Earth Science and Politics in 3 Acts : Circus Real Surreal Posters

Here are the latest additions to my series Circus Real Surreal. Earth science and politics have had a difficult relationship over time. Regardless if you believe in global warming, isn’t it a good idea to have clean air to breath and clean water to drink? Below is some food for thought. Enjoy!





Untamed Pharmaceuticals


“Untamed Pharmaceuticals” 40hx30w oil

My post will be a not so brief explanation of how I composed the oil painting. Included are details or the painting and working drawings. I used the image of a tiger tamer, as a metaphor for battling a pharmaceutical industry that is guilty of predatory pricing and releasing highly addictive prescription drugs to the public. To turn the metaphor idea into a painting, I used a live drawing from a model, a study of a man in a Reuben’s painting, photo references, poetry, an oil study from life set up in my studio, and visual influences from an art exhibit I saw on Samoan tattoos.

The Man with the Tiger Tattoo

I chose this drawing from a live model to start thumbnails. His arm and hand on the green towel seemed strong visually to me.


I worked out various compositions with a tamer and whole tigers. They were too literal. One day I was doodling and thinking, tiger and tail and I came up with the tiger balloon in my sketchbook.


My sketchbook ideas morphed into the composition in the painting. I sized out my canvas based on the proportions of my preparatory sketch (below – notice it is a mess of cut out tracing paper ideas) and put down the drawing in charcoal on the canvas.


The life drawing has no detail on the man’s face. I knew I wanted him to have red hair (the model had reddish blonde hair) and some sideburn chops or some facial hair to make him tiger-like. I had just gotten a book on Rubens at a library book sale and found the head I was seeking, whiskers and all. Below is a study from my sketchbook from a painting called “The Four Philosophers” by Peter Paul Rubens. The profile if the man in my painting is more tiger-like.


If you’ve been reading my posts, I often mention that coincidence and me are pals. I couldn’t quite figure out the outfit of my tamer. I had an idea but couldn’t find reference photos. Oddly enough, I found references for the shirt, vest and armband in photos from an article about a drummer in my husband’s Modern Drummer magazine!

An exhibit I saw at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles, CA, influenced the tattoo design. There were beautiful photographs the current day people of Samoa posing to show their tattoos. They were very intricate and also seemed in harmony with the shape of the body and underlying musculature. I hoped to emulate some of that in my tamer’s tattoo.


The purple teardrop earring is a memorial to singer and entertainer, Prince, who was battling chronic pain and became a victim of an accidental drug overdose.


Fearful Symmetry

“The Tyger”, by William Blake is the poem that inspired the artwork on the box. I had a good time arranging the words to look like an old poster. Poems are cool.


While working on the painting, I kept seeing tigers everywhere. Putting gas in my car, there is a small sticker of a tiger on the pump. Going to the post office, the new stamps are of wild animals, the featured one is a tiger. The background prop of a T.V. show I’m watching is a tiger poster. The most abstract tiger was an orange wine glass with tiger stripes at its base that was in the clearance section of a plant/ gift store I go to. Just the other day, (now that I’m done with the painting, but writing about it) I checked out a book from the library about a writer and flip to a photo of him standing next to a fake tiger. So far, I haven’t actually seen a tiger balloon, but you never know.


Predatory pricing, ballooning costs, holding a tiger by the tail, an addiction sneaking up on a person… images and phrasing that came to mind while painting.

The Symbolism of Water

First, I had to hunt for the right pitcher at my local thrift stores. When I got a pleasing “circus-like” pitcher (The decorations were a surprise, really) I set it up with the glass in my studio. It is way easier to paint what is in front of me, than to make things up.


To me the water has a double meaning: A symbol of purity or cleansing and a vehicle by which one takes to swallow dangerous prescription drugs. I guess that leaves the glass half full or half empty depending on your perception.

I’ve written enough, time for you to ponder. Maybe take an action. Vote. Read poems. Write letters. Create art. Hold a Tiger to your heart.




“Technology’s Wild Ride”


“Technology’s Wild Ride” • oil • 40hx30w

My painting covers a variety of ideas about the growth of technology in the 21st century. The characters and their props in this painting explore the gadgetry and the social effects of Technology’s Wild Ride.

WARNING: This ride progresses at an alarming rate, if you choose to take the “chicken exit”, here is a playlist with songs that inspired the painting. For fun, via the technology of your choice, you can listen to it instead of reading this post…

  1. Wikipedia: The song “TVC-15” by David Bowie
  2. YouTube: “Nellie the Elephant” by the Toy Dolls
  3. Download the song, “Jungle Boogie” by Kool and the Gang

Ok, for those brave enough to buckle up, hold on to your hats!

