Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion
March 15th, 2015

Ineffable: Fantasy & Reality

Fantasy and reality . . . are they really so different?  Both are products of our own thinking, fears, and desire.  The subtle difference boils down to audience.  Reality is the act we play before our family, friends, and other people.  Fantasy is the private movie that replays in the minds, shrouded in secrecy.

Fantasies are nestled deep within.  While they can be a great source of personal pleasure, the thought of making a fantasy real – dragging it into the light of day and sharing the experience with another human being – can bring a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety.  This is largely due to social conditioning.  Being too free is taboo.  It requires honesty, communication, and vulnerability.
The conditioning is so subtle, that I fail to see its effects on me.  It seems like I dance between the belief that my fantasies could easily become my reality and the fear that they’re just deluded and unobtainable ideals.  In moments of clarity, I realize that my own thoughts are what give me power or enslave me.  I can recognize when my mind starts to play a repetitive loop of fear, insecurity, and doubt.  These emotions are what really hold me back.  While I can’t stop the steam of negative thoughts from arising, I can acknowledge it and move past them.
I primarily create art alone.  It gives me a sense of security, since whatever I decide to make isn’t judged.   Recently, I was able to realize a series of paintings that I had dreamed of making over the past three years.  This series, however, required that I work with someone in a really intimate and vulnerable way.   For a long time, this series could only exist as a fantasy in my mind because I had a deeply rooted sense of inadequacy.  I never felt that my work was good enough, that I was attractive enough, or even worthy enough to receive what I truly wanted.
As I’ve started to discover ways to stop labeling and judging myself, I notice my life gets better.  Dropping the labels and needing to identify my thoughts as good or bad makes me feel more confident.  I feel a freedom to pursue the things that make me happy.  Maintaining this balance of freedom and security takes a lot of work.  It constantly is challenged, either by old habits or new experiences.
Making this painting series was not without challenges.  This was definitely in the realm of new experiences for me.  To say that art is my life would be a gross understatement.  It has been my voice when I had none as a child.  It has led me to foreign countries, new friends, and employment.  It’s been a tool to help me make sense of the pain I’ve experienced with failures, breakups, deaths, and all of my darkest moments where I no faith left in myself.  It is also a place where all the voices of comparison, shame, and fear become silent – a place where I can reclaim my own joy.  Nothing makes me happier than a can of paint or a box of pastels.
To invite someone else to take part in painting with me was a big risk.  I felt scared.  I felt vulnerable.  I felt nervous.   All of the warning bells and whistles of self-doubt and shame started to sound, particularly when I met someone who inspired me to push past my fears.   In his presence, I felt an almost paralyzing timidity take over me.   Was I good enough?  Was it safe to be the real me?   Would I be judged?  As some time passed, the fear subsided and I felt free – free of shame or anxiety, free to be my authentic self, free to experiment and make mistakes, and free to express my feelings and ideas to another human being.  The experience is difficult to describe in words.  Liberation, bliss, trust . . . all hint at this ineffable feeling that washed over me with each layer of paint we applied to one another.  Yet these words only hint at what I experienced.
Reality is predicated on thoughts and beliefs.  I no longer have to focus on the misfortunes of the past or judging myself.  Instead, I can direct my focus towards the pursuit of happiness, the fulfillment of my fantasies.   It takes courage to do this.  But in finding the courage to believe, anything is possible.
February 24th, 2015

