Call for Subjects: Only a few days left to Submit!

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In a recent blog post, I shared that I’m opening up the 2011 “Technicolor Muslimah” series.
I am seeking volunteers who self-identify as American Muslim women, with or without hijab (and anywhere in between), who can help make this project more diverse.  Please read the original “Call for Subjects” for more of what I mean. 
 
To Submit, please send:

1. A selfie (a picture of you!):
– high quality (It’s difficult to paint from blurry or low-res pictures)
– head and shoulders only (or can be cropped)
– BIG PERSONALITY!  I’m looking for images that are more communicative than just “looking at the camera and smiling,” whether through use of props or through expression. 

2. A brief description of how you feel you could make this series more diverse.

Send to artbysaba@yahoo.com or facebook.com/artbysaba by MAY 1st!!  I will choose a few that will become paintings in the first couple of weeks of May.

Sweet Noor

I had said that the painting “Rebel” was the last painting in the An-Noor series.  When I found out I would get to show the series at the Carrack Modern Art in January, I felt strongly compelled to make another painting.  So I added this piece, which also turned out to be many people’s favorite in the series.

This painting is of one of my dearest friends.  In the image she is carrying her first child, a daughter that she named “Noor.”  The photograph I worked from was taken just a few days before Noor was born.



A few notes about the piece:
I wanted the background to feel as though it was inside of a womb.  It’s this safe space where she can connect to her child, imagine the future.
The green dress brings to mind the Arnolfini portrait, one of the most recognizable renderings of a pregnant woman.

by Jan Van Eyck

by Jan Van Eyck

I’m not sure that the An-Noor series is “finished.”  I see that this is a big conversation, and that the portraits in this project only scratch the surface of the diversity of American Muslim women.  There is much that is left unexplored here, so I’m open to expanding this series as I meet more women who inspire me.  But for now, I guess I punctuate An-Noor with a “…”

Rebel

Completed painting.  "Rebel" 20"x60"  Acrylic paint, gold leaf, rhinestones on canvas

Completed painting. “Rebel” 20″x60″ Acrylic paint, gold leaf, rhinestones on canvas

This is the last portrait in An-Noor.  It’s called “Rebel” and is 20″ x 60″ (same size as Inner Sun and American Desi).  I used gold leaf, rhinestones (in the necklace) and acrylic paint.

I crossed paths with the subject of this painting, Amarra, in September 2012.  We were both at an event where I was displaying some art.  Even though we didn’t really talk, we became Facebook and Instagram friends (gotta love social media).  After seeing some of the amazing selfies she posts, I had no choice but to ask if I could photograph her.  I had the opportunity to speak to Amarra at length before I took her picture.  She completely opened up, and the depth of our conversation made painting her feel natural and fluid.

All of us have friends who post selfies, but few actually tap into the potential of the selfie as more than just a form of documentation, but as an art form.  It’s a self-portrait.  It was clear from my conversation with Amarra that she has a natural ability to express her mood, her heritage, even her values, in the way that she presents herself.  To have the outside match the inside.  When this is combined with body language and environment, you can end up with a really dynamic image of a person.

So what I’m really trying to say, is that she showed up in this kick-ass outfit, gave me this powerful pose, and that is a huge part of why this painting turned out the way it did.

Check out the gallery for pictures of the process and detail shots.

Having painted the last subject, I think about how transformative this process has been. I came into this undertaking barely 26 years old, a new mother, with no established “career,” and just having earned a degree in teaching, not painting.

Listening to all these women has been one of the most special parts of this project.  We could skip the small talk and go straight to the real stuff.  All of them are so unique, and with each one, there was something, a quality of hers, a particular thing that she said or way that she said it, that has resonated with me.  With each painting, I was able to see some part of myself more clearly, by connecting to and reflecting the woman that I was painting.  I think we all can sometimes feel that whoever we are, however we are, isn’t good enough.  This healing kind of thing happened while working on this project – in recognizing the love and respect I have for each of these women, I found that I could also love and accept myself a little more.

Thank you to all who have participated in this with me!  You rock.

There is one painting (not a portrait) left to complete this series.  Stay tuned.

Inner Sun

I’m REALLY excited about this newest painting.  The making of this painting was very new to me… Using the Sketchbook app on iPad, I was able to take the level of design on this to a much higher level.  Not only am I thrilled with the experience and finished product of this painting, but I can see all sorts of possibilities for future work.  Which is invigorating.

