Art I Make

Sidewalk Studio deja vu



Every once in a while by looking back you can see the future.  As I was finishing the fourth year of my UP IN ARMS series, I came upon some of the first watercolors I did based on photographs I had taken of people in public places. They intrigued me with their confrontational faces and candid poses–so very unlike the stylized UP IN ARMS paintings in which I showed only the person’s arms and an object he or she was holding. (Most of the UP IN ARMS series can be found at:

When these six watercolors were arranged for my summer 2017 exhibition at the Harford County Community College, I called this group PLASTIC.  (top row, L to R) “KW-Fake II,” 2013; “Soft Cone:” 2015; “Toolbox,” 2015 (bottom row, L to R) “Torso,” 2014; “One for the Road,” 2014; “Knight,” 2014. All are on paper approximately 35” x 25″

The older paintings–from 1983–inspired me to see what would happen if I returned to three-quarter views of people in public places. I started this return-to-the-past effort late last summer. As 2017 ends and now that I’ve completed four of the new painting, I’d like to share what happened and compare the new works to those I did 34 years ago.  In some ways they’re the same and in some ways they’re very different.


My mode of operation then was to use a c. 1950 twin-lens reflex Yashica-D camera to photograph my subjects. I chose that camera–a gift from my father–for fairness sake.  Unlike a 35-mm camera it had no telephoto lens.  To create the images I wanted I needed to be about 10-15 feet aways from my subjects, i.e. I wanted to be visible to all, not shooting from a distance. You see I wasn’t asking for permission to photograph folks, yet I wanted to be close enough for someone to object or at least ask me what I was doing.  But no one ever did either, although a few folks moved aside thinking they were blocking a view of my intended subject.

One real advance using this camera was that it was less threatening than using a 35-mm camera. With the latter, I would have to cover my face and, I believe, appear  threatening. With the Yashica I needed to look both down into the viewer and up at would-be subjects.

My Yashica had a 120 back, meaning it took film with only 12 shots per roll.  Such limited capacity encouraged one to be methodical in shot selection. Also the images in the view finder were reversed right and left, making photographing moving subjects somewhat problematic.

No wonder I chose subjects that were barely moving in a public space (where permission wasn’t necessary). My location was in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor outside the National Aquarium, which opened in 1981. In 1983 it was still the prime Inner Harbor attraction with long lines snaking out from the ticket booth. Those folks in the slow moving line on a hot day were my subjects. Not so thrilled to be caught in the summer’s sun, they were my captive audience.

The top second-from-the-left image became the sketch photo for “Tokens.” Scroll down to see the resulting photo and watercolor.

Here’s a contact sheet from that summer.  Note that the frames are square. The Yashica created 6×6-mm negatives, yielding great detail. And the choice of black-and-white film wasn’t accidental for two reasons: 1) I could process B&W film and print B&W photos at home and 2) I thought color photos would crimp the creative process.  First of all, I admit that I was sensitive about using photography as my sketching medium. So having to transpose a B&W image into a color watercolor would be a worthy and honorable challenge. Furthermore I thought a color photograph was just too much a finished product. Why paint it?

The photo and finished watercolor for “Tokens,” 8 Nov. 1983, image 21 3/4” x 17 1/2″

I did 10 paintings from aquarium line photos. Two of them sold. Here are three more still in my collection.

“The Family That,” 11 Oct. 1983, image 21” x 20 3/8″

“She Sells Shades,” 21 Nov. 1983, image 21” x 14 3/4″

“The Fates,” 30 Dec. 1983, image 16” x 13 1/2″

I marveled at what happened when a stranger, i.e. me, pointed a camera at folks in line without declaring his intentions.  It wasn’t immediately apparent who was with whom when I walked along the queue. But as soon as I directed my camera at a particular segment of the line, family and/or friends groupings immediately made themselves known.  Look at “The Family That” paintings, above, to see the defensive posture the young man made in front of his parents.


The three biggest changes from 1983 were: 1) 21st-century technology, 2) I introduce myself to my subjects and 3) I have no qualms about using color photos as sketches for watercolors.

Who in 1983 could have imagined an iPhone?  Forget even my digital 35-mm Nikon.  I used my iPhone to take photos.  This had a great feature.  Once I photographed folks, they can select an image they can have instantly.  Once they chose the frame they liked, they message themselves a copy of the image.

Instead of being mum when I chose a potential subject as I was in 1983, I would introduce myself and as quickly as possible before they move away explain that I would like them to model for paintings.  If they express any interest, I show them images in my phone of willing individuals/couples and, once I had completed the first painting in the new series, an image of a completed painting.

The UP IN ARMS series that started in 2013 gave me plenty of practice of asking strangers to model for me.  The first people I approached were those who were walking small dogs.  “Would you hold your pet love your head so I could photograph you?”  I explained I was only going to paint their arms and their pup. Small dogs seemed to enjoy the view. (Oscar, my cat, was not humored by the imposition.) Next I tried the farmers’ market. “How many ears of corn can you raise above your head at one time?” I instantly got a taker.

Somewhere over the years I lost my embarrassment about using color photos as my sketches. I think that happened because I realized that my art began when I approached folks to model, that the interaction between myself–the artist–and them–the subject–was an art event in itself.  Perhaps as meaningful as the finished painting.

I began the new series by visiting Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Here’s a screenshot from my iPhotos library of most of the photos shot on a very warm 7 Oct. 2017. So far three of these images became models for paintings. That’s a pretty high ratio: total frames per selected images. I credit that not so much to any skill on my part. Rather subjects seem instantly to know how they want to appear.  For instance the black couple (top left) only needed one pose. Many required two shots: one smiling (that they would message back to themselves) and at my request one unsmiling (as possible image for a painting).

Why unsmiling?  I believe smiling photos look like snapshots. Smiles seem to indicate friendliness, but smiles can also act like masks that deflect efforts to get to know someone. Unsmiling individuals seem to declare: “This is whom I am. Who are you?”  That’s what I want viewers of the new paintings to confront.

Inner Harbor photo paired with “Untitled (black couple),” watercolor, 21 Oct. 2017, image 32” x 20 1/4″

I would have liked to title this painting by the first names of the individuals. In fact, I sent an image of the painting back to them via the phone number they used to receive a copy of the photo. But I got no response. In fact, no one has gotten back to me. Until someone does, these paintings will remain untitled with a parenthetical label giving generic description of the subjects.

Above are some of the steps in creating “Untitled (black couple).” I paint the flesh tones and hair first. Below focuses on the creation of the pair of faces.

And below is a comparison of paintings featuring black couples: the 1983 painting (left) the 2017 one (right).

1983 (left) vs. 2017 (right)

What do you think of the comparison?  I’d appreciate your thoughts.

“Untitled (black couple),” watercolor, 21 Oct. 2017, image 32” x 20 1/4″

Here are the other three new paintings of the new series:

“Untitled (1st white couple),” watercolor, 5 Oct. 2017, image 30” x 23″

“Untitled (white women elbows),” watercolor, 3 Nov. 2017, image 32 1/2” x 21 3/4″

“Untitled (black guy white guy),” watercolor, 28 Nov. 2017, image 32” x 21 3/4″













Italian Doorways, Infinite Vistas


Every time I go abroad I know to pack the tools of my trade: a block of watercolor paper, paints, brushes and a palette.  What I don’t know ahead of time is what I’m going to paint.  Well, I do know that skies will be a component.  They were in Tuscany in 2012, when a first-day visit to Lucca inspired me to surround images of skies with borders derived from inlaid stone pavements like the ones that graced the city’s Romanesque duomo.  And toward the end of my 2016 artist residency in northern India, I started composing roundels with skies encircled with filigree-like patterns based on traditional Aipen designs.  (See my ART A SEE post:

(Left) “Tuscan Sky 6,” watercolor, spring 2012, 13 1/2″ x 10 1/2″ (Right) “Sky Aipen III,” watercolor, March 7, 2016, 12″ round.

Last May’s adventure began with ten days in Rome. I began sketching with the idea of replicating the idea behind seven small watercolors done during a trip to visit my sister in Reno, NV.  There I sought out surviving motel signs from the 50s and 60s. I drew tops of those signs from a low angle so that most of the image was a sky.  Then I painted a sky.

Here is 8-Reno, watercolor, 7 Sept. 2012, 10 1/2” x 7 1/8”.

So instead of a border, an object penetrated the rectangle of the sky. With that idea in mind, I made three sketches in Rome, one of which depicted one of the angels that stand guard atop the railing on the Ponte S. Angelo, the bridge over the Tiber leading to Castel Sant’Angelo, formerly known as Hadrian’s Mausoleum. But I hesitated to paint the sky because 1) the sky stayed blue, 2) the contours of the statue were more irregular than the motel signs had been, and 3) the rectangle was, at 16” x 12”, significantly bigger than the Reno rectangles were.


I strongly doubt that I’ll ever paint those three Rome sketches if only because the whole point of sky paintings is to paint a sky on location.  I guess I could add a Baltimore sky, but that would violate the spirit of the series.