Ineffable: Various Media

Pens.  Pencils.  Paint.  Photography.  Each of these mediums creates a different essence in a composition.  When I’m really fascinated by a subject, time seems to be suspended.  The outside world dissolves into murky dust and gently vanishes.  My mind quiets.  I feel tuned into the energy of my subject in a mysterious, ineffable way.    The way the light hits its surface.  Its reaction to temperature.  How the environment caresses and envelopes it.  I love to capture these qualities and sensations with different media.
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My acute sensitivity to the external world can be overwhelming if I don’t select the right environment.  So I often make solitary journeys out into the woods.  I pack a large bag, strewn with various media, and set out on foot.  I generally start out photographing scenes and images that are pleasing to me.  Photography offers me a way to quickly frame the subject, and determine the best composition.  I can rapidly snap shot after shot, moving my vantage point and area of focus.  After a few moments, the composition will reveal itself to me.  As fast as I can, I unpack and set up my portable studio.  I sit quietly, and compare my subject to the jumbled pile of markers, paints, and pencils.  The process is akin to striking a tuning fork to achieve perfect pitch in a musical instrument.  I can sense the colors and mood emanating from my subject.  The work that unfolds in front of me is matching that energy.
As the environment changes, it changes my subject.  The early afternoon is full of vibrant energy.  The intense sunlight dances through the leaves, changing their color.  First green.  Then yellow.  The wind blows, and the blades of grass bend and twirl gleefully.  As the shadows creep over, the thicket turns turquoise and blue.  Afternoon turns to evening.  A sense of melancholy enters the scene, like escorting out the last guest at the end of a much anticipated party.
These delicate blades of grass changed so much before me.  Each of my studies evokes the variation that played before my eyes.  The photograph shows the blissful solitude of an untouched woodland.  The drawing hints at the playful dance of the wind and grasses.  The woodblock print illustrates the setting sun bidding farewell to the enchanting landscape.  Using different media allows me to depict this mysterious shift.
July 28th, 2014

Photo Diary: Beauty

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”- Sigmund Freud
Central Park 2013


May 23rd, 2014

Ineffable: Time & Space

The interval between events is not insignificant.  I’ve come to understand this over the years.  Desire is often not enough to create something beautiful or meaningful.  Looking back, I see how willful I used to be.  I’d toil away at making drawings of people or landscapes.  I’d fill sketchbooks to the brim, trying persistently to create a photographic drawing.  Persistence can be good when it creates discipline.  But too much persistence restrict creativity and freedom.


The illusion of being in complete control of my life and work was, at first, very attractive.  “If I just try harder” was something I repeated to myself incessantly.  This was initially very good, because I lacked discipline.  My life was chaotic.  I did everything haphazardly.  I tried to do so many things at once that I did none of them well.  My workspace was in a disarray and would distract me.  And then I would think of 10,000 expectations and judge my work harshly.  The desire to “try harder and be better” helped me to be disciplined.  Most people don’t like that word.   Yet I’ve come to enjoy it very much.  I’ve designated times for being productive.  Keeping a clean and sparse environment allows me to focus and be creative.  I’ve learned that more can be distracting.  Discipline freed me up from chaos and allowed me to be more present to express myself in whatever media I choose.
But then there came a point during which my desired to try harder and be better consumed me.  I’d try so hard that I lost sight of what I really wanted.  If things didn’t happen within the time frame I’d created, well, it was all over.  I’d push people away.  I’d throw my work out.  I’d burn my writing.  I became so attached to the idea of achieving success – whatever that was – that all the creativity seemed to stop.  I came to resent the interval between events.  Why couldn’t I be creative, successful, in love, or simply “on” all the time?
Slowly, I began to notice that there was some sort of mystical ebb and flow to creativity, and all beautiful experiences.  They cannot be forced.  It’s something that happens on its own.   After realizing this, I just stopped trying.
Now, what is important to note is that I did not give up the discipline that I had developed or the space in which I made to paint.  What I gave up on was the belief of arriving at some mythical point of success that would never appear.  I gave up judgement.  I gave up attachment to a finish product.  To be good or terrible no longer had relevance.  Then, the ideas and experiences seemed to flow through me.  There are durations in which I experience intense creativity.  I will make 5 or 6 paintings all at once, ineffably.  The paintings seem to paint themselves, and my only role is to introduce different colors and textures to each other.
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Other times, I will be in a creative drought.  Either I won’t want to make anything, or it requires such a tremendous amount of effort that it’s joyless to do.  Instead of forcing it to come, I acknowledge the interval of time that passes.
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The space and time in between being creative, being with people I love, and experiencing satisfaction isn’t insignificant.  In letting go, I’ve noticed that experience always returns.


