Category Archives for 10 Paintings Challenge

The Story Behind the Painting

I am thrilled to be a featured artist in San Miguel de Allende’s Lokkal online magazine, terraanima.org

Click here to read the story from the Lokkal website and to check out the other fabulous artists who share the stories about their work, or enjoy the story behind the painting “Antonia in the Jardin” below.

Antonia in the Jardin

I was walking through the jardin, gazing up in admiration at the Parroquia, when I looked down and the image in this painting stopped me in my tracks. There, on the stones before my feet was a perfect lace-circlet of shadows cast by the freshly sculpted trees. I snapped photos, promising to find the right painting to showcase this San Miguel secret.

At the time I was working on my Ladies of the Night exhibition, inspired by the history of San Miguel de Allende’s Casa de la Noche BnB. It was once a high-class establishment until public houses of prositution were made illegal in 1961.

I found Antonia’s picture among the aged photographs of the girls, class of 1936, which hang in the entranceway to Casa de la Noche. The photos were taken from the girls’ health certifications, which licensed them to work. Although she looked almost flirtatious in her photograph, my initial painting of her came out steaming, oversaturated with red…she looked angry.

I paint with a series of layers to build up depth of color and it was time for the next glaze to change the tone. Still, I felt she needed something deeper than a glaze of naples yellow.

Looking into the eyes I was painting, I sensed her energy coming across the canvas in waves of enmity. Touching fingertips to the canvas, I sensed the same fury that would be seen in the eyes of a jaguar in a zoo. She had also been caged, trapped her situation. Intuition told me that this woman had yearned for nature, that she resented cities and their trappings for failing her, for letting her fall through the cracks to end up where she was.

I love to create stories through my portraiture through collaging images that speak to the life of the subject. I chose to place Antonia’s image over the hills of the high desert visible from Umaran street, a bar dotted street she would have been sure to walk down on her way through the jardin.

Perhaps my story of Antonia is simply a conglomeration of my own feelings after researching the lives of women like her world over. But whether it was a whisper from the painting itself or inspiration from within, I knew that the laced leaves from the Parroquia’s trees were for her, like an olive branch offered in peace.

Much thanks to Lokkal Magazine for the invitation. This piece is the completed version of one of my 10 paintings in 10 days challenge, and was featured in the Ladies of the Night art opening in September 2015 in San Miguel de Allende.

Day Ten: 10 Paintings in 10 Days

 

Though it is still in progress, I present to you my final painting of this challenge.

Thank you, yes you, for following along with me. Your views and comments and likes and shares lit a fire under my butt to keep on painting. I learned about myself and the practice of painting, painted some of the best paintings I’ve done, and I couldn’t have done it without you.

This painting is another from the Storyville prostitutes, whose lives across the border mirrored the lives of their Mexican counterparts.  The women would all dance in the hall, turn a trick, and more often than not sit and play cards when business was slow.

Although this is a New Orleans sourced photo, I’ll be using the designs from traditional Mexican handicrafts for the pillows, and work in photo references from our Casa de la Noche show for the girls.

Now it’s time to finish off these paintings and get them ready for the show!

September 12th, 5-8 at the Bordello Galeria in Casa de la Noche, #19 Organos, San Miguel de Allende.

 

 

 

Day Nine: 10 Paintings in 10 Days

Eureka.

I have figured out what was flummoxing me in my initial paintings of these ladies of the night–texture. The gorgeous and CHEAP handmade canvas, with it’s almost 3 inch deep frame and pre-toned primer applies, has a very different texture than the usual plastic-wrapped sort I’d get at El Pato or art supply stores in the states.

The toothy, richly toned canvas is ideal for a dry brush technique, where just a tad bit of paint is scrumbled, painting in a circular motion. I originally discovered this on day 5 of the challenge, but I added too much paint and lost the lovely, delicate quality of soft-toned skin that I had fallen for just a few brush strokes ago…

That’s why Day 6 of the 10 paintings in 10 days challenge produced one of my favorite works of late-I applied what I learned in day 5.

I used the same approach for today’s painting.

maria

 

The internet here in San Miguel seems to be taking a siesta…or more likely tipsy on tequila, since it’s past midnight as I clock in day 9, so I can only load this one photo of the process.

This dama  had a challenging, and yet resigned look in her photo. I was inspired to put the stamp of the San Miguel health inspection stamp on her card behind her head like an off-kilter halo. She immediately became Maria for me, a fallen angel, a very different manifestation of virgin mother…or perhaps more Mary Magdalene? Her breast is bared to offer sustenance, like each Mary did in her own way, and as all women offer themselves in one way or another to create life in this world.

