I have been a fan of anything UFO related since my father first introduced me to flying saucer films from the 1950s. I have such fond memories of watching Creature Feature with him on Saturday afternoons as a kid. I loved the corny B-films as much as the classics. As an adult that fascination continued with The X-Files, Ancient Aliens, Coast to Coast Radio and the Lore podcast which dips into aliens from time to time. I thought it was time to pay homage to this genre which has brought me so much pleasure over the years with this print highlighting some of the important events in UFO history including the Roswell crash, the Area 51 incident and the Betty and Barney Hill abduction, to name a few. I really wanted it to have a retro feel and touch of humor that would harken back to those 1950’s films. It is the first in a new line of prints, note cards and kitchen towels that I am adding to my sister shop on Etsy: Curious Print and Pattern. I encourage anyone with a mild interest to look into these events further, it is chilling stuff and will totally draw you in!
The newest addition to my Fox Dandy series is the Great Gatsby Fox, created for the newest line of rosé wines from Fox Hollow Vineyards in NJ. Inspired by the Jazz Age, an era that gave us bathtub gin, flappers and the Charleston, we pictured our fox right in the middle of it all sipping bubbly at a starlight lawn party on the North Fork of Long Island. I really enjoyed imagining how he would be dressed in the 1920's and decided a linen jacket and straw boater hat were perfect plus the dog headed cane was a final whimsical touch .
For the new rosé label, Joe Casola, the owner of Fox Hollow Vineyards, wanted to keep the original mascot fox we created for the red and white wines but give him an Art Deco feel which developed into the Great Gatsby theme. I designed a simple fan pattern for the background of the label which we kept dark to offset the gold metallic lettering and border. Joe continued the Jazz Age theme by naming his wines Charleston, Bees Knees, Deco Rose, Pink Flamingo and Halcyon Days. I recently had the pleasure of attending a rosé wine tasting at the vineyard and was surprised to taste all the subtle nuances that different grapes and processing create. Chilled, these wines are the perfect crisp, refreshing drink on a hot summer evening.
The original fox portrait was done with a fox hunting theme in which the fox turns the tradition upside down by donning the red coat and carrying the horn. I designed the background pattern to continue the fox hunt idea which we also printed as fabric for tablecloths and napkins in he winery.
I recently had the pleasure of painting this lovely B & B called Les Vignes Reines. It is nestled in the heart of the Bordeaux region of France and run by 2 amazing women Elin and Ophèlie along with their canine and feline assistants. The painting was to be used for their business cards and general branding and promotion. The tranquility of the place, to me, begged to be painted in watercolor, a medium I usually reserve for my travel sketches and I feel it conveyed perfectly the lightness perfectly. It was a dreamy project for sure but not without its challenges: mainly the difficulty of obtaining photos of the entire house due to a pesky line of lovely trees and bushes along the back behind the pool. In the end I had Elin shoot a series of straight on photos which I had to put together side by side, in the style of David Hockney's Polaroid compositions to try to get the proportions and scale correctly! It was a wonderful assignment and I look forward to visiting soon and doing more watercolors in person while sampling some of the local wines!
Most times, an idea for a painting comes upon me gradually: bits and pieces forming in my head based on current interests. I will sketch it out then change it, let it sit for awhile and change it again until it is ready to be painted. Sometimes however an idea springs out of the ether: inexplicable and undefinable yet I know absolutely that it is right and needs to be painted. These for me are the most exciting projects, they are almost gifts from beyond. I never think they will appeal to anyone else but sometimes I am proven wrong.
Uncle Omelette was a perfect example of this. To this day I do not know how he arrived in my mind or from where his name sprang. I don’t know why he is an egg, nor why he is cooking breakfast. The idea simply came to me in that fertile time right before I get out of bed in the morning when my daydreams are at their best. I awoke, sketched him out immediately and knew he was ready to paint. He has remained one of my most loved portraits. Perhaps the fact that he is an egg shows his vulnerability and his act of cooking breakfast is proof that he is a caregiver. (One of my dear friends even suggested he is a portrait of my ideal mate).
A few years ago I decided to list him in my Curious Portraits shop on a whim really. I never believed he would sell even one print. To my surprise he has become one of the most popular characters in the shop. I even have customers write me to say that he reminds me of their bald boyfriend or husband or that they are buying the print as a gift for a cook. It pleases me no end when others see the good in him and want him hanging on their wall.