April 22nd, 2014

Ineffable: The Beauty of Nature

There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time outdoors.  I savor the quiet time, at first getting lost in thought and then letting them all fade away.  Being in nature always makes me calm and serene.   When I come back from long hikes or runs, people often remark that I look happier.  There is something transformative about this time alone in the wild.
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 A Field in Denver, Colorado.  January 2014.
It’s difficult to put into words what I see and how it makes me feel.  For many years, I tried to capture my experience with photography.  Today, however futile my attempt may be, I feel the need to speak about what the experience is like for me.


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 An Alleyway in Pennsylvania.  March 2013.

Walking alone gives me time to observe the external world.  Most of the time, I want to be outdoors to escape the thoughts in my mind.  It’s so easy for me to get swept away by worry and doubt.  Lately, my concerns have been focused on money.  It feels like I’m always scraping to get by.  I scrutinize every dollar I spend.  My social life is far from the glitzy fantasies that a Manhattan address may evoke.
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The Last Leaves.  February 2014.

Like so many other people, I wonder how I’ll every pay off my student loans.  I criticize myself for not having understood what I was doing to my financial future at 22, when graduate school was so appealing and the economy was more stable.   Thankfully, I have a wonderful job and a plan to fix the mistakes that I’ve made.  But staying positive can be challenging.  The smallest event can carry me far, far away on a trail of self-loathing and doubt.

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Evening.  March 2013.
Worrying doesn’t change the situation.  It doesn’t make my payoff date come closer.  Instead, it takes me away from the peace I can experience now.  We’ve all done this.  We’ve somehow told ourselves that happiness, peace, and success are only allowed after completing some far off task.  But experiencing peace is really a daily choice.  It shouldn’t be delayed.
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A Walk in Central Park.  April 2014.
Being outdoors reminds me of what is really important.  It reminds me how precious time is.  I notice how everything changes based on the time of day.  The amount and intensity of light changes through the day.  This makes the environment change colors.  The way I feel in the environment in the morning versus dusk is so different.
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Seeds of Spring.  December 2013.
My walks start out very simply.  I just try to listen to as many noises as possible.  The sound of my feet hitting the ground.  The whisper of my own breath. Birds chirping.  The wind rustling through the trees.  The focus on sound inevitably brings my attention to the beauty of my surroundings.
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Blossoms.  April 2014.
I take the time to look at all the details around me.  The way the light hits a flower.  How an overcast sky turns pastel as I gaze up at a tree in full bloom.  Seeing delicate petals flutter in the cool breeze of a spring day.
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Delicate Petals.  April 2014.
Seeing this way starts to spill over into my ordinary day.  For my 30th birthday, I went to Colorado to visit friends and family.  It was such a wonderful trip.  The weather was perfect.  I was happy to spend time with people who are important to me.  We spent half a day skiing in Vail.  Every view was exhilarating.  But the really special moments had something in common: something very subtle would catch my eye, like:
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Skiing in Vail, Colorado.  January 2014.
a flickering light . . .
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Snowfall in Central Park.  February 2014.
a gust of wind that blew powdery snow on my shoulder . . .
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Snowfall in the Forest.  March 2014.
the warm feel of the sun hitting my cheeks on a winter day.  These small queues snap me out of routine and thought.  I shift my attention.  Then I grab my camera as fast as I can to capture the moment.  How I feel in the moment has no words.  But the picture can capture it more completely.
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The Reservoir in Central Park.  February 2013.
Now that spring has finally warmed up to us, I’m feeling optimistic.  The beauty of nature reminds me that problems are temporary, just like the seasons.  It seems like a great time to stop doubting, to believe in something new.  Forget about time, go outside, and take flight.
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 Flight.  October 2012.
Happy Earth Day!