I’m going to cut myself a break and add all the gold I want on this one. The Klimt influence gets to flirt with italian renaissance representations of the divine feminine. Loving that learning from my mistakes this past ten days, and learning how to use my materials, has led to the creation of this Maria.

Day 8: 10 Paintings in 10 Days

10 Paintings in 10 days? What was I thinking?

I have to admit, I jumped into this challenge without really knowing what I was getting myself into. I had adopted a looser, faster style recently, and felt confident that I could at least make a really strong start on all the pieces for the show coming up in TWO WEEKS.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

One thing I love about this challenge is that it is keeping me painting in the studio, as non-stop as I can manage between teaching and celebrating life, like you do in Mexico (it’s a requirement here, like sitting in traffic in the states).

I think of painting like working out, you go to the gym and it hurts every time and you sweat every time…but each time you get back in there, you’re able to lift heavier and heavier weights.

But I gotta admit that painting is HARRRD.

I tell my students that, if they’re lucky, they will like 1 out of every 50 pieces of their work. Most often, we see what we want to fix, or what needs work, not the nice painting others see.

For day 8’s painting I revised a canvas I had all but cast aside

I went back to the studio, and knowing that I HAD to paint something tonight, I revised a painting that is very special to me that I had set aside months ago in frustration.

This painting is a gift to the wonderful host family I lived with my first 10 months in San Miguel, a portrait of their 3 fantastic kids.

Breaking my own rules of painting

Unfortunately, when I began the painting, I was out of practice drawing and broke all of the rules I use now. In fact, I learned my rules from my mistakes with this painting: now, I draw the subject at least 2 or three times before painting–the more I draw studies, the better the final painting.

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Rule 1: Do practice drawings first! Or else…

 

I began this painting a year ago, no drawing studies, little practice. But I did them! Although I wasn’t satisfied with the original lay-in, the drawing in paint that sets the stage for the final piece, I continued on. So today, I had to work on reframing the faces and fixing some basic drawing issues I had in the beginning. Next, I need to add color so they don’t look like vampires and do the background.

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this might be ok if the painting looked like the girl on the right. but it doesn’t…

I may still have a few more visits to the art-gym before I finish this painting, but I’m grateful this challenge has pushed me to keep working on it!

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getting closer

Day Seven: 10 Paintings in 10 Days

parlor girl

 

 

Painting number 7 is a big step away from what I had envisioned originally for this series. I have gotten away from the pure portraits of the ladies, which were taken from their health registration photo IDs, and I now want to show them in context of their life. The more I study this subject, the more fascinated I am by the daily life and social position of these women.

When I began painting them, I felt sorry for the shady ladies of San Miguel’s past. However, a book I’ve been listening to (audiobook style while I paint, a big time addiction for me) documents the lives of 1860s-1930s harlots from Colorado, and it has introduced me to a new concept of these women’s life. The book, Brothels, Bordellos, and Bad Girls, talks about how many of the ladies of the night were not victims, but wild child types who did not want to live the formulaic, oppressive life of pious mothers with a hoard of children to support. They wanted to get drunk and dance and sleep around, be independent and make their own money. In many ways, the average female U.S. college student has a lifestyle more similar to the bordello girl’s than to the proper social lady’s life a century back.

Anywho, here I used a reference photo from the infamous prostitute shots from Storyville, a 1912 New Orlean’s brothel where photographer E.J. Bellocq got intimate with the madame and was able to peek inside the lives of his muses when they were working, playing, and relaxing.

Parlor girl 2

 

I’m having so much fun putting the ladies in context–although the scene is from 1912 New Orleans I will be using a face from the San Miguel girls, and with Mexico being a little bit behind the fashion the states I think it is still very fitting. More importantly, these girls shared the connection of their profession, their status, and in this photo in particular, one might imagined that there were times that they enjoyed their job.

Painting this gave me a much bigger appreciation for the composition. Although I loved the photo at first glance, only after I took the time to look deeply as an artist did I notice just how MANY patterns and designs liven up this image. The stockings are the focal point, of course. Love it!

Day Six: 10 Paintings in 10 Days

It pays off to be in love with your art.
Especially when you live in a town where there are about 10 gringa women for every man, and most of the men are 50+!

Still, staying single CAN be a good thing when you hibernate in the studio for 10 days and do nothing but paint, which is what I was doing when I fell a little bit in love with my painting from day 6 of my 10 paintings in 10 days challenge:

sketch on canvas

I started painting with the mid morning sun coming in through the bamboo slats in the roof (above). Kind of lovely and infuriating for drawing.
This time I was set on learning from my last painting, where I felt like I overdid it with too much paint on my White Lady piece. This time I would go really light on the amount of oil on the brush in order to achieve a soft-edge, dry brush technique on the skin.
As for the composition, I had a vision of this particular lady of the night in regal purple, with Klimt-like vertical lines and linear decor, along with string vertical lines.