All photos, drawings and paintings © Scott Ponemone

Italian doorways, Infinite Vistas

On the 11th day, my husband Michael Frommeyer and I picked up a rental car and drove to Assisi, where we would spend three nights. This short visit was intended to make up for a disappointing visit in 1999.  Two years before an earthquake severely damaged to the upper church of the Basilica di San Francesco.  The upper church as closed as work was still underway repairing the beloved Cimabue and Giotto frescoes.

(Right) Assisi, watercolor, June 1999, 10 1/2” x 8 3/4″

While wondering the town I came upon a doorway (top, left) that I recognized instantly. I had painted it in plein air (right) in 1999. As you see, inside the doorway opening, I inserted a view of the town with a striped sky.  And just as instantly I realized that those magnificent stone portals that proudly proclaim the importance of the occupant would be my sky frames this trip.


But I decided not to do that doorway again. Instead I chose these two.

(Right) “Assisi (14 June 2017,)” watercolor, 14 3/8” x 9 3/4” (Left) “Assisi (14 Aug. 2017),” watercolor, 14 1/4” x 12”


Here are the two completed paintings.

This pair of skies is the exception to the rule.  Each painting includes a partial landscape, something I almost always reframed from doing. Please click on the video below.


Blame the exception on the view from the balcony off our Assisi apartment.  We just loved the light, the clouds and the swallows.  Had we the option, we would have stayed there longer just for those long, beautiful late afternoons and early evenings.

Instead we followed our itinerary and drove north to Padua, where we would stay for the rest of May. On the way we revisited Ravenna, which was a side trip during our 1999 Italian visit.  Fortunately Ravenna hadn’t suffered damage from the 1997 quake. We stopped off  because the outstanding Byzantine mosaics preserved there were well worth a second visit.

Padua afforded us a good base for day trips to Venice, Ferrara, Verona, Mantua, Vicenza, Travis and Trento, as well a several Palladian villas.


The following are the steps in creating each of the ten Italian Doorways paintings:

▫️ I photographed a doorway

▫️ Uploaded the photo and processed it in Photoshop on my laptop

▫️ Figured the scale of the doorway to fit watercolor paper measuring 20” x 14″

▫️ Drew the doorway opening and partially drew the stonework (mostly so I would remember which doorway went with which photo)

▫️ Painted the sky in Italy

▫️ Back home in Baltimore, I printed out photos of the chosen doorways (see image below)

▫️ Completed the drawing of the doorway

▫️ Painted the doorway.

The dates on the paintings record the day the doorways were finished.

Here are three examples of the state of the doorways watercolors after I returned to Baltimore and printed out the source material.

Above are the steps toward completing Padua, starting with the completed drawing of the doorway.  The finished painting is just below.

 Completed suite

Here is the complete ten-painting set of Italian Doorways, Infinite Vistas, starting with “Padua”:

“Padua,” watercolor, 22 Aug. 2017, 12 7/8” x 10 3/4” (A storm sat over Padua when we arrived.)

“Ravenna,” watercolor, 14 July 2017, 16 5/8” x 11″

“Vicenza,” watercolor, 27 July 2017, 13 1/8” x 12″

“Verona,” watercolor, 5 Sept. 2017, 14 1/4” x 11 3/4” (The last one completed because it had the most detail.)

“Cittadella,” watercolor, 3 July 2017, 16” x 13 1/8”

“Trento (13 June 2017),” watercolor, 14 7/8” x 9 7/8″

“Trento (30 Aug. 2017),“ watercolor, 14” x 9 3/4″

“Venice,” watercolor, 5 Aug. 2017, 12 3/4” x 10 1/2″

“Assisi (14 June 2017,)” watercolor, 14 3/8” x 9 3/4”

“Assisi (14 Aug. 2017),” watercolor, 14 1/4” x 12”


And here’s a view of the first nine to be completed.  (They were posted as they were finished, bottom row to top row.) The Verona painting was still at my easel. I guess I’ll have to look for a different arrangement to get all ten in view.


When you create a series, there’s always the question whether you have one painting with so many components or a set of individual paintings. What do you think?














When I ran into a roadblock four years ago with my series of paintings and wood engravings devoted to hands–I couldn’t get permission to photograph hand surgeons operating on hands–I literally broadened my interests to encompass arms. Thinking ironically about imagery from the good old U.S.S.R. and its propaganda of heroic posters of working men and women holding up hammers and sickles, I wondered what do Americans value so highly that they would hoist it proudly in the air. As in the hands series, I wouldn’t paint faces.  I would only paint the arms and the objects being held aloft.  I was interested in the connection between the individual and the object.  I would ask a farmers’ market vendor to hold up produce; a parent an infant, a musician an instrument, a mechanic a tool, etc. And not being too shy of puns, I titled the new series: UP IN ARMS.

This essay is not just a listing of the series that now numbers 65 paintings, but I’ll relate how my understanding of the series changed over time and how that understanding affected how I would exhibit the paintings. (For a nearly complete listing of the UP IN ARMS series, please see my portfolio:

First exhibition

Naturally I started with little dogs.  As an owner of an 78-pound airedale, I’ve always found little dogs and their owners amusing.  What is that squirrel-size thing at the end of a leash?  Anyway, picking on little-dog owners walking in the neighborhood with their pet was a way for me to build the gumption to ask strangers to pose for my camera.  The experience was heartening.  About half of those folks I asked agreed to hold their little pup above their head. I always presented my models with my business card, saying contact me if you want a photos of yourself modelling for me. No one has ever emailed me afterwords.

(left to right) Pet Lift D, watercolor, 30 July 2013, image 23 1/2″  x 13 1/2″; Pet Lift B, watercolor, 19 July 2013, image 26 1/2″ x 17 1/2″; Pet Lift C, watercolor, 24 July 2013, image 24 1/2″ x 13 1/2″

Above are three of the first four UP IN ARMS paintings.  Each was painted on a sheet of Arches cold press watercolor paper measuring about 35″ x 25″.  The cat painting–of me holding up Oscar–if nothing else demonstrates that cats don’t like being taken out of their comfort zone while dogs just might enjoy the view.

RAISING CORN, watercolor, 7 August 2013, image 25 3/8″ x 15 1/2″; MEAT:LAMB, watercolor, 4 Sept. 2013, 22 3/4″ x 17 3/4″

With my confidence raised by pet owners, my next source of models was found at the local farmers’ market.  I approached a corn seller with the age-old question: How many ears of corn can you hold above your head at one time?  There was no hesitation to find out.

Then came chard, watermelon and eggplant.  My first foray into livestock came when I asked a friend who’s a commercial photographer and happens to raise sheep on his Harford County farm if I could visit him during lambing season.

KW-Caught II (Tuna), watercolor, 21 Oct. 2013, image 21 1/2″ x 23 1/4″; KW-Caught I (Barracuda), watercolor, 16 Oct. 2013, 17″ x 28″

I used images of these early UP IN ARMS paintings in applying for a residency at The Studios of Key West.  I said I would go down to the charter boat dock and ask tourists/fishermen to hold up their prized catch. The Studios of Key West took the bait. And as you can see from the images above, so did the fishermen.

KW-Fake I (Paper maché toucans), watercolor, 12 Oct. 2013, image 27″ x 17 1/4″; KW-Feathers I, watercolor, 25 Oct. 2013, 21″ x 22 3/4″

But the best part of Key West is not the tourists, but the locals.  If you think Baltimore can breed some oddball types, imagine what tropical heat can do to the brain.  The paper machè toucans were sitting in one of several huge wire cages outside a house not far from the residency.  I biked passed several days before I came across an elderly husband and wife were doing yard work there.  I asked the gentleman where are your birds.  He said neighbors complained about the noise they made; so they’re now inside. The fake toucans were the only outdoor cage occupants. Upon request, the wife modeled them for me.  The real macaws lived at Nancy’s Secret Garden.  A small sign by the sidewalk of a rather ramshackle wood-frame Victorian house led you to a gate and buzzer beside the house.  Nancy with her long grey hair in a ponytail and her black t-shirt with human skulls soon answered. She led me to her backyard populated with large wire cages.  While she normally charges to bring out her macaws, as a fellow artiste she modeled them for me gratis.

Python Fore, watercolor, 5 Aug. 2016, image 21 1/2 x 44 1/2′; Python Aft, watercolor, 5 Aug. 2016, image 25 1/2″ x 44 1/2″

And then there was the zoo underneath the Monroe County Detention Center.  One Sunday a month there was an open house.  Jeanne, the woman who ran the place, had a year-old sloth draped around her neck.  The rest of the zookeepers wore jail-issued orange jumpsuits.  After they held up an African tortoise, rabbits, the sloth, a kinkajou, and a large lizard, I asked: What about the albino python curled up in its cage?  Did they ever take it out?  Yes, I was told, to feed it.  So the next Wednesday I returned (they wouldn’t take it out during the open house with swallow-size children running about), and the python was held aloft by Jeanne and three inmates.

