Effort and Release

Three works are back from the scanner:  “Sea Monster With Ninja,” “Lady With Accordion” and “Motet.”   A digital file of “Sea Monster” went to local drummer Joe Nelson for possible use as a CD cover for a new release by his surf band, Hypnotide.   The guys were reportedly enthusiastic so maybe this will come to pass.

The other two works went to a Cultural Arts Center call for entry into a show entitled “The Sight of Music.”   The theme is loosely built around synesthesia, a cross wiring of the brain which allows people to see colors and forms via any of the five senses.    One of the jurors is Christopher Purdy, a WOSU classical music host and musicologist who might actually know about motets, so I’m hoping I have a shot.  I’ve been rejected by every juried show I’ve entered for the past year, but a losing streak can’t last forever.

Here’s the final version of “Motet.”


“Motet” by Lynda McClanahan

The board presents a dizzying collection of imagery.  Human nature always wants to make a story out of what it sees so those who have never heard of a motet will probably come up with some doozies.  Most of the panels can stand on their own too.

Here they are.


Krishna & Radha Covered in Lotus Blossoms

Krishna and Radha is one of the more esoteric efforts and is modeled on an old Hindu image I found in a book.  What’s not to like about two lovers floating on an ocean of love dressed only in lotus blossoms?  I fussed over whether or not to add a full moon to the upper left-hand corner but decided against it.  It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole when it comes to design.

"Motet" Detail

Baby Krishna

I nixed adding more frame detail to baby Krishna too, thinking it would squeeze the image toward the center too much.  The red oval now blooms out like a flower in a more relaxed way.


Kissing Lovers

The kissing lovers are based on some stock clip art I found on the internet and only needed a little cleaning up.  I could have added more detail but decided to keep things simple.


Lady With Snake

One of the difficulties with this piece was all the paint drops and smudges which appeared on the surface after I’d moved on to other parts of the piece.  I should have masked off the stuff that was already done, but didn’t learn until late in the process.


Black Angel

I’m happy with this little angel, especially the wings which were drawn using  French curves.  I’m happiest when adding obsessive-compulsive details like the feathers on the wings.  Only those who step up close will see them.


Chanting Monks

The singing monks were some of the hardest things to do on the whole board.  So much shading and outlining and plain old hard work!  I’m pleased on the whole but wish I’d had a steadier hand on the music stand.  Will anyone ever look carefully enough to see the “Ave Maris Stella Dei Mater”(Hail Star of the Sea) inexpertly painted on the music manuscript?  Probably not.


Reclining Lady

Of all the images, this is my least favorite.  I should have added another layer of landscape behind the lace curtain or maybe chosen a different type of curtain altogether.  I was short of time so I let a few mistakes stand.  It’s hard to discern when a new strategy is an improvement or just a different kind of bad.


Pin Up

“Pin Up” is not as good as I’d hoped.   I fussed endlessly over the eyes but finally gave up.   The end product often doesn’t live up to ego requirements, but if art is anything, it’s a willingness to expose yourself as you really are.


Serenading Cowboy

The cowboy is one of the sweetest images on the board.  Early on in the process hubby Joel noted that almost all the figures were women so I added a man.    Some of the vocal lines in medieval motets were directly lifted from the secular French troubadour tradition, so a serenading cowboy isn’t all that far from the overall theme of the work.


Tree With Snakes

The tree with snakes was an unfortunate recipient of the countless accidents and smudges which occurred over the six weeks it took to paint this thing.  Hubby judges this panel as the weakest of them all but I disagree.  Part of the charm of medieval motets was the sophisticated sympathic vibrations which could arise between the interweaving lines of bi-lingual lyrics.   Snakes often appear in the iconography of the Virgin Mary, to which this image gives sly reference.  There’s also a bit of the garden of Eden’s tree of life here which pleases me no end.


Gospel Choir

I adore black gospel music and had a lot of fun with this.  Great care was taken to give all the ladies different hairdo’s and make them as beautiful as possible.  The ribbon trimming their green vestments is taken from the colors in kente cloth.  No one will notice this, but it’s nice to have something in a painting which is just for me.

