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 “…”

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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)

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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.
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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.

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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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Technique/Materials
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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.