The Journey / The Destination

So as I'm riding this train, I'm thinking of what it feels like to be on the train. Go down this track with me for a minute:

Jumping into a car just as the doors close feels like "an accomplishment." (Yay! You did it!) Clicking past each station, each closer to your destination, feels like "purpose" (I'm going Somewhere.) Overhearing conversations across from you feels like you're "a part of this Whole Big Machine."

But what really happens - most of the time - is that I just sit here with my eyes glued to my smartphone; everyone else is looking at theirs, too; not participating, ignoring, sometimes even unconsciously occupying seat space until they are just... gone. And then I start to think about the bigger thing for which we've all purchased a ticket at some point of our respective rides: Ambition. What am I accomplishing with this train ride? Where am I really going if I just sit here... and just wait to get off?

Some people think about "The Journey" and some focus on "The Destination" as they go about their daily lives. I lean toward the Destination, and my husband enjoys the Journey. But we're both learning from each other as we travel our lives together - that passively focusing on a journey may run it off course unawares, and aligning one's eyes only to the destination prevents often interesting side roads of discovery. Both my husband and I strive to balance while time moves us along. So where are you? What are you doing as you're riding the train?


Edgar + Irene

On August 28, 2011, a hurricane came barreling up the East Coast headed straight for New York City. My first experience with a water-based tornado and living in a borough of the Big Apple, I was right in its path. As I waited for the pelting rains and the vicious winds to come knocking at my door, the minutes turned into hours and the hours turned into a long night filled with twitter feeds and facebook updates. Musing on Edgar Allan Poe’s over-emphasis of terror as illustrated in his epic poem, The Raven, I drew a parallel to my experience with the overblown tropical storm.
I penned 16 verses in Mr. Poe’s style as Irene blew over me in Queens.

A year later, Hurricane Sandy - the "Frankenstorm" (October 28, 2012) - was forecast by anxious meteorologists and Governor Chris Christie cautioned that this weather would be "like nothing we've ever seen before." Well, since we didn't really "see" anything in NYC with Irene, some folks took the warning a bit more lightly than before. One foreign friend quipped, "You Americans... as soon as I heard 'Frankenstorm,' I stopped listening. Anyways, I'm headed to Bushwick tonight." (Hope he has an umbrella.) So with gallons of water and bottles of liquor, cans of soup and lawn chairs stowed away in preparation, I settled into my new home – now in Rockland County – and waited with pen in hand, again.

At longs last, I finally finished the poem one year after Sandy, adding the 18th verse, parallel to Mr. Poe. Though East Coast hurricanes are not a regular focus of this blog, I still wanted to publish the poem to share it with you. 

Once upon an evening dreary, Boroughs pondered weak and weary,
O'er 'canes' rollick, sand-bagged volume through our tropic-coastal lore...
While I twittered, husband napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, pitter-patting at my door.
`'Tis the hurricane,' I muttered, `rain is dripping, blowing, splashing,
throwing at my chamber door,
Irene is here, nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember tweets and news and media frenz'er,
As each separate flying raindrop wrought its wetness 'pon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
from facebook surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the battered shores...
For the rare and radiant weekend when the angels watched it pour:
Irene landing, less Cat 4.

With the whistling, sad, uncertain rustling of each sheeting curtain
Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before:
And this pause, the still, sound quiet sees the wind on tree top heights,
Irene, Irene, come on Irene, hesitance with no downpour,
'Vacuated, moved, and waited - hesitance with no downpour?
This it is, and nothing more?

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
'Bloom,' said I, 'or Bloomberg! Truly your forgiveness I implore;
Din't you say that we'd be thrashed with a violent weather bash, hid
so faint t'was tapping, gentle rapping at my 'partmen'st closed door?'
That I scarce was sure I heard her - while I opened wide my door -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, short I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
Twitter's silence then twas broken, and the dark unleashed, spoke, and
the only word there spoken were the whistling words, "Hit the floor!
Irene is rapidly approaching. Conditions deteriorating. Stay indoors!
Evac's over, stay indoors!"

Back into my 'partment turning, all the trees around me churning,
Lightning flash, I heard the thunder somewhat louder than before.
'Surely,' said I, 'surely is that something at my window taped shut;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my flashlight search a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis gale force wind and nothing more!'

Rain is sheeting through my shutters, and with many a push and bluster,
Media reports rave and predict when the storm will step on shore.
Facebook friends' statuses say we; not a minute stopping, staying
Whether in Zone A, B or C, public transport locked their doors.
Jersey, Brooklyn and Manhattan, public transport locked their doors
Evac early, not a chore.

Then this grey-whipped storm beguiled my freaked out fancy into smiling,
By its churning, red-punched info-graphics of the countenance it wore,
`Though reported shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art still a 'cane, a
ghastly grim and wat'ry grave wandering 'long the nightly shore -
Show me where you rip and whirl and tear our homes on Gotham's southern shores!'
Quoth Irene at 9pm, then, `Wait for more...'

Much I marvelled this ungainly cloud to hear it speak so plainly,
Though its answer deep with portent - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that our rampant social media
Ever'd heightened, helped to spread and, with goodwill yet at its core -
(εἰρήνη in Greek means 'peace') and, with goodwill yet at its core -
Posting through the night to set the score.

Hurricanes, they, sliding surely into harbor near us, pounding purely
That one word, in every tweet and post and 'tube was moored.
Anchored with a hashtag, uttered, by 'porter, punk and public - flustered
Till I heartfully then muttered, "Other friends, I hope, dear Lord
have place to stay, dry, safe and warm. All my friends, I hope, dear Lord."
Then Irene said, "I've got more."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "'rene is utt'ring only by her front and force,
Sent from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Follows fast and followed faster till her winds one burden bore -
Till our hopes this night a melancholy waiting for:
Destruction of meteorological lore."

Thus I sat engaged in guessing with no syllable expressing
To the 'cane whose fiery eye now twisted in my online core;
This and more I wrote ('haps hyping?) with my fingertips a-typing
On the keyboard's clicking that the midnight screen-light washed o'er,
(What monstrous size of Cone shall yet, with Uncertainty, pass o'er?),
Irene presses, yet hardcore?

