“Wildfire” oil 40hx30w

A Little History

I created this painting during the fall of 2020 after a scary fire season. Dry lightning strikes created several fires that eventually converged together to become one big fire in the Northern California county I live in. We were lucky and our home was not in danger, but others lost their homes. The fire fighters and all emergency response teams did a valiant job of saving our town. My thanks to all the first responders and helpful people out there!

On Fire

At the time of these fires, so close to home, I was creating my book of narrative paintings Circus Real Surreal. The book records current history using narrative paintings with the figure as metaphor. Wildfires as a painting subject needed to be included in it. An old Van Halen album cover with lead singer David Lee Roth photographed posed in a backbend was an inspiration for the figure. I wanted the hands to be different and asked my son to pose by balancing on an exercise ball.


As you can see, I altered the backbend pose in Photoshop because the flexibility is near impossible to duplicate for the average person. Reference photos of trained acrobats doing backbends along with current photos of various wildfires in the area helped shape the composition. Sometimes pyrotechnics are used in rock ‘n’ roll shows and I kept this idea in my head as well. Next I blasted the music of Van Halen in the studio and drew in my notebook.

I Brought My Pencil! (and paint brush!)

One of the first concept drawings.

Below is the process from gesture drawing, underpainting and color layers.

Beginning of gesture and placement of figure.
Completed drawing.
Wild underpainting.
Figure with first pass of color.
Working on the fire and its reflections on the body.
Detail of face and torso.

It’s In My Book!

“Wildfire” is on page 86 under Specialty Acts in my book, Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings. Available at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Amazon.com and Kindle.

Thank you and Goodnight!

The Spirit of ’76

The Spirit of ’76 Anthems of Hope • oil • 30hx24w

Broad Stripes and Bright Stars

“Preserving a democracy is a serious fight! Old Glory has tales to tell of courage and sacrifice. Be it protection of country or protest of policies, the Star-Spangled Banner gallantly streams o’er the fray to form a more perfect union. Oh say, can you hear – in the battle’s confusion – the drum beat of the human heart?” – from the book, Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings.

Stars and Stripes, Step by Step:

The Concept

The concept was based on historical battles and protests and how American’s continue to fight for rights. 

The Pose

The pose was inspired by Colin Kaepernick, for his kneeling protests against police brutality against people of color, but the figure in the painting is cropped at the knee to also suggest a soldier marching forward. I planned the background to suggest a smokey battlefield.

I found the hat at the Goodwill and I cut out a star and stripes using printer paper to get a better visual reference. The fabric I had in the studio and I cut out the collar and created a sleeve out of the polka dotted fabric. I can’t remember if I actually sewed it or I just pinned it together. My son kindly posed for me. I did do a little Photoshop manipulation of the background – which I just blurred – because the background in the photo was too busy. It helps me to have the background in a reference photo be similar in tone to what I want in my painting.

The Painting Progress

I started with an abstract shape based on the pose and the lights and darks, then added in the lines. It was a fun way to start.

I set up the props and continued to paint. My paintings start dark and out of focus. Then I add more detail to the painting and tighten the image.

In addition to working from a photo, I set up the props in the studio as noted in the image above. Below is a version of the painting that needs to be lightened up – almost done. Sometimes, adding in the highlights takes a couple of passes because I like to layer the paint.

This is what I look for to determine my painting is finished:

  1. When I feel that the image has the correct contrast.
  2. Nothing is popping out in the painting that draws attention where I don’t want it.
  3. I can make out details in low light.
  4. I can make out details at a distance of 20 paces. (Always step away from your painting while working on it periodically.)
  5. I feel like I don’t know what else to do to it to fix it!

It’s In My Book!

If you really like these paintings and want to see the book – for free – request your local library to purchase it for you, then check it out! The print or e-book would be a great addition to their book collection! To purchase the book yourself, it can be found at Bookshop Santa Cruz, https://www.bookshopsantacruz.com/ and Amazon.com.

The Book: Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings. The painting discussed in this blog can be found in the Finale section on page 115 of the print edition.

Thank you for reading this post. Best regards, – Lidia

Tie the Knot Rollercoaster of Love

Tie the Knot Rollercoaster of Love • oil • 30hx20w

A Little History 101

Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings inspired my painting. This painting celebrates the legalization of gay marriage by the Supreme Court in 2015 in the Obergefell v. Hodges landmark civil rights case. However, despite the ruling, equal rights under the law are still in for a bumpy ride.

