2019: Balancing the Bitter and the Sweet

2018 ended with the completion of “Tana of Waikiki” (or “Devi” or “Witch” or however I end up naming the thing) and three little paintings of harpies. I’m letting “Tana” rest, either as a test of resolution or just plain old possessiveness, who can tell? In contrast, the harpies are about as done as I can make them.

“Rainbow Harpy” by Lynda McClanahan

These are small works, 4 1/2″ x 5 1/2″, an unusual size required by three frames found in a thrift store. Friend and master carpenter Dave Barnes generously cut the surfaces from leftover birch plywood in his garage.

“Blue Harpy” by Lynda McClanahan

The subject came as a surprise, to myself and others too, I suspect. In a world in which being pretty is the prime directive, it feels profoundly risky to display female rage for public view. Frankly, I wish I’d given myself more cover by not including the white braids on this one but there must have been a psychic imperative to do so. For women, being brave can mean not much more than affirming that you’re a full human being.

“Green Harpy” by Lynda McClanahan

2018 was a year of doing the best work of my life. It also marked a change in the way I curate the ideas which continually bubble up to the surface. Perhaps watching my mother-in-law progress slowly toward death has ignited a more visceral reaction to the prospect of my own demise. In any event, the impulse to dive deeply into the bitter as well as the sweet has become more and more insistent.

This year’s motto: I am brave, industrious and clear-eyed.

I contemplate life as it is.


Making Holiday Ornaments From Aluminum Cookie Sheets

I like to make my own gifts for the holidays.   This year I made elephant ornaments out of old pie plates and inexpensive aluminum cookie sheets.

Any flat-bottomed piece of aluminum will do, but these cookie sheets from the Dollar Store worked out great.   I got lucky this time and paid only .50 per pan.  The ornaments ended up literally costing only a few pennies per piece.

Gather your tools.   You’ll need to cut, hammer, poke, smooth and punch, so improvise accordingly.

Elephant Fabric Stamp Source Pattern

Next, secure a pattern.  I used an elephant fabric stamp from the internet for inspiration but anything would do.  Make sure the outline is relatively simple and you’ll be spared some headaches.   I used an old manila folder to make my pattern.

Elephant Pattern Drawn on Aluminum Cookie Sheet

Trace the pattern onto the cookie sheet (cut away the sides of the sheet for easier working).  I used an enamel painter’s pen which worked better than a regular sharpie.  Cut each piece out by hand.  This is where a simplified outline comes in handy.

Prepare the work surface with something spongy (like a towel) overlain with something disposable and flat (like a manila folder).  This protects your furniture and gives you something to push against when adding details to your pattern.

Place your blank on the work surface and use a blunted awl, a crochet hook or even an old nail to press details into your piece.   The cookie sheet is fragile and easy to poke through but you’ll quickly figure out how much pressure is required.   Inscribing a line around the outer edge strengthens and stabilizes the ornament.  It might be counter intuitive, but the more details you add, the stronger your piece will become.  

Once you’ve added the details, gently press the ornament flat.  I used a printer’s roller but, again, anything which gets the job done is fine.  

Aluminum Pie Plate Holiday Ornament

To finish, punch a hole in the top and add a ribbon hanger.  Voila!  A sweet little holiday ornament which is so light and flat, it can be sent through the mail!

I chose to make elephants because they are beloved by everyone and widely accepted whether recipients follow a spiritual tradition or not.    In the past, I’ve used this same aluminum pie plate technique to add pizzazz  to paintings (a halo for a folk art Virgin Mary comes to mind) and to tart up wooden frames.    To artists, the whole world is an arts supply store, available to all.


Joanna and the Whale

I try to work on two things at the same time:  one large, ambitious work and one smaller,  more immediately satisfying piece.  This strategy keeps the juices flowing and lends courage during prolonged periods of what often seems like pointless labor.   I like to keep the inventory balanced between big, theatrical statements and quieter,  more sellable things.  It seems unwise to over invest time and materials in things which are hard to show, so I often save the edgier, more challenging subjects for these smaller, more modest efforts.   “Joanna and the Whale” is an example. 

“Joanna and the Whale” by Lynda McClanahan

The idea for the title came first.  The resulting image is a mash-up of an anime cartoon and a tourist photo of an amusement park ride. 

