Friday, December 30, 2011

(Pretty Good) First Year In Review 2010-2011

Ok, it was not really a first year.  It was the first year back in the saddle, after a 12-year parenting and marriage detour.  I am still parenting and finding it a boldly humbling and inexact art.   However, I am lucky because I have spawned a wise and fascinating creature.  She is like me and not like me.  Actually, the parts of me I see in her, I now like and accept in myself.  The parts that are not like me are the fascinating and wise ones.  Anyway, she likes that I paint and so we are cool.  
Learning to climb trees
It all started last November after I was laid off from teaching Art and Web at El Camino High School in South San Francisco.  I was the newest art teacher and I only had a credential to teach art, so when they cut four art classes and the only web class, I was a goner.  I do miss the kids I don’t miss the job.  I rented a space in the communal studio at Art Explosion on 17th Street.  I really didn’t know what to expect.  I was worried that I was going to be wasting my money.  The first day I went in I just planned on doing a little studio decorating… or something.  I knew I was just trying to trick myself so I wouldn’t feel pressured.  I don’t usually like drawing.  In fact I find it an extremely slow, but vital skill.  I drew for three hours solid.  I was… ecstatic!  My drawing and my paintings for the first five months were of my dog, Elmo.  He is a rescued Pit Bull from Rocket Dog and has been described as the most polite dog ever.  I did about 11 paintings of Elmo in many different dimensions.  He was my muse.  If you had asked me then what I thought the future held for my paintings, I would have said unequivocally that I planned on painting all Elmo, all the time.   However, I did one commission for my friend Lynnea Key of her cute doggies but otherwise it was only Elmo.  
My first painting is a self portrait with Elmo.  20"x20" oil on canvas
I found that my drawing and paintings skills had improved, mainly because of teaching.  They say that when you teach, you yourself learn.  For the first five months in the studio, I was painting faster than I could think.  I felt like a fire hose had been turned on.  After my initial first day, I could not stop.  Even though I had been doing yoga daily and was in pretty good shape, my body was taken by surprise.  My back went out from sitting for hours hunched over.  I had to start painting standing up.  The muscles in my torso were weak, after 4-5 hours holding my body so rigid and still; I would find myself hanging onto the wall for support, desperate to finish for the day.  (If I have to stop abruptly, things can get too dried out and might not work as well the next day.  Then I have to start all over again to get the right effect.) 
I started doing diptychs, (two paintings that are meant to hang together).  Usually one was Elmo and the other would be anything, a helicopter, a crow, or a city scene.   I liked the surprise of the changing narrative when images were rearranged.   I started using wood panels instead of canvas because the surfaces were so even and the edges so sharp.  They made the diptychs hang perfectly together. 
Helicopter Diptych  24"x12" oil on panel
The diptyches led to more subjects besides Elmo.  I started a “city series”, a “highway 5” series and my most controversial one, the “cigarettes series”.  I used to smoke.  People said that folks start smoking in graduate school.  I thought it was hogwash, till I started smoking too.  (What non-smokers don’t know is that smoking takes dedication.  You work up to a certain intake.  You have to endure sore throats and nausea.  They don’t realize a cigarette hang over is worse than an alcohol hangover.  Cigarettes are no joke.  Cigarettes are powerful, alluring, deadly, and an interesting subject.  Some smokers that are trying to quit and two of my friends that are doctors could not stand the cigarette paintings.)  However, it was interesting who bought the cigarette paintings, ex-smokers mainly and one of them an esteemed doctor and “inhalant scientist” that had worked on inventing a non-carcinogenic cigarette substitute, but there were few non-smokers too that just liked the aesthetic of the cigarette image. So they bought them, usually in twos, to hang together.  Like potato chips you can’t have just one.
"Festive" and "Almost Gone" 4"x4" oil on panel
 I am usually a huge colorist, but I decided as a challenge to myself, I would limit my color range. I was thinking about Giorgio Morandi and his limited palette, of mostly grays and browns.   For a while I used a lot of black and white to change the lightness and darkness of a color, instead of using a mixture of dark and light complimentary colors to change values.  However, the heavy use of black started to give my work a “sooty” quality, especially when more color started creeping back in to my palette.  I still liked the experiment.  I might even do it again.

Now I am working on a “vehicle series” which is a broad enough title to encompass a large variety of subjects and ideas that I am interested in.  I am working on large square canvases (mostly), which automatically give the paintings a sculptural presence.  I am also exploring abstraction in a number of these vehicular paintings.  I have combined flat shapes with rendered forms in ambiguous space.  However, my favorite painting right now is the “Orange Bicycle”.  I have never done a painting like it.  It is an entirely new direction in everyway for me.
"Orange Bike" 20"x24" oil on panel
 All in all, it has been a grand year.  I painted a lot.  I met some wonderful artists and art collectors and made some new friends.   My new work got exhibited and I got an offer of a three-person show for next summer.  I actually ended up selling more this year than in any other year and technically; I have only been selling since April.  I sold 24 paintings and traded three.  Back 12 years ago, I was relying on Washington State Arts Commission and two galleries, both in San Francisco to sell my work.  Working in a communal studio with a diverse concentration of artists, within walking distance of other communal studios automatically makes for an artist/art collector destination.  That means a lot more people see my work, have bought my work and are enjoying my work.  That makes me happy. 

Happy New Year Everyone!


  1. Lani, I miss you guys so much but I love following the progress of your blog. I look forward to having you all over to dinner. I love your work and it gives me great joy to see you painting like this. Happy New Year to you and to your fantastic family.

  2. Lani, your work is so varied and beautiful. You can paint any subject and they are all so different. You inspire me.


  3. Beautiful work Lani! very Inspiring....I must admit that as a fellow art teacher I am a little envious of all the time you have had to paint!


  4. a wonderful year. nice post. love your work and hearing about the process