April 9th, 2014

Ineffable: Patience

I’ve been trying to cultivate patience.  It’s not something I was born with.  Things never seemed to happen fast enough for me.  My childhood impatience carried over well into my twenties.  I always felt restless, always wanted to impose my will on situations and people.  When I didn’t get the desired outcome, I’d become very irritated and upset.  I had no emotional self-control.  Constantly being ruled by emotion is exhausting.  I decided to try consciously be more patient at 25, right when I started teaching.  Having to lead a classroom made me aware that growing irritable was a quick way to lose control and the interest of my students.
Patience is a discipline that can grow over time.  For me, it was very hard-won.  I still find it difficult to be patient with myself.  But I was lucky enough to find resources in developing a more peaceful way to deal with delays and setbacks.  I think painting has helped me tremendously.  Sometimes it comes out all wrong.  Preparing and mixing paints takes time and effort.  Then, the process of trying to make something beautiful can go terribly wrong.  My first few failed attempts would leave me outraged and angry.  Negative thoughts would stream through my mind, like: “What a waste of time. ” or  “I’m terrible.”  But for some reason, I kept showing up.  (New to my site?  You should check out my previous post, Showing Up.)
One day I realized why I kept coming back – the process of painting helped me to quiet my mind.
I’m not sure what your mind is like, but my is complicated.  I think lots of thoughts and am easily distracted.  I make plans for the future.  I read books.  I worry about things that are out of my control.  I judge myself harshly.  With all of these plans, hopes, fears, and ideas jumping around in my head, it can be difficult to be present.  Lost in thought, I’d bump into people in the subway.  I’d get irritated that they didn’t see me.  Or I would be so distracted I’d be late to appointments or meetings.  This would lead me to blame anything or anyone external to myself.  My inability to focus and tame my mind was the problem, not the train being late or the people in the streets.
These thoughts and feelings that were always whirling around inside of me would slow down and stop completely when I started to focus on creating.  A new-found patience started to grow within.  I could quiet my mind more.  Life became less about imposing my will on people and situations.  I experienced freedom from anger and irritation because I started to realize that there is nowhere else to be but here, now.  It’s been 5 years since I’ve made the decision to become more patient.  My relationships with other people are better, my ability to focus has improved, and I’ve learned to let go of expectations.
Still, waiting always seems to test me.  The new paintings I’ve been making require a lot of drying time.  The linseed oil needs time to harden.  At first, it looks slick, smooth, and saturated with color.  I let my paintings dry on an old Ikea clothing rack, since I don’t have a lot of space.  As the oil dries over time, the painting starts to look very different from how it started.
The surface hardens into textures and patterns.  It’s less shiny.
The colors’ vibrancy also change.
New shapes and color combinations emerge that I never intended to create.  It makes me realize the importance of being patient.  Not forcing the painting to occur in a set time period allows something more beautiful than what I set out to create to happen on its own.
It’s almost dry enough to hang, but not quite yet.  Until then, I wait.  Sometimes patiently, sometimes not.  When I catch myself aggressively wondering how long it will take to just be done, I stop.  I think to myself, “Maybe it’s time to make a new painting”, and I move on.