Anime Source Photo

Amusement Park Tourist Source Photo
“Devi of Waikiki” in Process by Lynda McClanahan

“Joanna” has been a welcome diversion from “The Devi of Waikiki” which is crawling toward completion.  There’s always a point in a project when the work leaves your hand and goes its own way and “Devi” has finally graduated.  Sometimes things get better when this milestone is reached and sometimes they don’t.  But it’s always a welcome relief when a piece is finally making you, and not the other way around.    Pairing this attractive painting with “Joanna” pleases me no end.  Like a well-seasoned meal, I aim to balance the bitter with the sweet.


Working Big, Working Hard

I’ve started another large piece provisionally entitled “The Witch of Waikiki.”  The current motto is “if it fits onto the drafting table, do it.”

The image is based on an experience Joel and I had in Hawaii years ago. We were traveling with friends but had decided to go our own way for the evening.  After ambling around old Honolulu for a bit we ended up on the beach at Waikiki for the music and hula which many hotels offer for free. The band played the old-style “Hapa Haole” music we loved, the cocktails flowed freely and the sun was just beginning to set behind Diamond Head when a dancer named Tana began to sway on a little platform next to the band. As longtime Hawaii devotees, we were in heaven!


Hula Dancer Source Photo

In the beginning, Tana seemed like any other hula dancer, beautiful and seductive in a good-clean-fun sort of way. But as we continued to watch, something deeper began to happen. I had the uncanny feeling that Tana was drawing energy directly up from the earth and throwing it out to the crowd in blessing.  Discrete explosions of “joy bombs” sweetly hit my chest,causing almost unbearable happiness.  I thought it was my imagination (there were Mai Tais involved after all) but when I leaned over to say something to Joel, he was clutching his chest and grinning from ear to ear.

Even though no one else seemed to feel what we were feeling, we immediately realized we were both experiencing the same thing at the same time.  It was real! At that exact moment Tana turned her attention to us and began to really rev things up.  Ever stronger rotating balls of energy emanated from both of her hands and shot our way in swirling, scintillating streams of light.  She seemed to be playing with us.  We dissolved into happy tears, just as we might in a Pentacostal church or a Hindu Temple. We were wide open, drunk in the spirit, in awe and drowning in absolute joy. Eventually the Sun set behind Diamond Head, the evening drew to a close and Tana left the stage.  I don’t know how we made it back to our condo but somehow we did.   Those reading this may believe it or not, but I’m here to say it really happened.
I’ve looked for a dancer named “Tana” over the years to ask if what we experienced is a known part of hula but she is nowhere to be found.  All I know is, she was channeling the goddess that night and doing it just for us.  That girl deserves a painting!

“Witch of Waikiki” in Process by Lynda McClanahan

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Club LaRouge Complete


“Club LaRouge” by Lynda McClanahan

Club LaRouge is finally done and back from the scanner. There is a comfortable rhythm to completing a painting: idea, sketch, transferring to board, painting, scanning, framing, wiring up, uploading to the website, finding a place in the house to hang the thing and, usually, a bit of retrospective thinking.


Red-headed exotic dancer detail, “Club LaRouge” by Lynda McClanahan

I like the way perspective shifts around in this work. The outlines of the dancers are based on photos and superficially read as realistic. There is an implied viewer in front and slightly below…..

Exotic dancer detail from “Club LaRouge” by Lynda McClanahan

…but the floor upon which the ladies dance can only be seen from above.

Club La Rouge Entrance

The club’s entrance is also in correct perspective, giving that viewing option more weight, but nothing can overcome that pesky floor.
I like this sort of visual tension. In the accordions I play, there is usually something called a “musette” setting which produces a specific sound favored by French players. To achieve a “musette,” the accordion reeds must be tuned just slightly apart: far enough away from each other to be at odds but close enough to give an aural impression of one note. The result is a delightful quivering vibrato or beat. Maintaining different viewpoints in one painting does the same thing. In all of my work, images may seem to be standing still, but just underneath, everything is fluttering and alive.


Awash in Ideas

Some ideas come easy, some come hard and some don’t come at all. Lately I find myself experiencing a deluge of ideas, drowning in a flood of projects half-imagined and half-begun.


Hula Dancer Sketch on Board

A large project based on a long-ago experience in Hawaii has tentatively begun, but just barely. Sometimes ideas jostle for position, competing against one another for fruition. This time, a smaller work prompted by memories of a pre-gentrified neighborhood strip club has nudged out the bigger piece. How these things proceed remains a mystery.

The building where the ladies used to gyrate in the window still stands so I was able to snap a reference photograph.