Cake as Catalyst: History 102

Getting the cake for a gay wedding is still an issue. In 2018 the Supreme Court overheard  the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This case argued that owners of public accommodations can refuse certain services due to the First Amendment  which protects religious freedom and free speech. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission – which stated that the shop was discriminating against the couple – and the Cakeshop was granted an exemption from non-discrimination laws and could refuse to provide services on the basis of the owner’s religious beliefs. So folks, the coaster goes up then it goes down and sometimes it goes around and around.

The Painting Process

Below are images of the progress of the painting. First I drew the ideas in a note book, then I recreated them on canvas using vine charcoal. I don’t trace my drawings onto the canvas. I am not working under deadlines, and I find that my drawings feel “stiff” when I have transferred them. I like to redraw the composition using my sketchbook drawing as reference. Drawing the rollercoaster “knot” was really challenging and I had to complete the whole image to get it right. I have the figures drawn over it lightly at the bottom. I didn’t care to have the rollercoaster be a closed knot, I just wanted the looping effect of the tracks.

Vine Charcoal on canvas.

Next I painted over my drawing. I think I used a burnt umber for this. I also use dioxazine purple a lot of the time. I even might have mixed them together. I just like a warm dark color for the drawing. Also, I left the figures in silhouette (step 1) and pulled out the lights, then defined the lines (step 2).

Step 1
Step 2 There is also experimentation with the lights and darks in the rollercoaster.

Next there is painting! I paint in layers. I go from darks to light. I wanted the bridal veils to be transparent, so I painted the coaster first.

This is a couple of passes of layered paint.

For the rest of the painting I concentrate on making the images have more dimension and clarity – which means more color! I cleaned up the typography – which I also find challenging to do.

This version is almost finished. The figures are a bit too dark and need to be lightened up.

When do I feel a painting is complete? Let me confess, I think they are done and then I come back to the studio the next day and say, “Nope.” Usually, I still need to add contrast. So a painting is “done” for me when:

• Nothing pops out in the composition that I don’t want popping out

• It’s not too dark and the painting displays good contrast. I take my paintings to different lighting situations – I turn off the lights in the studio and look at it in low light, I go outdoors in the shade, and in my house – when I am really unsure. If I still see the contrast in the painting in these low light situations, the contrast is good.

• I can “read” the painting clearly from 20 feet away.

Fun Inspiring Facts!

The Knot: The roller coaster image was inspired by M.C. Escher “Knots” series from 1965. I had the idea for the Rollercoaster of Love painting in my sketchbook for a year or two, but it didn’t really come together until I started to study Escher drawings for fun.

Song to paint this painting by: Roller Coaster of Love by the Ohio Players (original version) and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (cover 1996)

Vintage photos of people on rollercoasters helped inspire the expressions of the brides.

It’s In My Book!

You will find the Tie The Knot Roller of Love in the “Intermission Section” of my book:

Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings. Available in e-book and paperback on Amazon.com.

The Clown With Two Noses

The Clown With Two Noses • 30hx24w oil 

A Painting About Hypocrisy

When making my book, “Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings,” my brother-in-law mentioned that I didn’t have any clowns in my circus. Creating paintings of bad politicians as clowns isn’t anything new, and I have resisted the temptation until now. Here is my take on politician as clown. Notice that there is a lot of double imagery going on in this work. Let me tell you about the details of the painting.

Anyway the Wind Blows

My clown needed an outfit. I looked at many photos of clowns and noticed some of their attire is a hat of some kind. I found this beanie at the Goodwill while researching the painting and had an “Aha!” moment. I figured the art gods wanted me to express “Political Winds” in the painting. Our clown, Two Nose, wears a hat that warns him of which way the political winds are blowing so he can say what he needs to say.

Cloudy Communication

Sometimes the double talk is used to cover up an unpopular previously stated belief or not being told the exact story or a false narrative, and all the talk related to the popular term of “Gaslighting.” Clouds as glasses “framed” the idea.

Honk If You’re A Hypocrite

The horns were inspired by Harpo Marx who used a horn to communicate in all of the Marx Brother’s movies. I am also playing with the saying of “Talking out of both sides of your mouth.”  The crossed arms pose of Two Nose the Clown seemed to portray the right body language.

The Two Noses

I have a friend who is a professional clown – this isn’t her posing – but she does own a company that makes clown noses. She kindly gave me one and I painted it and the silver platter from life. My thoughts were that:

Hypocrisy doesn’t stink if you have the right nose for the job and

It must be a luxury to keep getting away with it. (The silver platter)

A Smile is a Frown Upside Down

My idea was to use the reflection of the nose in the platter to make the smile.