Then, methought, the air grew denser, saturate, humid and tenser,
Stormed by surges swinging forecast, deluge ConEd's string and grid
"Forget Bloomberg," said Ms. Burrus, "Ain't goin' nowhere in this ruckus.
Not with stranger bedbugs, no way." Basement floods, wine in pour.
Power outage yet unheard of; streaming in the muddy floor.
Hurry all, to liquor store!

'Irene' said I, 'Thing of evil! Path abandon, weather-devil!
Tempest tossed thee here ashore now, wreaking havoc while we snore.
NYorkers all, we are undaunted on metropolis enchanted.
Cameras charged and laundry folded, flashlight batt'ries at the fore.
Water jugged and tubbed on hold, so tell me truly, I implore -
Will you be here in the morn?'

'What's this?' said I, 'Leaves! And branches! Strewn on streets midst lake-like puddles?'
Now the clear sky blue is reigning, rays and sunstreaks we adore.
(Weather-mongers were a frenzy: latent earthquakes lately rumbling,
with tornado warnings blaring, prostrate fell we on the floor.)
Mayor confirms, "Worst is ovah, back to nah-mal will restore."
Raised eyebrow, ope' my door.

This "irenic" situation prophesied of devastation,
(bottled bev'rages a-bursting now my 'frigerator door)
Groaning at the past day's hurry-lame with panic, night was blurry -
Storm has passed. The coffee's brewing while I stew and, yes, abhor
my Benjamin's investment of soup now tucked in cupboard, stored.
Garbage cans shall now turn o'er.

(Here the writer paused, only taking up her pen a year later as a new visitor approached.)

'That last word our sign of parting, 'Rene or fiend?' I shrieked, upstarting -
'Sandy’s here! Th'tempest rise on Monday night's South Jerseyian shore!
Tides a’swelling, winds are gusting, watching as the weather spoke of
“Frankenstorm” – a gale unheard of! Guaranteed to burst the region’s power!
Preparedness complete in earnest: chickens, lawnchairs, laundry, furnace,
Stowing candles, flashlights, soup and water safe up in our attic bower.
Quoth the Storm then, “Now, devour.”

One year passed, now - trees still fallen, houses drowned, lives' run aground and
we remember weather's wrathful clenching of the Tri-State's seeming pow'r.
Shoreline real 'state plummets lower than one's spirit in foreclosure, signboards stalking every corner, yet the earth still brings forth flower.
So my soul saved from that chaos - that which does not kill us, shapes us - shall be lifted and do more. 


New Job

The words "new job" make one contemplate what she is actually doing. Learning the ropes on a new course, tying one's self to anchors, reaching for low-hanging fruit to keep the spirit up and mapping out a plan to ascend to the treetops.
And not painting. :( 
(But that was the job I chose for myself at the very beginning.) 


Moving, Paralysis

A lot has happened since I last wrote...

It's the day before we move. But I'm not packing, I'm sitting here with my feet to the fire, finally scribing some lines about the thoughts I've been having for the last two months. I haven't wanted to write anything because I know that once it's out - even though they say that once something is posted on the web it remains there forever, it's still not archival - it's real. I am paralyzed by the thought of moving.

But we are. I am.



Movin' On Up(state)

My husband and I are leaving The City. We are moving "upstate" - well, not really, only 24-ish miles north of Manhattan - to be caretakers at an artist-in-residence program for the Art Students League of New York. After 6 years of living in Queens, working in Manhattan and Brooklyn, we're venturing north. There's fresh air up there - hopefully for the soul. 


Big Place, Small World

When I was a little kid, my folks took me to Disneyland. They tell me this tale of how the "It's a Small World" animatronic dolls scared me to tears. I've always found it strange that I should have reacted so unhappily, I enjoy exploring cultures and new tastes, new languages... But let's now replace "new" with the word "unknown."

I have been recently awarded a residency in Leipzig, Germany. I would be joining a group of international artists and fellow Academy alums spending a couple of months in a new environment - generating connections to make the world a little smaller. I'd be living in Germany for three months, away from my family, my husband, everything that's familiar to me. But I'm not scared. Though Leipzig is 3960 miles away, here's what I'm really afraid of: Sparkill, New York.  It's 25.9 miles away from where I live, it's a residency program with artists from around the world, but it's just a metaphorical hop, skip and jump away from where I am now.

Except that my whole world would change if I went there. Since last Thursday, I've been waiting through anxiety-fueled moments of "unknown." I don't know if I'll be living in Sparkill soon, and I don't know that if, when I may be living in Sparkill, whether I would be able to reside for a time in Leipzig. Sparkill had never appeared on the map I was creating for myself (getting back to Germany has always been tucked away in the glove compartment), but I think the more I contemplate the windy road that leads to a big Victorian house the more I feel like I could make a home there for a time. Of course, that means giving up everything that I've worked for here. 



Emily sat for me tonight. She'd just come back from a whirlwhind band tour through our mutual home states in the Midwest, and I was thrilled to finally share some time with her to paint her portrait. We ordered Thai for supper, she sat in my favorite little orange chair, Jonathon even came to share in the conversation, and I fussed and fretted about the lighting and had her switch positions and repainted her portrait five times and it still doesn't look like the real her. Alas!

It's not her, it's me. She's a great model: she's actually done work at the Academy and drawings of her are already published in a book, too. She is level and compassionate, a pleasure to work with, so why was I so intimidated? I'm not entirely sure yet, but I've always been a little nervous if my subject is a female. (You may be noticing that Emily is the first female portrait appearing in this project.)  I work with Emily for Spark and Echo Arts and she's one of the first people to cheer me on this "Before I Transfer" project so I was looking forward to creating a vivacious portrait of her. Instead, I wigged myself out during our session to the point that even though in my mind's eye I saw the kind face I know, it appears on my metrocard as if I sat with someone serious and impassable, trying to breathe life into a stone.

Emily isn't intimidating, she's uncomplicated, thoughtful and crisply intelligent with a bright disposition. Exuding a vibe of effervescent excellence, Emily is refreshingly quirky like a sophisticated flute of Kir Royal. Speaking of "flutes," along with the clarinet, she plays a myriad of instruments including Christopher Robin the Ukelele and Boris the Bassoon. She's a gifted thespian as one of the Bard's own having a distinct appreciation for works with rich and poetic language.