“Maria (Inner Sun)” is 20″ x 60,” in acrylic paint, gold leaf, and glass beads (the liquitex medium)

BEFORE PAINTING:
I photographed this subject, Maria, almost a year ago.  She is actually doing zumba outdoors, but I cropped her body out of it.  Maria has an amazing personal story, and clearly, a beautiful smile.  In the complete photograph, Maria’s arms are outstretched, and the worm’s eye view shows the bright blue sky over her head.  Her body language, the smile on her face, her outstretched arms, and the vastness of the sky create an overwhelming feeling of freedom, openness, and connectedness with this great big world.  To translate this feeling into her painting was challenging… (which is why it has been so long since I photographed her!)  I fussed with this composition for a long time and scrapped a lot of ideas before I finally came up with the right imagery for her.

I created the design around Maria using the Sketchbook app.  I was able to draw freehand using a stylus, but as I drew, the app created a mirror image of every single element – perfect bilateral symmetry.  And then I was also able to reflect the bottom and top half of the image using the layering options.  This might be total child’s play compared to Photoshop, but I love that I am still drawing while using it.  I was able to edit the crap out of the design with relative ease.

PROCESS:
Basically I taped off the canvas and painted the shades of blue, the white and yellow beams, first.  Then I projected the design on top, and drew it on with white charcoal so I wouldn’t get pencil marks in the paint.  Then I painted the design in gold, then glued the gold leaf on top of that.  I painted Maria after I had finished the whole design.  The top of the painting – the pink/red… is covered in glass beads and comes off of the canvas about a 1/4.”  There was a lot of tedious fixing of edges and patching of gold leaf. Overall I spent a lot of time drafting this image and designing it, and actually making the painting was a super efficient process as a result.

Now the coolest thing about this painting, is that as I worked, the design got more and more and more complex.  I reversed positive and negative areas, I wove the white line through the gold leafed shapes…  I am just so excited about this experience, this whole new way of making art.  I would never dream of doing anything like this with pencil and paper.  Hoorayyyy technology!

I always worry about how to move forward, to get better, to challenge myself…  and I think that this emphasis on designs is where it’s at.  It is such a neat thing, to try to communicate meaning in these flat forms.  To make it all feel like something.  To draw it by hand.  It is like speaking a new language.  Suddenly I saw it everywhere – rugs, people’s clothes (I was particularly inspired by Jennifer Lopez’s dress at the Oscars?), my shower curtain…

The straight lines and geometric shapes on one layer, with organic lines curling over them in gold…It is this conversation between hard and soft, masculine and feminine.  They are separate elements, but they communicate with each other and effect each other.  Clearly I’m obsessed with all this.  And that’s the dragon that I am chasing when searching for inspiration… I can’t just be interested in it, I need to be obsessed.

SYMBOLISM:
The symbolism in this painting is not quite as straightforward as what I often do.  I have an enormous painting that I want to do next that is going to be exploding with pretty literal symbolic imagery (plus a whole bunch of organic and geometric designs).  But that’s later.

For now, look through the gallery for pictures of process and completed painting.  I have an excessive amount of pictures because it looks so cool from different angles.  The different shades of blue didn’t show up much in the final photographs for some reason… but it’s visible in other pictures.

Nushmia – Completed Painting

About a month ago I wrote a post with images and info on a painting I was working on, particularly the inspiration behind the imagery.  And now, it’s done!!  Here are some pics of the completed painting, titled “Nushmia (Light upon light).”

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There were a number of different elements in this painting, and I tried lots of new things.

I found a great tool in the Sketchbook App for iPad, and was able to try out a bunch of different compositions, and using “Save As” to try lots of variations and then compare them.  Works much better than erasing holes into paper as I try different things, or redrawing the whole thing from scratch each time.  You can even sketch (or paint) by hand, take a picture of it, then manipulate it in different ways in the program.  AMAZING.  Saved me sooo much time, and allowed me to do a lot more pre-planning, which is essential when working in this size (and which is why I was actually able to meet a deadline this time!).  I use a stylus… and it’s not exactly like drawing by hand, but a great option.

The Olive Tree is a complex form.  Instead of just creating a simple tree trunk, there are different layers/limbs that are woven together to create the trunk of the tree, then spread out into branches.  In my original sketch for this painting, somehow I didn’t realize that a 6 foot tall canvas, while tall, is not tall enough for a full sized olive tree.

original sketch

So I had to scrap that and come up with a new composition.  To create the bark in the tree, I did a lot of layering.  I painted on base colors, then added “bark,” then painted over the “bark” to show 3-dimensionality, then painted the space between the bark… then realized that it was all very tedious and I wasn’t getting the results I was looking for.  So I did some research and decided to try a Crackle medium, often used on furniture or frames to give it an antique look.  Basically you paint a basecoat, put on the medium, wait a bit, then when you paint the top coat, it crackles and the base color shows through the cracks.