I have often wanted to paint another egg man but the sketches never came to life and I had put the idea aside. A few weeks ago though this image of a child egg came to my mind in a similar fashion as that of Uncle Omelette. I saw him clearly in my mind, this orphan egg with a melancholy expression, dressed in an old fashioned sailor suit . I don’t really know how he relates to Uncle Omelette but I’ve come to love this little fellow and I feel somehow that he is content hanging on my wall next to Uncle Omelette.
I have been equally fascinated by and frightened of giant rabbits since I can remember. Not giant rabbits exactly but what appear to be giant rabbits and are in fact people in rabbit costumes. I am not alone in this: I have a Pinterest board devoted to photos, mainly from the 1950’s and 1960’s of children accompanied by gigantic and often misshapen rabbits. I don’t have a clear memory of actually having had to sit upon the lap of one of these creatures yet this vague fear persists.
I do however remember that as a child my large italian family would spend Easter together at our house in Wildwood NJ . One Easter in particular when I was quite small, my cousin Cindy received a gigantic stuffed rabbit from the Easter Bunny that I remember as being at least as tall as we were. I was jealous of course, having not received one myself, but also reluctant to pass by her room on my way to the stairs for fear I would see its large, lifeless eyes peering out at me from the darkness.
This portrait is my homage to that fear of vague danger lurking in the dark. Even though he is shown emerging from the shadows, his gift of a single egg convinces me that there is nothing to be afraid of after all. Prints are available at www.curiousportraits.com
I have been fascinated with Mr. Peanut ever since I first encountered him as a young child on a trip to Atlantic City with my father and sister. It was a magical day on the boardwalk, long before the casinos arrived. On Steel Pier I remember watching a woman on horseback diving into the water, taking a sepia toned photo with my sister inside a make believe jail where we were holding my father prisoner and another where we were poking our heads through carnival cutouts. We even went down under water in the mysterious diving bell! Anyone familiar with vintage Atlantic City will surely remember these amusement park wonders.
What sticks out most in my memory however, was walking past the Planters Peanut shop and seeing black spindly legs with spats and slowly looking up to see a gigantic peanut man towering above me: head silently bobbing back and forth with dark holes where his eyes should be. It was terrifying but for some reason instead of being traumatized by this experience, I instead became fascinated to the point of obsession as the years went by. I collected Mr. Peanut ephemera and even had the chance to design a vintage Mr Peanut print for Nick & Nora pajamas years later licensed by Planters that remains one of my all time favorite prints.
This portrait was my homage to the Mr Peanut costume of the 1960’s that I remember so well. It conjures up for me the smell of roasting peanuts and the touch of the salty breeze from the ocean on my skin. It has since become one of the most popular prints in my Etsy shop and even led to a private commission for a similar portrait (holding the bag of peanuts). I can only imagine that it is because there are many of you out there that share fond memories of Atlantic City and
it’s neighboring towns and boardwalks during the glory days of the Jersey Shore.
This portrait, painted about 15 years ago holds a very special place in my heart because it is of my dearest, most treasured childhood toy, Green Bunny. He was passed on from my brother to my sister and by the time I had him he had faded to pale yellow. He had been so loved that he was missing his eyes and mouth. I sewed jingle bells on for eyes and that is how he remains today.
When I was 5 years old my family moved from Philadelphia to New Jersey and somehow during that move my beloved bunny was lost. It was such a deep loss for me at that age and I truly mourned him. I never stopped thinking about him and launched many searches throughout the house to no avail. Then one day, years later, my cousin Cindy and I decided to explore some forbidden boxes way back in a closet that were at the bottom of a tall pile. I clearly remember trying to pry open the flaps and peek inside without toppling over the stack. I found curtains folded on top, one of the least interesting finds to a child, but kept digging deeper until my hand touched something soft and fuzzy which I slowly pulled out. To my astonishment it was Green Bunny. I honestly don't think I have ever been happier than when I saw that faded little face. I think I was actually speechless with shock but then burst into tears of absolute joy.
Over the years since then I have suffered deep, personal losses in my family and I believe that somehow, this painting became a representation of them all. It wasn't intentional: it started out as a simple study but it has remained hanging on my wall and has the ability to bring to me to tears but also to give me a great sense of comfort. It is a thread that connects me to my past: to a childhood spent surrounded by a close and loving family. Today is the anniversary of my mother's death and when I was feeling her loss this afternoon I looked up and this portrait reminded me that her spirit is around me every single day.