Christ Mudra

Christ Mudra

Some panels came together quickly while others required an agonizing amount of effort.  This one came somewhere in between.   The robe-like background was relatively easy but the hands took a lot of thinking.  The most successful element, the addition of a thin, luminescent pink line at the top of the hands, was accidental.   Sometimes you just get lucky.  The design of the hands is based on a traditional hand position which spells out the Greek word for Christ.   I rotated one of hands 90 degrees to the left, copied and flipped it,  then pasted the two together.  The results are nonsensical and strange, but it was a welcome surprise to see the labial-like folds which spontaneously appeared in the center.  The pinpoint of white light in the middle of this triangle is the most important spot in the whole piece for me.


Lovers With Flower Maidens

You never know what a juror will think about the suitability of an image for a public space, but if anything causes me trouble it’ll probably be this panel.   I knew what I was doing when I included it, but couldn’t bear to leave it out.

Motet Center Panel

Center Panel of “Motet” by Lynda McClanahan

The center panel might offend some religious sensibilities but I like the saucy Ziegfeld girls hiding their naughty bits behind those black fans.   Isn’t Divine Nature always hiding in plain sight?

I “hit the wall” toward the end.  I’d given myself a week to complete the lattice-work framing around all the images, but when Monday rolled around exhaustion and doubt arose in equal measure.  How could I possibly do it?  And even if I did, wasn’t the whole thing a fool’s errand, a monumental waste of time and an outright embarrassment?  I only persevered because there was so much time already invested, it seemed too late to turn back.    Without much joy or enthusiasm, I masked off the images and completed the necessary drudge work.  Chrome yellow pigment offers very little coverage and must be over-painted repeatedly even in the best of times.   Since I’d drawn everything out on a grid using pencil, I had to first carefully paint everything with white primer before I could even begin laying down color.  Thankfully, the primer did the trick and I got away with one coat.  After that came decisions about what level of detail I could accomplish in the little time I had left.   I was so disturbed by this problem I literally dreamed of various designs and rejected them all.  I wanted the elements to be stitched together and form one piece, like a quilt.  Equality between the panels is necessary because of the  equality of the vocals in a motet:  sacred and profane interweaving, even morphing into one another, back and forth like a dance and everything also happening at the same time.  What a delightfully wacky artform.  Maybe we should bring it back!

It’s up to the fates whether I’ll be accepted into the “Sight of Music” show but I’m satisfied that what I’ve accomplished is worthwhile.  With great effort comes great release.  I’m content.

















“Motet” in Process

I’ve been spending most of my time in the studio, working on “Motet.”  Here is the progress so far.


“Motet” by Lynda McClanahan: Full Board in Process

Some of the tableaus are finished, but many are not.


Lotus Radha & Krishna

The lotus-covered figures of Radha and Krishna are pretty much done, but I might add something to either side of them.  A painting often works differently at the end of the process than it does in the middle, so I’ll probably wait until the last minute to decide.



This little scene of lovers flanked by flower-offering maidens is in the bag.  I adore the “S” curve of the attendants.  This was a common style of depicting the female form in the middle ages and it’s an elegant one.


Reclining Lady

The reclining lady will get a delicate lace curtain and trees in the background.


Pin Up

“Pin Up” is done, although I might do a bit more outlining on the roses.


Nursing Baby Krishna

“Baby Krishna” will get some frame details, but I’m not sure what.  Ideas always waft into range as needed.

Lovers detail


“Lovers” looks complete, but a final decision will wait until the end.


Tree With Snakes

The psychedelic tree with snakes is all the way there.  The design is taken from Indian folk art, which I look at a lot.  I adore the tension between simplicity of form and eye-opening detail.  Of all the tableaus so far, this has been the easiest and most fun to work on.



The angel is halfway there.   Maintaining a balance of skin tones for the figures complements the balance of sacred and secular which permeates the piece and forms its real theme.