It’s In My Book!

“Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings” page 70 under the chapter “Stage and Song.” The paperback is available on Amazon. Below is the cover to the E-Book version which is available through Kindle.

Drone Man

I wanted to explore the connection of man and technology via the drone. Here are the steps I recorded while painting this composition.

The Start

Part of this idea came from a performer posed on a music CD cover. Even though he was sitting, the pose could be changed to make him look as if he were floating. I had my son pose in a similar position. In the above image, I already established some clouds in the background and drew the figure on top of them.

Creating Mass

Next I solidified the figure. I was listening to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra. I was going to put him in a blue suit at first. But felt that exposing the arm more would be a better gesture.

Too Blue

In the above version, I worked more on the arm. Then added some green as, the composition was too blue.

Let There Be Pink

The pink color came next and I played with going back and forth on how much the figure would be exposed through the clouds.

Finishing Up

The hand was fun to work on. Below is the painting before I added all the drones.

I found various shapes and sizes of drones and blended them into the painting.

It’s In My Book!

The Drone Man can be found in my book “Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings” in the Aerial Acts section.

Creating A Painting: The Complicit Clown Rodeo

The Complicit Clown Rodeo” oil 40hx30w

At the time this painting was created, there was unscalable fencing around the White House and an election was about to take place. People had been watching the survival skills of elected officials under the incumbent president for four long years. The painting’s concept is that the Complicit Clown Rodeo enables the Bull to wreak havoc with democracy. The visual narrative borrows from the expression about three monkeys: “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Below are the concept drawings and painting progress of the work.

It’s A Bonanza of Bozos!

First I started out with some concept drawings. The goal was to get a composition that displayed my theme and had clear visual clues to the See/Hear/Speak no evil reference. I used various reference photos of bulls and I kept placing the clowns in different positions in the composition until I felt the narrative was clear. Below are some concept drawings.

A Rough Roundup

Next it was time to start my drawing on the canvas. I used vine charcoal to draw on the canvas. I drew it from scratch. When I made mistakes I wiped off the charcoal. I’m not too much into transferring a working drawing. The drawing is looser when I do things this way. I don’t make it super detailed. I save that for the painting process.

Painting The Political Arena

Since the charcoal isn’t very stable on the canvas, I traced over the drawing with some oil paint. I tend to like purple paint or an earth tone. This establishes a darkish warm outline. Next I lay in basic shapes without getting into too much detail. I also try to establish shadows.

Next there is a building up of colors and sometimes corrections to the drawing while I paint. I paint dark to light. In the beginning of a painting, it is best for me to work both the background and the foreground of it together rather than one section at a time.

For the fencing in the background, I used at tool to help me paint the angle of the lines correctly. It is an antique from my father’s workshop. The lines came out thicker than I liked, so I ended up painting between them in the diamond shapes. This sounds tedious, but it’s not so bad. The fencing shouldn’t be so dominant as they are in the distance.

My paintings get pretty dark and then I lighten them up. The last thing I work on is the highlights and up the contrast in the painting. It is just the way I work, not any set “painting rule.” This last posted image is right before the lighten up stage. I am posting the finished stage below it so you can look at the difference.

Work in progress.

Finished version!

It’s In My Book!

“The Complicit Clown Rodeo” can be found in the Animal Acts section of my book Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings. Available at Amazon.com

The Phantom Malady

The Phantom Malady and the Juggernaut Follies • oil • 30×30

Allegory of Disease

Sheltering in place due to Coronavirus in 2020 was where this painting got its start. The world was shut down while dealing with an unknown disease that killed people. In this painting  “The Phantom Malady” is an allegory for Covid-19 and “Juggernaut Follies” is the (_hit) show that followed.

Detail of crown and coronavirus

Crowns, Ruffles and Science

Corona means crown in Spanish. Coronavirus is named this way because the spike proteins in the little beast resemble a crown to the scientist who classified it. As the pandemic went on, scientists realized it spreads through the air. The disease attacks the respiratory system.  These scientific facts gave me the visuals in the artwork. I decided to create props to help me with the painting. I made a crown out of folded paper via origami instructions I found on-line. I love origami!

Creating the origami crown was very easy to do.

Masks and Literature

Another prop I created was the mask the Phantom is wearing. The idea was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s tale of a prince who has a party in his walled city, a disease and an unwelcomed guest titled, “The Mask of the Red Death.” I have to give a shout out to “The Phantom of the Opera,” by Gaston Leroux, as well. The mask, compositionally, is meant to draw the eye to the mouth. I wanted to emphasize that the disease is spread through the breath. Some people wore their masks like this on airplanes. FYI

The props and painting in progress.