This pink elephant was originally begun as an homage to one of my favorite elephants of all time: the polka dot elephant from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer animated movie. Since I was a child that sad little elephant has haunted me. My childish mind couldn’t comprehend why he had been banished to the Land of Misfit Toys, I would cry to my Mother that I wanted him even if no one else did. When I was putting away my Christmas ornaments this January, including my polka dot elephant ornament and stuffed toy the idea for this portrait was born.
Of course few paintings progress as planned and I soon realized as I painted that the polka dots were not going to work: they made him look as if he had measles which, of course, was not my intent. The half finished painting sat there for weeks in my studio staring out at me. At some point I realized that every time I passed by, the jingle from Crispy Critters would run through my mind. For those of you that do not remember Crispy Critters, it was a popular cereal in the 1960s that was 90% sugar and that came in the shape of animals: monkeys,Tigers, lions etc. At one point pink marshmallow elephants were added and I was beside myself. According to my sister, I was already inexplicably obsessed with elephants and every time the commercial came on TV with the special Pink Elephant jingle, I went nuts. (Unfortunately I cannot find that particular jingle on YouTube so you'll have to take my word for it).
All these years later that annoying jingle became the key to solving the problem of this painting and I went forward making the elephant a nice shade of salmon pink which, it turns out, worked perfectly with the deep olive green ground I had already painted. The portrait pretty much finished itself from there.
So even though in color, he resembles the pink elephants of Crispy Critters, to me he remains a poignant reminder of that neglected polka dot elephant on the Island of Misfit Toys that no one wanted.
Prints, notecards, brooches and ornaments featuring the Pink Elephant are available in my shop Curious Portraits.
Wolves have gotten a bad rap over the years, especially in children’ literature. When I first thought of doing a wolf portrait, the first wolves that came to mind were from The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood, both of which were rather mean and intimidating. It got me thinking of how some people who are gruff on the outside are often actually masking their own vulnerability and insecurity with their behavior. They just need someone to listen to them and offer some understanding and friendship. So I reasoned that if people could be that complex, wouldn’t it be possible that wolves could also have a softer side? Now I know that in reality wolves are nothing to take lightly but since the animals in my portraits are usually wearing clothing, I thought I could stretch that a bit with artistic license. So here is my portrait of a woodland wolf, gathering red berry branches to liven up his little den: wise and perhaps a little stern but also kind-hearted with a gentle, sensitive side.
I am so thrilled that Curiosa in Toronto is now carrying Curious Portraits in their delicious new shop! They had their grand opening this summer and chose some favorite Gothic and Victorian prints and cards from my shop as part of their inventory. Though their website is still being finessed, you can see photos of their wondrous products on their Facebook page, Curiosa Society and Instagram feed @curiosasociety They have a tantalizing selection of cards, jewelry, quill pens, sealing wax, prints, and more, plus all manner of Harry Potter themed items. Everything a Steampunk, Gothic, Victorian loving person such as myself could want. I may just have to schedule a trip up to Canada and see for myself!
These are some of the eclectic selection of prints they'll be carrying.
I've been an avid fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories since my older brother first introduced me to them many years ago. They were probably the reason I became so fascinated with Victorian mystery writers and Victorian England in general. I devoured books by Wilke Collins, Sheridan Le Fanu, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Charles Dickens and of course Edgar Allan Poe (even though he was not British), to mention just a few. Even now I am eager to discover a particularly well written Victorian mystery by a contemporary author such as The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox, Drood by Dan Simmons (a must for any Dickens and Collins fan) or Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield. So when I decided to do a line of textile prints based on literary figures I chose Sherlock Holmes as the first. I had already done a portrait of Arthur Conan Doyle in which I used the smoke from his pipe as a design element. That was the starting point for this print along with his iconic Meerschaum Calabash and Churchwarden pipes. I then added in elements representing some of my favorite stories along with general items that any Sherlock Holmes fan would recognize such as his deerstalker cap, 7% solution of cocaine and the VR (Victoria Regina) made of bullet holes on his wall.
Unfortunately I had a very difficult time sourcing a digital fabric printer who could print on chiffon that is thin enough for the ink to bleed through so that it could be used as a scarf. Spoonflower, who is my go-to printer didn't carry anything thin enough so I temporarily had to give up the idea of the scarves. I didn't however want to abandon the idea of the literary prints so my next step was to take the elements and use them in an engineered poster design. I kept the central theme of the pipe smoke and the story elements but put them against a black background to make them stand out and also added in some Victorian fretwork across the top to tie it all together and here is the result:
The next step was to create notecards from the print, each displaying a different story and available along with the print at Curious Portraits.