Lady With Snake

“Lady With Snake” is done too.  I could probably do some detail on the snake, but also might just leave it alone.  It tires the eye and bores the mind if detail is too ubiquitous.   Throwing in some strong, simple shapes tricks viewers into looking longer than they otherwise might.


Golden Throne With Virgin and Jazz Band

I’ve just started working on the center panel.  It’s a big job but at least there’s some forward movement.

Other pieces yet to go:



I’m consciously going to do the serenading cowboy last.  Don’t know why.  I’ll save the Christ mudra until the end too.


Virgin’s Band, Ziegfeld Girls and Christ Mudra

I’ve been working on this piece every day, stopping only to eat and process the harvest.  The deeper I sink into it, the stranger and more delightful it becomes.

I’m reminded of an old gospel song which says, “God may not come when you want him but he’s right on time.”  Linda Blaine, local musician, artist and God-mad-matron-about-town stopped by for a studio visit yesterday, bringing with her a sweet, healing presence which was most welcome.  Sometimes the world offers up encouragement just when you need it most.  Thanks, Linda!


Taking a Chance & Thinking Big


I live a life full of modest domestic pleasures balanced by creative pursuits accomplished in the world’s tiniest studio space.   Knees routinely knock over paint pots, brushes fly off in all directions and paintings come to rest face down on the floor more often than a 50/50 chance would suggest.   The easiest course is to stick to works of manageable size, i.e., anything which doesn’t put dents in the drywall.

Small really is beautiful and has led to an intensity of style which I like.  However, a recent trip to an opening at the Mansfield Art Center in Mansfield, Ohio has convinced me that perhaps the recent spate of rejections is a signal to become more ambitious, not less.

Thomas Arlen Wagner Collection Mansfield Show

“Visions and Dreams” by Matt Sesow (2004) mixed media on paper

Thomas Arlen Wagner is a well-respected, longtime collector of outsider art who bought one of my first paintings at the old Acme Art Gallery in the Short North back in 1991.  I’ve no memory of that early effort but after seeing all the large, well-developed pieces filling the Mansfield gallery, it was clear why mine wasn’t included.   Not only have my paintings become small, my mind seems to be shrinking too.   Perhaps it’s time to start thinking big.

The sketch for the next project is complete and provisionally entitled “Motet.”


Initial Sketch for “Motet” by Lynda McClanahan

The surface is an old luan closet door cut down to 31″ x  36″.  This is large for me but workable.    The piece is a visual interpretation of a medieval choral form called a motet, something I learned about and even performed at music school in the 1970’s.  Motets varied widely but the ones I’m interested in had a bottom line consisting of a snippet of Gregorian chant (an ancient version of sampling), a second line of vaguely spiritual poetry, and then a 3rd or 4th line with frankly romantic and often overtly sexy lyrics.  All the lines could be in different languages so lord knows how these things sounded in performance, but what an idea: sacred and secular all mixed up and happening at the same time, just like real life!


Carpet Page: Lindisfarne



The overall visual design is loosely inspired by the format of illuminated manuscripts.  The monks mostly restricted themselves to fancy cameos placed at the beginning of a text, but gave themselves creative room to roam with the addition of “carpet pages.”   These were whole pages devoted to painting whatever they liked using textile patterns as a guide.


Similar ideas can be seen in this tapestry-like Hindu story painting of a goddess.   I looked at a lot of these wall hangings for inspiration as well.


Initial Sketch for “Motet” by Lynda McClanahan

I’ve had a lot of fun laying things out.   Like a motet’s bottom voice, the lower panel literally grounds the piece in Latin chant with the depiction of monks singing.   The hand gestures in the center are taken from an ancient Christian mudra indicating the Greek word for Christ.   Higher up, I’ve kept the sacred going with an angel in orans prayer position on one side and black gospel singers on the other, but things start to get interesting with the Ziegfeld nudes in the center.    The large central image is inspired by icons of the Blessed Mother enthroned in majesty and attended by angels, another homage to the on-again/off-again generally sacred orientation of the motet.  The four evangelists beneath her feet have been transformed into bearded musicians with maracas, concertina, sax and tambourine.  The rest of the frames are filled with a variety of the moods of love, reflecting what one might hear in medieval songs of courtly and not-so-courtly love.