The World Theater

The theatre is a combination of two theaters. Our local newspaper provided a vintage photo of the World Theater marquee, which I think was in San Francisco, when it was shut down in 1918 due to the Spanish Flu. The rest of the theater is based on one existing in Santa Cruz, California called the Del Mar.

A poster inspired by Abbot and Costello’s comedy routine, “Who’s On First.

The Posters

All theaters have posters to entice customers. The posters of the Juggernaut Follies feature the Phantom Malady, Economic Mayhem and a vaudeville act (shtick originally from the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic) called, “Who’s Wearing A Mask First.” 1940’s comedy act Abbot and Costello were the inspiration.

Poster and tattoo details.

Time and Tattoos

One last detail I wanted to include was the race against time health care workers and scientists were (and still are) up against to find out how to stop the spread. Many lives have been lost and the disease continues to spread and mutate. The fight isn’t just against time. There are many other acts not included in the visual narrative: Daffy Denial, Medical Supply Madness and Lockdown Lunacy to name a few.

I am the author and illustrator of “Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings.”

It’s In My Book!

You can find this troupe of turmoil in my book: Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings. It is a book out our surreal reality in the 21st century. “The Phantom Malady and the Juggernaut Follies” can be found in the Stage and Song section of the book. Narrator and Master of Ceremonies, E.M. Landé says, “We keep hoping the Follies will end, but this show is still running rampant. “

Thank you for reading. I wish you good health.

The Maze of Malcontent

January 6th, 2021

When I was working on my book in 2020, “Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings,” I was almost finished by December of that year. Then, on January 6th, 2021 there was an event that I never thought would have occurred in my lifetime – political violence as a result of people trying to overthrow a presidential election here in the U.S.A.  This event caused the following painting to be created. Below are some thoughts on how I came up with the imagery for it.

The Spirit of the Minotaur

During the insurrection, one individual wearing a horned headdress was waving his weaponized flag after breaking into the chambers of Congress claiming to be a “shaman.” By the looks of his uncontrolled rage plus the horns, I thought that the man was more likely to be possessed by the spirit of a Minotaur. This thought became the main concept for the painting.

Concept drawing in sketchbook.

Forging a Head and a Body

I had made various concept sketches of a Minotaur – with the bull’s head – for the painting, but they were too literal. Eventually, I came up with the tattooed horns concept. The idea seemed more “cerebral.”

This is a black and white photo of the drawing in paint on wet canvas.

For the figure, I used as reference a composite of various boxers, wrestlers, body builders and even a man who sings in one of my favorite ska bands. I needed a large bodied figure to get the essence of a Minotaur, preferably bald to make way for the necessary tattoos on his head. The overall darkness of the painting palette was inspired by the paintings of Frank Frazetta. Below is a reference photo of the fist and a photo of the painting in progress.

Tattoos of Lost Souls

When I Googled “maze tattoos” I found many beautiful samples. What I wanted to do was incorporate the maze tattoo and Minotaur story onto the body of the painting subject. The myth is about a creature that was half-human and half-bull. He was s abandoned and trapped in a labyrinth, eventually becoming a short-tempered man-eater. (FYI, in my research I discovered there is a difference between a maze and a labyrinth – I’ll let you look that up.) Back to the figure…I like when the tattoos follow the flow of the musculature in the body and I tried to emulate that in the painting.

An election was lost and so was some of the humanity for those who caused the chaos of that day. I wanted to put a heart in the center of the maze, but had to play with some ideas on how it should appear. Edgar Allen Poe is quoted to have said, “The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly lead.” I started to play with vintage tattoo hearts that say “Mom” and changed it to “Mob” then changed it several times until I came up with what I felt was the right message for the painting. Where the Minotaur’s heart should be, in the center of the maze, is the word “Lost.”

Painting Shards of Glass

The rest of the image is a distortion of the American flag. There are stars of broken glass and the stripes blend into the maze tattoo. The rendering of the glass started with a dull underpainting and gradually more contrast was added. See the progression below.

It’s In My Book

This painting was the last entry I worked on for my book: “Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings,” a book that is a curious combination of surreal illustration and equally surreal historical happenings. The page layout is below. Thank you for reading about my work!