 

Palette knife background negative space

I started out with a palette knife to create a choppy, vertically-lined background in shades of indigo and deep purple. Alizarin crimson and phthalo blue were combined with a little bit of white and a lot of Liquin fast-drying medium. I cursed myself later for forgetting to use my Oleopasto Liquin, which would have given more texture to the palette knife.

gold and skin

Next came yellow ochre mixed with a touch of white for the skin, and I LOVED how the dry brush skimmed the surface of the canvas in order to create rosy skin tones with the pink-hued canvas. I played around with some metallic Klimt-like gold, and enjoyed how it set off the colors of the skin and background.

Adding raw umber crimson mix to make dark

 

I really hate to use black-black in a painting. By that I mean, while I might want to achieve the effect of blackness, I would do my best NOT to use black paint. Mars or ivory black and most others neutralize and deaden a painting, sucking the eye into a hole on the canvas where you use them. No one wants that! Here I used a mis of ultramarine blue and raw umber, which gave me a deep cool black-ishness that brought out the blues in the purple background.

cloak

 

I wanted to bring more patterns in, as well as up the sexy vibe I was getting from this lady of the lamplight. I decided the plunging neckline underneath her luxurious robe was covered in elaborate lace. I thought it a nice transition from the dry brush skin underneath. The scant amount of paint over her face and body really made her seem more naked under her lingerie than if I had painted each inch with glaze after glaze of color.

face 1

 

Her face begins to come into focus. I carry the white, which is actually mixed with a healthy dose of lavender and liquin but appears white on the canvas, to her earrings.

lady in lace

 

And in this state she waits until her final unveiling at the September 12th art opening at Casa de la Noche, her former workplace. I just love her, and, let me tell you, it’s rare that an artist loves their work. My mom was telling me how much she was enjoying this blog series so far (isn’t that what moms are for? ;)) and I mentioned what pain and intensity accompany almost every day of speedy painting.
“What?? But you make it look so effortless!”
Well, let me assure you now my friends, the process goes something like: AgonyAgonyAgonyAgonyAgonyAgonyJOY!!!!

Still, I hope that the subject of this painting, who would have gone by a fake name at work, would think of this portrait.

I’ve been reading a book documenting the lives of prostitutes in 1860s-1930s Colorado, USA, and there are certainly tons of interesting connections to be made between then and the 1937 damas de la vida feliz, ladies of the happy life.

I originally thought of these women as desperate souls who were shamefully driven to prostitution because of dire circumstances, trying to make a living for their family. But, there were others who got into the oldest profession on the world because they didn’t want to settle for the pious life of a mother supporting a growing brood in nice (or boring?) society. Some of the girls were wild, just wanting to be free of people telling them how to live their life so they could go have fun, make their own money, get drunk and dance all night. Still others were entrepreneurial, women who wanted to be in charge of their own money, where it went to, and how they made it. This really shattered my naive and innocent ideas of the subculture of prosititution around the turn of the century.

This women, I think, is one of the proud ones.

in candle light

in candle light

 

Day Five: 10 Paintings in 10 Days

I had no idea how much I would enjoy today’s painting process, even though there are a few lil things I still want to tinker with, as usual.

I knew I wanted all white for this portrait, with the features of the woman coming through almost as if from a fog, ghostly pale, all but for her dark hair and eyes.

Of all the women who once worked at the bordello on San Miguel de Allende, I thought this woman’s innocent visage seemed the most unsuspecting. Her white dress in her photo inspired me to turn up the blanca and use as little of the other colors as possible.

 

White Lady 1

 

As I began, I feel in love with how the white paint interacted with the sienna toned background. Instead of adding coming to make a shade for the contours of her face, I could just apply LESS white and scrumble the brush into the canvas for the mid tones (scrumbling is when you use very little paint on  a stiff bristle brush and rub it into the canvas in a circular motion).

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The effect was very soft and lovely, just what I had sensed from the lady of the night’s sad sweet face.

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After adding a raw umber (dark dark brown), I was less enchanted. Even the mouth on this lady is turned up like she’s less than pleased. However, after going in to add some light peachy tones and enhancing her eyes, I think she’s coming along rather prettily, as you see below.

 

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I think I might have hints of a subtle rose playing in the layers of white, and I’m debating whether or not to give her deep crimson red lipstick, just on the top lip. Please do comment with your thoughts below, or like on Facebook!

