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 “…”


American Woman

This newest painting in the An-Noor series is a three paneled piece titled Maestà. The title means “Majesty” in Italian and “designates an iconic formula of the enthroned Madonna with the child Jesus, whether or not accompanied with angels and saints.” (wiki)


The subjects are my friend Amani, her son, and twin daughters. She’s a badass mom whom I really respect and admire.

The most direct inspiration for the painting is Giotto’s Madonna Enthroned.
When researching historical portraiture/iconography with strong and powerful figures, I came across many images of male political, military, religious figures, and superheroes. There were, however, a few notable exceptions (see Rosie the Riveter). The most striking of these exceptions are images of Mary, mother of Jesus. Her image has been produced and reproduced, she is immensely recognizable, but remains a dynamic figure.  Not to mention that she is an important figure in Islam as well as Christianity.  I feel that Mary, an embodiment of both strength and gentleness, was the perfect image to take on for this body of work, to explore motherhood as a part of female strength, because I think that a woman’s natural role as a mother is one that does not diffuse her power, but reflects it.


The American flag, which pretty clearly identifies the subjects as American, has a few references within it. In the stripes, I created an organic design that has a geometric pattern within it. The geometric pattern is a pretty typical Islamic pattern. I also included a bright green line into the stripes (complementary colors!) to give it a little kick.


The stars are a reference to the blue domed church ceilings with gold or yellow stars. I saw many ceilings like this when I went to Italy as a 17 year old. They really stood out to me, but I hadn’t thought of them in years, until I started drafting this painting. I haven’t been able to find a definitive resource that explains the meaning of the starred church ceilings.  The most I could find was on this blog, where the author had the same question about the significance of these stars after seeing them in a number of churches.  She found that “painted yellow stars against a blue background on its vaulted ceiling [are] symbols of Saint Mary in Catholic tradition.”

There are also a couple of butterflies (yummy symmetry and beautiful metaphor) and a sunflower (in the boy’s hand, a reference to a previous painting). Adding these elements was pretty spontaneous and last minute, but I really love what they do for the painting.
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The stars were each made of six diamond-shaped pieces of cardstock that I cut with an exacto knife. I made a shallow cut down the middle of each diamond so they would fold in half cleanly. I would fold the diamond shape, fill it with gloss gel and modeling paste, then adhere to the canvas. Originally I had hoped to just sculpt the stars out of the modeling paste, but it was not rigid enough. I attempted to “pipe” the paste into star shapes as though I were using icing, but that was a big fail, as well. I had to try to scrape some of it off, which only kind of worked. It was a messy and tedious process (I don’t know how many hundreds of diamonds I had to cut and recut), but at the end, the stars look a lot like what I remember seeing in Italy so many years ago.
The stars were then painted and gold leafed, and traced. Some of them are silver, for fun.
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The halos are made from gold mica flake, gold sequins, modeling paste, and rhinestones. I used a butter knife to spread the modeling paste and mica flake.


Around the blue area I used black glitter (on the bottom) and gold glitter at the top.
There is some pattern painted on top of the figures (most of it is towards the bottom of the canvas) with a silvery glaze that only appears at certain angles.

The patterning in the stripes was all drafted ahead of time using my Sketchbook app. For the figures, I spliced together a bunch of different photos (y’all know that it is impossible to get a family picture where everyone looks normal at the same instant).

This painting feels a bit different to me. I had to figure how to do a lot of new things, work with a lot of new materials, because just gold leaf and acrylic paint wasn’t going to cut it for this painting. I kept feeling like I needed to go “over the top” with the ornamentation on this piece, that I needed to do too much.  I think that the final product actually turned out pretty balanced, but that sentiment helped me to take it far outside my comfort zone.

I also am not so concerned with describing this painting’s meaning too specifically. It is both abundantly clear what this piece means, and open ended enough that I trust that whatever people get from it is accurate.

Check out the gallery for a few process pictures.