The portrait I painted amidst an enjoyable evening with my friend doesn't weave a curtain-raiser the way I wanted to present her ("But I have that within which passes show, These but the trappings and the suits of woe"). Okay, so maybe my passing portrait isn't on par with the Prince of Denmark's tragedy, but I still want a do-over to revitalize this piece.


Blisters and Lines

The forecast said intermittent showers every few hours, so I wore my bright orange rain boots to work (and then switched them out for the pointy-toe black stilettos in the gallery). But I forgot socks for the boots and therefore rubbed the beginning of a couple blisters into my heels as I walked the few blocks from the subway. Now, I know better than to cab it anywhere between 3-8pm, but the potential pain in my heels convinced me to go the safe route. So on my way back home, I decided "better a wound in my wallet than blisters that won't heal" and hailed a cab.

Though it's not a sketch, the
receipt and a primed metro-
card will hold Manny's spot.
As the traffic backed up towards the 59th Street bridge like a clogged drain, my driver and I chatted: traffic is crazy, living in the city, moving out of and back to the city, job prospects, education, and life experiences. We had such an enjoyable conversation. As the meter ticked upward and the lines of vehicles inched forward, we were trading stories.

My driver's name is Manny, and he's a New Yorker from birth. He moved out for a time, but the city called him home. I told him that we were moving out, and we compared opportunities, hopes and abridged histories. (Get it? We were on the 59th Street bridge - "abridged"? Chuckle, chuckle.) And while the tone of this post sounds all happy-sappy, everyone's hopes are tinged with fear and everyone's histories have a bit of intentional blurriness. So as I write this, I wonder how much to reveal of our conversation and how much to keep in my pen (or keyboard, as it were) knowing that when I return to this post, I'll remember what I held back.

But it's not so much how much I share with you, it's more how far our rare conversation traveled in those few miles. As the traffic thinned, the cab dropped me off at my house and I asked Manny if I could paint his portrait. He said he'd seriously consider it, and I anticipate that he may flag me down to be a part of this project. Until then, I hope that his travels bring him always safely home, too.


Constant Comment

I drink tea in the morning. It's part of the ritual I create to make me feel that all is right with the world. Earl Grey is a great companion.

My friend Alan and I spent the afternoon together. He's in town, hopping from coast to coast, getting his New York fix. Alan's like a favorite teapot, right before the whistle. And like the aforementioned beverage resulting from the tea-making device, a conversation generated by Alan has always just the right amount of warmth, caffeination, and zesty wit. Just like Earl Grey.

Speaking of which - the last time I saw Alan there was none of that color in his hair, it was black as Costa Rican coffee. But Alan is timeless, not easy to pin down. We were classmates in graduate school, and he weathered this narrow island before making the jump to the West Coast half a year ago to take advantage of an opportunity using his concept drawing skills. During our afternoon together, we dissected the Gordion Knot that is our corner of the New York Art World. Or, at least we had an enjoyable time trying.

We had lunch at Bubby's. Alan made sure to order NYCentric eats (eyeing the Matzoh Ball soup and, ... Gasp! you're out of lox?!?) So, settling on a piece of shared apple pie, we poured two Sixpoints down and caught up. Then we parked on a bench where I started to paint his portrait. The wind was a little chill, the sun a bit warmer (shining right in Alan's eyes - sorry, buddy!) and we enjoyed spending the afternoon in constant conversation. Though my quick painting isn't an exact presentation of what Alan looks like - a portrait isn't all about the resemblance, it's about the like-ness. And I like Alan.


Refilling Your Metrocard

Do you just follow the prompts? Do you watch your reflection? Do you try it in Chinese or Spanish? Or do you contemplate the consequences of putting the $10 refill vs. the "unlimited" option onto your ticket?

As you punch in your zip code to confirm your choice, do you imagine what the next zip code might hold? As you wait for your refilled Metrocard to be spat out of the machine, do you map out low long your next journey might last?

I do.

And not just this morning; not just because these questions might lead to life-changing responses in the near future. Every time I refill my Metrocard, I envision what the trip might bring, where it falls into the schedule of my life and yes - whether it will be my last. (Thanks Dad, for the persistent musings on mortality.) We like to create metaphors about our experiences on this earth and then put them on wheels, tracks and feet. You know them just as well as I do:

"... begins with one step."  |  "It's not about the destination, ..." |  "If you don't know where you're going, how will you ever ..."  |  "The only journey is the one within.”

So now I'd like to share some profound inspiration from the MTA with you,
"Touch Start to Begin."


Opening Up

Dear friends, come sit with me, even for a short time, and let me paint your portrait. Before our paths diverge, let me re-collect a moment with you.

While this project is indeed a metaphor, the time draws nearer to my imminent departure from New York so I no longer want to dance around the "could be's." I want to dig into the "are's" before they become "shoudda' been's."

So friend, please let me paint your portrait, spend a little time with you... before I transfer.


Missed Connections

I start my commutes in the front of the F-train. Sometimes I wonder if I'm in the same car I was in yesterday (and sometimes I am!). Sometimes I see the same people. There's so many new things to see... and so many things that stay the same. These days, I often see this poster by Sophie Blackall and I smile because the artist has charmingly captured just about every kind and type of person I've ever seen in the subway. Except for the punksters, so I snapped this quick pic of the skull-hoodied sleeve cloaking the person next to me. I thought it was just a quirky moment and wanted to remember it.

As part of the MTA's Arts for Transit programs, I've loved watching the posters parade through the years. A quick search to find out a little more about this poster's artist led me to Sophie's personal project - Missed Connections - where she illustrates the "missed connections" ads posted on Craigslist. While often just a shoot in the dark, each post on Craigslist earnestly searches that some day paths will connect again, describing in hopeful detail the desired persons' appearance and situation.