Note that the date on those two paintings is nearly three years later than the other Key West paintings.  The logistics of this image were daunting.  Do I paint the snake as an albino and struggle with making it jump out from the white paper? Do I paint four separate paintings, one for each holder?  I finally decided to 1) yes, keep it albino and 2) paint it on two pieces of paper–each 35″ x 52″–cut from a 10-foot roll of paper.  I kept the scale the same so that, should I decide to, I could cut the right margin off the Fore painting so that the two images would fit together. (See the photoshopped image that leads this post.) However, I don’t intend to.

The Key West residency did lead to my first exhibition of UP IN ARMS paintings. And it was a disaster.  At a carnival there I met a potter of playful ceramics. He offered to exhibit my works in his showroom in early 2014.  I agreed to frame four paintings and send four others with just a foamboard backing.  Well the frames got damaged in shipping. So I had to have a Key West framer repair them. Nothing sold. Then I had all eight shipped back without frames.

SEcond Exhibition

By the time of the second UP IN ARMS exhibition in November 2015, I had 48 paintings to choose from.  I had added six paintings of naked infants held by  a parent, four of critters both domestic and wild, three of food both baked and raw, two of music, five of plastic, one of a tire, one of a chain saw and one of a CPR dummy.

One way I could exhibit them would be in single file, marching around a gallery with no sense of order, just one image after another, independent of each other yet somehow in conversation with adjacent paintings.  Then I conceived of the notion of Triplets, groups of three that are arbitrarily arranged as if appearing randomly at a slot machine window.  This is what I wrote in an artist statement for an exhibition competition in 2015:

I believe the paintings can be quite powerful individually. Yet I always suspected that a dialog would occur between paintings once they are presented formally in a gallery. But not until recently did I realize how magical groupings of UP IN ARMS paintings would be. And groups of threes–Triplets–seem to work best. The selection and order within the groups are very interchangeable, and each variation instantly creates a new dynamic, a different energy, a change in tension.

My first chance to display UP IN ARMS paintings in Triplets came at Jordan Faye Contemporary in Baltimore in November 2015.

Jordan Faye Block, director of Jordan Faye Contemporary in Baltimore, ponders Triplets of UP IN ARM paintings before mounting them on the wall.

(left Triplet) ABoy, watercolor, 10 Sept. 2014, image 27 1/2″ x 16″; MEAT:PORK, watercolor, 16 Sept. 2013, image 20 1/4″ x 19 1/2″; HBoyButt, watercolor, 25 Sept. 2014, image 28″ x 16 1/2″. (Right Triplet) TOOLBOX, watercolor, 23 July 2015, image 29 1/2″ x 20 1/4″; ONE FOR THE ROAD, watercolor, 30 Dec. 2014, image 26 1/2″ x 16″; RAISING EGGPLANT, watercolor, 28 Aug. 2013, image 24″ x 15 7/8″

As you can see, none of the paintings in this gallery space were framed.  (Unfortunately these Triplets were only hung for the opening. The space was later used for a holiday bazaar.) I presented most of the paintings in this exhibition unframed to maximize the interaction between the images of each Triplets.

KW-Caught III, watercolor, 20 Feb. 2014, image 29 1/4″ x 9 7/8″; BBoyButt, watercolor, 3 Oct. 2014, image 25 3/5″ x 21 1/2″; Horn, watercolor, 29 Nov. 2014, image 27″ x 18 3/8″

Above is a Triplet with frames, while below are two Triplets unframed in the same gallery.

(Left Triplet) KW-Fake I, watercolor, 12 Oct. 2013, image 27″ x 17 1/4″; MEAT:GOAT, watercolor, 16 April 2015, image 28″ x 16 1/4″; LOAVES, watercolor, 15 July 2015, image 25 1/4″ x 20 1/4″. (Right Triplet) RAISING HEADS, watercolor, 22 May 2014, image 28″ x 19 3/8″; SAW, watercolor, 17 Sept. 2015, image 30 3/8″ x 15 1/4″; WARTY GOURDS, watercolor, 2 April 2015, image 28 1/4″ x 15 3/4″

While I’m thankful that Jordan Faye Contemporary gave me this exhibition, I was disappointed that most of my show was presented in a rather small, disjointed  space that both limited the number of Triplets on display and didn’t provide optimal viewing distances to see individual triplets as well as to see the variations in the Triplets.


In 2016 I started to create groupings of related objects.  In reaction to the uprising in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Grey, I tried to get images of objects related to police and gun violence.  Going through formal channels at the city Police Department went nowhere not surprisingly.  Going to the downtown shop that provided tools of the trade to law enforcement officers also was a waste of time. Ditto at gun shops. I even went to an outdoor target range in Baltimore County.  The good old boys who ran the place were immediately suspicious of my request for folks to model their weapons. They offered to bring up my request at the club’s board meeting, but I knew not to expect a positive result.

FF CPR, watercolor, 11 Sept. 2015, image 29″ x 16 1/4″

So until I figured out how to approach weapons use in Baltimore, I turned to the fire department. I already had a related image painted, thanks to the 2015 Maryland State Fair, where firefighters had a CPR dummy on display.  Unlike the Police Department, the Baltimore Fire Department was quite welcoming. One of the huge garage doors was open at the Lombard Street station when I approached in August 2016.  No one was about when walked in. The fire trucks stood ready. By each door were uniforms with boots attached, positioned so that firefighters could quickly outfit themselves.  Finally I came upon a control room. I explained to the woman on duty there why I was there.  She summoned a young firefighter, who was white, to be my model, and he gamely first held up the giant pneumatic wrench called “The Jaws of Life,” then a pair of axes, an oxygen tank with its harness and finally a helmet.  I returned a few days later with printouts of some of the resulting photos, but my first model wasn’t there.  I asked the pair of black firefighters I met on my second visit to hold up a coil of hose, but they declined, offering instead to summon a muscle-bound firefighter whom they called The Hulk.  And The Hulk dutifully arrived by sliding down a brass pole.  He effortlessly hoisted a coil of hose.  Once again firefighters helped me out. I only wished The Hulk was black so I could represent the racial diversity of the Fire Department.

(from the right) FF HELMET, watercolor, 10 Nov. 2016, image 26 3/4″ x 18 1/2″; FF TANK, watercolor, 29 Nov. 2016, image 26 1/4″ x 15 1/2″; FF CPR; FF HOSE, watercolor, 31 Oct. 2016, image 23″ x 20 1/2″; FF JAWS, watercolor, 30 Sept. 2016, image 24 1/2″ x 21 1/2″

While I was painting the firefighters suite, which I was later to call LIFESAVERS, someone told me about Continental Arms, an indoor pistol range in Timonium, just north of Baltimore.  There I watched guys fire their weapons at paper targets.  What do they do with the used targets, I asked the woman in charge.  Often they throw them away, I was told.  She offered to collect some over the weekend.  Good to her word, the following Tuesday I picked up about a dozen bullet-ridden targets, most with a black torso and head, a few in magenta.  Now I needed models.  The paper targets–each about 35″  by 22″–were too flimsy to hold up. So I glued a black target to one side of a piece of foamboard and a magenta target to the other.  Then I took the board to the park around the Washington Monument in the Mount Vernon neighborhood in Baltimore.  I asked various folks to hold up the target for me to photograph.  I told each willing person that you could choose to hold up the black side or the magenta side and that you could hold the target right-side up, upside down or on its side. I found willing models black and white, male and female. This was a new approach for me. Instead of having models hold up an object closely associated with them–most notably a parent and a child–I sought out models based on demographics.

As I was drawing the first Target image, it dawned on me not to paint the bullet holes.  Doing so would be a pain. Since I don’t paint white, it would mean painting around each hole in order to leave the hole white.  Why not, I asked myself, use my Target paintings for target practice.


As you can see, my request was wholeheartedly accepted at the Timonium pistol range. All that I asked of Lucito “Lou” Lara, the range master, was to fire within the painted image of the targets.

After he shot it, Lou Lara holds up TARGET B.

Above is a closeup of Target B.  Now how could painted bullet holes compare to these? Soon all of the Target paintings were violated with pistol holes.

By the end of February 2017 I had seven Target paintings, five with black targets like Target B and two with the colors reversed. I decided against painting magenta targets.  There was no metaphoric import to that hue.  Instead when models chose to pose with the magenta target, I painted the target tan and the background black (or reverse of the black target paintings).  This way I could present paintings where the targets could represent the skin color of victims of gun violence, while the skin color of the models could represent either the victims or the shooters.

(Left to right) TARGET A, watercolor, 5 Jan. 2017, image 33 1/2″ x 16 1/2″; TARGET D, watercolor, 2 Feb. 2017, image 30″ x 23 1/2″; TARGET G, watercolor, 23 Feb. 2017, 34 1/8″ x 17 1/4″; TARGET B, watercolor, 12 Jan. 2017, image 35 1/4″ x 18″; TARGET E, watercolor, 9 Feb. 2017, image 26″ x 16 1/4″; TARGET C, watercolor, 20 Jan. 2017, image 35″ x 15 1/4″; TARGET F, watercolor, 15 Feb. 2017, image 34″ x 16 1/2″

OK, now I had what I hope would be seen as a thought-provoking group of paintings. The only problem was that the curator of my next exhibition didn’t know about this turn in my oeuvre.  Last summer I was contacted by the curator of the art gallery at Harford County Community College.  He saw images of my paintings at the Baker Artists Awards website. He asked me and a number of other artists to apply for an exhibition in 2017.  I provided him with a proposed exhibition of Triplets.  The result was an offer of a summer 2017 exhibition at the college.