April 4th, 2014

Ineffable: Knowing When to Stop

“If you don’t know what you are making, how do you know when to stop?” That’s a reasonable question.  Yet it’s difficult to answer.  Maybe I can answer it with a personal story.  I started a new job at the end of August 2013.  It’s in a completely unrelated industry – a real suit and tie type of place.  When I went on my initial interview, we arrived at the question and answer portion.  I brazenly asked if I could remove the existing art work and replace it with my own.  (How’s that for bold?)
I got the job, and it was quite a transition.  I’m the only woman in the office (keep in mind that my previous work environments were the reverse – mostly or entirely female).  I’m also the only aesthete.  Making something for this shared space really preoccupied my thoughts.  It had to be appealing to an audience I knew very little about, and one that would have only one real strong opinion about the work – if they didn’t like it.
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This made me try doing a series of small studies on paper.  I used all kinds things, just doodling all over the page.  I used crayons, and colored pencils and markers, and pens, and ink.  When I started with ink, I used a brush to draw circles all over the paper.  Then I made circles with different colored markers.  Finally, I traced the circles with water and a brush.  The effect?  The colors started to bleed out.  All of the sudden, I saw rain drops hitting a puddle.  That’s when I knew to stop.  When I start to see something – like seaweed or rain drops – the picture is complete.  A feeling of finality washes over me.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post – the first in the series of explaining the unexplainable.)
So I had an idea with I approached this canvas.  This allowed me to complete the painting very quickly.  I applied the blue base coat.  Then, I swirled silver paint onto a brush, and whipped the handle in little circles.  I’d have to dip the brush into the can of paint and pull it out quickly – this lets more paint settle on the brush than taking it out slowly.  I mixed black oil paint to a thin consistency and did the same thing.
I let it dry for a week and half.  It still needed something, so I decided to spatter yellow paint on the surface.  One of the guys commented: “Hey!  It looks great with yellow.”  That was another sign I knew this version was complete – someone so far removed from art could judge it favorably.  A man that I did not know well that had no previous interest in art liked the painting.  I’d say that’s a good point to stop.
It took another few weeks to decide where to hang it, and which type of frame would look best.  Here’s the finished product:


March 29th, 2014

New Series: Ineffable

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I’ve been allowing myself to really run away with my thoughts; explore my ideas more fully, read, and experiment with new media.  Somewhere, I came across this idea:
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This was such a perfect word.  To say what can’t be said.  So much of my personal work is an attempt to express what seems impossible to say.  People often ask me how long it takes me to make a painting, and I struggle to tell them.  Sometimes it can be in one sitting, other times it can take weeks.
It’s even difficult to say how I start.  Every painting is one big experiment.  Recently, I made one for a friend.  It was my first commission.  He was really interested in hearing around my process.  We even had a lengthy discussion about how to hang it.  It’s very difficult for me to explain my process, mostly because it’s spontaneous.
I generally start with certain colors in mind, and not much else.  My preferred media is oil on board, and I like to use lots and lots of boiled linseed oil mixed with the paint.  (Oil paints are ground mineral pigments mixed with a carrier oil, which is usually linseed oil.  The oil makes the dusty pigments gel up into paint that can later be put into a tube.  Mixing oil with the tubed pigment makes the paint more fluid.  There are different ways to process linseed oil, each rendering a different effect when mixed with the paint.  I’ve discovered that boiled linseed oil creates this interesting, textured surface. See above.)
I’ll apply a base color to the canvas with a thick consistency.  Then I’ll mix other colors and make them more fluid than the base coat.  Sometimes, I use a brush and thrash the paint.  Other times, I pour the mixture directly onto the surface.  (The orange, above, I poured right onto the surface.  The dark green color I applied with a brush.)
Then, I step back and look at it.  I look at how the paint is moving.  I try to see how the colors blend, and how it makes me feel.  I noticed that the dark green paint was bleeding out.  It wasn’t really staying in the area I wanted it to.  Instead, it made these dripping, tentacle-like shapes.
After some time had passed, I decided to edit it.  I thought it could be improved.  I picked it up on one end, and let the paint drip down to the other side.  Then, I repeated on the reverse end.  The effect much better; the colors blended so fluidly, it reminded me of seaweed.
But I don’t work on it from strictly one direction.  I attack it from all sides.  Then, I let it dry.  As the oil dries, the values of the colors change.  The surface hardens and becomes more textured.  It takes shape.
I wasn’t sure which side was up.  It’s difficult for me to visualize working that way.  Shouldn’t the entire process be more important than the initial concept?  I think it’s ok for the composition to change based on the process, as long as the product makes you happy.
It made me so happy to see it framed and hanging, too.  I have several paintings that I’ve made in the past 5 months that I’d like to attempt to express in words.  It takes a lot of effort to do this, because it’s trying to explain the ineffable,“ the thing that can’t be said.  And yet, I’d like to try.  That’s what I’d like this new series to be about –  explaining how to see beauty in that which you don’t fully understand.
January 26th, 2014

Grace Kelly & Fashion Illustration, Part II

Today’s post is a summary of a talk I gave at the Michener Museum a few weeks ago.  So I suppose the big question is, why fashion illustration?  This was the only method of distributing fashion information for centuries.  Paintings, prints, and drawings were the only visual methods of documenting fashion until the 1850s, with the advent of the modern camera.  Photography was problematic for several decades after this.  Exposure times were long, forcing people to sit very still for several minutes.
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Illustration for the House of Paquin, 1907.  Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.