As she picks posts to illustrate, Sophie embeds warmth into her drawings with wit. On her blog, she tells how the MTA invited her to create the poster that I love looking at. Watch the video she created, telling more about the creation of the poster:

She sat and sketched folks on the subway, just as I do. But while Sophie's project "gives wings" to the stories from the subway, my "before I transfer" portraits will cement them into a beautiful mosaic of faces and memories.


Stuart Smalley in the Studio

Do you remember Stuart Smalley's self-affirmation? I'm chanting a similar artspeak mantra these days to counteract the many excuses that keep me from the studio. I could curate a huge Holzer-esque show simply by displaying the phrases that flash through my brain to talk me out of doing this project. I'm not 24/skinny anymore. I'm tired- I could just watch Hulu for a little while. Carb-dropping is making me crabby. My palette is not cleaned off. My work week has been hectic. Ugh, laundry. I need a drink. Good old fashioned classic Complain-O-Crastination. I keep reminding myself that even though I don't see the actual deadline on this, it's going to arrive all sudden-like. 



I didn't think I'd get a seat on the train coming home from work today. What's more, I knew it's going to be a heavy week ahead preparing for Art Naples with the gallery so I'd almost resigned myself to just chilling out on the train. But lo, there was an open spot on the bench and I squeezed myself in. Awkwardly fumbling for my sketchbook (and behold!), I wanted to catch the couple across from me. She had silky, relaxed roller-curls and he had a hairstyle I've only seen once before, on an NYAA student, Yi Cao (MFA 2011). I sat, staring for a bit; they were moving slowly, seemed like they were tired too. I wanted to sketch both of them, but I only had time to get his likeness before my stop. And then I almost, again, resigned myself to stopping there because I didn't have any cards left on me. But they stepped out at the same place I did and walked across the platform. Hurriedly scribbling "beforeItransfer.blogspot.com" on a page of my sketchbook and tearing it out, I crossed over to them and showed them the portrait. I told them that I wanted to draw both of them, but didn't make it in time before the train stopped. Inviting them to be a part of the beginning of my project, I gave him the note and he held out his hand. "Hello, my name is Craig," he said, "what's yours?"

Stunned by his ease and candor, I hope they will both take me up on the invitation to paint their portraits. Craig, it was nice to meet you!



Last Saturday, I went to a workshop at CUE Art Foundation. Hamish Smyth from the design firm, Pentagram, was speaking about cohesive design and branding. His work is so tasteful, direct and elegant. (Please check out his site.) As I was listening to Hamish's presentation, I noticed that he had a distinctly beautiful skull shape. With his black glasses perfectly proportioned and framing his temples, the ear-piece echoed the seam in his skull where the temporal plane meets the mastoid process. Much like his design work, the way he presented his appearance was refined and chic. Enrapt, I studied each plane, calculated the value shifts, noted the reflections. And while this drawing project actually starts in the subway, I still pulled out my sketchbook to capture his lovely skull.

Now, I think I might know what you're thinking: perhaps you're muttering something along the lines of  "Hmm, she seems a bit psycho"? Weelll, funny you mention that. During Hamish's presentation, he shared with us the "business card scene" from American Psycho. The increasing anticipation, the catch in breath, the shivers one gets from the perfect combination of line, texture and color... in the same way Hamish's passionate about design, I'm passionate about human anatomy.

After his talk, I thanked him and introduced him to this project, noting that no one to whom I have handed out cards has yet taken me up on my offer to paint their portrait.  Hopefully, when I come back for a critique next month with my new website mockup, he'll be a part of this project with an actual portrait... of his beautiful skull. 


Mashed Together in Chelsea

Passing the cell with a face full of cordon bleu, I saw Paul and he flagged me down. Originally from Texas, lived in NYC 8 years, then jumping out to take care of horses in the high desert, he'd transferred himself all over the States already. As we walked toward the subway together, I told him about my project, and we exchanged emails; I'd just given my last two "Please May I Paint You" cards to two ladies from the presentation at Cue. Paul crossed the street, and was gone as quickly as we'd run into each other.

Famished after the workshop, I'd gotten my sandwich at Hyper Deli on 23rd Street & 9th Avenue along with 2 Baci chocolates and a Mash drink. As I took a swig of lemon/ginger, I mused on how I'd had my first taste of Mash in Chelsea, and how those two things would be linked together in retrospect: Mash = Chelsea.

Just like Paul and I - and every other art-lover in that New York neighborhood who has ever had an unexpected hello and rapid goodbye - mashed together, then drained as quickly as a thirsty draught.


Like An Artist

Two lovers on the bench, hands and fingers entwined. They exchanged soft words, some of which I overheard. (Saturday subways are nicer.) She said his fingers were "like an artist's." Having just completed a quick sketch of a lovely-locked lady, I wasn't sure if I should start in with my pen again, or just savor the imagery of the shiny twining of her curls. And while the image of the lovers' hands would been pleasurable to sketch, I knew I wasn't going to be able to lock into their particular finger forms while they were wrapped up in each other. Their feet however, were content to stay put right where they were. So, decided, I started to sketch the falling of their feet.

But with just a few pentimenti in place, they started to gather themselves for their stop. I quickly got their attention to give them a card, pointed to my barely-there drawing, "Almost," I said.

(And now that I'm writing about this, "Like an Artist, sketched for the very first time...Like an ah-har-har-tist, with your sketchbook, next to mine..." keeps singing in my head.)


Should've Been

It's been a long week, as usual, and I'm coming home from work on Friday night. I was thinking about my to-do list, how it keeps on growing and growing (good thing I've got a little pink octopus to cheer me on) and so I felt like I just wanted to have a quiet moment on the train to decompress. But the mood was perfect - people relaxing, space increasing, me sitting - WHY didn't I break out that sketchbook!?!

The couple across from me was having a discussion and I watched as their faces reacted to each other. I wondered how they were going to spend their Friday night: were they going somewhere? Were they coming home? They formed such a sympatico pair, and it would have been an optimal drawing - the train even seemed to move slower, urging me to take up my pen and put down my phone. I knew I'd be on the train tomorrow though, there would be another chance... but aw, what the heck, I'll ask them. As the train coasted to my stop, I approached ("Sorry to interrupt you, but etc.") gave them each a card and hopped out of the train. I told them "I should have been sketching [you], but it's Friday, and I'm tired."