See you tomorrow with another San Miguel de Allende damsel on the easel.

Day Four: 10 Paintings in 10 Days

And now, drumroll please…. painting number 4!

Today’s painting really took on a life of its own. It began with a simple concept for the composition, a more of less exact rendering of the photo of a striking woman with fierce eyes but a girlish white bow in her hair, looking through her lashes at the camera.

All of the photos in this series come from the health department credentials the women kept up with once-weekly visits to the doctor’s office to ensure their cleanliness and availability to work. While most of the faces are drawn, this saucy face captured my attention.

 

In process oil portrait lay in

I began with an ultramarine blue layout on a dark grey toned canvas.

 

 

underapinting portrait

Next I added in big areas of color. Although I was originally thinking of painting her in creamy white with navy blue and deep red accents, the Mexican flag colors snuck their way onto the canvas. The complementary colors and steamy effect the red had on her face reminded me of the jungle.

Jardin Shadow

The jungle colors reminded me of a photo I took not so long ago in the jardin, the main plaza and heart of San Miguel de Allende, where the Parroquia church is perched like a fanciful sandcastle in the middle of the city. Under the shade of manicured trees, locals and tourists alike sit opposite the church and watch each other coming and going in the flamboyant colors of Mexico. This one particular day, the shows of the trees played like lace on the stones of the jardin square.

tree lace

 

 

I thought that this would be a perfect complement to the portrait of a woman who undoubtedly strolled through the jardin all her life in San Miguel. A source from the documentary on the bordello said that most of the girls had pseudonyms at work, so that they wouldn’t be bothered or known by name when they were out and about in town.

Detail

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I like how the red creates a sultriness to her personality. A sunset beauty in the shade of the jardin trees.

This canvas might get some lime green and pink added before the night of the opening, but I like the direction so far. Hope you do too!

 

Day Three: 10 Paintings in 10 Days

May I present a composition I completed today for a commission: Abuelo con Ninos.

abuelo

I struggled for ages with this piece. The concept is poignant, my Spanish teacher told me months ago how her father died of pancreatic cancer only 2 days before she gave birth to her first child, Juan Pablo, who is now my 5 year old art student. Funny how things loop around that way in Mexico.

She wanted me to paint her father with her 2 children, so she could feel that on some level, they were all together.

Unfortunately, she only had one photo for me to work with: her dad, face completely covered in shadows, then separate shots of the kids.

Painting this scene was tricky. I prefer to be very literal in my portraits, but with so little information to go on with this piece I kind of had to make things up.

Tomorrow, worry not, you will see a prostitute, so if your questionable morality was disappointed tonight, worry not! More ladies coming soon. Please do comment below, and thanks for keeping track during this 10 day challenge!

Day One: 10 Paintings in 10 Days

6Ladies

Painted Ladies, oil on canvas, 6 panels on board, Jessica Antonelli, 2015.

Day One: Painted Ladies

It’s day one, and I’m diving into all kinds of loopholes in my approach to finishing 10 paintings in 10 days.

Loophole 1: To begin with, my first painting (singular) is composed of 6 small canvases, about 5×7 inches more or less, which will be framed together on a dark grey mat. So, woohoo! Bonus paintings and it’s just day one!

Loophole 2: Maybe painting 6 mini-portraits will get help me get away with the fact that this whole process did not happen all in one day.
In fact, let me set the stage for the next 10 days: I will be working on paintings that I will be preparing in advance!

To be fair, only 2 of the other portraits for the Ladies of the Night art opening coming up have got some of the under-paintings begun, so I will paint in the beginning compositions for the others in the coming days. Let’s not make it too easy on me, right?

The Process

 

 

 

 

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I began by toning the canvases with the limited palette I wanted to play with for these pieces. Then I blocked in an initial lay-in of the general proportions of each face and frame

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Building up each new color one at a time, I used a little bit of every yellow, lavender, and cadmium red on each canvas to harmonize the colors across the 6 pieces.

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The features begin to come clear as darker tones add focus

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Adding ultramarine blue to burnt sienna gave me a great dark tone to really up the contrast.

I so super enjoyed playing with this funky-hued, stencil-like style for the first painting of the challenge.

The playfulness of it allowed me to really feel joyful coming into the studio, which is an excellent way to start things off. I also got a chance to practice painting these particular women, some of whom I am going to paint on a much larger scale. The more I paint and draw a subject, the better I get at capturing them. With these subjects, it’s also been fascinating to imagine their world.

Please comment below to let me know what you think of the piece! I am thinking of re-arranging the 6 ladies as shown in the above shot so that the far left ladies switch places. Thoughts?