only to regain course toward the end after a serious self-talk about what was needed. I LOVE those kind of talks! That is of course the joy and pain of life  painting. Things can go south real quick especially when you are in THE South. Why do we do it? There are easier ways to paint. Numbers, projection,  and tracing are all out there but I want to be an artist who relies on a skill that has been built up through repetition and training.

It got me to thinking about how a paint by number deal would be very cool for life painting. Someone should invent an acetate -type thing you can place over the model's face, number it, and then transfer your numbers to your canvas! Bingo.

And then I realized, I pretty much DO paint by numbers when I life paint and it was actually this approach that got me through the icy bumps on this afternoon. My paint by number system is this...three values for the light side of the form and two for the dark.  Period. It is what I teach at LAAFA like a BROKEN record.

Concentrating on this simplicity got me through and has done many times before. I have a feeling it will do so in the future too. Structure and simplicity of values....value one for the lightest plane, value two for the mass of light, value three for the transition/halftone, value five for the turning edge of the form, and value four for the reflected light.

Just like those painting kits, keep it simple stupid. Now, heck, how come a museum isn't calling me for my version of paint by numbers? It really has to happen especially as I can't rely on my aging Winslet looks anymore.