Looks a lot like bark, right?!  Except that it didn’t work at all.  So I messed around with it and found that if I painted over the crackle medium before it was dry, it would make the paint kind of mushy and peely… like nailpolish before it’s completely dry.  Tacky.  So I used crumpled up paper and roughed it up.  I think it turned out pretty good.  It didn’t save me time or effort like I was hoping, but it was nice to try something new.  It’s kind of hard to see exactly… but it adds some actual texture to the simulated texture.

DSC_0074

The leaves are just layered, somewhat translucent, flat forms, with silver glazed on top of the brightest layer.  I was thinking about adding more dimension into the leaves to make them more realistic, but I liked their flatness – they kind of provide a transition between the geometric patterned background and the organic form of the tree.

(detail)

(detail)

For the Background, I created a stencil for the first time.  I looked into geometric designs, trying to find something that utilized stars (as opposed to florals).  The stars are yet another reference to “light,” and this image is also meant to be at night, so it works for that reason as well.  I used cardstock and an exacto blade to create the stencil (the picture is kind of crap, sorry), and would scotch tape it to whatever area I was working on.  I had to adjust it somewhat, because the symmetry was a bit off… and then had to do some touch-ups when it was on canvas.  The color of the stenciling is just a bit lighter than the background, and I squeezed in some metallic silver, so it is subtly reflective, as well.

Nushmia (Light upon light) IMG_5041

I had originally planned to do some fireflies in this painting, and use gold leaf for them.  But I tried it and it looked pretty dumb.  It was too sweet, if that makes sense.  I’m all for some magic in a painting, but it was kind of like I had painted in a unicorn.  Too much. I ended up just using the gold leaf in the olives.

Around this time, I realized I liked the painting better in the dark… so I painted over the gold leaf fireflies (easier said than done), and made a “shadow glaze” (basically a dark purple) and painted over the tree and the figure to make it darker.  Which worked remarkably well over the entire tree.  BUT THEN I RUINED HER FACE WITH IT OMG.  It was awful.  I mean, RUINED.  I had to white out the entire face and slowly layer it back.  It’s much more difficult to fix a face than it is to paint it right the first time.  Jeez.  I was convinced that I could never truly fix it.  In the past, whenever I’ve had to agonize over an area, particularly a face, even if I got it back to where it looked like the person again, the texture and colors would always look kind of… muddied.  The opposite of radiant.  Oy.  So I was worried.  It took a while to fix it, and I did weird things to the proportions of her face in the process, but eventually, finally, it came together.  I actually think it turned out better than it was before.

The Frame. So then I finished the whole thing… and I felt like something was really missing.  Some of that magic.  I knew the fireflies weren’t going to work, so I busted out my art history books and skimmed through it.  I decided to add the gold leafed archway/frame… it is reminiscent of some old christian frescoes, and even some renaissance paintings that would paint in arches/architectural forms.  Plus it connects this image to Amna Noor, the first painting in the An-Noor series:

Barnard02

I designed the patterns with an Art Nouveau/filigree feel to them.  I drew it on in chalk, then painted over it, and cleaned up the chalk residue with q-tips.  I wanted to get a perfect mirror image of the pattern on the other corner of the frame, so I got some computer paper, traced the pattern, and went over it in sharpie (so that it would be visible when I flipped it over).  I flipped over the traced pattern on the other corner (a perfect mirror image!), and then traced over it again in pencil, putting enough pressure on it so that it created an indentation in the gold leaf underneath.  Here is a picstitch image of the stencil (on the left) and the mirrored pattern on the right.

IMG_5276

Here’s a gallery with images of sketches/the planning process, and the painting in different stages of completion.  I left out the whole “face is ruined” and firefly stages because I was too upset to even take pictures of it when it was like that.  So just use your imagination.  Maybe imagine some unicorns in there, too.

Light upon Light

Well hello, The Internet! I’ve created this blog to chronicle the process behind my paintings and other art-ventures.
   Right now, I’m preparing for my next exhibit at Ravenscroft School. I’m installing on January 7th (almost exactly a month from now). I went to Ravenscroft from kindergarten through 12th grade (what’s known as a “lifer,” you know, like jail) , so I look forward to showing my art in a place that was such a big part of my life.
   I will be showing “Technicolor Muslimah,” a series of 12 portraits of Muslim women. You can see them here: www.artbysaba.com/technicolormuslimah
    I’m also working on a new series called “An-Noor” (in Arabic) or “The Light.” (completed paintings are also on my site, on the homepage). I have three paintings completed so far and am working on the 4th one. I’m trying to get the 4th one done in time for the Ravenscroft show.
Here is a picture of the 6′ x 4′ (72″ x 48″) painting I am currently working on:

The imagery is derived from Ayat An-Noor, or the Verse of Light, from the Quran.
 