870 North High Street Storefront

Alas, the ladies themselves are gone, edged out by optometrists, tatoo parlors and craft beer joints, so the rest had to be made up from memory. That’s alright. I’m not much for literal realism anyway.


Original Sketch 870 North High Street

As usual, doing the sketch was time-consuming but oddly reassuring. After the familiar labor of correcting the sketch and transferring it to the board, here is the progress so far.


Club La Rouge by Lynda McClanahan In Process

This piece has everything I like: a brightly-colored, blocky composition and a strange and sexy subject matter with plenty of opportunities for detail. The Hawaiian piece is resting forlornly against a chimney as other ideas continue to vie for attention like a herd of cats rubbing against the leg. Choose me! Choose me! Choose me! I am in manic-artist-heaven.


Ohio Art League 2018 Fall Juried Show

The last show in what, for me, has been a breathless spate of exhibitions opened last night.

The Ohio Art League Fall Juried Show has become increasingly competitive throughout the years and submitting is always I’ll-just-give-it-a-shot for yours truly.  It’s always a welcome surprise to be accepted.

Deciding what to submit is full of angst and neurotic fussing.   There’s always an attempt to ‘suss out the jurors by researching their websites, but this activity almost never predicts what they’ll take and what they won’t.  Word to the wise:  don’t bother with time-wasting attempts to load the odds in your favor.  Getting into a juried show is a mysterious process and just one more indication that life is a crap shoot.   Frankly, acceptance might come down to nothing more than what the juror had for breakfast.

This particular show had a slight bump in the road before opening night.  My original submission, “Little Sister” was accepted by the jurors but rejected by the venue as being too sexy for a public space.  I was surprised by the first occurrence, but not the last.  It’s come up before (the necessity of adding pasties to “Nude With Buzzard” for a library show comes to mind), but it’s always depressing.   Memo to self:  even though Beyonce goes around half naked most of the time, boobs are a forbidden object of contemplation for the young (Ft Hayes is a public high school).


Banned in Columbus:  “Little Sister” by Lynda McClanahan

It always feels bad to be rejected, for whatever reason, but a venue has the final say as to what goes up on its walls.  I’m salvaging my ego by touting myself as a naughty old lady.   “Banned in Columbus!”  What’s not to like?


Lynda McClanahan with “Lindsay With Dogs,” Ohio Art League 2018 Fall Juried Show

The strange thing is, “Lindsay With Dogs” looks better on the wall than “Little Sister” would have.    I thought about telling viewers that the dogs were naked but thankfully thought better of it.  Fellow artist Roger Williams suggested the Art League could have covered “Sister” with a sheet and charged people a quarter a pop as a fundraiser.  Clever lad!


“Lindsay With Dogs” by Lynda McClanahan

There is always more than a bit of neuroticism at an art opening.  The painting which looked so dramatic on my drafting table seemed much smaller and less dramatic once it was in the show.   As usual, there was nothing remotely like it in the rest of the cavernous room.  I’ve always been an outlier but even at this stage in the game, it’s always a jolt when it’s brought to my attention.   Showing your work always means showing yourself as you really are, not as you’d like to be.   The thing nobody tells you about doing art is that even though you spend 99 percent of your time alone and sequestered from humanity by choice, art is no place to hide.  It’s just another one of God’s jokes.


Ohio Art League 2018 Fall Juried Show

I didn’t have it in me to stand next to the piece and chat people up, but it was gratifying to see folks come in close and really look as I lurked in the background.   Part of the reason for doing what I do is to stop viewers long enough to fall into the narrative world of the painting.  Technique is a lure, not a final destination, and virtuosity is meaningless if it only takes you to itself.


Ohio Art League 2018 Fall Juried Show Opening.  Work by Elham Bayati in Background

The show is wide-ranging and strong, with only a few clunkers.   I especially admired the quilt-like assemblage by Elham Bayati on the back wall behind these folks.  It works far away and close up and…you could sell each piece individually if you wanted to, a great strategy.   The opening was a great success, full of delightful conversation with fellow artists, who are the most down-to-earth people in the world.  Those of us who work with our hands form a companionable fraternity based on mutual respect for human labor.  This is the real reason art costs so much.

I’m working on two sketches:  one a large hula girl dancing on the beach, and the other a modestly-sized depiction of a long-departed strip club in the old neighborhood.  It feels good to have projects plotted out and ready to go.  I’m getting closer and closer to being ready for another solo show.