Photography progressed slowly through the early 20th century.  Prices went down.  The process became better and faster.  Color photography was soon possible.  Magazines started to incorporate more photography, along side with illustrations.  As the 1930s progressed, photography became the preferred media for covers and fashion editorials.  Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar added in-house photographers to their the art departments.


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Left: July 15th, 1936 Vogue cover.  Photo by Edward Steichen.  Image courtesy of We Heart Vintage. Right:  November 10th, 1930 Vogue cover.  Image courtesy of Baba Yaga.

World War II impacted the fashion industry in many ways, including the duel between illustration and photography.  The most common materials were rationed for the war effort, including textiles, cosmetics, and the chemicals used to develop film.  Illustrations continued through the war.  Editorials that used photographs focused on showing patriotic fashions and how to “make do and mend” existing items.  Staged studio photography was deemed inappropriate and unpatriotic during this time.

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of a Christian Dior evening dress, c. 1948.  Image courtesy of Indulgy.  Right: “Venus” dress by Christian Dior, 1948.  Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Post-War period ushered in glamorous silhouettes and unbridled use of fabrics and trim.  1947 was a pivotal year in fashion, in which Christian Dior created the “New Look”.  This collection featured skirts were much longer and fuller than were available during the war.  Waists were nipped in with corsets and girdles.  The newly instated trappings required women to buy new garments.  This was initially met with some resistance.  Dior teamed with fashion illustrator Rene Gruau (1909-2004) to promote his sophisticated garments.  Gruau was one of the most prolific fashion illustrators of the Post-War era.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post, Rene Gruau.)

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit, 1947.  Image courtesy of Design Museum.  Right: Photograph of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit by Willy Maywald, 1947.  Image courtesy of Contemporary History.
Gruau’s had a clearly recognizable illustration style, which included:
  • stark outlines
  • the use of negative space throughout the composition
  • sensitivity to color used to contour figures with highlights and shadows
  • curvilinear compositions
During this time, America’s most prominent fashion illustrators were Hollywood costume designers.  It is often easy to dismiss costume designers’ contributions to fashion history, since the focus tends to be primarily on New York.  Helen Rose (1904-1985) was an extremely influential costume designer that worked closely with Grace Kelly on and off the set.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress.  Right: Grace Kelly in the wedding dress designed by Helen Rose.

Born in Chicago, Rose attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and began her career designing costumes for nightclubs and theaters.  During this period, she mostly worked for vaudeville acts, including the Lester Costume Company.  In 1929 she left for Los Angeles and began costuming for films.  She worked for Twentieth Century Fox from 1940-1943 and later became chief costume designer for MGM.

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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Gracie Bird.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of Equally Wed.
From 1947 to 1966, Rose costumed over 200 films and worked with Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, and Esther Williams. Rose designed Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding dress for her marriage to Crown Prince Rainier III of Monaco.  Rose also designed her civil ceremony outfit was a full-skirted suit of dusky rose pink taffeta with beige Alenson lace overlay (currently on view at the Michener Museum).  Many of Rose’s illustrations survive, particularly those made for Grace Kelly’s role in the film High Society.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of IMDB.
Edith Head (1897-1981) also worked very closely with Grace Kelly.  Born in San Bernadino, Head earned a Master’s degree in romance languages from Stanford before switching to illustration.  She took classes at Chouinard Art college, and in 1924 was hired as a costume sketcher at Paramount Pictures.
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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume.  Image courtesy of December’s Grace.

Some of the most wonderful costumes Head designed for Grace Kelly were from the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window.  Grace Kelly plays the role of Lisa Freemont, a society fashion consultant.

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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of Daily Mail.