As I was about to tell the curator about these new paintings and a new way of showing my UP IN ARMS series, I attended a theatrical performance that dealt with racial stereotypes that might be encountered in an upper middle class cocktail party.  After the show I stayed for a discussion led by a professor from Morgan State University.  As I drove home afterwords, I realized I needed to contact the professor.  Would he, I would ask him, be interested in leading a similar discussion during the run of my exhibition in Harford County?  The next day I called the theater and got the email address for the professor.  I sent him images of groups of paintings for my show.

(top to bottom, left to right) ABoy; HBoyButt; BBoyButt; WBoyButt, watercolor, 22 July 2014, image 29″ x 14 1/4″; BGirl, watercolor, 19 March 2015, image 25 1/4″ x 17 5/8″; WBoy, watercolor, 7 Aug. 2014, image 26 1/2″ x 13 1/2″

His reply was generally positive, but he had this reaction to the above grouping of paintings that I call TABULA RASA;

What immediately struck me about the artwork below is the presence of genital organs of white boys (2) and a black girl (1) and the absence of a similar display of white females and black males. Is this deliberate or is it part of the entire exhibition? I mention this because the most common rape of women in American history is that of the white male raping the black female and the most forbidden relationship was of course, between the white female and the black male. Just curious about this.

This is exactly why a discussion would be needed for this exhibition. His comments are perfectly appropriate; however, my selection of paintings entirely depended upon what side of the child the parent was willing to show the camera. Thoughts of potential rapists and victims were furthest from my mind.  These infants–all younger than six months–were selected to illustrate how we each come into this world as a blank slate or tabula rasa.  Infants are vessels that will be filled with the language(s) of the parents, the social standing and moral compass of the parents, of siblings, of schoolmates, of friends and extended family.

The professor did visit my studio and thankfully agreed to be available for a discussion during the run of my exhibition. With this promise in hand, I contacted the gallery curator and told him about the professor.  Then and only then did I send him a schematic of my exhibition using the diagram of the gallery space that he had sent me.

You’ve seen three of the groupings: TARGET, LIFESAVERS and TABULA RASA.  The others are PYTHON where I position the pair on either side of a corner, PLASTIC for the common composition of the objects, FOOD with both vegetables and adorable young livestock, MUSIC with an instrument case and two potential ad-lib instruments, and SPARE because that it what it is.

All of the paintings were delivered to the curator last week along with the diagram and instructions for spacing.  The paintings will be hung with magnets. The exhibition opens June 2 and closes September 15 with a reception Thursday, September 14.  I’ll be out of the country until just before the opening.

Even though I would have preferred not showing over the summer, this exhibition has given me an opportunity to display UP IN ARMS paintings to reflect how I currently think of them–an evolution that has gone from seeing them as individual paintings, to members of arbitrary Triplets, to groupings of like-minded paintings.


I haven’t been to the show yet, but it was installed according to my instructions that I sent before I left for Italy on May 1, 2017.  I hope to view the show and maybe update these images.  The reception is not until mid-September. Curator Brad Blair kindly sent me these images.















Fighting Fires: Step by Step



Last summer I set out to create an image data bank of photographs of policemen and firefighters holding aloft equipment of their respective trade. Then these photos would serve as sketches for more of my Up In Arms watercolors. (To see inventory from this series, please go to

I immediately ran into trouble getting cooperation from the Baltimore City Police Department.  I spoke to a district commander at a community meeting and was given a name and an email address to try.  But all I got was a terse reply: “Unfortunately, at this time we are not able to accommodate your request.”  That was not so surprising considering that just a year previous Baltimore was suffering through a spring of turmoil after the death of Freddy Gray at the hands of police. I decided I needed a new approach in order to address the use of firearms and the deaths that result. After a few false starts the answers came at the Sunday farmers’ market and an indoor shooting range in the burbs. But that’s a tangent I’ll tackle after the New Year.

Fortunately, the firehouse is a very friendly place. They keep the big doors open in the summer, for God’s sake.

Modeling for FF Paintings

In fact it was harder finding parking near the big firehouse on Lombard Street beside the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower than it was to enter the facility.  The middle door was wide open.  A mammoth truck stood silent just inside. Waiting on the cement floor on each side of the cab was a firefighter outfit–boots attached–arranged for speedy dressing.  But no one was in sight.  I shouted out “Hello” several times without response. I saw no one until I came upon a glass-enclosed office.  A woman–maybe an EMS unit member–was seated inside. When I explained my desire to have a firefighter model equipment for me to photograph, she gave a call upstairs.  A young man soon appeared, and once I showed him cellphone images of completed Up In Arms paintings, he agreed to help out.


(Left) An oxygen tank and harness and (right) a Jaws of Life rescue metal cutter. (Since I didn’t ask him if I could make public the photos, I’ve blurred his face.)

First he modeled a hydraulic Jaws of Life cutter used to tear away crumpled car doors at accident scenes. Then he hoisted an oxygen tank with its harness that he would need in order to enter a burning building. Then he held up an ax and a manual metal cutter (an image I never used, not enough visual heft) and lastly a black helmet (an image I almost didn’t paint).

After printing out these images, I realized that there was at least one object sorely missing from my firefighter’s inventory: a hose. So I returned to the firehouse with prints of the Jaws of Life, the oxygen tank, the ax and the helmet images to give to my model.  This gesture was intended to give me the opportunity to ask him to lift a coil of hose.  Except he wasn’t at work that day.  I couldn’t convince either of the two black firefighters who greeted me to model.  (Too bad because it would have helped to illustrate the racial diversity of the department.)  Instead they called upon a young white guy whom they called the Hulk.  Good to his name, he did the macho thing an slid down a brass pole.


I don’t know about “the day,” but he seized the hose.

Step by step

The following are series of photos to illustrate the progress I made in painting the FF Jaws, FF Tank and FF Helmet watercolors.  Always the object being held aloft is painted first.  You’ll see I tend to paint from top to bottom on an image, and I also tend to complete areas of a certain color. For instance in FF Tank I painted the tank first with its mottled blues then the mostly black harness.  In FF Helmet the yellow-green plastic inserts were painted before the rest of the mostly black helmet.

What I didn’t photograph was the simple penciled line drawing.  I use a #4 pencil, and it leaves a very light mark.  By itself it wouldn’t make a good photo. You can see some of the drawing in early images of each sequence.

FF Jaws




Finally for online presentation’s sake, I white-out the unpainted paper.


Scott Ponemone, FF Jaws, watercolor, 30 Sept. 2016, image 24 1/2″ x 21 1/2″






Scott Ponemone, FF Tank, watercolor, 10 Nov. 2016, image 26 3/4″ x 18 1/2″


FF Helmet






Scott Ponemone, FF Helmet, watercolor, 29 Nov. 2016, image 26 1/4″ x 15 1/2″


FF Hose


I forgot to record the steps in painting FF Hose.


Scott Ponemone, FF Hose, watercolor, 31 Oct. 2016, image 23″ x 20 1/2″



Actually the first firefighter watercolor was painting last year after a visit to the 2015 Maryland State Fair in Timonium.  There I came across an ambulance with two EMS workers seated nearby. And on the ground beside them was an inflated dummy used to practice CPR.  I remember first walking past toward a row of carnies with their games of chance and plush toy prizes. But I couldn’t help myself.  The dummy was just too queer. (I can’t think of a better word.) Fortunately one of the EMS guys was a willing model.


Scott Ponemone, FF CPR, watercolor, 11 Sept. 2015, image 29″ x 16 1/4″


The FF quintet


Right click to view image larger.


















Making Sky Aipens Go Big


One of the things I wanted to discover after returning to Baltimore last winter from a month in India was how my lessons in the traditional Uttarakhand painting style called aipen would affect my Planets series of watercolors. (To see a portfolio of the Planets, go to:

Aipan 2 planets

(left) Scott Ponemone, Planet VIII, watercolor, 7 Sept. 2015, 20″ diameter, (right) Scott Ponemone, Planet IX, watercolor, 22 Jan. 2016, 20″ diameter

Here are two from the Planet series. Each has a border 2.5″ wide.  Oddly enough the two here share a motif of anthemions. The ones on the right are from an ancient Greek vase at the Walters Art Museum; those on the left from frescoes in a 14th-century Eastern Orthodox church in Metéora, Greece.

In both cases the border was carefully drawn in pencil. The lighter colors were painted first; while the black was painstakenly painted second.

Apin planet X

Above (left) shows my planning for the border to Planet X. My first attempt (the pair to the top) I decided was too wide.  So I reduced the width a few degrees (of the circle) and decided it looked closer to the original, which was a  mosaic from Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome. Then I drew this pattern all the way around the border.