Barnard the Moose in “The Search for a Feeling”

A friend of ours gifted us with two enormous boxes of baby clothes, and basically has single-handedly clothed (and cloth-diapered) our child for the past six months.  Not to mention, I actually really like the clothes she gave us, so our kid looks super cool in his vintage duds.  I wanted to make her something to say thank you, so I found a picture of her son on Facebook and used it in a collage.  It was a small project that turned into something much bigger… and by the time I had finished the collage, it was pretty clear that it *needed* a story to go with it.  So here’s the collage, and the story that accompanies it… the story is directly derived from the image, so you can find all of the characters in the collage.  The whole project has some parallels to the larger painting series I’m working on, An-Noor.  Image

The sun broke through the earth.
Took a bright and hot breath
on the edge of the horizon,
And then got back to work, rising.
Skimming light across the fields of grass,
Casting long shadows,
Creeping up the sides of the houses,
Reaching its glittery arms through glass,
Into bedrooms,
And tickling the nose of one particular little boy
Tucked warmly into his bed.
A very special little boy,
named Aven.

Aven awoke
like a spark!
Straightened his tie
And put on his crown.
A sense of purpose
Setting his feet in motion,
As they made their way out
Into a wide open world
Full of magic.

He strode out into the crisp morning,
Walk-skip-running and walking again.
Leaves and twigs
Crunch-crunching, snap-snapping
Beneath his feet.

Aven played hide-and-seek
With the sun.
He, darting behind tree trunks.
She, slipping behind clouds.

When suddenly, Aven heard a whisper
in the grass,
Yet saw nothing there.
But wait!  Could it be?


Shadowcats are strange.
Sharp and precise dark edges
Shift into layers of imprecise grays,
And disappear.

She purred,
“Well, meow, Aven.
Fancy seeing you here.
What brings you out on this fine day
With such purpose in your eyes?
You see, I too am on a mission
Rustling up some fireflies!”

With that, a glowing orb rose from the tall grass,
And dispersed –
A dozen lighting bugs ablaze!
So illuminating that the shadowcat
Dissolved into the lightness.

They buzzed around Aven so fast,
Zips of light
Tugging on his collar,
His shirt-sleeves,
The hem of his pants.
As if to say,
“Hurry up!  Follow me!”

As he tried to wave away the glittering pests,
He heard the crystalline voice of the shadowcat:

“These sparkling creatures,
I must beseech you,
Treat them with some respect.
They neither bite nor sting,
What a wondrous thing,
In a buzzing and flying insect!

These insects of gold
Are oft foretold
To lead one in the right direction.
So don’t be smug
Put your trust in these bugs,
And you may soon
Make a friendly connection.”

The fiery flies flew
Through the woods.
One settled contentedly
On Aven’s crown,
Taking a much needed break from flying.

The lightning bugs teased
A tiny bronze elephant
Who stomped around in the grass,
Then watched them pass with a curious gaze.

“Chirp chirp, hello!”
A friendly little bluebird greeted them
From its perch atop a prickly bush of roses.

“Your eyes are blue
Just like my feathers!
And I can help you
To find your treasure!
What is it you seek, dear boy?”

Before Aven could answer,
The rosebush began to quiver.
Suddenly, suprisingly…

A moose?

His huge, golden antlers
Gleamed in the sunlight
As he shook off leaves and roses.

“Hi!  I’m Barnard!”
He said in his big, moosey voice.
Barnard flashed a wide grin,
Punctuated by a gold tooth.

“I’ve heard about you,
You must be Aven!
I can tell by your crown and your tie.
You see, me and Blue
Are very good luck,
And you seem like a pretty cool guy.

My antlers, they tell me things
That might be of use to you,
And they’re telling me something right now.
They say that next time the wind blows,
Watch where the leaves go,
And you will see something to make you say ‘wow!’”

Just as the words left Barnard’s mouth,
A breeze pushed its way through the woods,
Lifted high into the trees,
Urging leaves to leave their branches
And discover the joy of being free
To float,
And to fall.

Dozens of spheres
Copper and pink,
Defied gravity as they drifted
Toward a raven in the sky.
The bird flew with abandon,
And you’d never guess,
That this was his first time flying alone.

And it was when Aven
Saw the raven,
That he realized just what all this was about.

Aven had set out this morning
In search of a feeling
And now he knew just where find it.
With a “Thank you, Goodbye!”
He spun on his heel,
And off through the woods he winded.
Back home.

He saw her as he rounded the corner.
With a smile crinkling her eyes,
And her arms outstretched.


And this was what
He had been looking for,
This feeling…

The feeling of a hug.

Of a warm hand on your back
As you slip into sleep.

Of feeling, at once,
So big and so small.

Of falling gently
into the cushiony earth,
With loving arms around you.

The feeling of someone watching,
Keeping you safe,
So you can soar ever upward,
Gaze fixed on the sun.