As you can see from the illustrations and photographs, the costumes are a perfect character construction.  The costumes lend an air of elegance, sophistication, and refinement of someone “in the know” about fashion.

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Left: Right: Edith Head sketch and costume for Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954.  Images courtesy of Classiq and Glamour Daze.  Right:  Sketch by Edith Head.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.

November 19th, 2013


Life is spontaneous. It happens by itself. This is one of the fundamental principles of Buddhism. While it is good to make plans and set goals, it’s important to make time for life to unfold before you. This isn’t living life according to whim. There is more to spontaneity than caprice and disorder.

As an artist, I can tell you how this is true. I can’t tell you where my ideas come from. They happen spontaneously. It’s difficult for me to approach a canvas or piece of paper with an expectation. When I try to make something specific, it never seems to turn out right. So my approach has been to let the materials “speak” to me. I mix the paint right on the canvas. I see what shapes start to appear on their own.

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A few months ago, I bought some new paint. I like buying different materials. If I use unfamiliar media, I can’t go in with any expectations. I have to be observant and patient in my attempt to make something beautiful. I have to let the beautiful thing emerge on its own.


I sprayed and sprayed several hued paints on this board. I noticed how the colors mixed together, how each can sprayed differently. The only method I had was that I would keep painting until it felt right. I did countless layers of paint. The yard was filled with a thick cloud of fumes that made me dizzy. I stopped and mixed some oil paint with stand oil and dripped it over the board. I started thrashing the paint brush wildly at the board, giggling and having fun at not caring what the outcome would be. I turned the board to let the paint drip from one end to the other. Then I alternated between layers of spray paint and oil paint.  From the photos, you can see how wildly different the painting looked at each stage.


Suddenly, almost magically, I knew the painting was finished.  There was no way for me to schedule the right amount of time.  I just had to feel it.  To me, painting is like playing a game.  When we play games, we get most fascination out of games that combine skill and chance.  Games like poker or bridge.  You don’t feel completely at the mercy of chance, and you don’t feel completely at the mercy of skill.  It’s exciting and fun to not know the predictable outcome.  Order and randomness go together, creating surprise.  That’s how I define spontaneity – the perfect harmony of order and randomness.

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One of my favorite Buddhist philosophers is Alan Watts.  He has a great recorded talk called The Art of the Controlled Accident.  He consistently compares Buddhist philosophy to painting.  Life should be lived in a manner like painting.  You can’t have calculated expectations for everything in your life.  You have to approach situations with an open mind, only to search for possibilities and opportunities that present themselves.  Never force something.  It will only elude you.  Instead, take the approach of letting the beautiful things around you emerge on their own.  You will be surprised – and happy.




If you liked this post, you should consider reading my previous posts:

Tantric Art

Looking at Buddhist Art

Showing Up

September 27th, 2013

Old GRTC Bus Terminal

I mentioned in my last post that I started a new job. Part of my training took me to Richmond.  After work, I decided to roam around the city for a bit by myself.  My only plan was to check out a few vintage stores, figuring that fashion would somehow lead me to an adventure.  I hopped into the hotel shuttle bus and gave them the address to a local vintage retailer in Carytown.


I had no real desire to buy anything, but just wanted to walk around – absorb some of the local scenery during my short time in the city.  Chatting with the driver, I looked out the window.  We passed an old bus terminal that was absolutely irresistible to me.   It was covered with hundreds of the most evocative, brightly hued art I’d seen.  Set against the warm, sunny late afternoon the setting seemed dreamlike.


Cooing while trying to snap a few photos from the van, the driver sensed my enthusiasm.  He didn’t really know what the site was, other than it was an old bus terminal.  I asked him if we could take a quick detour and investigate the site.


Everywhere I looked was beautiful!  The space has previously belonged to the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC).  Built in 1902, the structure housed trollies and buses that were not in use or needed repair.  The site was abandoned back in 2009.  Residents were unhappy with the crumbling buildings.  They pushed for a creative use of the space, hoping to install stores and restaurants to boost the local economy.