Player 1

My son, who is our family computer expert, posed for this image. He put up with his mom and wore the paper hat I folded up from the Business section of the paper. The watch and phone are, as you know, the new normal. While thinking up the concept, I read an article in Time magazine about virtual reality. This gave me the idea that it would be funny to take a selfie, while wearing the featured prototype glasses.


His t-shirt references an old Pong game. The monitors were deep blue/black. The game was rendered in white graphics. As a kid who played Pong, I had the choice of being Player 1 or Player 2 at the start of the game. The competition to be Player 1 in the world of Technology and Business is fierce. In fact, it’s a jungle out there. (Go to Playlist, choose “Jungle Boogie”)

Nellie the Elephant

I was playing with the idea that Technology is Big. And I have also been working on a digital series of my paintings called, “Circus Real Surreal”, which is a transformation of my oil paintings into circus posters. Here is what I asked myself:

Q: What is big and involved in a circus past or present?

A: Elephants. (Note: No virtual elephants were harmed in the creation of this painting.)

As a kid, I was also listening to music while playing video games. One such song, circa 1980, was called, “Nellie the Elephant” by the Toy Dolls. It is based on a British nursery song about an intelligent circus elephant who takes the crowd by storm and then runs away from the circus. I feel that technology changes at an almost runaway rate! (Go to Playlist, choose “Nellie the Elephant”)

Nellie’s Bling and Things

I wanted Nellie to visually communicate aspects of technology. The first idea I had was to compose Nellie with circuits. Circuits are quite mesmerizing to look at. When I researched Asian elephants I found that elephants are sometimes decorated with chalk for ceremonies in India. There are some beautiful designs and extravagantly colorful elephants to behold in a Google search. This was my inspiration for applying the circuits on Nellie. She also sports a joystick and a silicon chip on her headdress.


Pixelonmic Transitions: From Bowie to Binary

Early on in the painting process I decided to pixelate the tip of Nellie’s trunk. Pixels are something a large part of the population is looking at daily. They are a big part of our lives, and communication. A visual transmission can influence society to action.

During the creation of this painting singer/songwriter David Bowie passed away. Through the internet I was able to re-connect with some of his songs I had remembered. One song I always liked was “TVC-15”. I was unclear on the meaning and looked it up. The song plays with the idea that the singer’s girlfriend has jumped into his TV set (the model being the TVC-15) and he is wondering if he should go in and get her. Perfect!

The chorus is: Transition, Transmission. I thought the song and words were appropriate for the Technology age. The word “Transition” appears in my painting written in binary code on the underside of Nellie’s trunk. (Go to Playlist, choose “TVC-15”)

Infophilic Transmissions: Privacy Settings


The ID tag and the elephant wrinkle/ large finger print behind it are a reference to the on going question of who has access to your information. During the creation of this painting, national security vs. consumer privacy became a very big issue.

Technology has far reaching effects on society. Symbolically, I felt that the leaves with their radiating pattern and the umbrella, which also radiates out was an abstract way to transmit that feeling to you.

I hope you enjoyed “Technology’s Wild Ride.” It is now safe to unbuckle your seat belt and exit this screen.







“Changing Patterns”


“Changing Patterns” • Oil 40hx28w

This painting is currently on exhibit in a show called: “Nationalism: Belonging/Not Belonging” at the Holy Family University in Philadelphia, PA. February 9-March 1st, 2016

The painting is of my grandmother and uncle. It is about the “old country” and assimilating into the “new country”. The patterns in the wallpaper note the change between mother and son. My uncle is wearing his U.S. Air Force uniform. My grandmother is cooking some Italian dish… and quite happy to do so, I might add!

“Truth and Deception”


“Truth and Deception”, oil, 36hx36w

The concept for this painting started after I read an article about Truth and Rhetoric. The theme of the article was that people don’t often know what the truth is and have different interpretations of the truth. Rhetoric is when language is used to persuade and may lack quality of content or be deceptive.

Not Using Words 

I wanted to create a visual definition of this concept. The first draft of this idea was the sample drawing below.


I wanted to show that truth is there, but not identifiable. That is why the woman has her head covered. The doves are different versions of the truth, which she is releasing. Rhetoric was to be a very flamboyant character.


In this version, I came up with the idea that he was baiting the doves of Truth with a piece of bread. Notice the squirming bird in his hand. I had a model pose for Truth. Rhetoric was from studies of old portraits.

Serendipity and Scorpions

I really liked Truth and the bread baiting of the doves idea, but Rhetoric was just too much like a pirate for me. So, I put this concept aside and lived life for a while…

Me: Must think about man in painting, but haven’t quite put my finger on it yet.