Aipen borders required a whole new procedure simply because there could be no drawing of the border on the watercolor paper. My previous ART I MAKE post describes aipan, its tradition, and the process in detail:

Aipan working

(left) Photo by Isabel Moreno Cortez, a PECAH artist from Mexico. (right) Detail of Aipen II, watercolor and gouache, 4 March 2016, 12″ diameter.

Here is a photo of me taken during PECAH 2015, an artist residency near Manila, a village in the Himalayan foothills. I was working on a traditional aipen grid pattern (Chowki) on top of an opaque ground of Indian red pigment.  Except for a few reference points and a penciled circle, I worked freehand. Needless to say, this took a great deal of patience and persistence and a steadier hand than I have now. Hence my right hand assisted the left.

The fun part of painting that aipen was that, once the grid pattern of straight lines and pointed arches was complete, I had many options on finishing up. For instance, what meander pattern should run around the outermost band; what to fill in the squares with (I chose a traditional Sun and pinwheels); and how many of the arches to fill in.

Aipens 3X

(from left) Sky Aipen I, watercolor and gouache, 5 March 2016, 12″ diameter; Sky Aipen II, watercolor, 6 March 2016, 12″ diameter; Sky Aipen III, watercolor, 7 March 2016, 12″ diameter

I scrambled during the last few days of the PECAH residency to make roundels of skies with aipen-inspired borders. At only 12 inches across they are like miniature Planet paintings. Sky Aipen I used the traditional Indian Red gouache for the border background; the other two had watercolor backgrounds.  It was an intense workout, and I thought the results were pretty exciting. But what would happen when I made Sky Aipens as big as the Planets with their 20″ diameter?

BIG Sky aipens: step by step

I decided to record the steps I would take to paint big Sky Aipens. Except for the first one (of three), I even photographed the steps in painting the skies.  Recording the steps was useful not only for making this presentation possible but for slowing me down and allowing me to thoughtfully consider what would come next.

For the big Sky Aipens I decided to make my own gouache Indian red paint.  As it turned out I had all of the ingredients because I had regrained all of the doors on the parlor floor of my house.  They had been stripped of their graining by the previous owners.  Then the doors were stained black walnut. Fortunately the two pairs of pocket doors separating the three parlors retained almost all of their 1850s graining. And black walnut was the fashionable wood at the time.  But the look of the black walnut graining of the pocket doors and that of the black walnut staining on the other doors was night and day.  So I taught myself how to grain paint.

Aipan paint labeled copy

The ingredients: A apple cider vinegar; B powdered gum arabic; C gum arabic dissolved in E distilled water; D powdered Indian red pigment; and F the finished paint.  Formula: Stir 1 part pigment into 1 to 2 parts vinegar, then add half part dissolved gum arabic. Source: Ina Brosseau Marx, Allen Marx and Robert Marx, Professional Painted Finishes, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1991.  See “Country Graining” on page 233. (Note: You can purchase gum arabic pre-dissolved with a preservative. My mixture will mold if not refrigerated.)


SA border sketch

As with the Planets, the big Sky Aipens begin with a full-scale sketch of the border. It appears that I first thought of making the border 3″ wide instead of the 2.5″ width I used on the Planets. You can see that I scaled back the scalloped outer edge a half inch. So I started intending to alternate large scallops with smaller ones peaking out between the larger ones. But it didn’t turn out that way, and I’m pleased that it didn’t.

Aipan 1 steps

In the topmost pair I followed the initial plan. Then I thought better of it. Why not connect the small scallops to create a wave pattern?  And so I did as seen in middle row left.  Then I filled in the lower band pretty much as intended. Finally I added the sun in the smaller scallops. The sun appeared in the initial plan but only when the border was 3″ wide.  And I left out the wavy plant-like device that was in the 3″ border.

Aipan 1 whole

Here are four stages of Sky Aipen IV, starting with a finished sky and only a penciled-in scalloped edge.

SA finished

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen IV, watercolor and gouache, 4 April 2016, 20″ diameter. NOTE: the painting is positioned on Arches cold-press watercolor paper so that the framed piece would be a diamond.


Sky Aipen V

PECAH Aipan 4

The source for parts of the borders on Sky Aipens V and VI is a aipen painted on cotton at the home of author Jugal Kishor Paithshali, near Almora, Uttarakhand. For Sky Aipen V it’s the wavy, plant-like device repeated three times under the arches.  For Sky Aipen VI it’s the white inverted teardrop with a hook at the bottom.

Aipan 2 skies

First, here’s the stages of Sky Aipen V’s sky.

SA2 sketch

Sketch with three variations on how to fill the spaces between the arches, and practice painting the wavy, plant-like device under the arches.

Aipan 2 borders

Details of the five steps of painting Sky Aipen V’s border.

Aipen 2 whole

Four views of Sky Aipen V in production.

Sky Aipen V

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen V, watercolor and gouache, 21 April 2016, 20″ diameter.

Sky Aipen VI

JP aipen 1 full

For Sky Aipen VI I broke away from the regular boarder shape by adding ears inspired by another aipen at Jugal Kishor Paithshali’s house.

SA3 sketch

I modified the ears, as seen in this sketch, to resemble elephant profiles. I inadvertently first drew the teardrop shape (upper right) upside down.  The other six have the correct orientation (the hook toward the center).

Aipen 3 sky

Sky Aipen VI’s sky, step by step.

Aipen 3 border

The border, step by step.  Unlike the source material, I didn’t white-in the teardrops.

Aipen 3 whole

Six views of Sky Aipen VI’s production.

Sky Aipen VI

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen VI, watercolor and gouache, 11 May 2016, 22 7/8″ x 22 7/8″.

The sun (top), moon (below), bell and conch are auspicious Hindu symbols that are often used in Aipan.


Lessons in AIPAN

PECAH aipan feature


Despite having two blog categories–Art I See and Art I Make–I could use a third called Art I Synthesize.  Last week I returned from a month in India, mostly in the northern province of Uttrakhand, as one of six international artists learning local arts traditions as part of the PECAH (Program of Exchange in Culture and Art of Himalayas).  I want to extend a hearty thank-you to director Sanjayy Rikhari and coordinator Val Jaune-Bleu for inviting me to participate.

When you apply for PECAH, you’re asked to select four activities.  My first choice was a painting style called aipan or aipen.  The image above is in the aipan tradition–mostly opaque white-line/white-dot design on a terra cotta colored ground. Aipan designs are often round with a central medallion surrounded with multiple borders. For an artist who spent much of last year working on watercolor tondos that I call Planets–which juxtapose the unfathomable in the form of daytime skies with borders of patterns that reference man’s constant need to make order out of chaos–aipan seemed a perfect match.

PECAH planet III

TOP Scott Ponemone, Planet III, watercolor, 20″ across, 29 May 2015 (with detail left)

BOTTOM Scott Ponemone, Planet VI, watercolor, 20″ across, 12 Aug. 2015 (with detail right)

PECAH planet VI

My other painting choice was pattachitra, which focuses on painting Hindu dieties colorfully on cloth. Then I chose to learn how to cook Northern Indian vegetarian cuisine. And finally a week of yoga and meditation. As it happens, these activities were offered in reverse order, i.e. aipen was last.


This folk art is associated with the Kumaoni-speaking people of Uttrakhand. According to the D’source website (

Aipan is a traditional folk art specifically made by women of Uttarakhand. This art is done on floor over brick red background with white paste made out of rice flour. The typical art is done on all special occasions and household ceremonies and rituals. It is believed that these motifs evoke divine power which brings good fortune and wards off evil.

Uttarakhand Aipan painting has its unique identity which is always done on the empty walls and on the ground which is a symbol of fortune and fertility. The art form is used to decorate floors and walls at the Puja room (place of worship) and entrance of homes and practiced by many other communities of different regions.

I found this YouTube video which provides an excellent illustration of how a accomplished aipan artist paints with her fingers.

I first saw aipan paintings when the PECAH crew visited the home and private museum of Jugal Kishor Paithshali, a well respected compiler of Indian folk tales. He had four that were done on cloth, then stretched over frames.

JP aipen group copy

Himanshu Sharma (from left), Nicole Schlosser (Canada) and Julie Parenteau (Canada) admire aipan paintings at the house of Jugal Kishor Paithshali. (Photos by Scott Ponemone)

Here are the four paintings, each with details.

PECAH Aipan 1

D’source says the central motif is a Chowki design, normally used for seating the idols of gods and goddesses.

PECAH Aipan 2

PECAH Aipan 4

PECAH Aipan 3

When I asked Paithshali about the significance of the aipan dots (done with the touch of a finger tip), he simply said and emphasized that it all begins with the point. From Project Aipan website (

To understand the Aipan art better, it is very important to know the significance of ‘Dots’ in the Aipan designs.  A ‘dot’ signifies completeness and life.  According to natural science, a dot is like the seed through which the world has originated.  Mathematical science also has a special emphasis on the dots. While meditating too, the axis of concentration is none other than a point or ‘dot’.  It is thus that a dot is included as an important part of the Aipan art. …

An Aipan without dots is considered inauspicious. On the death of a person, the Aipan is drawn without dots.