I recently had the pleasure of illustrating the cover story for The Writer's Chronicle for an article called "You Are Making Me Now" by Joy Ladin. It was particularly challenging because it began as a study of the presence of God in American poetry but evolved into a discussion of the author's transgenderism and how that affected her relationship to God in her own poetry. I wanted to touch upon all these points that were not only interesting but integral to the article and I thought a sort of Byzantine religious icon might be effective since figures from stained glass windows and mosaics of that period tended to be not only generalized but androgynous as well. I added in a book and pen to represent the poetry and really enjoyed creating illuminated manuscript-like pages centered around the masculine and feminine symbols.
The inside illustration was for a different story entitled "The True Story" by Viola van de Sandt which was about how biographers deal with missing information in their subject's life. Virginia Woolf's biographies were used as an example so I decided to do a series of cameo brooches of her arranged as if in a display case with one space left blank as if a brooch had been there leaving only the shadow on the faded fabric. I am very fond of Virginia Woolf's writing and thought the delicacy of the carved cameos would an effective way of portraying her.
As always it was a pleasure to work with Supriya Bhatnagar who I can always count on to provide challenging and fascinating material to illustrate!
I just finished one of the most enjoyable and unusual projects: designing and painting the images for a retro puppet theater. When Brian and Hanson of Puppet in the Pantry first contacted me and told me about their vision of a puppet theater with a vintage, sideshow feel I was very excited. We bonded immediately on our love of vintage carnival, circus and boardwalk ephemera and also our shared dog lover-mania. The first thing we did was decide to put their dog Daisy and my dog Bingo's portraits dressed as clowns on the antique doors for the front. The space was tall and narrow so I designed a scroll pattern to frame the portraits and painted it in gold metallic. We used this gold ornamentation on the other pieces to tie it all together.
They have a carpenter working with them who created a wooden die cut for the front of the theater. Brian and Hanson sell vintage toys and wanted me to add some toy soldiers and since Brian used to be a Broadway dancer he wanted a comedy and tragedy mask as well. The basic shape of the curtains and footlights were already die cut so I came up with some dramatic drapery to give it depth.
For the sides of the theater they wanted to use my Mr. Peanut and Mr. Softee portraits as old theater posters. I gave the portraits yellowed, ragged edges and faded them a bit in Photoshop to age them. Then added in old fashioned hand shaped arrows pointing to the Stage Door and the Ticket Booth.
As soon as the carpenter puts it all together I will add some photos of the finished theater. This was truly the best kind of project: not only did I get to be creative and have fun but I also made 2 new friends in the bargain!
I recently finished a particularly fun commission of 3 paintings: variations on my Mr. Peanut, Mr. Softee and Uncle Omelette portraits. My client loved the dark humor of the originals and wanted something very similar but with a twist. We decided to have Mr. Peanut shown in front of his own shop window on the Atlantic City Boardwalk eating a bag of fresh roasted peanuts. For Uncle Omelette we thought he could be actually cooking eggs as a street food vendor and we have Mr. Softee eating an ice cream cone in a night time setting with strings of lights instead of bunting behind him. These were three of my very favorite portraits and it was such a pleasure to re-visit them with this new set! Prints are available in my shop Curious Portraits.
I am fortunate to have several dear friends who are Swedish and who have introduced me to the many beautiful Christmas traditions they have in Sweden. My favorite is the St. Lucy ceremony which I have attended at the Swedish church here in NYC. It features a procession of girls dressed in white with red sashes led by a girl in a crown of candles and lingonberry branches. As I understand it the story is that St. Lucy used to bring food to the Christians hiding in the catacombs of Rome and would wear candles on her head to light her way and leave her hands free to carry the food. This whole idea of bringing light into the darkness is so inspiring and so I borrowed some of the ideas for this year's Christmas portrait. A peaceful bear bringing light and hope to a dark world. Merry Christmas everyone and wishing you peace in the new year.
My new pup Astro joins Bingo this year for his annual Halloween portrait which is my canine tribute to one of my favorite Saturday morning programs growing up in Philadelphia called Cartoon Corners (aka the Gene London Show). It starred Gene London portraying an artist who lived near a haunted house called Quigley Mansion and had a tremendous influence on my career choice as well as my love of mysteries and the paranormal. His character, among other things, was always solving mysteries, encountering ghosts and finding secret tunnels and hidden passageways. All in all it was the perfect show for someone like me who also devoured Nancy Drew books and loved Scooby Do and Johnny Quest. He was a captivating story teller and would use his drawings to illustrate the tales. He truly made me believe that my dream of becoming an artist was possible, something for which I am forever grateful. I had the opportunity to meet Gene London many years later at a party here in NY and he was so warm and gracious even as I swooned all over him. This year's portrait is dedicated to him and his wonderfully enchanting show. You can see a charming interview with Gene London here.
