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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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.

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.

The Evolution of Dina

Image

This is the largest painting I have completed to date (the third painting of the “An-Noor” series). It is six feet tall and four feet wide. I learned a lot through the process. In my sketches, I left a number of details unplanned (how exactly to deal with the negative space in the background, what is she sitting on?, what is that book in her lap?)… which would have been fine, except that it takes a lot of time (and paint) to try to figure these details out on the canvas. It took me three months to paint, and repaint, and repaint, this portrait.

If you scroll through the gallery, it is clear that I started out thinking that the painting would have a red background. This painting almost broke me in two. I remember looking at the layers of red in the around the sun and finally allowing myself to admit, “It’s beautiful, but it’s not right.” And I knew for sure that I had to paint over all those hours of work, that I had to redo the mess that I had made of the gold leaf. I may or may not have cried. Of course, immediately after doing so, I wondered if I was making a huge mistake. But it wasn’t a mistake. I had to trust my instincts, and push through it, and I love the final image. She is life-size-ish, and the gold leaf (my first time using this material) is f@*king brilliant. When I photographed it, it reflected the sunlight so strongly it hurt my eyes.

Dina is posed as Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter. I don’t want to go into great detail describing the imagery/symbolism in the spine of the book, or the sunflower… because I feel that it comes across? I would encourage you, however, to look closely at the spine of the book for some symbols of this woman and her power. Dina is a wonderful and inspiring woman. She grew up in North Carolina, and identifies with both her Southern and Egyptian roots. Who says collared greens and grape leaves don’t belong on the same plate? ❤

She will be hanging at the Carrack Modern Art this weekend for their last community show of 2012! Reception is this Friday.

Here is a gallery of pictures that shows the process (most are cellphone pics).