The central motif shown of the aipan immediately above is made from a pattern of nine dots square. It’s called a bhadra and is drawn at a place of worship.  The number of dots in a bhadra can vary. I practiced making a bhadra like the one above.

PECAH grids

After making the grid, the first step is the central swastik.  Now as a Jew, making a swastik requires overcoming great resistance. I need not explain. But it’s impossible to practice aipan without making swastiks. The Uttarakhand Worldwide webstite ( ) explains:

Swastik has great significance in Aipan. It is drawn in some form or other during most of the religious rituals as swastik in Hindu mythology represents all Gods and Goddesses, known or unknown. … Swastik represents the creation and progress. All four arms of swastik inspire to move forward. Thus swastik is the symbol of marching ahead for success, towards success with success.

When I first tried to connect the dots in a bhadra, I reproduced a pattern of Christian-like crosses in black defined be white lines.  Then I realized that the swastik is formed by two branches. One branch connects three dots horizontally with two legs, going either one dot up or one dot down; the other branch connects three dots vertically with two legs, going either one dot left or one dot right.

The top row, right image shows the horizontal branch extended out. The second row, left adds the vertical branch extended out.  The second row, middle image adds two other horizontal branches. As a result two more swastiks are created. The last image adds two vertical branches, and as a consequence six more swastiks.

PECAH grids compare

Finally, I connected the last of the dots, leaving the corner dots free. Compare this to the central bhadra of the large aipan at Paithshali’s house.


Before PECAH’s aipan classes begin, I borrow the aipan book from instructor Manav Joshi and make up a circular aipan-like design in watercolor.

Aipen I black

Scott Ponemone, Aipen I, watercolor, 9 3/4″ across, 26 Feb. 2016.

While it mimics the red-brown ground, the triple lines, the paired feet and the use of dots of aipan, this looks more like an East/West amalgam. Note the anthemions from Greek tradition around the rim. Then I get serious.

Aipen II black

Scott Ponemone, Aipen II, watercolor, 12″ across, 4 March 2016.

PECAH me at work

Fellow visiting artist Isabel Moreno Cortez (Mexico) photographed me at work.

This took work and concentration. Besides the swastik, I included the sun, moon, bell and shell of aipen tradition. The central motif and all of the pointed arches conform to the Chowki design seen in one of the large aipans at Paithshali’s house, except that I painted four parallel lines instead of five. In internet searches, I now learn that (from Project Aipan website):

Lines also have a special significance. They signify continuity. Odd number of lines is used in Aipan designs.  It is believed that even numbers are complete in themselves, but odd numbers are incomplete and seem open-ended. It is suggestive of the wonderful message of continuity and eternity.


MannuFinally, Manav Joshi starts classes. Part of me thinks: “I’ve done that.”  Yet another part of me wants not to be so aloof.  What convinces me to join in is that Manav has us connect with the folk tradition of aipan by grinding presoaked rice between two stones (which looked like limestone, perhaps with a history in a cemetery) to make aipan paint.

PECAH aipan rice milling
With Manav Joshi’s (above) guidance, a PECAH artist grinds rice to make aipan paint. (Photos by Scott Ponemone)

Each aipen student painted a circle with a water-based red-brown paint on the deck of the PECAH hotel near the village of Manila. Then we literally tried our hand at aipen painting. I for one did a pretty miserable job of dipping my fingers in rice paint and attempting to make lines with the tip of my middle finger.

PECAH aipan making copy

Isabel Moreno Cortez (top) and Julie Parteneau work on their aipens.

PECAH aipan fingered

My effort.  Pretty rough, no?


So much for finger painting.  I return to brushes and watercolors to see how I’d do adapting aipan motifs to borders for my sky paintings. I was limited to a 20″ x 14″ Arches watercolor block that fit into my suitcase.

Sky Aipen I black

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen I, watercolor, 12″ across, 5 March 2016.

After many days without any clouds, a few formed over the Himalayas, which were usually hidden in an inversion of smoke and dust. These became my sky. The aipan border is quite traditional.  The problem was that the border overwhelmed the sky. But it was a good start.

Sky Aipen II black

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen II, watercolor, 12″ across, 6 March 2016.

An interesting sunrise propelled my second effort.  I reduced the border width and changed the background color to indigo.  The alternating feet and suns are in the aipan tradition.  This, I feel, is a real success.

Sky Aipen III black

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen III, watercolor, 12″ across, 7 March 2016.

Finally a dramatic, thundery sky.  I made the ground magenta. This too is super.  Note that these three Sky Aipens were painted on consecutive days, with the third  completed on my very last day at the PECAH hotel.  I was on a roll, then I suddenly stopped. It was time for the two-day PECAH festival in Ramnagar, the hometown of most of the PECAH instructors. Afterwards, I would take a train to Delhi to deal with my visa problems.  But that’s another story.


I did attempt a pattachitra painting, using fabric pigments on cotton. The central figures are really just a copy of a line drawing from a book, which also provided the border pattern. But it’s pretty successful in its own right.



Scott Ponemone, Gaja Singha Bidala, pattachitra with fabric paints on cotton, 16″ x 8 3/4″, February 2016.

Himanshu Fortunately, Himanchu Sharma, who instructed us on pattachitra, has emailed me with a description of what I depicted:

“Gaja means elephant, and Shingha Bidala means lion cat. They represent body and soul: Lion represents our body, and elephant represents our soul.  The paintings says that our body controls us in general, where as it should be our body must be controlled by our soul.  That is an ideal condition that never comes about. So the artist depicts the practical world instead.”

Himanshu Sharma (Photo by Scott Ponemone) ►






FLOORCLOTH: Painted canvas for 1806 hallway

Well, they say that you never forget how to ride a bicycle. I got a chance last December to see if I had forgotten how to do a floorcloth: a canvas painted to simulated marble laid out in a geometric pattern. It had been at least a dozen years since my previous effort, and that one was for the middle parlor of my Mount Vernon townhouse. My last previous commercial floorcloth was installed at the Baltimore Museum of Art a good 15 years ago. (The wing of the museum in which it was located is now undergoing renovation. I wonder if my piece will be reinstalled when the work is done.)

For background information on floorcloths please go to:


FC-hall before

The process began when a couple with a 1806 federal house on the Maryland Eastern Shore invited me over last summer to discuss the possibility of creating a floorcloth for their entry hallway. As you can see their hall has two widths. When you enter the house the hall is 6.5 feet wide, but, where the stairway is, the width decreases to under 4 feet. The couple had two principal requirements: 1) the pattern had to be continuous despite the change of widths and 2) the colors had to match the hall wallpaper. So I set about to measure the hall. The clients wanted it to nearly fill the hall, leaving approximately 1.5 inches of floor visible around the perimeter. I drew a rough sketch of it. Their seemingly compact hall measured over 29 feet long. The first thing I told them was that I would have to make it in two pieces. Then I calculated the square footage in order to arrive at a price (which went into a sequence of negotiations, which I won’t be detailing here).
Fortunately the clients wanted a simple diamond pattern with a narrow border. All I had to do was figure out the appropriate scale of the diamonds and the math to make it work out. It turns out that, if I use diamonds 8 inches on a side, a continuous pattern of diamonds could be accomplished if I narrowed the piece beside the stairs by only one inch. This is what I came up with. (The colors particularly of the border are approximate at best.) There would be yellowy cream diamonds and dark green diamonds, while the border would have stripes of the same yellowy cream on both sides and a wider center stripe of (as it turned out) two-toned magenta. Except for one small area where the stairs reach the hall floor, the half diamonds (and the quarter diamonds at the corners) that touch the border would be dark green.
FC Minor plan
This design was agreed to, and a contract was signed in September. The client realized that I won’t begin until December and that the work wouldn’t be ready for installation until mid-January. The delay on the start was due to an October residency I was awarded by The Studios of Key West and wedding plans (thank you Maryland voters and then the Supreme Court) in November. The actual painting would take a month. Then the three clear acrylic top coats would need two weeks to cure.
Essentially the following is a photo gallery of the process. Here are the steps I would take:
1) Clear the dining room for the wider floorcloth piece and my studio (on the floor above) for the narrower piece.
2) Roll out the 84-inch-wide #8 cotton duck (canvas) in the dining room, measure it, cut it and staple it to the floor.  Measure out the studio piece, cut the width to 6 feet and staple it down.
3) Using foam pads on an extension pole, put two coats of gesso on both pieces of canvas. Sand after each coat.
4) Again using foam pads, put three coats of the base color (yellowy cream).
5) Drawing out the pattern should have come next. But I froze. Were my measurements last summer accurate? I wasn’t positive. So I made a second trip to the Eastern Shore only to find out they were. Only then did I pencil in the pattern. (I had fears as well that I wouldn’t keep everything square–fears that wouldn’t be soothed until installation day.)
6) Marbleize the lighter diamonds in two steps: first using a very light cream paint, then veining with magenta to reference the border color.
7) Tape around what were to become the dark green diamonds.
8) Two coats of dark green paint on those areas, then two passes over those diamonds to marbleize them.
9) Remove tape surrounding the green diamonds and then clean up areas where paint leaked under the tape (fortunately very few places)
10) Tape around the wide stripe of the border.
11) Three coats of the magenta paint and two coats of dark grape paint that was feathered toward the center of the stripe.
12) Remove that tape and clean up edges.
13) Apply three coats of clean acrylic over everything (and try to remove any debris–mostly pet hairs–after each coat).
14) After a week, cut out the floorcloth and let cure another week.
FC- DR spreading
In the dining room, I’m spreading the first coat of the base color onto the canvas upon which two coats of gesso had been applied.
FC-1st graining
A closeup showing the penciled grid of diamonds and the first pass of marblelizing of the lighter diamonds.
FC-green painting
I’m applying the first coat of dark green paint to diamonds delineated by tape. Note that the lighter diamonds have a few streaks of reddish paint.
Fc-taping pulling
Michael (my life’s partner and now my husband) is pulling tape that surrounded the green diamonds which have been marbelized. Note that the marbelizing of the green diamonds generally runs perpendicular to that in the cream diamonds.
FC 3 ways view
[Clockwise from top left] Closeup of the finished diamonds. The narrow section of the floorcloth (upstairs in the studio) with the diamonds done. The first coat of magenta being applied to the border.
FC-border done
Completed border with the outside edges toned with a dark purple paint.
FC-DR cutout
The dining room section of the floorcloth after three coats of clear acrylic have been applied and the canvas has been cut down to the finished size. Count the diamonds to see how demanding even a simple pattern can be.
FC-cutout for stairs
This is the part of the wider section of floorcloth that will wrap around the base of the stairs and meet the narrower section that was produced in the studio.