I'd Like to Complete It

The bike was locked to the pole in the middle of the aisle. At first I thought of just doing a portrait of the bike (you know, because it wouldn't move on me). But then a tall, lanky guy slid into the seat behind the bike and sat very still, headphones in, energy/nutritional drink in hand, fingers tapping at his phone.

And there it was, the beginning of an interesting drawing. It started with his hairline, his ear, then the back of his skull. Curving around his brow, I met the seat. And the wheel and the breakline, and then the doors dinged and I had to get out. I scrambled to pull out a card, gestured at my drawing and said, "The portrait, I'd like to complete it." Startled, but he nodded, and then I was off the train.



I was writing a post about procrastination and excuses tonight on my way home from work (which now has been tabled to bring you this breaking story). The train was more full than usual at this time of night so I didn't get a place to sit, which means I didn't get a chance to sketch.

Looking around though, I saw a woman with a sherbet-colored, chevron-striped jacket and a butter yellow crocheted cap. She looked approachable, so I wanted to ask her if I could paint her portrait. She was leaning against the door, and I was standing on the other side of the pole. I would have had to scootch around the guy between us to get to her, so I planned out how I might just chill a while and catch her before she left the train. She was reading a book, so I just waited and returned to my post about procrastination.

The guy on my right and the guy on my left both had their smartphones out, passing the time, same as me. But the guy on my right was playing chess. (I'm a Mahjong girl, myself.) I watched his screen as the pawns came out, and then the knight crashed through the lines. Bishop, Rook, Queen; "Check..." blinked at the bottom of the screen. As I heard the announcement for my stop, I noticed that he put his phone away (he must be getting out here, too!). I pulled out a card, tapped him on the shoulder and said, "I like that you're playing chess, not Angry Birds." (Handing him my card, telling him about my project, and he said...) "Yeah, I'll check it out."




After my run in with "the probable mobster" I felt bolder today. I printed a batch of new cards and even determined to make an attempt on my morning commute. Folks don't like to be bothered on their way to work though, and the general pre-office grimace graced the face of many a fellow straphanger.

Looking for potential portraitees, I saw a dark woman with bright, piercing eyes, a chiseled nose and full lips strap-hanging just out of reach. (And once you find your spot - comfy or not - on an AM train, you stick with it, so I didn't make any moves.) I thought maybe I could edge nearer to her when we left the train, but she moved toward another door and I didn't see her again.

So on tonight's commute back home (8pm? Maybe the night crowd's a bit easier than 8am?) I thought now's my chance. I've got a pocketfull of cards and people to hand them to! I scanned the car, seeing if someone would catch my eye. I found more than a few, so I thought what if I just asked the whole car? I walked to the middle of the car, stood there, looked around and practiced these words in my head:
Hi folks, sorry to interrupt you and I know you don't want to be bothered (Errgh, everybody says that...) But I'm an artist and I'm working on a project to paint portraits on metrocards of people I meet on the subway. I'm just beginning, and this is my first time, ever, making a subway announcement. (A slight pause here?) I have cards in my hand with my website listed on them, and if you are interested in being a part of this project and having your portrait painted on a metrocard, I would be happy to give you one.
I stayed there, in the middle, hanging on to the pole, watching the clock... 8:08, 8:08! Thinking, This is good. Just practice this so that when you actually do say it, you can do so with confidence. Mind you, I have no problem with public speaking, well, except in subway cars.

When the train cruised through the station right before my stop, I began to quietly mouth my speech to check the timing. But when the doors opened and it was time for me to get out, I still had the cards in my hand. Maybe I'll be bolder, tomorrow.


Hunters Point

Coming home from a doctor appointment, I took the 6 down to Grand Central to catch the 7 because it's a beautiful spring day and I wanted to be in the friendly sun, above the ground. I don't take the 7 often so I thought it would be a good time to pull out my camera and capture a video of one my favorite places in the city to share with you.

The train was not full at midday and the usual types were sitting across from me: an Asian teen with Converse sneaks and headphones, a high-heeled, career-clutching young woman, and a middle-aged man in a Fedora reading his newspaper.  I placed myself by a west-facing window and waited for the Hunters Point station because I wanted to record the train bursting out of the ground into the sunlight. Practicing my camera sweep - where I check my timing and steady my hands - the Newspaper came down and angry eyes underneath the Fedora told me to "STOP." A startled me replied, "You want me to what? But this is my phone." Granted, that was not the most gracious response; I may need to work on that. The Newspaper huffed and his Fedora glared and muttered something about no respect (did I detect a mob-like accent through his hushed tones?) before standing up and walking away.

The bigger guy sitting next to me mentioned, "Ooh, he must be wrapped up in something." (0:08) I shrugged and focused on the upcoming graffiti-ganza as the train tracks turned north, frustrated that a southbound train had rolled in just as the best view emerged (0:56). But after I'd finished recording, I put my phone down and pondered; I wondered if I had actually captured Newspaper/Fedora's image... but I didn't want to obviously check, so I refrained from sweeping my eyes around the car.  Upon a subtle circumspection, I didn't see a Fedora. I paused; this would provide a perfect opportunity to test my memory.*

I pulled out my sketchbook. Seeing the quick portrait of my pastor from church last night, the big guy noted, "You draw?" and I told him about my project. Still not having any cards on me, I wrote out my website address, ripped it out of the corner of my page and handed it to him. He told me about how his son was a budding artist, drawing the scenes from Ghost Rider. As we chatted, I could not shake the feeling that I was being watched, but I couldn't see Newspaper/Fedora anywhere. My stop arrived and as I exited the train, I took a look - just in case. I spotted him at the back of the car, standing by the opposite side doors.

Oh boy, did he ever shoot me some daggers as I walked off the train.

*Ask me about the time I stared down a misbehaving punk on the subway by leveling the threat, "I'll draw you." 