The city’s response was to create a Street Art Festival, inviting artists from around the world to create large scale murals.  Since the time frame was limited, it became a hotbed of creativity.  Artists were working side-by-side, helping and inspiring one another.

Hamilton Glass, a Richmon-based artist, likened the festival is like a jam session for artists:

We feed off each other, he said about five hours into his mural. It’s great painting next to someone who’s being creative.

The mural above was created with the help of Art on Wheels.  This Richmond-based non-profit helped in transforming the abandoned bus terminal into a work or art.  Founded in early 2007, Art on Wheels mission is to bring comprehensive arts programming to communities with limited access to the arts.  Their intent to make arts education accessible to all ages and abilities



I could have spent all day here!  There was no evidence of any businesses within the compound.  But there was a young couple walking around taking photos.  They took a photo of me, which shows you the scale of the work.  It’s really massive and overwhelming!


Like a kid in a candy store, I ran down the empty streets eagerly taking in as much art as I could.  Every mural was so interesting and unique.  Some were even 3-dimentional.  One of my favorites was a blue wall filled with metal birds.



After closer inspection, the birds are decorated with names and poems.  If you’re in Richmond, I highly recommend stopping by to see it for yourself: 2501 W. Cary St.

To see the rest of my photos from the Old GRTC Bus Terminal, follow me on Instagram!



September 15th, 2013

Currently Reading: The Non-Objective World

All my favorite books have pictures.  While I enjoy reading and writing immensely, sometimes words are insufficient.  How do you describe a perfect sunset?  Or that moment you realize that you’re in love with someone?  Of course there are wonderful adjectives that can help explain the experience to another person, but somehow that magic moment is inexpressible with words.  I find myself in this situation often.   It’s frustrating to be unable to share a feeling or experience with someone because you can’t describe it.   This frustration is what leads me to draw or paint.
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When I enjoy the work of other artists, I’m curious as to what they are trying to express.   Looking at art always makes me feel something.  It stirs up my emotions and thoughts.  So I’m eager to see if what I feel is what the artist was hoping to express.




Cosmos by Kazimir Malevich, 1917.  Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Russian abstract painter and costume designer Kazimir Malevich.  His work really fascinated me, initially because his experience as a costume designer influenced his later path as a painter.  So, I started to look at his artwork.




Mystical Suprematism (Black Cross on Red Oval) by Kazimir Malevich, c. 1920-7.  Image courtesy of Malevich Paintings.

Malevich is most known for starting the art movement Suprematism. He conceived the idea of Suprematism around 1913, which focuses on basic geometric forms painted in a limited range of colors.  Malevich believed that the true power of art was it’s ability to evoke emotion in the viewer.  By using simple geometric forms, there was no way for political or social meanings to be imparted on the work of art. I loved the ideas behind his work.   He saw painting as a way to make people feel something that could not be manipulated or placed out of context.




Mystical Religious Rotation of Shapes by Kazimir Malevich.  Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.

Lucky for me, Malevich wrote a manifesto on what his artwork was trying to make people feel.  He traveled to Berlin in the 1920s to exhibit his work and network with the faculty at Bauhaus. (New to my site?  You should read my previous posts on the Bauhaus.) His manifesto, The Non-Obective World, was published as book 11 in the series Die Gegenstandslose Welt.  (A friend told me this title translates to something like “a spirit without products” or “the spirit of the abstract”)


Formula of Suprematism by Kazimir Malevich.  Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.

NYPL had a copy of The Non-Objective World, and I’m reading it now.  The introduction was really powerful.  It explains that, according to Malevich, art is eternally powerful because it originates from a feeling.  Artists are inspired to create something because of an almost mystical experience.  The urge to make something and share it with others is what makes an art object beautiful.

He insisted that art and the feelings which generate it are more basic and meaningful than religious beliefs and political conceptions.  Religions and the state, in the past, employed art as a means to further their aim.  The usefulness of works of technology is of short-lived but art endures forever.  If humanity is to achieve a real and absolute order this must be founded on eternal values, that is, on art.



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