The big question as we drove to the Eastern Shore was whether the floorcloth would fit. The tolerances were quit small. A little mis-measuring along its 29-foot length could create a big problem. Yet there was a surprise even before we started to unroll the two pieces. The corner to the right (as you enter) the front door was not a right angle. It was canted (two 45-degree angles). A tall-case clock stood there when we measured. I just assumed the corner behind it was square. I would have to slice off a corner of the floorcloth. The client, who never mentioned the canted corner before, was unfazed by this decision.
FC-corner up.
So it was time to roll out both pieces. Drum roll please. But the suspense was unnecessary. It fit as drawn. Notice in the photo the corner sticking up to the left of the door and the little wall at a 45-degree angle. And notice to the right of the bottom of the stairs the line across where to two pieces of floorcloth meet. Actually at this point the narrow piece is 6-inches longer than needed. The extra length is under the end of larger piece. I made it this way so, if necessary, I could trim the narrow piece at a very slight angle so it could properly fit the far end of the hall. It turned out that the precaution wasn’t needed. But it meant that I had to cut the narrow piece in situ. I also had to cut out pieces in two places to accommodate floor registers.
FC-install trimming
I’m finishing the cutting of the narrow piece.
Fc-install- cutout
Here I’m making cuts for a floor register.
I’m cutting double-sided carpet tape for the underside edges of the floorcloth.
FC-installed hall
The rear of the floorcloth installed.
FC-installed bench
The front of the hall with the client’s Baltimore painted bench.
Scraps of canvas from when the floorcloth was originally trimmed before delivery.

Operation Operating Room….. In The Beginning

I didn’t think this would be so difficult. All I wanted to do was extend my prolonged exploration of hands into an arena that I previously had welcomed me, namely the operating room. In 1983 a surgical resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital invited me to photograph him at work. I donned a mask and gown and booties and stayed outside a 10-foot perimeter with my 1950s vintage Yashica-D twin-lens reflex. (Those were the days of B&W 120 film and horizantal-reversed images in the viewfinder.) The photos served as my sketches for five watercolors; three sold; the unsold ones are below.



Sterile Field, watercolor, 1983, 21.5″ x 19.5″ (top); Surgeons, watercolor, 1983, 21.5″ square (bottom)



Then in late 1989, the Anesthesiology Department at Johns Hopkins contacted me. The department head wanted me to do a portrait of a retiring anesthesiologist, who wasn’t aware of the nature of my appearance in surgery. The painting would be a surprise going-away gift. More commissions followed. By July 1991 I painted four acrylics on canvas (the first two were finished during a deep-snow January at the Vermont Studio Colony in the tiny mill town of Johnson) and two watercolors. Below are two of the acrylics. (Sorry for the image quality. I hand-held slides to photograph them.)



Dr. B, acrylic on canvas, 1990, 40″ x 42″ (left); OR, Acrylic on canvas, 1990, 45.5″ x 40″ (right)


So the OR doors swung open in the past. What about today? I began my quest by posting my interests in photographing in surgery on Facebook. A former Baltimore Sun colleague proffered the name of a former Sun reporter now working in PR at Hopkins. I emailed her and soon I was set up to photograph a living-donor kidney transplant operation in a few weeks. I was psyched! For fun, while waiting, I bought a box of thin plastic gloves that mimicked the type used by doctors and had my partner Michael model putting them on one at a time. This effort resulted in two watercolors: one putting on the first glove in three views (not in sequence) and one putting on the second glove in three views (again not in sequence–I didn’t want the paintings to be read from left to right).



One Glove, watercolor, 2013, 10″ x 29.25″ (top); Two gloves, watercolor, 2013, 10″ x 28.375″ (bottom)



But then the Hopkins PR person emailed me: “I hate to do this but I have JUST been informed that our policies regarding photographs and video in the OR are under review and I have to ask you to postpone your filming session. When this is resolved, I am happy to get the ball rolling again. My apologies.” Drats! (in so many words) So now I get the bright idea to contact the Curtis National Hand Center at Union Memorial Hospital. What better place to photograph hands than where hands are working to repair hands? So I start making inquiries there. In the meantime, I decide to do wood engraving variations of the One Glove, Two Gloves paintings. Using both sides of a 6″ x 4″ maple block, I made small editions of the following images:

Glove, wood engraving (second state), 2013, 6″ x 4″, edition 20 (left); Gloves, wood engraving, 2013, 6″ x 4″, edition 20


The door to the OR partial opens. I’ve been invited to photograph what they call “carpal therapy,” a euphemism for young hand surgeons practicing techniques on a cadaver arm. But what the heck, I go. I’m not too crazy about painting the wrinkled digits of the preserved dead. So the two paintings that result just feature the living.



Carpal Therapy, watercolor, 2013, 13″ x 22″ (top); No Cadaver, watercolor, 2013, 14″ x 22″ (bottom)



Well it’s a “no go” at the hospital, but the surgeon who led the practice session said he would welcome me into surgery at a satellite facility in Lutherville. He gives his card and writes out the name of the head nurse there. So I start emailing and talking to her. It seems that she needs to get permission from the administrative director there. I wait word. I eventually speak to this person, who asks me to write up a letter that would be handed to patients to read before being asked to sign a waiver (allowing me to photograph). She approves of the letter. The only question is on which Wednesday would I be allowed to photograph. THEN, she phones me: Didn’t the head nurse tell me “no”? And the chief surgeon said “no” too. Well, that’s the first time I get that message and the last time I seek permission from the Greater Chesapeake Hand Specialists.


After a week’s funk, I call the head PR persons at two other Baltimore area hospitals. The quest continues.

Mini-Retrospective at Jordan Faye Contemporary

In over 30 years as an artist, until now I’ve never had the opportunity to have a retrospective. Now thanks to Jordan Faye Block and her recently relocated Baltimore gallery–Jordan Faye Contemporary–I have one, although a limited one in the number of works shown but an expansive one in that it spans 20 years. It’s her genius to make the selection. The largest pieces–Procession F, Procession J and Anxious For Love B–had only been shown in Washington, DC, at the greatly lamented Gallery K soon after they were painted. Most of the rest–done while traveling abroad in 1996, 2007 and 2012–had never been shown anywhere. Jordan came up with the title “Divine Fantasy” for the exhibition. I’m not sure that it fits me or the art. But if you find a spiritual continuity, then bless you. I bow to your higher power.
I’m not going to try to describe the ideas behind each painting. But I’ll give it a go on Sunday, Feb. 10, from 1 to 3 p.m., when I discuss the work at the gallery, 823 Park Ave., 20201. I hope to see you there.


Procession F, watercolor, 1997, 63 1/4″ x 28″


Procession J, watercolor, 1996, 63 1/2″ x 49 1/2″

Anxious For Love-B, watercolor, 1992, framed 58″ x 47″

[from left] Rochefort E, watercolor, 2007, 24″ x 18″; Rochefort D, watercolor, 2007, 24″ x 18″; Csopak II-B, watercolor, 2005, 24″ x 18″

Nine paintings from the Tuscan Sky series, watercolors, frame size 25″ x 21″. From top the bottom, left to right: #2, #7, #12, #3, #9, #11, #13, #5, $4.