Hearts and Transformers

A couple days ago, I was riding/sketching home when a dad and his two children popped into the train. He asked the younger, dark-haired woman sitting next to me for confirmation if the F train was indeed stopping at 63/Lex (it wasn't - they were working on the escalators). Boisterous and boundary-less, the two kids plopped into the space between us and started chatting with my seat-neighbor. The F train's route still in question, I perused through my apps to pull out a subway map. Little fingers, despite gentle admonitions from his father, began to spread and swipe the map like a pro. (Apparently he knew exactly where to go.) The route no longer in question, his focus returned to his Transformer toy as I pocketed my phone again.

The father continued conversing casually with the young woman and I resumed my sketching. But the little girl's attention was focused on me, now. And since her brother had already mapped out his territory, she wanted to explore, too. She sweetly asked if she could draw something on my sketch and I gave her my pen. She drew a couple hearts and then her little brother drew a Transformer. The older lady across from us (seen in the sketch) watched with a chuckle.

As the train pulled into their stop (and since this kind of heartwarming, transformative conversation rarely - if ever - happens on the subway), I told the dad about my project. "Actually, I'm working on a project to paint portraits of people I meet on the subway; I don't have a card on me - otherwise I'd give you one and would love for you to be a part of it" and he noted to himself, "Before I Transfer dot Blogspot dot Com." (Note to self: reprint new cards.) I mentioned that in a couple of days, he may see a post on my blog of his children's artwork and I hoped that he would check out my project. 


Weird? No!

I was out to drinks and nachos with friends and alumni of my graduate school last night and I told them about my project. While the idea seemed to appeal to them, the actual delivery of the card-to-person via transit vehicle raised a few flags in re: social norms.

With encouragements to just sneak photos of folks via iPhone and then sketch at home, I tried to explain that the project stands as a metaphor for making the most of every connection - and while I try to maintain an approachable demeanor (no, John, I am not going to get a pair of anatomically-correct skull tattoos on my neck, even though that would be totally acceptable in this art world) ;) I vociferously maintained that "I am not a weirdo" for pursuing this project.

Dear readers, what would you think if I asked to paint your portrait on the subway?



I had to take a taxi for work today. I was toting a big roll of bubble wrap to de-install an exhibition so the subway was a "less practical" transit option. (I love it when I can actually justify taking a taxi - it feels so luxurious.) The driver spoke with a French accent (from Haiti, he can speak five languages), and he took me on a route I've never been before: the Park Avenue Viaduct along Grand Central Station. We chatted along the way - he's been driving a cab for almost 40 years so he's seen all the changes in the City.

Never seen this view before!
We talked about the "Manhattan Accent" (he says Midwesterners-who-went-to-private-school pronounce every consonant, and NY'ers tend to blur their words together), what he's going to do in retirement (in just a couple years!), the advantages to having a hybrid vehicle, and the means and methods of outfitting your car to be a taxi (he paid $46,000 for his Toyota, bought the $4,000 package to remove the carpeting and pleather the seats and paint the car yellow - and he opted for the security camera instead of the plexi breaker to make his passengers feel more comfortable).

He was wearing a navy blue cap with golden oak leaves embroidered on it. My dad wears a similar cap; both have sons in the armed forces. His son was a computer programmer on a submarine; my brother was a computer programmer on the USS Parsons destroyer, in the Indian Ocean when I was born over 30 years ago.

Before I got out of the cab, I handed him one of my cards, told him about my project and asked to paint his portrait. I hope he contacts me, I enjoyed the conversation we shared.



Just got off the subway after trying to hand out to invitations to paint portraits. I usually spend the trip in the tunnels imagining scenarios where I hand out the cards and every possible outcome - except for "no."

One older woman had long brown hair parted in the middle, black liner on her eyelids, soft features and a brown scarf around her neck. When I handed her the card she didn't even look at it before she shook-her-head-no-thank-you and looked away.
Another woman with oval glasses, chocolate-colored puffy jacket with red trim, layered hair, chiseled nose and Mediterranean complexion was near me. I gently tapped her on the shoulder and she did the same thing - didn't even look - so I appealed, "But wait, I'm an artist and I'd like to paint your portrait." With out pausing, she inaudibly asserted, no thank you.

It's not like I've never been rejected before, I have. And I know that my world isn't going to crumble if someone says no, because they will. But what really struck me isn't that I seemed like one of the millions of folks trying to hand you something in the subway, but that they didn't even want the card to cross hands. They'll never see this post, they'll never read this blog, and they'll never be a part of this project.

Maybe because I thought that love would be "in the air" this Valentine's Day, maybe because I choose the folks I want to paint, and maybe I thought that I'd be handing them a gift...maybe that's why I took it so hard. Tears started to well up as I got off the train and walked home.


Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity

I painted Jonathon Roberts today in his first painted portrait, ever.

Starting with peppermint tea and a pot pie, Jonathon sat by my front window this afternoon. With winter light and a limited palette, Jonathon's usual jollity was egged on by the peanut gallery (two cats, a husband and a flatmate) who had gathered in the room. I don't recall who said that portraits should evoke the space between the sitter's sentences - but that's where I found myself concentrating: to find the solid Jonathon between smiles and laughter.

Jonathon is a composer, musician and the director of Spark and Echo Arts. He is working together with artists, writers, musicians, actors, dancers and poets to create a new multi-media illumination of the Bible. He is also my friend and a constant support and that's why I asked him to be a part of the beginning of this project.

Back in college, I was in Dennis Marzolf's choir. A staple in our concert program, "O God Beyond All Praising" used the tune Thaxted which is found in Gustav Holst's stellar orchestral suite. One of the first friends of mine to marry in college, Raelene Miller walked down the aisle during the last verse to meet her groom (also named Jon) with the deep basso of the organ vibrating the pews and the descant soaring through the sanctuary. Theirs was one of the first weddings I photographed, blinking back the tears during their processional because the resounding joy was so intense.

But I've never married Holst's parenthetical "jollity" surrounding that solemn anthem in The Planets to any meaning. I've always subconsciously separated the two; joy/sorrow, love/sacrifice, God/man - that's why I seek in my artwork to fuse contrasts. As I reflect on Jonathon's portrait wondering now why I chose to portray him with such a stone face, I realize that Jonathon embodies the entire piece. 

Jonathon's ambition is steadfast, his enthusiasm exhilarating, his faith grounded and his hopes ascending. Like Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, or even that great planet, his surface merriment whirls around a titanic core of solidity.