AutoElectrica 60×36 oil

Electric Lady

A lot of my paintings start with questions. One was: What are the positives and negatives of electric self-driving cars? I played with some working drawings to visually explore this question before I got started on applying paint to canvas,. Those drawings lead to the designs of jewelry and props. These props made the process of painting from visual references a lot easier than working from my imagination. I was also inspired by music about cars and artificial intelligence (A.I.). Some of the songs I listened to along the way are listed in this post. Song Inspiration #1: “Electric Lady,” by Janelle Monae.

The Chauffeur

What does the A.I. of an electric car look like? Let’s brainstorm. The cars themselves are fast, have electric batteries, obviously, and they have plugs. Working with these basic ideas, the racing helmet came to mind first.  Lucky for me, it was around Halloween when I started looking for props. The helmet is a modified plastic military helmet. Song Inspiration #2: “The Chauffeur” by Duran Duran.

Are Friends Electric?

The next idea was the plugs. I think the engineering designs are quite beautiful on the cars. Just drawing the plugs made me think of jewelry. I fabricated a car plug necklace out of thrift store jewelry for fun and used it as the visual reference to get the light reflections off of the metal. Song Inspirations #3 and #4: “Are Friends Electric” and “Cars” by Gary Numan.

Pure Energy and Fashion

One other influence was a beautiful photo I saw of a singer. She was wearing an outfit with big puffy sleeves. The silver fabric was very shiny and had great reflections. It reminded me in an obscure way of the patterns in lightning, but it didn’t really look like lightning.  I fabricated big puffy sleeves that had a woven gold pattern sewn into it and had the model pose wearing them.

I decided I wanted a lightning pattern on the fabric for her scarf, so I created it. I had taken a fabric design class using Adobe Illustrator, and decided to apply my new knowledge to make this prop. I designed the lightning bolt pattern and had it printed on various fabrics. I was able to create a set up in the studio with the scarf so I could look at how the pattern flowed across the draping fabric. Painting from life was so much easier than making that up! Song Inspiration #5: “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” by Information Society.

Painting Electricity

Painting lightning is interesting. It involved painting layers using a variety of blue, orange and white paint. Lightning appeared dimensional when I studied photos of it. It looks like there are main electric strikes with branching out smaller strikes. Also, there is a glowing effect to create. Song Inspiration #6: “Electricity” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Beep Beep, m’Beep Beep, yeah!

Finally, I had a model wear the helmet and necklace and shot some reference photos.  Then, I started working on the painting. Below are some shots of the progress. Song Inspiration #7: “Drive My Car,” by the Beatles.

The painting colors are variations of orange and blue.
It eventually gets more definition as I go.
This image is a good example of adding contrast. The sleeve on the left is more developed.

Circus Real Surreal Book

AutoElectrica is featured in my book Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings in the “Specialty Acts” section of my art book. The book is available at Amazon and Kindle as well as Bookshop Santa Cruz and Two Birds Books in Capitola, CA.

Thank you for tuning in!

Jaded Justice: Painting and Jewelry

Jaded Justice • oil • 40hx30w

Seeing Green

There have been some real crazy things going on in the justice system in the 21st century, most notably the clever placement of judges in the highest court of the U.S.A. – the Supreme Court. I found the manipulation of the court disturbing and a threat to the established rights of many people.

I had been playing with how to represent this idea for a while in my sketchbook. The final spark came from an advertisement I saw in a dentist office magazine. (Yes, I still pick those up to look at.) It was probably Vogue, and the model had her hands over her face with some really large rings. I felt that in an abstract way the rings looked like eyes. So I drew up an idea.

Then I made some real rings out of earrings. The idea to use jade jewelry was inspired by a painting by John William Waterhouse called, “Miriamne Leaving the Judgement of Herod.” In this painting he paints King Herod’s sister, Salomne, holding a green jade necklace to her mouth to imply the extent of her jealousy as she glowers at Miriamne. Whoa! As if the facial expression and body language of Salomne weren’t enough.

I felt that jade, with its milky opaqueness, was the right stone for the rings. The expression, “jaded”–to be left with a sense of disillusionment and sadness–fit how I felt about the fiasco that was the Supreme Court nomination process in 2020. To get materials for the jaded jewelry, I went to thrift shops to look for props to glue together.

Base paint layer of gloves.
Second paint layer of gloves.

The gloves were my Mom’s from the 1950s. They represent the blindfold Justice wears. She is wearing a combination of dresses I altered in my head in the studio.

Putting Her in the Pages of a Book

“You can find Jaded Justice in my book Circus Real Surreal: A Collection of Narrative Paintings. She is featured in the Stage and Song section. I had to use my imagination as to what her circus performance was. The text describes her as a blind folded tightrope walker, because she still has a balancing act to do.