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp—
the lamp is in a glass, 

the glass as it were a glittering star—
lit from a blessed olive tree, 

neither eastern nor western, 
whose oil almost lights up, 
though fire should not touch it. 
 Light upon light.

   As wikipedia describes it, this “verse is renowned for its remarkable beauty and imagery, and perhaps more than any other verse lends itself to mystical or esoteric readings of the Qur’an.” As I looked further into interpretations of this verse, I found some wonderful things that really allowed the imagery to blossom in my mind.
    This guy, Al-Ghazali, wrote a lot about this verse, and said that it is meant to show not only God’s distance and absolute transcendence, but also his proximity and inherent presence. I did not get a sense of this during my Sunday School days. I felt that God’s omnipresence was not a comfort, but kind of a “Big Brother is watching you” and recording all of your sins for the day of judgment kind of thing. Once again, that God was separate from me. To be feared. And also that God is a “he,” of course. And pronouns are somehow even more of a limiting kind of word for such a big idea to be stuck inside. Words like God, and Allah, carry around the baggage of their history, of the politicized and stratified present day, and it can sometimes be difficult to leave that baggage behind when considering the idea of god… I sometimes use the word “Light” in my mind because it has such a vastness to it. It exists in all these different realms as something concrete, but also… not at all concrete. And it thrives in metaphor.  I know others use the word “Source.” Surely, any words we use are inherently limiting and constricting, but we need words to communicate.  Of course, we can always paint pictures, too. 
   Anyway, here is some of what I found, mixed in with my own interpretations.

The Niche: A place, a space, made specifically for the lamp. This represents the human body, the physical body.

The Glass: reflects light, contains light, diffuses light. A transparent medium through which the light passes to illuminate. It is a protective shield. It exists between the external world (the senses) and the internal world (of the spirit). It is the mind, the mental body. The glass can change the nature of the light – if it’s dirty, it can mess it up, misguide. If it is clean and passive, it allows for the light to shine through and diffuse, lighting every dark corner of a room. It is like a brilliant star, which guides the way, creates a pathway.

The Tree/The Oil: The oil that fuels the fire comes from an olive tree that is neither eastern nor western. More literally, this means that it receives an even and constant amount of sunlight. It is a tree that comes from a balanced environment. The oil is so pure that it almost lights on its own. The tree with its roots in the earth, reaches up towards the skies. The oil is the reservoir, is the spiritual body, is the source of knowing. It is most pure when it comes from balance, when it belongs to no particular tribe. 

 The Flame: The flame is truth, is god… burning, purifying, illuminating, warming, transforming So I looked into olive trees, and wow. They can live for thousands of years. Legit – Thousands of years. Carbon dated, ridiculous fact. And as they age, they don’t just keep growing taller, but instead wider, and the trunk becomes more gnarled and complex, all while hollowing out inside! Becoming more and more spacious, internally! What in the symbolism.

   So the nature of an actual olive tree lends itself well to this image – where the oil lamp sits in a niche. The gnarls and knots of an olive tree trunk create plenty of “niches.”
  

   Referring back to the painting in progress, the figure (her name is Nushmia), sits at the base of the olive tree, and she is clearly a part of the tree… the roots bend and curve around her form.  She’s got her own “niche,” if you will.  I imagined that the space where she sits resembles, also, a womb… that sacred space within a woman.  And all of it, to me, really emphasizes the importance of internal space.  The oil lamp will be attached to the tree, on that knot to the right of Nushmia’s head. 

  I think it’s going well so far… but I can see that there is a lot more work I’ll have to do.  Once I get Nushmia to a level of almost-completion, I’ll have to develop the olive tree.  I need to add some smaller branches, and then a bunch of texture to get the feeling of bark.  I’m nervous about all the work, but excited.  Nushmia’s sitting in a patch of grass and clovers. I will be adding a (hopefully subtle) geometric pattern into the purple of the background (I’ll be making my own stencil for the first time!).  And then I’m going to add the lamp and try to figure out how the lamp’s light will affect all of the objects that are in the painting.  I used gold leaf on my last painting (of Dina, with the big, gold leafed sun)… and it’s a brilliant material (literally).  I’m hoping to use it for some fireflies that’ll be buzzing around.