It has been a busy summer and I am afraid I have neglected my readers! Back in early June I discovered a site called Etsy Ranks which connects to Etsy and gives you all sorts of useful information to help you improve your shop and search potential. It pointed out simple things like spelling errors as well as more complex things such as whether you are using enough of the given characters in your title and if you are using your tags efficiently in the first paragraph of your description. It was a real eye opener for me and even though I found for the most part that my shop was ranking high, it made me take a closer look and I was astonished to find that some of my listings which hadn't been edited in years, frankly, had terrible titles, descriptions and tags. So I rolled up my sleeves and went through the Curious Portraits shop listing by listing which took me the better part of the summer.
I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the listings of other successful sellers whom I admire and let them guide me in making my own items more marketable. I began with my titles which are the most important searchable part of a listing and tried to think like a buyer and what terms they would likely use to search for an item. For example I changed the title Spiritualist Fox Brooch to Fox Portrait Brooch, Fox Pin, Victorian Fox, Oval, Spiritualist Fox, Gothic, Steampunk, Halloween. By doing so I was listing all the information in order of importance as well as keeping it clear and descriptive. Next I tackled the item descriptions and tried to clearly describe the item as well as suggesting ways it could be used and who it might appeal to. My original descriptions, albeit charming, were more like stories and were lacking in searchable keywords. I also made sure all my related products were shown in the photos and had proper links. Last but not least I up-dated all the keywords, making them more specific and adding in style tags such as Gothic, Victorian and Steampunk if appropriate. This was indeed a formidable task but one that clearly needed to be done and in plenty of time for the busy Christmas season. I am happy to say not only are hits to my shop steadily increasing but sales as well! Below are some of the new items I've recently added to the shop.
I never tire of Grimm's fairy tales and have always found The Frog Prince. particularly charming. It was somewhat challenging to portray a slimy, bumpy frog as a friendly and approachable character without making him too cartoon-like. I've been preoccupied with night time skies lately and thought the stars and the fireflies would bring an element of mystery and serenity to his portrait. Below are some of the stages of the painting beginning with the sepia under painting.
The idea of painting a series of farm animals has been in the back of my mind since I visited Fox Hollow Farm while working on their wine label and met so many beautiful animals. A few weeks ago I was enjoying a particularly creamy and delicious camembert when the idea of combining my love of cheese with the farm portraits came to mind. After some research I settled on 3 of my favorite cheeses made from the milk of a cow, a sheep and a goat.
I painted the animals as individual portraits first. I then created the laurel wreath, the banner and the cheeses on the plates separately and put them all together in Photoshop for the final artwork.
I wanted them all to have a different sky. From the beginning I knew that the sheep should be on a night time sky, given the association of counting sheep, and the deep blue ground would set the white of his wool off nicely. The goat had such a cheery face that I thought he should be set against a clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds and the cow reminded me of early morning milk for my coffee and cereal so he is pictured with a colorful dawn sky.
I toyed with the idea of putting each cheese on a differently patterned plate, mostly because I have a passion for mismatched vintage china, but in the end I thought keeping the plate, wreath and banner consistent in all three tied them all together as a set. The portraits are all available as prints with or without the frames and cheeses in my Etsy shop Curious Portraits.
My most recent project for The Writer’s Chronicle was an open ended assignment which was both a challenging and satisfying puzzle to solve.
The cover illustration was for an essay about the Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan which focused on the structure of the book: the way the chapters stand on their own as well as making up a larger story while moving back and forth through time.
I began by jotting down ideas as I read: time passing, relationships and looking back, for example. The theme of time stood out to me so I knew I wanted a clock face to feature. Another strong element was the way the individual chapters functioned as cells in a comic strip, or frames in a strip of film. After some experimentation I decided that to convey the feeling of nostalgia the piece evoked in me, I would represent time by creating a clock themed background wallpaper that had a vintage feel and over lay framed images that when seen together, created one larger image. I put this together digitally for the concept sketch using stock clock faces and sketched frames but for the final I hand painted the clock faces and the frames and layered them in Photoshop. The only change we made was to brighten the sepia toned palette of the sketch. I chose a soft color story inspired by vintage wallpaper. I love projects like this that stretch my imagination and give me total freedom to experiment.