There’s no way of knowing if submitting such a geeky, strange show stopper for the “Sight of Music” is good strategy or just plain craziness, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.    Thinking big might win a place in the show or just add to the clutter in the garage but I feel like taking chances.   I’m at the height of my powers and now is the time to use them.


Breathe in & Keep Working

It’s my habit to knock out small things in between big projects.  “Lady With Accordion” was physically and mentally challenging and I needed a break.  It’s usual to have stiff, tired hands and a slightly bored mind itching to move on after completing a large piece, but this time the effect was particularly noticeable.  There was one 8×10 piece of already-primed plywood knocking around the garage which was small enough to give the body a break yet keep the art momentum going.  I had already collected an image of Hanuman the Monkey God fighting a green sea monster which had piqued my interest and proceeded from there.


Hanuman With Monster

First came the under-painting.  I kept the idea of a small figure attacking a huge green one but chose as actors an over-sized alligator and a lady-ninja.  The female figure is taken from an old Chinese calendar and the alligator is a mash-up of scientific illustrations from the web and my own imagination.  The layout came together only after the addition of webbed claws.  The resulting design, a large “X,” is one I gravitate to often without really meaning to.

“Sea Monster With Ninja” Under-painting

Here is the final painting.


“Sea Monster With Ninja” by Lynda McClanahan

All the color choices were easy except for the lady’s outfit.  Finding something to stand out from the red but not too much was a visual problem.  All paintings come down to problem-solving in the end,  so nothing new here.

The next project is unusually large for me, 30″x36,” and I’m a little afraid of it.   I like to work hard but the amount of labor which lies ahead is considerable.   One of the advantages of not being well-known is freedom to do whatever I like, a condition I highly prize.  To keep it, there’s nothing for it but to breathe in and keep on working.

Another gift from the art gods appeared on the curb last night: a large, brand-new frame free for the taking.  Even after an interminable round of rejections, this seems like a whisper in the ear to not lose heart.  Thanks, Mr. art-broker guy.












Rejection and Renewal

The artist’s path means living in the land of “no” with only occasional forays into the Oz-like terrain of the big, magical “yes.”   I’ve learned not to take rejection personally, but that doesn’t mean the mind doesn’t fret.  Did I make a strategic error by entering the wrong piece?    Does the obvious labor of my style have value, or is it as embarrassing as an out-of-fashion party dress with too much lace and not enough taste?   Did jurors view the entries on a large screen, allowing for detail, or did they scroll through them on a phone which doesn’t?  You can go mad thinking about these things.  The worst thought is the ever-present anxiety that you’re not the artist you hoped you were;  just a source of irritation to the educated and an object of inscrutable wackiness to those who aren’t.  Sometimes the whole business feels as crazy and lonely as singing to an empty room.

Maybe I’m delusional but even as the rejections pile up, the work gets better.  The latest effort, “Lady With Accordion” is finished and resting on the kitchen counter before heading out to the scanner tomorrow.


Basic Design and Under-painting

“Lady With Accordion” is designed for possible inclusion in “The Sight of Music,” an open-call show slated for the Cultural Arts Center in the Fall.  I took the prospectus literally and centered the piece on synesthesia, a cross-wiring of the brain which allows people to see forms and colors via activation of any of the five senses.


“Lady With Accordion” In Process

I did quite a bit of research on the kinds of things a synesthete sees when listening to music.  Wave forms and geometric shapes seem to predominate, but I allowed myself creative licence for the sake of visual variety.  Some of my choices worked better than others and there is a bit of a country-craft-piecework vibe to the piece, but things came together in the end.


“Lady With Accordion” by Lynda McClanahan

The main figure is inspired by a publicity shot of a pre-WWII German accordionist which promptly sank beneath the internet waves when I went back to find it.  I thought it might have been a Jewish lady who didn’t survive the war and wanted to give her credit, but the best I could do was make sure the globe was inclined toward Europe.  God bless her, whoever she is.