[clockwise from upper right] Colegiata, Toro, watercolor, 2003, frame size 17″ x 13″;
Icarus, watercolor, 1999, frame size 17″ x 13″; Orb, watercolor, 2003, frame size 17″ x 13″; Barcelona Uno, watercolor, 2003, frame size 17″ x 13″

On the Fence

One of the dividends of being taken to the Reno Air Races (formally called the Reno National Championship Air Races and Air Show at Stead Field) this September was the chance to photograph sun-weathered hands. While the races were fine, the air acrobatics between races were better. And the jets dutifully rattled your eardrums. But except for a few photos of folks glued to their binoculars, I didn’t have much material for my hand paintings . . . that is until we were leaving the infield. That’s when folks leaning against the top rail of a low chain-link fence running between grandstands caught my eye. What perfect sets of hands from my perspective. So as I followed Michael, sister Cynthia and brother-in-law Bill, I maximized the point-and-shoot capabilities of my Nikon. Here’s a prime example of a painting-perfect photo:



For the first Fencing watercolor I chose these two images:



When I took these photos, I had no idea the top rail of the fence would become an image unifier, literally a supporting actor. In the past objects that weren’t being held in hands would be edited out. But as I was studying printouts of these images, I quickly realized the value of keeping the bar in. Here’s how the first of these paintings turned out:



And the second looks like this:



The photo of the couple (above) probably will become the model for it’s own painting. And I plan another with two tiers of rails with two actors apiece. Stay tuned for that one. In the meantime, check out larger images of the first two paintings in the Latest Hands gallery:


I’ve also returned to the Maryland Institute College of Art printmaking studios now that I tote a MICA ID reading “visiting artist.” Many thanks go to Prof. Quentin Moseley for making this possible. Using the image running atop this blog I cut a 6″ x 4″ resingrave block to create this white-line print in an edition of 16.


Sometimes even the most casual photographer captures an image that doesn’t need translation into a different medium. Here’s an example of one photo what will not model for a watercolor or a print:


Black and Blue

If you make art long enough, you start recognizing the cyclical nature of your work. Not that you repeat yourself exactly, but you tend to return to a former way of doing things or to a former subject and giving it another look. In this case, it was a return to both how I was choosing colors and what my subject was. Before I set out on a trip to Istanbul and the Turkish Aegean Coast in 1990, I decide to try painting in monochromes or dichromes, i.e. just one or two colors per image. Here’s an example.



Ascleplion, Pergamum
Watercolor on paper, 1990
15 1/2″ x 14″


Later that year, I turned the same color scheme to Baltimore’s historic Greenmount Cemetery. I added a kink to the drawing process. None of the objects depicted were adjacent to each other. I chose the nearest object (front right) and drew that. Then I moved to the next nearest (the pyramid); then the third nearest. So it’s really a collage of the cemetery experience.



Still Life
Watercolor on paper, 1990
19″ x 14″


Then while waiting for settlement on my Mount Vernon (Baltimore) townhouse in 1993, I followed the same scheme (limited palette and rearranged objects) in doing a series of paintings in Mount Vernon as a way of getting to know my neighborhood-to-be. Here’s as example. Do you recognize the source for the figure?



Mt. Vernon 1
Watercolor on paper, 1993
12″ x 9″


So why did I return to this color scheme 19 years after that Mount Vernon series? Because last spring I hung the Asclepion painting in my front hall and later replaced it with Mount Vernon 1. “Not bad,” I said to myself, “worth a second look.” So when Mark Luce, a fellow watercolorist, wanted to do a plein air painting in the city, I suggested Greenmount Cemetery. Because I didn’t want to get too detailed, I set up about 50 feet from my subject. And I chose a weathered statue because the loss of facial features added to the sullen nature of the image.



Greenmount 1
Watercolor on paper, 2012
12″ x 9″


And last week I returned by myself and painted:



Greenmount 2
Watercolor on paper, 2012
9″ x 12″

My Process: 1 Spoon 2 Cones

It’s easier to show what I do than explain why I do it.  This post will take you through my working process, not why I choose to paint what I do. As to the latter issue, let’s just say I’m fascinated with hands and how looking at hands and how they are used can tell as much about an individual and about a culture as looking at the whole person or a whole society. Anyway this painting began with photographing at Artscape, Baltimore’s summer carnival.  When I began the middle phase of the Hands series in 2009, it was my first use of photographs as a sketching medium since the Parade series of 1995-6. Here are the two photographs that are the basis of 1 Spoon 2 Cones.




The first step is figuring out the scale of the painting. In this case the drawings are 1.5x the size of the photos. I plot just enough points so I can drawing simple outlines of the parts of the photos I want in the painting. I hope you can see this in the next set of images.




The next three pairs of images document how I build up pigment to create the flesh tones. First I establish the highlights. This is important because I use the white of the paper, not white paint, for the brightest highlights. I literally paint around these whites.




Then I establish the darks, starting with a deep sepia-red tone.





Finally I paint the midtones to unite the hightlights with the darks.





Lastly I paint the non-flesh parts of the images and then paint a thin wash to establish the rectangles that hold the two images. Click here to see 1 Spoon 2 Cones in the Latest Hands gallery.



Italian Skies: Series Complete


When this blog was being set up early in July, I had finished 9 of the 14 Italian Sky paintings begun in the hillside hamlet of Ombreglio di Brancoli north of the small Tuscan city of Lucca. And Brooke Hall, my talented and patient webpage designer, only asked for four blog entries for each of my two blogs. Finally last week Brooke instructed me on working the back end of my website. Now I’m on my own, but presenting painting-by-painting entries on this series seems a little old. (The last sky was finished three weeks ago.) Instead this entry will be a summary of the Italian Sky series. To see all the Italian Sky series click here.


I had intended to present before and after images for each painting, such as these for Tuscan Sky 4.  And I would discuss the source of the border pattern, in this case the vining part of the border came from the La Collegiata di San Cristoforo in Barga, a hiitop town in the in mountainous Garfagnana region of northern Tuscany. The quatrefoil flowers in the corners were adapted from a carved Etruscan tomb seen in Volterra. I had to use two sources for this border because the Barga source didn’t show how this pattern would meet at a corner.


The following paintings are particularly successful. Tuscan Sky 5 turned out to be surprising. I had no idea this simple, but bold border of half circles would, once painted, make the sky seem to float in front of it. The border came from the stone pavement of Florentine church Basilica di Santa Croce.



Tuscan Sky 9 worked well because of the colors chosen for the border seem to capture and enhance the mood of the cloudy sky. The geometry of the border, from the floor of Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca, was tricky because adjacent corners differed. Identical corners were diagonally opposite each other. I chose it because in a very flattened way the wide band wound its way around the central pole.



I’m particularly proud of Tuscan Sky 12, if only because the sky was painted in five minutes, in other words in just a single layer of paint. Wet the paper; add some paint; let it dry; you’re done. Cirrus clouds force you to work as quickly, as sparingly as possible. No building up layers of paint, my normal procedure. The border pattern is a quite literal rendition of what I sketched from the floor of the magnificent Duomo di Siena.



Lastly I’ll highlight Tuscan Sky 13 because it let me use a variation of the border seen in Tuscan Sky 5. Now the half circles become partial rings. This border was sketched in the museum beside the Pisa duomo. (If the Leaning Tower was the magnet that drew us to Pisa, it was the complex as a whole that thrilled. This is a photo taken from upstairs at the museum.



This border also seems to levitate the sky in front of it. Who needs 3D?


Tuscan Sky 3

Even though I sketched three border patterns during our trip Monday, April 23, to the wonderful Etruscan hill town of Volterra, the border pattern I chose to work up for Tuscan Sky 3 can be seen on the same journal page (far left) as the one used for Tuscan Sky 1. I had to first work out how the corners would meet since the source pattern only ran along the sides of a doorway to Lucca’s duomo. Here’s a roundel with a single zigzag border from the duomo entryway. The sky was seen from our house after we returned home the following day from Firenze – once again backlit clouds like in Tuscan Sky 2 but this time a few low, grey clouds drifting in from the Mediterranean.


As in all of the these paintings, the question at hand when it’s time to paint the borders is: How to do so to enhance the sky and create a dialog between sky and border. I offer images of before and after so you can judge for yourself.

Tuscan Sky 2

Rains were becoming less frequent by Saturday, April 21, when we drove to Pistoia, a small city about halfway between Lucca and Firenze (Florence). We parked just outside a remnant of the city wall and found a very soggy market-day scene toward the old city center. More startling displays of Romanesque black-and-white church facades greeted us, San Giovanni’s in particular. Inside San Domenico I drew two marble floor borders. I used the quatre-lobate one as a basis for my next border. I reduced the spacing between the elements to exaggerate its jumpy black-and-white aspect. The sky, as I was driving back west to Lucca in the late afternoon, was littered with backlit cumulus clouds that were becoming quite ragged as drier air was filling in with a promise of fairer weather ahead. This is the sky I attempted to paint the next morning at our home in the hills north of Lucca.