Pictorial concepts are always on the back burner in my head and I am always open to inspiration. While working in my garden, I picked up a piece of wood to find a fat scorpion living under it. What seemed so safe in an instant became a threat…

Me: Still no ideas about the man in the painting – but know I don’t want him to look like “Jack Sparrow”. Note to self…the scorpion was creepy.

True Story: Driving down my neighborhood, thinking about this painting, I pass a man walking with no shirt on. He has a HUGE tattoo of a scorpion on his back.



The thought came to me that finding a scorpion under a rock was very much like deception. You didn’t know it was there until you discovered it and now it is obvious. What if I hid the scorpion in the back of the man in the painting? He would become the worst of rhetoric… Deception.

I drew from a model – not the man on the street – for the man in my painting. I played with the lighting to get shadows to fall where the scorpion would be.


The Speak like a Peach

Another place I love to find inspiration is in my “Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols of Art”, by James Hall. I bought this book in college and love to thumb through it. Much of the symbolism is lost to today’s art viewers, but I find it fun to throw stuff in my paintings regardless. My dictionary tells me that a peach, especially the pit and a leaf attached to the fruit, symbolized speaking truthfully from the heart…The heart being the pit and the leaf the tongue. Ok. Cool! This helped inspire the background, which happens to be a peach tree in my back yard – not too far from where I found the scorpion!


There you have it…truth and deception, a pictorial definition.

“Mother Nature and the Oil Slick”

OilSlick3005x7 “Mother Nature and the Oil Slick”, oil on canvas, 36hx24w

Five years ago…The model walks onto the model stand. She sits on a stool with her back to the artist. She wears a black feather boa and black hat. There is a stark contrast between the deep blackness of the props and her white skin. The artist looks at her and is reminded of what she has been seeing on the news… a black plume of oil rising from the depths of the sea, settling on top of ocean’s surface. In the artist’s mind, the model becomes a metaphor for the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (Live models are the best inspiration ever!)

Drawing Boa

In the studio… putting the metaphorical painting together is like working on a puzzle. So just how am I going to translate this idea? The pose is seated. What is she sitting on? What has become an issue, pollution and endangerment of living things? What living things were affected? Mangrove trees, pelicans, marshland… search for reference material! She can be sitting on the limb of a mangrove tree, playing with the phrase “out on a limb” implying something is at risk. What else is at risk? Ecosystems we can’t even see? The model needs a dress of ocean blue with sequins to represent all the smaller creatures harmed by the disaster. Because of the spill she is draped with a black feather boa with the resulting hat on her head. She is connected to the Earth. Her toe is in the water. The water has that horrible rainbow sheen from the oil. Above, a cloud crosses the figure. There is definitely some grey in this cloud. The pelican stands on a small rock, its habitat severely shrunk down. This painting is a figure study combined with the historical documentation of the BP oil spill. Has the public memory forgotten the environmental disaster? I hope it never does.

“Mother Nature Loves Alaska”


“Mother Nature Loves Alaska” • Oil • 60hx36w

“Mother Nature Loves Alaska” is about Alaska’s abundant wildlife and natural resources. March 24th will mark 26 years since the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound. Please look up the facts of the spill and what condition Prince William Sound is in today. Good sources are National Geographic and NOAA. Both have articles posted for the 25th anniversary.

Mother Nature rings her bell to remind you.

Symbolism + Flora+ Fauna

All plants and animals depicted are natives of Alaska. Draped around the neck of the figure is the alpine forget-me-not. In creating the composition, I thought of forget-me-nots, and looked to see if they grew in the state. I was surprised to discover that this is the official state flower of Alaska.

At the bottom of the composition are the wolves, weasels, loons, and the snake in the grass. Used in language, the names of these species are unflattering terms for people. They symbolize those that would exploit Mother Nature’s natural resources.


Mother Nature and Time

This painting evolved over time. Originally, I had created a drawing of Mother Nature and her creatures many years ago. I liked the sketch and hung onto it.


Years later, I participated in a figure drawing group and this model posed for us. She reminded me of the drawing I had done. Knowing when a window of opportunity is opening, I went back to the old drawing and thought about creating a painting. I hired the model to pose in my studio.


Note: I changed Mother Nature to resemble a native Alaskan. I decided she would look like the people of the land.

History and Me

Why didn’t I just create a Mother Nature painting?

My figure paintings have a relevance to things happening in my lifetime. When the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred I was working on a publication for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. (My graphic design days.) I sorted through so many beautiful photographs of Alaska. Later, I saw the Exxon Valdez in the Port of San Diego where it was undergoing repairs. There was a very large hole on the front of the boat. It was so sad to see the destruction of the environment and animals via the news. The spill was a disaster with long-term consequences. I wanted to ask, what is the legacy we leave future generations?