I included a reference to each of the five senses in the painting so for those of a mind to indulge in a bit of “Find Waldo” fun, happy hunting!  Only the Art Gods know if this piece will be accepted into the show, or even if it deserves to be.  Either way, it’s on to the next project.







Art 360 Cultural Arts Center Artist Panel

I was lucky to be one of three Art 360 artists invited to give a “Conversations and Coffee” talk at the Cultural Arts Center.


Curator Chuck Bluestone and Ellen O’Shaughnessy

Art 360 curator Chuck Bluestone opened the proceedings….

Ellen Oshaunessy

Ellen O’Shaughnessy of the Cultural Arts Center

…while Ellen O’Shaunghnessy of the Cultural Arts Center gave a very sweet introduction.  The three artists who gave a presentation were photographer Ardine Nelson, digital sculptor Josh Sutton and myself.

Ardine Nelson

Photographer Ardine Nelson

Ardine went first, launching into an illuminating tour of her evocative photos taken in an empty City Center Mall, ceilings in various states of decay, and the beautiful community gardens of Dresden, Germany.  I came away with a deeper insight into her visual goals and a great respect for her ability to achieve them.


Conversations and Coffee attendees

Next up was yours truly.

three works

“Red Bird,” “Good Dog” and “Mother”

Chuck had asked us to bring three pieces showing a range of styles and I tried to comply.  As usual I was nervous, but even if all I accomplished was proving that I can do more than one thing, the afternoon was a success.


Josh Sutton’s Digital Sculpting Demonstration With Help From Chuck Bluestone

It was doubly good to meet Josh Sutton and get a peek into the world of digital sculpting and 3-D printing.  Josh virtually sculpts forms for the toy industry and brought along some of his production successes with him.  He also gave me a heads-up regarding something called cell vinyl paint.  I’m always on the lookout for possible new media so thanks Josh!


Friend and Photographer Bob Studzinsky in his Normal Pose

Photographer and friend Bob Studzinsky showed up with his camera, which was lucky since I needed a ride home.   Sometimes things really do just fall into place.


Ardine Nelson With Her Photos

The Art 360 jugguernaught continues to move forward in ways no one could have predicted a year ago.  Chuck even brought along lunch for all the attendees.

Being an artist means constantly meeting new people and having adventures you never thought you’d have.


How to Turn a Collar


Sewing Corner

Life is full of gardening, art events and music rehearsals.  Sometimes when life seems over-full, I calm myself with various old fashioned, frugal-housewife tasks.  This little sewing center tucked away in an attic dormer has often played the part of anti-anxiety medication.  Concentration is a healer.

One thing I’ve been doing lately is turning the collars on worn out shirts.  We wear out the clothes we like the best and turning a collar lets us keep our favorites a bit longer.   It’s a task which was done quite a lot in the past.   Here is how it’s done.


Ragged Collar on Man’s Shirt

First, pick the job out of the basket where it’s been lying around for the past year.


Shirt With Collar Removed

Carefully remove the collar using the usual tools of the trade, a seam-ripper and a pair of sharp scissors.  Removal is the most time-consuming, odious part of the operation and also the best medicine for an anxious, impatient mind.


Pinned Collar

Next, pin the collar.  Sometimes you can sew the pieces together in one operation, but this time I had to sew the inside and outside separately because the fabric was so thick.  Those with a sharp eye will realize I should have pinned the other side first, but I was too lazy to take another picture.


Thread Drawer

If you’re lucky, the thread in the machine will already match the shirt……


Winding the Bobbin

…but mostly you’ll have to load up a bobbin and start from scratch.


Sewing the Underside

Attach the underside of the collar to the shirt, then turn and top-stitch the side which will show on the inside of the neck.


Finished Collar

Here’s the finished product:  a well-worn favorite shirt good for a few more years.

Concentrating on small things turns down the mental volume.  Even an old shirt can be a teacher.