Starting Blocks

I handed out my first "Can I paint your portrait" card yesterday on the L train.

She was a young mother (another rider had given up the seat for her) who was toting her child in a BabyBjorn on her front. She had chestnut-colored hair and strikingly delicate features which contrasted with the round-cheeked, round-eyed, button-nosed baby in her lap. I wanted to capture that contrast - and look for the similarities - between the two.

I pulled out my bundle of cards, but I felt I wasn't ready to go for it yet. I was thinking: I don't have enough examples of people's portraits on my blog yet - I need more!, I need to get other drawings done, This project's not really that interesting, I need to be a better painter, What if they turn me down, How do I approach a person without being weird... excuse, procrastinate, whine, etc. But knowing that I might never see this person again overrode my nagging doubts and right before I had to get off the train, I gently touched her hand and gave her the card. She looked at me, looked at it - read it and then a bright smile leapt onto her face and she said, "awesome."

As I was climbing the stairs with the Billburg-bound crowd, I smiled too.



"7-day and 30-day Unlimited Ride Metrocards can now be reloaded."

You know what that means, right?


Dear Fellow Traveler,

I've printed these small cards and will start handing them out on my next subway ride. 



Our world is more connected than it was 14 years ago, but are we more tightly knit? The first time I sent an email in high school has led to expert skills in typing and an insatiable desire to devour social media. With the internet, global trade, exchange students... you never know who you'll run into on your hometown IP.

As I opened my youtube account this evening, at the top of the random cue was a face I thought I recognized. And then it clicked: this was a person with whom was briefly shared - along with my friend, and his friend - a wild and unexpected Oktoberfest, American Thanksgiving, and a day at the Alpamare when I was an exchange student in Switzerland over a decade ago.

I'm not very good at keeping in touch, in fact, I'm horrible at it. I frequently have imaginary conversations with the people I care about, writing letters to them in my head, yet I never go to the post office to buy stamps. (That's why I have 6 years of Christmas letters printed out in a drawer with envelopes addressed to various destinations across the globe.)

But unlike the time-capsuled Christmas letters waiting patiently in my drawer, time spent as an exchange student always has an expiration date. And though I was able to negotiate my school-year stay into one day short of a calendar year, with many tears I reluctantly boarded the plane back "home." My folks even said I had an accent (re-speaking English). I've never been back. And while I live in the city that is a springboard across that pond, the psychological distance seems expansive. That's why I'm reluctant to bid 'tschüssli' to the people and place I'm currently located; what will happen to the relationships I have now - because I'm horrible at keeping in touch?

Martin Nüss, I remember you from fourteen years ago.



As I've said before, I am drawn to contrasts. So when I wrote about "the first" portrait in my series, at the same time, I wasn't writing about the very real possibility of leaving our home here in the City to move north for a job. In hindsight, the first portrait could very well have been my last.

But I've been granted a reprieve - a job that will allow me to stay here at least for a few more months. So, I'm getting on this next train and seeing where it leads.


Why wait?

On the way home from a meeting in the City,
the metrocard machine asked me this question: 

Indeed. So I didn't. 

I made a sketch of the man sitting across from me.
He was looking at his smartphone,
I was looking at my "magazine,"
behind which was hidden my small sketchpaper.
I think he knew I was drawing him because he kept looking up
(I kept looking away, pretending I was reading).


Go, a head.

When you look at a piece of artwork, you need to look at it from far away, right up close, with your eyes squinted... look at it from various places so that you can see every different level of perception of it. But when you create an artwork, it's - initially - important to maintain one point of view (unless you're a Cubist).

When I was painting my visionary friend's portrait - the very first painted portrait for my "Before I Transfer" project - we sat across a table/desk from each other in his office. While we were chatting amiably with each other, I felt as though I was able to maintain a stable point-of-view throughout the session. Sure, the portrait looks like him, but there are a few measurement quirks in the drawing.

Is that really "the way I see" him? (With his neck elongated, eyes too close together and forehead too tall? But that's a great hairdo, yeah, I'll keep that.) My memory tells me that I know what he looks like because I can see the original Elvin constructed in my head. When I measure the painting against my memory, I see the real Elvin in the remembered notes of the adjustments I need to make in the painting to re-present him accurately.

I've been struggling with writing this post because I wanted to take my friend's portrait and make the adjustments before I show it to you. But what is this project about - the paintings? The memories? The experiences embedded between the marks? And that's where I stopped struggling and began writing this post, "between the marks," as it were. So many of our memories are captured there. Between the shutter-clicks, between the lines. But what's most important to me is not whether I've made a photograph - in paint - of my friend, but that I've embedded him into my memory.


On my mark, getting set...

It's the night before my first portrait session with my visionary friend. I'm not really nervous, but I know that I need to be "on" my marks tomorrow and make the most of the opportunity my sitter is graciously giving me. It's a big deal - being in that same space, watching someone watch you, look at you, study you. There's no place to hide (okay, so there might be a bathroom break).

When I was sitting for Clarity for her Breast Portrait Project, I wasn't nervous because I had already modeled back in Mankato State University's life drawing class for an amazing woman named Rea Mingeva who taught me about measurement and proportion and passion and respect while I was on the model stand watching the other students draw. But with Clarity I was sitting for just one person, not a whole class. It's quieter, more intimate - it was just the two of us in her studio. With great big multi-paned windows that let in the most pure white Northern light. She made me a coffee and turned on the space heater and I took my shirt off. And it was O.K. It was beautiful. We had such a nice conversation while she drew my body and I watched her draw me.

It was all right.

So as well as I know my first subject, he's a friend of mine, I think he's not entirely comfortable being "looked at." He's not a model, but he's sitting for me. (And folks, this project is all PG so just sit tight. There will be shirts.) It is a great gift, that he said yes, that he's letting me paint him. So I want to do it well - as I am painting the shapes of his face, I want my brushstrokes to describe the shape of his heart. 


DNR Trail

Recently, I sat for another artist, Clarity Haynes, for her Breast Portrait Project. It was lovely to talk and connect backgrounds and experiences over pastels and warm coffee in a sunlit studio. As I was traveling back from her studio in Brooklyn, the "D, N, R" on the subway sign reminded me of the DNR back where I grew up in Minnesota. I'm drawn to contrasts, and these two memories couldn't be further from each other on a map.

The DNR trail (see location "T" on map) is right off of Highway 15 directly across from my best friend's childhood "dome" home (D).  New Ulm has two rivers that border it and the DNR trail is a virtually-unknown gateway to a quiet and magical part of the Cottonwood River. The trail is heavily overgrown (you have to plow through the mosquitos), and after each twist and turn the pioneering pathfinder is rewarded with sparkling rivulets, meandering sandbars and lush vegetation.

And while "sparkling rivulets, meandering sandbars and lush vegetation" may on the metaphorical occasion be found in the New York Subway, my guess is that you probably don't want to explore those trails any further.

The Cottonwood River - the river my parents didn't want me caught dead in - was a constant companion in my childhood. Danny, Lance, Huy and I would bike down the back way into Flandrau State Park to go swimming (sorry, Mom and Dad) in the river. Flandrau was bordered by the New Ulm Country Club - where, on the 9th hole (G) in the middle of the night with my boyfriend and his brother, was the first time I got drunk at 16 years old. (But I still remember the whole story; um, sorry again, Mom and Dad.)  Schell's Brewery (B) sits right in the river ravine, an almost mythical place being the 2nd oldest family-owned and operated brewery in the nation where I worked through college giving tours & tastings, tending the museum and talking to the peacocks. And just beyond the map is, still along the Shag Road, the Winkelmann Lime Kiln - the first mortar-maker in the area which provided the glue that built my historic hometown.

Click to see larger version of map.

As more years are added to my life, the grasp I have on my memories seems less secure. The last few years in New York are a blur, perhaps due to the alcohol consumption one uses for fuel. So this project hopes to etch these memories and the these experiences onto my consciousness. However, I must note that as I am writing this post, I'm watching Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men so I am consumed with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.


Dashing Through

Christmas this year was filled with the primaverian promise of new beginnings and continued growth as green grass carpeted the ground without the blanket of snow. Along with the unseasonable temperatures (remember "Snowpocalypse" last year? As a home-grown Minnesotan in NYC, where were the plows?!?), there's a change in the wind.

After my husband and I spent the holidays visiting friends in Connecticut, I am now home preparing for seasonable shifts in my own world. The progress in my "Before I Transfer" portrait project was fueled by a significant career change regarding where I thought I was headed, and when I feel uncertain about where I'm going I become especially attuned to "signs" or "flags" to try and make sense of what is happening.  (I've been unemployed for six months now aside from teaching one wonderful Art History class at a local college, but employment opportunities seem scarce these days.) I've been looking for directional markers ever since. Plotting happenings and emotions and friends' feedback onto a mind-map, I'm seeing some paradigm shifts.

I used to think that what you DO is who you ARE. As an artist, this seems natural: you're an artist if you do art, right? And if you're not doing art, well then - do you even exist? But only looking at the finished work on the wall is never the whole story. (While this blog uses this portrait/sketch project as a foundation to record and explore selected facets of my artistic process/psyche, I am also designing, administrating, muraling, photographing, painting, writing, researching and creating whole other projects that are writing their own logs in my life story.) At the risk of sounding too "young adult lit" (but I'm going to say it anyway) - I am the author of this blog, but I am not the author of my life and my path is already paved for me.

So even though I am reassured that "everything works out in the end," I'm still afraid of leaving New York City. I'm scared that I will suddenly drop off the local radar if I branch out beyond the boroughs to earn a livelihood, even if I'm not earning a living here. I'm scared that all my connections will be severed. That's really the core of this project - to breathe into painted portraits the connections to folks that mean so much to me while I've lived here.

Therefore, there's now a date on my calendar: the first portrait painting session for this project with a dear supporter and friend. He's a visionary. In addition to beginning his own global movement to strengthen family bonds through MaJenDome, he has always encouraged the pursuit of the best-possible outcome for not only me, but also for the entire student, faculty and alumni community at the school where I earned my MFA. It will be an honor to paint his portrait - as the first - in my project.


real MODEL, REAL model

Christophe Nayel, any time, any place!
Riding the subway at 2am, I received two amazing opportunities: to draw both a real MODEL and a REAL model for my "Before I Transfer" project.

Coming home from an opening at Kraine Gallery in the East Village (which supports my irrational fantasy of experiencing the "artist's" New York City based on my college painting professor's Beatles-fueled, bohemian - his name is Bukowski, so there you go - bacchanalian Zeitgeist), the trains barely run in the middle of the night and the platforms are almost vacant so it's nice to have a friend along for the ride.

Christophe is an art model in the City, and I've spent many hours in charcoal-coated classrooms drawing him in various states of ________ (just name it, he's done it). We transferred, waited, transferred, waited... and finally devolved into nonsensical conversations in those wee hours, so I asked him if I may draw him for my project. But of course, cheri!

It was such a treat to work, again, with a real MODEL who despite the jumpy-bumpiness of the rails can hold any pose. (Usually, I look for the folks who are snoozing because they're not switching positions.) So as I began to sketch him, sitting nearby was a young lady who began to watch. And as I was finishing the sketch, she offered to sit on the subway for a portrait, too. But only if you can finish the sketch in six stops, she smiled. With the pressure on, I knew that this sketch would challenge me. Not only had I a time-limit visible on the horizon, but also because this was a request. A work that wasn't just for me or for this project, but for her, too.

As she was sitting, we had a pleasant conversation and the stops flew by. While we were chatting, I was studying the breaks in the line of her nose, the way the curve of her lips arced gently like the lids of her eyes... and then I realized there was only one stop left. I knitted in her scarf and perched her head on top of her jacketed shoulders just as the subway slid into my - and her - stop. She was my first REAL model in this project, and I hope our paths will cross again so I can paint her portrait, too.
Just sketched my first real MODEL..**annnd** my first REAL model on the train!

More details - and the sketches - coming up tomorrow. (It's almost 4am and I'm still excited about it, I can't sleep.)